Part 5 out of 7
It was indeed a joy to Gale to find that Thorne had not received
a wound necessarily fatal, though it was serious enough. Gale
bathed and bound it, and laid the cavalryman against the slant
of the bank, his head high to lessen the probability of bleeding.
As Gale straightened up Ladd muttered low and deep, and swung
the heavy rifle around to the left. Far along the slope a figure
moved. Ladd began to work the lever of the Winchester and to
shoot. At every shot the heavy firearm sprang up, and the recoil
made Ladd's shoulder give back. Gale saw the bullets strike the
lava behind, beside, before the fleeing Mexican, sending up dull
puffs of dust. On the sixth shot he plunged down out of sight,
either hit or frightened into seeking cover.
"Dick, mebbe there's one or two left above; but we needn't figure
much on it," said Ladd, as, loading the rifle, he jerked his
fingers quickly from the hot breech. "Listen! Jim an' Yaqui are
hittin' it up lively down below. I'll sneak down there. You stay
here an' keep about half an eye peeled up yonder, an' keep the
rest my way."
Ladd crossed the hole, climbed down into the deep crack where Thorne
had fallen, and then went stooping along with only his head above
the level. Presently he disappeared. Gale, having little to fear
from the high ridge, directed most of his attention toward the point
beyond which Ladd had gone. The firing had become desultory,
and the light carbine shots outnumbered the sharp rifle shots five
to one. Gale made a note of the fact that for some little time he
had not heard the unmistakable report of Jim Lash's automatic.
Then ensued a long interval in which the desert silence seemed
to recover its grip. The .405 ripped it asunder--spang--spang
--spang. Gale fancied he heard yells. There were a few pattering
shots still farther down the trail. Gale had an uneasy conviction
that Rojas and some of his band might go straight to the waterhole.
It would be hard to dislodge even a few men from that retreat.
There seemed a lull in the battle. Gale ventured to stand high, and
screened behind choyas, he swept the three-quarter circle of lava
with his glass. In the distance he saw horses, but no riders.
Below him, down the slope along the crater rim and the trail, the
lava was bare of all except tufts of choya. Gale gathered
assurance. It looked as if the day was favoring his side. Then
Thorne, coming partly to consciousness, engaged Gale's care. The
cavalryman stirred and moaned, called for water, and then for
Mercedes. Gale held him back with a strong hand, and presently
he was once more quiet.
For the first time in hours, as it seemed, Gale took note of the
physical aspect of his surroundings. He began to look upon them
without keen gaze strained for crouching form, or bobbing head,
or spouting carbine. Either Gale's sense of color and proportion
had become deranged during the fight, or the encompassing air
and the desert had changed. Even the sun had changed. It seemed
lowering, oval in shape, magenta in hue, and it had a surface that
gleamed like oil on water. Its red rays shone through red haze.
Distances that had formerly been clearly outlined were now dim,
obscured. The yawning chasm was not the same. It circled wider,
redder, deeper. It was a weird, ghastly mouth of hell. Gale stood
fascinated, unable to tell how much he saw was real, how
much exaggeration of overwrought emotions. There was no beauty
here, but an unparalleled grandeur, a sublime scene of devastation
and desolation which might have had its counterpart upon the
burned-out moon. The mood that gripped Gale now added to its
somber portent an unshakable foreboding of calamity.
He wrestled with the spell as if it were a physical foe. Reason
and intelligence had their voices in his mind; but the moment was
not one wherein these things could wholly control. He felt life
strong within his breast, yet there, a step away, was death,
yawning, glaring, smoky, red. It was a moment--an hour for a
savage, born, bred, developed in this scarred and blasted place
of jagged depths and red distances and silences never meant
to be broken. Since Gale was not a savage he fought that call
of the red gods which sent him back down the long ages toward
his primitive day. His mind combated his sense of sight and the
hearing that seemed useless; and his mind did not win all the
victory. Something fatal was here, hanging in the balance, as the
red haze hung along the vast walls of that crater of hell.
Suddenly harsh, prolonged yells brought him to his feet, and the
unrealities vanished. Far down the trails where the crater rims
closed in the deep fissure he saw moving forms. They were three in
number. Two of them ran nimbly across the lava bridge. The third
staggered far behind. It was Ladd. He appeared hard hit. He
dragged at the heavy rifle which he seemed unable to raise. The
yells came from him. He was calling the Yaqui.
Gale's heart stood still momentarily. Here, then, was the
catastrophe! He hardly dared sweep that fissure with his glass.
The two fleeing figures halted--turned to fire at Ladd. Gale
recognized the foremost one--small, compact, gaudy. Rojas!
The bandit's arm was outstretched. Puffs of white smoke
rose, and shots rapped out. When Ladd went down Rojas
threw his gun aside and with a wild yell bounded over the lava.
His companion followed.
A tide of passion, first hot as fire, then cold as ice, rushed over
Gale when he saw Rojas take the trail toward Mercedes's
hiding-place. The little bandit appeared to have the
sure-footedness of a mountain sheep. The Mexican following
was not so sure or fast. He turned back. Gale heard the trenchant
bark of the .405. Ladd was kneeling. He shot again--again. The
retreating bandit seemed to run full into an invisible obstacle,
then fell lax, inert, lifeless. Rojas sped on unmindful of the
spurts of dust about him. Yaqui, high above Ladd, was also firing
at the bandit. Then both rifles were emptied. Rojas turned at a
high break in the trail. He shook a defiant hand, and his exulting
yell pealed faintly to Gale's ears. About him there was something
desperate, magnificent. Then he clambered down the trail.
Ladd dropped the .405, and rising, gun in hand, he staggered toward
the bridge of lava. Before he had crossed it Yaqui came bounding
down the slope, and in one splendid leap he cleared the fissure.
He ran beyond the trail and disappeared on the lava above. Rojas
had not seen this sudden, darting move of the Indian.
Gale felt himself bitterly powerless to aid in that pursuit. He
could only watch. He wondered, fearfully, what had become of
Lash. Presently, when Rojas came out of the cracks and ruts
of lava there might be a chance of disabling him by a long shot.
His progress was now slow. But he was making straight for
Mercedes's hiding-place. What was it leading him there--an eagle
eye, or hate, or instinct? Why did he go on when there could be
no turning back for him on that trail? Ladd was slow, heavy,
staggering on the trail; but he was relentless. Only death could
stop the ranger now. Surely Rojas must have known that when
he chose the trail. From time to time Gale caught glimpses of
Yaqui's dark figure stealing along the higher rim of the crater.
He was making for a point above the bandit.
Moments--endless moments dragged by. The lowering sun colored
only the upper half of the crater walls. Far down the depths were
murky blue. Again Gale felt the insupportable silence. The red
haze became a transparent veil before his eyes. Sinister, evil,
brooding, waiting, seemed that yawning abyss. Ladd staggered
along the trail, at times he crawled. The Yaqui gained; he might
have had wings; he leaped from jagged crust to jagged crust;
his sure-footedness was a wonderful thing.
But for Gale the marvel of that endless period of watching was
the purpose of the bandit Rojas. He had now no weapon. Gale's
glass made this fact plain. There was death behind him, death
below him, death before him, and though he could not have known
it, death above him. He never faltered--never made a misstep
upon the narrow, flinty trail. When he reached the lower end of
the level ledge Gale's poignant doubt became a certainty. Rojas
had seen Mercedes. It was incredible, yet Gale believed it. Then,
his heart clamped as in an icy vise, Gale threw forward the
Remington, and sinking on one knee, began to shoot. He emptied
the magazine. Puffs of dust near Rojas did not even make him turn.
As Gale began to reload he was horror-stricken by a low cry from
Thorne. The cavalryman had recovered consciousness. He was
half raised, pointing with shaking hand at the opposite ledge. His
distended eyes were riveted upon Rojas. He was trying to utter
speech that would not come.
Gale wheeled, rigid now, steeling himself to one last forlorn hope
--that Mercedes could defend herself. She had a gun. He doubted
not at all that she would use it. But, remembering her terror of
this savage, he feared for her.
Rojas reached the level of the ledge. He halted. He crouched.
It was the act of a panther. Manifestly he saw Mercedes within
the cave. Then faint shots patted the air, broke in quick echo.
Rojas went down as if struck a heavy blow. He was hit.
But even as Gale yelled in sheer madness the bandit leaped erect.
He seemed too quick, too supple to be badly wounded. A slight,
dark figure flashed out of the cave. Mercedes! She backed
against the wall. Gale saw a puff of white--heard a report. But
the bandit lunged at her. Mercedes ran, not to try to pass him, but
straight for the precipice. Her intention was plain. But Rojas
oustripped her, even as she reached the verge. Then a piercing
scream pealed across the crater--a scream of despair.
Gale closed his eyes. He could not bear to see more.
Thorne echoed Mercedes's scream. Gale looked round just in time
to leap and catch the cavalryman as he staggered, apparently for
the steep slope. And then, as Gale dragged him back, both fell.
Gale saved his friend, but he plunged into a choya. He drew his
hands away full of the great glistening cones of thorns.
"For God's sake, Gale, shoot! Shoot! Kill her! Kill her!...Can't
Gale, stunned for the instant, stood with uplifted hands, and gazed
from Thorne across the crater. Rojas had not killed Mercedes. He
was overpowering her. His actions seemed slow, wearing, purposeful.
Hers were violent. Like a trapped she-wolf, Mercedes was fighting.
She tore, struggled, flung herself.
Rojas's intention was terribly plain.
In agony now, both mental and physical, cold and sick and weak,
Gale gripped his rifle and aimed at the struggling forms on the
ledge. He pulled the trigger. The bullet struck up a cloud of red
dust close to the struggling couple. Again Gale fired, hoping to
hit Rojas, praying to kill Mercedes. The bullet struck high.
A third--fourth--fifth time the Remington spoke--in vain!
The rifle fell from Gale's racked hands.
How horribly plain that fiend's intention! Gale tried to close his
eyes, but could not. He prayed wildly for a sudden blindness
--to faint as Thorne had fainted. But he was transfixed to the spot
with eyes that pierced the red light.
Mercedes was growing weaker, seemed about to collapse.
"Oh, Jim Lash, are you dead?" cried Gale. "Oh, Laddy!...Oh, Yaqui!
Suddenly a dark form literally fell down the wall behind the ledge
where Rojas fought the girl. It sank in a heap, then bounded erect.
"Yaqui!" screamed Gale, and he waved his bleeding hands till the
blood bespattered his face. Then he choked. Utterance became
The Indian bent over Rojas and flung him against the wall.
Mercedes, sinking back, lay still. When Rojas got up the Indian
stood between him and escape from the ledge. Rojas backed
the other way along the narrowing shelf of lava. His manner
was abject, stupefied. Slowly he stepped backward.
It was then that Gale caught the white gleam of a knife in Yaqui's
hand. Rojas turned and ran. He rounded a corner of wall where the
footing was precarious. Yaqui followed slowly. His figure was dark
and menacing. But he was not in a hurry. When he passed off the
ledge Rojas was edging farther and farther along the wall. He
was clinging now to the lava, creeping inch by inch. Perhaps he
had thought to work around the buttress or climb over it. Evidently
he went as far as possible, and there he clung, an unscalable wall
above, the abyss beneath.
The approach of the Yaqui was like a slow dark shadow of gloom.
If it seemed so to the stricken Gale what must it have been to
Rojas? He appeared to sink against the wall. The Yaqui stole
closer and closer. He was the savage now, and for him the moment
must have been glorified. Gale saw him gaze up at the great
circling walls of the crater, then down into the depths.
Perhaps the red haze hanging above him, or the purple
haze below, or the deep caverns in the lava, held for Yaqui
spirits of the desert, his gods to whom he called. Perhaps he
invoked shadows of his loved ones and his race, calling them in this
moment of vengeance.
Gale heard--or imagined he heard--that wild, strange Yaqui cry.
Then the Indian stepped close to Rojas, and bent low, keeping out
of reach. How slow were his motions! Would Yaqui never--never
end it?...A wail drifted across the crater to Gale's ears.
Rojas fell backward and plunged sheer. The bank of white choyas
caught him, held him upon their steel spikes. How long did the
dazed Gale sit there watching Rojas wrestling and writhing in
convulsive frenzy? The bandit now seemed mad to win the delayed
When he broke free he was a white patched object no longer human,
a ball of choya burrs, and he slipped off the bank to shoot down
and down into the purple depths of the crater.
CHANGES AT FORLORN RIVER
THE first of March saw the federal occupation of the garrison at
Casita. After a short, decisive engagement the rebels were
dispersed into small bands and driven eastward along the boundary
line toward Nogales.
It was the destiny of Forlorn River, however, never to return to the
slow, sleepy tenor of its former existence. Belding's predictions
came true. That straggling line of home-seekers was but a
forerunner of the real invasion of Altar Valley. Refugees from
Mexico and from Casita spread the word that water and wood and grass
and land were to be had at Forlorn River; and as if by magic the
white tents and red adobe houses sprang up to glisten in the sun.
Belding was happier than he had been for a long time. He believed
that evil days for Forlorn River, along with the apathy and lack of
enterprise, were in the past. He hired a couple of trustworthy
Mexicans to ride the boundary line, and he settled down to think
of ranching and irrigation and mining projects. Every morning he
expected to receive some word form Sonoyta or Yuma, telling
him that Yaqui had guided his party safely across the desert.
Belding was simple-minded, a man more inclined to action than
reflection. When the complexities of life hemmed him in, he
groped his way out, never quite understanding. His wife had
always been a mystery to him. Nell was sunshine most of the
time, but, like the sun-dominated desert, she was subject to
strange changes, wilful, stormy, sudden. It was enough for Belding
now to find his wife in a lighter, happier mood, and to see Nell
dreamily turning a ring round and round the third finger of her
left hand and watching the west. Every day both mother and daughter
appeared farther removed from the past darkly threatening
days. Belding was hearty in his affections, but undemonstrative.
If there was any sentiment in his make-up it had an outlet in
his memory of Blanco Diablo and a longing to see him. Often
Belding stopped his work to gaze out over the desert toward
the west. When he thought of his rangers and Thorne and Mercedes
he certainly never forgot his horse. He wondered if Diablo was
running, walking, resting; if Yaqui was finding water and grass.
In March, with the short desert winter over, the days began to
grow warm. The noon hours were hot, and seemed to give promise
of the white summer blaze and blasting furnace wind soon to come.
No word was received from the rangers. But this caused Belding
no concern, and it seemed to him that his women folk considered
no news good news.
Among the many changes coming to pass in Forlorn River were the
installing of post-office service and the building of a mescal
drinking-house. Belding had worked hard for the post office, but
he did not like the idea of a saloon for Forlorn River. Still, that
was an inevitable evil. The Mexicans would have mescal. Belding
had kept the little border hamlet free of an establishment for
distillation of the fiery cactus drink. A good many Americans
drifted into Forlorn River--miners, cowboys, prospectors, outlaws,
and others of nondescript character; and these men, of course,
made the saloon, which was also an inn, their headquarters.
Belding, with Carter and other old residents, saw the need of a
sheriff for Forlorn River.
One morning early in this spring month, while Belding was on his
way from the house to the corrals, he saw Nell running
Blanco Jose' down the road at a gait that amazed him.
She did not take the turn of the road to come in by the gate.
She put Jose' at a four-foot wire fence, and came clattering into
"Nell must have another tantrum," said Belding. "She's long past due."
Blanco Jose, like the other white horses, was big of frame and
heavy, and thunder rolled from under his great hoofs. Nell pulled
him up, and as he pounded and slid to a halt in a cloud of dust
she swung lightly down.
It did not take more than half an eye for Belding to see that she
"Nell, what's come off now?" asked Belding.
"I'm not going to tell you," she replied, and started away, leading
Jose toward the corral.
Belding leisurely followed. She went into the corral, removed
Jose's bridle, and led him to the watering-trough. Belding came
up, and without saying anything began to unbuckle Jose's saddle
girths. But he ventured a look at Nell. The red had gone from
her face, and he was surprised to see her eyes brimming with tears.
Most assuredly this was not one of Nell's tantrums. While taking
off Jose's saddle and hanging it in the shed Belding pondered in
his slow way. When he came back to the corral Nell had her face
against the bars, and she was crying. He slipped a big arm around
her and waited. Although it was not often expressed, there was a
strong attachment between them.
"Dad, I don't want you to think me a--a baby any more," she said.
"I've been insulted."
With a specific fact to make clear thought in Belding's mind he was
"I knew something unusual had come off. I guess you'd better tell me."
"Dad, I will, if you promise."
"Not to mention it to mother, not to pack a gun down there, and
never, never tell Dick."
Belding was silent. Seldom did he make promises readily.
"Nell, sure something must have come off, for you to ask all that."
"If you don't promise I'll never tell, that's all," she declared,
Belding deliberated a little longer. He knew the girl.
"Well, I promise not to tell mother," he said, presently; "and
seeing you're here safe and well, I guess I won't go packing a gun
down there, wherever that is. But I won't promise to keep anything
from Dick that perhaps he ought to know."
"Dad, what would Dick do if--if he were here and I were to tell
him I'd--I'd been horribly insulted?"
"I guess that 'd depend. Mostly, you know, Dick does what you
want. But you couldn't stop him--nobody could--if there was
reason, a man's reason, to get started. Remember what he did to
Rojas!...Nell, tell me what's happened."
Nell, regaining her composure, wiped her eyes and smoothed back
"The other day, Wednesday," she began, "I was coming home, and
in front of that mescal drinking-place there was a crowd. It was
a noisy crowd. I didn't want to walk out into the street or seem
afraid. But I had to do both. There were several young men, and
if they weren't drunk they certainly were rude. I never saw them
before, but I think they must belong to the mining company that was
run out of Sonora by rebels. Mrs. Carter was telling me. Anyway,
these young fellows were Americans. They stretched themselves
across the walk and smiled at me. I had to go out in the road. One
of them, the rudest, followed me. He was a big fellow, red-faced,
with prominent eyes and a bold look. He came up beside me and
spoke to me. I ran home. And as I ran I heard his companions
"Well, to-day, just now, when I was riding up the valley road I came
upon the same fellows. They had instruments and were surveying.
Remembering Dick, and how he always wished for an instrument
to help work out his plan for irrigation, I was certainly surprised
to see these strangers surveying--and surveying upon Laddy's plot of
land. It was a sandy road there, and Jose happened to be walking.
So I reined in and asked these engineers what they were doing.
The leader, who was that same bold fellow who had followed me,
seemed much pleased at being addressed. He was swaggering--too
friendly; not my idea of a gentleman at all. He said he was glad to
tell me he was going to run water all over Altar Valley. Dad, you
can bet that made me wild. That was Dick's plan, his discovery,
and here were surveyors on Laddy's claim.
"Then I told him that he was working on private land and he'd better
get off. He seemed to forget his flirty proclivities in amazement.
Then he looked cunning. I read his mind. It was news to him that
all the land along the valley had been taken up.
"He said something about not seeing any squatters on the land,
and then he shut up tight on that score. But he began to be
flirty again. He got hold of Jose's bridle, and before I could
catch my breath he said I was a peach, and that he wanted to make
a date with me, that his name was Chase, that he owned a gold mine
in Mexico. He said a lot more I didn't gather, but when he called
me Dearie' I--well, I lost my temper.
"I jerked on the bridle and told him to let go. He held on and
rolled his eyes at me. I dare say he imagined he was a gentlemen to
be infatuated with. He seemed sure of conquest. One thing certain,
he didn't know the least bit about horses. It scared me the way he
got in front of Jose. I thanked my stars I wasn't up on Blanco
Diablo. Well, Dad, I'm a little ashamed now, but I was mad. I
slashed him across the face with my quirt. Jose jumped and knocked
Mr. Chase into the sand. I didn't get the horse under control till I
was out of sight of those surveyors, and then I let him run home."
"Nell, I guess you punished the fellow enough. Maybe he's only a
conceited softy. But I don't like that sort of thing. It isn't
Western. I guess he won't be so smart next time. Any fellow
would remember being hit by Blanco Jose. If you'd been up on Diablo
we'd have to bury Mr. Chase."
"Thank goodness I wasn't! I'm sorry now, Dad. Perhaps the fellow
was hurt. but what could I do? Let's forget all about it, and I'll
be careful where I ride in the future....Dad, what does it mean,
this surveying around Forlorn River?"
"I don't know, Nell," replied Belding, thoughtfully. "It worries
me. It looks good for Forlorn River, but bad for Dick's plan to
irrigate the valley. Lord, I'd hate to have some one forestall
Dick on that!"
"No, no, we won't let anybody have Dick's rights," declared Nell.
"Where have I been keeping myself not to know about these
surveyors?" muttered Belding. "They must have just come."
"Go see Mrs. Cater. She told me there were strangers in town,
Americans, who had mining interests in Sonora, and were run
out by Orozco. Find out what they're doing, Dad."
Belding discovered that he was, indeed, the last man of consequence
in Forlorn River to learn of the arrival of Ben Chase and son,
mineowners and operators in Sonora. They, with a force of miners,
had been besieged by rebels and finally driven off their property.
This property was not destroyed, but held for ransom. And the
Chases, pending developments, had packed outfits and struck
for the border. Casita had been their objective point, but, for
some reason which Belding did not learn, they had arrived instead
at Forlorn River. It had taken Ben Chase just one day to see
the possibilities of Altar Valley, and in three days he had men at work.
Belding returned home without going to see the Chases and their
operations. He wanted to think over the situation. Next morning he
went out to the valley to see for himself. Mexicans were hastily
erecting adobe houses upon Ladd's one hundred and sixty acres, upon
Dick Gale's, upon Jim Lash's and Thorne's. There were men staking
the valley floor and the river bed. That was sufficient for
Belding. He turned back toward town and headed for the camp of
In fact, the surroundings of Forlorn River, except on the river
side, reminded Belding of the mushroom growth of a newly discovered
mining camp. Tents were everywhere; adobe shacks were in all
stages of construction; rough clapboard houses were going up.
The latest of this work was new and surprising to Belding, all
because he was a busy man, with no chance to hear village gossip.
When he was directed to the headquarters of the Chase Mining
Company he went thither in slow-growing wrath.
He came to a big tent with a huge canvas fly stretched in front,
under which sat several men in their shirt sleeves. They were
talking and smoking.
"My name's Belding. I want to see this Mr. Chase," said Belding,
Slow-witted as Belding was, and absorbed in his own feelings, he
yet saw plainly that his advent was disturbing to these men. They
looked alarmed, exchanged glances, and then quickly turned to
him. One of them, a tall, rugged man with sharp face and shrewd
eyes and white hair, got up and offered his hand.
"I'm Chase, senior," he said. "My son Radford Chase is here
somewhere. You're Belding, the line inspector, I take it? I
meant to call on you.
He seemed a rough-and-ready, loud-spoken man, withal cordial enough.
"Yes, I'm the inspector," replied Belding, ignoring the
proffered hand, "and I'd like to know what in the hell you mean by
taking up land claims--staked ground that belongs to my rangers?"
"Land claims?" slowly echoed Chase, studying his man. "We're taking
up only unclaimed land."
"That's a lie. You couldn't miss the stakes."
"Well, Mr. Belding, as to that, I think my men did run across some
staked ground. But we recognize only squatters. If your rangers
think they've got property just because they drove a few stakes
in the ground they're much mistaken. A squatter has to build a
house and live on his land so long, according to law, before he owns
This argument was unanswerable, and Belding knew it.
"According to law!" exclaimed Belding. "Then you own up; you've
jumped our claims."
"Mr. Belding, I'm a plain business man. I come along. I see a good
opening. Nobody seems to have tenable grants. I stake out claims,
locate squatters, start to build. It seems to me your rangers have
overlooked certain precautions. That's unfortunate for them. I'm
prepared to hold my claim and to back all the squatters who work
for me. If you don't like it you can carry the matter to Tucson.
The law will uphold me."
"The law? Say, on this southwest border we haven't any law except
a man's word and a gun."
"Then you'll find United States law has come along with Ben Chase,"
replied the other, snapping his fingers. He was still smooth,
outspoken, but his mask had fallen.
"You're not a Westerner?" queried Belding.
"No, I'm from Illinois."
I thought the West hadn't bred you. I know your kind. You'd last
a long time on the Texas border; now, wouldn't you? You're one
of the land and water hogs that has come to root in the West.
You're like the timber sharks--take it all and leave none for those
who follow. Mr. Chase, the West would fare better and last longer
if men like you were driven out."
"You can't drive me out."
"I'm not so sure of that. Wait till my rangers come back. I
wouldn't be in your boots. Don't mistake me. I don't suppose
you could be accused of stealing another man's ideas or plan,
but sure you've stolen these four claims. Maybe the law might
uphold you. But the spirit, not the letter, counts with us
"See here, Belding, I think you're taking the wrong view of the
matter. I'm going to develop this valley. You'd do better to get
in with me. I've a proposition to make you about that strip of
land of yours facing the river."
"You can't make any deals with me. I won't have anything to do
Belding abruptly left the camp and went home. Nell met him,
probably intended to question him, but one look into his face
confirmed her fears. She silently turned away. Belding
realized he was powerless to stop Chase, and he was sick
with disappointment for the ruin of Dick's hopes and his own.
A LOST SON
TIME passed. The population of Forlorn River grew apace. Belding,
who had once been the head of the community, found himself a person
of little consequence. Even had he desired it he would not have
had any voice in the selection of postmaster, sheriff, and a few
other officials. The Chases divided their labors between Forlorn
River and their Mexican gold mine, which had been restored to
them. The desert trips between these two places were taken in
automobiles. A month's time made the motor cars almost as familiar
a sight in Forlorn River as they had been in Casita before the
Belding was not so busy as he had been formerly. As he lost
ambition he began to find less work to do. His wrath at the
usurping Chases increased as he slowly realized his powerlessness
to cope with such men. They were promoters, men of big interests
and wide influence in the Southwest. The more they did for Forlorn
River the less reason there seemed to be for his own grievance.
He had to admit that it was personal; that he and Gale and the
rangers would never have been able to develop the resources of the
valley as these men were doing it.
All day long he heard the heavy booming blasts and the rumble of
avalanches up in the gorge. Chase's men were dynamiting the cliffs
in the narrow box canyon. They were making the dam just as Gale had
planned to make it. When this work of blasting was over Belding
experienced a relief. He would not now be continually reminded of
his and Gale's loss. Resignation finally came to him. But he could
not reconcile himself to misfortune for Gale.
Moreover, Belding had other worry and strain. April arrived with no
news of the rangers. From Casita came vague reports of raiders
in the Sonoyta country--reports impossible to verify until his
Mexican rangers returned. When these men rode in, one of them,
Gonzales, an intelligent and reliable halfbreed, said he had met
prospectors at the oasis. They had just come in on the Camino
del Diablo, reported a terrible trip of heat and drought, and not
a trace of the Yaqui's party.
"That settles it," declared Belding. "Yaqui never went to Sonoyta.
He's circled round to the Devil's Road, and the rangers, Mercedes,
Thorne, the horses--they--I'm afraid they have been lost in the
desert. It's an old story on Camino del Diablo.
He had to tell Nell that, and it was an ordeal which left him weak.
Mrs. Belding listened to him, and was silent for a long time while
she held the stricken Nell to her breast. Then she opposed his
convictions with that quiet strength so characteristic of her
"Well, then," decided Belding, "Rojas headed the rangers at Papago
Well or the Tanks."
"Tom, when you are down in the mouth you use poor judgment,"
she went on. "You know only by a miracle could Rojas or anybody
have headed those white horses. Where's your old stubborn
confidence? Yaqui was up on Diablo. Dick was up on Sol. And
there were the other horses. They could not have been headed or
caught. Miracles don't happen."
"All right, mother, it's sure good to hear you," said Belding. She
always cheered him, and now he grasped at straws. "I'm not myself
these days, don't mistake that. Tell us what you think. You always
say you feel things when you really don't know them."
"I can say little more than what you said yourself the
night Mercedes was taken away. You told Laddy to trust Yaqui,
that he was a godsend. He might go south into some wild Sonora
valley. He might lead Rojas into a trap. He would find water and
grass where no Mexican or American could."
"But mother, they're gone seven weeks. Seven weeks! At the most
I gave them six weeks. Seven weeks in the desert!"
"How do the Yaquis live?" she asked.
Belding could not reply to that, but hope revived in him. He had
faith in his wife, though he could not in the least understand what
he imagined was something mystic in her.
"Years ago when I was searching for my father I learned many things
about this country," said Mrs. Belding. "You can never tell how
long a man may live in the desert. The fiercest, most terrible and
inaccessible places often have their hidden oasis. In his later
years my father became a prospector. That was strange to me, for
he never cared for gold or money. I learned that he was often
gone in the desert for weeks, once for months. Then the time came
when he never came back. That was years before I reached the
southwest border and heard of him. Even then I did not for long
give up hope of his coming back, I know now--something tells
me--indeed, it seems his spirit tells me--he was lost. But I don't
have that feeling for Yaqui and his party. Yaqui has given Rojas
the slip or has ambushed him in some trap. Probably that took
time and a long journey into Sonora. The Indian is too wise to
start back now over dry trails. He'll curb the rangers; he'll wait.
I seem to know this, dear Nell, so be brave, patient. Dick Gale
will come back to you."
"Oh, mother!" cried Nell. "I can't give up hope while I have you."
That talk with the strong mother worked a change in Nell
and Belding. Nell, who had done little but brood and watch
the west and take violent rides, seemed to settle into a
waiting patience that was sad, yet serene. She helped her mother
more than ever; she was a comfort to Belding; she began to take
active interest in the affairs of the growing village. Belding, who
had been breaking under the strain of worry, recovered himself
so that to outward appearance he was his old self. He alone knew,
however, that his humor was forced, and that the slow burning
wrath he felt for the Chases was flaming into hate.
Belding argued with himself that if Ben Chase and his son, Radford,
had turned out to be big men in other ways than in the power to
carry on great enterprises he might have become reconciled to them.
But the father was greedy, grasping, hard, cold; the son added to
those traits an overbearing disposition to rule, and he showed a
fondness for drink and cards. These men were developing the valley,
to be sure, and a horde of poor Mexicans and many Americans were
benefiting from that development; nevertheless, these Chases were
operating in a way which proved they cared only for themselves.
Belding shook off a lethargic spell and decided he had better set
about several by no means small tasks, if he wanted to get them
finished before the hot months. He made a trip to the Sonoyta
Oasis. He satisfied himself that matters along the line were
favorable, and that there was absolutely no trace of his rangers.
Upon completing this trip he went to Casita with a number of his
white thoroughbreds and shipped them to ranchers and horse-breeders
in Texas. Then, being near the railroad, and having time, he went
up to Tucson. There he learned some interesting particulars about
the Chases. They had an office in the city; influential friends in
the Capitol. They were powerful men in the rapidly growing finance
of the West. They had interested the Southern Pacific Railroad, and
in the near future a branch line was to be constructed from San
Felipe to Forlorn River. These details of the Chase development were
insignificant when compared to a matter striking close home to Belding.
His responsibility had been subtly attacked. A doubt had been cast
upon his capability of executing the duties of immigration inspector
to the best advantage of the state. Belding divined that this was
only an entering wedge. The Chases were bent upon driving him
out of Forlorn River; but perhaps to serve better their own ends,
they were proceeding at leisure. Belding returned home consumed
by rage. But he controlled it. For the first time in his life he
was afraid of himself. He had his wife and Nell to think of; and
the old law of the West had gone forever.
"Dad, there's another Rojas round these diggings," was Nell's
remark, after the greetings were over and the usual questions
and answers passed.
Belding's exclamation was cut short by Nell's laugh. She was
serious with a kind of amused contempt.
"Mr. Radford Chase!"
"Now Nell, what the--" roared Belding.
"Hush, Dad! Don't swear," interrupted Nell. "I only meant to
"Humph! Say, my girl, that name Chase makes me see red. If you
must tease me hit on some other way. Sabe, senorita?"
"Si, si, Dad."
"Nell, you may as well tell him and have it over," said Mrs.
"You promised me once, Dad, that you'd not go packing a gun off
down there, didn't you?"
"Yes, I remember," replied Belding; but he did not answer her smile.
"Will you promise again?" she asked, lightly. Here was Nell with
arch eyes, yet not the old arch eyes, so full of fun and mischief.
Her lips were tremulous; her cheeks seemed less round.
"Yes," rejoined Belding; and he knew why his voice was a little
"Well, if you weren't such a good old blind Dad you'd have seen
long ago the way Mr. Radford Chase ran round after me. At first
it was only annoying, and I did not want to add to your worries.
But these two weeks you've been gone I've been more than annoyed.
After that time I struck Mr. Chase with my quirt he made all
possible efforts to meet me. He did meet me wherever I went. He
sent me letters till I got tired of sending them back.
"When you left home on your trips I don't know that he grew bolder,
but he had more opportunity. I couldn't stay in the house all the
time. There were mama's errands and sick people and my Sunday
school, and what not. Mr. Chase waylaid me every time I went out.
If he works any more I don't know when, unless it's when I'm asleep.
He followed me until it was less embarassing for me to let him walk
with me and talk his head off. He made love to me. He begged me
to marry him. I told him I was already in love and engaged to be
married. He said that didn't make any difference. Then I called
him a fool.
Next time he saw me he said he must explain. He meant I was being
true to a man who, everybody on the border knew, had been lost in
the desert. That--that hurt. Maybe--maybe it's true. Sometimes
it seems terribly true. Since then, of course, I have stayed in the
house to avoid being hurt again.
"But, Dad, a little thing like a girl sticking close to her mother
and room doesn't stop Mr. Chase. I think he's crazy. Anyway,
he's a most persistent fool. I want to be charitable, because
the man swears he loves me, and maybe he does, but he is making
me nervous. I don't sleep. I'm afraid to be in my room at night.
I've gone to mother's room. He's always hanging round. Bold!
Why, that isn't the thing to call Mr. Chase. He's absolutely
without a sense of decency. He bribes our servants. He comes
into our patio. Think of that! He makes the most ridiculous
excuses. He bothers mother to death. I feel like a poor little
rabbit holed by a hound. And I daren't peep out."
Somehow the thing struck Belding as funny, and he laughed. He
had not had a laugh for so long that it made him feel good. He
stopped only at sight of Nell's surprise and pain. Then he put
his arms round her.
"Never mind, dear. I'm an old bear. But it tickled me, I guess.
I sure hope Mr. Radford Chase has got it bad...Nell, it's only the
old story. The fellows fall in love with you. It's your good
looks, Nell. What a price women like you and Mercedes have
to pay for beauty! I'd a d-- a good deal rather be ugly as a
"So would I, Dad, if--if Dick would still love me."
"He wouldn't, you can gamble on that, as Laddy says.
...Well, the first time I catch this locoed Romeo sneaking round
"Dad, you promised."
"Confound it, Nell, I promised not to pack a gun. That's all.
I'll only shoo this fellow off the place, gently, mind you, gently.
I'll leave the rest for Dick Gale!"
"Oh, Dad!" cried Nell; and she clung to him wistful, frightened,
yet something more.
"Don't mistake me, Nell. You have your own way, generally. You
pull the wool over mother's eyes, and you wind me round your
little finger. But you can't do either with Dick Gale. You're
tender-hearted; you overlook the doings of this hound, Chase.
But when Dick comes back, you just make up your mind to a little
hell in the Chase camp. Oh, he'll find it out. And I sure want to
be round when Dick hands Mr. Radford the same as he handed
Belding kept a sharp lookout for young Chase, and then, a few days
later, learned that both son and father had gone off upon one of
their frequent trips to Casa Grandes, near where their mines were
April grew apace, and soon gave way to May. One morning
Belding was called from some garden work by the whirring
of an automobile and a "Holloa!" He went forward to the front yard
and there saw a car he thought resembled one he had seen in Casita.
It contained a familiar-looking driver, but the three figures in
gray coats and veils were strange to him. By the time he had gotten
to the road he decided two were women and the other a man. At the
moment their faces were emerging from dusty veils. Belding saw an
elderly, sallow-faced, rather frail-appearing man who was an entire
stranger to him; a handsome dark-eyed woman whose hair showed
white through her veil; and a superbly built girl, whose face made
Belding at once think of Dick Gale.
"Is this Mr. Tom Belding, inspector of immigration?" inquired the
"I'm Belding, and I know who you are," replied Belding in hearty
amaze, as he stretched forth his big hand. "You're Dick Gale's
Dad--the Governor, Dick used to say. I'm sure glad to meet you."
"Thank you. Yes, I'm Dick's governor, and here, Mr. Belding--Dick's
mother and his sister Elsie."
Beaming his pleasure, Belding shook hands with the ladies, who
showed their agitation clearly.
"Mr. Belding, I've come west to look up my lost son," said Mr. Gale.
"His sister's letters were unanswered. We haven't heard from him
in months. Is he still here with you?"
"Well, now, sure I'm awful sorry," began Belding, his slow mind
at work. "Dick's away just now--been away for a considerable
spell. I'm expecting him back any day....Won't you come in? You're
all dusty and hot and tired. Come in, and let mother and Nell make
you comfortable. Of course you'll stay. We've a big house. You
must stay till Dick comes back. Maybe that 'll be-- Aw, I guess
it won't be long....Let me handle the baggage, Mr. Gale....Come in.
I sure am glad to meet you all."
Eager, excited, delighted, Belding went on talking as he ushered
the Gales into the sitting-room, presenting them in his hearty way
to the astounded Mrs. Belding and Nell. For the space of a few
moments his wife and daughter were bewildered. Belding did
not recollect any other occasion when a few callers had thrown
them off their balance. But of course this was different. He was
a little flustered himself--a circumstance that dawned upon him
with surprise. When the Gales had been shown to rooms, Mrs.
Belding gained the poise momentarily lost; but Nell came rushing
back, wilder than a deer, in a state of excitement strange even
"Oh! Dick's mother, his sister!" whispered Nell.
Belding observed the omission of the father in Nell's exclamation
of mingled delight and alarm.
"His mother!" went on Nell. "Oh, I knew it! I always guessed it!
Dick's people are proud, rich; they're somebody. I thought I'd
faint when she looked at me. She was just curious--curious,
but so cold and proud. She was wondering about me. I'm wearing
his ring. It was his mother's, he said. I won't--I can't take it
off. And I'm scared....But the sister--oh, she's lovely and sweet
--proud, too. I felt warm all over when she looked at me. I--I
wanted to kiss her. She looks like Dick when he first came to
us. But he's changed. They'll hardly recognize him....To think
they've come! And I had to be looking a fright, when of all times
on earth I'd want to look my best."
Nell, out of breath, ran away evidently to make herself presentable,
according to her idea of the exigency of the case. Belding caught
a glimpse of his wife's face as she went out, and it wore a sad,
strange, anxious expression. Then Belding sat alone, pondering
the contracting emotions of his wife and daughter. It was beyond
his understanding. Women were creatures of feeling. Belding
saw reason to be delighted to entertain Dick's family; and
for the time being no disturbing thought entered his mind.
Presently the Gales came back into the sitting-room, looking
very different without the long gray cloaks and veils. Belding
saw distinction and elegance. Mr. Gale seemed a grave, troubled,
kindly person, ill in body and mind. Belding received the same
impression of power that Ben Chase had given him, only here it
was minus any harshness or hard quality. He gathered that Mr. Gale
was a man of authority. Mrs. Gale rather frightened Belding, but
he could not have told why. The girl was just like Dick as he used
Their manner of speaking also reminded Belding of Dick. They
talked of the ride from Ash Fork down to the border, of the
ugly and torn-up Casita, of the heat and dust and cactus along
the trail. Presently Nell came in, now cool and sweet in white,
with a red rose at her breast. Belding had never been so proud
of her. He saw that she meant to appear well in the eyes of
Dick's people, and began to have a faint perception of what the
ordeal was for her. Belding imagined the sooner the Gales were
told that Dick was to marry Nell the better for all concerned, and
especially for Nell. In the general conversation that ensued he
sought for an opening in which to tell this important news, but
he was kept so busy answering questions about his position on
the border, the kind of place Forlorn River was, the reason for
so many tents, etc., that he was unable to find opportunity.
"It's very interesting, very interesting," said Mr. Gale. "At
another time I want to learn all you'll tell me about the West.
It's new to me. I'm surprised, amazed, sir, I may say....But, Mr.
Belding, what I want to know most is about my son. I'm broken
in health. I've worried myself ill over him. I don't mind telling
you, sir, that we quarreled. I laughed at his threats. He went
away. And I've come to see that I didn't know Richard. I was
wrong to upbraid him. For a year we've known nothing of his
doings, and now for almost six months we've not heard from him
at all. Frankly, Mr. Belding, I weakened first, and I've come to
hunt him up. My fear is that I didn't start soon enough. The
boy will have a great position some day--God knows, perhaps
soon! I should not have allowed him to run over this wild country
for so long. But I hoped, though I hardly believed, that he might
find himself. Now I'm afraid he's--"
Mr. Gale paused and the white hand he raised expressively shook
Belding was not so thick-witted where men were concerned. He
saw how the matter lay between Dick Gale and his father.
"Well, Mr. Gale, sure most young bucks from the East go to the bad
out here," he said, bluntly.
"I've been told that," replied Mr. Gale; and a shade overspread his
"They blow their money, then go punching cows, take to whiskey."
"Yes," rejoined Mr. Gale, feebly nodding.
"Then they get to gambling, lose their jobs," went on Belding.
Mr. Gale lifted haggard eyes.
"Then it's bumming around, regular tramps, and to the bad
generally." Belding spread wide his big arms, and when one of
them dropped round Nell, who sat beside him, she squeezed his
hand tight. "Sure, it's the regular thing," he concluded,
He rather felt a little glee at Mr. Gale's distress, and Mrs. Gale's
crushed I-told-you-so woe in no wise bothered him; but the look
in the big, dark eyes of Dick's sister was too much for Belding.
He choked off his characteristic oath when excited and blurted
out, "Say, but Dick Gale never went to the bad!...Listen!"
Belding had scarcely started Dick Gale's story when he perceived
that never in his life had he such an absorbed and
breathless audience. Presently they were awed, and at the
conclusion of that story they sat white-faced, still, amazed beyond
speech. Dick Gale's advent in Casita, his rescue of Mercedes, his
life as a border ranger certainly lost no picturesque or daring or
even noble detail in Belding's telling. He kept back nothing but
the present doubt of Dick's safety.
Dick's sister was the first of the three to recover herself.
"Oh, father!" she cried; and there was a glorious light in her
eyes. "Deep down in my heart I knew Dick was a man!"
Mr. Gale rose unsteadily from his chair. His frailty was now
"Mr. Belding, do you mean my son--Richard Gale--has done all
that you told us?" he asked, incredulously.
"I sure do," replied Belding, with hearty good will.
"Martha, do you hear?" Mr. Gale turned to question his wife. She
could not answer. Her face had not yet regained its natural color.
"He faced that bandit and his gang alone--he fought them?" demanded
Mr. Gale, his voice stronger.
"Dick mopped up the floor with the whole outfit!"
"He rescued a Spanish girl, went into the desert without food,
weapons, anything but his hands? Richard Gale, whose hands
were always useless?"
Belding nodded with a grin.
"He's a ranger now--riding, fighting, sleeping on the sand,
preparing his own food?"
"Well, I should smile," rejoined Belding.
"He cares for his horse, with his own hands?" This query seemed
to be the climax of Mr. Gale's strange hunger for truth. He had
raised his head a little higher, and his eye was brighter.
Mention of a horse fired Belding's blood.
"Does Dick Gale care for his horse? Say, there are not many men as
well loved as that white horse of Dick's. Blanco Sol he is, Mr.
Gale. That's Mex for White Sun. Wait till you see Blanco Sol! Bar
one, the whitest, biggest, strongest, fastest, grandest horse in the
"So he loves a horse! I shall not know my own son....Mr. Belding,
you say Richard works for you. May I ask, at what salary?"
"He gets forty dollars, board and outfit," replied Belding,
"Forty dollars?" echoed the father. "By the day or week?"
"The month, of course," said Belding, somewhat taken aback.
"Forty dollars a month for a young man who spent five hundred
in the same time when he was at college, and who ran it into
thousands when he got out!"
Mr. Gale laughed for the first time, and it was the laugh of a man
who wanted to believe what he heard yet scarcely dared to do it.
"What does he do with so much money--money earned by peril, toil,
sweat, and blood? Forty dollars a month!"
"He saves it," replied Belding.
Evidently this was too much for Dick Gale's father, and he gazed
at his wife in sheer speechless astonishment. Dick's sister clapped
her hands like a little child.
Belding saw that the moment was propitious.
"Sure he saves it. Dick's engaged to marry Nell here. My
stepdaughter, Nell Burton."
"Oh-h, Dad!" faltered Nell; and she rose, white as her dress.
How strange it was to see Dick's mother and sister rise, also, and
turn to Nell with dark, proud, searching eyes. Belding vaguely
realized some blunder he had made. Nell's white, appealing face
gave him a pang. What had he done? Surely this family of Dick's
ought to know his relation to Nell. There was a silence that
positively made Belding nervous.
Then Elsie Gale stepped close to Nell.
"Miss Burton, are you really Richard's betrothed?"
Nell's tremulous lips framed an affirmative, but never uttered it.
She held out her hand, showing the ring Dick had given her. Miss
Gale's recognition was instant, and her response was warm, sweet,
"I think I am going to be very, very glad," she said, and kissed
"Miss Burton, we are learning wonderful things about Richard,"
added Mr. Gale, in an earnest though shaken voice. "If you have
had to do with making a man of him--and now I begin to see, to
believe so--may God bless you!...My dear girl, I have not really
looked at you. Richard's fiancee!...Mother, we have not found him
yet, but I think we've found his secret. We believed him a lost
son. But here is his sweetheart!"
It was only then that the pride and hauteur of Mrs. Gale's face
broke into an expression of mingled pain and joy. She opened
her arms. Nell, uttering a strange little stifled cry, flew into
Belding suddenly discovered an unaccountable blur in his sight.
He could not see perfectly, and that was why, when Mrs. Belding
entered the sitting-room, he was not certain that her face was
as sad and white as it seemed.
BOUND IN THE DESERT
FAR away from Forlorn River Dick Gale sat stunned, gazing down into
the purple depths where Rojas had plunged to his death. The Yaqui
stood motionless upon the steep red wall of lava from which he had
cut the bandit's hold. Mercedes lay quietly where she had fallen.
From across the depths there came to Gale's ear the Indian's
strange, wild cry.
Then silence, hollow, breathless, stony silence enveloped the great
abyss and its upheaved lava walls. The sun was setting. Every
instant the haze reddened and thickened.
Action on the part of the Yaqui loosened the spell which held Gale
as motionless as his surroundings. The Indian was edging back
toward the ledge. He did not move with his former lithe and sure
freedom. He crawled, slipped, dragged himself, rested often, and
went on again. He had been wounded. When at last he reached
the ledge where Mercedes lay Gale jumped to his feet, strong and
thrilling, spurred to meet the responsibility that now rested upon
Swiftly he turned to where Thorne lay. The cavalryman was just
returning to consciousness. Gale ran for a canteen, bathed his
face, made him drink. The look in Thorne's eyes was hard to bear.
"Thorne! Thorne! it's all right, it's all right!" cried Gale, in
piercing tones. "Mercedes is safe! Yaqui saved her! Rojas is done
for! Yaqui jumped down the wall and drove the bandit off the ledge.
Cut him loose from the wall, foot by foot, hand by hand! We've won
the fight, Thorne."
For Thorne these were marvelous strength-giving words. The
dark horror left his eyes, and they began to dilate, to shine. He
stood up, dizzily but unaided, and he gazed across the crater.
Yaqui had reached the side of Mercedes, was bending over her.
She stirred. Yaqui lifted her to her feet. She appeared weak,
unable to stand alone. But she faced across the crater and waved
her hand. She was unharmed. Thorne lifted both arms above head,
and from his lips issued a cry. It was neither call nor holloa nor
welcome nor answer. Like the Yaqui's, it could scarcely be named.
But it was deep, husky, prolonged, terribly human in its intensity.
It made Gale shudder and made his heart beat like a trip hammer.
Mercedes again waved a white hand. The Yaqui waved, too, and Gale
saw in the action an urgent signal.
Hastily taking up canteen and rifles, Gale put a supporting arm
"Come, old man. Can you walk? Sure you can walk! Lean on me,
and we'll soon get out of this. Don't look across. Look where you
step. We've not much time before dark. Oh, Thorne, I'm afraid
Jim has cashed in! And the last I saw of Laddy he was badly hurt."
Gale was keyed up to a high pitch of excitement and alertness.
He seemed to be able to do many things. But once off the ragged
notched lava into the trail he had not such difficulty with Thorne,
and could keep his keen gaze shifting everywhere for sight of
"Listen, Thorne! What's that?" asked Gale, halting as they came
to a place where the trail led down through rough breaks in the
lava. The silence was broken by a strange sound, almost
unbelieveable considering the time and place. A voice was droning:
"Turn the lady, turn! Turn the lady, turn! Alamon left. All
swing; turn the lady, turn!"
"Hello, Jim," called Gale, dragging Thorne round the corner of
lava. "Where are you? Oh, you son of a gun! I thought you were
dead. Oh, I'm glad to see you! Jim, are you hurt?"
Jim Lash stood in the trail leaning over the butt of his rifle,
which evidently he was utilizing as a crutch. He was pale but
smiling. His hands were bloody. A scarf had been bound tightly
round his left leg just above the knee. The leg hung limp, and
the foot dragged.
"I reckon I ain't injured much," replied Him. "But my leg hurts
like hell, if you want to know."
"Laddy! Oh, where's Laddy?"
"He's just across the crack there. I was trying to get to him. We
had it hot an' heavy down here. Laddy was pretty bad shot up
before he tried to head Rojas off the trail....Dick, did you see the
Yaqui go after Rojas?"
"Did I!" exclaimed Gale, grimly.
"The finish was all that saved me from runnin' loco plumb over the
rim. You see I was closer'n you to where Mercedes was hid. When
Rojas an' his last Greaser started across, Laddy went after them,
but I couldn't. Laddy did for Rojas's man, then went down himself.
But he got up an' fell, got up, went on, an' fell again. Laddy kept
doin' that till he dropped for good. I reckon our chances are
against findin' him alive....I tell you, boys, Rojas was hell-bent.
An' Mercedes was game. I saw her shoot him. But mebbe bullets
couldn't stop him then. If I didn't sweat blood when Mercedes was
fightin' him on the cliff! Then the finish! Only a Yaqui could
have done that....Thorne, you didn't miss it?"
"Yes, I was down and out," replied the cavalryman.
"It's a shame. Greatest stunt I ever seen! Thorne, you're standin'
up pretty fair. How about you? Dick, is he bad hurt?"
"No, he's not. A hard knock on the skull and a scalp wound, "
replied Dick. "Here, Jim, let me help you over this place."
Step by step Gale got the two injured men down the uneven declivity
and then across the narrow lava bridge over the fissure. Here he
bade them rest while he went along the trail on that side to search
for Laddy. Gale found the ranger stretched out, face downward,
a reddened hand clutching a gun. Gale thought he was dead. Upon
examination, however, it was found that Ladd still lived, though he
had many wounds. Gale lifted him and carried him back to the
"He's alive, but that's all," said Dick, as he laid the ranger down.
"Do what you can. Stop the blood. Laddy's tough as cactus, you
know. I'll hurry back for Mercedes and Yaqui."
Gale, like a fleet, sure-footed mountain sheep, ran along the
trail. When he came across the Mexican, Rojas's last ally, Gale
had evidence of the terrible execution of the .405. He did not
pause. On the first part of that descent he made faster time
than had Rojas. But he exercised care along the hard, slippery,
ragged slope leading to the ledge. Presently he came upon
Mercedes and the Yaqui. She ran right into Dick's arms, and there
her strength, if not her courage, broke, and she grew lax.
"Mercedes, you're safe! Thorne's safe. It's all right now."
"Rojas!" she whispered.
"Gone! To the bottom of the crater! A Yaqui's vengeance,
He heard the girl whisper the name of the Virgin. Then he gathered
her up in his arms.
The Indian grunted. He had one hand pressed close over a bloody
place in his shoulder. Gale looked keenly at him. Yaqui was
inscrutable, as of old, yet Gale somehow knew that wound meant
little to him. The Indian followed him.
Without pausing, moving slowly in some places, very carefully
in others, and swiftly on the smooth part of the trail, Gale
carried Mercedes up to the rim and along to the the others.
Jim Lash worked awkardly over Ladd. Thorne was trying
to assist. Ladd, himself, was conscious, but he was a pallid,
apparently a death-stricken man. The greeting between Mercedes
and Thorne was calm--strangely so, it seemed to Gale. But he was
calm himself. Ladd smiled at him, and evidently would have spoken
had he the power. Yaqui then joined the group, and his piercing
eyes roved from one to the other, lingering longest over Ladd.
"Dick, I'm figger'n hard," said Jim, faintly. "In a minute it 'll
be up to you an' Mercedes. I've about shot my bolt....Reckon
you'll do-- best by bringin' up blankets--water--salt--firewood.
Laddy's got--one chance--in a hundred. Fix him up--first. Use
hot salt water. If my leg's broke--set it best you can. That hole
in Yaqui--only 'll bother him a day. Thorne's bad hurt...Now
Lash's voice died away in a husky whisper, and he quietly lay back,
stretching out all but the crippled leg. Gale examined it, assured
himself the bones had not been broken, and then rose ready to go
down the trail.
"Mercedes, hold Thorne's head up, in your lap--so. Now I'll go."
On the moment Yaqui appeared to have completed the binding of
his wounded shoulder, and he started to follow Gale. He paid no
attention to Gale's order for him to stay back. But he was slow,
and gradually Gale forged ahead. The lingering brightness of the
sunset lightened the trail, and the descent to the arroyo was swift
and easy. Some of the white horses had come in for water. Blanco
Sol spied Gale and whistled and came pounding toward him. It was
twilight down in the arroyo. Yaqui appeared and began collecting
a bundle of mesquite sticks. Gale hastily put together the things
he needed; and, packing them all in a tarpaulin, he turned to
retrace his steps up the trail.
Darkness was setting in. The trail was narrow, exceedingly steep,
and in some places fronted on precipices. Gale's burden was not
very heavy, but its bulk made it unwieldy, and it was always
overbalancing him or knocking against the wall side of the trail.
Gale found it necessary to wait for Yaqui to take the lead. The
Indian's eyes must have seen as well at night as by day. Gale
toiled upward, shouldering, swinging, dragging the big pack; and,
though the ascent of the slope was not really long, it seemed
endless. At last they reached a level, and were soon on the spot
with Mercedes and the injured men.
Gale then set to work. Yaqui's part was to keep the fire blazing
and the water hot, Mercedes's to help Gale in what way she could.
Gale found Ladd had many wounds, yet not one of them was directly
in a vital place. Evidently, the ranger had almost bled to death.
He remained unconcious through Gale's operations. According to
Jim Lash, Ladd had one chance in a hundred, but Gale considered
it one in a thousand. Having done all that was possible for the
ranger, Gale slipped blankets under and around him, and then
turned his attention to Lash.
Jim came out of his stupor. A mushrooming bullet had torn a
great hole in his leg. Gale, upon examination, could not be sure
the bones had been missed, but there was no bad break. The
application of hot salt water made Jim groan. When he had been
bandaged and laid beside Ladd, Gale went on to the cavalryman.
Thorne was very weak and scarcely conscious. A furrow had been
plowed through his scalp down to the bone. When it had been
dressed, Mercedes collapsed. Gale laid her with the three in a row
and covered them with blankets and the tarpaulin.
Then Yaqui submitted to examination. A bullet had gone through the
Indian's shoulder. To Gale it appeared serious. Yaqui said it was a
flea bite. But he allowed Gale to bandage it, and obeyed when he was
told to lie quiet in his blanket beside the fire.
Gale stood guard. He seemed still calm, and wondered at what he
considered a strange absence of poignant feeling. If he had felt
weariness it was now gone. He coaxed the fire with as little wood
as would keep it burning; he sat beside it; he walked to and fro
close by; sometimes he stood over the five sleepers, wondering if
two of them, at least, would ever awaken.
Time had passed swiftly, but as the necessity for immediate action
had gone by, the hours gradually assumed something of their normal
length. The night wore on. The air grew colder, the stars
brighter, the sky bluer, and, if such could be possible, the silence
more intense. The fire burned out, and for lack of wood could not
be rekindled. Gale patrolled his short beat, becoming colder and
damper as dawn approached. The darkness grew so dense that he could
not see the pale faces of the sleepers. He dreaded the gray dawn
and the light. Slowly the heavy black belt close to the lava
changed to a pale gloom, then to gray, and after that morning came
The hour had come for Dick Gale to face his great problem. It was
natural that he hung back a little at first; natural that when he
went forward to look at the quiet sleepers he did so with a grim
and stern force urging him. Yaqui stirred, roused, yawned, got up;
and, though he did not smile at Gale, a light shone swiftly across
his dark face. His shoulder drooped and appeared stiff, otherwise
he was himself. Mercedes lay in deep slumber. Thorne had a high
fever, and was beginning to show signs of restlessness. Ladd
seemed just barely alive. Jim Lash slept as if he was not much
the worse for his wound.
Gale rose from his examination with a sharp breaking of his cold
mood. While there was life in Thorne and Ladd there was hope
for them. Then he faced his problem, and his decision was instant.
He awoke Mercedes. How wondering, wistful, beautiful was that first
opening flash of her eyes! Then the dark, troubled thought came.
Swiftly she sat up.
"Mercedes--come. Are you all right? Laddy is alive Thorne's not
--not so bad. But we've got a job on our hands! You must help me."
She bent over Thorne and laid her hands on his hot face. Then she
rose--a woman such as he had imagined she might be in an hour of
Gale took up Ladd as carefully and gently as possible.
"Mercedes, bring what you can carry and follow me," he said. Then,
motioning for Yaqui to remain there, he turned down the slope with
Ladd in his arms.
Neither pausing nor making a misstep nor conscious of great effort,
Gale carried the wounded man down into the arroyo. Mercedes
kept at his heels, light, supple, lithe as a panther. He left her
with Ladd and went back. When he had started off with Thorne
in his arms he felt the tax on his strength. Surely and swiftly,
however, he bore the cavalryman down the trail to lay him beside
Ladd. Again he started back, and when he began to mount the
steep lava steps he was hot, wet, breathing hard. As he reached
the scene of that night's camp a voice greeted him. Jim Lash was
"Hello, Dick. I woke some late this mornin'. Where's Laddy? Dick,
you ain't a-goin' to say--"
"Laddy's alive--that's about all," replied Dick.
"Where's Thorne an' Mercedes? Look here, man. I reckon you ain't
packin' this crippled outfit down that awful trail?"
"Had to, Jim. An hour's sun--would kill--both Laddy and Thorne.
Come on now."
For once Jim Lash's cool good nature and careless indifference
gave precedence to amaze and concern.
"Always knew you was a husky chap. But, Dick, you're no hoss!
Get me a crutch an' give me a lift on one side."
"Come on," replied Gale. "I've no time to monkey."
He lifted the ranger, called to Yaqui to follow with some of the
camp outfit, and once more essayed the steep descent. Jim Lash
was the heaviest man of the three, and Gale's strength was put
to enormous strain to carry him on that broken trail.
Nevertheless, Gale went down, down, walking swiftly and surely
over the bad places; and at last he staggered into the arroyo with
bursting heart and red-blinded eyes. When he had recovered he
made a final trip up the slope for the camp effects which Yaqui had
been unable to carry.
Then he drew Jim and Mercedes and Yaqui, also, into an earnest
discussion of ways and means whereby to fight for the life of
Thorne. Ladd's case Gale now considered hopeless, though he
meant to fight for him, too, as long as he breathed.
In the labor of watching and nursing it seemed to Gale that two
days and two nights slipped by like a few hours. During that time
the Indian recovered from his injury, and became capable of
performing all except heavy tasks. Then Gale succumbed to
weariness. After his much-needed rest he relieved Mercedes of the
care and watch over Thorne which, up to that time, she had
absolutely refused to relinquish. The cavalryman had high fever,
and Gale feared he had developed blood poisoning. He required
constant attention. His condition slowly grew worse, and there
came a day which Gale thought surely was the end. But that day
passed, and the night, and the next day, and Thorne lived on,
ghastly, stricken, raving. Mercedes hung over him with jealous,
passionate care and did all that could have been humanly done for
a man. She grew wan, absorbed, silent. But suddenly, and to Gale's
amaze and thanksgiving, there came an abatement of Thorne's fever.
With it some of the heat and redness of the inflamed wound
disappeared. Next morning he was conscious, and Gale grasped some
of the hope that Mercedes had never abandoned. He forced her to
rest while he attended to Thorne. That day he saw that the crisis
was past. Recovery for Thorne was now possible, and would perhaps
depend entirely upon the care he received.
Jim Lash's wound healed without any aggravating symptoms. It would
be only a matter of time unti he had the use of his leg again. All
these days, however, there was little apparent change in Ladd's
condition unless it was that he seemed to fade away as he lingered.
At first his wounds remained open; they bled a little all the time
outwardly, perhaps internally also; the blood did not seem to clot,
and so the bullet holes did not close. Then Yaqui asked for the
care of Ladd. Gale yielded it with opposing thoughts--that Ladd
would waste slowly away till life ceased, and that there never was
any telling what might lie in the power of this strange Indian.
Yaqui absented himself from camp for a while, and when he returned
he carried the roots and leaves of desert plants unknown to Gale.
From these the Indian brewed an ointment. Then he stripped the
bandages from Ladd and applied the mixture to his wounds. That
done, he let him lie with the wounds exposed to the air, at night
covering him. Next day he again exposed the wounds to the warm,
dry air. Slowly they closed, and Ladd ceased to bleed externally.
Days passed and grew into what Gale imagined must have been weeks.
Yaqui recovered fully. Jim Lash began to move about on a crutch;
he shared the Indian's watch over Ladd. Thorne lay haggard,
emaciated ghost of his rugged self, but with life in the eyes that
turned always toward Mercedes. Ladd lingered and lingered. The
life seemingly would not leave his bullet-pierced body. He faded,
withered, shrunk till he was almost a skeleton. He knew those who
worked and watched over him, but he had no power of speech. His
eyes and eyelids moved; the rest of him seemed stone. All those
days nothing except water was given him. It was marvelous how
tenaciously, however feebly, he clung to life. Gale imagined it was
the Yaqui's spirit that held back death. That tireless, implacable,
inscrutable savage was ever at the ranger's side. His great somber
eyes burned. At length he went to Gale, and, with that strange light
flitting across the hard bronzed face, he said Ladd would live.
The second day after Ladd had been given such thin nourishment as
he could swallow he recovered the use of his tongue.
"Shore--this's--hell," he whispered.
That was a characteristic speech for the ranger, Gale thought; and
indeed it made all who heard it smile while their eyes were wet.
From that time forward Ladd gained, but he gained so immeasurably
slowly that only the eyes of hope could have seen any improvement.
Jim Lash threw away his crutch, and Thorne was well, if still somewhat
weak, before Ladd could lift his arm or turn his head. A kind of
long, immovable gloom passed, like a shadow, from his face. His
whispers grew stronger. And the day arrived when Gale, who was
perhaps the least optimistic, threw doubt to the winds and knew the
ranger would get well. For Gale that joyous moment of realization
was one in which he seemed to return to a former self long absent.
He experienced an elevation of soul. He was suddenly overwhelmed
with gratefulness, humility, awe. A gloomy black terror had passed
by. He wanted to thank the faithful Mercedes, and Thorne for
getting well, and the cheerful Lash, and Ladd himself, and that
strange and wonderful Yaqui, now such a splendid figure. He thought
of home and Nell. The terrible encompassing red slopes lost something
of their fearsomeness, and there was a good spirit hovering near.
"Boys, come round," called Ladd, in his low voice. "An' you,
Mercedes. An' call the Yaqui."
Ladd lay in the shade of the brush shelter that had been
erected. His head was raised slightly on a pillow. There seemed
little of him but long lean lines, and if it had not been for his
keen, thoughtful, kindly eyes, his face would have resembled a
death mask of a man starved.
"Shore I want to know what day is it an' what month?" asked Ladd.
Nobody could answer him. The question seemed a surprise to Gale,
and evidently was so to the others.
"Look at that cactus," went on Ladd.
Near the wall of lava a stunted saguaro lifted its head. A few
shriveled blossoms that had once been white hung along the fluted
"I reckon according to that giant cactus it's somewheres along the
end of March," said Jim Lash, soberly.
"Shore it's April. Look where the sun is. An' can't you feel
it's gettin' hot?"
"Supposin' it is April?" queried Lash slowly.
"Well, what I'm drivin' at is it's about time you all was hittin'
the trail back to Forlorn River, before the waterholes dry out."
"Laddy, I reckon we'll start soon as you're able to be put on a
"Shore that 'll be too late."
A silence ensued, in which those who heard Ladd gazed fixedly at
him and then at one another. Lash uneasily shifted the position
of his lame leg, and Gale saw him moisten his lips with his tongue.
"Charlie Ladd, I ain't reckonin' you mean we're to ride off an'
leave you here?"
"What else is there to do? The hot weather's close. Pretty soon
most of the waterholes will be dry. You can't travel then....I'm
on my back here, an' God only knows when I could be packed out.
Not for weeks, mebbe. I'll never be any good again, even if I was
to get out alive....You see, shore this sort of case comes round
sometimes in the desert. It's common enough. I've heard of several
cases where men had to go an' leave a feller behind. It's reasonable.
If you're fightin' the desert you can't afford to be sentimental...
Now, as I said, I'm all in. So what's the sense of you waitin' here,
when it means the old desert story? By goin' now mebbe you'll get home.
If you wait on a chance of takin' me, you'll be too late. Pretty soon
this lava 'll be one roastin' hell. Shore now, boys, you'll see this
the right way? Jim, old pard?"
"No, Laddy, an' I can't figger how you could ever ask me."
"Shore then leave me here with Yaqui an' a couple of the hosses.
We can eat sheep meat. An' if the water holds out--"
"No!" interrupted Lash, violently.
Ladd's eyes sought Gale's face.
"Son, you ain't bull-headed like Jim. You'll see the sense of it.
There's Nell a-waitin' back at Forlorn River. Think what it means
to her! She's a damn fine girl, Dick, an' what right have you to
break her heart for an old worn-out cowpuncher? Think how she's
watchin' for you with that sweet face all sad an' troubled, an'
her eyes turnin' black. You'll go, son, won't you?"
Dick shook his head.
The ranger turned his gaze upon Thorne, and now the keen, glistening
light in his gray eyes had blurred.
"Thorne, it's different with you. Jim's a fool, an' young Gale has
been punctured by choya thorns. He's got the desert poison in his
blood. But you now--you've no call to stick--you can find that
trail out. It's easy to follow, made by so many shod hosses. Take
your wife an' go....Shore you'll go, Thorne?"
Deliberately and without an instant's hesitation the calvaryman
Ladd then directed his appeal to Mercedes. His face was now
convulsed, and his voice, though it had sunk to a whisper, was
clear, and beautiful with some rich quality that Gale had never
heard in it.
"Mercedes, you're a woman. You're the woman we fought for. An'
some of us are shore goin' to die for you. Don't make it all for
nothin'. Let us feel we saved the woman. Shore you can make Thorne
go. He'll have to go if you say. They'll all have to go. Think of
the years of love an' happiness in store for you. A week or so
an' it 'll be too late. Can you stand for me seein' you?...Let
me tell you, Mercedes, when the summer heat hits the lava we'll
all wither an' curl up like shavin's near a fire. A wind of hell
will blow up this slope. Look at them mesquites. See the twist
in them. That's the torture of heat an' thirst. Do you want me
or all us men seein'you like that?...Mercedes, don't make it all
for nothin'. Say you'll persuade Thorne, if not the others."
For all the effect his appeal had to move her Mercedes might have
possessed a heart as hard and fixed as the surrounding lava.
White-faced, with great black eyes flashing, the Spanish girl
spoke the word that bound her and her companions in the desert.
The subject was never mentioned again. Gale thought that he read
a sinister purpose in Ladd's mind. To his astonishment, Lash
came to him with the same fancy. After that they made certain
there never was a gun within reach of Ladd's clutching, clawlike
Gradually a somber spell lifted from the ranger's mind. When he
was entirely free of it he began to gather strength daily. Then
it was as if he had never known patience--he who had shown so well
how to wait. He was in a frenzy to get well. He appetite could
not be satisfied.
The sun climbed higher, whiter, hotter. At midday a wind from
gulfward roared up the arroyo, and now only palos verdes and the
few saguaros were green. Every day the water in the lava hole
sank an inch.
The Yaqui alone spent the waiting time in activity. He made
trips up on the lava slope, and each time he returned with
guns or boots or sombreros, or something belonging to the
bandits that had fallen. He never fetched in a saddle or bridle,
and from that the rangers concluded Rojas's horses had long before
taken their back trail. What speculation, what consternation
those saddled horses would cause if they returned to Forlorn River!
As Ladd improved there was one story he had to hear every day. It
was the one relating to what he had missed--the sight of Rojas
pursued and plunged to his doom. The thing had a morbid fascination
for the sick ranger. He reveled in it. He tortured Mercedes.
His gentleness and consideration, heretofore so marked, were in
abeyance to some sinister, ghastly joy. But to humor him Mercedes
racked her soul with the sensations she had sufferd when Rojas
hounded her out on the ledge; when she shot him; when she sprang
to throw herself over the precipice; when she fought him; when
with half-blinded eyes she looked up to see the merciless Yaqui
reaching for the bandit. Ladd fed his cruel longing with Thorne's
poignant recollections, with the keen, clear, never-to-be-forgotten
shocks to Gale's eye and ear. Jim Lash, for one at least, never
tired of telling how he had seen and heard the tragedy, and every
time in the telling it gathered some more tragic and gruesome
detail. Jim believed in satiating the ranger. Then in the
twilight, when the campfire burned, Ladd would try to get the
Yaqui to tell his side of the story. But this the Indian would
never do. There was only the expression of his fathomless eyes
and the set passion of his massive face.
Those waiting days grew into weeks. Ladd gained very slowly.
Nevertheless, at last he could walk about, and soon he averred
that, strapped to a horse, he could last out the trip to Forlorn
There was rejoicing in camp, and plans were eagerly suggested.
The Yaqui happened to be absent. When he returned the rangers
told him they were now ready to undertake the journey back across
lava and cactus.
Yaqui shook his head. They declared again their intention.
"No!" replied the Indian, and his deep, sonorous voice rolled
out upon the quiet of the arroyo. He spoke briefly then. They
had waited too long. The smaller waterholes back in the trail
were dry. The hot summer was upon them. There could be only
death waiting down in the burning valley. Here was water and
grass and wood and shade from the sun's rays, and sheep to be
killed on the peaks. The water would hold unless the season was
that dreaded ano seco of the Mexicans.
"Wait for rain," concluded Yaqui, and now as never before he
spoke as one with authority. "If no rain--" Silently he lifted
WHAT Gale might have thought an appalling situation, if considered
from a safe and comfortable home away from the desert, became, now
that he was shut in by the red-ribbed lava walls and great dry
wastes, a matter calmly accepted as inevitable. So he imagined it
was accepted by the others. Not even Mercedes uttered a regret.
No word was spoken of home. If there was thought of loved one,
it was locked deep in their minds. In Mercedes there was no change
in womanly quality, perhaps because all she had to love was there
in the desert with her.
Gale had often pondered over this singular change in character.
He had trained himself, in order to fight a paralyzing something
in the desert's influence, to oppose with memory and thought an
insidious primitive retrogression to what was scarcely consciousness
at all, merely a savage's instinct of sight and sound. He felt the
need now of redoubled effort. For there was a sheer happiness in
drifting. Not only was it easy to forget, it was hard to remember.
His idea was that a man laboring under a great wrong, a great crime,
a great passion might find the lonely desert a fitting place for
either remembrance or oblivion, according to the nature of his soul.
But an ordinary, healthy, reasonably happy mortal who loved the open
with its blaze of sun and sweep of wind would have a task to keep
from going backward to the natural man as he was before civilization.
By tacit agreement Ladd again became the leader of the party.
Ladd was a man who would have taken all the responsibility
whether or not it was given him. In moments of hazard, of
uncertainty, Lash and Gale, even Belding, unconsciously looked to the
ranger. He had that kind of power.
The first thing Ladd asked was to have the store of food that
remained spread out upon a tarpaulin. Assuredly, it was a slender
enough supply. The ranger stood for long moments gazing down at
it. He was groping among past experiences, calling back from his
years of life on range and desert that which might be valuable for
the present issue. It was impossible to read the gravity of Ladd's
face, for he still looked like a dead man, but the slow shake of
his head told Gale much. There was a grain of hope, however, in
the significance with which he touched the bags of salt and said,
"Shore it was sense packin' all that salt!"
Then he turned to face his comrades.
"That's little grub for six starvin' people corralled in the desert.
But the grub end ain't worryin' me. Yaqui can get sheep up the
slopes. Water! That's the beginnin' and middle an' end of our
"Laddy, I reckon the waterhole here never goes dry," replied Jim.
"Ask the Indian."
Upon being questioned, Yaqui repeated what he had said about the
dreaded ano seco of the Mexicans. In a dry year this waterhole
"Dick, take a rope an' see how much water's in the hole."
Gale could not find bottom with a thirty foot lasso. The water
was as cool, clear, sweet as if it had been kept in a shaded
Ladd welcomed this information with surprise and gladness.
"Let's see. Last year was shore pretty dry. Mebbe this summer
won't be. Mebbe our wonderful good luck'll hold. Ask Yaqui if he
thinks it 'll rain."
Mercedes questioned the Indian.
"He says no man can tell surely. But he thinks the rain will
come," she replied.
"Shore it 'll rain, you can gamble on that now," continued Ladd.
"If there's only grass for the hosses! We can't get out of here
without hosses. Dick, take the Indian an' scout down the arroyo.
To-day I seen the hosses were gettin' fat. Gettin' fat in this
desert! But mebbe they've about grazed up all the grass. Go an'
see, Dick. An' may you come back with more good news!"
Gale, upon the few occasions when he had wandered down the arroyo,
had never gone far. The Yaqui said there was grass for the horses,
and until now no one had given the question more consideration.
Gale found that the arroyo widened as it opened. Near the head,
where it was narrow, the grass lined the course of the dry stream
bed. But farther down this stream bed spread out. There was every
indication that at flood seasons the water covered the floor of the
arroyo. The farther Gale went the thicker and larger grew the
gnarled mesquites and palo verdes, the more cactus and greasewood
there were, and other desert growths. Patches of gray grass grew
everywhere. Gale began to wonder where the horses were. Finally
the trees and brush thinned out, and a mile-wide gray plain
stretched down to reddish sand dunes. Over to one side were the
white horses, and even as Gale saw them both Blanco Diablo and
Sol lifted their heads and, with white manes tossing in the wind,
whistled clarion calls. Here was grass enough for many horses;
the arroyo was indeed an oasis.
Ladd and the others were awaiting Gale's report, and they received
it with calmness, yet with a joy no less evident because it was
restrained. Gale, in his keen observation at the moment, found
that he and his comrades turned with glad eyes to the woman of
"Senor Laddy, you think--you believe--we shall--" she faltered,
and her voice failed. It was the woman in her, weakening in the
light of real hope, of the happiness now possible beyond that
"Mercedes, no white man can tell what'll come to pass out here,"
said Ladd, earnestly. "Shore I have hopes now I never dreamed of.
I was pretty near a dead man. The Indian saved me. Queer notions
have come into my head about Yaqui. I don't understand them. He
seems when you look at him only a squalid, sullen, vengeful savage.
But Lord! that's far from the truth. Mebbe Yaqui's different from
most Indians. He looks the same, though. Mebbe the trouble is we
white folks never knew the Indian. Anyway, Beldin' had it right.
Yaqui's our godsend. Now as to the future, I'd like to know mebbe
as well as you if we're ever to get home. Only bein' what I am,
I say, Quien sabe? But somethin' tells me Yaqui knows. Ask him,
Mercedes. Make him tell. We'll all be the better for knowin'.
We'd be stronger for havin' more'n our faith in him. He's silent
Indian, but make him tell."
Mercedes called to Yaqui. At her bidding there was always a suggestion
of hurry, which otherwise was never manifest in his actions. She
put a hand on his bared muscular arm and began to speak in Spanish.
Her voice was low, swift, full of deep emotion, sweet as the sound
of a bell. It thrilled Gale, though he understood scarcely a word
she said. He did not need translation to know that here spoke the
longing of a woman for life, love, home, the heritage of a woman's
Gale doubted his own divining impression. It was that the Yaqui
understood this woman's longing. In Gale's sight the Indian's
stoicism, his inscrutability, the lavalike hardness of his face,
although they did not change, seemed to give forth light, gentleness,
loyalty. For an instant Gale seemed to have a vision; but it did
not last, and he failed to hold some beautiful illusive thing.
"Si!" rolled out the Indian's reply, full of power and depth.
Mercedes drew a long breath, and her hand sought Thorne's.
"He says yes," she whispered. "He answers he'll save us; he'll
take us all back--he knows!"
The Indian turned away to his tasks, and the silence that held the
little group was finally broken by Ladd.
"Shore I said so. Now all we've got to do is use sense. Friends,
I'm the commissary department of this outfit, an' what I say goes.
You all won't eat except when I tell you. Mebbe it'll not be so
hard to keep our health. Starved beggars don't get sick. But
there's the heat comin', an' we can all go loco, you know. To
pass the time! Lord, that's our problem. Now if you all only had
a hankerin' for checkers. Shore I'll make a board an' make you
play. Thorne, you're the luckiest. You've got your girl, an' this
can be a honeymoon. Now with a few tools an' little material see
what a grand house you can build for your wife. Dick, you're
lucky,too. You like to hunt, an' up there you'll find the finest
bighorn huntin' in the West. Take Yaqui and the .405. We need
the meat, but while you're gettin' it have your sport. The same
chance will never come again. I wish we all was able to go. But
crippled men can't climb the lava. Shore you'll see some country
from the peaks. There's no wilder place on earth, except the poles.
An' when you're older, you an' Nell, with a couple of fine boys,
think what it'll be to tell them about bein' lost in the lava, an'
huntin' sheep with a Yaqui. Shore I've hit it. You can take
yours out in huntin' an' thinkin'. Now if I had a girl like Nell
I'd never go crazy. That's your game, Dick. Hunt, an' think of
Nell, an' how you'll tell those fine boys about it all, an' about
the old cowman you knowed, Laddy, who'll by then be long past the
divide. Rustle now, son. Get some enthusiasm. For shore you'll
need it for yourself an' us.
Gale climbed the lava slope, away round to the right of the arroyo,
along an old trail that Yaqui said the Papagos had made before his
own people had hunted there. Part way it led through spiked,
crested, upheaved lava that would have been almost impassable even
without its silver coating of choya cactus. There were benches
and ledges and ridges bare and glistening in the sun. From the
crests of these Yaqui's searching falcon gaze roved near and far
for signs of sheep, and Gale used his glass on the reaches of lava
that slanted steeply upward to the corrugated peaks, and down over
endless heave and roll and red-waved slopes. The heat smoked up
from the lava, and this, with the red color and the shiny choyas,
gave the impression of a world of smoldering fire.
Farther along the slope Yaqui halted and crawled behind projections
to a point commanding a view over an extraordinary section of
country. The peaks were off to the left. In the foreground were
gullies, ridges, and canyons, arroyos, all glistening with choyas
and some other and more numerous white bushes, and here and there
towered a green cactus. This region was only a splintered and more
devastated part of the volcanic slope, but it was miles in extent.
Yaqui peeped over the top of a blunt block of lava and searched
the sharp-billowed wilderness. Suddenly he grasped Gale and
pointed across a deep wide gully.
With the aid of his glass Gale saw five sheep. They were much
larger than he had expected, dull brown in color, and two of
them were rams with great curved horns. They were looking in his
direction. Remembering what he had heard about the wonderful
eyesight of these mountain animals, Gale could only conclude that
they had seen the hunters.
Then Yaqui's movements attracted and interested him. The Indian
had brought with him a red scarf and a mesquite branch. He tied
the scarf to the stick, and propped this up in a crack of the lava.
The scarf waved in the wind. That done, the Indian bade Gale watch.
Once again he leveled the glass at the sheep. All five were
motionless, standing like statues, heads pointed across the gully.
They were more than a mile distant. When Gale looked without his
glass they merged into the roughness of the lava. He was intensely
interested. Did the sheep see the red scarf? It seemed incredible,
but nothing else could account for that statuesque alertness. The
sheep held this rigid position for perhaps fifteen minutes. Then
the leading ram started to approach. The others followed. He
took a few steps, then halted. Always he held his head up, nose
"By George, they're coming!" exclaimed Gale. "They see that flag.
They're hunting us. They're curious. If this doesn't beat me!"
Evidently the Indian understood, for he grunted.
Gale found difficulty in curbing his impatience. The approach of
the sheep was slow. The advances of the leader and the intervals
of watching had a singular regularity. He worked like a machine.
Gale followed him down the opposite wall, around holes, across
gullies, over ridges. Then Gale shifted the glass back to find
the others. They were coming also, with exactly the same pace
and pause of their leader. What steppers they were! How
sure-footed! What leaps they made! It was thrilling to watch
them. Gale forgot he had a rifle. The Yaqui pressed a heavy hand
down upon his shoulder. He was to keep well hidden and to be quiet.
Gale suddenly conceived the idea that the sheep might come clear
across to investigate the puzzling red thing fluttering in the
breeze. Strange, indeed, would that be for the wildest creatures
in the world.
The big ram led on with the same regular persistence, and in half an
hour's time he was in the bottom of the great gulf, and soon he was
facing up the slope. Gale knew then that the alluring scarf had
fascinated him. It was no longer necessary now for Gale to use his
glass. There was a short period when an intervening crest of lava
hid the sheep from view. After that the two rams and their smaller
followers were plainly in sight for perhaps a quarter of an hour.
Then they disappeared behind another ridge. Gale kept watching sure
they would come out farther on. A tense period of waiting passed,
then a suddenly electrifying pressure of Yaqui's hand made Gale
tremble with excitement.
Very cautiously he shifted his position. There, not fifty feet
distant upon a high mound of lava, stood the leader of the sheep.
His size astounded Gale. He seemed all horns. But only for a
moment did the impression of horns overbalancing body remain with
Gale. The sheep was graceful, sinewy, slender, powerfully built,
and in poise magnificent. As Gale watched, spellbound, the second
ram leaped lightly upon the mound, and presently the three others
Then, indeed, Gale feasted his eyes with a spectacle for a hunter.