Part 4 out of 5
"I saw it long ago." He shook his head and spread his great hands.
"There's no use for me to say what the desert is. If you ever come back
you'll bring her. Yes, you may go. It's a man's deed. God keep you!"
Hare spoke to no other person; he filled one saddle-bag with grain,
another with meat, bread, and dried fruits, strapped a five-gallon
leather water-sack back of Silvermane's saddle, and set out toward the
river. At the crossing-bar he removed Silvermane's equipments and placed
them in the boat. At that moment a long howl, as of a dog baying the
moon, startled him from his musings, and his eyes sought the river-bank,
up and down, and then the opposite side. An animal, which at first he
took to be a gray timber-wolf, was running along the sand-bar of the
"Pretty white for a wolf," he muttered. "Might be a Navajo dog."
The beast sat down on his haunches and, lifting a lean head, sent up a
doleful howl. Then he began trotting along the bar, every few paces
stepping to the edge of the water. Presently he spied Hare, and he began
to bark furiously.
"It's a dog all right; wants to get across," said Hare. "Where have I
Suddenly he sprang to his feet, almost upsetting the boat. "He's like
Mescal's Wolf!" He looked closer, his heart beginning to thump, and then
he yelled: "Ki-yi! Wolf! Hyer! Hyer!"
The dog leaped straight up in the air, and coming down, began to dash
back and forth along the sand with piercing yelps.
"It's Wolf! Mescal must be near," cried Hare. A veil obscured his sight,
and every vein was like a hot cord. "Wolf! Wolf! I'm coming!"
With trembling hands he tied Silvermane's bridle to the stern seat of the
boat and pushed off. In his eagerness he rowed too hard, dragging
Silvermane's nose under water, and he had to check himself. Time and
again he turned to call to the dog. At length the bow grated on the
sand, and Silvermane emerged with a splash and a snort.
"Wolf, old fellow!" cried Hare. "Where's Mescal? Wolf, where is she?"
He threw his arms around the dog. Wolf whined, licked Hare's face, and
breaking away, ran up the sandy trail, and back again. But he barked no
more; he waited to see if Hare was following.
"All right, Wolf--coming." Never had Hare saddled so speedily, nor
mounted so quickly. He sent Silvermane into the willow-skirted trail
close behind the dog, up on the rocky bench, and then under the bulging
wall. Wolf reached the level between the canyon and Echo Cliffs, and
then started straight west toward the Painted Desert. He trotted a few
rods and turned to see if the man was coming.
Doubt, fear, uncertainty ceased for Hare. With the first blast of
dust-scented air in his face he knew Wolf was leading him to Mescal. He
knew that the cry he had heard in his dream was hers, that the old
mysterious promise of the desert had at last begun its fulfilment. He
gave one sharp exultant answer to that call. The horizon, ever-widening,
lay before him, and the treeless plains, the sun-scorched slopes, the
sandy stretches, the massed blocks of black mesas, all seemed to welcome
him; his soul sang within him.
For Mescal was there. Far away she must be, a mere grain of sand in all
that world of drifting sands, perhaps ill, perhaps hurt, but alive,
waiting for him, calling for him, crying out with a voice that no
distance could silence. He did not see the sharp peaks as pitiless
barriers, nor the mesas and domes as black-faced death, nor the
moisture-drinking sands as life-sucking foes to plant and beast and man.
That painted wonderland had sheltered Mescal for a year. He had loved it
for its color, its change, its secrecy; he loved it now because it had
not been a grave for Mescal, but a home. Therefore he laughed at the
deceiving yellow distances in the foreground of glistening mesas, at the
deceiving purple distances of the far-off horizon. The wind blew a song
in his ears; the dry desert odors were fragrance in his nostrils; the
sand tasted sweet between his teeth, and the quivering heat-waves,
veiling the desert in transparent haze, framed beautiful pictures for his
Wolf kept to the fore for some thirty paces, and though he had ceased to
stop, he still looked back to see if the horse and man were following.
Hare had noted the dog occasionally in the first hours of travel, but he
had given his eyes mostly to the broken line of sky and desert in the
west, to the receding contour of Echo Cliffs, to the spread and break of
the desert near at hand. Here and there life showed itself in a gaunt
coyote sneaking into the cactus, or a horned toad huddling down in the
dust, or a jewel-eyed lizard sunning himself upon a stone. It was only
when his excited fancy had cooled that Hare came to look closely at Wolf.
But for the dog's color he could not have been distinguished from a real
wolf. His head and ears and tail drooped, and he was lame in his right
Hare halted in the shade of a stone, dismounted and called the dog to
him. Wolf returned without quickness, without eagerness, without any of
the old-time friendliness of shepherding days. His eyes were sad and
strange. Hare felt a sudden foreboding, but rejected it with passionate
force. Yet a chill remained. Lifting Wolf's paw he discovered that the
ball of the foot was worn through; whereupon he called into service a
piece of buckskin, and fashioning a rude moccasin he tied it round the
foot. Wolf licked his hand, but there was no change in the sad light of
his eyes. He turned toward the west as if anxious to be off.
"All right, old fellow," said Hare, "only go slow. From the look of that
foot I think you've turned back on a long trail."
Again they faced the west, dog leading, man following, and addressed
themselves to a gradual ascent. When it had been surmounted Hare
realized that his ride so far had brought him only through an anteroom;
the real portal now stood open to the Painted Desert. The immensity of
the thing seemed to reach up to him with a thousand lines, ridges,
canyons, all ascending out of a purple gulf. The arms of the desert
enveloped him, a chill beneath their warmth.
As he descended into the valley, keeping close to Wolf, he marked a
straight course in line with a volcanic spur. He was surprised when the
dog, though continually threading jumbles of rock, heading canyons,
crossing deep washes, and going round obstructions, always veered back to
this bearing as true as a compass-needle to its magnet.
Hare felt the air growing warmer and closer as he continued the descent.
By mid-afternoon, when he had travelled perhaps thirty miles, he was
moist from head to foot, and Silvermane's coat was wet. Looking backward
Hare had a blank feeling of loss; the sweeping line of Echo Cliffs had
retreated behind the horizon. There was no familiar landmark left.
Sunset brought him to a standstill, as much from its sudden glorious
gathering of brilliant crimsons splashed with gold, as from its warning
that the day was done. Hare made his camp beside a stone which would
serve as a wind-break. He laid his saddle for a pillow and his blanket
for a bed. He gave Silvermane a nose-bag full of water and then one of
grain; he fed the dog, and afterward attended to his own needs. When his
task was done the desert brightness had faded to gray; the warm air had
blown away on a cool breeze, and night approached. He scooped out a
little hollow in the sand for his hips, took a last look at Silvermane
haltered to the rock, and calling Wolf to his side stretched himself to
rest. He was used to lying on the ground, under the open sky, out where
the wind blew and the sand seeped in, yet all these were different on
this night. He was in the Painted Desert; Wolf crept close to him;
Mescal lay somewhere under the blue-white stars.
He awakened and arose before any color of dawn hinted of the day. While
he fed his four-footed companions the sky warmed and lightened. A tinge
of rose gathered in the east. The air was cool and transparent. He
tried to cheer Wolf out of his sad-eyed forlornness, and failed.
Hare vaulted into the saddle. The day had its possibilities, and while
he had sobered down from his first unthinking exuberance, there was still
a ring in his voice as he called to the dog:
"On, Wolf, on, old boy!"
Out of the east burst the sun, and the gray curtain was lifted by shafts
of pink and white and gold, flashing westward long trails of color.
When they started the actions of the dog showed Hare that Wolf was not
tracking a back-trail, but travelling by instinct. There were draws
which necessitated a search for a crossing, and areas of broken rock
which had to be rounded, and steep flat mesas rising in the path, and
strips of deep sand and canyons impassable for long distances. But the
dog always found a way and always came back to a line with the black spur
that Hare had marked. It still stood in sharp relief, no nearer than
before, receding with every step, an illusive landmark, which Hare began
Then quite suddenly it vanished in the ragged blue mass of the Ghost
Mountains. Hare had seen them several times, though never so distinctly.
The purple tips, the bold rock-ribs, the shadowed canyons, so sharp and
clear in the morning light--how impossible to believe that these were
only the deceit of the desert mirage! Yet so they were; even for the
Navajos they were spirit-mountains.
The splintered desert-floor merged into an area of sand. Wolf slowed his
trot, and Silvermane's hoofs sunk deep. Dismounting Hare labored beside
him, and felt the heat steal through his boots and burn the soles of his
feet. Hare plodded onward, stopping once to tie another moccasin on
Wolf's worn paw, this time the left one; and often he pulled the stopper
from the water-bag and cooled his parching lips and throat. The waves of
the sand-dunes were as the waves of the ocean. He did not look backward,
dreading to see what little progress he had made. Ahead were miles on
miles of graceful heaps, swelling mounds, crested ridges, all different,
yet regular and rhythmical, drift on drift, dune on dune, in endless
waves. Wisps of sand were whipped from their summits in white ribbons
and wreaths, and pale clouds of sand shrouded little hollows. The
morning breeze, rising out of the west, approached in a rippling lines
like the crest of an inflowing tide.
Silvermane snorted, lifted his ears and looked westward toward a yellow
pall which swooped up from the desert.
"Sand-storm," said Hare, and calling Wolf he made for the nearest rock
that was large enough to shelter them. The whirling sand-cloud
mushroomed into an enormous desert covering, engulfing the dunes,
obscuring the light. The sunlight failed; the day turned to gloom. Then
an eddying fog of sand and dust enveloped Hare. His last glimpse be-
fore he covered his face with a silk handkerchief was of sheets of sand
streaming past his shelter. The storm came with a low, soft, hissing
roar, like the sound in a sea-shell magnified. Breathing through the
handkerchief Hare avoided inhaling the sand which beat against his face,
but the finer dust particles filtered through and stifled him. At first
he felt that he would suffocate, and he coughed and gasped; but
presently, when the thicker sand-clouds had passed, he managed to get air
enough to breathe. Then he waited patiently while the steady seeping
rustle swept by, and the band of his hat sagged heavier, and the load on
his shoulders had to be continually shaken off, and the weighty trap
round his feet crept upward. When the light, fine touch ceased he
removed the covering from his face to see himself standing nearly to his
knees in sand, and Silvermane's back and the saddle burdened with it.
The storm was moving eastward, a dull red now with the sun faintly
showing through it like a ball of fire.
"Well, Wolf, old boy, how many storms like that will we have to weather?"
asked Hare, in a cheery tone which he had to force. He knew these
sand-storms were but vagaries of the desert-wind. Before the hour closed
he had to seek the cover of a stone and wait for another to pass. Then
he was caught in the open, with not a shelter in sight. He was compelled
to turn his back to a third storm, the worst of all, and to bear as best
he could the heavy impact of the first blow, and the succeeding rush and
flow of sand. After that his head drooped and he wearily trudged beside
Silvermane, dreading the interminable distance he must cover before once
more gaining hard ground. But he discovered that it was useless to try
to judge distance on the desert. What had appeared miles at his last
look turned out to be only rods.
It was good to get into the saddle again and face clear air. Far away
the black spur again loomed up, now surrounded by groups of mesas with
sage-slopes tinged with green. That surely meant the end of this long
trail; the faint spots of green lent suggestion of a desert waterhole;
there Mescal must be, hidden in some shady canyon. Hare built his hopes
So he pressed on down a plain of bare rock dotted by huge bowlders; and
out upon a level floor of scant sage and greasewood where a few living
creatures, a desert-hawk sailing low, lizards darting into holes, and a
swiftly running ground-bird, emphasized the lack of life in the waste.
He entered a zone of clay-dunes of violet and heliotrope hues; and then a
belt of lava and cactus. Reddish points studded the desert, and here and
there were meagre patches of white grass. Far away myriads of cactus
plants showed like a troop of distorted horsemen. As he went on the
grass failed, and streams of jagged lava flowed downward. Beds of
cinders told of the fury of a volcanic fire. Soon Hare had to dismount
to make moccasins for Wolf's hind feet; and to lead Silvermane carefully
over the cracked lava. For a while there were strips of ground bare of
lava and harboring only an occasional bunch of cactus, but soon every
foot free of the reddish iron bore a projecting mass of fierce spikes and
thorns. The huge barrel-shaped cacti, and thickets of slender dark-green
rods with bayonet points, and broad leaves with yellow spines, drove Hare
and his sore-footed fellow-travellers to the lava.
Hare thought there must be an end to it some time, yet it seemed as
though he were never to cross that black forbidding inferno. Blistered
by the heat, pierced by the thorns, lame from long toil on the lava, he
was sorely spent when once more he stepped out upon the bare desert. On
pitching camp he made the grievous discovery that the water-bag had
leaked or the water had evaporated, for there was only enough left for
one more day. He ministered to thirsty dog and horse in silence, his
mind revolving the grim fact of his situation.
His little fire of greasewood threw a wan circle into the surrounding
blackness. Not a sound hinted of life. He longed for even the bark of a
coyote. Silvermane stooped motionless with tired head. Wolf stretched
limply on the sand. Hare rolled into his blanket and stretched out with
slow aching relief.
He dreamed he was a boy roaming over the green hills of the old farm,
wading through dewy clover-fields, and fishing in the Connecticut River.
It was the long vacationtime, an endless freedom. Then he was at the
swimming-hole, and playmates tied his clothes in knots, and with shouts
of glee ran up the bank leaving him there to shiver.
When he awakened the blazing globe of the sun had arisen over the eastern
horizon, and the red of the desert swathed all the reach of valley.
Hare pondered whether he should use his water at once or dole it out.
That ball of fire in the sky, a glazed circle, like iron at white heat,
decided for him. The sun would be hot and would evaporate such water as
leakage did not claim, and so he shared alike with Wolf, and gave the
rest to Silvermane.
For an hour the mocking lilac mountains hung in the air and then paled in
the intense light. The day was soundless and windless, and the
heat-waves rose from the desert like smoke. For Hare the realities were
the baked clay flats, where Silvermane broke through at every step; the
beds of alkali, which sent aloft clouds of powdered dust; the deep
gullies full of round bowlders; thickets of mesquite and prickly thorn
which tore at his legs; the weary detour to head the canyons; the climb
to get between two bridging mesas; and always the haunting presence of
the sad-eyed dog. His unrealities were the shimmering sheets of water in
every low place; the baseless mountains floating in the air; the green
slopes rising close at hand; beautiful buttes of dark blue riding the
open sand, like monstrous barks at sea; the changing outlines of desert
shapes in pink haze and veils of purple and white lustre--all illusions,
all mysterious tricks of the mirage.
In the heat of midday Hare yielded to its influence and reined in his
horse under a slate-bank where there was shade. His face was swollen
and peeling, and his lips had begun to dry and crack and taste of alkali.
Then Wolf pattered on; Silvermane kept at his heels; Hare dozed in the
saddle. His eyes burned in their sockets from the glare, and it was a
relief to shut out the barren reaches. So the afternoon waned.
Silvermane stumbled, jolting Hare out of his stupid lethargy. Before him
spread a great field of bowlders with not a slope or a ridge or a mesa or
an escarpment. Not even a tip of a spur rose in the background. He
rubbed his sore eyes. Was this another illusion?
When Silvermane started onward Hare thought of the Navajos' custom to
trust horse and dog in such an emergency. They were desert-bred; beyond
human understanding were their sight and scent. He was at the mercy now
of Wolf's instinct and Silvermane's endurance. Resignation brought him a
certain calmness of soul, cold as the touch of an icy hand on fevered
cheek. He remembered the desert secret in Mescal's eyes; he was about to
solve it. He remembered August Naab's words: "It's a man's deed!" If so,
he had achieved the spirit of it, if not the letter. He remembered
Eschtah's tribute to the wilderness of painted wastes: "There is the
grave of the Navajo, and no one knows the trail to the place of his
sleep!" He remembered the something evermore about to be, the unknown
always subtly calling; now it was revealed in the stone-fettering grip of
the desert. It had opened wide to him, bright with its face of danger,
beautiful with its painted windows, inscrutable with its alluring call.
Bidding him enter, it had closed behind him; now he looked upon it in its
iron order, its strange ruins racked by fire, its inevitable
THE gray stallion, finding the rein loose on his neck, trotted forward
and overtook the dog, and thereafter followed at his heels. With the
setting of the sun a slight breeze stirred, and freshened as twilight
fell, rolling away the sultry atmosphere. Then the black desert night
mantled the plain.
For a while this blackness soothed the pain of Hare's sun-blinded eyes.
It was a relief to have the unattainable horizon line blotted out. But
by-and-by the opaque gloom brought home to him, as the day had never
done, the reality of his solitude. He was alone in this immense place of
barrenness, and his dumb companions were the world to him. Wolf pattered
onward, a silent guide; and Silvermane followed, never lagging,
sure-footed in the dark, faithful to his master. All the love Hare had
borne the horse was as nothing to that which came to him on this desert
night. In and out, round and round, ever winding, ever zigzagging,
Silvermane hung close to Wolf, and the sandy lanes between the bowlders
gave forth no sound. Dog and horse, free to choose their trail, trotted
onward miles and miles into the night.
A pale light in the east turned to a glow, then to gold, and the round
disc of the moon silhouetted the black bowlders on the horizon. It
cleared the dotted line and rose, an oval orange-hued strange moon, not
mellow nor silvery nor gloriously brilliant as Hare had known it in the
past, but a vast dead-gold melancholy orb, rising sadly over the desert.
To Hare it was the crowning reminder of lifelessness; it fitted this
world of dull gleaming stones.
Silvermane went lame and slackened his trot, causing Hare to rein in and
dismount. He lifted the right forefoot, the one the horse had favored,
and found a stone imbedded tightly in the cloven hoof. He pried it out
with his knife and mounted again. Wolf shone faintly far ahead, and
presently he uttered a mournful cry which sent a chill to the rider's
heart. The silence had been oppressive before; now it was terrible. It
was not a silence of life. It had been broken suddenly by Wolf's howl,
and had closed sharply after it, without echo; it was a silence of death.
Hare took care not to fall behind Wolf again, he had no wish to hear that
cry repeated. The dog moved onward with silent feet; the horse wound
after him with hoofs padded in the sand; the moon lifted and the desert
gleamed; the bowlders grew larger and the lanes wider. So the night wore
on, and Hare's eyelids grew heavy, and his whole weary body cried out for
rest and forgetfulness. He nodded until he swayed in the saddle; then
righted himself, only to doze again. The east gave birth to the morning
star. The whitening sky was the harbinger of day. Hare could not bring
himself to face the light and heat, and he stopped at a wind-worn cave
under a shelving rock. He was asleep when he rolled out on the
sand-strewn floor. Once he awoke and it was still day, for his eyes
quickly shut upon the glare. He lay sweltering till once more slumber
claimed him. The dog awakened him, with cold nose and low whine. Another
twilight had fallen. Hare crawled out, stiff and sore, hungry and
parching with thirst. He made an attempt to eat, but it was a failure.
There was a dry burning in his throat, a dizzy feeling in his brain, and
there were red flashes before his eyes. Wolf refused meat, and Silvermane
turned from the grain, and lowered his head to munch a few blades of
Then the journey began, and the night fell black. A cool wind blew from
the west, the white stars blinked, the weird moon rose with its ghastly
glow. Huge bowlders rose before him in grotesque shapes, tombs and
pillars and statues of Nature's dead, carved by wind and sand. But some
had life in Hare's disordered fancy. They loomed and towered over him,
and stalked abroad and peered at him with deep-set eyes.
Hare fought with all his force against this mood of gloom. Wolf was not
a phantom; he trotted forward with unerring instinct; and he would find
water, and that meant life. Silvermane, desert-steeled, would travel to
the furthermost corner of this hell of sand-swept stone. Hare tried to
collect all his spirit, all his energies, but the battle seemed to be
going against him. All about him was silence, breathless silence,
insupportable silence of ages. Desert spectres danced in the darkness.
The worn-out moon gleamed golden over the worn-out waste. Desolation
lurked under the sable shadows.
Hare rode on into the night, tumbled from his saddle in the gray of dawn
to sleep, and stumbled in the twilight to his drooping horse. His eyes
were blind now to the desert shapes, his brain burned and his tongue
filled his mouth. Silvermane trod ever upon Wolf's heels; he had come into
the kingdom of his desert-strength; he lifted his drooping head and
lengthened his stride; weariness had gone and he snorted his welcome to
something on the wind. Then he passed the limping dog and led the way.
Hare held to the pommel and bent dizzily forward in the saddle.
Silvermane was going down, step by step, with metallic clicks upon flinty
rock. Whether he went down or up was all the same to Hare; he held on
with closed eyes and whispered to himself. Down and down, step by step,
cracking the stones with iron-shod hoofs, the gray stallion worked his
perilous way, sure-footed as a mountain-sheep. Then he stopped with a
great slow heave and bent his head.
The black bulge of a canyon rim blurred in Hare's hot eyes. A trickling
sound penetrated his tired brain. His ears had grown like his eyes--
false. Only another delusion! As he had been tortured with the sight of
lake and stream now he was to be tortured with the sound of running
water. Yet he listened, for it was sweet even in its mockery. What a
clear musical tinkle, like silver bells tossing on the wind! He listened.
Soft murmuring flow, babble and gurgle, little hollow fall and splash!
Suddenly Silvermane, lifting his head, broke the silence of the canyon
with a great sigh of content. It pierced the dull fantasy of Hare's
mind; it burst the gloomy spell. The sigh and the snort which followed
were Silvermane's triumphant signals when he had drunk his fill.
Hare fell from the saddle. The gray dog lay stretched low in the
darkness. Hare crawled beside him and reached out with his hot hands.
Smooth cool marble rock, growing slippery, then wet, led into running
water. He slid forward on his face and wonderful cold thrills quivered
over his burning skin. He drank and drank until he could drink no more.
Then he lay back upon the rock; the madness of his brain went out with
the light of the stars, and he slept.
When he awoke red canyon walls leaned far above him to a gap spanned by
blue sky. A song of rushing water murmured near his ears. He looked
down; a spring gushed from a crack in the wall; Silvermane cropped green
bushes, and Wolf sat on his haunches waiting, but no longer with sad eyes
and strange mien. Hare raised himself, looking again and again, and
slowly gathered his wits. The crimson blur had gone from his eyes and
the burning from his skin, and the painful swelling from his tongue.
He drank long and deeply, and rising with clearing thoughts and thankful
heart, he kissed Wolf's white head, and laid his arms round Silvermane's
neck. He fed them, and ate himself, not without difficulty, for his lips
were puffed and his tongue felt like a piece of rope. When he had eaten,
his strength came back.
At a word Wolf, with a wag of his tail, splashed into the gravelly stream
bed. Hare followed on foot, leading Silvermane. There were little beds
of pebbles and beaches of sand and short steps down which the water
babbled. The canyon was narrow and tortuous; Hare could not see ahead or
below, for the projecting red cliffs, growing higher as he descended,
walled out the view. The blue stream of sky above grew bluer and the
light and shade less bright. For an hour he went down steadily without a
check, and the farther down the rougher grew the way. Bowlders wedged in
narrow places made foaming waterfalls. Silvermane clicked down
The slender stream of water, swelled by seeping springs and little rills,
gained the dignity of a brook; it began to dash merrily and hurriedly
downward. The depth of the falls, the height of cliffs, and the size of
the bowlders increased in the descent. Wolf splashed on unmindful; there
was a new spirit in his movements; and when he looked back for his
laboring companions there was friendly protest in his eyes. Silvermane's
mien plainly showed that where a dog could go he could follow.
Silvermane's blood was heated; the desert was an old story to him; it had
only tired him and parched his throat; this canyon of downward steps and
falls, with ever-deepening drops, was new to him, and roused his mettle;
and from his long training in the wilds he had gained a marvellous
The canyon narrowed as it deepened; the jutting walls leaned together,
shutting out the light; the sky above was now a ribbon of blue, only to
be seen when Hare threw back his head and stared straight up.
"It'll be easier climbing up, Silvermane," he panted--"if we ever get
The sand and gravel and shale had disappeared; all was bare clean-washed
rock. In many places the brook failed as a trail, for it leaped down in
white sheets over mossy cliffs. Hare faced these walls in despair. But
Wolf led on over the ledges and Silvermane followed, nothing daunted. At
last Hare shrank back from a hole which defied him utterly. Even Wolf
hesitated. The canyon was barely twenty feet wide; the floor ended in a
precipice; the stream leaped out and fell into a dark cleft from which no
sound arose. On the right there was a shelf of rock; it was scarce half
a foot broad at the narrowest and then apparently vanished altogether.
Hare stared helplessly up at the slanting shut-in walls.
While he hesitated Wolf pattered out upon the ledge and Silvermane
stamped restlessly. With a desperate fear of losing his beloved horse
Hare let go the bridle and stepped upon the ledge. He walked rapidly,
for a slow step meant uncertainty and a false one meant death. He heard
the sharp ring of Silvermane's shoes, and he listened in agonized
suspense for the slip, the snort, the crash that he feared must come.
But it did not come. Seeing nothing except the narrow ledge, yet feeling
the blue abyss beneath him, he bent all his mind to his task, and finally
walked out into lighter space upon level rock. To his infinite relief
Silvermane appeared rounding a corner out of the dark passage, and was
soon beside him.
Hare cried aloud in welcome.
The canyon widened; there was a clear demarcation where the red walls
gave place to yellow; the brook showed no outlet from its subterranean
channel. Sheer exhaustion made Hare almost forget his mission; the
strength of his resolve had gone into mechanical toil; he kept on,
conscious only of the smart of bruised hands and feet and the ache of
Time went on and the sun hung in the midst of the broadening belt of blue
sky. A long slant of yellow slope led down to a sage-covered level,
which Hare crossed, pleased to see blooming cacti and wondering at their
slender lofty green stems shining with gold flowers. He descended into a
ravine which became precipitous. Here he made only slow advance. At the
bottom he found himself in a wonderful lane with an almost level floor;
here flowed a shallow stream bordered by green willows. Wolf took the
direction of the flowing water. Hare's thoughts were all of Mescal, and
his hopes began to mount, his heart to beat high.
He gazed ahead with straining eyes. Presently there was not a break in
the walls. A drowsy hum of falling water came to Hare, strange reminder
of the oasis, the dull roar of the Colorado, and of Mescal.
His flagging energies leaped into life with the canyon suddenly opening
to bright light and blue sky and beautiful valley, white and gold in
blossom, green with grass and cottonwood. On a flower-scented wind
rushed that muffled roar again, like distant thunder.
Wolf dashed into the cottonwoods. Silvermane whistled with satisfaction
and reached for the long grass.
For Hare the light held something more than beauty, the breeze something
more than sweet scent of water and blossom. Both were charged with
Wolf appeared in the open leaping upon a slender brown-garbed form.
"Mescal!" cried Hare.
With a cry she ran to him, her arms outstretched, her hair flying in the
wind, her dark eyes wild with joy.
FOR an instant Hare's brain reeled, and Mescal's broken murmurings were
meaningless Then his faculties grew steady and acute; he held the girl as
if he intended never to let her go. Mescal clung to him with a wildness
that gave him anxiety for her reason; there was something almost fierce
in the tension of her arms, in the blind groping for his face.
"Mescal! It's Jack, safe and well," he said. "Let me look at you."
At the sound of his voice all her rigid strength changed to a yielding
weakness; she leaned back supported by his arms and looked at him. Hare
trembled before the dusky level glance he remembered so well, and as
tears began to flow he drew her head to his shoulder. He had forgotten
to prepare himself for a different Mescal. Despite the quivering smile
of happiness, her eyes were strained with pain. The oval contour, the
rich bloom of her face had gone; beauty was there still, but it was the
ghost of the old beauty.
"Jack--is it--really you?" she asked.
He answered with a kiss.
She slipped out of his arms breathless and scarlet. "Tell me all--"
"There's much to tell, but not before you kiss me. It has been more than
"Only a year! Have I been gone only a year?"
"Yes, a year. But it's past now. Kiss me, Mescal. One kiss will pay
for that long year, though it broke my heart."
Shyly she raised her hands to his shoulders and put her lips to his.
"Yes, you've found me, Jack, thank God! just in time!"
"Mescal! What's wrong? Aren't you well?"
"Pretty well. But if you had not come soon I should have starved."
"Starved? Let me get my saddle-bags--I have bread and meat."
"Wait. I'm not so hungry now. I mean very soon I should not have had
any food at all."
"But your peon--the dumb Indian? Surely he could find something to eat.
What of him? Where is he?"
"My peon is dead. He has been dead for months, I don't know how many."
"Dead! What was the matter with him?"
"I never knew. I found him dead one morning and I buried him in the
Mescal led Hare under the cottonwoods and pointed to the Indian's grave,
now green with grass. Farther on in a circle of trees stood a little
hogan skilfully constructed out of brush; the edge of a red blanket
peeped from the door; a burnt-out fire smoked on a stone fireplace, and
blackened earthen vessels lay near. The white seeds of the cottonwoods
were flying light as feathers; plum-trees were pink in blossom; there
were vines twining all about; through the openings in the foliage shone
the blue of sky and red of cliff. Patches of blossoming Bowers were here
and there lit to brilliance by golden shafts of sunlight. The twitter of
birds and hum of bees were almost drowned in the soft roar of water.
"Is that the Colorado I hear?" asked Hare.
"No, that's Thunder River. The Colorado is farther down in the Grand
"Farther down! Mescal, I must have come a mile from the rim. Where are
"We are almost at the Colorado, and directly under the head of Coconina.
We can see the mountain from the break in the valley below."
"Come sit by me here under this tree. Tell me--how did you ever get
Then Mescal told him how the peon had led her on a long trail from Bitter
Seeps, how they had camped at desert waterholes, and on the fourth day
descended to Thunder River.
"I was quite happy at first. It's always summer down here. There were
rabbits, birds, beaver, and fruit--we had enough to eat I explored the
valley with Wolf or rode Noddle up and down the canyon. Then my peon
died, and I had to shift for myself. There came a time when the beaver
left the valley, and Wolf and I had to make a rabbit serve for days. I
knew then I'd have to get across the desert to the Navajos or starve in
the canyon. I hesitated about climbing out into the desert, for I wasn't
sure of the trail to the waterholes. Noddle wandered off up the canyon
and never came back. After he was gone and I knew I couldn't get out I
grew homesick. The days weren't so bad because I was always hunting for
something to eat, but the nights were lonely. I couldn't sleep. I lay
awake listening to the river, and at last I could hear whispering and
singing and music, and strange sounds, and low thunder, always low
thunder. I wasn't really frightened, only lonely, and the canyon was so
black and full of mutterings. Sometimes I'd dream I was back on the
plateau with you, Jack, and Bolly and the sheep, and when I'd awake in
the loneliness I'd cry right out--"
"Mescal, I heard those cries," said Hare.
"It was strange--the way I felt. I believe if I'd never known and--and
loved you, Jack, I'd have forgotten home. After I'd been here a while, I
seemed to be drifting, drifting. It was as if I had lived in the canyon
long before, and was remembering. The feeling was strong, but always
thoughts of you, and of the big world, brought me back to the present
with its loneliness and fear of starvation. Then I wanted you, and I'd
cry out. I knew I must send Wolf home. How hard it was to make him go!
But at last he trotted off, looking backward, and I--waited and waited."
She leaned against him. The hand which had plucked at his sleeve dropped
to his fingers and clung there. Hare knew how her story had slighted the
perils and privations of that long year. She had grown lonely in the
canyon darkness; she had sent Wolf away and had waited--all was said in
that. But more than any speech, the look of her, and the story told in
the thin brown hands touched his heart. Not for an instant since his
arrival had she altogether let loose of his fingers, or coat, or arm.
She had lived so long alone in this weird world of silence and moving
shadows and murmuring water, that she needed to feel the substance of her
hopes, to assure herself of the reality of the man she loved.
"My mustang--Bolly--tell me of her," said Mescal.
"Bolly's fine. Sleek and fat and lazy! She's been in the fields ever
since you left. Not a bridle on her. Many times have I seen her poke
her black muzzle over the fence and look down the lane. She'd never
forget you, Mescal."
"Oh! how I want to see her! Tell me--everything."
"Wait a little. Let me fetch Silvermane and we'll make a fire and eat.
"Tell me now."
"Well, Mescal, it's soon told." Then came the story of events growing out
of her flight. When he told of the shooting at Silver Cup, Mescal rose
with heaving bosom and blazing eyes.
"It was nothing--I wasn't hurt much. Only the intention was bad. We saw
no more of Snap or Holderness. The worst of it all was that Snap's wife
"Oh, I am sorry--sorry. Poor Father Naab! How he must hate me, the cause
of it all! But I couldn't stay--I couldn't marry Snap."
"Don't blame yourself, Mescal. What Snap might have done if you had
married him is guesswork. He might have left drink alone a while longer.
But he was bad clean through. I heard Dave Naab tell him that. Snap
would have gone over to Holderness sooner or later. And now he's a
rustler, if not worse."
"Then those men think Snap killed you?"
"What's going to happen when you meet Snap, or any of them?"
"Somebody will be surprised," replied Hare, with a laugh.
"Jack, it's no laughing matter." She fastened her hands in the lapels of
his coat and her eyes grew sad. "You can never hang up your gun again."
"No. But perhaps I can keep out of their way, especially Snap's.
Mescal, you've forgotten Silvermane, and how he can run."
"I haven't forgotten. He can run, but he can't beat Bolly." She said
this with a hint of her old spirit. "Jack--you want to take me back
"Of course. What did you expect when you sent Wolf?"
"I didn't expect. I just wanted to see you, or somebody, and I thought
of the Navajos. Couldn't I live with them? Why can't we stay here or in
a canyon across the Colorado where there's plenty of game?"
"I'm going to take you home and Father Naab shall marry you--to--to me."
Startled, Mescal fell back upon his shoulder and did not stir nor speak
for a long time. "Did--did you tell him?"
"What did he say? Was he angry? Tell me."
"He was kind and good as he always is. He said if I found you, then the
issue would be between Snap and me, as man to man. You are still pledged
to Snap in the Mormon Church and that can't be changed. I don't suppose
even if he's outlawed that it could be changed."
"Snap will not let any grass grow in the trails to the oasis," said
Mescal. "Once he finds I've come back to life he'll have me. You don't
know him, Jack. I'm afraid to go home."
"My dear, there's no other place for us to go. We can't live the life of
"But Jack, think of me watching you ride out from home! Think of me
always looking for Snap! I couldn't endure it. I've grown weak in this
year of absence."
"Mescal, look at me." His voice rang as he held her face to face. "We
must decide everything. Now--say you love me!"
"Say you'll marry me!"
"I will marry you."
"Then listen. I'll get you out of this canyon and take you home. You
are mine and I'll keep you." He held her tightly with strong arms; his
face paled, his eyes darkened. "I don't want to meet Snap Naab. I shall
try to keep out of his way. I hope I can. But Mescal, I'm yours now.
Your happiness--perhaps your life--depends on me. That makes a
Silvermane walked into the glade with a saddle-girth so tight that his
master unbuckled it only by dint of repeated effort. Evidently the rich
grass of Thunder River Canyon appealed strongly to the desert stallion.
"Here, Silver, how do you expect to carry us out if you eat and drink
like that?" Hare removed the saddle and tethered the gray to one of the
cottonwoods. Wolf came trotting into camp proudly carrying a rabbit.
"Mescal, can we get across the Colorado and find a way up over Coconina?"
"Yes, I'm sure we can. My peon never made a mistake about directions.
There's no trail, but Navajos have crossed the river at this season, and
worked up a canyon."
The shadows had gathered under the cliffs, and the rosy light high up on
the ramparts had chilled and waned when Hare and Mescal sat down to their
meal. Wolf lay close to the girl and begged for morsels. Then in the
twilight they sat together content to be silent, listening to the low
thunder of the river. Long after Mescal had retired into her hogan Hare
lay awake before her door with his head in his saddle and listened to the
low roll, the dull burr, the dreamy hum of the tumbling waters. The
place was like the oasis, only infinitely more hidden under the cliffs.
A few stars twinkled out of the dark blue, and one hung, beaconlike, on
the crest of a noble crag. There were times when he imagined the valley
was as silent as the desert night, and other times when he imagined he
heard the thundering roll of avalanches and the tramp of armies. Then
the voices of Mescal's solitude spoke to him--glorious laughter and low
sad wails of woe, sweet songs and whispers and murmurs. His last waking
thoughts were of the haunting sound of Thunder River, and that he had
come to bear Mescal away from its loneliness.
He bestirred himself at the first glimpse of day, and when the gray mists
had lifted to wreathe the crags it was light enough to begin the journey.
Mescal shed tears at the grave of the faithful peon. "He loved this
canyon," she said, softly. Hare lifted her upon Silvermane. He walked
beside the horse and Wolf trotted on before. They travelled awhile under
the flowering cottonwoods on a trail bordered with green tufts of grass
and great star-shaped lilies. The river was still hidden, but it filled
the grove with its soft thunder. Gradually the trees thinned out, hard
stony ground encroached upon the sand, bowlders appeared in the way; and
presently, when Silvermane stepped out of the shade of the cottonwoods,
Hare saw the lower end of the valley with its ragged vent.
"Look back!" said Mescal.
Hare saw the river bursting from the base of the wall in two white
streams which soon united below, and leaped down in a continuous cascade.
Step by step the stream plunged through the deep gorge, a broken, foaming
raceway, and at the lower end of the valley it took its final leap into a
blue abyss, and then found its way to the Colorado, hidden underground.
The flower-scented breeze and the rumbling of the river persisted long
after the valley lay behind and above, but these failed at length in the
close air of the huge abutting walls. The light grew thick, the stones
cracked like deep bell-strokes; the voices of man and girl had a hollow
sound and echo. Silvermane clattered down the easy trail at a gait which
urged Hare now and then from walk to run. Soon the gully opened out upon
a plateau through the centre of which, in a black gulf, wound the red
Colorado, sullen-voiced, booming, never silent nor restful. Here were
distances by which Hare could begin to comprehend the immensity of the
canyon, and he felt lost among the great terraces leading up to mesas
that dwarfed the Echo Cliffs. All was bare rock of many hues burning
under the sun.
"Jack, this is mescal," said the girl, pointing to some towering plants.
All over the sunny slopes cacti lifted slender shafts, unfolding in
spiral leaves as they shot upward and bursting at the top into plumes of
yellow flowers. The blossoming stalks waved in the wind, and black bees
circled round them.
"Mescal, I've always wanted to see the Flower of the Desert from which
you're named. It's beautiful."
Hare broke a dead stalk of the cactus and was put to instant flight by a
stream of bees pouring with angry buzz from the hollow centre. Two big
fellows were so persistent that he had to beat them off with his hat.
"You shouldn't despoil their homes," said Mescal, with a peal of
"I'll break another stalk and get stung, if you'll laugh again," replied
They traversed the remaining slope of the plateau, and entering the head
of a ravine, descended a steep cleft of flinty rock, rock so hard that
Silvermane's iron hoofs not so much as scratched it. Then reaching a
level, they passed out to rounded sand and the river.
"It's a little high," said Hare dubiously. "Mescal, I don't like the
looks of those rapids."
Only a few hundred rods of the river could be seen. In front of Hare the
current was swift but not broken. Above, where the canyon turned, the
river sheered out with a majestic roll and falling in a wide smooth curve
suddenly narrowed into a leaping crest of reddish waves. Below Hare was
a smaller rapid where the broken water turned toward the nearer side of
the river, but with an accompaniment of twisting swirls and vicious
"I guess we'd better risk it," said Hare, grimly recalling the hot rock,
the sand, and lava of the desert.
"It's safe, if Silvermane is a good swimmer," replied Mescal. "We can
take the river above and cut across so the current will help."
"Silvermane loves the water. He'll make this crossing easily. But he
can't carry us both, and it's impossible to make two trips. I'll have to
Without wasting more words and time over a task which would only grow
more formidable with every look and thought, Hare led Silvermane up the
sand-bar to its limit. He removed his coat and strapped it behind the
saddle; his belt and revolver and boots he hung over the pommel.
"How about Wolf? I'd forgotten him."
"Never fear for him! He'll stick close to me."
"Now, Mescal, there's the point we want to make, that bar; see it?"
"Surely we can land above that."
"I'll be satisfied if we get even there. You guide him for it. And,
Mescal, here's my gun. Try to keep it from getting wet. Balance it on
the pommel--so. Come, Silver; come, Wolf."
"Keep up-stream," called Mescal as Hare plunged in. "Don't drift below
In two steps Silvermane went in to his saddle, and he rolled with a
splash and a snort, sinking Mescal to her hips. His nose level with the
water, mane and tail floating, he swam powerfully with the current.
For Hare the water was just cold enough to be delightful after the long
hot descent, but its quality was strange. Keeping up-stream of the horse
and even with Mescal, he swam with long regular strokes for perhaps
one-quarter of the distance. But when they reached the swirling eddies
he found that he was tiring. The water was thick and heavy; it
compressed his lungs and dragged at his feet. He whirled round and round
in the eddies and saw Silvermane doing the same. Only by main force
could he breast his way out of these whirlpools. When a wave slapped his
face he tasted sand, and then he knew what the strange feeling meant.
There was sand here as on the desert. Even in the depths of the canyon
he could not escape it. As the current grew rougher he began to feel
that he could scarcely spread his arms in the wide stroke. Changing the
stroke he discovered that he could not keep up with Silvermane, and he
changed back again. Gradually his feet sank lower and lower, the water
pressed tighter round him, his arms seemed to grow useless. Then he
remembered a saying of August Naab that the Navajos did not attempt to
swim the river when it was in flood and full of sand. He ceased to
struggle, and drifting with the current, soon was close to Silvermane,
and grasped a saddle strap.
"Not there!" called Mescal. "He might strike you. Hang to his tail!"
Hare dropped behind, and catching Silvermane's tail held on firmly. The
stallion towed him easily. The waves dashed over him and lapped at
Mescal's waist. The current grew stronger, sweeping Silvermane down out
of line with the black wall which had frowned closer and closer. Mescal
lifted the rifle, and resting the stock on the saddle, held it upright.
The roar of the rapids seemed to lose its volume, and presently it died in
the splashing and slapping of broken water closer at hand. Mescal turned
to him with bright eyes; curving her hand about her lips she shouted:
"Can't make the bar! We've got to go through this side of the rapids.
In the swelling did Hare felt the resistless pull of the current. As he
held on with both hands, hard pressed to keep his grasp, Silvermane
dipped over a low fall in the river. Then Hare was riding the rushing
water of an incline. It ended below in a red-crested wave, and beyond
was a chaos of curling breakers. Hare had one glimpse of Mescal
crouching low, shoulders narrowed and head bent; then, with one white
flash of the stallion's mane against her flying black hair, she went out
of sight in leaping waves and spray. Hare was thrown forward into the
backlash of the wave. The shock blinded him, stunned him, almost tore
his arms from his body, but his hands were so twisted in Silvermane's
tail that even this could not loosen them. The current threw him from
wave to wave. He was dragged through a caldron, blind from stinging
blows, deaf from the tremendous roar. Then the fierce contention of
waves lessened, the threshing of crosscurrents straightened, and he could
breathe once more. Silvermane dragged him steadily; and, finally, his
feet touched the ground. He could scarcely see, so full were his eyes of
the sandy water, but he made out Mescal rising from the river on
Silvermane, as with loud snorts he climbed to a bar. Hare staggered up
and fell on the sand.
"Jack, are you all right?" inquired Mescal.
"All right, only pounded out of breath, and my eyes are full of sand.
How about you?"
"I don't think I ever was any wetter," replied Mescal, laughing. "It was
hard to stick on holding the rifle. That first wave almost unseated me.
I was afraid we might strike the rocks, but the water was deep.
Silvermane is grand, Jack. Wolf swam out above the rapids and was
waiting for us when we landed."
Hare wiped the sand out of his eyes and rose to his feet, finding himself
little the worse for the adventure. Mescal was wringing the water from
the long straight braids of her hair. She was smiling, and a tint of
color showed in her cheeks. The wet buckskin blouse and short skirt
clung tightly to her slender form. She made so pretty a picture and
appeared so little affected by the peril they had just passed through
that Hare, yielding to a tender rush of pride and possession, kissed the
pink cheeks till they flamed.
"All wet," said he, "you and I, clothes, food, guns--everything."
"It's hot and we'll soon dry," returned Mescal. "Here's the canyon and
creek we must follow up to Coconina. My peon mapped them in the sand for
me one day. It'll probably be a long climb."
Hare poured the water out of his boots, pulled them on, and helping
Mescal to mount Silvermane, he took the bridle over his arm and led the
way into a black-mouthed canyon, through which flowed a stream of clear
water. Wolf splashed and pattered along beside him. Beyond the marble
rock this canyon opened out to great breadth and wonderful walls. Hare
had eyes only for the gravelly bars and shallow levels of the creek;
intent on finding the easy going for his horse he strode on and on
thoughtless of time. Nor did he talk to Mescal, for the work was hard,
and he needed his breath. Splashing the water, hammering the stones,
Silvermane ever kept his nose at Hare's elbow. They climbed little
ridges, making short cuts from point to point, they threaded miles of
narrow winding creek floor, and passed under ferny cliffs and over grassy
banks and through thickets of yellow willow. As they wound along the
course of the creek, always up and up, the great walls imperceptibly
lowered their rims. The warm sun soared to the zenith. Jumble of
bowlders, stretches of white gravel ridges of sage, blocks of granite,
thickets of manzanita long yellow slopes, crumbling crags, clumps of
cedar and lines of pinon--all were passed in the persistent plodding
climb. The canon grew narrower toward its source; the creek lost its
volume; patches of snow gleamed in sheltered places. At last the
yellow-streaked walls edged out upon a grassy hollow and the great dark
pines of Coconina shadowed the snow.
"We're up," panted Hare. "What a climb! Five hours! One more day--then
Silvermane's ears shot up and Wolf barked. Two gray deer loped out of a
thicket and turned inquisitively. Reaching for his rifle Hare threw back
the lever, but the action clogged, it rasped with the sound of crunching
sand, and the cartridge could not be pressed into the chamber or ejected.
He fumbled about the breach of the gun and his brow clouded.
"Sand! Out of commission!" he exclaimed. "Mescal, I don't like that."
"Use your Colt," suggested Mescal.
The distance was too great. Hare missed, and the deer bounded away into
Hare built a fire under a sheltering pine where no snow covered the soft
mat of needles, and while Mescal dried the blankets and roasted the last
portion of meat he made a wind-break of spruce boughs. When they had
eaten, not forgetting to give Wolf a portion, Hare fed Silvermane the
last few handfuls of grain, and tied him with a long halter on the grassy
bank. The daylight failed and darkness came on apace. The old familiar
roar of the wind in the pines was disturbing; it might mean only the lull
and crash of the breaking night-gusts, and it might mean the north wind,
storm, and snow. It whooped down the hollow, scattering the few
scrub-oak leaves; it whirled the red embers of the fire away into the
dark to sputter in the snow, and blew the burning logs into a white glow.
Mescal slept in the shelter of the spruce boughs with Wolf snug and warm
beside her. Hare stretched his tired limbs in the heat of the blaze.
When he awakened the fire was low and he was numb with cold. He took
care to put on logs enough to last until morning; then he lay down once
more, but did not sleep. The dawn came with a gray shade in the forest;
it was a cloud, and it rolled over him soft, tangible, moist, and cool,
and passed away under the pines. With its vanishing the dawn lightened.
"Mescal, if we're on the spur of Coconina, it's only ten miles or so to
Silver Cup," said Hare, as he saddled Silvermane. "Mount now and we'll
go up out of the hollow and get our bearings."
While ascending the last step to the rim Hare revolved in his mind the
probabilities of marking a straight course to Silver Cup.
"Oh! Jack!" exclaimed Mescal, suddenly. "Vermillion Cliffs and home!"
"I've travelled in a circle!" replied Hare.
Mescal was enraptured at the scene. Vermillion Cliffs shone red as a
rose. The split in the wall marking the oasis defined its outlines
sharply against the sky. Miles of the Colorado River lay in sight. Hare
knew he stood on the highest point of Coconina overhanging the Grand
Canyon and the Painted Desert, thousands of feet below. He noted the
wondrous abyss sleeping in blue mist at his feet, while he gazed across
to the desert awakening in the first red rays of the rising sun.
"Mescal, your Thunder River Canyon is only one little crack in the rocks.
It is lost in this chasm," said Hare.
"It's lost, surely. I can t even see the tip of the peak that stood so
high over the valley."
Once more turning to the left Hare ran his eye over the Vermillion
Cliffs, and the strip of red sand shining under them, and so calculating
his bearings he headed due north for Silver Cup. What with the snow and
the soggy ground the first mile was hard going for Hare, and Silvermane
often sank deep. Once off the level spur of the mountain they made
better time, for the snow thinned out on the slope and gradually gave way
to the brown dry aisles of the forest. Hare mounted in front of Mescal,
and put the stallion to an easy trot; after two hours of riding they
struck a bridle-trail which Hare recognized as one leading down to the
spring. In another hour they reached the steep slope of Coconina, and
saw the familiar red wall across the valley, and caught glimpses of gray
sage patches down through the pines.
"I smell smoke," said Hare.
"The boys must be at the spring," rejoined Mescal.
"Maybe. I want to be sure who's there. We'll leave the trail and slip
down through the woods to the left. I wish we could get down on the home
side of the spring. But we can't; we've got to pass it."
With many a pause to peer through openings in the pines Hare traversed a
diagonal course down the slope, crossed the line of cedars, and reached
the edge of the valley a mile or more above Silver Cup. Then he turned
toward it, still cautiously leading Silvermane under cover of the fringe
"Mescal, there are too many cattle in the valley," he said, looking at
"They can't all be ours, that's sure," she replied. "What do you think?"
"Holderness!" With the word Hare's face grew set and stern. He kept on,
cautiously leading the horse under the cedars, careful to avoid breaking
brush or rattling stones, occasionally whispering to Wolf; and so worked
his way along the curve of the woody slope till further progress was
checked by the bulging wall of rock.
"Only cattle in the valley, no horses," he said. "I've a good chance to
cut across this cube and reach the trail. If I take time to climb up and
see who's at the spring maybe the chance will be gone. I don't believe
Dave and the boys are there."
He pondered a moment, then climbed up in front of Mescal, and directed
the gray out upon the valley. Soon he was among the grazing cattle. He
felt no surprise to see the H brand on their flanks.
"Jack, look at that brand," said Mescal, pointing to a white-flanked
steer. "There's an old brand like a cross, Father Naab's cross, and a
new brand, a single bar. Together they make an H!"
"Mescal! You've hit it. I remember that steer. He was a very devil to
brand. He's the property of August Naab, and Holderness has added the
bar, making a clumsy H. What a rustler's trick! It wouldn't deceive a
They had reached the cedars and the trail when Wolf began to sniff
suspiciously at the wind.
"Look!" whispered Mescal, calling Hare's attention from the dog. "Look!
A new corral!"
Bending back to get in line with her pointing finger Hare looked through
a network of cedar boughs to see a fence of stripped pines. Farther up
were piles of unstripped logs, and close by the spring there was a new
cabin with smoke curling from a stone chimney. Hare guided Silvermane
off the trail to softer ground and went on. He climbed the slope, passed
the old pool, now a mud-puddle, and crossed the dry wash to be brought
suddenly to a halt. Wolf had made an uneasy stand with his nose pointing
to the left, and Silvermane pricked up his ears. Presently Hare heard
the stamping of hoofs off in the cedars, and before he had fully
determined the direction from which the sound came three horses and a man
stepped from the shade into a sunlit space.
As luck would have it Hare happened to be well screened by a thick cedar;
and since there was a possibility that he might remain unseen he chose to
take it. Silvermane and Wolf stood still in their tracks. Hare felt
Mescal's hands tighten on his coat and he pressed them to reassure her.
Peeping out from his covert he saw a man in his shirt-sleeves leading the
horses--a slender, clean-faced, dark-haired man--Dene! The blood beat
hotly in Hare's temples and he gripped the handle of his Colt. It seemed
a fatal chance that sent the outlaw to that trail. He was whistling; he
had two halters in one hand and with the other he led his bay horse by
the mane. Then Hare saw that he wore no belt; he was unarmed; on the
horses were only the halters and clinking hobbles. Hare dropped his Colt
back into its holster.
Dene sauntered on, whistling "Dixie." When he reached the trail, instead
of crossing it, as Hare had hoped, he turned into it and came down.
Hare swung the switch he had broken from an aspen and struck Silvermane a
stinging blow on the flanks. The gray leaped forward. The crash of
brush and rattle of hoofs stampeded Dene's horses in a twinkling. But
the outlaw paled to a ghastly white and seemed rooted to the trail. It
was not fear of a man or a horse that held Dene fixed; in his starting
eyes was the terror of the supernatural.
The shoulder of the charging stallion struck Dene and sent him spinning
out of the trail. In a backward glance Hare saw the outlaw fall, then
rise unhurt to shake his fists wildly and to run yelling toward the
THE SWOOP OF THE HAWK
"JACK! the saddle's slipping!" cried Mescal, clinging closer to him.
"What luck!" Hare muttered through clinched teeth, and pulled hard on the
bridle. But the mouth of the stallion was iron; regardless of the sawing
bit, he galloped on. Hare called steadily: "Whoa there, Silver! Whoa--
slow now--whoa--easy!" and finally halted him. Hare swung down, and as
he lifted Mescal off, the saddle slipped to the ground.
"Lucky not to get a spill! The girth snapped. It was wet, and dried
out." Hare hurriedly began to repair the break with buckskin thongs that
he found in a saddle-bag.
"Listen! Hear the yells!" Oh! hurry!" cried Mescal.
"I've never ridden bareback. Suppose you go ahead with Silver, and I'll
hide in the cedars till dark, then walk home!"
"No--No. There's time, but hurry."
"It's got to be strong," muttered Hare, holding the strap over his knee
and pulling the laced knot with all his strength, "for we'll have to ride
some. If it comes loose--Good-bye!"
Silvermane's broad chest muscles rippled and he stamped restlessly. The
dog whined and looked back. Mescal had the blanket smooth on the gray
when Hare threw the saddle over him. The yells had ceased, but
clattering hoofs on the stony trail were a greater menace. While Hare's
brown hands worked swiftly over buckle and strap Mescal climbed to a seat
behind the saddle.
"Get into the saddle," said Hare, leaping astride and pressing forward
over the pommel. "Slip down--there! and hold to me. Go! Silver!"
The rapid pounding of the stallion's hoofs drowned the clatter coming up
the trail. A backward glance relieved Hare, for dust-clouds some few
hundred yards in the rear showed the position of the pursuing horsemen.
He held in Silvermane to a steady gallop. The trail was up-hill, and
steep enough to wind even a desert racer, if put to his limit.
"Look back!" cried Mescal. "Can you see them? Is Snap with them?"
"I can't see for trees," replied Hare, over his shoulder. "There's dust-
-we're far in the lead--never fear, Mescal. The lead's all we want."
Cedars grew thickly all the way up the steeper part of the divide, and
ended abruptly at a pathway of stone, where the ascent became gradual.
When Silvermane struck out of the grove upon this slope Hare kept turning
keen glances rearward. The dust cloud rolled to the edge of the cedars,
and out of it trooped half-a-dozen horsemen who began to shoot as soon as
they had reached the open. Bullets zipped along the red stone, cutting
little puffs of red dust, and sung through the air.
"Good God!" cried Hare. "They're firing on us! They'd shoot a woman!"
"Has it taken you so long to learn that?"
Hare slashed his steed with the switch. But Silvermane needed no goad or
spur; he had been shot at before, and the whistle of one bullet was
sufficient to stretch his gallop into a run. Then distance between him
and his pursuers grew wider and wider and soon he was out of range. The
yells of the rustlers seemed at first to come from baffled rage, but
Mescal's startled cry shoveled their meaning. Other horsemen appeared
ahead and to the right of him, tearing down the ridge to the divide.
Evidently they had been returning from the western curve of Coconina.
The direction in which Silvermane was stretching was the only possible
one for Hare. If he swerved off the trail to the left it would be upon
rough rising ground. Not only must he outride this second band to the
point where the trail went down on the other side of the divide, but also
he must get beyond it before they came within rifle range.
"Now! Silver! Go! Go!" Fast as the noble stallion was speeding he
answered to the call. He was in the open now, free of stones and brush,
with the spang of rifles in the air. The wind rushed into Hare's ears,
filling them with a hollow roar; the ground blurred by in reddish sheets.
The horsemen cut down the half mile to a quarter, lessened that, swept
closer and closer, till Hare recognized Chance and Culver, and Snap Naab
on his cream-colored pinto. Seeing that they could not head the
invincible stallion they sheered more to the right. But Silvermane
thundered on, crossing the line ahead of them at full three hundred
yards, and went over the divide, drawing them in behind dime
Then, at the sharp crack of the rifles, leaden messengers whizzed high in
the air over horse and riders, and skipped along the red shale in front
of the running dog.
"Oh--Silvermane!" cried Hare. It was just a call, as if the horse were
human, and knew what that pace meant to his master. The stern business
of the race had ceased to rest on Hare. Silvermane was out to the front!
He was like a level-rushing thunderbolt. Hare felt the instantaneous
pause between his long low leaps, the gather of mighty muscles, the
strain, the tension, then the quivering expulsion of force. It was a
perilous ride down that red slope, not so much from the hissing bullets
as from the washes and gullies which Silvermane sailed over in
magnificent leaps. Hare thrilled with savage delight in the wonderful
prowess of his desert king, in the primal instinct of joy at escaping
with the woman he loved.
"Outrun!" he cried, with blazing eyes. Mescal's white face was pressed
close to his shoulder. "Silver has beaten them. They'll hang on till we
reach the sand-strip, hoping the slow-down will let them come up in time.
But they'll be far too late."
The rustlers continued on the trail, firing desultorily, till Silvermane
so far distanced them that even the necessary lapse into a walk in the
red sand placed him beyond range when they arrived at the strip.
"They've turned back, Mescal. We're safe. Why, you look as you did the
day the bear ran for you."
"I'd rather a bear got me than Snap. Jack, did you see him?"
"See him? Rather! I'll bet he nearly killed his pinto. Mescal, what do
you think of Silvermane now? Can he run? Can he outrun Bolly?"
"Yes--yes. Oh! Jack! how I'll love him! Look back again. Are we safe?
Will we ever be safe?"
It was still daylight when they rounded the portal of the oasis and
entered the lane with the familiar wall on one side, the peeled
fence-pickets on the other. Wolf dashed on ahead, and presently a chorus
of barks announced that he had been met by the other dogs. Silvermane
neighed shrilly, and the horses and mustangs in the corrals trooped
noisily to the lower sides and hung inquisitive heads over the top bars.
A Navajo whom Hare remembered stared with axe idle by the woodpile, then
Judith Naab dropped a bundle of sticks and with a cry of gladness ran
from the house. Before Silvermane had come to a full stop Mescal was
off. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him, then she left
Judith to dart to the corral where a little black mustang had begun to
whistle and stamp and try to climb over the bars.
August Naab, bareheaded, with shaggy locks shaking at every step, strode
off the porch and his great hands lifted Hare from the saddle.
"Every day I've watched the river for you," he said. His eyes were warm
and his grasp like a vise.
"Mescal--child!" he continued, as she came running to him. "Safe and
well. He's brought you back. Thank the Lord!" He took her to his breast
and bent his gray head over her.
Then the crowd of big and little Naabs burst from the house and came
under the cottonwoods to offer noisy welcome to Mescal and Hare.
"Jack, you look done up," said Dave Naab solicitously, when the first
greetings had been spoken, and Mother Ruth had led Mescal indoors.
"Silvermane, too--he's wet and winded. He's been running?"
"Yes, a little," replied Hare, as he removed the saddle from the weary
"Ah! What's this?" questioned August Naab, with his hand on Silvermane's
flank. He touched a raw groove, and the stallion flinched. "Hare, a
bullet made that!"
"Then you didn't ride in by the Navajo crossing?"
"No. I came by Silver Cup."
"Silver Cup? How on earth did you get down there?"
"We climbed out of the canyon up over Coconina, and so made the spring."
Naab whistled in surprise and he flashed another keen glance over Hare
and his horse. "Your story can wait. I know about what it is--after you
reached Silver Cup. Come in, come in, Dave will look out for the
But Hare would allow no one else to attend to Silvermane. He rubbed the
tired gray, gave him a drink at the trough, led him to the corral, and
took leave of him with a caress like Mescal's. Then he went to his room
and bathed himself and changed his clothes, afterward presenting himself
at the supper-table to eat like one famished. Mescal and he ate alone,
as they had been too late for the regular hour. The women-folk waited
upon them as if they could not do enough. There were pleasant words and
smiles; but in spite of them something sombre attended the meal. There
was a shadow in each face, each step was slow, each voice subdued. Naab
and his sons were waiting for Hare when he entered the sitting room, and
after his entrance the door was closed. They were all quiet and stern,
especially the father. "Tell us all," said Naab, simply.
While Hare was telling his adventures not a word or a move interrupted
him till he spoke of Silvermane's running Dene down.
"That's the second time!" rolled out Naab. "The stallion will kill him
Hare finished his story.
"What don't you owe to that whirlwind of a horse!" exclaimed Dave Naab.
No other comment on Hare or Silvermane was offered by the Naabs.
"You knew Holderness had taken in Silver Cup?" inquired Hare.
August Naab nodded gloomily.
"I guess we knew it," replied Dave for him. "While I was in White Sage
and the boys were here at home, Holderness rode to the spring and took
possession. I called to see him on my way back, but he wasn't around.
Snap was there, the boss of a bunch of riders. Dene, too, was there."
"Did you go right into camp?" asked Hare.
"Sure. I was looking for Holderness. There were eighteen or twenty
riders in the bunch. I talked to several of them, Mormons, good fellows,
they used to be. Also I had some words with Dene. He said: 'I shore was
sorry Snap got to my spy first. I wanted him bad, an' I'm shore goin' to
have his white horse.' Snap and Dene, all of them, thought you were
number thirty-one in dad's cemetery."
"Not yet," said Hare. "Dene certainly looked as if he saw a ghost when
Silvermane jumped for him. Well, he's at Silver Cup now. They're all
there. What's to be done about it? They're openly thieves. The new
brand on all your stock proves that."
"Such a trick we never heard of," replied August Naab. "If we had we
might have spared ourselves the labor of branding the stock."
"But that new brand of Holderness's upon yours proves his guilt."
"It's not now a question of proof. It's one of possession. Holderness
has stolen my water and my stock."
"They are worse than rustlers; firing on Mescal and me proves that."
"Why didn't you unlimber the long rifle?" interposed Dave, curiously.
"I got it full of water and sand. That reminds me I must see about
cleaning it. I never thought of shooting back. Silvermane was running
"Jack, you can see I am in the worst fix of my life," said August Naab.
"My sons have persuaded me that I was pushed off my ranges too easily.
I've come to believe Martin Cole; certainly his prophecy has come true.
Dave brought news from White Sage, and it's almost unbelievable.
Holderness has proclaimed himself or has actually got himself elected
sheriff. He holds office over the Mormons from whom he steals. Scarcely
a day goes by in the village without a killing. The Mormons north of
Lund finally banded together, hanged some rustlers, and drove the others
out. Many of them have come down into our country, and Holderness now
has a strong force. But the Mormons will rise against him. I know it; I
see it. I am waiting for it. We are God-fearing, life-loving men, slow
to wrath. But--"
The deep rolling burr in his voice showed emotion too deep for words.
"They need a leader," replied Hare, sharply.
August Naab rose with haggard face and his eyes had the look of a man
"Dad figures this way," put in Dave. "On the one hand we lose our water
and stock without bloodshed. We have a living in the oasis. There's
little here to attract rustlers, so we may live in peace if we give up
our rights. On the other hand, suppose Dad gets the Navajos down here
and we join them and go after Holderness and his gang. There's going to
be an all-fired bloody fight. Of course we'd wipe out the rustlers, but
some of us would get killed--and there are the wives and kids. See!"
The force of August Naab's argument for peace, entirely aside from his
Christian repugnance to the shedding of blood, was plainly unassailable.
"Remember what Snap said?" asked Hare, suddenly. "One man to kill Dene!
Therefore one man to kill Holderness! That would break the power of this
"Ah! you've said it," replied Dave, raising a tense arm. "It's a one-man
job. D--n Snap! He could have done it, if he hadn't gone to the bad. But
it won't be easy. I tried to get Holderness. He was wise, and his men
politely said they had enjoyed my call, but I wasn't to come again."
"One man to kill Holderness!" repeated Hare.
August Naab cast at the speaker one of his far-seeing glances; then he
shook himself, as if to throw off the grip of something hard and
inevitable. "I'm still master here," he said, and his voice showed the
conquest of his passions.
"I give up Silver Cup and my stock. Maybe that will content Holderness."
Some days went by pleasantly for Hare, as he rested from his long
exertions. Naab's former cheer and that of his family reasserted itself
once the decision was made, and the daily life went on as usual. The
sons worked in the fields by day, and in the evening played at pitching
horseshoes on the bare circle where the children romped. The women went
on baking, sewing, and singing. August Naab's prayers were more fervent
than ever, and he even prayed for the soul of the man who had robbed him.
Mescal's cheeks soon rounded out to their old contour and her eyes shone
with a happier light than Hare had ever seen there. The races between
Silvermane and Black Bolly were renewed on the long stretch under the
wall, and Mescal forgot that she had once acknowledged the superiority of
the gray. The cottonwoods showered silken floss till the cabins and
grass were white; the birds returned to the oasis; the sun kissed warm
color into the cherries, and the distant noise of the river seemed like
the humming of a swarm of bees.
"Here, Jack," said August Naab, one morning, "get a spade and come with
me. There's a break somewhere in the ditch."
Hare went with him out along the fence by the alfalfa fields, and round
the corner of red wall toward the irrigating dam.
"Well, Jack, I suppose you'll be asking me for Mescal one of these days,"
"Yes," replied Hare.
"There's a little story to tell you about Mescal, when the day comes."
"Tell it now."
"No. Not yet. I'm glad you found her. I never knew her to be so happy,
not even when she was a child. But somehow there's a better feeling
between her and my womenfolk. The old antagonism is gone. Well, well,
life is so. I pray that things may turn out well for you and her. But I
fear--I seem to see--Hare, I'm a poor man once more. I can't do for you
what I'd like. Still we'll see, we'll hope."
Hare was perfectly happy. The old Mormon's hint did not disturb him;
even the thought of Snap Naab did not return to trouble his contentment.
The full present was sufficient for Hare, and his joy bubbled over,
bringing smiles to August's grave face. Never had a summer afternoon in
the oasis been so fair. The green fields, the red walls, the blue sky,
all seemed drenched in deeper, richer hues. The wind-song in the crags,
the river-murmur from the canyon, filled Hare's ears with music. To be
alive, to feel the sun, to see the colors, to hear the sounds, was
beautiful; and to know that Mescal awaited him, was enough.
Work on the washed-out bank of the ditch had not gone far when Naab
raised his head as if listening.
"Did you hear anything?" he asked.
"No," replied Hare.
"The roar of the river is heavy here. Maybe I was mistaken. I thought I
heard shots." Then he went on spading clay into the break, but he stopped
every moment or so, uneasily, as if he could not get rid of some
disturbing thought. Suddenly he dropped the spade and his eyes flashed.
"Judith! Judith! Here!" he called. Wheeling with a sudden premonition of
evil Hare saw the girl running along the wall toward them. Her face was
white as death; she wrung her hands and her cries rose above the sound of
the river. Naab sprang toward her and Hare ran at his heels.
"Father!-- Father!" she panted. "Come--quick--the rustlers!--the
rustlers! Snap!--Dene--Oh--hurry! They've killed Dave--they've got
Death itself shuddered through Hare's veins and then a raging flood of
fire. He bounded forward to be flung back by Naab's arm.
"Fool! Would you throw away your life? Go slowly. We'll slip through
the fields, under the trees."
Sick and cold Hare hurried by Naab's side round the wall and into the
alfalfa. There were moments when he was weak and trembling; others when
he could have leaped like a tiger to rend and kill.
They left the fields and went on more cautiously into the grove. The
screaming and wailing of women added certainty to their doubt and dread.
"I see only the women--the children--no--there's a man--Zeke," said Hare,
bending low to gaze under the branches.
"Go slow," muttered Naab.
"The rustlers rode off--after Mescal--she's gone!" panted Judith.
Hare, spurred by the possibilities in the half-crazed girl's speech, cast
caution to the winds and dashed forward into the glade. Naab's heavy
steps thudded behind him.
In the corner of the porch scared and stupefied children huddled in a
heap. George and Billy bent over Dave, who sat white-faced against the
steps. Blood oozed through the fingers pressed to his breast. Zeke was
trying to calm the women.
"My God! Dave!" cried Hare. "You're not hard hit? Don't say it!"
"Hard hit--Jack--old fellow," replied Dave, with a pale smile. His face
was white and clammy.
August Naab looked once at him and groaned, "My son! My son!"
"Dad--I got Chance and Culver--there they lie in the road--not bungled,
Hare saw the inert forms of two men lying near the gate; one rested on
his face, arm outstretched with a Colt gripped in the stiff hand; the
other lay on his back, his spurs deep in the ground, as if driven there
in his last convulsion.
August Naab and Zeke carried the injured man into the house. The women
and children followed, and Hare, with Billy and George, entered last.
"Dad--I'm shot clean through--low down," said Dave, as they laid him on a
couch. "It's just as well I--as any one--somebody had to--start this
Naab got the children and the girls out of the room. The women were
silent now, except Dave's wife, who clung to him with low moans. He
smiled upon all with a quick intent smile, then he held out a hand to
"Jack, we got--to be--good friends. Don't forget--that--when you meet--
Holderness. He shot me--from behind Chance and Culver--and after I fell-
-I killed them both--trying to get him. You--won't hang up--your gun--
Hare wrung the cold hand clasping his so feebly. "No! Dave, no!" Then he
fled from the room. For an hour he stood on the porch waiting in dumb
misery. George and Zeke came noiselessly out, followed by their father.
"It's all over, Hare." Another tragedy had passed by this man of the
desert, and left his strength unshaken, but his deadly quiet and the
gloom of his iron face were more terrible to see than any grief.
"Father, and you, Hare, come out into the road," said George.
Another motionless form lay beyond Chance and Culver. It was that of a
slight man, flat on his back, his arms wide, his long black hair in the
dust. Under the white level brow the face had been crushed into a bloody
"Dene!" burst from Hare, in a whisper.
"Killed by a horse!" exclaimed August Naab. "Ah! What horse?"
"Silvermane!" replied George.
"Who rode my horse--tell me--quick!" cried Hare, in a frenzy.
"It was Mescal. Listen. Let me tell you how it all happened. I was out
at the forge when I heard a bunch of horses coming up the lane. I wasn't
packing my gun, but I ran anyway. When I got to the house there was Dave
facing Snap, Dene, and a bunch of rustlers. I saw Chance at first, but
not Holderness. There must have been twenty men.
"'I came after Mescal, that's what,' Snap was saying.
"'You can't have her,' Dave answered.
"'We'll shore take her, an' we want Silvermane, too,' said Dene.
"'So you're a horse-thief as well as a rustler?' asked Dave.
"'Naab, I ain't in any mind to fool. Snap wants the girl, an' I want
Silvermane, an' that damned spy that come back to life.'
"Then Holderness spoke from the back of the crowd: 'Naab, you'd better
hurry, if you don't want the house burned!'
"Dave drew and Holderness fired from behind the men. Dave fell, raised
up and shot Chance and Culver, then dropped his gun.
"With that the women in the house began to scream, and Mescal ran out
saying she'd go with Snap if they'd do no more harm.
"'All right,' said Snap, 'get a horse, hurry--hurry!'
"Then Dene dismounted and went toward the corral saying, 'I shore want
"Mescal reached the gate ahead of Dene. 'Let me get Silvermane. He's
wild; he doesn't know you; he'll kick you if you go near him.' She
dropped the bars and went up to the horse. He was rearing and snorting.
She coaxed him down and then stepped up on the fence to untie him. When
she had him loose she leaped off the fence to his back, screaming as she
hit him with the halter. Silvermane snorted and jumped, and in three
jumps he was going like a bullet. Dene tried to stop him, and was
knocked twenty feet. He was raising up when the stallion ran over him.
He never moved again. Once in the lane Silvermane got going--Lord! how
he did run! Mescal hung low over his neck like an Indian. He was gone in
a cloud of dust before Snap and the rustlers knew what had happened.
Snap came to first and, yelling and waving his gun, spurred down the
lane. The rest of the rustlers galloped after him."
August Naab placed a sympathetic hand on Hare's shaking shoulder.
"You see, lad, things are never so bad as they seem at first. Snap might
as well try to catch a bird as Silvermane."
THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT
"MESCAL'S far out in front by this time. Depend on it, Hare," went on
Naab. "That trick was the cunning Indian of her. She'll ride Silvermane
into White Sage to-morrow night. Then she'll hide from Snap. The Bishop
will take care of her. She'll be safe for the present in White Sage.
Now we must bury these men. To-morrow--my son. Then--"
"What then?" Hare straightened up.
Unutterable pain darkened the flame in the Mormon's gaze. For an instant
his face worked spasmodically, only to stiffen into a stony mask. It was
the old conflict once more, the never-ending war between flesh and
spirit. And now the flesh had prevailed.
"The time has come!" said George Naab.
"Yes," replied his father, harshly.
A great calm settled over Hare; his blood ceased to race, his mind to
riot; in August Naab's momentous word he knew the old man had found
himself. At last he had learned the lesson of the desert--to strike
first and hard.
"Zeke, hitch up a team," said August Naab. "No--wait a moment. Here
comes Piute. Let's hear what he has to say."
Piute appeared on the zigzag cliff-trail, driving a burro at dangerous
"He's sighted Silvermane and the rustlers," suggested George, as the
Naab translated the excited Indian's mingling of Navajo and Piute
languages to mean just what George had said. "Snap ahead of riders--
Silvermane far, far ahead of Snap--running fast--damn!"
"Mescal's pushing him hard to make the sand-strip," said George.
"Piute--three fires to-night--Lookout Point!" This order meant the
execution of August Naab's hurry-signal for the Navajos, and after he had
given it, he waved the Indian toward the cliff, and lapsed into a silence
which no one dared to break.
Naab consigned the bodies of the rustlers to the famous cemetery under
the red wall. He laid Dene in grave thirty-one. It was the grave that
the outlaw had promised as the last resting-place of Dene's spy. Chance
and Culver he buried together. It was noteworthy that no Mormon rites
were conferred on Culver, once a Mormon in good standing, nor were any
prayers spoken over the open graves.
What did August Naab intend to do? That was the question in Hare's mind
as he left the house. It was a silent day, warm as summer, though the
sun was overcast with gray clouds; the birds were quiet in the trees;
there was no bray of burro or clarion-call of peacock, even the hum of
the river had fallen into silence. Hare wandered over the farm and down
the red lane, brooding over the issue. Naab's few words had been full of
meaning; the cold gloom so foreign to his nature, had been even more
impressive. His had been the revolt of the meek. The gentle, the
loving, the administering, the spiritual uses of his life had failed.
Hare recalled what the desert had done to his own nature, how it had bred
in him its impulse to fight, to resist, to survive. If he, a stranger of
a few years, could be moulded in the flaming furnace of its fiery life,
what then must be the cast of August Naab, born on the desert, and
sleeping five nights out of seven on the sands for sixty years?
The desert! Hare trembled as he grasped all its meaning. Then he slowly
resolved that meaning. There were the measureless distances to narrow
the eye and teach restraint; the untrodden trails, the shifting sands,
the thorny brakes, the broken lava to pierce the flesh; the heights and
depths, unscalable and unplumbed. And over all the sun, red and burning.
The parched plants of the desert fought for life, growing far apart,
sending enormous roots deep to pierce the sand and split the rock for
moisture, arming every leaf with a barbed thorn or poisoned sap, never
thriving and ever thirsting.
The creatures of the desert endured the sun and lived without water, and
were at endless war. The hawk had a keener eye than his fellow of more
fruitful lands, sharper beak, greater spread of wings, and claws of
deeper curve. For him there was little to eat, a rabbit now, a rock-rat
then; nature made his swoop like lightning and it never missed its aim.
The gaunt wolf never failed in his sure scent, in his silent hunt. The
lizard flicked an invisible tongue into the heart of a flower; and the
bee he caught stung with a poisoned sting. The battle of life went to
So the desert trained each of its wild things to survive. No eye of the
desert but burned with the flame of the sun. To kill or to escape death-
-that was the dominant motive. To fight barrenness and heat--that was
stern enough, but each creature must fight his fellow.
What then of the men who drifted into the desert and survived? They must
of necessity endure the wind and heat, the drouth and famine; they must
grow lean and hard, keen-eyed and silent. The weak, the humble, the
sacrificing must be winnowed from among them. As each man developed he
took on some aspect of the desert--Holderness had the amber clearness of
its distances in his eyes, its deceit in his soul; August Naab, the
magnificence of the desert-pine in his giant form, its strength in his
heart; Snap Naab, the cast of the hawk-beak in his face, its cruelty in
his nature. But all shared alike in the common element of survival--
ferocity. August Naab had subdued his to the promptings of a Christ-like
spirit; yet did not his very energy, his wonderful tirelessness, his will
to achieve, his power to resist, partake of that fierceness? Moreover,
after many struggles, he too had been overcome by the desert's call for
blood. His mystery was no longer a mystery. Always in those moments of
revelation which he disclaimed, he had seen himself as faithful to the
desert in the end.
Hare's slumbers that night were broken. He dreamed of a great gray horse
leaping in the sky from cloud to cloud with the lightning and the thunder
under his hoofs, the storm-winds sweeping from his silver mane. He
dreamed of Mescal's brooding eyes. They were dark gateways of the desert
open only to him, and he entered to chase the alluring stars deep into
the purple distance. He dreamed of himself waiting in serene confidence
for some unknown thing to pass. He awakened late in the morning and
found the house hushed. The day wore on in a repose unstirred by breeze
and sound, in accord with the mourning of August Naab. At noon a solemn
procession wended its slow course to the shadow of the red cliff, and as
Then a long-drawn piercing Indian whoop broke the midday hush. It
heralded the approach of the Navajos. In single-file they rode up the
lane, and when the falcon-eyed Eschtah dismounted before his white
friend, the line of his warriors still turned the corner of the red wall.
Next to the chieftain rode Scarbreast, the grim war-lord of the Navajos.
His followers trailed into the grove. Their sinewy bronze bodies, almost
naked, glistened wet from the river. Full a hundred strong were they, a
silent, lean-limbed desert troop.
"The White Prophet's fires burned bright," said the chieftain. "Eschtah
"The Navajo is a friend," replied Naab. "The white man needs counsel and
help. He has fallen upon evil days."
"Eschtah sees war in the eyes of his friend."
"War, chief, war! Let the Navajo and his warriors rest and eat. Then we
A single command from the Navajo broke the waiting files of warriors.
Mustangs were turned into the fields, packs were unstrapped from the
burros, blankets spread under the cottonwoods. When the afternoon waned
and the shade from the western wall crept into the oasis, August Naab
came from his cabin clad in buckskins, with a large blue Colt swinging
handle outward from his left hip. He ordered his sons to replenish the
fire which had been built in the circle, and when the fierce-eyed Indians
gathered round the blaze he called to his women to bring meat and drink.
Hare's unnatural calmness had prevailed until he saw Naab stride out to
front the waiting Indians. Then a ripple of cold passed over him. He
leaned against a tree in the shadow and watched the gray-faced giant
stalking to and fro before his Indian friends. A long while he strode in
the circle of light to pause at length before the chieftains and to break
the impressive silence with his deep voice.
"Eschtah sees before him a friend stung to his heart. Men of his own
color have long injured him, yet have lived. The Mormon loved his
fellows and forgave. Five sons he laid in their graves, yet his heart
was not hardened. His first-born went the trail of the fire-water and is
an outcast from his people. Many enemies has he and one is a chief. He
has killed the white man's friends, stolen his cattle, and his water.
To-day the white man laid another son in his grave. What thinks the
chief? Would he not crush the scorpion that stung him?"
The old Navajo answered in speech which, when translated, was as
stately as the Mormon's.
"Eschtah respects his friend, but he has not thought him wise. The White
Prophet sees visions of things to come, but his blood is cold. He asks
too much of the white man's God. He is a chief; he has an eye like the
lightning, an arm strong as the pine, yet he has not struck. Eschtah
grieves. He does not wish to shed blood for pleasure. But Eschtah's
friend has let too many selfish men cross his range and drink at his
springs. Only a few can live on the desert. Let him who has found the
springs and the trails keep them for his own. Let him who came too late
go away to find for himself, to prove himself a warrior, or let his bones
whiten in the sand. The Navajo counsels his white friend to kill."
"The great Eschtah speaks wise words," said Naab. "The White Prophet is
richer for them. He will lay aside the prayers to his unseeing God, and
will seek his foe."
"It is well."
"The white man's foe is strong," went on the Mormon; "he has many men,
they will fight. If Eschtah sends his braves with his friend there will
be war. Many braves will fall. The White Prophet wishes to save them if
he can. He will go forth alone to kill his foe. If the sun sets four
times and the white man is not here, then Eschtah will send his great
war-chief and his warriors. They will kill whom they find at the white
man's springs. And thereafter half of all the white man's cattle that
were stolen shall be Eschtah's, so that he watch over the water and
"Eschtah greets a chief," answered the Indian. "The White Prophet knows
he will kill his enemy, but he is not sure he will return. He is not
sure that the little braves of his foe will fly like the winds, yet he
hopes. So he holds the Navajo back to the last. Eschtah will watch the
sun set four times. If his white friend returns he will rejoice. If he
does not return the Navajo will send his warriors on the trail."
August Naab walked swiftly from the circle of light into the darkness;
his heavy steps sounded on the porch, and in the hallway. His three sons
went toward their cabins with bowed heads and silent tongues. Eschtah
folded his blanket about him and stalked off into the gloom of the grove,
followed by his warriors.
Hare remained in the shadow of the cottonwood where he had stood
unnoticed. He had not moved a muscle since he had heard August Naab's
declaration. That one word of Naab's intention, "Alone!" had arrested
him. For it had struck into his heart and mind. It had paralyzed him
with the revelation it brought; for Hare now knew as he had never known
anything before, that he would forestall August Naab, avenge the death of
Dave, and kill the rustler Holderness. Through blinding shock he passed
slowly into cold acceptance of his heritage from the desert.
The two long years of his desert training were as an open page to Hare's
unveiled eyes. The life he owed to August Naab, the strength built up by
the old man's knowledge of the healing power of plateau and range--these
lay in a long curve between the day Naab had lifted him out of the White
Sage trail and this day of the Mormon's extremity. A long curve with
Holderness's insulting blow at the beginning, his murder of a beloved
friend at the end! For Hare remembered the blow, and never would he
forget Dave's last words. Yet unforgetable as these were, it was duty
rather than revenge that called him. This was August Naab's hour of
need. Hare knew himself to be the tool of inscrutable fate; he was the
one to fight the old desert-scarred Mormon's battle. Hare recalled how
humbly he had expressed his gratitude to Naab, and the apparent
impossibility of ever repaying him, and then Naab's reply: "Lad, you can
never tell how one man may repay another." Hare could pay his own debt
and that of the many wanderers who had drifted across the sands to find a
home with the Mormon. These men stirred in their graves, and from out
the shadow of the cliff whispered the voice of Mescal's nameless father:
"Is there no one to rise up for this old hero of the desert?"
Softly Hare slipped into his room. Putting on coat and belt and catching
up his rifle he stole out again stealthily, like an Indian. In the
darkness of the wagon-shed he felt for his saddle, and finding it, he
groped with eager hands for the grain-box; raising the lid he filled a
measure with grain, and emptied it into his saddle-bag. Then lifting the
saddle he carried it out of the yard, through the gate and across the
lane to the corrals. The wilder mustangs in the far corral began to kick
and snort, and those in the corral where Black Bolly was kept trooped
noisily to the bars. Bolly whinnied and thrust her black muzzle over the
fence. Hare placed a caressing hand on her while he waited listening and
watching. It was not unusual for the mustangs to get restless at any
time, and Hare was confident that this would pass without investigation.
Gradually the restless stampings and suspicious snortings ceased, and
Hare, letting down the bars, led Bolly out into the lane. It was the
work of a moment to saddle her; his bridle hung where he always kept it,
on the pommel, and with nimble fingers he shortened the several straps to
fit Bolly's head, and slipped the bit between her teeth. Then he put up
the bars of the gate.
Before mounting he stood a moment thinking coolly, deliberately numbering
the several necessities he must not forget--grain for Bolly, food for
himself, his Colt and Winchester, cartridges, canteen, matches, knife.
He inserted a hand into one of his saddle-bags expecting to find some
strips of meat. The bag was empty. He felt in the other one, and under
the grain he found what he sought. The canteen lay in the coil of his
lasso tied to the saddle, and its heavy canvas covering was damp to his
touch. With that he thrust the long Winchester into its saddle-sheath,
and swung his leg over the mustang.
The house of the Naabs was dark and still. The dying council-fire cast
flickering shadows under the black cottonwoods where the Navajos slept.
The faint breeze that rustled the leaves brought the low sullen roar of
Hare guided Bolly into the thick dust of the lane, laid the bridle
loosely on her neck for her to choose the trail, and silently rode out
into the lonely desert night.
HARE, listening breathlessly, rode on toward the gateway of the cliffs,
and when he had passed the corner of the wall he sighed in relief.
Spurring Bolly into a trot he rode forward with a strange elation. He
had slipped out of the oasis unheard, and it would be morning before
August Naab discovered his absence, perhaps longer before he divined his
purpose. Then Hare would have a long start. He thrilled with something
akin to fear when he pictured the old man's rage, and wondered what
change it would make in his plans. Hare saw in mind Naab and his sons,
and the Navajos sweeping in pursuit to save him from the rustlers.
But the future must take care of itself, and he addressed all the
faculties at his command to cool consideration of the present. The strip
of sand under the Blue Star had to be crossed at night--a feat which even
the Navajos did not have to their credit. Yet Hare had no shrinking; he
had no doubt; he must go on. As he had been drawn to the Painted Desert
by a voiceless call, so now he was urged forward by something nameless.
In the blackness of the night it seemed as if he were riding through a
vaulted hall swept by a current of air. The night had turned cold, the
stars had brightened icily, the rumble of the river had died away when
Bolly's ringing trot suddenly changed to a noiseless floundering walk.
She had come upon the sand. Hare saw the Blue Star in the cliff, and
once more loosed the rein on Bolly's neck. She stopped and champed her
bit, and turned her black head to him as if to intimate that she wanted
the guidance of a sure arm. But as it was not forthcoming she stepped
onward into the yielding sand.
With hands resting idly on the pommel Hare sat at ease in the saddle.
The billowy dunes reflected the pale starlight and fell away from him to
darken in obscurity. So long as the Blue Star remained in sight he kept
his sense of direction; when it had disappeared he felt himself lost.
Bolly's course seemed as crooked as the jagged outline of the cliffs.
She climbed straight up little knolls, descended them at an angle, turned
sharply at wind-washed gullies, made winding detours, zigzagged levels
that shone like a polished floor; and at last (so it seemed to Hare) she
doubled back on her trail. The black cliff receded over the waves of
sand; the stars changed positions, travelled round in the blue dome, and
the few that he knew finally sank below the horizon. Bolly never lagged;
she was like the homeward - bound horse, indifferent to direction because
sure of it, eager to finish the journey because now it was short. Hare
was glad though not surprised when she snorted and cracked her iron-shod
hoof on a stone at the edge of the sand. He smiled with tightening lips
as he rode into the shadow of a rock which he recognized. Bolly had
crossed the treacherous belt of dunes and washes and had struck the trail
on the other side.