THE BAD MAN
CHARLES HANSON TOWNE
Based on the Play by Porter Emerson Browne
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press
Copyright, 1921, by G. P. Putnam's Sons Printed in the United States of America
I.—Wherein it is shown that a young American had the courage to come into a new country; how fate played against him, and a neighbor looked longingly at his ranch
II.—Wherein, far away, another man hears whispers of the wealth along the border, and comes down to see about it
III.—Wherein Uncle Henry speaks his mind—as usual
IV.—Wherein "Red" reveals his heart, and Mrs. Quinn gives him good coffee and good advice
V.—Wherein Gilbert Jones is worried, and Lucia Pell is asked to do an impossible thing
VI.—Wherein an old love awakens, Pell reveals his true colors, a mortgage is about to be foreclosed, the contents of a satchel are made known, Uncle Henry springs a sensation, and Pell takes an option
VII.—Wherein Lucia sees treachery brewing, Pell proves himself a brute, and an unexpected guest appears
VIII.—Wherein the bandit expounds a new philosophy, and makes marionettes of the Americans
IX.—Wherein Uncle Henry chatters some more, there is an auction, and things look black indeed
X.—Wherein an old friendship comes to life, Lopez learns a thing or two, and finally makes a match
XI.—Wherein a man proves himself a craven, a shot rings out, and the bad man explains one little hour
XII.—Wherein the bad man cannot understand the good man, and disappears; and a dead man stirs
XIII.—Wherein an old situation seems about to be repeated, another shot is fired, and the bad man comes back
XIV.—Wherein an old friend returns, and there is a joyful reunion
THE BAD MAN
WHEREIN IT IS SHOWN THAT A YOUNG AMERICAN HAD THE COURAGE TO COME INTO A NEW COUNTRY; HOW FATE PLAYED AGAINST HIM, AND A NEIGHBOR LOOKED LONGINGLY AT HIS RANCH
Looking back now, after so many months of struggle and foreboding, he wondered how he had ever had the high courage to come to this strange country. Had he been a few years older he would not have started forth—he was sure of that now. But the flame of youth was in him, the sure sense that he could conquer where others had miserably failed; and, like all virile young Americans, he had love of adventure, and zest for the unknown was in his blood. The glamour of Arizona lured him; the color of these great hills and mountains he had come to love captivated him from the first. It was as if a siren beckoned, and he had to follow.
For days he had been worried almost to the breaking point. Things had not shaped themselves as he had planned. Event piled upon event, and now disaster—definite disaster—threatened to descend upon him.
All morning, despite the intense heat, he had been about the ranch, appraising this and that, mentally; pottering in the shed; looking at his horses—the few that were left!—smiling at the thought of his wheezing Ford, wondering just when he would clear out altogether.
Not that young Gilbert Jones was a pessimist. And yet he wasn't one of those damnable Pollyanna optimists he so abominated—the kind who went about saying continually that God was in His heaven and all was right with the world. No, indeed! He was just a normal, regular fellow, ready to face a difficult situation when it came about as the natural result of a series of events. He saw the impending catastrophe as the logical finale of many happenings—for some of which he was not in any way responsible.
Who could have foreseen the Great War, for instance? Surely that was not his fault! A pitiful archduke was murdered in a European city. He remembered reading about it, and then instantly dismissing it from his mind as of no consequence. He never connected himself with so remote an event. Yet a few years later he, with many others, was fighting in France—a lieutenant in the United States Army—just because a shot had been fired at a man he had never heard of!
A strange world, he pondered, as he looked out over the blue hills, heavy with heat, and meandering away to God knows where.
Then, surely it was no fault of his if the Government under which he lived made no strenuous effort to stop the Mexican massacres of American citizens all along the border. One firm word, one splendid gesture, and daring raids would have ceased; and there would have been no menace of bandits hereabouts. It would have been a country fit to live in. There would have developed a feeling of permanence and peace, and a young chap could have made his plans for the future with some sense of security and high optimism. Surely they were entitled to protection—these brave boys and stalwart sons of America who fearlessly took up claims, staked all, and strove to make homes in this thrilling section along the borderland. They were not mere adventurers; they were pioneers. They were of the best stuff that America contained—clean-cut, clear-eyed, with level heads and high hearts. Yet their own Government did not think enough of them to offer them the sure protection they were entitled to.
Gilbert looked back on that distant day when he had gone up to Bisbee and purchased four head of cattle, and brought them himself to this ranch he had purchased, happy as only a fool is happy. Within a week they had mysteriously disappeared.
Rumors of Mexican thieves and assassins had come to him, as they had come to all the young land-owners along the line. He recalled how, after one raid, in which a good citizen had been foully murdered in his bed, he had called a meeting of the ranchers in their section, and with one voice they agreed to send a protest to Washington.
They did so. Nothing happened. An aching silence followed. They wrote again; and then one day a pale acknowledgment of their communication came in one of those long and important-looking unstamped envelopes. It seemed very official, very impressive. But mere looks never helped any cause. They were not naive enough to expect the Secretary of State to come down in person and see to the mending of things. But a platoon of soldiers—a handful of troops—would have worked wonders. Jones always contended that not a shot would have to be fired; no more deaths on either side would be necessary. The mere presence of a few men in uniform would have the desired effect. The bandits, now prowling about, would slink over the invisible border to their own territory, and never be heard of again. Of that he felt confident.
But no! Watchful waiting was the watchword—or the catchword. And the eternal and infernal raids went on.
It was while they were having their community meeting that he had come to know Jasper Hardy and his young daughter Angela, who occupied the next ranch, about a mile and a half south of his. Before that he had been too busy to bother about neighbors. "Red" Giddings, his foreman, had spoken once or twice about "some nice folks down the line," but he hadn't heard much of what he said. There were always a hundred and one odd jobs to be done around the place—something was forever needing attention; and when Uncle Henry wasn't grumbling about something, he was forcing his nephew to play checkers or cribbage or cards with him. And, working so hard all day, he was glad to turn in early at night. Social life, therefore—unless you could call high words with a crabbed invalid a form of social life—didn't come within Gilbert's ken. It was work, work, work, and the desire to make good every moment for him.
But Hardy proved to be an aggressive fighter when the meeting took place, and spoke in sharp tones of the Government's dilatoriness. He had come to Arizona right after his wife's death in the East, and brought his only daughter and a few servants with him. He seemed to have plenty of money, and he was anxious lest the invading Mexicans should get any of it away from him. His holdings, in the eight years since he had come to the border, amounted to several thousand well-cultivated acres; and he looked like a man who, when he set out to get anything, would get it. He had an inordinate desire to grab up some more territory. Tall and thin, and sharp-featured, as well as sharp-tongued, he resembled a hawk. It was difficult to realize the fact that the pert and lovely little Angela—who lived up to her name only once in a while!—was his own flesh and blood. It was as incongruous as though a rose had grown on a beanstalk.
On their very first meeting, Gilbert had not been pleasantly impressed with Hardy. But he soon saw that the man had a certain rugged strength, and there was no doubt he had suffered from the depredations of Mexico's casual visitors, and was ready to protect not only his own interests but those of any newcomers. He seemed to have the spirit of fair-mindedness; and he believed firmly in the possibilities of this magic land, particularly for young men. "It's God's country," he told Gilbert on more than one occasion. "Get into the soil all you can. Dig—and dig deep."
He said this over and over. It ran like a refrain through every conversation he had with anyone. He preached the gospel of labor. And he did work himself; there was no shadow of doubt as to that. He had struck oil himself, and had made a goodly extra pile. Now, unknown to young Jones, he was casting envious eyes on his ranch; and when the war came and Gilbert went overseas in a burst of fine patriotism, and later came other disasters, he was quick to snatch his opportunity.
Why go to Bisbee, he told Jones, to see who would take up his mortgage? What were neighbors for, if not to come in handy in such unpleasant emergencies? And he laughed.
The long and short of it was that Hardy took an option on Gilbert's property, and held it at this very moment. It was better so, thought Gilbert. Better to be foreclosed by a friendly neighbor, who might hesitate to drive one out at the last moment, than under the thumb of some unknown individual way down the valley.
Four years of it—and he had come to this! Well, he'd take his medicine like a man. He had done his best, and no one could do more.
WHEREIN, FAR AWAY, ANOTHER MAN HEARS WHISPERS OF THE WEALTH ALONG THE BORDER, AND COMES DOWN TO SEE ABOUT IT
Up North there was a man with a jaw like a rock, and hard, steel-gray eyes. He had his fingers on the pulse of business, and employed agents everywhere to serve his interests. His office in New York, in the heart of the great financial district, was like a telephone exchange—he the central who controlled the wires, put in and drew out the plugs, and played the fascinating game of connecting himself with any "party" he thought worth while. A shrewd, inveterate gambler, he was without scruples. He lived for one purpose: to make money. For one person: Morgan Pell.
There had been whispers concerning his methods. They were often questionable, to say the least; but, like all men who work quietly beneath the surface of the world of business, Pell covered up his tracks with as much genius as he displayed in consummating a big deal. There should be no loose ends if he was ever charged with corruption. Down in his soul he knew he was a coward. He could not face disgrace, any more than he could face the guns of battle. If his pillow was not always a restful one at night; if he tossed more than he should at his age—he was but thirty-eight—no one knew it. His conscience smote him now and then. In his earlier days he had tricked a widow and caused her to be separated from her last penny. Afterwards, he learned she had committed suicide. He shuddered. In fact, he suffered a little for two long years. Then he forgot about her. Life was life, and though it played unfairly with some, to others it gave beds of roses; and after all we were but puppets of fate, and each must take his chances, and not complain if he did not hold the winning hand. There were only so many to go around. A lottery—that's what it was. And just as people left a card table, a few widows and orphans had to clear out of the big gambling-hall of life. It was as plain as day.
To a man like Pell, a wife was a necessity—but only a secondary consideration. Of course he must marry, keep up an expensive menage, and prove to the world that he was successful even where women were concerned. He must give his wife the proper background, do all the necessary things; furnish the right setting for his jewel. Children? Bah! They were not essential. He had no paternal instinct whatever. Enough that he should support in luxury and affluence the woman he deigned to make his wife, and entertain in his home the people who could and would be of use to him.
Every least act of his life was arranged, specifications written, plans drawn, and blueprints made. One day he decided that he wished a beautiful Italian villa on the north shore of Long Island. He pressed a button, ordered his secretary to get in touch immediately with his architect; and a half-hour later the latter was at his desk ready to talk of the nebulous house. Within twenty-four hours he had arranged everything—not a detail was forgotten.
That is how he did things. He set out to find a wife in the same matter-of-fact manner. He met many women; but Lucia Fennell was the only one who set his pulse beating a little faster. He felt it a shame that he should be so weak. They were at a dinner-party at the country home of a mutual friend.
It was her eyes that held him first. He had never seen quite such eyes—blue, with a curious depth that spoke of many things—the eyes of a girl who, had he been wiser, he would have known had been in love before. This was the type of woman who never loved but once, and then with all her strength beyond her own high dreams of what love should be. But though Pell could appraise men, judge them swiftly and surely, he was a fool where a girl was concerned. He had never spent much time on them. Frankly, they bored him. He liked far better the subtle game of finance. He had no finesse in a world of women, and he would have been the easiest possible prey of an adventuress.
But Lucia was far from that. Of the best family, with old traditions, she moved among the set she wished; but society, so called, did not appeal to her. She preferred people with brains rather than the idle rich; and she had traveled a great deal, and known the world in strange places. She was very young when she met the one man of all men for her. Like all women of great beauty she had known many men who were infatuated with her. Those gifts and attentions which are the rightful dower of every charming girl were hers in abundance; and she received them as a queen might have done from subjects hardly worthy to sit beside her. Then she met—one man.
It was during a trip she had made with her aunt through New England. He was poor. To her, that made no difference. She would have gone with him to the ends of the earth. The flame had touched her heart; she was a victim, like many another; and when her lover, too proud to ask her to share his poverty with her, stayed behind when she went back to New York, and failed to write to her, she almost died of grief. But life had to be faced. One word from her—she, too, was proud,—and there might have been a different story to tell. But with the foolish self-consciousness of lovers, each failed the other in the great moment that would have sealed their destinies.
Lucia determined that this broken affair should not wreck her existence. But she brooded long, in secret, and would go nowhere. Her aunt, with whom she lived, could not rouse her for many months to a sense of the vivid world around her. She would see no one.
Two years later Morgan Pell came into her life, at almost the first dinner she had attended during a long period of time. His impulsiveness, his assurance, his faith in himself and his power to win her, swept her temporarily off her feet. At their second meeting he asked her to become his wife. Why not? She would never love anyone; but she could not go to the altar with him unless she told him the truth. She did not love him. Was he willing to take her, knowing this?
He was. Love meant little to him—though he did not say so. He was just wise enough to keep that secret within himself.
"I'll make you love me," he told her, with all the ardor he could put into his voice. Few women can withstand that age-old phrase.
There followed a time of utter disillusion for her. The great house on the Avenue proved to be but four bleak walls; and when the villa on Long Island was built, she tried to be as enthusiastic as Morgan wanted her to be. He lavished gifts upon her. He brought out gay house-parties for weekends. Lucia did her best to keep her part of a bad bargain. She made herself lovely, and Pell was proud of her physical charms. The jewel was worth the finest settings, and these he supplied, with no thought of the cost. He had someone at the head of his table of whom he was very proud. The world need never know the solemnity of their lives when the curtain was lowered and they were alone together. After all, many marriages were like this. Theirs was by no means an exceptional case; and he experienced a curious secret joy in the fact that he knew other men envied him his wife, and wondered at his power to hold her.
And so the months rolled by, with a trip abroad now and then to relieve the tedium of existence. For a woman to know that she comes to be tolerated only because she is decorative, is a consummating blow. Pell soon reached the point where he told Lucia he had bought her, body and soul. He had determined to win her love. When he saw that he could not, he swiftly forgot the integrity of her part of the bargain, the honesty of her words to him before they were married; and he practised subtle cruelties to tame her and bring her at last to him.
He began to drink too much. Only a certain pride in his business affairs, the desire to keep a level head, a clear brain, kept him from sinking definitely to the gutter. He became irritable with her. Nothing she did pleased him. He found he could not wound her sufficiently when he was sober; so he fortified himself with alcohol, gained courage to speak flat truths, and left her alone for days at a time, thinking such absences were a punishment.
Had he but known it, they were the only bright oases in her monotonous life. She blessed those hours when he mercifully remained away on the pretext of business. What he did gave her little concern.
Once she ventured to talk frankly with him about the wisdom of a legal separation. It was foolish to go on in this way. It was dishonest; it was the only immorality.
He laughed her to scorn. "You're too useful to me, my dear," he sneered. He always added that "my dear" to any statement when he wished to be thoroughly sarcastic.
He was conscious that certain captains of business would not have come so frequently to his home if Lucia had not been there to dispense a supposedly gracious hospitality. Let her go? Lose all this? Not at all! He brutally told her so again and again. And finally she made up her mind, for the sake of peace, that she would merely remain the flower under glass, if that was his desire. Arguments were of no avail. In a sense, she was beaten.
The opera, books, travel, a few good friends—those that Morgan allowed her to keep—these filled her days.
One evening she was particularly surprised when he said to her, casually:
"How would you like a little trip out West? You look peaked. Maybe it would set you up."
"Why—it sounds nice, Morgan," she answered. "Is it business, or—" Her sense of humor made it impossible for her to bring out the word "pleasure."
"Of course it's business," he replied. "Precious little else I get." They were dining alone, at home, and he motioned the butler to refill his glass with champagne.
She wondered at his suggestion. There must be something behind it. But as a matter of fact she was tired of Long Island, and if she could kill a few weeks—maybe a few months—in the West, she would willingly go.
"Sturgis telegraphed me that there was a big possibility of a new vein of oil down on the border," Pell was telling her. "Some important men want to talk things over with me at Bisbee. I want to get started in a day or two. Don't take your maid. It's a rough country, but you'll be all right. Just old clothes. You can ride a lot, so bring your habit. I'll be busy most of the time; but I think you'll like the trip. Never been down that way, have you?"
"No," she said. "And I've always wanted to go."
"Not afraid of bandits?" he laughed, sipping his champagne. "It's right next door to Mexico, you know. Have some swell times down there, they say."
She laughed too. "How exciting," she said. She grew almost jubilant at the prospect of the journey. She knew she would probably be "shown off" to the important men; and that touched her vanity—what little she had left by now.
"They tell me it's God's country, with big chances for everyone. I want to add to our little pile, Lucia," Pell went on. He hoped she would get the significance of the "our."
"You're too good to me, Morgan," she said, and meant it. "But why do we need any more money? We've got everything now."
"Everything?" he said, significantly; and his eyes became two narrow slits as he looked at her.
She toyed with her salad. She hoped he was not going to get into one of his fiendishly unpleasant moods.
"Well," she ventured, "as much as anyone could reasonably want. This house, the garden, friends—"
"Yes," he sneered, "but not much love." The butler had tactfully withdrawn. "Why don't you love me, Lucia?"
"I do—in a way. Oh, let's don't go into all that again, Morgan. We've had it out so many times. What's the use?"
"Is there anyone else?" he asked. "If I thought there was...." He lifted his glass again.
"You know there isn't," she protested.
He appraised her across the table, beautiful in a blue gown which just matched her eyes, her throat adorned with a string of pearls he had given her on the anniversary of their marriage.
"I don't see how a woman as lovely as you can be so cold," he said. "You could do anything with men."
She tried to smile. "But I don't want to. Women—good women—don't like to play with fire. It's only adventuresses who dare to face danger.... But let's talk about Arizona. How good it will be to get out of this hothouse of the East, and see real people—real flesh-and-blood men and women."
"Yes. The folks down there know more about life in a day than we do in all our pitiful lives. You've got to live close to nature to understand human nature. Simple, isn't it?"
"Very. We're all so false up here. I get so tired of it, Morgan. Maybe down there we'll come to a better understanding of each other. Maybe...."
"That's what I was hoping. So you'd like to go—really?"
"Yes, indeed. It'll be hot, that's all. But I won't mind that. Anything to get away for awhile."
Two days later they had started. The land was green with early summer, in that rich fullness which makes the heart almost sick with ecstasy. The farther west they went, the wilder the country grew; and when they finally dipped down into Arizona, Lucia looked from the train window, her face alight with joy. Such scenic variety she had never dreamed of. One moment they were looking at the wonderful mesas and superb canyons; the next they seemed to pass through dry gullies and great shallow basins. Then there would come long, weary levels of sand that gleamed in the sun; and far away she would behold tremendous buttes. The valleys they passed through were verdant and lovely. Cattle grazed here in a calm peace. It was as if the rest of the world were shut out, and in this quiet land a special blessing had come down. The peace of it, the stillness of it crowded in upon her. She had been to California, but always she had traveled by a northern route, and had missed the wonder of this part of the world. Before their journey was over, she had begged Morgan to take her to the Grand Canyon; and for two days they remained there, drinking in the glory of perhaps the most beautiful spot on the western continent. She could not get enough of it—those colors that sank into her heart and consciousness and made her think she was in paradise. To see the sun rise here—she almost wept that morning when the lord of heaven came over the mountains that towered like huge sentinels, impervious to wind and gale and rain.
"I can't stand such beauty, Morgan," she said at last. "It takes something out of me. We'll have to go on."
She saw the giant cactus in full bloom, a miracle of orange, pink, and crimson; and as they sped south the mountainsides were aflame with juniper and manzanita.
At last they reached the little town of Bisbee, where Morgan was to have a conference with several engineers. Sturgis met them—a fair-haired fellow with a captivating smile. He liked this country, and told Pell he wished he could always be kept here. There was no doubt about the new vein of oil, and new ranches were being opened up rapidly. Only a few miles away was one that promised well; and the young chap on it was in money difficulties. A good chance to step in. There had been rumors that a neighbor had taken up his mortgage; but maybe this was not so. Perhaps they weren't too late. He had telephoned over, and the youngster had agreed that Pell and his wife could come and stay with him and his invalid uncle for awhile. Of course he knew nothing of their intentions. That would never do. They would just lie low. In fact, he, Sturgis, need not accompany them, except to the hotel. The ranch-owner's foreman would fetch them out in a Ford. Not a bad trip at all—only a few miles. It would be better to stop down there. They could comb the country, get acquainted, see how things were, and keep a vigilant eye on everything.
Sturgis had arranged things nicely. "Red" Giddings came over, as planned, and Lucia liked his pleasant face at once. He was full of enthusiasm for the country, loved the outdoor life. "Mr. Jones has had hard luck, though," he said, as they whirled along the road on an afternoon of unbelievable heat.
"Jones!" Lucia said.
"Yes—Gilbert Jones," Giddings replied. "Ever hear of him?"
For an instant Lucia could hardly see the valley that spread around them. But it couldn't be possible! It was a common name; there could easily be two Gilberts—fifty, for that matter. Was this the reason Morgan had asked her to come? Had he discovered the man with whom she had once been in love, and was this to be one of his subtle punishments? He had told her not to bring her maid, and he had been mysterious, she remembered now, as to their exact destination. But Sturgis had made it clear, on the contrary, that he had accidentally learned of Jones's ranch. Maybe that was part of the trick. But what good would come of such a scheme? She and Jones had loved—and parted. Moreover, perhaps she was giving herself needless cause for worry. This might not be the Gilbert Jones of her dreams. And what if Morgan did know? There was nothing to conceal.
"How—long has he been here?" Lucia wanted to know.
"Oh, before the war we agreed to try our fortune together down here," "Red" told her; and the little machine went whirring along. "That's the Hardy ranch," he said, pointing to the left. "Nice folks." His eyes seemed to cling to the low house, and Lucia did not realize it at the time, but he slowed up the car. Presently a young girl came out on the stone terrace and waved to him. She was like a prairie flower. "Red" Giddings became another man in the twinkling of an eye. A flush mounted to his cheeks, and a smile as broad as a fat man's belt all but encircled his countenance. He took one hand from the wheel and waved until they were out of sight down a curve in the road.
"Friend of yours?" said Morgan Pell, smiling.
"You bet! No finer little girl in this territory!" Giddings replied promptly.
They were now in sight of the Jones ranch. "There she is!" "Red" cried. "Pretty, eh?"
The low adobe house, with its gleaming roof, looked like a jewel set in the valley. Far away, seemingly to the very rim of the world, the flat lands stretched; and then beyond, in a golden haze, the stern mountains loomed, almost kissing the sky. The range dwindled away in an endless line, and one could never say where the boundary of Arizona stopped and the unseen border of Mexico began. The two countries simply merged in the mist. It was as if a battalion of petrified soldiers kept eternal guard in the sun, half the line loping over into another camp, but never caring at all. In the still heat of the afternoon, sagebrush lifted its bright face to the heavens; and now and then a lonely bird swooped above the rich ranches and desolate valleys, making a black dot against the sky. A soft wind was blowing now, bringing mercy from the west, and silence brooded like an angel, stretching out its wings as though to shelter a troubled world.
A young man with black hair and tanned skin came out in the yard, hatless. A gray flannel shirt and a flowing tie, high leggings that laced through many brass clips, completed his picturesque costume.
One look—and she knew it was Gilbert—her Gilbert. He recognized her at the same instant, and a curious light came into his dark eyes. She had been thinking, all the way down the road, how she should greet him if indeed he turned out to be that one man in the world. Calmly, yes. She was sure now that Morgan knew and suspected nothing. It was simply a coincidence that they should be coming to the adobe of this old love of hers. The long arm of fate had reached out and snatched her into this ring. She knew that Gilbert could meet the situation as seemingly unconcerned as she. There was nothing at all to fear.
He was their host, and he greeted them as only a good host knows how. Fortunately, Morgan wanted to go directly to his room. He was cross and tired, he said, and he desired to freshen up.
She got out of the car, and "Red" rattled down to the home-made garage a few rods away.
They were alone; and they stood there in the path for a moment, looking into each other's eyes.
"He is my husband," Lucia then found herself saying. "I am now Mrs. Pell."
"What are we going to do?" Gilbert asked. He had the face of a dreamer, she thought. The steel-gray eyes were full of fire and longing. What had these few years done to him?
"We are going to do nothing at all. What is there to do? We shall not be here many days. If you'd rather we went back to Bisbee...."
"Oh, no! That would only make an issue of nothing. He doesn't know anything? You're sure? Oh, Lucia!" He seemed suddenly overcome at their amazing meeting.
She saw that she would have to be the mistress of the situation. "Don't—don't, Gilbert," she begged. "I am just a guest of yours."
"I know—I know," he said, and there was a shade of anguish in his voice. "Forgive me. There shall be absolutely nothing said. Not even a gesture. I promise you that. It is as though we had never known each other."
"Surely we can play a part. It isn't as if we were children," she said, and smiled.
He looked at her—indeed, his eyes had never left her face. Never had she seemed so wonderful to him.
"I'm in bad," he told her. "Got to give the old place up. But what's that to you?" There was a sound behind them. "Here comes Uncle Henry!"
A wheel chair came out of the doorway. In it sat an old man of about sixty. But he did not look much like an invalid. His cheeks were rosy, and his abundant white hair was brushed back from a forehead of fine moulding. His eyes were penetrating—as young as Gilbert's, almost. Ten years before he had become paralyzed in his legs, and now he wheeled himself about, not at all uncomfortable.
"Uncle Henry, this is Mrs. Pell. Come out and meet her," his nephew said.
Lucia felt that she should go to the invalid; but he beat her to it. Quick as a billiard-ball he had reached her side, turning the wheels of his chair with great rapidity.
"Pleased to meet you," he said, and put out a white hand. "How long you goin' to stay?"
"What a question," Gilbert laughed. "As long as she and her husband wish, of course."
"Well, by cricketty ginger!" Henry Smith exclaimed. "Hope you'll give 'em enough to eat!" And before anyone could say another word, he had turned and scooted back into the house.
"Don't mind Uncle Henry," Gilbert said to Lucia. "He's got a heart of gold, but he can be cranky and eccentric sometimes. Maybe he's got one of his moods to-day. I never know. Tomorrow he'll be all right—perhaps. I hope so, anyhow.... But come inside. You must be tired after your trip. Your rooms are upstairs."
He led her into the prettiest low-beamed room she thought she had ever seen. Indian pottery was all about, low settles, a fireplace that conjured up a cozy picture of lonely winter evenings, and an entrancing staircase without a balustrade that led to a dark blue door. On the walls were some beautiful Navajo blankets, and a tiny alcove off to the right seemed to lead to another part of the long low house. The windows were brightly curtained, and all the furniture had a look of endurance and permanence—a manly room, she thought. Yet how ironical this appearance of firmness and stability was, in view of the reason of their visit! He had said he must give the place up. What a wrench it would be for him!
Women seldom like to see a bachelor—particularly a young bachelor—living in such solid comfort. As Lucia went up the stairs, she saw little touches she could give to the place. But she had to confess that the improvements she could suggest were not at all important. If two men could get along so well without feminine society, perhaps one of them didn't miss her much, after all!
WHEREIN UNCLE HENRY SPEAKS HIS MIND—AS USUAL
It was high noon, two days later. Gilbert again had been about the ranch looking things over. He had his dreamy moments, but he was far too practical to let the poet in him rule his life. One sensed, by the most cursory glance, that here was a type of virile young American who could not only dream, but make his dreams come true. No idler he! And he had no use for idlers. He had dared to come to this far country, establish himself on a ranch, and seek to win out in the face of overwhelming odds.
How many other young men had staked all on a single game—and lost. That was one of the finest qualities of the Americans who migrated to this vast section of the country. They were always good losers, as well as modest winners. The land was rich in possibilities, as Sturgis had told Pell; and though the hot season lasted interminably and caused one's spirits, as well as one's hopes, to droop, there were enchanting spring days and bright, colorful, dwindling autumns when the air was keen and clear, and life was a song with youth for its eternal theme.
Men with families bore the hardest burdens in their early struggle for success. Gilbert, being single, had less to worry about than many another; but his Uncle Henry was a handicap. For Uncle Henry used his invalid's chair much as a king might use his throne—a vantage place from which to hurl his tyrannous speeches. And there was no come-back. Uncle Henry had reigned too long to be fearful of any retort from any mere subject who walked about on two firm legs. For ten years he had held court, moving his little throne about with sudden jerks. When things did not go entirely his way, he could always withdraw—expertly, swiftly, cleverly. Doorsills were nothing to him. He skimmed them dexterously, as a regiment might storm a hill. Fortunately, he suffered no pain, though sometimes, in a frenzy, he affected a twinge in his body, and caused a helpless look to sweep over his countenance. As a rule, this trick worked beautifully; for who could be cruel to an invalid in pain? Being a bachelor, and having no relative closer than Gilbert, the latter took him under his roof. He really liked the old boy, despite his querulousness.
To-day, Uncle Henry was in one of his temperamental moods. Gilbert, sitting calmly at the little table, writing, in the low main room of the adobe, could hear the chair whirling about, each wheel vocal, and revealing the state of mind of the occupant.
"Gosh! ain't it hot!" finally came from Uncle Henry, his voice a drawl.
Gilbert said nothing. There was nothing to say. Of course it was hot; and he knew Uncle Henry could be depended upon to continue any conversation once begun. Sure enough, it wasn't the weather at all that he was deeply interested in, but the forthcoming midday meal. "Say, ain't we never goin' to eat? I'm as hungry as a bear."
"Dinner ought to be ready now," Gilbert answered patiently, never looking up from his paper.
Uncle Henry was not satisfied. "Then why ain't it," he rasped, giving his chair a twist, "I ain't had nothin' but a rotten cup of coffee since five o'clock this mornin'."
His nephew rose, and went over to the mantel-piece. How often he had heard just that remark! He didn't bother to reply to it. Instead, he merely silenced his uncle with a gesture. Uncle Henry didn't like being silenced. He looked around, as peevish as a spoiled child, and picked at the cloth that rested on his knees. Then he switched his chair within reach of the table, and snatched up a newspaper, much as a boy might grab the brass ring at a merry-go-round. He would read, if he couldn't make his nephew talk; and he buried himself in the printed page. Gilbert, having lighted his pipe, went back to his writing. "Well, what do you know about that!" exclaimed Uncle Henry, his face aglow.
"About what, Uncle?"
"Why, Ezry Pringle's dead."
"Who's Ezry Pringle?" Gilbert asked, feigning an interest he did not feel.
"A friend o' mine. Only seventy years old, too. He was right in the prime of life."
Gilbert smiled. "What's that paper you're reading?"
"The Bangor Daily Commercial, printed at Bangor, Maine. An' that's the only decent town in the whole gol darn world. Wisht I was there now!" He glanced at the alcove that led to another room, as if conscious that Morgan Pell might have heard him. He wanted to say something more to Gilbert, but something told him he had better keep silent. Instead, he read an item from the paper aloud to him. "Listen to this, Gilbert," he said: "'The Elite Fish Market has just received five barrels of soft clams from Eastport. Get there early, feller citizens! They won't last long.' Think o' that, Gilbert? Clams!" He smacked his lips, and even forgot how warm it was. "Clams! An' I ain't even seen one in five long years! Not even a clam!" He turned his chair suddenly, and looked out of the open door, where the country meandered away. "This is a hell of a hole! Why did we ever come down here?" he whined. He swung about again, and faced his nephew. "Say, Gil, do they have clams in France?"
"No; only mussels. Good ones, too."
Uncle Henry looked amazed. "They eat mussels?" he cried.
Gilbert looked up, smiled, and nodded.
"An' I hear they eat frogs, an' hosses, an' cheese with worms in it, too. Say," the old man wanted to know, "what don't they eat over there?... An' speakin' of eatin', ain't we never goin' to have no dinner?"
"I think it'll be ready soon, Uncle. Do be patient. I want to write."
Uncle Henry settled back in his chair, and for a brief interval became absorbed in his newspaper. But not for long could he remain silent. "Where's that Mr. Pell?" he asked.
"Inside, I think, lying down," Gilbert replied, nodding toward the alcove, his pen rushing across the page.
Uncle Henry made a grimace. "He makes me sick, that feller."
"Oh, cut that out, Uncle," Gilbert implored; but there was a little note of irritation in his voice. "That's no way to talk of a guest under our roof."
"I won't neither cut nothin' out! An' you make me sick too, you gol darn fool!"
"For the love of Mike, quit your babbling! Sssh!"
"Don't you shush me, gol darn it!" cried Uncle Henry, crumpling the newspaper in his hand and throwing it on the floor. The heat was affecting him. "I've kep' still long enough, an'—"
"Oh, have you?" Gilbert smiled.
"—an' I'm goin' to find out what's what!" Uncle Henry went on, as though he had not been interrupted.
"You act as though I were to blame for what's happened," his nephew said. He saw it would do no good to lose his temper.
"Well, ain't you? Why did you want to go to war in the first place? Why, why?" He pounded the arm of his chair. "That's what started it."
"Well, somebody had to go," Gilbert answered, smiling. "If some of us hadn't taken things in our hands, I don't know what would have become of Democracy!"
Uncle Henry pondered a moment. "Mebbe so. But you didn't have to go." Gilbert had risen to get a match, and his uncle's eye followed him to the mantel-piece. He spoke to the back of his head. "You could have claimed exemption if you'd wanted to, an' you know it."
"Exemption?" Gilbert repeated the word, a little angry at its utterance. This wasn't like Uncle Henry who, with all his peculiarities, had always been a patriot.
"Absolutely! You were the sole support of an invalid uncle." He waited for the truth of this remark to sink in; but Gilbert said nothing. "And on top of that," Uncle Henry went on, rapidly, when his nephew did not speak, "you were engaged in an essential industry—if you can call these rotten steaks you feed us on essential. The bones is softer than the meat." He gave a curious little laugh, thin and high.
Gilbert went back to the table, leaned over, and put one hand affectionately on the old man's shoulder. "Now, Uncle," he said, kindly, "what's the use of going over all this again? You know how I dislike it." He sat down and began to write again. But Uncle Henry had not finished—he had just started.
"What's the use?" he wheezed. "There's lots of use. Here you go an' persuade me to sell the old home and buy this rotten ranch 'way down here in this God-forsaken country. An' just when I, like a darned old fool, take an' do it, along comes the war an' you enlist and leave me here with nothin' but a lot of rotten cows!"
"But I left the foreman and the cook," Gilbert reminded him.
A look of scorn came over Uncle Henry's face, "Yes, 'Red' Giddings—playin' the harmonicky until I go almost crazy! An' a Mexican cook that can't cook nothin' but firecrackers! An' not even them when you want 'em!" He waited for this crowning touch to sink in. Infuriated by Gilbert's indifference, he swung around again in his chair. "Say, ain't we never goin' to have no dinner? I'm hungry!"
"I'm sorry," was all Gilbert said.
Uncle Henry almost resorted to tears—they were in his voice, at any rate. "First you rob me an' then you starve me!" he all but screamed. "An' the best you got to say is you're sorry!"
Jones never looked up, as he continued to write. "I did the best I could, Uncle. You know that, of course."
A remark like that always exasperates the hearer. "If that's yer best, I'd hate to see what yer worst is like," the other flamed. "An' now we're broke, an' they're goin' to foreclose to-day!" he added. "By golly, mebbe they've foreclosed already!"
"No, not till eight o'clock," Gilbert's passionless manner was maddening.
"Eight o'clock to-night?" his uncle cried, and leaned so far out of his chair that he was in danger of falling to the floor.
"Yes," Gilbert said, calmly.
"You're crazy! Don't you know yet that courts don't stay open at night?" He swung about in his frenzy and disgust.
"This court does. Somebody told the judge where he could get a bottle of liquor for eighteen dollars," Gilbert added, and smiled.
"So if we don't get ten thousand dollars there by eight o'clock to-night, we're set out on the bricks without no more home than a prairie dog—not as much!" almost screamed Uncle Henry. "An' yet you say why talk about it?"
"But it isn't getting us anywhere—just to sit around and complain," his nephew tried to pacify him, rising, and starting toward him again; but Uncle Henry didn't want to be so near him, knowing what he was going to say next. Therefore he switched adroitly to the door, and let out, "No, it ain't gettin' us anywhere; but it would if you'd marry Angela Hardy, like I want you to!" He was a little frightened now that he had uttered the words, and he looked anxiously at Gilbert to see their effect. The latter remained as calm as ever. "But I don't love her," was all he said.
Uncle Henry was exasperated now. "What's that got to do with it?" he yelled. "Her father's rich, an' not even he, mean as he is, would foreclose on his own son-in-law. Mebbe he'd even lend you somethin' besides," he added, slyly. He had great faith in these neighbors down the valley.
"I can't do it," Gilbert stated, as if he were discussing going to the nearest town.
"Won't, you mean."
"No. I mean can't—just what I said. It wouldn't be fair to her. I can't pretend to love her when I don't."
"You don't have to," his uncle urged. "She's so crazy about you, she'd marry you anyway." Triumphant knowledge was in his tone.
"What makes you think so?" Gilbert asked, coming close to the old man.
"She told me she would." He got it out bravely.
Young Jones was nearly bowled over. "She told you!" he repeated; and as he said it, passion for the first time came into his voice. There was the sound of hoof beats down the road. But neither of them paid any attention.
"Absolutely," the old man affirmed.
"Absogoshdarnlutely!" Uncle Henry relieved the tension by saying.
Gilbert came over and peered into his uncle's face. "You don't mean you spoke to her about it?" he said.
"Why not?" rather impudently. "Somebody had to do it." And he chuckled. "I know what would become of Hypocricy if a few of you youngsters would be as brave as us old boys!"
"Good Lord!" was all young Jones could say, and he put his hand to his head.
"John Alden spoke for Miles Standish, an' they wasn't even related," Uncle Henry tried to placate the other.
The horse on the road, unknown to the men, had reached the adobe. Lucia Pell, radiant as a prairie flower, appeared at the door. She wore a riding-habit that fit her to perfection, and her hair, tumbled a bit by the soft breeze, fell around her face in a cascade of golden loveliness. Her eyes sparkled. She was the picture of glorious health and youth—a woman born for love and loving. She brought fragrance into the room.
"Hello, Gil!" she said, beating her riding-crop on her boot, and smiling that entrancing smile of hers. She was glad to see her handsome host again after her brisk ride.
"Good morning, Lucia," Gilbert said, hardly daring to look at her.
Uncle Henry didn't mean to be overlooked. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Pell," he said, meaningly.
"Why, it is afternoon, isn't it?" she laughed.
"It's darn near night," Uncle Henry rasped.
"And I'm simply famished. Who wouldn't be, after such a glorious ride!" Lucia said.
"The cook's getting dinner now. Have a good canter, you say?" young Jones inquired.
"I missed you," Lucia answered, unashamed.
Uncle Henry looked disgusted.
"I'm sorry, I had a lot of things to attend to. I'm glad you're back, for I was beginning to be worried about you, Lucia. Bandits! They're around again."
Lucia didn't take him seriously. She hardly remembered that they were so close to the border of Mexico. "Bandits?" she scoffed. "Oh, but they just steal cows and things, don't they?"
"Worse than that." Gilbert was serious, and gave her an appraising glance. "Human life means little in Mexico. They even kill their prisoners in cold blood."
But still Lucia was not alarmed. "If that's true," she smiled, "I won't go without you, if you wish it that way." She looked knowingly at him.
"It isn't what I wish," Jones answered. "Nothing is what I wish."
"Well," Uncle Henry put in, "you're going to get your wish all right." As he spoke, Morgan Pell came through the alcove from his room, and the old invalid steered his chair so that he faced him. Pell looked anything but engaging to-day. There was something about him that repelled—people could never say what it was; but one sensed a latent cruelty in the man. His eyes were shifty, and there were little lines about his mouth that spoke of his days of dissipation. It was hard to associate him with the flower-like Lucia. Here were a man and woman never meant for each other—that was evident immediately; yet he had that old power that seemed to hypnotize her. And she was not the only woman who had fallen beneath his spell. But now, apparently, he did not see her.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Pell," said old Smith to the newcomer.
"How are you?" the latter answered, with no show of interest.
"Have a good nap?" Gilbert inquired; but he really didn't care at all. Pell, however, took his question seriously.
"Couldn't sleep a wink," he said. "This cursed heat, you know. Glad I don't have to live in this part of the world all the time."
Uncle Henry leaned forward in his chair, and his eyes followed Pell expectantly as the latter moved across the low room, a small satchel in his hands. "You ain't leaving, are you?" he asked.
"No," was the laconic reply.
"I was afraid you wasn't," ventured Uncle Henry; and there was an awkward pause. Then, "It's pretty hot," the invalid remarked, delighted that no one had called him to account for his obvious insult. He knew he had all the advantage of a weak woman. His little throne was immune from attack.
"It's always pretty hot till night—then it's pretty cold," Pell said.
"What've you got that bag for?" Uncle Henry pursued. No one was ever more frankly curious than Uncle Henry.
"Company, my dear sir," Pell quickly retorted, not a little annoyed at the question; and he glared at the old man. He had had two days of him, and was getting used to him. Lucia, who had remained silent by the door, saw the cloud on her husband's face, and gave a little, startled "Oh!" It was hardly more than a whisper, but Pell was swift to catch it. He turned on her, and took in her radiant figure.
"So there you are!" he half sneered. "Been riding?"
"Yes; just a little canter."
"Alone?" Pell followed up.
"Oh, nothing—nothing at all." There was a nasal tone in his voice always—a twang that grated on sensitive ears. He turned on Gilbert. "How about dinner?" he asked, almost as though the young fellow were a hotel clerk.
"It isn't ready yet," Jones answered. He disliked the other's tone. After all, he was a guest in his, Gilbert's, house. He hoped their wretched business would soon be settled, and Pell return to New York. He had had his fill of him.
Pell, seemingly oblivious of the bad impression he had made, started toward the door. He had not put the bag down. "Well, call me when dinner is ready, will you? I won't be far away."
"Where are you going?" Lucia ventured.
"Out," was Pell's curt reply; and he almost knocked Uncle Henry's chair aside as he hurried into the yard.
There was an awkward silence at his departure. Everyone felt a little ashamed for him; but Gilbert was determined that Lucia should not read his thoughts. So he said, nonchalantly, "Well, Lucia, how did the pony behave?" just as though Pell had never been in the room.
"Splendidly!" the young wife replied, glad that the atmosphere was cleared once more. "Oh, Gil, it's wonderful here—nothing but sky and the golden desert! What a miracle place!"
"You like it here?" Jones asked, knowing that she did. She had told him so every hour of her visit.
Lucia gave him a rapt look. "Like it, Gil? Um! I love it!" She clasped her hands to her breast; and Jones thought she had never looked lovelier, more desirable. How pink her cheeks were! Yet underneath her beauty there was a wistful sadness. Anyone could see that she was not happy.
"You really love it?" Uncle Henry asked, as though he could not believe he had heard what she said.
Lucia had forgotten his presence for a moment. Now she turned to him and smiled. "Of course. Don't you?"
"It makes me sick!" was the unexpected reply.
Lucia was horrified; and she looked from Smith to Gilbert in utter confusion. "Why, it's beautiful!" she exclaimed.
"Beautiful!" Uncle Henry went on, repeating the word in derision. "What's beautiful about it? That's what I'd like to know."
"The desert," Lucia answered.
"A lot of gol darn sand!" the invalid whined.
"The sky, then!" Lucia affirmed.
But Uncle Henry merely repeated "The sky!" in whole-hearted disgust.
Lucia refused to be downed. "But think of the glorious colors—blue and gold and purple!"
"And no grass nor nothin'," the invalid retorted. "Not even a place to go fishin'. And you call it beau—Say, was you ever in Bangor?"
Gilbert roared with laughter; but Lucia took the old boy seriously. "Bangor?" she repeated, wonderingly.
"Yes. Bangor, Maine. Now there's a place as is beau—Take the town hall, for instance. And the Soldiers' Monument. And the cemetery. They got the swellest cemetery in Bangor you ever—." Gilbert was almost doubling up with laughter; but Uncle Henry went right on: "As for this gol darn place, I wish it was in—An' it wouldn't have fur to go, neither!" he added, emphatically, smiling at his own humor. "I wisht I was back in Maine! There's where I was always so happy!"
By this time Lucia was smiling too. She went over and shook her finger gently in the invalid's face. "You're cross just because you're hungry!"
"I ain't neither!" Smith replied, like a little boy.
"Yes, you are!" Lucia kept on.
"Uh, uh!" she teased him, as though she were playing with a baby.
Smith grew peevish. "Gol darn it, I tell you I ain't!" And he gave his chair a rapid twirl.
"Boo!" came from Lucia softly. She laughed, and ran up the tiny stone stairs that led to her room.
"Boo, yourself!" called out Uncle Henry, determined to have the last word, as Lucia disappeared. Then he turned querulously on his nephew, as soon as he was certain she was out of hearing. "Why did you ever invite 'em to stay here in the first place?" he wanted to know. The sound of "Red's" harmonica was heard outside.
"Because there was no decent hotel anywhere near. I couldn't do less than offer them what little hospitality I had, could I, when Sturgis suggested it?"
But his uncle didn't agree with him at all. "You could have done a whole lot less," he decided. "You could have invited 'em to keep on going. Comin' here at a time like this, and not only eatin' us out of house and home, but drinkin' up the last bottle of liquor in the world!" This seemed to him the culminating tragedy. When his nephew said nothing at all, he asked, petulantly, "Well, what are you going to do? That's what I want to know."
"What can I do?"
"Do you mean to say you're going to set here and get throwed out into the street and not even try to do something?"
Gilbert merely shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, of all the—" his Uncle Henry went on. "It's a darn good thing for you that I'm an invalid! That's all I got to say!" He wheeled about, and aimed at the door that led to the open air. At that instant "Red" Giddings, the husky young foreman, appeared directly in his path, his shock of fiery hair like an aureole about his head. "Git out o' my way!" Uncle Henry yelled. "Gol darn the gol darn luck, anyhow!"
And through years of practice he shot into the yard as straight as an arrow.
WHEREIN "RED" REVEALS HIS HEART, AND MRS. QUINN GIVES HIM GOOD COFFEE AND GOOD ADVICE
"Red" Giddings had been on the ranch with Gilbert since the very beginning. He came from the North with the young man, willing to stake all on this one venture. Like young Jones, he was not afraid. He was an efficient, well-set-up young fellow, with three consuming passions: Arizona, his harmonica, and Angela Hardy. The first saw a lot of "Red"; the second touched his lips frequently; but as for Angela—well, perhaps the poor boy kissed his harmonica so often in order to forget her lips. But if his own music charmed "Red," it failed to have that effect upon others—particularly Uncle Henry, who went into a rage whenever he heard the detested instrument. "Red's" music had no charms to soothe the savage breast of Henry Smith.
But another did like it. Angela once told "Red" in the moonlight—and her father had never forgiven her for her foolishness—that his harmonica never wearied her. That was enough for "Red." Once every day he managed to find some excuse to get over to the Hardy ranch; and always his beloved instrument went along with him in his pocket, and he would approach his lady love's castle like the troubadours of old, his foot tapping on the path while his harmonica, in the place of a lute, made soft sounds. Instantly Angela would poke her pretty head from the window, and pretend that she was a princess in distress, and he her knight who had come to release her from her prison.
Moreover, the Hardys had a wonderful cook—a woman they had brought down from Phoenix. Instead of the firecracker stuff that Uncle Henry so bitterly complained of, she, being an Irish woman, could concoct a stew that would make one's hair curl; and her pastry was succulent and sweet, and literally melted in the mouth. Her coffee—ah! who could make better coffee? And as the meals at the Jones ranch were served sporadically, and "Red" was as healthy as a peasant and had never known the time when he couldn't tuck away some dainty from the kitchen he ingratiated himself with Mrs. Quinn, quite won her heart, too, with his music, and was even known to desert his work for the boon of a bit of pie.
When she was suffering from the heat of the stove, and was ready to throw up her job and return to the bright lights of Phoenix, "Red" invariably came around to the door with music on his lips, his shock of hair blown by the soft wind, looking so boyish that she had to succumb to him, boil another pot of coffee, and lay a place for him at the corner of the table.
"Be off wid yez!" she always began by saying. But the insinuating harmonica was his only reply; and she ended by begging him to come in and play for her while she messed with the pots and pans, and maybe found some batter for a plate of griddle cakes.
On this particular morning, work being useless since things were going so badly for Jones, "Red" slipped up the road and reached the kitchen door just as Mrs. Quinn was washing up.
"Oh, so there ye be, me boy!" was her motherly greeting. "Come in, an' maybe—who knows?—I'll find a cup o' coffee fer ye, though I'm not thinkin' ye deserve it."
"Red" loved the odors from this fragrant kitchen. The stove always gleamed, and when Mrs. Quinn was in good humor she was like a great light moving here and there, dispensing warmth also. She was a monstrous woman; but like many large people, she got about easily and swiftly. Her capable hands were forever fluttering in the flour-barrel or over the dough-board, and her ruddy cheeks and honest gray eyes spoke of health and good nature. She adored Angela; and she really liked "Red" tremendously, and hoped in the end he would win the difficult and fickle girl. But, like Angela, she had moment when she could have shaken him. For "Red" didn't fight hard enough for what he wanted. He was naive to the point of stupidity at times; and women like aggressive men—even men who are capable of flogging them into submission, deny it as they will. "Red" was gentle and mild, though thoroughly manly. Both Angela and Mrs. Quinn would have liked to see him live up to his fiery hair.
He beamed now at the genial cook's greeting, and took out his harmonica, running over the full scale as a suitable answer.
"Here, sit ye down, 'Red,'" Mrs. Quinn ordered. "But first see that yer feet is wiped off. I don't want to see no dirt along me clean floor."
She was busy with a place for him near the window, happy, as most women are, to serve a handsome young chap, and secretly wishing in her heart that she had him for a son.
The coffee was miraculously brought, and soon the griddle-cakes, gloriously brown, and deftly turned by Mrs. Quinn, were in front of him.
"Gee! you make a feller happy, Mrs. Quinn!" said the appreciative "Red," sitting down, and getting busy, "Won't you come to Bisbee with Angela an' me the next time we go to the movies?"
She gave him a half-scornful look. "An' what would yez want with an old woman like meself taggin' along with yez now?" Mrs. Quinn exclaimed, her arms akimbo. "Ain't ye happy enough with yer Angela, an' no fat funeral like me occupyin' too much room in the Ford? Go along, me lad, an' have a good time with yer colleen! She'd like it better alone with ye, too—be sure o' that!"
"Of course I would!"
They hadn't seen Angela come in. She stood in the doorway like a vision—a morning-glory from which the freshness of the early hours never seemed to depart.
"Oh!" poor "Red" gasped, and leaped to his feet. "Would you, Angela?" He looked at her, drank her beauty in, as though she were the only creature on this earth.
"Certainly!" said Angela, coming over to him. "You're a boob, 'Red,' and if you don't look out, there's a fellow over at Bisbee who—"
"Oh!" the anguished "Red" managed to get out. "Is there, Angy?"
There was—of course there was—and there wasn't. Angela knew just how far to go. Her black eyes danced. "Red" sat down again, after she had shoved him back to his late breakfast. Mrs. Quinn, amused, was busy with some more cakes, though "Red" had scarcely had time to begin the first batch. But she knew his capacity, and she felt he would need sustaining food after Angela's last remark.
"You don't always wave to me like you did the other day when I went by," said "Red," his lips in Mrs. Quinn's golden coffee.
"Why should I?" said Angela. "You don't always have such swell-looking folks with you!"
"Oh, so that's why you waved!" disappointment in his tone.
"Maybe." She was teasing him, but he didn't know it. "Who were they?"
"A Mr. and Mrs. Pell, from New York. They're lookin' over property round here.... But I don't care, Angy. Even if I had to go to Bisbee four times a day and get some good-lookin' folks to bring down the road, I'd do it if you'd wave to me! Oh, why can't you always be nice to me?"
"If I was always nice to you, you wouldn't know how lucky you are!" she countered. "It's good for you to have your bad days—with me."
"Well, maybe you're right. You're 'most always right; but gosh! a feller does like a little encouragement once in a while. You can be so cruel, Angy!"
"Can I? If you think not waving to you is cruelty, you ought to see some of my other forms of torture."
"Ugh! I hope I never do!" He drank again from the cup.
"Say," Angela said, watching him, "you seem to like that coffee a lot more than you like me! That brunette in the cup is my rival!"
He looked at her in blank amazement. He hadn't much sense of humor. He was as literal-minded as a child. "You certainly are the funniest girl, Angy!" he said, "How could coffee be a girl's rival?"
"Easier than a fellow in Bisbee—maybe. Better look out, 'Red,' or I'll sue Mrs. Quinn for alienation of affections!"
"Oh, you wouldn't do that!" said the kindly, honest "Red."
"What a stupid you are, to be sure!" said Angela, and laughed. "There—eat these hot cakes—though how you can on this beastly warm morning is more than I can see—and then play me some tunes. I'm dying to hear some music. This afternoon Dad says he's going over to your ranch. I don't know what for, do you? I do wish people didn't have to lose their property. Why are mortgages, anyhow?"
"Blamed if I know, Angy! Thanks, Mrs. Quinn."
"Sure, an' you're welcome, me boy." Angela had gone out on the step. The old Irishwoman saw her chance. "For the love o' Mike, 'Red,' woo her, an' woo her hard! There is a feller in Bisbee. She's after lovin' ye, but you're too slow—slower'n the molasses I just poured on yer griddle-cakes fer ye!"
"I'll try," said the accommodating "Red." "You're a good friend, Mrs. Quinn. I won't forget you when I own this place!"
"Be off, now! Ye've got some travelin' to do before ye're able to win Angela. Then ye can think of buyin' a ranch."
She literally pushed him from her domain; and he found himself by Angela's side out of doors.
The bright sunlight touched her hair, and they went over to a pergola she had had built, covered with vines. A little fountain tinkled near it, and the heat of the day would not bother them here.
For three delirious hours, "Red" was alone with Angela. One moment she pouted, the next she let him touch her hand.
"You may be going away soon, 'Red.' Will you write to me if you do?"
"Will I?" he cried, "Every day—a postal-card at least. I ain't much at letters.... But I'm not so sure I'm goin', Angy. Something tells me that even if your father does hold the mortgage, it won't be foreclosed. Gil Jones has worked too hard...."
"Dad's awfully hard about holding to a bargain," Angela reminded him. "He's all business. He wasn't that way until after Ma died. I do wish he'd be more human. I've talked to him and talked to him, until I'm tired; but he's getting harder all the time. This is the last day, isn't it?"
"Yes. Jones is awful blue. That's one reason I ought to get back. Maybe he needs some cheerin' up. God knows his Uncle Henry don't give him much."
The sun was now high in the heavens. It was almost noon. "Red" said he would walk. No trouble at all; and what did he care how hot it was? He was used to it. But how he did hate to leave his Angela!
He played his harmonica most of the way home, and he was still running his lips along the instrument when he entered the adobe door, just as Uncle Henry wheeled out of it.
WHEREIN GILBERT JONES IS WORRIED, AND LUCIA PELL IS ASKED TO DO AN IMPOSSIBLE THING
Poor "Red" couldn't have encountered the invalid at a less propitious moment; for he was almost knocked down by that crabbed gentleman.
"Certainly wheels a mean chair," he said good-naturedly to Gilbert, as he watched Uncle Henry steer himself out to the gate. "Got his cut-out open, too! Pesky to-day, ain't he? That's one reason I came back." He spread his legs apart, and fanned himself with his hat. He ran his fingers through his thick, violent crop of hair. "A mean Arizona day!" he said. "The walk made me hot."
"I should think it would," Jones replied.
"No grub yet?" "Red" ventured. He was hungry even yet. Twenty-two is always hungry.
"No," said his employer.
"Should have been ready two hours ago. What's the matter? Wish we had Mrs. Quinn over here."
"I don't know what's the matter. I haven't thought much about eating." He was engrossed again in his papers.
But "Red" didn't intend to let the matter drop. "You're too easy on that cook," he said. "Now, if you had a Mrs. Quinn—" He had pulled out a worn tobacco-bag, which was discouragingly flat. He had smoked a lot this morning.
Gilbert was swift to notice the empty pouch, and offered him his.
"Thanks; much obliged," "Red" said, filling his pipe. "But darn that cook, anyhow! If he wasn't leavin', I'd fire him! As if you didn't have enough troubles, without havin' to bother about late meals—an' guests in the house."
But a puff or two on his pipe soothed him, "Red's" bark was always worse than his bite. He was the best-natured chap in the world, and he idolized Gilbert Jones. There was a big packing-case in the middle of the room, and he sat on it, tailor-fashion, as happy as a husky, normal young man can be.
He looked longingly at the unset table; but his thoughts were more of Angela Hardy than of the good meal to come.
"'Red,'" said Gilbert after a brief silence, "I was hoping to be able to pay you off to-day."
"Pay me off?" That would have been heaven! He could have taken Angela to the movies at Bisbee.
"Oh, forget it! You don't owe me nothin'!"
"Only a mere trifle of six months' wages," Gilbert laughed.
"Red" had put his head in one hand, and leaned back on the case, at peace with the world. His left foot beat a little tattoo on the side of the box. Now he sat up straight and looked sharply at Jones.
"What's the use of talking about this?" he wanted to know. "You ain't got it, have you?"
Gilbert paused the fraction of a second. "No," he had to admit, "But that doesn't alter the fact that I owe you money." He went over and stood close to his foreman.
"You're wrong," the younger man said. "It was my own proposition that I come here with you and work, an' you know it. Now what you got to say?"
Gilbert put his arm around "Red's" big shoulder, and playfully pushed him off the box. "You're just a big kid, aren't you, 'Red'?"
"I don't know what I am. But I do know I was only too glad to take the gamble with you. An' I'll take another one right now if you've got one to suggest."
Gilbert pushed the case over on its side. It was empty. There were some Navajo blankets on a little stand by the window. These he now fetched over to the case, first placing them carefully on the floor, spread out in all their rainbow beauty. Their bright patterns glorified the room, as if a lamp had been lighted. He said nothing. "Red" wondered what he was doing with these splendid blankets. He had never seen anything like them on the ranch, though there were others on the walls.
"I'd like to remark," "Red" went on, "that if we ever gets into the cow business again, we ought to get us a nice ranch in Washington, D.C. It don't pay American citizens to go too fur away from home, these days."
Gilbert laughed. Then, "Oh!" he ejaculated, as though remembering something.
"What's the matter?" "Red" asked.
"Haven't you heard? Lopez has broken off the reservation again."
"Lopez!" exclaimed "Red," forgetting his pipe, his dinner, and even Angela for the moment. "The devil he has!"
"Uh—uh! Raided the Diamond Dot last night."
"He won't bother us," "Red" smiled, settling back again. "Nothin' to steal here except the mortgage." He paused, as though in deep thought; but Gilbert, had he known it, was thinking even harder. Lopez, the Mexican bandit, was a dim uncertainty; the mortgage was a stern reality.
"You'll want to be drivin' over to the station later?" "Red" went on, coming to the table, and taking off his spurs.
"Yes," Gilbert answered. He had folded all the blankets neatly, rose, and went over to the window-box to get some strong cord.
"In the gallopin' wash-boiler?" "Red" smiled, "That still belongs to us—I mean, you." He clinked his spurs on the table.
"Us is right, 'Red.' You said you'd been a partner. You have. Some day I'm going to tell you how grateful I am." In his preoccupation, he forgot to tie up the blankets; and, one hand on "Red's" shoulder, he let the cord fall on the table.
"Aw, that's all right," "Red" said. He didn't like to be thanked, and he avoided even the shadow of sentimentality with Jones. After all, they were two young fellows, playing a big game together, taking big chances; and what was the use of talking about it? "What are you going to tell the Pells?" he suddenly asked, glad to get off the immediate subject.
"Say, I'm goin' to poke that bird in the beak some day!" "Red" declared.
Jones smiled. "What's he done to you?"
"Nothin'. He'd better not. It's the way he treats his wife. She's so darn game, too. I wouldn't treat a horse the way he treats her. Well, what are you goin' to tell them?"
Gilbert stood perfectly still. He was in deep thought. Finally he spoke.
"I'm going to tell them I'm going away—important business."
"East?" "Red" asked. He had seated himself at the table, and picked up Gilbert's pen, and began making curious little scrawls with it on a piece of paper, as a business man sometimes does when he is telephoning.
"No. West," answered Jones. "They're going East."
"What are you going to do?" "Red" was amused rather than alarmed.
"Oh, I'll get a job somewhere. Punch cows—or maybe join the rangers. There's always something a fellow can do."
"An' what about your uncle?"
"I'll put him up in Bisbee till I get a chance to ship him back to Bangor. He likes Bangor, you know!" Gilbert smiled.
"He takes it sort o' hard, don't he?"
"Well, you can't blame the old boy. You see, I got him to sell out everything—everything, and invest in this ranch. Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do; but I thought I was certain to succeed. I meant all for the best, 'Red.' You know that." Who could doubt those gray eyes of Gilbert Jones, that open, frank, boyish face?
"Of course I do." He got up, and walked over to the window. "Your uncle don't like jokin' much, does he? I asked him the other day why he didn't get a chauffeur. Gosh! he got mad!" "Red" laughed at the recollection.
"Uncle Henry's in no joking mood just now. You can't blame him much."
"Red" turned and looked at his employer. He didn't know whether he should ask the next question or not; but he took his courage in his hands.
"He—he wants you to—to marry Angela Hardy, don't he?"
Gilbert looked surprised. "Hardy's daughter?"
"How did you know?" Jones asked.
"Because he ain't talked of nothin' else for six months. You wasn't thinkin' of doin' it, was you?" He hung on Gilbert's answer.
"Hardly!" with a smile.
The relief of "Red"!
"I know, I know!" he cried. "But once she gets her mind set on a thing—"
"You mean you think she wants to marry me? Is that it?" Gilbert asked, not taking the matter very seriously. He was busy at the box again, pulling the top farther back.
"Well, I don't know as I'd say that," "Red" offered; "but I think she thinks she wants to." He was sitting on the edge of the table, swinging one leg. "She's prone to fancies, Angela is. Even I gotter admit that!"
"Even you?" Gilbert inquired, puzzled.
The question made "Red" a bit nervous. He jumped to the floor, and then sat down in the chair beside the table, pretending to be very much at ease. "Like that traveling man from Saint Looey," he explained. "She thought she cared for him. I tried to tell her different. I had to run him out of town with a gun to prove it. But even then she didn't believe it until that New York surveyor come along."
Gilbert looked up, "And she thought she loved him?"
"Until she met up with that hoss doctor from Albuquerque! An' now there's a new feller in Bisbee!"
Jones was a trifle mystified, "Say, how do you happen to know so much about her affairs, 'Red'?"
How involved he had become! He blushed like a schoolboy; got up, took his pipe out of his mouth and emptied it in the fireplace. "Me?" he said. "Oh, I've knowed her a long time."
Jones was beginning to see the truth, to read the heart of this young rascal. So it was over at the Hardy's that he spent so many hours!
"Oh, so that's it, is it? What's the matter? Does her father object?"
"Oh, no!" "Red" was quick to deny. "I stand all right with him. He's knowed me a long time. It's her."
Gilbert laughed outright; and "Red," humanly embarrassed now that his secret was out, paced the room, his hands behind his back, digging his heel every now and then in the floor. "Aw—" he began.
"Listen, 'Red,'" said Jones, in sympathy with the lad, and hoping to cover up his confusion. "If Hardy comes, keep him out till I'm alone. I don't want any war talk before the Pells."
"I get yer," said "Red," visibly relieved.
"Any stronger cord on the place anywhere?" Gilbert looked around the room. Maybe one of the many Indian jugs contained a string. "Red" and he had a habit of putting any old thing in them.
"There's some down in the hay barn. Want me to get it for you?" "Red" offered.
"No; I'll get it, thanks. You see if you can't prod up the cook a little. I'm hungry now."
And "Red" ran into the kitchen. No sooner had he left the room, than there was a rumble, and Uncle Henry burst in on Gilbert, a smile of triumph on his face.
"I got it!" he all but yelled.
"Got what?" his nephew asked.
"An idea!... Mebbe he'd lend you some."
"Some what? And who?"
"Money, of course! That feller Pell, I mean. He's rich, an' if he knowed that you and his wife was old friends—I betcher he'd lend you some." He paused, breathless, for he had run his sentences into one. Gilbert glared at him, as if he thought he had gone stark mad. But Uncle Henry was not afraid. "You won't ask him?" he inquired.
"Certainly not. What are you raving about, anyhow? Cut out this sort of talk, Uncle. You're getting on my nerves."
The old man simply switched his chair about. He had heard Gilbert in an angry mood before, and he knew that nothing would follow his little burst of wrath. "Oh, you make me tired, you young people," he raged. "I'd ask him if it was me, you can bet I would!"
"You would," was all that Gilbert replied. Sarcasm was in his voice.
"First you won't marry Hardy's daughter and now you won't ask him for money," Uncle Henry pursued the subject.
Gilbert was genuinely angry now. "Oh, keep quiet! I'm sick of your plans."
"Yes, but if you ain't goin' to do nothing, I am!"
His nephew wouldn't trust himself to hear another word. He turned on his heel and left the old man.
Uncle Henry was shaking with excitement. He lifted his hand, smote the arm of his chair, and cried out after the vanishing figure of his nephew, "You make me sick, you gol darn fool!" He was almost in tears. "Gol darn the gol darn luck, anyhow!"
At that moment, Lucia Pell came down the little stairway. She had discarded her riding-habit, and now looked equally lovely in a simple frock of blue.
"What's the matter?" she inquired, seeing at once that something was troubling Uncle Henry.
"What ain't the matter?" the old fellow screamed, but glad of someone to whom he could unburden his overflowing heart. "Gol darn it! By gollies! I got it again!" he cried, seized with another inspiration. He eyed the radiant Lucia, as a miser might appraise a new gold coin. "Mis' Pell," he said, twirling his chair so that he caught a better glimpse of her.
"Yes?" she said, half-way down.
"You and Gil's old friends, ain't you?" The question was as direct as anything could be.
"Yes," was the equally direct answer.
"Want to do him a good turn?" asked the scheming old man.
"Of course. What do you mean?" She was at his side now.
"He's got a chance to make a swell marriage," announced Uncle Henry.
"What?" There was a curious catch in Lucia's voice.
"A rich marriage," Uncle Henry went on, almost smacking his lips over the words.
Lucia went over to the window, so that she would not face the invalid.
"Not as rich as yourn, of course," Uncle Henry pursued; "but rich for him—and he won't do it." He waited for her to say something; but she did not speak. There was a pause. Lucia looked out at the baking valley, and off to the far mountains, and the ticking of the clock could be heard like steady rain in a cistern. Then she went over to the table near the alcove, where a few books were scattered about. She opened one, and pretended to read. All the time Uncle Henry's eyes never left her. And she knew he was searching her thoughts.
"He won't?" she finally said.
"No—the gol darn fool!" the old fellow screamed again.
"Does he—does he love her?" Lucia brought herself to ask.
Quick as a flash Uncle Henry came back: "Sure he does! It's the only thing for him to do. He ain't got no right to be livin' alone. All he don't get skinned out of he gives away. Never gets nothin' to eat. If ever a feller needed a nice, sensible wife to take care of him, it's Gil. I know. Ain't I his uncle?"
"You think she would—make him—a good wife?" Lucia Pell got the words out somehow, never lifting her eyes from the printed page.
"The finest in the world!" Uncle Henry affirmed. "Now, looky here, Mis' Pell: He won't listen to me—funny the way folks are about their relatives. But I was thinkin' that mebbe if you was to ask him—"
Lucia was startled. "I?" she said.
The wheel chair bobbed about. "Yes. You and him bein' old friends that way, mebbe he'd pay some attention to you. Make him see what a gol darn fool he is and give him h——. Give it to him good! It's a wonderful chance. He'll never get another. Darned if I see how he ever got this. But he has. And what we gotter do is to make him take it." He paused; but she said nothing. He waited a moment. Then,—"What do you say? Will you?"
"You—think he should?"
"I know darn well he should!"
Lucia closed the book and put it down. She looked straight at Uncle Henry. "I should think he would see it for himself."
Uncle Henry showed his disgust—not for her, but for his nephew. "Aw, he's always been like this. I remember five or six years ago, he told me then he wouldn't ask no woman to marry him until he got a lot of money. False pride, I call it. What'd the world come to if everybody felt like that?"
"You think it's only pride that's keeping him from it?" Her voice was very low.
"Well, what else could it be, I'd like to know."
"Maybe it's because he hasn't a lot of money. He may be honest in that."
"Well, mebbe you're right. That may be it. What do you say?"
"All right," Lucia Pell said. But she turned away.
Uncle Henry was delighted. "That's the idee! Hooray!" Had he been able to stand, he would have risen and given three rousing cheers. He hadn't been so happy in years. "We'll put it over yet, by heck!"
He hadn't seen his nephew come into the room, with a ball of stout twine in his hands.
"Put what over?" Gilbert asked.
Uncle Henry was taken aback, but he quickly covered his confusion.
"Oh, somethin'. It's a secret." He turned and addressed Lucia Pell. "Don't forget," he admonished, and swiftly wheeled himself out into the yard again.
WHEREIN AN OLD LOVE AWAKENS, PELL REVEALS HIS TRUE COLORS, A MORTGAGE IS ABOUT TO BE FORECLOSED, THE CONTENTS OF A SATCHEL ARE MADE KNOWN, UNCLE HENRY SPRINGS A SENSATION, AND PELL TAKES AN OPTION
Lucia's eyes were following Uncle Henry's heaving chair; for the yard was full of little stones, and the invalid bumped along, not always able to keep on a smooth track. She smiled as she watched him.
"What was he talking about?" Gilbert asked, kneeling on the floor, and folding one rug that had slipped away.
"Oh, nothing," Lucia Pell answered. "You know how old people babble on sometimes about nothing." She turned and looked at him. Still the same handsome Gilbert! "What are you doing?"
"Nothing. You know how young people go on doing nothing. I'm just rolling up these rugs and blankets. I'm going to send them away."
Lucia saw the beautiful pattern of one Navajo as Gilbert held it, unfolded, from the floor. She came over to him.
"You're sending them away—when they're so exquisite?" she asked. "This flaming one—" she picked it up and draped it around her. "Why, it's like the sunset. And you do have such beautiful sunsets here, Gil."
"I got them up especially, in honor of your visit," Jones said; and then he remembered how many times a remark like that must have been made, by many a lover, as if it were quite original, as if no one had ever thought of it before!
But Lucia took him seriously, dropped the wonderful blanket and went over to the door again. "I never grow tired of this view, Gil. It's almost as if God were an artist and had spilt the colors from His palette. And yet not that, quite. The colors are more like jewels. The morning's opals; the noon's pearls; the evening wears rubies in her hair. There's a sort of beauty that makes one ache. It seems to me sometimes as if I couldn't stand it—just the way the Grand Canyon got hold of me. Doesn't it affect you that way—you who have so much poetry in you?"
"Indeed it does, Lucia. I've often watched that sky until I've forgotten all about my cattle—both of them!" He laughed, and reached for the twine. He was always turning their serious moments into a jest. As long as she had been here with her husband, he kept at a distance.
Lucia saw his hand go out. "The string?" she said. "I'll get it." She left the door, and handed him the twine which he had put on the table.
"Thank you," said Gilbert. "Do you mind putting your finger—there? Never mind. I think I can do it, after all."
"Oh, do let me help you," she said. "I'd like to." And she leaned down, knelt beside him, and held her white forefinger on the cord.
How it happened, neither of them ever knew. But a sudden electric thrill ran through their veins. Something hammered in their brains. For a brief instant, their hearts beat as though the whole world must hear. He had touched her finger, and, before he was aware of it, he had dared to lean over and kiss it. Not a word was said—there was no time for words. They did not need speech to understand. It was the old, but ever new experience of the ages: two who loved each other had found out in the twinkling of an eye—and she belonged to another. There was a moment of terrible silence. Then,
"I'm sorry," was all Gilbert could get out.
"But you touched my hand many a time, in the old days," Lucia said.
"That was different. You're married now. Oh, there is a vast change since then. I could not—Forgive me, my dear." He turned away his face. He did not want her to read what was in his eyes. "Shall I send them, or would you rather take them with you?" he asked, hiding behind that commonplace question the emotion he felt. His voice held a note of pain.