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   Chapter 4 THE WILD ROSE OF THE CANADIAN

The Sunset Trail By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 23636

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The town's name was Mobeetie and, for the expansive suddenness of its springing up, might better have been Mushroom. A Cheyenne killed a buffalo in the flats that stretch from the Canadian, and as he peeled the husk from that buffalo the nearest paleface was thirty miles away. The next day came engineers, and ran lines and mapped out town lots on the ground where that buffalo was slain; within a week thereafter Mobeetie buzzed and bustled.

Mr. Masterson, ever full of the spirit of progress, gave up buffalo hunting for the nonce, and carried "chain" and pegged corners, and did what other deeds an amateur might do towards aiding the surveyors in laying out Mobeetie. Later, he aided the public in laying out certain predatory characters who from time to time rode into Mobeetie with a purpose of spoil. These latter intermittent lifts to law and order endeared Mr. Masterson to Mobeetie; the more since he was not, speaking strictly, a resident of that hamlet, having his roofless habitat on the buffalo range, with a home-camp at the 'Dobe Walls.

All folk, whether they be white or black or red or wheat-hued, are idolators in their hearts, and those of Mobeetie worshipped Mollie Brennan. The women worshipped her because her little feet took hold on innocence, the men for the beauty of her face-for brown of cheek, and red of lip, and with eyes as softly, gently deep as are those of an antelope, Mollie Brennan was beautiful. To her worshippers Mollie Brennan was known as The Wild Rose, and the name had been given her after this fashion:

Misled by drink, a chance-blown poet once upon a time invaded the Panhandle. Beholding Mollie Brennan, he fell in love, as poets will, and sighed on her obdurate trail for a wasted twelve-month. Because she would not listen, the poet poured forth his soul in sonnets, in which vehicle of verse he identified Mollie Brennan as "The Wild Rose of the Canadian." There were no wild roses along the Canadian, at least in any near vicinity of Mobeetie, but the love-wrung bard, more moved of the whiskey than the flora of the region, refused to be bound by that barrenness. "The Wild Rose" he made it; and, since his stanzas were granted local hearing, the Wild Rose it became, and Mollie Brennan accepted and wore the title pleasantly enough.

But the Wild Rose resolutely declined the hand of that poet; and because she would not hear him and he must tell some one, he was wont, after the fifth cup, to sob forth his soul and its defeat to the frequenters of the Lady Gay saloon. The defeat gave general satisfaction, for Mobeetie distrusted if it did not disapprove of poets, and in that harsh hour the Panhandle thought better of a Sharp's rifle than of a sonnet. The poet, in a lucid moment, perceived as much, and, every hope of conquering the callous fancy of the Wild Rose having died, he got aboard the stage-coach for Dodge, bearing with him a bottle and a broken heart. His going was regretted at the Lady Gay, but the Wild Rose felt relieved.

Sergeant King was so early in his coming to Mobeetie as to be almost entitled to fame as one of its founders. Nor did the fact go without a value, since nothing but that residential antiquity had saved him from being warned to quit the town a dozen times.

Mobeetie confessed to no love for Sergeant King. He was dark of brow, with cruel mouth and furtive secret eye. He had been run out of Abilene, as the upshot of an enterprise wherein he combined a six-shooter with a deck of cards-the latter most improperly marked-and which resulted in the demise of a gentleman then and there playing draw-poker against him. Also, he was that creature-most detested and soonest to die in the West-a blusterer and a bully; and when a bit unbuckled of rum he would boast of the blood he had spilled.

This latter relaxation is exceeding bad form. Mobeetie could have overlooked the marked cards, since it is understood in the West that every gentleman, in what games of chance engage his interest, must be equal to his own protection or suffer those forfeits which nature everywhere imposes upon ignorance gone astray; it might have condoned the homicide, because, technically, it was a killing rather than a murder, and the departed wore his hardware at the time; even those hang-dog facial marks of an innate treachery would have passed unchallenged, for who may help his looks? but that braggart trick of, orally, reviewing what scalps he had taken, and exulting thereat, set public sentiment flowing against Sergeant King to such a height of disfavour that no one wanted his company and but few his gold. This last should be the measure of an utter public disregard for, however blackly hated your outlaw villain may be, his gold, as a rule, partakes in no wise of his unpopularity. For what says Vespasian? "The smell of all money is sweet."

Following her inadvertent conquest of the poet, and his broken-hearted dismissal to Dodge, Sergeant King was that one who gave to the Wild Rose what he would have called his heart. The gift bred an alarm in her bosom beyond any induced by the rhyming passion of the sonneteer. Whereas the poet had only annoyed her, she drew back frightened in the base instance of Sergeant King. He saw and understood, and the bitterness which lay like poison at the bottom of his evil heart was stirred.

Every resident of Mobeetie, in an hour devoid of convention, was the acquaintance, if not the friend, of every other resident of that metropolis by dint of a citizenship common to both, and Sergeant King was therefore an acquaintance of the Wild Rose. However, what few words he addressed to her never went beyond the commonplace; warned as by intuition of her aversion, he offered no syllable of love. But his eyes, black, and burning with a hungry fire-half-hidden, half-bursting into flame-made no secret of those sentiments that had swept down Sergeant King; the Wild Rose could feel their glances play about her like a tongue of fire. There it stopped; if he possessed a hope of winning her, he never made it manifest-coming near her only with his eyes!

You are not to suppose that the Wild Rose went untouched of love. When a maiden refuses one man, it is a reason for believing she has given herself to some one else. Mobeetie had grown up a brisk three hours' canter from the 'Dobe Walls, and Mr. Masterson was frequently about its causeways. Buffalo hunting would wax monotonous betimes, and in what moments it palled upon him Mr. Masterson unbent in visits to Mobeetie. Thus the Wild Rose caught frequent glimpses of him, and the heart which had refused the poet, and was closed fast and fear-locked against Sergeant King, went following Mr. Masterson with its love. The Wild Rose learned to know the very jingle of his spurs, and their melody about the board sidewalks of Mobeetie would bring her face to the pane.

Once, the Wild Rose met Mr. Masterson as he emerged from the Santa Ana restaurant, to which place of refection he had been drawn in favour of flapjacks, and the blush that spread redly over her cheek would have told tales to one more gifted of self-conceit. The tender truth missed fire; Mr. Masterson, if he nursed opinions on the point at all, held by a theory that love ought to be confined to the East as a region endowed of what leisure was demanded by its pursuit. When the Wild Rose swept him softly, and then let fall those lids in fear lest the modest hazel depths give up their blissful secret, his mind was on Cheyennes, and how far his raid on Bear Shield's ponies one Christmas Eve might have been a source of the recent uprising of that peevish people. He escaped news of the sweet story told by those deep fringed eyes, and the Wild Rose had the romance to herself.

And yet, while her soul's cry went unheard by Mr. Masterson, it was not to die unnoted. Jealousy is more alert than love, and Sergeant King, lounging in the doorway of the Lady Gay, surprised the look of the Wild Rose, and read its truth. The knowledge shone in upon him with a red hatefulness that was as a ray from the pit. The love which had fled from him would follow another-unsought and uninvited!

Like an icicle the thought pierced through and through the soul of Sergeant King. Wanting the touch of a jealous spur, he might have loved on for unresentful years, passively enduring the coldness which was his reward. But that Mr. Masterson should have the Wild Rose aroused in him a mindless fury that was like unto the blind anger of an animal. Even his vanity arose to edge the sense of loss and sharpen him for retaliation.

At the rough seminary wherein Sergeant King had been reared blood was taught as that one reprisal worth the while of a man, and death and vengeance were set side by side as synonyms. To determine on the taking off of Mr. Masterson was the one thing natural. It called for no motion of the intelligence; the resolution leaped instantly into being as the fruit of what he saw and what he felt. His enemy must die, and the sole question that invited pause was: How might that enemy be blotted out with least risk to himself? He retired into an uttermost corner of the Lady Gay to consider and lay out his dark campaign.

Such as Sergeant King are unequal to sure bloodshed unless their nerves are stiffened by alcohol, and he caused a bottle to be brought to his elbow to assist his cogitations. He put away glass after glass, for-as those mule-skinners freighting between Mobeetie and Dodge would have phrased it-he "wasn't able to start such a load as Bat Masterson on a cold collar."

While Sergeant King was thus employed in bringing about that needed temperature, as though Fate were delivering his victim into his clutch, Mr. Masterson with Mr. Dixon came into the Lady Gay. The two sat at a table just across from Sergeant King.

It was a big day for the Lady Gay; the tides of custom had risen to unusual heights. There were a busy dozen about the faro table, which stood at the end of the bar; an equal number bent noisily over monte, the latter diversion being dealt by a careworn Mexican, who looked as though luck were against him. In the far end a sedate poker game prevailed.

To every man his interest; with two-score folk in the Lady Gay, no one observed the sombre Sergeant King, brooding schemes of blood. A Mexican lost his last peso at monte, and drew out of the eager fringe about the table. Sergeant King called him with a motion of his hand. The Mexican approached, received the whispered directions, took the gold piece tendered, and disappeared. By the time Sergeant King had taken another drink the Mexican led up his pony, saddled and bridled, to the door of the Lady Gay and stood holding it by the bits, awaiting the murderous convenience of its owner. Plainly Sergeant King was opening a gate for final flight.

There be many species of courage; there are day courage and night courage, water courage and land courage, gun courage and knife courage, with forty further courages beside. And, when you have settled its sort, there remains the matter of comparison. There is a courage born of caution; it is fed and led by caution, and runs by its side like a calf by the side of the mother-cow. There is another courage, whitely desperate, which owns no element of prudence, and against which no odds prevail.

Once in the Panhandle-he may be there to-day-there lived a personage of cows whose name was Old Tom Harris. I have referred to this worthy man before. He numbered but thirty years, and the epithet of "Old" was a title of endearment which his mates of rope and running-iron had conferred upon him to mark their admiration of his arctic dauntlessness of heart. Mr. Willingham, sheriff, having official reason so to do, aimed his six-shooter at Old Tom Harris when the l

atter's back was turned. Then he called upon him to hold up his hands. Old Tom Harris came 'round on his heel, but he did not throw up his hands. Looking into the point-blank mouth of the Willingham pistol, he pulled his own. Then he laid it, muzzle for muzzle, with the opposing piece of ordnance, and defied Mr. Willingham to begin his blazing work.

"You haven't the sand to shoot!" said Old Tom Harris.

And Mr. Willingham hadn't.

It might bear suggestion that the courage of Sergeant King was caution-born. With seven chances in his favour where his enemy possessed but three he would offer battle. With chances even he would be more discreet. Mr. Masterson's courage was of the Old Tom Harris stamp.

The Mexican stood at the door of the Lady Gay, holding the pony of Sergeant King. Suddenly, above the hubbub of the games, arose the voice of that unworthy.

"Thar's a hoss thief here I'd like to kill!"

In the hush that followed every eye went nervously seeking the speaker. He stood erect, his six-shooter in his right hand and hanging by his side.

It would have been wiser, from the standpoint of his enterprise, you will say, had Sergeant King gone instantly and wordlessly to work; you will condemn the oratory as marking a lack of military intelligence.

There was a reason for the rhetoric of Sergeant King. The rules to govern Western gun-play do not permit the shooting of one's enemy in the back. It is one's notifying duty to arouse him. Once he be on his guard, and reaching for his artillery, one is licensed to begin his downfall. A violation of these laws leads to a vigilance committee, a rope, and a nearest tree.

Sergeant King was aware of these courtesies of the gun and what public resentment would attend their violation. Wherefore, and that the proprieties related might be appeased, he shouted:

"Thar's a hoss thief here I'd like to kill."

Mr. Masterson was in no wise a friend of Sergeant King, and yet he would not have called himself that person's enemy. He quietly distasted, and as quietly failed, to be on nearer than nodding terms with him. Also, he distrusted the fortitude of Sergeant King as neither granite-bedded nor iron-bound.

"I once," observed Mr. Masterson, in later exposition of that courage of Sergeant King, and his estimate thereof; "I once saw him jump over a counter to get at a party, when he might as well have gone 'round, and the episode struck me as too dramatic. From that moment I knew the Sergeant wasn't clean strain game."

There is a telepathy of the guns. This was once shown when Clay Allison-but that comes later; let us return to the Lady Gay. With the first war-shout, the experienced intuition of what portion of the Mobeetie public was then gathered in the Lady Gay, went wholly aware that the feud of Sergeant King was addressed solely to Mr. Masterson. Not a whit behind the public in the feather-edged character of his apprehension, Mr. Masterson was likewise made aware of it. In logical retort and with the promptness of light, he kicked his chair from beneath him and arose to his feet.

"I reckon I'm the horse thief you refer to," said Mr. Masterson, and when he said it his six-shooter was pointing squarely at the plotting head of Sergeant King.

You have read of such a commodity as fascination, and that a sure nearness of death induces trance. It is the bird with the serpent, the mouse with the cat. It is also the palsied truth of divers men when brought within touch of cold eternity.

Of those who congeal at sight of death was Sergeant King. He had performed with reckless valour, as he would have held it, on twenty smoke-swept fields, and more than once had killed his man. What was it now that froze him motionless? As he looked into the mouth of that Colt's-45, and beheld the gray fire in the eye beyond, for the earliest time he felt the clutch of the grave upon him. It left him still as stone; his heart became water, his cheek clay.

There was a chill pause-a silence as of the tomb! You might have heard the heart-beats of the Mobeetie public as, strung like a bow, it waited on the fatal crash.

Four seconds went ticking into the past; their passing was as the passing of four ages. Mr. Masterson, with unwavering muzzle and unblinking eye, began slowly closing in on Sergeant King, who remained as though planet-struck.

The slow advance continued until the pistol of Mr. Masterson was within an inch of the transfixed face. Then, with the abruptness of a shot, Mr. Masterson let down the hammer of his weapon, and with it smote the other on the head. It was a downright, crushing blow, and only the good thickness of the skull of Sergeant King saved him from annihilation. He dropped like some log of wood-his pistol falling from his fingers and rattling on the board floor of the Lady Gay. As Mr. Masterson replaced his own weapon in his belt, he kicked that of Sergeant King into a nook of safety. "It's the notion of Mobeetie," explained Mr. Dixon to Sergeant King, when thirty minutes later the latter was mentally fit to grasp a warning, "it's the notion of Mobeetie that you'd better pull your freight. Here's your gun, thar's your hoss; an' if you've got a lick of savey, by noon to-morry you'll be either in Tascosa, Fort Elliot or Fort Sill. Any one of 'em's a heap healthier than Mobeetie, which for you at least might be deescribed as a mighty sickly camp."

It has been explained that although from Boston Mr. Dixon had fallen from those heights of strictest English to which he had been lifted by education into the slipshod accent of the Brazos.

The long speech of Mr. Dixon's, however, was not thrown away; without a word, and reeling a bit in the saddle with the blur that still hung like a cloud across his faculties, Sergeant King rode off to the west. As he disappeared where the trail led over a low hill Mr. Dixon nodded a foreboding head.

"Bat ought to have downed him," observed Mr. Dixon to those several members of the body politic assembled to witness the exodus of Sergeant King; "Bat ought to have downed him. However, he's makin' for Tascosa, an' if he'll only open his system on that outfit, you can bet Bob Pierce or Jim East'll bump him off."

"That's whatever!" assented one of Mr. Dixon's hearers.

The incident was over, and with frank accord, one and all, they returned to the Lady Gay, and by second drink-time in the evening-to employ a Panhandle method of marking the flight of time-the affair, as being dull and commonplace in its finale, was quite forgot. Had Mr. Masterson emptied his Colt's-45 into the head or the heart of Sergeant King the public would have talked of it for a day.

It was nine of the moonless night and Mobeetie's citizens for the greater part were gathered in store or bar or what other emporium best attracted their favour. There were no street lamps and the streets were almost deserted, since no one cared at risk of shin to blunder and stumble in the dark.

One figure there was, however, which, avoiding the glare from front windows, stood watching in the shadows of the Lady Gay. The Lady Gay occupied the corner of two streets, and the lurking one was leaning against the side of that temple of chance. Within stretch of his hand was a small door, meant to supplement the front doors in event of a crowd.

Now the situation had its peculiar, not to say suspicious, side. Had you entered the Lady Gay you might have seen that Mr. Masterson, with two or three about him, was sitting within touch of that small door. Had you returned to the lurking one without, and struck a match, you would have identified him as Sergeant King. From where he stood, with ear pressed close to the thin board wall of the Lady Gay, he could hear the voice of Mr. Masterson. It was by ear he had located him.

Sergeant King had returned for that revenge now twice his due. He lacked the chilled-steel courage to invade the Lady Gay; to shoot through the pasteboard side of the structure, and try to kill by ear, was nothing sure; the best that Sergeant King might do was wait and watch. Mayhap in the chapter of accidents it had been written that Mr. Masterson would open the little door and furnish him the opportunity for which his black soul panted.

Mr. Kimball, the blacksmith, had discounted his social position by marrying a Mexican woman; that was years before. Now Mr. Kimball's Mexican wife was ill, and the Wild Rose, who cared nothing for caste under circumstances of sympathy, was nursing her. Something was wanted from the drug store, not two blocks away, and the Wild Rose went in quest of it. She took a lantern to guide her little feet.

Sergeant King, ambushed in the shadows of the Lady Gay, saw the Wild Rose coming down the walk and knew her as the lantern-flare shone once upon her pretty face. There was enough of cynic humour in the sinister depths of Sergeant King to half curl his lips with a smile. Here was a two-edged vengeance! He would have the Wild Rose call forth Mr. Masterson and then slay him before her eyes that loved him.

Sergeant King went sauntering to meet the Wild Rose. When she beheld him she started; he, on his part, made a motion as of gratified surprise.

"Oh, Miss Brennan," said he, "I was in the Lady Gay. Mr. Masterson said he wished to see you. He's just inside the door. If you'll rap and call to him, he'll open it."

The doubtful strangeness of the suggestion and its source would have occurred even to the innocence of the Wild Rose had the name involved been any other than that of Mr. Masterson. The mention of him swallowed up her wits, and, in a fashion of love-flutter, the Wild Rose hesitated before the little door.

"Are you sure he wanted me?" she faltered.

"That's what he said," returned Sergeant King, as, standing a little to the left and rear, he drew his six-shooter from its scabbard. There would be no oratory this time; he was not to talk away another chance.

The Wild Rose tapped timidly at the door.

"Well?" cried a voice inside.

"Mr. Masterson, it's I. You said you wanted me." The blushes of the Wild Rose were visible in the dark.

The door was locked. There was a turning of the key; the bolt was shot, and the door swung open.

"I don't understand," said Mr. Masterson, to whom the voice and words of the Wild Rose had come but faintly.

At the opening of the door Sergeant King thrust aside the Wild Rose. Next came a flash and a roar! There could be no talk of missing; the pistol was pressed against the side of Mr. Masterson. He staggered with the awful shock of it as the lead tore through his body; but he kept his feet, holding by the door.

There came a second roar, a kind of double roar, and this time there were two flashes instead of one. The trained senses inside the Lady Gay averred later that the space to elapse between the roar and the double roar was less than the tenth part of a second.

However brief that measure of time, it was crimson with multiplied tragedy. With the thought of defending her love, the Wild Rose, uttering a cry of horror, and clutching at the murderous pistol, threw herself between Sergeant King and Mr. Masterson. She was a breath too late for the first; the second, meant also for her idol, drove its way into her young breast. The Wild Rose fell; at her side fell Sergeant King, snuffed out by the unfailing six-shooter of Mr. Masterson.

Hard hit as he was, Mr. Masterson raised the Wild Rose in his arms. She opened her brown eyes, swimming with love.

"He said you wanted me," whispered the Wild Rose.

Mr. Masterson, looking into the soft depths, saw that love and knew it for his own. Even as he gazed, the warm lights failed and faded; the rose flush deserted the cheek. In the arms of Mr. Masterson the Wild Rose lay dead.

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