THE night was as a blank to Hare; the morning like a drifting of hazy clouds before his eyes. He felt himself moving; and when he awakened clearly to consciousness he lay upon a couch on the vine-covered porch of a cottage. He saw August Naab open a garden gate to admit Martin Cole. They met as friends; no trace of scorn marred August's greeting, and Martin was not the same man who had shown fear on the desert. His welcome was one of respectful regard for his superior.
"Elder, I heard you were safe in," he said, fervently. "We feared--I know not what. I was distressed till I got the news of your arrival. How's the young man?"
"He's very ill. But while there's life there's hope."
"Will the Bishop administer to him?"
"Gladly, if the young man's willing. Come, let's go in."
"Wait, August," said Cole. "Did you know your son Snap was in the village?"
"My son here!" August Naab betrayed anxiety. "I left him home with work. He shouldn't have come. Is--is he--"
"He's drinking and in an ugly mood. It seems he traded horses with Jeff Larsen, and got the worst of the deal. There's pretty sure to be a fight."
"He always hated Larsen."
"Small wonder. Larsen is mean; he's as bad as we've got and that's saying a good deal. Snap has done worse things than fight with Larsen. He's doing a worse thing now, August--he's too friendly with Dene."
"I've heard--I've heard it before. But, Martin, what can I do?"
"Do? God knows. What can any of us do? Times have changed, August. Dene is here in White Sage, free, welcome in many homes. Some of our neighbors, perhaps men we trust, are secret members of this rustler's band."
"You're right, Cole. There are Mormons who are cattle-thieves. To my eternal shame I confess it. Under cover of night they ride with Dene, and here in our midst they meet him in easy tolerance. Driven from Montana he comes here to corrupt our young men. God's mercy!"
"August, some of our young men need no one to corrupt them. Dene had no great task to win them. He rode in here with a few outlaws and now he has a strong band. We've got to face it. We haven't any law, but he can be killed. Some one must kill him. Yet bad as Dene is, he doesn't threaten our living as Holderness does. Dene steals a few cattle, kills a man here and there. Holderness reaches out and takes our springs. Because we've no law to stop him, he steals the blood of our life--water-- water--God's gift to the desert! Some one must kill Holderness, too!"
"Martin, this lust to kill is a fearful thing. Come in, you must pray with the Bishop."
"No, it's not prayer I need, Elder," replied Cole, stubbornly. "I'm still a good Mormon. What I want is the stock I've lost, and my fields green again."
August Naab had no answer for his friend. A very old man with snow-white hair and beard came out on the porch.
"Bishop, brother Martin is railing again," said Naab, as Cole bared his head.
"Martin, my son, unbosom thyself," rejoined the Bishop.
"Black doubt and no light," said Cole, despondently. "I'm of the younger generation of Mormons, and faith is harder for me. I see signs you can't see. I've had trials hard to bear. I was rich in cattle, sheep, and water. These Gentiles, this rancher Holderness and this outlaw Dene, have driven my cattle, killed my sheep, piped my water off my fields. I don't like the present. We are no longer in the old days. Our young men are drifting away, and the few who return come with ideas opposed to Mormonism. Our girls and boys are growing up influenced by the Gentiles among us. They intermarry, and that's a death-blow to our creed."
"Martin, cast out this poison from your heart. Return to your faith. The millennium will come. Christ will reign on earth again. The ten tribes of Israel will be restored. The Book of Mormon is the Word of God. The creed will live. We may suffer here and die, but our spirits will go marching on; and the City of Zion will be builded over our graves."
Cole held up his hands in a meekness that signified hope if not faith.
August Naab bent over Hare. "I would like to have the Bishop administer to you," he said.
"What's that?" asked Hare.
"A Mormon custom, 'the laying on of hands.' We know its efficacy in trouble and illness. A Bishop of the Mormon Church has the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of revelation, of healing. Let him administer to you. It entails no obligation. Accept it as a prayer."
"I'm willing." replied the young man.
Thereupon Naab spoke a few low words to some one through the open door. Voices ceased; soft footsteps sounded without; women crossed the threshold, followed by tall young men and rosy-checked girls and round-eyed children. A white-haired old woman came forward with solemn dignity. She carried a silver bowl which she held for the Bishop as he stood close by Hare's couch. The Bishop put his hands into the bowl, anointing them with fragrant oil; then he placed them on the young man's head, and offered up a brief prayer, beautiful in its simplicty and tremulous utterance.
The ceremony ended, the onlookers came forward with pleasant words on their lips, pleasant smiles on their faces. The children filed by his couch, bashful yet sympathetic; the women murmured, the young men grasped his hand. Mescal flitted by with downcast eye, with shy smile, but no word.
"Your fever is gone," said August Naab, with his hand on Hare's cheek.
"It comes and goes suddenly," replied Hare. "I feel better now, only I'm oppressed. I can't breathe freely. I want air, and I'm hungry."
"Mother Mary, the lad's hungry. Judith, Esther, where are your wits? Help your mother. Mescal, wait on him, see to his comfort."
Mescal brought a little table and a pillow, and the other girls soon followed with food and drink; then they hovered about, absorbed in caring for him.
"They said I fell among thieves," mused Hare, when he was once more alone. "I've fallen among saints as well." He felt that he could never repay this August Naab. "If only I might live!" he ejaculated. How restful was this cottage garden! The green sward was a balm to his eyes. Flowers new to him, though of familiar springtime hue, lifted fresh faces everywhere; fruit-trees, with branches intermingling, blended the white and pink of blossoms. There was the soft laughter of children in the garden. Strange birds darted among the trees. Their notes were new, but their song was the old delicious monotone--the joy of living and love of spring. A green-bowered irrigation ditch led by the porch and unseen water flowed gently, with gurgle and tinkle, with music in its hurry. Innumerable bees murmured amid the blossoms.
Hare fell asleep. Upon returning drowsily to consciousness he caught through half-open eyes the gleam of level shafts of gold sunlight low down in the trees; then he felt himself being carried into the house to be laid upon a bed. Some one gently unbuttoned his shirt at the neck, removed his shoes, and covered him with a blanket. Before he had fully awakened he was left alone, and quiet settled over the house. A languorous sense of ease and rest lulled him to sleep again. In another moment, it seemed to him, he was awake; bright daylight streamed through the window, and a morning breeze stirred the faded curtain.
The drag in his breathing which was always a forerunner of a coughing-spell warned him now; he put on coat and shoes and went outside, where his cough attacked him, had its sway, and left him.
"Good-morning," sang out August Naab's cheery voice. "Sixteen hours of sleep, my lad!"
"I did sleep, didn't I? No wonder I feel well this morning. A peculiarity of my illness is that one day I'm down, the next day up."
"With the goodness of God, my lad, we'll gradually increase the days up. Go in to breakfast. Afterward I want to talk to you. This'll be a busy day for me, shoeing the horses and packing supplies. I want to start for home to-morrow."
Hare pondered over Naab's words while he ate. The suggestion in them, implying a relation to his future, made him wonder if the good Mormon intended to take him to his desert home. He hoped so, and warmed anew to this friend. But he had no enthusiasm for himself; his future seemed hopeless.
Naab was waiting for him on the porch, and drew him away from the cottage down the path toward the gate
"I want you to go home with me."
"You're kind--I'm only a sort of beggar--I've no strength left to work my way. I'll go--though it's only to die."
"I haven't the gift of revelation--yet somehow I see that you won't die of this illness. You will come home with me. It's a beautiful place, my Navajo oasis. The Indians call it the Garden of Eschtah. If you can get well anywhere it'll be there."
"I'll go but I ought not. What can I do for you?
"No man can ever tell what he may do for another. The time may come-- well, John, is it settled?" He offered his huge broad hand.
"It's settled--I--" Hare faltered as he put his hand in Naab's. The Mormon's grip straightened his frame and braced him. Strength and simplicity flowed from the giant's toil-hardened palm. Hare swallowed his thanks along with his emotion, and for what he had intended to say he substituted: "No one ever called me John. I don't know the name. Call me Jack."
"Very well, Jack, and now let's see. You'll need some things from the store. Can you come with me? It's not far."
"Surely. And now what I need most is a razor to scrape the alkali and stubble off my face."
The wide street, bordered by cottages peeping out of green and white orchards, stretched in a straight line to the base of the ascent which led up to the Pink Cliffs. A green square enclosed a gray church, a school-house and public hall. Farther down the main thoroughfare were several weather-boarded whitewashed stores. Two dusty men were riding along, one on each side of the wildest, most vicious little horse Hare had ever seen. It reared and bucked and kicked, trying to escape from two lassoes. In front of the largest store were a number of mustangs all standing free, with bridles thrown over their heads and trailing on the ground. The loungers leaning against the railing and about the doors were lank brown men very like Naab's sons. Some wore sheepskin "chaps," some blue overalls; all wore boots and spurs, wide soft hats, and in their belts, far to the back, hung large Colt's revolvers.
"We'll buy what you need, just as if you expected to ride the ranges for me to-morrow," said Naab. "The first thing we ask a new man is, can he ride? Next, can he shoot?"
"I could ride before I got so weak. I've never handled a revolver, but I can shoot a rifle. Never shot at anything except targets, and it seemed to come natural for me to hit them."
"Good. We'll show you some targets--lions, bears, deer, cats, wolves. There's a fine forty-four Winchester here that my friend Abe has been trying to sell. It has a long barrel and weighs eight pounds. Our desert riders like the light carbines that go easy on a saddle. Most of the mustangs aren't weight-carriers. This rifle has a great range; I've shot it, and it's just the gun for you to use on wolves and coyotes. You'll need a Colt and a saddle, too."
"By-the-way," he went on, as they mounted the store steps, "here's the kind of money we use in this country." He handed Hare a slip of blue paper, a written check for a sum of money, signed, but without register of bank or name of firm. "We don't use real money," he added. "There's very little coin or currency in southern Utah. Most of the Gentiles lately come in have money, and some of us Mormons have a bag or two of gold, but scarcely any of it gets into circulation. We use these checks, which go from man to man sometimes for six months. The roundup of a check means sheep, cattle, horses, grain, merchandise or labor. Every man gets his real money's value without paying out an actual cent."
"Such a system at least means honest men," said Hare, laughing his surprise.
They went into a wide door to tread a maze of narrow aisles between boxes and barrels, stacks of canned vegetables, and piles of harness and dry goods; they entered an open space where several men leaned on a counter.
"Hello, Abe," said Naab; "seen anything of Snap?"
"Hello, August. Yes, Snap's inside. So's Holderness. Says he rode in off the range on purpose to see you." Abe designated an open doorway from which issued loud voices. Hare glanced into a long narrow room full of smoke and the fumes of rum. Through the haze he made out a crowd of men at a rude bar. Abe went to the door and called out: "Hey, Snap, your dad wants you. Holderness, here's August Naab."
A man staggered up the few steps leading to the store and swayed in. His long face had a hawkish cast, and it was gray, not with age, but with the sage-gray of the desert. His eyes were of the same hue, cold yet burning with little fiery flecks in their depths. He appeared short of stature because of a curvature of the spine, but straightened up he would have been tall. He wore a blue flannel shirt, and blue overalls; round his lean hips was a belt holding two Colt's revolvers, their heavy, dark butts projecting outward, and he had on high boots with long, cruel spurs.
"Howdy, father?" he said.
"I'm packing to-day," returned August Naab. "We ride out to-morrow. I need your help."
"All-l right. When I get my pinto from Larsen."
"Never mind Larsen. If he got the better of you let the matter drop."
"Jeff got my pinto for a mustang with three legs. If I hadn't been drunk I'd never have traded. So I'm looking for Jeff."
He bit out the last words with a peculiar snap of his long teeth, a circumstance which caused Hare instantly to associate the savage clicking with the name he had heard given this man. August Naab looked at him with gloomy eyes and stern shut mouth, an expression of righteous anger, helplessness and grief combined, the look of a man to whom obstacles had been nothing, at last confronted with crowning defeat. Hare realized that this son was Naab's first-born, best-loved, a thorn in his side, a black sheep.
"Say, father, is that the spy you found on the trail?" Snap's pale eyes gleamed on Hare and the little flames seemed to darken and leap.
"This is John Hare, the young man I found. But he's not a spy."
"You can't make any one believe that. He's down as a spy. Dene's spy! His name's gone over the ranges as a counter of unbranded stock. Dene has named him and Dene has marked him. Don't take him home, as you've taken so many sick and hunted men before. What's the good of it? You never made a Mormon of one of them yet. Don't take him--unless you want another grave for your cemetery. Ha! Ha!"
Hare recoiled with a shock. Snap Naab swayed to the door, and stepped down, all the time with his face over his shoulder, his baleful glance on Hare; then the blue haze swallowed him,
The several loungers went out; August engaged the storekeeper in conversation, introducing Hare and explaining their wants. They inspected the various needs of a range-rider, selecting, in the end, not the few suggested by Hare, but the many chosen by Naab. The last purchase was the rifle Naab had talked about. It was a beautiful weapon, finely polished and carved, entirely out of place among the plain coarse-sighted and coarse-stocked guns in the rack.
"Never had a chance to sell it," said Abe. "Too long and heavy for the riders. I'll let it go cheap, half price, and the cartridges also, two thousand."
"Taken," replied Naab, quickly, with a satisfaction which showed he liked a bargain.
"August, you must be going to shoot some?" queried Abe. "Something bigger than rabbits and coyotes. Its about time--even if you are an Elder. We Mormons must--" he broke off, continuing in a low tone: "Here's Holderness now."
Hare wheeled with the interest that had gathered with the reiteration of this man's name. A new-comer stooped to get in the door. He out-topped even Naab in height, and was a superb blond-bearded man, striding with the spring of a mountaineer.
"Good-day to you, Naab," he said. "Is this the young fellow you picked up?"
"Yes. Jack Hare," rejoined Naab.
"Well, Hare, I'm Holderness. You'll recall my name. You were sent to Lund by men interested in my ranges. I expected to see you in Lund, but couldn't get over."
Hare met the proffered hand with his own, and as he had recoiled from Snap Naab so now he received another shock, different indeed but impelling in its power, instinctive of some great portent. Hare was impressed by an indefinable subtlety, a nameless distrust, as colorless as the clear penetrating amber lightness of the eyes that bent upon him.
"Holderness, will you right the story about Hare?" inquired Naab.
"You mean about his being a spy? Well, Naab, the truth is that was his job. I advised against sending a man down here for that sort of work. It won't do. These Mormons will steal each other's cattle, and they've got to get rid of them; so they won't have a man taking account of stock, brands, and all that. If the Mormons would stand for it the rustlers wouldn't. I'll take Hare out to the ranch and give him work, if he wants. But he'd do best to leave Utah."
"Thank you, no," replied Hare, decidedly.
"He's going with me," said August Naab.
Holderness accepted this with an almost imperceptible nod, and he swept Hare with eyes that searched and probed for latent possibilities. It was the keen intelligence of a man who knew what development meant on the desert; not in any sense an interest in the young man at present. Then he turned his back.
Hare, feeling that Holderness wished to talk with Naab, walked to the counter, and began assorting his purchases, but he could not help hearing what was said.
"Lungs bad?" queried Holderness.
"One of them," replied Naab.
'He's all in. Better send him out of the country. He's got the name of Dene's spy and he'll never get another on this desert. Dene will kill him. This isn't good judgment, Naab, to take him with you. Even your friends don't like it, and it means trouble for you."
"We've settled it," said Naab, coldly.
"Well, remember, I've warned you. I've tried to be friendly with you, Naab, but you won't have it. Anyway, I've wanted to see you lately to find out how we stand."
"What do you mean?"
"How we stand on several things--to begin with, there Mescal."
"You asked me several times for Mescal, and I said no."
"But I never said I'd marry her. Now I want her, and I will marry her."
"No," rejoined Naab, adding brevity to his coldness.
"Why not?" demanded Holderness. "Oh, well, I can't take that as an insult. I know there's not enough money in Utah to get a girl away from a Mormon. . . . About the offer for the water-rights--how do we stand? I'll give you ten thousand dollars for the rights to Seeping Springs and Silver Cup."
"Ten thousand!" ejaculated Naab. "Holderness, I wouldn't take a hundred thousand. You might as well ask to buy my home, my stock, my range, twenty years of toil, for ten thousand dollars!"
"You refuse? All right. I think I've made you a fair proposition," said Holderness, in a smooth, quick tone. "The land is owned by the Government, and though your ranges are across the Arizona line they really figure as Utah land. My company's spending big money, and the Government won't let you have a monopoly. No one man can control the water-supply of a hundred miles of range. Times are changing. You want to see that. You ought to protect yourself before it's too late."
"Holderness, this is a desert. No men save Mormons could ever have made it habitable. The Government scarcely knows of its existence. It'll be fifty years before man can come in here to take our water."
"Why can't he? The water doesn't belong to any one. Why can't he?"
"Because of the unwritten law of the desert. No Mormon would refuse you or your horse a drink, or even a reasonable supply for your stock. But you can't come in here and take our water for your own use, to supplant us, to parch our stock. Why, even an Indian respects desert law!"
"Bah! I'm not a Mormon or an Indian. I'm a cattleman. It's plain business with me. Once more I make you the offer."
Naab scorned to reply. The men faced each other for a silent moment, their glances scintillating. Then Holderness whirled on his heel, jostling into Hare.
"Get out of my way," said the rancher, in the disgust of intense irritation. He swung his arm, and his open hand sent Hare reeling against the counter.
"Jack," said Naab, breathing hard, "Holderness showed his real self to-day. I always knew it, yet I gave him the benefit of the doubt. . . . For him to strike you! I've not the gift of revelation, but I see--let us go."
On the return to the Bishop's cottage Naab did not speak once; the transformation which had begun with the appearance of his drunken son had reached a climax of gloomy silence after the clash with Holderness. Naab went directly to the Bishop, and presently the quavering voice of the old minister rose in prayer.
Hare dropped wearily into the chair on the porch; and presently fell into a doze, from which he awakened with a start. Naab's sons, with Martin Cole and several other men, were standing in the yard. Naab himself was gently crowding the women into the house. When he got them all inside he closed the door and turned to Cole.
"Was it a fair fight?"
"Yes, an even break. They met in front of Abe's. I saw the meeting. Neither was surprised. They stood for a moment watching each other. Then they drew--only Snap was quicker. Larsen's gun went off as he fell. That trick you taught Snap saved his life again. Larsen was no slouch on the draw."
"Where's Snap now?"
"Gone after his pinto. He was sober. Said he'd pack at once. Larsen's friends are ugly. Snap said to tell you to hurry out of the village with young Hare, if you want to take him at all. Dene has ridden in; he swears you won't take Hare away."
"We're all packed and ready to hitch up," returned Naab. "We could start at once, only until dark I'd rather take chances here than out on the trail."
"Snap said Dene would ride right into the Bishop's after Hare."
"No. He wouldn't dare."
"Father!" Dave Naab spoke sharply from where he stood high on a grassy bank. "Here's Dene now, riding up with Culver, and some man I don't know. They're coming in. Dene's jumped the fence! Look out!"
A clatter of hoofs and rattling of gravel preceded the appearance of a black horse in the garden path. His rider bent low to dodge the vines of the arbor, and reined in before the porch to slip out of the saddle with the agility of an Indian. It was Dene, dark, smiling, nonchalant.
"What do you seek in the house of a Bishop?" challenged August Naab, planting his broad bulk square before Hare.
"What do you seek in the house of a Bishop?" repeated Naab.
"I shore want to see the young feller you lied to me about," returned Dene, his smile slowly fading.
"No speech could be a lie to an outlaw."
"I want him, you Mormon preacher!"
"You can't have him."
"I'll shore get him."
In one great stride Naab confronted and towered over Dene.
The rustler's gaze shifted warily from Naab to the quiet Mormons and back again. Then his right hand quivered and shot downward. Naab's act was even quicker. A Colt gleamed and whirled to the grass, and the outlaw cried as his arm cracked in the Mormon's grasp
Dave Naab leaped off the bank directly in front of Dene's approaching companions, and faced them, alert and silent, his hand on his hip.
August Naab swung the outlaw against the porch-post and held him there with brawny arm.
"Whelp of an evil breed!" he thundered, shaking his gray head. "Do you think we fear you and your gunsharp tricks? Look! See this!" He released Dene and stepped back with his hand before him. Suddenly it moved, quicker than sight, and a Colt revolver lay in his outstretched palm. He dropped it back into the holster. "Let that teach you never to draw on me again." He doubled his huge fist and shoved it before Dene's eyes. "One blow would crack your skull like an egg-shell. Why don't I deal it? Because, you mindless hell-hound, because there s a higher law than man's--God's law--Thou shalt not kill! Understand that if you can. Leave me and mine alone from this day. Now go!"
He pushed Dene down the path into the arms of his companions.
"Out with you!" said Dave Naab. "Hurry! Get your horse. Hurry! I'm not so particular about God as Dad is!"