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Wanderer of the Wasteland

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

Chapter 23

   Daylight showed to Adam the cottonwood oasis as he had it pictured in memory, except for the palm-thatched hut.
   He was hard at camp duties when Genie came out: The sun was rising, silver and ruddy and gold, and it shone upon her, played around her glossy head as she knelt on the grass beside the running water. While she bathed there, splashing diamond drops of water in the sunshine, she seemed all brightness and youth. But in the merciless light of day her face was too small, too thin, too pinched to have any comeliness. Her shining hair caught all the beauty of the morning. In one light it was auburn and in another a dark brown, and in any light it had glints and gleams of gold. It waved and curled rebelliously, a rich, thick, rippling mass falling to her shoulders. When, presently, she came over to Adam, to greet him and offer to help, then he had his first look at her eyes by day. Gazing into them, Adam hardly saw the small unattractive, starved face. Like her hair, her eyes shone dark brown, and the lighter gleams were amber. The expression was of a straight-forward soul, unconscious of unutterable sadness, gazing out at incomprehensible life, that should have been beautiful for her, but was not.
   "Good morning, Genie," said Adam, cheerily. "Of course you can help me. There's heaps of work. And when you help me with that I'll play with you."
   "Play!" she murmured, dreamily. She had never had a playmate.
   Thus began the business of the day for Adam. When breakfast was over and done with he set to work to improve that camp, and especially with an eye to the comfort of the invalid. Adam knew the wonderful curative qualities of desert air, if it was wholly trusted and lived in. On the shady side of the hut he erected a wide porch with palm-thatched roof that cut off the glare of the sky. With his own canvases, and others he found at the camp, he put up curtains that could be rolled up or let down as occasion required. Then he constructed two beds, one at each end of the porch, and instead of palm leaves he use thick layers of fragrant sage and greasewood. Mrs. Linwood, with the aid of Genie, managed to get out to her new quarters. Her pleasure at the change showed in her wan face. The porch was shady, cool, fragrant. She could look right out upon the clean, brown, beautiful streams where they met, and at the camp fire where Adam and Genie would be engaged, and at night she could see it blaze and glow, and burn down red. The low-branching cottonwoods were full of humming birds and singing birds, and always the innumerable bees. The clean white sand, the mesquites bursting into green, the nodding flowers in the grassy nooks under the great iron-rusted stones, the rugged, upheaved slope of mountain, and to the east an open vista between the trees where the desert stretched away grey and speckled and monotonous, down to the dim mountains over which the sun would rise; these could not but be pleasant and helpful. Love of life could not be separated from such things.
   "Mrs. Linwood, sleeping outdoors is the most wonderful experience," said Adam, earnestly. "You feel the night wind. The darkness folds around you. You look up through the leaves to the dark-blue sky and shining stars. You smell the dry sand and the fresh water and the flowers and the spicy desert plants. Every breath you draw is new, untainted. Living outdoors, by day and night, is the secret of my strength."
   "Alas! We always feared the chill night air," sighed Mrs. Linwood. "Life teaches so many lessons--too late."
   "It is never too late," returned Adam.
   Then he set himself to further tasks, and soon that day was ended. Other days like it passed swiftly, and each one brought more hope of prolonging Mrs. Linwood's life. Adam feared she could not live, yet he worked and hoped for a miracle. Mrs. Linwood improved in some mysterious way that seemed of spirit rather than of flesh. As day after day went by and Adam talked with her, an hour here, an hour there, she manifestly grew stronger. But was it not only in mind? The sadness of her changed. The unhappiness of her vanished. The tragic cast and pallor of her face remained the same, but the spirit that shone from her eyes and trembled in her voice was one of love, gratitude, hope. Adam came at length to understand that the improvement was only a result of the inception of faith she had in him. With terrible tenacity she had clung to life, even while starving herself to give food to her child; and now that succour had come, her spirit in its exaltation triumphed over her body. Happiness was more powerful than the ravages of disease. But if that condition, if that mastery of mind over body, had continued, it would have been superhuman. The day came at last in which Mrs. Linwood sank back into the natural and inevitable state where the fatality of life ordered the imminence of death.
   When she was convulsed with the spasms of coughing, which grew worse every day, Adam felt that if he could pray to the God she believed in, he would pray for her sufferings to be ended. He hated this mystery of disease, this cruelty of nature. It was one of the things that operated against his acceptance of her God. Why was life so cruel? Was life only nature? Nature was indeed cruel. But if life was conflict, if life was an endless progress toward unattainable perfection, toward greater heights of mind and soul, then was life God, and in eternal conflict with nature? How hopelessly and impotently he pondered these distressing questions! Pain he could endure himself, and he had divined that in enduring it he had enlarged his character. But to suffer as this poor woman was suffering--to be devoured by millions of infinitesimal and rapacious animals feasting on blood and tissue--how insupportably horrible! What man could endure that--what man of huge frame and physical might--of intense and pulsing life? Only a man in whom intellect was supreme, who could look upon life resignedly as not the ultimate end, who knew not the delights of sensation, who had no absorbing passion for the grey old desert or the heaving sea, or the windy heights and the long purple shadows, who never burned and beat with red blood running free--only a martyr living for the future, or a man steeped in religion, could endure this blight of consumption. When Adam considered life in nature, he could understand this disease. It was merely a matter of animals fighting to survive. Let the fittest win! That was how nature worked toward higher and stronger life. But when he tried to consider the God this stricken woman worshipped, Adam could not reconcile himself to her agony. Why? The eternal Why was flung at him. She was a good woman. She had lived a life of sacrifice. She had always been a Christian. Yet she was not spared this horrible torture. Why?
   What hurt Adam more than anything else was the terror in Genie's mute lips and the anguish in her speaking eyes.
   One day, during an hour when Mrs. Linwood rested somewhat easily, she called Adam to her. It happened to be while Genie was absent, listening to the bees or watching the flow of water.
   "Will you stay here--take care of Genie--until her uncle comes back?" queried the woman, with her low, panting breaths.
   "I promised you. But I think you should not want me to keep her here too long," replied Adam, earnestly. "Suppose he does not come back in a year or two?"
   "Ah! I hadn't thought of that. What, then, is your idea?"
   "Well, I'd wait here a good long time," said Adam, soberly. "Then if Genie's uncle didn't come, I'd find a home for her."
   "A home--for Genie!...Wansfell, have you considered? That would take money--to travel--to buy Genie--what she ought to--have."
   "Yes, I suppose so. That part need not worry you. I have money. I'll look out for Genie. I'll find a home for her."
   "You'd do--all that?" whispered the woman.
   "I promise you. Now, Mrs. Linwood, please don't distress yourself. It'll be all right."
   "It is all right. I'm not--in distress," she replied, with something tremulous and new in her voice. "Oh, thank God--my faith--never failed!"
   Adam was not sure what she meant by this, but as revolved it in his mind, hearing again the strange ring of joy which had been in her voice, he began to feel that somehow he represented a fulfilment and a reward to her.
   "Wansfell--listen," she whispered, with more force. "I--I should have told you...Genie is not poor. No!...She's rich!...Her father found gold--over in the mountains...He slaved at digging...That killed him. But he found gold. It's hidden inside the hut--under the floor--where I used to lie...Bags of gold! Wansfell, my child will be rich!"
   "Well!...Oh, but I'm glad!" exclaimed Adam.
   "Yes. It sustains me...But I've worried so...My husband expected me--to take Genie out of the desert...I've worried about that money. Genie's uncle--John Shaver is his name--he's a good man. He loved her. He used to drink--but I hope the desert cured him of that. I think--he'll be a father to Genie."
   "Does he know about the gold that will be Genie's?"
   "No. We never told him. My husband didn't trust John--in money matters...Wansfell, if you'll say you'll go with Genie--when her uncle comes--and invest the money--until she's of age--I will have no other prayer except for her happiness...I will die in peace."
   "I promise. I'll do my best," he declared.
   The next time she spoke to him was that evening at dusk. Frogs were trilling, and a belated mocking bird was singing low, full-throated melodies. Yet these beautiful sounds only accentuated the solemn desert stillness.
   "Wansfell--you remember--once we talked of God," she said, very low.
   "Yes, I remember," replied Adam.
   "Are you just where you were--then?"
   "About the same, I guess."
   "Are you sure you understand yourself?"
   "Sure? Oh no. I change every day."
   "Wansfell, what do you call the thing in you--the will to tarry here? The manhood that I trusted?...The forgetfulness of self?...What do you call this strength of yours that fulfilled my faith--that gave me to God utterly--that enables me to die happy--that will be the salvation of my child?"
   "Manhood? Strength?" echoed Adam, in troubled perplexity. "I'm just sorry for you--for the little girl."
   "Ah yes, sorry! Indeed you are! But you don't know yourself...Wansfell, there was a presence beside my bed--just a moment before I called you. Something neither light nor shadow in substance--something neither life nor death...It is gone now. But when I am dead it will come to you. I will come to you--like that...Somewhere out in the solitude and loneliness of your desert--at night when it is dark and still--and the heavens look down--there you will face your soul...You'll see the divine in'll realise that the individual dies, but the race lives...You'll have thundered at you from the silence, the vast, lonely land you love, from the stars and the infinite beyond--that your soul is immortal...That this Thing in you is God!"
   When the voice ceased, so vibrant and full at the close, so more than physical, Adam bowed his head, and plodded over the soft sand out to the open desert where mustering shadows inclosed him, and he toiled to and fro in the silence--a man bent under the Atlantean doubt and agony and mystery of the world.
   The next day Genie's mother died.
   Long before sunrise of a later day Adam climbed to the first bulge of the mountain wall. On lofty heights his mind worked more slowly--sometimes not at all. The eye of an eagle sufficed him. Down below on the level, during these last few days, while Genie sat mute, rigid, stricken, Adam had been distracted. The greatest problem of his desert experience confronted him. Always a greater problem--always a greater ordeal--that was his history of the years. Perhaps on the heights might come inspiration. The eastern sky was rosy. The desert glowed soft and grey and beautiful. Grey lanes wound immeasurably among bronze and green spots, like islands in a monotonous sea. The long range of the Bernardinos was veiled in the rare lilac haze of the dawn, and the opposite range speared the deep blue of sky with clear black-fringed and snowy peaks. Far down the vast valley, over the dim ridge of the Chocolates, there concentrated a bright rose and yellow and silver. This marvellous light intensified, while below the wondrous shadows deepened. Then the sun rose like liquid silver, bursting to flood the desert world.
   The sunrise solved Adam's problem. His kindness, his pity, his patience and unswerving interest, his argument and reason and entreaty, had all failed to stir Genie out of her mute misery. Nothing spiritual could save her. But Genie had another mother--nature--to whom Adam meant to appeal as a last hope.
   He descended the slope to the oasis. There, near a new-made grave that ran parallel with an old one, mossy and grey, sat Genie, clamped in her wretchedness.
   "Genie," he called, sharply, intending to startle her. He did startle her. "I'm getting sick. I don't have exercise enough. I used to walk miles every day. I must begin again."
   "Then go," she replied.
   "But I can't leave you alone here," he protested. "Some other bad men might come. I'm sorry. You must come with me."
   At least she was obedient. Heavily she rose, ready to accompany him, a thin shadow of a girl, hollow-eyed and wan, failing every hour. Adam offered his hand at the stream to help her across. But for that she would have fallen. She left her hand in his. And they set out upon the strangest walk Adam had ever undertaken. It was not long, and before it ended he had to drag her, and finally carry her. That evening she was so exhausted she could not repel the food he gave her, and afterward she soon fell asleep.
   Next day he took her out again, and thereafter every morning and every afternoon, relentless in his determination, though his cruelty wrung his heart. Gentle and kind as he was, he yet saw that she fell into the stream, that she pricked her bare feet on cactus, that she grew frightened on the steep slopes, that she walked farther and harder every day. Nature was as relentless as Adam. Soon Genie's insensibility to pain and hunger was as if it had never been. Whenever she pricked or bruised the poor little feet Adam always claimed it an accident; and whenever her starved little body cried out in hunger he fed her. Thus by action, and the forcing of her senses, which were involuntary, he turned her mind from her black despair. This took days and weeks. Many and many a time Adam's heart misgave him, but just as often something else in him remained implacable. He had seen the training of Indian children. He knew how the mother fox always threw from her litter the black cub that was repugnant to her. The poor little black offspring was an outcast. He was soon weaned, and kicked out of the nest to die or survive. But if he did survive the cruel, harsh bitterness of strife and heat and thirst and starvation--his contact with his environment--he would grow superior to all the carefully mothered and nourished cubs. Adam expected this singular law of nature, as regarded action and contact and suffering, to be Genie's salvation, provided it did not kill her; and if she had to die he considered it better for her to die of travail, of effort beyond her strength, than of a miserable pining away.
   One morning, as he finished his camp tasks, he missed her. Upon searching, he found her flat on the grassy bank of the stream, face downward, with her thin brown feet in the air. He wondered what she could be doing, and his heart sank, for she had often said it would be so easy and sweet to lie down and sleep in the water.
   "Genie, child, what are you doing?" he asked.
   "Look! the bees--the honey bees! They're washing themselves in the water. First I thought they were drinking. But no!...They're washing. It's so funny."
   When she looked up, Adam thrilled at sight of her eyes. If they had always been beautiful in shape and colour, what were they now, with youth returned, and a light of the birth of wonder and joy in life? Youth had won over tragedy. Nature hid deep at the heart of all creation. The moment also had a birth for Adam--an exquisite birth of the first really happy moment of his long desert years.
   "Let me see," he said, and he lowered his ponderous length and stretched it beside her on the grassy bank. "Genie, you're right about the bees being funny, but wrong about what they're doing. They are diluting their honey. Well, I'm not sure, but I think bees on the desert dilute their honey with water. Watch!...Maybe they drink at the same time. But you see--some of them have their heads turned away from the water, as if they meant to back down...Bees are hard to understand."
   "By the great horn spoon!" ejaculated Genie, and then she laughed.
   Adam echoed her laugh. He could have shouted or sung to the skies. Never before, indeed, had he heard Genie use such an expression, but the content of it was precious to him. It revealed hitherto unsuspected depths in her, as the interest in bees hinted of an undeveloped love of nature.
   "Genie, do you care about bees, birds, flowers--what they do--how they live and grow?"
   "Love them," she answered, simply.
   "You do! Ah, that's fine! So do I. Why, Genie, I've lived so long on the desert, so many years! What would I have done without love of everything that flies and crawls and grows?"
   "You're not old," she said.
   "It's good you think that. We'll be great pards now...Look, Genie! Look at that humming bird! There, he darts over the water. Well! What's he doing?"
   Adam's quick ear had caught the metallic hum of tiny, swift wings. Then he had seen a humming bird poised over the water. As he called Genie's attention it hummed away. Then, swift as a glancing ray, it returned. Adam could see the blur of its almost invisible wings. As it quivered there, golden throat shining like live fire, with bronze and green and amber tints so vivid in the sunlight, it surely was worthy reason for a worship of nature. Not only had it beauty, but it had singular action. It poised, then darted down, swift as light, to disturb the smooth water, either with piercing bill or flying wings. Time and again the tiny bird performed this antic. Was the diminutive-winged creature playing, or drinking, or performing gyrations for the edification of a female of his species, hidden somewhere in the overhanging foliage? Adam knew that some courting male birds cooed, paraded, strutted, fought before the females they hoped to make consorts. Why not a humming bird?
   "By your great horn spoon, Genie!" exclaimed Adam. "I wonder if that's the way he drinks."
   But all that Adam could be sure of was the beautiful opal body of the tiny bird, the marvellous poise as it hung suspended in air, the incredibly swift darts up and down, and the little widening, circling ripples on the water. No, there was more Adam could be sure of, and Genie's delight proved the truth of it--and that was how sure the harvest of thought, how sure the joy of life which was the reward for watching.
   One morning when Adam arose to greet the sunrise he looked through the gap between the trees, and low down along the desert floor he saw a burst of yellow. At first he imagined it to be a freak of sunlight or reflection, but he soon decided that it was a palo verde in blossom. Beautiful, vivid, yellow gold, a fresh hue of the desert spring. May had come. Adam had forgotten the flight of time. What bitter-sweet stinging memory had that flushing palo verde brought back to him! He had returned to the desert land he loved best, and which haunted him.
   Genie responded slowly to the Spartan training. She had been frail, at best, and when grief clamped her soul and body she had sunk to the verge. The effort she was driven to, and the exertion needful, wore her down until she appeared merely skin and bones. Then came the dividing line between waste and repair. She began to mend. Little by little her appetite improved until at last hunger seized upon her. From that time she grew like a weed. Thus the forced use of bone and muscle drove her blood as Adam had driven her, and the result was a natural functioning of physical life. Hard upon that change, and equally as natural, came the quickening of her mind. Healthy pulsing blood did not harbour morbid grief. Action was constructive; grief was destructive.
   Adam, giving himself wholly to this task of rehabilitation, added to his relentless developing of Genie's body a thoughtful and interesting appeal to her mind. At once he made two discoveries--first, that Genie would give herself absorbingly to any story whatsoever, and secondly, that his mind seemed to be a full treasure house from which to draw. He who had spoken with so few men and women on the desert now was inspired by a child.
   He told Genie the beautiful Indian legend of Taquitch as it had been told to him by Oella, the Coahuila maiden who had taught him her language.
   When he finished Genie cried out: "O, I know. Taquitch is up on the mountain yet! In summer he hurls the lightning and thunder. In winter he lets loose the storm winds. And always, by day and night, he rolls the rocks."
   "Yes, Genie, he's there," replied Adam.
   "Why did he steal the Indian maidens?" she asked, wonderingly.
   Genie evolved a question now and then that Adam found difficult to answer. She had the simplicity of an Indian, and the inevitableness, and a like ignorance of the so-called civilisation of the white people.
   "Well, I suppose Taquitch fell in love with the Indian maidens," replied Adam, slowly.
   "Fell in love. What's that?"
   "Didn't your mother ever tell you why she married your father?"
   "Why do you think she married him?"
   "I suppose they wanted to be together--to work--and go to places, like they came West when they were sick. To help each other."
   "Exactly. Well, Genie, they wanted to be together because they loved each other. They married because they fell in love with each other. Didn't you ever have Indians camp here, and learn from them?"
   "Oh, yes, different tribes have been here. But I didn't see any Indians falling in love. If a chief wanted a wife he took any maiden or squaw he wanted. Some chiefs had lots of wives. And if a brave wanted a wife he bought her."
   "Not much falling in love there," confessed Adam, with a laugh. "But, Genie, you mustn't think Indians can't love each other. For they can."
   "I believe I've seen birds falling in love," went on Genie, seriously. "I've watched them when they come to drink and wash. Quail and road runners, now--they often come in pairs, and they act funny. At least one of each pair acted funny. But it was the pretty one--the one with a topknot that did all the falling in love. Why?"
   "Well, Genie, the male, or the man-bird, so to speak, always has brighter colours and crests and the like, and he--he sorts of shines up to the other, the female, and shows off before her."
   "Why doesn't she do the same thing?" queried Genie. "That's not fair. It's all one-sided."
   "Child, how you talk! Of course love isn't one-sided," declared Adam, getting bewildered.
   "Yes, it is. She ought to show off before him. But I'll tell you what--after they began to build a nest I never saw any more falling in love. It's a shame. It ought to last always. I've heard mother say things to father I couldn't understand. But now I believe she meant that after he got her--married her--he wasn't like he was before."
   Adam had to laugh. The old discontent of life, the old mystery of the sexes, the old still, sad music of humanity spoken by the innocent and unknowing lips of this child. How feminine! The walls of the inclosing desert, like those of an immense cloister, might hide a woman all her days from the illuminating world, but they could, never change her nature.
   "Genie, I must be honest with you," replied Adam. "I've got to be parents, brother, sister, friend, everybody to you. And I'll fall short sometimes in spite of my intentions. But I'll be honest...And the fact is, it seems to be a sad truth that men and man-birds, and man-creatures generally, are all very much alike. If they want anything, they want it badly. And when they fall in love they do act funny. They will do anything. They show off, beg, bully, quarrel, are as nice and sweet as--as sugar; and they'll fight, too, until they get their particular wives. Then they become natural--like they were before. It's my idea, Genie, that all the wives of creation should demand always the same deportment which won their love. Don't you agree with me?"
   "I do, you bet. That's what I'll have...But will I ever be falling in love?"
   The eyes that looked into Adam's then were to him as the wonder of the world.
   "Of course you will. Some day, when you grow up."
   "With you?" she asked, in dreamy speculation.
   "Oh, Genie! not me. Why--I--I'm too old!" he ejaculated. "I'm old enough to be your daddy."
   "You're not old," she replied, with a finality that admitted of no question. "But if you were--and still like you are, what difference would it make?"
   "Like I am! Well, Genie, how's that?" he queried, curiously.
   "Oh, so big and strong! You can do so much with those hands. And your voice sort of--of quiets something inside me. When I lie down to sleep, knowing you're there under the cottonwood, I'm not afraid of the dark...And your eyes are just like an eagle's. Oh, you needn't laugh! I've seen eagles. An Indian here once had two. I used to love to watch them look. But then their eyes were never kind like yours...I think when I get big I'll go falling in love with you."
   "Well, little girl, that's a long way off," said Adam, divided between humour and pathos. "But, let's get back to natural history. A while ago you mentioned a bird called a road runner. That's not as well known a name among desert men as chaparral cock. You know out in the desert there are no roads. This name road runner comes from a habit--and it's a friendly habit--of the bird running along the road ahead of a man or wagon. Now the road runner is the most wonderful bird of the desert. That is saying a great deal. Genie, tell me all you know about him."
   "Oh, I know all about him," declared Genie, brightly. "There's one lives in the mesquite there. I see him every day, lots of times. Before you came he was very tame. I guess now he's afraid. But not so afraid as he was...Well, he's a long bird, with several very long feathers for a tail. It's a funny tail, for when he walks he bobs it up and down. His colour is speckled--grey and brown and white. I've seen dots of purple on him, too. He has a topknot that he can put up and lay down, as he has a mind to. When it's up it shows some gold colour, almost red underneath. And when it's up he's mad. He snaps his big bill like--like--oh, I don't know what like, but it makes you shiver. I've never seen him in the water, but I know he goes in, because he shakes out his feathers, picks himself, and sits in the sun. He can fly, only he doesn't fly much. But, oh, how he can run! Like a streak! I see him chase lizards across the sand. You know how a lizard can run! Well, no lizard ever gets away from a road runner. There's a race--a fierce little tussle in the sand--a snap! snap!--and then old killer road runner walks proudly back, carrying the lizard in his bill. If it wasn't for the way he kills and struts I could love him. For he was very tame. He used to come right up to me. But I never cared for him as I do for other birds."
   "Genie, you've watched a road runner, all right. I didn't imagine you knew so much. Yes, he's a killer, a murderer. But no worse than other desert birds. They all kill. They're all fierce. And if they weren't they'd die...Now I want to tell you the most wonderful thing a road runner does. He'll fight and kill and eat a rattlesnake!"
   "No! Honest Injun?" cried Genie.
   "Yes. I've watched many a battle between a road runner and a rattlesnake, and nearly all of those battles were won by the birds. But that is not the most wonderful thing a road runner does. I'll tell you. I've never seen this thing myself, but a friend of mine, an old prospector named Dismukes, swears it's true. He knows more about the desert than any man I ever met and he wouldn't tell a lie. Well, here's what it is. He says he saw a road runner come upon a sleeping rattlesnake. But he didn't pounce upon the snake. It happened to be that the snake slept on the sand near some bushes of cholla cactus. You know how the dead cones fall off and lie around. This wonderful bird dragged these loose pieces of cactus and laid them close together in a circle, all around the rattlesnake. Built a fence around him. Penned him in! Now I can vouch for how a rattlesnake hates cactus...Then the fierce bird flew up and pounced down upon the snake. Woke him up! The rattlesnake tried to slip away, but everywhere he turned was a cactus which stuck into him, and over him the darting, picking bird. So round and round he went, striking as best he could. But he was unable to hit the bird, and every pounce upon him drew the blood. You've heard the snap of that big long beak. Well, the rattlesnake grew desperate and began to bite himself. And what with his own bites and those of his enemy he was soon dead...And then the beautiful, graceful, speckled bird proceeded to tear and devour him."
   "I'll bet it's true!" ejaculated Genie. "A road runner could and would do just that."
   "Very likely. It's strange, and perhaps true. Indeed, the desert is the place for things impossible anywhere else."
   "Why do birds and beasts kill and eat each other?" asked Genie.
   "It is nature, Genie."
   "Nature could have done better. Why don't people eat each other? They do kill each other. And they eat animals. But isn't that all?"
   "Genie, some kinds of people--cannibals in the South Seas--and savages--do kill and eat men. It is horrible to believe. Dismukes told me that he came upon a tribe of Indians on the west coast of Sonora in Mexico. That's not more than four hundred miles from here. He went down there prospecting for gold. He thought these savages--the Seri Indians they're called--were descended from cannibals and sometimes ate man flesh themselves. No one knows but that they do it often. I've met prospectors and travellers who scouted the idea of the Seris being cannibals. But I've heard some bad stories about them. Dismukes absolutely believed that in a poor season for meat, if chance offered, they would kill and eat a white man. Prospectors have gone into that country never to return."
   "Ugh! I've near starved, but I'd never get that hungry. I'd die. Wouldn't you?"
   "Indeed I would, child."
   And so, during the leisure hours, that grew more and longer as the hot summer season advanced, Adam led Genie nearer to nature, always striving with his observations to teach the truth, however stern, and to instruct and stimulate her growing mind. All was not music of birds and perfume of flowers and serene summer content at the rosy dawns and the golden sunsets. The desert life was at work. How hard to reconcile the killing with the living! But when Adam espied an eagle swooping down from the mountain heights, its wings bowed, and its dark body shooting so wondrously, then he spoke of the freedom of the lonely king of birds, and the grace of his flight, and the noble spirit of his life.
   Likewise when Adam heard the honk of wild geese he made haste to have Genie see them winging wide and triangular flight across the blue sky, to the north. He told her how they lived all the winter in the warm south, and when spring came a wonderful instinct bade them rise and fly far northward, to the reedy banks of some lonely lake, and there gobble and honk and feed and raise their young.
   On another day, and this was in drowsy June when all the air seemed still, he was roused from his siesta by cries of delight from Genie. She knelt before him on the sand, and in one hand she held a beautiful horned toad, and the other hand she stretched out to Adam.
   "Look! Oh, look!" she cried, ecstatically, and her eyes then rivalled the jewelled eyes of the desert reptile. Some dark-red drops of bright liquid showed against the brown of Genie's hand. "There! It's blood. I picked him up as I had all the others, so many hundreds of times. Only this time I felt something warm and wet. I looked at my hand. There! He had squirted the drops of blood! And, oh, I was quick to look at his eyes! One was still wet, bloody. I know he squirted the drops of blood from his eyes!"
   Thus Adam had confirmed for him one of the mysteries of the desert. Dismukes had been the first to tell Adam about the strange habit of horned toads ejecting blood from their eyes. One other desert man, at least, had corroborated Dismukes. But Adam, who had seldom passed a horned toad without picking it up to gaze at the wondrous colouration, and to see it swell and puff, had never come upon the peculiar phenomenon. And horned toads on his trails had been many. To interest Genie, he built her a corral of flat stones in the sand, and he scoured the surrounding desert for horned toads. What a miscellaneous collection he gathered! They all had the same general scalloped outlines and tiny horns, but the colour and design seemed to partake of the physical characteristics of the spot where each was found. If they squatted in the sand and lay still, it was almost impossible to see them, so remarkable was their protective colouration. Adam turned the assortment over to Genie with instruction to feed them, and play with them, and tease them in the hope that one might sometime eject drops of blood from his eyes. When it actually happened, Genie's patience was rewarded.
   Adam's theory that the reward of the faithful desert watcher would always come was exemplified in more than one way. Genie had never seen or heard of a tarantula wasp. She had noticed big and little tarantulas, but of the fierce, winged, dragon-fly hawk of the desert--the tarantula wasp--she had no knowledge. Adam, therefore, had always kept a keen lookout for one.
   They were up in the canyon on a hot June day, resting in the shade of the rustling palms. A stream babbled and splashed over the stones, and that was the only sound to break the dreaming silence of the canyon. All at once Adam heard a low whirr like the hum of tiny wings. As he turned his head the sound became a buzz. Then he espied a huge tarantula wasp. Quickly he called to Genie, and they watched. It flew around and around about a foot from the ground, a fierce-looking, yet beautiful creature, with yellow body and blue gauzy wings. It was fully two inches and more long.
   "He sees a tarantula. Now watch!" whispered Adam.
   Suddenly the wasp darted down to the edge of a low bush, into some coarse grass that grew there. Instantly came a fierce whiz of wings, like the buzz of a captured bumblebee, only much louder and more vibrant. Adam saw the blades of grass tumble. A struggle to the death was going on there. Adam crawled over a few yards, drawing Genie with him; and they saw the finish of a terrific battle between the wasp and a big hairy tarantula.
   "There! It's over, and the tarantula is dead," said Adam. "Genie, I used to watch this kind of a desert fight, and not think much more about it. But one day I made a discovery. I had a camp over here, and I watched a tarantula wasp kill a tarantula. I didn't know it then, but this wasp was a female, ready to lay her eggs. Well, she rolled, the big spider around until she found a place that suited her. Then she dug a hole, rolled him into it, covered him over, and flew away. I wondered then why she did that. I went away from that camp, and after a while I came back. Then one day I remembered about the wasp burying the tarantula. And so, just for fun and curiosity, I found the grave--it was near the end of a stone--and I opened it up. What do you think I discovered?"
   "Tell me!" exclaimed Genie, breathlessly.
   "I found the tarantula almost eaten up by a lot of tiny wasps, as much like worms as wasps! Then I understood. That tarantula wasp had killed the tarantula, laid her eggs inside his body, tumbled him into his grave and covered him over. By and by those eggs hatched, and the little wasps ate the tarantula--lived and grew, and after a while came out full-fledged tarantula wasps like their mother."

Chapter 24 >