Light of the Western Stars

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Author: Zane Grey

XVIII Bonita

Florence’s story of the lost mine fired Madeline’s guests with the fever for gold-hunting. But after they had tried it a few times and the glamour of the thing wore off they gave up and remained in camp. Having exhausted all the resources of the mountain, such that had interest for them, they settled quietly down for a rest, which Madeline knew would soon end in a desire for civilized comforts. They were almost tired of roughing it. Helen’s discontent manifested itself in her remark, "I guess nothing is going to happen, after all."

Madeline awaited their pleasure in regard to the breaking of camp; and meanwhile, as none of them cared for more exertion, she took her walks without them, sometimes accompanied by one of the cowboys, always by the stag-hounds. These walks furnished her exceeding pleasure. And, now that the cowboys would talk to her without reserve, she grew fonder of listening to their simple stories. The more she knew of them the more she doubted the wisdom of shut-in lives. Companionship with Nels and most of the cowboys was in its effect like that of the rugged pines and crags and the untainted wind. Humor, their predominant trait when a person grew to know them, saved Madeline from finding their hardness trying. They were dreamers, as all men who lived lonely lives in the wilds were dreamers.

The cowboys all had secrets. Madeline learned some of them. She marveled most at the strange way in which they hid emotions, except of violence of mirth and temper so easily aroused. It was all the more remarkable in view of the fact that they felt intensely over little things to which men of the world were blind and dead. Madeline had to believe that a hard and perilous life in a barren and wild country developed great principles in men. Living close to earth, under the cold, bleak peaks, on the dust-veiled desert, men grew like the nature that developed them- -hard, fierce, terrible, perhaps, but big—big with elemental force.

But one day, while out walking alone, before she realized it she had gone a long way down a dim trail winding among the rocks. It was the middle of a summer afternoon, and all about her were shadows of the crags crossing the sunlit patches. The quiet was undisturbed. She went on and on, not blind to the fact that she was perhaps going too far from camp, but risking it because she was sure of her way back, and enjoying the wild, craggy recesses that were new to her. Finally she came out upon a bank that broke abruptly into a beautiful little glade. Here she sat down to rest before undertaking the return trip.

Suddenly Russ, the keener of the stag-hounds, raised his head and growled. Madeline feared he might have scented a mountain-lion or wildcat. She quieted him and carefully looked around. To each side was an irregular line of massive blocks of stone that had weathered from the crags. The little glade was open and grassy, with here a pine-tree, there a boulder. The outlet seemed to go down into a wilderness of canons and ridges. Looking in this direction, Madeline saw the slight, dark figure of a woman coming stealthily along under the pines. Madeline was amazed, then a little frightened, for that stealthy walk from tree to tree was suggestive of secrecy, if nothing worse.

Presently the woman was joined by a tall man who carried a package, which he gave to her. They came on up the glade and appeared to be talking earnestly. In another moment Madeline recognized Stewart. She had no greater feeling of surprise than had at first been hers. But for the next moment she scarcely thought at all—merely watched the couple approaching. In a flash came back her former curiosity as to Stewart’s strange absences from camp, and then with the return of her doubt of him the recognition of the woman. The small, dark head, the brown face, the big eyes—Madeline now saw distinctly—belonged to the Mexican girl Bonita. Stewart had met her there. This was the secret of his lonely trips, taken ever since he had come to work for Madeline. This secluded glade was a rendezvous. He had her hidden there.

Quietly Madeline arose, with a gesture to the dogs, and went back along the trail toward camp. Succeeding her surprise was a feeling of sorrow that Stewart’s regeneration had not been complete. Sorrow gave place to insufferable distrust that while she had been romancing about this cowboy, dreaming of her good influence over him, he had been merely base. Somehow it stung her. Stewart had been nothing to her, she thought, yet she had been proud of him. She tried to revolve the thing, to be fair to him, when every instinctive tendency was to expel him, and all pertaining to him, from her thoughts. And her effort at sympathy, at extenuation, failed utterly before her pride. Exerting her will-power, she dismissed Stewart from her mind.

Madeline did not think of him again till late that afternoon, when, as she was leaving her tent to join several of her guests, Stewart appeared suddenly in her path.

"Miss Hammond, I saw your tracks down the trail," he began, eagerly, but his tone was easy and natural. "I’m thinking—well, maybe you sure got the idea—"

"I do not wish for an explanation," interrupted Madeline.

Stewart gave a slight start. His manner had a semblance of the old, cool audacity. As he looked down at her it subtly changed.

What effrontery, Madeline thought, to face her before her guests with an explanation of his conduct! Suddenly she felt an inward flash of fire that was pain, so strange, so incomprehensible, that her mind whirled. Then anger possessed her, not at Stewart, but at herself, that anything could rouse in her a raw emotion. She stood there, outwardly cold, serene, with level, haughty eyes upon Stewart; but inwardly she was burning with rage and shame.

"I’m sure not going to have you think—" He began passionately, but he broke off, and a slow, dull crimson blotted over the healthy red-brown of his neck and cheeks.

"What you do or think, Stewart, is no concern of mine."

"Miss—Miss Hammond! You don’t believe—" faltered Stewart.

The crimson receded from his face, leaving it pale. His eyes were appealing. They had a kind of timid look that struck Madeline even in her anger. There was something boyish about him then. He took a step forward and reached out with his hand open-palmed in a gesture that was humble, yet held a certain dignity.

"But listen. Never mind now what you—you think about me. There’s a good reason—"

"I have no wish to hear your reason."

"But you ought to," he persisted.

"Sir!"

Stewart underwent another swift change. He started violently. A dark tide shaded his face and a glitter leaped to his eyes. He took two long strides—loomed over her.

"I’m not thinking about myself," he thundered. "Will you listen?"

"No," she replied; and there was freezing hauteur in her voice. With a slight gesture of dismissal, unmistakable in its finality, she turned her back upon him. Then she joined her guests.

Stewart stood perfectly motionless. Then slowly he began to lift his right hand in which he held his sombrero. He swept it up and up high over his head. His tall form towered. With fierce suddenness he flung his sombrero down. He leaped at his black horse and dragged him to where his saddle lay. With one pitch he tossed the saddle upon the horse’s back. His strong hands flashed at girths and straps. Every action was swift, decisive, fierce. Bounding for his bridle, which hung over a bush, he ran against a cowboy who awkwardly tried to avoid the onslaught.

"Get out of my way!" he yelled.

Then with the same savage haste he adjusted the bridle on his horse.

"Mebbe you better hold on a minnit, Gene, ole feller," said Monty Price.

"Monty, do you want me to brain you?" said Stewart, with the short, hard ring in his voice.

"Now, considerin’ the high class of my brains, I oughter be real careful to keep ’em," replied Monty. "You can betcher life, Gene, I ain’t goin’ to git in front of you. But I jest says— Listen!"

Stewart raised his dark face. Everybody listened. And everybody heard the rapid beat of a horse’s hoofs. The sun had set, but the park was light. Nels appeared down the trail, and his horse was running. In another moment he was in the circle, pulling his bay back to a sliding halt. He leaped off abreast of Stewart.

Madeline saw and felt a difference in Nels’s presence.

"What’s up, Gene?" he queried, sharply.

"I’m leaving camp," replied Stewart, thickly. His black horse began to stamp as Stewart grasped bridle and mane and kicked the stirrup round.

Nels’s long arm shot out, and his hand fell upon Stewart, holding him down.

"Shore I’m sorry," said Nels, slowly. "Then you was goin’ to hit the trail?"

"I am going to. Let go, Nels."

"Shore you ain’t goin’, Gene?"

"Let go, damn you!" cried Stewart, as he wrestled free.

"What’s wrong?" asked Nels, lifting his hand again.

"Man! Don’t touch me!"

Nels stepped back instantly. He seemed to become aware of Stewart’s white, wild passion. Again Stewart moved to mount.

"Nels, don’t make me forget we’ve been friends," he said.

"Shore I ain’t fergettin’," replied Nels. "An’ I resign my job right here an’ now!"

His strange speech checked the mounting cowboy. Stewart stepped down from the stirrup. Then their hard faces were still and cold while their eyes locked glances.

Madeline was as much startled by Nels’s speech as Stewart. Quick to note a change in these men, she now sensed one that was unfathomable.

"Resign?" questioned Stewart.

"Shore. What ’d you think I’d do under circumstances sich as has come up?"

"But see here, Nels, I won’t stand for it."

"You’re not my boss no more, an’ I ain’t beholdin’ to Miss Hammond, neither. I’m my own boss, an’ I’ll do as I please. Sabe, senor?"

Nels’s words were at variance with the meaning in his face.

"Gene, you sent me on a little scout down in the mountains, didn’t you?" he continued.

"Yes, I did," replied Stewart, with a new sharpness in his voice.

"Wal, shore you was so good an’ right in your figgerin’, as opposed to mine, that I’m sick with admirin’ of you. If you hedn’t sent me—wal, I’m reckonin’ somethin’ might hev happened. As it is we’re shore up against a hell of a proposition!"

How significant was the effect of his words upon all the cowboys! Stewart made a fierce and violent motion, terrible where his other motions had been but passionate. Monty leaped straight up into the air in a singular action as suggestive of surprise as it was of wild acceptance of menace. Like a stalking giant Nick Steele strode over to Nels and Stewart. The other cowboys rose silently, without a word.

Madeline and her guests, in a little group, watched and listened, unable to divine what all this strange talk and action meant.

"Hold on, Nels, they don’t need to hear it," said Stewart, hoarsely, as he waved a hand toward Madeline’s silent group.

"Wal, I’m sorry, but I reckon they’d as well know fust as last. Mebbe thet yearnin’ wish of Miss Helen’s fer somethin’ to happen will come true. Shore I—"

"Cut out the joshin’," rang out Monty’s strident voice.

It had as decided an effect as any preceding words or action. Perhaps it was the last thing needed to transform these men, doing unaccustomed duty as escorts of beautiful women, to their natural state as men of the wild.

"Tell us what’s what," said Stewart, cool and grim. "Don Carlos an’ his guerrillas are campin’ on the trails thet lead up here. They’ve got them trails blocked. By to-morrer they’d hed us corralled. Mebbe they meant to surprise us. He’s got a lot of Greasers an’ outlaws. They’re well armed. Now what do they mean? You-all can figger it out to suit yourselves. Mebbe the Don wants to pay a sociable call on our ladies. Mebbe his gang is some hungry, as usual. Mebbe they want to steal a few hosses, or anythin’ they can lay hands on. Mebbe they mean wuss, too. Now my idee is this, an’ mebbe it’s wrong. I long since separated from love with Greasers. Thet black-faced Don Carlos has got a deep game. Thet two-bit of a revolution is hevin’ hard times. The rebels want American intervention. They’d stretch any point to make trouble. We’re only ten miles from the border. Suppose them guerrillas got our crowd across thet border? The U. S. cavalry would foller. You-all know what thet’d mean. Mebbe Don Carlos’s mind works thet way. Mebbe it don’t. I reckon we’ll know soon. An’ now, Stewart, whatever the Don’s game is, shore you’re the man to outfigger him. Mebbe it’s just as well you’re good an’ mad about somethin’. An’ I resign my job because I want to feel unbeholdin’ to anybody. Shore it struck me long since thet the old days hed come back fer a little spell, an’ there I was trailin’ a promise not to hurt any Greaser."

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Chicago: Zane Grey, "XVIII Bonita," Light of the Western Stars, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Light of the Western Stars (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913), Original Sources, accessed February 7, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8PJ2B8LN179291F.

MLA: Grey, Zane. "XVIII Bonita." Light of the Western Stars, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Light of the Western Stars, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913, Original Sources. 7 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8PJ2B8LN179291F.

Harvard: Grey, Z, 'XVIII Bonita' in Light of the Western Stars, ed. . cited in 1913, Light of the Western Stars, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 7 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8PJ2B8LN179291F.