Wolf





ON the anniversary of the night Mescal disappeared the mysterious voice

which had called to Hare so often and so strangely again pierced

his slumber, and brought him bolt upright in his bed shuddering and

listening. The dark room was as quiet as a tomb. He fell back into his

blankets trembling with emotion. Sleep did not close his eyes again that

night; he lay in a fever waiting for the dawn, and when the gray gloom

lightened he knew what he must do.



After breakfast he sought August Naab. "May I go across the river?" he

asked.



The old man looked up from his carpenter's task and fastened his glance

on Hare. "Mescal?"



"Yes."



"I saw it long ago." He shook his head and spread his great hands.

"There's no use for me to say what the desert is. If you ever come back

you'll bring her. Yes, you may go. It's a man's deed. God keep you!"



Hare spoke to no other person; he filled one saddle-bag with grain,

another with meat, bread, and dried fruits, strapped a five-gallon

leather water-sack back of Silvermane's saddle, and set out toward the

river. At the crossing-bar he removed Silvermane's equipments and placed

them in the boat. At that moment a long howl, as of a dog baying the

moon, startled him from his musings, and his eyes sought the river-bank,

up and down, and then the opposite side. An animal, which at first he

took to be a gray timber-wolf, was running along the sand-bar of the

landing.



"Pretty white for a wolf," he muttered. "Might be a Navajo dog."



The beast sat down on his haunches and, lifting a lean head, sent up

a doleful howl. Then he began trotting along the bar, every few paces

stepping to the edge of the water. Presently he spied Hare, and he began

to bark furiously.



"It's a dog all right; wants to get across," said Hare. "Where have I

seen him?"



Suddenly he sprang to his feet, almost upsetting the boat. "He's like

Mescal's Wolf!" He looked closer, his heart beginning to thump, and then

he yelled: "Ki-yi! Wolf! Hyer! Hyer!"



The dog leaped straight up in the air, and coming down, began to dash

back and forth along the sand with piercing yelps.



"It's Wolf! Mescal must be near," cried Hare. A veil obscured his sight,

and every vein was like a hot cord. "Wolf! Wolf! I'm coming!"



With trembling hands he tied Silvermane's bridle to the stern seat of

the boat and pushed off. In his eagerness he rowed too hard, dragging

Silvermane's nose under water, and he had to check himself. Time and

again he turned to call to the dog. At length the bow grated on the

sand, and Silvermane emerged with a splash and a snort.



"Wolf, old fellow!" cried Hare. "Where's Mescal? Wolf, where is she?"

He threw his arms around the dog. Wolf whined, licked Hare's face, and

breaking away, ran up the sandy trail, and back again. But he barked no

more; he waited to see if Hare was following.



"All right, Wolf--coming." Never had Hare saddled so speedily, nor

mounted so quickly. He sent Silvermane into the willow-skirted trail

close behind the dog, up on the rocky bench, and then under the bulging

wall. Wolf reached the level between the canyon and Echo Cliffs, and

then started straight west toward the Painted Desert. He trotted a few

rods and turned to see if the man was coming.



Doubt, fear, uncertainty ceased for Hare. With the first blast of

dust-scented air in his face he knew Wolf was leading him to Mescal.

He knew that the cry he had heard in his dream was hers, that the old

mysterious promise of the desert had at last begun its fulfilment. He

gave one sharp exultant answer to that call. The horizon, ever-widening,

lay before him, and the treeless plains, the sun-scorched slopes, the

sandy stretches, the massed blocks of black mesas, all seemed to welcome

him; his soul sang within him.



For Mescal was there. Far away she must be, a mere grain of sand in

all that world of drifting sands, perhaps ill, perhaps hurt, but alive,

waiting for him, calling for him, crying out with a voice that no

distance could silence. He did not see the sharp peaks as pitiless

barriers, nor the mesas and domes as black-faced death, nor the

moisture-drinking sands as life-sucking foes to plant and beast and man.

That painted wonderland had sheltered Mescal for a year. He had loved it

for its color, its change, its secrecy; he loved it now because it had

not been a grave for Mescal, but a home. Therefore he laughed at the

deceiving yellow distances in the foreground of glistening mesas, at the

deceiving purple distances of the far-off horizon. The wind blew a song

in his ears; the dry desert odors were fragrance in his nostrils; the

sand tasted sweet between his teeth, and the quivering heat-waves,

veiling the desert in transparent haze, framed beautiful pictures for

his eyes.



Wolf kept to the fore for some thirty paces, and though he had ceased to

stop, he still looked back to see if the horse and man were following.

Hare had noted the dog occasionally in the first hours of travel, but

he had given his eyes mostly to the broken line of sky and desert in the

west, to the receding contour of Echo Cliffs, to the spread and break

of the desert near at hand. Here and there life showed itself in a gaunt

coyote sneaking into the cactus, or a horned toad huddling down in the

dust, or a jewel-eyed lizard sunning himself upon a stone. It was only

when his excited fancy had cooled that Hare came to look closely at

Wolf. But for the dog's color he could not have been distinguished from

a real wolf. His head and ears and tail drooped, and he was lame in his

right front paw.



Hare halted in the shade of a stone, dismounted and called the dog to

him. Wolf returned without quickness, without eagerness, without any

of the old-time friendliness of shepherding days. His eyes were sad and

strange. Hare felt a sudden foreboding, but rejected it with passionate

force. Yet a chill remained. Lifting Wolf's paw he discovered that the

ball of the foot was worn through; whereupon he called into service a

piece of buckskin, and fashioning a rude moccasin he tied it round the

foot. Wolf licked his hand, but there was no change in the sad light of

his eyes. He turned toward the west as if anxious to be off.



"All right, old fellow," said Hare, "only go slow. From the look of that

foot I think you've turned back on a long trail."



Again they faced the west, dog leading, man following, and addressed

themselves to a gradual ascent. When it had been surmounted Hare

realized that his ride so far had brought him only through an anteroom;

the real portal now stood open to the Painted Desert. The immensity

of the thing seemed to reach up to him with a thousand lines, ridges,

canyons, all ascending out of a purple gulf. The arms of the desert

enveloped him, a chill beneath their warmth.



As he descended into the valley, keeping close to Wolf, he marked a

straight course in line with a volcanic spur. He was surprised when

the dog, though continually threading jumbles of rock, heading canyons,

crossing deep washes, and going round obstructions, always veered back

to this bearing as true as a compass-needle to its magnet.



Hare felt the air growing warmer and closer as he continued the descent.

By mid-afternoon, when he had travelled perhaps thirty miles, he was

moist from head to foot, and Silvermane's coat was wet. Looking backward

Hare had a blank feeling of loss; the sweeping line of Echo Cliffs had

retreated behind the horizon. There was no familiar landmark left.



Sunset brought him to a standstill, as much from its sudden glorious

gathering of brilliant crimsons splashed with gold, as from its warning

that the day was done. Hare made his camp beside a stone which would

serve as a wind-break. He laid his saddle for a pillow and his blanket

for a bed. He gave Silvermane a nose-bag full of water and then one of

grain; he fed the dog, and afterward attended to his own needs. When his

task was done the desert brightness had faded to gray; the warm air

had blown away on a cool breeze, and night approached. He scooped out a

little hollow in the sand for his hips, took a last look at Silvermane

haltered to the rock, and calling Wolf to his side stretched himself to

rest. He was used to lying on the ground, under the open sky, out where

the wind blew and the sand seeped in, yet all these were different

on this night. He was in the Painted Desert; Wolf crept close to him;

Mescal lay somewhere under the blue-white stars.



He awakened and arose before any color of dawn hinted of the day. While

he fed his four-footed companions the sky warmed and lightened. A tinge

of rose gathered in the east. The air was cool and transparent. He tried

to cheer Wolf out of his sad-eyed forlornness, and failed.



Hare vaulted into the saddle. The day had its possibilities, and while

he had sobered down from his first unthinking exuberance, there was

still a ring in his voice as he called to the dog:



"On, Wolf, on, old boy!"



Out of the east burst the sun, and the gray curtain was lifted by shafts

of pink and white and gold, flashing westward long trails of color.



When they started the actions of the dog showed Hare that Wolf was not

tracking a back-trail, but travelling by instinct. There were draws

which necessitated a search for a crossing, and areas of broken rock

which had to be rounded, and steep flat mesas rising in the path, and

strips of deep sand and canyons impassable for long distances. But the

dog always found a way and always came back to a line with the black

spur that Hare had marked. It still stood in sharp relief, no nearer

than before, receding with every step, an illusive landmark, which Hare

began to distrust.



Then quite suddenly it vanished in the ragged blue mass of the Ghost

Mountains. Hare had seen them several times, though never so distinctly.

The purple tips, the bold rock-ribs, the shadowed canyons, so sharp and

clear in the morning light--how impossible to believe that these were

only the deceit of the desert mirage! Yet so they were; even for the

Navajos they were spirit-mountains.



The splintered desert-floor merged into an area of sand. Wolf slowed his

trot, and Silvermane's hoofs sunk deep. Dismounting Hare labored beside

him, and felt the heat steal through his boots and burn the soles of

his feet. Hare plodded onward, stopping once to tie another moccasin on

Wolf's worn paw, this time the left one; and often he pulled the stopper

from the water-bag and cooled his parching lips and throat. The waves of

the sand-dunes were as the waves of the ocean. He did not look backward,

dreading to see what little progress he had made. Ahead were miles on

miles of graceful heaps, swelling mounds, crested ridges, all different,

yet regular and rhythmical, drift on drift, dune on dune, in endless

waves. Wisps of sand were whipped from their summits in white ribbons

and wreaths, and pale clouds of sand shrouded little hollows. The

morning breeze, rising out of the west, approached in a rippling lines

like the crest of an inflowing tide.



Silvermane snorted, lifted his ears and looked westward toward a yellow

pall which swooped up from the desert.



"Sand-storm," said Hare, and calling Wolf he made for the nearest

rock that was large enough to shelter them. The whirling sand-cloud

mushroomed into an enormous desert covering, engulfing the dunes,

obscuring the light. The sunlight failed; the day turned to gloom. Then

an eddying fog of sand and dust enveloped Hare. His last glimpse before

he covered his face with a silk handkerchief was of sheets of sand

streaming past his shelter. The storm came with a low, soft, hissing

roar, like the sound in a sea-shell magnified. Breathing through the

handkerchief Hare avoided inhaling the sand which beat against his face,

but the finer dust particles filtered through and stifled him. At

first he felt that he would suffocate, and he coughed and gasped; but

presently, when the thicker sand-clouds had passed, he managed to get

air enough to breathe. Then he waited patiently while the steady seeping

rustle swept by, and the band of his hat sagged heavier, and the load

on his shoulders had to be continually shaken off, and the weighty

trap round his feet crept upward. When the light, fine touch ceased he

removed the covering from his face to see himself standing nearly to his

knees in sand, and Silvermane's back and the saddle burdened with it.

The storm was moving eastward, a dull red now with the sun faintly

showing through it like a ball of fire.



"Well, Wolf, old boy, how many storms like that will we have to

weather?" asked Hare, in a cheery tone which he had to force. He knew

these sand-storms were but vagaries of the desert-wind. Before the hour

closed he had to seek the cover of a stone and wait for another to pass.

Then he was caught in the open, with not a shelter in sight. He was

compelled to turn his back to a third storm, the worst of all, and

to bear as best he could the heavy impact of the first blow, and the

succeeding rush and flow of sand. After that his head drooped and he

wearily trudged beside Silvermane, dreading the interminable distance he

must cover before once more gaining hard ground. But he discovered that

it was useless to try to judge distance on the desert. What had appeared

miles at his last look turned out to be only rods.



It was good to get into the saddle again and face clear air. Far away

the black spur again loomed up, now surrounded by groups of mesas with

sage-slopes tinged with green. That surely meant the end of this long

trail; the faint spots of green lent suggestion of a desert waterhole;

there Mescal must be, hidden in some shady canyon. Hare built his hopes

anew.



So he pressed on down a plain of bare rock dotted by huge bowlders; and

out upon a level floor of scant sage and greasewood where a few living

creatures, a desert-hawk sailing low, lizards darting into holes, and a

swiftly running ground-bird, emphasized the lack of life in the waste.

He entered a zone of clay-dunes of violet and heliotrope hues; and then

a belt of lava and cactus. Reddish points studded the desert, and here

and there were meagre patches of white grass. Far away myriads of cactus

plants showed like a troop of distorted horsemen. As he went on the

grass failed, and streams of jagged lava flowed downward. Beds of

cinders told of the fury of a volcanic fire. Soon Hare had to dismount

to make moccasins for Wolf's hind feet; and to lead Silvermane carefully

over the cracked lava. For a while there were strips of ground bare of

lava and harboring only an occasional bunch of cactus, but soon every

foot free of the reddish iron bore a projecting mass of fierce spikes

and thorns. The huge barrel-shaped cacti, and thickets of slender

dark-green rods with bayonet points, and broad leaves with yellow

spines, drove Hare and his sore-footed fellow-travellers to the lava.



Hare thought there must be an end to it some time, yet it seemed as

though he were never to cross that black forbidding inferno. Blistered

by the heat, pierced by the thorns, lame from long toil on the lava, he

was sorely spent when once more he stepped out upon the bare desert.

On pitching camp he made the grievous discovery that the water-bag had

leaked or the water had evaporated, for there was only enough left for

one more day. He ministered to thirsty dog and horse in silence, his

mind revolving the grim fact of his situation.



His little fire of greasewood threw a wan circle into the surrounding

blackness. Not a sound hinted of life. He longed for even the bark of

a coyote. Silvermane stooped motionless with tired head. Wolf stretched

limply on the sand. Hare rolled into his blanket and stretched out with

slow aching relief.



He dreamed he was a boy roaming over the green hills of the old farm,

wading through dewy clover-fields, and fishing in the Connecticut River.

It was the long vacationtime, an endless freedom. Then he was at the

swimming-hole, and playmates tied his clothes in knots, and with shouts

of glee ran up the bank leaving him there to shiver.



When he awakened the blazing globe of the sun had arisen over the

eastern horizon, and the red of the desert swathed all the reach of

valley.



Hare pondered whether he should use his water at once or dole it out.

That ball of fire in the sky, a glazed circle, like iron at white heat,

decided for him. The sun would be hot and would evaporate such water as

leakage did not claim, and so he shared alike with Wolf, and gave the

rest to Silvermane.



For an hour the mocking lilac mountains hung in the air and then paled

in the intense light. The day was soundless and windless, and the

heat-waves rose from the desert like smoke. For Hare the realities were

the baked clay flats, where Silvermane broke through at every step;

the beds of alkali, which sent aloft clouds of powdered dust; the deep

gullies full of round bowlders; thickets of mesquite and prickly thorn

which tore at his legs; the weary detour to head the canyons; the climb

to get between two bridging mesas; and always the haunting presence of

the sad-eyed dog. His unrealities were the shimmering sheets of water in

every low place; the baseless mountains floating in the air; the green

slopes rising close at hand; beautiful buttes of dark blue riding the

open sand, like monstrous barks at sea; the changing outlines of desert

shapes in pink haze and veils of purple and white lustre--all illusions,

all mysterious tricks of the mirage.



In the heat of midday Hare yielded to its influence and reined in his

horse under a slate-bank where there was shade. His face was swollen and

peeling, and his lips had begun to dry and crack and taste of alkali.

Then Wolf pattered on; Silvermane kept at his heels; Hare dozed in the

saddle. His eyes burned in their sockets from the glare, and it was a

relief to shut out the barren reaches. So the afternoon waned.



Silvermane stumbled, jolting Hare out of his stupid lethargy. Before him

spread a great field of bowlders with not a slope or a ridge or a mesa

or an escarpment. Not even a tip of a spur rose in the background. He

rubbed his sore eyes. Was this another illusion?



When Silvermane started onward Hare thought of the Navajos' custom to

trust horse and dog in such an emergency. They were desert-bred; beyond

human understanding were their sight and scent. He was at the mercy now

of Wolf's instinct and Silvermane's endurance. Resignation brought him

a certain calmness of soul, cold as the touch of an icy hand on fevered

cheek. He remembered the desert secret in Mescal's eyes; he was about to

solve it. He remembered August Naab's words: "It's a man's deed!" If

so, he had achieved the spirit of it, if not the letter. He remembered

Eschtah's tribute to the wilderness of painted wastes: "There is the

grave of the Navajo, and no one knows the trail to the place of his

sleep!" He remembered the something evermore about to be, the unknown

always subtly calling; now it was revealed in the stone-fettering

grip of the desert. It had opened wide to him, bright with its face

of danger, beautiful with its painted windows, inscrutable with its

alluring call. Bidding him enter, it had closed behind him; now he

looked upon it in its iron order, its strange ruins racked by fire, its

inevitable remorselessness.





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