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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_166" id="Page_166">[Pg 166]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <h2>CHAPTER XII</h2> <h3>THE FURY OF DOVES</h3> <br /> <p>Lambert released her the moment that he made his double discovery, foolishly shaken, foolishly hurt, to realize that she had been afraid to have him know it was a woman he pursued. He caught her rein and checked her horse along with his own.</p> <p>"There's no use to run away from me," he said, meaning to quiet her fear. She faced him scornfully, seemingly to understand it as a boast.</p> <p>"You wouldn't say that to a man, you coward!"</p> <p>Again he felt a pang, like a blow from an ungrateful hand. She was breathing fast, her dark eyes spiteful, defiant, her face eloquent of the scorn that her words had only feebly expressed. He turned his head, as if considering her case and revolving in his mind what punishment to apply.</p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_167" id="Page_167">[Pg 167]</SPAN></span> <p>She was dressed in riding breeches, with Mexican goatskin chaps, a heavy gray shirt such as was common to cowboys, a costly white sombrero, its crown pinched to a peak in the Mexican fashion. With the big handkerchief on her neck flying as she rode, and the crouching posture that she had assumed in the saddle every time her pursuer began to close up on her in the race just ended, Lambert's failure to identify her sex was not so inexcusable as might appear. And he was thinking that she had been afraid to have him know she was a girl.</p> <p>His discovery had left him dumb, his mind confused by a cross-current of emotions. He was unable to relate her with the present situation, although she was unmistakably before his eyes, her disguise ineffectual to change one line of her body as he recalled her leaning over the railing of the car, her anger unable to efface one feature as pictured in his memory.</p> <p>"What are you going to do about it?" she asked him defiantly, not a hint in her bearing of shame for her discovery, or contrition for her crime.</p> <p>"I guess you'd better go home."</p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_168" id="Page_168">[Pg 168]</SPAN></span> <p>He spoke in gentle reproof, as to a child caught in some trespass well-nigh unforgivable, but to whose offense he had closed his eyes out of considerations which only the forgiving understand. He looked her full in the eyes as he spoke, the disappointment and pain of his discovery in his face. The color blanched out of her cheeks, she stared at him a moment in waking astonishment, her eyes just as he remembered them when they drew him on in his perilous race after the train.</p> <p>Such a flame rose in him that he felt it must make him transparent, and lay his deepest sentiments bare before her gaze. So she looked at him a moment, eye to eye, the anger gone out of her face, the flash of scorn no longer glinting in the dark well of her eye. But if she recognized him she did not speak of it. Almost at once she turned away, as from the face of a stranger, looking back over the way that she had ridden in such headlong flight.</p> <p>He believed she was ashamed to have him know she recognized him. It was not for him to speak of the straining little act that romance had cast them for at their first meeting. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_169" id="Page_169">[Pg 169]</SPAN></span>Perhaps under happier circumstances she would have recalled it, and smiled, and given him her hand. Embarrassment must attend her here, no matter how well she believed herself to be justified in her destructive raids against the fence.</p> <p>"I'll have to go back the way I came," she said.</p> <p>"There is no other way."</p> <p>They started back in silence, riding side by side. Wonder filled the door of his mind; he had only disconnected, fragmentary thoughts, upon the current of which there rose continually the realization, only half understood, that he started out to search the world for this woman, and he had found her.</p> <p>That he had discovered her in the part of a petty, spiteful lawbreaker, dressed in an outlandish and unbecoming garb, did not trouble him. If he was conscious of it at all, indeed, the hurrying turmoil of his thoughts pushed it aside like drifted leaves by the way. The wonderful thing was that he had found her, and at the end of a pursuit so hot it might have been a continuation of his first race for the trophy of white linen in her hand.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_170" id="Page_170">[Pg 170]</SPAN></span>Presently this fog cleared; he came back to the starting-point of it, to the coldness of his disappointment. More than once in that chase across the pasture his hand had dropped to his pistol in the sober intention of shooting the fugitive, despised as one lower than a thief. She seemed to sound his troubled thoughts, riding there by his side like a friend.</p> <p>"It was our range, and they fenced it!" she said, with all the feeling of a feudist.</p> <p>"I understand that Philbrook bought the land; he had a right to fence it."</p> <p>"He didn't have any right to buy it; they didn't have any right to sell it to him! This was our range; it was the best range in the country. Look at the grass here, and look at it outside of that fence."</p> <p>"I think it's better here because it's been fenced and grazed lightly so long."</p> <p>"Well, they didn't have any right to fence it."</p> <p>"Cutting it won't make it any better now."</p> <p>"I don't care, I'll cut it again! If I had my way about it I'd drive our cattle in here where they've got a right to be."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_171" id="Page_171">[Pg 171]</SPAN></span>"I don't understand the feeling of you people in this country against fences; I came from a place where everybody's got them. But I suppose it's natural, if you could get down to the bottom of it."</p> <p>"If there's one thing unnatural, it's a fence," she said.</p> <p>They rode on a little way, saying nothing more. Then she:</p> <p>"I thought the man they call the Duke of Chimney Butte was working on this side of the ranch?"</p> <p>"That's a nickname they gave me over at the Syndicate when I first struck this country. It doesn't mean anything at all."</p> <p>"I thought you were his partner," she said.</p> <p>"No, I'm the monster himself."</p> <p>She looked at him quickly, very close to smiling.</p> <p>"Well, you don't look so terrible, after all. I think a man like you would be ashamed to have a woman boss over him."</p> <p>"I hadn't noticed it, Miss Kerr."</p> <p>"She told you about me," she charged, with resentful stress.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_172" id="Page_172">[Pg 172]</SPAN></span>"No."</p> <p>So they rode on, their thoughts between them, a word, a silence, nothing worth while said on either side, coming presently to the gap she had made in the wire.</p> <p>"I thought you'd hand me over to the sheriff," she told him, between banter and defiance.</p> <p>"They say you couldn't get a conviction on anything short of cattle stealing in this part of the country, and doubtful on that. But I wouldn't give you over to the sheriff, Miss Kerr, even if I caught you driving off a cow."</p> <p>"What would you do?" she asked, her head bent, her voice low.</p> <p>"I'd try to argue you out of the cow first, and then teach you better," he said, with such evident seriousness that she turned her face away, he thought to hide a smile.</p> <p>She stopped her horse between the dangling ends of wire. Her long braid of black hair was swinging down her back to her cantle, her hard ride having disarranged its cunning deceit beneath her hat until it drooped over her ears and blew in loose strands over her dark, wildly <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_173" id="Page_173">[Pg 173]</SPAN></span>piquant face, out of which the hard lines of defiance had not quite melted.</p> <p>She was not as handsome as Vesta Philbrook, he admitted, but there was something about her that moved emotions in him which slept in the other's presence. Perhaps it was the romance of their first meeting; perhaps it was the power of her dark, expressive eyes. Certainly Lambert had seen many prettier women in his short experience, but none that ever made his soul vibrate with such exquisite, sweet pain.</p> <p>"If you owned this ranch, Mr.&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Lambert is my name, Miss Kerr."</p> <p>"If you owned it, Mr. Lambert, I believe we could live in peace, even if you kept the fence. But with that girl&mdash;it can't be done."</p> <p>"Here are your nippers, Miss Kerr; you lost them when you jumped that arroyo. Won't you please leave the fence-cutting to the men of the family, if it has to be done, after this?"</p> <p>"We have to use them on the range since Philbrook cut us off from water," she explained, "and hired men don't take much interest in a person's family quarrels. They're afraid of <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_174" id="Page_174">[Pg 174]</SPAN></span>Vesta Philbrook, anyhow. She can pick a man off a mile with her rifle, they believe, but she can't. I'm not afraid of her; I never was afraid of old Philbrook, the old devil."</p> <p>Even though she concluded with that spiteful little stab, she gave the explanation as if she believed it due Lambert's generous leniency and courteous behavior.</p> <p>"And there being no men of the family who will undertake it, and no hired men who can be interested, you have to cut the fence yourself," he said.</p> <p>"I know you think I ought to be ashamed of cutting her fence," she said, her head bent, her eyes veiled, "but I'm not."</p> <p>"I expect I'd feel it that way if it was my quarrel, too."</p> <p>"Any man like you would. I've been where they have fences, too, and signs to keep off the grass. It's different here."</p> <p>"Can't we patch up a truce between us for the time I'm here?"</p> <p>He put out his hand in entreaty, his lean face earnest, his clear eyes pleading. She colored quickly at the suggestion, and framed a hot <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_175" id="Page_175">[Pg 175]</SPAN></span>reply. He could see it forming, and went on hurriedly to forestall it.</p> <p>"I don't expect to be here always! I didn't come here looking for a job. I was going West with a friend; we stopped off on the way through."</p> <p>"Riding fence for a woman boss is a low-down job."</p> <p>"There's not much to it for a man that likes to change around. Maybe I'll not stay very long. We'd just as well have peace while I'm here."</p> <p>"You haven't got anything to do with it&mdash;you're only a fence-rider! The fight's between me and that girl, and I'll cut her fence&mdash;I'll cut her heart out if she gets in my road!"</p> <p>"Well, I'm going to hook up this panel," he said, leaning and taking hold of the wire end, "so you can come here and let it down any time you feel like you have to cut the fence. That will do us about the same damage, and you every bit as much good."</p> <p>She was moved out of her sullen humor by this proposal for giving vent to her passion against Vesta Philbrook. It seemed as if he <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_176" id="Page_176">[Pg 176]</SPAN></span>regarded her as a child, and her part in this fence-feud a piece of irresponsible folly. It was so absurd in her eyes that she laughed.</p> <p>"I suppose you're in earnest, but if you knew how foolish it sounds!"</p> <p>"That's what I'm going to do, anyway. You know I'll just keep on fixing the fence when you cut it, and this arrangement will save both of us trouble. I'll put a can or something on one of the posts to mark the spot for you."</p> <p>"This fence isn't any joke with us, Mr. Lambert, funny as you seem to think it. It's more than a fence, it's a symbol of all that stands between us, all the wrongs we've suffered, and the losses, on account of it. I know it makes her rave to cut it, and I expect you'll have a good deal of fixing to do right along."</p> <p>She started away, stopped a few rods beyond the fence, came back.</p> <p>"There's always a place for a good man over at our ranch," she said.</p> <p>He watched her braid of hair swinging from side to side as she galloped away, with no regret for his rejected truce of the fence. She would come back to cut it again, and again he would <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_177" id="Page_177">[Pg 177]</SPAN></span>see her. Disloyal as it might be to his employer, he hoped she would not delay the next excursion long.</p> <p>He had found her. No matter for the conditions under which the discovery had been made, his quest was at an end, his long flights of fancy were done. It was a marvelous thing for him, more wonderful than the realization of his first expectations would have been. This wild spirit of the girl was well in accord with the character he had given her in his imagination. When he watched her away that day at Misery he knew she was the kind of woman who would exact much of a man; as he looked after her anew he realized that she would require more.</p> <p>The man who found his way to her heart would have to take up her hatreds, champion her feuds, ride in her forays, follow her wild will against her enemies. He would have to sink the refinements of his civilization, in a measure, discard all preconceived ideas of justice and honor. He would have to hate a fence.</p> <p>The thought made him smile. He was so happy that he had found her that he could have absolved her of a deeper blame than this. He <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_178" id="Page_178">[Pg 178]</SPAN></span>felt, indeed, as if he had come to the end of vast wanderings, a peace as of the cessation of turmoils in his heart. Perhaps this was because of the immensity of the undertaking which so lately had lain before him, its resumption put off from day to day, its proportions increasing with each deferment.</p> <p>He made no movement to dismount and hook up the cut wires, but sat looking after her as she grew smaller between him and the hill. He was so wrapped in his new and pleasant fancies that he did not hear the approach of a horse on the slope of the rise until its quickened pace as it reached the top brought Vesta Philbrook suddenly into his view.</p> <p>"Who is that?" she asked, ignoring his salutation in her excitement.</p> <p>"I think it must be Miss Kerr; she belongs to that family, at least."</p> <p>"You caught her cutting the fence?"</p> <p>"Yes, I caught her at it."</p> <p>"And you let her get away?"</p> <p>"There wasn't much else that I could do," he returned, with thoughtful gravity.</p> <p>Vesta sat in her saddle as rigid and erect as <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_179" id="Page_179">[Pg 179]</SPAN></span>a statue, looking after the disappearing rider. Lambert contrasted the two women in mental comparison, struck by the difference in which rage manifested itself in their bearing. This one seemed as cold as marble; the other had flashed and glowed like hot iron. The cold rigidity before his eyes must be the slow wrath against which men are warned.</p> <p>The distant rider had reached the top of the hill from which she had spied out the land. Here she pulled up and looked back, turning her horse to face them when she saw that Lambert's employer had joined him. A little while she gazed back at them, then waved her hat as in exultant challenge, whirled her horse, and galloped over the hill.</p> <p>That was the one taunt needed to set off the slow magazine of Vesta Philbrook's wrath. She cut her horse a sharp blow with her quirt and took up the pursuit so quickly that Lambert could not interpose either objection or entreaty.</p> <p>Lambert felt like an intruder who had witnessed something not intended for his eyes. He had no thought at that moment of following and attempting to prevent what might turn out a <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_180" id="Page_180">[Pg 180]</SPAN></span>regretful tragedy, but sat there reviling the land that nursed women on such a rough breast as to inspire these savage passions of reprisal and revenge.</p> <p>Vesta was riding a big brown gelding, long-necked, deep-chested, slim of hindquarters as a hound. Unless rough ground came between them she would overhaul that Kerr girl inside of four miles, for her horse lacked the wind for a long race, as the chase across the pasture had shown. In case that Vesta overtook her, what would she do? The answer to that was in Vesta's eyes when she saw the cut wire, the raider riding free across the range. It was such an answer that it shot through Lambert like a lightning-stroke.</p> <p>Yet, it was not his quarrel; he could not interfere on one side or the other without drawing down the displeasure of somebody, nor as a neutral without incurring the wrath of both. This view of it did not relieve him of anxiety to know how the matter was going to terminate.</p> <p>He gave Whetstone the reins and galloped after Vesta, who was already over the hill. As he rode he began to realize as never before the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_181" id="Page_181">[Pg 181]</SPAN></span>smallness of this fence-cutting feud, the really worthless bone at the bottom of the contention. Here Philbrook had fenced in certain lands which all men agreed he had been cheated in buying, and here uprose those who scorned him for his gullibility, and lay in wait to murder him for shutting them out of his admittedly worthless domain. It was a quarrel beyond reason to a thinking man.</p> <p>Nobody could blame Philbrook for defending his rights, but they seemed such worthless possessions to stake one's life against day by day, year after year. The feud of the fence was like a cancerous infection. It spread to and poisoned all that the wind blew on around the borders of that melancholy ranch.</p> <p>Here were these two women riding break-neck and bloody-eyed to pull guns and fight after the code of the roughest. Both of them were primed by the accumulated hatred of their young lives to deeds of violence with no thought of consequences. It was a hard and bitter land that could foster and feed such passions in bosoms of so much native excellence; a rough and boisterous land, unworthy the labor that <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_182" id="Page_182">[Pg 182]</SPAN></span>men lavished on it to make therein their refuge and their home.</p> <p>The pursued was out of sight when Lambert gained the hilltop, the pursuer just disappearing behind a growth of stunted brushwood in the winding dry valley beyond. He pushed after them, his anxiety increasing, hoping that he might overtake Vesta before she came within range of her enemy. Even should he succeed in this, he was at fault for some way of stopping her in her passionate design.</p> <p>He could not disarm her without bringing her wrath down on himself, or attempt to persuade her without rousing her suspicion that he was leagued with her destructive neighbors. On the other hand, the fence-cutting girl would believe that he had wittingly joined in an unequal and unmanly pursuit. A man's dilemma between the devil and the deep water would be simple compared to his.</p> <p>All this he considered as he galloped along, leaving the matter of keeping the trail mainly to his horse. He emerged from the hemming brushwood, entering a stretch of hard tableland where the parched grass was red, the earth so <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_183" id="Page_183">[Pg 183]</SPAN></span>hard that a horse made no hoofprint in passing. Across this he hurried in a ferment of fear that he would come too late, and down a long slope where sage grew again, the earth dry and yielding about its unlovely clumps.</p> <p>Here he discovered that he had left too much to his horse. The creature had laid a course to suit himself, carrying him off the trail of those whom he sought in such breathless state. He stopped, looking round him to fix his direction, discovering to his deep vexation that Whetstone had veered from the course that he had laid for him into the south, and was heading toward the river.</p> <p>On again in the right direction, swerving sharply in the hope that he would cut the trail. So for a mile or more, in dusty, headlong race, coming then to the rim of a bowl-like valley and the sound of running shots.</p> <p>Lambert's heart contracted in a paroxysm of fear for the lives of both those flaming combatants as he rode precipitately into the little valley. The shooting had ceased when he came into the clear and pulled up to look for Vesta.</p> <p>The next second the two girls swept into <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_184" id="Page_184">[Pg 184]</SPAN></span>sight. Vesta had not only overtaken her enemy, but had ridden round her and cut off her retreat. She was driving her back toward the spot where Lambert stood, shooting at her as she fled, with what seemed to him a cruel and deliberate hand.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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