The Rainbow Trail by Zane Grey
XIII. The Story of Surprise Valley
" . . . Oh, I remember so well! Even now I dream of it sometimes. I hear the roll and crash of falling rock--like thunder. . . . We rode and rode. Then the horses fell. Uncle Jim took me in his arms and started up the cliff. Mother Jane climbed close after us. They kept looking back. Down there in the gray valley carne the Mormons. I see the first one now. He rode a white horse. That was Tull. Oh, I remember so well! And I was five or six years old.
"We climbed up and up and into dark canyon and wound in and out. Then there was the narrow white trail, straight up, with the little cut steps and the great, red, ruined walls. I looked down over Uncle Jim's shoulder. I saw Mother Jane dragging herself up. Uncle Jim's blood spotted the trail. He reached a flat place at the top and fell with me. Mother Jane crawled up to us.
"Then she cried out and pointed. Tull was 'way below, climbing the trail. His men came behind him. Uncle Jim went to a great, tall rock and leaned against it. There was a bloody hole in his hand. He pushed the rock. It rolled down, banging the loose walls. They crashed and crashed--then all was terrible thunder and red smoke. I couldn't hear --I couldn't see.
"Uncle Jim carried me down and down out of the dark and dust into a beautiful valley all red and gold, with a wonderful arch of stone over the entrance.
"I don't remember well what happened then for what seemed a long, long time. I can feel how the place looked, but not so clear as it is now in my dreams. I seem to see myself with the dogs, and with Mother Jane, learning my letters, marking with red stone on the walls.
"But I remember now how I felt when I first understood we were shut in for ever. Shut in Surprise Valley where Venters had lived so long. I was glad. The Mormons would never get me. I was seven or eight years old then. From that time all is clear in my mind.
"Venters had left supplies and tools and grain and cattle and burros, so we had a good start to begin life there. He had killed off the wildcats and kept the coyotes out, so the rabbits and quail multiplied till there were thousands of them. We raised corn and fruit, and stored what we didn't use. Mother Jane taught me to read and write with the soft red stone that marked well on the walls.
"The years passed. We kept track of time pretty well. Uncle Jim's hair turned white and Mother Jane grew gray. Every day was like the one before. Mother Jane cried sometimes and Uncle Jim was sad because they could never be able to get me out of the valley. It was long before they stopped looking and listening for some one. Venters would come back, Uncle Jim always said. But Mother Jane did not think so.
"I loved Surprise Valley. I wanted to stay there always. I remembered Cottonwoods, how the children there hated me, and I didn't want to go back. The only unhappy times I ever had in the valley were when Ring and Whitie, my dogs, grew old and died. I roamed the valley. I climbed to every nook upon the mossy ledges. I learned to run up the steep cliffs. I could almost stick on the straight walls. Mother Jane called me a wild girl. We had put away the clothes we wore when we got there, to save them, and we made clothes of skins. I always laughed when I thought of my little dress--how I grew out of it. I think Uncle Jim and Mother Jane talked less as the years went by. And after I'd learned all she could teach me we didn't talk much. I used to scream into the caves just to hear my voice, and the echoes would frighten me.
"The older I grew the more I was alone. I was always running round the valley. I would climb to a high place and sit there for hours, doing nothing. I just watched and listened. I used to stay in the cliff- dwellers' caves and wonder about them. I loved to be out in the wind. And my happiest time was in the summer storms with the thunder echoes under the walls. At evening it was such a quiet place--after the night bird's cry, no sound. The quiet made me sad but I loved it. I loved to watch the stars as I lay awake.
"So it was beautiful and happy for me there till--till . . .
"Two years or more ago there was a bad storm, and one of the great walls caved. The walls were always weathering, slipping. Many and many a time have I heard the rumble of an avalanche, but most of them were in other canyon. This slide in the valley made it possible, Uncle Jim said, for men to get down into the valley. But we could not climb out unless helped from above. Uncle Jim never rested well after that. But it never worried me.
"One day, over a year ago, while I was across the valley, I heard strange shouts, and then screams. I ran to our camp. I came upon men with ropes and guns. Uncle Jim was tied, and a rope was round his neck. Mother Jane was lying on the ground. I thought she was dead until I heard her moan. I was not afraid. I screamed and flew at Uncle Jim to tear the ropes off him. The men held me back. They called me a pretty cat. Then they talked together, and some were for hanging Lassiter--that was the first time I ever knew any name for him but Uncle Jim--and some were for leaving him in the valley. Finally they decided to hang him. But Mother Jane pleaded so and I screamed and fought so that they left off. Then they went away and we saw them climb out of the valley.
"Uncle Jim said they were Mormons, and some among them had been born in Cottonwoods. I was not told why they had such a terrible hate for him. He said they would come back and kill him. Uncle Jim had no guns to fight with.
"We watched and watched. In five days they did come back, with more men, and some of them wore black masks. They came to our cave with ropes and guns. One was tall. He had a cruel voice. The others ran to obey him. I could see white hair and sharp eyes behind the mask. The men caught me and brought me before him.
"He said Lassiter had killed many Mormons. He said Lassiter had killed his father and should be hanged. But Lassiter would be let live and Mother Jane could stay with him, both prisoners there in the valley, if I would marry the Mormon. I must marry him, accept the Mormon faith, and bring up my children as Mormons. If I refused they would hang Lassiter, leave the heretic Jane Withersteen alone in the valley, and take me and break me to their rule.
"I agreed. But Mother Jane absolutely forbade me to marry him. Then the Mormons took me away. It nearly killed me to leave Uncle Jim and Mother Jane. I was carried and lifted out of the valley, and rode a long way on a horse. They brought me here, to the cabin where I live, and I have never been away except that--that time--to--Stonebridge. Only little by little did I learn my position. Bishop Kane was kind, but stern, because I could not be quick to learn the faith.
"I am not a sealed wife. But they're trying to make me one. The master Mormon--he visited me often--at night--till lately. He threatened me. He never told me a name--except Saint George. I don't--know him--except his voice. I never--saw his face--in the light!"
. . . . . . . . . .
Fay Larkin ended her story. Toward its close Shefford had grown involuntarily restless, and when her last tragic whisper ceased all his body seemed shaken with a terrible violence of his joy. He strode to and fro in the dark shadow of the stone. The receding blood left him cold, with a pricking, sickening sensation over his body, but there seemed to be an overwhelming tide accumulating deep in his breast--a tide of passion and pain. He dominated the passion, but the ache remained. And he returned to the quiet figure on the stone.
"Fay Larkin!" he exclaimed, with a deep breath of relief that the secret was disclosed. "So you're not a wife! . . . You're free! Thank Heaven! But I felt it was sacrifice. I knew there had been a crime. For crime it is. You child! You can't understand what crime. Oh, almost I wish you and Jane and Lassiter had never been found. But that's wrong of me. One year of agony--that shall not ruin your life. Fay, I will take you away."
"Where?" she whispered.
"Away from this Mormon country--to the East," he replied, and he spoke of what he had known, of travel, of cities, of people, of happiness possible for a young girl who had spent all her life hidden between the narrow walls of a silent, lonely valley--he spoke swiftly and eloquently till he lost his breath.
There was an instant of flashing wonder and joy on her white face, and then the radiance paled, the glow died. Her soul was the darker for that one strange, leaping glimpse of a glory not for such as she.
"I must stay here," she said, shudderingly.
"Fay!--How strange to say Fay aloud to you!--Fay, do you know the way to Surprise Valley?"
"I don't know where it is, but I could go straight to it," she replied.
"Take me there. Show me your beautiful valley. Let me see where you ran and climbed and spent so many lonely years."
"Ah, how I'd love to! But I dare not. And why should you want me to take you? We can run and climb here."
"I want to--I mean to save Jane Withersteen and Lassiter," he declared.
She uttered a little cry of pain. "Save them?"
"Yes, save them. Get them out of the valley, take them out of the country, far away where they and you--"
"But I can't go," she wailed. "I'm afraid. I'm bound. It can't be broken. If I dared--if I tried to go they would catch me. They would hang Uncle Jim and leave Mother Jane alone there to starve."
"Fay, Lassiter and Jane both will starve--at least they will die there if we do not save them. You have been terribly wronged. You're a slave. You're not a wife."
"They--said I'll be burned in hell if I don't marry him. . . . Mother Jane never taught me about God. I don't know. But he--he said God was there. I dare not break it."
"Fay, you have been deceived by old men. Let them have their creed. But you mustn't accept it."
"John, what is God to you?"
"Dear child, I--I am not sure of that myself," he replied, huskily. "When all this trouble is behind us, surely I can help you to understand and you can help me. The fact that you are alive--that Lassiter and Jane are alive--that I shall save you all--that lifts me up. I tell you--Fay Larkin will be my salvation."
"Your words trouble me. Oh, I shall be torn one way and another. . . . But, John, I daren't run away. I will not tell you where to find Lassiter and Mother Jane."
"I shall find them--I have the Indian. He found you for me. Nas Ta Bega will find Surprise Valley."
"Nas Ta Bega! . . . Oh, I remember. There was an Indian with the Mormons who found us. But he was a Piute."
"Nas Ta Bega never told me how he learned about you. That he learned was enough. And, Fay, he will find Surprise Valley. He will save Uncle Jim and Mother Jane."
Fay's hands clasped Shefford's in strong, trembling pressure; the tears streamed down her white cheeks; a tragic and eloquent joy convulsed her face.
"Oh, my friend, save them! But I can't go. . . . Let them keep me! Let him kill me!"
"Him! Fay--he shall not harm you," replied Shefford in passionate earnestness.
She caught the hand he had struck out with.
"You talk--you look like Uncle Jim when he spoke of the Mormons," she said. "Then I used to be afraid of him. He was so different. John, you must not do anything about me. Let me be. It's too late. He--and his men--they would hang you. And I couldn't bear that. I've enough to bear without losing my friend. Say you won't watch and wait--for-- for him."
Shefford had to promise her. Like an Indian she gave expression to primitive feeling, for it certainly never occurred to her that, whatever Shefford might do, he was not the kind of man to wait in hiding for an enemy. Fay had faltered through her last speech and was now weak and nervous and frightened. Shefford took her back to the cabin.
"Fay, don't be distressed," he said. "I won't do anything right away. You can trust me. I won't be rash. I'll consult you before I make a move. I haven't any idea what I could do, anyway. . . . You must bear up. Why, it looks as if you're sorry I found you."
"Oh! I'm glad!" she whispered.
"Then if you're glad you mustn't break down this way again. Suppose some of the women happened to run into us."
"I won't again. It's only you--you surprised me so. I used to think how I'd like you to know--I wasn't really dead. But now--it's different. It hurts me here. Yet I'm glad--if my being alive makes you--a little happier."
Shefford felt that he had to go then. He could not trust himself any further.
"Good night, Fay," he said.
"Good night, John," she whispered. "I promise--to be good to-morrow."
She was crying softly when he left her. Twice he turned to see the dim, white, slender form against the gloom of the cabin. Then he went on under the pinyons, blindly down the path, with his heart as heavy as lead. That night as he rolled in his blanket and stretched wearily he felt that he would never be able to sleep. The wind in the cedars made him shiver. The great stars seemed relentless, passionless, white eyes, mocking his little destiny and his pain. The huge shadow of the mountain resembled the shadow of the insurmountable barrier between Fay and him.
. . . . . . . . . .
Her pitiful, childish promise to be good was in his mind when he went to her home on the next night. He wondered how she would be, and he realized a desperate need of self-control.
But that night Fay Larkin was a different girl. In the dark, before she spoke, he felt a difference that afforded him surprise and relief. He greeted her as usual. And then it seemed, though not at all clearly, that he was listening to a girl, strangely and unconsciously glad to see him, who spoke with deeper note in her voice, who talked where always she had listened, whose sadness was there under an eagerness, a subdued gaiety as new to her, as sweet as it was bewildering. And he responded with emotion, so that the hour passed swiftly, and he found himself back in camp, in a kind of dream, unable to remember much of what she had said, sure only of this strange sweetness suddenly come to her.
Upon the following night, however, he discovered what had wrought this singular change in Fay Larkin. She loved him and she did not know it. How passionately sweet and sad and painful was that realization for Shefford! The hour spent with her then was only a moment.
He walked under the stars that night and they shed a glorious light upon him. He tried to think, to plan, but the sweetness of remembered word or look made mental effort almost impossible. He got as far as the thought that he would do well to drift, to wait till she learned she loved him, and then, perhaps, she could be persuaded to let him take her and Lassiter and Jane away together.
And from that night he went at his work and the part he played in the village with a zeal and a cunning that left him free to seek Fay when he chose.
Sometimes in the afternoon, always for a while in the evening, he was with her. They climbed the walls, and sat upon a lonely height to look afar; they walked under the stars, and the cedars, and the shadows of the great cliffs. She had a beautiful mind. Listening to her, he imagined he saw down into beautiful Surprise Valley with all its weird shadows, its colored walls and painted caves, its golden shafts of morning light and the red haze at sunset; and he felt the silence that must have been there, and the singing of the wind in the cliffs, and the sweetness and fragrance of the flowers, and the wildness of it all. Love had worked a marvelous transformation in this girl who had lived her life in a canyon. The burden upon her did not weigh heavily. She could not have an unhappy thought. She spoke of the village, of her Mormon companions, of daily happenings, of Stonebridge, of many things in a matter-of-fact way that showed how little they occupied her mind. She even spoke of sealed wives in a kind of dreamy abstraction. Something had possession of her, something as strong as the nature which had developed her, and in its power she, in her simplicity, was utterly unconscious, a watching and feeling girl. A strange, witching, radiant beauty lurked in her smile. And Shefford heard her laugh in his dreams.
The weeks slipped by. The black mountain took on a white cap of snow; in the early mornings there was ice in the crevices on the heights and frost in the valley. In the sheltered canyon where sunshine seemed to linger it was warm and pleasant, so that winter did not kill the flowers.
Shefford waited so long for Fay's awakening that he believed it would never come, and, believing, had not the heart to force it upon her. Then there was a growing fear with him. What would Fay Larkin do when she awakened to the truth? Fay was indeed like that white and fragile lily which bloomed in the silent, lonely canyon, but the same nature that had created it had created her. Would she droop as the lily would in a furnace blast? More than that, he feared a sudden flashing into life of strength, power, passion, hate. She did not hate yet because she did not yet realize love. She was utterly innocent of any wrong having been done her. More and more he began to fear, and a foreboding grew upon him. He made up his mind to broach the subject of Surprise Valley and of escaping with Lassiter and Jane; still, every time he was with Fay the girl and her beauty and her love were so wonderful that he put off the ordeal till the next night. As time flew by he excused his vacillation on the score that winter was not a good time to try to cross the desert. There was no grass for the mustangs, except in well-known valleys, and these he must shun. Spring would soon come. So the days passed, and he loved Fay more all the time, desperately living out to its limit the sweetness of every moment with her, and paying for his bliss in the increasing trouble that beset him when once away from her charm.
. . . . . . . . . .
One starry night, about ten o'clock, he went, as was his custom, to drink at the spring. Upon his return to the cedars Nas Ta Bega, who slept under the same tree with him, had arisen, with his blanket hanging half off his shoulder.
"Listen," said the Indian.
Shefford took one glance at the dark, somber face, with its inscrutable eyes, now so strange and piercing, and then, with a kind of cold excitement, he faced the way the Indian looked, and listened. But he heard only the soft moan of the night wind in the cedars.
Nas Ta Bega kept the rigidity of his position for a moment, and then he relaxed, and stood at ease. Shefford knew the Indian had made a certainty of what must have been a doubtful sound. And Shefford leaned his ear to the wind and strained his hearing.
Then the soft night breeze brought a faint patter--the slow trot of horses on a hard trail. Some one was coming into the village at a late hour. Shefford thought of Joe Lake. But Joe lay right behind him, asleep in his blankets. It could not be Withers, for the trader was in Durango at that time. Shefford thought of Willetts and Shadd.
"Who's coming?" he asked low of the Indian.
Nas Ta Bega pointed down the trail without speaking.
Shefford peered through the white dim haze of starlight and presently he made out moving figures. Horses, with riders--a string of them-- one--two--three--four--five--and he counted up to eleven. Eleven horsemen riding into the village! He was amazed, and suddenly keenly anxious. This visit might be one of Shadd's raids.
"Shadd's gang!" he whispered.
"No, Bi Nai," replied Nas Ta Bega, and he drew Shefford farther into the shade of the cedars. His voice, his action, the way he kept a hand on Shefford's shoulder, all this told much to the young man.
Mormons come on a night visit! Shefford realized it with a slight shock. Then swift as a lightning flash he was rent by another shock--one that brought cold moisture to his brow and to his heart a flame of hell.
He was shaking when he sank down to find the support of a log. Like a shadow the Indian silently moved away. Shefford watched the eleven horses pass the camp, go down the road, to disappear in the village. They vanished, and the soft clip-clops of hoofs died away. There was nothing left to prove he had not dreamed.
Nothing to prove it except this sudden terrible demoralization of his physical and spiritual being! While he peered out into the valley, toward the black patch of cedars and pinyons that hid the cabins, moments and moments passed, and in them he was gripped with cold and fire.
Was the Mormon who had abducted Fay--the man with the cruel voice-- was he among those eleven horsemen? He might not have been. What a torturing hope! But vain--vain, for inevitably he must be among them. He was there in the cabin already. He had dismounted, tied his horse, had knocked on her door. Did he need to knock? No, he would go in, he would call her in that cruel voice, and then . . .
Shefford pulled a blanket from his bed and covered his cold and trembling body. He had sunk down off the log, was leaning back upon it. The stars were pale, far off, and the valley seemed unreal. He found himself listening--listening with sick and terrible earnestness, trying to hear against the thrum and beat of his heart, straining to catch a sound in all that cold, star-blanched, silent valley. But he could hear no sound. It was as if death held the valley in its perfect silence. How he hated that silence! There ought to have been a million horrible, bellowing demons making the night hideous. Did the stars serenely look down upon the lonely cabins of these exiles? Was there no thunderbolt to drop down from that dark and looming mountain upon the silent cabin where tragedy had entered? In all the world, under the sea, in the abysmal caves, in the vast spaces of the air, there was no such terrible silence as this. A scream, a long cry, a moan--these were natural to a woman, and why did not one of these sealed wives, why did not Fay Larkin, damn this everlasting acquiescent silence? Perhaps she would fly out of her cabin, come running along the path. Shefford peered into the bright patches of starlight and into the shadows of the cedars. But he saw no moving form in the open, no dim white shape against the gloom. And he heard no sound-- not even a whisper of wind in the branches overhead.
Nas Ta Bega returned to the shade of the cedars and, lying down on his blankets, covered himself and went to sleep. The fact seemed to bring bitter reality to Shefford. Nothing was going to happen. The valley was to be the same this night as any other night. Shefford accepted the truth. He experienced a kind of self-pity. The night he had thought so much about, prepared for, and had forgotten had now arrived. Then he threw another blanket round him, and, cold, dark, grim, he faced that lonely vigil, meaning to sit there, wide-eyed, to endure and to wait.
Jealousy and pain, following his frenzy, abided with him long hours, and when they passed he divined that selfishness passed with them. What he suffered then was for Fay Larkin and for her sisters in misfortune. He grew big enough to pity these fanatics. The fiery, racing tide of blood that had made of him only an animal had cooled with thought of others. Still he feared that stultifying thing which must have been hate. What a tempest had raged within him! This blood of his, that had received a stronger strain from his desert life, might in a single moment flood out reason and intellect and make him a vengeful man. So in those starlit hours that dragged interminably he looked deep into his heart and tried to fortify himself against a dark and evil moment to come.
Midnight--and the valley seemed a tomb! Did he alone keep wakeful? The sky was a darker blue, the stars burned a whiter fire, the peaks stood looming and vast, tranquil sentinels of that valley, and the wind rose to sigh, to breathe, to mourn through the cedars. It was a sad music. The Indian lay prone, dark face to the stars. Joe Lake lay prone, sleeping as quietly, with his dark face exposed to the starlight. The gentle movement of the cedar branches changed the shape of the bright patches on the grass where shadow and light met. The walls of the valley waved upward, dark below and growing paler, to shine faintly at the rounded rims. And there was a tiny, silvery tinkle of running water over stones.
Here was a little nook of the vast world. Here were tranquillity, beauty, music, loneliness, life. Shefford wondered--did he alone keep watchful? Did he feel that he could see dark, wide eyes peering into the gloom? And it came to him after a time that he was not alone in his vigil, nor was Fay Larkin alone in her agony. There was some one else in the valley, a great and breathing and watchful spirit. It entered into Shefford's soul and he trembled. What had come to him? And he answered--only added pain and new love, and a strange strength from the firmament and the peaks and the silence and the shadows.
The bright belt with its three radiant stars sank behind the western wall and there was a paler gloom upon the valley.
Then a few lights twinkled in the darkness that enveloped the cabins; a woman's laugh strangely broke the silence, profaning it, giving the lie to that somber yoke which seemed to consist of the very shadows; the voices of men were heard, and then the slow clip-clop of trotting horses on the hard trail.
Shefford saw the Mormons file out into the paling starlight, ride down the valley, and vanish in the gray gloom. He was aware that the Indian sat up to watch the procession ride by, and that Joe turned over, as if disturbed.
One by one the stars went out. The valley became a place of gray shadows. In the east a light glowed. Shefford sat there, haggard and worn, watching the coming of the dawn, the kindling of the light; and had the power been his the dawn would never have broken and the rose and gold never have tipped the lofty peaks.
. . . . . . . . . .
Shefford attended to his camp chores as usual. Several times he was aware of Joe's close scrutiny, and finally, without looking at him, Shefford told of the visit of the Mormons. A violent expulsion of breath was Joe's answer and it might have been a curse. Straightway Joe ceased his cheery whistling and became as somber as the Indian. The camp was silent; the men did not look at one another. While they sat at breakfast Shefford's back was turned toward the village--he had not looked in that direction since dawn.
"Ugh!" suddenly exclaimed Nas Ta Bega.
Joe Lake muttered low and deep, and this time there was no mistake about the nature of his speech. Shefford did not have the courage to turn to see what had caused these exclamations. He knew since today had dawned that there was calamity in the air.
"Shefford, I reckon if I know women there's a little hell coming to you," said the Mormon, significantly.
Shefford wheeled as if a powerful force had turned him on a pivot. He saw Fay Larkin. She seemed to be almost running. She was unhooded and her bright hair streamed down. Her swift, lithe action was without its usual grace. She looked wild, and she almost fell crossing the stepping-stones of the brook.
Joe hurried to meet her, took hold of her arm and spoke, but she did not seem to hear him. She drew him along with her, up the little bench under the cedars straight toward Shefford. Her face held a white, mute agony, as if in the hour of strife it had hardened into marble. But her eyes were dark-purple fire--windows of an extraordinarily intense and vital life. In one night the girl had become a woman. But the blight Shefford had dreaded to see--the withering of the exquisite soul and spirit and purity he had considered inevitable, just as inevitable as the death of something similar in the flower she resembled, when it was broken and defiled--nothing of this was manifest in her. Straight and swiftly she came to him back in the shade of the cedars and took hold of his hands.
"Last night--he came!" she said.
"Yes--Fay--I--I know," replied Shefford, haltingly.
He was tremblingly conscious of amaze at her--of something wonderful in her. She did not heed Joe, who stepped aside a little; she did not see Nas Ta Bega, who sat motionless on a log, apparently oblivious to her presence.
"You knew he came?"
"Yes, Fay. I was awake when--they rode in. I watched them. I sat up all night. I saw them ride away."
"If you knew when he came why didn't you run to me--to get to me before he did?"
Her question was unanswerable. It had the force of a blow. It stunned him. Its sharp, frank directness sprang from a simplicity and a strength that had not been nurtured in the life he had lived. So far men had wandered from truth and nature!
"I came to you as soon as I was able," she went on. "I must have fainted. I just had to drag myself around. . . . And now I can tell you."
He was powerless to reply, as if she had put another unanswerable question. What did she mean to tell him? What might she not tell him? She loosed her hands from his and lifted them to his shoulders, and that was the first conscious action of feeling, of intimacy, which she had ever shown. It quite robbed Shefford of strength, and in spite of his sorrow there was an indefinable thrill in her touch. He looked at her, saw the white-and-gold beauty that was hers yesterday and seemed changed to-day, and he recognized Fay Larkin in a woman he did not know.
"Listen! He came--"
"Fay, don't--tell me," interrupted Shefford.
"I will tell you," she said.
Did the instinct of love teach her how to mitigate his pain? Shefford felt that, as he felt the new-born strength in her.
"Listen," she went on. "He came when I was undressing for bed. I heard the horse. He knocked on the door. Something terrible happened to me then. I felt sick and my head wasn't clear. I remember next-- his being in the room--the lamp was out--I couldn't see very well. He thought I was sick and he gave me a drink and let the air blow in on me through the window. I remember I lay back in the chair and I thought. And I listened. When would you come? I didn't feel that you could leave me there alone with him. For his coming was different this time. That pain like a blade in my side! . . . When it came I was not the same. I loved you. I understood then. I belonged to you. I couldn't let him touch me. I had never been his wife. When I realized this--that he was there, that you might suffer for it--I cried right out.
"He thought I was sick. He worked over me. He gave me medicine. And then he prayed. I saw him, in the dark, on his knees, praying for me. That seemed strange. Yet he was kind, so kind that I begged him to let me go. I was not a Mormon. I couldn't marry him. I begged him to let me go.
"Then he thought I had been deceiving him. He fell into a fury. He talked for a long time. He called upon God to visit my sins upon me. He tried to make me pray. But I wouldn't. And then I fought him. I'd have screamed for you had he not smothered me. I got weak. . . . And you never came. I know I thought you would come. But you didn't. Then I--I gave out. And after--some time--I must have fainted."
"Fay! For Heaven's sake, how could I come to you?" burst out Shefford, hoarse and white with remorse, passion, pain.
"If I'm any man's wife I'm yours. It's a thing you feel, isn't it? I know that now. . . . But I want to know what to do?"
"Fay!" he cried, huskily.
"I'm sick of it all. If it weren't for you I'd climb the wall and throw myself off. That would be easy for me. I'd love to die that way. All my life I've been high up on the walls. To fall would be nothing!"
"Oh, you mustn't talk like that!"
"Do you love me?" she asked, with a low and deathless sweetness.
"Love you? With all my heart! Nothing can change that!"
"Do you want me--as you used to want the Fay Larkin lost in Surprise Valley? Do you love me that way? I understand things better than before, but still--not all. I am Fay Larkin. I think I must have dreamed of you all my life. I was glad when you came here. I've been happy lately. I forgot--till last night. Maybe it needed that to make me see I've loved you all the time. . . . And I fought him like a wildcat! . . . Tell me the truth. I feel I'm yours. Is that true? If I'm not--I'll not live another hour. Something holds me up. I am the same. . . . Do you want me?"
"Yes, Fay Larkin, I want you," replied Shefford, steadily, with his grip on her arms.
"Then take me away. I don't want to live here another hour."
"Fay, I'll take you. But it can't be done at once. We must plan. I need help. There are Lassiter and Jane to get out of Surprise Valley. Give me time, dear--give me time. It'll be a hard job. And we must plan so we can positively get away. Give me time, Fay."
"Suppose he comes back?" she queried, with a singular depth of voice.
"We'll have to risk that," replied Shefford, miserably. "But--he won't come soon."
"He said he would," she flashed.
Shefford seemed to freeze inwardly with her words. Love had made her a woman and now the woman in her was speaking. She saw the truth as he could not see it. And the truth was nature. She had been hidden all her life from the world, from knowledge as he had it, yet when love betrayed her womanhood to her she acquired all its subtlety.
"If I wait and he does come will you keep me from him?" she asked.
"How can I? I'm staking all on the chance of his not coming soon. . . . But, Fay, if he does come and I don't give up our secret--how on earth can I keep you from him?" demanded Shefford.
"If you love me you will do it," she said, as simply as if she were fate.
"But how?" cried Shefford, almost beside himself.
"You are a man. Any man would save the woman who loves him from--from --Oh, from a beast! . . . How would Lassiter do it?"
"You can kill him!"
It was there, deep and full in her voice, the strength of the elemental forces that had surrounded her, primitive passion and hate and love, as they were in woman in the beginning.
"My God!" Shefford cried aloud with his spirit when all that was red in him sprang again into a flame of hell. That was what had been wrong with him last night. He could kill this stealthy night-rider, and now, face to face with Fay, who had never been so beautiful and wonderful as in this hour when she made love the only and the sacred thing of life, now he had it in him to kill. Yet, murder--even to kill a brute --that was not for John Shefford, not the way for him to save a woman. Reason and wisdom still fought the passion in him. If he could but cling to them--have them with him in the dark and contending hour!
She leaned against him now, exhausted, her soul in her eyes, and they saw only him. Shefford was all but powerless to resist the longing to take her into his arms, to hold her to his heart, to let himself go. Did not her love give her to him? Shefford gazed helplessly at the stricken Joe Lake, at the somber Indian, as if from them he expected help.
"I know him now," said Fay, breaking the silence with startling suddenness.
"I've seen him in the light. I flashed a candle in his face. I saw it. I know him now. He was there at Stonebridge with us, and I never knew him. But I know him now. His name is--"
"For God's sake don't tell me who he is!" implored Shefford.
Ignorance was Shefford's safeguard against himself. To make a name of this heretofore intangible man, to give him an identity apart from the crowd, to be able to recognize him--that for Shefford would be fatal.
"Fay--tell me--no more," he said, brokenly. "I love you and I will give you my life. Trust me. I swear I'll save you."
"Will you take me away soon?"
She appeared satisfied with that and dropped her hands and moved back from him. A light flitted over her white face, and her eyes grew dark and humid, losing their fire in changing, shadowing thought of submission, of trust, of hope.
"I can lead you to Surprise Valley," she said. "I feel the way. It's there!" And she pointed to the west.
"Fay, we'll go--soon. I must plan. I'll see you to-night. Then we'll talk. Run home now, before some of the women see you here."
She said good-by and started away under the cedars, out into the open where her hair shone like gold in the sunlight, and she took the stepping-stones with her old free grace, and strode down the path swift and lithe as an Indian. Once she turned to wave a hand.
Shefford watched her with a torture of pride, love, hope, and fear contending within him.