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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_108" id="Page_108">[Pg 108]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER VIII</h2> <h3>THE HOUSE ON THE MESA</h3> <br /> <p>Even more bleak than from a distance the house on the mesa appeared as the riders approached it up the winding road. It stood solitary on its desert promontory, the bright sky behind it, not a shrub to ease its lines, not a barn or shed to make a rude background for its amazing proportions. Native grass grew sparsely on the great table where it stood; rains had guttered the soil near its door. There was about it the air of an abandoned place, its long, gaunt porches open to wind and storm.</p> <p>As they drew nearer the house the scene opened in a more domestic appearance. Beyond it in a little cup of the mesa the stable, cattle sheds, and quarters for the men were located, so hidden in their shelter that they could not be seen from any point in the valley below. To the world that never scaled these crumbling heights, Philbrook's mansion appeared as if it <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_109" id="Page_109">[Pg 109]</SPAN></span>endured independent of those vulgar appendages indeed.</p> <p>"Looks like they've got the barn where the house ought to be," said Taterleg. "I'll bet the wind takes the hide off of a feller up here in the wintertime."</p> <p>"It's about as bleak a place for a house as a man could pick," Lambert agreed. He checked his horse a moment to look round on the vast sweep of country presented to view from the height, the river lying as bright as quicksilver in the dun land.</p> <p>"Not even a wire fence to break it!" Taterleg drew his shoulders up and shivered in the hot morning sun as he contemplated the untrammeled roadway of the northern winds. "Well, sir, it looks to me like a cyclone carried that house from somewheres and slammed it down. No man in his right senses ever built it there."</p> <p>"People take queer freaks sometimes, even in their senses. I guess we can ride right around to the door."</p> <p>But for the wide, weathered porch they could have ridden up to it and knocked on its panels <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_110" id="Page_110">[Pg 110]</SPAN></span>from the saddle. Taterleg was for going to the kitchen door, a suggestion which the Duke scorned. He didn't want to meet that girl at a kitchen door, even her own kitchen door. For that he was about to meet her, there was no doubt in him that moment.</p> <p>He was not in a state of trembling eagerness, but of calm expectation, as a man might be justified in who had made his preparations and felt the outcome sure. He even smiled as he pictured her surprise, like a man returning home unexpectedly, but to a welcome of which he held no doubt.</p> <p>Taterleg remained mounted while Lambert went to the door. It was a rather inhospitable appearing door of solid oak, heavy and dark. There was a narrow pane of beveled glass set into it near the top, beneath it a knocker that must have been hammered by a hand in some far land centuries before the house on the mesa was planned.</p> <p>A negro woman, rheumatic, old, came to the door. Miss Philbrook was at the barn, she said. What did they want of her? Were they looking for work? To these questions Lambert <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_111" id="Page_111">[Pg 111]</SPAN></span>made no reply. As he turned back to his horse the old serving woman came to the porch, leaving the door swinging wide, giving a view into the hall, which was furnished with a profusion and luxuriance that Taterleg never had seen before.</p> <p>The old woman watched the Duke keenly as he swung into the saddle in the suppleness of his youthful grace. She shaded her eyes against the sun, looking after him still as he rode with his companion toward the barn.</p> <p>Chickens were making the barnyard lots comfortable with their noise, some dairy cows of a breed alien to that range waited in a lot to be turned out to the day's grazing; a burro put its big-eared head round the corner of a shed, eying the strangers with the alert curiosity of a ni&ntilde;o of his native land. But the lady of the ranch was not in sight nor sound.</p> <p>Lambert drew up at the gate cutting the employees' quarters from the barnyard, and sat looking things over. Here was a peace and security, an atmosphere of contentment and comfort, entirely lacking in the surroundings of the house. The buildings were all of far better <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_112" id="Page_112">[Pg 112]</SPAN></span>class than were to be found on the ranches of that country; even the bunkhouse a house, in fact, and not a shed-roofed shack.</p> <p>"I wonder where she's at?" said Taterleg, leaning and peering. "I don't see her around here nowheres."</p> <p>"I'll go down to the bunkhouse and see if there's anybody around," Lambert said, for he had a notion, somehow, that he ought to meet her on foot.</p> <p>Taterleg remained at the gate, because he looked better on a horse than off, and he was not wanting in that vain streak which any man with a backbone and marrow in him possesses. He wanted to appear at his best when the boss of that high-class outfit laid her eyes on him for the first time; and if he had hopes that she might succumb to his charms, they were no more extravagant than most men's are under similar conditions.</p> <p>Off to one side of a long barn Lambert saw her as he opened the gate. She was trying to coax a young calf to drink out of a bucket that an old negro held under its nose. Perhaps his heart climbed a little, and his eyes grew hot <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_113" id="Page_113">[Pg 113]</SPAN></span>with a sudden surge of blood, after the way of youth, as he went forward.</p> <p>He could not see her face fully, for she was bending over the calf, and the broad brim of her hat interposed. She looked up at the sound of his approach, a startled expression in her frank, gray eyes. Handsome, in truth, she was, in her riding habit of brown duck, her heavy sombrero, her strong, high boots. Her hair was the color of old honeycomb, her face browned by sun and wind.</p> <p>She was a maid to gladden a man's heart, with the morning sun upon her, the strength of her great courage in her clear eyes; a girl of breeding, as one could see by her proud carriage.</p> <p>But she was <i>not</i> the girl whose handkerchief he had won in his reckless race with the train!</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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