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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_114" id="Page_114">[Pg 114]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER IX</h2> <h3>A KNIGHT-ERRANT</h3> <br /> <p>The Duke took off his hat, standing before her foolishly dumb between his disappointment and embarrassment. He had counted so fully on finding the girl of his romance that he was reluctant to accept the testimony of his eyes. Here was one charming enough to compensate a man for a hundred fasts and fevers, but she was not the lodestone that had drawn upon his heart with that impelling force which could not be denied.</p> <p>What a stupid blunder his impetuous conclusion had led him into; what an awkward situation! Pretty as she was, he didn't want to serve this woman, no matter for her embarrassments and distress. He could not remain there a week in the ferment of his longing to be on his way, searching the world for her whom his soul desired. This ran over him like an electric shock as he stood before her, hat in hand, head <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_115" id="Page_115">[Pg 115]</SPAN></span>bent a little, like a culprit, looking rather stupid in his confusion.</p> <p>"Were you looking for somebody?" she asked, her handsome face sunning over with a smile that invited his confidence and dismissed his qualms.</p> <p>"I was looking for the boss, ma'am."</p> <p>"I'm the boss." She spoke encouragingly, as to some timid creature, bending to brush off the milk that the stubborn calf had shaken from its muzzle over her skirt.</p> <p>"My partner and I are strangers here&mdash;he's over there at the gate&mdash;passing through the country, and wanted your permission to look around the place a little. They told us about it down at Glendora."</p> <p>The animation of her face was clouded instantly as by a shadow of disappointment. She turned her head as if to hide this from his eyes, answering carelessly, a little pettishly:</p> <p>"Go ahead; look around till you're tired."</p> <p>Lambert hesitated, knowing very well that he had raised expectations which he was in no present mind to fill. She must be sorely in need of help when she would brighten up that way at <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_116" id="Page_116">[Pg 116]</SPAN></span>the mere sight of a common creature like a cow-puncher. He hated to take away what he had seemed to come there offering, what he had, in all earnestness, come to offer.</p> <p>But she was not the girl. He had followed a false lure that his own unbridled imagination had lit. The only thing to do was back out of it as gracefully as he could, and the poor excuse of "looking around" was the best one he could lay his hand to in a hurry.</p> <p>"Thank you," said he, rather emptily.</p> <p>She did not reply, but bent again to her task of teaching the little black calf to take its breakfast out of the pail instead of the fashion in which nature intended it to refresh itself. Lambert backed off a little, for the way of the range had indeed become his way in that year of his apprenticeship, and its crudities were over him painfully. When off what he considered a respectful distance he put on his hat, turning a look at her as if to further assure her that his invasion of her premises was not a trespass.</p> <p>She gave him no further notice, engrossed as she appeared to be with the calf, but when he reached the gate and looked back, he saw her <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_117" id="Page_117">[Pg 117]</SPAN></span>standing straight, the bucket at her feet, looking after him as if she resented the fact that two free-footed men should come there and flaunt their leisure before her in the hour of her need.</p> <p>Taterleg was looking over the gate, trying to bring himself into the range of her eyes. He swept off his hat when she looked that way, to be rewarded by an immediate presentation of her back. Such cow-punchers as these were altogether too fine and grand in their independent airs, her attitude seemed to say.</p> <p>"Did you take the job?" Taterleg inquired.</p> <p>"I didn't ask her about it."</p> <p>"You didn't ask her? Well, what in the name of snakes did you come up here for?"</p> <p>The Duke led his horse away from the gate, back where she could not see him, and stood fiddling with his cinch a bit, although it required no attention at all.</p> <p>"I got to thinkin' maybe I'd better go on west a piece. If you want to stay, don't let me lead you off. Go on over and strike her for a job; she needs men, I know, by the way she looked."</p> <p>"No, I guess I'll go on with you till our roads <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_118" id="Page_118">[Pg 118]</SPAN></span>fork. But I was kind of thinkin' I'd like to stay around Glendora a while." Taterleg sighed as he seemed to relinquish the thought of it, tried the gate to see that it was latched, turned his horse about. "Well, where're we headin' for now?"</p> <p>"I want to ride up there on that bench in front of the house and look around a little at the view; then I guess we'll go back to town."</p> <p>They rode to the top of the bench the Duke indicated, where the view broadened in every direction, that being the last barrier between the river and the distant hills. The ranchhouse appeared big even in that setting of immensities, and perilously near the edge of the crumbling bluff which presented a face almost sheer on the river more than three hundred feet below.</p> <p>"It must 'a' been a job to haul the lumber for that house up here."</p> <p>That was Taterleg's only comment. The rugged grandeur of nature presented to him only its obstacles; its beauties did not move him any more than they would have affected a cow.</p> <p>The Duke did not seem to hear him. He was <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_119" id="Page_119">[Pg 119]</SPAN></span>stretching his gaze into the dim south up the river, where leaden hills rolled billow upon billow, engarnitured with their sad gray sage. Whatever his thoughts were, they bound him in a spell which the creaking of Taterleg's saddle, as he shifted in it impatiently, did not disturb.</p> <p>"Couple of fellers just rode up to the gate in the cross-fence back of the bunkhouse," Taterleg reported.</p> <p>The Duke grunted, to let it be known that he heard, but was not interested. He was a thousand miles away from the Bad Lands in his fast-running dreams.</p> <p>"That old nigger seems to be havin' some trouble with them fellers," came Taterleg's further report. "There goes that girl on her horse up to the gate&mdash;say, look at 'em, Duke! Them fellers is tryin' to make her let 'em through."</p> <p>Lambert turned, indifferently, to see. There appeared to be a controversy under way at the gate, to be sure. But rows between employees and employer were common; that wasn't his fuss. Perhaps it wasn't an argument, as it seemed to be from that distance, anyhow.</p> <p>"Did you see that?" Taterleg started his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_120" id="Page_120">[Pg 120]</SPAN></span>horse forward in a jump as he spoke, reining up stiffly at Lambert's side. "One of them fellers pulled his gun on that old nigger&mdash;did you see him, Duke?"</p> <p>"Ye-es, I saw him," said the Duke speculatively, watching the squabble at the distant gate keenly, turning his horse to head that way by a pressure of his knee.</p> <p>"Knocked him flat!" Taterleg set off in a gallop as he spoke, the Duke right after him, soon ahead of him, old Whetstone a yellow streak across the mesa.</p> <p>It wasn't his quarrel, but nobody could come flashing a gun in the face of a lady when he was around. That was the argument that rose in the Duke's thoughts as he rode down the slope and up the fenced passage between the barns.</p> <p>The gate at which the two horsemen were disputing the way with the girl and her old black helper was a hundred yards or more beyond the one at which Taterleg and the Duke had stopped a little while before. It was in a cross-fence which appeared to cut the house and other buildings from the range beyond.</p> <p>As the Duke bent to open this first gate he <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_121" id="Page_121">[Pg 121]</SPAN></span>saw that the girl had dismounted and was bending over the old negro, who was lying stretched on the ground. He had fallen against the gate, on which one of the ruffians was now pushing, trying to open it against the weight of his body. The girl spoke sharply to the fellow, bracing her shoulder against the gate. Lambert heard the scoundrel laugh as he swung to the ground and set his shoulder against the other side.</p> <p>The man who remained mounted leaned over and added his strength to the struggle, together forcing the gate open, pushing the resisting girl with it, dragging the old negro, who clutched the bottom plank and was hauled brutally along. All concerned in the struggle were so deeply engrossed in their own affair that none noted the approach of the Duke and Taterleg. The fellow on the ground was leading his horse through as Lambert galloped up.</p> <p>At the sound of Lambert's approach the dismounted man leaped into his saddle. The two trespassers sat scowling inside the gate, watching him closely for the first hostile sign. Vesta Philbrook was trying to help the old negro to his feet. Blood was streaming down his face <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_122" id="Page_122">[Pg 122]</SPAN></span>from a cut on his forehead; he sank down again when she let go of him to welcome this unexpected help.</p> <p>"These men cut my fence; they're trespassing on me, trying to defy and humiliate me because they know I'm alone!" she said. She stretched out her hand toward Lambert as if in appeal to a judge, her face flushed from the struggle and sense of outrage, her hat pushed back on her amber hair, the fire of righteous anger in her eyes. The realization of her beauty seemed to sweep Lambert like a flood of sudden music, lifting his heart in a great surge, making him recklessly glad.</p> <p>"Where do you fellers think you're goin'?" he asked, following the speech of the range.</p> <p>"We're goin' where we started to go," the man who had just remounted replied, glaring at Lambert with insulting sneer.</p> <p>This was a stocky man with bushy red-gray eyebrows, a stubble of roan beard over his blunt, common face. One foot was short in his boot, as if he had lost his toes in a blizzard, a mark not uncommonly set by unfriendly nature on the men who defied its force in that country. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_123" id="Page_123">[Pg 123]</SPAN></span>He wore a duck shooting-jacket, the pockets of it bulging as if with game.</p> <p>His companion was a much younger man, slender, graceful in the saddle, rather handsome in a swarthy, defiant way. He ranged up beside the spokesman as if to take full share in whatever was to come. Both of them were armed with revolvers, the elder of the two with a rifle in addition, which he carried in a leather scabbard black and slick with age, slung on his saddle under his thigh.</p> <p>"You'll have to get permission from this lady before you go through here," Lambert told him calmly.</p> <p>Vesta Philbrook had stepped back, as if she had presented her case and waited adjudication. She stood by the old negro where he sat in the dust, her hand on his head, not a word more to add to her case, seeming to have passed it on to this slim, confident, soft-spoken stranger with his clear eyes and steady hand, who took hold of it so competently.</p> <p>"I've been cuttin' this purty little fence for ten years, and I'll keep on cuttin' it and goin' through whenever I feel like it. I don't have to <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_124" id="Page_124">[Pg 124]</SPAN></span>git no woman's permission, and no man's, neither, to go where I want to go, kid."</p> <p>The man dropped his hand to his revolver as he spoke the last word with a twisting of the lip, a showing of his scorbutic teeth, a sneer that was at once an insult and a goad. The next moment he was straining his arms above his head as if trying to pull them out of their sockets, and his companion was displaying himself in like manner, Lambert's gun down on them, Taterleg coming in deliberately a second or two behind.</p> <p>"Keep them right there," was the Duke's caution, jerking his head to Taterleg in the manner of a signal understood.</p> <p>Taterleg rode up to the fence-cutters and disarmed them, holding his gun comfortably in their ribs as he worked with swift hand. The rifle he handed down to the old negro, who was now on his feet, and who took it with a bow and a grave face across which a gleam of satisfaction flashed. The holsters with the revolvers in them he passed to the Duke, who hung them on his saddle-horn.</p> <p>"Pile off," Taterleg ordered.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_125" id="Page_125">[Pg 125]</SPAN></span>They obeyed, wrathful but impotent. Taterleg sat by, chewing gum, calm and steady as if the thing had been rehearsed a hundred times. The Duke pointed to the old negro's hat.</p> <p>"Pick it up," he ordered the younger man; "dust it off and give it to him."</p> <p>The fellow did as directed, with evil face, for it hurt his high pride, just as the Duke intended that it should hurt. Lambert nodded to the man who had knocked the old fellow down with a blow of his heavy revolver.</p> <p>"Dust off his clothes," he said.</p> <p>Vesta Philbrook smiled as she witnessed this swift humbling of her ancient enemy. The old negro turned himself arrogantly, presenting the rear of his broad and dusty pantaloons; but the bristling, red-faced rancher balked. He looked up at Lambert, half choked on the bone of his rage.</p> <p>"I'll die before I'll do it!" he declared with a curse.</p> <p>Lambert beat down the defiant, red-balled glowering eyes with one brief, straight look. The fence-cutter broke a tip of sage and set to work, the old man lifting his arms like a <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_126" id="Page_126">[Pg 126]</SPAN></span>strutting gobbler, his head held high, the pain of his hurt forgotten in the triumphant moment of his revenge.</p> <p>"Have you got some wire and tools around here handy, Miss Philbrook?" Lambert inquired. "These men are going to do a little fence fixin' this morning for a change."</p> <p>The old negro pranced off to get the required tools, throwing a look back at the two prisoners now and then, covering his mouth with his hand to keep back the explosion of his mirth. Badly as he was hurt, his enjoyment of this unprecedented situation seemed to cure him completely. His mistress went after him, doubtful of his strength, with nothing but a quick look into Lambert's eyes as she passed to tell him how deeply she felt.</p> <p>It was a remarkable procession for the Bad Lands that set out from the cross-line fence a few minutes later, the two free rangers starting under escort to repair the damage done to a despised fence-man's barrier. One of them carried a wire-stretcher, the chain of it wound round his saddle-horn, the other a coil of barbed wire and such tools as were required. After <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_127" id="Page_127">[Pg 127]</SPAN></span>they had proceeded a little way, Taterleg thought of something.</p> <p>"Don't you reckon we might need a couple of posts, Duke?" he asked.</p> <p>The Duke thought perhaps they might come in handy. They turned back, accordingly, and each of the trespassers was compelled to shoulder an oak post, with much blasphemy and threatening of future adjustment. In that manner of marching, each free ranger carrying his cross as none of his kind ever had carried it before, they rode to the scene of their late depredations.</p> <p>Vesta Philbrook stood at the gate and watched them go, reproaching herself for her silence in the presence of this man who had come to her assistance with such sure and determined hand. She never had found it difficult before to thank anybody who had done her a generous turn; but here her tongue had lain as still as a hare in its covert, and her heart had gone trembling in the gratitude which it could not voice.</p> <p>A strong man he was, and full of commanding courage, but neither so strong nor so mighty <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_128" id="Page_128">[Pg 128]</SPAN></span>that she had need to keep as quiet in his presence as a kitchen maid before a king. But he would have to pass that way coming back, and she could make amends. The old negro stood by, chuckling his pleasure at the sight drawing away into the distance of the pasture where his mistress' cattle fed.</p> <p>"Ananias, do you know who that man is," she asked.</p> <p>"Laws, Miss Vesta, co'se I do. Didn't you hear his hoss-wrangler call him Duke?"</p> <p>"I heard him call him Duke."</p> <p>"He's that man they call Duke of Chimley Butte&mdash;I know that hoss he's a-ridin'; that hoss used to be Jim Wilder's ole outlaw. That Duke man killed Jim and took that hoss away from him; that's what he done. That was while you was gone; you didn't hear 'bout it."</p> <p>"Killed him and took his horse? Surely, he must have had some good reason, Ananias."</p> <p>"I don' know, and I ain't a-carin'. That's him, and that's what he done."</p> <p>"Did you ever hear of him killing anybody else?"</p> <p>"Oh, plenty, plenty," said the old man with <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_129" id="Page_129">[Pg 129]</SPAN></span>easy generosity. "I bet he's killed a hun'ed men&mdash;maybe mo'n a hun'ed."</p> <p>"But you don't know," she said, smiling at the old man's extravagant recommendation of his hero.</p> <p>"I don' know, but I bet he is," said he. "Look at 'em!" he chuckled; "look at old Nick Ha'gus and his onery, low-down Injun-blood boy!"</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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