Duke of Chimney Butte, The



It was mid-afternoon of a bright autumn day when Lambert approached Glendora with Kerr chained to the seat beside him. As the train rapidly cut down the last few miles, Lambert noted a change in his prisoner's demeanor. Up to that time his carriage had been melancholy and morose, as that of a man who saw no gleam of hope ahead of him. He had spoken but seldom during the journey, asking no favors except that of being allowed to send a telegram to Grace from Omaha.

Lambert had granted that request readily, seeing nothing amiss in Kerr's desire to have his daughter meet him and lighten as much as she could his load of disgrace. Kerr said he wanted her to go with him to the county seat and arrange bond.

"I'll never look through the bars of a jail in my home county," he said. That was his one burst of rebellion, his one boast, his one approach to a discussion of his serious situation, all the way.

Now as they drew almost within sight of Glendora, Kerr became fidgety and nervous. His face was strained and anxious, as if he dreaded stepping off the train into sight of the people who had known him so long as a man of consequence in that community.

Lambert began to have his own worries about this time. He regretted the kindness he had shown Kerr in permitting him to send that telegram to Grace. She might try to deliver him on bail of another kind. Kerr's nervous anxiety would seem to indicate that he expected something to happen at Glendora. It hadn't occurred to Lambert before that this might be possible. It seemed a foolish oversight.

His apprehension, as well as Kerr's evident expectation, seemed groundless as he stepped off the train almost directly in front of the waiting-room door, giving Kerr a hand down the steps. There was nobody in sight but the postmaster with the mail sack, the station agent, and the few citizens who always stood around the station for the thrill of seeing the flier stop to take water.

Few, if any, of these recognized Kerr as Lambert hurried him across the platform and into the station, his hands manacled at his back. Kerr held back for one quick look up and down the station platform, then stumbled hastily ahead under the force of Lambert's hand. The door of the telegraph office stood open; Lambert pushed his prisoner within and closed it.

The station agent came in as the train pulled away, and Lambert made inquiry of him concerning the sheriff. The agent had not seen him there that day. He turned away with sullen countenance, looking with disfavor on this intrusion upon his sacred precincts. He stood in front of his chattering instruments in the bow window, looking up and down the platform with anxious face out of which his natural human color had gone, leaving even his lips white.

"You don't have to keep him in here, I guess, do you?" he said, still sweeping the platform up and down with his uneasy eyes.

"No. I just stepped in to ask you to put this satchel in your safe and keep it for me a while."

Lambert's calm and confident manner seemed to assure the agent, and mollify him, and repair his injured dignity. He beckoned with a jerk of his head, not for one moment quitting his leaning, watchful pose, or taking his eyes from their watch on the platform. Lambert crossed the little room in two strides and looked out. Not seeing anything more alarming than a knot of townsmen around the postmaster, who stood with the lean mail sack across his shoulder, talking excitedly, he inquired what was up.

"They're layin' for you out there," the agent whispered.

"I kind of expected they would be," Lambert told him.

"They're liable to cut loose any minute," said the agent, "and I tell you, Duke, I've got a wife and children dependin' on me!"

"I'll take him outside. I didn't intend to stay here only a minute. Here, lock this up. It belongs to Vesta Philbrook. If I have to go with the sheriff, or anything, send her word it's here."

As Lambert appeared in the door with his prisoner the little bunch of excited gossips scattered hurriedly. He stood near the door a little while, considering the situation. The station agent was not to blame for his desire to preserve his valuable services for the railroad and his family; Lambert had no wish to shelter himself and retain his hold on the prisoner at the trembling fellow's peril.

It was unaccountable that the sheriff was not there to relieve him of this responsibility; he must have received the telegram two days ago. Pending his arrival, or, if not his arrival, the coming of the local train that would carry himself and prisoner to the county seat, Lambert cast about him for some means of securing his man in such manner that he could watch him and defend against any attempted rescue without being hampered.

A telegraph pole stood beside the platform some sixty or seventy feet from the depot, the wires slanting down from it into the building's gable end. To this Lambert marched his prisoner, the eyes of the town on him. He freed one of Kerr's hands, passed his arms round the pole so he stood embracing it, and locked him there.

It was a pole of only medium thickness, allowing Kerr ample room to encircle it with his chained arms, even to sit on the edge of the platform when he should weary of his standing embrace. Lambert stood back a pace and looked at him, thus ignominiously anchored in public view.

"Let 'em come and take you," he said.

He laid out a little beat up and down the platform at Kerr's back, rolled a cigarette, settled down to wait for the sheriff, the train, the rush of Kerr's friends, or whatever the day might have in store.

Slowly, thoughtfully, he paced that beat of a rod behind his surly prisoner's back, watching the town, watching the road leading into it. People stood in the doors, but none approached him to make inquiry, no voice was lifted in pitch that reached him where he stood. If anybody else in town besides the agent knew of the contemplated rescue, he kept it selfishly to himself.

Lambert did not see any of Kerr's men about. Five horses were hitched in front of the saloon; now and then he could see the top of a hat above the latticed half-door, but nobody entered, nobody left. The station agent still stood in his window, working the telegraph key as if reporting the clearing of the flier, watching anxiously up and down the platform.

Lambert hoped that Sim Hargus and young Tom, and the old stub-footed scoundrel who was the meanest of them all who had lashed him into the fire that night, would swing the doors of the saloon and come out with a declaration of their intentions. He knew that some of them, if not all, were there. He had tied Kerr out before their eyes like wolf bait. Let them come and get him if they were men.

This seemed the opportunity which he had been waiting for time to bring him. If they flashed a gun on him now he could clean them down to the ground with all legal justification, no questions asked.

Two appeared far down the road, riding for Glendora in a swinging gallop. The sheriff, Lambert thought; missed the train, and had ridden the forty and more miles across. No; one was Grace Kerr. Even at a quarter of a mile he never could mistake her again. The other was Sim Hargus. They had miscalculated in their intention of meeting the train, and were coming in a panic of anxiety.

They dismounted at the hotel, and started across. Lambert stood near his prisoner, waiting. Kerr had been sitting on the edge of the platform. Now he got up, moving around the pole to show them that he was not to be counted on to take a hand in whatever they expected to start.

Lambert moved a little nearer his prisoner, where he stood waiting. He had not shaved during the two days between Chicago and Glendora; the dust of the road was on his face. His hat was tipped forward to shelter his eyes against the afternoon glare, the leather thong at the back rumpling his close-cut hair. He stood lean and long-limbed, easy and indifferent in his pose, as it would seem to look at him as one might glance in passing, the smoke of his cigarette rising straight from its fresh-lit tip in the calm air of the somnolent day.

As Hargus and Grace advanced, coming in the haste and heat of indignation that Kerr's humiliating situation inflamed, two men left the saloon. They stopped at the hitching-rack as if debating whether to take their horses, and so stood, watching the progress of the two who were cutting the long diagonal across the road. When Grace, who came a little ahead of her companion in her eagerness, was within thirty feet of him, Lambert lifted his hand in forbidding signal.

"Stop there," he said.

She halted, her face flaming with fury. Hargus stopped beside her, his arm crooked to bring his hand up to his belt, sawing back and forth as if in indecision between drawing his gun and waiting for the wordy preliminaries to pass. Kerr stood embracing the pole in a pose of ridiculous supplication, the bright chain of the new handcuffs glistening in the sun.

"I want to talk to my father," said Grace, lashing Lambert with a look of scornful hate.

"Say it from there," Lambert returned, inflexible, cool; watching every movement of Sim Hargus' sawing arm.

"You've got no right to chain him up like a dog!" she said.

"You ain't got no authority, that anybody ever heard of, to arrest him in the first place," Hargus added, his swinging, indecisive arm for a moment still.

Lambert made no reply. He seemed to be looking over their heads, back along the road they had come, from the lift of his chin and the set of his close-gathered brows. He seemed carelessly indifferent to Hargus' legal opinion and presence, a little fresh plume of smoke going up from his cigarette as if he breathed into it gently.

Grace started forward with impatient exclamation, tossing her head in disdainful defiance of this fence-rider's authority.

"Go back!" Kerr commanded, his voice hoarse with the fear of something that she, in her unreasoning anger, had not seen behind the calm front of the man she faced.

She stopped, turning back again to where Hargus waited. Along the street men were drawing away from their doors, in cautious curiosity, silent suspense. Women put their heads out for a moment, plucked curtains aside for one swift survey, vanished behind the safety of walls. At the hitching-rack the two men—one of them Tom Hargus, the other unknown—stood beside their horses, as if in position according to a previous plan.

"We want that man," said Hargus, his hand hovering over his gun.

"Come and take him," Lambert invited.

Hargus spoke in a low voice to Grace; she turned and ran toward her horse. The two at the hitching-rack swung into their saddles as Hargus, watching Grace over his shoulder as she sped away, began to back off, his hand stealing to his gun as if moved by some slow, precise machinery which was set to time it according to the fleeing girl's speed.

Lambert stood without shifting a foot, his nostrils dilating in the slow, deep breath that he drew. Yard by yard Hargus drew away, his intention not quite clear, as if he watched his chance to break away like a prisoner. Grace was in front of the hotel door when he snapped his revolver from its sheath.

Lambert had been waiting this. He fired before Hargus touched the trigger, his elbow to his side as he had seen Jim Wilder shoot on the day when tragedy first came into his life. Hargus spun on his heel as if he had been roped, spread his arms, his gun falling from his hand; pitched to his face, lay still. The two on horses galloped out and opened fire.

Lambert shifted to keep them guessing, but kept away from the pole where Kerr was chained, behind which he might have found shelter. They had separated to flank him, Tom Hargus over near the corner of the depot, the other ranging down toward the hotel, not more than fifty yards between Lambert and either of them.

Intent on drawing Tom Hargus from the shelter of the depot, Lambert ran along the platform, stopping well beyond Kerr. Until that moment he had not returned their fire. Now he opened on Tom Hargus, bringing his horse down at the third shot, swung about and emptied his first gun ineffectually at the other man.

This fellow charged down on him as Lambert drew his other gun, Tom Hargus, free of his fallen horse, shooting from the shelter of the rain barrel at the corner of the depot. Lambert felt something strike his left arm, with no more apparent force, no more pain, than the flip of a branch when one rides through the woods. But it swung useless at his side.

Through the smoke of his own gun, and the dust raised by the man on horseback, Lambert had a flash of Grace Kerr riding across the middle background between him and the saloon. He had no thought of her intention. It was not a moment for speculation with the bullets hitting his hat.

The man on horseback had come within ten yards of him. Lambert could see his teeth as he drew back his lips when he fired. Lambert centered his attention on this stranger, dark, meager-faced, marked by the unmistakable Mexican taint. His hat flew off at Lambert's first shot as if it had been jerked by a string; at his second, the fellow threw himself back in the saddle with a jerk. He fell limply over the high cantle and lay thus a moment, his frantic horse running wildly away. Lambert saw him tumble into the road as a man came spurring past the hotel, slinging his gun as he rode.

Nearer approach identified the belated sheriff. He shouted a warning to Lambert as he jerked his gun down and fired. Tom Hargus rose from behind the rain barrel, staggered into the road, going like a drunken man, his hat in one hand, the other pressed to his side, his head hanging, his long black hair falling over his bloody face.

In a second Lambert saw this, and the shouting, shooting officer bearing down toward him. He had the peculiar impression that the sheriff was submerged in water, enlarging grotesquely as he approached. The slap of another bullet on his back, and he turned to see Grace Kerr firing at him with only the width of the platform between them.

It was all smoke, dust, confusion around him, a sickness in his body, a dimness in his mind, but he was conscious of her horse rearing, lifting its feet high—one of them a white-stockinged foot, as he marked with painful precision—and falling backward in a clatter of shod hoofs on the railroad.

When it cleared a little, Lambert found the sheriff was on the ground beside him, supporting him with his arm, looking into his face with concern almost comical, speaking in anxious inquiry.

"Lay down over there on the platform, Duke, you're shot all to pieces," he said.

Lambert sat on the edge of the platform, and the world receded. When he felt himself sweep back to consciousness there were people about him, and he was stretched on his back, a feeling in his nostrils as if he breathed fire. Somebody was lying across from him a little way; he struggled with painful effort to lift himself and see.

It was Grace Kerr. Her face was white in the midst of her dark hair, and she was dead.

It was not right for her to be lying there, with dead face to the sky, he thought. They should do something, they should carry her away from the stare of curious, shocked eyes, they should—He felt in the pocket of his vest and found the little handkerchief, and crept painfully across to her, heedless of the sheriff's protest, defiant of his restraining, kindly hand.

With his numb left arm trailing by his side, a burning pain in his breast, as if a hot rod had been driven through him, the track of her treacherous bullet, he knew, he fumbled to unfold the bit of soft white linen, refusing the help of many sympathetic hands that were out-stretched.

When he had it right, he spread it over her face, white again as an evening primrose, as he once had seen it through the dusk of another night. But out of this night that she had entered she would ride no more. There was a thought in his heart as tender as his deed as he thus masked her face from the white stare of day:

"She can wipe her eyes on it when she wakes up and repents."

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