The Hand of the Potter
The Hand of the Potter
A Story of the Silent Places
After a momentary Silence spake
A Vessel of a mere ungainly make:
"They sneer at me for learning all awry—
What! Did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"
FALL came early to the hills; a fall alien and strange to the desert. "Fifty years gone even such a misty and sunless September came last San Quentin country. Senor, I have ridden across this bare desert when the air was drowsy with sweetness; stirrup deep all day in wondrous blossoms, snow white, blue and purple, golden, fire red, nameless." So quavered Don Apolonio, keeper of the well at the gate of the desert.
Assuredly, the senor may buy the sorrel at the price he names and I will do according to his word for this dark one that he leaves behind. Red gold, broad pieces—right! Now is Alizan thine. Deal justly with him, senor. Ask him not for great speed, for that gift he lacks. A great heart, roughness, courage—these are Alizan's—and he will do you good service.
Will not the senor rest until the morrow? No? The senor is in haste, perhaps. Food, then? A bit in hand the while, tortillas and jerky in your saddlebag for the night camp. There will be water in pools by the wayside.
Farewell, then, senor—go with God!
MACGREGOR rode craftily, a brisk jog, a brisk walk; where the trail was steep he slipped from the saddle and led the way to the next smooth bit.
Hard by the head of the pass he paused on a jutting shoulder. The fog lifted for a space; far behind and below there was a glimpse of toiling horsemen, a black, wavering line where the trail clung to the hillside.
MacGregor took up a long .34 from the sling below the stirrup leather and dropped two bullets in the trail before the advancing party. They shrank back to a huddling clump. The mist shut down.
"’Tis plain I have naught to fear from these gentry for all the heavy weight this red horse of mine must carry. For they will think twice and again at each bend and rock-fall. But beyont the desert? There’s a telephone line awa' to the north, and if the good folk of Datil be at all of enterprising mind, 'tis like I shall hear tidings."
Dawn found him beyond the desert, breasting the long, slow ridges beneath the wooden mountain of the Datils, against which the rambling building of the C L A ranch was dimly seen.
"Ay," said the horseman. "Now the pot boils. For here comes one at a hard gallop—now he sees me and swerves this way. I must e'en call science to my own employ. Hullo, Central! … Hullo! Give me Spunk, please. … Hullo, Spunk. MacGregor speaking. Spunk, I am now come to a verra strait place, and I would be extremely blithe to hae your company. See if you canna bring Common-sense wi' you. Hello, Central! Gimme Brains. … What’s that? No answer? Try again, Central, gin ye please. The affair is verra urgent."
The oncoming rider slowed down; MacGregor turned to meet him, his two hands resting on the saddle horn.
"’Tis Mundy'e self, thanks be," he muttered. "Aha, Brains! Are ye there at the last of it? That's weel! I shall need you."
He rode on at a walk. The riders drew abreast.
"Hands up, you!" Mundy'e gun was drawn and leveled.
MacGregor's hands did not move from the saddle horn. "And that is no just what ye might call a ceevil greeting, Mister Mundy. Man, ye think puirly! Do ye see this rifle under my knee? Thirty-forty, smokelese—and had I meant ye ill, it was but stepping behind a bit bush to tumble you from the saddle or e'er ye clapped eyes on me."
"You have my name, I see," said Mundy. "And you might have taken a pot shot at me from ambush, easy enough. Unless all signs fail, you are fresh from tho loot of Luna. Now stick up those hands or I’ll blow you into eternity."
"And that is a foolish obsairve," said MacGregor, composedly. "‘Into eternity!’ says he! Man, I wonder at y«! We're in eternity just noo—as much as we e’er shall be. For the ambush, you do me great wrong. I was well knowing to yon mischief-making telephone—but I took my chance of finding you a man of sense. Man, theenk ye I have nae self-luve at all! Hands up might be all verra weel for a slim young spark like you, wi' looks and grace to bear it off with. But me, wl’ my years and the hulking carcass of me, in such a bairnly play—man. I should look just reedeeculous! The thing cannae be done."
"VERY well. I am coming to get your gun. Keep your hands on the saddle horn. I have you covered, and if you crook a finger I’ll crook mine."
"’Tis early yet in the day, Mr. Mundy." MacGregor held the same unmoved composure. "Dlnna be hasty in closing in upon me. I was thinking to propose a compromise."
"A compromise? And me with finger on trigger—me that could hit you blindfolded?"
"Nae doot of it at all. Myself, I am slow on the draw—but, man! if I'm slow, I’m extrordinary eefeecient!"
"Fool! I can shoot you three times before you get to your gun."
"Nae doot, nae doot," said MacGregor pacifically. "It has been done—yet here am I, little the waur o't. Come, Mr. Mundy, I came here the noo because ye are bespoken a man of parts and experience—and thereby the better able to judge weel and deal wisely with another man as good as yoursel'."
"Sure of that?"
"Positeeve. Now, gin ye were free to look ye wad see some ten-twelve black specks coming this way ahindt me on the plain, a long hour back, or near two. To speak the plain truth, I doot they mean me nae guid at a’."
"I should conclude that this was your unlucky day. Mr. Whatever-your-name-is. The whole country east of here is warned by telephone. Heavy, heavy hangs over your head!"
"I am a little struck wi’ that circumstance myself," said MacGregor simply. "But If you can eenstruct me in what way I should be any worse off to be shot by you just now, than to be hanged in a tow from a pleasant juniper a little later. I shall be the more obleegit. If you canna do this, then I shall expect ye to note that ye can have naught to gain by changing shots wi’ one who has naught to lose, and to conseedar the proposition I mak' to you."
"You put it very attractively and I see your point," said Mundy. A slow smile lit up his face. He put his gun back In the scabbard. "Well, let’s have it."
"Let us e’en be riding toward your ranch gate while ye hear my offer, for when the sun reaches here we should be seen—and yonder weary bodies gain on us while we stand here daffing."
They rode on together.
"First of it," MacGregor resumed, "ye should know that not one of these gentry behind have seen my face, the which I kep’ streectly covered durin’ my brief stay in Luna. Second, ye may care to know that the bit stroke I pulled off in Luna was even less than justice. For within year and day a good friend of mine was there begowked and cozened by that same partnership—yes and that wi' treachery—of mair than I regained for him by plain force at noonday. Third, for your own self, it is far known that you and the Wyandotte Company and Steelfoot Morgan are not agreeing verra well——"
"You never heard that I’ve taken any the worst of it, did you?"
"No, but that they keep you well occupied. So hear me now. I need nae ask of ye if you have only but discreet persons about ye?"
Mundy laughed. "No one at the ranch today but Hurley, the water-mason. He's all right!"
"VERRA weel. Do you send him away betimes on that beastie atween your knees, and I will be water-mason to you—the mair that I can run your steam pump as well as the best. The story will be that the outlaw body passed by night, unseen, liftin’ your night horse as he flitted, and leavin’ this sorrel of mine. Your man Hurley can join your outfit and lose himself. For I shall be blameless Maxwell, your water-mason—and who so eager to run down the runagate robber as he? And when they see how it is, that their man has got clean away, these men from Luna will be all for the eating and sleeping."
"Very pretty, and it can be done," agreed Mundy. "They will not be expecting their outlaw to call them in to breakfast, certainly. But I do not see where I am to gain anything."
"You are to hear, then," said the outlaw "I will fight your battles with you against all comers. Not murder, you mind, but plain warfare against men fit for war."
"A fighting man, and slow on the draw?"
"I am that same. Slow. I cannot deny it—slow, in compare with the best. But man, I’m experienced, I’m judgmatical, and I’m fine on the latter end. You have had word of me, your own self, in El Paso, where indeed, I saw your face, though you saw not mine. So now I offer you the naked choice, peace or war. A hundred miles and twenty, at the least of it. I have now made in sax-and-thirty hours—and blow high, blow low, I ride no step beyond yonder gate."
"I am decidedly inclined toward peace," said Clay Mundy. "But as to your value in my little range war—you forgot to mention your name, you know."
"The name is MacGregor."
"Not Sandy MacGregor? Of Black Mountain?"
"That same. Plain shooting done neatly."
"You’re on," said Clay Mundy.
"So MacGregor became Maxwell, and Mundy’s. The search party came, and swore, and slept. None mistrusted Maxwell, that kindly and capable cook, who sympathized so feelingly with them. In the seven-up tournament organized after that big sleep, Maxwell won the admiration of all and the money of most; and they want home mingling praises of their new friend with execrations of the escaped outlaw.
ROUND-UP season passed with no fresh outbreak of hostilities. After the steer-shipping, Mr. Maxwell had been given a mount, a rope and a branding iron, and so turned loose to learn the range.
One day in late October, the rain turned to a blinding storm and Maxwell was glad to turn his back to its fury and ride for shelter, at Pictured Rock, an overhanging cliff of limestone, sheltered from three winds.
As he turned the bend in the canyon, Maxwell saw a great light glowing under Pictured Rock. He paused at the hill-foot and shouted:
"Hullo, the house! Will your dog bite?"
"Hi!" It was a startled voice: a slender figure in a yellow slicker appeared beside the fire. "Dog’s dead, poor fellow—starved to death! Come on up!"
The C L A man rode up the short zig-zag of the trail to the fire-lit level. He took but one glance and swept off his hat, for the face he saw beneath the turned up sombrero was the bright and sparkling face of a girl.
"You will be Miss Bennie May Morgan? I saw you in Magdalena at the steer-shipping."
"Quite right. And you are Mr. Sandy Maxwell, the new warrior for Clay Mundy."
"Faces like ours are not easily forgot," said Maxwell.
Miss Bennie laughed. "I will give you a safe-conduct. Get down." She sat upon her saddle blankets where they were spread before the fire, and leaned back against the saddle.
The C L A man climbed heavily down and strode to the fire, where he stood dripping and silent.
"Well! How about that lunch?" demanded Miss Bennie sharply. "It’s past noon."
"Sorry, Miss Morgan, but I have not so much as a crumb. And that is a bad thing, for you are far from home, and who knows when this weary storm will be by? But doubtless they will be abroad to seek for you."
Miss Bennie laid aside the hat and shook her curly head decidedly. "Not for me. Dad thinks I’m visiting Effie at the X L, and Effie thinks I’m home by this time. But this storm won’t last. Tho sun will be out by 3. You’ll see! And now, if you please, suppose you tell me what you are thinking so busily."
"I am thinking," said Maxwell, slowly, "that you are a bonnie lass and a merry one. And I was thinking one more thing, too. The X L is awa' to the southeast and the Morgan home ranch as far to the southwest. Now what may Miss Bennie Morgan need of so much northing, ten long miles aside from the straight way? And then I thought to myself, it is an ill thing that a way cannot be found to make an and of this brawling for good and all. And, thinks I, the bonny Earl of Murray himself was not more goodly to the eye than Clay Mundy—and it is a great peety for all concerned that Clay Mundy is not stormbound this day at Picture Rock, rather than I!"
"Well!" Miss Bennie gasped and laughed frankly. "And while you were thinking all those preposterous thoughts, I was seeing a wonderful picture, very much like this storm, and this cave, and this fire, and us. A red fire glowing in a cave mouth, and a wind-bent tree close beside, and by the fire a man straining into the night at some unseen danger; a cave man, clad in skins, broad-shouldered long-armed, ferocious, brutal—but unafraid. He is half crouching, he is peering under his hand; the other hand clutches a knotted club; a dog strains beside his foot, teeth bared, glaring, stiff legs braced back, neck bristling; behind him, half hidden, shrinking in the shadow—a woman and a child. And the name of that picture could be "Home!"
MAXWELL'S heavy face lit up; his sluggish blood thrilled at the spirit and beauty of her; his voice rang with frank admiration. "And that is a brave thought you have conjured up, too, and I will be warrant you would be unco' fine woman to a cave man—though I’m judgin’ you would be having a bit club of your own."
"Now you are trying to torment me," said Miss Bennie, briskly. "Roll a smoke. I know you want to."
"A pipe, since you are so kind," said Maxwell, fumbling for it.
"Do you admire your friend Clay Mundy so much?" said Miss Bennie next, elbows on knees, chin in hands.
Maxwell rolled a slow eye on her, and blew out a cloud of smoke. "My employer. I did not say friend, though it may come to that yet. But I am not calling him friend yet till I know the heart of him. So you will not be taking Clay Mundy to your cave upon my say-so till I am better acquaint’ wi’ him. But dootless you know him verra well yourself."
Miss Bennie evaded this issue.
"See, the storm is breaking. It will clear as suddenly as it came on. I will be on my way soon."
Maxwell shook out the saddle blankets and saddled her horse.
"Of course, I will be seeing that you get safe home——"
"Really, I’d rather you wouldn’t," said Miss Bennie earnestly. "I don't want to be rude, but I am still——" She gave him her eyes and blushed to her hair—"I am still * * * north of where I should be. And your camp lies farther yet to the north."
"Good-by, then, Miss Morgan."
"Good-by, Mr. MacGregor."
He stared after her as she rode clattering down the steep. "MacGregor!" he repeated. "MacGregor, says she! And never a soul of the San Quentin kens aught of the late MacGregor gave Clay Mundy’s own self! Little lady, it is in my mind that you are owre far north!"
She waved her hand gayly; her fresh young voice floated back to him, lingering, soft and slow:
He was a braw gallant.
And he rid at the ring;
And the bonny Earl of Murray
Oh! He might have been a king.
He was a braw gallant.
And he played at the glove;
And the bonny Earl of Murray
Oh! He was the queen's love!
Oh! Lang may his lady
Lute owre the castle down.
Ere she see the Earl of Murray
Come sounding through the town.
The girl passed from sight down the narrow canyon. MacGregor-Maxwell put foot to stirrup. When he came to the beaten trail again, where the horse’s feet pattered rhythmically on the firm ground, he crooned a plaintive and wandering air:
Then I pray you do not trust the hawk again.
The cruel hawk that mocks thy love, like me.
Oh, alone, betrayed and sad although I leave thee,
Yet the wandering traitor weeps, poor love, for thee—
Ay! Paloma azul!
"Now why do I sing such an ill-omened and unchancy song as that?" He held his cupped hand to his mouth. "Hullo, Central! Can you get Brains for me? … Try again, please. … Now, Brains, did you mark the bonny blush of her at the name of Clay Mundy—and her so far from the plain way, wi' no cause given? … And what am I to do in such case as that? … A little louder, please! … Oh! I am to see where Clay Mundy rides this day, is that it? … And if he means her naething but good? … It is what I will know. And then I will be best man—and to be best man at this employ should be no empty form. For indeed I think the Morgans are like to be little pleased."
"I THOUGHT it was you," said Miss Bennie May Morgan. "So I waited for you. Aren't you rather out of your own range, Mr. Maxwell?"
With elaborate surprise, MacGregor took his bearings from the distant Circling hills. "Why so I am! I was on my way to Datil. I see now that I should have ridden eastlike this morning instead of west."
"It is shorter that way—and dryer," she agreed. "This road to Datil is very damp after you pass California."
"It was like this," he exclaimed. "Clay Mundy set off for Datil early his morning, whilst I staid in camp, shoeing horses. He was riding his Jugador horse—fine I ken the crooked foot of him. And when later in the day I came upon the track of that twisted hoof, I found suddenly a great desire to go after him to Datil, where I have never yet been. And I said to myself, ‘Plainly, if you follow this track you will come to that place.' And so you see me here."
"And now that you’re here, Mr.——?"
"Maxwell—not MacGregor," said MacGregor.
"Thank you; Maxwell. Well, let’s have it."
MgeGregor plucked up spirit. "It was in my mind to give you but the bare hint that your secret was stumbled upon. For what one has chanced upon this day another may chance tomorrow."
The girl dropped all pretense. "I think you mean kindly by me, Mr. MacGregor, and I thank you for it. And you must consider that our case is hard, indeed. Fifty miles each way every ranch is used up on one side or the other of this feud. One word to my father’s ear will mean bloodshed and death—and then, whoever wins, Bennie Morgan must lose"
"Yet you must meet?" said MacGregor.
"Yet we must meet!" She said it proudly.
"You two should wed out of hand, then, and put the round world between you and this place." said MacGregor.
Miss Bennie sighed "That is what I tell Clay. Clay does not want to go. He cannot bear to have it said that he had to run away from San Quentin. But I will never marry him till he is ready to go."
"He is a fool for his pains and I will be the one who will tell him that same!" declared MacGregor stoutly.
"No—you mustn't say one word to him about me—please! He would be furious—and he is a dangerous man!"
"I thank ye kindly for this unexpected care of my safety," said MacGregor humbly.
"Oh, these men! Must you hear that you are so dangerous, too? There would be trouble and you know it. I’ll tell him—not that you have seen me, but that we might so easily be seen—and that our meetings must be few and far between." She checked herself with a startled shyness in her sudden drooping of lids. "And yet I think there is no man who would not think twice before he whispered evil of Ben Morgan's daughter and"—she lifted her brave eyes—"and Clay Mundy’s sweetheart!"
MacGregor checked his horse, his poor, dull face lit up and uplifted.
"I think there will be no man so vile as to think an evil thing of you," he said. "Yet there is one thing, too, before I turn back—and I think you will not laugh."
She faced him where he stood, so that he carried with him a memory of her dazzling youth against a dazzle of sun. "I shall not laugh."
"IT is better than fifty years, they tell me, since last the San Quentin knew any such rains as these," said MacGregor slowly. "This place has the ill name of a desert. Yet all this day the air has been heavy with sweetness: all day long I have ridden stirrup-deep in strange bright flowers—and no man knows the name of them! Fifty years they have slept in the blistered brown earth, the seeds of these nameless flowers, waiting for this year of many rains. Lassie, there are only too many men like me of deserved and earned ill name. And when you think of us I would have you think there may be hidden seeds of good in us yet—if only the rains might come! And if ever you have any need of me—as is most unlike—I shall be real friend to you. It is so that I would have you think of old MacGregor. Good-by!"
"I shall not forget," said Bennie. "And now you are my friend, for I have trusted you very greatly."
"Good-by, then!" said MacGregor again. He bent over her hand. "Good-by!"
MacGregor moved his camp to Bear Springs, on the southern frontier of the Mundy range.
Milt Craig had moved on to the Clenage, so today MacGregor rode alone.
As the day wore on he found himself well across in the Wyandotte-Morgan country. He turned back, and as he came down a ridge of backbone from the upper bench he saw a little curl of smoke rising above the Skullspring bluff.
"We are in a hostile country, Neighbor," said he to his horse. "It will be the part of prudence to have a look into this matter,we go blundering in where we are nae much wanted." He tied Neighbor in a little hollow of the hill, and went down with infinite precaution to the edge of the cliff above Skullspring.
Three men were by the fire below—all strangers to MacGregor. That gentleman lay flat on the rock, peering through a bush, and looked them over. Two were cowboys, their saddled horses stood by and a light buggy stood by the fire. The third person, a tall man, had the look of a town man. He wore a black suit and a "hard-boiled" hat.
"I tell you," said the older cowboy, "I'll be good and glad aplenty when this thing is over with. It’s a shaky business "
"Don’t get cold feet, Joe," advised the tall man. "You’re getting mighty big money for a small risk. You get the chance just because you’re a stranger and can get away without being noticed."
The younger man of the party spoke up. "I’m not only goin’ to get away, but I’m goin' to keep on gettin’ away. Lemme tell you, Mr. Hamerick, this country'll be too hot for me when it’s over."
The tall man was Hamerick, for he answered: "Keep your nerve. Your part is easy. You take the first right-hand trail and drift south across that saddleback pass yonder, so you'll get there before I do. The Bents have all gone to Magdalena for supplies. Mrs. Bent is going to Socorro and Bent'll wait for her. You’re to make yourselves at home—new men working there; sorry the Bents are gone, and all that." He kicked out the dying fire.
"And if any one comes, then what?" Joe glowered.
"Then you are strangers, passing by. The nearest ranch is twenty-five miles. But if any one should come, it's all off for today. You’ll ride out to good grass and make camp. If we see your fire, Mundy and me’ll turn back. We'll pull it off tomorrow. I am to meet Mundy at that little sugarloaf hill yonder, four or five miles out on the plain. Than I'll go on down the wagon road to Bent’s with him. The play is that I'm supposed to think the Bent folks are at home. You boys'll have plenty of time to get settled down."
"If we don't run into a wasp’s nest," said Joe, sulkily.
HAMERICK gave him a sinister look. "You get no money till I get astraddle of a horse again; I'll tell you that right now, my laddie buck! This buggy's too easy to track up, if anything goes wrong."
"I won't, eh?" Joe took a step forward, his ugly face blotched with crimson.
Here the younger man interposed. "Oh, you both make me sick!" His voice was venomous in its unforced evenness. "If you fellows get to fighting I'll do my best to kill both of you. Got that?"
MacGregor almost hugged himself with delight. "Oh, If they once get to shooting," he thought "It would be a strange thing if between the four of us we should not do a good day’s work of it!"
"Now, now, Tait——"
"Don’t Tait me!" said Tait, in the same deadly level. "Hamerick's right, Joe. We’ll string along with him till he gets to a saddle—and then may the devil take the hindmost! The sooner I see the last of you two, the better pleased I’ll be. For you, Hamerick—you’re engineerin this thing, but I'm the best man, and don’t you forget it. You'll stick to me against Joe till you're horseback again, with a fair chance for a get-away: Joe’ll stick to me till we get a fair divvy on the money—and if either of you don’t like it, you can double up on me whenever you feel lucky. I’m ready for you both any turn in the road "
It was plain that Tait was to be master. MacGregor rolled back from the bare rim with scarce more noise than a shadow would have made. He crawled to the nearest huddle of rocks and hid away. Soon came the sound of wheels and a ringing of shod feet on rock.
The tingling echoes died; and then MacGregor climbed back to Neighbor. Keeping to the ridge, he would gain a long mile on the wagon road, deep In the winding pass.
When he came into the wagon road the buggy was just before him, close to the mouth of the pass, MacGregor struck into a gallop.
The stranger had been going at a brisk gait, but at sight of the horseman he slowed down.
"A fine day, sir," said MacGregor civilly, as he rode alongside.
"It certainly is," said the stranger. "How far is it to Old Fort Tularosa, can you tell me?"
MacGregor squinted across the plain. "A matter of forty miles, I should say. Goin' across?"
The stranger shook his head. "Not today. I think I will camp here for the night and have a look in the hills for a deer. You’re not going to the Fort yourself, are you?"
MacGregor grinned cheerfully. "Well, no; not today. The fact is, sir"—he sunk his voice to a confidential whisper—"the fact is, if you're for camping here the night I must even camp here, too."
"Just that. Do you remark this little gun which I hold here in my hand? Then I will ask you to stop and to get out upon this side, while I search you for any bit weapons of your ain. For you spoke very glibly of hunting a deer—and yet I do not see any rifle."
HAMERICK groaned as he climbed out. "I haven't any rifle. My revolver is under the cushion. If it’s money you’re after, you’ll get most mighty little."
"All in good time," said MacGregor cheerfully. He went through Hamerick for arms; finding none, he went through the buggy, finding the gun under the cushion. He inspected this carefully, tried it, and stuck it in his waistband.
"You see I have no money, you have my gun—what more do you want of me?" spluttered Hamerick. "Let me go! I have an appointment—I’ll be late now."
"With that deer, ye are meaning?" MacGregor sat cross-legged on the ground and whittled off a pipeful of tobacco with loving care.
Hamerick pulled himself together with an effort. "I see now that you are not a robber, as I first thought. You can’t be doing yourself any possible good by keeping me here. I tell you I am waited for."
"I will tell you somewhat, Mr. Hamerick." At this unexpected sound of his own name Hamerick started visibly. "If Clay Mundy is at all of my mind, this is what we shall do: We will set you on Clay Mundy’s horse and put Clay Mundy’s hat upon your head; and we two will get in your bit wagon and drive you before our guns—just at dusk, d’ye mind?—to the Bent ranch; and there, if I do not miss my guess, you will be shot to death by hands of your own hiring."
So far from being appalled, Hamerick was black with rage; he stamped, he shook his fist, he struggled for speech in a choking fury.
"You fool! You poor spy! Idiot! Why couldn't you tall me you were Mundy’s man?"
"Steady, there! Are you meaning to face it out that you did not plan to murder Clay Mundy? Because we are going on now to see him."
Hamerick gathered up the reins eagerly. "Come on, then, before it’s too late! Me kill Clay Mundy? Why, you poor, pitiful bungler. Clay Mundy brought me here to play preacher for him!"
MacGregor drew back. His face flamed; his eyes were terrible. He jerked out Hamerick’s gun and threw it at Hamerick’s feet. "Protect yourself!" he said.
But Hamerick shrank back, cringing. "I won't! I won’t touch it!"
"Oh, don’t kill me, don’t murder me!" Hamerick was wringing his hands.
MacGregor turned shamed eyes away. Ha took up Hamerick's gun. "Strip the harness from that horse, then; take the bridle and ride! Go back the way you came, and keep on going! For I shall tell your name and errand, and there is no man of Morgan’s men but will kill you at kirk or gallows-foot."
He watched in silence as Hamerick fled. Then he rode down to the mouth of the pass; at the plain's edge he saw a horseman, nearby, coming swiftly. It was Clay Mundy.
MacGREGOR thrust Hamerick’s gun between his left knee and the stirrup leather and gripped it there. He rode on—and the nameless flowers of San Quentin were stirrup-high about him as he rode.
He drew rein so Mundy should come to his right side; and as at their first meeting, he laid both his hands on the saddle horn as he halted.
Clay Mundy’s face was dark with suspicion.
"Have you seen a fool in a buggy?" he demanded.
"I see a fool on a horse!" responded MacGregor calmly. "For the person you seek, I have put such a word in his ear that he will never stop this side of tidewater. What devil’s work is this, Clay Mundy?"
"You cursed meddler! Are you coward as well as meddler, that you dare not move your hands?"
"Put up your foolish gun, man. The thing is done and shooting will never undo it. There will be no mock-marriage this way, norday—and now shoot. If you will!
"Think ye I value my life owre high, or that I fear ye at all, that I come seeking you? Take shame to yourself, man! Say you will marry the lassie before my eyes, and I will go with her back to the house of the Morgans—and for her sake, I will keep your shame to mysel'. Or, if it likes you better, you may even fall to the shooting."
"Fool!" said Mundy. "I can kill you before you can touch your gun."
"It is what I doubt," said MacGregor. "Please yourself. For me there is but the clean stab of death—but you must leave behind the name of a false traitor to be a hissing and a byword in the mouths of men."
"I will say this much, that I was wrong to call you coward," said Mundy, in a changed voice. "But I will not be driven further. I will go on alone, and tell her, and send her home."
"You will say your man fled before the Morgans, or was taken by them, or some such lies, and lure her on to her ruin," said MacGregor. "I will not turn back."
"I will give you the minute to turn back," said Mundy.
"It is what I will never do!"
"Then you will die here," said Mundy.
"Think of me as one dead an hour gone," said MaoGrsgor steadily. "I am beyond the question. Think rather of yourself. You have the plain choice before you—a bonny wife to cherish, life and love, peace and just dealing and quiet days—or at the other hand but dusty death and black shame to back of that!"
As a snake strikes, Mundy’s hand shot out: he jerked MacGregor’s gun from the scabbard and threw it behind him. His face lit up with ferocious joy.
"You prating old windbag. How about it now? I’ll be driven by no man on earth, much less by a wordy old bluffer like you."
"You used other speech but now. Ye are false in war as in love. But I care nae for hard words, so you deal justly with the lassie. Wed her with me to witness, or let her go free."
"Talk to the wind!" said Mundy.
"For the last time, Mundy, give it up!"
"Get off that horse and drag it! You’re not worth my killing. Never be seen on the San Quentin again!"
"Get off, I say!" Mundy spurred close, his cocked gun swung shoulder high.
"A WEEL," said MacGregor. He began to slide off slowly, his right hand on the saddle horn; his left hand went to the gun at his left knee; he thrust it up under Neighor's neck and fired once, twice—again! Crash of flames, roaring of gun shots; he was on his back, Neighbor's feet were in his ribs; he fired once more, blindly, from under the trampling feet.
Breathless, crushed, he struggled to his knees. A yard away, Clay Mundy lay on his face, crumpled and still.
"I didnae touch his face," said MacGregor. He threw both guns behind him; he turned Mundy over and opened his shirt. One wound was through the heart. MacGregor looked down upon him.
"Tho puir, mad, misguided lad!" he said between painwrung lips. "Surely he was gone horn-mad with hate and revenge."
He covered the dead man's face, and sat beside him: he held his hand to his own breast to stay the pulsing blood.
"And the puir lassie—she will hear this shameful tale of him! Had I looked forward and killed yonder knave Hamerick, she had blamed none but me. ’Twas ill done … Ay, but she's young still. She will have a cave and a fire of her own yet."
There was silence a little space, and his hand slipped. Then he opened his dulling eyes:
"Hullo, Central! Give me Body, please … Hullo, Body! Hullo! That you, Body? … MacGregor's Soul speaking. I am going away. Good luck to you—good-by!… I don't know where."