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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_302" id="Page_302">[Pg 302]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER XXI</h2> <h3>A TEST OF LOYALTY</h3> <br /> <p>Lambert rode to his rendezvous with Grace Kerr on the appointed day, believing that she would keep it, although her promise had been inconclusive. She had only "expected" she would be there, but he more than expected she would come.</p> <p>He was in a pleasant mood that morning, sentimentally softened to such extent that he believed he might even call accounts off with Sim Hargus and the rest of them if Grace could arrange a peace. Vesta was a little rough on her, he believed. Grace was showing a spirit that seemed to prove she wanted only gentle guiding to abandon the practices of violence to which she had been bred.</p> <p>Certainly, compared to Vesta, she seemed of coarser ware, even though she was as handsome as heart could desire. This he admitted without prejudice, not being yet wholly blind. But <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_303" id="Page_303">[Pg 303]</SPAN></span>there was no bond of romance between Vesta and him. There was no place for romance between a man and his boss. Romance bound him to Grace Kerr; sentiment enchained him. It was a sweet enslavement, and one to be prolonged in his desire.</p> <p>Grace was not in sight when he reached their meeting-place. He let down the wire and rode to meet her, troubled as before by that feeling of disloyalty to the Philbrook interests which caused him to stop more than once and debate whether he should turn back and wait inside the fence.</p> <p>The desire to hasten the meeting with Grace was stronger than this question of his loyalty. He went on, over the hill from which she used to spy on his passing, into the valley where he had interfered between the two girls on the day that he found Grace hidden away in this unexpected place. There he met her coming down the farther slope.</p> <p>Grace was quite a different figure that day from any she had presented before, wearing a perky little highland bonnet with an eagle feather in it, and a skirt and blouse of the same <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_304" id="Page_304">[Pg 304]</SPAN></span>plaid. His eyes announced his approval as they met, leaning to shake hands from the saddle.</p> <p>Immediately he brought himself to task for his late admission that she was inferior in the eyes to Vesta. That misappraisement was due to the disadvantage under which he had seen Grace heretofore. This morning she was as dainty as a fresh-blown pink, and as delicately sweet. He swung from the saddle and stood off admiring her with so much speaking from his eyes that she grew rosy in their fire.</p> <p>"Will you get down, Grace? I've never had a chance to see how tall you are&mdash;I couldn't tell that day on the train."</p> <p>The eagle feather came even with his ear when she stood beside him, slender and strong, health in her eyes, her womanhood ripening in her lips. Not as tall as Vesta, not as full of figure, he began in mental measurement, burning with self-reproof when he caught himself at it. Why should he always be drawing comparisons between her and Vesta, to her disadvantage in all things? It was unwarranted, it was absurd!</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_305" id="Page_305">[Pg 305]</SPAN></span>They sat on the hillside, their horses nipping each other in introductory preliminaries, then settling down to immediate friendship. They were far beyond sight of the fence. Lambert hoped, with an uneasy return of that feeling of disloyalty and guilt, that Vesta would not come riding up that way and find the open strands of wire.</p> <p>This thought passed away and troubled him no more as they sat talking of the strange way of their "meeting on the run," as she said.</p> <p>"There isn't a horse in a thousand that could have caught up with me that day."</p> <p>"Not one in thousands," he amended, with due gratitude to Whetstone.</p> <p>"I expected you'd be riding him today, Duke."</p> <p>"He backed into a fire," said he uneasily, "and burned off most of his tail. He's no sight for a lady in his present shape."</p> <p>She laughed, looking at him shrewdly, as if she believed it to be a joke to cover something that he didn't want her to know.</p> <p>"But you promised to give him to me, Duke, when he rested up a little."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_306" id="Page_306">[Pg 306]</SPAN></span>"I will," he declared earnestly, getting hold of her hand where it lay in the grass between them. "I'll give you anything I've got, Grace, from the breath in my body to the blood in my heart!"</p> <p>She bent her head, her face rosy with her mounting blood.</p> <p>"Would you, Duke?" said she, so softly that it was not much more than the flutter of the wings of words.</p> <p>He leaned a little nearer, his heart climbing, as if it meant to smother him and cut him short in that crowning moment of his dream.</p> <p>"I'd have gone to the end of the world to find you, Grace," he said, his voice shaking as if he had a chill, his hands cold, his face hot, a tingling in his body, a sound in his ears like bells. "I want to tell you how&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Wait, Duke&mdash;I want to hear it all&mdash;but wait a minute. There's something I want to ask you to do for me. Will you do me a favor, Duke, a simple favor, but one that means the world and all to me?"</p> <p>"Try me," said he, with boundless confidence.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_307" id="Page_307">[Pg 307]</SPAN></span>"It's more than giving me your horse, Duke; a whole lot more than that, but it'll not hurt you&mdash;you can do it, if you will."</p> <p>"I know you wouldn't ask me to do anything that would reflect on my honesty or honor," he said, beginning to do a little thinking as his nervous chill passed.</p> <p>"A man doesn't&mdash;when a man <i>cares</i>&mdash;" She stopped, looking away, a little constriction in her throat.</p> <p>"What is it, Grace?" pressing her hand encouragingly, master of the situation now, as he believed.</p> <p>"Duke"&mdash;she turned to him suddenly, her eyes wide and luminous, her heart going so he could see the tremor of its vibrations in the lace at her throat&mdash;"I want you to lend me tomorrow morning, for one day, just one day, Duke&mdash;five hundred head of Vesta Philbrook's cattle."</p> <p>"That's a funny thing to ask, Grace," said he uneasily.</p> <p>"I want you to meet me over there where I cut the fence before sunup in the morning, and have everybody out of the way, so we can cut <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_308" id="Page_308">[Pg 308]</SPAN></span>them out and drive them over here. You can manage it, if you want to, Duke. You will, if you&mdash;if you <i>care</i>."</p> <p>"If they were my cattle, Grace, I wouldn't hesitate a second."</p> <p>"You'll do it, anyhow, won't you, Duke, for me?"</p> <p>"What in the world do you want them for, just for one day?"</p> <p>"I can't explain that to you now, Duke, but I pledge you my honor, I pledge you everything, that they'll be returned to you before night, not a head missing, nothing wrong."</p> <p>"Does your father know&mdash;does he&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"It's for myself that I'm asking this of you, Duke; nobody else. It means&mdash;it means&mdash;<i>everything</i> to me."</p> <p>"If they were my cattle, Grace, if they were my cattle," said he aimlessly, amazed by the request, groping for the answer that lay behind it. What could a girl want to borrow five hundred head of cattle for? What in the world would she get out of holding them in her possession one day and then turning them back into the pasture? There was something back of it; <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_309" id="Page_309">[Pg 309]</SPAN></span>she was the innocent emissary of a crafty hand that had a trick to play.</p> <p>"We could run them over here, just you and I, and nobody would know anything about it," she tempted, the color back in her cheeks, her eyes bright as in the pleasure of a request already granted.</p> <p>"I don't like to refuse you even that, Grace."</p> <p>"You'll do it, you'll do it, Duke?" Her hand was on his arm in beguiling caress, her eyes were pleading into his.</p> <p>"I'm afraid not, Grace."</p> <p>Perhaps she felt a shading of coldness in his denial, for distrust and suspicion were rising in his cautious mind. It did not seem to him a thing that could be asked with any honest purpose, but for what dishonest one he had no conjecture to fit.</p> <p>"Are you going to turn me down on the first request I ever made of you, Duke?" She watched him keenly as she spoke, making her eyes small, an inflection of sorrowful injury in her tone.</p> <p>"If there's anything of my own you want, if there's anything you can name for me to do, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_310" id="Page_310">[Pg 310]</SPAN></span>personally, all you've got to do is hint at it once."</p> <p>"It's easy to say that when there's nothing else I want!" she said, snapping it at him as sharp as the crack of a little whip.</p> <p>"If there <i>was</i> anything&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"There'll never be anything!"</p> <p>She got up, flashing him an indignant look. He stood beside her, despising the poverty of his condition which would not allow him to deliver over to her, out of hand, the small matter of five hundred beeves.</p> <p>She went to her horse, mightily put out and impatient with him, as he could see, threw the reins over her pommel, as if she intended to leave him at once. She delayed mounting, suddenly putting out her hands in supplication, tears springing in her eyes.</p> <p>"Oh, Duke! If you knew how much it means to me," she said.</p> <p>"Why don't you tell me, Grace?"</p> <p>"Even if you stayed back there on the hills somewhere and watched them you wouldn't do it, Duke?" she appealed, evading his request.</p> <p>He shook his head slowly, while the thoughts <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_311" id="Page_311">[Pg 311]</SPAN></span>within it ran like wildfire, seeking the thing that she covered.</p> <p>"It can't be done."</p> <p>"I give you my word, Duke, that if you'll do it nobody will ever lift a hand against this ranch again."</p> <p>"It's almost worth it," said he.</p> <p>She quickened at this, enlarging her guarantee.</p> <p>"We'll drop all of the old feud and let Vesta alone. I give you my word for all of them, and I'll see that they carry it out. You can do Vesta as big a favor as you'll be doing me, Duke."</p> <p>"It couldn't be done without her consent, Grace. If you want to go to her with this same proposal, putting it plainly like you have to me, I think she'll let you have the cattle, if you can show her any good reason for it."</p> <p>"Just as if I'd be fool enough to ask her!"</p> <p>"That's the only way."</p> <p>"Duke," said she coaxingly, "wouldn't it be worth something to you, personally, to have your troubles settled without a fight? I'll promise you nobody will ever lift a hand against you again if you'll do this for me."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_312" id="Page_312">[Pg 312]</SPAN></span>He started, looked at her sternly, approaching her a step.</p> <p>"What do you know about anything that's happened to me?" he demanded.</p> <p>"I don't know anything about what's happened, but I know what's due to happen if it isn't headed off."</p> <p>Lambert did some hard thinking for a little while, so hard that it wrenched him to the marrow. If he had had suspicion of her entire innocence in the solicitation of this unusual favor before, it had sprung in a moment into distrust. Such a quick reversion cannot take place in the sentiment without a shock. It seemed to Lambert that something valuable had been snatched away from him, and that he stood in bewilderment, unable to reach out and retrieve his loss.</p> <p>"Then there's no use in discussing it any more," he said, groping back, trying to answer her.</p> <p>"You'd do it for her!"</p> <p>"Not for her any quicker than for you."</p> <p>"I know it looks crooked to you, Duke&mdash;I don't blame you for your suspicions," she said with a frankness that seemed more like herself, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_313" id="Page_313">[Pg 313]</SPAN></span>he thought. She even seemed to be coming back to him in that approach. It made him glad.</p> <p>"Tell me all about it, Grace," he urged.</p> <p>She came close to him, put her arm about his neck, drew his head down as if to whisper her confidence in his ear. Her breath was on his cheek, his heart was afire in one foolish leap. She put up her lips as if to kiss him, and he, reeling in the ecstasy of his proximity to her radiant body, bent nearer to take what she seemed to offer.</p> <p>She drew back, her hand interposed before his eager lips, shaking her head, denying him prettily.</p> <p>"In the morning, I'll tell you all in the morning when I meet you to drive the cattle over," she said. "Don't say a word&mdash;I'll not take no for my answer." She turned quickly to her horse and swung lightly into the saddle. From this perch she leaned toward him, her hand on his shoulder, her lips drawing him in their fiery lure again. "In the morning&mdash;in the morning&mdash;you can kiss me, Duke!"</p> <p>With that word, that promise, she turned and galloped away.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_314" id="Page_314">[Pg 314]</SPAN></span>It was late afternoon, and Lambert had faced back toward the ranchhouse, troubled by all that he could not understand in that morning's meeting, thrilled and fired by all that was sweet to remember, when he met a man who came riding in the haste of one who had business ahead of him that could not wait. He was riding one of Vesta Philbrook's horses, a circumstance that sharpened Lambert's interest in him at once.</p> <p>As they closed the distance between them, Lambert keeping his hand in the easy neighborhood of his gun, the man raised his hand, palm forward, in the Indian sign of peace. Lambert saw that he wore a shoulder holster which supported two heavy revolvers. He was a solemn-looking man with a narrow face, a mustache that crowded Taterleg's for the championship, a buckskin vest with pearl buttons. His coat was tied on the saddle at his back.</p> <p>"I didn't steal this horse," he explained with a sorrowful grin as he drew up within arm's length of Lambert, "I requisitioned it. I'm the sheriff."</p> <p>"Yes, sir?" said Lambert, not quite taking <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_315" id="Page_315">[Pg 315]</SPAN></span>him for granted, no intention of letting him pass on with that explanation.</p> <p>"Miss Philbrook said I'd run across you up this way."</p> <p>The officer produced his badge, his commission, his card, his letterhead, his credentials of undoubted strength. On the proof thus supplied, Lambert shook hands with him.</p> <p>"I guess everybody else in the county knows me&mdash;this is my second term, and I never was taken for a horse thief before," the sheriff said, solemn as a crow, as he put his papers away.</p> <p>"I'm a stranger in this country, I don't know anybody, nobody knows me, so you'll not take it as a slight that I didn't recognize you, Mr. Sheriff."</p> <p>"No harm done, Duke, no harm done. Well, I guess you're a little wider known than you make out. I didn't bring a man along with me because I knew you were up here at Philbrook's. Hold up your hand and be sworn."</p> <p>"What's the occasion?" Lambert inquired, making no move to comply with the order.</p> <p>"I've got a warrant for this man Kerr over south of here, and I want you to go with me. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_316" id="Page_316">[Pg 316]</SPAN></span>Kerr's a bad egg, in a nest of bad eggs. There's likely to be too much trouble for one man to handle alone. You do solemnly swear to support the constitution of the&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Wait a minute, Mr. Sheriff," Lambert demurred; "I don't know that I want to mix up in&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"It's not for you to say what you want to do&mdash;that's my business," the sheriff said sharply. He forthwith deputized Lambert, and gave him a duplicate of the warrant. "You don't need it, but it'll clear your mind of all doubt of your power," he explained. "Can we get through this fence?"</p> <p>"Up here six or seven miles, about opposite Kerr's place. But I'd like to go on to the house and change horses; I've rode this one over forty miles today already."</p> <p>The sheriff agreed. "Where's that outlaw you won from Jim Wilder?" he inquired, turning his eyes on Lambert in friendly appreciation.</p> <p>"I'll ride him," Lambert returned briefly. "What's Kerr been up to?"</p> <p>"Mortgaged a bunch of cattle he's got over <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_317" id="Page_317">[Pg 317]</SPAN></span>there to three different banks. He was down a couple of days ago tryin' to put through another loan. The investigation that banker started laid him bare. He promised Kerr to come up tomorrow and look over his security, and passed the word on to the county attorney. Kerr said he'd just bought five hundred head of stock. He wanted to raise the loan on them."</p> <p>"Five hundred," said Lambert, mechanically repeating the sheriff's words, doing some calculating of his own.</p> <p>"He ain't got any that ain't blanketed with mortgage paper so thick already they'd go through a blizzard and never know it. His scheme was to raise five or six thousand dollars more on that outfit and skip the country."</p> <p>And Grace Kerr had relied on his infatuation for her to work on him for the loan of the necessary cattle. Lambert could not believe that it was all her scheme, but it seemed incredible that a man as shrewdly dishonest as Kerr would entertain a plan that promised so little outlook of success. They must have believed over at Kerr's that they had him pretty well on the line.</p> <p>But Kerr had figured too surely on having <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_318" id="Page_318">[Pg 318]</SPAN></span>his neighbor's cattle to show the banker to stake all on the chance of Grace being able to wheedle him into the scheme. If he couldn't get them by seduction, he meant to take them in a raid. Grace never intended to come to meet him in the morning alone.</p> <p>One crime more would amount to little in addition to what Kerr had done already, and it would be a trick on which he would pride himself and laugh over all the rest of his life. It seemed certain now that Grace's friendliness all along had been laid on a false pretense, with the one intention of beguiling him to his disgrace, his destruction, if disgrace could not be accomplished without it.</p> <p>As he rode Whetstone&mdash;now quite recovered from his scorching, save for the hair of his once fine tail&mdash;beside the sheriff, Lambert had some uneasy cogitations on his sentimental blindness of the past; on the good, honest advice that Vesta Philbrook had given him. Blood was blood, after all. If the source of it was base, it was too much to hope that a little removal, a little dilution, would ennoble it. She had lived there all her life the associate of thieves and <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_319" id="Page_319">[Pg 319]</SPAN></span>rascals; her way of looking on men and property must naturally be that of the depredator, the pillager, and thief.</p> <p>"And yet," thought he, thumb in the pocket of his hairy vest where the little handkerchief lay, "and yet&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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