Chapter 14
 

Allie recovered to find herself lying in a canvas-covered wagon, and being worked over by several sympathetic women. She did not see Durade. But she knew she had not been mistaken. The wagon was rolling along as fast as oxen could travel. Evidently the caravan had been alarmed by the proximity of the Sioux and was making as much progress as possible.

Allie did not answer many questions. She drank thirstily, but she was too exhausted to eat.

"Whose caravan?" was the only query she made.

"Durade's," replied one woman, and it was evident from the way she spoke that this was a man of consequence.

As Allie lay there, slowly succumbing to weariness and drowsiness, she thought of the irony of fate that had let her escape the Sioux only to fall into the hands of Durade. Still, there was hope. Durade was traveling toward the east. Out there somewhere he would meet Neale, and then blood would be spilled. She had always regarded Durade strangely, wondering that in spite of his kindness to her she could not really care for him. She understood now and hated him passionately. And if there was any one she feared it was Durade. Allie lost herself in the past, seeing the stream of mixed humanity that passed through Durade's gambling-halls. No doubt he was on his way, first to search for her mother, and secondly, to profit by the building of the railroad. But he would never find her mother. Allie was glad.

At length she fell asleep and slept long, then dozed at intervals. The caravan halted. Allie heard the familiar sing-song calls to the oxen. Soon all was bustle about her, and this fully awakened her. In a moment or more she must expect to be face to face with Durade. What should she tell him? How much should she let him know? Not one word about her mother! He would be less afraid of her if he found out that the mother was dead. Durade had always feared Allie's mother.

The women with whom Allie had ridden helped her out of the wagon, and, finding her too weak to stand, they made a bed for her on the ground. The camp site appeared to be just the same as any other part of that monotonous plain-land, but evidently there was a stream or water-hole near by. Allie saw her companions were the only women in the caravan; they were plain persons, blunt, yet kind, used to hard, honest work, and probably wives of defenders of the wagon-train.

They could not conceal their curiosity in regard to Allie, nor their wonder. She had heard them whispering together whenever they came near.

Presently Allie saw Durade. He was approaching. How well she remembered him! Yet the lapse of time and the change between her childhood and the present seemed incalculable. He spoke to the women, motioning in her direction. His bearing and action were that of a man of education, and a gentleman. Yet he looked what her mother had called him--a broken man of class, an adventurer, a victim of base passions.

He came and knelt by Allie. "How are you now?" he asked. His voice was gentle and courteous, different from that of the other men.

"I can't stand up," replied Allie.

"Are you hurt?"

"No--only worn out."

"You escaped from Indians?"

"Yes--a tribe of Sioux. They intended to keep me captive. But a young squaw freed me--led me off."

He paused as if it was an effort to speak, and a long, thin, shapely hand went to his throat. "Your mother?" he asked, hoarsely. Suddenly his face had turned white.

Allie gazed straight into his eyes, with wonder, pain, suspicion. "My mother! I've not seen her for nearly two years."

"My God! What happened? You lost her? You became separated? ... Indians--bandits? ... Tell me!"

"I have--no--more to tell," said Allie. His pain revived her own. She pitied Durade. He had changed--aged--there were lines in his face that were new to her.

"I spent a year in and around Ogden, searching," went on Durade. "Tell me--more."

"No!" cried Allie.

"Do you know, then?" he asked, very low.

"I'm not your daughter--and mother ran off from you. Yes, I know that," replied Allie, bitterly.

"But I brought you up--took care of you--helped educate you," protested Durade, with agitation. "You were my own child, I thought. I was always kind to you. I--I loved the mother in the daughter."

"Yes, I know.... But you were wicked."

"If you won't tell me it must mean she's still alive," he replied, swiftly. "She's not dead; ... I'll find her. I'll make her come back to me--or kill her ... After all these years--to leave me!"

He seemed wrestling with mingled emotions. The man was proud and strong, but defeat in life, in the crowning passion of life, showed in his white face. The evil in him was not manifest then.

"Where have you lived all this time?" he asked, presently.

"Back in the hills with a trapper."

"You have grown. When I saw you I thought it was the ghost of your mother. You are just as she was when we met."

He seemed lost in sad retrospection. Allie saw streaks of gray in his once jet-black hair.

"What will you do?" asked Allie.

He was startled. The softness left him. A blaze seemed to leap under skin and eyes, and suddenly he was different--he was Durade the gambler, instinct with the lust of gold and life.

"Your mother left me for you," he said, with terrible bitterness. "And the game has played you into my hands. I'll keep you. I'll hold you to get even with her."

Allie felt stir in her the fear she had had of him in her childhood when she disobeyed. "But you can't keep me against my will--not among people we'll meet eastward."

"I can, and I will!" he declared, softly, but implacably. "We're not going East. We'll be in rougher places than the gold-camps of California. There's no law but gold and guns out here ... But--if you speak of me to any one may your God have mercy on you!"

The blaze of him betrayed the Spaniard. He meant more than dishonor, torture, and death. The evil in him was rampant. The love that had been the only good in an abnormal and disordered mind had turned to hate.

Allie knew him. He was the first person who had ever dominated her through sheer force of will. Unless she abided by his command her fate would be worse than if she had stayed captive among the Sioux. This man was not an American. His years among men of later mold had not changed the Old World cruelty of his nature. She recognized the fact in utter despair. She had not strength left to keep her eyes open.

After a while Allie grew conscious that Durade had left her. She felt like a creature that had been fascinated by a deadly snake and then left to itself; in the mean time she could do nothing but wait. Shudderingly, mournfully, she resigned herself to the feeling that she must stay under Durade's control until a dominance stronger than his should release her. Neale seemed suddenly to have retreated far into the past, to have gone out of the realm of her consciousness. And yet the sound of his voice, the sight of his face, would make instantly that spirit of hers--his spirit--to leap like a tigress in her defense. But where was Neale? The habits of life were all powerful; and all her habits had been formed under Durade's magnetic eye. Neale retreated and so did spirit, courage, hope. Love remained, despairing, yet unquenchable.

Allie's resignation established a return to normal feelings. She ate and grew stronger; she slept and was refreshed.

The caravan moved on about twenty-five miles a day. At the next camp Allie tried walking again, to find her feet were bruised, her legs cramped, and action awkward and painful. But she persevered, and the tingling of revived circulation was like needles pricking her flesh. She limped from one camp-fire to another; and all the rough men had a kind word or question or glance for her. Allie did not believe they were all honest men. Durade had employed a large force, and apparently he had taken on every one who applied. Miners, hunters, scouts, and men of no hall-mark except that of wildness composed the mixed caravan. It spoke much for Durade that they were under control. Allie well remembered hearing her mother say that he had a genius for drawing men to him and managing them.

Once during her walk, when every one appeared busy, a big fellow with hulking shoulders and bandaged head stepped beside her.

"Girl," he whispered, "if you want a knife slipped into Durade, tell him about me!"

Allie recognized the whisper before she did the heated, red face with its crooked nose and bold eyes and ugly mouth. Fresno! He must have escaped from the Sioux and fallen in with Durade.

Allie shrunk from him. Durade, compared with this kind of ruffian, was a haven of refuge. She passed on without a sign. But Fresno was safe from her. This meeting made her aware of an impulse to run back to Durade, instinctively, just as she had when a child. He had ruined her mother; he had meant to make a lure of her, the daughter; he had showed what his vengeance would be upon that mother, just as he had showed Allie her doom should she betray him. But notwithstanding all this, Durade was not Fresno, nor like any of those men whose eyes seemed to burn her.

She returned to the wagon and to the several women and men attached to it, with the assurance that there were at least some good persons in that motley caravan crew.

The women, naturally curious and sympathetic, questioned her in one way and another. Who was she, what had happened to her, where were her people or friends? How had she ever escaped robbers and Indians in that awful country? Was she really Durade's daughter?

Allie did not tell much about herself, and finally she was left in peace.

The lean old scout who had first seen Allie as she staggered into the trail told her it was over a hundred miles to the first camp of the railroad-builders.

"Down-hill all the way," he concluded. "An' we'll make it in a jiffy."

Nevertheless, it took nearly all of four days to sight the camp of the traders--the advance-guard of the great construction work.

In those four days Allie had recovered her bloom, her health, her strength--everything except the wonderful assurance which had been hers. Durade had spoken daily with her, and had been kind, watchful, like a guardian.

It was with a curious thrill that Allie gazed around as she rode into the construction camp-horses and men and implements all following the line of Neale's work. Could Neale be there? If so, how dead was her heart to his nearness?

The tents of the workers, some new and white, others soiled and ragged, stretched everywhere; large tents belched smoke and resounded with the ring of hammers on anvil; soldiers stood on guard; men, red-shirted and blue-shirted, swarmed as thick as ants; in a wide hollow a long line of horses, in double row, heads together, pulled hay from a rack as long as the line, and they pulled and snorted and bit at one another; a strong smell of hay and burning wood mingled with the odor of hot coffee and steaming beans; fires blazed on all sides; under another huge tent, or many tents without walls, stretched wooden tables and benches; on the scant sage and rocks and brush, and everywhere upon the tents, lay in a myriad of colors and varieties the lately washed clothes of the toilers; and through the wide street of the camp clattered teams and swearing teamsters, dragging plows with clanking chains and huge scoops turned upside down. Bordering the camp, running east as far as eye could see, stretched a high, flat, yellow lane, with the earth hollowed away from it, so that it stood higher than the level plain--and this was the work of the graders, the road-bed of the Union Pacific Railroad, the U. P. Trail.

This camp appeared to be Durade's destination. His caravan rode through and halted on the outskirts of the far side. Preparations began for what Allie concluded was to be a permanent halt. At once began a significant disintegration of Durade's party. One by one the scouts received payment from their employer, and with horse and pack disappeared toward the camp. The lean old fellow who had taken kindly interest in Allie looked in at the opening of the canvas over her wagon, and, wishing her luck, bade her good-by. The women likewise said good-by, informing her that they were going on home. Not one man among those left would Allie have trusted.

During the hurried settling of camp Durade came to Allie.

"Allie," he said, "you don't have to keep cooped up in there unless I tell you. But don't talk to any one--and don't go that way."

He pointed toward the humming camp. "That place beats any gold- diggings I ever saw," he concluded.

The tall, scant sage afforded Allie some little seclusion, and she walked there until Durade called her to supper. She ate alone on a wagon-seat, and when twilight fell she climbed into her wagon, grateful that it was high off the ground and so inclosed her from all except sound.

Darkness came; the fire died down; the low voices of Durade and his men, and of callers who visited them, flowed continuously.

Then, presently, there arose a strange murmur, unlike any sound Allie had ever heard. It swelled into a low, distant roar. She was curious about it. Peeping out of her wagon-cover she saw where the darkness flared to yellow with a line of lights--torches or lanterns or fires. Crossing and re-crossing these lights were black objects, in twos and threes and dozens. And from this direction floated the strange, low roar. Suddenly she realized. It was the life of the camp. Hundreds and thousands of men were there together, and as the night advanced the low roar rose and fell, and lulled away to come again--strange, sad, hideous, mirthful. For a long time Allie could not sleep.

Next morning Durade called her. When she unlaced the canvas flaps, it was to see the sun high and to hear the bustle of work all about her.

Durade brought her breakfast and gave her instructions. While he was about in the daytime she might come out and do what she could to amuse herself; but when he was absent or at night she must be in her wagon-tent, laced in, and she was not to answer any call. She would be guarded by Stitt, one of his men, a deaf mute, faithful to his interests, and who had orders to handle her roughly should she disobey. Allie would not have been inclined to mutiny, even without the fear and abhorrence she felt of this ugly and deformed mute.

That day Durade caused to be erected tents, canopies, tables, benches, and last a larger tent, into which the tables and benches were carried. Fresno worked hard, as did all the men except Stitt, who had nothing to do but watch Allie's wagon. Wearily the time passed for her. How many days must she spend thus, watching idly, because there was nothing else to do? Still, back in her consciousness there was a vague and growing thought. Sooner or later Neale would appear in the flesh, as he now came to her in her dreams.

That night Allie, peeping out, saw by the fire and torch-light a multitude of men drawn to Durade's large tent. Mexicans, Negroes, Irishmen--all kinds of men passed, loud and profane, careless and reckless, quarrelsome and loquacious. Soon there arose in her ears the long-forgotten but now familiar sounds of a gambling-hell in full blast. The rolling rattle of the wheel, sharp, strident, and keen, intermingled with the strange rich false clink of gold.

It needed only a few days and nights for Allie Lee to divine Durade's retrogression. Before this he had been a gambler for the sake of gambling, even a sportsman in his evil way; now he seemed possessed of an unscrupulous intent, a strange, cold, devouring passion to get gold and more gold--always more gold. Allie divined evidence of this, saw it, heard it. The man had struck the descent, and he was all the more dangerous for his lapse from his former standards, poor as they had been.

Not a week had elapsed before the gambling-hell roared all night. Allie got most of her sleep during the day. She tried to shut out what sound she could, and tried to be deaf to the rest. But she had to hear the angry brawls, pistol-shots, and shrill cries; yes, and the trample of heavy boots as men dragged a dead gamester out to the ditch.

Day was a relief, a blessing. Allie was frequently cooped up in her narrow canvas-covered wagon, but she saw from there the life of the grading camp.

There were various bosses--the boarding boss, who fed the laborers; the stable boss, who had charge of the teams; the grading boss, who ruled the diggers and scrapers; and the time-keeper boss, who kept track of the work of all.

In the early morning a horde of hungry men stampeded the boarding- tents where the cooks and waiters made mad haste to satisfy loud and merry demands. At sunset the same horde dropped in, dirty and hot and lame, and fought for seats while others waited for their turn.

Out on the level plain stretched the hundreds of teams, moving on and returning, the drivers shouting, the horses bending. The hot sun glared, the wind whipped up the dust, the laborers speeded up to the shout of the boss. And ever westward crept the low, level, yellow bank of sand and gravel--the road-bed of the first transcontinental railway.

Thus the daytime had its turmoil, too, but this last was splendid, like the toil of heroes united to gain some common end. And the army of soldiers waited, ever keen-eyed, for the skulking Sioux.

Mull, the boss of the camp, became a friend of Durade's. The wily Spaniard could draw to him any class of men. This Mull had been a driver of truck-horses in New York, and now he was a driver of men.

He was huge, like a bull, heavy-lipped and red-cheeked, hairy and coarse, with big sunken eyes. A brute--a caveman. He drank; he gambled. He was at once a bully and a pirate. Responsible to no one but his contractor, he hated the contractor and he hated his job. He was great in his place, brutal with fist and foot, a gleaner of results from hard men at a hard time.

He won gold from Durade, or, as Fresno guffawed to a comrade, he had been allowed to win it. Durade picked his man. He had big schemes and he needed Mull.

Benton was Durade's objective point--Benton, the great and growing camp-city, where gold and blood were spilled in the dusty streets and life roared like a blast from hell.

All that Allie heard of Benton increased her dread, and at last she determined that she would run any risk rather than be taken there. And so one night, as soon as it grew dark, she slipped out of the wagon and, under cover of darkness, made her escape.