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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_185" id="Page_185">[Pg 185]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <h2>CHAPTER XIII</h2> <h3>"NO HONOR IN HER BLOOD"</h3> <br /> <p>Vesta was too far behind the other girl for anything like accurate shooting with a pistol, but Lambert feared that a chance shot might hit, with the most melancholy consequences for both parties concerned. No other plan presenting, he rode down with the intention of placing himself between them.</p> <p>Now the Kerr girl had her gun out, and had turned, offering battle. She was still a considerable distance beyond him, with what appeared from his situation to be some three or four hundred yards between the combatants, a safe distance for both of them if they would keep it. But Vesta had no intention of making it a long-range duel. She pulled her horse up and reloaded her gun, then spurred ahead, holding her fire.</p> <p>Lambert saw all this as he swept down between them like an eagle, old Whetstone hardly <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_186" id="Page_186">[Pg 186]</SPAN></span>touching the ground. He cut the line between them not fifty feet from the Kerr girl's position, as Vesta galloped up.</p> <p>He held up his hand in an appeal for peace between them. Vesta charged up to him as he shifted to keep in the line of their fire, coming as if she would ride him down and go on to make an end of that chapter of the long-growing feud. The Kerr girl waited, her pistol hand crossed on the other, with the deliberate coolness of one who had no fear of the outcome.</p> <p>Vesta waved him aside, her face white as ash, and attempted to dash by. He caught her rein and whirled her horse sharply, bringing her face to face with him, her revolver lifted not a yard from his breast.</p> <p>For a moment Lambert read in her eyes an intention that made his heart contract. He held his breath, waiting for the shot. A moment; the film of deadly passion that obscured her eyes like a smoke cleared, the threatening gun faltered, drooped, was lowered. He twisted in his saddle and commanded the Kerr girl with a swing of the arm to go.</p> <p>She started her horse in a bound, and again <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_187" id="Page_187">[Pg 187]</SPAN></span>the soul-obscuring curtain of murderous hate fell over Vesta's eyes. She lifted her gun as Lambert, with a quick movement, clasped her wrist.</p> <p>"For God's sake, Vesta, keep your soul clean!" he said.</p> <p>His voice was vibrant with a deep earnestness that made him as solemn as a priest. She stared at him with widening eyes, something in his manner and voice that struck to reason through the insulation of her anger. Her fingers relaxed on the weapon; she surrendered it into his hand.</p> <p>A little while she sat staring after the fleeing girl, held by what thoughts he could not guess. Presently the rider whisked behind a point of sage-dotted hill and was gone. Vesta lifted her hands slowly and pressed them to her eyes, shivering as if struck by a chill. Twice or thrice this convulsive shudder shook her. She bowed her head a little, the sound of a sob behind her pressing hands.</p> <p>Lambert put her pistol back into the holster which dangled on her thigh from the cartridge-studded belt round her pliant, slender waist.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_188" id="Page_188">[Pg 188]</SPAN></span>"Let me take you home, Vesta," he said.</p> <p>She withdrew her hands, discovering tears on her cheeks. Saying nothing, she started to retrace the way of that mad, murderous race. She did not resent his familiar address, if conscious of it at all, for he spoke with the sympathetic tenderness one employs toward a suffering child.</p> <p>They rode back to the fence without a word between them. When they came to the cut wires he rode through as if he intended to continue on with her to the ranchhouse, six or seven miles away.</p> <p>"I can go on alone, Mr. Lambert," she said.</p> <p>"My tools are down here a mile or so. I'll have to get them to fix this hole."</p> <p>A little way again in silence. Although he rode slowly she made no effort to separate from his company and go her way alone. She seemed very weary and depressed, her sensitive face reflecting the strain of the past hour. It had borne on her with the wearing intensity of sleepless nights.</p> <p>"I'm tired of this fighting and contending for evermore!" she said.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_189" id="Page_189">[Pg 189]</SPAN></span>Lambert offered no comment. There was little, indeed, that he could frame on his tongue to fit the occasion, it seemed to him, still under the shadow of the dreadful thing that he had averted but a little while before. There was a feeling over him that he had seen this warm, breathing woman, with the best of her life before her, standing on the brink of a terrifying chasm into which one little movement would have precipitated her beyond the help of any friendly hand.</p> <p>She did not realize what it meant to take the life of another, even with full justification at her hand; she never had felt that weight of ashes above the heart, or the presence of the shadow that tinctured all life with its somber gloom. It was one thing for the law to absolve a slayer; another to find absolution in his own conscience. It was a strain that tried a man's mind. A woman like Vesta Philbrook might go mad under the unceasing pressure and chafing of that load.</p> <p>When they came to where his tools and wire lay beside the fence, she stopped. Lambert dismounted in silence, tied a coil of wire to his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_190" id="Page_190">[Pg 190]</SPAN></span>saddle, strung the chain of the wire-stretcher on his arm.</p> <p>"Did you know her before you came here?" she asked, with such abruptness, such lack of preparation for the question, that it seemed a fragment of what had been running through her mind.</p> <p>"You mean&mdash;&mdash;?"</p> <p>"That woman, Grace Kerr."</p> <p>"No, I never knew her."</p> <p>"I thought maybe you'd met her, she's been away at school somewhere&mdash;Omaha, I think. Were you talking to her long?"</p> <p>"Only a little while."</p> <p>"What did you think of her?"</p> <p>"I thought," said he, slowly, his face turned from her, his eyes on something miles away, "that she was a girl something could be made out of if she was taken hold of the right way. I mean," facing her earnestly, "that she might be reasoned out of this senseless barbarity, this raiding and running away."</p> <p>Vesta shook her head. "The devil's in her; she was born to make trouble."</p> <p>"I got her to half agree to a truce," said he <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_191" id="Page_191">[Pg 191]</SPAN></span>reluctantly, his eyes studying the ground, "but I guess it's all off now."</p> <p>"She wouldn't keep her word with you," she declared with great earnestness, a sad, rather than scornful earnestness, putting out her hand as if to touch his shoulder. Half way her intention seemed to falter; her hand fell in eloquent expression of her heavy thoughts.</p> <p>"Of course, I don't know."</p> <p>"There's no honor in the Kerr blood. Kerr was given many a chance by father to come up and be a man, and square things between them, but he didn't have it in him. Neither has she. Her only brother was killed at Glendora after he'd shot a man in the back."</p> <p>"It ought to have been settled, long ago, without all this fighting. But if people refuse to live by their neighbors and be decent, a good man among them has a hard time. I don't blame you, Vesta, for the way you feel."</p> <p>"I'd have been willing to let this feud die, but she wouldn't drop it. She began cutting the fence every summer as soon as I came home. She's goaded me out of my senses, she's put murder in my heart!"</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_192" id="Page_192">[Pg 192]</SPAN></span>"They've tried you almost past endurance, I know. But you've never killed anybody, Vesta. All there is here isn't worth that price."</p> <p>"I know it now," she said, wearily.</p> <p>"Go home and hang your gun up, and let it stay there. As long as I'm here I'll do the fighting when there's any to be done."</p> <p>"You didn't help me a little while ago. All you did was for her."</p> <p>"It was for both of you," he said, rather indignant that she should take such an unjust view of his interference.</p> <p>"You didn't ride in front of her and stop her from shooting me!"</p> <p>"I came to you first&mdash;you saw that."</p> <p>Lambert mounted, turned his horse to go back and mend the fence. She rode after him, impulsively.</p> <p>"I'm going to stop fighting, I'm going to take my gun off and put it away," she said.</p> <p>He thought she never had appeared so handsome as at that moment, a soft light in her eyes, the harshness of strain and anger gone out of her face. He offered her his hand, the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_193" id="Page_193">[Pg 193]</SPAN></span>only expression of his appreciation for her generous decision that came to him in the gratefulness of the moment. She took it as if to seal a compact between them.</p> <p>"You've come back to be a woman again," he said, hardly realizing how strange his words might seem to her, expressing the one thought that came to the front.</p> <p>"I suppose I didn't act much like a woman out there a while ago," she admitted, her old expression of sadness darkening in her eyes.</p> <p>"You were a couple of wildcats," he told her. "Maybe we can get on here now without fighting, but if they come crowding it on let us men-folks take care of it for you; it's no job for a girl."</p> <p>"I'm going to put the thought of it out of my mind, feud, fences, everything&mdash;and turn it all over to you. It's asking a lot of you to assume, but I'm tired to the heart."</p> <p>"I'll do the best by you I can as long as I'm here," he promised, simply. He started on; she rode forward with him.</p> <p>"If she comes back again, what will you do?"</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_194" id="Page_194">[Pg 194]</SPAN></span>"I'll try to show her where she's wrong, and maybe I can get her to hang up her gun, too. You ought to be friends, it seems to me&mdash;a couple of neighbor girls like you."</p> <p>"We couldn't be that," she said, loftily, her old coldness coming over her momentarily, "but if we can live apart in peace it will be something. Don't trust her, Mr. Lambert, don't take her word for anything. There's no honor in the Kerr blood; you'll find that out for yourself. It isn't in one of them to be even a disinterested friend."</p> <p>There was nothing for him to say to this, spoken so seriously that it seemed almost a prophecy. He felt as if she had looked into the window of his heart and read his secret and, in her old enmity for this slim girl of the dangling braid of hair, was working subtly to raise a barrier of suspicion and distrust between them.</p> <p>"I'll go on home and quit bothering you," she said.</p> <p>"You're no bother to me, Vesta; I like to have you along."</p> <p>She stopped, looked toward the place where she had lately ridden through the fence in <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_195" id="Page_195">[Pg 195]</SPAN></span>vengeful pursuit of her enemy, her eyes inscrutable, her face sad.</p> <p>"I never felt it so lonesome out here as it is today," she said, and turned her horse, and left him.</p> <p>He looked back more than once as he rode slowly along the fence, a mist before his perception that he could not pierce. What had come over Vesta to change her so completely in this little while? He believed she was entering the shadow of some slow-growing illness, which bore down her spirits in an uninterpreted foreboding of evil days to come.</p> <p>What a pretty figure she made in the saddle, riding away from him in that slow canter; how well she sat, how she swayed at the waist as her nimble animal cut in and out among the clumps of sage. A mighty pretty girl, and as good as they grew them anywhere. It would be a calamity to have her sick. From the shoulder of the slope he looked back again. Pretty as any woman a man ever pictured in his dreams.</p> <p>She passed out of sight without looking back, and there rose a picture in his thoughts to take her place, a picture of dark, defiant eyes, of <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_196" id="Page_196">[Pg 196]</SPAN></span>telltale hair falling in betrayal of her disguise, as if discovering her secret to him who had a right to know.</p> <p>The fancy pleased him; as he worked to repair the damage she had wrought, he smiled. How well his memory retained her, in her transition from anger to scorn, scorn to uneasy amazement, amazement to relief. Then she had smiled, and the recognition not owned in words but spoken in her eyes, had come.</p> <p>Yes, she knew him; she recalled her challenge, his acceptance and victory. Even as she rode swiftly to obey him out of that mad encounter in the valley over there, she had owned in her quick act that she knew him, and trusted him as she sped away.</p> <p>When he came to the place where she had ridden through, he pieced the wire and hooked the ends together, as he had told her he would do. He handled even the stubborn wire tenderly, as a man might the appurtenances to a rite. Perhaps he was linking their destinies in that simple act, he thought, sentimentally unreasonable; it might be that this spot would mark the second altar of his romance, even as the little <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_197" id="Page_197">[Pg 197]</SPAN></span>station of Misery was lifted up in his heart as the shrine of its beginning.</p> <p>There was blood on his knuckles where the vicious wire had torn him. He dashed it to the ground as a libation, smiling like one moonstruck, a flood of soft fancies making that bleak spot dear.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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