Desert Night





THE gray stallion, finding the rein loose on his neck, trotted forward

and overtook the dog, and thereafter followed at his heels. With the

setting of the sun a slight breeze stirred, and freshened as twilight

fell, rolling away the sultry atmosphere. Then the black desert night

mantled the plain.



For a while this blackness soothed the pain of Hare's sun-blinded eyes.

It was a relief to have the unattainable horizon line blotted out. But

by-and-by the opaque gloom brought home to him, as the day had never

done, the reality of his solitude. He was alone in this immense place of

barrenness, and his dumb companions were the world to him. Wolf

pattered onward, a silent guide; and Silvermane followed, never lagging,

sure-footed in the dark, faithful to his master. All the love Hare had

borne the horse was as nothing to that which came to him on this desert

night. In and out, round and round, ever winding, ever zigzagging,

Silvermane hung close to Wolf, and the sandy lanes between the bowlders

gave forth no sound. Dog and horse, free to choose their trail, trotted

onward miles and miles into the night.



A pale light in the east turned to a glow, then to gold, and the round

disc of the moon silhouetted the black bowlders on the horizon. It

cleared the dotted line and rose, an oval orange-hued strange moon, not

mellow nor silvery nor gloriously brilliant as Hare had known it in the

past, but a vast dead-gold melancholy orb, rising sadly over the desert.

To Hare it was the crowning reminder of lifelessness; it fitted this

world of dull gleaming stones.



Silvermane went lame and slackened his trot, causing Hare to rein in and

dismount. He lifted the right forefoot, the one the horse had favored,

and found a stone imbedded tightly in the cloven hoof. He pried it out

with his knife and mounted again. Wolf shone faintly far ahead, and

presently he uttered a mournful cry which sent a chill to the rider's

heart. The silence had been oppressive before; now it was terrible. It

was not a silence of life. It had been broken suddenly by Wolf's howl,

and had closed sharply after it, without echo; it was a silence of

death.



Hare took care not to fall behind Wolf again, he had no wish to hear

that cry repeated. The dog moved onward with silent feet; the horse

wound after him with hoofs padded in the sand; the moon lifted and the

desert gleamed; the bowlders grew larger and the lanes wider. So the

night wore on, and Hare's eyelids grew heavy, and his whole weary body

cried out for rest and forgetfulness. He nodded until he swayed in the

saddle; then righted himself, only to doze again. The east gave birth to

the morning star. The whitening sky was the harbinger of day. Hare

could not bring himself to face the light and heat, and he stopped at a

wind-worn cave under a shelving rock. He was asleep when he rolled out

on the sand-strewn floor. Once he awoke and it was still day, for his

eyes quickly shut upon the glare. He lay sweltering till once more

slumber claimed him. The dog awakened him, with cold nose and low whine.

Another twilight had fallen. Hare crawled out, stiff and sore, hungry

and parching with thirst. He made an attempt to eat, but it was a

failure. There was a dry burning in his throat, a dizzy feeling in his

brain, and there were red flashes before his eyes. Wolf refused meat,

and Silvermane turned from the grain, and lowered his head to munch a

few blades of desert grass.



Then the journey began, and the night fell black. A cool wind blew from

the west, the white stars blinked, the weird moon rose with its ghastly

glow. Huge bowlders rose before him in grotesque shapes, tombs and

pillars and statues of Nature's dead, carved by wind and sand. But some

had life in Hare's disordered fancy. They loomed and towered over him,

and stalked abroad and peered at him with deep-set eyes.



Hare fought with all his force against this mood of gloom. Wolf was not

a phantom; he trotted forward with unerring instinct; and he would find

water, and that meant life. Silvermane, desert-steeled, would travel to

the furthermost corner of this hell of sand-swept stone. Hare tried to

collect all his spirit, all his energies, but the battle seemed to

be going against him. All about him was silence, breathless silence,

insupportable silence of ages. Desert spectres danced in the darkness.

The worn-out moon gleamed golden over the worn-out waste. Desolation

lurked under the sable shadows.



Hare rode on into the night, tumbled from his saddle in the gray of dawn

to sleep, and stumbled in the twilight to his drooping horse. His eyes

were blind now to the desert shapes, his brain burned and his tongue

filled his mouth. Silvermane trod ever upon Wolf's heels; he had come

into the kingdom of his desert-strength; he lifted his drooping head and

lengthened his stride; weariness had gone and he snorted his welcome to

something on the wind. Then he passed the limping dog and led the way.



Hare held to the pommel and bent dizzily forward in the saddle.

Silvermane was going down, step by step, with metallic clicks upon

flinty rock. Whether he went down or up was all the same to Hare; he

held on with closed eyes and whispered to himself. Down and down, step

by step, cracking the stones with iron-shod hoofs, the gray stallion

worked his perilous way, sure-footed as a mountain-sheep. Then he

stopped with a great slow heave and bent his head.



The black bulge of a canyon rim blurred in Hare's hot eyes. A

trickling sound penetrated his tired brain. His ears had grown like his

eyes--false. Only another delusion! As he had been tortured with the

sight of lake and stream now he was to be tortured with the sound of

running water. Yet he listened, for it was sweet even in its mockery.

What a clear musical tinkle, like silver bells tossing on the wind! He

listened. Soft murmuring flow, babble and gurgle, little hollow fall and

splash!



Suddenly Silvermane, lifting his head, broke the silence of the canyon

with a great sigh of content. It pierced the dull fantasy of Hare's

mind; it burst the gloomy spell. The sigh and the snort which followed

were Silvermane's triumphant signals when he had drunk his fill.



Hare fell from the saddle. The gray dog lay stretched low in the

darkness. Hare crawled beside him and reached out with his hot hands.

Smooth cool marble rock, growing slippery, then wet, led into running

water. He slid forward on his face and wonderful cold thrills quivered

over his burning skin. He drank and drank until he could drink no more.

Then he lay back upon the rock; the madness of his brain went out with

the light of the stars, and he slept.



When he awoke red canyon walls leaned far above him to a gap spanned

by blue sky. A song of rushing water murmured near his ears. He looked

down; a spring gushed from a crack in the wall; Silvermane cropped green

bushes, and Wolf sat on his haunches waiting, but no longer with sad

eyes and strange mien. Hare raised himself, looking again and again, and

slowly gathered his wits. The crimson blur had gone from his eyes and

the burning from his skin, and the painful swelling from his tongue.



He drank long and deeply, and rising with clearing thoughts and thankful

heart, he kissed Wolf's white head, and laid his arms round Silvermane's

neck. He fed them, and ate himself, not without difficulty, for his lips

were puffed and his tongue felt like a piece of rope. When he had eaten,

his strength came back.



At a word Wolf, with a wag of his tail, splashed into the gravelly

stream bed. Hare followed on foot, leading Silvermane. There were little

beds of pebbles and beaches of sand and short steps down which the water

babbled. The canyon was narrow and tortuous; Hare could not see ahead

or below, for the projecting red cliffs, growing higher as he descended,

walled out the view. The blue stream of sky above grew bluer and the

light and shade less bright. For an hour he went down steadily without a

check, and the farther down the rougher grew the way. Bowlders wedged

in narrow places made foaming waterfalls. Silvermane clicked down

confidently.



The slender stream of water, swelled by seeping springs and little

rills, gained the dignity of a brook; it began to dash merrily and

hurriedly downward. The depth of the falls, the height of cliffs, and

the size of the bowlders increased in the descent. Wolf splashed on

unmindful; there was a new spirit in his movements; and when he looked

back for his laboring companions there was friendly protest in his eyes.

Silvermane's mien plainly showed that where a dog could go he could

follow. Silvermane's blood was heated; the desert was an old story

to him; it had only tired him and parched his throat; this canyon of

downward steps and falls, with ever-deepening drops, was new to him, and

roused his mettle; and from his long training in the wilds he had gained

a marvellous sure-footedness.



The canyon narrowed as it deepened; the jutting walls leaned together,

shutting out the light; the sky above was now a ribbon of blue, only to

be seen when Hare threw back his head and stared straight up.



"It'll be easier climbing up, Silvermane," he panted--"if we ever get

the chance."



The sand and gravel and shale had disappeared; all was bare clean-washed

rock. In many places the brook failed as a trail, for it leaped down in

white sheets over mossy cliffs. Hare faced these walls in despair. But

Wolf led on over the ledges and Silvermane followed, nothing daunted.

At last Hare shrank back from a hole which defied him utterly. Even Wolf

hesitated. The canyon was barely twenty feet wide; the floor ended in a

precipice; the stream leaped out and fell into a dark cleft from which

no sound arose. On the right there was a shelf of rock; it was scarce

half a foot broad at the narrowest and then apparently vanished

altogether. Hare stared helplessly up at the slanting shut-in walls.



While he hesitated Wolf pattered out upon the ledge and Silvermane

stamped restlessly. With a desperate fear of losing his beloved horse

Hare let go the bridle and stepped upon the ledge. He walked rapidly,

for a slow step meant uncertainty and a false one meant death. He

heard the sharp ring of Silvermane's shoes, and he listened in agonized

suspense for the slip, the snort, the crash that he feared must come.

But it did not come. Seeing nothing except the narrow ledge, yet feeling

the blue abyss beneath him, he bent all his mind to his task, and

finally walked out into lighter space upon level rock. To his infinite

relief Silvermane appeared rounding a corner out of the dark passage,

and was soon beside him.



Hare cried aloud in welcome.



The canyon widened; there was a clear demarcation where the red walls

gave place to yellow; the brook showed no outlet from its subterranean

channel. Sheer exhaustion made Hare almost forget his mission; the

strength of his resolve had gone into mechanical toil; he kept on,

conscious only of the smart of bruised hands and feet and the ache of

laboring lungs.



Time went on and the sun hung in the midst of the broadening belt of

blue sky. A long slant of yellow slope led down to a sage-covered level,

which Hare crossed, pleased to see blooming cacti and wondering at their

slender lofty green stems shining with gold flowers. He descended into a

ravine which became precipitous. Here he made only slow advance. At the

bottom he found himself in a wonderful lane with an almost level floor;

here flowed a shallow stream bordered by green willows. Wolf took the

direction of the flowing water. Hare's thoughts were all of Mescal, and

his hopes began to mount, his heart to beat high.



He gazed ahead with straining eyes. Presently there was not a break in

the walls. A drowsy hum of falling water came to Hare, strange reminder

of the oasis, the dull roar of the Colorado, and of Mescal.



His flagging energies leaped into life with the canyon suddenly opening

to bright light and blue sky and beautiful valley, white and gold in

blossom, green with grass and cottonwood. On a flower-scented wind

rushed that muffled roar again, like distant thunder.



Wolf dashed into the cottonwoods. Silvermane whistled with satisfaction

and reached for the long grass.



For Hare the light held something more than beauty, the breeze something

more than sweet scent of water and blossom. Both were charged with

meaning--with suspense.



Wolf appeared in the open leaping upon a slender brown-garbed form.



"Mescal!" cried Hare.



With a cry she ran to him, her arms outstretched, her hair flying in the

wind, her dark eyes wild with joy.





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