WeirdSpace Digital Library - Culture without borders
Wanderer of the Wasteland
Zane Grey (1923) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
That afternoon when Adam returned to camp sore in body and spent in force, yet with strangely tranquil soul, there was an old Indian waiting for him. Genie had gone back long before Adam, and she sat on the sand evidently having difficult but enjoyable conversation with the visitor.
At the sight of his hard, craggy, bronze face, serried and seamed with the lines of years, it seemed that a bolt shot back in Adam's heart, opening a long-closed door.
"Charley Jim!" he ejaculated, in startled gladness.
"How, Eagle!" His deep voice, the familiar yet forgotten name, the lean brown hand, confirmed Adam's sight.
"Chief, the white man has not forgotten his Indian friend," replied Adam.
"Eagle no same boy like mescal stalk. Heap big! Many moon! Snows on the mountain!" said Charley Jim, with a gleam of a smile breaking the bronze face. His fingers touched the white hair over Adam's temples. Pathos and dignity marked the action.
"Boy no more, Charley Jim," returned Adam. "Eagle has his white feathers now!"
Genie burst into a trill of laughter.
"You funny old people! You make me feel old too," she protested, and she ran away.
Charley Jim's sombre eyes followed her, then returned to question Adam.
"She same girl here--long time--sick man's girl?" And he made signs to show the height of a child and the weakness of a man's lungs.
"Yes, chief. He her father. Dead. Mother dead, too," replied Adam, and he pointed to the two green graves across the stream.
"Ugh! No live good. No get well...Eagle, sick man have brother--him dead. Jim find 'um. Him dig gold--no water--dead...Jim find 'um heap bones."
It was thus Adam heard the story of the tragedy of Genie's uncle. Charley Jim told it more clearly, though just as briefly in his own tongue. Moons before he had found a prospector's pack and then a pile of rags and bones half buried in the sand over in a valley beyond the Cottonwood Mountains. He recognised the man's pack as belonging to the brother of the sick man Linwood, both of whom he knew. Adam could trust an Indian's memory. Genie's uncle had come to the not rare end of a wandering prospector's life. The old desert tragedy--thirst! All at once Adam's eyes seemed to burn blind with a red dim veil, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and through his body passed a cold shudder, and he had strange vision of himself staggering blindly in a circle, plunging madly for the false mirage. The haunting plague passed away. Adam turned to examine the few pack articles Charley Jim had brought for possible identification of the dead. One of these, a silver belt buckle of odd design, oxidised and tarnished, might possibly be remembered by Genie. Adam called her, placed it in her hands.
"Genie, did you ever see that?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied, with a start of recognition. "It was my father's. He gave it to my uncle."
Adam nodded to the Indian. "Chief, you were right."
"Oh, Wanny--it means he's found my uncle--dead!" exclaimed Genie, in awe.
"Yes, Genie," replied Adam, with a hand of sympathy upon her shoulder. "We know now. He'll never come back."
With the buckle in her hands the girl slowly walked toward the graves of her parents.
Charley Jim mounted his pony to ride away.
"Chief--tell me of Oella," said Adam.
The Indian gazed down upon Adam with sombre eyes. Then his lean, sinewy hand swept up with stately and eloquent gesture to be pressed over his heart.
"Oella dead," he replied, sonorously, and then he looked beyond Adam, out across the lonesome land, beyond the ranges, perhaps to the realm of his red gods. Adam read the Indian gesture. Oella had died of a broken heart.
He stood there at the edge of the oasis, stricken mute, as his old Indian friend turned to go back across the valley to the Coahuila encampment. A broken heart! That superb Indian maiden, so lithe and tall and strong, so tranquil, so sure--serene of soul as the steady light of her midnight eyes--dead of a broken heart! She had loved him--a man alien to her race--a wanderer and a stranger within her gates, and when he had gone away life became unendurable. Another mystery of the lonely, grey, melancholy wastelands! Adam quivered there in the grip of it all.
Later when he returned to Genie it was to say, simply, "My dear, as soon as I can find my burros we pack for the long trail."
"No!" she exclaimed, with lighting eyes.
"Yes. I shall take you out to find you a home."
"Honest Injun?" she blazed at him, springing erect.
"Genie, I would not tease about that. We know your uncle is dead. The time to go has come. We'll start at sunrise."
Forgotten were Genie's dreams of yesterday! A day at her time of life meant change, growth, oblivion for what had been. With a cry of wondering delight she flung herself upon Adam, leaped and climbed to the great height of his face, and there, like a bird, she pecked at him with cool, sweet lips, and clung to him in an ecstasy.
"Don't!...Still a child, Genie," he said, huskily, as he disengaged himself from her wild embrace. He meant that she was not still a child. It amazed him and hurt him to see her radiance at the thought of leaving the desert oasis which had been home for so long. Fickleness of youth! Yesterday she had wanted to live there forever; to-day the enchantments of new life, people, places, called alluringly. It was what Adam had expected. It was what he wanted for her. How clear had been his vision of the future! How truly, the moment he had fought down his selfish desires, had he read her innocent heart! His own swelled with gladness, numbing out the pang. For him, some little meed of praise! Not little was it to have conquered self--not little was it to have builded the happiness of an orphan!
Adam's burros had grown grey in their years of idle, contented life at the oasis. Like the road runners, they enjoyed the proximity of camp; and he found them shaggy and fat, half asleep while they grazed. He drove them back to the shade of the cottonwoods, where Genie, seeing this last and immutable proof of forthcoming departure, began to dance over the sand in wild glee.
"Genie, you'll do well to save some of your nimbleness," admonished Adam. "We'll have a load. You've got to climb the mountain and walk till I can buy another burro."
"Oh, Wanny, I'll fly!" she cried.
"Humph! I rather think you will fly the very first time a young fellow sees you--a big girl in those ragged boy's clothes."
Then Adam thrilled anew with the sweetness, the wonder of her. His cold heart warmed to the core. How he would live in the hope and happiness and love that surely must be awaiting this girl! His mention of a young fellow suddenly rendered Genie amazed, shy, bewildered.
"But--but--Wanny--you--you won't let any yo--young fellow see me this way!" she pleaded.
"How can I help it? You just wouldn't sew and make dresses. Now you're in for it. We'll meet a lot of lads...And, Genie, just the other day you didn't care how I saw you."
"Oh, but you're different! You're my dad, my brother, old Taquitch, and everything."
"Thank you. That makes me feel a little better." Suddenly she turned her dark eyes upon him, piercing now and dilating with thought.
"Wanny! Are you sorry to leave?"
"Yes," he replied, sadly.
"Then I'll stay, if you want me--ever--always," she said, very low. The golden flush paled on her cheek. She was a child, yet on the verge of womanhood.
"Genie, I'm sorry, but I'm glad, too. What I want most is to see you settled in a happy home, with a guardian, young friends about you--all you want."
She appeared sober now, and Adam gathered that she had thought more seriously than he had given her credit for.
"Wanny, you're good, and your goodness makes you see all that for me. But a guardian--a happy home--all I want!...I'll be poor. I'll have to work for a living. I won't have you!"
Then suddenly she seemed about to weep. Her beautiful eyes dimmed. But Adam startled her out of her weakness.
"Poor! Well, Genie Linwood, you've got a surprise in store for you."
Wherewith he led her to the door of the hut and tearing up the old wagon boards that had served as a floor, he dug in the sand underneath and dragged forth bag after bag, which he dropped at her feet with sodden, heavy thumps.
"Gold, Genie! Gold! Yours!...You'll be rich...All this was dug by your father. I don't know how much, but it's a fortune...Now what do you say?"
The rapture Adam had anticipated did not manifest itself. Genie seemed glad, certainly, but the significance of the gold did not really strike her.
"And you never told me!...Well, by the great horn spoon, I'm rich!...Wanny, will you be my guardian?"
"I will, till I can find you one," he replied, stoutly.
"Oh, never look for one--then I will have all I want!"
The last sunlight, the last starlight night, the last sunrise for Adam and Genie at the oasis, were beautiful memories of the past.
Adam, driving the burros along the dim old Indian trail, meditated on the inevitableness of the end of all things. For nearly three years he had seen that trail every few days and always he had speculated on the distant time when he would climb it with Genie. That hour had struck. Genie, with the light feet of an Indian, was behind him, now chattering like a magpie and then significantly silent. She had her bright face turned to the enchanting adventures of the calling future; she was turning her back upon the only home she could remember.
"Look Genie, how grey and dry the canyon is," said Adam hoping to divert her. "Just a little water in that white wash, and you know it never reaches the valley. It sinks in the sand...Now look way above you--high over the foothills. See those gleams of white--those streaks of black...Snow, Genie, and the pines and spruces!"
They camped at the edge of the spruces and pines. How sweet and cool and damp the air to desert dwellers! The wind sang through the trees with different tone. Adam, unpacking the burros, turned them loose, sure of their delight in the rich green grass. Genie, tired out with the long climb, fell upon one of the open packs to rest.
With his rifle Adam strode away among the scattered pines and clumps of spruce. The smell of this forest almost choked him, yet it seemed he could not smell and breathe enough. The dark-green, spear-pointed spruces and the brown-barked pines, so lofty and spreading, intoxicated his desert eyes. He looked and revelled, forgetting the gun in his hands, until his aimless steps frightened deer from right before him. Then, to shoot was habit, the result of which was regret. These deer were tame, not like the wary, telescope-eyed mountain sheep; and Adam, after his first exultant thrill--the old recurrent thrill from out the past--gazed down with sorrow at the sleek, beautiful deer he had slain. What dual character he had--what contrast of thrill and pang, of blood and brain, of desert and civilisation, of physical and spiritual, of nature and--But he did not know what!
He laughed later, and Genie laughed too, at how ravenous he was at supper, how delicious the venison tasted, how good it was to eat.
"Guess I'll give myself up as a bad job," he told her.
"Wanny, for me you'll always be Taquitch, giant of the desert and god of the clouds."
"Ah! You'll forget me in ten days after you meet him!" replied Adam, somewhat bitterly.
Genie could only stare her amaze.
"Forgive me, child. I don't mean that. I know you'll never forget me...But you've been my--my little girl so long that it hurts to think of your being some other man's." Then he was to see the marvel of Genie's first blush.
It was well that Adam had thought to pack extra blankets for Genie. She had never felt the nip of frost. And when night settled down black, with the wind rising, she needed to be warmly wrapped. Adam liked the keen air, and also the feel of the camp-fire heat upon his outstretched palms. Next morning the sky was overcast with broken, scudding clouds, and a shrill wind tossed the tips of the pines. Genie crawled out of her blankets to her first experience of winter. When she dipped her hands into the water she squealed and jerked them out. Then at Adam's bantering laughter she bravely dashed into the ordeal of bathing face and hands with that icy water.
Adam did not have any particular objective point in mind. He felt strangely content to let circumstances of travel or chance or his old wandering instinct guide him.
They travelled leisurely through the foothills on the western side of the Sierra Madres, finding easy trails and good camp sites, and meeting Indians by the way. Six days out from the desert they reached a wagon road, and that led down to a beautiful country of soft velvety-green hills and narrow, pleasant valleys where clumps of live oaks grew, and here and there nestled a ranch.
So they travelled on. The country grew less rugged and some of it appeared to belong to great ranches, once the homes of the Spanish grandees. Late one afternoon travel brought them within sight of Santa Ysabel. Adam turned off the main road, in search of a place to camp, and, passing between two beautiful hills, came upon a little valley, all green with live oaks and brown with tilled ground. He saw horses, cattle, and finally a farmhouse, low and picturesque, of the vine-covered adobe style peculiar to a country first inhabited by the Spanish.
Adam went toward the house, which was mostly concealed by vines and oaks, and presently happened upon a scene that seldom gladdened the eyes of a desert wanderer. On a green plot under the trees several children stopped their play to stare at Adam, and one ran to the open door. There were white pigeons flying about the roof, and grey rabbits in the grass, and ducks wading in the brook. Adam heard the cackle of hens and the bray of a burro. A column of blue smoke lazily rose upward from a grey, adobe fire-blackened oven.
Before Adam got to the door a woman appeared there, with the child at her skirts. She was middle-aged and stout, evidently a hard-working rancher's wife. She had a brown face, rather serious, but kind, Adam thought. And he looked keenly, because he was now getting into the civilised country that he expected would become Genie's home.
"Good evening, ma'am!" he said. "Will you let me camp out there by the oaks?"
"How d'ye do, stranger," she replied. "Yes, you're welcome. But you're only a mile or so from Santa Ysabel. There's a good inn."
"Time enough to go there to-morrow or next day," replied Adam. "You see, ma'am, I'm not alone. I've a young girl with me. We're from the desert. And I want her to have some--some decent clothes before I take her where there are people."
The woman laughed pleasantly.
"Your daughter?" she asked, with interest.
"No relation," replied Adam. "I--I was a friend of her mother, who died out on the desert."
"Stranger, you're welcome to my house overnight."
"Thank you, but I'd rather not trouble you. We'll be very comfortable. It's a nice place to camp."
"Come far?" asked the woman, whose honest blue eyes were taking stock of Adam.
"Yes, far for Genie. We've been about ten days coming over the mountains."
"Reckon you'd like some milk and eggs for supper?"
"Well, now, ma'am, if you only knew how I would like some," returned Adam, heartily. "And poor Genie, who has fared so long on desert grub, she'd surely appreciate your kindness."
"I'll fetch some over, or send it by my boy," she said.
Adam returned thoughtfully to the little grove where he had elected to camp. This woman's kindness, the glint of sympathy in her eyes, brought him up short with the certitude that they were the very virtues he was looking for in the person to whom he intended to trust Genie. It behoved him from now on to go keenly at the task of finding that person. It would not be easy. For the present he meant to hide any hint of Genie's small fortune, and had cautioned her to that end.
Genie appeared tired and glad to sit on the green grassy bank. "I'll help--in a little while," she said. "Isn't this a pretty place? Oh, the grass feels so cool and smells so sweet!...Wanny, who'd you see at the house?"
"Some youngsters and a nice woman," replied Adam. It was on his tongue to tell Genie about the milk and eggs for supper, but in the interest of a surprise he kept silent.
Sunset had passed when Adam got the packs spread, the fire built, and supper under way.
At length the supper appeared to be about ready, except for the milk and eggs that had been promised. Adam set the pot and pan aside at the edge of the fire, and went off in search of some wood that would be needed later. He packed a big log of dead oak back to camp, bending under its weight.
When he looked up he saw a handsome, stalwart lad, bareheaded and in shirt sleeves, standing just beyond the fire, holding out with brown muscular arms a big pan of milk. The milk was spilling over the edges. And on one of his fingers hung a small bucket full of eggs. He had to balance himself carefully while he stooped to deposit the bucket of eggs on the ground.
"Hey, Johnnie, where'll I put the milk?" he called cheerily.
Adam was astounded, and suddenly tickled to see Genie trying to hide behind one of the packs. She succeeded in hiding all but her head, which at the moment, wore an old cap that made her look more than ever like a boy.
"My name's not Johnnie," she flashed, with spirit.
The lad appeared nonplussed, probably more at the tone of voice than the speech. Then he laughed. Adam liked the sound of that laugh, its ring, its heartiness.
"Sammy, then...Come get this milk," called the boy. Genie maintained silence, but she glared over the top of the pack.
"Look here, bub," the lad went on, plaintively, "I can't stand this way all night. Mother wants the pan...Boy, are you deaf?...Say, bub, I won't eat you."
"How dare you call me bub!" cried Genie, hotly.
"Well, I'll be doggoned!" exclaimed the young fellow. "Listen to the kid!...I'll call you worse than bub in a minute. Hurry, bubbie!"
Genie made a quick movement that whirled her around with her cap flying off, and then she got to her knees. Thus with face disclosed, and blazing eyes and curls no boy ever had, she presented a vastly different aspect.
"I'm no boy! I--I'm a--a lady!" she declared, with angry, trembling voice of outraged dignity.
"What!" gasped the lad. Then, in his amaze and horror he dropped the pan of milk, that splashed all over, nearly drowning the fire.
"Hello! What's the trouble?" asked Adam, genially, appearing from the oaks.
"I--I--spilled the milk--mother sent," he replied, in confusion.
"That's too bad! No wonder, such a lot of milk!...What's your name?"
"It's Eugene--sir--Eugene Blair."
"Well, that's queer--Eugene Blair...My name's Wansfell, and I'm glad to meet you," said Adam, offering his hand. "Now let me make you acquainted with Miss Eugenie Linwood."
The only acknowledgment Genie gave to her first introduction was a slow sinking down behind the pack. Her expression delighted Adam. As for the young man--he appeared to be about twenty years old--he was overcome with embarrassment.
"Glad to--to know you Miss--Miss Linwood," he gulped. "Please ex-excuse me. Mother never said--there was a--a girl...And you looked so--I took you for a boy."
"That's all right, son," put in Adam, kindly, "Genie did look like a boy. So I've been telling her."
"Now--if you'll excuse me I'll run back after more milk," said the lad, hurriedly, and, grasping up the pan, he ran away.
"Well, Miss Know-it-all," said Adam, banteringly, "what did I tell you? Didn't I tell you we'd meet some nice young fellow?"
"He--he didn't see me--all of me," replied Genie, tragically.
"What? Why a fellow with eyes like his could see right through that pack," declared Adam.
"He called me bub!" suddenly exclaimed Genie, her tone changing from one of tragic woe to one of tragic resentment. "Bub!...The--the first boy I ever met in my whole life!"
"Why shouldn't he call you bub?" queried Adam. "There's no harm in that. And when he discovered his mistake he apologised like a little man."
"I hate him!" flashed Genie. "I'd starve to death before I'd eat his eggs and milk." With that she flounced off into the clump of oaks.
Adam was seeing Genie in a new light. It amused him greatly, yet he could not help but look ruefully after her, somewhat uncertain. Feminine reactions were unknown quantities. Genie reminded him wonderfully of girls he had known when he was seventeen.
Presently young Blair returned with more milk, and also considerably more self-possession. Not seeing Genie, he evidently took the hint and quickly left.
"Come over after supper," called Adam, after him. "All right," he replied, and then was gone.
Very shortly then Adam had supper prepared, to which he cheerfully invited Genie. She came reluctantly, with furtive eyes on the green beyond camp, and sat down to fold her feet under her, after the manner of an Indian. Adam, without any comment, served her supper, not omitting a generous quantity of fragrant fried eggs and a brimming cupful of creamy milk. Wherewith Genie utterly forgot, or magnificently disdained, any recollection of what she had said. She even asked for more. But she was vastly removed from the gay and lightsome Genie.
"What 'd you ask him back here for?" she demanded.
"I want to talk to him. Don't you?" replied Adam, innocently.
"Me!...When he called me bub?"
"Genie, be sensible. They're nice people. I think I'll camp here a day or so. We'll rest up, and that'll give me time to look around."
"Look around!...What'll become of me?" wailed Genie, miserably.
"You can watch camp. I dare say young Blair will forget your rudeness and be nice to you."
Then Genie glared with terrible eyes upon Adam, and she seemed between tears and rage.
"I--I never--never knew--you could be like this."
"Like what? Genie, I declare, I'm half ashamed of you! Nothing has happened. Only this lad mistook you for a boy. Anyone would think the world had come to an end. All because you woke up and found out you had on boy's clothes. Well, you've got to take your medicine now. You would wear them. You never minded me. You didn't care how I saw you!"
"I don't care how he saw me or sees me, either, so there," declared Genie, enigmatically.
"Oh! Well, what's wrong, then?" queried Adam, more curious than ever.
"I--he--it--it was what he called me," replied Genie, confusedly.
Adam gazed at her downcast face with speculative eyes, intuitively feeling that she had not told the whole truth. He had anticipated trouble with this spirited young wild creature from the desert, once they got into civilisation.
"Genie, I've been mostly in fun. Now I'm serious...I want you to be perfectly natural and nice with these Blairs, or anyone else we meet."
Manifestly she took that seriously enough. Without another word she dragged her blankets and canvas away from the firelight, and at the edge of the gathering gloom under the oaks she made her bed and crawled into it.
A little while after dark, young Blair presented himself at Adam's fire, and took a seat to which he was invited.
"I suppose you folks are ranching it?" asked Adam, by way of opening conversation.
"It's hardly a ranch, though we have hopes," replied Blair. "Mother and I run the farm. My father's not--he's away."
"Looks like good soil. Plenty of water and fine grass," observed Adam.
"Best farming country all around--these valleys," declared the lad, warming to enthusiasm. "Ranchers taking it all up. Only a few valleys left. There's one just below this--about a hundred acres--if I could only get that!...But no such luck for me."
"You can never tell," replied Adam, in his quiet way. "You say ranchers are coming in?"
"Yes. San Diego is growing fast. People are buying out the Mexicans and Indians up in these hills. In a few years any rancher with one of these valleys will be rich."
"How much land do you own?"
"My mother bought this little farm here--ten acres--and the valley, which was about ninety. But my father--we lost the valley. And we manage to live here." Adam's quick sympathy divined that something pertaining to the lad's father was bitter and unhappy. He questioned further about the farm, what they raised, where they marketed it, how many cattle, horses, chickens, ducks they had. In half 'an hour Adam knew the boy and liked him.
"You're pretty well educated for a farmer boy," remarked Adam.
"I went to school till I was sixteen. We're from Indiana--Vincennes. Father got the gold fever. We came West. Mother and I took to a surer way of living."
"You like ranching then?"
"Gee! but I'd love to be a real rancher! There's not only money in cattle and horses, on a big scale, but it's such a fine life. Outdoors all the time!...Oh, well, I do have the outdoors as much as anybody. But for mother and the kids--I'd like to do better by them."
"I saw the youngsters and I'd like to get acquainted. Tell me about them."
"Nothing much to tell. They're like little Indians. Tommy's three, Betty's four, Hal's five. He was a baby when we came West. The trip was too hard on him. He's been delicate. But he's slowly getting stronger."
"Well! You've a fine family. How are you going to educate them?"
"That's our problem. Mother and I must do our best until--maybe we can send them to school at San Diego."
"When your ship comes in?"
"Yes, I'm always hoping for that. But first I'd like my ship to start out, so it can come back loaded."
The lad laughed. He was imaginative, full of fire and pathos, yet clear headed and courageous, neither blind to the handicap under which he laboured nor morose at his fetters.
"Yes, if a man waits for his ship to come in--sometimes it never comes," said Adam.
"I suppose you'll be on your way to town early?" asked Blair, as he rose.
"Guess I'll not break camp to-morrow. Genie is tired. And I won't mind a little rest. Hope we'll see you again."
"Thank you. Good night."
When he was gone, Adam took to pacing along the edge of the oaks. In the light of the camp fire he saw the gleam of Genie's wide-open eyes. She had heard every word of Adam's conversation with young Blair. He felt a great sympathy for Genie. Like a child, she was face to face with new life, new sensations, poignant and bewildering. How might he best help her?
Next morning, when Adam returned from a look around, he discovered Genie up, puttering at the camp fire. She greeted him with undue cheerfulness. She was making a heroic effort to show that this situation was perfectly natural. She did pretty well, but Adam's keen eyes and sense gathered that Genie felt herself on the verge of great and tremendous events.
After breakfast Adam asked Genie to accompany him to the farmhouse. She went, but the free, lithe step wanted something of its old grace. Adam espied the children in the yard, and now he took cognizance of them. Tommy was a ragged, tousle-headed, chubby little rascal, ruddy cheeked and blue eyed. Betty resembled the lad Eugene, having his fine dark eyes and open countenance. Hal was the largest, a red-headed, freckle-faced imp if Adam ever saw one. They regarded the newcomers with considerable interest. Genie approached them and offered to swing Betty, who was sitting in a clumsy little hammock-like affair made of barrel staves. And Adam, seeing the children's mother at the door, went that way.
"Good morning, Mrs. Blair!" he said. "We've come over to chat a bit and see your youngsters."
She greeted them smilingly, and came out wiping her hands on her apron. "Goodness knows we're glad to have you. Gene has gone to work. Won't you sit on the bench here?"
Then she espied Genie. "For land's sake! That your girl in the boy's clothes? Gene told me what a dunce he'd been...Oh, she's pretty! What shiny hair!"
"That's Genie. I want you to meet her--and then, Mrs. Blair, perhaps you can give an old desert codger a little advice," said Adam.
He called Genie, and she came readily, though not without shyness. Despite her garb and its rents, Adam could not but feel proud of her. Mrs. Blair's kindliness quickly put the girl at ease. After a little talk, in which Genie's part augured well for the impression she was to make upon people, Adam bade her play with the children.
"No wonder Gene spilled the milk!" ejaculated Mrs. Blair.
"Why?" queried Adam.
"The girl's more than pretty. Never saw such hair. And her eyes! They're not the colour of hair and eyes I know."
"That's the desert's work, Mrs. Blair. On the desert nature makes colour, as well as life, more vivid, more intense."
"And this Genie--isn't it odd--her name is like my boy Gene's--she's no relation of yours?"
Briefly then Adam related Genie's story and the circumstances of his association with her.
"Laws-a-me! Poor child!...and now she has no people--no home--not a friend in the world but you?"
"Not one. It's pretty sad, Mrs. Blair.'
"Sad? It's worse than that...Strikes me, though, Mr. Wansfell, you must be family and friends and all to that girl...And let a mother tell you what a noble thing you've done--to give three years of your life to an orphan!"
"What I did was good for me. Better than anything I ever did before," replied Adam, earnestly. "I'd go on if it were possible. But Genie needs a home, young people, work, to learn and live her life. And I--I must go back to the desert."
"Ah! So that's it!" exclaimed the woman, nodding. "My husband spoke just like you do. He took to the desert--sold my farm to get money to work his gold claims. Always he had to go back to the desert...And now he'll never come home again."
"Yes, the desert claims many men. But I could and would sacrifice whatever the desert means to me, for Genie's sake, if it--if there was not a reason which makes that impossible."
"And now you're hunting a home for her?"
"She's well educated, you said?"
"Her mother was a school-teacher."
"Then she could teach children...Things work out strangely in life, don't they? My Betty might be left alone. Any girl may become an orphan."
"Now, Mrs. Blair, will you be so kind as to take Genie, or go with us into town, and help us get some clothes for her? A few simple dresses, and things she needs. I'd be helpless. And Genie knows so little. She ought to have a woman go with her."
"Indeed she shall have," declared Mrs. Blair. "I'll be only too glad to go. I need some things----" Then she struck her forehead with a plump hand. "I've a better idea. There's not much to be bought in the store at Santa Ysabel. But my neighbour up the valley--his name is Hunt--he has a granddaughter. They're city folks. They've been somebody once. This granddaughter is older than Genie--she's more of a woman's figure--and I heard her say only the other day that she brought a lot of outgrown dresses with her and didn't know what to do with them. All her clothes are fine--not like you buy out here...I'll take Genie over there right this minute!"
Mrs. Blair got up and began to untie her apron. Kindliness beamed upon her countenance and she seemed to have acquired a more thoughtful eye.
"You're good indeed," said Adam, gratefully. "I thank you. It will be so much nicer for Genie. She dreaded this matter of clothes. You can tell Miss Hunt I'd be glad to pay."
"Shucks! She wouldn't take your money. She's quality, I told you. And her name's not Hunt. That's her grandfather's name. I don't know what hers is--except he calls her Ruth."
Ruth! The sudden mention of that name seemed to Adam like a stab. What a queer, inexplicable sensation followed it!
"I'll be right out," declared Mrs. Blair, bustling into the house.
Adam called Genie to him and explained what was to happen. She grew radiant.
"Oh, Wanny, then I won't have to go into a town--to be laughed at--and I can get--get dressed like--like a lady--before he sees me again!" she exclaimed, breathlessly.
"He? Who's that, Genie?" inquired Adam, dryly, though he knew he could guess very well.
Genie might have lived on the desert, like a shy, lonely, wild creature, but she was eternally feminine enough to bite her tongue at the slip she had made, and to blush charmingly.
Then Mrs. Blair bustled out again, in sunbonnet and shawl, and with the alacrity of excitement, she led Genie away through the grove of oaks toward the other end of the valley.
Adam returned to camp, much relieved and pleased, yet finding suddenly that a grave, pondering mood had come upon him. In the still noon hour, when the sun was hot and the flies buzzed lazily, Adam would surely have succumbed to drowsiness had he not been vociferously hailed by some one. He sat up to hear one of the little Blairs call "Say, my maw wants you to eat with us."
Adam lumbered up and, trying to accommodate his giant steps to those of the urchin, finally reached the house. He heard Mrs. Blair in the kitchen. Then something swift and white rushed upon Adam from somewhere.
"Look!" it cried, in ecstatic tones, and pirouetted before his dazzled eyes.
Genie! In a white dress, white slippers--all white, even to the rapt, beautiful, strangely transformed face! It was a Genie he could not recognise. Yet, however her dark gold-glinting tresses were brushed and arranged, he would have known their rare, rich colour. And the eyes were Genie's--vivid like the heart of a magenta cactus flower unutterably and terribly expressive of happiness. But all else--the girl's height and form and movement--had acquired something subtly feminine. The essence of woman breathed from her.
"Oh, Wanny, I've a whole bundle of dresses!" she cried, rapturously. "And I put this on to please you."
"Pleased!...Dear girl, I'm--I'm full of joy for you--overcome for myself," exclaimed Adam. How, in that moment, he blessed the nameless spirit which had come to him the day Genie's fate and future hung in the balance! What a victory for him to remember--seen now in the light of Genie's lovely face!
Then Mrs. Blair bustled in. Easy, indeed, was it to see how the happiness of others affected her. "It's good we have dinner at noon," she said, as she put dish after dish upon the table, "else we'd had to do with little. Sit at table folks...Children, you must wait. We've company...Gene, come to dinner."
Adam found himself opposite Genie, who had suddenly seemed to lose her intensity, though not her glow. She had softened. The fierce joy had gone. Adam, watching her, received from her presence a thrill of expectancy, and realised that at least one of her sensations of the moment was being conveyed to him. Then Eugene entered. His face shone. He had wet his hair and brushed it and put on a coat. If something new and strange was happening to Genie, it had already happened to Eugene Blair.
"Folks, help yourselves and help each other," said Mrs. Blair.
Adam was ready for that. What a happy dinner! He ate with the relish of a desert man long used to sour dough and bacon, but he had keen ears for Mrs. Blair's chatter and eyes for Genie and Eugene. The mother, too, had a steady and thoughtful gaze for the young couple, and her mind was apparently upon weightier matters than her speech indicated.
"Well, folks," said Mrs. Blair, presently, "if you've all had enough, I'll call the children."
Eugene arose with alacrity. "Let's go outdoors," he said, stealing a shy look at Genie. She seemed to move in a trance. Adam went out, too, and found himself under the oaks. The very air was potent with the expectancy that Adam had sensed in the house. Something was about to happen. It puzzled him. Yet he liked the suspense. But he was nonplussed. The young couple did not present a riddle. All the same, the instant Adam felt convinced of this he looked at them and lost his conviction. They did present a riddle. He had not seen any other lad and girl together for many years, but somehow he wagered to himself that if he had seen a thousand couples, this one would stand out strikingly.
Then Mrs. Blair appeared. She had the look of a woman to whom decision had come. The hospitality, the kindly interest in Genie, the happiness in seeing others made happy, were in abeyance to a strong, serious emotion.
"Mr. Wansfell, if you'll consent I'll give Genie a home here with me," she said.
"Consent!...I--I gladly do that," he replied, with strong agitation. "You are a--a good woman, Mrs. Blair. I am overwhelmed with gladness for Genie--for her luck...It's so sudden--so unexpected."
"Some things happen that way," she replied. "They just come about. I took to Genie right off. So did my boy. I asked him--when we got back from our neighbour's--if it would not be a good idea to keep Genie. We are poor. It's one more to feed and clothe. But she can help. And she'll teach the children. That means a great deal to me and Gene...He would be glad, he said. So I thought it over--and I've decided. We've your consent...Now, Genie, will you stay and have a home with us?"
"Oh, I'll--I'll be so happy! I'll try so--so hard!" faltered Genie.
"Then--it's settled. My dear girl, we'll try to make you happy," declared Mrs. Blair, and, sitting beside Genie, she embraced her.
Adam's happiness was so acute it seemed pain. But was his feeling all happiness? What had Genie's quick look meant--the intense soul-searching flash she gave him when Mrs. Blair had said it was all settled? Genie's desert eyes saw separation from the man who had been saviour, father, brother. One flash of eyes--then she was again lost in this immense and heart-numbing idea of a home. Adam saw Eugene look at her as his mother enfolded her. And Adam's heart suddenly lifted to exaltation. Youth to youth! The wonderful, the calling, the divine! The lad's look was soulful, absorbing, full of strange, deep melancholy, full of dreamy, distant, unconscious enchantment. What had seemed mysterious was now as clear as the sunlight. By some happy chance of life the homeless Genie had been guided to a good woman and a noble lad. Goodness was the commonest quality in the hearts of women; and nobility, in youth at least, flowered in the breast of every man.
And while Eugene thus gazed at Genie she lifted her eyelids, so heavy with their dreams, and met his gaze. Suddenly she sweetly, strangely blushed and looked away, at Adam, through him to the beyond. She seemed full of a vague, dreaming sweetness of life; a faint smile played round her lips; her face lost its scarlet wave for pearly whiteness; and tears splashed down upon her listless hands.
The moment, with all it revealed to Adam, swiftly passed.
"Gene, take her and show her the horses," said Mrs. Blair. "She said she loved horses. Show her all around. We'll let the work go by to-day."
Mrs. Blair talked awhile with Adam, asking to know more about Genie, and confiding her own practical plans. Then she bustled off to look after the children, who had been forgotten.
Adam was left to the happiest and most grateful reflections of his life. Much good must come for him, for his lonely hours, when once more the wastelands claimed him; but that was the only thought he gave himself. Lounging back on the old rustic bench, he gave himself up to a growing delight of anticipation. These good Blairs did not dream that in offering Genie a home out of the kindliness of their hearts they had touched prosperity. They were poor. But Genie was rich. They meant to share with the orphan their little; they had no thought of anything Genie might share with them. Adam decided that he would buy the ninety acres, and the hundred in the valley beyond it; and horses, cattle, all the stock and implements for a fine ranch. Genie, innocent and bewildered child that she was, had utterly forgotten her bags of gold. On the next day, or soon, Adam meant to borrow Gene's horse and buggy and drive to Santa Ysabel and then to San Diego. He must find some good investment for the rest of Genie's gold, and a good bank, and some capable and reliable person to look after her affairs. How like a fairy story it would seem to Genie! What amazement and delight it would occasion Mrs. Blair! And as for the lad, no gold could enhance Genie's charm for him. Gene would love Genie! Adam had seen it written in their unconscious eyes. And Gene would have the working of the beautiful ranch his eager heart had longed for. For the first time Adam realised the worth of gold. Here it would be a golden harvest.
Dreaming, thus, Adam was only faintly aware of voices and footsteps that drew nearer; and suddenly he seemed transfixed and thrilling, his gaze on a face he knew, the face on the miniature he carried--the lovely face of Ruth Virey.