The Invisible Hand
: Riders Of The Purple Sage
Jane received a letter from Bishop Dyer, not in his own
handwriting, which stated that the abrupt termination of their
interview had left him in some doubt as to her future conduct. A
slight injury had incapacitated him from seeking another meeting
at present, the letter went on to say, and ended with a request
which was virtually a command, that she call upon hi
The reading of the letter acquainted Jane Withersteen with the
fact that something within her had all but changed. She sent no
reply to Bishop Dyer nor did she go to see him. On Sunday she
remained absent from the service--for the second time in
years--and though she did not actually suffer there was a
dead-lock of feelings deep within her, and the waiting for a
balance to fall on either side was almost as bad as suffering.
She had a gloomy expectancy of untoward circumstances, and with
it a keen-edged curiosity to watch developments. She had a
half-formed conviction that her future conduct--as related to her
churchmen--was beyond her control and would be governed by their
attitude toward her. Something was changing in her, forming,
waiting for decision to make it a real and fixed thing. She had
told Lassiter that she felt helpless and lost in the fateful
tangle of their lives; and now she feared that she was
approaching the same chaotic condition of mind in regard to her
religion. It appalled her to find that she questioned phases of
that religion. Absolute faith had been her serenity. Though
leaving her faith unshaken, her serenity had been disturbed, and
now it was broken by open war between her and her ministers. That
something within her--a whisper--which she had tried in vain to
hush had become a ringing voice, and it called to her to wait.
She had transgressed no laws of God. Her churchmen, however
invested with the power and the glory of a wonderful creed,
however they sat in inexorable judgment of her, must now practice
toward her the simple, common, Christian virtue they professed to
preach, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto
Jane Withersteen, waiting in darkness of mind, remained faithful
still. But it was darkness that must soon be pierced by light. If
her faith were justified, if her churchmen were trying only to
intimidate her, the fact would soon be manifest, as would their
failure, and then she would redouble her zeal toward them and
toward what had been the best work of her life--work for the
welfare and happiness of those among whom she lived, Mormon and
Gentile alike. If that secret, intangible power closed its toils
round her again, if that great invisible hand moved here and
there and everywhere, slowly paralyzing her with its mystery and
its inconceivable sway over her affairs, then she would know
beyond doubt that it was not chance, nor jealousy, nor
intimidation, nor ministerial wrath at her revolt, but a cold and
calculating policy thought out long before she was born, a dark,
immutable will of whose empire she and all that was hers was but
Then might come her ruin. Then might come her fall into black
storm. Yet she would rise again, and to the light. God would be
merciful to a driven woman who had lost her way.
A week passed. Little Fay played and prattled and pulled at
Lassiter's big black guns. The rider came to Withersteen House
oftener than ever. Jane saw a change in him, though it did not
relate to his kindness and gentleness. He was quieter and more
thoughtful. While playing with Fay or conversing with Jane he
seemed to be possessed of another self that watched with cool,
roving eyes, that listened, listened always as if the murmuring
amber stream brought messages, and the moving leaves whispered
something. Lassiter never rode Bells into the court any more, nor
did he come by the lane or the paths. When he appeared it was
suddenly and noiselessly out of the dark shadow of the grove.
"I left Bells out in the sage," he said, one day at the end of
that week. "I must carry water to him."
"Why not let him drink at the trough or here?" asked Jane,
"I reckon it'll be safer for me to slip through the grove. I've
been watched when I rode in from the sage."
"Watched? By whom?"
"By a man who thought he was well hid. But my eyes are pretty
sharp. An', Jane," he went on, almost in a whisper, "I reckon
it'd be a good idea for us to talk low. You're spied on here by
"Lassiter!" she whispered in turn. "That's hard to believe. My
women love me."
"What of that?" he asked. "Of course they love you. But they're
Jane's old, rebellious loyalty clashed with her doubt.
"I won't believe it," she replied, stubbornly.
"Well then, just act natural an' talk natural, an' pretty
soon--give them time to hear us--pretend to go over there to the
table, en' then quick-like make a move for the door en' open it."
"I will," said Jane, with heightened color. Lassiter was right;
he never made mistakes; he would not have told her unless he
positively knew. Yet Jane was so tenacious of faith that she had
to see with her own eyes, and so constituted that to employ even
such small deceit toward her women made her ashamed, and angry
for her shame as well as theirs. Then a singular thought
confronted her that made her hold up this simple ruse-- which
hurt her, though it was well justified--against the deceit she
had wittingly and eagerly used toward Lassiter. The difference
was staggering in its suggestion of that blindness of which he
had accused her. Fairness and justice and mercy, that she had
imagined were anchor-cables to hold fast her soul to
righteousness had not been hers in the strange, biased duty that
had so exalted and confounded her.
Presently Jane began to act her little part, to laugh and play
with Fay, to talk of horses and cattle to Lassiter. Then she made
deliberate mention of a book in which she kept records of all
pertaining to her stock, and she walked slowly toward the table,
and when near the door she suddenly whirled and thrust it open.
Her sharp action nearly knocked down a woman who had undoubtedly
"Hester," said Jane, sternly, "you may go home, and you need not
Jane shut the door and returned to Lassiter. Standing unsteadily,
she put her hand on his arm. She let him see that doubt had gone,
and how this stab of disloyalty pained her.
"Spies! My own women!...Oh, miserable!" she cried, with flashing,
"I hate to tell you," he replied. By that she knew he had long
spared her. "It's begun again--that work in the dark."
"Nay, Lassiter--it never stopped!"
So bitter certainty claimed her at last, and trust fled
Withersteen House and fled forever. The women who owed much to
Jane Withersteen changed not in love for her, nor in devotion to
their household work, but they poisoned both by a thousand acts
of stealth and cunning and duplicity. Jane broke out once and
caught them in strange, stone-faced, unhesitating falsehood.
Thereafter she broke out no more. She forgave them because they
were driven. Poor, fettered, and sealed Hagars, how she pitied
them! What terrible thing bound them and locked their lips, when
they showed neither consciousness of guilt toward their
benefactress nor distress at the slow wearing apart of
long-established and dear ties?
"The blindness again!" cried Jane Withersteen. "In my sisters as
in me!...O God!"
There came a time when no words passed between Jane and her
women. Silently they went about their household duties, and
secretly they went about the underhand work to which they had
been bidden. The gloom of the house and the gloom of its
mistress, which darkened even the bright spirit of little Fay,
did not pervade these women. Happiness was not among them, but
they were aloof from gloom. They spied and listened; they
received and sent secret messengers; and they stole Jane's books
and records, and finally the papers that were deeds of her
possessions. Through it all they were silent, rapt in a kind of
trance. Then one by one, without leave or explanation or
farewell, they left Withersteen House, and never
Coincident with this disappearance Jane's gardeners and workers
in the alfalfa fields and stable men quit her, not even asking
for their wages. Of all her Mormon employees about the great
ranch only Jerd remained. He went on with his duty, but talked no
more of the change than if it had never occurred.
"Jerd," said Jane, "what stock you can't take care of turn out in
the sage. Let your first thought be for Black Star and Night.
Keep them in perfect condition. Run them every day and watch them
Though Jane Withersteen gave them such liberality, she loved her
possessions. She loved the rich, green stretches of alfalfa, and
the farms, and the grove, and the old stone house, and the
beautiful, ever-faithful amber spring, and every one of a myriad
of horses and colts and burros and fowls down to the smallest
rabbit that nipped her vegetables; but she loved best her noble
Arabian steeds. In common with all riders of the upland sage Jane
cherished two material things--the cold, sweet, brown water that
made life possible in the wilderness and the horses which were a
part of that life. When Lassiter asked her what Lassiter would be
without his guns he was assuming that his horse was part of
himself. So Jane loved Black Star and Night because it was her
nature to love all beautiful creatures--perhaps all living
things; and then she loved them because she herself was of the
sage and in her had been born and bred the rider's instinct to
rely on his four-footed brother. And when Jane gave Jerd the
order to keep her favorites trained down to the day it was a
half-conscious admission that presaged a time when she would need
her fleet horses.
Jane had now, however, no leisure to brood over the coils that
were closing round her. Mrs. Larkin grew weaker as the August
days began; she required constant care; there was little Fay to
look after; and such household work as was imperative. Lassiter
put Bells in the stable with the other racers, and directed his
efforts to a closer attendance upon Jane. She welcomed the
change. He was always at hand to help, and it was her fortune to
learn that his boast of being awkward around women had its root
in humility and was not true.
His great, brown hands were skilled in a multiplicity of ways
which a woman might have envied. He shared Jane's work, and was
of especial help to her in nursing Mrs. Larkin. The woman
suffered most at night, and this often broke Jane's rest. So it
came about that Lassiter would stay by Mrs. Larkin during the
day, when she needed care, and Jane would make up the sleep she
lost in night-watches. Mrs. Larkin at once took kindly to the
gentle Lassiter, and, without ever asking who or what he was,
praised him to Jane. "He's a good man and loves children," she
said. How sad to hear this truth spoken of a man whom Jane
thought lost beyond all redemption! Yet ever and ever Lassiter
towered above her, and behind or through his black, sinister
figure shone something luminous that strangely affected Jane.
Good and evil began to seem incomprehensibly blended in her
judgment. It was her belief that evil could not come forth from
good; yet here was a murderer who dwarfed in gentleness,
patience, and love any man she had ever known.
She had almost lost track of her more outside concerns when early
one morning Judkins presented himself before her in the
Thin, hard, burnt, bearded, with the dust and sage thick on him,
with his leather wrist-bands shining from use, and his boots worn
through on the stirrup side, he looked the rider of riders. He
wore two guns and carried a Winchester.
Jane greeted him with surprise and warmth, set meat and bread and
drink before him; and called Lassiter out to see him. The men
exchanged glances, and the meaning of Lassiter's keen inquiry and
Judkins's bold reply, both unspoken, was not lost upon Jane.
"Where's your hoss?" asked Lassiter, aloud.
"Left him down the slope," answered Judkins. "I footed it in a
ways, an' slept last night in the sage. I went to the place you
told me you 'moss always slept, but didn't strike you."
"I moved up some, near the spring, an' now I go there nights."
"Judkins--the white herd?" queried Jane, hurriedly.
"Miss Withersteen, I make proud to say I've not lost a steer. Fer
a good while after thet stampede Lassiter milled we hed no
trouble. Why, even the sage dogs left us. But it's begun
agin--thet flashin' of lights over ridge tips, an' queer puffin'
of smoke, en' then at night strange whistles en' noises. But the
herd's acted magnificent. An' my boys, say, Miss Withersteen,
they're only kids, but I ask no better riders. I got the laugh in
the village fer takin' them out. They're a wild lot, an' you know
boys hev more nerve than grown men, because they don't know what
danger is. "I'm not denyin' there's danger. But they glory in it,
an' mebbe I like it myself--anyway, we'll stick. We're goin' to
drive the herd on the far side of the first break of Deception Pass.
There's a great round valley over there, an' no ridges or piles
of rocks to aid these stampeders. The rains are due. We'll hev
plenty of water fer a while. An' we can hold thet herd from
anybody except Oldrin'. I come in fer supplies. I'll pack a
couple of burros an' drive out after dark to-night."
"Judkins, take what you want from the store-room. Lassiter will
help you. I--I can't thank you enough...but--wait."
Jane went to the room that had once been her father's, and from a
secret chamber in the thick stone wall she took a bag of gold,
and, carrying it back to the court, she gave it to the rider.
"There, Judkins, and understand that I regard it as little for
your loyalty. Give what is fair to your boys, and keep the rest.
Hide it. Perhaps that would be wisest."
"Oh...Miss Withersteen!" ejaculated the rider. "I couldn't earn
so much in--in ten years. It's not right--I oughtn't take it."
"Judkins, you know I'm a rich woman. I tell you I've few faithful
friends. I've fallen upon evil days. God only knows what will
become of me and mine! So take the gold."
She smiled in understanding of his speechless gratitude, and left
him with Lassiter. Presently she heard him speaking low at first,
then in louder accents emphasized by the thumping of his rifle on
the stones. "As infernal a job as even you, Lassiter, ever heerd
"Why, son," was Lassiter's reply, "this breakin' of Miss
Withersteen may seem bad to you, but it ain't bad--yet. Some of
these wall-eyed fellers who look jest as if they was walkin' in
the shadow of Christ himself, right down the sunny road, now they
can think of things en' do things that are really hell-bent."
Jane covered her ears and ran to her own room, and there like
caged lioness she paced to and fro till the coming of little Fay
reversed her dark thoughts.
The following day, a warm and muggy one threatening rain awhile
Jane was resting in the court, a horseman clattered through he
grove and up to the hitching-rack. He leaped off and approached
Jane with the manner of a man determined to execute difficult
mission, yet fearful of its reception. In the gaunt, wiry figure
and the lean, brown face Jane recognized one of her Mormon
riders, Blake. It was he of whom Judkins had long since spoken.
Of all the riders ever in her employ Blake owed her the most, and
as he stepped before her, removing his hat and making manly
efforts to subdue his emotion, he showed that he remembered.
"Miss Withersteen, mother's dead," he said.
"Oh--Blake!" exclaimed Jane, and she could say no more.
"She died free from pain in the end, and she's buried--resting at
last, thank God!...I've come to ride for you again, if you'll
have me. Don't think I mentioned mother to get your sympathy.
When she was living and your riders quit, I had to also. I was
afraid of what might be done--said to her....Miss Withersteen,
we can't talk of--of what's going on now--"
"Blake, do you know?"
"I know a great deal. You understand, my lips are shut. But
without explanation or excuse I offer my services. I'm a
Mormon--I hope a good one. But--there are some things!...It's no
use, Miss Withersteen, I can't say any more--what I'd like to.
But will you take me back?"
"Blake!...You know what it means?"
"I don't care. I'm sick of--of--I'll show you a Mormon who'll be
true to you!"
"But, Blake--how terribly you might suffer for that!"
"Maybe. Aren't you suffering now?"
"God knows indeed I am!"
"Miss Withersteen, it's a liberty on my part to speak so, but I
know you pretty well--know you'll never give in. I wouldn't if I
were you. And I--I must--Something makes me tell you the worst is
yet to come. That's all. I absolutely can't say more. Will you
take me back--let me ride for you--show everybody what I
"Blake, it makes me happy to hear you. How my riders hurt me when
they quit!" Jane felt the hot tears well to her eyes and splash
down upon her hands. "I thought so much of them--tried so hard to
be good to them. And not one was true. You've made it easy to
forgive. Perhaps many of them really feel as you do, but dare not
return to me. Still, Blake, I hesitate to take you back. Yet I
want you so much."
"Do it, then. If you're going to make your life a lesson to
Mormon women, let me make mine a lesson to the men. Right is
right. I believe in you, and here's my life to prove it."
"You hint it may mean your life!" said Jane, breathless and low.
"We won't speak of that. I want to come back. I want to do what
every rider aches in his secret heart to do for you....Miss
Withersteen, I hoped it'd not be necessary to tell you that my
mother on her deathbed told me to have courage. She knew how the
thing galled me--she told me to come back....Will you take me?"
"God bless you, Blake! Yes, I'll take you back. And will
you--will you accept gold from me?"
"I just gave Judkins a bag of gold. I'll give you one. If you
will not take it you must not come back. You might ride for me a
few months-- weeks--days till the storm breaks. Then you'd have
nothing, and be in disgrace with your people. We'll forearm you
against poverty, and me against endless regret. I'll give you
gold which you can hide--till some future time."
"Well, if it pleases you," replied Blake. "But you know I never
thought of pay. Now, Miss Withersteen, one thing more. I want to
see this man Lassiter. Is he here?"
"Yes, but, Blake--what--Need you see him? Why?" asked Jane,
instantly worried. "I can speak to him--tell him about you."
"That won't do. I want to--I've got to tell him myself. Where is
"Lassiter is with Mrs. Larkin. She is ill. I'll call him,"
answered Jane, and going to the door she softly called for the
rider. A faint, musical jingle preceded his step--then his tall
form crossed the threshold.
"Lassiter, here's Blake, an old rider of mine. He has come back
to me and he wishes to speak to you."
Blake's brown face turned exceedingly pale.
"Yes, I had to speak to you," he said, swiftly. "My name's Blake.
I'm a Mormon and a rider. Lately I quit Miss Withersteen. I've
come to beg her to take me back. Now I don't know you; but I
know--what you are. So I've this to say to your face. It would
never occur to this woman to imagine--let alone suspect me to be
a spy. She couldn't think it might just be a low plot to come
here and shoot you in the back. Jane Withersteen hasn't that kind
of a mind....Well, I've not come for that. I want to help her--to
pull a bridle along with Judkins and--and you. The thing is--do
you believe me?"
"I reckon I do," replied Lassiter. How this slow, cool speech
contrasted with Blake's hot, impulsive words! "You might have
saved some of your breath. See here, Blake, cinch this in your
mind. Lassiter has met some square Mormons! An'
"Blake," interrupted Jane, nervously anxious to terminate a
colloquy that she perceived was an ordeal for him. "Go at once
and fetch me a report of my horses."
"Miss Withersteen!...You mean the big drove--down in the
"Of course," replied Jane. "My horses are all there, except the
blooded stock I keep here."
"Haven't you heard--then?"
"Heard? No! What's happened to them?"
"They're gone, Miss Withersteen, gone these ten days past. Dorn
told me, and I rode down to see for myself."
"Lassiter--did you know?" asked Jane, whirling to him.
"I reckon so....But what was the use to tell you?"
It was Lassiter turning away his face and Blake studying the
stone flags at his feet that brought Jane to the understanding of
what she betrayed. She strove desperately, but she could not rise
immediately from such a blow.
"My horses! My horses! What's become of them?"
"Dorn said the riders report another drive by Oldring....And I
trailed the horses miles down the slope toward Deception Pass."
"My red herd's gone! My horses gone! The white herd will go next.
I can stand that. But if I lost Black Star and Night, it would be
like parting with my own flesh and blood. Lassiter--Blake--am I
in danger of losing my racers?"
"A rustler--or--or anybody stealin' hosses of yours would most of
all want the blacks," said Lassiter. His evasive reply was
affirmative enough. The other rider nodded gloomy
"Oh! Oh!" Jane Withersteen choked, with violent utterance.
"Let me take charge of the blacks?" asked Blake. "One more rider
won't be any great help to Judkins. But I might hold Black Star
and Night, if you put such store on their value."
"Value! Blake, I love my racers. Besides, there's another reason
why I mustn't lose them. You go to the stables. Go with Jerd
every day when he runs the horses, and don't let them out of your
sight. If you would please me--win my gratitude, guard my black
When Blake had mounted and ridden out of the court Lassiter
regarded Jane with the smile that was becoming rarer as the days
"'Pears to me, as Blake says, you do put some store on them
hosses. Now I ain't gainsayin' that the Arabians are the
handsomest hosses I ever seen. But Bells can beat Night, an' run
neck en' neck with Black Star."
"Lassiter, don't tease me now. I'm miserable--sick. Bells is
fast, but he can't stay with the blacks, and you know it. Only
Wrangle can do that."
"I'll bet that big raw-boned brute can more'n show his heels to
your black racers. Jane, out there in the sage, on a long chase,
Wrangle could kill your favorites."
"No, no," replied Jane, impatiently. "Lassiter, why do you say
that so often? I know you've teased me at times, and I believe
it's only kindness. You're always trying to keep my mind off
worry. But you mean more by this repeated mention of my racers?"
"I reckon so." Lassiter paused, and for the thousandth time in
her presence moved his black sombrero round and round, as if
counting the silver pieces on the band. "Well, Jane, I've sort of
read a little that's passin' in your mind."
"You think I might fly from my home--from Cottonwoods--from the
"I reckon. An' if you ever do an' get away with the blacks I
wouldn't like to see Wrangle left here on the sage. Wrangle could
catch you. I know Venters had him. But you can never tell. Mebbe
he hasn't got him now....Besides--things are happenin', an'
somethin' of the same queer nature might have happened to
"God knows you're right!...Poor Bern, how long he's gone! In my
trouble I've been forgetting him. But, Lassiter, I've little fear
for him. I've heard my riders say he's as keen as a wolf....
"As to your reading my thoughts--well, your suggestion makes an
actual thought of what was only one of my dreams. I believe I
dreamed of flying from this wild borderland, Lassiter. I've
strange dreams. I'm not always practical and thinking of my many
duties, as you said once. For instance--if I dared--if I dared
I'd ask you to saddle the blacks and ride away with me--and hide
The rider's sunburnt face turned white. A few times Jane had seen
Lassiter's cool calm broken--when he had met little Fay, when he
had learned how and why he had come to love both child and
mistress, when he had stood beside Milly Erne's grave. But one
and all they could not be considered in the light of his present
agitation. Not only did Lassiter turn white--not only did he grow
tense, not only did he lose his coolness, but also he suddenly,
violently, hungrily took her into his arms and crushed her to his
"Lassiter!" cried Jane, trembling. It was an action for which she
took sole blame. Instantly, as if dazed, weakened, he released
her. "Forgive me!" went on Jane. "I'm always forgetting
your--your feelings. I thought of you as my faithful friend. I'm
always making you out more than human...only, let me say--I meant
that--about riding away. I'm wretched, sick of this--this--Oh,
something bitter and black grows on my heart!"
"Jane, the hell--of it," he replied, with deep intake of breath,
"is you can't ride away. Mebbe realizin' it accounts for my
grabbin' you--that way, as much as the crazy boy's rapture your
words gave me. I don't understand myself....But the hell of this
game is--you can't ride away."
"Lassiter!...What on earth do you mean? I'm an absolutely free
"You ain't absolutely anythin' of the kind....I reckon I've got
to tell you!"
"Tell me all. It's uncertainty that makes me a coward. It's faith
and hope--blind love, if you will, that makes me miserable. Every
day I awake believing--still believing. The day grows, and with
it doubts, fears, and that black bat hate that bites hotter and
hotter into my heart. Then comes night--I pray--I pray for all,
and for myself--I sleep--and I awake free once more, trustful,
faithful, to believe--to hope! Then, O my God! I grow and live a
thousand years till night again!...But if you want to see me a
woman, tell me why I can't ride away--tell me what more I'm to
lose--tell me the worst."
"Jane, you're watched. There's no single move of yours, except
when you're hid in your house, that ain't seen by sharp eyes. The
cottonwood grove's full of creepin', crawlin' men. Like Indians
in the grass. When you rode, which wasn't often lately, the sage
was full of sneakin' men. At night they crawl under your windows
into the court, an' I reckon into the house. Jane Withersteen,
you know, never locked a door! This here grove's a hummin'
bee-hive of mysterious happenin's. Jane, it ain't so much that
these soles keep out of my way as me keepin' out of theirs.
They're goin' to try to kill me. That's plain. But mebbe I'm as
hard to shoot in the back as in the face. So far I've seen fit to
watch only. This all means, Jane, that you're a marked woman. You
can't get away-- not now. Mebbe later, when you're broken, you
might. But that's sure doubtful. Jane, you're to lose the cattle
that's left--your home en' ranch--en' amber Spring. You can't
even hide a sack of gold! For it couldn't be slipped out of the
house, day or night, an' hid or buried, let alone be rid off
with. You may lose all. I'm tellin' you, Jane, hopin' to prepare
you, if the worst does come. I told you once before about that
strange power I've got to feel things."
"Lassiter, what can I do?"
"Nothin', I reckon, except know what's comin' an' wait an' be
game. If you'd let me make a call on Tull, an' a long-deferred
"Hush!...Hush!" she whispered.
"Well, even that wouldn't help you any in the end."
"What does it mean? Oh, what does it mean? I am my father's
daughter--a Mormon, yet I can't see! I've not failed in
religion--in duty. For years I've given with a free and full
heart. When my father died I was rich. If I'm still rich it's
because I couldn't find enough ways to become poor. What am I,
what are my possessions to set in motion such intensity of secret
"Jane, the mind behind it all is an empire builder."
"But, Lassiter, I would give freely--all I own to avert
this--this wretched thing. If I gave--that would leave me with
faith still. Surely my--my churchmen think of my soul? If I lose
my trust in them--"
"Child, be still!" said Lassiter, with a dark dignity that had in
it something of pity. "You are a woman, fine en' big an' strong,
an' your heart matches your size. But in mind you're a child.
I'll say a little more--then I'm done. I'll never mention this
again. Among many thousands of women you're one who has bucked
against your churchmen. They tried you out, an' failed of
persuasion, an' finally of threats. You meet now the cold steel
of a will as far from Christlike as the universe is wide. You're
to be broken. Your body's to be held, given to some man, made, if
possible, to bring children into the world. But your soul?...What
do they care for your soul?"