West Wind





When the storm abated Venters sought his own cave, and late in



the night, as his blood cooled and the stir and throb and thrill



subsided, he fell asleep.







With the breaking of dawn his eyes unclosed. The valley lay



drenched and bathed, a burnished oval of glittering green. The



rain-washed walls glistened in the morning light. Waterfalls of



many forms poured over the rims. One, a broad, lacy sheet, thin



as smoke, slid over the western notch and struck a ledge in its



downward fall, to bound into broader leap, to burst far below



into white and gold and rosy mist.







Venters prepared for the day, knowing himself a different man.







"It's a glorious morning," said Bess, in greeting.







"Yes. After the storm the west wind," he replied.







"Last night was I--very much of a baby?" she asked, watching him.







"Pretty much."







"Oh, I couldn't help it!"







"I'm glad you were afraid."







"Why?" she asked, in slow surprise.







"I'll tell you some day," he answered, soberly. Then around the



camp-fire and through the morning meal he was silent; afterward



he strolled thoughtfully off alone along the terrace. He climbed



a great yellow rock raising its crest among the spruces, and



there he sat down to face the valley and the west.







"I love her!"







Aloud he spoke--unburdened his heart--confessed his secret. For



an instant the golden valley swam before his eyes, and the walls



waved, and all about him whirled with tumult within.







"I love her!...I understand now."







Reviving memory of Jane Withersteen and thought of the



complications of the present amazed him with proof of how far he



had drifted from his old life. He discovered that he hated to



take up the broken threads, to delve into dark problems and



difficulties. In this beautiful valley he had been living a



beautiful dream. Tranquillity had come to him, and the joy of



solitude, and interest in all the wild creatures and crannies of



this incomparable valley--and love. Under the shadow of the great



stone bridge God had revealed Himself to Venters.







"The world seems very far away," he muttered, "but it's



there--and I'm not yet done with it. Perhaps I never shall



be....Only--how glorious it would be to live here always and



never think again!"







Whereupon the resurging reality of the present, as if in irony of



his wish, steeped him instantly in contending thought. Out of it



all he presently evolved these things: he must go to Cottonwoods;



he must bring supplies back to Surprise Valley; he must cultivate



the soil and raise corn and stock, and, most imperative of all,



he must decide the future of the girl who loved him and whom he



loved. The first of these things required tremendous effort, the



last one, concerning Bess, seemed simply and naturally easy of



accomplishment. He would marry her. Suddenly, as from roots of



poisonous fire, flamed up the forgotten truth concerning her. It



seemed to wither and shrivel up all his joy on its hot, tearing



way to his heart. She had been Oldring's Masked Rider. To



Venters's question, "What were you to Oldring?" she had answered



with scarlet shame and drooping head.







"What do I care who she is or what she was!" he cried,



passionately. And he knew it was not his old self speaking. It



was this softer, gentler man who had awakened to new thoughts in



the quiet valley. Tenderness, masterful in him now, matched the



absence of joy and blunted the knife-edge of entering jealousy.



Strong and passionate effort of will, surprising to him, held



back the poison from piercing his soul.







"Wait!...Wait!" he cried, as if calling. His hand pressed his



breast, and he might have called to the pang there. "Wait! It's



all so strange--so wonderful. Anything can happen. Who am I to



judge her? I'll glory in my love for her. But I can't tell



it--can't give up to it."







Certainly he could not then decide her future. Marrying her was



impossible in Surprise Valley and in any village south of



Sterling. Even without the mask she had once worn she would



easily have been recognized as Oldring's Rider. No man who had



ever seen her would forget her, regardless of his ignorance as to



her sex. Then more poignant than all other argument was the fact



that he did not want to take her away from Surprise Valley. He



resisted all thought of that. He had brought her to the most



beautiful and wildest place of the uplands; he had saved her,



nursed her back to strength, watched her bloom as one of the



valley lilies; he knew her life there to be pure and sweet--she



belonged to him, and he loved her. Still these were not all the



reasons why he did not want to take her away. Where could they



go? He feared the rustlers--he feared the riders--he feared the



Mormons. And if he should ever succeed in getting Bess safely



away from these immediate perils, he feared the sharp eyes of



women and their tongues, the big outside world with its problems



of existence. He must wait to decide her future, which, after



all, was deciding his own. But between her future and his



something hung impending. Like Balancing Rock, which waited



darkly over the steep gorge, ready to close forever the outlet to



Deception Pass, that nameless thing, as certain yet intangible as



fate, must fall and close forever all doubts and fears of the



future.







"I've dreamed," muttered Venters, as he rose. "Well, why



not?...To dream is happiness! But let me just once see this



clearly wholly; then I can go on dreaming till the thing falls.



I've got to tell Jane Withersteen. I've dangerous trips to take.



I've work here to make comfort for this girl. She's mine. I'll



fight to keep her safe from that old life. I've already seen her



forget it. I love her. And if a beast ever rises in me I'll burn



my hand off before I lay it on her with shameful intent. And, by



God! sooner or later I'll kill the man who hid her and kept her



in Deception Pass!"







As he spoke the west wind softly blew in his face. It seemed to



soothe his passion. That west wind was fresh, cool, fragrant, and



it carried a sweet, strange burden of far-off things--tidings of



life in other climes, of sunshine asleep on other walls--of other



places where reigned peace. It carried, too, sad truth of human



hearts and mystery--of promise and hope unquenchable. Surprise



Valley was only a little niche in the wide world whence blew that



burdened wind. Bess was only one of millions at the mercy of



unknown motive in nature and life. Content had come to Venters in



the valley; happiness had breathed in the slow, warm air; love as



bright as light had hovered over the walls and descended to him;



and now on the west wind came a whisper of the eternal triumph of



faith over doubt.







"How much better I am for what has come to me!" he exclaimed.



"I'll let the future take care of itself. Whatever falls, I'll be



ready."







Venters retraced his steps along the terrace back to camp, and



found Bess in the old familiar seat, waiting and watching for his



return.







"I went off by myself to think a little," he explained.







"You never looked that way before. What--what is it? Won't you



tell me?"







"Well, Bess, the fact is I've been dreaming a lot. This valley



makes a fellow dream. So I forced myself to think. We can't live



this way much longer. Soon I'll simply have to go to Cottonwoods.



We need a whole pack train of supplies. I can get--"







"Can you go safely?" she interrupted.







"Why, I'm sure of it. I'll ride through the Pass at night. I



haven't any fear that Wrangle isn't where I left him. And once on



him--Bess, just wait till you see that horse!"







"Oh, I want to see him--to ride him. But--but, Bern, this is what



troubles me," she said. "Will--will you come back?"







"Give me four days. If I'm not back in four days you'll know I'm



dead. For that only shall keep me."







"Oh!"







"Bess, I'll come back. There's danger--I wouldn't lie to you--but



I can take care of myself."







"Bern, I'm sure--oh, I'm sure of it! All my life I've watched



hunted men. I can tell what's in them. And I believe you can ride



and shoot and see with any rider of the sage. It's not--not that



I--fear."







"Well, what is it, then?"







"Why--why--why should you come back at all?"







"I couldn't leave you here alone."







"You might change your mind when you get to the village--among



old friends--"







"I won't change my mind. As for old friends--" He uttered a



short, expressive laugh.







"Then--there--there must be a--a woman!" Dark red mantled the



clear tan of temple and cheek and neck. Her eyes were eyes of



shame, upheld a long moment by intense, straining search for the



verification of her fear. Suddenly they drooped, her head fell to



her knees, her hands flew to her hot cheeks.







"Bess--look here," said Venters, with a sharpness due to the



violence with which he checked his quick, surging emotion.







As if compelled against her will--answering to an irresistible



voice-- Bess raised her head, looked at him with sad, dark eyes,



and tried to whisper with tremulous lips.







"There's no woman," went on Venters, deliberately holding her



glance with his. "Nothing on earth, barring the chances of life,



can keep me away."







Her face flashed and flushed with the glow of a leaping joy; but



like the vanishing of a gleam it disappeared to leave her as he



had never beheld her.







"I am nothing--I am lost--I am nameless!"







"Do you want me to come back?" he asked, with sudden stern



coldness. "Maybe you want to go back to Oldring!"







That brought her erect, trembling and ashy pale, with dark, proud



eyes and mute lips refuting his insinuation.







"Bess, I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have said that. But you



angered me. I intend to work--to make a home for you here--to be



a--a brother to you as long as ever you need me. And you must



forget what you are-- were--I mean, and be happy. When you



remember that old life you are bitter, and it hurts me."







"I was happy--I shall be very happy. Oh, you're so good



that--that it kills me! If I think, I can't believe it. I grow



sick with wondering why. I'm only a let me say it--only a lost,



nameless--girl of the rustlers. Oldring's Girl, they called me.



That you should save me--be so good and kind--want to make me



happy--why, it's beyond belief. No wonder I'm wretched at the



thought of your leaving me. But I'll be wretched and bitter no



more. I promise you. If only I could repay you even a



little--"







"You've repaid me a hundredfold. Will you believe me?"







"Believe you! I couldn't do else."







"Then listen!...Saving you, I saved myself. Living here in this



valley with you, I've found myself. I've learned to think while I



was dreaming. I never troubled myself about God. But God, or some



wonderful spirit, has whispered to me here. I absolutely deny the



truth of what you say about yourself. I can't explain it. There



are things too deep to tell. Whatever the terrible wrongs you've



suffered, God holds you blameless. I see that--feel that in you



every moment you are near me. I've a mother and a sister 'way



back in Illinois. If I could I'd take you to them--to-morrow."







"If it were true! Oh, I might--I might lift my head!" she cried.







"Lift it then--you child. For I swear it's true."







She did lift her head with the singular wild grace always a part



of her actions, with that old unconscious intimation of innocence



which always tortured Venters, but now with something more--a



spirit rising from the depths that linked itself to his brave



words.







"I've been thinking--too," she cried, with quivering smile and



swelling breast. "I've discovered myself--too. I'm young--I'm



alive--I'm so full--oh! I'm a woman!"







"Bess, I believe I can claim credit of that last



discovery--before you," Venters said, and laughed.







"Oh, there's more--there's something I must tell you."







"Tell it, then."







"When will you go to Cottonwoods?"







"As soon as the storms are past, or the worst of them."







"I'll tell you before you go. I can't now. I don't know how I



shall then. But it must be told. I'd never let you leave me



without knowing. For in spite of what you say there's a chance



you mightn't come back."







Day after day the west wind blew across the valley. Day after day



the clouds clustered gray and purple and black. The cliffs sang



and the caves rang with Oldring's knell, and the lightning



flashed, the thunder rolled, the echoes crashed and crashed, and



the rains flooded the valley. Wild flowers sprang up everywhere,



swaying with the lengthening grass on the terraces, smiling wanly



from shady nooks, peeping wondrously from year-dry crevices of



the walls. The valley bloomed into a paradise. Every single



moment, from the breaking of the gold bar through the bridge at



dawn on to the reddening of rays over the western wall, was one



of colorful change. The valley swam in thick, transparent haze,



golden at dawn, warm and white at noon, purple in the twilight.



At the end of every storm a rainbow curved down into the



leaf-bright forest to shine and fade and leave lingeringly some



faint essence of its rosy iris in the air.







Venters walked with Bess, once more in a dream, and watched the



lights change on the walls, and faced the wind from out of the



west.







Always it brought softly to him strange, sweet tidings of far-off



things. It blew from a place that was old and whispered of youth.



It blew down the grooves of time. It brought a story of the



passing hours. It breathed low of fighting men and praying women.



It sang clearly the song of love. That ever was the burden of its



tidings--youth in the shady woods, waders through the wet



meadows, boy and girl at the hedgerow stile, bathers in the



booming surf, sweet, idle hours on grassy, windy hills, long



strolls down moonlit lanes--everywhere in far-off lands, fingers



locked and bursting hearts and longing lips--from all the world



tidings of unquenchable love.







Often, in these hours of dreams he watched the girl, and asked



himself of what was she dreaming? For the changing light of the



valley reflected its gleam and its color and its meaning in the



changing light of her eyes. He saw in them infinitely more than



he saw in his dreams. He saw thought and soul and nature--strong



vision of life. All tidings the west wind blew from distance and



age he found deep in those dark-blue depths, and found them



mysteries solved. Under their wistful shadow he softened, and in



the softening felt himself grow a sadder, a wiser, and a better



man.







While the west wind blew its tidings, filling his heart full,



teaching him a man's part, the days passed, the purple clouds



changed to white, and the storms were over for that summer.







"I must go now," he said.







"When?" she asked.







"At once--to-night."







"I'm glad the time has come. It dragged at me. Go--for you'll



come back the sooner."







Late in the afternoon, as the ruddy sun split its last flame in



the ragged notch of the western wall, Bess walked with Venters



along the eastern terrace, up the long, weathered slope, under



the great stone bridge. They entered the narrow gorge to climb



around the fence long before built there by Venters. Farther than



this she had never been. Twilight had already fallen in the



gorge. It brightened to waning shadow in the wider ascent. He



showed her Balancing Rock, of which he had often told her, and



explained its sinister leaning over the outlet. Shuddering, she



looked down the long, pale incline with its closed-in, toppling



walls.







"What an awful trail! Did you carry me up here?"







"I did, surely," replied he.







"It frightens me, somehow. Yet I never was afraid of trails. I'd



ride anywhere a horse could go, and climb where he couldn't. But



there's something fearful here. I feel as--as if the place was



watching me."







"Look at this rock. It's balanced here--balanced perfectly. You



know I told you the cliff-dwellers cut the rock, and why. But



they're gone and the rock waits. Can't you see--feel how it waits



here? I moved it once, and I'll never dare again. A strong heave



would start it. Then it would fall and bang, and smash that crag,



and jar the walls, and close forever the outlet to Deception



Pass!"







"Ah! When you come back I'll steal up here and push and push with



all my might to roll the rock and close forever the outlet to the



Pass!" She said it lightly, but in the undercurrent of her voice



was a heavier note, a ring deeper than any ever given mere play



of words.







"Bess!...You can't dare me! Wait till I come back with supplies--



then roll the stone."







"I--was--in--fun." Her voice now throbbed low. "Always you must



be free to go when you will. Go now...this place presses on



me--stifles me."







"I'm going--but you had something to tell me?"







"Yes....Will you--come back?"







"I'll come if I live."







"But--but you mightn't come?"







"That's possible, of course. It'll take a good deal to kill me. A



man couldn't have a faster horse or keener dog. And, Bess, I've



guns, and I'll use them if I'm pushed. But don't worry."







"I've faith in you. I'll not worry until after four days. Only--



because you mightn't come--I must tell you--"







She lost her voice. Her pale face, her great, glowing, earnest



eyes, seemed to stand alone out of the gloom of the gorge. The



dog whined, breaking the silence.







"I must tell you--because you mightn't come back," she whispered.



"You must know what--what I think of your goodness--of you.



Always I've been tongue-tied. I seemed not to be grateful. It was



deep in my heart. Even now--if I were other than I am--I couldn't



tell you. But I'm nothing--only a rustler's



girl--nameless--infamous. You've saved me-- and I'm--I'm yours to



do with as you like....With all my heart and soul--I love you!"





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