Read CHAPTER V - THE TRAIL of The Man of the Desert , free online book, by Grace Livingston Hill, on ReadCentral.com.

But the look of horror in the eyes of the girl stopped him.

She gave a quick frightened glance around and then her eyes besought him.  All the terror of the night alone in the wideness returned upon her.  She heard again the howl of the coyotes, and saw the long dark shadows in the canyon.  She was white to the lips with the thought of it.

“Oh, don’t leave me alone!” she said trying to speak bravely.  “I don’t feel as if I could stand it.  There are wild beasts around”-she glanced furtively behind her as if even now one was slyly tracking her-“it was awful-awful!  Their howls!  And it is so alone here!-I never was alone before!”

There was that in her appealing helplessness that gave him a wild desire to stoop and fold her in his arms and tell her he would never leave her while she wanted him.  The colour came and went in his fine bronzed face, and his eyes grew tender with feeling.

“I won’t leave you,” he said gently, “not if you feel that way, though there is really no danger here in daytime.  The wild creatures are very shy and only show themselves at night.  But if I do not find your horse how are you to get speedily back to your friends?  It is a long distance you have come, and you could not ride alone.”

Her face grew troubled.

“Couldn’t I walk?” she suggested.  “I’m a good walker.  I’ve walked five miles at once many a time.”

“We are at least forty miles from the railroad,” he smiled back at her, “and the road is rough, over a mountain by the nearest way.  Your horse must have been determined indeed to take you so far in one day.  He is evidently a new purchase of Shag’s and bent on returning to his native heath.  Horses do that sometimes.  It is their instinct.  I’ll tell you what I’ll do.  It may be that he has only gone down in the valley to the water-hole.  There is one not far away, I think.  I’ll go to the edge of the mesa and get a view.  If he is not far away you can come with me after him.  Just sit here and watch me.  I’ll not go out of your sight or hearing, and I’ll not be gone five minutes.  You’ll not be afraid?”

She sat down obediently where he bade her, her eyes large with fear, for she dreaded the loneliness of the desert more than any fear that had ever visited her before.

“I promise I’ll not go beyond your sight and call,” he reassured her and with a smile turned towards his own horse, and swinging himself into the saddle galloped rapidly away to the edge of the mesa.

She watched him riding away, her fears almost forgotten in her admiration of him, her heart beating strangely with the memory of his smile.  The protection of it seemed to linger behind him, and quiet her anxiety.

He rode straight to the east, and then more slowly turned and skirted the horizon, riding north along the edge of the mesa.  She saw him shade his eyes with his hand and look away in all directions.  At last after a prolonged gaze straight north he wheeled his horse and came quickly back to her.

His face was grave as he dismounted.

“I’ve sighted him,” he said, “but it’s no use.  He has three or four miles start, and a steep hill climbed.  When he reaches the top of the next mesa he has a straight course before him, and probably down-hill after that.  It might take me three or four hours to catch him and it’s a question if I could do it then.  We’ll have to dismiss him from our arrangements and get along with Billy.  Do you feel equal to riding now?  Or ought you to rest again?”

“Oh, I can ride, but-I cannot take your horse.  What will you do?”

“I shall do nicely,” he answered smiling again; “only our progress will be slower than if we had both horses.  What a pity that I had not taken off his saddle!  It would have been more comfortable for you than this.  But I was searching so anxiously for the rider that I took little heed to the horse except to hastily hobble him.  And when I found you you needed all my attention.  Now I advise you to lie down and rest until I get packed up.  It won’t take me long.”

She curled down obediently to rest until he was ready to fold up the canvas on which she lay, and watched his easy movements as he put together the few articles of the pack, and arranged the saddle for her comfort.  Then he strode over to her.

“With your permission,” he said and stooping picked her up lightly in his arms and placed her on the horse.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but you are not equal to the exertion of mounting in the ordinary way.  You will need every bit of strength for the ride.  You are weaker than you realize.”

Her laugh rippled out faintly.

“You make me feel like an insignificant baby.  I didn’t know what was happening until you had me here.  You must have the strength of a giant.  I never felt so little before.”

“You are not a heavy burden,” he said smiling.  “Now are you quite comfortable?  If so we’ll start.”

Billy arched his neck and turned his head proudly to survey his new rider, a look of friendliness on his bay face and in his kindly eye.

“Oh, isn’t he a beauty!” exclaimed the girl reaching out a timid hand to pat his neck.  The horse bowed and almost seemed to smile.  Brownleigh noticed the gleam of a splendid jewel on the little hand.

“Billy is my good friend and constant companion,” said the missionary.  “We’ve faced some long, hard days together.  He is wanting me to tell you now that he is proud to carry you back to your friends.”

Billy bowed up and down and smiled again, and Hazel laughed out with pleasure.  Then her face grew sober again.

“But you will have to walk,” she said.  “I cannot take your horse and let you walk.  I won’t do that.  I’m going to walk with you.”

“And use up what strength you have so that you could not even ride?” he said pleasantly.  “No, I couldn’t allow that, you know, and I am pleased to walk with a companion.  A missionary’s life is pretty lonesome sometimes, you know.  Come, Billy, we must be starting, for we want to make a good ten miles before we stop to rest if our guest can stand the journey.”

With stately steppings as if he knew he bore a princess Billy started; and with long, easy strides Brownleigh walked by his side, ever watchful of the way, and furtively observing the face of the girl, whose strength he well knew must be extremely limited after her ride of the day before.

Out on the top of the mesa looking off towards the great mountains and the wide expanse of seemingly infinite shades and colourings Hazel drew her breath in wonder at the beauty of the scene.  Her companion called her attention to this and that point of interest.  The slender dark line across the plain was mesquite.  He told her how when once they had entered it it would seem to spread out vastly as though it filled the whole valley, and that then looking back the grassy slope below them would seem to be an insignificant streak of yellow.  He told her it was always so in this land, that the kind of landscape through which one was passing filled the whole view and seemed the only thing in life.  He said he supposed it was so in all our lives, that the immediate present filled the whole view of the future until we came to something else; and the look in his eyes made her turn from the landscape and wonder about him and his life.

Then he stooped and pointed to a clump of soapweed, and idly broke off a bit of another bush, handing it to her.

“The Indians call it ‘the weed that was not scared,’” he said.  “Isn’t it an odd suggestive name?”

“It must be a brave little weed indeed to live out here all alone under this terribly big sky.  I wouldn’t like it even if I were only a weed,” and she looked around and shivered with the thought of her fearful ride alone in the night.  But she tucked the little spray of brave green into the buttonhole of her riding habit and it looked of prouder lineage than any weed as it rested against the handsome darkness of the rich green cloth.  For an instant the missionary studied the picture of the lovely girl on the horse and forgot that he was only a missionary.  Then with a start he came to himself.  They must be getting on, for the sun had already passed its zenith, and the way was long before them.  His eyes lingered wistfully on the gleam of her hair where the sun touched it into burnished gold.  Then he remembered.

“By the way, is this yours?” he asked, and brought out of his pocket the little velvet cap.

“Oh, where did you find it?” she cried, settling it on her head like a touch of velvet in a crown.  “I dropped it in front of a tiny little cabin when my last hope vanished.  I called and called but the wind threw my voice back into my throat and no one came out to answer me.”

“It was my house,” he said.  “I found it on a sage-bush a few feet from my own door.  Would that I had been at home to answer your call!”

“Your house!” she exclaimed, in wonder.  “Oh, why, it couldn’t have been.  It wasn’t big enough for anybody-not anybody like you-to live in.  Why, it wasn’t anything more than a-a shed,-just a little board shanty.”

“Exactly; my shack!” he said half apologetically, half comically.  “You should see the inside.  It’s not so bad as it looks.  I only wish I could take you that way, but the fact is it’s somewhat out of the way to the railroad, and we must take the short cut if we want to shorten your father’s anxiety.  Do you feel able to go on further now?”

“Oh, yes, quite,” she said with sudden trouble in her face.  “Papa will be very much worried, and Aunt Maria-oh, Aunt Maria will be wild with anxiety.  She will tell me that this is just what she expected from my going out riding in this heathen land.  She warned me not to go.  She said it wasn’t ladylike.”

As they went on gradually she told him all about her people, describing their little idiosyncrasies; her aunt, her brother, her father, her maid and even the fat man cook.  The young man soon had the picture of the private car with all its luxuries, and the story of the days of travel that had been one long fairy tale of pleasure.  Only the man Hamar was not mentioned; but the missionary had not forgotten him.  Somehow he had taken a dislike to him from the first mention of his name.  He blamed him fiercely for not having come after the maiden, yet blessed the fortune that had given himself that honour.

They were descending into the canyon now, but not by the steep trail up which the pony had taken her the night before.  However it was rough enough and the descent, though it was into the very heart of nature’s beauty storehouse, yet frightened Hazel.  She started at every steep place, and clutched at the saddle wildly, pressing her white teeth hard into her under lip until it grew white and tense.  Her face was white also, and a sudden faintness seemed to come upon her.  Brownleigh noticed instantly, and walking close beside the horse, guiding carefully his every step, he put his free arm about her to steady her, and bade her lean towards him and not be afraid.

His strength steadied her and gave her confidence; and his pleasant voice pointing out the beauties of the way helped her to forget her fright.  He made her look up and showed her how the great ferns were hanging over in a fringe of green at the top of the bare rocks above, their delicate lacery standing out like green fretwork against the blue of the sky.  He pointed to a cave in the rocks far above, and told her of the dwellers of old who had hollowed it out for a home; of the stone axes and jars of clay, the corn mills and sandals woven of yucca that were found there; and of other curious cave-houses in this part of the country; giving in answer to her wondering questions much curious information, the like of which she had never heard before.

Then when they were fairly down in the shadows of the canyon he brought her a cooling draught of spring water in the tin cup, and lifting her unexpectedly from the horse made her sit in a mossy spot where sweet flowers clustered about, and rest for a few minutes, for he knew the ride down the steep path had been terribly trying to her nerves.

Yet all his attentions to her, whether lifting her to and from the saddle, or putting his arm about her to support her on the way, were performed with such grace of courtesy as to remove all personality from his touch, and she marvelled at it while she sat and rested and watched him from the distance watering Billy at a noisy little stream that chattered through the canyon.

He put her on the horse again and they took their way through the coolness and beauty of the canyon winding along the edge of the little stream, threading their way among the trees, and over boulders and rough places until at last in the late afternoon they came out again upon the plain.

The missionary looked anxiously at the sun.  It had taken longer to come through the canyon than he had anticipated.  The day was waning.  He quickened Billy into a trot and settled into a long athletic run beside him, while the girl’s cheeks flushed with the exercise and wind, and her admiration of her escort grew.

“But aren’t you very tired?” she asked at last when he slowed down and made Billy walk again.  Billy, by the way, had enjoyed the race immensely.  He thought he was having a grand time with a princess on his back and his beloved master keeping pace with him.  He was confident by this time that they were bringing the princess home to be there to welcome them on all returns hereafter.  His horse-sense had jumped to a conclusion and approved most heartily.

“Tired!” answered Brownleigh and laughed; “not consciously.  I’m good for several miles yet myself.  I haven’t had such a good time in three years, not since I left home-and mother,” he added softly, reverently.

There was a look in his eyes that made the girl long to know more.  She watched him keenly and asked: 

“Oh, then you have a mother!”

“Yes, I have a mother,-a wonderful mother!” He breathed the words like a blessing.  The girl looked at him in awe.  She had no mother.  Her own had died before she could remember.  Aunt Maria was her only idea of mothers.

“Is she out here?” she asked.

“No, she is at home up in New Hampshire in a little quiet country town, but she is a wonderful mother.”

“And have you no one else, no other family out here with you?”

Hazel did not realize how anxiously she awaited the answer to that question.  Somehow she felt a jealous dislike of any one who might belong to him, even a mother-and a sudden thought of sister or wife who might share the little shanty cabin with him made her watch his face narrowly.  But the answer was quick, with almost a shadow like deep longing on his face: 

“Oh, no, I have no one.  I’m all alone.  And sometimes if it were not for mother’s letters it would seem a great way from home.”

The girl did not know why it was so pleasant to know this, and why her heart went out in instant sympathy for him.

“O-oo!” she said gently.  “Tell me about your mother, please!”

And so he told her, as he walked beside her, of his invalid mother whose frail body and its needs bound her to a couch in her old New England home, helpless and carefully tended by a devoted nurse whom she loved and who loved her.  Her great spirit had risen to the sacrifice of sending her only son out to the desert on his chosen commission.

They had been climbing a long sloping hill, and at the climax of the story had reached the top and could look abroad again over a wide expanse of country.  It seemed to Hazel’s city bred eyes as though the kingdoms of the whole world lay spread before her awed gaze.  A brilliant sunset was spreading a great silver light behind the purple mountains in the west, red and blue in flaming lavishness, with billows of white clouds floating above, and over that in sharp contrast the sky was velvet black with storm.  To the south the rain was falling in a brilliant shower like yellow gold, and to the east two more patches of rain were rosy pink as petals of some wondrous flowers, and arching over them a half rainbow.  Turning slightly towards the north one saw the rain falling from dark blue clouds in great streaks of white light.

“Oh-oo!” breathed the girl; “how wonderful!  I never saw anything like that before.”

But the missionary had no time for answer.  He began quickly to unstrap the canvas from behind the saddle, watching the clouds as he did so.

“We are going to get a wetting, I’m afraid,” he said and looked anxiously at his companion.