"TAKE Holderness away--quick!" ordered Hare. A thin curl of blue smoke floated from the muzzle of his raised weapon.
The rustlers started out of their statue-like immobility, and lifting their dead leader dragged him down the garden path with his spurs clinking on the gravel and ploughing little furrows.
"Bishop, go in now. They may return," said Hare. He hurried up the steps to place his arm round the tottering old man.
"Was that Holderness?"
"Yes," replied Hare.
"The deeds of the wicked return unto them! God's will!"
Hare led the Bishop indoors. The sitting-room was full Or wailing women and crying children. None of the young men were present. Again Hare made note of their inexplicable absence. He spoke soothingly to the frightened family. The little boys and girls yielded readily to his persuasion, but the women took no heed of him.
"Where are your sons?" asked Hare.
"I don't know," replied the Bishop. "They should be here to stand by you. It's strange. I don't understand. Last night my sons were visited by many men, coming and going in twos and threes till late. They didn't sleep in their beds. I know not what to think."
Hare remembered John Caldwell's enigmatic face.
"Have the rustlers really come?" asked a young woman, whose eyes were red and cheeks tear-stained
"They have. Nineteen in all. I counted them," answered Hare.
The young woman burst out weeping afresh, and the wailing of the others answered her. Hare left the cottage He picked up his rifle and went down through the orchard to the hiding-place of the horses. Silvermane pranced and snorted his gladness at sight of his master. The desert king was fit for a grueling race. Black Bolly quietly cropped the long grass. Hare saddled the stallion to have him in instant readiness, and then returned to the front of the yard.
He heard the sound of a gun down the road, then another, and several shots following in quick succession. A distant angry murmuring and trampling of many feet drew Hare to the gate. Riderless mustangs were galloping down the road; several frightened boys were fleeing across the square; not a man was in sight. Three more shots cracked, and the low murmur and trampling swelled into a hoarse uproar. Hare had heard that sound before; it was the tumult of mob-violence. A black dense throng of men appeared crowding into the main street, and crossing toward the square. The procession had some order; it was led and flanked by mounted men. But the upflinging of many arms, the craning of necks, and the leaping of men on the outskirts of the mass, the pressure inward and the hideous roar, proclaimed its real character.
"By Heaven!" exclaimed Hare. "The Mormons have risen against the rustlers. I understand now. John Caldwell spent last night in secretly rousing his neighbors. They have surprised the rustlers. Now what?"
Hare vaulted the fence and ran down the road. A compact mob of men, a hundred or more, had halted in the village under the wide-spreading cottonwoods. Hare suddenly grasped the terrible significance of those outstretched branches, and out of the thought grew another which made him run at bursting break-neck speed.
"Open up! Let me in!" he yelled to the thickly thronged circle. Right and left he flung men. "Make way!" His piercing voice stilled the angry murmur. Fierce men with weapons held aloft fell back from his face.
"Dene's spy!" they cried.
The circle opened and closed upon him. He saw bound rustlers under armed guard. Four still forms were on the ground. Holderness lay outstretched, a dark-red blot staining his gray shirt. Flinty-faced Mormons, ruthless now as they had once been mild, surrounded the rustlers. John Caldwell stood foremost, with ashen lips breaking bitterly into speech:
"Mormons, this is Dene's spy, the man who killed Holderness!"
The listeners burst into the short stern shout of men proclaiming a leader in war.
"What's the game?" demanded Hare.
"A fair trial for the rustlers, then a rope," replied John Caldwell. The low ominous murmur swelled through the crowd again.
"There are two men here who have befriended me. I won't see them hanged."
"Pick them out!" A strange ripple of emotion made a fleeting break in John Caldwell's hard face.
Hare eyed the prisoners.
"Nebraska, step out here," said he.
"I reckon you're mistaken," replied the rustler, his blue eyes intently on Hare. "I never seen you before. An' I ain't the kind of a feller to cheat the man you mean."
"I saw you untie the girl's hands."
"You did? Well, d--n me!"
"Nebraska, if I save your life will you quit rustling cattle? You weren't cut out for a thief."
"Will I? D--n me! I'll be straight an' decent. I'll take a job ridin' for you, stranger, an' prove it."
"Cut him loose from the others," said Hare. He scrutinized the line of rustlers. Several were masked in black. "Take off those masks!"
"No! Those men go to their graves masked." Again the strange twinge of pain crossed John Caldwell's face.
"Ah, I see," exclaimed Hare. Then quickly: "I couldn't recognize the other man anyhow; I don't know him. But Mescal can tell. He saved her and I'll save him. But how?"
Every rustler, except the masked ones standing stern and silent, clamored that he was the one to be saved.
"Hurry back home," said Caldwell in Hare's ear "Tell them to fetch Mescal. Find out and hurry back. Time presses. The Mormons are wavering. You've got only a few minutes."
Hare slipped out of the crowd, sped up the road, jumped the fence on the run, and burst in upon the Bishop and his family.
"No danger--don't be alarmed--all's well," he panted. "The rustlers are captured. I want Mescal. Quick! Where is she? Fetch her, somebody."
One of the women glided from the room. Hare caught the clicking of a latch, the closing of a door, hollow footfalls descending on stone, and dying away under the cottage. They rose again, ending in swiftly pattering footsteps. Like a whirlwind Mescal came through the hall, black hair flying, dark eyes beaming.
"My darling!" Oblivious of the Mormons he swung her up and held her in his arms. "Mescal! Mescal!"
When he raised his face from the tumbling mass of her black hair, the Bishop and his family had left the room.
"Listen, Mescal. Be calm. I'm safe. The rustlers are prisoners. One of them released you from Holderness. Tell me which one?"
"I don't know," replied Mescal. "I've tried to think. I didn't see his face; I can't remember his voice."
"Think! Think! He'll be hanged if you don't recall something to identify him. He deserves a chance. Holderness's crowd are thieves, murderers. But two were not all bad. That showed the night you were at Silver Cup. I saved Nebraska--"
"Were you at Silver Cup? Jack!"
"Hush! don't interrupt me. We must save this man who saved you. Think! Mescal! Think!"
"Oh! I can't. What--how shall I remember?"
"Something about him. Think of his coat, his sleeve. You must remember something. Did you see his hands?"
"Yes, I did--when he was loosing the cords," said Mescal, eagerly. "Long, strong fingers. I felt them too. He has a sharp rough wart on one hand, I don't know which. He wears a leather wristband."
"That's enough!" Hare bounded out upon the garden walk and raced back to the crowded square. The uneasy circle stirred and opened for him to enter. He stumbled over a pile of lassoes which had not been there when he left. The stony Mormons waited; the rustlers coughed and shifted their feet. John Caldwell turned a gray face. Hare bent over the three dead rustlers lying with Holderness, and after a moment of anxious scrutiny he rose to confront the line of prisoners.
"Hold out your hands."
One by one they complied. The sixth rustler in the line, a tall fellow, completely masked, refused to do as he was bidden. Twice Hare spoke. The rustler twisted his bound hands under his coat.
"Let's see them," said Hare, quickly. He grasped the fellow's arm and received a violent push that almost knocked him over. Grappling with the rustler, he pulled up the bound hands, in spite of fierce resistance, and there were the long fingers, the sharp wart, the laced wristband. "Here's my man!" he said.
"No," hoarsely mumbled the rustler. The perspiration ran down his corded neck; his breast heaved convulsively.
"You fool!" cried Hare, dumfounded and resentful. "I recognized you. Would you rather hang than live? What's your secret?"
He snatched off the black mask. The Bishop's eldest son stood revealed.
"Good God!" cried Hare, recoiling from that convulsed face.
"Brother! Oh! I feared this," groaned John Caldwell.
The rustlers broke out into curses and harsh laughter.
"--- --- you Mormons! See him! Paul Caldwell! Son of a Bishop! Thought he was shepherdin' sheep?"
"D--n you, Hare!" shouted the guilty Mormon, in passionate fury and shame. "Why didn't you hang me? Why didn't you bury me unknown?"
"Caldwell! I can't believe it," cried Hare, slowly coming to himself." But you don't hang. Here, come out of the crowd. Make way, men!"
The silent crowd of Mormons with lowered and averted eyes made passage for Hare and Caldwell. Then cold, stern voices in sharp questions and orders went on with the grim trial. Leading the bowed and stricken Mormon, Hare drew off to the side of the town-hall and turned his back upon the crowd. The constant trampling of many feet, the harsh medley of many voices swelled into one dreadful sound. It passed away, and a long hush followed. But this in turn was suddenly broken by an outcry:
"The Navajos! The Navajos!"
Hare thrilled at that cry and his glance turned to the eastern end of the village road where a column of mounted Indians, four abreast, was riding toward the square.
"Naab and his Indians," shouted Hare. "Naab and his Indians! No fear!" His call was timely, for the aroused Mormons, ignorant of Naab's pursuit, fearful of hostile Navajos, were handling their guns ominously.
But there came a cry of recognition--"August Naab!"
Onward came the band, Naab in the lead on his spotted roan. The mustangs were spent and lashed with foam. Naab reined in his charger and the keen-eyed Navajos closed in behind him. The old Mormon's eagle glance passed over the dark forms dangling from the cottonwoods to the files of waiting men.
"Where is he?"
"There!" answered John Caldwell, pointing to the body of Holderness.
"Who robbed me of my vengeance? Who killed the rustler?" Naab's stentorian voice rolled over the listening multitude. In it was a hunger of thwarted hate that held men mute. He bent a downward gaze at the dead Holderness as if to make sure of the ghastly reality. Then he seemed to rise in his saddle, and his broad chest to expand. "I know--I saw it all--blind I was not to believe my own eyes! Where is he? Where is Hare?"
Some one pointed Hare out. Naab swung from his saddle and scattered the men before him as if they had been sheep. His shaggy gray head and massive shoulders towered above the tallest there.
Hare felt again a cold sense of fear. He grew weak in all his being. He reeled when the gray shaggy giant laid a huge hand on his shoulder and with one pull dragged him close. Was this his kind Mormon benefactor, this man with the awful eyes?
"You killed Holderness?" roared Naab.
"Yes," whispered Hare.
"You heard me say I'd go alone? You forestalled me? You took upon yourself my work? . . . Speak."
"By what right?"
"My debt--duty--your family--Dave!"
"Boy! Boy! You've robbed me." Naab waved his arm from the gaping crowd to the swinging rustlers. "You've led these white-livered Mormons to do my work. How can I avenge my sons--seven sons?"
His was the rage of the old desert-lion. He loosed Hare and strode in magnificent wrath over Holderness and raised his brawny fists.
"Eighteen years I prayed for wicked men," he rolled out. "One by one I buried my sons. I gave my springs and my cattle. Then I yielded to the lust for blood. I renounced my religion. I paid my soul to everlasting hell for the life of my foe. But he's dead! Killed by a wild boy! I sold myself to the devil for nothing!"
August Naab raved out his unnatural rage amid awed silence. His revolt was the flood of years undammed at the last. The ferocity of the desert spirit spoke silently in the hanging rustlers, in the ruthlessness of the vigilantes who had destroyed them, but it spoke truest in the sonorous roll of the old Mormon's wrath.
"August, young Hare saved two of the rustlers," spoke up an old friend, hoping to divert the angry flood. "Paul Caldwell there, he was one of them. The other's gone."
Naab loomed over him. "What!" he roared. His friend edged away, repeating his words and jerking his thumb backward toward the Bishop's son.
"Judas Iscariot!" thundered Naab. "False to thyself, thy kin, and thy God! Thrice traitor! . . . Why didn't you get yourself killed? . . . Why are you left? Ah-h! for me--a rustler for me to kill--with my own hands!--A rope there--a rope!"
"I wanted them to hang me," hoarsely cried Caldwell, writhing in Naab's grasp.
Hare threw all his weight and strength upon the Mormon's iron arm. "Naab! Naab! For God's sake, hear! He saved Mescal. This man, thief, traitor, false Mormon--whatever he is--he saved Mescal."
August Naab's eyes were bloodshot. One shake of his great body flung Hare off. He dragged Paul Caldwell across the grass toward the cottonwood as easily as if he were handling an empty grain-sack.
Hare suddenly darted after him. "August! August!--look! look!" he cried. He pointed a shaking finger down the square. The old Bishop came tottering over the grass, leaning on his cane, shading his eyes with his hand. "August. See, the Bishop's coming. Paul's father! Do you hear?"
Hare's appeal pierced Naab's frenzied brain. The Mormon Elder saw his old Bishop pause and stare at the dark shapes suspended from the cottonwoods and hold up his hands in horror.
Naab loosed his hold. His frame seemed wrenched as though by the passing of an evil spirit, and the reaction left his face transfigured.
"Paul, it's your father, the Bishop," he said, brokenly. "Be a man. He must never know." Naab spread wide his arms to the crowd. "Men, listen," he said. "Of all of us Mormons I have lost most, suffered most. Then hear me. Bishop Caldwell must never know of his son's guilt. He would sink under it. Keep the secret. Paul will be a man again. I know. I see. For, Mormons, August Naab has the gift of revelation!"