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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_255" id="Page_255">[Pg 255]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER XVII</h2> <h3>HOW THICK IS BLOOD?</h3> <br /> <p>No sterner figure ever rode the Bad Lands than Jeremiah Lambert appeared eight days after his escape out of his enemies' hands. The last five days of his internment he had spent in his own quarters, protesting to Vesta that he was no longer an invalid, and that further receipt of her tender ministrations would amount to obtaining a valuable consideration by false pretense.</p> <p>This morning as he rode about his duty the scar left by Jim Wilder's knife in his cheek never had appeared so prominent. It cast over all his face a shadow of grimness, and imparted to it an aged and seasoned appearance not warranted by either his experience or his years. Although he had not carried any superfluous flesh before his night of torture, he was lighter now by many pounds.</p> <p>Not a handsome man that day, not much about <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_256" id="Page_256">[Pg 256]</SPAN></span>him to recall the red-faced, full-blooded agent of the All-in-One who had pushed his bicycle into the Syndicate camp that night, guided by Taterleg's song. But there was a look of confidence in his eyes that had not been his in those days, which he considered now as far distant and embryonic; there was a certainty in his hand that made him a man in a man's place anywhere in the extreme exactions of that land.</p> <p>Vesta was firm in her intention of giving up the ranch and leaving the Bad Lands as soon as she could sell the cattle. With that program ahead of him, Lambert was going this morning to look over the herd and estimate the number of cattle ready for market, that he might place his order for cars.</p> <p>He didn't question the wisdom of reducing the herd, for that was good business; but it hurt him to have Vesta leave there with drooping feathers, acknowledging to the brutal forces which had opposed the ranch so long that she was beaten. He would have her go after victory over them, for it was no place for Vesta. But he would like for her to stay until he had <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_257" id="Page_257">[Pg 257]</SPAN></span>broken their opposition, and compelled them to take off their hats to her fence.</p> <p>He swore as he rode this morning that he would do it. Vesta should not clean out the cattle, lock the lonesome ranchhouse, abandon the barns and that vast investment of money to the skulking wolves who waited only such a retreat to sneak in and despoil the place. He had fixed in his mind the intention, firm as a rock in the desert that defied storm and disintegration, to bring every man of that gang up to the wire fence in his turn and bend him before it, or break him if he would not bend.</p> <p>This accomplished, the right of the fence established on such terms that it would be respected evermore, Vesta might go, if she desired. Surely it would be better for her, a pearl in those dark waters where her beauty would corrode and her soul would suffer in the isolation too hard for one of her fine harmony to bear. Perhaps she would turn the ranch over to him to run, with a band of sheep which he could handle and increase on shares, after the custom of that business, to the profit of both.</p> <p>He had speculated on this eventuality not a <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_258" id="Page_258">[Pg 258]</SPAN></span>little during the days of his enforced idleness. This morning the thought was so strong in him that it amounted almost to a plan. Maybe there was a face in these calculations, a face illumined by clear, dark eyes, which seemed to strain over the brink of the future and beckon him on. Blood might stand between them, and differences almost irreconcilable, but the face withdrew never.</p> <p>It was evening before he worked through the herd and made it round to the place where Grace Kerr had cut the fence. There was no message for him. Without foundation for his disappointment, he was disappointed. He wondered if she had been there, and bent in his saddle to examine the ground across the fence.</p> <p>There were tracks of a horse, but whether old or new he was not educated enough yet in range-craft to tell. He looked toward the hill from which he had watched her ride to cut the fence, hoping she might appear. He knew that this hope was traitorous to his employer, he felt that his desire toward this girl was unworthy, but he wanted to see her and hear her speak.</p> <p>Foolish, also, to yield to that desire to let <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_259" id="Page_259">[Pg 259]</SPAN></span>down the fence where he had hooked the wire and ride out to see if he could find her. Still, there was so little probability of seeing her that he was not ashamed, only for the twinge of a disloyal act, as he rode toward the hill, his long shadow ambling beside him, a giant horseman on a mammoth steed.</p> <p>He returned from this little sentimental excursion feeling somewhat like a sneak. The country was empty of Grace Kerr. In going out to seek her in the folly of a romance too trivial for a man of his serious mien, he was guilty of an indiscretion deserving Vesta Philbrook's deepest scorn. He burned with his own shame as he dismounted to adjust the wire, like one caught in a reprehensible deed, and rode home feeling foolishly small. Kerr! He should hate the name.</p> <p>But when he came to shaving by lamplight that night, and lifted out his pied calfskin vest to find his strop, the little handkerchief brought all the old remembrances, the old tenderness, back in a sentimental flood. He fancied there was still a fragrance of violet perfume about it as he held it tenderly and pressed it to his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_260" id="Page_260">[Pg 260]</SPAN></span>cheek after a furtive glance around. He folded it small, put it in a pocket of the garment, which he hung on the foot of his bed.</p> <p>An inspiration directed the act. Tomorrow he would ride forth clothed in the calfskin vest, with the bright handkerchief that he had worn on the Sunday at Misery when he won Grace Kerr's scented trophy. For sentimental reasons only; purely sentimental reasons.</p> <p>No, he was not a handsome man any longer, he confessed, grinning at the admission, rather pleased to have it as it was. That scar gave him a cast of ferocity which his heart did not warrant, for, inwardly, he said, he knew he was as gentle as a dove. But if there was any doubt in her mind, granted that he had changed a good deal since she first saw him, the calfskin vest and the handkerchief would settle it. By those signs she would know him, if she had doubted before.</p> <p>Not that she had doubted. As her anger and fear of him had passed that morning, recognition had come, and with recognition, confidence. He would take a look out that way in the morning. Surely a man had a right to go into the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_261" id="Page_261">[Pg 261]</SPAN></span>enemy's country and get a line on what was going on against him. So as he shaved he planned, arguing loudly for himself to drown the cry of treason that his conscience raised.</p> <p>Tomorrow he would take a further look through the herd and conclude his estimate. Then he'd have to go to Glendora and order cars for the first shipment. Vesta wouldn't be able to get all of them off for many weeks. It would mean several trips to Chicago for him, with a crew of men to take care of the cattle along the road. It might be well along into the early fall before he had them thinned down to calves and cows not ready for market.</p> <p>He shaved and smoothed his weathered face, turning his eyes now and again to his hairy vest with a feeling of affection in him for the garment that neither its worth nor its beauty warranted. Sentimental reasons always outweigh sensible ones as long as a man is young.</p> <p>He rode along the fence next morning on his way to the herd, debating whether he should leave a note on the wire. He was not in such a soft and sentimental mood this morning, for sense had rallied to him and pointed out the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_262" id="Page_262">[Pg 262]</SPAN></span>impossibility of harmony between himself and one so nearly related to a man who had attempted to burn him alive. It seemed to him now that the recollection of those poignant moments would rise to stand between them, no matter how gentle or far removed from the source of her being she might appear.</p> <p>These gloomy speculations rose and left him like a flock of somber birds as he lifted the slope. Grace Kerr herself was riding homeward, just mounting the hill over which she must pass in a moment and disappear. He unhooked the wire and rode after her. At the hilltop she stopped, unaware of his coming, and looked back. He waved his hat; she waited.</p> <p>"Have you been sick, Duke?" she inquired, after greetings, looking him over with concern.</p> <p>"My horse bit me," said he, passing it off with that old stock pleasantry of the range, which covered anything and everything that a man didn't want to explain.</p> <p>"I missed you along here," she said. She swept him again with that slow, puzzled look of inquiry, her eyes coming back to his face in a <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_263" id="Page_263">[Pg 263]</SPAN></span>frank, unembarrassed stare. "Oh, I know what it is now! You're dressed like you were that day at Misery. I couldn't make it out for a minute."</p> <p>She was not wearing her mannish garb this morning, but divided skirts of corduroy and a white waist with a bit of bright color at the neck. Her white sombrero was the only masculine touch about her, and that rather added to her quick, dark prettiness.</p> <p>"You were wearing a white waist the first time I saw you," he said.</p> <p>"This one," she replied, touching it with simple motion of full identification.</p> <p>Neither of them mentioned the mutual recognition on the day she had been caught cutting the fence. They talked of commonplace things, as youth is constrained to do when its heart and mind are centered on something else which burns within it, the flame of which it cannot cover from any eyes but its own. Life on the range, its social disadvantages, its rough diversions, these they spoke of, Lambert's lips dry with his eagerness to tell her more.</p> <p>How quickly it had laid hold of him again <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_264" id="Page_264">[Pg 264]</SPAN></span>at sight of her, this unreasonable longing! The perfume of his romance suffused her, purging away all that was unworthy.</p> <p>"I trembled every second that day for fear your horse would break through the platform and throw you," she said, suddenly coming back to the subject that he wanted most to discuss.</p> <p>"I didn't think of it till a good while afterward," he said in slow reflection.</p> <p>"I didn't suppose I'd ever see you again, and, of course, I never once thought you were the famous Duke of Chimney Butte I heard so much about when I got home."</p> <p>"More notorious than famous, I'm afraid, Miss Kerr."</p> <p>"Jim Wilder used to work for us; I knew him well."</p> <p>Lambert bent his head, a shadow of deepest gravity falling like a cloud over the animation which had brightened his features but a moment before. He sat in contemplative silence a little while, his voice low when he spoke.</p> <p>"Even though he deserved it, I've always been sorry it happened."</p> <p>"Well, if you're sorry, I guess you're the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_265" id="Page_265">[Pg 265]</SPAN></span>only one. Jim was a bad kid. Where's that horse you raced the train on?"</p> <p>"I'm resting him up a little."</p> <p>"You had him out here the other day."</p> <p>"Yes. I crippled him up a little since then."</p> <p>"I'd like to have that horse. Do you want to sell him, Duke?"</p> <p>"There's not money enough made to buy him!" Lambert returned, lifting his head quickly, looking her in the eyes so directly that she colored, and turned her head to cover her confusion.</p> <p>"You must think a lot of him when you talk like that."</p> <p>"He's done me more than one good turn, Miss Kerr," he explained, feeling that she must have read his harsh thoughts. "He saved my life only a week ago. But that's likely to happen to any man," he added quickly, making light of it.</p> <p>"Saved your life?" said she, turning her clear, inquiring eyes on him again in that expression of wonder that was so vast in them. "How did he save your life, Duke?"</p> <p>"I guess I was just talking," said he, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_266" id="Page_266">[Pg 266]</SPAN></span>wishing he had kept a better hold on his tongue. "You know we have a fool way of saying a man's life was saved in very trivial things. I've known people to declare that a drink of whisky did that for them."</p> <p>She lifted her brows as she studied his face openly and with such a directness that he flushed in confusion, then turned her eyes away slowly.</p> <p>"I liked him that day he outran the flier; I've often thought of him since then."</p> <p>Lambert looked off over the wild landscape, the distant buttes softened in the haze that seemed to presage the advance of autumn, considering much. When he looked into her face again it was with the harshness gone out of his eyes.</p> <p>"I wouldn't sell that horse to any man, but I'd give him to you, Grace."</p> <p>She started a little when he pronounced her name, wondering, perhaps, how he knew it, her eyes growing great in the pleasure of his generous declaration. She urged her horse nearer with an impetuous movement and gave him her hand.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_267" id="Page_267">[Pg 267]</SPAN></span>"I didn't mean for you to take it that way, Duke, but I appreciate it more than I can tell you."</p> <p>Her eyes were earnest and soft with a mist of gratitude that seemed to rise out of her heart. He held her hand a moment, feeling that he was being drawn nearer to her lips, as if he must touch them, and rise refreshed to face the labors of his life.</p> <p>"I started out on him to look for you, expecting to ride him to the Pacific, and maybe double back. I didn't know where I'd have to go, but I intended to go on till I found you."</p> <p>"It seemed almost a joke," she said, "that we were so near each other and you didn't know it."</p> <p>She laughed, not seeming to feel the seriousness of it as he felt it. It is the woman who laughs always in these little life-comedies of ours.</p> <p>"I'll give him to you, Grace, when he picks up again. Any other horse will do me now. He carried me to the end of my road; he brought me to you."</p> <p>She turned her head, and he hadn't the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_268" id="Page_268">[Pg 268]</SPAN></span>courage in him to look and see whether it was to hide a smile.</p> <p>"You don't know me, Duke; maybe you wouldn't&mdash;maybe you'll regret you ever started out to find me at all."</p> <p>His courage came up again; he leaned a little nearer, laying his hand on hers where it rested on her saddle-horn.</p> <p>"You wanted me to come, didn't you, Grace?"</p> <p>"I hoped you might come sometime, Duke."</p> <p>He rode with her when she set out to return home to the little valley where he had interposed to prevent a tragedy between her and Vesta Philbrook. Neither of them spoke of that encounter. It was avoided in silence as a thing of which both were ashamed.</p> <p>"Will you be over this way again, Grace?" he asked when he stopped to part.</p> <p>"I expect I will, Duke."</p> <p>"Tomorrow, do you think?"</p> <p>"Not tomorrow," shaking her head in the pretty way she had of doing it when she spoke in negation, like an earnest child.</p> <p>"Maybe the next day?"</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_269" id="Page_269">[Pg 269]</SPAN></span>"I expect I may come then, Duke&mdash;or what is your real name?"</p> <p>"Jeremiah. Jerry, if you like it better."</p> <p>She pursed her lips in comical seriousness, frowning a little as if considering it weightily. Then she looked at him in frank comradeship, her dark eyes serious, nodding her head.</p> <p>"I'll just call you Duke."</p> <p>He left her with the feeling that he had known her many years. Blood between them? What was blood? Thicker than water? Nay, impalpable as smoke.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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