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Arizona Nights by Stewart Edward White

Part 4 out of 5

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friend of mine. Don't you get to calling of him names."

His eye swept the bystanders calmly.

"Come on, Jack," said be, addressing Parker.

On the outskirts be encountered the Mexican from whom he bad
borrowed the knife.

"Here, Tony," said he with a slight laugh, "here's a peso.
You'll find your knife back there where I had to drop her."

He entered a saloon, nodded to the proprietor, and led the way
through it to a boxlike room containing a board table and two
chairs.

"Make good,"he commanded briefly.

"I'm looking for a man with nerve," explained Parker, with equal
succinctness. "You're the man."

"Well?"

"Do you know the country south of here?"

The stranger's eyes narrowed.

"Proceed," said he.

"I'm foreman of the Lazy Y of Soda Springs Valley range,"
explained Parker. "I'm looking for a man with sand enough and
sabe of the country enough to lead a posse after cattle-rustlers
into the border country."

"I live in this country," admitted the stranger.

"So do plenty of others, but their eyes stick out like two raw
oysters when you mention the border country. Will you tackle
it?"

"What's the proposition?"

"Come and see the old man. He'll put it to you."

They mounted their horses and rode the rest of the day. The
desert compassed them about, marvellously changing shape and
colour, and every character, with all the noiselessness of
phantasmagoria. At evening the desert stars shone steady and
unwinking, like the flames of candles. By moonrise they came to
the home ranch.

The buildings and corrals lay dark and silent against the
moonlight that made of the plain a sea of mist. The two men
unsaddled their horses and turned them loose in the wire-fenced
"pasture," the necessary noises of their movements sounding
sharp and clear against the velvet hush of the night. After a
moment they walked stiffly past the sheds and cook shanty, past
the men's bunk houses, and the tall windmill silhouetted against
the sky, to the main building of the home ranch under its great
cottonwoods. There a light still burned, for this was the third
day, and Buck Johnson awaited his foreman.

Jed Parker pushed in without ceremony.

"Here's your man, Buck," said he.

The stranger had stepped inside and carefully closed the door
behind him. The lamplight threw into relief the bold, free lines
of his face, the details of his costume powdered thick with
alkali, the shiny butts of the two guns in their open holsters
tied at the bottom. Equally it defined the resolute countenance
of Buck Johnson turned up in inquiry. The two men examined each
other--and liked each other at once.

"How are you," greeted the cattleman.

"Good-evening," responded the stranger.

"Sit down,"invited Buck Johnson.

The stranger perched gingerly on the edge of a chair, with an
appearance less of embarrassment than of habitual alertness.

"You'll take the job?" inquired the Senor.

"I haven't heard what it is," replied the stranger.

"Parker here--?"

"Said you'd explain."

"Very well," said Buck Johnson. He paused a moment, collecting
his thoughts. "There's too much cattle-rustling here. I'm going
to stop it. I've got good men here ready to take the job, but no
one who knows the country south. Three days ago I had a bunch of
cattle stolen right here from the home-ranch corrals, and by one
man, at that. It wasn't much of a bunch--about twenty head--but
I'm going to make a starter right here, and now. I'm going to
get that bunch back, and the man who stole them, if I have to go
to hell to do it. And I'm going to do the same with every case
of rustling that comes up from now on. I don't care if it's only
one cow, I'm going to get it back--every trip. Now, I want to
know if you'll lead a posse down into the south country and bring
out that last bunch, and the man who rustled them?"

"I don't know--" hesitated the stranger.

"I offer you five thousand dollars in gold if you'll bring back
those cows and the man who stole 'em," repeated Buck Johnson.

"And I'll give you all the horses and men you think you need."

"I'll do it,"replied the two-gun man promptly.

"Good!" cried Buck Johnson, "and you better start to-morrow."

"I shall start to-night--right now."

"Better yet. How many men do you want, and grub for how long?"

"I'll play her a lone hand."

"Alone!" exclaimed Johnson, his confidence visibly cooling.

"Alone! Do you think you can make her?"

"I'll be back with those cattle in not more than ten days."

"And the man," supplemented the Senor.

"And the man. What's more, I want that money here when I come
in. I don't aim to stay in this country over night."

A grin overspread Buck Johnson's countenance. He understood.

"Climate not healthy for you?" he hazarded. "I guess you'd be
safe enough all right with us. But suit yourself. The money
will be here."

"That's agreed?" insisted the two-gun man.

"Sure."

"I want a fresh horse--I'll leave mine--he's a good one. I want
a little grub."

"All right. Parker'll fit you out."

The stranger rose.

"I'll see you in about ten days."

"Good luck," Senor Buck Johnson wished him.

CHAPTER FOUR
THE ACCOMPLISHMENT

The next morning Buck Johnson took a trip down into the "pasture"
of five hundred wire-fenced acres.

"He means business," he confided to Jed Parker, on his return.
"That cavallo of his is a heap sight better than the Shorty horse
we let him take. Jed, you found your man with nerve, all right.
How did you do it?"

The two settled down to wait, if not with confidence, at least
with interest. Sometimes, remembering the desperate character of
the outlaws, their fierce distrust of any intruder, the wildness
of the country, Buck Johnson and his foreman inclined to the
belief that the stranger had undertaken a task beyond the powers
of any one man. Again, remembering the stranger's cool grey eye,
the poise of his demeanour, the quickness of his movements, and
the two guns with tied holsters to permit of easy withdrawal,
they were almost persuaded that he might win.

"He's one of those long-chance fellows," surmised Jed. "He likes
excitement. I see that by the way he takes up with my knife
play. He'd rather leave his hide on the fence than stay in the
corral."

"Well, he's all right," replied Senor Buck Johnson,"and if he
ever gets back, which same I'm some doubtful of, his dinero'll be
here for him."

In pursuance of this he rode in to Willets, where shortly the
overland train brought him from Tucson the five thousand dollars
in double eagles.

In the meantime the regular life of the ranch went on. Each
morning Sang, the Chinese cook, rang the great bell, summoning
the men. They ate, and then caught up the saddle horses for the
day, turning those not wanted from the corral into the pasture.
Shortly they jingled away in different directions, two by two, on
the slow Spanish trot of the cow-puncher. All day long thus they
would ride, without food or water for man or beast, looking the
range, identifying the stock, branding the young calves,
examining generally into the state of affairs, gazing always with
grave eyes on the magnificent, flaming, changing, beautiful,
dreadful desert of the Arizona plains. At evening when the
coloured atmosphere, catching the last glow, threw across the
Chiricahuas its veil of mystery, they jingled in again, two by
two, untired, unhasting, the glory of the desert in their
deep-set, steady eyes.

And all the day long, while they were absent, the cattle, too,
made their pilgrimage, straggling in singly, in pairs, in
bunches, in long files, leisurely, ruminantly, without haste.
There, at the long troughs filled by the windmill of the
blindfolded pump mule, they drank, then filed away again into the
mists of the desert. And Senor Buck Johnson, or his foreman,
Parker, examined them for their condition, noting the increase,
remarking the strays from another range. Later, perhaps, they,
too, rode abroad. The same thing happened at nine other ranches
from five to ten miles apart, where dwelt other fierce, silent
men all under the authority of Buck Johnson.

And when night fell, and the topaz and violet and saffron and
amethyst and mauve and lilac had faded suddenly from the
Chiricahuas, like a veil that has been rent, and the ramparts had
become slate-grey and then black--the soft-breathed night
wandered here and there over the desert, and the land fell under
an enchantment even stranger than the day's.

So the days went by, wonderful, fashioning the ways and the
characters of men. Seven passed. Buck Johnson and his foreman
began to look for the stranger. Eight, they began to speculate.
Nine, they doubted. On the tenth they gave him up--and he came.

They knew him first by the soft lowing of cattle. Jed Parker,
dazzled by the lamp, peered out from the door, and made him out
dimly turning the animals into the corral. A moment later his
pony's hoofs impacted softly on the baked earth, he dropped from
the saddle and entered the room.

"I'm late," said he briefly, glancing at the clock, which
indicated ten; "but I'm here."

His manner was quick and sharp, almost breathless, as though he
had been running.

"Your cattle are in the corral: all of them. Have you the
money?"

"I have the money here," replied Buck Johnson, laying his hand
against a drawer, "and it's ready for you when you've earned it.
I don't care so much for the cattle. What I wanted is the man
who stole them. Did you bring him?"

"Yes, I brought him," said the stranger. "Let's see that money."

Buck Johnson threw open the drawer, and drew from it the heavy
canvas sack.

"It's here. Now bring in your prisoner."

The two-gun man seemed suddenly to loom large in the doorway.
The muzzles of his revolvers covered the two before him. His
speech came short and sharp.

"I told you I'd bring back the cows and the one who rustled
them," he snapped. "I've never lied to a man yet. Your stock is
in the corral. I'll trouble you for that five thousand. I'm the
man who stole your cattle!"

PART III THE RAWHIDE

CHAPTER ONE
THE PASSING OF THE COLT'S FORTY-FIVE

The man of whom I am now to tell you came to Arizona in the early
days of Chief Cochise. He settled in the Soda Springs Valley,
and there persisted in spite of the devastating forays of that
Apache. After a time he owned all the wells and springs in the
valley, and so, naturally, controlled the grazing on that
extensive free range. Once a day the cattle, in twos and threes,
in bands, in strings, could be seen winding leisurely down the
deep-trodden and converging trails to the water troughs at the
home ranch, there leisurely to drink, and then leisurely to drift
away into the saffron and violet and amethyst distances of the
desert. At ten other outlying ranches this daily scene was
repeated. All these cattle belonged to the man, great by reason
of his priority in the country, the balance of his even
character, and the grim determination of his spirit.

When he had first entered Soda Springs Valley his companions had
called him Buck Johnson. Since then his form had squared, his
eyes had steadied to the serenity of a great authority, his
mouth, shadowed by the moustache and the beard, had closed
straight in the line of power and taciturnity. There was about
him more than a trace of the Spanish. So now he was known as
Senor Johnson, although in reality he was straight American
enough.

Senor Johnson lived at the home ranch with a Chinese cook, and
Parker, his foreman. The home ranch was of adobe, built with
loopholes like a fort. In the obsolescence of this necessity,
other buildings had sprung up unfortified. An adobe bunkhouse
for the cow-punchers, an adobe blacksmith shop, a long, low
stable, a shed, a windmill and pond-like reservoir, a whole
system of corrals of different sizes, a walled-in vegetable
garden--these gathered to themselves cottonwoods from the
moisture of their being, and so added each a little to the green
spot in the desert. In the smallest corral, between the stable
and the shed, stood a buckboard and a heavy wagon, the only
wheeled vehicles about the place. Under the shed were rows of
saddles, riatas, spurs mounted with silver, bits ornamented with
the same metal, curved short irons for the range branding, long,
heavy "stamps" for the corral branding. Behind the stable lay
the "pasture," a thousand acres of desert fenced in with wire.
There the hardy cow-ponies sought out the sparse, but nutritious,
bunch grass, sixty of them, beautiful as antelope, for they were
the pick of Senor Johnson's herds.

And all about lay the desert, shimmering, changing, many-tinted,
wonderful, hemmed in by the mountains that seemed tenuous and
thin, like beautiful mists, and by the sky that seemed hard and
polished like a turquoise.

Each morning at six o'clock the ten cow-punchers of the home
ranch drove the horses to the corral, neatly roped the dozen to
be "kept up" for that day, and rewarded the rest with a feed of
grain. Then they rode away at a little fox trot, two by two.
All day long they travelled thus, conducting the business of the
range, and at night, having completed the circle, they jingled
again into the corral.

At the ten other ranches this programme had been duplicated. The
half-hundred men of Senor Johnson's outfit had covered the area
of a European principality. And all of it, every acre, every
spear of grass, every cactus prickle, every creature on it,
practically belonged to Senor Johnson, because Senor Johnson
owned the water, and without water one cannot exist on the
desert.

This result had not been gained without struggle. The fact could
be read in the settled lines of Senor Johnson's face, and the
great calm of his grey eye. Indian days drove him often to the
shelter of the loopholed adobe ranch house, there to await the
soldiers from the Fort, in plain sight thirty miles away on the
slope that led to the foot of the Chiricahuas. He lost cattle
and some men, but the profits were great, and in time Cochise,
Geronimo, and the lesser lights had flickered out in the winds of
destiny. The sheep terror merely threatened, for it was soon
discovered that with the feed of Soda Springs Valley grew a burr
that annoyed the flocks beyond reason, so the bleating scourge
swept by forty miles away. Cattle rustling so near the Mexican
line was an easy matter. For a time Senor Johnson commanded an
armed band. He was lord of the high, the low, and the middle
justice. He violated international ethics, and for the laws of
nations he substituted his own. One by one he annihilated the
thieves of cattle, sometimes in open fight, but oftener by
surprise and deliberate massacre. The country was delivered.
And then, with indefatigable energy, Senor Johnson became a
skilled detective. Alone, or with Parker, his foreman, he rode
the country through, gathering evidence. When the evidence was
unassailable he brought offenders to book. The rebranding
through a wet blanket he knew and could prove; the ear-marking of
an unbranded calf until it could be weaned he understood; the
paring of hoofs to prevent travelling he could tell as far as he
could see; the crafty alteration of similar brands--as when a
Mexican changed Johnson's Lazy Y to a Dumb-bell Bar--he saw
through at a glance. In short, the hundred and one petty tricks
of the sneak-thief he ferreted out, in danger of his life. Then
he sent to Phoenix for a Ranger--and that was the last of the
Dumb-bell Bar brand, or the Three Link Bar brand, or the Hour
Glass Brand, or a half dozen others. The Soda Springs Valley
acquired a reputation for good order.

Senor Johnson at this stage of his career found himself dropping
into a routine. In March began the spring branding, then the
corralling and breaking of the wild horses, the summer
range-riding, the great fall round-up, the shipping of cattle,
and the riding of the winter range. This happened over and over
again.

You and I would not have suffered from ennui. The roping and
throwing and branding, the wild swing and dash of handling stock,
the mad races to head the mustangs, the fierce combats to subdue
these raging wild beasts to the saddle, the spectacle of the
round-up with its brutish multitudes and its graceful riders, the
dust and monotony and excitement and glory of the Trail, and
especially the hundreds of incidental and gratuitous adventures
of bears and antelope, of thirst and heat, of the joy of taking
care of one's self--all these would have filled our days with the
glittering, changing throng of the unusual.

But to Senor Johnson it had become an old story. After the days
of construction the days of accomplishment seemed to him lean.
His men did the work and reaped the excitement. Senor Johnson
never thought now of riding the wild horses, of swinging the rope
coiled at his saddle horn, or of rounding ahead of the flying
herds. His inspections were business inspections. The country
was tame. The leather chaps with the silver conchas hung behind
the door. The Colt's forty-five depended at the head of the bed.
Senor Johnson rode in mufti. Of his cowboy days persisted still
the high-heeled boots and spurs, the broad Stetson hat, and the
fringed buckskin gauntlets.

The Colt's forty-five had been the last to go. Finally one
evening Senor Johnson received an express package. He opened it
before the undemonstrative Parker. It proved to contain a pocket
"gun"--a nickel-plated, thirty-eight calibre Smith & Wesson
"five-shooter." Senor Johnson examined it a little doubtfully.
In comparison with the six-shooter it looked like a toy.

"How do you, like her?" he inquired, handing the weapon to
Parker.

Parker turned it over and over, as a child a rattle. Then he
returned it to its owner.

"Senor," said he, "if ever you shoot me with that little old gun,
AND I find it out the same day, I'll just raise hell with you!"

"I don't reckon she'd INJURE a man much," agreed the Senor, "but
perhaps she'd call his attention."

However, the "little old gun" took its place, not in Senor
Johnson's hip pocket, but inside the front waistband of his
trousers, and the old shiny Colt's forty-five, with its worn
leather "Texas style" holster, became a bedroom ornament.

Thus, from a frontiersman dropped Senor Johnson to the status of
a property owner. In a general way he had to attend to his
interests before the cattlemen's association; he had to arrange
for the buying and shipping, and the rest was leisure. He could
now have gone away somewhere as far as time went. So can a fish
live in trees--as far as time goes. And in the daily riding,
riding, riding over the range he found the opportunity for
abstract thought which the frontier life had crowded aside.

CHAPTER TWO
THE SHAPES OF ILLUSION

Every day, as always, Senor Johnson rode abroad over the land.
His surroundings had before been accepted casually as a more or
less pertinent setting of action and condition. Now he sensed
some of the fascination of the Arizona desert.

He noticed many things before unnoticed. As he jingled loosely
along on his cow-horse, he observed how the animal waded fetlock
deep in the gorgeous orange California poppies, and then he
looked up and about, and saw that the rich colour carpeted the
landscape as far as his eye could reach, so that it seemed as
though he could ride on and on through them to the distant
Chiricahuas. Only, close under the hills, lay, unobtrusive, a
narrow streak of grey. And in a few hours he had reached the
streak of grey, and ridden out into it to find himself the centre
of a limitless alkali plain, so that again it seemed the valley
could contain nothing else of importance.

Looking back, Senor Johnson could discern a tenuous ribbon of
orange--the poppies. And perhaps ahead a little shadow blotted
the face of the alkali, which, being reached and entered, spread
like fire until it, too, filled the whole plain, until it, too,
arrogated to itself the right of typifying Soda Springs Valley as
a shimmering prairie of mesquite. Flowered upland, dead lowland,
brush, cactus, volcanic rock, sand, each of these for the time
being occupied the whole space, broad as the sea. In the circlet
of the mountains was room for many infinities.

Among the foothills Senor Johnson, for the first time,
appreciated colour. Hundreds of acres of flowers filled the
velvet creases of the little hills and washed over the smooth,
rounded slopes so accurately in the placing and manner of tinted
shadows that the mind had difficulty in believing the colour not
to have been shaded in actually by free sweeps of some gigantic
brush. A dozen shades of pinks and purples, a dozen of blues,
and then the flame reds, the yellows, and the vivid greens.
Beyond were the mountains in their glory of volcanic rocks, rich
as the tapestry of a Florentine palace. And, modifying all the
others, the tinted atmosphere of the south-west, refracting the
sun through the infinitesimal earth motes thrown up constantly by
the wind devils of the desert, drew before the scene a delicate
and gauzy veil of lilac, of rose, of saffron, of amethyst, or of
mauve, according to the time of day. Senor Johnson discovered
that looking at the landscape upside down accentuated the colour
effects. It amused him vastly suddenly to bend over his saddle
horn, the top of his head nearly touching his horse's mane. The
distant mountains at once started out into redder prominence;
their shadows of purple deepened to the royal colour; the rose
veil thickened.

"She's the prettiest country God ever made!" exclaimed Senor
Johnson with entire conviction.

And no matter where he went, nor into how familiar country he
rode, the shapes of illusion offered always variety. One day the
Chiricahuas were a tableland; next day a series of castellated
peaks; now an anvil; now a saw tooth; and rarely they threw a
magnificent suspension bridge across the heavens to their
neighbours, the ranges on the west. Lakes rippling in the wind
and breaking on the shore, cattle big as elephants or small as
rabbits, distances that did not exist and forests that never
were, beds of lava along the hills swearing to a cloud shadow,
while the sky was polished like a precious stone--these, and many
other beautiful and marvellous but empty shows the great desert
displayed lavishly, with the glitter and inconsequence of a
dream. Senor Johnson sat on his horse in the hot sun, his chin
in his band, his elbow on the pommel, watching it all with grave,
unshifting eyes.

Occasionally, belated, he saw the stars, the wonderful desert
stars, blazing clear and unflickering, like the flames of
candles. Or the moon worked her necromancies, hemming him in by
mountains ten thousand feet high through which there was no pass.
And then as he rode, the mountains shifted like the scenes in a
theatre, and he crossed the little sand dunes out from the dream
country to the adobe corrals of the home ranch.

All these things, and many others, Senor Johnson now saw for the
first time, although he had lived among them for twenty years.
It struck him with the freshness of a surprise. Also it reacted
chemically on his mental processes to generate a new power within
him. The new power, being as yet unapplied, made him uneasy and
restless and a little irritable.

He tried to show some of his wonders to Parker.

"Jed," said he, one day, "this is a great country."

"You KNOW it," replied the foreman.

"Those tourists in their nickel-plated Pullmans call this a
desert. Desert, hell! Look at them flowers!"

The foreman cast an eye on a glorious silken mantle of purple, a
hundred yards broad.

"Sure," he agreed; "shows what we could do if we only had a
little water."

And again: "Jed," began the Senor, "did you ever notice them
mountains?"

"Sure," agreed Jed.

"Ain't that a pretty colour?"

"You bet," agreed the foreman; "now you're talking! I always,
said they was mineralised enough to make a good prospect."

This was unsatisfactory. Senor Johnson grew more restless. His
critical eye began to take account of small details. At the
ranch house one evening he, on a sudden, bellowed loudly for
Sang, the Chinese servant.

"Look at these!" he roared, when Sang appeared.

Sang's eyes opened in bewilderment.

"There, and there!" shouted the cattleman. "Look at them old
newspapers and them gun rags! The place is like a cow-yard. Why
in the name of heaven don't you clean up here!"

"Allee light," babbled Sang; "I clean him."

The papers and gun rags had lain there unnoticed for nearly a
year. Senor Johnson kicked them savagely.

"It's time we took a brace here," he growled, "we're livin' like
a lot of Oilers."[5]

[5] Oilers: Greasers--Mexicans

CHAPTER THREE
THE PAPER A YEAR OLD

Sang hurried out for a broom. Senor Johnson sat where he was,
his heavy, square brows knit. Suddenly he stooped, seized one of
the newspapers, drew near the lamp, and began to read.

It was a Kansas City paper and, by a strange coincidence, was
dated exactly a year before. The sheet Senor Johnson happened to
pick up was one usually passed over by the average newspaper
reader. It contained only columns of little two- and three-line
advertisements classified as Help Wanted, Situations Wanted, Lost
and Found, and Personal. The latter items Senor Johnson
commenced to read while awaiting Sang and the broom.

The notices were five in number. The first three were of the
mysterious newspaper-correspondence type, in which Birdie
beseeches Jack to meet her at the fountain; the fourth advertised
a clairvoyant. Over the fifth Senor Johnson paused long. It
reads

"WANTED.-By an intelligent and refined lady of pleasing
appearance, correspondence with a gentleman of means. Object
matrimony.

Just then Sang returned with the broom and began noisily to sweep
together the debris. The rustling of papers aroused Senor
Johnson from his reverie. At once he exploded.

"Get out of here, you debased Mongolian," he shouted; "can't you
see I'm reading?"

Sang fled, sorely puzzled, for the Senor was calm and unexcited
and aloof in his everyday habit.

Soon Jed Parker, tall, wiry, hawk-nosed, deliberate, came into
the room and flung his broad hat and spurs into the corner. Then
he proceeded to light his pipe and threw the burned match on the
floor.

"Been over to look at the Grant Pass range," he announced
cheerfully. "She's no good. Drier than cork legs. Th' country
wouldn't support three horned toads."

"Jed," quoth the Senor solemnly, "I wisht you'd hang up your hat
like I have. It don't look good there on the floor."

"Why, sure," agreed Jed, with an astonished stare.

Sang brought in supper and slung it on the red and white squares
of oilcloth. Then he moved the lamp and retired.

Senor Johnson gazed with distaste into his cup.

"This coffee would float a wedge," he commented sourly.

"She's no puling infant," agreed the cheerful Jed.

"And this!" went on the Senor, picking up what purported to be
plum duff: "Bog down a few currants in dough and call her
pudding!"

He ate in silence, then pushed back his chair and went to the
window, gazing through its grimy panes at the mountains, ethereal
in their evening saffron.

"Blamed Chink," he growled; "why don't he wash these windows?"

Jed laid down his busy knife and idle fork to gaze on his chief
with amazement. Buck Johnson, the austere, the aloof, the grimly
taciturn, the dangerous, to be thus complaining like a querulous
woman!

"Senor," said he, "you're off your feed."

Senor Johnson strode savagely to the table and sat down with a
bang.

"I'm sick of it," he growled; "this thing will kill me off. I
might as well go be a buck nun and be done with it."

With one round-arm sweep he cleared aside the dishes.

"Give me that pen and paper behind you," he requested.

For an hour he wrote and destroyed. The floor became littered
with torn papers. Then he enveloped a meagre result. Parker had
watched him in silence.

The Senor looked up to catch his speculative eye. His own eye
twinkled a little, but the twinkle was determined and sinister,
with only an alloy of humour.

"Senor," ventured Parker slowly, "this event sure knocks me
hell-west and crooked. If the loco you have culled hasn't
paralysed your speaking parts, would you mind telling me what in
the name of heaven, hell, and high-water is up?"

"I am going to get married," announced the Senor calmly.

"What!" shouted Parker; "who to?"

"To a lady," replied the Senor, "an intelligent and refined lady-
-of pleasing appearance."

CHAPTER FOUR
DREAMS

Although the paper was a year old, Senor Johnson in due time
received an answer from Kansas. A correspondence ensued. Senor
Johnson enshrined above the big fireplace the photograph of a
woman. Before this he used to stand for hours at a time slowly
constructing in his mind what he had hitherto lacked--an ideal of
woman and of home. This ideal he used sometimes to express to
himself and to the ironical Jed.

"It must sure be nice to have a little woman waitin' for you when
you come in off'n the desert."

Or: "Now, a woman would have them windows just blooming with
flowers and white curtains and such truck."

Or: "I bet that Sang would get a wiggle on him with his little
old cleaning duds if he had a woman ahold of his jerk line."

Slowly he reconstructed his life, the life of the ranch, in terms
of this hypothesised feminine influence. Then matters came to an
understanding, Senor Johnson had sent his own portrait.
Estrella Sands wrote back that she adored big black beards, but
she was afraid of him, he had such a fascinating bad eye: no
woman could resist him. Senor Johnson at once took things for
granted, sent on to Kansas a preposterous sum of "expense" money
and a railroad ticket, and raided Goodrich's store at Willets, a
hundred miles away, for all manner of gaudy carpets, silverware,
fancy lamps, works of art, pianos, linen, and gimcracks for the
adornment of the ranch house. Furthermore, he offered wages more
than equal to a hundred miles of desert to a young Irish girl,
named Susie O'Toole, to come out as housekeeper, decorator, boss
of Sang and another Chinaman, and companion to Mrs. Johnson when
she should arrive.

Furthermore, he laid off from the range work Brent Palmer, the
most skilful man with horses, and set him to "gentling" a
beautiful little sorrel. A sidesaddle had arrived from El Paso.
It was "centre fire," which is to say it had but the single
horsehair cinch, broad, tasselled, very genteel in its suggestion
of pleasure use only. Brent could be seen at all times of day,
cantering here and there on the sorrel, a blanket tied around his
waist to simulate the long riding skirt. He carried also a sulky
and evil gleam in his eye, warning against undue levity.

Jed Parker watched these various proceedings sardonically.

Once, the baby light of innocence blue in his eye, he inquired if
he would be required to dress for dinner.

"If so," he went on, "I'll have my man brush up my low-necked
clothes."

But Senor Johnson refused to be baited.

"Go on, Jed," said he; "you know you ain't got clothes enough to
dust a fiddle."

The Senor was happy these days. He showed it by an unwonted
joviality of spirit, by a slight but evident unbending of his
Spanish dignity. No longer did the splendour of the desert fill
him with a vague yearning and uneasiness. He looked upon it
confidently, noting its various phases with care, rejoicing in
each new development of colour and light, of form and illusion,
storing them away in his memory so that their recurrence should
find him prepared to recognise and explain them. For soon he
would have someone by his side with whom to appreciate them. In
that sharing be could see the reason for them, the reason for
their strange bitter-sweet effects on the human soul.

One evening he leaned on the corral fence, looking toward the
Dragoons. The sun had set behind them. Gigantic they loomed
against the western light. From their summits, like an aureola,
radiated the splendour of the dust-moted air, this evening a deep
umber. A faint reflection of it fell across the desert,
glorifying the reaches of its nothingness.

"I'll take her out on an evening like this," quoth Senor Johnson
to himself,"and I'll make her keep her eyes on the ground till we
get right up by Running Bear Knob, and then I'll let her look up
all to once. And she'll surely enjoy this life. I bet she never
saw a steer roped in her life. She can ride with me every day
out over the range and I'll show her the busting and the branding
and that band of antelope over by the Tall Windmill. I'll teach
her to shoot, too. And we can make little pack trips off in the
hills when she gets too hot--up there by Deerskin Meadows 'mongst
the high peaks."

He mused, turning over in his mind a new picture of his own life,
aims, and pursuits as modified by the sympathetic and
understanding companionship of a woman. He pictured himself as
he must seem to her in his different pursuits. The
picturesqueness pleased him. The simple, direct vanity of the
man--the wholesome vanity of a straightforward nature--awakened
to preen its feathers before the idea of the mate.

The shadows fell. Over the Chiricahuas flared the evening star.
The plain, self-luminous with the weird lucence of the arid
lands, showed ghostly. Jed Parker, coming out from the lamp-lit
adobe, leaned his elbows on the rail in silent company with his
chief. He, too, looked abroad. His mind's eye saw what his
body's eye had always told him were the insistent notes--the
alkali, the cactus, the sage, the mesquite, the lava, the choking
dust, the blinding beat, the burning thirst. He sighed in the
dim half recollection of past days.

"I wonder if she'll like the country?" he hazarded.

But Senor Johnson turned on him his steady eyes, filled with the
great glory of the desert.

"Like the country!" he marvelled slowly. "Of course! Why
shouldn't she?"

CHAPTER FIVE
THE ARRIVAL

The Overland drew into Willets, coated from engine to observation
with white dust. A porter, in strange contrast of neatness,
flung open the vestibule, dropped his little carpeted step, and
turned to assist someone. A few idle passengers gazed out on the
uninteresting, flat frontier town.

Senor Johnson caught his breath in amazement. "God! Ain't she
just like her picture!" he exclaimed. He seemed to find this
astonishing.

For a moment he did not step forward to claim her, so she stood
looking about her uncertainly, her leather suit-case at her feet.

She was indeed like the photograph. The same full-curved,
compact little figure, the same round face, the same cupid's bow
mouth, the same appealing, large eyes, the same haze of doll's
hair. In a moment she caught sight of Senor Johnson and took two
steps toward him, then stopped. The Senor at once came forward.

"You're Mr. Johnson, ain't you?" she inquired, thrusting her
little pointed chin forward, and so elevating her baby-blue eyes
to his.

"Yes, ma'am," he acknowledged formally. Then, after a moment's
pause: "I hope you're well."

"Yes, thank you."

The station loungers, augmented by all the ranchmen and cowboys
in town, were examining her closely. She looked at them in a
swift side glance that seemed to gather all their eyes to hers.
Then, satisfied that she possessed the universal admiration, she
returned the full force of her attention to the man before her.

"Now you give me your trunk checks," he was saying, "and then
we'll go right over and get married."

"Oh!" she gasped.

"That's right, ain't it?" he demanded.

"Yes, I suppose so," she agreed faintly.

A little subdued, she followed him to the clergyman's house,
where, in the presence of Goodrich, the storekeeper, and the
preacher's wife, the two were united. Then they mounted the
buckboard and drove from town.

Senor Johnson said nothing, because he knew of nothing to say.
He drove skilfully and fast through the gathering dusk. It was a
hundred miles to the home ranch, and that hundred miles, by means
of five relays of horses already arranged for, they would cover
by morning. Thus they would avoid the dust and heat and high
winds of the day.

The sweet night fell. The little desert winds laid soft fingers
on their checks. Overhead burned the stars, clear, unflickering,
like candles. Dimly could be seen the horses, their flanks
swinging steadily in the square trot. Ghostly bushes passed
them; ghostly rock elevations. Far, in indeterminate distance,
lay the outlines of the mountains. Always, they seemed to
recede. The plain, all but invisible, the wagon trail quite so,
the depths of space--these flung heavy on the soul their weight
of mysticism. The woman, until now bolt upright in the buckboard
seat, shrank nearer to the man. He felt against his sleeve the
delicate contact of her garment and thrilled to the touch. A
coyote barked sharply from a neighbouring eminence, then
trailed off into the long-drawn, shrill howl of his species.

"What was that?" she asked quickly, in a subdued voice.

"A coyote--one of them little wolves," he explained.

The horses' hoofs rang clear on a hardened bit of the alkali
crust, then dully as they encountered again the dust of the
plain. Vast, vague, mysterious in the silence of night, filled
with strange influences breathing through space like damp winds,
the desert took them to the heart of her great spaces.

"Buck," she whispered, a little tremblingly. It was the first
time she had spoken his name.

"What is it?" he asked, a new note in his voice.

But for a time she did not reply. Only the contact against his
sleeve increased by ever so little.

"Buck," she repeated, then all in a rush and with a sob, "Oh, I'm
afraid."

Tenderly the man drew her to him. Her head fell against his
shoulder and she hid her eyes.

"There, little girl," he reassured her, his big voice rich and
musical. "There's nothing to get scairt of, I'll take care of
you. What frightens you, honey?"

She nestled close in his arm with a sigh of half relief.

"I don't know," she laughed, but still with a tremble in her
tones. "It's all so big and lonesome and strange--and I'm so
little."

"There, little girl," he repeated.

They drove on and on. At the end of two hours they stopped. Men
with lanterns dazzled their eyes. The horses were changed, and
so out again into the night where the desert seemed to breathe in
deep, mysterious exhalations like a sleeping beast.

Senor Johnson drove his horses masterfully with his one free
hand. The road did not exist, except to his trained eves. They
seemed to be swimming out, out, into a vapour of night with the
wind of their going steady against their faces.

"Buck," she murmured, "I'm so tired."

He tightened his arm around her and she went to sleep,
half-waking at the ranches where the relays waited, dozing again
as soon as the lanterns dropped behind. And Senor Johnson, alone
with his horses and the solemn stars, drove on, ever on, into the
desert.

By grey of the early summer dawn they arrived. The girl wakened,
descended, smiling uncertainly at Susie O'Toole, blinking
somnolently at her surroundings. Susie put her to bed in the
little southwest room where hung the shiny Colt's forty-five in
its worn leather "Texas-style" holster. She murmured incoherent
thanks and sank again to sleep, overcome by the fatigue of
unaccustomed travelling, by the potency of the desert air, by the
excitement of anticipation to which her nerves had long been
strung.

Senor Johnson did not sleep. He was tough, and used to it. He
lit a cigar and rambled about, now reading the newspapers he had
brought with him, now prowling softly about the building, now
visiting the corrals and outbuildings, once even the
thousand-acre pasture where his saddle-horse knew him and came to
him to have its forehead rubbed. The dawn broke in good earnest,
throwing aside its gauzy draperies of mauve. Sang, the Chinese
cook, built his fire. Senor Johnson forbade him to clang the
rising bell, and himself roused the cow-punchers. The girl slept
on. Senor Johnson tip-toed a dozen times to the bedroom door.
Once he ventured to push it open. He looked long within, then
shut it softly and tiptoed out into the open, his eyes shining.

"Jed," he said to his foreman, "you don't know how it made me
feel. To see her lying there so pink and soft and pretty, with
her yaller hair all tumbled about and a little smile on her--
there in my old bed, with my old gun hanging over her that
way--By Heaven, Jed, it made me feel almost HOLY!"

CHAPTER SIX
THE WAGON TIRE

About noon she emerged from the room, fully refreshed and wide
awake. She and Susie O'Toole had unpacked at least one of the
trunks, and now she stood arrayed in shirtwaist and blue skirt.

At once she stepped into the open air and looked about her with
considerable curiosity.

"So this is a real cattle ranch," was her comment.

Senor Johnson was at her side pressing on her with boyish
eagerness the sights of the place. She patted the stag hounds
and inspected the garden. Then, confessing herself hungry, she
obeyed with alacrity Sang's call to an early meal. At the table
she ate coquettishly, throwing her birdlike side glances at the
man opposite.

"I want to see a real cowboy," she announced, as she pushed her
chair back.

"Why, sure!" cried Senor Johnson joyously. "Sang! hi, Sang!
Tell Brent Palmer to step in here a minute."

After an interval the cowboy appeared, mincing in on his
high-heeled boots, his silver spurs jingling, the fringe of his
chaps impacting softly on the leather. He stood at ease, his
broad hat in both hands, his dark, level brows fixed on his
chief.

"Shake hands with Mrs. Johnson, Brent. I called you in because
she said she wanted to see a real cow-puncher."

"Oh, BUCK!" cried the woman.

For an instant the cow-puncher's level brows drew together. Then
he caught the woman's glance fair. He smiled.

"Well, I ain't much to look at," he proffered.

"That's not for you to say, sir," said Estrella, recovering.

"Brent, here, gentled your pony for you," exclaimed Senor
Johnson.

"Oh," cried Estrella, "have I a pony? How nice. And it was so
good of you, Mr. Brent. Can't I see him? I want to see him. I
want to give him a piece of sugar." She fumbled in the bowl.

"Sure you can see him. I don't know as he'll eat sugar. He
ain't that educated. Think you could teach him to eat sugar,
Brent?"

"I reckon," replied the cowboy.

They went out toward the corral, the cowboy joining them as a
matter of course. Estrella demanded explanations as she went
along. Their progress was leisurely. The blindfolded pump mule
interested her.

"And he goes round and round that way all day without stopping,
thinking he's really getting somewhere!" she marvelled. "I think
that's a shame! Poor old fellow, to get fooled that way!"

"It is some foolish," said Brent Palmer, "but he ain't any worse
off than a cow-pony that hikes out twenty mile and then twenty
back."

"No, I suppose not," admitted Estrella.

"And we got to have water, you know," added Senor Johnson.

Brent rode up the sorrel bareback. The pretty animal, gentle as
a kitten, nevertheless planted his forefeet strongly and snorted
at Estrella.

"I reckon he ain't used to the sight of a woman," proffered the
Senor, disappointed. "He'll get used to you. Go up to him
soft-like and rub him between the eyes."'

Estrella approached, but the pony jerked back his head with every
symptom of distrust. She forgot the sugar she had intended to
offer him.

"He's a perfect beauty," she said at last, "but, my! I'd never
dare ride him. I'm awful scairt of horses."

"Oh, he'll come around all right," assured Brent easily. "I'll
fix him."

"Oh, Mr. Brent," she exclaimed, "don't think I don't appreciate
what you've done. I'm sure he's really just as gentle as he can
be. It's only that I'm foolish."

"I'll fix him," repeated Brent.

The two men conducted her here and there, showing her the various
institutions of the place. A man bent near the shed nailing a
shoe to a horse's hoof.

"So you even have a blacksmith!" said Estrella. Her guides
laughed amusedly.

"Tommy, come here!" called the Senor.

The horseshoer straightened up and approached. He was a lithe,
curly-haired young boy, with a reckless, humorous eye and a
smooth face, now red from bending over.

"Tommy, shake hands with Mrs. Johnson," said the Senor. "Mrs.
Johnson wants to know if you're the blacksmith." He exploded in
laughter.

"Oh, BUCK!" cried Estrella again.

"No, ma'am," answered the boy directly; "I'm just tacking a shoe
on Danger, here. We all does our own blacksmithing."

His roving eye examined her countenance respectfully, but with
admiration. She caught the admiration and returned it, covertly
but unmistakably, pleased that her charms were appreciated.

They continued their rounds. The sun was very hot and the dust
deep. A woman would have known that these things distressed
Estrella. She picked her way through the debris; she dropped her
head from the burning; she felt her delicate garments moistening
with perspiration, her hair dampening; the dust sifted up through
the air. Over in the large corral a bronco buster, assisted by
two of the cowboys, was engaged in roping and throwing some wild
mustangs. The sight was wonderful, but here the dust billowed in
clouds.

"I'm getting a little hot and tired," she confessed at last. "I
think I'll go to the house."

But near the shed she stopped again, interested in spite of
herself by a bit of repairing Tommy had under way. The tire of a
wagon wheel had been destroyed. Tommy was mending it. On the
ground lay a fresh cowhide. From this Tommy was cutting a wide
strip. As she watched lie measured the strip around the
circumference of the wheel.

"He isn't going to make a tire of that!" she exclaimed,
incredulously.

"Sure," replied Senor Johnson.

"Will it wear?"

"It'll wear for a month or so, till we can get another from
town."

Estrella advanced and felt curiously of the rawhide. Tommy was
fastening it to the wheel at the ends only.

"But how can it stay on that way?" she objected. "It'll come
right off as soon as you use it."

"It'll harden on tight enough."

"Why?" she persisted. "Does it shrink much when it dries?"

Senor Johnson stared to see if she might be joking. "Does it
shrink?" he repeated slowly. "There ain't nothing shrinks more,
nor harder. It'll mighty nigh break that wood."

Estrella, incredulous, interested, she could not have told why,
stooped again to feel the soft, yielding hide. She shook her
head.

"You're joking me because I'm a tenderfoot," she accused
brightly. "I know it dries hard, and I'll believe it shrinks a
lot, but to break wood--that's piling it on a little thick."

"No, that's right, ma'am," broke in Brent Palmer. "It's awful
strong. It pulls like a horse when the desert sun gets on it.
You wrap anything up in a piece of that hide and see what
happens. Some time you take and wrap a piece around a potato and
put her out in the sun and see how it'll squeeze the water out of
her."

"Is that so?" she appealed to Tommy. "I can't tell when they are
making fun of me."

"Yes, ma'am, that's right," he assured her.

Estrella passed a strip of the flexible hide playfully about her
wrists.

"And if I let that dry that way I'd be handcuffed hard and fast,"
she said.

"It would cut you down to the bone," supplemented Brent Palmer.

She untwisted the strip, and stood looking at it, her eyes wide.

"I--I don't know why--" she faltered. "The thought makes me a
little sick. Why, isn't it queer? Ugh! it's like a snake!" She
flung it from her energetically and turned toward the ranch
house.

CHAPTER SEVEN
ESTRELLA

The honeymoon developed and the necessary adjustments took place.
The latter Senor Johnson had not foreseen; and yet, when the
necessity for them arose, he acknowledged them right and proper.

"Course she don't want to ride over to Circle I with us," he
informed his confidant, Jed Parker. "It's a long ride, and she
ain't used to riding yet. Trouble is I've been thinking of doing
things with her just as if she was a man. Women are different.
They likes different things."

This second idea gradually overlaid the first in Senor Johnson's
mind. Estrella showed little aptitude or interest in the rougher
side of life. Her husband's statement as to her being still
unused to riding was distinctly a euphemism. Estrella never
arrived at the point of feeling safe on a horse. In time she
gave up trying, and the sorrel drifted back to cow-punching. The
range work she never understood.

As a spectacle it imposed itself on her interest for a week; but
since she could discover no real and vital concern in the welfare
of cows, soon the mere outward show became an old story.
Estrella's sleek nature avoided instinctively all that interfered
with bodily well-being. When she was cool and well-fed and not
thirsty, and surrounded by a proper degree of feminine
daintiness, then she was ready to amuse herself. But she could
not understand the desirability of those pleasures for which a
certain price in discomfort must be paid. As for firearms, she
confessed herself frankly afraid of them. That was the point at
which her intimacy with them stopped.

The natural level to which these waters fell is easily seen.
Quite simply, the Senor found that a wife does not enter fully
into her husband's workaday life. The dreams he had dreamed did
not come true.

This was at first a disappointment to him, of course, but the
disappointment did not last. Senor Johnson was a man of sense,
and he easily modified his first scheme of married life.

"She'd get sick of it, and I'd get sick of it," he formulated his
new philosophy. "Now I got something to come back to, somebody
to look forward to. And it's a WOMAN; it ain't one of these darn
gangle-leg cowgirls. The great thing is to feel you BELONG to
someone; and that someone nice and cool and fresh and purty is
waitin' for you when you come in tired. It beats that other
little old idee of mine slick as a gun barrel."

So, during this, the busy season of the range riding, immediately
before the great fall round-ups, Senor Johnson rode abroad all
day, and returned to his own hearth as many evenings of the week
as he could. Estrella always saw him coming and stood in the
doorway to greet him. He kicked off his spurs, washed and dusted
himself, and spent the evening with his wife. He liked the sound
of exactly that phrase, and was fond of repeating it to himself
in a variety of connections.

"When I get in I'll spend the evening with my wife." "If I don't
ride over to Circle I, I'll spend the evening with my wife," and
so on. He had a good deal to tell her of the day's discoveries,
the state of the range, and the condition of the cattle. To all
of this she listened at least with patience. Senor Johnson, like
most men who have long delayed marriage, was self-centred without
knowing it. His interest in his mate had to do with her
personality rather than with her doings.

"What you do with yourself all day to-day?" he occasionally
inquired.

"Oh, there's lots to do," she would answer, a trifle listlessly;
and this reply always seemed quite to satisfy his interest in the
subject.

Senor Johnson, with a curiously instant transformation often to
be observed among the adventurous, settled luxuriously into the
state of being a married man. Its smallest details gave him
distinct and separate sensations of pleasure.

"I plumb likes it all," he said. "I likes havin' interest in some
fool geranium plant, and I likes worryin' about the screen doors
and all the rest of the plumb foolishness. It does me good. It
feels like stretchin' your legs in front of a good warm fire."

The centre, the compelling influence of this new state of
affairs, was undoubtedly Estrella, and yet it is equally to be
doubted whether she stood for more than the suggestion. Senor
Johnson conducted his entire life with reference to his wife.
His waking hours were concerned only with the thought of her, his
every act revolved in its orbit controlled by her influence.
Nevertheless she, as an individual human being, had little to do
with it. Senor Johnson referred his life to a state of affairs
he had himself invented and which he called the married state,
and to a woman whose attitude he had himself determined upon and
whom be designated as his wife. The actual state of affairs--
whatever it might be--he did not see; and the actual woman
supplied merely the material medium necessary to the reality of
his idea. Whether Estrella's eyes were interested or bored,
bright or dull, alert or abstracted, contented or afraid, Senor
Johnson could not have told you. He might have replied promptly
enough--that they were happy and loving. That is the way Senor
Johnson conceived a wife's eyes.

The routine of life, then, soon settled. After breakfast the
Senor insisted that his wife accompany him on a short tour of
inspection. "A little pasear," he called it, "just to get set
for the day." Then his horse was brought, and he rode away on
whatever business called him. Like a true son of the alkali, he
took no lunch with him, nor expected his horse to feed until his
return. This was an hour before sunset. The evening passed as
has been described. It was all very simple.

When the business hung close to the ranch house was in the bronco
busting, the rebranding of bought cattle, and the like--he was
able to share his wife's day. Estrella conducted herself
dreamily, with a slow smile for him when his actual presence
insisted on her attention. She seemed much given to staring out
over the desert. Senor Johnson, appreciatively, thought he could
understand this. Again, she gave much leisure to rocking back
and forth on the low, wide veranda, her hands idle, her eyes
vacant, her lips dumb. Susie O'Toole had early proved
incompatible and had gone.

"A nice, contented, home sort of a woman," said Senor Johnson.

One thing alone besides the deserts on which she never seemed
tired of looking, fascinated her. Whenever a beef was killed for
the uses of the ranch, she commanded strips of the green skin.
Then, like a child, she bound them and sewed them and nailed them
to substances particularly susceptible to their constricting
power. She choked the necks of green gourds, she indented the
tender bark of cottonwood shoots, she expended an apparently
exhaustless ingenuity on the fabrication of mechanical devices
whose principle answered to the pulling of the drying rawhide.
And always along the adobe fence could be seen a long row of
potatoes bound in skin, some of them fresh and smooth and round;
some sweating in the agony of squeezing; some wrinkled and dry
and little, the last drops of life tortured out of them. Senor
Johnson laughed good-humouredly at these toys, puzzled to explain
their fascination for his wife.

"They're sure an amusing enough contraption honey," said he, "but
what makes you stand out there in the hot sun staring at them
that way? It's cooler on the porch."

"I don't know," said Estrella, helplessly, turning her slow,
vacant gaze on him. Suddenly she shivered in a strong physical
revulsion. "I don't know!" she cried with passion.

After they had been married about a month Senor Johnson found it
necessary to drive into Willets.

"How would you like to go, too, and buy some duds?" he asked
Estrella.

"Oh!" she cried strangely. "When?"

"Day after tomorrow."

The trip decided, her entire attitude changed. The vacancy of
her gaze lifted; her movements quickened; she left off staring at
the desert, and her rawhide toys were neglected. Before
starting, Senor Johnson gave her a check book. He explained that
there were no banks in Willets, but that Goodrich, the
storekeeper, would honour her signature.

"Buy what you want to, honey," said he. "Tear her wide open. I'm
good for it."

"How much can I draw?" she asked, smiling.

"As much as you want to," he replied with emphasis.

"Take care"--she poised before him with the check book extended--
"I may draw--I might draw fifty thousand dollars."

"Not out of Goodrich," he grinned; "you'd bust the game. But
hold him up for the limit, anyway."

He chuckled aloud, pleased at the rare, bird-like coquetry of the
woman. They drove to Willets. It took them two days to go and
two days to return. Estrella went through the town in a cyclone
burst of enthusiasm, saw everything, bought everything, exhausted
everything in two hours. Willets was not a large place. On her
return to the ranch she sat down at once in the rocking-chair on
the veranda. Her hands fell into her lap. She stared out over
the desert.

Senor Johnson stole up behind her, clumsy as a playful bear. His
eyes followed the direction of hers to where a cloud shadow lay
across the slope, heavy, palpable, untransparent, like a blotch
of ink.

"Pretty, isn't it, honey?" said he. "Glad to get back?"

She smiled at him her vacant, slow smile.

"Here's my check book," she said; "put it away for me. I'm
through with it."

"I'll put it in my desk," said he. "It's in the left-hand
cubbyhole," he called from inside.

"Very well," she replied.

He stood in the doorway, looking fondly at her unconscious
shoulders and the pose of her blonde head thrown back against the
high rocking-chair.

"That's the sort of a woman, after all," said Senor Johnson. "No
blame fuss about her."

CHAPTER EIGHT
THE ROUND-UP

This, as you well may gather, was in the summer routine. Now the
time of the great fall round-up drew near. The home ranch began
to bustle in preparation.

All through Cochise County were short mountain ranges set down,
apparently at random, like a child's blocks. In and out between
them flowed the broad, plain-like valleys. On the valleys were
the various ranges, great or small, controlled by the different
individuals of the Cattlemen's Association. During the year an
unimportant, but certain, shifting of stock took place. A few
cattle of Senor Johnson's Lazy Y eluded the vigilance of his
riders to drift over through the Grant Pass and into the ranges
of his neighbour; equally, many of the neighbour's steers watered
daily at Senor Johnson's troughs. It was a matter of courtesy to
permit this, but one of the reasons for the fall round-up was a
redistribution to the proper ranges. Each cattle-owner sent an
outfit to the scene of labour. The combined outfits moved slowly
from one valley to another, cutting out the strays, branding the
late calves, collecting for the owner of that particular range
all his stock, that he might select his marketable beef. In turn
each cattleman was host to his neighbours and their men.

This year it had been decided to begin the circle of the round-up
at the C 0 Bar, near the banks of the San Pedro. Thence it would
work eastward, wandering slowly in north and south deviation, to
include all the country, until the final break-up would occur at
the Lazy Y.

The Lazy Y crew was to consist of four men, thirty riding horses,
a "chuck wagon," and cook. These, helping others, and receiving
help in turn, would suffice, for in the round-up labour was
pooled to a common end. With them would ride Jed Parker, to
safeguard his master's interests.

For a week the punchers, in their daily rides, gathered in the
range ponies. Senor Johnson owned fifty horses which he
maintained at the home ranch for every-day riding, two hundred
broken saddle animals, allowed the freedom of the range, except
when special occasion demanded their use, and perhaps half a
thousand quite unbroken--brood mares, stallions, young horses,
broncos, and the like. At this time of year it was his habit to
corral all those saddlewise in order to select horses for the
round-ups and to replace the ranch animals. The latter he turned
loose for their turn at the freedom of the range.

The horses chosen, next the men turned their attention to outfit.
Each had, of course, his saddle, spurs, and "rope." Of the
latter the chuck wagon carried many extra. That vehicle,
furthermore, transported such articles as the blankets, the
tarpaulins under which to sleep, the running irons for branding,
the cooking layout, and the men's personal effects. All was in
readiness to move for the six weeks' circle, when a complication
arose. Jed Parker, while nimbly escaping an irritated steer,
twisted the high heel of his boot on the corral fence. He
insisted the injury amounted to nothing. Senor Johnson however,
disagreed.

"It don't amount to nothing, Jed," he pronounced, after
manipulation, "but she might make a good able-bodied injury with
a little coaxing. Rest her a week and then you'll be all
right."

"Rest her, the devil!" growled Jed; "who's going to San Pedro?"

"I will, of course," replied the Senor promptly. "Didje think
we'd send the Chink?"

"I was first cousin to a Yaqui jackass for sendin' young Billy
Ellis out. He'll be back in a week. He'd do."

"So'd the President," the Senor pointed out; "I hear he's had
some experience."

"I hate to have you to go," objected Jed. "There's the missis."
He shot a glance sideways at his chief.

"I guess she and I can stand it for a week," scoffed the latter.
"Why, we are old married folks by now. Besides, you can take
care of her."

"I'll try," said Jed Parker, a little grimly.

CHAPTER NINE
THE LONG TRAIL

The round-up crew started early the next morning, just about
sun-up. Senor Johnson rode first, merely to keep out of the
dust. Then followed Torn Rich, jogging along easily in the
cow-puncher's "Spanish trot" whistling soothingly to quiet the
horses, giving a lead to the band of saddle animals strung out
loosely behind him. These moved on gracefully and lightly in the
manner of the unburdened plains horse, half decided to follow
Tom's guidance, half inclined to break to right or left. Homer
and Jim Lester flanked them, also riding in a slouch of apparent
laziness, but every once in a while darting forward like bullets
to turn back into the main herd certain individuals whom the
early morning of the unwearied day had inspired to make a dash
for liberty. The rear was brought up by Jerky Jones, the fourth
cow-puncher, and the four-mule chuck wagon, lost in its own dust.

The sun mounted; the desert went silently through its changes.
Wind devils raised straight, true columns of dust six, eight
hundred, even a thousand feet into the air. The billows of dust
from the horses and men crept and crawled with them like a living
creature. Glorious colour, magnificent distance, astonishing
illusion, filled the world.

Senor Johnson rode ahead, looking at these things. The
separation from his wife, brief as it would be, left room in his
soul for the heart-hunger which beauty arouses in men. He loved
the charm of the desert, yet it hurt him.

Behind him the punchers relieved the tedium of the march, each
after his own manner. In an hour the bunch of loose horses lost
its early-morning good spirits and settled down to a steady
plodding, that needed no supervision. Tom Rich led them, now, in
silence, his time fully occupied in rolling Mexican cigarettes
with one hand. The other three dropped back together and
exchanged desultory remarks. Occasionally Jim Lester sang. It
was always the same song of uncounted verses, but Jim had a
strange fashion of singing a single verse at a time. After a
long interval he would sing another.

"My Love is a rider
And broncos he breaks,
But he's given up riding
And all for my sake,
For he found him a horse
And it suited him so
That he vowed he'd ne'er ride
Any other bronco!"

he warbled, and then in the same breath:

"Say, boys, did you get onto the pisano-looking shorthorn at
Willets last week?

"Nope."

"He sifted in wearin' one of these hardboiled hats, and carryin'
a brogue thick enough to skate on. Says he wants a job drivin'
team--that he drives a truck plenty back to St. Louis, where he
comes from. Goodrich sets him behind them little pinto cavallos
he has. Say! that son of a gun a driver! He couldn't drive
nails in a snow bank." An expressive free-hand gesture told all
there was to tell of the runaway. "Th' shorthorn landed
headfirst in Goldfish Charlie's horse trough. Charlie fishes him
out. 'How the devil, stranger,' says Charlie, 'did you come to
fall in here?' 'You blamed fool,' says the shorthorn, just cryin'
mad, 'I didn't come to fall in here, I come to drive horses.'"

And then, without a transitory pause:

"Oh, my love has a gun
And that gun he can use,
But he's quit his gun fighting
As well as his booze.
And he's sold him his saddle,
His spurs, and his rope,
And there's no more cow-punching
And that's what I hope."

The alkali dust, swirled back by a little breeze, billowed up and
choked him. Behind, the mules coughed, their coats whitening
with the powder. Far ahead in the distance lay the westerly
mountains. They looked an hour away, and yet every man and beast
in the outfit knew that hour after hour they were doomed, by the
enchantment of the land, to plod ahead without apparently getting
an inch nearer. The only salvation was to forget the mountains
and to fill the present moment full of little things.

But Senor Johnson, to-day, found himself unable to do this. In
spite of his best efforts he caught himself straining toward the
distant goal, becoming impatient, trying to measure progress by
landmarks--in short acting like a tenderfoot on the desert, who
wears himself down and dies, not from the hardship, but from the
nervous strain which he does not know how to avoid. Senor
Johnson knew this as well as you and I. He cursed himself
vigorously, and began with great resolution to think of something
else.

He was aroused from this by Tom Rich, riding alongside. "Somebody
coming, Senor," said he.

Senor Johnson raised his eyes to the approaching cloud of dust.
Silently the two watched it until it resolved into a rider loping
easily along. In fifteen minutes he drew rein, his pony dropped
immediately from a gallop to immobility, he swung into a graceful
at-ease attitude across his saddle, grinned amiably, and began to
roll a cigarette.

"Billy Ellis," cried Rich.

"That's me," replied the newcomer.

"Thought you were down to Tucson?"

"I was."

"Thought you wasn't comin' back for a week yet?"

"Tommy," proffered Billy Ellis dreamily, "when you go to Tucson
next you watch out until you sees a little, squint-eyed
Britisher. Take a look at him. Then come away. He says he don't
know nothin' about poker. Mebbe he don't, but he'll outhold a
warehouse."

But here Senor Johnson broke in: "Billy, you're just in time.
Jed has hurt his foot and can't get on for a week yet. I want
you to take charge. I've got a lot to do at the ranch."

"Ain't got my war-bag," objected Billy.

"Take my stuff. I'll send yours on when Parker goes."

"All right."

"Well, so long."

"So long, Senor." They moved. The erratic Arizona breezes
twisted the dust of their going. Senor Johnson watched them
dwindle. With them seemed to go the joy in the old life. No
longer did the long trail possess for him its ancient
fascination. He had become a domestic man.

"And I'm glad of it," commented Senor Johnson.

The dust eddied aside. Plainly could be seen the swaying wagon,
the loose-riding cowboys, the gleaming, naked backs of the herd.
Then the veil closed over them again. But down the wind,
faintly, in snatches, came the words of Jim Lester's song:

"Oh, Sam has a gun
That has gone to the bad,
Which makes poor old Sammy
Feel pretty, damn sad,
For that gain it shoots high,
And that gun it shoots low,
And it wabbles about
Like a bucking bronco!"

Senor Johnson turned and struck spurs to his willing pony.

CHAPTER TEN
THE DISCOVERY

Senor Buck Johnson loped quickly back toward the home ranch, his
heart glad at this fortunate solution of his annoyance. The home
ranch lay in plain sight not ten miles away. As Senor Johnson
idly watched it shimmering in the heat, a tiny figure detached
itself from the mass and launched itself in his direction.

"Wonder what's eating HIM!" marvelled Senor Johnson, "--and who
is it?"

The figure drew steadily nearer. In half an hour it had
approached near enough to be recognised.

"Why, it's Jed!" cried the Senor, and spurred his horse. "What
do you mean, riding out with that foot?" he demanded sternly,
when within hailing distance.

"Foot, hell!" gasped Parker, whirling his horse alongside.
"Your wife's run away with Brent Palmer."

For fully ten seconds not the faintest indication proved that the
husband had heard, except that he lifted his bridle-hand, and the
well-trained pony stopped.

"What did you say?" he asked finally.

"Your wife's run away with Brent Palmer," repeated Jed, almost
with impatience.

Again the long pause.

"How do you know?" asked Senor Johnson, then.

"Know, hell! It's been going on for a month. Sang saw them
drive off. They took the buckboard. He heard 'em planning it.
He was too scairt to tell till they'd gone. I just found it out.
They've been gone two hours. Must be going to make the Limited."
Parker fidgeted, impatient to be off. "You're wasting time," he
snapped at the motionless figure.

Suddenly Johnson's face flamed. He reached from his saddle to
clutch Jed's shoulder, nearly pulling the foreman from his pony.

"You lie!" he cried. "You're lying to me! It ain't SO!"

Parker made no effort to extricate himself from the painful
grasp. His cool eyes met the blazing eyes of his chief.

"I wisht I did lie, Buck," he said sadly. "I wisht it wasn't so.
But it is."

Johnson's head snapped back to the front with a groan. The pony
snorted as the steel bit his flanks, leaped forward, and with
head outstretched, nostrils wide, the wicked white of the bronco
flickering in the corner of his eye, struck the bee line for the
home ranch. Jed followed as fast as he was able.

On his arrival he found his chief raging about the house like a
wild beast. Sang trembled from a quick and stormy interrogatory
in the kitchen. Chairs had been upset and let lie. Estrella's
belongings had been tumbled over. Senor Johnson there found only
too sure proof, in the various lacks, of a premeditated and
permanent flight. Still he hoped; and as long as he hoped, he
doubted, and the demons of doubt tore him to a frenzy. Jed stood
near the door, his arms folded, his weight shifted to his sound
foot, waiting and wondering what the next move was to be.

Finally, Senor Johnson, struck with a new idea, ran to his desk
to rummage in a pigeon-hole. But he found no need to do so, for
lying on the desk was what he sought--the check book from which
Estrella was to draw on Goodrich for the money she might need.
He fairly snatched it open. Two of the checks had been torn out,
stub and all. And then his eye caught a crumpled bit of blue
paper under the edge of the desk.

He smoothed it out. The check was made out to bearer and signed
Estrella Johnson. It called for fifteen thousand dollars.
Across the middle was a great ink blot, reason for its rejection.

At once Senor Johnson became singularly and dangerously cool.

"I reckon you're right, Jed," he cried in his natural voice.
"she's gone with him. She's got all her traps with her, and
she's drawn on Goodrich for fifteen thousand. And SHE never
thought of going just this time of month when the miners are in
with their dust, and Goodrich would be sure to have that much.
That's friend Palmer. Been going on a month, you say?"

"I couldn't say anything, Buck," said Parker anxiously. "A man's
never sure enough about them things till afterwards."

"I know," agreed Buck Johnson; "give me a light for my
cigarette."

He puffed for a moment, then rose, stretching his legs. In a
moment he returned from the other room, the old shiny Colt's
forty-five strapped loosely on his hip. Jed looked him in the
face with some anxiety. The foreman was not deceived by the
man's easy manner; in fact, he knew it to be symptomatic of one
of the dangerous phases of Senor Johnson's character.

"What's up, Buck?" he inquired.

"Just going out for a pasear with the little horse, Jed."

"I suppose I better come along?"

"Not with your lame foot, Jed."

The tone of voice was conclusive. Jed cleared his throat.

"She left this for you," said he, proffering an envelope. "Them
kind always writes."

"Sure," agreed Senor Johnson, stuffing the letter carelessly into
his side pocket. He half drew the Colt's from its holster and
slipped it back again. "Makes you feel plumb like a man to have
one of these things rubbin' against you again," he observed
irrelevantly. Then he went out, leaving the foreman leaning,
chair tilted, against the wall.

CHAPTER ELEVEN
THE CAPTURE

Although he had left the room so suddenly, Senor Johnson did not
at once open the gate of the adobe wall. His demeanour was gay,
for he was a Westerner, but his heart was black. Hardly did he
see beyond the convexity of his eyeballs.

The pony, warmed up by its little run, pawed the ground,
impatient to be off. It was a fine animal, clean-built,
deep-chested, one of the mustang stock descended from the Arabs
brought over by Pizarro. Sang watched fearfully from the slant
of the kitchen window. Jed Parker, even, listened for the beat
of the horse's hoofs.

But Senor Johnson stood stock-still, his brain absolutely numb
and empty. His hand brushed against something which fell, to the
ground. He brought his dull gaze to bear on it. The object
proved to be a black, wrinkled spheroid, baked hard as iron in
the sunshine of Estrella's toys, a potato squeezed to dryness by
the constricting power of the rawhide. In a row along the fence
were others. To Senor Johnson it seemed that thus his heart was
being squeezed in the fire of suffering.

But the slight movement of the falling object roused him. He
swung open the gate. The pony bowed his head delightedly. He
was not tired, but his reins depended straight to the ground, and
it was a point of honour with him to stand. At the saddle born,
in its sling, hung the riata, the "rope" without which no cowman
ever stirs abroad, but which Senor Johnson had rarely used of
late. Senor Johnson threw the reins over, seized the pony's mane
in his left hand, held the pommel with his right, and so swung
easily aboard, the pony's jump helping him to the saddle. Wheel
tracks led down the trail. He followed them.

Truth to tell, Senor Johnson had very little idea of what he was
going to do. His action was entirely instinctive. The wheel
tracks held to the southwest so he held to the southwest, too.

The pony hit his stride. The miles slipped by. After seven of
them the animal slowed to a walk. Senor Johnson allowed him to
get his wind, then spurred him on again. He did not even take
the ordinary precautions of a pursuer. He did not even glance to
the horizon in search.

About supper-time he came to the first ranch house. There he
took a bite to eat and exchanged his horse for another, a
favourite of his, named Button. The two men asked no questions.

"See Mrs. Johnson go through?" asked the Senor from the saddle.

"Yes, about three o'clock. Brent Palmer driving her. Bound for
Willets to visit the preacher's wife, she said. Ought to catch
up at the Circle I. That's where they'd all spend the night, of
course. So long."

Senor Johnson knew now the couple would follow the straight road.
They would fear no pursuit. He himself was supposed not to
return for a week, and the story of visiting the minister's wife
was not only plausible, it was natural. Jed had upset
calculations, because Jed was shrewd, and had eyes in his head.
Buck Johnson's first mental numbness was wearing away; he was
beginning to think.

The night was very still and very dark, the stars very bright in
their candle-like glow. The man, loping steadily on through the
darkness, recalled that other night, equally still, equally dark,
equally starry, when he had driven out from his accustomed life
into the unknown with a woman by his side, the sight of whom
asleep had made him feel "almost holy." He uttered a short
laugh.

The pony was a good one, well equal to twice the distance he
would be called upon to cover this night. Senor Johnson managed
him well. By long experience and a natural instinct he knew just
how hard to push his mount, just how to keep inside the point
where too rapid exhaustion of vitality begins.

Toward the hour of sunrise he drew rein to look about him. The
desert, till now wrapped in the thousand little noises that make
night silence, drew breath in preparation for the awe of the
daily wonder. It lay across the world heavy as a sea of lead,
and as lifeless; deeply unconscious, like an exhausted sleeper.
The sky bent above, the stars paling. Far away the mountains
seemed to wait. And then, imperceptibly, those in the east
became blacker and sharper, while those in the west became
faintly lucent and lost the distinctness of their outline. The
change was nothing, yet everything. And suddenly a desert bird
sprang into the air and began to sing.

Senor Johnson caught the wonder of it. The wonder of it seemed
to him wasted, useless, cruel in its effect. He sighed
impatiently, and drew his hand across his eyes.

The desert became grey with the first light before the glory. In
the illusory revealment of it Senor Johnson's sharp
frontiersman's eyes made out an object moving away from him in
the middle distance. In a moment the object rose for a second
against the sky line, then disappeared. He knew it to be the
buckboard, and that the vehicle had just plunged into the dry bed
of an arroyo.

Immediately life surged through him like an electric shock. He
unfastened the riata from its sling, shook loose the noose, and
moved forward in the direction in which he had last seen the
buckboard.

At the top of the steep little bank he stopped behind the
mesquite, straining his eyes; luck had been good to him. The
buckboard had pulled up, and Brent Palmer was at the moment
beginning a little fire, evidently to make the morning coffee.

Senor Johnson struck spurs to his horse and half slid, half fell,
clattering, down the steep clay bank almost on top of the couple
below.

Estrella screamed. Brent Palmer jerked out an oath, and reached
for his gun. The loop of the riata fell wide over him,
immediately to be jerked tight, binding his arms tight to his
side.

The bronco-buster, swept from his feet by the pony's rapid turn,
nevertheless struggled desperately to wrench himself loose.
Button, intelligent at all rope work, walked steadily backward,
step by step, taking up the slack, keeping the rope tight as he
had done hundreds of times before when a steer had struggled as
this man was struggling now. His master leaped from the saddle
and ran forward. Button continued to walk slowly back. The
riata remained taut. The noose held.

Brent Palmer fought savagely, even then. He kicked, he rolled
over and over, he wrenched violently at his pinioned arms, he
twisted his powerful young body from Senor Johnson's grasp again
and again. But it was no use. In less than a minute he was
bound hard and fast. Button promptly slackened the rope. The
dust settled. The noise of the combat died. Again could be
heard the single desert bird singing against the dawn.

CHAPTER TWELVE
IN THE ARROYO

Senor Johnson quietly approached Estrella. The girl had, during
the struggle, gone through an aimless but frantic exhibition of
terror. Now she shrank back, her eyes staring wildly, her hands
behind her, ready to flop again over the brink of hysteria.

"What are you going to do?" she demanded, her voice unnatural.

She received no reply. The man reached out and took her by the
arm.

And then at once, as though the personal contact of the touch had
broken through the last crumb of numbness with which shock had
overlaid Buck Johnson's passions, the insanity of his rage broke
out. He twisted her violently on her face, knelt on her back,
and, with the short piece of hard rope the cowboy always carries
to "hog-tie" cattle, he lashed her wrists together. Then he
arose panting, his square black beard rising and falling with the
rise and fall of his great chest.

Estrella had screamed again and again until her face had been
fairly ground into the alkali. There she had choked and
strangled and gasped and sobbed, her mind nearly unhinged with
terror. She kept appealing to him in a hoarse voice, but could
get no reply, no indication that he had even heard. This
terrified her still more. Brent Palmer cursed steadily and
accurately, but the man did not seem to hear him either.

The tempest bad broken in Buck Johnson's soul. When he had
touched Estrella he had, for the first time, realised what he had
lost. It was not the woman--her he despised. But the dreams!
All at once he knew what they had been to him--he understood how
completely the very substance of his life had changed in response
to their slow soul-action. The new world had been blasted--the
old no longer existed to which to return.

Buck Johnson stared at this catastrophe until his sight blurred.
Why, it was atrocious! He had done nothing to deserve it! Why
had they not left him peaceful in his own life of cattle and the
trail? He had been happy. His dull eyes fell on the causes of
the ruin.

And then, finally, in the understanding of how he had been
tricked of his life, his happiness, his right to well-being, the
whole force of the man's anger flared. Brent Palmer lay there
cursing him artistically. That man had done it; that man was in
his power. He would get even. How?

Estrella, too, lay huddled, helpless and defenseless, at his
feet. She had done it. He would get even. How?

He had spoken no word. He spoke none now, either in answer to
Estrella's appeals, becoming piteous in their craving for relief
from suspense, or in response to Brent Palmer's steady stream of
insults and vituperations. Such things were far below. The
bitterness and anger and desolation were squeezing his heart.
He remembered the silly little row of potatoes sewn in the green
hide lying along the top of the adobe fence, some fresh and
round, some dripping as the rawhide contracted, some black and
withered and very small. A fierce and savage light sprang into
his eyes.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
THE RAWHIDE

First of all he unhitched the horses from the buckboard and
turned them loose. Then, since he was early trained in Indian
warfare, he dragged Palmer to the wagon wheel, and tied him so
closely to it that he could not roll over. For, though the
bronco-buster was already so fettered that his only possible
movement was of the jack-knife variety, nevertheless he might be
able to hitch himself along the ground to a sharp stone, there to
saw through the rope about his wrists. Estrella, her husband
held in contempt. He merely supplemented her wrist bands by one
about the ankles.

Leisurely he mounted Button and turned up the wagon trail,
leaving the two. Estrella had exhausted herself. She was
capable of nothing more in the way of emotion. Her eyes tight
closed, she inhaled in deep, trembling, long-drawn breaths, and
exhaled with the name of her Maker.

Brent Palmer, on the contrary, was by no means subdued. He had
expected to be shot in cold blood. Now he did not know what to
anticipate. His black, level brows drawn straight in defiance,
he threw his curses after Johnson's retreating figure.

The latter, however, paid no attention. He had his purposes.
Once at the top of the arroyo he took a careful survey of the
landscape, now rich with dawn. Each excrescence on the plain his
half-squinted eyes noticed, and with instant skill relegated to
its proper category of soap-weed, mesquite, cactus. At length he
swung Button in an easy lope toward what looked to be a bunch of
soap-weed in the middle distance.

But in a moment the cattle could be seen plainly. Button pricked
up his ears. He knew cattle. Now he proceeded tentatively,
lifting high his little hoofs to avoid the half-seen inequalities
of the ground and the ground's growths, wondering whether he were
to be called on to rope or to drive. When the rider had
approached to within a hundred feet, the cattle started.
Immediately Button understood that he was to pursue. No rope
swung above his head, so he sheered off and ran as fast as he
could to cut ahead of the bunch. But his rider with knee and
rein forced him in. After a moment, to his astonishment, he
found himself running alongside a big steer. Button had never
hunted buffalo--Buck Johnson had.

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