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THE DESIRE OF THE MOTH AND THE COME ON


BY EUGENE MANLOVE RHODES

ILLUSTRATIONS BY H.T. DUNN




ILLUSTRATIONS



They were riding hard

"Gentlemen - be seated!"




THE DESIRE OF THE MOTH




Chapter I

_"Little Next Door - her years are few -
Loves me, more than her elders do;
Says, my wrinkles become me so;
Marvels much at the tales I know.
Says, we shall marry when she is grown - - "_


The little happy song stopped short. John Wesley Pringle, at the
mesa's last headland, drew rein to adjust his geography. This was new
country to him.

Close behind, Organ Mountain flung up a fantasy of spires,
needle-sharp and bare and golden. The long straight range - saw-toothed
limestone save for this twenty-mile sheer upheaval of the
Organ - stretched away to north and south against the unclouded sky,
till distance turned the barren gray to blue-black, to blue, to misty
haze; till the sharp, square-angled masses rounded to hillocks - to a
blur - a wavy line - nothing.

More than a hundred miles to the north-west, two midget mountains
wavered in the sky. John Wesley nodded at their unforgotten shapes and
pieced this vast landscape to the patchwork map in his head. Those toy
hills were San Mateo and Magdalena. Pringle had passed that way on a
bygone year, headed east. He was going west, now.

"I'm too prosperous here," he had explained to Beebe and Ballinger,
his partners on Rainbow. "I'm tedious to myself. Guess I'll take a
_pasear_ back to Prescott. Railroad? Who, me? Why, son, I like to
travel when I go anywheres. Just starting and arriving don't delight
me any. Besides, I don't know that strip along the border. I'll ride."

It was a tidy step to Prescott - say, as far as from Philadelphia to
Savannah, or from Richmond to Augusta; but John Wesley had made many
such rides in the Odyssey of his wonder years. Some of them had been
made in haste. But there was no haste now. Sam Bass, his corn-fed
sorrel, was hardly less sleek and sturdy than at the start, though
a third of the way was behind him. Pringle rode by easy stages, and
where he found himself pleased, there he tarried for a space.

With another friendly nod to the northward hills that marked a day of
his past, Pringle turned his eyes to the westlands, outspread and vast
before him. To his right the desert stretched away, a mighty plain
dotted with low hills, rimmed with a curving, jagged range. Beyond
that range was a nothingness, a hiatus that marked the sunken valley
of the Rio Grande; beyond that, a headlong infinity of unknown ranges,
tier on tier, yellow or brown or blue; broken, tumbled, huddled,
scattered, with gulfs between to tell of unseen plains and hidden
happy valleys - altogether giving an impression of rushing toward him,
resistless, like the waves of a stormy sea.

At his feet the plain broke away sharply, in a series of steplike
sandy benches, to where the Rio Grande bore quartering across the
desert, turning to the Mexican sea; the Mesilla Valley here, a slender
ribbon of mossy green, broidered with loops of flashing river - a
ribbon six miles by forty, orchard, woodland, and green field, greener
for the desolate gray desert beyond and the yellow hills of sand
edging the valley floor. Below him Las Uvas, chief town of the valley,
lay basking in the sun, tiny square and street bordered with greenery:
its domino houses white-walled in the sun, with larger splashes of red
from courthouse or church or school.

Far on the westering desert, beyond the valley, Pringle saw a white
feather of smoke from a toiling train; beyond that a twisting gap in
the blue of the westmost range.

"That's our road." He lifted his bridle rein. "Amble along, Sam!"

To that amble he crooned to himself, pleasantly, half-dreamily - as if
he voiced indirectly some inner thought - quaint snatches of old song:

_"She came to the gate and she peeped in -
Grass and the weeds up to her chin;
Said, 'A rake and a hoe and a fantail plow
Would suit you better than a wife just now.'"_

And again:

_"Schooldays are over now,
Lost all our bliss;
But love remembers yet
Quarrel and kiss.
Still, as in days of yore - - "_

Then, after a long silence, with a thoughtful earnestness that Rainbow
would scarce have credited, he quoted a verse from what he was wont to
call Billy Beebe's Bible:

_"One Moment in Annihilation's waste,
One Moment of the Well of Life to taste -
The Stars are setting, and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of - - Nothing. Oh, make haste!"_

After late dinner at the Gadsden Purchase, Pringle had tidings of the
Motion Picture Palace; and thither he bent his steps. He was late and
the palace was a very small palace indeed; it was with difficulty that
he spied in the semidarkness an empty seat in a side section. A fat
lady and a fatter man, in the seats nearest the aisle, obligingly
moved over rather than risk any attempt to squeeze by.

Beyond them, as he took the end seat, Pringle was dimly aware of a
girl who looked at him rather attentively.

He turned his mind to the screen, where a natty and noble young man,
with a chin, bit off his words distinctly and smote his extended palm
with folded gloves to emphasize the remarks he was making to a far
less natty man with black mustaches. John Wesley rightly concluded
that this second man, who gnashed his teeth so convincingly, and at
whom an incredibly beautiful young lady looked with haughty disdain,
was the villain, and foiled.

The blond and shaven hero, with a magnificent gesture, motioned the
villain to begone! That baffled person, after waiting long enough to
register despair, spread his fingers across his brow and be-went; the
hero turned, held out his arms; the scornful young beauty crept into
them. Click! On the screen appeared a scroll:

Keep Your Seats. Two Minutes to Change
Reels.

The lights were turned on. Pringle looked at the crowd - girls,
grandmas, mothers with their families, many boys, and few men;
Americans, Mexicans, well-dressed folk and roughly dressed, all
together. Many were leaving; among them Pringle's fat and obliging
neighbors rose with a pleasant: "Excuse me, please!"

A stream of newcomers trickled in through the door. As Pringle sat
down the lights were dimmed again. Simultaneously the girl he had
noticed beyond the fat couple moved over to the seat next to his own.
Pringle did not look at her; and a little later he felt a hand on his
sleeve.

"Tut, tut!" said Pringle in a tolerant undertone. "Why, chicken,
you're not trying to get gay with your old Uncle Dudley, are you?"

"John Wesley Pringle!" came the answer in a furious whisper, each
indignant word a missile. "How dare you! How dare you speak to me like
that?"

"What!" said Pringle, peering. "What! Stella Vorhis! I can hardly
believe it!"

"But it's oh-so-true!" said Stella, rising. "Let's go - we can't talk
here."

"That was one awful break I made. I most sincerely and humbly beg your
pardon," Pringle said on the sidewalk.

Stella laughed.

"That's all right - I understand - forget it! You hadn't looked at me.
But I knew you when you first came in - only I wasn't sure till the
lights were turned on. Of course it would be great fun to tease
you - pretend to be shocked and dreadfully angry, and all that - but
I haven't got time. And oh, John Wesley, I'm so delighted to see you
again! Let's go over to the park. Not but what I was dreadfully angry,
sure enough, until I had a second to think. Why don't you say you're
glad to see me - after five years?"

"Stella! You know I am. Six years, please. But I thought you were
still in Prescott?"

"We came here three years ago. Here's a bench. Now tell it to me!"

But Pringle stood beside and looked down at her without speech, with
a smile unexpected from a face so lean, so brown, so year-bitten and
iron-hard - a smile which happily changed that face, and softened it.

The girl's eyes danced at him.

"I'm so glad you've come, John Wesley! Good old Wes!"

"So I am - both those little things. Six years!" he said slowly. "Dear
me - dear both of us! That will make you twenty-five. You don't look a
day over twenty-four! But you're still Stella Vorhis?"

She met his gaze gravely; then her lids drooped and a wave of red
flushed her face.

"I am Stella Vorhis - yet."

"Meaning - for a little while yet?"

"Meaning, for a little while yet. That will come later, John Wesley.
Oh, I'll tell you, but not just now. You tell about John Wesley,
first - and remember, anything you say may be used against you. Where
have you been? Were you dead? Why didn't you write? Has the world
used you well? Sit down, Mr. John Wesley Also-Ran Pringle, and give an
account of yourself!"

He sat beside her: she laid her hand across his gnarled brown fingers
with an unconscious caress.

"It's good to see you, old-timer! Begin now - I, John Wesley Pringle,
am come from going to and fro upon the earth and from walking up and
down in it. But I didn't ask you where you were living. Perhaps you
have a - home of your own now."

John Wesley firmly lifted her slim fingers from his hand and as firmly
deposited them in her lap.

"Kindly keep your hands to yourself, young woman," he said with
stately dignity.

"Here is an exact account of all my time since I saw you: I have been
hungry, thirsty, sleepy, tired. To remedy these evils, upon expert
advice I have eaten, drunk, slept, and rested. I have worked and
played, been dull and gay, busy and idle, foolish and unwise.
That's all. Oh, yes - I'm living in Rainbow Mountain; cattle. Two
pardners - nice boys but educated. Had another one; he's married now,
poor dear - and just as happy as if he had some sense."

"You're not?"

"Not what - happy or married?"

"Married, silly!"

"And I'm not. Now it's your turn. Where do you live? Here in town?"

"Oh, no. Dad's got a farm twenty miles up the river and a ranch out
on the flat. I just came down on the morning train to do a little
shopping and go back on the four-forty-eight - and I'll have to be
starting soon. You'll walk down to the station with me?"

"But the sad story of your life?" objected Pringle.

"Oh, I'll tell you that by installments. You're to make us a long,
long visit, you know - just as long as you can stay. You're horseback,
of course? Well, then, ride up to-night. Ask for Aden Station. We live
just beyond there."

"But the Major was a very hostile major when I saw him last."

"Oh, father's got all over that. He hadn't heard your side of it then.
He often speaks of you now and he'll be glad to see you."

"To-morrow, then. My horse is tired - I'll stay here to-night."

"You'll find dad changed," said the girl. "This is the first time in
his life he has ever been at ease about money matters. He's really
quite well-to-do."

"That's good. I'm doing well in that line too. I forgot to tell you."
There was no elation in his voice; he looked back with a pang to the
bold and splendid years of their poverty. "Then the Major will quit
wandering round like a lost cat, won't he?"

"I think he likes it here - only for the crazy-mad political feeling;
and I think he's settled down for good."

"High time, I think, at his age."

"You needn't talk! Dad's only ten years older than you are." She
leaned her cheek on her hand, she brushed back a little stray tendril
of midnight hair from her dark eyes, and considered him thoughtfully.
"Why, John Wesley, I've known you nearly all my life and you don't
look much older now than when I first saw you."

"That was in Virginia City. You were just six years old and your pony
ran away with you. We were great old chums for a month or so. The next
time I saw you was - "

"At Bakersfield - at mother's funeral," said the girl softly. "Then you
came to Prescott, and you had lost your thumb in the meantime; and I
was Little Next Door to you - "

"And Prescott and me, we agreed it was best for both of us that I
should go away."

"Yes; and when you came back you were going to stay. Why didn't you
stay, John Wesley?"

"I think," said Pringle reflectively, "that I have forgotten that."

"Do you know, John Wesley, I have never been back to any place we have
left once? And of all the people I have ever known, you are the only
one I have ever lost track of and found again. And you're always just
the same old John Wesley; always gay and cheerful; nearly always in
trouble; always strong and resourceful - "

"How true!" said Pringle. "Yes, yes; go on!"

"Well, you are! And you're so - so reliable; like Faithful John in the
fairy story. You're different from anyone else I know. You're a good
boy; when you are grown up you shall have a yoke of oxen, over and
above your wages."

"This is very gratifying indeed," observed Pringle. "But - a sweetly
solemn thought comes to me. You were going to tell me about another
boy - the onliest little boy?"

"He's not a boy," said Stella, flushing hotly. "He's a man - a man's
man. You'll like him, John Wesley - he's just your kind. I'm not going
to tell you. You'll see him at our house, with the others. And he'll
be the very one you'd pick out for me yourself. Of course you'll want
to tease me by pretending to guess someone else; but you'll know which
one he is, without me telling you. He stands out apart from all other
men in every way. Come on, John Wesley - it's time to go down to the
station."

Pringle caught step with her.

"And how long - if a reliable old faithful John may ask - before you
become Stella Some-One-Else?"

"At Christmas. And I am a very lucky girl, John. What an absurd
convention it is that people are never supposed to congratulate the
girl - as if no man was ever worth having! Silly, isn't it?"

"Very silly. But then, it's a silly world."

"A delightful world," said Stella, her eyes sparkling. "You don't know
how happy I am. Or perhaps you do know. Tell me honestly, did you ever
l - like anyone, this way?"

"I refuse to answer, by advice of counsel," said John Wesley. "I'll
say this much, though. X marks no spot where any Annie Laurie gave me
her promise true."

When the train had gone John Wesley wandered disconsolately back
to his hotel and rested his elbows on the bar. The white-aproned
attendant hastened to serve him.

"What will it be, sir?"

"Give me a gin pitfall," said John Wesley.




Chapter II


"Cold feet?"

"Horrible!" said Anastacio.

Matthew Lisner, sheriff of Dona Ana, bent a hard eye on his
subordinate.


"It's got to be done," he urged. "To elect our ticket we must have
all the respectable and responsible people of the valley. If we can
provoke Foy into an outbreak - - "

"Not we - you," corrected Anastacio. "Myself, I do not feel provoking."

"Are you going to lay down on me?"

"If you care to put it that way - yes. Kit Foy is just the man to leave
alone."

"Now, listen!" said the sheriff impatiently. "Half the valley is owned
by newcomers, men of substance, who, with the votes they influence
or control, will decide the election. Foy is half a hero with them,
because of these vague old stories. But let him be stirred up to
violence now and you'll see! They won't see any romance in it - just an
open outrage; they will flock to us to the last man. Ours is the party
of law and order - "

"Law _to_ order, some say."

The veins swelled in the sheriff's heavy face and thick neck; he
regarded his deputy darkly.

"That comes well from you, Barela! Don't you see, with the law on our
side all these men of substance will be with us unconditionally?
I tell you, Christopher Foy is the brains of his party. Once he is
discredited - "

"And I tell you that I am the brains of your party and I'll have
nothing to do with your fine plan. 'Tis an old stratagem to call
oppression, law, and resistance to oppression, lawlessness. You tried
just that in ninety-six, didn't you? And I never could hear that our
side had any the best of it or that the good name of Dona Ana was in
any way bettered by our wars. Come, Mr. Lisner - the Kingdom of Lady
Ann has been quiet now for nearly eight years. Let us leave it so. For
myself, the last row brought me reputation and place, made me chief
deputy under two sheriffs - so I need have the less hesitation in
setting forth my passionate preference for peace."

"You have as much to gain as I have," growled the sheriff. "Besides
your own cinch, you have one of your _gente_ for deputy in every
precinct in the county."

"Exactly! And if we have wars again, who but the Barelas would bear
the brunt? No, no, Mr. Matt Lisner; while I may be a merely ornamental
chief deputy, it will never be denied that I am a very careful chief
to my _gente_. Be sure that I shall think more than once or twice
before I set a man of my men at a useless hazard to pleasure you - or
to reëlect you."

"You speak plainly."

"I intend to. I speak for three hundred - and we vote solid. Make no
mistake, Mr. Lisner. You need me in your business, but I can do nicely
without you."

"Perhaps you'd like to be sheriff yourself."

"I might like it - except that I am not as young and foolish as I was,"
said Anastacio, smiling. "Now that I am so old, and so wise and all,
it is clear to see that neither myself nor any of the fighting men of
the mad old days - on either side - should be sheriff."

"You were not always so thoughtful of the best interests of the dear
pee-pul," sneered the sheriff.

"That I wasn't. I was as silly and hot-brained a fool as either side
could boast. But you, Sheriff, are neither silly nor hot-headed. In
cold blood you are planning that men shall die; that other men shall
rot in prison. Why? For hate and revenge? Not even that. Oh, a little
spice of revenge, perhaps; Foy and his friends made you something of
a laughing stock. But your main motive is - money. And I don't see why.
You've got all the money any one man needs now."

"I notice you get your share."

"I hope so. But, even as a money-making proposition, your
troubled-voters policy is a mistake. All the mountain men want is to
be let alone, and you might be sheriff for life for all they care. But
you fan up every little bicker into a lawsuit - don't I know? Just for
the mileage - ten cents a mile each way in a county that's jam full of
miles from one edge to the other; ten cents a mile each way for
each and every arrest and subpoena. You drag them to court twice a
year - the farmer at seed time and harvest, the cowman from the spring
and fall round-ups. It hurts, it cripples them, they ride thirty
miles to vote against you; it costs you all the extra mileage money to
offset their votes. As a final folly, you purpose deliberately to stir
up the old factions. What was it Napoleon said? 'It is worse than
a crime: it is a blunder.' I'll tell you now, not a Barela nor an
Ascarate shall stir a foot in such a quarrel. If you want to bait Kit
Foy, do it yourself - or set your city police on him."

"I will."

A faint tinge of color came to the clear olive of Anastacio's cheek as
he rose.

"But don't promise my place to any of them, sheriff. I might hear of
it."

"Stranger," said Ben Creagan, "you can't play pool! I can't - and I
beat you four straight games. You better toddle your little trotters
off to bed." The words alone might have been mere playfulness; glance
and tone made plain the purposed offense.

The after-supper crowd in the hotel barroom had suddenly slipped away,
leaving Max Barkeep, three others, and John Wesley Pringle - the last
not unnoting of nudge and whisper attending the exodus. Since that,
Pringle had suffered, unprotesting, more gratuitous insults than
he had met in all the rest of his stormy years. His curiosity was
aroused; he played the stupid, unseeing, patient, and timid person he
was so eminently not. Plainly these people desired his absence; and
Pringle highly resolved to know why. He now blinked mildly.

"But I'm not sleepy a-tall," he objected.

He tried and missed an easy shot; he chalked his cue with assiduous
care.

"Here, you! Quit knockin' those balls round!" bawled Max, the
bartender. "What you think this is - a kindergarten?"

"Why, I paid for all the games I lost, didn't I?" asked Pringle, much
abashed.

He mopped his face. It was warm, though the windows and doors were
open.

"Well, nobody's going to play any more with you," snapped Max. "You
bore 'em."

He pyramided the balls and covered the table. With a sad and lingering
backward look Pringle slouched abjectly through the wide-arched
doorway to the bar.

"Come on, fellers - have something."

"Naw!" snarled José Espalin. "I'm a-tryin' to theenk. Shut up, won't
you?"

Pringle sighed patiently at the rebuff and stole a timid glance at the
thinker. Espalin was a lean little, dried-up manikin, with legs,
arms, and mustaches disproportionately long for his dwarfish body. His
black, wiry hair hung in ragged witchlocks; his black pin-point eyes
were glittering, cold, and venomous. He looked, thought Pringle, very
much like a spider.

"I'm steerin' you right, old man," said Creagan. "You'd better drag it
for bed."

"I ain't sleepy, I tell you."

Espalin leaped up, snarling.

"Say! You lukeing for troubles, maybe? Bell, I theenk thees _hombre_
got a gun. Shall we freesk him?"

As he flung the query over his shoulder his beady little eyes did not
leave Pringle's.

Bell Applegate got leisurely to his feet - a tall man, well set up,
with a smooth-shaved, florid face and red hair.

"If he has we'll jack him in the jug." He threw back the lapel of his
coat, displaying a silver star.

"But I ain't got no gun," protested John Wesley meekly. "You-all can
see for yourself."

"We will - don't worry! Don't you make one wrong move or I'll put out
your light!"

"Be you the sheriff?"

"Police. Go to him, Ben!"

"No gun," reported Ben after a swift search of the shrinking captive.

"I done told you so, didn't I?"

"Mighty good thing for you, old rooster. Gun-toting is strictly barred
in Las Uvas. You got to take your gun off fifteen minutes after you
get in from the road and you can't put it on till fifteen minutes
before you take the road again."

"Is that - er - police regulations or state law?"

"State law - and has been any time these twenty-five years. Say, you
doddering old fool, what do you think this is - a night school?"

"I - I guess I'll go to bed," said Pringle miserably.

"I - I guess if you come back I'll throw you out," mimicked Ben with a
guffaw.

Pringle made no answer. He shuffled into the hall and up the stairway
to his bedroom. He unlocked the door noisily; he opened it noisily;
he took his sixshooter and belt from the wall quietly and closed the
door, noisily again; he locked it - from the outside. Then he did a
curious thing; he sat down very gently and removed his boots.

* * * * *

The four in the barroom listened, grinning. When they heard Pringle's
door slam shut Bell Applegate nodded and Creagan went out on the
street. Behind him, at a table near the pool-room door, the law
planned ways and means in a slinking undertone. "You keep in the
background, Joe. Let us do the talking. Foy just naturally despises
you - we might not get him to stay the fifteen minutes out. You stay
back there. Remember now, don't shoot till Ben lets him get his arm
loose. _Sabe_?"

"Maybe Meester Ben don't find heem."

"Oh, yes, he will. Ditch meeting to-night. Ought to be out about now.
Setting the time to use the water and assessing _fatiga_ work. Every
last man with a water right will be there, sure, and Foy's got a
dozen. Max, you are to be a witness, remember, and you mustn't be
mixed up in it. Got your story straight?"

"Foy he comes in and makes a war-talk about Dick Marr," recited Max.
"After we powwow awhile you see his gun. You tell him he's under
arrest for carryin' concealed weapons. You and Ben grabbed his arm; he
jerked loose and went after his gun. And then Joe shot him."

"That's it. We'll all stick to that. S-st! Here they come!"

There are men whose faces stand out in a crowd, men you turn to look
after on the street. Such - quite apart from his sprightly past - was
Christopher Foy, who now entered with Creagan. He was about thirty,
above middle height, every mold and line of him slender and fine and
strong. His face was resolute, vivacious, intelligent; his eyes were
large and brown, pleasant and fearless. A wide black hat, pushed back
now, showed a broad forehead white against crisp coal-black hair and
the pleasant tan of neck and cheek. But it was not his dark, forceful


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Online LibraryEugene Manlove RhodesThe Desire of the Moth; and the Come On → online text (page 1 of 9)