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Wanderer of the Wasteland

Country of origin: USA USA
Available texts by the same author here Dokument

Chapter 12

   The second meeting between Adam and the prospector Dismukes occurred at Tecopah, a mining camp in the Mohave Desert.
   The mining camp lay in a picturesque valley where green and grey growths marked the course of the gravel-lined creek, and sandy benches spread out to dark, rocky slopes, like lava, that heaved away in the bleak ranges.
   It was in March, the most colourful season in the Mohave, that Adam arrived at Tecopah to halt on a grassy bench at the outskirts of the camp. A little spring welled up here and trickled down to the creek. It was drinking water celebrated among desert men, who had been known to go out of their way to drink there. The tell-tale ears of Adam's burros advised him of the approach of some one, and he looked up from his camp tasks to find a familiar figure approaching him. He rubbed his eyes. Was that strange figure the same as the one so vividly limned on his memory? Squat, huge, grotesque, the man coming toward him was Dismukes! His motley, patched garb, his old slouch hat, his boots yellow with clay and alkali, appeared the same he had worn on the memorable day Adam's eyes had unclosed to see them.
   Dismukes drove his burros up to the edge of the bench, evidently having in mind the camp site Adam occupied. When he espied Adam he hesitated and, gruffly calling to the burros, he turned away.
   "Hello, Dismukes!" called Adam. "Come on. Plenty room to camp here."
   The prospector halted stolidly and slowly turned back. "You know me?" he asked, gruffly, as he came up.
   "Yes, I know you, Dismukes," replied Adam, offering his hand.
   "You've got the best of me," said Dismukes, shaking hands. He did not seem a day older, but perhaps there might have been a little more grey in the scant beard. His great ox eyes, rolling and dark, bent a strange, curious glance over Adam's lofty figure.
   "Look close. See if you can recognise a man you befriended once," returned Adam. The moment was fraught with keen pain and a melancholy assurance of the changes time had made. Strong emotion of gladness, too, was stirring deep in him. This was the man who had saved him and who had put into his mind the inspiration and passion to conquer the desert.
   Dismukes was perplexed, and a little ashamed. His piercing gaze was that of one who had befriended many men and could not remember.
   "Stranger, I give it up. I don't know you."
   "Wansfell," said Adam, his voice full.
   Dismukes stared. His expression changed, but it was not with recognition.
   "Wansfell! Wansfell!" he ejaculated. "I know that name... Hell, yes! I've heard of you all over the Mohave! I'm sure glad to meet you. But, I never met you before."
   The poignancy of that meeting for Adam reached a climax in the absolute failure of Dismukes to recognise him. Last and certain proof of change! The desert years had transformed Adam Larey, the youth, into the man Wansfell. For the first moment in all that time did Adam feel an absolute sense of safety. He would never be recognised, never be apprehended for his crime. He seemed born again.
   "Dismukes, how near are you to getting all your five hundred thousand?" queried Adam, with a smile. There seemed to be a sad pleasure in thus baffling the old prospector.
   "By Gad! how'd you know about that?" exclaimed Dismukes.
   "You told me."
   "Say, Wansfell! Am I drunk, or are you a mind reader?" demanded the prospector, bewildered. "Comin' along here I was thinkin' about that five hundred thousand. But I never told any one--except a boy once--an' he's dead."
   "How about your white-faced burro Jinny--the one that used to steal things out of your pack?" asked Adam, slowly.
   "Jinny Jinny!" ejaculated Dismukes, with a start. His great ox eyes dilated and something of shock ran through his huge frame. "That burro I never forgot. I gave her away to a boy who starved on the desert. She came back to me. Tracked me to Yuma. An' you--you--how'd you know Jinny Man, who are you?"
   "Dismukes, I was the boy you saved--down under the Chocolates--ninety miles from Yuma. Remember it was Jinny saw me wandering in a circle, mad with thirst. You saved me--gave me Jinny and a pack--told me how to learn the desert--sent me to the Indians...Dismukes, I was that boy. I am now--Wansfell."
   The prospector seemed to expand with the increased strain of his gaze into Adam's eyes, until the instant of recognition.
   "By God! I know you now!" he boomed, and locked his horny hands on Adam in a gladness that was beyond the moment and had to do, perhaps, with a far-past faith in things. "I thought you died on the desert. Jinny's comin' back seemed proof of that...But you lived! You--that boy, tall as a mescal plant--with eyes of agony. I never forgot. An' now you're Wansfell!"
   "Yes, my friend. Life is strange on the desert," replied Adam. "And now unpack your burros. Make camp with me here. We'll eat and talk together."
   A sunset, rare on the Mohave, glowed over the simple camp tasks of these men who in their wanderings had met again. Clouds hung along the mountain tops, coloured into deeper glory as the sun sank. The dark purples had an edge of silver, and the fleecy whites turned to pink and rose, while golden rays shot up from behind the red-hazed peaks. Over the valley fell a beautiful and transparent light, blending and deepening until a shadow as blue as the sea lay on Tecopah.
   While the men ate their frugal repast they talked, each gradually growing used to a situation that broke the desert habit of silence. There was an unconscious deference of each man toward the other--Wansfell seeing in Dismukes the saviour of his life and a teacher who had inspired him to scale the heights of human toil and strife; Dismukes finding in Wansfell a development of his idea, the divine spirit of man rising above the great primal beasts of the desert, self-preservation and ferocity.
   "Wansfell, have you kept track of time?" asked Dismukes, reflectively, as he got out a black, stumpy pipe that Adam remembered.
   "No. Days and weeks glide into years--that's all I can keep track of," replied Adam.
   "I never could, either. What is time on the desert? Nothin'. Well, it flies, that's sure. An' it must be years since I met you first down there in the Colorado. Let's see. Three times I went to Yuma--once to Riverside--an' twice to San Diego. Six trips inside. That's all I've made to bank my money since I met you. Six years. But, say, I missed a year or so."
   "Dismukes, I've seen the snows white on the peaks eight times. Eight years, my friend, since Jinny cocked her ears that day and saved me. How little a thing life is in the desert!"
   "Eight years!" echoed Dismukes, and wagged his huge shaggy head. "It can't be...Well, well, time slips away. Wansfell, you're a young man, though I see grey over your temples. And you can't have any more fear because of that--that crime you confessed to me. Lord! man, no one would ever know you as that boy!"
   "No fear that way any more. But fear of myself, Dismukes. If I went back to the haunts of men I would forget."
   "Ah yes, yes!" sighed Dismukes. "I understand. I wonder how it'll be with me when my hour comes to leave the desert. I wonder."
   "Will that be long?"
   "You can never tell. I might strike it rich to-morrow. Always I dream I'm goin' to. It's the dream that keeps a prospector nailed to the lonely wastes."
   Indeed, this strange man was a dreamer of dreams. Adam understood him now, all except that obsession for just so much gold. It seemed the only flaw in a great character. But the fidelity to that purpose was great, as it was inexplicable.
   "Dismukes, you had a third of your stake when we met years ago. How much now?"
   "More than half, Wansfell, safe in banks an' some hid away," came the answer, rolling and strong. What understanding of endless effort abided in that voice!
   "A quarter of a million! My friend, it is enough. Take it and go--fulfil your cherished dream. Go before it's too late."
   "I've thought of that. Many times when I was sick an' worn out with the damned heat an' loneliness I've tempted myself with what you said. But no. I'll never do that. It's the same to me now as if I had no money at all."
   "Take care, Dismukes," warned Adam. "It's the gaining of gold--not what it might bring--that drives you."
   "Ah! Quien sabe, as the Mexicans say?...Wansfell, have you learned the curse--or it may be the blessing--of the desert--what makes us wanderers of the wastelands?"
   "No. I have not. Sometimes I feel it's close to me, like the feeling of a spirit out there on the lonely desert at night. But it's a great thing, Dismukes. And it is linked to the very beginnings of us. Some day I'll know."
   Dismukes smoked in silence, thoughtful and sad. The man's forceful assurance and doggedness seemed the same, yet Adam sensed a subtle difference in him, beyond power to define. The last gold faded from the bold domes of the mountains, the clouds turned grey, the twilight came on as a stealthy host. And from across the creek came discordant sounds of Tecopah awakening to the revelry of a gold diggings by night.
   "How'd you happen along here?" queried Dismukes, presently.
   "Tecopah was just a water hole for me," replied Adam.
   "Me, too. An' I'm sure sayin' that I like to fill my canteens here. Last year I camped here, an' when I went on I kept one of my canteens so long the water spoiled. Found some gold trace up in Kingston range, but my supplies ran low an' I had to give up. My plan now is to go in there an' then on to the Funeral Mountains. They're full of mineral. But a dry, hard, poison country for a prospector. Do you know that country?"
   "I've been on this side of the range."
   "Bad enough, but the other side of the Funerals is Death Valley. That gash in summer is a blastin', roarin' hell. I've crossed it every month in the year. None but madmen ever tackle Death Valley in July, in the middle of the day. I've seen the mercury go to one hundred and forty degrees. I've seen it one hundred and twenty five at midnight, an', friend, when them furnace winds blow down the valley at night sleep or rest is impossible You just gasp for life. But strange to say, Wansfell, the fascination of the desert is stronger in Death Valley than at any other place."
   "Yes, I can appreciate that," replied Adam, thoughtfully. "It must be the sublimity of death and desolation--the terrible loneliness and awfulness of the naked earth. I am going there."
   "So I reckoned. An' see here, Wansfell, I'll get out my pencil an' draw you a little map of the valley, showin' my trails an' water holes. I know that country better than any other white man. It's a mineral country. The lower slope of the Funerals is all clay, borax, soda, alkali, salt, nitre, an' when the weather's hot an' that stuff blows on the hot winds, my God! it's a horror! But you'll want to go through it all an' you'll go back again."
   "Where do you advise me to go in?"
   "Well, I'd follow the Amargosa. It's bad water, but better than none. Go across an' up into the Panamints, an' come back across again by Furnace Creek. I'll make you a little map. There's more bad water than good, an' some of it's arsenic. I found the skeletons of six men near an arsenic water hole. Reckon they'd come on this water when bad off for thirst an' didn't know enough to test it. An' they drank their fill an' died in their tracks. They had gold, too. But I never could find out anythin' about these men. No one ever heard of them an' I was the only man who knew of the tragedy. Well, well, it's common enough for me, though I never before run across so many dead men. Wansfell, I reckon you've found that common, too, in your wanderings--dried-up mummies, yellow as leather or bleached bones an' grinnin' skull, white in the sun?"
   "Yes, I've buried the remains of more than one poor devil," replied Adam.
   "Is it best to bury them? I let them lay as warnin' to other poor devils. No one but a crazy man would drink at a water hole where there was a skeleton. Well, to come hack to your goin' to Death Valley. I'd go in by the Amargosa. It's a windin' stream an' long, but safe. An' there's firewood an' a little grass. Now when you get across the valley you'll run into prospectors an' miners an' wanderers at the water holes. An' like as not you'll meet some of the claim jumpers an' robbers that live in the Panamints. From what I hear about you, Wansfell, I reckon a meetin' with them would be a bad hour for them, an' somethin' of good fortune to honest miners. Hey?"
   "Dismukes, I don't run from men of that stripe," replied Adam, grimly.
   "Ahuh! I reckon not," said Dismukes, just as grimly. "Well, last time I was over there--let's see, it was in September, hotter 'n hell, an' I run across two queer people up in a canyon I'd never prospected before. Didn't see any sign of any other prospectors ever bein' in there. Two queer people--a man an' a woman livin' in a shack they'd built right under the damnedest roughest slope of weathered rock you ever saw in your life. Why, it was a plain case of suicide, an' so I tried to show them! Every hour you could hear the crack of a rollin' boulder or the graty slip of an avalanche, gettin' uneasy an' wantin' to slide. But the woman was deathly afraid of her husband an' he was a skunk an' a wolf rolled into a man, if I ever saw one. I couldn't do anythin' for the poor woman, an' I couldn't learn any more than I'm tellin' you. That's not much. But, Wansfell, she wasn't a common sort. She'd been beautiful once. She had the saddest face I ever saw. I got two feelin's, one that she wasn't long for this earth, an' the other that the man hated her with a terrible hate. I meet with queer people an' queer situations as I wander over this desert, but here's the beat of all my experience. An', Wansfell, I'd like to have you go see that couple. I reckon they'll be there, if alive yet. He chose a hidden spot, an' he has Shoshone Indians pack his supplies in from the ranches way on the other side of the Panamints. A queer deal, horrible for that poor woman, an' I've been haunted by her face ever since. I'd like you to go there."
   "I'll go. But why do you say that, Dismukes?" asked Adam, curiously.
   "Well--you ought to know what your name means to desert men," replied Dismukes, constrainedly, and he looked down at the camp fire, to push forward a piece of half-burnt wood.
   "No, I never heard," said Adam. "I've lived 'most always alone. Of course I've had to go to freighting posts and camps. I've worked in gold diggin's. I've guided wagon trains across the Mohave. Naturally, I've been among men. But I never heard that my name meant anything."
   "Wansfell! I remember now that you called yourself Wansfell. I've heard that name. Some of your doings, Wansfell, have made camp-fire stories. See here, Wansfell, you won't take offence at me."
   "No offence, friend Dismukes," replied Adam, strangely affected. Here was news that forced him to think of himself as a man somehow related to and responsible to his kind. He had gone to and fro over the trails of the desert, and many adventures had befallen him. He had lived them, with the force the desert seemed to have taught him, and then had gone his way down the lonely trails, absorbed in his secret. The years seemed less than the blowing sand. He had been an unfortunate boy burdened with a crime; he was now a matured man, still young in years, but old with the silence and loneliness and strife of the desert, grey at the temples, with that old burden still haunting him. How good to learn that strange men spoke his name with wonder and respect! He had helped wanderers as Dismukes had helped him; he had meted out desert violence to evil men who crossed his trail; he had, doubtless, done many little unremembered deeds of kindness in a barren world where little deeds might be truly over-appreciated; but the name Wansfell meant nothing to him, the reputation hinted by Dismukes amazed him, strangely thrilled him; the implication of nobility filled him with sadness and remorse. What had he done with the talents given him?
   "Wansfell, you see--you're somethin' of the man I might have been," said Dismukes, hesitatingly.
   "Oh no, Dismukes," protested Adam. "You are a prospector, honest and industrious, and wealthy now, almost ready to enjoy the fruits of your long labours. Your life has a great object...But I--I am only a wanderer of the wasteland."
   "Aye, an' therein lies your greatness!" boomed the prospector, his ox eyes dilating and flaring. "I am a selfish pig--a digger in the dirt for gold. My passion has made me pass by men, an' women, too, who needed help. Riches--dreams! But you--you Wansfell--out there in the loneliness an' silence of the wastelands--you have found God!...I said you would. I've met other men who had."
   "No, no," replied Adam. "You're wrong. I don't think I've found God. Not yet!...I have no religion, no belief. I can't find any hope out there in the desert. Nature is pitiless, indifferent. The desert is but one of her playgrounds. Man has no right there. No. Dismukes, I have not found God."
   "You have, but you don't know it," responded Dismukes, with more composure, and he began to refill a neglected pipe. "Well, I didn't mean to fetch up such talk as that. You see, when I do fall in with a prospector once in a month of Sundays I never talk much. An' then it 'd be to ask him if he'd seen any float lately or panned any colour. But you're different. You make my mind work. An', Wansfell, sometimes I think my mind has been crowded with a million thoughts all cryin' to get free. That's the desert. A man's got to fight the desert with his intelligence or else become less than a man. An' I always did think a lot, if I didn't talk."
   "I'm that way, too," replied Adam. "But a man should talk when he gets the chance. I talk to my burros, and to myself, just to hear the sound of my voice."
   "Ah! Ah!" exclaimed Dismukes, with deep breath. He nodded his shaggy head. Adam's words had struck an answering chord in his heart.
   "You've tried for gold here?" queried Adam.
   "No. I was here first just after the strike, an' often since. Water's all that ever drew me. I'd starve before I'd dig for gold among a pack of beasts. I may be a desert wolf, but I'm a lone one."
   "They're coyotes and you're the grey wolf. I liken most every man I meet to some beast or creature of the desert."
   "Aye, you're right. The desert stamps a man. An', Wansfell, it's stamped you with the look of a desert eagle. Ha-ha! I ain't flatterin' to either of us, am I? Me a starved grey wolf, huntin' alone, mean an' hard an' fierce! An' you a long, lean-headed eagle, with that look of you like you were about to strike--gong!...Well, well, there's no understandin' the work of the desert. The way it develops the livin' creatures! They all have to live, an' livin' on the desert is a thousand times harder than anywhere else. They all have to be perfect machines for destruction. Each seems so swift that he gets away, yet each is also so fierce an' sure that he catches his prey. They live on one another, but the species doesn't die out. That's what stumps me about the desert. Take the human creatures. They grow fiercer than animals. Maybe that's because nature did not intend man to live on the desert. An' it is no place for man. Nature intended these classes of plants an' these species of birds an' beasts to live, fight, thrive, an' reproduce their kind on the desert. But men can't thrive nor reproduce their kind here."
   "How about the Indians who lived in the desert for hundreds of years?" asked Adam.
   "What's a handful of Indians? An' what's a few years out of the millions of years that the desert's been here, just as it is now? Nothin'--nothin' at all! Wansfell, there will be men come into the desert, down there below the Salton Sink, an' in other places where the soil is productive, an' they'll build dams an' storage places for water. Maybe a lot of fools will even turn the Colorado River over the desert. They'll make it green an' rich an', like the Bible says, blossom as a rose. An' these men will build ditches for water, an' reservoirs an' towns an' cities, an' cross the desert with railroads. An' they'll grow rich an' proud. They'll think they've conquered it. But, poor fools! they don't know the desert! Only a man who has lived with the desert much of his life can ever know. Time will pass an' men will grow old, an' their sons an' grandsons after them. A hundred an' a thousand years might pass with fruitfulness still in the control of man. But all that is only a few grains of time in all the endless sands of eternity. The desert's work will have been retarded for a little while. But the desert works ceaselessly an' with infinite patience. The sun burns, the frost cracks, the avalanche rolls, the rain weathers. Slowly the earth crust heaves up into mountains an' slowly the mountains wear down, atom by atom, to be the sands of the desert. An' the winds--how they blow for ever an' ever! What can avail against the desert winds? They blow the sand an' sift an' seep an' bury. Men will die an' the places that knew them will know them no more an' the desert will come back to its own. That is well, for it is what God intended."
   "God and nature, then, with you are one and the same?" queried Adam.
   "Yes. Twenty years sleepin' on the sand with the stars in my face has taught me that. Is it the same with you?"
   "No. I grant all that you contend for the desert and for nature. But I can't reconcile nature and God. Nature is cruel, inevitable, hopeless. But God must be immortality."
   "Wansfell, there's somethin' divine in some men, but not in all, nor in many. So how can that divinity be God? The immortality you speak of--that is only your life projected into another life."
   "You mean if I do not have a child I will not have immortality?"
   "But what of my soul?" demanded Adam, solemnly.
   Dismukes dropped his shaggy head. "I don't know. I don't know. I've gone so deep, but I can't go any deeper. That always stumps me. I've never found my soul! Maybe findin' my soul would be findin' God. I don't know. An' you, Wansfell--once I said you had the spirit an' mind to find God on the desert. Did you?"
   Adam shook his head. "I'm no farther than you, Dismukes, though I think differently about life and death...I've fought to live on this wasteland, but I've fought hardest to think. It seems that always nature strikes me with its terrible mace! I have endless hours to look at the desert and I see what you see--the strange ferocity of it all--the fierce purpose. No wonder you say the desert stamps a man!"
   "Aye! An' woman, too! Take this she-devil who runs a place here in Tecopah--Mohave Jo is the name she bears. Have you seen her?"
   "No, but I've heard of her. At Needles I met the wife of a miner, Clark, who'd been killed here at Tecopah."
   "Never heard of Clark. But I don't doubt the story. It's common enough--miners bein' killed an' robbed. There's a gang over in the Panamints who live on miners."
   "I'm curious to see Mohave Jo," said Adam.
   "Well, speakin' of this one-eyed harridan reminds me of a man I met last trip across the Salton flats, down on the Colorado. Met him at Walters--a post on the stage line. He had only one eye too. There was a terrible scar where his eye, the right one, had been. He was one of these Texans lookin' for a man. There seems to be possibilities of a railroad openin' up that part of the desert. An' this fellow quizzed me about water holes. Of course, if anyone gets hold of water in that country he'll strike it rich as gold, if the country ever opens up. It's likely to happen, too. Well, this man had an awful face. He'd been a sheriff in Texas, some one said, an' later at Ehrenberg. Hell on hanging men! Of course I never asked him how he lost his eye. But he told me--spoke of it more than once. The deformity had affected his mind. You meet men like that--sort of crazy on somethin'. He was always lookin' for the fellow who'd knocked out his eye. To kill him!"
   "Do you--recall his--name?" asked Adam, his voice halting with a thick sensation in his throat. The past seemed as yesterday.
   "Never was much on rememberin' names," responded Dismukes, scratching his shaggy head. "Let's see--why, yes, he called himself Collis--Collis--haw. That's it--Collishaw. Hard name to remember. But as a man he struck me easy to remember...Well, friend Wansfell, I've had enough talkin' to do me for a spell. I'm goin' to bed."
   While Adam sat beside the fire, motionless, pondering with slow, painful amaze over what he had just heard, Dismukes prepared for his night's rest. He unrolled a pack, spread a ragged old canvas, folded a blanket upon it, and arranged another blanket to pull up over him, together with the end of the canvas. For a pillow he utilised an old coat that lay on his pack. His sole concession to man's custom of undressing for bed was the removal of his old slouch hat. Then with slow, laboured movement he lay down to stretch his huge body and pull the coverlets over him. From his cavernous breast heaved a long, deep sigh. His big eyes, dark and staring, gazed up at the brightening stars, and then they closed.
   Adam felt tempted to pack and move on to a quiet and lonely place off in the desert, where he could think without annoyance. Keen and bitterly faithful as had been his memory, it had long ceased to revive thoughts of Collishaw, the relentless sheriff and ally of Guerd. How strange and poignant had been the shock of recollection! It had been the blow Adam had dealt--the savage fling of his gun in Collishaw's face--that had destroyed an eye and caused a hideous disfigurement. And the Texan, with that fatality characteristic of his kind, was ever on the look-out for the man who had ruined his eyesight. Perhaps that was only one reason for this thirst for revenge. Guerd! Had Collishaw not sworn to hang Adam? "You'll swing for this!" he had yelled in his cold, ringing voice of passion. And so Adam lived over again the old agony, new and strange in its bitter mockery, its vain hope of forgetfulness. Vast as the desert was, it seemed small now to Adam, for there wandered over it a relentless and bloodthirsty Texan, hunting to kill him. The past was not dead. The present and the future could not be wholly consecrated to atonement. A spectre, weird and grotesque as a yucca tree, loomed out there in the shadows of the desert night. Death stalked on Adam's trail. The hatred of men was beyond power to understand. Work, fame, use, health, love, home, life itself, could be sacrificed by some men just to kill a rival or an enemy. Adam remembered that Collishaw had hated him and loved Guerd. Moreover, Collishaw had that strange instinct to kill men--a passion which grew by what it fed on--a morbid mental twist that drove him to rid himself of the terrible haunting ghost of his last victim by killing a new one. Added to that was a certain leaning toward the notorious.
   "We'll meet some day," soliloquised Adam. "But he would never recognise me."
   The comfort of that fact did not long abide in Adam's troubled mind. He would recognise Collishaw. And that seemed to hold something fatalistic and inevitable. "When I meet Collishaw I'll tell him who I am--and I'll kill him!" That fierce whisper was the desert voice in Adam--the desert spirit. He could no more help that sudden bursting flash of fire than he could help breathing. Nature in the desert did not teach men to meet a threat with forgiveness, nor to wait until they were struck. Instinct had precedence over intelligence and humanity. In the eternal strife to keep alive on the desert a man who conquered must have assimilated something of the terrible nature of the stinging cholla cactus, and the hard, grasping tenacity of the mesquite roots, and the ferocity of the wild cat, and the cruelty of the hawk--something of the nature of all that survived. It was a law. It forced a man to mete out violence in advance of that meant for him.
   "To fight and to think were to be my blessings," soliloquised Adam, and he shook his head with a long-familiar doubt. Then he had to remember that no blessings of any kind whatsoever could be his. Stern and terrible duty to himself!
   So he rolled in his blankets and stretched his long body to the composure of rest. Sleep did not drop with soft swiftness upon his eyes, as it had upon those of Dismukes. He had walked far, but he was not tired. He never tired any more. There seemed to be no task of a single day that could weary his strength. And for long he lay awake, listening to the deep breathing of his companion, and the howl of the coyotes, and the sounds of Tecopah, so unnatural in the quiet of the desert. A sadness weighed heavily upon Adam. At first he was glad to have met Dismukes, but now he was sorry. A tranquillity, a veil seemed to have been rent. The years had not really changed the relation of his crime, nor materially the nature of his sin. But they had gradually, almost imperceptibly, softened his ceaseless and eternal remorse. By this meeting with Dismukes he found that time effaced shocks, blows, stains, just as it wore away the face of the desert rock. That, too, was a law; and in this Adam dived a blessing that he could not deny. Dismukes had unleashed a spectre out of the dim glow of the past. Eight years! So many, and yet they were as eight days! There were the bright stars, pitiless and cold, and the dark bold mountains that had seemed part of his strength. In the deep blue sky above and in the black shadow below Adam saw a white face, floating, fading, reappearing, mournful and accusing and appalling--a face partaking of the old boyish light and joy and of the godlike beauty of perfect manhood--the haunting face of his brother Guerd. It haunted Adam, and the brand of Cain burned into his brain. The old resurging pangs in his breast, the long sighs, the oppressed heart, the salt tears, the sleepless hours--these were Adam's again, as keen as in the first days of his awakening down on the Colorado Desert where from the peaks of the Chocolate Mountains he had gazed with piercing eyes far south to the purple peak--Picacho, the monument, towering above his brother's grave. "Some day I'll go back!" whispered Adam, as if answering to an imperative and mysterious call.
   The long night wore on with the heavens s ar-fired by its golden train, and the sounds at last yieldin' to the desert silence. Adam could see Dismukes, a wide, prone figure, with dark face upturned to the sky, a man seemingly as strange and strong as the wastelands he talked so much about, yet now helpless in sleep, unguarded, unconscious, wrapped in his deep dreams of the joy and life his gold was to bring him. Adam felt a yearning pity for this dreamer. Did he really love gold or was his passion only a dream? Whatever that was and whatever the man was, there rested upon his rugged, dark face a shadow of tragedy. Adam wondered what his own visage would reflect when he lay asleep, no more master of a mind that never rested? The look of an eagle? So Dismukes had said, and that was not the first time Adam had heard such comparison. He had seen desert eagles, dead and alive. He tried to recall how they looked, but the images were not convincing. The piercing eye, clear as the desert air, with the power of distance in the grey depths; the lean, long lines; the wild poise of head, bitter and ruthless and fierce; the look of loneliness--these characters surely could not be likened to his face. What a strange coincidence that Dismukes should hit upon the likeness of an eagle--the winged thunderbolt of the heights--the lonely bird Adam loved above all desert creatures! And so Adam wandered in mind until at last he fell asleep.

Chapter 13 >