The Call of the Canyon by Zane Grey
Carley, clutching her support, with abated breath and prickling skin, gazed in fascinated suspense over the rim of the gorge. Sometimes the wheels on that side of the vehicle passed within a few inches of the edge. The brakes squeaked, the wheels slid; and she could hear the scrape of the iron-shod hoofs of the horses as they held back stiff legged, obedient to the wary call of the driver.
The first hundred yards of that steep road cut out of the cliff appeared to be the worst. It began to widen, with descents less precipitous. Tips of trees rose level with her gaze, obstructing sight of the blue depths. Then brush appeared on each side of the road. Gradually Carley's strain relaxed, and also the muscular contraction by which she had braced herself in the seat. The horses began to trot again. The wheels rattled. The road wound around abrupt corners, and soon the green and red wall of the opposite side of the canyon loomed close. Low roar of running water rose to Carley's ears. When at length she looked out instead of down she could see nothing but a mass of green foliage crossed by tree trunks and branches of brown and gray. Then the vehicle bowled under dark cool shade, into a tunnel with mossy wet cliff on one side, and close-standing trees on the other,
"Reckon we're all right now, onless we meet somebody comin' up," declared the driver.
Carley relaxed. She drew a deep breath of relief. She had her first faint intimation that perhaps her extensive experience of motor cars, express trains, transatlantic liners, and even a little of airplanes, did not range over the whole of adventurous life. She was likely to meet something, entirely new and striking out here in the West.
The murmur of falling water sounded closer. Presently Carley saw that the road turned at the notch in the canyon, and crossed a clear swift stream. Here were huge mossy boulders, and red walls covered by lichens, and the air appeared dim and moist, and full of mellow, hollow roar. Beyond this crossing the road descended the west side of the canyon, drawing away and higher from the creek. Huge trees, the like of which Carley had never seen, began to stand majestically up out of the gorge, dwarfing the maples and white-spotted sycamores. The driver called these great trees yellow pines.
At last the road led down from the steep slope to the floor of the canyon. What from far above had appeared only a green timber-choked cleft proved from close relation to be a wide winding valley, tip and down, densely forested for the most part, yet having open glades and bisected from wall to wall by the creek. Every quarter of a mile or so the road crossed the stream; and at these fords Carley again held on desperately and gazed out dubiously, for the creek was deep, swift, and full of bowlders. Neither driver nor horses appeared to mind obstacles. Carley was splashed and jolted not inconsiderably. They passed through groves of oak trees, from which the creek manifestly derived its name; and under gleaming walls, cold, wet, gloomy, and silent; and between lines of solemn wide-spreading pines. Carley saw deep, still green pools eddying under huge massed jumble of cliffs, and stretches of white water, and then, high above the treetops, a wild line of canyon rim, cold against the sky. She felt shut in from the world, lost in an unscalable rut of the earth. Again the sunlight had failed, and the gray gloom of the canyon oppressed her. It struck Carley as singular that she could not help being affected by mere weather, mere heights and depths, mere rock walls and pine trees, and rushing water. For really, what had these to do with her? These were only physical things that she was passing. Nevertheless, although she resisted sensation, she was more and more shot through and through with the wildness and savageness of this canyon.
A sharp turn of the road to the right disclosed a slope down the creek, across which showed orchards and fields, and a cottage nestling at the base of the wall. The ford at this crossing gave Carley more concern than any that had been passed, for there was greater volume and depth of water. One of the horses slipped on the rocks, plunged up and on with great splash. They crossed, however, without more mishap to Carley than further acquaintance with this iciest of waters. From this point the driver turned back along the creek, passed between orchards and fields, and drove along the base of the red wall to come suddenly upon a large rustic house that had been hidden from Carley's sight. It sat almost against the stone cliff, from which poured a white foamy sheet of water. The house was built of slabs with the bark on, and it had a lower and upper porch running all around, at least as far as the cliff. Green growths from the rock wall overhung the upper porch. A column of blue smoke curled lazily upward from a stone chimney. On one of the porch posts hung a sign with rude lettering: "Lolomi Lodge."
"Hey, Josh, did you fetch the flour?" called a woman's voice from inside.
"Hullo I Reckon I didn't forgit nothin'," replied the man, as he got down. "An' say, Mrs. Hutter, hyar's a young lady from Noo Yorrk."
That latter speech of the driver's brought Mrs. Hutter out on the porch. "Flo, come here," she called to some one evidently near at hand. And then she smilingly greeted Carley.
"Get down an' come in, miss," she said. "I'm sure glad to see you."
Carley, being stiff and cold, did not very gracefully disengage herself from the high muddy wheel and step. When she mounted to the porch she saw that Mrs. Hutter was a woman of middle age, rather stout, with strong face full of fine wavy lines, and kind dark eyes.
"I'm Miss Burch," said Carley.
"You're the girl whose picture Glenn Kilbourne has over his fireplace," declared the woman, heartily. "I'm sure glad to meet you, an' my daughter Flo will be, too."
That about her picture pleased and warmed Carley. "Yes, I'm Glenn Kilbourne's fiancee. I've come West to surprise him. Is he here. . . . Is-- is he well?"
"Fine. I saw him yesterday. He's changed a great deal from what he was at first. Most all the last few months. I reckon you won't know him. . . . But you're wet an' cold an' you look fagged. Come right in to the fire."
"Thank you; I'm all right," returned Carley.
At the doorway they encountered a girl of lithe and robust figure, quick in her movements. Carley was swift to see the youth and grace of her; and then a face that struck Carley as neither pretty nor beautiful, but still wonderfully attractive.
"Flo, here's Miss Burch," burst out Mrs. Hutter, with cheerful importance. "Glenn Kilbourne's girl come all the way from New York to surprise him!"
"Oh, Carley, I'm shore happy to meet you!" said the girl, in a voice of slow drawling richness. "I know you. Glenn has told me all about you."
If this greeting, sweet and warm as it seemed, was a shock to Carley, she gave no sign. But as she murmured something in reply she looked with all a woman's keenness into the face before her. Flo Hutter had a fair skin generously freckled; a mouth and chin too firmly cut to suggest a softer feminine beauty; and eyes of clear light hazel, penetrating, frank, fearless. Her hair was very abundant, almost silver-gold in color, and it was either rebellious or showed lack of care. Carley liked the girl's looks and liked the sincerity of her greeting; but instinctively she reacted antagonistically because of the frank suggestion of intimacy with Glenn.
But for that she would have been spontaneous and friendly rather than restrained.
They ushered Carley into a big living room and up to a fire of blazing logs, where they helped divest her of the wet wraps. And all the time they talked in the solicitous way natural to women who were kind and unused to many visitors. Then Mrs. Hutter bustled off to make a cup of hot coffee while Flo talked.
"We'll shore give you the nicest room--with a sleeping porch right under the cliff where the water falls. It'll sing you to sleep. Of course you needn't use the bed outdoors until it's warmer. Spring is late here, you know, and we'll have nasty weather yet. You really happened on Oak Creek at its least attractive season. But then it's always--well, just Oak Creek. You'll come to know."
"I dare say I'll remember my first sight of it and the ride down that cliff road," said Carley, with a wan smile.
"Oh, that's nothing to what you'll see and do," returned Flo, knowingly. "We've had Eastern tenderfeet here before. And never was there a one of them who didn't come to love Arizona."
"Tenderfoot! It hadn't occurred to me. But of course--" murmured Carley.
Then Mrs. Hutter returned, carrying a tray, which she set upon a chair, and drew to Carley's side. "Eat an' drink," she said, as if these actions were the cardinally important ones of life. "Flo, you carry her bags up to that west room we always give to some particular person we want to love Lolomi." Next she threw sticks of wood upon the fire, making it crackle and blaze, then seated herself near Carley and beamed upon her.
"You'll not mind if we call you Carley?" she asked, eagerly.
"Oh, indeed no! I--I'd like it," returned Carley, made to feel friendly and at home in spite of herself.
"You see it's not as if you were just a stranger," went on Mrs. flutter. "Tom--that's Flo's father--took a likin' to Glenn Kilbourne when he first came to Oak Creek over a year ago. I wonder if you all know how sick that soldier boy was. . . . Well, he lay on his back for two solid weeks--in the room we're givin' you. An' I for one didn't think he'd ever get up. But he did. An' he got better. An' after a while he went to work for Tom. Then six months an' more ago he invested in the sheep business with Tom. He lived with us until he built his cabin up West Fork. He an' Flo have run together a good deal, an' naturally he told her about you. So you see you're not a stranger. An' we want you to feel you're with friends."
"I thank you, Mrs. Hutter," replied Carley, feelingly. "I never could thank you enough for being good to Glenn. I did not know he was so--so sick. At first he wrote but seldom,"
"Reckon he never wrote you or told you what he did in the war," declared Mrs. Hutter.
"Indeed he never did!"
"Well, I'll tell you some day. For Tom found out all about him. Got some of it from a soldier who came to Flagstaff for lung trouble. He'd been in the same company with Glenn. We didn't know this boy's name while he was in Flagstaff. But later Tom found out. John Henderson. He was only twenty-two, a fine lad. An' he died in Phoenix. We tried to get him out here. But the boy wouldn't live on charity. He was always expectin' money--a war bonus, whatever that was. It didn't come. He was a clerk at the El Tovar for a while. Then he came to Flagstaff. But it was too cold an' he stayed there too long."
"Too bad," rejoined Carley, thoughtfully. This information as to the suffering of American soldiers had augmented during the last few months, and seemed to possess strange, poignant power to depress Carley. Always she had turned away from the unpleasant. And the misery of unfortunates was as disturbing almost as direct contact with disease and squalor. But it had begun to dawn upon Carley that there might occur circumstances of life, in every way affronting her comfort and happiness, which it would be impossible to turn her back upon.
At this juncture Flo returned to the room, and again Carley was struck with the girl's singular freedom of movement and the sense of sure poise and joy that seemed to emanate from her presence.
"I've made a fire in your little stove," she said. "There's water heating. Now won't you come up and change those traveling clothes. You'll want to fix up for Glenn, won't you?"
Carley had to smile at that. This girl indeed was frank and unsophisticated, and somehow refreshing. Carley rose.
"You are both very good to receive me as a friend," she said. "I hope I shall not disappoint you. . . . Yes, I do want to improve my appearance before Glenn sees me. . . . Is there any way I can send word to him--by someone who has not seen me?"
"There shore is. I'll send Charley, one of our hired boys."
"Thank you. Then tell him to say there is a lady here from New York to see him, and it is very important."
Flo Hutter clapped her hands and laughed with glee. Her gladness gave Carley a little twinge of conscience. Jealously was an unjust and stifling thing.
Carley was conducted up a broad stairway and along a boarded hallway to a room that opened out on the porch. A steady low murmur of falling water assailed her ears. Through the open door she saw across the porch to a white tumbling lacy veil of water falling, leaping, changing, so close that it seemed to touch the heavy pole railing of the porch.
This room resembled a tent. The sides were of canvas. It had no ceiling. But the roughhewn shingles of the roof of the house sloped down closely. The furniture was home made. An Indian rug covered the floor. The bed with its woolly clean blankets and the white pillows looked inviting.
"Is this where Glenn lay--when he was sick?" queried Carley.
"Yes," replied Flo, gravely, and a shadow darkened her eyes. "I ought to tell you all about it. I will some day. But you must not he made unhappy now. . . . Glenn nearly died here. Mother or I never left his side--for a while there--when life was so bad."
She showed Carley how to open the little stove and put the short billets of wood inside and work the damper; and cautioning her to keep an eye on it so that it would not get too hot, she left Carley to herself.
Carley found herself in unfamiliar mood. There came a leap of her heart every time she thought of the meeting with Glenn, so soon now to be, but it was not that which was unfamiliar. She seemed to have difficult approach to undefined and unusual thoughts, All this was so different from her regular life. Besides she was tired. But these explanations did not suffice. There was a pang in her breast which must owe its origin to the fact that Glenn Kilbourne had been ill in this little room and some other girl than Carley Burch had nursed him. "Am I jealous?" she whispered. "No!" But she knew in her heart that she lied. A woman could no more help being jealous, under such circumstances, than she could help the beat and throb of her blood. Nevertheless, Carley was glad Flo Hutter had been there, and always she would be grateful to her for that kindness.
Carley disrobed and, donning her dressing gown, she unpacked her bags and hung her things upon pegs under the curtained shelves. Then she lay down to rest, with no intention of slumber. But there was a strange magic in the fragrance of the room, like the piny tang outdoors, and in the feel of the bed, and especially in the low, dreamy hum and murmur of the waterfall. She fell asleep. When she awakened it was five o'clock. The fire in the stove was out, but the water was still warm. She bathed and dressed, not without care, yet as swiftly as was her habit at home; and she wore white because Glenn had always liked her best in white. But it was assuredly not a gown to wear in a country house where draughts of cold air filled the unheated rooms and halls. So she threw round her a warm sweater-shawl, with colorful bars becoming to her dark eyes and hair.
All the time that she dressed and thought, her very being seemed to be permeated by that soft murmuring sound of falling water. No moment of waking life there at Lolomi Lodge, or perhaps of slumber hours, could be wholly free of that sound. It vaguely tormented Carley, yet was not uncomfortable. She went out upon the porch. The small alcove space held a bed and a rustic chair. Above her the peeled poles of the roof descended to within a few feet of her head. She had to lean over the rail of the porch to look up. The green and red rock wall sheered ponderously near: The waterfall showed first at the notch of a fissure, where the cliff split; and down over smooth places the water gleamed, to narrow in a crack with little drops, and suddenly to leap into a thin white sheet.
Out from the porch the view was restricted to glimpses between the pines, and beyond to the opposite wall of the canyon. How shut-in, how walled in this home!
"In summer it might be good to spend a couple of weeks here," soliloquized Carley. "But to live here? Heavens! A person might as well be buried."
Heavy footsteps upon the porch below accompanied by a man's voice quickened Carley's pulse. Did they belong to Glenn? After a strained second she decided not. Nevertheless, the acceleration of her blood and an unwonted glow of excitement, long a stranger to her, persisted as she left the porch and entered the boarded hall. How gray and barn-like this upper part of the house! From the head of the stairway, however, the big living room presented a cheerful contrast. There were warm colors, some comfortable rockers, a lamp that shed a bright light, and an open fire which alone would have dispelled the raw gloom of the day.
A large man in corduroys and top boots advanced to meet Carley. He had a clean-shaven face that might have been hard and stern but for his smile, and one look into his eyes revealed their resemblance to Flo's.
"I'm Tom Hutter, an' I'm shore glad to welcome you to Lolomi, Miss Carley," he said. His voice was deep and slow. There were ease and force in his presence, and the grip he gave Carley's hand was that of a man who made no distinction in hand-shaking. Carley, quick in her perceptions, instantly liked him and sensed in him a strong personality. She greeted him in turn and expressed her thanks for his goodness to Glenn. Naturally Carley expected him to say something about her fiance, but he did not.
"Well, Miss Carley, if you don't mind, I'll say you're prettier than your picture," said Hutter. "An' that is shore sayin' a lot. All the sheep herders in the country have taken a peep at your picture. Without permission, you understand."
"I'm greatly flattered," laughed Carley.
"We're glad you've come," replied Hutter, simply. "I just got back from the East myself. Chicago an' Kansas City. I came to Arizona from Illinois over thirty years ago. An' this was my first trip since. Reckon I've not got back my breath yet. Times have changed, Miss Carley. Times an' people!"
Mrs. Hutter bustled in from the kitchen, where manifestly she had been importantly engaged. "For the land's sakes!" she exclaimed, fervently, as she threw up her hands at sight of Carley. Her expression was indeed a compliment, but there was a suggestion of shock in it. Then Flo came in. She wore a simple gray gown that reached the top of her high shoes.
"Carley, don't mind mother," said Flo. "She means your dress is lovely. Which is my say, too. . . . But, listen. I just saw Glenn comin' up the road."
Carley ran to the open door with more haste than dignity. She saw a tall man striding along. Something about him appeared familiar. It was his walk--an erect swift carriage, with a swing of the march still visible. She recognized Glenn. And all within her seemed to become unstable. She watched him cross the road, face the house. How changed! No--this was not Glenn Kilbourne. This was a bronzed man, wide of shoulder, roughly garbed, heavy limbed, quite different from the Glenn she remembered. He mounted the porch steps. And Carley, still unseen herself, saw his face. Yes--Glenn! Hot blood seemed to be tingling liberated in her veins. Wheeling away, she backed against the wall behind the door and held up a warning finger to Flo, who stood nearest. Strange and disturbing then, to see something in Flo Hutter's eyes that could be read by a woman in only one way!
A tall form darkened the doorway. It strode in and halted.
"Flo!--who--where?" he began, breathlessly.
His voice, so well remembered, yet deeper, huskier, fell upon Carley's ears as something unconsciously longed for. His frame had so filled out that she did not recognize it. His face, too, had unbelievably changed--not in the regularity of feature that had been its chief charm, but in contour of cheek and vanishing of pallid hue and tragic line. Carley's heart swelled with joy. Beyond all else she had hoped to see the sad fixed hopelessness, the havoc, gone from his face. Therefore the restraint and nonchalance upon which Carley prided herself sustained eclipse.
"Glenn! Look--who's--here!" she called, in voice she could not have steadied to save her life. This meeting was more than she had anticipated.
Glenn whirled with an inarticulate cry. He saw Carley. Then--no matter how unreasonable or exacting had been Carley's longings, they were satisfied.
"You!" he cried, and leaped at her with radiant face.
Carley not only did not care about the spectators of this meeting, but forgot them utterly. More than the joy of seeing Glenn, more than the all-- satisfying assurance to her woman's heart that she was still beloved, welled up a deep, strange, profound something that shook her to her depths. It was beyond selfishness. It was gratitude to God and to the West that had restored him.
"Carley! I couldn't believe it was you," he declared, releasing her from his close embrace, yet still holding her.
"Yes, Glenn--it's I--all you've left of me," she replied, tremulously, and she sought with unsteady hands to put up her dishevelled hair. "You--you big sheep herder! You Goliath!"
"I never was so knocked off my pins," he said. "A lady to see me--from New York! . . . Of course it had to be you. But I couldn't believe. Carley, you were good to come."
Somehow the soft, warm took of his dark eyes hurt her. New and strange indeed it was to her, as were other things about him. Why had she not come West sooner? She disengaged herself from his hold and moved away, striving for the composure habitual with her. Flo Hutter was standing before the fire, looking down. Mrs. Hutter beamed upon Carley.
"Now let's have supper," she said.
"Reckon Miss Carley can't eat now, after that hug Glenn gave her," drawled Tom Hutter. "I was some worried. You see Glenn has gained seventy pounds in six months. An' he doesn't know his strength."
"Seventy pounds!" exclaimed Carley, gayly. "I thought it was more."
"Carley, you must excuse my violence," said Glenn. "I've been hugging sheep. That is, when I shear a sheep I have to hold him."
They all laughed, and so the moment of readjustment passed. Presently Carley found herself sitting at table, directly across from Flo. A pearly whiteness was slowly warming out of the girl's face. Her frank clear eyes met Carley's and they had nothing to hide. Carley's first requisite for character in a woman was that she be a thoroughbred. She lacked it often enough herself to admire it greatly in another woman. And that moment saw a birth of respect and sincere liking in her for this Western girl. If Flo Hutter ever was a rival she would be an honest one.
Not long after supper Tom Hutter winked at Carley and said he "reckoned on general principles it was his hunch to go to bed." Mrs. Hutter suddenly discovered tasks to perform elsewhere. And Flo said in her cool sweet drawl, somehow audacious and tantalizing, "Shore you two will want to spoon."
"Now, Flo, Eastern girls are no longer old-fashioned enough for that," declared Glenn.
"Too bad! Reckon I can't see how love could ever be old-fashioned. Good night, Glenn. Good night, Carley."
Flo stood an instant at the foot of the dark stairway where the light from the lamp fell upon her face. It seemed sweet and earnest to Carley. It expressed unconscious longing, but no envy. Then she ran up the stairs to disappear.
"Glenn, is that girl in love with you?" asked Carley, bluntly.
To her amaze, Glenn laughed. When had she heard him laugh? It thrilled her, yet nettled her a little.
"If that isn't like you!" he ejaculated. "Your very first words after we are left alone! It brings back the East, Carley."
"Probably recall to memory will be good for you," returned Carley. "But tell me. Is she in love with you?"
"Why, no, certainly not!" replied Glenn. "Anyway, how could I answer such a question? It just made me laugh, that's all."
"Humph I I can remember when you were not above making love to a pretty girl. You certainly had me worn to a frazzle--before we became engaged," said Carley.
"Old times! How long ago they seem! . . . Carley, it's sure wonderful to see you."
"How do you like my gown?" asked Carley, pirouetting for his benefit.
"Well, what little there is of it is beautiful," he replied, with a slow smile. "I always liked you best in white. Did you remember?"
"Yes. I got the gown for you. And I'll never wear it except for you."
"Same old coquette--same old eternal feminine," he said, half sadly. "You know when you look stunning. . . . But, Carley, the cut of that--or rather the abbreviation of it--inclines me to think that style for women's clothes has not changed for the better. In fact, it's worse than two years ago in Paris and later in New York. Where will you women draw the line?"
"Women are slaves to the prevailing mode," rejoined Carley. "I don't imagine women who dress would ever draw a line, if fashion went on dictating."
"But would they care so much--if they had to work--plenty of work--and children?" inquired Glenn, wistfully.
"Glenn! Work and children for modern women? Why, you are dreaming!" said Carley, with a laugh.
She saw him gaze thoughtfully into the glowing embers of the fire, and as she watched him her quick intuition grasped a subtle change in his mood. It brought a sternness to his face. She could hardly realize she was looking at the Glenn Kilbourne of old.
"Come close to the fire," he said, and pulled up a chair for her. Then he threw more wood upon the red coals. "You must be careful not to catch cold out here. The altitude makes a cold dangerous. And that gown is no protection."
"Glenn, one chair used to be enough for us," she said, archly, standing beside him.
But he did not respond to her hint, and, a little affronted, she accepted the proffered chair. Then he began to ask questions rapidly. He was eager for news from home--from his people--from old friends. However he did not inquire of Carley about her friends. She talked unremittingly for an hour, before she satisfied his hunger. But when her turn came to ask questions she found him reticent.
He had fallen upon rather hard days at first out here in the West; then his health had begun to improve; and as soon as he was able to work his condition rapidly changed for the better; and now he was getting along pretty well. Carley felt hurt at his apparent disinclination to confide in her. The strong cast of his face, as if it had been chiseled in bronze; the stern set of his lips and the jaw that protruded lean and square cut; the quiet masked light of his eyes; the coarse roughness of his brown hands, mute evidence of strenuous labors--these all gave a different impression from his brief remarks about himself. Lastly there was a little gray in the light-brown hair over his temples. Glenn was only twenty-seven, yet he looked ten years older. Studying him so, with the memory of earlier years in her mind, she was forced to admit that she liked him infinitely more as he was now. He seemed proven. Something had made him a man. Had it been his love for her, or the army service, or the war in France, or the struggle for life and health afterwards? Or had it been this rugged, uncouth West? Carley felt insidious jealousy of this last possibility. She feared this West. She was going to hate it. She had womanly intuition enough to see in Flo Hutter a girl somehow to be reckoned with. Still, Carley would not acknowledge to herself that his simple, unsophisticated Western girl could possibly be a rival. Carley did not need to consider the fact that she had been spoiled by the attention of men. It was not her vanity that precluded Flo Hutter as a rival.
Gradually the conversation drew to a lapse, and it suited Carley to let it be so. She watched Glenn as he gazed thoughtfully into the amber depths of the fire. What was going on in his mind? Carley's old perplexity suddenly had rebirth. And with it came an unfamiliar fear which she could not smother. Every moment that she sat there beside Glenn she was realizing more and more a yearning, passionate love for him. The unmistakable manifestation of his joy at sight of her, the strong, almost rude expression of his love, had called to some responsive, but hitherto unplumbed deeps of her. If it had not been for these undeniable facts Carley would have been panic-stricken. They reassured her, yet only made her state of mind more dissatisfied.
"Carley, do you still go in for dancing?" Glenn asked, presently, with his thoughtful eyes turning to her.
"Of course. I like dancing, and it's about all the exercise I get," she replied.
"Have the dances changed--again?"
"It's the music, perhaps, that changes the dancing. Jazz is becoming popular. And about all the crowd dances now is an infinite variation of fox-trot."
"I don't believe I waltzed once this winter."
"Jazz? That's a sort of tinpanning, jiggly stuff, isn't it?"
"Glenn, it's the fever of the public pulse," replied Carley. "The graceful waltz, like the stately minuet, flourished back in the days when people rested rather than raced."
"More's the pity," said Glenn. Then after a moment, in which his gaze returned to the fire, he inquired rather too casually, "Does Morrison still chase after you
"Glenn, I'm neither old--nor married," she replied, laughing.
"No, that's true. But if you were married it wouldn't make any difference to Morrison."
Carley could not detect bitterness or jealousy in his voice. She would not have been averse to hearing either. She gathered from his remark, however, that he was going to be harder than ever to understand. What had she said or done to make him retreat within himself, aloof, impersonal, unfamiliar? He did not impress her as loverlike. What irony of fate was this that held her there yearning for his kisses and caresses as never before, while he watched the fire, and talked as to a mere acquaintance, and seemed sad and far away? Or did she merely imagine that? Only one thing could she be sure of at that moment, and it was that pride would never be her ally.
"Glenn, look here," she said, sliding her chair close to his and holding out tier left hand, slim and white, with its glittering diamond on the third finger.
He took her hand in his and pressed it, and smiled at her. "Yes, Carley, it's a beautiful, soft little hand. But I think I'd like it better if it were strong and brown, and coarse on the inside--from useful work."
"Like Flo Hutter's?" queried Carley.
Carley looked proudly into his eyes. "People are born in different stations. I respect your little Western friend, Glenn, but could I wash and sweep, milk cows and chop wood, and all that sort of thing?"
"I suppose you couldn't," he admitted, with a blunt little laugh.
"Would you want me to?" she asked.
"Well, that's hard to say," he replied, knitting his brows. "I hardly know. I think it depends on you. . . . But if you did do such work wouldn't you be happier?"
"Happier! Why Glenn, I'd be miserable! ... But listen. It wasn't my beautiful and useless hand I wanted you to see. It was my engagement ring."
"Oh!--Well?" he went on, slowly.
"I've never had it off since you left New York," she said, softly. "You gave it to me four years ago. Do you remember? It was on my twenty-second birthday. You said it would take two months' salary to pay the bill."
"It sure did," he retorted, with a hint of humor.
"Glenn, during the war it was not so--so very hard to wear this ring as an engagement ring should be worn," said Carley, growing more earnest. "But after the war--especially after your departure West it was terribly hard to be true to the significance of this betrothal ring. There was a let-down in all women. Oh, no one need tell me! There was. And men were affected by that and the chaotic condition of the times. New York was wild during the year of your absence. Prohibition was a joke.--Well, I gadded, danced, dressed, drank, smoked, motored, just the same as the other women in our crowd. Something drove me to. I never rested. Excitement seemed to be happiness--Glenn, I am not making any plea to excuse all that. But I want you to know--how under trying circumstances--I was absolutely true to you. Understand me. I mean true as regards love. Through it all I loved you just the same. And now I'm with you, it seems, oh, so much more! . . . Your last letter hurt me. I don't know just how. But I came West to see you--to tell you this--and to ask you. . . . Do you want this ring back?"
"Certainly not," he replied, forcibly, with a dark flush spreading over his face.
"Then--you love me?" she whispered.
"Yes--I love you," he returned, deliberately. "And in spite of all you say--very probably more than you love me. . . . But you, like all women, make love and its expression the sole object of life. Carley, I have been concerned with keeping my body from the grave and my soul from hell."
"But--clear--you're well now?" she returned, with trembling lips.
"Yes, I've almost pulled out."
"Then what is wrong?"
"Wrong?--With me or you," he queried, with keen, enigmatical glance upon her.
"What is wrong between us? There is something."
"Carley, a man who has been on the verge--as I have been--seldom or never comes back to happiness. But perhaps--"
"You frighten me," cried Carley, and, rising, she sat upon the arm of his chair and encircled his neck with her arms. "How can I help if I do not understand? Am I so miserably little? . . . Glenn, must I tell you? No woman can live without love. I need to be loved. That's all that's wrong with me."
"Carley, you are still an imperious, mushy girl," replied Glenn, taking her into his arms. "I need to be loved, too. But that's not what is wrong with me. You'll have to find it out yourself."
"You're a dear old Sphinx," she retorted.
"Listen, Carley," he said, earnestly. "About this love-making stuff. Please don't misunderstand me. I love you. I'm starved for your kisses. But--is it right to ask them?"
"Right! Aren't we engaged? And don't I want to give them?"
"If I were only sure we'd be married!" he said, in low, tense voice, as if speaking more to himself.
"Married!" cried Carley, convulsively clasping him. "Of course we'll be married. Glenn, you wouldn't jilt me?"
"Carley, what I mean is that you might never really marry me," he answered, seriously.
"Oh, if that's all you need be sure of, Glenn Kilbourne, you may begin to make love to me now."
It was late when Carley went up to her room. And she was in such a softened mood, so happy and excited and yet disturbed in mind, that the coldness and the darkness did not matter in the least. She undressed in pitchy blackness, stumbling over chair and bed, feeling for what she needed. And in her mood this unusual proceeding was fun. When ready for bed she opened the door to take a peep out. Through the dense blackness the waterfall showed dimly opaque. Carley felt a soft mist wet her face. The low roar of the falling water seemed to envelop her. Under the cliff wall brooded impenetrable gloom. But out above the treetops shone great stars, wonderfully white and radiant and cold, with a piercing contrast to the deep clear blue of sky. The waterfall hummed into an absolutely dead silence. It emphasized the silence. Not only cold was it that made Carley shudder. How lonely, how lost, how hidden this canyon!
Then she hurried to bed, grateful for the warm woolly blankets. Relaxation and thought brought consciousness of the heat of her blood, the beat and throb and swell of her heart, of the tumult within her. In the lonely darkness of her room she might have faced the truth of her strangely renewed and augmented love for Glenn Kilbourne. But she was more concerned with her happiness. She had won him back. Her presence, her love had overcome his restraint. She thrilled in the sweet consciousness of her woman's conquest. How splendid he was! To hold back physical tenderness, the simple expressions of love, because he had feared they might unduly influence her! He had grown in many ways. She must be careful to reach up to his ideals. That about Flo Hutter's toil-hardened hands! Was that significance somehow connected with the rift in the lute? For Carley admitted to herself that there was something amiss, something incomprehensible, something intangible that obtruded its menace into her dream of future happiness. Still, what had she to fear, so long as she could be with Glenn?
And yet there were forced upon her, insistent and perplexing, the questions--was her love selfish? was she considering him? was she blind to something he could see? Tomorrow and next day and the days to come held promise of joyous companionship with Glenn, yet likewise they seemed full of a portent of trouble for her, or fight and ordeal, of lessons that would make life significant for her.