The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter II. Jefferson Worth's Offering.
When day broke over the topmost ridges of No Man's Mountains, Jefferson Worth's outfit was ready to move. The driver of the lighter rig with its four broncos set out for San Felipe. On the front seat of the big wagon Texas Joe picked up his reins, sorted them carefully, and glanced over his shoulder at his employer. "All set?"
"You, Buck! Molly!" The lead mules straightened their traces. "Jack! Pete!" As the brake was released with a clash and rattle of iron rods, the wheelers threw their weight into their collars and the wagon moved ahead.
Grim, tireless, world-old sentinels, No Man's Mountains stood guard between the fertile land on their seaward side and the desolate forgotten wastes of the East. They said to the country of green life, of progress and growth and civilization, that marched to their line on the West, "Halt!" and it stopped. To the land of lean want, of gray death, of gaunt hunger, and torturing thirst, that crept to their feet on the other side, "Stop!" and it came no farther. With no land to till, no mineral to dig, their very poverty was their protection. With an air of grim finality, they declared strongly that as they had always been they would always remain; and, at the beginning of my story, save for that one, slender, man-made trail, their hoary boast had remained unchallenged.
Steadily, but with frequent rests on the grades, Jefferson Worth's outfit climbed toward the summit and a little before noon gained the Pass. The loud, rattling rumble of the wagon as the tires bumped and ground over the stony, rock-floored way, with the sharp ring and clatter of the iron-shod hoofs of the team, echoed, echoed, and echoed again. Loudly, wildly, the rude sounds assaulted the stillness until the quiet seemed hopelessly shattered by the din. Softly, tamely, the sounds drifted away in the clear distance; through groves of live oak, thickets of greasewood, juniper, manzanita and sage; into canyon and wash; from bluff and ledge; along slope and spur and shoulder; over ridge and saddle and peak; fainting, dying--the impotent sounds of man's passing sank into the stillness and were lost. When the team halted for a brief rest it was in a moment as if the silence had never been broken. Grim, awful, the hills gave no signs of man's presence, gave that creeping bit of life no heed.
At Mountain Spring--a lonely little pool on the desert side of the huge wall--they stopped for dinner. When the meal was over, Texas Joe, with the assistance of Pat, filled the water barrels, while the boy busied himself with the canteen and the Seer and Jefferson Worth looked on.
"'Tis a dhry counthry ahead, I'm thinking'," remarked the Irishman inquiringly as he lifted another dripping bucket.
"Some," returned Tex. "There are three water holes between here and the river where there's water sometimes. Mostly, though, when you need it worst, there ain't none there, an' I reckon a dry water hole is about the most discouragin' proposition there is. They'll all be dry this trip. There wasn't nothin' but mud at Wolf Wells when we come through last week."
Again the barren rocks and the grim, forbidding hills echoed the loud sound of wheel and hoof. Down the steep flank of the mountain, with screaming, grinding brakes, they thundered and clattered into the narrow hall-way of Devil's Canyon with its sheer walls and shadowy gloom. The little stream that trickled down from the tiny spot of green at the spring tried bravely to follow but soon sank exhausted into the dry waste. A cool wind, like a draft through a tunnel, was in their faces. After perhaps two hours of this the way widened out, the sides of the canyon grew lower with now and then gaps and breaks. Then the walls gave way to low, rounded hills, through which the winding trail lay--a bed of sand and gravel--and here and there appeared clumps of greasewood and cacti of several varieties.
At length they passed out from between the last of the foot-hills and suddenly--as though a mighty curtain were lifted--they faced the desert. At their feet the Mesa lay in a blaze of white sunlight, and beyond and below the edge of the bench the vast King's Basin country.
At the edge of the Mesa Texas halted his team and the little party looked out and away over those awful reaches of desolate solitude. The Seer and Pat uttered involuntary exclamations. Jefferson Worth, Texas, and Abe were silent, but the boy's thin features were aglow with eager enthusiasm, and the face of the driver revealed an interest in the scene that years of familiarity could not entirely deaden, but the gray mask of the banker betrayed no emotion.
In that view, of such magnitude that miles meant nothing, there was not a sign of man save the one slender thread of road that was so soon lost in the distance. From horizon to horizon, so far that the eye ached in the effort to comprehend it, there was no cloud to cast a shadow, and the deep sky poured its resistless flood of light upon the vast dun plain with savage fury, as if to beat into helplessness any living creature that might chance to be caught thereon. And the desert, receiving that flood from the wide, hot sky, mysteriously wove with it soft scarfs of lilac, misty veils of purple and filmy curtains of rose and pearl and gold; strangely formed with it wide lakes of blue rimmed with phantom hills of red and violet-- constantly changing, shifting, scene on scene, as dream pictures shift and change.
Only the strange, silent life that, through long years, the desert had taught to endure its hardships was there--the lizard, horned- toad, lean jack-rabbit, gaunt coyote, and their kind. Only the hard growth that the ages had evolved dotted the floor of the Basin in the near distance--the salt-bush and greasewood, with here and there clumps of mesquite.
And over it all--over the strange hard life, the weird, constantly shifting scenes, the wondrous, ever-changing colors--was the dominant, insistent, compelling spirit of the land; a brooding, dreadful silence; a waiting--waiting--waiting; a mystic call that was at once a threat and a promise; a still drawing of the line across which no man might go and live, save those master men who should win the right.
After a while the engineer, pointing, said: "The line of the Southwestern and Continental must follow the base of those hills away over there--is that right, Texas?"
"That'll be about it," the driver answered. "I hear you're goin' through San Antonio Pass, an' that's to the north. Rubio City lies about here--" he pointed a little south of east. "Our road runs through them sand hills that you can see shinin' like gold a-way over there. Dry River Crossin' is jest beyond. You can see Lone Mountain off here to the south. Hit'll sure be some warm down there. Look at them dust-devil's dancin'. An' over there, where you see that yellow mist like, is a big sand storm. We ain't likely to get a long one this time o' the year. But you can't tell what this old desert 'll do; she's sure some uncertain. La Palma de la Mano de Dios, the Injuns call it, and I always thought that--all things considerin'--the name fits mighty close. You can see hit's jest a great big basin."
"The Hollow of God's Hand." repeated the Seer in a low tone. He lifted his hat with an unconscious gesture of reverence.
The Irishman, as the engineer translated, crossed himself. "Howly Mither, fwhat a name!"
Jefferson Worth spoke. "Drive on, Texas."
And so, with the yellow dust-devils dancing along their road and that yellow cloud in the distance, they moved down the slope--down into The King's Basin--into La Palma de la Mano de Dios, The Hollow of God's Hand.
"Is that true, sir?" asked Abe of the Seer.
"Is what true, son?"
"What Texas said about the ocean."
"Yes it's true. The lowest point of this Basin is nearly three hundred feet below sea level. The railroad we are going to build follows right around the rim on the other side over there. This slope that we are going down now is the ancient beach." Then, while they pushed on into the silence and the heat of that dreadful land, the engineer told the boy and his companions how the ages had wrought with river and wave and sun and wind to make The King's Basin Desert.
Wolf Wells they found dry as Texas had anticipated. Phantom Lake also was dry. Occasionally they crossed dry, ancient water courses made by the river when the land was being formed; sometimes there were glassy, hard, bare alkali flats; again the trail led through jungle-like patches of desert growth or twisted and wound between high hummocks. Always there was the wide, hot sky, the glaring flood of light unbroken by shadow masses to relieve the eye and reflected hotly from the sandy floor of the old sea-bed.
That evening, when they made camp, a heavy mass of clouds hung over the top of No Man's Mountains and the long Coast Range that walled in the Basin. Texas Joe, watching these clouds, said nothing; but when Pat threw on the ground the water left in his cup after drinking, the plainsman opened upon him with language that startled them all.
The next day, noon found them in the first of the sand hills. There was no sign of vegetation here, for the huge mounds and ridges of white sand, piled like drifts of snow, were never quite still. Always they move eastward before the prevailing winds from the west. Through the greater part of the year they advance very slowly, but when the fierce gales sweep down from the mountains they roll forward so swiftly that any object in their path is quickly buried in their smothering depths.
In the middle of the afternoon Texas climbed to the top of a huge drift to look over the land. The others saw him stand a moment against the sky, gazing to the northwest, then he turned and slid down the steep side of the mound to the waiting wagon.
"She's comin'!" he remarked, laconically, "an' she's a big one. I reckon we may as well get as far as we can."
A few minutes later they saw the sky behind them filling as with a golden mist. The atmosphere, dry and hot, seemed charged with mysterious, terrible power. The very mules tossed their heads uneasily and tugged at the reins as if they felt themselves pursued by some fearful thing. Straight and hard, with terrific velocity, the wind was coming down through the mountain passes and sweeping across the wide miles of desert, gathering the sand as it came. Swiftly the golden mist extended over their heads, a thick, yellow fog, through which the sun shone dully with a weird, unnatural light. Then the stinging, blinding, choking blast was upon them with pitiless, savage fury. In a moment all signs of the trail were obliterated. Over the high edges of the drift the sand curled and streamed like blizzard snow. About the outfit it whirled and eddied, cutting the faces of the men and forcing them, with closed eyes, to gasp for breath.
Of their own accord the mules stopped and Texas shouted to Mr. Worth: "It ain't no use for us to try to go on, sir. There ain't no trail now, and we'd jest drift around."
As far from the lee of a drift as possible, all hands--under the desert man's direction--worked to rig a tarpaulin on the windward side of the wagon. Then, with the mules unhitched and securely tied to the vehicle, the men crouched under their rude shelter. The Irishman was choking, coughing, sputtering and cursing, the engineer laughed good-naturedly at their predicament, and Abe Lee grinned in sympathy, while Texas Joe accepted the situation grimly with the forbearance of long experience. But Jefferson Worth's face was the same expressionless gray mask. He gave no hint of impatience at the delay; no uneasiness at the situation; no annoyance at the discomfort. It was as though he had foreseen the situation and had prepared himself to meet it. "How long do you figure this will last, Tex?" he asked in his colorless voice.
"Not more than three days," returned the driver. "It may be over in three hours."
The morning of the second day they crawled from their blankets beneath the wagon to find the sky clear and the air free from dust. Eagerly they prepared to move. Against their shelter the sand had drifted nearly to the top of the wheels, and the wagon-box itself was more than half filled. The hair, eye-brows, beard and clothing of the men were thickly coated with powdery dust, while every sign of the trail was gone and the wheels sank heavily into the soft sand.
Three times Texas halted the laboring team and, climbing to the summit of a drift, determined his course by marks unknown to those who waited below. Again they stopped for the plainsman to take an observation, and this time the four in the wagon, watching the figure of the driver against the sky, saw him turn abruptly and come down to them with long plunging strides. Instinctively they knew that something unusual had come under his eye.
The Seer and Jefferson Worth spoke together. "What is it, Tex?"
"A stray horse about a mile ahead."
For the first time Texas Joe uncoiled the long lash of his whip and his call "You, Buck! Molly!" was punctuated by pistol-like cracks that sounded strangely in the death-like silence of the sandy waste.
As they came within sight of the strange horse the poor beast staggered wearily to meet the wagon--the broken strap of his halter swinging loosely from his low-hanging head.
"Look at the poor baste," said Pat. "'Tis near dead he is wid thirst." He leaped to the ground and started toward the water barrel in the rear of the wagon.
"Hold on, Pat," said the colorless voice of Jefferson Worth. And his words were followed by the report of Texas Joe's forty-five.
The Irishman turned to see the strange horse lying dead on the sand. "Fwhat the hell--" he demanded hotly, but Texas was eyeing him coolly, and something checked the anger of the Irishman.
"You don't seem to sabe," drawled the man of the desert, replacing the empty shell in his gun. "There ain't hardly enough water to carry us through now, an' we may have to pick up this other outfit."
No one spoke as Pat climbed heavily back to his seat.
For two miles the tracks of the strange horse were visible, then they were blotted out by the sand that had filled them. "He made that much since the blow," was Texas' slow comment. "How far we are from where he started is all guess."
As they pushed on, all eyes searched the country eagerly and before long they found the spot for which they looked. A light spring wagon with a piece of a halter strap tied to one of the wheels was more than half-buried by the sand in the lee of a high drift. There was a small water keg, empty, with its seams already beginning to open in the fierce heat of the sun, a "grub-box," some bedding and part of a bale of hay-nothing more.
Jefferson Worth, Pat and the boy attempted to dig in the steep side of the drift that rose above the half-buried outfit, but at their every movement tons of the dry sand came sliding down upon them. "It ain't no use, Mr. Worth," said Texas, as the banker straightened up, baffled in his effort. "You will never know what's buried in there until God Almighty uncovers it."
Then the man of the desert and plains read the story of the tragedy as though he had been an eye witness. "They was travelin' light an' counted on makin' good time. They must have counted, too, on, findin' water in the hole." He kicked the empty keg. "Their supply give out an' then that sand-storm caught 'em and the horses broke loose. Of course they would go to hunt their stock, not darin' to be left afoot and without water, an' hits a thousand to one they never got back to the outfit. We're takin' too many chances ourselves to lose much time and I don't reckon there's any use, but we'd better look around maybe."
He directed the little party to scatter and to keep on the high ground so that they would not lose sight of each other. Until well on in the afternoon they searched the vicinity, but with no reward, while the hot sun, the dry burning waste and the glaring sands of the desert warned them that every hour's delay might mean their own death. When they returned at last to the wagon, called in by Texas, no one spoke. As they went on their way each was busy with his own thoughts of the grim evidence of the desert's power.
Another hour passed. Suddenly Texas halted the mules and, with an exclamation, leaped to the ground. The others saw that he was bending over a dim track in the sand.
"My God! men," he shouted, "hit's a woman."
For a short way he followed the foot-prints, then, running back to the wagon and springing to his seat, swung his long whip and urged the team ahead.
"Hit's a woman," he repeated. "When the others went away and didn't come back she started ahead in the storm alone. She had got this far when the blow quit, leavin' her tracks to show. We may--" He urged his mules to greater effort.
The prints of the woman's shoe could be plainly seen now. "Look!" said Tex, pointing, "she's staggerin'--Now she's stopped! Whoa!" Throwing his weight on the lines he leaned over from his seat. "Look, men! Look there!" he cried, as he pointed. "She's carryin' a kid. See, there's where she set it down for a rest." It was all too clear. Beside the woman's track were the prints of two baby shoes.
The Seer, with a long breath, drew his hand across his sand-begrimed face. "Hurry, Tex. For God's sake, hurry!"
The Irishman was cursing fiercely in impotent rage, clenching and unclenching his huge, hairy fists. The boy cowered in his seat. But not a change came over the mask-like features of Jefferson Worth. Only the delicate, pointed fingers of his nervous hands caressed constantly his unshaven chin, fingered his clothing, or--gripped the edge of the wagon seat as he leaned forward in his place. Texas-- grim, cool, alert, his lean figure instinct now with action and his dark eyes alight--swung his long whip and handled his reins with a master's skill, calling upon every atom of his team's strength, while reading those tracks in the sand as one would scan a printed page.
It was all written there--that story of mother love; where she staggered with fatigue; where she was forced to rest; where the baby walked a little way; and once or twice where the little one stumbled and fell as the sand proved too heavy for the little feet. And all the while the desert, dragging with dead weight at the wheels, seemed to fight against them. It was as though the dreadful land knew that only time was needed to complete its work. Then the hot sun dropped beyond the purple wall of mountain and the mystery of the long twilight began.
"Dry River Crossing is just ahead," said Tex, and soon the outfit pitched down the steep bank of a deep wash that had been made in some forgotten age by an overflow of the great river. Occasionally, after the infrequent rains of winter, some water was to be found here in a hole under the high bank a short way from the trail.
With a crash of brakes the team stopped at the bottom. The men, springing from the wagon and leaving the panting mules to stand with drooping heads, started to search the wash. But in a moment Texas shouted and the others quickly joined him. Near the dry water hole lay the body of a woman. By her side was a small canteen.
[Illustration: He had lifted the canteen and was holding it upside down.]
The engineer bent to examine the still form for some sign of life.
"It ain't no use, sir," said Texas. "She's gone." He had lifted the canteen and was holding it upside down. With his finger he touched the mouth of the vessel and held out his hand. The finger was wet. "You see," he said, "when her men-folks didn't come back she started with the kid an' what water she had. But she wouldn't drink none herself, an' the hard trip in the heat and sand carryin' the baby, an' findin' the water hole dry was too much for her. If only we had known an' come on, instead of huntin' back there where it wasn't no use, we'd a-been in time."
As the little party--speechless at the words of Texas--stood in the twilight, looking down upon the lifeless form, a chorus of wild, snarling, barking yowls, with long-drawn, shrill howls, broke on the still air. It was the coyotes' evening call. To the silent men the weird sound seemed the triumphant cry of the Desert itself and they started in horror.
Then from the dusky shadow of the high bank farther up the wash came another cry that broke the spell that was upon them and drew an answering shout from their lips as they ran forward.
"Mamma! Mamma! Barba wants drink. Please bring drink, mamma. Barba's 'fraid!"
Jefferson Worth reached her first. Close under the bank, where she had wandered after "mamma" lay down to sleep, and evidently just awakened from a tired nap by the coyotes' cry, sat a little girl of not more than four years. Her brown hair was all tumbled and tossed, and her big brown eyes were wide with wondering fear at the four strange men and the boy who stood over her.
"Mamma! Mamma!" she whimpered, "Barba wants mamma."
Jefferson Worth knelt before her, holding out his hands, and his voice, as he spoke to the baby, made his companions look at him in wonder, it was so full of tenderness.
The little girl fixed her big eyes questioningly upon the kneeling man. The others waited, breathless. Then suddenly, as if at something she saw in the gray face of the financier, the little one drew back with fear upon her baby features and in her baby voice. "Go 'way! Go 'way!" she cried. Then again, "Mamma! Barba wants mamma." Jefferson Worth turned sadly away, his head bowed as though with disappointment or shame.
The others, now, in turn tried to win her confidence. The plainsman and the Irishman she regarded gravely, as she had looked at the banker, but without fear. The boy won a little smile, but she still held back--hesitating--reluctant. Then with a pitiful little gesture of confidence and trust, she stretched forth her arms to the big brown-eyed engineer. "Barba wants drink," she said, and the Seer took her in his arms.
At the wagon it was Jefferson Worth who offered her a tin cup of water, but again she shrank from him, throwing her arms about the neck of the Seer. The engineer, taking the cup from the banker's hands, gave her a drink.
While Mr. Worth and the boy prepared a hasty meal, Texas fed his team and the Irishman, going back a short distance, made still another grave beside the road already marked by so many. The child-- still in the engineer's arms--ate hungrily, and when the meal was over he took her to the wagon, while the others, with a lantern, returned to the still form by the dry water hole. At the banker's suggestion, a thorough examination of the woman's clothing was made for some clue to her identity, but no mark was found. With careful hands they reverently wrapped the body in a blanket and laid it away in its rude, sandy bed.
When the grave was filled and protected as best it could be, a short consultation was held. Mr. Worth wished to return to the half buried outfit to make another effort to learn the identity of the Desert's victim, but Texas refused. "'Tain't that I ain't willin' to do what's right," he said, "but you see how that sand acted. Why, Mr. Worth, you couldn't move that there drift in a year, an' you know it. I jest gave the mules the last water they'll get an' we're goin' to have all we can do to make it through as it is. If we wait to go back there ain't one chance in a hundred that we-all 'll ever see Rubio City again. It ain't sense to risk killin' the kid when we've got a chance to save her--jest on a slim chance o' findin' out who she is."
Returning to the outfit they very quietly--so as not to awaken the sleeping child--hitched the team to the wagon and took their places. As the mules started the baby stirred uneasily in the Seer's arms and murmured sleepily: "Mamma." But the low, soothing tones of the big man calmed her and she slept.
Hour after hour of the long night dragged by. They had left the sand hills behind three miles before they reached Dry River and now the wide, level reaches of the thinly covered plain, forbidding and ghostly under the stars, seemed to stretch away on every side into infinite space. Involuntarily all the members of the little party, except Texas Joe, strained their eyes looking into the blank, silent distance for lights, and, as they looked, they turned their heads constantly to listen for some sound of human life. But in all that vast expanse there was no light save the light of the stars; in all that silent waste there was no sound save the occasional call of the coyote, the plaintive, quivering note of the ground-owls, the muffled fall of the mules' feet in the soft earth, and the dull chuck, creak, and rumble of the wagon with the clink of trace chains and the squeak of straining harness leather. And always it was as though that dreadful land clung to them with heavy hands, matching its strength against the strength of these who braved its silent threat, seeking to hold them as it held so many others. The men spoke rarely and then in low tones. The baby in the Seer's arms slept. Only Texas, and perhaps his team, knew how they kept the dimly marked trail that led to life. Perhaps Texas himself did not know.
At daybreak they halted for a brief rest and for breakfast. The child ate with the others, but still clung to the engineer, and while asking often for "mamma," seemed to trust her big protector fully. From the shelter of his arms she even smiled at the efforts of Texas, Pat and the boy to amuse and keep her attention from her loss. From Jefferson Worth she still shrank in fear and the others wondered at the pain in that gray face as all his efforts to win a smile or a kind look from the baby were steadily repulsed.
It was Texas who, when they halted, poured the last of the water from the barrel into the canteen and carefully measured out to each a small portion. It was Texas now who gave the word to start again on their journey. And when the desert man placed the canteen with their meager supply of water in the corner of the wagon-box under his own feet the others understood and made no comment.
At noon, when each was given his carefully measured portion from the canteen, Jefferson Worth, before they could check him, wet his handkerchief with his share of the water and gave it to the Seer to wipe the dust from the hot little face of the child. The eyes of the big engineer filled and Texas, with an oath that was more reverent than profane, poured another measure and forced the banker to drink.
As the long, hot, thirsty hours of that afternoon dragged slowly past, the faces of the men grew worn and haggard. The two days and nights in the trying storm, the exertion of their search among the sand hills, the excitement of finding the woman's body and the discovery of the child, followed by the long sleepless night, and now the hard, hot, dreary hours of the struggle with the Desert that seemed to gather all its dreadful strength against them, were beginning to tell. Texas Joe, forced to give constant attention to his team and hardened by years of experience, showed the strain least, while Pat, unfitted for such a trial by his protracted spree in San Felipe, undoubtedly suffered most.
After dinner the Irishman sat motionless in his place with downcast face, lifting his head only at long intervals to gaze with fierce hot eyes upon the barren landscape, while muttering to himself in a growling undertone. Later he seemed to sink into a stupor and appeared to be scarcely conscious of his companions. Suddenly he roused himself and, bending forward with a quick motion, reached the canteen from under the driver's seat. In the act of unscrewing the cap he was halted by the calm-voice of Texas: "Put that back."
"Go to hell wid ye! I'm no sun-dried herrin'."
The cap came loose, but as he raised the canteen and lifted his face with open parched lips he looked straight into the muzzle of the big forty-five and back of the gun into the steady eyes of the plainsman. "I'm sorry, pard, but you can't do it."
For an instant the Irishman sat as if suddenly turned to stone. The water was within reach of his lips, but over the canteen certain death looked at him, for there was no mistaking the expression on the face of that man with the gun. Beside himself with thirst, forgetting everything but the water, and utterly reckless he growled: "Shoot an' be domned, ye murderin' savage!" and again started to lift the cloth-covered vessel.
At that instant the baby, catching sight of the canteen, called from the rear seat: "Barba wants drink. Barba thirsty, too."
As though Texas had pulled the trigger the Irishman dropped his hand. Slowly he looked from face to face of his companions--a dazed expression on his own countenance, as though he were awakening from a dream. The child, clinging to the Seer with one hand and pointing with the other, said again: "Barba thirsty; please give Barba drink."
A look of horror and shame went over the face of the Irishman, his form shook like a leaf and his trembling hands could scarcely hold the canteen. "My Gawd! bhoys," he cried, "fwhat's this I was doin'?" Then he burst suddenly upon Tex with: "Why the hell don't ye shoot, domn ye? A baste like me is fit for nothin' but to rot in this Gawd- forsaken land!"
The fierce rage of the man at his own act was pitiful. Texas dropped his gun into the holster and turned his face away. Jefferson Worth held out a cup. "Give the little one some water, Pat," he said, in his cold, exact way.
With shaking hands the Irishman poured a little into the cup and, screwing the cap back on the canteen, he returned it to its place. Then with a groan he bowed his face in his great, hairy hands.
Just before sun-down they climbed up the ancient beach line to the rim of the Basin and the Mesa on the east. Halting here for a brief rest and for supper, they looked back over the low, wide land through which they had come. All along the western sky and far to the southward, the wall-like mountains lifted their purple heights from the dun plain, a seemingly impassable barrier, shutting in the land of death; shutting out the life that came to their feet on the other side. To the north the hills that rim the Basin caught the slanting rays of the setting sun and glowed rose-color, and pink, and salmon, with deep purple shadows where canyons opened, all rising out of drifts of silvery light. To the northwest two distant, gleaming, snow-capped peaks of the Coast Range marked San Antonio Pass. To the west Lone Mountain showed dark blue against the purple of the hills beyond. Down in the desert basin, drifting above and woven through the ever-shifting masses of color, shimmering phantom lakes, and dull, dusky patches of green and brown, long streamers, bars and threads of dust shone like gleaming gold.
Texas Joe, when he had poured for each his portion of water, shook the canteen carefully, and a smile spread slowly over his sun- blackened features. "What's left belongs to the kid," he said. "But we'll make it. We'll jest about make it."
The Irishman lifted his cup toward the Desert, saying solemnly: "Here's to ye, domn ye! Ye ain't got us yet. May ye burn an' blishther an' scorch an' bake 'til yer danged heart shrivels up an' blows away."
Then he fell to amusing the child with loving fun-talk and queer antics, until she laughed aloud and permitted him to catch her up in his big hairy hands and to toss her high in the air. Texas and Abe, joining in the frolic, shared with Pat the little lady's favor, while the Seer looked smilingly on. But when Jefferson Worth approached, with an offering of pretty stones and shells which he had gathered on the old beach, she ran up to the engineer's arms. Still coaxing, the banker held out his offering. The others were silent, watching. Timidly at last, the child put forth her little hands and accepted the gift, shrinking back quickly with her treasures to the shelter of the big man's arms.
It was just after noon the next day when the men at the wagon yard on the edge of Rubio City looked up to see Jefferson Worth's outfit approaching. The dust-covered, nearly-exhausted team staggered weakly through the gate. On the driver's seat sat a haggard, begrimed figure holding the reins in his right hand; and in his lap, supported by his free arm, a little girl lay fast asleep. Then as one of the mules lay down, the men went forward on the run.
Texas stared at them dully for a moment. Then, as he dropped the reins, his parched, cracked lips parted in what was meant for a smile and he said, in a thick, choking whisper: "We made it, boys: we jest made it. Somebody take the kid."
Eager hands relieved him of his burden and he slid heavily to the ground to stand dizzily holding on to a wheel for support.
One of the men said sharply: "But where's Mr. Worth, Tex? What have you done with Jefferson Worth an' what you doin' with a kid?"
Texas Joe gazed at the questioner steadily as if summoning all his strength of will in an effort to think. "Hello, Jack! Why--damned if I know--he was with me a little while ago."
The engineer, the banker, the Irishman and the boy were lying unconscious on the bottom of the wagon.