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   Chapter 1 HOW IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT

The Sunset Trail By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 39173

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


His baptismal name was William Barclay, but before the corn-coloured pencilling on his upper lip had foretold the coming of a moustache, he was known throughout that wide-flung region lying between the Platte and the Rio Grande, the Missouri and the Mountains, as Bat. This honour fell to the boyish share of Mr. Masterson because his quick eye, steady hand, and stealthy foot rendered him invincible against bears and buffaloes and other animals, ferae naturae, and gray oldsters of the plains were thereby reminded of a Batiste Brown who had been celebrated as a hunter in the faraway heroic days of Chouteau, Sublette, Bridger, and St. Vrain.

There is no such season as boyhood on the plains, folk are children one day, men the next, and thus it befell with Mr. Masterson. He owned, while yet his cheek was as hairless as an egg, primeval gravities and silences, and neither asked nor answered questions, neither took nor gave advice. Among his companions of the range he gained the reputation of one who "attends strictly to his own business"; and this contributed to his vogue and standing, and laid the bedplates of a popular confidence in Mr. Masterson.

Also, Mr. Masterson, being few of years and not without a dash of the artistic, was in his way a swell. His spurs were of wrought steel traced with gold, the handkerchief-an arterial red for hue-knotted about his brown throat was silk, not cotton, while his gray sombrero had been enriched with a bullion band of braided gold and silver, made in the likeness of a rattlesnake, fanged and ruby-eyed. This latter device cost Mr. Masterson the price of one hundred buffalo robes, and existed a source of wondering admiration from Dodge to the Pueblos.

Told Him to "Vamos."

As a final expression of dandyism, Mr. Masterson wore a narrow crimson sash wound twice about his waist, the fringed ends descending gallantly down his left leg. The sash had come from Mexico, smuggled in with a waggon load of Chihuahua hats, and when Mr. Masterson donned it, being privily a-blush to find himself so garish, he explained the same as something wherewith he might hogtie steers when in the course of duty he must rope and throw them. Doubtless the sash, being of a soft, reluctant texture and calculated to tie very tight into knots that would not slip, was of the precise best material with which to hogtie steers; but since Mr. Masterson never wore it on the range and always in the dance halls, it is suspected that he viewed it wholly in the light of a decoration.

Mr. Masterson's saddle, as exhibiting still further his sumptuous nature, was of stamped leather; while his war-bags and leggings were faced with dogskin, the long black fell warranted to shed rain like a tin roof. The one thing wanting a least flourish of ornament was Mr. Masterson's heavy, eight-square buffalo gun-a Sharp's 50-calibre rifle.

And yet this absence of embellishment was not because of Mr. Masterson's want of respect for the weapon; rather he respected it too much. A rifle was a serious creature in the eyes of Mr. Masterson, and not to be regarded as jewelry; to mount it with silver or inlay its stock with gold would have been as unbecoming as to encrust a prayer-book with diamonds. Mr. Masterson's rifle's name was Marie; and when abroad on the range he made remarks to it, and took it into his confidence, apropos of events which transpired as part of the day's work.

When Mr. Dixon, for whom Mr. Masterson was killing buffaloes along the Canadian, told that young gentleman how his visiting sister and niece would pass a fortnight at the 'Dobe Walls, the better to realise a virgin wilderness in all its charms, Mr. Masterson made no comment. Behind his wordlessness, however, Mr. Masterson nourished a poor opinion of this social movement. At its best, the 'Dobe Walls, as well as the buffalo range of which it lived at once the centre and the ragged flower, was rude beyond description, and by no means calculated-so Mr. Masterson thought-to dovetail with the tastes of ladies fresh from Beacon Hill. Besides, Mr. Masterson was not satisfied as to the depth and breadth of what friendships were professed by certain Cheyennes, who hunted buffaloes in the neighbourhood of the Canadian, for their paleface brothers and sisters.

Mr. Masterson's opinions on this point of Cheyenne friendship was not the offspring of surmise. Within the month, eight Cheyennes, supposed by the authorities in Washington to be profoundly peaceful, had come upon him while busy with both hands husking the hide from a buffalo bull. Full of the Washington impression of a Cheyenne peace, at least so far as deeds done of daylight and on the surface were concerned, Mr. Masterson paid no mighty heed to the visitors. Indeed, he paid none at all until one of them caught up his rifle from the grass, and smote him with it on the head. The Cheyenne, cocking the gun and aiming it, told him in English learned at Carlisle, and, with epithets learned at the agencies, to vamos or he'd shoot him in two. With the blood running down his face, Mr. Masterson so far accepted the Cheyenne suggestion as to back slowly from the muzzle of the rifle until he reached the edge of a ravine, upon which he had had his mind's eye from the beginning. Then he suddenly vanished out of harm's way.

Once in the ravine, Mr. Masterson flew for his camp, distant not a quarter of a mile. Getting a second rifle, Mr. Masterson bushwhacked those vivacious Cheyennes at the mouth of Mitchell's Canyon, and killed four, among them the violent individual who had so smote upon him with his own personal gun. The lost rifle, which was as the honour of Mr. Masterson, was recovered; and inasmuch as the four scalps were worth one hundred dollars in Dodge-for which amount they were a lien upon funds heaped together by public generosity to encourage the collection of such mementoes-it might be said that Mr. Masterson was repaid for his wound. He thought so, and in the language of diplomacy regarded the incident as closed.

For all that, the business was so frankly hostile in its transaction that Mr. Masterson, young of years yet ripe of Western wisdom, went more than half convinced that the Panhandle, at the time when Mr. Dixon decided to have his fair relatives pay it a visit, did not offer those conditions of a civilised safe refinement for which ladies of culture would look as their due. Mr. Masterson was right. Mr. Dixon's approval of his sister and her daughter in their descent upon the 'Dobe Walls was weakly foolish. Still, neither Mr. Masterson nor any one else felt free to show this truth to Mr. Dixon, and preparations for the tender invasion went briskly forward.

As Mr. Masterson was buying cartridges in the outfitting store, which emporium was one of the mud structures that constituted the 'Dobe Walls, he observed that Mr. Wright was clearing away the furniture from the office, this latter being a small room to the rear of the store.

"Going to give it to Billy Dixon's sister and her girl," explained Mr. Wright.

"When do they hit camp?" asked Mr. Masterson, mildly curious.

"Day after to-morrow, I reckon; they're coming over in a buckboard. Billy says there's a French party, a Count or something, who is coming with them. It looks like he's going to marry Billy's niece. If he shows up, he'll have to bunk in with you buffalo killers over in Hanrahan's saloon."

"Just so he don't talk French to us," said Mr. Masterson, "I won't care. I've put up with Mexican and Cheyenne, but I draw the line at French."

* * *

There were a score of men at the 'Dobe Walls, and Ruth Pemberton confessed to herself that Mr. Masterson was the Admirable Crichton of the array. She secretly admired his powerful shoulders, and compared him-graceful and limber and lithe as a mountain lion-with the tubby Count Banti to that patrician's disadvantage. Also, Mr. Masterson's hands and feet were smaller than those of Count Banti.

Ruth Pemberton and Count Banti made brief saddle excursions up and down the banks of the Canadian. Mr. Wright, using sundry ingenious devices to that end, had trained one of the more sedate of the 'Dobe Walls' ponies to carry a lady without going insane. The training was successful, and the bronco thus taught to defy the dread mysteries of skirts and sidesaddle, had been presented to Ruth Pemberton. While Ruth Pemberton and Count Banti rode abroad, Madam Pemberton uplifted herself with George Eliot's novels, and the sermons of Theodore Parker.

Ruth Pemberton and her noble escort never traveled far from camp, for Mr. Wright had convinced them that Cheyennes were not to be trusted. The several specimens of this interesting sept whom they saw about the 'Dobe Walls, trading robes for calico and cartridges, served by their appearance to confirm the warnings of Mr. Wright.

When not abroad in the saddle, Ruth Pemberton developed a surprising passion to know intimately the West and its methods, rude and rough. She asked Mr. Masterson if she might go to school to him in this study so near her pretty heart. That young gentleman, looking innocently into her slumberous brown eyes, said "Yes" directly. Or rather Mr. Masterson, lapsing into the Panhandle idiom, said,

"Shore!"

Being thus permitted, Ruth Pemberton, when Mr. Masterson galloped in from his buffalo killing and the Mexican skinners had brought home the hides in a waggon, would repair to the curing grounds, the latter being a flat, grassy stretch within two hundred yards of Mr. Wright's store. Once there, she looked on while Mr. Masterson pegged out the green hides. It interested her to see him sprinkle them, and the nearby grass, with poisoned water to keep off hidebugs. The hidebug, according to Mr. Masterson, must have been an insect cousin of the buffalo, for he came and went with the robe-hunters, and lived but to spoil hides with the holes that he bored in them.

Ruth Pemberton asked Mr. Masterson questions, to which he replied in one syllable. Also she did not pay sufficient attention to Count Banti-giving her whole bright-eyed time to Mr. Masterson. Whereat Count Banti sulked; and presently deserting Ruth Pemberton he withdrew to Mr. Hanrahan's saloon, where he was taught draw-poker to his detriment. Count Banti, when he left Ruth Pemberton, expected that she would call him back; she did not, and the oversight made him savage.

One morning, while they were riding among the riverside cottonwoods, Count Banti became hysterical in his reproaches; he averred that Ruth Pemberton tortured in order to try his love. Proceeding to extremes, he said that, should she drive him desperate, he would destroy Mr. Masterson. At this, Ruth Pemberton's rice-white teeth showed between roseleaf lips; she smiled in half admiration upon Count Banti.

"Oh!" thought Ruth Pemberton, "if only he would kill somebody I might love him from my heart!"

The soul of Ruth Pemberton of Beacon Hill and Vassar, having been west of the Missouri one month and at the 'Dobe Walls two days, was slipping into savagery-so friendly is retrogression, so easy comes reversion to type! She had supposed she loved Count Banti; and here was her soul going out to Mr. Masterson! How she dwelt upon him, when, bronzed of brow, cool of eye, alert, indomitable, he rode in from the day's kill! The rattle of his spurs as he swung from the saddle was like a tune of music!

Not that Ruth Pemberton wore these thoughts on her face. She hid them from others, she even concealed them from herself. Had one told her that she was beginning to love Mr. Masterson, she would have stared. Count Banti himself never thought of so hideous a possibility; his jealous petulance arose solely from her calm neglect of himself. Ruth Pemberton asked Mr. Masterson how old he was, and it pleased her to hear that he was several months her superior.

Civilisation is a disguise, and in travel one loses one's mask. One's nature comes out and basks openly in new suns. This is so true that the West, when a compliment is intended, says of a man: "He'll do to cross the plains with." What the West means is that on such an expedition, what is treacherous or selfish or cowardly in a man will appear. Wherefore, to say of one that he will do to cross the plains with, is a most emphatic declaration that the one thus exalted is unmarked of vices.

Ruth Pemberton, who on Beacon Hill would have paled at a pin-prick and the red bead of blood it provoked, now thought kindly of mere slaughter, and insisted on riding ten miles with Mr. Masterson to the buffalo grounds to witness the day's work.

"But, my child!" cried Madam Pemberton.

"It's the only chance, mamma, I'll ever have to see a buffalo killed."

Madam Pemberton was not a deep mind, but exceeding shallow; to say that any chance was an only chance struck her as a reason for embracing it.

Ruth Pemberton was to journey to the buffalo grounds in the buckboard; Count Banti might accompany her, a Mexican would drive. Mr. Masterson, when told of the good company he would have on his next day's hunt, made no objection. To the direct question as to whether the country were possible for buckboards, he said it was.

"What do you think yourself, Bob?" asked Mr. Masterson, when that evening he met Mr. Wright in Mr. Hanrahan's bar, and they discussed this feminine eagerness to see dead buffaloes. "If we cross up with a bunch of Cheyennes, there may be trouble. It's a chance they'd try to capture the girl. Besides, they've got it in for me about that hair on my bridle."

"There's no Cheyennes about," said Mr. Wright. "When they drift within twenty miles of us, they are sure to show up at the store, and I haven't seen an Indian for two days."

Count Banti took a Winchester rifle with him. There were two seats in the buckboard; Ruth Pemberton and Count Banti occupied the rear seat, the front seat being given over to the Mexican, and a basket flowing with a refection prepared by Mr. Hanrahan's darky cook. Mr. Masterson, on his buckskin pony, Houston, rode by Ruth Pemberton's side of the buckboard. Madam Pemberton remained behind with The Mill on the Floss.

The expedition skirted the suburbs of a prairie dog village, and the shrill citizens were set a-flutter, or pretended to be, and dived into their houses. The polite diminutive owls, the prairie dogs' companions, stood their ground and made obeisances. Ruth Pemberton's cheek flushed with an odd interest as she gazed at the prairie dogs and the little polite ground owls.

Off to one side a dozen coyotes loafed along, not unlike a dozen loafing dogs, keeping abreast of the buckboard. Ruth Pemberton pointed to them:

"Isn't it strange," she asked, "that they should accompany us?"

There was the emphasis of a half alarm in her tones; a coyote was not, to her eyes, without formidable characteristics. Mr. Masterson explained.

"They go with us to the kill. When we leave, there will be a battle royal between them and the buzzards for the beef."

Mr. Masterson pushed forward to show the buckboard Mexican his way across a piece of broken ground. Count Banti took note of the parted lips, and that soft sparkle of the brown eyes, as Ruth Pemberton followed him with her glances. Count Banti made no criticism of these dulcet phenomena; he was too much of a gentleman and she too much of an heiress.

Count Banti, moved of a purpose to recall Ruth Pemberton from her train of fancy, did say that since a waggon, with the skinners, must go and come every day to bring in the buffalo hides, he was surprised that Mr. Masterson didn't ride in that waggon. It was superfluous, nay foolish, to saddle a pony under such waggon circumstances.

This idiotic conversation earned the commentator on buffalo hunters and their ways immediate grief. Ruth Pemberton wheeled upon Count Banti like a little lioness, that is, a little lioness subdued of Vassar and Beacon Hill. Ruth Pemberton said that she had never been treated to a more preposterous remark! It was unworthy, Count Banti! Mr. Masterson in a waggon! One might as easily conceive of Sir Launcelot or Richard the Lion Heart in a waggon.

When Mr. Masterson returned to the buckboard, Ruth Pemberton deftly lost her handkerchief overboard. Mr. Masterson brought Houston to the right about, and riding back stooped from the saddle and swept up the scrap of cambric from the short grass.

"Because you are so good," said Ruth Pemberton, with a smile, "you may keep it for your reward."

Count Banti ground his teeth; he expected that Mr. Masterson would bind the sweet trophy in his sombrero. Count Banti gasped; instead of tucking the dainty guerdon behind that gold and silver rattlesnake, the favoured dull one continued to offer it to Ruth Pemberton.

"I've no place for it," said Mr. Masterson; "I'd lose it."

Ruth Pemberton's brow was red as she received her property; for one wrathful moment a flame showed in the brown eye like a fire in a forest. Mr. Masterson's own eye was as guileless as an antelope's. Was he a fool? Was he deriding her? Ruth Pemberton decided that he was merely a white Indian. She appeased her vanity by turning her shoulder on the criminal and giving her conversation to Count Banti. Under these direct rays of the sun, our Frenchman's noble soul expanded like a flower; as the fruit of that blossoming he began to brag like a Sioux.

Having caught some glint of the lady's spirit, Count Banti told of adventures in India and Africa. He was a hero; he had haunted water-holes by night and killed black-maned lions; he had stalked tigers on foot; he had butchered Zulus who, moved of a tropical venom, assailed him with battle axes.

Count Banti, pressing forward, set forth that he had been sustained as he crossed the Atlantic by a hope that he might war with America's red natives. Alas, they were broken and cowed; their spirit had been beaten down! He must return wrapped in disappointment.

Still-and now Count Banti became tender-it had been the most fortunate journey of his career. If not Mars then Venus! Count Banti had found the most lovely and most lovable woman in the world! And, by the way, would Ruth Pemberton make Count Banti delirious with joy by presenting him the handkerchief which the aborigine on the pony had had neither the wit nor the gentle fineness to accept?

For reply, Ruth Pemberton furtively wadded the poor rejected cambric into a ball about the size of a buckshot, and dropped it overboard again. And, because neither Mr. Masterson nor Count Banti saw its fall, there it lies among the buffalo grasses on the flat banks of the Canadian to this day.

Count Banti repeated his request and backed it with a sigh. Thereupon Ruth Pemberton opened both small hands to show how that desirable cambric had disappeared. Count Banti made rueful eyes rearward as though contemplating a search.

Mr. Masterson halted the buckboard; they had arrived within a mile of the buffaloes; he pointed where hundreds of them were grazing or reposing about the base of a gently sloping hill. The heavy dust-coloured creatures looked like farm cattle to the untaught Ruth Pemberton.

There was a bowl-like depression a few yards from where the buckboard came to a stop. It was grassed and regular, and one might have imagined that it had been shaped and sodded by a gardener. Mr. Masterson defined it as a buffalo wallow; he tried to make clear how, pivoting on one horn, a buffalo bull, shoulder to the ground, had excavated the cup-fashioned hollow they beheld

.

While the Mexican was slipping free the team's traces, and making the few camp arrangements required for their stay, Count Banti began a lively talk with Mr. Masterson.

How long would it take Mr. Masterson to complete his day's kill?

Mr. Masterson, it seems, would kill thirty buffaloes; that would take an hour.

And then they would return? Yes; or if the visitors tired, they might hook up and start at any moment. It was not worth while to sit through the slaughter of thirty buffaloes. The killing of one would be as the killing of another; to see the first was to see all.

Ruth Pemberton interposed; she would wait and return with Mr. Masterson.

Count Banti said he could see that killing buffaloes was slow, insipid sport. Now there might be a gallant thrill in fighting Indians-painted and perilous! Count Banti would have summoned up an interest for Indians. Had Mr. Masterson ever slain an Indian? Probably not; Mr. Masterson was a young man.

Mr. Masterson bent a cold eye upon Count Banti. Saying never a word, he sauntered over to Houston, and began twisting a pair of rawhide hopples about his fetlocks, for Mr. Masterson, like all professional buffalo hunters, killed his game on foot. As Count Banti was ruffling over Mr. Masterson's want of courtesy, the Mexican plucked him by the sleeve.

"See!" said the Mexican, pointing to the four braids of black hair hanging from Mr. Masterson's bridle. "Cheyenne skelps; four!" And the Mexican held up four fingers.

"Scalps!" returned Count Banti, the burgundy colour deserting his heavy face. "Where did he get them?"

"Killed 'em here-anywhere!" vouchsafed the Mexican, waving a vague paw. "Killed 'em twelve weeks ago-mebby eight-no?"

What Count Banti might have thought concerning the sinister character of the region into which he had stumbled, he was given no chance to divulge, for Mr. Masterson came up, rifle in hand, and speaking to Ruth Pemberton, said:

"Make yourself comfortable; you will be able to follow all that goes on, should you be interested in it, from the buckboard. You've brought a pair of field glasses, I see. Lucky we're down the wind! I can go straight to them."

As the ground between him and the buffaloes on the slope lay flat and open, with not so much as a bush to act as a screen, Mr. Masterson's remark about going straight to his quarry appeared a bit optimistic. However, Mr. Masterson did not think so, but seemed the sublimation of certainty; he started off at a slow, careless walk directly towards the herd.

Mr. Masterson had covered half the distance, that is to say, he had approached within a half mile of his game, before the buffaloes displayed a least excitement. When he had travelled thus far, however, those nearest began to exhibit a slow, angry alarm. They would paw the grass and toss a threatening horn; at times one would throw up his nose and sniff the air. The wind being from the buffaloes to Mr. Masterson, these nose experiments went without reward.

Yielding to the restless timidity of the perturbed ones, who if set running would infallibly stampede the herd, Mr. Masterson threw himself on his face and began to creep. His brown right hand gripped the stock of his rifle, and he dragged it over the grass, muzzle to the rear. Also, he was careful to keep his face hidden from the buffaloes behind the wide brim of his sombrero.

The herd's interest was sensibly abated when Mr. Masterson forsook the perpendicular. So long as they were granted no terrifying glimpses of his face, the buffaloes would believe him some novel form of wolf, and nobody to fly from. Acting upon this wolf theory, they watched the creeping Mr. Masterson curiously; they stood their ground, and some even walked towards him in a threatening mood, disposed to bully.

As Mr. Masterson, eyes to the grass, crept slowly forward, a dry "Bzz-z-z-z-z!" broke on his ear from a little distance in advance. Cautiously he lifted his eyes; the rattlesnake lay, coiled and open-mouthed, in his path. Mr. Masterson pushed the Sharp's towards the reptile; at that it uncoiled and crawled aside.

For twenty minutes Mr. Masterson continued his slow, creeping advance. When he was within four hundred yards of the herd he rose on one knee. There was a big bull, evidently an individual of consequence, who, broadside on, stood furthest up the wind. Deliberately and without excitement, the Sharp's came to Mr. Masterson's shoulder and his steady eye brought the sights to bear upon a spot twelve inches square, just behind the foreshoulder.

For the sliver of a second Mr. Masterson hung on the aim; then the heavy buffalo gun, burning one hundred and twenty grains of powder and throwing a bullet eight to the pound, roared, and the bull leaped heavily forward, shot through the lungs. With forefeet spread wide, blood pumping from both nostrils, the buffalo fought desperately for breath and for strength to stand. The battle was against him; he staggered, caught himself, tottered, stumbled, and then with a sigh of despair sank forward on his knees to roll at last upon his side-dead.

At the roar of the buffalo gun, the herd, fear at their hearts' roots, began to run. Instantly a change came over them. The dying bull was to windward gushing blood, and the scent of that blood swept down upon them in a kind of madness. Their wits forsook them; they forgot their peril in the blood-frenzy that possessed them, and charged ferociously upon their dying comrade. When he fell, they gored him with crazy horns-a herd of humped, four-legged, shaggy, senseless, bellowing lunatics!

"Bang!" from the big buffalo gun, and another bull stood bleeding out his life. The herd, wild and frantic, fell upon him.

"Bang!" spoke the buffalo gun; a third, shot through and through, became the object of the herd's crazy rage.

Killing always to windward, Mr. Masterson might have stood in his tracks and slain a dozen score; the scent of the new blood would hold the fury-bitten buffaloes like a spell.

Knowing this to be the nature of buffaloes, Mr. Masterson felt profound surprise when after his third fire, and while still the last stricken bleeding buffalo was on his feet, the whole band seemed suddenly restored to their senses, and went lumbering off at a right angle.

"Cheyennes!" exclaimed the sophisticated Mr. Masterson; "they are over the brow of the hill!" Then he turned, and started for Ruth Pemberton and the others at a sharp trot.

While Mr. Masterson was creeping on the buffaloes, Ruth Pemberton from her buckboard perch, followed him through the field glasses. She saw him pause, and push forward with his rifle at the rattlesnake; while she could not see the reptile, by some instinct she realised it-coiled and fanged and venomous-and shuddered. She drew a breath of relief as Mr. Masterson re-began his stalk. She saw him when he rose to his knee; then came the straight, streaky puff of white smoke, and the dying bull stood staggering and bleeding. Next there drifted to her on the loitering breeze the boom of the buffalo gun, blunted by distance and direction. Her glasses covered the herd when in its blood-rage it held furious wake about the dying ones.

And, what was most strange, Ruth Pemberton took a primal joy therein. She was conscious of the free, original sweep of the plains about her, with the white shimmer of the Canadian beyond. And sensations claimed her, to flow in her veins and race along her nerves, which archery and tennis had never called up. There abode a glow in her blood that was like a brightness and a new joy. If the handkerchief-declining Mr. Masterson were a white Indian, what now was she? Only she never once thought on that.

Mr. Masterson came up at top speed, and said something in Spanish to the Mexican. That hare-heart became pale as paper; instead of bringing in his team, as Mr. Masterson had commanded, he cut the hopples of the nearest horse, and went powdering away towards the 'Dobe Walls. Mr. Masterson tossed up his Sharp's with a half-notion of stopping him; then he shook his head cynically.

"He's only a Mexican," said he. Helping Ruth Pemberton from the buckboard, where she sat in startled ignorance, he remarked: "Get into the buffalo wallow; you'll be safer there."

"Safe?" whispered Ruth Pemberton.

Mr. Masterson pointed to eleven Cheyennes on the far crest of the hill. Then he led Ruth Pemberton to the buffalo wallow, where Count Banti was already crouching.

"You've left your Winchester on the buckboard," said Mr. Masterson.

Count Banti stared glassily, the purple of his face a dingy gray. The man was helpless; the nearness of death had paralyzed him.

Mr. Masterson shifted his glance to Ruth Pemberton. Her eyes, shining like strange jewels, met him squarely look for look; there was a heave to her bosom and a red in her cheek. His own eyes were jade, and his brows had come sternly forward, masking his face with the very spirit of war. The two looked upon one another-the boy and the girl whose rearings had been so far apart and whose natures were so close together.

"I'll get it," she said, meaning the Winchester.

Mr. Masterson made her crouch down in the bottom of the buffalo wallow, where neither bullet nor arrow might reach her. Then, walking to the buckboard, he got the Winchester and the cartridge belt that belonged with it.

"It's Baldy Smith's," remarked Mr. Masterson, as though Ruth Pemberton might be interested in the news. "It's a good gun-for a Winchester."

One of the Cheyennes, glimpsing the recreant Mexican, started in pursuit; the others rode down the slope for a closer survey of the trio in the buffalo wallow. Mr. Masterson threw the loop of a lariat over the head of Houston and fastened him, hopples and all, to the buckboard.

Understanding that no surprise was possible, the Cheyennes began at a sweeping gallop to circle the garrison in the buffalo wallow, their dainty little war ponies a-flutter of eagle feathers and strips of red cloth. As they circled, they closed in nearer and nearer; at less than six hundred yards they opened fire.

Each attacking buck kept his pony between himself and Mr. Masterson, firing from beneath the pony's neck. The shooting was bad; the bullets struck the grass and kicked up puffs of dirt one hundred yards in front, and then came singing forty feet overhead. Count Banti heard the zip! zip! zip! and groaned as he lay on his face.

Mr. Masterson, who-being on his feet-was head and shoulders above the level of the flat, paid no heed to the terror-ridden Count Banti. Once he cast a look at Ruth Pemberton, making sure she was below the danger level. She, for her side, watched his expression as he stood, rifle in hand, observing the attack. She felt no fear, felt nothing only a sweep and choke of exultation. It was as though she were the prize for which a battle was being fought-a battle, one against ten! Also, she could read in the falconed frown of Mr. Masterson somewhat of that temper wherewith he had harvested those scalps on his bridle.

While Ruth Pemberton gazed in a kind of fondness without fear, the heavy Sharp's came to the sudden shoulder of Mr. Masterson. The roar of it fell upon her so close and loud that it was like a fog to her senses. Mr. Masterson threw open his gun, and clipped in a second cartridge. The brass shell flirted over his shoulder by the extractor, struck Count Banti's face. That hero-who had hunted lions by night and tigers on foot-gave a little scream, and then lay mute.

"It was this!" said Ruth Pemberton, holding up the empty shell to Mr. Masterson.

Mr. Masterson's bullet had gone through pony and rider as though they were papier-maché. What life might have been left in the latter was crushed out by the falling pony who smashed chest and ribs beneath his heavy shoulder.

The nine other circling bucks gathered about the one who had died. Clustered as they were, there could be no thought of missing, and Mr. Masterson emptied another saddle. With that, the others swooped on the slain and bore them off beyond the hill.

As they did so, far away to the right a single Cheyenne came riding; he was yelping like twenty wolves at once, and tossing something and catching it in his hand. The single Cheyenne was he who had followed the craven Mexican, and the thing he tossed and played with was the Mexican's scalp. When he had joined the others, and they had laid their dead in a safe place, the whole party again came riding-open order-down the long slope towards the fatal buffalo wallow.

Mr. Masterson picked up the Winchester and forced cartridges into the magazine until it would hold no more.

"They're going to charge," said Mr. Masterson, apologising for the Winchester. "It'll come handy to back up my Sharp's in a case of quick work. There won't be time to load, and a Sharp's is only a single-shot gun, you know."

Ruth Pemberton did not know, and her mind was running on other matters than guns, single-shot or magazine.

"They're going to charge?" she asked.

"Yes; but don't lose your nerve. They'll make a heap of hubbub, but it's two for one I stand them off."

The assurance came as coolly as though Mr. Masterson considered the possibilities of a shower, and was confident of the integrity of Ruth Pemberton's umbrella.

"One thing!" said Ruth Pemberton wistfully.

"Yes?" said Mr. Masterson, his eye on the Cheyennes, his ear on Ruth Pemberton.

"Don't let them take me! Kill me first!"

"I've intended to from the beginning," said Mr. Masterson steadily. "First you, then me! You know the Western saying for an Indian fight: Always save your last shot for yourself!"

There was nothing of despair or lack of resolution; he spoke as speaks one who but gives a promise to one who has reason to receive it. He offered it without fear to one who accepted it without fear, and when he had spoken Ruth Pemberton felt as cheerfully light as a bird. She had a desire to seize on the Winchester and take her stand with Mr. Masterson. But her ignorance of Winchesters was there to baffle her; moreover Mr. Masterson, as though he read her impulse, interfered.

"Stay where you are!" he commanded. From where she crouched in the buffalo wallow, Ruth Pemberton heard a whirl of yells, and the grass-muffled drumming of many hoofs; and the yells and the hoof-beats were bearing down upon her with the rush of a tempest. There came a rattle of rifles, and the chuck! chuck! of bullets into the soft earth. In the midst of the din and the clamour she heard the bold roar of the buffalo gun. Then she saw Mr. Masterson snatch up the Winchester, and spring clear of the buffalo wallow to the flat, grassy ground in front. Feeling nothing, knowing nothing beyond a resolution to be near him, live or die, she was out of the buffalo wallow as soon as was he, and on her knees at his feet. She could seize on no one element as distinct and separate from a whirling whole, made up of blur and smoke and yell and rifle crash, with feathers dancing and little ponies charging like meteors! She was sure only of the rock-bound fact to which she clung that Mr. Masterson never moved from where he stood. She heard the spitting, whip-like crack of the Winchester, so different from the menacing voice of the buffalo gun, as working it with the rapidity of a bell-punch he fired it faster than she could count.

The thing was on and by and over in a moment; the charging Cheyennes went to right and left, unable to ride up against that tide of death which set so fiercely in their faces. Nine Cheyennes made that charge upon the buffalo wallow; Ruth Pemberton counted but four to flash to the rear at the close. The four never paused; their hearts had turned weak, and they kept on along the river's bank, until at a low place they rode in and went squattering across. Five riderless ponies, running wild and lost, gave chase with neighs of protest at being left behind.

Out in front, one of the five Cheyennes who had been shot from his saddle in the charge raised himself, wounded, on his elbow. Mr. Masterson, who had recovered his Sharp's, sent a bullet into his head. Ruth Pemberton, even through the tingling trance of battle that still wrapped her close, turned cold.

"What else?" inquired Mr. Masterson. "We don't run any Red-Cross outfit in the Panhandle."

Ruth Pemberton made no reply: her fascinated eyes saw where a trickle of blood guttered the cheek of Mr. Masterson. She thought no more on dead or living Cheyennes, but with a great sob of horror came towards him, eyeing the blood.

"Only a nick," said he. "You can't fight all day without a scratch or two."

Count Banti began to stir. He sat up in a foolish way and looked at Ruth Pemberton. She turned from him, ashamed, and let her gaze rove to where the Cheyennes, far beyond the river, were rounding the corner of a hill. There was nothing she could say to Count Banti.

Mr. Masterson loosened and mounted Houston, which seasoned pony had comported himself throughout the mêlée with the steadiness which should go with his name. Presently he rode back to the buffalo wallow, and instead of four, there were eleven scalps on his bridle rein.

"A man should count his coups," he vouchsafed in explanation.

There was no need of defence; Ruth Pemberton, without understanding the argument which convinced her own breast, looked upon those scalps as the fitting finale of the morning's work.

Mr. Masterson caught up the buckboard horse, mate to the one upon which the Mexican had fled, and strapped a blanket on its back for the use and behoof of Count Banti-still speechless, nerves a-tangle. Then Mr. Masterson, taking a spare cinch from his war-bags, to the disgust of Houston, proceeded with more blankets to construct a pillion upon which Ruth Pemberton might ride behind him. Houston, as he felt the cinch drawing, pointed his ears resentfully.

"Well?" threatened Mr. Masterson.

Houston relaxed the resentful ears and acquiesced with grace, fearing worse.

Mr. Masterson from the saddle held out his hand; Ruth Pemberton took it and, making a step of the stirrup which he tendered, sprang to the pillion.

"You can hold on by my belt," quoth Mr. Masterson.

And so they came back to the 'Dobe Walls; Ruth Pemberton's arms about Mr. Masterson, her cheek against his shoulder, while her soul wandered up and down in a world of strange happinesses, as one might walk among trees and flowers, with birds singing overhead.

Four days; and the buckboard bearing Ruth Pemberton, Madam Pemberton and Count Banti drew away for the North. A lieutenant with ten cavalrymen, going from Fort Elliot to Dodge, accompanied them by way of escort.

"And so you hate the East?" Ruth Pemberton had asked Mr. Masterson that morning before the start, her eyes dim, and her cheeks much too pale for so innocent a question.

"No, not hate," returned Mr. Masterson, "but my life is in the West."

As the buckboard reached the ridge from which would come the last glimpse of the Canadian, off to the south and west, outlined against the sky, stood a pony and rider. The rider waved his sombrero in farewell. Ruth Pemberton gazed and still gazed; the hunger of the brown eyes was as though her love lay starving. The trail sloped sharply downward, and the picture of the statue horseman on the hill was snatched away. With that-her life turned drab and desolate-Ruth Pemberton slipped to the floor of the buckboard, and buried her face in her mother's kindly lap.

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