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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_276" id="Page_276">[Pg 276]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER XIX</h2> <h3>THE SENTINEL</h3> <br /> <p>There appeared in the light of the hotel door for a moment the figures of struggling men, followed by the sound of feet in flight down the steps, and somebody mounting a horse in haste at the hotel hitching-rack. Whoever this was rode away at a hard gallop.</p> <p>Lambert knew that the battle was over, and as he came to the hitching-rack he saw that Taterleg's horse was still there. So he had not fled. Several voices sounded from the porch in excited talk, among them Taterleg's, proving that he was sound and untouched.</p> <p>His uneasiness gone, Lambert stood a little while in front, well out in the dark, trying to pick up what was being said, but with little result, for people were arriving with noise of heavy boots to learn the cause of the disturbance.</p> <p>Taterleg held the floor for a little while, his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_277" id="Page_277">[Pg 277]</SPAN></span>voice severe as if he laid down the law. Alta replied in what appeared to be indignant protest, then fell to crying. There was a picture of her in the door a moment being led inside by her mother, blubbering into her hands. The door slammed after them, and Taterleg was heard to say in loud, firm voice:</p> <p>"Don't approach me, I tell you! I'd hit a blind woman as quick as I would a one-armed man!"</p> <p>Lambert felt that this was the place to interfere. He called Taterleg.</p> <p>"All right, Duke; I'm a-comin'," Taterleg answered.</p> <p>The door opened, revealing the one-armed proprietor entering the house; revealing a group of men and women, bare-headed, as they had rushed to the hotel at the sound of the shooting; revealing Taterleg coming down the steps, his box of chewing gum under his arm.</p> <p>Wood fastened the door back in its accustomed anchorage. His neighbors closed round where he stood explaining the affair, his stump of arm lifting and pointing in the expressionless gestures common to a man thus maimed.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_278" id="Page_278">[Pg 278]</SPAN></span>"Are you hurt?" Lambert inquired.</p> <p>"No, I ain't hurt none, Duke."</p> <p>Taterleg got aboard of his horse with nothing more asked of him or volunteered on his part. They had not proceeded far when his indignation broke bounds.</p> <p>"I ain't hurt, but I'm swinged like a fool miller moth in a lamp chimley," he complained.</p> <p>"Who was that shootin' around so darned careless?"</p> <p>"Jedlick, dern him!"</p> <p>"It's a wonder he didn't kill somebody upstairs somewhere."</p> <p>"First shot he hit a box of t'backer back of Wood's counter. I don't know what he hit the second time, but it wasn't me."</p> <p>"He hit the side of the store."</p> <p>Taterleg rode along in silence a little way. "Well, that was purty good for him," he said.</p> <p>"Who was that hopped a horse like he was goin' for the doctor, and tore off?"</p> <p>"Jedlick, dern him!"</p> <p>Lambert allowed the matter to rest at that, knowing that neither of them had been hurt. Taterleg would come to the telling of it before <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_279" id="Page_279">[Pg 279]</SPAN></span>long, not being built so that he could hold a piece of news like that without suffering great discomfort.</p> <p>"I'm through with that bunch down there," he said in the tone of deep, disgustful renunciation. "I never was led on and soaked that way before in my life. No, I ain't hurt, Duke, but it ain't no fault of that girl I ain't. She done all she could to kill me off."</p> <p>"Who started it?"</p> <p>"Well, I'll give it to you straight, Duke, from the first word, and you can judge for yourself what kind of a woman that girl's goin' to turn out to be. I never would 'a' believed she'd 'a' throwed a man that way, but you can't read 'em, Duke; no man can read 'em."</p> <p>"I guess that's right," Lambert allowed, wondering how far he had read in certain dark eyes which seemed as innocent as a child's.</p> <p>"It's past the power of any man to do it. Well, you know, I went over there with my fresh box of gum, all of the fruit flavors you can name, and me and her we set out on the porch gabbin' and samplin' that gum. She never was so leanin' and lovin' before, settin' up so clost <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_280" id="Page_280">[Pg 280]</SPAN></span>to me you couldn't 'a' put a sheet of writin' paper between us. Shucks!"</p> <p>"Rubbin' the paint off, Taterleg. You ought 'a' took the tip that she was about done with you."</p> <p>"You're right; I would 'a' if I'd 'a' had as much brains as a ant. Well, she told me Jedlick was layin' for me, and begged me not to hurt him, for she didn't want to see me go to jail on account of a feller like him. She talked to me like a Dutch uncle, and put her head so clost I could feel them bangs a ticklin' my ear. But that's done with; she can tickle all the ears she wants to tickle, but she'll never tickle mine no more. And all the time she was talkin' to me like that, where do you reckon that Jedlick feller was at?"</p> <p>"In the saloon, I guess, firin' up."</p> <p>"No, he wasn't, Duke. He was settin' right in that <i>ho</i>-tel, with his old flat feet under the table, shovelin' in pie. He come out pickin' his teeth purty soon, standin' there by the door, dern him, like he owned the dump. Well, he may, for all I know. Alta she inched away from me, and she says to him: 'Mr. Jedlick, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_281" id="Page_281">[Pg 281]</SPAN></span>come over here and shake hands with Mr. Wilson.'</p> <p>"'Yes,' he says, 'I'll shake insect powder on his grave!'</p> <p>"'I see you doin' it,' I says, 'you long-hungry and half-full! If you ever make a pass at me you'll swaller wind so fast you'll bust.' Well, he begun to shuffle and prance and cut up like a boy makin' faces, and there's where Alta she ducked in through the parlor winder. 'Don't hurt him, Mr. Jedlick,' she says; 'please don't hurt him!'</p> <p>"'I'll chaw him up as fine as cat hair and blow him out through my teeth,' Jedlick told her. And there's where I started after that feller. He was standin' in front of the door all the time, where he could duck inside if he saw me comin', and I guess he would 'a' ducked if Wood hadn't 'a' been there. When he saw Wood, old Jedlick pulled his gun.</p> <p>"I slung down on him time enough to blow him in two, and pulled on my trigger, not aimin' to hurt the old sooner, only to snap a bullet between his toes, but she wouldn't work. Old Jedlick he was so rattled at the sight of that <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_282" id="Page_282">[Pg 282]</SPAN></span>gun in my hand he banged loose, slap through the winder into that box of plug back of the counter. I pulled on her and pulled on her, but she wouldn't snap, and I was yankin' at the hammer to cock her when he tore loose with that second shot. That's when I found out what the matter was with that old gun of mine."</p> <p>Taterleg was so moved at this passage that he seemed to run out of words. He rode along in silence until they reached the top of the hill, and the house on the mesa stood before them, dark and lonesome. Then he pulled out his gun and handed it across to the Duke.</p> <p>"Run your thumb over the hammer of that gun, Duke," he said.</p> <p>"Well! What in the world&mdash;it feels like chewin' gum, Taterleg."</p> <p>"It is chewin' gum, Duke. A wad of it as big as my fist gluin' down the hammer of that gun. That girl put it on there, Duke. She knew Jedlick wouldn't have no more show before me, man to man, than a rabbit. She done me that trick, Duke; she wanted to kill me off."</p> <p>"There wasn't no joke about that, old feller," the Duke said seriously, grateful that the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_283" id="Page_283">[Pg 283]</SPAN></span>girl's trick had not resulted in any greater damage to his friend than the shock to his dignity and simple heart.</p> <p>"Yes, and it was my own gum. That's the worst part of it, Duke; she wasn't even usin' his gum, dang her melts!"</p> <p>"She must have favored Jedlick pretty strong to go that far."</p> <p>"Well, if she wants him after what she's saw of him, she can take him. I clinched him before he could waste any more ammunition, and twisted his gun away from him. I jolted him a couple of jolts with my fist, and he broke and run. You seen him hop his horse."</p> <p>"What did you do with his gun?"</p> <p>"I walked over to the winder where that girl was lookin' out to see Jedlick wipe up the porch with me, and I handed her the gun, and I says: 'Give this to Mr. Jedlick with my regards,' I says, 'and tell him if he wants any more to send me word.' Well, she come out, and I called her on what she done to my gun. She swore she didn't mean it for nothin' but a joke. I said if that was her idear of a joke, the quicker we parted the sooner. She began to bawl, and the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_284" id="Page_284">[Pg 284]</SPAN></span>old man and old woman put in, and I'd 'a' slapped that feller, Duke, if he'd 'a' had two arms on him. But you can't slap a half of a man."</p> <p>"I guess that's right."</p> <p>"I walked up to that girl, and I said: 'You've chawed the last wad of my gum you'll ever plaster up ag'in' your old lean jawbone. You may be some figger in Glendora,' I says, 'but anywheres else you wouldn't cut no more ice than a cracker.' Wood he took it up ag'in. That's when I come away."</p> <p>"It looks like it's all off between you and Alta now."</p> <p>"Broke off, short up to the handle. Serves a feller right for bein' a fool. I might 'a' knowed when she wanted me to shave my mustache off she didn't have no more heart in her than a fish."</p> <p>"That was askin' a lot of a man, sure as the world."</p> <p>"No man can look two ways at once without somebody puttin' something down his back, Duke."</p> <p>"Referrin' to the lady in Wyoming. Sure."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_285" id="Page_285">[Pg 285]</SPAN></span>"She was white. She says: 'Mr. Wilson, I'll always think of you as a gentleman.' Them was her last words, Duke."</p> <p>They were walking their horses past the house, which was dark, careful not to wake Vesta. But their care went for nothing; she was not in bed. Around the turn of the long porch they saw her standing in the moonlight, looking across the river into the lonely night. It seemed as if she stood in communion with distant places, to which she sent her longing out of a bondage that she could not flee.</p> <p>"She looks lonesome," Taterleg said. "Well, I ain't a-goin' to go and pet and console her. I'm done takin' chances."</p> <p>Lambert understood as never before how melancholy that life must be for her. She turned as they passed, her face clear in the bright moonlight. Taterleg swept off his hat with the grand air that took him so far with the ladies, Lambert saluting with less extravagance.</p> <p>Vesta waved her hand in acknowledgment, turning again to her watching over the vast, empty land, as if she waited the coming of somebody who would quicken her life with the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_286" id="Page_286">[Pg 286]</SPAN></span>cheer that it wanted so sadly that calm summer night.</p> <p>Lambert felt an unusual restlessness that night&mdash;no mood over him for his bed. It seemed, in truth, that a man would be wasting valuable hours of life by locking his senses up in sleep. He put his horse away, sated with the comedy of Taterleg's adventure, and not caring to pursue it further. To get away from the discussion of it that he knew Taterleg would keep going as long as there was an ear open to hear him, he walked to the near-by hilltop to view the land under this translating spell.</p> <p>This was the hilltop from which he had ridden down to interfere between Vesta and Nick Hargus. With that adventure he had opened his account of trouble in the Bad Lands, an account that was growing day by day, the final balancing of which he could not foresee.</p> <p>From where he stood, the house was dark and lonely as an abandoned habitation. It seemed, indeed, that bright and full of youthful light as Vesta Philbrook was, she was only one warm candle in the gloom of this great and melancholy monument of her father's misspent hopes. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_287" id="Page_287">[Pg 287]</SPAN></span>Before she could warm it into life and cheerfulness, it would encroach upon her with its chilling gloom, like an insidious cold drift of sand, smothering her beauty, burying her quick heart away from the world for which it longed, for evermore.</p> <p>It would need the noise of little feet across those broad, empty, lonesome porches to wake the old house; the shouting and laughter and gleam of merry eyes that childhood brings into this world's gloom, to drive away the shadows that draped it like a mist. Perhaps Vesta stood there tonight sending her soul out in a call to someone for whom she longed, these comfortable, natural, womanly hopes in her own good heart.</p> <p>He sighed, wishing her well of such hope if she had it, and forgot her in a moment as his eyes picked up a light far across the hills. Now it twinkled brightly, now it wavered and died, as if its beam was all too weak to hold to the continued effort of projecting itself so far. That must be the Kerr ranch; no other habitation lay in that direction. Perhaps in the light of that lamp somebody was sitting, bending a <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_288" id="Page_288">[Pg 288]</SPAN></span>dark head in pensive tenderness with a thought of him.</p> <p>He stood with his pleasant fancy, his dream around him like a cloak. All the trouble that was in the world for him that hour was near the earth, like the precipitation of settling waters. Over it he gazed, superior to its ugly murk, careless of whether it might rise to befoul the clear current of his hopes, or sink and settle to obscure his dreams no more.</p> <p>There was a sound of falling shale on the slope, following the disturbance of a quick foot. Vesta was coming. Unseen and unheard through the insulation of his thoughts, she had approached within ten rods of him before he saw her, the moonlight on her fair face, glorious in her uncovered hair.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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