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Title: Wanderer of the Wasteland
Author: Grey, Zane
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND


[Illustration]


      *      *      *      *      *      *

BOOKS BY ZANE GREY


  WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND
  TALES OF LONELY TRAILS
  TO THE LAST MAN
  THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER
  THE MAN OF THE FOREST
  TALES OF FISHES
  THE DESERT OF WHEAT
  THE U. P. TRAIL
  WILDFIRE
  THE BORDER LEGION
  THE RAINBOW TRAIL
  THE LONE STAR RANGER
  THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS
  DESERT GOLD
  THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT
  RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
  THE YOUNG FORESTER
  THE YOUNG PITCHER
  THE YOUNG LION HUNTER
  KEN WARD IN THE JUNGLE


THE MUSSON BOOK COMPANY, LTD.

_Publishers_

      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: THE GIRL’S RED LIPS CURLED IN POUTED SCORN]


WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND

by

ZANE GREY

Author of
“The Man of the Forest,” “To the Last Man,”
“Riders of the Purple Sage,” Etc.

With Illustrations by W. Herbert Dunton


[Illustration]



Toronto: the Musson Book Company Ltd.
New York:           Harper & Brothers

WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND

Copyright, Canada, 1923
by the Musson Book Company, Ltd.
Printed in Canada



  Dedicated to my wife

  LINA ELISE GREY

  Without whose love, faith, spirit
  and help I never could have
  written this novel

                        ZANE GREY



CONTENTS


                            PAGE
  CHAPTER I                    1

  CHAPTER II                  11

  CHAPTER III                 18

  CHAPTER IV                  27

  CHAPTER V                   39

  CHAPTER VI                  52

  CHAPTER VII                 64

  CHAPTER VIII                79

  CHAPTER IX                  92

  CHAPTER X                  102

  CHAPTER XI                 118

  CHAPTER XII                134

  CHAPTER XIII               151

  CHAPTER XIV                156

  CHAPTER XV                 172

  CHAPTER XVI                195

  CHAPTER XVII               212

  CHAPTER XVIII              231

  CHAPTER XIX                252

  CHAPTER XX                 262

  CHAPTER XXI                285

  CHAPTER XXII               295

  CHAPTER XXIII              309

  CHAPTER XXIV               329

  CHAPTER XXV                348

  CHAPTER XXVI               358

  CHAPTER XXVII              370

  CHAPTER XXVIII             393

  CHAPTER XXIX               403

  CHAPTER XXX                413



ILLUSTRATIONS


  THE GIRL’S RED LIPS CURLED IN POUTED SCORN            _Frontispiece_

  THEN THE GUN BOOMED WITH MUFFLED REPORT--AND GUERD LAREY,
      UTTERING A CRY OF AGONY, FELL AWAY FROM ADAM                  58

  BUT AT LENGTH THE BURDEN OF A HEAVY WEIGHT, AND THE DRAGGING
      SAND, AND THE HOT SUN BROUGHT ADAM TO A PASS WHERE REST
      WAS IMPERATIVE                                               172



WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND



CHAPTER I


Adam Larey gazed with hard and wondering eyes down the silent current
of the red river upon which he meant to drift away into the desert.

The Rio Colorado was no river to trust. It chafed at its banks as if
to engulf them; muddy and thick it swirled and glided along in flood,
sweeping in curves back and forth from Arizona to California shore.
Majestic and gleaming under the hot sky, it swung southward between
wide green borders of willow and cottonwood toward a stark and naked
upflung wilderness of mountain peaks, the red ramparts of the unknown
and trackless desert.

Adam rushed down the bank and threw his pack into a boat. There his
rapid action seemed checked by the same violence that had inspired his
haste. He looked back, up at the dusty adobe town of Ehrenberg, asleep
now under the glaring noonday heat. It would not wake out of that
siesta till the return of the weary gold diggers, or the arrival of the
stagecoach or the steamer. A tall Indian, swarthy and unkempt, stood
motionless in the shade of a wall, watching stolidly.

Adam broke down then. Sobs made his utterance incoherent. “Guerd is
no brother--of mine--any more!” he burst out. His accent was one of
humiliation and cheated love. “And as for--for _her_--I’ll never--never
think of her--again.”

When once more he turned to the river, a spirit wrestled with the
emotion that had unnerved him. Adam Larey appeared to be a boy of
eighteen, with darkly tanned, clear-cut, and comely face, and a
lofty stature, straight and spare and wide. Untying the boat from
its mooring, he became conscious of a singular thrill. Sight of the
silent river fascinated him. If it had been drink that had fortified
his reckless resolve, it was some strange call to the wildness in him
that had stirred exaltation in the prospect of adventure. But there
was more. Never again to be dominated by that selfish Guerd, his
brother who had taken all and given nothing! Guerd would be stung by
this desertion. Perhaps he would be sorry. That thought gave Adam a
pang. Long habit of being influenced, and strength of love fostered in
playmate days, these made him waver. But the tide of resentment surged
up once more; and there flowed the red Colorado, rolling away to the
southwest, a gateway to the illimitable wastes of desert land, with its
mystery, its adventure, its gold and alluring freedom.

“I’ll go,” he declared, passionately, and with a shove he sent the boat
adrift and leaped over the bow to the rowing seat. The boat floated
lazily, half circling, till it edged into the current; then, as if
grasped by unseen power, it glided downstream. Adam seemed to feel the
resistless current of this mysterious river take hold of his heart.
There would be no coming back--no breasting that mighty flood with puny
oars. The moment was sudden and poignant in its revelation. How swiftly
receded the cluster of brown adobe huts, the somber, motionless Indian!
He had left Ehrenberg behind, and a brother who was his only near
relative, and a little sum of love that had failed him.

“I’m done with Guerd forever,” he muttered, looking back with hard dry
eyes. “It’s his fault. Mother always warned me.... Ah! if she had lived
I would still be home. Home! and not here--in this awful desert of heat
and wastelands--among men like wolves and women like....”

He did not finish the thought, but from his pack he took a bottle that
glittered in the sunlight, and, waving it defiantly at the backward
scene of glare and dust and lonely habitation, he drank deeply. Then he
flung the bottle from him with a violent gesture of repulsion. He had
no love for strong drink. The bottle fell with hollow splash, rode the
muddy swirls, and sank. Whereupon Adam applied himself to the oars with
long and powerful sweep.

       *       *       *       *       *

In that moment of bitter soliloquy there had flashed through Adam
Larey’s mind memories and pictures of the past--the old homestead back
East, vivid and unforgetable--the sad face of his mother, who had
loved him as she had never loved his brother Guerd. There had been a
mystery about the father who had died in Adam’s childhood. Adam thought
of these facts now, seeing a vague connection between them and his
presence there alone upon that desert river. When his mother died she
had left all her money to him. But Adam had shared his small fortune
with Guerd. That money had been the beginning of evil days. If it had
not changed Guerd it had awakened slumbering jealousy and passion.
Guerd squandered his share and disgraced himself in the home town.
Then had begun his ceaseless importunity for Adam to leave college, to
see life, to seek adventures, to sail round the Horn to the California
gold fields. Adam had been true to the brother spirit within him and
the voice of the tempter had fallen upon too thrilling ears. Yearning
to be with his brother, and to see wild life upon his own account,
Adam yielded to the importunity. He chose, however, to travel westward
by land. At various points _en route_ Guerd had fallen in with evil
companions, among whom he seemed to feel freer. At Tucson he launched
himself upon the easy and doubtful career of a gambler, which practice
did not spare even his brother. At Ehrenberg, Guerd had found life to
his liking--a mining and outfitting post remote from civilization,
where he made friends compatible with his lately developed tastes,
where he finally filched the favor of dark eyes that had smiled first
upon Adam.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a June sun that burned down upon the Colorado desert and its red
river. Adam Larey had taken to rowing the boat with a powerful energy.
But the fiery liquor he had absorbed and the intense heat beating down
upon him soon prostrated him, half drunk and wholly helpless, upon the
bottom of the leaky boat, now at the mercy of the current.

Strangest of all rivers was the Rio Colorado. Many names it had borne,
though none so fitting and lasting as that which designated its color.
Neither crimson nor scarlet was it, nor any namable shade of red,
yet somehow red was its hue. Like blood with life gone from it! With
its source at high altitude, fed by snow fields and a thousand lakes
and streams, the Colorado stormed its great canyoned confines with a
mighty torrent; and then, spent and leveled, but still tremendous and
insatiate, it bore down across the desert with its burden of silt and
sand. It was silent, it seemed to glide along, yet it was appalling.

The boat that carried Adam Larey might as well have been a rudderless
craft in an ocean current. Slowly round and round it turned, as if
every rod of the river was an eddy, sweeping near one shore and then
the other. The hot hours of the afternoon waned. Sunset was a glaring
blaze without clouds. Cranes and bitterns swept in lumbering flight
over the wide green crests of the bottom lands, and desert buzzards
sailed down from the ruddy sky. The boat drifted on. Before darkness
fell the boat had drifted out of the current into a back eddy, where
slowly it rode round and round, at last to catch hold of the arrowweeds
and lodge in a thicket.

       *       *       *       *       *

At dawn Adam Larey awoke, sober enough, but sick and aching, parched
with thirst. The eastern horizon, rose-flushed and golden, told him of
the advent of another day. He thrilled even in his misery. Scooping
up the muddy and sand-laden water, which was cold and held a taste of
snow, he quenched his thirst and bathed his hot face. Then opening his
pack, he took out food he had been careful to bring.

Then he endeavored to get his bearings. Adam could see by the stain on
the arrowweeds that the flood had subsided a foot during the night.
A reasonable calculation was that he had drifted a good many miles.
“I’ll row till it gets hot, then rest up in a shady place,” he decided.
Pushing away from the weeds, he set the oars and rowed out to meet the
current. As soon as that caught him the motion became exhilarating.
By and by, what with the exercise and the cool breeze of morning on
his face and the sweet, dank smell of river lowlands, he began to wear
off the effects of the liquor and with it the disgust and sense of
unfitness with which it had left him. Then at length gloom faded from
his mind, though a pang abided in his breast. It was not an unfamiliar
sensation. Resolutely he faced that wide traveling river, grateful
for something nameless that seemed borne on its bosom, conscious of
a strange expansion of his soul, ready to see, to hear, to smell, to
feel, to taste the wildness and wonder of freedom as he had dreamed it.

The sun rose, and Adam’s face and hands felt as if some hot material
thing had touched them. He began to sweat, which was all that was
needed to restore his usual healthy feeling of body. From time to time
he saw herons, and other long-legged waterfowl, and snipe flitting over
the sand bars, and somber, gray-hued birds that he could not name. The
spell of river or desert hovered over these birds. The fact brought to
Adam the strange nature of this silence. Like an invisible blanket it
covered all, water and brush and land.

“It’s desert silence,” he said, wonderingly.

When he raised the oars and rested them there seemed absolutely no
sound. And this fact struck him overpoweringly with its meaning and
with a sudden unfamiliar joy. On the gentle wind came a fragrant hot
breath that mingled with the rank odor of flooded bottom lands. The
sun, hot as it was, felt good upon his face and back. He loved the sun
as he hated cold.

“Maybe Guerd’s coaxing me West will turn out well for me,” soliloquized
Adam, with resurging boyish hope. “As the Mexicans say, _Quien sabe?_”

At length he espied a sloping bank where it appeared safe to risk
landing. This was a cove comparatively free of brush and the bank
sloped gradually to the water. The summit of the bank was about forty
or fifty feet high, and before Adam had wholly ascended it he began to
see the bronze tips of mountains on all sides.

“By Jove!” exclaimed Adam. “No sign of man! No sign of life!”

Some distance from the river bank stood a high knoll. Adam climbed to
the top of it, and what he saw here made him yearn for the mountain
peaks. He had never stood at any great elevation. Southward the
Colorado appeared to enter a mountain gateway and to turn and disappear.

When he had refreshed himself with food and drink he settled himself
into a comfortable position to rest and sleep a little while. He had
plucked at the roots of love, but not yet had he torn it from his
heart. Guerd, his brother! The old boyhood days flashed up. Adam
found the pang deep in his heart and ineradicable. The old beautiful
bond, the something warm and intimate between him and Guerd, was gone
forever. For its loss there could be no recompense. He knew every hour
would sever him the farther from this brother who had proved false.
Adam hid his face in the dry grass, and there in the loneliness of that
desert he began to see into the gulf of his soul.

“I can fight--I can forget!” he muttered. Then he set his mind to the
problem of his immediate future. Where would he go? There were two
points below on the river--Picacho, a mining camp, and Yuma, a frontier
town--about both of which he had heard strange, exciting tales. And
at that moment Adam felt a reckless eagerness for adventure, and a
sadness for the retreating of his old dream of successful and useful
life. At length he fell asleep.

When he awoke he felt hot and wet with sweat. A luminous gold light
shone through the willows and there was vivid color in the west. He had
slept hours. When he moved to sit up he heard rustlings in the willows.
These unseen creatures roused interest and caution in Adam. In his
travels across Arizona he had passed through wild places and incidents.
And remembering tales of bad Indians, bad Mexicans, bad white men, and
the fierce beasts and reptiles of the desert, Adam fortified himself to
encounters that must come.

When he stepped out of the shady covert it was to see river and valley
as if encompassed by an immense loneliness, different somehow for the
few hours of his thought and slumber. The river seemed redder and the
mountains veiled in ruby haze. Earth and sky were bathed in the hue of
sunset light.

He descended to the river. Shoving the boat off, he applied himself to
the oars. His strong strokes, aided by the current, sent the boat along
swiftly, perhaps ten miles an hour. The rose faded out of the sky, the
clouds turned drab, the blue deepened, and a pale star shone. Twilight
failed. With the cooling of the air Adam lay back more powerfully
upon the oars. Night fell, and one by one, and then many by many, the
stars came out. This night ride began to be thrilling. There must have
been danger ahead. By night the river seemed vast, hurrying, shadowy,
and silent as the grave. Its silence wore upon Adam until it seemed
unnatural.

As the stars multiplied and brightened, the deep cut where the river
wound changed its character, becoming dark and clear where it had been
gloomily impenetrable. The dim, high outlines of the banks showed,
and above them loomed the black domes of mountains. From time to
time he turned the boat and, resting upon his oars, he drifted with
the current, straining his eyes and ears. These moments of inaction
brought the cold, tingling prickle of skin up and down his back. It was
impossible not to be afraid, yet he thrilled even in his fear. In the
clear obscurity of the night he could see several rods ahead of him
over the gleaming river. But the peril that haunted Adam seemed more
in the distant shadows, round the bends. What a soundless, nameless,
unintelligible river! To be alone on a river like that, so vast, so
strange, with the grand and solemn arch of heaven blazed and clouded
white by stars, taught a lesson incalculable in its effects.

The hour came when an invisible something, like a blight, passed across
the heavens, paling the blue, dimming the starlight. The intense purity
of the sky sustained a dull change, then darkened. Adam welcomed the
first faint gleam of light over the eastern horizon. It brightened.
The wan stars faded. The mountains heightened their clearness of
silhouette, and along the bold, dark outlines appeared a faint rose
color, herald of the sun. It deepened, it spread as the gray light
turned pink and yellow. The shadows lifted from the river valley and it
was day again.

“Always I have slept away the great hour,” said Adam. An exhilaration
uplifted him.

He drifted round a bend in the river while once more eating sparingly
of his food; and suddenly he espied a high column of smoke rising to
the southwest. Whereupon he took the oars again and, having become
rested and encouraged, he rowed with a stroke that would make short
work of the few miles to the camp.

“Picacho!” soliloquized Adam, remembering tales he had heard. “Now what
shall I do?... I’ll work at anything.” He carried a considerable sum of
money in a belt round his waist--the last of the money left him by his
mother, and he wanted to keep it as long as possible.

Adam was not long in reaching the landing, which appeared to be only a
muddy bank. A small, dilapidated stern-wheel steamer, such as Adam had
seen on the Ohio River, lay resting upon the mud. On the bow sat a
gaunt weather-beaten man with a grizzled beard. He held a long crooked
fishing pole out over the water, and evidently was fishing. The bank
sloped up to fine white sand and a dense growth of green, in the middle
of which there appeared to be a narrow lane. Here in a flowing serape
stood a Mexican girl, slender and small, with a single touch of red in
all her darkness of dress.

Adam ran the boat ashore. Lifting his pack, he climbed a narrow bench
of the bank and walked down to a point opposite the fisherman. Adam
greeted him and inquired if this place was Picacho.

“Mornin’, stranger,” came the reply. “Yes, this here’s the gold
diggin’s, an’ she’s hummin’ these days.”

“Catching any fish?” Adam inquired, with interest.

“Yep; I ketched one day before yestiddy,” replied the man, complacently.

“What kind?” went on Adam.

“I’ll be doggoned if I know, but he was good to eat,” answered the
angler, with a grin. “Where you hail from, stranger?”

“Back East.”

“So I reckoned. No Westerner would tackle the Colorado when she was in
flood. I opine you hit the river at Ehrenberg. Wal, you’re lucky. Goin’
to prospect for gold?”

“No, I’d rather work. Can I get a job here?”

“Son, if you’re as straight as you look you can get a good job. But a
husky lad like you, if he stayed sober, could strike it rich in the
diggin’s.”

“How about a place to eat and sleep?”

“Thet ain’t so easy to find up at the camp. It’s a few miles up the
canyon. But say, I’m forgettin’ about the feller who stayed here with
the Mexicans. They jest buried him. You could get his place. It’s the
’dobe house--first one. Ask Margarita, there. She’ll show you.”

Thus directed, Adam saw the Mexican girl standing above him. Climbing
the path to the top of the bank, he threw down his pack.

“_Buenas dias_, señor.” The girl’s soft, liquid accents fitted a dark,
piquant little face, framed by hair as black as the wing of a raven,
and lighted by big eyes, like night.

Adam’s Spanish was not that of the Mexicans, but it enabled him to talk
fairly well. He replied to the girl’s greeting, yet hesitated with the
query he had on his lips. He felt a slight shrinking as these dark
eyes reminded him of others of like allurement which he had willed to
forget. Yet he experienced a warmth and thrill of pleasure in a pretty
face. Women invariably smiled upon Adam. This one, a girl in her teens,
smiled with half-lowered eyes, the more provocative for that; and
she turned partly away with a lithe, quick grace. Adam’s hesitation
had been a sudden chill at the proximity of something feminine and
attractive--of something that had hurt him. But it passed. He had done
more than boldly step across the threshold of a new and freer life.



CHAPTER II


For Adam’s questions Margarita had a shy, “_Si_, señor,” and the same
subtle smile that had attracted him. Whereupon he took up his pack and
followed her.

Back from the river the sand was thick and heavy, clean and white. The
girl led down a path bordered by willows and mesquites which opened
into a clearing where stood several squat adobe houses.

Margarita stopped at the first house. The girl’s mother appeared to be
an indolent person, rather careless of her attire. She greeted Adam in
English, but when he exercised some of his laborsome Spanish her dark
face beamed with smiles that made it pleasant to behold. The little
room indoors, to which she led Adam, was dark, poorly ventilated, and
altogether unsatisfactory. Adam said so. The señora waxed eloquent.
Margarita managed to convey her great disappointment by one swift
look. Then they led him outdoors and round under the low-branching
mesquites, where he had to stoop, to a small structure. The walls were
made of two rows of long slender poles, nailed upon heavier uprights
at the corners, and between these rows had been poured wet adobe mud.
The hut contained two rooms, the closed one full of wood and rubbish,
and the other, which had an open front, like a porch, faced the river.
It was empty, with a floor of white sand. This appeared very much to
Adam’s liking, and he agreed upon a price for it, to the señora’s
satisfaction and Margarita’s shy rapture. Adam saw the latter with
some misgiving, yet he was pleased, and in spite of himself he warmed
toward this pretty señorita who had apparently taken a sudden fancy to
him. He was a stranger in a strange land, with a sore and yearning
heart. While Adam untied his pack and spread out its contents the women
fetched a low bench, a bucket of water, and a basin. These simple
articles constituted the furniture of his new lodgings. He was to get
his meals at the house, where, it was assured, he would be well cared
for. In moving away, Margarita, who was looking back, caught her hair
in a thorny branch of the mesquite. Adam was quick to spring to her
assistance. Then she ran off after her mother.

“What eyes! Well, well!” exclaimed Adam, sensible of a warmth along his
veins. Suddenly at that moment he thought of his brother Guerd. “I’m
glad he’s not here.” Margarita had prompted that thought. Guerd was a
handsome devil, irresistible to women. Adam went back to his unpacking,
conscious of a sobered enthusiasm.

He hung his few clothes and belongings upon the walls, made his bed
of blankets on the sand, and then surveyed the homely habitation with
pleasure.

He found the old fisherman in precisely the same posture. Adam climbed
on board the boat.

“Get any bites?” he queried.

“I believe I jest had one,” replied the fisherman.

Adam saw that he was about fifty years old, lean and dried, with a
wrinkled tanned face and scant beard.

“Have a smoke,” said Adam, proffering one of the last of his cigars.

“Lordy!” ejaculated the fisherman, his eyes lighting. “When have I seen
one of them?... Young man, you’re an obligin’ feller. What’s your name?”

Adam told him, and that he hailed from the East and had been a
tenderfoot for several memorable weeks.

“My handle’s Merryvale,” replied the other. “I came West twenty-eight
years ago when I was about your age. Reckon you’re about twenty.”

“No. Only eighteen. Say, you must have almost seen the old days of
’forty-nine.”

“It was in ’fifty. Yes, I was in the gold rush.”

“Did you strike any gold?” asked Adam, eagerly.

“Son, I was a prospector for twenty years. I’ve made an’ lost more than
one fortune. Drink an’ faro an’ bad women!... And now I’m a broken-down
night watchman at Picacho.”

“I’m sorry,” said Adam, sincerely. “I’ll bet you’ve seen some great old
times. Won’t you tell me about them? You see, I’m foot-loose now and
sort of wild.”

Merryvale nodded sympathetically. He studied Adam with eyes that were
shrewd and penetrating, for all their kindliness. Wherefore Adam talked
frankly about himself and his travels West. Merryvale listened with a
nod now and then.

“Son, I hate to see the likes of you hittin’ this gold diggin’s,” he
said.

“Why? Oh, I can learn to take care of myself. It must be a man’s game.
I’ll love the desert.”

“Wal, son, I oughtn’t discourage you,” replied Merryvale. “An’ it ain’t
fair for me to think because I went wrong, an’ because I seen so many
boys go wrong, thet you’ll do the same.... But this gold diggin’s is a
hell of a place for a tough old timer, let alone a boy runnin’ wild.”

And then he began to talk like a man whose memory was a vast treasure
store of history and adventure and life. Gold had been discovered
at Picacho in 1864. In 1872 the mill was erected near the river,
and the ore was mined five miles up the canyon and hauled down on a
narrow-gauge railroad. The machinery and construction for this great
enterprise, together with all supplies, were brought by San Francisco
steamers round into the Gulf of California, loaded on smaller steamers,
and carried up the Colorado River to Picacho. These steamers also
hauled supplies to Yuma and Ehrenberg, where they were freighted by
wagon trains into the interior. At the present time, 1878, the mine was
paying well and there were between five and six hundred men employed.
The camp was always full of adventurers and gamblers, together with a
few bad women whose capacity for making trouble magnified their number.

“Down here at the boat landin’ an’ the mill it’s always sorta quiet,”
said Merryvale. “You see, there ain’t many men here. An’ the gamblin’
hells are all up at the camp, where, in fact, everybody goes of an
evenin’. Lord knows I’ve bucked the tiger in every gold camp in
California. There’s a fever grips a man. I never seen the good of gold
to the man thet dug it.... So, son, if you’re askin’ me for a hunch,
let me tell you, drink little an’ gamble light an’ fight shy of the
females!”

“Merryvale, I’m more of a tenderfoot than I look, I guess,” replied
Adam. “You’d hardly believe I never drank till I started West a few
months ago. I can’t stand liquor.”

Adam’s face lost its brightness and his eyes shadowed, though they held
frankly to Merryvale’s curious gaze.

“Son, you’re a strappin’ youngster an’ you’ve got looks no woman will
pass by,” said Merryvale. “An’ in this country the preference of women
brings trouble. Wal, for thet matter, all the trouble anywheres is made
by them. But in the desert, where it’s wild an’ hot an’ there’s few
females of any species, the fightin’ gets bloody.”

“Women have been the least of my fights or troubles,” rejoined Adam.
“But lately I had a--a little more serious affair--that ended suddenly
before I fell in deep.”

“Lordy! son, you’ll be a lamb among wolves!” broke in Merryvale. “See
here, I’m goin’ to start you right. This country is no place for a nice
clean boy, more’s the shame and pity. Every man who gets on in the
West, let alone in the desert where the West is magnified, has got to
live up to the standard. He must work, he must endure, he must fight
men, he must measure up to women. I ain’t sayin’ it’s a fine standard,
but it’s the one by which men have survived in a hard country at a hard
time.”

“Survival of the fittest,” muttered Adam, soberly.

“You’ve said it, son. Thet law makes the livin’ things of this desert,
whether man or otherwise. _Quien sabe?_ You can never tell what’s in a
man till he’s tried. Son, I’ve known desert men whose lives were beyond
all understandin.’ But not one man in a thousand can live on the
desert. Thet has to do with his mind first; then his endurance. But to
come back to this here Picacho. I’d not be afraid to back you against
it if you meet it right.”

“How is that?”

“Lordy! son, I wish I could say the right word,” returned Merryvale, in
pathetic earnestness. “You ain’t to be turned back?”

“No. I’m here for better or worse. Back home I had my hopes, my dreams.
They’re gone--vanished.... I’ve no near relatives except a brother
who--who is not my kind. I didn’t want to come West. But I seem to have
been freed from a cage. This grand wild desert! It will do something
wonderful--or terrible with me.”

“Wal, wal, you talk like you look,” replied Merryvale, with a sigh.
“Time was, son, when a hunch of mine might be doubtful. But now I’m
old, an’ as I go down the years I remember more my youth an’ I love it
more. You can trust me.” Then he paused, taking a deep breath, as if
his concluding speech involved somehow his faith in himself and his
good will to a stranger. “Be a man with your body! Don’t shirk work
or play or fight. Eat an’ drink an’ be merry, but don’t live jest for
thet. Lend a helpin’ hand--be generous with your gold. Put aside a
third of your earnin’s for gamblin’ an’ look to lose it. Don’t ever get
drunk. You can’t steer clear of women, good or bad. An’ the only way is
to be game an’ kind an’ square.”

“Game--kind--square,” mused Adam, thoughtfully.

“Wal, I need a new fishin’ line,” said Merryvale, as he pulled in his
rod. “We’ll go up to the store an’ then I’ll take you to the mill.”

While passing the adobe house where Adam had engaged board and lodging
he asked his companion the name of the people.

“Arallanes--Juan Arallanes lives there,” replied Merryvale. “An’ he’s
the whitest greaser I ever seen. He’s a foreman of the Mexicans
employed at the mill. His wife is nice, too. But thet black-eyed hussy
Margarita----”

Merryvale shook his grizzled head, but did not complete his dubious
beginning. The suggestion piqued Adam’s curiosity. Presently Merryvale
pointed out a cluster of huts and cabins and one rather pretentious
stone house, low and square, with windows. Both white- and dark-skinned
children were playing on the sand in the shady places. Idle men lounged
in front of the stone house, which Merryvale said was the store. Upon
entering, Adam saw a complete general store of groceries, merchandise,
hardware, and supplies; and he felt amazed until he remembered how the
river steamers made transportation easy as far as the border of the
desert. Then Merryvale led on to the huge structure of stone and iron
and wood that Adam had espied from far up the river. As Adam drew near
he heard the escape of steam, the roar of heavy machinery, and a sound
that must have been a movement and crushing of ore, with a rush of
flowing water.

Merryvale evidently found the manager, who was a man of medium height,
powerfully built, with an unshaven broad face, strong and ruddy. He
wore a red-flannel shirt, wet with sweat, a gun at his belt, overalls
thrust into cowhide boots; and altogether he looked a rough and
practical miner.

“Mac, shake hands with my young friend here,” said Merryvale. “He wants
a job.”

“Howdy!” replied the other, proffering a big hand that Adam certainly
felt belonged to a man. Also he was aware of one quick all-embracing
glance. “Are you good at figures?”

“Why, yes,” answered Adam, “but I want to work.”

“All right. You can help me in the office where I’m stuck. An’ I’ll
give you outside work, besides. To-morrow.” And with this brusque
promise the manager strode away in a hurry.

“Mac don’t get time to eat,” explained Merryvale.

Adam had to laugh at the incident. Here he had been recommended by a
stranger, engaged to work for a man whose name he had not heard and
who had not asked his, and no mention made of wages. Adam liked this
simplicity. A man must pass in this country for what he was.

Merryvale went his way then, leaving Adam alone. It seemed to Adam,
as he pondered there, that his impressions of that gold mill did not
augur well for a satisfaction with his job. He had no distaste for hard
labor, though to bend over a desk did not appeal to him. Then he turned
his gaze to the river and valley. What a splendid scene! The green
borderland offered soft and relieving contrast to the bare and grisly
ridges upon which he stood. At that distance the river shone red gold,
sweeping through its rugged iron gateway and winding majestically down
the valley to lose itself round a bold bluff.

Adam drew a long breath. A scene like this world of mountain
wilderness, of untrodden ways, was going to take hold of him. And then,
singularly, there flashed into memory an image of the girl, Margarita.
Just then Adam resented thought of her. It was not because she had
made eyes at him--for he had to confess this was pleasing--but because
he did not like the idea of a deep and vague emotion running parallel
in his mind with thought of a roguish and coquettish little girl, of
doubtful yet engaging possibilities.

“I think too much,” declared Adam. It was action he needed. Work, play,
hunting, exploring, even gold digging--anything with change of scene
and movement of muscle--these things that he had instinctively felt to
be the need of his body, now seemed equally the need of his soul.



CHAPTER III


Arallanes, the foreman, did not strike Adam as being typical of
the Mexicans among whom he lived. He was not a little runt of a
swarthy-skinned man, but well built, of a clean olive complexion and
regular features.

After supper Arallanes invited Adam to ride up to the camp. Whereupon
Margarita asked to be taken. Arallanes laughed, and then talked so
fast that Adam could not understand. He gathered, however, that the
empty ore train traveled up the canyon to the camp, there to remain
until morning. Also Adam perceived that Margarita did not get along
well with this man, who was her stepfather. They appeared on the verge
of a quarrel. But the señora spoke a few soft words that worked magic
upon Arallanes, though they did not change the passion of the girl. How
swiftly she had paled! Her black eyes burned with a dusky fire. When
she turned them upon Adam it was certain that he had a new sensation.

“Will not the gracious señor take Margarita to the dance?”

That was how Adam translated her swift, eloquent words. Embarrassed
and hesitating, he felt that he cut a rather sorry figure before her.
Then he realized the singular beauty of her big eyes, sloe black and
brilliant, neither half veiled nor shy now, but bold and wide and
burning, as if the issue at stake was not trivial.

Arallanes put a hand on Adam. “No, señor,” he said. “Some other time
you may take Margarita.”

“I--I shall be pleased,” stammered Adam.

The girl’s red lips curled in pouting scorn, and with a wonderful dusky
flash of eyes she whirled away.

Outside, Arallanes led Adam across the sands, still with that familiar
hand upon him.

“Boy,” he said, in English, “that girl--she no blood of mine. She damn
leetle wild cat--mucha Indian--on fire all time.”

If ever Adam had felt the certainty of his youthful years, it had been
during those last few moments. His collar was hot and tight. A sense
of shock remained with him. He had not fortified himself at all, nor
had he surrendered himself to recklessness. But to think of going to
a dance this very night, in a mining camp, with a dusky-eyed little
Spanish girl who appeared exactly what Arallanes had called her--the
very idea took Adam’s breath with the surprise of it, the wildness of
it, the strange appeal to him.

“Señor veree beeg, but young--like colt,” said Arallanes, with good
nature. “Tenderfeet, the gamblers say.... He mos’ dam’ sure have tough
feet soon on Picacho!”

“Well, Arallanes, that can’t come too soon for me,” declared Adam, and
the statement seemed to give relief.

They climbed to the track where the ore train stood, already with
laborers in almost every car. After a little wait that seemed long to
the impatient Adam the train started. The track was built a few feet
above the sand, but showed signs of having been submerged, and in fact
washed out in places. The canyon was tortuous, and grew more so as it
narrowed. Adam descried tunnels dug in the red walls and holes dug
in gravel benches, which place Arallanes explained had been made by
prospectors hunting for gold. It developed, however, that there was a
considerable upgrade. That seemed a long five miles to Adam. The train
halted and the laborers yelled merrily.

Arallanes led Adam up a long winding path, quite steep, and the other
men followed in single file. When Adam reached a level once more,
Arallanes called out, “Picacho!”

But he certainly could not have meant the wide gravelly plateau with
its squalid huts, its adobe shacks, its rambling square of low flat
buildings, like a stockade fort roofed with poles and dirt. Arallanes
meant the mountain that dominated the place--Picacho, the Peak.

Adam faced the west as the sun was setting. The mountain, standing
magnificently above the bold knobs and ridges around it, was a dark
purple mass framed in sunset gold; and from its frowning summit,
notched and edged, streamed a long ruddy golden ray of sunlight that
shone down through a wind-worn hole. With the sun blocked and hidden
except for that small aperture there was yet a wonderful effect of
sunset. A ruddy haze, shading the blue, filled the canyons and the
spaces. Picacho seemed grand there, towering to the sky, crowned in
gold, aloof, unscalable, a massive rock sculptured by the ages.

Arallanes laughed at Adam, then sauntered on. Mexicans jabbered as
they passed, and some of the white men made jocular comment at the boy
standing there so wide eyed and still. A little Irishman gaped at Adam
and said to a comrade:

“Begorra, he’s after seein’ a peanut atop ole Picacho.... What-th’-hell
now, me young fri’nd? Come hev a drink.”

The crowd passed on, and Arallanes lingered, making himself a cigarette
the while.

Adam had not been prepared for such a spectacle of grandeur and
desolation. He seemed to feel himself a mite flung there, encompassed
by colossal and immeasurable fragments of upheaved rock, jagged and
jutted, with never a softening curve, and all steeped in vivid and
intense light. The plateau was a ridged and scarred waste, lying under
the half circle of range behind, and sloping down toward where the
river lay hidden. The range to the left bore a crimson crest, and it
lost itself in a region of a thousand peaks. The range to the right was
cold pure purple and it ended in a dim infinity. Between these ranges,
far flung across the Colorado, loomed now with exquisite clearness in
Adam’s sight the mountain world he had gotten a glimpse of from below.
But now he perceived its marvelous all-embracing immensity, magnified
by the transparent light, its limitless horizon line an illusion, its
thin purple distances unbelievable. The lilac-veiled canyons lay clear
in his sight; the naked bones of the mountains showed hungrily the
nature of the desert earth; and over all the vast area revealed by the
setting sun lay the awful barrenness of a dead world, beautiful and
terrible, with its changing rose and topaz hues only mockeries to the
lover of life.

A hand fell upon Adam’s shoulder.

“Come, let us look at games of gold and women,” said Arallanes.

Then he led Adam into a big, poorly lighted, low-ceiled place, as
crudely constructed as a shed, and full of noise and smoke. The
attraction seemed to be a rude bar, various gambling games, and some
hawk-faced, ghastly spectacles of women drinking with men at the
tables. From an adjoining apartment came discordant music. This scene
was intensely interesting to Adam, yet disappointing. His first sight
of a wild frontier gambling hell did not thrill him.

It developed that Arallanes liked to drink and talk loud and laugh, and
to take a bold chance at a gambling game. But Adam refused, and meant
to avoid drinking as long as he could. He wandered around by himself,
to find that everybody was merry and friendly. Adam tried not to look
at any of the women while they looked at him. The apartment from which
came the music was merely a bare canvas-covered room with a board
floor. Dancing was going on.

Adam’s aimless steps finally led him back to the sand-floored hall,
where he became absorbed in watching a game of poker that a bystander
said had no limit. Then Adam sauntered on, and presently was attracted
by a quarrel among some Mexicans. To his surprise, it apparently
concerned Arallanes. All of them showed the effects of liquor, and,
after the manner of their kind, they were gesticulating and talking
excitedly. Suddenly one of them drew a knife and lunged toward
Arallanes. Adam saw the movement, and then the long shining blade,
before he saw what the man looked like. That action silenced the little
group.

The outstretched hand, quivering with the skewerlike dagger, paused in
its sweep as it reached a point opposite Adam. Instinctively he leaped,
and quick as a flash he caught the wrist in a grip so hard that the
fellow yelled. Adam, now that he possessed the menacing hand, did not
know what to do with it. With a powerful jerk he pulled the Mexican off
his feet, and then, exerting his strength to his utmost, he swung him
round, knocking over men and tables, until his hold loosened. The knife
flew one way and the Mexican the other. He lay where he fell. Arallanes
and his comrades made much of Adam.

“We are friends. You will drink with me,” said Arallanes, grandly.

Though no one would have suspected it, Adam was really in need of
something bracing.

“Señor is only a boy, but he has an arm,” said Arallanes, as he
clutched Adam’s shoulder and biceps with a nervous hand.... “When señor
becomes a man he will be a giant.”

Adam’s next change of emotion was from fright to a sense of foolishness
at his standing there. Then he had another drink, and after his
feelings changed again, and for that matter the whole complexion of
everything changed.

He never could have found the narrow path leading down into the canyon.
Arallanes was his guide. Walking on the sandy floor was hard work and
made him sweat. The loose sand and gravel dragged at his feet. Not long
was it before he had walked off the effects of the strong liquor. He
became curious as to why the Mexican had threatened Arallanes, and was
told that during the day the foreman had discharged this fellow.

“He ran after Margarita,” added Arallanes, “and I kicked him out of the
house. The women, señor--ah! they do not mind what a man is!... Have a
care of Margarita. She has as many loves and lives as a spotted cat.”

For the most part, however, the two men were silent on this laborious
walk. By and by the canyon widened out so that Adam could view the
great expanse of sky, fretted with fire, and the mountain spurs,
rising on all sides, cold and dark against the blue. At last Arallanes
announced that they were home. Adam had not seen a single house in the
gray shadows. A few more steps, however, brought tangible substance of
walls to Adam’s touch. Then he drew a long deep breath and realized
how tired he was. The darkness gradually changed from pitch black to a
pale obscurity. He could see dim, spectral outlines of mesquites, and
a star shining through. At first the night appeared to be absolutely
silent, but after a while, by straining his ears, he heard a rustling
of mice or ground squirrels in the adobe walls. The sound comforted
him, however, and when one of them, or at least some little animal, ran
softly over his bed the feeling of utter loneliness was broken.

“I’ve begun it,” he whispered, and meant the lonely life that was to
be his. The silence, the darkness, the loneliness seemed to give him
deeper thought. The thing that puzzled him and alarmed him was what
seemed to be swift changes going on in him. If he changed his mind
every hour, now cast down because of memories he could not wholly
shake, or lifted to strange exaltation by the beauty of a desert
sunset, or again swayed by the appeal of a girl’s dusky eyes, and then
instinctively leaping into a fight with a Mexican--if he were going
to be as vacillating and wild as these impulses led him to suppose he
might be, it was certain that he faced a hopeless future.

But could he help himself? Then it seemed his fine instincts, his fine
principles, and the hopes and dreams that would not die, began to
contend with a new uprising force in him, a wilder something he had
never known, a strange stirring and live emotion.

“But I’m glad,” he burst out, as if telling his secret to the
darkness. “Glad to be rid of Guerd--damn him and his meanness!... Glad
to be alone!... Glad to come into this wild desert!... Glad that girl
made eyes at me! I’ll not lie to myself. I wanted to hug her--to kiss
her--and I’ll do it if she’ll let me.... That gambling hell disgusted
me, and sight of the greaser’s knife scared me cold. Yet when I got
hold of him--felt my strength--how helpless he was--that I could
have cracked his bones--why, scared as I was, I felt a strange wild
something that is not gone yet.... I’m changing. It’s a different life.
And I’ve got to meet things as they come, and be game.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning Adam went to work and it developed that this was to copy
MacKay’s lead-pencil scrawls, and after that was done to keep accurate
account of ore mined and operated.

Several days passed before Adam caught up with his work to the hour.
Then MacKay, true to his word, said he would set him on a man’s job
part of the time. The job upon which MacKay put Adam was no less than
keeping up the fire under the huge boilers. As wood had to be used for
fuel and as it was consumed rapidly, the task of stoking was not easy.
Besides, hot as the furnace was, it seemed the sun was hotter. Adam
sweat till he could wring water out of his shirt.

That night he made certain MacKay was playing a joke on him. Arallanes
confided this intelligence, and even Margarita had been let into the
secret. MacKay had many laborers for the hard work, and he wanted to
cure the tenderfoot of his desire for a man’s job, such as he had asked
for. It was all good-natured, and amused Adam. He imagined he knew what
he needed, and while he was trying to find it he could have just as
much fun as MacKay.

Much to MacKay’s surprise, Adam presented himself next afternoon, in
boots, overalls, and undershirt, to go on with his job of firing the
engine.

“Wasn’t yesterday enough?” queried the boss.

“I can stand it.”

Then it pleased Adam to see a considerable evidence of respect in the
rough mill operator’s expression. For a week Adam kept up with his
office work and labored each afternoon at the stoking job. No one
suspected that he suffered, though it was plain enough that he lost
flesh and was exceedingly fatigued. Then Margarita’s reception of him,
when he trudged home in the waning sunset hour, was sweet despite the
fact that he tried to repudiate its sweetness. Once she put a little
brown hand on his blistered arm, and her touch held the tenderness of
woman. All women must be akin. They liked a man who could do things,
and the greater his feats of labor or fight the better they liked him.

The following week MacKay took a Herculean laborer off a strenuous
job with the ore and put Adam in his place. MacKay maintained his
good humor, but he had acquired a little grimness. This long-limbed
tenderfoot was a hard nut to crack. Adam’s father had been a man of
huge stature and tremendous strength; and many a time had Adam heard it
said that he might grow to be like his father. Far indeed was he from
that now; but he took the brawny and seasoned laborer’s place and kept
it. If the other job had been toil for Adam, this new one was pain. He
learned there what labor meant. Also he learned how there was only one
thing that common men understood and respected in a co-laborer, and it
was the grit and muscle to stand the grind. Adam was eighteen years
old and far from having reached his growth. This fact might have been
manifest to his fellow workers, but it was not that which counted. He
realized that those long hours of toil at which he stubbornly stuck had
set his spirit in some immeasurable and unquenchable relation to the
strange life that he divined was to be his.

Two weeks and more went by. MacKay, in proportion to the growth of his
admiration and friendship for Adam, gradually weakened on his joke. And
one day, when banteringly he dared Adam to tip a car of ore that two
Mexicans were laboring at, and Adam in a single heave sent the tons of
ore roaring into the shaft, then MacKay gave up and in true Western
fashion swore his defeat and shook hands with the boy.

So in those few days Adam made friends who changed the color and
direction of his life. From Merryvale he learned the legend and history
of the frontier. MacKay opened his eyes to the great health for mind
and body in sheer toil. Arallanes represented a warmth of friendship
that came unsought, showing what might be hidden in any man. Margarita
was still an unknown quantity in Adam’s development. Their acquaintance
had gone on mostly under the eyes of the señora or Arallanes. Sometimes
at sunset Adam had sat with her on the sand of the river bank. Her
charm grew. Then the unexpected happened. A break occurred in the
machinery and a small but invaluable part could not be repaired. It had
to come from San Francisco.

Adam seemed to be thrown back upon his own resources. He did not know
what to do with himself. Arallanes advised him not to go panning for
gold, and to be cautious if he went up to Picacho, for the Mexican Adam
had so roughly handled was the ringleader in a bad gang that it would
be well to avoid. All things conspired, it seemed, to throw Adam into
the company of Margarita, who always waited around the corner of every
hour, watching with her dusky eyes.



CHAPTER IV


So as the slow, solemn days drifted onward, like the wonderful river
which dominated the desert valley, it came to pass that the dreaming,
pondering Adam suddenly awakened to the danger in this dusky-eyed
maiden.

The realization came to Adam at the still sunset hour when he and
Margarita were watching the river slide like a gleam of gold out of
the west. They were walking among the scattered mesquites along the
sandy bank, a place lonesome and hidden from the village behind, yet
open to the wide space of river and valley beyond. The air seemed full
of marvelous tints of gold and rose and purple. The majestic scene,
beautiful and sad, needed life to make it perfect. Adam, more than
usually drawn by Margarita’s sympathy, was trying to tell her something
of the burden on his mind, that he was alone in the world, with only a
hard gray future before him, with no one to care whether he lived or
died.

Then had come his awakening. It did not speak well for Margarita’s
conceptions of behavior, but it proved her a creature of heart and
blood. To be suddenly enveloped by a wind of flame, in the slender
twining form of this girl of Spanish nature, was for Adam at once a
revelation and a catastrophe. But if he was staggered, he was also
responsive, as in a former moment of poignancy he had vowed he would
be. A strong and shuddering power took hold of his heart and he felt
the leap, the beat, the burn of his blood. When he lifted Margarita
and gathered her in a close embrace it was more than a hot upflashing
of boyish passion that flushed his face and started tears from under
his tight-shut eyelids. It was a sore hunger for he knew not what,
a gratefulness that he could express only by violence, a yielding to
something deeper and more far-reaching than was true of the moment.

Adam loosened Margarita’s hold upon his neck and held her back from him
so he could see her face. It was sweet, rosy. Her eyes were shining,
black and fathomless as night, soft with a light that had never shone
upon Adam from any other woman’s.

“Girl, do you--love me?” he demanded, and if his voice broke with the
strange eagerness of a boy, his look had all the sternness of a man.

“Ah...!” whispered Margarita.

“You--you big-hearted girl!” he exclaimed, with a laugh that was glad,
yet had a tremor in it. “Margarita, I--I must love you, too--since I
feel so queer.”

Then he bent to her lips, and from these first real kisses that
had ever been spent upon him by a woman he realized in one flash
his danger. He released Margarita in a consideration she did not
comprehend; and in her pouting reproach, her soft-eyed appeal, her
little brown hands that would not let go of him, there was further
menace to his principles.

Adam, gay and teasing, yet kindly and tactfully, tried to find a way to
resist her.

“Señorita, some one will see us,” he said.

“Who cares?”

“But, child, we--we must think.”

“Señor, no woman ever thinks when love is in her heart and on her lips.”

Her reply seemed to rebuke Adam, for he sensed in it what might be
true of life, rather than just of this one little girl, swayed by
unknown and uncontrollable forces. She appeared to him then subtly and
strongly, as if there was infinitely more than willful love in her. But
it did not seem to be the peril of her proffered love that restrained
Adam so much as the strange consciousness of the willingness of his
spirit to meet hers halfway.

Suddenly Margarita’s mood changed. She became like a cat that had been
purring under a soft, agreeable hand and then had been stroked the
wrong way.

“Señor think he love me?” she flashed, growing white.

“Yes--I said so--Margarita. Of course I do,” he hastened to assure her.

“Maybe you--a gringo liar!”

Adam might have resented this insulting hint but for his uncertainty
of himself, his consequent embarrassment, and his thrilling sense of
the nearness of her blazing eyes. What a little devil she looked! This
did not antagonize Adam, but it gave him proof of his impudence, of his
dreaming carelessness. Margarita might not be a girl to whom he should
have made love, but it was too late. Besides, he did not regret that.
Only he was upset; he wanted to think.

“If the _grande_ señor trifle--Margarita will cut out his heart!”

This swift speech, inflexible and wonderful with a passion that
revealed to Adam the half-savage nature of a woman whose race was alien
to his, astounded and horrified him, and yet made his blood tingle
wildly.

“Margarita, I do not trifle,” replied Adam, earnestly. “God knows I’m
glad you--you care for me. How have I offended you? What is it you
want?”

“Let señor swear he love me,” she demanded, imperiously.

Adam answered to that with the wildness that truly seemed flashing more
and more from him; and the laughter and boldness on his lips hid the
gravity that had settled there. He was no clod. Under the softness of
him hid a flint that struck fire.

As Margarita had been alluring and provocative, then as furious as a
barbarian queen, so she now changed again to another personality in
which it pleased her to be proud, cold, aloof, an outraged woman to
be wooed back to tenderness. If, at the last moment of the walk home,
Margarita evinced signs of another sudden transformation, Adam appeared
not to note them. Leaving her in the dusk at the door where the señora
sat, he strode away to the bank of the river. When he felt himself free
and safe once more, he let out a great breath of relief.

“Whew! Now I’ve done it!... So she’d cut my heart out? And I had to
swear I loved her! The little savage!... But she’s amazing--and she’s
adorable, with all her cat claws. Wouldn’t Guerd rave over a girl like
Margarita?... And here I am, standing on my two feet, in possession of
all my faculties, Adam Larey, a boy who thought he had principles--yet
now I’m a ranting lover of a dark-skinned, black-eyed slip of a greaser
girl! It can’t be true!”

With that outburst came sobering thought. Adam’s resolve not to ponder
and brood about himself was as if it had never been. He knew he would
never make such a resolve again. For hours he strolled up and down the
sandy bank, deep in thought, yet aware of the night and the stars, the
encompassing mountains, and the silent, gleaming river winding away in
the gloom. As he had become used to being alone out in the solitude
and darkness, there had come to him a vague awakening sense of their
affinity with his nature. Success and people might fail and betray him,
but the silent, lonely starlit nights were going to be teachers, even
as they had been to the Wise Men of the Arabian waste.

Adam at length gave up in despair and went to bed, hoping in slumber to
forget a complexity of circumstance and emotion that seemed to him an
epitome of his callow helplessness. The desert began to loom to Adam as
a region inimical to comfort and culture. He had almost decided that
the physical nature of the desert was going to be good for him. But
what of its spirit, mood, passion as typified by Margarita Arallanes?

Adam could ask himself that far-reaching query, and yet, all the answer
he got was a rush of hot blood at memory of the sweet fire of her
kisses. He saw her to be a simple child of the desert, like an Indian,
answering to savage impulses, wholly unconscious of what had been
a breach of womanly reserve and restraint. Was she good or bad? How
could she be bad if she did not know any better? Thus Adam pondered and
conjectured, and cursed his ignorance, and lamented his failings, all
the time honest to acknowledge that he was fond of Margarita and drawn
to her. About the only conclusion he formed from his perplexity was the
one that he owed it to Margarita to live up to his principles.

At this juncture he recollected Merryvale’s significant remarks about
the qualities needed by men who were to survive in the desert, and
his nobler sentiments suffered a rout. The suddenness, harshness,
fierceness of the desert grafted different and combating qualities upon
a man or else it snuffed him out, like a candle blown by a gusty wind.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, as every morning, the awakening was sweet, fresh, new,
hopeful. Another day! And the wonderful dry keenness of the air, the
colors that made the earth seem a land of enchantment, were enough in
themselves to make life worth living. In the morning he always felt
like a boy.

Margarita’s repentance for her moods of yesterday took a material turn
in the preparation of an unusually good breakfast for Adam. He was
always hungry and good meals were rare. Adam liked her attentions,
and he encouraged them; though not before the señora or Arallanes,
for the former approved too obviously and the latter disapproved too
mysteriously.

When, some time later, a boat arrived, Adam was among the first to meet
it at the dock.

He encountered MacKay coming ashore in the company of a man and two
women, one of whom was young. The manager showed a beaming face for
the first time in many days. Repairs for the mill engine had come.
MacKay at once introduced Adam to the party; and it so turned out that
presently the manager, who was extremely busy, left his friends for
Adam to entertain. They were people whom Adam liked immediately, and as
the girl was pretty, of a blond type seldom seen in the Southwest, it
seemed to Adam that his task was more than agreeable. He showed them
around the little village and then explained how interesting it would
be for them to see the gold mill. How long a time it seemed since he
had been in the company of a girl like those he had known at home! She
was merry, intelligent, a little shy.

He was invited aboard the boat to have lunch with the mother and
daughter. Everything tended to make this a red-letter day for Adam.
The hours passed all too swiftly and time came for the boat to depart.
When the boat swung free from the shore Adam read in the girl’s eyes
the thought keen in his own mind--that they would never meet again.
The round of circumstances might never again bring a girl like that
into Adam’s life, if it were to be lived in these untrodden ways. He
waved his hand with all the eloquence which it would express. Then the
obtruding foliage on the bank hid the boat and the girl was gone. His
last thought was a selfish one--that his brother Guerd would not see
her at Ehrenberg.

Some of MacKay’s laborers were working with unloaded freight on the
dock. One of these was Regan, the little Irishman who had been keen to
mark Adam on several occasions. He winked at MacKay and pointed at Adam.

“Mac, shure thot boy’s a divil with the wimmen!”

MacKay roared with laughter and looked significantly past Adam as if
this mirth was not wholly due to his presence alone. Some one else
seemed implicated. Suddenly Adam turned. Margarita stood there, with
face and mien of a tragedy queen, and it seemed to Adam that her
burning black eyes did not see anything in the world but him. Then,
with one of her swift actions, graceful and lithe, yet violent, she
wheeled and fled.

“O Lord!” murmured Adam, aghast at the sudden-dawning significance
of the case. He had absolutely forgotten Margarita’s existence. Most
assuredly she had seen every move of his with her big eyes, and read
his mind, too. He could not see the humor of his situation at the
moment, but as he took a short cut through the shady mesquites toward
his hut, and presently espied Margarita in ambush. What fiendish glee
this predicament of his would have aroused in his brother Guerd! Adam,
the lofty, the supercilious, had come a cropper at last--such would
have been Guerd’s scorn and rapture!

Margarita came rushing from the side, right upon him even as he turned.
So swiftly she came that he could not get a good look at her, but she
appeared a writhing, supple little thing, instinct with fury. Hissing
Spanish maledictions, she flung herself upward, and before he could
ward her off she had slapped and scratched his face and beat wildly at
him with flying brown fists. He thrust her away, but she sprang back.
Then, suddenly hot with anger, he grasped her and, jerking her off
her feet, he shook her with far from gentle force, and did not desist
till he saw that he was hurting her. Letting her down and holding her
at arm’s length, he gazed hard at the white face framed by disheveled
black hair and lighted by eyes so magnificently expressive of supreme
passion that his anger was shocked into wonder and admiration. Desert
eyes! Right there a conception dawned in his mind--he was seeing a
spirit through eyes developed by the desert.

“Margarita!” he exclaimed, “are you a cat--that you----”

“I hate you,” she hissed, interrupting him. The expulsion of her
breath, the bursting swell of her breast, the quiver of her whole
lissom body, all were exceedingly potent of an intensity that utterly
amazed Adam. Such a little girl, such a frail strength, such a
deficient brain to hold all that passion! What would she do if she had
real cause for wrath?

“Ah, Margarita, you don’t mean that. I didn’t do anything. Let me tell
you.”

She repeated her passionate utterance, and Adam saw that he could
no more change her then than he could hope to move the mountain.
Resentment stirred in him.

“Well,” he burst out, boyishly, “if you’re so darned fickle as that I’m
glad you do hate me.”

Then he released his hold on her arms and, turning away without another
glance in her direction, he strode from the glade. He took the gun he
had repaired and set off down the river trail. When he got into the
bottom lands of willow and cottonwood he glided noiselessly along,
watching and listening for game of some kind.

In the wide mouth of a wash not more than a mile from the village Adam
halted to admire some exceedingly beautiful trees. The first was one
of a species he had often noted there, and it was a particularly fine
specimen, perhaps five times as high as his head and full and round in
proportion. The trunk was large at the ground, soon separating into
innumerable branches that in turn spread and drooped and separated into
a million twigs and stems and points. Trunk and branch and twig, every
inch of this wonderful tree was a bright, soft green color, as smooth
as if polished, and it did not have a single leaf. As Adam gazed at
this strange, unknown tree, grasping the nature of it and its exquisite
color and grace and life, he wondered anew at the marvel of the desert.

As he walked around to the side toward the river he heard a cry.
Wheeling quickly, he espied Margarita running toward him. Margarita’s
hair was flying. Blood showed on her white face. She had torn her dress.

“Margarita!” cried Adam, as he reached her. “What’s the matter?”

She was so out of breath she could scarcely speak.

“Felix--he hide back there--in trail,” she panted. “Margarita
watch--she know--she go round.”

The girl labored under extreme agitation, which, however, did not seem
to be fright.

“Felix? You mean the Mexican who drew a knife on your father? The
fellow I threw around--up at Picacho?”

“_Si_--señor,” replied Margarita.

“Well, what of it? Why does Felix hide up in the trail?”

“Felix swore revenge. He kill you.”

“Oh-ho!... So that’s it,” ejaculated Adam, and he whistled his
surprise. A hot, tight sensation struck deeply inside him. “Then you
came to find me--warn me?”

She nodded vehemently and clung to him, evidently wearied and weakening.

“Margarita, that was good of you,” said Adam, earnestly, and he led her
out of the sun into the shade of the tree. With his handkerchief he
wiped the blood from thorn scratches on her cheek. The dusky eyes shone
with a vastly different light from the lurid hate of a few hours back.
“I thank you, girl, and I’ll not forget it.... But why did you run out
in the sun and through the thorns to warn me?”

“Señor know now--he kill Felix before Felix kill him,” replied
Margarita, in speech that might have been naïve had its simplicity not
been so deadly.

Adam laughed again, a little grimly. This was not the first time there
had been forced upon him a hint of the inevitableness of life in the
desert. But it was not his duty to ambush the Mexican who would ambush
him. The little coldness thrilled out of Adam to the close, throbbing
presence of Margarita. The fragrance, the very breath of her, went to
his head like wine.

“But girl--only a little while ago--you slapped me--scratched me--hated
me,” he said, in wonder and reproach.

“No--no--no! Margarita love señor!” she cried, and seemed to twine
around him and climb into his arms at once. The same fire, the same
intensity as of that unforgetable moment of hate and passion, dominated
her now, only it was love.

And this time it was Adam who sought her red lips and returned her
kisses. Again that shuddering wild gust in his blood! It was as strange
and imperious to him then as in a sober reflection it had been bold,
gripping, physical, a drawing of him not sanctioned by his will. In
this instance he was weaker in its grip, but still he conquered.
Releasing Margarita, he led her to a shady place in the sand under the
green tree, and found a seat where he could lean against a low branch.
Margarita fell against his shoulder, and there clung to him and wept.
Her dusky hair rippled over him, soft and silky to the touch of his
fingers. The poor, faded dress, of a fabric unknown to Adam, ragged and
dusty and torn, and the little shoes, worn and cracked, showing the
soles of her stockingless feet, spoke eloquently of poverty. Adam noted
the slender grace of her slight form, the arch of the bare instep, and
the shapeliness of her ankles, brown almost as an Indian’s. And all at
once there charged over him an overwhelming sense of the pitifulness
and the wonderfulness of her--a ragged, half-dressed little Mexican
girl, whose care of her hair and face, and the few knots of ribbon,
betrayed the worshipful vanity that was the jewel of her soul, and
whose physical perfection was in such strange contrast to the cramped,
undeveloped mind.

“My God!” whispered Adam, under his breath. Something big and undefined
was born in him then. He saw her, he pitied her, he loved her, he
wanted her; but these feelings were not so much what constituted the
bigness and vagueness that waved through his soul. He could not grasp
it. But it had to do with the life, the beauty, the passion, the soul
of this Mexican girl; and it was akin to a reverence he felt for the
things in her that she could not understand.

Margarita soon recovered, and assumed a demeanor so shy and modest
and wistful that Adam could not believe she was the same girl.
Nevertheless, he took good care not to awaken her other characteristics.

“Margarita, what is the name of this beautiful tree?” he asked.

“_Palo verde._ It means green tree.”

It interested him then to instruct himself further in regard to the
desert growths that had been strange to him; and to this end he led
Margarita from one point to another, pleased to learn how familiar she
was with every growing thing.

Presently Margarita brought to Adam’s gaze a tree that resembled smoke,
so blue-gray was it, so soft and hazy against the sky, so columnar and
mushrooming. What a strange, graceful tree and what deep-blue blossoms
it bore! Upon examination Adam was amazed to discover that every branch
and twig of this tree was a thorn. A hard, cruel, beautiful tree of
thorns that at a little distance resembled smoke!

“_Palo Christi_,” murmured Margarita, making the sign of the cross. And
she told Adam that this was the Crucifixion tree, which was the species
that furnished the crown of thorns for the head of Christ.

Sunset ended several happy and profitable hours for Adam. He had not
forgotten about the Mexican, Felix, and had thought it just as well to
let time pass and to keep out of trouble as long as he could. He and
Margarita reached home without seeing any sign of Felix. Arallanes,
however, had espied the Mexican sneaking around, and he warned Adam in
no uncertain terms. Merryvale, too, had a word for Adam’s ear; and it
was significant that he did not advise a waiting course. In spite of
all Adam’s reflections he did not need a great deal of urging. After
supper he started off for Picacho with Arallanes and a teamster who was
freighting supplies up to the camp.

Picacho was in full blast when they arrived. The dim lights, the
discordant yells, the raw smell of spirits, the violence of the crude
gambling hall worked upon Adam’s already excited mind; and by the time
he had imbibed a few drinks he was ready for anything. But they did not
find Felix.

Then Adam, if not half drunk, at least somewhat under the influence
of rum, started to walk back to his lodgings. The walk was long and,
by reason of the heavy, dragging sand, one of considerable labor.
Adam was in full possession of his faculties when he reached the
village. But his blood was hot from the exercise, and the excitement
of the prospective battle of the early evening had given way to an
excitement of the senses, in the youthful romance felt in the dark,
the starlight, the wildness of the place. So when in the pale gloom of
the mesquites Margarita glided to him like a lissom spectre, to enfold
him and cling and whisper, Adam had neither the will, nor the heart,
nor the desire to resist her.



CHAPTER V


Adam’s dull eyelids opened on a dim, gray desert dawn. The coming of
the dawn was in his mind, and it showed pale through his shut lids.
He could not hold back the hours. Something had happened in the night
and he would never be the same again. With a sharp pang, a sense of
incomprehensible loss, Adam felt die in him the old unreasoning,
instinctive boy. And there was more, too deep and too subtle for him
to divine. It had to do with a feminine strain in him, a sweetness and
purity inherited from his mother and developed by her teachings. It had
separated him from his brother Guerd and kept him aloof from a baseness
common to their comrades. Nevertheless, the wildness of this raw,
uncouth, primitive West had been his undoing.

It was with bitterness that Adam again faced the growing light. All
he could do was to resign himself to fate. The joy of life, the
enchantments--all that had made him feel different from other boys
and hide his dreams--failed now in this cool dark morning of reality.
He could not understand the severity of the judgment he meted out
to himself. His spirit suffered an ineffaceable blunting. And the
tight-drawing knot in his breast, the gnawing of remorse, the strange,
dark oppression--these grew and reached a climax, until something
gave way within him and there was a sinking of the heart, a weary and
inscrutable feeling.

Then he remembered Margarita, and the very life and current of his
blood seemed to change. Like a hot wave the memory of Margarita
surged over Adam, her strange new sweetness, the cunning of her when
she waylaid him in the dead of the night, the clinging lissomness
of her and the whispered incoherence that needed no translation,
the inevitableness of the silent, imperious demand of her presence,
unashamed and insistent.

Adam leaped out of his blankets, breaking up this mood and thought by
violent action. For Adam then the sunrise was glorious, the valley
was beautiful, the desert was wild and free, the earth was an immense
region to explore, and nature, however insatiable and inexorable, was
prodigal of compensations. He drank a sweet cup that held one drop of
poison bitterness. Life swelled in his breast. He wished he were an
Indian. As he walked along there flashed into mind words spoken long
ago by his mother: “My son, you take things too seriously, you feel too
intensely the ordinary moments of life.” He understood her now, but
he could not distinguish ordinary things from great things. How could
anything be little?

Margarita’s greeting was at once a delight and a surprise. Her smile,
the light of her dusky eyes, would have made any man happier. But there
was a subtle air about her this morning that gave Adam a slight shock,
an undefined impression that he represented less to Margarita than he
had on yesterday.

Then came the shrill whistle of the downriver boat. Idle men flocked
toward the dock. When Adam reached the open space on the bank before
the dock he found it crowded with an unusual number of men, all
manifestly more than ordinarily interested in something concerning the
boat. By slipping through the mesquites Adam got around to the edge of
the crowd.

A tall, gaunt man, clad in black, strode off the gangplank. His height,
his form, his gait were familiar to Adam. He had seen that embroidered
flowery vest with its silver star conspicuously in sight, and the brown
beardless face with its square jaw and seamy lines.

“Collishaw!” ejaculated Adam, in dismay. He recognized in this man one
whom he had known at Ehrenberg, a gambling, gun-fighting sheriff to
whom Guerd had become attached. As his glance swept back of Collishaw
his pulse beat quicker. The next passenger to stride off the gangplank
was a very tall, superbly built young man. Adam would have known that
form in a crowd of a thousand men. His heart leaped with a great throb.
Guerd, his brother!

Guerd looked up. His handsome, heated face, bold and keen and reckless,
flashed in the sunlight. His piercing gaze swept over the crowd upon
the bank.

“Hello, Adam!” he yelled, with gay, hard laugh. Then he prodded
Collishaw and pointed up at Adam. “There he is! We’ve found him.”

Adam plunged away into the thickest of mesquites, and, indifferent to
the clawing thorns, he did not halt until he was far down the bank.

It died hard, that regurgitation of brother love. It represented most
of his life, and all of his home associations, and the memories of
youth. The strength of it proved his loyalty to himself. How warm
and fine that suddenly revived emotion! How deep seated, beyond his
control! He could have sobbed out over the pity of it, the loss of it,
the fallacy of it. Plucked out by the roots, it yet lived hidden in
the depths of him. Adam in his flight to be alone had yielded to the
amaze and shame and fury stirred in him by a realization of joy in the
mere sight of this brother who hated him. For years his love had fought
against the gradual truth of Guerd’s hate. He had not been able to
prove it, but he felt it. Adam had no fear of Guerd, nor any reason why
he could not face him, except this tenderness of which he was ashamed.
When he had fought down the mawkish sentiment he would show Guerd and
Collishaw what he was made of. Money! That was Guerd’s motive, with an
added possibility of further desire to dominate and hound.

“I’ll fool him,” said Adam, resolutely, as he got up to return.

Adam did not know exactly what he would do, but he was certain that
he had reached the end of his tether. He went back to the village by a
roundabout way. Turning a sharp curve in the canyon, he came suddenly
upon a number of workmen, mostly Mexicans. They were standing under a
wooden trestle that had been built across the canyon at this narrow
point. All of them appeared to be gazing upward, and naturally Adam
directed his gaze likewise.

Thus without warning he saw the distorted and ghastly face of a man
hanging by the neck on a rope tied to the trestle. The spectacle gave
Adam a terrible shock.

“That’s Collishaw’s work,” muttered Adam, darkly, and he remembered
stories told of the sheriff’s grim hand in more than one act of border
justice. What a hard country!

In front of the village store Adam encountered Merryvale, and he asked
him for particulars about the execution.

“Wal, I don’t know much,” replied the old watchman, scratching his
head. “There’s been some placer miners shot an’ robbed up the river.
This Collishaw is a regular sure-enough sheriff, takin’ the law to
himself. Reckon there ain’t any law. Wal, he an’ his deputies say they
tracked thet murderin’ gang to Picacho, an’ swore they identified one
of them. Arallanes stuck up for thet greaser. There was a hot argument,
an’, by gosh! I jest swore Collishaw was goin’ to draw on Arallanes.
But Arallanes backed down, as any man not crazy would have done. The
greaser swore by all his Virgins thet he wasn’t the man, an’ was
swearin’ he could prove it when the rope choked him off.... I don’t
know, Adam. I don’t know. I was fer waitin’ a little to give the feller
a chance. But Collishaw came down here to hang some one an’ you bet he
was goin’ to do it.”

“I know him, Merryvale, and you’re betting right,” replied Adam,
forcefully.

“Adam, one of his men is a fine-lookin’ young chap thet sure must be
your brother. Now, ain’t he?”

“Yes, you’re right about that, too.”

“Wal, wal! You don’t seem powerful glad.... Son, jest be careful what
you say to Collishaw. He’s hard an’ I reckon he’s square as he sees
justice, but he doesn’t ring right to an old timer like me. He courts
the crowd. An’ he’s been askin’ fer you. There he comes now.”

The sheriff appeared, approaching with several companions, and halted
before the store. His was a striking figure, picturesque, commanding,
but his face was repellent. His massive head was set on a bull neck of
swarthy and weathered skin like wrinkled leather; his broad face, of
similar hue, appeared a mass of crisscrossed lines, deep at the eyes,
and long on each side of the cruel, thin-lipped, tight-shut mouth; his
chin stuck out like a square rock; and his eyes, dark and glittering,
roved incessantly in all directions, had been trained to see men before
they saw him.

Adam knew that Collishaw had seen him first, and, acting upon the
resolution that he had made down in the thicket, he strode over to the
sheriff.

“Collishaw, I’ve been told you wanted me,” said Adam.

“Hello, Larey! Yes, I was inquirin’ aboot you,” replied Collishaw, with
the accent of a Texan.

“What do you want of me?” asked Adam.

Collishaw drew Adam aside out of earshot of the other men.

“It’s a matter of thet little gamblin’ debt you owe Guerd,” he replied,
in low voice.

“Collishaw, are you threatening me with some such job as you put up on
that poor greaser?” inquired Adam, sarcastically, as he waved his hand
up the canyon.

Probably nothing could have surprised this hardened sheriff, but he
straightened up with a jerk and shed his confidential and admonishing
air.

“No, I can’t arrest you on a gamblin’ debt,” he replied, bluntly, “but
I’m shore goin’ to make you pay.”

“You are, like hell!” retorted Adam. “What had you to do with it? If
Guerd owed you money in that game, I’m not responsible. And I didn’t
pay because I caught Guerd cheating. I’m not much of a gambler,
Collishaw, but I’ll bet you a stack of gold twenties against your fancy
vest that Guerd never collects a dollar of his crooked deal.”

With that Adam turned on his heel and strode off toward the river.
His hard-earned independence added something to the wrong done him
by these men. He saw himself in different light. The rankling of the
injustice he had suffered at Ehrenberg had softened only in regard to
the girl in the case. Remembering her again, it seemed her part in his
alienation from Guerd did not loom so darkly and closely. Margarita
had come between that affair and the present hour. This other girl had
really been nothing to him, but Margarita had become everything. A
gratefulness, a big, generous warmth, stirred in Adam’s heart for the
dark-eyed Mexican girl. What did it matter who she was? In this desert
he must learn to adjust differences of class and race and habit in
relation to the wildness of time and place.

In the open sandy space leading to the houses near the river Adam met
Arallanes. The usually genial foreman appeared pale, somber, sick. To
Adam’s surprise, Arallanes would not talk about the hanging. Adam had
another significant estimate of the character of Collishaw. Arallanes,
however, was not so close lipped concerning Guerd Larey.

“_Quien sabe, señor?_” he concluded. “Maybe it’s best for you.
Margarita is a she-cat. You are my friend. I should tell you.... But,
well, señor, if you would keep Margarita, look out for your brother.”

Adam gaped his astonishment and had not a word for Arallanes as he
turned away. It took him some time to realize the content of Arallanes
warning and advice. But what fixed itself in Adam’s mind was the fact
that Guerd had run across Margarita and had been attracted by her. How
perfectly natural! How absolutely inevitable! Adam could not remember
any girl he had ever admired or liked in all his life that Guerd had
not taken away from him. Among the boys at home it used to be a huge
joke, in which Adam had good-naturedly shared. All for Guerd! Adam
could recall the time when he had been happy to give up anything
or anyone to his brother. But out here in the desert, where he was
beginning to assimilate the meaning of a man’s fight for his life and
his possessions, he felt vastly different. Moreover, he had gone too
far with Margarita, regretable as the fact was. She belonged to him,
and his principles were such that he believed he owed her a like return
of affection, and besides that, loyalty and guardianship. Margarita was
only seventeen years old. No doubt Guerd would fascinate her if she was
not kept out of his way.

“But--suppose she likes Guerd--and wants him--as she wanted me?”
muttered Adam, answering a divining flash of the inevitable order of
things to be. Still, he repudiated that. His intellect told him what to
expect, but his feeling was too strong to harbor doubt of Margarita.
Only last night she had changed the world for him--opened his eyes to
life not as it was dreamed, but lived!

Adam found the wife of Arallanes home alone.

“Señora, where is Margarita?”

“Margarita is there,” she replied, with dark, eloquent glance upon Adam
and a slow gesture toward the river bank.

Adam soon espied Guerd and Margarita on the river bank some few rods
below the landing place. Here was a pretty sandy nook, shaded by a
large mesquite, and somewhat out of sight of passers-by going to and
fro from village to dock. Two enormous wheels connected by an iron bar,
a piece of discarded mill machinery, stood in the shade of the tree.
Margarita sat on the cross-bar and Guerd stood beside her. They were
close together, facing a broad sweep of the river and the wonderland
of colored peaks beyond. They did not hear Adam’s approach on the soft
sand.

“Señorita, one look from your midnight eyes and I fell in love with
you,” Guerd was declaring, with gay passion, and his hand upon her was
as bold as his speech. “You little Spanish princess!... Beautiful as
the moon and stars!... Hidden in this mining camp, a desert flower born
to blush unseen! I shall----”

It was here that Adam walked around the high wheels to confront them.
For him the moment was exceedingly poignant. But despite the tumult
within him he preserved a cool and quiet exterior. Margarita’s radiance
vanished in surprise.

“Well, if it ain’t Adam!” ejaculated her companion. “You
son-of-a-gun!... Why, you’ve changed!”

“Guerd,” began Adam, and then his voice halted. To meet his brother
this way was a tremendous ordeal. And Guerd’s presence seemed to
charge the very air. Worship of this magnificent brother had been the
strongest thing in Adam’s life, next to love of mother. To see him
again! Guerd Larey’s face was beautiful, yet virile and strong. The
beauty was mere perfection of feature. The big curved mouth, the square
chin, the straight nose, the large hazel-green eyes full of laughter
and love of life, the broad forehead and clustering fair hair--all
these were features that made him singularly handsome. His skin was
clear brown tan with a tinge of red. Adam saw no change in Guerd,
except perhaps an intensifying of an expression of wildness which made
him all the more fascinating to look at. For Adam the mocking thing
about Guerd’s godlike beauty was the fact that it deceived. At heart,
at soul, Guerd was as false as hell!

“Adam, are you goin’ to shake hands?” queried Guerd, lazily extending
his arm. “You sure strike me queer, boy!”

“No,” replied Adam, and his quick-revolving thoughts grasped at Guerd’s
slipshod speech. Guerd had absorbed even the provincial words and
idioms of the uncouth West.

“All right. Suit yourself,” said Guerd. “I reckon you see I’m rather
pleasantly engaged.”

“Yes, I see,” returned Adam, bitterly, with a fleeting glance at
Margarita. She had recovered from her surprise and now showed cunning
feminine curiosity. “Guerd, I met Collishaw, and he had the gall to
brace me for that gambling debt. And I’ve hunted you up to tell you
that you cheated me. I’ll not pay it.”

“Oh yes, you will,” replied Guerd, smilingly.

“I will not,” said Adam, forcefully.

“Boy, you’ll pay it or I’ll take it out of your hide,” declared Guerd,
slowly frowning, as if a curious hint of some change in Adam had dawned
upon him.

“You can’t take it that way--or any other way,” retorted Adam.

“But, say--I didn’t cheat,” remonstrated Guerd, evidently making a last
stand of argument to gain his end.

“You lie!” flashed Adam. “You know it. I know it.... Guerd, let’s waste
no words. I told you at Ehrenberg--after you played that shabby trick
on me--over the girl there--I told you I was through with you for good.”

Guerd seemed to realize with wonder and chagrin that he had now to deal
with a man. How the change in his expression thrilled Adam! What relief
came to him in the consciousness that he was now stronger than Guerd!
He had never been certain of that.

“Through and be damned!” exclaimed Guerd, and he took his arm from
around Margarita and rose from his leaning posture to his lofty height.
“I’m sick of your milksop ideas. All I want of you is that money. If
you don’t pony up with it I’ll tear your clothes off gettin’ it. Savvy
that?”

“Ha-ha!” laughed Adam, tauntingly. “I say to you what I said to
Collishaw--you will, like hell!”

Guerd Larey’s lips framed curses that were inaudible. He was astounded.
The red flamed his neck and face.

“I’ll meet you after I get through talking to this girl,” he said.

“Any time you want,” rejoined Adam, bitingly, “but I’ll have my say
now, once and for all.... The worm has turned, Guerd Larey. Your goose
has stopped laying golden eggs. I will take no more burdens of yours on
my shoulders. You’ve bullied me all my life. You’ve hated me. I know
now. Oh, I remember so well! You robbed me of toys, clothes, playmates.
Then girl friends! Then money!... Then--a worthless woman!... You’re a
fraud--a cheat--a liar.... You’ve fallen in with your kind out here and
you’re going straight to hell.”

The whiteness of Guerd’s face attested to his roused passion. But he
had more restraint than Adam. He was older, and the difference of age
between them showed markedly.

“So you followed me out here to say all that?” he queried.

“No, not altogether,” replied Adam. “I came after Margarita.”

“Came after Margarita?” echoed Guerd, blankly. “Is that her name? Say,
Adam, is this one of your goody-goody tricks? Rescuing a damsel in
distress sort of thing!... You and I have fallen out more than once
over that. I kick--I----”

“Guerd, we’ve fallen out forever,” interrupted Adam, and then he turned
to the girl. “Margarita, I want you----”

“But it’s none of your damned business,” burst out Guerd, hotly,
interrupting in turn. “What do you care about a Mexican girl? I won’t
stand your interference. You clear out and let me alone.”

“But, Guerd--it is my business,” returned Adam, haltingly. Some inward
force dragged at his tongue. “She’s--my girl.”

“What!” ejaculated Guerd, incredulously. Then he bent down to peer
into Margarita’s face, and from that he swept a flashing, keen glance
at Adam. His eyes were wonderful then, intensely bright, quickened and
sharpened with swift turns of thought. “Boy, you don’t mean you’re on
friendly terms with this greaser girl?”

“Yes,” replied Adam.

“You’ve made love to her!” cried Guerd, and the radiance of his face
then was beyond Adam’s understanding.

“Yes.”

Guerd violently controlled what must have been a spasm of fiendish
glee. His amaze, deep as it was, seemed not to be his predominant
feeling, but that very amaze was something to force exquisitely upon
Adam how far he had fallen. The moment was dark, hateful, far-reaching
in effect, impossible to realize. Guerd’s glance flashed back and forth
from Adam to Margarita. But he had not yet grasped what was the tragic
thing for Adam--the truth of how fatefully far this love affair had
fallen. Adam’s heart sank like lead in his breast. What humiliation he
must suffer if he betrayed himself! Hard he fought for composure and
dignity to hide his secret.

“Adam, in matters of the heart, where two gentlemen admire the lady
in question, the choice is always left to her,” began Guerd, with
something of mockery in his rich voice. A devil gleamed from him then,
and the look of him, the stature, the gallant action of him as he bowed
before Margarita, fascinated Adam even in his miserable struggle to
appear a man.

“But, Guerd, you--you’ve known Margarita only a few moments,” he
expostulated, and the sound of his voice made him weak. “How can you
put such a choice to--to her? It’s--it’s an insult.”

“Adam, that is for Margarita to decide,” responded Guerd. “Women
change. It is something you have not learned.” Then as he turned to
Margarita he seemed to blaze with magnetism. The grace of him and the
beauty of him in that moment made of him a perfect physical embodiment
of the emotions of which he was master. He knew his power over women.
“Margarita, Adam and I are brothers. We are always falling in love
with the same girl. You must choose between us. Adam would tie you
down--keep you from the eyes of other men. I would leave you free as a
bird.”

And he bent over to whisper in her ear, with his strong brown hand on
her arm, at once gallant yet masterful.

The scene was a nightmare to Adam. How could this be something that was
happening? But he had sight! Margarita seemed a transformed creature,
shy, coy, alluring, with the half-veiled dusky eyes, heavy-lidded,
lighted with the same fire that had shone in them for Adam.

“Margarita, will you come?” cried Adam, goaded to end this situation.

“No,” she replied, softly.

“I beg of you--come!” implored Adam.

The girl shook her black head. A haunting mockery hung around her, in
her slight smile, in the light of her face. She radiated a strange glow
like the warm shade of an opal. Older she seemed to Adam and surer of
herself and somewhat deeper in that mystic obsession of passion he had
often sensed in her. No spiritual conception of what Adam regarded
as his obligation to her could ever dawn in that little brain. She
loved her pretty face and beautiful body. She gloried in her power
over men. And the new man she felt to be still unwon--who was stronger
of instinct and harder to hold, under whose brutal hand she would
cringe and thrill and pant and fight--him she would choose. So Adam
read Margarita in that moment. If he had felt love for her, which he
doubted, it was dead. A great pity flooded over him. It seemed that of
the three there, he was the only one who was true and who understood.

“Margarita, have you forgotten last night?” asked Adam, huskily.

“Ah, señor--so long ago and far away!” she said.

Adam whirled abruptly and, plunging into the thicket of mesquites,
he tore a way through, unmindful of the thorns. When he reached his
quarters there was blood on his hands and face, but the sting of the
thorns was as nothing to the hurt in his heart. He lay down.

“Again!” he whispered. “Guerd has come--and it’s the same old story.
Only worse!... But, it’s better so! I--I didn’t know--her!...
Arallanes knew--he told me.... And I--I dreamed so many--many fool
things. Yes--it’s better--better. I didn’t love her right. It--it was
something she roused. I never loved her--but if I did love her--it’s
gone. It’s not loss that--that stabs me now. It’s Guerd--Guerd!
Again--and I ran off from him.... ‘So long ago and far away,’ she said!
Are all women like that? I can’t believe it. I never will. I remember
my mother.”



CHAPTER VI


That night in the dead late hours Adam suddenly awoke. The night
seemed the same as all the desert nights--dark and cool under the
mesquites--the same dead, unbroken silence. Adam’s keen intentness
could not detect a slightest sound of wind or brush or beast. Something
had pierced his slumbers, and as he pondered deeply there seemed to
come out of the vagueness beyond that impenetrable wall of sleep a
voice, a cry, a whisper. Had Margarita, sleeping or waking, called to
him? Such queer visitations of mind, often repeated, had convinced Adam
that he possessed a mystic power or sense.

When Adam awoke late, in the light of the sunny morning, unrealities
of the night dispersed like the gray shadows and vanished. He arose
eager, vigorous, breathing hard, instinctively seeking for action.
The day was Sunday. Another idle wait, fruitful of brooding moods!
But he vowed he would not go to the willow brakes, there to hide from
Guerd and Collishaw. Let them have their say--do their worst! We would
go up to Picacho and gamble and drink with the rest of the drifters.
Merryvale’s words of desert-learned wisdom rang through Adam’s head. As
for Margarita, all Adam wanted was one more look at her face, into her
dusky eyes, and that would forever end his relation to her.

At breakfast Arallanes presented a thoughtful and forbidding
appearance, although this demeanor was somewhat softened by the few
times he broke silence. The señora’s impassive serenity lacked its
usual kindliness, and her lowered eyes kept their secrets. Margarita
had not yet arisen. Adam could not be sure there was really a shadow
hovering over the home, or in his own mind, coloring, darkening his
every prospect.

After breakfast he went out to stroll along the river bank and then
around the village. He ascertained from Merryvale that Collishaw,
Guerd, and their associates had found lodgings at different houses for
the night, and after breakfast had left for the mining camp. As usual,
Merryvale spoke pointedly: “You’re brother said they were goin’ to
clear out the camp. An’ I reckon he didn’t mean greasers, but whisky
an’ gold. Son, you stay away from Picacho to-day.” For once, however,
the kind old man’s advice fell upon deaf ears. Adam had to fight his
impatience to be off up the canyon; and only a driving need to see
Margarita held him there. He walked to and fro, from village to river
and back again. By and by he espied Arallanes and his wife, with their
friends, dressed in their best, parading toward the little adobe
church. Margarita was not with them.

Adam waited a little while, hoping to see her appear. He did not
analyze his strong hope that she would go to church this Sunday as
usual. But as no sign of her was forthcoming he strode down to the
little brown house and entered at the open door.

“Margarita!” he called. No answer broke the quiet. His second call,
however, brought her from her room, a dragging figure with a pale face
that Adam had never before seen pale.

“Señor Ad-dam,” she faltered.

The look of her, and that voice, stung Adam out of the gentleness
habitual with him. Leaping at her, he dragged her into the light of the
door. She cried out in a fear that shocked him. When he let go of her,
abrupt and sharp in his motions, she threw up her arms as if to ward
off attack.

“Do you think I would hurt you?” he cried, harshly. “No, Margarita! I
only wanted to see you--just once more.”

She dropped her arms and raised her face. Then Adam, keen in that
poignant moment, saw in her the passing of an actual fear of death.
It struck him mute. It betrayed her. What had been the dalliance of
yesterday, playful and passionate in its wild youth, through the night
had become dishonor. Yesterday she had been a cat that loved to be
stroked; to-day she was a maimed creature, a broken woman.

“Lift your face--higher,” said Adam, hoarsely, as he put out a shaking
hand to touch her. But he could not touch her. She did lift it and
looked at him, denying nothing, still unashamed. But now there was soul
in that face. Adam felt it limned on his memory forever--the stark
truth of her frailty, the courage of a primitive nature fearing only
death, yearning for brutal blows as proof of the survival of jealous
love, a dawning consciousness of his honesty and truth. Terrible was it
for Adam to realize that if she had been given that choice again she
would have decided differently. But it was too late.

“_Adios_, señorita,” he said, bowing, and backed out of the door. He
stopped, and the small pale face with its tragic eyes, straining,
unutterably eloquent of wrong to him and to herself, passed slowly out
of his sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

Swiftly Adam strode up the canyon, his fierce energy in keeping with
his thoughts. He overtook the Irishman, Regan, who accosted him.

“Hullo, Wansfell, ould fri’nd!” he called. “Don’t yez walk so dom’
fast.”

“Wansfell! Why do you call me that?” asked Adam. How curiously the name
struck his ear!

“Ain’t thot your noime?”

“No, it’s not.”

“Wal, all right. Will yez hev a dhrink?” Regan produced a brown bottle
and handed it to Adam.

They walked on up the canyon, Regan with his short, stunted legs being
hard put to it to keep up with Adam’s long strides. The Irishman would
attach himself to Adam, that was evident; and he was a most talkative
and friendly fellow. Whenever he got out of breath he halted to draw
out the bottle. The liquor in an ordinary hour would have befuddled
Adam’s wits, but now it only heated his blood.

“Wansfell, if yez ain’t the dom’dest foinest young feller in these
diggin’s!” ejaculated Regan.

“Thank you, friend. But don’t call me that queer name. Mine’s Adam.”

“A-dom?” echoed Regan. “Phwat a hell of a noime! Adom an’ Eve, huh? I
seen yez with thot black-eyed wench. She’s purty.”

They finished the contents of the bottle and proceeded on their way.
Regan waxed warmer in his regard for Adam and launched forth a strong
argument in favor of their going on a prospecting trip.

“Yez would make a foine prospector an’ pard,” he said. “Out on the
desert yez are free an’ happy, b’gorra! No place loike the desert,
pard, whin yez come to know it! Thar’s air to breathe an’ long days wid
the sun on yer back an’ noights whin a mon knows shlape. Mebbe we’ll
hev the luck to foind Pegleg Smith’s lost gold mine.”

“Who was Pegleg Smith and what gold mine did he lose?” queried Adam.

Then as they plodded on up the canyon, trying to keep to the shady
strips and out of the hot sun, Adam heard for a second time the story
of the famous lost gold mine. Regan told it differently, perhaps
exaggerating after the manner of prospectors. But the story was
impelling to any man with a drop of adventurous blood in his veins. The
lure of gold had not yet obsessed Adam, but he had begun to feel the
lure of the desert.

Adam concluded that under happier circumstances this Regan would be a
man well worth cultivating in spite of his love for the bottle. They
reached the camp about noon, had a lunch at the stand of a Chinaman,
and then, entering the saloon, they mingled with the crowd, where Adam
soon became separated from Regan. Liquor flowed like water, and gold
thudded in sacks and clinked musically in coins upon the tables. Adam
had one drink, and that incited him to take another. Again the throb
and burn of his blood warmed out the coldness and bitterness of his
mood. Deliberately he drank and deliberately he stifled the voice of
conscience until he was in a reckless and dangerous frame of mind.
There seemed to be a fire consuming him now, to which liquor was only
fuel.

He swaggered through the crowded hall, and for once the drunken
miners, the painted hags, the cold-faced gamblers, did not disgust
him. The smell of rum and smoke, the feel of the thick sand under his
feet, the sight of the motley crowd of shirt-sleeved and booted men,
the discordant din of music, glasses, gold, and voices--all these
sensations struck him full and intimately with their proof that he was
a part of this wild assembly of free adventurers. He remembered again
Merryvale’s idea of a man equipped to cope with this lawless gang and
hold his own. Suddenly when he espied his brother Guerd he shook with
the driving passion that had led him there.

Guerd sat at table, gambling with Collishaw and MacKay and other men of
Picacho well known to Adam. Guerd looked the worse for liquor and bad
luck. When he glanced up to see Adam, a light gleamed across his hot
face. He dropped his cards, and as Adam stepped near he rose from the
table and in two strides confronted him, arrogant, menacing, with the
manner of a man dangerous to cross.

“I want money,” demanded Guerd.

Adam laughed in his face.

“Go to work. You’re not slick enough with the cards to hide your
tricks,” replied Adam, in deliberate scorn.

Temper, and not forethought, actuated Guerd then. He slapped Adam, with
the moderate force of an older brother punishing an impertinence. Swift
and hard Adam returned that blow, staggering Guerd, who fell against
the table, but was upheld by Collishaw. He uttered a loud and piercing
cry.

Sharply the din ceased. The crowd slid back over the sand, leaving
Adam in the center of a wide space, confronting Guerd, who still leaned
against Collishaw. Guerd panted for breath. His hot face turned white
except for the red place where Adam’s fist had struck. MacKay righted
the table, then hurriedly drew back. Guerd’s fury of astonishment
passed to stronger controlled passion. He rose from Collishaw’s hold
and seemed to tower magnificently. He had the terrible look of a man
who had waited years for a moment of revenge, at last to recognize it.

“You hit me! I’ll beat you for that--I’ll smash your face,” he said,
stridently.

“Come on,” cried Adam.

At this instant the Irishman, Regan, staggered out of the crowd into
the open circle. He was drunk.

“Sic ’em, Wansfell, sic ’em,” he bawled. “I’m wid yez. We’ll lick
thot--loidy face--an’ ivery dom’----”

Some miner reached out a long arm and dragged Regan back.

Guerd Larey leaned over to pound with his fist on the table. A leaping
glow radiated from his face, as if a genius of hate had inspired some
word or speech that Adam must find insupportable. His look let loose
a bursting gush of blood through Adam’s throbbing veins. This was no
situation built on a quarrel or a jealous rivalry. It was backed by
years, and by some secret not easily to be divined, though its source
was the very soul of Cain.

“So that’s your game,” declared Guerd, with ringing passion. “You want
to fight and you make this debt of yours a pretense. But I’m on to you.
It’s because of the girl I took from you.”

“Shut up! Have you no sense of decency? Can’t you be half a man?” burst
out Adam, beginning to shake.

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Listen to Goody-Goody!... Mother’s nice boy----”

“By Heaven, Guerd Larey, if you speak of my--my mother--here--I’ll tear
out your tongue!”

They were close together now, with only the table between them--Cain
and Abel--the old bitter story plain in the hate of one flashing face
and the agony of the other. Guerd Larey had divined the means to
torture and to crucify this brother whose heart and soul were raw.

“Talk about the fall of Saint Anthony!” cried Guerd, with a voice
magical in its steely joy. “Never was there a fall like Adam
Larey’s--the Sunday-school boy--too sweet--too innocent--too pure to
touch the hand of a girl!... Ha-ha! Oh, we can fight, Adam. I’ll fight
you. But let me talk--let me tell my friends what a damned hypocrite
you are.... Gentlemen, behold the immaculate Saint Adam whose Eve was a
little greaser girl!”

There was no shout of mirth. The hall held a low-breathing silence.
It was a new scene, a diversion for the gamblers and miners and their
painted consorts, a clash of a different kind and spirit. Guerd paused
to catch his breath and evidently to gather supreme passion for the
delivery of what seemed more to him than life itself. His face was
marble white, quivering and straining, and his eyes blazed with a
piercing flame.

Adam saw the living, visible proof of a hate he had long divined. The
magnificence of Guerd’s passion, the terrible reality of his hate, the
imminence of a mortal blow, locked Adam’s lips and jaws as in a vise,
while a gathering fury, as terrible as Guerd’s hate, flooded and dammed
at the gates of his energy, ready to break out in destroying violence.

“She told me!” Guerd flung the words like bullets. “You needn’t bluff
it out with your damned lying white face. She told me!... You--you,
Adam Larey, with your pure thoughts and lofty ideals ... the _rot_ of
them! _You_--damn your milksop soul!--you were the slave of a dirty
little greaser girl who fooled you, laughed in your face, left you for
me--for me at the snap of my fingers.... And, by God! my cup would be
full--if your mother could only know----”

[Illustration: THEN THE GUN BOOMED WITH MUFFLED REPORT--AND GUERD
LAREY, UTTERING A CRY OF AGONY, FELL AWAY FROM ADAM]

It was Collishaw’s swift hand that knocked up Adam’s flinging arm and
the gun which spouted red and boomed heavily. Collishaw grappled
with him--was flung off--and then Guerd lunged in close to save
himself. A writhing, wrestling struggle--quick, terrible; then the gun
boomed with muffled report--and Guerd Larey, uttering a cry of agony,
fell away from Adam, backward over the table. His gaze, conscious,
appalling, was fixed on Adam. A dark crimson spot stained his white
shirt. Then he lay there with fading eyes--the beauty and radiance and
hate of his face slowly shading.

Collishaw leaned over him. Then with hard, grim gesture he shouted,
hoarsely: “Dead, by God!... You’ll hang for this!”

A creeping horror was slowly paralyzing Adam. But at that harsh speech
he leaped wildly, flinging his gun with terrific force into the
sheriff’s face. Like an upright stone dislodged Collishaw fell. Then
Adam, bounding forward, flung aside the men obstructing his passage and
fled out of the door.

Terror lent wings to his feet. In a few moments he was beyond the
outskirts of the camp. Even here, fierce in his energy, he bounded
upward, from rock to rock, until he reached the steep jumble of talus
where swift progress was impossible. Then with hands and feet working
in unison, as if he had been an ape, he climbed steadily.

From the top of the first rocky slope he gazed back fearfully. Yes, men
were pursuing him, strung out along the road of the mining camp; and
among the last was a tall, black-coated, bareheaded man that Adam took
to be Collishaw. This pursuer was staggering along, flinging his arms.

Adam headed straight up the ascent. Picacho loomed to the right, a
colossal buttress of red rock, wild and ragged and rugged. But the
ascent that had looked so short and easy--how long and steep! Every
shadow was a lie, every space of slope in the sunlight hid the truth
of its width. Sweat poured from his hot body. He burned. His breath
came in labored bursts. A painful stab in his side spread and swelled
to the whole region of his breast. He could hear the mighty throb of
his heart, and he could hear it in another way--a deep muffled throb
through his ears.

At last he reached the height of the slope where it ended under a wall
of rock, the backbone of that ridge, bare and jagged, with no loose
shale on its almost perpendicular side. Here it took hard labor of
hand and foot to climb and zigzag and pull himself up. Here he fell
exhausted.

But the convulsion was short lived. His will power was supreme and his
endurance had not been permanently disabled. He crawled before he could
walk, and when he recovered enough to stagger erect he plodded on,
invincible in his spirit to escape.

From this height, which was a foothill to the great peak, he got his
bearings and started down.

“They can’t--trail me--here,” he whispered, hoarsely, as he looked back
with the eyes of a fugitive. “And--down there--I’ll keep off the road.”

After that brief moment of reasoning he became once more victim to fear
and desperate passion to hurry. He had escaped, his pursuers could
not see him now, he could hide, the descent was tortuous; yet these
apparent facts, favorable as they were, could not save him. Adam pushed
on, gaining strength as he recovered breath. As his direction led him
downhill, he went swiftly, sometimes at a rapid walk, again sliding
down here and rushing there, and at other places he stepped from rock
to rock, like a balancing rope walker.

The descent here appeared to be a long, even slant of broken rocks,
close together like cobblestones in a street, and of a dark-bronze hue.
They shone as if they had been varnished. And a closer glance showed
Adam the many reddish tints of _bisnagi_ cactus growing in the cracks
between the stones.

His misgivings were soon verified. He had to descend here, for the
afternoon was far gone, and whatever the labor and pain, he must reach
the road before dark. The rocks were sharp, uneven, and as slippery as
if they had been wet. At the very outset Adam slipped, and, falling
with both hands forward, he thrust them into a cactus. The pain stung,
and when he had to pull hard to free himself from the thorns, it was as
if his hands had been nailed. He could not repress moans as he tried to
pull out the thorns with his teeth. They stuck tight. The blood ran in
little streams. But he limped on, down the black slope.

The white road below grew closer and closer. It was a goal. This slope
of treacherous rocks and torturing cacti was a physical ordeal that
precluded memory of the past or consideration of the present. When Adam
at last reached the road, there to fall exhausted and wet and burning
upon a flat rock, it seemed that he had been delivered from an inferno.

Presently he sat up to look around him. A wonderful light showed upon
the world--the afterglow of sunset. Picacho bore a crown of gold. All
the lower tips of ranges were purpling in shadow. To the southward a
wide gray barren led to an endless bleak plateau, flat and dark, with
dim spurs of mountains in the distance. Desolate, lifeless, silent--the
gateway to the desert! Adam felt steal over him a sense of awe. The
vastness of seen and suggested desert seemed flung at him, as if nature
meant to reveal to him the mystery and might of space. The marvelous
light magnified the cacti and the rocks, and the winding ranges and
the bold peaks, and the distances, until all were unreal. Adam felt
that he had overcome a great hardship, accomplished a remarkable feat,
had climbed and descended a range as sharp toothed as jagged lava. But
to what end! Something in the bewildering light of the west, in the
purple shadows growing cold in the east, in the tremendous oppression
of illimitable space and silence and solitude and desolation--something
inexplicable repudiated and mocked his physical sense of great
achievement.

All at once, in a flash, he remembered his passion, his crime, his
terror, his flight. Not until that instant had intelligence operated in
harmony with his feelings. He lifted his face in the cool, darkening
twilight. The frowning mountains held aloof, and all about him seemed
detached, rendering his loneliness absolute and immutable.

“Oh! Oh!” he moaned. “What will become of me?... No family--no
friends--no hope!... Oh, Guerd--my brother! His blood on my hands!...
He ruined my life! He’s killed my soul!... Oh, damn him, damn him! he’s
made me a murderer!”

Adam fell face down on the rock with breaking heart. His exceeding
bitter cries seemed faint and lost in the midst of the vastness of
desert and sky. The deepening of twilight to darkness, the cold black
grandeur of the great peak, the mournful wail of a desert wolf, the
pure pale evening star that pierced the purple sky, the stupendous
loneliness and silence of that solitude--all these facts seemed
Nature’s pitiless proof of her indifference to man and his despair.
His hope, his prayer, his frailty, his fall, his burden and agony and
life--these were nothing to the desert that worked inscrutably through
its millions of years, nor to the illimitable expanse of heaven,
deepening its blue and opening its cold, starry eyes. But a spirit as
illimitable and as inscrutable breathed out of the universe and over
the immensity of desert space--a spirit that breathed to the soul of
the ruined man and bade him rise and take up his burden and go on down
the naked shingles of the world.

Despair and pride and fear of death, and this strange breath of life,
dragged Adam up and drove him down the desert road. For a mile he
staggered and plodded along, bent and bowed like an old man, half
blinded by tears and choked by sobs, abject in his misery; yet even
so, the something in him that was strongest of all--the instinct to
survive--made him keep to the hard, gravelly side of the road, that his
tracks might not show in the dust.

And that action of blood and muscle, because it came first in the order
of energy, gradually assumed dominance of him, until again he was
an escaping fugitive, mostly concerned with direction and objective
things. The direction took care of itself, being merely a matter of
keeping along the edge of the road that gleamed pale in front of him.
Objects near at hand, however, had to be carefully avoided. Rocks were
indistinct in the gloom; _ocatilla_ cacti thrust out long spectral
arms; like the tentacles of an octopus; and shadows along the road took
the alarming shape of men and horses and wagons. All around him, except
to the west, was profound obscurity, and in that direction an endless
horizon, wild and black and sharp, with sweeping bold lines between the
spurs, stood silhouetted against a pale-blue, star-fired sky. Miles and
miles he walked, and with a strength that had renewed. He never looked
up at the heavens above. Often he halted to turn and listen. These
moments were dreaded ones. But he heard only a faint breeze.

Morning broke swiftly and relentlessly, a gray, desert dawning. Dim
columns of smoke scarce a mile away showed him that Yuma was close.
Fields and cattle along the road, and then an Indian hut, warned him
that he was approaching the habitations of men and sooner or later he
would be seen. He must hide by day and travel by night. Bordering the
road to his left was a dense thicket of arrowweed, indicating that he
had reached the bottom lands of the river. Into this Adam crawled like
a wounded and stealthy deer. Hunger and thirst were slight, but his
whole body seemed a throbbing ache. Both mind and body longed for the
oblivion that came at once in sleep.



CHAPTER VII


Adam’s heavy slumbers were punctuated by periods when he half awakened,
drowsily aware of extreme heat, of discomfort and sluggish pain, and of
vague sounds.

Twilight had fallen when he fully awakened, stiff and sore, with a
gnawing at his stomach and a parching of mouth and throat from thirst.
He crawled out of the copse of arrowweed, to the opening by which he
had entered it, and, stealthily proceeding on to the road, he peered
out and listened. No man in sight--no sound to alarm! Consciousness
of immense relief brought bitterly home to him the fact that he was a
fugitive. Taking to the road, he walked rapidly in the direction of the
lights. He passed low, dark huts somewhat back from the road, and he
heard strange voices, probably of Indians.

In about a quarter of an hour he came to the river basin, where the
road dropped down somewhat into the outskirts of Yuma. Most of the
lights were across the river on the Arizona side. He met both Mexicans
and Indians who took no apparent notice of him, and this encouraged
Adam to go on with them down to a ferry-boat.

The boat was shoved off. Adam saw that it was fastened to the cable
overhead by ropes and pulleys. The current worked it across the river.
Adam got out with the rest of the passengers, and, leaving them, he
walked down the bank a few rods. He found a little dock with a skiff
moored to it, and here he lay flat and drank his fill. The water was
full of sand, but cool and palatable. Then he washed his face and
hands. The latter were swollen and stiff from the cactus thorns,
rendering them clumsy.

Next in order for him was to find a place to eat, and soon he came at
once upon an eating house where several rough-looking white men and
some Mexicans were being served by a Chinaman.

When he ended this meal he had determined upon a course to take. He
needed a gun, ammunition, canteen, burro, and outfit; and he hardly
expected to be able to purchase them after dark, without exciting
suspicion. All the same, he set out to look.

A short walk brought Adam to a wide street, dimly lighted by the
flare of lamps from open doors of saloons and stores. He halted in a
shadow on the corner. A stream of men was passing--rugged, unshaven,
dusty-booted white men, and Mexicans with their peaked sombreros and
embroidered jackets and tight braided trousers.

Presently Adam ventured forth and walked up the street. The town
resembled Picacho in its noisiest hours, magnified many times. He felt
a wildness he could not see or hear. It dragged at him. It somehow made
him a part of the frontier life. He longed to escape from himself.

A glimpse of a tall man in black frock coat startled Adam. That coat
reminded him of Collishaw. He sheered down a side street into the
gloom. He saw wagons and heard the munch of horses in stalls. Evidently
this place was a barnyard and might afford him a safe retreat for the
night. The first wagon he examined contained straw. Climbing into it,
he lay down. For a long time he lay there, worrying over the risk he
must run next day, until at length he fell asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

When day dawned, however, Adam had not such overpowering dread. The sun
was rising in red splendor and the day promised to be hot. As it was
early, but few people were to be encountered, and this fact lent Adam
more courage. He had no difficulty in finding the place where he had
eaten the night before. Adam ate as heartily as he could, not because
he was hungry, but for the reason that he had an idea he might have to
travel far on this meal.

That done, he sallied forth to find a store where he could purchase the
outfit he needed; and he approached the business section by a street
that climbed to what was apparently the highest point in Yuma.

Adam entered a store, and almost forgot himself in the interest of
the purchases he wanted to make. He needed a small mule, or burro, to
pack his outfit, and while the storekeeper went out to get it for Adam
several Mexicans entered. One of them recognized Adam. He cried out,
“Santa Maria!” and ran out, followed by his amazed but less hurried
comrades. It took Adam a moment to place the man in mind. Felix! the
Mexican that had drawn a knife on Arallanes.

Therefore Adam pondered. He must take risks to get away with this
necessary outfit. The storekeeper, who had gone out through the back
of the store, returned to say he could furnish a good burro ready to
be packed at once. Adam made a deal with him for the whole outfit
and began to count out the money. The storekeeper did not wait, and,
gathering up an armful of Adam’s purchases, he carried them out through
the back door. This gave Adam opportunity to have a look from the front
door into the street. There strode Felix, gesticulating wildly to
the white man Adam had seen before, the black-coated tall Collishaw,
significant and grim, with a white bandage over his face.

A shock pierced Adam’s heart, and it was followed by a terrible icy
compression, and then a bursting gush of blood, a flood of fire over
all his body. Leaping like a deer, he bounded back through the store,
out of the door, and across an open space full of implements, wagons,
and obstacles he had to run around or jump over. He did not see the
storekeeper. One vault took him over a high board fence into an alley,
and through this he ran into a street. He headed for the river, running
fleetly, blind to all around him but the ground flying under his
feet and the end of the street. He gained that. The river, broad and
swirling, lay beneath him. Plunging down the bank, he flew toward the
dock. Upon reaching the dock, Adam espied a skiff, with oars in place,
with bow pulled up on the sand. One powerful shove sent it, with him
aboard, out into the stream. He bent the oars in his long, strong
sweeps, and it took him only a few moments to cross. Not yet had any
men appeared in pursuit or even to take notice of him. As he jumped out
on the California shore of the river and began to run north, he found
that he faced the lone black mountain peak which dominated the rise
of the desert. The dust was ankle deep. It stifled him, choked him,
and caked on his sweaty face and hands. He strode swiftly, oppressed
by the dust and intolerant of the confining borders of yellow brush.
The frequent bends in the road were at once a relief and a dread.
They hid him, yet obstructed his own view. He seemed obsessed by a
great, passionate energy to escape. When he looked back he thought of
Collishaw, of sure pursuit; when he looked ahead he thought of the
road, the dust, the brush into which he wanted to hide, the physical
things to be overcome.

By and by he climbed and passed out of the zone of brush. He was on
the open gravel ridges, like the ridges of a washboard, up and down,
and just as bare. Yet, as a whole, there was a distinct slope upward.
He could not see the level of the desert, but the lone mountain peak,
close at hand now, red and black and shining, towered bleakly over him.

Adam derived satisfaction from the fact that the hard gravel ridges
did not take imprint of his boots. Assured now that escape was in
his grasp, he began to put his mind upon other considerations of his
flight. He was not such a fool as to underrate the danger of his
venturing out upon the desert without food, and especially without
water. Already he was thirsty. These thoughts, and counter ones,
pressed hard upon him until he surmounted the long slope to the top of
the desert mesa. Here he looked back.

First he saw clouds of dust puffing up from the brush-covered lowlands,
and then, in an open space where the road crossed, he espied horsemen
coming at a gallop. Again, and just as fiercely, did his veins seem to
freeze, his blood to halt, and then to burst into flame.

“Collishaw--and his men!” gasped Adam, his jaw dropping. “They’ve
trailed me!... They’re after me--on horses!”

The apparent fact was terrific in its stunning force. Adam reeled; his
sight blurred. It was a full moment before he could rally his forces.
Then, gazing keenly, he saw that his pursuers were still miles away.

At first he ran fleetly, with endurance apparently unimpaired, but he
meant to slow down and husband his strength as soon as he dared. Before
him stretched a desert floor of fine, shining gravel, like marbles,
absolutely bare of any vegetation for what seemed hundreds of yards;
and then began to appear short bunches of low meager brush called
greasewood, and here and there isolated patches of _ocatilla_. These
multiplied and enlarged in the distance until they looked as if they
would afford cover enough to hide Adam from his pursuers. Hot, wet with
sweat, strong, and panting, he ran another mile, to find the character
of the desert changing.

Reaching the zone of plant life, he soon placed a thin but effective
barrier of greasewood and _ocatilla_ behind him. Then he slowed down
to catch his breath. Before him extended a vast hazy expanse, growing
darker with accumulated growths in the distance. To the right rose the
chocolate mountain range, and it ran on to fade in the dim horizon.
Behind him now stood the lone black peak, and to the left rose a low,
faint wavering line of white, like billows of a sea. This puzzled him
until at length he realized it was sand. Sand--and it, like the range,
faded in the distant horizon.

Adam also made the discovery that as he looked back over his shoulder
he was really looking down a long, gradual slope. Plainly he could see
the edge of the desert where he had come up, and often, as he traveled
along at a jog trot, he gazed around with fearful expectancy. He had
imagined that his running had given rise to the breeze blowing in his
face. But this was not so. A rather stiff wind was blowing straight at
him. It retarded his progress, and little puffs of fine, invisible sand
or dust irritated his eyes. Then the tears would flow and wash them
clear again. With all his senses and feelings there mingled a growing
preponderance of thought or realization of the tremendous openness of
the desert. He felt as though a door of the universe had opened to him,
and all before him was boundless. He had no fear of it; indeed, there
seemed a comfort in the sense of being lost in such a vastness; but
there was something intangible working on his mind. The wind weighed
upon him, the coppery sky weighed upon him, the white sun weighed upon
him, and his feet began to take hold of the ground. How hot the top
of his head and his face! All at once the sweat appeared less copious
and his skin drier. With this came a strong thirst. The saliva of his
mouth was pasty and scant. He swallowed hard and his throat tightened.
A couple of pebbles that he put into his mouth mitigated these last
sensations.

Intelligence gave him pause then, and he halted in his tracks. If death
was relentlessly pursuing him, it was no less confronting him there to
the fore, if he passed on out of reach of the river. Death from thirst
was preferable to capture, but Adam was not ready to die. He who had
loved life clung to it all the more fiercely now that the sin of Cain
branded his soul. He still felt unlimited strength and believed that
he could go far. But the sun was hotter than he had ever experienced
it; the heat appeared to strike up from the earth as well as burn down
from above; and it was having a strange effect upon him. He had sensed
a difficulty in keeping to a straight line of travel, and at first had
put it down to his instinct for zigzagging to his greasewood bush and
that _ocatilla_ plant to place them behind him. Moving on again, he
turned toward the chocolate mountain and the river.

It seemed close. He saw the bare gray desert with its green growths
slope gradually to the rugged base of the range. Somewhere between him
and there ran the river. He strained his eyesight. How strangely and
clearly the lines of one ridge merged into the lines of another! There
must be distance between them. But it could not be seen. The range
looked larger and farther away the more he studied it--the air more
full of transparent haze, the red and russet and chocolate hues more
quiveringly suggestive of illusion.

“Look here,” panted Adam, as he halted once more. “I’ve been told about
the desert. But I didn’t pay particular attention and now I can’t
remember.... I only know it’s hot--and this won’t do.”

It was just then that Adam, gazing back down the gray desert, saw puffs
of dust and horses.

Panic seized him. He ran directly away from his pursuers, bending low,
looking neither to right nor to left, violent, furious, heedless, like
an animal in flight. And with no sense of direction, with no use of
reason, he ran on till he dropped.

Then his breast seemed to split and his heart to lift with terrific
pressure, agonizing and suffocating. He lay on the ground and gasped,
with his mouth in the dust. Gradually the paroxysm subsided.

He arose to go on, hot, dry, aching, dizzy, but still strong in his
stride.

“I’ve--got--away,” he said, “and now--the river--the river.”

Fear of Collishaw had been dulled. Adam could think of little besides
the heat and his growing thirst, and this thing--the desert--that was
so strange, so big, so menacing. It did not alarm him that his skin was
no longer wet with sweat, but the fact struck him singularly.

The wind was blowing sand in his face, obstructing his sight. Suddenly
his feet dragged in sand. Dimly then he made out low sand dunes with
hollows between, and farther on larger dunes waving and billowing on to
rise to what seemed mountains of sand. He saw them as through a veil of
dust. Turning away, he plodded on, half blinded, fighting the blast of
wind that was growing stronger. The air cleared somewhat. Sand dunes
were all around him, and to his right, in the direction he thought was
wrong, loomed the chocolate range. He went that way, and again the
flying sand hid a clear view. A low, seeping, silken rustle filled the
air, sometimes rising to a soft roar. He thought of what he had heard
about sandstorms, but he knew this was not one. Unwittingly he had
wandered into the region of the dunes, and the strong gusty wind swept
up the fine sand in sheets and clouds. He must get out. It could not
be far to the level desert again. He plodded on, and the way he chose,
with its intermittent views of the mountains, at last appeared to be
the wrong one. So he turned again. And as he turned, a stronger wind,
now at his back, whipped up the sand till all was pale yellow around
him, thick and opaque and moaning, through which the sun shone with
strange magenta hue. He did not dare rest or wait. He had to plod on.
And the way led through soft, uneven sand, always dragging at his feet.

After a while Adam discovered that when he trudged down into the
hollows between dunes he became enveloped in flying sand that forced
him to cover mouth and eyes with his scarf and go choking on, but when
he climbed up over a dune the air became clearer and he could breath
easier. Thus instinctively he favored the ascents, and thus he lost
himself in a world of curved and sculptured sand dunes, gray and yellow
through the flying mists, or steely silver under the gleaming sunlight.
The wind lulled, letting the sand settle, and then he saw he was lost
as upon a trackless ocean, with no landmarks in sight. On all sides
heaved beautiful white mounds of sand, ribbed and waved and laced with
exquisitely delicate knife-edged curves. And these crests changed like
the crests of waves, only, instead of flying spray, these were curled
and shadowed veils of sand blowing from the scalloped crowns. Then
again the wind, swooping down, whipped and swept the sand in low thick
sheets on and on over the dunes, until thin rising clouds obscured the
sky.

Adam climbed on, growing weaker. As the heat had wrought strangely
upon his blood, so the sand had dragged strength from his legs. His
situation was grave, but, though he felt the dread and pity of it, a
certain violence of opposition had left him. That was in his will. He
feared more the instinctive reaction--the physical resistance that
was growing in him. Merryvale had told him how men lost on the desert
could die of thirst in one day. But Adam had scarcely credited that;
certainly he did not believe it applicable to himself. He realized,
however, that unless he somehow changed the present condition sun and
sand would overwhelm him. So when from a high knoll of sand he saw down
into a large depression, miles across, where clumps of mesquites showed
black against the silver, he descended toward them and eventually
reached them, ready indeed to drop into the shade.

Here under a thick-foliaged mesquite he covered his face with a
handkerchief, his head with his coat, and settled himself to rest and
wait. It was a wise move. At once he felt by contrast what the fierce
sun had been. Gradually the splitting headache subsided to a sensation
that seemed to Adam like a gentle boiling of blood in his brain. He
could hear it. His dry skin became a little moist; the intolerable burn
left it; his heart and pulse ceased such labored throbbing; and after a
time his condition was limited to less pain, a difficulty in breathing,
and thirst. These were bearable.

From time to time Adam removed the coverings to look about him. The
sun was westering. When it sank the wind would cease to blow and then
he could find a way out of this wilderness of sand dunes. Leaning back
against a low branch of the tree, he stretched out, and such was his
exhaustion and the restfulness of the posture that he fell asleep.

When he awoke he felt better, though half smothered. He had rested. His
body was full of dull aches, but no more pain. His mouth did not appear
so dry or his tongue so swollen; nevertheless, the thirst remained,
giving his throat a sensation of puckering, such as he remembered he
used to have after eating green persimmons.

Then Adam, suddenly realizing what covered his head, threw off the
coat and handkerchief. And his eyes were startled by such a sight as
they had never beheld--a marvelous unreality of silver sheen and black
shadow, a starry tracery of labyrinthine streams on a medium as weird
and beautiful and intangible as a dream.

“O God! am I alive or dead?” he whispered in awe. And his voice proved
to him that he and his burden had not slipped into the oblivion of the
beyond.

Night had fallen. The moon had arisen. The stars shone lustrously. The
sky burned a deep rich blue. And all this unreal beauty that had mocked
him was only the sculptured world of sand translating the magnificence
and splendor of the heavens.

More than all else, Adam grew sensitive to the oppressiveness of
the silence. His first steps were painful, a staggering, halting
gait, that exercise at length worked into some semblance of his old
stride. The cold desert air invigorated him, and if it had not been
for the discomfort of thirst he would have been doing well under the
circumstances.

A sense of direction that had nothing to do with his intelligence
prompted him to face east. He obeyed it. And he walked for what seemed
hours over a moon-blanched sea of sand, to climb at last a high dune
from which he saw the dark, level floor of the desert, and far across
the shadowy space a black range of mountains. He thought he recognized
the rugged contour, and when, sweeping his gaze southward, he saw the
lone mountain looming like a dark sentinel over the desert gateway,
then he was sure of his direction. Over there to the east lay the
river. And he had long hours of the cool night to travel.

From this vantage point Adam looked back over the silver sea of sand
dunes; and such was the sight of it that even in his precarious
condition he was stirred to his depths. The huge oblong silver moon
hung low over that vast heaving stretch of desert. It was a wasteland,
shimmering with its belts and plains of moonlit sand, blank and
mysterious in its shadows, an abode of loneliness. An inexplicable
sadness pervaded Adam’s soul. This wasteland and he seemed identical.
How strange to feel that he did not want to leave it! Life could not
be sustained in this sepulcher of the desert. But it was not life that
his soul yearned for then--only peace. And peace dwelt there in that
solitude of the sands.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gray dawn found Adam many miles closer to the mountain range. Yet
it was still far and his former dread returned. On every side what
interminable distances!

A deepening rose color over the eastern horizon appeared to be
reflected upon the mountain peaks, and this glow crept down the dark
slopes. Gray dawn changed to radiant morning with an ethereal softness
of color. When the blazing disk of the sun shone over the ramparts of
the east all that desert world underwent a wondrous transfiguration.
The lord of day had arisen and this was his empire. Red was the hue
of his authority, emblazoned in long vivid rays over the ranges and
the wastelands. Then the great orb of fire cleared the horizon and the
desert seemed aflame.

One moment Adam gave to the marvel and glory of the sunrise, and then
he looked no more. That brief moment ended in a consciousness of the
gravity of his flight. For the first touch of sun on face and hands
burned hot, as if it suddenly aggravated a former burn that the night
had soothed.

“Got to reach--river soon,” he muttered, thickly, “or never will.”

He walked on while the sun climbed.

Desert vegetation increased. Adam toiled on, breathing hard, careless
now of the reaching thorns and heedless of the rougher ground.

He was perfectly conscious of a subtle changing of his spirit, but
because it seemed a drifting farther and farther from thought he could
not comprehend it. Courage diminished as fear augmented. More and more
his will and intelligence gave way to sensorial perceptions. More and
more he felt the urge to hurry, and, though reason warned against the
folly of this, it was not strong enough to compel him to resist. He did
hurry more and stumbled along. Like breath of a furnace the heat rose
from the rocky, sandy soil; and from above there seemed to bear down
the weight of the leaden fire.

His skin became as dry as dust and began to shrivel. It did not
blister. The pain now came from burn of the flesh underneath. He felt
that his blood was drying up. A stinging sensation as of puncture
by a thousand thorns throbbed in his face and neck. The heat burned
through his clothes, and the soles of his boots were coals of fire.
Doggedly he strove forward. A whistle accompanied his panting breaths.
Most intolerable of all was thirst--the bitter, astringent taste in
the scant saliva that became pasty and dry, the pain in his swelling
tongue, the parched constriction in his throat.

At last he reached the base of a low rocky ridge which for long had
beckoned to him and mocked him. It obstructed sight of the slope to the
mountain range. Surely between that ridge and the slope ran the river.
The hope spurred him upward.

As he climbed he gazed up into the coppery sky, but his hot and tired
eyes could not endure the great white blaze that was the sun. Halfway
up he halted to rest, and from here he had measureless view of the
desert. Then his dull brain revived to a final shock. For he seemed to
see a thousand miles of green-gray barrenness, of lifting heat veils
like transparent smoke, of wastes of waved sand, and of ranges of
upheaved rock. How terribly it confronted him! Pitiless mockery of
false distances on all sides! A sun-blasted world not meant for man!

Then Adam ascended to the summit of the ridge. A glaring void seemed
flung at him. His chocolate-hued mountain range was not far away. From
this height he could see all the gray-green level of desert between him
and the range. He stared. Again there seemed flung in his face a hot
glare of space. There was no river.

“Where, where’s--the river?” gasped Adam, mistrusting his eyesight.

But the wonderful Rio Colorado, the strange red river beloved by desert
wanderers, did not flow before him--or to either side--or behind. It
must have turned to flow on the other slope of this insurmountable
range.

“God has--forsaken me!” cried Adam, in despair, and he fell upon the
rocks.

But these rocks, hot as red-hot plates of iron, permitted of no
contact, even in a moment of horror. Adam was burned to stagger up,
to plunge and run and fall down the slope, out upon the level, to the
madness that awaited him.

He must rush on to the river--to drink and drink--to bathe in the cool
water that flowed down from the snow-fed lakes of the north. Thoughts
about water possessed his mind--pleasant, comforting, hurrying him
onward. Memory of the great river made pictures in his mind, and there
flowed the broad red waters, sullen and eddying and silent. All the
streams and rivers and lakes Adam had known crowded their images across
his inward eye, and this recall of the past was sweet. He remembered
the brook near his old home--the clear green water full of bright
minnows and gold-sided sunfish; how it used to flow swiftly under the
willow banks where violets hid by mossy stones, and how it tarried
in deep dark pools under shelving banks, green and verdant and sweet
smelling; how the ferns used to bend over in graceful tribute and
the lilies float white and gold, with great green-backed frogs asleep
upon the broad leaves. The watering trough on the way to school, many
and many a time, in the happy days gone by, had he drunk there and
splashed his brother Guerd. Guerd, who hated water and had to be made
to wash, when they were little boys! The old well on Madden’s farm with
its round cobblestoned walls where the moss and lichen grew, and where
the oaken bucket, wet and dark and green, used to come up bumping and
spilling, brimful of clear cold water--how vividly he remembered that!
His father had called it granite water, and the best, because it flowed
through the cold subterranean caverns of granite rock. Then there was
the spring in the orchard, sweet, soft water that his mother used to
send him after, and as he trudged home, burdened by the huge bucket, he
would spill some upon his bare feet.

Yes, as Adam staggered on, aimlessly now, he was haunted more and more
by memories of water. That dear, unforgetable time of boyhood when he
used to love the water, to swim like a duck and bask like a turtle--it
seemed far back in the past, across some terrible interval of pain,
vague now, yet hateful. Where was he--and where was Guerd? Something
like a blade pierced his heart.

Suddenly Adam was startled out of this pleasant reminiscence by
something blue and bright that danced low down along the desert floor.
A lake! He halted with an inarticulate cry. There was a lake of blue
water, glistening, exquisitely clear, with borders of green. He could
not help but rush forward. The lake shimmered, thinned, shadowed, and
vanished. Adam halted and, rubbing his eyes, peered hard ahead and
all around. Behind him shone a strip of blue, streaked up and down
by desert plants, and it seemed to be another lake, larger, bluer,
clearer, with a delicate vibrating quiver, as if exquisitely rippled
by a gentle breeze. Green shores were marvelously reflected in the
blue. Adam gaped at this. Had he waded through a lake? He had crossed
that barren flat of greasewood to reach the spot upon which he now
stood. Almost he was forced to run back. But this must be a deceit of
the desert or a madness of his sight. He bent low, and the lake of
blue seemed to lift and quiver upon a thin darkling line of vapor or
transparent shadow. Adam took two strides back--and the thing vanished!
Desert magic! A deception of nature! A horrible illusion to a lost man
growing crazed by thirst!

“Mirage!” whispered Adam, hoarsely. “Blue water! Ha-ha!... Damned
lie--it sha’n’t fool me!”

But as clear perception failed these mirages of the desert did deceive
him. All objects took on a hazy hue, tinged by the red of blood in his
eyes, and they danced in the heat-veiled air. Shadows, glares, cactus,
and brush stood as immovable as the rocks of ages. Only the illusive
and ethereal mirages gleamed as if by magic and shimmered and moved in
that midday trance of the sun-blasted desert.

The time came when Adam plunged toward every mirage that floated so
blue and serene and mystical in the deceiving atmosphere, until hope
and despair and magnified sight finally brought on a mental state
bordering on the madness sure to come.

Then, as he staggered toward this green-bordered pond and that
crystal-blue lake, already drinking and laving in his mind, he began
to hear the beautiful sounds of falling rain, of gurgling brooks,
of lapping waves, of roaring rapids, of gentle river currents, of
water--water--water sweetly tinkling and babbling, of wind-laden murmur
of a mountain stream. And he began to wander in a circle.



CHAPTER VIII


Consciousness returned to Adam. He was lying under an ironwood tree,
over branches of which a canvas had been stretched, evidently to shade
him from the sun. The day appeared to be far spent.

His head seemed to have been relieved of a hot metal band; his tongue
was no longer bursting in his mouth; the boil of his blood had
subsided. His skin felt moist.

Then he heard the rough voice of a man talking to animals, apparently
burros. Movement of body was difficult and somewhat painful; however,
he managed to sit up and look around. Hide-covered boxes and
packsaddles, with duffle and utensils of a prospector, were littered
about, and conspicuous among the articles near him were three large
canvas-covered canteens, still wet. Upon the smoldering embers of a
camp fire steamed a black iron pot. A little beyond the first stood a
very short, broad man, back turned; and he was evidently feeding choice
morsels of some kind to five eager and jealous burros.

“Spoiled--every darn one of you!” he was saying, and the kindness of
his voice belied its roughness. “Why, I used to have burros that could
lick labels off tin cans an’ call it a square meal!”

Then he turned and espied Adam watching him.

“Hullo! You’ve come to,” he said, with interest.

Adam’s gaze encountered an extraordinary-looking man. He could not have
been taller than five and a half feet, and the enormous breadth of him
made him appear as wide as he was long. He was not fat. His immense
bulk was sheer brawn, betokening remarkable strength. His dusty,
ragged clothes were patched like a crazy-quilt. He had an immense
head, a shock of shaggy hair beginning to show streaks of gray, and
a broad face tanned dark as an Indian’s, the lower half of which was
covered with a scant grizzled beard. His eyes, big, dark, rolling,
resembled those of an ox. His expression seemed to be one of set
tranquillity--the impassiveness of bronze.

Adam’s voice was a husky whisper: “Where am--I? Who are you?”

“Young man, my name’s Dismukes,” came the reply, “an’ you’re ninety
miles from anywhere--an’ alive, which’s more than I’d bet on yesterday.”

The words brought Adam a shock of memory. Out there the desert smoked,
sweltering in the spent heat of the setting sun. Slowly Adam lay back
upon the blanket and bundle that had been placed under him for a bed.
The man sat down on one of the hide-covered boxes, fastening his great
eyes upon Adam.

“Am I--all right?” whispered Adam.

“Yes, but it was a close shave,” replied the other.

“You said--something about yesterday. Tell me.”

Dismukes fumbled in his patched vest and, fetching forth a stumpy pipe,
he proceeded to fill it. It was noticeable that he had to use his
little finger to press down the tobacco into the bowl, as the other
fingers of his enormous hands were too large. Adam had never before
seen such scarred, calloused hands.

“It was day before yesterday I run across you,” began Dismukes, after
a comfortable pull at his pipe. “My burro Jinny has the best eyes of
the pack outfit. When I seen her ears go up I got to lookin’ hard,
an’ presently spied you staggerin’ in a circle. I’d seen men do that
before. Sometimes you’d run, an’ again you’d wag along, an’ then you’d
fall an’ crawl. I caught you an’ had to tie you with my rope. You were
out of your head. An’ you looked hard--all dried up--tongue black an’
hangin’ out. I thought you were done for. I poured a canteen of water
over your head an’ then packed you over here where there’s wood an’
water. You couldn’t make a sound, but all the same I knew you were
ravin’ for water. I fed you water a spoonful at a time, an’ every
little while I emptied a canteen over you. Was up all night with you
that night. You recovered awful slow. Yesterday I’d not have gambled
much on your chances. But to-day you came round. I got you to swallow
some soft grub, an’ I guess you’ll soon be pretty good. You’ll be weak,
though. You’re awful thin. I’m curious about how much you weighed. You
look as if you might have been a husky lad.”

“I was,” whispered Adam. “Hundred and eighty-five--or ninety.”

“So I thought. You’ll not go over one hundred an’ twenty now. You’ve
lost about seventy pounds.... Oh, it’s a fact! You see, the body is
’most all water, an’ on this desert in summer a man just dries up an’
blows away.”

“Seventy--pounds!” exclaimed Adam, incredulously. But when he glanced
at his shrunken hands he believed the incomprehensible fact. “I must be
skin--and bones.”

“Mostly bones. But they’re long, heavy bones, an’ if you ever get any
flesh on them you’ll be a darned big man. I’m glad they’re not goin’
to bleach white on the desert, where I’ve seen so many these last ten
years.”

“You saved my life?” suddenly queried Adam.

“Boy, there’s no doubt of that,” returned the other. “Another hour
would have finished you.”

“I--I thank you.... But--so help me God--I wish you hadn’t,” whispered
Adam, poignantly.

Dismukes spent a strange gaze upon Adam.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

Adam halted over the conviction that he could never reveal his
identity; and there leaped to his lips the name the loquacious Regan
had given him.

“Wansfell,” he replied.

Dismukes averted his gaze. Manifestly he divined that Adam had lied.
“Well, it’s no matter what a man calls himself in this country,” he
said. “Only everybody an’ everythin’ has to have a name.”

“You’re a prospector?”

“Yes. But I’m more a miner. I hunt for gold. I don’t waste time tryin’
to sell claims. Years ago I set out to find a fortune in gold. My limit
was five hundred thousand dollars. I’ve already got a third of it--in
banks an’ hid away safe.”

“When you get it--your fortune--what then?” inquired Adam, with
thrilling curiosity.

“I’ll enjoy life. I have no ties--no people. Then I’ll see the world,”
replied the prospector, in deep and sonorous voice.

A wonderful passion radiated from him. Adam saw a quiver run over the
huge frame. This Dismukes evidently was as extraordinary in character
as in appearance. Adam felt the man’s strangeness, his intelligence,
and the inflexible will and fiery spirit. Yet all at once Adam felt
steal over him an emotion of pity that he could not understand. How
strange men were!

At this juncture the prospector was compelled to drive the burros out
of camp. Then he attended to his cooking over the fire, and presently
brought a bowl of steaming food to Adam.

“Eat this slow--with a spoon,” he said, gruffly. “Never forget that a
man starved for grub or water can kill himself quick.”

During Adam’s long-drawn-out meal the sun set and the mantle of heat
seemed to move away for the coming of shadows. Adam found that his
weakness was greater than he had supposed, rendering the effort of
sitting up one he was glad to end. He lay back on the blankets, wanting
to think over his situation rather than fall asleep, but he found
himself very drowsy, and his mind vaguely wandered until it was a
blank. Upon awakening he saw the first gray of dawn arch the sky. He
felt better, almost like his old self, except for that queer sensation
of thinness and lightness, most noticeable when he lifted his hand.
Dismukes was already astir, and there, a few rods from camp, stood the
ludicrous burros, as if they had not moved all night. Adam got up and
stretched his limbs, pleased to find that he appeared to be all right
again, except for a little dizziness.

Dismukes evinced gladness at the fact of Adam’s improvement. “Good!”
he exclaimed. “You’d be strong enough to ride a burro to-day. But it’s
goin’ to be hot, like yesterday. We’d better not risk travelin’.”

“How do you know it’s going to be as hot as yesterday?” inquired Adam.

“I can tell by the feel an’ smell of the air, an’ mostly that dull
lead-colored haze you see over the mountains.”

Adam thought the air seemed cool and fresh, but he did see a dull pall
over the mountains. Farther toward the east, where the sunrise lifted
an immense and wondrous glow, this haze was not visible.

The remark of Dismukes anent the riding of a burro disturbed Adam. This
kindly prospector meant to take him on to his destination. Impossible!
Adam had fled to the desert to hide, and the desert must hide him,
alive or dead. The old, thick, clamoring emotions knocked at his heart.
Adam felt gratitude toward Dismukes for not questioning him, and that
forbearance made him want to tell something of his story. Yet how
reluctant he was to open his lips on that score! He helped Dismukes
with the simple morning meal, and afterward with odds and ends of
tasks, all the time cheerful and questioning, putting off what he knew
was inevitable. The day did come on hot--so hot that life was just
bearable for men and beasts in the shade of the big ironwood tree. Adam
slept some of the hours away. He awoke stronger, with more active mind.
Of the next meal Dismukes permitted Adam to eat heartily. And later,
while Dismukes smoked and Adam sat before the camp fire, the moment of
revelation came, quite unexpectedly.

“Wansfell, you’ll not be goin’ to Yuma with me to-morrow,” asserted
Dismukes quietly.

The words startled Adam. He dropped his head. “No--no! Thank you--I
won’t--I can’t go,” he replied, trembling. The sound of his voice
agitated him further.

“Boy, tell me or not, just as you please. But I’m a man you can trust.”

The kindness and a nameless power invested in this speech broke down
what little restraint remained with Adam.

“I--I can’t go.... I’m an outcast.... I must hide--hide in
the--desert,” burst out Adam, covering his face with his hands.

“Was that why you came to the desert?”

“Yes--yes.”

“But, boy, you came without a canteen or grub or burro or gun--or
anythin’. In all my years on the desert I never saw the like of that
before. An’ only a miracle saved your life. That miracle was Jinny’s
eyes. You owe your life to a long-eared, white-faced burro. Jinny has
eyes like a mountain sheep. She saw you--miles off. An’ such luck won’t
be yours twice. You can’t last on this desert without the things to
sustain life.... How did it happen that I found you here alone--without
anythin’?”

“No time. I--I had to run!” panted Adam.

“What’d you do? Don’t be afraid to tell me. The desert is a place for
secrets, and it’s a lonely place where a man learns to read the souls
of men--when he meets them. You’re not vicious. You’re no---- But never
mind--tell me without wastin’ more words. Maybe I can help you.”

“No one can--help me,” cried Adam.

“That’s not so,” quickly spoke up Dismukes, his voice deep and rolling.
“Some one can help you--an’ maybe it’s me.”

Here Adam completely broke down. “I--I did--something--awful!”

“No crime, boy--say it was no crime,” earnestly returned the prospector.

“O my God! Yes--yes! It was--a crime!” sobbed Adam, shuddering. “But,
man--I swear, horrible as it was--I’m innocent! I swear that. Believe
me.... I was driven--driven by wrongs, by hate, by taunts. If I’d
stood them longer I’d have been a white-livered coward. But I was
driven and half drunk.”

“Well--well!” ejaculated Dismukes, shaking his shaggy head. “It’s bad.
But I believe you an’ you needn’t tell me any more. Life is hell! I was
young once.... An’ now you’ve got to hide away from men--to live on the
desert--to be one of us wanderers of the wastelands?”

“Yes. I must hide. And I want--I need to live--to suffer--to atone!”

“Boy, do you believe in God?” asked the prospector.

“I don’t know. I think so,” replied Adam, lifting his head and striving
for composure. “My mother was religious. But my father was not.”

“Well--well, if you believed in God your case would not be hopeless.
But some men--a few out of the many wanderers--find God out here in
these wilds. Maybe you will.... Can you tell me what you think you want
to do?”

“Oh--to go alone--into the loneliest place--to live there for
years--forever,” replied Adam, with passion.

“Alone. That is my way. An’ I understand how you feel--what you need.
Are you goin’ to hunt gold?”

“No--no.”

“Have you any money?”

“Yes. More than I’ll ever need. I’d like to throw it all away--or give
it to you. But it--it was my mother’s.... And I promised her I’d not
squander it--that I’d try to save.”

“Boy, never mind--an’ I don’t want your money,” interrupted Dismukes.
“An’ don’t do any fool trick with it. You’ll need it to buy outfits.
You can always trust Indians to go to the freightin’ posts for you. But
never let any white men in this desert know you got money. That’s a
hard comparison, an’ it’s justified.”

“I’m already sick with the love men have for money,” said Adam,
bitterly.

“An’ now to figure out an’ make good all that brag of mine,” went on
Dismukes, reflectively. “I’ll need only two days’ grub to get to Yuma.
There’s one sure water hole. I can give you one of my canteens, an’
Jinny, the burro that saved your life. She’s tricky, but a blamed good
burro. An’ by makin’ up enough bread I can spare my oven. So, all told,
I guess I can outfit you good enough for you to reach a canyon up here
to the west where Indians live. I know them. They’re good. You can stay
with them until the hot weather passes. No danger of any white men
runnin’ across you there.”

“But you mustn’t let me have all your outfit,” protested Adam.

“I’m not. It’s only the grub an’ one burro.”

“Won’t you run a risk--with only two days’ rations?”

“Wansfell, every move you can make on this desert is a risk,” replied
Dismukes, seriously. “Learn that right off. But I’m sure. Only
accidents or unforeseen circumstances ever make risks for me now. I’m
what they call a desert rat.”

“You’re most kind,” said Adam, choking up again, “to help a
stranger--this way.”

“Boy, I don’t call that help,” declared Dismukes. “That’s just doin’
for a man as I’d want to be done by. When I talked about help I meant
somethin’ else.”

“What? God knows I need it. I’ll be grateful. I’ll do as you tell me,”
replied Adam, with a strange thrill stirring in him.

“You are a boy--no matter if you’re bigger than most men. You’ve got
the mind of a boy. What a damn pity you’ve got to do this hidin’ game!”
Under strong feeling the prospector got up, and, emptying his pipe, he
began to take short strides to and fro in the limited shade cast by the
ironwood tree. The indomitable force of the man showed in his step, in
the way he carried himself. Presently he turned to Adam and the great
ox eyes burned intensely. “Wansfell, if you were a man I’d never feel
the way I do. But you’re only a youngster--you’re not bad--you’ve had
bad luck--an’ for you I can break my rule--an’ I’ll do it if you’re in
earnest. I’ve never talked about the desert--about its secrets--what
it’s taught me. But I’ll tell you what the desert is--how it’ll be your
salvation--how to be a wanderer of the wasteland is to be strong, free,
happy--if you are honest, if you’re big enough for it.”

“Dismukes, I swear I’m honest--and I’ll be big, by God! or I’ll die
trying,” declared Adam, passionately.

The prospector gave Adam a long, steady stare, a strange gaze such as
must have read his soul.

“Wansfell, if you can live on the desert you’ll grow like it,” he said,
solemnly, as if he were pronouncing a benediction.

Adam gathered from this speech that Dismukes meant to unbosom himself
of many secrets of this wonderful wasteland. Evidently, however, the
prospector was not then ready to talk further. With thoughtful mien
and plodding gait he resumed his short walk to and fro. It struck Adam
then that his appearance was almost as ludicrous as that of his burros,
yet at the same time his presence somehow conveyed a singular sadness.
Years of loneliness burdened the wide bowed shoulders of this desert
man. Adam divined then, in a gust of gratitude, that this plodding
image of Dismukes would always remain in his mind as a picture, a
symbol of the actual good in human nature.

The hot day closed without Adam ever venturing out of the shade of
the tree. Once or twice he had put his hand in a sunny spot to feel
the heat, and it had burned. The night mantled down with its intense
silence, all-embracing, and the stars began to glow white. As Dismukes
sat down near Adam in the glow of the camp fire it was manifest, from
the absence of his pipe and the penetrating, possession-taking power of
his eyes, that he was under the dominance of a singular passion.

“Wansfell,” he began, in low, deep voice, “it took me many years to
learn how to live on the desert. I had the strength an’ the vitality
of ten ordinary men. Many times in those desperate years was I
close to death from thirst--from starvation--from poison water--from
sickness--from bad men--and last, though not least--from loneliness. If
I had met a man like myself, as I am now, I might have been spared a
hell of sufferin’. I did meet desert men who could have helped me. But
they passed me by. The desert locks men’s lips. Let every man save his
own life--find his own soul. That’s the unwritten law of the wastelands
of the world. I’ve broken it for you because I want to do by you as I’d
have liked to be done by. An’ because I see somethin’ in you.”

Dismukes paused here to draw a long breath. In the flickering firelight
he seemed a squatting giant immovable by physical force, and of a will
unquenchable while life lasted.

“Men crawl over the desert like ants whose nests have been destroyed
an’ who have become separated from one another,” went on Dismukes.
“They all know the lure of the desert. Each man has his own idea of
why the desert claims him. Mine was gold--is gold--so that some day I
can travel over the world, rich an’ free, an’ see life. Another man’s
will be the need to hide--or the longin’ to forget--or the call of
adventure--or hate of the world--or love of a woman. Another class is
that of bad men. Robbers, murderers. They are many. There are also
many men, an’ a few women, who just drift or wander or get lost in
the desert. An’ out of all these, if they stay in the desert, but few
survive. They die or they are killed. The Great American Desert is a
vast place an’ it is covered by unmarked graves an’ bleached bones.
I’ve seen so many--so many.”

Dismukes paused again while his broad breast heaved with a sigh.

“I was talkin’ about what men think the desert means to them. In my
case I say gold, an’ I say that as the other man will claim he loves
the silence or the color or the loneliness. But I’m wrong, an’ so is
he. The great reason why the desert holds men lies deeper. I feel
that. But I’ve never had the brains to solve it. I do know, however,
that life on this wasteland is fierce an’ terrible. Plants, reptiles,
beasts, birds, an’ men all have to fight for life far out of proportion
to what’s necessary in fertile parts of the earth. You will learn that
early, an’ if you are a watcher an’ a thinker you will understand it.

“The desert is no place for white men. An oasis is fit for Indians.
They survive there. But they don’t thrive. I respect the Indians. It
will be well for you to live awhile with Indians.... Now what I most
want you to know is this.”

The speaker’s pause this time was impressive, and he raised one of his
huge hands, like a monstrous claw, making a gesture at once eloquent
and strong.

“When the desert claims men it makes most of them beasts. They sink to
that fierce level in order to live. They are trained by the eternal
strife that surrounds them. A man of evil nature survivin’ in the
desert becomes more terrible than a beast. He is a vulture.... On the
other hand, there are men whom the desert makes like it. Yes--fierce
an’ elemental an’ terrible, like the heat an’ the storm an’ the
avalanche, but greater in another sense--greater through that eternal
strife to live--beyond any words of mine to tell. What such men have
lived--the patience, the endurance, the toil--the fights with men an’
all that makes the desert--the wanderin’s an’ perils an’ tortures--the
horrible loneliness that must be fought hardest, by mind as well as
action--all these struggles are beyond ordinary comprehension an’
belief. But I know. I’ve met a few such men, an’ if it’s possible for
the divinity of God to walk abroad on earth in the shape of mankind,
it was invested in them. The reason must be that in the development
by the desert, in case of these few men who did not retrograde, the
spiritual kept pace with the physical. It means these men never forgot,
never reverted to mere unthinking instinct, never let the hard, fierce,
brutal action of survival on the desert kill their souls. Spirit was
stronger than body. I’ve learned this of these men, though I never had
the power to attain it. It takes brains. I was only fairly educated.
An’ though I’ve studied all my years on the desert, an’ never gave up,
I wasn’t big enough to climb as high as I can see. I tell you all this,
Wansfell, because it may be your salvation. Never give up to the desert
or to any of its minions! Never cease to fight! You must fight to
live--an’ so make that fight equally for your mind an’ your soul! Thus
you will repent for your crime, whatever that was. Remember--the secret
is never to forget your hold on the past--your memories--an’ through
thinkin’ of them to save your mind an’ apply it to all that faces you
out there.”

Rising from his seat, Dismukes made a wide, sweeping gesture,
symbolical of a limitless expanse. “An’ the gist of all this talk of
mine--this hope of mine to do for you as I’d have been done by--is that
if you fight an’ think together like a man meanin’ to repent of his
sin--somewhere out there in the loneliness an’ silence you will find
God!”

With that he abruptly left the camp fire to stride off into the
darkness; and the sonorous roll of his last words seemed to linger on
the quiet air.

Every one of his intense words had been burned into Adam’s sensitive
mind in characters and meanings never to be forgotten. Dismukes had
found eager and fertile soil for the planting of the seeds of his
toil-earned philosophy. The effect upon Adam was profound, and so
wrought upon his emotions that the black and hateful consciousness
which had returned to haunt him was as but a shadow of his thought.
Adam stared out into the night where Dismukes had vanished. Something
great had happened. Was the man Dismukes a fanatic, a religious
wanderer of the wasteland, who imagined he had found in Adam an apt
pupil, or who had preached a sermon because the opportunity presented?
No! The prospector had the faith to give out of his lesson of life on
the desert. His motive was the same as when he had risked much to
follow Adam, staggering blindly across the hot sands to his death. And
as Adam felt the mounting passion of conviction, of gratitude, his
stirred mind seemed suddenly to burst into a radiant and scintillating
inspiration of resolve to be the man Dismukes had described, to fight
and to think and to remember as had no one ever before done on the
desert. It was all that seemed left for him. Repentance! Expiation!
True to himself at the last in spite of a horrible and fatal blunder!

“Oh, Guerd! Guerd, my brother!” he cried, shuddering at the whisper of
that name. “Wherever you are in spirit--hear me!... I’ll rise above
wrongs and hate and revenge! I’ll remember our boyhood--how I loved
you! I’ll atone for my crime! I’ll never forget.... I’ll fight and
think to save my soul--and pray for yours!... Hear me and forgive--you
who drove me out into the wastelands!”



CHAPTER IX


Adam lay awake for some length of time, waiting for Dismukes to return,
but he did not come. Adam at length succumbed to drowsiness. It was
Dismukes’s call that awakened him. The sun already tipped the eastern
range, rosy red, and all the open land lay fresh and colorful in the
morning light. Adam felt no severe effects from his hard experience,
except an inordinate hunger, which Dismukes was more disposed to
appease. Still he cautioned Adam not to eat too much.

“Now, Wansfell, you must learn all about burros,” began Dismukes. “The
burro is the most important part of your outfit. This desert would
still be a blank waste, unknown to white man, if it had not been for
those shaggy, lazy, lop-eared little donkeys. Whenever you get sore
at one an’ feel inclined to kill him for some trick or other, just
remember that you could not get along without him.

“Most burros are alike. They hang near camp, as you see mine, hopin’
they can steal a bite of somethin’ if you don’t give it to them.
They’ll eat paper, or ‘most anythin’ except greasewood. They love
paper off bacon. I had one once that ate my overalls. They never get
homesick an’ seem contented in the most desolate places. I had a
burro that was happy in Death Valley, which’s the hell hole of this
wasteland. Burros are seldom responsive to affection. They’ll stand
great abuse. Never expect any thanks. Always patient. They are usually
easy to catch. But they must know you. Only way to catch them is to
head them off. Then they stop. Young burros are easily broke an’ will
follow others. They must be driven. Never knew but one that I could
lead. Don’t forget this. They have the most wonderful endurance--never
stumble or fall--an’ can exist on practically nothin’. When you turn
them loose they’ll nibble around awhile, then stop an’ stand like
rocks, never movin’ for hours an’ hours, as if they were wrapped in
prehistoric thought. In the mornin’ when you start off on your day’s
travel the burros are fresh an’ they drive fine. But in the afternoon,
when they get tired, they think of tricks. They’ll lie down--roll over
on a pack--knock against a rock or tree. They’ll get together in a
bunch to tangle the packs. When a burro intends to lie down he humps
his back an’ wriggles his tail. It’s hard to get burros across streams.
Scared of water! Strange, isn’t that? I’ve had to carry my burros many
a time. But they’ll climb or go down the steepest, roughest mountain
trail without fear. They can slide down a steep slope that a man will
not stick on. Burros have more patience and good qualities, an’ also
cussedness, than any other beasts. They pick out pardners an’ stick
together all the time. A big bunch of burros will pair off regardless
of sex. Never give each other up! They bray at night--an awful sound
till you get used to it. Remember this quick some night when you’re
lifted out of a sleep by a terrible unearthly roar.... Well, I guess
that’s an introduction to desert burros. It’s all serious fact,
Wansfell, as you’ll learn, an’ to your cost, unless you remember.”

How singular for Adam to have the closing words of Dismukes reveal the
absorbing interest of this simple and practical talk about burros! It
amazed Adam to find that he had even been amused, ready to laugh.

“I’ll remember,” he asserted, with conviction.

“Dare say you will,” replied Dismukes, “but the idea is you must
remember before you get in trouble, not after. I can’t tell you when to
know a burro is goin’ to trick you. I’m just givin’ you facts as to the
nature of burros in general. You must study an’ learn them yourself. A
man could spend his life studyin’ burros an’ then have lots to learn.
Most prospectors lose half their time trackin’ their burros. It’s
tryin’ to find burros that has cost many a desert man his life. An’
this is why, if you’ve chosen the desert to live in, you must learn the
habits of the burro. He’s the camel of this Sahara.”

With that the prospector appeared to have talked himself out for the
present, and he devoted his efforts to a selection of parts of his
outfit that manifestly he meant to turn over to Adam. At length having
made the selection to his satisfaction, he went out to wake up the
burro Jinny. As he led Jinny into camp all the other burros trooped
along.

“Watch me pack an’ then you try your hand on Jinny,” he said.

Adam was all eyes while the prospector placed in position the old
ragged pads of skins and blankets, and the packsaddles over them, to
be buckled carefully. It was all comparatively easy until it came to
tying the pack on with a rope in what Dismukes called a hitch. However,
after Dismukes had accomplished it on three of the other burros, Adam
believed he could make a respectable showing. To this end he began to
pack Jinny, and did very well indeed till he got to the hitch, which
was harder to tie than it looked. After several attempts he succeeded.
During this procedure Jinny stood with one long ear up and the other
down, as if nothing on earth mattered to her.

“Carry the canteen of water yourself,” said Dismukes, as he led Adam
out from under the tree and pointed west. “See where that long, low,
sharp ridge comes down to the desert?... Well, that’s fifty miles.
Around that point lies a wide canyon. Indians live up that canyon.
They are good people. Stay with them--work for them till you learn the
desert.... Now as to gettin’ there. Go slow. Rest often in the shade of
ironwoods like this one. Take a good rest durin’ the middle of the day.
As long as you sweat you’re in no danger. But if your skin gets dry
you need to get out of the sun an’ to drink. There are several springs
along the base of this range. Chocolate Mountains, they’re called. By
keepin’ a sharp eye for patches of bright-green brush you’ll see where
the water is. An’ don’t ever forget that water is the same as life
blood.”

Adam nodded solemnly as he realized how the mere thought of thirst
constricted his throat and revived there a semblance of the pain he had
endured.

“Go slow. Maybe you’ll take two or three days to reach the Indians. By
keepin’ that ridge in sight you can’t miss them.”

The next move of the prospector was to take Adam around on the other
side of the tree and wave his hand at the expanse of desert.

“Now follow me an’ get these landmarks in your mind. Behind us lies
the Chocolate range. You see it runs down almost southeast. That shiny
black mountain standin’ by itself is Pilot Knob. It’s near Yuma, as of
course you remember. Now straight across from us a few miles lies a
line of sand dunes. They run same way as the Chocolates. But they’re
low--can’t be seen far. Do you make out a dim, gray, strange-lookin’
range just over the top of them?”

“Yes, I see that clearly. Looks like clouds,” replied Adam.

“That’s the Superstition Mountains. You will hear queer stories about
them. Most prospectors are afraid to go there, though it’s said Pegleg
Smith’s lost gold mine is somewhere in there. The Indians think the
range is haunted. An’ everyone who knows this desert will tell you
how the Superstition range changes somehow from time to time. It does
change. Those mountains are giant sand dunes an’ they change their
shape with the shiftin’ of the winds. That’s the fact, but I’m not
gainsayin’ how strange an’ weird they are. An’ I, for one, believe
Pegleg Smith did find gold there. But there’s no water. An’ how can
a man live without water?... Well, to go on, that dim, purple, high
range beyond the Superstitions lies across the line in Mexico.... Now,
lookin’ round to the right of the Superstitions, to the northwest,
an’ you see how the desert slopes down an’ down on all sides to a
pale, hazy valley that looks like a lake. It’s the Salton Sink--below
sea level--an’ it’s death for a man to try to cross there at this
season. It looks obscured an’ small, but it’s really a whole desert
in itself. In times gone by the Colorado River has broken its banks
while in flood an’ run back in there to fill that sink. Miles an’ miles
of fresh water which soon evaporated! Well, it’s a queer old earth
an’ this desert teaches much.... Now look straight up the valley. The
ragged high peak is San Jacinto an’ the other high one farther north is
San Gorgonio--two hundred miles from here. Prospectors call this one
Grayback because it has the shape of a louse. These mountains are white
with snow in the winter. Beyond them lies the Mohave Desert, an immense
waste, which hides Death Valley in its iron-walled mountains.... Now
comin’ back down the valley on this side you see the Cottonwood range
an’ it runs down to meet the Chocolates. There’s a break in the range.
An’ still farther down there’s a break in the Chocolate range an’
there’s where your canyon comes out. You’ll climb the pass some day,
to get on top of the Chuckwalla Mountains, an’ from there you will see
north to the Mohave an’ east to the Colorado--all stark naked desert
that seems to hit a man in the face.... An’, well, I guess I’ve done my
best for you.”

Adam could not for the moment safely trust himself to speak. The
expanse of desert shown him, thus magnified into its true perspective,
now stretched out with the nature of its distance and nudity
strikingly clear. It did seem to glare a menace into Adam’s face. It
made him tremble. Yet there was fascination in the luring, deceitful
Superstition range, and a sublimity in the measureless sweep of haze
and purple slope leading north to the great peaks, and a compelling
beckoning urge in the mystery and unknown that seemed to abide beyond
the bronze ridge which marked Adam’s objective point.

“I’ll never forget your--your kindness,” said Adam, finally turning to
Dismukes.

The prospector shook hands with him, and his grip was something to
endure.

“Kindness is nothin’. I owed you what a man owes to himself. But don’t
forget anythin’ I told you.”

“I never will,” replied Adam. “Will you let me pay you for the--the
burro and outfit?” Adam made this request hesitatingly, because he did
not know the law of the desert, and he did not want to offer what might
be an offense.

“Sure you got plenty of money?” queried Dismukes, gruffly.

“Indeed I have,” rejoined Adam, eagerly.

“Then I’ll take what the burro an’ grub cost.”

He named a sum that appeared very small to Adam, and, receiving the
money in his horny hands, he carefully deposited it in a greasy
buckskin sack.

“Wansfell, may we meet again,” he said in farewell. “Good luck an’ good
by.... Don’t forget.”

“Good by,” returned Adam, unable to say more.

With a whoop at the four burros and a slap on the haunch of one of
them, Dismukes started them southward. They trotted ahead with packs
bobbing and wagging. What giant strides Dismukes took! He seemed the
incarnation of dogged strength of manhood, yet something ludicrous
clung about him in his powerful action as well as in his immense squat
form. He did not look back.

Adam slapped Jinny on the haunch and started her westward.

The hour was still early morning. A rosy freshness of the sunrise
still slanted along the bronze slopes of the range and here and there
blossoms of _ocatilla_ shone red. The desert appeared to be a gently
rising floor of gravel, sparsely decked with ironwood and mesquite, and
an occasional cactus, that, so far as Adam could see, did not harbor
a living creature. The day did not seem to feel hot, but Adam knew
from the rising heat veils that it was hot. Excitement governed his
feelings. Actually he was on the move, with an outfit and every hope
to escape possible pursuers, with the absolute surety of a hard yet
wonderful existence staring him in the face.

Not until he felt a drag in his steps did he think of his weakened
condition. Resting awhile in the shade of a tree, he let the burro
graze on the scant brush, and then went on again. Thus he traveled on,
with frequent rests, until the heat made it imperative for him to halt
till afternoon. About the middle of the afternoon he packed and set
forth again.

A direct line westward appeared to be bringing him closer to the slope
of the mountain; and it was not long before he saw a thick patch of
green brush that surely indicated a water hole. The very sight seemed
to invigorate him. Nevertheless, the promised oasis was far away,
and not before he had walked till he was weary and rested many times
did he reach it. To find water and grass was like making a thrilling
discovery. Adam unpacked Jinny and turned her loose, not, however,
without some misgivings as to her staying there.

Though he suffered from an extreme fatigue and a weakness that seemed
to be in both muscle and bone, a kind of cheer came to him with the
camp-fire duties. Never had he been so famished! The sun set while he
ate, and, despite his hunger, more than once he had to stop to gaze
down across the measureless slope, smoky and red, that ended in purple
obscurity. It struck him suddenly, as he was putting some sticks of
dead ironwood on the fire, how he had ceased to look back over his
shoulder toward the south. The fire sputtered, the twilight deepened,
the silence grew vast and vague. His eyelids were as heavy as lead, and
all the nerves and veins of his body seemed to run together and to sink
into an abyss the restfulness of which was unutterably sweet.

Some time during Adam’s slumbers a nightmare possessed him. At the
moment he was about to be captured he awakened, cold with clammy sweat
and shaking in every limb. With violent start of consciousness, with
fearful uncertainty, he raised himself to peer around. The desert
night encompassed him. It was late, somewhere near the morning hour.
Low down over the dark horizon line hung a wan distorted moon that
shone with weird luster. Adam saw the black mountain wall above him
apparently lifting to the stars, and the thick shadow of gloom filling
the mouth of the canyon where he lay. He listened. And then he breathed
a long sigh of relief and lay back in his blankets. The silence was
that of a grave. There were no pursuers. He had only dreamed. And he
closed his eyes again, feeling some blessed safeguard in the fact of
his loneliness.

Dawn roused him to his tasks, stronger physically, eager and keen, but
more watchful than he had been the preceding day and with less thrill
than he had felt. He packed in half an hour and was traveling west when
the sun rose. Gradually with the return of his habit of watchfulness
came his former instinctive tendency to look back over his shoulder.
He continually drove this away and it continually returned. The only
sure banishment of it came through action, with its attendant exercise
of his faculties. Therefore he rested less and walked more, taxing his
strength to its utmost that morning, until the hot noon hour forced
him to halt. Then while Jinny nibbled at the bitter desert plants Adam
dozed in the thin shade of a mesquite. Close by grew a large _ocatilla_
cactus covered with red flowers among which bees hummed. Adam never
completely lost sense of this melodious hum, and it seemed to be trying
to revive memories that he shunned.

The sun was still high and hot when Adam resumed travel, but it was
westering and the slanting rays were bearable. After he got thoroughly
warmed up and sweating freely he did not mind the heat, and was able
to drive Jinny and keep up a strong stride for an hour at a time. His
course now led along the base of the mountain wall, and that long low
ridge which marked his destination began to seem less unattainable. The
afternoon waned, the sun sank, the heat declined, and Jinny began to
show signs of weariness. It bothered Adam to keep her headed straight.
He searched the line where desert slope met the mountain wall for
another green thicket of brush marking a water hole, but he could not
see one. Darkness overtook him and he was compelled to make dry camp.
This occasioned him some uneasiness, not that he did not have plenty
of water for himself, but because he worried about the burro and the
possibility of not finding water the next day. Nevertheless, he slept
soundly.

On the following morning, when he had been tramping along for an hour
or more, he espied far ahead the unmistakable green patch of thicket
that heralded the presence of water. The sight stirred him. He walked
well that morning, resting only a couple of hours at noon; but the
green patch, after the manner of distant objects on the desert, seemed
just as far away as when he saw it first. The time came, however, when
there was no more illusion and he knew he was getting close to the
place. At last he reached it, a large green thicket that choked the
mouth of a narrow canyon. He found a spring welling from under the
mountain base and sending a slender stream out to be swallowed by the
sand.

Adam gave Jinny a drink before he unpacked her. There was a desirable
camp site, except that it lacked dead firewood close at hand. Adam
removed the pack, being careful to put boxes and bags together and to
cover them with the canvas. Then he started out to look for some dead
ironwood or mesquite to burn. All the desert growths, mostly greasewood
and mesquite, were young and green. Adam searched in one direction and
then in another, without so much as finding a stick. Next he walked
west along the rocky wall, and had no better success until he came to a
deep recession in the wall, full of brush; and here with considerable
labor he collected a bundle of dry sticks. With this he trudged back
toward camp.

Before long he imagined he saw smoke. “Queer how those smoke trees fool
a fellow,” he said. And even after he thought he smelled smoke, he was
sure of deception. But upon nearing the green thicket that hid his camp
he actually did see thin blue smoke low down against the background of
rocky wall. The sight alarmed him. The only explanation which offered
itself to his perplexity was the possibility that a prospector had
arrived at the spring during his absence and had started a fire. Adam
began to hurry. His alarm increased to dread.

When he ran around the corner of thicket to his camp site he did see
a fire. It was about burned out. There was no prospector, no signs of
packs or burros. And Jinny was gone!

“What--what?” stammered Adam, dropping his bundle of sticks. He was
bewildered. A sense of calamity beset him. He ran forward.

“Where--where’s my pack?” he cried.

The dying fire was but the smoldering remains of his pack. It had
been burned. Blankets, boxes, bags had been consumed. Some blackened
utensils lay on the ground near the charred remains of his canvas. Only
then did the truth of this catastrophe burst upon him. All his food had
been burned.



CHAPTER X


Some moments elapsed before the stunning effects of this loss had worn
off enough to permit Adam’s mind to connect the cause of it with the
disappearance of Jinny.

After careful scrutiny of tracks near where the pack had lain, Adam
became convinced that Jinny was to blame for his destitution. His
proofs cumulated in a handful of unburnt matches that manifestly had
been flung and scattered away from the pack. The tricky burro, taking
advantage of Adam’s absence, had pulled the canvas off the pack, and in
tearing around in the boxes for morsels to eat she had bitten into the
box of matches and set them on fire.

“I didn’t think--I didn’t think!” cried Adam, remembering the advice of
Dismukes.

Overcome by the shock, he sank upon the ground and fell prey to gloomy
and hopeless forebodings.

“I’ll lie down and die,” he muttered. But he could not so much as lie
down. He seemed possessed by a devil who would not admit the idea of
surrender or death. And this spirit likewise seemed to take him by the
hair of his head and lift him up to scatter the tears from his eyes.
“Why can’t I cuss the luck like a man--then look round to see what’s
got to be done?”

Jinny had made good her escape. When Adam gave up all hope of finding
the burro the hour was near sunset and it was high time that he should
decide what to do.

“Go on--to the Indian camp,” he declared, tersely.

He decided to start at once and walk in the cool of night, keeping
close to the mountain wall so as not to lose his way. His spirits
rallied. Going back to the camp scene, he carefully gathered up all
the unburnt matches and placed them with others he carried in his
pocket. He found his bag of salt only partly consumed, and he made
haste to secure it. His canteen lay beside the spring.

The ruddy sunset and the stealing down of twilight and the encroaching
blackness of night had no charms for Adam now. His weariness increased
as the hours prolonged themselves. Short, frequent rests were more
advisable than long ones. The canopy of stars seemed in procession
westward; and many a bright one he watched sink behind the black slope
of mountain toward which he was bound. There were times when his eyes
closed involuntarily and all his body succumbed to sleep as he toiled
on. These drowsy spells always came to a painful end, for he would walk
into a thorny mesquite. Adam saw a weird, misshapen moon rise late
over a dark range to blanch the desert with wan light. He walked all
night, and when dawn showed him landmarks now grown familiar he had a
moment of exhilaration. The long, low-reaching ridge of mountain loomed
right before him. When he rounded the sharp, blunt corner his eyes were
greeted by sight of a deep-mouthed canyon yawning out of the range, and
full of palms and other green trees. He saw a white stream bed and the
shine of water, and what he took to be the roofs of palm-thatched huts.

“I’ve got there. This is the Indian canyon--where Dismukes told me
to stay,” said Adam, with pride in his achievement. A first sight
of what he took to be habitations cheered him. Again that gloomy
companion of his mind was put to rout. It looked worth striving and
suffering for--this haven. The barrenness of the desert all around made
this green canyon mouth an oasis. It appeared well hidden, too. Few
travelers passing along the valley would have suspected its presence.
The long, low ridge had to be rounded before the canyon could be
detected.

With steps that no longer dragged Adam began his descent of the canyon
slope. It was a long, gradual incline, rough toward the bottom, and
the bottom was a good deal farther down than it had seemed. At length
he reached the wide bed of white boulders, strewn about in profusion,
where some flood had rolled them. In the center of this bed trickled a
tiny stream of water, slightly alkaline, Adam decided, judging from the
white stain on the margin of sand. Following the stream bed, he made
his way up into the zone of green growths, a most welcome change from
the open glare of the desert. He plodded on perhaps a mile, without
reaching the yellow thatch of palms.

“Will I--never--get there?” panted Adam, almost spent.

Finally Adam reached a well-defined trail leading up out of the
stream bed. He followed it to a level flat covered with willows and
cottonwoods, all full foliaged and luxuriantly green, and among which
stately palms, swaddled in huge straw sheaths of their own making,
towered with lofty tufted crowns. The dust in the trail showed no
imprints of feet. Adam regarded that as strange. Still, he might be
far from the camp or village that had looked so close from the slope
above. Suddenly he emerged from the green covert into an open glade
that contained palm-thatched huts, and he uttered a little cry of joy.
But it took only a second glance to convince him that the huts were
deserted, and his joy was short lived. Hastily he roamed from one
hut to another. He found ollas, great, clay water jars, and pieces
of broken pottery, and beds of palm leaves through which the lizards
rustled, but no Indians, nor any signs of recent habitation.

“Gone! Gone!” he whispered, hoarsely. “Now--I’ll starve--to death!”

His accents of despair contained a note of hardness, of indifference
born of his extreme fatigue. His eyes refused to stay open, and sleep
glued them shut. When he opened them again it was to the light of
another day. Stiff and lame, with a gnawing at the pit of his stomach
and an oppressed mind, Adam found himself in sad plight. Limping down
to the stream, he bathed his face and quenched his thirst, and then,
removing his boots, he saw that his feet were badly blistered. He
decided to go barefoot, to save his boots as well as to give the raw
places a chance to heal.

Then without any more reflection he wrought himself into a supreme
effort of will, and it was so passionate and strong that he believed it
would hold as long as intelligence governed his actions.

“My one chance is to live here until the Indians come back,” he
decided. There’s water here and green growths. It’s an oasis where
animals, birds, living creatures come to drink.... I must eat.”

His first move was to make slow and careful examination of the trails.
One which led toward the mountain bore faint traces of footprints
that a recent rain had mostly obliterated. He lost this trail on the
smooth rock slope. The others petered out in the stones and sage. Then
he searched along the sand bars of the stream for tracks of living
creatures; and he found many, from cat tracks to the delicate ones of
tiny birds. After all, then, the desert was an abode for living things.
The fact stimulated Adam, and he returned to the glade to exercise
every faculty he possessed in the invention of instruments or traps or
snares.

He had a knife and a pair of long leather boot strings. With these,
and a bundle of arrowweed sticks, and a tough elastic bow of ironwood,
and strips of bark, and sharp bits of flinty rock Adam set to work
under the strong, inventive guiding spirit of necessity. As a boy he
had been an adept at constructing figure-four traps. How marvelous the
accuracy of memory! He had been the one to build traps for his brother
Guerd, who had not patience or skill, but who loved to set traps in
the brier patches for redbirds. Adam’s nimble fingers slacked a little
as his mind surveyed that best part of his life. To what extremity a
man could be reduced! The dexterity of his idle youth to serve him
thus in his terrible hour of need! He remembered then his skill at
making slings; and following this came the inspired thought of the
possibility of constructing one. He had a strong rubber band doubled
round his pocketbook. Sight of it thrilled him. He immediately left off
experimenting with the bow and went to making a sling. His difficulty
was to find cords to make connections between the rubbers and a forked
prong, and also between the rubbers and a carrier of some sort. For the
latter he cut a triangular piece out of the top of his boot. Always in
the old days he had utilized leather from cast-off shoes, and had even
made a collection of old footgear for this purpose. But where to get
the cords? Bark would not be pliable and strong enough. Somewhere from
the clothes he wore he must extract cords. The problem proved easy. His
suspenders were almost new and they were made of linen threads woven
together. When he began to ravel them he made the discovery that there
was enough rubber in them to serve for a second sling.

When the instrument was finished he surveyed it with satisfaction. He
had no doubt that the deadly accuracy he had once been master of with
this boyish engine of destruction would readily return to him. Then he
went back to work on the other contrivances he had planned.

A failing of the daylight amazed him. For an instant he imagined a
cloud had crossed the sun. But the sun had set and darkness was at hand.

“If days fly like this one, life will soon be over,” he soliloquized,
with a sigh.

In one of the thatched huts he made a comfortable bed of palm leaves.
They seemed to retain the heat of the day. When Adam lay down to go
to sleep he experienced a vague, inexplicable sense that the very
strangeness of the present circumstance was familiar to him. But he
could not hold the sensation, so did not understand it. He was very
tired and very sleepy, and there was an uncomfortable empty feeling
within him. He looked out and listened, slowly aware of a great, soft,
silent black enveloping of his environment by the desert night.
There seemed to be an aloofness in the immensity of this approach and
insulation--a nature that, once comprehended, would be appalling. This
thought just flashed by. His mind seemed concerned with something
between worry and fear which persisted till he fell asleep.

In the dim, gray dawn he awoke and realized that it was hunger which
had awakened him. And he stole out on his imperative quest. He did not
see the sunrise nor the broadening day. His instinct was to hunt. Doves
and blackbirds visited the stream, and a covey of desert quail seemed
tame; but, owing to overeagerness and clumsiness, he did not succeed in
killing a single one. He followed them from place to place, all over
the oasis, until he lost sight of them. He baited his two traps with
cactus fruit and set them, and he prowled into every nook and cranny of
the canyon oasis. Lizards, rattlesnakes, rats, ground squirrels rustled
from his stealthy steps. It amazed him how wary they were. He might
have caught the rattlesnakes, but the idea of eating them was repugnant
and impossible to him. The day passed more swiftly than had yesterday.
Its close found him so tired he could scarcely stand, and with gnawing
hunger growing worse. The moment he lay down sleep claimed him.

Next day he had more and better opportunities to secure meat, but he
failed through haste and poor judgment and inaccuracy. His lessons were
severe and they taught him the stern need of perfection. That day he
saw a hawk poise high over a spot, dart down swiftly, to rise with a
squealing rat in its claws. Again he saw a shrike, marked dull gray
and black, sail down from a tree, fly very low along an open space of
ground to avoid detection, and pounce upon a lizard. Likewise he saw
a horned toad shoot out an extraordinarily long and almost invisible
tongue, to snatch a bee from a flower. In these actions Adam divined
his first proof of the perfection of desert hunters. They did not fail.
But he was not thus equipped.

All during the hot period of the day, when birds and animals rested,
Adam practiced with his crude weapons. His grave, serious eagerness
began to give way to instinctive force, a something of fierceness that
began to come out in him. It seemed every moment had its consciousness
of self, of plight, of presaged agony, but only in flashes of thought,
only fleeting ideas instantly repudiated by the physical. He had given
a tremendous direction to his mind and it spent its force that way.

The following morning, just at sunrise, he located the covey of desert
quail. They had sailed down from the sage slopes to alight among the
willows bordering the stream. Adam crawled on the sand, noiseless as
a snake, his sling held in readiness. He was breathless and hot. His
blood gushed and beat in his veins. The very pursuit of meat made the
saliva drip from his mouth and made his stomach roll with pangs of
emptiness. Then the strain, the passion of the moment, were beyond
his will to control, even if there had not been a strange, savage joy
in them. He glided through the willows, never rustling a branch. The
plaintive notes of the quail guided him. Then through an opening he
saw them--gray, sleek, plump birds, some of them with tiny plumes.
They were picking in the damp sand near the water. Adam, lying flat,
stretched his sling and waited for a number of the quail to bunch. Then
he shot. The heavy pebble sped true, making the gray feathers fly. One
quail lay dead. Another fluttered wildly. The others ran off through
the willows. Adam rushed upon the crippled quail, plunging down swift
and hard; and catching it, he wrung its neck. Then he picked up the
other.

“I got ’em! I got ’em!” he cried, elated, as he felt the warm plump
bodies. It was a moment of strange sensation. Breathless, hot, wet with
sweat, shaking all over, he seemed to have reverted to the triumph of
the boy hunter. But there was more, and it had to do with the physical
reactions inside his body. It had to do with hunger.

Picking the feathers off these birds required too much time. Adam
skinned them and cleaned them, and then washed them in the stream.
That done, he hurried back to his camp to make a fire and cook them. A
quick method would be to broil them. He had learned how to do this with
strips of meat. His hunger prevented him from waiting until the fire
was right, and it also made him hurry the broiling. The salt that he
had rescued from his pack now found its use, and it was not long before
he had picked clean the bones of these two quail.

Adam found that this pound or so of meat augmented his hunger. It
changed the gnawing sensations, in fact modified them, but it induced
a greedy, hot hunger for more. An hour after he had eaten, as far as
appetite was concerned, he seemed worse off. Then he set out again in
quest of meat.

The hours flew, the day ended, night intervened, and another dawn
broke. Success again crowned his hunt. He feasted on doves. Thereafter,
day by day, he decimated the covey of tame quail and the flock of tame
doves until the few that were left grew wary and finally departed. Then
he hunted other birds. Quickly they learned the peril of the white man;
and the day came when few birds visited the oasis.

Next to invite Adam’s cunning, were the ground squirrels, the trade
rats, and the kangaroo rats. He lived off them for days. But they grew
so wary that he had to dig them out of the ground, and they finally
disappeared. At this juncture a pair of burros wandered into the oasis.
They were exceedingly wild. Adam failed to trap one of them. He watched
for hours from a steep place where he might have killed one by throwing
down a large rock. But it was in vain. At last, in desperation, holding
his naked knife in hand, he chased them over stones and through the
willows and under the thorny mesquites, all to no avail. He dropped
from exhaustion and weakness, and lay where he had fallen till the next
morning.

The pangs of hunger now were maddening. He had suffered them, more
or less, and then alleviated them with meat, and then felt them grow
keener and stronger until the edge wore off. After a few more meatless
days the pains gradually subsided. It was a relief. He began to force
himself to go out and hunt. Then an exceedingly good stroke of fortune
befell him in that he killed a rabbit. His strength revived, but also
his pains.

Then he lost track of days, but many passed, and each one of them
took something from him in effort, in wakefulness, in spirit. His
aggressiveness diminished daily and lasted only a short while. The time
came when he fell to eating rattlesnakes and any living creatures in
the oasis that he could kill with a club.

But at length pain left him, and hunger, and then his peril revealed
itself. He realized it. The desire to kill diminished. With the
cessation of activity there returned a mental state in which he could
think back and remember all that he had done there, and also look
forward to the inevitable prospect. Every morning he dragged his weary
body, now merely skin and bones, out to the stream to drink, and then
around and around in a futile hunt. He chewed leaves and bark; he
ate mesquite beans and cactus fruit. After a certain number of hours
the longer he went without meat the less he cared for it, or for
living. But when, now and then, he did kill something to eat, then his
instinct to survive flashed up with revived hunger. The process of
detachment from passion to live was one of agony, infinitely worse than
starvation. He had come to learn that starvation would be the easiest
and most painless of deaths. It would have been infinitely welcome but
for the thought that always followed resignation--that he had sworn to
fight. That kept him alive.

His skin turned brown and shriveled up like dried parchment wrinkling
around bones. He did not recognize his hands, and when he lay flat on
the stones to drink from the stream, he saw reflected there a mummified
mask with awful eyes.

Longer and longer grew the hours wherein he slept by night and lay
idle by day, watching, listening, feeling. Something came back to him
or was born in him during these hours. But the truth of his state
eluded him. It had to do with peace, with dream, with effacement. He
seemed no longer real. The hot sun, the pleasant wind, the murmur of
bees, the tinkle of water, the everlasting processional march of the
heat veils across the oasis--with all these things his mind seemed
happily concerned. At dawn when he awoke his old instinct predominated
and he searched for meat. But unless he had some success this questing
mood did not last. It departed as weakness and lassitude overbalanced
the night’s rest. For the other hours of that day he lay in the sun, or
the shade--it did not matter--and felt or dreamed as he starved.

As he watched thus one drowsy noon hour, seeing the honeybees darting
to and fro, leaving the flowers to fly in straight line across the
oasis, there occurred to him the significance of their toil. He watched
these flying bees come and go; and suddenly it flashed over him that at
the end of the bee line there must be a hive. Bees made nests in trees.
If he could find the nest of the bees that were working here he would
find honey. The idea stimulated him.

Adam had never heard how bee hunters lined bees to their hives, but
in his dire necessity he instinctively adopted the correct method. He
watched the bees fly away, keeping them in sight as long as possible,
then he walked to the point he had marked as the last place he had seen
them, and here he watched for others. In half an hour the straight bee
flights led to a large dead cottonwood, hollow at top and bottom, a
tree he had passed hundreds of times. The bees had a hive in the upper
chamber of the trunk. Adam set fire to the tree and smoked the bees
out. Then the problem consisted of felling the tree, for he had not the
strength to climb it. The trunk was rotten inside and out. It burned
easily, and he helped along the work by tearing out pieces of the soft
wood. Nearly all the day was consumed in this toil, but at length
the tree fell, splitting and breaking to pieces. The hollow chamber
contained many pounds of honey.

Adam’s struggle then was to listen to an intelligence that warned him
that if he made a glutton of himself it would cause him great distress
and perhaps kill him. How desperately hard it was to eat sparingly of
the delicious honey! He tried, but did not succeed. That restraint was
beyond human nature. Nevertheless, he stopped far short of what he
wanted. He stored the honey away in ollas left there by the Indians.

All night and next day he paid in severe illness for the honey of
which he had partaken. The renewed exercise of internal organs that
had ceased to function produced convulsions and retching that made him
roll on the ground as a man poisoned. Life was tenacious in him and he
recovered; and thereafter, while the honey lasted, he slowly gained
strength enough to hunt once more for meat. But the fertile oasis was
now as barren of living creatures as was the naked desert outside.
Adam’s hope revived with his barely recovered strength. He pitied
himself in his moments of deluded cheerfulness, of spirit that refused
to die. Long ago his physical being had resigned itself, but his soul
seemed beyond defeat. How strange the variations of his moods! His
intelligence told him that sight of an animal would instantly revert
him to the level of a beast of prey or a stalking, bloodthirsty savage.

During these days his eyes scanned the bronze slope of mountain where
the tracks of the Indians had faded. They might return in time to
save his life. He hoped in spite of himself. In the early time of his
imprisonment there he had prayed for succor, but he had long since
ceased that. The desert had locked him in. Every moment, every hour
that had passed, the ceaseless hunts and then the dreaming spells, held
their clear-cut niches in his memory. Looked back at, they seemed far
away in the past, even those as close as yesterday; and every sensation
was invested by a pang. At night he slept the slumber of weakness, and
so the mockery of the dark hours did not make their terrible mark upon
his mind. But the solemn days! They sped swiftly by, yet, remembered,
they seemed eternities. Desert-bound days--immeasurably silent--periods
of the dominance of the blasting sun; days of infinite space, beyond
time, beyond life, as they might have been upon the burned-out moon!
The stones that blistered unprotected flesh, the sand and the dust, the
rock-ribbed ranges of bronze and rust--these tangible evidences of the
earth seemed part of those endless days. There were sky and wind, the
domain of the open and its master; but these existed for the eagles,
and perhaps for the spirits that wailed down the naked shingles of the
desert. A man was nothing. Nature filled this universe and had its
inscrutable and ruthless laws.

How little the human body required to subsist on! Adam lived long on
that honey; and he gained so much from it that after it was gone the
hunger pangs revived a hundred times more fiercely than ever. They
had been deadened, which fact left him peace; revived by a windfall
of food, they brought him agony. It drove him out to hunt for meat.
He became a stalking specter whose keen eye an insect could not have
escaped. Hunger now beset him with all its terrors magnified. To starve
was nothing, but to eat while starving was hell! The pangs were as if
made by a serpent with teeth of fire tearing at his vitals. Tighter and
tighter he buckled his belt until he could squeeze his waist in his
long, skinny hands so that his fingers met. Whenever his pains began
to subside, like worms growing quiet, then a rat or a stray bird or
a lizard or a scaly little side-winder rattlesnake would fall to his
cunning, as if in mockery of the death that ever eluded him; and next
day the old starving pains would convulse his bowels again.

So that he was driven, a gaunt and ever gaunter shadow of a man, up
and down the beaten trails of the oasis. Soon he would fall and die,
be sun-dried and blow away like powdered leather on the desert wind.
By his agonies he measured the inhospitableness and inevitableness
of the wasteland. Every thought had some connection with his torture
or some relation to his physical being in its fight for existence. In
this desert oasis were living things, creatures grown too wary for him
now, and willows, cacti, sages, that had conquered over the barrenness
of the desert. On his brain had been etched by words of steel the fact
that no power to fight was so great and unquenchable as that of man’s.
He lived on, he staggered on through the solemn, glaring days.

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning huge columnar clouds, white as fleece, with dark-gray
shades along their lower borders, blotted out the sun. How strangely
they shaded the high lights! Usually when clouds formed on the desert
they lodged round the peaks and hung there. But these were looming
across the wasteland, promising rain. A fresh breeze blew the leaves.

Adam was making his weary round of the oasis, dragging one foot like a
dead weight after the other. Once he thought he heard an unusual sound,
and with lips wide and with bated breath he listened. Only the mocking,
solemn silence! Often he was haunted by the memory of sounds. Seldom
indeed did he hear his own voice any more. Then he plodded on again
with the eyes of a ferret, roving everywhere.

He had proceeded a few rods when a distant but shrill whistle brought
him to a startled and thrilling halt. It sounded like the neigh of a
horse. Often he had heard the brays of wild burros. In the intense
silence, as he strained his ears, he heard only the labored, muffled
throbs of his heart. Gradually his hopes, so new and strange, subsided.
Only another mockery of his memory! Or perhaps it was a whistle of the
wind in a crevice, or of an eagle in flight.

Parting the willows before him as he walked, he went through the
thicket out into the open where the stream flowed. It was very low,
just a tiny rill of crystal-clear water. He was about to step forward
toward the flat rock where he always knelt to drink, when another sound
checked him. A loud, high buzz, somehow startling! It had life.

Suddenly he espied a huge rattlesnake coiled in the sand, with head
erect and its rattles quivering like the wings of a poised humming
bird. The snake had just shed an ugly, brown, scaly skin, and now shone
forth resplendent, a beautiful clean gray with markings of black. It
did not show any fear. The flat triangular head, sleek and cunning,
with its deadly jewel-like eyes, was raised half a foot above the plump
coils.

Adam’s weary, hopeless hunting instinct sustained a vivifying,
galvanizing shock. Like a flash he changed, beginning to tremble. He
dropped his sling as an ineffective weapon against so large a snake.
His staring eyes quivered like the vibrating point of a compass needle
as he tried to keep them on the snake and at the same time sight
a stone or club with which to attack his quarry. A bursting gush
of blood, hot in its tearing pangs, flooded out all over his skin,
starting the sweat. His heart lifted high in his breast, almost choking
him. A terrible excitement animated him and it was paralleled by a cold
and sickening dread that the snake would escape and pounds of meat be
lost to him.

Never taking eyes off the snake, Adam stooped down to raise a large
rock in his hand. He poised it aloft and, aiming with intense keenness,
he flung the missile. It struck the rattlesnake a glancing blow,
tearing its flesh and bringing blood. With the buzz of a huge bee
caught in a trap the snake lunged at Adam, stretching its mutilated
length on the sand.

It was long, thick, fat. Adam smelled the exuding blood and it inflamed
him. Almost he became a beast. The savage urge in him then was to fall
upon his prey and clutch it with his bare hands and choke and tear
and kill. But reason still restrained such limit as that. Stone after
stone he flung, missing every time. Then the rattlesnake began to drag
itself over the sand. Its injury did not retard a swift progress. Adam
tried to bound after it, but he was so weak that swift action seemed
beyond him. Still, he headed off the snake and turned it back. Stones
were of no avail. He could not hit with them, and every time he bent
over to pick one up he got so dizzy that he could scarcely rise.

“Club! Club! Got--have club!” he panted, hoarsely. And espying one
along the edge of the stream, he plunged to secure it. This moment gave
the rattlesnake time to get ahead. Wildly Adam rushed back, brandishing
the club. His tall gaunt form, bent forward, grew overbalanced as he
moved, and he made a long fall, halfway across the stream. He got up
and reached the snake in time to prevent it from escaping under some
brush.

Then he swung the club. It was not easy to hit the snake crawling
between stones. And the club was of rotten wood. It broke. With the
blunt end Adam managed to give his victim a blow that retarded its
progress.

Adam let out a hoarse yell. Something burst in him--a consummation
of the instinct to kill and the instinct to survive. There was no
difference between them. Hot and mad and weak, he staggered after the
crippled snake. The chase had transformed the whole internal order of
him. He was starving to death, and he smelled the blood of fresh meat.
The action infuriated him and the odor maddened him. Not far indeed
was he then from the actual seizing of that deadly serpent in his bare
hands.

But he tripped and fell again in a long forward plunge. It brought
him to the sand almost on top of the snake. And here the rattlesnake
stopped to coil, scarcely two feet from Adam’s face.

Adam tried to rise on his hands. But his strength had left him. And
simultaneously there left him the blood madness of that chase to kill
and eat. He realized his peril. The rattlesnake would strike him.
Adam had one flashing thought of the justice of it--one sight of the
strange, cold, deadly jewel eyes, one swift sense of the beauty and
magnificent spirit of this reptile of the desert, and then horror
possessed him. He froze to his marrow. The icy mace of terror had
stunned him. And with it had passed the flashing of his intelligence.
He was only a fearful animal, fascinated by another, dreading death by
instinct. And as he collapsed, sagging forward, the rattlesnake struck
him in the face with the stinging blow of a red-hot iron. Then Adam
fainted.



CHAPTER XI


When Adam recovered consciousness he imagined he was in a dream.

But a dragging, throbbing pain in his face seemed actuality enough to
discredit any illusions of slumber. It was shady where he lay or else
his eyes were dimmed. Presently he made out that he reclined under one
of the palm-thatched roofs.

“I’ve been moved!” he cried, with a start. And that start, so full of
pain and queer dragging sensations as of a weighted body, brought back
memory to him. His mind whirled and darkened. The sickening horror of
close proximity to the rattlesnake, its smell and color and deadly
intent, all possessed Adam again. Then it cleared away. What had
happened to him? His hand seemed to have no feeling; just barely could
he move it to his face, where the touch of wet cloth bandages told a
story of his rescue by some one. Probably the Indians had returned. It
had been the whistle of a horse that had thrilled him.

“I’ve--been--saved!” whispered Adam, and he grew dizzy. His eyes
closed. Dim shapes seemed to float over the surface of his mind; and
there were other strange answerings of his being to this singular
deliverance.

Then he heard voices--some low, and others deep and guttural. Voices of
Indians! How strong the spirit of life in him! “I--I wasn’t ready--to
die,” he whispered. Gleams of sunlight low down, slanting on the palm
leaves, turning them to gold, gave him the idea that the time was near
sunset. In the corner of the hut stood ollas and bags which had not
been there before, and on the ground lay an Indian blanket.

A shadow crossed the sunlit gleams. An Indian girl entered. She had
very dark skin and straight hair as black as night. Upon seeing Adam
staring at her with wide-open eyes she uttered a cry and ran out. A
hubbub of low voices sounded outside the shack. Then a tall figure
entered; it was that of an Indian, dressed in the ragged clothes of a
white man. He was old, his dark bronze face like a hard, wrinkled mask.

“How?” he asked, gruffly, as he bent over Adam. He had piercing black
eyes.

“All right--good,” replied Adam, trying to smile. He sensed kindliness
in this old Indian.

“White boy want dig gold--get lost--no grub--heap sick belly?” queried
the Indian, putting a hand on Adam’s flat abdomen.

“Yes--you bet,” replied Adam.

“Hahh! Me Charley Jim--heap big medicine man. Me fix um. Snake bite no
hurt.... White boy sick bad--no heap grub--long time.”

“All right--Charley Jim,” replied Adam.

“Hahh!” Evidently this exclamation was Charley Jim’s expression for
good. He arose and backed away to the opening that appeared blocked by
dark-skinned, black-haired Indians. Then he pointed at one of them.
Adam saw that he indicated the girl who had first come to him. She
appeared very shy. Adam gathered the impression that she had been the
one who had saved him.

“Charley Jim, who found me--who saved me from that rattlesnake?”

The old Indian understood Adam well enough. He grinned and pointed
at the young girl, and pronounced a name that sounded to Adam like,
“Oella.”

“When? How long ago? How many days?” asked Adam.

Charley Jim held up three fingers, and with that he waved the other
Indians from the opening and went out himself.

Adam was left to the bewildered thoughts of a tired and hazy mind. He
had no strength at all, and the brief interview, with its excitement,
and exercise of voice, brought him near the verge of unconsciousness.
He wavered amid dim shadows of ideas and thoughts. When that condition
passed, he awoke to dull, leaden pain in his head. And his body felt
like an empty sack the two sides of which were pasted together flat.

The sunlit gleams vanished and the shades of evening made gloom
around him. He smelled fragrant wood smoke, and some other odor, long
unfamiliar, that brought a watery flow to his mouth and a prickling as
of many needles. Then in the semidarkness one of the Indians entered
and knelt beside him. Adam distinguished the face of the girl, Oella.
She covered him with a blanket. Very gently she lifted his head, and
moved her body so that it would support him. The lifting hurt Adam;
he seemed to reel and sway, and a blackness covered his sight. The
girl held him and put something warm and wet between his lips. She
was trying to feed him with a stick or a wooden spoon. The act of
swallowing made his throat feel as if it was sore. What a slow process!
Adam rather repelled than assisted his nurse, but his antagonism was
purely physical and involuntary. Whatever the food was, it had no taste
to him. The heat of it, however, and the soft, wet sensation, grew
pleasant. He realized when hunger awakened again in him, for it was
like a shot through his vitals.

Then the girl laid him back, spread the blanket high, and left him.
The strange sensation of fullness, of movement inside Adam’s breast,
occupied his mind until drowsiness overcame him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another day awakened Adam to the torture of reviving hunger and its
gnawing pains, so severe that life seemed unwelcome. The hours were
weary and endless. But next day was not so severe, and thereafter
gradually he grew better and was on the road to a slow recovery.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Indians that had befriended Adam were of a family belonging to the
Coahuila tribe. Charley Jim appeared to be a chief of some degree,
friendly toward the whites, and nomadic in spirit, as he wandered from
oasis to oasis. He knew Dismukes, and told Adam that the prospector
and he had found gold up this canyon. Charley Jim’s family consisted
of several squaws, some young men, two girls, of whom Oella was the
younger, and a troop of children, wild as desert rats.

Adam learned from Charley Jim that the head of this canyon contained
a thicket of mesquite trees, the beans of which the Indians prized
as food. Also there were abundant willows and arrowweeds, with which
wood the Indians constructed their huge, round, basket granaries. The
women of the family pounded the mesquite beans into meal or flour,
which was dampened and put away for use. Good grass and water in this
remote canyon were further reasons why Charley Jim frequented it. But
he did not appear to be a poor Indian, for he had good horses, a drove
of burros, pack outfits that were a mixture of Indian and prospector
styles, and numerous tools, utensils, and accouterments that had been
purchased at some freighting post.

Adam was so long weak, and dependent upon Oella, that when he did
grow strong enough to help himself the Indian girl’s habit of waiting
upon him and caring for him was hard to break. She seemed to take it
for granted that she was to go on looking after him; and the fineness
and sensitiveness of her, with the strong sense of her delight in
serving him, made it impossible for Adam to offend her. She was shy and
reserved, seldom spoke, and always maintained before him a simplicity,
almost a humility, as of servant to master. With acquaintance, too, the
still, dark, impassive face of her had become attractive to look at,
especially her large, black, inscrutable eyes, soft as desert midnight.
They watched Adam at times when she imagined he was unaware of her
scrutiny, and the light of them then pleased Adam, and perturbed him
also, reminding him of what an old aunt had told him once, “Adam, my
boy, women will always love you!” The prophecy had not been fulfilled,
Adam reflected with sadness, and in Oella’s case he concluded his
fancies were groundless.

Still, he had to talk to somebody or grow into the desert habit of
silence, and so he began to teach Oella his language and to learn hers.
The girl was quick to learn and could twist her tongue round his words
better than he could round hers. Moreover, she learned quickly anything
he cared to teach her; and naturally even in the desert there were
customs into which Adam preferred to introduce something of the white
man’s way. Indians were slovenly and dirty, and Adam changed this in
Oella’s case. The dusky desert maiden had little instinctive vanities
that contact with him developed.

       *       *       *       *       *

One day, when the summer was waning and Adam was getting about on his
feet, still a gaunt and stalking shadow of his former self, but gaining
faster, the old Indian chief said:

“White man heap strong--ride--go away soon?”

“No, Charley Jim, I want stay here,” replied Adam.

“Hahh!” replied the Indian, nodding.

“Me live here--work with Indian. White man no home--no people. He like
Indian. He work--hunt meat for Indian.”

“Heap sheep,” replied Charley Jim, with a slow, expressive wave of his
hand toward the mountain peaks.

“Charley Jim take white man’s money, send to freight post for gun,
shells, clothes, flour, bacon--many things white man need?”

“Hahh!” The chief held up four fingers and pointed west, indicating
what Adam gathered was four days’ ride to a freighting post.

“Charley Jim no tell white men about me.”

The Indian took the money with grave comprehension, and also shook the
hand Adam offered.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Indian boys who rode away to the freighting post on the river were
two weeks in returning. To celebrate the return of the boys Adam
suggested a feast and that he would bake the bread and cook the bacon.
Oella took as by right the seat of honor next to Adam, and her habitual
shyness did not inhibit a rather hearty appetite. On this occasion Adam
finally got the wild little half-naked dusky children to come to him.
They could not resist sweets.

A shining new rifle, a Winchester .44, was the cynosure of all eyes in
that Indian encampment. When Adam took it out to practice, the whole
family crowded around to watch, with the intense interest of primitive
people who marveled at the white man’s weapon. Only the little children
ran from the sharp reports of the rifle, and they soon lost their fear.
Whenever Adam made a good shot it was Oella who showed pride where the
others indicated only their wonder.

Thus the days of simplicity slipped by, every one of which now added
to Adam’s fast-returning strength. Flour and bacon quickly built up
his reduced weight; and as for rice and dried fruits, they were so
delicious to Adam that he feared it would not be a great while before
he must needs send for more. He remembered the advice of Dismukes anent
the value of his money.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hot summer became a season of the past. The withering winds ceased
to blow. In the early autumn days Adam began his hunting. Charley Jim
led the way, keeping behind a fringe of mesquite, out to a gray expanse
of desert, billowy and beautiful in the ruddy sunlight. They crawled
through sage to the height of a low ridge, and from here the chief
espied game. He pointed down a long gray slope, but Adam could see only
a monotonous beauty, spotted by large tufts of sage and here and there
a cactus. Then the Indian took Adam’s sombrero, and the two scarfs
he had, one red and one blue, and tied them round the hat, which he
elevated upon a stick. After that he bent his falcon gaze on the slope.
Adam likewise gazed, with infinite curiosity, thrill, and expectation.

“Hahh!” grunted Charley Jim, presently, and his sinewy dark hand
clutched Adam. Far down vague gray spots seemed to move. Adam strained
his eyes. It seemed a long time till they approached close enough to
distinguish their species.

“Antelope, by jiminy!” ejaculated Adam, in excitement.

“Heap jiminy--you bet!” responded Charley Jim.

Adam was experiencing that thrill to its utmost, and also other
sensations of wonder and amaze. Was it possible these wild-looking
desert creatures were actually so curious about the brightly decked
sombrero that they could not resist approaching it to see what it was?
There they came, sleek, tawny-gray, alert, deerlike animals, with
fine pointed heads, long ears, and white rumps. The bold leader never
stopped at all. But some of his followers hesitated, trotted to and
fro, then came on. How graceful they were! How suggestive of speed and
wildness! Adam’s finger itched to shoot off the gun and scare them to
safety. “Fine hunter, I am!” he muttered. “This is murder.... Why on
earth does a man have to eat meat?” The Indian beside him was all keen
and strung with his instincts and perhaps they were truer to the needs
of human life.

Soon, however, all of Adam’s sensations were blended in a thrilling
warmth of excitement. The antelope were already within range, and had
it not been for Charley Jim’s warning hand Adam would not have been
able to resist the temptation to fire. Perhaps he would have missed
then, for he certainly shook in every muscle, as a man with the ague.
Adam forced himself to get the better of this spell of nerves.

“Heap soon!” whispered Charley Jim, relaxing the pressure of his hand
on Adam. The leader approached to within fifty feet, with several
other antelope close behind, when the Indian whistled. Like statues
they became. Then Adam fired. The leader fell, and also one of those
behind him. The others flashed into gray speeding shapes, with rumps
darting white; and Adam could only stare in admiring wonder at their
incomparable swiftness.

“Hahh!” ejaculated the chief, in admiration. “White man heap
hunter--one shoot--two bucks. Him eye like eagle!”

Thus did a lucky shot by Adam, killing two antelope when he had aimed
at only one, initiate him into his hunting on the desert and win for
him the Indian sobriquet of Eagle.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so began Adam’s desert education. He had keen appreciation of
his good fortune in his teacher. The Coahuila chief had been born on
that desert and he must have been nearly sixty years old. As a hunter
he had the eye of a mountain sheep, the ear of a deer, the nose of a
wolf. He had been raised upon meat. He loved the stalking of game.
Thus Adam, through this old Indian’s senses and long experience and
savage skill, began to see the life of the desert. It unfolded before
his eyes, manifold in its abundance, infinitely strange and marvelous
in its ferocity and ability to survive. Adam learned to see as the
Indian, and had his own keen mind to analyze and weigh and ponder. But
his knowledge came slowly, painfully, hard earned, in spite of its
thrilling time-effacing quality.

In those wonderful autumn days Adam learned that the antelope could
go long without water, that nature had endowed it with great speed to
escape the wolves and cats of the desert, that from its prominent eyes
it could see in any direction, that its coloring was the protective
gray of the sage plains.

He learned that the lizard could change its color like the chameleon,
adapting itself to the color of the rock upon which it basked in the
sun, that it could dart across the sands almost too swiftly for the eye
to follow.

He learned that the gray desert wolf was a king of wolves, living high
in the mountains and coming down to the flats; and there, by reason of
his wonderfully developed strength and speed, chasing and killing his
prey in the open.

He learned that the coyote was an eater of carrion, of rabbits and
rats, of bird’s eggs, of mesquite beans, of anything that happened to
come its way--a gray, skulking, cunning beast, cowardly as the wolf was
brave, able, like the antelope and the jack rabbit, to live without
water, and best adapted of all beasts to the desert.

He learned that the jack rabbit survived through the abnormal
development of his ears and legs--the first extraordinarily large
organs built to catch sound, and the latter long, strong members that
enable him to run with ease away from his foes. And he learned that the
cottontail rabbit lived in thickets near holes into which he could pop,
and that his fecundity in reproducing his kind saved his species from
extinction.

Adam learned about the desert ants, the kangaroo rats, the trade rats,
the horned toads, the lizards, the snakes, the spiders, the bees, the
wasps--the way they lived and what they lived upon. How marvelously
nature adapted them to their desert environment, each perfect, each
in its place, each fierce and self-sufficient, each fulfilling its
mysterious destiny of sacrificing its individual life to the survival
of its species! How cruel nature was to the individual--how devoted to
the species!

Adam learned that the same fierce life of all desert creatures was
likewise manifested in the life of the plants. By thorns and poison
sap and leafless branches, and by roots penetrating far and deep, and
by organs developed to catch and store water, so the plants of the
desert outwitted the beasts and endured the blasting sun and drought.
How beyond human comprehension was the fact that a cactus developed a
fluted structure less exposed to heat--that a tree developed a leaf
that never presented its broad surface to the sun!

       *       *       *       *       *

The days passed, with ruddy sunrises, white, glaring, solemn noons,
and golden sunsets. The simplicity and violence of life on the desert
passed into Adam’s being. The greatness of stalking game came to him
when the Indian chief took him to the heights after bighorn sheep; but
it was not the hunting and killing of this wariest and finest of wild
beasts, wonderful as it was, that constituted for Adam something great.
It was the glory of the mountain heights. All his life he had dreamed
of high places, those to which he could climb physically and those that
he aspired to spiritually. Lost indeed were hopes of the latter, but of
the former he had all-satisfying fulfillment. Adam dated his changed
soul from the day he first conquered the heights. There, on top of the
Chocolate range, his keen sight, guided by the desert eyes of the old
Indian, ranged afar over the gray valleys and red ranges to the Rio
Colorado, down the dim wandering line of which he gazed, to see at last
Picacho, a dark, purple mass above the horizon. From the moment Adam
espied this mountain he suffered a return of memory and a sleepless
and eternal remorse. The terrible past came back to him; never again,
he divined, to fade while life lasted. His repentance, his promise to
Dismukes, his vow to himself, began there on the heights with the winds
sweet and strong in his face and the dark blue of the sky over his
head, and beneath the vast desert, illimitable on all sides, lonely and
grand, the abode of silence.

The days passed into months. Far to the north the dominating peaks
of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio took on the pure-white caps of snow,
that slowly spread, as the days passed, down the rugged slopes. Winter
abided up there. But on the tops of the Chocolate and Chuckwalla ranges
no snow fell, although the winter wind sometimes blew cold and bleak.
Adam loved the wind of the heights. How cold and pure, untainted by
dust or life or use! He grew to have the stride of a mountaineer. And
the days passed until that one came in which the old Indian chief let
Adam hunt alone. “Go, Eagle!” he said, with sorrow for his years and
pride in the youth of his white friend. “Go!” And the slow gestures of
his long arms were as the sailing movement of the wings of an eagle.

The days passed, and few were they that did not see Adam go out in the
sweet, cool dawn, when the east glowed like an opal, to climb the
bronze slope, sure footed as a goat, up and up over the bare ridges
and through the high ravines where the lichens grew and a strange,
pale flower blossomed, on and on over the jumble of weathered rock
to the heights. And there he would face the east with its glorious
burst of golden fire, and spend the last of that poignant gaze on the
sunrise-crowned glory of old Picacho. The look had the meaning of a
prayer to Adam, yet it was like a blade in his heart. In that look he
remembered his home, his mother, his brother, and the vivid days of
play and love and hope, his fateful journey west, his fall and his
crime and his ruin. Alone on the heights, he forced that memory to be
ever more vivid and torturing. Hours he consecrated to remorse, to
regret, to suffering, to punishment. He lashed his soul with bitter
thoughts, lest he forget and find peace. Life and health and strength
had returned to him in splendid growing measure which he must use to
pay his debt.

But there were others hours. He was young. Red blood throbbed in
his veins, and action sent that blood in a flame over his eager
body. To stride along the rocky heights was something splendid. How
free--alone! It connected Adam’s present hour with a remote past he
could not comprehend. He loved it. He was proud that the Indians
called him Eagle. For to watch the eagles in their magnificent flights
became a passion with him. The great blue condors and the grisly
vultures and the bow-winged eagles--all were one and the same to him,
indistinguishable from one another as they sailed against the sky,
sailing, sailing so wondrously, with never a movement of wings, or
shooting across the heavens like thunderbolts, or circling around and
upward to vanish in the deep blue. There were moments when he longed
to change his life to that of an eagle, to find a mate and a nest on
a lofty crag, and there, ringed by the azure world above and with the
lonely barren below, live with the elements.

Here on the heights Adam was again visited by that strange sensation,
inexplicable and illusive and fast fleeting, which had been born in
him one lonely hour in the desert below. Dismukes had told him how men
were lured by the desert and how they all had their convictions as to
its cause, and how they missed the infinite truth.

“It will come to me!” cried Adam as he faced the cool winds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stalking mountain sheep upon the mighty slopes was work to make a man.
It was a wild and perilous region of jagged ridges and bare slants and
loose slopes of weathered rocks. The eyes of the sheep that lived at
this height were like telescopes; they had the keenest sight of all
wild beasts. The marvelous organ of vision stood out on the head as if
it were the half of a pear, so that there was hardly an angle of the
compass toward which a sheep could not see. Like the antelope, mountain
sheep were curious and could be lured by a bright color and thereby
killed. But Adam learned to abhor this method. He pitted his sight and
his strength and endurance against those of the sheep. In this way he
magnified the game of hunting. His exhaustion and pain and peril he
welcomed as lessons to the end that his knowledge and achievement must
be in a measure what Dismukes might have respected. Failure to Adam was
nothing but a spur to renewed endeavor. The long climb, the crumbling
ledge, the slipping rock, the deceitful distance, the crawl over sharp
rocks, the hours of waiting--these too he welcomed as one who had set
himself limitless tasks. Then when he killed a ram and threw it over
his shoulder to carry it down the mountain, he found labor which was
harder even than the toil of the gold mill at Picacho. To stride erect
with a rifle in one hand, and a hold upon a heavy sheep with the other,
down the slippery ledges, across the sliding banks, over the cracked
and rotten lava, from the sunset-lighted heights to the gloomy slopes
below--this was how in his own estimation he must earn and keep the
respect of the Indians. They had come to look up to the white man they
called Eagle. He taught them things to do with their hands, work of
white men which bettered their existence, and he impressed them the
more by his mastery of some of their achievements.

       *       *       *       *       *

The days passed into months. Summer came again and the vast oval bowl
of desert glowed in the rosy sunrise, glared in the white noon hours,
and burned at sunset. The moving heat veils smoked in rippling clouds
over the Salton Sink; the pale wavering line of the Superstition
Mountains changed mysteriously with each day; the fog clouds from
the Pacific rolled over to lodge against the fringed peaks. Time did
not mean anything to the desert, though it worked so patiently and
ceaselessly in its infinite details. The desert might have worked for
eternity. Its moments were but the months that were growing into years
of Adam’s life. Again he saw San Jacinto and San Gorgonio crowned with
snow that gleamed so white against the blue.

Once Charley Jim showed Adam a hole in the gravel and sand of a gulley,
where Dismukes had dug out a pocket of gold. Adam gathered that the
Indian had brought Dismukes here. “White man gold mad,” said the chief.
“No happy, little gold. Want dig all--heap hog--dam’ fool!”

So Charley Jim characterized Dismukes. Evidently there had been some
just cause, which he did not explain, for his bringing Dismukes into
this hidden canyon. And also there was some significance in his
bringing Adam there. Many had been the rewards of Charley Jim and his
family for saving and succoring Adam.

“Indian show Eagle heap gold,” said Charley Jim, and led him to another
gully opening down into the canyon. In the dry sand and gravel of this
wash Adam found gold. The discovery gave him a wonderful thrill. But it
did not drive him mad. Adam divined in the dark, impassive face of his
guide something of the Indian’s contempt for a white man’s frenzy over
gold.

Then the chief said in his own tongue that the Indian paid his debt to
friend and foe, good for good and evil for evil--that there were white
men to whom he could trust the secret treasures of the desert.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day came when something appeared to stimulate the wandering spirit
of the Coahuila chief. Taking his family and Adam, he began a nomadic
quest for change of scene and work and idleness. The life suited Adam,
for he knew Charley Jim did not frequent the trails of white men.

       *       *       *       *       *

No time so swiftly fleeting as days and nights out in new and strange
places of the desert! Adam kept track of time by the coming and going
of the white crowns of snow on the peaks, and by the green and gold and
then barren gray of the cottonwoods.

Like coming home was it to get back to the oasis in the canyon of the
Chocolate range. Adam loved the scene of his torture. Every stone,
every tree, was a familiar friend, and seemed to whisper welcome to
him. Here also had passed the long, long months of mental anguish.
On this flat rock he had sat a whole day in hopeless pain. In this
sandy-floored aisle of palms he had walked hour by hour, through many
weary days, possessed by the demon of remorse.

Best of all, out there reached the gray, endless expanse of desert, so
lonely and melancholy and familiar, extending away to the infinitude
of purple distance; and there loomed the lofty, bare heights of rock
which, when he scaled them as an Indian climbing to meet his spirits,
seemed to welcome him with sweet, cold winds in his face. How he
thrilled at sight of the winding gleam of the Rio Colorado! What a
shudder, as keen and new a pang as ever, wrenched him at sight of
Picacho! It did not change. Had he expected that? It towered there in
the dim lilac colors of the desert horizon, colossal and commanding,
immutable and everlasting, like the sin he had committed in its shadow.

Somewhere in the shadow of that doomed and turreted peak lay the grave
of his brother Guerd.

“I’ll go back some day!” whispered Adam, and the spoken words seemed
the birth of a long-germinating idea. Picacho haunted him. It called
him. It was the place that had given the gray color and life to his
destiny. And suddenly into his memory flashed an image of Margarita.
Poor, frail, dusky-eyed girl! She had been but the instrument of his
doom. He held her guiltless--long ago he had forgiven her. But memory
of her hurt. Had she not spoken so lightly of what he meant to hold
sacred? “Ah, señor--so long ago and far away!” Faithless, mindless,
soulless! Adam would never forget. Never a sight of a green _palo
verde_ but a pang struck through his breast!

At sunset the old chief came to Adam, somber and grave, but with
dignity and kindness tempering the seriousness of his aspect. He spoke
the language of his people.

“White man, you are of the brood of the eagle. Your heart is the heart
of an Indian. Take my daughter Oella as your wife.”

Long had Adam feared this blow, and now it had fallen. He had tried to
pay his debt, but it could not be paid.

“No, chief, the white man cannot marry Oella. He has blood upon his
hands--a price on his head. Some day--he might have to hang for his
crime. He cannot be dishonest with the Indian girl who saved him.”

Perhaps the chief had expected that reply, but his inscrutable face
showed no feeling. He made one of his slow, impressive gestures--a wave
of his hand, indicating great distance and time; and it meant that Adam
was to go.

Adam dropped his head. That decree was irrevocable and he knew it was
just. While he packed for a long journey twilight stole down upon the
Indian encampment. Adam knew, when he faced Oella in the shadow of the
palms, that she had been told. Was this the Indian maiden who had been
so shy, so strange? No, this seemed a woman of full, heaving breast,
whose strong, dark face grew strained, whose magnificent eyes, level
and piercing, searched his soul. How blind he had been! All about
her seemed eloquent of woman’s love. His heart beat with quick, heavy
throbs.

“Oella, your father has ordered me away,” said Adam. “I am an outcast.
I am hunted. If I made you my wife it might be to your shame and
sorrow.”

“Stay. Oella is not afraid. We will hide in the canyons,” she said.

“No. I have sinned. I have blood on my hands. But, Oella, I am not
dishonorable. I will not cheat you.”

“Take me,” she cried, and the soft, deep-toned, passionate voice shook
Adam’s heart. She would share his wanderings.

“Good-by, Oella,” he said, huskily. And he strode forth to drive his
burro out into the lonely, melancholy desert night.



CHAPTER XII


The second meeting between Adam and the prospector Dismukes occurred at
Tecopah, a mining camp in the Mohave Desert.

The mining camp lay in a picturesque valley where green and gray
growths marked the course of the gravel-lined creek, and sandy benches
spread out to dark, rocky slopes, like lava, that heaved away in the
bleak ranges.

It was in March, the most colorful season in the Mohave, that Adam
arrived at Tecopah to halt on a grassy bench at the outskirts of the
camp. A little spring welled up here and trickled down to the creek. It
was drinking water celebrated among desert men, who had been known to
go out of their way to drink there. The telltale ears of Adam’s burros
advised him of the approach of some one, and he looked up from his camp
tasks to find a familiar figure approaching him. He rubbed his eyes.
Was that strange figure the same as the one so vividly limned on his
memory? Squat, huge, grotesque, the man coming toward him was Dismukes!
His motley, patched garb, his old slouch hat, his boots yellow with
clay and alkali, appeared the same he had worn on the memorable day
Adam’s eyes had unclosed to see them.

Dismukes drove his burros up to the edge of the bench, evidently having
in mind the camp site Adam occupied. When he espied Adam he hesitated
and, gruffly calling to the burros, he turned away.

“Hello, Dismukes!” called Adam. “Come on. Plenty room to camp here.”

The prospector halted stolidly and slowly turned back. “You know me?”
he asked, gruffly, as he came up.

“Yes, I know you, Dismukes,” replied Adam, offering his hand.

“You’ve got the best of me,” said Dismukes, shaking hands. He did not
seem a day older, but perhaps there might have been a little more
gray in the scant beard. His great ox eyes, rolling and dark, bent a
strange, curious glance over Adam’s lofty figure.

“Look close. See if you can recognize a man you befriended once,”
returned Adam. The moment was fraught with keen pain and a melancholy
assurance of the changes time had made. Strong emotion of gladness,
too, was stirring deep in him. This was the man who had saved him and
who had put into his mind the inspiration and passion to conquer the
desert.

Dismukes was perplexed, and a little ashamed. His piercing gaze was
that of one who had befriended many men and could not remember.

“Stranger, I give it up. I don’t know you.”

“Wansfell,” said Adam, his voice full.

Dismukes stared. His expression changed, but it was not with
recognition.

“Wansfell! Wansfell!” he ejaculated. “I know that name.... Hell, yes!
I’ve heard of you all over the Mohave!... I’m sure glad to meet you....
But, I never met you before.”

The poignancy of that meeting for Adam reached a climax in the absolute
failure of Dismukes to recognize him. Last and certain proof of
change! The desert years had transformed Adam Larey, the youth, into
the man Wansfell. For the first moment in all that time did Adam feel
an absolute sense of safety. He would never be recognized, never be
apprehended for his crime. He seemed born again.

“Dismukes, how near are you to getting all your five hundred thousand?”
queried Adam, with a smile. There seemed to be a sad pleasure in thus
baffling the old prospector.

“By Gad! how’d you know about that?” exclaimed Dismukes.

“You told me.”

“Say, Wansfell! Am I drunk or are you a mind reader?” demanded the
prospector, bewildered. “Comin’ along here I was thinkin’ about that
five hundred thousand. But I never told anyone--except a boy once--an’
he’s dead.”

“How about your white-faced burro Jinny--the one that used to steal
things out of your pack?” asked Adam, slowly.

“Jinny! Jinny!” ejaculated Dismukes, with a start. His great ox eyes
dilated and something of shock ran through his huge frame. “That burro
I never forgot. I gave her away to a boy who starved on the desert. She
came back to me. Tracked me to Yuma.... An’ you--you--how’d you know
Jinny?... Man, who are you?”

“Dismukes, I was the boy you saved--down under the Chocolates--ninety
miles from Yuma. Remember ... it was Jinny saw me wandering in a
circle, mad with thirst. You saved me--gave me Jinny and a pack--told
me how to learn the desert--sent me to the Indians.... Dismukes, I was
that boy. I am now--Wansfell.”

The prospector seemed to expand with the increased strain of his gaze
into Adam’s eyes, until the instant of recognition.

“By God! I know you now!” he boomed, and locked his horny hands on Adam
in a gladness that was beyond the moment and had to do, perhaps, with
a far-past faith in things. “I thought you died on the desert. Jinny’s
comin’ back seemed proof of that.... But you lived! You--that boy, tall
as a mescal plant--with eyes of agony.... I never forgot.... An’ now
you’re Wansfell!”

“Yes, my friend. Life is strange on the desert,” replied Adam. “And
now unpack your burros. Make camp with me here. We’ll eat and talk
together.”

A sunset, rare on the Mohave, glowed over the simple camp tasks of
these men who in their wanderings had met again. Clouds hung along the
mountain tops, colored into deeper glory as the sun sank. The dark
purples had an edge of silver, and the fleecy whites turned to pink
and rose, while golden rays shot up from behind the red-hazed peaks.
Over the valley fell a beautiful and transparent light, blending and
deepening until a shadow as blue as the sea lay on Tecopah.

While the men ate their frugal repast they talked, each gradually
growing used to a situation that broke the desert habit of
silence. There was an unconscious deference of each man toward the
other--Wansfell seeing in Dismukes the savior of his life and a teacher
who had inspired him to scale the heights of human toil and strife;
Dismukes finding in Wansfell a development of his idea, the divine
spirit of man rising above the great primal beasts of the desert,
self-preservation and ferocity.

“Wansfell, have you kept track of time?” asked Dismukes, reflectively,
as he got out a black, stumpy pipe that Adam remembered.

“No. Days and weeks glide into years--that’s all I can keep track of,”
replied Adam.

“I never could, either. What is time on the desert? Nothin’.... Well,
it flies, that’s sure. An’ it must be years since I met you first down
there in the Colorado. Let’s see. Three times I went to Yuma--once to
Riverside--an’ twice to San Diego. Six trips inside. That’s all I’ve
made to bank my money since I met you. Six years. But, say, I missed a
year or so.”

“Dismukes, I’ve seen the snows white on the peaks eight times. Eight
years, my friend, since Jinny cocked her ears that day and saved me.
How little a thing life is in the desert!”

“Eight years!” echoed Dismukes, and wagged his huge shaggy head. “It
can’t be.... Well, well, time slips away.... Wansfell, you’re a young
man, though I see gray over your temples. And you can’t have any more
fear because of that--that crime you confessed to me. Lord! man, no one
would ever know you as that boy!”

“No fear that way any more. But fear of myself, Dismukes. If I went
back to the haunts of men I would forget.”

“Ah yes, yes!” sighed Dismukes. “I understand. I wonder how it’ll be
with me when my hour comes to leave the desert. I wonder.”

“Will that be long?”

“You can never tell. I might strike it rich to-morrow. Always I dream
I’m goin’ to. It’s the dream that keeps a prospector nailed to the
lonely wastes.”

Indeed, this strange man was a dreamer of dreams. Adam understood him
now, all except that obsession for just so much gold. It seemed the
only flaw in a great character. But the fidelity to that purpose was
great as it was inexplicable.

“Dismukes, you had a third of your stake when we met years ago. How
much now?”

“More than half, Wansfell, safe in banks an’ some hid away,” came the
answer, rolling and strong. What understanding of endless effort abided
in that voice!

“A quarter of a million! My friend, it is enough. Take it and
go--fulfill your cherished dream. Go before it’s too late.”

“I’ve thought of that. Many times when I was sick an’ worn out with the
damned heat an’ loneliness I’ve tempted myself with what you said. But,
no. I’ll never do that. It’s the same to me now as if I had no money at
all.”

“Take care, Dismukes,” warned Adam. “It’s the gaining of gold--not what
it might bring--that drives you.”

“Ah! _Quien sabe_, as the Mexicans say?... Wansfell, have you learned
the curse--or it may be the blessing--of the desert--what makes us
wanderers of the wastelands?”

“No. I have not. Sometimes I feel it’s close to me, like the feeling
of a spirit out there on the lonely desert at night. But it’s a great
thing, Dismukes. And it is linked to the very beginnings of us. Some
day I’ll know.”

Dismukes smoked in silence, thoughtful and sad. The man’s forceful
assurance and doggedness seemed the same, yet Adam sensed a subtle
difference in him, beyond power to define. The last gold faded from the
bold domes of the mountains, the clouds turned gray, the twilight came
on as a stealthy host. And from across the creek came discordant sounds
of Tecopah awakening to the revelry of a gold diggings by night.

“How’d you happen along here?” queried Dismukes, presently.

“Tecopah was just a water hole for me,” replied Adam.

“Me, too. An’ I’m sure sayin’ that I like to fill my canteens here.
Last year I camped here, an’ when I went on I kept one of my canteens
so long the water spoiled.... Found some gold trace up in the Kingston
range, but my supplies ran low an’ I had to give up. My plan now is
to go in there an’ then on to the Funeral Mountains. They’re full of
mineral. But a dry, hard, poison country for a prospector. Do you know
that country?”

“I’ve been on this side of the range.”

“Bad enough, but the _other_ side of the Funerals is Death Valley. That
gash in summer is a blastin’, roarin’ hell. I’ve crossed it every month
in the year. None but madmen ever tackle Death Valley in July, in the
middle of the day. I’ve seen the mercury go to one hundred and forty
degrees. I’ve seen it one hundred and twenty-five at midnight, an’,
friend, when them furnace winds blow down the valley at night sleep
or rest is impossible. You just gasp for life.... But strange to say,
Wansfell, the fascination of the desert is stronger in Death Valley
than at any other place.”

“Yes, I can appreciate that,” replied Adam, thoughtfully. “It must be
the sublimity of death and desolation--the terrible loneliness and
awfulness of the naked earth. I am going there.”

“So I reckoned. An’ see here, Wansfell, I’ll get out my pencil an’ draw
you a little map of the valley, showin’ my trails an’ water holes.
I know that country better than any other white man. It’s a mineral
country. The lower slope of the Funerals is all clay, borax, soda,
alkali, salt, niter, an’ when the weather’s hot an’ that stuff blows on
the hot winds, my God! it’s a horror! But you’ll want to go through it
all an’ you’ll go back again.”

“Where do you advise me to go in?”

“Well, I’d follow the Amargosa. It’s bad water, but better than none.
Go across an’ up into the Panamints, an’ come back across again by
Furnace Creek. I’ll make you a little map. There’s more bad water than
good, an’ some of it’s arsenic. I found the skeletons of six men near
an arsenic water hole. Reckon they’d come on this water when bad off
for thirst an’ didn’t know enough to test it. An’ they drank their
fill an’ died in their tracks. They had gold, too. But I never could
find out anythin’ about these men. No one ever heard of them an’ I was
the only man who knew of the tragedy. Well, well, it’s common enough
for me, though I never before run across so many dead men. Wansfell,
I reckon you’ve found that common, too, in your wanderings--dried-up
mummies, yellow as leather, or bleached bones an’ grinnin’ skull, white
in the sun?”

“Yes, I’ve buried the remains of more than one poor devil,” replied
Adam.

“Is it best to bury them? I let them lay as warnin’ to other poor
devils. No one but a crazy man would drink at a water hole where there
was a skeleton.... Well, to come back to your goin’ to Death Valley.
I’d go in by the Amargosa. It’s a windin’ stream an’ long, but safe.
An’ there’s firewood an’ a little grass. Now when you get across the
valley you’ll run into prospectors an’ miners an’ wanderers at the
water holes. An’ like as not you’ll meet some of the claim jumpers
an’ robbers that live in the Panamints. From what I hear about you,
Wansfell, I reckon a meetin’ with them would be a bad hour for them,
an’ somethin’ of good fortune to honest miners. Hey?”

“Dismukes, I don’t run from men of that stripe,” replied Adam, grimly.

“Ahuh! I reckon not,” said Dismukes, just as grimly. “Well, last time I
was over there--let’s see, it was in September, hotter ’n hell, an’ I
run across two queer people up in a canyon I’d never prospected before.
Didn’t see any sign of any other prospectors ever bein’ in there....
Two queer people--a man an’ a woman livin’ in a shack they’d built
right under the damnedest roughest slope of weathered rock you ever saw
in your life. Why, it was a plain case of suicide, an’ so I tried to
show them! Every hour you could hear the crack of a rollin’ bowlder or
the graty slip of an avalanche, gettin’ oneasy an’ wantin’ to slide.
But the woman was deathly afraid of her husband an’ he was a skunk an’
a wolf rolled into a man, if I ever saw one. I couldn’t do anythin’
for the poor woman, an’ I couldn’t learn any more than I’m tellin’
you. That’s not much. But, Wansfell, she wasn’t a common sort. She’d
been beautiful once. She had the saddest face I ever saw. I got two
feelin’s, one that she wasn’t long for this earth, an’ the other that
the man hated her with a terrible hate.... I meet with queer people
an’ queer situations as I wander over this desert, but here’s the beat
of all my experience. An’, Wansfell, I’d like to have you go see that
couple. I reckon they’ll be there, if alive yet. He chose a hidden
spot, an’ he has Shoshone Indians pack his supplies in from the ranches
way on the other side of the Panamints. A queer deal, horrible for that
poor woman, an’ I’ve been haunted by her face ever since. I’d like you
to go there.”

“I’ll go. But why do you say that, Dismukes?” asked Adam, curiously.

“Well--you ought to know what your name means to desert men,” replied
Dismukes, constrainedly, and he looked down at the camp fire, to push
forward a piece of half-burnt wood.

“No, I never heard,” said Adam. “I’ve lived ’most always alone. Of
course I’ve had to go to freighting posts and camps. I’ve worked in
gold diggings. I’ve guided wagon trains across the Mohave. Naturally,
I’ve been among men. But I never heard that my name meant anything.”

“Wansfell! I remember _now_ that you called yourself Wansfell. I’ve
heard that name. Some of your doings, Wansfell, have made camp-fire
stories. See here, Wansfell, you won’t take offense at me.”

“No offense, friend Dismukes,” replied Adam, strangely affected. Here
was news that forced him to think of himself as a man somehow related
to and responsible to his kind. He had gone to and fro over the trails
of the desert, and many adventures had befallen him. He had lived
them, with the force the desert seemed to have taught him, and then
had gone his way down the lonely trails, absorbed in his secret. The
years seemed less than the blowing sand. He had been an unfortunate boy
burdened with a crime; he was now a matured man, still young in years,
but old with the silence and loneliness and strife of the desert, gray
at the temples, with that old burden still haunting him. How good to
learn that strange men spoke his name with wonder and respect! He had
helped wanderers as Dismukes had helped him; he had meted out desert
violence to evil men who crossed his trail; he had, doubtless, done
many little unremembered deeds of kindness in a barren world where
little deeds might be truly overappreciated; but the name Wansfell
meant nothing to him, the reputation hinted by Dismukes amazed him,
strangely thrilled him; the implication of nobility filled him with
sadness and remorse. What had he done with the talents given him?

“Wansfell, you see--you’re somethin’ of the man I might have been,”
said Dismukes, hesitatingly.

“Oh no, Dismukes,” protested Adam. “You are a prospector, honest and
industrious, and wealthy now, almost ready to enjoy the fruits of
your long labors. Your life has a great object.... But I--I am only a
wanderer of the wasteland.”

“Aye, an’ therein lies your greatness!” boomed the prospector, his
ox eyes dilating and flaring. “I am a selfish pig--a digger in the
dirt for gold. My passion has made me pass by men, an’ women, too, who
needed help. Riches--dreams!... But you--you, Wansfell--out there in
the loneliness an’ silence of the wastelands--you have found God!... I
said you would. I’ve met other men who had.”

“No, no,” replied Adam. “You’re wrong. I don’t think I’ve found God.
Not yet!... I have no religion, no belief. I can’t find any hope out
there in the desert. Nature is pitiless, indifferent. The desert is but
one of her playgrounds. Man has no right there. No, Dismukes, I have
not found God.”

“You have, but you don’t know it,” responded Dismukes, with more
composure, and he began to refill a neglected pipe. “Well, I didn’t
mean to fetch up such talk as that. You see, when I do fall in with a
prospector once in a month of Sundays I never talk much. An’ then it’d
be to ask him if he’d seen any float lately or panned any color. But
you’re different. You make my mind work. An’, Wansfell, sometimes I
think my mind has been crowded with a million thoughts all cryin’ to
get free. That’s the desert. A man’s got to fight the desert with his
intelligence or else become less than a man. An’ I always did think a
lot, if I didn’t talk.”

“I’m that way, too,” replied Adam. “But a man should talk when he gets
a chance. I talk to my burros, and to myself, just to hear the sound of
my voice.”

“Ah! Ah!” exclaimed Dismukes, with deep breath. He nodded his shaggy
head. Adam’s words had struck an answering chord in his heart.

“You’ve tried for gold here?” queried Adam.

“No. I was here first just after the strike, an’ often since. Water’s
all that ever drew me. I’d starve before I’d dig for gold among a pack
of beasts. I may be a desert wolf, but I’m a lone one.”

“They’re coyotes and you’re the gray wolf. I liken ’most every man I
meet to some beast or creature of the desert.”

“Aye, you’re right. The desert stamps a man. An’, Wansfell, it’s
stamped you with the look of a desert eagle. Ha-ha! I ain’t flatterin’
to either of us, am I? Me a starved gray wolf, huntin’ alone, mean an’
hard an’ fierce! An’ you a long, lean-headed eagle, with that look
of you like you were about to strike--_pong!_... Well, well, there’s
no understandin’ the work of the desert. The way it develops the
livin’ creatures! They all have to live, an’ livin’ on the desert is a
thousand times harder than anywhere else. They all have to be perfect
machines for destruction. Each seems so swift that he gets away, yet
each is also so fierce an’ sure that he catches his prey. They live
on one another, but the species doesn’t die out. That’s what stumps
me about the desert. Take the human creatures. They grow fiercer than
animals. Maybe that’s because nature did not intend man to live on the
desert. An’ it is no place for man. Nature intended these classes of
plants an’ these species of birds an’ beasts to live, fight, thrive,
an’ reproduce their kind on the desert. But men can’t thrive nor
reproduce their kind here.”

“How about the Indians who lived in the desert for hundreds of years?”
asked Adam.

“What’s a handful of Indians? An’ what’s a few years out of the
millions of years that the desert’s been here, just as it is now?
Nothin’--nothin’ at all! Wansfell, there will be men come into the
desert, down there below the Salton Sink, an’ in other places where
the soil is productive, an’ they’ll build dams an’ storage places for
water. Maybe a lot of fools will even turn the Colorado River over
the desert. They’ll make it green an’ rich an’, like the Bible says,
blossom as a rose. An’ these men will build ditches for water, an’
reservoirs an’ towns an’ cities, an’ cross the desert with railroads.
An’ they’ll grow rich an’ proud. They’ll think they’ve conquered it.
But, poor fools! they don’t know the desert! Only a man who has lived
with the desert much of his life can ever know. Time will pass an’ men
will grow old, an’ their sons an’ grandsons after them. A hundred an’
a thousand years might pass with fruitfulness still in the control of
man. But all that is only a few grains of time in all the endless sands
of eternity. The desert’s work will have been retarded for a little
while. But the desert works ceaselessly an’ with infinite patience.
The sun burns, the frost cracks, the avalanche rolls, the rain
weathers. Slowly the earth crust heaves up into mountains an’ slowly
the mountains wear down, atom by atom, to be the sands of the desert.
An’ the winds--how they blow for ever an’ ever! What can avail against
the desert winds? They blow the sand an’ sift an’ seep an’ bury....
Men will die an’ the places that knew them will know them no more. An’
the desert will come back to its own. That is well, for it is what God
intended.”

“God and nature, then, with you are one and the same?” queried Adam.

“Yes. Twenty years sleepin’ on the sand with the stars in my face has
taught me that. Is it the same with you?”

“No. I grant all that you contend for the desert and for nature. But I
can’t reconcile nature and God. Nature is cruel, inevitable, hopeless.
But God must be immortality.”

“Wansfell, there’s somethin’ divine in some men, but not in all, nor
in many. So how can that divinity be God? The immortality you speak
of--that is only your life projected into another life.”

“You mean if I do not have a child I will not have immortality?”

“Exactly.”

“But what of my soul?” demanded Adam, solemnly.

Dismukes drooped his shaggy head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve
gone so deep, but I can’t go any deeper. That always stumps me. I’ve
never found my soul! Maybe findin’ my soul would be findin’ God. I
don’t know.... An’ you, Wansfell--once I said you had the spirit an’
mind to find God on the desert. Did you?”

Adam shook his head. “I’m no farther than you, Dismukes, though I
think differently about life and death.... I’ve fought to live on
this wasteland, but I’ve fought hardest to think. It seems that always
nature strikes me with its terrible mace! I have endless hours to
look at the desert and I see what you see--the strange ferocity of it
all--the fierce purpose. No wonder you say the desert stamps a man!”

“Aye! An’ woman, too! Take this she-devil who runs a place here in
Tecopah--Mohave Jo is the name she bears. Have you seen her?”

“No, but I’ve heard of her. At Needles I met the wife of a miner,
Clark, who’d been killed here at Tecopah.”

“Never heard of Clark. But I don’t doubt the story. It’s common
enough--miners bein’ killed an’ robbed. There’s a gang over in the
Panamints who live on miners.”

“I’m curious to see Mohave Jo,” said Adam.

“Well, speakin’ of this one-eyed harridan reminds me of a man I met
last trip across the Salton flats, down on the Colorado. Met him at
Walters--a post on the stage line. He had only one eye, too. There was
a terrible scar where his eye, the right one, had been. He was one of
these Texans lookin’ for a man. There seems to be possibilities of a
railroad openin’ up that part of the desert. An’ this fellow quizzed
me about water holes. Of course, if any one gets hold of water in that
country he’ll strike it rich as gold, if the country ever opens up.
It’s likely to happen, too. Well, this man had an awful face. He’d been
a sheriff in Texas, some one said, an’ later at Ehrenberg. Hell on
hangin’ men!... Of course I never asked him how he lost his eye. But
he told me--spoke of it more than once. The deformity had affected his
mind. You meet men like that--sort of crazy on somethin’. He was always
lookin’ for the fellow who’d knocked out his eye. To kill him!”

“Do you--recall his--name?” asked Adam, his voice halting with a thick
sensation in his throat. The past seemed as yesterday.

“Never was much on rememberin’ names,” responded Dismukes,
scratching his shaggy head. “Let’s see--why, yes, he called himself
Collis--Collis--haw. That’s it--Collishaw. Hard name to remember. But
as a man he struck me easy to remember.... Well, friend Wansfell, I’ve
had enough talkin’ to do me for a spell. I’m goin’ to bed.”

While Adam sat beside the fire, motionless, pondering with slow,
painful amaze over what he had just heard, Dismukes prepared for his
night’s rest. He unrolled a pack, spread a ragged old canvas, folded
a blanket upon it, and arranged another blanket to pull up over him,
together with the end of the canvas. For a pillow he utilized an old
coat that lay on his pack. His sole concession to man’s custom of
undressing for bed was the removal of his old slouch hat. Then with
slow, labored movement he lay down to stretch his huge body and pull
the coverlets over him. From his cavernous breast heaved a long, deep
sigh. His big eyes, dark and staring, gazed up at the brightening
stars, and then they closed.

Adam felt tempted to pack and move on to a quiet and lonely place
off in the desert, where he could think without annoyance. Keen and
bitterly faithful as had been his memory, it had long ceased to revive
thoughts of Collishaw, the relentless sheriff and ally of Guerd. How
strange and poignant had been the shock of recollection! It had been
the blow Adam had dealt--the savage fling of his gun in Collishaw’s
face--that had destroyed an eye and caused a hideous disfigurement.
And the Texan, with that fatality characteristic of his kind, was ever
on the lookout for the man who had ruined his eyesight. Perhaps that
was only one reason for his thirst for revenge. Guerd! Had Collishaw
not sworn to hang Adam? “You’ll swing for this!” he had yelled in
his cold, ringing voice of passion. And so Adam lived over again the
old agony, new and strange in its bitter mockery, its vain hope of
forgetfulness. Vast as the desert was, it seemed small now to Adam, for
there wandered over it a relentless and bloodthirsty Texan, hunting to
kill him. The past was not dead. The present and the future could not
be wholly consecrated to atonement. A specter, weird and grotesque
as a yucca tree, loomed out there in the shadows of the desert night.
Death stalked on Adam’s trail. The hatred of men was beyond power to
understand. Work, fame, use, health, love, home, life itself, could
be sacrificed by some men just to kill a rival or an enemy. Adam
remembered that Collishaw had hated him and loved Guerd. Moreover,
Collishaw had that strange instinct to kill men--a passion which grew
by what it fed on--a morbid mental twist that drove him to rid himself
of the terrible haunting ghost of his last victim by killing a new one.
Added to that was a certain leaning toward the notorious.

“We’ll meet some day,” soliloquized Adam. “But he would never recognize
me.”

The comfort of that fact did not long abide in Adam’s troubled mind. He
would recognize Collishaw. And that seemed to hold something fatalistic
and inevitable. “When I meet Collishaw I’ll tell him who I am--and I’ll
kill him!” That fierce whisper was the desert voice in Adam--the desert
spirit. He could no more help that sudden bursting flash of fire than
he could help breathing. Nature in the desert did not teach men to meet
a threat with forgiveness, nor to wait until they were struck. Instinct
had precedence over intelligence and humanity. In the eternal strife
to keep alive on the desert a man who conquered must have assimilated
something of the terrible nature of the stinging _cholla_ cactus, and
the hard, grasping tenacity of the mesquite roots, and the ferocity of
the wildcat, and the cruelty of the hawk--something of the nature of
all that survived. It was a law. It forced a man to mete out violence
in advance of that meant for him.

“To fight and to think were to be my blessings,” soliloquized Adam, and
he shook his head with a long-familiar doubt. Then he had to remember
that no blessings of any kind whatsoever could be his. Stern and
terrible duty to himself!

So he rolled in his blankets and stretched his long body to the
composure of rest. Sleep did not drop with soft swiftness upon his
eyes, as it had upon those of Dismukes. He had walked far, but he was
not tired. He never tired any more. There seemed to be no task of a
single day that could weary his strength. And for long he lay awake,
listening to the deep breathing of his companion, and the howl of the
coyotes, and the sounds of Tecopah, so unnatural in the quiet of the
desert. A sadness weighed heavily upon Adam. At first he was glad to
have met Dismukes, but now he was sorry. A tranquillity, a veil seemed
to have been rent. The years had not really changed the relation of his
crime, nor materially the nature of his sin. But they had gradually,
almost imperceptibly, softened his ceaseless and eternal remorse. By
this meeting with Dismukes he found that time effaced shocks, blows,
stains, just as it wore away the face of the desert rock. That, too,
was a law; and in this Adam divined a blessing that he could not
deny. Dismukes had unleashed a specter out of the dim glow of the
past. Eight years! So many, and yet they were as eight days! There
were the bright stars, pitiless and cold, and the dark bold mountains
that had seemed part of his strength. In the deep-blue sky above and
in the black shadow below Adam saw a white face, floating, fading,
reappearing, mournful and accusing and appalling--a face partaking
of the old boyish light and joy and of the godlike beauty of perfect
manhood--the haunting face of his brother Guerd. It haunted Adam, and
the brand of Cain burned into his brain. The old resurging pangs in
his breast, the long sighs, the oppressed heart, the salt tears, the
sleepless hours--these were Adam’s again, as keen as in the first days
of his awakening down on the Colorado Desert, where from the peaks of
the Chocolate Mountains he had gazed with piercing eyes far south to
the purple peak--Picacho, the monument, towering above his brother’s
grave. “Some day I’ll go back!” whispered Adam, as if answering to an
imperative and mysterious call.

The long night wore on with the heavens star-fired by its golden train,
and the sounds at last yielding to the desert silence. Adam could see
Dismukes, a wide, prone figure, with dark face upturned to the sky,
a man seemingly as strange and strong as the wastelands he talked so
much about, yet now helpless in sleep, unguarded, unconscious, wrapped
in his deep dreams of the joy and life his gold was to bring him.
Adam felt a yearning pity for this dreamer. Did he really love gold
or was his passion only a dream? Whatever that was and whatever the
man was, there rested upon his ragged, dark face a shadow of tragedy.
Adam wondered what his own visage would reflect when he lay asleep,
no more master of a mind that never rested? The look of an eagle? So
Dismukes had said, and that was not the first time Adam had heard
such comparison. He had seen desert eagles, dead and alive. He tried
to recall how they looked, but the images were not convincing. The
piercing eye, clear as the desert air, with the power of distance in
the gray depths; the lean, long lines; the wild poise of head, bitter
and ruthless and fierce; the look of loneliness--these characters
surely could not be likened to his face. What a strange coincidence
that Dismukes should hit upon the likeness of an eagle--the winged
thunderbolt of the heights--the lonely bird Adam loved above all desert
creatures! And so Adam wandered in mind until at last he fell asleep.



CHAPTER XIII


When Adam awoke he saw that Dismukes had breakfast steaming on the fire.

“I’m on my way to-day,” announced the prospector. “What’ll you do?”

“Well, I’ll hang around Tecopah as long as I can stand it,” replied
Adam.

“Humph! That won’t be long, unless you got in mind somethin’ like you
did at the Donner Placers, down in the Providence Mountains.”

“Friend, what do you know about that?” queried Adam.

“Nothin’. I only heard about it.... Wansfell, do you pan any gold?”

“Sometimes, when I happen to run across it,” replied Adam, “but that
isn’t often.”

“Do you work?”

“Yes, I’ve worked a good deal, taking it all together. In the mines,
on the river at Needles, driving mule teams and guiding wagon trains.
Never got paid much, though.”

“How do you live?” asked Dismukes, evidently curious.

“Oh, I fare well enough to keep flesh on my bones.”

“You’ve got flesh--or I reckon it’s muscle. Wansfell, you’re the
best-built man I ever saw on the desert. Most men dry up an’ blow
away.... Will you let me give you--lend you some money?”

“Money! So that’s why you’re so curious?” responded Adam. “Thanks, my
friend. I don’t need money. I had some, you know, when you ran across
me down in the Chocolates. I used about a thousand dollars while I
lived with the Coahuila Indians. And I’ve got nine thousand left.”

“Say, you don’t pack all that money along with you?”

“Yes. Where else would I keep it?”

“Wansfell, some of these robbers will murder you.”

“Not if I see them first. My friend, don’t be concerned. Surely I don’t
look sick.”

“Humph! Well, just the same, now that you’re headin’ up into this
country, I advise you to be careful. Don’t let anybody see you with
money. I’ve been held up an’ robbed three times.”

“Didn’t you make a fight for your gold?”

“No chance. I was waylaid--had to throw up my hands.... They tell me
you are ready with a gun, Wansfell?”

“Dismukes, you seem to have heard much about me.”

“But you didn’t throw a gun on Baldy McKue,” said Dismukes, with a dark
flare from his rolling eyes.

“No--I did not,” replied Adam.

“You killed McKue with your bare hands,” flashed Dismukes. A red stain
appeared to come up under his leathery skin. “Wansfell, will you tell
me about that?”

“I’d rather not, Dismukes. There are _some_ things I forget.”

“Well, it meant a good deal to me,” replied Dismukes. “McKue did
me dirt. He jumped claims of mine down here near Soda Sink. An’ he
threatened to kill me--swore the claims were his--drove me off. I met
him in Riverside, an’ there he threatened me with arrest. He was a
robber an’ a murderer. I believe he ambushed prospectors. McKue was
like most men who stick to the desert--he went down to the level of the
beast. I hated him.... This stranger who told me--he swore there wasn’t
an uncracked bone left in McKue’s body.... Wansfell, if you did that to
McKue you’ve squared accounts. Is it true?”

“Yes.”

Dismukes rubbed his huge hands together and his ox eyes rolled and
dilated. A fierce and savage grimness distorted his hard face for an
instant and passed away.

“What’d you kill him for?”

“Because he’d have killed me.”

“Didn’t you look him up on purpose to kill him?”

“No.... A year before that time I went to Goffs. Some one took me into
an old tent where a woman lay dying. I could do little for her. She
denounced McKue; she blamed him that she lay there, about to die. She
did die and I buried her. Then I kept an eye open for McKue.”

“I wondered--I wondered,” said Dismukes. “It struck me deep. Lord knows
fights are common out here. An’ death--why, on the desert every way
you turn you see death. It’s the life of the desert. But the way this
was told me struck me deep. It was what I’d like to have done myself.
Wansfell, think of the wonderful meetin’s of men on the desert--an’,
aye, meetin’ of men with women, too! They happen different out here.
Think of the first time we met! An’ this time! Wansfell, we’ll meet
again. It’s written in those trails of sand out there, wanderin’ to an’
fro across the desert.”

“Dismukes, the desert is vast. Sometimes you will not meet a man in
months of travel--and not in years will you meet a woman. But when you
do meet them life seems intensified. The desert magnifies.”

“Wansfell, I want you to go across into Death Valley,” declared
Dismukes, with the deep boom in his voice. “That woman in the shack!
Her eyes haunt me. Somethin’ terrible wrong! That man who keeps her
there--if he’s not crazy, he’s worse than a gorilla. For a gorilla
kills a woman quick.... Wansfell, I’d give a lot to see you handle this
man like you handled McKue!”

“_Quien sabe_, as you say?” replied Adam. “Draw that map of your trails
in Death Valley. I’ve got a little book here, and a pencil.”

It was singular to see the gold digger labor with his great, stumpy,
calloused fingers. He took long to draw a few lines, and make a few
marks, and write a few names in the little book. But when he came to
talk of distance and direction, of trails and springs, of flat valley
and mountain range--then how swift and fluent he was! All that country
lay clearly in his mind, as if he were a great desert condor gazing
down from the heights upon the wasteland which was his home.

“Now, I’ll be goin’ down into the Funerals soon,” concluded Dismukes.
“You see here’s Furnace Creek where it runs into Death Valley. You’ll
cross here an’ come up Furnace Creek till you strike the yellow clay
hills on the right. It’s a hell of a jumble of hills--absolutely bare.
I think there’s gold. You’ll find me somewhere.”

It seemed settled then that Adam and Dismukes were to meet in some
vague place at some vague time. The desert had no limitations. Time,
distance, and place were thought of in relation to their adaptation to
desert men.

“Well, it’s gettin’ late,” said Dismukes, looking up at the white flare
of sun. “I’ll pack an’ go on my way.”

While Dismukes strode out to drive in his burros Adam did the camp
chores. In a short time his companion appeared with the burros trotting
ahead of him. And the sight reminded Adam of the difference between
prospectors. Dismukes was not slow, easy, careless, thoughtless. He had
not suffered the strange deterioration so common to his class. He did
not belong to the type who tracked his burros all day so that he might
get started _mañana_. Adam helped him pack.

“Wansfell, may we meet again,” said Dismukes, as they shook hands.

“All trails cross on the desert. I hope you strike it rich.”

“Some day--some day. Good-by,” returned Dismukes, and with vigorous
slaps he started the burros.

Adam was left to his own devices. After Dismukes passed out of sight in
the universal gray of the benches Adam spent a long while watching a
lizard on a stone. It was a chuckwalla, a long, slim, greenish-bronze
reptile, covered with wonderful spots of vivid color, and with eyes
like jewels. Adam spent much time watching the living things of the
desert, or listening to the silence. He had discovered that watching
anything brought its reward--sometimes in a strange action or a
phenomenon of nature or a new thought.

Later he walked down to the creek bottom where the smelter was in
operation. Laborers were at a premium there, and he was offered work.
He said he would consider it. But unless there turned out to be some
definite object to keep him in Tecopah, Adam would not have bartered
his freedom to the dust-clouded mill for all the gold it mined. These
clanging mills and hot shafts and dark holes oppressed him.



CHAPTER XIV


The long-deferred hour at last arrived in which Adam, on a ruddy-gold
dawn in early April, drove his burros out into the lonesome desert
toward the Amargosa. He did not look back. Tecopah would not soon
forget Wansfell! That was his grim thought.

The long, drab reaches of desert, the undulating bronze slopes waving
up to the dark mountains, called to him in a language that he felt. If
Adam Larey--or Wansfell, wanderer of the wasteland, as he had come to
believe himself--had any home, it was out in the vast open, under the
great white flare of sunlight and the star-studded canopy of night.

This was a still morning in April, and the lurid sun, bursting above
the black escarpment to the east, promised a rising temperature. Day
by day the heat had been increasing, and now, at sunrise, the smoky
heat veils were waving up from the desert floor. For Adam the most
torrid weather had no terrors, and the warmth of a morning like this
felt pleasant on his cheek. He had been confined to one place, without
action, for so long that now, as he began to feel the slow sweat burn
pleasantly on his body, there came a loosening of his muscles, a
relaxing of tension, a marshaling, as it were, of his great forces of
strength and endurance. The gray slopes beyond did not daunt him. His
stride was that of a mountaineer, and his burros had to trot to keep
ahead of him.

And as Adam’s body gradually responded to this readjustment to the
desert and its hard demands, so his mind seemed to slough off, layer
by layer, the morbid, fierce, and ruthless moods that like lichens
had fastened upon it. The dry, sweet desert air seemed to permeate
his brain and clear it of miasmas and shadows. He was free. He was
alone. He was self-sufficient. The desert called. From far beyond
that upheaved black and forbidding range, the Funeral Mountains,
something strange, new, thrilling awaited his coming. The strife of the
desert had awakened in him a craving to find the unattainable. He had
surmounted all physical obstacles. He would conquer Death Valley; he
would see it in all its ghastliness; he would absorb all its mysteries;
he would defy to the limit of endurance its most fatal menaces to life.

In the afternoon Adam rounded a corner of a league-long sloping
mesa and gazed down into the valley of the Amargosa. It looked the
bitterness, the poison, and the acid suggested by its Spanish name. The
narrow meandering stream gleamed like silver in the sunlight. Mesquite
and other brush spotted its gravelly slopes and sandy banks. Adam
headed down into the valley. The sun was already westering, and soon,
as he descended, it hung over the ragged peaks. He reached the creek.
The burros drank, but not with relish. Adam gazed at the water of the
Amargosa with interest. It was not palatable, yet it would save life.

Adam set about the camp tasks long grown second nature with him, and
which were always congenial and pleasant. He built a fire of dead
mesquite. Then he scoured his oven with sand, and greased it. He had
a heavy pan which did duty as a gold-pan, a dish-pan, and a wash-pan.
This he half filled with flour, and, adding water, began to mix the
two. He had gotten the dough to about the proper consistency when a
rustling in the brush attracted his attention. He thought he caught a
glimpse of a rabbit. Such opportunity for fresh meat was rare on the
desert. Hastily wiping his hands, he caught up his gun and stole out
into the aisle between the mesquites. As luck would have it, he did
espy a young cottontail, and was fortunate enough to make a good shot.
Returning to camp, he made sudden discovery of a catastrophe.

Jennie had come out of her nap, if, indeed, she had not been shamming
sleep, and she had her nose in the dish-pan. She was eating the dough.

“Hyar, you camp robber!” yelled Adam, making for her.

Jennie jerked up her head. The dough stuck to her nose and the pan
stuck to the dough. She eluded Adam, for she was a quick and nimble
burro. The pan fell off, but the ball of dough adhered to her mouth
and nose, and as she ran around camp in a circle it was certain that
she worked her jaws, eating dough as fast as she could. Manifestly for
Jennie, here was opportunity of a lifetime. When finally Adam did catch
her the dough was mostly eaten. He gave her a cuff and a kick which she
accepted meekly, and, drooping her ears, she apparently fell asleep
again.

While Adam was at his simple meal the sun set, filling the valley with
red haze and tipping with gold the peaks in the distance. The heat
had gone with the sun. He walked to and fro in the lonely twilight.
Jennie had given up hope of any more opportunity to pilfer, and had
gone to grazing somewhere down the stream. There was absolutely no
sound. An infinite silence enfolded the solitude. It was such solitude
as only men of Adam’s life could bear. To him it was both a blessing
and a curse. But to-night he had an all-pervading and all-satisfying
power. He seemed to be growing at one with the desert and its elements.
After a while the twilight shadows shaded into the blackness of night,
and the stars blazed. Adam had been conscious all day of the gradual
relaxing of strain, and now in the lonely solitude there fell away from
him the feelings and thoughts engendered at Tecopah.

“Loneliness and silence and time!” he soliloquized, as he paced his
sandy beat. “These will cure any trouble--any disease of mind--any
agony of soul. Ah! I know. I never forget. But how different now to
remember!... That must be the secret of the power of the desert over
men. It is the abode of solitude and silence. It is like the beginning
of creation. It is like an eternity of time.”

By the slow healing of the long-raw wound in his heart Adam had come
to think of time’s relation to change. Memory was still as poignant as
ever. But a change had begun in him--a change he divined only after
long months of strife. Dismukes brought a regurgitation of the old
pain; yet it was not quite the same. Eight years! How impossible to
realize that, until confronted by physical proofs of the passing of
time! Adam saw no clear and serene haven for his wandering spirit, but
there seemed to be a nameless and divine promise in the future. His
steps had not taken hold of hell. He had been driven down the naked
shingles of the desert, through the storms of sand, under the infernal
heat and bitter cold, like a man scourged naked, with screaming furies
to whip the air at his ears. And, lo! time had begun to ease his
burden, soften the pain, dim the past, change his soul.

The moment was one of uplift. “I have my task,” he cried, looking high
to the stars. “Oh, stars--so serene and pitiless and inspiring--teach
me to perform that task as you perform yours!”

He would go on as he had begun, fighting the desert and its barrenness,
its blasting heat, its evil influences, wandering over these wastelands
that must be his home; and he would stake the physical prowess of
him to yet harder, fiercer tasks of toil, driving his spirit to an
intenser, whiter flame. If the desert could develop invincible energy
of strength in a man, he would earn it. If there were a divinity
in man, infinitely beyond the beasts of the desert and the apes of
the past, a something in mysterious affinity with that mighty being
he sensed out there in the darkness, then he would learn it with a
magnified and all-embracing consciousness.

Adam went to his bed on the warm sands complete in two characters--a
sensing, watching, listening man like the savage in harmony with the
nature of the elements around him, and a feeling, absorbed, and
meditating priest who had begun to divine the secrets beyond the
dark-shadowed, starlit desert waste.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam’s first sight of Death Valley came at an early morning hour, as he
turned a last curve in the yawning canyon he had descended.

He stood in awe.

“Oh, desolation!” he cried. And it seemed that, as the shock of the
ghastliness beneath him passed, he remembered with flashing vividness
all that had come to him in his long desert wanderings, which seemed
now to cumulate its terrible silence, desolation, death, and decay in
this forbidding valley.

He remembered the origin of that name--Death Valley. In 1849, when
the California gold frenzy had the world in its grip, seventy Mormon
gold seekers had wandered into this red-walled, white-floored valley,
where sixty-eight of them perished. The two that escaped gave this
narrow sink so many hundred feet below sea level the name Death Valley!
Many and many another emigrant and prospector and wanderer, by his
death from horrible thirst and blasting heat and poison-dusted wind
and destroying avalanche and blood-freezing cold, had added to the
significance of that name and its dreadful fame. On one side the valley
was shadowed by the ragged Funeral range; on the other by the red and
gloomy Panamints. Furnace Creek, the hot stream that came down from the
burning slopes; and Ash Meadow, the valley floor, gray and dead, like
the bed of a Dead Sea; and the Devil’s Chair, a huge seat worn by the
elements in the red mountain wall, where the death king of the valley
watched over his fiends--these names were vivid in Adam’s mind along
with others given by prospectors in uncouth or eloquent speech. “She’s
a hummer in July,” said one; and another, “Salty lid of hell”; and
still another, “Valley of the white shadow of death.”

Death Valley was more than sixty miles long and from seven to twelve
wide. No two prospectors had ever agreed on these dimensions, although
all had been in perfect harmony as to its hellish qualities. Death
was the guardian of the valley and the specter that patrolled its
beat. Mineral wealth was the irresistible allurement which dared men
to defy its terrors. Gold! Dismukes himself had claimed there were
ledges of gold quartz, and Dismukes was practical and accurate. Many
fabulous stories of gold hung on the lips of wandering prospectors.
The forbidding red rocks held jewels in their hard confines--garnets,
opals, turquoises; there were cliffs of marble and walls of onyx. The
valley floor was a white crust where for miles and miles there was
nothing but salt and borax. Beds of soda, of gypsum, of niter, of
sulphur, abounded in the vaster fields of other minerals. It was a
valley where nature had been prodigal of her treasures and terrible
in her hold upon them. But few springs and streams flowed down into
this scoriac sink, and of these all were heavily impregnated with
minerals, all unpalatable, many sour and sulphuric, some hot, a few of
them deadly poison. In the summer months the heat sometimes went to
one hundred and forty-five degrees. The furnace winds of midnight were
withering to flesh and blood. And sometimes the air carried invisible
death in shape of poison gas or dust. In winter, sudden changes of
temperature, whirling icy winds down upon a prospector who had gone to
sleep in warmth, would freeze him to death. Avalanches rolled down the
ragged slopes and cloudbursts carried destruction.

Adam got his bearings, according to the map made by Dismukes, and set
out from the mouth of the canyon to cross the valley. A long sandy
slope dotted by dwarfed mesquites extended down to the bare, crinkly
floor of the valley, from which the descent to a lower level was
scarcely perceptible. When Adam’s burros early in the day manifested
uneasiness and weariness there was indeed rough going. The sand had
given way to a hard crust of salt or borax, and little dimples and
cones made it difficult to place a foot on a level. Some places the
crust was fairly hard; in others it cracked and crunched under foot.
The color was a mixture of a dirty white and yellow. Far ahead Adam
could see a dazzling white plain that resembled frost on a frozen river.

Adam proceeded cautiously behind the burros. They did not like the
travel, and, wary little beasts that they were, they stepped gingerly
in places, as if trying their weight before trusting it upon the
treacherous-looking crust. Adam felt the beat of the sun upon him,
and the reflection of heat from the valley floor. He had been less
oppressed upon hotter days than this. The sensations he began to have
here were similar to those he had experienced in the Salton Sink,
where he had gone below sea level. The oppression seemed to be a blood
pressure, as if the density of the air closed tighter and heavier
around his body.

At last the burros halted. Adam looked up from the careful task of
placing his feet to see that he had reached a perfectly smooth bed of
salt, glistening as if it were powdered ice. This was the margin of
the place that from afar had looked like a frozen stream. Stepping
down upon it, Adam found that it trembled and heaved with his weight,
but upheld him. There was absolutely no sign to tell whether the next
yard of surface would hold him or not. Still, from what he had gone
over he believed he could trust the rest. As he turned to retrace his
steps he saw his tracks just as plainly in the salt as if they had been
imprinted in snow. He led Jennie out, and found that, though her hoofs
sank a little, she could make it by stepping quickly. She understood as
well as he, and when released went on of her own accord, anxious to get
the serious job over. Adam had to drive the other burro. The substance
grew softer as Adam progressed, and in the middle of that glistening
stream it became wet and sticky. The burros labored through this lowest
level of the valley, which fortunately was narrow.

On the other side of it extended a wide flat of salt and mud, very
rough, upheaved as if it had boiled and baked to a crust, then cracked
and sunk in places. Full of holes and pitfalls, and rising in hummocks
gnarled and whorled like huge sea shells, it was an exceedingly
toilsome and dangerous place to travel. The crust continually crumpled
under the hoofs of the burros, and gave forth hollow sounds, as if a
bottomless cavern ran under the valley floor. As Adam neared the other
side he encountered thin streams of water that resembled acid. It was
necessary to find narrow places in these and leap across. Beyond these
ruts in the crust began an almost imperceptible rise of the valley
floor, which in the course of a couple of miles led out of the broken,
choppy sea of salt to a sand-and-gravel level. How relieved Adam was
to reach that! He had been more concerned for the safety of the burros
than for his own.

It was now hot enough for Adam to imagine something of what a
formidable place this valley would be in July or August. On all sides
the mountains stood up dim and obscure and distant in a strange haze.
Low down, the heat veils lifted in ripples, and any object at a
distance seemed illusive. The last hour taxed Adam’s endurance, though
he could have gone perhaps as far again across the lavalike crust. When
he reached the slope that led up to the base of the red mountains he
halted the burros for a rest. The drink he took then was significant,
for it was the fullest he had taken in years. He was hot and wet; his
eyes smarted and his feet burned.

When Adam had rested he consulted the map, and found that he must
travel up the slope and to the west to gain the black buttress of rock
that was his objective point. And considering how dim it looked through
the haze, he concluded he had better be starting. One moment, however,
he gave to a look at the Funeral range which he had come through, and
which now loomed above the valley, a magnificent and awe-inspiring
upheaval of the earth. The lower and nearer heights were marked on
Dismukes’ map as the Calico Mountains, and indeed their many colors
justified the name. Beyond and above them towered the Funerals,
spiked and peaked, ragged as the edge of a saw, piercing the blue sky,
a gloomy and black-zigzagged and drab-belted range of desolation and
grandeur. Adam’s gaze slowly shifted westward to the gulf, a hazy void,
a vast valley with streaked and ridged and canyoned slopes inclosing
the abyss into which veils of rain seemed dropping. Broken clouds had
appeared in the west, pierced by gold and red rays, somewhat dulled by
the haze. Adam was amazed to realize the day was far spent. That scene
up the valley of death was confounding. He gazed spellbound, and every
second saw more and different aspects. How immense, unreal, weird!

He got up from the stone seat that had almost burned through his
clothes, and bent his steps westward, driving the wearying burros
ahead of him. Three miles toward the black buttressed corner he wanted
to gain before dark--so his experienced desert eyes calculated the
distance. But this was Death Valley. No traveler of the desert had ever
correctly measured distance in this valley of shadows and hazes and
illusions. He was making three miles an hour. Yet at the end of an hour
he seemed just as far away as ever. Another hour was full of deceits
and misjudgments. But at the end of the third he reached the black
wall, and the line that had seemed a corner was the mouth of a canyon.

Adam halted, as if at the gateway of the unknown. The sun was setting
behind the mountains that now overhung him, massive and mighty, a
sheer, insurmountable world of rock which seemed to reach to the ruddy
sky. Wonderful shadows were falling, purple and blue low down, rosy and
gold above; and the canyon smoked with sunset haze.

The map of Dismukes marked the canyon, and a spring of water just
beyond its threshold, and also the shack where the strange man and
woman lived under the long slant of weathered rock. Adam decided not to
try to find the location that night, so he made dry camp.

Darkness found him weary and oppressed. The day had seemed short, but
the distance long. Tired and sleepy as he was, when he lay down in his
bed he felt a striking dissimilarity of this place to any other he
had known on the desert. How profound the silence! Had any sound ever
pervaded it? All was gloom and shadow below, with black walls rising to
star-fretted sky as blue as indigo. The valley seemed to be alive. It
breathed, yet invisibly and silently. Indeed, there was a mighty being
awake out there in the black void. Adam could not believe any man and
woman lived up this canyon. Dismukes had dreamed. Had not Adam heard
from many prospectors how no white woman could live in Death Valley? He
had been there only a day, yet he felt that he could understand why it
must be fatal to women. But it was not so because of heat and poison
wind and cataclysms of nature, for women could endure those as well as
men. But no woman could stand the alterations of terror and sublimity,
of beauty and horror. That which was feminine in Adam shuddered at a
solitude that seemed fitting to a burned-out world. He was the last of
his race, at the end of its existence, the strongest finally brought to
his doom, and to-morrow the earth would be sterile--thus Adam’s weary
thoughts passed into dreams.

He awakened somewhat later than usual. Over the Funeral range the sun
was rising, a coalescing globule of molten fire, enormous and red,
surrounded by a sky-broad yellow flare. This sunrise seemed strangely
closer to the earth and to him than any sunrise he had ever watched.
The valley was clear, still, empty, a void that made all objects
therein look small and far away. After breakfast Adam set out to find
his burros.

This high-walled opening did not appear to be a canyon, but a space
made by two mountain slopes running down to a wash where water flowed
at some seasons. Beyond the corners there opened what seemed to be a
gradually widening and sloping field, gray with rocks and sand and
stunted brush, through the center of which straggled a line of gnarled
mesquites, following the course of the wash. Adam found his burros
here, Jennie asleep as usual, and Jack contentedly grazing.

The cracking of a rock rolling down a rough slope thrilled Adam. He
remembered what Dismukes had said about the perilous location of the
shack where the man and woman lived under the shadow of a weathering
mountain. Adam turned to look across the space in the direction whence
the sound had come.

There loomed a mighty mountain slope, absolutely destitute of plants,
a gray, drab million-faceted ascent of rocks. Adam strode toward it,
gradually getting higher and nearer through the rock-strewn field. It
had looked so close as to seem magnified. But it was a goodly distance.
Presently he espied a rude shack. He halted. That could not be what he
was searching for. Still, it must be. Adam had not expected the place
to be so close to Death Valley. It was not a quarter of a mile distant
from the valley and not a hundred feet higher than the lowest sink
hole, which was to say that this crude, small structure lay in Death
Valley and below sea level.

Adam walked on, growing more curious and doubtful. Surely this hut
had been built and abandoned by some prospector. Yet any prospector
could have built a better abode than this. None but a fool or a knave
would have selected that perilous location. The ground began to slope
a little and become bare of brush, and was dotted here and there with
huge bowlders that looked as if they had rolled down there recently.
No sign of smoke, no sign of life, no sign of labor--absence of these
strengthened Adam’s doubt of people living there. Suddenly he espied
the deep track of a man’s foot in the sand. Adam knelt to study it.
“Made yesterday,” he said.

He rose with certainty. Dismukes had been accurate as to direction,
though his distances had been faulty. Adam gazed beyond the shack, to
right, and then left. He espied a patch of green mesquites and hummocks
of grass. There was the water Dismukes had marked. Then Adam looked up.

A broad belt of huge bowlders lay beyond the shack, the edge of the
talus, the beginning of the base of a mountain-side, wearing down,
weathering away, cracking into millions of pieces, every one of which
had both smooth and sharp surfaces. This belt was steep and fan
shaped, spreading at the bottom. As it sloped up it grew steeper,
and the rocks grew smaller. It had the flow of a glacier. It was an
avalanche, perhaps sliding inch by inch and foot by foot, all the
time. The curved base of the fan extended for a couple of miles, in
the distance growing rounded and symmetrical in its lines. It led up
to a stupendous mountain abutment, dull red in color, and so seamed
and cracked and fissured that it had the crisscross appearance of a
rock of net, or numberless stones of myriad shapes pieced together by
some colossal hand, and now split and broken, ready to fall. Yet this
rugged, bold, uneven surface of mountain wall shone in the sunlight.
It looked as if it had been a solid mass of granite shattered by some
cataclysm of nature. Above this perpendicular splintered ruin heaved
up another slope of broken rocks, hanging there as if by magic, every
one of the endless heaps of stones leaning ready to roll. Frost and
heat had disintegrated this red mountain. What history of age was
written there! How sinister that dull hue of red! No beauty shone
here, though the sun gleamed on the millions of facets. The mountain
of unstable rock towered dark and terrible and forbidding even in the
broad light of day. What held that seamed and lined and sundered mass
of rock together! For what was it waiting? Only time, and the law of
the desert! Even as Adam gazed a weathered fragment loosened from the
heights, rolled off the upper wall, pitched clear into the air, and
cracked ringingly below, to bound and hurtle down the lower slope,
clapping less and less until it ceased with a little hollow report.
That was the story of the mountain. By atom and by mass it was in
motion, working down to a level. Bowlders twice as large as the shack,
weighing thousands of tons, had rolled down and far out on the field.
Any moment another might topple off the rampart and come hurtling down
to find the shack in its path. Some day the whole slope of loose rock,
standing almost on end, would slide down in avalanche.

“Well,” muttered Adam, darkly, “any man who made a woman live there was
either crazy or meant her to have an awful death.”

Adam strode on to the shack. It might afford shelter from sun, but not
from rain or dust. Packsaddles and boxes were stacked on one side;
empty cans lay scattered everywhere; a pile of mesquite, recently cut,
stood in front of the aperture that evidently was a door; and on the
sand lay blackened stones and blackened utensils, near the remains of a
still smoldering fire.

“Hello, inside,” called Adam, as he halted at the door. No sound
answered. He stooped to look in, and saw bare sand floor, a rude, low
table made of box boards, flat stones for seats, utensils and dishes,
shelves littered with cans and bags. A flimsy partition of poles and
canvas, with a door, separated this room from another and larger one.
Adam saw a narrow bed of blankets raised on poles, an old valise on the
sandy floor, woman’s garments hanging on the brush walls. He called
again, louder this time. He saw a flash of something gray through the
torn canvas, then heard a low cry--a woman’s voice. Adam raised his
head and stepped back.

“Elliot!... You’ve come back!” came the voice, quick, low, and
tremulous, betokening relief from dread.

“No. It’s a stranger,” replied Adam.

“Oh!” The hurried exclamation was followed by soft footfalls. A woman
in gray appeared in the doorway--a woman whose proportions were noble,
but frail. She had a white face and large, deep eyes, strained and sad.
“Oh--who are you?”

“Ma’am, my name’s Wansfell. I’m a friend of Dismukes, the prospector
who was here. I’m crossing Death Valley and I thought I’d call on you.”

“Dismukes? The little miner, huge, like a frog?” she queried, quickly,
with dilating eyes. “I remember. He was kind, but-- And you’re his
friend?”

“Yes, at your service, ma’am.”

“Thank--God!” she cried, brokenly, and she leaned back against the
door. “I’m in trouble. I’ve been alone--all--all night. My husband left
yesterday. He took only a canteen. He said he’d be back for supper....
But--he didn’t come. Oh, something has happened to him.”

“Many things happen in the desert,” said Adam. “I’ll find your husband.
I saw his tracks out here in the sand.”

“Oh, can you find him?”

“Ma’am, I can track a rabbit to its burrow. Don’t worry any more. I
will track your husband and find him.”

The woman suddenly seemed to be struck with Adam’s tone, or the
appearance of him. It was as if she had not particularly noticed him
at first. “Once he got lost--was gone two days. Another time he was
overcome by heat--or something in the air.”

“You’ve been alone before?” queried Adam, quick to read the pain of the
past in her voice.

“Alone?... Many--many lonely nights,” she said. “He’s left
me--alone--often--purposely--for me to torture my soul here in the
blackness.... And those rolling rocks--cracking in the dead of
night--and----” Then the flash of her died out, as if she had realized
she was revealing a shameful secret to a stranger.

“Ma’am, is your husband just right in his mind?” asked Adam.

She hesitated, giving Adam the impression that she wished to have him
think her husband irrational, but could not truthfully say so.

“Men do strange things in the desert,” said Adam. “May I ask, ma’am,
have you food and water?”

“Yes. We’ve plenty. But Elliot makes me cook--and I never learned how.
So we’ve fared poorly. But he eats little and I less!”

“Will you tell me how he came to build your hut here where, sooner or
later, it’ll be crushed by rolling stones?”

A tragic shadow darkened in the large, dark-blue eyes that Adam now
realized were singularly beautiful.

“I--He-- This place was near the water. He cut the brush here--he
didn’t see--wouldn’t believe the danger,” she faltered. She was telling
a lie, and did not do it well. The fine, sensitive, delicate lips,
curved and soft, sad with pain, had not been fashioned for falsehood.

“Perhaps I can make him see,” replied Adam. “I’ll go find him. Probably
he’s lost. The heat is not strong enough to be dangerous. And he’s not
been gone long. Don’t worry. My camp is just below. I’ll fetch him back
to-day--or to-morrow at farthest.”

She murmured some incoherent thanks. Adam was again aware of her
penetrating glance, staring, wondering even in her trouble. He strode
away with bowed head, searching the sand for the man’s tracks.
Presently he struck them and saw that they led down toward the valley.

To follow such a plain trail was child’s play for Adam’s desert sight,
that had received its early training in the preservation of his life.
He who had trailed lizards to their holes, and snakes to their rocks,
to find them and eat or die--he was as keen as a wolf on the scent.
This man’s trail led straight down to the open valley, out along the
western bulge of slope, to a dry water hole.

From there the footprints led down to the parapet of a wide bench,
under which the white crust began its level monotony toward the other
side of the valley. Different here was it from the place miles below
where Adam had crossed. It was lower--the bottom of the bowl. Adam
found difficulty in breathing, and had sensations like intermittent
rushes of blood to his head. The leaden air weighed down, and, though
his keen scent could not detect any odor, he knew there was impurity of
some kind on the slow wind. It reminded him that this was Death Valley.
He considered a moment. If the man’s tracks went on across the valley,
Adam would return to camp for a canteen, then take up the trail again.
But the tracks led off westward once more, straggling and aimless.
Adam’s stride made three of one of these steps. He did not care about
the heat. That faint hint of gas, however, caused him concern. For
miles he followed the straggling tracks, westward to a heave of valley
slope that, according to the map of Dismukes, separated Death Valley
from its mate adjoining--Lost Valley. On the left of this ridge the
tracks wandered up the slope to the base of the mountain and followed
it in wide scallops. The footmarks now showed the dragging of boots,
and little by little they appeared fresher in the sand. This wanderer
had not rested during the night.

The tracks grew deeper, more dragging, wavering from side to side. Here
the man had fallen. Adam saw the imprints of his hands and a smooth
furrow where evidently he had dragged a canteen across the sand. Then
came the telltale signs of where he had again fallen and had begun to
crawl.

“Looks like the old story,” muttered Adam. “I’ll just about find him
dying or dead.... Better so--for that woman who called him husband!...
I wonder--I wonder.”

Adam’s year of wandering had led him far from the haunts of men,
along the lonely desert trails and roads where only a few solitary
humans like himself dared the elements, or herded in sordid and hard
camps; but, nevertheless, by some virtue growing out of his strife and
adversity, he had come to sense something nameless, to feel the mighty
beat of the heart of the desert, to hear a mourning music over the
silent wastes--a still, sad music of humanity. It was there, even in
the gray wastelands.

He strode on with contracted eyes, peering through the hot sunlight. At
last he espied a moving object. A huge land turtle toiling along! No,
it was a man crawling on hands and knees.



CHAPTER XV


Adam ran with the strides of a giant. And he came up to a man, ragged
and dirty, crawling wearily along, dragging a canteen through the sand.

“Say, hold on!” called Adam, loudly.

The man halted, but did not lift his head. Adam bent down to peer at
him.

“What ails you?” queried Adam, sharply.

“Huh!” ejaculated the man, stupidly. Adam’s repeated question,
accompanied by a shake, brought only a grunt.

Adam lifted the man to his feet and, supporting him, began to lead
him over the sand. His equilibrium had been upset, and, like all men
overcome on the desert, he wanted to plunge off a straight line. Adam
persevered, but the labor of holding him was greater than that of
supporting him.

At length Adam released the straining fellow, as much out of curiosity
to see what he would do as from a realization that time could not
be wasted in this manner. He did not fall, but swayed and staggered
around in a circle, like an animal that had been struck on the head.
The texture of his ragged garments, the cut of them, the look of the
man, despite his soiled and unkempt appearance, marked him as one not
commonly met with in the desert.

The coppery sun stood straight overhead and poured down a strong and
leaden heat. Adam calculated that they were miles from camp and would
never reach it at this rate. He pondered. He must carry the man.
Suiting action to thought, he picked him up and, throwing him over his
shoulder, started to plod on. The weight was little to one of Adam’s
strength, but the squirming and wrestling of the fellow to get down
made Adam flounder in the sand.

[Illustration: BUT AT LENGTH THE BURDEN OF A HEAVY WEIGHT, AND THE
DRAGGING SAND, AND THE HOT SUN, BROUGHT ADAM TO A PASS WHERE REST WAS
IMPERATIVE]

“You poor devil!” muttered Adam, at last brought to a standstill.
“Maybe I can’t save your life, anyway.”

With that he set the man down and, swinging a powerful blow, laid him
stunned upon the sand. Whereupon it was easy to lift him and throw him
over a shoulder like an empty sack. Not for a long distance over the
sand did that task become prodigious. But at length the burden of a
heavy weight and the dragging sand and the hot sun brought Adam to a
pass where rest was imperative. He laid the unconscious man down while
he recovered breath and strength. Then he picked him up and went on.

After that he plodded slower, rested oftener, weakened more
perceptibly. Meanwhile the hours passed, and when he reached the huge
gateway in the red iron mountain wall the sun was gone and purple
shadows were mustering in the valley. When he reached the more level
field where the thick-strewn bowlders lay, all before his eyes seemed
red. A million needles were stinging his nerves, running like spears of
light into his darkened sight.

The limit that he had put upon his endurance was to reach the shack. He
did so, and he was nearly blind when the woman’s poignant call thrilled
his throbbing ears. He saw her--a white shape through ruddy haze. Then
he deposited his burden on the sand.

“Oh!” the woman moaned. “He’s dead!”

Adam shook his head. Pity, fear, and even terror rang in her poignant
cry, but not love.

“Ah!... You’ve saved him, then.... He’s injured--there’s a great
bruise--he breathes so heavily.”

While Adam sat panting, unable to speak, the woman wiped her husband’s
face and worked over him.

“He came back once--and fell into a stupor like this, but not so deep.
What can it be?”

“Poison--air,” choked Adam.

“Oh, this terrible Death Valley!” she cried.

Adam’s sight cleared and he saw the woman, clad in a white robe
over her gray dress, a garment clean and rich, falling in thick
folds--strange to Adam’s sight, recalling the past. The afterglow of
sunset shone down into the valley, lighting her face. Once she must
have been beautiful. The perfect lines, the noble brow, the curved
lips, were there, but her face was thin, strained, tragic. Only the
eyes held beauty still.

“You saved him?” she queried, with quick-drawn breath.

“Found him--miles and miles--up the--valley--crawling on--his hands and
knees,” panted Adam. “I had--to carry him.”

“You carried him!” she exclaimed, incredulously. Then the large eyes
blazed. “So that’s why you were so livid--why you fell?... Oh, you
splendid man! You giant!... He’d have died out there--alone. I thank
you with all my heart.”

She reached a white worn hand to touch Adam’s with an exquisite
eloquence of gratitude.

“Get water--bathe him,” said Adam. “Have you ammonia or whisky?” And
while he laboriously got to his knees the woman ran into the shack.
He rose, feeling giddy and weak. All his muscles seemed beaten and
bruised, and his heart pained. Soon the woman came hurrying out, with
basin and towel and a little black satchel that evidently contained
medicines. Adam helped her work over her husband, but, though they
revived him, they could not bring him back to intelligent consciousness.

“Help me carry him in,” said Adam.

Inside the little shack it was almost too dark to see plainly.

“Have you a light?” he added.

“No,” she replied.

“I’ll fetch a candle. You watch over him while I move my camp up here.
You might change his shirt, if he’s got another. I’ll be back right
away, and I’ll start a fire--get some supper for us.”

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time Adam had packed and moved his effects darkness had settled
down between the slopes of the mountains. After he had unpacked near
the shack, his first move was to light a candle and take it to the door.

“Here’s a light, ma’am,” he called.

She glided silently out of the gloom, her garments gleaming ghostlike
and her white face with its luminous eyes, dark and strange as
midnight, looking like a woman’s face in tragic dreams. As she took the
candle her hand touched Adam’s.

“Thank you,” she said. “Please don’t call me ma’am. My name is
Magdalene Virey.”

“I’ll try to remember.... Has your husband come to yet?”

“No. He seems to have fallen into a stupor. Won’t you look at him?”

Adam followed her inside and saw that she marked his lofty height. The
shack had not been built for anyone of his stature.

“How tall you are!” she murmured.

The candle did not throw a bright light, yet by its aid Adam made out
the features of the man whose life he had saved. It seemed to Adam to
be the face of a Lucifer whose fiendish passions were now restrained by
sleep. Whoever this man was, he had suffered a broken heart and ruined
life.

“He’s asleep,” said Adam. “That’s not a trance or stupor. He’s worn
out. I believe it’d be better not to wake him.”

“You think so?” she replied, with quick relief.

“I’m not sure. Perhaps if you watch him awhile you can tell.... I’ll
get some supper and call you.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam’s habitual dexterity over camp tasks failed him this evening.
Presently, however, the supper was ready, and he threw brush on the
fire to make a light.

“Mrs. Virey,” he called at the door, “come and eat now.”

When had the camp fire of his greeted such a vision, except in his
vague dreams? Tall, white-gowned, slender, and graceful, with the
poise of a woman aloof and proud and the sad face of a Madonna--what
a woman to sit at Adam’s camp fire in Death Valley! The shadowed and
thick light hid the ravages that had by day impaired her beauty. Adam
placed a canvas pack for her to sit upon, and then he served her, with
something that was not wholly unconscious satisfaction. Of all men, he
of the desert could tell the signs of hunger; and the impression had
come to him that she was half starved. The way she ate brought home to
Adam with a pang the memorable days when he was starving. This woman
sitting in the warm, enhancing glow of the camp fire had an exquisitely
spiritual face. She had seemed all spirit. But self-preservation was
the first instinct and the first law of human nature, or any nature.

“When have I eaten so heartily!” she exclaimed at last. “But, oh! it
all tasted so good.... Sir, you are a capital cook.”

“Thank you,” replied Adam, much gratified.

“Do you always fare so well?”

“No. I’m bound to confess I somewhat outdid myself to-night. You see, I
seldom have such opportunity to serve a woman.”

She rested her elbows on her knees, with her hands under her chin, and
looked at him with intense interest. In the night her eyes seemed very
full and large, supernaturally bright and tragic. They were the eyes
of a woman who still preserved in her something of inherent faith in
mankind. Adam divined that she had scarcely looked at him before as an
individual with a personality, and that some accent or word of his had
struck her singularly.

“It was that miner, Dis--Dis----”

“Dismukes,” added Adam.

“Yes. It was he who sent you here. Are you a miner, too?”

“No. I care little for gold.”

“Ah!... What are you, then?”

“Just a wanderer. Wansfell, the Wanderer, they call me.”

“They? Who are they?”

“Why, I suppose they are the other wanderers. Men who tramp over the
desert--men who seek gold or forgetfulness or peace or solitude--men
who are driven--or who hide. These are few, but, taken by the years,
they seem many.”

“Men of the desert have passed by here, but none like you,” she
replied, with gravity, and her eyes pierced him. “_Why_ did you come?”

“Years ago my life was ruined,” said Adam, slowly. “I chose to fight
the desert. And in all the years the thing that helped me most was
not to pass by anyone in trouble. The desert sees strange visitors.
Life is naked here, like those stark mountain-sides.... Dismukes is
my friend--he saved me from death once. He is a man who knows this
wasteland. He told me about your being here. He said no white woman
could live in Death Valley.... I wondered--if I might--at least advise
you, turn you back--and so I came.”

His earnestness deeply affected her.

“Sir, your kind words warm a cold and forlorn heart,” she said. “But I
cannot be turned back. It’s too late.”

“No hour is ever too late.... Mrs. Virey, I’ll not distress you with
advice or importunities. I know too well the need and the meaning
of peace. But the fact of your being here--a woman of your evident
quality--a woman of your sensitiveness and delicate health--why, it is
a terrible thing! This is Death Valley. The month is April. Soon it
will be May--then June. When midsummer comes you cannot survive here.
I know nothing of _why_ you are here--I don’t seek to know. But you
cannot stay. It would be a miracle for your husband to find gold here,
if that is what he seeks. Surely he has discovered that.”

“Virey does not seek gold,” the woman said.

“Does he know that a white woman absolutely cannot live here in Death
Valley? Even the Indians abandon it in summer.”

“He knows. There are Shoshone Indians up on the mountains now. They
pack supplies to us. They have warned him.”

Adam could ask no more, yet how impossible not to feel an absorbing
interest in this woman’s fate. As he sat with bowed head, watching the
glowing and paling of the red embers, he felt her gaze upon him.

“Wansfell, you must have a great heart--like your body,” she said,
presently. “It is blessed to meet such a man. Your kindness, your
interest, soften my harsh and bitter doubt of men. We are utter
strangers. But there’s something in this desert that bridges time--that
bids me open my lips to you ... a man who traveled this ghastly valley
to serve me!... My husband, Virey, knows that Death Valley is a hell on
earth. So do I. That is why he brought me ... that is why I came!”

“My God!” breathed Adam, staring incredulously at her. Dismukes had
prepared him for tragedy; the desert had shown him many dark and
terrible calamities, misfortunes, mysteries; he had imagined he could
no longer be thrown off his balance by amaze. But that a sad-eyed,
sweet-voiced woman, whose every tone and gesture and look spoke of
refinement and education, of a life infinitely removed from the wild
ruggedness of the desert West--that she could intimate what seemed in
one breath both murder and suicide--this staggered Adam’s credulity.

Yet, as he stared at her, realizing the tremendous passion of will,
of spirit, of something more than emanated from her, divining how in
her case intellect and culture had been added to the eternal feminine
of her nature, he knew she spoke the truth. Adam had met women on the
desert, and all of them were riddles. Yet what a vast range between
Margarita Arallanes and Magdalene Virey!

“Won’t your husband leave--take you away from here?” asked Adam, slowly.

“No.”

“Well--I have a way of forcing men to see things. I suppose I----”

“Useless! We have traveled three thousand miles to get to Death
Valley. Years ago Elliot Virey read about this awful place. He was
always interested. He learned that it was the most arid, ghastly,
desolate, and terrible place of death in all the world.... Then,
when he got me to Sacramento--and to Placerville--he would talk with
miners, prospectors, Indians--anyone who could tell him about Death
Valley.... Virey had a reason for finding a hell on earth. We crossed
the mountains, range after range--and here we are.... Sir, the hell of
which we read--even in its bottommost pit--cannot be worse than Death
Valley.”

“You will let me take you home--at least out of the desert?” queried
Adam, with passionate sharpness.

“Sir, I thank you again,” she replied, her voice thrilling richly.
“But no--no! You do not understand--you cannot--and it’s impossible to
explain.”

“Ah! Yes, some things are.... Suppose you let me move your camp higher
up, out of this thick, dead air and heat--where there are trees and
good water?”

“But it is not a beautiful and a comfortable camp that Virey--that we
want,” she said, bitterly.

“Then let me move your shack across the wash out of danger. This spot
is the most forbidding I ever saw. That mountain above us is on the
move. The whole cracked slope is sliding like a glacier. It is an
avalanche waiting for a jar--a slip--something to start it. The rocks
are rolling down all the time.”

“Have I not heard the rocks--cracking, ringing--in the dead of night!”
she cried, shuddering. Her slender form seemed to draw within itself
and the white, slim hands clenched her gown. “Rocks! How I’ve learned
to hate them! These rolling rocks are living things. I’ve heard them
slide and crack, roll and ring--hit the sand with a thump, and then
with whistle and thud go by where I lay in the dark.... People who live
as I have lived know nothing of the elements. I had no fear of the
desert--nor of Death Valley. I dared it. I laughed to scorn the idea
that any barren wild valley, any maelstrom of the sea, any Sodom of a
city could be worse than the chaos of my soul.... But I didn’t know.
I am human. I’m a woman. A woman is meant to bear children. Nothing
else!... I learned that I was afraid of the dark--that such fear had
been born in me. These rolling rocks got on my nerves. I wait--I listen
for them. And I pray.... Then the silence--that became so dreadful.
It is insupportable. Worse than all is the loneliness.... Oh, this
God-forsaken, lonely Death Valley! It will drive me mad.”

As Adam had anticipated, no matter what strength of will, what sense
of secrecy bound this woman’s lips, she had been victim to the sound
of her own voice, which, liberated by his sympathy, had spoken, and a
word, as it were, had led to a full, deep, passionate utterance.

“True. All too terribly true,” replied Adam. “And for a woman--for
you--these feelings will grow more intense.... I beg of you, at least
let me move your camp back out of danger.”

“No! Not a single foot!” she blazed, as if confronted with something
beyond his words. After that she hid her face in her hands. A long
silence ensued. Adam, watching her, saw when the tremble and heave
of her breast subsided. At length she looked up again, apparently
composed. “Perhaps I talked more than I should have. But no matter.
It was necessary to tell you something. For you came here to help an
unknown woman. Not to anyone else have I breathed a word of the true
state of my feelings. My husband watches me like a hawk, but not yet
does he know my fears. I’ll thank you, when you speak to him, if you
stay here so long, not to tell him anything I’ve said.”

“Mrs. Virey, I’ll stay as long as you are here,” said Adam, simply.

The simplicity of his speech, coupled with the tremendous suggestion
in the fact of his physical presence, his strength and knowledge to
serve her despite her bitter repudiation, seemed again to knock at the
heart of her femininity. In the beginning of human life on the earth,
and through its primal development, there was always a man to protect
a woman. But subtly and inevitably there had been in Adam’s words an
intimation that Magdalene Virey stood absolutely alone. More, for with
spirit, if not with body, she was fighting Death Valley, and also some
terrible relation her husband bore to her.

“Sir--you would stay here--on a possible chance of serving me?” she
whispered.

“Yes,” replied Adam.

“Virey will not like that.”

“I’m not sure, but I suspect it’ll not make any difference to me what
he likes.”

“If you are kind to me he will drive you away,” she went on, with
agitation.

“Well, as he’s your husband he may prevent me from being kind, but he
can’t drive me away.”

“But suppose I ask you to go?”

“If that’s the greatest kindness I can do you--well, I’ll go.... But do
you ask me?”

“I--I don’t know. I may be forced to--not by _him_, but by my pride,”
she said, desperately. “Oh, I’m unstrung! I don’t know what to say....
After all, just the sound of a kind voice makes me a coward. O God!
if people in the world only knew the value of kindness! I never did
know.... This desert of horrors teaches the truth of life.... Once I
had the world at my feet!... Now I break and bow at the sympathy of a
stranger!”

“Never mind your pride,” said Adam, in his slow, cool way. “I
understand. I’ve a good deal of a woman in me. Whatever brought you
to Death Valley, whatever nails you here, is nothing to me. Even if
I learn it, what need that be to you? If you do not want me to stay
to work for you, watch over your husband--why, let me stay for my own
sake.”

She rose and faced him, with soul-searching eyes. She could not escape
her nature. Emotion governed her.

“Sir, you speak nobly,” she replied, with lips that trembled. “But I
don’t understand you. Stay here--where I am--for your sake! Explain,
please.”

“I have my burden. Once it was even more terrible than yours. Through
that I can feel as you feel now. I have lived the loneliness--the
insupportable loneliness--of the desert--the silence, the heat, the
hell. But my burden still weighs on my soul. If I might somehow help
your husband, who is going wrong, blindly following some road of
passion--change him or stop him, why that would ease my burden. If I
might save you weariness, or physical pain, or hunger, or thirst, or
terror--it would be doing more for myself than for you.... We are in
Death Valley. You refuse to leave. We are, right here, two hundred
feet below sea level. When the furnace heat comes--when the blasting
midnight wind comes--it means either madness or death.”

“Stay--Sir Knight,” she said, with a hollow, ringing gayety. “Who shall
say that chivalry is dead?... Stay! and know this. I fear no man. I
scorn death.... But, ah, the woman of me! I hate dirt and vermin.
I’m afraid of pain. I suffer agonies even before I’m hurt. I miss so
unforgettably the luxuries of life. And lastly, I have a mortal terror
of going mad. Spare me that and you will have my prayers in this
world--and beyond.... Good night.”

“Good night,” replied Adam.

She left him to the deepening gloom and the dying camp fire. Adam soon
grew conscious of extreme fatigue in mind and body. Spreading his
blankets on the sands, he stretched his weary, aching body without even
an upward glance at the stars, and fell asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Daylight again, as if by the opening of eyelids! The rose color was
vying with the blue of the sky and a noble gold crowned the line of
eastern range which Adam could see through the V-shaped split that
opened into the valley.

He pulled on his boots, and gave his face an unusual and detrimental
luxury in the desert. Water was bad for exposed flesh in arid country.
The usual spring and buoyancy of his physical being was lacking this
day. Such overstrain as yesterday’s would require time to be remedied.
So Adam moved slowly and with caution.

First Adam went to the spring. He found a bubbling gush of
velvet-looking water pouring out of a hole and running a few rods to
sink into the sand. The color of it seemed inviting--so clear and soft
and somehow rich. The music of its murmur, too, was melodious. Adam was
a connoisseur of waters. What desert wanderer of years was not? Before
he tasted this water, despite its promise, he knew it was not good. Yet
it did not have exactly an unpleasant taste. Dismukes had said this
water was all right, yet he seldom stayed long enough in one locality
to learn the ill effects of the water. Adam knew he too could live on
this water. But he was thinking of the delicate woman lost here in
Death Valley with an idiot or a knave of a husband.

The spring was located some two hundred yards or more from the shack
and just out of line of the rock-strewn slope. Spreading like a fan,
this weathered slant of stones extended its long, curved length in
the opposite direction. Adam decided to pitch his permanent camp,
or at least sleeping place, here on the grass. Here he erected a
brush-and-canvas shelter to make shade, and deposited his effects under
it. That done, he returned to the shack to cook breakfast.

There appeared to be no life in the rude little misshapen hut. Had the
man who built it ever been a boy? There were men so utterly helpless
and useless out in the wilds, where existence depended upon labor of
hands, that they seemed foreign to the descendants of Americans. Adam
could not but wonder about the man lying in there, though he tried hard
to confine his reflections to the woman. He did not like the situation.
Of what avail the strong arm, the desert-taught fierceness to survive?
If this man and woman had ever possessed instincts to live, to fight,
to reproduce their kind, to be of use in the world, they had subverted
them to the debasements of sophisticated and selfish existence. The
woman loomed big to Adam, and he believed she had been dragged down by
a weak and vicious man.

Leisurely Adam attended to the preparation of breakfast, prolonging
tasks that always passed swiftly through his hands.

“Good morning, Sir Wansfell,” called a voice with something of mockery
in it, yet rich and wistful--a low-pitched contralto voice full of
music and pathos and a pervading bitterness.

It stirred Adam’s blood, so sluggish this morning. It seemed to carry
an echo from his distant past. Turning, he saw the woman, clad in
gray, with a girdle of cord twisted around her slender waist. Soft and
clean and fleecy, that gray garment, so out of place there, so utterly
incongruous against the background of crude shack and wild slope,
somehow fitted her voice as it did her fragile shape, somehow set her
infinitely apart from the women Adam had met in his desert wanderings.
She came from the great world outside, a delicate spark from the solid
flint of class, a thoroughbred whom years before the desert might have
saved.

“Good morning, Mrs. Virey,” returned Adam. “How are you--and did your
husband awake?”

“I slept better than for long,” she replied, “and I think I know
why.... Yes, Virey came to. He’s conscious, and asked for water. But
he’s weak--strange. I’d like you to look at him presently.”

“Yes, I will.”

“And how are you after your tremendous exertions of yesterday?” she
inquired.

“Not so spry,” said Adam, with a smile. “But I’ll be myself in a day or
so. I believe the air down in the valley affected me a little. My lungs
are sore.... I think it would be more comfortable for you if we had
breakfast in your kitchen. The sun is hot.”

“Indeed yes. So you mean to--to do this--this camp work for me--in
spite of----”

“Yes. I always oppose women,” he said. “And that is about once every
two or three years. You see, women are scarce on the desert.”

“Last night I was upset. I am sorry that I was ungracious. I thank
you, and I am only too glad to accept your kind service,” she said,
earnestly.

“That is well. Now, will you help me carry in the breakfast?”

Unreality was not unusual to Adam. The desert had as many unrealities,
illusions, and specters as it had natural and tangible things. But
while he sat opposite to this fascinating woman, whose garments exuded
some subtle fragrance of perfume, whose shadowed, beautiful face shone
like a cameo against the drab wall of the brush shack, he was hard put
to it to convince himself of actuality. She ate daintily, but she was
hungry. The gray gown fell in graceful folds around the low stone seat.
The rude table between them was a box, narrow and uneven.

“Shall I try to get Virey to eat?” she asked, presently.

“That depends. On the desert, after a collapse, we are careful with
food and water.”

“Will you look at him?”

Adam followed her as she swept aside a flap of the canvas partition.
This room was larger and lighter. It had an aperture for a window.
Adam’s quick glance took this in, and then the two narrow beds of
blankets raised on brush cots. Virey lay on the one farther from the
door. His pallid brow and unshaven face appeared drawn into terrible
lines, which, of course, Adam could not be sure were permanent or the
result of the collapse in the valley. He inclined, however, to the
conviction that Virey’s face was the distorted reflection of a tortured
soul. Surely he had been handsome once. He had deep-set black eyes, a
straight nose, and a mouth that betrayed him, despite its being half
hidden under a mustache. Adam, keen and strung in that moment as he
received his impressions of Virey, felt the woman’s intensity as if
he had been studying her instead of her husband. How singular women
were! How could it matter to her what opinion he formed of her husband?
Adam knew he had been powerfully prejudiced against this man, but he
had held in stern abeyance all judgment until he could look at him.
For long years Adam had gazed into the face of the desert. Outward
appearance could not deceive him. As the cactus revealed its ruthless
nature, as the tiny inch-high flower bloomed in its perishable but
imperative proof of beauty as well as life, as the long flowing sands
of the desert betrayed the destructive design of the universe--so
the face of any man was the image of his soul. And Adam recoiled
instinctively, if not outwardly, at what he read in Virey’s face.

“You’re in pain?” queried Adam.

“Yes,” came the husky whisper, and Virey put a hand on his breast.

“It’s sore here,” said Adam, feeling Virey. “You’ve breathed poisoned
air down in the valley. It acts like ether.... You just lie quiet for a
while. I’ll do the work around camp.”

“Thank you,” whispered Virey.

The woman followed Adam outside and gazed earnestly up at him,
unconscious of herself, with her face closer than it had ever been
to him and full in the sunlight. It struck Adam that the difference
between desert flowers and the faces of beautiful women was one of
emotion. How much better to have the brief hour of an unconscious
flower, wasting its fragrance on the desert air!

“He’s ill, don’t you think?” queried the woman.

“No. But he recovers slowly. A man must have a perfect heart and
powerful lungs to battle against the many perils in this country. But
Virey will get over this all right.”

“You never give up, do you?” she inquired.

“Come to think of that, I guess I never do,” replied Adam.

“Such spirit is worthy of a better cause. You are doomed here to
failure.”

“Well, I’m not infallible, that’s certain. But you can never tell.
The fact of my standing here is proof of the overcoming of almost
impossible things. I can’t make Death Valley habitable for you, but I
can lessen the hardships. How long have you been here?”

“Several months. But it’s years to me.”

“Who brought you down? How did you get here?”

“We’ve had different guides. The last were Shoshone Indians, who
accompanied us across a range of mountains, then a valley, and last
over the Panamints. They left us here. I rode a horse. Virey walked
the last stages of this journey to Death Valley--from which there will
be no return. We turned horse and burros loose. I have not seen them
since.”

“Are these Shoshones supposed to visit you occasionally?”

“Yes. Virey made a deal with them to come every full moon. We’ve
had more supplies than we need. The trouble is that Virey has
the inclination to eat, but I have not the skill to prepare food
wholesomely under these rough conditions. So we almost starved.”

“Well, let me take charge of camp duties. You nurse your husband
and don’t neglect yourself. It’s the least you can do. You’ll have
hardship and suffering enough, even at best. You’ve suffered, I can
see, but not physically. And you never knew what hardship meant until
you got into the desert. If you _live_, these things will cure you of
any trouble. They’ll hardly cure Virey, for he has retrograded. Most
men in the desert follow the line of least resistance. They sink. But
_you_ will not.... And let me tell you. There are elemental pangs of
hunger, of thirst, of pain that are blessings in disguise. You’ll learn
what rest is and sleep and loneliness. People who live as you have
lived are lopsided. What do they know of life close to the earth? Any
other life is false. Cities, swarms of men and women, riches, luxury,
poverty--these were not in nature’s scheme of life.... Mrs. Virey, if
anything _can_ change your soul it will be the desert.”

“Ah, Sir Wansfell, so you have philosophy as well as chivalry,” she
replied, with the faint accent that seemed to be mockery of herself.
“Change my soul if you can, wanderer of the desert! I am a woman, and
a woman is symbolical of change. Teach me to cook, to work, to grow
strong, to endure, to fight, to look up at those dark hills whence
cometh your strength.... I am here in Death Valley. I will never leave
it in body. My bones will mingle with the sands and molder to dust....
But my soul--ah! that black gulf of doubt, of agony, of terror, of
hate--change _that_ if you can.”

These tragic, eloquent words chained Adam to Death Valley as if they
had been links of steel; and thus began his long sojourn there.

       *       *       *       *       *

Work or action was always necessary to Adam. They had become second
nature. He planned a brush shelter from the sun, a sort of outside
room adjoining the shack, a stone fireplace and table and seats, a low
stone wall to keep out blowing sand, and a thick, heavy stone fence
between the shack and the slope of sliding rocks. When these tasks were
finished there would be others, and always there would be the slopes to
climb, the valley to explore. Idleness in Death Valley was a forerunner
of madness. There must be a reserve fund of long work and exercise,
so that when the blazing, leaden-hazed middays of August came, with
idleness imperative, there would be both physical force and unclouded
mind to endure them. The men who succumbed to madness in this valley
were those who had not understood how to combat it.

That day passed swiftly, and the twilight hour seemed to have less of
gloom and forbidding intimations. That might well have been due to his
eternal hope. Mrs. Virey showed less gravity and melancholy, and not
once did she speak with bitterness or passion. She informed Adam that
Virey had improved.

Two more days slipped by, and on the third Virey got up and came forth
into the sunlight. Adam happened to be at work near by. He saw Virey
gaze around at the improvements that had been made and say something
about them to his wife. He looked a man who should have been in
the prime of life. Approaching with slow gait and haggard face, he
addressed Adam.

“You expect pay for this puttering around?”

“No,” replied Adam, shortly.

“How’s that?”

“Well, when men are used to the desert, as I am, they lend a hand where
it is needed. That’s not often.”

“But I didn’t want any such work done round my camp.”

“I know, and I excuse you because you’re ignorant of desert ways and
needs.”

“The question of excuse for me is offensive.”

Adam, rising abreast of the stone wall he was building, fixed his
piercing eyes upon this man. Mrs. Virey stood a little to one side,
but not out of range of Adam’s gaze. Did a mocking light show in her
shadowy eyes? The doubt, the curiosity in her expression must have
related to Adam. That slight, subtle something about her revealed to
Adam the inevitableness of disappointment in store for him if he still
entertained any hopes of amenable relations with Virey.

“We all have to be excused sometimes,” said Adam, deliberately. “Now I
had to excuse you on the score of ignorance of the desert. You chose
this place as a camp. It happens to be the most dangerous spot I ever
saw. Any moment a stone may roll down that slope to kill you. Any
moment the whole avalanche may start. That slope is an avalanche.”

“It’s my business where I camp,” rejoined Virey.

“Were you aware of the danger here?”

“I am indifferent to danger.”

“But you are not alone. You have a woman with you.”

Manifestly, Virey had been speaking without weighing words and looking
at Adam without really seeing him. The brooding shade passed out of
his eyes, and in its place grew a light of interest that leaped to the
crystal-cold clearness of a lens.

“You’re a prospector,” he asserted.

“No. I pan a little gold dust once in a while for fun, because I happen
across it.”

“You’re no miner, then--nor hunter, nor teamster.”

“I’ve been a little of all you name, but I can’t be called any one of
them.”

“You might be one of the robbers that infest these hills.”

“I might be, only I’m not,” declared Adam, dryly. The fire in his
depths stirred restlessly, but he kept a cool, smothering control over
it. He felt disposed to be lenient and kind toward this unfortunate
man. If only the woman had not stood there with that half-veiled
mocking shadow of doubt in her eyes!

“You’re an educated man!” ejaculated Virey, incredulously.

“I might claim to be specially educated in the ways of the desert.”

“And the ways of women, are _they_ mysteries to you?” queried Virey,
with scorn. His interrogation seemed like a bitter doubt flung out of
an immeasurable depth of passion.

“I confess that they are,” replied Adam. “I’ve lived a lonely life. Few
women have crossed my trail.”

“You don’t realize your good fortune--if you tell the truth.”

“I would not lie to any man,” returned Adam, bluntly.

“Bah! Men are all liars, and women make them so.... You’re hanging
round my camp, making a bluff of work.”

“I deny that. Heaving these stones is work. _You_ lift a few of them in
this hot sun.... And my packing you on my back for ten miles over the
floor of Death Valley--was that a bluff?”

“You saved my life!” exclaimed the man, stung to passion. There
seemed to be contending tides within him--a fight of old habits of
thought, fineness of feeling, against an all-absorbing and dominating
malignancy. “Man, I can’t thank you for that.... You’ve done me no
service.”

“I don’t want or expect thanks. I was thinking of the effort it cost
me.”

“As a man who was once a gentleman, I do thank you--which is a courtesy
due my past. But now that you have put me in debt for a service I
didn’t want, why do you linger here?”

“I wish to help your wife.”

“Ah! that’s frank of you. That frankness is something for which I
really thank you. But you’ll pardon me if I’m inclined to doubt the
idealistic nature of your motive to help her.”

Adam pondered over this speech without reply. Words always came
fluently when he was ready to speak. And he seemed more concerned over
Virey’s caustic bitterness than over his meaning. Then, as he met the
magnificent flash in Magdalene Virey’s eyes, he was inspired into
revelation of Virey’s veiled hint and into a serenity he divined would
be kindest to her pride.

“Go ahead and help her,” Virey went on. “You have my sincere
felicitations. My charming wife is helpless enough. I never knew how
helpless till we were thrown upon our own resources. She cannot even
cook a potato. And as for baking bread in one of those miserable black
ovens, stranger, if you eat some of it I will not be long annoyed by
your attentions to her.”

“Well, I’ll teach her,” said Adam.

His practical response irritated Virey excessively. It was as if
he wished to insult and inflame, and had not considered a literal
application to his words.

“Who are you? What’s your name?” he queried, yielding to a roused
curiosity.

“Wansfell,” replied Adam.

“Wansfell?” echoed Virey. The name struck a chord of memory--a
discordant one. He bent forward a little, at a point between curiosity
and excitement. “Wansfell?... I know that name. Are you the man who in
this desert country is called Wansfell the Wanderer?”

“Yes, I’m that Wansfell.”

“I heard a prospector tell about you,” went on Virey, his haggard face
now quickened by thought. “It was at a camp near a gold mine over here
somewhere--I forget where. But the prospector said he had seen you kill
a man named Mc something--McKin--no, McKue. That’s the name.... Did he
tell the truth?”

“Yes, I’m sorry to say. I killed Baldy McKue--or rather, to speak as I
feel, I was the means by which the desert dealt McKue the death justly
due him.”

Virey now glowed with excitement, changing the man.

“Somehow that story haunted me,” he said. “I never heard one like
it.... This prospector told how you confronted McKue in the street of a
mining camp. In front of a gambling hell, or maybe it was a hotel. You
yelled like a demon at McKue. He turned white as a sheet. He jerked his
gun, began to shoot. But you bore a charmed life. His bullets did not
hit you, or, if they did, to no purpose. You leaped upon him. His gun
flew one way, his hat another.... Then--then you killed him with your
hands!... Is that true?”

Adam nodded gloomily. The tale, told vividly by this seemingly
galvanized Virey, was not pleasant. And the woman stood there,
transfixed, with white face and tragic eyes.

“My God! You killed McKue by sheer strength--with your bare hands!...
I had not looked at your hands. I see them now.... So McKue was your
enemy?”

“No. I never saw him before that day,” replied Adam.

Virey slowly drew back wonderingly, yet with instinctive shrinking.
Certain it was that his lips stiffened.

“Then why did you kill him?”

“He ill-treated a woman.”

Adam turned away as he replied. He did not choose then to show in
his eyes the leaping thought that had been born of the memory and of
Virey’s strange reaction. But he heard him draw a quick, sharp breath
and step back. Then a silence ensued. Adam gazed up at the endless
slope, at the millions of rocks, all apparently resting lightly in
their pockets, ready to plunge down.

“So--so that was it,” spoke up Virey, evidently with effort. “I always
wondered. Wild West sort of story, you know. Strange I should meet
you.... Thanks for telling me. I gather it wasn’t pleasant for you.”

“It’s sickening to recall, but I have no regrets,” replied Adam.

“Quite so. I understand. Man of the desert--ruthless--inhuman sort of
thing.”

“Inhuman?” queried Adam, and he looked at Virey, at last stung. Behind
Virey’s pale, working face and averted eyes Adam read a conscience in
tumult, a spirit for the moment terrorized. “Virey, you and I’d never
agree on meanings of words.... I broke McKue’s arms and ribs and legs,
and while I cracked them I told him what an inhuman dastard he had
been--to ruin a girl, to beat her, to abandon her and her baby--to
leave them to die. I told him how I had watched them die ... then I
broke his neck!... McKue was the inhuman man--not I.”

Virey turned away, swaying a little, and his white hand, like a
woman’s, sought the stone wall for support, until he reached the shack,
which he entered.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Virey, that story had to come up,” said Adam,
confronting her with reluctance. But she surprised him again. He
expected to find her sickened, shrinking from him as a bloody monster,
perhaps half fainting; he found, however, that she seemed serene,
controlling deep emotions which manifested themselves only in the
marble whiteness of her cheek, the strained darkness of her eye.

“The story was beautiful. I had not heard it,” she said, and the rich
tremor of her voice thrilled Adam. “What woman would not revel in such
a story?... Wansfell the Wanderer. It should be Sir Wansfell, Knight
of the Desert!... Don’t look at me so. Have you not learned that the
grandest act on earth is when a man fights for the honor or love or
happiness or life of a woman?... I am a woman. Many men have loved
me. Virey’s love is so strong that it is hate. But no man ever yet
thought of _me_--no man ever yet heard the little songs that echoed
through my soul--no man ever fought to save _me_!... My friend, I dare
speak as you speak, with the nakedness of the desert. And so I tell
you that just now I watched my husband--I listened to the words which
told his nature, as if that was new to me. I watched you stand there--I
listened to you.... And so I dare to tell you--if you come to fight
my battles I shall have added to my life of shocks and woes a trouble
that will dwarf all the others ... the awakening of a woman who has
been blind!... The facing of my soul--perhaps its salvation! A crowning
agony--a glory come too late!”



CHAPTER XVI


At sunset Adam cooked supper for the Vireys, satisfying his own needs
after they had finished. Virey talked lightly, even joked about the
first good meal he had sat down to on the desert. His wife, too, talked
serenely, sometimes with the faintly subtle mockery, as if she had
never intimated that a dividing spear threatened her heart. That was
their way to hide the truth and emotion when they willed. But Adam was
silent.

Alone, out under the shadow of the towering gate to the valley, he
strode to and fro, absorbed in a maze of thoughts that gradually
cleared, as if by the light of the solemn stars and virtue of the
speaking silence. He had chanced upon the strangest and most fatal
situation in all his desert years. Yes, but was it by chance? Straight
as an arrow he had come across the barrens to meet a wonderful woman
who was going to love him, and a despicable man whom he was going to
kill. That seemed the fatality which rang in his ears, shone in the
accusing stars, hid in the heavy shadows. It was a matter of feeling.
His intelligence could not grasp it. Had he been in Death Valley
four days or four months? Was he walking in his sleep, victim of a
nightmare? The desert, faithful always, answered him. This was nothing
but the flux and reflux of human passion, contending tides between man
and woman, the littleness, the curse, the terror, and yet the joy of
life. Death Valley yawned at his feet, changeless and shadowy, awful
in its locked solemnity of solitude, its voicelessness, its desolation
that had been desolation in past ages. He could doubt nothing there.
His thoughts seemed almost above human error. A spirit spoke for him.

Virey had dragged his wife to this lonely and dismal hell hole on earth
to share his misery, to isolate her from men, to hide her glory of
charm, to gloat over her loneliness, to revenge himself for a wrong, to
feed his need of possession, his terrible love that had become hate, to
watch the slow torture of her fading, wilting, drooping in this ghastly
valley, to curse her living, to burn endlessly in torment because her
soul would elude him forever, to drive her to death and die with her.

Death Valley seemed a harmonious setting for this tragedy and a fitting
grave for its actors. The worst in nature calling to the darkest in
mankind! What a pity Virey could not divine his littleness--that he had
been a crawling maggot in the peopled ulcer of the world--that in the
great spaces where the sun beat down was a fiery cleansing!

But Magdalene Virey was a riddle beyond solving. Nevertheless, Adam
pondered every thought that would stay before his consciousness. Any
woman was a riddle. Did not the image of Margarita Arrallanes flash up
before him--that dusky-eyed, mindless, soulless little animal, victim
of nature born in her? Adam’s thought halted with the seeming sacrilege
of associating Magdalene Virey with memory of the Mexican girl. This
Virey woman had complexity--she had mind, passion, nobility, soul. What
had she done to earn her husband’s hate? She had never loved him--that
was as fixed in Adam’s sight as the North Star. Nor had she loved
another man, at least not with the passion and spirit of her wonderful
womanhood. Adam divined that with the intensity of feeling which the
desert loneliness and solitude had taught him. He could have felt the
current of any woman’s great passion, whether it was in torrent, full
charged and devastating, or at its lowering ebb. But, as inevitable
as was life itself, there was the mysterious certainty that Magdalene
Virey had terribly wronged her husband. How? Adam had repudiated any
interest in what had driven them here; not until this moment had he
permitted his doubt to insult the woman. Yet how helpless he was! His
heart was full of unutterable pity. He could never have loved Magdalene
Virey as a man, but as a brother he was yearning to change her, save
her. What else in life was worth living for, except only the dreams on
the heights, the walks along the lonely trails? By his own agony he had
a strange affinity for anyone in trouble, especially a woman, and how
terribly he saw the tragedy of Magdalene Virey! And it was not only her
death that he saw. Death in a land where death reigned was nothing.
For her he hated the certainty of physical pain, the turgid pulse, the
red-hot iron band at the temples, the bearing down of weighted air, the
drying up of flesh and blood. More than all he hated the thought of
death of her spirit while her body lived. There would be a bloodless
murder long before her blood stained Virey’s hands.

But this thought gave Adam pause. Was he not dealing with a personality
beyond his power to divine? What did he know of this strange woman? He
knew naught, but felt all. She was beautiful, compelling, secretive,
aloof, and proud, magnificent as a living flame. She was mocking
because knowledge of the world, of the frailty of women and falsity of
men, had been as an open page. She had lived in sight of the crowded
mart, the show places where men and women passed, knowing no more of
earth than that it was a place for graves. She was bitter because she
had drunk bitterness to the dregs. But the sudden up-flashing warmth
of her, forced out of her reserve, came from a heart of golden fire.
Adam constituted himself an omniscient judge, answerable only to his
conscience. By all the gods he would be true to the truth of this woman!

Never had she been forced into this desert of desolation. That thought
of Adam’s seemed far back in the past. She had dared to come. Had Death
Valley and the death it was famed for any terrors for her? By the side
of her husband she had willingly come, unutterably despising him,
infinitely brave where he was cowardly, scornfully and magnificently
prepared to meet any punishment that might satisfy him. Adam saw how,
in this, Magdalene Virey was answering to some strange need in itself.
Let the blind, weak, egoist Virey demand the tortures of the damned!
She would pay. But she was paying also a debt to herself. Adam’s final
conception of Magdalene Virey was that she had been hideously wronged
by life, by men; that in younger days of passionate revolt she had
transgressed the selfish law of husbands; that in maturer years, with
the storm and defeat and disillusion of womanhood, she had risen to
the heights, she had been true to herself; and with mockery of the man
who could so underestimate her, who dared believe he could make her a
craven, whimpering, guilty wretch, she had faced the desert with him.
She had seen the great love that was not love change to terrible hate.
She had divined the hidden motive. She let him revel in his hellish
secret joy. She welcomed Death Valley.

Adam marveled at this unquenchable spirit, this sublime effrontery of
a woman. And he hesitated to dare to turn that spirit from its superb
indifference. But this vacillation in him was weak. What a wonderful
experience it would be to embody in Magdalene Virey the instinct, the
strife, the nature of the desert! With her mind, if he had the power to
teach, she would grasp the lesson in a single day.

And lastly, her unforgettable implication, “the crowning agony,” of
what he might bring upon her. There could be only one interpretation of
that--love. The idea thrilled him, but only with wonder and pity. It
took possession of Adam’s imagination. Well, such love might come to
pass! The desert storms bridged canyons with sand in one day. It was a
place of violence. The elements waited not upon time or circumstance.
The few women Adam had come in contact with on the desert had loved
him. Even the one-eyed Mohave Jo, that hideous, unsexed, monstrous
deformity of a woman, whom he had met and left groveling in the sand
at his feet, shamed at last before a crowd of idle, gaping, vile
men--even she had awakened to this strange madness of love. But Adam
had not wanted that of any woman, since the poignant moment of his
youth on the desert, when the dusky-eyed Margarita had murmured of love
so fresh and sweet to him, “Ah, so long ago and far away!”

Least of all did Adam want the love of Magdalene Virey. “If she
were young and I were young! Or if she had never...!” Ah! even
possibilities, like might-have-beens, were useless dreams. But the die
was cast. Serve Magdalene Virey he would, and teach her the secret of
the strength of the sand wastes and the lonely hills, and that the
victory of life was not to yield. Fight for her, too, he would. In all
the multiplicity of ways he had learned, he would fight the solitude
and loneliness of Death Valley, the ghastliness so inimical to the
creative life of a woman, the heat, the thirst, the starvation, the
poison air, the furnace wind, storm and flood and avalanche. Just as
naturally, if need be, if it fatefully fell out so, he would lay his
slaying hands in all their ruthless might upon the man who had made her
dare her doom.

       *       *       *       *       *

When, next morning at sunrise hour, Adam presented himself at the Virey
camp, he was greeted by Mrs. Virey, seemingly a transformed woman.
She wore a riding suit, the worn condition of which attested to the
rough ride across the mountain. What remarkable difference it made in
her appearance! It detracted from her height. And the slenderness of
her, revealed rather than suggested by her gowns, showed much of grace
and symmetry. She had braided her hair and let it hang. When the sun
had tanned her white face and hands Magdalene Virey would really be
transformed.

Adam tried not to stare, but his effort was futile.

“Good morning,” she said, with a bright smile.

“Why, Mrs. Virey, I--I hardly knew you!” he stammered.

“Thanks. I feel complimented. It is the first time you’ve looked at
_me_. Shorn of my dignity--no, my worldliness, do I begin well, desert
man?... No more stuffy dresses clogging my feet! No more veils to
protect my face! Let the sun burn! I want to work. I want to help. I
want to learn. If madness must be mine, let it be a madness to learn
what in this God-forsaken land ever made you the man you are. There,
Sir Wansfell, I have flung down the gage.”

“Very well,” replied Adam, soberly.

“And now,” she continued, “I am eager to work. If I blunder, be
patient. If I am stupid, make me see. And if I faint in the sun or fall
beside the trail, remember it is my poor body that fails, and not my
will.”

So, in the light of her keen interest, Adam found the humdrum mixing of
dough and the baking of bread a pleasure and a lesson to him, rather
than a task.

“Ah! how important are the homely things of life!” she said. “A poet
said ‘we live too much in the world.’... I wonder did he mean just
this. We grow away from or never learn the simple things. I remember
my grandfather’s farm--the plowed fields, the green corn, the yellow
wheat, the chickens in the garden, the mice in the barn, the smell of
hay, the smell of burning leaves, the smell of the rich brown earth....
Wansfell, not for years have I remembered them. Something about you,
the way you worked over that bread, like a nice old country lady, made
me remember.... Oh, I wonder what I have missed!”

“We all miss something. It can’t be helped. But there are
compensations, and it’s never too late.”

“You are a child, with all your bigness. You have the mind of a child.”

“That’s one of my few blessings.... Now you try your hand at mixing the
second batch of dough.”

She made a picture on her knees, with her sleeves rolled up, her
beautiful hands white with flour, her face beginning to flush. Adam
wanted to laugh at her absolute failure to mix dough, and at the same
moment he had it in him to weep over the earnestness, the sadness, the
pathetic meaning of her.

Eventually they prepared the meal, and she carried Virey’s breakfast in
to him. Then she returned to eat with Adam.

“I shall wash the dishes,” she announced.

“No,” he protested.

Then came a clash. It ended with a compromise. And from that clash
Adam realized he might dominate her in little things, but in a great
conflict of wills she would be the stronger. It was a step in his own
slow education. There was a constitutional difference between men and
women.

Upon Adam’s resumption of the work around the shack Mrs. Virey helped
him as much as he would permit, which by midday was somewhat beyond her
strength. Her face sunburned rosily and her hands showed the contact
with dirt and her boots were dusty.

“You mustn’t overdo it,” he advised. “Rest and sleep during the noon
hours.”

She retired within the shack and did not reappear till the middle of
the afternoon. Meanwhile, Adam had worked at his tasks, trying at the
same time to keep an eye on Virey, who wandered around aimlessly over
the rock-strewn field, idling here and plodding there. Adam saw how
Virey watched the shack; and when Magdalene came out again he saw her
and grew as motionless as the stone where he leaned. Every thought of
Virey’s must have been dominated by this woman’s presence, the meaning
of her, the possibilities of her, the tragedy of her.

“Oh, how I slept!” she exclaimed. “Is it work that makes you sleep?”

“Indeed yes.”

“Ah! I see my noble husband standing like Mephistopheles, smiling at
grief.... What’s he doing over there?”

“I don’t know, unless it’s watching for you. He’s been around like that
for hours.”

“Poor man!” she said, with both compassion and mockery. “Watching me?
What loss of precious time--and so futile! It is a habit he contracted
some years ago.... Wansfell, take me down to the opening in the
mountain there, so that I can look into Death Valley.”

“Shall I ask Virey?” queried Adam, in slight uncertainty.

“No. Let him watch or follow or do as he likes. I am here in Death
Valley. It was his cherished plan to bury me here. I shall not leave
until he takes me--which will be never. For the rest, he is nothing to
me. We are as far apart as the poles.”

On the way down the gentle slope Adam halted amid sun-blasted shrubs,
scarcely recognizable as greasewood. Here he knelt in the gravel to
pluck some flowers so tiny that only a trained eye could ever have
espied them. One was a little pink flower with sage color and sage
odor; another a white daisy, very frail, and without any visible
leaves; and a third was a purple-red flower, half the size of the
tiniest buttercup, and this had small dark-green leaves.

“Flowers in Death Valley!” exclaimed Mrs. Virey, in utter amaze.

“Yes. Flowers of a day! They sprang up yesterday; to-day they bloom,
to-morrow they will die. I don’t know their names. To me their
blossoming is one of the wonders of the desert. I think sometimes that
it is a promise. A whole year the tiny seeds lie in the hot sands. Then
comes a mysterious call and the green plant shoots its inch-long stalk
to the sun. Another day beauty unfolds and there is fragrance on the
desert air. Another day sees them whither and die.”

“Beauty and fragrance indeed they have,” mused the woman. “Such tiny
flowers to look and smell so sweet! I never saw their like. Flowers of
a day!... They indeed give rise to thoughts too deep for tears!”

Adam led his companion to the base of the mountain wall, and around the
corner of the opening, so that they came suddenly and unexpectedly
into full view of Death Valley. He did not look at her. He wanted to
wait a little before doing that. The soft gasp which escaped her lips
and the quick grasping of his hand were significant of the shock she
sustained.

Their position faced mostly down the valley. It seemed a vast level,
gently sloping up to the borders where specks of mesquites dotted the
sand. Dull gray and flat, these league-wide wastes of speckled sand
bordered a dazzling-white sunlit belt, the winding bottom of the long
bowl, the salty dead stream of Death Valley. Miles and miles below, two
mountain ranges blended in a purple blaze, and endless slanting lines
of slopes ran down to merge in the valley floor. The ranges sent down
offshoots of mountains that slanted and lengthened into the valley. One
bright-green oasis, that, lost in the vastness, was comparable to one
of the tiny flowers Adam had plucked out of the sand, shone wonderfully
and illusively out of the glare of gray and white. A dim, mystic scene!

“O God!... It is my grave!” cried Magdalene Virey.

“We all are destined for graves,” replied Adam, solemnly. “Could any
grave elsewhere be so grand--so lonely--so peaceful?... Now let us walk
out a little way, to the edge of that ridge, and sit there while the
sun sets.”

On this vantage point they were out some distance in the valley,
so that they could see even the western end of the Panamint range,
where a glaring sun had begun to change its color over the bold black
peaks. A broad shadow lengthened across the valley and crept up the
yellow foothills to the red Funeral Mountains. This shadow marvelously
changed to purple, and as the radiance of light continued to shade,
the purple deepened. Over all the valley at the western end appeared
a haze the color of which was nameless. Adam felt the lessening heat
of the sinking sun. Half that blaze was gone. It had been gold and
was now silver. He swept his gaze around jealously, not to miss the
transformations; and his companion, silent and absorbed, instinctively
turned with him. Across the valley the Funerals towered, ragged and
sharp, with rosy crowns; and one, the only dome-shaped peak, showed its
strata of gray and drab through the rose. Another peak, farther back,
lifted a pink shaft into the blue sky. What a contrast to the lower
hills and slopes, so beautifully pearl gray in tint! And now, almost
the instant Adam had marked the exquisite colors, they began to fade.
On that illimitable horizon line there were soon no bright tones left.
Far to the south, peaks that had been dim now stood out clear and sharp
against the sky. One, gold capped and radiant, shadowed as if a cloud
had come between it and the sun. Adam turned again to the west, in time
to see the last vestige of silver fire vanish. Sunset!

A somber smoky sunset it was now, as if this Death Valley was the
gateway of hell and its sinister shades were upflung from fire. Adam
saw a vulture sail across the clear space of sky, breasting the wind.
It lent life to the desolation.

The desert day was done and the desert shades began to descend. The
moment was tranquil and sad. It had little to do with the destiny
of man--nothing except that by some inscrutable design of God or an
accident of evolution man happened to be imprisoned where nature never
intended man to be. Death Valley was only a ragged rent of the old
earth, where men wandered wild, brooding, lost, or where others sought
with folly and passion to dig forth golden treasure. The mysterious
lights changed. A long pale radiance appeared over the western range
and lengthened along its bold horizon. The only red color left was way
to the south, and that shone dim. The air held a solemn stillness.

“Magdalene Virey,” said Adam, “what you see there resembles death--it
may be death--but it is peace. Does it not rest your troubled soul? A
woman must be herself here.”

She, whose words could pour out in such torrent of eloquence, was
silent now. Adam looked at her then, into the shadowed eyes. What he
saw there awed him. The abyss seen through those beautiful, unguarded
windows of her soul was like the gray scored valley beneath, but
lighting, quickening with thought, with hope, with life. Death Valley
was a part of the earth dying, and it would become like a canyon on the
burned-out moon; but this woman’s spirit seemed everlasting. If her
soul had been a whited sepulcher, it was in the way of transfiguration.
Adam experienced a singular exaltation in the moment, a gladness beyond
his comprehension, a sense that the present strange communion there
between this woman’s awakening and the terrible lessons of his life was
creating for him a far-distant interest, baffling, but great in its
inspiration.

In the gathering twilight he led her back to camp, content that it
seemed still impossible for her to speak. But the touch of her hand at
parting was more eloquent than any words.

Then alone, in his blankets, with gaze up at the inscrutable, promising
stars, Adam gave himself over to insistent and crowding thoughts, back
of which throbbed a dominating, divine hope in his power to save this
woman’s life and soul, and perhaps even her happiness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day Adam’s natural aggressiveness asserted itself, controlled now
by an imperturbable spirit that nothing could daunt. He approached
Virey relentlessly, though with kindness, even good nature, and he
began to talk about Death Valley, the perilous nature of the camping
spot, the blasting heat of midsummer and the horror of the midnight
furnace winds, the possibility of the water drying up. Virey was cold,
then impatient, then intolerant, and finally furious. First he was deaf
to Adam’s persuasion, then he tried to get out of listening, then he
repudiated all Adam had said, and finally he raved and cursed. Adam
persisted in his arguments until Virey strode off.

Mrs. Virey heard some of this clash. Apparently Adam’s idea of
changing her husband amused her. But when Virey returned for supper he
was glad enough to eat, and when Adam again launched his argument it
appeared that Mrs. Virey lost the last little trace of mockery. She
listened intently while Adam told her husband why he would have to
take his wife away from Death Valley, before midsummer. Virey might as
well have been stone deaf. It was not Virey, however, who interested
the woman, but something about Adam that made her look and listen
thoughtfully.

Thus began a singular time for Adam, unmatched in all his desert
experience. He gave his whole heart to the task of teaching Magdalene
Virey and to the wearing down of Virey’s will. All the lighter tasks
that his hands had learned he taught her. Then to climb to the heights,
to pick the ledges for signs of gold or pan the sandy washes, to know
the rocks and the few species of vegetation, to recognize the illusion
of distance and color, to watch the sunsets and the stars became daily
experiences. Hard as work was for her delicate hands and muscles, he
urged her to their limit. During the first days she suffered sunburn,
scalds, skinned fingers, bruised knees, and extreme fatigue. When
she grew tanned and stronger he led her out on walks and climbs so
hard that he had to help her back to camp. She learned the meaning of
physical pain, and to endure it. She learned the blessing it was to eat
when she was famished, to rest when she was utterly weary, to sleep
when sleep was peace.

Through these brief, full days Adam attacked Virey at every
opportunity, which time came to be, at length, only during meals.
Virey would leave camp, often to go up the slope of weathered rocks,
a dangerous climb that manifestly fascinated him. Reaching a large
rock that became his favorite place, he would perch there for long
hours, watching, gazing down like a vulture waiting for time to strike
its prey. All about him seemed to suggest a brooding wait. He slept
during the midday hours and through the long nights. At dusk, which was
usually bedtime for all, Adam often heard him talking to Mrs. Virey in
a low, hard, passionate voice. Sometimes her melodious tones, with the
mockery always present when she spoke to her husband, thrilled Adam,
while at the same moment it filled him with despair. But Adam never
despaired of driving Virey to leave the valley. The man was weak in all
ways except that side which pertained to revenge. Notwithstanding the
real and growing obstacle of this passion, Adam clung to his conviction
that in the end Virey would collapse. When, however, one day the
Indians came, and Virey sent them away with a large order for supplies,
Adam gave vent to a grim thought, “Well, I can always kill him.”

All the disgust and loathing Adam felt for this waster of life
vanished in the presence of Magdalene Virey. If that long-passed
sunset hour over Death Valley had awakened the woman, what had been
the transformation of the weeks? Adam had no thoughts that adequately
expressed his feeling for the change in her. It gave him further
reverence for desert sun and heat and thirst and violence and solitude.
It gave him strange new insight into the mystery of life. Was any
healing of disease or agony impossible--any change of spirit--any
renewal of life? Nothing in relation to human life was impossible.
Magnificently the desert magnified and multiplied time, thought,
effort, pain, health, hope--all that could be felt.

It seemed to Adam that through the physical relation to the desert
he was changing Magdalene Virey’s body and heart and soul. Brown her
face and hands had grown; and slowly the graceful, thin lines of her
slender body had begun to round out. She was gaining. If it had not
been for her shadowed eyes, and the permanent sadness and mockery in
the beautiful lips, she would have been like a girl of eighteen. Her
voice, too, with its contralto richness, its mellow depth, its subtle
shades of tone, proclaimed the woman. Adam at first had imagined her to
be about thirty years old, but as time passed by, and she grew younger
with renewed strength, he changed his mind. Looking at her to guess
her age was like looking at the desert illusions. Absolute certainty
he had, however, of the reward and result of her inflexible will, of
splendid spirit, of sincere gladness. She had endured physical toil and
pain to the limit of her frail strength, until she was no longer frail.
This spirit revived what had probably been early childish love of
natural things; and action and knowledge developed it until her heart
was wholly absorbed in all that it was possible to do there in that
lonesome fastness. With the genius and intuition of a woman she had
grasped at the one solace left her--the possibility of learning Adam’s
lesson of the desert. What had taken him years to acquire she learned
from him or divined in days. She had a wonderful mind.

Once, while they were resting upon a promontory that overhung the
valley, Adam spoke to her. She did not hear him. Her eyes reflected
the wonder and immensity of the waste beneath her. Indeed, she did not
appear to be brooding or thinking. And when he spoke again, breaking in
upon her abstraction, she was startled. He forgot what he had intended
to say, substituting a query as to her thoughts.

“How strange!” she murmured. “I didn’t have a thought. I forgot where I
was. Your voice seemed to come from far off.”

“I spoke to you before, but you didn’t hear,” said Adam. “You looked
sort of, well--watchful, I’d call it.”

“Watchful? Yes, I was. I feel I was, but I don’t remember. This
is indeed a strange state for Magdalene Virey. It behooves her to
cultivate it. But what kind of a state was it?... Wansfell, could it
have been happiness?”

She asked that in a whisper, serious, and with pathos, yet with a smile.

“It’s always happiness for me to watch from the heights. Surely you are
finding happy moments?”

“Yes, many, thanks to you, my friend. But they are conscious happy
moments, just sheer joy of movement, or sight of beauty, or a thrill
of hope, or perhaps a vague dream of old, far-off, unhappy things. And
it _is_ happiness to remember them.... But this was different. It was
unconscious. I tell you, Wansfell, I did not have a thought in my mind!
I saw--I watched. Oh, how illusive it is!”

“Try to recall it,” he suggested, much interested.

“I try--I try,” she said, presently, “but the spell is broken.”

“Well, then, let me put a thought into your mind,” went on Adam.
“Dismukes and I once had a long talk about the desert. Why does it
fascinate all men? What is the secret? Dismukes didn’t rate himself
high as a thinker. But he is a thinker. He knows the desert. To me
he’s great. And he and I agreed that the commonly accepted idea of
the desert’s lure is wrong. Men seek gold, solitude, forgetfulness.
Some wander for the love of wandering. Others seek to hide from the
world. Criminals are driven to the desert. Besides these, all travelers
crossing the desert talk of its enchantments. They all have different
reasons. Loneliness, peace, silence, beauty, wonder, sublimity--a
thousand reasons! Indeed, they are all proofs of the strange call of
the desert. But these men do not go deep enough.”

“Have you solved the secret?” she asked, wonderingly.

“No, not yet,” he replied, a little sadly. “It eludes me. It’s like
finding the water of the mirage.”

“It’s like the secret of a woman’s heart, Wansfell.”

“Then if that is so--tell me.”

“Ah! no woman ever tells that secret.”

“Have you come to love the desert?”

“You ask me that often,” she replied, in perplexity. “I don’t know.
I--I reverence--I fear--I thrill. But love--I can’t say that I love
the desert. Not yet. Love comes slowly and seldom to me. I loved my
mother.... Once I loved a horse.”

“Have you loved men?” he queried.

“No!” she flashed, in sudden passion, and her eyes burned dark on
his. “Do _you_ imagine that of me?... I was eighteen when I--when
they married me to Virey. I despised him. I learned to loathe him....
Wansfell, I never really loved any man. Once I was mad--driven!”

How easily could Adam strike the chords of her emotion and rouse her to
impassioned speech! His power to do this haunted him, and sometimes he
could not resist it until wistfulness or trouble in her eyes made him
ashamed.

“Some day I’ll tell you how _I_ was driven once--ruined,” he said.

“Ruined! You? Why, Wansfell, you are a man! Sometimes I think you’re a
god of the desert!... But tell me--what ruined you, as you mean it?”

“No, not now. I’m interested in your--what is it?--your lack of power
to love.”

“Lack! How little you know me! I am _all_ power to love. I am a
quivering mass of exquisitely delicate, sensitive nerves. I am a
seething torrent, of hot blood. I am an empty heart, deep and terrible
as this valley, hungry for love as it is hungry for precious rain or
dew. I am an illimitable emotion, heaving like the tides of the sea. I
am all love.”

“And I--only a stupid blunderer,” said Adam.

“You use a knife relentlessly, sometimes.... Wansfell, listen....
I have a child--a lovely girl. She is fourteen years old--the
sweetest.... Ah! Before she was born I did not love her--I did not
_want_ her. But afterward!... Wansfell, a mother’s love is divine. But
I had more than that. All--all my heart went out to Ruth.... _Love!_
Oh, my God! does any man know the torture of love?... Oh, _I_ know!
I had to leave her--I had to give her up ... and I’ll never--never
see--her--again!”

The woman bowed with hands to her face and all her slender body shook.

“Forgive me!” whispered Adam, huskily, in distress. It was all he could
say for a moment. She had stunned him. Never had he imagined her as a
mother. “Yet--yet I’m glad I know now. You should have told me. I am
your friend. I’ve tried to be a--a brother. Tell me, Magdalene. You’ll
be the--the less troubled. I will help you. I think I understand--just
a little. You seemed to me only a very young woman--and you’re a
mother! Always I say I’ll never be surprised again. Why, the future is
all surprise!... And your little girl’s name is Ruth? Ruth Virey. What
a pretty name!”

Adam had rambled on, full of contrition, hating himself, trying somehow
to convey sympathy. Perhaps his words, his touch on her bowed shoulder,
helped her somewhat, for presently she sat up, flung back her hair,
and turned a tear-stained face to him. How changed, how softened, how
beautiful! Slowly her eyes were veiling an emotion, a glimpse of which
uplifted him.

“Wansfell, I’m thirty-eight years old,” she said.

“No! I can’t believe that!” he ejaculated.

“It’s true.”

“Well, well! I guess I’ll go back to figuring the desert. But speaking
of age--you guess mine. I’ll bet you can’t come any nearer to mine.”

Gravely she studied him, and in the look and action once more grew
composed.

“You’re a masculine Sphinx. Those terrible lines from cheek to
jaw--they speak of agony, but not of age. But you’re gray at the
temples. Wansfell, you are thirty-seven--perhaps forty.”

“Magdalene Virey!” cried Adam, aghast. “Do I look so old? Alas for
vanished youth!... I am only twenty-six.”

It was her turn to be amazed. “We had better confine ourselves to other
riddles than love and age. They are treacherous.... Come, let us be
going.”



CHAPTER XVII


The hour came when Magdalene Virey stirred Adam to his depths.

“Wansfell,” she said, with a rare and wonderful tremor in her voice,
“I love the silence, the loneliness, the serenity--even the tragedy of
this valley of shadows. Ah! It is one place that will never be popular
with men--where few women will ever come. Nature has set it apart for
wanderers of the wastelands, men like you, unquenchable souls who
endure, as you said, to fight, to strive, to seek, to find.... And
surely for lost souls like me! Most men and all women must find death
here, if they stay. But there is death in life. I’ve faced my soul
here, in the black, lonely watches of the desert nights. And I would
endure any agony to change that soul, to make it as high and clear and
noble as the white cone of the mountain yonder.”

Mysterious and inscrutable, the desert influence had worked upon
Magdalene Virey. On the other hand, forces destructive to her physical
being had attacked her. It was as if an invisible withering wind had
blown upon a flower in the night. Adam saw this with distress. But
she laughed at the truth of it--laughed without mockery. Something
triumphant rang like a bell in her laugh. Always, in the subtlety of
character she had brought with her and the mystery she had absorbed
from the desert, she stayed beyond Adam’s understanding. It seemed that
she liked to listen to his ceaseless importunities; but merciless to
herself and aloof from Virey, she refused to leave Death Valley.

“Suppose I pack the burros and tuck you under my arm and take you,
anyway?” he queried, stubbornly.

“I fancy I’d like you to tuck me under your arm,” she replied, with the
low laugh that came readily now, “but if you did--it would be as far as
you’d get.”

“How so?” he demanded, curiously.

“Why, I’d exercise the prerogative of the eternal feminine and command
that time should stand still right there.”

A sweetness and charm, perhaps of other days, a memory of power,
haunted face and voice then.

“Time--stand still?” echoed Adam, ponderingly. “Magdalene, you are
beyond me.”

“So it seems. I’m a little beyond myself sometimes. You will never see
in me the woman who has been courted, loved, spoiled by men.”

“Well, I grasp that, I guess. But I don’t care to see you as such a
woman. I might not----”

“Ah! you might not respect me,” she interrupted. “Alas!... But,
Wansfell, if I had met _you_ when I was eighteen I would never have
been courted and loved and ruined by men.... You don’t grasp that,
either.”

Adam had long ceased to curse his density. The simplicity of him
antagonized her complexity. His had been the blessed victory over her
bitterness, her mockery, her consciousness of despair. His had been
the gladness of seeing her grow brown and strong and well, until these
early June days had begun to weaken her. That fact had augmented his
earnestness to get her to leave the valley. But she was adamant. And
all his importunities and arguments and threats she parried with some
subtle femininity of action or look or speech that left him bewildered.

       *       *       *       *       *

The time came when only early in the mornings or late in the afternoons
could they walk to their accustomed seat near the gateway of the valley
and climb to the promontories. Nature moved on remorselessly with her
seasons, and the sun had begun to assume its fiery authority during
most of the daylight hours.

One morning before sunrise they climbed, much against Adam’s advice,
to a high point where Mrs. Virey loved to face the east at that hour.
It was a hard climb, too hard for her to attempt in the heat and
oppression that had come of late. Nevertheless, she prevailed upon Adam
to take her, and she had just about strength enough to get there.

They saw the east luminous and rosy, ethereal and beautiful,
momentarily brightening with a rayed effulgence that spread from a
golden center behind the dark bold domes of the Funeral Mountains. They
saw the sun rise and change the luminous dawn to lurid day. One moment,
and the beauty, the glory, the promise were as if they had never been.
The light over Death Valley at that height was too fierce for the gaze
of man.

On the way down, at a narrow ledge, where loose stones made precarious
footing, Adam cautioned his companion and offered to help her. Waving
him on, she followed him with her lithe free step. Then she slipped off
the more solid trail to a little declivity of loose rocks that began
to slide with her toward a slope where, if she went over it, she must
meet serious injury. She did not scream. Adam plunged after her and,
reaching her with a long arm just as she was about to fall, he swung
her up as if she had only the weight of a child. Then, holding her in
his arms, he essayed to wade out of the little stream of sliding rocks.
It was difficult only because he feared he might slip and fall with
her. Presently he reached the solid ledge and was about to set her upon
her feet.

“Time--stand still here!” she exclaimed, her voice full of the old
mockery of herself, with an added regret for what might have been, but
could never be, with pathos, with the eternal charm of woman who could
never separate her personality, her consciousness of her sex, from
their old relation to man.

Adam halted his action as if suddenly chained, and he gazed down upon
her, where she rested with her head on the bend of his left elbow.
There was a smile on the brown face that had once been so pale.
Her large eyes, wide open, exposed to the sky, seemed to reflect
its dark blue color and something of its mystery of light. Adam saw
wonder there, and reverence that must have been for him, but seemed
incredible, and the shading of unutterable thoughts.

“Put me down,” she said.

“Why did you say, ‘Time--stand still here’?” he asked, as he placed her
upon her feet.

“Do you remember the time when I told you how words and lines and
verses of the poets I used to love come to mind so vividly out here?
Sometimes I speak them, that is all.”

“I understand. All I ever read has come back to me here on the desert,
as clear as the print on the page--seen so many years ago. I used to
hate Sunday school when I was a boy. But now, often, words of the Bible
come before my mind.... But are you telling me the whole truth? Why did
you say, ‘Time--stand still here,’ when I held you in my arms?”

“What a boy you are!” she murmured, and her eyes held a gladness for
the sight of him. “Confess, now, wouldn’t that moment have been a
beautiful one for time to stop--for life to stand still--for the world
to be naught--for thought and memory to cease?”

“Yes, it would,” he replied, “but no more beautiful than this moment
while you stand there so. When you look like that you make me hope.”

“For what?” she queried, softly.

“For you.”

“Wansfell, you are the only man I’ve ever known who could have held me
in his arms and have been blind and dead to the nature of a woman....
Listen. You’ve done me the honor to say I have splendid thoughts and
noble emotions. I hope I have. I know you have inspired many. I know
this valley of death has changed my soul.... But, Wansfell, I am a
woman, and a woman is more than her high and lofty thoughts--her
wandering inspirations. A woman is a creature of feeling, somehow
doomed.... When I said, ‘Time--stand still here,’ I was false to the
woman in me that you idealize. A thousand thoughts, emotions, memories,
desires, sorrows, vanities prompted the words of which you have made me
ashamed. But to spare myself a little, let me say that it would indeed
be beautiful for me to have you take me up into your arms--and then for
time to stand still forever.”

“Do you mean that--so--you’d feel safe, protected, at rest?” he asked,
with emotion.

“Yes, and infinitely more. Wansfell it is a woman’s fate that the
only safe and happy and desired place for her this side of the grave
is in the arms of the man she loves. A real man--with strength and
gentleness--for her and her alone!... It is a terrible thing in women,
the need to be loved. As a baby I had that need--as a girl--and as a
woman it became a passion. Looking back now, through the revelation
that has come to me here in this valley of silence--when thought is
clairvoyant and all-pervading--I can see how the need of love, the
passion to be loved, is the strongest instinct in any woman. It _is_
an instinct. She can no more change it than she can change the shape
of her hand. Poor fated women! Education, freedom, career may blind
them to their real nature. But it is a man, the right man, that means
life to a woman. Otherwise the best in her dies.... That instinct in
me--for which I confess shame--has been unsatisfied despite all the men
who have loved me. When you saved me--perhaps from injury--and took
me into your arms, the instinct over which I have no control flashed
up. While it lasted, until you looked at me, I wanted that moment to
last forever. I wanted to be held that way--in your great, strong
arms--until the last trumpet sounded. I wanted you to see only me, feel
only me, hold only me, live for only me, love _me_ beyond all else on
earth and in heaven!”

As she paused, her slender brown hands at her heaving breast, her eyes
strained as if peering through obscurity at a distant light, Adam could
only stare at her in helpless fascination. In such moods as this she
taught him as much of the mystery of life as he had taught her of the
nature of the desert.

“Now the instinct is gone,” she continued. “Chilled by your aloofness!
I am looking at it with intelligence. And, Wansfell, I’m filled with
pity for women. I pity myself, despite the fact that my mind is free.
I can control my acts, if not my instincts and emotions. I am bound.
I am a woman. I am a she-creature. I am little different from the
fierce she-cats, the she-lions--any of the she-animals that you’ve
told me fight to survive down on your wild Colorado Desert.... That
seems to me the sex, the fate, the doom of women. Ah! no wonder they
fight for men--spit and hiss and squall and scratch and rend! It’s
a sad thing, seen from a woman’s mind. That great mass of women who
cannot reason about their instincts, or understand the springs of their
emotions--they are the happier. Too much knowledge is bad for my sex.
Perhaps we are wrongly educated. _I_ am the happier for what you have
taught me. I can see myself now with pity instead of loathing. I am not
to blame for what life has made me. There are no wicked women. They
must be loved or they are lost.... My friend, the divinity in human
life is seen best in some lost woman like me.”

“Magdalene Virey,” protested Adam, “I can’t follow you.... But to say
_you_ are a lost woman--that I won’t listen to.”

“I _was_ a lost woman,” interrupted Mrs. Virey, her voice rising out
of the strong, sweet melody. “I had my pride, and I defied the husband
whose heart I broke and whose life I ruined. I scorned the punishment,
the exile he meted out to me. That was because I was thoroughbred.
But all the same I was lost. Lost to happiness, to hope, to effort,
to repentance, to spiritual uplift. Death Valley will be my tomb, but
there will be resurrection for me.... It is you, Wansfell, you have
been my salvation.... _You_ have the power. It has come from your
strife and agony on the desert. It is beyond riches, beyond honor. It
is the divine in you that seeks and finds the divine in unfortunates
who cross your wandering trail.”

Adam, rendered mute, could only offer his hand; and in silence he led
her down the slope.

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon, near the close of the hot hours, Adam lay in the
shade of the brush shelter he had erected near the Virey shack. He
was absorbed in watching a tribe of red ants, and his posture was so
unusual that it gave pause to Virey, who had come down from the slope.
The man approached and curiously gazed at Adam, to see what he was
doing.

“Looking for grains of gold?” inquired Virey, with sarcasm. “I’ll lend
you my magnifying glass.”

“I’m watching these red ants,” replied Adam, without looking up.

Virey bent over and, having seen, he slowly straightened up.

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard!” he ejaculated, and this time without
sarcasm.

“Virey, I’m no sluggard,” returned Adam. “It’s you who are that. I’m a
worker.”

“Wansfell, I was not meaning you,” said Virey. “There are things I hate
you for, but laziness is certainly not included in them.... I never
worked in my life. I had money left me. It was a curse. I thought I
could buy everything. I bought a wife--the big-eyed woman to whom you
devote your services--and your attentions.... And I bought for myself
the sweetness of the deadly nightshade flower--a statue of marble,
chiseled in the beautiful curves of mocking love--a woman of chain
lightning and hate.... If I had lived by industry, as live those red
ants you’re watching, I might not now have one foot in my grave in
Death Valley.”

Thus there were rare instances when Virey appeared a man with the
human virtues of regret, of comprehension, of intolerance, but never a
word issued from his lips that was not tinged with bitterness. Had the
divinity in him been blasted forever? Or was it a submerged spark that
could quicken only to a touch of the woman lost to him? Adam wondered.
Sometimes a feeling of pity for Virey stole over him, but it never
lasted long. Adam had more respect for these red ants than for some
men, despite the alleged divinity. He abhorred the drones of life. The
desert taught how useless were the idlers--how nature ruthlessly cut
them off.

The red ants had a hill some few paces from the shelter where Adam lay.
One train of ants, empty handed, as it were, traveled rapidly from the
ant hill toward the camp litter; and another train staggered under
tremendous burdens in the other direction. At first Adam thought these
last were carrying bits of bread, then he thought they were carrying
grains of gravel, and then he discovered, by moving closer to watch,
that they were carrying round black-and-white globules, several times
as large as their own bodies. Presently he concluded that these round
objects were ant eggs which the tribe was moving from one hill to
another. It was exceedingly interesting to watch them. He recognized
them as the species of desert ant that could bite almost as fiercely
as a scorpion. Their labor was prodigious. The great difficulty
appeared to be in keeping the eggs in their jaws. These burdens were
continually falling out and rolling away. Some ants tried many times
and in many ways to grasp the hard little globules. Then, when this was
accomplished, came the work compared with which the labor of man seemed
insignificant. After getting a start the loaded ants made fair progress
over smooth, hard ground, but when they ran into a crust of earth or a
pebble or a chip they began the toil of a giant. The ant never essayed
to go round the obstacle. He surmounted it. He pushed and lifted and
heaved, and sometimes backed over, dragging his precious burden behind
him. Others would meet a little pitfall and, instead of circling it to
get to the ant hill, they would roll down, over and over, with their
eggs, until they reached the bottom. Then it was uphill work on the
other side, indefatigible, ceaseless, patient, wonderful.

Adam presently had to forego his little sentiment about the toil of
the ants over their eggs. The black-and-white globules were seeds of
maize. On the night before, Adam’s burro Jennie had persisted around
camp until he gave her the last of some maize left in one of his packs.
Jennie had spilled generous quantities of the maize in the sand, and
the ants were carrying home the seeds.

How powerful they were! How endowed with tireless endurance and a
persistence beyond human understanding! The thing that struck Adam so
singularly was that these ants did not recognize defeat. They could
not give up. Failure was a state unknown to their instincts. And so
they performed marvelous feats. What was the spirit that actuated them?
The mighty life of nature was infinitely strong in them. It was the
same as the tenacity of the lichen that lived on the desert rocks, or
the eyesight of the condor that could see its prey from the invisible
heights of the sky, or the age-long destructive movements of the
mountain tops wearing down to the valleys.

When Adam got up from his pleasant task and meditation he was surprised
to find Mrs. Virey standing near with eyes intent on him. Then it
became incumbent upon him to show her the toils of the red ants. She
watched them attentively for a while.

“Wonderful little creatures!” she exclaimed. “So this watching is one
of the secrets of your desert knowledge. Wansfell, I can’t compare
these ants to men. They are far superior. They have order, purpose.
They are passionless, perfect organizations to carry on their lives.
They will work and live--the descendants of this very tribe of
ants--long after the race of men has disappeared off the face of the
earth.... But wonderful as they are, and interesting as are their
labors, I’d prefer to watch you chop wood, or, better, to climb the
slope with your giant stride.”

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, some time late, Adam was awakened by a gale that swooped up
through the gateway from the valley. It blew away the cool mountain air
which had settled down from the heights. It was a warmer wind than any
Adam had ever before experienced at night. It worried him. Forerunner,
it must be, of the midnight furnace winds that had added to the fame
of Death Valley! It brought a strange, low, hollow roar, unlike any
other sound in nature. It was a voice. Adam harkened to the warning.
On the morrow he would again talk to Virey. Soon it might be too late
to save Magdalene Virey. She had obstructed his will. She would not
leave without her husband. She had bidden Adam stay there in Death
Valley to serve her, but she seemed to have placed her husband beyond
Adam’s reach. The ferocity in Adam had never found itself in relation
to Virey. Adam had persuaded and argued with the persistence of the
toiling ant, but to work his way with Virey seemed to demand the swoop
of the desert hawk.

This strange warm wind, on its first occurrence during Adam’s stay in
the valley, rose to a gale and then gradually subsided until it moaned
away mournfully. Its advent had robbed Adam of sleep; its going seemed
to leave a deader silence, fraught with the meaning of its visit.

Adam could sleep no more. This silence belied the blinking of the
stars. It disproved the solidarity of the universe. Nothing lived,
except his soul, that seemingly had departed from his body in a dream,
and now with his vague thoughts and vaguer feelings wandered over the
wastelands, a phantom in the night. Silence of utter solitude--most
intense, dead, dreaming, waiting, sepulcher-like, awful! Where was the
rustle of the wings of the bats? The air moved soundlessly, and it
seemed to have the substance of shadows. A dead solitude--a terrible
silence! A man and the earth! The wide spaces, the wild places of the
earth as it was in the beginning! Here could be the last lesson to a
thinking man--the last development of a man into savage or god.

There! Was that a throb of his heart or a ring in his ear? Crack of a
stone, faint, far away, high on the heights, a lonely sound making real
the lonely night. It relieved Adam. The tension of him relaxed. And he
listened, hopefully, longing to hear another break in the silence that
would be so insupportable.

As he listened, the desert moon, oval in shape, orange hued and weird,
sailed over the black brow of the mountain and illumined the valley in
a radiance that did not seem of land or sea. The darkness of midnight
gave way to orange shadows, mustering and shading, stranger than the
fantastic shapes of dreams.

Another ring of rock on rock, and sharp rattle, and roll on roll,
assured Adam that the weathering gods of the mountain were not daunted
by the silence and the loneliness of Death Valley. They were working
as ever. Their task was to level the mountain down to the level of the
sea. The stern, immutable purpose seemed to vibrate in the ringing
cracks and in the hollow reports. These sounds in their evenness
and perfect rhythm and lonely tone established once more in Adam’s
disturbed consciousness the nature of the place. Death Valley! The
rolling of rocks dispelled phantasms.

Then came a low, grating roar. The avalanche of endless broken
rocks had slipped an inch. It left an ominous silence. Adam stirred
restlessly in his blankets. There was a woman in the lee of that
tremendous sliding slope--a woman of delicate frame, of magnificent
spirit, of a heart of living flame. Every hour she slept or lay wide
eyed in the path of that impending cataclysm was one of exceeding
peril. Adam chafed under the invisible bonds of her will. Because she
chose to lie there, fearless, beyond the mind of man to comprehend, was
that any reason why he should let her perish? Adam vowed that he would
end this dread situation before another nightfall. Yet when he thought
of Magdalene Virey his heart contracted. Only through the fierce spirit
of the desert could he defy her and beat down the jailer who chained
her there. But that fierce spirit of his seemed obstructed by hers, an
aloof thing, greater than ferocity, beyond physical life.

And so Adam lay sleepless, listening to the lonely fall of sliding
rocks, the rattle and clash, and then the hollow settling. Then he
listened to the silence.

It was broken by a different note, louder, harsher--the rattle and bang
of a stone displaced and falling from a momentum other than its own. It
did not settle. Heavy and large, it cracked down to thud into the sand
and bump out through the brush. Scarcely had it quieted when another
was set in motion, and it brought a low, sliding crash of many small
rocks. Adam sat up, turning his ear toward the slope. Another large
stone banged down to the sands. Adam heard the whiz of it, evidently
hurtling through the air between his camp and the Vireys’. If that
stone had struck their shack!

Adam got up and, pulling on his boots, walked out a little way from
his camp. What an opaque orange gloom! Nevertheless, it had radiance.
He could see almost as well as when the full moon soared in silver
effulgence. More cracking and rolling of little rocks, and then the
dislodgment of a heavy one, convinced Adam that a burro was climbing
the slope or a panther had come down to prowl around camp. At any rate
the displacement of stones jarred unnaturally on Adam’s sensitive ear.

Hurrying across to the Virey shack, he approached the side farther from
the slope and called through the brush wall, “Mrs. Virey!”

“Yes. What do you want, Wansfell?” she replied, instantly. She had been
wide awake.

“Have you heard the sliding rocks?”

“Indeed I have! All through that strange roar of wind--and later.”

“You and Virey better get up and take your blankets out a ways, where
you will not be in danger. I think there’s a burro or a panther up on
the slope. You know how loose the stones are--how at the slightest
touch they come sliding and rolling. I’ll go up and scare the beast
away.”

“Wansfell, you’re wrong,” came the reply, with that old mockery which
always hurt Adam. “You should not insult a burro--not to speak of a
panther.”

“What?” queried Adam, blankly.

“It is another kind of an animal.”

But for that subtle mockery of voice Adam would have been persuaded the
woman was out of her head, or at least answering him in her sleep.

“Mrs. Virey, please----”

“Wansfell, it’s a sneaking coyote,” she called, piercingly, and then
she actually uttered a low laugh.

Adam was absolutely dumfounded. “Coyote!” he ejaculated.

“Yes. It’s my husband. It’s Virey. He found out the rolling rocks
frightened me at night. So he climbs up there and rolls them.... Sees
how close he can come to hitting the shack!... Oh, he’s done that
often!”

An instant Adam leaned there with his head bent to the brush wall, as
if turned to stone. Then like a man stung he leaped up and bounded
round the shack toward the slope.

In the orange radiance on that strange, moon-blanched slope he dimly
saw a moving object. It stood upright. Indeed, no burro or panther!
Adam drew a deep and mighty breath for the yell that must jar the very
stones from their sockets.

“HYAR!” he yelled in stentorian roar. Like thunder the great sound
pealed up the slope. “COME DOWN OR I’LL WRING YOUR NECK!”

Only the clapping, rolling, immeasurable echoes answered him. The last
hollow clap and roll died away, leaving the silence deader than before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam spent the remainder of that night pacing to and fro in the
orange-hued shadows, fighting the fierce, grim violence that at last
had burst its barrier. Adam could have wrung the life out of this Virey
with less compunction than he would have in stamping on the head of a
venomous reptile. Yet it was as if a spirit kept in the shadow of his
form, as he strode the bare shingle, gazing up at the solemn black
mountains and at the wan stars.

Adam went down to the gateway between the huge walls. A light was
kindling over the far-away Funeral range, and soon a glorious star
swept up, as if by magic, above the dark rim of the world. The morning
star shining down into Death Valley! No dream--no illusion--no desert
mirage! Like the Star of Bethlehem beckoning the Wise Men to the East,
it seemed to blaze a radiant path for Adam down across the valley of
dim, mystic shadows. What could be the meaning of such a wonderful
light? Was that blue-white lilac-haloed star only another earth upon
which the sun was shining? Adam lifted his drawn face to its light and
wrestled with the baser side of his nature. He seemed to be dominated
by the spirit that kept close to his side. Magdalene Virey kept vigil
with him on that lonely beat. It was her agony which swayed and wore
down his elemental passion. Would not he fail her if he killed this
man? Virey’s brutality seemed not the great question at issue for him.

“I’ll not kill him--yet!”

Thus Adam eased the terrible contention within him.

When he returned to camp the sun had risen red and hot, with a thin,
leaden haze dulling its brightness. No wind stirred. Not a sound broke
the stillness. Magdalene Virey sat on the stone bench under the brush
shelter, waiting for him. She rose as he drew near. Never had he seen
her like this, smiling a welcome that was as true as her presence, yet
facing him with darkened eyes and tremulous lips and fear. Adam read
her. Not fear of him, but of what he might do!

“Is Virey back yet?” he asked.

“Yes. He just returned. He’s inside--going to sleep.”

“I want to see him--to get something off my mind,” said Adam.

“Wait--Adam!” she cried, and reached for him as he wheeled to go toward
the shack.

One glance at her brought Adam to a standstill, and then to a slow
settling down upon the stone seat, where he bowed his head. Life had
held few more poignant moments than this, in his pity for others. Yet
he thrilled with admiration for this woman. She came close to him,
leaned against him, and the quiver of her body showed she needed the
support. She put a shaking hand on his shoulder.

“My friend--brother,” she whispered, “if you kill him--it will
undo--all the good you’ve done--for me.”

“You told me once that the grandest act of a man was to fight for the
happiness--the life of a woman,” he replied.

“True! And haven’t you fought for my happiness, and my life, too? I
would have died long ago. As for happiness--it has come out of my
fight, my work, my effort to meet you on your heights--more happiness
than I deserve--than I ever hoped to attain.... But if you kill
Virey--all will have been in vain.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it is I who ruined him,” she replied, in low, deep voice,
significant of the force behind it. “As men go in the world he was a
gentleman, a man of affairs, happy and carefree. When he met me his
life changed. He worshiped me. It was not his fault that I could not
love him. I hated him because they forced me to marry him. For years he
idolized me.... Then--then came the shock--his despair, his agony. It
made him mad. There is a very thin line between great love and great
hate.”

“What--what ruined him?” demanded Adam.

“Adam, it will be harder to confess than any other ordeal of my
whole life. Because--because _you_ are the one man I should have
met years ago.... Do you understand? And I--who yearn for your
respect--for your--Oh, spare me!... I who need your faith--your
strange, incomprehensible faith in me--I, who hug to my hungry bosom
the beautiful hopes you have in me--I must confess my shame to save my
husband’s worthless life.”

“No. I’ll not have you--you humiliating yourself to save him anything.
I give my word. I’ll never kill Virey unless he harms you.”

“Ah! But he has harmed me. He has struck me.... Wansfell! don’t leap
like that. Listen. Virey will harm me, sooner or later. He is obsessed
with his one idea--to see me suffer. That is why he has let you and
me wander around together so much. He hoped in his narrow soul to see
you come to love me, and me to love you--so through that I should fall
_again_--to suffer more anguish--to offer more meat for his hellish
revenge.... But, lo! I am uplifted--forever beyond his reach--never to
be rent by his fiendish glee ... unless you kill him--which would stain
my hands with his blood--bring back the doom of soul from which you
rescued me!”

“Magdalene, I swear I’ll never kill Virey unless he kills you,”
declared Adam, as if forced beyond endurance.

“Ah, I ask no more!” she whispered, in passionate gratitude. “My God!
how I feared you--yet somehow gloried in your look!... And now listen,
friend, brother--man who should have been my lover--I hurry to my
abasement. I kill the she-thing in me and go on to my atonement. I
fight the instincts of a woman. I sacrifice a possible paradise, for I
am young and life is sweet.”

She circled his head with her arm and drew it against her heaving
breast. The throbs of that tortured heart beat, beat, beat all through
Adam’s blood, to the core of his body.

“My daughter Ruth was not Virey’s child,” she went on, her voice
low, yet clear as a bell. “I was only nineteen--a fool--mad--driven.
I thought I was in love, but it was only one of those insane spells
that so often ruin women.... For years I kept the secret. Then I could
not keep it any longer. At the height of Virey’s goodness to me, and
his adoration, and his wonderful love for Ruth, I told him the truth.
I _had_ to tell it.... That killed his soul. He lived only to make
me suffer. The sword he held over my head was the threat to tell my
secret to Ruth. I could not bear that. A thousand deaths would have
been preferable to that.... So in the frenzy of our trouble we started
west for the desert. My father and Ruth followed us--caught up with us
at Sacramento. Virey hated Ruth as passionately as he had loved her.
I dared not risk him near her in one of his terrible moods. So I sent
Ruth away with my father, somewhere to southern California. She did not
know it was parting forever. But, O God in heaven--how I knew it!...
Then, in my desperation, I dared Virey to do his worst. I had ruined
him and I would pay to the last drop of blood in my bitter heart. We
came to Death Valley, as I told you, because the terror and desolation
seemed to Virey to be as close to a hell on earth as he could find
to hide me. Here he began indeed to make me suffer--dirt and vermin
and thirst and hunger and pain! Oh! the horror of it all comes back
to me!... But even Death Valley cheated him. You came, Wansfell, and
now--at last--I believe in God!”

Adam wrapped a long arm around her trembling body and held her close.
At last she had confessed her secret. It called to the unplumbed depths
of him. And the cry in his heart was for the endless agony of woman.
And it was a bitter cry of doubt. If Magdalene Virey had at last found
faith in God, it was more than Adam had found, though she called him
the instrument of her salvation. A fierce and terrible rage flamed in
him for the ruin of her. Like a lion he longed to rise up to slay.
Blood and death were the elements that equalized wrong. Yet through
his helpless fury whispered a still voice into his consciousness--she
had been miserable and now she was at peace; she had been lost and now
she was saved. He could not get around that. His desert passion halted
there. He must go on alone into the waste places and ponder over the
wonder of this woman and what had transformed her. He must remember
her soul-moving words and, away somewhere in the solitude and silence,
learn if the love she intimated was a terrible truth. It could not be
true now, yet the shaking of her slender form communicated itself to
his, and there was inward tumult, strange, new, a convulsive birth of a
sensation dead these many years--dead since that dusky-eyed Margarita
Arallanes had tilted her black head to say, “Ah, so long ago and far
away!”

Memory surged up in Adam, moving him to speak aloud his own deeply
hidden secret, by the revelation of which he might share the shame and
remorse and agony of Magdalene Virey.

“I will tell you my story,” he said, and the words were as cruel blades
at the closed portals of his heart. Huskily he began, halting often,
breathing hard, while the clammy sweat beaded upon his brow. What was
this life--these years that deceived with forgetfulness? His trouble
was there as keen as on the day it culminated. He told Magdalene of
his boyhood, of his love for his brother Guerd, and of their life in
the old home, where all, even friendships of the girls, was for Guerd
and nothing for him. As he progressed, Magdalene Virey’s own agony was
forgotten. The quiver of her body changed to strung intensity, the
heaving of her bosom was no longer the long-drawn breath to relieve
oppression. Remorselessly as she had bared her great secret, Adam
confessed his little, tawdry, miserable romance--his wild response to
the lure of a vain Mexican girl, and his fall, and the words that had
disillusioned him.

“Ah, so long ago and far away!” echoed Magdalene Virey, all the
richness of her wonderful voice gathering in a might of woman’s
fury. “Oh, such a thing for a girl to say!... And Adam--_she_, this
Margarita, was the only woman you ever loved--ever knew that way?”

“Yes.”

“And she was the cause of your ruin?”

“Indeed she was, poor child!”

“The damned hussy!” cried Magdalene, passionately. “And you--only
eighteen years old? How I hate her!... And what of the man who won her
fickle heart?”

Adam bowed as a tree in a storm. “He--he was my brother.”

“Oh _no_!” she burst out. “The boy you loved--the _brother_! Oh, it
can’t be true!”

“It was true.... And, Magdalene--I killed him.”

Then with a gasp she enveloped him, in a fierce, protective frenzy of
tenderness, arms around him, pressing his face to her breast, hanging
over him as a mother over her child.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! How terrible!... Your _brother_!... And I
thought my secret, my sin, my burden so terrible! Oh, my heart bleeds
for you.... Wansfell, poor unhappy wanderer!”



CHAPTER XVIII


July! At last the endlessly long, increasingly hot June days brought
the leaden-hazed month of July, when no sane man ever attempted to
cross Death Valley while the sun was high.

In all hours, even in the darkness, the bold, rugged slopes of the
Panamints reflected sinister shades of red. And the valley was one of
gray swirling shadows and waving veils of heat like transparent smoke.
Beyond that vast, strange, dim valley rose the drab and ocher slopes
of the Funeral Mountains, sweeping up to the bronze battlements and
on to the lilac and purple peaks blurred in the leaden-hued haze that
obscured the sky. The sun was sky-broad, an illimitable flare, with a
lurid white heart into which no man could look.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam was compelled to curtail his activities. He did not suffer greatly
from the heat, but he felt its weakening power. Ever his blood seemed
at fever heat. Early in the mornings and late in the evenings he
prepared simple meals, which, as the days dragged on, were less and
ever less partaken of by his companions and himself. During the midday
hours, through the terrible heat, he lay in the shade, sweltering and
oppressed, in a stupor of sleep. The nights were the only relief from
the immense and merciless glare, the bearing down of invisible bars
of red-hot iron. Most of these long hours of darkness Adam lay awake
or walked in the gloom or sat in the awful stillness, waiting for he
knew not what. But that he waited for something he knew with augmenting
dread.

When the full blast of this summer heat came, Virey changed physically
and mentally. He grew thin. He walked with bowed shoulders. His
tongue protruded slightly and he always panted. Every day he ate less
and slept less than on the day before. He obeyed no demands from Adam
and took no precautions. His sufferings would have been less and his
strength would have been greater had he refrained from exposing himself
to the sun. But he reveled in proofs of the nature of Death Valley.

And if Virey had ever worn a mask in front of Adam he now dropped it.
Indeed he ignored Adam, no longer with scorn or indifference, but as
if unaware of his presence. Whenever Adam wanted to be heard by Virey,
which desire diminished daily, he had to block his path, confront him
forcefully. Virey was given over wholly to his obsession. His hate
possessed him body and soul. And if it had ever been a primitive hate
to destroy, it had been restrained, and therefore rendered infinitely
cruel, by the slow, measured process of thought, of premeditation.

Often when Adam absented himself from camp, Virey had a trick of
climbing the weathered slope to roll down rocks. He seemed mad to
do this. Yet when Adam returned he would come clambering down, wet
and spent, a haggard, sweating wretch not yet quite beyond fear. In
vain had Adam argued, pleaded, talked with him; in vain had been the
strident scorn of a man and the curses of rage. Virey, however, had
a dread of Adam’s huge hands. Something about them fascinated him.
When one of these, clenched in an enormous fist, was shoved under
his nose with a last threat, then Virey would retire sullenly to the
shack. In every way that was possible he kept before Magdalene Virey
the spectacle of his ruin and the consciousness that it was her doing.
These midsummer days soon made him a gaunt, unshaven, hollow-eyed
wretch. Miserable and unkempt he presented himself at meals, and sat
there, a haggard ghost, to mouth a little food and to stare at his
wife with accusing eyes. He reminded her of cool, shaded rooms, of
exquisite linen and china, of dainty morsels, of carved-glass pitchers
full of refreshing drink and clinking ice. Always he kept before her
the heat, the squalor, the dirt, the horror of Death Valley. When he
could present himself before her with his thin, torn garments clinging
wet to his emaciated body, his nerves gone from useless exertions, his
hands bloody and shaking as if with palsy, his tongue hanging out--when
he could surprise her thus and see her shrink, then he experienced
rapture. He seemed to cry out: Woman! behold the wreck of Virey!

But if that was rapture for him, to gloat over the doom of her seemed
his glory. Day by day Death Valley wrought by invisible lines and
shades a havoc in Magdalene Virey’s beauty. To look at her was to
have striking proof that Death Valley had never been intended for a
woman, no matter how magnificent her spirit. The only spirit that could
prevail here was the one which had lost its earthly habiliments. Like a
cat playing with a mouse, Virey watched his wife. Like Mephistopheles
gloating over the soul of a lost woman, Virey attended to the slow
manifestations of his wife’s failing strength. He meant to squeeze
every drop of blood out of her heart and still keep, if possible,
life lingering in her. His most terrible bitterness seemed to consist
of his failure to hide her utterly and forever from the gaze of any
man save himself. Here he had hidden her in the most desolate place
in the world, yet another man had come, and, like all the others,
had been ready to lay down his life for her. Virey writhed under
this circumstance over which he had no control. It was really the
only truth about the whole situation that he was able to grasp. The
terrible tragedy of his hate was that it was not hate, but love. Like a
cannibal, he would have eaten his wife raw, not from hunger, but from
his passion to consume her, incorporate her heart and blood and flesh
into his, make her body his forever. Thought of her soul, her mind, her
spirit, never occurred to Virey. So he never realized how she escaped
him, never understood her mocking scorn.

But through his thick and heat-hazed brain there must have pierced
some divination of his failing powers to torture her. The time came
when he ceased to confront her like a scarecrow, he ceased accusing
her, he ceased to hold before her the past and its contrast with the
present, he gave up his refinement of cruelty. This marked in Virey
a further change, a greater abasement. He reverted to instinct. He
retrograded to a savage in his hate, and that hate found its outlet
altogether in primitive ways.

Adam’s keen eye saw all this, and the slow boil in his blood was
not all owing to the torrid heat of Death Valley. His great hands,
so efficient and ruthless, seemed fettered. A thousand times he had
muttered to the silence of the night, to the solemn, hazed daylight,
to the rocks that had souls, and to the invisible presence ever beside
him: “How long must I stand this? How long--how long?”

One afternoon as he awoke late from the sweltering siesta he heard Mrs.
Virey scream. The cry startled him, because she had never done that
before. He ran.

Adam found her lying at the foot of the stone bench in a dead faint.
The brown had left her skin. How white the wasted face! What dark
shadows under the hollow eyes! His heart smote him remorselessly.

As he knelt and was about to lift her head he espied a huge, black,
hairy spider crawling out of the folds of her gray gown. It was a
tarantula, one of the ugliest of the species. Adam flipped it off with
his hand and killed it under his boot.

Then with basin of water and wetted scarf he essayed to bring Mrs.
Virey back to consciousness. She did not come to quickly, but at last
she stirred, and opened her eyes with a flutter. She seemed to be
awakening from a nightmare of fear, loathing, and horror. For that
instant her sight did not take in Adam, but was a dark, humid, dilated
vision of memory.

“Magdalene, I killed the tarantula,” said he. “It can’t harm you
now.... Wake up! Why, you’re stiff and you look like--like I don’t know
what!... You fainted and I’ve had a time bringing you to.”

“Oh!” she cried. “It’s you.” And then she clung to him while he lifted
her, steadying her upon her feet, and placed her on the stone bench.
“So I fainted?... Ugh! That loathsome spider! Where is it?”

“I covered it with sand,” he replied.

“Would it have--bitten me?”

“No. Not unless you grasped it.”

Slowly she recovered and, letting go of him, leaned back in the seat.
Crystal beads of sweat stood out upon her white brow. Her hair was wet.
Her sensitive lips quivered.

“I’ve a perfect horror of mice, bugs, snakes, spiders--anything that
crawls,” she said. “I can’t restrain it. I inherited it from my
mother.... And what has mind got to do with most of a woman’s feelings?
Virey has finally found that out.”

“Virey!... What do you mean?” rejoined Adam.

“I was leaning back here on the bench when suddenly I heard Virey
slipping up behind me. I knew he was up to something. But I wouldn’t
turn to see what. Then with two sticks he held the tarantula out over
me--almost in my face. I screamed. I seemed to freeze inside. He
dropped the tarantula in my lap.... Then all went black.”

“Where--is he now?” asked Adam, finding it difficult to speak.

“He’s in the shack.”

Adam made a giant stride in that direction, only to be caught and
detained by her clinging hands. Earnestly she gazed up at him, with
melancholy, searching eyes.

He uttered a loud laugh, mirthless, a mere explosion of surcharged
breath. “No!... I can’t get angry. I can’t be a man any more. This
Death Valley and the sun--and you--have worked on my mind.... But I’ll
tell you what--nothing can stop me from beating Virey--so he’ll never
do that again.”

“Ah!... So I’ve worked on your mind? Then it’s the only great deed I
ever did.... Wansfell, I told you Virey has threatened to shoot you.
He’s meant to more than once, but when you have come he has been
afraid. But he might.”

“I wish to heaven he’d try it,” responded Adam, and, loosing the
woman’s hold upon his hands, he strode toward the shack.

“Virey, come out!” he called, loudly, though without any particular
feeling. There was no reply, and he repeated the call, this time
louder. Still Virey remained silent. Waiting a moment longer, Adam
finally spoke again, with deliberate, cold voice. “Virey, I don’t want
to mess up that room, with all your wife’s belongings in there. So come
outside.”

At that Adam heard a quick, panting breath. Then Virey appeared--came
to the door of the shack. Adam could not have told what the man’s
distorted face resembled. He carried a gun, and his heart was ferocious
if his will was weak.

“Don’t you--lay one of your--bloody hands on me,” he panted.

Adam took two long strides and halted before Virey, not six feet
distant.

“So you’ve got your little gun, eh?” he queried, without any particular
force. Adam had been compelled to smother all that mighty passion
within him, or he could not have answered for his actions. “What are
you going to do with it?”

“If you make a--move at me--I’ll kill you,” came the husky, panting
response.

“Virey, I’m going to beat you within an inch of your worthless life,”
declared Adam, monotonously, as if he had learned this speech by rote.
“But I’ve got to talk first. I’m full of a million things to call you.”

“Damn you, I’ll not listen,” replied Virey, beginning to shake with
excitement. The idea of using the gun had become an intent and was
acting powerfully upon him. “You leave my--camp--you get out--of this
valley!”

“Virey, are you crazy?” queried Adam. The use of his voice had changed
that deadlock of his feelings. He must not trust himself to bandy
speech with Virey. The beating must be administered quickly or there
would be something worse. Yet how desperately hard not to try to awaken
conscience or sense in this man!

“No, I’m not crazy,” yelled Virey.

“If you’re not crazy, then that trick of throwing a tarantula on your
wife was damnable--mean--hellish--monstrous.... My God! man, can’t you
see what a coward you are? To torture her--as if you were a heathen!
That delicate woman--all quivering nerves! To pick on a weakness, like
that of a child! Virey, if you’re not crazy you’re the worst brute I’ve
ever met on the desert. You’ve sunk lower than men whom the desert has
made beasts. You----”

“Beast I am--thanks to my delicate wife,” cried Virey, with exceeding
bitter passion. “Delicate? Ha-ha! The last lover of Magdalene Virey
can’t see she’s strong as steel--alive as red fire! How she clings to
memory! How she has nine lives of a cat--and hangs on to them--just
to remember!... And you--meddler! You desert rat of a preacher! Get
out--or I’ll kill you!”

“Shoot and be damned!” flashed Adam, as with leap as swift as his voice
he reached a sweeping arm.

Virey’s face turned ashen. He raised the gun. Adam knocked it up
just as it exploded. The powder burned his forehead, but the bullet
sped high. Another blow sent the gun flying to the sand. Then Adam,
fastening a powerful grip on Virey, clutching shirt and collar and
throat at once, dragged him before the stone bench where Mrs. Virey
sat, wide eyed and pale. Here Adam tripped the man and threw him
heavily upon the sand. Before he could rise Adam straddled him, bearing
him down. Then Adam’s big right hand swept and dug in the sand to
uncover the dead tarantula.

“Ah! here’s your spider!” he shouted. And he rubbed the hairy,
half-crushed tarantula in Virey’s face. The man screamed and wrestled.
“Good! you open your mouth. Now we’ll see.... Eat it--eat it, damn your
cowardly soul!” Then Adam essayed to thrust the spider between Virey’s
open lips. He succeeded only partly. Virey let out a strangling,
spitting yell, then closed his teeth as a vise. Adam smeared what was
left of the crushed tarantula all over Virey’s face.

“Now get up,” he ordered, and, rising himself, he kicked Virey. Adam,
in the liberation of his emotions by action, was now safe from himself.
He would not kill Virey. He could even hold in his enormous strength.
He could even think of the joy of violence that was rioting inside him,
of the ruthless fierceness with which he could have rent this man limb
from limb.

Virey, hissing and panting in a frenzy, scrambled to his feet. Fight
was in him now. He leaped at Adam, only to meet a blow that laid him
on the sand. It had not stunned him. Up he sprang, bloody, livid, and
was at Adam again. His frenzy lent him strength and in that moment he
had no fear of man or devil. The desert rage was on him. He swung his
fists, beat wildly at Adam, tore and clawed. Adam slapped him with
great broad hands that clapped like boards, and then, when Virey lunged
close, he closed his fist and smashed it into Virey’s face. The man
of the cities went plowing in the sand. Then on his hands and knees
he crawled like a dog, and, finding a stone, he jumped up to fling
it. Adam dodged the missile. Wildly Virey clutched for more, throwing
one after another. Adam caught one and threw it back, to crack hard
on his opponent’s shin. Virey yelled no more. His rage took complete
possession of him. Grasping up a large rock, he held it as a mace and
rushed upon Adam to brain him. That action and intent to kill was the
only big response he had made to this wild environment. He beat at
Adam. He lunged up to meet his foe’s lofty head. He had no fear. But he
was mad. No dawning came to him that he was being toyed with. Strong
and furious at the moment, he might have succeeded in killing a lesser
man. But before Adam he was powerless to do murder. Then the time came
when Adam knocked the rock out of his hand and began to beat him, blow
on blow to face and body, with violence, but with checked strength,
so that Virey staggered here and there, upheld by fists. At last,
whipped out of rage and power to retaliate, Virey fell to the sands.
Adam dragged him into the shack and left him prostrate and moaning, an
abject beaten wretch who realized his condition.

Most difficult of all for Adam then was to face Mrs. Virey. Yet the
instant he did he realized that his ignorance of women was infinite.

“Did the bullet--when he fired--did it hit you?” she queried, her large
eyes, intense and glowing, wonderfully dark with emotion, flashing over
him.

“No--it missed--me,” panted Adam, as with heavy breaths he sank upon
the stone bench.

“I picked up the gun. I was afraid he’d find it. You’d better keep it
now,” she said, and slipped it into his pocket.

“What a--dis--gusting--sight for you--to have--to watch!” exclaimed
Adam, trying to speak and breathe at once.

“It was frightful--terrible at first,” she returned. “But after the
gun went flying--and you had stopped trying to make him eat the--the
spider--uggh! how sickening!... After that it got to be-- Well,
Wansfell, it was the first time in the years I’ve known my husband that
I respected him. He meant to kill you. It amazed me. I admired him....
And as for you--to see you tower over him--and parry his blows--and
hit him when you liked--and knock him and drag him--oh, that roused a
terrible something in me! I never felt so before in my whole life. I
was some other woman. I watched the blood flow, I heard the thuds and
heavy breaths, I actually smelled the heat of you, I was so close--and
it all inflamed me, made me strung with savage excitement--I had almost
said joy.... God knows, Wansfell, we have hidden natures within our
breasts.”

“If only it’s a lesson to him!” sighed Adam.

“Then it were well done,” she replied, “but I doubt--I doubt. Virey
is hopeless. Let us forget.... And now will you please help me search
in the sand here for something I dropped. It fell from my lap when I
fainted, I suppose. It’s a small ivory case with a miniature I think
all the world of. Last and best of my treasures!”

Adam raked in the sand along the base of the bench, and presently found
the lost treasure. How passionately, with what eloquent cry of rapture,
did she clutch it!

“Look!” she exclaimed, with wonderful thrill in her voice, and held the
little case open before Adam’s eyes.

He saw a miniature painting of a girl’s face, oval, pure as a flower,
with beautiful curls of dark bronze, and magnificent eyes. In these
last Adam recognized the mother of this girl. The look of them, the
pride and fire, if not the color, were the same as Magdalene Virey’s.

“A sweet and lovely face,” said Adam.

“Ruth!” she whispered. “My daughter--my only child--my baby that I
abandoned to save her happiness!... Oh, mockery of life that I was
given such a heart to love--that I was given such a perfect child!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The midsummer midnight furnace winds began to blow.

They did not blow every night or many nights consecutively; otherwise
all life in the valley would soon have become extinct. Adam found the
hot winds heretofore, that he had imagined were those for which the
valley was famed, were really comfortable compared with these terrible
furnace blasts. In trying to understand their nature, Adam concluded
they were caused by a displacement of higher currents of cool air.
Sometime during the middle of the night there began a downward current
of cool air from the mountain heights; and this caused a disturbance
of the vast area of hot air in the burning valley below sea level. The
tremendous pressure drove the hot air to find an outlet so it could
rise to let the cool air down, and thus there came gusts and gales of
furnace winds, rushing down the valley, roaring up the canyons.

The camp of the Vireys, almost in the center of one of these outlets
and scarcely a quarter of a mile from the main valley, lay open to the
full fury of these winds.

       *       *       *       *       *

The 1st of August was a hazy, blistering day in which the valley
smoked. Veils of transparent black heat--shrouds of moving white
transparent heat! The mountains’ tops were invisible, as if obscured in
thin, leaden-hued fog; their bases showed dull, sinister red through
the haze. Nothing moved except the strange veils and the terrible
heaven-wide sun that seemed to have burst. It was a day when, if a man
touched an unshaded stone with his naked hand, he would be burned as by
a hot iron. A solemn, silent, sulphurous, smoky, deadly day, inimical
to life!

But at last the sunset of red hell ended that day and merciful darkness
intervened. The fore part of the night was hot, yet endurable, and
a relief compared to the sunlit hours. Adam marked, however, or
imagined, a singular, ominous, reddish hue of the dim stars, a vast
still veil between him and the sky, a waiting hush. He walked out
into the open, peering through the dimness, trying to comprehend. The
color of the stars and heavens, and of the dull black slopes, and of
the night itself, seemed that of a world burned out. Immense, dim,
mysterious, empty, desolate! Had this Death Valley finally unhinged
his mind? But he convinced himself that it was normal. The unreality,
the terror, the forbidding hush of all the elements, the imminence of
catastrophe--these were all actually present. Anything could happen
here. Exaggeration of sense was impossible. This Death Valley was only
a niche of the universe and the universe only a part of the infinite.
He felt his intelligence and emotion, and at the same time the
conviction that only a step away was death. The old wonder arose--was
death the end? Not possible! Yet the cruelty, the impassivity of
nature, letting the iron consequences fall--this seemed to crush him.
For the sake of a woman who suffered agony of body and mind, Adam was
at war with nature and the spirit of creation. Why? The eternal query
had no answer. It never would be answered.

As the hours wore away the air grew hotter, denser. Like a blanket
it seemed to lie heavily on Adam. It was the hottest, stillest, most
oppressive, strangest night of all his desert experience. Sleep was
impossible. Rest was impossible. Inaction was impossible. Every breath
seemed impossible of fulfillment. A pressure constricted Adam’s lungs.
The slow, gentle walk that he drove himself to take, which it was
impossible to keep from taking, brought out a hot flood of sweat on his
body, and the drops burned as they trickled down his flesh.

“If the winds blow to-night!” he muttered, in irresistible dread.

Something told him they would blow. To-night they would blow harder
and hotter than ever before. The day of leaden fire had promised that.
Nature had her midnight change to make in the elements. Time would not
stand still. The universe prevailed on its inscrutable course; the
planets burned; the suns blazed upon their earths; and this ball of
rock on which Adam clung, groaning with the other pygmies of his kind,
whirled and hurtled through space, now dark and then light, now hot and
then cold, slave to a blazing master ninety million miles away. It was
all so inconceivable, inscrutable, unbelievable.

There came a movement of air fanning his check, emphasizing the warmth.
He smelled anew the dry alkali dust, the smoky odor, almost like
brimstone. The hour was near midnight and the deathlike silence brooded
no more. A low moan, as of a lost soul, moved somewhere on the still
air. Weird, dismal, uncanny, it fitted the spectral shadows and shapes
around him, and the night with its mystery. No human sound, though it
resembled the mourn of humanity! A puff of hot wind struck Adam in the
face, rushed by, rustling the dead and withered brush, passed on to
lull and die away. It seemed to leave a slow movement in the still air,
a soft, restless, uneasy shifting, as of an immense volume becoming
unsettled. Adam knew. Behind that sudden birth of life of dead air
pressed the furious blasts of hell--the midnight furnace wind of Death
Valley.

Adam listened. How strange, low, sad the moan! His keen ears, attuned
to all varieties of desert sound, seemed to fill and expand. The moan
swelled to a low roar, lulling now, then rising. Like no sound he had
ever heard before, it had strange affinity with the abyss of shadows.
Suddenly the air around Adam began a steady movement northward. Its
density increased, or else the movement, or pressure behind, made it
appear so. And it grew swift, until it rustled the brush. Down in the
valley the roar swelled like the movement of a mighty storm through a
forest. When the gale reached the gateway below Adam it gave a hollow
bellow.

The last of the warm, still air was pressed beyond Adam, apparently
leaving a vacuum, for there did not appear to be air enough to breathe.
The roar of wind sounded still quite distant, though now loud. Then
the hot blast struck Adam--a burning, withering wind. It was as if
he had suddenly faced an open furnace from which flames and sparks
leaped out upon him. That he could breathe, that he lived a moment,
seemed a marvel. Wind and roar filled the wide space between the
slopes and rushed on, carrying sand and dust and even shadows with it.
That blast softened in volume and had almost died away when another
whooped up through the gateway, louder and stronger and hotter than its
predecessor. It blew down Adam’s sun shelter of brush and carried the
branches rustling away. Then stormed contending tides of winds until,
what with burning blasts and whirling dust devils and air thick with
powdered salt and alkali, life became indeed a torment for Adam, man of
the desert as he was.

In the face of these furnace winds, tenacity of life had new meaning
for Adam. The struggle to breathe was the struggle of a dying man to
live. But Adam found that he could survive. It took labor, greater even
than toiling through a sandstorm, or across a sun-scorched waste to a
distant water hole. And it was involuntary labor. His great lungs were
not a bellows for him to open when he chose. They were compelled to
work. But the process, in addition to the burn and sting, the incessant
thirst, the dust-laden air, the hot skullbone like an iron lid that
must fly off, and the strange, dim, red starlight, the somber red
varying shadow, the weird rush and roar and lull--all these created
heroic fortitude if a man was to endure. Adam understood why no human
being could long exist in Death Valley.

“She will not live through the night,” muttered Adam. “But if she does,
I think I’ll take her away.”

While in the unearthly starlit gloom, so dimly red, Adam slowly plodded
across to the Virey camp, that idea grew in his mind. It had augmented
before this hour, only to faint at the strength of her spirit, but
to-night was different. It marked a climax. If Magdalene Virey showed
any weakening, any change of spirit, Adam knew he would have reached
the end of his endurance.

She would be lying or sitting on the stone bench. It was not possible
to breathe inside the shack. Terrible as were the furnace winds, they
had to be breasted--they had to be fought for the very air of life. She
had not the strength to walk up and down, to and fro, through those
endless hours.

Adam’s keen eyes, peering through the red-tinged obscurity, made out
the dark shape of Virey staggering along back and forth like an old
man driven and bewildered, hounded by the death he feared. The sight
gave Adam a moment of fierce satisfaction. Strong as was the influence
of Magdalene Virey, it could not keep down hate for this selfish and
fallen man. Selfish beyond all other frailty of human nature! The
narrow mind obsessed with self--the I and me and mine--the miserable
littleness that could not forgive, that could not understand! Adam had
pity even in his hate.

He found the woman on the bench, lying prone, a white, limp, fragile
shape, motionless as stone. Sitting down, he bent over to look into
her face. Her unfathomable eyes, wide and dark and strained, stirred
his heart as never before. They were eyes to which sleep was a
stranger--haunted eyes, like the strange midnight at which they gazed
out, supernaturally bright, mirroring the dim stars, beautiful as the
waking dreams never to come true--eyes of melancholy, of unutterable
passion, of deathless spirit. They were the eyes of woman and of love.

Adam took her wasted hand and held it while waiting for the wind to
lull so that she could hear him speak. At length the hot blast moved
on, like the receding of a fire.

“Magdalene, I can’t stand this any longer,” he said.

“You mean--these winds--of hell?” she panted, in a whisper.

“No. I mean your suffering. I might have stood your spiritual ordeal.
Your remorse--your agony of loss of the daughter Ruth--your brave
spirit defying Virey’s hate.... But I can’t stand your physical
torment. You’re wasting away. You’re withering--burning up. This hand
is hot as fire--and dry as a leaf. You must drink more water....
Magdalene, lift your head.”

“I--cannot,” she whispered, with wan smile. “No--strength left.”

Adam lifted her head and gave her water to drink. Then as he laid her
back another blast of wind came roaring through the strange opaque
night. How it moaned and wailed around the huge bowlders and through
the brush! It was a dance of wind fiends, hounding the lost spirits of
this valley of horrors. Adam felt the slow, tight tide of his blood
called stingingly to his skin and his extremities, and there it burned.
It was not only his heart and his lungs that were oppressed, but the
very life of his body seemed to be pressing to escape through the pores
of his skin--pressed from inward by the terrible struggle to survive
and pressed back from outside by the tremendous blast of wind! The
wind roared by and lulled to a moan. The wave of invisible fire passed
on. Out there in the dim starlight Virey staggered back and forth
under the too great burden of his fate. He made no sound. He was a
specter. Beyond the gray level of gloom with its strange shadows rose
the immense slope of loose stones, all shining with dim, pale-red glow,
all seemingly alive, waiting for the slide of the avalanche. And on
the instant a rock cracked with faint ring, rolled with little hollow
reports, mockingly, full of terrible and latent power. It had ominous
answer in a slight jar of the earth under Adam’s feet, perhaps an
earthquake settling of the crust, and then the whole vast slope moved
with a low, grating sound, neither roar nor crash, nor rattle. The
avalanche had slipped a foot. Adam could have pealed out a cry of dread
for this woman. What a ghastly fantasy the struggle for life in Death
Valley! What mockery of wind and desert and avalanche!

“Wansfell--listen,” whispered the woman. “Do you hear--it passing on?”

“Yes,” replied Adam, bending lower to see her eyes. Did she mean that
the roar of wind was dying away?

“The stormy blast of hell--with restless fury--drives the spirits
onward!” she said, her voice rising.

“I know--I understand. But you mustn’t speak such thoughts. You must
not give up to the wandering of your mind. You must fight,” implored
Adam.

“My friend--the fight is over--the victory is mine.... I shall escape
Virey. He possessed my body--poor weak thing of flesh!... but he wanted
my love--my soul.... My soul to kill! He’ll never have either....
Wansfell, I’ll not live--through the night.... I am dying now.”

“No--no!” cried Adam, huskily. “You only imagine that. It’s only the
oppression of these winds--and the terror of the night--this awful,
unearthly valley of death. You’ll live. The winds will wear out soon.
If only you fight you’ll live.... And to-morrow--Magdalene, so help me
God--I’ll take you away!”

He expected the inflexible and magnetic opposition of her will, the
resistless power of her spirit to uplift and transform. And this time
he was adamant. At last the desert force within him had arisen above
all spiritual obstacles. The thing that called was life--life as it had
been in the beginning of time. But no mockery or eloquence of refusal
was forthcoming from Magdalene Virey. Instead, she placed the little
ivory case, containing the miniature painting of her daughter Ruth, in
Adam’s hand and softly pressed it there.

“But--if I should die--I want you to have this picture of Ruth,” she
said. “I’ve had to hide it from Virey--to gaze upon it in his absence.
Take it, my friend, and keep it, and look at it until it draws you
to her.... Wansfell, I’ll not bewilder you by mystic prophecies. But
I tell you solemnly--with the clairvoyant truth given to a woman who
feels the presence of death--that my daughter Ruth will cross your
wanderer’s trail--come into your life--and love you.... Remember what I
tell you. I see!... You are a young man still. She is a budding girl.
You two will meet, perhaps in your own wastelands. Ruth is all of
me--magnified a thousand times. More--she is as lovely as an unfolding
rose at dawn. She will be a white, living flame.... It will be as if
I had met you long ago--when I was a girl--and gave you what by the
nature of life was yours.... Wansfell, you wakened my heart--saved my
soul--taught me peace.... I wonder how you did it. You were just a
man.... There’s a falseness of life--the scales fell from my eyes one
by one. It is the heart, the flesh, the bursting stream of red blood
that count with nature. All this strife, this travail, makes toward
a perfection never to be attained. But effort and pain, agony of
flesh, and victory over mind make strength, virility.... Nature loves
barbarian women who nurse their children. I--with all my love--could
not nurse my baby Ruth. It’s a mystery no longer. Death Valley and a
primitive man have opened my eyes. Nature did not intend people to live
in cities, but in forests, as lived the Aryans of India, or like the
savages of Brazilian jungles. Like the desert beasts, self-sufficient,
bringing forth few of their kind, but better, stronger species. The
weak perish. So should the weak among men.... Ah! hear the roar!
Another wind of death!... But I’ve said all.... Wansfell, go find
Ruth--find me in her--and--remember!”

The rich voice, growing faint at the last, failed as another furnace
blast came swooping up with its dust and heat. Adam bowed his head
and endured. It passed and another came. The woman lay with closed
eyes and limp body and nerveless hands. Hours passed and the terrible
winds subsided. The shadow of a man that was Virey swaying to and fro,
like a drunken specter, vanished in the shack. The woman slept. Adam
watched by her side till dawn, and when the gray light came he could
no more have been changed than could the night have been recalled. He
would find the burros and pack them and saddle one for Magdalene Virey
to ride; he would start to climb out of Death Valley and when another
night fell he would have her safe on the cool mountain heights. If
Virey tried to prevent this, it would mean the terrible end he merited.
Adam gazed down upon the sleeping woman. How transparent, how frail a
creature! She mystified Adam. She represented the creative force in
life. She possessed that unintelligible and fatal thing in nature--the
greatest, the most irresistible, the purest expression of truth, of
what nature strove so desperately for--and it was beauty. Her youth,
her error, her mocking acceptance of life, her magnificent spirit, her
mother longing, her agony and her physical pangs, her awakening and
repentance and victory--all were written on the pale face and with the
indestructible charm of line and curve and classic feature constituted
its infinite loveliness. She was a sleeping woman, yet she was close to
the angels.

Adam looked from her to the ivory case in his hand.

“Her daughter Ruth--for me!” he said, wonderingly. “How strange if we
met! If--if-- But that’s impossible. She was wandering in mind.”

He carried the little case to his camp, searched in his pack for an
old silk scarf, and, tearing this, he carefully wrapped the gift and
deposited it inside the leather money belt he wore hidden round his
waist.

“Now to get ready to leave Death Valley!” he exclaimed, in grim
exultance.

Adam’s burros seldom strayed far from camp. This morning, however,
he did not find them near the spring nor down in the notches of the
mountain wall. So he bent his steps in the other direction. At last,
round a corner of slope, out of sight of camp, he espied them, and soon
had them trotting ahead of him.

He had traversed probably half the distance he had come when the burro
Jennie halted to shoot up her long ears. Something moving had attracted
her attention, but Adam could not see it. He drove her on. Again she
stopped. Adam could now see the shack, and as he peered sharply there
seemed to cross his vision a bounding gray object. He rubbed his eyes
and muttered. Perhaps the heat had affected his sight. Then between
him and the shack flashed a rough object, gray-white in color, and
it had the bounding motion of a jack rabbit. But it could not have
been a rabbit, because it was too large, and, besides, there were
none in the valley. A wild cat, perhaps? Adam urged Jennie on, and it
struck him that she was acting queerly. This burro never grew contrary
without cause. When she squealed and sheered off to one side Adam knew
something was amiss. That vague shock returned to his consciousness,
stronger, more certain and bewildering. Halting so as to hear better,
he held his breath and listened. Crack and roll of rock--slow sliding
rattle--crack! The mystery of the bounding gray objects was solved.
Virey had again taken to rolling rocks down the slope.

Adam broke into a run. He was quite a distance from the shack, though
now he could see it plainly. No person was in sight. More than once,
as he looked, he saw rocks bound high above the brush and fall to puff
up dust. Virey was industrious this morning, making up for lost time,
taking sure advantage of Adam’s absence. Adam ran faster. He reached
a point opposite the fanlike edge of the great slant of loose stones,
and here he seemed to get into a zone of concatenated sounds. The wind,
created by his run, filled his ears. And his sight, too, seemed not
to be trusted. Did it not magnify a bounding rock and puff of dust
into many rocks and puffs? Streaks were running low down in the brush,
raising little dusty streams. He saw clumps of brush shake and bend. If
something queer, such as had affected Jennie, did not possess his sight
and mind, then it surely possessed Death Valley. For something was
wrong.

Suddenly Adam’s ears were deafened by a splitting shock. He plunged in
his giant stride, slowed and halted. He heard the last of a sliding
roar. The avalanche had slipped. But it had stopped. Bounding rocks
hurtled in front of Adam, behind him, and puffs and streaks of dust
were everywhere. He heard the whiz and thud of a rolling rock passing
close behind him. As he gazed a large stone bounded from the ground
and seemed to pass right through the shack. The shack collapsed.
Adam’s heart leaped to his throat. He was riveted to the spot. Then,
mercifully it seemed, a white form glided out from the sun shelter. It
was the woman, still unharmed. The sight unclamped Adam’s voice and
muscle.

“Go across! Hurry!” yelled Adam, with all the power of his lungs. He
measured the distance between him and her. Two hundred yards! Rocks
were hurtling and pounding across that space.

The woman heard him. She waved her white hand and it seemed she was
waving him back out of peril. Then she pointed up the slope. Adam
wheeled. What a thrilling sight! Rocks were streaking down, hurtling
into the air, falling to crack powder from other rocks, that likewise
were set in motion. Far up the long gray slope, with its million facets
of stones shining in the sunlight, appeared Virey, working frantically.
No longer did he seek to frighten his wife. He meant to kill her. His
insane genius had read the secret of the slope, and in an instant he
would have the avalanche in motion. The cracking clamor increased. Adam
opened his lips to yell a terrible threat up at Virey, but a whizzing
bowlder, large as a bucket, flashing within a foot of his head,
awakened him to his own peril. He saw other rocks bounding down in line
with him, and, changing his position, stepping, leaping, dodging, he
managed to evade them. He had no fear for himself, but terror for the
woman, and for Virey deadly rage possessed his heart.

Then a piercing split, as of rocks rent asunder, a rattling crash, and
the lower half of the great gray slope was in motion. The avalanche!
Adam leaped at the startling sound, and, bounding a few yards to a huge
bowlder, high as his head and higher, he mounted it. There, unmindful
of himself, he wheeled to look for Magdalene Virey. Too late to reach
her! She faced that avalanche, arms spread aloft, every line of her
body instinct with the magnificent spirit which had been her doom.

“_Run! Run! Run!_” shrieked Adam, wildly.

Lost was his piercing shriek in the swallowing, gathering might of the
crashing roar of the avalanche. A pall of dust, a gray tumbling mass,
moved down ponderously, majestically, to hide from Adam’s sight the
white form of Magdalene Virey. It spread to where Adam stood, enveloped
him, and then, in boom and thunder and crash as of falling worlds, the
bowlder was lifted and carried along with the avalanche.



CHAPTER XIX


Adam was thrown prostrate. In the thick, smothering dust he all but
lost his senses. Adam felt what seemed a stream of stones rolling over
his feet. The thundering, deafening roar rolled on, spread and thinned
to a rattling crash, deadened and ceased. Then from the hollows of
the hills boomed a mighty echo, a lifting and throwing of measureless
sound, that thumped from battlement to battlement and rumbled away like
muttering thunder.

The silence then was terrible by contrast. As horror relaxed its grim
clutch Adam began to realize that miraculously he had been spared. In
the hot, dusty pall he fought for breath like a drowning man. The heavy
dust settled and the lighter drifted away.

Adam clambered to his feet. The huge bowlder that had been his ship of
safety appeared to be surrounded by a sea of small rocks, level with
where he stood. The avalanche had spread a deep layer of rocks all
over and beyond the space adjacent to the camp. Not a vestige of the
shack remained. Magdalene Virey had been buried forever beneath a mass
of stone. Adam’s great frame shuddered with the convulsions of his
emotion. He bent and bowed under the inevitable. “Oh, too late! too
late!... Yet I knew all the time!” was the mournful cry he sent out
into the silence. Dazed, sick, horror-stricken, he bowed there above
Magdalene Virey’s sepulcher and salt tears burned his eyes and splashed
down upon the dusty stones. He suffered, dully at first, and then
acutely, as his stunned consciousness began to recover. Tragic this
situation had been from the beginning, and it could have had but one
end.

Suddenly he remembered Virey. The thought transformed him.

“He must have slid with the avalanche,” muttered Adam. “Buried under
here somewhere. One sepulcher for him and wife!... So he wanted
it--alive or dead!”

The lower part of the great slope was now solid rock, dusty and earthy
in places, in others the gray color of live granite. It led his eye
upward, half a mile, to the wide, riblike ridge that marked the lower
margin of another slope of weathered rocks. It shone in the hot
sunlight. Dark veils of heat rose, resembling smoke against the sky.
The very air seemed trembling, and over that mountain-side hovered the
shadow of catastrophe.

A moving white object caught Adam’s roving sight. His desert eyes
magnified that white object. A man! He was toiling over the loose
stones.

“_Virey!_” burst out Adam, and with the explosion of the word all of
the desert stormed in him and his nature was no different from the
cataclysm that had shorn and scarred the slope.

Like a wide-lunged primordial giant, Adam lifted his roar of rage
toward the heights--a yell that clapped fierce echoes from the cliffs.
Virey heard. He began to clamber faster over the rocks and sheered off
toward the right, where, under the beetling, steep slopes, every rod
was more fraught with peril.

Adam bounded like a huge soft-footed cat over and up the hummocky
spread of the avalanche. Virey’s only avenue of escape lay upward and
to the left. Once Adam cut him off there, he was in a trap.

To the right over the ridge small stones began to show, rolling and
bouncing, then shooting like bullets off the bare slant below. Virey
was out of Adam’s sight now, but evidently still headed in the fatal
direction. Like a mountain sheep, surest-footed of beasts, Adam bounded
from loose rock to sharp corner, across the wide holes, on and upward.

Another low, vast slope spread out and sheered gradually up before
him, breaking its uniformity far to the right, and waving gracefully
to steep slants of loose rock perilous to behold. Adam heard the faint
cracking of stones. He hurried on, working away from the left, until he
was climbing straight toward the splintered, toppling mass of mountain
peak, a mile above him. All now, in every direction, was broken rock,
round, sharp, flat, octagonal, every shape, but mostly round, showing
how in the process of ages the rolling and grinding had worn off the
edges. Here the heat smoked up. When Adam laid a hurried hand on a
stone he did not leave it there long.

At length he again espied Virey, far to the right and half a mile
farther up, climbing like a weary beast on hands and feet. By choice
or by mistake he had gone upward to the most hazardous zone of all
that treacherous, unstable mountain-side. Even now the little dusty
slides rolled from under him. Adam strode on. He made short cuts. He
avoided the looser slides. He zigzagged the steeper places. He would
attend to safe stepping stones for a few rods, then halt to lift his
gaze toward that white-shirted man toiling up like a crippled ape. The
mountain slope, though huge and wide under the glaring sun, seemed to
lose something of its openness. The red battlements and ramparts of
the heights were frowning down upon it, casting a shadow of menace,
if not of shade. The terrible forces of nature became manifest. Here
the thunderbolts boomed and the storms battled, and in past ages the
earthquake and volcanic fire had fretted the once noble peak. It was
ruined. It had disintegrated. Ready to spread its million cracks and
crumble, it lowered gloomily.

Red, sinister, bare, ghastly, this smoky slope under the pitiless sun
was a fitting place for Wansfell to get his hands on Virey--murderer of
a woman. Adam thought of it that way because he remembered how Virey
had been fascinated at the story of Baldy McKue. But mostly Adam’s mind
worked like the cunning instinct of a wolf to circumvent its prey.
Thoughts were but flashes. The red tinge in Adam’s sight did not all
come from the color or the rock. And it was when he halted to look or
rest that he thought at all.

But the time came when he halted for more than that. Placing his hands
around his mouth, he expanded his deep lungs and burst into trumpetlike
yell:

“VIREY!” The fugitive heard, turned from his toiling, slid to a seat on
the precarious slope, and waited. “I’LL BREAK YOUR BONES!”

A wild cry pealed down to ring in Adam’s ears. He had struck terror to
the heart of the murderer. And Adam beat down his savage eagerness, so
as to lengthen the time till Virey’s doom. Not thus did the desert in
Adam speak, but what the desert had made him. Agony, blood, death! They
were almost as old as the rocks. Other animate shapes, in another age,
had met in strife there, under the silent, beetling peak. Life was the
only uttermost precious thing. All else, all suffering, all possession,
was nothing. To kill a man was elemental, as to save him was divine.

Virey’s progress became a haunting and all-satisfying spectacle to
behold, and Adam’s pursuit became studied, calculated, retarded--a
thing as cruel as the poised beak of a vulture.

Virey got halfway up a gray, desolate, weathered slant, immense in
its spread, another fan-shaped, waiting avalanche. The red ragged
heights loomed above; below hung a mountain-side as unstable as water,
restrained, perhaps, by a mere pebble. Here Virey halted. Farther he
could not climb. Like a spent and cornered rat he meant to show fight.

Adam soon reached a point directly below Virey, some hundreds of
yards--a long, hard climb. He paused to catch his breath.

“Bad slope for me if he begins to roll stones!” muttered Adam, grimly.

But neither rolling stones nor avalanches could stop Adam. The end of
this tragedy was fixed. It had been set for all the years of Virey’s
life and back into the past. The very stones cried out. Glaring sun,
smoking heat, shining slope, and the nameless shadow--all were tinged
with a hue inimical to Virey’s life. The lonely, solemn, silent desert
day, at full noontide heat, bespoke the culmination of something
Virey had long ago ordained. Far below, over the lower hills of the
Panamints, yawned Death Valley, ghastly gray through the leaden haze,
an abyss of ashes, iron walled and sun blasted, hateful and horrible as
the portal of hell. High up and beyond, faintly red against an obscure
space of sky, towered the Funerals, grand and desolate.

Adam began to climb the weathered slope, taking a zigzag course.
Sliding stones only slightly retarded his ascent. He stepped too
quickly. Usually when a stone slipped his weight had left it.

Virey set loose a bowlder. It slid, rolled, leaped, fell with a crack,
and then took to hurtling bounds, starting a multitude of smaller
stones. Adam kept keen eye on the bowlder and paid no attention to the
others. Then he stepped aside out of its course. As it whizzed past
him Virey slid another loose upon the slope. Adam climbed even as the
rock bounded down, and a few strides took him to one side. Virey ran
over, directly in line with Adam, and started another huge rock. Thus
by keeping on a zigzag ascent Adam kept climbing most of the time,
and managed to avoid the larger missiles. The smaller ones, however,
could not all be avoided. And their contact was no slight matter. Virey
tugged upon a large rock, deeply embedded, and rolled it down. Huge,
bounding, crashing, it started a rattling slide that would have swept
Adam to destruction had it caught him. But he leaped out of line just
in the nick of time. Virey began to work harder, to set loose smaller
stones and more of them, so that soon he had the slope a perilous
ascent for Adam. They cracked and banged down, and the debris rattled
after them. Adam swerved and leaped and ran. He smelled the brimstone
powder and the granite dust. Fortunately, no cloud of dust collected
to obscure his watchful sight. He climbed on, swiftly when advantage
offered, cautiously when he must take time to leap and dodge. Then
a big rock started a multitude of small ones, and all clattered and
spread. Adam dashed forward and backward. The heavier stones bounced
high, and as many came at one time, he could not watch all. As he
dodged one, another waved the hair of his head, and then another,
striking his shoulder, knocked him down. The instant he lay there,
other stones rolled over him. Adam scrambled up. Even pain could not
change his fierce, cold implacability, but it accelerated his action.
He played no longer with Virey. He yelled again what he meant to do
with his hands, and he spread them aloft, great, clawlike members, the
sight of which inflamed Virey to desperation. Frantically he plowed up
the stones and rolled them, until he had a deluge plunging down the
slope. But it was not written that Adam should be disabled. Narrow
shaves he had, and exceeding risks he took, yet closer and closer he
climbed. Only a hundred yards now separated the men. Adam could plainly
see Virey’s ragged shirt, flying in shreds, his ashen face, his wet
hair matted over his eyes.

Suddenly above the cracks and rattling clash rose a heavy, penetrating
sound. Mighty rasp of a loose body against one of solidity! Startled to
a halt, Adam gazed down at his feet. The rocks seemed to be heaving.
Then a dreadful yell broke sharply. Virey! Adam flashed his gaze upward
in time to see the whole slope move. And that move was accompanied by a
rattling crash, growing louder and more prolonged. Virey stood stricken
by mortal terror in the midst of an avalanche.

Wheeling swiftly, Adam bounded away and down, his giant strides
reaching farther and faster, his quivering body light and supple,
his eye guiding his flying feet to surfaces that were safe. Behind,
beyond, above him the mountain slope roared until sound no longer meant
anything. His ears were useless. The slope under him heaved and waved.
Running for his life, he was at the same time riding an avalanche. The
accelerating motion under him was strange and terrifying. It endowed
him with wings. His feet scarcely touched the stones and in a few
seconds he had bounded off the moving section of slope.

Then he halted to turn and see, irresistibly called to watch Virey
go to what must soon be a just punishment. The avalanche, waving
like swells of the sea, seemed slowing its motion. Thin dust clouds
of powdered rock hung over it. Adam again became aware of sound--a
long-drawn, rattling roar, decreasing, deadening, dying. Suddenly as
the avalanche had started it halted. But it gave forth grating, ominous
warnings. Only an upper layer of the loose rock had slid down, and the
under layer appeared precisely like what the surface had been--rocks
and rocks of all sizes, just as loose, just as ready to roll.

Adam dared to stride back upon that exposed under layer, the better to
see straight down the steep slope. Grim and grisly it shone beneath the
gloomy sun. Perhaps the powdered dust created an obscurity high in the
air, but low down all was clear.

Virey could be plainly seen, embedded to his hips in the loose stones.
Writhing, squirming, wrestling, he sought to free himself from that
grip of granite. In vain! He was caught in a vise of his own making.
Prisoner of the mountain-side that he had used to betray his wife! He
had turned toward Adam, face upward. There seemed a change in him, but
in the racking excitement of that moment Adam could not tell what.

Then that desert instinct, like the bursting of a flood, moved Adam to
the violence of strife, the ruthlessness of nature, the blood-spilling
of men. Madness of hate seized him. The torrid heat of that desert sun
boiled in his blood, the granite of the slope hardened in his heart,
the red veils of smoky shadows colored his sight. Loneliness and
solitude were terrible forces of nature--primitive as the beginnings of
life. For years the contending strife of the desert had been his. For
months desolation, death, decay of Death Valley!

“MY TURN!” he yelled, in voice of thunder, and, bristling haired,
supple, and long armed, with strength and laugh and face of a savage,
he heaved a huge rock.

It rolled, it cracked, it banged, it hurtled high, to crash and smash,
and then, leaping aloft, instinct as if with mockery, it went over
Virey’s head to go on down over the precipice, whence it sent up a
sliding roar. Adam heaved another stone and watched it. Virey grew
motionless as a statue. He could not dance and dodge away from rolling
rocks as Adam had done. How strangely that second rock rolled! Starting
in line with Virey, it swerved to the right, then hit the slope and
swerved back in line, then, hitting again, swerved once more, missing
the miserable victim by a small margin.

“AHA THERE, VIREY!” yelled Adam, waving his hands. “ALL DAY AND ALL
NIGHT I’LL ROLL STONES!”

Virey was mute. He was chained. He was helpless. He could not move
or faint or die. Retribution had overtaken him. The nature of it
was to be the nature of the slow torture and merciless death he had
inflicted upon his wife. As he had chosen the most deadly and lonely
and awful spot on earth to hide her and kill her, so the nature that
he had embraced now chose to turn upon him. There was law here--law of
the unknown forces in life and in the elements. At that very moment
a vulture streaked down from the hazed heights and sailed, a black
shadow of wide-spread wings, across the slope. What had given this
grisly-omened bird sight and scent illimitable?

Adam braced his brawny shoulder under the bulge of a rock weighing
tons. Purple grew his face. His muscles split his shirt. His bones
cracked. But there was a nameless joy in this exercise of his enormous
strength. They were two men--one was weak, the other was strong. And
nature could not abide both. The huge rock grated, groaned, stirred,
moved--and turned over, slowly to roll, to crunch, to pound, and
then to gather speed, growing a thing of power, ponderous, active,
changing, at last to hurtle into the air, to plunge down with
thunderous crash, then to roll straight as a bee line at Virey. But
a few yards in front of him it rose aloft, with something of grace,
airily, and, sailing over Virey’s head, it banged and boomed out of
sight below. Long the echoes clapped, and at last the silence, the
speaking silence of that place, closed on the slope. It awoke again
to Adam’s rolling of a stone and another and another and then two
together. All these rocks rolled differently. They were playthings of
the god of the mountain. The mover of thunderbolts might have been
aiming his colossal missiles at an invisible target. All these rolling
stones seemed to head straight for Virey, but they were at the last
instant deflected by chance. They hit the slope and passed wide or
high. They were in league with the evil spirit that had dominated
Virey. They were instruments of torture. They were of the nature of the
desert. They belonged to Death Valley.

Adam did not soon tire at his gigantic task. The rolling stones
fascinated him. From dead things they leaped to life. How they hurtled
through space! Some shot aloft a hundred feet. Others split, and
rolled, like wheels, down and down, the halves passing on either side
of the doomed Virey. A multitude of rocks Adam turned loose, and then
another multitude. Into the heaving of every one went his intent to
kill. But Virey bore a charmed life.

A time came when Adam rolled his last stone. Like the very first one,
it sped straight for Virey, and just as it appeared about to crush him
it veered to one side. Adam stared grim and aghast. Could he never kill
Virey as Virey had murdered his wife and tried to kill him?

“She--said I’d--never kill--you!” panted Adam, and the doubt in him was
a strange, struggling thing, soon beaten down by his insatiable rage.
Then he took a stride downward, meaning to descend and finish Virey
with his hands.

As he stepped down the avalanche below grated with strange, harsh
sound. It seemed to warn him. Halting, he gazed with clearer eyes. What
was this change in Virey? Adam bent and peered. Had the man’s hair
turned snow white?

Adam made another and a longer stride downward. And that instant the
slope trembled. Virey flung up his arms as if to ward off another
rolling stone. A rending, as of the rock-bound fastness of the slope
yielding its hold--then the avalanche, with Virey in the center, moved
downward, slowly heaving like a swell of weighted waves, and started
to roll with angry roar. It gathered a ponderous momentum. It would
never stop again on that slope. A shining, red-tinged dust cloud
shrouded Virey. And then the avalanche, spilling over the declivity
below, shocked the whole mountain slope and lifted to the heavens a
thick-crashing, rolling roar of thunder. Death Valley engulfed the
hollow echo and boomed thunder across to the battlements of the Funeral
Mountains. And when the last rumble wore away, silence and solitude
reigned there, pervasive and peaceful, as they had in the ages before
man, with his passions, had evolved to vex nature.



CHAPTER XX


Adam’s return to camp was as vague as one of his desert nightmares.
But as thought gained something of ascendency over agitation he became
aware of blood and dust and sweat caked with his clothes upon his
person, proving the effect of his supreme exertions. He had heaved an
endless number of rocks; he had heaved the mountain-side down upon
Virey, all to no avail. A higher power had claimed him. And the spirit
of Magdalene Virey, like her living presence, had inscrutably come
between Adam and revenge.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Adam had packed his burros, twilight in the clefts of the hills
had deepened to purple. He filled his canteens, and started the burros
down toward the gateway. The place behind him was as silent as a grave.
Adam did not look back. He felt the gray obscurity close over the scene.

Down at the gateway he saw that the valley was still light with the
afterglow of sunset. Diagonally and far across the ashen waste he
descried the little dark patch which he knew to be an oasis, where the
waters of Furnace Creek sank into the sands.

The intense heat, the vast stillness, the strange radiation from
the sand, the peculiar gray light of the valley, told Adam that
the midnight furnace winds would blow long before he reached his
destination. But he welcomed any physical ordeal. He saw how a great
strife with the elements, a strain to the uttermost of his strength and
his passion to fight, would save his faith, his hope, perhaps his mind.

So gradual was the change from twilight to darkness that he would
scarcely have noted it but for the dimming of the notched peak. Out
there in the open valley it was not dark. It was really the color of
moonlight on marble. Wan, opaque, mystic, it made distance false. The
mountains seemed far away and the stars close. Like the bottom of the
Dead Sea, drained of its bitter waters, was this Death Valley. Action,
strong and steady use of muscle, always had served to drive subjective
broodings and wonderings and imaginings from Adam’s mind. But not here,
in this sink, at night! He seemed continually and immensely confronted
with the unreality of a fact--a live man alone on the salt dead waste
of Death Valley. Measureless and unbreakable solitude! The waste hole
into which drained the bitter dregs of the desert!

He plodded on, driving the burros ahead of him. Jennie was contrary.
Every few steps she edged off a straight line, and the angle of her
ears and head showed that she was watching her master. She did not want
to cross the valley. Instinct taught her the wisdom of opposition. Many
a burro had saved its master’s life by stubborn refusal to travel the
wrong way. Adam was patient, even kind, but he relentlessly drove her
on in the direction he had chosen.

At length the ashen level plain changed its hue and its surface.
The salt crust became hummocky and a dirty gray. The color caused
false steps on his part, and the burros groped at fault, weary and
discouraged. Adam would mount a slow heave, only to find it a hollow
crust that broke with his weight. Some months before--or was it
years?--when he had crossed the valley, far below this line, the layer
of salt crust had been softer and under it ran murky waters, heavy as
vitriol. Dry now as sun-baked clay! It made travel more difficult,
although less dangerous. Adam broke through once. It reminded him that
Dismukes had said the floor of Death Valley was “Forty feet from hell!”
Not for a long while had he thought of Dismukes, yet this hazardous
direction he was taking now appeared to be the outcome of long-made
plans to meet the old prospector.

Long hours and slow miles passed behind him. When the burros broke
through Adam had a task for all his strength. Once he could not pull
Jennie out of a pitfall without unpacking her. And the time came when
he had the added task of leading the way and dragging the burros with
ropes. Burros did not lead well on good ground, let alone over this
scored and burst salt crust.

The heat and oppressiveness and dense silence increased toward
midnight; and then began a soft and steady movement of air down the
valley. Adam felt a prickling of his skin and a drying of the sweat
upon him. An immense and mournful moan breathed over the wasteland,
like that of a mighty soul in travail. Adam got out of the hummocky
zone upon the dry, crisp, white level of salt, soda, borax, alkali,
where thin, pale sheets of powder moved with the silken rustle of
seeping and shifting sands. Most fortunate was the fact that the
rising wind was at his back. He strode on, again driving the burros
ahead, holding straight for the dim notched peak. The rising wind
changed the silence, the night, the stars, the valley--changed all
in some unearthly manner. It seemed to muster all together, to move
all, to insulate even the loneliness, and clothe them in transforming,
drifting, shrouds of white, formless bodies impelled by nameless
domination. Phantasmagoria of white winds, weird and wild! Midnight
furnace blasts of Death Valley! Nature’s equilibrium--nature’s eternal
and perfect balance of the elements!

Out here in the open, the hollow roar that had swelled and lulled
through the canyons was absent. An incessant moaning, now rising, now
falling, attended the winds on their march down the valley. Other
difference there was here, and it was in the more intense heat. And the
blowing of white shrouds into the opaque gloom, the sweeping of sheets
of powdery dust along the level floor, the thick air that bore taste of
bitter salt and odor of poison gas--these indeed seemed not phenomena
of normal earth. The wind increased to a gale. Then suddenly it lulled
and died, leaving the valley to a pale, silent deadness; and again,
preceded by a mournful wail, it rose harder and fiercer till it was
blowing seventy miles an hour. These winds were the blasts of fury.
They held heated substance. The power behind them was the illimitable
upper air, high as the sky and wide as the desert, relentlessly bearing
down to drive way the day’s torrid heat.

The gales accelerated Adam’s progress, so that sometimes he was almost
running. Often he was thrown to his knees. And when the midnight
storm reached its height the light of the stars failed, the outline
of mountains faded in a white, whirling chaos, dim and moaning and
terrible. Adam felt as if blood and flesh were burning up, drying
out, shriveling and cracking. He lost his direction and clung to the
burros, knowing their instinct to be surer guide than his. There came
a time when pain left him, when sense of physical contacts and motions
began to fade, when his brain seemed to reel. The burros dragged him
on, and lower he swayed; oftener he plunged to his knees, plowing his
big hands in the salt and lowering his face into the flying sheets of
powder. He gasped and coughed and choked, and fought to breathe through
his smothering scarf. And at last, as he fell exhausted, blind and
almost asphyxiated, the hot gales died away. The change of air saved
Adam from unconsciousness. He lay there, gradually recovering, until
he gained feeling enough to know the burros were pulling on the rope
which tied them and him together. They were squealing. They were trying
to drag him, to warn him, to frighten him into the action that would
save his life. Thus goaded, Adam essayed to get upon his feet, and the
effort seemed a vague, interminable lifting of colossal weights, and a
climbing up dragging stairs of sand. But for the burros he would have
plunged in a circle.

Then followed a black and horrible interval in which he seemed hauled
across a pale shingle of naked earth, peopled with specters, a
wandering, lost man, still alive but half dead, leashed to the spirits
of burros he had driven to their death. Uphill, always uphill they
pulled him, with his feet clogged by the clutching sands. A gray dawn
broke, and his entrance into the light resembled climbing out of somber
depths to the open world. Another drab wall of iron rock seemed to loom
over him. The valley of the white shadows of death had been crossed.
A green patch of mesquites and cottonwoods gleamed cool and dark out
of the gray sands. The burros ran, with bobbing packs, straight to
the water they had scented. Staggering on after them, Adam managed
to remove their burdens; and that took the remnant of his strength.
Yielding to a dead darkness of sense, he fell under the trees.

When he came to the day had far advanced and the sun, sloping to the
west, was sinking behind the Panamints. Adam stumbled up, his muscles
numb, as if contracted and robbed of their elasticity. His thirst told
the story of that day’s heat, which had parched him, even while he lay
asleep in the shade. Hunger did not trouble him. Either he was weak
from exertion or had suffered from breathing poisoned air or had lost
something of his equilibrium. Whatever was wrong, it surely behooved
him to get out of the lower part of the valley, up above sea level to a
place where he could regain his strength. To that end he hunted for his
burros. They were close by, and he soon packed them, though with much
less than his usual dexterity. Then he started, following the course of
the running water.

This Furnace Creek ran down out of a deep-mouthed canyon, with yellow
walls of gravel. The water looked like vinegar, and it was hot and
had a bad taste. Yet it would sustain life of man and beast. Adam
followed the lines of mesquites that marked its course up the gradually
ascending floor of the canyon. He soon felt a loosening of the weight
upon his lungs, and lessening of air pressure. Twilight caught him a
couple of miles up the canyon, where a wide, long thicket of weeds and
grass and mesquites marked the turning of Furnace Creek into the drab
hills, and where springs and little streams trickled down from the
_arroyos_.

Up one of these _arroyos_, in the midst of some gnarled mesquites, Adam
made camp. Darkness soon set in, and he ate by the light of a camp
fire. After he had partaken of food he discovered that he was hungry.
Also, his eyelids drooped heavily. Despite these healthy reactions and
a deeper interest in his surroundings, Adam knew he was not entirely
well. He endeavored to sit up awhile, and tried to think. There were
intervals when a deadlock occurred between thoughts. The old pleasure,
the old watchful listening, the old intimate sense of loneliness, had
gone from him. His mind did not seem to be on physical things at hand,
or on the present moment. And when he actually discovered that all the
time he looked down toward Death Valley he exclaimed, aghast: “I’m not
here; I’m down there!”

Gloomy and depressed, he rolled in his blankets. And he slept twelve
hours. Next day he felt better in body, but no different in mind.
He set to work making a comfortable camp in spite of the fact that
he did not seem to want to stay there. Hard work and plenty of food
improved his condition. His strength of limb soon rallied to rest and
nourishment. But the strange state of mind persisted, and began to
encroach upon every moment. It took effort of will to attend to any
action. Dismukes must be in this locality somewhere, according to the
little map, but, though Adam remembered this, and reflected how it
accounted for his own presence there, he could not dwell seriously upon
the fact. Dismukes seemed relegated to the vague future. There was an
impondering present imperative something that haunted Adam, yet eluded
his grasp. At night he walked under the stars and could not shake off
the spell; and next day, when in an idle hour he found himself walking
again and again down the gravel-bedded canyon toward Death Valley, then
he divined that what he had attributed to absent-mindedness was a far
more serious aberration.

The discovery brought about a shock that quickened his mental
processes. What ailed him? He was well and strong again. What was
wrong with his mind? Where had gone the old dreaming content, the
self-sufficient communion with all visible forms of nature, and
the half-conscious affinity with all the invisible spirit of the
wilderness? How strangely he had been warped out of his orbit!
Something nameless and dreadful and calling had come between him and
his consciousness. Why did he face the west, at dawn, in the solemn
white-hot noon, at the red sunset hour, and in the silent lonely
watches of the night? Why did not the stars of the east lure his dreamy
gaze as those in the west? He made the astounding discovery that
there were moments, and moments increasing in number, when he did not
feel alone. Some one walked in his shadow at noontide. At twilight a
spirit seemed in keeping with his wandering westward steps. The world
and natural objects and old habits seemed far off. He found himself
whispering vagrant fancies, the substance of which, once realized, was
baffling and disheartening. And at last he divined that a longing to
return to Death Valley consumed him.

“Ah! So that’s it!” he muttered, in consternation. “But why?”

It came to Adam then--the secret of the mystery. Death Valley called
him. All that it was, all that it contained, all he had lived there,
sent out insidious and enchanting voices of terrible silent power.
The long shadow of that valley of purple shadows still enveloped him.
Death, desolation, and decay; the appalling nudity of the racked bowels
of the earth; the abode of solitude and silence, where shrieked the
furies of the midnight winds; the grave of Magdalene Virey--these
haunted Adam and lured him back with resistless and insupportable claim.

“Death Valley again--for me. I shall go mad,” soliloquized Adam.

At last his mind was slowly being unhinged by the forces of the desert.
Some places of the earth were too strong, too inhuman, too old, and too
wasted for any man. Adam realized his peril, and that the worst of
his case consisted in an indifference which he did not want to combat.
Unless something happened--a great, intervening, destructive agent to
counteract the all-enfolding, trancelike spell of Death Valley--Adam
would return to the valley of avalanches and there he would go mad.

And the very instant he resigned himself, a cry pierced his dull ear.
Sharply he sat up. The hour was near the middle of the forenoon. The
day was hot and still. Adam’s pulses slowly quieted down. He had been
mistaken. The water babbled by his camp, bees flew over with droning
hum. Then as he relaxed he was again startled by a cry, faint and far
off. It appeared to come from up the canyon, round the low yellow
corner of wall. He listened intently, but the sound was not repeated.
Was not the desert full of silent voices? About this cry there was a
tangible reality that stirred Adam out of his dreams, his glooms.

Adam went on, and climbed up the gravel bank on the left side, to a
bare slope, and from that to the top of a ridge. His sluggish blood
quickened. The old exploring instinct awoke. He had heard a distant
cry. What next? There was something in the air.

Then Adam gazed around him to a distance. Adam shuddered and thrilled
at the beetling, rugged, broken walls that marked the gateway where so
often he had stood with Magdalene Virey to watch the transformations of
shadowed dawn and sunset in Death Valley.

He descended to a level, and strode on, looking everywhere, halting now
and then to listen, every moment gaining some hold on his old self. He
went on and on, slow and sure, missing not a rod of ground, as if the
very stones might speak to him. He welcomed his growing intensity of
sensation, because it meant that he had either received a premonition
or had reverted to his old self, or perhaps both.

Adam plodded along this wide gravel wash, with the high bronze
saw-toothed peaks of the Funerals on the left, and some yellow-clay
dunes showing their tips over the bank on the right. At length he came
to a place that suggested a possible sloping of these colored clay
dunes down into a basin or canyon. Climbing up the bank, he took a
few steps across the narrow top, there to be halted as if he had been
struck.

He had been confronted by a tremendous amphitheater, a yellow gulf, a
labyrinthine maze so astounding that he discredited his sight.

Before him and on each side the earth was as bare as the bareness of
rock--a mystic region of steps and slopes and slants, of channels and
dunes and mounds, of cone-shaped and fan-shaped ridges, all of denuded
crinkly clay with tiny tracery of erosion as graceful as the veins of
a leaf, all merging their marvelous hues in a mosaic of golden amber,
of cream yellow, of mauve, of bronze cinnamon. How bleak and ghastly,
yet how beautiful in their stark purity of denudation! Endless was the
number of smooth, scalloped, and ribbed surfaces, all curving with
exquisite line and grace down into the dry channels under the dunes. At
the base of the lower circle of the amphitheater the golds and yellows
and russets were strongest, but along the wide wings moving away toward
the abyss below were more vividly wonderful hues--a dark, beautiful
mouse color on the left contrasting with a strange pearly cream on
the other. These were striking bands of color sweeping the eye away
as far as they extended, and jealously drawing it back again. Between
these great corners of the curve climbed ridges of gray and heliotrope
to meet streaks of green--the mineral green of copper, like the color
of the sea in sunlight--and snowy traceries of white that were narrow
veins of outcropping borax. High up above the rim of the amphitheater,
along the battlements of the mountain, stood out a zigzag belt of rusty
red, from which the iron stain had run downward to tinge the lower
hues. Above all this wondrous coloration upheaved the bare breast of
the mountain, growing darker with earthy browns until the bold ramparts
of the peak, gray like rock, gleamed pale against the leaden-blue
sky. Low down through the opening of the amphitheater gleamed a void,
a distant bottom of the bowl, dim and purple and ghastly, with shining
white streaks like silver streams--and this was Death Valley.

And then Adam, with breast oppressed by feelings too deep for
utterance, retracted his far-seeing gaze, once more to look over the
whole amazing spectacle, from the crinkly buff clay under his feet to
the dim white bottom of the valley. And at this keen instant he again
heard a cry. Human it was, or else he had lost his mind, and all which
he saw here was disordered imagination.

Turning back, he ran in the direction whence he believed the sound had
come, passing by some rods the point where he had climbed out of the
wash. And at the apex of the great curve, toward which tended all the
multitude of wrinkles of the denuded slopes, he found a trail coming up
out of the amphitheater and leading down into the wash. The dust bore
unmistakable signs of fresh moccasin tracks, of hobnailed boots, and of
traces where water had been spilled. The boot impressions led down and
the moccasin tracks up; and, as these latter were the fresher, Adam,
after a pause of astonishment and a keen glance all around, began to
follow them.

The trail led across the wash and turned west toward where the walls
commenced to take on the dignity of a canyon. Bunches of sage and
greasewood began to dot the sand, and beyond showed the thickets of
mesquite. Some prospector was packing water from the creek up the
canyon and down into that amphitheater. Suddenly Adam thought of
Dismukes. He examined the next hobnailed boot track he descried in the
dust with minute care. The foot that had made it did not belong to
Dismukes. Adam hurried on.

He came upon a spot where the man he was trailing--surely an
Indian--had fallen in the sand. A dark splotch, sticky and wet, had
never been made by spilled water. Adam recognized blood when he touched
it, but if he had not known it by the feel, he surely would have by
the smell. Probably at that instant Adam became fully himself again. He
was on the track of events, he sensed some human being in trouble; and
the encroaching spell of Death Valley lost its power.

The trail led into the mesquites, to a wet glade rank with sedge and
dank with the damp odor of soapy water.

A few more hurried strides brought Adam upon the body of an Indian,
lying face down at the edge of the trickling little stream. His black
matted hair was bloody. A ragged, torn, and stained shirt bore further
evidence of violence. Adam turned him over, seeing at a glance that he
had been terribly beaten about the head with a blunt instrument. He was
gasping. Swiftly Adam scooped up water in his hat. He had heard that
kind of a gasp before. Lifting the Indian’s head, Adam poured water
into the open mouth. Then he bathed the blood-stained face.

The Indian was of the tribe that had packed supplies for the Vireys. He
was apparently fatally hurt. It was evident that he wanted to speak.
And from the incoherent mixture of language which these Indians used in
conversation with white men Adam gathered significant details of gold,
of robbers, of something being driven round and round, grinding stone
like maize.

“_Arrastra!_” queried Adam.

The Indian nodded and made a weak motion of his hand toward the trail
that led to the yellow wilderness of clay, and then further gestures,
which, with a few more gutturally whispered words, gave Adam the
impression that a man of huge bulk, wide of shoulder, was working the
old Spanish treadmill--_arrastra_--grinding for gold. Then the Indian
uttered, with a last flash of spirit, the warning he could not speak,
and, falling back, he gasped and faded into unconsciousness.

Adam stood up, thinking hard, muttering aloud some of his thoughts.

“_Arrastra!_... That was the way of Dismukes--to grind for gold....
He’s here--somewhere--down in that yellow hole.... Robbers have jumped
his claim--probably are holding him--torturing him to tell of hidden
gold ... and they beat this poor Indian to death.”

There was necessity for quick thought and quick action. The Indian was
not dead, but he soon would be. Adam could do nothing for him. It was
imperative to decide whether to wait here for the return of the water
carrier or at once follow the trail to the yellow clay slopes. Adam
wore a gun, but it held only two unused shells, and there was no more
ammunition in his pack. The Indian had no weapon. Perhaps the water
carrier would be armed. If Dismukes were dead, there need be no rash
hurry to avenge him; if he lived as prisoner a little time more or less
would not greatly matter. Adam speedily decided to wait a reasonable
time for the man who packed water, and, if he came, to kill him and
then hurry up the trail. There was, in this way, less danger of being
discovered, and, besides, one of the robbers dispatched would render
the band just so much weaker. Adam especially favored this course
because of the possibility of getting a weapon.

“And more,” muttered Adam, “if he happens to be a tall man I can
pretend to be him--packing water back.”

Therefore Adam screened himself behind a thick clump of mesquite near
the trail and waited in ambush like a panther ready to spring.

As he crouched there, keen eyes up the canyon, ears like those of a
listening deer, there flashed into Adam’s mind one of Magdalene Virey’s
unforgetable remarks. “The power of the desert over me lies somewhere
in my strange faculty of forgetting self. I watch, I hear, I feel, I
smell, but I don’t think. Just a gleam--a fleeting moment--then the
state of consciousness or lack of consciousness is gone! But in that
moment lies the secret lure of the desert. Its power over men!”

Swiftly as it had come the memory passed, and Adam became for fleeting
moments at a time the embodiment of Magdalene Virey’s philosophy,
all unconscious when thought was absent from feeling. The hour was
approaching midday and the wind began to rustle the mesquites and
seep the sand. Adam smelled a dry dust somewhat tangy, and tasted the
bitterness of it as he licked his lips. Flies had began to buzz around
the dead Indian. Instinctively Adam gazed aloft, and, yes, there far
above him circled a vulture, and above that another, sweeping down from
the invisible depths of blue, magically ringing a flight around the
heavens, with never a movement of wings. They sailed round and round,
always down. Where did they come from? What power poised them so surely
in the air?

Adam waited. All at once his whole body vibrated with the leap of
his heart. A tall, hulking man hove in sight, balancing a bar across
his shoulders, from each end of which hung a large bucket. These
buckets swung to and fro with the fellow’s steps. Like a lazy man, he
advanced leisurely. Adam saw a little puff of smoke lift from the red,
indistinct patch that was this water carrier’s face. He had cigarette
or pipe. As he approached nearer and nearer, Adam received steadily
growing and changing impressions of the man he was about to kill, until
they fixed in the image of a long, loosely jointed body, a soiled shirt
open at the neck, bare brown arms, and cruel red face. Just outside the
mesquites, the robber halted to peer at the spot where the Indian had
fallen, and then ahead as if he expected to see a body lying in the
trail.

“Ho! Ho! if thet durned Injin I beat didn’t crawl way down hyar! An’
his brains oozin’ out!” he ejaculated hoarsely, as he strode between
the scratching mesquites, swinging the crossbar and buckets sidewise.
“Takes a hell of a lot to kill some critters!”

Like a released spring Adam shot up. His big hands flashed to cut off a
startled yell.

“Not so much!” he called, grimly, and next instant his giant frame
strung to the expenditure of mighty effort.

       *       *       *       *       *

At noon the wind was blowing a gusty gale and the sun shone a deep,
weird, magenta color through the pall of yellow dust. The sky was not
visible. Down on the ridges and in the washes dust sheets were whipped
up at intervals. Clouds of flying sand rustled through the air, and
sometimes the wind had force enough to carry grains of gravel. These
intermittent blasts resembled the midnight furnace winds, except for
the strange fact that they were not so hot, so withering. Every few
minutes the canyon would be obscured in sweeping, curling streaks and
sheets of dust. Then, as the gale roared away, the dust settled and the
air again cleared. But high up, the dull, yellow pall hung, apparently
motionless, with that weird sun, like a red-orange moon seen through
haze, growing darker.

The fury of the elements seemed to favor Adam. Heat and gale and
obscurity could tend only to relax the vigilance of men. Adam counted
upon surprising the gang. To his regret, he had found no weapon on
the robber he had overcome. Wearing the man’s slouch sombrero pulled
down, and carrying the water buckets suspended from the bar across his
shoulders, Adam believed that in the thick of the duststorm he might
approach near the gang, perhaps get right among them.

When he got to the top of the amphitheater and found it a weird and
terrible abyss of flying yellow shadows and full of shriek of wind
and moan and roar, he decided he would go down as far as might seem
advisable, then try to slip up on the robbers, wherever they were, and
get a look at them and their surroundings before rushing to the attack.

Down, and yet farther, Adam plodded, amazed at the depth of the pit,
the bottom of which he had not seen. The plainly defined trail led him
on, and in one place huge boot tracks, familiar to him, acted as a
spur. The tracks were not many days old and had been made by Dismukes.
Adam now expected to find his old friend dead or in some terrible
situation. The place, the day, the heat, the wind--all presaged terror,
violence, gold, and blood. No human beings would endure this nude and
ghastly and burning hell hole of flying dust for anything except gold.

At last Adam got so far down, so deep into the yellow depths, that pall
and roar of duststorm appeared above him. He walked in a strange yellow
twilight. And here the sun showed a darker magenta. Fine siftings of
dust floated and fell all around him, dry, choking, and, when they
touched his face, like invisible sparks of fire.

Interminably the yellow-walled wash wound this way and that, widening
out to the dimensions of a canyon. At length Adam smelled smoke. He was
close to a camp of some kind. Depositing the buckets in the trail, he
sheered off and went up an intersecting wash.

When out of sight of the trail, he climbed up a soft clay slope and,
lying flat at the top, he peeped over. More yellow ridges like the ribs
of a washboard! They seemed to run out on all sides, in a circling
maze, soft and curved and colorful, and shaded by what seemed unnatural
shadows. But they were almost level. Here indeed was the pit of the
amphitheater. With slow, desert-trained gaze Adam swept the graceful
dunes. All bare! The twilight of changing yellow shadow hindered sure
sight at considerable distance, and the sweeping rush of wind above,
and then a low hollow roar, made listening useless.

At length Adam noticed how all the clay ridges or ends of slopes to
his right ran about a hundred yards and then sheered down abruptly.
Here, then, was the main canyon through which the trail ran. The line
of it, a vague break in the yellow color, turned toward Adam’s left.
Adam deliberated a moment. Would he go on or return to the trail? Then
he rose, crossed the top of the clay ridge, plunged down its soft bank,
leaped the sandy and gravelly wash at the bottom, and started up the
next ridge. This was exactly like the one he had surmounted. Adam kept
on, down and up, down and up, until the yellow twilight in front of
him appeared separated by a lazy column of blue. Adam’s nostrils made
sure of that. It was smoke. Cautiously crawling now, down and up, Adam
gained the ridge from behind which rose the smoke. Here he crouched
against the soft clay, breathing hard from his exertions, listening and
peering.

The ridges about him began to show streaks of brown earth and ledges
of rock. As he looked about he was startled by a rumbling, grating
sound. It was continuous, but it had louder rumbles, almost bumps. The
sound was rock grating on rock. Adam thought he knew what made it.
With all his might he listened, pressing his ear down on the clay. The
rumble kept on, but Adam could not hear any other sound until there
came a lull in the wind above. Then he heard a squeaking creak--a
sound of wood moved tight against wood; then sharp cracks, but of soft
substances; then the ring of a shovel on stone; and at last harsh
voices.

So far, so good, thought Adam. Only a few yards of clay separated him
from mining operations, and he must see how many men were there and
what was the lay of the land, and how best he could proceed. The old
animal instinct to rush animated him, requiring severe control. While
waiting for the wind to begin again, Adam wondered if he was to see
Dismukes. He did not expect to.

The elements seemed to await Adam’s wishes. At that very moment the
yellow light shaded a little dimmer and the sinister-hued sun cloaked
its ruddy face. The gale above howled, and the circling winds, lower
down, gathered up sheets of dust and swept them across the shrouded
amphitheater. And a wave of intenser heat moved down into the pit.

Adam sank his fingers into the soft clay and crawled up this last
slope. The rattle of loosened clay and gravel rolling down was
swallowed up in the roar of wind. Reaching the last foot of ascent,
Adam cautiously peeped over. He saw a wider space, a sort of round
pocket between two yellow ridges, that ran out and widened from a
ledge of crumbling rock. He crawled a few inches farther, raised
himself a little higher. Then he saw brush roofs of structures,
evidently erected for shade. The rumble began again. Higher Adam raised
himself. Then he espied a coat hanging on a corner post of one of the
structures. Dismukes’ coat! Adam could have picked it out of a thousand
coats. Excitement now began to encroach upon his cool patience and
determination. The gale seemed howling with rage at the truth here,
still hidden from Adam’s eyes. Higher he raised himself.

The brush-covered structure farther from him was a sun shelter, and
under it lay piles of camp duffle. A camp fire smoked. Adam’s swift
eyes caught the gleam of guns. The day was too torrid for these campers
to pack guns. The nearer structure was large, octagonal shape, built of
mesquite posts and brush. From under it came the rumble of rocks and
the metallic clink of shovels, and then the creak and crack and the
heavy voice.

Still higher Adam pulled himself so that he might see under the brush
shelter. A wide rent in the roof--a huge brown flash across this
space--then lower down a movement of men to and fro--rumble of rocks,
clink of shovel, thud of earth, creak and crack--a red undershirt--blue
jeans--boots, and then passing, bending men nude to the waist--circle
and sweep of long dark streak--then again the huge brown flash; it all
bewildered Adam, so that one of his usually distinguishing glances
failed to convey clear meaning of this scene. Then he looked and
looked, and when he had looked a long, breathless moment he fell flat
on the soft clay, digging his big hands deep, trembling and straining
with the might of his passion to rush like a mad bull down upon the
ruffians. It took another moment, that battling restraint. Then he
raised to look with clearer, more calculating gaze.

The brush roof was a shelter for an _arrastra_. The octagonal shape
of this sun shade filled the pocket that nestled between the slopes.
Its back stood close to the ledge of crumbling rock from which the
gold-bearing ore was being extracted. Its front faced the open gully.
Under it an _arrastra_ was in operation. As many of these Spanish
devices as Adam had seen, no one of them had ever resembled this.

In the center of the octagon a round pit had been dug into the ground,
and lined and floored with flat stones. An upright beam was set in the
middle of this, and was fastened above to the roof. Crossbeams were
attached to the upright, and from these crossbeams dragged huge rocks
held by chains. A long pole, like the tongue of a wagon, extended from
the upright and reached far out, at a height of about four feet from
the ground. The principle of operation was to revolve the crossbeams
and upright post, dragging the heavy rocks around and around the pit,
thus crushing the ore. Adam knew that mercury was then used to absorb
the gold from the crevices.

The motive power sometimes was a horse, and usually it was a mule.
But in this instance the motive power was furnished by a man. A huge,
broad, squat man naked to the waist! He was bound to the end of the
long bar or tongue, and as he pushed it round and round his body was
bent almost double. What wonderful brawny arms on which the muscles
rippled and strung like ropes! The breast of this giant was covered
with grizzled hair. Like a tired ox he bowed his huge head, wagging it
from side to side. As he heaved around he exposed his broad back--the
huge brown flash that had mystified Adam--and this mighty muscled back
showed streaks and spots of blood.

A gaunt man, rawboned and dark, with a face like a ghoul, stood just
outside the circle described by the long bar. He held a mesquite branch
with forked and thorny end, which he used as a goad. Whenever the
hairy, half-naked giant passed around this gaunt man would swing the
whip. It cracked on the brown back--spattered the drops of blood.

There were three other men shoveling, carrying, and dumping ore into
the pit. One was slight of build and hard of face. A red-undershirted
fellow looked tough and wiry, of middle age, a seasoned desert rat,
villainous as a reptile. The third man had a small, closely cropped
head like a bullet, and a jaw that stood out beyond his brow, a hard
visage smeared with sweat and dust. His big, naked shoulders proclaimed
him young.

And the grizzled giant, whom the others were goading and working to
death there in the terrible heat, was Adam’s old savior and friend,
Dismukes.

Cautiously Adam backed and slid down the clay slope, and hurried up and
down another. When he had crossed several he turned to the left and ran
down to the trail, and followed along that until he reached the spot
where he had left the buckets of water.

There he drank deeply, and tried to restrain his hurry. But he was not
tired or out of breath. And his mind seemed at a deadlock. A weapon, a
shovel, a sledge to crush their skulls! To keep between them and their
guns! Thus Adam’s thoughts had riveted themselves on a few actions.
There was, on the surface of his body, a cold, hard, tingling stretch
of skin over rippling muscles; and deep internally, the mysterious and
manifold life of blood and nerve and bone awoke and flamed under the
instinct of the ages. Adam’s body then belonged to the past and to what
the desert had made it.

Swinging the crossbar over his shoulders and lifting the buckets,
he took the trail down toward the camp! He bowed his head and his
shoulders more than the weight of the buckets made necessary. The
perverse gale blew more fiercely than ever, and the hollow roar
resounded louder, and the yellow gloom of dust descended closer, and
a weird, dim light streamed through the pall, down upon the moving
shadows. All was somber, naked, earthy in this thickening, lowering
pall. Odor of smoke and dust! A fiercely burning heat that had the
weight of hotly pressing lead! Bellow and shriek and moan of gale
that died away! It was the portal to an inferno, and Adam was a man
descended in age-long successions from simian beasts, and he strode in
the image of God, with love his motive, rage his passion, and the wild
years of the desert at his back, driving him on.

He rounded the last corner. There was the camp, fifty yards away. He
now could almost straddle the only avenue of escape.

The wind lulled. A yellow shadow drifted away from the sun, and again
it shone with sinister magenta hue. All the air seemed to wait, as if
the appalling forces of nature, aghast at the strange lives of men, had
halted to watch.

“Thar’s Bill with the water!” yelled the red-shirted man.

Work and action ceased. The giant Dismukes looked, then heaved erect
with head poised like that of a hawk.

“Aw, Bill, you son-of-a-gun!” called another robber, in welcome. “We
damn near died, waitin’ fer thet water!”

“Ho! Ho!... Bill, ye musta run ag’in’ another Injun.”

Adam walked on, shortening himself a little more, quickening his
stride. When he reached and passed the shelter under which lay packs
and coats and guns he suddenly quivered, as if released from dragging
restraint.

The robber of slight frame and hard face had walked out from under the
shelter. He alone had been silent. He had peered keenly, bending a
little.

“Hey, is thet you, Bill?” he queried, with hard voice which suited his
face.

The gaunt robber cracked his whip. “Fellars, air we locoed by this hyar
dust? Damn the deceivin’ light!... Too big fer Bill--er I’m blind with
heat!”

“_It ain’t Bill!_” screeched the little man, and he bounded toward
where lay the guns.

Adam dropped the buckets. Down they thudded with a splash. Two of his
great leaps intercepted the little man, who veered aside, dodged, and
then tried to run by. Adam, with a lunge and a swing, hit him squarely
on the side of the head. The blow rang soddenly. Its tremendous power
propelled the man off his feet, turning him sidewise as he went through
the air, and carried him with terrific force against one of the shelter
posts, round which his limp body seemed to wrap itself. Crash! the
post gave way, letting the roof sag. Then the smitten man rolled to
lodge against a pack, and lay inert.

Whirling swiftly, Adam drew his gun, and paused a second, ready to rush.

The robbers stood stock-still.

“My Gawd!” hoarsely yelled the red-shirted one. “Who’s thet?... Did you
see him soak Robbins?”

Dismukes let out a stentorian roar of joy, of hate, of triumph. Like a
chained elephant he plunged to escape. Failing that, he surged down to
yell: “Aha, you bloody claim jumpers! Now you’re done! It’s Wansfell!”

“_Wansfell!_” flashed the gaunt-faced villain, and that gaunt face
turned ashen. “Grab a shovel! Run fer a gun!”

Then the red-shirted robber swung aloft his shovel and rushed at Adam,
bawling fierce curses. Adam shot him through. The man seemed blocked,
as if by heavy impact, then, more fiercely, he rushed again. Adam’s
second and last shot, fired at point-blank, staggered him. But the
shovel descended on Adam’s head, a hard blow, fortunately from the
flat side. Clubbing his gun, Adam beat down the man, who went falling
with his shovel under the shelter. Both of the other men charged Adam
and the three met at the opening. They leaped so swiftly upon him and
were so heavy bodied that they bore him to the ground. Adam’s grim
intention was to hang on to both of them so neither could run to get a
weapon. To that end he locked a hold on each. Then began a whirling,
wrestling, thudding battle. To make sure of them Adam had handicapped
himself. He could not swing his malletlike fists and he had not been
fortunate enough to grip their throats. So, rolling over and over with
them, he took the rain of blows, swinging them back, heaving his weight
upon them. Foot by foot he won his way farther and farther from where
the guns lay. If one yelling robber surged half erect, Adam swung the
other to trip him. And once inside the wide doorway of that octagon
structure, Adam rose with the struggling men, an iron hand clutching
each, and, swinging them wide apart, by giant effort he brought them
back into solid and staggering impact. He had hoped to bring their
heads together. But only their bodies collided and the force of the
collision broke Adam’s hold on one. The young man of hulking frame
went down, right on the shovel, and, quick to grasp it, he bounded up,
fierce and strong. But as he swung aloft the weapon, Adam let go of
the gaunt-faced man and hit him, knocking him against the other. They
staggered back, almost falling.

Swift on that advantage, Adam swung a fist to the bulging jaw of the
man with the shovel. As if struck by a catapult, he went down over the
wooden beam and the shovel flew far. Then Adam blocked the doorway.
The other fellow charged him, only to be knocked back. As he reeled,
his comrade, panting loud, straddled the long beam. Just then Dismukes
with quick wits heaved forward on the beam, to which he was bound, and
the claim jumper went sprawling in the dirt. Dismukes celebrated his
entrance into the fray with another stentorian yell.

Adam awoke now to a different and more intense sense of the fight. He
had his antagonists cornered. They could never get by him to secure a
gun. And the fierce zest of violent strife, the ruthless law of the
desert, the survival of the strongest, the blood lust, would have made
him refuse any weapon save his hands. He stood on his feet and his
hands were enough. Like a wolf he snapped his teeth, then locked his
jaw. As he swung and battled and threw these foes backward a strange,
wild joy accelerated his actions. When he struck, the sodden blow felt
good. He avoided no return blows. He breasted them. The smell of sweat
and blood, the heat of panting breaths in his face, the feel of hot,
rippling muscle, all tended to make him the fiercer. His sight stayed
keen, though tinged with red. He saw the beady, evil eyes of the big
robber, like hot green fire, and the bruised and bleeding face with its
snarling mouth; and as he saw, he struck out hard with savage thrill.
He saw the gaunt and sallow visage of the other, bloody mouthed, with
malignant gaze of frenzied hate, of glinting intent to kill, and as he
saw he beat him down.

Then into his pulsing senses burst a terrible yell from Dismukes. The
gaunt-faced man had fallen into the pit of the _arrastra_, and Dismukes
had suddenly started ahead, shoving the beam over him. The big rocks
dragging by chains from the crossbeam began to pound around on the ore.
Jar and rumble! Then a piercing scream issued from the man who had been
caught under the rocks, who was being dragged around the _arrastra_.

Adam saw, even as he knocked back another rush of the other man.

“GRINDIN’ GOLD, WANSFELL!” roared Dismukes. “MORE ORE, PARD!... WE’RE
GRINDIN’ GOLD!”

The huge prospector bent to his task. Supreme was his tremendous
effort. Strength of ten men! Blood gushed from the cuts on his brawny
back. Faster he shoved until he was running. And as he came around, the
ferocity of his bristling face and the swelling of the great chest with
its mats of hair seemed to prove him half man, half beast, a gorilla in
a death grapple.

Again the big robber lunged up, to lower his head and charge at Adam.
He was past yelling. He did not seek to escape. He would have given his
life to kill.

“MORE ORE, PARD WANSFELL!” yelled Dismukes, as with whistling breath
he shoved round the terrible mill of rumbling rocks. A horrible,
long-drawn cry issued from under them.

Then the sweep of the long beam caught the man who was charging Adam.
Down to his knees it forced him, and, catching under his chin, was
dragging him, when the upright post gave way with a crash. The released
beam, under the tremendous momentum of Dismukes’ massive weight and
strength, seemed to flash across the half circle, lifting and carrying
the man. A low wall of rock caught his body, and the beam, swinging
free from its fastening, cracked his head as if it had been a ripe
melon.



CHAPTER XXI


Sunset of that momentous and tragic day found Adam and Dismukes camped
beyond the mouth of a wide pass that bisected the Funeral range.

It was a dry camp, but water from a pure spring some miles down had
been packed out. Greasewood grew abundantly on the wide flat, and there
were bunches of dry gray sage.

Adam felt well-nigh exhausted, and he would have been gloomy and silent
but for his comrade. Dismukes might never have been harnessed to the
beam of an _arrastra_ and driven like a mule, and his awful treadmill
toil in the terrible heat under the lacerating lash was as if it had
never been. Dismukes was elated, he was exultant, he was strangely
young again.

Always, to Adam, this giant prospector, Dismukes, had been beyond
understanding. But now he was enigmatic. He transcended his old self.
In the excitement following his rescue he had not mentioned the fact
that Adam had saved his life. Adam thought greatly of this squaring
of his old debt. But Dismukes seemed not to consider it. He never
mentioned that but for Adam’s intervention he would have been goaded
like a mule, kicked and flayed and driven in the stifling heat, until
he fell down to die. All Dismukes thought of was the gold he had mined,
the gold the claim jumpers had mined--the bags of heavy gold that were
his, and the possession of which ended forever his life-long toil for
a fortune. A hundred times that afternoon, as the men had packed and
climbed out of the valley, Dismukes had tried to force upon Adam a half
of the gold, a quarter of it, a share. But Adam refused.

“Why, for Lord’s sake?” Dismukes at last exploded, his great ox eyes
rolling. “It’s gold. Most of it I mined before those devils came. It’s
clean an’ honest. You deserve a share. An’ the half of it will more
than make up the sum I’ve slaved an’ saved to get. Why, man--why won’t
you take it?”

“Well, friend, I guess the only reason I’ve got is that it’s too heavy
to pack,” replied Adam. He smiled as he spoke, but the fact was he had
no other reason for refusal.

Dismukes stared with wide eyes and open mouth. Adam, apparently, was
beyond his comprehension just the same as Dismukes was beyond Adam’s.
Finally he swore his astonishment, grunted his disapproval, and then,
resigning himself to Adam’s strange apathy, he straightway glowed again.

Adam, despite his amusement and something of sadness, could not
help but respond in a measure to the intense rapture of his friend.
Dismukes’ great work had ended. His long quest for the Golden Fleece
had been rewarded. His thirty-five years of wandering and enduring
and toiling were over, and life had suddenly loomed beautiful and
enchanting. The dream of boyhood had come true. The fortune had been
made. And now to look forward to ease, rest, travel, joy--all that he
had slaved for. Marvelous past--magnificent prospect of future!

Adam listened kindly, and went slowly, with tired limbs, about the
camp tasks; and now he gazed at Dismukes, and again had an eye for his
surroundings. Often he gazed up at the exceedingly high, blunt break
in the Funeral range. What cataclysm of nature had made that rent? It
was a zigzagged saw-toothed wall, with strata slanted at an angle of
forty-five degrees. Zigzag veins of black and red bronze ran through
the vast drab mass.

The long purple shadows that Adam loved had begun to fall. Several
huge bats with white heads darted in irregular flight over the camp.
Adam’s hands, and his jaw, too, were swollen and painful as a result
of the fight, and he served himself and ate with difficulty. And as
for speech, he had little chance for that. Dismukes’ words flowed like
a desert flood. The man was bewitched. He would consume moments in
eloquent description of what he was going to do, then suddenly switch
to an irrelevant subject.

“Once, years ago, I was lost on the desert,” he said, reminiscently.
“First an’ only time I ever got lost for sure. Got out of grub. Began
to starve. Was goin’ to kill an’ eat my burro, when he up an’ run off.
Finally got out of water. That’s the last straw, you know.... I walked
all day an’ all night an’ all day, only to find myself more lost than
ever. I thought I had been travelin’ toward the west to some place I’d
heard of water an’ a ranch. Then I made sure I’d gone the wrong way.
Staggerin’ an’ fallin’ an’ crawlin’ till near daylight, at last I gave
up an’ stretched out to die. Me! I gave up--was glad to die.... I can
remember the look of the pale stars--the gray mornin’ light--the awful
silence an’ loneliness. Yes, I wanted to die quick.... An’ all at once
I heard a rooster crow!”

“Well! You’d lain down to die near a ranch. That was funny,” declared
Adam. Life did play queer pranks on men.

“Funny! Say, pard Wansfell, there’s nothin’ funny about death. An’
as for life, I never dreamed how glorious it is, until I heard that
rooster crow. I’ll buy a farm of green an’ grassy an’ shady land
somewhere in the East--land with runnin’ water everywhere--an’ I’ll
raise a thousand roosters just to hear them crow.”

“Thought you meant to travel,” said Adam.

“Sure. But I’ll settle down sometime, I suppose,” replied Dismukes,
reflectively.

“Friend, will you marry?” inquired Adam, gravely. How intensely
interesting was this man about to go out into the world!

“Marry!--What?” ejaculated the prospector.

“A woman, of course.”

“My God!” rolled out Dismukes. The thought had startled him. His great
ox eyes reflected changes of amazing thought, shadows of old emotions
long submerged. “That’s somethin’ I never _did_ think of. Me marry a
woman!... No woman would ever have me.”

“Dismukes, you’re not so old. And you’ll be rich. When you wear off the
desert roughness you can find a wife. The world is full of good women
who need husbands.”

“Wansfell, you ain’t serious?” queried Dismukes, puzzled and stirred.
He ran a broad hand through his shock of grizzled hair. His eyes were
beautiful then. “I never had wife or sweetheart.... No girl ever looked
at me--when I was a boy. An’ these years on the desert, women have been
scarce, an’ not one was ever anythin’ to me.”

“Well, when you get among a lot of pretty girls, just squeeze one for
me,” said Adam, with the smile that was sad.

Plain it was how Adam’s attempt at pleasantry, despite its
undercurrent, had opened up a vista of bewildering and entrancing
prospects for Dismukes. This prospector had grown grizzled on the
desert; his long years had been years of loneliness; and now the
forgotten dreams and desires of youth thronged thick and sweet in his
imagination. Adam left him to that engrossing fancy, hoping it would
keep him content and silent for a while.

A golden flare brightened over the Panamint range, silhouetting the
long, tapering lines of the peaks. Far to the west, when the sun had
set, floated gray and silver-edged clouds, and under them a whorl of
rosy, dusky, ruddy haze. All the slopes below were beginning to be
enshrouded in purple, and even while Adam watched they grew cold and
dark. The heat veils were still rising, but they were from the ridges
of dark-brown and pale-gray earth far this side of the mountains. Death
Valley was hidden, and for that Adam was glad. The winds had ceased,
the clouds of dust had long settled. It was a bold and desolate scene,
of wide scope and tremendous dimensions, a big country. The afterglow
of sunset transformed the clouds. Then the golden flare faded fast, the
clouds paled, the purple gloom deepened. Vast black ridges of mountains
stood out like ragged islands in a desolate sea.

“Wansfell,” spoke up Dismukes, “you need your hair cut.”

“Maybe. But I’m glad it was long to-day when I got hit with the shovel.”

“You sure did come near gettin’ it cut then,” replied Dismukes, with a
hard laugh. “I’ll tell you what your long hair reminds me of. Years ago
I met a big fellow on the desert. Six feet three he was, an’ ’most as
big as you. An’ a darn good pard on the trail. Well, he wore his hair
very long. It hid his ears. An’ in the hottest weather he never let me
cut it. Well, the funny part all came out one day. Not so funny for
him, to think of it!... We met men on the trail. They shot him an’ were
nigh on to doin’ for me.... My big pardner was a horse thief. He’d had
his ears cut off for stealin’ horses. An’ so he wore his hair long like
yours to hide the fact he had no ears.”

“Friend Dismukes, _I_ have ears, if my long hair is worrying you,”
replied Adam. “And if I had not had mighty keen ears you’d still be
grinding gold for your claim jumpers.”

At dusk, while the big bats darted overhead with soft swishing of
wings, and the camp fire burned down to red and glowing embers,
Dismukes talked and talked. And always he returned to the subject of
gold and of his future.

“Pard, I wish you were goin’ with me,” he said, and the slow, sweeping
gesture of the great horny hand had something of sublimity. He waved
it away toward the east, and it signified the far places across the
desert. “I’m rich. The years of lonely hell an’ never-endin’ toil are
over. No more sour dough! No more thirst an’ heat an’ dust! No more
hoardin’ of gold! The time has come for me to spend. I’ll bank my
gold an’ draw my checks. At Frisco I’ll boil the alkali out of my
carcass, an’, shaved an’ clipped an’ dressed, I’ll take again the name
of my youth an’ fare forth for adventure. I’ll pay for the years of
hard grub. I’ll eat the best an’ drink wine--wine--the sweetest an’
oldest of wine! Wine in thin glasses.... I’ll wear silk next my skin
an’ sleep on feathers. I’ll travel like a prince. I can see the big
niggers roll their eyes. ‘Yas, sah, yas sah, the best for you, sah!’
An’ I’ll tip them in gold.... I’ll go to my old home. Some of my people
will be livin’. An’ when they see me they’ll see their ship come in.
They’ll be rich. I’ll not forget the friends of my youth. That little
village will have a church or a park as my gift. I’ll travel. I’ll see
the sights an’ the cities. New York! Ha! if I like that place, I’ll
buy it! I’ll see all there is to see, buy all there is to buy. I’ll
be merry, I’ll be joyful. I’ll live. I’ll make up for all the lost
years. But I’ll never forget the poor an’ the miserable. I can spend
an’ give a hundred dollars a day for the rest of my life. I’ll cross
the ocean. London! I’ve met Englishmen in the Southwest. Queer, cold
sort of men! I’ll see how they live. I’ll go all over England. Then
Paris! Never was I drunk, but I’ll get drunk in Paris. I want to see
the wonderful hotels an’ shops an’ theaters. I’ll look at the beautiful
French actresses. I’ll go to hear the prima donnas sing. I’ll throw
gold double-eagles on the stage. An’ I’ll take a fly at Monte Carlo.
An’ travel on an’ on. To Rome, that great city where the thrones of the
emperors still stand. I’ll go spend a long hour high up in the ruins
of the Coliseum. An’ dreamin’ of the days of the Cæsars--seein’ the
gladiators in the arena--I’ll think of you, Wansfell. For there never
lived on the old earth a greater fighter than you!... Egypt, the land
of sun an’ sand! I’ll see the grand Sahara. An’ I’ll travel on an’
on, all over the world. When I’ve seen it I’ll come back to my native
land. An’ then, that green farm, with wooded hills an’ runnin’ streams!
It must be near a city. Horses I’ll have an’ a man to drive, an’ a
house of comfort.... Mebbe there’ll come a woman into my life. Mebbe
children! The thought you planted in me, pard, somehow makes me yearn.
After all, every man should have a son. I see that now. What blunders
we make! But I’m rich, I’m not so old, I’ll drink life to the very
lees.... I see the lights, I hear the voices of laughter an’ music, I
feel the comfortin’ walls of a home. A roof over my head! An’ a bed as
soft as downy feathers!... Mebbe, O my pard, mebbe the sweet smile of a
woman--the touch of a lovin’ hand--the good-night kiss of a child!...
My God! how the thoughts of life can burn an’ thrill!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty miles a day, resting several hours through the fierce noon heat,
the travelers made down across the Mohave Desert. To them, who had
conquered the terrible elements and desolation of Death Valley, this
waste of the Mohave presented comparatively little to contend with.
Still, hardened and daring as they were, they did not incur unnecessary
risks.

The time was September, at the end of a fierce, dry summer. Cloudless
sky, fervid and quivering air, burning downward rays of sun and rising
veils of reflected heat from sand and rock--these were not to be
trifled with. Dismukes’ little thermometer registered one hundred and
thirty degrees in the shade; that is, whenever there was any shade to
rest in. They did not burden themselves with the worry of knowing the
degrees of heat while they were on the march.

Water holes well known to Dismukes, though out of the beaten track,
were found to be dry; and so the travelers had to go out of a direct
line to replenish their supply. Under that burning sun even Dismukes
and Adam suffered terribly after several hours without water. A
very fine penetrating alkali dust irritated throat and nostrils and
augmented the pain of thirst. Once they went a whole day without
water, and at sundown reached a well kept by a man who made a living
by selling water to prospectors and freighters and drivers of borax
wagons. His prices were exorbitant. On this occasion, surlily surveying
the parched travelers and the thirsty burros, he said his well was
almost dry and he would not sell any water. Dismukes had told Adam that
the well-owner bore him a grudge. They expostulated and pleaded with
him to no avail. Adam went to the well and, lifting a trap-door, he
peered down, to see quite a goodly supply of water. Then he returned to
the little shack where the bushy-whiskered hoarder of precious water
sat on a box with a rifle across his knees. Adam always appeared mild
and serene, except when he was angry, at which time a man would have
had to be blind not to see his mood. The well-owner probably expected
Adam to plead again. But he reckoned falsely. Adam jerked the rifle
from him and with a single movement of his hands he broke off the
stock. Then he laid those big, hard hands on the man, who seemed to
shrink under them.

“Friend, you’ve plenty of water. It’s a live well. You can spare enough
to save us. We’ll double your pay. Come.”

Adam loosened his right hand and doubled up the enormous malletlike
fist and swung it back. The well-owner suddenly changed his front and
became animated, and the travelers got all the water they needed. But
they did not annoy him further by pitching camp near his place.

This country was crisscrossed by trails, and, arid desert though it
was, every few miles showed an abandoned mine, or a prospector working
a claim, or a shack containing a desert dweller. Adam and Dismukes were
approaching the highway that bisected the Mohave Desert. It grew to be
more of a sandy country, and anywhere in sand, water was always scarce.
Another of Dismukes’ water holes was dry. It had not been visited for
months. The one wanderer who had stopped there lay there half buried
in the sand, a shrunken mummy of a man, with a dark and horrible
mockery in the eyeless sockets of his skull. His skin was drawn like
light-brown parchment over his face. Adam looked, and then again, and
gave a sudden start. He turned the sun-dried visage more to the light.
He recognized that face, set in its iron mask of death, with its grin
that would grin forever until the brown skull went to dust.

“Regan!” he exclaimed.

“You know him?” queried Dismukes.

“Yes. He was an Irishman I knew years ago. A talky, cheerful fellow.
Hard drinker. He loved the desert, but drink kept him in the mining
camps. The last time I saw him was at Tecopah, after you left.”

“Poor devil! He died of thirst. I know that cast of face.... Let’s give
him decent burial.”

“Yes. Poor Regan! He was the man who named me Wansfell. Why he called
me that I never knew--never will know.”

Deep in the sand they buried the remains of Regan and erected a rude
cross to mark his lonely grave.

Dismukes led Adam off the well-beaten trail one day, up a narrow sandy
wash to a closed pocket that smelled old and musty. Here a green spring
bubbled from under a bank of sand. Water clear as crystal, slightly
green in tinge, sparkled and murmured. A whitish sediment bordered the
tiny stream of running water.

“Arsenic!” exclaimed Adam.

“Yes. An’ here’s where I found a whole caravan of people dead. It was
six years ago. Place hasn’t changed much. Guess it’s filled up a little
with blowin’ sand.... Aha! Look here!”

Dismukes put the toe of his boot against a round white object
protruding from the sand. It was a bleached skull.

“Men mad with desert thirst never stop to read,” replied Adam, sadly.

In silence Adam and Dismukes gazed down at the glistening white skull.
Ghastly as it was, it yet had beauty. Once it had been full of thought,
of emotion; and now it was tenanted by desert sand.

Adam and Dismukes spent half a day at that arsenic spring, under the
burning sun, suffering the thirst they dared not slake there, and they
erected a rude cross that would stand for many and many a day. Deep in
the crosspiece Adam cut the words: “DEATH! ARSENIC SPRING! DON’T DRINK!
GOOD WATER FIVE MILES. FOLLOW DRY STREAM BED.”

Dismukes appeared to get deep satisfaction and even happiness out of
this accomplished task. It was a monument to the end of his desert
experience. Good will toward his fellow men!

       *       *       *       *       *

At last the day came when Adam watched Dismukes drive his burros out on
the lonely trail, striding along with his rolling gait, a huge, short,
broad-backed man, like a misshapen giant. What a stride he had! The
thousands of desert miles it had mastered had not yet taken its force
and spring. It was the stride of one who imagined he left nothing of
life behind and saw its most calling adventures to the fore. He had
tired of the desert. He had used it. He had glutted it of the riches
he craved. And now he was heading down the trail toward the glittering
haunts of men and the green pastures. Adam watched him with grief and
yet with gladness, and still with something of awe. Dismukes’ going
forever was incomprehensible. Adam felt what he could not analyze. The
rolling voice of Dismukes, sonorous and splendid, still rang in Adam’s
ears: “Pard, we’re square!... Good-by!” Adam understood now why a
noble Indian, unspoiled by white men, reverenced a debt which involved
life. The paying of that debt was all of unity and brotherhood there
existed in the world. If it was great to feel gratitude for the saving
of his life, it was far greater to remember he had saved the life of
his savior. Adam, deeply agitated, watched Dismukes stride down the
barren trail, behind his bobbing burros, watched him stride on into the
lonely, glaring desert, so solemn and limitless and mysterious, until
he vanished in the gray monotony.



CHAPTER XXII


When the following March came, Adam had been a week plodding southward
over the yucca plateaus of the Mohave.

The desert had changed its face. Left behind were the rare
calico-veined ranges of mountains, the royal-purple porphyries, the
wonderful white granites, the green-blue coppers, the yellow sulphurs,
and the ruddy red irons. This desert had color, but not so vivid, not
so striking. And it had become more hospitable to the survival of plant
life. The sandy floor was no longer monotonously gray.

Adam loved the grotesque yucca trees. They were really trees that
afforded shade and firewood, and they brought back no bittersweet
memories like the _palo verdes_. The yuccas were fresh and green,
renewed in the spring from the dusty gray sunburnt trees they had been
in the autumn. Many of them bore great cone-shaped buds about to open,
and on others had blossomed large white flowers with streaks of pink.
A yucca forest presented a strange sight. These desert trees were
deformed, weird, bristling, shaggy trunked, with grotesque shapes like
specters in torture.

Adam traveled leisurely, although a nameless and invisible hand seemed
to beckon him from the beyond. His wandering steps were again guided,
and something awaited him far down toward the Rio Colorado. He was
completing a vast circle of the desert, and he could not resist that
call, that wandering quest down toward the place which had given the
color and direction to his life. But the way must be long, and as there
were the thorns and rocks for his feet, so must there be bruises to his
spirit.

At night on the moon-blanched desert, under the weird, spectral-armed
yuccas, Adam had revelation of the clearness of teaching that was to
become his. The years had been preparing him. When would come his
supreme trial? What would it be? And there came a whisper out of the
lonely darkness, on the cool night wind, that some day he would go back
to find the grave of his brother and to meet the punishment that was
his due. Then all that was physical, all that was fierce, enduring,
natural, thrust the thought from him. But though the savage desert life
in him burned strong and resistless, yet he began to hear a new, a
different, a higher voice of conscience. He imagined he stifled it with
fiercely repudiating gestures, but all the wonderful strength of his
brawny hands, magnified a thousand times, could not thrust a thought
from him.

Toward sunset one day Adam was down on the level desert floor, plodding
along a sandy trail around the western wall of San Jacinto. The first
_bisnagi_ cacti he saw seemed to greet him as old friends. They were
small, only a foot or so high, and sparsely scattered over the long
rocky slope that led to the base of the mountain wall. The tops of
these cacti were as pink as wild roses. Adam was sweeping his gaze
along to see how far they grew out on the desert when he discovered
that his burro Jennie had espied moving objects.

Coming toward Adam, still a goodly distance off, were two men and two
burros, one of which appeared to have a rider. Presently they appeared
to see Adam, for they halted, burros and all, for a moment. It struck
Adam that when they started on again they sheered a little off a
straight following of the trail. Whereupon Adam, too, sheered a little
off, so as to pass near them. When they got fairly close he saw two
rough-looking men, one driving a packed burro, and the other leading
a burro upon which was a ragged slip of a girl. The sunlight caught a
brown flash of her face. When nearly abreast, Adam hailed them.

“Howdy, stranger!” they replied, halting. “Come from inside?”

“No. I’m down from the Mohave,” replied Adam. “How’s the water? Reckon
you came by the cottonwoods?”

“Nope. There ain’t none there,” replied one of the men, shortly.
“Plenty an’ fine water down the trail.”

“Thanks. Where you headed for?”

“Riverside. My gal hyar is sick an’ pinin’ fer home.”

Adam had been aware of the rather sharp scrutiny of these travelers and
that they had exchanged whispers. Such procedures were natural on the
desert, only in this case they struck Adam as peculiar. Then he shifted
his gaze to the girl on the burro. He could not see her face, as it
was bowed. Apparently she was weeping. She made a coarse, drab little
figure. But her hair shone in the light of the setting sun--rather
short and curly, a rich dark brown with glints of gold.

Adam replied to the curt good-by of the men, and after another glance
at them, as they went on, he faced ahead to his own course. Then he
heard low sharp words, “_Shet up!_” Wheeling, he was in time to see one
of these men roughly shake the girl, and speak further words too low
for Adam to distinguish. Adam’s natural conclusion was that the father
had impatiently admonished the child for crying. Something made Adam
hesitate and wonder; and presently, as he proceeded on his way, the
same subtle something turned him round to watch the receding figures.
Again he caught a gleam of sunlight from that girl’s glossy head.

“Humph! Somehow I don’t like the looks of those fellows,” muttered
Adam. He was annoyed with himself, first for being so inquisitive,
and secondly for not having gone over to take a closer look at them.
Shaking his head, dissatisfied with himself, Adam trudged on.

“They said no water at the cottonwoods,” went on Adam. “No water when
the peak is still white with snow. Either they lied or didn’t know.”

Adam turned again to gaze after the little party. He had nothing
tangible upon which to hang suspicions. He went on, then wheeled about
once more, realizing that the farther on he traveled the stronger
grew his desire to look back. Suddenly the feeling cleared of its
vagueness--no longer curiosity. It had been his thoughts that had
inhibited him.

“I’ll go back,” said Adam. Tying his burros to greasewood bushes near
the trail, he started to stride back over the ground he had covered.
After a while he caught a glimmer of firelight through the darkness.
They had made dry camp hardly five miles beyond the place where Adam
had passed them.

It developed that these travelers had gone off the trail to camp in a
wide, deep wash. Adam lost sight of the camp-fire glimmer, and had to
hunt round until he came to the edge of the wash. A good-sized fire of
greasewood and sage had been started, so that it would burn down to hot
embers for cooking purposes. As Adam stalked out of the gloom into the
camp he saw both men busy with preparations for the meal. The girl sat
in a disconsolate attitude. She espied Adam before either of the men
heard him. Adam saw her quiver and start erect. Not fright, indeed, was
it that animated her. Suddenly one of the men rose, with his hand going
to his hip.

“Who goes thar?” he demanded, warningly.

Adam halted inside the circle of light. “Say, I lost my coat. Must have
fallen off my pack. Did you fellows find it?”

“No, we didn’t find no coat,” replied the man, slowly. He straightened
up, with his hand dropping to his side. The other fellow was on his
knees mixing dough in a pan.

Adam advanced with natural manner, but his eyes, hidden under the
shadow of his wide hat brim, took swift stock of that camp.

“Pshaw! I was sure hoping you’d found it,” he said, as he reached the
fire. “I had a time locating your camp. Funny you’d come way off the
trail, down in here.”

“Funny or not, stranger, it’s our bizness,” gruffly replied the man
standing. He peered keenly at Adam.

“Sure,” replied Adam, with slow and apparent good nature. He was close
to the man now, as close as he ever needed to get to any man who might
make a threatening move. And he looked past him at the girl. She had
a pale little face, too small for a pair of wonderful dark eyes that
seemed full of woe and terror. She held out thin brown hands to Adam.

“Reckon you’d better go an’ hunt fer yer coat,” returned the man,
significantly.

In one stride Adam loomed over him, his leisurely, casual manner
suddenly transformed to an attitude of menace. He stood fully a foot
and a half over this stockily built man, who also suddenly underwent a
change. He stiffened. Warily he peered up, just a second behind Adam
in decision. His mind worked too slowly to get the advantage in this
situation.

“Say, I’m curious about this girl you’ve got with you,” said Adam,
deliberately.

The man gave a start. “Aw, you are, hey?” he rasped out. “Wal, see
hyar, stranger, curious fellars sometimes die sudden, with their boots
on.”

Adam’s force gathered for swift action. Keeping a sharp gaze riveted
on this man, he addressed the girl: “Little girl, what’s wrong? Are
you----”

“Shet up! If you blab out I’ll slit your tongue,” yelled the fellow,
whirling fiercely. No father ever spoke that way to his child. And no
child ever showed such terror of her father.

“Girl, don’t be afraid. Speak!” called Adam, in a voice that rang.

“Oh, save me--save me!” she cried, wildly.

Then the man, hissing like a snake, was reaching for his gun when
Adam struck him. He fell clear across the fire and, rolling over some
packs, lay still. The other one, cursing, started to crawl, to reach
with flour-whitened hand for a gun lying in a belt upon the sand. Adam
kicked the gun away and pounced upon the man. Fiercely he yelled and
struggled. Adam bore him down, burrowing his face in the sand. Then
placing a ponderous knee on the back of the man’s neck, he knelt there,
holding him down.

“Girl, throw me that piece of rope,” said Adam, pointing.

She shakily got up, her bare feet sinking in the sand, and, picking up
the rope, she threw it to Adam. In short order he bound the man’s arms
behind his back.

“Now, little girl, you can tell me what’s wrong,” said Adam, rising.

“Oh, they took me away--from mother!” she whispered.

“Your mother? Where?”

“She’s at the cottonwoods. We live there.”

Adam could not see her plainly. The fire had burned down. He threw on
more greasewood and some sage, that flared up with sparkling smoke.
Then he drew the girl to the light. What a thin arm she had! And in the
small face and staring eyes he read more than the fear that seemed now
losing its intensity. Starvation! No man so quick as Adam to see that!

“You live there? Then he lied about the water?” asked Adam.

“Oh yes--he lied.”

“Who are these men?”

“I don’t know. They camped at the water. I--I was out--gathering
firewood. One of them--the one you hit--grabbed me--carried me off. He
put his hand--on my mouth. Then the other man came--with the burros....
My mother’s sick. She didn’t know what happened. She’ll be terribly
frightened.... Oh, please take me--home!”

“Indeed I will,” replied Adam, heartily. “Don’t worry any more. Come
now. Walk right behind me.”

Adam led the way out of camp without another glance at the two men, one
of whom was groaning. The girl kept close at Adam’s heels. Away from
the circle of camp-fire glow, he could see the gray aisles of clean
sand between the clumps of greasewood, and he wound in and out between
these until he found the trail. Suddenly he remembered the girl had no
shoes.

“You’ll stick your feet full of cactus,” he said. “You should have on
your shoes.”

“I have no shoes,” she replied. “But cactus doesn’t hurt me--except the
_cholla_. Do you know _cholla_? Even the Indians think _cholla_ bad.”

“Guess I do, little girl. Let me carry you.”

“I can walk.”

So they set off on the starlit trail, and here she walked beside him.
Adam noted that she was taller than he would have taken her to be,
her small head coming up to his elbow. She had the free stride of an
Indian. He gazed out across the level gray and drab desert. Whatever
way he directed his wandering steps over this land of waste, he was
always gravitating toward new adventure. For him the lonely reaches and
rock-ribbed canyons were sure to harbor, sooner or later, some humanity
that drew him like a magnet. Everywhere the desert had its evil, its
suffering, its youth and age. The heat of Adam’s anger subsided with
the thought that somehow he had let the ruffians off easily; and the
presence of this girl, a mere child, apparently, for all her height,
brought home to him the mystery, the sorrow, the marvel of life on the
desert. A sick woman with a child living in the lonely shadow of San
Jacinto! Adam felt in this girl’s presence, as he had seen starvation
in her face, a cruelty of life, of fate. But how infinitely grateful he
felt for the random wandering steps which had led him down that trail!

All at once a slim, rough little hand slipped into his. Instinctively
Adam closed his own great hand over it. That touch gave him such a
thrill as he had never before felt in all his life. It seemed to link
his strength and this child’s trust. The rough little fingers and
calloused little palm might have belonged to a hard-laboring boy,
but the touch was feminine. Adam, desert trained by years that had
dominated even the habits ingrained in his youth, and answering mostly
to instinct, received here an unintelligible shock that stirred to the
touch of a trusting hand, but was nothing physical. His body, his mind,
his soul seemed but an exhaustive instrument of creation over which the
desert played masterfully.

“It was lucky you happened along,” said the girl.

“Yes,” replied Adam, as if startled.

“They were bad men. And, oh, I was so glad to see them--at first. It’s
so lonely. No one ever comes except the Indians--and they come to
_beg_ things to eat--never to _give_. I thought those white men were
prospectors and would give me a little flour or coffee--or something
mother would like. We’ve had so little to eat.”

“That so? Well, I have a full pack,” replied Adam. “Plenty of flour,
coffee, sugar, bacon, canned milk, dried fruit.”

“And you’ll give us some?” she asked, eagerly, in a whisper.

“All you need.”

“Oh, you’re good--good as those men were bad!” she exclaimed, with a
throb of joy. “Mother has just starved herself for me. You see, the
Indian who packed supplies to us hasn’t come for long. Nobody has
come--except those bad men. And our food gave out little by little.
Mother starved herself for me.... Oh, I couldn’t make her eat. She’d
say she didn’t want what I’d cook. Then I’d have to eat it.”

“Isn’t your mother able to get about?” asked Adam, turning to peer down
into the dark little face.

“Oh no! She’s dying of consumption,” was the low, sad reply.

“And your father?” asked Adam, a little huskily.

“He died two years ago. I guess it’s two, for the peak has been white
twice.”

“Died?--here in the desert?”

“Yes. We buried him by the running water where he loved to sit.”

“Tell me--how did your parents and you come to be here.”

“They both had consumption long before I was born,” replied the girl.
“Father had it--but mother didn’t--when they were married. That was
back in Iowa. Mother caught it from him. And they both were going to
die. They had tried every way to get well, but the doctors said they
couldn’t.... So father and mother started West in a prairie schooner.
I was born in it, somewhere in Kansas. They tried place after place,
trying to find a climate that would cure them. I remember as far back
as Arizona. But father never improved till we got to this valley. Here
he was getting strong again. Then my uncle came and he found gold
over in the mountains. That made father mad to get rich--to have gold
for me. He worked too hard--and then he died. Mother has been slowly
failing ever since.”

“It’s a sad story, little girl,” replied Adam. “The desert is full of
sad stories.... But your uncle--what became of him?”

“He went off prospecting for gold. But he came back several times. And
the last was just before father died. Then he said he would come back
again for me some day and take me out of the desert. Mother lives on
that hope. But I don’t want him to come. All I pray for is that she
gets well. I would never leave her.”

“So you’ve lived all your life on the desert?”

“Yes. Mother says I never slept under a real roof.”

“And how old are you?”

“Nearly fourteen.”

“So old as that? Well! I thought you were younger. And, little
girl--may I ask how you learned to talk so--as if you had been to
school?”

“My mother was a school-teacher. She taught me.”

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Eugenie Linwood. But I don’t like Eugenie. Father and mother
always called me Genie.... What’s your name?”

“Mine is Wansfell.”

“You’re the biggest man I ever saw. I thought the Yuma Indians were
giants, but you’re bigger. My poor father was not big or strong.”

Presently Adam saw the dark-gray forms of his burros along the trail.
Jennie appeared to be more contrary than usual, and kicked spitefully
at Adam as he untied her. And as Adam drove her ahead with the other
burro she often lagged to take a nip at the sage. During the several
miles farther down the trail Adam was hard put to it to keep her
going steadily. The girl began to tire, a circumstance which Adam
had expected. She refused to be assisted, or to be put on one of
the burros. The trail began to circle round the black bulge of the
mountain, finally running into the shadow, where objects were hard to
see. The murmur of flowing water soon reached Adam’s ears--most welcome
and beautiful sound to desert man. And then big cottonwoods loomed up,
and beyond them the gleam of starlight on stately palm trees. Adam,
peering low down through the shadows, distinguished a thatch-roofed hut.

“We’ll not tell mother about the bad men,” whispered the girl. “It’ll
only scare her.”

“All right, Genie,” said Adam, and he permitted himself to be led to a
door of the hut. Dark as pitch was it inside.

“Mother, are you awake?” called Genie.

“Oh, child, where have you been?” rejoined a voice, faint and weak,
with a note of relief. “I woke up in the dark.... I called. You didn’t
come.”

Then followed a cough that had a shuddering significance for Adam.

“Mother, I’m sorry. I--I met a man on the trail. A Mr. Wansfell. We
talked. And he came with me. He has a new pack of good things to eat.
And, oh, mother! he’s--he’s different from those men who were here;
he’ll help us.”

“Madam, I’ll be happy to do anything I can for you and your little
girl,” said Adam, in his deep, kindly tones.

“Sir, your voice startled me,” replied the woman, with a gasp. “But
it’s a voice I trust. The looks of men in this hard country deceive me
sometimes--but never their voices.... Sir, if you will help us in our
extremity, you will have the gratitude of a dying woman--of a mother.”

The darkness was intense inside the hut, and Adam, leaning at the
door, could see nothing. The girl touched his arm timidly, almost
appealingly, as Adam hesitated over his reply.

“You can--trust me,” he said, presently. “My name is Wansfell. I’m just
a desert wanderer. If I may--I’ll stay here--look after your little
girl till her uncle comes.”

“At last--God has answered my--prayer!” exclaimed the woman, pantingly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam unpacked his burros a half dozen rods from the hut, under a
spreading cottonwood and near the juncture of two little streams of
water that flowed down out of the gloom, one on each side of the great
corner of mountain. And Adam’s big hands made short shift of camp well
made, with upright poles and thatch, covered by a thatched roof of palm
leaves. The girl came out and watched him, and Adam had never seen
hungrier eyes even in an Indian.

“It’d be fun to watch you--you’re so quick--if I wasn’t starved,” said
Genie.

What a slender, almost flat slip of a girl. Her dress was in tatters,
showing bare brown flesh in places. The pinched little face further
stirred Adam’s pity. And there waved over him a strange pride in his
immense strength, his wonderful hands, his desert knowledge that now
could be put to the greatest good ever offered him in his wanderings.

“Genie, when you’re starved you must eat very slowly--and only a
little.”

“I know. I’ve known all about people starving and thirsting. But I’m
not that badly off. I’ve had a _little_ to eat.”

“Honest Injun?” he queried.

She had never heard that expression, so he changed it to another of
like meaning.

“I wouldn’t lie,” she replied, with direct simplicity that indeed
reminded Adam of an Indian.

Never had Adam prepared so good a camp dinner in such short time.
And then, hungry as Genie was, she insisted that her mother should
be served first. She took a lighted candle Adam gave her and led the
way into the hut, while he followed, carrying food and drink that he
believed best for a woman so weak and starved. The hut had two rooms,
the first being a kitchen with stone floor and well furnished with camp
utensils. The second room contained two rude cots made of poles and
palm leaves, upon one of which Adam saw a pale shadow of a woman whose
eyes verified the tragic words she had spoken.

Despite the way Adam stooped as he entered, his lofty head brushed the
palm-leafed roof. Genie laughed when he bumped against a crossbeam.

“Mother, he’s the tallest man!” exclaimed the girl. “He could never
live in our hut.... Now sit up, mother dear.... Doesn’t it all smell
good. Oooooo! The Indian fairy has come.”

“Genie, will you hold the candle so I can see the face of this kind
man?” asked the woman, when she had been propped up in bed.

The girl complied, with another little laugh. Adam had not before been
subjected to a scrutiny like the one he bore then. It seemed to come
from beyond this place and time.

“Sir, you are a man such as I have never seen,” she said, at length.

Plain it was to Adam that the sincerity, or whatever she saw in him,
meant more to her than the precious food of which she stood in such
dire need. Her hair was straggly and gray, her brow lined by pain and
care, her burning eyes were sunk deep in dark hollows, and the rest of
her features seemed mere pale shadows.

“I’m glad for your confidence,” he said. “But never mind me. Try to eat
some now.”

“Mother, there’s plenty,” added Genie, with soft eagerness. “You can’t
fib to me about _this_. Oh, smell that soup! And there’s rice--clean
white rice with sugar and milk!”

“Child, if there’s plenty, go and eat.... Thank you, sir, I can help
myself.”

Adam followed Genie out, and presently the look of her, as she sat on
the sand, in ravenous bewilderment of what to eat first, brought back
poignantly to him the starvation days of his earlier experience. How
blessed to appreciate food! Indeed, Genie would have made a little
glutton of herself had not Adam wisely obviated that danger for her.

Later, when she and her mother were asleep, he strolled under the
cottonwoods along the murmuring stream where the bright stars shone
reflected in the dark water. The place had the fragrance of spring,
of fresh snow water, of green growths and blossoming flowers. Frogs
were trilling from the gloom, a sweet, melodious music seldom heard by
Adam. A faint, soft night breeze rustled in the palm leaves. The ragged
mountain-side rose precipitously, a slanted mass of huge rocks, their
shining surfaces alternating with the dark blank spaces. Above spread
the sky, a wonderful deep blue, velvety, intense, from which blazed
magnificent white stars, and countless trains and groups of smaller
stars.

Rest and thought came to him then. Destiny had dealt him many parts
to play on the desert. So many violent, harsh, and bitter tasks! But
this was to be different. Not upon evil days had he fallen! Nor had
his wandering steps here taken hold of hell! The fragrance under the
shadow of this looming mountain was the fragrance of an oasis. And in
that silent shadow slept a child who would soon be an orphan. Adam
had his chance to live awhile in one of the desert’s fruitful and
blossoming spots. Only a desert man could appreciate the rest, the
ease, the joy, the contrast of that opportunity. He could befriend
an unfortunate child. But as refreshing and splendid as were these
things, they were as naught compared to the blessing that would be
breathed upon his head by a dying mother. Adam, lifting up his face
to the starlight, felt that all his intense and passionate soul could
only faintly divine what the agony of that mother had been, what now
would be her relief. She knew. Her prayer had been answered. And
Adam pondered and pondered over the meaning of her prayer and the
significance of his wandering steps. He seemed to feel the low beat
of a mighty heart, the encompassing embrace of a mighty and invisible
spirit.



CHAPTER XXIII


Daylight showed to Adam the cottonwood oasis as he had it pictured in
memory, except for the palm-thatched hut.

He was hard at camp duties when Genie came out. The sun was rising,
silver and ruddy and gold, and it shone upon her, played around her
glossy head as she knelt on the grass beside the running water. While
she bathed there, splashing diamond drops of water in the sunshine,
she seemed all brightness and youth. But in the merciless light of day
her face was too small, too thin, too pinched to have any comeliness.
Her shining hair caught all the beauty of the morning. In one light
it was auburn and in another a dark brown, and in any light it had
glints and gleams of gold. It waved and curled rebelliously, a rich,
thick, rippling mass falling to her shoulders. When, presently, she
came over to Adam, to greet him and offer to help, then he had his
first look at her eyes by day. Gazing into them, Adam hardly saw the
small, unattractive, starved face. Like her hair, her eyes shone dark
brown, and the lighter gleams were amber. The expression was of a
straightforward soul, unconscious of unutterable sadness, gazing out at
incomprehensible life, that should have been beautiful for her, but was
not.

“Good morning, Genie,” said Adam, cheerily. “Of course you can help me.
There’s heaps of work. And when you help me with that I’ll play with
you.”

“Play!” she murmured, dreamily. She had never had a playmate.

Thus began the business of the day for Adam. When breakfast was over
and done with he set to work to improve that camp, and especially with
an eye to the comfort of the invalid. Adam knew the wonderful curative
qualities of desert air, if it was wholly trusted and lived in. On
the shady side of the hut he erected a wide porch with palm-thatched
roof that cut off the glare of the sky. With his own canvases, and
others he found at the camp, he put up curtains that could be rolled
up or let down as occasion required. Then he constructed two beds, one
at each end of the porch, and instead of palm leaves he used thick
layers of fragrant sage and greasewood. Mrs. Linwood, with the aid of
Genie, managed to get out to her new quarters. Her pleasure at the
change showed in her wan face. The porch was shady, cool, fragrant. She
could look right out upon the clean, brown, beautiful streams where
they met, and at the camp fire where Adam and Genie would be engaged,
and at night she could see it blaze and glow, and burn down red. The
low-branching cottonwoods were full of humming birds and singing birds,
and always the innumerable bees. The clean white sand, the mesquites
bursting into green, the nodding flowers in the grassy nooks under the
great iron-rusted stones, the rugged, upheaved slope of mountain, and
to the east an open vista between the trees where the desert stretched
away gray and speckled and monotonous, down to the dim mountains over
which the sun would rise; these could not but be pleasant and helpful.
Love of life could not be separated from such things.

“Mrs. Linwood, sleeping outdoors is the most wonderful experience,”
said Adam, earnestly. “You feel the night wind. The darkness folds
around you. You look up through the leaves to the dark-blue sky and
shining stars. You smell the dry sand and the fresh water and the
flowers and the spicy desert plants. Every breath you draw is new,
untainted. Living outdoors, by day and night, is the secret of my
strength.”

“Alas! We always feared the chill night air,” sighed Mrs. Linwood.
“Life teaches so many lessons--too late.”

“It is never too late,” returned Adam.

Then he set himself to further tasks, and soon that day was ended.
Other days like it passed swiftly, and each one brought more hope
of prolonging Mrs. Linwood’s life. Adam feared she could not live,
yet he worked and hoped for a miracle. Mrs. Linwood improved in some
mysterious way that seemed of spirit rather than of flesh. As day after
day went by and Adam talked with her, an hour here, an hour there, she
manifestly grew stronger. But was it not only in mind? The sadness
of her changed. The unhappiness of her vanished. The tragic cast and
pallor of her face remained the same, but the spirit that shone from
her eyes and trembled in her voice was one of love, gratitude, hope.
Adam came at length to understand that the improvement was only a
result of the inception of faith she had in him. With terrible tenacity
she had clung to life, even while starving herself to give food to
her child; and now that succor had come, her spirit in its exaltation
triumphed over her body. Happiness was more powerful than the ravages
of disease. But if that condition, if that mastery of mind over body,
had continued, it would have been superhuman. The day came at last in
which Mrs. Linwood sank back into the natural and inevitable state
where the fatality of life ordered the eminence of death.

When she was convulsed with the spasms of coughing, which grew worse
every day, Adam felt that if he could pray to the God she believed in,
he would pray for her sufferings to be ended. He hated this mystery
of disease, this cruelty of nature. It was one of the things that
operated against his acceptance of her God. Why was life so cruel? Was
life only nature? Nature was indeed cruel. But if life was conflict,
if life was an endless progress toward unattainable perfection, toward
greater heights of mind and soul, then was life God, and in eternal
conflict with nature? How hopelessly and impotently he pondered these
distressing questions! Pain he could endure himself, and he had
divined that in enduring it he had enlarged his character. But to
suffer as this poor woman was suffering--to be devoured by millions of
infinitesimal and rapacious animals feasting on blood and tissue--how
insupportably horrible! What man could endure that--what man of huge
frame and physical might--of intense and pulsing life? Only a man in
whom intellect was supreme, who could look upon life resignedly as not
the ultimate end, who knew not the delights of sensation, who had no
absorbing passion for the gray old desert or the heaving sea, or the
windy heights and the long purple shadows, who never burned and beat
with red blood running free--only a martyr living for the future, or a
man steeped in religion, could endure this blight of consumption. When
Adam considered life in nature, he could understand this disease. It
was merely a matter of animals fighting to survive. Let the fittest
win! That was how nature worked toward higher and stronger life. But
when he tried to consider the God this stricken woman worshiped, Adam
could not reconcile himself to her agony. Why? The eternal Why was
flung at him. She was a good woman. She had lived a life of sacrifice.
She had always been a Christian. Yet she was not spared this horrible
torture. Why?

What hurt Adam more than anything else was the terror in Genie’s mute
lips and the anguish in her speaking eyes.

One day, during an hour when Mrs. Linwood rested somewhat easily, she
called Adam to her. It happened to be while Genie was absent, listening
to the bees or watching the flow of water.

“Will you stay here--take care of Genie--until her uncle comes back?”
queried the woman, with her low, panting breaths.

“I promised you. But I think you should not want me to keep her here
too long,” replied Adam, earnestly. “Suppose he does not come back in a
year or two?”

“Ah! I hadn’t thought of that. What, then, is your idea?”

“Well, I’d wait here a good long time,” said Adam, soberly. “Then if
Genie’s uncle didn’t come, I’d find a home for her.”

“A home--for Genie!... Wansfell, have you considered? That would take
money--to travel--to buy Genie--what she ought to--have.”

“Yes, I suppose so. That part need not worry you. I have money. I’ll
look out for Genie. I’ll find a home for her.”

“You’d do--all that?” whispered the woman.

“I promise you. Now, Mrs. Linwood, please don’t distress yourself.
It’ll be all right.”

“It _is_ all right. I’m not--in distress,” she replied, with something
tremulous and new in her voice. “Oh, thank God--my faith--never failed!”

Adam was not sure what she meant by this, but as he revolved it in
his mind, hearing again the strange ring of joy which had been in her
voice, he began to feel that somehow he represented a fulfillment and a
reward to her.

“Wansfell--listen,” she whispered, with more force. “I--I should have
told you.... Genie is not poor. No!... She’s rich!... Her father
found gold--over in the mountains.... He slaved at digging.... That
killed him. But he found gold. It’s hidden inside the hut--under the
floor--where I used to lie.... Bags of gold! Wansfell, my child will be
rich!”

“Well!... Oh, but I’m glad!” exclaimed Adam.

“Yes. It sustains me.... But I’ve worried so.... My husband expected
me--to take Genie out of the desert.... I’ve worried about that money.
Genie’s uncle--John Shaver is his name--he’s a good man. He loved
her. He used to drink--but I hope the desert cured him of that. I
think--he’ll be a father to Genie.”

“Does he know about the gold that will be Genie’s?”

“No. We never told him. My husband didn’t trust John--in money
matters.... Wansfell, if you’ll say you’ll go with Genie--when her
uncle comes--and invest the money--until she’s of age--I will have no
other prayer except for her happiness.... I will die in peace.”

“I promise. I’ll do my best,” he declared.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next time she spoke to him was that evening at dusk. Frogs were
trilling, and a belated mocking bird was singing low, full-throated
melodies. Yet these beautiful sounds only accentuated the solemn desert
stillness.

“Wansfell--you remember--once we talked of God,” she said, very low.

“Yes, I remember,” replied Adam.

“Are you just where you were--then?”

“About the same, I guess.”

“Are you sure you understand yourself?”

“Sure? Oh no. I change every day.”

“Wansfell, what do you call the thing in you--the will to tarry here?
The manhood that I trusted?... The forgetfulness of self?... What do
you call this strength of yours that fulfilled my faith--that gave
me to God utterly--that enables me to die happy--that will be the
salvation of my child?”

“Manhood? Strength?” echoed Adam, in troubled perplexity. “I’m just
sorry for you--for the little girl.”

“Ah yes, sorry! Indeed you are! But you don’t know yourself....
Wansfell, there was a presence beside my bed--just a moment before I
called you. Something neither light nor shadow in substance--something
neither life nor death.... It is gone now. But when I am dead it will
come to you. _I_ will come to you--like that.... Somewhere out in the
solitude and loneliness of your desert--at night when it is dark and
still--and the heavens look down--there you will face your soul....
You’ll see the divine in man.... You’ll realize that the individual
dies, but the race lives.... You’ll have thundered at you from the
silence, the vast, lonely land you love, from the stars and the
infinite beyond--that your soul is immortal.... That this _Thing_ in
you is God!”

When the voice ceased, so vibrant and full at the close, so more than
physical, Adam bowed his head and plodded over the soft sand out to the
open desert where mustering shadows inclosed him, and he toiled to and
fro in the silence--a man bent under the Atlantean doubt and agony and
mystery of the world.

The next day Genie’s mother died.

       *       *       *       *       *

Long before sunrise of a later day Adam climbed to the first
bulge of the mountain wall. On lofty heights his mind worked more
slowly--sometimes not at all. The eye of an eagle sufficed him. Down
below, on the level, during these last few days, while Genie sat mute,
rigid, stricken, Adam had been distracted. The greatest problem of his
desert experience confronted him. Always a greater problem--always
a greater ordeal--that was his history of the years. Perhaps on the
heights might come inspiration. The eastern sky was rosy. The desert
glowed soft and gray and beautiful. Gray lanes wound immeasurably
among bronze and green spots, like islands in a monotonous sea. The
long range of the Bernardinos was veiled in the rare lilac haze of the
dawn, and the opposite range speared the deep blue of sky with clear
black-fringed and snowy peaks. Far down the vast valley, over the dim
ridge of the Chocolates, there concentrated a bright rose and yellow
and silver. This marvelous light intensified, while below the wondrous
shadows deepened. Then the sun rose like liquid silver, bursting to
flood the desert world.

The sunrise solved Adam’s problem. His kindness, his pity, his patience
and unswerving interest, his argument and reason and entreaty, had all
failed to stir Genie out of her mute misery. Nothing spiritual could
save her. But Genie had another mother--nature--to whom Adam meant to
appeal as a last hope.

He descended the slope to the oasis. There, near a new-made grave that
ran parallel with an old one, mossy and gray, sat Genie, clamped in her
wretchedness.

“Genie,” he called, sharply, intending to startle her. He did startle
her. “I’m getting sick. I don’t have exercise enough. I used to walk
miles every day. I must begin again.”

“Then go,” she replied.

“But I can’t leave you alone here,” he protested. “Some other bad men
might come. I’m sorry. You _must_ come with me.”

At least she was obedient. Heavily she rose, ready to accompany him, a
thin shadow of a girl, hallowed eyed and wan, failing every hour. Adam
offered his hand at the stream to help her across. But for that she
would have fallen. She left her hand in his. And they set out upon the
strangest walk Adam had ever undertaken. It was not long, and before it
ended he had to drag her, and finally carry her. That evening she was
so exhausted she could not repel the food he gave her, and afterward
she soon fell asleep.

Next day he took her out again, and thereafter every morning and every
afternoon, relentless in his determination, though his cruelty wrung
his heart. Gentle and kind as he was, he yet saw that she fell into
the stream, that she pricked her bare feet on cactus, that she grew
frightened on the steep slopes, that she walked farther and harder
every day. Nature was as relentless as Adam. Soon Genie’s insensibility
to pain and hunger was as if it had never been. Whenever she pricked or
bruised the poor little feet Adam always claimed it an accident; and
whenever her starved little body cried out in hunger he fed her. Thus
by action, and the forcing of her senses, which were involuntary, he
turned her mind from her black despair. This took days and weeks. Many
and many a time Adam’s heart misgave him, but just as often something
else in him remained implacable. He had seen the training of Indian
children. He knew how the mother fox always threw from her litter the
black cub that was repugnant to her. The poor little black offspring
was an outcast. He was soon weaned, and kicked out of the nest to
die or survive. But if he did survive the cruel, harsh bitterness
of strife and heat and thirst and starvation--his contact with his
environment--he would grow superior to all the carefully mothered and
nourished cubs. Adam expected this singular law of nature, as regarded
action and contact and suffering, to be Genie’s salvation, provided it
did not kill her; and if she had to die he considered it better for her
to die of travail, of effort beyond her strength, than of a miserable
pining away.

One morning, as he finished his camp tasks, he missed her. Upon
searching, he found her flat on the grassy bank of the stream, face
downward, with her thin brown feet in the air. He wondered what she
could be doing, and his heart sank, for she had often said it would be
so easy and sweet to lie down and sleep in the water.

“Genie, child, what are you doing?” he asked.

“Look! the bees--the honey bees! They’re washing themselves in the
water. First I thought they were drinking. But no!... They’re washing.
It’s so funny.”

When she looked up, Adam thrilled at sight of her eyes. If they had
always been beautiful in shape and color, what were they now, with
youth returned, and a light of the birth of wonder and joy in life?
Youth had won over tragedy. Nature hid deep at the heart of all
creation. The moment also had a birth for Adam--an exquisite birth of
the first really happy moment of his long desert years.

“Let me see,” he said, and he lowered his ponderous length and
stretched it beside her on the grassy bank. “Genie, you’re right about
the bees being funny, but wrong about what they’re doing. They are
diluting their honey. Well, I’m not sure, but I think bees on the
desert dilute their honey with water. Watch!... Maybe they drink at
the same time. But you see--some of them have their heads turned away
from the water, as if they meant to back down.... Bees are hard to
understand.”

“By the great horn spoon!” ejaculated Genie, and then she laughed.

Adam echoed her laugh. He could have shouted or sung to the skies.
Never before, indeed, had he heard Genie use such an expression, but
the content of it was precious to him. It revealed hitherto unsuspected
depths in her, as the interest in bees hinted of an undeveloped love of
nature.

“Genie, do you care about bees, birds, flowers--what they do--how they
live and grow?”

“Love them,” she answered, simply.

“You do! Ah, that’s fine! So do I. Why, Genie, I’ve lived so long on
the desert, so many years! What would I have done without love of
everything that flies and crawls and grows?”

“You’re not old,” she said.

“It’s good you think that. We’ll be great pards now.... Look, Genie!
Look at that humming bird! There, he darts over the water. Well! What’s
he doing?”

Adam’s quick ear had caught the metallic hum of tiny, swift wings. Then
he had seen a humming bird poised over the water. As he called Genie’s
attention it hummed away. Then, swift as a glancing ray, it returned.
Adam could see the blur of its almost invisible wings. As it quivered
there, golden throat shining like live fire, with bronze and green
and amber tints so vivid in the sunlight, it surely was worthy reason
for a worship of nature. Not only had it beauty, but it had singular
action. It poised, then darted down, swift as light, to disturb the
smooth water, either with piercing bill or flying wings. Time and again
the tiny bird performed this antic. Was the diminutive-winged creature
playing, or drinking, or performing gyrations for the edification of
a female of his species, hidden somewhere in the overhanging foliage?
Adam knew that some courting male birds cooed, paraded, strutted,
fought before the females they hoped to make consorts. Why not a
humming bird?

“By your great horn spoon, Genie!” exclaimed Adam. “I wonder if that’s
the way he drinks.”

But all that Adam could be sure of was the beautiful opal body of
the tiny bird, the marvelous poise as it hung suspended in air, the
incredibly swift darts up and down, and the little widening, circling
ripples on the water. No, there was more Adam could be sure of, and
Genie’s delight proved the truth of it--and that was how sure the
harvest of thought, how sure the joy of life which was the reward for
watching!

       *       *       *       *       *

One morning when Adam arose to greet the sunrise he looked through the
gap between the trees, and low down along the desert floor he saw a
burst of yellow. At first he imagined it to be a freak of sunlight or
reflection, but he soon decided that it was a _palo verde_ in blossom.
Beautiful, vivid, yellow gold, a fresh hue of the desert spring. May
had come. Adam had forgotten the flight of time. What bittersweet
stinging memory had that flushing _palo verde_ brought back to him! He
had returned to the desert land he loved best, and which haunted him.

Genie responded slowly to the Spartan training. She had been frail,
at best, and when grief clamped her soul and body she had sunk to the
verge. The effort she was driven to, and the exertion needful, wore her
down until she appeared merely skin and bones. Then came the dividing
line between waste and repair. She began to mend. Little by little her
appetite improved until at last hunger seized upon her. From that time
she grew like a weed. Thus the forced use of bone and muscle drove her
blood as Adam had driven her, and the result was a natural functioning
of physical life. Hard upon that change, and equally as natural, came
the quickening of her mind. Healthy pulsing blood did not harbor morbid
grief. Action was constructive; grief was destructive.

Adam, giving himself wholly to this task of rehabilitation, added to
his relentless developing of Genie’s body a thoughtful and interesting
appeal to her mind. At once he made two discoveries--first, that Genie
would give herself absorbingly to any story whatsoever, and secondly,
that his mind seemed to be a full treasure house from which to draw. He
who had spoken with so few men and women on the desert now was inspired
by a child.

He told Genie the beautiful Indian legend of Taquitch as it had been
told to him by Oella, the Coahuila maiden who had taught him her
language.

When he finished Genie cried out: “Oh, I know. Taquitch is up on the
mountain yet! In summer he hurls the lightning and thunder. In winter
he lets loose the storm winds. And always, by day and night, he rolls
the rocks.”

“Yes, Genie, he’s there,” replied Adam.

“Why did he steal the Indian maidens?” she asked, wonderingly.

Genie evolved a question now and then that Adam found difficult to
answer. She had the simplicity of an Indian, and the inevitableness,
and a like ignorance of the so-called civilization of the white people.

“Well, I suppose Taquitch fell in love with the Indian maidens,”
replied Adam, slowly.

“Fell in love. What’s that?”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you why she married your father?”

“No.”

“Why do you think she married him?”

“I suppose they wanted to be together--to work--and go places, like
they came West when they were sick. To help each other.”

“Exactly. Well, Genie, they wanted to be together because they loved
each other. They married because they fell in love with each other.
Didn’t you ever have Indians camp here, and learn from them?”

“Oh yes, different tribes have been here. But I didn’t see any Indians
falling in love. If a chief wanted a wife he took any maiden or squaw
he wanted. Some chiefs had lots of wives. And if a brave wanted a wife
he bought her.”

“Not much falling in love there,” confessed Adam, with a laugh. “But,
Genie, you mustn’t think Indians can’t love each other. For they can.”

“I believe I’ve seen birds falling in love,” went on Genie, seriously.
“I’ve watched them when they come to drink and wash. Quail and road
runners, now--they often come in pairs, and they act funny. At least
one of each pair acted funny. But it was the pretty one--the one with a
topknot--that did all the falling in love. Why?”

“Well, Genie, the male, or the man-bird, so to speak, always has
brighter colors and crests and the like, and he--he sort of shines up
to the other, the female, and shows off before her.”

“Why doesn’t she do the same thing?” queried Genie. “That’s not fair.
It’s all one-sided.”

“Child, how you talk! Of course love isn’t one-sided,” declared Adam,
getting bewildered.

“Yes, it is. She ought to show off before him. But I’ll tell you
what--after they began to build a nest I never saw any more falling
in love. It’s a shame. It ought to last always. I’ve heard mother say
things to father I couldn’t understand. But now I believe she meant
that after he got her--married her--he wasn’t like he was before.”

Adam had to laugh. The old discontent of life, the old mystery of the
sexes, the old still, sad music of humanity spoken by the innocent and
unknowing lips of this child! How feminine! The walls of the inclosing
desert, like those of an immense cloister, might hide a woman all her
days from the illuminating world, but they could never change her
nature.

“Genie, I must be honest with you,” replied Adam. “I’ve got to be
parents, brother, sister, friend, everybody to you. And I’ll fall
short sometimes in spite of my intentions. But I’ll be honest....
And the fact is, it seems to be a sad truth that men and man-birds,
and man-creatures generally, are all very much alike. If they want
anything, they want it badly. And when they fall in love they do act
funny. They will do anything. They show off, beg, bully, quarrel, are
as nice and sweet as--as sugar; and they’ll fight, too, until they
get their particular wives. Then they become natural--like they were
before. It’s my idea, Genie, that all the wives of creation should
demand always the same deportment which won their love. Don’t you agree
with me?”

“I do, you bet. That’s what _I’ll_ have.... But will _I_ ever be
falling in love?”

The eyes that looked into Adam’s then were to him as the wonder of the
world.

“Of course you will. Some day, when you grow up.”

“With you?” she asked, in dreamy speculation.

“Oh, Genie! Not me. Why--I--I’m too old!” he ejaculated. “I’m old
enough to be your daddy.”

“You’re not old,” she replied, with a finality that admitted of no
question. “But if you were--and still like you are--what difference
would it make?”

“Like I am! Well, Genie, how’s that?” he queried, curiously.

“Oh, so big and strong! You can do so much with those hands. And your
voice sort of--of quiets something inside me. When I lie down to sleep,
knowing you’re there under the cottonwood, I’m not afraid of the
dark.... And your eyes are just like an eagle’s. Oh, you needn’t laugh!
I’ve seen eagles. An Indian here once had two. I used to love to watch
them look. But then their eyes were never kind like yours.... I think
when I get big I’ll go falling in love with you.”

“Well, little girl, that’s a long way off,” said Adam, divided between
humor and pathos. “But let’s get back to natural history. A while ago
you mentioned a bird called a road runner. That’s not as well-known a
name among desert men as chaparral cock. You know out in the desert
there are no roads. This name road runner comes from a habit--and it’s
a friendly habit--of the bird running along the road ahead of a man or
wagon. Now the road runner is the most wonderful bird of the desert.
That is saying a great deal. Genie, tell me all you know about him.”

“Oh, I know all about him,” declared Genie, brightly. “There’s one
lives in the mesquite there. I see him every day, lots of times. Before
you came he was very tame. I guess now he’s afraid. But not so afraid
as he was.... Well, he’s a long bird, with several very long feathers
for a tail. It’s a funny tail, for when he walks he bobs it up and
down. His color is speckled--gray and brown and white. I’ve seen dots
of purple on him, too. He has a topknot that he can put up and lay
down, as he has a mind to. When it’s up it shows some gold color,
almost red underneath. And when it’s up he’s mad. He snaps his big
bill like--like--oh, I don’t know what like, but it makes you shiver.
I’ve never seen him in the water, but I know he goes in, because he
shakes out his feathers, picks himself, and sits in the sun. He can
fly, only he doesn’t fly much. But, oh, how he can run! Like a streak!
I see him chase lizards across the sand. You know how a lizard can run!
Well, no lizard ever gets away from a road runner. There’s a race--a
fierce little tussle in the sand--a snap! snap!--and then old killer
road runner walks proudly back, carrying the lizard in his bill. If it
wasn’t for the way he kills and struts I could love him. For he was
very tame. He used to come right up to me. But I never cared for him as
I do for other birds.”

“Genie, you’ve watched a road runner, all right. I didn’t imagine you
knew so much. Yes, he’s a killer, a murderer. But no worse than other
desert birds. They all kill. They’re all fierce. And if they weren’t
they’d die.... Now I want to tell you the most wonderful thing a road
runner does. He’ll fight and kill and eat a rattlesnake!”

“No! Honest Injun?” cried Genie.

“Yes. I’ve watched many a battle between a road runner and a
rattlesnake, and nearly all of those battles were won by the birds.
But _that_ is not the most wonderful thing a road runner does. I’ll
tell you. I’ve never seen this thing myself, but a friend of mine, an
old prospector named Dismukes, swears it’s true. He knows more about
the desert than any man I ever met, and he wouldn’t tell a lie. Well,
here’s what it is. He says he saw a road runner come upon a sleeping
rattlesnake. But he didn’t pounce upon the snake. It happened to be
that the snake slept on the sand near some bushes of _cholla_ cactus.
You know how the dead cones fall off and lie around. This wonderful
bird dragged these loose pieces of cactus and laid them close together
in a circle, all around the rattlesnake. Built a fence around him!
Penned him in! Now I can vouch for how a rattlesnake hates cactus....
Then the fierce bird flew up and pounced down upon the snake. Woke him
up! The rattlesnake tried to slip away, but everywhere he turned was a
cactus which stuck into him, and over him the darting, picking bird. So
round and round he went, striking as best he could. But he was unable
to hit the bird, and every pounce upon him drew the blood. You’ve heard
the snap of that big long beak. Well, the rattlesnake grew desperate
and began to bite himself. And what with his own bites and those of his
enemy he was soon dead.... And then the beautiful, graceful, speckled
bird proceeded to tear and devour him.”

“I’ll bet it’s true!” ejaculated Genie. “A road runner could and would
do just that.”

“Very likely. It’s strange, and perhaps true. Indeed, the desert is the
place for things impossible anywhere else.”

“Why do birds and beasts kill and eat each other?” asked Genie.

“It is nature, Genie.”

“Nature could have done better. Why don’t people eat each other? They
do _kill_ each other. And they eat animals. But isn’t that all?”

“Genie, some kinds of people--cannibals in the South Seas--and
savages--do kill and eat men. It is horrible to believe. Dismukes told
me that he came upon a tribe of Indians on the west coast of Sonora
in Mexico. That’s not more than four hundred miles from here. He went
down there prospecting for gold. He thought these savages--the Seri
Indians, they’re called--were descended from cannibals and sometimes
ate man flesh themselves. No one knows but that they do it often.
I’ve met prospectors and travelers who scouted the idea of the Seris
being cannibals. But I’ve heard some bad stories about them. Dismukes
absolutely believed that in a poor season for meat, if chance offered,
they would kill and eat a white man. Prospectors have gone into that
country never to return.”

“Ughh! I’ve near starved, but I’d never get that hungry. I’d die.
Wouldn’t you?”

“Indeed I would, child.”

And so, during the leisure hours, that grew more and longer as the
hot summer season advanced, Adam led Genie nearer to nature, always
striving with his observations to teach the truth, however stern, and
to instruct and stimulate her growing mind. All was not music of birds
and perfume of flowers and serene summer content at the rosy dawns and
the golden sunsets. The desert life was at work. How hard to reconcile
the killing with the living! But when Adam espied an eagle swooping
down from the mountain heights, its wings bowed, and its dark body
shooting so wondrously, then he spoke of the freedom of the lonely king
of birds, and the grace of his flight, and the noble spirit of his life.

Likewise when Adam heard the honk of wild geese he made haste to have
Genie see them winging wide and triangular flight across the blue sky,
to the north. He told her how they lived all the winter in the warm
south, and when spring came a wonderful instinct bade them rise and fly
far northward, to the reedy banks of some lonely lake, and there gobble
and honk and feed and raise their young.

On another day, and this was in drowsy June when all the air seemed
still, he was roused from his siesta by cries of delight from Genie.
She knelt before him on the sand, and in one hand she held a beautiful
horned toad, and the other hand she stretched out to Adam.

“Look! Oh, look!” she cried, ecstatically, and her eyes then rivaled
the jeweled eyes of the desert reptile. Some dark-red drops of bright
liquid showed against the brown of Genie’s hand. “There! It’s blood! I
picked him up as I had all the others, so many hundreds of times. Only
this time I felt something warm and wet. I looked at my hand. There! He
had squirted the drops of blood! And, oh, I was quick to look at his
eyes! One was still wet, bloody. I know he squirted the drops of blood
from his eyes!”

Thus Adam had confirmed for him one of the mysteries of the desert.
Dismukes had been the first to tell Adam about the strange habit of
horned toads ejecting blood from their eyes. One other desert man, at
least, had corroborated Dismukes. But Adam, who had seldom passed a
horned toad without picking it up to gaze at the wondrous coloration,
and to see it swell and puff, had never come upon the peculiar
phenomenon. And horned toads on his trails had been many. To interest
Genie, he built her a corral of flat stones in the sand, and he
scoured the surrounding desert for horned toads. What a miscellaneous
collection he gathered! They all had the same general scalloped
outlines and tiny horns, but the color and design seemed to partake of
the physical characteristics of the spot where each was found. If they
squatted in the sand and lay still, it was almost impossible to see
them, so remarkable was their protective coloration. Adam turned the
assortment over to Genie with instruction to feed them, and play with
them, and tease them in the hope that one might sometime eject drops of
blood from his eyes. When it actually happened, Genie’s patience was
rewarded.

Adam’s theory that the reward of the faithful desert watcher would
always come was exemplified in more than one way. Genie had never
seen or heard of a tarantula wasp. She had noticed big and little
tarantulas, but of the fierce, winged, dragon-fly hawk of the
desert--the tarantula wasp--she had no knowledge. Adam, therefore, had
always kept a keen lookout for one.

They were up in the canyon on a hot June day, resting in the shade of
the rustling palms. A stream babbled and splashed over the stones,
and that was the only sound to break the dreaming silence of the
canyon. All at once Adam heard a low whir like the hum of tiny wings.
As he turned his head the sound became a buzz. Then he espied a huge
tarantula wasp. Quickly he called to Genie, and they watched. It flew
around and around about a foot from the ground, a fierce-looking, yet
beautiful creature, with yellow body and blue gauzy wings. It was fully
two inches and more long.

“He sees a tarantula. Now watch!” whispered Adam.

Suddenly the wasp darted down to the edge of a low bush, into some
coarse grass that grew there. Instantly came a fierce whiz of wings,
like the buzz of a captured bumblebee, only much louder and more
vibrant. Adam saw the blades of grass tumble. A struggle to the death
was going on there. Adam crawled over a few yards, drawing Genie with
him; and they saw the finish of a terrific battle between the wasp and
a big hairy tarantula.

“There! It’s over, and the tarantula is dead,” said Adam. “Genie, I
used to watch this kind of a desert fight, and not think much more
about it. But one day I made a discovery. I had a camp over here, and
I watched a tarantula wasp kill a tarantula. I didn’t know it then,
but this wasp was a female, ready to lay her eggs. Well, she rolled
the big spider around until she found a place that suited her. Then
she dug a hole, rolled him into it, covered him over, and flew away. I
wondered then why she did that. I went away from that camp, and after a
while I came back. Then one day I remembered about the wasp burying the
tarantula. And so, just for fun and curiosity, I found the grave--it
was near the end of a stone--and I opened it up. What do you think I
discovered?”

“Tell me!” exclaimed Genie, breathlessly.

“I found the tarantula almost eaten up by a lot of tiny wasps, as
much like worms as wasps! Then I understood. That tarantula wasp had
killed the tarantula, laid her eggs inside his body, tumbled him into
his grave, and covered him over. By and by those eggs hatched, and the
little wasps ate the tarantula--lived and grew, and after a while came
out full-fledged tarantula wasps like their mother.”



CHAPTER XXIV


Time passed. The days slipped by to make weeks, and weeks merged into
months. Summer with its hot midday hours, when man and beast rested or
slept, seemed to shorten its season by half. No human creature ever
entered a desert oasis without joy, nor left it without regret. As
time went fleeting by Adam now and then remembered Dismukes, and these
memories were full of both gladness and pathos. He tried to visualize
the old prospector in the new role of traveler, absorber of life,
spendthrift, and idler. Nevertheless, Adam could never be sure in his
heart that Dismukes would find what he sought.

But for the most part of the still, hot, waking hours, Adam, when he
was not working or sleeping, devoted himself to Genie. The girl changed
every day--how, he was unable to tell. Most wondrous of all in nature
was human life, and beyond all sublimity was the human soul!

Every morning at sunrise Genie knelt by her mother’s grave with bowed
head and clasped hands, and every evening at sunset or in the golden
dusk of twilight she again knelt in prayer.

“Genie, why do you kneel there--now?” asked Adam once, unable to
contain his curiosity. “You did not use to do it. Only the last few
weeks or month.”

“I forgot I’d promised mother,” she replied. “Besides, could I pray
when I wanted to die?”

“No, I suppose not. It would be hard,” replied Adam, gravely. “Please
don’t think me curious. Tell me, Genie, what do you pray for?”

“I used to pray, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ as mother taught me
when I was little. But now I make up my own prayers. I ask God to keep
the souls of mother and father in heaven. I pray I may be good and
happy, so when they look down and see me they will be glad. I pray for
you, and then for every one in the world.”

Slow, strong unrest, the endless moving of contending tides, heaved in
Adam’s breast.

“So you pray for me, Genie?... Well, it is good of you. I hope I’m
worthy.... But, _why_ do you pray?”

She pondered the question. Thought was developing in Genie. “Before
mother died I prayed because she taught me. Since then--lately--it--it
lifts me up--it takes away the sorrow here.” And she put a hand over
her heart.

“Genie, then you believe in God--the God who is supposed to answer your
prayers?”

“Yes. And he is not a god like Taquitch--or the beasts and rocks that
the Indians worship. My God is all around me, in the sunshine, in the
air, in the humming bees and whispering leaves and murmuring water. I
feel him everywhere, and in me, too!”

“Genie, tell me one prayer, just _one_ of yours or your mother’s that
was truly answered,” appealed Adam, with earnest feeling.

“We prayed for some one to come. I know mother prayed for some one to
save me from being alone--from starving. And I prayed for some one to
come and help her--to relieve her terrible dread about me.... And _you_
came!”

Adam was silenced. What had he to contend with here? Faith and fact
were beyond question, as Genie represented them. What little he knew!
He could not even believe that a divine guidance had been the spirit
of his wandering steps. But he was changing. Always the future--always
the unknown calling--always the presentiment of sterner struggle, of
larger growth, of ultimate fulfillment! His illusion, his fetish, his
phantasmagoria rivaled the eternal and inexplicable faith of his friend
Dismukes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Andreas Canyon was far from the camp under the cottonwoods, but Adam
and Genie, having once feasted their eyes upon its wildness and
beauty and grandeur, went back again and again, so that presently the
distance in the hot sun was no hindrance, and the wide area of white,
glistening, terrible _cholla_ cactus was no obstacle.

For that matter the cactus patch was endurable because of its singular
beauty. Adam could not have told why _cholla_ fascinated him, and,
though Genie admitted she liked to look at the frosty silver-lighted
cones and always had an impulse to prick her fingers on the cruel
thorns, she could not explain why.

“Genie, the Yaqui Indians in Sonora love this _cholla_,” said Adam.
“Love it as they hate Mexicans. They will strip a Mexican naked, tear
the skin off the soles of his feet, and drive him through the _cholla_
until he’s dead. It wouldn’t take long!... All prospectors hate
_cholla_. I hate it, yet I--I guess I’m a little like the Yaquis. I
often prick my finger on _cholla_ just to feel the sting, the burn, the
throb. The only pain I could ever compare to that made by _cholla_ is
the sting of the sharp horn of a little catfish back in Ohio. Oh! I’ll
never forget that! A poison, burning sting!... But _cholla_ is terrible
because the thorns stick in your flesh. When you jerk to free yourself
the thorns leave the cones. Each thorn has an invisible barb and it
works deeper and deeper into flesh.”

“Don’t _I_ know!” exclaimed Genie, emphatically. “I’ve spent whole
hours digging them out of my feet and legs. But how pretty the _cholla_
shines! Only it doesn’t tell the truth, does it, Wanny?”

“Child, please don’t call me Wanny. It’s so--so silly,” protested Adam.

“It’s not. No sillier than your calling me child! I’m nearly fifteen.
I’m growing right out of my clothes.”

“Call me Adam.”

“No, I don’t like that name. And I can’t call you mister or father or
brother.”

“But what’s wrong with Adam?”

“I read in mother’s bible about Adam and Eve. I hated her when the
devil got into her. And I didn’t like Adam. And I don’t like the _name_
Adam. You’d never have been driven from heaven.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” said Adam, ruefully. “Genie, I was wicked
when I was a--a young man.”

“You were! Well, I don’t care. _You’d_ never be tempted to disobey the
Lord--not by Eve with all her stolen apples!”

“All right, called me Wanny,” returned Adam, and he made haste to
change the subject. There were times when Genie, with her simplicity,
her directness, her curiosity, and her innocence, caused Adam extreme
perplexity, not to say embarrassment. He remembered his own bringing
up. It seemed every year his childhood days came back closer. And
thrown as he was in constant companionship with this child of nature,
he began to wonder if the sophisticated education of children,
especially girls, as it had been in his youth, was as fine and simple
and true to life as it might have been.

Andreas Canyon yawned with wide mouth and huge yellow cliffs. Just
beyond the mouth of the canyon and across the wide space from cliff
to slope bloomed the most verdant and beautiful oasis of that desert
region. Huge gray bowlders, clean and old, and russet with lichen, made
barricade for a clear stream of green water, as if to protect it from
blowing desert sand. Yet there were little beaches of white sand, lined
by colored pebbles. Green rushes and flags grew in the water. Beyond
the stream, on the side of the flat-rocked slope, lay a many-acred
thicket of mesquite, impenetrable except for birds and beasts. The
green of the leaves seemed dominated by bronze colors of the mistletoe.

The oasis proper, however, was the grove of cottonwoods, sycamores,
and palms. How bright green the foliage of cottonwoods--and smooth
white the bark of sycamores! But verdant and cool as it was under
their shade, Adam and Genie always sought the aloof and stately palms,
wonderful trees not native there, planted years and years before by the
Spanish padres.

“Oh, I love it here!” exclaimed Genie. “Listen to the palms whisper!”

They stood loftily, with spreading green fanlike leaves at the tops,
and all the trunks swathed and bundled apparently in huge cases of
straw. These yellow sheaths were no less than the leaves that had died.
As the palms grew the new leaves kept bursting from the tufted tops,
and those leaves lowest down died and turned yellow.

“Genie, your uncle seems a long time coming back for you,” remarked
Adam.

“I hope he never comes,” she replied.

Adam was surprised and somewhat disconcerted at her reply, and yet
strangely pleased.

“Why?” he asked.

“Oh, I never liked him and I don’t want to go away with him.”

“Your mother said he was a good man--that he loved you.”

“Uncle Ed was good, and very kind to me. I--I ought to be ashamed,”
replied Genie. “But he drank, and when he drank he kissed me--he put
his hands on me. I hated that.”

“Did you ever tell your mother?” inquired Adam.

“Yes. I told her. I asked her why he did that. And she said not to
mind--only to keep away from him when he drank.”

“Genie, your uncle did wrong, and your mother did wrong not to tell you
so,” declared Adam, earnestly.

“Wrong? What do you mean--wrong? I only thought I didn’t like him.”

“Well, I’ll tell you some day.... But now, to go back to what you said
about leaving--you know I’m going with you when your uncle comes.”

“Wanny, do _you_ want that time to come soon?” she asked, wistfully.

“Yes, of course, for your sake. You’re getting to be a big girl. You
must go to school. You must get out to civilization.”

“Oh! I’m crazy to go!” she burst out, covering her face. “Yet I’ve a
feeling I’ll hate to leave here.... I’ve been so happy lately.”

“Genie, it relieves me to hear you’re anxious to go. And it pleases me
to know you’ve been happy lately. You see I’m only a--a man, you know.
How little I could do for you! I’ve tried. I’ve done my best. But at
that best I’m only a poor old homeless outcast--a desert wanderer!
I’m----”

“Hush up!” she cried, with quick, sweet warmth. Swiftly she enveloped
him, hugged him close, and kissed his cheek. “Wanny, you’re grand!...
You’re like Taquitch--you’re _my_ Taquitch with face like the sun! And
I love you--love you as I never loved anyone except my mother! And I
hope Uncle Ed never comes, so you’ll have to take care of me always.”

Adam gently disengaged himself from Genie’s impulsive arms, yet,
despite his embarrassment and confused sense of helplessness, he felt
the better for her action. Natural, spontaneous, sincere, it warmed his
heart. It proved more than all else what a child she was.

“Genie, let me make sure you understand,” he said, gravely. “I love
you, too, as if you were my little sister. And if your uncle doesn’t
come I’ll take you somewhere--find you a home. But I never--much as I
would like to--never can take care of you always.”

“Why?” she flashed, with her terrible directness.

Adam had begun his development of Genie by telling the truth; he had
always abided by it; and now, in these awakening days for her, he must
never veer from the truth.

“If I tell you why--will you promise never to speak of it--so long as
you live?” he asked, solemnly.

“Never! I promise. Never, Wanny!”

“Genie, I am an outcast. I am a hunted man. I can never go back to
civilization and stay.”

Then he told her the story of the ruin of his life. When he finished
she fell weeping upon his shoulder and clung to him. For Adam the
moment was sad and sweet--sad because a few words had opened up the
dark, tragic gulf of his soul; and sweet because the passionate grief
of a child assured him that even he, wanderer as he was, knew something
of sympathy and love.

“But, Wanny, you--could--go and--be--pun--ished--and then--come back!”
she cried, between sobs. “You’d--never--have to--hide--any more.”

Out of her innocence and simplicity she had spoken confounding truth.
What a terrible truth! Those words of child wisdom sowed in Adam the
seed of a terrible revolt. Revolt--yea, revolt against this horrible
need to hide--this fear and dread of punishment that always and forever
so bitterly mocked his manhood! If he could find the strength to rise
to the heights of Genie’s wisdom--divine philosophy of a child!--he
would no longer hate his shadowed wandering steps down the naked
shingles and hidden trails of the lonely desert. But, alas! whence
would come that strength? Not from the hills! Not from the nature that
had made him so strong, so fierce, so sure to preserve his life! It
could only come from the spirit that had stood in the dusky twilight
beside a dying woman’s side. It could come only from the spirit to whom
a child prayed while kneeling at her mother’s grave. And for Adam that
spirit held aloof, illusive as the specters of the dead, beyond his
grasp, an invisible medium, if indeed it was not a phantom, that seemed
impossible of reality in the face of the fierce, ruthless, inevitable
life and death and decay of the desert. Could God be nature--that
thing, that terrible force, light, fire, water, pulse--that quickening
of plant, flesh, stone, that dying of all only to renew--that endless
purpose and progress, from the first whirling gas globe of the
universe, throughout the ages down to the infinitesimal earth so fixed
in its circling orbit, so pitiful in its present brief fertility? The
answer was as unattainable as to pluck down the stars, as hopeless as
to think of the fleeting of the years, as mysterious as the truth of
where man came from and whence he was to go.

       *       *       *       *       *

Snow on the gray old peak! It reminded Adam how, long ago, from far
down the valley, he had watched the mountain crown itself in dazzling
white. Snow on the heights meant winter that tempered the heat, let
loose the storm winds; and therefore, down in the desert, comfort and
swiftly flying days. Indeed, so swift were they that Adam, calling out
sad and well-remembered words, “Oh, time, stand still here!” seemed
to look at a few more golden sunsets and, lo! again it was spring.
Time would not stand still! Nor would the budding, blossoming youth of
Genie! Nor would the slow-mounting might of the tumult in Adam’s soul!

       *       *       *       *       *

Then swifter than the past, another year flew by. Genie’s uncle did
not come. And Adam began to doubt that he would ever come. And the
hope of Genie’s, that he never would come began insidiously to enter
into Adam’s thought. Again the loneliness, the solitude and silence,
and something more he could not name, began to drag Adam from duty,
from effort of mind. The desert never stopped its work, on plant, or
rock, or man. Adam knew that he required another shock to quicken his
brain, to stir again the spiritual need, to make him fight the subtle,
all-pervading, ever-present influence of the desert.

In all that time Adam saw but two white men, prospectors passing by
down the sandy trails. Indians came that way but seldom. Across the
valley there was an encampment, which he visited occasionally to buy
baskets, skins, meat, and to send Indians out after supplies. The great
problem was clothes for Genie. It was difficult to get materials,
difficult for Genie to make dresses, and impossible to keep her from
tearing or wearing or growing out of them. Adam found that Indian
moccasins, and tough overalls such as prospectors wore, cut down to
suit Genie, and woolen blouses she made herself, were the only things
for her. Like a road runner she ran over the rocks and sand! For Genie,
cactus was as if it were not! As for a hat, she would not wear one.
Adam’s responsibility weighed upon him. When he asked Genie what in
the world she would wear when he took her out of the desert, to pass
through villages and ranches and towns, where people lived, she naïvely
replied, “What I’ve got on!” And what she wore at the moment was, of
course, the boyish garb that was all Adam could keep on her, and which
happened just then to be minus the moccasins. Genie loved to scoop up
the warm white sand with her bare brown feet, and then to dabble them
in the running water.

“Well, I give up!” exclaimed Adam, resignedly. “But when we do get to
Riverside or San Diego, where there’s a store, you’ve _got_ to go with
me to buy girl’s dresses and things--and you’ve _got_ to wear them.”

“Oh, Wanny, that will be grand!” she cried, dazzled at the prospect.
“But--let’s don’t go--just yet!”

       *       *       *       *       *

In the early fall--what month it was Adam could not be sure--he crossed
the arm of the valley to the encampment of the Coahuilas. The cool
nights and tempering days had made him hungry for meat. He found the
Indian hunters at home, and, in fact, they had just packed fresh sheep
meat down from the mountain. They were of the same tribe as the old
chief, Charley Jim, who had taught Adam so much of the desert during
those early hard years over in the Chocolates. Adam always asked for
news of Charley Jim, usually to be disappointed. He was a nomad, this
old chieftain, and his family had his wandering spirit. Adam shouldered
his load of fresh meat and took his way down out of the canyon where
the encampment lay, to the well-beaten trail that zigzagged along the
irregular base of the mountain.

Adam rested at the dividing point of the trails. It was early in the
day, clear and still. How gray and barren and monotonous the desert!
All seemed dead. A strange, soft, creeping apathy came over Adam, not
a dreaminess, for in his dreams he lived the past and invented the
future, but a state wherein he watched, listened, smelled, and felt,
all unconscious that he was doing anything. Whenever he fell into this
trance and was roused out of it, or came out of it naturally, then
he experienced a wonderful sense of vague content. That feeling was
evanescent. Always he longed to get it back, but could not.

In this instant his quick eye caught sight of something that was
moving. A prospector with a brace of burros--common sight indeed it was
to Adam, though not for the last few years.

The man was coming from the south, but outside of the main trail, for
which, no doubt, he was heading. Adam decided to wait and exchange
greetings with him. After watching awhile Adam was constrained to
mutter, “Well, if that fellow isn’t a great walker, my eyes are
failing!” That interested him all the more. He watched burros and
driver grow larger and clearer. Then they disappeared behind a long,
low swell of sand fringed by sage and dotted by mesquite. They would
reappear presently, coming out behind the ridge at a point near Adam.

Some minutes later he saw that the burros and driver had not only
cleared the end of the ridge, but were now within a hundred yards of
where he sat. The burros were trotting, with packs bobbing up and down.
Only the old slouch hat of the prospector showed above the packs.
Manifestly he was a short man.

“Say, but he’s a walker!” ejaculated Adam.

Suddenly sight of that old slouch hat gave Adam a thrill. Then the
man’s shoulders appeared. How enormously broad! Then, as the burros
veered to one side, the driver’s whole stature was disclosed. What
a stride he had, for a man so short! Almost he seemed as wide as he
was long. His gait was rolling, ponderous. He wore old, gray, patched
clothes that Adam wildly imagined he had seen somewhere.

Suddenly he yelled at the burros: “Hehaw! Gedap!”

That deep voice, those words, brought Adam leaping to his feet,
transfixed and thrilling. Had he lost his mind? What trick of desert
mirage or illusion! No--the burros were real--they kicked up the
dust--rattled the pebbles in the sage; no--the man was real, however he
seemed a ghost of Adam’s past.

“_Dismukes!_” shouted Adam, hoarsely.

The prospector halted his long, rolling stride and looked. Then Adam
plunged over sand and through sage. He could not believe his eyes.
He must get his hands on this man, to prove reality. In a trice the
intervening space was covered. Then Adam, breathless and aghast, gazed
into a face that he knew, yet which held what he did not know.

“Howdy, Wansfell! Thought I’d meet you sooner or later,” said the man.

His voice was unmistakable. He recognized Adam. Beyond any possibility
of doubt--Dismukes! In the amaze and gladness of the moment Adam
embraced this old savior and comrade and friend--embraced him as a
long-lost brother or as a prodigal son. Then Adam released him, with
sudden dawning consciousness that Dismukes seemed to have no feeling
whatever about this meeting.

“Dismukes! I had to grab you--just to feel if it was you. I’m knocked
clean off my pins,” declared Adam, breathing hard.

“Yes, it’s me, Wansfell,” replied Dismukes. His large, steady eyes,
dark brown like those of an ox, held an exceeding and unutterable
sadness.

“Back on the desert? _You!_” exclaimed Adam. “Dismukes, then you lost
your gold--bad luck--something happened--you never went to the great
cities--to spend your fortune--to live and live?”

“Yes, friend, I went,” replied Dismukes.

A great awe fell upon Adam. His keen gaze, cleared of the mist of
amaze, saw Dismukes truly. The ox eyes had the shadow of supreme
tragedy. Their interest was far off, as if their sight had fixed on a
dim, distant mountain range of the horizon. Yet they held peace. The
broad face had thinned. Gone was the dark, healthy bronze! And the
beard that had once been thick and grizzled was now scant and white.
The whole face expressed resignation and peace. Those wonderful wide
shoulders of Dismukes appeared just as wide, but they sagged, and the
old, tremendous brawn was not there. Strangest of all, Dismukes wore
the ragged gray prospector’s garb which had been on his person when
Adam saw him last. There! the yellow stain of Death Valley clay--and
darker stains--sight of which made Adam’s flesh creep!

“Ah! So you went, after all,” replied Adam, haltingly. “Well! Well!...
Let’s sit down, old comrade. Here on this stone. I confess my legs feel
weak.... Never expected to see you again in this world!”

“Wansfell, no man can ever tell. It’s folly to think an’ toil an’ hope
for the future.”

What strong, sad history of life revealed itself in that reply!

“Ah!... I-- But never mind what I think. Dismukes, you’ve not been on
the desert long.”

“About a week. Outfitted at San Diego an’ came over the mountain trail
through El Campo. Landed in Frisco two weeks an’ more ago. By ship from
Japan.”

“Did you have these old clothes hid away somewhere?” inquired Adam. “I
remember them.”

“No. I packed them wherever I went for the whole three years.”

“Three years! Has it been that long?”

“Aye, friend Wansfell, three years.”

Adam gazed out across the desert with slowly dimming eyes. The
wasteland stretched there, vast and illimitable, the same as all the
innumerable times he had gazed. Solemn and gray and old, indifferent to
man, yet strengthening through its passionless fidelity to its own task!

“Dismukes, I want you to tell me where you went, what you did, why you
came back,” said Adam, with earnestness that was entreaty.

Dismukes heaved a long sigh. He wagged the huge, shaggy head that was
now gray. But he showed no more indication of emotion. How stolid he
seemed--how locked in his aloofness!

“Yes, I’ll tell you,” he said. “Maybe it’ll save you somethin’ of what
I went through.”

Then he became lost in thought, perhaps calling upon memory, raking
up the dead leaves of the past. Adam recalled that his own memory of
Dismukes and the past brought note of the fact how the old prospector
had loved to break his habit of silence, to talk about the desert, and
to smoke his black pipe while he discoursed. But now speech did not
easily flow and he did not smoke.

“Lookin’ back, I seem to see myself as crazy,” began Dismukes. “You’ll
remember how crazy. You’ll remember before we parted up there on the
Mohave at that borax camp where the young man was--who couldn’t drive
the mules.... Wansfell, from the minute I turned my back on you till
now I’ve never thought of that. Did you drive the ornery mules?”

“Did I?” Adam’s query was a grim assertion. “Every day for three
months! You remember Old Butch, that gray devil of a mule. Well,
Dismukes, the time came when _he_ knew me. If I even picked up the long
bull whip Old Butch would scream and run to lay his head on me.”

“An’ you saw the young driver through his trouble?”

“That I did. And it was more trouble than he told us then. The boss
Carricks had was low-down and cunning. He’d got smitten with the lad’s
wife--a pretty girl, but frail in health. He kept Carricks on jobs
away from home. We didn’t meet the lad any too soon.”

“Humph! That’s got a familiar sound to me,” declared Dismukes.
“Wansfell, what’d you do to thet low-down boss?”

“Go on with _your_ story,” replied Adam.

“Aha! That’s so. I want to make Two Palms Well before dark....
Wansfell, like a horned-toad on the desert, I changed my outside at
Frisco. Alas! I imagined all within--blood--mind--soul had changed!...
Went to Denver, St. Louis, an’ looked at the sights, not much
disappointed, because my time seemed far ahead. Then I went to my old
home. There I had my first jar. Folks all dead! Not a relation livin’.
Could not even find my mother’s grave. No one remembered me an’ I
couldn’t find any one I ever knew. The village had grown to a town.
My old home was gone. The picture of it--the little gray cottage--the
vines an’ orchard--lived in my mind. I found the place. All gone! Three
new houses there. Forty years is a long time! I didn’t build the church
or set out a park for the village of my boyhood.... Then I went on to
Chicago, Philadelphia, New York. Stayed long in New York. At first
it fascinated me. I felt I wanted to see it out of curiosity. I was
lookin’ for some place, somethin’ I expected. But I never saw it. The
hotels, theaters, saloons, gamblin’ hells, an’ worse--the operas an’
parks an’ churches--an’ the wonderful stores--I saw them all. Men an’
women like ants rushin’ to an’ fro. No rest, no sleep, no quiet, no
peace! I met people, a few good, but most bad. An’ in some hotels an’
places I got to be well known. I got to have a name for throwin’ gold
around. Men of business sought my acquaintance, took me to dinners,
made much of me--all to get me to invest in their schemes. Women! Aw!
the women were my second disappointment! Wansfell, women are like
desert mirages. Beautiful women, in silks an’ satins, diamonds blazin’
on bare necks an’ arms, made eyes at me, talked soft an’ sweet, an’
flattered me an’ praised me an’ threw themselves at me--all because
they thought I had stacks an’ rolls an’ bags of gold. Never a woman did
I meet who liked _me_, who had any thought to hear my story, to learn
my hope! Never a kind whisper! Never any keen eye that saw through my
outside!

“Well, I wasn’t seem’ an’ findin’ the life I’d hoped for. That New York
is as near hell as I ever got. I saw men with quiet faces an’ women who
seemed happy. But only in the passin’ crowds. I never got to meet any
of them. They had their homes an’ troubles an’ happiness, I figured,
an’ they were not lookin’ for anyone to fleece. It was my habit to get
into a crowd an’ watch, for I come to believe the mass of busy, workin’
ordinary people were good. Maybe if I’d somehow made acquaintance with
a few of them it’d have been better. But that wasn’t seein’ life. I
thought I knew what I wanted.

“All my yearnin’s an’ dreams seemed to pall on me. Where was the
joy? Wansfell, the only joy I had was in findin’ some poor beggar or
bootblack or poor family, an’ givin’ them gold. The great city was full
of them. An’ I gave away thousands of dollars. God knows _that_ was
some good. An’ now I see if I could have stuck it out, livin’ among
such people, I might have been of some use in the world. But, man!
livin’ was not possible in New York. All night the hotels roared. All
night the streets hummed an’ clanged. There was as many people rushin’
around by night as by day, an’ different from each other, like bats
an’ hawks. I got restless an’ half sick. I couldn’t sleep. I seemed
suffocatin’ for fresh air. I wanted room to breathe. When I looked up
at night I couldn’t see the stars. Think of that for a desert man!

“At last I knew I couldn’t find what I wanted in New York, an’ I
couldn’t hunt any longer there. I had to leave. My plans called for
goin’ abroad. _Then_ came a strange feelin’ that I must have had all
the time, but didn’t realize. The West called me back. I seemed to
want the Middle West, where I’d planned to buy the green farm. But
you know I’m a man who sticks to his mind, when it’s made up. There
were London, Paris, Rome I’d dreamed about an’ had planned to see.
Well, I had a hell of a fight with somethin’ in myself before I could
get on that ship. Right off then I got seasick. Wansfell, the bite of
a rattlesnake never made me half as sick as that dirty-gray, windy
sea. The trip across was a nightmare.... London was a dreary place as
big as the Mohave an’ full of queer fishy-eyed people whom I couldn’t
understand. But I liked their slow, easy-goin’ ways. Then Paris....
Wansfell, that Paris was a wonderful, glitterin’ beautiful city, an’
if a city had been a place for me, Paris would have been it. But I was
lost. I couldn’t speak French--couldn’t learn a word. My tongue refused
to twist round their queer words. All the same, I saw what I’d set
out to see.... Wansfell, if a man fights despair for the women of the
world, he’ll get licked in Paris. An’ the reason is, there you see the
same thing in the homely, good, an’ virtuous little wives as you see in
those terrible, fascinatin’, dazzlin’ actresses. What that somethin’ is
I couldn’t guess. But you like all Frenchwomen. They’re gay an’ happy
an’ square. If I applied the truth of this desert to these Frenchwomen,
I’d say the somethin’ so fascinatin’ in them is that the race is
peterin’ out an’ the women are dyin’ game.

“From Paris I went to Rome, an’ there a queer state of mind came to me.
I could look at temples an’ old ruins without even seein’ them--with
my mind on my own country. All this travel idea, seein’ an’ learnin’
an’ doin’, changed so that it was hateful. I cut out Egypt, an’ I can’t
remember much of India an’ Japan. But when I got on ship bound for
Frisco I couldn’t see anythin’ for a different reason, an’ that was
tears. I’d come far to find joy of life, an’ now I wept tears of joy
because I was homeward bound. It was a great an’ splendid feelin’!

“The Pacific isn’t like the Atlantic. It’s vast an’ smooth an’
peaceful, with swells like the mile-long ridges of the desert. I didn’t
get seasick. An’ on that voyage I got some rest. Maybe the sea is
like the desert. Anyway, it calmed me, an’ I could think clear once
more. As I walked the deck by day, or hung over the rail by night,
my yearnin’s an’ dreams came back. When I reached Frisco I’d take
train for the Middle West, an’ somewhere I’d buy the green ranch an’
settle down to peace an’ quiet for the rest of my life. The hope was
beautiful. I believed in it. That wild desire to search for the joy
of life had to be buried. I had been wrong about that. It was only a
dream--a boy’s dream, on the hope of which I had spent the manhood of
my best years. Ah! it was bitter--bitter to realize that. I--who had
never given in to defeat!... But I conquered my regret because I knew
I had just mistaken what I wanted. An’ it was not wholly too late!...
Wansfell, you’ve no idea of the size of the old earth. I’ve been round
it. An’ that Pacific! Oh, what an endless ocean of waters! It seemed
eternal, like the sky. But--at last--I got to--Frisco.”

Here Dismukes choked and broke down. The deep, rolling voice lost its
strength for a moment. He drew a long, long breath that it hurt Adam to
hear.

“Wansfell, when my feet once more touched land it was as though I’d
really found happiness,” presently went on Dismukes, clearing his
throat of huskiness. “I was in the clouds. I could have kissed the
very dirt. My own, my native land!... Now for the last leg of the
journey--an’ the little farm--the home to be--friends to make--perhaps
a sweet-faced woman an’ a child! Oh, it was as glorious as my lost
dreams!

“But suddenly somethin’ strange an’ terrible seized hold of me. A hand
as strong as the wind gripped my heart.... _The desert called me!_...
Day an’ night I walked the streets. Fierce as the desert itself I
fought. Oh, I fought my last an’ hardest fight!... On one hand was
the dream of my life--the hope of a home an’ happiness--what I had
slaved for. Forty years of toil! On the other hand the call of the
desert! Loneliness, solitude, silence, the white, hot days, the starlit
nights, the vast open desert, free and peaceful, the gray wastes, the
colored mountains, sunrise and sunset. Ah! The desert was my only
home. I belonged to the silence an’ desolation. Forty years a wanderer
on the desert, blindly seekin’ for gold! But, oh, it was not gold I
wanted! Not gold! Nor fortune! That was my dream, my boyish dream. Gold
did not nail me to the desert sands. That was only my idea. That was
what brought me into the wastelands. I misunderstood the lure of the
desert. I thought it was gold, but, no! For me the desert existed as
the burrow for the fox. For me the desert linked my strange content to
the past ages. For me the soul of the desert was my soul.... _I had to
go back!_... I could live nowhere else.... Forty years! My youth--my
manhood!... I’m old now--old! My dreams are done.... Oh, my God!... I
HAD TO COME BACK!”

Adam sat confounded in grief, in shock. His lips were mute. Like
a statue he gazed across the wasteland, so terribly magnified, so
terribly illumined by the old prospector’s revelation. How awful the
gigantic red rock barriers! How awful the lonely, limitless expanse of
sand! The eternal gray, the eternal monotony!

“Comrade, take the story of my life to heart,” added Dismukes. “You’re
a young man still. Think of my forty years of hell, that now has made
me a part of the desert. Think of how I set out upon my journey so
full of wild, sweet hope! Think of my wonderful journey, through the
glitterin’ cities, round the world, only to find my hope a delusion!...
A desert mirage!”

“Man, I cannot think!” burst out Adam. “I am stunned.... Oh, the
pity of it--the sickening, pitiless fatality! Oh, my heart breaks
for you!... Dismukes, of what use is hope? Oh, why do we fight?
Where--where does joy abide for such as you and me?”

The great, rolling ox eyes gleamed upon Adam, strong with the soul of
peace, of victory in their depths.

“Wansfell, joy an’ happiness, whatever makes life worth livin’, is in
_you_. No man can go forth to find what he hasn’t got within him.”

Then he gazed away across the desert, across sand and cactus and
mesquite, across the blue-hazed, canyon-streaked ranges toward the
north.

“I go to Death Valley,” he continued, slowly, in his deep voice. “I had
left enough gold to grub-stake me. An’ I go to Death Valley, but not
to seek my fortune. It will be quiet and lonely there. An’ I can think
an’ rest an’ sleep. Perhaps I’ll dig a little of the precious yellow
dust, just to throw it away. Gold!... The man who loves gold is ruined.
Passion makes men mad.... An’ now I must go.”

“Death Valley? No! No!” whispered Adam.

“Straight for Death Valley! It has called me across half the earth. I
remember no desert place so lonely an’ silent an’ free. So different
from the noisy world of men that crowds my mind still! There I shall
find peace, perhaps my grave. See! life is all a hopin’ to find! I
go on my way. Wansfell, we never know what drives us. But I am happy
now.... Our trails have crossed for the last time. Good-by.”

He wrung Adam’s hand and quickly whirled to his burros.

“Hehaw! Gedap!” he shouted, with a smack on their haunches. Adam
whispered a farewell he could not speak. Then, motionless, he watched
the old prospector face the gray wastes toward the north and the
beckoning mountains. Adam had an almost irresistible desire to run
after Dismukes, to go with him. But the man wanted to be alone. What a
stride he had! The fruitless quest had left him that at least. The same
old rolling gait, the same doggedness! Dismukes was a man who could not
be halted. Adam watched him--saw him at last merge and disappear in
the gray, lonely sage. And then into Adam’s strained sight seemed to
play a quivering mirage--a vision of Death Valley, ghastly and white
and naked, the abode of silence and decay set down under its dark-red
walls--the end of the desert and the grave of Dismukes.



CHAPTER XXV


The November morning was keen and cold and Adam and Genie were on their
way to spend the day at Andreas Canyon. Adam carried a lunch, a gun,
and a book. Genie seemed so exuberant with wonderful spirits that she
could scarcely keep her little moccasined feet on the sand. Adam had an
unconscious joy in the sight of her.

A dim old Indian trail led up one of the slopes of Andreas Canyon, to
which Adam called Genie’s attention.

“We’ll climb this some day--when it comes time to take you away,” said
Adam. “It’s a hard climb, but the shortest way out. And you’ll get to
see the desert from the top of old Jacinto. That will be worth all the
climb.”

His words made Genie pensive. Of late the girl had become more and
more beyond Adam’s comprehension--wistful and sad and dreamy by turns,
now like a bird and again like a thundercloud, but mostly a dancing,
singing creature full of unutterable sweetness of life.

Beyond the oasis, some distance up the canyon, was a dense growth of
mesquite and other brush. It surrounded a sandy glade in which bubbled
forth a crystal spring of hot water. The bottom was clean white sand
that boiled up in the center like shining bubbles. Indians in times
past had laid stones around the pool. A small cottonwood tree on the
west side of the glade had begun to change the green color of the
leaves to amber and gold. All around the glade, like a wild, untrimmed
hedge, the green and brown mesquites stood up, hiding the gray desert,
insulating this cool, sandy, beautiful spot, hiding it away from the
stern hardness outside.

Genie had never been here. Quickly she lost her pensiveness and began
to sing like a lark. She kicked one moccasin one way and the other in
another direction. Straightway she was on the stones, with her bare,
slender, brown feet in the water.

“Ooooo! It’s hot!” she cried, ecstatically. “But, oh, it’s fine!” And
she dipped them back.

“Genie, you stay here and amuse yourself,” said Adam. “I’m going to
climb. Maybe I’ll be back soon--maybe not. You play and read, and eat
the lunch when you’re hungry.”

“All right, Wanny,” she replied, gayly. “But I should think you’d
rather stay with me.”

Adam had to be alone. He needed to be high above the desert, where he
could look down. Another crisis in his transformation was painfully
pending. The meeting with Dismukes had been of profound significance,
and its effect was going to be far-reaching.

He climbed up the zigzag, dim trail, rising till the canyon yawned
beneath him, and the green thicket where he had left Genie was but a
dot. Then the way led round the slope of the great foothill, where he
left the trail and climbed to the craggy summit. It was a round, bare
peak of jagged bronze rock, and from this height half a mile above the
desert the outlook was magnificent. Beyond and above him the gray walls
and fringed peaks of San Jacinto towered, sculptored and grand against
the azure blue.

Finding a comfortable seat with rest for his back, Adam faced the
illimitable gulf of color and distance below. Always a height such as
this, where, like a lonely eagle, he could command an unobstructed
view, had been a charm, a strange delight of his desert years. Not
wholly had love of climbing, or to see afar, or to feel alone, or to
travel in beauty, been accountable for this habit.

Adam’s first reward for this climb, before he had settled himself to
watch the desert, was sight of a condor. Only rarely did Adam see this
great and loneliest of lonely birds--king of the eagles and of the blue
heights. Never had Adam seen one close. A wild, slate-colored bird,
huge of build, with grisly neck and wonderful, clean-cut head, cruelty
beaked! Even as Adam looked the condor pitched off the crag and spread
his enormous wings.

A few flaps of those wide wings--then he sailed out over the gulf, and
around, rising as he circled. When he started he was below Adam; on
the first lap of that circle he rose even with Adam’s position; and
when he came round again he sailed over Adam, perhaps fifty feet. Adam
thrilled at the sight. The condor was peering down with gleaming, dark,
uncanny eyes. He saw Adam. His keen head and great, crooked beak moved
to and fro; the sun shone on his gray-flecked breast; every feather of
his immense wings seemed to show, to quiver in the air, and the tip
feathers were ragged and separate. He cut the air with a soft swish.

Around he sailed, widening his circle, rising higher, with never a
movement of his wings. That fact, assured by Adam’s sharp sight, was so
marvelous that it fascinated him. What power enabled the condor to rise
without propelling himself? No wind stirred down there under the peaks,
so he could not lift himself by its aid. He sailed aloft. He came down
on one slope of his circle, to rise up on the other, and always he went
higher. How easily! How gracefully! He was peering down for sight of
prey in which to sink cruel beak and talons. Once he crossed the sun
and Adam saw his shadow on the gleaming rocks below. Then his circles
widened across the deep canyon, high above the higher foothills, until
he approached the lofty peak. Higher still, and here the winds of the
heights caught him. How he breasted them, sailing on and up, soaring
toward the blue!

Adam watched the bird with strained eyes that hurt but never tired.
To watch him was one of the things Adam needed. On and ever upward
soared the condor. His range had changed with the height. His speed
had increased with the wind. His spirit had mounted as he climbed. The
craggy gray peak might have harbored his nest and his mate, but he gave
no sign. High over the lonely cold heights he soared. There, far above
his domain, he circled level for a while, then swooped down like a
falling star, miles across the sky, to sail, to soar, to rise again.
Away across the heavens he flew, wide winged and free, king of the
eagles and of the winds, lonely and grand in the blue. Never a movement
of his wings! Higher he sailed. Higher he soared till he was a fading
speck, till he was gone out of sight to his realm above.

“Gone!” sighed Adam. “He is gone. And for all I know he may be a spirit
of the wind. From his invisible abode in the heavens he can see the
sheep on the crags--he can see me here--he can see Genie below--he can
see the rabbit at his burrow.... Nature! Life! Oh, what use to think?
What use to torture myself over mystery I can never solve? I learn one
great truth only to find it involved in greater mystery.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam had realized the need of shocks, else the desert influence would
insulate him forever in his physical life. The meeting with Dismukes
had been one.

Why had Dismukes been compelled to come back to the desert? What
was the lure of the silent places? How could men sacrifice friends,
people, home, love, civilization for the solitude and loneliness of the
wastelands? Where lay the infinite fascination in death and decay and
desolation? Who could solve the desert secret?

Like white, living flames, Adam’s thoughts leaped in his mind.

These wanderers of the wastelands, like Dismukes and himself, were
not laboring under fancy or blindness or ignorance or imagination
or delusion. They were certainly not actuated by a feeling for some
nameless thing. The desert was a fact. The spell it cast was a fact.
Also it began to dawn upon Adam that nothing in civilization, among
glittering cities and moving people, in palaces or hovels, in wealth
or poverty, in fame or ignominy, in any walk of worldly life, could
cast a spell of enchantment, could swell women’s hearts and claim men’s
souls like the desert. The secret then had to do with a powerful
effect of the desert--that was to say, of lonely and desolate and wild
places--upon the minds of human beings.

Adam remembered how Dismukes had loved to travel alone. If he had any
selfishness in his great heart, it had been to gloat over the lonely
places by himself. Even with Adam he seldom shared those moments of
watching and listening. Always, some part of every day, he would spend
alone on a ridge, on a height, or out on the sage, communing with this
strange affinity of the desert. Adam had known Dismukes, at the end of
a hard day’s travel, to walk a mile and climb to a ledge, there to do
nothing at all but watch and listen. It was habit. He did it without
thinking. When Adam confronted him with the fact he was surprised. On
Adam’s side, this strange faculty or obsession, whatever it was, seemed
very much more greatly marked. Dismukes had, or imagined he had, the
need to seek gold. Adam had little to do but wander over the waste ways
of the desert.

And now Adam, stirred to his depths by the culminating, fatal tragedy
of Dismukes’ life, and a passionate determination to understand it,
delved into his mind and memory as never before, to discover forgotten
lessons and larger growths. But not yet in his pondering did they
prove to him why every day of his desert life, and particularly in the
last few years, had he gone to this or that lonely spot for no reason
at all except that it gave him strange, vague happiness. Here was an
astounding fact. He could have seen the same beauty, color, grandeur,
right from his camp. The hours he had passed thus were innumerable.

What had he done, what had gone on in his mind, during all these
seemingly useless and wasted hours? Nothing! Merely nothing it seemed
to sit for hours, gazing out over the desolate, gray-green, barren
desert, to sit listening to the solitude, or the soft wind, or the
seep of sand, or perhaps the notes of a lonely bird. Nothing, because
most of all that time he did not have in his mind the significance of
his presence there. He really did not know he was there. This state
of apparent unconsciousness had never been known to Adam at all until
Magdalene Virey had given him intimation of it. He had felt the thing,
but had never thought about it. But during these three years that he
had lived near San Jacinto it had grown until he gained a strange and
fleeting power to exercise it voluntarily. Even this voluntary act
seemed unthinking.

Adam, now, however, forced it to be a thinking act. And after many
futile efforts he at last, for a lightning flash of an instant, seemed
to capture the state of mind again. He recognized it because of an
equally swift, vague joy that followed. Joy, he called it, for want
of a better name. It was not joy. But it was wildly sweet--no--not
so--but perhaps sweetly wild. That emotion, then, was the secret of
the idle hours--the secret of the doing nothing. If he could only
grasp the secret of the nothing! Looked at with profound thought, this
nothing resolved itself into exactly what it had seemed to his first
vague, wandering thought--merely listening, watching, smelling, feeling
the desert. That was all. But now the sense of it began to assume
tremendous importance. Adam believed himself to be not only on the
track of the secret of the desert’s influence, but also of life itself.

Adam realized that during these lonely hours he was one instant a
primitive man and the next a thinking, or civilized, man. The thinking
man he understood; all difficulty of the problem lay hid in this other
side of him. He could watch, he could feel without thinking. That
seemed to be the state of the mind of an animal. Only it was a higher
state--a state of intense, feeling, waiting, watching suspension! Adam
divined that it was the mental state of the undeveloped savage, and
that it brought fleeting moments of strange emotion.

Beyond all comprehension was the marvel of inscrutable nature. Somehow
it had developed man. But the instincts of the ages were born with
him when he was born. In blood, bone, tissue, heart, and brain! Wonder
beyond that was the wonder that man had ever become civilized at all!
Some infinite spirit was behind this.

In the illumination of his mind Adam saw much that had been mystery
to him. When he had hunted meat, why had the chase been thrilling,
exciting, pressing his heart hot against his side, sending his blood
in gusts over his body? What a joy to run and leap after the quarry!
Strange indeed had been his lust to kill beasts when, after killing,
he was sorry. Stranger than this was a fact keen in his memory--the
most vivid and intense feeling--come back from his starvation days when
he had a wild rapture in pursuit of birds, rats, snakes that he had
to kill with stones. Never, in all the years, had this rapture faded.
Relic of his cruel boyhood days, when, like all boys, he had killed for
the sake of killing, until some aspect of his bloody, quivering victim
awakened conscience! Conscience then must be the great factor in human
progress--the difference between savage and civilized man. Terribly
strange for Adam to look at his brawny hands and remember what they had
done to men! Over him, then, gushed the hot blood, over him quivered
the muscular intensity, over him waved the fierce passion which,
compared with that of his boyhood, was as the blaze of sun to a candle.
He had killed men in ruthless justice, in strife of self-defense, but
always afterward he had regretted. He had fought men in a terrible,
furious joy, with eyes tingeing red, with nerves impervious to pain,
with the salt taste of a fellow creature’s blood sweet on his snarling
lips, but always afterward he was full of wonder and shame.

Just under the skin of every man and every woman, perhaps stronger
in one than another, flowed red blood in which primitive instincts
still lived and would always live. That was the secret of the desert.
The lonely, desolate land, the naked sand and rock-ribbed hills, the
wilderness of silence and solitude stirred the instinctive memory of a
primitive day. Men watched and listened unthinkingly in the wastelands,
for what they knew not, but it was for the fleeting trancelike
transformation back to savage nature. There were many reasons for
which men became wanderers in the wastelands--love of gold; the need
to forget or to remember; passion and crime and wanderlust; the appeal
of beauty and sublimity--but what nailed them to the forbidding and
inhospitable desert was the instinct of the savage. That was the secret
of the spell of the desert. Men who had been confined to cities,
chained to dull and humdrum toils, stagnating in the noisy haunts, sore
and sick and deflated, standing for some impossible end, when let loose
in the gray, iron-walled barrens of the desert were caught by a subtle
and insidious enchantment that transfigured some, made beasts of most,
and mysteriously bound all. Travelers passing across could not escape
it, and they must always afterward remember the desert with a thrill
of strange pleasure and of vague regret. Women who had been caught by
circumstance and nailed to homes along the roads or edges of the desert
must feel that nameless charm, though they hated the glaring, desolate
void. Magdalene Virey, resigned to her doom in Death Valley, had
responded to the nature that was in her.

Through this thing Adam saw the almost inconceivable progress of
men upward. If progress had not been slow, nature would never have
evolved him. And it seemed well that something of the wild and the
primitive must forever remain instinctive in the human race. If the
primitive were eliminated from men there would be no more progress.
All the gladness of the senses lived in this law. The sweetness of
the ages came back in thoughtless watching. The glory of the sunrise,
the sadness of the sunset, the whisper of the wind and the murmur of
the stream, the music of birds and their beauty--the magic of these
came back from the dim, mystic dreamland of the primal day, from the
childhood of the race. Nature was every man’s mother. Nevertheless,
the wonder and the splendor of life was the age-long progress of man
toward unattainable perfection, the magnificent victory of humanity
over mastery by primal instincts. And the fact that this seemed true to
Adam made him wonder if the spirit of this marvelous life was not God.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun was westering when he descended the long, zigzag trail. He
walked slowly, tired from his mental strain. And when he got down the
sun was just tipping the ramparts above, flooding the canyon with
golden haze and ruddy rays. Adam thought that Genie, weary from long
waiting, would be asleep on the sand, or at least reading, and that he
could slip into the glade to surprise her. They played a game of this
sort, and to her had gone most of the victories.

Like a panther he slid through the grasping mesquite boughs, and
presently, coming to the denser brush, he stooped low to avoid making
a rustle. As he moved along, bending so that he touched the sand with
his hands, he came upon two fat beetles wagging and contesting over
possession of some little particle. Scooping up a handful of sand,
he buried them, and then, as they so ludicrously scrambled out, he
gathered them up, intending, if he could get behind Genie unobserved,
to drop them on her book or bare feet.

Thus it happened that he did not look ahead until after he had
straightened up inside the glade. All before him seemed golden gleams
and streaks of sunset rose. The air was thick with amber haze. Genie
stood naked, ankle-deep in the bubbling spring. Like an opal her
slender white body caught glimmer and sheen. Wondrously transparent
she looked, for the sunlight seemed to shine through her! The red-gold
tints of her hair burned like a woven cord of fire in bronze.
Glistening crystal drops of water fell from her outstretched hands and
her round arms gleamed where the white met the line of tan. The light
of the sun shone upon her pensive, beautiful face as she stood wholly
unaware of intrusion. Then she caught the sound of Adam’s stifled
gasp. She saw him. She burst into a scream of startled, wild laughter
that rang with a trill through the dell.

Adam, breaking the spell of that transfixed instant, rushed headlong
away.



CHAPTER XXVI


Gaining the open, Adam strode swiftly down the trail to where the
canyon spread wide and ended in the bowlder-strewn desert.

The world in which he moved seemed transfigured, radiant with the last
glow of dying day, with a glory of golden gleam. His heart pounded and
his blood flooded to and fro, swelling his veins. Life on the earth
for him had been shot through and through with celestial fire. His
feet were planted on the warm sands and his hands reached to touch
the gray old bowlders. He needed these to assure himself that he had
not been turned into the soft, cool wind or the slanting amber rays
so thickly glistening with particles of dust, or the great, soaring
king of the eagles. Adam crushed a bunch of odorous sage to his face,
smelled it, breathed it, tasted it; and the bitter sweetness thrilled
his senses. It was real. It was a part of the vast and glowing desert,
of the wonderful earth, of the infinite universe that he yearned to
incorporate into his being. The last glorious rays of the setting sun
shone upon him and magnified his stature in a long, purple shadow. How
the last warmth seemed to kiss his cheek as it sank behind the rim of
the range! The huge bowlders were warm and alive under his hands. He
pricked his fingers upon the _cholla_ thorns just to see the ruddy
drops of his life’s current; and there was strange joy in the sting
which proved him flesh and blood and nerve. He stood alone, as he had
many thousands of times on the gray old desert, his feet on the sand,
his knees in the sage; but the being alone then was inexpressibly
different. It was as if he had, like the tarantula wasp, been born from
a cocoon stage in a dark, dead cell, into a beautiful world of light,
of freedom, of color, of beauty, of all that was life. He felt the
glory of his beating heart, his throbbing pulse, his sight and all his
sense. He turned his face to the cool, sweet, sage-scented breeze, and
then he lifted it to the afterglow of sunset. Ah! the new, strange joy
of life--the incalculable force of the natural man!

The luminous desert stretched before him, valley and mountain, and
beyond them was other range and other valley, leading to the sea, and
across its heaving bosom were other lands; and above him was the vast,
deep-blue sky with its pale evening star, and beyond them began the
infinite.

Adam felt himself a part of it all. His ecstasy was that he lived.
Nature could not deny him. He stood there, young and strong and vital.

Then he heard Genie calling him. With a start he turned to answer.
She was running down the trail. How swift, how lithe, how light! The
desert had given her the freedom, the grace, the suppleness of its wild
denizens. Like a fawn she bounded over the stones, and her hair caught
the last gleams of glowing sunlight. When she neared Adam she checked
her flying steps, pattering to a halt, one brown hand over her breast.

“Wheooo!” she burst out, panting. “I--couldn’t--find--you. Why’d--you
come--so far?”

The something that had come between Adam’s sight and the desert now
surrounded Genie. Immeasurably she was transformed, and the change
seemed a mystery.

“We must hurry back. It’ll soon be dark. Come,” he replied.

With step as free and swift as his she kept pace with him.

“Wanny, you stole up on me--tried to scare me--while I was bathing,”
she said, with arch reproach.

“Genie, it was an accident,” he returned, hurriedly, and how strangely
the blood tingled in his face! “I meant to scare you--yes. But I--I
never thought--I never dreamed ... Genie, I give you my word....
Please say you believe me!”

“Why, Wanny,” she said, in surprise, “of course I believe you! It’s
nothing to mind about. I didn’t mind.”

“Thank you. I--I’m glad you take it that way,” replied Adam. “I’m sorry
I was so--so stupid.”

“How funny you are!” she exclaimed, and her gay laugh pealed out.
“What’s there to be sorry about?... You see, I forgot it was getting
late.... Ooooo! how good the water felt! I just couldn’t get enough....
You did scare me just a little. I heard you--and was scared before I
looked.... Wanny, I guess I was imagining things--dreaming, you call
it. I was all wet, and looking at myself in the sunlight. I’d never
seen myself like that. I’d read of mermaids with shining scales of
gold, and nymphs of the woods catching falling blossoms. And I guess I
thought I was them--and everything.”

Then Adam scorned the old husk of worldliness that had incased his
mind in his boyhood, and clung round it still. This child of nature
had taught him many a thought-provoking lesson, and here was another,
somehow elevating and on a level with his mental progress of the day.
Genie had never lived in the world, nor had she been taught many of
its customs. She was like a shy, wild young fawn; she was a dreaming,
exuberant girl. Genie had been taught to write and study and read, and
was far from being ignorant; but she had not understood the meaning of
Adam’s apology. What struck Adam so deeply and confounded him again
was the fact that her innocent and sweet smile now, as she gazed up
at him, was little different from the one upon her face when she saw
him staring at her nude. She had been surprised at his concern and had
laughed at his contrition. And that low, rippling laugh, so full of
vital and natural life, seemed to blow, as the desert wind blew worn
and withered leaves, all of Adam’s recalled sophistications back into
the past whence they had come.

Adam and Genie walked hand in hand down the long bowlder-strewn
slope to the valley floor, where the _cholla_ shone paling silver in
gathering twilight, and the delicate crucifixion tree deceived the
eye. The lonely November twilight deepened into night. The stars shone
bright. The cool wind blew. The sage rustled.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sleep did not soon woo Adam’s eyelids this night, with the consequence
that he awoke a little later than his usual hour. The rose of the dawn
had bloomed.

Then Adam, on his knees by the brown running stream, in the midst of
his ablutions, halted to stare at the sunrise. Had it ever before been
so strangely beautiful? During his sleep the earth had revolved, and,
lo! here was the sun again. Wonderful and perennial truth! Not only
had it revolved, but it had gone on its mysterious journey, hurtling
through space with inconceivable rapidity. While he slept! Again he
had awakened. A thousand years ago he had awakened just like this, so
it seemed, to the sunrise, to the loneliness of lonely places, to the
beauty of nature, to the joy of life. He sensed some past state, which,
when he thought about it, faded back illusively and was gone. But he
knew he had lived somewhere before this. All of life was in him. The
marvelous spirit he felt now would never die.

       *       *       *       *       *

There dawned upon Adam a sudden consciousness of Genie’s beauty. She
was the last realized and the most beautiful creation of the desert
around him.

It came to him as a great surprise. She, too, knelt at the stream,
splashing the cool water, bathing her face, wetting the dark,
gold-tinted locks and brushing them back. Curiously and absorbingly
Adam gazed at her, with eyes from which some blinding shutter had
fallen. Yes, she was beautiful. It seemed a simple fact that he had
overlooked, yet it was amazing. It distracted him.

“Wanny, you’re all eyes,” cried Genie, gayly. “What’s the matter with
me? Why do you look so?”

“Genie, you’re growing up,” he replied, soberly.

“Well, you’d have known that before if you’d seen me sewing,” she said.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Guess I’m nearly seventeen,” she said, and the words brought back the
dreams.

“Why, you’re a young lady!” ejaculated Adam. “And--and----” He had been
about to add that she was beautiful, but he held his tongue.

“I guess that, too.... Hold out your arm.”

Adam complied, and was further amazed to see, as she walked under
his outstretched arm, that the glossy, wavy crown of her head almost
touched it. She was as tall and slim and graceful as an arrowweed.

“There! I’ll have you know you’re a mighty big man,” she said. “And if
you weren’t so big I’d come clear up to your shoulder.”

“Genie, don’t you want to leave this desert?” he queried, bluntly.

“Oh no,” she replied, instantly. “I love it. And--and--please don’t
make me think of towns, of lots of people. I want to run wild like a
road runner. I’d be perfectly happy if I didn’t have to spend half
the day mending these old clothes.... Wanny, if they get any worse
they’ll fall off me--and _then_ I’ll have to run around like you saw me
yesterday!... Oh, but for the thorns, that’d be grand!”

Her light, rippling laugh rang out, sweet and gay.

Adam waited for her later, in the shade of Taquitch Canyon, where from
the topmost of a jumble of bowlders he watched a distant waterfall,
white and green as it flashed over a dark cliff.

He watched her coming. Her ragged boy’s garb with its patches and rents
no longer hid her femininity and her charm from his eyes. He saw anew.
The litheness of her, the round and graceful figure from flying feet to
glinting hair, cried aloud to the loneliness of Adam’s heart the truth
of her. An enchantment hung upon her very movements. She traveled from
rock to rock, poising, balancing, leaping, and her curly hair danced
on her head. Quick as those of a wildcat were her leaps. And her gay,
sweet call or cry, birdlike and wild, echoed from the cliffs.

She was coming to Adam across the great jumble of rocks--a girl
wonderful as a sprite. And her coming was suddenly realized as
fulfillment of dreams. Adam faced the truth of some facts about his
dreaming. Lonely hours on lonely slopes, of waiting and watching, had
created the shadow of a woman or a girl gliding in the golden glow of
the afternoon sunlight, coming to charm away forever the silence and
solitude. So innumerable times he had dreamed, but never realized till
now those dreams. She was coming, and the sleepy shade awoke to a gleam
and a voice. The lacy waterfall shone white and its murmur seemed music
of many streams. A canyon swallow twittered.

Adam thought how passing strange had been the tortures, the awakenings,
and changings of his desert experience. And here was a vague dream
fulfilled! This realization was unutterably sweet--so sweet because
these years had been barren of youth, steeped in unconscious growing
worship of beauty, spent alone with pains and toils. He watched her
coming. Fresh as the foam of the waterfall, clean as the winds of
the heights, wild as the wild young fawn--so she seemed! Youth and
gayety--beauty and life!

But suddenly Adam seemed struck by an emotion, if not of terror, then
of dread at some inconceivable and appalling nature of her presence.
That emotion was of the distant past as was the vague peril of her
approach. A girl--a woman creature--mystery of the ages--the giver of
life as the sun gave heat--had come to him, out of the clouds or the
desert sands, and the fatality of her coming was somewhat terrible.

Genie reached the huge bowlder upon which Adam sat, and like a squirrel
she ran up its steep side, to plump herself breathless and panting down
against his knees.

“Ah! Old Taquitch--here’s another--Indian maiden--for you to steal,”
she said, roguishly. “But before you--carry me up to the clouds--duck
me under the waterfall!”

All the accumulated thought and emotion of recent hours concentrated in
the gaze he fixed upon her face.

Her trilling laugh pealed out. She thought he was playing Taquitch, god
of the heights. He was teasing her with his piercing eyes.

“Look! Look at me, O Taquitch!” she cried, with deep, pretended
solemnity. “I am Ula, princess of the Coahuilas. I have left my
father’s house. I have seen the sun shining in your face, oh, god of
the lightnings! And I love--I love--I love with all the Indian’s heart.
I will go with you to the peaks. But never--never more shall you steal
another maiden!”

Adam scarcely heard Genie. He was piercing through eyes and face to the
mind and soul and life and meaning of her beauty. Her skin was creamy,
golden brown, transparent, with tiny tracery of veins underneath and
faint tints of rose. The low forehead and level brows showed moist
and soft and thoughtful under the dark, damp curls with their amber
glints. A hint of desert leanness hid in the contour of her oval face.
Her mouth was strong, with bowed upper lip, the under sensitive and
sad--a red, sweet mouth, like a flower. And her eyes, now meeting his
so frankly, losing the mock solemnity and the fun, became deep-brown,
crystal gulfs of light and shade, of thought and feeling, beautiful
with the beauty of exquisite color, but lovelier for the youth, the joy
and wonder of life, the innocence of soul.

“Wanny--are you--playing?” she asked, tremulously, and her warm little
hand clasped his.

That changed the spell of her. To look at her beauty was nothing
comparable with the warm throb of her young, pulsing life. Out of
Adam’s slow and painful and intense thought at last evolved a nucleus
of revelation. But those clear eyes strangely checked this growing
sense of a truth about to overwhelm him. They made him think, and
thought had begun to waver and pale beside some subtler faculty of his
being. Thus he realized the slow preponderance of feeling over thought,
of body over soul, of physical over spiritual. And in this realization
of unequal conflict he divined the meaning of his strange sense of
peril in Genie’s presence. The peril lay in the sophistication of his
mind, not in Genie’s beauty. Naturally as the mating of the birds he
wanted her. That was all. It was like her simplicity, inevitable as
life itself, and true to nature! But in his thoughts, flashing after
comprehension, the simple fact loomed with staggering, overwhelming
significance.

Bidding Genie rest or amuse herself, Adam climbed to a ledge above the
waterfall, and there, with the mighty mass of mountain crowding out the
light, he threw himself upon the bare stone.

Not long did he torment himself with wonder and fury and bewilderment
over an indubitable fact. Almost at once he sank into a self-accusing
state which grew from bad to worse, until he was sick, sore, base, and
malignant in his arraignment of self. Again the old order of mind, the
habit of youthful training, the learned precepts and maxims and laws,
flooded back to augment his trouble. And when they got their sway he
cursed himself, he hated himself, he beat his breast in the shame of an
abasement terribly and inevitably and irretrievably true at that hour.

But this was a short-lived passion. It did not ring true to Adam. It
was his youth had suffered shame--the youth trained by his mother--the
youth that had fallen upon wild and evil days at old Picacho. His youth
flaming up with all its chivalry, its ideals, its sense of honor and
modesty, its white-hot shame at even an unconscious wrong to a girl!
Not the desert philosophy of manhood that saw nature clearly and saw it
whole!

“Peace!” he cried, huskily, as if driving back a ghost of his youth. “I
am no beast--no animal!”

Nay, he was a lonely wanderer of the wastelands, who many and many
a time had dreamed himself sweetheart, lover, husband of all the
beautiful women in the world. Ah! it was his love of beauty, of life!

And so in his dreams, nature, like a panther in ambush, had come
upon him unawares to grip him before he knew. Aye--he wanted Genie
now--yearned for her with all that intense and longing desire which had
falsely seemed love and joy of the whole living world. But it was not
what it seemed. All the tenderness of a brother, all the affection of
a father Adam had for Genie--emotions that now faded before the master
spirit and the imperious flame of life. How little and pitiful arose
the memory of Margarita Arallanes--how pale beside this blood fire of
his senses! Life had failed him in his youth; life had cheated him.
Yet he had arisen on stepping stones of agony to intenser love of that
life. He had been faithful, while life had mocked him.

Passionate love of life, to see, to hear, to feel, to touch, had come
to him with its saving grace, after the ruthless and violent strife
of the desert had taught him to survive. But these were not the soul
of nature. This was not nature’s secret. He was a man, a creature
of inherited instincts that the desert had intensified. In nature’s
eyes he was no different from the lonely desert bird or beast seeking
its mate. The law was not wrong, but all the progress of mankind as
represented in Adam’s revolt made that law wrong.

When at last he had driven shame from his mind and justified his
manhood over the instincts of which he could have no control, then he
faced the ordeal.

Contending tides of passion and strife! That had been his desert life.
And as the years had passed each new mounting tumult in heart or soul,
each fight against men or elements, had exceeded the last. Would there
never be an end? Was this his great ordeal--the last--before which
he must go down in defeat? No--by all the gods false or true--no, it
should never be! Thus he shot arrowy lightnings of soul at the fiery
army of instincts trooping on to overwhelm his consciousness.

For a long time the ordeal never got so far as argument. It was revel
of the senses, unleashed at last, untamed by the past, fiercer and
stronger and more irresistible for all disuse. Melancholy and terrible
was the truth that his desert years, so hard, so clean, so cold,
so pure, the restraint of his enforced exile, had developed in him
instincts masterless in their importunity. Life shrieking out of his
flesh and blood for the future that nature demanded! There was revolt
here, conscienceless revolt against the futility of manhood, voices
from the old bones of his ancestors, from the dim and mystic past. Here
at last was revealed the deepest secret of the desert, the eternal law
men read in its lonely, naked face--self-preservation and reproduction.
The individual lived and fought and perished, but the species survived.

Adam’s instinctive reaction seemed that of a savage into whose surging
blood had been ejected some inhibitory current of humanism which chafed
at the quivering shores of his veins and tried to dam the flood. He was
like a strong man convulsed by fever. Like the strung thread of a bent
bow he vibrated.

There came a knocking at the gate of his mind. The tempter! The voice
of the serpent! Nature or devil, it was all one--a mighty and eloquent
and persuasive force. It whispered to Adam that he was alone on the
desert. Fate had been cruel. Love had betrayed him. Life had denied
him. A criminal, surely not forgotten by justice, he could never leave
the lonely wastelands to live. A motherless, fatherless girl, with no
kith or kin, had been left in his care, and he had saved her, succored
her. Care and health and love had made her beautiful. By all the laws
of nature she was his, to hold, to cherish, to cheer the lonely, gray
years. He had but to open his arms and call to her, reveal to her the
mystery and glory of life, and she would be his forever. Unconsciously
she herself leaned toward this fate, tempting him in all her innocence.
She would grow into a glorious woman--the keen, sweet, fierce youth of
her answering to the work of the desert. Were not all desert flowers
more rare and vivid--were not all desert creatures more beautiful and
strong than their like elsewhere? Genie would be his, as the eagle
had its mate, and she would never know any other life. She would be
compensation for his suffering, a companion for his wandering. Think!
the joy of her, the thrill of her! The wonderful fire of her dark
eyes and the dance of her curls and the red lips ripe for kisses! No
man had any right to deny himself immortality. What was the world and
its customs to him? Where was the all-wise and beneficent God who
looked after the miserable and forlorn? Life was life, and that was
everything. Beauty in life--that was eternal, the meaning of nature,
and every man must love it, share it, and mark the image of himself
upon the future. Lastly and most potent, the present fleeting hour
that must soon pass! Let him grasp his precious jewel before it was
too late--live in the moment. Life might be eternal, but not for him.
Soon the seeping sand would nestle round his bleached bones and fill
the sockets where once his eyes had burned. Genie was a gift of chance.
He had wandered down into this valley, and now his life should never
be lonely again. Lover of beauty and worshiper of nature, he had but
to extend his arms to receive a treasure far greater than the gold of
the desert, more beautiful than its flaming flowers, more mysterious
than its fierce and inevitable life. A girl whose white body, like a
transparent opal, let the sunshine through! A woman, gift of the ages
to man, flame of love and life, most beautiful of all things quick or
dead, a mystery for man to cherish, to love, to keep, to bind!

Then, at the instant when Adam’s fall was imminent, and catastrophe
leaned like the huge overhanging mountain mass, he wrestled up to fling
the supremity of his soul into the teeth of nature.

“_No!... No!_” he gasped, hoarsely. “Not for me!”

At the last he saw clearly. The love he had for Genie now proclaimed
itself. The other had not been love, whatever its greatness, its
importunity, its almost blasting power. He was an outcast, and any day
a man or men might seek him out to kill him or be killed. What madness
was this of his to chain a joyous girl to his wandering steps? What
but woe to her and remorse to him could ever come of such relation?
Genie was so full of life and love that she hated to leave even the
loneliness of the desert. To her, in the simplicity and adaptation of
her nature, he was all. But she was a child, and the day he placed her
in an environment where youth called to youth, and there were work,
play, study, cheer, and love, he would become a memory. The kisses of
her red ripe lips were not for him. The dance of her glinting curls,
the flash of her speaking eyes, the gold-brown flesh of her, had been
created by nature; and nature must go on with its inscrutable design,
its eternal progress, leaving him outside the pale. The joy he was
to feel in Genie must come of memory, when soon he had gone on down
into the lonely wastelands. She would owe life and happiness to him,
and, though she might not know it, he always would. A child, a girl,
a woman--and some day perhaps a wife and mother--some happy man’s
blessing and joy--and these by the same inevitable nature that had
tortured him would reward him in the solemn white days and the lonely
starlit nights. For he had been and would be the creator of their
smiles. How fierce and false had been his struggle, in the light of
thought, when the truth was that lie would give his life to spare Genie
a moment’s pain!



CHAPTER XXVII


That afternoon when Adam returned to camp sore in body and spent in
force, yet with strangely tranquil soul, there was an old Indian
waiting for him. Genie had gone back long before Adam, and she sat on
the sand, evidently having difficult but enjoyable conversation with
the visitor.

At sight of his hard, craggy, bronze face, serried and seamed with
the lines of years, it seemed that a bolt shot back in Adam’s heart,
opening a long-closed door.

“Charley Jim!” he ejaculated, in startled gladness.

“How, Eagle!” His deep voice, the familiar yet forgotten name, the lean
brown hand, confirmed Adam’s sight.

“Chief, the white man has not forgotten his Indian friend,” replied
Adam.

“Eagle no same boy like mescal stalk. Heap big! Many moon! Snows on
the mountain!” said Charley Jim, with a gleam of a smile breaking the
bronze face. His fingers touched the white hair over Adam’s temples.
Pathos and dignity marked the action.

“Boy no more, Charley Jim,” returned Adam. “Eagle has his white
feathers now!”

Genie burst into a trill of laughter.

“You funny old people! You make me feel old, too,” she protested, and
she ran away.

Charley Jim’s somber eyes followed her, then returned to question Adam.

“She same girl here--long time--sick man’s girl?” And he made signs to
show the height of a child and the weakness of a man’s lungs.

“Yes, chief. He her father. Dead. Mother dead, too,” replied Adam, and
he pointed to the two green graves across the stream.

“Ugh! No live good. No get well.... Eagle, sick man have brother--him
dead. Jim find ’um. Him dig gold--no water--dead.... Jim find ’um heap
bones.”

It was thus Adam heard the story of the tragedy of Genie’s uncle.
Charley Jim told it more clearly, though just as briefly, in his own
tongue. Moons before he had found a prospector’s pack and then a pile
of rags and bones half buried in the sand over in a valley beyond the
Cottonwood Mountains. He recognized the man’s pack as belonging to the
brother of the sick man, Linwood, both of whom he knew. Adam could
trust an Indian’s memory. Genie’s uncle had come to the not rare end
of a wandering prospector’s life. The old desert tragedy--thirst! All
at once Adam’s eyes seemed to burn blind with a red dim veil, and his
tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and through his body passed a
cold shudder, and he had strange vision of himself staggering blindly
in a circle, plunging madly for the false mirage. The haunting plague
passed away. Adam turned to examine the few pack articles Charley Jim
had brought for possible identification of the dead. One of these,
a silver belt buckle of odd design, oxidized and tarnished, might
possibly be remembered by Genie. Adam called her, placed it in her
hands.

“Genie, did you ever see that?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied, with a start of recognition. “It was my father’s.
He gave it to my uncle.”

Adam nodded to the Indian. “Chief, you were right.”

“Oh, Wanny--it means he’s found my uncle--dead!” exclaimed Genie, in
awe.

“Yes, Genie,” replied Adam, with a hand of sympathy upon her shoulder.
“We know now. He’ll never come back.”

With the buckle in her hands the girl slowly walked toward the graves
of her parents.

Charley Jim mounted his pony to ride away.

“Chief--tell me of Oella,” said Adam.

The Indian gazed down upon Adam with somber eyes. Then his lean, sinewy
hand swept up with stately and eloquent gesture to be pressed over his
heart.

“Oella dead,” he replied, sonorously, and then he looked beyond Adam,
out across the lonesome land, beyond the ranges, perhaps to the realm
of his red gods. Adam read the Indian gesture. Oella had died of a
broken heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stood there at the edge of the oasis, stricken mute, as his old
Indian friend turned to go back across the valley to the Coahuila
encampment. A broken heart! That superb Indian maiden, so lithe and
tall and strong, so tranquil, so sure--serene of soul as the steady
light of her midnight eyes--dead of a broken heart! She had loved
him--a man alien to her race--a wanderer and a stranger within her
gates, and when he had gone away life became unendurable. Another
mystery of the lonely, gray, melancholy wastelands! Adam quivered there
in the grip of it all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later when he returned to Genie it was to say, simply, “My dear, as
soon as I can find my burros we pack for the long trail.”

“No!” she exclaimed, with lighting eyes.

“Yes. I shall take you out to find you a home.”

“Honest Injun?” she blazed at him, springing erect.

“Genie, I would not tease about that. We know your uncle is dead. The
time to go has come. We’ll start at sunrise.”

Forgotten were Genie’s dreams of yesterday! A day at her time of
life meant change, growth, oblivion for what had been. With a cry of
wondering delight she flung herself upon Adam, leaped and climbed to
the great height of his face, and there, like a bird, she pecked at him
with cool, sweet lips, and clung to him in an ecstasy.

“Don’t!... Still a child, Genie,” he said, huskily, as he disengaged
himself from her wild embrace. He meant that she was not still a child.
It amazed him and hurt him to see her radiance at the thought of
leaving the desert oasis which had been home for so long. Fickleness
of youth! Yesterday she had wanted to live there forever; to-day the
enchantments of new life, people, places, called alluringly. It was
what Adam had expected. It was what he wanted for her. How clear had
been his vision of the future! How truly, the moment he had fought down
his selfish desires, had he read her innocent heart! His own swelled
with gladness, numbing out the pang. For him, some little meed of
praise! Not little was it to have conquered self--not little was it to
have builded the happiness of an orphan!

Adam’s burros had grown gray in their years of idle, contented life at
the oasis. Like the road runners, they enjoyed the proximity of camp;
and he found them shaggy and fat, half asleep while they grazed. He
drove them back to the shade of the cottonwoods, where Genie, seeing
this last and immutable proof of forthcoming departure, began to dance
over the sand in wild glee.

“Genie, you’ll do well to save some of your nimbleness,” admonished
Adam. “We’ll have a load. You’ve got to climb the mountain and walk
till I can buy another burro.”

“Oh, Wanny, I’ll fly!” she cried.

“Humph! I rather think you will fly the very first time a young fellow
sees you--a big girl in those ragged boy’s clothes.”

Then Adam thrilled anew with the sweetness, the wonder of her. His cold
heart warmed to the core. How he would live in the hope and happiness
and love that surely must be awaiting this girl! His mention of a young
fellow suddenly rendered Genie amazed, shy, bewildered.

“But--but--Wanny--you--you won’t let any yo-young fellow see me _this_
way!” she pleaded.

“How can I help it? You just wouldn’t sew and make dresses. Now you’re
in for it. We’ll meet a lot of lads.... And, Genie, just the other day
you didn’t care how _I_ saw you.”

“Oh, but you’re different! You’re my dad, my brother, old Taquitch, and
everything.”

“Thank you. That makes me feel a little better.”

Suddenly she turned her dark eyes upon him, piercing now and dilating
with thought.

“Wanny! Are you _sorry_ to leave?”

“Yes,” he replied, sadly.

“Then I’ll stay, if you want me--ever--always,” she said, very low. The
golden flush paled on her cheek. She was a child, yet on the verge of
womanhood.

“Genie, I’m sorry, but I’m glad, too. What I want most is to see you
settled in a happy home, with a guardian, young friends about you--all
you want.”

She appeared sober now, and Adam gathered that she had thought more
seriously than he had given her credit for.

“Wanny, you’re good, and your goodness makes you see all that for me.
But a guardian--a happy home--all I want!... I’ll be poor. I’ll have to
work for a living. I won’t have _you_!”

Then suddenly she seemed about to weep. Her beautiful eyes dimmed. But
Adam startled her out of her weakness.

“Poor! Well, Genie Linwood, you’ve got a surprise in store for you.”

Wherewith he led her to the door of the hut and, tearing up the old
wagon boards that had served as a floor, he dug in the sand underneath
and dragged forth bag after bag, which he dropped at her feet with
sodden, heavy thumps.

“Gold, Genie! Gold! Yours!... You’ll be rich.... All this was dug by
your father. I don’t know how much, but it’s a fortune.... Now what do
you say?”

The rapture Adam had anticipated did not manifest itself. Genie seemed
glad, certainly, but the significance of the gold did not really strike
her.

“And you never told me!... Well, by the great horn spoon, I’m rich!...
Wanny, will _you_ be my guardian?”

“I will, till I can find you one,” he replied, stoutly.

“Oh, never look for one--then I _will_ have all I want!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The last sunlight, the last starlight night, the last sunrise for Adam
and Genie at the oasis, were beautiful memories of the past.

Adam, driving the burros along the dim old Indian trail, meditated on
the inevitableness of the end of all things. For nearly three years he
had seen that trail every few days and always he had speculated on the
distant time when he would climb it with Genie. That hour had struck.
Genie, with the light feet of an Indian, was behind him, now chattering
like a magpie and then significantly silent. She had her bright face
turned to the enchanting adventures of the calling future; she was
turning her back upon the only home she could remember.

“Look, Genie, how gray and dry the canyon is,” said Adam, hoping to
divert her. “Just a little water in that white wash, and you know it
never reaches the valley. It sinks in the sand.... Now look way above
you--high over the foothills. See those gleams of white--those streaks
of black.... Snow, Genie, and the pines and spruces!”

They camped at the edge of the spruces and pines. How sweet and cool
and damp the air to desert dwellers! The wind sang through the trees
with different tone. Adam, unpacking the burros, turned them loose,
sure of their delight in the rich green grass. Genie, tired out with
the long climb, fell upon one of the open packs to rest.

With his rifle Adam strode away among the scattered pines and clumps
of spruce. The smell of this forest almost choked him, yet it seemed
he could not smell and breathe enough. The dark-green, spear-pointed
spruces and the brown-barked pines, so lofty and spreading, intoxicated
his desert eyes. He looked and reveled, forgetting the gun in his
hands, until his aimless steps frightened deer from right before him.
Then, to shoot was habit, the result of which was regret. These deer
were tame, not like the wary, telescope-eyed mountain sheep; and Adam,
after his first exultant thrill--the old recurrent thrill from out the
past--gazed down with sorrow at the sleek, beautiful deer he had slain.
What dual character he had--what contrast of thrill and pang, of blood
and brain, of desert and civilization, of physical and spiritual, of
nature and--But he did not know what!

He laughed later, and Genie laughed, too, at how ravenous he was at
supper, how delicious the venison tasted, how good it was to eat.

“Guess I’ll give myself up as a bad job,” he told her.

“Wanny, for me you’ll always be Taquitch, giant of the desert and god
of the clouds.”

“Ah! You’ll forget me in ten days after you meet _him_!” replied Adam,
somewhat bitterly.

Genie could only stare her amaze.

“Forgive me, child. I don’t mean that. I know you’ll never forget
me.... But you’ve been my--my little girl so long that it hurts to
think of your being some other man’s.”

Then he was to see the marvel of Genie’s first blush.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was well that Adam had thought to pack extra blankets for Genie. She
had never felt the nip of frost. And when night settled down black,
with the wind rising, she needed to be warmly wrapped. Adam liked the
keen air, and also the feel of the camp-fire heat upon his outstretched
palms.

Next morning the sky was overcast with broken, scudding clouds, and
a shrill wind tossed the tips of the pines. Genie crawled out of
her blankets to her first experience of winter. When she dipped her
hands into the water she squealed and jerked them out. Then at Adam’s
bantering laughter she bravely dashed into the ordeal of bathing face
and hands with that icy water.

Adam did not have any particular objective point in mind. He felt
strangely content to let circumstances of travel or chance or his old
wandering instinct guide him.

They traveled leisurely through the foothills on the western side of
the Sierra Madres, finding easy trails and good camp sites, and meeting
Indians by the way. Six days out from the desert they reached a wagon
road, and that led down to a beautiful country of soft velvety-green
hills and narrow, pleasant valleys where clumps of live oaks grew, and
here and there nestled a ranch.

So they traveled on. The country grew less rugged and some of it
appeared to belong to great ranches, once the homes of the Spanish
grandees. Late one afternoon travel brought them within sight of
Santa Ysabel. Adam turned off the main road, in search of a place to
camp, and, passing between two beautiful hills, came upon a little
valley, all green with live oaks and brown with tilled ground. He saw
horses, cattle, and finally a farmhouse, low and picturesque, of the
vine-covered adobe style peculiar to a country first inhabited by the
Spanish.

Adam went toward the house, which was mostly concealed by vines and
oaks, and presently happened upon a scene that seldom gladdened the
eyes of a desert wanderer. On a green plot under the trees several
children stopped their play to stare at Adam, and one ran to the open
door. There were white pigeons flying about the roof, and gray rabbits
in the grass, and ducks wading in the brook. Adam heard the cackle of
hens and the bray of a burro. A column of blue smoke lazily rose upward
from a gray, adobe, fire-blackened oven.

Before Adam got to the door a woman appeared there, with the child at
her skirts. She was middle-aged and stout, evidently a hard-working
rancher’s wife. She had a brown face, rather serious, but kind, Adam
thought. And he looked keenly, because he was now getting into the
civilized country that he expected would become Genie’s home.

“Good evening, ma’am!” he said. “Will you let me camp out there by the
oaks?”

“How d’ye do, stranger,” she replied. “Yes, you’re welcome. But you’re
only a mile or so from Santa Ysabel. There’s a good inn.”

“Time enough to go there to-morrow or next day,” replied Adam. “You
see, ma’am, I’m not alone. I’ve a young girl with me. We’re from the
desert. And I want her to have some--some decent clothes before I take
her where there are people.”

The woman laughed pleasantly.

“Your daughter?” she asked, with interest.

“No relation,” replied Adam. “I--I was a friend of her mother, who died
out on the desert.”

“Stranger, you’re welcome to my house overnight.”

“Thank you, but I’d rather not trouble you. We’ll be very comfortable.
It’s a nice place to camp.”

“Come far?” asked the woman, whose honest blue eyes were taking stock
of Adam.

“Yes, far for Genie. We’ve been about ten days coming over the
mountains.”

“Reckon you’d like some milk and eggs for supper?”

“Well, now, ma’am, if you only knew how I would like some,” returned
Adam, heartily. “And poor Genie, who has fared so long on desert grub,
she’d surely appreciate your kindness.”

“I’ll fetch some over, or send it by my boy,” she said.

Adam returned thoughtfully to the little grove where he had elected
to camp. This woman’s kindness, the glint of sympathy in her eyes,
brought him up short with the certitude that they were the very virtues
he was looking for in the person to whom he intended to trust Genie.
It behooved him from now on to go keenly at the task of finding that
person. It would not be easy. For the present he meant to hide any hint
of Genie’s small fortune, and had cautioned her to that end.

Genie appeared tired and glad to sit on the green grassy bank. “I’ll
help--in a little while,” she said. “Isn’t this a pretty place? Oh, the
grass feels so cool and smells so sweet!... Wanny, who’d you see at the
house?”

“Some youngsters and a nice woman,” replied Adam. It was on his tongue
to tell Genie about the milk and eggs for supper, but in the interest
of a surprise he kept silent.

Sunset had passed when Adam got the packs spread, the fire built, and
supper under way.

At length the supper appeared to be about ready, except for the milk
and eggs that had been promised. Adam set the pot and pan aside at the
edge of the fire, and went off in search of some wood that would be
needed later. He packed a big log of dead oak back to camp, bending
under its weight.

When he looked up he saw a handsome, stalwart lad, bareheaded and in
shirt sleeves, standing just beyond the fire, holding out with brown
muscular arms a big pan of milk. The milk was spilling over the edges.
And on one of his fingers hung a small bucket full of eggs. He had to
balance himself carefully while he stooped to deposit the bucket of
eggs on the ground.

“Hey, Johnnie, where’ll I put the milk?” he called, cheerily.

Adam was astounded, and suddenly tickled to see Genie trying to hide
behind one of the packs. She succeeded in hiding all but her head,
which at the moment wore an old cap that made her look more than ever
like a boy.

“My name’s not Johnnie,” she flashed, with spirit.

The lad appeared nonplused, probably more at the tone of voice than the
speech. Then he laughed. Adam liked the sound of that laugh, its ring,
its heartiness.

“Sammy, then.... Come get this milk,” called the boy.

Genie maintained silence, but she glared over the top of the pack.

“Look here, bub,” the lad went on, plaintively, “I can’t stand this way
all night. Mother wants the pan.... Boy, are you deaf?... Say, bub, I
won’t eat you.”

“How dare you call me bub!” cried Genie, hotly.

“Well, I’ll be doggoned!” exclaimed the young fellow. “Listen to the
kid!... I’ll call you worse than bub in a minute. Hurry, bubbie!”

Genie made a quick movement that whirled her around, with her cap
flying off, and then she got to her knees. Thus, with face disclosed
and blazing eyes, and curls no boy ever had, she presented a vastly
different aspect.

“I’m no boy! I--I’m a--a lady!” she declared, with angry, trembling
voice of outraged dignity.

“What!” gasped the lad. Then, in his amaze and horror, he dropped the
pan of milk, that splashed all over, nearly drowning the fire.

“Hello! What’s the trouble?” asked Adam, genially, appearing from the
oaks.

“I--I--spilled the milk--mother sent,” he replied, in confusion.

“That’s too bad! No wonder, such a lot of milk!... What’s your name?”

“It’s Eugene--sir--Eugene Blair.”

“Well, that’s queer--Eugene Blair.... My name’s Wansfell, and I’m
glad to meet you,” said Adam, offering his hand. “Now let me make you
acquainted with Miss Eugenie Linwood.”

The only acknowledgment Genie gave to her first introduction was a slow
sinking down behind the pack. Her expression delighted Adam. As for the
young man--he appeared to be about twenty years old--he was overcome
with embarrassment.

“Glad to--to know you Miss--Miss Linwood,” he gulped. “Please ex-excuse
me. Mother never said--there was a--a girl.... And you looked so--I
took you for a boy.”

“That’s all right, son,” put in Adam, kindly. “Genie did look like a
boy. So I’ve been telling her.”

“Now--if you’ll excuse me I’ll run back after more milk,” said the lad,
hurriedly, and, grasping up the pan, he ran away.

“Well, Miss Know-it-all,” said Adam, banteringly, “_what_ did I tell
you? Didn’t I tell you we’d meet some nice young fellow?”

“He--he didn’t see me--_all_ of me,” replied Genie, tragically.

“What? Why, a fellow with eyes like his could see right through that
pack!” declared Adam.

“He called me bub!” suddenly exclaimed Genie, her tone changing from
one of tragic woe to one of tragic resentment. “_Bub!_... The--the
first boy I ever met in my whole life!”

“Why shouldn’t he call you bub?” queried Adam. “There’s no harm in
that. And when he discovered his mistake he apologized like a little
man.”

“I _hate_ him!” flashed Genie. “I’d starve to death before I’d eat his
eggs and milk.” With that she flounced off into the clump of oaks.

Adam was seeing Genie in a new light. It amused him greatly, yet
he could not help but look ruefully after her, somewhat uncertain.
Feminine reactions were unknown quantities. Genie reminded him
wonderfully of girls he had known when he was seventeen.

Presently young Blair returned with more milk, and also considerably
more self-possession. Not seeing Genie, he evidently took the hint and
quickly left.

“Come over after supper,” called Adam, after him.

“All right,” he replied, and then was gone.

Very shortly then Adam had supper prepared, to which he cheerfully
invited Genie. She came reluctantly, with furtive eyes on the green
beyond camp, and sat down to fold her feet under her, after the manner
of an Indian. Adam, without any comment, served her supper, not
omitting a generous quantity of fragrant fried eggs and a brimming
cupful of creamy milk. Wherewith Genie utterly forgot, or magnificently
disdained, any recollection of what she had said. She even asked for
more. But she was vastly removed from the gay and lightsome Genie.

“What’d you ask him back here for?” she demanded.

“I want to talk to him. Don’t you?” replied Adam, innocently.

“Me!... When he called me bub?”

“Genie, be sensible. They’re nice people. I think I’ll camp here a day
or so. We’ll rest up, and that’ll give me time to look around.”

“Look around!... What’ll become of _me_?” wailed Genie, miserably.

“You can watch camp. I dare say young Blair will forget your rudeness
and be nice to you.”

Then Genie glared with terrible eyes upon Adam, and she seemed between
tears and rage.

“I--I never--never knew--you could be like this.”

“Like what? Genie, I declare, I’m half ashamed of you! Nothing has
happened. Only this lad mistook you for a boy. Anyone would think the
world had come to an end. All because you woke up and found out you
had on boy’s clothes. Well, you’ve got to take your medicine now. You
_would_ wear them. You never minded _me_. You didn’t care _how_ I saw
you!”

“I don’t care how _he_ saw me or sees me, either, so there,” declared
Genie, enigmatically.

“Oh! Well, what’s wrong, then?” queried Adam, more curious than ever.

“I--he--it--it was what he called me,” replied Genie, confusedly.

Adam gazed at her downcast face with speculative eyes, intuitively
feeling that she had not told the whole truth. He had anticipated
trouble with this spirited young wild creature from the desert, once
they got into civilization.

“Genie, I’ve been mostly in fun. Now I’m serious.... I want you to be
perfectly natural and nice with these Blairs, or anyone else we meet.”

Manifestly she took that seriously enough. Without another word she
dragged her blankets and canvas away from the firelight, and at the
edge of the gathering gloom under the oaks she made her bed and crawled
into it.

A little while after dark, young Blair presented himself at Adam’s
fire, and took a seat to which he was invited.

“I suppose you folks are ranching it?” asked Adam, by way of opening
conversation.

“It’s hardly a ranch, though we have hopes,” replied Blair. “Mother
and I run the farm. My father’s not--he’s away.”

“Looks like good soil. Plenty of water and fine grass,” observed Adam.

“Best farming country all around--these valleys,” declared the lad,
warming to enthusiasm. “Ranchers taking it all up. Only a few valleys
left. There’s one just below this--about a hundred acres--if I could
only get that!... But no such luck for me.”

“You can never tell,” replied Adam, in his quiet way. “You say ranchers
are coming in?”

“Yes. San Diego is growing fast. People are buying out the Mexicans and
Indians up in these hills. In a few years any rancher with one of these
valleys will be rich.”

“How much land do you own?”

“My mother bought this little farm here--ten acres--and the valley,
which was about ninety. But my father--we lost the valley. And we
manage to live here.”

Adam’s quick sympathy divined that something pertaining to the lad’s
father was bitter and unhappy. He questioned further about the farm,
what they raised, where they marketed it, how many cattle, horses,
chickens, ducks they had. In half an hour Adam knew the boy and liked
him.

“You’re pretty well educated for a farmer boy,” remarked Adam.

“I went to school till I was sixteen. We’re from Indiana--Vincennes.
Father got the gold fever. We came West. Mother and I took to a surer
way of living.”

“You like ranching, then?”

“Gee! but I’d love to be a real rancher! There’s not only money in
cattle and horses, on a big scale, but it’s such a fine life. Outdoors
all the time!... Oh, well, I _do_ have the outdoors as much as anybody.
But for mother and the kids--I’d like to do better by them.”

“I saw the youngsters and I’d like to get acquainted. Tell me about
them.”

“Nothing much to tell. They’re like little Indians. Tommy’s three,
Betty’s four, Hal’s five. He was a baby when we came West. The trip
was too hard on him. He’s been delicate. But he’s slowly getting
stronger.”

“Well! You’ve a fine family. How are you going to educate them?”

“That’s our problem. Mother and I must do our best--until--maybe we can
send them to school at San Diego.”

“When your ship comes in?”

“Yes; I’m always hoping for that. But first I’d like my ship to start
out, so it can come back loaded.”

The lad laughed. He was imaginative, full of fire and pathos, yet clear
headed and courageous, neither blind to the handicap under which he
labored nor morose at his fetters.

“Yes, if a man _waits_ for his ship to come in--sometimes it never
comes,” said Adam.

“I suppose you’ll be on your way to town early?” asked Blair, as he
rose.

“Guess I’ll not break camp to-morrow. Genie is tired. And I won’t mind
a little rest. Hope we’ll see you again.”

“Thank you. Good night.”

       *       *       *       *       *

When he was gone, Adam took to pacing along the edge of the oaks. In
the light of the camp fire he saw the gleam of Genie’s wide-open eyes.
She had heard every word of Adam’s conversation with young Blair. He
felt a great sympathy for Genie. Like a child, she was face to face
with new life, new sensations, poignant and bewildering. How might he
best help her?

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning, when Adam returned from a look around, he discovered
Genie up, puttering at the camp fire. She greeted him with undue
cheerfulness. She was making a heroic effort to show that this
situation was perfectly natural. She did pretty well, but Adam’s keen
eyes and sense gathered that Genie felt herself on the verge of great
and tremendous events.

After breakfast Adam asked Genie to accompany him to the farmhouse.
She went, but the free, lithe step wanted something of its old grace.
Adam espied the children in the yard, and now he took cognizance of
them. Tommy was a ragged, tousle-headed, chubby little rascal, ruddy
cheeked and blue eyed. Betty resembled the lad, Eugene, having his fine
dark eyes and open countenance. Hal was the largest, a red-headed,
freckle-faced imp if Adam ever saw one. They regarded the newcomers
with considerable interest. Genie approached them and offered to swing
Betty, who was sitting in a clumsy little hammock-like affair made of
barrel staves. And Adam, seeing the children’s mother at the door, went
that way.

“Good morning, Mrs. Blair!” he said. “We’ve come over to chat a bit and
see your youngsters.”

She greeted them smilingly, and came out wiping her hands on her apron.
“Goodness knows we’re glad to have you. Gene has gone to work. Won’t
you sit on the bench here?...”

Then she espied Genie. “For land’s sake! That your girl in the boy’s
clothes? Gene told me what a dunce he’d been.... Oh, she’s pretty! What
shiny hair!”

“That’s Genie. I want you to meet her--and then, Mrs. Blair, perhaps
you can give an old desert codger a little advice,” said Adam.

He called Genie, and she came readily, though not without shyness.
Despite her garb and its rents, Adam could not but feel proud of her.
Mrs. Blair’s kindliness quickly put the girl at ease. After a little
talk, in which Genie’s part augured well for the impression she was to
make upon people, Adam bade her play with the children.

“No wonder Gene spilled the milk!” ejaculated Mrs. Blair.

“Why?” queried Adam.

“The girl’s more than pretty. Never saw such hair. And her eyes!
They’re not the color of hair and eyes I know.”

“That’s the desert’s work, Mrs. Blair. On the desert nature makes
color, as well as life, more vivid, more intense.”

“And this Genie--isn’t it odd--her name is like my boy Gene’s--she’s no
relation of yours?”

Briefly then Adam related Genie’s story and the circumstances of his
association with her.

“Laws-a-me! Poor child!... And now she has no people--no home--not a
friend in the world but you?”

“Not one. It’s pretty sad, Mrs. Blair.”

“Sad? It’s worse than that.... Strikes me, though, Mr. Wansfell, you
must be family and friends and all to that girl.... And let a mother
tell you what a noble thing you’ve done--to give three years of your
life to an orphan!”

“What I did was good for me. Better than anything I ever did before,”
replied Adam, earnestly. “I’d go on if it were possible. But Genie
needs a home, young people, work, to learn and live her life. And I--I
must go back to the desert.”

“Ah! So that’s it!” exclaimed the woman, nodding. “My husband spoke
just like you do. He took to the desert--sold my farm to get money to
work his gold claims. Always he had to go back to the desert.... And
now he’ll never come home again.”

“Yes, the desert claims many men. But I could and would sacrifice
whatever the desert means to me, for Genie’s sake, if it--if there was
not a reason which makes that impossible.”

“And now you’re hunting a home for her?”

“Yes.”

“She’s well educated, you said?”

“Her mother was a school-teacher.”

“Then she could teach children.... Things work out strangely in life,
don’t they? My Betty might be left alone. Any girl may become an
orphan.”

“Now, Mrs. Blair, will you be so kind as to take Genie, or go with us
into town, and help us get some clothes for her? A few simple dresses
and things she needs. I’d be helpless. And Genie knows so little. She
ought to have a woman go with her.”

“Indeed she shall have,” declared Mrs. Blair. “I’ll be only too glad
to go. I need some things----” Then she struck her forehead with a
plump hand. “I’ve a better idea. There’s not much to be bought in the
store at Santa Ysabel. But my neighbor up the valley--his name is
Hunt--he has a granddaughter. They’re city folks. They’ve been somebody
once. This granddaughter is older than Genie--she’s more of a woman’s
figure--and I heard her say only the other day that she brought a lot
of outgrown dresses with her and didn’t know what to do with them. All
her clothes are fine--not like you buy out here.... I’ll take Genie
over there right this minute!”

Mrs. Blair got up and began to untie her apron. Kindliness beamed upon
her countenance and she seemed to have acquired a more thoughtful eye.

“You’re good indeed,” said Adam, gratefully. “I thank you. It will be
so much nicer for Genie. She dreaded this matter of clothes. You can
tell Miss Hunt I’d be glad to pay----”

“Shucks! She wouldn’t take your money. She’s quality, I told you. And
her name’s not Hunt. That’s her grandfather’s name. I don’t know what
hers is--except he calls her Ruth.”

Ruth! The sudden mention of that name seemed to Adam like a stab. What
a queer, inexplicable sensation followed it!

“I’ll be right out,” declared Mrs. Blair, bustling into the house.

Adam called Genie to him and explained what was to happen. She grew
radiant.

“Oh, Wanny, then I won’t have to go into a town--to be laughed at--and
I can get--get dressed like--like a lady--before he sees me again!” she
exclaimed, breathlessly.

“He? Who’s that, Genie?” inquired Adam, dryly, though he knew he could
guess very well.

Genie might have lived on the desert, like a shy, lonely, wild
creature, but she was eternally feminine enough to bite her tongue at
the slip she had made, and to blush charmingly.

Then Mrs. Blair bustled out again, in sunbonnet and shawl, and with the
alacrity of excitement she led Genie away through the grove of oaks
toward the other end of the valley.

Adam returned to camp, much relieved and pleased, yet finding suddenly
that a grave, pondering mood had come upon him. In the still noon hour,
when the sun was hot and the flies buzzed lazily, Adam would surely
have succumbed to drowsiness had he not been vociferously hailed by
some one. He sat up to hear one of the little Blairs call, “Say, my maw
wants you to eat with us.”

Adam lumbered up and, trying to accommodate his giant steps to those
of the urchin, finally reached the house. He heard Mrs. Blair in the
kitchen. Then something swift and white rushed upon Adam from somewhere.

“_Look!_” it cried, in ecstatic tones, and pirouetted before his
dazzled eyes.

Genie! In a white dress, white slippers--all white, even to the rapt,
beautiful, strangely transformed face! It was a Genie he could not
recognize. Yet, however her dark gold-glinting tresses were brushed and
arranged, he would have known their rare, rich color. And the eyes were
Genie’s--vivid like the heart of a magenta cactus flower, unutterably
and terribly expressive of happiness. But all else--the girl’s height
and form and movement--had acquired something subtly feminine. The
essence of woman breathed from her.

“Oh, Wanny, I’ve a whole _bundle_ of dresses!” she cried, rapturously.
“And I put this on to please you.”

“Pleased!... Dear girl, I’m--I’m full of joy for you--overcome for
myself,” exclaimed Adam. How, in that moment, he blessed the nameless
spirit which had come to him the day Genie’s fate and future hung in
the balance! What a victory for him to remember--seen now in the light
of Genie’s lovely face!

Then Mrs. Blair bustled in. Easy indeed was it to see how the
happiness of others affected her. “It’s good we have dinner at noon,”
she said, as she put dish after dish upon the table, “else we’d had to
do with little. Sit at table, folks.... Children, you must wait. We’ve
company.... Gene, come to dinner.”

Adam found himself opposite Genie, who had suddenly seemed to lose
her intensity, though not her glow. She had softened. The fierce joy
had gone. Adam, watching her, received from her presence a thrill of
expectancy, and realized that at least one of her sensations of the
moment was being conveyed to him. Then Eugene entered. His face shone.
He had wet his hair and brushed it and put on a coat. If something new
and strange was happening to Genie, it had already happened to Eugene
Blair.

“Folks, help yourselves and help each other,” said Mrs. Blair.

Adam was ready for that. What a happy dinner! He ate with the relish of
a desert man long used to sour dough and bacon, but he had keen ears
for Mrs. Blair’s chatter and eyes for Genie and Eugene. The mother,
too, had a steady and thoughtful gaze for the young couple, and her
mind was apparently upon weightier matters than her speech indicated.

“Well, folks,” said Mrs. Blair, presently, “if you’ve all had enough,
I’ll call the children.”

Eugene arose with alacrity. “Let’s go outdoors,” he said, stealing
a shy look at Genie. She seemed to move in a trance. Adam went out,
too, and found himself under the oaks. The very air was potent with
the expectancy that Adam had sensed in the house. Something was about
to happen. It puzzled him. Yet he liked the suspense. But he was
nonplused. The young couple did not present a riddle. All the same,
the instant Adam felt convinced of this he looked at them and lost his
conviction. They did present a riddle. He had not seen any other lad
and girl together for many years, but somehow he wagered to himself
that if he had seen a thousand couples, this one would stand out
strikingly.

Then Mrs. Blair appeared. She had the look of a woman to whom decision
had come. The hospitality, the kindly interest in Genie, the happiness
in seeing others made happy, were in abeyance to a strong, serious
emotion.

“Mr. Wansfell, if you’ll consent I’ll give Genie a home here with me,”
she said.

“Consent!... I--I gladly do that,” he replied, with strong agitation.
“You are a--a good woman, Mrs. Blair. I am overwhelmed with gladness
for Genie--for her luck.... It’s so sudden--so unexpected.”

“Some things happen that way,” she replied. “They just come about. I
took to Genie right off. So did my boy. I asked him--when we got back
from our neighbor’s--if it would not be a good idea to keep Genie.
We are poor. It’s one more to feed and clothe. But she can help. And
she’ll teach the children. That means a great deal to me and Gene....
He would be glad, he said. So I thought it over--and I’ve decided.
We’ve your consent.... Now, Genie, will you stay and have a home with
us?”

“Oh, I’ll--I’ll be so happy! I’ll try so--so hard!” faltered Genie.

“Then--it’s settled. My dear girl, we’ll try to make you happy,”
declared Mrs. Blair, and, sitting beside Genie, she embraced her.

Adam’s happiness was so acute it seemed pain. But was his feeling
all happiness? What had Genie’s quick look meant--the intense
soul-searching flash she gave him when Mrs. Blair had said it was all
settled? Genie’s desert eyes saw separation from the man who had been
savior, father, brother. One flash of eyes--then she was again lost in
this immense and heart-numbing idea of a home. Adam saw Eugene look at
her as his mother enfolded her. And Adam’s heart suddenly lifted to
exaltation. Youth to youth! The wonderful, the calling, the divine! The
lad’s look was soulful, absorbing, full of strange, deep melancholy,
full of dreamy, distant, unconscious enchantment. What had seemed
mysterious was now as clear as the sunlight. By some happy chance of
life the homeless Genie had been guided to a good woman and a noble
lad. Goodness was the commonest quality in the hearts of women; and
nobility, in youth at least, flowered in the breast of every man.

And while Eugene thus gazed at Genie she lifted her eyelids, so heavy
with their dreams, and met his gaze. Suddenly she sweetly, strangely
blushed and looked away, at Adam, through him to the beyond. She seemed
full of a vague, dreaming sweetness of life; a faint smile played round
her lips; her face lost its scarlet wave for pearly whiteness; and
tears splashed down upon her listless hands.

The moment, with all it revealed to Adam, swiftly passed.

“Gene, take her and show her the horses,” said Mrs. Blair. “She said
she loved horses. Show her all around. We’ll let the work go by to-day.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Blair talked awhile with Adam, asking to know more about Genie,
and confiding her own practical plans. Then she bustled off to look
after the children, who had been forgotten.

Adam was left to the happiest and most grateful reflections of his
life. Much good must come for him, for his lonely hours, when once
more the wastelands claimed him; but that was the only thought he gave
himself. Lounging back on the old rustic bench, he gave himself up to a
growing delight of anticipation. These good Blairs did not dream that
in offering Genie a home out of the kindliness of their hearts they
had touched prosperity. They were poor. But Genie was rich. They meant
to share with the orphan their little; they had no thought of anything
Genie might share with them. Adam decided that he would buy the ninety
acres, and the hundred in the valley beyond it; and horses, cattle,
all the stock and implements for a fine ranch. Genie, innocent and
bewildered child that she was, had utterly forgotten her bags of gold.
On the next day, or soon, Adam meant to borrow Gene’s horse and buggy
and drive to Santa Ysabel and then to San Diego. He must find some
good investment for the rest of Genie’s gold, and a good bank, and
some capable and reliable person to look after her affairs. How like a
fairy story it would seem to Genie! What amazement and delight it would
occasion Mrs. Blair! And as for the lad, no gold could enhance Genie’s
charm for him. Gene would love Genie! Adam had seen it written in their
unconscious eyes. And Gene would have the working of the beautiful
ranch his eager heart had longed for. For the first time Adam realized
the worth of gold. Here it would be a golden harvest.

Dreaming thus, Adam was only faintly aware of voices and footsteps that
drew nearer; and suddenly he seemed transfixed and thrilling, his gaze
on a face he knew, the face on the miniature he carried--the lovely
face of Ruth Virey.



CHAPTER XXVIII


“The foxes have holes--the birds of the air have nests!” cried Adam.

Was it he who lay there with aching heart and burning eyes? Ah! Again
the lonely wasteland claimed him. That illimitable desert was home.
Whose face was that limned on the clouds, and set into the beaten bossy
mosaic of the sands, and sculptored in the contour of the dim, colored
ranges?

His burros nipped the sage behind him as he lay, back against a stone,
on the lofty height of the Sierra Madre divide, gazing down into that
boundless void. What was it that had happened? Ah! He had fled! And he
lived over again for the thousandth time, that week--that fleeting week
of transport with its endless regrets--in which he had found Genie a
home, in which the daughter of Magdalene Virey had stormed his soul.

Vague and happy those first days when he bought the valley lands and
flooded them with cattle--vague because of the slow gathering of
insupportable and unconscious love--happy because he lived with Genie’s
rapture and her romance. Vivid were some of the memories--when he
placed in Genie’s little brown hands papers and deeds and bankbooks,
and by a gesture, as if by magic, proclaimed to her wondering
sense the truth of a tale of Aladdin; when, to the serious-faced
mother, pondering the costs, he announced her once more owner of the
long-regretted land; when, to a fire-eyed lad, he had drawn aside the
veil of the future.

But vague, mystic as a troubled dream, the inception of a love that
rose like the blaze of the sun--vague as the opaque dawn of the
desert! Whenever he looked up, by night or day, at task or idleness,
there shone the lovely face, pale as a dawn-hazed star, a face like
Magdalene Virey’s, with all of its beauty, but naught of its passion;
with all of its charm, yet none of its havoc. With youth, and bloom,
and wide-open purple eyes, dark as midnight, staring at fate. And a
voice like the voice of her mother, sweet, but not mocking, haunted the
dreams of the man and lived in the winds.

“And you are a desert man,” she had said.

“Yes--a desert man,” he had replied.

“There’s a place I want to go some day--when I am twenty-one.... Death
Valley! Do you know it? My grandfather says I’m mad.”

“Death Valley! For such as you? Stay--never go near that awful hell!”

The ghastly white pit and its naked red walls, the midnight furnace
winds with their wailing roar, the long, long slopes to the avalanche
graves! Ah! the torment of his heart, the tragedy he would hide,
and the secret he must keep, and the miniature that burned in its
place--they drew her with the invisible cords of life and fate. What he
would spare her surged in the air that she breathed.

She had come to him under the oaks, and yet again, quitting her
friends, drawn to the lonely desert man.

“They told me Genie’s story,” she said, and her eyes spoke eloquent
praise her lips denied. “And so--her mother and father died on the
desert.... Tell me, desert man, what does Death Valley look like?”

“It is night; it is hell--death and desolation--the grave of the
desert, yellow and red and gray--lonely, lonely, lonely silent land!”

“But you love it!... Genie says the Indians call you Eagle--because you
have the eye of the eagle.... Tell me.... Tell me....”

And she made him talk, and she came again. Vague, sweet, first hours
they were, with their drawing pain. Was it well to wake in the night,
with eyes darker than the darkness, peering into his soul? Her mother’s
eyes--with all the glory and none of the shame! She had come another
day and then the next, while time stood still with its mocking wait.

Not vaguely came a scene: “I will tell you of the desert,” and a part
of his story followed, brief and hard.

“Ah! I would be a man,” she said. “I would never run. I would never
hide.”

Mocking words from a tongue too sweet to mock! She had her mother’s
spirit. And Adam groped in the gloom, to the glee of his devils of
scorn. The grass by day and the grass by night felt the impress of
his face. Then love--first real love of youth, and noble passion of
man--blazed as the sun in his face. From that revelation all was clear
in the bursting light of calamity.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ruth was coming under the oaks. She liked the cool shade and hated
the glare. She was nineteen, with a woman’s form and her mother’s
eyes--proud, sweet, aloof.

“Desert man, I am lonesome,” she said. “My grandfather has gone again.
He is chasing some new will-o’-the-wisp. Gold and mines, cattle and
land--and now it’s water. He has an ear for every man.”

“Lonesome? You! What do you know of loneliness?” asked Adam.

“There’s a loneliness of soul.”

“Ah! but you are young. Go help Genie plan her home.”

“Genie and Gene! Two people with but one voice! They cannot hear or see
anyone but themselves. It’s a pity to invade their paradise. _I_ will
not.... And, oh, how beautiful the world must be to them!”

“Ruth, is it not so to you?”

“Beautiful lands and greens and waters!” she exclaimed, in restless
discontent. “But I cannot live on scenery. There is joy here, but none
for me.... I lost my mother and I can’t forget. She _had_ to leave me
and go with him--my father. My father who loved me as a child and hated
me as a girl. Oh, it’s all a mystery! She went with him to the desert.
Gold mad--she said he was. She had her debt to pay. And _I_ could not
be taken to Death Valley.”

“You have never heard from her since the parting?”

“Never.... And I am a woman now. Some day I will go to Death Valley.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because _they_ went there.”

“But no one lives long in that valley of death.”

“Then I will find their graves,” she said.

“Ruth, you must not. What good can come of your traveling there? I’ve
told you of its desolate and forbidding nature. You are all wrong.
Wait! Perhaps your mother will--perhaps you will hear of her some day.”

“Oh, desert man, I was a child when we parted. I’m a woman now. I want
to _know_. The mystery haunts me. _She_ loved me--ah, so well!...
Sometimes I cannot bear to live. My grandfather hides me in lonely
places. We meet but few people, and those he repels. It is because of
_me_.... Desert man, I am lonelier than was Genie. She is like a bird.
She must have lived on the sun and the winds. But _I_ am no child, and
_I_ am forlorn.”

Brooding purple eyes of trouble, of longing, of discontent, of fire
for life! The heart and soul of Ruth Virey--the heritage of need and
unrest--shone from her eyes. All unconsciously she longed to be loved.
She stood on the threshold of womanhood like a leaf in a storm.

“Talk with me, walk with me, desert man,” she said, wistfully. “You
were Taquitch for Genie. Be Eagle for me. Your eyes know the desert
where my mother sleeps--where perhaps her spirit wanders. You soothe my
troubled heart. Oh, I can feel _myself_ with you, for you understand.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus Adam’s soul was stormed. Magdalene Virey had presaged the future.
In the dark stillness of the night, sleepless, haunted, tossed by
torment, it was revealed to him that Magdalene Virey had risen out of
the depths on noble love for him, and through that love she had seen
with mystic eyes into the future. She had projected that love into the
spirit of the desert, and it had guided Adam’s wandering steps to her
daughter Ruth. Was this only a wanderer’s dream as he lay on the hills?
Was it only a knot in the tangled skein of his desert life? Was it
inscrutable design of a power he disdained?

Be what this might, the one great love of his years possessed him,
fierce and resistless on its march to his defeat. It mocked his ordeal.
It flaunted a banner in his face--noble love, noble passion, love of
the soul, all that revered woman, wife, mother, and babe. He had found
his mate. Strange how he remembered Margarita Arallanes and the wild
boy’s love of a day. Poor, pale, wasteful, sinful, lustful little
gleam! And he recalled the spell of Genie--that strong call of nature
in the wilderness. Above both he had arisen. But Ruth Virey was _the_
woman. He could win her. The truth beat at his temples, constricted his
throat. Ruth was the flower of her mother’s tragic longing to be loved.
Ruth burned with that longing. And life was not to be denied. Magdalene
Virey had given him this child of her agony. She trusted the fate of
Ruth in his hands. She saw with superhuman eyes.

A deep tenderness for Ruth pervaded Adam’s soul. Who, of all men,
could love her, save her, content her as he? It was not thought of her
kisses, of her embraces, that plucked at the roots of his will. Like a
passing wave the thrill of such bliss went out to the might of a nobler
tide. To save Ruth from the fate of her mother, from the peril of her
own heart! And in the saving, a home--happiness--the tender smile of a
mother--and the kiss of a child!

“But I am a criminal! I am a murderer! Any day I might be hanged before
her very eyes!” he whispered, with his face in the grass, his fingers
digging the turf. “Still--no one would ever recognize me now.... Ah!
but _he_--that human wolf Collishaw--would not he know me?... Oh, if
there be God--help me in my extremity!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Once again he met her. As he rode up the valley at sunset she came out
of the oak grove.

“I’ve been with Genie. Desert man, her happiness frightens me. Oh, I
love her! You tell me of your hard, lonely, terrible desert life. Why,
your ears should ring with bells of joy forever. It is _you_ who have
built her castle. What other deeds, like that, have you done--in those
bitter years you tell of?”

“Not many, Ruth--perhaps not one.”

“I don’t believe you. I am learning you, desert man. And, oh, I wish
you knew how it swells my heart to hear Genie tell of what you did for
her. Every day she tells me something new.... Ah! and more--for to-day
she said you would be leaving soon.”

“Yes, Ruth--soon,” he said.

“Back to the lonely land?”

“Yes, back to the sage and sand and the big dark hills. Yes, it will be
a lonely land,” he replied, sadly.

“And you will wander down the trails until you meet some one--some
woman or child or man--sick or miserable or lost--and then you will
stop.”

Adam had no answer.

“The Indians called you Eagle,” she went on, and her tone startled him
with its hint of remembered mockery. “You have the desert eye--you
see so far.... But you don’t see _here_!... Why should you waste your
splendid strength, your magnificent manhood, wandering over the desert
_if_ it’s only for unhappy people? Desert man, you are great. But you
could do more good here--you could find more misery here.... I know one
whose heart is breaking. And you’ve never _seen_, for all your eagle
eye!”

“Listen, you morbid girl,” he returned, stung as with fire. “I am not
great. I am lost. I go to the desert because it is home.... Don’t think
of me! But look to yourself. Look into your heart. Fear it, Ruth Virey.
You are a spoiled, dreamful, passionate child. But you have a mind and
you have a will. You can conquer your unrest, your discontent. Revere
the memory of your mother, but grieve no more. The past is dead. Learn
to fight. You are no fighter. You are weak. You give in to loneliness,
sadness, longing. Resolve to be a woman! You must live your life.
Make it worth while. Every man, every woman, has a burden. Lift yours
cheerfully and begin to climb.... Work for your grandfather. He needs
your help. Love those with whom fate has placed you. And fight--fight
the dark moods, the selfish thoughts, the hateful memories! Fight
like a desert beast for your life. Work--work till you bruise those
beautiful hands. Work with a hoe, if you can find nothing else. Love to
see things grow green and flower and give fruit. Love the animals, the
birds, and learn from them; love all nature, so that when you meet a
man some day, _the_ man, you can love him. That is what it means to be
a woman. You are a beautiful, sweet, useless, and petulant girl. But be
so no more. Be a woman!”

Pale and shocked, with brimming eyes and tremulous lips, she replied:

“Stay--stay, desert man, and make me a woman!”

And those sad dark eyes and those sweet murmured words had made him
flee--flee like a craven in the night. Yes, for Ruth’s sake he had
fled. Not a farewell to Genie--not a wave of his hand, but gone in the
night--gone forever out of their lives!

       *       *       *       *       *

“The foxes have holes--the birds of the air have nests!” cried Adam, to
the listening silence.

Was it he who lay there with broken heart and magnified sight? Yes,
wanderer of the wasteland again! Back to the lonely land! That
limitless expanse of rock and sand was home. Was not that Ruth’s face
limned on the clouds? Did not her sad, reproachful eyes haunt him in
the dim, purple distances?

From the lofty divide of the Sierra Madres Adam gazed down into the
void he called home. Beyond the gray sands and far beyond the red
reaches he saw across the California Desert into Arizona, and down into
Mexico, and to the dim, blue Gulf.

Home! All the years of Adam’s desert experience were needed to grasp
the meaning of the stupendous scene. The eye of the eagle, the sight
of the condor, supreme over the desert, most marvelous and delicate
work of nature, could only behold, could only range that sun-blasted
burned-out empire of the wastelands. Only the mind of man, the thought
of man, could understand it. And for Adam it was home, and to his
piercing eyes a thing, a place, a world, terribly true and beautiful
and comforting, upon which he seemed driven to gaze and gaze, so that
forever it must be limned on his vision and his memory.

The day was one of sunlight and storm, of blue sky and purple clouds
and fleecy white, of palls of swirling gray snow and dark veils of
downward-streaming rain. The Sierra Madres rolled away on either side,
range on range, rising to the north in the might of slow league-long
mountain swell, until far against the stormy sky stood the old
white-capped heave of San Gorgonio looming over the gray Mohave; and to
the south, like the wave undulations of a calm sea, sank the long low
lines of the arid arm of desert land.

Beneath Adam piled the foothills, round and old and gray, sage gray,
lavender gray, lilac gray, all so strangely gray--upheaved hills of
aged earth and dust and stone. Hill by hill they lowered, with glaring
gorges between, solitary hills and winding ranges and clustered domes,
split by canyons and cleft by brushy ravines--miles and miles of
foothills, reluctantly surrendering allegiance to the peaks above,
moving downward as surely as the grains of their slopes, weathering and
spreading at last in the sands.

Away and away flowed that gray Sahara with its specks of sage, ribbed
by its ridges of dunes. Immense and unbounded it swept to its center,
the Salton Sink--bowl of the desert--a great lake of colored silt,
a ghastly, glaring stain on the earth, over which the storm clouds
trailed their veils of rain, and shadows like colossal ships sailed
the sandy main. Away to the southward it flowed, level and shining, at
last to rise and meet the blue sky in lucent spurs of gold and white.
This landmark contrasted singularly with the Salton Sink. It was the
illusive and shifting line of the Superstition Mountains, where the
wind sheeted the sands, and by night or day, like the changing of
tides, went on with its mysterious transformation. These giant sand
hills caught the sunlight through a rift in the broken clouds. And dim
under the dunes showed the scalloped, dark shadows.

But these foothills and sand plains were only the edge of the desert.
Beyond marched the mountain ranges. Vast, upheaved, crinkled crust of
the naked earth, scored by fire, scarred by age, cracked by earthquake,
and stained in the rusty reds and colored chocolates of the iron rocks!
Down to the rim of the Salton Sink sheered a ragged range. Over it
centered the lowering storm clouds, gray and drab and purple, with rays
of the sun filtering through, lighting the grim, dark hardness, showing
the smoky gloom. And where the ridge ran down to the desert, to make
the lines of the sandy lake, it resembled a shore of the river Styx.

Beyond gleamed the Chocolate Mountains, sharp in the sunshine, canyoned
and blue. And still beyond them, over the valley and far, rose the
myriad mountains of Arizona, dim, hazed land, mystic land, like a land
of desert dreams. In the distant south, around the blunt end of the
Chocolates, came a valley winding palely green, with a line following
its center, where the Rio Colorado meandered in its course to the blue
waters of the Gulf. Over the shadowy shapes of mountains in haze, over
the horizon of Arizona, there seemed a blank, pale wall of sky, strange
to the eye. Was it the oblivion of sight, the infinitude of heaven?
Piercing constant gaze at last brought to Adam the ghostly mountains of
Mexico, the faintest of faint tracery of peaks, doubtful, then lost,
the lonely Sonorian land.

“And that is my home!” he cried to the winds. Slow tears bathed his
eyes, and, closing them, he rested his strained sight. A strange peace
seemed to have stolen over him with his vision and grasp of the desert.
A low, soft moan of wind in the crevices of rocks lulled his senses
for the revel that was to come. He heard his burros nipping at the
brush behind his back. From the heights an eagle shrilled its wild
whistle of freedom and of solitude. One of the burros brayed, loud and
bawling, a jarring note in a silence. Discordant sound it was, that yet
brought a smile and a pang to Adam. For only yesterday--or was it long
ago--what was it that had happened?

When he opened his eyes the desert under him and the infinity over him
had been transfigured.

Only the full blaze of the sun! But a glory dwelt in the clouds and
in the wide blue expanse of heaven. Silver-edged rents, purple ships
in a golden sky, the long, fan-shaped rays of the sun, white rainbows
of haze--these extended from the north across the arch to the open--a
great peacefulness of light, deep and tender and blue.

Beneath lay the mirror of earth, the sun-fired ranges like chased
and beaten gold, laid with shining jewels all around the resplendent
desert. Mountains of porphyry marched down to the sands, rocks of
bronze red burned down to the sands. The white columnar pillars of the
clouds seemed reflected in the desert, slow-gliding across the lucent
wastes; and the mosaic of mountain and plain had its mirage in the sky.
Above and below worked the alchemy of nature, mutable and evanescent,
the dying of day, the passing of life.



CHAPTER XXIX


Going down into the desert, Adam found that his steps were no longer
wandering and aimless. And the nearer he got to the canyon pass in the
Chocolates, the stronger grew his strange eagerness.

For years memory of that camp where he had fought starvation had drawn
him like a magnet. He was weary with delving into the gulf of himself,
trying to know his nature and heart and soul. Always he was beyond
himself. No sooner was one mystery solved than another and deeper one
presented itself; one victory gained than a more desperate trial faced
him. He only knew the old camp called him resistlessly. Something would
come to him there.

Travel and tasks of morn and eve were so habitual with him that they
made little break in his thought. And that thought, like this desert
steps, had traveled in a circle. He was nearing the places where he
had begun his fight with physical forces. His every step brought him
so much closer to the terrible deed that had so bitterly colored and
directed his desert life.

He crossed the sandy basin from the Sierra Madres to the Chocolates
in four days, two of his camps being dry. And on the fifth, in
the afternoon, when the long shadows had begun to creep out from
the mountains across sand and sage, he climbed the swelling,
well-remembered slope where Charley Jim had lured the antelope, and
gazed down into the oasis where he had all but starved to death, and
where Oella had saved his life.

What struck him with gladness was to find the gray-green, lonely scene
identical with the picture in his memory. How well he remembered! And
it was twelve years--thirteen--fourteen years! Yet time had made
little or no change in the oasis. Nature worked slowly in the desert.

His burros scented the water and trotted down the sage bank, bobbing
their packs, kicking up little puffs of odorous dust. Adam stood still
and gazed long. He seemed to be almost ready to draw a deep, full
breath of melancholy joy. Then he descended to the sandy, rock-studded
floor of the canyon, and on the wide white stream bed, where, as
always, a slender stream tinkled over the pearly pebbles. How strange
that he should fall into the exact course where once he had worn a
trail! The flat stones upon which he stepped were as familiar as if
he had trod them yesterday. But inside the palm grove time had made
changes. The thatched huts were gone and the open places were overgrown
with brush. No one had inhabited the oasis for many years.

Leisurely he pitched camp, working with a sense of comfort and pleasure
at the anticipation of a permanent, or at least an indefinite, stay
there. Of all his lonely camps on the desert, this had been the
loneliest. He called it Lost Oasis. Here he could spend days and
weeks, basking like a lizard in the sunshine, feeling his loneliness,
listening to the silence; and he could climb to the heights and dream,
and watch, and live again those wonderful, revealing, unthinking
moments when he went back to savage nature.

After his work and meal were finished, and sunset was coloring the sky,
Adam wandered around through the willows and along the stream. He stood
for some time looking down upon the sandy bar where he had stumbled
in pursuit of the rattlesnake and it had bitten him in the face. And
then he went from one familiar place to another, sitting at last in the
twilight, under the palms where Oella had nursed and fed him back to
life and strength. Where was she now--that tranquil, somber-eyed Indian
maiden who had refused to wed one of her race and who had died of a
broken heart? The twilight seemed prophetic, the rustling palms seemed
whispering. Both sadness and pleasure mingled in Adam’s return.

But the nameless something, the vague assurance of content, the
end of that restless, strange sense of hurrying onward still to
seek, to find--these feelings seemed about to come to him, yet held
tantalizingly aloof. To-morrow surely! He was tired with his long
travel, and it would take a little time once more to adjust himself to
loneliness. The perfect peace of loneliness had not yet come back to
him. His mind was too full to attend to the seeing, listening, feeling
that constituted harmony with the desert. Yet something was beginning
to come between remembrances of the immediate past and the insistent
premonitions of the present. When he lay down in his blankets to hear
the low rustle of the wind in the palms and to see the haunting stars,
it was to realize that they were the same as always, but that he
himself had changed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day he climbed to the heights where he had learned to hunt
mountain sheep, where he had learned the watching, listening, primitive
joy of the Indian. He thrilled in the climb, he breathed deep of the
keen, cold wind, he gazed afar with piercing eyes. Hours, like those of
a lonely eagle on a crag, Adam spent there, and he wooed back to him
the watching, listening power with its reward of sweet, wild elation.
But as the westering sun sent him down the mountain, he felt a vague
regret. The indefinable something eluded him.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the dusk Adam walked along the rim of the slope above the oasis.
He had watched the sunset fade over the desert, and the shading of
twilight, and the gathering of dusk.

He wondered what it would mean to him now to be lost without water or
food down there in the wasteland. Would panic seize him? He imagined
it would be only as long as he was not sure of death. When he realized
that, he would find strength and peace to meet his doom. But what
agony to look up at the starlit heaven and breathe farewell to
beautiful life, to the strong, sweet wine of nature, to the memory of
love!

To die alone down there? Ah! Why did his thoughts turn to death? To
lie down on the sand and the sage of the desert, in the dead darkness
of night, would be terrible. Yet, would it really be? Would not
something come to his soul? A strong man’s farewell to life, out there
on the lonesome desert, would be elemental and natural. But the hour
of facing death--how sad, lonely, tragic! Yet it had been bravely met
by countless men over all the desolate deserts of the dreary world.
All men did not feel alike. Perhaps the strongest, bravest, calmest,
would suffer the least. Still, it was Adam’s conviction that to look up
at the indifferent heavens and to send a hopeless cry out across the
desert, realizing the end, remembering with anguish the faces of loved
ones, would indeed be a bursting of the heart.

Life was so short. Hope and love so futile! Home and family--ah! a
brother--should be treasured, and lived for with all the power of blood
and mind. Friends should be precious. It was realization that a man
needed.

A crescent beautiful moon soared up over the dark bulk of the mountain.
Adam paced to and fro in a sandy glade of the oasis. All the immensity
of desert and infinity of sky seemed to be at work to overwhelm him.
The stars--so white, wonderful, watching, eyes of heaven, remorseless
and wise! Not a sigh of wind stirred under the palms, not a quiver of
a leaf. Nature seemed so strange, beautiful, waiting. All waited! Was
it for him? The shadows on the white sand wrote Adam’s story of wild
youth and crime and flight and agony and passion and love. How sad the
low chirp of insects! Adam paced there a long time, thinking thoughts
he never had before, feeling things he never felt before--realizing the
brevity of life, the soul of sorrow, the truth of nature, the sweetness
of women, the glory of children, the happiness of work and home.

Something was charging the air around Adam; something was surging deep
in his soul.

What was the meaning of that which confounded his emotions? Adam’s
soul seemed trembling on the verge of a great lesson, that had been
hidden all the years and now began to dawn upon him in the glory of
the firmament--in the immensity of the earth--in the sense of endless
space--in the meaning of time--in the nothingness of man.

Suddenly a faint coldness, not of wind nor of chill air, but of
something intangible, stole over Adam. He shivered. He had felt it
before, though never so strong. And his sense of loneliness vanished.
He was not alone! All around he peered, not frightened or aghast, but
uncertain, vaguely conscious of a sense that seemed unnatural. The
shadow of his lofty form showed dark on the sand. It walked with him as
he walked. Was there a spirit in keeping with his steps?

Disturbed in mind, Adam went to bed. When he awoke there had come to
him in the night, in his sleep or in his dreams, whispered words from
Genie’s mother, ringing words from Ruth Virey, “I will come to you out
on the desert.” Mrs. Linwood had meant that to be proof of immortal
life of the soul--of God. And Ruth had rung at him: “I would be a man.
I would never run. I would never hide!”

Then the still, small voice of conscience became a clarion. Torment
seized Adam. The lonely lure of the desert had betrayed him. There
was no rest--no peace. He was driven. He had dreamed of himself as a
wanderer driven down the naked shingles of the desert. No dream, but
reality!

He spent the day upon the heights, feeling that there, if anywhere,
he might shake this burden of his consciousness. In vain! He was
a civilized man, and only in rare moments could he go back to the
forgetfulness of the savage. He had a soul. It was a living flame.
The heights failed him. A haunting whisper breathed in the wind
and an invisible spirit kept pace with his steps. And at last, in
slow-mounting swell of heart, with terror in his soul, he faced the
south. Ah! How sharp the pang in his breast! Picacho! There, purple
against the sky, seemingly close, stood up the turreted and castled
peak under the shadow of which lay the grave of his brother. And Adam
sent out a lonely and terrible cry down the winds toward the place that
resistlessly called him. He was called and he must go. He had wandered
in a circle. All his steps had bent toward the scene of his crime. From
the first to the last he had been wandering back to his punishment.
He saw it now. That was the call--that the guide--that the nameless
something charging the air.

Realization gave him a moment’s savageness--the power of body over
mind. Heart and blood and pulse and nerve burst red hot to the fight,
and to passionate love of liberty, of life. He was in the grasp of
a giant of the ages. He fought as he had fought thirst, starvation,
loneliness--as he had fought the desert and the wild beasts and wilder
men of that desert. The deep and powerful instinct which he had
conquered for Genie’s sake--the noble emotion of love and bliss that
he had overcome for Ruth’s sake--what were these compared to the hell
in his heart now? It was love of life that made him a fierce wild cat
of the desert. Had not the desert taught him its secret to survive, to
breathe, to see, to listen, to live?

Thus the I of Adam’s soul was arraigned in pitiless strife with the Me
of his body. Like a wild and hunted creature he roamed the mountain
top, halting at the old resting places, there to sit like a stone, to
lie on his face, to writhe and fight and cry in his torment. At sunset
he staggered down the trail, spent and haggard, to take up useless
tasks, to find food tasteless and sleep impossible. Thus passed the
next day and yet another, before there came a break in his passion and
his strength.

The violence of physical effort wore itself out. He remained in camp,
still locked in deadly grip with himself, but wearing to that end
in which his conscience would rise supreme, or he would sink forever
debased.

       *       *       *       *       *

A perfect white night came in which Adam felt that the oasis and
its environment presented a soul-quieting scene. What incredible
paradox that he must go to nature for the strength to save himself
from himself! To the nature that made him a savage--that urged in
him the strife of the wolf! The moon, half full, shone overhead in a
cloudless blue sky where great white stars twinkled. No wind stirred.
The palms drooped, sad and graceful, strangely quiet. They were meant
for wind. The shadows they cast were of nameless shapes. A wavering
dark line of horizon wandered away to be lost in the wilderness. So
still, so tranquil, so sweet the night! There were only two sounds--the
melancholy notes of a night hawk, and the low, faint moan from the
desert. The desert to Adam seemed a vast river, flowing slowly, down
the levels of the earth to distant gates. Its moan was one of immutable
power and motive. By this soft, low, strange moan the world seemed to
be dominated. A spirit was out there in the gloom--a spirit from the
illimitable, star-studded infinite above. And it was this spirit that
came, at rare intervals, and whispered to Adam’s consciousness. Madman
or knave, he was being conquered.

“I would never hide!” Ruth Virey had said in passionate scorn.

She was like her mother, wonderful as steel in her will. Yet these
women seemed all heart. They transcended men in love, in sacrifice, in
that living flame of soul, turbulent and unquenchable as the fire of
the sun.

“_I’ll hide no more!_” burst from Adam, and the whisper startled him,
like those soundless whispers in the shadows.

He could live no longer a life in hiding. He must stand, in his own
consciousness, if only for a moment, free to look any man in the
face, free to be worthy to love Ruth Virey, free as the eagle of his
spirit. He would no longer hide from man, from punishment. Love of that
purple-eyed girl had been a stinging, quickening spur. But it was only
instrumental in the overthrow of fear. Some other power, not physical,
not love, but cold, pure, passionless, spiritual, had been drawing him
like a wavering compass needle to its pole.

Was it the faith Genie’s dying mother had placed in God? Was it a
godlike something in him which conflicted with nature? Was it the
strange progress of life, inscrutable and inflexible, that dragged men
down or lifted them up, made them base or made them great?

The darkness of his mind, the blackness of the abyss of his soul,
seemed about to be illumined. But the truth held aloof. Yet could
he not see what constituted greatness in any man? What was it
to be great? The beasts of the desert and the birds recognized
it--strength--speed--ferocity--tenacity of life. The Indians worshiped
greatness so that they looked up and prayed to their gods. They
worshiped stature, and power and skill of hand, and fleetness of foot,
and above all--endurance. More, they endowed their great chieftains
with wisdom. But above all--to endure pain, heat, shock, all of the
desert hardships, all of the agonies of life--to endure--that was their
symbol of greatness.

Adam asked no other for himself or for any man. To endure and to
surmount the ills of life! Any man could be great. He had his choice.
To realize at last--to face the inevitable fight in any walk of
life--to work and to endure--to slave and to suffer in silence--to
stand like a savage the bloody bruises and broken bones--to bite the
tongue and hold back the gasp--to plod on down the trails or the roads
or the streets and to be true to an ideal--to endure the stings and
blows of misfortune--to bear up under loss--to fight the bitterness
of defeat and the weakness of grief--to be victor over anger--to
smile when tears were close--to resist disease and evil men and base
instincts--to hate hate and to love love--to go on when it would seem
good to die--to seek ever the glory and the dream--to look up with
unquenchable faith in something evermore about to be--that was what
any man could do and so be great!

       *       *       *       *       *

At midnight Adam paced under the palms. All seemed dim, gray, cool,
spectral, rustling, whispering. The old familiar sounds were there,
only rendered different by his mood. Midnight was haunting. Somehow the
desert with its mustering shadows, dark and vast and strange, resembled
his soul and his destiny and the mystery of himself. How sweet the
loneliness and solitude of the oasis! There under the palms he could
walk and be himself, with only the eye of nature and of spirit on him
in this final hour of his extremity.

Happiness was not imperative; self-indulgence was not essential to
life. Adam realized he had done wonderful things--perhaps noble things.
But nothing great! Perhaps all his agony had been preparation for this
supreme ordeal.

How saving and splendid would it be, if out of his stultified youth,
with its blinded love of brother and its weakness of will--if out of
the bitter sting of infidelity and his fatal, tragic deed--if out of
the long torture of hardship of the desert and its strife and its
contact with souls as wild as his--how glorious it would be if out of
this terrible tide of dark, contending years, so full of remorse and
fear and endless atonement, there should rise a man who, trained now in
the desert’s ferocity to survive, should use that force to a noble aim,
and, climbing beyond his nature, sacrifice himself to the old biblical
law--a life for a life--and with faith in unknown future lend his
spirit to the progress of the ages!

       *       *       *       *       *

Adam divined that he did not belong to himself. What he wanted for
himself, selfishly, was not commensurable with the need of others in
this life. He was concerned here with many ideals, the highest of which
was sacrifice, that the evil of him should not go on. Since he had
loved Ruth Virey the whole value of life had shifted. Life was sweet,
but no longer if he had to hide, no longer under the ban of crime. The
stain must be washed away. By slow and gradual change, by torments
innumerable, had he come to this realization. He had deceived himself
by love of life. But the truth in him was the truth of the immortality
of his soul, just as it was truth that he inherited instincts of
the savage. Life was renewal. Every base, selfish man held back its
spirituality.

“No more! No more!” cried Adam, looking up.

And in that cry he accepted the spirit of life, the mighty being that
pulsated there in the darkness, the whispering voice of Genie’s mother,
the love of Ruth that never was to be his, the strange, desperate
fights with his instincts, the stranger fight of his renunciation--he
accepted these on faith as his idea of God.

“I will give my life for my brother’s,” he said. “I will offer myself
in punishment for my crime. I will pay with my body that I may save my
soul!”



CHAPTER XXX


Adam lingered in his travel through the beautiful Palo Verde Valley,
and at last reached the long swell of desert slope that led down to the
Rio Colorado.

Tranquil and sad was his gaze on the majestic river as it swirled red
and sullen between its wide green borders toward the upflung wilderness
of colored peaks he remembered so well.

All day he strode behind his faithful burros, here high on the river
bank where he could see the somber flood rolling to the south, and
there low in the willow-shaded trail. And though he had an eye for the
green, dry coverts and the wide, winding valley, he seemed to see most
vividly the scenes of boyhood and of home. And the memory revived the
love he had borne his brother Guerd. High on the grassy hill at the
old village school--he was there once again, wild and gay, playing the
games, tagging at the heels of his idol.

The miles slipped by under his tireless stride. Hour by hour he had
quickened his pace. And when sunset caught him with its call to camp,
he could see the grand purple bulk of old Picacho looming in the sky.
Twilight and dusk and night, and the lonely camp fire! He heard the
sullen gurgle of the river in the weeds and he saw the trains of stars
reflected along its swirling surface. A killdeer, most mournful of
birds, pealed his plaintive, lonely cry. Across the blue-black sky
gleamed a shooting star. The wind stirred in the leaves, gently and
low, and fanned the glowing embers, and bore the white ashes away into
the darkness. Shadows played from the flickering blaze, fantastic and
weird, like dancing specters in the gloom. Adam watched the gleaming
river rolling on to its grave in the Gulf. Like all things, it died,
was dispersed, and had rebirth in other climes. Then he watched the
stars at their grand and blazing task.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the afternoon of the third day he turned under the red bluff into
the basin of Picacho. Long the trail had been overgrown and dim, and
cattle tracks were scarce. The wide willow and mesquite flat, with its
groves of cottonwoods, had grown denser, wilder, no more crisscrossed
by trails. Adam had slowed down now, and he skirted the edge of the
thicket till he reached the bank of bronze rock that had flowed down
from the peaks in ages past. The _ocatillas_, so pearly gray, softly
green, and vividly scarlet, grew there just the same as long ago when
he had plucked a flower for the dusky hair of Margarita. He welcomed
sight of them, for they were of the past.

And here, side by side, stood the crucifixion tree and the _palo verde_
under which Margarita had told him their legends. The years had made
no change that Adam could discern. The smoke tree and the green tree
raised their delicate, exquisite, leafless foliage against the blue of
sky, beautiful and soft, hiding from the eye the harsh law of their
desert nature.

Adam tarried here. His wandering steps were nearing their end. And he
gazed across the river at the wilderness of Arizona peaks. It seemed he
knew every one. Had he seen them yesterday or long ago?

The sculptured turrets of Picacho were taking on a crown of gold, and
from the sheer, ragged bluffs of the purple mass shadows and hazes and
rays were streaming down into the valley. One golden streak slanted
from the wind-worn hole in the rim. Solemn and noble the castled
mountain towered in the sky. In its lonely grandeur there was strength.

One moment longer Adam watched and listened, absorbing the color and
glory and wildness, stung to the depths of his heart by his farewell to
loneliness. He retrograded one last instant to the savage who sensed
but did not think. He thrilled to the old, mysterious, fading instinct.
Then, as in answer to a sonorous call in his ear, he measured slow and
laboring strides through the aisles to the river.

His burros scratched their packs on the thorny mesquites to get down to
the arrowweed and willow. Where once had been open bank, now all was
green, except for a narrow sandy aisle. The dock was gone. A sunken
barge lay on a bar, and moored to its end were two leaky skiffs.
Traffic and trade had departed from the river landing. Adam remembered
a prospector had told him that the mill had been moved from the river
up to the mine under the peak. So now, he thought, supplies and traffic
must come and go by way of Yuma.

He drove his burros down the sandy aisle. A glimpse of an old adobe
wall, gray through the mesquites, stopped his heart. He went on. The
house of Arallanes was a roofless ruin, the vacant windows and doors
staring darkly, the walls crumbling to the sands. The shed where Adam
had slept was now half hidden by mesquites. The _ocatilla_ poles were
bleached and rotten and the brush was gone from the roof; but the sandy
floor looked as clean and white as the day Adam had spread his blankets
there. Fourteen years! Silent he stood, and the low, mournful wind was
a knell. The past could never be undone.

He went back to the lane and to the open. Old stone walls were all that
appeared left of houses he expected to see. Over the trees, far up the
slope, he espied the ruins of the dismantled mill. Unreal it looked
there, out of place, marring the majestic sweep of the slope.

His keen desert nostrils detected smoke before he saw blue columns
rising through the green. He passed a plot of sand-mounded graves.
Had they been there? How fierce a pang pierced his heart! Rude stones
marked the graves, and on one a single wooden cross, crude and
weathered, slanted away. Adam peered low at the lettering--M. A. And
swiftly he swung erect.

There was a cluster of houses farther on, low and squat, a few of them
new, but most of them Adam remembered. A post-office sign marked this
village of Picacho. The stone-fronted store looked just the same, and
the loungers there might never have moved from their tracks in fourteen
years. But the faces were strange.

A lean old man, gray and peaked, detached himself from the group and
tottered toward Adam with his cane in the sand.

“Wal, stranger, howdy! You down from upriver?”

His voice twanged a chord of memory. Merryvale! Slowly the tide of
emotion rose in Adam’s breast. He peered down into the gray old face,
with its narrow, half-shut eyes and its sunken cheeks. Yes, it was
Merryvale.

“Howdy, friend!” replied Adam. “Yes, I come from up the river.”

“Strange in these parts, I reckon?”

“Yes. But I--I was here years ago.”

“Was, I knowed you was strange because you come in by the river.
Travelers nowadays go round the mountain. Prospectors never come any
more. The glory of Picacho has faded.”

“Aren’t they working the mill?” queried Adam, quickly.

“Haw! Haw! The mill will never grind with ore that is gone! No work
these last five years. The mill has rusted out--fallen to ruin. And
the gold of old Picacho is gone. But, stranger, she hummed while she
lasted. Millions in gold--millions in gold!”

He wagged his lean old head and chuckled.

“I knew a man here once by the name of Arallanes. What has become of
him?”

“Arallanes? Wal, I do recollect him. I was watchman at the mill an’
he was boss of the gang. His daughter was knifed by a greaser named
Felix.... Arallanes left here these ten years ago an’ he’s never been
back.”

“His--daughter!... Is that her grave back there--the sunken mound of
sand--with the wooden cross?”

“I reckon that’s Margarita’s grave. She was a pretty wench--mad about
men--an’ there’s some who said she got her just deserts.”

The broad river gleamed yellow through the breaks in the mesquites.
Ponderous and swirling, it glided on round the bend. Adam’s gaze then
sought the peak. The vast, stormy, purple mass, like a mountain of
cloud, shone with sunset crown of silver.

Somewhere near, hidden by the trees, a Mexican broke the stillness with
song--wild, sensuous, Spanish love, in its haunting melody.

“I knew another man here,” began Adam, with the words a sonorous knell
in his ear. “His name was Collishaw.... What’s become of him?”

“Collishaw? Never will forgit _him_!” declared the old man, grimly.
“Last I heard he was cheatin’ Injuns out of water rights over here at
Walters--an’ still lookin’ fer somebody to hang.... Haw! Haw! That
Collishaw was a Texas sheriff.”

Suddenly Adam bent lower, so that his face was on a level with
Merryvale’s.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“Wal, I shore don’t, stranger,” declared the other. “I’ve been nigh
fifty years in the West an’ never seen your like yet. If I had I’d
never forgot.”

“Merryvale, do you remember a lad who shot off your fishing line one
day? Do you remember how you took interest in him--told him of Western
ways--that he must be a man?”

“Shore I remember that lad!” exclaimed Merryvale, bluntly. He was old,
but he was still keen. “How’d you know about him?”

“I am Adam Larey!”

The old man’s eyes grew piercing. Intensely he gazed, bending closer,
strong and thrilling now, with the zest of earlier experience sharp in
his expression.

“I know you now. It’s Adam. I’d knowed them eyes among a thousand, if
I’d only looked. Eagle’s eyes, Adam, once seen never forgot!... An’
look at the giant of him! Wai, you make me feel young again.... Adam,
lad, I ain’t never forgot ye--never! Shake hands with old Merryvale.”

Agitated, with tremulous voice and shaking hands, he grasped Adam,
almost embracing him, his gray old face alight with gladness.

“It’s good to see you, Merryvale--to learn you’ve not forgotten me--all
these years.”

“Lad, you was like my own!... But who’d ever know you now? You’ve white
hair, Adam, an’--ah! I see the desert in your face.”

“Old friend, did you ever hear of Wansfell?”

“Wansfell? You mean thet wanderer the prospectors tell about?... Shore,
I’ve been hearin’ tales of him these many years.”

“I am Wansfell,” replied Adam.

“_So help me God!_... Wansfell?... You, Adam, the kindly lad!... Didn’t
I tell you what a hell of a man you’d be when you grew up?”

Adam drew Merryvale aside from the curiously gathering loungers.

“Old friend, you are responsible for Wansfell.... And now, before we
tell--before I go--I want you to take me to--to--my--my brother’s
grave?”

Merryvale stared.

“_What?_” he ejaculated, and again his keen old eyes searched Adam’s.

“Yes. The grave--of my brother--Guerd,” whispered Adam.

“Say, man!... You think Guerd Larey’s buried _here_?... Thet’s why you
come back?”

Astonishment seemed to dominate Merryvale, to hold in check other
emotions.

“My friend,” replied Adam, “I came to see his grave--to make my peace
with him and God--and to give myself up to the law.”

“Give yourself--up--to the law!” gasped Merryvale. “Have you gone
desert mad?”

“No. I’m right in my mind,” returned Adam, patiently. “I owe it to my
conscience, Merryvale.... Fourteen years of torture! Any punishment I
may suffer here, compared with those long years, will be as nothing....
It will be happiness to give myself up.”

Merryvale’s lean jaw quivered as the astonishment and concern left his
face. A light of divination began to dawn there.

“But what do you want to give yourself up for?” he demanded.

“I told you. My conscience. My need to stand right with myself. To pay!”

“I mean--what’d you do?... _What for?_”

“Old friend, you’ve grown thick of wits,” rejoined Adam. “Because of my
crime.”

“An’ what was thet, Adam Larey?” queried Merryvale, sharply.

“The crime of Cain,” replied Adam, sadly. “Come, friend--take me to my
brother’s grave.”

Merryvale seemed galvanized from age to youth.

“Your brother’s grave!... Guerd Larey’s grave? By heaven! I wish I
could take you to it!... Adam, you’re out of your head. You _are_
desert mad.... Bless you, lad, you’ve made a terrible mistake!
You’re not what you think you are. You’ve hid in the desert fourteen
years--you’ve gone through hell--you’ve become Wansfell--all for
nothin’!... My God! to think of thet!... Adam, you’re no murderer. Your
brother is not dead. He wasn’t even bad hurt. No--no--Guerd Larey’s
alive--alive--alive!”


Press of The Hunter-Rose Company, Limited



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unpaired quotation
marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left
unpaired.

Table of Contents added by Transcriber.

Redundant book hemi-title pages have been deleted.

Page 87: “you’ll grow like it” was printed that way.

Page 128: “But there were others hours.” was printed that way.

Page 141: “gettin’ oneasy” was printed that way; should be “uneasy”.





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