Part 3 out of 5
The darkness that precedes morning had the prairie country in its grip
when Howard, the gaunt foreman of the B.B. ranch, drew rein before the
silent tent, and with the butt end of his quirt tapped on the heavy
"Wake up," he called laconically. "You're wanted at the ranch house."
Echo-like, startling in its suddenness, an inverted V opened in the
white wall and in it, fully dressed, vigilant, appeared the figure of
"What is it?" asked a voice insistently.
The Texan stared in unconcealed surprise.
"In Heaven's name, man, don't you ever sleep?" he drawled. "The boss is
dead," he added baldly at second thought.
The black V closed again, and distinct in outline against the white
background appeared the silhouette of the listener. His arms were folded
across his chest in a way that was characteristic, and his moccasined
feet were set close together. He spoke no word of surprise, asked no
question; merely stood there in the silence and the semi-darkness
The foreman was by no means a responsive soul, yet, watching, there
instinctively crept over him a feeling akin to awe of this other silent
human. There was the mystery of death itself in that motionless,
"It was just before I came over to tell you that Mrs. Landor raised the
house," he explained. "She woke up in the night and found the boss
so--and cold already." Unconsciously his voice had lowered. "She
screamed like a mad woman, and ran down-stairs in her nightdress,
chattering so we could hardly understand her." He slapped at his baggy
chaperajos with his quirt absently. "That's all I know, except there's
no particular use to hurry. It's all over now, and he never knew what
Silently as before the aperture in the tent opened and closed and the
listener disappeared; to reappear a moment later with a curled-up woolly
bundle in his arms. Without a word of explanation he strode toward the
barn, leaving Howard staring after him uncertainly. Listening, the
latter heard a suppressed little puppyish protest, as though its maker
were very sleepy, a moment later the soft, recognising whinny of a
broncho, and then, startlingly sudden as the figure had first emerged
from the tent, it appeared again, mounted, by his side.
For half the distance to the ranch house not a word was said; then of a
sudden Howard drew his horse to a walk meaningly.
"I suppose it's none of my business," he commented without preface, "but
unless I'm badly mistaken there'll be hell to pay around the Buffalo
Again, as at the tent door, his companion made no answer; merely waited
for the something he knew was on the other's mind. The east was
beginning to lighten now, and against the reddening sky his dark face
appeared almost pale.
Howard shifted in his saddle seat and inspected the ground at his right
as intently as though there might be jewels scattered about.
"The boss's relative--Craig," he added, "has taken possession there as
completely as if he'd owned the place a lifetime instead of been a
visitor two days." The long moustaches that gave the man's face an
unmeritedly ferocious expression lifted characteristically. "I like you,
How, or I wouldn't stick my bill into your affairs. That boy is going to
make you trouble, take my word for it."
Even then there was no response; but the overseer did not seem surprised
or offended. Instead, the load he had to impart off his mind, his manner
indicated distinct relief. But one thing more was necessary to his
material comfort--and that solace was at hand. Taking a great bite of
plug tobacco, a chew that swelled one of his thin cheeks like a wen, he
lapsed into his normal attitude of disinterested reverie.
The ranch house was lighted from top to bottom, abnormally brilliant,
and as the Indian entered the odour of kerosene was strong in his
nostrils. In the kitchen as he passed through were the other two
herders. They sat side by side in uncomfortable inaction, their big
sombreros in their hands; and with the suppression of those unused to
death nodded him silent recognition. The dining-room was empty, likewise
the living-room; but as he mounted the stairs, he could hear the muffled
catch of a woman's sobs, and above them, intermittent, authoritative,
the voice of a man speaking. His moccasined feet gave no warning, and
even after he had entered the room where the dead man lay none of the
three who were already present knew that he was there.
Just within the doorway he paused and looked about him. In one corner of
the room, well away from the bed, sat Mary Landor. She did not look up
as he entered, apparently did not see him, did not see anything. The
first wild passion of grief past, she had lapsed into a sort of passive
lethargy. Her fingers kept picking at the edge of the loose dressing
sack she had put on, and now and then her thin lips trembled; but that
Only a glance the newcomer gave her, then his eyes shifted to the bed;
shifted and halted and, unconsciously as he had done when Howard first
broke the news, his feet came close together and his arms folded across
his chest in characteristic, all-observing attention. Not a muscle
moved, he scarcely seemed to breathe. He merely watched.
And this was what he saw: The shape of a dead man lying as at first
beneath the covers; only now the sheet had been raised until the face
was hid. Beside it, stretched out in abandon as she had thrown herself
down, her head all but buried from view, was the girl Bess. She was
sobbing as though her heart would break: sobbing as though unconscious
of another human being in the world. Above her, leaning over her, was
the form of a man: Craig. His uncle had brought his belongings from the
tiny town the day before, and even at this time his linen and cravat
were immaculate. He was looking down at the little woman before him,
looking and hesitating as one choosing between good and evil.
"Bess," he was saying, "you must not. You'll make yourself sick.
Besides, it's nearly morning and people will be coming. Don't do so;
No answer, no indication that he had been heard; only the muffled,
racking, piteous sobs.
"Bess," insistently, "Bess! Listen to me. I can't have you do so. Uncle
Landor wouldn't like it, I know he wouldn't. He'd be sorry if he knew.
Be brave, girlie. You're not alone yet."
Still no response of word or of action. Still the dainty, curved
shoulders trembled and were quiet and trembled again.
The man's hand dropped to the coverlet beside him. His face went very
"Cousin Bess," he repeated for the last time tensely, "I can't let you
cry so. I won't. I care for you too much, little girl; infinitely too
much. It hurts me to have you feel so terribly, hurts me more than I
can tell." Just for a moment he hesitated, and like an inexperienced
gambler his face went tense and white. "You must listen to me,
Elizabeth, Uncle has gone, but there are others who will take care of
you. I myself will take care of you, girlie. Listen, Bess, for there's
something I must tell you, something you make me tell you now." Swiftly,
unhesitatingly, he leaned still nearer; with one motion his arm passed
about her and he clasped her close, so close she could not struggle,
could not prevent. "I love you, little girl. Though I've only known you
two days, I love you. That is what you compel me to tell you. This is
why it hurts me to have you cry so. I love you, Bess; I love you!"
This is what, there in that tiny unplastered bed-room next the roof,
came to pass that October morning. Just so the four living actors
remained for a second while the first light of day sifted in through the
tiny-paned windows; the elderly woman unconscious of the drama enacting
before her eyes, unconscious of anything, her thin fingers still picking
at the edge of her sack; the motionless watcher rigid as a casting in
bronze: the passionate gambling stranger man holding the girl to him
tightly, so tightly she could not but remain so, passive; then came the
climax. Of a sudden the image that had been lifeless resolved itself
into a man. Muscles played here and there visibly beneath the
close-fitting flannel shirt he wore. Swiftly, yet still without a sound,
one moccasined foot moved forward, and its mate--and again the first.
Unexpected as death itself would have been at that instant, Craig felt
two mighty irresistible hands close on his shoulders; close with a grip
that all but paralysed. Irresistibly again he felt himself turned about,
put upon his feet; realised of a sudden, too suddenly and unexpectedly
even to admit of a cry, that the girl was free, that, not a foot
distant, he was staring into the face of the one being on earth from
whom he had most to fear. All this in seconds; then, mercifully
intervening, a Providence itself, the tense wet face of the girl came
between. The first sound that had been spoken came to his ears.
"How! In God's name don't! He didn't mean any harm; I know he didn't.
Forgive him, How; please, please," and repeated: "Forgive him--for my
* * * * *
The lamps had long been out, but the odour of low-test kerosene still
hung about the closed living-room where the same four people sat in
council. No effort had as yet been made to put the place to rights, and
in consequence it was stuffy and disordered and proportionately
depressing. The mound of cigarette stumps which Craig had builded the
night before lay unsightly and evil of odour on the table. The faded rag
carpet was littered with the tobacco he had scattered. His gaudy riding
blouse and cap reposed on a lounge in one corner. His ulster and hat,
which he had unpacked the last thing before retiring, lay across a
chair. Look where one might about the place, there were evidences of
his presence, of his dominant inhabitance. Already after two days'
residence, as Howard had said, he had taken complete possession.
Whosoever may have possessed the voice of authority in the past,
concerning the future there was to be no doubt. That voice was speaking
"To be sure I shall take him East," it said. "His father is buried in
Boston, and his grandfather, and his grandfather's father." The voice
halted, lowered. "Besides, my mother and his other sister, who died
years and years ago, are both there." Obviously, too obviously, he
turned away until his face was hid. Into the voice there crept a throb
that was almost convincing. "They'd all want him with them, I'm sure,
even though he wouldn't have cared; and I think he would. He mentioned
it the first night I came, but of course I didn't realise--then--" The
voice was silent.
As hours before in the room above, Mary Landor showed no emotion, did
not speak. Not even yet had her sorrow-numbed brain awakened, had she
grasped the full meaning of the thing which had happened to her. Later,
indefinitely later, the knowledge would come, and with it the hour of
reckoning; but for the present she was a mere puppet in the play. Craig,
the dominant, had told her to dress, and she had dressed. He had
summoned her to the council, and she had obeyed. But it was not to her
now that he had spoken, nor to the other man who, silent as he had
entered, stood erect, his arms folded, listening. To yet another he had
spoken. She it was, Elizabeth, who answered.
"But to take him clear back there, away from everyone who cares for him
or ever has cared for him." The soft lower lip was becoming unmanageable
and the girl halted, winking hard. "It seems cruel."
"Not if he would have wished it, Bess."
"But if he hadn't wished it--"
"I repeat I think he would." Craig shifted until his back was toward the
other man. "I think that his mentioning the possibility at all, the
first night I came, proves that he wished it."
"Perhaps.... I don't know." ... A long pause; then of a sudden the girl
arose and walked to the window. But subterfuge was from her a thing
apart, and she merely leaned her face against the casement. "I can't
bear to think of it," she trembled.
Craig moved half way toward her; then remembered, and halted.
"Yes, let's decide, and not talk about it," he returned swiftly. "You
agree with me after all, don't you, Bess?"
The girl did not look up.
"Don't ask me. You and How and Aunt Mary decide." With an effort she
resumed her former place; but even yet she did not glance at him.
"Wherever you take him I shall go along, is all."
Swiftly, exuberantly swiftly, Craig took her up.
"Yes, I think he would have liked that. I ... You agree with me too,
don't you, Aunt Mary?"
The older woman started at sound of her name, looked up vacantly.
"What?" she queried absently.
Craig repeated the question perfunctorily.
"Yes, he was always good to me, very good to me," she returned
In sympathy, the girl's brown eyes moistened anew; but Craig turned away
almost impatiently. "Let's consider it settled then," he said.
For the first time the girl glanced up; but it was not at Craig that she
looked. It was at that other figure in the background, the figure that
not once through it all had stirred or made a sound. "What shall we do,
How? what ought we to do?" she asked.
For ten seconds there was silence; but not even then did Craig recognise
the other's presence by so much as a glance. Only the look of exultation
left his face, and over his blue eyes the lids tightened perceptibly.
"Don't consider what I think, Bess," said a low voice at last. "Do what
you feel is right."
It was the white man who had decided, but it was another who brought the
decision to pass. How Landor, the Indian, it was who, alone in the
dreary chamber beneath the roof, laid the dead man out decently, and for
five dragging minutes thereafter, before the others had come, stood like
a statue gazing down at the kindly, heavy face, with a look on his own
that no living human had ever seen or would ever see. How Landor, the
Indian, it was who, again alone in the surrey, with the closely drawn
canvas curtains, drove all that day and half the night to the nearest
undertaker at the railroad terminus beyond the river, seventy-five miles
away. How Landor, the Indian, again it was who, with a change of horses,
but barely a pause to eat, started straight back on the return trail,
and ere it was again light was within the limits of Coyote Centre,
knocking at the door of Mattie Burton, the one woman friend of Mary
Landor he knew. How Landor it was once more who, before twenty-four
hours from the time he had left, had passed, with the unwilling visitor
by his side, re-entered the Buffalo Butte ranch yard. Last of all, How
Landor, the Indian, it was who faced the old surrey once more to the
east, and with still another team before him and a cold lunch in his
pocket, sat waiting within the hour to take the departing ones away.
Through it all he scarcely spoke a word, not one that was superfluous.
What he was thinking of no one but he himself knew. That he had expected
what had taken place in his absence, his bringing Mrs. Burton proved. At
last realisation had come, and Mary Landor was paying the price of the
brief lethargic respite; paying it with usury, paying it with the
helpless abandon of the dependent. The dreary weather-coloured ranch
house was not a pleasant place to be in that day. Craig left it
thankfully, with a shrug of the shoulders beneath the box-fitting
topcoat, as the door closed behind him. The other passenger, the one who
should have left also and did not, the girl Elizabeth--.
How Landor it was again who, when minutes of waiting had passed, minutes
wherein Craig consumed cigarettes successively, tied the team and
disappeared within doors. What he said none save the girl herself knew;
but when he returned he was not alone, and though the eyes of his
companion were red, there was in her manner no longer a trace of
The two passengers comfortably muffled in the robes of the rear seat,
the driver buttoned the curtains tight about them methodically. The day
was very still, not a sound came to them from over the prairie, and of a
sudden, startlingly clear, from the house itself there came an
interruption: the piteous, hopeless wail of a woman in a paroxysm of
grief, and a moment later the voice of another woman in unemotional,
"How," said a choking, answering voice, "I can't go after all, I can't!"
Within the carriage, safe from observation, her companion took her hand
authoritatively, pressed it within his own.
"Yes, you can, Bess," he said low. "Aunt Mary will have to fight it out
for herself. You couldn't help her any by staying."
But already the Indian was gone. Within the house as before, even
keen-eared Mattie Burton failed to catch what he said. Had she done so,
she would have been no wiser, for apparently that moment a miracle took
place. Of a sudden, the hysterical voice was silent. The man spoke again
and--the watcher stared in pure unbelief--her own hand in her
companion's hand, Mary Landor followed him obediently out to the surrey.
"We haven't any time to lose," he said evenly, as he drew back the flap
of the curtain. "You'd better say good-bye now."
"Bessie, girl. Bessie!"
Again within the ranch house, Mary Landor sank into a seat with the
utter weariness of a somnambulist awakened. Fully a half minute the
Indian stood looking down at her. For one of the few times in his life
his manner indicated indecision. His long arms hung loose from his
shoulders. His wide-brimmed hat hid his eyes. The watcher thought he
looked very, very weary. Then of a sudden he roused. Bending over--did
he foresee what was to come, that moment?--he did something he had never
"Good-bye, mother," he said, and kissed her on the lips.
The door closed behind him noiselessly, and a half minute later the
loose-wheeled old surrey went rumbling past the door. Mrs. Burton was
feminine and curious, and she went to the window to watch it from sight.
The Indian, alone on the front seat, sat looking straight ahead. The
bronchos, fresh from the stall, and but a few weeks before wild on the
prairie, tugged at the bit wickedly, tried to bolt; but the driver did
not stir in his place. The left hand, that held the reins, rose and fell
with their motion, as an angler takes up slack in his line; that was
all. The woman had lived long on the frontier. She was appreciative and
pressed her face against the pane the better to see. They were through
the gate now, well out on the prairie. The clatter of the waggon had
ceased, the figure of the driver was concealed by the curtains; but the
bronchos were still tugging at the bit, still--.
"Mary! In heaven's name!" The sound of a falling body had caught her ear
and she had turned. "Mary Landor!" The dishes in the cupboard against
the wall shook as something heavy met the floor. "Mary!" A pause and a
tongue-tied examination. "My God! The woman is dead!"
* * * * *
It was ten minutes before starting time. The old-fashioned engine,
contemptuously relegated to the frontier before going to the junk heap,
was puffing at the side of the low sanded station platform. The rough
cottonwood box was already in the baggage car. How himself had assisted
in putting it there, had previously settled for its transportation.
Likewise he had bought the girl's ticket, and checked her scanty
baggage. The usual crowd of loafers was about the place, and his every
action was observed with the deepest interest. Wherever he moved the
spectators followed. Urchins near at hand fought horrible mimic duels
for his benefit; duels which invariably ended in the scalping of the
vanquished--and with expressions of demoniacal exultation playing upon
the face of the conqueror. From far in the rear a war whoop sounded; and
when the effort was to all evidence ignored, was repeated intrepidly
near at hand. They put themselves elaborately in his way, to move at his
approach with grunts of guttural protestation. Already, even here on the
frontier, the Sioux and his kind were becoming a novelty. Verily they
were rare sportsmen, those mimicking loafers; and for Indians it was
ever the open season. All about sounded the popping of their artillery;
to be, when exhausted, as often reloaded and fired again.
But through it all, apparently unseeing, unconscious, the man had gone
about his business. Now as he left the ticket window and approached the
single coach, it was nearly starting time. The girl had already entered
and sat motionless in her seat watching him through the dusty window
glass. Craig, his feet wide apart, stood on the platform smoking a last
cigarette. He shrugged in silence as the other passed him and mounted
Save for the girl, the coach was empty; but, destitute of courtesy, the
spectators without stared with redoubled interest. Without a word the
man handed over the ticket and checks. Still in silence he slipped a
roll of bills into her passive hand. Until that moment the girl had not
thought of money; but even now as she accepted it, there never occurred
the wonder from whence it had come. Had she known how those few dollars
had been stored up, bit by bit, month by month--But she did not know.
Unbelievably unsophisticated, unbelievably innocent and helpless, was
Elizabeth Landor at this time. Sitting there that morning on the
threshold, she had no more comprehension of the world she was entering,
she had entered, than of eternity itself. She was merely passive,
trusting, waiting to be led. Like a bit of down from the prairie
milkweed plant, she was to be the sport of every breath of wind that
blew. And already that wind was blowing. She had watched the scene on
the platform, had understood the intent of the mimicry, had seen the
winks and nudges, had heard the mocking war whoop. All this she had
seen, all this had been stored away in her consciousness to recur again
and again in the future. Even now her cheeks had burned at the
knowledge, and at last she had watched the man's coming with a feeling
of repression she had never known before, whose significance she did not
try to analyse, did not in the least understand. She did not thank him
for the money. To do so never occurred to her. It was the moment for
parting, but she did not throw her arms about his neck in abandon, as
she would have done a week before. Something, she knew not what,
prevented. She merely sat there, repressed, passive, waiting. A moment,
by her side, the Indian paused. He did not speak, he did not move. He
merely looked at her; and in his dark eyes there was mirrored a
reflection of the look there had been in the eyes of the wild thing he
had stalked and captured that day alone on the prairie. But the girl was
not looking at him, did not see. A moment he stood so, unconsciously as
so many, many times before, in pose; then deliberately, gently, ignoring
the row of curious observant eyes, he took her hand and raised it to his
"Good-bye, Bess," he said low. "Come back as soon as you can; and don't
worry. Everything will come right." Gently as he had lifted the hand, he
released it. A smile--who but he could have smiled at that
moment?--played for an instant over his face. Then, almost before the
girl realised the fact, before the repressive something that held her in
its grip gave release, he was gone.
As he left the coach, Craig, who was waiting, started without a word or
a hint of recognition to enter. His foot was already on the step, when
he felt a hand upon his arm; a hand with a grip whose meaning there was
no misinterpreting. Against his will he drew back. Against his will he
met the other, face to face, eye to eye. For what seemed to him minutes,
but which in reality was only a second, they stood so. Not a word was
spoken, of warning or of commonplace. There was no polite farce for the
benefit of the spectators. The Indian merely looked at him; but as once
before, alone under the stars, that look was to remain burned on the
white man's memory until he went to his grave.
"A'board," bawled the conductor, and as though worked by the same wire,
the engineer's waiting head disappeared within the cab window.
Side by side, Clayton Craig and Elizabeth Landor sat watching the
weather-stained station and the curious assembled group, as apparently
they slowly receded. The last thing they saw was the alien figure of an
Indian in rancher's garb, gazing motionless after them; and by his side,
in baiting pantomime, one gawky urchin engaged in the labour of scalping
a mate. The last sound that reached their ears was the ironic note of a
war whoop repeated again and again.
WITHIN THE CONQUEROR'S OWN COUNTRY
It was the day set for the wedding, the eighteenth since the girl had
left, the sixteenth since a new mound had arisen on the bare lot
adjoining that beneath which rested Landman Bud Smith, the twelfth since
How Landor had arrived to haunt the tiny railway terminus. The one train
from the East was due at 8:10 of the morning. It was now eight o'clock.
Within the shambling, ill-kept hotel, with its weather-stained exterior
and its wind-twisted sign, the best room, paid for in advance and
freshly dusted for the occasion, awaited an occupant. In a stall of the
single livery, a pair of half-wild bronchos, fed and harnessed according
to directions, were passively waiting. An old surrey, recently oiled and
tightened in all its senile joints, was drawn up conveniently to the
door. In a tiny room, designated the study, of the Methodist parsonage,
on the straggling outskirts of the town, the only minister the
settlement boasted sat staring at the unpapered wall opposite. He was a
mild-featured young man of the name of Mitchell, recently graduated from
a school of theology, and for that reason selected as a sacrifice to the
frontier. In front of him on the desk lay a duly prepared marriage
licence, and upon it a bright gold half eagle. From time to time he
glanced thereat peculiarly, and in sympathy from it to the tiny
fast-ticking clock at its side. He did so now, and frowned
At the station the crowd of loafers that always preceded the arrival or
departure of a train were congregated. In some way suggestions of the
unusual had passed about, and this day their number was greatly
augmented. Just what they anticipated they did not know; they did not
care. Restless, athirst for excitement, they had dumbly responded to the
influence in the air and come. In the foreground, where a solitary
Indian stood motionless, waiting, there was being repeated the same
puerile pantomime and horse-play of a former occasion. At intervals,
from the rear, sounded the war whoop travesty. It was all the same as
that afternoon eighteen days before, when the girl had left, similar
even to the cloud of black smoke in the distance lifting lazily into the
sky; only now the trail, instead of growing thinner and lighter, became
denser and blacker minute by minute. In sympathy, the humorists on the
platform redoubled their efforts. The instinct of anticipation, of
Anglo-Saxon love of excitement that had brought them there, urged them
on. Not one throat but many underwent simultaneous pantomimic bisection.
A half dozen voices caught up the war whoop, passed it on from throat to
throat. Almost before they realised what they were doing, the thing
became a contagion, an orgy. Many who had not taken part before, who had
come from mere curiosity, took part now. The crowd pressed closer and
closer about the alien, the centre of attraction. When he moved farther
along the platform to avoid them, they followed. Heretofore passive, the
innate racial hostility became active. One youth with a dare-devil air
jostled him--and disappeared precipitately. There was no response, no
retaliation, and another followed his example. The confusion redoubled,
drowned the roar of the approaching train. Spectators in the rear began
mounting trucks and empty barrels the better to see. Within the station
itself the shirt-sleeved agent surreptitiously locked the door to the
ticket-room and sprung the combination of the safe. Beginning
harmlessly, the incident was taking on a sinister aspect, and he had
lived too long in this semi-lawless land to take any chances. Re-turning
to his place of observation at the window, he was just in time to see a
decayed turnip come hurtling over the heads of the crowd and, with
enviable accuracy, catch the Indian behind the ear. Simultaneously, with
a roar and a puff of displaced air, the light train drew into the
station, on time.
Through it all the Indian had not spoken a word. Save to move twice
farther away along the platform, he had not stirred. Unbelievable as it
may seem, even when the missile had struck him, though it had left a
great red welt, he gave no sign of feeling. For a space following the
arrival of the train there was a lull, and in it, as though nothing had
happened, he approached the single coach and stood waiting.
It was the last of the week and travel was very light.
A dapper commercial salesman with an imitation alligator grip descended
first, looked about him apprehensively, and disappeared with speed. A
big rancher with great curling moustaches and a vest open save at the
bottom button followed. He likewise took stock of the surroundings, and
discreetly withdrew. Following him there was a pause; then of a sudden
onto the platform, fair into view of the crowd, appeared one for whom
apparently they had been looking, one who on the instant caused the
confusion, temporarily stilled, to break forth anew: the figure of a
dainty brown girl with sensitive eyes and a soft oval chin, of Elizabeth
Landor returned alone!
"Ah, there she is," shouted a voice, an united voice, the refound voice
of the expectant crowd.
"Yes, there she is," repeated the intrepid youth who had introduced the
jostle. "Go to, redskin. Kiss her again. Kiss her; we don't mind."
A great shout followed this sally, a shout that was heard far up the
single street, and that brought curious faces to a half score of doors.
"No, we don't mind, redskin," they guffawed. "Go to! Go to!"
Hesitant, hopelessly confused, the girl halted as she had appeared. Her
great eyes opened wider than before, her face shaded paler momentarily,
the soft oval chin trembled. Another minute, another second even.
"Come Bess," said a low voice. "Come on; don't mind them. I'll take
care of you."
It was the first speech the man had made, and from pure curiosity the
crowd went silent, listening--silent until he was silent; then with the
lack of originality ever manifest in a mob, they caught up his words
"Yes, Bess," they baited, "he'll take care of you. Come, don't keep him
But the girl did not stir. Had empires depended upon it that moment, she
could not have complied. Could she have cried, as the chin had at first
presaged, she might perhaps have done so; but she was beyond the reach
of tears now. The complete meaning of the scene had come to her at last,
the realisation of personal menace; and a fear such as she had never
before known, gripped her relentlessly. She could hear, hear every word;
but her muscles refused to act. She merely stood there, the old
telescope satchel she carried gripped tight in her hand, her great eyes,
wide and soft as those of a wild thing, staring out into the now rapidly
accumulating rabble; merely stared and waited.
"Bess," repeated the persuading voice, "come, please. Don't stand there,
At last the girl seemed to hear, to understand. Hesitatingly, with
trembling steps, she came a pace forward, and another; then of a sudden
she gave a little cry and her free hand lifted defensively. But she was
not quick enough, had seen too late; and that instant came the
_denouement._ A second turnip, decayed like its predecessor, aimed
likewise unerringly, caught her fair in the mouth, spattered, and broke
into fragments that fell to the car steps. Following, swift as rain
after a thunderclap, a spurt of blood came to her lips and trickled down
Simultaneously the crowd went silent; silent as the still prairie about
them, awed irresistibly by the thing they had themselves wittingly or
unwittingly done. Save one, not a human being stirred. That one, no need
to tell whom, transformed visibly; transformed as they had never seen a
human being alter before. With not a step, but a bound, he was himself
on the platform of the coach; the girl, protected behind him, hid from
sight. She was sobbing now; sobbing tumultuously, hysterically. In the
stillness every listening ear on the platform could hear distinctly. For
an instant after he had reached her the Indian stood so, his left arm
about her, his back toward them. He did not say a word, he did not move.
For the first time in his life he dared not. He did not see red that
moment, this man; he saw black--black as prairie loam. Every savage
instinct in his brain was clamouring for freedom, clamouring until his
free hand was clenched tight to keep it from the bulging holster behind
his right hip. Before this instant, when they were baiting him alone, it
was nothing, he could forgive; but now--now--He stared away from them,
stared up into the smiling, sarcastic prairie sky; but, listening, they,
who almost with fascination watched, could hear beneath the catch of the
girl's sobs the sound of his breathing.
Ever at climaxes time seems suspended. Whether it was a second or a
minute he stood there so, they who watched could never tell. What they
did know was that at last he turned, stood facing them. All their lives
they had seen passion, seen it in every phase, seen it until it was
commonplace. It was in the very air of the frontier, to be expected,
life of the life; but as this man shifted they saw a kind of which they
had never dreamed. For How Landor was master of himself again, master,
as well--they knew it, every man and youth who saw,--of them. For
another indefinitely long deathly silent space he merely looked at them;
looked eye to eye, individual by individual, into every face within the
surrounding semi-circle. Once before another man, a drunken cowman, had
seen that identical look. Now not one but a score saw it, felt a
terrible ice-cold menace creep from his brain into their brains. Even
yet he did not speak, did not make a sound; nor did they. Explain it as
you will, he did this thing. Another thing he did as well; and that was
the end. Slowly, deliberately, he stepped to the platform and held out
his hand. Obediently the girl followed. She was not crying now. Her eyes
were red and a drop of blood came now and then to her lips; but she had
grown wonderfully quiet all at once, wonderfully calm--almost as much so
as the man. Deliberately as he had stepped down into the spectators'
midst, the Indian took the old telescope from the girl's hand and, she
following by his side, moved a step forward. He did not touch her again
nor did she him. They merely moved ahead toward the sidewalk that led up
the single street; moved deliberately, leisurely, as though they were
alone. Not around the crowd, but straight through it they passed;
through a lane that opened as by magic as they went, and as by magic
closed behind them, until they were within a solid human square. But of
all the assembled spectators that day, an aggregation irresponsible,
unchivalrous as no other rabble on earth--a mob of the frontier,--not
one spoke to challenge their action, not one attempted to bar their way.
The complete length of the platform they went so, turned the corner by
the station--and, simultaneously, the crowd disappeared from view, hid
by the building itself. Then in sudden reaction, the girl weakened.
Irresistibly she caught at the man's arm, held it fast.
"Oh, How! How!" she trembled, "is it to be always like this with you and
me? Is it to be always, everywhere, so?"
But the man said never a word.
* * * * *
Two hours had passed. The girl had breakfasted. A wood fire crackled
cheerfully in the sheet iron heater of the tiny room where the same two
people sat alone. Already the world had taken on a different aspect. Not
that Elizabeth Landor had forgotten that recent incident at the depot.
She would never forget it. It had merely passed into temporary
abeyance, taken its proper place in the eternal scheme of things.
Another consideration, paramount, all-compelling, had inevitably crowded
it from the stage. It was this consideration that had held her silent
far longer than was normal. It was its overshadowing influence that at
last prompted speech.
"How did you know I was coming to-day?" she queried suddenly.
"How did _you_ know I would be at the train to meet you?" echoed a
The girl did not answer, did not pursue the subject.
"Tell me of Aunt Mary, please," she digressed. "I felt somehow when you
wrote as if I--I--" A swiftly gathered shower called a halt. Tear drops,
ever so near, stood in her eyes. "Please tell me," she completed.
The man told her. It did not take long. As of her prosaic life, so there
was little to record of the death of Mary Landor. "It was best that you
were away," he ended. "It was best for her that she went when she did."
"You think so, How, honestly?" No affectation in that anxious query.
"You think I didn't do wrong in leaving as I did?"
"No, you did no wrong, Bess." A pause. "You could not."
A moment the girl sat looking at him; in wonder and something more.
"I believe you knew all the time Aunt Mary would--go while I was
away," she said suddenly, tensely. "I believe you helped me away on
"Tell me, How. I want to know."
"I thought so, Bess," simply.
For a long time the girl sat so; silent, marvelling. A new understanding
of this solitary human stole over her, an appreciation that drowned the
sadness of a moment ago. "How you must care for me," she voiced almost
unconsciously. "How you must care for me!"
She did not expect an answer. She was not disappointed. Again a silence
fell; a silence of which she was unconscious, for she was thinking.
Minutes passed. In the barn the bronchos were passively waiting. At the
parsonage the young minister still sat scowling in his study. No time
had been set for the visit he expected. There was no apparent reason why
he should not have gone about his work; but for some reason he could
not. Angry with himself, he thrust the new half eagle into his pocket
and, placing the offending licence beneath a pile of papers, he walked
over to the window and stood staring out into the sunshine.
Within the tiny room at the hotel the gaze of the girl shifted, dropped
to her feet. Despite an effort her face tinged slowly red.
"Did you think," she queried abruptly, "when you expected me to-day that
I would come alone?"
The Indian showed no surprise.
"Yes, Bess," he answered. "I knew you would be alone."
"Why, How?" The question was just audible.
"Because I trusted you, Bess."
Silence again. Surreptitiously, swiftly, the girl's brown eyes glanced
up; but he was not looking at her, and again her glance fell. A longer
pause followed, a pause wherein the girl could not have spoken if she
would. A great preventing lump was in her throat, an obstacle that
precluded speech. Many things had happened in the short time since she
had last been with this man, some things of which she was not proud; and
beside such a trust as this Bess Landor was speechless. Without volition
upon her part, the cup of life had been placed to her lips and, likewise
without knowledge of what it contained, she had tasted. The memory of
that draught was with her now. Under its influence she spoke.
"You are better than I am, How," she said.
If the man understood he gave no evidence of the knowledge. He did not
even look at her. Time was passing, time which should have found them
upon their way, but he showed no impatience. It was his day, his moment,
his by right; but no one looking at him would have doubted that he
himself would never first suggest the fact. Conditions had changed very
rapidly in the recent past, altered until, from his view-point, it was
impossible for him to make the move toward the old relation, to even
intimate its desirability. With the patience of his race he waited. In
the fulness of time he was rewarded.
"How," of a sudden initiated a voice, withal an embarrassed voice, "will
you do me a favour?"
"What is it, Bess?"
The girl coloured. Instinctively the man knew that at last the recall
had come, and for the first time he was looking at her steadily.
"Promise me, please," temporised the girl.
Even yet Elizabeth Landor found it difficult to say what she wished to
"You won't be--offended or angry, How?"
"No, Bess. You could hurt me, but you couldn't make me angry."
"Thank you, How. It's a little thing, but I'd like to have you humour
me." She met his look directly. "It's when we are married to-day you'll
be dressed--well, not the way you usually dress." Her colour came and
went, her throat was a-throb. "Dressed like--You understand, How."
Of a sudden the Indian was upon his feet; then as suddenly he checked
himself. Characteristically, he now ignored the immaterial, went, as
ever, straight to fundamentals without preface or delay. Scarce one
human in a generation would have held aloof at that moment. It was his,
his by every right; but even yet he would not take it, not until--.
"Bess," he said slowly. "I want to ask you a question and I want you to
answer me--as you would answer your mother were she alive." Once again,
unconsciously, he fell into pose, his arms across his breast, his great
shoulders squared. "I have seen Mr. Landor's will. He has left you
nearly everything. You are rich, Bess; I won't tell you how rich because
you wouldn't understand. You are young and can live any life you wish.
You know what marrying me means. I am as I am and cannot change. You
know what others, people of your own race, think when you are with me.
They have shown you to-day. Answer me, Bess, have you thought of all
this? Was it duty that brought you back, or did you really wish to come?
Don't take me into consideration at all when you answer. Don't do it, or
we shall both live to regret. Tell me, Bess, as you know I love you,
whether you have thought of all this and still wish to marry me. Tell
me." He was silent. Once again it was a climax, and once again came
oblivion of passing time. For minutes passed, minutes wherein, with wide
open eyes, the girl made her choice. Not in hot blood was the decision
made, not as before in ignorance of what that decision meant.
Deliberately, with the puerile confidence we humans feel in our insight
of future, she chose; as she believed, honestly.
"Yes, How," she said slowly. "I have thought of it all and I wish to
marry you. I've no place else in the world to go. There's no one in the
world that I trust as I trust you. I wish to marry you to-day, How."
Then, indeed, it was the man's moment. Then, and not until then, he
accepted his reward.
"Bess!" She was in his arms. "Bess!" He tasted Paradise. "Bess!" That
* * * * *
For the second time that day the air of the tiny town tingled with
portent of the unusual. For the second time a crowd was gathered; only
now it was not at the station, but at a place of far more sinister
import, within and in front of the "Lost Hope" saloon. Again in
personnel it was different, notably different from that of the first
occasion. The same irresponsibles were there, as ever they are present
at times of storm; but added to the aggregation now, outnumbering them,
were others ordinarily responsible, men typical in every way of the time
and place. A second difference of even greater portent was the motif of
gathering. For it was not a mere rumour, an idle curiosity, that had
brought them together now. On the contrary they had at last, these
dominant Anglo-Saxons, begun to take themselves seriously. Rumour,
inevitable in a place where days were as much alike as the one-story
buildings on the main street, had begun when How Landor had commenced to
haunt the station at the time of the incoming train. The incident of the
morning had familiarised the rumour into gossip. Hard upon this had
followed a report from the hotel landlord, and gossip had become
certainty. Then it was that horse-play had ceased, and, save at the
point of congregation, a silence, unwonted and sinister, had taken its
place. So marked was the change that when at last the Indian and the
girl left the hotel together on their way to the parsonage the street
through which they passed was as still as though it were the street of a
prairie dog town. So quiet it was that the girl was deceived; but the
ears of the Indian were keener, and faint as an echo beneath it, as yet
well in the distance, he detected the warning of an alien note. Not as
on that other day out on the prairie when he caught the first trumpet
call of the Canada goose, did he recognise the sound from previous
familiarity. Never in his life had he heard its like; yet now an
instinct told him its meaning, told him as well its menace. Not once did
he look back, not one word of prophecy did he speak to the girl at his
side; yet as surely as a grey timber wolf realises what is to come when
he catches the first faint bay of the hounds on his trail, How Landor
realised that at last for him the hour of destiny had struck, that as
surely as the wild thing must battle for life he must do likewise--and
that soon, very, very soon.
Up the street they went: a small dark girl garbed as no woman was ever
garbed in a fashion-plate, a tall copper-brown man all but humorously
grotesque in a ready-made suit of clothes that were far from a fit and
the first starched shirt and collar he had ever worn. Laughable
unqualifiedly, this red man tricked out in the individuality-destroying
dress of the white brother would have been to an observer who had not
the key to the situation; but to one who knew the motive of the
alteration it was far as the ends of the earth from humorous. On they
went, silent now, each in widely separated anticipation; and after them,
at first silent likewise, then as it advanced growing noisier and
noisier, followed the crowd which had congregated at the Lost Hope
saloon. As on the day of the little landman's funeral when Captain
William Landor had passed up the street of Cayote Centre, ahead where
the Indian and the girl advanced not the figure of a human being was in
sight, unless one were suspicious and looked closely, not a face; but to
the Indian eyes were everywhere. Every house they passed--for they were
in the residence section now--had its pair or multiple pairs peering out
through the slats of a blind, or, as in a theatre preceding a
performance, at the side of a drawn curtain. Like wildfire the news had
spread; like turtles timid women folk had drawn close within their
shells; yet everywhere curiosity they could not repress prompted them to
take a last look before the storm. Once, and once only, the pedestrians
were interrupted. Then a house dog came bounding across the lawn to
pause at a safe distance and growl a menace; and again the all-noting
Indian had observed the cause of the unwonted bravery, had heard the low
voice from the kitchen that had urged the beast on.
Thus nearer and nearer that sunny fall morning the storm approached.
Long before this, unobservant though she was, had the girl not been
living in the future instead of the present, she would have recognised
its coming. For the pursuers were gaining rapidly now. They had crossed
onto the same street, the principal residence thoroughfare, and were
coming as a crowd ever moves: swiftly, those in the rear exerting
themselves to get to the fore, and so again. Far from silent by this
time, the man ahead, the man who never deigned a backward glance, could
hear their voices in a perpetual rumble; could distinguish at intervals,
interrupting it, above it, a voice commanding, inflaming. Without
seeing, he knew that at last his persecutors had found a commander, a
directing spirit--and as well as he knew his own name he knew who that
leader was. Unsophisticated absolutely in the ways of the world was this
man; but in the reading of his fellows he was a master.
Apparently oblivious when a part of this same crowd had congregated at
the train, he had nevertheless observed them individual by individual;
and in his own consciousness had known that the moment, his moment, had
not come: for a leader, the leader, was not there. Again when the train
had pulled in he had watched--and still the leader did not appear. But
he was not deceived. As he had trusted in the girl's coming he had
trusted in another's following surreptitiously; and as now he heard that
one voice sounding above the other voices he knew he had been right. For
the man at the head of that pursuing mob which gained on them so
rapidly block by block, the man whose influence in those brief hours the
Indian and the girl had been alone in the tiny room at the hotel had
vitalised the lukewarm racial hostility into a thing of menace, was the
same man whose life he had once saved, the same man about whose throat
ere the identical night had passed his fingers had closed: Clayton Craig
by name, one time of Boston, Mass., but now, by his uncle's will, master
of the Buffalo Butte ranch house!
Meanwhile in the study of the parsonage Clifford Mitchell was again
looking out the single window. Time and time again he had tried to
work--and as often failed. At last he had conformed to the inevitable
and was merely waiting. The house was on the outskirts of the town and
the window faced the open prairie; bare and rolling as far as the eye
could reach. He was city bred, this mild-faced servant of God, and as
yet the prairie country was a thing at which to marvel. He was looking
out upon it now, absently, thoughtfully, wondering at its immensity and
its silence--when of a sudden he became conscious that it was no longer
silent. Instead to his ears, growing louder moment by moment,
penetrating the illy constructed walls, came an indistinct roar; rising,
lowering, yet ever constant: a sound unlike any other on earth,
distinctive as the silence preceding had been typical--the clamour of
angry, menacing human voices _en masse._ Once, not long before, in a
city street the listener had heard that identical sound; and
recognition was instantaneous. Swift as memory he recalled the strike
that had been its cause, the horde of sympathisers who had of a sudden
appeared as from the very earth, the white face and desperate figure of
the solitary "scab" fighting a moment, and a moment only, for life, in
their midst. Swift as memory came that picture; and swift upon its
heels, blotting it out, the present returned. Clifford Mitchell had not
been among this people long; yet already he had caught the spirit of the
place, and as he listened he knew full well what a similar gathering
among them would mean. He was not a brave man, this blue-eyed pastor;
not a drop of fighting blood was in his veins; and as moment after
moment passed and the sound grew nearer and nearer, the first real
terror of his life came creeping over him. Not in his mind was there a
doubt as to the destination of that oncoming multitude. Premonition had
been too electric in the air that day for him to question its meaning.
They were coming to him, to him, Clifford Mitchell, these irresponsible
menacing humans. It might be another for whom they had gathered; but he
as well would share in their displeasure, in their punishment: for he
was a party to the thing of which they disapproved. All the day, from
the time the Indian had called and almost simultaneously, vague rumours
of trouble had come floating in the visitor's wake; he had been in
anticipation; and now the thing anticipated had become a certainty.
Answering he felt the cold perspiration come pouring out on his
forehead; and absently, he wiped it away with the palm of his hand.
Following came a purely physical weakness; and stumbling across the room
he took the seat beside the desk. Unconsciously nervous, restless, his
fingers fumbled with the pile of papers before him until they came to a
certain one he had buried. Almost as though impelled against his will to
do so he spread this one flat before him and sat staring at it, dumbly
Nearer and nearer came the roar as he sat there, irresistible,
cumulatively menacing as a force of nature; and instinctively, by it
alone, the listener marked the approach of its makers. He could hear
them down the street at the other end of the block before the residence
of Banker Briggs. He knew this to a certainty because part of those who
came were on the sidewalk, and that was the only piece of cement in
town. Again, by the same token, he knew when they passed the only other
house in the block besides his own. There was a gap in the boardwalk
there, and when the leaders reached it the patter of their footsteps
went suddenly muffled on the bare earth. It was his turn next, his in a
moment; yes, the feet were already on the confines of his own yard, the
roar of their owners' voices was all about. He could even distinguish
what they were saying now, could catch names, his own name.
Of a sudden, expected and yet unexpected, a dark shadow passed before
his window, and another; then a swarm. Simultaneously faces, not a few
but as many as could crowd into the space, appeared outside the panes,
staring curiously in. Involuntarily he arose to draw the shade; and at
that moment, interrupting, startlingly loud, there came a knock at his
Clifford Mitchell paused on his way to the window, stood irresolute;
and, seemingly impossible as it was, the number of curious faces
The knock was repeated; not fearfully or frantically, but deliberately
and with an insistence there was no misunderstanding.
This time the minister responded. He did not pause to blot out the faces
of the curious. The licence he had been absently holding was still in
his hand; but he did not delay to put it down. There was something
compelling in that knock; something that demanded instant obedience, and
he obeyed. The living-room through which he passed on his way had two
windows and, identical with that of his study, each was black with
humanity; but he did not even glance at them. His legs trembled
involuntarily and his throat was dry as though he had been speaking for
hours; yet, nevertheless, he obeyed. With a hand that shook perceptibly
he turned the button of the spring lock, and, opening the door onto the
street, looked out.
While Clifford Mitchell lived, while lived every man of the uncounted
throng gathered there beneath the noon-time sun that October day, they
remembered that moment, the moments that followed. As real life is ever
stranger than fiction, so off the stage occur incidents more stirring
than at the play. Standing there in the narrow doorway, white-faced,
hesitant, awaiting a command, the minister himself exemplified the fact
beyond question; yet of his own grotesque part he was oblivious. He had
thought for but one thing that moment, had room in his consciousness for
but one impression; and that was for the drama ready there before him.
And small wonder, for, looking out, this was what he saw:
An uneven straggling village street, mottled with patches of dead grass
and weeds. Along it, here and there, like kernels of seed scattered on
fallow ground, a sprinkling of one-story houses. This the background. In
the midst of it all, covering his lawn, overflowing into the yards of
his neighbours, dense, crowding the better to see, all-surrounding, was
a solid zone of motley humanity. Old men with weather-beaten faces and
untrimmed beards were there, young men with the marks that dissipation
and passion indelibly stamp, awkward, gawky youths unconsciously aping
their elders, smooth-faced youngsters in outgrown garments; all ages and
conditions of the human frontier male were there--but in that zone not a
single woman. Ranchers there were in corduroys and denims, cowboys in
buckskin and flannel, gamblers in the glaring colours distinctive of
their kind, business men with closely cropped moustaches, idlers in
anything and everything; but amid them all not a friendly face. This the
surrounding zone, the mongrel pack that had brought the quarry to bay.
In the centre of the half circle they formed, within a couple of paces
of the now open doorway, were three people. Two of them, a rather small
brown girl and a tall wiry Indian in a new suit of ready-made clothes
and a derby hat of the model of the year before, were nearest; so near
that the door, which swung outward, all but touched them. The other, a
well-built, smooth-faced Easterner with a white skin and delicate hands,
was opposite. His dress was the dress of a man of fashion, his cravat
and patent leather buttoned shoes were of the latest style; but his
linen was soiled now, and a two-days' growth of beard covered his chin.
Moreover, his eyes were bloodshot and, despite an effort to prevent, as
he stood there now he wavered a bit to right and left. One look told his
story. He had been drinking, drinking for days; and, worst of all, he
had been drinking this day, drinking in anticipation of this very
moment, swallowing courage against the necessity of the now. All this
the stage and its setting, upon which the white-faced minister raised
the curtain. Simultaneously, as ever an audience grows silent when the
real play begins, it grew silent now. The hinges of the little-used
front door were rusty and had squeaked startlingly. Otherwise not a
sound marked the opening of the drama.
A moment following the silence was intense, a thing one could feel; then
of a sudden it was broken--not by words, but by action. One step the
white-skinned man took forward; a step toward the girl. A second step he
advanced, and halted; for, preventing, the hand of the other man was
upon his own.
"Stand back, please," said an even voice. "It's not time for
congratulations yet. Stand back, please."
Answering there was a sound; but not articulate. It was a curse, a
challenge, a menace all in one; and with a hysterical terrified little
cry the girl shrank back into the doorway itself. But none other, not
even the minister, stirred.
"Mr. Craig," the words were low, almost intimately low, but in the
stillness they seemed fairly loud. "I ask you once more to stand back. I
don't warn you, I merely request--but I shall not ask it again." Of a
sudden the speaker's hand left the other's arm, dropped by his own side.
"Stand back, please."
Face to face the two men stood there; the one face working, passionate,
menacing; the other emotionless as the blue sky overhead. A moment they
remained so while the breathless onlookers expected anything, while from
the doorstep the minister's white lips moved in a voiceless prayer; then
slowly, lingeringly, the man who had advanced drew back. A step he took
silently, another, and his breathing became audible, still another, and
was himself amid the spectators. Then for the first time he found voice.
"You spoke your own sentence then, redskin," he blazed. "We'd have let
you go if you'd given up the girl; but now--now--May God have mercy on
your soul now, How Landor!"
Again there was silence; silence absolute. As at that first meeting on
the car platform, the girl had turned facing them. It was the crisis,
and as before an instinct which she did not understand, which she merely
obeyed, brought her to the Indian's side; held her there motionless,
passive, mysteriously unafraid. Her usually brown face was very pale and
her eyes were unnaturally bright; but withal she was unbelievably
calm--calm as a child with its hand in its father's hand. Not even that
solid zone of menacing, staring eyes had terror for her now. Whether or
no she loved him, as she believed in God she trusted in that motionless,
dominant human by her side.
A moment they stood so in a silence wherein they could hear each other
breathe, wherein the prayer that had never left the minister's lips
became audible; then came the end. Incredible after it was over was that
_denouement_, inexplicable to a legion of old men, then among the boys,
who witnessed it, to this day. Yet as the incredible continues to take
place in this world it took place then. As one man can ever dominate
other men it was done that silent noon hour. For that moment the first
challenge that had ever passed the lips of How Landor was spoken. The
only challenge that he ever made to man or woman in his life found
voice; and was not accepted. One step he took toward that listening,
expectant throng and halted. With the old, old motion his arms folded
across his chest.
"Men," he said, "I don't want trouble here to-day. I've done my best to
avoid it; but the end has come. I've stood everything at your hands,
every insult which you could conceive, things which no white man would
have permitted for a second; and so far without resentment. But I shall
stand it no more. I'm one to a hundred; but that makes no difference.
Bess Landor and I are to be married now and here; here before you all. I
shall not talk to you again. I shall not ask you to leave us in peace;
but as surely as one of you speaks another word of insult to her or to
me, as surely as one of you attempts to interfere or prevent, I shall
kill that man. No matter which of you it is, I shall do this thing." A
moment longer he stood so, observing them steadily, with folded arms;
then, still facing, he moved back a step. "Mr. Mitchell," he said, "we
And there that October noonday, fair in the open with two hundred
curious eyes watching, in a silence unbroken as that of prairie night
itself, Bess Landor and Ma-wa-cha-sa the Sioux were married. The
minister stumbled in the ritual, and though he held the book close
before his face, it was memory alone that prompted the form; for the
pages shook until the letters were blurred. Yet it was done, and, save
one alone, every spectator who had come with a far different intent
stayed and listened to the end. That one, a tall, modish alien with a
red, flushed face covered with a two-days' growth of bread, was likewise
watching when it began. But when it was over he was not there; and not
one of those who had followed his lead had noticed his going.
THE MYSTERY OF SOLITUDE
Westward across the unbroken prairie country, into the smiling,
sun-kissed silence and emptiness, two people were driving: a white girl
of two-and-twenty summers and an Indian man a few years older. Back of
them, in the direction from which they had come, was the outline of a
straggling, desolate village. Ahead, to either side, was the rolling
brown earth; and at the end of it, abrupt apparently as a material wall,
the blue of a cloudless October sky. The team they were driving, a
mouse-coloured broncho and a mate a shade darker, were restless after
three days of enforced inactivity and tugged at the bit mightily. Though
the day was perfectly still, the canvas curtains of the old surrey
flapped lazily in a breeze born of the pace alone. The harness on the
ponies shuffled and creaked with every move. Though the bolts of the
ancient vehicle had been carefully tightened, it nevertheless groaned at
intervals with the motion; mysteriously, like the unconscious sigh of
the aged, apparently without reason. Beneath the wheels the frost-dried
grass rattled continuously, monotonously; but save this last there was
no other sound. Since the two humans had left the limits of the tiny
town there had been no other sound. Now and then the girl had glanced
behind, instinctively, almost fearfully; but not once had the man
followed her example, had he stirred in his place. Swiftly, silently, he
was leaving civilisation behind him; by the scarce visible landmarks he
alone distinguished was returning to his own, to the wild that lay in
the distance beyond.
Thus westward, direct as a tight cord, on and on they went; and back of
them gradually, all but unconsciously, the low-built terminus grew
dimmer and dimmer, vanished detail by detail as completely as though it
had never been. Last of all to disappear, already a mere black dot
against the blue, was the water tank beside the station. For three
miles, four, it held its place; then, as, with the old unconscious
motion the girl turned to look back, she searched for it in vain. Behind
them as before, unbroken, limiting, only the brown plain and the blue
surrounding wall met her gaze. At last, there in the solitude, there
with no observer save nature and nature's God, she and the other were
As the first man and the first woman were alone they were alone. From
horizon to horizon was not a sign of human handiwork, not a suggestion
of human presence. They might live or die, or laugh or weep, or love or
hate--and none of their kind would be the wiser. All her life that she
could remember the girl had lived so, all her life she had but to lift
her eyes above her feet to gaze into the infinite; yet in the irony of
fate never until this moment, the moment when of all she should have
been the happiest, did the immensity of this solitude appeal to her so,
did appreciation of the terrible, haunting loneliness it concealed touch
her with its grip. Care free, thoughtless, never until the whirl of the
last fortnight had the future, her future, appealed to her as something
which she herself must shape or alter. Heretofore it had been a thing
taken for granted, preordained as the alternate coming of light and of
darkness. But in that intervening time, short as it was, she had
awakened. Rude as had been the circumstances that had aroused her, they
had nevertheless been effective. Without volition upon her part the
panorama of another life had been unrolled before her eyes. Sensations,
thoughts, impulses of which she had never previously dreamed had been
hers. Passions unconceived had stalked before her gaze. More a nightmare
on the whole than an awakening it had all been; yet nevertheless the
experience had been hers. Much of its meaning had passed her by. Events
had crowded too thickly for her to grasp the whole; but _en masse_ the
effect had been definite--startlingly definite. Unbelievable as it may
seem, for the first time in her existence she had aroused to the
consciousness of being an individual entity. The inevitable
metamorphosis of age, the thing which differentiates a child from an
adult, belated long in her passive life, had at last taken place.
Bewilderingly sudden, so sudden that as yet she had not adjusted herself
to the change, had barely become conscious thereof, yet certain as
existence itself, the transformation had come to pass. Looking back
there that afternoon, looking where the town had been and now was not,
mingling with the impressions of a day full to overflowing, there came
to the girl for the first time a definite appreciation of this thing
that she had done. And that moment from the scene, never to appear
again, passed Bess Landor the child; and invisibly into her place,
taking up the play where the other had left, came Elizabeth Landor the
Very, very long the girl sat there so; unconsciously long. With the
swift reaction of youth, the scene of the excitement vanished, the
personal menace gone, the impression it had made passed promptly into
abeyance. As when she and the man had sat alone in the tiny room of the
hotel, another consideration was too insistent, too vital, to prevent
dominating the moment. Any other diversion, save absolute physical pain
itself, would have been inadequate, was inadequate. Gradually, minute by
minute, as the outline of the town itself had vanished, the depressing
impression of that jeering frontier mob faded; and in its stead, looming
bigger and bigger, advancing, enfolding like a storm cloud until it
blotted out every other thought, came realisation of the thing she had
done: came appreciation of its finality, its immensity. Then it was that
the infinite bigness of this uninhabited wild, the sense of its infinite
loneliness, pressed her close. Despite herself, against all reason, as a
child is afraid of the dark there grew upon her a terror of this
intangible thing called solitude that stretched out into the future
endlessly. Smiling as it was this day, unchangeably smiling, she fancied
a time when it would not smile, when its passive eventless monotony
would be maddening. Swiftly, cumulatively as with every intense nature
impressions reproduce, this one augmented. Again into the consideration
intruded the absolute finality, the irrevocability of her choice. More
distinctly than when she had listened to the original, memory recalled
the vow of the marriage ceremony she had taken: "For better or for
worse, in sickness or in health, until death do us part." No, there was
no escape, no possible avenue that remained unguarded. The knowledge
overwhelmed her, suffocated her. Vague possibilities, recently born,
became realities. Closer and closer gripped the solitude. For the first
time in her existence the dead surrounding silence became unbearable.
Almost desperately she shifted back in her seat. Instinctively she
sought the hand of her companion, pressed it tight. A mist came into her
eyes, until the very team itself was blotted out.
"Oh, How," she confessed tensely, "I'm afraid!"
The man roused, as one recalled from reverie, as one awakened but not
yet completely returned.
"Afraid, Bess? Afraid of what?"
"Of the silence, of the future; of you, a bit."
"Afraid of me, Bess?" Perplexed, wondering, the man held the team to a
walk and simultaneously the side curtains ceased flapping, hung close.
"I don't think I understand. Tell me why, Bess."
"I can't. A child doesn't know why it's afraid of the dark. The dark has
never hurt it. It merely is."
At her side the man sat looking at her. He did not touch her, he did not
move. In the time since they had come into his own a wonderful change
had come into the face of this Indian man; and never was it so wonderful
as at this moment. He still wore the grotesque ready-made clothes. The
high collar, galling to him as a bridle to an unbroken cayuse, had made
a red circle about his throat; yet of it and of them he was oblivious.
Very, very young he looked at this time; fairly boyish. There was a
colour in his beardless cheeks higher than the bronze of his race. The
black eyes were soft as a child's, trusting as a child's. In the career
of every human being there comes a time supreme, a climax, a period of
exaltation to which memory will ever after recur, which serves as a
standard of happiness absolute; and in the career of How Landor the hour
had struck. This he knew; and yet, knowing, he could scarcely credit the
truth. His cup of happiness was full, full to overflowing; yet he was
almost afraid to put it to his lips for fear it would vanish, lest it
should prove a myth.
Thus he sat there, this Indian man with whom fate was jesting,
worshipping with a faith and love more intense than a Christian for his
God; yet, with instinctive reticence, worshipping with closed lips. Thus
the minutes passed; minutes of silence wherein he should have been
eloquent, minutes that held an opportunity that would never be his
again. Smiling, ironic, fate the satirist looked on at her handiwork,
watched to the end; and then, observing that _finale_, laughed--and with
the voice of Elizabeth Landor.
"Don't work at it any more, How," derided destiny. "You don't
understand, and I can't tell you."
She straightened in her seat and shrugged her shoulders with a gesture
she had never used before, that had come very lately: come concomitantly
with the arrival of the woman Elizabeth. "Anyway, I think it will be all
right. I at least am not afraid of your eloping with someone else." She
laughed again at the thought and folded her hands carefully in her lap.
"It's quite impossible to think of you interfering with the property of
someone else; even though that property were a girl."
Mechanically the Indian chirruped to the team and shook the reins. On
his face the look of perplexity deepened. Instinctively he realised that
something was wrong; but how to set it right he did not know, and, true
to his instincts, waited.
"You wouldn't be afraid in the least to do so," wandered on the girl,
"even though the woman were another man's wife. You aren't afraid of
anything. You'd take her from before his very eyes if you'd decided to
do so, if you saw fit. It's not that. It merely would never occur to
you; not even as possibility."
Still groping, the man looked at her, looked at her full; but no light
"Yes, you're right, Bess," he corroborated haltingly. "It would never
occur to me to do so."
More ironically than before laughed fate; and again with the voice of
"You're humorous, How, deliciously humorous; and still you haven't the
vestige of a sense of humour." She laughed again involuntarily. "I
hadn't myself a few weeks ago. I think I was even more deficient than
you; but now--now--" Once again the tense-strung laugh, while in her lap
the crossed hands locked and grew white from mutual pressure. "Now of a
sudden I seem to see humour in everything!"
More than perplexed, concerned, distressed from his very inability to
fathom the new mood, the man again brought the team to a walk, fumbled
with the reins impotently.
"Something's wrong, Bess," he hesitated. "Something's worrying you. Tell
me what it is, won't you?"
"Wrong?" The girl returned the look fair, almost defiantly. "Wrong?"
Still again the laugh; unmusical, hysterical. "Certainly nothing is
wrong. What could be wrong when two people who have so much in common as
you and I, who touch at so many places, are just married and alone?
Wrong: the preposterous idea!"
She was silent, and of a sudden the all-surrounding stillness seemed to
be intensified. For at last, at last the man understood and was looking
at her; looking at her wordlessly, with an expression that was terrible
in its haunting suggestion of unutterable sadness, of infinite pain. He
did not say a word; he merely looked at her; but shade by shade as the
seconds passed there vanished from his face to the last bit every trace
of the glory that had been its predecessor. Not until it was gone did
the girl realise to the full what she had done, realise the mortal stab
she had inflicted; then of a sudden came realisation in a gust and
contrition unspeakable. Swiftly as rain follows a thunderclap her mood
changed, her own face, hysterically tense, relaxed in a flood of tears.
In an abandon of remorse her arms were about him, her face was pressed
close to his face.
"Forgive me, How," she pleaded. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm nervous
and irresponsible, that's all. Please forgive me; please!"
* * * * *
At a dawdling little prairie stream, superciliously ignored by the
map-maker, yet then and now travelling its aimless journey from nowhere
to nowhere under the name of Mink Creek, they halted for the night.
Though they had been driving steadily all the afternoon, save once when,
far to the south, they had detected the blot of a grazing herd, they had
seen no sign of human presence. They saw no indication now. The short
fall day was drawing to a close. The sun, red as maple leaf in autumn,
was level with the earth when How Landor pulled up beside the low
sloping bank, and, the girl watching from her observation seat in the
old surrey, unharnessed and watered the team and hobbled them amid the
tall frost-cured grass to feed.
"Now for the tent," he said on returning. "Will your highness have it
face north, south, east, or west?"
"East, please, How. I want to see the sun when it first comes up in the
With the methodical swiftness of one accustomed to his work the man set
about his task. The tent, his own, was in the rear of the waggon box.
The furnishings, likewise his own, were close packed beside. More
quickly than the watcher fancied it possible the whole began to take
shape. Long before the glory had left the western sky the tent itself
was in place. Before the chill, which followed so inevitably and
swiftly, was in the air the diminutive soft coal heater was installed
and in service. Following, produced from the same receptacle as by
legerdemain, vanishing mysteriously within the mushroom house, followed
the blanket bed, the buffalo robes, the folding chairs and table, the
frontier "grub" chest. Last of all, signal to the world that the task
was complete, the battered lantern with the tin reflector was trimmed
and lit and, adding the final touch of comfort and of intimacy that
light alone can give, was hung from its old hook on the ridge pole.
Then at last, the first shadows of night stealing over the soundless
earth, the man approached the lone spectator and held out his arms for
her to descend.
"Come, Bess," he said. He smiled up at her as only such a man at such a
time can smile. "This is my night. I'm going to do everything; cook
supper and all. Come, girlie."
* * * * *
The meal was over, and again, as on that other occasion when Colonel
William Landor had called, the two people within the tent occupied the
same positions. In the folding rocking chair sat the girl, the light
from the single lantern playing upon her brown head and soft oval face.
In the partial darkness of the corner, stretched among the buffalo
robes, lay the man. His arms were locked behind his head. His face was
toward her. His eyes--eyes unbelievably soft and innocent for a mature
man--were upon her. As he had said, this was his night, and he was
living in it to the full. Ever taciturn with her as with others, he was
at this time even more silent than usual, silent in a happiness which
made words seem sacrilege. He merely looked at her, wonderingly,
worshipfully, with the mute devotion of a dog for its master, as a
devout Catholic gazes upon the image of the Virgin Mother. Since they
had entered the tent he had scarcely spoken more than a single sentence
at a time. Only once had he given a glimpse of himself. Then he had
apologised for the meagreness of the meal. "To-morrow," he had said,
"we will have game, the country is full of it; but to-day--" he had
looked down as he had spoken--"to-day I felt somehow as though I could
not kill anything. Life is too good to destroy, to-day."
Thus he lay there now, motionless, wordless, oblivious of passing time;
and now and then in her place the girl's eyes lifted, found him gazing
at her--and each time looked away. For some reason she could not return
that look. For some reason as each time she caught it, read its meaning,
her brown face grew darker. As truly as out there on the prairie she was
afraid of the infinite solitude, she was afraid now of the worship that
gaze implied. She had awakened, had Elizabeth Landor; and in the depths
of her own soul she knew she was not worthy of such love, such
confidence absolute. She expected it, she wanted it--and still she did
not want it. She longed for oblivion such as his, oblivion of all save
the passing minute; and it was not hers. Prescience, without a reason
therefor which she would admit, prevented forgetfulness. She tried to
shake the impression off; but it clung tenaciously. Instinctively,
almost under compulsion, she even went ahead to meet it, to prepare the
"You mustn't look at me that way, How," she laughed at last forcedly.
"It makes me afraid of myself--afraid of dropping. Supposing I should
fall, from up in the sky where you fancy I am! No one, not even you,
could ever put the pieces together."
"Fall," smiled the man, "you fall? You wouldn't; but if you did, I'd be
there to catch you."
"Then you, too, would be in fragments. I'm very, very far above earth,
"I'd want to be so, if you fell," said the man. "You're all there is in
the world, all there is in life, for me. I'd want to be annihilated,
The girl's hands folded in her lap; as they had done that afternoon,
"You don't know me even yet, How," she guided on. "You think I'm
perfect, but I'm not. I know I'm very, very human, very--bad at times."
The other smiled; that was all.
"I'm liable to do anything, be anything. I'm liable to even fancy I
don't like you and run away."
"If you did you'd return very soon."
"Return?" She looked at him fully. "You think so?"
"I know so."
"Because you care for me."
"But it would be because I didn't care for you that I'd go, you know."
"You'd find your mistake and come back."
The clasped hand locked, as once before they had done.
"And when I did--come back--you'd forgive me, How?"
"There'd be nothing to forgive."
"It wouldn't be wrong--to leave you that way?"
"To me you could do no wrong, Bess."
"Not if I did anything, if I--ran away with another man?"
The listener smiled, until the beardless face was very, very boyish.
"I can't imagine the impossible, Bess."
"But just supposing I should?" insistently. "You'd take me back, no
matter what I'd done, and forgive me?"
For a half minute wherein the smile slowly vanished from his face the
man did not answer, merely looked at her; then for the first time since
they had been speaking his eyes dropped.
"I could forgive you anything, Bess; but to take you back, to have
everything go on as before--I am human. I could not."
A moment longer the two remained so, each staring at their feet; then of
a sudden, interrupting, the girl laughed, unmusically, hysterically.
"I'm glad you said that, How," she exulted; "glad I compelled you to say
it. As you confess, it makes you seem more human. A god shouldn't marry
a mortal, you know."
The man looked up gravely, but he said nothing.
"I'm going to make you answer me just one more thing," rushed on the
girl, "and then I'm satisfied. You'd forgive me, you say, forgive me
anything; but how about the other man, the one who had induced me to run
away? Would you forgive him, too?"
Silence, dead silence; but this time the Indian's eyes did not drop.
"You may as well tell me, How. I'm irresponsible to-night and I won't
give you any peace until you do. Would you forgive the other man, too?"
Once more for seconds there was a lapse; then slowly the Indian lifted
in his place, lifted until he was sitting, lifted until his face stood
out clear in the light like the carving of a master.
"Forgive _him_, Bess?" A pause. "Do you think I am a god?"
That was all, neither an avowal nor a denial; yet no human being looking
at the speaker that moment would have pressed the query farther, no
human being could have misread the answer. With the same little
hysterical, unnatural laugh the girl sank back in her seat. The tense
hands went lax.
"I'll be good now, How," she said dully. "One isn't married every day,
you know, and it's got on my nerves. I'm finding out a lot of things
lately, and that's one of them: that I have nerves. I never supposed
before that I possessed them."
Deliberately, without a shade of hesitation or of uncertainty, the man
arose. As deliberately he walked over and very, very gently lifted the
girl to her feet.
"Bess," he said low, "there's something that's troubling you, something
you'd feel better to tell me. Don't you trust me enough to tell me now,
Very long they stood so, face to face. For a time the girl did not look
up, merely stood there, her fingers locked behind her back, her long
lashes all but meeting; then of a sudden, swiftly as the passing shadow
of an April cloud, the mood changed, she glanced up.
"I thought I could scare you, How," she joyed softly, "and I have." She
smiled straight into his eyes. "I wanted to see how much you cared for
me, was all. I've found out. There's absolutely nothing to tell, How,
man; absolutely nothing."
For another half minute the man looked at her deeply, silently; but,
still smiling, she answered him back, and with a last lingering grip
that was a caress his hands dropped.
"I trust you, Bess, completely," he said. "It makes me unhappy to feel
that you are unhappy, is all."
"I know, How." Tears were on the long lashes now, tears that came so
easily. "I'll try not to be bad again." She touched his sleeve. "I'm
very tired now and sleepy. You'll forgive me this once again, won't
"Forgive you!--Bess!" She was in his arms, pressed close to his breast,
the presence of her, intense, feminine, intoxicating him, bearing him as
the fruit of the poppy to oblivion. "God, girl, if you could only
realise how I love you. I can't tell you; I can't say things; but if you
could only realise!"
Passionate, throbbing, the girl's face lifted. Her great brown eyes,
sparkling wet, glorious, looked into his eyes. Her lips parted.
"Say that again, How," she whispered, "only say that again. Tell me that
you love me. Tell me! tell me!"
FATE, THE SATIRIST
Four months drifted by. The will of Colonel William Landor had been read
and executed. According to its provisions the home ranch with one-tenth
of the herd, divided impartially as they filed past the executor, were
left to Mary Landor; in event of her death to descend to "an only
nephew, Clayton Craig by name." A second fraction of the great herd, a
tenth of the remainder, selected in the same manner, reverted at once
"unqualifiedly and with full title to hold or to sell to the
aforementioned sole blood relative, Clayton Craig." All of the estate
not previously mentioned, the second ranch whereon How Landor had
builded, various chattels enumerated, a small sum of money in a city
bank, and the balance of the herd, whose number the testator himself
could not give with certainty, were willed likewise unqualifiedly to "my
adopted daughter, Elizabeth Landor." That was all. A single sheet of
greasy note paper, a collection of pedantic antiquated phrases, penned
laboriously with the scrawling hand of one unused to writing; but
incontrovertible in its laconic directness. Save these three no other
names were mentioned. So far as the Indian Ma-wa-cha-sa, commonly called
How Landor, was concerned he might never have existed. In a hundred
words the labour was complete; and at its end, before the single sheet
was covered, sprawling, characteristic, was the last signature of him
who at the time was the biggest cattleman west of the river: William
Landor of the Buffalo Butte.
Craig himself did not appear, either at the reading or the execution.
Instead a dapper city attorney with a sarcastic tongue and an isolated
manner was present to conserve his interests; and, satisfied on that
score, and ere the supply of Havanas in a beautifully embossed leather
case was exhausted, in fact, to quote his own words, "as quickly as a
kind Providence would permit," he vanished into the unknown from whence
he came. Following, on the next train, came a big-voiced, red-bearded
Irishman who proclaimed himself the new foreman and immediately took
possession. Simultaneously there disappeared from the scene the Buffalo
Butte ranch and the brand by which it had been known; and in its place
upon the flank of every live thing controlled, stared forth a C locked
to a C (C-C): the heraldry of the new master, Clayton Craig.
Likewise the long-planned wedding journey had taken place and become a
memory. Into the silent places they went, this new-made man and
wife--and no one was present at the departure to bid them adieu. Back
from the land of nothingness they came--and again no one was at hand to
welcome their return. In but one respect did the accomplishment of that
plan alter from the prearranged; and that one item was the consideration
of time. They did not stay away until winter, as the girl had announced.
Starting in November, they did not complete the month. Nor did they stay
for more than a day in any one spot. Like the curse of the Wandering
Jew, a newborn restlessness in the girl kept calling "On, on." Battle
against it as she might, she was powerless under its dominance. She knew
not from whence had come the change, nor why; but that in the last weeks
she had altered fundamentally, unbelievably, she could not question. The
very first night out, ere they had slept, she had begun to talk of
change on the morrow. The next day it was the same--and the next. When
they were moving the morbid restlessness gradually wore away; for the
time being she became her old careless-happy self; and in sympathy her
companion opened as a flower to the sun. Then would come a pause; and
the morbid, dogging spirit of unrest would close upon her anew. Thus day
by day passed until a week had gone by. Then one morning when camp was
struck, instead of advancing farther, the man had faced back the way
they had come. He made no comment, nor did she. Neither then nor in days
that followed did he once allude to the reason that had caused the
change of plan. When the girl was gay, he was gay likewise. When she
lapsed listlessly into the slough of silence and despond, he went on
precisely as though unconscious of a change. His acting, for acting it
was, even the girl could not but realise at that time, was masterly.
What he was thinking no human being ever knew, no human being could ever
know; for he never gave the semblance of a hint. Probably not since man
and woman began under the sanction of law and of clergy to mate, had
there been such a honeymoon. Probably never will there be such another.
That the whole expedition was a piteous, dreary failure neither could
have doubted ere the first week dragged by. That the marriage journey
which it ushered in was to be a failure likewise, neither could have
questioned, ere the second week, which brought them home, had passed.
The Garden of Eden was there, there as certainly in its frost-brown
sun-blessed perfection as though spread luxuriously within the tropics.
Adam was there, Adam prepared to accept it as normally content as the
first man; but Eve was not satisfied. Within the garden the serpent had
shown his face and tempted her. For very, very long she would not admit
the fact even to herself, deluded herself by the belief that this
newborn discontent was but temporary; yet bald, unaltering as the
prairie itself, the truth stood forth. Thus they went, and thus they
returned. Thus again thereafter the days went monotonously by.
One bright spot, and one alone, appeared on their firmament; and that
was the opening of the new house. This was to be a surprise, a climax
boyishly reserved by its builder for their return. The man had
intentionally so arranged that the start should be from the old ranch,
and in consequence the girl had never seen either the new or its
furnishings, until the November day when the overloaded surrey drew up
in the dooryard, and the journey was complete. Pathetic, indescribable,
in the light of the past, in the memory of the solitary hours that
frontier nest represented, the moment must have been to the man when he
led the way to the entrance and turned the key. Yet he smiled as he
threw open the door; and, standing there, ere she entered, he kissed
"It isn't much, but it was mine, Bess, and now it's yours," he said,
and, her hand in his, he crossed the threshold.
A moment the girl stood staring around her. Crude as everything was, and
cheap in aggregate, it spoke a testimony that was overwhelming. Never
before, not even that first night they had been alone, had the girl
realised as at this moment what she meant to this solitary, impassive
human. Never before until these mute things he had fashioned with his
own hands stood before her eyes did she realise fully his love. With the
knowledge now came a flood of repentance and of appreciation. Her arms
flew about his neck. Her wet face was hid.
"How you love me, man," she voiced. "How you love me!"
"Yes, Bess," said the other simply; and that was all.
For that day, and the next, and the next, the mood lasted, an awakening
the girl began to fancy permanent; then inevitably came the reaction.
The man took up his duties where he had laid them down: the supervision
of a herd scattered of necessity to the winds, the personal inspection
of a range that stretched away for miles. Soon after daylight, his lunch
for the day packed in the pouch he slung over his shoulder, he left
astride the mouse-coloured, saddleless broncho; not to return until dark
or later, tired and hungry, but ever smiling at the home-coming, ever
considerate. Thus the third night he returned to find the house dark and
the fire in the soft coal stove dead; to find this and the girl
stretched listless on the bed against the wall, staring wide-eyed into
"I was tired and resting, How," she had explained penitently, and gone
about the task of preparing supper; but the man was not deceived, and
that moment, if not before, he recognised the inevitable.
Yet even then he made no comment, nor altered in the minutest detail his
manner. If ever a human being played the game, it was How Landor. With a
blindness that was masterly, that was all but fatuous, he ignored the
obvious. His equanimity and patience were invulnerable. Silent by
nature, he grew fairly loquacious in an effort to be companionable.
Probably no white man alive would have done as he did, would have borne
what he did; perhaps it would have been better had he done differently;
but he was as he was. Day after day he endured the galling starched
linen and unaccustomed clothing, making long journeys to the distant
town to keep his wardrobe clean and replenished. Day after day he
polished his boots and struggled with his cravat. Puerile unqualifiedly
an observer would have characterised this repeated farce; but to one who
knew the tale in its entirety, it would have seemed very far from
humorous. All but sacrilege, it is to tell of this starved human's doing
at this time. The sublime and the ridiculous ever elbow so closely in
this life and jostled so continuously in those stormy hours of How
Landor's chastening. Suffice it to repeat that every second through it
all he played the game; played it with a smiling face, and the ghost of
a jest ever trembling on his lips. Played it from the moment he entered
his house until the moment he daily disappeared, astride the vixenish
undersized cayuse. Then when he was alone, when there were no human eyes
to observe, to pity perchance, then--But let it pass what he did then.
It is another tale and extraneous.
Thus drifted by the late fall and early winter. Bit by bit the days grew
shorter; and then as a pendulum vibrates, lengthened shade by shade. No
human being came their way, nor wild thing, save roving murderers on
pillage bent. Even the cowmen he employed, the old hands he and Bess had
both known for years, avoided him obviously, stubbornly. After the
execution of the will he had built them another ranch house at a
distance on the range, and there they congregated and clung. They
accepted his money and obeyed his orders unquestioningly; but further
than that--they were white and he was red. Howard, the one man with
whom he had been friendly, had grown restless and drifted on--whither no
one knew. Save for the Irish overseer and one other cowboy, the old
Buffalo Butte ranch was deserted. Locally, there neither was nor had
been any outward manifestation of hostility, nor even gossip. But the
olden times when the hospitable ranch house of Colonel William Landor
was the meeting point of ranchers within a radius of fifty miles were
gone. They did not persecute the new master or his white wife; they did
a subtler, crueller thing: they ignored them. To the Indian's face, when
by infrequent chance they met, they were affable, obliging. His
reputation had spread too far for them to appear otherwise; but, again,
they were white and he was red--and between them the chasm yawned.
Thus passed the months. Winter, dead and relentless, held its sway. It
was a normal winter; but ever in this unprotected land the period was
one of inevitable decimation, of a weeding out of the unfit. Here and
there upon the range, dark against the now background of universal
white, stared forth the carcass of a weakling. Over it for a few nights
the coyotes and grey wolves howled and fought; then would come a fresh
layer of white, and the spot where it had been would merge once more
into the universal colour scheme. Even the prairie chickens vanished,
migrated to southern lands where corn was king. No more at daylight or
at dusk could one hear the whistle of their passing wings, or the
booming of their rallying call. Magnificent in any season, this
impression of the wild was even more pronounced now. The thought of God
is synonymous with immensity; and so being, Deity was here eternally
manifest, ubiquitous. The human mind could not conceive a more infinite
bigness than this gleaming frost-bound waste stretched to the horizon
beneath the blazing winter sun. Magnificent it was beyond the power of
words to describe; but lonely, lonely. Within the tiny cottage, the
girl, Bess, drew the curtains tight over the single window and for days
at a time did not glance without.
Then at last, for to all things there is an end, came spring. Long
before it arrived the Indian knew it was coming, read incontestably its
advance signs. No longer, as the mouse-coloured cayuse bore him over the
range, was there the mellow crunch of snow underfoot. Instead the sound
was crisp and sharp: the crackling of ice where the snow had melted and
frozen again. Distinct upon the record of the bleak prairie page
appeared another sign infallible. Here and there, singly and _en masse_,
wherever the herds had grazed, appeared oblong brown blots the size of
an animal's body. The cattle were becoming weak under the influence of
prolonged winter, and lay down frequently to rest, their warm bodies
branding the evidence with melted snow. The jack rabbits, ubiquitous on
the ranges, that sprang daily almost from beneath the pony's feet, were
changing their winter's dress, were becoming darker; almost as though
soiled by a muddy hand. Here and there on the high places the sparkling
white was giving way to a dull, lustreless brown. Gradually, day by day,
as though they were a pestilence, they expanded, augmented until they,
and not the white, became the dominant tone. The sun was high in the sky
now. At noontime the man's shadow was short, scarcely extended back of
his pony's feet. Mid-afternoons, in the low places when he passed
through, there was a spattering of snow water collected in tiny puddles.
After that there was no need of signs. Realities were everywhere. Dips
in the rolling land, mere dry runs save at this season, became creeks;
flushed to their capacity and beyond, sang softly all the day long. Not
only the high spots, but even the north slopes lost their white
blankets, surrendered to the conquering brown. Migratory life, long
absent, returned to its own. Prairie kites soared far overhead on
motionless wings. Meadow larks, cheeriest of heralds, practised their
five-toned lay. Here and there, to the north of prairie boulders,
appeared tufts of green; tufts that, like the preceding brown, grew and
grew and grew until they dominated the whole landscape. Then at last,
the climax, the _finale_ of the play, came life, animal and vegetable,
with a rush. Again at daylight and at dusk swarms of black dots on
whistling wings floated here and there, descended to earth; and,
following, indefinite as to location, weird, lonely, boomed forth in
their mating songs. Transient, shallow, miniature lakes swarmed with
their new-come denizens. Last of all, final assurance of a new season's
advent, by day and by night, swelling, diminishing, unfailingly musical
as distant chiming bells, came the sound of all most typical of prairie
and of spring. From high overhead in the blue it came, often so high
that the eye could not distinguish its makers; yet alway distinctive,
alway hauntingly mysterious. "Honk! honk! honk!" sounded and echoed and
re-echoed that heraldry over the awakened land. "Honk! honk! honk!" it
repeated; and listening humans smiled and commented unnecessarily each
to the other: "Spring is not coming. It is here."
THE FRUIT OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
A shaggy grey wolf, a baby no longer but practically full grown, swung
slowly along the beaten trail connecting the house and the barn as the
stranger appeared. He did not run, he did not glance behind, he made no
sound. With almost human dignity he vacated the premises to the
newcomer. Not until he reached his destination, the ill-lighted stable,
did curiosity get the better of prudence; then, safe within the doorway,
he wheeled about, and with forelegs wide apart stood staring out, his
long, sensitive nose taking minutest testimony.
The newcomer, a well-proportioned, smooth-faced man in approved riding
togs, halted likewise and returned the look; equally minutely, equally
suspiciously. The horse he rode was one of a kind seldom seen on the
ranges: a thoroughbred with slender legs and sensitive ears. The rider
sat his saddle well; remarkably well for one obviously from another
life. Both the horse and man were immaculately groomed. At a distance
they made a pleasant picture, one fulfilling adequately the adjective
"smart." Not until an observer was near, very near, could the looseness
of the skin beneath the man's eyelids, incongruous with his general
youth, and the abnormal nervous twitching of a muscle here and there,
have been noted. For perhaps a minute he sat so, taking in every detail
of the commonplace surroundings. Then, apparently satisfied, he
dismounted and, tying the animal to the wheel of an old surrey drawn up
in the yard, he approached the single entrance of the house and rapped.
To the doorway came Elizabeth Landor; her sleeves rolled to the elbow, a
frilled apron that reached to the chin protecting a plain gingham gown.
A moment they looked at each other; then the man's riding cap came off
with a sweep and he held out his hand.
"Bess!" he said intimately; and for another moment that was all. Then he
looked her fair between the eyes. "I came to see your husband," he
exclaimed. "Is he at home?"
The girl showed no surprise, ignored the out-stretched hand.
"I was expecting you," she said. "How told me last night that you had
A shade of colour stole into the man's blonde cheeks and his hand
dropped; but his eyes held their place.
"Yes. I only came yesterday," he returned. "I've a little business to
talk over with How. That's why I'm here this morning. Is he about?"
Just perceptibly the girl smiled; but she made no answer.
"Don't you wish to be friends, Bess?" persisted the man. "Aren't we to
be even neighbourly?"
"Neighbourly, certainly. I have no desire to be otherwise."
"Why don't you answer me, then?" The red shading was becoming positive
now, telltale. "Tell me why, please."
"Answer?" The girl rolled down one sleeve deliberately. "Answer?" She
undid its mate. "Do you really fancy, cousin by courtesy, that after
I've lived the last four months I'm still such a child as that? Do you
really wish me to answer, Neighbour Craig?"
For the first time the man's eyes dropped. Some silver coins in his
trousers pocket jingled as he fingered them nervously. Then again he
"I beg your pardon, Bess," he said. "I saw your husband leave an hour
ago. I knew he wasn't here." He looked her straight. "It was you I came
to see. May I stay?"
Again the girl ignored the question.
"You admit then," she smiled, "that if How were here you wouldn't have
come, that nothing you know of could have made you come? Let's
understand each other in the beginning. You admit this?"
"Yes," steadily, "I admit it. May I stay?"
The smile left the girl's lips. She looked him fair in the eyes;
silently, deliberately, with an intensity the other could not fathom,
could not even vaguely comprehend. Then as deliberately she released
him, looked away.
"Yes, you may stay," she consented, "if you wish."
"If I wish!" Craig looked at her meaningly; then with an obvious effort
he checked himself "Thank you," he completed repressedly.
This time the girl did not smile.
"Don't you realise yet that sort of thing is useless?" she queried
It was the man this time who was silent.
"If you wish to stay," went on the girl monotonously, "do so; but for
once and all do away with acting. We're neither of us good, we're both
living a lie; but at least we understand each other. Let's not waste
energy in pretending--when there's no one to be deceived."
Just for a second the man stiffened. The histrionic was too much a part
of his life to shake off instantly. Then he laughed.
"All right, Bess. I owe you another apology, I suppose. Anyway be it so.
And now, that I'm to stay--" A meaning glance through the open door.
"You were working, weren't you?"
"Go ahead, then, and I'll find something to sit on and watch. You
remember another morning once before, don't you--a morning before you
"We'll fancy we're back there again, then. Come."
"I am quite deficient in imagination."
"At least, though, dishes must be washed."
"Not necessarily--this moment at least. They have waited before."
"But, Bess, on the square, I don't wish to intrude or interfere."
"You're not interfering. I've merely chosen to rest a bit and enjoy the
sun." She indicated the step. "Won't you be seated? They're clean, I
know. I scrubbed them this very morning myself."
The man hesitated. Then he sat down.
"Bess," he said, "you've been pretty frank with me and I'm going to
return the privilege. I don't understand you a bit--the way you are now.
You've changed terribly."
"Changed? On the contrary I'm very normal. I've been precisely as I am
this moment for--a lifetime."
"For--how long, Bess?"
"A lifetime, I think."
"For four months, you mean."
"Perhaps--it's all the same."
"Since you did a foolish thing?"
"I have done many such."
"Since the last, I mean."
"No." Just perceptibly the lids over the brown eyes tightened. "The last
was when I asked you to sit down. I have not changed in the smallest
possible manner since then."
The man inspected his boots.
"Aren't you, too, going to be seated?" he suggested at length.
"Yes, certainly. To tell the truth I thought I was." She took a place
beside him. "I had forgotten."
They sat so, the man observing her narrowly, in real perplexity.
"Bess," he initiated baldly at last, "you're unhappy."
"I have not denied it," evenly.
The visitor caught his breath. He thought he was prepared for anything;
but he was finding his mistake.
"This life you've--selected, is wearing on you," he added. "Frankly, I
hardly recognise you, you used to be so careless and happy."
"Frankly," echoed the girl, "you, too, have altered, cousin mine. You're
dissipating. Even here one grows to recognise the signs."