Jack-rabbits were a pest that year and Presley occasionally found amusement in hunting them with Harran’s half-dozen greyhounds, following the chase on horseback. One day, between two and three months after Lyman s visit to Los Muertos, as he was returning toward the ranch house from a distant and lonely quarter of Los Muertos, he came unexpectedly upon a strange sight.
Some twenty men, Annixter’s and Osterman’s tenants, and small ranchers from east of Guadalajara—all members of the League—were going through the manual of arms under Harran Derrick’s supervision. They were all equipped with new Winchester rifles. Harran carried one of these himself and with it he illustrated the various commands he gave. As soon as one of the men under his supervision became more than usually proficient, he was told off to instruct a file of the more backward. After the manual of arms, Harran gave the command to take distance as skirmishers, and when the line had opened out so that some half-dozen feet intervened between each man, an advance was made across the field, the men stooping low and snapping the hammers of their rifles at an imaginary enemy.
The League had its agents in San Francisco, who watched the movements of the Railroad as closely as was possible, and some time before this, Annixter had received word that the Marshal and his deputies were coming down to Bonneville to put the dummy buyers of his ranch in possession. The report proved to be but the first of many false alarms, but it had stimulated the League to unusual activity, and some three or four hundred men were furnished with arms and from time to time were drilled in secret.
Among themselves, the ranchers said that if the Railroad managers did not believe they were terribly in earnest in the stand they had taken, they were making a fatal mistake.
Harran reasserted this statement to Presley on the way home to the ranch house that same day. Harran had caught up with him by the time he reached the Lower Road, and the two jogged homeward through the miles of standing wheat.
“They may jump the ranch, Pres,” he said, “if they try hard enough, but they will never do it while I am alive. By the way,” he added, “you know we served notices yesterday upon S. Behrman and Cy. Ruggles to quit the country. Of course, they won’t do it, but they won’t be able to say they didn’t have warning.”
About an hour later, the two reached the ranch house, but as Harran rode up the driveway, he uttered an exclamation.
“Hello,” he said, “something is up. That’s Genslinger’s buckboard.”
In fact, the editor’s team was tied underneath the shade of a giant eucalyptus tree near by. Harran, uneasy under this unexpected visit of the enemy’s friend, dismounted without stabling his horse, and went at once to the dining-room, where visitors were invariably received. But the dining-room was empty, and his mother told him that Magnus and the editor were in the “office.” Magnus had said they were not to be disturbed.
Earlier in the afternoon, the editor had driven up to the porch and had asked Mrs. Derrick, whom he found reading a book of poems on the porch, if he could see Magnus. At the time, the Governor had gone with Phelps to inspect the condition of the young wheat on Hooven’s holding, but within half an hour he returned, and Genslinger had asked him for a “few moments’ talk in private.”
The two went into the “office,” Magnus locking the door behind him. “Very complete you are here, Governor,” observed the editor in his alert, jerky manner, his black, bead-like eyes twinkling around the room from behind his glasses. “Telephone, safe, ticker, account-books—well, that’s progress, isn’t it? Only way to manage a big ranch these days. But the day of the big ranch is over. As the land appreciates in value, the temptation to sell off small holdings will be too strong. And then the small holding can be cultivated to better advantage. I shall have an editorial on that some day.”
“The cost of maintaining a number of small holdings,” said Magnus, indifferently, “is, of course, greater than if they were all under one management.”
“That may be, that may be,” rejoined the other.
There was a long pause. Genslinger leaned back in his chair and rubbed a knee. Magnus, standing erect in front of the safe, waited for him to speak.
“This is an unfortunate business, Governor,” began the editor, “this misunderstanding between the ranchers and the Railroad. I wish it could be adjusted. HERE are two industries that MUST be in harmony with one another, or we all go to pot.”
“I should prefer not to be interviewed on the subject, Mr. Genslinger,” said Magnus.
“Oh, no, oh, no. Lord love you, Governor, I don’t want to interview you. We all know how you stand.”
Again there was a long silence. Magnus wondered what this little man, usually so garrulous, could want of him. At length, Genslinger began again. He did not look at Magnus, except at long intervals.
“About the present Railroad Commission,” he remarked. “That was an interesting campaign you conducted in Sacramento and San Francisco.”
Magnus held his peace, his hands shut tight. Did Genslinger know of Lyman’s disgrace? Was it for this he had come? Would the story of it be the leading article in to-morrow’s Mercury?
“An interesting campaign,” repeated Genslinger, slowly; “a very interesting campaign. I watched it with every degree of interest. I saw its every phase, Mr. Derrick.”
“The campaign was not without its interest,” admitted Magnus.
“Yes,” said Genslinger, still more deliberately, “and some phases of it were—more interesting than others, as, for instance, let us say the way in which you—personally—secured the votes of certain chairmen of delegations—NEED I particularise further? Yes, those men—the way you got their votes. Now, THAT I should say, Mr. Derrick, was the most interesting move in the whole game—to you. Hm, curious,” he murmured, musingly. “Let’s see. You deposited two one-thousand dollar bills and four five-hundred dollar bills in a box—three hundred and eight was the number—in a box in the Safety Deposit Vaults in San Francisco, and then—let’s see, you gave a key to this box to each of the gentlemen in question, and after the election the box was empty. Now, I call that interesting—curious, because it’s a new, safe, and highly ingenious method of bribery. How did you happen to think of it, Governor?”
“Do you know what you are doing, sir?” Magnus burst forth. “Do you know what you are insinuating, here, in my own house?”
“Why, Governor,” returned the editor, blandly, “I’m not INSINUATING anything. I’m talking about what I KNOW.”
“It’s a lie.”
Genslinger rubbed his chin reflectively.
“Well,” he answered, “you can have a chance to prove it before the Grand Jury, if you want to.”
“My character is known all over the State,” blustered Magnus. “My politics are pure politics. My——”
“No one needs a better reputation for pure politics than the man who sets out to be a briber,” interrupted Genslinger, “and I might as well tell you, Governor, that you can’t shout me down. I can put my hand on the two chairmen you bought before it’s dark to-day. I’ve had their depositions in my safe for the last six weeks. We could make the arrests to-morrow, if we wanted. Governor, you sure did a risky thing when you went into that Sacramento fight, an awful risky thing. Some men can afford to have bribery charges preferred against them, and it don’t hurt one little bit, but YOU—Lord, it would BUST you, Governor, bust you dead. I know all about the whole shananigan business from A to Z, and if you don’t believe it—here,” he drew a long strip of paper from his pocket, “here’s a galley proof of the story.”
Magnus took it in his hands. There, under his eyes, scare-headed, double-leaded, the more important clauses printed in bold type, was the detailed account of the “deal” Magnus had made with the two delegates. It was pitiless, remorseless, bald. Every statement was substantiated, every statistic verified with Genslinger’s meticulous love for exactness. Besides all that, it had the ring of truth. It was exposure, ruin, absolute annihilation.
“That’s about correct, isn’t it?” commented Genslinger, as Derrick finished reading. Magnus did not reply. “I think it is correct enough,” the editor continued. “But I thought it would only be fair to you to let you see it before it was published.”
The one thought uppermost in Derrick’s mind, his one impulse of the moment was, at whatever cost, to preserve his dignity, not to allow this man to exult in the sight of one quiver of weakness, one trace of defeat, one suggestion of humiliation. By an effort that put all his iron rigidity to the test, he forced himself to look straight into Genslinger’s eyes.
“I congratulate you,” he observed, handing back the proof, “upon your journalistic enterprise. Your paper will sell to-morrow.” “Oh, I don’t know as I want to publish this story,” remarked the editor, indifferently, putting away the galley. “I’m just like that. The fun for me is running a good story to earth, but once I’ve got it, I lose interest. And, then, I wouldn’t like to see you—holding the position you do, President of the League and a leading man of the county—I wouldn’t like to see a story like this smash you over. It’s worth more to you to keep it out of print than for me to put it in. I’ve got nothing much to gain but a few extra editions, but you—Lord, you would lose everything. Your committee was in the deal right enough. But your League, all the San Joaquin Valley, everybody in the State believes the commissioners were fairly elected.”
“Your story,” suddenly exclaimed Magnus, struck with an idea, “will be thoroughly discredited just so soon as the new grain tariff is published. I have means of knowing that the San Joaquin rate—the issue upon which the board was elected—is not to be touched. Is it likely the ranchers would secure the election of a board that plays them false?”
“Oh, we know all about that,” answered Genslinger, smiling. “You thought you were electing Lyman easily. You thought you had got the Railroad to walk right into your trap. You didn’t understand how you could pull off your deal so easily. Why, Governor, LYMAN WAS PLEDGED TO THE RAILROAD TWO YEARS AGO. He was THE ONE PARTICULAR man the corporation wanted for commissioner. And your people elected him—saved the Railroad all the trouble of campaigning for him. And you can’t make any counter charge of bribery there. No, sir, the corporation don’t use such amateurish methods as that. Confidentially and between us two, all that the Railroad has done for Lyman, in order to attach him to their interests, is to promise to back him politically in the next campaign for Governor. It’s too bad,” he continued, dropping his voice, and changing his position. “It really is too bad to see good men trying to bunt a stone wall over with their bare heads. You couldn’t have won at any stage of the game. I wish I could have talked to you and your friends before you went into that Sacramento fight. I could have told you then how little chance you had. When will you people realise that you can’t buck against the Railroad? Why, Magnus, it’s like me going out in a paper boat and shooting peas at a battleship.”
“Is that all you wished to see me about, Mr. Genslinger?” remarked Magnus, bestirring himself. “I am rather occupied to-day.” “Well,” returned the other, “you know what the publication of this article would mean for you.” He paused again, took off his glasses, breathed on them, polished the lenses with his handkerchief and readjusted them on his nose. “I’ve been thinking, Governor,” he began again, with renewed alertness, and quite irrelevantly, “of enlarging the scope of the ‘Mercury.’ You see, I’m midway between the two big centres of the State, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I want to extend the ‘Mercury’s’ sphere of influence as far up and down the valley as I can. I want to illustrate the paper. You see, if I had a photo-engraving plant of my own, I could do a good deal of outside jobbing as well, and the investment would pay ten per cent. But it takes money to make money. I wouldn’t want to put in any dinky, one-horse affair. I want a good plant. I’ve been figuring out the business. Besides the plant, there would be the expense of a high grade paper. Can’t print half-tones on anything but coated paper, and that COSTS. Well, what with this and with that and running expenses till the thing began to pay, it would cost me about ten thousand dollars, and I was wondering if, perhaps, you couldn’t see your way clear to accommodating me.”
“Yes. Say five thousand down, and the balance within sixty days.”
Magnus, for the moment blind to what Genslinger had in mind, turned on him in astonishment.
“Why, man, what security could you give me for such an amount?”
“Well, to tell the truth,” answered the editor, “I hadn’t thought much about securities. In fact, I believed you would see how greatly it was to your advantage to talk business with me. You see, I’m not going to print this article about you, Governor, and I’m not going to let it get out so as any one else can print it, and it seems to me that one good turn deserves another. You understand?”
Magnus understood. An overwhelming desire suddenly took possession of him to grip this blackmailer by the throat, to strangle him where he stood; or, if not, at least to turn upon him with that old-time terrible anger, before which whole conventions had once cowered. But in the same moment the Governor realised this was not to be. Only its righteousness had made his wrath terrible; only the justice of his anger had made him feared. Now the foundation was gone from under his feet; he had knocked it away himself. Three times feeble was he whose quarrel was unjust. Before this country editor, this paid speaker of the Railroad, he stood, convicted. The man had him at his mercy. The detected briber could not resent an insult. Genslinger rose, smoothing his hat.
“Well,” he said, “of course, you want time to think it over, and you can’t raise money like that on short notice. I’ll wait till Friday noon of this week. We begin to set Saturday’s paper at about four, Friday afternoon, and the forms are locked about two in the morning. I hope,” he added, turning back at the door of the room, “that you won’t find anything disagreeable in your Saturday morning ‘Mercury,’ Mr. Derrick.”
He went out, closing the door behind him, and in a moment, Magnus heard the wheels of his buckboard grating on the driveway.
The following morning brought a letter to Magnus from Gethings, of the San Pueblo ranch, which was situated very close to Visalia. The letter was to the effect that all around Visalia, upon the ranches affected by the regrade of the Railroad, men were arming and drilling, and that the strength of the League in that quarter was undoubted. “But to refer,” continued the letter, “to a most painful recollection. You will, no doubt, remember that, at the close of our last committee meeting, specific charges were made as to fraud in the nomination and election of one of our commissioners, emanating, most unfortunately, from the commissioner himself. These charges, my dear Mr. Derrick, were directed at yourself. How the secrets of the committee have been noised about, I cannot understand. You may be, of course, assured of my own unquestioning confidence and loyalty. However, I regret exceedingly to state not only that the rumour of the charges referred to above is spreading in this district, but that also they are made use of by the enemies of the League. It is to be deplored that some of the Leaguers themselves—you know, we number in our ranks many small farmers, ignorant Portuguese and foreigners—have listened to these stories and have permitted a feeling of uneasiness to develop among them. Even though it were admitted that fraudulent means had been employed in the elections, which, of course, I personally do not admit, I do not think it would make very much difference in the confidence which the vast majority of the Leaguers repose in their chiefs. Yet we have so insisted upon the probity of our position as opposed to Railroad chicanery, that I believe it advisable to quell this distant suspicion at once; to publish a denial of these rumoured charges would only be to give them too much importance. However, can you not write me a letter, stating exactly how the campaign was conducted, and the commission nominated and elected? I could show this to some of the more disaffected, and it would serve to allay all suspicion on the instant. I think it would be well to write as though the initiative came, not from me, but from yourself, ignoring this present letter. I offer this only as a suggestion, and will confidently endorse any decision you may arrive at.”
The letter closed with renewed protestations of confidence.
Magnus was alone when he read this. He put it carefully away in the filing cabinet in his office, and wiped the sweat from his forehead and face. He stood for one moment, his hands rigid at his sides, his fists clinched.
“This is piling up,” he muttered, looking blankly at the opposite wall. “My God, this is piling up. What am I to do?”
Ah, the bitterness of unavailing regret, the anguish of compromise with conscience, the remorse of a bad deed done in a moment of excitement. Ah, the humiliation of detection, the degradation of being caught, caught like a schoolboy pilfering his fellows’ desks, and, worse than all, worse than all, the consciousness of lost self-respect, the knowledge of a prestige vanishing, a dignity impaired, knowledge that the grip which held a multitude in check was trembling, that control was wavering, that command was being weakened. Then the little tricks to deceive the crowd, the little subterfuges, the little pretences that kept up appearances, the lies, the bluster, the pose, the strut, the gasconade, where once was iron authority; the turning of the head so as not to see that which could not be prevented; the suspicion of suspicion, the haunting fear of the Man on the Street, the uneasiness of the direct glance, the questioning as to motives—why had this been said, what was meant by that word, that gesture, that glance?
Wednesday passed, and Thursday. Magnus kept to himself, seeing no visitors, avoiding even his family. How to break through the mesh of the net, how to regain the old position, how to prevent discovery? If there were only some way, some vast, superhuman effort by which he could rise in his old strength once more, crushing Lyman with one hand, Genslinger with the other, and for one more moment, the last, to stand supreme again, indomitable, the leader; then go to his death, triumphant at the end, his memory untarnished, his fame undimmed. But the plague-spot was in himself, knitted forever into the fabric of his being. Though Genslinger should be silenced, though Lyman should be crushed, though even the League should overcome the Railroad, though he should be the acknowledged leader of a resplendent victory, yet the plague-spot would remain. There was no success for him now. However conspicuous the outward achievement, he, he himself, Magnus Derrick, had failed, miserably and irredeemably.
Petty, material complications intruded, sordid considerations. Even if Genslinger was to be paid, where was the money to come from? His legal battles with the Railroad, extending now over a period of many years, had cost him dear; his plan of sowing all of Los Muertos to wheat, discharging the tenants, had proved expensive, the campaign resulting in Lyman’s election had drawn heavily upon his account. All along he had been relying upon a “bonanza crop” to reimburse him. It was not believable that the Railroad would “jump” Los Muertos, but if this should happen, he would be left without resources. Ten thousand dollars! Could he raise the amount? Possibly. But to pay it out to a blackmailer! To be held up thus in road-agent fashion, without a single means of redress! Would it not cripple him financially? Genslinger could do his worst. He, Magnus, would brave it out. Was not his character above suspicion?
Was it? This letter of Gethings’s. Already the murmur of uneasiness made itself heard. Was this not the thin edge of the wedge? How the publication of Genslinger’s story would drive it home! How the spark of suspicion would flare into the blaze of open accusation! There would be investigations. Investigation! There was terror in the word. He could not stand investigation. Magnus groaned aloud, covering his head with his clasped hands. Briber, corrupter of government, ballot-box stuffer, descending to the level of back-room politicians, of bar-room heelers, he, Magnus Derrick, statesman of the old school, Roman in his iron integrity, abandoning a career rather than enter the “new politics,” had, in one moment of weakness, hazarding all, even honour, on a single stake, taking great chances to achieve great results, swept away the work of a lifetime.
Gambler that he was, he had at last chanced his highest stake, his personal honour, in the greatest game of his life, and had lost.
It was Presley’s morbidly keen observation that first noticed the evidence of a new trouble in the Governor’s face and manner. Presley was sure that Lyman’s defection had not so upset him. The morning after the committee meeting, Magnus had called Harran and Annie Derrick into the office, and, after telling his wife of Lyman’s betrayal, had forbidden either of them to mention his name again. His attitude towards his prodigal son was that of stern, unrelenting resentment. But now, Presley could not fail to detect traces of a more deep-seated travail. Something was in the wind, the times were troublous. What next was about to happen? What fresh calamity impended?
One morning, toward the very end of the week, Presley woke early in his small, white-painted iron bed. He hastened to get up and dress. There was much to be done that day. Until late the night before, he had been at work on a collection of some of his verses, gathered from the magazines in which they had first appeared. Presley had received a liberal offer for the publication of these verses in book form. “The Toilers” was to be included in this book, and, indeed, was to give it its name—“The Toilers and Other Poems.” Thus it was that, until the previous midnight, he had been preparing the collection for publication, revising, annotating, arranging. The book was to be sent off that morning.
But also Presley had received a typewritten note from Annixter, inviting him to Quien Sabe that same day. Annixter explained that it was Hilma’s birthday, and that he had planned a picnic on the high ground of his ranch, at the headwaters of Broderson Creek. They were to go in the carry-all, Hilma, Presley, Mrs. Dyke, Sidney, and himself, and were to make a day of it. They would leave Quien Sabe at ten in the morning. Presley had at once resolved to go. He was immensely fond of Annixter—more so than ever since his marriage with Hilma and the astonishing transformation of his character. Hilma, as well, was delightful as Mrs. Annixter; and Mrs. Dyke and the little tad had always been his friends. He would have a good time.
But nobody was to go into Bonneville that morning with the mail, and if he wished to send his manuscript, he would have to take it in himself. He had resolved to do this, getting an early start, and going on horseback to Quien Sabe, by way of Bonneville.
It was barely six o’clock when Presley sat down to his coffee and eggs in the dining-room of Los Muertos. The day promised to be hot, and for the first time, Presley had put on a new khaki riding suit, very English-looking, though in place of the regulation top-boots, he wore his laced knee-boots, with a great spur on the left heel. Harran joined him at breakfast, in his working clothes of blue canvas. He was bound for the irrigating ditch to see how the work was getting on there.
“How is the wheat looking?” asked Presley.
“Bully,” answered the other, stirring his coffee. “The Governor has had his usual luck. Practically, every acre of the ranch was sown to wheat, and everywhere the stand is good. I was over on Two, day before yesterday, and if nothing happens, I believe it will go thirty sacks to the acre there. Cutter reports that there are spots on Four where we will get forty-two or three. Hooven, too, brought up some wonderful fine ears for me to look at. The grains were just beginning to show. Some of the ears carried twenty grains. That means nearly forty bushels of wheat to every acre. I call it a bonanza year.”
“Have you got any mail?” said Presley, rising. “I’m going into town.”
Harran shook his head, and took himself away, and Presley went down to the stable-corral to get his pony.
As he rode out of the stable-yard and passed by the ranch house, on the driveway, he was surprised to see Magnus on the lowest step of the porch.
“Good morning, Governor,” called Presley. “Aren’t you up pretty early?”
“Good morning, Pres, my boy.” The Governor came forward and, putting his hand on the pony’s withers, walked along by his side.
“Going to town, Pres?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Can I do anything for you, Governor?”
Magnus drew a sealed envelope from his pocket.
“I wish you would drop in at the office of the Mercury for me,” he said, “and see Mr. Genslinger personally, and give him this envelope. It is a package of papers, but they involve a considerable sum of money, and you must be careful of them. A few years ago, when our enmity was not so strong, Mr. Genslinger and I had some business dealings with each other. I thought it as well just now, considering that we are so openly opposed, to terminate the whole affair, and break off relations. We came to a settlement a few days ago. These are the final papers. They must be given to him in person, Presley. You understand.”
Presley cantered on, turning into the county road and holding northward by the mammoth watering tank and Broderson’s popular windbreak. As he passed Caraher’s, he saw the saloon-keeper in the doorway of his place, and waved him a salutation which the other returned.
By degrees, Presley had come to consider Caraher in a more favourable light. He found, to his immense astonishment, that Caraher knew something of Mill and Bakounin, not, however, from their books, but from extracts and quotations from their writings, reprinted in the anarchistic journals to which he subscribed. More than once, the two had held long conversations, and from Caraher’s own lips, Presley heard the terrible story of the death of his wife, who had been accidentally killed by Pinkertons during a “demonstration” of strikers. It invested the saloon-keeper, in Presley’s imagination, with all the dignity of the tragedy. He could not blame Caraher for being a “red.” He even wondered how it was the saloon-keeper had not put his theories into practice, and adjusted his ancient wrong with his “six inches of plugged gas-pipe.” Presley began to conceive of the man as a “character.”
“You wait, Mr. Presley,” the saloon-keeper had once said, when Presley had protested against his radical ideas. “You don’t know the Railroad yet. Watch it and its doings long enough, and you’ll come over to my way of thinking, too.”
It was about half-past seven when Presley reached Bonneville. The business part of the town was as yet hardly astir; he despatched his manuscript, and then hurried to the office of the “Mercury.” Genslinger, as he feared, had not yet put in appearance, but the janitor of the building gave Presley the address of the editor’s residence, and it was there he found him in the act of sitting down to breakfast. Presley was hardly courteous to the little man, and abruptly refused his offer of a drink. He delivered Magnus’s envelope to him and departed.
It had occurred to him that it would not do to present himself at Quien Sabe on Hilma’s birthday, empty-handed, and, on leaving Genslinger’s house, he turned his pony’s head toward the business part of the town again pulling up in front of the jeweller’s, just as the clerk was taking down the shutters.
At the jeweller’s, he purchased a little brooch for Hilma and at the cigar stand in the lobby of the Yosemite House, a box of superfine cigars, which, when it was too late, he realised that the master of Quien Sabe would never smoke, holding, as he did, with defiant inconsistency, to miserable weeds, black, bitter, and flagrantly doctored, which he bought, three for a nickel, at Guadalajara.
Presley arrived at Quien Sabe nearly half an hour behind the appointed time; but, as he had expected, the party were in no way ready to start. The carry-all, its horses covered with white fly-nets, stood under a tree near the house, young Vacca dozing on the seat. Hilma and Sidney, the latter exuberant with a gayety that all but brought the tears to Presley’s eyes, were making sandwiches on the back porch. Mrs. Dyke was nowhere to be seen, and Annixter was shaving himself in his bedroom.
This latter put a half-lathered face out of the window as Presley cantered through the gate, and waved his razor with a beckoning motion.
“Come on in, Pres,” he cried. “Nobody’s ready yet. You’re hours ahead of time.”
Presley came into the bedroom, his huge spur clinking on the straw matting. Annixter was without coat, vest or collar, his blue silk suspenders hung in loops over either hip, his hair was disordered, the crown lock stiffer than ever.
“Glad to see you, old boy,” he announced, as Presley came in. “No, don’t shake hands, I’m all lather. Here, find a chair, will you? I won’t be long.”
“I thought you said ten o’clock,” observed Presley, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Well, I did, but——”
“But, then again, in a way, you didn’t, hey?” his friend interrupted.
Annixter grunted good-humouredly, and turned to strop his razor. Presley looked with suspicious disfavour at his suspenders.
“Why is it,” he observed, “that as soon as a man is about to get married, he buys himself pale blue suspenders, silk ones? Think of it. You, Buck Annixter, with sky-blue, silk suspenders. It ought to be a strap and a nail.”
“Old fool,” observed Annixter, whose repartee was the heaving of brick bats. “Say,” he continued, holding the razor from his face, and jerking his head over his shoulder, while he looked at Presley’s reflection in his mirror; “say, look around. Isn’t this a nifty little room? We refitted the whole house, you know. Notice she’s all painted?”
“I have been looking around,” answered Presley, sweeping the room with a series of glances. He forebore criticism. Annixter was so boyishly proud of the effect that it would have been unkind to have undeceived him. Presley looked at the marvellous, department-store bed of brass, with its brave, gay canopy; the mill-made wash-stand, with its pitcher and bowl of blinding red and green china, the straw-framed lithographs of symbolic female figures against the multi-coloured, new wall-paper; the inadequate spindle chairs of white and gold; the sphere of tissue paper hanging from the gas fixture, and the plumes of pampas grass tacked to the wall at artistic angles, and overhanging two astonishing oil paintings, in dazzling golden frames.
“Say, how about those paintings, Pres?” inquired Annixter a little uneasily. “I don’t know whether they’re good or not. They were painted by a three-fingered Chinaman in Monterey, and I got the lot for thirty dollars, frames thrown in. Why, I think the frames alone are worth thirty dollars.”
“Well, so do I,” declared Presley. He hastened to change the subject.
“Buck,” he said, “I hear you’ve brought Mrs. Dyke and Sidney to live with you. You know, I think that’s rather white of you.”
“Oh, rot, Pres,” muttered Annixter, turning abruptly to his shaving.
“And you can’t fool me, either, old man,” Presley continued. “You’re giving this picnic as much for Mrs. Dyke and the little tad as you are for your wife, just to cheer them up a bit.”
“Oh, pshaw, you make me sick.”
“Well, that’s the right thing to do, Buck, and I’m as glad for your sake as I am for theirs. There was a time when you would have let them all go to grass, and never so much as thought of them. I don’t want to seem to be officious, but you’ve changed for the better, old man, and I guess I know why. She—” Presley caught his friend’s eye, and added gravely, “She’s a good woman, Buck.”
Annixter turned around abruptly, his face flushing under its lather.
“Pres,” he exclaimed, “she’s made a man of me. I was a machine before, and if another man, or woman, or child got in my way, I rode ‘em down, and I never DREAMED of anybody else but myself. But as soon as I woke up to the fact that I really loved her, why, it was glory hallelujah all in a minute, and, in a way, I kind of loved everybody then, and wanted to be everybody’s friend. And I began to see that a fellow can’t live FOR himself any more than he can live BY himself. He’s got to think of others. If he’s got brains, he’s got to think for the poor ducks that haven’t ‘em, and not give ‘em a boot in the backsides because they happen to be stupid; and if he’s got money, he’s got to help those that are busted, and if he’s got a house, he’s got to think of those that ain’t got anywhere to go. I’ve got a whole lot of ideas since I began to love Hilma, and just as soon as I can, I’m going to get in and HELP people, and I’m going to keep to that idea the rest of my natural life. That ain’t much of a religion, but it’s the best I’ve got, and Henry Ward Beecher couldn’t do any more than that. And it’s all come about because of Hilma, and because we cared for each other.”
Presley jumped up, and caught Annixter about the shoulders with one arm, gripping his hand hard. This absurd figure, with dangling silk suspenders, lathered chin, and tearful eyes, seemed to be suddenly invested with true nobility. Beside this blundering struggle to do right, to help his fellows, Presley’s own vague schemes, glittering systems of reconstruction, collapsed to ruin, and he himself, with all his refinement, with all his poetry, culture, and education, stood, a bungler at the world’s workbench.
“You’re all RIGHT, old man,” he exclaimed, unable to think of anything adequate. “You’re all right. That’s the way to talk, and here, by the way, I brought you a box of cigars.”
Annixter stared as Presley laid the box on the edge of the washstand.
“Old fool,” he remarked, “what in hell did you do that for?”
“Oh, just for fun.”
“I suppose they’re rotten stinkodoras, or you wouldn’t give ‘em away.”
“This cringing gratitude—” Presley began.
“Shut up,” shouted Annixter, and the incident was closed.
Annixter resumed his shaving, and Presley lit a cigarette.
“Any news from Washington?” he queried.
“Nothing that’s any good,” grunted Annixter. “Hello,” he added, raising his head, “there’s somebody in a hurry for sure.”
The noise of a horse galloping so fast that the hoof-beats sounded in one uninterrupted rattle, abruptly made itself heard. The noise was coming from the direction of the road that led from the Mission to Quien Sabe. With incredible swiftness, the hoof-beats drew nearer. There was that in their sound which brought Presley to his feet. Annixter threw open the window.
“Runaway,” exclaimed Presley.
Annixter, with thoughts of the Railroad, and the “Jumping” of the ranch, flung his hand to his hip pocket.
“What is it, Vacca?” he cried.
Young Vacca, turning in his seat in the carryall, was looking up the road. All at once, he jumped from his place, and dashed towards the window. “Dyke,” he shouted. “Dyke, it’s Dyke.”
While the words were yet in his mouth, the sound of the hoof-beats rose to a roar, and a great, bell-toned voice shouted:
“Annixter, Annixter, Annixter!”
It was Dyke’s voice, and the next instant he shot into view in the open square in front of the house.
“Oh, my God!” cried Presley.
The ex-engineer threw the horse on its haunches, springing from the saddle; and, as he did so, the beast collapsed, shuddering, to the ground. Annixter sprang from the window, and ran forward, Presley following.
There was Dyke, hatless, his pistol in his hand, a gaunt terrible figure the beard immeasurably long, the cheeks fallen in, the eyes sunken. His clothes ripped and torn by weeks of flight and hiding in the chaparral, were ragged beyond words, the boots were shreds of leather, bloody to the ankle with furious spurring.
“Annixter,” he shouted, and again, rolling his sunken eyes, “Annixter, Annixter!”
“Here, here,” cried Annixter.
The other turned, levelling his pistol.
“Give me a horse, give me a horse, quick, do you hear? Give me a horse, or I’ll shoot.”
“Steady, steady. That won’t do. You know me, Dyke. We’re friends here.”
The other lowered his weapon.
“I know, I know,” he panted. “I’d forgotten. I’m unstrung, Mr. Annixter, and I’m running for my life. They’re not ten minutes behind me.”
“Come on, come on,” shouted Annixter, dashing stablewards, his suspenders flying.
“Here’s a horse.”
“Mine?” exclaimed Presley. “He wouldn’t carry you a mile.”
Annixter was already far ahead, trumpeting orders.
“The buckskin,” he yelled. “Get her out, Billy. Where’s the stable-man? Get out that buckskin. Get out that saddle.”
Then followed minutes of furious haste, Presley, Annixter, Billy the stable-man, and Dyke himself, darting hither and thither about the yellow mare, buckling, strapping, cinching, their lips pale, their fingers trembling with excitement.
“Want anything to eat?” Annixter’s head was under the saddle flap as he tore at the cinch. “Want anything to eat? Want any money? Want a gun?”
“Water,” returned Dyke. “They’ve watched every spring. I’m killed with thirst.”
“There’s the hydrant. Quick now.”
“I got as far as the Kern River, but they turned me back,” he said between breaths as he drank.
“Don’t stop to talk.”
“My mother, and the little tad——”
“I’m taking care of them. They’re stopping with me.”
“You won’t see ‘em; by the Lord, you won’t. You’ll get away. Where’s that back cinch strap, BILLY? God damn it, are you going to let him be shot before he can get away? Now, Dyke, up you go. She’ll kill herself running before they can catch you.”
“God bless you, Annixter. Where’s the little tad? Is she well, Annixter, and the mother? Tell them——”
“Yes, yes, yes. All clear, Pres? Let her have her own gait, Dyke. You’re on the best horse in the county now. Let go her head, Billy. Now, Dyke,—shake hands? You bet I will. That’s all right. Yes, God bless you. Let her go. You’re OFF.”
Answering the goad of the spur, and already quivering with the excitement of the men who surrounded her, the buckskin cleared the stable-corral in two leaps; then, gathering her legs under her, her head low, her neck stretched out, swung into the road from out the driveway disappearing in a blur of dust.
With the agility of a monkey, young Vacca swung himself into the framework of the artesian well, clambering aloft to its very top. He swept the country with a glance.
“Well?” demanded Annixter from the ground. The others cocked their heads to listen.
“I see him; I see him!” shouted Vacca. “He’s going like the devil. He’s headed for Guadalajara.”
“Look back, up the road, toward the Mission. Anything there?”
The answer came down in a shout of apprehension.
“There’s a party of men. Three or four—on horse-back. There’s dogs with ‘em. They’re coming this way. Oh, I can hear the dogs. And, say, oh, say, there’s another party coming down the Lower Road, going towards Guadalajara, too. They got guns. I can see the shine of the barrels. And, oh, Lord, say, there’s three more men on horses coming down on the jump from the hills on the Los Muertos stock range. They’re making towards Guadalajara. And I can hear the courthouse bell in Bonneville ringing. Say, the whole county is up.”
As young Vacca slid down to the ground, two small black-and-tan hounds, with flapping ears and lolling tongues, loped into view on the road in front of the house. They were grey with dust, their noses were to the ground. At the gate where Dyke had turned into the ranch house grounds, they halted in confusion a moment. One started to follow the highwayman’s trail towards the stable corral, but the other, quartering over the road with lightning swiftness, suddenly picked up the new scent leading on towards Guadalajara. He tossed his head in the air, and Presley abruptly shut his hands over his ears.
Ah, that terrible cry! deep-toned, reverberating like the bourdon of a great bell. It was the trackers exulting on the trail of the pursued, the prolonged, raucous howl, eager, ominous, vibrating with the alarm of the tocsin, sullen with the heavy muffling note of death. But close upon the bay of the hounds, came the gallop of horses. Five men, their eyes upon the hounds, their rifles across their pommels, their horses reeking and black with sweat, swept by in a storm of dust, glinting hoofs, and streaming manes.
“That was Delaney’s gang,” exclaimed Annixter. “I saw him.”
“The other was that chap Christian,” said Vacca, “S. Behrman’s cousin. He had two deputies with him; and the chap in the white slouch hat was the sheriff from Visalia.”
“By the Lord, they aren’t far behind,” declared Annixter.
As the men turned towards the house again they saw Hilma and Mrs. Dyke in the doorway of the little house where the latter lived. They were looking out, bewildered, ignorant of what had happened. But on the porch of the Ranch house itself, alone, forgotten in the excitement, Sidney—the little tad—stood, with pale face and serious, wide-open eyes. She had seen everything, and had understood. She said nothing. Her head inclined towards the roadway, she listened to the faint and distant baying of the dogs.
Dyke thundered across the railway tracks by the depot at Guadalajara not five minutes ahead of his pursuers. Luck seemed to have deserted him. The station, usually so quiet, was now occupied by the crew of a freight train that lay on the down track; while on the up line, near at hand and headed in the same direction, was a detached locomotive, whose engineer and fireman recognized him, he was sure, as the buckskin leaped across the rails.
He had had no time to formulate a plan since that morning, when, tortured with thirst, he had ventured near the spring at the headwaters of Broderson Creek, on Quien Sabe, and had all but fallen into the hands of the posse that had been watching for that very move. It was useless now to regret that he had tried to foil pursuit by turning back on his tracks to regain the mountains east of Bonneville. Now Delaney was almost on him. To distance that posse, was the only thing to be thought of now. It was no longer a question of hiding till pursuit should flag; they had driven him out from the shelter of the mountains, down into this populous countryside, where an enemy might be met with at every turn of the road. Now it was life or death. He would either escape or be killed. He knew very well that he would never allow himself to be taken alive. But he had no mind to be killed—to turn and fight—till escape was blocked. His one thought was to leave pursuit behind.
Weeks of flight had sharpened Dyke’s every sense. As he turned into the Upper Road beyond Guadalajara, he saw the three men galloping down from Derrick’s stock range, making for the road ahead of him. They would cut him off there. He swung the buckskin about. He must take the Lower Road across Los Muertos from Guadalajara, and he must reach it before Delaney’s dogs and posse. Back he galloped, the buckskin measuring her length with every leap. Once more the station came in sight. Rising in his stirrups, he looked across the fields in the direction of the Lower Road. There was a cloud of dust there. From a wagon? No, horses on the run, and their riders were armed! He could catch the flash of gun barrels. They were all closing in on him, converging on Guadalajara by every available road. The Upper Road west of Guadalajara led straight to Bonneville. That way was impossible. Was he in a trap? Had the time for fighting come at last?
But as Dyke neared the depot at Guadalajara, his eye fell upon the detached locomotive that lay quietly steaming on the up line, and with a thrill of exultation, he remembered that he was an engineer born and bred. Delaney’s dogs were already to be heard, and the roll of hoofs on the Lower Road was dinning in his ears, as he leaped from the buckskin before the depot. The train crew scattered like frightened sheep before him, but Dyke ignored them. His pistol was in his hand as, once more on foot, he sprang toward the lone engine.
“Out of the cab,” he shouted. “Both of you. Quick, or I’ll kill you both.”
The two men tumbled from the iron apron of the tender as Dyke swung himself up, dropping his pistol on the floor of the cab and reaching with the old instinct for the familiar levers. The great compound hissed and trembled as the steam was released, and the huge drivers stirred, turning slowly on the tracks. But there was a shout. Delaney’s posse, dogs and men, swung into view at the turn of the road, their figures leaning over as they took the curve at full speed. Dyke threw everything wide open and caught up his revolver. From behind came the challenge of a Winchester. The party on the Lower Road were even closer than Delaney. They had seen his manoeuvre, and the first shot of the fight shivered the cab windows above the engineer’s head.
But spinning futilely at first, the drivers of the engine at last caught the rails. The engine moved, advanced, travelled past the depot and the freight train, and gathering speed, rolled out on the track beyond. Smoke, black and boiling, shot skyward from the stack; not a joint that did not shudder with the mighty strain of the steam; but the great iron brute—one of Baldwin’s newest and best—came to call, obedient and docile as soon as ever the great pulsing heart of it felt a master hand upon its levers. It gathered its speed, bracing its steel muscles, its thews of iron, and roared out upon the open track, filling the air with the rasp of its tempest-breath, blotting the sunshine with the belch of its hot, thick smoke. Already it was lessening in the distance, when Delaney, Christian, and the sheriff of Visalia dashed up to the station.
The posse had seen everything.
“Stuck. Curse the luck!” vociferated the cow-Puncher.
But the sheriff was already out of the saddle and into the telegraph office.
“There’s a derailing switch between here and Pixley, isn’t there?” he cried.
“Wire ahead to open it. We’ll derail him there. Come on;” he turned to Delaney and the others. They sprang into the cab of the locomotive that was attached to the freight train.
“Name of the State of California,” shouted the sheriff to the bewildered engineer. “Cut off from your train.”
The sheriff was a man to be obeyed without hesitating. Time was not allowed the crew of the freight train for debating as to the right or the wrong of requisitioning the engine, and before anyone thought of the safety or danger of the affair, the freight engine was already flying out upon the down line, hot in pursuit of Dyke, now far ahead upon the up track.
“I remember perfectly well there’s a derailing switch between here and Pixley,” shouted the sheriff above the roar of the locomotive. “They use it in case they have to derail runaway engines. It runs right off into the country. We’ll pile him up there. Ready with your guns, boys.”
“If we should meet another train coming up on this track——” protested the frightened engineer.
“Then we’d jump or be smashed. Hi! look! There he is.” As the freight engine rounded a curve, Dyke’s engine came into view, shooting on some quarter of a mile ahead of them, wreathed in whirling smoke.
“The switch ain’t much further on,” clamoured the engineer. “You can see Pixley now.”
Dyke, his hand on the grip of the valve that controlled the steam, his head out of the cab window, thundered on. He was back in his old place again; once more he was the engineer; once more he felt the engine quiver under him; the familiar noises were in his ears; the familiar buffeting of the wind surged, roaring at his face; the familiar odours of hot steam and smoke reeked in his nostrils, and on either side of him, parallel panoramas, the two halves of the landscape sliced, as it were, in two by the clashing wheels of his engine, streamed by in green and brown blurs.
He found himself settling to the old position on the cab seat, leaning on his elbow from the window, one hand on the controller. All at once, the instinct of the pursuit that of late had become so strong within him, prompted him to shoot a glance behind. He saw the other engine on the down line, plunging after him, rocking from side to side with the fury of its gallop. Not yet had he shaken the trackers from his heels; not yet was he out of the reach of danger. He set his teeth and, throwing open the fire-door, stoked vigorously for a few moments. The indicator of the steam gauge rose; his speed increased; a glance at the telegraph poles told him he was doing his fifty miles an hour. The freight engine behind him was never built for that pace. Barring the terrible risk of accident, his chances were good.
But suddenly—the engineer dominating the highway-man—he shut off his steam and threw back his brake to the extreme notch. Directly ahead of him rose a semaphore, placed at a point where evidently a derailing switch branched from the line. The semaphore’s arm was dropped over the track, setting the danger signal that showed the switch was open.
In an instant, Dyke saw the trick. They had meant to smash him here; had been clever enough, quick-witted enough to open the switch, but had forgotten the automatic semaphore that worked simultaneously with the movement of the rails. To go forward was certain destruction. Dyke reversed. There was nothing for it but to go back. With a wrench and a spasm of all its metal fibres, the great compound braced itself, sliding with rigid wheels along the rails. Then, as Dyke applied the reverse, it drew back from the greater danger, returning towards the less. Inevitably now the two engines, one on the up, the other on the down line, must meet and pass each other.
Dyke released the levers, reaching for his revolver. The engineer once more became the highwayman, in peril of his life. Now, beyond all doubt, the time for fighting was at hand.
The party in the heavy freight engine, that lumbered after in pursuit, their eyes fixed on the smudge of smoke on ahead that marked the path of the fugitive, suddenly raised a shout.
“He’s stopped. He’s broke down. Watch, now, and see if he jumps off.”
“Broke NOTHING. HE’S COMING BACK. Ready, now, he’s got to pass us.”
The engineer applied the brakes, but the heavy freight locomotive, far less mobile than Dyke’s flyer, was slow to obey. The smudge on the rails ahead grew swiftly larger.
“He’s coming. He’s coming—look out, there’s a shot. He’s shooting already.”
A bright, white sliver of wood leaped into the air from the sooty window sill of the cab.
“Fire on him! Fire on him!”
While the engines were yet two hundred yards apart, the duel began, shot answering shot, the sharp staccato reports punctuating the thunder of wheels and the clamour of steam.
Then the ground trembled and rocked; a roar as of heavy ordnance developed with the abruptness of an explosion. The two engines passed each other, the men firing the while, emptying their revolvers, shattering wood, shivering glass, the bullets clanging against the metal work as they struck and struck and struck. The men leaned from the cabs towards each other, frantic with excitement, shouting curses, the engines rocking, the steam roaring; confusion whirling in the scene like the whirl of a witch’s dance, the white clouds of steam, the black eddies from the smokestack, the blue wreaths from the hot mouths of revolvers, swirling together in a blinding maze of vapour, spinning around them, dazing them, dizzying them, while the head rang with hideous clamour and the body twitched and trembled with the leap and jar of the tumult of machinery.
Roaring, clamouring, reeking with the smell of powder and hot oil, spitting death, resistless, huge, furious, an abrupt vision of chaos, faces, rage-distorted, peering through smoke, hands gripping outward from sudden darkness, prehensile, malevolent; terrible as thunder, swift as lightning, the two engines met and passed.
“He’s hit,” cried Delaney. “I know I hit him. He can’t go far now. After him again. He won’t dare go through Bonneville.”
It was true. Dyke had stood between cab and tender throughout all the duel, exposed, reckless, thinking only of attack and not of defence, and a bullet from one of the pistols had grazed his hip. How serious was the wound he did not know, but he had no thought of giving up. He tore back through the depot at Guadalajara in a storm of bullets, and, clinging to the broken window ledge of his cab, was carried towards Bonneville, on over the Long Trestle and Broderson Creek and through the open country between the two ranches of Los Muertos and Quien Sabe.
But to go on to Bonneville meant certain death. Before, as well as behind him, the roads were now blocked. Once more he thought of the mountains. He resolved to abandon the engine and make another final attempt to get into the shelter of the hills in the northernmost corner of Quien Sabe. He set his teeth. He would not give in. There was one more fight left in him yet. Now to try the final hope.
He slowed the engine down, and, reloading his revolver, jumped from the platform to the road. He looked about him, listening. All around him widened an ocean of wheat. There was no one in sight.
The released engine, alone, unattended, drew slowly away from him, jolting ponderously over the rail joints. As he watched it go, a certain indefinite sense of abandonment, even in that moment, came over Dyke. His last friend, that also had been his first, was leaving him. He remembered that day, long ago, when he had opened the throttle of his first machine. To-day, it was leaving him alone, his last friend turning against him. Slowly it was going back towards Bonneville, to the shops of the Railroad, the camp of the enemy, that enemy that had ruined him and wrecked him. For the last time in his life, he had been the engineer. Now, once more, he became the highwayman, the outlaw against whom all hands were raised, the fugitive skulking in the mountains, listening for the cry of dogs.
But he would not give in. They had not broken him yet. Never, while he could fight, would he allow S. Behrman the triumph of his capture.
He found his wound was not bad. He plunged into the wheat on Quien Sabe, making northward for a division house that rose with its surrounding trees out of the wheat like an island. He reached it, the blood squelching in his shoes. But the sight of two men, Portuguese farm-hands, staring at him from an angle of the barn, abruptly roused him to action. He sprang forward with peremptory commands, demanding a horse.
At Guadalajara, Delaney and the sheriff descended from the freight engine.
“Horses now,” declared the sheriff. “He won’t go into Bonneville, that’s certain. He’ll leave the engine between here and there, and strike off into the country. We’ll follow after him now in the saddle. Soon as he leaves his engine, HE’S on foot. We’ve as good as got him now.”
Their horses, including even the buckskin mare that Dyke had ridden, were still at the station. The party swung themselves up, Delaney exclaiming, “Here’s MY mount,” as he bestrode the buckskin.
At Guadalajara, the two bloodhounds were picked up again. Urging the jaded horses to a gallop, the party set off along the Upper Road, keeping a sharp lookout to right and left for traces of Dyke’s abandonment of the engine.
Three miles beyond the Long Trestle, they found S. Behrman holding his saddle horse by the bridle, and looking attentively at a trail that had been broken through the standing wheat on Quien Sabe. The party drew rein.
“The engine passed me on the tracks further up, and empty,” said S. Behrman. “Boys, I think he left her here.”
But before anyone could answer, the bloodhounds gave tongue again, as they picked up the scent.
“That’s him,” cried S. Behrman. “Get on, boys.”
They dashed forward, following the hounds. S. Behrman laboriously climbed to his saddle, panting, perspiring, mopping the roll of fat over his coat collar, and turned in after them, trotting along far in the rear, his great stomach and tremulous jowl shaking with the horse’s gait.
“What a day,” he murmured. “What a day.”
Dyke’s trail was fresh, and was followed as easily as if made on new-fallen snow. In a short time, the posse swept into the open space around the division house. The two Portuguese were still there, wide-eyed, terribly excited.
Yes, yes, Dyke had been there not half an hour since, had held them up, taken a horse and galloped to the northeast, towards the foothills at the headwaters of Broderson Creek.
On again, at full gallop, through the young wheat, trampling it under the flying hoofs; the hounds hot on the scent, baying continually; the men, on fresh mounts, secured at the division house, bending forward in their saddles, spurring relentlessly. S. Behrman jolted along far in the rear.
And even then, harried through an open country, where there was no place to hide, it was a matter of amazement how long a chase the highwayman led them. Fences were passed; fences whose barbed wire had been slashed apart by the fugitive’s knife. The ground rose under foot; the hills were at hand; still the pursuit held on. The sun, long past the meridian, began to turn earthward. Would night come on before they were up with him?
“Look! Look! There he is! Quick, there he goes!”
High on the bare slope of the nearest hill, all the posse, looking in the direction of Delaney’s gesture, saw the figure of a horseman emerge from an arroyo, filled with chaparral, and struggle at a labouring gallop straight up the slope. Suddenly, every member of the party shouted aloud. The horse had fallen, pitching the rider from the saddle. The man rose to his feet, caught at the bridle, missed it and the horse dashed on alone. The man, pausing for a second looked around, saw the chase drawing nearer, then, turning back, disappeared in the chaparral. Delaney raised a great whoop.
“We’ve got you now.” Into the slopes and valleys of the hills dashed the band of horsemen, the trail now so fresh that it could be easily discerned by all. On and on it led them, a furious, wild scramble straight up the slopes. The minutes went by. The dry bed of a rivulet was passed; then another fence; then a tangle of manzanita; a meadow of wild oats, full of agitated cattle; then an arroyo, thick with chaparral and scrub oaks, and then, without warning, the pistol shots ripped out and ran from rider to rider with the rapidity of a gatling discharge, and one of the deputies bent forward in the saddle, both hands to his face, the blood jetting from between his fingers.
Dyke was there, at bay at last, his back against a bank of rock, the roots of a fallen tree serving him as a rampart, his revolver smoking in his hand.
“You’re under arrest, Dyke,” cried the sheriff. “It’s not the least use to fight. The whole country is up.”
Dyke fired again, the shot splintering the foreleg of the horse the sheriff rode.
The posse, four men all told—the wounded deputy having crawled out of the fight after Dyke’s first shot—fell back after the preliminary fusillade, dismounted, and took shelter behind rocks and trees. On that rugged ground, fighting from the saddle was impracticable. Dyke, in the meanwhile, held his fire, for he knew that, once his pistol was empty, he would never be allowed time to reload.
“Dyke,” called the sheriff again, “for the last time, I summon you to surrender.”
Dyke did not reply. The sheriff, Delaney, and the man named Christian conferred together in a low voice. Then Delaney and Christian left the others, making a wide detour up the sides of the arroyo, to gain a position to the left and somewhat to the rear of Dyke.
But it was at this moment that S. Behrman arrived. It could not be said whether it was courage or carelessness that brought the Railroad’s agent within reach of Dyke’s revolver. Possibly he was really a brave man; possibly occupied with keeping an uncertain seat upon the back of his labouring, scrambling horse, he had not noticed that he was so close upon that scene of battle. He certainly did not observe the posse lying upon the ground behind sheltering rocks and trees, and before anyone could call a warning, he had ridden out into the open, within thirty paces of Dyke’s intrenchment.
Dyke saw. There was the arch-enemy; the man of all men whom he most hated; the man who had ruined him, who had exasperated him and driven him to crime, and who had instigated tireless pursuit through all those past terrible weeks. Suddenly, inviting death, he leaped up and forward; he had forgotten all else, all other considerations, at the sight of this man. He would die, gladly, so only that S. Behrman died before him.
“I’ve got YOU, anyway,” he shouted, as he ran forward.
The muzzle of the weapon was not ten feet from S. Behrman’s huge stomach as Dyke drew the trigger. Had the cartridge exploded, death, certain and swift, would have followed, but at this, of all moments, the revolver missed fire.
S. Behrman, with an unexpected agility, leaped from the saddle, and, keeping his horse between him and Dyke, ran, dodging and ducking, from tree to tree. His first shot a failure, Dyke fired again and again at his enemy, emptying his revolver, reckless of consequences. His every shot went wild, and before he could draw his knife, the whole posse was upon him.
Without concerted plans, obeying no signal but the promptings of the impulse that snatched, unerring, at opportunity—the men, Delaney and Christian from one side, the sheriff and the deputy from the other, rushed in. They did not fire. It was Dyke alive they wanted. One of them had a riata snatched from a saddle-pommel, and with this they tried to bind him.
The fight was four to one—four men with law on their side, to one wounded freebooter, half-starved, exhausted by days and nights of pursuit, worn down with loss of sleep, thirst, privation, and the grinding, nerve-racking consciousness of an ever-present peril.
They swarmed upon him from all sides, gripping at his legs, at his arms, his throat, his head, striking, clutching, kicking, falling to the ground, rolling over and over, now under, now above, now staggering forward, now toppling back. Still Dyke fought. Through that scrambling, struggling group, through that maze of twisting bodies, twining arms, straining legs, S. Behrman saw him from moment to moment, his face flaming, his eyes bloodshot, his hair matted with sweat. Now he was down, pinned under, two men across his legs, and now half-way up again, struggling to one knee. Then upright again, with half his enemies hanging on his back. His colossal strength seemed doubled; when his arms were held, he fought bull-like with his head. A score of times, it seemed as if they were about to secure him finally and irrevocably, and then he would free an arm, a leg, a shoulder, and the group that, for the fraction of an instant, had settled, locked and rigid, on its prey, would break up again as he flung a man from him, reeling and bloody, and he himself twisting, squirming, dodging, his great fists working like pistons, backed away, dragging and carrying the others with him.
More than once, he loosened almost every grip, and for an instant stood nearly free, panting, rolling his eyes, his clothes torn from his body, bleeding, dripping with sweat, a terrible figure, nearly free. The sheriff, under his breath, uttered an exclamation:
“By God, he’ll get away yet.”
S. Behrman watched the fight complacently.
“That all may show obstinacy,” he commented, “but it don’t show common sense.”
Yet, however Dyke might throw off the clutches and fettering embraces that encircled him, however he might disintegrate and scatter the band of foes that heaped themselves upon him, however he might gain one instant of comparative liberty, some one of his assailants always hung, doggedly, blindly to an arm, a leg, or a foot, and the others, drawing a second’s breath, closed in again, implacable, unconquerable, ferocious, like hounds upon a wolf.
At length, two of the men managed to bring Dyke’s wrists close enough together to allow the sheriff to snap the handcuffs on. Even then, Dyke, clasping his hands, and using the handcuffs themselves as a weapon, knocked down Delaney by the crushing impact of the steel bracelets upon the cow-puncher’s forehead. But he could no longer protect himself from attacks from behind, and the riata was finally passed around his body, pinioning his arms to his sides. After this it was useless to resist.
The wounded deputy sat with his back to a rock, holding his broken jaw in both hands. The sheriff’s horse, with its splintered foreleg, would have to be shot. Delaney’s head was cut from temple to cheekbone. The right wrist of the sheriff was all but dislocated. The other deputy was so exhausted he had to be helped to his horse. But Dyke was taken.
He himself had suddenly lapsed into semi-unconsciousness, unable to walk. They sat him on the buckskin, S. Behrman supporting him, the sheriff, on foot, leading the horse by the bridle. The little procession formed, and descended from the hills, turning in the direction of Bonneville. A special train, one car and an engine, would be made up there, and the highwayman would sleep in the Visalia jail that night.
Delaney and S. Behrman found themselves in the rear of the cavalcade as it moved off. The cow-puncher turned to his chief:
“Well, captain,” he said, still panting, as he bound up his forehead; “well—we GOT him.”