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Under the Tonto Rim
Zane Grey (1926) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Late in October Lucy returned from Felix, where she had stayed four weeks instead of two, as she originally intended. Her work had so interested the welfare board that they considered the experiment a success, and they brought her in contact with other workers whom they wanted to have the benefit of Lucy's experience. Thus she had found herself rather an important personage in that little circle.
Though the stage arrived at Cedar Ridge late in the afternoon, Lucy did not want to tarry there till next day. She had a strange, eager longing to get back to her sister and to the place she called home, the lonely homestead under the Rim. That had been the cause, she thought, of her restlessness while in the city.
Bert and Mertie, vastly important about the change in their lives, hurried to his home to reveal their secret, assuring Lucy that they would come out to the ranch next day. Lucy hired one of the few automobiles in Cedar Ridge, and in charge of a competent driver she arrived at Johnson's just before sunset. Sam's younger brother offered to ride up to Denmeade's with her, and pack her baggage. As there was no school session during late fall and winter, Mr. Jenks had left with the understanding that he would return in the spring.
Once on horseback again, Lucy began to feel free. How long she had been gone! What changes had come! These were exemplified in the transformation fall had wrought in the verdure along the trails. Only the great pines had not changed, yet their needle foliage had a tinge of brown. The fern leaves that had waved so beautifully green and graceful were now crisp and shrivelled; the grape vines were yellow; the brown-eyed daisies were all gone; the sycamore trees were turning and the cottonwoods had parted with their beauty. Likewise had the walnut trees.
In places where Lucy could see the Rim she was astounded and delighted. She had carried away a picture of the coloured walls, but now there was a blaze of gold, purple, cerise, scarlet, all the hues of fire. Frost had touched maples, aspens, oaks, with a magic wand. It seemed another and more beautiful forest land that she was entering. Up and down, everywhere along the trail, her horse waded through autumn leaves. The level branches of spruce and pine, that reached close to her, were littered with fallen leaves, wrinkled and dried. How different the sound of hoofs! Now they padded, rustled, when before they had crunched and cracked.
The melancholy days had come. As the sunset hues failed Lucy saw purple haze as thick as smoke filling the hollows. The aisles were deserted of life, sear and brown, shading into twilight. She rode down into the deep forest glen and up out of it before overtaken by night. How comforting the dusky halls of the woodland! Assuredly she was going to find out something about herself when she could think it out. Sam's little brother talked whenever the trail was steep and his horse lagged close to Lucy's. Homely bits of news, pertaining to his simple life, yet Lucy found them sweet.
The hunter's moon lighted the last mile of the ride up to the Denmeade clearing. Weird, moon-blanched, the great wall seemed to welcome her. What had come to her under its looming shadow? Black and silent the forest waved away to the dim boundaries. Lucy forgot her weariness. The baying of the hounds loosened the thrills that had been in abeyance, waiting for this moment when she rode up the lane. She peered for the white gleam of her canvas tent. Gone! Had Clara moved into the cabin? Then she made out that the tent wall had been boarded half-way up and the roof shingled. A light shone through the canvas. Lucy could scarcely wait to get her baggage from the boy and to tell him what to do.
Her voice stirred scrape of chair and flying footsteps inside the tent. The door swept open and Clara rushed out with a cry of welcome. Even in the poignant joy of the moment Lucy, as she folded Clara in a close embrace, missed the fragile slenderness that had characterised her sister's form. Then they were in the brightly lighted tent, where for a little the sweetness of reunion precluded all else.
"Let go of me, so I can see you," said Lucy, breaking away from her sister. "Oh, Clara!"
That was all she could say to this beautiful brown-faced, radiant-eyed apparition.
"Yes, I'm well!" cried Clara. "Strong as a bear. Almost fat! I wondered what you'd think...You see, your wilderness home and people have cured me...More! Oh, sister, I'm afraid to say it--but I'm happy, too."
"Darling! Am I dreaming?" burst out Lucy, in a rapture. "What has happened? How have you done it? Who?...Why, I worried myself sick about you! Look at me! I'm thin, pale. And here you show yourself...Oh, Clara, you're just lovely! What have you been doing?"
"Simple as A B C, as Danny says," retuned Clara. "When you left I just felt that I would get well and--and all right again--or I'd die trying. I took up your work, and I've done it. I worked every way they'd let me. I rode and climbed and walked every day with Joe. And eat? Oh, I've been a little pig!"
"Every day with Joe!" echoed Lucy, with eyes of love, hope, fear, doubt upon this strange sister. "Has that changed you so wonderfully?"
When had Lucy seen such a smile on Clara's face?
"Yes. But no more than taking up your work," she rejoined, with sweet seriousness. "Joe cured my body. He got me out into the fields and the woods. I really wasn't so sick. I was weak, starved, spiritless. Then your work with the children, with all the Denmeades, showed me how life is worth living. I just woke up."
"I don't care who or what has done it," cried Lucy, embracing her again. "Bless Joe!...But, oh, Clara, if he was the way Edd said he was before I left--what is he now?"
"He loves me, yes," said Clara, with a dreaming smile.
Lucy's lips trembled shut on a query she feared to utter, and she endeavoured to conceal her emotion by lifting her baggage to the bed.
"Well, that's no news," she said lightly. "How's my wild-bee hunter?"
"I can't see any change," replied Clara, laughing. "You wrote me only twice, and him not at all."
"Him? Clara, did he expect to hear from me?" asked Lucy, facing about.
"I'm not sure, but he wanted to. Every night when he got home from his work--he's gathering honey now--he'd come to me and ask if I'd heard. I think he missed you and Mertie. He wondered how she'd get along in Felix."
"I ought to have written," said Lucy, as much to herself as to Clara. "But I found it hard. I wanted to...I don't know where I stand. Perhaps now...Heigho! Well, as for Mertie, he needn't have worried about her."
"Lucy, I confess I'm curious myself," replied Clara.
"Mertie was just a crazy country girl who'd been badly influenced," went on Lucy. "She had good stuff in her, as I guessed, and she really cared for Bert. Mertie wanted something, she didn't know what. But I knew. And I gave it to her. I bought her everything she fancied and I took her everywhere. It did not seem possible to me that anyone could be so wildly happy as she was. And Bert? Goodness! It was good to see him...They're married, and, I'm sure, settled for life."
"Married! Well, Lucy Watson, you are a worker. So that was why you took them to Felix?" replied Clara.
"Not at all. But it fell in with the natural order of things. Don't you breathe it. Mertie and Bert will be out here to-morrow to surprise the folks. They'll be glad. I wonder how Edd will take it."
"He'll be happy," mused Clara. "He loves that flibbertigibbet...So they're married. It seems about all young people can do."
"Are you speaking for yourself, or for me, sister?" queried Lucy teasingly.
"Not for myself, surely...Lucy, I think I hear Allie calling us to supper."
The welcome accorded Lucy in that simple household was something even more satisfying that the meed of praise she had received at Felix. Edd Denmeade was not present. His father said he was out, camping on a long bee hunt. Lucy tried to ward off conviction that his absence was a relief. Yet she wanted to see him. The feelings were contrary.
Lucy parried the queries about Mertie by saying that she would be home to-morrow to answer for herself. The clamour of the children was subdued by the delivery of sundry presents from town. For that matter, Lucy did not forget any of the Denmeades. She had remembered what joy a gift brought to them, one and all. For Edd she had purchased a magnifying glass and a field glass, for use in his study of bees.
"Sis, what'd you bring me?" queried Clara jealously when they were back in the tent.
"Myself. Is that enough?" teased Lucy.
"Of course...Lucy, you must have spent a lot of money," said Clara seriously.
"I shore did. All I had except what you wrote for. I have that."
"It's very--good of you," replied Clara.
"What'd you need so much money for?" asked Lucy frankly. "It surprised me."
"It's--I--Well, there's a woman in Kingston," said Clara, averting her face. "I owed her money. I hated to tell you before, hoping she'd wait till I could earn some. But she wrote me."
"How did she know you were here?" queried Lucy in surprise.
"I wrote to her first--about it," returned Clara.
"You mustn't owe money to anyone," said Lucy decidedly. "Send her a money order from Cedar Ridge...Don't look like that, dear. I'm glad to help you. What's mine is yours...You'll be pleased when I tell you my salary was raised and my work highly recommended. I had to teach several new welfare workers."
And Lucy talked on and on, trying to chase away that strange look from Clara's face, and also to talk herself into a forgetfulness of questioning surprise and vague misgivings. Not in a month could Clara recover wholly from the past! Lucy was unutterably grateful for a change far beyond her hopes.
"It was warm in Felix. Here it's cold," said Lucy, shivering closer to the little stove. "But the frost, the air feel so good."
"We had six inches of snow," replied Clara importantly. "I just loved it. Second snow I ever saw! But it melted off next day...Edd and Joe fixed up our tent. Oh, when the wind howled and the snow seeped, it would have been great if you'd been here. I was a little afraid, all alone!"
"Snow already? Well, I missed it, didn't I?...Clara, let's stay out here all winter."
"Oh, I hope we can. I don't see what else we can do--not till spring...Lucy, I've news for you. Mr. Denmeade told me that both the Claypools and Johnsons had complained to him because he was keeping you here so long. They say you're partial to the Denmeades, and that if you don't go to them soon they'll report you. I hope it's not possible for them to hurt you."
Lucy had expected to hear this very news. While in Felix she had anticipated it and prepared her employers for complaints of this nature.
"They can't hurt me, Clara," she rejoined soberly. "I made this job and I can handle it to suit myself. But the Claypools and Johnsons are right. I am partial to the Denmeades, so far. I always meant to be fair, and I shall try to be. Circumstances, however, make my duty harder than I thought it would be. Indeed, I was fortunate to come here first. I owe my success to that. Now I've got to face the music. We'll ride down to Claypool's and then to Johnson's and arrange to go to them in the spring and summer. But we'll return here in the fall."
"We! Must I go with you?" exclaimed Clara.
"Must you? Why, Clara, of course you must go with me," declared Lucy, in amaze. "Whatever are you thinking of? How could I get along without you now?"
"I--I thought you might let me stay here," replied Clara, with confusion rare in her. "They have talked about it, and I'd hate to leave, to break into a strange family. Mr. Denmeade and Joe, the mother and children, all say they won't let you go. Edd says you'll have to go, and you will go because you're honest...I'm selfish, Lucy. I hope you can do your welfare work from here. You could in all seasons but winter. We could ride horseback twice a day, even as far as Miller's. But if you can't see it that way, or let me stay here at least part of the time, of course I'll be glad to go, to work for you. I'm just a coward. These Denmeades have put something back in my heart. To live near that Sam Johnson would drive me wild. Mrs. Denmeade says the Spralls are bad, and Edd says you'll go there despite him or all of us. I met Bud Sprall one day when I was hunting squirrels with Joe. He was at the dance we went to in September. I caught him looking at me. And you should have seen him looking at me when I was with Joe...Lucy, he couldn't have heard about me, could he?
"I don't see how," declared Lucy emphatically. "Way up here in this wilderness? Impossible! I did not hear about you even in Felix. I met all our old friends. But no one even hinted of what you fear."
Clara received this information with a stress of feeling disproportionate to its importance, Lucy thought, and she seemed singularly grateful for it.
"Lucy, there's bad blood between Edd and this Bud Sprall," went on Clara. "I've heard things not intended for my ears. You've got to hold in your wild-bee hunter or he'll kill Bud Sprall."
"Clara, I called Edd Denmeade my wild-bee hunter just for fun," protested Lucy. "I--I thought it would amuse you. But goodness! he's not mine! That's ridiculous! And I'm not responsible for his feuds. He hated Bud Sprall before I ever came here."
"That's perfectly true, Lucy, but the fact remains Edd is yours whether you want him or not. And you can keep him from killing this fellow."
"What have I got to do?" demanded Lucy flippantly. "I suppose you'll suggest that I--I throw myself into Edd's arms to keep him from becoming a murderer."
"It'd be noble welfare work, wouldn't it? And you like the boy!"
"I don't like him as much as that," muttered Lucy doggedly.
"Well, then, you're as fickle as I used to be. For when you came back from the bee hunt with Edd last month you were in love. Or else I don't know that little old disease."
"Nonsense, Clara!" exclaimed Lucy, greatly irritated and perplexed with her sister. "I was out of my head. Excited, full of the joy of the outdoors. I might have been in love with the forest, the canyon, the wildness and beauty of this country. I am so still. But that's--"
"Edd Denmeade and this wilderness are one and the same," interrupted Clara. "But pray don't mind my arguments, dearest Lucy. Sometimes you seem my little sister, instead of me being yours. We always disagreed. I suppose we always shall. I don't think you will ever care to live in Felix again. I know I never shall. And we can't help the effect we have on these boys...Something will come of it, that's all...You're tired, and I've worried you. Let's go to bed."
Next day Lucy was too devoted to getting settled and taking up the threads of her work to face at once the serious self-scrutiny that was inevitable. She welcomed any excuse to postpone it. Besides, she was weary of introspection. She felt like a fluttering leaf attached to a shaking twig and soon to be at the mercy of the storm. Always something was going to happen, but so far as she could tell it had not happened yet. Clara was an enigma. Despite the marvellous improvement in her, Lucy could not dispel a vague dread. It was intuitive, and resembled the shadow of a sword over her head.
She had a frank talk with Denmeade about the Claypools and the Johnsons. The old backwoodsman was honest and fair in his attitude toward them, in his statement of how much more they needed Lucy now than his own family. She could not delay her service in their behalf longer than early spring. He believed that Lucy could allay their jealous anxieties by going to see them and to plan with them for her coming. At the conclusion of this interview with Denmeade Lucy carried away the rather disturbing impression that the Denmeades had made her presence there a sort of personal triumph. She was living with them. What she had taught them, the improvements she had installed for cleaner and happier living, had only elevated them in their own regard above their neighbours. It made a bad situation.
Late that afternoon Mertie and Bert arrived in their best Felix clothes, mysteriously radiant.
"Clara, look," said Lucy, peeping out of the tent. "I knew nothing in the world would keep Mertie from arriving in that dress. She has ridden horseback--from Johnson's anyway."
"She looks nice. It's a pretty dress," replied Clara. "Bert, though--isn't he perfectly killing? Acts like a young lord...I hope they'll be happy."
"Let's not miss this. They can't keep it longer. Why, it shines from them!"
"Excuse me, Lucy. You go. I'll see them later," returned Clara.
Though Lucy went out at once, she was too late to be present when the young couple confessed. As Lucy entered the yard an uproar began on the porch. Mertie and Bert had timed their arrival for an hour when the whole family was at home. The parental blessing had certainly been received. Lucy halted a moment to peep through the thin-foliaged peach trees. The children were screaming at the top of their lungs, yet that din could not quite drown the gay, happy, excited voices of the Denmeade women and the deep, hoarse tones of the men.
Lucy's eyes suddenly filled with tears and her heart throbbed with gladness. Only she knew just how responsible she had been for this happy event. Only she--and perhaps Edd--had known the narrow verge Mertie Denmeade had wilfully trod. Therefore she tarried a little longer at the fence, patting the noses of the smoking horses.
When she did present herself to the family on the porch the wild excitement had subsided.
"Reckon the boys an' girls will storm Mertie tomorrow, shore," Denmeade was saying. "An' you want to make ready for a high old time."
Lucy mounted the porch to gaze about her, smiling, with pretended surprise.
"What's all the fun about?" she inquired.
"Wal now, Miss Lucy!" ejaculated Denmeade, rising and actually taking off his hat. Then he seized her hand in his big rough ones and beamed down on her, his brown grizzled face as rugged as the bark of a pine, yet expressive of the deepest feeling. "Wal, now, you played hob!"
That was all he had time to say before the children enveloped Lucy, and Allie and Mrs. Denmeade for once manifested their womanly appreciation of her goodness to them. The boys were undemonstrative. Dick stood like a tall sapling outlined against the open sky. Joe sat in the background against the wall, quiet-eyed, intent. Edd had evidently just come home, for his ragged leather chaps and his jeans bore substance and odour of the woods. He stood behind Mertie, who sat on the edge of the table, pale with the passion of her importance and the sensation she had created. She had her hands behind her, holding to Edd's. The bright silk dress contrasted strangely with the subdued colours around her. Bert stood, foot on a bench, elbow on his knee, gazing adoringly down upon his bride. His gaudy necktie matched her gown.
"Howdy, city girl!" drawled Edd to Lucy. He gave her no other greeting. The deep gaze accompanying his words was embarrassing and baffling to Lucy. She laughed and retorted:
"Howdy, wild-bee hunter!"
Thereupon Mertie launched again into the wild and whirling recital that evidently Lucy's arrival had broken for the moment. When, presently, she paused for breath, Bert flicked the ashes off his cigarette and announced to Denmeade:
"Pa turned over the sawmill to me. Weddin' present!"
"Dog-gone me!" ejaculated Denmeade vociferously. "If you ain't lucky--gettin' the mill an' Mert at one lick."
"Yep, my luck turned that day we had our bean pickin'," replied Bert happily.
"Wal, to talk business, we've been runnin' up a log cabin for Joe's homestead, over on the mesa. 'Crost the gully from Edd's place. An' I'm wonderin' if you can saw an' deliver a lot of floor boards, door frames, an' such."
"I just can, you bet," declared the young man. "Give me your order. I'll deliver lumber at foot of the mesa trail in less than a week."
"Fine! You're a Jasper for rustlin'. Shore I expected to pack the lumber up on the burros. Long job, but Dick an' Joe can drive the pack while the rest of us work. Edd expects to be done cuttin' for honey soon. Then he can help. We'll have Joe's cabin done by the time snow flies."
"Get pencil an' paper so we can figure out just what lumber you want."
Father and son-in-law went into the kitchen, while Mertie broke into further elaboration of her romance. Lucy remained a few moments longer, fascinated by the rapt faces of the listening Denmeades, especially Edd. He seemed transfigured. Lucy suffered a twinge of remorse for having considered him a clod. How tremendously he had been affected by this happy settling of Mertie's affairs! More than once Lucy had heard it said that a Denmeade married was safe. Presently Lucy returned to her tent and unfinished tasks.
Supper was not ready until dusk, a fact which testified to the upsetting of the household. Then the lack of the usual bountiful meal was made up for by merriment. Lucy felt glad to free herself from an excitement that had begun to wear on her nerves. Moreover, she needed to be alone. As she passed Clara and Joe sitting on the porch steps she could just catch the gleam of their faces in the dim lamplight, Clara's pensive and sweet, and Joe's locked in its impassive youthful strength. Oh, boy and girl! thought Lucy with a pang. They could not help themselves. One called to the other. Clara's tragic girlhood was fading into a past that was gone. She had to live, to breathe, to move; and this wilderness called to primitive emotions.
As Lucy halted a moment to pay her usual silent tribute to the black Rim above and the stars of white fire, she heard the gate creak and then a quick step and jingle of spurs.
"Wait!" called Edd, with a ring in his voice. He could see her in the dark when she could not see him. The word, the tone halted her, and she seemed conscious of a sudden inward stilling. His tall form appeared, blacker than the darkness, loomed over her. Involuntarily Lucy took a backward step. Then Edd clasped her in his arms.
It was like the hug of a bear. Lucy's arms were pinned to her sides and she was drawn so close she could scarcely catch her breath. A terrible weakness assailed her. Not of anger, not of resentment! It was something else, strangely akin to a mingling of amaze and relief. Caught at last in her own toils!
"Oh--Edd!" she whispered, meaning to beg to be let go, but she never completed the appeal. Her arms moved instinctively upward, until stopped by the giant clasp that held her. What had she meant to do? How her mind whirled! He did not speak, and the moment seemed an age.
She felt the ripple of his muscles and the rough flannel of his shirt against her cheek. The scent of pine and honeybees and the woodland clung to his clothes. Lucy quivered on the brink of a tumultuous unknown.
Suddenly his arms uncoiled. Lucy swayed a little, not sure of her equilibrium.
"Shore I had to," he gasped huskily. "Words don't come easy--for me...God bless you for savin' Mertie."
He plunged away into the blackness, his boots thumping, his spurs clinking. Lucy stood motionless, gazing into the gloom where he had vanished. Her heart seemed to take a great drop. Shivering, she went into the tent.
There she swiftly put a few knots of wood into the stove, set the damper, blew out the lamp, and hurriedly undressed for bed.
The darkness and the blankets were comforting A faint crackle of burning wood broke the silence, and tiny streaks of firelight played upon the tent walls.
"It was for Mertie he held me in his arms," whispered Lucy.
And she had taken it for herself. His gratitude had betrayed her. Lucy realised now that if her arms had been free she would have lifted them round his neck. She had not known what she was doing. But now she knew she loved him. Edd Denmeade, backwoodsman, wild-bee hunter! She suffered no shame in that. Indeed there was a hidden voice deep within her ready to ring the truth. She had sought to save and she had lost herself.
Lucy lay wide-eyed long after Clara slept, nestled with an arm around her as in childish days. The night wind moaned through the forest, mournful, wild, lonely, as if voicing the inscrutable cry in Lucy's soul.
She had no regrets. She had burned her bridges behind her. The visit to Felix had clarified in mind all the perplexing doubts and dreads about the past. She and Clara had not had the training, the love, and the home life necessary to equip girls to deal with life happily. All her childhood she had suffered under the ban of position; all her girlhood had been poisoned by longings she could not attain, ignominies she could not avoid. She had grown to young womanhood terribly sensitive to the class distinctions so ruthlessly adhered to in all cultivated communities. She was old enough now to realise that true worth always was its own reward and seldom failed of ultimate appreciation. But city life, multitudes of people, the social codes had all palled upon her. Never again could she live under their influence. Her victory over environment had come too late. The iron had entered Lucy's soul.
It was good to find herself at last. Every hour since her return to the Denmeades had been fraught with stirrings and promptings and misgivings now wholly clear to her. The wild-bee hunter, in his brotherly love, had hugged away her vanity and blindness. Poor groping Edd! It was what he was that had made her love him. Not what she wanted to make him! Yet the cold sensation of shock round her heart seemed to warm at the consciousness of his growth. Before her coming to the wilderness home of the Denmeades had he, or any of the children, ever thought of God? Lucy realised that the higher aspect of her work was missionary. Always she had been marked for sacrifice. In this hour of humility she delved out her acceptance.
Her sister slept on, with that little hand clinging close even in slumber. Lucy listened to her gentle breathing and felt the soft undulations of her breast. The mystery of life was slowly dawning upon Lucy. She had no wish to change what was, and the prayer she mutely voiced eliminated herself.
Outside the night wind rose, from mournful sough to weird roar. A hound bayed off in the forest. A mouse or ground squirrel rustled in the brush under the floor of the tent. The flicker of the fire died out.
A frosty air blew in the window. These things were realities, strong in their importunity for peace and joy of living. It was only the ghosts of the past that haunted the black midnight hour.