Part 6 out of 7
It came to him suddenly that there had been something he expected
to see in this Rocky Mountain bighorn, and it was lacking. They
were beautiful, as wonderful as even Ladd's encomiums had led him
to suppose. He thought perhaps it was the contrast these soft,
sleek, short-furred, graceful animals afforded to what he imagined
the barren, terrible lava mountains might develop.
The splendid leader stepped closer, his round, protruding amber
eyes, which Gale could now plainly see, intent upon that fatal
red flag. Like automatons the other four crowded into his tracks.
A few little slow steps, then the leader halted.
At this instant Gale's absorbed attention was directed by Yaqui
to the rifle, and so to the purpose of the climb. A little cold
shock affronted Gale's vivid pleasure. With it dawned a realization
of what he had imagined was lacking in these animals. They did not
look wild! the so-called wildest of wild creatures appeared tamer
than sheep he had followed on a farm. It would be little less than murder
to kill them. Gale regretted the need of slaughter. Nevertheless, he could
not resist the desire to show himself and see how tame they really were.
He reached for the .405, and as he threw a shell into the chamber
the slight metallic click made the sheep jump. Then Gale rose
quickly to his feet.
The noble ram and his band simply stared at Gale. They had never
seen a man. They showed not the slightest indication of instinctive
fear. Curiosity, surprise, even friendliness, seemed to mark
their attitude of attention. Gale imagined that they were going
to step still closer. He did not choose to wait to see if this
were true. Certainly it already took a grim resolution to raise
the heavy .405.
His shot killed the big leader. The others bounded away with
remarkable nimbleness. Gale used up the remaining four shells
to drop the second ram, and by the time he had reloaded the others
were out of range.
The Yaqui's method of hunting was sure and deadly and saving of
energy, but Gale never would try it again. He chose to stalk the
game. This entailed a great expenditure of strength, the eyes
and lungs of a mountaineer, and, as Gale put it to Ladd, the need
of seven-league boots. After being hunted a few times and shot
at, the sheep became exceedingly difficult to approach. Gale
learned to know that their fame as the keenest-eyed of all animals
was well founded. If he worked directly toward a flock, crawling
over the sharp lava, always a sentinel ram espied him before he
got within range. The only method of attack that he found successful
was to locate sheep with his glass, work round to windward of
them, and then, getting behind a ridge or buttress, crawl like a
lizard to a vantage point. He failed often. The stalk called
forth all that was in him of endurance, cunning, speed.
As the days grew hotter he hunted in the early morning
hours and a while before the sun went down. More than one night
he lay out on the lava, with the great stars close overhead and
the immense void all beneath him. This pursuit he learned to love.
Upon those scarred and blasted slopes the wild spirit that was in
him had free rein. And like a shadow the faithful Yaqui tried
ever to keep at his heels.
One morning the rising sun greeted him as he surmounted the higher
cone of the volcano. He saw the vastness of the east algow with a
glazed rosy whiteness, like the changing hue of an ember. At this
height there was a sweeping wind, still cool. The western slopes
of lava lay dark, and all that world of sand and gulf and mountain
barrier beyond was shrouded in the mystic cloud of distance. Gale
had assimilated much of the loneliness and the sense of ownership
and the love of lofty heights that might well belong to the great
condor of the peak. Like this wide-winged bird, he had an
unparalleled range of vision. The very corners whence came the
winds seemed pierced by Gale's eyes.
Yaqui spied a flock of sheep far under the curved broken rim of
the main crater. Then began the stalk. Gale had taught the Yaqui
something--that speed might win as well as patient cunning. Keeping
out of sight, Gale ran over the spike-crusted lava, leaving the
Indian far behind. His feet were magnets, attracting supporting
holds and he passed over them too fast to fall. The wind, the keen
air of the heights, the red lava, the boundless surrounding blue,
all seemed to have something to do with his wildness. Then, hiding,
slipping, creeping, crawling, he closed in upon his quarry until
the long rifle grew like stone in his grip, and the whipping "spang"
ripped the silence, and the strange echo boomed deep in the crater,
and rolled around, as if in hollow mockery at the hopelessness of
Gale's exultant yell was given as much to free himself of some
bursting joy of action as it was to call the slower Yaqui.
Then he liked the strange echoes. It was a maddening whirl of
sound that bored deeper and deeper along the whorled and caverned
walls of the crater. It was as if these aged walls resented the
violating of their silent sanctity. Gale felt himself a man, a
thing alive, something superior to all this savage, dead, upflung
world of iron, a master even of all this grandeur and sublimity
because he had a soul.
He waited beside his quarry, and breathed deep, and swept the long
slopes with searching eyes of habit.
When Yaqui came up they set about the hardest task of all, to pack
the best of that heavy sheep down miles of steep, ragged,
choya-covered lava. But even in this Gale rejoiced. The heat was
nothing, the millions of little pits which could hold and twist a
foot were nothing; the blade-edged crusts and the deep fissures and
the choked canyons and the tangled, dwarfed mesquites, all these
were as nothing but obstacles to be cheerfully overcome. Only the
choya hindered Dick Gale.
When his heavy burden pulled him out of sure-footedness, and he
plunged into a choya, or when the strange, deceitful, uncanny,
almost invisible frosty thorns caught and pierced him, then there
was call for all of fortitude and endurance. For this cactus had
a malignant power of torture. Its pain was a stinging, blinding,
burning, sickening poison in the blood. If thorns pierced his
legs he felt the pain all over his body; if his hands rose from
a fall full of the barbed joints, he was helpless and quivering
till Yaqui tore them out.
But this one peril, dreaded more than dizzy height of precipice
or sunblindness on the glistening peak, did not daunt Gale. His
teacher was the Yaqui, and always before him was an example that
made him despair of a white man's equality. Color, race, blood,
breeding--what were these in the wilderness? Verily, Dick Gale
had come to learn the use of his hands.
So in a descent of hours he toiled down the lava slope, to stalk
into the arroyo like a burdened giant, wringing wet, panting,
clear-eyed and dark-faced, his ragged clothes and boots white
with choya thorns.
The gaunt Ladd rose from his shaded seat, and removed his pipe from
smiling lips, and turned to nod at Jim, and then looked back again.
The torrid summer heat came imperceptibly, or it could never have
been borne by white men. It changed the lives of the fugitives,
making them partly nocturnal in habit. The nights had the balmly
coolness of spring, and would have been delightful for sleep, but
that would have made the blazing days unendurable.
The sun rose in a vast white flame. With it came the blasting,
withering wind from the gulf. A red haze, like that of earlier
sunsets, seemed to come sweeping on the wind, and it roared up
the arroyo, and went bellowing into the crater, and rushed on
in fury to lash the peaks.
During these hot, windy hours the desert-bound party slept in
deep recesses in the lava; and if necessity brought them forth
they could not remain out long. the sand burned through boots,
and a touch of bare hand on lava raised a blister.
A short while before sundown the Yaqui went forth to build a
campfire, and soon the others came out, heat-dazed, half
blinded, with parching throats to allay and hunger that was
never satisfied. A little action and a cooling of the air
revived them, and when night set in they were comfortable
round the campfire.
As Ladd had said, one of their greatest problems was the
passing of time. The nights were interminably long, but
they had to be passed in work or play or dream--anything
except sleep. That was Ladd's most inflexible command. He gave
no reason. But not improbably the ranger thought that the terrific
heat of the day spend in slumber lessened a wear and strain, if
not a real danger of madness.
Accordingly, at first the occupations of this little group were
many and various. They worked if they had something to do, or
could invent a pretext. They told and retold stories until all
were wearisome. They sang songs. Mercedes taught Spanish. They
played every game they knew. They invented others that were so
trivial children would scarcely have been interested, and these
they played seriously. In a word, with intelligence and passion,
with all that was civilized and human, they fought the ever-infringing
loneliness, the savage solitude of their environment.
But they had only finite minds. It was not in reason to expect a
complete victory against this mighty Nature, this bounding horizon
of death and desolation and decay. Gradually they fell back upon
fewer and fewer occupations, until the time came when the silence
was hard to break.
Gale believed himself the keenest of the party, the one who thought
most, and he watched the effect of the desert upon his companions.
He imagined that he saw Ladd grow old sitting round the campfire.
Certain it was that the ranger's gray hair had turned white. What
had been at times hard and cold and grim about him had strangely
vanished in sweet temper and a vacant-mindedness that held him
longer as the days passed. For hours, it seemed, Ladd would bend
over his checkerboard and never make a move. It mattered not now
whether or not he had a partner. He was always glad of being
spoken to, as if he were called back from vague region of mind.
Jim Lash, the calmest, coolest, most nonchalant, best-humored
Westerner Gale had ever met, had by slow degrees lost that cheerful
character which would have been of such infinite good to his
companions, and always he sat broding, silently brooding. Jim had
no ties, few memories, and the desert was claiming him.
Thorne and Mercedes, however, were living, wonderful proof
that spirit, mind, and heart were free--free to soar in scorn
of the colossal barrenness and silence and space of that
terrible hedging prison of lava. They were young; they
loved; they were together; and the oasis was almost a paradise.
Gale believe he helped himself by watching them. Imagination had
never pictured real happiness to him. Thorne and Mercedes had
forgotten the outside world. If they had been existing on the
burned-out desolate moon they could hardly have been in a harsher,
grimmer, lonelier spot than this red-walled arroyo. But it might
have been a statelier Eden than that of the primitive day.
Mercedes grew thinner, until she was a slender shadow of her former
self. She became hard, brown as the rangers, lithe and quick as
a panther. She seemed to live on water and the air--perhaps, indeed,
on love. For of the scant fare, the best of which was continually
urged upon her, she partook but little. She reminded Gale of a
wild brown creature, free as the wind on the lava slopes. Yet,
despite the great change, her beauty remained undiminished. Her
eyes, seeming so much larger now in her small face, were great
black, starry gulfs. She was the life of that camp. Her smiles,
her rapid speech, her low laughter, her quick movements, her
playful moods with the rangers, the dark and passionate glance,
which rested so often on her lover, the whispers in the dusk as
hand in hand they paced the campfire beat--these helped Gale to
retain his loosening hold on reality, to resist the lure of a
strange beckoning life where a man stood free in the golden open,
where emotion was not, nor trouble, nor sickness, nor anything but
the savage's rest and sleep and action and dream.
Although the Yaqui was as his shadow, Gale reached a point when
he seemed to wander alone at twilight, in the night, at dawn. Far
down the arroyo, in the deepening red twilight, when the heat
rolled away on slow-dying wind, Blanco Sol raised his splendid
head and whistled for his master. Gale reproached himself for
neglect of the noble horse. Blanco Sol was always the same. He
loved four things--his master, a long drink of cool water, to graze
at will, and to run. Time and place, Gale thought, meant little
to Sol if he could have those four things. Gale put his arm over
the great arched neck and laid his cheek against the long white
mane, and then even as he stood there forgot the horse. What was
the dull, red-tinged, horizon-wide mantle creeping up the slope?
Through it the copper sun glowed, paled, died. Was it only twilight?
Was it gloom? If he thought about it he had a feeling that it was
the herald of night and the night must be a vigil, and that made
At night he had formed a habit of climbing up the lava slope as
far as the smooth trail extended, and there on a promontory he
paced to and fro, and watched the stars, and sat stone-still for
hours looking down at the vast void with its moving, changing
shadows. From that promontory he gazed up at a velvet-blue sky,
deep and dark, bright with millions of cold, distant, blinking
stars, and he grasped a little of the meaning of infinitude. He
gazed down into the shadows, which, black as they were and
impenetrable, yet have a conception of immeasurable space.
Then the silence! He was dumb, he was awed, he bowed his head,
he trembled, he marveled at the desert silence. It was the one
thing always present. Even when the wind roared there seemed to
be silence. But at night, in this lava world of ashes and canker,
he waited for this terrible strangeness of nature to come to him
with the secret. He seemed at once a little child and a strong man,
and something very old. What tortured him was the incomprehensibility
that the vaster the space the greater the silence! At one moment
Gale felt there was only death here, and that was the secret; at
another he heard the slow beat of a mighty heart.
He came at length to realize that the desert was a teacher. He
did not realize all that he had learned, but he was a different
man. And when he decided upon that, he was not thinking of the slow,
sure call to the primal instincts of man; he was thinking that the desert,
as much as he had experienced and no more, would absolutely overturn the
whole scale of a man's values, break old habits, form new ones, remake him.
More of desert experience, Gale believe, would be too much for intellect.
The desert did not breed civilized man, and that made Gale ponder over
a strange thought: after all, was the civilized man inferior to the savage?
Yaqui was the answer to that. When Gale acknowledged this he always
remembered his present strange manner of thought. The past, the
old order of mind, seemed as remote as this desert world was from
the haunts of civilized men. A man must know a savage as Gale knew
Yaqui before he could speak authoritatively, and then something
stilled his tongue. In the first stage of Gale's observation of
Yaqui he had marked tenaciousness of life, stoicism, endurance,
strength. These were the attributes of the desert. But what of
that second stage wherein the Indian had loomed up a colossal
figure of strange honor, loyalty, love? Gale doubted his convictions
and scorned himself for doubting.
There in the gloom sat the silent, impassive, inscrutable Yaqui.
His dark face, his dark eyes were plain in the light of the stars.
Always he was near Gale, unobtrusive, shadowy, but there. Why?
Gale absolutely could not doubt that the Indian had heart as well
as mind. Yaqui had from the very first stood between Gale and
accident, toil, peril. It was his own choosing. Gale could not
change him or thwart him. He understood the Indian's idea of
obligation and sacred duty. But there was more, and that baffled
Gale. In the night hours, alone on the slope, Gale felt in Yaqui,
as he felt the mighty throb of that desert pulse, a something that
drew him irresistibly to the Indian. Sometimes he looked around
to find the Indian, to dispel these strange, pressing thoughts
of unreality, and it was never in vain.
Thus the nights passed, endlessly long, with Gale fighting for his
old order of thought, fighting the fascination of the infinite sky,
and the gloomy insulating whirl of the wide shadows, fighting for
belief, hope, prayer, fighting against that terrible ever-recurring
idea of being lost, lost, lost in the desert, fighting harder than
any other thing the insidious, penetrating, tranquil, unfeeling
self that was coming between him and his memory.
He was losing the battle, losing his hold on tangible things,
losing his power to stand up under this ponderous, merciless weight
of desert space and silence.
He acknowledged it in a kind of despair, and the shadows of the
night seemed whirling fiends. Lost! Lost! Lost! What are you
waiting for? Rain!. . . Lost! Lost! Lost in the desert! So the
shadows seemed to scream in voiceless mockery.
At the moment he was alone on the promontory. The night was far
spent. A ghastly moon haunted the black volcanic spurs. The winds
blew silently. Was he alone? No. he did not seem to be alone.
The Yaqui was there. Suddenly a strange, cold sensation crept over
Gale. It was new. He felt a presence. Turning, he expected to
see the Indian, but instead, a slight shadow, pale, almost white,
stood there, not close nor yet distant. It seemed to brighten.
Then he saw a woman who resembled a girl he had seemed to know long
ago. She was white-faced, golden-haired, and her lips were sweet,
and her eyes were turning black. Nell! He had forgotten her.
Over him flooded a torrent of memory. There was tragic woe in this
sweet face. Nell was holding out her arms--she was crying aloud
to him across the sand and the cactus and the lava. She was in
trouble, and he had been forgetting.
That night he climbed the lava to the topmost cone, and never
slipped on a ragged crust nor touched a choya thorn. A voice
called to him. He saw Nell's eyes in the stars, in the velvet
blue of sky, in the blackness of the engulfing shadows.
She was with him, a slender shape, a spirit, keeping step
with him, and memory was strong, sweet, beating, beautiful.
Far down in the west, faintly golden with light of the sinking moon,
he saw a cloud that resembled her face. A cloud on the desert horizon!
He gazed and gazed. Was that a spirit face like the one by his
side? No--he did not dream.
In the hot, sultry morning Yaqui appeared at camp, after long hours
of absence, and he pointed with a long, dark arm toward the west.
A bank of clouds was rising above the mountain barrier.
"Rain!" he cried; and his sonorous voice rolled down the arroyo.
Those who heard him were as shipwrecked mariners at sight of a
Dick Gale, silent, grateful to the depths of his soul, stood with
arm over Blanco Sol and watched the transforming west, where
clouds of wonderous size and hue piled over one another, rushing,
darkening, spreading, sweeping upward toward that white and glowing
When they reached the zenish and swept round to blot out the blazing
orb, the earth took on a dark, lowering aspect. The red of sand
and lava changed to steely gray. Vast shadows, like ripples on
water, sheeted in from the gulf with a low, strange moan. Yet
the silence was like death. The desert was awaiting a strange
and hated visitation--storm! If all the endless torrid days, the
endless mystic nights had seemed unreal to Gale, what, then, seemed
this stupendous spectacle?
"Oh! I felt a drop of rain on my face!" cried Mercedes; and
whispering the name of a saint, she kissed her husband.
The white-haired Ladd, gaunt, old, bent, looked up at the maelstrom
of clouds, and he said, softly, "Shore we'll get in the hosses,
an' pack light, an' hit the trail, an' make night marches!"
Then up out of the gulf of the west swept a bellowing wind and a
black pall and terrible flashes of lightning and thunder like the
end of the world--fury, blackness, chaos, the desert storm.
THE WHISTLE OF A HORSE
AT the ranch-house at Forlorn River Belding stood alone in his
darkened room. It was quiet there and quiet outside; the sickening
midsummer heat, like a hot heavy blanket, lay upon the house.
He took up the gun belt from his table and with slow hands buckled
it around his waist. He seemed to feel something familiar and
comfortable and inspiring in the weight of the big gun against
his hip. He faced the door as if to go out, but hesitated, and
then began a slow, plodding walk up and down the length of the
room. Presently he halted at the table, and with reluctant hands
he unbuckled the gun belt and laid it down.
The action did not have an air of finality, and Belding knew it.
He had seen border life in Texas in the early days; he had been
a sheriff when the law in the West depended on a quickness of
wrist; he had seen many a man lay down his gun for good and all.
His own action was not final. Of late he had done the same thing
many times and this last time it seemed a little harder to do, a
little more indicative of vacillation. There were reasons why
Belding's gun held for him a gloomy fascination.
The Chases, those grasping and conscienceless agents of a new force
in the development of the West, were bent upon Belding's ruin,
and so far as his fortunes at Forlorn River were concerned, had
almost accomplished it. One by one he lost points for which he
contended with them. He carried into the Tucson courts the matter
of the staked claims, and mining claims, and water claims, and he
lost all. Following that he lost his government position as inspector
of immigration; and this fact, because of what he considered its
injustice, had been a hard blow. He had been made to suffer a
humiliation equally as great. It came about that he actually had
to pay the Chases for water to irrigate his alfalfa fields. The
never-failing spring upon his land answered for the needs of
household and horses, but no more.
These matters were unfortunate for Belding, but not by any means
wholly accountable for his worry and unhappiness and brooding hate.
He believed Dick Gale and the rest of the party taken into the
desert by the Yaqui had been killed or lost. Two months before
a string of Mexican horses, riderless, saddled, starved for grass
and wild for water, had come in to Forlorn River. They were a part
of the horses belonging to Rojas and his band. Their arrival
complicated the mystery and strengthened convictions of the loss
of both pursuers and pursued. Belding was wont to say that he had
worried himself gray over the fate of his rangers.
Belding's unhappiness could hardly be laid to material loss. He
had been rich and was now poor, but change of fortune such as that
could not have made him unhappy. Something more somber and
mysterious and sad than the loss of Dick Gale and their friends had
come into the lives of his wife and Nell. He dated the time of
this change back to a certain day when Mrs. Belding recognized in
the elder Chase an old schoolmate and a rejected suitor. It took
time for slow-thinking Belding to discover anything wrong in his
household, especially as the fact of the Gales lingering there
made Mrs. Belding and Nell, for the most part, hide their real
and deeper feelings. Gradually, however, Belding had forced on
him the fact of some secret cause for grief other than Gale's loss.
He was sure of it when his wife signified her desire to make a
visit to her old home back in Peoria. She did not give many reasons,
but she did show him a letter that had found its way from
old friends. This letter contained news that may or may not have
been authentic; but it was enough, Belding thought, to interest
his wife. An old prospector had returned to Peoria, and he had told
relatives of meeting Robert Burton at the Sonoyta Oasis fifteen
years before, and that Burton had gone into the desert never to
return. To Belding this was no surprise, for he had heard that
before his marriage. There appeared to have been no doubts as to
the death of his wife's first husband. The singular thing was that
both Nell's father and grandfather had been lost somewhere in the
Belding did not oppose his wife's desire to visit her old home.
He thought it would be a wholesome trip for her, and did all in his
power to persuade Nell to accompany her. But Nell would not go.
It was after Mrs. Belding's departure that Belding discovered in
Nell a condition of mind that amazed and distressed him. She had
suddenly become strangely wretched, so that she could not conceal
it from even the Gales, who, of all people, Belding imagined, were
the ones to make Nell proud. She would tell him nothing. But
after a while, when he had thought it out, he dated this further
and more deplorable change in Nell back to a day on which he had
met Nell with Radford Chase. This indefatigable wooer had not
in the least abandoned his suit. Something about the fellow made
Belding grind his teeth. But Nell grew not only solicitously,
but now strangely, entreatingly earnest in her importunities to
Belding not to insult or lay a hand on Chase. This had bound
Belding so far; it had made him think and watch. He had never
been a man to interfere with his women folk. They could do as
they liked, and usually that pleased him. But a slow surprise
gathered and grew upon him when he saw that Nell, apparently,
was accepting young Chase's attentions. At least, she no longer
hid from him. Belding could not account for this, because he was
sure Nell cordially despised the fellow. And toward the end
he divined, if he did not actually know, that these Chases
possessed some strange power over Nell, and were using it.
That stirred a hate in Belding--a hate he had felt at the very first
and had manfully striven against, and which now gave him over to
dark brooding thoughts.
Midsummer passed, and the storms came late. But when they arrived
they made up for tardiness. Belding did not remember so terrible
a storm of wind and rain as that which broke the summer's drought.
In a few days, it seemed, Altar Valley was a bright and green expanse,
where dust clouds did not rise. Forlorn River ran, a slow, heavy,
turgid torrent. Belding never saw the river in flood that it did
not give him joy; yet now, desert man as he was, he suffered a
regret when he thought of the great Chase reservoir full and
overflowing. The dull thunder of the spillway was not pleasant. It
was the first time in his life that the sound of falling water
jarred upon him.
Belding noticed workmen once more engaged in the fields bounding
his land. The Chases had extended a main irrigation ditch down
to Belding's farm, skipped the width of his ground, then had gone
on down through Altar Valley. They had exerted every influence to
obtain right to connect these ditches by digging through his land,
but Belding had remained obdurate. He refused to have any dealings
with them. It was therefore with some curiosity and suspicion that
he saw a gang of Mexicans once more at work upon these ditches.
At daylight next morning a tremendous blast almost threw Belding
out of his bed. It cracked the adobe walls of his house and broke
windows and sent pans and crockery to the floor with a crash.
Belding's idea was that the store of dynamite kept by the Chases
for blasting had blown up. Hurriedly getting into his clothes, he
went to Nell's room to reassure her; and, telling her to have a
thought for their guests, he went out to see what had happened.
The villagers were pretty badly frightened. Many of the poorly
constructed adobe huts had crumbled almost into dust. A great
yellow cloud, like smoke, hung over the river. This appeared
to be at the upper end of Belding's plot, and close to the river.
When he reached his fence the smoke and dust were so thick he
could scarcely breathe, and for a little while he was unable to
see what had happened. Presently he made out a huge hole in the
sand just abut where the irrigation ditch had stopped near his
line. For some reason or other, not clear to Belding, the Mexicans
had set off an extraordinarily heavy blast at that point.
Belding pondered. He did not now for a moment consider an accidental
discharge of dynamite. But why had this blast been set off? The
loose sandy soil had yielded readily to shovel; there were no rocks;
as far as construction of a ditch was concerned such a blast
would have done more harm than good.
Slowly, with reluctant feet, Belding walked toward a green hollow,
where in a cluster of willows lay the never-failing spring that
his horses loved so well, and, indeed, which he loved no less.
He was actually afraid to part the drooping willows to enter the
little cool, shady path that led to the spring. Then, suddenly
seized by suspense, he ran the rest of the way.
He was just in time to see the last of the water. It seemed to sink
as in quicksand. The shape of the hole had changed. The tremendous
force of the blast in the adjoining field had obstructed or diverted
the underground stream of water.
Belding's never-failing spring had been ruined. What had made
this little plot of ground green and sweet and fragrant was now
no more. Belding's first feeling was for the pity of it. The
pale Ajo lilies would bloom no more under those willows. The
willows themselves would soon wither and die. He thought how many
times in the middle of hot summer nights he had come down to the
spring to drink. Never again!
Suddenly he thought of Blanco Diablo. How the great white
thoroughbred had loved this spring! Belding straightened up and
looked with tear-blurred eyes out over the waste of desert to the
west. Never a day passed that he had not thought of the splendid
horse; but this moment, with its significant memory, was doubly
keen, and there came a dull pang in his breast.
"Diablo will never drink here again!" muttered Belding.
The loss of Blanco Diablo, though admitted and mourned by Belding,
had never seemed quite real until this moment.
The pall of dust drifting over him, the din of the falling water up
at the dam, diverted Belding's mind to the Chases. All at once he
was in the harsh grip of a cold certainty. The blast had been set
off intentionally to ruin his spring. What a hellish trick! No
Westerner, no Indian or Mexican, no desert man could have been
guilty of such a crime. To ruin a beautiful, clear, cool, never-failing
stream of water in the desert!
It was then that Belding's worry and indecision and brooding were
as if they had never existed. As he strode swiftly back to the
house, his head, which had long been bent thoughtfully and sadly,
was held erect. He went directly to his room, and with an air
that was now final he buckled on his gun belt. He looked the gun
over and tried the action. He squared himself and walked a little
more erect. Some long-lost individuality had returned to Belding.
"Let's see," he was saying. "I can get Carter to send the horses
I've left back to Waco to my brother. I'll make Nell take what
money there is and go hunt up her mother. The Gales are ready
to go--to-day, if I say the word. Nell can travel with them part
way East. That's your game, Tom Belding, don't mistake me."
As he went out he encountered Mr. Gale coming up the walk. The
long sojourn at Forlorn River, despite the fact that it had been
laden with a suspense which was gradually changing to a sad certainty,
had been of great benefit to Dick's father. The dry air, the heat,
and the quiet had made him, if not entirely a well man, certainly stronger
than he had been in many years.
"Belding, what was that terrible roar?" asked Mr. Gale. "We were
badly frightened until Miss Nell came to us. We feared it was an
"Well, I'll tell you, Mr. Gale, we've had some quakes here, but
none of them could hold a candle to this jar we just had."
Then Belding explained what had caused the explosion, and why it
had been set off so close to his property.
"It's an outrage, sir, an unspeakable outrage," declared Mr. Gale,
hotly. "Such a thing would not be tolerated in the East. Mr.
Belding, I'm amazed at your attitude in the face of all this
"You see--there was mother and Nell," began Belding, as if apologizing.
He dropped his head a little and made marks in the sand with the
toe of his boot. "Mr. Gale, I've been sort of half hitched, as
Laddy used to say. I'm planning to have a little more elbow room
round this ranch. I'm going to send Nell East to her mother. Then
I'll-- See here, Mr. Gale, would you mind having Nell with you
part way when you go home?"
"We'd all be delighted to have her go all the way and make us a
visit," replied Mr. Gale.
"That's fine. And you'll be going soon? Don't take that as if I
wanted to--" Belding paused, for the truth was that he did want
to hurry them off.
"We would have been gone before this, but for you," said Mr. Gale.
"Long ago we gave up hope of--of Richard ever returning. And I
believe, now we're sure he was lost, that we'd do well to go home
at once. You wished us to remain until the heat was broken--till
the rains came to make traveling easier for us. Now I see no
need for further delay. My stay here has greatly benefited my
health. I shall never forget your hospitality. This Western trip
would have made me a new man if--only--Richard--"
"Sure. I understand," said Belding, gruffly. "Let's go in and
tell the women to pack up."
Nell was busy with the servants preparing breakfast. Belding
took her into the sitting-room while Mr. Gale called his wife
"My girl, I've some news for you," began Belding. "Mr. Gale is
leaving to-day with his family. I'm going to send you with
them--part way, anyhow. You're invited to visit them. I think
that 'd be great for you--help you to forget. But the main thing
is--you're going East to join mother."
Nell gazed at him, white-faced, without uttering a word.
"You see, Nell, I'm about done in Forlorn River," went on Belding.
"That blast this morning sank my spring. There's no water now.
It was the last straw. So we'll shake the dust of Forlorn River.
I'll come on a little later--that's all."
"Dad, you're packing your gun!" exclaimed Nell, suddenly pointing
with a trembling finger. She ran to him, and for the first time
in his life Belding put her away from him. His movements had lost
the old slow gentleness.
"Why, so I am," replied Belding, coolly, as his hand moved down
to the sheath swinging at his hip. "Nell, I'm that absent-minded
"Dad!" she cried.
"That'll do from you," he replied, in a voice he had never used
to her. "Get breakfast now, then pack to leave Forlorn River."
"Leave Forlorn River!" whispered Nell, with a thin white hand
stealing up to her breast. How changed the girl was! Belding
reproached himself for his hardness, but did not speak his thought
aloud. Nell was fading here, just as Mercedes had faded before
the coming of Thorne.
Nell turned away to the west window and looked out
across the desert toward the dim blue peaks in the distance.
Belding watched her; likewise the Gales; and no one spoke.
There ensued a long silence. Belding felt a lump rise in his
throat. Nell laid her arm against the window frame, but gradually
it dropped, and she was leaning with her face against the wood.
A low sob broke from her. Elsie Gale went to her, embraced her,
took the drooping head on her shoulder.
"We've come to be such friends," she said. "I believe it'll be
good for you to visit me in the city. Here--all day you look out
across that awful lonely desert....Come, Nell."
Heavy steps sounded outside on the flagstones, then the door rattled
under a strong knock. Belding opened it. The Chases, father and
son, stood beyond the threshold.
"Good morning, Belding," said the elder Chase. "We were routed
out early by that big blast and came up to see what was wrong. All
a blunder. The Greaser foreman was drunk yesterday, and his
ignorant men made a mistake. Sorry if the blast bothered you."
"Chase, I reckon that's the first of your blasts I was ever glad
to hear," replied Belding, in a way that made Chase look blank.
"So? Well, I'm glad you're glad," he went on, evidently puzzled.
"I was a little worried--you've always been so touchy--we never
could get together. I hurried over, fearing maybe you might think
the blast--you see, Belding--"
"I see this, Mr. Ben Chase," interrupted Belding, in curt and
ringing voice. "That blast was a mistake, the biggest you ever
made in your life."
"What do you mean?" demanded Chase.
"You'll have to excuse me for a while, unless you're dead set on
having it out right now. Mr. Gale and his family are leaving, and
my daughter is going with them. I'd rather you'd wait a little."
"Nell going away!" exclaimed Radford Chase. He reminded Belding
of an overgrown boy in disappointment.
"Yes. But--Miss Burton to you, young man--"
"Mr. Belding, I certainly would prefer a conference with you right
now," interposed the elder Chase, cutting short Belding's strange
speech. "There are other matters--important matters to discuss.
They've got to be settled. May we step in, sir?"
"No, you may not," replied Belding, bluntly. "I'm sure particular
who I invite into my house. But I'll go with you."
Belding stepped out and closed the door. "Come away from the house
so the women won't hear the--the talk."
The elder Chase was purple with rage, yet seemed to be controlling
it. The younger man looked black, sullen, impatient. He appeared
not to have a thought of Belding. He was absolutely blind to the
situation, as considered from Belding's point of view. Ben Chase
found his voice about the time Belding halted under the trees out
of earshot from the house.
"Sir, you've insulted me--my son. How dare you? I want you to
understand that you're--"
"Chop that kind of talk with me, you ------- ------- ------- -------!"
interrupted Belding. He had always been profane, and now he
certainly did not choose his language. Chase turned livid, gasped,
and seemed about to give way to fury. But something about Belding
evidently exerted a powerful quieting influence. "If you talk
sense I'll listen," went on Belding.
Belding was frankly curious. He did not think any argument or
inducement offered by Chase could change his mind on past dealings
or his purpose of the present. But he believed by listening he
might get some light on what had long puzzled him. The masterly
effort Chase put forth to conquer his aroused passions gave Belding
another idea of the character of this promoter.
"I want to make a last effort to propitiate you," began
Chase, in his quick, smooth voice. That was a singular change to
Belding--the dropping instantly into an easy flow of speech.
"You've had losses here, and naturally you're sore. I don't blame
you. But you can't see this thing from my side of the fence.
Business is business. In business the best man wins. The law
upheld those transactions of mine the honesty of which you questioned.
As to mining and water claims, you lost on this technical point--that
you had nothing to prove you had held them for five years. Five
years is the time necessary in law. A dozen men might claim the
source of Forlorn River, but if they had no house or papers to
prove their squatters' rights any man could go in and fight them
for the water. ....Now I want to run that main ditch along the
river, through your farm. Can't we make a deal? I'm ready to be
liberal--to meet you more than halfway. I'll give you an interest
in the company. I think I've influence enough up at the Capitol
to have you reinstated as inspector. A little reasonableness on
your part will put you right again in Forlorn River, with a chance
of growing rich. There's a big future here....My interest, Belding,
has become personal. Radford is in love with your step-daughter.
He wants to marry her. I'll admit now if I had foreseen this
situation I wouldn't have pushed you so hard. But we can square
the thing. Now let's get together not only in business, but in
a family way. If my son's happiness depends upon having this girl,
you may rest assured I'll do all I can to get her for him. I'll
absolutely make good all your losses. Now what do you say?"
"No," replied Belding. "Your money can't buy a right of way across
my ranch. And Nell doesn't want your son. That settles that."
"But you could persuade her."
"I won't, that's all."
"May I ask why?" Chases's voice was losing its suave quality, but
it was even swifter than before.
"Sure. I don't mind your asking," replied Belding in slow
deliberation. "I wouldn't do such a low-down trick. Besides, if
I would, I'd want it to be a man I was persuading for. I know
Greasers--I know a Yaqui I'd rather give Nell to than your son."
Radford Chase began to roar in inarticulate rage. Belding paid no
attention to him; indeed, he never glanced at the young man. The
elder Chase checked a violent start. He plucked at the collar of
his gray flannel shirt, opened it at the neck.
"My son's offer of marriage is an honor--more an honor, sir, than
you perhaps are aware of."
Belding made no reply. His steady gaze did not turn from the long
lane that led down to the river. He waited coldly, sure of himself.
"Mrs. Belding's daughter has no right to the name of Burton,"
snapped Chase. "Did you know that?"
"I did not," replied Belding, quietly.
"Well, you know it now," added Chase, bitingly.
"Sure you can prove what you say?" queried Belding, in the same
cool, unemotional tone. It struck him strangely at the moment what
little knowledge this man had of the West and of Western character.
"Prove it? Why, yes, I think so, enough to make the truth plain
to any reasonable man. I come from Peoria--was born and raised
there. I went to school with Nell Warren. That was your wife's
maiden name. She was a beautiful, gay girl. All the fellows
were in love with her. I knew Bob Burton well. He was a splendid
fellow, but wild. Nobody ever knew for sure, but we all supposed
he was engaged to marry Nell. He left Peoria, however, and soon
after that the truth about Nell came out. She ran away. It was
at least a couple of months before Burton showed up in Peoria.
He did not stay long. Then for years nothing was heard of either
of them. When word did come Nell was in Oklahoma, Burton was in Denver.
There's chance, of course, that Burton followed Nell and married her.
That would account for Nell Warren taking the name of Burton. But it
isn't likely. None of us ever heard of such a thing and wouldn't have
believed it if we had. The affair seemed destined to end unfortunately.
But Belding, while I'm at it, I want to say that Nell Warren was one of
the sweetest, finest, truest girls in the world. If she drifted to
the Southwest and kept her past a secret that was only natural.
Certainly it should not be held against her. Why, she was only
a child--a girl--seventeen--eighteen years old....In a moment of
amazement--when I recognized your wife as an old schoolmate--I
blurted the thing out to Radford. You see now how little it matters
to me when I ask your stepdaughter's hand in marriage for my son."
Belding stood listening. The genuine emotion in Chase's voice was
as strong as the ring of truth. Belding knew truth when he heard
it. The revelation did not surprise him. Belding did not soften,
for he devined that Chase's emotion was due to the probing of an
old wound, the recalling of a past both happy and painful. Still,
human nature was so strange that perhaps kindness and sympathy
might yet have a place in this Chase's heart. Belding did not
believe so, but he was willing to give Chase the benefit of the
"So you told my wife you'd respect her secret--keep her dishonor
from husband and daughter?" demanded Belding, his dark gaze
sweeping back from the lane.
"What! I--I" stammered Chase.
"You made your son swear to be a man and die before he'd hint the
thing to Nell?" went on Belding, and his voice rang louder.
Ben Chase had no answer. The red left his face. His son slunk
back against the fence.
"I say you never held this secret over the heads of my wife and
her daughter?" thundered Belding.
He had his answer in the gray faces, in the lips that fear
made mute. Like a flash Belding saw the whole truth of Mrs.
Belding's agony, the reason for her departure; he saw what had
been driving Nell; and it seemed that all the dogs of hell were
loosed within his heart. He struck out blindly, instinctively in
his pain, and the blow sent Ben Chase staggering into the fence
corner. Then he stretched forth a long arm and whirled Radford
Chase back beside his father.
"I see it all now," went on Belding, hoarsely. "You found the
woman's weakness--her love for the girl. You found the girl's
weakness--her pride and fear of shame. So you drove the one and
hounded the other. God, what a base thing to do! To tell the
girl was bad enough, but to threaten her with betrayal; there's
no name for that!"
Belding's voice thickened, and he paused, breathing heavily. He
stepped back a few paces; and this, an ominous action for an armed
man of his kind, instead of adding to the fear of the Chases, seemed
to relieve them. If there had been any pity in Belding's heart he
would have felt it then.
"And now, gentlemen," continued Belding, speaking low and with
difficulty, "seeing I've turned down your proposition, I suppose
you think you've no more call to keep your mouths shut?"
The elder Chase appeared fascinated by something he either saw or
felt in Belding, and his gray face grew grayer. He put up a shaking
hand. Then Radford Chase, livid and snarling, burst out: "I'll talk
till I'm black in the face. You can't stop me!"
"You'll go black in the face, but it won't be from talking," hissed
His big arm swept down, and when he threw it up the gun glittered
in his hand. Simultaneously with the latter action pealed out a
shrill, penetrating whistle.
The whistle of a horse! It froze Belding's arm aloft.
For an instant he could not move even his eyes. The familiarity
of that whistle was terrible in its power to rob him of strength.
Then he heard the rapid, heavy pound of hoofs, and again
the piercing whistle.
"Blanco Diablo!" he cried, huskily.
He turned to see a huge white horse come thundering into the yard.
A wild, gaunt, terrible horse; indeed, the loved Blanco Diablo.
A bronzed, long-haired Indian bestrode him. More white horses
galloped into the yard, pounded to a halt, whistling home. Belding
saw a slim shadow of a girl who seemed all great black eyes.
Under the trees flashed Blanco Sol, as dazzling white, as beautiful
as if he had never been lost in the desert. He slid to a halt, then
plunged and stamped. His rider leaped, throwing the bridle. Belding
saw a powerful, spare, ragged man, with dark, gaunt face and eyes
Then Nell came running from the house, her golden hair flying, her
hands outstretched, her face wonderful.
"Dick! Dick! Oh-h-h, Dick!" she cried. Her voice seemed to quiver
in Belding's heart.
Belding's eyes began to blur. He was not sure he saw clearly.
Whose face was this now close before him--a long thin, shrunken
face, haggard, tragic in its semblance of torture, almost of
death? But the eyes were keen and kind. Belding thought wildly
that they proved he was not dreaming.
"I shore am glad to see you all," said a well-remembered voice
in a slow, cool drawl.
REALITY AGAINST DREAMS
LADD, Lash, Thorne, Mercedes, they were all held tight in Belding's
arms. Then he ran to Blanco Diablo. For once the great horse was
gentle, quiet, glad. He remembered this kindest of masters and
reached for him with warm, wet muzzle.
Dick Gale was standing bowed over Nell's slight form, almost
hidden in his arms. Belding hugged them both. He was like a boy.
He saw Ben Chase and his son slip away under the trees, but the
circumstances meant nothing to him then.
"Dick! Dick!" he roared. "Is it you?...Say, who do you think's
here--here, in Forlorn River?"
Gale gripped Belding with a hand as rough and hard as a file and
as strong as a vise. But he did not speak a word. Belding thought
Gale's eyes would haunt him forever.
It was then three more persons came upon the scene--Elsie Gale,
running swiftly, her father assisting Mrs. Gale, who appeared
about to faint.
"Belding! Who on earth's that?" cried Dick Hoarsely.
"Quien sabe, my son," replied Belding; and now his voice seemed
a little shaky. "Nell, come here. Give him a chance."
Belding slipped his arm round Nell, and whispered in her ear.
"This 'll be great!"
Elsie Gale's face was white and agitated, a face expressing extreme joy.
"Oh, brother! Mama saw you--Papa saw you, and never knew you! But I
knew you when you jumped quick--that way--off your horse. And now I
don't know you. You wild man! You giant! You splendid
barbarian!...Mama, Papa, hurry! It is Dick! Look at him. Just look
at him! Oh-h, thank God!"
Belding turned away and drew Nell with him. In another second
she and Mercedes were clasped in each other's arms. Then followed
a time of joyful greetings all round.
The Yaqui stood leaning against a tree watching the welcoming home
of the lost. No one seemed to think of him, until Belding, ever
mindful of the needs of horses, put a hand on Blanco Diablo and
called to Yaqui to bring the others. They led the string of whites
down to the barn, freed them of wet and dusty saddles and packs,
and turned them loose in the alfalfa, now breast-high. Diablo
found his old spirit; Blanco Sol tossed his head and whistled
his satisfaction; White Woman pranced to and fro; and presently
they all settled down to quiet grazing. How good it was for
Belding to see those white shapes against the rich background
of green! His eyes glistened. It was a sight he had never expected
to see again. He lingered there many moments when he wanted to
hurry back to his rangers.
At last he tore himself away from watching Blanco Diablo and
returned to the house. It was only to find that he might have
spared himself the hurry. Jim and Ladd were lying on the beds
that had not held them for so many months. Their slumber seemed
as deep and quiet as death. Curiously Belding gazed down upon them.
They had removed only boots and chaps. Their clothes were in
tatters. Jim appeared little more than skin and bones, a long
shape, dark and hard as iron. Ladd's appearance shocked Belding.
The ranger looked an old man, blasted, shriveled, starved. Yet
his gaunt face, though terrible in its records of tortures, had
something fine and noble, even beautiful to Belding, in its
strength, its victory.
Thorne and Mercedes had disappeared. The low murmur of voices
came from Mrs. Gale's room, and Belding concluded that Dick was
still with his family. No doubt he, also, would soon seek rest
and sleep. Belding went through the patio and called in at Nell's
door. She was there sitting by her window. The flush of happiness
had not left her face, but she looked stunned, and a shadow of fear
lay dark in her eyes. Belding had intended to talk. He wanted
some one to listen to him. The expression in Nell's eyes , however,
silenced him. He had forgotten. Nell read his thought in his
face, and then she lost all her color and dropped her head. Belding
entered, stood beside her with a hand on hers. He tried desperately
hard to think of the right thing to say, and realized so long as
he tried that he could not speak at all.
"Nell--Dick's back safe and sound," he said, slowly. "That's the
main thing. I wish you could have seen his eyes when he held you
in his arms out there....Of course, Dick's coming knocks out your
trip East and changes plans generally. We haven't had the happiest
time lately. But now it 'll be different. Dick's as true as a
Yaqui. He'll chase that Chase fellow, don't mistake me....Then
mother will be home soon. She'll straighten out this--this mystery.
And Nell--however it turns out--I know Dick Gale will feel just the
same as I feel. Brace up now, girl."
Belding left the patio and traced thoughtful steps back toward the
corrals. He realized the need of his wife. If she had been at
home he would not have come so close to killing two men. Nell
would never have fallen so low in spirit. Whatever the real truth
of the tragedy of his wife's life, it would not make the slightest
difference to him. What hurt him was the pain mother and daughter
had suffered, were suffering still. Somehow he must put an end
to that pain.
He found the Yaqui curled up in a corner of the barn in as deep
a sleep as that of the rangers. Looking down at him, Belding
felt again the rush of curious thrilling eagerness to learn all
that had happened since the dark night when Yaqui had led the
white horses away into the desert. Belding curbed his
impatience and set to work upon tasks he had long neglected.
Presently he was interrupted by Mr. Gale, who came out, beside
himself with happiness and excitement. He flung a hundred questions
at Belding and never gave him time to answer one, even if that had
been possible. Finally, when Mr. Gale lost his breath, Belding
got a word in. "See here, Mr. Gale, you know as much as I know.
Dick's back. They're all back--a hard lot, starved, burned, torn
to pieces, worked out to the limit I never saw in desert travelers,
but they're alive--alive and well, man! Just wait. Just gamble
I won't sleep or eat till I hear that story. But they've got to
sleep and eat."
Belding gathered with growing amusement that besides the joy,
excitement, anxiety, impatience expressed by Mr. Gale there was
something else which Belding took for pride. It pleased him. Looking
back, he remembered some of the things Dick had confessed his
father thought of him. Belding's sympathy had always been with the
boy. But he had learned to like the old man, to find him kind
and wise, and to think that perhaps college and business had not
brought out the best in Richard Gale. The West had done that,
however, as it had for many a wild youngster; and Belding resolved
to have a little fun at the expense of Mr. Gale. So he began by
making a few remarks that appeared to rob Dick's father of both
speech and breath.
"And don't mistake me," concluded Belding, "just keep out of earshot
when Laddy tells us the story of that desert trip, unless you're
hankering to have your hair turn pure white and stand curled on
end and freeze that way."
About the middle of the forenoon on the following day the rangers
hobbled out of the kitchen to the porch.
"I'm a sick man, I tell you," Ladd was complaining, "an' I gotta be
fed. Soup! Beef tea! That ain't so much as wind to me. I want
about a barrel of bread an' butter, an' a whole platter of mashed
potatoes with gravy an' green stuff--all kinds of green stuff--an'
a whole big apple pie. Give me everythin' an' anythin' to eat but
meat. Shore I never, never want to taste meat again, an' sight
of a piece of sheep meat would jest about finish me....Jim, you
used to be a human bein' that stood up for Charlie Ladd."
"Laddy, I'm lined up beside you with both guns," replied Jim,
plaintively. "Hungry? Say, the smell of breakfast in that kitchen
made my mouth water so I near choked to death. I reckon we're
gettin' most onhuman treatment."
"But I'm a sick man," protested Ladd, "an' I'm agoin' to fall over
in a minute if somebody doesn't feed me. Nell, you used to be fond
"Oh, Laddy, I am yet," replied Nell.
"Shore I don't believe it. Any girl with a tender heart just
couldn't let a man starve under her eyes...Look at Dick, there.
I'll bet he's had something to eat, mebbe potatoes an' gravy, an'
"Laddy, Dick has had no more than I gave you--in deed, not nearly
"Shore he's had a lot of kisses then, for he hasn't hollered onct
about this treatment."
"Perhaps he has," said Nell, with a blush; "and if you think
that--they would help you to be reasonable I might--I'll--"
"Well, powerful fond as I am of you, just now kisses 'll have
to run second to bread an' butter."
"Oh, Laddy, what a gallant speech!" laughed Nell. "I'm sorry,
but I've Dad's orders."
"Laddy," interrupted Belding, "you've got to be broke in gradually
to eating. Now you know that. You'd be the severest kind of a
boss if you had some starved beggars on your hands."
"But I'm sick--I'm dyin'," howled Ladd.
"You were never sick in your life, and if all the bullet holes I
see in you couldn't kill you, why, you never will die."
"Can I smoke?" queried Ladd, with sudden animation. "My Gawd, I
used to smoke. Shore I've forgot. Nell, if you want to be reinstated
in my gallery of angels, just find me a pipe an' tobacco."
"I've hung onto my pipe," said Jim, thoughtfully. "I reckon I had
it empty in my mouth for seven years or so, wasn't it, Laddy? A
long time! I can see the red lava an' the red haze, an' the red
twilight creepin' up. It was hot an' some lonely. Then the wind,
and always that awful silence! An' always Yaqui watchin' the west,
an' Laddy with his checkers, an' Mercedes burnin' up, wastin'
away to nothin' but eyes! It's all there--I'll never get rid--"
"Chop that kind of talk," interrupted Belding, bluntly. Tell us
where Yaqui took you--what happened to Rojas--why you seemed lost
for so long."
"I reckon Laddy can tell all that best; but when it comes to Rojas's
finish I'll tell what I seen, an' so'll Dick an' Thorne. Laddy
missed Rojas's finish. Bar none, that was the--"
"I'm a sick man, but I can talk," put in Ladd, "an' shore I don't
want the whole story exaggerated none by Jim."
Ladd filled the pipe Nell brought, puffed ecstatically at it, and
settled himself upon the bench for a long talk. Nell glanced
appealingly at Dick, who tried to slip away. Mercedes did go, and
was followed by Thorne. Mr. Gale brought chairs, and in subdued
excitement called his wife and daughter. Belding leaned forward,
rendered all the more eager by Dick's reluctance to stay, the
memory of the quick tragic change in the expression of Mercedes's
beautiful eyes, by the strange gloomy cast stealing over Ladd's
The ranger talked for two hours--talked till his voice weakened
to a husky whisper. At the conclusion of his story there was an
impressive silence. Then Elsie Gale stood up, and with her hand
on Dick's shoulder, her eyes bright and warm as sunlight, she
showed the rangers what a woman thought of them and of the Yaqui.
Nell clung to Dick, weeping silently. Mrs. Gale was overcome,
and Mr. Gale, very white and quiet, helped her up to her room.
"The Indian! the Indian!" burst out Belding, his voice deep and
rolling. "What did I tell you? Didn't I say he'd be a godsend?
Remember what I said about Yaqui and some gory Aztec knifework?
So he cut Rojas loose from that awful crater wall, foot by foot,
finger by finger, slow and terrible? And Rojas didn't hang long
on the choya thorns? Thank the Lord for that!...Laddy, no story
of Camino del Diablo can hold a candle to yours. The flight
and the fight were jobs for men. But living through this long
hot summer and coming out--that's a miracle. Only the Yaqui
could have done it. The Yaqui! The Yaqui!"
"Shore. Charlie Ladd looks up at an Indian these days. But
Beldin', as for the comin' out, don't forget the hosses. Without
grand old Sol an' Diablo, who I don't hate no more, an' the other
Blancos, we'd never have got here. Yaqui an' the hosses, that's
Early in the afternoon of the next day Belding encountered Dick
at the water barrel.
"Belding, this is river water, and muddy at that," said Dick.
"Lord knows I'm not kicking. But I've dreamed some of our cool
running spring, and I want a drink from it."
"Never again, son. The spring's gone, faded, sunk, dry as dust."
"Dry!" Gale slowly straightened. "We've had rains. The river's
full. The spring ought to be overflowing. What's wrong? Why is
"Dick, seeing you're interested, I may as well tell you that a
big charge of nitroglycerin choked my spring."
"Nitroglycerin?" echoed Gale. Then he gave a quick start. "My
mind's been on home, Nell, my family. But all the same I felt
something was wrong here with the ranch, with you, with
Nell...Belding, that ditch there is dry. The roses are dead.
The little green in that grass has come with the rains. What's
happened? The ranch's run down. Now I look around I see a change."
"Some change, yes," replied Belding, bitterly. "Listen, son."
Briefly, but not the less forcibly for that, Belding related his
story of the operations of the Chases.
Astonishment appeared to be Gale's first feeling. "Our water gone,
our claims gone, our plans forestalled! Why, Belding, it's
unbelievable. Forlorn River with promoters, business, railroad,
bank, and what not!"
Suddenly he became fiery and suspicious. "These Chases--did
they do all this on the level?"
"Barefaced robbery! Worse than a Greaser holdup," replied Belding,
"You say the law upheld them?"
"Sure. Why, Ben Chase has a pull as strong as Diablo's on a down
grade. Dick, we're jobbed, outfigured, beat, tricked, and we can't
do a thing."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Belding, most of all for Laddy," said Gale,
feelingly. "He's all in. He'll never ride again. He wanted to
settle down here on the farm he thought he owned, grow grass and
raise horses, and take it easy. Oh, but it's tough! Say, he
doesn't know it yet. He was just telling me he'd like to go out
and look the farm over. Who's going to tell him? What's he going
to do when he finds out about this deal?"
"Son, that's made me think some," replied Belding, with keen eyes
fast upon the young man. "And I was kind of wondering how you'd
"I? Well, I'll call on the Chases. Look here, Belding, I'd better
do some forestalling myself. If Laddy gets started now there'll be
blood spilled. He's not just right in his mind yet. He talks in his
sleep sometimes about how Yaqui finished Rojas. If it's left to
him--he'll kill these men. But if I take it up--"
"You're talking sense, Dick. Only here, I'm not so sure of you.
And there's more to tell. Son, you've Nell to think of and your
Belding's ranger gave him a long and searching glance.
"You can be sure of me," he said.
"All right, then; listen," began Belding. With deep voice that
had many a beak and tremor he told Gale how Nell had been hounded
by Radford Chase, how her mother had been driven by Ben Chase--the
whole sad story.
"So that's the trouble! Poor little girl!" murmured Gale, brokenly.
"I felt something was wrong. Nell wasn't natural, like her old
self. And when I begged her to marry me soon, while Dad was here,
she couldn't talk. She could only cry."
"It was hard on Nell," said Belding, simply. "But it 'll be better
now you're back. Dick, I know the girl. She'll refuse to marry
you and you'll have a hard job to break her down, as hard as the
one you just rode in off of. I think I know you, too, or I wouldn't
"Belding, what 're you hinting at?" demanded Gale. "Do you dare
insinuate that--that--if the thing were true it'd make any difference
"Aw, come now, Dick; I couldn't mean that. I'm only awkward at
saying things. And I'm cut pretty deep--"
"For God's dake, you don't believe what Chase said?" queried Gale,
in passionate haste. "It's a lie. I swear it's a lie. I know
it's a lie. And I've got to tell Nell this minute. Come on in with
me. I want you, Belding. Oh, why didn't you tell me sooner?"
Belding felt himself dragged by an iron arm into the sitting-room out
into the patio, and across that to where Nell sat in her door. At
sight of them she gave a little cry, drooped for an instant, then
raised a pale, still face, with eyes beginning to darken.
"Dearest, I know now why you are not wearing my mother's ring,"
said Gale, steadily and low-voiced.
"Dick, I am not worthy," she replied, and held out a trembling
hand with the ring lying in the palm.
Swift as light Gale caught her hand and slipped the ring back
upon the third finger.
"Nell! Look at me. It is your engagement ring....Listen. I don't
believe this--this thing that's been torturing you. I know it's
a lie. I am absolutely sure your mother will prove it a lie. She
must have suffered once--perhaps there was a sad error--but the
thing you fear is not true. But, hear me, dearest; even if it was
true it wouldn't make the slightest difference to me. I'd promise
you on my honor I'd never think of it again. I'd love you all the
more because you'd suffered. I want you all the more to be my
wife--to let me make you forget--to--"
She rose swiftyly with the passionate abandon of a woman stirred
to her depths, and she kissed him.
"Oh, Dick, you're good--so good! You'll never know--just what
those words mean to me. They've saved me--I think."
"Then, dearest, it's all right?" Dick questioned, eagerly. "You
will keep your promise? You will marry me?"
The glow, the light faded out of her face, and now the blue eyes
were almost black. She drooped and shook her head.
"Nell!" exclaimed Gale, sharply catching his breath.
"Don't ask me, Dick. I--I won't marry you."
"You know. It's true that I--"
"It's a lie," interrupted Gale, fiercely. "But even if it's
true--why--why won't you marry me? Between you and me love is the
thing. Love, and nothing else! Don't you love me any more?"
They had forgotten Belding, who stepped back into the shade.
"I love you with my whole heart and soul. I'd die for you,"
whispered Nell, with clenching hands. "But I won't disgrace you."
"Dear, you have worried over this trouble till you're morbid. It
has grown out of all proportion. I tell you that I'll not only
be the happiest man on earth, but the luckiest, if you marry me."
"Dick, you give not one thought to your family. Would they receive
me as your wife?"
"They surely would," replied Gale, steadily.
"No! oh no!"
"You're wrong, Nell. I'm glad you said that. You give me a chance
to prove something. I'll go this minute and tell them all. I'll
be back here in less than--"
"Dick, you will not tell her--your mother?" cried Nell, with her
eyes streaming. "You will not? Oh, I can't bear it! She's so
proud! And Dick, I love her. Don't tell her! Please, please
don't! She'll be going soon. She needn't ever know--about me.
I want her always to think well of me. Dick, I beg of you. Oh,
the fear of her knowing has been the worst of all! Please don't
"Nell, I'm sorry. I hate to hurt you. But you're wrong. You
can't see things clearly. This is your happiness I'm fighting
for. And it's my life....Wait here, dear. I won't be long."
Gale ran across the patio and disappeared. Nell sank to the
doorstep, and as she met the question in Belding's eyes she
shook her head mournfully. They waited without speaking. It
seemed a long while before Gale returned. Belding thrilled at
sight of him. There was more boy about him than Belding had
ever seen. Dick was coming swiftly, flushed, glowing, eager,
erect, almost smiling.
"I told them. I swore it was a lie, but I wanted them
to decide as if it were true. I didn't have to waste a minute
on Elsie. She loves you, Nell. The Governor is crazy about you.
I didn't have to waste two minutes on him. Mother used up the
time. She wanted to know all there was to tell. She is proud,
yes; but, Nell, I wish you could have seen how she took the--the
story about you. Why, she never thought of me at all, until she
had cried over you. Nell, she loves you, too. They all love you.
Oh, it's so good to tell you. I think mother realizes the part
you have had in the--what shall I call it?--the regeneration of
Richard Gale. Doesn't that sound fine? Darling, mother not only
consents, she wants you to be my wife. Do you hear that? And
listen--she had me in a corner and, of course, being my mother,
she put on the screws. She made me promise that we'd live in the
East half the year. That means Chicago, Cape May, New York--you
see, I'm not exactly the lost son any more. Why, Nell, dear,
you'll have to learn who Dick Gale really is. But I always want
to be the ranger you helped me become, and ride Blanco Sol, and
see a little of the desert. Don't let the idea of big cities
frighten you. Well always love the open places best. Now,
Nell, say you'll forget this trouble. I know it'll come all right.
Say you'll marry me soon....Why, dearest, you're crying....Nell!"
"My--heart--is broken," sobbed Nell, "for--I--I--can't marry you."
The boyish brightness faded out of Gale's face. Here, Belding
saw, was the stern reality arrayed against his dreams.
"That devil Radford Chase--he'll tell my secret," panted Nell.
"He swore if you ever came back and married me he'd follow us all
over the world to tell it."
Belding saw Gale grow deathly white and suddenly stand stock-still.
"Chase threatened you, then?" asked Dick; and the forced naturalness
of his voice struck Belding.
"Threatened me? He made my life a nightmare," replied Nell, in a
rush of speech. "At first I wondered how he was worrying mother
sick. But she wouldn't tell me. Then when she went away he began
to hint things. I hated him all the more. But when he told me--I
was frightened, shamed. Still I did not weaken. He was pretty
decent when he was sober. But when he was half drunk he was the
devil. He laughed at me and my pride. I didn't dare shut the
door in his face. After a while he found out that your mother
loved me and that I loved her. Then he began to threaten me.
If I didn't give in to him he'd see she learned the truth. That
made me weaken. It nearly killed me. I simply could not bear
the thought of Mrs. Gale kowing. But I couldn't marry him. Besides,
he got so half the time, when he was drunk, he didn't want or ask
me to be his wife. I was about ready to give up and go mad when
you--you came home."
She ended in a whisper, looking up wistfully and sadly at him.
Belding was a raging fire within, cold without. He watched Gale,
and believed he could foretell that young man's future conduct.
Gale gathered Nell up into his arms and held her to his breast
for a long moment.
"Dear Nell, I'm sure the worst of your trouble is over," he said
gently. "I will not give you up. Now, won't you lie down, try
to rest and calm yourself. Don't grieve any more. This thing
isn't so bad as you make it. Trust me. I'll shut Mr. Radford
As he released her she glanced quickly up at him, then lifted
"Dick, you won't hunt for him--go after him?"
Gale laughed, and the laugh made Belding jump.
"Dick, I beg of you. Please don't make trouble. The Chases have
been hard enough on us. They are rich, powerful. Dick, say you
will not make matters worse. Please promise me you'll not go to him."
"You ask me that?" he demanded.
"Yes. Oh yes!"
"But you know it's useless. What kind of a man do you want me to be?"
"It's only that I'm afraid. Oh, Dick, he'd shoot you in the back."
"No, Nell, a man of his kind wouldn't have nerve enough even for that."
"You'll go?" she cried wildly.
Gale smiled, and the smile made Belding cold.
"Dick, I cannot keep you back?"
"No," he said.
Then the woman in her burst through instinctive fear, and with
her eyes blazing black in her white face she lifted parted quivering
lips and kissed him.
Gale left the patio, and Belding followed closely at his heels.
They went through the sitting-room. Outside upon the porch sat
the rangers, Mr. Gale, and Thorne. Dick went into his room without
"Shore somethin's comin' off," said Ladd, sharply; and he sat up
with keen eyes narrowing.
Belding spoke a few words; and, remembering an impression he had
wished to make upon Mr. Gale, he made them strong. But now it was
with grim humor that he spoke.
"Better stop that boy," he concluded, looking at Mr. Gale. "He'll
do some mischief. He's wilder'n hell."
"Stop him? Why, assuredly," replied Mr. Gale, rising with nervous
Just then Dick came out of his door. Belding eyed him keenly. The
only change he could see was that Dick had put on a hat and a pair
of heavy gloves.
"Richard, where are you going?" asked his father.
"I'm going over here to see a man."
"No. It is my wish that you remain. I forbid you to go," said
Mr. Gale, with a hand on his son's shoulder.
Dick put Mr. Gale aside gently, respectfully, yet forcibly. The
old man gasped.
"Dad, I haven't gotten over my bad habit of disobeying you. I'm
sorry. Don't interfere with me now. And don't follow me. You
might see something unpleasant."
"But my son! What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to beat a dog."
Mr. Gale looked helplessly from this strangely calm and cold son
to the restless Belding. Then Dick strode off the porch.
"Hold on!" Ladd's voice would have stopped almost any man. "Dick,
you wasn't agoin' without me?"
"Yes, I was. But I'm thoughtless just now, Laddy."
"Shore you was. Wait a minute, Dick. I'm a sick man, but at that
nobody can pull any stunts round here without me."
He hobbled along the porch and went into his room. Jim Lash
knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and, humming his dance tune,
he followed Ladd. In a moment the rangers appeared, and both were
Not a little of Belding's grim excitement came from observation
of Mr. Gale. At sight of the rangers with their guns the old
man turned white and began to tremble.
"Better stay behind," whispered Belding. "Dick's going to beat
that two-legged dog, and the rangers get excited when they're
"I will not stay behind," replied Mr. Gale, stoutly. "I'll see
this affair through. Belding, I've guessed it. Richard is going
to fight the Chases, those robbers who have ruined you."
"Well, I can't guarantee any fight on their side," returned Belding,
dryly. "But maybe there'll be Greasers with a gun or two."
Belding stalked off to catch up with Dick, and Mr. Gale came trudging
behind with Thorne.
"Where will we find these Chases?" asked Dick of Belding.
"They've got a place down the road adjoining the inn. They call
it their club. At this hour Radford will be there sure.
I don't know about the old man. But his office is now just
across the way."
They passed several houses, turned a corner into the main street,
and stopped at a wide, low adobe structure. A number of saddled
horses stood haltered to posts. Mexicans lolled around the wide
"There's Ben Chase now over on the corner," said Belding to Dick.
"See, the tall man with the white hair, and leather band on his
hat. He sees us. He knows there's something up. He's got men
with him. They'll come over. We're after the young buck, and
sure he'll be in here."
They entered. The place was a hall, and needed only a bar to make
it a saloon. There were two rickety pool tables. Evidently Chase
had fitted up this amusement room for his laborers as well as for
the use of his engineers and assistants, for the crowd contained
both Mexicans and Americans. A large table near a window was
surrounded by a noisy, smoking, drinking circle of card-players.
"Point out this Radford Chase to me," said Gale.
"There! The big fellow with the red face. His eyes stick out a
little. See! He's dropped his cards and his face isn't red any
Dick strode across the room.
Belding grasped Mr. Gale and whispered hoarsely: "Don't miss anything.
It 'll be great. Watch Dick and watch Laddy! If there's any gun
play, dodge behind me."
Belding smiled with a grim pleasure as he saw Mr. Gales' face turn
Dick halted beside the table. His heavy boot shot up, and with a
crash the table split, and glasses, cards, chips flew everywhere.
As they rattled down and the chairs of the dumfounded players
began to slide Dick called out: "My name is Gale. I'm looking
for Mr. Radford Chase."
A tall, heavy-shouldered fellow rose, boldly enough, even swaggeringly,
and glowered at Gale.
"I'm Radford Chase," he said. His voice betrayed the boldness of
It was over in a few moments. The tables and chairs were tumbled
into a heap; one of the pool tables had been shoved aside; a lamp
lay shattered, with oil running dark upon the floor. Ladd leaned
against a post with a smoking gun in his hand. A Mexican crouched
close to the wall moaning over a broken arm. In the far corner
upheld by comrades another wounded Mexican cried out in pain. These
two had attempted to draw weapons upon Gale, and Ladd had crippled
In the center of the room lay Radford Chase, a limp, torn, hulking,
bloody figure. He was not seriously injured. But he was helpless,
a miserable beaten wretch, who knew his condition and felt the
eyes upon him. He sobbed and moaned and howled. But no one offered
to help him to his feet.
Backed against the door of the hall stood Ben Chase, for once
stripped of all authority and confidence and courage. Gale
confronted him, and now Gale's mien was in striking contrast to
the coolness with which he had entered the place. Though sweat
dripped from his face, it was as white as chalk. Like dark flames
his eyes seemed to leap and dance and burn. His lean jaw hung
down and quivered with passion. He shook a huge gloved fist in
"Your gray hairs save you this time. But keep out of my way! And
when that son of yours comes to, tell him every time I meet him
I'll add some more to what he got to-day!"
THE SECRET OF FORLORN RIVER
IN the early morning Gale, seeking solitude where he could brood
over his trouble, wandered alone. It was not easy for him to elude
the Yaqui, and just at the moment when he had cast himself down in
a secluded shady corner the Indian appeared, noiseless, shadowy,
mysterious as always.
"Malo," he said, in his deep voice.
"Yes, Yaqui, it's bad--very bad," replied Gale.
The Indian had been told of the losses sustained by Belding and
"Go--me!" said Yaqui, with an impressive gesture toward the lofty
lilac-colored steps of No Name Mountains.
He seemed the same as usual, but a glance on Gale's part, a moment's
attention, made him conscious of the old strange force in the Yaqui.
"Why does my brother want me to climb the nameless mountains with
him?" asked Gale.
"Lluvia d'oro," replied Yaqui, and he made motions that Gale found
difficult of interpretation.
"Shower of Gold," translated Gale. That was the Yaqui's name for
Nell. What did he mean by using it in connection with a climb into
the mountains? Were his motions intended to convey an idea of a
shower of golden blossoms from that rare and beautiful tree, or a
golden rain? Gale's listlessness vanished in a flash of thought.
The Yaqui meant gold. Gold! He meant he could retrieve the fallen
fortunes of the white brother who had saved his life that evil day
at the Papago Well. Gale thrilled as he gazed piercingly into the
wonderful eyes of this Indian. Would Yaqui never consider his debt paid?
"Go--me?" repeat the Indian, pointing with the singular directness
that always made this action remarkable in him.
Gale ran to his room, put on hobnailed boots, filled a canteen,
and hurried back to the corral. Yaqui awaited him. The Indian
carried a coiled lasso and a short stout stick. Without a word
he led the way down the lane, turned up the river toward the
mountains. None of Belding's household saw their departure.
What had once been only a narrow mesquite-bordered trail was now
a well-trodden road. A deep irrigation ditch, full of flowing
muddy water, ran parallel with the road. Gale had been curious
about the operations of the Chases, but bitterness he could not
help had kept him from going out to see the work. He was not
surprised to find that the engineers who had contructed the ditches
and dam had anticipated him in every particular. The dammed-up
gulch made a magnificent reservoir, and Gale could not look upon
the long narrow lake without a feeling of gladness. The dreaded
ano seco of the Mexicans might come again and would come, but never
to the inhabitants of Forlorn River. That stone-walled, stone-floored
gulch would never leak, and already it contained water enough to
irrigate the whole Altar Valley for two dry seasons.
Yaqui led swiftly along the lake to the upper end, where the
stream roared down over unscalable walls. This point was the
farthest Gale had ever penetrated into the rough foothills, and
he had Belding's word for it that no white man had ever climbed
No Name Mountains from the west.
But a white man was not an Indian. The former might have
stolen the range and valley and mountain, even the desert,
but his possessions would ever remain mysteries. Gale had
scarcely faced the great gray ponderous wall of cliff before
the old strange interest in the Yaqui seized him again. It recalled
the tie that existed between them, a tie almost as close as blood.
Then he was eager and curious to see how the Indian would conquer
those seemingly insurmountable steps of stone.
Yaqui left the gulch and clambered up over a jumble of weathered
slides and traced a slow course along the base of the giant wall.
He looked up and seemed to select a point for ascent. It was the
last place in that mountainside where Gale would have thought
climbing possible. Before him the wall rose, leaning over him,
shutting out the light, a dark mighty mountain mass. Innumerable
cracks and crevices and caves roughened the bulging sides of dark
Yaqui tied one end of his lasso to the short, stout stick and,
carefully disentangling the coils, he whirled the stick round and
round and threw it almost over the first rim of the shelf, perhaps
thirty feet up. The stick did not lodge. Yaqui tried again.
This time it caught in a crack. He pulled hard. Then, holding
to the lasso, he walked up the steep slant, hand over hand on the
rope. When he reached the shelf he motioned for Gale to follow.
Gale found that method of scaling a wall both quick and easy.
Yaqui pulled up the lasso, and threw the stick aloft into another
crack. He climbed to another shelf, and Gale followed him. The
third effort brought them to a more rugged bench a hundred feet
above the slides. The Yaqui worked round to the left, and turned
into a dark fissure. Gale kept close to his heels. They came
out presently into lighter space, yet one that restricted any
extended view. Broken sections of cliff were on all sides.
Here the ascent became toil. Gale could distance Yaqui
going downhill; on the climb, however, he was hard put
to it to keep the Indian in sight. It was not a question
of strength or lightness of foot. These Gale had beyond the
share of most men. It was a matter of lung power, and the Yaqui's
life had been spent scaling the desert heights. Moreover, the
climbing was infinitely slow, tedious, dangerous. On the way up
several times Gale imagined he heard a dull roar of falling water.
The sound seemed to be under him, over him to this side and to that.
When he was certain he could locate the direction from which it
came then he heard it no more until he had gone on. Gradually he
forgot it in the physical sensations of the climb. He burned his
hands and knees. He grew hot and wet and winded. His heart
thumped so that it hurt, and there were instants when his sight
was blurred. When at last he had toiled to where the Yaqui sat
awaiting him upon the rim of that great wall, it was none too soon.
Gale lay back and rested for a while without note of anything
except the blue sky. Then he sat up. He was amazed to find that
after that wonderful climb he was only a thousand feet or so above
the valley. Judged by the nature of his effort, he would have
said he had climbed a mile. The village lay beneath him, with its
new adobe structures and tents and buildings in bright contrast with
the older habitations. He saw the green alfalfa fields, and
Belding's white horses, looking very small and motionless. He
pleased himself by imagining he could pick out Blanco Sol. Then
his gaze swept on to the river.
Indeed, he realized now why some one had named it Forlorn River.
Even at this season when it was full of water it had a forlorn
aspect. It was doomed to fail out there on the desert--doomed
never to mingle with the waters of the Gulf. It wound away down
the valley, growing wider and shallower, encroaching more and more
on the gray flats, until it disappeared on its sad journey toward
Sonoyta. That vast shimmering, sun-governed waste recognized its
life only at this flood season, and was already with parched tongue
and insatiate fire licking and burning up its futile waters.
Yaqui put a hand on Gale's knee. It was a bronzed, scarred,
powerful hand, always eloquent of meaning. The Indian was listening.
His bent head, his strange dilating eyes, his rigid form, and that
close-pressing hand, how these brought back to Gale the terrible
lonely night hours on the lava!
"What do you hear, Yaqui?" asked Gale. He laughed a little at the
mood that had come over him. But the sound of his voice did not
break the spell. He did not want to speak again. He yielded to
Yaqui's subtle nameless influence. He listened himself, heard
nothing but the scream of an eagle. Often he wondered if the
Indian could hear things that made no sound. Yaqui was beyond
Whatever the Indian had listened to or for, presently he satisfied
himself, and, with a grunt that might mean anything, he rose and
turned away from the rim. Gale followed, rested now and eager to
go on. He saw that the great cliff they had climbed was only a
stairway up to the huge looming dark bulk of the plateau above.
Suddenly he again heard the dull roar of falling water. It seemed
to have cleared itself of muffled vibrations. Yaqui mounted a little
ridge and halted. The next instant Gale stood above a bottomless
cleft into which a white stream leaped. His astounded gaze swept
backward along this narrow swift stream to its end in a dark, round,
boiling pool. It was a huge spring, a bubbling well, the outcropping
of an underground river coming down from the vast plateau above.
Yaqui had brought Gale to the source of Forlorn River.
Flashing thoughts in Gale's mind were no swifter than the thrills
that ran over him. He would stake out a claim here and never be
cheated out of it. Ditches on the benches and troughs on the steep
walls would carry water down to the valley. Ben Chase had build
a great dam which would be useless if Gale chose to turn Forlorn River
from its natural course. The fountain head of that mysterious desert
river belonged to him.
His eagerness, his mounting passion, was checked by Yaqui's unusual
action. The Indian showed wonder, hesitation, even reluctance. His
strange eyes surveyed this boiling well as if they could not
believe the sight they saw. Gale divined instantly that Yaqui had
never before seen the source of Forlorn River. If he had ever
ascended to this plateau, probably it had been to some other part,
for the water was new to him. He stood gazing aloft at peaks,
at lower ramparts of the mountain, and at nearer landmarks of
prominence. Yaqui seemed at fault. He was not sure of his location.
Then he strode past the swirling pool of dark water and began to
ascend a little slope that led up to a shelving cliff. Another
object halted the Indian. It was a pile of stones, weathered,
crumbled, fallen into ruin, but still retaining shape enough to
prove it had been built there by the hands of men. Round and
round this the Yaqui stalked, and his curiosity attested a further
uncertainty. It was as if he had come upon something surprising.
Gale wondered about the pile of stones. Had it once been a
"Ugh!" grunted the Indian; and, though his exclamation expressed
no satisfaction, it surely put an end to doubt. He pointed up to
the roof of the sloping yellow shelf of stone. Faintly outlined
there in red were the imprints of many human hands with fingers
spread wide. Gale had often seen such paintings on the walls of
the desert caverns. Manifestly these told Yaqui he had come to
the spot for which he had aimed.
Then his actions became swift--and Yaqui seldom moved swiftly.
The fact impressed Gale. The Indian searched the level floor
under the shelf. He gathered up handfuls of small black stones,
and thrust them at Gale. Their weight made Gale start, and then
he trembled. The Indian's next move was to pick up a piece
of weathered rock and throw it against the wall. It broke.
He snatched up parts, and showed the broken edges to Gale.
They contained yellow steaks, dull glints, faint tracings of green.
It was gold.
Gale found his legs shaking under him; and he sat down, trying
to take all the bits of stone into his lap. His fingers were
all thumbs as with knife blade he dug into the black pieces
of rock. He found gold. Then he stared down the slope, down
into the valley with its river winding forlornly away into the
desert. But he did not see any of that. Here was reality as sweet,
as wonderful, as saving as a dream come true. Yaqui had led him
to a ledge of gold. Gale had learned enough about mineral to know
that this was a rich strike. All in a second he was speechless
with the joy of it. But his mind whirled in thought about this
strange and noble Indian, who seemed never to be able to pay a
debt. Belding and the poverty that had come to him! Nell, who
had wept over the loss of a spring! Laddy, who never could ride
again! Jim Lash, who swore he would always look after his friend!
Thorne and Mercedes! All these people, who had been good to him
and whom he loved, were poor. But now they would be rich. They
would one and all be his partners. He had discovered the source
of Forlorn River, and was rich in water. Yaqui had made him rich
in gold. Gale wanted to rush down the slope, down into the valley,
and tell his wonderful news.
Suddenly his eyes cleared and he saw the pile of stones. His
blood turned to ice, then to fire. That was the mark of a prospector's
claim. But it was old, very old. The ledge had never been worked.
the slope was wild. There was not another single indication that
a prospector had ever been there. Where, then, was he who had
first staked this claim? Gale wondered with growing hope, with
the fire easing, with the cold passing.
The Yaqui uttered the low, strange, involuntary cry so
rare with him, a cry somehow always associated with death.
The Indian was digging in the sand and dust under the shelving wall.
He threw out an object that rang against the stone. It was a belt
buckle. He threw out old shrunken, withered boots. He came upon
other things, and then he ceased to dig.
The grave of desert prospectors! Gale had seen more than one.
Ladd had told him many a story of such gruesome finds. It was grim,
Then the keen-eyed Yaqui reached up to a little projecting shelf
of rock and took from it a small object. He showed no curiosity
and gave the thing to Gale.
How strangely Gale felt when he received into his hands a flat
oblong box! Was it only the influence of the Yaqui, or was there
a nameless and unseen presence beside that grave? Gale could not
be sure. But he knew he had gone back to the old desert mood. He
knew something hung in the balance. No accident, no luck, no
debt-paying Indian could account wholly for that moment. Gale
knew he held in his hands more than gold.
The box was a tin one, and not all rusty. Gale pried open the
reluctant lid. A faint old musty odor penetrated his nostrils.
Inside the box lay a packet wrapped in what once might have been
oilskin. He took it out and removed this covering. A folded paper
remained in his hands.
It was growing yellow with age. But he descried a dim tracery of
words. A crabbed scrawl, written in blood, hard to read! He held
it more to the light, and slowly he deciphered its content.
"We, Robert Burton and Jonas Warren, give half of this gold claim
to the man who finds it and half to Nell Burton, daughter and
Gasping, with a bursting heart, ovewhelmed by an unutterable joy
of divination, Gale fumbled with the paper until he got it open.
It was a certificate twenty-one years old, and recorded the marriage
of Robert Burton and Nellie Warren.
A SUMMER day dawned on Forlorn River, a beautiful, still, hot,
golden day with huge sail clouds of white motionless over No Name
Peaks and the purple of clear air in the distance along the desert
Mrs. Belding returned that day to find her daughter happy and the
past buried forever in two lonely graves. The haunting shadow left
her eyes. Gale believed he would never forget the sweetness, the
wonder, the passion of her embrace when she called him her boy and
gave him her blessing.
The little wrinkled padre who married Gale and Nell performed the
ceremoney as he told his beads, without interest or penetration,
and went his way, leaving happiness behind.
"Shore I was a sick man," Ladd said, "an' darn near a dead one, but
I'm agoin' to get well. Mebbe I'll be able to ride again someday.
Nell, I lay it to you. An' I'm agoin' to kiss you an' wish you
all the joy there is in this world. An', Dick, as Yaqui says,
she's shore your Shower of Gold."
He spoke of Gale's finding love--spoke of it with the deep and
wistful feeling of the lonely ranger who had always yearned for
love and had never known it. Belding, once more practical, and
important as never before with mining projects and water claims
to manage, spoke of Gale's great good fortune in finding of
gold--he called it desert gold.
"Ah, yes. Desert Gold!" exclaimed Dick's father, softly,
with eyes of pride. Perhaps he was glad Dick had found the rich
claim; surely he was happy that Dick had won the girl he loved.
But it seemed to Dick himself that his father meant something
very different from love and fortune in his allusion to desert gold.
That beautiful happy day, like life or love itself, could not be
Yaqui came to Dick to say good-by. Dick was startled, grieved,
and in his impulsiveness forgot for a moment the nature of the
Indian. Yaqui was not to be changed.
Belding tried to overload him with gifts. The Indian packed a
bag of food, a blanket, a gun, a knife, a canteen, and no more.
The whole household went out with him to the corrals and fields
from which Belding bade him choose a horse--any horse, even the
loved Blanco Diablo. Gale's heart was in his throat for fear the
Indian might choose Blanco Sol, and Gale hated himself for a
selfishness he could not help. But without a word he would have
parted with the treasured Sol.
Yaqui whistled the horses up--for the last time. Did he care for
them? It would have been hard to say. He never looked at the
fierce and haughty Diablo, nor at Blanco Sol as he raised his noble
head and rang his piercing blast. The Indian did not choose one
of Belding's whites. He caught a lean and wiry broncho, strapped
a blanket on him, and fastened on the pack.
Then he turned to these friends, the same emotionless, inscrutable