Part 3 out of 6
"Where was your gun?" queried Jorth, sharply.
"Gun? Hell!" exclaimed Bruce, flinging wide his arms. "Ask Lorenzo.
He had a gun. An' he got a biff in the jaw before my turn come.
Attention thus directed to the Mexican showed a heavy discolored
swelling upon the side of his olive-skinned face. Lorenzo looked
"Hah! Speak up," shouted Jorth, impatiently.
"Senor Isbel heet me ver quick," replied Lorenzo, with expressive
gesture. "I see thousand stars--then moocho black--all like night."
At that some of Daggs's men lolled back with dry crisp laughter.
Daggs's hard face rippled with a smile. But there was no humor
in anything for Colonel Jorth.
"Tell us what come off. Quick!" he ordered. "Where did it happen?
Why? Who saw it? What did you do? "
Bruce lapsed into a sullen impressiveness. "Wal, I happened in
Greaves's store an' run into Jean Isbel. Shore was lookin' fer him.
I had my mind made up what to do, but I got to shootin' off my gab
instead of my gun. I called him Nez Perce--an' I throwed all thet
talk in his face about old Gass Isbel sendin' fer him---an' I told
him he'd git run out of the Tonto. Reckon I was jest warmin' up.
. . . But then it all happened. He slugged Lorenzo jest one. An'
Lorenzo slid peaceful-like to bed behind the counter. I hadn't time
to think of throwin' a gun before he whaled into me. He knocked out
two of my teeth. An' I swallered one of them."
Ellen stood in the background behind three of the men and in the
shadow. She did not join in the laugh that followed Bruce's remarks.
She had known that he would lie. Uncertain yet of her reaction to this,
but more bitter and furious as he revealed his utter baseness, she
waited for more to be said.
"Wal, I'll be doggoned," drawled Daggs.
"What do you make of this kind of fightin'?" queried Jorth,
"Darn if I know," replied Daggs in perplexity. "Shore an' sartin
it's not the way of a Texan. Mebbe this young Isbel really is what
old Gass swears he is. Shore Bruce ain't nothin' to give an edge to
a real gun fighter. Looks to me like Isbel bluffed Greaves an' his
gang an' licked your men without throwin' a gun."
"Maybe Isbel doesn't want the name of drawin' first blood,"
"That 'd be like Gass," spoke up Rock Wells, quietly. I onct rode
fer Gass in Texas."
"Say, Bruce," said Daggs, "was this heah palaverin' of yours an'
Jean Isbel's aboot the old stock dispute? Aboot his father's range
an' water? An' partickler aboot, sheep?"
"Wal--I--I yelled a heap," declared Bruce, haltingly, "but I don't
recollect all I said--I was riled. . . . Shore, though it was the same
old argyment thet's been fetchin' us closer an' closer to trouble."
Daggs removed his keen hawklike gaze from Bruce. Wal, Jorth, all I'll
say is this. If Bruce is tellin' the truth we ain't got a hell of a
lot to fear from this young Isbel. I've known a heap of gun fighters
in my day. An' Jean Isbel don't ran true to class. Shore there never
was a gunman who'd risk cripplin' his right hand by sluggin' anybody."
"Wal," broke in Bruce, sullenly. "You-all can take it daid straight
or not. I don't give a damn. But you've shore got my hunch thet Nez
Perce Isbel is liable to handle any of you fellars jest as he did me,
an' jest as easy. What's more, he's got Greaves figgered. An' you-all
know thet Greaves is as deep in--"
"Shut up that kind of gab," demanded Jorth, stridently. "An' answer me.
Was the row in Greaves's barroom aboot sheep?"
"Aw, hell! I said so, didn't I?" shouted Bruce, with a fierce uplift
of his distorted face.
Ellen strode out from the shadow of the tall men who had obscured her.
"Bruce, y'u're a liar," she said, bitingly.
The surprise of her sudden appearance seemed to root Bruce to the spot.
All but the discolored places on his face turned white. He held his
breath a moment, then expelled it hard. His effort to recover from
the shock was painfully obvious. He stammered incoherently.
"Shore y'u're more than a liar, too," cried Ellen, facing him with
blazing eyes. And the rifle, gripped in both hands, seemed to declare
her intent of menace. "That row was not about sheep. . . . Jean Isbel
didn't beat y'u for anythin' about sheep. . . . Old John Sprague was in
Greaves's store. He heard y'u. He saw Jean Isbel beat y'u as y'u
deserved. . . . An' he told ME!"
Ellen saw Bruce shrink in fear of his life; and despite her fury she
was filled with disgust that he could imagine she would have his blood
on her hands. Then she divined that Bruce saw more in the gathering
storm in her father's eyes than he had to fear from her.
"Girl, what the hell are y'u sayin'?" hoarsely called Jorth, in dark amaze.
"Dad, y'u leave this to me," she retorted.
Daggs stepped beside Jorth, significantly on his right side. "Let her
alone Lee," he advised, coolly. "She's shore got a hunch on Bruce."
"Simm Bruce, y'u cast a dirty slur on my name," cried Ellen, passionately.
It was then that Daggs grasped Jorth's right arm and held it tight,
"Jest what I thought," he said. "Stand still, Lee. Let's see the
kid make him showdown."
"That's what jean Isbel beat y'u for," went on Ellen. "For slandering
a girl who wasn't there. . . . Me! Y'u rotten liar!"
"But, Ellen, it wasn't all lies," said Bruce, huskily. "I was half
drunk--an' horrible jealous. . . . You know Lorenzo seen Isbel kissin'
you. I can prove thet."
Ellen threw up her head and a scarlet wave of shame and wrath flooded
"Yes," she cried, ringingly. "He saw Jean Isbel kiss me. Once! . . .
An' it was the only decent kiss I've had in years. He meant no insult.
I didn't know who be was. An' through his kiss I learned a difference
between men. . . . Y'u made Lorenzo lie. An' if I had a shred of good
name left in Grass Valley you dishonored it. . . . Y'u made him think
I was your girl! Damn y'u! I ought to kill y'u. . . . Eat your words
now--take them back--or I'll cripple y'u for life!"
Ellen lowered the cocked rifle toward his feet.
"Shore, Ellen, I take back--all I said," gulped Bruce. He gazed at
the quivering rifle barrel and then into the face of Ellen's father.
Instinct told him where his real peril lay.
Here the cool and tactful Daggs showed himself master of the situation.
"Heah, listen!" he called. "Ellen, I reckon Bruce was drunk an' out
of his haid. He's shore ate his words. Now, we don't want any cripples
in this camp. Let him alone. Your dad got me heah to lead the Jorths,
an' that's my say to you. . . . Simm, you're shore a low-down lyin'
rascal. Keep away from Ellen after this or I'll bore you myself. . . .
Jorth, it won't be a bad idee for you to forget you're a Texan till
you cool off. Let Bruce stop some Isbel lead. Shore the Jorth-Isbel
war is aboot on, an' I reckon we'd be smart to believe old Gass's talk
aboot his Nez Perce son."
>From this hour Ellen Jorth bent all of her lately awakened intelligence
and will to the only end that seemed to hold possible salvation for her.
In the crisis sure to come she did not want to be blind or weak.
Dreaming and indolence, habits born in her which were often a comfort
to one as lonely as she, would ill fit her for the hard test she divined
and dreaded. In the matter of her father's fight she must stand by him
whatever the issue or the outcome; in what pertained to her own principles,
her womanhood, and her soul she stood absolutely alone.
Therefore, Ellen put dreams aside, and indolence of mind and body
behind her. Many tasks she found, and when these were done for a
day she kept active in other ways, thus earning the poise and peace
Jorth rode off every day, sometimes with one or two of the men, often
with a larger number. If he spoke of such trips to Ellen it was to
give an impression of visiting the ranches of his neighbors or the
various sheep camps. Often he did not return the day he left. When
he did get back he smelled of rum and appeared heavy from need of sleep.
His horses were always dust and sweat covered. During his absences
Ellen fell victim to anxious dread until he returned. Daily he grew
darker and more haggard of face, more obsessed by some impending fate.
Often he stayed up late, haranguing with the men in the dim-lit cabin,
where they drank and smoked, but seldom gambled any more. When the men
did not gamble something immediate and perturbing was on their minds.
Ellen had not yet lowered herself to the deceit and suspicion of
eavesdropping, but she realized that there was a climax approaching
in which she would deliberately do so.
In those closing May days Ellen learned the significance of many things
that previously she had taken as a matter of course. Her father did
not run a ranch. There was absolutely no ranching done, and little work.
Often Ellen had to chop wood herself. Jorth did not possess a plow.
Ellen was bound to confess that the evidence of this lack dumfounded her.
Even old John Sprague raised some hay, beets, turnips. Jorth's cattle
and horses fared ill during the winter. Ellen remembered how they used
to clean up four-inch oak saplings and aspens. Many of them died in
the snow. The flocks of sheep, however, were driven down into the Basin
in the fall, and across the Reno Pass to Phoenix and Maricopa.
Ellen could not discover a fence post on the ranch. nor a piece of
salt for the horses and cattle, nor a wagon, nor any sign of a
sheep-shearing outfit. She had never seen any sheep sheared.
Ellen could never keep track of the many and different horses
running loose and hobbled round the ranch. There were droves of
horses in the woods, and some of them wild as deer. According to her
long-established understanding, her father and her uncles were keen
on horse trading and buying.
Then the many trails leading away from the Jorth ranch--these grew
to have a fascination for Ellen; and the time came when she rode out
on them to see for herself where they led. The sheep ranch of Daggs,
supposed to be only a few miles across the ridges, down in Bear Canyon,
never materialized at all for Ellen. This circumstance so interested
her that she went up to see her friend Sprague and got him to direct
her to Bear Canyon, so that she would be sure not to miss it. And she
rode from the narrow, maple-thicketed head of it near the Rim down all
its length. She found no ranch, no cabin, not even a corral in Bear
Canyon. Sprague said there was only one canyon by that name. Daggs
had assured her of the exact location on his place, and so had her
father. Had they lied? Were they mistaken in the canyon? There were
many canyons, all heading up near the Rim, all running and widening down
for miles through the wooded mountain, and vastly different from the deep,
short, yellow-walled gorges that cut into the Rim from the Basin side.
Ellen investigated the canyons within six or eight miles of her home,
both to east and to west. All she discovered was a couple of old log
cabins, long deserted. Still, she did not follow out all the trails
to their ends. Several of them led far into the deepest, roughest,
wildest brakes of gorge and thicket that she had seen. No cattle or
sheep had ever been driven over these trails.
This riding around of Ellen's at length got to her father's ears.
Ellen expected that a bitter quarrel would ensue, for she certainly
would refuse to be confined to the camp; but her father only asked
her to limit her riding to the meadow valley, and straightway forgot
all about it. In fact, his abstraction one moment, his intense
nervousness the next, his harder drinking and fiercer harangues with
the men, grew to be distressing for Ellen. They presaged his further
deterioration and the ever-present evil of the growing feud.
One day Jorth rode home in the early morning, after an absence of
two nights. Ellen heard the clip-clop of, horses long before she
"Hey, Ellen! Come out heah," called her father.
Ellen left her work and went outside. A stranger had ridden in with
her father, a young giant whose sharp-featured face appeared marked by
ferret-like eyes and a fine, light, fuzzy beard. He was long, loose
jointed, not heavy of build, and he had the largest hands and feet
Ellen bad ever seen. Next Ellen espied a black horse they had evidently
brought with them. Her father was holding a rope halter. At once the
black horse struck Ellen as being a beauty and a thoroughbred.
"Ellen, heah's a horse for you," said Jorth, with something of pride.
"I made a trade. Reckon I wanted him myself, but he's too gentle for
me an' maybe a little small for my weight."
Delight visited Ellen for the first time in many days. Seldom had she
owned a good horse, and never one like this.
"Oh, dad! " she exclaimed, in her gratitude.
"Shore he's yours on one condition," said her father.
"What's that?" asked Ellen, as she laid caressing hands on the
"You're not to ride him out of the canyon."
"Agreed. . . . All daid black, isn't he, except that white face?
What's his name, dad?
"I forgot to ask," replied Jorth. as he began unsaddling his own horse.
"Slater, what's this heah black's name?"
The lanky giant grinned. "I reckon it was Spades."
"Spades?" ejaculated Ellen, blankly. "What a name! . . . Well, I guess
it's as good as any. He's shore black."
"Ellen, keep him hobbled when you're not ridin' him," was her father's
parting advice as he walked off with the stranger.
Spades was wet and dusty and his satiny skin quivered. He had fine,
dark, intelligent eyes that watched Ellen's every move. She knew how
her father and his friends dragged and jammed horses through the woods
and over the rough trails. It did not take her long to discover that
this horse had been a pet. Ellen cleaned his coat and brushed him and
fed him. Then she fitted her bridle to suit his head and saddled him.
His evident response to her kindness assured her that he was gentle,
so she mounted and rode him, to discover he had the easiest gait she
had ever experienced. He walked and trotted to suit her will, but
when left to choose his own gait he fell into a graceful little pace
that was very easy for her. He appeared quite ready to break into a
run at her slightest bidding, but Ellen satisfied herself on this first
ride with his slower gaits.
"Spades, y'u've shore cut out my burro Jinny," said Ellen, regretfully.
"Well, I reckon women are fickle."
Next day she rode up the canyon to show Spades to her friend John
Sprague. The old burro breeder was not at home. As his door was open,
however, and a fire smoldering, Ellen concluded he would soon return.
So she waited. Dismounting, she left Spades free to graze on the new
green grass that carpeted the ground. The cabin and little level
clearing accentuated the loneliness and wildness of the forest.
Ellen always liked it here and had once been in the habit of visiting
the old man often. But of late she had stayed away, for the reason that
Sprague's talk and his news and his poorly hidden pity depressed her.
Presently she heard hoof beats on the hard, packed trail leading down
the canyon in the direction from which she had come. Scarcely likely
was it that Sprague should return from this direction. Ellen thought
her father had sent one of the herders for her. But when she caught
a glimpse of the approaching horseman, down in the aspens, she failed
to recognize him. After he had passed one of the openings she heard
his horse stop. Probably the man had seen her; at least she could not
otherwise account for his stopping. The glimpse she had of him had
given her the impression that he was bending over, peering ahead in
the trail, looking for tracks. Then she heard the rider come on again,
more slowly this time. At length the horse trotted out into the opening,
to be hauled up short. Ellen recognized the buckskin-clad figure,
the broad shoulders, the dark face of Jean Isbel.
Ellen felt prey to the strangest quaking sensation she had ever suffered.
It took violence of her new-born spirit to subdue that feeling.
Isbel rode slowly across the clearing toward her. For Ellen his
approach seemed singularly swift--so swift that her surprise, dismay,
conjecture, and anger obstructed her will. The outwardly calm and cold
Ellen Jorth was a travesty that mocked her--that she felt he would discern.
The moment Isbel drew close enough for Ellen to see his face she
experienced a strong, shuddering repetition of her first shock of
recognition. He was not the same. The light, the youth was gone.
This, however, did not cause her emotion. Was it not a sudden
transition of her nature to the dominance of hate? Ellen seemed
to feel the shadow of her unknown self standing with her.
Isbel halted his horse. Ellen had been standing near the trunk of a
fallen pine and she instinctively backed against it. How her legs
trembled! Isbel took off his cap and crushed it nervously in his
bare, brown hand.
"Good mornin', Miss Ellen! " he said.
Ellen did not return his greeting, but queried, almost breathlessly,
"Did y'u come by our ranch?"
"No. I circled," he replied.
"Jean Isbel! What do y'u want heah?" she demanded.
"Don't you know?" he returned. His eyes were intensely black and
piercing. They seemed to search Ellen's very soul. To meet their
gaze was an ordeal that only her rousing fury sustained.
Ellen felt on her lips a scornful allusion to his half-breed Indian
traits and the reputation that had preceded him. But she could not
"No" she replied.
"It's hard to call a woman a liar," he returned, bitterly. But you
must be--seein' you're a Jorth.
"Liar! Not to y'u, Jean Isbel," she retorted. "I'd not lie to y'u
to save my life."
He studied her with keen, sober, moody intent. The dark fire of his
eyes thrilled her.
"If that's true, I'm glad," he said.
"Shore it's true. I've no idea why y'u came heah."
Ellen did have a dawning idea that she could not force into oblivion.
But if she ever admitted it to her consciousness, she must fail in the
contempt and scorn and fearlessness she chose to throw in this man's face.
"Does old Sprague live here?" asked Isbel.
"Yes. I expect him back soon. . . . Did y'u come to see him? "
"No. . . . Did Sprague tell you anythin' about the row he saw me in?"
"He--did not," replied Ellen, lying with stiff lips. She who had sworn
she could not lie! She felt the hot blood leaving her heart, mounting
in a wave. All her conscious will seemed impelled to deceive. What had
she to hide from Jean Isbel? And a still, small voice replied that she
had to hide the Ellen Jorth who had waited for him that day, who had
spied upon him, who had treasured a gift she could not destroy, who
had hugged to her miserable heart the fact that he had fought for
"I'm glad of that," Isbel was saying, thoughtfully.
"Did you come heah to see me?" interrupted Ellen. She felt that she
could not endure this reiterated suggestion of fineness, of consideration
in him. She would betray herself--betray what she did not even realize
herself. She must force other footing--and that should be the one of
strife between the Jorths and Isbels.
"No--honest, I didn't, Miss Ellen," he rejoined, humbly. "I'll tell
you, presently, why I came. But it wasn't to see you. . . . I don't
deny I wanted . . . but that's no matter. You didn't meet me that
day on the Rim."
"Meet y'u!" she echoed, coldly. "Shore y'u never expected me?"
"Somehow I did," he replied, with those penetrating eyes on her.
"I put somethin' in your tent that day. Did you find it?"
"Yes," she replied, with the same casual coldness.
"What did you do with it?"
"I kicked it out, of course," she replied.
She saw him flinch.
"And you never opened it?"
"Certainly not," she retorted, as if forced. "Doon't y'u know anythin'
about--about people? . . . Shore even if y'u are an Isbel y'u never
were born in Texas."
"Thank God I wasn't!" he replied. "I was born in a beautiful country
of green meadows and deep forests and white rivers, not in a barren
desert where men live dry and hard as the cactus. Where I come from
men don't live on hate. They can forgive."
"Forgive! . . . Could y'u forgive a Jorth?"
"Yes, I could."
"Shore that's easy to say--with the wrongs all on your side,"
she declared, bitterly.
"Ellen Jorth, the first wrong was on your, side," retorted Jean,
his voice fall. "Your father stole my father's sweetheart--by lies,
by slander, by dishonor, by makin' terrible love to her in his absence."
"It's a lie," cried Ellen, passionately.
"It is not," he declared, solemnly.
"Jean Isbel, I say y'u lie!"
"No! I say you've been lied to," he thundered.
The tremendous force of his spirit seemed to fling truth at Ellen.
It weakened her.
"But--mother loved dad--best."
"Yes, afterward. No wonder, poor woman! . . . But it was the action
of your father and your mother that ruined all these lives. You've
got to know the truth, Ellen Jorth. . . . All the years of hate have
borne their fruit. God Almighty can never save us now. Blood must
be spilled. The Jorths and the Isbels can't live on the same earth.
. . And you've got to know the truth because the worst of this hell
falls on you and me."
The hate that he spoke of alone upheld her.
"Never, Jean Isbel! " she cried. "I'll never know truth from y'u.
. . . I'll never share anythin' with y'u--not even hell."
Isbel dismounted and stood before her, still holding his bridle reins.
The bay horse champed his bit and tossed his head.
"Why do you hate me so?" he asked. "I just happen to be my father's son.
I never harmed you or any of your people. I met you . . . fell in love
with you in a flash--though I never knew it till after. . . . Why do
you hate me so terribly?"
Ellen felt a heavy, stifling pressure within her breast. "Y'u're an
Isbel. . . . Doon't speak of love to me."
"I didn't intend to. But your--your hate seems unnatural. And we'll
probably never meet again. . . . I can't help it. I love you. Love at
first sight! Jean Isbel and Ellen Jorth! Strange, isn't it? . . .
It was all so strange. My meetin' you so lonely and unhappy, my seein'
you so sweet and beautiful, my thinkin' you so good in spite of--"
"Shore it was strange," interrupted Ellen, with scornful laugh.
She had found her defense. In hurting him she could hide her own hurt.
"Thinking me so good in spite of-- Ha-ha! And I said I'd been
"Yes, in spite of everything," he said.
Ellen could not look at him as he loomed over her. She felt a wild
tumult in her heart. All that crowded to her lips for utterance
"Yes--kissed before I met you--and since," she said, mockingly.
"And I laugh at what y'u call love, Jean Isbel."
"Laugh if you want--but believe it was sweet, honorable--the best in me,"
he replied, in deep earnestness.
"Bah!" cried Ellen, with all the force of her pain and shame and hate.
"By Heaven, you must be different from what I thought!" exclaimed Isbel,
"Shore if I wasn't, I'd make myself. . . . Now, Mister Jean Isbel,
get on your horse an' go!"
Something of composure came to Ellen with these words of dismissal,
and she glanced up at him with half-veiled eyes. His changed aspect
prepared her for some blow.
"That's a pretty black horse."
"Yes," replied Ellen, blankly.
"Do you like him?"
"I--I love him. "
"All right, I'll give him to you then. He'll have less work and kinder
treatment than if I used him. I've got some pretty hard rides ahead
"Y'u--y'u give--" whispered Ellen, slowly stiffening. "Yes. He's mine,"
replied Isbel. With that he turned to whistle. Spades threw up his head,
snorted, and started forward at a trot. He came faster the closer he got,
and if ever Ellen saw the joy of a horse at sight of a beloved master she
saw it then. Isbel laid a hand on the animal's neck and caressed him,
then, turning back to Ellen, he went on speaking: "I picked him from a
lot of fine horses of my father's. We got along well. My sister Ann
rode him a good deal. . . . He was stolen from our pasture day before
yesterday. I took his trail and tracked him up here. Never lost his
trail till I got to your ranch, where I had to circle till I picked it
"Stolen--pasture--tracked him up heah?" echoed Ellen, without any
evidence of emotion whatever. Indeed, she seemed to have been
turned to stone.
"Trackin' him. was easy. I wish for your sake it 'd been impossible,"
he said, bluntly.
"For my sake?" she echoed, in precisely the same tone,
Manifestly that tone irritated Isbel beyond control. He misunderstood
it. With a hand far from gentle he pushed her bent head back so he
could look into her face.
"Yes, for your sake!" he declared, harshly. "Haven't you sense
enough to see that? . . . What kind of a game do you think you
can play with me?"
"Game I . . . Game of what? " she asked.
"Why, a--a game of ignorance--innocence--any old game to fool a man
who's tryin' to be decent."
This time Ellen mutely looked her dull, blank questioning. And it
"You know your father's a horse thief!" he thundered.
Outwardly Ellen remained the same. She had been prepared for an
unknown and a terrible blow. It had fallen. And her face, her body,
her hands, locked with the supreme fortitude of pride and sustained
by hate, gave no betrayal of the crashing, thundering ruin within her
mind and soul. Motionless she leaned there, meeting the piercing fire
of Isbel's eyes, seeing in them a righteous and terrible scorn. In one
flash the naked truth seemed blazed at her. The faith she had fostered
died a sudden death. A thousand perplexing problems were solved in a
second of whirling, revealing thought.
"Ellen Jorth, you know your father's in with this Hash Knife Gang
of rustlers," thundered Isbel.
"Shore," she replied, with the cool, easy, careless defiance of a Texan.
"You know he's got this Daggs to lead his faction against the Isbels?"
You know this talk of sheepmen buckin' the cattlemen is all a blind?"
"Shore," reiterated Ellen.
Isbel gazed darkly down upon her. With his anger spent for the moment,
he appeared ready to end the interview. But he seemed fascinated by
the strange look of her, by the incomprehensible something she emanated.
Havoc gleamed in his pale, set face. He shook his dark head and his
broad hand went to his breast.
"To think I fell in love with such as you!" he exclaimed, and his
other hand swept out in a tragic gesture of helpless pathos and impotence.
The hell Isbel had hinted at now possessed Ellen--body, mind, and soul.
Disgraced, scorned by an Isbel! Yet loved by him! In that divination
there flamed up a wild, fierce passion to hurt, to rend, to flay, to
fling back upon him a stinging agony. Her thought flew upon her like
whips. Pride of the Jorths! Pride of the old Texan blue blood! It
lay dead at her feet, killed by the scornful words of the last of that
family to whom she owed her degradation. Daughter of a horse thief
and rustler! Dark and evil and grim set the forces within her,
accepting her fate, damning her enemies, true to the blood of the
Jorths. The sins of the father must be visited upon the daughter.
"Shore y'u might have had me--that day on the Rim--if y'u hadn't
told your name," she said, mockingly, and she gazed into his eyes
with all the mystery of a woman's nature.
Isbel's powerful frame shook as with an ague. "Girl, what do you mean?"
"Shore, I'd have been plumb fond of havin' y'u make up to me," she
drawled. It possessed her now with irresistible power, this fact of
the love he could not help. Some fiendish woman's satisfaction dwelt
in her consciousness of her power to kill the noble, the faithful,
the good in him.
"Ellen Jorth, you lie!" he burst out, hoarsely.
"Jean, shore I'd been a toy and a rag for these rustlers long enough.
I was tired of them. . . . I wanted a new lover. . . . And if y'u
hadn't give yourself away--"
Isbel moved so swiftly that she did not realize his intention until
his hard hand smote her mouth. Instantly she tasted the hot, salty
blood from a cut lip.
"Shut up, you hussy!" he ordered, roughly. "Have you no shame? . . .
My sister Ann spoke well of you. She made excuses--she pitied you."
That for Ellen seemed the culminating blow under which she almost sank.
But one moment longer could she maintain this unnatural and terrible poise.
"Jean Isbel--go along with y'u," she said, impatiently. "I'm waiting
heah for Simm Bruce!"
At last it was as if she struck his heart. Because of doubt of himself
and a stubborn faith in her, his passion and jealousy were not proof
against this last stab. Instinctive subtlety inherent in Ellen had
prompted the speech that tortured Isbel. How the shock to him rebounded
on her! She gasped as he lunged for her, too swift for her to move a
hand. One arm crushed round her like a steel band; the other, hard
across her breast and neck, forced her head back. Then she tried to
wrestle away. But she was utterly powerless. His dark face bent down
closer and closer. Suddenly Ellen ceased trying to struggle. She was
like a stricken creature paralyzed by the piercing, hypnotic eyes of a
snake. Yet in spite of her terror, if he meant death by her, she
"Ellen Jorth, I'm thinkin' yet--you lie!" he said, low and tense
between his teeth.
"No! No!" she screamed, wildly. Her nerve broke there. She could no
longer meet those terrible black eyes. Her passionate denial was not
only the last of her shameful deceit; it was the woman of her, repudiating
herself and him, and all this sickening, miserable situation.
Isbel took her literally. She had convinced him. And the instant
held blank horror for Ellen.
"By God--then I'll have somethin'--of you anyway!" muttered Isbel, thickly.
Ellen saw the blood bulge in his powerful neck. She saw his dark, hard
face, strange now, fearful to behold, come lower and lower, till it
blurred and obstructed her gaze. She felt the swell and ripple and
stretch--then the bind of his muscles, like huge coils of elastic rope.
Then with savage rude force his mouth closed on hers. All Ellen's
senses reeled, as if she were swooning. She was suffocating. The
spasm passed, and a bursting spurt of blood revived her to acute and
terrible consciousness. For the endless period of one moment he held
her so that her breast seemed crushed. His kisses burned and braised
her lips. And then, shifting violently to her neck, they pressed so
hard that she choked under them. It was as if a huge bat had fastened
upon her throat.
Suddenly the remorseless binding embraces--the hot and savage kisses--
fell away from her. Isbel had let go. She saw him throw up his hands,
and stagger back a little, all the while with his piercing gaze on her.
His face had been dark purple: now it was white.
"No--Ellen Jorth," he panted, "I don't--want any of you--that way."
And suddenly he sank on the log and covered his face with his hands.
"What I loved in you--was what I thought--you were."
Like a wildcat Ellen sprang upon him, beating him with her fists,
tearing at his hair, scratching his face, in a blind fury. Isbel
made no move to stop her, and her violence spent itself with her
strength. She swayed back from him, shaking so that she could
"Y'u--damned--Isbel!" she gasped, with hoarse passion. "Y'u insulted me!"
"Insulted you?. . ."laughed Isbel, in bitter scorn. "It couldn't be done."
"Oh! . . . I'll KILL y'u!" she hissed.
Isbel stood up and wiped the red scratches on his face. "Go ahead.
There's my gun," he said, pointing to his saddle sheath." Somebody's
got to begin this Jorth-Isbel feud. It'll be a dirty business. I'm
sick of it already. . . . Kill me! . . . First blood for Ellen Jorth!"
Suddenly the dark grim tide that had seemed to engulf Ellen's very soul
cooled and receded, leaving her without its false strength. She began
to sag. She stared at Isbel's gun. "Kill him," whispered the retreating
voices of her hate. But she was as powerless as if she were still held
in Jean Isbel's giant embrace.
"I--I want to--kill y'u," she whispered, "but I cain't. . . .
"You're no Jorth--the same as I'm no Isbel. We oughtn't be mixed in
this deal," he said, somberly. "I'm sorrier for you than I am for
myself. . . . You're a girl. . . . You once had a good mother--a decent
home. And this life you've led here--mean as it's been--is nothin' to
what you'll face now. Damn the men that brought you to this! I'm goin'
to kill some of them."
With that he mounted and turned away. Ellen called out for him to take
his horse. He did not stop nor look back. She called again, but her
voice was fainter, and Isbel was now leaving at a trot. Slowly she
sagged against the tree, lower and lower. He headed into the trail
leading up the canyon. How strange a relief Ellen felt! She watched
him ride into the aspens and start up the slope, at last to disappear
in the pines. It seemed at the moment that he took with him something
which had been hers. A pain in her head dulled the thoughts that
wavered to and fro. After he had gone she could not see so well.
Her eyes were tired. What had happened to her? There was blood on
her hands. Isbel's blood! She shuddered. Was it an omen? Lower
she sank against the tree and closed her eyes.
Old John Sprague did not return. Hours dragged by--dark hours for
Ellen Jorth lying prostrate beside the tree, hiding the blue sky and
golden sunlight from her eyes. At length the lethargy of despair,
the black dull misery wore away; and she gradually returned to a
condition of coherent thought.
What had she learned? Sight of the black horse grazing near seemed
to prompt the trenchant replies. Spades belonged to Jean Isbel. He
had been stolen by her father or by one of her father's accomplices.
Isbel's vaunted cunning as a tracker had been no idle boast. Her
father was a horse thief, a rustler, a sheepman only as a blind,
a consort of Daggs, leader of the Hash Knife Gang. Ellen well
remembered the ill repute of that gang, way back in Texas, years ago.
Her father had gotten in with this famous band of rustlers to serve
his own ends--the extermination of the Isbels. It was all very plain
now to Ellen.
"Daughter of a horse thief an' rustler!" she muttered.
And her thoughts sped back to the days of her girlhood. Only the very
early stage of that time had been happy. In the light of Isbel's
revelation the many changes of residence, the sudden moves to
unsettled parts of Texas, the periods of poverty and sudden prosperity,
all leading to the final journey to this God-forsaken Arizona--these
were now seen in their true significance. As far back as she could
remember her father had been a crooked man. And her mother had known
it. He had dragged her to her ruin. That degradation had killed her.
Ellen realized that with poignant sorrow, with a sudden revolt against
her father. Had Gaston Isbel truly and dishonestly started her father
on his downhill road? Ellen wondered. She hated the Isbels with
unutterable and growing hate, yet she had it in her to think, to ponder,
to weigh judgments in their behalf. She owed it to something in herself
to be fair. But what did it matter who was to blame for the Jorth-Isbel
feud? Somehow Ellen was forced to confess that deep in her soul it
mattered terribly. To be true to herself--the self that she alone
knew--she must have right on her side. If the Jorths were guilty,
and she clung to them and their creed, then she would be one of them.
"But I'm not," she mused, aloud. "My name's Jorth, an' I reckon I have
bad blood. . . . But it never came out in me till to-day. I've been
honest. I've been good--yes, GOOD, as my mother taught me to be--in
spite of all. . . . Shore my pride made me a fool. . . . An' now have
I any choice to make? I'm a Jorth. I must stick to my father.
All this summing up, however, did not wholly account for the pang in
What had she done that day? And the answer beat in her ears like a
great throbbing hammer-stroke. In an agony of shame, in the throes
of hate, she had perjured herself. She had sworn away her honor. She
had basely made herself vile. She had struck ruthlessly at the great
heart of a man who loved her. Ah! That thrust had rebounded to leave
this dreadful pang in her breast. Loved her? Yes, the strange truth,
the insupportable truth! She had to contend now, not with her father
and her disgrace, not with the baffling presence of Jean Isbel, but
with the mysteries of her own soul. Wonder of all wonders was it that
such love had been born for her. Shame worse than all other shame was
it that she should kill it by a poisoned lie. By what monstrous motive
had she done that? To sting Isbel as he had stung her! But that had
been base. Never could she have stopped so low except in a moment of
tremendous tumult. If she had done sore injury to Isbel what bad she
done to herself? How strange, how tenacious had been his faith in her
honor! Could she ever forget? She must forget it. But she could never
forget the way he had scorned those vile men in Greaves's store--the
way he had beaten Bruce for defiling her name--the way he had stubbornly
denied her own insinuations. She was a woman now. She had learned
something of the complexity of a woman's heart. She could not change
nature. And all her passionate being thrilled to the manhood of her
defender. But even while she thrilled she acknowledged her hate.
It was the contention between the two that caused the pang in her
breast. "An' now what's left for me?" murmured Ellen. She did not
analyze the significance of what had prompted that query. The most
incalculable of the day's disclosures was the wrong she had done
herself. "Shore I'm done for, one way or another. . . . I must
stick to Dad. . . . or kill myself?"
Ellen rode Spades back to the ranch. She rode like the wind. When she
swung out of the trail into the open meadow in plain sight of the ranch
her appearance created a commotion among the loungers before the cabin.
She rode Spades at a full run.
"Who's after you?" yelled her father, as she pulled the black to a halt.
Jorth held a rifle. Daggs, Colter, the other Jorths were there,
likewise armed, and all watchful, strung with expectancy.
"Shore nobody's after me," replied Ellen. "Cain't I run a horse round
heah without being chased?"
Jorth appeared both incensed and relieved.
"Hah! . . . What you mean, girl, runnin' like a streak right down
on us? You're actin' queer these days, an' you look queer.
I'm not likin' it."
"Reckon these are queer times--for the Jorths," replied Ellen,
"Daggs found strange horse tracks crossin' the meadow," said her father.
"An' that worried us. Some one's been snoopin' round the ranch. An'
when we seen you runnin' so wild we shore thought you was bein' chased."
"No. I was only trying out Spades to see how fast he could run,"
returned Ellen. "Reckon when we do get chased it'll take some
running to catch me."
"Haw! Haw!" roared Daggs. "It shore will, Ellen."
"Girl, it's not only your runnin' an' your looks that's queer,"
declared Jorth, in dark perplexity. "You talk queer."
"Shore, dad, y'u're not used to hearing spades called spades,"
said Ellen, as she dismounted.
"Humph!" ejaculated her father, as if convinced of the uselessness
of trying to understand a woman. "Say, did you see any strange
horse tracks?" "
"I reckon I did. And I know who made them."
Jorth stiffened. All the men behind him showed a sudden intensity of
"Who?" demanded Jorth.
"Shore it was Jean Isbel," replied Ellen, coolly. "He came up heah
tracking his black horse."
"Jean--Isbel--trackin'--his--black horse, " repeated her father.
"Yes. He's not overrated as a tracker, that's shore."
Blank silence ensued. Ellen cast a slow glance over her father and
the others, then she began to loosen the cinches of her saddle.
Presently Jorth burst the silence with a curse, and Daggs followed
with one of his sardonic laughs.
"Wal, boss, what did I tell you?" he drawled.
Jorth strode to Ellen, and, whirling her around with a strong hand,
he held her facing him.
"Did y'u see Isbel?"
"Yes," replied Ellen, just as sharply as her father had asked.
"Did y'u talk to him?"
"What did he want up heah?"
"I told y'u. He was tracking the black horse y'u stole."
Jorth's hand and arm dropped limply. His sallow face turned a livid hue.
Amaze merged into discomfiture and that gave place to rage. He raised
a hand as if to strike Ellen. And suddenly Daggs's long arm shot out
to clutch Jorth's wrist. Wrestling to free himself, Jorth cursed under
his breath. "Let go, Daggs," he shouted, stridently. "Am I drunk that
you grab me? "
"Wal, y'u ain't drunk, I reckon," replied the rustler, with sarcasm.
"But y'u're shore some things I'll reserve for your private ear."
Jorth gained a semblance of composure. But it was evident that he
labored under a shock.
"Ellen, did Jean Isbel see this black horse?"
"Yes. He asked me how I got Spades an' I told him."
"Did he say Spades belonged to him?"
"Shore I reckon he, proved it. Y'u can always tell a horse that loves
"Did y'u offer to give Spades back?"
"Yes. But Isbel wouldn't take him."
"Hah! . . . An' why not?"
"He said he'd rather I kept him. He was about to engage in a dirty,
blood-spilling deal, an' he reckoned he'd not be able to care for a
fine horse. . . . I didn't want Spades. I tried to make Isbel take him.
But he rode off. . . . And that's all there is to that."
"Maybe it's not," replied Jorth, chewing his mustache and eying Ellen
with dark, intent gaze. "Y'u've met this Isbel twice."
"It wasn't any fault of mine," retorted Ellen.
"I heah he's sweet on y'u. How aboot that?"
Ellen smarted under the blaze of blood that swept to neck and cheek
and temple. But it was only memory which fired this shame. What her
father and his crowd might think were matters of supreme indifference.
Yet she met his suspicious gaze with truthful blazing eyes.
"I heah talk from Bruce an' Lorenzo," went on her father. "An' Daggs heah--"
"Daggs nothin'!" interrupted that worthy. "Don't fetch me in. I said
nothin' an' I think nothin'."
"Yes, Jean Isbel was sweet on me, dad . . . but he will never be again,"
returned Ellen, in low tones. With that she pulled her saddle off
Spades and, throwing it over her shoulder, she walked off to her cabin.
Hardly had she gotten indoors when her father entered.
"Ellen, I didn't know that horse belonged to Isbel," he began, in the
swift, hoarse, persuasive voice so familiar to Ellen. "I swear I didn't.
I bought him--traded with Slater for him. . . . Honest to God, I never
had any idea he was stolen! . . . Why, when y'u said 'that horse y'u
stole,' I felt as if y'u'd knifed me. . . ."
Ellen sat at the table and listened while her father paced to and fro
and, by his restless action and passionate speech, worked himself into
a frenzy. He talked incessantly, as if her silence was condemnatory
and as if eloquence alone could convince her of his honesty. It
seemed that Ellen saw and heard with keener faculties than ever before.
He had a terrible thirst for her respect. Not so much for her love,
she divined, but that she would not see how he had fallen!
She pitied him with all her heart. She was all he had, as he was all
the world to her. And so, as she gave ear to his long, illogical
rigmarole of argument and defense, she slowly found that her pity
and her love were making vital decisions for her. As of old, in
poignant moments, her father lapsed at last into a denunciation of
the Isbels and what they had brought him to. His sufferings were real,
at least, in Ellen's presence. She was the only link that bound him
to long-past happier times. She was her mother over again--the woman
who had betrayed another man for him and gone with him to her ruin
"Dad, don't go on so," said Ellen, breaking in upon her father's rant.
"I will be true to y'u--as my mother was. . . . I am a Jorth. Your
place is my place--your fight is my fight. . . . Never speak of the
past to me again. If God spares us through this feud we will go away
and begin all over again, far off where no one ever heard of a Jorth.
. . . If we're not spared we'll at least have had our whack at these
During June Jean Isbel did not ride far away from Grass Valley.
Another attempt had been made upon Gaston Isbel's life. Another
cowardly shot had been fired from ambush, this time from a pine
thicket bordering the trail that led to Blaisdell's ranch. Blaisdell
heard this shot, so near his home was it fired. No trace of the hidden
foe could be found. The 'ground all around that vicinity bore a carpet
of pine needles which showed no trace of footprints. The supposition
was that this cowardly attempt had been perpetrated, or certainly
instigated, by the Jorths. But there was no proof. And Gaston Isbel
had other enemies in the Tonto Basin besides the sheep clan. The old
man raged like a lion about this sneaking attack on him. And his friend
Blaisdell urged an immediate gathering of their kin and friends. "Let's
quit ranchin' till this trouble's settled," he declared. "Let's arm an'
ride the trails an' meet these men half-way. . . . It won't help our
side any to wait till you're shot in the back." More than one of
Isbel's supporters offered the same advice.
"No; we'll wait till we know for shore," was the stubborn cattleman's
reply to all these promptings.
"Know! Wal, hell! Didn't Jean find the black hoss up at Jorth's ranch?"
demanded Blaisdell. "What more do we want?"
"Jean couldn't swear Jorth stole the black."
"Wal, by thunder, I can swear to it!" growled Blaisdell. "An' we're
losin' cattle all the time. Who's stealin' 'em?"
"We've always lost cattle ever since we started ranchin' heah."
"Gas, I reckon yu want Jorth to start this fight in the open."
"It'll start soon enough," was Isbel's gloomy reply.
Jean had not failed altogether in his tracking of lost or stolen cattle.
Circumstances had been against him, and there was something baffling
about this rustling. The summer storms set in early, and it had been
his luck to have heavy rains wash out fresh tracks that he might have
followed. The range was large and cattle were everywhere. Sometimes
a loss was not discovered for weeks. Gaston Isbel's sons were now the
only men left to ride the range. Two of his riders had quit because of
the threatened war, and Isbel had let another go. So that Jean did not
often learn that cattle had been stolen until their tracks were old.
Added to that was the fact that this Grass Valley country was covered
with horse tracks and cattle tracks. The rustlers, whoever they were,
had long been at the game, and now that there was reason for them to
show their cunning they did it.
Early in July the hot weather came. Down on the red ridges of the
Tonto it was hot desert. The nights were cool, the early mornings
were pleasant, but the day was something to endure. When the white
cumulus clouds rolled up out of the southwest, growing larger and
thicker and darker, here and there coalescing into a black thundercloud,
Jean welcomed them. He liked to see the gray streamers of rain hanging
down from a canopy of black, and the roar of rain on the trees as it
approached like a trampling army was always welcome. The grassy flats,
the red ridges, the rocky slopes, the thickets of manzanita and scrub
oak and cactus were dusty, glaring, throat-parching places under the
hot summer sun. Jean longed for the cool heights of the Rim, the shady
pines, the dark sweet verdure under the silver spruces, the tinkle and
murmur of the clear rills. He often had another longing, too, which
he bitterly stifled.
Jean's ally, the keen-nosed shepherd clog, had disappeared one day,
and had never returned. Among men at the ranch there was a difference
of opinion as to what had happened to Shepp. The old rancher thought
he had been poisoned or shot; Bill and Guy Isbel believed he had been
stolen by sheep herders, who were always stealing dogs; and Jean
inclined to the conviction that Shepp had gone off with the timber
wolves. The fact was that Shepp did not return, and Jean missed him.
One morning at dawn Jean heard the cattle bellowing and trampling out
in the valley; and upon hurrying to a vantage point he was amazed to
see upward of five hundred steers chasing a lone wolf. Jean's father
had seen such a spectacle as this, but it was a new one for Jean. The
wolf was a big gray and black fellow, rangy and powerful, and until he
got the steers all behind him he was rather hard put to it to keep out
of their way. Probably he had dogged the herd, trying to sneak in
and pull down a yearling, and finally the steers had charged him.
Jean kept along the edge of the valley in the hope they would chase
him within range of a rifle. But the wary wolf saw Jean and sheered
off, gradually drawing away from his pursuers.
Jean returned to the house for his breakfast, and then set off across
the valley. His father owned one small flock of sheep that had not
yet been driven up on the Rim, where all the sheep in the country
were run during the hot, dry summer down on the Tonto. Young Evarts
and a Mexican boy named Bernardino had charge of this flock. The
regular Mexican herder, a man of experience, had given up his job;
and these boys were not equal to the task of risking the sheep up
in the enemies' stronghold.
This flock was known to be grazing in a side draw, well up from
Grass Valley, where the brush afforded some protection from the sun,
and there was good water and a little feed. Before Jean reached his
destination he heard a shot. It was not a rifle shot, which fact
caused Jean a little concern. Evarts and Bernardino had rifles,
but, to his knowledge, no small arms. Jean rode up on one of the
black-brushed conical hills that rose on the south side of Grass Valley,
and from there he took a sharp survey of the country. At first he made
out only cattle, and bare meadowland, and the low encircling ridges and
hills. But presently up toward the head of the valley he descried a
bunch of horsemen riding toward the village. He could not tell their
number. That dark moving mass seemed to Jean to be instinct with life,
mystery, menace. Who were they? It was too far for him to recognize
horses, let alone riders. They were moving fast, too.
Jean watched them out of sight, then turned his horse downhill again,
and rode on his quest. A number of horsemen like that was a very
unusual sight around Grass Valley at any time. What then did it portend
now? Jean experienced a little shock of uneasy dread that was a new
sensation for him. Brooding over this he proceeded on his way, at
length to turn into the draw where the camp of the sheep-herders was
located. Upon coming in sight of it he heard a hoarse shout. Young
Evarts appeared running frantically out of the brush. Jean urged his
horse into a run and soon covered the distance between them. Evarts
appeared beside himself with terror.
"Boy! what's the matter?" queried Jean, as he dismounted, rifle in hand,
peering quickly from Evarts's white face to the camp, and all around.
"Ber-nardino! Ber-nardino!" gasped the boy, wringing his hands and
Jean ran the few remaining rods to the sheep camp. He saw the little
teepee, a burned-out fire, a half-finished meal--and then the Mexican
lad lying prone on the ground, dead, with a bullet hole in his ghastly
face. Near him lay an old six-shooter.
"Whose gun is that?" demanded Jean, as he picked it up.
"Ber-nardino's," replied Evarts, huskily. "He--he jest got it--the
"Did he shoot himself accidentally?"
"Oh no! No! He didn't do it--atall."
"Who did, then?"
"The men--they rode up--a gang-they did it," panted Evarts.
"Did you know who they were?"
"No. I couldn't tell. I saw them comin' an' I was skeered. Bernardino
had gone fer water. I run an' hid in the brush. I wanted to yell, but
they come too close. . . . Then I heerd them talkin'. Bernardino come
back. They 'peared friendly-like. Thet made me raise up, to look.
An' I couldn't see good. I heerd one of them ask Bernardino to let him
see his gun. An' Bernardino handed it over. He looked at the gun an'
haw-hawed, an' flipped it up in the air, an' when it fell back in his
hand it--it went off bang! . . . An' Bernardino dropped. . . . I hid
down close. I was skeered stiff. I heerd them talk more, but not what
they said. Then they rode away. . . . An' I hid there till I seen
"Have you got a horse?" queried Jean, sharply.
"No. But I can ride one of Bernardino's burros."
"Get one. Hurry over to Blaisdell. Tell him to send word to Blue and
Gordon and Fredericks to ride like the devil to my father's ranch.
Young Evarts ran off without reply. Jean stood looking down at the
limp and pathetic figure of the Mexican boy. "By Heaven!" he exclaimed,
grimly "the Jorth-Isbel war is on! . . . Deliberate, cold-blooded murder!
I'll gamble Daggs did this job. He's been given the leadership. He's
started it. . . . Bernardino, greaser or not, you were a faithful lad,
and you won't go long unavenged."
Jean had no time to spare. Tearing a tarpaulin out of the teepee he
covered the lad with it and then ran for, his horse. Mounting, he
galloped down the draw, over the little red ridges, out into the valley,
where he put his horse to a run.
Action changed the sickening horror that sight of Bernardino had
engendered. Jean even felt a strange, grim relief. The long, dragging
days of waiting were over. Jorth's gang had taken the initiative.
Blood had begun to flow. And it would continue to flow now till the
last man of one faction stood over the dead body of the last man of
the other. Would it be a Jorth or an Isbel? "My instinct was right,"
he muttered, aloud. "That bunch of horses gave me a queer feelin'."
Jean gazed all around the grassy, cattle-dotted valley he was crossing
so swiftly, and toward the village, but he did not see any sign of the
dark group of riders. They had gone on to Greaves's store, there, no
doubt, to drink and to add more enemies of the Isbels to their gang.
Suddenly across Jean's mind flashed a thought of Ellen Jorth. "What
'll become of her? . . . What 'll become of all the women? My sister?
. . . The little ones?"
No one was in sight around the ranch. Never had it appeared more
peaceful and pastoral to Jean. The grazing cattle and horses in the
foreground, the haystack half eaten away, the cows in the fenced
pasture, the column of blue smoke lazily ascending, the cackle of
hens, the solid, well-built cabins--all these seemed to repudiate
Jean's haste and his darkness of mind. This place was, his father's
farm. There was not a cloud in the blue, summer sky.
As Jean galloped up the lane some one saw him from the door, and
then Bill and Guy and their gray-headed father came out upon the porch.
Jean saw how he' waved the womenfolk back, and then strode out into
the lane. Bill and Guy reached his side as Jean pulled his heaving
horse to a halt. They all looked at Jean, swiftly and intently, with
a little, hard, fiery gleam strangely identical in the eyes of each.
Probably before a word was spoken they knew what to expect.
"Wal, you shore was in a hurry," remarked the father.
"What the hell's up?" queried Bill, grimly.
Guy Isbel remained silent and it was he who turned slightly pale.
Jean leaped off his horse.
"Bernardino has just been killed--murdered with his own gun.
Gaston Isbel seemed to exhale a long-dammed, bursting breath that
let his chest sag. A terrible deadly glint, pale and cold as
sunlight on ice, grew slowly to dominate his clear eyes.
"A-huh!" ejaculated Bill Isbel, hoarsely.
Not one of the three men asked who had done the killing. They were
silent a moment, motionless, locked in the secret seclusion of their
own minds. Then they listened with absorption to Jean's brief story.
"Wal, that lets us in," said his father. "I wish we had more time.
Reckon I'd done better to listen to you boys an' have my men close
at hand. Jacobs happened to ride over. That makes five of us besides
"Aw, dad, you don't reckon they'll round us up heah?" asked Guy Isbel.
"Boys, I always feared they might," replied the old man. "But I never
really believed they'd have the nerve. Shore I ought to have figgered
Daggs better. This heah secret bizness an' shootin' at us from ambush
looked aboot Jorth's size to me. But I reckon now we'll have to fight
without our friends."
"Let them come," said Jean. "I sent for Blaisdell, Blue, Gordon, and
Fredericks. Maybe they'll get here in time. But if they don't it
needn't worry us much. We can hold out here longer than Jorth's gang
can hang around. We'll want plenty of water, wood, and meat in the house."
"Wal, I'll see to that," rejoined his father. "Jean, you go out close
by, where you can see all around, an' keep watch."
"Who's goin' to tell the women?" asked Guy Isbel.
The silence that momentarily ensued was an eloquent testimony to the
hardest and saddest aspect of this strife between men. The
inevitableness of it in no wise detracted from its sheer uselessness.
Men from time immemorial had hated, and killed one another, always to
the misery and degradation of their women. Old Gaston Isbel showed
this tragic realization in his lined face.
"Wal, boys, I'll tell the women," he said. "Shore you needn't worry
none aboot them. They'll be game."
Jean rode away to an open knoll a short distance from the house,
and here he stationed himself to watch all points. The cedared
ridge back of the ranch was the one approach by which Jorth's gang
might come close without being detected, but even so, Jean could see
them and ride to the house in time to prevent a surprise. The moments
dragged by, and at the end of an hour Jean was in hopes that Blaisdell
would soon come. These hopes were well founded. Presently he heard a
clatter of hoofs on hard ground to the south, and upon wheeling to look
he saw the friendly neighbor coming fast along the road, riding a big
white horse. Blaisdell carried a rifle in his hand, and the sight of
him gave Jean a glow of warmth. He was one of the Texans who would
stand by the Isbels to the last man. Jean watched him ride to the
house--watched the meeting between him and his lifelong friend.
There floated out to Jean old Blaisdell's roar of rage.
Then out on the green of Grass Valley, where a long, swelling plain
swept away toward the village, there appeared a moving dark patch.
A bunch of horses! Jean's body gave a slight start--the shock of
sudden propulsion of blood through all his veins. Those horses bore
riders. They were coming straight down the open valley, on the wagon
road to Isbel's ranch. No subterfuge nor secrecy nor sneaking in that
advance! A hot thrill ran over Jean.
"By Heaven! They mean business!" he muttered. Up to the last moment
he had unconsciously hoped Jorth's gang would not come boldly like that.
The verifications of all a Texan's inherited instincts left no doubts,
no hopes, no illusions--only a grim certainty that this was not
conjecture nor probability, but fact. For a moment longer Jean
watched the slowly moving dark patch of horsemen against the green
background, then he hurried back to the ranch. His father saw him
coming--strode out as before.
"Dad--Jorth is comin'," said Jean, huskily. How he hated to be forced
to tell his father that! The boyish love of old had flashed up.
"Whar?" demanded the old man, his eagle gaze sweeping the horizon.
"Down the road from Grass Valley. You can't see from here."
"Wal, come in an' let's get ready."
Isbel's house had not been constructed with the idea of repelling an
attack from a band of Apaches. The long living room of the main cabin
was the one selected for defense and protection. This room had two
windows and a door facing the lane, and a door at each end, one of
which opened into the kitchen and the other into an adjoining and
later-built cabin. The logs of this main cabin were of large size,
and the doors and window coverings were heavy, affording safer
protection from bullets than the other cabins.
When Jean went in he seemed to see a host of white faces lifted to him.
His sister Ann, his two sisters-in-law, the children, all mutely watched
him with eyes that would haunt him.
"Wal, Blaisdell, Jean says Jorth an' his precious gang of rustlers are
on the way heah," announced the rancher.
"Damn me if it's not a bad day fer Lee Jorth! " declared Blaisdell.
"Clear off that table," ordered Isbel, "an' fetch out all the guns
an' shells we got."
Once laid upon the table these presented a formidable arsenal, which
consisted of the three new .44 Winchesters that Jean had brought with
him from the coast; the enormous buffalo, or so-called "needle" gun,
that Gaston Isbel had used for years; a Henry rifle which Blaisdell
had brought, and half a dozen six-shooters. Piles and packages of
ammunition littered the table.
"Sort out these heah shells," said Isbel. "Everybody wants to get
hold of his own."
Jacobs, the neighbor who was present, was a thick-set, bearded man,
rather jovial among those lean-jawed Texans. He carried a .44 rifle
of an old pattern. "Wal, boys, if I'd knowed we was in fer some fun
I'd hev fetched more shells. Only got one magazine full. Mebbe them
new .44's will fit my gun."
It was discovered that the ammunition Jean had brought in quantity
fitted Jacob's rifle, a fact which afforded peculiar satisfaction
to all the men present.
"Wal, shore we're lucky," declared Gaston Isbel.
The women sat apart, in the comer toward the kitchen, and there seemed
to be a strange fascination for them in the talk and action of the men.
The wife of Jacobs was a little woman, with homely face and very bright
eyes. Jean thought she would be a help in that household during the
next doubtful hours.
Every moment Jean would go to the window and peer out down the road.
His companions evidently relied upon him, for no one else looked out.
Now that the suspense of days and weeks was over, these Texans faced
the issue with talk and act not noticeably different from those of
At last Jean espied the dark mass of horsemen out in the valley road.
They were close together, walking their mounts, and evidently in earnest
conversation. After several ineffectual attempts Jean counted eleven
horses, every one of which he was sure bore a rider.
"Dad, look out!" called Jean.
Gaston Isbel strode to the door and stood looking, without a word.
The other men crowded to the windows. Blaisdell cursed under his
breath. Jacobs said: "By Golly! Come to pay us a call!" The women
sat motionless, with dark, strained eyes. The children ceased their
play and looked fearfully to their mother.
When just out of rifle shot of the cabins the band of horsemen halted
and lined up in a half circle, all facing the ranch. They were close
enough for Jean to see their gestures, but he could not recognize any
of their faces. It struck him singularly that not one of them wore
"Jean, do you know any of them?" asked his father
"No, not yet. They're too far off."
"Dad, I'll get your old telescope," said Guy Isbel, and he ran out
toward the adjoining cabin.
Blaisdell shook his big, hoary head and rumbled out of his bull-like
neck, "Wal, now you're heah, you sheep fellars, what are you goin'
to do aboot it? "
Guy Isbel returned with a yard-long telescope, which he passed to his
father. The old man took it with shaking hands and leveled it.
Suddenly it was as if he had been transfixed; then he lowered the
glass, shaking violently, and his face grew gray with an exceeding
"Jorth!" he swore, harshly.
Jean had only to look at his father to know that recognition had been
like a mortal shock. It passed. Again the rancher leveled the glass.
"Wal, Blaisdell, there's our old Texas friend, Daggs," he drawled, dryly.
"An' Greaves, our honest storekeeper of Grass Valley. An' there's
Stonewall Jackson Jorth. An' Tad Jorth, with the same old red nose!
. . . An', say, damn if one of that gang isn't Queen, as bad a gun
fighter as Texas ever bred. Shore I thought he'd been killed in the
Big Bend country. So I heard. . . . An' there's Craig, another
respectable sheepman of Grass Valley. Haw-haw! An', wal, I don't
recognize any more of them."
Jean forthwith took the glass and moved it slowly across the faces of
that group of horsemen. "Simm Bruce," he said, instantly. "I see
Colter. And, yes, Greaves is there. I've seen the man next to him
--face like a ham. . . ."
"Shore that is Craig," interrupted his father.
Jean knew the dark face of Lee Jorth by the resemblance it bore to
Ellen's, and the recognition brought a twinge. He thought, too,
that he could tell the other Jorths. He asked his father to describe
Daggs and then Queen. It was not likely that Jean would fail to know
these several men in the future. Then Blaisdell asked for the telescope
and, when he got through looking and cursing, he passed it on to others,
who, one by one, took a long look, until finally it came back to the
"Wal, Daggs is wavin' his hand heah an' there, like a general aboot
to send out scouts. Haw-haw! . . . An' 'pears to me he's not overlookin'
our hosses. Wal, that's natural for a rustler. He'd have to steal a
hoss or a steer before goin' into a fight or to dinner or to a funeral."
"It 'll be his funeral if he goes to foolin' 'round them hosses,"
declared Guy Isbel, peering anxiously out of the door.
"Wal, son, shore it 'll be somebody's funeral," replied his father.
Jean paid but little heed to the conversation. With sharp eyes fixed
upon the horsemen, he tried to grasp at their intention. Daggs pointed
to the horses in the pasture lot that lay between him and the house.
These animals were the best on the range and belonged mostly to Guy
Isbel, who was the horse fancier and trader of the family. His horses
were his passion.
"Looks like they'd do some horse stealin'," said Jean.
"Lend me that glass," demanded Guy, forcefully. He surveyed the band
of men for a long moment, then he handed the glass back to Jean.
"I'm goin' out there after my bosses," he declared.
"No!" exclaimed his father.
"That gang come to steal an' not to fight. Can't you see that?
If they meant to fight they'd do it. They're out there arguin'
about my hosses."
Guy picked up his rifle. He looked sullenly determined and the gleam
in his eye was one of fearlessness.
"Son, I know Daggs," said his father. "An' I know Jorth. They've come
to kill us. It 'll be shore death for y'u to go out there."
"I'm goin', anyhow. They can't steal my hosses out from under my eyes.
An' they ain't in range."
"Wal, Guy, you ain't goin' alone," spoke up Jacobs, cheerily, as he
The red-haired young wife of Guy Isbel showed no change of her grave
face. She had been reared in a stern school. She knew men in times
like these. But Jacobs's wife appealed to him, "Bill, don't risk
your life for a horse or two."
Jacobs laughed and answered, "Not much risk," and went out with Guy.
To Jean their action seemed foolhardy. He kept a keen eye on them
and saw instantly when the band became aware of Guy's and Jacobs's
entrance into the pasture. It took only another second then to realize
that Daggs and Jorth had deadly intent. Jean saw Daggs slip out of his
saddle, rifle in hand. Others of the gang did likewise, until half of
them were dismounted.
"Dad, they're goin' to shoot," called out Jean, sharply. "Yell for
Guy and Jacobs. Make them come back."
The old man shouted; Bill Isbel yelled; Blaisdell lifted his
Jean screamed piercingly: "Guy! Run! Run!"
But Guy Isbel and his companion strode on into the pasture, as if they
had not heard, as if no menacing horse thieves were within miles. They
had covered about a quarter of the distance across the pasture, and
were nearing the horses, when Jean saw red flashes and white puffs of
smoke burst out from the front of that dark band of rustlers. Then
followed the sharp, rattling crack of rifles.
Guy Isbel stopped short, and, dropping his gun, he threw up his arms
and fell headlong. Jacobs acted as if he had suddenly encountered an
invisible blow. He had been hit. Turning, he began to run and ran fast
for a few paces. There were more quick, sharp shots. He let go of his
rifle. His running broke. Walking, reeling, staggering, he kept on.
A hoarse cry came from him. Then a single rifle shot pealed out. Jean
heard the bullet strike. Jacobs fell to his knees, then forward on his
Jean Isbel felt himself turned to marble. The suddenness of this
tragedy paralyzed him. His gaze remained riveted on those prostrate
A hand clutched his arm--a shaking woman's hand, slim and hard
"Bill's--killed!" whispered a broken voice. "I was watchin'.
. . . They're both dead!"
The wives of Jacobs and Guy Isbel had slipped up behind Jean and
from behind him they had seen the tragedy.
"I asked Bill--not to--go," faltered the Jacobs woman, and, covering
her face with her hands, she groped back to the comer of the cabin,
where the other women, shaking and white, received her in their arms.
Guy Isbel's wife stood at the window, peering over Jean's shoulder.
She had the nerve of a man. She had looked out upon death before.
"Yes, they're dead," she said, bitterly. "An' how are we goin' to
get their bodies?"
At this Gaston Isbel seemed to rouse from the cold spell that had
"God, this is hell for our women," he cried out, hoarsely. My son--
my son! . . . Murdered by the Jorths!" Then he swore a terrible oath.
Jean saw the remainder of the mounted rustlers get off, and then, all
of them leading their horses, they began to move around to the left.
"Dad, they're movin' round," said Jean.
"Up to some trick," declared Bill Isbel.
"Bill, you make a hole through the back wall, say aboot the fifth
log up," ordered the father. "Shore we've got to look out."
The elder son grasped a tool and, scattering the children, who had
been playing near the back corner, he began to work at the point
designated. The little children backed away with fixed, wondering,
grave eyes. The women moved their chairs, and huddled together as
if waiting and listening.
Jean watched the rustlers until they passed out of his sight. They
had moved toward the sloping, brushy ground to the north and west of
"Let me know when you get a hole in the back wall," said Jean, and he
went through the kitchen and cautiously out another door to slip into
a low-roofed, shed-like end of the rambling cabin. This small space
was used to store winter firewood. The chinks between the walls had
not been filled with adobe clay, and he could see out on three sides.
The rustlers were going into the juniper brush. They moved out of
sight, and presently reappeared without their horses. It looked to
Jean as if they intended to attack the cabins. Then they halted at
the edge of the brush and held a long consultation. Jean could see
them distinctly, though they were too far distant for him to recognize
any particular man. One of them, however, stood and moved apart from
the closely massed group. Evidently, from his strides and gestures,
he was exhorting his listeners. Jean concluded this was either Daggs
or Jorth. Whoever it was had a loud, coarse voice, and this and his
actions impressed Jean with a suspicion that the man was under the
influence of the bottle.
Presently Bill Isbel called Jean in a low voice. "Jean, I got the
hole made, but we can't see anyone."
"I see them," Jean replied. "They're havin' a powwow. Looks to me
like either Jorth or Daggs is drunk. He's arguin' to charge us, an'
the rest of the gang are holdin' back. . . . Tell dad, an' all of you
keep watchin'. I'll let you know when they make a move."
Jorth's gang appeared to be in no hurry to expose their plan of battle.
Gradually the group disintegrated a little; some of them sat down;
others walked to and fro. Presently two of them went into the brush,
probably back to the horses. In a few moments they reappeared, carrying
a pack. And when this was deposited on the ground all the rustlers sat
down around it. They had brought food and drink. Jean had to utter a
grim laugh at their coolness; and he was reminded of many dare-devil
deeds known to have been perpetrated by the Hash Knife Gang. Jean was
glad of a reprieve. The longer the rustlers put off an attack the more
time the allies of the Isbels would have to get here. Rather hazardous,
however, would it be now for anyone to attempt to get to the Isbel cabins
in the daytime. Night would be more favorable.
Twice Bill Isbel came through the kitchen to whisper to Jean. The strain
in the large room, from which the rustlers could not be seen, must have
been great. Jean told him all he had seen and what he thought about it.
"Eatin' an' drinkin'!" ejaculated Bill. "Well, I'll be--! That 'll jar
the old man. He wants to get the fight over.
"Tell him I said it'll be over too quick--for us--unless are mighty
careful," replied Jean, sharply.
Bill went back muttering to himself. Then followed a long wait, fraught
with suspense, during which Jean watched the rustlers regale themselves.
The day was hot and still. And the unnatural silence of the cabin was
broken now and then by the gay laughter of the children. The sound
shocked and haunted Jean. Playing children! Then another sound, so
faint he had to strain to hear it, disturbed and saddened him--his
father's slow tread up and down the cabin floor, to and fro, to and fro.
What must be in his father's heart this day!
At length the rustlers rose and, with rifles in hand, they moved as
one man down the slope. They came several hundred yards closer, until
Jean, grimly cocking his rifle, muttered to himself that a few more rods
closer would mean the end of several of that gang. They knew the range
of a rifle well enough, and once more sheered off at right angles with
the cabin. When they got even with the line of corrals they stooped
down and were lost to Jean's sight. This fact caused him alarm.
They were, of course, crawling up on the cabins. At the end of that
line of corrals ran a ditch, the bank of which was high enough to
afford cover. Moreover, it ran along in front of the cabins, scarcely
a hundred yards, and it was covered with grass and little clumps of
brush, from behind which the rustlers could fire into the windows and
through the clay chinks without any considerable risk to themselves.
As they did not come into sight again, Jean concluded he had discovered
their plan. Still, he waited awhile longer, until he saw faint, little
clouds of dust rising from behind the far end of the embankment. That
discovery made him rush out, and through the kitchen to the large cabin,
where his sudden appearance startled the men.
"Get back out of sight!" he ordered, sharply, and with swift steps he
reached the door and closed it. "They're behind the bank out there by
the corrals. An' they're goin' to crawl down the ditch closer to us.
. . . It looks bad. They'll have grass an' brush to shoot from.
We've got to be mighty careful how we peep out."
"Ahuh! All right," replied his father. "You women keep the kids with
you in that corner. An' you all better lay down flat."
Blaisdell, Bill Isbel, and the old man crouched at the large window,
peeping through cracks in the rough edges of the logs. Jean took his
post beside the small window, with his keen eyes vibrating like a
compass needle. The movement of a blade of grass, the flight of a
grasshopper could not escape his trained sight.
"Look sharp now!" he called to the other men. "I see dust. . . .
They're workin' along almost to that bare spot on the bank. . . .
I saw the tip of a rifle . . . a black hat . . . more dust. They're
spreadin' along behind the bank."
Loud voices, and then thick clouds of yellow dust, coming from behind
the highest and brushiest line of the embankment, attested to the truth
of Jean's observation, and also to a reckless disregard of danger.
Suddenly Jean caught a glint of moving color through the fringe of
brush. Instantly he was strung like a whipcord.
Then a tall, hatless and coatless man stepped up in plain sight.
The sun shone on his fair, ruffled hair. Daggs!
Hey, you -- --Isbels!" he bawled, in magnificent derisive boldness.
"Come out an' fight!"
Quick as lightning Jean threw up his rifle and fired. He saw tufts
of fair hair fly from Daggs's head. He saw the squirt of red blood.
Then quick shots from his, comrades rang out. They all hit the swaying
body of the rustler. But Jean knew with a terrible thrill that his
bullet had killed Daggs before the other three struck. Daggs fell
forward, his arms and half his body resting over, the embankment.
Then the rustlers dragged him back out of sight. Hoarse shouts rose.
A cloud of yellow dust drifted away from the spot.
"Daggs!" burst out Gaston Isbel. "Jean, you knocked off the top of
his haid. I seen that when I was pullin' trigger. Shore we over
heah wasted our shots."
"God! he must have been crazy or drunk--to pop up there--an' brace us
that way," said Blaisdell, breathing hard.
"Arizona is bad for Texans," replied Isbel, sardonically. "Shore it's
been too peaceful heah. Rustlers have no practice at fightin'. An' I
reckon Daggs forgot."
"Daggs made as crazy a move as that of Guy an' Jacobs," spoke up Jean.
"They were overbold, an' he was drunk. Let them be a lesson to us."
Jean had smelled whisky upon his entrance to this cabin. Bill was a
hard drinker, and his father was not immune. Blaisdell, too, drank
heavily upon occasions. Jean made a mental note that he would not
permit their chances to become impaired by liquor.
Rifles began to crack, and puffs of smoke rose all along the embankment
for the space of a hundred feet. Bullets whistled through the rude
window casing and spattered on the heavy door, and one split the clay
between the logs before Jean, narrowly missing him. Another volley
followed, then another. The rustlers had repeating rifles and they
were emptying their magazines. Jean changed his position. The other
men profited by his wise move. The volleys had merged into one
continuous rattling roar of rifle shots. Then came a sudden cessation
of reports, with silence of relief. The cabin was full of dust, mingled
with the smoke from the shots of Jean and his companions. Jean heard
the stifled breaths of the children. Evidently they were terror-stricken,
but they did not cry out. The women uttered no sound.
A loud voice pealed from behind the embankment.
"Come out an' fight! Do you Isbels want to be killed like sheep?"
This sally gained no reply. Jean returned to his post by the window and his comrades followed his example. And they exercised
extreme caution when they peeped out.
"Boys, don't shoot till you see one," said Gaston Isbel. "Maybe after
a while they'll get careless. But Jorth will never show himself."
The rustlers did not again resort to volleys. One by one, from
different angles, they began to shoot, and they were not firing at
random. A few bullets came straight in at the windows to pat into
the walls; a few others ticked and splintered the edges of the windows;
and most of them broke through the clay chinks between the logs. It
dawned upon Jean that these dangerous shots were not accident. They
were well aimed, and most of them hit low down. The cunning rustlers
had some unerring riflemen and they were picking out the vulnerable
places all along the front of the cabin. If Jean had not been lying
flat he would have been hit twice. Presently he conceived the idea
of driving pegs between the logs, high up, and, kneeling on these, he
managed to peep out from the upper edge of the window. But this
position was awkward and difficult to hold for long.
He heard a bullet hit one of his comrades. Whoever had been struck
never uttered a sound. Jean turned to look. Bill Isbel was holding
his shoulder, where red splotches appeared on his shirt. He shook his
head at Jean, evidently to make light of the wound. The women and
children were lying face down and could not see what was happening.
Plain is was that Bill did not want them to know. Blaisdell bound
up the bloody shoulder with a scarf.
Steady firing from the rustlers went on, at the rate of one shot every
few minutes. The Isbels did not return these. Jean did not fire again
that afternoon. Toward sunset, when the besiegers appeared to grow
restless or careless, Blaisdell fired at something moving behind the
brush; and Gaston Isbel's huge buffalo gun boomed out.
"Wal, what 're they goin' to do after dark, an' what 're WE goin'
to do?" grumbled Blaisdell.
"Reckon they'll never charge us," said Gaston.
"They might set fire to the cabins," added Bill Isbel. He appeared
to be the gloomiest of the Isbel faction. There was something on
"Wal, the Jorths are bad, but I reckon they'd not burn us alive,"
"Hah!" ejaculated Gaston Isbel. "Much you know aboot Lee Jorth.
He would skin me alive an' throw red-hot coals on my raw flesh."
So they talked during the hour from sunset to dark. Jean Isbel had
little to say. He was revolving possibilities in his mind. Darkness
brought a change in the attack of the rustlers. They stationed men at
four points around the cabins; and every few minutes one of these
outposts would fire. These bullets embedded themselves in the logs,
causing but little anxiety to the Isbels.
"Jean, what you make of it?" asked the old rancher.
"Looks to me this way," replied Jean. "They're set for a long fight.
They're shootin' just to let us know they're on the watch."
"Ahuh! Wal, what 're you goin' to do aboot it?"
"I'm goin' out there presently. "
Gaston Isbel grunted his satisfaction at this intention of Jean's.
All was pitch dark inside the cabin. The women had water and food
at hand. Jean kept a sharp lookout from his window while he ate his
supper of meat, bread, and milk. At last the children, worn out by
the long day, fell asleep. The women whispered a little in their corner.
About nine o'clock Jean signified his intention of going out to
"Dad, they've got the best of us in the daytime," he said,
"but not after dark."
Jean buckled on a belt that carried shells, a bowie knife, and revolver,
and with rifle in hand he went out through the kitchen to the yard.
The night was darker than usual, as some of the stars were hidden by
clouds. He leaned against the log cabin, waiting for his eyes to
become perfectly adjusted to the darkness. Like an Indian, Jean could
see well at night. He knew every point around cabins and sheds and
corrals, every post, log, tree, rock, adjacent to the ranch. After
perhaps a quarter of an hour watching, during which time several shots
were fired from behind the embankment and one each from the rustlers
at the other locations, Jean slipped out on his quest.
He kept in the shadow of the cabin walls, then the line of orchard
trees, then a row of currant bushes. Here, crouching low, he halted
to look and listen. He was now at the edge of the open ground, with
the gently rising slope before him. He could see the dark patches of
cedar and juniper trees. On the north side of the cabin a streak of
fire flashed in the blackness, and a shot rang out. Jean heard the
bullet bit the cabin. Then silence enfolded the lonely ranch and the
darkness lay like a black blanket. A low hum of insects pervaded the
air. Dull sheets of lightning illumined the dark horizon to the south.
Once Jean heard voices, but could not tell from which direction they
came. To the west of him then flared out another rifle shot. The
bullet whistled down over Jean to thud into the cabin.
Jean made a careful study of the obscure, gray-black open before him
and then the background to his rear. So long as he kept the dense
shadows behind him he could not be seen. He slipped from behind his
covert and, gliding with absolutely noiseless footsteps, he gained the
first clump of junipers. Here he waited patiently and motionlessly for
another round of shots from the rustlers. After the second shot from
the west side Jean sheered off to the right. Patches of brush, clumps
of juniper, and isolated cedars covered this slope, affording Jean a
perfect means for his purpose, which was to make a detour and come up
behind the rustler who was firing from that side. Jean climbed to the
top of the ridge, descended the opposite slope, made his turn to the
left, and slowly worked. up behind the point near where he expected to
locate the rustler. Long habit in the open, by day and night, rendered
his sense of direction almost as perfect as sight itself. The first
flash of fire he saw from this side proved that he had come straight
up toward his man. Jean's intention was to crawl up on this one of
the Jorth gang and silently kill him with a knife. If the plan worked
successfully, Jean meant to work round to the next rustler. Laying
aside his rifle, he crawled forward on hands and knees, making no
more sound than a cat. His approach was slow. He had to pick his
way, be careful not to break twigs nor rattle stones. His buckskin
garments made no sound against the brush. Jean located the rustler
sitting on the top of the ridge in the center of an open space.
He was alone. Jean saw the dull-red end of the cigarette he was
smoking. The ground on the ridge top was rocky and not well adapted
for Jean's purpose. He had to abandon the idea of crawling up on the
rustler. Whereupon, Jean turned back, patiently and slowly, to get
Upon securing it he began to retrace his course, this time more slowly
than before, as he was hampered by the rifle. But he did not make the
slightest sound, and at length he reached the edge of the open ridge
top, once more to espy the dark form of the rustler silhouetted against
the sky. The distance was not more than fifty yards.
As Jean rose to his knee and carefully lifted his rifle round to avoid
the twigs of a juniper he suddenly experienced another emotion besides
the one of grim, hard wrath at the Jorths. It was an emotion that
sickened him, made him weak internally, a cold, shaking, ungovernable
sensation. Suppose this man was Ellen Jorth's father! Jean lowered
the rifle. He felt it shake over his knee. He was trembling all over.
The astounding discovery that he did not want to kill Ellen's father--
that he could not do it--awakened Jean to the despairing nature of his
love for her. In this grim moment of indecision, when he knew his
Indian subtlety and ability gave him a great advantage over the Jorths,
he fully realized his strange, hopeless, and irresistible love for the
girl. He made no attempt to deny it any longer. Like the night and
the lonely wilderness around him, like the inevitableness of this
Jorth-Isbel feud, this love of his was a thing, a fact, a reality.
He breathed to his own inward ear, to his soul--he could not kill
Ellen Jorth's father. Feud or no feud, Isbel or not, he could not
deliberately do it. And why not? There was no answer. Was he not
faithless to his father? He had no hope of ever winning Ellen Jorth.
He did not want the love of a girl of her character. But he loved her.
And his struggle must be against the insidious and mysterious growth
of that passion. It swayed him already. It made him a coward.
Through his mind and heart swept the memory of Ellen Jorth, her beauty
and charm, her boldness and pathos, her shame and her degradation.
And the sweetness of her outweighed the boldness. And the mystery of
her arrayed itself in unquenchable protest against her acknowledged
shame. Jean lifted his face to the heavens, to the pitiless white
stars, to the infinite depths of the dark-blue sky. He could sense
the fact of his being an atom in the universe of nature. What was he,
what was his revengeful father, what were hate and passion and strife
in comparison to the nameless something, immense and everlasting, that
he sensed in this dark moment?
But the rustlers--Daggs--the Jorths--they had killed his brother Guy--
murdered him brutally and ruthlessly. Guy had been a playmate of Jean's
--a favorite brother. Bill had been secretive and selfish. Jean had
never loved him as he did Guy. Guy lay dead down there on the meadow.
This feud had begun to run its bloody course. Jean steeled his nerve.
The hot blood crept back along his veins. The dark and masterful tide
of revenge waved over him. The keen edge of his mind then cut out sharp
and trenchant thoughts. He must kill when and where he could. This man
could hardly be Ellen Jorth's father. Jorth would be with the main
crowd, directing hostilities. Jean could shoot this rustler guard
and his shot would be taken by the gang as the regular one from their
comrade. Then swiftly Jean leveled his rifle, covered the dark form,
grew cold and set, and pressed the trigger. After the report he rose
and wheeled away. He did not look nor listen for the result of his
shot. A clammy sweat wet his face, the hollow of his hands, his breast.
A horrible, leaden, thick sensation oppressed his heart. Nature had
endowed him with Indian gifts, but the exercise of them to this end
caused a revolt in his soul.
Nevertheless, it was the Isbel blood that dominated him. The wind blew
cool on his face. The burden upon his shoulders seemed to lift. The
clamoring whispers grew fainter in his ears. And by the time he had
retraced his cautious steps back to the orchard all his physical being
was strung to the task at hand. Something had come between his
reflective self and this man of action.
Crossing the lane, he took to the west line of sheds, and passed beyond
them into the meadow. In the grass he crawled silently away to the
right, using the same precaution that had actuated him on the slope,
only here he did not pause so often, nor move so slowly. Jean aimed
to go far enough to the right to pass the end of the embankment behind
which the rustlers had found such efficient cover. This ditch had
been made to keep water, during spring thaws and summer storms, from
pouring off the slope to flood the corrals.
Jean miscalculated and found he had come upon the embankment somewhat
to the left of the end, which fact, however, caused him no uneasiness.
He lay there awhile to listen. Again he heard voices. After a time
a shot pealed out. He did not see the flash, but he calculated that
it had come from the north side of the cabins.
The next quarter of an hour discovered to Jean that the nearest guard
was firing from the top of the embankment, perhaps a hundred yards
distant, and a second one was performing the same office from a point
apparently only a few yards farther on. Two rustlers close together!
Jean had not calculated upon that. For a little while he pondered on
what was best to do, and at length decided to crawl round behind them,
and as close as the situation made advisable.
He found the ditch behind the embankment a favorable path by which to
stalk these enemies. It was dry and sandy, with borders of high weeds.
The only drawback was that it was almost impossible for him to keep
from brushing against the dry, invisible branches of the weeds. To
offset this he wormed his way like a snail, inch by inch, taking a
long time before he caught sight of the sitting figure of a man, black
against the dark-blue sky. This rustler had fired his rifle three
times during Jean's slow approach. Jean watched and listened a few
moments, then wormed himself closer and closer, until the man was
within twenty steps of him.
Jean smelled tobacco smoke, but could see no light of pipe or cigarette,
because the fellow's back was turned.
"Say, Ben," said this man to his companion sitting hunched up a few
yards distant, "shore it strikes me queer thet Somers ain't shootin'
any over thar."
Jean recognized the dry, drawling voice of Greaves, and the shock of
it seemed to contract the muscles of his whole thrilling body, like
that of a panther about to spring.
Was shore thinkin' thet same," said the other man. "An', say, didn't
thet last shot sound too sharp fer Somers's forty-five?"
"Come to think of it, I reckon it did," replied Greaves.
"Wal, I'll go around over thar an' see."
The dark form of the rustler slipped out of sight over the embankment.
"Better go slow an' careful," warned Greaves. "An' only go close
enough to call Somers. . . . Mebbe thet damn half-breed Isbel is
comin' some Injun on us."
Jean heard the soft swish of footsteps through wet grass. Then all
was still. He lay flat, with his cheek on the sand, and he had to
look ahead and upward to make out the dark figure of Greaves on the
bank. One way or another he meant to kill Greaves, and he had the
will power to resist the strongest gust of passion that had ever
stormed his breast. If he arose and shot the rustler, that act would
defeat his plan of slipping on around upon the other outposts who were
firing at the cabins. Jean wanted to call softly to Greaves, "You're
right about the half-breed!" and then, as he wheeled aghast, to kill him
as he moved. But it suited Jean to risk leaping upon the man. Jean did
not waste time in trying to understand the strange, deadly instinct that
gripped him at the moment. But he realized then he had chosen the most
perilous plan to get rid of Greaves.
Jean drew a long, deep breath and held it. He let go of his rifle.
He rose, silently as a lifting shadow. He drew the bowie knife.
Then with light, swift bounds he glided up the bank. Greaves must
have heard a rustling--a soft, quick pad of moccasin, for he turned
with a start. And that instant Jean's left arm darted like a striking
snake round Greaves's neck and closed tight and hard. With his right
hand free, holding the knife, Jean might have ended the deadly business
in just one move. But when his bared arm felt the hot, bulging neck
something terrible burst out of the depths of him. To kill this enemy
of his father's was not enough! Physical contact had unleashed the
savage soul of the Indian. Yet there was more, and as Jean gave the
straining body a tremendous jerk backward, he felt the same strange
thrill, the dark joy that he had known when his fist had smashed the
face of Simm Bruce. Greaves had leered--he had corroborated Bruce's
vile insinuation about Ellen Jorth. So it was more than hate that
actuated Jean Isbel.
Greaves was heavy and powerful. He whirled himself, feet first,
over backward, in a lunge like that of a lassoed steer. But Jean's
hold held. They rolled down the bank into the sandy ditch, and Jean
landed uppermost, with his body at right angles with that of his adversary.
"Greaves, your hunch was right," hissed Jean. "It's the half-breed.
. . . An' I'm goin' to cut you--first for Ellen Jorth--an' then for
Gaston Isbel! "
Jean gazed down into the gleaming eyes. Then his right arm whipped
the big blade. It flashed. It fell. Low down, as far as Jean could
reach, it entered Greaves's body.
All the heavy, muscular frame of Greaves seemed to contract and burst.
His spring was that of an animal in terror and agony. It was so
tremendous that it broke Jean's hold. Greaves let out a strangled
yell that cleared, swelling wildly, with a hideous mortal note. He
wrestled free. The big knife came out. Supple and swift, he got to
his, knees. He had his gun out when Jean reached him again. Like a
bear Jean enveloped him. Greaves shot, but he could not raise the gun,
nor twist it far enough. Then Jean, letting go with his right arm,
swung the bowie. Greaves's strength went out in an awful, hoarse cry.
His gun boomed again, then dropped from his hand. He swayed. Jean
let go. And that enemy of the Isbels sank limply in the ditch.
Jean's eyes roved for his rifle and caught the starlit gleam of it.
Snatching it up, he leaped over the embankment and ran straight for
the cabins. From all around yells of the Jorth faction attested to
their excitement and fury.
A fence loomed up gray in the obscurity. Jean vaulted it, darted
across the lane into the shadow of the corral, and soon gained the
first cabin. Here he leaned to regain his breath. His heart pounded