THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH
HAROLD BELL WRIGHT
While this story is not in any way a history of this part of the Colorado Desert now known as the Imperial Valley, nor a biography of anyone connected with this splendid achievement, I must in honesty admit that this work which in the past ten years has transformed a vast, desolate waste into a beautiful land of homes, cities, and farms, has been my inspiration.
With much gratitude for their many helpful kindnesses, I acknowledge my indebtedness to H. T. Cory, F. C. Hermann, C. R. Rockwood, C. N. Perry, E. H. Gaines, Roy Kinkaid and the late George Sexsmith, engineers and surveyors identified with this reclamation work; to W. K. Bowker, Sidney McHarg, C. E. Paris, and many other business friends and neighboring ranchers among our pioneers; and to William Mulholland, Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
I am particularly indebted to C. K. Clarke, Assistant Manager and Chief Engineer of the California Development Company, and to Allen Kelly, whose knowledge, insight and observations as a journalist and as a student of Reclamation in the Far West have been invaluable to me.
To my friend, Mr. W. F. Holt, in appreciation of his life and of his work in the Imperial Valley, this story is inscribed. H. B. W.
Tecolote Rancho, April 25, 1911.
"Give fools their gold, and knaves their power; Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall, Who sows a field, or trains a flower, Or plants a tree, is more than all."
I. INTO THE INFINITE LONG AGO
II. JEFFERSON WORTH'S OFFERING
III. MISS BARBARA WORTH
IV. YOU'D BETTER MAKE IT NINETY
V. WHAT THE INDIAN TOLD THE SEER
VI. THE STANDARD OF THE WEST
VII. DON'T YOU LIKE MY DESERT, MR. HOLMES?
VIII. WHY WILLARD HOLMES STAYED
IX. THE MASTER PASSION—"GOOD BUSINESS"
X. BARBARA'S LOVE FOR THE SEER
XI. ABE LEE RESIGNS
XII. SIGNS OF CONFLICT
XIII. BARBARA'S CALL TO HER FRIENDS
XIV. MUCH CONFUSION AND HAPPY EXCITEMENT
XV. BARBARA COMES INTO HER OWN
XVI. JEFFERSON WORTH'S OPERATIONS
XVII. JAMES GREENFIELD SEEKS AN ADVANTAGE
XVIII. THE GAME PROGRESSES
XIX. GATHERED AT BARBARA'S COURT
XX. WHAT THE STAKES REVEALED
XXI. PABLO BRINGS NEWS TO BARBARA
XXII. GATHERING OF OMINOUS FORCES
XXIII. EXACTING ROYAL TRIBUTE
XXIV. JEFFERSON WORTH GOES FOR HELP
XXV. WILLARD HOLMES ON TRIAL
XXVI. HELD IN SUSPENSE
XXVII. ABE LEE'S RIDE TO SAVE JEFFERSON WORTH
XXVIII. WHAT THE COMPANY MAN TOLD THE MEXICANS
XXIX. TELL BARBARA I'M ALL RIGHT
XXX. MANANA! MANANA! TO-MORROW! TO-MORROW!
XXXI. BARBARA'S WAITIN' BREAKFAST FOR YOU
XXXII. BARBARA MINISTERS TO THE WOUNDED
XXXIII. WILLARD HOLMES RECEIVES HIS ANSWER
XXXIV. BATTLING WITH THE RIVER
XXXV. NATURE AND HUMAN NATURE
XXXVI. OUT OF THE HOLLOW OF GOD'S HAND
XXXVII. BACK TO THE OLD SAN FELIPE TRAIL
XXXVIII. THE HERITAGE OF BARBARA WORTH
Drawn by F. GRAHAM COOTES
OFTEN AS BARBARA SAT LOOKING OVER THAT GREAT BASIN HER HEART CRIED OUT TO KNOW THE SECRET IT HELD.
HE HAD LIFTED THE CANTEEN AND WAS HOLDING IT UPSIDE DOWN.
"BUT I DON'T RIDE, YOU KNOW."
MORE TO REGAIN HIS COMPOSURE THAN BECAUSE HE WAS THIRSTY, HELPED HIMSELF FROM THE EARTHEN WATER JAR.
"ADIOS. TELL BARBARA I'M ALL RIGHT."
WITHOUT A WORD—FOR NO WORD WAS NEEDED—THEIR HANDS MET IN A FIRM GRIP.
The Winning of Barbara Worth
INTO THE INFINITE LONG AGO.
Jefferson Worth's outfit of four mules and a big wagon pulled out of San Felipe at daybreak, headed for Rubio City. From the swinging red tassels on the bridles of the leaders to the galvanized iron water bucket dangling from the tail of the reach back of the rear axle the outfit wore an unmistakable air of prosperity. The wagon was loaded only with a well-stocked "grub-box," the few necessary camp cooking utensils, blankets and canvas tarpaulin, with rolled barley and bales of hay for the team, and two water barrels—empty. Hanging by its canvas strap from the spring of the driver's seat was a large, cloth-covered canteen. Behind the driver there was another seat of the same wide, comfortable type, but the man who held the reins was apparently alone. Jefferson Worth was not with his outfit.
By sending the heavy wagon on ahead and following later with a faster team and a light buckboard, Mr. Worth could join his outfit in camp that night, saving thus at least another half day for business in San Felipe. Jefferson Worth, as he himself would have put it, "figured on the value of time." Indeed Jefferson Worth figured on the value of nearly everything.
Now San Felipe, you must know, is where the big ships come in and the air tingles with the electricity of commerce as men from all lands, driven by the master passion of human kind—Good Business— seek each his own.
But Rubio City, though born of that same master passion of the race, is where the thin edge of civilization is thinnest, on the Colorado River, miles beyond the Coast Range Mountains, on the farther side of that dreadful land where the thirsty atmosphere is charged with the awful silence of uncounted ages.
Between these two scenes of man's activity, so different and yet so like, and crossing thus the land of my story, there was only a rude trail—two hundred and more hard and lonely miles of it—the only mark of man in all that desolate waste and itself marked every mile by the graves of men and by the bleached bones of their cattle.
All that forenoon, on every side of the outfit, the beautiful life of the coast country throbbed and exulted. It called from the heaving ocean with its many gleaming sails and dark drifting steamer smoke under the wide sky; it sang from the harbor where the laden ships meet the long trains that come and go on their continental errands; it cried loudly from the busy streets of village and town and laughed out from field and orchard. But always the road led toward those mountains that lifted their oak-clad shoulders and pine-fringed ridges across the way as though in dark and solemn warning to any who should dare set their faces toward the dreadful land of want and death that lay on their other side.
In the afternoon every mile brought scenes more lonely until, in the foothills, that creeping bit of life on the hard old trail was forgotten by the busy world behind, even as it seemed to forget that there was anywhere any life other than its creeping self.
As the sweating mules pulled strongly up the heavy grades the man on the high seat of the wagon repaid the indifference of his surroundings with a like indifference. Unmoved by the forbidding grimness of the mountains, unthoughtful of their solemn warning, he took his place as much a part of the lonely scene as the hills themselves. Slouching easily in his seat he gave heed only to his team and to the road ahead. When he spoke to the mules his voice was a soft, good-natured drawl, as though he spoke from out a pleasing reverie, and though his words were often hard words they were carried to the animals on an under-current of fellowship and understanding. The long whip, with coiled lash, was in its socket at the end of the seat. The stops were frequent. Wise in the wisdom of the unfenced country and knowing the land ahead, this driver would conserve every ounce of his team's strength against a possible time of great need.
They were creeping across a flank of the hill when the off-leader sprang to the left so violently that nothing but the instinctive bracing of his trace-mate held them from going over the grade. The same instant the wheel team repeated the maneuver, but not so quickly, as the slouching figure on the seat sprang into action. A quick strong pull on the reins, a sharp yell: "You, Buck! Molly!" and a rattling volley of strong talk swung the four back into the narrow road before the front wheels were out of the track.
With a crash the heavy brake was set. The team stopped. As the driver half rose and turned to look back he slipped the reins to his left hand and his right dropped to his hip. With a motion too quick for the eye to follow the free arm straightened and the mountain echoed wildly to the loud report of a forty-five. By the side of the road in the rear of the wagon a rattlesnake uncoiled its length and writhed slowly in the dust.
Before the echoes of the shot had died away a mad, inarticulate roar came from the depths of the wagon box. The roar was followed by a thick stream of oaths in an unmistakably Irish voice. The driver, who was slipping a fresh cartridge into the cylinder, looked up to see a man grasping the back of the rear seat for support while rising unsteadily to his feet.
The Irishman, as he stood glaring fiercely at the man who had so rudely awakened him, was without hat or coat, and with bits of hay clinging to a soiled shirt that was unbuttoned at the hairy throat, presented a remarkable figure. His heavy body was fitted with legs like posts; his wide shoulders and deep chest, with arms to match his legs, were so huge as to appear almost grotesque; his round head, with its tumbled thatch of sandy hair, was set on a thick bull-neck; while all over the big bones of him the hard muscles lay in visible knots and bunches. The unsteady poise, the red, unshaven, sweating face, and the angry, blood-shot eyes, revealed the reason for his sleep under such uncomfortable circumstances. The silent driver gazed at his fearsome passenger with calm eyes that seemed to hold in their dark depths the mystery of many a still night under the still stars.
In a voice that rumbled up from his hairy chest—a husky, menacing growl—the Irishman demanded: "Fwhat the hell do ye mane, dishturbin' the peace wid yer clamor? For less than a sup av wather I'd go over to ye wid me two hands."
Calmly the other dropped his gun into its holster. Pointing to the canteen that hung over the side of the wagon fastened by its canvas strap to the seat spring, he drawled softly: "There's the water. Help yourself, stranger."
The gladiator, without a word, reached for the canteen and with huge, hairy paws lifted it to his lips. After a draught of prodigious length he heaved a long sigh and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he turned his fierce eyes again on the driver as if to inquire what manner of person he might be who had so unceremoniously challenged his threat.
The Irishman saw a man, tall and spare, but of a stringy, tough and supple leanness that gave him the look of being fashioned by the out-of-doors. He, too, was coatless but wore a vest unbuttoned over a loose, coarse shirt. A red bandana was knotted easily about his throat. With his wide, high-crowned hat, rough trousers tucked in long boots, laced-leather wrist guards and the loosely buckled cartridge belt with its long forty-five, his very dress expressed the easy freedom of the wild lands, while the dark, thin face, accented by jet black hair and a long, straight mustache, had the look of the wide, sun-burned plains.
With a grunt that might have expressed either approval or contempt, the Irishman turned and groping about in the wagon found a sorry wreck of a hat. Again he stooped and this time, from between the bales of hay, lifted a coat, fit companion to the hat. Carefully he felt through pocket after pocket. His search was rewarded by a short-stemmed clay pipe and the half of a match—nothing more. With an effort he explored the pockets of his trousers. Then again he searched the coat; muttering to himself broken sentences, not the less expressive because incomplete: "Where the divil—Now don't that bate—Well, I'll be—" With a temper not improved by his loss he threw down the garment in disgust and looked up angrily. The silent driver was holding toward him a sack of tobacco.
The Irishman, with another grunt, crawled under the empty seat and climbing heavily over the back of the seat in front, planted himself stolidly by the driver's side. Filling his pipe with care and deliberation he returned the sack to its owner and struck the half- match along one post-like leg. Shielding the tiny flame with his hands before applying the light he remarked thoughtfully: "Ye are a danged reckless fool to be so dishturbin' me honest slape by explodin' that cannon ye carry. 'Tis on me mind to discipline ye for sich outrageous conduct." The last word was followed by loud, smacking puffs, as he started the fire in the pipe-bowl under his nose.
While the Irishman was again uttering his threat, the driver, with a skillful twist, rolled a cigarette and, leaning forward just in the nick of time, he deliberately shared the half-match with his blustering companion. In that instant the blue eyes above the pipe looked straight into the black eyes above the cigarette, and a faint twinkle of approval met a serious glance of understanding.
Gathering up his reins and sorting them carefully, the driver spoke to his team: "You, Buck! Molly! Jack! Pete!" The mules heaved ahead. Again the silence of the world-old hills was shattered by the rattling rumble of the heavy-tired wagon and the ring and clatter of iron-shod hoofs.
Stolidly the Irishman pulled at the short-stemmed pipe, the wagon seat sagging heavily with his weight at every jolt of the wheels, while from under his tattered hat rim his fierce eyes looked out upon the wild landscape with occasional side glances at his silent, indifferent companion.
Again the team was halted for a rest on the heavy grade. Long and carefully the Irishman looked about him and then, turning suddenly upon the still silent driver, he gazed at him for a full minute before saying, with elaborate mock formality: "It may be, Sorr, that bein' ye are sich a hell av a conversationalist, ut wouldn't tax yer vocal powers beyand their shtrength av I should be so baould as to ax ye fwhat the divil place is this?"
The soft, slow drawl of the other answered: "Sure. That there is No Man's Mountains ahead."
"No Man's, is ut; an' ut looks that same. Where did ye say ye was thryin' to go?"
"We're headed for Rubio City. This here is the old San Felipe trail."
"Uh-huh! So we're goin' to Rubio City, are we? For all I know that may as well be nowhere at all. Well, well, ut's news av intherest to me. We are goin' to Rubio City. Ut may be that ye would exshplain, Sorr, how I come to be here at all."
"Sure Mike! You come in this here wagon from San Felipe."
At the drawling answer the hot blood flamed in the face of the short-tempered Irishman and the veins in his thick neck stood out as if they would burst. "Me name's not Mike at all, but Patrick Mooney!" he roared. "I've two good eyes in me head that can see yer danged old wagon for meself, an' fwhat's more I've two good hands that can break ye in bits for the impedent dried herrin' that ye are, a-thinkin' ye can take me anywhere at all be abductin' me widout me consent. For a sup o' wather I'd go to ye—" He turned quickly to look behind him for the driver was calmly pointing toward the end of the seat. "Fwhat is ut? Fwhat's there?" he demanded.
"The water," drawled the dark-faced man. "I don't reckon you drunk it all the other time."
Again the big man lifted the canteen and drank long and deep. When he had wiped his mouth with the back of his hairy hand and had returned the canteen to its place, he faced his companion—his blue eyes twinkling with positive approval. Scratching his head meditatively, he said: "An' all because av me wantin' to enjoy the blessin's an' advantages av civilization agin afther three long months in that danged gradin' camp, as is the right av ivery healthy man wid his pay in his pocket."
The teamster laughed softly. "You was sure enjoyin' of it a-plenty."
The other looked at him with quickened interest. "Ye was there?" he asked.
"Some," was the laconic reply.
The Irishman scratched his head again with a puzzled air. "I disremimber entire. Was there some throuble maybe?"
The other grinned. "Things was movin' a few."
Patrick Mooney nodded his head. "Uh-huh: mostly they do under thim circumstances. Av course there'd be a policeman, or maybe two?"
"Five," said the man with the lines, gently.
"Five! Howly Mither! I did mesilf proud. An' did they have the wagon? Sure they wud—five policemen niver walked. Wan av thim might, av ut was handy-like, but five—niver! Tell me, man, who else was at the party? No—howld on a minut!" He interrupted himself, "Thim cops stimulate me mimory a bit. Was there not a bunch av sailor-men from wan av thim big ships?"
The driver nodded.
The other, pleased with the success of his mental effort, continued: "Uh-huh—an' I was havin' a peaceful dhrink wid thim all whin somewan made impedent remarks touchin' me appearance, or ancestors, I disremimber which. But where was you?"
"Well, you see," explained the driver in his slow way, "hit was like this. That there saloon were plumb full of sailor-men all exceptin' you an' me. I was a heap admirin' of the way you handled that big hombre what opened the meetin' and also his two pardners, who aimed to back his play. Hit was sure pretty work. The rest of the crowd sort o' bunched in one end of the room an' when you began addressin' the congregation, so to speak, on the habits, character, customs and breedin' of sailor-men in general an' the present company in particular, I see right there that you was a-bitin' off more 'n you could chaw. It wasn't no way reasonable that any human could handle that whole outfit with only just his bare hands, so I edged over your way, plumb edified by your remarks, and when the rush for the mourners' bench come I unlimbered an' headed the stampede pronto. Then I made my little proposition. I told 'em that, bein' the only individual on the premises not a sailor-man nor an Irishman, I felt it my duty to referee the obsequies, so to speak, and that odds of twenty to one, not to mention knives, was strictly agin my convictions. Moreover, bein' the sole an' only uninterested audience, I had rights. Then I offers to bet my pile, even money, that you could handle the whole bunch, takin' 'em two at a throw. I knowed it were some odds, but I noticed that them three what opened the meetin' was still under the influence. Also I undertook to see that specifications was faithfully fulfilled."
"Mither av Gawd, fwhat a sociable!" broke in the Irishman. "An' me too dhrunk to remimber rightly! Did they take yer bet? Ye sun-burned limb av the divil—did they take ut?"
"They sure did," drawled the driver. "I had my gun on them all the time."
"Hurroo! An' did I do ut? Tell me quick—did I do ut? Sure I could aisy av nothin' happened."
"You laid your first pair on top of the three, then the police called the game and the bets were off."
"They pinched the house?"
"They took you an' me."
"Sure! av course they would take us two. 'Tis thim San Felipe police knows their duty. But how could they do ut?"
"I forget details right here, bein' temporarily incapacitated by one o' them hittin' me with a club from behind. I woke up in a cell with you."
The Irishman rubbed the back of his head. "Come to think av ut, I have a bit av a bump on me own noodle that 'tis like helps to exshplain the cell. But fwhat in the divil's name brung us here in this Gawd-forsaken Nobody's Place? Pass me another pipeful an' tell me that av ye can."
The driver passed over the tobacco sack and, stopping his team for another rest, rolled a cigarette for himself. "That's easy," he said. "This here is Jefferson Worth's outfit. He wanted me to start home this morning, so he got me off. I don't know how he done it; mostly nobody knows how Jefferson Worth does things. There was a man with him who knowed you and, as I was some disinclined to leave you under the circumstances, Mr. Worth fixed it up for you, too, then we all jest throwed you in and fetched you along. Mr. Worth with the other man and his kid are comin' on in a buckboard. They'll catch up with us where we camp to-night. I don't mind sayin' that I plumb admired your spirit and action and—sizin' up that police bunch—I could see your talents would sure be wasted in that San Felipe country for some time to come. There'll be plenty of room in Rubio City for you, leastwise 'till you draw your pay again. If you don't like the accommodations you're gettin' I reckon you'd better make good your talk back there and we'll see whether you takes this outfit back to San Felipe or I takes her on to Rubio City."
The Irishman spat emphatically over the wheel. "An' 'tis a gintleman wid proper instincts ye are, though, as a rule, I howld ut impolite to carry a gun. But afther all, 'tis a matter av opinion an' I'm free to admit that there are occasions. Anyhow ye handle ut wid grace an' intilligence. An', fists er shticks, er knives, er guns, that's the thing that marks the man. 'Tis not Patrick Mooney that'll fault a gintleman for ways that he can't help owin' to his improper bringin' up. Av ye don't mind, will ye tell me fwhat they call ye? I'll not be so indelicate as to ax yer name. Fwhat they call ye will be enough."
The other laughed. "My name is Joe Brannin. They call me Texas Joe— Tex, for short."
"Good bhoy, Tex! Ye look the divil av a lot like a red herrin', but that's not sich a bad fish, an' ye have the right flavor. How could ye help ut? Brannin an' Texas is handles to pull a man through hell wid. But tell me this—who is this man that says he knows me?"
Texas Joe shook his head and, picking out his lines, called to his team. When they were under way again he said: "I didn't hear his name but I judge from the talk that he is one o' them there civil engineers, an' that he's headin' for Rubio City to build the railroad that's goin' through to the coast. Mr. Worth told me that there would be another man and a kid to go back with us, but I know that Mr. Worth hadn't never seen them before himself."
Pat shifted his heavy bulk to face the driver and, removing his pipe from his mouth, asked with deliberation: "An' do ye mane to tell me that this place we're goin' to is on the new line av the Southwestern an' Continental?"
"Sure. They're buildin' into Rubio City from the East now."
The Irishman became excited. "An' this man that knows me—this engineer—is he a fine, big, up-standin' man wid brown eyes an' the look av a king?"
"I ain't never seen no kings," drawled Tex, "but the rest of it sure fits him."
"Well, fwhat do ye think av that? 'Tis the Seer himsilf, or I'm not the son av me own mither. I was hearin' in Frisco, where I went the last time I drawed me pay, that he was like to be on the S. an' C. extension. 'Twas that that took me to San Felipe, bein' wishful to get a job wid him again. Well, well, an' to think ut's the Seer himsilf!"
"What's that you call him?"
"The Seer. I disremimber his other name but he's got wan all shtraight an' proper. He's that kind. They call him the Seer because av his talk av the great things that will be doin' in this country av no rain at all whin ignorant savages like yersilf learn how to use the wather that's in the rivers for irrigation. I've heard him say mesilf that hundreds av thousands av acres av these big deserts will be turned into farms, an' all that be what he calls 'Reclamation.' 'Twas for that some danged yellow-legged surveyor give him the name, an' ut shtuck. But most av the engineers—the rale engineers do ye mind—is wid him, though they do be jokin' him the divil av a lot about what they calls his visions."
"He didn't look like he was locoed," said Texas Joe thoughtfully, "but he's sure some off on that there desert proposition as you'll see before we lands in Rubio."
"I dunno—I've seen some quare things in me time in the way av big jobs that nobody thought could be done at all. But lave ut go. 'Tis not the likes av me an' you that's qualified to give judgment on sich janiuses as the Seer, who, I heard tell, has the right to put more big-manin' letters afther his name than ye have teeth in yer head."
"All the same it ain't the brand on a horse that makes him travel. A man'll sure need somethin' more hefty than letters after his name when he goes up against the desert."
"Well, lave ut go at that. Wait 'til ye know him. But fwhat's this yer tellin' me about a kid? The Seer has no family at all but himsilf an' his job."
Texas grinned. "Maybe not, pard; but he's sure got together part of a family this trip."
"Is ut a gurl, or a bhoy?"
"Boy—'bout a ten-year-old, I'd say."
The Irishman shook his head doubtfully. "I dunno. 'Tis a quare thing for the Seer. Av it was me, or you, now—but the Seer! It's danged quare! But tell me, fwhat's this man, yer boss? 'Tis a good healthy pull he must have to be separatin' us from thim San Felipe police."
Texas Joe deliberated so long before answering this that Pat glanced at him uneasily several times. At last the driver drawled: "You're right there; Jefferson Worth sure has some pull."
Pat grunted. "But fwhat does he do?"
"Do?" Tex swung his team around a spur of the mountain where the trail leads along the side of a canyon to its head. Far below they heard the tumbling roar of a stream in its rocky course.
"Sure the man must do something?"
"As near as I can make out Jefferson Worth does everybody."
"Oh ho! So that's ut? I've no care for the cards mesilf, but av a man's a professional an'—"
"You're off there, pardner. Jefferson Worth ain't that kind. He's one o' these here financierin' sports, an' so far as anybody that I ever seen goes, he's got a dead cinch."
"Ye mane he's a banker?"
"Sure. The Pioneer in Rubio City. He started the game in the early days an' he's been a-rollin' it up ever since. Hit's plumb curious about this here financierin' business," continued Tex, in his slow, meditative way. "Looks to me mostly jest plain, common hold-up, only they do it with money 'stead of a gun. In the old days you used to get the drop on your man with your six, all regular, an' take what he happened to have in his clothes. Then the posse'd get after you an' mebbe string you up, which was all right, bein' part of the game. Now these fellows like Jefferson Worth, they get's your name on some writin's an' when you ain't lookin' they slips up an' gets away with all your worldly possessions, an' the sheriff he jest laughs an' says hits good business. This here Worth man is jest about the coolest, smoothest, hardest proposition in the game. He fair makes my back hair raise. The common run o' people ain't got no more show stackin' up agin Jefferson Worth than two-bits worth o' ice has in hell. Accordin' to my notion hit's this here same financierin' game that's a-ruinin' the West. The cattle range is about all gone now. If they keeps it up we won't be no better out here than some o' them places I've heard about back East."
"'Tis a danged ignorant savage ye are, like the rest av yer thribe, wid yer talk av ruinin' the West. Fwhat wud this counthry be without money? 'Tis thim same financiers that have brung ye the railroads, an' the cities, an' the schools, an' the churches, an' all the other blessin's an' joys of civilization that ye've got to take whither ye likes ut or not. Look at the Seer, now. Fwhat could a man like him— an engineer, mind ye—fwhat could the Seer do widout the men wid money to back him?"
The Irishman's words were answered by a cheerful "Whoa!" and a crash of the brakes as Texas Joe brought his team to a stand near the spring at the head of the canyon. "We camp here," he announced. "This is the last water we strike until we make it over the Pass to Mountain Springs on the desert side. Jefferson Worth will be along with the Seer and his kid most any time now."
A little before dusk the banker, with his two companions, arrived.
"Hello, Pat!" The man who leaped from the buckboard and strode toward the waiting Irishman was tall and broad, with the head and chin of a soldier, and the brown eyes of a dreamer. He was dressed in rough corduroys, blue flannel shirt, laced boots, and Stetson, and he greeted the burly Irishman as a fellow-laborer.
A joyful grin spread over the battered features of the gladiator as he grasped the Seer's outstretched hand. "Well, dang me but ut's glad I am to see ye, Sorr, in this divil's own land. I had me natural doubts, av course, whin I woke up in the wagon, but ut's all right. 'Tis proud I am to be abducted by ye, Sorr."
"Abducted!" The engineer's laugh awoke the echoes in the canyon. "It was a rescue, man!"
"Well, well, let ut go at that! But tell me, Sorr"—he lowered his voice to a confidential rumble—"fwhat's this I hear that ye have yer bhoy wid ye? Sure I niver knew that ye was a man av family." He looked toward the slender lad who, with the readiness of a grown man, was helping the driver of the buckboard to unhitch his team of four broncos. "'Tis a good lad he is, or I'm a Dutchman."
"You're right, Pat, Abe is a good boy," the Seer answered gravely. "I picked him up in a mining camp on the edge of the Mojave Desert when I was running a line of preliminary surveys through that country for the S. and C. last year. He was born in the camp and his mother died when he was a baby. God knows how he pulled through! You know what those mining places are. His father, Frank Lee, was killed in a drunken row while I was there, and Abe showed so much cool nerve and downright manliness that I offered him a place with my party. He has been with me ever since."
Pat's voice was husky as he said: "I ax yer pardon, Sorr, for me blunderin' impedence about yer bein' a man av family. I'm a danged old rough-neck, wid no education but me two fists, an' no manners at all."
The engineer's reply was prevented by the approach of Jefferson Worth who had been talking with Texas Joe. The banker's head came but little above the Seer's shoulders and in comparison with the Irishman's heavy bulk he appeared almost insignificant, while his plain business suit of gray seemed altogether out of place in the wild surroundings. His smooth-shaven face was an expressionless gray mask and his deep-set gray eyes turned from the Irishman to the engineer without a hint of emotion. The two men felt that somewhere behind that gray mask they were being carefully estimated—measured —valued—as possible factors in some far-reaching plan. He spoke to the Seer, and his voice was without a suggestion of color: "I see that your friend has recovered." It was as though he stated a fact that he had just verified.
Laughing at the memory of the Irishman's San Felipe experience, the engineer said: "Mr. Worth, permit me to introduce Mr. Patrick Mooney whom I have known for years as the best boss of a grading gang in the West. Pat, this is Mr. Jefferson Worth, president of the Pioneer Bank in Rubio City."
The Irishman clutched at his tattered hat-brim in embarrassed acknowledgment of the Seer's formality. Jefferson Worth, from behind his gray mask, said in his exact, colorless voice: "He looks as though he ought to handle men."
As the banker passed on toward the big wagon the Irishman drew close to the Seer and whispered hoarsely: "Now fwhat the hell kind av a man is that? 'Tis the truth, Sorr, that whin he looked at me out av that grave-yard face I could bare kape from crossin' mesilf!"
JEFFERSON WORTH'S OFFERING.
When day broke over the topmost ridges of No Man's Mountains, Jefferson Worth's outfit was ready to move. The driver of the lighter rig with its four broncos set out for San Felipe. On the front seat of the big wagon Texas Joe picked up his reins, sorted them carefully, and glanced over his shoulder at his employer. "All set?"
"You, Buck! Molly!" The lead mules straightened their traces. "Jack! Pete!" As the brake was released with a clash and rattle of iron rods, the wheelers threw their weight into their collars and the wagon moved ahead.
Grim, tireless, world-old sentinels, No Man's Mountains stood guard between the fertile land on their seaward side and the desolate forgotten wastes of the East. They said to the country of green life, of progress and growth and civilization, that marched to their line on the West, "Halt!" and it stopped. To the land of lean want, of gray death, of gaunt hunger, and torturing thirst, that crept to their feet on the other side, "Stop!" and it came no farther. With no land to till, no mineral to dig, their very poverty was their protection. With an air of grim finality, they declared strongly that as they had always been they would always remain; and, at the beginning of my story, save for that one, slender, man-made trail, their hoary boast had remained unchallenged.
Steadily, but with frequent rests on the grades, Jefferson Worth's outfit climbed toward the summit and a little before noon gained the Pass. The loud, rattling rumble of the wagon as the tires bumped and ground over the stony, rock-floored way, with the sharp ring and clatter of the iron-shod hoofs of the team, echoed, echoed, and echoed again. Loudly, wildly, the rude sounds assaulted the stillness until the quiet seemed hopelessly shattered by the din. Softly, tamely, the sounds drifted away in the clear distance; through groves of live oak, thickets of greasewood, juniper, manzanita and sage; into canyon and wash; from bluff and ledge; along slope and spur and shoulder; over ridge and saddle and peak; fainting, dying—the impotent sounds of man's passing sank into the stillness and were lost. When the team halted for a brief rest it was in a moment as if the silence had never been broken. Grim, awful, the hills gave no signs of man's presence, gave that creeping bit of life no heed.
At Mountain Spring—a lonely little pool on the desert side of the huge wall—they stopped for dinner. When the meal was over, Texas Joe, with the assistance of Pat, filled the water barrels, while the boy busied himself with the canteen and the Seer and Jefferson Worth looked on.
"'Tis a dhry counthry ahead, I'm thinking'," remarked the Irishman inquiringly as he lifted another dripping bucket.
"Some," returned Tex. "There are three water holes between here and the river where there's water sometimes. Mostly, though, when you need it worst, there ain't none there, an' I reckon a dry water hole is about the most discouragin' proposition there is. They'll all be dry this trip. There wasn't nothin' but mud at Wolf Wells when we come through last week."
Again the barren rocks and the grim, forbidding hills echoed the loud sound of wheel and hoof. Down the steep flank of the mountain, with screaming, grinding brakes, they thundered and clattered into the narrow hall-way of Devil's Canyon with its sheer walls and shadowy gloom. The little stream that trickled down from the tiny spot of green at the spring tried bravely to follow but soon sank exhausted into the dry waste. A cool wind, like a draft through a tunnel, was in their faces. After perhaps two hours of this the way widened out, the sides of the canyon grew lower with now and then gaps and breaks. Then the walls gave way to low, rounded hills, through which the winding trail lay—a bed of sand and gravel—and here and there appeared clumps of greasewood and cacti of several varieties.
At length they passed out from between the last of the foot-hills and suddenly—as though a mighty curtain were lifted—they faced the desert. At their feet the Mesa lay in a blaze of white sunlight, and beyond and below the edge of the bench the vast King's Basin country.
At the edge of the Mesa Texas halted his team and the little party looked out and away over those awful reaches of desolate solitude. The Seer and Pat uttered involuntary exclamations. Jefferson Worth, Texas, and Abe were silent, but the boy's thin features were aglow with eager enthusiasm, and the face of the driver revealed an interest in the scene that years of familiarity could not entirely deaden, but the gray mask of the banker betrayed no emotion.
In that view, of such magnitude that miles meant nothing, there was not a sign of man save the one slender thread of road that was so soon lost in the distance. From horizon to horizon, so far that the eye ached in the effort to comprehend it, there was no cloud to cast a shadow, and the deep sky poured its resistless flood of light upon the vast dun plain with savage fury, as if to beat into helplessness any living creature that might chance to be caught thereon. And the desert, receiving that flood from the wide, hot sky, mysteriously wove with it soft scarfs of lilac, misty veils of purple and filmy curtains of rose and pearl and gold; strangely formed with it wide lakes of blue rimmed with phantom hills of red and violet— constantly changing, shifting, scene on scene, as dream pictures shift and change.
Only the strange, silent life that, through long years, the desert had taught to endure its hardships was there—the lizard, horned- toad, lean jack-rabbit, gaunt coyote, and their kind. Only the hard growth that the ages had evolved dotted the floor of the Basin in the near distance—the salt-bush and greasewood, with here and there clumps of mesquite.
And over it all—over the strange hard life, the weird, constantly shifting scenes, the wondrous, ever-changing colors—was the dominant, insistent, compelling spirit of the land; a brooding, dreadful silence; a waiting—waiting—waiting; a mystic call that was at once a threat and a promise; a still drawing of the line across which no man might go and live, save those master men who should win the right.
After a while the engineer, pointing, said: "The line of the Southwestern and Continental must follow the base of those hills away over there—is that right, Texas?"
"That'll be about it," the driver answered. "I hear you're goin' through San Antonio Pass, an' that's to the north. Rubio City lies about here—" he pointed a little south of east. "Our road runs through them sand hills that you can see shinin' like gold a-way over there. Dry River Crossin' is jest beyond. You can see Lone Mountain off here to the south. Hit'll sure be some warm down there. Look at them dust-devil's dancin'. An' over there, where you see that yellow mist like, is a big sand storm. We ain't likely to get a long one this time o' the year. But you can't tell what this old desert 'll do; she's sure some uncertain. La Palma de la Mano de Dios, the Injuns call it, and I always thought that—all things considerin'—the name fits mighty close. You can see hit's jest a great big basin."
"The Hollow of God's Hand." repeated the Seer in a low tone. He lifted his hat with an unconscious gesture of reverence.
The Irishman, as the engineer translated, crossed himself. "Howly Mither, fwhat a name!"
Jefferson Worth spoke. "Drive on, Texas."
And so, with the yellow dust-devils dancing along their road and that yellow cloud in the distance, they moved down the slope—down into The King's Basin—into La Palma de la Mano de Dios, The Hollow of God's Hand.
"Is that true, sir?" asked Abe of the Seer.
"Is what true, son?"
"What Texas said about the ocean."
"Yes it's true. The lowest point of this Basin is nearly three hundred feet below sea level. The railroad we are going to build follows right around the rim on the other side over there. This slope that we are going down now is the ancient beach." Then, while they pushed on into the silence and the heat of that dreadful land, the engineer told the boy and his companions how the ages had wrought with river and wave and sun and wind to make The King's Basin Desert.
Wolf Wells they found dry as Texas had anticipated. Phantom Lake also was dry. Occasionally they crossed dry, ancient water courses made by the river when the land was being formed; sometimes there were glassy, hard, bare alkali flats; again the trail led through jungle-like patches of desert growth or twisted and wound between high hummocks. Always there was the wide, hot sky, the glaring flood of light unbroken by shadow masses to relieve the eye and reflected hotly from the sandy floor of the old sea-bed.
That evening, when they made camp, a heavy mass of clouds hung over the top of No Man's Mountains and the long Coast Range that walled in the Basin. Texas Joe, watching these clouds, said nothing; but when Pat threw on the ground the water left in his cup after drinking, the plainsman opened upon him with language that startled them all.
The next day, noon found them in the first of the sand hills. There was no sign of vegetation here, for the huge mounds and ridges of white sand, piled like drifts of snow, were never quite still. Always they move eastward before the prevailing winds from the west. Through the greater part of the year they advance very slowly, but when the fierce gales sweep down from the mountains they roll forward so swiftly that any object in their path is quickly buried in their smothering depths.
In the middle of the afternoon Texas climbed to the top of a huge drift to look over the land. The others saw him stand a moment against the sky, gazing to the northwest, then he turned and slid down the steep side of the mound to the waiting wagon.
"She's comin'!" he remarked, laconically, "an' she's a big one. I reckon we may as well get as far as we can."
A few minutes later they saw the sky behind them filling as with a golden mist. The atmosphere, dry and hot, seemed charged with mysterious, terrible power. The very mules tossed their heads uneasily and tugged at the reins as if they felt themselves pursued by some fearful thing. Straight and hard, with terrific velocity, the wind was coming down through the mountain passes and sweeping across the wide miles of desert, gathering the sand as it came. Swiftly the golden mist extended over their heads, a thick, yellow fog, through which the sun shone dully with a weird, unnatural light. Then the stinging, blinding, choking blast was upon them with pitiless, savage fury. In a moment all signs of the trail were obliterated. Over the high edges of the drift the sand curled and streamed like blizzard snow. About the outfit it whirled and eddied, cutting the faces of the men and forcing them, with closed eyes, to gasp for breath.
Of their own accord the mules stopped and Texas shouted to Mr. Worth: "It ain't no use for us to try to go on, sir. There ain't no trail now, and we'd jest drift around."
As far from the lee of a drift as possible, all hands—under the desert man's direction—worked to rig a tarpaulin on the windward side of the wagon. Then, with the mules unhitched and securely tied to the vehicle, the men crouched under their rude shelter. The Irishman was choking, coughing, sputtering and cursing, the engineer laughed good-naturedly at their predicament, and Abe Lee grinned in sympathy, while Texas Joe accepted the situation grimly with the forbearance of long experience. But Jefferson Worth's face was the same expressionless gray mask. He gave no hint of impatience at the delay; no uneasiness at the situation; no annoyance at the discomfort. It was as though he had foreseen the situation and had prepared himself to meet it. "How long do you figure this will last, Tex?" he asked in his colorless voice.
"Not more than three days," returned the driver. "It may be over in three hours."
The morning of the second day they crawled from their blankets beneath the wagon to find the sky clear and the air free from dust. Eagerly they prepared to move. Against their shelter the sand had drifted nearly to the top of the wheels, and the wagon-box itself was more than half filled. The hair, eye-brows, beard and clothing of the men were thickly coated with powdery dust, while every sign of the trail was gone and the wheels sank heavily into the soft sand.
Three times Texas halted the laboring team and, climbing to the summit of a drift, determined his course by marks unknown to those who waited below. Again they stopped for the plainsman to take an observation, and this time the four in the wagon, watching the figure of the driver against the sky, saw him turn abruptly and come down to them with long plunging strides. Instinctively they knew that something unusual had come under his eye.
The Seer and Jefferson Worth spoke together. "What is it, Tex?"
"A stray horse about a mile ahead."
For the first time Texas Joe uncoiled the long lash of his whip and his call "You, Buck! Molly!" was punctuated by pistol-like cracks that sounded strangely in the death-like silence of the sandy waste.
As they came within sight of the strange horse the poor beast staggered wearily to meet the wagon—the broken strap of his halter swinging loosely from his low-hanging head.
"Look at the poor baste," said Pat. "'Tis near dead he is wid thirst." He leaped to the ground and started toward the water barrel in the rear of the wagon.
"Hold on, Pat," said the colorless voice of Jefferson Worth. And his words were followed by the report of Texas Joe's forty-five.
The Irishman turned to see the strange horse lying dead on the sand. "Fwhat the hell—" he demanded hotly, but Texas was eyeing him coolly, and something checked the anger of the Irishman.
"You don't seem to sabe," drawled the man of the desert, replacing the empty shell in his gun. "There ain't hardly enough water to carry us through now, an' we may have to pick up this other outfit."
No one spoke as Pat climbed heavily back to his seat.
For two miles the tracks of the strange horse were visible, then they were blotted out by the sand that had filled them. "He made that much since the blow," was Texas' slow comment. "How far we are from where he started is all guess."
As they pushed on, all eyes searched the country eagerly and before long they found the spot for which they looked. A light spring wagon with a piece of a halter strap tied to one of the wheels was more than half-buried by the sand in the lee of a high drift. There was a small water keg, empty, with its seams already beginning to open in the fierce heat of the sun, a "grub-box," some bedding and part of a bale of hay-nothing more.
Jefferson Worth, Pat and the boy attempted to dig in the steep side of the drift that rose above the half-buried outfit, but at their every movement tons of the dry sand came sliding down upon them. "It ain't no use, Mr. Worth," said Texas, as the banker straightened up, baffled in his effort. "You will never know what's buried in there until God Almighty uncovers it."
Then the man of the desert and plains read the story of the tragedy as though he had been an eye witness. "They was travelin' light an' counted on makin' good time. They must have counted, too, on, findin' water in the hole." He kicked the empty keg. "Their supply give out an' then that sand-storm caught 'em and the horses broke loose. Of course they would go to hunt their stock, not darin' to be left afoot and without water, an' hits a thousand to one they never got back to the outfit. We're takin' too many chances ourselves to lose much time and I don't reckon there's any use, but we'd better look around maybe."
He directed the little party to scatter and to keep on the high ground so that they would not lose sight of each other. Until well on in the afternoon they searched the vicinity, but with no reward, while the hot sun, the dry burning waste and the glaring sands of the desert warned them that every hour's delay might mean their own death. When they returned at last to the wagon, called in by Texas, no one spoke. As they went on their way each was busy with his own thoughts of the grim evidence of the desert's power.
Another hour passed. Suddenly Texas halted the mules and, with an exclamation, leaped to the ground. The others saw that he was bending over a dim track in the sand.
"My God! men," he shouted, "hit's a woman."
For a short way he followed the foot-prints, then, running back to the wagon and springing to his seat, swung his long whip and urged the team ahead.
"Hit's a woman," he repeated. "When the others went away and didn't come back she started ahead in the storm alone. She had got this far when the blow quit, leavin' her tracks to show. We may—" He urged his mules to greater effort.
The prints of the woman's shoe could be plainly seen now. "Look!" said Tex, pointing, "she's staggerin'—Now she's stopped! Whoa!" Throwing his weight on the lines he leaned over from his seat. "Look, men! Look there!" he cried, as he pointed. "She's carryin' a kid. See, there's where she set it down for a rest." It was all too clear. Beside the woman's track were the prints of two baby shoes.
The Seer, with a long breath, drew his hand across his sand-begrimed face. "Hurry, Tex. For God's sake, hurry!"
The Irishman was cursing fiercely in impotent rage, clenching and unclenching his huge, hairy fists. The boy cowered in his seat. But not a change came over the mask-like features of Jefferson Worth. Only the delicate, pointed fingers of his nervous hands caressed constantly his unshaven chin, fingered his clothing, or—gripped the edge of the wagon seat as he leaned forward in his place. Texas— grim, cool, alert, his lean figure instinct now with action and his dark eyes alight—swung his long whip and handled his reins with a master's skill, calling upon every atom of his team's strength, while reading those tracks in the sand as one would scan a printed page.
It was all written there—that story of mother love; where she staggered with fatigue; where she was forced to rest; where the baby walked a little way; and once or twice where the little one stumbled and fell as the sand proved too heavy for the little feet. And all the while the desert, dragging with dead weight at the wheels, seemed to fight against them. It was as though the dreadful land knew that only time was needed to complete its work. Then the hot sun dropped beyond the purple wall of mountain and the mystery of the long twilight began.
"Dry River Crossing is just ahead," said Tex, and soon the outfit pitched down the steep bank of a deep wash that had been made in some forgotten age by an overflow of the great river. Occasionally, after the infrequent rains of winter, some water was to be found here in a hole under the high bank a short way from the trail.
With a crash of brakes the team stopped at the bottom. The men, springing from the wagon and leaving the panting mules to stand with drooping heads, started to search the wash. But in a moment Texas shouted and the others quickly joined him. Near the dry water hole lay the body of a woman. By her side was a small canteen.
The engineer bent to examine the still form for some sign of life.
"It ain't no use, sir," said Texas. "She's gone." He had lifted the canteen and was holding it upside down. With his finger he touched the mouth of the vessel and held out his hand. The finger was wet. "You see," he said, "when her men-folks didn't come back she started with the kid an' what water she had. But she wouldn't drink none herself, an' the hard trip in the heat and sand carryin' the baby, an' findin' the water hole dry was too much for her. If only we had known an' come on, instead of huntin' back there where it wasn't no use, we'd a-been in time."
As the little party—speechless at the words of Texas—stood in the twilight, looking down upon the lifeless form, a chorus of wild, snarling, barking yowls, with long-drawn, shrill howls, broke on the still air. It was the coyotes' evening call. To the silent men the weird sound seemed the triumphant cry of the Desert itself and they started in horror.
Then from the dusky shadow of the high bank farther up the wash came another cry that broke the spell that was upon them and drew an answering shout from their lips as they ran forward.
"Mamma! Mamma! Barba wants drink. Please bring drink, mamma. Barba's 'fraid!"
Jefferson Worth reached her first. Close under the bank, where she had wandered after "mamma" lay down to sleep, and evidently just awakened from a tired nap by the coyotes' cry, sat a little girl of not more than four years. Her brown hair was all tumbled and tossed, and her big brown eyes were wide with wondering fear at the four strange men and the boy who stood over her.
"Mamma! Mamma!" she whimpered, "Barba wants mamma."
Jefferson Worth knelt before her, holding out his hands, and his voice, as he spoke to the baby, made his companions look at him in wonder, it was so full of tenderness.
The little girl fixed her big eyes questioningly upon the kneeling man. The others waited, breathless. Then suddenly, as if at something she saw in the gray face of the financier, the little one drew back with fear upon her baby features and in her baby voice. "Go 'way! Go 'way!" she cried. Then again, "Mamma! Barba wants mamma." Jefferson Worth turned sadly away, his head bowed as though with disappointment or shame.
The others, now, in turn tried to win her confidence. The plainsman and the Irishman she regarded gravely, as she had looked at the banker, but without fear. The boy won a little smile, but she still held back—hesitating—reluctant. Then with a pitiful little gesture of confidence and trust, she stretched forth her arms to the big brown-eyed engineer. "Barba wants drink," she said, and the Seer took her in his arms.
At the wagon it was Jefferson Worth who offered her a tin cup of water, but again she shrank from him, throwing her arms about the neck of the Seer. The engineer, taking the cup from the banker's hands, gave her a drink.
While Mr. Worth and the boy prepared a hasty meal, Texas fed his team and the Irishman, going back a short distance, made still another grave beside the road already marked by so many. The child— still in the engineer's arms—ate hungrily, and when the meal was over he took her to the wagon, while the others, with a lantern, returned to the still form by the dry water hole. At the banker's suggestion, a thorough examination of the woman's clothing was made for some clue to her identity, but no mark was found. With careful hands they reverently wrapped the body in a blanket and laid it away in its rude, sandy bed.
When the grave was filled and protected as best it could be, a short consultation was held. Mr. Worth wished to return to the half buried outfit to make another effort to learn the identity of the Desert's victim, but Texas refused. "'Tain't that I ain't willin' to do what's right," he said, "but you see how that sand acted. Why, Mr. Worth, you couldn't move that there drift in a year, an' you know it. I jest gave the mules the last water they'll get an' we're goin' to have all we can do to make it through as it is. If we wait to go back there ain't one chance in a hundred that we-all 'll ever see Rubio City again. It ain't sense to risk killin' the kid when we've got a chance to save her—jest on a slim chance o' findin' out who she is."
Returning to the outfit they very quietly—so as not to awaken the sleeping child—hitched the team to the wagon and took their places. As the mules started the baby stirred uneasily in the Seer's arms and murmured sleepily: "Mamma." But the low, soothing tones of the big man calmed her and she slept.
Hour after hour of the long night dragged by. They had left the sand hills behind three miles before they reached Dry River and now the wide, level reaches of the thinly covered plain, forbidding and ghostly under the stars, seemed to stretch away on every side into infinite space. Involuntarily all the members of the little party, except Texas Joe, strained their eyes looking into the blank, silent distance for lights, and, as they looked, they turned their heads constantly to listen for some sound of human life. But in all that vast expanse there was no light save the light of the stars; in all that silent waste there was no sound save the occasional call of the coyote, the plaintive, quivering note of the ground-owls, the muffled fall of the mules' feet in the soft earth, and the dull chuck, creak, and rumble of the wagon with the clink of trace chains and the squeak of straining harness leather. And always it was as though that dreadful land clung to them with heavy hands, matching its strength against the strength of these who braved its silent threat, seeking to hold them as it held so many others. The men spoke rarely and then in low tones. The baby in the Seer's arms slept. Only Texas, and perhaps his team, knew how they kept the dimly marked trail that led to life. Perhaps Texas himself did not know.
At daybreak they halted for a brief rest and for breakfast. The child ate with the others, but still clung to the engineer, and while asking often for "mamma," seemed to trust her big protector fully. From the shelter of his arms she even smiled at the efforts of Texas, Pat and the boy to amuse and keep her attention from her loss. From Jefferson Worth she still shrank in fear and the others wondered at the pain in that gray face as all his efforts to win a smile or a kind look from the baby were steadily repulsed.
It was Texas who, when they halted, poured the last of the water from the barrel into the canteen and carefully measured out to each a small portion. It was Texas now who gave the word to start again on their journey. And when the desert man placed the canteen with their meager supply of water in the corner of the wagon-box under his own feet the others understood and made no comment.
At noon, when each was given his carefully measured portion from the canteen, Jefferson Worth, before they could check him, wet his handkerchief with his share of the water and gave it to the Seer to wipe the dust from the hot little face of the child. The eyes of the big engineer filled and Texas, with an oath that was more reverent than profane, poured another measure and forced the banker to drink.
As the long, hot, thirsty hours of that afternoon dragged slowly past, the faces of the men grew worn and haggard. The two days and nights in the trying storm, the exertion of their search among the sand hills, the excitement of finding the woman's body and the discovery of the child, followed by the long sleepless night, and now the hard, hot, dreary hours of the struggle with the Desert that seemed to gather all its dreadful strength against them, were beginning to tell. Texas Joe, forced to give constant attention to his team and hardened by years of experience, showed the strain least, while Pat, unfitted for such a trial by his protracted spree in San Felipe, undoubtedly suffered most.
After dinner the Irishman sat motionless in his place with downcast face, lifting his head only at long intervals to gaze with fierce hot eyes upon the barren landscape, while muttering to himself in a growling undertone. Later he seemed to sink into a stupor and appeared to be scarcely conscious of his companions. Suddenly he roused himself and, bending forward with a quick motion, reached the canteen from under the driver's seat. In the act of unscrewing the cap he was halted by the calm-voice of Texas: "Put that back."
"Go to hell wid ye! I'm no sun-dried herrin'."
The cap came loose, but as he raised the canteen and lifted his face with open parched lips he looked straight into the muzzle of the big forty-five and back of the gun into the steady eyes of the plainsman. "I'm sorry, pard, but you can't do it."
For an instant the Irishman sat as if suddenly turned to stone. The water was within reach of his lips, but over the canteen certain death looked at him, for there was no mistaking the expression on the face of that man with the gun. Beside himself with thirst, forgetting everything but the water, and utterly reckless he growled: "Shoot an' be domned, ye murderin' savage!" and again started to lift the cloth-covered vessel.
At that instant the baby, catching sight of the canteen, called from the rear seat: "Barba wants drink. Barba thirsty, too."
As though Texas had pulled the trigger the Irishman dropped his hand. Slowly he looked from face to face of his companions—a dazed expression on his own countenance, as though he were awakening from a dream. The child, clinging to the Seer with one hand and pointing with the other, said again: "Barba thirsty; please give Barba drink."
A look of horror and shame went over the face of the Irishman, his form shook like a leaf and his trembling hands could scarcely hold the canteen. "My Gawd! bhoys," he cried, "fwhat's this I was doin'?" Then he burst suddenly upon Tex with: "Why the hell don't ye shoot, domn ye? A baste like me is fit for nothin' but to rot in this Gawd- forsaken land!"
The fierce rage of the man at his own act was pitiful. Texas dropped his gun into the holster and turned his face away. Jefferson Worth held out a cup. "Give the little one some water, Pat," he said, in his cold, exact way.
With shaking hands the Irishman poured a little into the cup and, screwing the cap back on the canteen, he returned it to its place. Then with a groan he bowed his face in his great, hairy hands.
Just before sun-down they climbed up the ancient beach line to the rim of the Basin and the Mesa on the east. Halting here for a brief rest and for supper, they looked back over the low, wide land through which they had come. All along the western sky and far to the southward, the wall-like mountains lifted their purple heights from the dun plain, a seemingly impassable barrier, shutting in the land of death; shutting out the life that came to their feet on the other side. To the north the hills that rim the Basin caught the slanting rays of the setting sun and glowed rose-color, and pink, and salmon, with deep purple shadows where canyons opened, all rising out of drifts of silvery light. To the northwest two distant, gleaming, snow-capped peaks of the Coast Range marked San Antonio Pass. To the west Lone Mountain showed dark blue against the purple of the hills beyond. Down in the desert basin, drifting above and woven through the ever-shifting masses of color, shimmering phantom lakes, and dull, dusky patches of green and brown, long streamers, bars and threads of dust shone like gleaming gold.
Texas Joe, when he had poured for each his portion of water, shook the canteen carefully, and a smile spread slowly over his sun- blackened features. "What's left belongs to the kid," he said. "But we'll make it. We'll jest about make it."
The Irishman lifted his cup toward the Desert, saying solemnly: "Here's to ye, domn ye! Ye ain't got us yet. May ye burn an' blishther an' scorch an' bake 'til yer danged heart shrivels up an' blows away."
Then he fell to amusing the child with loving fun-talk and queer antics, until she laughed aloud and permitted him to catch her up in his big hairy hands and to toss her high in the air. Texas and Abe, joining in the frolic, shared with Pat the little lady's favor, while the Seer looked smilingly on. But when Jefferson Worth approached, with an offering of pretty stones and shells which he had gathered on the old beach, she ran up to the engineer's arms. Still coaxing, the banker held out his offering. The others were silent, watching. Timidly at last, the child put forth her little hands and accepted the gift, shrinking back quickly with her treasures to the shelter of the big man's arms.
It was just after noon the next day when the men at the wagon yard on the edge of Rubio City looked up to see Jefferson Worth's outfit approaching. The dust-covered, nearly-exhausted team staggered weakly through the gate. On the driver's seat sat a haggard, begrimed figure holding the reins in his right hand; and in his lap, supported by his free arm, a little girl lay fast asleep. Then as one of the mules lay down, the men went forward on the run.
Texas stared at them dully for a moment. Then, as he dropped the reins, his parched, cracked lips parted in what was meant for a smile and he said, in a thick, choking whisper: "We made it, boys: we jest made it. Somebody take the kid."
Eager hands relieved him of his burden and he slid heavily to the ground to stand dizzily holding on to a wheel for support.
One of the men said sharply: "But where's Mr. Worth, Tex? What have you done with Jefferson Worth an' what you doin' with a kid?"
Texas Joe gazed at the questioner steadily as if summoning all his strength of will in an effort to think. "Hello, Jack! Why—damned if I know—he was with me a little while ago."
The engineer, the banker, the Irishman and the boy were lying unconscious on the bottom of the wagon.
MISS BARBARA WORTH.
Mrs. Worth, sitting on the wide veranda of her home after a lonely supper, lifted her eyes frequently from the work in her lap to look down the street. Perhaps it was unusual for a banker's wife to be darning her husband's socks; it may be, even, that bankers do not usually wear socks that have been darned. But Mrs. Worth was not sensible that her task was at all strange.
A group of dust-covered cow-boys, coming into town for an evening's pleasure, jogged past with loud laughter and soft-clinking spurs and bridle-chains. "There's Jefferson Worth's place," said one. "D'ye reckon he'll make good corralin' all the money there is in the world?"
Now and then a carriage, filled with well-to-do citizens out for an evening ride, drove slowly by. The people in the carriages always saluted Mrs. Worth and she returned their salutations with a prim little bow. But no one stopped to chat or to offer her a seat. In this, also, there was nothing strange to the woman on the porch of the big, empty house. Sometimes the people in the carriages, entertaining visiting friends, pointed to Jefferson Worth's house, with proper explanations, as they also called attention to the Pioneer Bank—Jefferson Worth's bank.
When dusk came and she could no longer see, Mrs. Worth laid aside her work and sat with folded hands, her face turned down the street. Inside the house the lights were not yet on; there was no need for them and she liked to sit in the dark.
The Indian servant woman came softly to the door. "Does the Senora wish anything?"
"No, thank you, Ynez; come and sit down."
Noiselessly the woman seated herself on the top step.
"It has been warm to-day, Ynez."
"It is nearly three weeks since Mr. Worth left with Texas Joe for San Felipe, Ynez."
"Do you know how far it is across the Desert to San Felipe?"
"Si. I think three—four day, maybe five, Senora."
"It will be very hot."
"Si, Senora. Las' year my sister's man—Jose—go for San Felipe. No much water. He no come back."
"Yes, I remember. What is it your people call The King's Basin Desert? The Hollow of God's Hand, isn't it?"
"Si, Senora. La Palma de la Mano de Dios."
"I wish they would come."
"He come pretty quick, I think. Mebbe so he not start when he think. Mebbe so what you call 'beesness' not let him come," said the Indian woman, soothingly.
"But Mr. Worth expected to be back two days ago and he is always on time, you know, Ynez."
"Si, Senora. But mebbe so this one time different"
"I do wish they would—-Look, Ynez, look! There's some one stopping!"
A carriage was turning in toward the house.
"It is Senor Worth," said the Indian woman.
"Someone is with him, Ynez. They have a child."
As Jefferson Worth and the Seer came up the walk—the engineer carrying the little girl—Mrs. Worth rose unsteadily to her feet. "Run, quick, Ynez—quick! The lights!"
That night when the Seer, with everything possible done for his comfort, had retired, and the baby—bathed and fed—was sound asleep in a child's bed that Ynez had brought from an unused room in the banker's big house and placed in Mrs. Worth's own chamber, Jefferson Worth and his wife crept softly to the little girl's bedside. Silently they looked at the baby form under the snow-white coverlet and at the round, baby face, with the tumbled brown hair, on the pillow.
Mrs. Worth clasped her hands in eager longing as she whispered: "Oh, Jeff, can we keep her? Can we?"
Jefferson Worth answered in his careful manner: "Did you look for marks on her clothing?"
"There was nothing—not a letter even. And all that she can tell of her name is Barba. I'm sure she means Barbara." As she answered, Mrs. Worth searched her husband's face anxiously. Then she exclaimed: "Oh you do want her; you do!" and added wistfully: "Of course we must try to find her folks, but do you think it very wrong, Jeff, to wish—to wish that we never do? I feel as though she were sent to take the place of our own little girl. We need her so, Jeff. I need her so—and you—you will need her, when—" There was a day coming that the banker and his wife did not talk about. Since the birth and death of their one child, Mrs. Worth had been a hopeless invalid.
Several weeks passed and every effort to find little Barbara's people was fruitless. Inquiry in Rubio City and San Felipe and through the newspapers on the Coast brought no returns. The land in those days was a land of strangers where people came and went with little notice and were lost quickly in the ever-restless tide. It was not at all strange that no one could identify an outfit of which it was possible to tell only of a woman and child and one bay horse. There were many outfits with a woman and child in the party and many that had among the two, four, six, or more animals one bay horse.
In the meantime, little Barbara, in her new home, was growing gradually away from all that had gone before her long ride in the big wagon with the men. Already she was beginning to talk of her "other mamma and papa." Mrs. Worth slipped into the other woman's place in the childish heart, even as little Barbara filled the empty mother-heart of the woman.
Toward Mr. Worth, though she no longer shrank from him in fear, the little girl maintained an attitude of questioning regard. With Texas or Pat or the boy Abe, who often went together to see her, she laughed and chattered like a good little comrade and play-fellow. But when the Seer came, as he did whenever his duties and his presence in town would permit, she flew to him with eager love, climbing on his knee or snuggling under his arm with entire confidence and understanding.
Public interest in Rubio City, keen at first, died out quickly. Rubio City, in those days of railroad building, had too many things of interest to retain any one thing long. Still, because it was Jefferson Worth, Rubio City could not altogether drop the matter. So it was one evening in the Gold Bar saloon, where Pat, coming into town for a quiet evening from the grading camp on the new road, and Texas Joe, who was just back from another trip across the Desert, were having a friendly glass in a quiet corner.
"Is there anythin' doin' in that San Felipe I don't know?" was Pat's natural question. "Things is that slow in this danged town I'm gettin' all dead on me insides."
Texas grinned in his slow way. "There'll be another pay day before long."
"Yes, an' 'tis ye that'll be 'round agin to kape me from proper enjoyment av the blissin's av civilization wid yer talk av the gold that's to be found in thim mountains that nobody but ye knows where they are. 'Tis a fool I am to be listenin' to yer crazy drames."
"Just keep your shirt on a little longer, pard," returned the other soothingly. "We've most enough for a grub-stake now. When we're a little mite better fixed we'll pull out of this sinful land o' temptation an' when we come back"—he drew a long breath—"we'll do the thing up proper."
Pat dropped his glass with a thump. "We will," he said. "We will that. An' it's to San Felipe we'll go. Tell me, did you see no wan there inquirin' afther me good health this last thrip?"
"I kept away from Sailor Mike's place, not wishin' to deprive you of your share o' the sport. But I met a big policeman who said: 'Tell that red-headed Irish bum that it'll be better for his health to stay away from San Felipe.'"
"He did, did he? He towld ye that? The big slob! He knows ut will be better for him. Fwhat did ye tell him?"
"I said you'd decided to locate here permanent."
Pat gasped for breath. "Ye towld him that! Ye did! Yer a danged sun- baked herrin' av a man wid no proper spirit at all. Fwhat the hell do ye mane to be so slanderin' me reputation an' two or three hundred miles av disert between me an' him? For a sup av wather I'd go to ye wid me two hands."
Texas Joe laughed outright. "Let's have another drink instead," he said.
In the silence occasioned by the re-filling of their glasses the two friends caught the name of Jefferson Worth. Instantly their attention was attracted to a well-dressed, smart-looking stranger, who stood at the bar talking loudly to a man known to Rubio City as a promoter of somewhat doubtful mining schemes. Pat and Texas listened with amused interest while the two in concert cursed Jefferson Worth with careful and exhaustive attention to details.
"Go to it, gentlemen!" put in the bar-keeper, as he returned to his place from the table in the corner. "We-all sure endorses your opinions. Have one on the house." He graciously helped them to more liquor.
"Brother Worth sure stands high with this here congregation," drawled Texas Joe to his companion.
"Hst!" whispered Pat. "They're askin' afther the kid." The casual, amused interest of the two friends became intense.
"They sure tried everything to find her folks," the saloon man was saying, "but there ain't no thin' doin' so far. They say if nobody shows up with a claim Jefferson Worth is goin' to adopt her an' bring her up like his own."
This statement of Jefferson Worth's intentions called forth from the stranger an exhaustive opinion as to the banker's fitness to have the child and her probable chances for right training and happiness in the financier's hands. His remarks being cordially commended by the promoter and the man in the white apron, the speaker was encouraged to strengthen his position in reference to the future of this poor, helpless orphan and to point out freely the duties of Rubio City in the matter. He was interrupted by a light hand on his shoulder. Turning with a start that spilled the liquor in his glass, he looked into the lean face of Texas Joe. Behind the plainsman stood the heavy form of the Irishman, a look of pleased anticipation on his battle-scarred features. There was a sudden sympathetic hush in the room. Every face was turned toward the group.
"Excuse me, stranger," said Texas, in his softest tones; "but I sure am moved to testify in this here meetin'."
The man would have made some angry, blustering reply, but a warning look from the promoter and a slight cough from the bar-tender checked him.
Tex proceeded. "That you-all has rights to your opinion regardin' Mr. Jefferson Worth's character I ain't denyin', an' there's plenty in Rubio City that'll agree with you. Mebbe you has reasons for feelin' grieved. I don't sabe this here business game nohow. Mebbe you stacked the deck an' he caught you at it. You sure impresses me that a-way, for I've noticed that it ain't the sport who plays fair or loses fair that squeals loudest when the cards are agin him. But when you touches on said Jefferson Worth an' the future of that little kid, with free remarks on the duties of Rubio City regardin' the same, you're sure gettin' around where I live. Me an' this gent here"—he waved his hand toward Pat with elaborate formality, to the huge delight of his audience—"me an' this here gent is first uncles to that kid, an' any pop-eyed, lop-eared, greasy-fingered cross between a coyot' an' a jack-rabbit that comes a-pouncin' out o' the wilds o' civilization to jump our claim by makin' insinuations that we ain't competent to see that the aforementioned kid has proper bringin' up an' that Brother Worth ain't a proper daddy for her, had best come loaded for trouble. For trouble'll sure camp on his trail 'til he's reformed or been safely planted."
In the significant pause that followed no one moved. Texas stood easily, looking into the eyes of the stranger. Pat shot fierce, watchful glances around the room, from face to face.
"I trust you get's the force o' my remarks," concluded Texas suggestively.
The stranger moved uneasily and looked hurriedly about for signs of sympathy or assistance. Every face was a blank. Texas waited.
"I suppose I was hasty," said the stranger, sullenly. "I beg your pardon, gentlemen."
"Consider the meetin' dismissed, gentlemen," said Texas, easily. "Me an' my pardner trusts that the congregation will treasure our remarks in the future. Now, you bar-tender, everybody drinks on us to the health and happiness of our respected niece—Miss Barbara Worth."
On the street a few minutes later Pat growled his disappointment. "The divil take a man wid no bowels."
Ignoring his friend's complaint, Texas returned meditatively; "Do you think, Pat, that there might be anything in what that there gent said? In spite o' what we seen of him on that trip, Jefferson Worth is sure a cold proposition. Give it to me straight. What will he do for the little one?"
"An' it's just fwhat we see'd on that thrip that makes me think ut's a question av fwhat the little girl will do to him," answered Pat, thereby sustaining the reputation of his race.
YOU'D BETTER MAKE IT NINETY.
Fifteen years of a changing age left few marks on Rubio City. Luxurious overland trains, filled with tourists, now stopped at the depot where, under the pepper trees, sadly civilized Indians sold Kansas City and New Jersey-made curios—stopped and went on again along the rim of The King's Basin, through San Antonio Pass to the great cities on the western edge of the continent. But the town on the banks of the Colorado, in an almost rainless land, had little to build upon. Still on the street mingled the old-timers from desert, mountain and plain; from prospecting trip, mine or ranch; the adventurer, the promoter, the Indian, the Mexican, the frontier business man and the tourist.
But there were few of the citizens of Rubio City now who knew the story of the baby girl whom Jefferson Worth and his party had found in La Palma de la Mano de Dios. For, though Rubio City was changed but little since that day when Texas Joe brought the outfit with the child safely out of the Desert, the people came and went always as is the manner of their moving kind. The few "old-timers" who remained had long ceased to tell the story. No one thought of the young woman, who rode down the street that afternoon, save only as the daughter of Jefferson Worth.
As she passed, the people turned to follow her with their eyes—the "old-timers" with smiles of recognition and picturesque words of admiring comment; the townspeople with cheerful greetings—a wave of the hand or a nod when they caught her eye; the strangers from the East with curious interest and ready kodaks. Here, the visitors told themselves, was the real West.
"How interesting!" gasped a tailor-made woman tourist to her escort. "Look, George, she is wearing a divided skirt and riding a man's saddle! And look! quick! where's your camera? She has a revolver!"
That revolver, a dainty but effective pearl-handled weapon, was a gift to Barbara from her "uncles," Texas and Pat; and though ornamental was not for ornament. The girl often went alone, as she was going to-day, for a long ride out on the Mesa, and the country still harbored many wild and lawless characters.
But the tailored woman tourist did not need to urge George to look. There was something about the girl on the quick-stepping, spirited horse that challenged attention. The khaki-clad figure was so richly alive—there was such a wealth of vitality; such an abundance of young woman's strength; such a glow of red blood expressed in every curved line and revealed in every graceful movement—that the attraction was irresistible. To look at Barbara Worth was a pleasure; to be near her was a delight,
At the Pioneer Bank the girl cheeked her horse and, swinging lightly to the ground, threw the reins over the animal's head, thus tying him in western fashion. As she stood now on the sidewalk laughing and chatting with a group of friends, who had paused in passing to greet her, her beautiful figure lost none of the compelling charm that made her, on horseback, so good to look at. Every movement and gesture expressed perfect health. The firm flesh of her rounded cheeks and full throat was warmly browned and glowing with the abundance of red blood in her veins. Though framed in a mass of waving brown hair under a wide sombrero, her features were not pretty. The mouth was perhaps a bit too large, though it was a good mouth, and, as she laughed with her companions, revealed teeth that were faultless. But something looked out of her brown eyes and made itself felt in every poise and movement that forced one to forget to be critical. It was the wholesome, challenging lure of an unmarred womanhood.
"Oh, Barbara, how could you—how could you miss last Thursday afternoon at Miss Colson's? We had a perfectly lovely time!" cried a vivacious member of the little group.
"Yes indeed, young lady; explanations are in order," added another. "Miss Colson didn't like it a bit. She had an exquisite luncheon, and you know how people depend upon your appreciation of good things to eat!"
"Well, you see," answered Barbara, turning to pat her horse's neck as the animal, edging closer to her side, rubbed his soft muzzle coaxingly against her shoulder, "Pilot and I were out on the Mesa and he said he didn't want to come back. Pilot doesn't care at all for afternoon parties, do you old boy?"—with another pat—"so what could I do? I didn't like to hurt Miss Colson's feelings, of course, but I didn't like to hurt Pilot's feelings either; and the day was so perfect and Pilot was feeling so good and we were having such fun together! I guess it was a case of 'a bird in the hand,' or 'possession being nine points,' you know; or something like that. Only for pity's sake, girls, don't tell Miss Colson I said that."
They all laughed understandingly and the vivacious one said: "I guess it was possession all right. Could anything on earth induce you to give up your horse and your desert, Barbara?"
Inside the bank Jefferson Worth, with his customary careful, exact manner, was explaining to a small rancher that it was impossible to extend the loan secured by a mortgage on the farmer's property. Personally Mr. Worth would be glad to accommodate him. But the loan had already been extended three times and there were good reasons why the bank must call it in. The farmer must remember that a bank's duty to its stockholders and depositors was sacred. It was not a question of the farmer's honesty; it was altogether a question of Good Business.
The farmer was agitated and presented his case desperately. Mr. Worth knew the situation—the unforeseen circumstances that made it impossible for him to pay then. Only two months more were needed— until his new crop matured. He could not blame Mr. Worth, of course. He understood that it was business, but still—The farmer searched that cold, mask-like face for a ray of hope as a man might hold out his hands for pity to a machine. He was made to feel somehow that the banker was not a man with human blood, but a mechanical something, governed and run by a mighty irresistible power with which it had nothing to do save to obey as a locomotive obeys its steam.
Jefferson Worth began explaining again in exact, precise tones that the loan, wholly for business reasons, was impossible, when Barbara entered the bank. As the girl greeted the teller in front, her voice, full and rich, with the same unconscious power that looked out of her eyes and spoke in every movement of her body, came through the bronze grating at the window and carried down the room. Jefferson Worth paused. With the farmer he faced the open door of his apartment. Every man in the place looked up. The desk-weary clerks smilingly answered her greeting and turned back to their books with renewed energy. The cashier straightened up from his papers and—leaning back in his chair—exchanged a jest with her as she passed.
"Oh, excuse me, father, I thought you were alone. How do you do, Mr. Wheeler? And how is Mrs. Wheeler and that dear little baby?"
The man's face lighted, his form straightened, his voice rang out heartily. "Fine, Miss Barbara, fine, thank you. All we need in the world now is for your father to give me time enough on that blamed note to make a crop."
Barbara Worth was just tall enough to look straight into her father's eyes. As she looked at him now the banker felt a little as he had felt that night in the Desert, when the baby, whose dead mother lay beside the dry water hole, shrank back from him in fear.
"Oh, I'm sure father will be glad to do that," the girl said eagerly. "Won't you father? You know how hard Mr. Wheeler works and what trouble he has had. And I want some money, too," she added; "that's what I came in for."
The farmer laughed loudly. Jefferson Worth smiled.
"But I don't want it for myself," Barbara went on quickly, smiling at them both. "I want it for that poor Mexican family down by the wagon yard—the Garcias. Pablo's leg was broken in the mines, you know, and there is no one to look after his mother and the children. Someone must care for them."
They were interrupted by a clerk who handed a paper to the banker. "This is ready for your signature, sir."
Jefferson Worth's face was again a cold, gray mask. Methodically he affixed his name to the document. Then to the clerk: "You may give Miss Worth whatever money she wants."
The employe smiled as he answered: "Yes, sir," and withdrew.
Barbara turned to follow. "Good-by, Mr. Wheeler. Tell Mrs. Wheeler I'm going to ride out to see her soon. I haven't forgotten that good buttermilk you see."
"Good-by, Miss Barbara, good-by! I'll tell the wife. We're always glad to see you."
The farmer could not have said that Jefferson Worth's face changed or that his voice altered a shade in tone as they turned again to the business in hand. "I guess we can fix you out this time, Wheeler. Sixty days, you say? You'd better make it ninety so you will not be crowded in marketing your crop."
Quickly the black horse carrying Barbara passed through the streets to the outskirts of the city, where the adobe houses of the earlier days, with tents and shacks of every description, were scattered in careless disorder to the very edge of the barren Mesa. Beyond the wagon yard Barbara turned Pilot toward a whitewashed house that stood by itself on the extreme outskirts. Her approach was announced by the loud barking of a lean dog and the joyful shouts of three half-naked Mexican children; and as the horse stopped a woman appeared in the low doorway.
"Buenas dias, Senorita," she called; then, still in her native tongue: "Manuel, take the lady's horse. You Juanita, drive that dog away. This is not the manner to receive a lady. Come in, come in, Senorita. May God bless you for a good friend to the poor. Come in."
Everything about the place, although showing unmistakable signs of poverty, was clean and orderly, while the manner of the woman, though quietly respectful and warmly grateful, showed a dignified self-respect. In one corner of the room, on a rude bed, lay a young man.
The girl returned the woman's greeting kindly in Spanish and, going to the bedside, spoke, still in the soft, musical tongue of the South, to the man. "How are you to-day, Pablo? Is the leg getting better all right?"
"Si, Senorita, thank you," he replied, his dark face beaming with gladness and gratitude and his eyes looking up at her with an expression of dumb devotion. "Yes, I think it gets better right along. But it is slow and it is hard to lie here doing nothing for the mother and the children. God knows what would become of us if it were not for your goodness. La Senorita is an angel of mercy. We can never repay."
The people were of the better class of industrious poor Mexicans. The father was dead, and Pablo, the eldest son, who was the little family's sole support, had been hurt in the mine some two weeks before. Barbara visited them every few days, caring for their wants as indeed she helped many of Rubio City's worthy poor. For this work Jefferson Worth gave her without question all the money that she asked and often expressed his interest in his own cold way, even telling her of certain cases that came to his notice from time to time. So the banker's daughter was hailed as an angel of mercy and greatly loved by the same class that feared and cursed her father.
For a little while the girl talked to Pablo and his mother cheerfully and encouragingly, with understanding asking after their needs. Then, placing a gold piece in the woman's hand and promising to come again, she bade them—"Adios."
For a short distance Barbara now followed the old San Felipe trail along which, as a baby, she had been brought by her friends to Jefferson Worth's home. But where the old road crosses the railroad tracks, and leads northwest into The King's Basin, the girl turned to the right toward the end of that range of low hills that rims the Desert.
As her horse traveled up the long gradual slope in the easy swinging lope of western saddle stock, the view grew wider and wider. The sun poured its flood of white light down upon the broad Mesa, and away in the distance the ever-widening King's Basin lay, a magic, constantly changing ocean of soft colors. Nearer ahead were the hills, brown and tawny, with blue shadows in the canyons shading to rose and lilac and purple as they stretched their long lengths away toward the lofty, snow-capped sentinels of the Pass. Free from the city with its many odors, the dry air was invigorating like wine and came to her rich with the smell of the sun-burned, wind-swept plains. The girl breathed deeply. Her cheeks glowed—her eyes shone. Even her horse, seeming to catch her spirit, arched his neck and, in sheer joy of living, pretended to be frightened now and then at something that was really nothing at all.
At the foot of the first low, rounded hill Barbara faced Pilot to the northwest and bade him stand still. Motionless now the girl sat in her saddle, looking away over La Palma de la Mano de Dios. It was to this point that Barbara so often came, and as she looked now over the miles and miles of that silent, dreadful land her face grew sad and wistful and in her eyes there was an expression that the Seer sometimes said made him think of the desert.
Gentle Mrs. Worth had lived just long enough to leave an indelible impression of her simple genuineness upon the life of the child, who had come to take in her heart the place left vacant by the death of her own baby girl. Since the loss of her second mother the girl had lived with no woman companion save the Indian woman Ynez, and it was the Seer rather than Jefferson Worth to whom she turned in fullest confidence and trust. The childish instinct that had led the baby to the big engineer's arms that night on the Desert had never wavered through the years when she was growing into womanhood, and the Seer, whose work after the completion of the S. and C. called him to many parts of the West, managed every few months a visit to the girl he loved as his own. To Mr. Worth who, as far as it was possible for him to be, was in all things a father to her, Barbara gave in return a daughter's love, but she had never been able to enter into the life of the banker as she entered into the life of the engineer. So it was the Seer who became, after Mrs. Worth, the dominant influence in forming the character of the motherless girl. His dreams of Reclamation, his plans and efforts to lead the world to recognize the value of that great work, with his failures and disappointments, she shared at an early age with peculiar sympathy, for she had not been kept in ignorance of the tragic part the desert had played in her own life. Particularly did The King's Basin Desert interest her. She felt that, in a way, it belonged to her; that she belonged to it. It was her Desert. Its desolation she shared; its waiting she understood; something of its mystery colored her life; something within her answered to its call. It was her Desert; she feared it; hated it; loved it.