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Title: Canyon Walls (Smoke Bellew) Author: Zane Grey * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1500971h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2015 Most recent update: Sep 2015 This eBook was produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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"WAL, heah's another forkin' of the trail," said Monty, as he sat cross-legged on his saddle and surveyed the prospect. "Thet Mormon shepherd gave me a good steer. But doggone it, I hate to impose on anyone, even Mormons."
The scene was Utah, north of the great canyon, with the wild ruggedness and magnificence of that region visible on all sides. Monty could see clear to the Pink Cliffs that walled the ranches and ranges northward from this country of breaks. He had come up out of the abyss, across the desert between Mt. Trumbull and Hurricane Ledge, and he did not look back. Kanab must be thirty or forty miles, as crow flies, across this valley dotted with sage. But Monty did not know Utah, or anything of this north rim country.
He rolled his last cigarette. He was hungry and worn out, and his horse was the same. Should he ride on to Kanab and throw in with one of the big cattle companies north of there, or should he take to one of the lonely canyons and hunt for a homesteader in need of a rider? The choice seemed hard to make, because Monty was tired of gun fights, of two-bit rustling, of gambling, and the other dubious means by which he had managed to live in Arizona. Not that Monty entertained any idea that he had ever reverted to real dishonesty! He had the free range cowboy's elasticity of judgement. He could find excuses even for his latest escapade. But one or two more stunts like the one at Longhill would be bound to make him an outlaw. He reflected that if he were blamed for the Green Valley affair, also, which was not improbable, he might find himself already an outlaw, whether he personally agreed or not.
If he rode on to the north ranches, sooner or later someone from Arizona would come along; on the other hand, if he went down into the breaks of the canyon he might find a job and a hiding place where he would be safe until the whole thing blew over and was forgotten. Then he would take good care not to fall into another mess. Bad company and too free use of the bottle had brought Monty to this pass, which he really believed was completely undeserved.
Monty dropped his leg back and slipped his boot into the stirrup. He took the trail to the left and felt relief that the choice was made. It meant that he was avoiding towns and ranches, outfits of curious cowboys, and others who might have undue interest in wandering riders.
In about an hour, as the shepherd had directed, the trail showed up. It appeared to run along the rim of a canyon. Monty gazed down with approving eyes. The walls were steep and very deep, so deep that he could scarcely see the green squares of alfalfa, the orchards and pastures, the groves of cottonwoods, and a gray log cabin down below. He saw cattle and horses toward the upper end. At length the trail started down, and for a while thereafter Monty lost his perspective, and dismounting, he walked down the zigzag path leading his horse.
He saw, at length, that the canyon was boxed in by a wild notch of cliff and thicket and jumbled wall, from under which a fine stream of water flowed. There were still many acres that might have been under cultivation. Monty followed the trail along the brook, crossed it above where the floor of the canyon widened and the alfalfa fields lay richly green, and so on down a couple of miles to the cottonwoods. When he emerged from the fringe of trees, he was close to the cabin, and he could see where the canyon opened wide, with sheer red-gold walls, right out on the desert. It was sure enough a lonely retreat, far off the road, out of the grass country, a niche in the endless colored canyon walls.
The cottonwoods were shedding their fuzzy seeds that covered the ground like snow. An irrigation ditch ran musically through the yard. Chickens, turkeys, calves had the run of the place. The dry odor of the canyon here appeared to take on the fragrance of wood smoke and fresh baked bread.
Monty limped on, up to the cabin porch, which was spacious and comfortable, where no doubt the people who lived here spent many hours during fine weather. He saw a girl through the open door. She wore gray linsey, ragged and patched. His second glance made note of her superb build, her bare feet, her brown arms, and eyes that did not need half their piercing quality to see through Monty.
"Howdy, miss," hazarded Monty, though this was Mormon country.
"Howdy, stranger," she replied, very pleasantly, so that Monty decided to forget that he was looking for a fictitious dog.
"Could a thirsty rider get a drink around heah?"
"There's the brook. Best water in Utah."
"An' how about a bite to eat?"
"Tie up your horse and go around to the back porch."
Monty did as he was bidden, not without a few more glances at the girl, who he observed made no movement. But as he turned the corner of the house he heard her call, "Ma, there's a tramp gentile cowpoke coming back for a bite to eat."
When Monty reached the rear porch, another huge enclosure under the cottonwoods, he was quite prepared to encounter a large woman, of commanding presence, but of most genial and kindly face.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," began Monty, lifting his sombrero. "Shore you're the mother to thet gurl out in front—you look alike an' you're both orful handsome—but I won't be took fer no tramp gentile cowpuncher."
The woman greeted him with a pleasant laugh. "So, young man, you're a Mormon?"
"No, I ain't no Mormon, either. But particular, I ain't no tramp cowpoke," replied Monty with spirit, and just then the young person who had roused it appeared in the back doorway, with a slow, curious smile on her face. "I'm just lost an' tuckered out an' hungry."
For reply she motioned to a pan and bucket of water on a nearby bench, and a clean towel hanging on the rail. Monty was quick to take the hint, but performed his ablutions most deliberately. When he was ready at last, his face shining and refreshed, the woman was setting a table for him, and she bade him take a seat.
"Ma'am, I only asked for a bite," he said.
"It's no matter. We've plenty."
And presently Monty sat down to a meal that surpassed any feast he had ever attended. It was his first experience at a Mormon table, the fame of which was known on every range. He had to admit that distance and exaggeration had not lent enchantment here. Without shame he ate until he could hold no more, and when he arose he made the Mormon mother a gallant bow.
"Lady, I never had sech a good dinner in all my life," he said fervently. "An' I reckon it won't make no difference if I never get another. Jest rememberin' this one will be enough."
"Blarney. You gentiles shore have the gift of gab. Set down and rest a little."
Monty was glad to comply, and leisurely disposed his long, lithe, dusty self in a comfortable chair. He laid his sombrero on the floor, and hitched his gun around, and looked up, genially aware that he was being taken in by two pairs of eyes.
"I met a shepherd lad on top an' he directed me to Andrew Boiler's ranch. Is this heah the place?"
"No. Boiler's is a few miles further on. It's the first big ranch over the Arizona line."
"Shore I missed it. Wal, it was lucky fer me. Are you near the Arizona line heah?"
"We're just over it."
"Oh, I see. Not in Utah at all," said Monty thoughtfully. "Any men about?"
"No. I'm the Widow Keetch, and this is my daughter Rebecca."
Monty guardedly acknowledged the introduction, without mentioning his own name, an omission the shrewd, kindly woman evidently noted. Monty was quick to feel that she must have had vast experience with menfolk. The girl, however, wore an indifferent, almost scornful air.
"This heah's a good-sized ranch. Must be a hundred acres jist in alfalfa," continued Monty. "You don't mean to tell me you two womenfolks run this ranch alone?"
"We do mostly. We hire the plowing, and we have firewood hauled. And we always have a boy around. But year in and out we do most of the work ourselves."
"Wal, I'll be dogged!" exclaimed Monty. "Excuse me—but it shore is somethin' to heah. The ranch ain't so bad run down at thet. If you'll allow me to say so, Mrs. Keetch, it could be made a first-rate ranch. There's acres of uncleared land."
"My husband used to think so," replied the widow sighing. "But since he's gone we have just about managed to live."
"Wal, wal! Now I wonder what made me ride down the wrong trail... Mrs. Keetch, I reckon you could use a fine, young sober, honest, hard-workin' cowhand who knows all there is about ranchin.' "
Monty addressed the woman in cool easy speech, quite deferentially, and then he shifted his gate to the dubious face of the daughter. He was discovering that it had a compelling charm. She laughed outright, as if to say that she knew what a liar he was! That not only discomfited Monty, but roused his ire. The sassy Mormon filly!
"I guess I could use such a young man," returned Mrs. Keetch shortly, with her penetrating eyes on him.
"Wal, you're lookin' at him right now," said Monty fervently. "An' he's seein' nothin' less than the hand of Providence heah."
The woman stood up decisively. "Fetch your horse around," she said, and walked off the porch to wait for him. Monty made haste, his mind in a whirl. What was going to happen now? That girl! He ought to ride right on out of this canyon; and he was making up his mind to do it when he came back round the house to see that the girl had come to the porch rail. Her great eyes were looking at his horse. The stranger did not need to be told that she had a passion for horses. It would help some. But she did not appear to see Monty at all.
"You've a fine horse," said Mrs. Keetch. "Poor fellow! He's lame and tuckered out. We'll turn him loose in the pasture.
Monty followed her down a shady lane of cotton-woods, where the water ran noisily on each side, and he trembled inwardly at the content of the woman's last words. He had heard of the Good Samaritan ways of the Mormons. And in that short walk Monty did a deal of thinking. They reached an old barn beyond which lay a green pasture with an orchard running down one side. Peach trees were in bloom, lending a delicate border of pink to the fresh spring foliage.
"What wages would you work for?" asked the Mormon woman earnestly.
"Wal, come to think of thet, for my board an' keep... Anyhow till we get the ranch payin'," replied Monty.
"Very well, stranger, that's a fair deal. Unsaddle your horse and stay," said the woman.
"Wait a minnit, ma'am," drawled Monty. "I got to substitute somethin' fer thet recommend I gave you... Shore I know cattle an' ranchin' backward. But I reckon I should have said I'm a no good, gun-throwin' cowpuncher who got run out of Arizona.
"What for?" demanded Mrs. Keetch.
"Wal, a lot of it was bad company an' bad licker. But at thet I wasn't so drunk I didn't know I was rustlin' cattle."
"Why do you tell me this?" she demanded.
"Wal, it is kinda funny. But I jist couldn't fool a kind woman like you. Thet's all."
"You don't look like a hard-drinking man."
"Aw, I'm not. I never said so, ma'am. Fact is, I ain't much of a drinkin' cowboy, at all."
"You came across the canyon?" she asked.
"Shore, an' by golly, thet was the orfullest ride, an' slide an' swim, an' climb I ever had. I really deserve a heaven like this, ma'am."
"Any danger of a sheriff trailing you?"
"Wal, I've thought about thet. I reckon one chance in a thousand."
"He'd be the first one I ever heard of from across the canyon, at any rate. This is a lonesome, out-of-the-way place—an if you stayed away from the Mormon ranches and towns—"
"See heah, ma'am," interrupted Monty sharply. "You shore ain't goin' to take me on?"
"I am. You might be a welcome change. Lord knows I've hired every kind of a man. But no one of them ever lasted. You might."
"What was wrong with them hombres?"
"I don't know. I never saw much wrong except they neglected their work to moon around after Rebecca. But she could not get along with them, and she always drove them away."
"Aw, I see," exclaimed Monty, who did not see at all. "But I'm not one of the moonin' kind, ma'am, an' I'll stick."
"All right. It's only fair, though, to tell you there's a risk. The young fellow doesn't live who can seem to let Rebecca alone. If he could he'd be a godsend to a distracted old woman."
Monty wagged his bare head thoughtfully and slid the brim of his sombrero through his fingers. "Wal, I reckon I've been most everythin' but a gawdsend, an' I'd shore like to try thet."
"What's your name?" she asked with those searching gray eyes on him.
"Monty Bellew, Smoke for short, an' it's shore shameful well known in some parts of Arizona."
"Any folks living?"
"Yes, back in Iowa. Father an' mother gettin' along in years now. An' a kid sister growed up."
"You send them money every month, of course?"
Monty hung his head. "Wal, fact is, not so reg'lar as I used to... Late years times have been hard fer me."
"Hard nothing! You've drifted into hard ways. Shiftless, drinking, gambling, shooting cowhand—now, haven't you been just that?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am—I—I reckon I have."
"You ought to be ashamed. I know boys. I raised nine. It's time you were turning over a new leaf. Suppose we begin by burying that name Monty Bellew."
"I'm shore willin' an' grateful, ma'am."
"Then it's settled. Tend to your horse. You can have the little cabin there under the big cotton-wood. We've kept that for our hired help, but it hasn't been occupied much lately."
She left Monty then and returned to the ranch house. And he stood a moment irresolute. What a balance was struck there. Presently he slipped saddle and bridle off the horse, and turned him into the pasture. "Baldy, look at thet alfalfa," he said. Weary as Baldy was he lay down and rolled and rolled.
Monty carried his equipment to the tiny porch of the cabin under the huge cottonwood. He removed his saddlebags, which contained the meager sum of his possessions. Then he flopped down on a bench.
"Doggone it!" he muttered. His senses seemed to be playing with him. The leaves rustled above and the white cottonseeds floated down; the bees were murmuring; water tinkled softly beyond the porch; somewhere a bell on a sheep or calf broke the stillness. Monty had never felt such peace and tranquility, and his soul took on a burden of gratitude.
Suddenly a clear, resonant voice called out from the house. "Ma, what's the name of our new hand?"
"Ask him, Rebecca. I forgot to," replied the mother.
"If that isn't like you!"
Monty was on his way to the house and soon hove in sight of the young woman on the porch. His heart thrilled as he saw her. And he made himself some deep, wild promises.
"Hey, cowboy. What's your name?" she called.
"Sam," he called back.
"For the land's sake!... That's not your name."
"Call me Land's Sake, if you like it better."
"I like it?" She nodded her curly head sagely, and she regarded Monty with a certainty that made him vow to upset her calculations or die in the attempt. She handed him down a bucket. "Can you milk a cow?"
"I never saw my equal as a milker," asserted Monty.
"In that case I won't have to help," she replied. "But I'll go with you to drive in the cows."
From that hour dated Monty's apparent subjection. He accepted himself at Rebecca's valuation—that of a very small hired boy. Monty believed he had a way with girls, but evidently that way had never been tried upon this imperious young Morman miss.
Monty made good his boast about being a master hand at the milking of cows. He surprised Rebecca, though she did not guess that he was aware of it. For the rest, Monty never looked at her when she was looking, never addressed her, never gave her the slightest hint that he was even conscious of her sex.
Now he knew perfectly well that his appearance did not tally with this domesticated kind of a cowboy. She realized it and was puzzled, but evidently he was a novelty to her. At first Monty sensed the usual slight antagonism of the Mormon against the gentile, but in the case of Mrs. Keetch he never noticed this at all, and less and less from the girl.
The feeling of being in some sort of trance persisted with Monty, and he could not account for it, unless it was the charm of this lonely Canyon Walls Ranch, combined with the singular attraction of its young mistress. Monty had not been there three days before he realized that sooner or later he would fall and great would be the fall thereof. But his sincere and ever-growing admiration of the Widow Keetch held him true to his promise. It would not hurt him to have a terrible case over Rebecca, and he resigned himself to his fate. Nothing could come of it, except perhaps to chasten him. Certainly he would never let her dream of such a thing. All the same, she just gradually and imperceptibly grew on Monty. There was nothing strange in this. Wherever Monty had ridden there had always been some girl who had done something to his heart. She might be a fright—a lanky, slab-sided, red-headed country girl—but that had made no difference. His comrades had called him Smoke Bellew, because of his propensity for raising so much smoke where there was not even any fire.
SUNDAY brought a change at the Keetch household. Rebecca appeared in a white dress and Monty caught his breath. He worshiped from a safe distance through the leaves. Presently a two-seated buckboard drove up to the ranch house, and Rebecca lost no time climbing in with the young people. They drove off, probably to church at the village of White Sage, some half dozen miles across the line. Monty thought it odd that Mrs. Keetch did not go.
There had been many a time in Monty's life when the loneliness and solitude of these dreaming canyon walls might have been maddening. But Monty found strange case and solace here. He had entered upon a new era in his life. He hated to think that it might not last. But it would last if the shadow of the past did not fall on Canyon Walls.
At one o'clock Rebecca returned with her friends in the buckboard. And presently Monty was summoned to dinner, by no less than Mrs. Keetch's trenchant call. He had not anticipated this, but he brushed and brightened himself up a bit, and proceeded to the house. Mrs. Keetch met him as he mounted the porch steps. "Folks," she announced, "this is our new man, Sam Hill... Sam, meet Lucy Card and her brother Joe, and Hall Stacey."
Monty bowed, and took the seat assigned to him by Mrs. Keetch. She was beaming, and the dinner table fairly groaned with the load of good things to eat. Monty defeated an overwhelming desire to look at Rebecca. In a moment he saw that the embarrassment under which he was laboring was silly. These Mormon young people were quiet, friendly, and far from curious. His presence at Widow Keetch's table was more natural to them than it seemed to him. Presently he was at ease and dared to glance across the table. Rebecca was radiant. How had it come that he had not observed her beauty before? She appeared like a gorgeous opening rose. Monty did not risk a second glance and he thought that he ought to go far up the canyon and crawl into a hole. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the dinner and did ample justice to it.
Monty did not consider himself exactly a dunce, but he could not interpret clearly the experience of the afternoon. There were, however, some points that he could be sure of. The Widow Keetch had evidently seen better days. She did not cross the Arizona line into Utah. Rebecca was waited upon by a host of Mormons, to whom she appeared imperiously indifferent one moment and alluringly coy the next. She was a spoiled girl, Monty decided. He had not been able to discover the slightest curiosity or antagonism toward him in these visitors, and as they were all Mormons and he was a gentile, it changed some preconceived ideas of his.
Next morning the new hand plunged into the endless work that needed to be done about the ranch. He doubled the amount of water in the irrigation ditches, to Widow Keetch's delight. And that day passed as if by magic. It did not end, however, without Rebecca crossing Monty's trail, and it earned for him a very pleasant compliment from her, anent the fact that he might develop into a real good milkman.
The days flew by and another Sunday came, very like the first one, and that brought the month of June around. Thereafter the weeks were as short as days. Monty was amazed to see what a diversity of tasks he could put an efficient hand to. But, then, he had seen quite a good deal of ranch service in his time, aside from driving cattle. And it so happened that here was an ideal farm awaiting development, and he put his heart and soul into the task. The summer was hot, especially in the afternoon under the reflected heat from the canyon walls. He had cut alfalfa several times. And the harvest of fruit and grain was at hand. There were pumpkins so large that Monty could scarcely roll one over; bunches of grapes longer than his arm; great luscious peaches that shone like gold in the sunlight, and other farm products of proportionate size.
The women folk spent days putting up preserves, pickles, fruit. Monty used to go out of his way to smell the fragrant wood fire in the back yard under the cottonwoods, where the big brass kettle streamed with peach butter. "'Til shore eat myself to death when winter comes," he said.
AMONG the young men who paid court to Rebecca were two brothers, Wade and Eben Tyler, lean-faced, still-eyed young Mormons who were wild-horse hunters. The whole southern end of Utah was overrun by droves of wild horses, and according to some of the pioneers they were becoming a menace to the range. The Tylers took such a liking to Monty, the Keetch's new hand, that they asked Mrs. Keetch to let him go with them on a hunt in October, over in what they called the Siwash. The widow was prevailed upon to give her consent, stipulating that Monty should fetch back a supply of venison. And Rebecca said she would allow him to go if he brought her one of the wild mustangs with a long mane and a tail that touched the ground.
So when October rolled around, Monty rode off with the brothers, and three days' riding brought them to the edge of a wooded region called the Buckskin Forest. It took a whole day to ride through the magnificent spruces and pines to reach the rim of the canyon. Here Monty found the wildest and most wonderful country he had ever seen. The Siwash was a rough section where the breaks in the rim afforded retreat for the thousands of deer and wild horses, as well as the cougars that preyed upon them. Monty had the hunt of his life, and by the time these fleeting weeks were over, he and the Tylers were fast friends.
Monty returned to Canyon Walls Ranch, pleased to find that he had been sorely needed and missed by the Keetches, and he was keen to have a go at his work again. Gradually he thought less and less of that Arizona escapade which had made him a fugitive. A little time spent in that wild country had a tendency to make past things appear dim and faraway. He ceased to start whenever he saw strange riders coming up the canyon gateway. Mormon sheepmen and cattlemen, when in the vicinity of Canyon Walls, always paid the Keetches a visit. Still Monty never ceased to pack a gun, a fact that Mrs. Keetch often mentioned. Monty said it was just a habit that he hadn't gotten over from his cattle-driving days.
He went to work clearing the upper end of the canyon. The cottonwood, scrub oak, and brush were as thick as a jungle. But day by day the tangle was mowed down under the sweep of Monty's ax. In his boyhood on the Iowa farm he had been a rail splitter. How many useful things were coming back to him! Every day Rebecca or Mrs. Keetch or the boy, Randy, who helped at chores drove up in the big go-devil and hauled firewood. And when the winter's wood, with plenty to spare, had been stored away, Mrs. Keetch pointed with satisfaction to a considerable saving of money.
The leaves did not change color until late in November, and then they dropped reluctantly, as if not sure that winter could actually come to Canyon Walls this year. Monty even began to doubt that it would. But frosty mornings did come, and soon thin skims of ice formed on the still pools. Sometimes when he rode out of the canyon gateway on the desert, he could see the white line reaching down from the Buckskin, and Mt. Trumbull was wearing its crown of snow. But no real winter came to the canyon. The gleaming walls seemed to have absorbed enough of the summer sun to carry over. Every hour of daylight found Monty outdoors at one of the tasks which multiplied under his eye. After supper he would sit before the little stone fireplace he had built in his cabin, and watch the flames, and wonder about himself and how long this interlude could last. He began to wonder why it could not last always; and he went so far in his calculation as to say that a debt paid fully canceled even the acquiring of a few cattle not his own, in that past which receded ever farther over time's horizon. After all, he had been just a wild, irresponsible cowboy, urged on by drink and need of money. At first he had asked only that it be forgotten and buried; but now he began to think he wanted to square that debt.
THE winter passed, and Monty's labors had opened up almost as many new acres as had been cleared originally. Canyon Walls Ranch now took the eye of Andrew Boiler, who made Widow Keetch a substantial offer for it. Mrs. Keetch laughed her refusal, and the remark she made to Boiler mystified Monty for many a day. It was something about Canyon Walls someday being as great a ranch as that one of which the church had deprived her.
Monty asked Wade Tyler what the widow had meant, and Wade replied that he had once heard how John Keetch had owed the bishop a sum of money, and that the great ranch, after Keetch's death had been confiscated. But that was one of the few questions Monty never asked Mrs. Keetch. The complexity and mystery of the Mormon Church did not interest him. It had been a shock, however, to find that two of Mrs. Keetch's Sunday callers, openly courting Rebecca's hand, already had wives. "By golley, I ought to marry her myself," declared Monty with heat, as he thought beside his fire, and then he laughed at his conceit. He was only Rebecca's hired help.
How good it was to see the green burst out again upon the cottonwoods, and the pink on the peach trees! Monty had now been at Canyon Walls a full year. It seemed incredible to him. It was the longest spell he had ever remained in one spot. He could see a vast change in the ranch. And what greater transformation had that labor wrought in him!
"Sam, we're going to need help this spring," said Mrs. Keetch one morning. "We'll, want a couple of men and a teamster—a new wagon."
"Wal, we shore need aplenty," drawled Monty, "an' I reckon we'd better think hard."
"This ranch is overflowing with milk and honey. Sam, you've made it blossom. We must make some kind of a deal. I've wanted to speak to you before, but you always put me off. We ought to be partners."
"There ain't any hurry, man," replied Monty. "I'm happy heah, an' powerful set on makin' the ranch a goin' concern. Funny no farmer heahabouts ever saw its possibilities afore. Wal thet's our good luck."
"Boiler wants my whole alfalfa cut this year," continued Mrs. Keetch. "Saunders, a big cattleman, no Mormon by the way, is ranging south. And Boiler wants to gobble all the feed. How much alfalfa will we be able to cut this year?"
"Countin' the new acreage, upward of two hundred tons."
"Sam Hill!" she cried incredulously.
"Wal, you needn't Sam Hill me. I get enough of thet from Rebecca. But you can gamble on the ranch from now on. We have the soil an' the sunshine—twice as much an' twice as hot as them farmers out in the open. An' we have water. Lady, we're goin' to grow things on the Canyon Wall."
"It's a dispensation of the Lord," she exclaimed fervently.
"Wal, I don't know about thet, but I can guarantee results. We start some new angles this spring. There's a side canyon up heah thet I cleared. Jist the place fer hogs. You know what a waste of fruit there was last fall. We'll not waste anythin' from now on. We can raise feed enough to pack this canyon solid with turkeys, chickens, an' hogs."
"Sam, you're a wizard, and the Lord surely guided me that day I took you on," replied Mrs. Keetch. "We're independent now and I see prosperity ahead. When Andrew Boiler offered to buy this ranch I saw the handwriting on the wall."
"You bet. An' the ranch is worth twice what he offered."
"Sam, I've been an outcast too, in a way, but this will sweeten my cup."
"Wal, ma'am, you never made me no confidences, but I always took you fer the happiest woman I ever seen," declared Monty stoutly.
At this juncture Rebecca Keetch, who had been listening thoughtfully to the talk, as was her habit, spoke feelingly: "Ma, I want a lot of new dresses. I haven't a decent rag to my back. And look there!" She stuck out a shapely foot, bursting from an old shoe. "I want to go to Salt Lake City and buy some things. And if we're not poor any more…"
"My dear daughter, I cannot go to Salt Lake," interrupted the mother, a tone of sadness in her voice.
"But I can. Sue Tyler is going with her mother," burst out Rebecca eagerly. "Why can't I go with them?"
"Of course, daughter, you must have clothes to wear. And I have a long thought of that. But to go to Salt Lake... I don't know. It worries me... Sam, what do you think of Rebecca's idea?"
"Which one?" asked Monty.
"About going to Salt Lake to buy clothes."
"Perfickly redic'lous," replied Monty blandly.
"Why?" flashed Rebecca, turning upon him with her great eyes aflame.
"Wal, you don't need no clothes in the fust place…"
"Don't I?" demanded Rebecca hotly. "You bet I don't need any clothes for you. You never even look at me. I could go around here positively stark naked and you'd never even see me."
"An' in the second place," continued Monty, with a wholly assumed imperturbability, "you're too young an' too crazy about boys to go on sech a long journey alone."
"Daughter, I—I think Sam is right," said Rebecca's mother.
"I'm eighteen years old," cried Rebecca. "And I wouldn't be going alone."
"Sam means you should have a man with you."
Rebecca stood for a moment in speechless rage, then she broke down. "Why doesn't the damn fool—offer to take me—then?"
"Rebecca!" cried Mrs. Keetch, horrified.
Monty meanwhile had been undergoing a remarkable transformation.
"Lady, if I was her dad…"
"But you're—not," sobbed Rebecca.
"Shore it's lucky fer you I'm not. For I'd spank some sense into you... I was goin' to say I'd drive you back from Kanab. You could go that far with the Tylers."
"There, daughter... And maybe next year you could go to Salt Lake," added Mrs. Keetch consolingly.
Rebecca accepted the miserable compromise, but it was an acceptance she did not care for, as was made plain to Monty by the dark look she gave him as she flounced away.
"Oh, dear," sighed Mrs. Keetch. "Rebecca is a good girl. But nowadays she often flares up like that. And lately she has been acting queer. If she'd only set her heart on some man!"
Monty had his doubts about the venture to which he had committed himself. But he undertook it willingly enough, because Mrs. Keetch was obviously so pleased and relieved. She evidently feared for this high-spirited girl. And so it turned out that Rebecca rode as far as Kanab with the Tylers, with the understanding that she would return in Monty's wagon.
The drive took Monty all day and there was a good deal of upgrade in the road. He did not believe he could make the thirty miles back in daylight hours, unless he got a very early start. And he just about knew he never could get Rebecca Keetch to leave Kanab before dawn. Still the whole prospect was one that offered adventure, and much of Monty's old devil-may-care spirit seemed roused to meet it.
He camped on the edge of town, and next morning drove in and left the old wagon at a blacksmith shop for needed repairs. The four horses were turned into pasture. Then Monty went about executing Mrs. Keetch's instructions, which had to do with engaging helpers and making numerous purchases. That evening saw a big, brand-new shiny wagon at the blacksmith shop, packed full of flour, grain, hardware, supplies, harness, and what-not. The genial storekeeper who waited upon Monty averred that Mrs. Keetch must have had her inheritance returned to her. All the Mormons had taken a kindly interest in Monty and his work at Canyon Walls, which had become the talk all over the range. They were likable men, except for a few gray-whiskered old patriarchs who belonged to another day. Monty did not miss seeing several pretty Mormon girls; and their notice of him pleased him immensely, especially when Rebecca happened to be around to see.
Monty seemed to run into her every time he entered a store. She spent all the money she had saved up, and all her mother had given her, and she even borrowed the last few dollars he had in his pockets.
"Shore, you're welcome," said Monty in reply to her thanks. "But ain't you losin' your haid a little?"
"Well, so long's I don't lose it over you, what do you care?" she retorted, saucily, with another of those dark glances which had mystified him before.
Monty replied that her mother had expressly forbidden her to go into debt for anything.
"Don't try to boss me, Sam Hill," she warned, but she was still too happy to be really angry.
"Rebecca, I don't care two bits what you do," said Monty shortly.
"Oh, don't you? Thanks! You're always flattering me," she returned mockingly.
It struck Monty then that she knew something about him or about herself which he did not share.
"We'll be leavin' before sunup," he added briefly. "You'd better let me have all your bundles so I can take them out to the wagon an' pack them tonight."
Rebecca demurred, but would not give a reason, which could only have been because she wanted to gloat over her purchases. Monty finally prevailed upon her; and it took two trips for him and a boy he had hired to carry the stuff out to the blacksmith's shop.
"Lord, if it should rain!" said Monty, remembering that he had no extra tarpaulin. So he went back to the store and got one, and hid it, with the idea of having fun with Rebecca in case a storm threatened on the way back to the ranch.
After supper Rebecca drove out to Monty's camp with some friends.
"I don't care for your camping out like this. You should have gone to the inn," she said loftily.
"Wal, I'm used to campin'," he drawled.
"Sam, they're giving a dance for me tonight," announced Rebecca.
"Fine. Then you needn't go to bed at all, an' we can get an early start."
The young people with Rebecca shouted with laughter, and she looked dubious.
"Can't we stay over another day?"
"I should smile we cain't," retorted Monty with unusual force. "An' if we don't get an early start we'll never reach home tomorrow. So you jist come along heah, young lady, about four o'clock."
"In the morning?"
"In the mawnin'. I'll have some breakfast fer you."
It was noticeable that 'Rebecca made no rash promises. Monty rather wanted to give in to her—she was so happy and gay—but he remembered his obligations to Mrs. Keetch, and remained firm.
As they drove off Monty's sharp ears caught Rebecca complaining—"and I can't do a solitary thing with that stubborn Arizona cowpuncher."
This rather pleased Monty, as it gave him distinction, and was proof that he had not yet betrayed himself to Rebecca. He would proceed on these lines.
That night he did a remarkable thing, for him. He found out where the dance was being held, and peered through a window to see Rebecca in all her glory. He did not miss, however, the fact that she did not appear to outshine several other young women there. Monty stifled a yearning that had not bothered him for a long time. "Doggone it! I ain't no old gaffer. I could dance the socks off some of them Mormons." He became aware presently that between dances some of the young Mormon men came outdoors and indulged in desultory fist fights. He could not see any real reason for these encounters, and it amused him. "Gosh, I wonder if thet is jist a habit with these hombres. Fact is, though, there's shore not enough girls to go around... Holy mackerel, how I'd like to have my old dancin' pards heah! Wouldn't we wade through thet corral!... I wonder what's become of Slim an' Cuppy, an' if they ever think of me. Doggone!"
Monty sighed and returned to camp. He was up before daylight, but did not appear to be in any rush. He had a premonition what to expect. Day broke and the sun tipped the low desert in the east, while Monty leisurely got breakfast. He kept an eye on the lookout for Rebecca. The new boy, Jake, arrived with shiny face, and later one of the men engaged by Mrs. Keetch came. Monty had the two teams fetched in from pasture and hitched up. It was just as well that he had to wait for Rebecca, because the new harness did not fit and required skilled adjustment, but he was not going to tell her that. The longer she made him wait the longer would be the scolding she would get.
About nine o'clock she arrived in a very much overloaded buckboard. She was gay of attire and face, and so happy that Monty, had he been sincere with himself, could never have reproved her. But he did it, very sharply, made her look like a chidden child before her friends. This reacted upon Monty so pleasurably that he began afresh. But this was a mistake.
"Yah! Yah! Yah!" she cried. And her friends let out a roar of merriment.
"Becky, you shore have a tiptop chaperon," remarked one frank-faced Mormon boy. And other remarks were not wanting to convey the hint that at least one young rider in the world had not succumbed to Rebecca's charms.
"Where am I going to ride?" she asked curtly.
Monty indicated the high driver's seat. "Unless you'd rather ride with them two new hands in the old wagon."
Rebecca scorned to argue with Monty, but climbed quickly to the lofty perch.
"Girls, it's nearer heaven than I've ever been yet," she called with gaiety.
"Just what do you mean, Becky?" replied a pretty girl with roguish eyes. "So high up—or because—"
"Go along with you," interrupted Rebecca with a blush. "You think of nothing but men. I wish you had... but good-by, good-by. I've had a lovely time."
Monty clambered to the driver's seat, and followed the other wagon out of town, down into the desert. Rebecca appeared to want to talk.
"Oh, it was a wonderful change! I had a grand time. But I'm glad you wouldn't let me go to Salt Lake. It'd have ruined me, Sam."
Monty felt subtly flattered, but he chose to remain aloof and disapproving.
"Nope, hardly that. You was ruined long ago, Miss Rebecca," he drawled.
"Don't call me miss," she flashed. "And see here, Sam Hill, do you hate us Mormons?"
"I shore don't. I like all the Mormons I've met. They're jist fine. An' your ma is the best woman I ever knew."
"Then I'm the only Mormon you've no use for," she retorted with bitterness. "Don't deny it. I'd rather you didn't add falsehood to your—your other faults. It's a pity, though, that we can't get along. Mother depends on you now. You've certainly pulled us out of a hole. And I—I'd like you—if you'd let me. But you always make me out a wicked, spoiled girl. Which I'm not. Why couldn't you come to the dance last night? They wanted you. Those girls were eager to meet you."
"I wasn't asked—not thet I'd of come anyhow," stammered Monty.
"You know perfectly well that in a Mormon town or home you are always welcome," she said. "What did you want? Would you have had me stick my finger in the top hole of your vest and look up at you like a dying duck and say, "Sam, please come?"
"My Gawd, no. I never dreamed of wantin' you to do anythin'." replied Monty hurriedly. He was getting beyond his depth here, and began to doubt his ability to say the right things.
"Why not? Am I so hideous? Aren't I a human being? A girl?" she asked with resentful fire.
Monty deliberated a moment, as much to recover his scattered wits as to make an adequate reply.
"Wal, you shore are a live human critter. An' as handsome as any gurl I ever seen. But you're spoiled somethin' turrible. You're the most orful flirt I ever watched, an' the way you treat these fine Mormon boys is shore scandalous. You don't know what you want more'n one minnit straight runnin'. An' when you get what you want you're sick of it right away."
"Oh, is that all?" she burst out, and then followed with a peal of riotous laughter. But she did not look at him or speak to him again for several long hours.
Monty liked the silence better. He still had the thrill of her presence, without her disturbing chatter. A nucleus of a thought tried to wedge its way into his consciousness—that this girl was not completely indifferent to him. But he squelched it.
At noon they halted in a rocky depression, where water filled the holes, and Rebecca got down to sit in the shade of a cedar.
"I want something to eat," she declared imperiously.
"Sorry, but there ain't nothin'," replied Monty imperturbably, as he mounted to the seat again. The other wagon rolled on, crushing the rocks with its wide tires.
"Are you going to starve me into submission?"
Monty laughed at her. "Wal, I reckon if someone took a willow switch to your bare legs wal, he might get a little submission out of you."
"You're worse than a Mormon," she cried in disgust, as if that was the very depth of depravity.
"Come along, youngster," said Monty with pretended weariness. "If we don't keep steppin' along lively we'll never get home tonight."
"Good. I'll delay you as much as I can... Sam, I'm scared to death to face Mother." And she giggled.
"I went terribly in debt. But I didn't lose my 'haid' as you say. I thought it all out. I won't be going again for ages. And I'll work. It was the change in our fortunes that tempted me."
"Wal, I reckon we can get around tellin' your ma," said Monty lamely.
"You wouldn't give me away, Sam?" she asked in surprise, with strange intent eyes. And she got up to come over to the wagon.
"No, I wouldn't. Course not. What's more I can lend you the money—presently."
"Thanks Sam. But I'll tell Mother."
She scrambled up and rode beside him again for miles without speaking. It seemed nothing to Monty to ride in that country and keep silent. The desert was not conducive to conversation. It was so beautiful that talking seemed out of place. Mile after mile of rock and sage, of black ridge and red swale, and always the great landmarks looming as if unattainable. Behind them the Pink Cliffs rose higher the farther they traveled; to their left the long black fringe of the Buckskin gradually sank into obscurity; in front rolled away the colorful desert, an ever-widening bowl that led the gaze to the purple chaos in the distance—that wild region of the riven earth called the canyon country.
Monty did not tell Rebecca that they could not get even half way home that day, and that they would have to make camp for the night. But eventually, as a snow squall formed over Buckskin, he told her it likely would catch up with them and turn to rain.
"Oh, Sam!" she wailed. "If my things get wet!" He did not give her any assurance or comfort, and about midafternoon, when the road climbed toward a low divide, he saw that they would not miss the storm. But he would make camp at the pines where they could easily weather it.
Before sunset they reached the highest point along the road from which the spectacle down toward the west made Monty acknowledge that he was gazing at the grandest panorama his enraptured eyes had ever viewed.
Rebecca watched with him, and he could feel her absorption. Finally she sighed and said, as if to herself, "One reason I'll marry a Mormon—if I have to—is that I never want to leave Utah."
They halted in the pines, low down on the far side of the divide, where a brook brawled merrily, and here the storm, half snow and half rain, caught them. Rebecca was frantic. She did not know where her treasures were packed.
"Oh, Sam, I'll never forgive you!"
"Me? What have I got to do about it?" he asked, in pretended astonishment.
"Oh, you knew all the time that it would rain," she wailed. "And if you'd been half a man—if you didn't hate me so, you—you could have saved my things."
"Wal, if thet's how you feel about it I'll see what I can do," he drawled.
And in a twinkling he jerked out the tarpaulin and spread it over the new wagon where he had carefully packed her cherished belongings. And in the same twinkling her woebegone face changed to joy. Monty thought for a moment that she was going to kiss him and he was scared stiff.
"Ma was right, Sam. You are the wonderfullest man," she said. "But—why didn't you tell me?"
"I forgot, I reckon. Now this rain ain't goin' to amount to much. After dark it'll turn off cold. I put some hay in the bottom of the wagon, heah, an' a blanket. So you can sleep comfortable."
"Sleep... Sam, you're not going to stop here?"
"Shore am. This new wagon is stiff, an' the other one's heavy loaded. We're blamed lucky to reach this good campin' spot."
"But, Sam, we can't stay here. We must drive on. It doesn't make any difference how long we are, so that we keep moving."
"An' kill our horses, an' then not get in. Sorry, Rebecca. If you hadn't delayed us five hours we might have done it, allowin' fer faster travel in the cool of the mawnin'."
"Sam, do you want to see my reputation ruined?" she asked, her great accusing eyes on him.
"Wal... Rebecca Keetch, if you don't beat me! I'll tell you what, miss. Where I come from a man can entertain honest desire to spank a crazy gurl without havin' evil intentions charged agin him!"
"You can spank me to your heart's content—but Sam—take me home first."
"Nope. I can fix it with your ma, an' I cain't see thet it amounts to a darn otherwise."
"Any Mormon girl who stayed out on the desert—all night with a gentile—would be ruined!" she declared.
"But we're not alone," yelled Monty, red in the face. "We've got two men and a boy with us."
"No Mormon will ever—believe it," sobbed Rebecca.
"Wal, then, to hell with the Mormons who won't," exclaimed Monty, exasperated beyond endurance.
"Mother will make you marry me," ended Rebecca, with such tragedy of eye and voice that Monty could not but believe such a fate would be worse than death for her.
"Aw, don't distress yourself Miss Keetch," responded Monty with profound dignity. "I couldn't be druv to marry you—not to save your blasted Mormon Church—nor the whole damn world of gentiles from—from conflaggeration!"
Next day Monty drove through White Sage at noon, and reached Canyon Walls about mid-afternoon, completing a journey he would not want to undertake again, under like circumstances. He made haste to unburden himself to his beaming employer.
"Wal, Mrs. Keetch, I done about everythin' as you wanted," he said. "But I couldn't get an early start yestiddy mawnin' an' so we had to camp at the pines."
"Why couldn't you?" she demanded, as if seriously concerned.
"Wal, fer several reasons, particular thet the new harness wouldn't fit."
"You shouldn't have kept Rebecca out all night," said the widow severely.
"I don't know how it could have been avoided," replied Monty mildly. "You wouldn't have had me kill four good horses."
"Did you meet anyone?" she asked.
"Not even a sheepherder."
"Did you stop at White Sage?"
"Only to water, an' we didn't see no one."
"Maybe we can keep the Mormons from finding out," returned Mrs. Keetch with relief. "I'll talk to these new hands. Mormons are close-mouthed when it's to their interest."
"Wal, ma'am, heah's the receipts, an' my notes an' expenditures," added Monty, handling them over. "My pore haid shore buzzed over all them figgers. But I got the prices you wanted. I found out you gotta stick to a Mormon. But he won't let you buy from no other storekeeper, if he can help it."
"Indeed he won't... Well, daughter, what have you to say for yourself? I expected to see you with the happiest of faces. But you look the way you used to when you stole jam. I hope it wasn't your fault Sam had to keep you all night on the desert."
"Yes, Ma, it was," admitted Rebecca, and though she spoke frankly she plainly feared her mother's displeasure.
"So, and Sam wouldn't tell on you, eh?"
"No. I don't know why he wouldn't. Not out of any feelings for me... Come in, Ma, and let me confess the rest—while I've still got the courage."
Mrs. Keetch looked worried. Monty saw that her anger would be a terrible thing if aroused.
"Ma'am, don't be hard on the gurl," he said, with his easy drawl and smile. "Jist think! She hadn't been to Kanab fer two years. Two years. An' she a growin' gurl. Kanab is some shucks of a town. I was surprised. An' she was jist a kid let loose."
"Sam Hill! So you have fallen into the ranks at last," exclaimed Mrs. Keetch, while Rebecca telegraphed him a grateful glance.
"Lady, I don't savvy about the ranks," replied Monty stiffly. "But I've been falling from grace all my life. Thet's why I'm—"
"No matter," interrupted the widow hastily, and it struck Monty that she did not care to have him confess his shortcomings before Rebecca. "Unpack the wagons and put the things on the porch, except what should go to the barn."
Monty helped the two new employees unpack the old wagon first, and then directed them to the barn. Then he removed Rebecca's many purchases and piled them on the porch. All the time his ears burned over the heated argument going on within the house. Rebecca seemed to have relapsed into tears while her mother still continued to upbraid her. Monty drove out to the barn considerably disturbed by the sound of the girl's uncontrolled sobbing.
"Doggone! The old lady's hell when she's riled," he thought. "Now I wonder which it was. Rebecca spendin' all her money an' mine, an' this runnin' up bills—or because she made us stay a night out... or mebbe it's somethin' I don't know a blamed thing about... Whew, but she laid it onto thet pore kid. Doggone the old Mormon! She'd better not pitch into me."
Supper was late that night and the table was set in the dusk. Mrs. Keetch had regained her composure, but Rebecca's face was woebegone and pallid from weeping. Monty's embarrassment seemed augmented by the fact that she squeezed his hand under the table. But it was a silent meal, soon finished; and while Rebecca reset the table for the new employees, Mrs. Keetch drew Monty aside on the porch. It suited him just as well that dusk was deepening into night.
"I am pleased with the way you carried out my instructions," said Mrs. Keetch. "I could not have done so well. My husband John was never any good in business. You are shrewd, clever, and reliable. If this year's harvest shows anything near what you claim, I can do no less than make you my partner. There is nothing to prevent us from developing another canyon ranch. John had a lien on one west of here. It's bigger than this and uncleared. We could acquire that, if you thought it wise. In fact we could go far. Not that I am money mad, like many Mormons are. But I would like to show them... What do you think about it, Sam?"
"Wal, I agree, 'cept makin' me full pardner seems more'n I deserve. But if the crops turn out big this fall—an' you can gamble on it—I'll make a deal with you fer five years or ten or life."
"Thank you. That is well. It insures comfort in my old age as well as something substantial for my daughter... Sam, do you understand Rebecca?"
"Good Lord, no," exploded Monty.
"I reckoned you didn't. Do you realize that where she is concerned you are wholly unreliable?"
"What do you mean, ma'am?" he asked, thunderstruck.
"She can wind you round her little finger."
"Huh!... She jist cain't do anythin' of the sort," declared Monty, trying to appear angry. The old lady might ask a question presently that would be exceedingly hard to answer.
"Perhaps you do not know it. That'd be natural. At first I thought you a pretty deep, clever cowboy, one of the devil-with-the-girls kind, and that you would give Rebecca the lesson she deserves. But now I think you a soft-hearted guy, easy going, good young man, actually stupid when it comes to a girl."
"Aw, thanks, ma'am," replied Monty, most uncomfortable, and then his natural spirit rebelled. "I never was accounted stupid about gentile girls."
"Rebecca is no different from any girl. I should think you'd have seen that the Mormon style of courtship makes her sick. It is too simple, too courteous, too respectful, and too much bordering on the religious to stir her heart. No Mormon will ever get Rebecca, unless I force her to marry him. Which I have been pressed to do and which I hope I shall never do."
"Wal, I respect you fer thet, ma'am," replied Monty feelingly "But why all this talk about Rebecca? I'm shore mighty sympathetic, but how does it concern me?"
"Sam, I have not a friend in all this land, unless it's you."
"Wal, you can shore gamble on me. If you want I—I'll marry you an' be a dad to this gurl who worries you so."
"Bless your heart!... No, I'm too old for that, and I would not see you sacrifice yourself. But, oh, wouldn't that be fun—and revenge."
"Wal, it'd be heaps of fun," laughed Monty. "But I don't reckon where the revenge would come in."
"Sam, you've given me an idea," spoke up the widow, in a quick whisper. "I'll threaten Rebecca with this. That I could marry you and make you her father. If that doesn't chasten her—then the Lord have mercy upon us."
"She'd laugh at you."
"Yes. But she'll be scared to death. I'll never forget her face one day when she confessed that you claimed she should be switched—well, it must have been sort of shocking, if you said it."
"I shore did, ma'am," he admitted.
"Well, we begin all over again from today," concluded the widow thoughtfully. "To build anew! Go back to your work and plans. I have the utmost confidence in you. My troubles are easing. But I have not one more word of advice about Rebecca."
"I cain't say as you gave me any advice at all. But mebbe thet's because I'm stupid. Thanks, Mrs. Keetch an' good night."
The painful hour of confused thinking which Monty put in that night, walking in the moonlight shadows under the canyon walls, resulted only in increasing his bewilderment. He ended it by admitting he was now in love with Rebecca, ten thousand times worse than he had ever loved any girl before, and that she could wind him around her little finger all she wanted to. If she knew! But he swore he would never let her find it out.
NEXT day seemed to bring the inauguration of a new regime at Canyon Walls. The ranch had received an impetus, like that given by water run over rich dry ground. Monty's hours were doubly full. Always there was Rebecca, singing on the porch at dusk. "In the gloaming, oh my darling," a song that carried Monty back to home in Iowa, and the zigzag rail fences; or she was at his elbow during the milking hour, an ever-growing task; or in the fields. She could work, that girl; and he told her mother it would not take long for her to earn the money she had squandered in town.
Sunday after Sunday passed, with the usual host of merry callers, and no word was ever spoken of Rebecca having passed a night on the desert with a gentile. So that specter died, except in an occasional mocking look she gave him, which he took to mean that she still could betray herself and him if she took the notion.
In June came the first cutting of alfalfa—fifty acres with an enormous yield. The rich, green fragrant hay stood knee high. Monty tried to contain himself. But it did not deter him. He wanted to finish this last great stack of alfalfa. Then he saw Rebecca running along the trail, calling. Monty let her call. It somehow tickled him, pretending not to hear. So she came out into the field and up to him.
"Sam, are you deaf? Ma rang twice. And then she sent me."
"Wal, I reckon I been feelin' orful good about this alfalfa," he replied.
"Oh, it is lovely. So dark and green—so sweet to smell... Sam, I'll just have to slide down that haystack."
"Don't you dare," called Monty in alarm.
But she ran around to the lower side and presently appeared on top, her face flushed, full of fun and the desire to torment him.
"Please Rebecca, don't slide down. You'll topple it over, an I'll have all the work to do over again."
"Sam, I just have to, the way I used to when I was a kid."
"You're a kid right now," he retorted. "An' go back an' get down careful."
She shrieked and let herself go and came sliding down, somewhat at the expense of modesty. Monty knew he was angry, but he feared that he was some other things too.
"There! You see how slick I did it? I could always beat the girls—and boys, too."
"Wal, let thet do," growled Monty.
"Just one more, Sam."
He dropped his pitchfork and made a lunge for her, catching only the air. How quick she was! He controlled an impulse to run after her. Soon she appeared on top again, with something added to her glee.
"Rebecca, if you slide down heah again you'll be sorry," he shouted warningly.
"What'll you do?"
"I'll spank you."
"Sam Hill!... You wouldn't dare."
"So help me heaven, I will."
She did not in the least believe him, but it was evident that his threat made her project only the more thrilling. There was at least a possibility of excitement.
"Look out. I'm acoming," she cried, with a wild, sweet trill of laughter.
As she slid down Monty leaped in to intercept her. A scream escaped from Rebecca, but it was only because of her unruly skirts. That did not deter Monty. He caught her and stopped her high off the ground, and there he pinioned her.
Whatever Monty's intent had been it now escaped him. A winged flame flicked at every fiber of his being. He had her arms spread, and it took all this strength and weight to hold her there, feet off the ground. She was not in the least frightened at this close contact, though a wonderful look of speculation sparkled in her big gray eyes.
"You caught me. Now what?" she said challengingly.
Monty kissed her square on the mouth.
"Oh!" she cried, obviously startled. Then a wave of scarlet rushed up from the rich gold swell of her neck to her forehead. She struggled. "Let me down—you—you gentile cowpuncher!"
Monty kissed her again, longer, harder than before. Then when she tried to scream he stopped her lips again.
"You—little Mormon—devil!" he panted. "This heah—was shore—comin' to you!"
"I'll kill you."
"Wal, it'll be worth dyin' fer, I reckon." Then Monty kissed her again and again until she gasped for breath, and when she sagged limp and unresisting into his arms he kissed her cheeks, her eyes, her hair, and like a madman whose hunger had been augmented by what it fed on he went back to her red parted lips.
Suddenly the evening sky appeared to grow dark. A weight carried him down with the girl. The top of the alfalfa stack had slid down upon them. Monty floundered out and dragged Rebecca from under the fragrant mass of hay. She did not move. Her eyes were closed. With trembling hand he brushed the chaff and bits of alfalfa off her white face. But her hair was full of them.
"My Gawd, I've played hob now," he whispered, as the enormity of his offense suddenly dawned upon him. Nevertheless, he felt a tremendous thrill of joy as he looked down at her. Only her lips bore a vestige of color. Suddenly her eyes opened wide. From the sheer glory of them Monty fled.
His first wild impulse, as he ran, was to get out of the canyon, away from the incomprehensible forces that had worked such sudden havoc with his life. His second thought was to rush to Mrs. Keetch and confess everything to her, before Rebecca could damn him forever in that good woman's estimation. Then by the time he had reached his cabin and thrown himself on the porch bench, both of these impulses had given place to still others. But it was not Monty's nature to remain helpless for long. Presently he sat up, wringing wet with sweat, and still shaking.
"Aw, what could have come over me?" he breathed hoarsely. And suddenly he realized that nothing so terrible had happened after all. He had been furious with Rebecca and meant to chastise her. But when he held her close and tight, with those challenging eyes and lips right before him, all else except the sweetness of momentary possession had been forgotten. He loved the girl and had not before felt any realization of the full magnitude of his love. He believed that he could explain to Mrs. Keetch, so that she would not drive him away. But of course he would be as dirt under Rebecca's feet from that hour on. Yet even in his mournful acceptance of this fate, his spirit rose in wonderment over what this surprising Mormon girl must be thinking of him now.
Darkness had almost set in. Down the lane Monty saw a figure approaching, quite some distance away, and he thought he heard a low voice singing. It could not be Rebecca. Rebecca would be weeping.
"Re-becca,"(hyphen deliberate in two copies of story) called Mrs. Keetch from the porch in her mellow, far-reaching voice.
"Coming, Ma," replied the girl.
Monty sank into the shadow of his little cabin. He felt small enough to be unseen, but dared not risk it. And he watched in fear and trepidation. Suddenly Rebecca's low contralto voice rang on the quiet sultry air.
In the gloaming, Oh my darling.
When the lights are dim and low—
And the quiet shadows falling,
Softly come and softly go.
Monty's heart swelled almost to bursting. Did she realize the truth and was she mocking him? He was simply flabbergasted. But how the sweet voice filled the canyon and came back in echo from the walls!
Rebecca, entering the square between the orchards and the cottonwoods, gave Monty's cabin a wide berth.
"Isn't Sam with you?" called Mrs. Keetch from the porch.
"Sam?... No, he isn't."
"Where is he? Didn't you call him? Supper is getting cold."
"I haven't any idea where Sam is. Last I saw of him he was running like mad," rejoined Rebecca with a giggle.
That giggle saved Monty from a stroke of apoplexy.
"Running? What for?" asked the mother, as Rebecca mounted the porch.
"Ma, it was the funniest thing. I called Sam, but he didn't hear. I went out to tell him supper was ready. He had a great high stack of alfalfa up. Of course I wanted to climb it and slide down. Well, Sam got mad and ordered me not to do any such thing. Then I had to do it. Such fun! Sam growled like a bear. Well, I couldn't resist climbing up for another slide... Do you know, Mother, Sam got perfectly furious. He has a terrible temper. He commanded me not to slide off that stack. And when I asked him what he'd do if I did—he declared he'd spank me. Imagine! I only meant to tease him. I wasn't going to slide at all. Then, you can see I had to... So I did... I—oh dear!—I fetched the whole top of the stack down on us—and when I got out from under the smothering hay—and could see—there was Sam running for dear life."
"Well, for the land's sake!" exclaimed Mrs. Keetch dubiously, and then she laughed. "You drive the poor fellow wild with your pranks. Rebecca, will you never grow up?"
Whereupon she came out to the porch rail and called, "Sam."
Monty started up, opened his door to let it slam and replied, in what he thought a perfectly normal voice, "Hellow?"
"Hurry to supper."
Monty washed his face and hands, brushed his hair, while his mind whirled. Then he sat down bewildered. "Doggone me!—Can you beat thet gurl. She didn't give me away—she didn't lie, yet she never tole... She's not goin' to tell... Must have been funny to her... But shore it's a daid safe bet she never got kissed thet way before... I jist cain't figger her out."
Presently he went to supper and was grateful for the dim light. Still he felt the girl's eyes on him. No doubt she was now appreciating him at last as a real Arizona cowboy. He pretended weariness, and soon hurried away to his cabin, where he spent a night of wakefulness and of conflicting emotions. Remorse, however, had died a natural death after hearing Rebecca's story to her mother.
With dawn came the blessed work into which Monty plunged, finding relief in tasks which kept him away from the ranch house.
For two whole weeks Rebecca did not speak a single word to him. Mrs. Keetch finally noticed the strange silence and reproved her daughter for her attitude.
"Speak to him?" asked Rebecca, with a sniff. "Maybe—when he crawls on his knees!"
"But daughter, he only threatened to spank you. And I'm sure you gave him provocation. You must always forgive. We cannot live at enmity here," she said. "Sam is a good man, and we owe him much."
Then she turned to Monty.
"Sam, you know Rebecca has passed eighteen and she feels an exaggerated sense of her maturity. Perhaps if you'd tell her you were sorry."
"What about?" asked Monty, when she hesitated.
"Why, about what offended Rebecca."
"Aw, shore. I'm orful sorry," drawled Monty, his keen eyes on the girl. "Turrible sorry—but it's about not sayin' an' doin' more—an' then spankin' her to boot."
Mrs. Keetch looked aghast, and when Rebecca ran away from the table hysterical with mirth, the good woman seemed positively nonplused.
"That girl. Why, Sam, I thought she was furious with you. But she's not. It's all a sham."
"Wal, I reckon she's riled all right, but it doesn't matter. An' see heah, ma'am," he went on, lowering his voice. "I'm confidin' in you, an' if you give me away—wal, I'll leave the ranch. I reckon you've forgot how once you told me I'd lose my haid over Rebecca. Wal, I've lost it, clean an' plumb an' otherwise. An' sometimes I do queer things. Jist remember they's why. This won't make no difference. I'm happy heah. Only I want you to understand me."
"Sam Hill!" she whispered in amazement. "So that's what ails you... Now all will be well."
"Wal, I'm glad you think so," replied Monty shortly. "An' I reckon it will be—when I get over these growin' pains."
She leaned toward him. "My son, I understand now. Rebecca has been in love with you for a long time. Just let her alone. All will be well."
Monty gave her one mute, incredulous stare and then he fled. In the darkness of his cabin he persuaded himself of the absurdity of the sentimental Mrs. Keetch's claim. That night he could sleep. But when day came again he found that the havoc had been wrought. He found himself living in a kind of dream, and he was always watching for Rebecca.
Straightway he began to make some discoveries. Gradually she appeared to come out of her icy shell. She worked as usual, and apparently with less discontent, especially in the mornings when she had time to sew on the porch. She would fetch lunch to the men out in the fields. Once or twice Monty saw her on top of a haystack, but he always quickly looked away. She climbed the wall trail; she gathered armloads of wild flowers; she helped where her help was not needed.
On Sunday mornings she went to church at White Sage and in the afternoon entertained callers. But it was noticeable that her Mormon courters grew fewer as the summer advanced. Monty missed in her the gay allure, the open coquetry, the challenge that had once been so marked.
All this was thought provoking enough for Monty, but nothing to the discovery that Rebecca watched him from afar and from near at hand. Monty could scarcely believe it. Only more proof of his addled brain! However, the eyes which had made Monty Smoke Bellew a great shot and tracker, wonderful out on the range, could not be deceived. When he himself took to spying upon Rebecca, he had learned the staggering truth.
In the mornings and evenings while he was at work near the barn or resting on his porch she watched him, believing herself to be unseen. She peered from behind her window curtain, through the leaves, above her swing, from the open doors—from everywhere her great gray hungry eyes sought him. It began to get on Monty's nerves. Did she hate him so much that she was planning some dire revenge? But the eyes that watched him in secret seldom or never met his own any more. Sometimes he would recall Mrs. Keetch's strangely tranquil words, and then he would have to battle fiercely with himself to recover his equanimity. The last asinine thing Smoke Bellew would ever do would be to believe that Rebecca loved him.
On noonday Monty returned to his cabin to find a magical change in his single room. He could not recognize it. Clean and tidy and colorful, it met his eye as he entered. There were Indian rugs on the clay floor, Indian ornaments on the log walls, curtains at his windows, a scarf on his table, and a bright bedspread on his bed. In a little Indian vase on the table stood some stalks of golden daises and purple asters.
"What happened around heah this mawnin'?" he drawled at meal hour. "My cabin is spruced up fine as a parlor."
"Yes, it does look nice," replied Mrs. Keetch complacently. "Rebecca has had that in mind to do for some time."
"Wal, it was turrible good of her," said Monty.
"Oh, nonsense," returned Rebecca, with a swift blush. "Ma wanted you to be more comfortable, that's all."
Monty escaped somehow, as he always managed to escape when catastrophe impended. But one August night when the harvest moon rose white and huge above the black canyon rim he felt such a strange impelling presentiment that he could not bear to leave his porch and go into bed. It had been a hard day—one in which the accumulated cut of alfalfa had been heavy. Canyon Walls Ranch, with its soil and water and sun, was beyond doubt a gold mine. All over southern Utah the ranchers were clamoring for that record alfalfa crop.
The hour was late. The light in Rebecca's room had long been out. Frogs and owls and nighthawks had ceased their lonely calls. Only the insects hummed in the melancholy stillness.
A rustle startled Monty. Was it a leaf falling from a cottonwood? A dark form crossed the barred patches of moonlight. Rebecca! She passed close to him as he lounged on the porch steps. Her face flashed white. She ran down the lane and then stopped to look back.
"Doggone! Am I drunk or crazy or just moonstruck?" said Monty rising. "What is the gurl up to?... Shore she seen me heah... Shore she did!"
He started down the lane and when he came out of the shadow of the cottonwoods into the moonlight she began to run with the speed of a deer. Monty stalked after her. He was roused now. He would see this thing through. If this was just another of her hoydenish tricks! But there seemed to be something mysterious in this night flight out to the canyon under the full moon.
Monty lost sight of her at the end of the lane. But when he reached it and turned into the field he saw her on the other side, lingering, looking back. He could see her moon-blanched face. She ran on and he followed.
That side of the canyon lay clear in the silver light. On the other the looming canyon wall stood up black, with its level rim moon-fired against the sky. The alfalfa shone bright, and the scent of it in the night air was overpowering in its sweetness.
Rebecca was making for the upper end where that day the alfalfa had been cut. She let Monty gain on her, but at last with a burst of laughter she ran to the huge silver-shining haystack and began to climb it.
Monty did not run; he slowed down. He did not know what was happening to him, but his state seemed to verge upon lunacy. One of his nightmares! He would awaken presently. But there was the white form scrambling up the steep haystack. That afternoon he had finished this mound of alfalfa, with the satisfaction of an artist.
When he reached it Rebecca had not only gained the top, but was lying flat, propped on her elbows. Monty went closer—until he was standing right up against the stack. He could see her distinctly now, scarcely fifteen feet above his head. The moonlight lent her form an air of witchery. But it was the mystery of her eyes that completed the bewitchment of Monty. Why had he followed her? He could do nothing. His former threat was but an idle memory. His anger would not rise. She would make him betray his secret and then, alas! Canyon Walls could no longer be a home for him.
"Howdy, Sam," she said, in a tone that he could not comprehend.
"Rebecca, what you doin' out heah?"
"Isn't it a glorious night?"
"Yes. But you ought to be in your bed. An' you could have watched from your window."
"Oh, no. I had to be out in it... Besides, I wanted to make you follow me."
"Wal, you shore have. I was plumb scared, I reckon. An'—an' I'm glad it was only in fun... But why did you want me to follow you?"
"For one thing, I wanted you to see me climb your new haystack."
"Yes? Wal, I've seen you. So come down now. If your mother should ketch us out heah."
"And I wanted you to see me slide down this one."
As he looked up at her he realized how helpless he was in the hands of this strange girl. He kept staring, not knowing what she would do next.
"And I wanted to see—terribly—what you'd do," she went on, with a seriousness that surely must have been mockery.
"Rebecca, honey, I don't aim to do—nothin'," replied Monty almost mournfully.
She got to her knees, and leaned over as if to see more clearly. Then she turned round to sit down and slide to the very edge. Her hands were clutched deep in the alfalfa.
"You won't spank me, Sam?" she asked, in impish glee.
"No. Much as I'd like to an' you shore need it, I cain't."
"Bluffer... Gentile cowpuncher... showing yellow... marblehearted fiend."
"Not thet last, Rebecca. For all my many faults, not that," he said sadly.
She seemed fight fighting to let go of something that the mound of alfalfa represented only in symbol. Surely the physical effort for Rebecca to hold her balance there could not account for the look of strain on her body and face. And, in addition, all the mystery of Canyon Walls and the beauty of the night hovered over her.
"Sam, dare me to slide," she taunted.
"No," he retorted grimly.
"Shore. You hit me on the haid there."
Then ensued a short silence. He could see her quivering. She was moving, almost imperceptibly. Her eyes, magnified by the shadow and light, transfixed Monty.
"Gentile, dare me to slide into your arms," she cried a little quaveringly.
"Mormon tease! Would you—"
"Wal, I dare—you, Rebecca... but so help me Gawd I won't answer for the consequences."
Her laugh, like the sweet, wild trill of a night bird, rang out, but this time it was full of joy, of certainty, of surrender. And she let go her hold, to spread wide her arms and come sliding on an avalanche of silver hay down upon him.
Next morning Monty found work in the fields impossible. He roamed about like a man possessed, and at last went back to the cabin. It was just before the noonday meal. In the ranch house Rebecca hummed a tune while she set the table. Mrs. Keetch sat in her rocker, busy with work on her lap. There was no charged atmosphere. All seemed serene.
Monty responded to the girl's shy glance by taking her hand and leading her up to her mother.
"Ma'am," he began hoarsely, "you've knowed long how my feelin's are for Rebecca. But it seems she—she loves me, too... How thet come about I cain't say. It's shore the wonderfullest thing... Now I ask you—fer Rebecca's sake most what can be done about this heah trouble?"
"Daughter, is it true?" asked Mrs. Keetch, looking up with serene and smiling face.
"Yes, Mother," replied Rebecca simply.
"You love Sam?"
"Oh, I do."
"Always, I guess. But I never knew till this June."
"I am very glad, Rebecca," replied the mother, rising to embrace her. "Since you could not or would not love one of your own creed it is well that you love this man who came a stranger to our gates. He is strong, he is true, and what his religion is matters little."
Then she smiled upon Monty. "My son, no man can say what guided your steps to Canyon Walls. But I always felt God's intent in it. You and Rebecca shall marry."
"Oh, Mother," murmured the girl rapturously, and she hid her face.
"Wal, I'm willin' an' happy," stammered Monty. "But I ain't worthy of her, ma'am, an' you know thet old—"
She silenced him. "You must go to White Sage and be married at once."
"At once!—When?" faltered Rebecca.
"Aw, Mrs. Keetch, I—I wouldn't hurry the gurl. Let her have her own time."
"No, why wait? She has been a strange, starved creature... Tomorrow you must take her to be wed, Sam."
"Wal an' good, if Rebecca says so," said Monty with wistful eagerness.
"Yes," she whispered. "Will you go with us, Ma?"
"Yes," suddenly cried Mrs. Keetch, as if inspired. "I will go. I will cross the Utah line once more before I am carried over... But not White Sage. We will go to Kanab. You shall be married by the bishop."
In the excitement and agitation that possessed mother and daughter at that moment, Monty sensed a significance more than just the tremendous importance of impending marriage. Some deep, strong motive was urging Mrs. Keetch to go to Kanab, there to have the bishop marry Rebecca to a gentile. One way or another it did not matter to Monty. He rode in the clouds. He could not believe in his good luck. Never in his life had he touched such happiness as he was experiencing now.
The womenfolk were an hour late in serving lunch, and during the meal the air of vast excitement permeated their every word and action. They could not have tasted the food on their plates.
"Wal, this heah seems like a Sunday," said Monty, after a hasty meal. "I've loafed a lot this mawnin'. But I reckon I'll go back to work now."
"Oh, Sam—don't—when—when we're leaving so soon," remonstrated Rebecca shyly.
"When are we leavin?"
"Wal, I'll get thet alfalfa up anyhow. It might rain, you know. Rebecca, do you reckon you could get up at daylight fer this heah ride?"
"I could stay up all night, Sam."
Mrs. Keetch laughed at them. "There's no rush. We'll start after breakfast, and get to Kanab early enough to make arrangements for the wedding next day. It will give Sam time to buy a respectable suit of clothes to be married in."
"Doggone! I hadn't thought of thet," replied Monty ruefully.
"Sam Hill, you don't marry me in a ten-gallon hat, a red shirt and blue overalls, and boots," declared Rebecca.
"How about wearin' my gun?" drawled Monty.
"Your gun!" exclaimed Rebecca..
"Shore. You've forgot how I used to pack it. I might need it there to fight off them Mormons who're so crazy about you."
"Heavens! You leave that gun home."
Next morning when Monty brought the buck-board around, Mrs. Keetch and Rebecca appeared radiant of face, gorgeous of apparel. But for the difference in age anyone might have mistaken the mother for the intended bride.
The drive to Kanab, with fresh horses and light load, took six hours. And the news of the wedding spread over Kanab like wildfire in dry prairie grass. For all Monty's keen eyes he never caught a jealous look, nor did he hear a critical word. That settled for him for all time the status of the Keetch's Mormon friends. The Tyler brothers came into town and made much of the fact that Monty would soon be one of them. And they planned another fall hunt for wild mustangs and deer. This time Monty would surely bring in Rebecca's wild pony. Waking hours sped by and sleeping hours were few. Almost before Monty knew what was happening he was in the presence of the Mormon bishop.
"Will you come into the Mormon Church?" asked the bishop.
"Wal, sir, I cain't be a Mormon," replied Monty in perplexity. "But I shore have respect fer you people an' your Church. I reckon I never had no religion. I can say I'll never stand in Rebecca's way, in anythin' pertainin' to hers."
"In the event she bears you children you will not seek to raise them gentiles?"
"I'd leave thet to Rebecca." replied Monty quietly.
"And the name Sam Hill, by which you are known, is a middle name?"
"Shore, jist a cowboy middle name."
So they were married. Monty feared they would never escape from the many friends and the curious crowd. But at last they were safely in the buckboard, speeding homeward. Monty sat in the front seat alone. Mrs. Keetch and Rebecca occupied the rear seat. The girl's expression of pure happiness touched Monty and made him swear deep in his throat that he would try to deserve her love. Mrs. Keetch had evidently lived through one of the few great events of her life. What dominated her feelings Monty could not divine, but she had the look of a woman who asked no more of life. Somewhere, at some time, a monstrous injustice or wrong had been done the Widow Keetch. Recalling the bishop's strange look at Rebecca—a look of hunger—Monty pondered deeply.
The ride home, being downhill, with a pleasant breeze off the desert, and that wondrous panorama coloring and spreading in the setting sun, seemed all too short for Monty. He drawled to Rebecca, when they reached the portal of Canyon Walls and halted under the gold-leaved cottonwoods: "Wal, wife, heah we are home. But we shore ought to have made thet honeymoon drive a longer one."
That suppertime was the only one in which Monty ever saw the Widow Keetch bow her head and give thanks to the Lord for salvation of these young people so strangely brought together, for the home overflowing with milk and honey, for the hopeful future.
THEY had their fifth cutting of alfalfa in September, and it was in the nature of an event. The Tyler boys rode over to help, fetching Sue to visit Rebecca. And there was much merry-making. Rebecca would climb every mound of alfalfa and slide down screaming her delight. And once she said to Monty, "Young man, you should pray under every haystack you build."
"Ahuh. An' what fer should I pray, Rebecca?" he drawled.
"To give thanks for all this sweet smelling alfalfa has brought you."
The harvest god smiled on Canyon Walls that autumn. Three wagons plied between Kanab and the ranch for weeks, hauling the produce that could not be used. While Monty went off with the Tyler boys for their hunt in Buckskin Forest, the womenfolk and their guests, and the hired hands applied themselves industriously to the happiest work of the year—preserving all they could of the luscious fruit yield of the season.
Monty came back to a home such as had never been his even in his happiest dreams. Rebecca was incalculably changed, and so happy that Monty trembled as he listened to her sing, as he watched her at work. The mystery never ended for him, not even when she whispered that they might expect a little visitor from the angels next spring. But Monty's last doubt faded, and he gave himself over to work, to his loving young wife, to walks in the dusk under the canyon walls, to a lonely pipe beside his little fireside.
THE winter passed, and spring came, doubling all former activities. They had taken over the canyon three miles to the westward, which once cleared of brush and cactus and rock promised well. The problem had been water and Monty solved it by extending a new irrigation ditch from the same brook that watered the home ranch. Good fortune had attended his every venture.
Around the middle of April, when the cottonwoods began to be tinged with green and the peach trees with pink, Monty began to grow restless about the coming event. It uplifted him one moment, appalled him the next. In that past which seemed so remote to him now, he had snuffed out life. Young, fiery, grim Smoke Bellew. And by some incomprehensible working out of life he was now about to bring life into being.
On the seventeenth of May, some hours after breakfast, he was hurriedly summoned from the fields. His heart appeared to be chocking him.
Mrs. Keetch met him at the porch. He scarcely knew her.
"My son, do you remember this date?"
"No," replied Monty wonderingly.
"Two years ago today you came to us... And Rebecca has just borne you a son."
"Aw—my Gawd!—How—how is she, ma'am?" he gasped.
"Both well. We could ask no more. It has all been a visitation of God... Come."
SOME days later the important matter of christening the youngster came up.
"Ma wants one of those jaw-breaking Biblical names," said Rebecca pouting. "But I like just plain Sam."
"Wal, it ain't much of a handle fer sech a wonderful little feller."
"It's your name. I love it."
"Rebecca, you kinda forget Sam Hill was jist a—a sort of a middle name. It ain't my real name."
"Oh, yes, I remember now," replied Rebecca, her great eyes lighting. "At Kanab—the bishop asked about Sam Hill. Mother had told him that was your nickname."
"Darlin' I had another nickname once," he said sadly.
"So, my man with a mysterious past. And what was that?"
"They called me Smoke."
"How funny... Well, I may be Mrs. Monty Smoke Bellew, according to the law and the Church, but you, my husband, will always be Sam Hill to me!"
"An' the boy?" asked Monty enraptured.
"Is Sam Hill, too."
An anxious week passed and then all seemed surely well with the new mother and baby. Monty ceased to tiptoe around. He no longer awoke with a start in the dead of the night.
Then one Saturday as he came out on the wide porch, he heard a hallo from someone, and saw four riders coming through the portal. A bolt shot back from a closed door of his memory. Arizona riders. How well he knew the lean faces, the lithe forms, the gun belts, the mettlesome horses!
"Nix, fellers," called the foremost rider, as Monty came slowly out.
An instinct followed by a muscular contraction that had the speed of lightning passed over Monty. Then he realized he packed no gun and was glad. Old habit might have been too strong. His hawk eye saw lean hands drop from hips. A sickening feeling of despair followed his first reaction.
"Howdy, Smoke," drawled the foremost rider.
"Wal, doggone! If it ain't Jim Sneed," returned Monty, as he recognized the sheriff, and he descended the steps to walk out and offer his hand, quick to see the swift, penetrating eyes run over him.
"Shore, it's Jim. I reckoned you'd know me. Hoped you would, as I wasn't too keen about raisin' your smoke."
"Ahuh. What you all doin' over heah, Jim?" asked Monty, with a glance at the three watchful riders.
"Main thing I come over fer was to buy stock fer Strickland. An' he said if it wasn't out of my way I might fetch you back. Word come thet you'd been seen in Kanab. An' when I made inquiry at White Sage I shore knowed who Sam Hill was."
"I see. Kinda tough it happened to be Strickland. Doggone. My luck jist couldn't last."
"Smoke, you look uncommon fine," said the sheriff with another appraising glance. "You shore haven't been drinkin'. An' I seen fust off you wasn't totin' no gun."
"Thet's all past fer me, Jim."
"Wal, I'll be damned!" exclaimed Sneed, and fumbled for a cigarette. "Bellew, I jist don't savvy."
"Reckon you wouldn't... Jim, I'd like to ask if my name ever got linked up with thet Green Valley deal two years an' more ago?"
"No, it didn't Smoke, I'm glad to say. Your pards Slim an' Cuppy pulled thet. Slim was killed coverin' Cuppy's escape."
"Ahuh... So Slim—wal, wal," sighed Monty, and paused a moment to gaze into space.
"Smoke, tell me your deal heah," said Sneed.
"Shore. But would you mind comin' indoors?"
"Reckon I wouldn't. But Smoke, I'm still figgerin' you the cowboy."
"Wal, you're way off. Get down an' come in."
Monty led the sheriff into Rebecca's bedroom. She was awake, playing with the baby by her side on the bed.
"Jim, this is my wife an' youngster," said Monty feelingly. "An' Rebecca this heah is an old friend of mine, Jim Sneed, from Arizona."
That must have been a hard moment for the sheriff—the cordial welcome of the blushing wife, the smiling mite of a baby who was clinging to his finger, the atmosphere of unadulterated joy in the little home.
At any rate, when they went out again to the porch Sneed wiped his perspiring face and swore at Monty, "... cowboy, have you gone an' double-crossed thet sweet gurl?"
Monty told him the few salient facts of his romance, and told it with trembling eagerness to be believed.
"So you've turned Mormon?" said the sheriff.
"No, but I'll be true to these women... An' one thing I ask, Sneed. Don't let it be known in White Sage or heah why I'm with you... I can send word to my wife I've got to go to Arizona... then afterward I'll come back."
"Smoke, I wish I had a stiff drink," replied Sneed. "But I reckon you haven't anythin?"
"Only water and milk."
"Good Lawd! For an Arizonian!" Sneed halted at the head of the porch steps and shot out a big hand. His cold eyes had warmed.
"Smoke, may I tell Strickland you'll send him some money now an' then—till thet debt is paid?"
Monty stared and faltered, "Jim—you shore can."
"Fine," returned the sheriff in a loud voice, and he strode down the steps to mount his horse. "Adios, cowboy. Be good to thet little woman."
Monty could not speak. He watched the riders down the lane out into the road, and through the wide canyon gates to the desert beyond. His heart was full. He thought of Slim and Cuppy, those young firebrand comrades of his range days. He could remember now without terror. He could live once more with his phantoms of the past. He could see lean, lithe Arizona riders come into Canyon Walls, if that event ever chanced again, and be glad of their coming.
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