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Under the Tonto Rim
Zane Grey (1926) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Lucy followed her escort into the yard and between the blossoming peach trees to the cabin. She saw now that it was a new structure built of flat-hewn logs, long and low, with a peaked roof of split shingles covering two separate square cabins and the wide space between them. This roof also extended far out to cover a porch the whole length of the building. Each cabin had a glass window, and the door, which Lucy could not see, must have faced the middle porch. The rude solid structure made a rather good impression.
A long-eared hound stood wagging his tail at the head of the porch steps. Lucy's roving eye took in other dogs asleep in sunny spots; several little puppies with ears so long they stumbled over them as they ran pell-mell to meet Denmeade; heavy rolls of canvas, no doubt blankets or bedding, were piled along the wall; saddles and saddle blankets were ranged in similar order on the opposite side; the cabin wall on the right was studded with pegs upon which hung kitchen utensils and tools; that on the left held deer and elk antlers used as racks for hats, guns, ropes. The wide space of porch between the two cabins evidently served as an outdoor dining-room, for a rude home-carpentered table and benches occupied the centre.
At Denmeade's call a flock of children came trooping out of the door of the left cabin. They were big-eyed, dirty and ragged, and sturdy of build. A sallow, thin-faced little woman, in coarse dress and heavy shoes, followed them.
"Ma, this hyar is Miss Lucy Watson from Felix," announced Denmeade.
Mrs. Denmeade greeted Lucy cordially and simply, without show of curiosity or astonishment. Then Denmeade told her in his blunt speech what Lucy had come for. This information brought decided surprise and welcome to the woman's face. Lucy was quick to see what perhaps Denmeade had never known in his life. She added a few earnest words in her own behalf, calculated to strengthen Mrs. Denmeade's impression, and to say that when convenient they would talk over the work Lucy was to undertake.
"Reckon you're a new kind of teacher?" queried Mrs. Denmeade. "Sort of home-teacher?"
"Why yes, you could call me that," replied Lucy smiling.
"Shore, that'll please the kids," said Denmeade. "They sort of look up to a teacher. You see we've only had school-teachers a few years. Edd went four years, Allie three, Dick an' Joe three, Mertie two, Mary an' Dan one. Liz an' Lize, the twins hyar, five years old--they haven't started yet."
Whereupon the children were presented to Lucy, a situation rich in pleasure and interest for her. The twins were as like as two peas in a pod, chubby, rosy-cheeked little girls, fair-haired, with big eyes of grey like their father's. To Lucy's overtures they were shy, silent, yet fascinated. Dan was a dark-headed youngster, with eyes to match, dirty, mischievous, bold, and exceedingly responsive to Lucy. Mary, too, was dark, though lighter than Dan, older by a year or two, a thin overworked girl who under favourable conditions would be pretty. The several other children present were Claypools, visiting the Denmeades. When Lucy had greeted them all she was to meet Denmeade's older daughters Allie, a young woman, huge of build, with merry face, and Mertie, a girl of sixteen, quite beautiful in a wild-rose kind of way. She was the only one of the family who showed anything of colour or neatness in her attire. Manifestly she wore her Sunday dress, a coarse print affair. Her sharp dark eyes seemed more concerned with Lucy's riding habit, the way she had arranged her hair and tied her scarf, than with Lucy's presence there.
Lucy was taken into the left-hand cabin, to meet the mother and sister of the Claypool children. They, too, were hard-featured, unprepossessing, and bore the unmistakable marks of hard labour in a hard country. All these impressions of Lucy's were hasty ones that she knew might pass entirely or change. Intense as was her interest, she could not stare at or study these people. She had to confess that they put her at her ease. There was not a suspicion of inhospitality, or, for that matter, except on the part of the children, the betrayal of anything unusual about this new-corner. Lucy was given one of the few home-made chairs, a rude triangular board affair that could be set two ways. And then the conversation which no doubt her advent had interrupted was resumed by the older women.
The twins began to manifest signs of being irresistibly drawn to Lucy. They were in the toils of a new experience. Lucy had been used to children, and had taken several months of kindergarten work, which was going to be of infinite value to her here. She listened to the conversation, which turned out to be homely gossip, differing only in content from gossip anywhere. And while doing so she had a chance to gaze casually round the room.
The walls were bare, of rough-hewn logs, with the chinks between plastered with clay. There was a window on each side. A huge rough stone fire-place occupied nearly all the west end of the cabin. In a left-hand corner, next to the fire-place, was a closet of boards reaching from floor to ceiling. This ceiling appeared to be of the same kind of shingling Lucy had observed on the roof. The floor was rough clapboard, like that of the porch outside. The two corners opposite the fire-place contained built-in beds, bulky with a quilted covering. There were no other articles of furniture, not even a table or lamp.
Lucy appreciated that this living-room, despite its lack of comforts, might be far superior to the dark, clay-floored cabin rooms she had heard about. It was at least dry and light. But its bareness jarred on her. What did these people do with their leisure time, if they had any? The younger women talked of nothing save dances and boys; their elders interpolated their gossip with bits of news about the homely labours that spring had brought. Mary was the only one of the children whom Lucy could induce to talk; and she had, apparently, a limited range of subjects. School, the burro she rode, the puppies she played with, appeared to be in possession of her mind.
At length the Claypools announced that if they were to reach home by dark they must hurry.
"Come an' see us," invited the mother, addressing Lucy, and the grown daughter added: "'By. Reckon Edd'll be fetchin' you an' Mertie to the dance."
Lucy murmured something non-committal in reply, and accompanied the women and children outside. They left the porch at the far end of the cabin, and went through a side gate out into the woods, where two horses and a burro were haltered to trees. Dogs, sheep, and chickens tagged at their heels. There was a rather open clearing under the pines, trodden bare, and covered with red and white chips of wood.
Women and children talked all together, so that it was impossible for Lucy to distinguish much of what was said. She gathered, however, that Mrs. Denmeade told Mrs. Claypool something about Lucy's welfare work. Then mother and daughter, unmindful of their skirts, mounted the two horses.
The burro raised one long ear and cocked the other at the three Claypool youngsters. Mrs. Denmeade and Allie lifted them up on the back of the burro. It had a halter tied round its nose. The little boy, who could not have been more than four years old, had the foremost position astride the burro. He took up the halter. His sisters, aged, respectively, about three and two, rode behind him. The older girl got her arms round the boy, and the younger did likewise by her sister. Lucy was not only amazed and frightened for the youngsters, but also so amused she could scarcely contain herself.
"Aren't you afraid you'll fall off?" she asked, standing abreast of them.
"Naw!" said the boy. And the elder girl, with a sober smile at Lucy, added: "'Tain't nuthin' to fall off. But it's hard gettin' back on."
It required considerable beating and kicking on the part of the three to start the burro after the horses, but at last he decided to move, and trotted off.
"How far have they to go? inquired Lucy, as she watched them disappear in the woods.
"Reckon five miles or so. They'll get home about dark," replied Mrs. Denmeade. "Now, girls, there's supper to get. An', Miss Watson, you're goin' to be more one of the family than company. Make yourself to home."
Mary attached herself to Lucy and led her around the corner of the cabin to see the puppies, while the twins toddled behind. Lucy wanted to know the names of the puppies and all about them. When Mary had exhausted this subject she led Lucy to see her especial playground, which was across the ravine in a sheltered spot redolent of pine needles. She showed Lucy a nook under a large manzanita where she played with pine cones and bits of Indian pottery, which she said she had found right there. Lucy had to see the spring, and the stone steps across the brook, and the big iron kettle and tub which were used in washing. Lucy looked in vain for an outhouse of any description. There was none, not even a chicken-coop. Mary said the chickens roosted in trees, like the wild turkeys, to keep from being eaten by beasts. Lucy inquired about these beasts, and further if there were snakes and bugs.
"Rattlers, trantulars, an' scorpions in summer. That's all that's bad," said Mary.
"Goodness! That's enough!" exclaimed Lucy.
"They won't hurt nobody," added the child simply. Then she led Lucy across the clearing, where the twins tarried on an enterprise of their own, and down a trail into the deep gully. Here among the rocks and ferns, overshadowed by the pines and sycamores, they got away from the despoiled forest above. Lucy was glad to rest a little and listen to Mary's prattle. How wild and rugged this gully. Yet it was scarcely a stone's-throw from the cabin. The clear water babbled over smooth red stone and little falls and gravelly bars.
"It dries up in summer," said Mary, indicating the brook. "Sometimes the spring does, too. Then we all have to pack water from way down."
They came at length to a green bench that had been cleared of brush and small trees, yet, owing to the giant spreading pines above, did not long get direct rays of the sun. Rude boxes, some of them painted, were scattered around on little platforms of stones.
"Edd's beehives," said Mary, with grave importance. "We must be awful good. Edd doesn't mind if we behave."
"I'll be very careful, Mary. I don't want to get stung. Are they real wild bees?"
"Shore. But Edd tames them. Oh, Edd loves bees somethin' turrible," answered the child solemnly. "Bees never sting him, even when he's choppin' a new bee tree."
"Why does Edd do that? inquired Lucy.
"Didn't you ever--ever hear of Edd Denmeade's honey?" returned Mary, in great surprise. "Pa says it's the best in the world. Oh-umum! He'll shore give you some. Edd likes girls next to his bees...He's a bee hunter. Pa says Edd's the best bee liner he ever seen."
"Bee liner! What's that, Mary?"
"Why, he watches for bees, an' when they come he lines them. Bees fly straight off, you know. He lines them to their hive in a tree. Then he chops it down. Always he saves the honey, an' sometimes he saves the bees."
The child added to the interest accumulating round the name of Edd Denmeade.
"Where is Edd now?" asked Lucy.
"He went to Winbrook with the pack burros," replied Mary. "That's up over the Rim an' far off, to the railroad. Edd's promised to take me there some day. Shore he ought to be back soon. I want him awful bad. Candy! Edd always fetches us candy. He'll come by Mertie's birthday. That's next Wednesday. He's fetchin' Mertie's new dress. Her first boughten one! She's sixteen. An' Edd's givin' it to her. Oh, he'll come shore 'cause he loves Mertie."
"Of course he loves you, too? queried Lucy, winningly.
"Ma says so. But Mertie's his favourite. She's so pretty. I wish I was," replied Mary, with childish pathos.
"You will be, Mary, when you are sixteen, if you are good and learn how to take care of yourself, and have beautiful thoughts," said Lucy.
"Ma told Mrs. Claypool you was a home-teacher. Are you goin' to teach me all that?"
"Yes, and more. Won't you like to learn how to make nice dresses?"
"Oh!" cried Mary beamingly, and she burst into a babble of questions. Lucy answered. How simple! She had anticipated cudgelling her brains to satisfy these backwoods children. But Mary was already won. They remained in the gully until the sun sank, and then climbed out. Mary ran to confide her bursting news to the little twin sisters, and Lucy was left to herself for the time being. She walked down the lane, and across the strip of woodland to the open fields, and out where she could see.
Westward along the Rim vast capes jutted out, differing in shape and length, all ragged, sharp, fringed, reaching darkly for the gold and purple glory of the sunset. Shafts and rays of light streamed from the rifts in the clouds, blazing upon the bold rock faces of the wall. Eastward the Rim zigzagged endlessly into pale cold purple. Southward a vast green hollow ran like a river of the sea, to empty, it seemed, into space. Beyond that rose dim spectral shapes of mountains, remote and detached. To the north the great wall shut out what might lie beyond.
How unscalable it looked to Lucy! Points of rim ran out, narrow, broken, sloping, apparently to sheer off into the void. But the distance was far and the light deceiving. Lucy knew a trail came down the ragged cape that loomed out over Denmeade's ranch.
She had heard someone say Edd would come back that way with the pack-train. It seemed incredible for a man, let alone a burro. Just to gaze up at that steep of a thousand deceptive ridges, cracks, slants, and ascents was enough to rouse respect for these people who were conquering the rock-confined wilderness.
This lifting of Lucy's spirit gave pause to the growth of something akin to contempt that had unconsciously formed in her mind. After hearing and reading about these primitive inhabitants of the wild she had developed abstract conceptions of kindliness, sympathy, and close contact with them. They had been very noble sentiments. But she was going to find them hard to live up to. By analysing her feelings she realised that she did not like the personal intimations. Her one motive was to help these people and in so doing help herself. She had come, however, with an unconscious sense of her personal aloofness, the height to which, of course, these common people could not aspire. Yet their very first and most natural reaction, no doubt, was to imagine a sentimental attachment between her and one of these backwood boys.
From amusement Lucy passed to annoyance, and thence to concern. She had experienced her troubles with cowboys even in town, where there were ample avenues of escape. What would she encounter here? Would she find at the very outset a ridiculous obstacle to her success, to the fine record of welfare work she longed to establish?
The matter became a problem, no less because a faint accusing voice had begun to reach her conscience. She listened to it and strained at it until she heard something like doubt of her being big enough for this job. She humiliated herself. It had never occurred to her that she might be found wanting. A wonderfully stabilising though painful idea this was. After all, what excuse had she for superiority?
Standing there in the open fields, Lucy forgot the magnificent red wall and the gorgeous sunset-flushed panorama. She realised her vanity, that she had wounded it, that in all probability it would have to be killed before she could be wholly worthy of this work. Her humility, however, did not withstand the rush of resentment, eagerness, and confidence of her youth. Lucy stifled in its incipiency a thought vaguely hinting that she would have to suffer and grow before she really was what she dreamed she was.
Presently she heard the crack of hoofs on rock, and, turning, she espied two riders entering the corral at the end of the field. She decided they must be two more of the Denmeades, Dick and Joe, if she remembered rightly. They dismounted, threw their saddles, turned the horses loose. They appeared to be long, lean, rangy young men, wearing huge sombreros that made them look top-heavy. They whistled and whooped, creating sounds which clapped back in strange echo from the wall. It emphasised the stillness to Lucy. Such hilarity seemed out of place there. Lucy watched the tall figures stride out of sight up the lane toward the cabin.
"One thing sure," soliloquised Lucy, gravely, "I've got to realise I have myself to contend with up here. Myself!...It seems I don't know much about me."
She returned to the cabin, entering the yard by the side gate. Some of the hounds followed her, sniffing at her, not yet over their hostility. The Denmeades were collecting round the table on the porch. The mother espied Lucy and greeted her with a smile.
"Reckon we was about ready to put the hounds on your trail," she called, and when Lucy reached the table she added: "You set in this place...Here's Dick an' Joe. You've only one more to see, an' that's Edd. Boys, meet Miss Lucy Watson of Felix."
Lucy smiled at the young men, waiting to sit down opposite her. Which was Dick and which Joe she could not tell yet. The younger was exceedingly tall and thin. The older, though tall and angular, too, appeared short by comparison. Both had smooth, still, shining faces, lean and brown, with intent clear eyes.
"Hod-do!" said the older boy to Lucy, as he took his seat across the table. He was nothing if not admiring.
"Joe, did you meet teacher Jenks?" asked Denmeade, from the head of the table.
"Yep. Saw him at Johnson's. He told us about Miss Watson. An' we passed Sam on the trail. He was packin' her baggage."
Before Allie and Mertie, who were carrying steaming dishes from the kitchen, had brought in all the supper, the Denmeades set about the business of eating.
"Help yourself, miss," said the father.
The table was too small for so many. They crowded close together. Lucy's seat was at one end of a bench, giving her the free use of her right hand. Mary sat on her left, happily conscious of the close proximity. The heads of the little girls and Dan just topped the level of the table. In fact, their mouths were about on a level with their tin plates. At first glance Lucy saw that the table was laden with food, with more still coming. Pans of smoking biscuits, pans of potatoes, pans of beans, pans of meat and gravy, and steaming tin cups of black coffee! Lucy noted the absence of milk, butter, sugar, green or canned vegetables. She was hungry and she filled her plate. And despite the coarseness of the food she ate heartily. Before she had finished, dusk had settled down around the cabin, and when the meal ended it was quite dark.
"I hear Sam's hoss," said Dick, as he rose, clinking his spurs. "Reckon I'll help him unpack."
Lucy sat down on the edge of the porch, peering out into the woods. The children clustered round her. Mrs. Denmeade and her older daughters were clearing off the supper table. A dim lamplight glimmered in the kitchen. Lucy was aware of the tall form of Dick Denmeade standing to one side. He had not yet spoken a word. Lucy addressed him once, but for all the answer she got he might as well have been deaf. He shifted one of his enormous boots across the other. In the dim light Lucy made out long spurs attached to them. Then Mrs. Denmeade ordered the children off to bed. One by one they vanished. Mary's pale face gleamed wistfully and was gone.
It dawned on Lucy, presently, that the air was cold. It had changed markedly in an hour. Big white stars had appeared over the tips of the pines; the sky was dark blue. The blackness of the night shadows had lighted somewhat or else her eyes had become accustomed to it. Quiet settled over the cabin, broken only by low voices and sounds from the kitchen. It struck Lucy as sad and sombre, this mantle of night descending upon the lonely cabin, yet never before had she felt such peace, such sweet solitude. By straining her ears she caught a dreamy murmur of the stream down in the gorge, and a low mourn of wind in the pines. Where were the coyotes, night hawks; whip-poor-wills, all the noisy creatures she had imagined lived in the wilderness?
Pound of hoofs and clink of spurs became audible in the lane, approaching the cabin. Lucy heard a laugh she recognised, and low voices, merry, subtle, almost hoarse whisperings. Then the gate creaked, and the musical clink of spurs advanced toward the porch. At last Lucy made out two dark forms. They approached, and one mounted the steps, while the other stopped before Lucy. She conceived an idea that this fellow could see in the dark.
"Wal, Miss Lucy, here's your bags without a scratch," said Sam Johnson's drawling voice. "Shore I bet you was worried. How'd you find my hoss Buster?"
"Just fine, thank you," replied Lucy. "Full of spirit and go. Yet he obeyed promptly. I never had a slip. Now were you not trying to frighten me a little--or was it Mr. Jenks?--telling me he was some kind of a mustang?"
"Honest, Buster's gentle with girls," protested Sam. "Shore he pitches when one of these long-legged Denmeades rake him. But don't you believe what anyone tells you."
"Very well, I won't. Buster is a dandy little horse."
"Wal, then, you're invited to ride him again," said Sam, with subtle inflection.
"Oh, thank you," replied Lucy. "I--I'll be pleased--if my work allows me any spare time."
"Howdy, Sam!" interposed Allie, from the kitchen door. "Who're you goin' to take to the dance?"
"Wal, I ain't shore, jest yet," he returned. "Reckon I know who I'd like to take."
"Sadie told me you asked her."
"Did she?...Sent her word. But she didn't send none back," protested Sam lamely.
"Sam, take a hunch from me. Don't try to shenanegin out of it now," retorted Allie, and retreated into the kitchen.
Lucy was both relieved and amused at Allie's grasp of the situation. No doubt Sam had been approaching another invitation.
Denmeade's heavy footfall sounded on the porch, accompanied by the soft pad of a dog trotting. "That you, Sam? How's yore folks?"
"Tip top," replied Sam shortly.
"Get down an' come in," drawled Denmeade as the other shuffled restlessly.
"Reckon I'll be goin'," said Sam. "I've a packhoss waitin'...Evenin', Miss Lucy. Shore I hope to see you at the dance."
"I hardly think you will," replied Lucy. "Thank you for fetching my baggage."
Sam's tall form disappeared in the gloom. The gate creaked as if opened and shut with forceful haste. Almost directly followed the sound of hoofs going off into the darkness.
"Hey, Sam!" called Joe, coming out of the cabin, where he had carried Lucy's grips.
"He's gone," said his father laconically.
"Gone! Why, the dinged galoot had somethin' of mine! Funny, him runnin' off. He shore was rarin' to get here. Never saw him make such good time on a trail. What riled him?"
"Wal, I have an idea," drawled Denmeade. "Allie give him a dig."
"I shore did," spoke up Allie, from the kitchen, where evidently she heard what was going on outside. "It's a shame the way he treats Sadie."
Lucy began to gather snatches of the complexity of life up here. After all, how like things at home! This girl Sadie had refused to marry Edd Denmeade. There was an intimation that she was attached to Sam Johnson. On his part, Sam had manifested a slight interest in a new-comer to the country.
Mrs. Denmeade came out of the kitchen carrying a lighted lamp, and she called Lucy to accompany her into the other cabin. She set the lamp on the high jutting shelf of the fire-place.
"You sleep in here with the children," she said simply.
"Yes--that will be nice," rejoined Lucy, peering around. Dan was asleep on the floor in a corner, his bed a woolly sheep skin, his covering a rag quilt. Mary and the twins were fast asleep in one of the beds. Lucy stepped close to peer down at them. Liz and Lize lay at the foot, curly fair heads close together. Their faces had been washed and now shone sweet and wan in the lamplight. Their chubby hands were locked. Mary lay at the head of the bed, and her thin face bore a smile as if she were having pleasant dreams.
"Where--shall I wash?" asked Lucy, with diffidence.
"You'll find water, basin, towel out on the porch...Good night. I reckon you're tired. Hope you sleep good."
Lucy bade her hostess good night, and turned musingly to the opening of one of her grips. She could hear the low breathing of the sleepers. Somehow, to be there with them, under such circumstances, touched her deeply. It was for the sake of such as they that she had forsaken personal comfort and better opportunities. Despite a somewhat depressed spirit, Lucy could not regret her action. If only she won their love and taught them fine, clean, wholesome ways with which to meet their hard and unlovely futures! That would transform her sacrifice into a blessing.
The room was cold. A fire in the big stone fireplace would have been much to her liking. By the time she got ready for bed she was chilled through. Before blowing out the lamp she took a last look at the slumbering children. They seemed so still, so calm, so white and sweet. Lucy trembled for them, in a vague realisation of life. Then, with some difficulty she opened one of the windows. Once in bed, she stretched out in aching relief. That long ride, especially on the horse, had cramped and chafed her. The bed was as cold and hard as ice. There were no sheets. The blankets under her did not do much to soften the feel of what she concluded was a mattress filled with corn husks. It rustled like corn husks, though it might have been coarse straw. The coverings were heavy rag quilts.
Nevertheless, Lucy had never before been so grateful for a bed. If this bed was good enough for those innocent and happy and unfortunate children, it was good enough for her. Unfortunate! She pondered. She would have to learn as much as she taught.
She heard heavy boots and the jangle of spurs on the porch, the unrolling of one of the canvas packs, faint voices from the kitchen, and then footsteps over her head in the attic. One of the boys spoke up there. Probably that was where they slept. Lucy now remembered seeing the ladder that led from the middle porch to a wide hole in the ceiling. She wondered where the rest of the Denmeades slept. No doubt she was robbing father and mother of their room and bed.
Gradually all sounds ceased, except the faint murmur of water and wind, out in the woods. Lucy grew warm and sleepy. Yet so novel and strange were her sensations that she fought off the drowsy spell. She was really there up in the backwoods. She could scarcely credit it. The blackness of the room, the silence, the unfamiliar fragrance of pine and wood smoke, were like unrealities of a dream. She lived over the whole journey and would not have changed any of it. Suddenly the stillness broke to a deep-ringing, long-drawn bay of a hound. It made her flesh creep. How it rang out the truth of her presence in the wild forest, in the hard bed of these lowly pioneers! The home that had failed her was gone for ever. The one person she had loved most--her sister Clara--had failed her. And in the lonely darkness she wept, not as on the night before, childishly and unrestrainedly, but with sorrow for loss and gratefulness for the future that promised so much.
She would be happy to face the morrow, come what might. It could only bring another kind of strife, that in itself might be good for her soul. With such hope and a prayer that it would be so she fell asleep.