E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE BELLS OF SAN JUAN
Author of Judith of Blue Lake Ranch, The Joyous Trouble Maker, Man to Man, etc.
Illustrated by Frank Tenney Johnson
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
[Frontispiece: Having come closer he reined in his horse, stared at her a moment in surprised wonderment. . .]
RODERICK NORTON GREGORY
I. THE BELLS RING II. THE SHERIFF OF SAN JUAN III. A MAN'S BOOTS IV. AT THE BANKER'S HOME V. IN THE DARKNESS OF THE PATIO VI. A RIDE THROUGH THE NIGHT VII. IN THE HOME OF CLIFF-DWELLERS VIII. JIM GALLOWAY'S GAME IX. YOUNG PAGE COMES TO TOWN X. A BRIBE AND A THREAT XI. THE FIGHT AT LA CASA BLANCA XII. WAVERING IN THE BALANCE XIII. CONCEALMENT XIV. A FREE MAN XV. THE KING'S PALACE XVI. THE MEXICAN FROM MEXICO XVII. A STACK OF GOLD PIECES XVIII. DESIRE OUTWEIGHS DISCRETION XIX. DEADLOCK XX. FLUFF AND BLACK BILL XXI. A CRISIS XXII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END XXIII. THE STRONG HAND OF GALLOWAY XXIV. IN THE OPEN XXV. THE BATTLE IN THE ARROYO XXVI. THE BELLS RING
Having come closer he reined in his horse, stared at her a moment in surprised wonderment . . . . Frontispiece
Then came the second meeting with Jim Galloway
"Come, and I'll share my secret with you"
On through the bright moonlight came the sheriff's posse
He who has not heard the bells of San Juan has a journey yet to make. He who has not set foot upon the dusty road which is the one street of San Juan, at times the most silent and deserted of thoroughfares, at other times a mad and turbulent lane between sun-dried adobe walls, may yet learn something of man and his hopes, desires, fears and ruder passions from a pin-point upon the great southwestern map.
The street runs due north and south, pointing like a compass to the flat gray desert in the one direction, and in the other to the broken hills swept up into the San Juan mountains. At the northern end, that is toward the more inviting mountains, is the old Mission. To right and left of the whitewashed corridors in a straggling garden of pear-trees and olives and yellow roses are two rude arches made of seasoned cedar. From the top cross-beam of each hang three bells.
They have their history, these bells of San Juan, and the biggest with its deep, mellow voice, the smallest with its golden chimes, seem to be chanting it when they ring. Each swinging tongue has its tale to tell, a tale of old Spain, of Spanish galleons and Spanish gentlemen adventurers, of gentle-voiced priests and sombre-eyed Indians, of conquest, revolt, intrigue, and sudden death. When a baby is born in San Juan, a rarer occurrence than a strong man's death, the littlest of the bells upon the western arch laughs while it calls to all to hearken; when a man is killed, the angry-toned bell pendant from the eastern arch shouts out the word to go billowing across the stretches of sage and greasewood and gama-grass; if one of the later-day frame buildings bursts into flame, Ignacio Chavez warns the town with a strident clamor, tugging frantically; be it wedding or discovery of gold or returns from the county elections, the bell-ringer cunningly makes the bells talk.
Out on the desert a man might stop and listen, forming his surmise as the sounds surged to meet him through the heat and silence. He might smile, if he knew San Juan, as he caught the jubilant message tapped swiftly out of the bronze bell which had come, men said, with Coronado; he might sigh at the lugubrious, slow-swelling voice of the big bell which had come hitherward long ago with the retinue of Marco de Niza, wondering what old friend or enemy, perchance, had at last closed his ears to all of Ignacio Chavez's music. Or, at a sudden fury of clanging, the man far out on the desert might hurry on, goading his burro impatiently, to know what great event had occurred in the old adobe town of San Juan.
It is three hundred and fifty years and more since the six bells of San Juan came into the new world to toll across that land of quiet mystery which is the southwest. It is a hundred years since an all-but-forgotten priest, Francisco Calderon, found them in various devastated mission churches, assembled them, and set them chiming in the old garden. There, among the pear-trees and olives and yellow roses, they still cast their shadows in sun and moonlight, in silence, and in echoing chimes.
THE BELLS RING
Ignacio Chavez, Mexican that he styled himself, Indian that the community deemed him, or "breed" of badly mixed blood that he probably was, made his loitering way along the street toward the Mission. A thin, yellowish-brown cigarita dangling from his lips, his wide, dilapidated conical hat tilted to the left side of his head in a listless sort of concession to the westering sun, he was, as was customary with him, utterly at peace. Ten minutes ago he had had twenty cents; two minutes after the acquisition of his elusive wealth he had exchanged the two dimes for whiskey at the Casa Blanca; the remaining eight minutes of the ten he required to make his way, as he naively put it, "between hell and heaven."
For from a corner of the peaceful old Mission garden at one end of the long street one might catch a glimpse of the Casa Blanca at the other end sprawling in the sun; between the two sturdy walled buildings had the town strung itself as it grew. As old a relic as the church itself was La Casa Blanca, and since San Juan could remember, in all matters antipodal to the religious calm of the padres' monument. Deep-shaded doorways let into the three-feet-thick earthen walls, waxed floors, green tables, and bar and cool looking-glasses . . . a place which invited, lured, held, and frequently enough finally damned.
San Juan, in the languid philosophy of Ignacio Chavez, was what you will. It epitomized the universe. You had everything here which the soul of man might covet. Never having dwelt elsewhere since his mother bore him here upon the rim of the desert and with the San Juan mountains so near that, Ignacio Chavez pridefully knew, a man standing upon the Mesa Alta might hear the ringing of his bells, he experienced a pitying contempt for all those other spots in the world which were so plainly less favored. What do you wish, senor? Fine warm days? You have them here. Nice cool nights for sound slumber? Right here in San Juan, amigo mio. A desert across which the eye may run without stopping until it be tired, a wonderful desert whereon at dawn and dusk God weaves all of the alluring soft mists of mystery? Shaded canons at noonday with water and birds and flowers? Behold the mountains. Everything desirable, in short. That there might be men who desired the splash of waves, the sheen of wet beaches, the boom of surf, did not suggest itself to one who had never seen the ocean. So, then, San Juan was "what you will." A man may fix his eye upon the little Mission cross which is always pointing to heaven and God; or he may pass through the shaded doors of the Casa Blanca, which, men say, give pathway into hell the shortest way.
Ignacio, having meditatively enjoyed his whiskey and listened smilingly to the tinkle of a mandolin in the patio under a grape-vine arbor, had rolled his cigarette and turned his back square upon the devil . . . of whom he had no longer anything to ask. As he went out he stopped in the doorway long enough to rub his back against a corner of the wall and to strike a match. Then, almost inaudibly humming the mandolin air, he slouched out into the burning street.
For twenty years he had striven with the weeds in the Mission garden, and no man during that time dared say which had had the best of it, Ignacio Chavez or the interloping alfileria and purslane. In the matters of a vast leisureliness and tumbling along the easiest way they resembled each other, these two avowed enemies. For twenty years he had looked upon the bells as his own, had filled his eye with them day after day, had thought the first thing in the morning to see that they were there, regarding them as solicitously in the rare rainy weather as his old mother regarded her few mongrel chicks. Twenty full years, and yet Ignacio Chavez was not more than thirty years old, or thirty-five, perhaps. He did not know, no one cared.
He was on his way to attack with his bare brown hands some of the weeds which were spilling over into the walk which led through the garden and to the priest's house. As a matter of fact he had awakened with this purpose in mind, had gone his lazy way all day fully purposing to give it his attention, and had at last arrived upon the scene. The front gate had finally broken, the upper hinge worn out; Ignacio carefully set the ramshackly wooden affair back against the fence, thinking how one of these days he would repair it. Then he went between the bigger pear-tree and the lluvia de oro which his own hands had planted here, and stood with legs well apart considering the three bells upon the easterly arch.
"Que hay, amigos?" he greeted them. "Do you know what I am going to do for you some fine day? I will build a little roof over you that runs down both ways to shut out the water when it rains. It will make you hoarse, too much wet."
That was one of the few dreams of Ignacio's life; one day he was going to make a little roof over each arch. But to-day he merely regarded affectionately the Captain . . . that was the biggest of the bells . . . the Dancer, second in size, and Lolita, the smallest upon this arch. Then he sighed and turned toward the other arch across the garden to see how it was with the Little One, La Golondrina, and Ignacio Chavez. For it was only fair that at least one of the six should bear his name.
Changing his direction thus, moving directly toward the dropping sun, he shifted his hat well over his eyes and so was constrained to note how the weeds were asserting themselves with renewed insolence. He muttered a soft "maldito!" at them which might have been mistaken for a caress and determined upon a merciless campaign of extermination just as soon as he could have fitted a new handle to his hoe. Then he paused in front of the Mission steps and lifted his hat, made an elegant bow, and smiled in his own inimitable, remarkably fascinating way. For, under the ragged brim, his eyes had caught a glimpse of a pretty pair of patent-leather slippers, a prettier pair of black-stockinged ankles, and the hem of a white starched skirt.
Nowhere are there eyes like the eyes of old Mexico. Deep and soft and soulful, though the man himself may have a soul like a bit of charred leather; velvety and tender, though they may belong to an out-and-out cutthroat; expressive, eloquent even, though they are the eyes of a peon with no mind to speak of; night-black, and like the night filled with mystery. Ignacio Chavez lifted such eyes to the eyes of the girl who had been watching him and spontaneously gave her the last iota of his ready admiration.
"It is a fine day, senorita," he told her, displaying two glistening rows of superb teeth friendliwise. "And the garden . . . Ah, que hay mas bonito en todo el mundo? You like it, no?"
It was slow music when Ignacio Chavez spoke, all liquid sounds and tender cadences. When he had cursed the weeds it was like love-making. A d in his mouth became a softened th; from the lips of such as the bell-ringer of San Juan the snapping Gringo oath comes metamorphosed into a gentle "Gah-tham!" The girl, to whom the speech of Chavez was something as new and strange as the face of the earth about her, regarded him with grave, curious eyes.
She was seated against the Mission wall upon the little bench which no one but Ignacio guessed was to be painted green one of these fine days, a bronze-haired, gray-eyed girl in white skirt and waist, and with a wide panama hat caught between her clasped hands and her knee. For a moment she was perhaps wondering how to take him; then with a suddenness that had been all unheralded in her former gravity, she smiled. With lips and eyes together as though she accepted his friendship. Ignacio's own smile broadened and he nodded his delight.
"It is truly beautiful here," she admitted, and had Ignacio possessed a tithe of that sympathetic comprehension which his eyes lied about he would have detected a little note of eagerness in her voice, would have guessed that she was lonely and craved human companionship. "I have been sitting here an hour or two. You are not going to send me away, are you?"
Ignacio looked properly horrified.
"If I saw an angel here in the garden, senorita," he exclaimed, "would I say zape to it? No, no, senorita; here you shall stay a thousand years if you wish. I swear it."
He was all sincerity; Ignacio Chavez would no sooner think of being rude to a beautiful young woman than of crying "Scat!" to an angel. But as to staying here a thousand years . . . she glanced through the tangle of the garden to the tiny graveyard and shook her head.
"You have just come to San Juan?" he asked. "To-day?"
"Yes," she told him. "On the stage at noon."
"You have friends here?"
Again she shook her head.
"Ah," said Ignacio. He straightened for a brief instant and she could see how the chest under his shirt inflated. "A tourist. You have heard of this garden, maybe? And the bells? So you travelled across the desert to see?"
The third time she shook her head.
"I have come to live here," she returned quietly.
"But not all alone, senorita!"
"Yes." She smiled at him again. "All alone."
"Mother of God!" he said within himself. And presently to her: "I did not see the stage come to-day; in San Juan one takes his siesta at that hour. And it is not often that the stage brings new people from the railroad."
In some subtle way he had made of his explanation an apology. While his slow brown fingers rolled a cigarette he stared away through the garden and across the desert with an expression half melancholy, half merely meditative, which made the girl wonder what his thoughts were. When she came to know him better she would know too that at times like this he was not thinking at all.
"I believe this is the most profoundly peaceful place in the world," she said quietly, half listlessly setting into words the impression which had clung about her throughout the long, still day. "It is like a strange dream-town, one sees no one moving about, hears nothing. It is just a little sad, isn't it?"
He had followed her until the end, comprehending. But sad? How that? It was just as it should be; to ears which had never been filled with the noises or rushing trains and cars and all of the traffic of a city, what sadness could there be in the very natural calm of the rim of the desert? Having no satisfactory reply to make, Ignacio merely muttered, "Si, senorita," somewhat helplessly and let it go with that.
"Tell me," she continued, sitting up a little and seeming to throw off the oppressively heavy spell of her environment, "who are the important people hereabouts?"
La gente? Oh, Ignacio knew them well, all of them! There was Senor Engle, to begin with. The banker of whom no doubt she had heard? He owned a big residencia just yonder; you could catch the gleam of its white walls through a clump of cottonwoods, withdrawn aloofly from San Juan's street. Many men worked for him; he had big cattle and sheep ranches throughout the county; he paid well and loaned out much money. Also he had a beautiful wife and a truly marvellously beautiful daughter. And horses such as one could not look upon elsewhere. Then there was Senor Nortone, as Ignacio pronounced him; a sincere friend of Ignacio Chavez and a man fearless and true and extravagantly to be admired, who, it appeared, was the sheriff. Not a family man; he was too young yet. But soon; oh, one could see! It would be Ignacio who would ring the bells for the wedding when Roderico Nortone married himself with the daughter of the banker.
"He is what you call a gunman, isn't he?" asked the girl, interested. "I heard two of the men on the stage talking of him. They called him Roddy Norton; he is the one, isn't he?"
Seguro; sure, he was the one. A gunman? Ignacio shrugged. He was sheriff, and what must a sheriff be if not a gunman?
"On the stage," continued the girl, "was a man they called Doc; and another named Galloway. They are San Juan men, are they not?"
Ignacio lifted his brows a shade disdainfully. They were both San Juan citizens, but obviously not to his liking. Jim Galloway was a big man, yes; but of la gente, never! The senorita should look the other way when he passed. He owned the Casa Blanca; that was enough to ticket him, and Ignacio passed quickly to el senor doctor. Oh, he was smart and did much good to the sick; but the poor Mexican who called him for a bedridden wife must first sell something and show the money.
Beyond these it appeared that the enviable class of San Juan consisted of the padre Jose, who was at present and much of the time away visiting the poor and sick throughout the countryside; Julius Struve, who owned and operated the local hotel, one of the lesser luminaries, though a portly gentleman with an amiable wife; the Porters, who had a farm off to the northwest and whose connection to San Juan lay in the fact that an old maid daughter taught the school here; various other individuals and family groups to be disposed of with a word and a careless wave of a cigarette. Already for the fair stranger Ignacio had skimmed the cream of the cream.
The girl sighed, as though her question had been no idle one and his reply had disappointed her. For a moment her brows gathered slightly into a frown that was like a faint shadow; then she smiled again brightly, a quick smile which seemed more at home in her eyes than the frown had been.
Ignacio glanced from her to the weeds, then, squinting his eyes, at the sun. There was ample time, it would be cooler presently. So, describing a respectful arc about her, he approached the Mission wall, slipped into the shade, and eased himself in characteristic indolence against the white-washed adobe. She appeared willing to talk with him; well, then, what pleasanter way to spend an afternoon? She sought to learn this and that of a land new to her; who to explain more knowingly than Ignacio Chavez? After a little he would pluck some of the newly opened yellow rosebuds for her, making her a little speech about herself and budding flowers. He would even, perhaps, show her his bells, let her hear just the suspicion of a note from each. . . .
A sharp sound came to her abruptly out of the utter stillness but meant nothing to her. She saw a flock of pigeons rise above the roofs of the more distant houses, circle, swerve, and disappear beyond the cottonwoods. She noted that Ignacio was no longer leaning lazily against the wall; he had stiffened, his mouth was a little open, breathless, his attitude that of one listening expectantly, his eyes squinting as they had been just now when he fronted the sun. Then came the second sound, a repetition of the first, sharp, in some way sinister. Then another and another and another, until she lost count; a man's voice crying out strangely, muffled. Indistinct, seeming to come from afar.
It was an incongruous, almost a humorous, thing to see the sun-warmed passivity of Ignacio Chavez metamorphosed in a flash into activity. He muttered something, leaped away from the Mission wall, dashed through the tangle of the garden, and raced like a madman to the eastern arch. With both hands he grasped the dangling bell-ropes, with all of his might he set them clanging and shouting and clamoring until the reverberation smote her ears and set the blood tingling strangely through her. She had seen the look upon his face. . . .
Suddenly she knew that those little sharp sounds had been the rattle of pistol-shots. She sprang to her feet, her eyes widening. Now all was quiet save for the boom and roar of the bells. The pigeons were circling high in the clear sky, were coming back. . . . She went quickly the way Ignacio had gone, calling out to him:
"What is it?"
He seemed all unmoved now as he made his bells cry out for him; it was for him to be calm while they trembled with the event which surely they must understand.
"It is a man dead," he told her as his right hand called upon the Captain for a volume of sound from his bronze throat. "You will see. And there will be more work for Roderico Nortone!" He sighed and shook his head, and for a moment spoke softly with his jangling bells. "And some day," he continued quietly, "it will be Roderico's time, no? And I will ring the bells for him, and the Captain and the Dancer and Lolita, they will all put tears into men's eyes. But first, Santa Maria! let it be that I ring the others for him when he marries himself with the banker's daughter."
"A man dead?" the girl repeated, unwilling to grasp fully.
"You will see," returned Ignacio.
THE SHERIFF OF SAN JUAN
The girl in the old Mission garden stood staring at Ignacio Chavez a long time, seeming compelled by a force greater than her own to watch him tugging and jerking at his bells. Plainly enough she understood that this was an alarm being sounded; a man dead through violence, and the bell-ringer stirring the town with it. But when presently he let two of the ropes slip out of his hands and began a slow, mournful tolling of the Captain alone, she shuddered a little and withdrew.
That it might be merely a case of a man wounded, even badly, did not once suggest itself to her. Ignacio had spoken as one who knew, in full confidence and with finality. She should see! She returned to the little bench which one day was to be a bright green, and sat down. She could see that again the pigeons were circling excitedly; that from the baking street little puffs of dust arose to hang idly in the still air as though they were painted upon the clear canvas of the sky. She heard the voices of men, faint, quick sounds against the tolling of the bell. Then suddenly all was very still once more; Ignacio had allowed the Captain to resume his silent brooding, and came to her.
"I must go to see who it is," he apologized. "Then I will know better how to ring for him. The sheepman from Las Palmas, I bet you. For did I not see when just now I passed the Casa Blanca that he was a little drunk with Senor Galloway's whiskey? And does not every one know he sold many sheep and that means much money these days? Si, senorita; it will be the sheepman from Las Palmas."
He was gone, slouching along again and in no haste now that he had fulfilled his first duty. What haste could there possibly be since, sheepman from Las Palmas or another, he was dead and therefore must wait upon Ignacio Chavez's pleasure? Somehow she gleaned this thought from his manner and therefore did not speak as she watched him depart.
That portion of the street which she could see from her bench was empty, the dust settling, thinning, disappearing. Farther down toward the Casa Blanca she could imagine the little knots of men asking one another what had happened and how; the chief actor in this fragment of human drama she could picture lying inert, uncaring that it was for him that a bell had tolled and would toll again, that men congregated curiously.
In a little while Ignacio would return, shuffling, smoking a dangling cigarette, his hat cocked against the sun; he would give her full particulars and then return to his bell. . . . She had come to San Juan to make a home here, to become a part of it, to make it a portion of her. To arrive upon a day like this was no pleasant omen; it was too dreadfully like taking a room in a house only to hear the life rattling out of a man beyond a partition. She was suddenly averse to hearing Ignacio's details; there came a quick desire to set her back to the town whose silence on the heels of uproar crushed her. Rising hastily, she hurried down the weed-bordered walk, out at the broken gate, and turned toward the mountains. One glance down the street as she crossed it showed her what she had expected: a knot of men at the door of the Casa Blanca, another small group at a window, evidently taking stock of a broken window-pane.
The sun, angry and red, was hanging low over a distant line of hills, the flat lands were already drawing about them a thin, faintly colorful haze. She had put on her hat and, like Ignacio, had set it a little to the side of her head, feeling her cheeks burning when the direct rays found them. The fine, loose soil was sifting into her low slippers before she had gone a score of paces. When she came back she would unpack her trunk and get out a sensible pair of boots. No doubt she was dressed ridiculously, but then the heat had tempted her. . . .
A curious matter presented itself to her. In the little groups upon the street she had not seen a single woman. Were there none in San Juan? Was this some strange, altogether masculine, community into which she had stumbled? Then she remembered how the bell-ringer had mentioned Mrs. Engle, the banker's wife, and his daughter and Mrs. Struve and others. Besides all this she had a letter to Mrs. Engle which she was going to present this evening. . . .
She was thinking of anything in the world but of a tragedy not yet grown cold, so near her that for a little it had seemed to embrace her. Now it was almost as though it had not occurred. The world was all unchanged about her, the town somnolent. She had shuddered as Ignacio played upon his bell; but the shudder was rather from the bell's resonant eloquence than from any more vital cause. A man she had never seen, whose name even she did not know, had been shot by another man unknown to her; she had heard only the shots, she had seen nothing. True, she had heard also a voice crying out, but she sensed that it had been the voice of an onlooker. She felt ashamed that the episode did not move her more.
As, earlier in the afternoon, she had been drawn from the heat of her room at Struve's hotel by the shade to be found in the Mission garden, so now did a long, wavering line of cottonwoods beckon to her. In files which turned eastward or westward here and there only to come back to the general northerly trend, they indicated where an arroyo writhed down, tortured serpent-wise, from the mountains. Through their foliage she had glimpsed the Engle home. She expected to find running water under their shade, that and an attendant coolness.
But the arroyo proved to be dry and hot, a gash in the dry bosom of the earth, its bottom strewn with smooth pebbles and sand and a very sparse, unattractive vegetation, stunted and harsh. And it was almost as hot here as on San Juan's street; into the shade crept the heat-waves of the dry, scorched air.
Led by the line of cottonwoods she found a little path and followed it, experiencing a vague relief to have the town at her back. She knew that distances deceived the eye in this bleak land, and yet she thought that before dark she could reach the hills, where perhaps there were a few languid flowers and pools, and return just tired enough to eat and go to sleep. She rather thought that she would postpone her call on the Engles until to-morrow.
"It's manana-land, after all," she told herself with a quick smile.
Half an hour later she found a spot where the trees stood in a denser growth, looking greener, more vigorous . . . less thirsty. She could fancy the great roots, questing far downward through the layers of dry soil, thrusting themselves almost with a human, passionate eagerness into the water they had found. Here she threw herself down, lying upon her back, gazing up through the branches and leaves.
Never until now had she known the meaning of utter stillness. She saw a bird, a poor brown, unkempt little being; it had no song to offer the silence, and in a little flew away listlessly. She had seen a rabbit, a big, gaunt, uncomely wretch, disappearing silently among the clumps of brush.
Her spirit, essentially bright and happy, had striven hard with a new form of weariness all day. Not only was she coming into another land than that which she knew and understood, she was entering another phase of her life. She had chosen voluntarily, without advice or suggestion; she had had her reasons and they had seemed sufficient; they were still sufficient. She had chosen wisely; she held to that, her judgment untroubled. But that stubbornly recurrent sense that with the old landmarks she had abandoned the old life, that both in physical fact and in spiritual and mental actuality she was at the threshold of an unguessed, essentially different life, was disquieting. There is no getting away from an old basic truth that a man's life is so strongly influenced as almost to be moulded by his environment; there was uneasiness in the thought that here one's existence might grow to resemble his habitat, taking on the gray tone and monotony and bleak barrenness of this sun-smitten land.
Yielding a little already to the command laid upon breathing nature hereabouts, she was lying still, her hands lax, her thoughts taking unto themselves something of the character of the listless, songless brown bird's flight. She had come here to-day following in the footsteps of other men and a few women. Her own selection of San Juan was explicable; the thing to wonder at was what had given the hardihood to the first men to stop here and make houses and then homes? Later she would know; the one magic word of the desert lands: water. For San Juan, standing midway between the railroad and the more tempting lands beyond the mountains, had found birth because here was a mud-hole for cradle; down under the sand were fortuitous layers of impervious clay cupping to hold much sweet water.
The slow tolling of a bell came billowing out through the silence. The girl sat up. It was the Captain. Never, it seemed to her, had she heard anything so mournful. Ignacio had informed himself concerning all details and had returned to the garden at the Mission. The man was dead, then. There could be no doubt as one listened to the measured sorrowing of the big bell.
She got to her feet and, walking swiftly, moved on, still farther from San Juan. The act was without premeditation; her whole being was insistent upon it. She wondered if it was the sheepman from Las Palmas; if he had, perhaps, a wife and children. Then she stopped suddenly; a new thought had come to her. Strange, inexplicable even, it had not suggested itself before. She wondered who the other man was, the man who had done the killing. And what had happened to him? Had he fled? Had other men grappled with him, disarmed him, made of him a prisoner to answer for what he had done? What had been his motive, what passion had actuated him Surely not just the greed for gold which the bell-ringer had suggested! What sort of creature was he who, in cold, calculating blood could murder a man for a handful of money?
There was nothing to answer unless she could catch the thought of Ignacio Chavez in the ringing of his bell. She moved on again, hurrying.
Following the arroyo, she had come to the first of the little, smooth hills, the lomas as the men on the stage had named them. Through them the dry watercourse wriggled, carrying its green pennons along its marge. She went up gentle slopes mantled with bleached grass which directly under her eyes was white in the glare of the sun. But the sun was very low now, very fierce and red, an angry god going down in temporary defeat, but defiant to the last, filled with threat for to-morrow; at a little distance he tinged the world with his own fiery hue. The far western uplands cut the great disk squarely in two; down slipped the half wafer until it seemed that just a bright signal-fire was kindled upon the ridge. And as that faded from her eyes the slow sobbing of the swinging bell was like a wail for the death of the day.
She had removed her hat, fancying that already the earth was throwing off its heat, that a little coolness and freshness was coming down to meet her from the mountains. She turned her eyes toward them and it was then, just after the sunset, that she saw a man riding toward her. He was still far off when she first glimpsed him, just cresting one of the higher hills, so that for him the sun had not yet set. For she caught the glint of light flaming back from the silver chasings of his bridle and from the barrel of the gun across the hollow of his left arm. She did not believe that he had seen her in the shadow of the cottonwoods.
If she went on she must meet him presently. She glanced back over her shoulder, noting how far she had come from the town. It was very still again; the bell had ceased its complaint; the hoofs of the approaching horse seemed shod with felt, falling upon felt. She swung about and walked back toward San Juan.
A little later she heard the man's voice, calling. Clearly to her, since there was no one else. Why should he call to her? She gave no sign of having heard, but walked on a trifle faster. She sensed that he was galloping down upon her; still in the loose sand the hoof-beats were muffled. Then when he called a second time she stopped and turned and waited.
A splendid big fellow he was, she noted as he came on, riding a splendid big horse. Man and beast seemed to belong to the desert; had it not been for the glint of the sun she realized now, she probably would not have distinguished their distant forms from the land across which they had moved. The horse was a darkish, dull gray; the man, boots, corduroy breeches, soft shirt, and hat, was garbed in gray or so covered with the dust of travel as to seem so.
"What in the world are you doing way out here?" he called to her. And then having come closer he reined in his horse, stared at her a moment in surprised wonderment, swept off his hat and said, a shade awkwardly: "I beg pardon. I thought you were some one else."
For her wide hat was again drooping about her face, and he had had just the form of her and the white skirt and waist to judge by.
"It is all right," she said lightly. "I imagined that you had made a mistake."
It was something of a victory over herself to have succeeded in speaking thus carelessly. For there had been the impulse, a temptation almost, just to stare back at the man as he had stared at her and in silence. Not only was the type physically magnificent; to her it was, like everything about her, new. And that which had held her at first was his eyes. For it is not the part of youth to be stern-eyed; and while this man could not be more than midway between twenty and thirty, his eyes had already acquired the trick of being hard, steely, suggesting relentlessness, stern and quick. Tall, lean-bodied, with big calloused hands, as brown as an Indian, hair and eyes were uncompromisingly black. He belonged to the southwestern wastes.
These things she noted, and that his face was drawn and weary, that about his left hand was tied a handkerchief, hinting at a minor cut, that his horse looked as travel-worn as himself.
"One doesn't see strangers often around San Juan," he explained. "As for a girl . . . Well, I never made a mistake like this before. I'll have to look out." The muscles of the tired face softened a little, into his eyes came a quick light that was good to see, for an instant masking their habitual sternness. "If you'll excuse me again, and if you don't know a whole lot about this country . . ." He paused to measure her sweepingly, seemed satisfied, and concluded: "I wouldn't go out all alone like this; especially after sundown. We're a rather tough lot, you know. Good-by."
He lifted his hat again, loosened his horse's reins, and passed by her. Just as she had expected, just as she had desired. And yet, with his dusty back turned upon her, she experienced a sudden return of her loneliness. Would she ever look into the eyes of a friend again? Could she ever actually accomplish what she had set out to accomplish; make San Juan a home?
Her eyes followed him, frankly admiring now; so she might have looked at any other of nature's triumphant creations. Then, before he had gone a score of yards, she saw how a little tightening of his horse's reins had brought the big brute down from a swinging gallop to a dead standstill. The bell was tolling again.
Again he was calling to her, again, swinging about, he had ridden to her side. Now his voice like his eyes, was ominously stern.
"Who is it?" he demanded.
"I don't know," she told him, marvelling at the look on his face. His emotion was purely one of anger, mounting anger that a man was dead? "The man who rings the bells told me that he thought it must be a sheepman from Las Palmas. He went to see. . . . I didn't wait. . . ."
Nor did this man wait now. Again he had wheeled; now he was racing along the arroyo, urging a tired horse that he might lose no unnecessary handful of moments. And as he went she heard him curse savagely under his breath and knew that he had forgotten her in the thoughts which had been released by the dull booming of a bell.
A MAN'S BOOTS
In the bar at the Casa Blanca, a long, wide room, low-ceilinged and with cool, sprinkled floor, a score of men had congregated. For the most part they were silent, content to look at the signs left by the recent shooting and to have what scraps of explanation were vouchsafed them. And these were meagre enough. The man who had done the shooting was sullen and self-contained. The dead man . . . it was the sheepman from Las Palmas . . . lay in an adjoining card-room, stark under the blanket which the large hands of Jim Galloway had drawn over him.
When the clatter of hoofs rang out in the street a couple of men went to the door. Coming back, "It is the sheriff," they said.
Roderick Norton, entering swiftly, his spurs dragging and jangling, swept the faces in the room with eyes which had in them none of that human glint of good-will which the girl at the arroyo had glimpsed in them. Again they were steely, angry, bespeaking both threat and suspicion.
"Who is it this time?" he demanded sharply.
"Bisbee, from Las Palmas," they told him.
"Who did it?" came the quick question. And then, before an answer could come, his voice ringing with the anger in it: "Antone or Kid Rickard? Which one?"
He had shifted his rifle so that it was caught up under his left arm. His right hand, frank and unhidden, rested upon the butt of the heavy-caliber revolver sagging from his belt. Standing just within the room, he had stepped to one side of the doorway so that the wall was at his back.
"It was the Kid," some one answered, and was continuing, "He says it was self-defense . . ." when Norton cut in bluntly:
"Was Galloway here when it happened?"
"Where's Galloway now?"
It was noteworthy that he asked for Jim Galloway rather than for Kid Rickard.
"In there," they told him, indicating a second card-room adjoining that in which the Las Palmas sheepman lay. Rod Norton, again glancing sharply across the faces confronting him, went to the closed door and set his hand to the knob. But Jim Galloway, having desired privacy just now, had locked the door. Norton struck it sharply, commanding:
"Open up, Galloway. It's Norton."
There came the low mutter of a voice hasty and with the quality of stern exhortation, the snap of the lock, and the door was jerked open. Norton's eyes, probing into every square foot of the chamber, took stock of Jim Galloway, and beyond him of Kid Rickard, slouching forward in a chair and rolling a cigarette.
"Hello, Norton," said Galloway tonelessly. "Glad you showed up. There's been trouble."
A heavy man above the waist-line, thick-shouldered, with large head and bull throat, his muscular torso tapered down to clean-lined hips, his legs of no greater girth than those of the lean-bodied man confronting him, his feet small in glove-fitting boots. His eyes, prominent and full and a clear brown, were a shade too innocent. Chin, jaw, and mouth, the latter full-lipped, were those of strength, smashing power, and a natural cruelty. He was the one man to be found in San Juan who was dressed as the rather fastidiously inclined business men dress in the cities.
"Another man down, Galloway," said Norton with an ominous sternness. "And in your place. . . How long do you think that you can keep out from under?"
His meaning was plain enough; the men behind him in the barroom listened in attitudes which, varying in other matters, were alike in their tenseness. Galloway, however, staring stonily with eyes not unlike polished agate, so cold and steady were they, gave no sign of taking offense.
"You and I never were friends, Rod Norton," he said, unmoved. "Still that's no reason you should jump me for trouble. Answering your question, I expect to keep out from under just as long as two things remain as they are: first, as long as I play the game square and in the open, next, as long as an overgrown boy holds down the job of sheriff in San Juan."
In Norton's eyes was blazing hatred, in Galloway's mere steady, unwinking boldness.
"You saw the killing?" the sheriff asked curtly.
"Yes," said Galloway.
"The Kid there did it?"
For the first time the man slouching forward in the chair lifted his head. Had a stranger looked in at that moment, curious to see him who had just committed homicide . . . or murder . . . he must have experienced a positive shock. Sullen-eyed, sullen-lipped, the man-killer could not yet have seen the last of his teens. A thin wisp of straw-colored hair across a low, atavistic forehead, unhealthy, yellowish skin, with pale, lack-lustre, faded blue eyes, he looked evil and vicious and cruel. One looking from him to Jim Galloway would have suspected that one could be as inhuman as the other, but with the difference that that which was but means to an end with Galloway would be end in itself to Kid Rickard. Something of the primal savage shone in the pale fires of his eyes.
"Yes," retorted the Kid, his surly voice little better than a snarl. "I got him and be damned to him!"
"Bad luck cursing a dead man, Rickard," said Norton coldly. "What did you kill him for?"
Kid Rickard's tongue ran back and forth between his colorless lips before he replied.
"He tried to get me first," he said defiantly.
"Who saw the shooting?"
"Jim Galloway. And Antone."
Rod Norton grunted his disgust with the situation.
"Give me your gun," he commanded tersely.
The Kid frowned. Galloway cleared his throat. Rickard's eyes went to him swiftly. Then he got to his feet, jerked a thirty-eight-caliber revolver from the hip pocket of his overalls and held it out, surrendering it reluctantly. Norton "broke" it, ejecting the cartridges into his palm. Not an empty shell among them; the Kid had slipped in a fresh shell for every exploded one.
"How many times did you shoot?"
"I don't know. Two or three, I guess. . . . Damn it, do you imagine a man counts 'em?"
"What were you and Galloway doing alone in here with the door locked?"
Galloway cut in sharply:
"I didn't want any more trouble; I was afraid somebody . . ."
"Shut up, will you?" cried the sheriff fiercely. "I'll give you all the chance you want to talk pretty soon. Answer me, Rickard."
"I told him to lock me up somewhere until you or Tom Cutter come," said the Kid slowly. "I was afraid somebody might jump me for what I done. I didn't want no more trouble."
Norton turned briefly to the crowded room behind him.
"Anybody know where Cutter is?" he asked.
It appeared that every one knew. Tom Cutter, Rod Norton's deputy, had gone in the early morning to Mesa Verde, and would probably return in the cool of the evening. Frowning, Norton made the best of the situation, and to gain his purpose called four men out of the crowd.
"I want you boys to do me a favor," he said.
"Antone, come here."
The short, squat half-breed standing behind the bar lifted his heavy black brows, demanding:
"Y porque? What am I to do?"
"As you are told," Norton snapped at him. "Benny, you and Dick walk down the street with Antone; you other boys walk down the other way with Rickard. If they haven't had all the chance to talk together already that they want, don't give them any more opportunity. Step up, Rickard."
The Kid sulked, but under the look the sheriff turned on him came forward and went out, his whole attitude remaining one of defiance. Antone, his swart face as expressionless as a piece of mahogany, hesitated, glanced at Galloway, shrugged, and did as Rickard had done, going out between his two guards. The men remaining in the barroom were watching their sheriff expectantly. He swung about upon Galloway.
"Now," he said quickly, "who fired the first shot. Galloway?"
Galloway smiled, went to his bar, poured himself a glass of whiskey, and standing there, the glass twisting slowly in his fingers, stared back innocently at his interrogator.
"Trying the case already, Judge Norton?" he inquired equably.
"Will you answer?" Norton said coolly.
"Sure." Galloway kept his look steady upon the sheriff's, and into the innocence of his eyes there came a veiled insolence. "Bisbee shot first."
"Where was he standing?"
"Right there." The spot indicated was about three or four feet from where Norton stood, near the second card-room door.
"Where was the Kid?"
"Over there." Again Galloway pointed. "Clean across the room, where the chair is tumbled over against the table."
"How many times did Bisbee shoot?"
Galloway seemed to be trying to remember. He drank his whiskey slowly, reached over the bar for a cigar, and answered:
"Twice or three times."
"How many times did Rickard shoot?"
"I'm not sure. I'd say about the same; two or three times."
"Where was Antone standing?"
"Behind the bar; down at the far end, nearest the door."
"Where were you?"
"Leaning against the bar, talking to Antone."
"What were you talking about?"
This question came quicker, sharper than the others, as though calculated to startle Galloway into a quick answer. But the proprietor of the Casa Blanca was lighting his cigar and took his time. When he looked up, his eyes told Norton that he had understood any danger which might lie under a question so simple in the seeming. His eyes were smiling contemptuously, but there was a faint flush in his cheeks.
"I don't remember," he replied at last. "Some trifle. The shooting, coming suddenly that way . . .
"What started the ruction?"
"Bisbee had been drinking a little. He seemed to be in the devil's own temper. He had asked the Kid to have a drink with him, and Rickard refused. He had his drink alone and then invited the Kid again. Rickard told him to go to hell. Bisbee started to walk across the room as though he was going to the card-room. Then he grabbed his gun and whirled and started shooting."
"Missing every time, of course?"
"You'll remember I said he was carrying enough of a load to make his aim bad."
Norton asked half a dozen further questions and then said abruptly:
"That's all. As you go out will you tell the boys to send Antone in?"
Again a hint of color crept slowly, dully, into Galloway's cheeks.
"You're going pretty far, Rod Norton," he said tonelessly.
"You're damned right I am!" cried Norton ringingly. "And I am going a lot further, Jim Galloway, before I get through, and you can bet all of your blue chips on it. I want Antone in here and I want you outside! Do I get what I want or not?"
Galloway stood motionless, his cigar clamped tight in his big square teeth. Then he shrugged and went to the door.
"If I am standing a good deal off of you," he muttered, hanging on his heel just before he passed out, "it's because I am as strong as any man in the county to see the law brought into San Juan. And"—for the first time yielding outwardly to a display of the emotion riding him, he spat out venomously and tauntingly—"and we'd have had the law here long ago had we had a couple of men in the boots of the Nortons, father and son!"
Rod Norton's face went a flaming red with anger, his hand grew white upon the butt of the gun at his side.
"Some day, Jim Galloway," he said steadily, "I'll get you just as sure as you got Billy Norton!"
Galloway laughed and went out.
To Antone, Norton put the identical questions he had asked of Galloway, receiving virtually the same replies. Seeking the one opportunity suggesting itself into tricking the bartender, he asked at the end:
"Just before the shooting, when you and Galloway were talking and he told you that Bisbee was looking for trouble, why weren't you ready to grab him when he went for his gun?"
Antone was giving his replies as guardedly as Galloway had done. He took his time now.
"Because," he began finally, "I do not belief when Senor Galloway speak that . . ."
His eyes had been roving from Norton's, going here and there about the room. Suddenly a startled look came into them and he snapped his mouth shut.
"Go on," prompted the sheriff.
"I don't remember," grunted Antone. "I forget what Senor Galloway say, what I say. Bisbee say: 'Have a drink.' The Kid say: 'Go to hell.' Bisbee shoot, one, two, three, like that. I forget what we talk about."
Norton turned slowly and looked whither Antone had been looking when he cut his own words off so sharply. The man upon whom his eyes rested longest was a creased-faced Mexican, Vidal Nunez, who now stood, head down, making a cigarette.
"That's all, Antone," Norton said. "Send the Kid in."
The Kid came, still sullen but swaggering a little, his hat cocked jauntily to one side, the yellow wisp of hair in his faded eyes. And he in turn questioned, gave such answers as the two had given before him.
Now for the first time the sheriff, stepping across the room, looked for such evidence as flying lead might have left for him. In the wall just behind the spot where Bisbee had stood were two bullet holes. Going to the far end of the room where the chair leaned against the table, he found that a pane of glass in the window opening upon the street had been broken. There were no bullet marks upon wall or woodwork.
"Bisbee shot two or three times, did he?" he cried, wheeling on the Kid. "And missed every time? And all the bullets went through the one hole in the window, I suppose?"
The Kid shrugged insolently.
"I didn't watch 'em," he returned briefly.
Galloway and Antone were allowed to come again into the room, and of Galloway, quite as though no hot word had passed between them, Norton asked quietly:
"Bisbee had a lot of money on him. What happened to it?"
"In there." Galloway nodded toward the card-room whose door had remained closed. "In his pocket."
A few of the morbid followed as the sheriff went into the little room. Already most of the men had seen and had no further curiosity. Norton drew the blanket away, noted the wounds, three of them, two at the base of the throat and one just above the left eye. Then, going through the sheepman's pockets, he brought out a handful of coins. A few gold, most of them silver dollars and half-dollars, in all a little over fifty dollars.
The dead man lay across two tables drawn together, his booted feet sticking out stolidly beyond the bed still too short to accommodate his length of body. Norton's eyes rested on the man's boots longer than upon the cold face. Then, stepping back to the door so that all in the barroom might catch the significance of his words, he said sharply:
"How many men of you know where Bisbee always carried his money when he was on his way to bank?"
"In his boots!" answered two voices together.
"Come this way, boys. Take a look at his boots, will you?"
And as they crowded about the table, sensing some new development, Galloway pushing well to the fore, Norton's vibrant voice rang out:
"It was a clean job getting him, and a clean job telling the story of how it happened. But there wasn't overmuch time and in the rush. . . . Tell me, Jim Galloway, how does it happen that the right boot is on the left foot?"
AT THE BANKER'S HOME
Rod Norton made no arrest. Leaving the card-room abruptly he signalled to Julius Struve, the hotel keeper, to follow him. In the morning Struve, in his official capacity as coroner, would demand a verdict. Having long been in strong sympathy with the sheriff he was to be looked to now for a frank prediction of the inquest's result. And, very thoughtful about it all, he gravely agreed with Norton; the coroner's jury, taking the evidence offered by Jim Galloway, Kid Rickard, and Antone, would bring in a verdict of justifiable homicide.
"Later on we'll get 'em, Roddy . . . mebbe," he said finally. "But not now. If you pulled the Kid it would just be running up the county expense all for nothing."
The sheriff left him in silence and leading his horse went the few steps to the hotel. Ignacio Chavez appearing opportunely Norton gave his animal into the breed's custody; Ignacio, accustomed to doing odd jobs for el Senor Roderico Nortone, and to the occasional half dollars resulting from such transactions, led the big gray away while the sheriff entered the hotel. It had been a day of hard riding and scanty meals, and he was hungry.
Bright and new and conspicuous, a gold-lettered sign at Struve's doorway caught his eye and caused him to remember the wounded left hand which had been paining him considerably through the long hot day. The sign bore the name of Dr. V. D. Page with the words Physician and Surgeon; in blue pencilled letters upon the practitioner's card, affixed to the brass chain suspending the sign, were the further words: "Room 5, Struve's Hotel."
The sheriff went to Room 5. It was at the front of the building, upon the ground floor. The door opened almost immediately when he rapped. Confronting him was the girl he had encountered at the arroyo. He lifted his hat, looked beyond her, and said simply:
"I was looking for Dr. Page. Is he in now?"
"Yes," she told him gravely. "Come in, please."
He stepped across the threshold, his eyes trained to quick observation of details taking in at a glance all there was to be seen. The room showed all signs of a fresh unpacking, the one table and two chairs piled high with odds and ends. For the most part the miscellany consisted of big, fat books, bundles of towels and fresh white napkins, rubber-stoppered bottles of varicolored contents, and black leather cases, no doubt containing a surgeon's instruments. Through an open door giving entrance to the adjoining room he noted further signs of unpacking with a marked difference in the character of the litter; the girl stepped quickly to this door, shutting out the vision of a helter-skelter of feminine apparel.
"It is your hand?" she asked, as in most thoroughly matter of fact fashion she put out her own for it. "Let me see it."
But for a moment he bestowed upon her merely a slow look of question.
"You don't mean that you are Dr. Page?" he asked. Then, believing that he understood: "You're the nurse?"
"Is a physician's life in San Juan likely to be so filled with his duties that he must bring a nurse with him?" she countered. "Yes, I am Dr. Page."
He noted that she was as defiant about the matter as the Kid had been about the killing of Bisbee of Las Palmas; plainly she had foreseen that the type of man-animal inhabiting this out-of-the-way corner of the world would be likely to wonder at her hardihood and, perhaps, to jeer.
"I came to-day," she explained in the same matter-of-fact way. "Consequently you will pardon the looks of things. But I am one of the kind that believes in hanging out a shingle first, getting details arranged next. Now may I see the hand?"
"It's hardly anything." He lifted it now for her inspection. "Just a slight cut, you know. But it's showing signs of infection. A little antiseptic . . ."
She took his fingers into hers and bent over the wound. He noted two things, now: what strong hands she had, shapely, with sensitive fingers ignorant of rings; how richly alive and warmly colored her hair was, full of little waves and curls.
She had nothing to say while she treated him. Over an alcohol lamp she heated some water; in a bowl, brought from the adjoining room, she cleansed the hand thoroughly. Then the application of the final antiseptic, a bit of absorbent cotton, a winding of surgeon's tape about a bit of gauze, and the thing was done. Only at the end did she say:
"It's a peculiar cut . . . not a knife cut, is it?"
"No," he answered humorously. "Did it on a piece of lead. . . . How much is it, Doctor?"
"Two dollars," she told him, busied with the drying of her own hands. "Better let me look at it again in the morning if it pains you."
He laid two silver dollars in her palm, hesitated a moment and then went out.
"She's got the nerve," was his thoughtful estimate as he went to his corner table in the dining-room. "But I don't believe she is going to last long in San Juan. . . . Funny she should come to a place like this, anyhow. . . . Wonder what the V stands for?"
At any rate the hand had been skilfully treated and bandaged; he nodded at it approvingly. Then, with his meal set before him, he divided his thoughts pretty evenly between the girl and the recent shooting at the Casa Blanca. The sense was strong upon him as it had been many a time that before very long either Rod Norton or Jim Galloway would lie as the sheepman from Las Palmas was lying, while the other might watch his sunrises and sunsets with a strange, new emotion of security.
The sheriff, who had not eaten for twelve hours, was beginning his meal when the newest stranger in San Juan came into the dining-room. She had arranged her lustrous copper-brown hair becomingly, and looked fresh and cool and pretty. Norton approved of her with his keen eyes while he watched her go to her place at a table across the room. As she sat down, giving no sign of having noted him, her back toward him, he continued to observe and to admire her slender, perfect figure and the strong, sensitive hands busied with her napkin.
A slovenly, half-grown Indian girl, Anita, the cook's daughter, came in from the kitchen, directed the slumbrous eyes of her race upon the sheriff who fitted well in a woman's eye, and went to serve the single other late diner. Norton caught a fleeting view of V. D. Page's throat and cheek as she turned slightly in speaking with Anita. As the serving-maid withdrew Norton rose to his feet and crossed the room to the far table.
"May I bring my things over and eat with you?" he asked when he stood looking down on her and she had lifted her eyes curiously to his. "If you've come to stay you can't go on forever not knowing anybody here, you know. Since you've got to know us sooner or later why not begin to get acquainted? Here and now and with me? I'm Roderick Norton."
One must have had far less discernment than she not to have felt instinctively that the great bulk of human conventions would shrivel and vanish before they could come this far across the desert lands. Besides, the man standing over her looked straight and honestly into her eyes and for a little she glimpsed again the youth of him veiled by the sternness his life had set into his soul and upon his face.
"It is kind of you to have pity upon me in my isolation," she answered lightly and without hesitation. "And, to tell the truth, I never was so terribly lonesome in all my life."
He made two trips back and forth to bring his plate and coffee cup and auxiliary sauce dishes and plated silver, while she wondered idly that he did not instruct the Indian girl to perform the service for him. Even then she half formulated the thought that it was much more natural for this man to do for himself what he wanted than for him to sit down to be waited upon. A small matter, no doubt; but then mountains are made up of small particles and character of just such small characteristics as this.
During the half hour which they spent together over their meal they got to know each other rather better than chance acquaintances are likely to do in so brief a time. For from the moment of Norton's coming to her table the bars were down between them. She was plainly eager to supplement Ignacio Chavez's information of "la gente" of San Juan and its surrounding country, evincing a curiosity which he readily understood to be based upon the necessities of her profession. In return for all that he told her she sketchily spoke of her own plans, very vague plans, to be sure, she admitted with one of her quick, gay smiles. She had come prepared to accept what she found, she was playing no game of hide-and-seek with her destiny, but had wandered thus far from the former limits of her existence to meet life half way, hoping to do good for others, a little imperiously determined to achieve her own measure of success and happiness.
From the beginning each was ready, perhaps more than ready, to like the other. Her eyes, whether they smiled or grew suddenly grave, pleased him; always were they fearless. He sensed that beneath the external soft beauty of a very lovely young woman there was a spirit of hardihood in every sense worthy of the success which she had planned bare-handed to make for herself, and in the man's estimation no quality stood higher than a superb independence. On her part, there was first a definite surprise, then a glow of satisfaction that in this virile arm of the law there was nothing of the blusterer. She set him down as a quiet gentleman first, as a sheriff next. She enjoyed his low, good-humored laugh and laughed back with him, even while she experienced again the unaccustomed thrill at the sheer physical bigness of him, the essentially masculine strength of a hardy son of the southwestern outdoors. Not once had he referred to the affair at the Casa Blanca or to his part in it; not a question did she ask him concerning it. He told himself that so utterly human, so perfectly feminine a being as she must be burning with curiosity; she marvelled that he could think, speak of anything else. When together they rose from the table they were alike prepared, should circumstance so direct, to be friends.
She was going now to call upon the Engles. She had told him that she had a letter to Mrs. Engle from a common friend in Richmond.
"I don't want to appear to be riding too hard on your trail," he smiled at her. "But I was planning dropping in on the Engles myself this evening. They're friends of mine, you know."
She laughed, and as they left the hotel, propounded a riddle for him to answer: Should Mr. Norton introduce her to Mrs. Engle so that she might present her letter, or, after the letter was presented, should Mrs. Engle introduce her to Mr. Norton?
It did not suggest itself to her until they had passed from the street, through the cottonwoods and into the splendid living-room of the Engle home, that her escort was not dressed as she had imagined all civilized mankind dressed for a call. Walking through the primitive town his boots and soft shirt and travel-soiled hat had been in too perfect keeping with the environment for her to be more than pleasurably conscious of them.
At the Engles', however, his garb struck her for a moment of the first shock of contrast, as almost grotesquely out of place.
At the broad front door Norton had rapped. The desultory striking of a piano's keys ceased abruptly, a girl's voice crying eagerly: "It's Roddy!" hinted at the identity of the listless player, a door flung open flooded the broad entrance hall with light. And then the outer door framed banker Engle's daughter, a mere girl in her middle teens, fair-haired, fair-skinned, fluffy-skirted, her eyes bright with expectation, her two hands held out offering themselves in doubled greetings. But, having seen the unexpected guest at the sheriff's side, the bright-haired girl paused for a brief moment of uncertainty upon the threshold, her hands falling to her sides.
"Hello, Florrie," Norton was saying quietly. "I have brought a caller for your mother. Miss Engle, Miss Page."
"How do you do, Miss Page?" Florrie replied, regaining her poise and giving one of her hands to each of the callers, the abandon of her first appearance gone in a flash to be replaced by a vague hint of stiffness. "Mama will be so glad to see you. Do come in."
She turned and led the way down the wide, deep hall and into the living-room, a chamber which boldly defied one to remember that he was still upon the rim of the desert. In one swift glance the newcomer to San Juan was offered a picture in which the tall, carelessly clad form of the sheriff became incongruous; she wondered that he remained at his ease as he so obviously did. Yonder was a grand piano, a silver chased vase upon a wall bracket over it holding three long-stemmed, red roses; a heavy, massive-topped table strewn comfortably and invitingly with books and magazines; an exquisite rug and one painting upon the far wall, an original seascape suggestive of Waugh at his best; excellent leather-upholstered chairs luxuriously inviting, and at once homelike and rich. Just rising from one of these chairs drawn up to the table reading-lamp, a book still in his hand, was Mr. Engle, while Mrs. Engle, as fair as her daughter, just beginning to grow stout in lavendar, came forward smilingly.
"Back again, Roddy?" She gave him a plump hand, patted his lean brown fingers after her motherly fashion, and came to where the girl had stopped just within the door.
"Virginia Page, aren't you? As if any one in the world would have to tell me who you were! You are your mother all over, child; did you know it? Oh, kiss me, kiss me, my dear, for your mother's sake, and save your hand-shakes for strangers."
Virginia, taken utterly by surprise as Mrs. Engle's arms closed warmly about her, grew rosy with pleasure; the dreary loneliness of a long day was gone with a kiss and a hug.
"I didn't know . . . ." she began haltingly, only to be cut short by Mrs. Engle crying to her husband:
"It's Virginia Page, John. Wouldn't you have known her anywhere?"
John Engle, courteous, urbane, a pleasant-featured man with grave, kindly eyes and a rather large, firm-lipped mouth nodded to Norton and gave Virginia his hand cordially.
"I must be satisfied with a hand-shake, Miss Page," he said in a deep, pleasant voice, "but I refuse to be a mere stranger. We are immensely glad to have you with us. . . . Mother, can't you see we have most thoroughly mystified her; swooping down on her like this without giving her an inkling of how and why we expected her?"
Roderick Norton and Florrie Engle had drawn a little apart; Virginia, with her back to them during the greeting of Mrs. and Mr. Engle, had no way of knowing whether the withdrawal had been by mutually spontaneous desire or whether the initiative had been the sheriff's or Miss Engle's. Not that it mattered or concerned her in any slightest particular.
In her hand was the note of introduction she had brought from Mrs. Seth Morgan; evidently both its services and those of Roderick Norton might be dispensed with in the matter of her being presented.
"Of course," Mrs. Engle was saying. An arm about the girl's slim waist, she drew her to a big leather couch. "Marian never does things by halves, my dear; you know that, don't you? That's a letter she gave you for me? Well, she wrote me another, so I know all about you. And, if you are willing to accept the relationship with out-of-the-world folks, we're sort of cousins!"
Virginia Page flushed vividly. She had known all along that her mother had been a distant relative of Mrs. Engle, but she had had no desire, no thought of employing that very faint tie as an argument for being accepted by the banker's family. She did not care to come here like the proverbial poor relation.
"You are very kind," she said quietly, her lips smiling while her eyes were grave. "But I don't want you to feel that I have been building on the fact of kinship; I just wanted to be friends if you liked me, not because you felt it your duty. . . ."
Engle, who had come, dragging his chair after him, to join them, laughed amusedly.
"Answering your question, Mrs. Engle," he chuckled, "I'd certainly know her for Virginia Page! When we come to know her better maybe she will allow us to call her Cousin Virginia? In the meantime, to play safe, I suppose that to us she'd better be just Dr. Page?"
"John is as full of nonsense after banking hours," explained Mrs. Engle, still affectionately patting Virginia's hand, "as he is crammed with business from nine until four. Which makes life with him possible; it's like having two husbands, makes for variety and so saves me from flirting with other men. Now, tell us all about yourself."
Virginia, who had been a little stiff-muscled until now, leaned back among the cushions unconscious of a half sigh of content and of her relaxation. During the long day San Juan had sought to frighten, to repel her. Now it was making ample amends: first the companionable society of Rod Norton, then this simple, hearty welcome. She returned the pressure of Mrs. Engle's soft, warm hands in sheer gratitude.
After that they chatted lightly, Engle gradually withdrawing from the conversation and secretly watching the girl keenly, studying her play of expression, seeking, according to his habit, to make his guarded estimate of a new factor in his household. From Virginia's face his eyes went swiftly now and then to his daughter's, animated in her tete-a-tete with the sheriff. Once, when Virginia turned unexpectedly, she caught the hint of a troubled frown in his eyes.
Broad double doors in the west wall of the living-room gave entrance to the patio. The doors were open now to the slowly freshening night air, and from where she sat Virginia Page had a glimpse of a charming court, an orange-tree heavy with fruit and blossom, red and yellow roses, a sleeping fountain whose still water reflected star-shine and the lamp in its niche under a grape-vine arbor. When Norton and Florence Engle strolled out into the inviting patio Engle, breaking his silence, leaned forward and dominated the conversation.
Virginia had been doing the major part of the talking, answering questions about Mrs. Engle's girlhood home, telling something of herself. Now John Engle, reminding his wife that their guest must be consumed with curiosity about her new environment, sought to interest her in this and that, in and about San Juan.
"There was a killing this afternoon," he admitted quietly. "No doubt you know of it and have been shocked by it, and perhaps on account of it have a little misjudged San Juan. We are not all cutthroats here, by any manner of means; I think I might almost say that the rough element is in the minority. We are in a state of transition, like all other frontier settlements. The railroad, though it doesn't come closer than the little tank station where you took the stage this morning, has touched our lives out here. A railroad brings civilizing influences; but the first thing it does is to induct a surging tide of forces contending against law and order. Pioneers," and he smiled his slow, grave, tolerant smile, "are as often as not tumultuous-blooded and self-sufficient, and prone to kick over the established traces. We've got that class to deal with . . . and that boy, Rod Norton, with his job cut out for him, is getting results. He's the biggest man right now, not only in the country, but in this end of the state."
Continuing he told her something of the sheriff. Young Norton, having returned from college some three years before to live the only life possible to one of his blood, had become manager of his father's ranch in and beyond the San Juan mountains. At the time Billy Norton was the county sheriff and had his hands full. Rumor said that he had promised himself to "get" a certain man; Engle admitted that that man was Jim Galloway of the Casa Blanca. But either Galloway or a tool of Galloway's or some other man had "gotten" Billy Norton, shooting him down in his own cabin and from the back, putting a shotgun charge of buckshot into his brain.
It had occurred shortly after Roderick Norton's return, shortly before the expiration of Billy Norton's term of office. Rod Norton, putting another man in his place on the ranch, had buried his father and then had asked of the county his election to the place made empty by his father's death. Though he was young, men believed in him. The election returns gave him his place by a crushing majority.
"And he has done good work," concluded Engle thoughtfully. "Because of what he has done, because he does not make an arrest until he has his evidence and then drives hard to a certain conviction, he has come to be called Dead-sure Norton and to be respected everywhere, and feared more than a little. Until now it has become virtually a two-man fight. Rod Norton against Jim Galloway. . . ."
"John," interposed Mrs. Engle, "aren't you giving Virginia rather a sombre side of things?"
"Maybe I am," he agreed. "But this killing of the Las Palmas man in broad daylight has come pretty close to filling my mind. Who's going to be next?" His eyes went swiftly toward the patio, taking stock of the two figures there. Then he shrugged, went to the table for a cigar and returned smiling to inform Virginia of life on the desert and in the valleys beyond the mountains, of scattering attempts at reclamation and irrigation, of how one made towns of sun-dried mud, of where the adobe soil itself was found, drifted over with sand in the shade of the cottonwoods.
But Mrs. Engle's sigh, while her husband spoke of black mud and straw, testified that her thoughts still clung about those events and possibilities which she herself had asked him to avoid; her eyes wandered to the tall, rudely garbed figure dimly seen in the patio. Virginia, recalling Jim Galloway as she had seen him on the stage, heavy-bodied, narrow-hipped, masterful alike in carriage and the look of the prominent eyes, glanced with Mrs. Engle toward Rod Norton. He was laughing at something passing between him and Florence, and for the moment appeared utterly boyish. Were it not for the grim reminder of the forty-five-caliber revolver which the nature of his sworn duties did not allow of his laying aside even upon a night like this, it would have been easy to forget that he was all that which the one word sheriff connotes in a land like that about San Juan.
"Can't get away from it, can we?" Engle having caught the look in the two women's eyes, broke off abruptly in what he was saying, and now sat studying his cigar with frowning eyes. "Man against man, and the whole county knows it, one employing whatever criminal's tools slip into his hands, the other fighting fair and in the open. Man against man and in a death grapple just because they are the men they are, with one backed up by a hang-dog crowd like Kid Rickard and Antone, and the other playing virtually a lone hand. What's the end going to be?"
Virginia thought of Ignacio Chavez. He, had he been here, would have answered:
"In the end there will be the ringing of the bells for a man dead. You will see! Which one? Quien sabe! The bells will ring."
IN THE DARKNESS OF THE PATIO
Through the silence of the outer night, as though actually Ignacio Chavez were prophesying, came billowing the slow beating of the deep mourning bell. Mrs. Engle sighed; Engle frowned; Virginia sat rigid, at once disturbed and oppressed.
"How can you stand that terrible bell?" she cried softly. "I should think that it would drive you mad! How long does he ring it?"
"Once every hour until midnight," answered Engle, his face once more placid as he withdrew his look from the patio and transferred it to his cigar. And then, with a half smile: "There are many San Juans; there is, in all the wide world, but one San Juan of the Bells. You would not take our distinction from us? Now that you are to become of San Juan you must, like the rest of us, take a pride in San Juan's bells. Which you will do soon or late; perhaps just as soon as you come to know something of their separate and collective histories."
"Tell her, John," suggested Mrs. Engle, again obviously anxious to dispel the more lugubrious and tragic atmospheres of the evening with any chance talk which might offer itself.
"Let her wait until Ignacio can tell her," laughed Engle. "No one else can tell it so well, and certainly no one else has an equal pride or even an equal right in the matter."
But, though he refused to take up the colorful theme of the biographies of the Captain, the Dancer, Lolita, and the rest, John Engle began to speak lightly upon an associated topic, first asking the girl if she knew with what ceremony the old Western bells had been cast; when she shook her head and while the slow throbbing beat of the Captain still insisted through the night's silences, he explained that doubtless all six of Ignacio Chavez's bells had taken form under the calm gaze of high priests of old Spain. For legend had it that all six were from their beginnings destined for the new missions to be scattered broadcast throughout a new land, to ring out word of God to heathen ears. Bells meant for such high service were never cast without grave religious service and sacrifice. Through the darkness of long-dead centuries the girl's stimulated fancies followed the man's words; she visualized the great glowing caldrons in which the fusing metals grew red and an intolerable white; saw men and women draw near, proud blue-blooded grandees on one hand, and the lowly on the other, with one thought; saw the maidens and ladies from the courtyards of the King's palace as they removed golden bracelets and necklaces from white arms and throats, so that the red and yellow gold might go with their prayers into the molten metals, enriching them, while those whose poverty was great, but whose devotion was greater, offered what little silver ornaments they could. Carved silver vases, golden cups, minted coins and cherished ornaments, all were offered generously and devoutly until the blazing caldrons had mingled the Queen's girdle-clasps with a bauble from the beggar girl.
"And in the end," smiled Engle, "there are no bells with the sweet tone of old Mission bells, or with their soft eloquence."
While he was talking Ignacio Chavez had allowed the dangling rope to slip from his hands so that the Captain rested quiet in the starshine. Roderick and Florence were coming in through the wide patio door; Norton was just saying that Florrie had promised to play something for him when the front door knocker announced another visitor. Florence made a little disdainful face as though she guessed who it was; Engle went to the door.
Even Virginia Page in this land of strangers knew who the man was. For she had seen enough of him to-day, on the stage across the weary miles of desert, to remember him and to dislike him. He was the man whom Galloway and the stage-driver had called "Doc," the sole representative of the medical fraternity in San Juan until her coming. She disliked him first vaguely and with purely feminine instinct; secondly because of an air which he never laid aside of a serene consciousness of self-superiority. He had established himself in what he was pleased to consider a community of nobodies, his inferiors intellectually and culturally. He was of that type of man-animal that lends itself to fairly accurate cataloguing at the end of the first five minutes' acquaintance. The most striking of the physical attributes about his person as he entered were his little mustache and neatly trimmed beard and the diamond stick-pin in his tie. Remove these articles and it would have been difficult to distinguish him from countless thousands of other inefficient and opinionated individuals.
Virginia noted that both Mr. and Mrs. Engle shook hands with him if not very cordially at least with good-humored toleration; that Florence treated him to a stiff little nod; that Roderick Norton from across the room greeted him coolly.
"Dr. Patten," Engle was saying, "this is our cousin, Virginia Page."
Dr. Patten acknowledged the introduction and sat down, turning to ask "how Florrie was today?" Virginia smiled, sensing a rebuke to herself in his manner; to-day on the stage she had made it obvious even to him that if she must speak with a stranger she would vastly prefer the talk of the stage-driver than that of Dr. Caleb Patten. When Florence, replying briefly, turned to the piano Patten addressed Norton.
"What was our good sheriff doing to-day?" he asked banteringly, as though the subject he chose were the most apt one imaginable for jest. "Another man killed in broad daylight and no one to answer for it! Why don't you go get 'em, Roddy?"
Norton stared at him steadily and finally said soberly:
"When a disease has fastened itself upon the body of a community it takes time to work a cure, Dr. Patten."
"But not much time to let the life out of a man like the chap from Las Palmas! Why, the man who did the shooting couldn't have done a nicer job if he'd been a surgeon. One bullet square through the carotid artery . . . That leads from the heart to the head," he explained as though his listeners were children athirst for knowledge which he and none other could impart. "The cerebrum penetrated by a second. . . ."
What other technical elucidation might have followed was lost in a thunderous crashing of the piano keys as Florence Engle strove to drown the man's utterance and succeeded so well that for an instant he sat gaping at her.
"I can't stand that man!" Florence said sharply to Norton, and though the words did not travel across the room, Virginia was surprised that even an individual so completely armored as Caleb Patten could fail to grasp the girl's meaning.
When Florence had pounded her way through a noisy bit of "jazz," Caleb Patten, with one of his host's cigars lighted, was leaning a little forward in his chair, alert to seize the first opportunity of snatching conversation by the throat.
"Kid Rickard admits killing Bisbee," he said to Norton. "What are you going to do about it? The first thing I heard when I got in from a professional call a little while ago was that Rickard was swaggering around town, saying that you wouldn't gather him in because you were afraid to."
The sheriff's face remained unmoved, though the others looked curiously to him and back to Patten, who was easy and complacent and vaguely irritating.
"I imagine you haven't seen Jim Galloway since you got in, have you?" Norton returned quietly.
"No," said Patten. "Why? What has Galloway got to do with it?"
"Ask him. He says Rickard killed Bisbee in self-defense."
"Oh," said Patten. And then, shifting in his chair: "If Galloway says so, I guess you are right in letting the Kid go."
And, a trifle hastily it struck Virginia, he switched talk into another channel, telling of the case on which he had been out to-day, enlarging upon its difficulties, with which, it appeared, he had been eminently fitted to cope. There was an amused twinkle in John Engle's eyes as he listened.
"By the way, Patten," the banker observed when there came a pause, "you've got a rival in town. Had you heard?"
"What do you mean?" asked the physician.
"When I introduced you just now to our Cousin Virginia, I should have told you; she is Dr. Page, M.D."
Again Patten said "Oh," but this time in a tone which through its plain implication put a sudden flash into Virginia's eyes. As he looked toward her there was a half sneer upon the lips which his scanty growth of beard and mustache failed to hide. Had he gone on to say, "A lady doctor, eh?" and laughed, the case would not have been altered.
"It seems so funny for a girl to be a doctor," said Florence, for the first time referring in any way to Virginia since she had flown to the door, expecting Norton alone. Even now she did not look toward her kinswoman.
John Engle replied, speaking crisply. But just what he said Virginia did not know. For suddenly her whole attention was withdrawn from the conversation, fixed and held by something moving in the patio. First she had noted a slight change in Rod Norton's eyes, saw them grow keen and watchful, noted that they had turned toward the door opening into the little court where the fountain was, where the wall-lamp threw its rays wanly among the shrubs and through the grape-arbor. He had seen something move out there; from where she sat she could look the way he looked and mark how a clump of rose-bushes had been disturbed and now stood motionless again in the quiet night.
Wondering, she looked again to Norton. His eyes told nothing now save that they were keen and watchful. Whether or not he knew what it was so guardedly stirring in the patio, whether he, like herself, had merely seen the gently agitated leaves of the bushes, she could not guess. She started when Engle addressed some trifling remark to her; while she evaded the direct answer she was fully conscious of the sheriff's eyes steady upon her. He, no doubt, was wondering what she had seen.
It was only a moment later when Norton rose and went to Mrs. Engle, telling her briefly that he had had a day of it, in the saddle since dawn, wishing her good night. He shook hands with Engle, nodded to Patten, and coming to Virginia said lightly, but, she thought, with an almost sternly serious look in his eyes:
"We're all hoping you like San Juan, Miss Page. And you will, too, if the desert stillness doesn't get on your nerves. But then silence isn't such a bad thing after all, is it? Good night."
She understood his meaning and, though a thrill of excitement ran through her blood, answered laughingly:
"Shall a woman learn from the desert? Have I been such a chatter-box, Mrs. Engle, that I am to be admonished at the beginning to study to hold my tongue?"
Florence looked at her curiously, turned toward Norton, and then went with him to the door. For a moment their voices came in a murmur down the hallway; then Norton had gone and Florence returned slowly to the living-room.
Again Virginia looked out into the patio. Never a twig stirred now; all was as quiet as the sleeping fountain, as silent and mystery-filled as the desert itself. Had Roderick Norton seen more than she? Did he know who had been out there? Was here the beginning of some further sinister outgrowth of the lawlessness of Kid Rickard? of the animosity of Jim Galloway? Was she presently to see Norton himself slipping into the patio from the other side, was she again to hear the rattle of pistol-shots? He had asked that she say nothing; she had unhesitatingly given him her promise. Had she so unquestioningly done as he had requested because he was the sheriff who represented the law? or because he was Roderick Norton who stood for fine, upstanding manhood? . . . Again she felt Florence Engle's eyes fixed upon her.
"Florence is prepared at the beginning to dislike me," she thought. "Why? Just because I walked with him from the hotel?"
In the heat of an argument with Mrs. Engle there came an interruption. The banker's wife was insisting that Virginia "do the only sensible thing in the world," that she accept a home under the Engle roof, occupying the room already made ready for her. Virginia, warmed by the cordial invitation, while deeply grateful, felt that she had no right to accept. She had come to San Juan to make her own way; she had no claim upon the hospitality of her kinswoman, certainly no such claim as was implied now. Besides, there was Elmer Page. Her brother was coming to join her to-morrow or the next day, and as soon as it could be arranged they would take a house all by themselves, or if that proved impossible, would have a suite at the hotel. At the moment when it seemed that a deadlock had come between Mrs. Engle's eagerness to mother her cousin's daughter and Virginia's inborn sense of independence, the interruption came.
It arrived in the form of a boy of ten or twelve, a ragged, scantily clothed, swarthy youngster, rubbing a great toe against a bare leg while from the front door he announced that Ignacio Chavez was sick, that he had eaten something muy malo, that he had pains and that he prayed that the doctor cure him.
Patten grunted his disgust.
"Tell him to wait," he said briefly. And, in explanation to the others: "There's nothing the matter with him. I saw him on the street just before I came. And wasn't he ringing his bell not fifteen minutes ago?"
But the boy had not completed his message. Ignacio was sick and did not wish to die, and so had sent him to ask the Miss Lady Doctor to come to him. Virginia rose swiftly.
"You see," she said to Mrs. Engle, "what a nuisance it would be if I lived with you? May I come to see you to-morrow?"
While she said good night Engle got his hat.
"I'll go with you," he said. "But, like Patten, I don't believe there is much the matter with Chavez. Maybe he thinks he'll get a free drink of whiskey."
"You see again," laughed Virginia from the doorway, "what it would be like, Mrs. Engle; if every time I had to make a call and Mr. Engle deemed it necessary to go with me . . . I'd have to split my fees with him at the very least! And I don't believe that I could afford to do that."
"You could give me all that Ignacio pays you," chuckled Engle, "and never miss it!"
The boy waited for them and, when they came out into the starlight, flitted on ahead of them. At the cottonwoods a man stepped out to meet them.
"Hello," said Engle, "it's Norton."
"I sent the boy for Miss Page," said Norton quickly. "I had to have a word with her immediately. And I'm glad that you came, Engle. I want a favor of you; a mighty big favor of Miss Page."
The boy had passed on through the shadows and now was to be seen on the street.
"I guess you know you can count on me, Rod," said Engle quietly. "What now?"
"I want you, when you go back to the house, to say that you have learned that Miss Page likes horseback riding; then send a horse for her to the hotel stable, so that if she likes she can have it in the early morning. And say nothing about my having sent the boy."
Engle did not answer immediately. He and Virginia stood trying to see the sheriff's features through the darkness. He had spoken quietly enough and yet there was an odd new note in his voice; it was easy to imagine how the muscles about his lean jaw had tensed, how his eyes were again the hard eyes of a man who saw his fight before him.
"I can trust you, John," continued Norton quickly. "I can trust Ignacio Chavez; I can trust Julius Struve. And, if you want it in words of one syllable, I cannot trust Caleb Patten!"
"Hm," said Engle. "I think you're mistaken there, my boy."
"Maybe," returned Norton. "But I can't afford right now to take any unnecessary chances. Further," and in the gloom they saw his shoulders lifted in a shrug, "I am trusting Miss Page because I've got to! Which may not sound pretty, but which is the truth."
"Of course I'll do what you ask," Engle said. "Is there anything else?"
"No. Just go on with Miss Page to see Ignacio. He will pretend to be doubled up with pain and will tell his story of the tinned meat he ate for supper. Then you can see her to the hotel and go back home, sending the horse over right away. Then she will ride with me to see a man who is hurt . . . or she will not, and I'll have to take a chance on Patten."
"Who is it?" demanded Engle sharply.
"It's Brocky Lane," returned Norton, and again his voice told of rigid muscles and hard eyes. "He's hurt bad, John. And, if we're to do him any good we'd better be about it."
Engle said nothing. But the slow, deep breath he drew into his lungs could not have been more eloquent of his emotion had it been expelled in a curse.
"I'll slip around the back way to the hotel," said Norton. "I'll be ready when Miss Page comes in. Good night, John."
Silently, without awaiting promise or protest from the girl, he was gone into the deeper shadows of the cottonwoods.
A RIDE THROUGH THE NIGHT
Ignacio Chavez, because thus he could be of service to el senor Roderico Nortone whom he admired vastly and loved like a brother, drew to the dregs upon his fine Latin talent, doubled up and otherwise contorted and twisted his lithe body until the sweat stood out upon his forehead. His groans would have done ample justice to the occasion had he been dying.
Virginia treated him sparingly to a harmless potion she had secured at her room on the way, put the bottle into the hands of Ignacio's withered and anxious old mother, informed the half dozen Indian onlookers that she had arrived in time and that the bell-ringer would live, and then was impatient to go with Engle to Struve's hotel. Here Engle left her to return to his home and to send the saddle-horse he had promised Norton.