Majesty’s Rancho - Zane Grey - ebook

Majesty’s Rancho ebook

Zane Grey

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Majesty’s Rancho” is the sequel to „The Light of Western Stars”, both by Zane Grey. Here we meet the next generation at the ranch. It is wild with college age fun and a mix of gangsters meeting the old west. After Lance Sidway comes to the defense of beautiful Madge Stewart and ends up on the wrong side of the law, he escapes to Arizona and finds work on her father’s ranch. Fate certainly seems to want these two together! However, gangsters are rustling cattle from Stewart’s ranch and the leader, Honey Bee Uhl, has a thing for Madge as well. This crazy tangle comes to a head when Uhl kidnaps Madge for a ransom and wants to keep her for himself. Lance won’t allow it, even if it means a fight to the death.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER I

LANCE SIDWAY pulled himself up from the stone steps of the Natural History Museum. He laughed ruefully as he realized that this was his third visit to the institution. As on his two previous excursions, he had wandered round and round the inside halls examining the mounted specimens of wild animals. He loved four-footed creatures, and though a pang beset him to see these lifeless counterfeits of what had once been the free beasts of the wild, he yet experienced a sense of escape and peace that he had not felt since he left his Oregon range home for Hollywood.

There was, he knew now, a future in the motion-picture studios for his great horse “Umpqua,” and perhaps one for himself as well. But he shied at becoming an actor and hated to double for the handsome cowboy Apollos of the screen; and to hang around the studios merely as the owner of a wonderful horse, letting the spirited animal earn his living for him, did not fit his idea of a career. As a matter of fact, he had never desired a future in Hollywood under such circumstances and the immediate necessity for earning money was over. Nance, his sister, was perfectly well again after her operation and would soon be married. So in demand, indeed, had Umpqua been that Lance found himself with at least enough cash in hand to last him until he could find a job more to his liking.

He found himself leaning toward a horseback ride through southern California, across Arizona, perhaps into New Mexico. To be sure the cattle business was practically ruined, but the desert ranges and purple uplands of Arizona, or the silver grassed valleys of New Mexico, about which he had read so much, would be vastly wilder and infinitely freer than the old pastures he had ridden, and surely there would be some kind of a job for a husky chap who was fond of animals.

There was a singular zest in the thought of new adventure in a harder country than he had known. But the truth was, Hollywood did not let go its grip so easily. And why? Lance knew that he had no ambition to beat the movie game. Still he admitted the fascination of the gay bright whirl of the picture world. Reducing this down to the lure of feminine charm seemed another step in the right direction. Lance dubiously admitted to himself that he was afraid he had more than the ordinary male’s weakness for the fair sex. But hell! he thought in self-defense, just think of Hollywood’s thousands of extras, and more thousands of girls unable to find even jobs as extras, many of them exceptionally beautiful, all of them pretty! Here was a case where it was hard to break away. And he ruefully recalled the three girls to whose attraction he had succumbed–Coretta–and Virginia–and lastly Maurine. Only last night Maurine had faced him, a little pale, with dark eyes steady. “Lance, you’ve been swell to me,” she had said. “I could lie to you, but I won’t. At last I’ve got a break. You know what that means. I must make the grade…. Sure I love you. String along with me, darling, and when I’m a star….”

That was Hollywood, but it was not Lance Sidway. Looked at now, in this serious moment, it seemed a deciding factor. “It’d happen again,” muttered Lance, sadly. “And I might fall worse. It’s coming to me…. I’m through!”

And he arose with springy step to gaze at the hazy Sierra Madres beyond which barrier there was an unsettled land. He strolled through a long terrace of roses, sensitive to their color and fragrance. They were beautiful, but he liked wild flowers best. Meanwhile he was revolving in mind the problem of riding Umpqua out of California. The horse was fat and needed work. He would not care much for the asphalt roads; perhaps, however, from Palm Springs south Lance could keep mostly to soft ground. Once in condition again, Umpqua was good for fifty miles a day without turning a hair.

Lance emerged from the Museum park, and presently, strolling along, he found himself on the edge of the University campus. Students of both sexes were in evidence, some chatting in groups, others moving along with books under their arms. These bareheaded boys and girls in their colorful sweaters, young and full of the joy of life, aroused memory and regret in Lance. After high school he had attended college in Corvallis for nearly a year, and outside of freshman miseries, which now seemed sweet, he had done well in his studies and better in athletics. But financial trouble had intervened and Nance’s illness… both of which had sent him to Hollywood. This college atmosphere was something that he liked. If only his father had not died, to leave Nance and him orphans! Lance cast off the sadness. His sister was well–happy–and he had the greatest horse in the West and a new adventure in that West before him. Pretty lucky, Lance thought he should be telling himself! Reaching a cross street Lance halted to absorb more of the flash of color on the campus. He sauntered up the cross street toward some shade trees. On that side there were more students. He heard bantering voices and gay high-pitched laughter.

The shrill sound of a siren disrupted his attention, as well as that of the students. Wheeling, Lance saw a bright topless roadster turning the corner from the main street. Its driver was a bareheaded girl with hair bright as spun gold. At the moment she withdrew her extended left arm. Behind her raced the car with the loud horn. It caught up with her. One of the two occupants, surely policemen, yelled for her to stop. The young woman took her time about it, and passing Lance, finally halted at the first shade trees where half a dozen students had congregated. Lance had not far to go to reach them and he strolled along, curious, expectant, and a little angry at the gruff yell of the officer. Lance was in time to hear:

“Why didn’t you stop?”

“I have stopped,” replied the girl, coolly.

Lance joined the group of students who had advanced to the curb. From all points on the campus others were coming, some on the run. Then Lance saw the girl at close range. Many a time in the studios and on the locations had he sustained a shock of masculine transport, but he had never seen a motion-picture star who in his opinion could hold a candle to this girl.

“Majesty, what do these cops want?” queried a tall young fellow, stepping out.

“I’m not sure, Rollie,” she replied, with a laugh. “But I think they want to chase me off the streets.”

“What’s the idea, officer?”

“If it’s any of your business, freshie, she was speedin’,” returned the other, a burly man, red-faced and thin-lipped, alighting from the police car. “I know her an’ she knows me.”

“Yeah?” queried the student, insolently.

“Yeah! She was makin’ forty-five on the turn an’ she didn’t even hold out her hand.”

“Say, ossifer, we saw this lady turn and she wasn’t making twenty,” interposed another student.

“Lay off us kids, can’t you?” asked another, plaintively.

“Aren’t there enough drunk drivers to keep you busy?”

“Looks a little steamed up himself.”

Good-natured cat calls and boos sounded from back of the circle of students, crowding closer and denser. They sensed events. Lance gathered that the officers did not fail to grasp something inimical to their own well-being at the moment.

“Give the girl a ticket, Brady, and let’s get going,” advised the one at the wheel.

A storm of protest went up from the foremost line of students. Rollie, who evidently had some distinction on the campus, yelled for them to shut up.

“Beat it, you flat-feet!” he called, sharply. “You hang around here and run us fellows ragged. But lay off the girls. Get that? We won’t stand for it.”

“You shut up or I’ll run you in,” said Brady angrily, as he began writing the summons.

“Madge, is it coming to you?” Rollie asked.

“Not this time, Rollie, I swear,” she replied. “I did run away from him some days ago. But today I wasn’t making twenty.”

“You tell that to the Judge,” said Brady, coldly. “An’ you’re interferin’ with an officer of the law.”

“Law, hooey! Only when there’s nothing in it for you. Get the hell out of here!”

The crowd of students surged over the sidewalk and pulled the officer from the running board of the car. He made the mistake of raising his fist, and striking himself free he shouted to his companion: “Send a riot call!” At that juncture a motorcycle policeman roared up to make a fringe of students in the street hop out of his way. Brady hoarsely repeated his order to him, and with his comrade, both swinging their arms, cleared a space.

Lance had been shoved off the pavement by the pushing of the students, all of them roused now and full of devilment. Rollie appeared to be the only one who took the affair seriously. The girl, Madge, acted as if she were enjoying the proceedings. But her violet eyes were ablaze. Rollie leaped on the running board and leaned close to speak low to her. Then Brady turning with red visage and bristling front jerked Rollie down.

“Young woman, get away from that wheel,” he ordered, opening the door. “I’ll take you for a little ride.”

“Like hell you will,” she rejoined, her voice as ringing as a bell. And she snapped the door shut.

Brady’s attention veered to a charging crowd of students who pushed the officers’ car down the street, while another gang, yelling like Indians, rushed the truck of a fruit and vegetable vendor who had happened along. They halted him, and in gold and red streams they spilled the mounds of oranges and tomatoes into the street. Another moment saw the air full of colored missiles. Their target was the offending car of the law. A smashing of windows and clinking of glass mingled with the derisive yells of the assailants. Then the driver, who had attempted in no gentle manner to drive the students from crowding Brady, turned to roar at the slingers. A huge soft tomato struck him squarely in the face. That elicited a howl of fiendish glee from the armed force in the street. A hail of oranges and tomatoes not only halted his belligerent rush but blinded him, swamped him, knocked him flat. At the moment, then, a blare of sirens announced the arrival of reinforcements.

Lance hung by the girl’s car while the students, numbering hundreds by now, rushed pell-mell into the street, whooping like a lot of Indians. What was left of the vendor’s ample supply of oranges and tomatoes disappeared from his truck as if by magic to take swift form of a colorful barrage right at the charging policemen. For a while they were held back, but as the supply of ammunition began to diminish, they forged forward, eventually to drive the students out of the street upon the campus. But it was not an onslaught such as Brady and his man had attempted. The students were having a wonderful time, but the officers, plainly disgusted and angered though they were, did not resort to violence. Against three hundred crazy students they could do nothing save harangue them off the street.

Lance, keenly enjoying the whole performance, was suddenly startled by a cry from the girl in the car. And as he wheeled he leaped off the curb. Brady had opened the car door.

“Move over, Blondie,” he ordered, a rude hand on her shoulder.

“You dirty bum! Don’t you dare paw me!”

It appeared to Lance that the officer’s action exceeded his authority. Even if it had not, the girl’s poignant outburst and the flash of her magnificent eyes would have been enough for Lance.

“I’m drivin’ you to the station,” declared Brady, shoving at her.

“You are not!” she cried, starting the engine. “Get off or I’ll spread you along the street…. I’ll drive to…”

Lance snatched the policeman’s hand off the car and as he turned in surprise Lance hit him a not-too-gentle blow on his rather protruding abdomen. A gasping expulsion of breath followed the sodden drumlike sound. Brady began to sag. Lance reached up with powerful hand, pulled him off the running board, and then with a vicious swing of fist at the convulsed visage he laid the officer neatly in the street. In action as swift, Lance vaulted into the car.

“Step on it!” he yelled. And almost before the words passed his lips the little car shot ahead. Lance’s knees came up hard under the dash. A shrill blast from the horn sent several students leaping for their lives. Then the car ate up the open street, to whirl at the corner, and sped on, describing swift half-circles in the traffic. Lance’s hat went flying, and as the car grazed a trolley his hair stood up stiff. Though scared as he had never been, Lance’s heart strangled a cowboy yell in his throat and his blood beat thick in his ears and he was possessed by a wild elation. The car whirled off the thoroughfare into a quiet street, on which the houses blurred in Lance’s sight. Another turn, then block after block on a traffic-congested street, then a break in the speed–and at last a parking place!

“Whew!” exploded Lance, catching his breath. “We’d have shaken them–if they had chased us.”

“Swell, wasn’t it?” rejoined the girl, with an amazing coolness. And she uttered a low laugh.

“I’ll tell the world. Say, but you can drive,” burst out Lance, turning to look at her. With steady beautiful hands, and shapely coral-tinted finger tips she was taking a gold monogrammed cigarette case from her purse.

“Thanks. Have a cigarette?”

“Don’t mind.”

“Did I scare you?”

“Yes–but it was a great ride.”

“Well, we got the best of those cops anyway, and now we’re just two fugitives from justice.”

All this time Lance was gazing at the girl, conscious of a mounting exhilaration. To find pleasure in the beauty of women had been the only debt he owed Hollywood. But this visual experience seemed a magnifying of all former sensations.

“Oh, your hand!” she exclaimed, in sudden solicitude.

Then Lance became aware that he was opening and shutting his right hand, the knuckles of which were bruised. It was a big brown member, matching his brawny wrist.

“Bunged my fist–a little,” he said, awkwardly. “Nothing much.”

“No?–I wonder what that cop thought. I’ll never forget his face. I was looking at it when you socked him. Did that tickle me?”

“Then I’m glad,” returned Lance, beaming at her.

“You see he was sore at me. He’s caught me before. Last time I made eyes at him, you know, and let him think…. I had a date and was late. Next time he spotted me I ran away from him. Today he must have been laying for me.”

“So that was it? Big fathead! You’ll get hauled up for this. I’m sorry. But I had to slug him…. I was looking at you when he…”

“Don’t be sorry. You made me your friend for life. Rollie was mad, but he wouldn’t have done that…. You’re not a college man?”

“No. I went one year at Corvallis. Then… but that wouldn’t interest you. I–I’d better be going.”

“Don’t go yet,” she replied, detaining him with a hand on his sleeve. “Indeed I am interested. You’re not going to walk out on me after such a romantic adventure. Are you?”

“Why, Miss Madge–I–you… of course, that’s up to the lady.”

“It always should be, even if it isn’t. Tell me about yourself. I’ll bet you’re from Hollywood. You have that cut.”

“Yeah? You don’t mean movie actor?” inquired Lance, quickly.

“No? Too bad! You’re handsome enough to be one. My sorority sisters will be jealous. I’ll have you out to the house to meet them.”

“That’d be swell. But I’m afraid it’s not possible. Thank you.”

“You’re not married?”

“I should say not.”

“Nor in love. I know how that malady affects them,” she replied, flippantly. “You’ll come, won’t you?”

“You’re very kind. I–I have to say no.”

“Well, of all things. A turn-down from a cavalier who fought for me! … It doesn’t happen, at least never yet…. They always say: ‘How about a date?’… What’re you doing out in Hollywood?”

“I own a horse. He’s been in pictures, not I. Oh, I’ve had to ride him a few times, doubling for these actors. I hated that. It’s almost as tough on me as letting them ride him.”

“A wonderful horse. How thrilling! I love horses.”

“As much as cars?”

“More. We have a ranch and some Arabians…. What’s his name?”

“Umpqua.”

“Umpqua? Must be Indian?”

“Yes, it is. Means swift.”

“Then he can run?”

“Run!–See here, little lady, Umpqua is as swift as the wind.”

“I’ll bet I’ve a horse that can beat him.”

Lance laughed. Here apparently was a real western girl. It did not detract from the dazzling glamour of her.

“Is he pretty–beautiful–grand, or what?” she continued.

“All of them. Umpqua has Arabian blood,” replied Lance, warming to her interest. That seemed to put him on her level. “He is big and rangy. Mottled black with white feet and nose. Bright soft eyes. Spirited but gentle. And this Hollywood game hasn’t done him any good. That’s why I’m going to quit it and leave this place. Ump is too fine, too sweet a horse for Hollywood.”

“You love him, don’t you?” she said, softly, as if she understood.

“I’ll say I do. Why, he saved Nance’s life…. Nance is my sister. Umpqua was given to me when he was a colt. He’s cowboy bred. On the Oregon range near Bend. And no horse ever had ten years’ better breeding…. Well, Nance and I were left alone. We lost the ranch. I had to quit college. She fell ill. It was necessary to have special treatment for her–operations and all–to save her life. So to earn the money I brought Umpqua to Hollywood where I had been assured of a job. And did he make good? I’m telling you.”

The girl’s eyes were bright with interest.

“Splendid. And your sister–Nance?”

“Just fine now. She’s going to be married soon.”

“Swell!… Oh, wouldn’t I love to see Umpqua? But I wouldn’t dare. I’d want to buy him. I always try to buy everything I like. And you’d hate me. That wouldn’t do at all…. Cowboy, are you leaving town? Wouldn’t you like… couldn’t we meet again?”

“Why–I–I… hope to see you again,” stammered Lance.

“We have a lot in common. Horses and ranches–and things,” she went on, consulting her wrist watch. “Let’s see. If I don’t get pinched and haled into court, I can cut psych. Say two-thirty, here, tomorrow. Will that be convenient?”

“Okay by me,” replied Lance, and opened the door to step out.

“Thank you for all you did. Good-by till tomorrow. And be careful. Don’t forget you punched a cop. They’ll be looking for you if they can remember what you look like. I won’t forget.”

Lance stood there rooted to the spot, watching the bright car and golden head flash out of sight. Then expecting to come down to earth with a dull thud, he found himself in the clouds. He soared while he hunted for a westbound trolley and the long ride out seemed only a few moments. Riding a block past his street augured further of his mental aberration. He strode on, out of the main zone of buildings, into the hills, and up the canyon where he had lodgings with a man who rented him a little pasture and stall for his horse. Lance went into the alfalfa-odorous barn. Umpqua nickered at him. “My God, Ump!” said Lance, as he put his arm over the noble arched neck and laid his cheek against the glossy mane. “I’ve fallen like a ton of bricks. Hardest ever!–No, old pard, not a movie extra or even a star. But a college girl. Another blonde, Ump! Only this one has them all backed off the lot…. So that’s what was wrong with me when I sat dumb in her car?”

Contact with Umpqua brought Lance down to reality and to the fact that he was leaving Hollywood. Against his sober judgment he would keep the date with the girl, which would be a last sentimental gesture before he rode out toward the open ranges and to the life he was meant for.

Lance packed and tagged his outfit, walked downtown to an express office, and checked it to be sent for later. Then he cashed his last check from the studio. It was still only midafternoon. On the boulevard he dropped into a movie theater and sat through two pictures, no details of which he could have even faintly remembered afterward. Then he went to a restaurant for his supper. Even his usually keen appetite did not return to break his abstraction. Thereafter he strolled up the boulevard, knowing it would be the last time. There was a première at the Chinese, heralded aloft by great searchlight beams, streaking up and sweeping across the heavens. Hollywood’s main thoroughfare blazed with colored lights. Cars hummed to and fro, halted for the signals, rolled on again. Lance stood on the corner of Vine Street, absorbing the flash, the glitter, the roar, the vivid life of the strange city. There was a little sadness mixed with his varied feelings and he could not quite analyze the cause. He did not really want this life. Then a shining black limousine sped noiselessly by. Lance caught a fleeting glimpse of a lovely fair girl, radiant in white, lying languorously back against the black-clad shoulder of her companion. That was Hollywood. How many times Lance had seen the same sight, always with a vague envy!

He let that glimpse be the last to intrigue him, and striding back to his room, he went to bed. There, wide-awake, he lay in the dark, remembering, wondering, feeling more clearly than at any time since his adventure.

A vivid and entrancing picture of the girl appeared etched against the blackness. Her face floated there, exquisitely fair. It was oval, crowned by shining golden hair, which waved back from her broad low brow. Slender arched eyebrows marked large intent eyes, wide apart, dark, the color of violets and singularly expressive with a light of friendliness, of frank interest. The whole face had a flash, of which fixed and changeless beauty was only a part.

Feature by feature the girl’s face appeared to Lance with a clearness which astonished him.

Lance shut his eyes to blot out this memory picture. But it made no difference. She was there, in his mind, on his heart. Never in all his life had he yearned for anything so dearly as to kiss those red lips. That dragged him rudely out of his trance. It would be wise not to see the girl again. With a pang he abandoned the idea. Majesty…. Madge, that student Rollie had called her. The first name suited her. Who was she? Where was that ranch with the Arabian horses? Somewhere in California, no doubt. That girl had class. Yet there was nothing the least snobbish about her. Too lovely, too kind and sweet to be a flirt! No need. She was rich, of course, Lance thought, remembering her clothes and her car! He remembered, too, the jeweled monogram on her cigarette case, but could recall only the letter M. And Lance rolled over to go to sleep. Aw! What the hell? He was always mooning over some pretty dame, especially a blonde, and here he had what was coming to him. Forget it, cowboy, and hit the trail.

All the same he dreamed of her and upon awakening in the morning, he began to waver in his resolution. Why be a sap? She had been grateful. He would want to know how she fared with the police and the college authorities. She would keep the date and wait for him. Lance, in the broad light of day, while he made his final preparations to leave, thought better of his resolve not to meet her. Treat a swell girl like that–stand her up on a promised date–a girl who loved horses–it just was not in him. And all the rest of the morning, at lunch, and when he took the bus downtown, he was conscious of a tingling expectance, a heat in his veins, a glamour over everything.

It amazed Lance extremely that he could not immediately find the parking place where he was to meet the girl. He had been so balmy, he thought, that he had scarcely known whether he was walking or riding. It was a good thing that he had come downtown so early. After wandering around, up one street and down another, at last he found the vacant lot which had been utilized to park cars. He was still a quarter of an hour ahead of time. An attendant, observing Lance loitering around, told him he could sit in one of the cars if he were waiting for someone. Lance promptly availed himself of this permission; in fact he took a back seat in a car standing against a building. Lance did not believe she would come at all; if she did he wanted to see her before she spied him. The buoyancy usual with Lance at a rendezvous seemed to be wanting here. This was a tremendous occasion.

He could see a large blue-handed clock in a tower some distance away, and watching this, as the half hour neared, he gave way more and more to inexplicable feelings. If she came, that would be proof she liked him, and maybe…. Why not postpone his departure for Arizona? A few days or even weeks would not make any particular difference. If she wanted to see him, take him to the house to meet her friends, perhaps go out to see Umpqua–how could he ever resist that? He had always been a fool over girls. With this one he would be serious and assuredly she had only a passing fancy or interest in him.

Or she might have been one of these beautiful dames who had to have a new flame every day. Maybe he had better just wait to have a farewell look at her, and not let her know he was there. But suppose she really had been struck with him! That was possible. It had happened once. In this case there would never again be any peace away from the glad light of those violet eyes.

“Gosh! I was a dumbbell for coming,” he muttered, kicking himself. “She’s late now…. She won’t come–and am I glad?”

Nevertheless he lingered there, sliding down in the seat, watching with hawk eyes the passing cars, slowly succumbing to a pang in his breast. At a quarter to three he gave up hope.

Then a bright tan roadster flashed into sight. It slowed and turned in. The driver was a girl in blue. But her blue hat did not hide a gleam of gold. She had come! Lance’s heart gave a leap and his blood gushed through his veins.

Then a seven-passenger car, shiny black in hue, flashed into sight, slowed and stopped outside the turn. From it leaped a slender young man, noticeably well-dressed. He waved the car on with sharp gesture and came hurrying, his piercing gaze on the blonde girl.

Lance saw her sweep a quick glance all around the parking place. She was looking for him, and the disappointment she expressed was so sweet and moving to Lance that it would have drawn him out of his hiding place but for the mien of the newcomer.

She had halted at an angle from Lance’s position, perhaps a dozen steps distant, and scarcely had she dismissed the polite attendant when the other man caught up to lean over the side of her car. He did not remove his soft gray hat. He had a remarkably handsome visage, pale, chiseled as if from marble, a square chin and ruthless mouth, and light gray eyes sharp as daggers. He reminded Lance of someone he knew.

“On the lam, eh, Madge? You certainly gave that driver of mine a run,” he said, with an air of cool effrontery.

“Hello, Bee. What do you mean–on the lam?” she replied.

“Trying to run away from me again.”

“No. I was in a hurry to keep a date. I’m too late. He’s come and gone. Damn old Fuzzy-Top! It was his fault.”

“Was your date with Fuzzy-Top?”

“No. You don’t seem to understand my college talk any better than I do your gangster expressions. Fuzzy is one of my profs.”

Gangster! Lance sustained a sudden shock. So that was it. This young man bore a remarkable resemblance to the picture star, Robert Morris, in his racketeer roles. What could the girl possibly have to do with a gangster? Plenty, thought Lance, considering that she had the imperious look of one who had an insatiable thirst for adventure.

“Madge, I haven’t said nothing yet,” replied the fellow, with a laugh. “Saying it with flowers is not my way. How about cocktails? Take me for a ride.”

“Bee, I told you I had a date,” she protested. “With a perfectly swell fellow. I’m crazy about him.”

“Yeah? He doesn’t seem so crazy about you. Dish the date and let’s go places.” With that the cool gentleman walked around the front of her car, and opening the door he slipped in and slammed it shut.

“You’ve got a nerve,” she retorted.

“Didn’t you tell me that was what you liked about me?”

“I suspect I did. You were something new, Bee.”

“Thanks. You’re a new twist on me. All women are flirts. But I went for you in a big way. And you went out with me, didn’t you?”

“Yes. A couple of times. If you recall I met you at the Grove one afternoon for tea. We danced. And one other time at the Biltmore, where we quarreled because you were pretty raw.”

“Cooled on me, eh?”

“Not exactly. You still pack a thrill. But you’re a little too–too…”

“Madge, no broad ever made a sucker of Bee Uhl yet,” he rejoined, with a crisp ring in his voice.

“Mr. Uhl, you’re quite beyond me,” said the girl, with a smile that disarmed her aloofness. “I’m afraid you’re going to make me regret my–well, shall we call it playful indiscretion? I never took you for a gentleman, but I thought you a good sport. If I’m not mistaken the favors of our little flirtation were yours…. Where can I drop you?”

“Say, Beauty, you hate yourself, don’t you? Well, I can take it. But the Honey Bee is not through buzzing around yet…. Let me off corner Seventh.”

In another moment they were gone, leaving Lance in a queer state of mind. He hardly knew what to think, or why he had not made his presence known. Presently his romance burst like a pricked bubble. But his relief did not equal his regret. He would not be seeing Madge again. If her apparently friendly contact with a gangster had caused her to fall somewhat in his hasty estimation, that did not seem to make any difference. Almost he sympathized with Honey Bee Uhl. That was a cognomen. Lance wondered what it signified. Then his sympathy veered to the spirited girl. He seemed to grasp that it would be impossible for her to have any fun, at least with men, to follow any natural bent of conquest or coquetry, to play around and look for what and whom she wanted from life, without leaving havoc in her wake. A girl as beautiful as she was, radiant with such an intense and fatal charm, would have to go into a nunnery, or else expect a fall of Troy around her. No doubt she desired that very thing. Lance congratulated himself on his great good fortune in avoiding the meeting, yet when it was too late he wanted it otherwise.

*     *

*

In less than two hours Lance was riding Umpqua along the hilly backroads of Hollywood. He was on his way and saw the last of the town from a bridle path high upon a foothill. He knew every bit of soft road under the slope of the mountains and avoided the asphalt wherever possible. At nine o’clock, some twenty miles out of the city, he called it a day and sought lodgings for himself and Umpqua.

Up at dawn he made San Bernardino by nightfall and the next day Banning. This entrance to the desert pass he welcomed as an event. From there on he could keep his horse almost altogether off the paved roads. That night Lance was so tired he went to sleep when his head touched the pillow. On the following morning he headed down San Gorgonio Pass toward the great gray valley of the southernmost California desert.

He knew that arid country, having been to Palm Springs and Indio with motion-picture companies. Still, sight of the rolling wasteland with its knolls of mesquite and flats of greasewood, and the irregular barren mountains zigzagging the horizon, afforded him keen pleasure. How different this country from the golden pastures and black hills and swift streams of Oregon! Lance could not have conceived a greater contrast. And by noonday the June heat of the desert was intense. Sweat oozed out of his every pore and Umpqua was wet. But this heat was what both horse and rider needed. They were heavy from underwork and overeating. By midafternoon Lance reached a little station on the railroad above Indio, where he halted for the night. He slept on a spread of hay under a cottonwood tree; and when the red sun peeped over the Chocolate Mountains next morning Lance felt that the comfort and the lure of Hollywood had been left far behind.

From that point he began a leisurely journey down the long sun-baked desert. Mecca, the Salton Sea, Niland were each marked by hitching up another hole in Umpqua’s cinch. But the great horse, once off the automobile roads and loosened up by the heat, soon showed his sound bottom and his love of the open. He knew they were headed for new ranges. Lance struck the five-mile stretch of sand dunes at sunrise, and he marveled at the smooth mounds with their knifelike crests, the scalloped vales between the dunes, the opal hues changing and playing across the sands. Umpqua did not like this region where his hoofs sank to his fetlocks. The flinty levels beyond, black and red with polished gravel, the sparse tufts of greasewood and cactus, the volcanic peaks, and finally the dusky arrowwood-bordered road to the Colorado River–these kept Umpqua on his easy ground-covering gait. Lance’s first sight of the red river justified what he had anticipated–a sullen swirling muddy flood, inimicable to horse and rider. And Yuma at night struck Lance favorably, with its wide main street and bright lights, its giant Indians and stealthily stepping Mexicans. He was across the river and this was Arizona.

That fact roused Lance at dawn. On his way again he appeared to have Arizona burst upon him in a blaze of brilliant sunlight that flooded vast wastes of barren soil and meager patches of grass, and ranges of ragged mountains asleep in the sunrise, and dim mesas and escarpments in the distance, and ghosts of purple domes hauntingly vague. Lance was a man of the open, but the great distances, the vastness, the endless reach of wasteland allured while it repelled him. He rode on, and dust, heat, wind were his portion. Ranches, service stations, hamlets stretched lonesomely across the desert. He had lost track of days and miles beyond Yuma by the time he reached Florence. Tombstone with its preserved buildings of a hard frontier past, Bisbee with its great mines and bustle, Douglas, an enterprising and progressive town marked Lance’s long ride across southern Arizona. Lance meant to strike off the main highway and railroad somewhere beyond Douglas into the ever-increasing rugged grandeur and beautiful valleys of this Arizona land. But his money, which he had thought would hold out for a much longer period, had dwindled to almost nothing, and it was now necessary that he stop and look for work. A rest would do Umpqua good. Lance found a Mexican who owned a small pasture outside of town and here he left the horse. In a pinch he could pawn his watch or gun, but he would have a try at finding work before resorting to that.

Lance accosted men in service stations and stores without any success. What he wanted to encounter was a cowboy. But this type appeared remarkably scarce. One man, evidently a cattleman, laughed gruffly at Lance: “Wal, son, thet kind of two-laiged critter has been aboot washed up on this range.”

“You don’t say. What by?” queried Lance, blankly.

“I reckon by hard times. North of heah a ways there’s some cattle left. But down heah the only successful business is bootlegging.”

That discouraged Lance, and he strolled around, slowly succumbing to the need of pawning his watch. Walking in high-heeled cowboy boots was not exactly a joy. It was noon and Lance was hot. Presently he heard voices near at hand, and turning discovered that he had halted close to a big black car, from which issued sharp voices. A second glance at that car struck him singularly. How like the black car that had followed the girl Madge to the parking place where he had chosen to avoid meeting her! With a pang he realized he had not thought of her for days. He was in another world. But this car!… Shiny black, without a gleam of metal anywhere, a fine high-priced machine, it certainly resembled….

“Hey, buddy, come here,” called a voice that shot through Lance. A young man, with pale face and eyes like gimlets, was leaning out of the front seat opposite the driver. Lance recognized him immediately. The young man Madge had designated as a gangster and who had called himself Honey Bee Uhl.

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