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- The Winning of Barbara Worth - 20/75 -
connection. You mean that he has Spanish blood?"
"Not at all," said Barbara quickly. "But he is desert-born and desert-trained. He has the same patient stillness, the same natural bigness and the same unconquerable hardness."
"Oh, but you say the desert is not unconquerable; that it will be subdued. Your analogy is at fault."
"No, Mr. Holmes, it is you who do not understand. There is something about this country that will always remain as it is now. Abe Lee is like that. Whatever changes may come, he will always be Abe Lee of the Desert."
"Your views are really poetical and your character analyses very clever, Miss Worth, but after all men are men wherever you find them. Human nature is the same the world over."
"Oh, I'm sure that is so, Mr. Holmes. I know there must be many western men in the east, only they haven't found themselves yet."
He laughed heartily as he rose to go. "Will you ever bid me good night in your language of the desert?" he asked.
"Perhaps, when you have learned that language," she said with an answering smile.
"By George, I shall try to learn it," he answered.
"Oh, I wish you would," came the earnest answer. "I know you could."
And again the engineer felt strongly, back of her words, that unvoiced appeal. As he went down the street he knew that she did not refer to the Spanish tongue when she wished him to learn the language of her Desert.
Alone in her room that night Barbara's mind was too active for sleep and she sat for a long time by the open window, looking out into the vast silent world under the still stars.
Until she introduced herself to Willard Holmes, Barbara had never known eastern people. Tourists she had seen and, at rare intervals, met in a casual way. But they had always examined her with such frankly curious eyes that she had felt like some strange animal on exhibition and had repaid their interest with all the indifference she could command. Occasionally also she had been introduced to eastern business men, whom she chanced upon talking with her father in the bank, but they had turned quickly away to the matters of their world after the usual polite nothings demanded by the introduction. The home-land and life of Willard Holmes were as foreign to her as her land and life were strange to him.
So it happened in this instance also that in the education of the eastern engineer the teacher learned quite as much as the pupil.
The traits that stood out so prominently in the western men whom Barbara knew and so much admired were, in Willard Holmes, buried deeply under the habits and customs of the life and thought of the world to which he belonged--buried so deeply that the man himself scarcely realized that they were there and so was led to wonder at himself when his blood tingled with some strong presentation of this western girl's views.
But Barbara knew. Beneath the conventionalities of his class the girl felt the man a powerful character, with all the latent strength of his nation-building ancestors. She wanted him--as she put it to herself--to wake up. Would he? Would he learn the language of her Desert? She believed that he would, even as she believed in the reclamation of The King's Basin lands.
And she was glad--glad that the Seer and Abe and Tex and Pat and her father--the men who had brought her out of the Desert--were going now back into that land of death to save that land itself from itself. And--she whispered it softly under the stars--she was glad-- glad that Willard Holmes had come to go with them--to learn the language of her land.
WHY WILLARD HOLMES STAYED.
Slowly, day by day, the surveying party under the Seer pushed deeper and deeper into the awful desolation of The King's Basin Desert. They were the advance force of a mighty army ordered ahead by Good Business--the master passion of the race. Their duty was to learn the strength of the enemy, to measure its resources, to spy out its weaknesses and to gather data upon which a campaign would be planned.
Under the Seer the expedition was divided into several smaller parties, each of which was assigned to certain defined districts. Here and there, at seemingly careless intervals in the wide expanse, the white tents of the division camps shone through the many colored veils of the desert. Tall, thin columns of dust lifted into the sky from the water wagons that crawled ceaselessly from water hole to camp and from camp to water hole--hung in long clouds above the supply train laboring heavily across the dun plain to and from Rubio City--or rose in quick puffs and twisting spirals from the feet of some saddle horse bearing a messenger from the Chief to some distant lieutenant.
Every morning, from each of the camps, squads of khaki-clad men bearing transit and level, stake and pole and flag--the weapons of their warfare--put out in different directions into the vast silence that seemed to engulf them. Every evening the squads returned, desert-stained and weary, to their rest under the lonesome stars. Every morning the sun broke fiercely up from the long level of the eastward plain to pour its hot strength down upon these pigmy creatures, who dared to invade the territory over which he had, for so many ages, held undisputed dominion. Every evening the sun plunged fiercely down behind the purple wall of mountains that shut in the Basin on the west, as if to gather strength in some nether world for to-morrow's fight.
Always there was the same flood of white light from the deep, dry sky that was uncrossed by shred of cloud; always the same wide, tawny waste, harshly glaring near at hand--filled with awful mysteries under the many colored mists of the distance; until the eyes ached and the soul cried out in wonder at it all. Always there were the same deep nights, with the lonely stars so far away in the velvet purple darkness; the soft breathing of the desert; the pungent smell of greasewood and salt-bush; the weird, quavering call of the ground owl; or the wild coyote chorus, as if the long lost spirits of long ago savage races cried out a dreadful warning to these invaders.
And in all of this the land made itself felt against these men in the silent menace, the still waiting, the subtle call, the promise, the threat and the challenge of La Palma de la Mano de Dios.
To Barbara, who rode often in those days to the very rim of the Basin, there to search the wild, wide land with straining eyes for signs of her friends, the white glare of the camps was lost in the bewildering maze of color. The columns, clouds and spirals of dust-- save perhaps from a near supply wagon coming in or passing out-- could not be distinguished from the whirling dust-devils that danced always over the hot plains. The toiling pigmy dots of the little army were far beyond her vision's range. It was as though the fierce land had swallowed up horses, wagons and men. Only through the frequent letters brought by the freighters did she know that all was going well.
Perhaps the gray lizard that climbed to the top of a line stake wondered at the strange new growth that had sprung so suddenly from the familiar soil; or perhaps the horned-toad, scuttling to cover, marveled at the strange sounds as the stakes were driven and man called to man figures and directions. Perhaps the scaly side-winder, springing his warning rattle at the approaching step, questioned what new enemy this was; or the lone buzzard, wheeling high over head, watched the tiny moving figures with wondering hopefulness, and the coyote, that hushed for a little his wild music to follow up the wind this strange new scent, laughed at the Seer's dream.
These lines of stakes that every day stretched farther and farther into and across the waste seemed, in the wideness of the land, pitifully foolish. Looking back over the lines, the men who set them could scarcely distinguish the way they had come. But they knew that the stakes were there. They knew that some day that other, mightier company, the main army, would move along the way they had marked to meet the strength of the barren waste with the strength of the great river and take for the race the wealth of the land. The sound of human voices was flat and ineffectual in that age-old solitude, but the speakers knew that following their feeble voices would come the shouting, ringing, thundering chorus of the life that was to follow them into that silent land of death.
With the slow passing of the weeks came the trying out and testing of character inevitable to such a work. The concealing habits of civilization were dropped. Kindly, useful conventionalities were lost. Face to face with the unconquered forces of nature, nothing remained but the real strength or weakness of the individual himself. In some there were developed unguessed powers of endurance that bore the hard days without flinching; cheerful optimism that laughed at the appalling immensity of the task; strength of spirit that made a jest of galling discomforts; courage that smiled in the face of dangers. These were the strength of the party. Some there were who grew sullen, quarrelsome, and vicious in a kind of mad rebellion. These must be held in check, controlled and governed by the Seer with the assistance of Abe Lee and his helpers. Some became silent and moody, faint hearted and afraid. These were strengthened and guarded and given fresh courage. Some grew peevish and fretful, whining and complaining. These were disciplined wisely, forced gently into line. Some staggered and fell by the way. These were sent back and the ranks closed up. But the work--always the work went on.
To Willard Holmes the life was a slow torture, a revelation and an education. He found himself stripped of everything upon which he was accustomed to rely--family traditions, social position, influential friends, scholarship, experience in the world to which he was born-- all these were nothing in The Hollow of God's Hand. Slowly he learned that the power of such wealth is limited to certain fields. New York was very far away. He felt that he had been hopelessly banished to a strange world. Many times he would have thrown it all up and turned back with other deserters, but there was red blood in his veins. Stubborn pride and the thought of the girl who had hoped
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