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Wanderer of the Wasteland

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

Chapter 14

   The long-deferred hour at last arrived in which Adam, on a ruddy-gold dawn in early April, drove his burros out into the lonesome desert toward the Amargosa. He did not look back. Tecopah would not soon forget Wansfell! That was his grim thought.
   The long, drab reaches of desert, the undulating bronze slopes waving up to the dark mountains, called to him in a language that he felt. If Adam Larey--or Wansfell, wanderer of the wasteland, as he had come to believe himself--had any home, it was out in the vast open, under the great white flare of sunlight and the star-studded canopy of night.
   This was a still morning in April, and the lurid sun, bursting above the black escarpment to the east, promised a rising temperature. Day by day the heat had been increasing, and now, at sunrise, the smoky heat veils were waving up from the desert floor. For Adam the most torrid weather had no terrors, and the warmth of a morning like this felt pleasant on his cheek. He had been confined to one place, without action, for so long that now, as he began to feel the slow sweat burn pleasantly on his body, there came a loosening of his muscles, a relaxing of tension, a marshalling, as it were, of his great forces of strength and endurance. The grey slopes beyond did not daunt him. His stride was that of a mountaineer, and his burros had to trot to keep ahead of him.
   And as Adam's body gradually responded to this readjustment to the desert and its hard demands, so his mind seemed to slough off, layer by layer, the morbid, fierce, and ruthless moods that like lichens had fastened upon it. The dry, sweet desert air seemed to permeate his brain and clear it of miasmas and shadows. He was free. He was alone. He was self-sufficient. The desert called. From far beyond that upheaved black and forbidding range, the Funeral Mountains, something strange, new, thrilling awaited his coming. The strife of the desert had awakened in him a craving to find the unattainable. He had surmounted all physical obstacles. He would conquer Death Valley; he would see it in all its ghastliness; he would absorb all its mysteries; he would defy to the limit of endurance its most fatal menaces to life.
   In the afternoon Adam rounded a corner of a league-long sloping mesa and gazed down into the valley of the Amargosa. It looked the bitterness, the poison, and the acid suggested by its Spanish name. The narrow meandering stream gleamed like silver in the sunlight. Mesquite and other brush spotted its gravelly slopes and sandy banks. Adam headed down into the valley. The sun was already westering, and soon, as he descended, it hung over the ragged peaks. He reached the creek. The burros drank, but not with relish. Adam gazed at the water of the Amargosa with interest. It was not palatable, yet it would save life.
   Adam set about the camp tasks long grown second nature with him, and which were always congenial and pleasant. He built a fire of dead mesquite. Then he scoured his oven with sand and greased it. He had a heavy pan which did duty as a gold-pan, a dish-pan, and a wash-pan. This he half-filled with flour, and, adding water, began to mix the two. He had gotten the dough to about the proper consistency when a rustling in the brush attracted his attention. He thought he caught a glimpse of a rabbit. Such opportunity for fresh meat was rare on the desert. Hastily wiping his hands, he caught up his gun and stole out into the aisle between the mesquites. As luck would have it, he did espy a young cottontail, and was fortunate enough to make a good shot. Returning to camp, he made sudden discovery of a catastrophe.
   Jinny had come out of her nap, if, indeed, she had not been shamming sleep, and she had her nose in the dish-pan. She was eating the dough.
   "Hyar, you camp robber!" yelled Adam, making for her. Jinny jerked up her head. The dough stuck to her nose and the pan stuck to the dough. She eluded Adam, for she was a quick and nimble burro. The pan fell off, but the ball of dough adhered to her mouth and nose, and as she ran around camp in a circle it was certain that she worked her jaws, eating dough as fast as she could. Manifestly for Jinny, here was opportunity of a lifetime. When finally Adam did catch her the dough was mostly eaten. He gave her a cuff and a kick which she accepted meekly, and, drooping her ears, she apparently fell asleep again.
   While Adam was at his simple meal the sun set, filling the valley with red haze and tipping with gold the peaks in the distance. The heat had gone with the sun. He walked to and fro in the lonely twilight. Jinny had given up hope of any more opportunity to pilfer, and had gone to grazing somewhere down the stream. There was absolutely no sound. An infinite silence enfolded the solitude. It was such solitude as only men of Adam's life could bear. To him it was both a blessing and a curse. But to-night he had an all-pervading and all-satisfying power. He seemed to be growing at one with the desert and its elements. After a while the twilight shadows shaded into the blackness of night, and the stars blazed. Adam had been conscious all day of the gradual relaxing of strain, and now in the lonely solitude there fell away from him the feelings and thoughts engendered at Tecopah.
   "Loneliness and silence and time!" he soliloquised, as he paced his sandy beat. "These will cure any trouble--any disease of mind--any agony of soul. Ah! I know. I never forget. But how different now to remember! That must be the secret of the power of the desert over men. It is the abode of solitude and silence. It is like the beginning of creation. It is like an eternity of time."
   By the slow healing of the long-raw wound in his heart Adam had come to think of time's relation to change. Memory was still as poignant as ever. But a change had begun in him--a change he divined only after long months of strife. Dismukes brought a regurgitation of the old pain; yet it was not quite the same. Eight years! How impossible to realise that, until confronted by physical proofs of the passing of time! Adam saw no clear and serene haven for his wandering spirit, but there seemed to be a nameless and divine promise in the future. His steps had not taken hold of hell. He had been driven down the naked shingles of the desert, through the storms of sand, under the infernal heat and bitter cold, like a man scourged naked, with screaming furies to whip the air at his ears. And, lo! time had begun to ease his burden, soften the pain, dim the past, change his soul.
   The moment was one of uplift. "I have my task," he cried, looking high to the stars. "Oh, stars--so serene and pitiless and inspiring--teach me to perform that task as you perform yours!"
   He would go on as he had begun, fighting the desert and its barrenness, its blasting heat, its evil influences, wandering over these wastelands that must be his home; and he would take the physical prowess of him to yet harder, fiercer tasks of toil, driving his spirit to an intenser, whiter flame. If the desert could develop invincible energy of strength in a man, he would earn it. If there were a divinity in man, infinitely beyond the beasts of the desert and the apes of the past, a something in mysterious affinity with that mighty being he sensed out there in the darkness, then he would learn it with a magnified and all-embracing consciousness.
   Adam went to his bed on the warm sands complete in two characters--a sensing, watching, listening man like the savage in harmony with the nature of the elements around him, and a feeling, absorbed, and meditating priest who had begun to divine the secrets beyond the dark-shadowed, starlit desert waste.
   Adam's first sight of Death Valley came at an early morning hour, as he turned a last curve in the yawning canyon he had descended.
   He stood in awe.
   "Oh, desolation!" he cried. And it seemed that, as the shock of the ghastliness beneath him passed, he remembered with flashing vividness all that had come to him in his long desert wanderings, which seemed now to cumulate its terrible silence, desolation, death, and decay in this forbidding valley.
   He remembered the origin of that name--Death Valley. In 1849, when the California gold frenzy had the world in its grip, seventy Mormon gold seekers had wandered into this red-walled, white-floored valley, where sixty-eight of them perished. The two that escaped gave this narrow sink so many hundred feet below sea level the name Death Valley! Many and many another emigrant and prospector and wanderer, by his death from horrible thirst and blasting heat and poison-dusted wind and destroying avalanche and blood-freezing cold, had added to the significance of that name and its dreadful fame. On one side the valley was shadowed by the ragged Funeral range; on the other by the red and gloomy Panamints. Furnace Creek, the hot stream that came down from the burning slopes; and Ash Meadow, the valley floor, grey and dead, like the bed of a Dead Sea; and the Devil's Chair, a huge seat worn by the elements in the red mountain wall, where the death king of the valley watched over his fiends--these names were vivid in Adam's mind along with others given by prospectors in uncouth or eloquent speech. "She's a hummer in July," said one; and another, "Salty lid of hell," and still another, "Valley of the white shadow of death."
   Death Valley was more than sixty miles long and from seven to twelve wide. No two prospectors had ever agreed on these dimensions, although all had been in perfect harmony as to its hellish qualities. Death was the guardian of the valley and the spectre that patrolled its beat. Mineral wealth was the irresistible allurement which dared men to defy its terrors. Gold! Dismukes himself had claimed there were ledges of gold quartz, and Dismukes was practical and accurate. Many fabulous stories of gold hung on the lips of wandering prospectors. The forbidding red rocks held jewels in their hard confines--garnets, opals, turquoises; there were cliffs of marble and walls of onyx. The valley floor was a white crust where for miles and miles there was nothing but salt and borax. Beds of soda, of gypsum, of nitre, of sulphur, abounded in the vaster fields of other minerals. It was a valley where nature had been prodigal of her treasures and terrible in her hold upon them. But few springs and streams flowed down into this scoriac sink, and of these all were heavily impregnated with minerals, all unpalatable, many sour and sulphuric, some hot, a few of them deadly poison. In the summer months the heat sometimes went to one hundred and forty-five degrees. The furnace winds of midnight were withering to flesh and blood. And sometimes the air carried invisible death in shape of poison gas or dust. In winter, sudden changes of temperature, whirling icy winds down upon a prospector who had gone to sleep, in warmth, would freeze him to death. Avalanches rolled down the ragged slopes and cloud-bursts carried destruction.
   Adam got his bearings, according to the map made by Dismukes, and set out from the mouth of the canyon to cross the valley. A long sandy slope dotted by dwarfed mesquites extended down to the hard, crinkly floor of the valley, from which the descent to a lower level was scarcely perceptible. When Adam's burros early in the day manifested uneasiness and weariness there was indeed rough going. The sand had given way to a hard crust of salt or borax, and little dimples and cones made it difficult to place a foot on a level. Some places the crust was fairly hard; in others it cracked and crunched under foot. The colour was a mixture of a dirty white and yellow. Far ahead Adam could see a dazzling white plain that resembled frost on a frozen river.
   Adam proceeded cautiously behind the burros. They did not like the travel, and, wary little beasts that they were, they stepped gingerly in places, as if trying their weight before trusting it upon the treacherous-looking crust. Adam felt the beat of the sun upon him, and the reflection of heat from the valley floor. He had been less oppressed upon hotter days than this. The sensations he began to have here were similar to those he had experienced in the Salton Sink where he had gone below sea level. The oppression seemed to be a blood pressure, as if the density of the air closed tighter and heavier around his body.
   At last the burros halted. Adam looked up from the careful task of placing his feet to see that he had reached a perfectly smooth bed of salt, glistening as if it were powdered ice. This was the margin of the place that from afar had looked like a frozen stream. Stepping down upon it, Adam found that it trembled and heaved with his weight, but upheld him. There was absolutely no sign to tell whether the next yard of surface would hold him or not. Still, from what he had gone over he believed he could trust the rest. As he turned to retrace his steps he saw his tracks just as plainly in the salt as if they had been imprinted in snow. He led Jinny out, and found that, though her hoofs sank a little, she could make it by stepping quickly. She understood as well as he, and when released went on of her own accord, anxious to get the serious job over. Adam had to drive the other burro. The substance grew softer as Adam progressed, and in the middle of that glistening stream it became wet and sticky. The burros laboured through this lowest level of the valley, which fortunately was narrow.
   On the other side of it extended a wide flat of salt and mud, very rough, upheaved as if it had boiled and baked to a crust, then cracked and sunk in places. Full of holes and pitfalls, and rising in hummocks gnarled and whorled like huge sea shells, it was an exceedingly toilsome and dangerous place to travel. The crust continually crumpled under the hoofs of the burros, and gave forth hollow sounds, as if a bottomless cavern ran under the valley floor. As Adam neared the other side he encountered thin streams of water that resembled acid. It was necessary to find narrow places in these and leap across. Beyond these ruts in the crust began an almost imperceptible rise of the valley floor, which in the course of a couple of miles led out of the broken, choppy sea of salt to a sand-and-gravel level. How relieved Adam was to reach that! He had been more concerned for the safety of the burros than for his own.
   It was now hot enough for Adam to imagine something of what a formidable place this valley would be in July or August. On all sides the mountains stood up dim and obscure and distant in a strange haze. Low down, the heat veils lifted in ripples, and any object at a distance seemed elusive. The last hour taxed Adam's endurance, though he could have gone perhaps as far again across the lavalike crust. When he reached the slope that led up to the base of the red mountains he halted the burros for a rest. The drink he took then was significant, for it was the fullest he had taken in years. He was hot and wet; his eyes smarted and his feet burned.
   When Adam had rested he consulted the map, and found that he must travel up the slope and to the west to gain the black buttress of rock that was his objective point. And considering how dim it looked through the haze, he concluded he had better be starting. One moment, however, he gave to a look at the Funeral range which he had come through, and which now loomed above the valley, a magnificent and awe-inspiring upheaval of the earth. The lower and nearer heights were marked on Dismukes' map as the Calico Mountains, and indeed their many colours justified the name. Beyond and above them towered the Funerals, spiked and peaked, ragged as the edge of a saw, piercing the blue sky, a gloomy and black-zigzagged and drab-belted range of desolation and grandeur. Adam's gaze slowly shifted westward to the gulf, a hazy void, a vast valley with streaked and ridged and canyoned slopes inclosing the abyss into which veils of rain seemed dropping. Broken clouds had appeared in the west, pierced by gold and red rays, somewhat dulled by the haze. Adam was amazed to realise the day was far spent. That scene up the valley of death was confounding. He gazed spellbound, and every second saw more and different aspects. How immense, unreal, weird!
   He got up from the stone seat that had almost burned through his clothes, and bent his steps westward, driving the wearying burros ahead of him. Three miles toward the black buttressed corner he wanted to gain before dark--his experienced desert eyes calculated the distance. But this was Death Valley. No traveller of the desert had ever correctly measured distance in this valley of shadows and hazes and illusions. He was making three miles an hour. Yet at the end of an hour he seemed just as far away as ever. Another hour was full of deceits and misjudgments. But at the end of the third he reached the black wall, and the line that had seemed a corner was the mouth of a canyon.
   Adam halted, as if at the gateway of the unknown. The sun was setting behind the mountains that now overhung him, massive, and mighty, a sheer, insurmountable world of rock which seemed to reach to the ruddy sky. Wonderful shadows were falling, purple and blue low down, rosy and gold above; and the canyon smoked with sunset haze.
   The map of Dismukes marked the canyon, and a spring of water just beyond its threshold, and also the shack where the strange man and woman lived under the long slant of weathered rock. Adam decided not to try to find the location that night, so he made dry camp.
   Darkness found him weary and oppressed. The day had seemed short, but the distance long. Tired and sleepy as he was, when he lay down in his bed he felt a striking dissimilarity of this place to any other he had known on the desert. How profound the silence! Had any sound ever pervaded it? All was gloom and shadow below, with black walls rising to star-fretted sky as blue as indigo. The valley seemed to be alive. It breathed, yet invisibly and silently. Indeed, there was a mighty being awake out there in the black void. Adam could not believe any man and woman lived up this canyon. Dismukes had dreamed. Had not Adam heard from many prospectors how no white woman could live in Death Valley? He had been there only a day, yet he felt that he could understand why it must be fatal to women. But it was not so because of heat and poison wind and cataclysms of nature, for women could endure those as well as men. But no woman could stand the alternations of terror and sublimity, of beauty and horror. That which was feminine in Adam shuddered at a solitude that seemed fitting to a burned-out world. He was the last of his race, at the end of its existence, the strongest finally brought to his doom, and to-morrow the earth would be sterile--thus Adam's weary thoughts passed into dreams.
   He awakened somewhat later than usual. Over the Funeral range the sun was rising, a coalescing globule of molten fire, enormous and red, surrounded by a sky-broad yellow flare. This sunrise seemed strangely closer to the earth and to him than any sunrise he had ever watched. The valley was clear, still, empty, a void that made all objects therein look small and far away. After breakfast Adam set out to find his burros.
   This high-walled opening did not appear to be a canyon, but a space made by two mountain slopes running down to a wash where water flowed at some seasons. Beyond the corners there opened what seemed to be a gradually widening and sloping field, grey with rocks and sand and stunted brush, through the centre of which straggled a line of gnarled mesquites, following the course of the wash. Adam found his burros here, Jinny asleep as usual, and Jack contentedly grazing.
   The cracking of a rock rolling down a rough slope thrilled Adam. He remembered what Dismukes had said about the perilous location of the shack where the man and woman lived under the shadow of a weathering mountain. Adam turned to look across the space in the direction whence the sound had come.
   There loomed a mighty mountain slope, absolutely destitute of plants, a grey, drab million-faceted ascent of rocks. Adam strode toward it, gradually getting higher and nearer through the rock-strewn field. It looked so close as to seem magnified. But it was a goodly distance. Presently he espied a rude shack. He halted. That could not be what he was searching for. Still, it must be. Adam had not expected the place to be so close to Death Valley. It was not a quarter of a mile distant from the valley and not a hundred feet higher than the lowest sink hole, which was to say that this crude, small structure lay in Death Valley and below sea level.
   Adam walked on, growing more curious and doubtful. Surely this hut had been built and abandoned by some prospector. Yet any prospector could have built a better abode than this. None but a fool or a knave would have selected that perilous location. The ground began to slope a little and become bare of brush, and was dotted here and there with huge boulders that looked as if they had rolled down there recently. No sign of smoke, no sign of life, no sign of labour--absence of these strengthened Adam's doubt of people living there. Suddenly he espied the deep track of a man's foot in the sand. Adam knelt to study it. "Made yesterday," he said.
   He rose with certainty. Dismukes had been accurate as to direction, though his distances had been faulty. Adam gazed beyond the shack, to right, and then left. He espied a patch of green mesquites and hummocks of grass. There was the water Dismukes had marked. Then Adam looked up.
   A broad belt of huge boulders lay beyond the shack, the edge of the talus, the beginning of the base of a mountainside, wearing down, weathering away, cracking into millions of pieces, every one of which had both smooth and sharp surfaces. This belt was steep and fan shaped, spreading at the bottom. As it sloped up it grew steeper, and the rocks grew smaller. It had the flow of a glacier. It was an avalanche, perhaps sliding inch by inch and foot by foot, all the time. The curved base of the fan extended for a couple of miles, in the distance growing rounded and symmetrical in its lines. It led up to a stupendous mountain abutment, dull red in colour, and so seamed and cracked and fissured that it had the crisscross appearance of a rock of net, or numberless stones of myriad shapes pieced together by some colossal hand, and now split and broken, ready to fall. Yet this rugged, bold, uneven surface of mountain wall shone in the sunlight. It looked as if it had been a solid mass of granite shattered by some cataclysm of nature. Above this perpendicular splintered ruin heaved up another slope of broken rocks, hanging there as if by magic, every one of the endless heaps of stones leaning ready to roll. Frost and heat had disintegrated this red mountain. What history of age was written there! How sinister that dull hue of red! No beauty shone here, though the sun gleamed on the millions of facets. The mountain of unstable rock towered dark and terrible and forbidding even in the broad light of day. What held that seamed and lined and sundered mass of rock together! For what was it waiting? Only time, and the law of the desert! Even as Adam gazed a weathered fragment loosened from the heights, rolled off the upper wall, pitched clear into the air, and cracked ringingly below, to bound and hurtle down the lower slope, clapping less and less until it ceased with a little hollow report. That was the story of the mountain. By atom and by mass it was in motion, working down to a level. Boulders twice as large as the shack, weighing thousands of tons, had rolled down and far out on the field. Any moment another might topple off the rampart and come hurtling down to find the shack in its path. Some day the whole slope of loose rock, standing almost on end, would slide down in avalanche.
   "Well," muttered Adam, darkly, "any man who made a woman live there was either crazy or meant her to have an awful death."
   Adam strode on to the shack. It might afford shelter from sun, but not from rain or dust. Packsaddles and boxes were stacked on one side; empty cans lay scattered everywhere; a pile of mesquite, recently cut, stood in front of the aperture that evidently was a door; and on the sand lay blackened stones and blackened utensils, near the remains of a still smouldering fire.
   "Hello, inside," called Adam, as he halted at the door. No sound answered. He stooped to look in, and saw bare sand floor, a rude, low table made of box boards, flat stones for seats, utensils and dishes, shelves littered with cans and bags. A flimsy partition of poles and canvas, with a door, separated this room from another and larger one. Adam saw a narrow bed of blankets raised on poles, an old valise on the sandy floor, woman's garments hanging on the brush walls. He called again, louder this time. He saw a flash of something grey through the torn canvas, then heard a low cry--a woman's voice. Adam raised his head and stepped back.
   "Elliot! You've come back!" came the voice, quick, low, and tremulous, betokening relief from dread.
   "No. It's a stranger," replied Adam.
   "Oh!" The hurried exclamation was followed by soft footfalls. A woman in grey appeared in the doorway--a woman whose proportions were noble, but frail. She had a white face and large, deep eyes, strained and sad. "Oh--who are you?"
   "Ma'am, my name's Wansfell. I'm a friend of Dismukes, the prospector who was here. I'm crossing Death Valley and I thought I'd call on you."
   "Dismukes? The little miner, huge, like a frog?" she queried, quickly, with dilating eyes. "I remember. He was kind, but--And you're his friend?"
   "Yes, at your service, ma'am."
   "Thank--God!" she cried, brokenly, and she leaned back against the door. "I'm in trouble. I've been alone--all--all night. My husband left yesterday. He took only a canteen. He said he'd be back for supper...But--he didn't come. Oh, something has happened to him."
   "Many things happen in the desert," said Adam. "I'll find your husband. I saw his tracks out here in the sand."
   "Oh, can you find him?"
   "Ma'am, I can track a rabbit to its burrow. Don't worry any more. I will track your husband and find him."
   The woman suddenly seemed to be struck with Adam's tone, or the appearance of him. It was as if she had not particularly noticed him at first. "Once he got lost--was gone two days. Another time he was overcome by heat--or something in the air."
   "You've been alone before?" queried Adam, quick to read the pain of the past in her voice.
   "Alone? Many--many lonely nights," she said. "He's left me--alone often--purposely--for me to torture my soul here in the blackness...And those rolling rocks--cracking in the dead of night--and--" Then the flash of her died out, as if she had realised she was revealing a shameful secret to a stranger.
   "Ma'am, is your husband just right in his mind?" asked Adam.
   She hesitated, giving Adam the impression that she wished to have him think her husband irrational, but could not truthfully say so.
   "Men do strange things in the desert," said Adam. "May I ask, ma'am, have you food and water?"
   "Yes. We've plenty. But Elliot makes me cook--and I never learned how. So we've fared poorly. But he eats little and I less!"
   "Will you tell me how he came to build your hut here where, sooner or later, it'll be crushed by rolling stones?"
   A tragic shadow darkened in the large, dark-blue eyes that Adam now realised were singularly beautiful.
   "I--He--This place was near the water. He cut the brush here--he didn't see--wouldn't believe the danger," she faltered. She was telling a lie, and did not do it well. The fine, sensitive, delicate lips, curved and soft, sad with pain, had not been fashioned for falsehood.
   "Perhaps I can make him see," replied Adam. "I'll go find him. Probably he's lost. The heat is not strong enough to be dangerous. And he's not been gone long. Don't worry. My camp is just below. I'll fetch him back to-day--or to-morrow at farthest."
   She murmured some incoherent thanks. Adam was again aware of her penetrating glance, staring, wondering even in her trouble. He strode away with bowed head, searching the sand for the man's tracks. Presently he struck them and saw that they led down toward the valley.
   To follow such a plain trail was child's play for Adam's desert sight, that had received its early training in the preservation of his life. He who had trailed lizards to their holes, and snakes to their rocks, to find them and eat or die--he was as keen as a wolf on the scent. This man's trail led straight down to the open valley, out along the western bulge of slope, to a dry water hole.
   From there the footprints led down to the parapet of a wide bench, under which the white crust began its level monotony toward the other side of the valley. Different here was it from the place miles below where Adam had crossed. It was lower--the bottom of the bowl. Adam found difficulty in breathing, and had sensations like intermittent rushes of blood to his head. The leaden air weighed down, and, though his keen scent could not detect any odour, he knew there was impurity of some kind on the slow wind. It reminded him that this was Death Valley. He considered a moment. If the man's tracks went on across the valley, Adam would return to camp for a canteen, then take up the trail again. But the tracks led off westward once more, straggling and aimless. Adam's stride made three of one of these steps. He did not care about the heat. That faint hint of gas, however, caused him concern. For miles he followed the straggling tracks, westward to a heave of valley slope that, according to the map of Dismukes, separated Death Valley from its mate adjoining--Lost Valley. On the left of this ridge the tracks wandered up the slope to the base of the mountain and followed it in wide scallops. The footmarks now showed the dragging of boots, and little by little they appeared fresher in the sand. This wanderer had not rested during the night.
   The tracks grew deeper, more dragging, wavering from side to side. Here the man had fallen. Adam saw the imprints of his hands and a smooth furrow where evidently he had dragged a canteen across the sand. Then came the tell-tale signs of where he had again fallen and had begun to crawl.
   "Looks like the old story," muttered Adam. "I'll just about find him dying or dead...Better so--for that woman who called him husband!...I wonder--I wonder."
   Adam's years of wandering had led him far from the haunts of men, along the lonely desert trails and roads where only a few solitary humans like himself dared the elements, or herded in sordid and hard camps; but, nevertheless, by some virtue growing out of his strife and adversity, he had come to sense something nameless, to feel the mighty beat of the heart of the desert, to hear a mourning music over the silent wastes--a still, sad music of humanity. It was there, even in the grey wastelands.
   He strode on with contracted eyes, peering through the hot sunlight. At last he espied a moving object. A huge land turtle toiling along! No, it was a man crawling on hands and knees.

Chapter 15 >