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

The moon was gone, and the luminous silver atmosphere was turned into a clear dark blue, with shadows of the blackness of velvet; but the stars burned redder now, and nearer to the earth.

The fire still flickered brightly, with a glow the moon had paled before she went to sleep, but there was no protecting figure on the other side of the flames, and the angels seemed all to have forgotten.

Off at a little distance, where a group of sage-brush made dense darkness, she heard the talking.  One speaking in low tones, now pleading, now explaining, deeply earnest, with a mingling of anxiety and trouble.  She could not hear any words.  She seemed to know the voice was low that she might not hear; yet it filled her with a great fear.  What had happened?  Had some one come to harm them, and was he pleading for her life?  Strange to say it never entered her head to doubt his loyalty, stranger though he was.  Her only feeling was that he might have been overpowered in his sleep, and be even now in need of help himself.  What could she do?

After the first instant of frozen horror she was on the alert.  He had saved her, she must help him.  She could not hear any other voice than his.  Probably the enemy spoke in whispers, but she knew that she must go at once and find out what was the matter.  The distance from her pleasant couch beside the fire was but a few steps, yet it seemed to her frightened heart and trembling limbs, as she crept softly over towards the sage-brush, that it was miles.

At last she was close to the bush, could part it with her cold hand and look into the little shelter.

There was a faint light in the east beyond the mountains that showed the coming dawn, and silhouetted against this she saw the figure of her rescuer, dropped upon one knee, his elbow on the other and his face bowed in his hand.  She could hear his words distinctly now, but there was no man else present, though she searched the darkness carefully.

“I found her lost out here in the wilderness,” he was saying in low, earnest tones, “so beautiful, so dear!  But I know she cannot be for me.  Her life has been all luxury and I would not be a man to ask her to share the desert!  I know too that she is not fitted for the work.  I know it would be all wrong, and I must not wish it, but I love her, though I may not tell her so!  I must be resolute and strong, and not show her what I feel.  I must face my Gethsemane, for this girl is as dear to me as my own soul!  God bless and guard her, for I may not.”

The girl had stood rooted to the spot unable to move as the low voice went on with its revelation, but when the plea for a blessing upon her came with all the mighty longing of a soul who loved absorbingly, it was as if she were unable to bear it, and she turned and fled silently back to her couch, creeping under the canvas, thrilled, frightened, shamed and glad all in one.  She closed her eyes and the swift tears of joy came.  He loved her!  He loved her!  How the thought thrilled her.  How her own heart leaped up to meet his love.  The fact of it was all she could contain for the time and it filled her with an ecstasy such as she had never known before.  She opened her eyes to the stars and they shone back a great radiance of joy to her.  The quiet darkness of the vast earth all about her seemed suddenly to have become the sweetest spot she had known.  She had never thought there could be joy like this.

Gradually she quieted the wild throbbing of her heart and tried to set her thoughts in order.  Perhaps she was taking too much for granted.  Perhaps he was talking of another girl, some one he had met the day before.  But yet it seemed as if there could be no doubt.  There would not be two girls lost out in that desert.  There could not-and her heart told her that he loved her.  Could she trust her heart?  Oh, the dearness of it if it were true!

Her face was burning too, with the sweet shame of having heard what was not meant for her ears.

Then came the flash of pain in the joy.  He did not intend to tell her.  He meant to hide his love-and for her sake!  And he was great enough to do so.  The man who could sacrifice the things that other men hold dear to come out to the wilderness for the sake of a forgotten, half-savage people, could sacrifice anything for what he considered right.  This fact loomed like a wall of adamant across the lovely way that joy had revealed to her.  Her heart fell with the thought that he was not to speak of this to her,-and she knew that more than for anything else in life, more than anything she had ever known, she longed to hear him speak those words to her.  A half resentment filled her that he had told his secret to Another-what concerned her-and would not let her know.

The heart searching went on, and now she came to the thorn-fact of the whole revelation.  There had been another reason besides care for herself why he could not tell her of his love,-why he could not ask her to share his life.  She had not been accounted worthy.  He had put it in pleasant words and said she was unfitted, but he might as well have made it plain and said how useless she would be in his life.

The tears came now, tears of mortification, for Hazel Radcliffe had never before in all her petted life been accounted unworthy for any position.  It was not that she considered at all the possibility of accepting the position that was not to be offered her.  Her startled mind had not even reached so far; but her pride was hurt to think that any one should think her unworthy.

Then over the whole tumultuous state of mind would come the memory of his voice throbbing with feeling as he said, “She is dear to me as my own soul,” and the joy of it would sweep everything else away.

There was no more sleep to be had for her.

The stars grew pale, and the rose dawn grew in the east.  She presently heard her companion return and replenish the fire, stirring about softly among the dishes, and move away again, but she had turned her head away that he might not see her face, and he evidently thought her still sleeping.

So she lay and tried to reason things out; tried to scold herself for thinking his words applied to her; tried to recall her city life and friends, and how utterly alien this man and his work would be to them; tried to think of the new day when she would probably reach her friends again and this new friend would be lost sight of; felt a sharp twinge of pain at the thought; wondered if she could meet Milton Hamar and what they would say to one another, and if any sort of comfortable relations could ever be established between them again; and knew they could not.  Once again the great horror rolled over her at thought of his kiss.  Then came the startling thought that he had used almost the same words to her that this man of the desert had used about her, and yet how infinitely different!  How tender and deep and true, and pure and high his face in contrast to the look she had seen upon that handsome, evil face bent over her!  She covered her eyes and shuddered again, and entertained a fleeting wish that she might stay forever here and not return to his hated presence.

Then back like a flood-tide of sunshine would come the thought of the missionary and his love for her, and everything else would be obliterated in the rapture it brought.

And thus on rosy wings the morning dawned, a clean, straight sunrise.

Hazel could hear the missionary stepping softly here and there preparing breakfast, and knew he felt it time to be on the move.  She must bestir herself and speak, but her cheeks grew pink over the thought of it.  She kept waiting and trying to think how to say good-morning without a look of guilty knowledge in her eyes.  Presently she heard him call to Billy and move away in the direction where the horse was eating his breakfast.  Then snatching her opportunity she slipped from under the canvas into her green boudoir.

But even here she found evidences of her wise guide’s care, for standing in front of the largest cedar were two tin cups of clear water and beside them a small pocket soap-case and a clean folded handkerchief, fine and white.  He had done his best to supply her with toilet articles.

Her heart leaped up again at his thoughtfulness.  She dashed the water into her glowing face, and buried it in the clean folds of the handkerchief-his handkerchief.  How wonderful that it should be so!  How had a mere commonplace bit of linen become so invested with the currents of life as to give such joyful refreshment with a touch?  The wonder of it all was like a miracle.  She had not known anything in life could be like that.

The great red cliff across the valley was touched with the morning sun when she emerged from her green shelter, shyly conscious of the secret that lay unrevealed between them.

Their little camp was still in the shadow.  The last star had disappeared as if a hand had turned the lights low with a flash and revealed the morning.

She stood for an instant in the parting of the cedars, a hand on each side holding back the boughs, looking forth from her retreat; and the man advancing saw her and waited with bared head to do her reverence, a great light of love in his eyes which he knew not was visible, but which blinded the eyes of the watching girl, and made her cheeks grow rosier.

The very air about them seemed charged with an electrical current.  The little commonplaces which they spoke sank deep into the heart of each and lingered to bless the future.  The glances of their eyes had many meetings and lingered shyly on more intimate ground than the day before, yet each had grown more silent.  The tenderness of his voice was like a benediction as he greeted her.

He seated her on the canvas he had arranged freshly beside a bit of green grass, and prepared to serve her like a queen.  Indeed she wore a queenly bearing, small and slender though she was, her golden hair shining in the morning, and her eyes bright as the stars that had just been paled by day.

There were fried rabbits cooking in the tiny saucepan and corn bread was toasting before the fire on two sharp sticks.  She found to her surprise that she was hungry, and that the breakfast he had prepared seemed a most delicious feast.

She grew secure in her consciousness that he did not know she had guessed his secret, and let the joy of it all flow over her and envelop her.  Her laugh rang out musically over the plain, and he watched her hungrily, delightedly, enjoying every minute of the companionship with a kind of double joy because of the barren days that he was sure were to come.

Finally he broke away from the pleasant lingering with an exclamation, for the sun was hastening upward and it was time they were on their way.  Hastily he packed away the things, she trying in her bungling unaccustomedness to help and only giving sweet hindrance, with the little white hands that thrilled him so wonderfully as they came near with a plate or a cup, or a bit of corn bread that had been left out.

He put her on the horse and they started on their way.  Yet not once in all the pleasant contact had he betrayed his secret, and Hazel began to feel the burden of what she had found out weighing guiltily upon her like a thing stolen which she would gladly replace but dared not.  Sometimes, as they rode along, he quietly talking as the day before, pointing out some object of interest, or telling her some remarkable story of his experiences, she would wonder if she had not been entirely mistaken; heard wrong, maybe, or made more of the words than she should have done.  She grew to feel that he could not have meant her at all.  And then turning suddenly she would find his eyes upon her with a light in them so tender, so yearning, that she would droop her own in confusion and feel her heart beating wildly with the pleasure and the pain of it.

About noon they came to a rain-water hole near which were three Indian hogans.  Brownleigh explained that he had come this way, a little out of the shortest trail, hoping to get another horse so that they might travel faster and reach the railroad before sundown.

The girl’s heart went suddenly heavy as he left her sitting on Billy under a cottonwood tree while he went forward to find out if any one was at home and whether they had a horse to spare.  Of course she wanted to find her friends and relieve their anxiety as soon as possible, but there was something in the voice of the young missionary as he spoke of hastening onward that seemed to build a wall between them.  The pleasant intercourse of the morning seemed drawing so quickly to a close:  the wonderful sympathy and interest between them pushed with a violent hand out of her reach.  She felt a choking sensation in her throat as if she would like to put her head down on Billy’s rough neck-locks and sob.

She tried to reason with herself.  It was but a little over twenty-four hours since she first looked upon this stranger, and yet her heart was bound to him in such a way that she was dreading their separation.  How could it be?  Such things were not real.  People always laughed at sudden love affairs as if they were impossible, but her heart told her that it was not merely hours by which they numbered their acquaintance.  The soul of this man had been revealed to her in that brief space of time as another’s might not have been in years.  She dreaded the ending of this companionship.  It would be the end, of course.  He had said it, and she knew his words were true.  His world was not her world, more the pity!  He would never give up his world, and he had said she was unfitted for his.  It was all too true-this world of rough, uncouth strangers, and wild emptiness of beauty.  But how she longed to have this day with him beside her prolonged indefinitely!

The vision would fade of course when she got back into the world again, and things would assume their normal proportions very likely.  But just now she admitted to herself that she did not want to get back.  She would be entirely content if she might wander thus with him in the desert for the rest of her natural life.

He came back to her presently accompanied by an Indian boy carrying an iron pot and some fresh mutton.  Hazel watched them as they built a fire, arranged the pot full of water to boil, and placed the meat to roast.  The missionary was making corn cake which presently was baking in the ashes, and giving forth a savoury odour.

An Indian squaw appeared in the doorway of one of the hogans, her baby strapped to her back, and watched her with great round wondering eyes.  Hazel smiled at the little papoose, and it soon dimpled into an answering smile.  Then she discovered that the missionary was watching them both, his heart in his eyes, a strange wonderful joy in his face, and her heart-beats quickened.  She was pleasing him!  It was then as she smiled back at the child of the forest that she discovered an interest of her own in these neglected people of his.  She could not know that the little dark-skinned baby whom she had noticed would from this time forth become the special tender object of care from the missionary, just because she had noticed it.

They had a merry meal, though not so intimate as the others had been; for a group of Indian women and children huddled outside the nearest hogan watching their every move with wide staring eyes, and stolid but interested countenances; and the little boy hovered not far away to bring anything they might need.  It was all pleasant but Hazel felt impatient of the interruption when their time together was now so short.  She was glad when, mounted on Billy again, and her companion on a rough little Indian pony with wicked eyes, they rode away together into the sunshine of the afternoon.

But now it seemed but a breathless space before they would come into the presence of people, for the two horses made rapid time, and the distances flew past them mile by mile, the girl feeling each moment more shy and embarrassed, and conscious of the words she had overheard in the early morning.

It seemed to her a burden she could not carry away unknown upon her soul and yet how could she let him know?