[Frontispiece: Calumet remained unshaken.]
THE BOSS OF THE LAZY Y
CHARLES ALDEN SELTZER
THE COMING OF THE LAW, THE TWO-GUN MAN, ETC.
J. ALLEN ST. JOHN
GROSSET & DUNLAP
A. C. McClurg & Co.
Published April, 1915
Copyrighted in Great Britain
I. The Home-Coming of Calumet Marston II. Betty Meets the Heir III. Calumet's Guardian IV. Calumet Plays Betty's Game V. The First Lesson VI. "Bob" VII. A Page from the Past VIII. The Toltec Idol IX. Responsibility X. New Acquaintances XI. Progress XII. A Peace Offering XIII. Suspicion XIV. Jealousy XV. A Meeting in the Red Dog XVI. The Ambush XVII. More Progress XVIII. Another Peace Offering XIX. A Tragedy in the Timber Grove XX. Betty Talks Frankly XXI. His Father's Friend XXII. Neal Taggart Visits XXIII. For the Altars of His Tribe
Calumet remained unshaken . . . . . . Frontispiece
"Get up, or I will shoot you like a dog!" she said.
Her appearance was now in the nature of a transformation.
Calumet stepped in.
THE BOSS OF THE LAZY Y
THE HOME-COMING OF CALUMET MARSTON
Shuffling down the long slope, its tired legs moving automatically, the drooping pony swerved a little and then came to a halt, trembling with fright. Startled out of his unpleasant ruminations, his lips tensing over his teeth in a savage snarl, Calumet Marston swayed uncertainly in the saddle, caught himself, crouched, and swung a heavy pistol to a menacing poise.
For an instant he hesitated, searching the immediate vicinity with rapid, intolerant glances. When his gaze finally focused on the object which had frightened his pony, he showed no surprise. Many times during the past two days had this incident occurred, and at no time had Calumet allowed the pony to follow its inclination to bolt or swerve from the trail. He held it steady now, pulling with a vicious hand on the reins.
Ten feet in front of the pony and squarely in the center of the trail a gigantic diamond-back rattler swayed and warned, its venomous, lidless eyes gleaming with hate. Calumet's snarl deepened, he dug a spur into the pony's left flank, and pulled sharply on the left rein. The pony lunged, swerved, and presented its right shoulder to the swaying reptile, its flesh quivering from excitement. Then the heavy revolver in Calumet's hand roared spitefully, there was a sudden threshing in the dust of the trail, and the huge rattler shuddered into a sinuous, twisting heap. For an instant Calumet watched it, and then, seeing that the wound he had inflicted was not mortal, he urged the pony forward and, leaning over a little, sent two more bullets into the body of the snake, severing its head from its body.
"Man's size," declared Calumet, his snarl relaxing. He sat erect and spoke to the pony:
"Get along, you damned fool! Scared of a side-winder!"
Relieved, deflating its lungs with a tremulous heave, and unmindful of Calumet's scorn, the pony gingerly returned to the trail. In thirty seconds it had resumed its drooping shuffle, in thirty seconds Calumet had returned to his unpleasant ruminations.
A mile up in the shimmering white of the desert sky an eagle swam on slow wing, shaping his winding course toward the timber clump that fringed a river. Besides the eagle, the pony, and Calumet, no living thing stirred in the desert or above it. In the shade of a rock, perhaps, lurked a lizard, in the filmy mesquite that drooped and curled in the stifling heat slid a rattler, in the shelter of the sagebrush the sage hen might have nestled her eggs in the hot sand. But these were fixtures. Calumet, his pony, and the eagle, were not. The eagle was Mexican; it had swung its mile-wide circles many times to reach the point above the timber clump; it was migratory and alert with the hunger lust.
Calumet watched it with eyes that glowed bitterly and balefully. Half an hour later, when he reached the river and the pony clattered down the rocky slope, plunged its head deeply into the stream and drank with eager, silent draughts, Calumet swung himself crossways in the saddle, fumbled for a moment at his slicker, and drew out a battered tin cup. Leaning over, he filled the cup with water, tilted his head back and drank. The blur in the white sky caught his gaze and held it. His eyes mocked, his lips snarled.
"You damned greaser sneak!" he said. "Followed me fifty miles!" A flash of race hatred glinted his eyes. "I wouldn't let no damned greaser eagle get me, anyway!"
The pony had drunk its fill. Calumet returned the tin cup to the slicker and swung back into the saddle. Refreshed, the pony took the opposite slope with a rush, emerging from the river upon a high plateau studded with fir balsam and pine. Bringing the pony to a halt, Calumet turned in the saddle and looked somberly behind him.
For two days he had been fighting the desert, and now it lay in his rear, a mystic, dun-colored land of hot sandy waste and silence; brooding, menacing, holding out its threat of death—a vast natural basin breathing and pulsing with mystery, rimmed by remote mountains that seemed tenuous and thin behind the ever-changing misty films that spread from horizon to horizon.
The expression of Calumet's face was as hard and inscrutable as the desert itself; the latter's filmy haze did not more surely shut out the mysteries behind it than did Calumet's expression veil the emotions of his heart. He turned from the desert to face the plateau, from whose edge dropped a wide, tawny valley, luxuriant with bunch grass—a golden brown sweep that nestled between some hills, inviting, alluring. So sharp was the contrast between the desert and the valley, and so potent was its appeal to him, that the hard calm of his face threatened to soften. It was as though he had ridden out of a desolate, ages-old world where death mocked at life, into a new one in which life reigned supreme.
There was no change in Calumet's expression, however, though below him, spreading and dipping away into the interminable distance, slumbering in the glare of the afternoon sun, lay the land of his youth. He remembered it well and he sat for a long time looking at it, searching out familiar spots, reviving incidents with which those spots had been connected. During the days of his exile he had forgotten, but now it all came back to him; his brain was illumined and memories moved in it in orderly array—like a vast army passing in review. And he sat there on his pony, singling out the more important personages of the army—the officers, the guiding spirits of the invisible columns.
Five miles into the distance, at a point where the river doubled sharply, rose the roofs of several ranch buildings—his father's ranch, the Lazy Y. Upon the buildings Calumet's army of memories descended and he forgot the desert, the long ride, the bleak days of his exile, as he yielded to solemn introspection.
Yet, even now, the expression of his face did not change. A little longer he scanned the valley and then the army of memories marched out of his vision and he took up the reins and sent the pony forward. The little animal tossed its head impatiently, perhaps scenting food and companionship, but Calumet's heavy hand on the reins discouraged haste.
For Calumet was in no hurry. He had not yet worked out an explanation for the strange whim that had sent him home after an absence of thirteen years and he wanted time to study over it. His lips took on a satiric curl as he meditated, riding slowly down into the valley. It was inexplicable, mysterious, this notion of his to return to a father who had never taken any interest in him. He could not account for it. He had not been sent for, he had not sent word; he did not know why he had come. He had been in the Durango country when the mood had struck him, and without waiting to debate the wisdom of the move he had ridden in to headquarters, secured his time, and—well, here he was. He had pondered much in an effort to account for the whim, carefully considering all its phases, and he was still uncertain.
He knew he would receive no welcome; he knew he was not wanted. Had he felt a longing to revisit the old place? Perhaps it had been that. And yet, perhaps not, for he was here now, looking at it, living over the life of his youth, riding again through the long bunch grass, over the barren alkali flats, roaming again in the timber that fringed the river—going over it all again and nothing stirred in his heart—no pleasure, no joy, no satisfaction, no emotion whatever. If he felt any curiosity he was entirely unconscious of it; it was dormant if it existed at all. As he was able to consider her dispassionately he knew that he had not come to look at his mother's grave. She had been nothing to him, his heart did not beat a bit faster when he thought of her.
Then, why had he come? He did not know or care. Had he been a psychologist he might have attempted to frame reasons, building them from foundations of high-sounding phrases, but he was a materialist, and the science of mental phenomena had no place in his brain. Something had impelled him to come and here he was, and that was reason enough for him. And because he had no motive in coming he was taking his time. He figured on reaching the Lazy Y about dusk. He would see his father, perhaps quarrel with him, and then he would ride away, to return no more. Strange as it may seem, the prospect of a quarrel with his father brought him a thrill of joy, the first emotion he had felt since beginning his homeward journey.
When he reached the bottom of the valley he urged his pony on a little way, pulling it to a halt on the flat, rock-strewn top of an isolated excrescence of earth surrounded by a sea of sagebrush, dried bunch grass, and sand. Dismounting he stretched his legs to disperse the saddle weariness. He stifled a yawn, lazily plunged a hand into a pocket of his trousers, produced tobacco and paper and rolled a cigarette. Lighting it he puffed slowly and deeply at it, exhaling the smoke lingeringly through his nostrils. Then he sat down on a rock, leaned an elbow in the sand, pulled his hat brim well down over his eyes and with the cigarette held loosely between his lips, gave himself over to retrospection.
It all came to him, as he sat there on the rock, his gaze on the basking valley, his thoughts centered on that youth which had been an abiding nightmare. The question was: What influence had made him a hardened, embittered, merciless demon of a man whose passions threatened always to wash away the dam of his self-control? A man whose evil nature caused other men to shun him; a man who scoffed at virtue; who saw no good in anything?
Not once during his voluntary exile had he applied his mind to the subject in the hope of stumbling on a solution. To be sure, he had had a slight glimmering of the truth; he had realized in a sort of vague, general way that he had not been treated fairly at home, but he had not been able to provide a definite and final explanation, perhaps because he had never considered it necessary. But his return home, the review of the army of memories, had brought him a solution—the solution. And he saw its ruthless logic.
He was what his parents had made him. Without being able to think it out in scientific terms he was able to expound the why of like. It was one of the inexorable rules of heredity. To his parents he owed everything and nothing. He reflected on this paradox until it became perfectly clear to him. They—his parents—had given him life, and that was all. He owed them thanks for that, or he would have owed them thanks if he considered his life to be worth anything. But he owed them nothing because they had spoiled the life they had given him, had spoiled it by depriving him of everything he had a right to expect from them—love, sympathy, decent treatment. They had given him instead, blows, kicks, curses, hatred. Hatred!
Yes, they had hated him; they had told him that; he was convinced of it. The reason for their hatred had always been a mystery to him and, for all he cared, would remain a mystery.
When he was fifteen his mother died. On the day when the neighbors laid her away in a quiet spot at the edge of the wood near the far end of the corral fence, he stood beside her body as it lay in the rough pine box which some of them had knocked together, looking at her for the last time. He was neither glad or sorry; he felt no emotion whatever. When one of the neighbors spoke to him, asking him if he felt no grief, he cursed and stormed out of the house. Later, after the neighbors departed, his father came upon him in the stable and beat him unmercifully. He came, dry-eyed, through the ordeal, raging inwardly, but silent. And that night, after his father had gone to bed, he stole stealthily out of the house, threw a saddle and bridle on his favorite pony and rode away. Such had been his youth.
That had been thirteen years ago. He was twenty-eight now and had changed a little—for the worse. During the days of his exile he had made no friends. He had found much experience, he had become self-reliant, sophisticated. There was about him an atmosphere of cold preparedness that discouraged encroachment on his privacy. Men did not trifle with him, because they feared him. Around Durango, where he had ridden for the Bar S outfit, it was known that he possessed Satanic cleverness with a six-shooter.
But if he was rapid with his weapons he made no boast of it. He was quiet in manner, unobtrusive. He was taciturn also, for he had been taught the value of silence by his parents, though in his narrowed glances men had been made to see a suggestion of action that was more eloquent than speech. He was a slumbering volcano of passion that might at any time become active and destroying.
Gazing now from under the brim of his hat at the desolate, silent world that swept away from the base of the hill on whose crest he sat, his lips curved with a slow, bitter sneer. During the time he had been on the hill he had lived over his life and he saw its bleakness, its emptiness, its mystery. This was his country. He had been born here; he had passed days, months, years, in this valley. He knew it, and hated it. He sneered as his gaze went out of the valley and sought the vast stretches of the flaming desert. He knew the desert, too; it had not changed. Riding through it yesterday and the day before he had been impressed with the somber grimness of it all, as he had been impressed many times before when watching it from this very hill. But it was no more somber than his own life had been; its brooding silence was no deeper than that which dwelt in his own heart; he reflected its spirit, its mystery was his. His life had been like—like the stretching waste of sky that yawned above the desert, as cold, hard, and unsympathetic.
He saw a shadow; looked upward to see the Mexican eagle winging its slow way overhead, and the sneer on his lips grew. It was a prophecy, perhaps. At least the sight of the bird gave him an opportunity to draw a swift and bitter comparison. He was like the eagle. Both he and the bird he detested were beset with a constitutional predisposition to rend and destroy. There was this difference between them: The bird feasted on carrion, while he spent his life stifling generous impulses and tearing from his heart the noble ideals which his latent manhood persisted in erecting.
For two hours he sat on the hill, watching. He saw the sun sink slowly toward the remote mountains, saw it hang a golden rim on a barren peak; watched the shadows steal out over the foothills and stretch swiftly over the valley toward him. Mystery seemed to awaken and fill the world. The sky blazed with color—orange and gold and violet; a veil of rose and amethyst descended and stretched to the horizons, enveloping the mountains in a misty haze; purple shafts shot from distant canyons, mingling with the brighter colors—gleaming, shimmering, ever-changing. Over the desert the colors were even more wonderful, the mystery deeper, the lure more appealing. But Calumet made a grimace at it all, it seemed to mock him.
He rose from the rock, mounted his pony, and rode slowly down into the valley toward the Lazy Y ranch buildings.
He had been so busy with his thoughts that he had not noticed the absence of cattle in the valley—the valley had been a grazing ground for the Lazy Y stock during the days of his youth—and now, with a start, he noted it and halted his pony after reaching the level to look about him.
There was no sign of any cattle. But he reflected that perhaps a new range had been opened. Thirteen years is a long time, and many changes could have come during his absence.
He was about to urge his pony on again, when some impulse moved him to turn in the saddle and glance at the hill he had just vacated. At about the spot where he had sat—perhaps two hundred yards distant—he saw a man on a horse, sitting motionless in the saddle, looking at him.
Calumet wheeled his own pony and faced the man. The vari-colored glow from the distant mountains fell full upon the horseman, and with the instinct for attention to detail which had become habitual with Calumet, he noted that the rider was a big man; that he wore a cream-colored Stetson and a scarlet neckerchief. Even at that distance, so clear was the light, Calumet caught a vague impression of his features—his nose, especially, which was big, hawk-like.
Calumet yielded to a sudden wonder over the rider's appearance on the hill. He had not seen him; had not heard him before. Still, that was not strange, for he had become so absorbed in his thoughts while on the hill that he had paid very little attention to his surroundings except to associate them with his past.
The man, evidently, was a cowpuncher in the employ of his father; had probably seen him from the level of the valley and had ridden to the crest of the hill out of curiosity.
Another impulse moved Calumet. He decided to have a talk with the man in order to learn, if possible, something of the life his father had led during his absence. He kicked his pony in the ribs and rode toward the man, the animal traveling at a slow chop-trot.
For a moment the man watched him, still motionless. Then, as Calumet continued to approach him the man wheeled his horse and sent it clattering down the opposite side of the hill.
Calumet sneered, surprised, for the instant, at the man's action.
"Shy cuss," he said, grinning contemptuously. In the next instant, however, he yielded to a quick rage and sent his pony scurrying up the slope toward the crest of the hill.
When he reached the top the man was on the level, racing across a barren alkali flat at a speed which indicated that he was afflicted with something more than shyness.
Calumet halted on the crest of the hill and waved a hand derisively at the man, who was looking back over his shoulder as he rode.
"Slope, you locoed son-of-a-gun!" he yelled; "I didn't want to talk to you, anyway!"
The rider's answer was a strange one. He brought his horse to a dizzying stop, wheeled, drew a rifle from his saddle holster, raised it to his shoulder and took a snap shot at Calumet.
The latter, however, had observed the hostile movement, and had thrown himself out of the saddle. He struck the hard sand of the hill on all fours and stretched out flat, his face to the ground. He heard the bullet sing futilely past him; heard the sharp crack of the rifle, and peered down to see the man again running his horse across the level.
Calumet drew his pistol, but saw that the distance was too great for effective shooting, and savagely jammed the weapon back into the holster. He was in a black rage, but was aware of the absurdity of attempting to wage a battle in which the advantage lay entirely with the rifle, and so, with a grim smile on his face, he watched the progress of the man as he rode through the long grass and across the barren stretches of the level toward the hills that rimmed the southern horizon.
Promising himself that he would make a special effort to return the shot, Calumet finally wheeled his pony and rode down the hill toward the Lazy Y.
BETTY MEETS THE HEIR
An emotion which he did not trouble himself to define impelled Calumet to wheel his pony when he reached the far end of the corral fence and ride into the cottonwood where, thirteen years before, he had seen the last of his mother. No emotion moved him as he rode toward it, but when he came upon the grave he experienced a savage satisfaction because it had been sadly neglected. There was no headboard to mark the spot, no familiar mound of earth; only a sunken stretch, a pitiful little patch of sand, with a few weeds thrusting up out of it, nodding to the slight breeze and casting grotesque shadows in the somber twilight.
Calumet was not surprised. It was all as he had pictured it during those brief moments when he had allowed his mind to dwell on his past; its condition vindicated his previous conviction that his father would neglect it. Therefore, his satisfaction was not in finding the grave as it was, but in the knowledge that he had not misjudged his father. And though he had not loved his mother, the condition of the grave served to infuse him with a newer and more bitter hatred for the surviving parent. A deep rage and contempt slumbered within him as he urged his pony out of the wood toward the ranchhouse.
He was still in no hurry, and soon after leaving the edge of the wood he halted his pony and sat loosely in the saddle, gazing about him. When he observed that he might be seen from the ranchhouse he moved deep into the cottonwood and there, screened behind some nondescript brush, continued his examination.
The place was in a state of dilapidation, of approaching ruin. Desolation had set a heavy hand over it all. The buildings no more resembled those he had known than daylight resembles darkness. The stable, wherein he had received his last thrashing from his father, had sagged to one side, its roof seeming to bow to him in derision; the corral fence was down in several places, its rails in a state of decay, and within, two gaunt ponies drooped, seeming to lack the energy necessary to move them to take advantage of the opportunity for freedom so close at hand. They appeared to watch Calumet incuriously, apathetically.
Calumet felt strangely jubilant. A vindictive satisfaction and delight forced the blood through his veins a little faster, for, judging from the appearance of the buildings, misfortune must have descended upon his father. The thought brought a great peace to his soul; he even smiled when he saw that the bunkhouse, which had sheltered the many cowboys whom he had hated, seemed ready to topple to destruction. The smile grew when his gaze went to the windmill, to see its long arms motionless in the breeze, indicating its uselessness.
When he had concluded his examination he did not ride boldly toward the ranchhouse, but made a wide circuit through the wood, for he wanted to come upon his father in his own way and in his own time; wanted to surprise him. There was no use of turning his pony into the corral, for the animal had more life in him than the two forlorn beasts that were already there and would not stay in the corral when a breach in the fence offered freedom. Therefore, when Calumet reached the edge of the wood near the front of the house he dismounted and tied his pony to a tree.
A moment later he stood at the front door, filled with satisfaction to find it unbarred. Swinging it slowly open he entered, silently closing it behind him. He stood, a hand on the fastenings, gazing about him. He was in the room which his father had always used as an office. As he peered about in the gray dusk that had fallen, distinguishing familiar articles of furniture—a roll-top desk, several chairs, a sofa, some cheap prints on the wall—a nameless emotion smote him and his face paled a little, his jaws locked, his hands clenched. For again the army of memories was passing in review.
For a long time he stood at the door. Then he left it and walked to the desk, placing a hand on its top and hesitating. Doubtless his father was in another part of the house, possibly eating supper. He decided not to bother him at this moment and seated himself in a chair before the desk. There was plenty of time. His father would be as disagreeably surprised to meet him five minutes from now as he would were he to stalk into his presence at this moment.
Once in the chair, Calumet realized that he was tired, and he leaned back luxuriously, stretching his legs. The five minutes to which he had limited himself grew to ten and he still sat motionless, looking out of the window at the deepening dusk. The shadows in the wood near the house grew darker, and to Calumet's ears came the long-drawn, plaintive whine of a coyote, the croaking of frogs from the river, the hoot of an owl nearby. Other noises of the night reached him, but he did not hear them, for he had become lost in meditation.
What a home-coming!
Bitterness settled into the marrow of his bones. Here was ruin, desolation, darkness, for the returning prodigal. These were the things his father had given him. A murderous rage seized him, a lust to rend and destroy, and he sat erect in his chair, his muscles tensed, his blood rioting, his brain reeling. Had his father appeared before him at this minute it would have gone hard with him. He fought down an impulse to go in search of him and presently the mood passed, his muscles relaxed, and he stretched out again in the chair.
Producing tobacco and paper he rolled a cigarette, noting with a satisfied smile the steadiness of his hand. Once he had overheard a man telling another man that Calumet Marston had no nerves. He knew that; had known it. He knew also that this faculty of control made his passions more dangerous. But he reveled in his passions, the possession of them filled him with an ironic satisfaction—they were his heritage.
While he sat in the chair the blackness of the night enveloped him. He heard no sound from the other part of the house and he finally decided to find and confront his father. He stood erect, lit the cigarette and threw the match from him, accidentally striking his hand against the back of the chair on which he had been sitting. Yielding to a sudden, vicious anger, he kicked the chair out of the way, so that it slid along the rough floor a little distance and overturned with a crash. Calumet cursed. He was minded to take the chair up and hurl it down again, so vengeful was the temper he was in, but his second sober sense urged upon him the futility of attacking inanimate things and he contented himself with snarling at it. He stood silent for a moment, a hope in his heart that his father, alarmed over the sudden commotion, would come to investigate, and a wave of sardonic satisfaction swept over him when he finally heard a faint sound—a footstep in the distance.
His father had heard and was coming!
Calumet stood near the center of the room, undecided whether to make his presence known at once or to secrete himself and allow his father to search for him. He finally decided to stand where he was and let his father come upon him there, and he stood erect, puffing rapidly at the cigarette, which glowed like a firefly in the darkness.
The steps came nearer and Calumet heard a slight creak—the sound made by the dining-room door as it swung slowly open. A faint light filled the opening thus made in the doorway, and Calumet knew that his father had come without a light—that the faint glow came from a distance, possibly from the kitchen, just beyond the dining-room. The lighted space in the doorway grew wider until it extended to the full width of the doorway. And a man stood in it, rigid, erect, motionless.
Calumet stood in silent appreciation of the oddness of the situation—he had come like a thief in the night—until he remembered the cigarette in his mouth; that its light was betraying his position. He reached up, withdrew the cigarette, and held it concealed in the palm of his hand.
But he was the fraction of a second too late. His father had seen the light; was aware of his presence. Calumet saw a pistol glitter in his hand, heard his voice, a little hoarse, possibly from fear, give the faltering command:
Until now, Calumet had been filled with a savage enjoyment of the possibilities. He had counted on making his presence known at this juncture, anticipating much pleasure in the revelation of his father's surprise when he should discover that the intruder was his hated son. But in his eagerness to conceal the fire from the cigarette he burned the palm of the hand holding it. Instantly he succumbed to a furious rage. With a snarl he flung himself forward, grasping the man's pistol with his left hand and depressing the muzzle, at just the instant that it was discharged.
Calumet felt the sting of the powder in his face, and in a fury of resentment he brought his right hand up and clutched his father's throat. He had taken much pride in his ability to control his passions, but at this moment they were unleashed. When his father showed resistence, Calumet swung him free of the door, dragged him to the center of the room, where he threw him heavily to the floor, falling on top of him and jamming a knee savagely into the pit of his stomach. Perhaps he had desisted then had not the man struggled and fought back. His resistence made Calumet more furious. He pulled one hand free and attempted to secure the pistol, forcing the hand holding it viciously against the floor. The weapon was again discharged and Calumet became a raging demon. Twice he lifted the man's head and knocked it furiously against the floor, and each time he spoke, his voice a hoarse, throaty whisper:
"So, this is the way you greet your son, you damned maverick!" he said.
So engrossed was Calumet with his work of subduing the still struggling parent that he did not hear a slight sound behind him. But a flickering light came over his shoulder and shone fairly into the face of the man beneath him, and he saw that the man was not his father but an entire stranger!
He was not given time in which to express his surprise, for he heard a voice behind him and turned to see a young woman standing in the doorway, a candle in one hand, a forty-five Colt clutched in the other, its muzzle gaping at him. The young woman's face was white, her eyes wide and brilliant, she swayed, but there was determination in her manner that could not be mistaken.
"Get up, or I will shoot you like a dog!" she said, in a queer, breathless voice.
Releasing his grip on the man's throat, Calumet swung around sideways and glared malevolently at the young woman. His anger was gone; there was no reason for it, now that he had discovered that the man was not his father. But the demon in him was not yet subdued, and he got to his feet, not because the young woman had ordered him to do so, but because he saw no reason to stay down. A cold, mocking smile replaced the malevolence on his face when, after reaching an erect position, he saw that the weapon in the young woman's hand had drooped until its muzzle was directed toward the floor at his feet. A forty-five caliber revolver, loaded, weighs about forty ounces, and this one looked so unwieldy and cumbersome, so entirely harmless in the young woman's slender hand, that her threat seemed absurd, even farcical. An ironical humor over the picture she made standing there moved Calumet.
"I reckon you ought to use two hands if you want to hold that gun proper, ma'am," he said.
The muzzle of the weapon wavered uncertainly; the young woman gasped. Apparently the lack of fear exhibited by the intruder shocked her. But she did not follow Calumet's suggestion, she merely stood and watched him warily, as the man whom he had attacked struggled dizzily to his feet, staggered weakly to a chair and half fell, half slipped into it, swaying oddly back and forth, gasping for breath, a grotesque figure.
The demon in Calumet slumbered—this situation was to his liking. He stepped back a pace, and when the young woman saw that he meditated no further mischief she lowered the pistol to her side. Then, moving cautiously, watching Calumet closely, she placed the candle on the floor in front of her. Again she stood erect, though she did not raise the pistol. Evidently she was regaining her composure, though Calumet observed that her free hand came up and grasped the dress over her bosom so tightly that the fabric was in danger of ripping. Her face, in the flickering light from the candle on the floor, was slightly in in the shadow, but Calumet could see that the color was coming back to her cheeks, and he took note of her, watching her with insolent intentness.
Of the expression in Calumet's eyes she apparently took no notice, but she was watching the man he had attacked, plainly concerned over his condition. And when at last she saw that he was suffering more from shock than from real injury she breathed a sigh of relief. Then she turned to Calumet.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded. She was breathing more easily, but her voice still quivered, and the hand over her bosom moved with a quick, nervous motion.
"I reckon that's my business," returned Calumet. He had made a mistake, certainly, he knew that. It was apparent that his father had left the Lazy Y. At least, if he were anywhere about he was not able to come to investigate the commotion caused by the arrival of his son. Either he was sick or had disposed of the ranch, possibly, if the latter were the case, to the girl and the man. In the event of his father having sold the ranch it was plain that Calumet had no business here. He was an intruder—more, his attack on the man must convince both him and the girl that there had been a deeper significance to his visit. However, the explanation of the presence of the present occupants of the house did not bother Calumet, and he did not intend to set them right, for he was enjoying himself. Strife, danger, were here. Moreover, he had brought them, and he was in his element. His blood pulsed swiftly through his veins and he felt a strange exhilaration as he stepped slightly aside and rested a hand on the desk top, leering at the girl.
She returned his gaze and evidently divined something of what was in his mind, for her chin lifted a little in defiance. The flickering light from the candle fell on her hair, brown and wavy, and in a tumble of graceful disorder, and threw into bold relief the firm lines of her chin and throat. She was not beautiful, but she certainly merited the term "pretty," which formed on Calumet's lips as he gazed at her, though it remained unspoken. He gave her this tribute grudgingly, conscious of the deep impression she was making upon him. He had never seen a woman like her—for the reason, perhaps, that he had studiously avoided the good ones. Mere facial beauty would not have made this impression on him—it was something deeper, something more substantial and abiding. And, watching her, he suddenly knew what it was. There was in her eyes, back of the defiance that was in them now, an expression that told of sturdy honesty and virtue. These gave to her features a repose and calm that could not be disturbed, an unconscious dignity of character that excitement could not efface, and her gaze was unwavering as her eyes met his in a sharp, brief struggle. Brief, for Calumet's drooped. He felt the dominant personality of the girl and tried to escape its effect; looked at her with a snarl, writhing under her steady gaze, a slow red coming into his cheeks.
The silence between them lasted long. The man on the chair, swaying back and forth, began to recover his wits and his breath. He struggled to an erect position and gazed about him with blood-shot eyes, feeling his throat where Calumet's iron fingers had gripped it. Twice his lips moved in an effort to speak, but no, sound came from between them.
Under the girl's uncomfortable scrutiny, Calumet's thoughts became strangely incoherent, and he shifted uneasily, for he felt that she was measuring him, appraising him, valuing him. He saw slow-changing expressions in her eyes—defiance, scorn, and, finally, amused contempt. With the last expression he knew she had reached a decision, not flattering to him. He tried to show her by looking at her that he did not care what her opinion was, but his recreant eyes refused the issue and he knew that he was being worsted in a spiritual battle with the first strong feminine character he had met; that her personality was overpowering his in the first clash. With a last effort he forced his eyes to steadiness and succeeded in sneering at her, though he felt that somehow the sneer was ineffectual, puerile. And then she smiled at him, deliberately, with a disdain that maddened him and brought a dark flush to his face that reached to his temples. And then her voice taunted him:
"What a big, brave man you are?"
Twice her gaze roved over him from head to foot before her voice came again, and in the total stoppage of his thoughts he found it impossible to choose a word suitable to interrupt her.
"For you think you are a man, I suppose?" she added, her voice filled with a lashing scorn. "You wear a gun, you ride a horse, and you look like a man. But there the likeness ends. I suppose I ought to kill you—a beast like you has no business living. Fortunately, you haven't hurt grandpa very much. You may go now—go and tell Tom Taggart that he will have to try again!"
The sound of her voice broke the spell which her eyes had woven about Calumet's senses, and he stood erect, hooking his thumbs in his cartridge belt, unaffected by her tirade, his voice insolent.
"Why, ma'am," he said, mockingly, his voice an irritating drawl, "you cert'nly are some on the talk, for sure! Your folks sorta handed you the tongue for the family when you butted into this here world, didn't they? An' so that's your grandpa? I come pretty near hurtin' him an' you're some het up over it? But I reckon that if he has to set around an' listen to your palaver he'd be right glad to cash in. Shucks. I beg your pardon, ma'am. If it'll do you any good to know, I thought your poor grandpap was some one else. I was thinkin' it was a family affair, an' that I had a right to guzzle him. You see, I thought the ol' maverick was my father."
The girl started, the color slowly faded from her cheeks and she drew a long, tremulous breath.
"Then you," she said; "you are——" She hesitated and stared at him intensely, her free hand tightly clenched.
He bowed, derisively, discerning the sudden confusion that had overtaken her and making the most of his opportunity to increase it.
"I'm Calumet Marston," he said, grinning.
The girl gasped. "Oh!" she said, weakly; "Oh!"
The huge pistol slipped out of her hand and thudded dully to the floor and she stood, holding tightly to the door jambs, her eyes fixed on Calumet with an expression that he could not analyze.
A new silence fell; a silence pregnant with a premonition of renewed strife. Calumet felt it and the evil in him exulted. He left the desk and stepped close to the girl, deftly picking up the fallen pistol and placing it on the desk back of him, out of the girl's reach. She watched him, both hands pressed over her bosom, apparently still stunned over the revelation of his identity. There was mystery here, Calumet felt it and was determined to uncover it. He took up the chair that he had previously overturned and seated himself on it, facing the girl.
"Set down," he said, waving a hand toward another chair. In response to his invitation she moved toward the chair, hesitated when she reached it, apparently having nearly recovered her composure, though her face was pale and she watched him covertly, half fearfully. While she seated herself Calumet got out of his chair and took up the candle, placing it on the desk beside the pistol. This done, he busied himself with the rolling of a cigarette, working deliberately, an alert eye on the girl and her grandfather.
The latter had recovered and was sitting rigid in the chair, fear and wonder in his eyes as he watched Calumet. To him Calumet spoke when he had completed the rolling of the cigarette and was holding a flaring match to it. He took a tigerish amusement from the old man's plight.
"I reckon I come pretty near doin' for you, eh?" he said, grinning. "Well, there ain't no tellin' when a man will make a mistake." His gaze left the old man and was directed at the girl. "I reckon we'll clear things up a bit now, ma'am," he said. "What are you an' your grand-pap doin' at the Lazy Y?"
"We live here."
"Where's the old coyote which has been callin' himself my dad?"
A sudden change came over the girl; a vindictive satisfaction seemed to radiate from her. So it appeared to Calumet. In the flashing look she gave him he thought he could detect a knowledge of advantage, a consciousness of power, over him. Her voice emphasized this impression.
"Your father's dead," she returned, and watched him narrowly.
Calumet's eyelashes flickered once. Shock or emotion, this was all the evidence he gave of it. He puffed long and deeply at his cigarette and not for an instant did he remove his gaze from the girl's face, for he was studying her, watching for a recurrence of the subtle gleam that he had previously caught. But in the look that she now gave him there was nothing but amusement. Apparently she was enjoying him. Certainly she had entirely recovered from the shock he had caused her.
"Dead, eh?" he said. "When did he cash in?"
"A week ago today."
Calumet's eyelashes flickered again. Here was the explanation for that mysterious impulse which had moved him to return home. It was just a week ago that he had taken the notion and he had acted upon it immediately. He had heard of mental telepathy, and here was a working illustration of it. However, he gave no thought to its bearing on his presence at the Lazy Y beyond skeptically assuring himself that it was a mere coincidence. In any event, what did it matter? He was here; that was the main thing.
His thoughts had become momentarily introspective, and when his mental faculties returned to a realization of the present he saw that the girl was regarding him with an intense and wondering gaze. She had been studying him and when she saw him looking at her she turned her head. He experienced an unaccountable elation, though he kept his voice dryly sarcastic.
"I reckon the ol' fool asked for me?"
This time Calumet could not conceal his surprise; it was revealed in the skeptical, sneering, boring glance that he threw at the girl's face, now inscrutable. Her manner angered him.
"I reckon you're a liar," he said, with cold deliberation.
The girl reddened quickly; her hands clenched. But she did not look at him.
"Thank you," she returned, mockingly.
"What did he say?" he demanded gruffly, to conceal a slight embarrassment over her manner of receiving the insult.
Her chin lifted disdainfully. "You wouldn't believe a liar," she said coldly.
Again her spirit battled his. The dark flush spread over his face and he found that he could not meet her eyes; again the sheer, compelling strength of her personality routed the evilness in his heart. Involuntarily, his lips moved.
"I reckon I didn't mean just that," he said. And then, surprised that such words should come from him he looked up to see the hard calm of her face change to triumph.
The expression was swiftly transient. It baffled him, filling him with an impotent rage. But he watched her narrowly as she folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them.
"Your father expected you to come," she said quietly. "He prayed that you might return before he died. It seems that he felt he had treated you meanly and he wanted to tell you that he had repented."
A cynical wonder filled Calumet, and he laughed—a short, raucous staccato.
"How do you know?" he questioned.
"He told me."
Calumet considered her for a moment in silence and then his attention was directed to her grandfather, who had got to his feet and was walking unsteadily toward the dining-room door. He was a well-preserved man, appearing to be about sixty. That Calumet's attack had been a vicious one was apparent, for as the man reached the door he staggered and leaned weakly against the jambs. He made a grimace at Calumet and smiled weakly at the girl.
"I'm pretty well knocked out, Betty," he said. "My neck hurts, sorta. I'll send Bob in to keep you company."
The girl cast a sharp, eloquent glance at Calumet and smiled with straight lips.
"Don't bother to send Bob," she replied; "I am not afraid."
The grandfather went out, leaving the door open. While the girl stood listening to his retreating steps, Calumet considered her. She had said that she was not afraid of him—he believed her; her actions showed it. He said nothing until after her grandfather had vanished and his step was no longer heard, and then when she turned to him he said shortly:
"So your name's Betty. Betty what?"
"An' your grandpap?"
"Any more Claytons around here?" he sneered.
"Well," he said with truculent insolence; "what in Sam Hill are you-all doin' at the Lazy Y, anyway?"
"I am coming to that presently," she returned, unruffled.
"Goin' to work your jaw again, I reckon?" he taunted.
The hard calm came again into her face as she looked at him, though behind it was that subtle quality that hinted of her possession of advantage. Her manner made plain to him that she held some mysterious power over him, a power which she valued, even enjoyed, and he was nettled, baffled, and afflicted with a deep rage against her because of it. Dealing with a man he would have known what to do, but he felt strangely impotent in the presence of this girl, for she was not disturbed over his insults, and her quiet, direct glances affected him with a queer sensation of guilt, even embarrassed him.
"Well?" he prompted, after a silence.
"I am going to tell you about your father," she said.
"Make it short," he said gruffly.
"Five years ago," said the girl, ignoring the insolent suggestion; "my father and mother died. My father had been a big cattle owner," she added with a flash of pride. "He was very wealthy; he was educated, refined—a gentleman. We lived in Texas—lived well. I attended a university in the South. In my second year there I was called home suddenly. My father was ill from shock and disappointment. He had invested heavily in some northern enterprise—it will not interest you to know the nature of it—and had lost his entire fortune. His ranch property was involved and had to be sold. There was barely enough to satisfy the creditors. Father died and mother soon followed him. Grandfather, Bob, and I were left destitute. We left the ranch and took up a quarter section of land on the Nueces. We became nesters and were continually harassed by a big cattle owner nearby who wanted our range. We had to get out. Grandfather thought there might be an opportunity to take up some land in this territory. Bob was—well, Bob took mother's death so hard that we didn't want to stay in Texas any longer. The outlook wasn't bright. Bob was too young to work—"
"Lazy, I reckon," jeered Calumet.
The girl's eyes flashed with a swift, contemptuous resentment and her voice chilled. "Bob's leg was hurt," she said. She waited for an instant, watching the sneer on Calumet's face, and then went on firmly, as though she had decided not to let anything he said disturb her. "So when Grandfather proposed coming here I agreed. We took what few personal effects that were left us. We traveled for two months—"
"I ain't carin' to hear your family history," interrupted Calumet. "You started to tell me about my dad."
"We were following the river trail near here," the girl went on firmly, scorning to pay any attention to this insult; "when we heard shooting. I stayed with the wagon while grandfather went to investigate. We found two men—Tom Taggart and his son Neal—concealed in the cottonwood, trying to shoot your father, who was in the house. Your father had been wounded in the shoulder and it would not have been long before—"
"Who are the Taggarts?" questioned Calumet, his lips setting strangely.
"They own a ranch near here—the Arrow. The motive behind their desire to kill your father makes another story which you shall hear some time if you have the patience," she said with jeering emphasis.
"I ain't particular."
The girl's lips straightened. "Grandfather helped your father drive the Taggarts away," she went on. "Your father was living here alone because several of his men had sought to betray him and he had discharged them all. Your father was wounded very badly and grandfather and I took care of him until he recovered. He liked us, wanted us to stay here, and we did."
"Pretty soft for a pair of poverty-stricken adventurers," commented Calumet.
The girl's voice was cold and distinct despite the insult.
"Your father liked me particularly well. A year ago he drew up a will giving me all his property and cutting you off without a cent. He gave me the will to keep for him."
"Fine!" was Calumet's dryly sarcastic comment.
"But I destroyed the will," went on the girl.
Calumet's expression changed to surprised wonder, then to mockery.
"You're locoed!" he declared. "Why didn't you take the property?"
"I didn't want it; it was yours."
Calumet forgot to sneer; his wonder and astonishment over the girl's ability to resist such a temptation were so great as to shock him to silence. She and her grandfather were dependants, abroad without means of support, and yet the girl had refused a legacy which she and her relative had undoubtedly earned. Such sturdy honesty surprised him, mystified him, and he was convinced that there must have been some other motive behind her refusal to become his father's beneficiary. He watched her closely for a moment and then, thinking he had discovered the motive, he said in a voice of dry mockery:
"I reckon you didn't take it because there was nothin' to take."
"Besides the land and the buildings, he left about twenty thousand dollars in cash," she informed him quietly.
"Where is it?" demanded Calumet quickly.
Betty smiled. "That," she said dryly, "is what I want to talk to you about." Again the consciousness of advantage shone in her eyes. Calumet felt that it would be useless to question her and so he leaned back in his chair and regarded her saturninely.
"Soon after your father became afflicted with his last sickness," continued Betty; "he called me to him and took me into his confidence. He talked to me about you—about the way he had treated you. Both he and your mother had been, he said, victims of uncontrollable tempers, and were beset with elemental passions which he was certain had descended to you. In fact, because of the hatred your mother bore you—" She hesitated.
"Well, that too, belongs to the story which you will hear about Taggart when you have the patience," she continued. "But your father repented; he saw the injustice he had done you and wanted to repair it. He was certain, though, that this curse of temper was deep-seated in you and he wanted to drive it out. He felt that when you finally came home you would need reforming, and he did not want you to profit by his money until you forgave him. He had strange notions regarding your reformation; he declared he would not take your word for it, but would insist on a practical demonstration. When he had fully explained his ideas on the subject he made me swear that I would carry them out." She paused and looked at Calumet and he saw that the expression of advantage that had been in her eyes all along was no longer a subtle expression, but plain and unmistakable.
Calumet watched her intently, silently, his face a battleground for the emotions that rioted within him. The girl watched him with covert vigilance and he felt that she was enjoying him. And when finally she saw the rage die out of his eyes, saw the color come slowly back into his cheeks and his face become a hard, inscrutable mask, she knew that the coming struggle between them was to be a bitter one.
"So," he said, after a while; "I don't get the coin until I become a Sunday school scholar?"
"It is specified that you give a practical demonstration of reform in character. You must show that you forgive your father."
"You're goin' to be my guardian?"
"Your judge," corrected the girl.
"He's got all this in the will?"
"Yes, the last one he made."
"You don't reckon I could break that will?" he sneered.
"Try it," she mocked. "It has been probated in Las Vegas. The judge happens to be a friend of your father's and, I understand, sympathized with him."
"Clever, eh?" said Calumet, grinning crookedly.
"I am glad you think so," she taunted.
CALUMET PLAYS BETTY'S GAME
The silence between Betty and Calumet continued so long that it grew oppressive. The night noises came to their ears through the closed door; a straggling moonbeam flittered through the branches of a tree in the wood near the ranchhouse, penetrated the window and threw a rapier-like shaft on Calumet's sneering face. Betty's eyes in the flickering glare of the candle light, were steady and unwavering as she vainly searched for any sign of emotion in the mask-like features of the man seated before her. She saw the mask break presently, and a cold, mirthless smile wreathe his lips.
"You make me sick," he said slowly. "If you'd had any sense you'd have told the old fool to go to hell! You're goin' to reform me? You're goin' to be my judge? You—you—you! Why you poor little sufferin' innocent, what business have you got here at all? What right have you got to be settin' there tellin' me that you're goin' to be my judge; that you're goin' to butt into my game at all? Where's the money?" he demanded, his voice hard and menacing.
"The money is hidden," she returned quietly.
"That is my business," she returned defiantly. "Where it is hidden no one but me knows. And I am not going to tell until the time comes. You are not going to scare me, either," she added confidently. "If you don't care to abide by your father's wishes you are at liberty to go—anywhere you please."
"Who'd get the money then?"
"You have a year in which to show that you forgive your father. If at the end of that time you have not forgiven him, or if you leave the ranch without agreeing to the provisions of the will, the entire property comes to me."
"I reckon you'd like to have me leave?" he sneered.
"That," she returned, unruffled, "is my business. But I don't mind telling you that I have no interest in the matter one way or another. You may leave if you like, but if you stay you will yield to your father's wishes if you are to receive the money and the property."
There was finality in her voice; he felt it and his face darkened with passion. A sneer replaced the mirthless grin on his lips, and when he got up and moved slowly toward Betty she sat motionless, for there was a repressed savagery in his movements that chilled her blood. He came and stood in front of her, towering over her; she saw that his hands were clenched, the fingers working. Twice she tried to look up at him, but each time her gaze stopped at his hands—they fascinated her. She tried to scream when she finally saw them come out toward her, but succeeded in emitting only a breathless gasp, for a broad, rough palm suddenly enclosed each of her cheeks and her head was forced slowly and resistlessly back until she found herself looking straight up at him.
"Why, you," he said, his voice vibrating with some strange passion, while he shook her head slowly from side to side as though he were resisting an impulse to throttle her; "why, you—you—" he repeated, his voice a sudden, tense whisper; "for two bits I'd—"
He hesitated, for she had recovered from her momentary physical and mental paralysis, roused by the awful threat in his voice and manner, and was fighting to free herself, clawing at his hands, kicking, squirming, but ineffectively, for his hands were like bands of steel. Finding resistance useless she sat rigid again, her eyes flashing impotent rage and scorn.
"Coward!" she said breathlessly.
For an instant longer he held her and then laughed and dropped his hands to his sides.
"Shucks," he said, his voice expressing disgust; "I reckon the old man knowed what he was doin' when he appointed you my guardian! A man can't fight a woman—like that!"
He walked to the chair upon which he had been sitting, turned it around so that its back was toward Betty, and straddled it, leaning his arms on its back and resting his chin on them.
"Well," he said, with a slow grin at her; "if it will do you any good to know, I've decided to stay here and let you practice on me. What's the first move?"
But his action had aroused her; she stood up and confronted him, her face flushed with shame and indignation.
"Leave this house!" she commanded, taking a step toward him and speaking rapidly and hoarsely, her voice quivering as though she had been running; "leave it instantly!" She stamped a foot to emphasize the order.
Calumet did not move. He watched her, a smile on his lips, his eyes narrowed. When she stamped her foot the smile grew to a short, amused laugh.
"Sorta riled, eh?" he jeered. "Well, go as far as you like—you're sure amusin'. But I don't reckon that I'll be leavin' here in a hurry. Didn't the old man tell you I could stay here a year? What's the use of me goin' now, just when you're goin' to start to reform me? Why," he finished, surveying her with interest; "I reckon the old man would be plumb tickled to see the way you're carryin' on—obeyin' his last wishes." He rested his head on his arms and laughed heartily.
He heard her step across the floor, and raised his head again, to look into the muzzle of the pistol he had laid on the desk. It was close to him, steady in her hands, and behind it her eyes were blazing with wrath and determination.
"Go!" she ordered sharply; "go now—this minute, or I will shoot you!"
He laughed recklessly into the muzzle of the weapon and then without visible excitement turned in his chair, reached out a swift hand, grasped the weapon by the barrel and depressed the menacing muzzle so that it pointed straight downward. Holding it thus in spite of her frantic efforts to wrench it free, he got to his feet and stood in front of her.
"Why, Betty," he jeered; "you're sure some excited." Seizing her other hand, he turned her around so that she faced him fairly, holding her with a grip so tight that she could not move.
"It's your game, ain't it?" he said mockingly. "Well, I'm playin' it with you. Somethin' seems to tell me that we're goin' to have a daisy time makin' a go of it."
He suddenly released her hands and stepped back, leaving her in possession of the pistol.
"Usin' it?" he questioned, drawling, nodding toward the weapon. Betty looked down at it, shuddered, and then with an expression of dread and horror reached out and laid it gingerly on the desk top.
The next instant Calumet stood alone, grinning widely at the door through which Betty had vanished. Listening, he heard her retreating steps, heard a distant door slam. He walked to the desk and looked at the pistol, then turned and surveyed the room with a speculative eye.
"She didn't even offer me a place to sleep," he said mockingly.
He stood for an instant longer, debating the situation. Then he crossed the floor, closed the dining-room door, fastened it securely and recrossing to the outside door stepped down from the porch and sought his pony. Ten minutes later he carried the saddle in, threw it on the floor, folded the saddle blanket and placed it on the sofa, closed the outside door, opened the window, snuffed out the candle, stretched himself out on the sofa and went to sleep.
THE FIRST LESSON
Shortly after daybreak the following morning Calumet turned over on his back, stretched lazily and opened his eyes. When a recollection of the events of the previous night forced themselves into his consciousness he scowled and sat erect, listening. From beyond the closed dining-room door came sundry sounds which told him that the Claytons were already astir. He heard the rattle of dishes, and the appetizing aroma of fried bacon filtered through the crevices in the battered door and assailed his nostrils.
He scowled again as he rose and stood looking down at his saddle. When beginning his homeward journey he had supplied himself with soda biscuit and jerked beef, but he had consumed the last of his food at noon the day before and the scent of the frying bacon aroused him to the realization that he was ravenously hungry. As he meditated upon the situation the scowl on his face changed to an appreciative grin. Now that he had decided to stay here he did not purpose to go hungry when there was food around.
Shouldering his saddle he left the office and proceeded to the stable, in which he had placed his pony the night before. He fed the animal from a pitiful supply of grain in a bin, and after slamming the door of the stable viciously, sneering at it as it resisted, he stalked to the ranchhouse.
There was a tin basin on a bench just outside the kitchen door. He poured it half full of water from a pail that sat on the porch floor, and washed his hands and face, noting, while engaged in his task, a clean towel hanging from a roller on the wall of the ranchhouse. While drying his face he heard voices from within, subdued, anxious. Completing his ablutions he stepped to the screen door, threw it open and stood on the threshold.
In the center of the kitchen stood a table covered with a white cloth on which were dishes filled with food from which arose promising odors. Beside a window in the opposite wall of the kitchen stood Malcolm Clayton. He was facing Calumet, and apparently had recovered from the encounter of the night before. But when he looked at Calumet he cringed as though in fear. Betty stood beside the table, facing Calumet also. But there was no fear in her attitude. She was erect, her hands resting on her hips, and when Calumet hesitated on the threshold she looked at him with a scornful half smile. Yielding to the satanic humor which had received its birth the night before when he had made his decision to remain at the Lazy Y, he returned Betty's smile with a derisive grin, walked to the table, pulled out a chair, and seated himself.
It was a deliberate and premeditated infringement of the proprieties, and Calumet anticipated a storm of protest from Betty. But when he looked brazenly at her he saw her regarding him with a direct, disdainful gaze. He understood. She was surprised and indignant over the action, possibly shocked over his cool assumption, but she was not going to lose her composure.
"Well," he said, keenly enjoying the situation and determined to torment her further, "set down. I reckon we'll grub."
"Thank you," she mocked, with quick sarcasm; "I was wondering whether you would ask us. Grandpa," she added, turning to Malcolm, "won't you join us? Mr. Marston has been so polite and thoughtful that we certainly ought not to refuse his invitation."
She drew out a chair for Malcolm and stood beside it while he shuffled forward and hesitatingly slipped into it, watching Calumet furtively. Then she moved quietly and gracefully to another chair, directly opposite Calumet.
Her sarcasm had no perceptible effect on Calumet. Inwardly he was intensely satisfied. His action in seating himself at the table without invitation angered Betty, as he had intended it should.
"Some shocked, eh?" he said, helping himself to some bacon and fried potatoes, and passing them to her when he had finished with them.
"Shocked?" she returned calmly, unconcernedly supplying herself with food from the dishes she had taken from him, "Oh, my, no. You see, from what your father told me about you, I rather expected you to be a brute."
"Aw, Betty," came Malcolm's voice, raised in mild remonstrance; "you hadn't ought to—"
"If you please, grandpa," Betty interrupted him, and he subsided and glanced anxiously at Calumet, into whose face had come a dash of dark color. He swallowed a mouthful of bacon before he answered Betty.
"Then you ain't disappointed," he sneered.
She rested her hands on the table beside her plate, the knife and fork poised, and regarded him with a frank gaze.
"No, I am not disappointed. You quite meet my expectations. In fact," she went on, "I thought you would be much worse than you are. So far, if we except your attack on grandfather, you haven't exhibited any vicious traits. You are vain, though, and conceited, and like to bully people. But those are faults that can be corrected."
Calumet had to look twice at her before he could be certain that she was not mocking him.
"I reckon you're goin' to correct them?" he said, then.
She took a sip of coffee and placed the cup delicately down before she answered.
"Of course—if you are to stay here."
"How?" His lips were in an incredulous sneer.
"By showing you that you can't be conceited around me, and that you can't bully me. I suppose," she went on, leaning her elbows on the table and supporting her chin with her hands while she looked straight at him, "that when you came in here and took a seat without being invited, you imagined you were impressing some one with your importance. But you were not; you were merely acting the part of a vulgar boor. Or perhaps you had a vague idea that you were going to do as you please."
He placed his knife and fork down and looked at her. Her manner was irritating; her quiet, direct glances disconcerted him. He could not fail to see that he had signally failed in his effort to disturb her. In fact, it became very plain to him as he watched her that she was serenely conscious of her power over him, as a teacher is conscious of her authority over an unruly pupil, and that, like a teacher, she was quietly determined to be the victor.
The thought angered Calumet. There was in his mind a desire to humble her, to crush her, to break her spirit, to drag her down to his own level where he could fight her with his own weapons. He wanted to humiliate her, wanted to gloat over her, wanted above all to have her acknowledge his superiority, his authority, over her. Had he been able to do this at their first meeting he would have been satisfied; if he were able to do it now he would be pleased.
"It's none of your business what I thought," he said, leaning over the table and leering at her. "I'm goin' to run things to suit myself, an' if you an' your grandpap an' your brother don't like my style you can pull your freight, pronto. I'm goin' to boss this ranch. Do you get me?"
She seemed amused. "The Lazy Y," she said slowly, her eyes gleaming, "has need of something besides a boss. You have observed, I suppose, that it is slightly run down. Your father purposely neglected it. Considerable money and work will be required to place it in condition where it can be bossed at all. I haven't any doubt," she added, surveying him critically, "that you will be able to supply the necessary labor. But what about the money? Are you well supplied with that?"
"Meaning to hint about the money the old man left, I reckon?"
"Of course. Understand that I have control of that, and you won't get a cent unless in my opinion you deserve it."
He glared savagely at her.
"Of course," she went on calmly, though there was triumph in her voice, "you can force us to leave the ranch. But I suspect that you won't try to do that, because if you did you would never get the money. I should go directly over to Las Vegas and petition to have your claim annulled. Then at the end of the year the money would be mine."
He stiffened with impotent rage as he took up his knife and fork again and resumed eating. He was disagreeably conscious that she held the advantage, for assuredly he had no intention of driving her from the ranch or of leaving it himself until he got his hands on the money. Besides, he thought he saw back of her unconcern over his probable course of action a secret desire for him to leave or to drive her away, and in the perversity of his heart he decided that both must stay. Something might occur to reveal the whereabouts of the money, or he could watch her, reasonably certain that one day her woman's curiosity would lead her to its hiding place. Plainly, in any event, he must bide his time. Though his decision to defer action was taken, his resentment did not abate; he could not conquer the deep rage in his heart against her because of her interference in his affairs, and when he suddenly looked up to see her watching him with a calm smile he made a grimace of hatred at her.
"I'll make you show your hand, you sufferin' fool!" he said. "If you was a man I'd make you tell me right now where that corn is, or I'd guzzle you till your tongue stuck out a yard. As it is, I reckon I've got to wait until you get damn good an' ready; got to wait until a measly, sneakin' woman—"
Her laugh interrupted him—low, disdainful, mocking.
"I think I know what you are going to say. You are going to tell me how I wormed my way into the good graces of your father and coaxed him to make me his beneficiary. It is your intention to be mean, to insult me, to try to bully me." Her eyes flashed as she leaned a little toward him. "Understand," she said; "your bluster won't have the slightest effect on me. I am not afraid of you. So swear and curse to your heart's content. As for bossing the ranch," she went on, her voice suddenly one of cold mockery, "what is there to boss? Some dilapidated buildings! Of course you may boss those, because they can't object. But you can't boss me, nor grandfather, nor Bob—because we won't let you!"
She walked away from the table and went to a door that led to another room, standing in the opening and looking back at Calumet, who still sat at the table, speechless with surprise.
"Go out and begin your bossing!" she jeered. "Very likely the buildings will begin to dance around at your bidding. With your admirable persuasive powers you ought to be able to do wonders with them in the matter of repairs. Try it, at least. But if they refuse to be repaired at your mere word, and you think something more substantial is needed, then come to me—perhaps I may help you."
She bowed mockingly and vanished into the other room, closing the door behind her, leaving Calumet glaring into his plate.
For a moment there was a painful silence, which Malcolm broke by clearing his throat, his gaze on the tablecloth.
"Sometimes I think Betty's a little fresh," he said, apologetically. "She's sorta sudden-like. She hadn't ought to—"
He looked up to see a malevolent scowl on Calumet's face, and he ducked by the narrowest of margins the heavy plate that flew from Calumet's hand. The plate struck the wall and was shattered to atoms. Malcolm crouched, in deadly fear of other missiles, but Calumet did not deign to notice him further, stalking out of the room and slamming the door behind him.
Five minutes after leaving the kitchen of the ranchhouse Calumet stood beside the rotted rails of the corral fence near the stable, frowning, fully conscious that he had been worsted in the verbal battle just ended. He was filled with a disagreeable sense of impotence; he felt small, mean, cheap, and uncomfortable, and was oppressed with indecision. In short, he felt that he was not the same man who had ridden up to the Lazy Y ranchhouse at twilight the night before—in twelve hours a change had come over him. And Betty had wrought it. He knew that.
Had he only to do with Malcolm—or any man, for that matter—there would have been no doubt of his course. He would have hustled out Malcolm or any other man long before this, and there would have been an end to it. But Betty had made it quite plain to him that she did not purpose to leave, and, since he had had little experience with women, he was decidedly at a loss to discover a way to deal with her. That he could not rout her by force was certain, for he could not lay hands on a woman in violence, and he was by no means certain that he wanted her to leave, because if she did it was highly probable that he would never get his hands on the money his father had left. Of course he could search for the money, but there came to his mind now tales of treasure that had never been recovered, and he was reluctant to take any chances. On the other hand, he was facing the maddening prospect of living for a year under the eyes of a determined young woman who was to be the sole judge of his conduct. He was to become a probationer and Betty was to watch his every move.
He wondered, making a wry face at the thought, whether she intended to record his actions in a book, giving him marks of merit or demerit according as the whim struck her? In that case she had probably already placed a black mark against him, perhaps several.
He stood long beside the fence, considering the situation. It was odd to the point of unreality, but, no matter how odd, it was a situation that he must face, because he had already decided to stay and make an attempt to get the money. He certainly would not go away and leave it to Betty; he would not give her that satisfaction. Nor did he intend to be pliable clay in her hands, to become in the end a creature of her shaping. He would stay, but he would be himself, and he would make the Claytons rue the day they had interfered in his affairs.
Leaning on the top rail of the fence, his gaze roved over the sweep of valley, dull and cheerless in the early dawn, with a misty film rising up out of it to meet and mingle and evaporate in the far-flung colors of the slow-rising sun. Once his gaze concentrated on a spot in the distance. He detected movement, and watched, motionless, until he was certain. Half a mile it was to the spot—a low hill, crested with yucca, sagebrush, and octilla—and he saw the desert weeds move, observed a dark form slink out from them and stand for an instant on the skyline. Wolf or coyote, it was too far for him to be certain, but he watched it with a sneer until it slunk down into the tangle of sage, out of his sight.
He presently forgot the slinking figure; his thoughts returned to Betty. He did not like her, she irritated him. For a woman she was too assertive, too belligerent by half. Though considering her now, he was reluctantly compelled to admit that she was a forceful figure, and, reviewing the conversation he had had with her a few minutes before, the picture she had made standing in the doorway defying him, mocking him, rebuking him, he could not repress a thrill of grudging admiration.
For half an hour he stood at the corral fence. He rolled and smoked three cigarettes, his thoughts wrapped in memories of the past and revolving the problem of his future. Once Betty stood in the kitchen door for fully a minute, watching him speculatively, and twice old Malcolm passed him on the way to do some chore, eyeing him curiously. Calumet did not see either of them.
Nor did he observe that the slinking form which he had observed moving among the weeds on the distant hill in the valley had approached to within twenty yards of him, was crouching in a corner of the corral fence, watching him with blazing, blood-shot eyes, its dull gray hair bristling, its white fangs bared in a snarl.
It had been a long stalk, and the beast's jaws were slavering from exertion. It watched, crouching and panting, for a favorable moment to make the attack which it meditated.
It had seen Calumet from the hill and had dropped down to the level, keeping out of sight behind the sagebrush and the clumps of mesquite, crossing the open places on its belly, stealing upon him silently and cunningly. So cautious had been its approach that old Malcolm had not seen it when fifteen minutes before he had passed Calumet and had paused for a look at him. The beast had been in a far corner of the fence then, and had slunk close to the ground until Malcolm had passed. Nor had Malcolm seen it just a moment before when he had crossed the ranchhouse yard behind Calumet to go to the bunkhouse, where he was now. The instant Malcolm had disappeared within the bunkhouse, the beast had stolen to its present position.
The attack was swift and silent. Calumet was puffing abstractedly at a cigarette when he became aware of a rush of air as the gray shape flashed up from the ground. Calumet dodged involuntarily, throwing up an arm to fend off the shape, which catapulted past him, shoulder-high. The beast had aimed for his throat; his long fangs met the upthrust arm and sank into it, crunching it to the bone.
The force of the attack threw Calumet against the corral fence. The beast struck the ground beyond him noiselessly, its legs asprawl, its hair bristling from rage. Ten feet beyond Calumet the force of its attack carried it, and it whirled swiftly, to leap again.
But Calumet was not to be surprised the second time. Standing at the fence, his eyes ablaze with hatred and pain, he crouched. As the beast leaped Calumet's hand moved at his hip, his heavy six-shooter crashed spitefully, its roar reverberating among the buildings and startling the two gaunt horses in the corral to movement. The gray beast snarled, crumpled midway in its leap, and dropped at Calumet's feet. A dark patch on its chest just below the throat showed where the bullet had gone. But apparently the bullet had missed a vital spot, for the beast struggled to its feet, dragging itself toward Calumet, its fangs slashing impotently.
Calumet stepped back a pace, his face malignant with rage and hate, his eyes gleaming vengefully. He heard a scream from somewhere—a shrill protest in a voice which he did not recognize, but he paid no attention to it until he had deliberately emptied his six-shooter into the beast, putting the bullets where they would do the most good. When the weapon was emptied and the beast lay prone in the dust at his feet, its great jaws agape and dripping with blood-flecked foam, Calumet turned and looked up.
He saw Malcolm Clayton come out of the bunkhouse door, and noticed Betty running toward him from the ranchhouse. Betty's sleeves were rolled to the elbows, her apron fluttering the wind, and the thought struck Calumet that she must have been washing dishes when interrupted by the shooting. But it was not she who had screamed—he would have recognized her voice. Then he saw a huddled figure leaning against the corner of the stable nearest the ranchhouse; the figure of a boy of twelve or thirteen. He had a withered, mis-shapen leg—the right one; and under his right arm, partly supporting him, was a crude crutch. The boy was facing Calumet, and at the instant the latter saw him he looked up, his pale, thin face drawn and set, his eyes filled with an expression of reproach and horror.
He was not over fifteen feet distant from Calumet, and the latter watched him with a growing curiosity until Betty ran to him and folded him into her arms. Then Calumet began to reload his six-shooter, ignoring Malcolm, who had come close to him and was standing beside the corral fence, breathing heavily and trembling from excitement.
"It's Lonesome!" gasped Malcolm, his lips quivering as he looked at the beast; "Bob's Lonesome!"
Calumet flashed around at him, cursing savagely.
"What you gettin' at, you damned old gopher?" he sneered.
"It's Lonesome!" repeated Malcolm, his weather-lined face red with resentment and anger. He showed no fear of Calumet now, but came close to him and stood rigid, his hands clenched. "It's Lonesome!" he repeated shrilly; "Bob's Lonesome!" And then, seeing from the expression of Calumet's face that he did not comprehend, he added: "It's Bob's dog, Lonesome! Bob loved him so, an' now you've gone an' killed him—you—you hellhound! You—"
His quavering voice was cut short; once more his throat felt the terrible pressure of Calumet's iron fingers. For an instant he was held at arm's length, shaken savagely, and in the next he was flung with furious force against the corral fence, from whence he staggered and fell into a corner.
Calumet turned from him to confront Betty. Her eyes were ablaze, and one hand rested with unconscious affection on Bob's head as the boy stood looking down at the body of the dog, sobbing quietly. Betty was trying to keep her composure, but at her first words her voice trembled.
"So you've killed Lonesome," she said. Calumet had finished reloading his pistol, and he folded his arms over his chest, deliberately shielding the left, which Lonesome had bitten, thus hiding the red patches that showed on the shirt sleeve over the wound. He would not give Betty the satisfaction of seeing that he had been hurt.
"Lonesome," explained Betty, frigidly, "was a dog—he was Bob's dog. Bob loved him. I suppose you didn't know that—you couldn't have known. We believed him to be part wolf. Bob found him on the Lazette trail, where he had evidently been left behind, probably forgotten, by some traveler who had camped there. Bob brought him home and raised him. He has never been known to exhibit any vicious traits. You were born in the West," she went on, "and ought to be able to tell the difference between a dog and a wolf. Did you take Lonesome for a wolf?"
"I reckon," sneered Calumet, determined not to be lectured by her, "that I've got to give a reason for everything I do around here. Even to killin' a damn dog!"
"Then," she said with cold contempt, "you killed him in pure wantonness?"
It was plain to Calumet that she was badly hurt over the dog's death. Certainly, despite her cold composure, she must be filled with rage against him for killing the animal. He might now have exhibited his arm, to confound her with the evidence of his innocence of wantonness, and very probably she would have been instantly remorseful. But he had no such intention; he was keenly alive to his opportunity to show her that he was answerable to no one for his conduct. He enjoyed her chagrin; he was moved to internal mirth over her impotent wrath; he took a savage delight in seeing her cringe from the evidence of his apparent brutality. He grinned at her.
"He's dead, ain't he?" he said. "An' I ain't makin' no excuses to you!"
She gave him a scornful glance and went over to Malcolm, who had clambered to his feet and was crouching, his face working with passion. At the instant Betty reached him he was clawing at his six-shooter, trying to drag it from the holster. But Betty's hand closed over his and he desisted.
"Not that, grandpa," she said quietly. "Shooting won't bring Lonesome back. Besides"—she turned toward Calumet and saw the cold grin on his face as his right hand dropped to his hip in silent preparation for Malcolm's menacing movement—"don't you see that he would shoot you as he shot Lonesome? He just can't help being a brute!"
She turned her back to Calumet and spoke in a low voice to her grandfather, smoothing his hair, patting his shoulders—calming him with all a woman's gentle artifices. And Calumet stood watching her, marveling at her self-control, feeling again that queer, thrilling sensation of reluctant admiration.
He had forgotten Bob. Betty had left the boy standing alone when she had gone over to Malcolm, and Bob had hobbled forward when Calumet had turned to follow the girl's movements, so that now he stood just behind Calumet. The latter became aware of the boy's presence when the latter seized his left hand from behind, and he turned with a snarl, his six-shooter half drawn, to confront the boy, whose grip on the hand had not been loosened. Calumet drew the hand fiercely away, overturning Bob so that he fell sprawling into the dust at his feet. The youngster was up again before Betty and Malcolm could reach him, hobbling toward Calumet, his thin face working from excitement, his big eyes alight over the discovery he had made.
"He didn't kill Lonesome because he is mean, Betty!" he shrilled; "I knew he didn't! Look at his arm, Betty! It's all bloody! Lonesome bit him!"
In spite of Calumet's efforts to avoid him, the boy again seized the arm, holding it out so that Betty and Malcolm could see the patches on the sleeve and the thin red streak that had crawled down over the back of his hand and was dripping from the finger tips.
Malcolm halted in his advance on Calumet and stealthily sheathed his weapon. Betty, too, had stopped, a sudden wave of color overspreading her face, the picture of embarrassment and astonishment.
"Why didn't you tell us?" she asked accusingly; "it would have saved—"
"Saved you from makin' a fool of yourself," interrupted Calumet. "You certainly did prove that I'm a mighty mean man," he added, mockingly. "I didn't tell you because it's none of your business. It's only a scratch, but I ain't lettin' no damned animal chaw me up an' get away with it." He drew the hand away from the boy and placed it behind him so that Betty could not look at it, which she had been doing until now, with wide, frightened eyes. She came forward when he placed the hand behind him, and stood close to him, determination in her manner.
"I want to see how badly you have been bitten," she said.
"Go finish washin' your dishes," he advised, with a sneer. "That's where you belong. Until you an' your bunch butted in with your palaver I was enjoyin' myself. You drive me plumb weary."
Betty faced him resolutely, though now there was contrition in her manner, in her voice. She spoke firmly.
"I am sorry for what I said to you before—about Lonesome. I thought you had killed him just to be mean, to hurt me. I will try to make amends. If you will come into the house I will dress your arm—it must be badly injured."
Calumet's lips curled, then straightened, and he looked down at her with steady hostility.
"I ain't got no truck with you at all," he said. "When I'm figgerin' on lettin' you paw over me I'll let you know." He turned shortly and walked over to the door of the stable, where he fumbled at the fastenings, presently swinging the door open and vanishing inside. Five minutes later, when he came out with the pony saddled and bridled, he found that Betty and Malcolm had gone. But Bob stood over the dead body of Lonesome, silently weeping.
For a moment, standing beside his pony, Calumet watched the boy, and as he stood a queer pallor overspread his face and his lips tightened oddly. For something in the boy's appearance, in the idea of his exhibition of grief over his dog, which Malcolm had said he loved, smote Calumet's heart. As he continued to watch, his set lips moved strangely, and his eyes glittered with a light that they had not yet known. Twice he started toward the boy, and twice he changed his mind and returned to his pony to continue his vigil. The boy was unaware of his presence.
The third time Calumet reached his side, and the big rough palm of his right hand was laid gently on the boy's head.
"I reckon I'm sorry, you damned little cuss," he said huskily as the youngster looked up into his face. "If I'd have knowed that he was your dog I'd have let him chaw my arm off before I'd have shot him."
The boy's eyes glowed with gratitude. Then they sought the body of Lonesome. When he looked up again Calumet was on his pony, riding slowly past the bunkhouse. The boy watched him until he rode far out into the valley.
A PAGE FROM THE PAST
Darkness had fallen when Calumet returned to the Lazy Y. He had passed the day riding over the familiar ranges, returning to almost forgotten spots, reviving the life of his youth and finding the memories irksome. He was in no pleasant frame of mind when he rode in, and he disdained the use of the corral or the stable, staking his horse out in the pasture, remembering the scant supply of grain in the bin in the stable, and telling himself that "them two skates"—referring to the horses he had seen in the corral—"need it worse than Blackleg," his own pony.
After staking Blackleg out, he took the saddle and bridle from the animal and stalked toward the ranchhouse. A light burned on the kitchen table. He saw it from a distance and resisted an impulse to enter the house from the kitchen, walking, instead, around to the front, where he found the door to the office unbarred. He threw the saddle into a corner, lighted the candle that still stood on the desk where he had placed it the night before, and stood for a long time in its glare, examining the ragged gashes on his arm. Twice during the day he had washed the wounds with water secured from the river, binding the arm with a handkerchief; but he noted with a scowl that the arm was swollen and the wound inflamed. He finally rewound the bandage, tieing the ends securely. Then he stood erect beside the desk, listening and undecided.
No sound reached his ears. The Claytons, he assured himself, must have retired.
He walked over to the sofa and sat upon it, frowning. He was hungry, having been without food since morning, and he found himself wondering if he might not find food in the kitchen. Obeying an impulse, he got up from the sofa and went to the door through which Betty had entered the night before, noting that it was still barred as he had left it that morning. He carefully removed the fastenings and swung the door open, intending to go into the kitchen. He halted on the threshold, however, for beside a table in the dining room, in the feeble glare of a light that stood at her elbow, sat Betty, reading a book.
She looked up as the door opened, betraying no surprise, smiling mildly, and speaking as she might have spoken had she been addressing a friend.
"Won't you come in?"
She placed the book down, sticking a piece of paper between the leaves to mark her place, and stood up.
"I have been waiting for you. I heard you come in. I expected you for supper, and when you didn't come I saved yours. If you will come out into the kitchen I will get it for you."
Calumet did not move. Had Betty shown the slightest dismay or perturbation at sight of him he would not have hesitated an instant in walking past her to get the food which she had said was in the kitchen. But her easy unconcern, her cool assumption of proprietorship, aroused in him that obstinacy which the revelation of her power over him had brought into being. He did not purpose to allow her to lead him to anything.
"I don't reckon I'll grub," he said.
"Then of course you have been to Lazette," she returned. "You had dinner there."
"Look here," he said truculently; "does it make any difference to you where I've been or what I've done?"
"Perhaps it really doesn't make any difference," she answered calmly; "but of course I am interested. I don't want you to starve."
His face expressed disgust. "Holy smoke!" he said; "I reckon I ain't man enough to take care of myself!"
"I don't think that is the question. Can't we get at it in the proper spirit? You belong here; you have a right to be here. And I am here because your father wanted me to stay. I want you to feel that you are at home, and I don't want to be continually quarreling with you. Be mean and stubborn if you want to—I suppose you can't help that. But so long as conditions are as they are, let us try to make the best of them. Even if you don't like me, even if you resent my presence here, you can at least act more like a human being and less like a wild man. Why," she continued, with a dry laugh, "just now you spoke of being a man, and this morning after you killed Lonesome you acted like a big, over-grown boy. You had your arm hurt and refused to allow me to dress it. Did you think I wanted to poison you?"
"What I thought this morning is my business," returned Calumet gruffly. Betty's voice had been quietly conversational, but it had carried a subtle sting with its direct mockery, and Calumet felt again as he had felt the night before, like an unruly scholar being rebuked by his teacher. Last night, though, the situation had been a novel one; now the thought that she was laughing at him, taunting him, filled him with rage.
"Mebbe you'll be interested in knowin' what I think right now," he said. "It's this: you've got a bad case of swelled head. You're one of them kind of female critters which want to run things their own way. You're—"
Her laugh interrupted him. "We won't argue that again, if you please. If you remember, you had something to say on that subject last night, and I want you to know that I haven't the slightest desire to hear your opinion of me. Won't you sit down?" She invited again, motioning to a chair beside the table, opposite hers. "If you absolutely refuse to eat, I presume there is no help for it, though even if you had dinner in Lazette you must be hungry now, for a ride of twenty miles is a strict guarantee of appetite. Please sit down. There is something I want to give you, something your father left for you. He told me to have you read it as soon as you came."
She stood motionless until Calumet left the door and seated himself in the chair beside the table, and then she went out of the room; he could hear her steps on the stairs. She returned quickly and laid a bulky envelope on the table beside him.
"Here it is," she said.
As Calumet took up the envelope and tore it open she dropped into the other chair, took up her book, opened it, and settled herself to read. Calumet watched her covertly for a moment, and then gave his attention to the contents of the envelope.
There were a number of sheets of paper on which Calumet recognized his father's handwriting.
"MY SON:—Feeling that I am about to die, it is my desire to do what I can toward setting things right between us. Betty Clayton will tell you that I have repented of my treatment of you, but she cannot tell you how deep is the realization of the injury I have done you through my inhuman attitude toward you. I fear that I have ruined your character and that it may be too late to save you from those passions which, if not checked, will spoil your life.
"I know that children sometimes inherit the evil that has abided with their parents, and I am certain that you have inherited mine, because while you stayed at home I saw many evidences of it, aye, I used to delight in its manifestation. Toward the end of your stay at home I grew to hate you. But it was because of that woman. If ever there was an evil spirit in the guise of a human being, it was she. She—well, you will learn more of her later.
"I am going to try at this late day to repair the damage I did you. I have come to the conclusion that the surest way to do this is to force you to give me in death that respect and veneration which you refused me while I lived. You see that, in spite of my boasted repentance, I still have left a spark of satanic irony, and I do not expect you to believe me when I tell you that I have planned this for your own good. But it seems to me that if you can exhibit respect for the one who is directly responsible for your cursed passions you will be able to govern them on all occasions. That is my conviction, and if you do not agree with me there is no hope for you.
"Betty Clayton will tell you the conditions, and she will be your judge. I believe in Betty, and if you do not see that she is a true-blue girl you are more of a fool than I think you are."
At this point Calumet glanced sidelong at Betty, but she seemed engrossed in her book, and he resumed reading.
"That is all I have to say on that subject. You will have to look to Betty for additions. By this time, if she has carried out my wishes, she has told you what you may expect. I have told her the story which I am going to tell you, and I am certain that when you have finished it you will see that I am not entirely to blame. You will see, too, what havoc Tom Taggart has wrought in my life; why he has tried many times to kill me. Calumet, beware of the Taggarts! For the last five years they have been a constant menace to me; I have been forced to be on my guard against them day and night. They have hounded me, induced my men to betray me. In five years I have not slept soundly because of them. But I have foiled them. I am dying now, and that which they seek will be hidden until you fulfill the conditions which I impose on you. I know you are coming home—I can feel it—and I know that when you read what is to follow you will be eager to square my account with Tom Taggart.
"Before going any further, before you read my story, I want you to know that the cursed virago whom you saw buried in the cottonwood was not your real mother. Your mother died giving you birth, and her body lies in a quiet spot beside the Rio Pecos, at Twin Pine crossing, about ten miles north of the Texas border. God rest her."
Again Calumet glanced at Betty. She was reading, apparently unconscious of him, and without disturbing her Calumet laid down the finished page and took up another.
THE TOLTEC IDOL
"I was twenty-five when your mother died," this page began. "I had a little ranch in the Pecos valley near Twin Pine crossing, and I had just begun to taste prosperity. After your mother died things began to go wrong. It didn't take me long to conclude that she had been responsible for what success I had had, and that without her I couldn't hope to keep things together. I didn't try very hard; I'll admit that. I just gradually let go all holds and began to slip—began to drift back into the sort of company I'd kept before I met your mother. They were not bad fellows, you understand—just the rakehelly, reckless sort that keep hanging on to the edge of things and making a living by their wits. I'd come West without any definite idea of what I wanted to do, and I fell in with these men naturally and easily, because they were of my type.