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The Desert-hawk








From: The Heritage Of The Desert

TOWARD the close of the next day Jack Hare arrived at Seeping Springs.
A pile of gray ashes marked the spot where the trimmed logs had lain.
Round the pool ran a black circle hard packed into the ground by many
hoofs. Even the board flume had been burned to a level with the glancing
sheet of water. Hare was slipping Silvermane's bit to let him drink when
he heard a halloo. Dave Naab galloped out of the cedars, and presently
August Naab and his other sons appeared with a pack-train.

"Now you've played bob!" exclaimed Dave. He swung out of his saddle and
gripped Hare with both hands. "I know what you've done; I know where
you've been. Father will be furious, but don't you care."

The other Naabs trotted down the slope and lined their horses before
the pool. The sons stared in blank astonishment; the father surveyed the
scene slowly, and then fixed wrathful eyes on Hare.

"What does this mean?" he demanded, with the sonorous roll of his angry
voice.

Hare told all that had happened.

August Naab's gloomy face worked, and his eagle-gaze had in it a
strange far-seeing light; his mind was dwelling upon his mystic power of
revelation.

"I see--I see," he said haltingly.

"Ki--yi-i-i!" yelled Dave Naab with all the power of his lungs. His head
was back, his mouth wide open, his face red, his neck corded and swollen
with the intensity of his passion.

"Be still--boy!" ordered his father. "Hare, this was madness--but tell
me what you learned."

Briefly Hare repeated all that he had been told at the Bishop's, and
concluded with the killing of Martin Cole by Dene.

August Naab bowed his head and his giant frame shook under the force of
his emotion. Martin Cole was the last of his life-long friends.

"This--this outlaw--you say you ran him down?" asked Naab, rising
haggard and shaken out of his grief.

"Yes. He didn't recognize me or know what was coming till Silvermane was
on him. But he was quick, and fell sidewise. Silvermane's knee sent him
sprawling."

"What will it all lead to?" asked August Naab, and in his extremity he
appealed to his eldest son.

"The bars are down," said Snap Naab, with a click of his long teeth.

"Father," began Dave Naab earnestly, "Jack has done a splendid thing.
The news will fly over Utah like wildfire. Mormons are slow. They need a
leader. But they can follow and they will. We can't cure these evils by
hoping and praying. We've got to fight!"

"Dave's right, dad, it means fight," cried George, with his fist
clinched high.

"You've been wrong, father, in holding back," said Zeke Naab, his lean
jaw bulging. "This Holderness will steal the water and meat out of our
children's mouths. We've got to fight!"

"Let's ride to White Sage," put in Snap Naab, and the little flecks
in his eyes were dancing. "I'll throw a gun on Dene. I can get to him.
We've been tolerable friends. He's wanted me to join his band. I'll kill
him."

He laughed as he raised his right hand and swept it down to his left
side; the blue Colt lay on his outstretched palm. Dene's life and
Holderness's, too, hung in the balance between two deadly snaps of this
desert-wolf's teeth. He was one of the Naabs, and yet apart from them,
for neither religion, nor friendship, nor life itself mattered to him.

August Naab's huge bulk shook again, not this time with grief, but
in wrestling effort to withstand the fiery influence of this unholy
fighting spirit among his sons.

"I am forbidden."

His answer was gentle, but its very gentleness breathed of his battle
over himself, of allegiance to something beyond earthly duty. "We'll
drive the cattle to Silver Cup," he decided, "and then go home. I
give up Seeping Springs. Perhaps this valley and water will content
Holderness."

When they reached the oasis Hare was surprised to find that it was the
day before Christmas. The welcome given the long-absent riders was like
a celebration. Much to Hare's disappointment Mescal did not appear; the
homecoming was not joyful to him because it lacked her welcoming smile.

Christmas Day ushered in the short desert winter; ice formed in the
ditches and snow fell, but neither long resisted the reflection of the
sun from the walls. The early morning hours were devoted to religious
services. At midday dinner was served in the big room of August Naab's
cabin. At one end was a stone fireplace where logs blazed and crackled.

In all his days Hare had never seen such a bountiful board. Yet he
was unable to appreciate it, to share in the general thanksgiving.
Dominating all other feeling was the fear that Mescal would come in and
take a seat by Snap Naab's side. When Snap seated himself opposite
with his pale little wife Hare found himself waiting for Mescal with
an intensity that made him dead to all else. The girls, Judith, Esther,
Rebecca, came running gayly in, clad in their best dresses, with bright
ribbons to honor the occasion. Rebecca took the seat beside Snap, and
Hare gulped with a hard contraction of his throat. Mescal was not yet a
Mormon's wife! He seemed to be lifted upward, to grow light-headed with
the blessed assurance. Then Mescal entered and took the seat next to
him. She smiled and spoke, and the blood beat thick in his ears.

That moment was happy, but it was as nothing to its successor. Under the
table-cover Mescal's hand found his, and pressed it daringly and gladly.
Her hand lingered in his all the time August Naab spent in carving the
turkey--lingered there even though Snap Naab's hawk eyes were never far
away. In the warm touch of her hand, in some subtle thing that radiated
from her Hare felt a change in the girl he loved. A few months had
wrought in her some indefinable difference, even as they had increased
his love to its full volume and depth. Had his absence brought her to
the realization of her woman's heart?

In the afternoon Hare left the house and spent a little while with
Silvermane; then he wandered along the wall to the head of the oasis,
and found a seat on the fence. The next few weeks presented to him a
situation that would be difficult to endure. He would be near Mescal,
but only to have the truth forced cruelly home to him every sane
moment--that she was not for him. Out on the ranges he had abandoned
himself to dreams of her; they had been beautiful; they had made the
long hours seem like minutes; but they had forged chains that could not
be broken, and now he was hopelessly fettered.

The clatter of hoofs roused him from a reverie which was half sad, half
sweet. Mescal came tearing down the level on Black Bolly. She pulled
in the mustang and halted beside Hare to hold out shyly a red scarf
embroidered with Navajo symbols in white and red beads.

"I've wanted a chance to give you this," she said, "a little Christmas
present."

For a few seconds Hare could find no words.

"Did you make it for me, Mescal?" he finally asked. "How good of you!
I'll keep it always."

"Put it on now--let me tie it--there!"

"But, child. Suppose he--they saw it?"

"I don't care who sees it."

She met him with clear, level eyes. Her curt, crisp speech was full of
meaning. He looked long at her, with a yearning denied for many a day.
Her face was the same, yet wonderfully changed; the same in line and
color, but different in soul and spirit. The old sombre shadow lay deep
in the eyes, but to it had been added gleam of will and reflection of
thought. The whole face had been refined and transformed.

"Mescal! What's happened? You're not the same. You seem almost happy.
Have you--has he--given you up?"

"Don't you know Mormons better than that? The thing is the same--so far
as they're concerned."

"But Mescal--are you going to marry him? For God's sake, tell me."

"Never." It was a woman's word, instant, inflexible, desperate. With a
deep breath Hare realized where the girl had changed.

"Still you're promised, pledged to him! How'll you get out of it?"

"I don't know how. But I'll cut out my tongue, and be dumb as my poor
peon before I'll speak the word that'll make me Snap Naab's wife."

There was a long silence. Mescal smoothed out Bolly's mane, and Hare
gazed up at the walls with eyes that did not see them.

Presently he spoke. "I'm afraid for you. Snap watched us to-day at
dinner."

"He's jealous."

"Suppose he sees this scarf?"

Mescal laughed defiantly. It was bewildering for Hare to hear her.

"He'll--Mescal, I may yet come to this." Hare's laugh echoed Mescal's as
he pointed to the enclosure under the wall, where the graves showed bare
and rough.

Her warm color fled, but it flooded back, rich, mantling brow and cheek
and neck.

"Snap Naab will never kill you," she said impulsively.

"Mescal."

She swiftly turned her face away as his hand closed on hers.

"Mescal, do you love me?"

The trembling of her fingers and the heaving of her bosom lent his hope
conviction. "Mescal," he went on, "these past months have been years,
years of toiling, thinking, changing, but always loving. I'm not the man
you knew. I'm wild-- I'm starved for a sight of you. I love you! Mescal,
my desert flower!"

She raised her free hand to his shoulder and swayed toward him. He held
her a moment, clasped tight, and then released her.

"I'm quite mad!" he exclaimed, in a passion of self-reproach. "What
a risk I'm putting on you! But I couldn't help it. Look at me-- Just
once--please-- Mescal, just one look.... Now go."

The drama of the succeeding days was of absorbing interest. Hare
had liberty; there was little work for him to do save to care for
Silvermane. He tried to hunt foxes in the caves and clefts; he rode up
and down the broad space under the walls; he sought the open desert only
to be driven in by the bitter, biting winds. Then he would return to
the big living-room of the Naabs and sit before the burning logs. This
spacious room was warm, light, pleasant, and was used by every one in
leisure hours. Mescal spent most of her time there. She was engaged
upon a new frock of buckskin, and over this she bent with her needle
and beads. When there was a chance Hare talked with her, speaking one
language with his tongue, a far different one with his eyes. When she
was not present he looked into the glowing red fire and dreamed of her.

In the evenings when Snap came in to his wooing and drew Mescal into
a corner, Hare watched with covert glance and smouldering jealousy.
Somehow he had come to see all things and all people in the desert
glass, and his symbol for Snap Naab was the desert-hawk. Snap's eyes
were as wild and piercing as those of a hawk; his nose and mouth were
as the beak of a hawk; his hands resembled the claws of a hawk; and
the spurs he wore, always bloody, were still more significant of his
ruthless nature. Then Snap's courting of the girl, the cool assurance,
the unhastening ease, were like the slow rise, the sail, and the poise
of a desert-hawk before the downward lightning-swift swoop on his
quarry.

It was intolerable for Hare to sit there in the evenings, to try to play
with the children who loved him, to talk to August Naab when his eye
seemed ever drawn to the quiet couple in the corner, and his ear
was unconsciously strained to catch a passing word. That hour was a
miserable one for him, yet he could not bring himself to leave the room.
He never saw Snap touch her; he never heard Mescal's voice; he believed
that she spoke very little. When the hour was over and Mescal rose to
pass to her room, then his doubt, his fear, his misery, were as though
they had never been, for as Mescal said good-night she would give him
one look, swift as a flash, and in it were womanliness and purity, and
something beyond his comprehension. Her Indian serenity and mysticism
veiled yet suggested some secret, some power by which she might yet
escape the iron band of this Mormon rule. Hare could not fathom it.
In that good-night glance was a meaning for him alone, if meaning
ever shone in woman's eyes, and it said: "I will be true to you and to
myself!"

Once the idea struck him that as soon as spring returned it would be
an easy matter, and probably wise, for him to leave the oasis and go up
into Utah, far from the desert-canyon country. But the thought refused
to stay before his consciousness a moment. New life had flushed his
veins here. He loved the dreamy, sleepy oasis with its mellow sunshine
always at rest on the glistening walls; he loved the cedar-scented
plateau where hope had dawned, and the wind-swept sand-strips, where
hard out-of-door life and work had renewed his wasting youth; he loved
the canyon winding away toward Coconina, opening into wide abyss;
and always, more than all, he loved the Painted Desert, with its
ever-changing pictures, printed in sweeping dust and bare peaks and
purple haze. He loved the beauty of these places, and the wildness in
them had an affinity with something strange and untamed in him. He would
never leave them. When his blood had cooled, when this tumultuous thrill
and swell had worn themselves out, happiness would come again.

Early in the winter Snap Naab had forced his wife to visit his
father's house with him; and she had remained in the room, white-faced,
passionately jealous, while he wooed Mescal. Then had come a scene. Hare
had not been present, but he knew its results. Snap had been furious,
his father grave, Mescal tearful and ashamed. The wife found many ways
to interrupt her husband's lovemaking. She sent the children for him;
she was taken suddenly ill; she discovered that the corral gate was open
and his cream-colored pinto, dearest to his heart, was running loose;
she even set her cottage on fire.

One Sunday evening just before twilight Hare was sitting on the porch
with August Naab and Dave, when their talk was interrupted by Snap's
loud calling for his wife. At first the sounds came from inside his
cabin. Then he put his head out of a window and yelled. Plainly he was
both impatient and angry. It was nearly time for him to make his Sunday
call upon Mescal.

"Something's wrong," muttered Dave.

"Hester! Hester!" yelled Snap.

Mother Ruth came out and said that Hester was not there.

"Where is she?" Snap banged on the window-sill with his fists. "Find
her, somebody--Hester!"

"Son, this is the Sabbath," called Father Naab, gravely. "Lower your
voice. Now what's the matter?"

"Matter!" bawled Snap, giving way to rage. "When I was asleep Hester
stole all my clothes. She's hid them--she's run off--there's not a d--n
thing for me to put on! I'll--"

The roar of laughter from August and Dave drowned the rest of the
speech. Hare managed to stifle his own mirth. Snap pulled in his head
and slammed the window shut.

"Jack," said August, "even among Mormons the course of true love never
runs smooth."

Hare finally forgot his bitter humor in pity for the wife. Snap came
to care not at all for her messages and tricks, and he let nothing
interfere with his evening beside Mescal. It was plain that he had gone
far on the road of love. Whatever he had been in the beginning of the
betrothal, he was now a lover, eager, importunate. His hawk's eyes were
softer than Hare had ever seen them; he was obliging, kind, gay, an
altogether different Snap Naab. He groomed himself often, and wore
clean scarfs, and left off his bloody spurs. For eight months he had
not touched the bottle. When spring approached he was madly in love with
Mescal. And the marriage was delayed because his wife would not have
another woman in her home.

Once Hare heard Snap remonstrating with his father.

"If she don't come to time soon I'll keep the kids and send her back to
her father."

"Don't be hasty, son. Let her have time," replied August. "Women must
be humored. I'll wager she'll give in before the cottonwood blows, and
that's not long."

It was Hare's habit, as the days grew warmer, to walk a good deal, and
one evening, as twilight shadowed the oasis and grew black under the
towering walls, he strolled out toward the fields. While passing Snap's
cottage Hare heard a woman's voice in passionate protest and a man's in
strident anger. Later as he stood with his arm on Silvermane, a woman's
scream, at first high-pitched, then suddenly faint and smothered, caused
him to grow rigid, and his hand clinched tight. When he went back by the
cottage a low moaning confirmed his suspicion.

That evening Snap appeared unusually bright and happy; and he asked his
father to name the day for the wedding. August did so in a loud voice
and with evident relief. Then the quaint Mormon congratulations
were offered to Mescal. To Hare, watching the strange girl with the
distressingly keen intuition of an unfortunate lover, she appeared as
pleased as any of them that the marriage was settled. But there was no
shyness, no blushing confusion. When Snap bent to kiss her--his first
kiss--she slightly turned her face, so that his lips brushed her cheek,
yet even then her self-command did not break for an instant. It was a
task for Hare to pretend to congratulate her; nevertheless he mumbled
something. She lifted her long lashes, and there, deep beneath the
shadows, was unutterable anguish. It gave him a shock. He went to his
room, convinced that she had yielded; and though he could not blame her,
and he knew she was helpless, he cried out in reproach and resentment.
She had failed him, as he had known she must fail. He tossed on his bed
and thought; he lay quiet, wide-open eyes staring into the darkness,
and his mind burned and seethed. Through the hours of that long night he
learned what love had cost him.

With the morning light came some degree of resignation. Several days
went slowly by, bringing the first of April, which was to be the
wedding-day. August Naab had said it would come before the cottonwoods
shed their white floss; and their buds had just commenced to open. The
day was not a holiday, and George and Zeke and Dave began to pack for
the ranges, yet there was an air of jollity and festivity. Snap Naab had
a springy step and jaunty mien. Once he regarded Hare with a slow smile.

Piute prepared to drive his new flock up on the plateau. The women of
the household were busy and excited; the children romped.

The afternoon waned into twilight, and Hare sought the quiet shadows
under the wall near the river trail. He meant to stay there until August
Naab had pronounced his son and Mescal man and wife. The dull roar of
the rapids borne on a faint puff of westerly breeze was lulled into a
soothing murmur. A radiant white star peeped over the black rim of the
wall. The solitude and silence were speaking to Hare's heart, easing his
pain, when a soft patter of moccasined feet brought him bolt upright.

A slender form rounded the corner wall. It was Mescal. The white dog
Wolf hung close by her side. Swiftly she reached Hare.

"Mescal!" he exclaimed.

"Hush! Speak softly," she whispered fearfully. Her hands were clinging
to his.

"Jack, do you love me still?"

More than woman's sweetness was in the whisper; the portent of
indefinable motive made Hare tremble like a shaking leaf.

"Good heavens! You are to be married in a few minutes--What do you mean?
Where are you going? this buckskin suit--and Wolf with you--Mescal!"

"There's no time--only a word--hurry--do you love me still?" she panted,
with great shining eyes close to his.

"Love you? With all my soul!"

"Listen," she whispered, and leaned against him. A fresh breeze bore the
boom of the river. She caught her breath quickly: "I love you!--I love
you!--Good-bye!"

She kissed him and broke from his clasp. Then silently, like a shadow,
with the white dog close beside her, she disappeared in the darkness of
the river trail.

She was gone before he came out of his bewilderment. He rushed down the
trail; he called her name. The gloom had swallowed her, and only the
echo of his voice made answer.





Next: Echo Cliffs

Previous: Riding The Ranges



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