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The Rim of the Desert by Ada Woodruff Anderson

Part 7 out of 7

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Foster's lips trembled a little. "You've made a mistake," he said
unsteadily. Then: "Why don't you take it to her yourself, Hollis?" he

Tisdale was silent. He turned back to the window, and after an interval,
Foster went over and stood beside him, looking down on the harbor lights.
His arm went up around Tisdale's shoulder as he said: "If Weatherbee could
know everything now; if he had loved her, put her first always, as you
believe, do you think he would be any happier to see her punished like

Still Tisdale was silent. Then Foster's arm fell, and he said desperately:
"Can't you see, Hollis? Weatherbee was greater than either of us, I grant
that. But the one thing in the world you are so sure he most desired--the
lack of which wrecked his life--the one thing I have tried for the hardest
and missed--has fallen to you. Go and ask her to sail to Alaska with you.
You'll need her up there to carry the honors for you. You prize her, you
love her,--you know you do."



The statue was great. So Tisdale told Lucky Banks, that day the prospector
met him at the station and they motored around through the park. The
sculptor himself had said he must send people to Weatherbee when they
wanted to see his best work. It was plain his subject had dominated him.
He had achieved with the freedom of pose the suggestion of decision and
power that had been characteristic of David Weatherbee. Quick intelligence
spoke in the face, yet the eyes held their expression of seeing a far
horizon. To Hollis, coming suddenly, as he did, upon the bronze figure in
the Wenatchee sunshine, it seemed to warm with a latent consciousness. He
felt poignantly a sense of David's personality, as he had known him at the
crowning period of his life.

"It suits me," responded Banks. "My, yes, it's about as good a likeness as
we can get of Dave." He put on his hat, which involuntarily he had
removed, and started the car on around the curve. "But it's a mighty lot
like you. It crops out most in the eyes, seeing things off somewheres,
clear out of sight, and the way you carry your size. You was a team."

"I am sorry I missed those services," said Tisdale. "I meant to be here."

Banks nodded. "But it all went off fine. She agreed with me it was the
best place. If I was to go back to Alaska, and she was off somewheres on a
trip, it would be sure to get taken care of here in the park; and,
afterwards, when neither of us can come around to keep things in shape any
more. And I told her how the ranchers up and down the valley would get to
feeling acquainted and friendly with Dave, seeing his statue when they was
in town; and how the fruit-buyers and the pickers, and maybe the tourists,
coming and going, would remember about him and tell everybody they knew;
and how the school children would ask questions about the statue, thinking
he was in the same class with Lincoln and Washington, and be always
telling how he was the first man that looked ahead and saw what water in
this valley could do."

"You were right, Johnny. The memory of him will live and grow with this
town when the rest of us are forgotten."

They had turned from the park and went speeding up between the rows of new
poplars along the Alameda, and the prospector's eyes moved over the
reclaimed vale, where acres on acres of young fruit trees in cultivated
squares crowded out the insistent sage. "And this town for a fact is bound
to grow," he said.

Then at last, when Cerberus loomed near, and they entered the gap, the
little man's big heart rose and his bleak face glowed, under Tisdale's
expressions of wonder and approbation at the advance the vineyards and
orchards had made, so soon after the consummation of the project. Fillers
of alfalfa stretched along the spillways from the main canal like a green
carpet; strawberry plants were blossoming; grapes reached out pale
tendrils and many leaves. But, at the top of the pocket, where the road
began to lift gently in a double curve across the front of the bench,
Hollis dismissed Banks and his red car and walked the rest of the way. On
the rim of the level, near the solitary pine tree, he stopped to look down
on the transformed vale, and suddenly, once more he seemed to feel David's
presence. It was as though he stood beside him and saw all this awakening,
this responding of the desert to his project. Almost it compensated--for
those four days.

Almost! Tisdale drew his hand across his eyes and turned to follow the
drive between the rows of nodding narcissus. The irony of it! That
Weatherbee should have lived to find the Aurora; that, with many times the
needed capital in sight, he should have lost. The perfume of the flowers
filled the warm atmosphere; the music of running water was everywhere. As
he left the side of the flume, the silver note of the fountain came to him
from the patio, then, like a mirage between him and the low Spanish
building, rose that miniature house he had found in the Alaska wilderness,
with the small snow figure before it, holding a bundle in her arms.

The vision passed. But that image with the bundle was the one unfinished
problem in the project he had come to solve.

He entered the court and saw on his right an open door and, across the
wide room, Beatriz Weatherbee. She was seated at a quaint secretary on
which were several bundles of papers, and the familiar box that had
contained David's letters and watch. At the moment Tisdale discovered her,
she was absorbed in a photograph she held in her hands, but at the sound
of his step in the patio she turned and rose to meet him. Her face was
radiant, yet she looked at him through arrested tears.

"I am sorry if I startled you," he said conventionally. "Banks brought me
from the station, but he left me to walk up the bench."

"I should have seen the red car down the gap had I been at the window,"
she replied, "but I was busy putting away papers. Freight has been moving
slowly over the Great Northern, and my secretary arrived only to-day. It
bore the trip very well, considering its age. It belonged to my
great-grandfather, Don Silva Gonzales. He brought it from Spain, but
Elizabeth says it might have been made for this room. She is walking
somewhere in the direction of the spring."

While she spoke, she touched her cheeks and eyes swiftly with her
handkerchief and led the way to some chairs between the secretary and the
great window that overlooked the vale. Tisdale did not look at her
directly; he wished to give her time to cover the emotion he had

"I should say the room was built for Don Silva's desk," he amended. "And--
do you know?--this view reminds me of a little picture of Granada, a
water-color of my mother's, that hung in my room when I was a boy. But
this pocket has changed some since we first saw it; your dragon's teeth
are drawn."

"Isn't it marvelous how the expression of the whole mountain has altered?"
she responded. "There, at the end of the pines, that looked like a
bristling mane, the green gables of Mrs. Banks' home have changed the
contour. And the Chelan peaks are showing now beyond it. That day the
farther ones were obscured. But we watched the rain tramp up Hesperides
Vale, you remember, and swing off unexpectedly to the near summits. There
was a rainbow, and I said that perhaps somewhere in this valley I should
find my pot of gold."

"I remember. And I shouldn't be surprised if you do."

"Do you think I do not know I have already?" she asked. "Do you think I
have no appreciation, no gratitude? Why, even had I been too dull to see
it, Elizabeth would have told me that this house alone, to say nothing of
the project, must have cost a good deal of money; and that, no matter how
deeply Mr. Banks may have felt his obligation to David, it was not in
reason he should have allowed everything to revert to me. But I told him I
should consider the investment as a loan, and now, since he has let me
know the truth"--her voice fluctuated softly--"I shall make it a debt of
honor just the same. Sometime--I shall repay you."

It was very clear to Tisdale that though she saw the property had so
greatly increased in value, and that the reclamation movement in the outer
vale made the tract readily salable, she no longer considered placing it
on the market. "I thought Banks showed you a way easily to cancel that
loan," he began. But meeting her look, he paused; his glance returned to
the window while he felt in his pocket for that deed Foster had refused to
bring. It was going to be more difficult than he had foreseen to offer it
to her. "Madam," and compelling his eyes to brave hers, he slightly
frowned, "your share in the Aurora mine should pay you enough in dividends
the next season or two to refund all that has been expended on this

"My share in the Aurora mine?" she repeated. "But I see, I see. You have
been maligned into giving me the interest David conveyed to you. Oh, Mr.
Banks told me about that. How you were attacked at the trial; the use that
was made of that Indian story in the magazine; that monstrous editorial

Tisdale smiled. "That had nothing to do with it. This deed was drawn last
year as soon as I reached Washington. David knew the value of the Aurora.
That is the reason he risked another winter there, in the face of--all--
that threatened him. And when he felt the fight was going against him, he
turned his interest over to me, not only as security on the small loan I
advanced to him, but because I was his partner, and he could trust me to
finish, his development work and put the mine on a paying basis. That is
accomplished. There is no reason now that I should not transfer his share
back to you."

He rose to give her the deed, and she took it with reluctance and glanced
it over. "I think it is arranged about as David would have wished," he
added. "He had confidence in Foster."

She looked up. "Mr. Foster knows how I regard the matter. I told him I
would not accept an interest in the Aurora mine. I said all the gold in
Alaska could not compensate you for--what you did. Besides, I do not
believe as you do, Mr. Tisdale. I think David meant his share should be
finally yours."

Hollis was silent. He stood looking off again over Cerberus to the loftier
Chelan peaks. For a moment she sat regarding his broad back; her lip
trembled a little, and a tenderness, welling from depths of compassion,
brimmed her eyes. "You see I cannot possibly accept it," she said, and
rose to return the deed to him.

She had forgotten the photograph, which dropped from her lap, and Tisdale
stooped to pick it up. It was lying face upward on the floor, and he saw
it was the picture of a child; then involuntarily he stopped to scan it,
and it came over him this small face, so beautifully molded, so full of
intelligence and charm, was a reproduction of Weatherbee in miniature; yet
retouched by a blend of the mother; her eyes under David's level brows. He
put the picture in her hand and an unspoken question flashed in the look
that met hers.

Since he had not relieved her of the deed, she laid it down on the
secretary to take the photograph.

"This is a picture of little Silva," she said. "It would have made a
difference about the share in the Aurora if he had lived. He must have
been provided for. David would have seen to that."

"There was a child!" His voice rang softly like a vibrant string. "You
spoke of him that night you were lost above Scenic Springs, but I thought
it was a fancy of delirium. It seemed incredible that David should not
have told me if he had a son."

She did not answer directly, but nodded a little and moved back to her

"He was christened Silva Falconer, for my mother's father and mine," she
said. "They both were greatly disappointed in not having a son. I am going
to tell you about him, only it will be a long story; please be seated. And
it would be easier if you would not look at me."

She waited while he settled again in his chair and turned his eyes to the
blue mountain tops. She was still able to see his face. "Silva was over
six months old when this photograph was taken," she began. "It was lost,
with the letter to David that enclosed it, on some terrible Alaska trail.
Afterwards, when the mailbag was recovered and the letter was returned to
me through the dead-letter office, two years had passed, and our little
boy was--gone. You must understand I expected David back that first
winter, and when word came that his expedition to the interior had failed,
and he had arranged to stay in the north in order to make an early start
in the following spring, I did not want to spoil his plans. So I answered
as gayly as I could and told him it would give me an opportunity to make a
long visit home to California. I went far south to Jacinta and Carlos.
They were caretakers at the old hacienda. My mother had managed that, with
the people who bought the rancheria and built the hotel and sanitarium.
Jacinta had been her nurse and mine. She was very experienced. But Silva
was born lame. He could not use his lower limbs. A great specialist, who
came to the hotel, said he might possibly recover under treatment, but if
he should not in a year or two, certain cords must be cut to allow him to
sit in a wheel chair, and in that case I must give up hope he would ever
walk. But--the treatment was very painful--Jacinta could not bear to--
torture him; I could not afford a trained nurse; so--I did everything. He
was the dearest baby; so lovable. He never was cross, but he used to
nestle his cheek in my neck and explain how it hurt and coax me not to.
Not in words, but I understood--every sound. And he understood me, I know.
'You are going to blame me, by and by, if I stop,' I would say, over and
over; 'you are going to blame me for bringing you into the world.'"

Her voice broke; her breast labored with short, quick breaths, as though
she were climbing some sharp ascent. Tisdale did not look at her; his face
stirred and settled in grim lines.

"I could not write all this about our baby," she went on, "and I told
myself if the treatment failed it would be soon enough for David to know
of Silva when he came home. There was nothing he could do, and to share my
anxiety might hamper him in his work. He wrote glowingly of the new placer
he had discovered, and that was a relief to me, for I was obliged to ask
him to send me a good deal of money,--the specialist's account had been so
large. I believed he would start south when the Alaska season closed, for
he had written I might expect him then, with his pockets full of gold
dust, and I made my letters entertaining--or tried to--so he need not feel
any need to hurry. At last, one morning in the bath, when Silva was five
months old, he moved his right limb voluntarily. I shall never forget. It
renewed my courage and my faith. At the end of another month he moved the
left one, and after that, gradually, full use came to them both. It was
then, when the paralysis was mastered, I sent the letter that was lost. At
the same time David wrote that he must spend a second winter in Alaska.
But before that news reached me, my reaction set in. I was so ill I was
carried, unconscious, to the sanitarium. And, while I was there, Silva,
who had grown so sturdy and was creeping everywhere, followed his kitten
into the garden, and a little later old Jacinta found him in the arroyo.
There was only a little water running but--he had fallen--face down."

Tisdale rose. Meeting her look, the emotion that was the surface stir of
shaken depths swept his face. Then, as though to blot out the
recollection, she pressed her fingers to her eyes.

"And David was thousands of miles away," he said. "You braved that alone,
like the soldier you are."

"When I read David's letter," she went on, "he was winter-bound in the
interior. A reply could not have reached him until spring. And meantime
Elizabeth Morganstein came with her mother to the hotel. We had been,
friends at boarding-school, and she persuaded me to go north to Seattle
with them. Later, after the _Aquila_ was launched in the spring, I was
invited to join the family on a cruise up the inside passage and across
the top of the Pacific to Prince William Sound. It seemed so much easier
to tell David everything than to write, so--I only let him know I intended
to sail to Valdez with friends and would go on by mail steamer to Seward
to visit him. That had been his last post-office address, and I believed
he expected to be in that neighborhood when the season opened. But our
stay was lengthened at Juneau, where we were entertained by acquaintances
of Mrs. Feversham's, and we spent a long time around Taku glacier and the
Muir. I missed my steamer connections, and there was not another boat due
within a week. But the weather was delightful, and Mr. Morganstein
suggested taking me on in the yacht. Then Mrs. Feversham proposed a side
trip along Columbia glacier and into College fiord. It was all very
wonderful to me, and inspiring; the salt air had been a restorative from
the start. And I saw no reason to hurry the party. David would understand.
So, the second mail steamer passed us, and finally, when we reached
Seward, David had gone back to the interior. The rest--you know."

"You mean," said Tisdale slowly, "you heard about Mrs. Barbour."

She bowed affirmatively. The color swept in a wave to her face; her lashes

"Mrs. Feversham heard about it, how David had brought her down from the
interior. I saw the cabin he had furnished for her, and she herself,
sewing at the window. Her face was beautiful."

There was a silence, then Hollis said: "So you came back on the _Aquila_
to Seattle. But you wrote; you explained about the child?"

She shook her head. "I waited to hear from David first. I did not know,
then, that the letter with Silva's picture was lost."

Tisdale squared his shoulders, looking off again to the snow-peaks above

"Consider!" She rose with an outward movement of her hands, like one
groping in the dark for a closed door. "It was a terrible mistake, but I
did not know David as you knew him. My father, who was dying, arranged our
marriage. I was very young and practically without money in a big city;
there was not another relative in the world who cared what became of me.
And, in any case, even had I known the meaning of love and marriage, in
that hour,--when I was losing him,--I must have agreed to anything he
asked. We had been everything to each other; everything. But I've been a
proud woman; sensitive to slight. It was in the blood--both sides. And I
had been taught early to cover my feelings. My father had adored my
mother; he used to remind me she was patrician to the finger-tips, and
that I should not wear my heart on my sleeve if I wished to be like her.
And, when I visited my grandfather, Don Silva, in the south, he would say:
'Beatriz, remember the blood of generations of soldiers is bottled in you;
carry yourself like the last Gonzales, with some fortitude.' So--at
Seward--I remembered."

Her voice, while she said this, almost failed, but every word reached
Tisdale. He felt, without seeing, the something that was appeal yet not
appeal, that keyed her whole body and shone like a changing light and
shade in her face. "I told myself I would not be sacrificed, effaced," she
went on. "It was my individuality against Fate. Since little Silva was
dead, my life was my own to shape as I might. I did not hear from David
for a long time; he wrote less and less frequently, more briefly every
year. He never spoke of the baby, and I believed he must have heard
through some friend in California of Silva's death. Nothing was left to
tell. He never spoke of his home-coming, and I did not; I dreaded it too
much. Whenever the last steamers of the season were due, I nerved myself
to look the passenger lists over; and when his name was missing, it was a
reprieve. Neither my father nor my grandfather had believed in divorce; in
their eyes it was disgrace. It seemed right, for Silva's sake, out of the
rich placers David continued to find, he should contribute to my support.
So--I lived my life--the best I was able. I had many interests, and always
one morning of each week I spent among the children at the hospital where
I had endowed the Silva Weatherbee bed."

She paused so long that Tisdale turned. She seemed very tired. The patient
lines, fine as a thread, deepened perceptibly at the corners of her mouth.
He hurried to save her further explanation. "Foster told me," he said. "It
was a beautiful memorial. Sometime I should like to go there with you. I
know you met the first expense of that endowment with a loan from Miss
Morganstein, which of course you expected to cancel soon, when you had
found David at Seward. I understand how, when the note came into her
brother's hands, your only chance to meet it at once was through a sale of
this land. And I have thought since I knew this, that evening aboard the
_Aquila_, when you risked Don Silva's ruby, it was to make the yearly
payment at the hospital."

"Yes, it was. But the option money from Mr. Banks made it possible to meet
all my debts. I did not know they were only assumed--by you. Though,
looking back, I wonder I failed to see the truth."

With this she turned and took up the photograph which she had laid on the
secretary, and while her glance rested on the picture, Tisdale's regarded
her face. "So," he said then, "when the lost letter came back to you, you
kept it; Weatherbee never knew."

She looked up. "Yes, I kept it. By that time I believed little Silva's
coming and going could make little difference to him."

"And you went on believing all you had heard at Seward?"

She bowed again affirmatively. "Until you told me the true story about
Mrs. Barbour that night on the mountain road. I know now that once he must
have loved me, as you believed. This house, which is built so nearly like
the old hacienda where I was born, must have been planned for me. But,
afterwards, when he thought I had failed him, when he contrasted me with
Mrs. Barbour, her devotion to her husband, it was different."

She laid the photograph down again to draw the tin box forward. The
letters were on the desk with David's watch, but there still remained a
calf-bound notebook, such as surveyors use in field work. It fitted snugly
enough for a false bottom, and she was obliged to reverse the box to
remove it, prying slightly with a paper-knife. Tisdale's name was lettered
across the cover, and the first pages were written in his clear, fine
draughtsman's hand; then the characters changed to Weatherbee's. She
turned to the last ones.

"This is a book you left among some old magazines at David's camp," she
explained. "He carried it with him until he discovered the Aurora. He
began to use it as a sort of diary. Sometime you will want to read it all,
but please read these last notes and this letter now."

She waited a moment, then as he took up the letter and began to unfold it,
she turned and went out into the patio.

The letter was from Lilias Barbour. It was friendly, earnest, full of her
child and a gentle solicitude for Weatherbee. Hollis read it through
twice, slowly. The last paragraph he went over a third time. "You are
staying too long in that bleak country,"--so it ran. "Come back to the
States, at least for a winter. If you do not, in the spring, Bee and I are
going to Alaska to learn the reason. We owe it to you."

The date was the end of August, of the same year David had written that
final letter which reached him the following spring at Nome. But the date
on the open page of the notebook was the fifteenth of January of that
winter, his last at the Aurora mine.

"Last night I dreamed of Beatriz," it began. "I thought I went down to
Seward to meet her, and when the steamer came, I saw her standing on the
forward deck, waving her hand gaily and smiling just as she did that day I
left her at Seattle so long ago. Then, as the ship came alongside the
dock, and she walked down the gangway, and I took her hand to kiss her,
her face suddenly changed. She was not Beatriz; she was Lilias. My God, if
it had been Lilias! Why, she would be here now, she and little Bee,
filling this frozen cabin with summer."

The final date was two months later.

"Still snowing," it ran. "Snowing. God, how I want to break away from this
hole. Get out somewhere, where men are alive and doing things. Nothing is
moving here but the snow and those two black buttes out there. They keep
crowding closer through the smother, watching everything I do. I've warned
them to keep back. They must, or I'll blow them off the face of the earth.
Oh, I'll do it, if it takes all that's left of the dynamite. I won't have
them threatening Lilias when she comes. She is coming; she said she would,
unless I went out to the States. And I can't go; I haven't heard from
Tisdale. I never have told her about those buttes. It's unusual; she might
not believe it; she would worry and think, perhaps, I am growing like
Barbour. God! Suppose I am. Suppose she should come up here in this
wilderness to find me a wreck like him. She must not come. I've got to
prevent it. But I've offered my half interest in the Aurora to Tisdale. He
will take it. He never failed me yet."

Tisdale closed the book and laid it down. Furrows seamed his face,
changing, re-forming, to the inner upheaval. After awhile, he lifted
Weatherbee's watch from the desk and mechanically pressed the spring. The
lower case opened, but the picture he remembered was not there. In its
place was the face of the other child, his namesake, "Bee."

Out in the patio the pool rippled ceaselessly; the fountain threw its
silver ribbon of spray, and Beatriz waited, listening, with her eyes
turned to the room she had left. At last she heard his step. It was the
tread of a man whose decision was made. She sank down on the curb of the
basin near one of the palms. Behind her an open door, creaking in the
light wind, swung wide, and beyond it the upper flume stretched back to
the natural reservoir where she had been imprisoned by the fallen pine
tree. His glance, as he crossed the court, moved from her through this
door and back to her face.

"You were right," he said. "But it would have been different if David had
known about his child. His great heart was starved."

She was silent. Her glance fell to the fountain. A ray of sunshine
slanting across it formed a rainbow.

"But my mistake was greater than yours," he went on, and his voice struck
its minor chord; "I have no excuse for throwing away those four days. I
never can repair that, but I pledge myself to make you forget my injustice
to you."

At this she rose. "You were not unjust--knowing David as you did. You
taught me how fine, how great he was. Silva--would have been proud of his

There was another silence. Tisdale looked off again through the open door
to the distant basin, and her glance returned to the fountain. "See!" she
exclaimed. "A double rainbow!"

"Fate is with us again," he replied. "She's promising a better fight. But
there is one debt more, soldier," and, catching her swift look, he saw the
sparkles break softly in her eyes. "My ship sails for Alaska the tenth; I
shall stay indefinitely, and I want you to pay me--in full--before I go."


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