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The Heritage of the Desert
I THE SIGN OF THE SUNSET
"BUT the man's almost dead."
The words stung John Hare's fainting spirit into life. He opened his eyes. The desert still stretched before him, the appalling thing that had overpowered him with its deceiving purple distance. Near by stood a sombre group of men.
"Leave him here," said one, addressing a gray-bearded giant. "He's the fellow sent into southern Utah to spy out the cattle thieves. He's all but dead. Dene's outlaws are after him. Don't cross Dene."
The stately answer might have come from a Scottish Covenanter or a follower of Cromwell.
"Martin Cole, I will not go a hair's-breadth out of my way for Dene or any other man. You forget your religion. I see my duty to God."
"Yes, August Naab, I know," replied the little man, bitterly. "You would cast the Scriptures in my teeth, and liken this man to one who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. But I've suffered enough at the hands of Dene."
The formal speech, the Biblical references, recalled to the reviving Hare that he was still in the land of the Mormons. As he lay there the strange words of the Mormons linked the hard experience of the last few days with the stern reality of the present.
"Martin Cole, I hold to the spirit of our fathers," replied Naab, like one reading from the Old Testament. "They came into this desert land to worship and multiply in peace. They conquered the desert; they prospered with the years that brought settlers, cattle-men, sheep-herders, all hostile to their religion and their livelihood. Nor did they ever fail to succor the sick and unfortunate. What are our toils and perils compared to theirs? Why should we forsake the path of duty, and turn from mercy because of a cut-throat outlaw? I like not the sign of the times, but I am a Mormon; I trust in God."
"August Naab, I am a Mormon too," returned Cole, "but my hands are stained with blood. Soon yours will be if you keep your water-holes and your cattle. Yes, I know. You're strong, stronger than any of us, far off in your desert oasis, hemmed in by walls, cut off by canyons, guarded by your Navajo friends. But Holderness is creeping slowly on you. He'll ignore your water rights and drive your stock. Soon Dene will steal cattle under your very eyes. Don't make them enemies."
"I can't pass by this helpless man," rolled out August Naab's sonorous voice.
Suddenly, with livid face and shaking hand, Cole pointed westward. "There! Dene and his band! See, under the red wall; see the dust, not ten miles away. See them?"
The desert, gray in the foreground, purple in the distance, sloped to the west. Eyes keen as those of hawks searched die waste, and followed the red mountain rampart, which, sheer in bold height and processional in its craggy sweep, shut out the north. Far away little puffs of dust rose above the white sage, and creeping specks moved at a snail's pace.
"See them? Ah! then look, August Naab, look in the heavens above for my prophecy," cried Cole, fanatically. "The red sunset--the sign of the times--blood!"
A broad bar of dense black shut out the April sky, except in the extreme west, where a strip of pale blue formed background for several clouds of striking color and shape. They alone, in all that expanse, were dyed in the desert's sunset crimson. The largest projected from behind the dark cloud-bank in the shape of a huge fist, and the others, small and round, floated below. To Cole it seemed a giant hand, clutching, with inexorable strength, a bleeding heart. His terror spread to his companions as they stared.
Then, as light surrendered to shade, the sinister color faded; the tracing of the closed hand softened; flush and glow paled, leaving the sky purple, as if mirroring the desert floor. One golden shaft shot up, to be blotted out by sudden darkening change, and the sun had set.
"That may be God's will," said August Naab. "So be it. Martin Cole, take your men and go."
There was a word, half oath, half prayer, and then rattle of stirrups, the creak of saddles, and clink of spurs, followed by the driving rush of fiery horses. Cole and his men disappeared in a pall of yellow dust.
A wan smile lightened John Hare's face as he spoke weakly: "I fear your-- generous act--can't save me . . . may bring you harm. I'd rather you left me--seeing you have women in your party."
"Don't try to talk yet," said August Naab. "You're faint. Here--drink." He stooped to Hare, who was leaning against a sage-bush, and held a flask to his lips. Rising, he called to his men: "Make camp, sons. We've an hour before the outlaws come up, and if they don't go round the sand-dune we'll have longer."
Hare's flagging senses rallied, and he forgot himself in wonder. While the bustle went on, unhitching of wagon-teams, hobbling and feeding of horses, unpacking of camp-supplies, Naab appeared to be lost in deep meditation or prayer. Not once did he glance backward over the trail on which peril was fast approaching. His gaze was fastened on a ridge to the east where desert line, fringed by stunted cedars, met the pale-blue sky, and for a long time he neither spoke nor stirred. At length he turned to the camp-fire; he raked out red coals, and placed the iron pots in position, by way of assistance to the women who were preparing the evening meal.
A cool wind blew in from the desert, rustling the sage, sifting the sand, fanning the dull coals to burning opals. Twilight failed and night fell; one by one great stars shone out, cold and bright. From the zone of blackness surrounding the camp burst the short bark, the hungry whine, the long-drawn-out wail of desert wolves.
"Supper, sons," called Naab, as he replenished the fire with an armful of grease-wood.
Naab's sons had his stature, though not his bulk. They were wiry, rangy men, young, yet somehow old. The desert had multiplied their years. Hare could not have told one face from another, the bronze skin and steel eye and hard line of each were so alike. The women, one middle-aged, the others young, were of comely, serious aspect.
"Mescal," called the Mormon.
A slender girl slipped from one of the covered wagons; she was dark, supple, straight as an Indian.
August Naab dropped to his knees, and, as the members of his family bowed their heads, he extended his hands over them and over the food laid on the ground.
"Lord, we kneel in humble thanksgiving. Bless this food to our use. Strengthen us, guide us, keep us as Thou hast in the past. Bless this stranger within our gates. Help us to help him. Teach us Thy ways, O Lord--Amen."
Hare found himself flushing and thrilling, found himself unable to control a painful binding in his throat. In forty-eight hours he had learned to hate the Mormons unutterably; here, in the presence of this austere man, he felt that hatred wrenched from his heart, and in its place stirred something warm and living. He was glad, for if he had to die, as he believed, either from the deed of evil men, or from this last struggle of his wasted body, he did not want to die in bitterness. That simple prayer recalled the home he had long since left in Connecticut, and the time when he used to tease his sister and anger his father and hurt his mother while grace was being said at the breakfast-table. Now he was alone in the world, sick and dependent upon the kindness of these strangers. But they were really friends--it was a wonderful thought.
"Mescal, wait on the stranger," said August Naab, and the girl knelt beside him, tendering meat and drink. His nerveless fingers refused to hold the cup, and she put it to his lips while he drank. Hot coffee revived him; he ate and grew stronger, and readily began to talk when the Mormon asked for his story.
"There isn't much to tell. My name is Hare. I am twenty-four. My parents are dead. I came West because the doctors said I couldn't live in the East. At first I got better. But my money gave out and work became a necessity. I tramped from place to place, ending up ill in Salt Lake City. People were kind to me there. Some one got me a job with a big cattle company, and sent me to Marysvale, southward over the bleak plains. It was cold; I was ill when I reached Lund. Before I even knew what my duties were for at Lund I was to begin work--men called me a spy. A fellow named Chance threatened me. An innkeeper led me out the back way, gave me bread and water, and said: 'Take this road to Bane; it's sixteen miles. If you make it some one'll give you a lift North.' I walked all night, and all the next day. Then I wandered on till I dropped here where you found me."
"You missed the road to Bane," said Naab. "This is the trail to White Sage. It's a trail of sand and stone that leaves no tracks, a lucky thing for you. Dene wasn't in Lund while you were there--else you wouldn't be here. He hasn't seen you, and he can't be certain of your trail. Maybe he rode to Bane, but still we may find a way--"
One of his sons whistled low, causing Naab to rise slowly, to peer into the darkness, to listen intently.
"Here, get up," he said, extending a hand to Hare. "Pretty shaky, eh? Can you walk? Give me a hold--there. . . . Mescal, come." The slender girl obeyed, gliding noiselessly like a shadow. "Take his arm." Between them they led Hare to a jumble of stones on the outer edge of the circle of light.
"It wouldn't do to hide," continued Naab, lowering his voice to a swift whisper, "that might be fatal. You're in sight from the camp-fire, but indistinct. By-and-by the outlaws will get here, and if any of them prowl around close, you and Mescal must pretend to be sweethearts. Understand? They'll pass by Mormon love-making without a second look. Now, lad, courage . . . Mescal, it may save his life."
Naab returned to the fire, his shadow looming in gigantic proportions on the white canopy of a covered wagon. Fitful gusts of wind fretted the blaze; it roared and crackled and sputtered, now illuminating the still forms, then enveloping them in fantastic obscurity. Hare shivered, per- haps from the cold air, perhaps from growing dread. Westward lay the desert, an impenetrable black void; in front, the gloomy mountain wall lifted jagged peaks close to the stars; to the right rose the ridge, the rocks and stunted cedars of its summit standing in weird relief. Suddenly Hare's fugitive glance descried a dark object; he watched intently as it moved and rose from behind the summit of the ridge to make a bold black figure silhouetted against the cold clearness of sky. He saw it distinctly, realized it was close, and breathed hard as the wind-swept mane and tail, the lean, wild shape and single plume resolved themselves into the unmistakable outline of an Indian mustang and rider.
"Look!" he whispered to the girl. "See, a mounted Indian, there on the ridge--there, he's gone--no, I see him again. But that's another. Look! there are more." He ceased in breathless suspense and stared fearfully at a line of mounted Indians moving in single file over the ridge to become lost to view in the intervening blackness. A faint rattling of gravel and the peculiar crack of unshod hoof on stone gave reality to that shadowy train.
"Navajos," said Mescal.
"Navajos!" he echoed. "I heard of them at Lund; 'desert hawks' the men called them, worse than Piutes. Must we not alarm the men?--You--aren't you afraid?
"But they are hostile."
"Not to him." She pointed at the stalwart figure standing against the firelight.
"Ah! I remember. The man Cole spoke of friendly Navajos. They must be close by. What does it mean?"
"I'm not sure. I think they are out there in the cedars, waiting."
"Waiting! For what?"
"Perhaps for a signal."
"Then they were expected?"
"I don't know; I only guess. We used to ride often to White Sage and Lund; now we go seldom, and when we do there seem to be Navajos near the camp at night, and riding the ridges by day. I believe Father Naab knows."
"Your father's risking much for me. He's good. I wish I could show my gratitude."
"I call him Father Naab, but he is not my father."
"A niece or granddaughter, then?"
"I'm no relation. Father Naab raised me in his family. My mother was a Navajo, my father a Spaniard."
"Why!" exclaimed Hare. "When you came out of the wagon I took you for an Indian girl. But the moment you spoke--you talk so well--no one would dream--"
"Mormons are well educated and teach the children they raise," she said, as he paused in embarrassment.
He wanted to ask if she were a Mormon by religion, but the question seemed curious and unnecessary. His interest was aroused; he realized suddenly that he had found pleasure in her low voice; it was new and strange, unlike any woman's voice he had ever heard; and he regarded her closely. He had only time for a glance at her straight, clean-cut profile, when she turned startled eyes on him, eyes black as the night. And they were eyes that looked through and beyond him. She held up a hand, slowly bent toward the wind, and whispered:
Hare heard nothing save the barking of coyotes and the breeze in the sage. He saw, however, the men rise from round the camp-fire to face the north, and the women climb into the wagon, and close the canvas flaps. And he prepared himself, with what fortitude he could command for the approach of the outlaws. He waited, straining to catch a sound. His heart throbbed audibly, like a muffled drum, and for an endless moment his ears seemed deadened to aught else. Then a stronger puff of wind whipped in, banging the rhythmic beat of flying hoofs. Suspense ended. Hare felt the easing of a weight upon him Whatever was to be his fate, it would be soon decided. The sound grew into a clattering roar. A black mass hurled itself over the border of opaque circle, plunged into tile light, and halted.
August Naab deliberately threw a bundle of grease-wood upon the camp-fire. A blaze leaped up, sending abroad a red flare. "Who comes?" he called.
"Friends, Mormons, friends," was the answer.
"Get down--friends--and come to the fire."
Three horsemen advanced to the foreground; others, a troop of eight or ten, remained in the shadow, a silent group.
Hare sank back against the stone. He knew the foremost of those horsemen though he had never seen him.
"Dene," whispered Mescal, and confirmed his instinctive fear.
Hare was nervously alive to the handsome presence of the outlaw. Glimpses that he had caught of "bad" men returned vividly as he noted the clean-shaven face, the youthful, supple body, the cool, careless mien. Dene's eyes glittered as he pulled off his gauntlets and beat the sand out of them; and but for that quick fierce glance his leisurely friendly manner would have disarmed suspicion.
"Are you the Mormon Naab?" he queried.
"August Naab, I am."
"Dry camp, eh? Hosses tired, I reckon. Shore it's a sandy trail. Where's the rest of you fellers?"
"Cole and his men were in a hurry to make White Sage to-night. They were travelling light; I've heavy wagons."
"Naab, I reckon you shore wouldn't tell a lie?"
"I have never lied."
"Heerd of a young feller thet was in Lund--pale chap--lunger, we'd call him back West?"
"I heard that he had been mistaken for a spy at Lund and had fled toward Bane."
"Hadn't seen nothin' of him this side of Lund?"
"Seen any Navvies?"
The outlaw stared hard at him. Apparently he was about to speak of the Navajos, for his quick uplift of head at Naab's blunt affirmative suggested the impulse. But he checked himself and slowly drew on his gloves.
"Naab, I'm shore comin' to visit you some day. Never been over thet range. Heerd you hed fine water, fine cattle. An' say, I seen thet little Navajo girl you have, an' I wouldn't mind seein' her again."
August Naab kicked the fire into brighter blaze. "Yes fine range," he presently replied, his gaze fixed on Dene. "Fine water, fine cattle, fine browse. I've a fine graveyard, too; thirty graves, and not one a woman's. Fine place for graves, the canyon country. You don't have to dig. There's one grave the Indians never named; it's three thousand feet deep."
"Thet must be in hell," replied Dene, with a smile, ignoring the covert meaning. He leisurely surveyed Naab's four sons, the wagons and horses, till his eye fell upon Hare and Mescal. With that he swung in his saddle as if to dismount.
"I shore want a look around."
"Get down, get down," returned the Mormon. The deep voice, unwelcoming, vibrant with an odd ring, would have struck a less suspicious man than Dene. The outlaw wrung his leg back over the pommel, sagged in the saddle, and appeared to be pondering the question. Plainly he was uncertain of his ground. But his indecision was brief.
"Two-Spot, you look 'em over," he ordered.
The third horseman dismounted and went toward the wagons.
Hare, watching this scene, became conscious that his fear had intensified with the recognition of Two-Spot as Chance, the outlaw whom he would not soon forget. In his excitement he moved against Mescal and felt her trembling violently.
"Are you afraid?" he whispered.
"Yes, of Dene."
The outlaw rummaged in one of the wagons, pulled aside the canvas flaps of the other, laughed harshly, and then with clinking spurs tramped through the camp, kicking the beds, overturning a pile of saddles, and making disorder generally, till he spied the couple sitting on the stone in the shadow.
As the outlaw lurched that way, Hare, with a start of recollection, took Mescal in his arms and leaned his head against hers. He felt one of her hands lightly brush his shoulder and rest there, trembling.
Shuffling footsteps scraped the sand, sounded nearer and nearer, slowed and paused.
"Sparkin'! Dead to the world. Ham! Haw! Haw!"
The coarse laugh gave place to moving footsteps. The rattling clink of stirrup and spur mingled with the restless stamp of horse. Chance had mounted. Dene's voice drawled out: "Good-bye, Naab, I shore will see you all some day." The heavy thuds of many hoofs evened into a roar that diminished as it rushed away.
In unutterable relief Hare realized his deliverance. He tried to rise, but power of movement had gone from him.
He was fainting, yet his sensations were singularly acute. Mescal's hand dropped from his shoulder; her cheek, that had been cold against his, grew hot; she quivered through all her slender length. Confusion claimed his senses. Gratitude and hope flooded his soul. Something sweet and beautiful, the touch of this desert girl, rioted in his blood; his heart swelled in exquisite agony. Then he was whirling in darkness; and he knew no more.
II WHITE SAGE
THE night was as a blank to Hare; the morning like a drifting of hazy clouds before his eyes. He felt himself moving; and when he awakened clearly to consciousness he lay upon a couch on the vine-covered porch of a cottage. He saw August Naab open a garden gate to admit Martin Cole. They met as friends; no trace of scorn marred August's greeting, and Martin was not the same man who had shown fear on the desert. His welcome was one of respectful regard for his superior.
"Elder, I heard you were safe in," he said, fervently. "We feared--I know not what. I was distressed till I got the news of your arrival. How's the young man?"
"He's very ill. But while there's life there's hope."
"Will the Bishop administer to him?"
"Gladly, if the young man's willing. Come, let's go in."
"Wait, August," said Cole. "Did you know your son Snap was in the village?"
"My son here!" August Naab betrayed anxiety. "I left him home with work. He shouldn't have come. Is--is he--"
"He's drinking and in an ugly mood. It seems he traded horses with Jeff Larsen, and got the worst of the deal. There's pretty sure to be a fight."
"He always hated Larsen."
"Small wonder. Larsen is mean; he's as bad as we've got and that's saying a good deal. Snap has done worse things than fight with Larsen. He's doing a worse thing now, August--he's too friendly with Dene."
"I've heard--I've heard it before. But, Martin, what can I do?"
"Do? God knows. What can any of us do? Times have changed, August. Dene is here in White Sage, free, welcome in many homes. Some of our neighbors, perhaps men we trust, are secret members of this rustler's band."
"You're right, Cole. There are Mormons who are cattle-thieves. To my eternal shame I confess it. Under cover of night they ride with Dene, and here in our midst they meet him in easy tolerance. Driven from Montana he comes here to corrupt our young men. God's mercy!"
"August, some of our young men need no one to corrupt them. Dene had no great task to win them. He rode in here with a few outlaws and now he has a strong band. We've got to face it. We haven't any law, but he can be killed. Some one must kill him. Yet bad as Dene is, he doesn't threaten our living as Holderness does. Dene steals a few cattle, kills a man here and there. Holderness reaches out and takes our springs. Because we've no law to stop him, he steals the blood of our life--water-- water--God's gift to the desert! Some one must kill Holderness, too!"
"Martin, this lust to kill is a fearful thing. Come in, you must pray with the Bishop."
"No, it's not prayer I need, Elder," replied Cole, stubbornly. "I'm still a good Mormon. What I want is the stock I've lost, and my fields green again."
August Naab had no answer for his friend. A very old man with snow-white hair and beard came out on the porch.
"Bishop, brother Martin is railing again," said Naab, as Cole bared his head.
"Martin, my son, unbosom thyself," rejoined the Bishop.
"Black doubt and no light," said Cole, despondently. "I'm of the younger generation of Mormons, and faith is harder for me. I see signs you can't see. I've had trials hard to bear. I was rich in cattle, sheep, and water. These Gentiles, this rancher Holderness and this outlaw Dene, have driven my cattle, killed my sheep, piped my water off my fields. I don't like the present. We are no longer in the old days. Our young men are drifting away, and the few who return come with ideas opposed to Mormonism. Our girls and boys are growing up influenced by the Gentiles among us. They intermarry, and that's a death-blow to our creed."
"Martin, cast out this poison from your heart. Return to your faith. The millennium will come. Christ will reign on earth again. The ten tribes of Israel will be restored. The Book of Mormon is the Word of God. The creed will live. We may suffer here and die, but our spirits will go marching on; and the City of Zion will be builded over our graves."
Cole held up his hands in a meekness that signified hope if not faith.
August Naab bent over Hare. "I would like to have the Bishop administer to you," he said.
"What's that?" asked Hare.
"A Mormon custom, 'the laying on of hands.' We know its efficacy in trouble and illness. A Bishop of the Mormon Church has the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of revelation, of healing. Let him administer to you. It entails no obligation. Accept it as a prayer."
"I'm willing." replied the young man.
Thereupon Naab spoke a few low words to some one through the open door. Voices ceased; soft footsteps sounded without; women crossed the threshold, followed by tall young men and rosy-checked girls and round-eyed children. A white-haired old woman came forward with solemn dignity. She carried a silver bowl which she held for the Bishop as he stood close by Hare's couch. The Bishop put his hands into the bowl, anointing them with fragrant oil; then he placed them on the young man's head, and offered up a brief prayer, beautiful in its simplicty and tremulous utterance.
The ceremony ended, the onlookers came forward with pleasant words on their lips, pleasant smiles on their faces. The children filed by his couch, bashful yet sympathetic; the women murmured, the young men grasped his hand. Mescal flitted by with downcast eye, with shy smile, but no word.
"Your fever is gone," said August Naab, with his hand on Hare's cheek.
"It comes and goes suddenly," replied Hare. "I feel better now, only I'm oppressed. I can't breathe freely. I want air, and I'm hungry."
"Mother Mary, the lad's hungry. Judith, Esther, where are your wits? Help your mother. Mescal, wait on him, see to his comfort."
Mescal brought a little table and a pillow, and the other girls soon followed with food and drink; then they hovered about, absorbed in caring for him.
"They said I fell among thieves," mused Hare, when he was once more alone. "I've fallen among saints as well." He felt that he could never repay this August Naab. "If only I might live!" he ejaculated. How restful was this cottage garden! The green sward was a balm to his eyes. Flowers new to him, though of familiar springtime hue, lifted fresh faces everywhere; fruit-trees, with branches intermingling, blended the white and pink of blossoms. There was the soft laughter of children in the garden. Strange birds darted among the trees. Their notes were new, but their song was the old delicious monotone--the joy of living and love of spring. A green-bowered irrigation ditch led by the porch and unseen water flowed gently, with gurgle and tinkle, with music in its hurry. Innumerable bees murmured amid the blossoms.
Hare fell asleep. Upon returning drowsily to consciousness he caught through half-open eyes the gleam of level shafts of gold sunlight low down in the trees; then he felt himself being carried into the house to be laid upon a bed. Some one gently unbuttoned his shirt at the neck, removed his shoes, and covered him with a blanket. Before he had fully awakened he was left alone, and quiet settled over the house. A languorous sense of ease and rest lulled him to sleep again. In another moment, it seemed to him, he was awake; bright daylight streamed through the window, and a morning breeze stirred the faded curtain.
The drag in his breathing which was always a forerunner of a coughing-spell warned him now; he put on coat and shoes and went outside, where his cough attacked him, had its sway, and left him.
"Good-morning," sang out August Naab's cheery voice. "Sixteen hours of sleep, my lad!"
"I did sleep, didn't I? No wonder I feel well this morning. A peculiarity of my illness is that one day I'm down, the next day up."
"With the goodness of God, my lad, we'll gradually increase the days up. Go in to breakfast. Afterward I want to talk to you. This'll be a busy day for me, shoeing the horses and packing supplies. I want to start for home to-morrow."
Hare pondered over Naab's words while he ate. The suggestion in them, implying a relation to his future, made him wonder if the good Mormon intended to take him to his desert home. He hoped so, and warmed anew to this friend. But he had no enthusiasm for himself; his future seemed hopeless.
Naab was waiting for him on the porch, and drew him away from the cottage down the path toward the gate
"I want you to go home with me."
"You're kind--I'm only a sort of beggar--I've no strength left to work my way. I'll go--though it's only to die."
"I haven't the gift of revelation--yet somehow I see that you won't die of this illness. You will come home with me. It's a beautiful place, my Navajo oasis. The Indians call it the Garden of Eschtah. If you can get well anywhere it'll be there."
"I'll go but I ought not. What can I do for you?
"No man can ever tell what he may do for another. The time may come-- well, John, is it settled?" He offered his huge broad hand.
"It's settled--I--" Hare faltered as he put his hand in Naab's. The Mormon's grip straightened his frame and braced him. Strength and simplicity flowed from the giant's toil-hardened palm. Hare swallowed his thanks along with his emotion, and for what he had intended to say he substituted: "No one ever called me John. I don't know the name. Call me Jack."
"Very well, Jack, and now let's see. You'll need some things from the store. Can you come with me? It's not far."
"Surely. And now what I need most is a razor to scrape the alkali and stubble off my face."
The wide street, bordered by cottages peeping out of green and white orchards, stretched in a straight line to the base of the ascent which led up to the Pink Cliffs. A green square enclosed a gray church, a school-house and public hall. Farther down the main thoroughfare were several weather-boarded whitewashed stores. Two dusty men were riding along, one on each side of the wildest, most vicious little horse Hare had ever seen. It reared and bucked and kicked, trying to escape from two lassoes. In front of the largest store were a number of mustangs all standing free, with bridles thrown over their heads and trailing on the ground. The loungers leaning against the railing and about the doors were lank brown men very like Naab's sons. Some wore sheepskin "chaps," some blue overalls; all wore boots and spurs, wide soft hats, and in their belts, far to the back, hung large Colt's revolvers.
"We'll buy what you need, just as if you expected to ride the ranges for me to-morrow," said Naab. "The first thing we ask a new man is, can he ride? Next, can he shoot?"
"I could ride before I got so weak. I've never handled a revolver, but I can shoot a rifle. Never shot at anything except targets, and it seemed to come natural for me to hit them."
"Good. We'll show you some targets--lions, bears, deer, cats, wolves. There's a fine forty-four Winchester here that my friend Abe has been trying to sell. It has a long barrel and weighs eight pounds. Our desert riders like the light carbines that go easy on a saddle. Most of the mustangs aren't weight-carriers. This rifle has a great range; I've shot it, and it's just the gun for you to use on wolves and coyotes. You'll need a Colt and a saddle, too."
"By-the-way," he went on, as they mounted the store steps, "here's the kind of money we use in this country." He handed Hare a slip of blue paper, a written check for a sum of money, signed, but without register of bank or name of firm. "We don't use real money," he added. "There's very little coin or currency in southern Utah. Most of the Gentiles lately come in have money, and some of us Mormons have a bag or two of gold, but scarcely any of it gets into circulation. We use these checks, which go from man to man sometimes for six months. The roundup of a check means sheep, cattle, horses, grain, merchandise or labor. Every man gets his real money's value without paying out an actual cent."
"Such a system at least means honest men," said Hare, laughing his surprise.
They went into a wide door to tread a maze of narrow aisles between boxes and barrels, stacks of canned vegetables, and piles of harness and dry goods; they entered an open space where several men leaned on a counter.
"Hello, Abe," said Naab; "seen anything of Snap?"
"Hello, August. Yes, Snap's inside. So's Holderness. Says he rode in off the range on purpose to see you." Abe designated an open doorway from which issued loud voices. Hare glanced into a long narrow room full of smoke and the fumes of rum. Through the haze he made out a crowd of men at a rude bar. Abe went to the door and called out: "Hey, Snap, your dad wants you. Holderness, here's August Naab."
A man staggered up the few steps leading to the store and swayed in. His long face had a hawkish cast, and it was gray, not with age, but with the sage-gray of the desert. His eyes were of the same hue, cold yet burning with little fiery flecks in their depths. He appeared short of stature because of a curvature of the spine, but straightened up he would have been tall. He wore a blue flannel shirt, and blue overalls; round his lean hips was a belt holding two Colt's revolvers, their heavy, dark butts projecting outward, and he had on high boots with long, cruel spurs.
"Howdy, father?" he said.
"I'm packing to-day," returned August Naab. "We ride out to-morrow. I need your help."
"All-l right. When I get my pinto from Larsen."
"Never mind Larsen. If he got the better of you let the matter drop."
"Jeff got my pinto for a mustang with three legs. If I hadn't been drunk I'd never have traded. So I'm looking for Jeff."
He bit out the last words with a peculiar snap of his long teeth, a circumstance which caused Hare instantly to associate the savage clicking with the name he had heard given this man. August Naab looked at him with gloomy eyes and stern shut mouth, an expression of righteous anger, helplessness and grief combined, the look of a man to whom obstacles had been nothing, at last confronted with crowning defeat. Hare realized that this son was Naab's first-born, best-loved, a thorn in his side, a black sheep.
"Say, father, is that the spy you found on the trail?" Snap's pale eyes gleamed on Hare and the little flames seemed to darken and leap.
"This is John Hare, the young man I found. But he's not a spy."
"You can't make any one believe that. He's down as a spy. Dene's spy! His name's gone over the ranges as a counter of unbranded stock. Dene has named him and Dene has marked him. Don't take him home, as you've taken so many sick and hunted men before. What's the good of it? You never made a Mormon of one of them yet. Don't take him--unless you want another grave for your cemetery. Ha! Ha!"
Hare recoiled with a shock. Snap Naab swayed to the door, and stepped down, all the time with his face over his shoulder, his baleful glance on Hare; then the blue haze swallowed him,
The several loungers went out; August engaged the storekeeper in conversation, introducing Hare and explaining their wants. They inspected the various needs of a range-rider, selecting, in the end, not the few suggested by Hare, but the many chosen by Naab. The last purchase was the rifle Naab had talked about. It was a beautiful weapon, finely polished and carved, entirely out of place among the plain coarse-sighted and coarse-stocked guns in the rack.
"Never had a chance to sell it," said Abe. "Too long and heavy for the riders. I'll let it go cheap, half price, and the cartridges also, two thousand."
"Taken," replied Naab, quickly, with a satisfaction which showed he liked a bargain.
"August, you must be going to shoot some?" queried Abe. "Something bigger than rabbits and coyotes. Its about time--even if you are an Elder. We Mormons must--" he broke off, continuing in a low tone: "Here's Holderness now."
Hare wheeled with the interest that had gathered with the reiteration of this man's name. A new-comer stooped to get in the door. He out-topped even Naab in height, and was a superb blond-bearded man, striding with the spring of a mountaineer.
"Good-day to you, Naab," he said. "Is this the young fellow you picked up?"
"Yes. Jack Hare," rejoined Naab.
"Well, Hare, I'm Holderness. You'll recall my name. You were sent to Lund by men interested in my ranges. I expected to see you in Lund, but couldn't get over."
Hare met the proffered hand with his own, and as he had recoiled from Snap Naab so now he received another shock, different indeed but impelling in its power, instinctive of some great portent. Hare was impressed by an indefinable subtlety, a nameless distrust, as colorless as the clear penetrating amber lightness of the eyes that bent upon him.
"Holderness, will you right the story about Hare?" inquired Naab.
"You mean about his being a spy? Well, Naab, the truth is that was his job. I advised against sending a man down here for that sort of work. It won't do. These Mormons will steal each other's cattle, and they've got to get rid of them; so they won't have a man taking account of stock, brands, and all that. If the Mormons would stand for it the rustlers wouldn't. I'll take Hare out to the ranch and give him work, if he wants. But he'd do best to leave Utah."
"Thank you, no," replied Hare, decidedly.
"He's going with me," said August Naab.
Holderness accepted this with an almost imperceptible nod, and he swept Hare with eyes that searched and probed for latent possibilities. It was the keen intelligence of a man who knew what development meant on the desert; not in any sense an interest in the young man at present. Then he turned his back.
Hare, feeling that Holderness wished to talk with Naab, walked to the counter, and began assorting his purchases, but he could not help hearing what was said.
"Lungs bad?" queried Holderness.
"One of them," replied Naab.
'He's all in. Better send him out of the country. He's got the name of Dene's spy and he'll never get another on this desert. Dene will kill him. This isn't good judgment, Naab, to take him with you. Even your friends don't like it, and it means trouble for you."
"We've settled it," said Naab, coldly.
"Well, remember, I've warned you. I've tried to be friendly with you, Naab, but you won't have it. Anyway, I've wanted to see you lately to find out how we stand."
"What do you mean?"
"How we stand on several things--to begin with, there Mescal."
"You asked me several times for Mescal, and I said no."
"But I never said I'd marry her. Now I want her, and I will marry her."
"No," rejoined Naab, adding brevity to his coldness.
"Why not?" demanded Holderness. "Oh, well, I can't take that as an insult. I know there's not enough money in Utah to get a girl away from a Mormon. . . . About the offer for the water-rights--how do we stand? I'll give you ten thousand dollars for the rights to Seeping Springs and Silver Cup."
"Ten thousand!" ejaculated Naab. "Holderness, I wouldn't take a hundred thousand. You might as well ask to buy my home, my stock, my range, twenty years of toil, for ten thousand dollars!"
"You refuse? All right. I think I've made you a fair proposition," said Holderness, in a smooth, quick tone. "The land is owned by the Government, and though your ranges are across the Arizona line they really figure as Utah land. My company's spending big money, and the Government won't let you have a monopoly. No one man can control the water-supply of a hundred miles of range. Times are changing. You want to see that. You ought to protect yourself before it's too late."
"Holderness, this is a desert. No men save Mormons could ever have made it habitable. The Government scarcely knows of its existence. It'll be fifty years before man can come in here to take our water."
"Why can't he? The water doesn't belong to any one. Why can't he?"
"Because of the unwritten law of the desert. No Mormon would refuse you or your horse a drink, or even a reasonable supply for your stock. But you can't come in here and take our water for your own use, to supplant us, to parch our stock. Why, even an Indian respects desert law!"
"Bah! I'm not a Mormon or an Indian. I'm a cattleman. It's plain business with me. Once more I make you the offer."
Naab scorned to reply. The men faced each other for a silent moment, their glances scintillating. Then Holderness whirled on his heel, jostling into Hare.
"Get out of my way," said the rancher, in the disgust of intense irritation. He swung his arm, and his open hand sent Hare reeling against the counter.
"Jack," said Naab, breathing hard, "Holderness showed his real self to-day. I always knew it, yet I gave him the benefit of the doubt. . . . For him to strike you! I've not the gift of revelation, but I see--let us go."
On the return to the Bishop's cottage Naab did not speak once; the transformation which had begun with the appearance of his drunken son had reached a climax of gloomy silence after the clash with Holderness. Naab went directly to the Bishop, and presently the quavering voice of the old minister rose in prayer.
Hare dropped wearily into the chair on the porch; and presently fell into a doze, from which he awakened with a start. Naab's sons, with Martin Cole and several other men, were standing in the yard. Naab himself was gently crowding the women into the house. When he got them all inside he closed the door and turned to Cole.
"Was it a fair fight?"
"Yes, an even break. They met in front of Abe's. I saw the meeting. Neither was surprised. They stood for a moment watching each other. Then they drew--only Snap was quicker. Larsen's gun went off as he fell. That trick you taught Snap saved his life again. Larsen was no slouch on the draw."
"Where's Snap now?"
"Gone after his pinto. He was sober. Said he'd pack at once. Larsen's friends are ugly. Snap said to tell you to hurry out of the village with young Hare, if you want to take him at all. Dene has ridden in; he swears you won't take Hare away."
"We're all packed and ready to hitch up," returned Naab. "We could start at once, only until dark I'd rather take chances here than out on the trail."
"Snap said Dene would ride right into the Bishop's after Hare."
"No. He wouldn't dare."
"Father!" Dave Naab spoke sharply from where he stood high on a grassy bank. "Here's Dene now, riding up with Culver, and some man I don't know. They're coming in. Dene's jumped the fence! Look out!"
A clatter of hoofs and rattling of gravel preceded the appearance of a black horse in the garden path. His rider bent low to dodge the vines of the arbor, and reined in before the porch to slip out of the saddle with the agility of an Indian. It was Dene, dark, smiling, nonchalant.
"What do you seek in the house of a Bishop?" challenged August Naab, planting his broad bulk square before Hare.
"What do you seek in the house of a Bishop?" repeated Naab.
"I shore want to see the young feller you lied to me about," returned Dene, his smile slowly fading.
"No speech could be a lie to an outlaw."
"I want him, you Mormon preacher!"
"You can't have him."
"I'll shore get him."
In one great stride Naab confronted and towered over Dene.
The rustler's gaze shifted warily from Naab to the quiet Mormons and back again. Then his right hand quivered and shot downward. Naab's act was even quicker. A Colt gleamed and whirled to the grass, and the outlaw cried as his arm cracked in the Mormon's grasp
Dave Naab leaped off the bank directly in front of Dene's approaching companions, and faced them, alert and silent, his hand on his hip.
August Naab swung the outlaw against the porch-post and held him there with brawny arm.
"Whelp of an evil breed!" he thundered, shaking his gray head. "Do you think we fear you and your gunsharp tricks? Look! See this!" He released Dene and stepped back with his hand before him. Suddenly it moved, quicker than sight, and a Colt revolver lay in his outstretched palm. He dropped it back into the holster. "Let that teach you never to draw on me again." He doubled his huge fist and shoved it before Dene's eyes. "One blow would crack your skull like an egg-shell. Why don't I deal it? Because, you mindless hell-hound, because there s a higher law than man's--God's law--Thou shalt not kill! Understand that if you can. Leave me and mine alone from this day. Now go!"
He pushed Dene down the path into the arms of his companions.
"Out with you!" said Dave Naab. "Hurry! Get your horse. Hurry! I'm not so particular about God as Dad is!"
III THE TRAIL OF THE RED WALL
AFTER the departure of Dene and his comrades Naab decided to leave White Sage at nightfall. Martin Cole and the Bishop's sons tried to persuade him to remain, urging that the trouble sure to come could be more safely met in the village. Naab, however, was obdurate, unreasonably so, Cole said, unless there were some good reason why he wished to strike the trail in the night. When twilight closed in Naab had his teams ready and the women shut in the canvas-covered wagons. Hare was to ride in an open wagon, one that Naab had left at White Sage to be loaded with grain. When it grew so dark that objects were scarcely discernible a man vaulted the cottage fence.
"Dave, where are the boys?" asked Naab.
"Not so loud! The boys are coming," replied Dave in a whisper. "Dene is wild. I guess you snapped a bone in his arm. He swears he'll kill us all. But Chance and the rest of the gang won't be in till late. We've time to reach the Coconina Trail, if we hustle."
"Any news of Snap?"
"He rode out before sundown."
Three more forms emerged from the gloom.
"All right, boys. Go ahead, Dave, you lead."
Dave and George Naab mounted their mustangs and rode through the gate; the first wagon rolled after them, its white dome gradually dissolving in the darkness; the second one started; then August Naab stepped to his seat on the third with a low cluck to the team. Hare shut the gate and climbed over the tail-board of the wagon.
A slight swish of weeds and grasses brushing the wheels was all the sound made in the cautious advance. A bare field lay to the left; to the right low roofs and sharp chimneys showed among the trees; here and there lights twinkled. No one hailed; not a dog barked.
Presently the leaders turned into a road where the iron hoofs and wheels cracked and crunched the stones.
Hare thought he saw something in the deep shade of a line of poplar-trees; he peered closer, and made out a motionless horse and rider, just a shade blacker than the deepest gloom. The next instant they vanished, and the rapid clatter of hoofs down the road told Hare his eyes had not deceived him.
"Getup," growled Naab to his horses. "Jack, did you see that fellow?"
"Yes. What was he doing there?"
"Watching the road. He's one of Dene's scouts."
One of Naab's sons came trotting back. "Think that was Larsen's pal. He was laying in wait for Snap."
"I thought he was a scout for Dene," replied August.
"Maybe he's that too."
"Likely enough. Hurry along and keep the gray team going lively. They've had a week's rest."