The Call of the Canyon by Zane Grey
If spring came at all to Oak Creek Canyon it warmed into summer before Carley had time to languish with the fever characteristic of early June in the East.
As if by magic it seemed the green grass sprang up, the green buds opened into leaves, the bluebells and primroses bloomed, the apple and peach blossoms burst exquisitely white and pink against the blue sky. Oak Creek fell to a transparent, beautiful brook, leisurely eddying in the stone walled nooks, hurrying with murmur and babble over the little falls. The mornings broke clear and fragrantly cool, the noon hours seemed to lag under a hot sun, the nights fell like dark mantles from the melancholy star-sown sky.
Carley had stubbornly kept on riding and climbing until she killed her secret doubt that she was really a thoroughbred, until she satisfied her own insistent vanity that she could train to a point where this outdoor life was not too much for her strength. She lost flesh despite increase of appetite; she lost her pallor for a complexion of gold-brown she knew her Eastern friends would admire; she wore out the blisters and aches and pains; she found herself growing firmer of muscle, lither of line, deeper of chest. And in addition to these physical manifestations there were subtle intimations of a delight in a freedom of body she had never before known, of an exhilaration in action that made her hot and made her breathe, of a sloughing off of numberless petty and fussy and luxurious little superficialities which she had supposed were necessary to her happiness. What she had undertaken in vain conquest of Glenn's pride and Flo Hutter's Western tolerance she had found to be a boomerang. She had won Glenn's admiration; she had won the Western girl's recognition. But her passionate, stubborn desire had been ignoble, and was proved so by the rebound of her achievement, coming home to her with a sweetness she had not the courage to accept. She forced it from her. This West with its rawness, its ruggedness, she hated.
Nevertheless, the June days passed, growing dreamily swift, growing more incomprehensibly full; and still she had not broached to Glenn the main object of her visit--to take him back East. Yet a little while longer! She hated his work and had not talked of that. Yet an honest consciousness told her that as time flew by she feared more and more to tell him that he was wasting his life there and that she could not bear it. Still was he wasting it? Once in a while a timid and unfamiliar Carley Burch voiced a pregnant query. Perhaps what held Carley back most was the happiness she achieved in her walks and rides with Glenn. She lingered because of them. Every day she loved him more, and yet--there was something. Was it in her or in him? She had a woman's assurance of his love and sometimes she caught her breath--so sweet and strong was the tumultuous emotion it stirred. She preferred to enjoy while she could, to dream instead of think. But it was not possible to hold a blank, dreamy, lulled consciousness all the time. Thought would return. And not always could she drive away a feeling that Glenn would never be her slave. She divined something in his mind that kept him gentle and kindly, restrained always, sometimes melancholy and aloof, as if he were an impassive destiny waiting for the iron consequences he knew inevitably must fall. What was this that he knew which she did not know? The idea haunted her. Perhaps it was that which compelled her to use all her woman's wiles and charms on Glenn. Still, though it thrilled her to see she made him love her more as the days passed, she could not blind herself to the truth that no softness or allurement of hers changed this strange restraint in him. How that baffled her! Was it resistance or knowledge or nobility or doubt?
Flo Hutter's twentieth birthday came along the middle of June, and all the neighbors and range hands for miles around were invited to celebrate it.
For the second time during her visit Carley put on the white gown that had made Flo gasp with delight, and had stunned Mrs. Hutter, and had brought a reluctant compliment from Glenn. Carley liked to create a sensation. What were exquisite and expensive gowns for, if not that?
It was twilight on this particular June night when she was ready to go downstairs, and she tarried a while on the long porch. The evening star, so lonely and radiant, so cold and passionless in the dusky blue, had become an object she waited for and watched, the same as she had come to love the dreaming, murmuring melody of the waterfall. She lingered there. What had the sights and sounds and smells of this wild canyon come to mean to her? She could not say. But they had changed immeasurably.
Her soft slippers made no sound on the porch, and as she turned the corner of the house, where shadows hovered thick, she heard Lee Stanton's voice:
"But, Flo, you loved me before Kilbourne came."
The content, the pathos, of his voice chained Carley to the spot. Some situations, like fate, were beyond resisting.
"Shore I did," replied Flo, dreamily. This was the voice of a girl who was being confronted by happy and sad thoughts on her birthday.
"Don't you--love me--still?" he asked, huskily.
"Why, of course, Lee! I don't change," she said.
"But then, why--" There for the moment his utterance or courage failed.
"Lee, do you want the honest to God's truth?"
"I reckon--I do."
"Well, I love you just as I always did," replied Flo, earnestly. "But, Lee, I love him more than you or anybody."
"My Heaven! Flo--you'll ruin us all!" he exclaimed, hoarsely.
"No, I won't either. You can't say I'm not level headed. I hated to tell you this, Lee, but you made me."
"Flo, you love me an' him--two men?" queried Stanton, incredulously.
"I shore do," she drawled, with a soft laugh. "And it's no fun."
"Reckon I don't cut much of a figure alongside Kilbourne," said Stanton, disconsolately.
"Lee, you could stand alongside any man," replied Flo, eloquently. "You're Western, and you're steady and loyal, and you'll--well, some day you'll be like dad. Could I say more? . . . But, Lee, this man is different. He is wonderful. I can't explain it, but I feel it. He has been through hell's fire. Oh! will I ever forget his ravings when he lay so ill? He means more to me than just one man. He's American. You're American, too, Lee, and you trained to be a soldier, and you would have made a grand one--if I know old Arizona. But you were not called to France. . . . Glenn Kilbourne went. God only knows what that means. But he went. And there's the difference. I saw the wreck of him. I did a little to save his life and his mind. I wouldn't be an American girl if I didn't love him. . . . Oh, Lee, can't you understand?"
"I reckon so. I'm not begrudging Glenn what--what you care. I'm only afraid I'll lose you."
"I never promised to marry you, did I?"
"Not in words. But kisses ought to--?"
"Yes, kisses mean a lot," she replied. "And so far I stand committed. I suppose I'll marry you some day and be blamed lucky. I'll be happy, too-- don't you overlook that hunch. . . . You needn't worry. Glenn is in love with Carley. She's beautiful, rich--and of his class. How could he ever see me?"
"Flo, you can never tell," replied Stanton, thoughtfully. "I didn't like her at first. But I'm comin' round. The thing is, Flo, does she love him as you love him?"
"Oh, I think so--I hope so," answered Flo, as if in distress.
"I'm not so shore. But then I can't savvy her. Lord knows I hope so, too. If she doesn't--if she goes back East an' leaves him here--I reckon my case--"
"Hush! I know she's out here to take him back. Let's go downstairs now."
"Aw, wait--Flo," he begged. "What's your hurry? . . . Come-give me--"
"There! That's all you get, birthday or no birthday," replied Flo, gayly.
Carley heard the soft kiss and Stanton's deep breath, and then footsteps as they walked away in the gloom toward the stairway. Carley leaned against the log wall. She felt the rough wood--smelled the rusty pine rosin. Her other hand pressed her bosom where her heart beat with unwonted vigor. Footsteps and voices sounded beneath her. Twilight had deepened into night. The low murmur of the waterfall and the babble of the brook floated to her strained ears.
Listeners never heard good of themselves. But Stanton's subtle doubt of any depth to her, though it hurt, was not so conflicting as the ringing truth of Flo Hutter's love for Glenn. This unsought knowledge powerfully affected Carley. She was forewarned and forearmed now. It saddened her, yet did not lessen her confidence in her hold on Glenn. But it stirred to perplexing pitch her curiosity in regard to the mystery that seemed to cling round Glenn's transformation of character. This Western girl really knew more about Glenn than his fiancee knew. Carley suffered a humiliating shock when she realized that she had been thinking of herself, of her love, her life, her needs, her wants instead of Glenn's. It took no keen intelligence or insight into human nature to see that Glenn needed her more than she needed him.
Thus unwontedly stirred and upset and flung back upon pride of herself, Carley went downstairs to meet the assembled company. And never had she shown to greater contrast, never had circumstance and state of mind contrived to make her so radiant and gay and unbending. She heard many remarks not intended for her far-reaching ears. An old grizzled Westerner remarked to Hutter: "Wall, she's shore an unbroke filly." Another of the company--a woman--remarked: "Sweet an' pretty as a columbine. But I'd like her better if she was dressed decent." And a gaunt range rider, who stood with others at the porch door, looking on, asked a comrade: "Do you reckon that's style back East?" To which the other replied: "Mebbe, but I'd gamble they're short on silk back East an' likewise sheriffs."
Carley received some meed of gratification out of the sensation she created, but she did not carry her craving for it to the point of overshadowing Flo. On the contrary, she contrived to have Flo share the attention she received. She taught Flo to dance the fox-trot and got Glenn to dance with her. Then she taught it to Lee Stanton. And when Lee danced with Flo, to the infinite wonder and delight of the onlookers, Carley experienced her first sincere enjoyment of the evening.
Her moment came when she danced with Glenn. It reminded her of days long past and which she wanted to return again. Despite war tramping and Western labors Glenn retained something of his old grace and lightness. But just to dance with him was enough to swell her heart, and for once she grew oblivious to the spectators.
"Glenn, would you like to go to the Plaza with me again, and dance between dinner courses, as we used to?" she whispered up to him.
"Sure I would--unless Morrison knew you were to be there," he replied.
"Glenn! . . . I would not even see him."
"Any old time you wouldn't see Morrison!" he exclaimed, half mockingly.
His doubt, his tone grated upon her. Pressing closer to him, she said, "Come back and I'll prove it."
But he laughed and had no answer for her. At her own daring words Carley's heart had leaped to her lips. If he had responded, even teasingly, she could have burst out with her longing to take him back. But silence inhibited her, and the moment passed.
At the end of that dance Hutter claimed Glenn in the interest of neighboring sheep men. And Carley, crossing the big living room alone, passed close to one of the porch doors. Some one, indistinct in the shadow, spoke to her in low voice: "Hello, pretty eyes!"
Carley felt a little cold shock go tingling through her. But she gave no sign that she had heard. She recognized the voice and also the epithet. Passing to the other side of the room and joining the company there, Carley presently took a casual glance at the door. Several men were lounging there. One of them was the sheep dipper, Haze Ruff. His bold eyes were on her now, and his coarse face wore a slight, meaning smile, as if he understood something about her that was a secret to others. Carley dropped her eyes. But she could not shake off the feeling that wherever she moved this man's gaze followed her. The unpleasantness of this incident would have been nothing to Carley had she at once forgotten it. Most unaccountably, however, she could not make herself unaware of this ruffian's attention. It did no good for her to argue that she was merely the cynosure of all eyes. This Ruff's tone and look possessed something heretofore unknown to Carley. Once she was tempted to tell Glenn. But that would only cause a fight, so she kept her counsel. She danced again, and helped Flo entertain her guests, and passed that door often; and once stood before it, deliberately, with all the strange and contrary impulse so inscrutable in a woman, and never for a moment wholly lost the sense of the man's boldness. It dawned upon her, at length, that the singular thing about this boldness was its difference from any, which had ever before affronted her. The fool's smile meant that he thought she saw his attention, and, understanding it perfectly, had secret delight in it. Many and various had been the masculine egotisms which had come under her observation. But quite beyond Carley was this brawny sheep dipper, Haze Ruff. Once the party broke up and the guests had departed, she instantly forgot both man and incident.
Next day, late in the afternoon, when Carley came out on the porch, she was hailed by Flo, who had just ridden in from down the canyon.
"Hey Carley, come down. I shore have something to tell you," she called.
Carley did not use any time pattering down that rude porch stairway. Flo was dusty and hot, and her chaps carried the unmistakable scent of sheep-dip.
"Been over to Ryan's camp an' shore rode hard to beat Glenn home," drawled Flo.
"Why?" queried Carley, eagerly.
"Reckon I wanted to tell you something Glenn swore he wouldn't let me tell. . . . He makes me tired. He thinks you can't stand things."
"Oh! Has he been--hurt?"
"He's skinned an' bruised up some, but I reckon he's not hurt."
"Flo--what happened?" demanded Carley, anxiously.
"Carley, do you know Glenn can fight like the devil?" asked Flo.
"No, I don't. But I remember he used to be athletic. Flo, you make me nervous. Did Glenn fight?"
"I reckon he did," drawled Flo.
"Nobody else but that big hombre, Haze Ruff."
"Oh!" gasped Carley, with a violent start. "That--that ruffian! Flo, did you see--were you there?"
"I shore was, an' next to a horse race I like a fight," replied the Western girl. "Carley, why didn't you tell me Haze Ruff insulted you last night?"
"Why, Flo--he only said, 'Hello, pretty eyes,' and I let it pass!" said Carley, lamely.
"You never want to let anything pass, out West. Because next time you'll get worse. This turn your other cheek doesn't go in Arizona. But we shore thought Ruff said worse than that. Though from him that's aplenty."
"How did you know?"
"Well, Charley told it. He was standing out here by the door last night an' he heard Ruff speak to you. Charley thinks a heap of you an' I reckon he hates Ruff. Besides, Charley stretches things. He shore riled Glenn, an' I want to say, my dear, you missed the best thing that's happened since you got here."
"Hurry--tell me," begged Carley, feeling the blood come to her face.
"I rode over to Ryan's place for dad, an' when I got there I knew nothing about what Ruff said to you," began Flo, and she took hold of Carley's hand. "Neither did dad. You see, Glenn hadn't got there yet. Well, just as the men had finished dipping a bunch of sheep Glenn came riding down, lickety cut."
" 'Now what the hell's wrong with Glenn?' said dad, getting up from where we sat.
"Shore I knew Glenn was mad, though I never before saw him that way. He looked sort of grim an' black. . . . Well, he rode right down on us an' piled off. Dad yelled at him an' so did I. But Glenn made for the sheep pen. You know where we watched Haze Ruff an' Lorenzo slinging the sheep into the dip. Ruff was just about to climb out over the fence when Glenn leaped up on it."
" 'Say, Ruff,' he said, sort of hard, 'Charley an' Ben tell me they heard you speak disrespect fully to Miss Burch last night.' "
"Dad an' I ran to the fence, but before we could catch hold of Glenn he'd jumped down into the pen."
"'I'm not carin' much for what them herders say,' replied Ruff.
"'Do you deny it?' demanded Glenn.
"'I ain't denyin' nothin', Kilbourne,' growled Ruff. 'I might argue against me bein' disrespectful. That's a matter of opinion.'
"'You'll apologize for speaking to Miss Burch or I'll beat you up an' have Hutter fire you.'
"'Wal, Kilbourne, I never eat my words,' replied Ruff.
"Then Glenn knocked him flat. You ought to have heard that crack. Sounded like Charley hitting a steer with a club. Dad yelled: 'Look out, Glenn. He packs a gun!'--Ruff got up mad clear through I reckon. Then they mixed it. Ruff got in some swings, but he couldn't reach Glenn's face. An' Glenn batted him right an' left, every time in his ugly mug. Ruff got all bloody an' he cussed something awful. Glenn beat him against the fence an' then we all saw Ruff reach for a gun or knife. All the men yelled. An' shore I screamed. But Glenn saw as much as we saw. He got fiercer. He beat Ruff down to his knees an' swung on him hard. Deliberately knocked Ruff into the dip ditch. What a splash! It wet all of us. Ruff went out of sight. Then he rolled up like a huge hog. We were all scared now. That dip's rank poison, you know. Reckon Ruff knew that. He floundered along an' crawled up at the end. Anyone could see that he had mouth an' eyes tight shut. He began to grope an' feel around, trying to find the way to the pond. One of the men led him out. It was great to see him wade in the water an' wallow an' souse his head under. When he came out the men got in front of him any stopped him. He shore looked bad. . . . An' Glenn called to him, 'Ruff, that sheep-dip won't go through your tough hide, but a bullet will!"
Not long after this incident Carley started out on her usual afternoon ride, having arranged with Glenn to meet her on his return from work.
Toward the end of June Carley had advanced in her horsemanship to a point where Flo lent her one of her own mustangs. This change might not have had all to do with a wonderful difference in riding, but it seemed so to Carley. There was as much difference in horses as in people. This mustang she had ridden of late was of Navajo stock, but he had been born and raised and broken at Oak Creek. Carley had not yet discovered any objection on his part to do as she wanted him to. He liked what she liked, and most of all he liked to go. His color resembled a pattern of calico, and in accordance with Western ways his name was therefore Calico. Left to choose his own gait, Calico always dropped into a gentle pace which was so easy and comfortable and swinging that Carley never tired of it. Moreover, he did not shy at things lying in the road or rabbits darting from bushes or at the upwhirring of birds. Carley had grown attached to Calico before she realized she was drifting into it; and for Carley to care for anything or anybody was a serious matter, because it did not happen often and it lasted. She was exceedingly tenacious of affection.
June had almost passed and summer lay upon the lonely land. Such perfect and wonderful weather had never before been Carley's experience. The dawns broke cool, fresh, fragrant, sweet, and rosy, with a breeze that seemed of heaven rather than earth, and the air seemed tremulously full of the murmur of falling water and the melody of mocking birds. At the solemn noontides the great white sun glared down hot--so hot that t burned the skin, yet strangely was a pleasant burn. The waning afternoons were Carley's especial torment, when it seemed the sounds and winds of the day were tiring, and all things were seeking repose, and life must soften to an unthinking happiness. These hours troubled Carley because she wanted them to last, and because she knew for her this changing and transforming time could not last. So long as she did not think she was satisfied.
Maples and sycamores and oaks were in full foliage, and their bright greens contrasted softly with the dark shine of the pines. Through the spaces between brown tree trunks and the white-spotted holes of the sycamores gleamed the amber water of the creek. Always there was murmur of little rills and the musical dash of little rapids. On the surface of still, shady pools trout broke to make ever-widening ripples. Indian paintbrush, so brightly carmine in color, lent touch of fire to the green banks, and under the oaks, in cool dark nooks where mossy bowlders lined the stream, there were stately nodding yellow columbines. And high on the rock ledges shot up the wonderful mescal stalks, beginning to blossom, some with tints of gold and others with tones of red.
Riding along down the canyon, under its looming walls, Carley wondered that if unawares to her these physical aspects of Arizona could have become more significant than she realized. The thought had confronted her before. Here, as always, she fought it and denied it by the simple defense of elimination. Yet refusing to think of a thing when it seemed ever present was not going to do forever. Insensibly and subtly it might get a hold on her, never to be broken. Yet it was infinitely easier to dream than to think.
But the thought encroached upon her that it was not a dreamful habit of mind she had fallen into of late. When she dreamed or mused she lived vaguely and sweetly over past happy hours or dwelt in enchanted fancy upon a possible future. Carley had been told by a Columbia professor that she was a type of the present age--a modern young woman of materialistic mind. Be that as it might, she knew many things seemed loosening from the narrowness and tightness of her character, sloughing away like scales, exposing a new and strange and susceptible softness of fiber. And this blank habit of mind, when she did not think, and now realized that she was not dreaming, seemed to be the body of Carley Burch, and her heart and soul stripped of a shell. Nerve and emotion and spirit received something from her surroundings. She absorbed her environment. She felt. It was a delightful state. But when her own consciousness caused it to elude her, then she both resented and regretted. Anything that approached permanent attachment to this crude and untenanted West Carley would not tolerate for a moment. Reluctantly she admitted it had bettered her health, quickened her blood, and quite relegated Florida and the Adirondacks, to little consideration.
"Well, as I told Glenn," soliloquized Carley, "every time I'm almost won over a little to Arizona she gives me a hard jolt. I'm getting near being mushy today. Now let's see what I'll get. I suppose that's my pessimism or materialism. Funny how Glenn keeps saying its the jolts, the hard knocks, the fights that are best to remember afterward. I don't get that at all."
Five miles below West Fork a road branched off and climbed the left side of the canyon. It was a rather steep road, long and zigzaging, and full of rocks and ruts. Carley did not enjoy ascending it, but she preferred the going up to coming down. It took half an hour to climb.
Once up on the flat cedar-dotted desert she was met, full in the face, by a hot dusty wind coming from the south. Carley searched her pockets for her goggles, only to ascertain that she had forgotten them. Nothing, except a freezing sleety wind, annoyed and punished Carley so much as a hard puffy wind, full of sand and dust. Somewhere along the first few miles of this road she was to meet Glenn. If she turned back for any cause he would be worried, and, what concerned her more vitally, he would think she had not the courage to face a little dust. So Carley rode on.
The wind appeared to be gusty. It would blow hard awhile, then lull for a few moments. On the whole, however, it increased in volume and persistence until she was riding against a gale. She had now come to a bare, flat, gravelly region, scant of cedars and brush, and far ahead she could see a dull yellow pall rising high into the sky. It was a duststorm and it was sweeping down on the wings of that gale. Carley remembered that somewhere along this flat there was a log cabin which had before provided shelter for her and Flo when they were caught in a rainstorm. It seemed unlikely that she had passed by this cabin.
Resolutely she faced the gale and knew she had a task to find that refuge. If there had been a big rock or bushy cedar to offer shelter she would have welcomed it. But there was nothing. When the hard dusty gusts hit her, she found it absolutely necessary to shut her eyes. At intervals less windy she opened them, and rode on, peering through the yellow gloom for the cabin. Thus she got her eyes full of dust--an alkali dust that made them sting and smart. The fiercer puffs of wind carried pebbles large enough to hurt severely. Then the dust clogged her nose and sand got between her teeth. Added to these annoyances was a heat like a blast from a furnace. Carley perspired freely and that caked the dust on her face. She rode on, gradually growing more uncomfortable and miserable. Yet even then she did not utterly lose a sort of thrilling zest in being thrown upon her own responsibility. She could hate an obstacle, yet feel something of pride in holding her own against it.
Another mile of buffeting this increasing gale so exhausted Carley and wrought upon her nerves that she became nearly panic-stricken. It grew harder and harder not to turn back. At last she was about to give up when right at hand through the flying dust she espied the cabin. Riding behind it, she dismounted and tied the mustang to a post. Then she ran around to the door and entered.
What a welcome refuge! She was all right now, and when Glenn came along she would have added to her already considerable list another feat for which he would commend her. With aid of her handkerchief, and the tears that flowed so copiously, Carley presently freed her eyes of the blinding dust. But when she essayed to remove it from her face she discovered she would need a towel and soap and hot water.
The cabin appeared to be enveloped in a soft, swishing, hollow sound. It seeped and rustled. Then the sound lulled, only to rise again. Carley went to the door, relieved and glad to see that the duststorm was blowing by. The great sky-high pall of yellow had moved on to the north. Puffs of dust were whipping along the road, but no longer in one continuous cloud. In the west, low down the sun was sinking, a dull magenta in hue, quite weird and remarkable.
"I knew I'd get the jolt all right," soliloquized Carley, wearily, as she walked to a rude couch of poles and sat down upon it. She had begun to cool off. And there, feeling dirty and tired, and slowly wearing to the old depression, she composed herself to wait.
Suddenly she heard the clip-clop of hoofs. "There! that's Glenn," she cried, gladly, and rising, she ran to the door.
She saw a big bay horse bearing a burly rider. He discovered her at the same instant, and pulled his horse.
"Ho! Ho! if it ain't Pretty Eyes!" he called out, in gay, coarse voice.
Carley recognized the voice, and then the epithet, before her sight established the man as Haze Ruff. A singular stultifying shock passed over her.
"Wal, by all thet's lucky!" he said, dismounting. "I knowed we'd meet some day. I can't say I just laid fer you, but I kept my eyes open."
Manifestly he knew she was alone, for he did not glance into the cabin.
"I'm waiting for--Glenn," she said, with lips she tried to make stiff.
"Shore I reckoned thet," he replied, genially. "But he won't be along yet awhile."
He spoke with a cheerful inflection of tone, as if the fact designated was one that would please her; and his swarthy, seamy face expanded into a good-humored, meaning smile. Then without any particular rudeness he pushed her back from the door, into the cabin, and stepped across the threshold.
"How dare--you!" cried Carley. A hot anger that stirred in her seemed to be beaten down and smothered by a cold shaking internal commotion, threatening collapse. This man loomed over her, huge, somehow monstrous in his brawny uncouth presence. And his knowing smile, and the hard, glinting twinkle of his light eyes, devilishly intelligent and keen, in no wise lessened the sheer brutal force of him physically. Sight of his bulk was enough to terrorize Carley.
"Me! Aw, I'm a darin' hombre an' a devil with the wimmin," he said, with a guffaw.
Carley could not collect her wits. The instant of his pushing her back into the cabin and following her had shocked her and almost paralyzed her will. If she saw him now any the less fearful she could not so quickly rally her reason to any advantage.
"Let me out of here," she demanded.
"Nope. I'm a-goin' to make a little love to you," he said, and he reached for her with great hairy hands.
Carley saw in them the strength that had so easily swung the sheep. She saw, too, that they were dirty, greasy hands. And they made her flesh creep.
"Glenn will kill--you," she panted.
"What fer?" he queried, in real or pretended surprise. "Aw, I know wimmin. You'll never tell him."
"Yes, I will."
"Wal, mebbe. I reckon you're lyin', Pretty Eyes," he replied, with a grin. "Anyhow, I'll take a chance."
"I tell you--he'll kill you," repeated Carley, backing away until her weak knees came against the couch.
"What fer, I ask you?" he demanded.
"For this--this insult."
"Huh! I'd like to know who's insulted you. Can't a man take an invitation to kiss an' hug a girl--without insultin' her?"
"Invitation! . . . Are you crazy?" queried Carley, bewildered.
"Nope, I'm not crazy, an' I shore said invitation . . . . I meant thet white shimmy dress you wore the night of Flo's party. Thet's my invitation to get a little fresh with you, Pretty Eyes!"
Carley could only stare at him. His words seemed to have some peculiar, unanswerable power.
"Wal, if it wasn't an invitation, what was it?" he asked, with another step that brought him within reach of her. He waited for her answer, which was not forthcoming.
"Wal, you're gettin' kinda pale around the gills," he went on, derisively. "I reckoned you was a real sport. . . . Come here."
He fastened one of his great hands in the front of her coat and gave her a pull. So powerful was it that Carley came hard against him, almost knocking her breathless. There he held her a moment and then put his other arm round her. It seemed to crush both breath and sense out of her. Suddenly limp, she sank strengthless. She seemed reeling in darkness. Then she felt herself thrust away from him with violence. She sank on the couch and her head and shoulders struck the wall.
"Say, if you're a-goin' to keel over like thet I pass," declared Ruff, in disgust. "Can't you Eastern wimmin stand nothin?"
Carley's eyes opened and beheld this man in an attitude of supremely derisive protest.
"You look like a sick kitten," he added. "When I get me a sweetheart or wife I want her to be a wild cat."
His scorn and repudiation of her gave Carley intense relief. She sat up and endeavored to collect her shattered nerves. Ruff gazed down at her with great disapproval and even disappointment.
"Say, did you have some fool idee I was a-goin' to kill you?" he queried, gruffly.
"I'm afraid--I did," faltered Carley. Her relief was a release; it was so strange that it was gratefulness.
"Wal, I reckon I wouldn't have hurt you. None of these flop-over Janes for me! . . . An' I'll give you a hunch, Pretty Eyes. You might have run acrost a fellar thet was no gentleman!"
Of all the amazing statements that had ever been made to Carley, this one seemed the most remarkable.
"What 'd you wear thet onnatural white dress fer?" he demanded, as if he had a right to be her judge.
"Unnatural?" echoed Carley.
"Shore. Thet's what I said. Any woman's dress without top or bottom is onnatural. It's not right. Why, you looked like--like"--here he floundered for adequate expression--"like one of the devil's angels. An' I want to hear why you wore it."
"For the same reason I'd wear any dress," she felt forced to reply.
"Pretty Eyes, thet's a lie. An' you know it's a lie. You wore thet white dress to knock the daylights out of men. Only you ain't honest enough to say so . . . . Even me or my kind! Even us, who 're dirt under your little feet. But all the same we're men, an' mebbe better men than you think. If you had to put that dress on, why didn't you stay in your room? Naw, you had to come down an' strut around an' show off your beauty. An' I ask you-- if you're a nice girl like Flo Hutter--what 'd you wear it fer?"
Carley not only was mute; she felt rise and burn in her a singular shame and surprise.
"I'm only a sheep dipper," went on Ruff, "but I ain't no fool. A fellar doesn't have to live East an' wear swell clothes to have sense. Mebbe you'll learn thet the West is bigger'n you think. A man's a man East or West. But if your Eastern men stand for such dresses as thet white one they'd do well to come out West awhile, like your lover, Glenn Kilbourne. I've been rustlin' round here ten years, an' I never before seen a dress like yours--an' I never heerd of a girl bein' insulted, either. Mebbe you think I insulted you. Wal, I didn't. Fer I reckon nothin' could insult you in thet dress. . . . An' my last hunch is this, Pretty Eyes. You're not what a hombre like me calls either square or game. Adios."
His bulky figure darkened the doorway, passed out, and the light of the sky streamed into the cabin again. Carley sat staring. She heard Ruff's spurs tinkle, then the ring of steel on stirrup, a sodden leathery sound as he mounted, and after that a rapid pound of hoofs, quickly dying away.
He was gone. She had escaped something raw and violent. Dazedly she realized it, with unutterable relief. And she sat there slowly gathering the nervous force that had been shattered. Every word that he had uttered was stamped in startling characters upon her consciousness. But she was still under the deadening influence of shock. This raw experience was the worst the West had yet dealt her. It brought back former states of revulsion and formed them in one whole irrefutable and damning judgment that seemed to blot out the vaguely dawning and growing happy susceptibilities. It was, perhaps, just as well to have her mind reverted to realistic fact. The presence of Haze Ruff, the astounding truth of the contact with his huge sheep-defiled hands, had been profanation and degradation under which she sickened with fear and shame. Yet hovering back of her shame and rising anger seemed to be a pale, monstrous, and indefinable thought, insistent and accusing, with which she must sooner or later reckon. It might have been the voice of the new side of her nature, but at that moment of outraged womanhood, and of revolt against the West, she would not listen. It might, too, have been the still small voice of conscience. But decision of mind and energy coming to her then, she threw off the burden of emotion and perplexity, and forced herself into composure before the arrival of Glenn.
The dust had ceased to blow, although the wind had by no means died away. Sunset marked the west in old rose and gold, a vast flare. Carley espied a horseman far down the road, and presently recognized both rider and steed. He was coming fast. She went out and, mounting her mustang, she rode out to meet Glenn. It did not appeal to her to wait for him at the cabin; besides hoof tracks other than those made by her mustang might have been noticed by Glenn. Presently he came up to her and pulled his loping horse.
"Hello! I sure was worried," was his greeting, as his gloved hand went out to her. "Did you run into that sandstorm?"
"It ran into me, Glenn, and buried me," she laughed.
His fine eyes lingered on her face with glad and warm glance, and the keen, apprehensive penetration of a lover.
"Well, under all that dust you look scared," he said.
"Scared! I was worse than that. When I first ran into the flying dirt I was only afraid I'd lose my way--and my complexion. But when the worst of the storm hit me--then I feared I'd lose my breath."
"Did you face that sand and ride through it all?" he queried.
"No, not all. But enough. I went through the worst of it before I reached the cabin," she replied.
"Wasn't it great?"
"Yes--great bother and annoyance," she said, laconically.
Whereupon he reached with long, arm and wrapped it round her as they rocked side by side. Demonstrations of this nature were infrequent with Glenn. Despite losing one foot out of a stirrup and her seat in the saddle Carley rather encouraged it. He kissed her dusty face, and then set her back.
"By George! Carley, sometimes I think you've changed since you've been here," he said, with warmth. "To go through that sandstorm without one kick--one knock at my West!"
"Glenn, I always think of what Flo says--the worst is yet to come," replied Carley, trying to hide her unreasonable and tumultuous pleasure at words of praise from him.
"Carley Burch, you don't know yourself," he declared, enigmatically.
"What woman knows herself? But do you know me?"
"Not I. Yet sometimes I see depths in you--wonderful possibilities- -submerged under your poise--under your fixed, complacent idle attitude toward life."
This seemed for Carley to be dangerously skating near thin ice, but she could not resist a retort:
"Depths in me? Why I am a shallow, transparent stream like your West Fork! . . . And as for possibilities-may I ask what of them you imagine you see?"
"As a girl, before you were claimed by the world, you were earnest at heart. You had big hopes and dreams. And you had intellect, too. But you have wasted your talents, Carley. Having money, and spending it, living for pleasure, you have not realized your powers. . . . Now, don't look hurt. I'm not censuring you, It's just the way of modern life. And most of your friends have been more careless, thoughtless, useless than you. The aim of their existence is to be comfortable, free from work, worry, pain. They want pleasure, luxury. And what a pity it is! The best of you girls regard marriage as an escape, instead of responsibility. You don't marry to get your shoulders square against the old wheel of American progress--to help some man make good--to bring a troop of healthy American kids into the world. You bare your shoulders to the gaze of the multitude and like it best if you are strung with pearls."
"Glenn, you distress me when you talk like this, " replied Carley, soberly. "You did not use to talk so. It seems to me you are bitter against women."
"Oh no, Carley! I am only sad," he said. "I only see where once I was blind. American women are the finest on earth, but as a race, if they don't change, they're doomed to extinction."
"How can you say such things?" demanded Carley, with spirit.
"I say them because they are true. Carley, on the level now, tell me how many of your immediate friends have children."
Put to a test, Carley rapidly went over in mind her circle of friends, with the result that she was somewhat shocked and amazed to realize how few of them were even married, and how the babies of her acquaintance were limited to three. It was not easy to admit this to Glenn.
"My dear," replied he, "if that does not show you the handwriting on the wall, nothing ever will."
"A girl has to find a husband, doesn't she?" asked Carley, roused to defense of her sex. "And if she's anybody she has to find one in her set. Well, husbands are not plentiful. Marriage certainly is not the end of existence these days. We have to get along somehow. The high cost of living is no inconsderable factor today. Do you know that most of the better-class apartment houses in New York will not take children? Women are not all to blame. Take the speed mania. Men must have automobiles. I know one girl who wanted a baby, but her husband wanted a car. They couldn't afford both."
"Carley, I'm not blaming women more than men," returned Glenn. "I don't know that I blame them as a class. But in my own mind I have worked it all out. Every man or woman who is genuinely American should read the signs of the times, realize the crisis, and meet it in an American way. Otherwise we are done as a race. Money is God in the older countries. But it should never become God in America. If it does we will make the fall of Rome pale into insignificance."
"Glenn, let's put off the argument," appealed Carley. "I'm not--just up to fighting you today. Oh--you needn't smile. I'm not showing a yellow streak, as Flo puts it. I'll fight you some other time."
"You're right, Carley," he assented. "Here we are loafing six or seven miles from home. Let's rustle along."
Riding fast with Glenn was something Carley had only of late added to her achievements. She had greatest pride in it. So she urged her mustang to keep pace with Glenn's horse and gave herself up to the thrill of the motion and feel of wind and sense of flying along. At a good swinging lope Calico covered ground swiftly and did not tire. Carley rode the two miles to the rim of the canyon, keeping alongside of Glenn all the way. Indeed, for one long level stretch she and Glenn held hands. When they arrived at the descent, which necessitated slow and careful riding, she was hot and tingling and breathless, worked by the action into an exuberance of pleasure. Glenn complimented her riding as well as her rosy cheeks. There was indeed a sweetness in working at a task as she had worked to learn to ride in Western fashion. Every turn of her mind seemed to confront her with sobering antitheses of thought. Why had she come to love to ride down a lonely desert road, through ragged cedars where the wind whipped her face with fragrant wild breath, if at the same time she hated the West? Could she hate a country, however barren and rough, if it had saved the health and happiness of her future husband? Verily there were problems for Carley to solve.
Early twilight purple lay low in the hollows and clefts of the canyon. Over the western rim a pale ghost of the evening star seemed to smile at Carley, to bid her look and look. Like a strain of distant music, the dreamy hum of falling water, the murmur and melody of the stream, came again to Carley's sensitive ear.
"Do you love this?" asked Glenn, when they reached the green-forested canyon floor, with the yellow road winding away into the purple shadows.
"Yes, both the ride--and you," flashed Carley, contrarily. She knew he had meant the deep-walled canyon with its brooding solitude.
"But I want you to love Arizona," he said.
"Glenn, I'm a faithful creature. You should be glad of that. I love New York."
"Very well, then. Arizona to New York," he said, lightly brushing her cheek with his lips. And swerving back into his saddle, he spurred his horse and called back over his shoulder: "That mustang and Flo have beaten me many a time. Come on."
It was not so much his words as his tone and look that roused Carley. Had he resented her loyalty to the city of her nativity? Always there was a little rift in the lute. Had his tone and look meant that Flo might catch him if Carley could not? Absurd as the idea was, it spurred her to recklessness. Her mustang did not need any more than to know she wanted him to run. The road was of soft yellow earth flanked with green foliage and overspread by pines. In a moment she was racing at a speed she had never before half attained on a horse. Down the winding road Glenn's big steed sped, his head low, his stride tremendous, his action beautiful. But Carley saw the distance between them diminishing. Calico was overtaking the bay. She cried out in the thrilling excitement of the moment. Glenn saw her gaining and pressed his mount to greater speed. Still he could not draw away from Calico. Slowly the little mustang gained. It seemed to Carley that riding him required no effort at all. And at such fast pace, with the wind roaring in her ears, the walls of green vague and continuous in her sight, the sting of pine tips on cheek and neck, the yellow road streaming toward her, under her, there rose out of the depths of her, out of the tumult of her breast, a sense of glorious exultation. She closed in on Glenn. From the flying hoofs of his horse shot up showers of damp sand and gravel that covered Carley's riding habit and spattered in her face. She had to hold up a hand before her eyes. Perhaps this caused her to lose something of her confidence, or her swing in the saddle, for suddenly she realized she was not riding well. The pace was too fast for her inexperience. But nothing could have stopped her then. No fear or awkwardness of hers should be allowed to hamper that thoroughbred mustang. Carley felt that Calico understood the situation; or at least he knew he could catch and pass this big bay horse, and he intended to do it. Carley was hard put to it to hang on and keep the flying sand from blinding her.
When Calico drew alongside the bay horse and brought Carley breast to breast with Glenn, and then inch by inch forged ahead of him, Carley pealed out an exultant cry. Either it frightened Calico or inspired him, for he shot right ahead of Glenn's horse. Then he lost the smooth, wonderful action. He seemed hurtling through space at the expense of tremendous muscular action. Carley could feel it. She lost her equilibrium. She seemed rushing through a blurred green and black aisle of the forest with a gale in her face. Then, with a sharp jolt, a break, Calico plunged to the sand. Carley felt herself propelled forward out of the saddle into the air, and down to strike with a sliding, stunning force that ended in sudden dark oblivion.
Upon recovering consciousness she first felt a sensation of oppression in her chest and a dull numbness of her whole body. When she opened her eyes she saw Glenn bending over her, holding her head on his knee. A wet, cold, reviving sensation evidently came from the handkerchief with which he was mopping her face.
"Carley, you can't be hurt--really!" he was ejaculating, in eager hope. "It was some spill. But you lit on the sand and slid. You can't be hurt."
The look of his eyes, the tone of his voice, the feel of his hands were such that Carley chose for a moment to pretend to be very badly hurt indeed. It was worth taking a header to get so much from Glenn Kilbourne. But she believed she had suffered no more than a severe bruising and scraping.
"Glenn--dear, " she whispered, very low and very eloquently. "I think--my back--is broken. . . . You'll be free--soon."
Glenn gave a terrible start and his face turned a deathly white. He burst out with quavering, inarticulate speech.
Carley gazed up at him and then closed her eyes. She could not look at him while carrying on such deceit. Yet the sight of him and the feel of him then were inexpressibly blissful to her. What she needed most was assurance of his love. She had it. Beyond doubt, beyond morbid fancy, the truth had proclaimed itself, filling her heart with joy.
Suddenly she flung her arms up around his neck. "Oh--Glenn! It was too good a chance to miss! . . . I'm not hurt a bit."