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The desert valley


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Title:TheDesertValley
Author:JacksonGregory
ReleaseDate:March30,2005[eBook#15502]
Language:English
***STARTOFTHEPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKTHEDESERT
VALLEY***
E-textpreparedbyAlHaines

THEDESERTVALLEY
by
JACKSONGREGORY

AuthorofTheBellsofSanJuan,MantoMan
HodderandStoughtonLimitedLondon

CharlesScribner'sSons


1921


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
THEDESERTIABLUEBIRD'SFEATHERIISUPERSTITIONPOOLIIIPAYMENTINRAW
GOLDIVINDESERTVALLEYVTHEGOODOLDSPORTVITHEYOUTHFULHEARTVII
WAITINGFORMOONRISEVIIIPOKERANDTHESCIENTIFICMINDIXHELENKNEWXA
WARNINGANDASIGNXISEEKINGXIITHEDESERTSUPREMEXIIIASONOFTHE
SOLITUDESXIVTHEHATEOFTHEHIDDENPEOPLEXVTHEGOLDENSECRETXVI
SANCHIASCHEMESXVIIHOWARDHOLDSTHEGULCHXVIIIATOWNISBORNXIX
SANCHIAPERSISTENTXXTWOFRIENDSANDAGIRLXXIALMOSTXXIITHE
PROFESSORDICTATESXXIIITHEWILL-O'-THE-WISPXXIVTHESHADOWXXVINTHE
OPENXXVIWHENDAYDAWNED

TheDesert
Overmanywideregionsofthesouth-westerndesertcountryofArizonaand
NewMexicoliesaneternalspellofsilenceandmystery.Acrossthesand-ridges
comemanyforeignthings,bothanimateandinanimate,whichareengulfedinits
immensity,whichfrequentlydisappearforalltimefromthesightofmen,blotted
outlikeabirdwhichfliesfreefromalightedroomintotheoutsidedarkness.As
thoughincompensationforthatwhichithastaken,thedesertfromtimetotime
allowsnewmarvels,rivenfromitsvitals,toemerge.
Thoughdeath-still,ithasavoicewhichcallsceaselesslytothosehumanhearts
tunedtoitsmessages:hostileandharsh,itdrawsandurges;repellent,it


profligatelyawardshealthandwealth;inviting,itkills.Andalwaysitkeepsits
owncounsel;itiswithoutpeerinitslonesomeness,andwithoutconfidants;it
heapsitssandoveritssecretstohidethemfromitsflashingstars.
Youseethebobbingearsofapack-animalandthedustyhatandstoopshoulders
ofaman.Theyaresymbolsofmystery.Theyrisebrieflyagainsttheskyline,
theyaregoneintothegreydistance.Somethingbeckonsorsomethingdrives.
Theyarelosttohumansight,perhapstohumanmemory,likeacoupleofchips
driftingoutintotheocean.Patienttimemaywitnesstheirreturn;itisstilllikely
thatsoonanotherincarnationwillhaveclosedformanandbeast,thattheywill
havelefttomarktheirpassingafewglisteninglywhitebones,polished


untiringlybytinysand-chiselsinthegripofthedesertwinds.Theymayfind
gold,buttheymaynotcomeintimetowater.Thedesertisequallyconversant
withtheactionsofmenmadwithgoldandmadwiththirst.
Topushoutalongintothisimmensityistoevincetheheartofabravemanorthe
brainofafool.Theendeavourtotraversetheforbiddengardenofsilenceimplies
onthepartoftheagentanadventurousnature.Henceitwouldseemnogreat
tasktocataloguethosehumanbeingswhosettheirbackstothegentlerworld
andpressforwardintothenakedembraceofthismercilessland.Yetasmany
sortsandconditionscomehereeachyearasaretobefoundoutside.
Silence,ruthlessness,mystery—thesearetheattributesofthedesert.True,ithas
itssofterphases—veileddawnsanddusks,rainbowhues,moonandstars.But
thesearebuttenderblossomsfromaspiked,poisonousstalk,liketheflowersof
thecactus.Theyarebriefandevanescent;theironparentiseverlasting.


ChapterI
ABluebird'sFeather
Intheduskapack-horsecrestedalow-lyingsand-ridge,putupitsheadand
sniffed,pushedforwardeagerly,itsnostrilstwitchingasitturnedalittlemore
towardthenorth,goingstraighttowardthewater-hole.Thepackwasslippingas
fartoonesideasithadlistedtotheotherhalfanhourago;intherestraining
ropetherewereadozenintricateknotswhereonewouldhaveamplysufficed.
Thehorsebrokeintoatrot,blazingitsowntrailthroughthemesquite;aparcel
slipped;theslackropegrewslackerbecauseofthesubsequentreadjustment;half
adozenbundlesdroppedafterthefirst.Avoice,thinandirritable,shouted
'Whoa!'andthemaninturnwasbrieflyoutlinedagainstthepaleskyashe
scrambleduptheridge.Hewasalittlemanandplainlyweary;hewalkedas
thoughhisbootshurthim;hecarriedawide,newhatinonehand;theskinwas
peelingfromhisblisteredface.Fromhisotherhandtrailedabighandkerchief.
Hewasperhapsfiftyorsixty.Hecalled'Whoa!'again,andmadewhathastehe
couldafterhishorse.
Amomentlaterasecondhorseappearedagainstthesky,followingtheman,
toppingtheridge,passingon.Insilhouetteitappearednonormalanimalbut
someweirdmonstrosity,amisshapenbodycoveredeverywherewithoddwartlikeexcrescences.Closeby,theseuniquegrowthsresolvedthemselvesintoat
leastascoreofcanteensandwater-bottlesofmanyshapesandsizes,strung
togetherwithbitsofrope.Undoubtedlythehandwhichhadtiedtheotherknots
hadconstructedthese.Thishorseinturnsniffedandwentforwardwitha
quickenedpace.
Finallycamethefourthfigureoftheprocession.Thiswasagirl.Liketheman,
shewasbooted;likehim,shecarriedabroadhatinherhand.Herethesimilarity
ended.Sheworeanoutdoorcostume,alittlethingappropriateenoughforher
environment.Andyetitwaspeculiarlyappropriatetofemininity.Itdisclosedthe


pleasinglinesofaprettyfigure.Herfatigueseemedlessthantheman's.Her
youthwaspronounced,assertive.Shealoneofthefourpausedmorethanan
instantupontheslighteminence;sheputbackherheadandlookedupatthefew
starsthatwereshining;shelistenedtothehushedvoiceofthedesert.Shedrewa
scarfawayfromherneckandletthecoolingairbreatheuponherthroat.The
throatwasround;nodoubtitwassoftandwhite,and,likeherwholesmallself,
seductivelyfeminine.
Havingcommunedwiththenight,thegirlwithdrewhergazefromtheskyand
hearkenedtohercompanion.Hisvoice,nowremarkablyeagerandyoungfora
manofhisyears,cametoherclearlythroughtheclumpsofbushes.
'Itisamazing,mydear!Positively.Youneverheardofsuchathing.Thehorse,
thetall,slenderone,ranaway,fromme.Ihastenedinpursuit,callingtohimto
waitforme.Itappearedthathehadbecomesuddenlyrefractory:theydothat
sometimes.Iwasgoingtoreprimandhim;Ithoughtthatitmightbenecessaryto
chastisehim,assometimesamanmustdotoretainthemastery.ButIstayedmy
hand.Theanimalhadnotrunawayatall!Heactuallyknewwhathewasdoing.
Hecamestraighthere.Andwhatdoyouthinkhediscovered?Whatdoyou
imaginebroughthim?Youwouldneverguess.'
'Water?'suggestedthegirl,comingon.
Somethingoftheman'sexcitementhadgonefromhisvoicewhenheanswered.
Hewaslikeachildwhohaspropoundedariddlethathasbeentooreadily
guessed.
'Howdidyouknow?'
'Ididn'tknow.Butthehorsesmustbethirsty.Ofcoursetheywouldgostraightto
water.Animalscansmellit,can'tthey?'
'Canthey?'Helookedtoherinquiringlywhenshestoodathisside.'Itis
amazing,nevertheless.Positively,mydear,'headdedwithatouchofdignity.
Thetwohorses,sidebyside,weredrinkingnoisilyfromasmalldepressioninto
whichthewateroozedslowly.Thegirlwatchedthemamomentabstractedly,
sighedandsatdowninthesand,herhandsinherlap.
'Tired,Helen?'askedthemansolicitously.


'Aren'tyou?'shereturned.'Ithasbeenahardday,papa.'
'Iamafraidithasbeenhardonyou,mydear,'headmitted,ashiseyestookstock
ofthedroopingfigure.'But,'headdedmorecheerfully,'wearegetting
somewhere,mygirl;wearegettingsomewhere.'
'Arewe?'shemurmuredtoherselfratherthanforhisears.Andwhenhe
demanded'Eh?'shesaidhastily:'Anyway,wearedoingsomething.Thatismore
funthangrowingmoss,evenifweneversucceed.'
'Itellyou,'hedeclaredforensically,liftinghishandforagesture,'Iknow!
Haven'tIdemonstratedtheinfallibilityofmylineofaction?Ifamanwantsto—
togathercherries,lethimgotoacherrytree;ifheseekspearls,lethimfindout
thefavouritehabitatofthepearloyster;ifhedesiresa—ahat,lethimgotothe
hatter's.Itisthesimplestthingintheworld,thoughfoolshavewovenmystery
anddifficultyaboutit.Now——'
'Yes,pops.'Helensighedagainandsawwisdominrisingtoherfeet.'Ifyouwill
beginunpackingI'llmakeourbeds.AndI'llgetthefirestarted.'
'Wecandispensewiththefire,'hetoldher,settingtoworkwiththefirstknotto
comeunderhisfingers.'Thereiscoffeeinthethermosbottleandwecanopena
tinofpottedchicken.'
'Thefiremakesitcosier,'Helensaid,beginningtogathertwigs.Lastnight
coyoteshadhowledfearsomely,andevendwellersofthecitiesknowthatthe
surestsafeguardagainstaraveningbeastisacamp-fire.Foralittlewhilethe
manstrovewithhistangledrope;shewaslosttohimthroughthemesquite.
Suddenlyshecamerunningback.
'Papa,'shewhisperedexcitedly.'There'ssomeonealreadyhere.'
Sheledhimafewpacesandpointed,makinghimstooptosee.Underthetangle
ofathinbrushpatchhemadeoutwhatshehadseen.Butashortdistancefrom
thespottheyhadelectedfortheircampsitewasatinyfireblazingmerrily.
'Ahem,'saidHelen'sfather,shiftingnervouslyandlookingathisdaughteras
thoughforanexplanationofthisoddity.'Thisispeculiar.Ithasanairof—of
——'


'Why,itisthemostnaturalthingintheworld,'shesaidswiftly.
'Wherewouldyouexpecttofindacamp-fireifnotnearaspring?'
'Yes,yes,thatpartofitisallright,'headmittedgrudgingly.'Butwhydoeshe
holdbackandtherebygiveoneanimpressionofadesireonhispartforsecrecy?
Whydoeshenotcomeforwardandmakehimselfknown?Idonotmeanto
alarmyou,mydear,butthisisnotthewayanhonestfellow-wayfarershould
behave.Waithereforme;Ishallinvestigate.'Intrepidlyhewalkedtowardthe
fire.Helenkeptclosetohisside.
'Hello!'hecalled,whentheyhadtakenadozensteps.Theypausedandlistened.
Therewasnoreply,andHelen'sfingerstightenedonhisarm.Againhelookedto
herasthoughoncemoreheaskedtheexplanationofher;thelookhintedthat
uponoccasionthefatherleanedonthedaughtermorethansheonhim.Hecalled
again.Hisvoicediedawayecholess,thesilenceseemingheavierthanbefore.
Whenoneofthehorsesbehindthem,turningfromthewater,troduponadry
twig,bothmanandgirlstarted.ThenHelenlaughedandwentforwardagain.
Sincethefirehadnotlighteditself,itmerelybespokethepresenceofaman.
Menhadnoterrortoher.Intheripefullnessofhersomethinglessthantwenty
yearsshehadencounteredmanyofthem.Whilewithduemodestysheadmitted
thattherewasmuchintheworldthatshedidnotknow,sheconsideredthatshe
'knew'men.
Thetwopressedontogether.Beforetheyhadgonefartheyweregreetedbythe
familiarandvaguelycomfortingodoursofboilingcoffeeandfryingbacon.Still
theysawnoone.Theypushedthroughthelastclumpofbushesandstoodbythe
fire.Onthecoalswastheblackcoffee-pot.Cunninglyplacedupontwostones
overabedofcoalswasthefrying-pan.Helenstoopedinstinctivelyandliftedit
aside;thehalf-dozenslicesofbaconwereburnedblack.
'Hello!'shoutedthemanathirdtime,fornothingintheworldwasmoreclear
thanthatwhoeverhadmadethefireandbegunhissupperpreparationsmustbe
withincall.Butnoanswercame.Meantimethenighthaddeepened;therewas
nomoon;thetallershrubs,aspiringtotreeproportions,madeatangleofshadow.
'Hehasprobablygoneofftopickethishorse,'saidHelen'sfather.
'Nothingcouldbemorenatural.'
Helen,morematter-of-factandlessgiventotheorizing,lookedabouther


curiously.Shefoundatincup;therewasnobed,nopack,noothersigntotell
whotheirneighbourmightbe.Closebythespotwhereshehadsetdownthe
frying-panshenotedasecondspring.Throughanopenspaceinthestunted
desertgrowththetrailcameinfromthenorth.Glancingnorthwardshesawfor
thefirsttimetheoutlineofalowhill.Shesteppedquicklytoherfather'sside
andoncemorelaidherhandonhisarm.
'Whatisit?'heasked,hisvoicesharpeningathersuddengrip.
'It's—it'sspookyouthere,'shesaid.
Hescoffed.'That'sasillyword.Inanaturalworldthereisnoplaceforthe
supernatural.'Hegrewtesty.'CanIeverteachyou,Helen,nottoemploywords
utterlymeaningless?'
ButHelenwasnottobeshaken.
'Justthesame,itisspooky.Icanfeelit.Lookthere.'Shepointed.'Thereisahill.
Therewillbealittleringofhills.Inthecentreofthebasintheymakewouldbe
thepool.AndyouknowwhatweheardaboutitbeforeweleftSanJuan.This
wholecountryisstrange,somehow.'
'Strange?'hequeriedchallengingly.'Whatdoyoumean?'
Shehadnotrelaxedherhandonhisarm.Instead,herfingerstightenedasshe
suddenlyputherfaceforwardandwhispereddefiantly:
'Imeanspooky!'
'Helen,'heexpostulated,'wheredidyougetsuchideas?'
'YouheardtheoldIndianlegends,'sheinsisted,notmorethanhalffrightenedbut
consciousofaneerieinfluenceofthestilllonelinessandexperiencingthefirst
shiverofexcitementasshestirredherownfancy.'Whoknowsbutthereissome
foundationforthem?'
Hesnortedhisdisdainandscholarlycontempt.
'Then,'saidHelen,resortingtoargument,'wheredidthatfirecomefrom?Who
madeit?Whyhashedisappearedlikethis?'


'Evenyou,'saidherfather,quickasalwaystojoinissuewheresoundargument
offereditselfasaweapon,'willhardlysupposethataspookeatsbaconand
drinkscoffee,'
'The—theghost,'saidHelen,withahumorousglanceinhereyes,'mighthave
whiskedhimawaybythehairofthehead!'
Heshookherhandoffandstrodeforwardimpatiently.Againandagainhe
shouted'Hello!'and'Ho,there!Ho,Isay!'Therecamenoanswer.Thebacon
wasgrowingcold;thefireburningdown.Heturnedaperplexedfacetowards
Helen'seagerone.
'Itisodd,'hesaidirritably.Hewasnotamantorelishbeingbaffled.
Helenhadpickedupsomethingwhichshehadfoundnearthespring,andwas
studyingitintently.Hecametohersidetoseewhatitwas.Thethingwasa
freshly-peeledwillowwand,leftuprightwhereoneendhadbeenthrustdown
intothesoftearth.Theotherendhadbeensplit;intothecleftwasthrustasingle
featherfromabluebird'swing.
Helen'seyeslookedunusuallylargeandbright.Sheturnedherhead,glancing
overhershoulder.
'Someonewasherejustaminuteago,'shecriedsoftly.'Hewascampingforthe
night.Somethingfrightenedhimaway.Itmighthavebeenthenoisewemade.
Or—whatdoyouthink,papa?'
'Ineverattempttosolveaproblemuntilthenecessarydataaregivenme,'he
announcedacademically.
'Or,'wentonHelen,atwhoseageonedoesnotbotheraboutsuchtriflesas
necessarydata,'hemaynothaverunawayatall.Hemaybehidinginthe
bushes,listeningtous.Thereareallkindsofpeopleinthedesert.Don'tyou
rememberhowthesheriffcametoSanJuanjustbeforeweleft?Hewaslooking
foramanwhohadkilledaminerforhisgolddust.'
'Youmustcurbaproclivityforsuchfancifultrash.'Heclearedhisthroatforthe
utterance.HeputouthishandandHelenhastilyslippedherownintoit.Silently
theyreturnedtotheirowncampsite,thegirlcarryinginherfreehandthewand
tippedwiththebluebirdfeather.Severaltimestheypausedandlookedback.


Therewasnothingbuttheglowofthedwindlingfireandthesweepofsand,
coveredsparselywithraggedbushes.Newstarsflaredout;thespiritofthenight
descendeduponthedesert.Astheworldseemedtodrawfurtherandfurther
awayfromthem,thesetwobeings,strangetothevastnessengulfingthem,
huddledclosertogether.Theyspokelittle,alwaysinloweredvoices.Between
wordstheywerelistening,awaitingthatwhichdidnotcome.


ChapterII
SuperstitionPool
Physicallytiredastheywere,thenightwasarestlessoneforbothHelenandher
father.Theyatetheirmealinsilenceforthemostpart,madetheirbedsclose
together,picketedtheirhorsesnearbyandsaidtheirlistless'goodnights'early.
Eachheardtheotherturnandfidgetmanytimesbeforebothwenttosleep.
Helensawhowherfather,withafineassumptionofcarelesshabit,laidabig
newrevolverclosetohishead.
Thegirldozedandwokewhenthepallidmoonshoneuponherface.Shelifted
herselfuponherelbow.Themoonlighttoucheduponthewillowstickshehad
thrustintothesandatherbedside;thefeatherwasuprightandlikeaplume.She
considereditgravely;itbecamethestarting-pointofmanyromanticimaginings.
Somehowitwasatoken;ofjustexactlywhat,tobesure,shecouldnotdecide.
Notdefinitely,thatis;itwasalwaysindisputablethatthemessageofthebluebird
isoneofgoodfortune.
AlessvividimaginationthanHelen'swouldhavefoundatangofghostlinessin
thenight.Thecrestoftheridgeoverwhichtheyhadcomethroughthedusknow
showedsilverywhite;whitealsoweresomedeadbranchesofdesertgrowth—
theylookedlikebones.Alwaysthroughtheintensesilencestirredan
indistinguishablebreathlikeashiver.Individualbushesassumedgrotesque
shapes;whenshelookedlongandintentlyatoneshebegantofancythatit
moved.Shescoffedatherself,knowingthatshewaslendingaidtotrickingher
ownsenses,yetherheartbeataweebitfaster.Shegavehermindtolarge
considerations:thoseofinfinity,ashereyeswereliftedheavenwardanddwelt
uponthebrighteststar;thoseoflifeanddeath,andallofthemysteryof
mysteries.Shewenttosleepstrugglingwiththeancientproblem:'Dothedead
return?Arethere,flowingaboutus,weird,supernaturalinfluencesaspotentand
intangibleaselectriccurrents?'Inhersleepshecontinuedherinteresting


investigations,butherdreamingvisionexplainedtheevening'sproblemby
showingherthecamp-firemade,thebaconandcoffeesetthereon,byaverynice
youngmanwithsplendideyes.
Shestirred,smiledsleepily,andlayagainwithoutmoving;afterthefashionof
oneawakeningsheclungtothemistyfrontiersofafadingdream-country.She
breatheddeeply,inhalingthefreshnessofthenewdawn.Thensuddenlyhereyes
flewopen,andshesatupwithalittlecry;amanwhowouldhavefittedwell
enoughintoanyfancy-freemaiden'sdreamswasstandingclosetoherside,
lookingdownather.Helen'shandsflewtoherhair.
Plainly—shereadthatinthefirstflashinglook—hewasnolessastoundedthan
she.Atthemomenthemadeapicturetofilltheeyeandremaininthememory
ofagirlfreshfromanEasternCity.Thetall,rangyformwasgarbedinthe
picturesquewayofthecountry;shetookhiminfromtheheelsoftheblackboots
withtheirsilverspurstothetopofhisheadwithitsamazinglywideblackhat.
Hestoodagainstaskyrapidlyfillingtothewarmglowofthemorning.His
horse,ararelyperfectcreationevenintheeyesofonewhoknewlittleoffine
breedinginanimals,stoodjustatitsmaster'sheels,withearsprickedforward
curiously.
Helenwonderedswiftlyifheintendedtostandthereuntilthesuncameup,just
lookingather.Thoughitwasscarcelymorethanamomentthathestoodthus,in
Helen'sconfusionthetimeseemedmuchlonger.Shebegantogrowillatease;
shefeltaquickspurtofirritation.Nodoubtshelookedaperfectfright,takenall
unawareslikethis,andequallyindisputablyhewasforminganextremely
uncomplimentaryopinionofher.ItrequiredlessthanthreesecondsforMiss
Helentodecideemphaticallythatthemanwasahorriblecreature.
Buthedidnotlookanysuchthing.Hewashealthyandbrownandboyish.He
hadhadashaveandhaircutnolongeragothanyesterdayandlookedneatand
clean.Hismouthwasquiteaslargeasaman'sshouldbeandnowwassuddenly
smiling.Atthesameinstanthishatcameoffinhisbigbrownhandandagleam
ofdownrightjoyousnessshoneinhiseyes.
'Impudentbeast!'wasHelen'squickthought.Shehadgivenhermindlastnighta
greatdeallesstomattersoftoiletthantomysticimaginings;itlayentirelyinthe
fieldofabsurdlikelihoodthattherewasasmearofblackacrossherface.


'Mymistake,'grinnedthestranger.'GuessI'llstepoutwhilethestepping'sgood
andtheroadopen.Ifthere'sonesurethingamanoughttobeshotfor,it's
stampedinginonanotherfellow'shoneymoon.Adios,señora.'
'Honeymoon!'gaspedHelen.'Thebigfool.'
Herfatherwakenedabruptly,satup,graspinghisbigrevolverinbothhands,and
blinkedabouthim;he,too,hadhadhisdreams.Inthenight-capwhichhehad
purchasedinSanJuan,hiswide,graveeyesandsun-blisteredfaceturnedup
inquiringly;hewasworthyofasecondglanceashesatpreparedtodefend
himselfandhisdaughter.Thestrangerhadjustsetthetoeofhisbootintothe
stirrup;inthispostureheremained,forgetfulofhisintentiontomount,whilehis
marebegantocircleandhehadtohopalongtokeeppacewithher,hiseyes
uponthestartledoccupantofthebedbeyondHelen's.Hehadhadbarelymore
thantimetonotetheevidentdiscrepancyinageswhichnaturallyshouldhave
startedhisminddownanewchannelfortheexplanationofthetruerelationship,
whentherevolverclutchedtightlyinunaccustomedfingerswentoffwithan
unexpectedroar.Dustspoutedupayardbeyondthefeetofthemanwhoheldit.
Thehorseplunged,thestrangerwentupintothesaddlelikeaflash,andtheman
droppedhisguntohisblanketandmutteredinthenaturalbewildermentofthe
moment:
'It—itwentoffbyitself!Themostamazing——'
Theriderbroughthisprancinghorsebackandfoughtwithhisfacialmusclesfor
gravity;thelightinhiseyeswasutterlybeyondhiscontrol.
'I'dbetterbegoingoffbymyselfsomewhere,'heremarkedasgravelyashe
couldmanage,'ifyou'regoingtostartshootingamanupjustbecausehecalls
beforebreakfast.'
Withafacegrownasickwhite,themaninbedlookedhelplesslyfromthe
strangertohisdaughterandthentothegun.
'Ididn'tdoathingtoit,'hebeganhaltingly.
'Youwon'tdoathingtoyourselfoneofthesefinedays.'remarkedthehorseman
withevidentrelish,'ifyoudon'tquitcarryingthatsortoflife-saver.Comeover
totheranchandI'llswapyouahand-axeforit.'


Helensniffedaudiblyanddistastefully.Herfirstimpressionofthestrangerhad
beenmorecorrectthanarefirstimpressionsninetimesoutoften;hewasasfull
ofimpudenceasacitysparrow.Shehadsatup'lookinglikeafright';herfather
hadmadehimselfridiculous;thestrangerwasmirthfullyconcernedwiththe
amusingpossibilitiesofbothofthem.
Suddenlythetallman,smittenbyinspiration,slappedhisthighwithonehand,
whilewiththeotherhecurbedrebellioninhismareandofferedtheexplosive
wager:
'I'llbetamanadollarI'vegotyournumber,friends.YouareProfessorJames
EdwardLongstreetandhislittledaughterHelen!AmIright?'
'Youarecorrect,sir,'acknowledgedtheprofessoratriflestiffly.Hiseyedidnot
rise,butclunginafascinated,faintlyaccusingwaytothegunwhichhad
betrayedhim.
Thestrangernoddedandthenliftedhishatfortheceremonywhilehepresented
himself.
'NameofHoward,'heannouncedbreezily.'AlanHowardoftheoldDiaz
Rancho.Gladtoknowyouboth.'
'Itisapleasure,Iamsure,Mr.Howard,'saidtheprofessor.'But,ifyouwill
pardonme,atthisparticulartimeofday——'
AlanHowardlaughedhisunderstanding.
'I'llchaseuptothepoolandgiveHelenadrinkofrealwater,'hesaidlightly.
'Funnymymare'snameshouldbeHelen,too,isn'tit?'Thisdirectlyintoapairof
eyeswhichthegrowinglightshowedtobegreyandattractive,butjustnow
hostile.'Then,ifyousaytheword,I'llrompbackandtakeyouuponacupof
coffee.Andwe'lltalkthingsover.'
Hestoopedforwardinthesaddleafractionofaninch;hismarecaughtthe
familiarsignalandleaped;theyweregone,racingawayacrossthesandwhich
wasflungupafterthemlikespray.
'Ofallthefreshpropositions!'gaspedHelen.


Butsheknewthathewouldnotlongdelayhisreturn,andsoslippedquickly
fromunderherblanketandhurrieddowntothewater-holetobatheherhands
andfaceandsetherselfinorder.Herflyingfingersfoundherlittlemirror;there
wasn'tanysmudgeonherface,afterall,andherhairwasn'tsoterribly
unbecomingthatway;tousled,tobesure,butthen,nice,curlyhaircanbe
tousledandstillnotmakeoneaperfecthag.Itwasoddabouthismarebeing
namedHelen.Hemusthavethoughtthenamepretty,forobviouslyheandhis
horsewerebothintimateandaffectionate.'AlanHoward.'Here,too,wasrathera
nicenameforamanmetbychanceoutinthedesert.Shepausedintheactof
brushingherhair.Wasshetogetanexplanationoflastnight'spuzzle?WasMr.
Howardthemanwhohadlightedtheotherfire?
Theprofessor'staciturnitywasofapronouncedorderthismorning.Nowand
thenashemadehisownbriefandcustomarilyuntidytoilet,heturnedalookof
accusationuponthebigColtlyingonhisbed.Beforedrawingonhisbootshe
bestoweduponhistoealongglanceofaffection;thebulletthathadpassed
withinaveryfewinchesofthisadjunctofhisanatomyhademphasizedatoe's
importance.Hehadneverrealizedhowpleasantitwastohavetwobigtoes,all
one'sownandunmarred.Bythetimethefoothadbeencoaxedandjammed
downintohisnewboottheprofessor'sgoodhumourwasonthewaytobeing
restored;amanofonethoughtatthetime,duetohislonghabitofconcentration,
hisemotionwasnowoneofasubduedrejoicing.Itneededbutthemorningcup
ofcoffeetosethimbeamingupontheworld.
AlanHoward'ssuddencall:'CanIcomeinnow,folks?'fromacrossabriefspace
ofsandandbrush,foundProfessorLongstreetonhiskneesfeedingtwigstoa
tinyblaze,andhastenedHelenthroughthefinaltouchesofherdressing.Helen
washummingsoftlytoherself,herbacktohim,hermindobviously
concentrateduponthebreadshewasslicing,whenthestrangerswungdown
fromhissaddleandcameforward.Hestoodamomentjustbehindher,looking
atherwithveryevidentinterestinhiseyes.
'Howdoyoulikeourpartoftheworld?'heaskedfriendliwise.
Helenignoredhimbriefly.HadMr.AlanHowardbeenabashfulyoungmanof
thetypethatreddensandtwistsitshatinbignervoushandsandlooksguiltyin
general.MissHelenLongstreetwouldhavebeenswiftlyallthatwassweetand
kindtohim.Now,however,fromsomevaguereasonorcloudedinstinct,she
waspreparedtobeasstiffasthefangedstalkofacactus.Havingignoredhim


theproperlengthoftime,sherepliedcoolly:
'FatherandIareverymuchpleasedwiththedesertcountry.But,mayIaskjust
whyyouspeakofitasyourpartoftheworldratherthanours?Arewe
trespassing,pray?'Theafterthoughtwasaccompaniedbyanupflashinglookthat
waslittlelessthanoutrightchallenge.
'Trespassing?Lord,no,'concededHowardheartily.'Thelandiswide,thetrail
openatbothends.ButyouknowwhatImeant.'
Helenshruggedandlaidasidethehalf-loaf.Sinceshegavehimnoanswer,
Howardwentonserenely:
'Imeanamansortofacquiresafeelingofownershipintheplaceinwhichhe
haslivedalongtime.YouandyourfatherareEastern,notWestern.IfIcame
trampingintoyourneckofthewoods—youseeIcallityours.Rightenough,
too,don'tyouthink,professor?'
'Inawayofspeaking,yes,'answeredtheprofessor.'Inanotherway,no.Wehave
givenuptheoldhauntsandtheoldwayofliving.Weareratherinclined,my
dearyoungsir,tolookuponthisasourcountry,too.'
'Bullyforyou!'criedHowardwarmly.'You'resurewelcome.'Hiseyescame
backfromthefathertorestuponthedaughter'sbronzetresses.'Welcomeasa
water-holeinahotland,'headdedemphatically.
'Speakingofwater-holes,'suggestedLongstreet,sittingbackuponhisbootheels
inamannertosuggestthefavouritesquattingpositionofthecowboysofwhom
heandhisdaughterhadseenmuchduringtheselastfewweeks,'wasityouwho
madecamprightoveryonder?'Hepointed.
HelenlookedupcuriouslyforHoward'sanswerandthusmettheeyeshehadnot
withdrawnfromher.Hesmiledather,afrank,opensortofsmile,andthereafter
turnedtohisquestioner.
'When?'heaskedbriefly.
'Lastnight.Justbeforewecame.'
'Whatmakesyouthinksomeonemadecampthere?'


'Therewasafire;baconwasfrying,coffeeboiling.'
'Andyoudidn'tstepacrosstotakeasquintatyournext-doorneighbour?'
'Wedid,'saidtheprofessor.'Buthehadgone,leavinghisfireburning,hismeal
cooking.'
Howard'seyestravelledswiftlytoHelen,thenbacktoherfather.
'Andhedidn'tcomeback?'
'Hedidnot,'saidLongstreet.'OtherwiseIshouldnothaveaskedifyouwerehe.'
EvenyetHowardgavenodirectanswer.Insteadheturnedhisbackandstrode
awaytothedesertedcampsite.Helenwatchedhimthroughthebushesandnoted
howhemadeaquickbutevidentlythoroughexaminationofthespot.Shesaw
himstoop,pickupfrying-panandcup,dropthemandpassaroundthespring,his
eyesontheground.Abruptlyheturnedawayandpushedthroughaclumpof
bushes,disappearing.Infiveminuteshereturned,hisfacethoughtful.
'Whattimedidyougethere?'heasked.Andwhenhehadhisanswerhe
pondereditamomentbeforehewenton:'Thegentdidn'tleavehiscard.Buthe
brokecampinaregularblue-blazeshurry;saddledhishorseoveryonderand
struckouttheshortestwaytowardKingCañon.Hewentasifthedevilhimself
andhisonebestbetinhellhoundswasrunningathisstirrups.'
'Howdoyouknow?'queriedLongstreet'sinsatiablecuriosity.'Youdidn'tsee
him?'
'Yousawthefireandthethingsheleftstewing,'counteredHoward.'They
spelledhurry,didn'tthey?Didn'ttheyshoutintoyourearsthathewasonthe
livelyscamperforsomeotherwhere?'
'Notnecessarily,'maintainedLongstreeteagerly.'Reasoningfromthescant
evidencebeforeus,amanwouldsaythatwhilethestrangermayhavelefthis
camptohurryon,hemayontheotherhandhavejustdodgedbackwhenhe
hearduscomingandhiddensomewherecloseby.'
AgainHowardponderedbriefly.


'Thereareothersignsyoudidnotsee,'hesaidinamoment.'Thesoilwherehe
hadhishorsestakedoutshowstracks,andtheyarethetracksofahorsegoing
somefromthefirstjump.Horseandmantookthestraightesttrailandwent
rippingthroughapatchofmesquitethatamanwouldgenerallygoround.Then
there'ssomethingelse.Wanttosee?'
Theywentwithhim,theprofessorwithalacrity,Helenwithastudiedpretenceat
indifference.BythespringwhereHelenhadfoundthewillowrodandthe
bluebirdfeather,Howardstoppedandpointeddown.
'There'sasetoftracksforyou,'heannouncedtriumphantly.'Supposeyouspell
'emout,professor;whatdoyoumakeofthem?'
Theprofessorstudiedthemgravely.Intheendheshookhishead.
'Coyote?'hesuggested.
Howardshookhishead.
'Nocoyote,'hesaidwithpositiveness.'Thattrackshowsafootfourtimesasbig
asanycoyote'sthateverscratchedfleas.Wolf?Maybe.Itwouldbeawhopperof
awolfatthat.Lookatthesizeofit,man!Why,theuglybrutewouldbebig
enoughtoscaremyprizeshorthornbullintotakingoutlifeinsurance.Andthat
isn'tall.That'sjustthefrontfoot.Nowlookatthehindfoot.Smaller,longer,and
leavingalighterimprint.Allbelongingtothesameanimal.'Hescratchedhis
headinfrankbewilderment.'It'sanewoneonme,'heconfessedfrankly.Then
hechuckled.'I'dbetamanthatthegentwholeftonthehastyfootjustgotone
squintatthislittlebeastieandatthathadallsortsofgoodreasonsforstreaking
out.'
Abiglizardwentrustlingthroughapileofdeadleavesandallthreeofthem
started.Howardlaughed.
'We'rerightnearSuperstitionPool!'heinformedthemwithsuddenlyassumed
gravity.'DowninPocoPocotheytellsomegreattalesabouttheoldIndiangods
goingman-huntingbymoonlight.Quiénsabe,huh?'
ProfessorLongstreetsnorted.Helencastaquick,interestedlookatthestranger
andoneofneartriumphuponherfather.


'Ismellsomebody'scoffeeboiling,'saidthecattlemanabruptly.'AmIinvitedin
foracup?OrshallImoseyon?Don'tbebashfulinsayingI'mnotwantedifI'm
not.'
'Ofcourseyouarewelcome,'saidLongstreetheartily.ButHowardturnedto
Helenandwaitedforhertospeak.
'Ofcourse.'saidHelencarelessly.


ChapterIII
PaymentinRawGold
'Youweremerelyspeakingbywayofjest,Itakeit,Mr.Howard,'remarked
Longstreet,afterhehadinterestedlywatchedtherancherputathirdandfourth
heapingspoonfulofsugarinhistincupofcoffee.'Irefer,youunderstand,to
yourhintingamomentagoattherebeinganytruthintheoldIndian
superstitions.Iamnottosuppose,amI,thatyouactuallygiveanycredenceto
talesofsupernaturalinfluencesmanifestedhereabouts?'
AlanHowardstirredhiscoffeemeditatively,andaftersoleisurelyafashionthat
Longstreetbegantofidget.Thereply,whenfinallyitcame,wassufficientlynoncommittal.
'Isaid"Quiénsabe?"tothequestionjustnow,'hesaid,atwinkleintheregard
bestoweduponthescientist.'Theyaretwoprettygoodlittleoldwordsandfitin
first-ratelotsoftimes.'
'Spanishfor"Whoknows?"aren'tthey?'
Howardnodded.'TheyusedtobeSpanish;Iguessthey'reMexbynow.'
Longstreetfrownedandreturnedtotheissue.
'Ifyouweremerelyjesting,asIsupposed——'
'ButwasI?'demandedHoward.'WhatdoIknowaboutit?Iknowhorsesand
cows;that'smybusiness.Iknowathingortwoaboutmen,sincethat'smy
businessattimes,too;alsosomethinglikehalfofthatabouthalf-breedsand
mules;Imeetupwiththemsometimesintherunoftheday'swork.Youknow
somethingofwhatIthinkyoucallauriferousgeology.Butwhatdoeseitherofus
knowofthenightlycustomofdeadIndiansandIndiangods?'


Helenwonderedwithherfatherwhethertherewereaveinofseriousnessinthe
man'sthought.Howardsquattedonhisheels,fromwhichhehadremovedhis
spurs;theywereveryhighheels,butnonethelessheseemedcomfortablyat
homerockingonthem.Longstreetnotedwithhiskeeneyes,alteredhisown
squattingpositionafraction,andopenedhismouthforanotherquestion.But
Howardforestalledhim,sayingcasually:
'Ihaveknownqueerthingstohappenhere,withinafewhundredyardsofthis
place.Ihaven'thadtimetogofindingoutthewhyofthem;theydidn'tcomeinto
myday'swork.Ihavelistenedtosomeinterestingyarns;truthorliesitdidn't
mattertome.TheysaythatghostshauntthePooljustyonder.Ihaveneverseen
aghost;there'snothinginraisingghostsformarket,andI'mthebusiestmanI
knowtryingtochewachunkthatIhavebittenoff.TheytellyoudownatSan
JuanandinPocoPoco,andallthewayuptoTecolote,thatifyouwillcomehere
acertainmoonlightnightoftheyearandwillwatchthewaterofthepool,you'll
seeavisionsentupbythegodsoftheUnderworld.They'lleventellyouhowa
nicelittleoldgodbythenameofPookhonghoyaappearsnowandthenbynight,
huntingsoulsofenemies—andrunningbythesideofthebiggest,strangestwolf
thathumaneyeseversaw.'
Helenlookedathimswiftly.Hehadaddedthelastitemalmostasan
afterthought.Sheimaginedthathehadembellishedtheoldtalefromhisown
recentexperience,and,further,thatMr.AlanHowardwasmakingfunofthem
andwasnoadeptinthescienceoffabrication.
'Theygofurther,'Howardspunouthistale.'Somewhereinthedesertcountryto
thenorththereis,Ibelieve,atribeofHiddenPeoplethatthewhitemanhas
neverseen.Theinterestingthingaboutthemisthattheyaregovernedbya
youngandaltogethermaddeninglyprettygoddesswhoiswhiteandwhosename
isYahoya.Whentheycomerightdowntothematterofgivingnames,'headded
gravely,'howisamantogoanyfurtherthanjustsay,"Quiénsabe?"'
'Thatisstupid.'saidLongstreetirascibly.'It'saman'schiefaffairinlifetoknow.
Theseabsurdlegends——'
'Don'tyouthink,papa,'saidHelencoolly,'thatinsteadoftaxingMr.Howard's
memoryand—andimagination,itwouldbebetterifyouaskedhimaboutour
wayfromhereon?'


Howardchuckled.ProfessorLongstreetsetasidehiscup,clearedhisthroatand
agreedwithhisdaughter.
'Iamprospecting,'heannounced,'forgold.Weareheadedforwhatisknownas
theLastRidgecountry.Ihaveamaphere.'
Hedrewitfromhispocket,neatlyfolded,andspreaditout.Itwasamapsuchas
istobepurchasedforfiftycentsatthestoreinSanJuan,showingthemain
roads,towns,waterholesandtrails.Withabluepencilhehadmarkedoutthe
waytheyplannedtogo.Howardbentforwardandtookthepaper.
'Wearegoingthesameway,friend,'hesaidashelookedup.'Whatismore,we
aregoingoveratrailIknowbyheart.ThereisagoodchanceIcansaveyou
timeandtroublebymakingitapartyofthree.AmIwanted?'
'Itisextremelykindofyou,'saidLongstreetappreciatively.'Butyouareon
horsebackandwetravelslowly.'
'Icansparethetime,'wastheevenrejoinder.'AndI'llbegladtodoit.'
Duringthehalf-hourrequiredtobreakcampandpackthetwohorses,Alan
Howardgavesignsofaninterestwhichnowandthenmountedalmosttohigh
delight.Hemadenoremarkconcerningtheelaboratesystemofwater-bottles
andcanteens,buthiseyesbrightenedasheaidedtheprofessorinmakingthem
fast.Whentheprocessionwasreadytostarthestrodeonahead,leadinghisown
horseandhidingfromhisnewfriendsthewideninggrinuponhisface.
Thesunwasup;alreadythestillheatofthedesertwasintheair.Behindthetall
rancherandhisglossymarecameProfessorLongstreetdrivinghistwopack
animals.Justbehindhim,withmuchgravespeculationinhereyes,cameHelen.
Anewmanhadswumallunexpectedlyintoherkenandshewasbusy
cataloguinghim.Helookedthenativeinthisenvironment,butforallthathewas
plainlyamanofherownclass.Noilliteracy,nowildshyawkwardnessmarked
hisdemeanour.Hewasasfreeandeasyasthenorthwind;hemight,afterall,be
likeable.Certainlyitwascourtoisofhimtosethimselfonfoottobeoneof
them.Themarelookedgentledespiteherhighlife;HelenwonderedifAlan
Howardhadthoughtofofferingherhismount?
Theyhadcometothefirstofthelow-lyinghills.


'MissLongstreet,'calledHoward,stoppingandturning,'wouldn'tyouliketo
swinguponSanchia?Sheisdyingtoberidden.'
Thetrailherewaswideandclearlydefined;henceLongstreetandhistwohorses
wentbyandHelencameupwithHoward.Herswasthetrickoflevel,searching
eyes.Shelookedsteadilyathimasshesaidevenly:
'SohernameisSanchia?'
Foraninstantthemandidnotappeartounderstand.ThensuddenlyHelenwas
treatedtothesightofthewarmredseepingupunderhistan.Andthenhe
slappedhisthighandlaughed;hislaughterseemingunaffectedandjoyous.
'Talkaboutgettingabsent-mindedinmyoldage,'hedeclared.'Hernamediduse
tobeSanchia;IchangedittoHelen.Thinkofmyslidingbacktotheoldname.'
Helen'scandidlookdidnotshiftforthemomentthatshepaused.Thenshewent
onbyhim,followingherfather,sayingmerely:
'Thankyou,I'llwalk.AndifsheweremineI'dkeeptheoldname;
Sanchiasuitsherexactly.'
Butasshehurriedonafterherfathershehadtimeforreflection;plainlythe
easy-manneredMr.AlanHowardhadrenamedhismareonlythisverymorning;
asplainlyhadheinthefirstplacecalledherSanchiainhonourofsomeother
friendorchanceacquaintance.Helenwonderedvaguelywhotheoriginal
Sanchiawas.Toherimaginationthenamesuggestedaslim,big-eyedMexican
girl.ShefoundtimetowonderfurtherhowmanytimesMr.Howardhadnamed
hishorse.
Theyskirtedahill,dippedintothehollowwhichgavepassagewaybetweenthis
hillanditstwinneighbour,mountedbriefly,andwithintwentyminutescameto
thepoolaboutwhichlegendsflocked.Fromtheirvantagepointtheylooked
downuponit.Thesunsearcheditoutalmostattheinstantthattheireyescaught
theglintofit.Fedbymanyhiddenspringsitwasastill,smoothbodyofwaterin
thebowlofthehills;itlookedcoolanddeepandhaditsownairofmystery;in
itsancientbosomitmayhavehiddenbonesorgold.Somedevoteehadplanteda
weepingwillowherelongago;thegreattreenowflourishedandcastits
reflectionacrossitsownfallenleaves.


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