The Man of the Desert
BY GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL
AUTHOR OF MARCIA SCHUYLER, PHOEBE DEANE, DAWN OF THE MORNING, LO, MICHAEL, ETC.
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1914, by FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 125 North Wabash Ave. Toronto: 25 Richmond Street, W. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street
I. PROSPECTING 9
II. THE MAN 24
III. THE DESERT 43
IV. THE QUEST 64
V. THE TRAIL 86
VI. CAMP 101
VII. REVELATION 116
VIII. RENUNCIATION 130
IX. "FOR REMEMBRANCE" 148
X. HIS MOTHER 162
XI. REFUGE 180
XII. QUALIFYING FOR SERVICE 197
XIII. THE CALL OF THE DESERT 218
XIV. HOME 232
XV. THE WAY OF THE CROSS 253
XVI. THE LETTER 267
XVII. DEDICATION 284
It was morning, high and clear as Arizona counts weather, and around the little railroad station were gathered a crowd of curious onlookers; seven Indians, three women from nearby shacks—drawn thither by the sight of the great private car that the night express had left on a side track—the usual number of loungers, a swarm of children, besides the station agent who had come out to watch proceedings.
All the morning the private car had been an object of deep interest to those who lived within sight, and that was everybody on the plateau; and many and various had been the errands and excuses to go to the station that perchance the occupants of that car might be seen, or a glimpse of the interior of the moving palace; but the silken curtains had remained drawn until after nine o'clock.
Within the last half hour, however, a change had taken place in the silent inscrutable car. The curtains had parted here and there, revealing dim flitting faces, a table spread with a snowy cloth and flowers in a vase, wild flowers they were, too, like those that grew all along the track, just weeds. Strange that one who could afford a private car cared for weeds in a glass on their dining-table, but then perhaps they didn't know.
A fat cook with ebony skin and white linen attire had appeared on the rear platform beating eggs, and half whistling, half singing:
"Be my little baby Bumble-bee— Buzz around, buzz around——"
He seemed in no wise affected or embarrassed by the natives who gradually encircled the end of the car, and the audience grew.
They could dimly see the table where the inmates of the car were—dining?—it couldn't be breakfast at that hour surely. They heard the discussion about horses going on amid laughter and merry conversation, and they gathered that the car was to remain here for the day at least while some of the party went off on a horseback trip. It was nothing very unusual of course. Such things occasionally occurred in that region, but not often enough to lose their interest. Besides, to watch the tourists who chanced to stop in their tiny settlement was the only way for them to learn the fashions.
Not that all the watchers stood and stared around the car. No, indeed. They made their headquarters around the station platform from whence they took brief and comprehensive excursions down to the freight station and back, going always on one side of the car and returning by way of the other. Even the station agent felt the importance of the occasion, and stood around with all the self-consciousness of an usher at a grand wedding, considering himself master of ceremonies.
"Sure! They come from the East last night. Limited dropped 'em! Going down to prospect some mine, I reckon. They ordered horses an' a outfit, and Shag Bunce is goin' with 'em. He got a letter 'bout a week ago tellin' what they wanted of him. Yes, I knowed all about it. He brung the letter to me to cipher out fer him. You know Shag ain't no great at readin' ef he is the best judge of a mine anywheres about."
Thus the station agent explained in low thrilling tones; and even the Indians watched and grunted their interest.
At eleven o'clock the horses arrived, four besides Shag's, and the rest of the outfit. The onlookers regarded Shag with the mournful interest due to the undertaker at a funeral. Shag felt it and acted accordingly. He gave short, gruff orders to his men; called attention to straps and buckles that every one knew were in as perfect order as they could be; criticized the horses and his men; and every one, even the horses, bore it with perfect composure. They were all showing off and felt the importance of the moment.
Presently the car door opened and Mr. Radcliffe came out on the platform accompanied by his son—a handsome reckless looking fellow—his daughter Hazel, and Mr. Hamar, a thick-set, heavy-featured man with dark hair, jaunty black moustache and handsome black eyes. In the background stood an erect elderly woman in tailor-made attire and with a severe expression, Mr. Radcliffe's elder sister who was taking the trip with them expecting to remain in California with her son; and behind her hovered Hazel's maid. These two were not to be of the riding party, it appeared.
There was a pleasant stir while the horses were brought forward and the riders were mounting. The spectators remained breathlessly unconscious of anything save the scene being enacted before them. Their eyes lingered with special interest on the girl of the party.
Miss Radcliffe was small and graceful, with a head set on her pretty shoulders like a flower on its stem. Moreover she was fair, so fair that she almost dazzled the eyes of the men and women accustomed to brown cheeks kissed by the sun and wind of the plain. There was a wild-rose pink in her cheeks to enhance the whiteness, which made it but the more dazzling. She had masses of golden hair wreathed round her dainty head in a bewilderment of waves and braids. She had great dark eyes of blue set off by long curling lashes, and delicately pencilled dark brows which gave the eyes a pansy softness and made you feel when she looked at you that she meant a great deal more by the look than you had at first suspected. They were wonderful, beautiful eyes, and the little company of idlers at the station were promptly bewitched by them. Moreover there was a fantastic little dimple in her right cheek that flashed into view at the same time with the gleam of pearly teeth when she smiled. She certainly was a picture. The station looked its fill and rejoiced in her young beauty.
She was garbed in a dark green riding habit, the same that she wore when she rode attended by her groom in Central Park. It made a sensation among the onlookers, as did the little riding cap of dark green velvet and the pretty riding gloves. She sat her pony well, daintily, as though she had alighted briefly, but to their eyes strangely, and not as the women out there rode. On the whole the station saw little else but the girl; all the others were mere accessories to the picture.
They noticed indeed that the young man, whose close cropped golden curls, and dark lashed blue eyes were so like the girl's that he could be none other than her brother, rode beside the older man who was presumably the father; and that the dark, handsome stranger rode away beside the girl. Not a man of them but resented it. Not a woman of them but regretted it.
Then Shag Bunce, with a parting word to his small but complete outfit that rode behind, put spurs to his horse, lifted his sombrero in homage to the lady, and shot to the front of the line, his shaggy mane by which came his name floating over his shoulders. Out into the sunshine of a perfect day the riders went, and the group around the platform stood silently and watched until they were a speck in the distance blurring with the sunny plain and occasional ash and cottonwood trees.
"I seen the missionary go by early this mornin'," speculated the station agent meditatively, deliberately, as though he only had a right to break the silence. "I wonder whar he could 'a' bin goin'. He passed on t'other side the track er I'd 'a' ast 'im. He 'peared in a turrible hurry. Anybody sick over towards the canyon way?"
"Buck's papoose heap sick!" muttered an immobile Indian, and shuffled off the platform with a stolid face. The women heaved a sigh of disappointment and turned to go. The show was out and they must return to the monotony of their lives. They wondered what it would be like to ride off like that into the sunshine with cheeks like roses and eyes that saw nothing but pleasure ahead. What would a life like that be? Awed, speculative, they went back to their sturdy children and their ill-kempt houses, to sit in the sun on the door-steps and muse a while.
Into the sunshine rode Hazel Radcliffe well content with the world, herself, and her escort.
Milton Hamar was good company. He was keen of wit and a past-master in the delicate art of flattery. That he was fabulously wealthy and popular in New York society; that he was her father's friend both socially and financially, and had been much of late in their home on account of some vast mining enterprise in which both were interested; and that his wife was said to be uncongenial and always interested in other men rather than her husband, were all facts that combined to give Hazel a pleasant, half-romantic interest in the man by her side. She had been conscious of a sense of satisfaction and pleasant anticipation when her father told her that he was to be of their party. His wit and gallantry would make up for the necessity of having her Aunt Maria along. Aunt Maria was always a damper to anything she came near. She was the personification of propriety. She had tried to make Hazel think she must remain in the car and rest that day instead of going off on a wild goose chase after a mine. No lady did such things, she told her niece.
Hazel's laugh rang out like the notes of a bird as the two rode slowly down the trail, not hurrying, for there was plenty of time. They could meet the others on their way back if they did not get to the mine so soon, and the morning was lovely.
Milton Hamar could appreciate the beauties of nature now and then. He called attention to the line of hills in the distance, and the sharp steep peak of a mountain piercing the sunlight. Then skillfully he led his speech around to his companion, and showed how lovelier than the morning she was.
He had been indulging in such delicate flattery since they first started from New York, whenever the indefatigable aunt left them alone long enough, but this morning there was a note of something closer and more intimate in his words; a warmth of tenderness that implied unspeakable joy in her beauty, such as he had never dared to use before. It flattered her pride deliciously. It was beautiful to be young and charming and have a man say such things with a look like that in his eyes—eyes that had suffered, and appealed to her to pity. With her young, innocent heart she did pity, and was glad she might solace his sadness a little while.
With consummate skill the man led her to talk of himself, his hopes in youth, his disappointments, his bitter sadness, his heart loneliness. He suddenly asked her to call him Milton, and the girl with rosy cheeks and dewy eyes declared shyly that she never could, it would seem so queer, but she finally compromised after much urging on "Cousin Milton."
"That will do for a while," he succumbed, smiling as he looked at her with impatient eyes. Then with growing intimacy in his tones he laid a detaining hand upon hers that held the bridle, and the horses both slackened their gait, though they had been far behind the rest of the party for over an hour now.
"Listen, little girl," he said, "I'm going to open my heart to you. I'm going to tell you a secret."
Hazel sat very still, half alarmed at his tone, not daring to withdraw her hand, for she felt the occasion was momentous and she must be ready with her sympathy as any true friend would be. Her heart swelled with pride that it was to her he came in his trouble. Then she looked up into the face that was bending over hers, and she saw triumph, not trouble, in his eyes. Even then she did not understand.
"What is it?" she asked trustingly.
"Dear child!" said the man of the world impressively, "I knew you would be interested. Well, I will tell you. I have told you of my sorrow, now I will tell you of my joy. It is this: When I return to New York I shall be a free man. Everything is complete at last. I have been granted a divorce from Ellen, and there remain only a few technicalities to be attended to. Then we shall be free to go our ways and do as we choose."
"A divorce!" gasped Hazel appalled. "Not you—divorced!"
"Yes," affirmed the happy man gaily, "I knew you'd be surprised. It's almost too good to be true, isn't it, after all my trouble to get Ellen to consent?"
"But she—your wife—where will she go? What will she do?" Hazel looked up at him with troubled eyes, half bewildered with the thought.
She did not realize that the horses had stopped and that he still held her hand which grasped the bridle.
"Oh, Ellen will be married at once," he answered flippantly. "That's the reason she's consented at last. She's going to marry Walling Stacy, you know, and from being stubborn about it, she's quite in a hurry to make any arrangement to fix things up now."
"She's going to be married!" gasped Hazel as if she had not heard of such things often. Somehow it had never come quite so close to her list of friendships before and it shocked her inexpressibly.
"Yes, she's going to be married at once, so you see there's no need to think of her ever again. But why don't you ask me what I am going to do?"
"Oh, yes!" said Hazel recalling her lack of sympathy at once. "You startled me so. What are you going to do? You poor man—what can you do? Oh, I am so sorry for you!" and the pansy-eyes became suffused with tears.
"No need to feel sorry for me, little one," said the exultant voice, and he looked at her now with an expression she had never seen in his face before. "I shall be happy as I have never dreamed of before," he said. "I am going to be married too. I am going to marry some one who loves me with all her heart, I am sure of that, though she has never told me so. I am going to marry you, little sweetheart!" He stooped suddenly before she could take in the meaning of his words, and flinging his free arm about her pressed his lips upon hers.
With a wild cry like some terrified creature Hazel tried to draw herself away, and finding herself held fast her quick anger rose and she lifted the hand which held the whip and blindly slashed the air about her; her eyes closed, her heart swelling with horror and fear. A great repulsion for the man whom hitherto she had regarded with deep respect surged over her. To get away from him at once was her greatest desire. She lashed out again with her whip, blindly, not seeing what she struck, almost beside herself with wrath and fear.
Hamar's horse reared and plunged, almost unseating his rider, and as he struggled to keep his seat, having necessarily released the girl from his embrace, the second cut of the whip took him stingingly across the eyes, causing him to cry out with the pain. The horse reared again and sent him sprawling upon the ground, his hands to his face, his senses one blank of pain for the moment.
Hazel, knowing only that she was free, followed an instinct of fear and struck her own pony on the flank, causing the little beast to turn sharply to right angles with the trail he had been following and dart like a streak across the level plateau. Thereafter the girl had all she could do to keep her seat.
She had been wont to enjoy a run in the Park with her groom at safe distance behind her. She was proud of her ability to ride, and could take fences as well as her young brother; but a run like this across an illimitable space, on a creature of speed like the wind, goaded by fear and knowing the limitations of his rider, was a different matter. The swift flight took her breath away, and unnerved her. She tried to hold on to the saddle with her shaking hands, for the bridle was already flying loose to the breeze, but her hold seemed so slight that each moment she expected to find herself lying huddled on the plain with the pony far in the distance.
Her lips grew white and cold; her breath came short and painfully; her eyes were strained with trying to look ahead at the constantly receding horizon. Was there no end? Would they never come to a human habitation? Would no one ever come to her rescue? How long could a pony stand a pace like this? And how long could she hope to hold on to the furious flying creature?
Off to the right at last she thought she saw a building. It seemed hours they had been flying through space. In a second they were close by it. It was a cabin, standing alone upon the great plain with sage-brush in patches about the door and a neat rail fence around it.
She could see one window at the end, and a tiny chimney at the back. Could it be that any one lived in such a forlorn spot?
Summoning all her strength as they neared the spot she flung her voice out in a wild appeal while the pony hurled on, but the wind caught the feeble effort and flung it away into the vast spaces like a little torn worthless fragment of sound.
Tears stung their way into her wide dry eyes. The last hairpin left its mooring and slipped down to earth. The loosened golden hair streamed back on the wind like hands of despair wildly clutching for help, and the jaunty green riding cap was snatched by the breeze and hung upon a sage-bush not fifty feet from the cabin gate, but the pony rushed on with the frightened girl still clinging to the saddle.
About noon of the same day the missionary halted his horse on the edge of a great flat-topped mesa and looked away to the clear blue mountains in the distance.
John Brownleigh had been in Arizona for nearly three years, yet the wonder of the desert had not ceased to charm him, and now as he stopped his horse to rest, his eyes sought the vast distances stretched in every direction, and revelled in the splendour of the scene.
Those mountains at which he was gazing were more than a hundred miles from him, and yet they stood out clear and distinct in the wonderful air, and seemed but a short journey away.
Below him were ledges of rock in marvellous colours, yellow and gray, crimson and green piled one upon another, with the strange light of the noonday sun playing over them and turning their colours into a blaze of glory. Beyond was a stretch of sand, broken here and there by sage-brush, greasewood, or cactus rearing its prickly spines grotesquely.
Off to the left were pink tinted cliffs and a little farther dark cone-like buttes. On the other hand low brown and white hills stretched away to the wonderful petrified forest, where great tracts of fallen tree trunks and chips lay locked in glistening stone.
To the south he could see the familiar water-hole, and farther the entrance to the canyon, fringed with cedars and pines. The grandeur of the scene impressed him anew.
"Beautiful, beautiful!" he murmured, "and a grand God to have it so!" Then a shadow of sadness passed over his face, and he spoke again aloud as had come to be his habit in this vast loneliness.
"I guess it is worth it," he said, "worth all the lonely days and discouraging months and disappointments, just to be alone with a wonderful Father like mine!"
He had just come from a three days' trip in company with another missionary whose station was a two days' journey by horseback from his own, and whose cheery little home was presided over by a sweet-faced woman, come recently from the East to share his fortunes. The delicious dinner prepared for her husband and his guests, the air of comfort in the three-roomed shack, the dainty touches that showed a woman's hand, had filled Brownleigh with a noble envy. Not until this visit had he realized how very much alone his life was.
He was busy of course from morning till night, and his enthusiasm for his work was even greater than when nearly three years before he had been sent out by the Board to minister to the needs of the Indians. Friends he had by the score. Wherever a white man or trader lived in the region he was always welcome; and the Indians knew and loved his coming. He had come around this way now to visit an Indian hogan where the shadow of death was hovering over a little Indian maiden beloved of her father. It had been a long way around and the missionary was weary with many days in the saddle, but he was glad he had come. The little maid had smiled to see him, and felt that the dark valley of death seemed more to her now like one of her own flower-lit canyons that led out to a brighter, wider day, since she had heard the message of life he brought her.
But as he looked afar over the long way he had come, and thought of the bright little home where he had dined the day before, the sadness still lingered in his face.
"It would be good to have somebody like that," he said, aloud again, "somebody to expect me, and be glad,—but then"—thoughtfully—"I suppose there are not many girls who are willing to give up their homes and go out to rough it as she has done. It is a hard life for a woman—for that kind of a woman!" A pause, then, "And I wouldn't want any other kind!"
His eyes grew large with wistfulness. It was not often thus that the cheery missionary stopped to think upon his own lot in life. His heart was in his work, and he could turn his hand to anything. There was always plenty to be done. Yet to-day for some inexplicable reason, for the first time since he had really got into the work and outgrown his first homesickness, he was hungry for companionship. He had seen a light in the eyes of his fellow-missionary that spoke eloquently of the comfort and joy he himself had missed and it struck deep into his heart. He had stopped here on this mesa, with the vast panorama of the desert spread before him, to have it out with himself.
The horse breathed restfully, drooping his head and closing his eyes to make the most of the brief respite, and the man sat thinking, trying to fill his soul with the beauty of the scene and crowd out the longings that had pressed upon him. Suddenly he raised his head with a quiet upward motion and said reverently:
"Oh, my Christ, you knew what this loneliness was! You were lonely too! It is the way you went, and I will walk with you! That will be good."
He sat for a moment with uplifted face towards the vast sky, his fine strong features touched with a tender light, their sadness changing into peace. Then with the old cheery brightness coming into his face again he returned to the earth and its duties.
"Billy, it's time we were getting on," he remarked to his horse chummily. "Do you see that sun in the heavens? It'll get there before we do if we don't look out, and we're due at the fort to-night if we can possibly make it. We had too much vacation, that's about the size of it, and we're spoiled! We're lazy, Billy! We'll have to get down to work. Now how about it? Can we get to that water-hole in half an hour? Let's try for it, old fellow, and then we'll have a good drink, and a bite to eat, and maybe ten minutes for a nap before we take the short trail home. There's some of the corn chop left for you, Billy, so hustle up, old boy, and get there."
Billy, with an answering snort, responded to his master's words, and carefully picked his way over boulders and rocks down to the valley below.
But within a half mile of the water-hole the young man suddenly halted his horse and sprang from the saddle, stooping in the sand beside a tall yucca to pick up something that gleamed like fire in the sunlight. In all that brilliant glowing landscape a bit of brightness had caught his eye and insistently flung itself upon his notice as worthy of investigation. There was something about the sharp light it flung that spoke of another world than the desert. John Brownleigh could not pass it by. It might be only a bit of broken glass from an empty flask flung carelessly aside, but it did not look like that. He must see.
Wondering he stooped and picked it up, a bit of bright gold on the handle of a handsome riding whip. It was not such a whip as people in this region carried; it was dainty, costly, elegant, a lady's riding whip! It spoke of a world of wealth and attention to expensive details, as far removed from this scene as possible. Brownleigh stood still in wonder and turned the pretty trinket over in his hand. Now how did that whip come to be lying in a bunch of sage-brush on the desert? Jewelled, too, and that must have given the final keen point of light to the flame which made him stop short in the sand to pick it up. It was a single clear stone of transparent yellow, a topaz likely, he thought, but wonderfully alive with light, set in the end of the handle, and looking closely he saw a handsome monogram engraved on the side, and made out the letters H. R. But that told him nothing.
With knit brows he pondered, one foot in the stirrup, the other still upon the desert, looking at the elegant toy. Now who, who would be so foolish as to bring a thing like that into the desert? There were no lady riders anywhere about that he knew, save the major's sister at the military station, and she was most plain in all her appointments. This frivolous implement of horsemanship never belonged to the major's sister. Tourists seldom came this way. What did it mean?
He sprang into the saddle and shading his eyes with his hand scanned the plain, but only the warm shimmer of sun-heated earth appeared. Nothing living could be seen. What ought he to do about it? Was there any way he might find out the owner and restore the lost property?
Pondering thus, his eyes divided between the distance and the glittering whip-handle, they came to the water-hole; and Brownleigh dismounted, his thoughts still upon the little whip.
"It's very strange, Billy. I can't make out a theory that suits me," he mused aloud. "If any one has been riding out this way and lost it, will they perhaps return and look for it? Yet if I leave it where I found it the sand might drift over it at any time. And surely, in this sparsely settled country, I shall be able to at least hear of any strangers who might have carried such a foolish little thing. Then, too, if I leave it where I found it some one might steal it. Well, I guess we'll take it with us, Billy; we'll hear of the owner somewhere some time no doubt."
The horse answered with a snort of satisfaction as he lifted his moist muzzle from the edge of the water and looked contentedly about.
The missionary unstrapped his saddle and flung it on the ground, unfastening the bag of "corn chop" and spreading it conveniently before his dumb companion. Then he set about gathering a few sticks from near at hand and started a little blaze. In a few minutes the water was bubbling cheerfully in his little folding tin cup for a cup of tea, and a bit of bacon was frying in a diminutive skillet beside it. Corn bread and tea and sugar came from the capacious pockets of the saddle. Billy and his missionary made a good meal beneath the wide bright quiet of the sky.
When the corn chop was finished Billy let his long lashes droop lower and lower, and his nose go down and down until it almost touched the ground, dreaming of more corn chop, and happy in having his wants supplied. But his master, stretched at full length upon the ground with hat drawn over his eyes, could not lose himself in sleep for a second. His thoughts were upon the jewelled whip, and by and by he reached his hand out for it, and shoving back his hat lay watching the glinting of lights within the precious heart of the topaz, as the sun caught and tangled its beams in the sharp facets of the cutting. He puzzled his mind to know how the whip came to be in the desert, and what was meant by it. One reads life by details in that wide and lonely land. This whip might mean something. But what?
At last he dropped his hand and sitting up with his upward glance he said aloud:
"Father, if there's any reason why I ought to look for the owner, guide me."
He spoke as if the One he addressed were always present in his consciousness, and they were on terms of the closest intimacy.
He sprang up then and began putting the things together, as if the burden of the responsibility were upon One fully able to bear it.
They were soon on their way again, Billy swinging along with the full realization of the nearness of home.
The way now led towards hazy blue lines of mesas with crags and ridges here and there. Across the valley, looking like a cloud-shadow, miles distant lay a long black streak, the line of the gorge of the canyon. Its dim presence seemed to grow on the missionary's thought as he drew nearer. He had not been to that canyon for more than a month. There were a few scattered Indians living with their families here and there in corners where there was a little soil. The thought of them drew him now. He must make out to go to them soon. If it were not that Billy had been so far he would go up there this afternoon. But the horse needed rest if the man did not, and there was of course no real hurry about the matter. He would go perhaps in the morning. Meantime it would be good to get to his own fireside once more and attend to a few letters that should be written. He was invited to the fort that night for dinner. There was to be some kind of a frolic, some visitors from the East. He had said he would come if he reached home in time. He probably would, but the idea was not attractive just now. He would rather rest and read and go to sleep early. But then, of course he would go. Such opportunities were none too frequent in this lonely land, though in his present mood the gay doings at the fort did not appeal to him strongly; besides it meant a ride of ten miles further. However, of course he would go. He fell to musing over the whip again, and in due time he arrived at his own home, a little one-roomed shanty with a chimney at the back and four big windows. At the extreme end of the fenced enclosure about the structure was a little shed for Billy, and all about was the vast plain dotted with bushes and weeds, with its panorama of mountain and hill, valley and gorge. It was beautiful, but it was desolate. There were neighbours, a few, but they lived at magnificent distances.
"We ought to have a dog, Billy! Why don't we get a dog to welcome us home?" said Brownleigh, slapping the horse's neck affectionately as he sprang from the saddle; "but then a dog would go along with us, wouldn't he, so there'd be three of us to come home instead of two, and that wouldn't do any good. Chickens? How would that do? But the coyotes would steal them. I guess we'll have to get along with each other, old fellow."
The horse, relieved of his saddle, gave a shake of comfort as a man might stretch himself after a weary journey, and trotted into his shed. Brownleigh made him comfortable and turned to go to the house.
As he walked along by the fence he caught sight of a small dark object hanging on a sage-bush a short distance from the front of his house. It seemed to move slightly, and he stopped and watched it a second thinking it might be some animal caught in the bush, or in hiding. It seemed to stir again as objects watched intently often will, and springing over the rail fence Brownleigh went to investigate. Nothing in that country was left to uncertainty. Men liked to know what was about them.
As he neared the bush, however, the object took on a tangible form and colour, and coming closer he picked it up and turned it over clumsily in his hand. A little velvet riding cap, undoubtedly a lady's, with the name of a famous New York costumer wrought in silk letters in the lining. Yes, there was no question about its being a lady's cap, for a long gleaming golden hair, with an undoubted tendency to curl, still clung to the velvet. A sudden embarrassment filled him, as though he had been handling too intimately another's property unawares. He raised his eyes and shaded them with his hand to look across the landscape, if perchance the owner might be at hand, though even as he did so he felt a conviction that the little velvet cap belonged to the owner of the whip which he still held in his other hand. H. R. Where was H. R., and who could she be?
For some minutes he stood thinking it out, locating the exact spot in his memory where he had found the whip. It had not been on any regular trail. That was strange. He stooped to see if there were any further evidences of passers-by, but the slight breeze had softly covered all definite marks. He was satisfied, however, after examining the ground about for some distance either way, that there could have been but one horse. He was wise in the lore of the trail. By certain little things that he saw or did not see he came to this conclusion.
Just as he was turning to go back to his cabin he came to a halt again with an exclamation of wonder, for there close at his feet, half hidden under a bit of sage, lay a small shell comb. He stooped and picked it up in triumph.
"I declare, I have quite a collection," he said aloud. "Are there any more? By these tokens I may be able to find her after all." And he started with a definite purpose and searched the ground for several rods ahead, then going back and taking a slightly different direction, he searched again and yet again, looking back each time to get his bearings from the direction where he had found the whip, arguing that the horse must likely have taken a pretty straight line and gone at a rapid pace.
He was rewarded at last by finding two shell hairpins, and near them a single hoof print, that, sheltered by a heavy growth of sage, had escaped the obliteration of the wind. This he knelt and studied carefully, taking in all the details of size and shape and direction; then, finding no more hairpins or combs, he carefully put his booty into his pocket and hurried back to the cabin, his brow knit in deep thought.
"Father, is this Thy leading?" He paused at the door and looked up. He opened the door and stepped within. The restfulness of the place called to him to stay.
There was the wide fireplace with a fire laid all ready for the touch of a match that would bring the pleasant blaze to dispel the loneliness of the place. There was the easy chair, his one luxury, with its leather cushions and reclining back; his slippers on the floor close by; the little table with its well-trimmed student lamp, his college paper and the one magazine that kept him in touch with the world freshly arrived before he left for his recent trip, and still unopened. How they called to him! Yet when he laid the whip upon the magazine the slanting ray of sun that entered by the door caught the glory of the topaz and sent it scintillating, and somehow the magazine lost its power to hold him.
One by one he laid his trophies down beside the whip; the velvet cap, the hairpins and the little comb, and then stood back startled with the wonder of it and looked about his bachelor quarters.
It was a pleasant spot, far lovelier than its weather-stained exterior would lead one to suppose. A Navajo blanket hung upon one wall above the bed, and another enwrapped and completely covered the bed itself, making a spot of colour in the room, and giving an air of luxury. Two quaint rugs of Indian workmanship upon the floor, one in front of the bed, the other before the fireplace where one's feet would rest when sitting in the big chair, did much to hide the discrepancies of the ugly floor. A rough set of shelves at the side of the fireplace handy to reach from the easy chair were filled with treasures of great minds, the books he loved well, all he could afford to bring with him, a few commentaries, not many, an encyclopedia, a little biography, a few classics, botany, biology, astronomy and a much worn Bible. On the wall above was a large card catalogue of Indian words; and around the room were some of his own pencil drawings of plants and animals.
Over in the opposite end of the room from the bed was a table covered with white oilcloth; and on the wall behind, the cupboard which held his dishes, and his stock of provisions. It was a pleasant spot and well ordered, for he never liked to leave his quarters in disarray lest some one might enter during his absence, or come back with him. Besides, it was pleasanter so to return to it. A rough closet of goodly proportions held his clothes, his trunk, and any other stores.
He stood and looked about it now and then let his eyes travel back to those small feminine articles on the little table beside him. It gave him a strange sensation. What if they belonged there? What if the owner of them lived there, was coming in in a minute now to meet him? How would it seem? What would she be like? For just an instant he let himself dream, and reaching out touched the velvet of the cap, then took it in his hand and smoothed its silken surface. A faint perfume of another world seemed to steal from its texture, and to linger on his hands. He drew a breath of wonder and laid it down; then with a start he came to himself. Suppose she did belong, and were out somewhere and he did not know where? Suppose something had happened to her—the horse run away, thrown her somewhere perhaps,—or she might have strayed away from a camp and lost her way—or been frightened?
These might be all foolish fantasies of a weary brain, but the man knew he could not rest until he had at least made an attempt to find out. He sank down in the big chair for a moment to think it out and closed his eyes, making swift plans.
Billy must have a chance to rest a little; a fagged horse could not accomplish much if the journey were far and the need for haste. He could not go for an hour yet. And there would be preparations to make. He must repack the saddle-bags with feed for Billy, food for himself and a possible stranger, restoratives, and a simple remedy or two in case of accident. These were articles he always took with him on long journeys. He considered taking his camping tent but that would mean the wagon, and they could not go so rapidly with that. He must not load Billy heavily, after the miles he had already come. But he could take a bit of canvas strapped to the saddle, and a small blanket. Of course it might be but a wild goose chase after all—yet he could not let his impression go unheeded.
Then there was the fort. In case he found the lady and restored her property in time he might be able to reach the fort by evening. He must take that into consideration also.
With alacrity he arose and went about his preparations, soon having his small baggage in array. His own toilet came next. A bath and fresh clothing; then, clean shaven and ready, all but his coat, he flung himself upon his bed for ten minutes of absolute relaxation, after which he felt himself quite fit for the expedition. Springing up he put on coat and hat, gathered up with reverent touch the bits of things he had found, locked his cabin and went out to Billy, a lump of sugar in his hand.
"Billy, old fellow, we're under orders to march again," he said apologetically, and Billy answered with a neigh of pleasure, submitting to the saddle as though he were quite ready for anything required of him.
"Now, Father," said the missionary with his upward look, "show us the way."
So, taking the direction from the hoof print in the sand, Billy and his master sped away once more into the westering light of the desert towards the long black shadowed entrance of the canyon.
Hazel, as she was borne along, her lovely hair streaming in the wind and lashing her across the face and eyes now and again, breath coming painfully, eyes smarting, fingers aching in the vise-like hold she was compelled to keep upon the saddle, began to wonder just how long she could hold out. It seemed to her it was a matter of minutes only when she must let go and be whirled into space while the tempestuous steed sped on and left her.
Nothing like this motion had ever come into her experience before. She had been run away with once, but that was like a cradle to this tornado of motion. She had been frightened before, but never like this. The blood pounded in her head and eyes until it seemed it would burst forth, and now and again the surging of it through her ears gave the sensation of drowning, yet on and on she went. It was horrible to have no bridle, and nothing to say about where she should go, no chance to control her horse. It was like being on an express train with the engineer dead in his cab and no way to get to the brakes. They must stop some time and what then? Death seemed inevitable, and yet as the mad rush continued she almost wished it might come and end the horror of this ride.
It seemed hours before she began to realize that the horse was no longer going at quite such a breakneck speed, or else she was growing accustomed to the motion and getting her breath, she could not quite be sure which. But little by little she perceived that the mad flying had settled into a long lope. The pony evidently had no intention of stopping and it was plain that he had some distinct place in mind to which he was going as straight and determinedly as any human being ever laid out a course and forged ahead in it. There was that about his whole beastly contour that showed it was perfectly useless to try to deter him from it or to turn him aside.
When her breath came less painfully, Hazel made a fitful little attempt to drop a quiet word of reason into his ear.
"Nice pony, nice, good pony——!" she soothed, but the wind caught her voice and flung it aside as it had flung her cap a few moments before, and the pony only laid his ears back and fled stolidly on.
She gathered her forces again.
"Nice pony! Whoa, sir!" she cried, a little louder than the last time and trying to make her voice sound firm and commanding.
But the pony had no intention of "whoa-ing," and though she repeated the command many times, her voice growing each time more firm and normal, he only showed the whites of his eyes at her and continued doggedly on his way.
She saw it was useless; and the tears, usually with her under fine control, came streaming down her white cheeks.
"Pony, good horse, dear pony, won't you stop!" she cried and her words ended with a sob. But still the pony kept on.
The desert fled about her yet seemed to grow no shorter ahead, and the dark line of cloud mystery, with the towering mountains beyond, were no nearer than when she first started. It seemed much like riding on a rocking-horse, one never got anywhere, only no rocking-horse flew at such a speed.
Yet she realized now that the pace was much modified from what it had been at first, and the pony's motion was not hard. If she had not been so stiff and sore in every joint and muscle with the terrible tension she had kept up the riding would not have been at all bad. But she was conscious of most terrible weariness, a longing to drop down on the sand of the desert and rest, not caring whether she ever went on again or not. She had never felt such terrible weariness in her life.
She could hold on now with one hand, and relax the muscles of the other a little. She tried with one hand presently to do something with that sweeping pennant of hair that lashed her in the face so unexpectedly now and then, but could only succeed in twisting it about her neck and tucking the ends into the neck of her riding habit; and from this frail binding it soon slipped free again.
She was conscious of the heat of the sun on her bare head, the smarting of her eyes. The pain in her chest was subsiding, and she could breathe freely again, but her heart felt tired, so tired, and she wanted to lie down and cry. Would she never get anywhere and be helped?
How soon would her father and brother miss her and come after her? When she dared she looked timidly behind, and then again more lingeringly, but there was nothing to be seen but the same awful stretch of distance with mountains of bright colour in the boundaries everywhere; not a living thing but herself and the pony to be seen. It was awful. Somewhere between herself and the mountains behind was the place she had started from, but the bright sun shone steadily, hotly down and shimmered back again from the bright earth, and nothing broke the awful repose of the lonely space. It was as if she had suddenly been caught up and flung out into a world where was no other living being.
Why did they not come after her? Surely, surely, pretty soon she would see them coming. They would spur their horses on when they found she had been run away with. Her father and brother would not leave her long in this horrible plight.
Then it occurred to her that her father and brother had been for some time out of sight ahead before she began her race. They would not know she was gone, at once; but of course Mr. Hamar would do something. He would not leave her helpless. The habit of years of trusting him assured her of that. For the instant she had forgotten the cause of her flight. Then suddenly she remembered it with sickening thought. He who had been to her a brave fine hero, suffering daily through the carelessness of a wife who did not understand him, had stepped down from his pedestal and become the lowest of the low. He had dared to kiss her! He had said he would marry her—he,—a married man! Her whole soul revolted against him again, and now she was glad she had run away—glad the horse had taken her so far—glad she had shown him how terrible the whole thing looked to her. She was even glad that her father and brother were far away too, for the present, until she should adjust herself to life once more. How could she have faced them after what happened? How could she ever live in the same world with that man again,—that fallen hero? How could she ever have thought so much of him? She had almost worshipped him, and had been so pleased when he had seemed to enjoy her company, and complimented her by telling her she had whiled away a weary hour for him! And he? He had been meaning—this—all the time! He had looked at her with that thought in his mind! Oh—awful degradation!
There was something so revolting in the memory of his voice and face as he had told her that she closed her eyes and shuddered as she recalled it, and once more the tears went coursing down her cheeks and she sobbed aloud, piteously, her head bowing lower and lower over the pony's neck, her bright hair falling down about her shoulders and beating against the animal's breast and knees as he ran, her stiffened fingers clutching his mane to keep her balance, her whole weary little form drooping over his neck in a growing exhaustion, her entire being swept by alternate waves of anger, revulsion and fear.
Perhaps all this had its effect on the beast; perhaps somewhere in his make-up there lay a spot, call it instinct or what you please, that vibrated in response to the distress of the human creature he carried. Perhaps the fact that she was in trouble drew his sympathy, wicked little willful imp though he usually was. Certain it is that he began to slacken his pace decidedly, until at last he was walking, and finally stopped short and turned his head about with a troubled neigh as if to ask her what was the matter.
The sudden cessation of the motion almost threw her from her seat; and with new fear gripping her heart she clutched the pony's mane the tighter and looked about her trembling. She was conscious more than anything else of the vast spaces about her in every direction, of the loneliness of the spot, and her own desolate condition. She had wanted the horse to stop and let her get down to solid ground, and now that he had done so and she might dismount a great horror filled her and she dared not. But with the lessening of the need for keeping up the tense strain of nerve and muscle, she suddenly began to feel that she could not sit up any longer, that she must lie down, let go this awful strain, stop this uncontrollable trembling which was quivering all over her body.
The pony, too, seemed wondering, impatient that she did not dismount at once. He turned his nose towards her again with a questioning snuff and snort, and showed the wicked whites of his eyes in wild perplexity. Then a panic seized her. What if he should start to run again? She would surely be thrown this time, for her strength was almost gone. She must get down and in some way gain possession of the bridle. With the bridle she might perhaps hope to guide his movements, and make further wild riding impossible.
Slowly, painfully, guardedly, she took her foot from the stirrup and slipped to the ground. Her cramped feet refused to hold her weight for the moment and she tottered and went into a little heap on the ground. The pony, feeling his duty for the present done, sidled away from her and began cropping the grass hungrily.
The girl sank down wearily at full length upon the ground and for a moment it seemed to her she could never rise again. She was too weary to lift her hand or to move the foot that was twisted under her into a more comfortable position, too weary to even think. Then suddenly the sound of the animal moving steadily away from her roused her to the necessity of securing him. If he should get away in this wide desolation she would be helpless indeed.
She gathered her flagging energy and got painfully upon her feet. The horse was nearly a rod away, and moving slowly, steadily, as he ate, with now and then a restless lifting of his head to look off into the distance and take a few determined steps before he stopped for another bite. That horse had something on his mind and was going straight towards it. She felt that he cared little what became of her. She must look out for herself. This was something she had never had to do before; but the instinct came with the need.
Slowly, tremblingly, feeling her weakness, she stole towards him, a bunch of grass in her hand she had plucked as she came, holding it obviously as she had fed a lump of sugar or an apple to her finely groomed mare in New York. But the grass she held was like all the grass about him, and the pony had not been raised a pet. He tossed his nose energetically and scornfully as she drew near and hastened on a pace or two.
Cautiously she came on again talking to him gently, pleadingly, complimentarily: "Nice good horsey! Pretty pony so he was!" But he only edged away again.
And so they went on for some little way until Hazel almost despaired of catching him at all, and was becoming more and more aware of the vastness of the universe about her, and the smallness of her own being.
At last, however, her fingers touched the bridle, she felt the pony's quick jerk, strained every muscle to hold on, and found she had conquered. He was in her hands. For how long was a question, for he was strong enough to walk away and drag her by the bridle perhaps, and she knew little about tricks of management. Moreover her muscles were so flabby and sore with the long ride that she was ill-fitted to cope with the wise and wicked little beast. She dreaded to get upon his back again, and doubted if she could if she tried, but it seemed the only way to get anywhere, or to keep company with the pony, for she could not hope to detain him by mere physical force if he decided otherwise.
She stood beside him for a moment, looking about her over the wide distance. Everything looked alike, and different from anything she had ever seen before. She must certainly get on that pony's back, for her fear of the desert became constantly greater. It was almost as if it would snatch her away in a moment more if she stayed there longer, and carry her into vaster realms of space where her soul would be lost in infinitude. She had never been possessed by any such feeling before and it frightened her unreasoningly.
Turning to the pony, she measured the space from the ground to the queer saddle and wondered how people mounted such things without a groom. When she had mounted that morning it had been Milton Hamar's strong arm that swung her into the saddle, and his hand that held her foot for the instant of her spring. The memory of it now sent a shudder of dislike over her whole body. If she had known, he never should have touched her! The blood mounted uncomfortably into her tired face, and made her conscious of the heat of the day, and of a burning thirst. She must go on and get to some water somewhere. She could not stand this much longer.
Carefully securing the bridle over her arm she reached up and took hold of the saddle, doubtfully at first, and then desperately; tried to reach the stirrup with one foot, failed and tried again; and then wildly struggling, jumping, kicking, she vainly sought to climb back to the saddle. But the pony was not accustomed to such a demonstration at mounting and he strongly objected. Tossing his head he reared and dashed off, almost throwing the girl to the ground and frightening her terribly.
Nevertheless the desperation of her situation gave her strength for a fresh trial, and she struggled up again, and almost gained her seat, when the pony began a series of circles which threw her down and made her dizzy with trying to keep up with him.
Thus they played the desperate game for half an hour more. Twice the girl lost the bridle and had to get it again by stealthy wiles, and once she was almost on the point of giving up, so utterly exhausted was she.
But the pony was thirsty too, and he must have decided that the quickest way to water would be to let her mount; for finally with lifted head he stood stock still and let her struggle up his side; and at last, well-nigh falling from sheer weariness, she sat astonished that she had accomplished it. She was on his back, and she would never dare to get down again, she thought, until she got somewhere to safety. But now the animal, his courage renewed by the bite he had taken, started snorting off at a rapid pace once more, very nearly upsetting his rider at the start, and almost losing her the bridle once more. She sat trembling, and gripping bridle and saddle for some time, having enough to do to keep her seat without trying to direct her bearer, and then she saw before her a sudden descent, steep but not very long, and at its bottom a great puddle of dirty water. The pony paused only an instant on the brink and then began the descent. The girl cried out with fear, but managed to keep her seat, and the impatient animal was soon ankle deep in the water drinking long and blissfully.
Hazel sat looking in dismay about her. The water-hole seemed to be entirely surrounded by steep banks like that they had descended, and there was no way out except to return. Could the horse climb up with her on his back? And could she keep her seat? She grew cold with fear at the thought, for all her riding experience had been on the level, and she had become more and more conscious of her flagging strength.
Besides, the growing thirst was becoming awful. Oh, for just one drop of that water that the pony was enjoying! Black and dirty as it was she felt she could drink it. But it was out of her reach and she dared not get down. Suddenly a thought came to her. She would wet her handkerchief and moisten her lips with that. If she stooped over quite carefully she might be able to let it down far enough to touch the water.
She pulled the small bit of linen from the tiny pocket of her habit and the pony, as if to help her, waded into the water farther until her skirt almost touched it. Now she found that by putting her arm about the pony's neck she could dip most of her handkerchief in the water, and dirty as it was it was most refreshing to bathe her face and hands and wrists and moisten her lips.
But the pony when he had his fill had no mind to tarry, and with a splash, a plunge and a wallow that gave the girl an unexpected shower bath, he picked his way out of the hole and up the rocky side of the descent, while she clung frightened to the saddle and wondered if she could possibly hang on until they were up on the mesa again. The dainty handkerchief dropped in the flight floated pitifully on the muddy water, another bit of comfort left behind.
But when they were up and away again, what with the fright, and the fact that they had come out of the hole on the opposite side from that which they had entered it, the girl had lost all sense of direction, and everywhere stretched away one vast emptiness edged with mountains that stood out clear, cold and unfriendly.
The whole atmosphere of the earth seemed to have changed while they were down at the drinking hole, for now the shadows were long and had almost a menacing attitude as they crept along or leaped sideways after the travellers. Hazel noticed with a startled glance at the sky that the sun was low and would soon be down. And that of course where the sun hung like a great burning opal must be the west, but that told her nothing, for the sun had been high in the heavens when they had started, and she had taken no note of direction. East, west, north or south were all one to her in her happy care-free life that she had hitherto led. She tried to puzzle it out and remember which way they had turned from the railroad but grew more bewildered, and the brilliant display in the west flamed alarmingly as she realized that night was coming on and she was lost on a great desert with only a wild tired little pony for company, hungry and thirsty and weary beyond anything she had ever dreamed before.
They had been going down into a broad valley for some little time, which made the night seem even nearer. Hazel would have turned her horse back and tried to retrace her steps, but that he would not, for try as she might, and turn him as she would he circled about and soon was in the same course again, so that now the tired hands could only hold the reins stiffly and submit to be carried where the pony willed. It was quite evident he had a destination in view, and knew the way thereto. Hazel had read of the instinct of animals. She began to hope that he would presently bring her to a human habitation where she would find help to get to her father once more.
But suddenly even the glory of the dying sun was lost as the horse entered the dimness of the canyon opening, whose high walls of red stone, rising solemnly on either hand, were serrated here and there with long transverse lines of grasses and tree-ferns growing in the crevices, and higher up appeared the black openings of caves mysterious and fearsome in the twilight gloom. The way ahead loomed darkly. Somewhere from out the memories of her childhood came a phrase from the church-service to which she had never given conscious attention, but which flashed vividly to mind now: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow—the Valley of the Shadow!" Surely this must be it. She wished she could remember the rest of it. What could it have meant? She shivered visibly, and looked about her with wild eyes.
The cottonwoods and oaks grew thickly at the base of the cliffs, almost concealing them sometimes, and above the walls rose dark and towering. The way was rough and slippery, filled with great boulders and rocks, around which the pony picked his way without regard to the branches of trees that swept her face and caught in her long hair as they went by.
Vainly she strove to guide him back, but he turned only to whirl again, determinedly. Somewhere in the deep gloom ahead he had a destination and no mere girl was to deter him from reaching it as soon as possible. It was plain to his horse-mind that his rider did not know what she wanted, and he did, so there were no two ways about it. He intended to go back to his old master as straight and as fast as he could get there. This canyon was the shortest cut and through this canyon he meant to walk whether she liked it or not.
Further and further into the gloom they penetrated, and the girl, frenzied with fear, cried out with the wild hope that some one might be near and come to her rescue. But the gloomy aisle of the canyon caught up her voice and echoed it far and high, until it came back to her in a volume of sepulchral sound that filled her with a nameless dread and made her fear to open her lips again. It was as if she had by her cry awakened the evil spirit who inhabited the canyon and set it searching for the intruder. "Help! Help!" How the words rolled and returned upon her trembling senses until she quaked and quivered with their echoes!
On went the pony into the deepening shadows, and each moment the darkness shut down more impenetrably, until the girl could only close her eyes, lower her head as much as possible to escape the branches—and pray.
Then suddenly, from above where the distant sky gave a line of light and a single star had appeared to pierce the dusk like a great jewel on a lady's gown, there arose a sound; blood-curdling and hideous, high, hollow, far-echoing, chilling her soul with horror and causing her heart to stand still with fear. She had heard it once before, a night or two ago, when their train had stopped in a wide desert for water or repairs or something and the porter of the car had told her it was coyotes. It had been distant then, and weird and interesting to think of being so near real live wild animals. She had peered from the safety of her berth behind the silken curtains and fancied she saw shadowy forms steal over the plain under the moonlight. But it was a very different thing to hear the sound now, out alone among their haunts, with no weapon and none to protect her. The awfulness of her situation almost took away her senses.
Still she held to the saddle, weak and trembling, expecting every minute to be her last; and the horrid howling of the coyotes continued.
Down below the trail somewhere she could hear the soft trickling of water with maddening distinctness now and then. Oh, if she could but quench this terrible thirst! The pony was somewhat refreshed with his grass and his drink of water, but the girl, whose life up to this day had never known a want unsatisfied, was faint with hunger and burning with thirst, and this unaccustomed demand upon her strength was fast bringing it to its limit.
The darkness in the canyon grew deeper, and more stars clustered out overhead; but far, so very far away! The coyotes seemed just a shadow removed all about and above. Her senses were swimming. She could not be sure just where they were. The horse slipped and stumbled on in the darkness, and she forgot to try to turn him from his purpose.
By and by she grew conscious that the way was leading upward again. They were scrambling over rough places, large rocks in the way, trees growing close to the trail, and the pony seemed not to be able to avoid them, or perhaps he didn't care. The howling of the coyotes was growing clearer every minute but somehow her fear of them was deadened, as her fear of all else. She was lying low upon the pony, clinging to his neck, too faint to cry out, too weak to stop the tears that slowly wet his mane. Then suddenly she was caught in the embrace of a low hanging branch, her hair tangled about its roughness. The pony struggled to gain his uncertain footing, the branch held her fast and the pony scrambled on, leaving his helpless rider behind him in a little huddled heap upon the rocky trail, swept from the saddle by the tough old branch.
The pony stopped a moment upon a bit of shelving rock he had with difficulty gained, and looked back with a troubled snort, but the huddled heap in the darkness below him gave forth no sign of life, and after another snort and a half neigh of warning the pony turned and scrambled on, up and up till he gained the mesa above.
The late moon rose and hunted its way through the canyon till it found the gold of her hair spread about on the rocky way, and touched her sweet unconscious face with the light of cold beauty; the coyotes howled on in solemn chorus, and still the little figure lay quiet and unconscious of her situation.
John Brownleigh reached the water-hole at sunset, and while he waited for his horse to drink he meditated on what he would do next. If he intended to go to the fort for dinner he should turn at once sharply to the right and ride hard, unless he was willing to be late. The lady at the fort liked to have her guests on hand promptly, he knew.
The sun was down. It had left long splashes of crimson and gold in the west, and their reflection was shimmering over the muddy water below him so that Billy looked as if he quaffed the richest wine from a golden cup, as he satisfied his thirst contentedly.
But as the missionary watched the painted water and tried to decide his course, suddenly his eye caught a bit of white something floating, half clinging to a twig at the edge of the water, a bit of thin transparentness, with delicate lacy edge. It startled him in that desert place much as the jewel in its golden setting in the sand had startled him that morning.
With an exclamation of surprise he stooped over, picked up the little wet handkerchief and held it out—dainty, white and fine, and in spite of its wet condition sending forth its violet breath to the senses of a man who had been in the wilds of the desert for three years. It spoke of refinement and culture and a world he had left behind him in the East.
There was a tiny letter embroidered in the corner, but already the light was growing too dim to read it, and though he held it up and looked through it and felt the embroidery with his finger-tip he could not be sure that it was either of the letters that had been engraved on the whip.
Nevertheless, the little white messenger determined his course. He searched the edge of the water-hole for hoof prints as well as the dying light would reveal, then mounted Billy with decision at once and took up his quest where he had almost abandoned it. He was convinced that a lady was out alone in the desert somewhere.
It was long past midnight when Billy and the missionary came upon the pony, high on the mesa, grazing. The animal had evidently felt the need for food and rest before proceeding further, and was perhaps a little uneasy about that huddled form in the darkness he had left.
Billy and the pony were soon hobbled and left to feed together while the missionary, all thought of his own need of rest forgotten, began a systematic search for the missing rider. He first carefully examined the pony and saddle. The saddle somehow reminded him of Shag Bunce, but the pony was a stranger to him; neither could he make out the letter of the brand in the pale moonlight. However, it might be a new animal, just purchased and not yet branded—or there might be a thousand explanations. The thought of Shag Bunce reminded him of the handsome private car he had seen upon the track that morning. But even if a party had gone out to ride how would one of them get separated? Surely no lady would venture over the desert alone, not a stranger at any rate.
Still in the silver and black of the shadowed night he searched on, and not until the rosy light of dawning began to flush and grow in the east did he come to stand at the top of the canyon where he could look down and see the girl, her green riding habit blending darkly with the dark forms of the trees still in shadow, the gold of her hair glinted with the early light, and her white, white face turned upward.
He lost no time in climbing down to her side, dreading what he might find. Was she dead? What had happened to her? It was a perilous spot where she lay, and the dangers that might have harmed her had been many. The sky grew pink, and tinted all the clouds with rose as he knelt beside the still form.
A moment served to convince him that she was still alive; even in the half darkness he could see the drawn, weary look of her face. Poor child! Poor little girl, lost on the desert! He was glad, glad he had come to find her.
He gathered her in his strong arms and bore her upward to the light.
Laying her in a sheltered spot he quickly brought water, bathed her face and forced a stimulant between the white lips. He chafed her cold little hands, blistered with the bridle, gave her more stimulant, and was rewarded by seeing a faint colour steal into the lips and cheeks. Finally the white lids fluttered open for a second and gave him a glimpse of great dark eyes in which was still mirrored the horror and fright of the night.
He gave her another draught, and hastened to prepare a more comfortable resting place, bringing the canvas from Billy's pack, and one or two other little articles that might make for comfort, among them a small hot water bottle. When he had her settled on the canvas with sweet ferns and grass underneath for a pillow and his own blanket spread over her he set about gathering wood for a fire, and soon he had water boiling in his tin cup, enough to fill the rubber bottle. When he put it in her cold hands she opened her eyes again wonderingly. He smiled reassuringly and she nestled down contentedly with the comfort of the warmth. She was too weary to question or know aught save that relief from a terrible horror was come at last.
The next time he came to her it was with a cup of strong beef tea which he held to her lips and coaxed her to swallow. When it was finished she lay back and slept again with a long drawn trembling sigh that was almost like a sob, and the heart of the young man was shaken to its depths over the agony through which she must have passed. Poor child, poor little child!
He busied himself with making their temporary camp as comfortable as possible, and looking after the needs of the horses, then coming back to his patient he stood looking down at her as she slept, wondering what he ought to do next.
They were a long distance from any human habitation. Whatever made the pony take this lonely trail was a puzzle. It led to a distant Indian settlement, and doubtless the animal was returning to his former master, but how had it come that the rider had not turned him back?
Then he looked down at the frail girl asleep on the ground and grew grave as he thought of the perils through which she had passed alone and unguarded. The exquisite delicacy of her face touched him as the vision of an angelic being might have done, and for an instant he forgot everything in the wonder with which her beauty filled him; the lovely outline of the profile as it rested lightly against her raised arm, the fineness and length of her wealth of hair, like spun gold in the glint of the sunshine that was just peering over the rim of the mountain, the clearness of her skin, so white and different from the women in that region, the pitiful droop of the sweet lips showing utter exhaustion. His heart went out from him with longing to comfort her, guard her, and bring her back to happiness. A strange, joyful tenderness for her filled him as he looked, so that he could scarcely draw his gaze from her face. Then all at once it came over him that she would not like a stranger thus to stand and gaze upon her helplessness, and with quick reverence he turned his eyes away towards the sky.
It was a peculiar morning, wonderfully beautiful. The clouds were tinted pink almost like a sunset and lasted so for over an hour, as if the dawn were coming gently that it might not waken her who slept.
Brownleigh, with one more glance to see if his patient was comfortable, went softly away to gather wood, bring more water, and make various little preparations for a breakfast later when she should waken. In an hour he tiptoed back to see if all was going well, and stooping laid a practiced finger on the delicate wrist to note the flutter of her pulse. He could count it with care, feeble, as if the heart had been under heavy strain, but still growing steadier on the whole. She was doing well to sleep. It was better than any medicine he could administer.
Meantime, he must keep a sharp lookout for travellers. They were quite off the trail here, and the trail was an old one anyway and almost disused. There was little likelihood of many passers. It might be days before any one came that way. There was no human habitation within call, and he dared not leave his charge to go in search of help to carry her back to civilization again. He must just wait here till she was able to travel.
It occurred to him to wonder where she belonged and how she came to be thus alone, and whether it was not altogether probable that a party of searchers might be out soon with some kind of a conveyance to carry her home. He must keep a sharp lookout and signal any passing rider.
To this end he moved away from the sleeping girl as far as he dared leave her, and uttered a long, clear call occasionally, but no answer came.
He dared not use his rifle for signalling lest he run out of ammunition which he might need before he got back with his charge. However, he felt it wise to combine hunting with signalling, and when a rabbit hurried across his path not far away he shot it, and the sound echoed out in the clear morning, but no answering signal came.
After he had shot two rabbits and dressed them ready for dinner when his guest should wake, he replenished the fire, set the rabbits to roasting on a curious little device of his own, and lay down on the opposite side of the fire. He was weary beyond expression himself, but he never thought of it once. The excitement of the occasion kept him up. He lay still marvelling at the strangeness of his position, and wondering what would be revealed when the girl should wake. He almost dreaded to have her do so lest she should not be as perfect as she looked asleep. His heart was in a tumult of wonder over her, and of thankfulness that he had found her before some terrible fate had overtaken her.
As he lay there resting, filled with an exalted joy, his mind wandered to the longings of the day before, the little adobe home of his co-labourer which he had left, its homeyness and joy; his own loneliness and longing for companionship. Then he looked shyly towards the tree shade where the glint of golden hair and the dark line of his blanket were all he could see of the girl he had found in the wilderness. What if his Father had answered his prayer and sent her to him! What miracle of joy! A thrill of tenderness passed through him and he pressed his hands over his closed eyes in a kind of ecstasy.
What foolishness! Dreams, of course! He tried to sober himself but he could not keep from thinking how it would seem to have this lovely girl enthroned in his little shack, ready to share his joys and comfort his sorrows; to be beloved and guarded and tenderly cared for by him.
A stir of the old blanket and a softly drawn sigh brought this delicious reverie to a close, and himself to his feet flushing cold and hot at thought of facing her awake.
She had turned over towards him slightly, her cheeks flushed with sleep. One hand was thrown back over her head, and the sun caught and flashed the sparkle of jewels into his eyes, great glory-clear gems like drops of morning dew when the sun is new upon them, and the flash of the jewels told him once more what he had known before, that here was a daughter of another world than his. They seemed to hurt him as he looked, those costly gems, for they pierced to his heart and told him they were set on a wall of separation which might rise forever between her and himself.
Then suddenly he came to himself and was the missionary again, with his senses all on the alert, and a keen realization that it was high noon and his patient was waking up. He must have slept himself although he thought he had been broad awake all the time. The hour had come for action and he must put aside the foolish thoughts that had crowded in when his weary brain was unable to cope with the cool facts of life. Of course all this was stuff and nonsense that he had been dreaming. He must do his duty by this needy one now.
Stepping softly he brought a cup of water that he had placed in the shade to keep cool, and stood beside the girl, speaking quietly, as though he had been her nurse for years.
"Wouldn't you like a drink of water?" he asked.
The girl opened her eyes and looked up at him bewildered.
"Oh, yes," she said eagerly, though her voice was very weak. "Oh, yes,—I'm so thirsty.—I thought we never would get anywhere!"
She let him lift her head, and drank eagerly, then sank back exhausted and closed her eyes. He almost thought she was going to sleep again.
"Wouldn't you like something to eat?" he asked. "Dinner is almost ready. Do you think you can sit up to eat or would you rather lie still?"
"Dinner!" she said languidly; "but I thought it was night. Did I dream it all, and how did I get here? I don't remember this place."
She looked around curiously and then closed her eyes as if the effort were almost too much.
"Oh, I feel so queer and tired, as if I never wanted to move again," she murmured.
"Don't move," he commanded. "Wait until you've had something to eat. I'll bring it at once."
He brought a cup of steaming hot beef extract with little broken bits of biscuit from a small tin box in the pack, and fed it to her a spoonful at a time.
"Who are you?" she asked as she swallowed the last spoonful, and opened her eyes, which had been closed most of the time, while he fed her, as if she were too tired to keep them open.
"Oh, I'm just the missionary. Brownleigh's my name. Now don't talk until you've had the rest of your dinner. I'll bring it in a minute. I want to make you a cup of tea, but you see I have to wash this cup first. The supply of dishes is limited." His genial smile and hearty words reassured her and she smiled and submitted.
"A missionary!" she mused and opened her eyes furtively to watch him as he went about his task. A missionary! She had never seen a missionary before, to her knowledge. She had fancied them always quite a different species, plain old maids with hair tightly drawn behind their ears and a poke bonnet with little white lawn strings.
This was a man, young, strong, engaging, and handsome as a fine piece of bronze. The brown flannel shirt he wore fitted easily over well knit muscles and exactly matched the brown of the abundant wavy hair in which the morning sun was setting glints of gold as he knelt before the fire and deftly completed his cookery. His soft wide-brimmed felt hat pushed far back on the head, the corduroy trousers, leather chaps and belt with brace of pistols all fitted into the picture and made the girl feel that she had suddenly left the earth where she had heretofore lived and been dropped into an unknown land with a strong kind angel to look after her.
A missionary! Then of course she needn't be afraid of him. As she studied his face she knew that she couldn't possibly have been afraid of that face anyway, unless, perhaps, she had ventured to disobey its owner's orders. He had a strong, firm chin, and his lips though kindly in their curve looked decided as though they were not to be trifled with. On the whole if this was a missionary then she must change her ideas of missionaries from this time forth.
She watched his light, free movements, now sitting back upon his heels to hold the cup of boiling water over the blaze by a curiously contrived handle, now rising and going to the saddle pack for some needed article. There was something graceful as well as powerful about his every motion. He gave one a sense of strength and almost infinite resource. Then suddenly her imagination conjured there beside him the man from whom she had fled, and in the light of this fine face the other face darkened and weakened and she had a swift revelation of his true character, and wondered that she had never known before. A shudder passed over her, and a gray pallor came into her face at the memory. She felt a great distaste for thinking or the necessity for even living at that moment.
Then at once he was beside her with a tin plate and the cup of steaming tea, and began to feed her, as if she had been a baby, roast rabbit and toasted corn bread. She ate unquestioningly, and drank her tea, finding all delicious after her long fast, and gaining new strength with every mouthful.
"How did I get here?" she asked suddenly, rising to one elbow and looking around. "I don't seem to remember a place like this."
"I found you hanging on a bush in the moonlight," he said gravely, "and brought you here."
Hazel lay back and reflected on this. He had brought her here. Then he must have carried her! Well, his arms looked strong enough to lift a heavier person than herself—but he had brought her here!
A faint colour stole into her pale cheeks.
"Thank you," she said at last. "I suppose I wasn't just able to come myself." There was a droll little pucker at the corner of her mouth.
"Not exactly," he answered as he gathered up the dishes.
"I remember that crazy little steed of mine began to climb straight up the side of a terrible wall in the dark, and finally decided to wipe me off with a tree. That is the last I can recall. I felt myself slipping and couldn't hold on any longer. Then it all got dark and I let go."
"Where were you going?" asked the young man.
"Going? I wasn't going anywhere," said the girl; "the pony was doing that. He was running away, I suppose. He ran miles and hours with me and I couldn't stop him. I lost hold on the bridle, you see, and he had ideas about what he wanted to do. I was almost frightened to death, and there wasn't a soul in sight all day. I never saw such an empty place in my life. It can't be this is still Arizona, we came so far."
"When did you start?" the missionary questioned gravely.
"Why, this morning,—that is—why, it must have been yesterday. I'm sure I don't know when. It was Wednesday morning about eleven o'clock that we left the car on horseback to visit a mine papa had heard about. It seems about a year since we started."
"How many were in your party?" asked the young man.
"Just papa and my brother, and Mr. Hamar, a friend of my father's," answered the girl, her cheeks reddening at the memory of the name.
"But was there no guide, no native with you at all?" There was anxiety in the young man's tone. He had visions of other lost people who would have to be looked after.
"Oh, yes, there was the man my father had written to, who brought the horses, and two or three men with him, some of them Indians, I think. His name was Bunce, Mr. Bunce. He was a queer man with a lot of wild looking hair."
"Shag Bunce," said the missionary thoughtfully. "But if Shag was along I cannot understand how you came to get so widely separated from your party. He rides the fastest horse in this region. No pony of his outfit, be he ever so fleet, could get far ahead of Shag Bunce. He would have caught you within a few minutes. What happened? Was there an accident?"
He looked at her keenly, feeling sure there was some mystery behind her wanderings that he ought to unravel for the sake of the girl and her friends. Hazel's cheeks grew rosy.
"Why, nothing really happened," she said evasively. "Mr. Bunce was ahead with my father. In fact he was out of sight when my pony started to run. I was riding with Mr. Hamar, and as we didn't care anything about the mine we didn't hurry. Before we realized it the others were far ahead over a hill or something, I forget what was ahead, only they couldn't be seen. Then we—I—that is—well, I must have touched my pony pretty hard with my whip and he wheeled and started to run. I'm not sure but I touched Mr. Hamar's horse, too, and he was behaving badly. I really hadn't time to see. I don't know what became of Mr. Hamar. He isn't much of a horseman. I don't believe he had ever ridden before. He may have had some trouble with his horse. Anyway before I knew it I was out of sight of everything but wide empty stretches with mountains and clouds at the end everywhere, and going on and on and not getting any nearer to any thing."
"This Mr. Hamar must have been a fool not to have given an alarm to your friends at once if he could do nothing himself," said Brownleigh sternly. "I cannot understand how it could happen that no one found you sooner. It was the merest chance that I came upon your whip and other little things and so grew anxious lest some one was lost. It is very strange that no one found you before this. Your father will have been very anxious."
Hazel sat up with flaming cheeks and began to gather her hair in a knot. A sudden realization of her position had come upon her and given her strength.
"Well, you see," she stumbled, trying to explain without telling anything, "Mr. Hamar might have thought I had gone back to the car, or he might have thought I would turn back in a few minutes. I do not think he would have wanted to follow me just then. I was—angry with him!"
The young missionary looked at the beautiful girl sitting upright on the canvas he had spread for her bed, trying vainly to reduce her bright hair to something like order, her cheeks glowing, her eyes shining now, half with anger, half with embarrassment, and for a second he pitied the one who had incurred her wrath. A strange unreasoning anger towards the unknown man took possession of him, and his face grew tender as he watched the girl.
"That was no excuse for letting you go alone into the perils of the desert," he said severely. "He could not have known. It was impossible that he could have understood or he would have risked his life to save you from what you have been through. No man could do otherwise!"
Hazel looked up, surprised at the vehemence of the words, and again the contrast between the two men struck her forcibly.
"I am afraid," she murmured looking off towards the distant mountains thoughtfully, "that he isn't much of a man."
And somehow the young missionary was relieved to hear her say so. There was a moment's embarrassed silence and then Brownleigh began to search in his pocket, as he saw the golden coil of hair beginning to slip loose from its knot again.
"Will these help you any?" he asked handing out the comb and hairpins he had found, a sudden awkwardness coming upon him.
"Oh, my own comb!" she exclaimed. "And hairpins! Where did you find them? Indeed they will help," and she seized upon them eagerly.
He turned away embarrassed, marvelling at the touch of her fingers as she took the bits of shell from his hand. No woman's hand like that had touched his own, even in greeting, since he bade good-bye to his invalid mother and came out to these wilds to do his work. It thrilled him to the very soul and he was minded of the sweet awe that had come upon him in his own cabin as he looked upon the little articles of woman's toilet lying upon his table as if they were at home. He could not understand his own mood. It seemed like weakness. He turned aside and frowned at himself for his foolish sentimentality towards a stranger whom he had found upon the desert. He laid it to the weariness of the long journey and the sleepless night.
"I found them in the sand. They showed me the way to find you," he said, trying vainly to speak in a commonplace tone. But somehow his voice seemed to take on a deep significance. He looked at her shyly, half fearing she must feel it, and then murmuring something about looking after the horses he hurried away.
When he came back she had mastered the rebellious hair, and it lay shining and beautiful, braided and coiled about her shapely head. She was standing now, having shaken down and smoothed out the rumpled riding habit, and had made herself look quite fresh and lovely in spite of the limited toilet conveniences.
He caught his breath as he saw her. The two regarded one another intensely for just an instant, each startlingly conscious of the other's personality, as men and women will sometimes get a glimpse beyond mere body and sight the soul. Each was aware of a thrilling pleasure in the presence of the other. It was something new and wonderful that could not be expressed nor even put into thoughts as yet but something none the less real that flashed along their consciousness like the song of the native bird, the scent of the violet, the breath of the morning.
The instant of soul recognition passed and then each recovered self-possession, but it was the woman who spoke first.
"I feel very much more respectable," she laughed pleasantly. "Where is my vicious little horse? Isn't it time we were getting back?"
Then a cloud of anxiety came over the brightness of the man's face.
"That is what I was coming to tell you," he said in a troubled tone. "The wicked little beast has eaten off his hobble and fled. There isn't a sight of him to be seen far or wide. He must have cleared out while we were at dinner, for he was munching grass peaceably enough before you woke up. It was careless of me not to make him more secure. The hobble was an old one and worn, but the best I had. I came back to tell you that I must ride after him at once. You won't be afraid to stay alone for a little while, will you? My horse has had a rest. I think I ought to be able to catch him."
But the look of horror in the eyes of the girl stopped him.
She gave a quick frightened glance around and then her eyes besought him. All the terror of the night alone in the wideness returned upon her. She heard again the howl of the coyotes, and saw the long dark shadows in the canyon. She was white to the lips with the thought of it.
"Oh, don't leave me alone!" she said trying to speak bravely. "I don't feel as if I could stand it. There are wild beasts around"—she glanced furtively behind her as if even now one was slyly tracking her—"it was awful—awful! Their howls! And it is so alone here!—I never was alone before!"
There was that in her appealing helplessness that gave him a wild desire to stoop and fold her in his arms and tell her he would never leave her while she wanted him. The colour came and went in his fine bronzed face, and his eyes grew tender with feeling.
"I won't leave you," he said gently, "not if you feel that way, though there is really no danger here in daytime. The wild creatures are very shy and only show themselves at night. But if I do not find your horse how are you to get speedily back to your friends? It is a long distance you have come, and you could not ride alone."
Her face grew troubled.
"Couldn't I walk?" she suggested. "I'm a good walker. I've walked five miles at once many a time."
"We are at least forty miles from the railroad," he smiled back at her, "and the road is rough, over a mountain by the nearest way. Your horse must have been determined indeed to take you so far in one day. He is evidently a new purchase of Shag's and bent on returning to his native heath. Horses do that sometimes. It is their instinct. I'll tell you what I'll do. It may be that he has only gone down in the valley to the water-hole. There is one not far away, I think. I'll go to the edge of the mesa and get a view. If he is not far away you can come with me after him. Just sit here and watch me. I'll not go out of your sight or hearing, and I'll not be gone five minutes. You'll not be afraid?"
She sat down obediently where he bade her, her eyes large with fear, for she dreaded the loneliness of the desert more than any fear that had ever visited her before.