Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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A book-length story of unusual power telling of a determined man who strikes back into the heart of the Great American Desert. He seeks gold. He finds Yahoya and love. She is too remarkable a girl to miss knowing. And the strange desert race of Indians, with their quaint customs and beliefs, lift the story far above ordinary fiction.
BREATHLESS waiting—for what? Blind terror—of what thing? The waiting interminably prolonged because the man did not know what was the thing he must expect; terror more hideous than mere fear because it was the unknown which menaced. In all of the universe there was now only this one thing which mattered; all else was forgotten. And what was it? To the man the desert in which he lay, helpless and hopeless, had ceased to exist. He no longer saw the hot sky, the molten sun, the limitless stretch of sand, cactus and blistering rock. He saw only the eyes which watched him.
They seemed staring at him terribly, two eyes which were steady, unwinking, immeasurable, inscrutable twin pools of ink. At one instant they became to his fevered fancy the fierce eyes of a savage, desert born and bred, observing his death with a curiosity at once unmoved and strangely childlike. Then he thought that he saw the eyes expand, dilate, grow enormous, the eyes of some misshapen monster thing, into whose lair he was the first man since the first dawn to penetrate. Northrup's reeling brain groped insanely for the visualization of the great body to which the eyes must belong, and which he could not see.
Then, with unconsciousness seeking to cast its black mantle over the man who struggled against it, the eyes seemed suddenly to change again, to grow smaller, smaller, rounder, until they were the evil eyes of the desert's chief curse, Sika-tcua, the yellow rattlesnake. He found himself groping, wondering dully if there were truth in the old tale, if a snake might charm a man and draw him closer and ever closer to the quick forked tongue? He set his two hands out in front of his pain-twisted body, sinking them in the blistering sand, seeking to stop the impulse which had crept upon him.
He knew that the gray wolf at times came down from the ridges; that the panther followed the track of the mule-deer here; that the gaunt, mean-spirited coyote was not averse to sitting patiently and watching the slow death of one of his superior animals, waiting. His tortured thoughts of a coyote were no less terrible than the others now.
All day long the steep rays of the desert sun had smitten at him pitilessly; all day the red-black lava rocks among which he lay had burnt his body; all day the flying sand carried upon the hot blast of wind had seared and scorched his bloodshot eyeballs. It had been in the first, white dawn that he had fallen. Encompassed through the hesitant hours by the material threats of the desert, he had not once groaned. It was Northrup's way to suffer in silence.
But now the unknown had swept the last vestiges of reality aside; it had the seeming of creeping close about him from all quarters of a veritable mundane hell. Halfcrazed with pain in the semi-consciousness which he was always fighting for, it was as if he had passed out of the old life already and into a fierce land of sorcery. Of only one thing could he be certain now—the pair of steady black eyes watching him through a fissure in the rocks above.
Had it been an hour since he had called out? Or had many circling eons reeled drunkenly over him since his voice, disturbing the vast silence, had choked back into his throat? He did not know.
He knew that he had called out, thinking that these were the eyes of a man, a human being like himself, that he had begged for help. He knew that there had come no answer, that the eyes had watched him with the same steady curiosity. He knew that he had shouted and that long ago he had grown still.
Once he had painfully dragged from its holster the automatic which had not been shaken loose in his fall; when, with a blind anger upon him, he had lifted it a little the two eyes were gone. When it had fallen from his weak grasp the two eyes were back there, watching him with the same cursed steadiness.
In a moment of half delirium the quick suspicion had come to him that it was Strang, Strang who had deserted him in his helplessness, robbing him of the scant supply of water to drive on madly, seeking to gain the next water-hole. But no; Strang wouldn't be tarrying here, watching him die. Strang wouldn't even be so much as thinking of him. Strang was taking his own chance, his one chance, and pushing on desperately.
Northrup had lived through the day praying dumbly for the coming coolness of the night. Now the night was coming and he was afraid of it.
He twisted his head a little to look at the sun. He was less sure that the sun was setting than that this was the last time he would ever look upon it. In the west, a riot of color; the sun was sinking through a mist which seemed to rise from a sea of blood. Night was at hand. And with the sign of its coming the sense was strong upon him of the unknown, terror-infested, creeping closer about him.
"Strang might have waited," he thought. His swollen lips and dry, aching throat were long ago past utterance. But he was not past saying within himself:
"I won't die until I know to what thing those eyes belong!" There was much stubbornness in Sax Northrup.
IT WAS not meant that he should die yet. And so he did not die. It was meant that he should see Strang again, that he should stumble upon a century-long hidden secret of the desert. So he lived on where another man would have died.
The silver desert moon was two hours high in the purple sky when he realized that he had lost consciousness and found it again. Before he thought of that he thought of the eyes which had so long watched him; before he saw the moon he saw them. They were over him now, just over him, less than a yard away.
He stared upward through the night light curiously. There was sufficient light for him to see clearly, but his brain cleared slowly.
In seeking to guess the riddle of the two eyes, to conjure up the thing to which they belonged, he had never thought of a woman. And yet a woman it was bending over him, though his mind took long in clearing enough for him to be sure of that.
She was old, unthinkably old, unbelievably ugly. She might have been the barren deity of a barren land. She might have been a skeleton, with the skin upon the fleshless skull tanned by sun and wind through hundreds of years until it was leather. Squatting motionless over him she did not seem to be a living, breathing being until he saw the eyes, the same steady, unwinking black pools of ink with the glint of the moon in them.
The moment was uncanny. The moonlight dragged weird figures from the desert floor, charging them with ghostly unreality. The thing squatting above him might have been a sister thing to the fantastic shapes the moon made everywhere about her.
Northrup shivered. His reason, making its way back through the darkness of his stupor, had not fully reinstated itself. He knew that here in this strange land of aridity there could be no such thing as decomposition. When death came it struck its blow cleanly, unattended by decay. Air, sun, wind, when they had their way undisputed, made of the dead such a thing as that which bent over him. If no prowling beast came to rend apart, then the body would last throughout generations, perhaps centuries.
Fear comes in many guises but never with so cold a clutch as when whispering of the supernatural. At the shock from the pictures whipped up before him by his own imaginings, Northrup again lost consciousness.
Later—he did not know how much later —it seemed quite natural for him to feel that some one was moving about him. He realized dimly that it couldn't be Strang, for Strang had gone on. He knew that it must be the thousand-year-old woman who had come out of the nowhere, riding on a moon-ray, perhaps; who, when she was done pottering around him, would go back the way she had come. He didn't try to turn his head to watch her because he knew that he hadn't the strength left in him.
She had slipped something soft under his shoulders, had even managed to turn his great body a little, making it lie a fraction less painfully. And she had brought him water. That was a joke on Strang! He had gone on furiously, lugging three or four warm cupfuls in his canteen, thinking that there was no other drop to be had until one had crossed many miles of desert.
There came intervals during which Northrup was oblivious to everything about him, brief spaces of time when he awoke to both realization and curiosity. But for the most part he existed in a condition which was a sort of dim border-line between consciousness and stupor. He accepted the present as matter of fact, forgot the past and did not seek to speculate upon the future.
For days he lay upon the talus, upon the first of whose ragged boulders he had fallen from the cliffs of porphyry above. The old woman, moving with the feebleness and the slowness of a Winter sunbeam, forced her shaking hands to construct a shelter over the spot where he lay.
A ragged, home-made cotton blanket stretched above him from rock to rock, a robe of rabbit-skins made at once cover and bed. She brought him water in a rude olla of sun-baked clay, administered gruelly messes made from corn-meal, attending him after the first with a faithfulness like a shepherd dog's. Where she went for the water, what was the source of her food supply, he did not know.
The silence was seldom broken. For hours at a time she would squat near him, her blanket drawn about her shoulders, over her head, her hands lost in its folds, her ancient face turned upon him in an expressionless stare. When there arose absolute need for speech there was no difficulty in understanding each other.
Northrup, through many years of going up and down among people of her breed, had come to understand the tongue of the Indians of Walpi, Oraibe, Taos. When he had called her "So Wuhti," which is the Hopi for Old Woman or Grandmother, she had understood. She had named him "Bahana" White Man, and the ceremony of introduction was complete.
For a long time Northrup, lying grim and quiet, thought that by struggling to keep on living he was but postponing the hour of his death a few hours. Among his lesser injuries he thought that he could count the fracture of his left arm. He could only speculate upon the extent of injury done internally.
Had he been in a hospital with capable physician and nurses attending him there might be a chance. But here, with the halfcooked food a wild woman brought, with the nauseating decoctions which she extracted from he knew not what plants or roots, with a bed of lava rock, his chance seemed little enough. He watched her making his medicines, heating the sticky liquid over a greasewood fire, then setting it aside that she might sing over it and so make it "good medicine," and imagined that the mixture would be about as efficacious as her singing. The latter was horrible enough. But he got well.
And they grew to be companions of a sort, as perhaps nearly any two of God's creatures would if set alone in the world. The fact that the old hag was living here and absolutely alone, that she seemed contented to be here and looked for no other company than her own until Northrup had come, aroused curiosity after a little.
He soon found many questions to ask. And during the five months which passed before he was a strong man again—and one must be certain of his full strength before he seeks to walk out into the desert with the little water he can carry and the knowledge that he must travel forty miles to the first water- hole—he learned much from So Wuhti.
HAD not So Wuhti led him at last to her abode, Northrup would never have found it. It was slow climbing for them both, the woman weighted down by close to a century of years, the man still so weak that a little exertion set him trembling throughout his wasted body.
The chosen chamber of So Wuhti was close up to the cliff-tops, a roughly gouged-out room in the rocks, to be approached only by a steep trail from below. It was constructed cunningly in a great fissure so that while from it the old woman might look out over the desert, it would be a keen eye down there to discover her.
Upon the floor lay So Wuhti's bed, a tumbled pile of cotton blankets of native weave and a rabbit-skin robe. In a smokeblackened corner were a few charred sticks and bits of brush; here and there were sun-baked clay utensils, for the most part black and cracked. A few strings of dried meat, a heap of shelled corn, a pot of water, a prayer-stick against the wall by the bed completed the equipment of the room.
From So Wuhti's boudoir—Northrup always called it that and So Wuhti seemed greatly pleased with the name—it was no trick to come to the top of the cliffs by means of the short ladder. And here one came upon that wonder of the desert of which a thousand tongues have told since first the old Spanish conquistadores dipped into it, which countless artists have sought to catch upon their brushes.
For a hundred miles in all directions the eye passed over gray floor, sweeping up into loma and mesa, the magic desert colorings over it all, deep blues and glittering bronzes, the snow white of drifted sands, the gray-green of cactus and brush, the brick reds of rocky precipices. Through the clear, dry air the eye sped instantly over waterless distances where a man might find slow death in crossing.
Here, just at the cliff's edge, Northrup found again the half- expected, the tumbled ruins of an ancient watch-tower. His mind toyed with the pictures which his fancies suggested.
The vision arose of a gaunt, cat-quick sentinel, hawk-eyed, skin beaten into glistening copper from the sun, keeping guard here while his brothers slept in a younger century; starting up as, many miles away across the rolling floor of desert sand and scrubby growth he caught a quick glimpse of an invading enemy; cupping his hands to his mouth to send outward and downward his warning shout; kindling the ever-ready pile of greasewood fagots to send out over the land other messages of warning, voiceless, lightning-winged. And, as if the old time were not yet dead though the watch-tower of stone was crumbling, he saw a pile of dry greasewood and a black smudge of smoke against the side of the one upstanding slab of stone.
He went back, down to So Wuhti, wondering.
As, little by little, strength came back into his emaciated body, he grew impatient for the time when he might dare to take up the trail again. But a month passed and he knew that it would be as mad a thing to try to move on as to climb to the cliff-tops and leap downward.
There was water here; So Wuhti brought it laboriously from a hidden spring far back and deep down in the great fissure in the rock wall. If he turned back, he knew there was no more water within thirty miles; if he went on it was a gamble if he would find water at the end of forty miles. So he waited for his strength to come back to him.
Slowly, so slowly that perhaps she was never aware of it, So Wuhti's silence slipped from her. She came, in her loneliness, to feel a strange affection for the big-bodied Bahana with his white skin, his yellow hair and blue eyes.
She had never seen a man like him. At first she seemed a little in awe of him, a little afraid of him. In those first weeks she would sit and watch him suspiciously, her lips locked, her eyes bright with speculation. But, as the Hopi legends have it, woman is the daughter of Yahpa, the Mocking-bird, and so, since her father is so great a talker, may not long remain silent. The legends of her forefathers were scripture to So Wuhti.
So it turned out that as they sat together in the old woman's boudoir or upon the cliff-tops, the slow hours passed to the throaty monotone of So Wuhti's talk while Northrup smoked her tobacco in his pipe and listened. It took him no great time to recognize the fact that the old woman was half crazed—a brooding, solitary life and a mind filled with superstitions having worked their way with her.
In the main her conversation was an ingenious fabric of lies told with rare semblance of truth. As if she were recounting some minor happening of the day, she told of a visit she had had from Haruing Wuhti, chief deity of the Hopi polytheism. The goddess, coming up out of the sea, had come across the desert, running swifter than an antelope. So beautiful was she that she had hurt So Wuhti's eyes with her beauty. Aliksai! Listen, Bahana! She is like a soft white maiden, Haruing Wuhti, her hair yellow like the squash blossom, yellower than yours. Her eyes are like turquoises, her mouth as red as a sunset through the sand-storm. She came swiftly at So Wuhti's call. Through the night the goddess sat there, So Wuhti here, and they talked.
So Wuhti shook her head, mumbled, grew silent. The Bahana was not to hear the things of which Haruing Wuhti and So Wuhti spoke in the night.
She explained her presence alone here. She told him of it twice, once in answer to his question, once volunteering the information. Had she gone into the matter a third time Northrup had no doubt that he would then have had three instead of merely two distinct explanations to choose from.
In the first account Northrup found many traces of ancient Indian religions. So Wuhti spoke familiarly of the beginnings of the world which, while she admitted that it was Haruing Wuhti and the Sun who had done the actual work, she herself witnessed.
She called Northrup's attention to the fact that the spot in which he and she were was the top of the world. Hence it became clear that it was very distantly remote from the abiding-place of the chief goddess. Being so far away the goddess must have some one in whom she could trust to see that everything went right. Consequently So Wuhti, a very great favorite with Haruing Wuhti, was stationed here. When there was need she built signal fires at the ruined watch-tower and Haruing saw and understood the matter.
If Northrup didn't take a great deal of stock in this explanation, he had the other one: Further in the desert, so far and across such a waterless tract that the white man could only send his hungry eyes traveling into it, was a land where there were hidden cities. The gods of the underworld had built these cities. Then they had given them to a people, the people of So Wuhti. There were seven of these cities, the Seven Cities of Chebo. (Northrup smiled as he saw a trace of the old legend told by the early Spanish explorers of the Seven Cities of Cibola.) They were very rich cities, having much silver, many turquoises and of late years much gold, which they made into rings and bracelets, the chiefs having cups and plates of gold.
In order that they might remain hidden from the greed of the white men and from the jealousy of other tribes, they set sentinels out through the desert, a hundred miles away. Such a sentinel was So Wuhti. She had but to set fire to the fagots upon the cliffs and the chiefs of the Hidden Cities of Chebo would understand.
Northrup must understand that the gods and goddesses were very close to the people of So Wuhti. Didn't Haruing Wuhti herself come here to chat with So Wuhti, to eat piki with her? It was so.
And by living here alone So Wuhti was doing a kindness at once to her people of Chebo and to her sovereign deity. The priest had told her. As long as she lived she would watch here. When she was to die she would build a big fire which would carry the word across the desert so that another might be sent to take her place. And then Haruing Wuhti would come for her and throw her cloak about her and So Wuhti would be a young mana again, living always where the Big River breaks through the crust and goes into the underworld where the gods live.
Though the old woman's rambling stories with their innumerable digressions and repetitions soon ceased to interest him, Northrup did not fill his canteen and move on when at last he felt that he was his old, strong self. Half-crazed old savage that she was, So Wuhti was none the less human. Nor was there any denying his obligation to her. Had it not been for her he would be now only what the coyotes and strong-beaked birds would have left of him. And now, strong enough to attempt the passage of the desert, he could not fail to see that So Wuhti was coming quickly to the end of her life, and he could not bear the thought of going on heartlessly, leaving her to die alone.
SHE looked at him curiously many times during those last few days together. She, too, had seen her death coming to her at last and looked at it with steady, curious eyes. She was not afraid, she did not seem sorry to go. She was certain that Haruing Wuhti was making her future existences her own concern. It was all arranged.
She had never manifested a hint of emotion of any kind since he had seen her beady eyes peering at him through the crack in the rocks and now he had been here upward of six months. He did not expect for a sign of emotion now. Too long had she had the opportunity of looking forward to the end to be greatly perturbed by it now that it was at hand.
It came with a little shock to him one day that So Wuhti was all human, after all. Out of a still silence by the ruined tower she had moved to him quickly, her crooked claw of a hand suddenly fastening about his forearm.
"You're a good man, Bahana," she said, her eyes unusually bright upon his. "Many days ago you were ready to go. You wait that So Wuhti does not die alone like the coyote. Askwali! I thank you. Haruing Wuhti will bring you many good things. I will tell her."
With all of her madness she was not without wisdom. She set her chamber in order that night; Northrup had the suspicion that in honor of the occasion she even went so far as to bathe. Then, when the first stars were coming out she made a trembling way to the cliff-tops, Northrup helping her up the short ladder.
In the faint light here Northrup saw how she had arranged her hair, and the thing came to him with something of a shock. She had done it up into two whorls, one at each ear, the imitation of the squash blossom which with the Zuni people tells the time when a maiden has ripened into the first blush of womanhood. So Wuhti was ready for the coming of Haruing Wuhti, for the time when again she would be beautiful—a young mana.
When at last the great fire, which at her command he had kindled, had burnt down, Northrup went slowly back into the stone chamber which had so long been So Wuhti's and which was never again to know her presence. As he looked at her blankets laid in order, folded by hands into which the chill had already crept, when he saw the broken jugs and crocks set in their neat row, a sudden moisture came into his eyes. So Wuhti had been good to him and she was dead. So Wuhti was gone and he was lonely!
In the coolness of the night, having only the stars to guide him, his canteen freshly filled, he pushed on, out into the desert.
ONLY because of the great stubbornness which was a part of him, and because of the unswerving purpose which had grown to be a part of that stubbornness, did Sax Northrup battle on with the desert instead of turning back now. For fight was it to be at every step, with the ultimate outcome hidden upon the knees of the barren gods of the Southwestern Sahara.
Already was he in a land into which men do not come, where perhaps before him ten white men had not ventured since the time of Fray Marcos close to four hundred years ago. Here was a region from which a man might bring back with him nothing but a tale of suffering; where often enough he might find nothing but a horrible death. And yet Northrup, seeking that which he sought, with his eyes open went on.
But, thinking that he knew the desert, he came to learn that he had never known it. Alone in the silence he came to understand a little the majesty and power of God.
Day after day, night after night, he saw these things made tangible in the sweep of the sandy floor, in the stern grandeur of the uplifted walls of rock. Through the fragment of eternal silence through which he fought his way he felt these things. He felt himself a small figure alone in a strange, hard world.
Grandeur, majesty, sublimity—he knew them to be of the desert. But they were not the essence of it. Its supreme quality, seen at all times and not to be mistaken, was its savage fierceness. The desert is no hypocrite; its teeth are always bared, poisoned teeth in a snarl at the intruder, threatening no less its own offspring. It is the land of the iron fang.
As he battled on, always was he in the heart of another battle which had outworn the youth of time. A struggle to the death, without quarter, and oh, the silence of it! Here about him was no created thing which the desert did not strive to kill. Here was no living thing upon all the terrible surface which did not strive to kill its brother creation.
Life here had never gotten beyond its primary, elemental phase. It was, over and over, the frenzied seeking to inflict death in order that the conqueror might live; to live in order to kill; to deal death and to flee from death.
The fierce brood of things struggling for existence even from the very womb of their terrible mother were without exception a brood armored and armed, the desert coyote a murderer with a coward's heart and a madman's cunning; the wildcat a machine for assassination; the gray wolf so much cold steel, tireless, swift, merciless, the spirit of slaughter cast into flesh and blood; the rattlesnake as deadly as death itself; even the harsh growth of vegetation, bound to earth by its iron roots so that it might not spring to attack or flee from its enemy, was armed with its thousand knife-thorns to tear at flesh and bite at bone.
Everywhere Northrup sensed the silent, unending struggle, the preying of living things upon one another, the warring of the land which bore them against them all. And he came to know what it meant for a human being to enter this scene of natural warfare.
Like the man and wife in Molière's comedy, fighting like cat and dog but ready to turn united against the interloper into their domestic realm, so these desert things seemed to combine with horrible power against the stranger in their realm, the Bahana who had dared set foot upon the changing sands.
The sun tortured him, thirst came to madden him, spiked cacti tore at his bleeding hands, wind parched, sand blinded him, the rattlesnake and the poisoned spiders threatened when he slept or woke.
As the still, hot days went on he came almost to believe himself in a veritable land of sorcery, of witchcraft, of black magic. It became to him the demesne of the unearthly, the home of illusion, a region bewitched and bewitching him who looked upon it, the one place in the world where the supernatural was a part of nature.
He saw the sun changed into a monster bloodstone, the moon into a disk of white silver, the sober skies into a riot of colors, burning reds, rich purples, greens and golds. His eyes told him of a stretch of level lands which were to be crossed in two hours and he struggled across them for two days; told him of mountains five miles away which his brain, wise from past experience, knew were seventy miles from him.
He walked toward misty veils of pale pink and deep rose; they melted away from him, withdrawing, showing him the barren places which had been softened only in the seeming. He saw things which did not exist, built out of nothingness as by the touch of a magician's wand, hovering in the air. What looked like a lake before him, cool waters stirring softly to a cool breeze, was nothingness, a bit of trickery of the air. To see trees, mountains where they were not, turned topsy-turvy, became a commonplace.
There was one day when, hoarding the little water in his canteen, hurrying on to the vague promise of a water-hole, he saw quick clouds gathering in the sky, black with the rain in them. Caught in a driving current high above, the clouds passed over him. Saturated, struck by a cooler current of air, they burst open like huge water-bags, spilling the rain. He saw it fall in a steep slant. It was raining up there in big drops. And yet no single drop of water came down to him. In the dry air through which it plunged hissing downward it disappeared, drunk up by the air itself as a drop of moisture is drunk up by a dry sand bank. Merely the natural thing here, yet looking like enchantment.
Northrup was a man essentially given to strong, vigorous action rather than to fanciful musings. And yet here, with aught of action denied him beyond the monotonous driving of one boot after the other into loose sand, or up lava-strewn slopes, or about and through clumps of desert vegetation, for weeks his mind was the home of strange imaginings.
He found himself wondering, at first lightly, but at times with a soberness which startled him when he recognized it, if there did exist supernatural forces of which man had no understanding. The thought came to him that such a force had drawn him, Sax Northrup, from the beaten thoroughfares of white men into this empty land. What had brought him here while the men whom he had known of his class and type were driving their motors over smooth roads, dining in comfortable cafés, sleeping upon soft beds and otherwise disporting themselves as befitted the city-bred? What indeed but the wild tale of a dying Indian down in Santa Fe?
The thing which takes men by the hair and drags them to the hidden corners of the four quarters of the world is generally the same thing in whatever garb it chooses to wear—the lure of gold. It had brought him, him and Strang, here.
Through many a day there stood between Northrup and death a scrap of paper and a hope that the paper did not lie. In the main it had told the truth thus far. If, later on, it lied to him, why, then he'd do what many another man has done on the desert, die for want of water.
He had the way, before leaving any water-hole upon which he had come, of taking the paper out of his pocket, studying it thoughtfully, looking up from it across the bleak stretches, out toward a steep-walled mesa or the clear-cut ridges of distant mountains. And always his frowning eyes came back from the old story of sand, lava-rock, gorge, precipice and gray-green desert growth to the bit of paper in his hand.
Already was it more precious to him than the gold which he hoped it might lead him to.
"For if through some mischance I should lose this," he admitted to himself often enough, "why, then, I'd be a dead man in forty-eight, maybe in twenty-four hours!"
A STRANGE map this, which Northrup carried rolled and thrust into an empty rifle-cartridge for safety. That he had made it himself did not in any way make it seem to him infallible. The Indian, dying in Santa, had told him the way to follow and Northrup had made the rough map from the Indian's words. And he had known, from the time that he made his first step upon the long trail, that, trusting himself upon it, having only that to guide him deep into the secret heart of the land of little water, was as foolhardy a thing as he had ever done in all the years of a foolhardy existence. But there had been the golden lure.
As he crouched by some lonely waterhole, trying to get his big body into a scant patch of shade, his eyes turned upon his crude map, Northrup's thoughts had grown into the way of flying back to the manner of this thing coming to him at all.
He had been in Santa Fe, chafing under a short enforced idleness, restive, eager for whatever might come next on the cards. There he had found Strang; or to be exact Strang had found him. Northrup hadn't particularly liked him from the beginning. But men of his class were few and hard to find hereabouts and Strang was not without a certain insinuating way and a perseverance almost as great as Northrup's own.
Besides, Strang in the beginning of the matter had been in trouble and Northrup in his wide-handed, generous way had befriended him. The ridding oneself of a person to whom one has done a kindness is not without its difficulties.
At any rate Northrup and Strang had been together watching a game of cards in an adobe saloon when the Indian had first come into their stories. The native, a tall, gaunt, sinewy fellow thrusting through a knot of men at the door had come almost at a run to where they were.
"Sax Northrup?" he had asked swiftly.
Even before Northrup could answer, there came a little whirring sound and a small arrow, tipped with a blue feather, evidently fired through the open window from without, drove deep into the Indian's side. His eyes, turned toward the square of darkness, were horrible. And Northrup, bending over him quickly, had seen no pain, just wicked, venemous hatred in them. The arrow was poisoned and the wounded man knew it.
In a little room just off the saloon the Indian told his story to Northrup and Strang. To the latter because he asked to stay, since the Indian made no objection, because Northrup had no reason for privacy in the matter.
That night the Indian died. But first he had told his story. Northrup, looking his incredulity, saw a keenness of eagerness in Strang's eyes. And in the end the Indian convinced them both.
"Look!" he had panted, speaking as swiftly as he might in the Hopi tongue. "There is more—like this!"
He had managed to squirm over on his bed, jerking weakly at something tied about his body under his shirt. It was Strang's eager hands which did the actual work. There was a little bag there, made rudely from a piece of buckskin. And in the bag were two gold nuggets and half a dozen turquoises.
"But why do you give this to me?" Northrup had demanded. "You came here looking for me. I don't know you."
"I know you," the Indian had answered. "Where hard things get done, I hear your name. Where dangerous things are, I hear your name. A man must be like you to go there. Now listen: get paper quick; make marks on it while I tell you."
And so Northrup had made his map.
"It is many miles, more than two hundred, before you come to the beginning of the trail," the Indian had said. "Red Rock Gully, you know? And Badger Gulch beyond, and Coyote Gap on the other side, they are known to you."
"Yes," Northrup had answered.
"Then, Bahana, listen. Listen with both ears!"
He made his description of the trail to travel swiftly, seeming to have each great or minor direction in mind, as if he had carefully arranged every detail already. From Coyote Gap Northrup was to go straight toward the rising sun where it lifted between the two peaks in the Spanish Mountains, the peaks known as Los Dos Hermanos. There, in the pass, was water. It was not over ten miles from Coyote Gap.
Then, before going further, the Indian had wriggled up, his back against the wall, and had seized pencil and paper from Northrup.
"Look," he had said, making a little mark. "This is where the north star is. You can always find the place of the Kwinae Wuhtaka—North Old Man—on the desert? Day and night, by the stars?"
Northrup nodded. Already he had begun to feel something of the earnestness which seemed to possess the Indian and which at the jump had gotten into Strang's blood. The Indian grunted his satisfaction.
"Now," the Hopi had said at the end, showing the same readiness which So Wuhti showed months later to meet the Skeleton Old Man half-way, "it is done. You will go, for there is gold at the end of it all, and where there is gold, if it is under hot rocks, a white man will go. The other Bahana," looking shrewdly into Strang's brightening eyes, "will go also. You will make two writings, so that if the wind steals one you will not die for water."
"Oh, I suppose we'll go," had been Northrup's answer. "But look here, my friend—I want to know what's back of this? Why are you so infernally set upon anybody using the stuff you can't use yourself?"
The Hopi's last earthly grin was full of malice.
"It is because I hate Tiyo," had been the full of his explanation.
THE question, "Who the devil is Tiyo?" had come quite naturally to Northrup's lips when he had first heard the name. But now it had long ago been crowded aside, all but forgotten. In due time he'd know, or else he'd never know, and in the meantime he had other matters to ponder upon.
It had been at a spot some ten miles in a general northeasterly direction from the point indicated on his map by the words "Cañon—Pines—Mountain Ridge," that he had had his mishap. Here Strang had left him. Here So Wuhti had appeared before him like a black witch, to become his good angel.
When he had pushed on again he had found that, day after day, the country unfolding before him became more menacing. He found no water of any description, excepting at those spots where little crosses upon his map indicated it. He slept and woke with the knowledge that should he miss one of these holes, should the Indian have lied to him, should the drifting sands have covered and blotted out a spring, why then the tale was told for Sax Northrup.
And there was another thing, a thing which multiplied a hundredfold the danger which lay about him: While the figures upon his map told him definitely that it was ten or twenty-five miles between waterholes it was, after all, just guesswork—guesswork first on the part of an Indian runner, guesswork on his own part; guesswork where the penalty for a mistake might well be death. No, as he went on, there was not much call to puzzle over the question, "Who is Tiyo?"
"In a race across the desert with the 'Skeleton Old Man' it is well to travel light!" Northrup remembered that bit of advice. From So Wuhti's caves he had brought water, corn-meal, a little dried meat which she informed him was rabbit meat but concerning which he had his doubt. At any rate it was meat.
When he came to a pool in a dry creek-bed, a spring great enough to give life to a little splotch of green stuff under the cliffs, he rested, sometimes a day or two if there was a hard pull ahead of him. Here he found animal life, cotton-tails and jack-rabbits for the most part and a few birds. They were tame, having no doubt never set their bright round eyes upon a thing which walked upright as he did, and they were curious.
What he needed Northrup killed, either with his automatic or with stones. The meat had but to be tossed over the limb of sage or mesquite for the sun to "jerk" it for him.
But times came when his stomach was empty and he went long without food; when there were no last, precious drops in his canteen and he began to fear that at last his map was lying to him. But always he forged on; never did the thought of turning back come to him. He knew that Strang had gone ahead, Strang for whom he had felt a mild sort of contempt.
He passed successively the points he had marked "Cave Rocks," where he spent two days and a half in interested exploration of the broken remnants of a civilization which must have been many centuries old before the Spaniards came into the New World; Big Skeleton, where, as the Hopi had foretold, he came upon the sun- bleached bones of what must at one time been a veritable giant of a man, now a pile of bones no longer of interest to preying animals where it lay upon the top of an overhanging boulder; Poison Springs where there were more skeletons, these of thirst- tormented, unwary animals; the Sunken Meadows which might have been originally the home of all the world's butterflies, and where many remained, great-winged, incredibly swift, that they might live at all through the eternal warfare which the bird-folk here waged upon them, where humming-birds brightened the air and mocking-birds shook out their cool, clear notes against desert sun and silence; into the ancient realm of cliff-dwellers where he saw countless orifices punctured into the cliffs a hundred, five hundred feet above some spring where he camped.
As the weeks wore on and he entered more deeply into the heart of the unknown, Northrup became possessed of a faith in the undertaking which had not been with him at the outset. Then he had thought, "I'll go and see." Now he felt, "I'll go and find!"
The very fact that every day he had constant proof of the Hopi's truthfulness began to work its spell upon him. Why should the end of the tale then prove fiction? Was he hourly drawing nearer the desert treasure-house?
ACROSS bare, blistering miles he followed his trail that led him to those deathless springs which in old times had made these arid lands an open thoroughfare to moccasined feet. There were times in those long, silent days of utter solitude when, far to right or left, he fancied he saw along high cliffs the remains of an old civilization, man-made trails in the rock, rudely circular holes in the precipices which well may have led into cool, chambered dwellings. But it was risking too much to seek to investigate here where distances are deceptive and water is not assured. Nor did he have the inclination to linger. His quest had gotten into his blood.
The time came at last when, standing clear and distinct in the north, he saw the line of cliffs marking his journey's end. He traveled now at night, since the moon was at the full. Through the loose sand which seemed one instant to give away as freely as water only to grasp at his ankles and hold him back the next, he plowed on all that night, his face set toward the north star. In the moonlight the desert about him was touched into a softness of beauty which was no attribute of it in the harsh light of day; the distant mountains looked unreal, mystically lovely, the borders of fairyland.
"What sort of people were the men and women who lived this, knew no life but this?" was Northrup's thought over and over. "The warriors, were they as hard as the desert by day? The maidens, were they as savage as their lovers? Or did the softness of desert moonlight, the tenderness of desert colorings seep into their souls?"
Toward dawn, from a gently sloping loma, he saw the clump of trees, mesquite for the most part, betokening the spot where he was to water and rest. From here, when the coolness of another dusk came, he would press on—over the last lap of the quest.
That day he dozed restlessly, dreaming broken dreams from which he started up repeatedly, muttering. The scenes through which he had so long traveled had had their deeper impressions upon him and suggested wild thoughts which in sleep were unchecked. The speculation of what might lay ahead mingled with them.
He felt all night as if he were in the grip of some power other than his own, not to be explained by materialistic mankind. He dreamed that the old peoples who had striven with the desert for existence, who had mastered it and lived through it, were not dead; that they still had their mountain fastnesses; that he moved among them; that strange adventures were his.
Toward late afternoon, too restlessly eager for further rest, he ate, drank, filled his canteens and struck out for the mountains. And before he had gone a mile, before the sun had wheeled down toward the end of the hottest day he had yet experienced, a thing occurred which sent a thrill through the man's physical being, a fresh shock of wonderment into his heart.
Before him were the heat waves trembling over a wide expanse of barren sand. Sand for miles in each direction, the white, loose sand which one finds in wind-tumbled dunes, like the white sand of the seashore, but waterless. Then slowly into the emptiness of burning air there grew a vision. He looked upon it at first with little interest; this sort of thing could hardly interest him after all these years of life upon the fringe of the desert, he thought. But, ten steps further he grew stock still, his heart thumping wildly, the old sense of the supernatural strong upon him.
He saw, woven into the semblance of reality from sunlight and air, hanging in the air close to the ground, like some master's painting suspended by invisible ropes, a scene of rare beauty, of mad beauty, for this bleak stretch of scant vegetation. It was a garden a hundred feet across, with tall, lush, water-loving flowers such as he had never seen before.
In the heart of the garden a pool of water with shade-trees dropping leaves into it, a pool not of nature's making but of man's. For surely its basin was white rock which man's hand had carved and scooped out; surely there stood carven pillars and columns of white stone about it. The water shone at him with a blue laughter, the white of the rock glistened like snow; the grass and plants flung emerald reflections at themselves; the blossoms everywhere were purple and scarlet and deep rose.
Clearer and clearer grew the desert vision until Northrup, seeing a bright-colored parrot drop from a swaying branch like a floating flower, caught his breath in wonderment.
"My God!" cried Northrup sharply. "Have I gone mad?"
He knew the way in which the thirst-torment ends: in forgetfulness of what one has suffered, in delicious delirium, in fancies like this thing which his two eyes told him was physical fabric.
His eyes had followed the gaudy flight of the parrot. And so they came to see what he had not seen before, to trick him into thinking he saw what he would not believe existed.
A hand had been thrown out—never mirage like this if this in sober truth were not magic's masterpiece—a slow- moving, graceful hand, a bare arm of rare perfection. The parrot had perched upon a finger, seeming to cock a suspicious, jealous head toward Northrup. So Northrup had seen the hand, the arm, the maiden herself.
She was lying upon her side, an arm flung out, an arm under her head. He saw the loose hair about her face, saw—or fancied he saw, for his senses were reeling—the face itself, the lips curving to languid laughter, saw the white robe girt about with a broad band of blue, saw the crimson flower set close to the brown throat, saw the little bare feet from which the white moccasins had fallen. And then—
Then the air had wavered and shimmered and clouded and cleared, and Sax Northrup found himself staring out across an empty stretch of white sand, drifted here and there by the desert winds.
TONIGHT the wind rose with sunset, sweeping across the desert in strong gusts. The white drifts of sand were disposed anew, in fresh designs. The sand, carried in level strata, cut at Northrup's face and hands, stinging him unmercifully like fine particles of heated glass.
Within an hour the wind dropped. The sparse grass here and there was motionless. It was stifling hot for another hour. Then came sudden cold through which Northrup made swifter progress. At dawn he thought that the mountains were not ten miles away, that he could come to them long before noon.
But as the sun rose, the wind came up with it, blowing again in mighty gusts, then settling into a steady storm from the north. Every step of the way now Northrup fought hard. The wind whipped the moisture out of his body until his skin seemed to be on fire. Bend his head as he might, the sand found its way under his hat-brim, cutting his face, driving through his shirt-collar, slipping everywhere into his clothing, running into his boots. An hour after sun-up it was fearfully hot; the sun was a small ball looking very far away yet smoldering with an intense red heat.
He hoarded his water, but again and again his dry throat drove him to lift his canteen to his lips. He sought to see the mountains ahead of him and could not make out the dimmest outline.
The flying sand would have hidden them had they been less than a tenth of the ten miles distant. It had smothered the world; it was choking, stifling him. He tied a handkerchief about his face and threw himself to the ground. He could make no progress against that fierce, raging storm from the north. He knew the folly of matching his strength against it. At this rate he would have exhausted his force, drunk his water in an hour, and then the piling, drifting, flying sand would work its grim way with him.
He began to think the storm would never end. The darkness into which mid-day was plunged grew thicker; the sun was a terrible, unearthly thing, dim and red. Until far in the afternoon the sand-storm swept upon him, racing away into the south with a sound of distant booming, with the whistle of dry sand upon dry wind. Little by little it subsided, the air thinned, a vague blur looking at the end of the world marked the mountains.
Northrup lifted his canteen. He had only a little water, perhaps two cupfuls, left. He drank sparingly and, fearful lest the wind might rise again, blowing for many days as he knew it did at times, he forced his heavy way northward.
He moved like a ghost through a mist of sand all that day. The wind came and went in gusts, dying down utterly toward sunset. The air cleared then, the mountains rose steeper, came marching to meet him. He drank the last drop of water and pushed on.
Moonrise found him, beaten and grimy, at the mouth of the great canon toward which he had journeyed. He hurried on into the cañon. There were black shadows everywhere about him. But slowly as he went on the shadows drew into themselves as the moon climbed higher.
Here, on each side of him, were the walls of the cañon, lifted up in sheer cliffs. Already the cliffs were a hundred feet high; ahead he could see that they stood up into the sky seven hundred, a thousand feet.
The cañon where he stood was perhaps fifty yards in width; a little further on it widened out to three times fifty yards, narrowing again rapidly.
But now Northrup's eyes were concerned not with the walls of rock but with the floor of the cañon. He wanted water, wanted it badly. All day he had been stinted for it; now he must have it, and soon. His throat ached and burned; his tongue felt thick and stiff in his mouth; his whole body cried to him for water.
He believed that he had come to the right cañon; it was as the Hopi had described it, lying due north of the last water- hole, with the tallest peak towering above it. If in the sand- storm he had lost his bearings, why then so much the worse for a foolhardy adventurer.
FOR an hour he sought water and found none. His thirst was tormenting him, driving him mad.
The moonlight glistening from a white slab of granite tricked him; he hurried stumbling to it only to twist his lips into a silent curse when he saw clearly.
He sucked at his canteen and in sudden wrath threw it from him. A moment of terror came upon him in which he ran here and there blindly. He jerked himself together with anger at himself.
He went to the flat-topped boulder and sat down. He needed rest almost as badly as he needed water. And he must get himself in hand.
The orb of the moon silvered the cliffs above him. Northrup sent his eyes questing everywhere, even up the cliffs. He saw something move, a wolf he supposed. He wasn't interested in wolves; it was water he wanted.
But his eyes remained a moment with the sign of life, hundreds of feet above him. The moving thing came out from a blotch of shadow and stood upon the edge of the cliff. It was not a wolf, it was a man, or else the trickery of the moon was building another taunting vision for him.
The moving form, coming to the very edge, stood still. Northrup saw the man distinctly, almost straight up above him. The face was in profile, etched clear against the sky. It was the face of an Indian, Hopi perhaps, but handsomer than the Hopi Northrup had known, the nose prominent, the features sharply cut and clear. The Indian was naked save for the white loincloth and the band about his head. His arms were flung out toward the moon as if in supplication, his body rigid a moment, his head lifted.
Northrup sought to call out, and a dry whisper in his tortured throat fell hissingly upon his own ears. He sprang up, striving again to call. But the form above him was gone. The man had drawn back from the cliff-edge; the moonlight silvered the rock where he had been.
Hastily Northrup sought the way up there, knowing that he must come upon this man before he was beyond call. He might have used his gun to attract attention—he thought of that now—but already his feet had found the first of the rude steps in the cliff and he was climbing rapidly. When he came to the top, then if the man were not to be seen he would use the gun.
As Northrup's head rose slowly above the edge of the cliff he stopped suddenly, a little gasp in his throat. Here was a great shelf against the precipice, the cliffs falling abruptly to the desert below, rising sheer another five hundred feet back of the level space. The space, itself some hundred feet in length and half of that in width, appeared to him like some mighty stage set for one of the desert's wild extravaganzas.
He saw not one man but fifty, a hundred; he could not estimate how many. All were like the first, gaunt-bodied, clothed in the loin-cloth of pure white, their bodies glistening in the moonlight like polished bronze. They were moving about in a slow, stately procession, their arms lifted to the moon, their faces upturned, their forms swaying rhythmically as they circled about a form standing above them upon a flat boulder. Along the cliff wall upon the far side of the level space Northrup saw other forms, these in the shadow, clothed in white robes, whether of native cotton or buckskin he could not tell, the forms of matrons and maidens, scores of them.
Not a sound had come to him. The feet moving in the wide circle were bare feet falling lightly upon a floor of rock. He saw lips opened, moving in unison as if some mighty chant were bursting from them. And yet no sound of singing came to him. It was as still here as it was out ten miles across the sands.
The form standing upon the boulder about which the others circled, was that of an old man. Northrup saw the hooked beak of a nose like a hawk's, the hair falling about the shoulders, silver under the moon, the black eyes filled with a strange ecstasy. And then the black eyes saw him.
Just Northrup's head coming up slowly from the void below, a great head of yellow, disheveled hair, a great yellow beard, unkempt and made over into gold by the night light, great blue eyes looking fierce as a wolf's from the thirst upon him.
And yet the ceremonial dance, if such it were, went on with no pause. The old man stood still, his arms outflung, his lips moving as the lips of the others moved. He had seen Northrup, he had seemed then to have forgotten him.
Northrup came slowly up to the ledge, his big body seeming unnaturally large when at last he stood upon a level with the others.
"Water!" he cried hoarsely. "I want water."
He had spoken in English. His voice cut rudely into the silence. Those who had not seen him before saw him now. A hundred looks turned upon him, swift and startled. For a moment the swaying bodies and moving lips grew as still as the rocks. Then again the bodies swayed, the lips moved, the silent circle continued as if he had not broken into it.
"Water!" cried Northrup again, moving toward them heavily like some great tawny-maned lion, wrath in his eyes. And in half a dozen tongues, dialects of the southwest he hurled the word at them:
"Water. I want water!"
A fierce anger surged into Northrup's heart. Would these copper-bodied devils of silence keep on with their mad dance while Sax Northrup was dying of thirst?
He bore down upon them, the voice in his throat harsh and savage. They gave back before him, moving but a little to the side, their bodies still swaying, their lips still moving. But he saw that the scores of eyes were turned upon him wonderingly.
So he came almost to the boulder upon which the old man stood. He saw that this one was clad differently from the others, a long robe hanging from his shoulders, girted about by a broad band of red, a chain of glass beads—or were they turquoises?—about the forehead, holding the hair back. He had come almost to this man, thinking him to be the one in authority here, when he found another of the bronze bodies in his path.
Northrup plunged toward him, but this man did not move aside. He was taller than the others, Northrup noted, gaunt-bodied like them, but with mighty sinews standing out upon shoulders and arms and thighs, a man as tall as Northrup. Northrup threw out his arm to thrust this man aside, his one thought to come to the old man. But his arm struck a body hard like rock, unyielding.
"—— you!" shouted Northrup. "Stand aside. I want water!"
The man's body was swaying gently with the other swaying bodies, his lips moving with the other moving lips, his eyes fearless and stubborn and filled with threat. Northrup's two hands shot out, gripping the bare shoulders.
Until now he had seen no sign of a weapon among these people. But suddenly a knife had leaped out in this man's right hand, the moonlight running down the thin, keen blade. And still no sound save Northrup's heavy breathing and scuffling feet and angry, snarling voice. Northrup's rage was like the rage of a mad desert animal. As the knife-blade swept upward, preparatory for the downward blow, Northrup struck. His big fist hammered straight into the Indian's face, the knife clattered to the rocks, the Indian staggering back.
In an instant Northrup was upon him, had caught the lean body in his hungering hands, had dragged it to the cliff's edge, had lifted it high in air until the bronzed limbs stood out against the sky.
Then, his savage blood-lust gone as swiftly as it had come, he had cast the man down upon the ledge at his feet, turning swiftly toward the other forms which had ceased swaying at last. And as he turned he heard a burst of laughter, the soft, tinkling laughter of a woman. Out of silence he had drawn this thing, a woman's laugh bubbling over with mirth like the overflow of a sparkling fountain. And then he saw her.
Beyond the stone where the old man stood was a narrow rift in the wall of rock. Deep in the rift was a blazing fire, throwing into relief the form which had come out from it. The form of a girl, her left arm and shoulder bare and brown, a single stone or bead gleaming upon her forehead, her slender form clad in a long, loose robe of white, her feet encased in moccasins of white buckskin.
And her eyes under her dusky hair laughed, her red lips laughed. And as if an echo of her laughter came the laughter of the gaudy-plumaged parrot perched upon her round wrist.
Northrup stared at her in amazement, thinking himself staring at some soft maiden of the Orient. He forgot the others, forgot the man at his feet who had rolled over, his dark hand going swiftly to the knife upon the rock. He thought of it in time because of what he saw in the girl's eyes.
No sound after the laughter had died away, no single word. But in her eyes was a language which was not to be misunderstood. There was anger there now, a wrath which blazed as brightly as Northrup's had. And there was a command. Her eyes, passing beyond Northrup, were upon the man with the knife.
She lifted her hand as if putting a cup of water to her lips. Then she nodded briefly at the man who stood so close to Northrup with the knife shaking in his hand. Northrup, turning, saw again the picture of anger there, but an anger sullen and hesitant.
He again looked to the girl. Her hand, pointing at this man, made again the swift gesture of lifted cup, then swept in a wide arc, pointing into the rift in the rock walls through which the fire gleamed.
Northrup found himself watching as he might have done were this in reality some extravaganza and he in his seat in the audience. He read the command in the girl's furious eyes, the hesitation and sullen rage in the man's, the wonder in other eyes, and something that looked like fear, a look of baffled fury in the eyes of the old man in the long robe. And then he was following the man with the knife, passing through a long lane of silent, watchful figures, going after his guide through the narrow passageway into the cliffs.
For an instant, as he was passing close to where the girl stood at the mouth of the cleft, Northrup paused, his eyes turned curiously upon her. Her eyes met his steadily, eyes whose color was elusive there in the moonlight. He could only tell that they were big, dark and lustrous.
A word of thanks upon his lips was checked by what he read in her quick expression. The girl's gaze had swept him from the top of his tousled yellow hair to the sole of his dusty boots. Her look, meeting his again, was filled with admiration; her thought stood out plainly, with no attempt at concealment. It was as if she had opened her red mouth and said softly, wonderingly:
"You are the biggest man, the most wonderful, the most handsome I have ever looked upon!"
Northrup's face reddened suddenly and he went on, merely bowing deeply as he passed. He saw the face of the man with the knife; this man too had read the girl's expression and his features were twisted with malicious rage.
NORTHRUP, forcing himself to drink slowly, looked about him between sips of the cold water. He had followed his guide through the narrow cleft, by the fagot fire, up a series of winding, uneven steps in the rock and out upon a second ledge, some distance to the side of the first and some fifty feet higher.
Here, in a niche in the rock, was a clay water-jug, brimming. Above rose the cliffs precipitately upon one side; upon the other they fell straight down to the more gentle slope of the foothills. There was no sign of habitation here, nothing to bespeak human occupation of these heights save the waterjug and the Indian who had brought him here.
Turning, Northrup looked back down the rude stairs and through the cut in the rocks. Upon the lower ledge the old man was standing upon the boulder, his arms lifted, his face upturned, his lips moving. About him the bronze figures, naked save for the loin-cloths, were passing noiselessly, bodies swaying rhythmically.
The girl with the parrot upon her wrist, a slender, peeled willow-rod tipped with feathers in her hand, was watching them. Her lips moved with the others, her lithe body swayed with theirs, the feather-tipped rod in her hand beat time to the voiceless singing.
The man at Northrup's side had slipped silently away, his bare feet falling noiselessly upon the rock staircase. Swiftly he went down, dropping from sight, reappearing by the fire, passing out upon the lower ledge to take once more his place in the circling about the old man.
Was the desert in all truth a place bewitched? And were these voiceless beings the band of sorcerers brewing black magic to cast out through the moonlight and over the world? What strange race of tongueless people was this upon which he had stumbled, following the wild tale of a dying Indian down in Santa Fe? And—suddenly the question which had not presented itself for many days came back to him now—who was Tiyo?
Northrup shrugged his shoulders in answer to his own questioning and again lifted the water-jug to his lips, drinking more deeply now. Time would answer him and in the meantime he was not going to die of hunger and thirst. He sat down upon the verge of the higher ledge, filled his pipe and, resting, watched what went on below.
For the greater part of an hour the silent circling continued. Then, at no signal which he could see, it ceased suddenly, breaking off with abrupt finality.
The girl with the parrot, walking slowly between the two long lines of bronze figures which had drawn up and grown motionless for her passing, went to the boulder where the old man in the white robe stood. As he reached down she put her hand up, taking one of his. She carried it to her lips, the action filled with reverence. The old man stood above her like one great in power, undisputed in authority, accepting homage and reverence as his due; the girl's attitude was one of rare humbleness and humility.
But in an instant the parts had changed. As she had dropped the withered hand, the old man had slipped down from his place of eminence. In a moment he had sunk to his knees, had lifted the blue embroidered fringe of her robe, had carried it to his lips. And the girl's air had suddenly undergone a change lightning swift. Her head was lifted, the round throat showing brown and bare through the opening in her robe; she had gathered her small height so that she looked tall; her manner was subtly arrogant, queenly proud. As the kneeling figure looked up at her the reverence was in his eyes, the power and dignity in hers.
"It's the land of mad folks!" grunted Northrup.
A man knowing as much as Northrup of the Indians of the Southwest, such as dwell in Oraibi, Walpi, ancient Taos, throughout the desert lands of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, knows with what tenacity they cling to traditions which were old centuries before the armored Spaniard came into the New World. He knew them for a deeply religious people, their beliefs stoutly maintained in the face of alien interference, filled with ceremony and symbolism. He knew that this thing which he was watching was some rite deeply important to these people, and could only watch, wondering vaguely what it portended.
Among savage people there is perhaps even less difficulty in selecting at a glance the "higher-ups" than among a people who have gone further with civilization. Already Northrup recognized the very obvious fact that the persons to be reckoned with here were the old man in the white robe, a priest, without doubt, the young man with the knife, and the girl. And now, awakening a keener interest in him, came the knowledge that, for the moment at least, it was the girl to whom all eyes were turned with reverence and obedience.
She lifted the rod in her hand, a baho, or prayer- stick, no doubt, and once more the silent circle was described, the old man leading, the young fellow with the wonderful physique following, the others taking their places behind him. And all of them, passing under the outstretched baho, stooped swiftly to lift the hem of her garment to their lips. She looked over their bent heads with bright eyes, like a young queen just come into her birthright.
In a little they had all passed by her and in silent procession had come through the defile in the rocks, mounting the crooked steps, passing by Northrup with sharp, black eyes turned upon him, across the second ledge and down at the far side, seeming to him to drop one by one into the void below.
After them came the women, matrons first, with their hair arranged in Hopi fashion, done low at each side, the maidens with their hair massed into two great whorls, one at each ear, flashing quick glances of curiosity at him. Upon the lower ledge now were five figures only, the girl with the parrot and the two maidens who stood a little back of her, one on each side, the old man and the man with whom Northrup had struggled.
Now the girl was making swift gestures which for a little perplexed the man who watched her from above, though her companions seemed readily enough to grasp her meaning. Across the few feet which separated them, Northrup could catch their expressions as clearly as if it had been the sun instead of the round moon hanging above them. Into the eyes of the old man and the two attendant maidens came a quick look of horror; into the eyes of the other man a look of black anger.
The girl, seeing what Northrup saw, lifted her head a little higher, her eyes grown brighter, suddenly hard as rock. The gesture again and Northrup knew that it had something to do with him. For the feather-tipped willow-rod was pointed toward him, then out across the ledge where the others had gone, then to the young man before her.
The old man seemed upon the verge of speaking. But, still with locked lips, he shook his head vigorously. The girl whirled upon him, her attitude filled with sovereign menace, and he drew back swiftly as if afraid of her. The two maidens, eyes wide, lips parted breathlessly, stared in sheer amazement at her.
Again the girl with the parrot had whirled about, her back upon the old man, something of contempt in the action, her eyes blazing at the younger man. The gesture came swift and imperious. The fellow who had already felt Northrup's fist, and whose lips were swollen because he had, grew sullen, shaking his head with determined refusal.
The girl took a swift step toward him; he held his ground obstinately. Suddenly, her face showing the fury upon her, she had lifted the prayer-stick as if she would strike him with it. The thing was a slender rod which a man might break between thumb and forefinger. And yet it was the sacred baho!
Northrup thought that he heard a gasp; he knew that what looked like shaking fear had descended from the rod still held aloft. The old man and the young had stooped, lifting the hem of her garment, and the girl, her lips curved into a victor's smile, turned her back upon all of them and came through the defile, to the higher ledge and to Northrup's side. She flashed him a smile which, filled with triumph, was not without the warmth of the admiration which had been in her eyes when he had passed her. Then she went across the ledge, pausing at the brink to look back.
The old man and the two maidens had followed her. The other man, his face convulsed, his eyes like knives, came to where Northrup was now standing. For a moment, the two men looking into each other's eyes, had a glimpse of what might lie in the future. Then again Northrup was following his guide.
The girl, seeming satisfied, went down over the edge of the cliff. Northrup, following his guide, found other steps there, winding downward and turning about a great knob of rock. And then, startled by that which he might have expected, he was looking down into the garden with the white rock basin, the white stone columns, the pool of water and the green-leafed trees he had seen in the mirage.
Here was a third broad ledge, the cliffs at the back curving outward over it, almost like a roof. Close under this overhanging precipice was a building, rudely square, built of white stone and cement with one wide door set between two pillars of stone.
There were half a dozen square openings in the wall, their use as windows obvious. Upon the flat roof were green things growing and the great blossoms looking either white or black in the fainter light there. A temple, Northrup guessed. He was to learn differently soon.
At the side of the pool the girl with the parrot had stopped. The bird, fluttering from her wrist, perched upon a limb which bent and swayed with him. The old man and the younger one, who had guided Northrup here, made again the deep obeisance and passed on, going to the far edge of this ledge and passing down other steps, out of sight. The two attendant maidens, their eyes still wide with surprise and wonder, waited a few steps from their mistress. Again a quick imperious gesture as she turned upon them. They moved back and away, going from her to the stone building, disappearing through the wide door. The girl who had remained turned slowly, her eyes upon Northrup.
For a little she stood looking at him with deep soberness, her oval face like a little child's in its unaffected interest and curiosity. Then suddenly—it seemed that she did all things with rare swiftness excepting when the mood or pose of languor was upon her—a smile touched her lips into gentle curves, her face dimpled up at him, from low in her throat came a little burst of laughter.
"Ishohi! In your big hands did Tiyo look a little bug squirming! For that, Bahana, I thank you! Askwali!"
"Tiyo?" grunted Northrup. "So the gentleman with the carving- knife is our old friend Tiyo, eh?"
The words, coming with the little start of surprise, found utterance quite naturally in English. In the same tongue he added,
"You pretty thing! I wonder if you know you are the prettiest girl I ever saw, red, black, yellow or white?"
She looked at him frankly puzzled, shaking her head slowly. Northrup laughed. Speaking in the tongue his many months with So Wuhti had perfected he said quickly:
"I was just mentioning my delight at meeting up with Tiyo. I have heard of him."
She showed her pleasure at his speaking words which she could understand by clapping her hands. But, again very sober in her regard of him, lifting her face upward until the wonder was he didn't kiss her tempting mouth then and there, she studied him a moment and then declared as though quite satisfied and convinced:
"You are beautiful, Bahana! You are like Sikangwunuptu! Your eyes are like the skies one sees from the mountain-tops. Your hair is like gold, more beautiful than gold."
She came closer, putting up her hand in that swift way of hers until her fingers gently brushed the hair at his temple.
"Yes, you are like the God of the Yellow Dawn."
Northrup whistled. And then, though he felt like a fool for it, he blushed. He felt his face getting red, as red as fire. The girl, seeing his embarrassment, laughed again, her mirth rippling out through the still night, as pure and clean a thing as the moonlight itself.
"You little devil!" muttered the man.
She lifted her brows, making again the sign that she did not understand. Then for an instant Northrup lost sight of her in a new vision which appeared abruptly. He had thought that Tiyo and the old priest had gone on down the rocks somewhere; evidently they had contented themselves by merely going down over the edge and remaining there just out of sight.
For, as if some one had pulled a string and they both were puppets answering to the jerk, their two heads appeared again, the old man's face twisted evilly into a crimson rage, Tiyo's eyes filled with horror and an anger like the priest's. Even the two maidens who had disappeared through the wide doorway were back at the entrance; it seemed to Northrup that their dark faces had grown ashy. He was positive that they had clutched at each other and that they were trembling. He turned questioning eyes back to the girl.
If before she had taken upon herself a seeming of queenliness, now she was like an angry goddess. A moment ago one could not have looked into the limpid, laughing pools which were her eyes and have imagined that they could change so. They blazed with an anger which was greater than Tiyo's and the priest's; they shone with a menace which was hard enough to inspire one with terror. Northrup saw that while the two men held their places there came quickly into their look a certain hint of uneasiness; the two maidens had fled into the dark interior of the stone building.
"Why do you linger, Inaa Wuhtaka (Father Old Man)?" she said with a tone which knew the way to be at once cool, steady and deadly. "Why, Tiyo, do you bring back into the presence of Yahoya your evil face, unbidden? Do you wish Yahoya's blessing? Or her curse perhaps?"
The baho in her hand lifted a little, a very, very little. But the gesture was significant. Both men started back as if they had been struck across the faces. Then, only anger again to be read in the priest's countenance, he began a series of frantic signs which Northrup, looking on in wonderment, was at loss to read, but which the girl seemed to grasp readily.
"Inaa," she said gently, quite as a mother might speak to a forward child, although his years must have numbered seventy at the least, while the maiden was at the first blush of womanhood. "I understand what your locked lips whisper. Your speech comes from your heart and so it is kind. But you will remember, Inaa, that though a priest you are only a man whose path goes the way soon of the Skeleton House. And you will not forget, Inaa, who is Yahoya! Go! Tiyo goes with you."
The thin old hands lifted in protest dropped hopelessly; with no word Inaa, and Tiyo with him, went over the cliffs and out of sight. Northrup, filled more than ever with curiosity, turned to the girl.
"He is like an old sheep, is Inaa," she smiled with pleasant disrespect for the cloth. "All white wool and little brain. And Tiyo—Tiyo is his son."
"And you," said Northrup, wondering at all he had seen. "You are—Yahoya, a great lady—a princess?"
Her smile was as serene as the moonbeam across the still pool as she answered him, stating quite simply as the most matter-of- fact thing in the world:
"I am Yahoya—a goddess!"
"I—I see," stammered Northrup when he could think of anything to say. "I—I might have known it. I never saw a goddess before, but—oh, yes, you're a goddess, all right!"
"Yes," said Yahoya simply, dimpling at him quite like a maiden of flesh and blood, altogether adorable. "I am Yahoya, chief goddess of the 'People of the Hidden Spring,' sister of Haruing Wuhti, daughter of Cotukvnangi, god of thunder, mother of Tokila, the Night, bride of Pookhonghoya, god of war."
Northrup bowed and remembered to take off his hat. From the corner of his eye he looked at the goddess Yahoya in stupefaction. Was she poking fun at him or did she believe all of that stuff?
The question need not go begging for an answer. Her whole being breathed the certainty that she was what she had said she was. The attitude of Inaa the priest and his evil-eyed son Tiyo backed up her belief. They were all so certain of the thing that Northrup, a little dazed, asked himself:
"Well, why not? Everything happens here! Why not find oneself in the presence of deity?"
And he admitted that she looked the part—all except being the mother of Tokila, the Night, or of anything else.
"It is the Festival of Silence," the goddess was explaining to him in the same quiet way. "At such time it is death to make so much as a little sound with the lips, death to a mortal. But I, being an immortal, may do as I please. You, being bidden by me, may speak. Inaa," and she laughed again, mirthfully as at a rare thought, "Inaa is afraid of the Skeleton Old Man. But most of all is he afraid of me!"
"Yes," said Northrup, gathering his wits. "Exactly."
She turned a little and led the way close to the pool of water in the white basin, along its side and to what appeared to be a huge panther-skin cast upon the ground under a drooping tree. Here she seated herself, stretching out, making herself comfortable, lying as he knew she had been lying when the sorcery of the atmosphere had shown her to him across the desert. Even the parrot was upon a swaying branch above her.
"Be seated, Bahana," she said lightly. "We shall talk. My lips are tired with the long silence."
Northrup's tired body was not averse to accepting the invitation. He sat just at the fringe of the shadow of the tree, a few steps from her, where he could see the play of her features. And already he began to forget his weariness.
"Yesterday, in the late afternoon," he said with the impulse upon him, "you were lying here, upon the panther-skin. Your hair was loose, all about your shoulders; your little moccasins had fallen off and you did not notice. You wore a flower at your throat. Your bird was in the tree there. He dropped down and perched upon your wrist."
Yahoya, without sitting up, looked at him, a little startled, hers now the time for wonderment.
"But you were not here to see, Bahana."
"I was out yonder," he answered. "'Way out on the desert."
"Then," she cried a little breathlessly, "you too are a god! Not a Bahana but a deity. You are perhaps, him I said you looked to be, Sikangwunuptu, God of the Yellow Dawn! Ishohi!"
She had twisted over, her graceful body little less pantherine in its movements than had been the body upon whose skin she now lay, and slipped to her feet, standing over him.
Wondering what thing she was going to do next, Northrup sat still watching her. She was making him a curtsey or an obeisance, he wasn't quite sure which. Anyway it was pretty and decidedly worth watching. He was already asking himself why white girls didn't have half the charm of this wild thing.
"You are Sikangwunuptu!" she was crying softly. "You, a great god of the underworld, have come up to visit at the kiva of Yahoya, Chief Goddess of the People of the Hidden Spring! You are more beautiful than a man because you are more than a man. You have the strength of ten Tiyos because you are an immortal. See. I, too, am immortal, I, the Goddess Yahoya! And yet I, even I, kneel before Sikangwunuptu, great God of the Yellow Dawn!"
And, true enough, the impetuous creature had sunk to her knees, throwing out her round, brown arms as in supplication. The parrot, perhaps bewildered at seeing his mistress act so, gave utterance to a nervous squawk, fluttered over her head, availed himself of a vicious snap at Northrup and went back to his tree to watch.
Northrup in his wanderings up and down the world had seen little of womankind, knew little of her and her ways. In all essentials he sat spellbound for an instant, hardly grasping Yahoya's intent. But in another second when her two hands had found his two and were lifting them to her lips he realized that, savage or goddess, she was getting into the way of making him blush and that he didn't like it.
"Look here," he said quickly. "My name's Sax Northrup, if you want it. And I'm hungry."
Yahoya laughed lightly. Northrup wasn't sure that he knew what inspired her laughter. She seemed to be built of mirth. She was on her feet again in a flash, dropping him another of her quaint little bows, her dark eyes dancing. Then she had cupped her two hands to her mouth and called.
Her two maidens came pattering in bare feet across the stone courtyard.
"Nayangap Mana! Tocha Mana!" she cried softly to them when, hesitant and wide-eyed, they stood before their mistress, darting swift, curious glances at Northrup. "You are in the presence of the gods!"
As if this were a signal and they grasped it instantly, the two not uncomely maidens plumped down upon their knees.
"Listen!" went on Yahoya swiftly. "He whom you see before you is one come up from the underworld to have speech with Yahoya. Guard your eyes that they go not blind with looking upon him. It is Sikangwunuptu!
Instantly four brown hands flew up to hide four very bright and inquisitive eyes. Northrup fancied, while he was not certain, that the girl called Nayangap was peeking at him through her fingers.
"He has come running across the desert," continued Yahoya. "Therefore is he hungry. He does not carry water with him as men do; therefore he thirsts. Hasten!"
Before Northrup, missing the canteen which had been with him so long, came to remember how in a fit of anger he had thrown it away down in the cañon, Nayangap and Tocha had flitted back across the moonlit space like nimble little ghosts.
"What makes you so certain," demanded Northrup abruptly, "that you are a goddess?"
Yahoya, again making herself comfortable upon her panther rug, pondered the matter a moment.
"One just knows," she explained. "The coyote knows he is not a humming-bird and the horn-toad knows he is not an eagle."
"How does it happen then that you dwell with mere mortals?"
"I tarry with them but a little while," she told him thoughtfully, her eyes upon the moon now. "My home is yonder."
"In the moon, I suppose?" he bantered.
"Yes," she answered seriously.
"But," he argued, scarcely knowing why, "you were born here, among these people, of them."
"Oh, no!" she smiled brightly, shaking her head at him. "I was not born. I have lived always. I just came."
"Then," he demanded, "how in the how did you get here?"
"It was a night like this one, many years ago," she explained. "The moon was big, like you see it now. I floated down through the night." She laughed reminiscently. "When I appeared coming out of nothingness, singing the sacred song before Inaa, the old priest, I think he was much afraid. But he knew that a goddess had come."
There could be no doubt that she believed this rigmarole. Nor did she seem to be insane. If one were taken when she was a little girl, taught from the beginning that she was an immortal, she'd grow up into such a young woman as Yahoya was. In the old days when the divine right of kings was undisputed the princesses must have been no little like the Yahoya type. But they were only mortals!
"And of course Inaa told everybody that a goddess had come to town?"
She nodded, seeing no sacrilege in Northrup's way of speaking. Seeking beyond the mystification of her "explanation" he thought that he saw light. Priesthood often enough is synonymous with trickery; no doubt, some years ago old Inaa had needed or wanted to strengthen his prestige. It had been, no doubt, a comparatively simple thing for him to procure a pretty little girl from some distant tribe, to bring her here secretly and pass her off upon his credulous people as a divinity. It was not difficult to see how he'd strengthen his own hand in the matter. It at once amused Northrup and appealed to him as strangely pathetic that the girl herself had come to believe as the others believed.
"I suppose," he said, completing in words the thought which had suggested itself to him, "that in due course of time Inaa will marry you off to Tiyo, his son?"
"That has been his wish," she responded. "And it was mine, for in holy matters Inaa is very wise, while in other things he is stupid. But when the Man of Wisdom came, I saw it was not for me to marry Tiyo, but him."
"And who is the Man of Wisdom?"
"Oh, he is the one who teaches my people wonderful things! Such things as men know out in the world of the white man. And he tells Yahoya wonderful tales of the land where he will take her one day when she marries him—of great wagons which run uphill without horses; of wires over which people speak across many miles; of big waters with houses floating upon them; of beautiful women who wear beautiful garments."
Northrup started, a suspicion that at the jump was almost a certainty upon him.
"A tall man, thin faced, with drooping eyes?" he asked. "Very heavy eyebrows, coming together over his nose? A way of twisting his hands while he listened? He has been with you about half a year?"
Yahoya gazed at him in rapt admiration.
"You know everything, Yellow Beard!"
"I know Strang," he grunted. "And I think I know his ways. So he is going to marry you, is he?"
"Oh, yes," she dimpled at him. "That will be nice, won't it? He is not pretty like you, Yellow Beard, but then he is prettier than Tiyo. And he is white."
"On the outside," growled Northrup. "But do you think it is wise for an—"
He had started to say "an Indian girl," and thought better of it. He must try to keep in mind that she was a goddess! So he finished—
"For one of your race to marry a white man?"
She stared at him wonderingly a moment, then broke again into laughter.
"So then Yellow Beard does not know everything after all! His eyes cannot see through a piece of cotton cloth. He thought that Yahoya was black like Nayangap and Tocha. Look!"
THE amazing maiden had suddenly drawn open a little her robe at the throat, showing him the merest hint of her round breast. And Northrup sat astounded. The sun and desert air had worked their will with her flower-like face and hands and arms, making them brown and dusky. But her breast was as white as milk!
"You see," she smiled quite naturally, "goddesses are white like the women of the Bahana."
"My God!" said Northrup. And then, trying to speak sternly although his voice was a trifle uncertain, "Cover yourself, child. You oughtn't to do things like that?"
"Why?" she wanted to know. "Am I not pretty?"
"You are a madness-making little beauty, that's what you are," he said in English. "And besides you are an ingenuous little savage."
His anger against Strang had had many months in which to cool and it was no hard matter for Northrup's generous nature to make allowances. But suddenly the old anger was flaring out hotter than ever. It was no hard matter to see the situation through Strang's eyes. His big hands shut slowly into hard fists.
"Do you love this man, this strange Bahana?" he asked her.
Yahoya's smiling lips had turned into a pout. Her quick fingers were busy gathering her gown close up about her brown throat. She had expected him to be pleased with her, and he had seemed angry. With a quick glance Northrup saw what she was doing, glimpsed also a little gold chain about her throat, hidden in a moment by her cotton garment.
"Goddesses do not love mere men," she told him loftily.
Nayangap and Tocha came then bearing in their hands broad trays upon which were many dishes and enough food for ten men. Evidently they expected that the god Sikangwunuptu had a stomach in proportion to his might and dignity. They set down the trays, half afraid of him and yet thrilling a little with the thought of being so close to him. Then, at a curt nod from their mistress, they were gone.
"Tell me about Strang," Northrup commanded after a sip of water and beginning upon the piki. "Does he love you?"
"Oh, yes," Yahoya answered a little stiffly. "All men love me."
"Humph! I don't."
"You!" widening her eyes at him after a fashion peculiarly her own. "But you are not a man—you're just a god!"
"I'm no such thing," he said emphatically. "I'm a man, a white man, I hope, and my name is Sax Northrup."
"Then," she informed him demurely, "it may chance that after all I shall not marry the Man of Wisdom. For, though you growl like a bear, you are so much prettier!"
"I want to know all about Strang," said Northrup hurriedly. "He's been here over half a year. Why does he stay on so long?" She knew perfectly well how to droop her eyelids, how to flash a sidelong glance at him, how to do whatever she pleased with her two dimples.
"It may be that he has stayed because Yahoya lingers here."
He wasn't persuaded. It might be, but it didn't sound like Strang a little bit. It was more Strang's way to get out of this with both hands filled and to a place where a man might throw his money after the sort of things which are to be found in cities of the white men.
"Also," Yahoya admitted, "it was the word of Inaa that the Bahana should not go forth to tell of the People of the Hidden Spring. He does not go out of sight of Tiyo or one of Tiyo's men."
"He is a prisoner then?"
"He is held in high respect; songs are sung for him; my people learn many things from him. But it is death for him if he tries to go away."
"Then," he asked her, "how does it happen that you count on having him show you the wonderful things of his world when you are married?"
"You ask many questions, Sax Northrup." She hesitated over the name, casting the two words into one and making quite a mess of it. "But if you must know, Yahoya and Eddie have many words in private."
"He tells me to call him that. It is nicer than Strang, and oh, so much nicer than Saxnorthrup!" She achieved the last with a little shudder and another of her sly glances at him. "If I decide to love you I shall call you Eddie!"
Northrup passed from corn-meal soup to melon, from melon back to corn-meal soup without ever realizing that his manner of eating was fascinating Yahoya. If Strang had been here all this time and had had words in private with this unsophisticated little thing, if in all that time he had not taken the trouble to enlighten her upon her possible past history, what was the answer?
The man who would leave a partner to die alone out in the desert, robbing him of his last drop of water, was not the man to be overscrupulous in his dealings with a maid. Not with a maid like Yahoya.
Northrup looked at her sharply, seeking the measure of her beauty. She looked a being created all of soft curves, with tender dimples set just where they would do the most good, or the most harm, as the case might be.
"Where is Strang now? Tonight?" he asked.
"There is sickness in the tribe down by the corn meadows. Eddie has gone there to drive out the sickness and make people well."
"Whew! So he's turned doctor, has he?"
"He is the Man of Wisdom. He can do all things. He knows everything."
"He's certainly got a strangle-hold on the situation," thought Northrup.
Out of a spell of moody abstraction he was recalled to himself by the tinkle of Yahoya's laughter.
"You make faces, like this," she informed him, wrinkling her forehead into a frown and thrusting her lower jaw out at him. "It must be that you and Eddie are not good friends?"
"I don't think that we are. But look here, Yahoya, have you made up your mind that you are going to marry him?"
"Oh, yes! At the end of the Festival of Silence."
"What does Inaa say of it? And Tiyo?"
"Inaa grows very cross. And Tiyo looks at Eddie like he could eat him up. Tiyo is very sad that I don't wish to be his wife."
"You told me that before. Now the next question is, when does the Festival of Silence end?"
"With the moonset. Then I will sing the sacred song and after that my people may unlock their lips."
"And you marry Strang at dawn?"
She looked at him teasingly, as if her instinct or intuition had told her that the matter displeased him and as if it were all a lark for her. But she looked a little troubled when he said shortly:
"You're going to do nothing of the sort. Not after I have a talk with your friend Eddie."
YAHOYA sat very still, half in moonlight, half in shadow, looking steadily at Northrup. He, returning her gaze, could see that in the depths of her eyes there was a light as of an inner fire.
"I wonder," she said softly, "are you Sikangwunuptu, God of the Yellow Dawn? Or are you a mere man, Saxnorthrup?"
It was not a question asked of him but of herself and he made no answer. He had told her already; now she was seeking to decide for herself. Suddenly, with that swift gracefulness which was almost like a liquid flowing, she was upon her feet, her arms thrown out toward him as he rose with her.
"What are you?" she cried, and there was passionate earnestness throbbing through her erect body, thrilling through her clear voice. "You come up like a god—a White God of the underworld! Your hair is like fine threads of gold; your eyes are like such turquoises as they do not find any more in the world, such turquoises as Haruing Wuhti wears upon her throat and arms when the Sun God comes to see how beautiful she is. Your skin where the sun has not blackened it is white like goat's milk, white and soft like Yahoya's own! Why do you come?"
She broke off suddenly. He could hear her breathing. Then, before he could answer, she had gone on impetuously, dropping her arms, moving a little closer to him.
"Do you come seeking a maiden, Yellow Beard? Ishohi! There is no mana here so beautiful as I! Look! Do you come to make my heart leap out of my side for you? It has leaped, quick, without waiting, as the white antelope leaps up when he sees the wolf. If you come seeking a maiden then, Yellow Beard, here am I, Yahoya, maiden and goddess, who will follow you into the desert if you will, or down into the underworld."
She stood so close to him now that it was almost as if he had obeyed the wild impulse upon him and was holding her in his arms. For an instant he felt that one must be more than man or less than man not to yield to her.
But his arms, lifting a little, fell again to his sides. He had one code, had Sax Northrup, and many hard years of seeking to live up to it had made him the man he was. "Accept the chances which the game of life presents, but play the game square!" If ever there was call upon him for fair play it was now.
"Yahoya!" He sought to speak sternly, but his voice was uncertain, catching a little in his throat. "There is moon- madness upon you. You don't know what it is you are saying."
She looked at him with a curious smile, in which were oddly mingled wonder and confidence.
"Must Yahoya twist her Hps into lies when her lover comes?" she asked softly. "Must she hide her heart because it loves you, Yellow Beard?"
"You are talking nonsense," he said harshly. "You don't love me and there's no reason why you should. Love doesn't come this way, in a hurry. Just because you are used to Indians about you and I am the first white man "
"You forget Eddie," she dimpled at him, still confident and undisturbed by his words. "I did not love Eddie."
"Thank God for that! But that's no reason you should think you love me. Nor any reason that I should love you."
She laughed at his earnestness.
"Your lips lie well for you, Saxnorthrup. But in your eyes I saw the truth before you hid it. When you lifted your arms a little, like this—"
Already did Northrup, thinking of the coming dawn, foresee complication enough without this. Feeling that he must settle this matter while the strength of will was with him, he said in well simulated anger:
"Yahoya, listen to me. I did not come here seeking a maiden. I came looking for gold and turquoises. I have need of them, not of a mana. You do not love me and I do not love you. Do you understand?"
He marveled at the lightning-swift changes which seemed so natural to this girl. In a flash the erect body had grown rigid, the laughing mouth hardened cruelly, the dark eyes were flashing at him as he had seen them flash at old Inaa in a moment of anger.
"So," she said, and her voice was steady and low, but as hard as flint. "So you come but to make mock of me? Is that it? I offer you my love and you push it aside to seize upon gold and cold stones! You dare—you dare make light of Yahoya's love?"
Northrup watched her, uncertain of the answer to make.
"If you are a god," she said in the same cold voice, "I, too, am a goddess; then the time will come when I shall learn how to make you twist your great body in suffering. If you are but a man—"
She stooped swiftly, snatching up the prayer-stick from the grass.
"If you are but a man," and she stretched it out over him, "I have but to touch you with this and you wither and die!"
"Try it," he said bluntly. "You might kill a lizard with it; nothing more."
A moment she seemed to hesitate, in deadly earnest, filled with assurance that her curse would annihilate him. Then she dropped the baho to the grass again.
"I think," she said quietly, "that I shall wait until the dawn. That then I shall call and Tiyo and the others at my command will hurl you out from the rocks. And I shall laugh at you while you die horribly, Yellow Beard!"
"I'll plug a dozen of them full of holes first," grunted Northrup, a real anger beginning to grow within him.
God knew he was but seeking to befriend her and that she needed a man to lift a curse from her. And all that he was getting by way of reward was a threat of death.
"Yahoya," he said after the flash of anger, forcing himself to a sane line of thought. "I want to tell you something. Will you listen to me and try to understand?"
Now he was the one supplicating; now there was a note of eager pleading in his voice and she was the one who could deny.
"Yahoya has wasted enough time amusing herself with a new plaything," she said with her quaint little queenly air. "Now she must go and prepare for the bridal ceremony."
She took a step to pass him, but Northrup set himself stubbornly in her path.
"Stand aside!" she commanded him.
"Or shall I call for Tiyo and his men?"
"What are you going to do?" he demanded. "Are you going on with this mad wedding?"
"At the dawn," she informed him coolly, "Yahoya will become the bride of the Man of Wisdom. After that she will do what she likes. It may be that she will have Tiyo throw Eddie down the cliffs; it may be that she will become a bride again to Tiyo; it may be that she will have Tiyo throw Yellow Beard down to join the other Bahana! Whatever the Goddess Yahoya wishes done, that thing will be done. And now, will you stand aside for me to pass?"
"No!" snapped Northrup. "You are going to listen to me if I have to hold you while you do it."
"You would lay your hand on Yahoya?"
The wonder at him stood high in her eyes, but back of it was a quick look of admiration. Certainly this man dared much.
"I'll take you across my knee and spank you in a minute!" he told her in mystifying English.
"Are those magic words, Yellow Beard?" she asked quite seriously.
Northrup grinned a little.
"They are very magic words, sometimes," he told her. "They have been known to work wonders with little girls who didn't mind properly. I want to talk with you, about you, Yahoya. Before it is too late."
Perhaps it was his earnestness which held her; perhaps just the curiosity to know what it was he had to say of her. She turned back, again making herself comfortable upon her rug.
"Now," and it was with a sigh of relief that he began, "I want you to tell me again of your coming here. Did Inaa, by any chance, save any of the garments which you wore?"
"I came down from the emptiness of night," she told him. "My robe was built of moonlight and mist."
"It's a wonder you didn't catch cold," he grinned at her, and he thought that she had to fight back an answering smile. "So nothing that you wore has been saved?"
"This only," and her fingers at her throat showed him a glimpse of the gold chain. "This came with me from the moon and is a magic thing."
He put out his hand eagerly for it. It might be that after all she had carried with her through the years a locket which would establish her identity—if he could ever get her out of this!
"Let me look at it."
She shook her head.
"It has never left my throat but the one time for a goldsmith to lengthen it. To take it off would bring evil. But since you are curious, Saxnorthrup, and since it may happen that you will die in a few hours, you may come close and look."
Northrup bent over her, drawing the chain out from under her robe. From the slender chain hung a little locket, plain gold. He found the spring, the locket flew open. Within was the picture of a young woman who, in this light, might have been Yahoya herself. Opposite the picture were some two or three words engraved, a full name he hoped. But he could not make them out.
Well, this was something. If he ever got out and got Yahoya away with him, he'd never rest until he could tell her who she was.
"About the time that you came here," he asked, "do you remember that the body of a white man or woman was found anywhere in the desert? Where they had given out, starving, dying of thirst or a rattlesnake bite? And quite near the spot where you appeared before Inaa?"
"No," she answered, obviously puzzled. "Why do you ask that, Yellow Beard?"
"This is the thing which I wanted to tell you, Yahoya."
There he stopped hesitantly, trying to see just how to go about telling a goddess that she was just a girl in spite of her many years of belief to the contrary.
"A good many years ago," he began slowly, "some people, a man and a woman and a little girl, perhaps, sought to cross the desert. God knows what drove them or lured them. We may never know that, Yahoya, or it may be that we shall find out sometime. At any rate, just before they came this far, they died. Perhaps their water gave out. The man would try to save his water for the woman; she would let her little girl drink and go thirsty herself. So it might happen that both man and woman would die and the little girl live."
He paused again, looking at her to see if she began to understand. She was looking at him intently.
"Go on," she commanded. "The little girl, what became of her?"
"They were white people, Yahoya. The little girl was too little to understand all that had happened. Maybe her mother, dying, or her father, told her to go on toward the cliffs where they had thought they saw a man. The man they saw was Inaa, and the little white girl was—you, Yahoya!"
For a long time she sat still and silent, staring at him in sheer wonder. Yahoya not a goddess! Yahoya a white girl, the daughter of a white man and woman who had perished miserably on the desert! Northrup, seeing the rise and fall of her breast in the moonlight, the look which had crept into her wide eyes, wondered what tumult of thoughts had seethed into her brain at his words. It did not enter his mind that she would not believe him. But he had not counted sufficiently upon what a dozen years of training had done for her. She had been very, very little when she had come to the People of the Hidden Spring. Inaa had told her that she was a goddess and had bade his people worship her. She had heard over and over and over the tale of her coming down through the night from her distant home in the moon; the tale, oft repeated, had grown into fact. She did not remember her father and mother dying of thirst; she thought that she did remember her floating down to earth among the stars which worshiped her as she went by. She had been reared to a belief, a religion, which never a doubt had assailed. A confidence like hers was not to be shaken by the words of the first man who said:
"You are no goddess, but a mortal Bahana!"
"So you dare say to me, Yellow Beard, that Yahoya is no true goddess but an impostor? Is that it?"
"What I have to say is that old Inaa is a scoundrel who has used you for his own purposes," muttered Northrup. "You are a girl, just a girl, and God knows there is nothing more wonderful than that in the world. A girl to whom the going back to the world of her kind will be nothing short of dipping into fairyland."
Yahoya's sudden laughter surprised him.
"Fool!" she called him. "Fool and liar! To think that I would believe such wild tales. It would be well if you remembered that you are but a Bahana, Saxnorthrup, while I am Yahoya."
And he put out no hand now to stop her as she went swiftly toward the stone edifice under the overhanging cliffs.
"Here's a pretty game for a man to play out," he grunted when she was gone. "If she were just plain girl things would be bad enough. But being a goddess to boot—"
Here he broke off. Yahoya had left her panther-skin behind her. Northrup rolled up in it and went to sleep.
IN spite of the fatigue resting like a dead weight upon him Northrup dozed more than slept that night, waking often. His destiny had brought to him a responsibility which he accepted unquestioningly.
The whole future life and happiness of an extremely unsophisticated girl was upon his shoulders and if he played the game fair he had her hand as well as his own to play. These thoughts alone were sufficient to restrain him from yielding to heavy sleep. And, allied with them, was the feeling that his new acquaintance, Tiyo, might not be averse to creeping up upon him and driving a knife into him.
Through the night he gained the impression that Yahoya had not gone to bed. Now and then a light moved across the door of her stone habitation; once or twice he thought that he heard her voice giving commands to her attendant maidens. Once he was certain that it was her laugh, as carefree as if she had never known a shadow of trouble or anxiety in her life, that woke him.
The moon had long passed the zenith and from bright silver had turned to a milky whiteness when he started up to a new sound. Since coming to this strange place he had heard no voice save his own and Yahoya's; she herself had told him that no one would dare speak until she had stood out upon the cliff's edge and sung the sacred song. But now from the stone house came not only her voice but the low rumble of a man's utterance. And the tone was hard, menacing, oddly unpleasant.
Northrup got to his feet, stretching his body to get the stiffness out of it. He took the gun out of its holster and examined it to be sure that the clip was full, that it might be relied upon in case of need. His first thought was that the voice was Strang's.
"It will be dawn in an hour," he thought. "I wonder what the new day is bringing for all of us?"
He went to the western edge of the cliffs and looked down. There was the headquarters of the tribe. He could see ledges and steps cut into the face of the precipice, could make out countless orifices, rudely circular, which no doubt led into intricate passageways and numerous small chambers.
He noted swiftly that the stairways and ledges seemed alive with figures of men, women and children, and that in long streams they were moving downward into the cañon below. Down there were many other figures, clustering in groups where their fires burned. Northrup saw with a frown what they were doing. Everywhere were great jugs, and from jug to jug the men were passing, drinking. He saw that many of them walked with the unsteady step of drunkenness. And all in silence silence, absolute, unbroken by so much as a whisper; silence hovering over a drunken carousal!
"When they start things going," he muttered, "where is it going to end?"
Yahoya's face, the clear-eyed, frank, ingenuous face of a girl who should be wearing her first party gown, flushed with the triumph of her first season, rose before him. If she had only realized the horror of the position in which she stood it seemed to Northrup that the situation would have been a shade less terrible. But her calm serenity in the face of all that encompassed her, her dimpling assurance that she was the Goddess Yahoya, only to be adored and not to be harmed, made him feel toward her as he might have felt toward a child cooing its happiness over a new discovery as it crept toward a rattlesnake.
He shuddered at the thought and, turning away from the silent orgy below, went with guarded steps toward the stone building. The low rumble of the man's voice, rasping impatiently now, was not Strang's voice. Northrup realized that before he had gone ten steps. He moved on quietly, coming to the door.
He looked into the one large room which constituted the greater part of the building's interior; saw that upon each side a smaller door led into what was apparently merely an anteroom of some sort; saw Yahoya, her two maidens and the man who was speaking swiftly. The man was Inaa, the old priest. His attitude was plainly one of dominance and threat now; Yahoya's eyes were filled with amazement. Northrup guessed quickly that never had a man spoken to her like this before.
So intent were the four upon what Inaa was saying that none of them noted the tall form in the shadow outside. Yahoya was seated upon some sort of chair over which a robe of white skins had been thrown.
For a long moment Northrup's eyes clung to her, wonderingly. Until now he had not been struck with the full measure of her beauty. Now was there excuse enough for superstitious minds to believe her what she believed herself.
There were a score of little lamps in the room, set in niches or upon squared stones, the cotton wicks soaked in oil shedding a bright, soft light. Northrup saw that the girl's eyes were not black but a deep, fathomless gray; that her hair was not the night-black hair of Nayangap and Tocha but a rich, sun-kissed brown.
The hair was arranged as the native brides wear it, in two great whorls, one at each ear, held back from the forehead by a broad band of gold above the brows. A great turquoise, catching many lights from the lamps, shone from the middle of the golden band.
The cotton gown of the early evening together with the broad blue sash had been discarded for the bridal gown. This was of some stuff which could not be but which looked the finest silk, snow-white, a clinging garment which fitted the tender form perfectly, which left the arms bare, which showed a glimpse of the whiteness of the young breast.
The band about her slim waist was a girdle of gold, beaten into little squares joined cunningly, each adorned with a pendent turquoise. Her feet, encased in snow-white buckskin moccasins, were crossed before her upon the loose folds of the white robe. Nayangap and Tocha stood one at each side of their mistress, their black eyes wide and startled, their lips parted, a look of fear upon each face. Inaa's back was toward Northrup. The old man's form was tense, his voice vibrant with the emotion riding him.
"It is death to break silence during the Festival of Silence," Yahoya was saying now quite calmly, a little curl of contempt touching her mouth. "You will go down to the Skeleton House, Inaa, before the day is born and dies again!"
Inaa's grunt was eloquent of his defiance.
"Will you not let the maidens go, oh, Yahoya?" he demanded in a tone which told that the same demand before had met with her refusal. "The thing which I have to say, for which I have dared break silence before the time, is not for them to hear."
"I have told you," she answered him steadily, "that it is my will that my maidens stay with me. Surely with old age madness has come upon you! You are great among your people, Inaa, but do you forget that you are only an old man, soon to die? The Skeleton Old Man has one hand upon your beard now! Be careful what you say, how you speak to Yahoya!"
Again Inaa's grunt, making Northrup vaguely uneasy. The old man was unmoved by Yahoya's words, and his attitude was plainly untinged by respect.
"Let the maids stay," he said gruffly.. "It matters not. If," and as he turned a little Northrup could see the evil glance he shot at them, making them cringe back from it, "if they speak later of what happens here tonight they will go at once and for all time to a lover who has cold arms and lies in darkness."
He paused a moment, staring from under his gathered brows at Yahoya. Then he spoke swiftly, his voice lowered, unspeakably stern.
"There is little time, for what I have to say must be finished before the first dawn comes. Yahoya, at dawn you will sing the sacred song?"
"Will the sun rise?" she mocked him.
"And afterward," he retorted, "you will wed?"
"Do you think," she answered, her tone filled with sarcasm, "that Yahoya can find a man among all these men who will wed with so ugly a mana?"
"You think that you will put out your hand and that the Man of Wisdom will come? You will wed him?"
"Oho!" she laughed, leaning a little forward, her mocking eyes upon the old priest's. "And are you jealous, Inaa? With madness has youth run back into your cold blood, making it hot again? Do you covet Yahoya!"
And again she flung her laughter at him, playing with him, finding vent for the anger which he had whipped up in her. Inaa lifted his hand as if to stop her. And Yahoya's laughter taunted him until she had done.
"It is my desire," he said angrily, "that you wed one of my own people. It is my desire, Yahoya, that you wed Tiyo, my son. It is also his desire. And," the words coming coldly, "it is my command!"
SLOWLY Yahoya's face went white. She did not move but seemed for a long moment a statue ready to be wakened into life but as yet cold marble.
Then the blood sprang back into her cheeks, racing hotly through her veins, a red tide of anger. Northrup drew a deep breath and stared at her fascinated, forgetful for the instant of Inaa. The girl stirred a little where she sat, then grew still, only her quick breathing and flashing eyes and the color in her cheeks hinting at the tumult in her breast.
"The others are drinking in the cañon," she said coolly. "Have you too drunk deeply, Inaa? Or are you eager to have the vengeance of Yahoya strike?"
"Fool!" snarled Inaa. "Must I, though an old man, be afraid of you, a soft-bodied girl? For the thing I have to tell you, Yahoya, is that you are a girl and no goddess; just a girl as Nayangap there and Tocha, but with the white body of the Bahana."
Northrup felt that he could have patted the old villain on the back for that. For, if anything were to be done for her, the sooner Yahoya got her ideas of her own divinity out of her head, the better.
"A girl, a girl with white skin, but just a girl," he gibed, mocking her as she had mocked him. "A girl I put where she is; a girl I can pull down and give to the village to play with when I wish. Would you like, oh, dainty Yahoya, to have the hard hands of many drunken men pull you this way and that? Or would you like to obey the command of Inaa and wed Tiyo—and so remain to the people what Inaa made you, a goddess? You must decide swiftly, for the dawn is coming and does not wait, Yahoya, because a white maid bids it to!"
Nayangap and Tocha gasped, turning their bewildered eyes from their mistress to the old priest, back to where Yahoya sat motionless.
Slowly now Yahoya stirred, her gaze going to Nayangap, then to Tocha.
"You have heard Inaa speak," she said very quietly. "You have seen one high in the thoughts of the gods stricken with madness. In a little those gods will gather him to them, Nayangap and Tocha. You will see; his death has left the underworld to bring him thither. And harken well—" her voice rising a little—"you maidens who have heard must forget that you have heard! I have commanded, I, Yahoya!"
Even yet she did not believe. Though two men had told her, first Northrup, who claimed her one of his own blood, next Inaa, who told her of his own trickery, Yahoya would not believe. Too deeply had the training of a lifetime sunken into her mind to be wiped out in an instant.
Inaa's rage, curbed until now, burst its bonds. With black, distorted face, with his hands thrown out like claws of a beast, he leaped at her.
"Goddess, are you, Yahoya?" he snarled at her. "Inaa will teach wisdom to a white-bodied fool! If you are goddess and no maid then may you fling an old man away with no effort."
Northrup, unprepared for the sudden attack, saw Yahoya dragged from her seat, dragged down so that she was upon her knees, the priest's hands at her throat. Yahoya struggled, but his strength in his rage was ten times the strength of a girl, and she could not so much as cry out. Her two maids stood transfixed with horror.
It was but an instant. Northrup, gathering his strength in a sudden flare of anger scarcely less than the frenzy of Inaa, threw himself upon the old man, gripped his wrists and ripped them away, flinging Inaa far from him so that he staggered across the room and struck the far wall.
"You infernal cur!" cried the white man. He turned away from the blinking, evil eyes to where Yahoya, white-faced and panting, was staring at them like one rudely awaked from a nightmare.
"Why won't you believe?" he asked her sharply. "It is almost the dawn; your whole life is in your hands now for a few minutes. Why spoil it with an insane idea? Can't you see that you are just a girl, as he says? My God! Won't you see it?"
In the girl's eyes were so many emotions striving for mastery over her that Northrup could not guess what passed in her mind. She opened her lips but did not speak. He had felt a little spurt of anger at her, too, that she let her stubbornness lie in the way of her welfare. Now he felt only a deep pity for her. In a rude moment he and Inaa had tried to wrest from under her feet the whole belief of her life. Small wonder that she stared at them like that!
"Yahoya," he went on gently, "can't you understand it? And can't you see that it is a better thing to be a white girl after all than a goddess of these cursed Indians? Why, a world is open to you now that is as wonderful as the world of the gods which you have let yourself dream of. It will be like paradise for a girl at your age to come into the Twentieth Century outside!Yahoya 3i And—" again under the emotion upon him he broke into quick English—"if you'll just buck up I'll send you out of this mess if we have to shoot our way out!"
Yahoya, looking at him a moment curiously, turned and without a word went into the anteroom at the left, dropping a curtain after her. Northrup swung about, seeking Inaa. The old man had slipped away.
"GO to your mistress!" Northrup commanded the two trembling girls. "And remember, goddess or maid, she is your mistress!"
He went outside. Yahoya must have time to think before he tried further to talk with her. And he himself wanted to think. Inaa, none too sweet-tempered an old rascal at the best, would be up to mischief now. His anger would include Northrup as well as Yahoya. It would be just as well to look for nearly anything now.
But he had not looked for what had already begun. His eyes, seeking Inaa, had gone naturally to the far edge of the cliff where the steps of stone led down to the cañon where the tribe was drinking. He did not see Inaa, but saw a head rising as a man climbed upward. At first he had no suspicion who the man was, as Strang had gone from his mind, and this was not the Strang he had known.
Strang's breast showed as he came up. Then, from the base of the cliff what had looked a shadow there resolved itself into a man's form, leaping out upon Strang. The moonlight fell upon the fellow and showed Northrup Tiyo's dark face, the teeth showing, the eyes gleaming murderously. The knife which already had threatened Northrup was flung up above Strang's head.
The two white men must have seen the Indian at the same moment. Simultaneously their quick cries shot through the stillness. Strang leaped up the last of the steps, throwing himself to the side as Tiyo came at him. He had had but the instant to decide and had decided upon taking the chance here upon the level rather than seeking to descend a hazardous way, leaving his enemy over him.
But Tiyo had had time to plan for all things. As Strang turned to the side the Indian sprang upon him. Northrup saw the moonlight gleam on the uplifted blade, heard the little grunt with which Tiyo brought it down, heard the thud of the impact and for the second thought that all of Strang's accounts were squared.
Then, gripping his automatic, having no chance to shoot from here, he ran to the two forms which were rolling close to the precipice. As he leaped forward, Yahoya, having heard the cries, came running by her maidens to stand in the doorway, watching them.
Tiyo's knife had drunk blood, but not from the body of the writhing man, having found a sheath only in the outflung forearm.
Now Strang, a tall man, made into iron from his months on the desert, was fighting as a maddened animal fights for its life. His hand had grown into a steel band about Tiyo's wrist, was forcing the knife back from him. And still, like two great fighting cats, the two men now were almost at the edge of nothingness.
The Indian, seeing a chance, dropped his knife so that it fell against the rock floor at his left side. As quick as lightning he had swept it up again in his left hand, had whipped it up so that again it caught the moonlight. And then Northrup, throwing himself forward, was in time. His great fingers shut about the Indian's left wrist, gripping it as Strang gripped the other.
A moment of breathless struggle in which the muscles of the three men stood out mightily. Then the three bodies relaxed as the knife came away in Northrup's hand, and Strang and Tiyo, rolling over swiftly, got to their feet.
"Well done, Yellow Beard!"
Yahoya's young voice came ringing to them; Yahoya herself had come quickly to Northrup's side, looking up into his face. And again the man saw in the woman's face, unhidden, the admiration which looked out at him frankly.
Beyond the emotion which he had aroused in her she seemed unmoved by what she had seen. She was laughing softly when she said:
"It is in Yahoya's heart to make you love her, Saxnorthrup."
Strang whirled about suddenly. Until now his watchful eyes had been for Tiyo alone. The name, even as Yahoya pronounced it, brought him peering into Northrup's face.
"Northrup!" There was almost a gasp of fear in the voice. "You—you didn't die then?"
"I think not," Northrup assured him coolly. "Otherwise I should not have had the privilege of saving you a throat- cutting."
"—&mdash:him!" spat out Strang, his eyes again going to the Indian. "I'll get him for this."
Tiyo's face, a moment ago a picture of the hot rage and hatred within him, now showed nothing. With an elaborate assumption of nonchalance, he lifted his shoulders and turned to go down the steps.
Northrup, watching him go, noted that not once had the man spoken, that now his lips were sealed. The suspicion came to him that Tiyo, like the rest of his simple people, had been tricked by the old priest into a certainty that Yahoya was a goddess and did not dare speak until she, singing the sacred song, had given the signal.
"So you are alive?" demanded Strang as if he could not be convinced. "And you have got here?"
He was frowning, his eyes deeply thoughtful. He seemed already to have forgotten Tiyo and that but for Northrup's coming Tiyo's knife would have drunk more deeply. There was no gratitude in his sharp glance; but there was displeasure and suspicion. As quick as a flash his eyes went from Northrup to Yahoya's face where a man must read what she did not seek to hide.
"Curse it!" cried Strang. "Haven't I got enough on my hands already? What the devil do you want here?"
Northrup grunted his disgust of the man.
"In the first place," he said coolly, "I want a talk with you. And I want it right now, before daybreak. If you've got a shred of decency in you, if you've got a drop of sporting blood, which I don't believe you have, I have a proposition to make you."
STRANG, gripping his wounded arm as he followed, they went back into Yahoya's house. For Northrup wanted what privacy there was to be had. And he wanted what light he might have upon Strang's face.
Yahoya, unbidden but frankly interested, went with them. As they began speaking in a language which was unknown to her, she frowned a little and watched them the more closely.
"Here's a girl who's in a nasty mess," Northrup began abruptly. "She's white and she's the plaything of a dirty old savage. We've got to get her out of this. It's a sight more than a one-man job or I wouldn't ask your help. The mere fact that there is no love between you and me doesn't cut any figure in a case like this. Will you tuck in and help me get her out?" Strang's head was down as he sought to bind up his wound. When he looked up it was first at Yahoya. He studied her face intently, then turned to Northrup. Then of Northrup he demanded sharply:
"Have you talked with her? Do you understand their lingo?"
"What have you told her? Does she know that the goddess stuff is all bunk?"
"I have told her. But she doesn't believe me. Inaa told her and she thought that he was lying."
There was a gleam in Strang's eye which told Northrup what he might expect even before Strang's voice demanded bluntly:
"Well? If she wants to believe it, what's the difference?"
"What difference?" cried Northrup hotly. "We've got to get her out, I tell you. And it looks as if we'd have to go on the run. Unless she gets that fool notion out of her head, I've got my doubts if she'll be willing to go with us and leave what she looks upon as her people."
Strang's brows contracted into a quick frown.
"I know your sort pretty well, Sax Northrup," he said sharply. "You're the kind of man who likes to run things pretty much his own way and to with the other fellow. Here you butt in where I've been six months and at the jump are telling me what 'we' are going to do! Hasn't it entered your head that perhaps I've decided for myself what I am going to do? And what this girl is going to do? And, by Heaven! You can put it in your pipe and smoke it right now that she is going to do what I tell her to do!"
Northrup bit back the words which came to his lips. Now was no time to quarrel with Strang. And, since no human being is altogether vicious, he still hoped to find a hint of decency somewhere in Strang.
"Would you mind telling me what your plans are?" he asked quietly. "Things are going to happen pretty fast now, you know."
A little color came into Strang's bronzed cheeks, a quick bright light like a flame into his eyes.
"So you'll listen to reason, will you?" he demanded, making the mistake of thinking himself the bigger man at that moment.
"You can just bet things are going to happen in a hurry. I'm going to get Tiyo's tag to begin with, the murderous young hound! And I'm going to put a crimp into Inaa's game that will make him dizzy. And, so that you won't make any mistakes, Northrup, I'll tell you right now who's runnin' the whole show here. It's Ed Strang! What I've got I'm going to hold on to; what I haven't got—I'm going to get. And I'm going to keep it—just as long as I want it!"
His eyes went swiftly to the splendid form of Yahoya, clung there a moment and then, defiantly, came back to Northrup.
"You are just one man against a whole tribe," Northrup reminded him, keeping the anger out of his voice though for an instant his eyes were on fire with it. "Has it occurred to you that they will let you go just as far as it pleases them? And that then they will know how to bring you up with a rather ugly jerk?"
Strang's air while he was speaking had subtly changed. Now, if in truth he were not the master of the situation, he thought that he was. From confidence he went to insolence.
"I've been here six months, you've been here a few hours, and so you advise and warn," he laughed impudently. "And, if you want to know, I am not one man against a tribe. The tribe is split square in two, and by —! I'm the man that split it! Inaa is going down to make room for another man who's hungering after his job. Tiyo is going the same way to make place for a sort of tribal captain who belongs to me. Do you begin to see, Sax Northrup?"
Northrup saw, knew that Strang was telling him the truth, and understood that in sober truth Strang might have made himself the power to reckon with here. Then Yahoya...
"It won't work," he said quietly. "You can't get away with it, Strang, and you ought to know it. You might put it over for a while, but the bottom will drop out of the whole thing sooner or later. And I think it will be sooner."
"It will, will it? You wouldn't mind explaining how and why?"
"Because where one white man has gone another follows. Where two have been many will come. If I don't take this girl out with me I'll come back for her. And I won't come alone."
Again Strang's assurance rang in his laugh.
"Has the thought occurred to you that maybe you won't go out at all?"
Northrup stared at him incredulously. Strang had risen, or fallen, to levels Northrup had not thought open to him.
"Frankly, it hadn't. I generally go where I want to go. While we are threshing things out you might tell me what you are driving at."
"I'm driving at this: I've stumbled on to something here which, if I work it the one right way, will put me in a place where I can make the Astors and Morgans shine my shoes. If I let you go your way out of here to blab, I stand to lose the whole thing. So you are not going to get out! Is that plain enough?"
"You're taking over a pretty big contract, aren't you?" asked Northrup steadily. "I don't see how you're going to prevent me going out, unless you get some of your friends to stick a knife into me. And you won't do that."
"How do you know I won't?" snapped Strang.
"Because you haven't got the nerve," retorted Northrup. "I know your kind, too. You'd go off and leave a man to die alone in the desert, because you're an infernal coward! Too much of a coward to kill a man or to make somebody else do it. You're short on nerve, Strang."
Strang's lips twitched a little, but his eyes held hard to Northrup's, and the cool dare in them. After a brief, hesitant moment he whirled about and went to the door. Yahoya, who had guessed what she might of the conversation, flashed a quick glance at Northrup and smiled.
Almost immediately Strang came back. He pointed outside. Northrup, looking, saw six men, one after the other, come silently up from. the cañon. He noted that all, excepting ohe only, were tall, sinewy young men of superb physiques, and that they were fully armed, each carrying two great-bladed knives at his belt, and in his hand a short thrusting-spear. The one man who had passed the prime of life looked a patriarch. Hair and beard were snow white; he was great-framed and erect; his eyes flashed as if with youth.
"Inaa's successor," said Strang, taking on again his marked manner of one supreme in power. "And the first of the young men is Muyingwa who is hungering after Tiyo's job. They are friends of mine, as you call them, Northrup. Don't forget that. And there are more of them coming."
"And I can drop the whole gang in their tracks if need be before they can get within knifing distance," answered Northrup, understanding what lay back of Strang's air of authority.
"And in the end get a two-edged knife through you," came the swift answer. "You know that. You wouldn't have a chance in the world. If you did get away for the minute, what would you do? Run out into the desert without taking time to get a drink of water, eh?"
"Go ahead, Strang. You haven't entirely outlined your plan."
"So you're ready to walk easy and talk easier, are you?" sneered Strang.
Still standing at the door he flung out his hand a trifle theatrically. The six men stopped dead in their tracks. He turned a smile upon Northrup.
"You see? Now maybe you'll listen. I haven't got anything against you, Northrup, and I'd let you go and be glad of it if I could. But I tell you I can't work this game in a day. It's too big; the stakes—I tell you I can make the big men on Wall Street look sick! If I took a chance on you and you squealed when you got out, then what? I can't do it."
"That's about enough sop to your conscience," cut in Northrup. "What do you think you are going to do with me?"
"I'm going to keep you here until I can get out. I need a man like you. There are mines here, gold-mines—it makes me dizzy to think about it—which these fool Indians have never worked beyond scratching the top like a flock of clucking hens! You are going into the mines; you are going to drive the men I give you and drive them hard. You are going to clean up more money for me than you ever saw. And when I get away and it goes with me, then you can do as you please!"
"Many thanks," said Northrup dryly. "It doesn't sound good to me, Strang."
Before Strang could answer, the young Indian whom he had made known as Muyingwa came on, leaving his fellows. He raised his hand in salute twice, first to Strang, second to Yahoya.
His eyes ran by them all, flashed a greeting which was filled with triumph at the girl Nayangap, standing in the anteroom door. Then, his eyes upon Strang, he lifted his hand and pointed toward the east.
It was the first light of the dawn. Northrup swung about toward Yahoya.
"Yahoya," he said quickly, "you must listen to me."
"I listen, Yellow Beard," she said, looking at him curiously.
"What do you want to talk to her about?" demanded Strang in sharp suspicion. "Keep your hands off, Sax Northrup. She's mine, and you will do well to keep it in mind."
"Yours? You contemptible coward!" Northrup flung at him, his anger at last snapping its leash. "You would trade on her superstition and ignorance and then throw her away when you got tired, would you? Now I am going to talk with her and you are going outside while I do it."
"Am I?" jeered Strang. "So you've got a notion to the pretty innocent yourself, have you? If you think I've kept my hands off her this long just so you can have her "
Northrup shut Strang's mouth with a blow which brought the blood and sent Strang reeling out through the door.
"Come in and I'll kill you," he said, his voice dropped low and grown husky. "I mean that, Strang."
Strang hesitated, then went swiftly to Muyingwa and the others who had come closer. Northrup paid no further attention to him save always to keep him in sight.
"Yahoya," he said as gently as he could with the emotions riding him. "You must believe me. You are a girl, a Bahana like me. Inaa has tricked you. Strang knows it. Strang is a bad man in a good many ways, Yahoya. I'd rather see you marry Tiyo than him. Tiyo at least loves you, I think. Strang plans on getting rid of Tiyo and Inaa, on putting two other men in their places—that old man out there and Muyingwa. Then Strang will be chief man here and he will do what he pleases with you. Do you understand, Yahoya?"
"I understand," she said curiously, "that you say I am no true goddess but a mere girl, like Nayangap and Tocha there, but white. Why do you lie to me, Yellow Beard?"
"Lie to you?" he cried. "Can't you see it's the truth. Cut your hand and it will bleed; put it in the fire and the fire will burn it; go without food and water and you will die like the rest of us! Can't you see? You're just a God-blessed girl, Yahoya, and no goddess."
She shook her head, the odd smile still in her eyes.
"The dawn is coming, Yellow Beard," she said softly. "I must go. The people wait for Yahoya."
"But," he cried after her, "you must not marry Strang—"
"The Goddess Yahoya promised," she told him steadily. "A goddess must not lie."
NOT the most patient of men, Northrup was tempted to express himself in very strong words and to inform Miss Yahoya that from now on she could do as she pleased for all of him, either go to Strang or the devil and be done with it. Nor did the smile which she turned on Strang as she went by him soften Northrup's mood.
"I have broken the sacred silence, O Yahoya, goddess!" Strang was scarcely more than whispering and yet Northrup's eager ears caught the words clearly enough. "But it was because harm was threatened you and I feared for you. Am I forgiven?"
"Am I true goddess, then, Eddie?" she asked softly.
"The white man in yonder says you are not," he answered quickly, his eyes watchful of her slightest change of expression. "He is a liar. Inaa says you are not; he is a false priest, bewitched. They shall both suffer for it, Yahoya. Tiyo denies your godliness. He too shall suffer. Shall they not, Yahoya?"
"Take them when you will!" she said, her eyes flaming; and so she passed on.
Northrup shrugged his shoulders. He told himself that he had done his best and that he were a mad fool to attempt anything further in the face of what confronted him. But since madness had the way of galloping down his blood when crises came, he was by no means sure what the ending might be. He knew that he would watch; that if Strang or his crowd sought to lay hands on one Sax Northrup, there was going to be a fight worth a man's while.
As Yahoya, walking erect and swiftly across the level space, came to the cliff's edge, Strang, followed by the old patriarchal figure, Muyingwa and the other young men, went close behind her. Northrup noted the glance which passed between Muyingwa and the girl, Nayangap, a glance easily understood since there was not much difference between it and the glance which might pass between two young people in a box at the opera.
Then Northrup strode out after the others. If there was to be a fight it was well to plan a bit while there was time. He forced his mind to this now and away from Yahoya. He saw that the Indians, heavily armed as they were, might be held off by a man with an automatic and plenty of ammunition. He saw that if Strang carried a gun it was hidden about his clothes. He did not believe that Strang had any sort of firearm upon him. It would have been the natural thing for the man's hand to have gone its way to his hip when Northrup had struck him in the mouth; and he had made no such gesture. There were a thousand ways in which a man, out on the desert for months, might have lost his weapon.
"If I'm the only man here with a gun," pondered Northrup, "they'll have their work cut out for them if they start anything."
He could withdraw toward the other steps, up which he had come from the first cañon. In the narrow passageway he could hold them back while he swept up the jug of water. After that, what was to be would be.
The dawn had come at last. Yahoya, standing upon the brink of the precipice, stood very still, her head thrown back a little, her eyes upon the pale moon, her arms lifted. Northrup came closer to the edge and looked down.
The dark forms there were quiet, had grown as motionless as Yahoya's own. The whole tribe gathered there stood with lifted arms, with faces turned up. Now and then when a form stirred Northrup could see that it was a stagger of drunkenness, could guess that the stuff which they had been drinking was the terribly intoxicating juice of the agave, which, fermented in rawhide bags, puts frenzy into men.
Suddenly through the silence floated Yahoya's v oice, singing softly. She was chanting the sacred song, the song which people said she was singing when she appeared before Inaa out of the night. She gave the words strange little twists of mispronunciation—but the words were English! There was no doubting that they were English, or rather that they had been English when Yahoya's baby voice had sung them for the first time into Inaa's ears.
It struck Northrup as an odd little thing that this song alone should have remained to the girl of the tongue which had been her mother's, this song which she could not understand, but whose sounds had been kept fresh through frequent repetition. And, somehow, the whole thing struck him as more pitiful than amusing, although both elements mixed into it. Here was Yahoya, who had called him liar for saying she was no true goddess, singing in all seriousness her sacred song; down there, far below, was a tribe of Indians listening to her sacred song with a sort of reverence. And the song itself was a nursery jingle!
Buzzfuzz was a jolly fly,
Very blithe and gay!
He began his lively dance
With the break of day.
Up and down the window-pane
With a dainty tread,
Sometimes on his tiptoes slides,
Sometimes on his head!
Northrup caught a grin on Strang's face and could have kicked him for it. In his own eyes he felt a sting of salt mist. He no longer had a desire to laugh at Yahoya or at the face-lifted crowd below. He no longer felt resentment toward the girl. He did feel a quick impulse to sweep her up into his arms, to hold her tightly, as one might hold a very little, motherless child; to carry her away from here and make life over for her.
THE song died away and the stillness of the Festival of Silence went with it. A thunder of voices crashed through the night. Wild yells, until now pent up in riotous breasts, broke out everywhere. And though the voices seemed crying all things in the world, from everywhere rose the shout:
"Yahoya! Yahoya! Yahoya!"
Down yonder the forms were circling drunkenly now—men, women and children stopping only that they might drink, reeling more and more, shouting, lifting their voices in shrill, finely drawn notes, like the yapping of a thousand coyotes.
But from the seething mess came out several forms, walking swiftly and straight. From here there was no need to look twice to see that it was the old priest, Inaa, who led them. Close behind him came Tiyo and after him a score of young men, all armed as were the followers of Strang. They were now coming up the steps. Northrup looked quickly to see what Strang was doing.
He had gathered about him the half-dozen men who had come with him and was giving sharp orders. Northrup marveled a little to see them, one after the other, withdraw until they had lost themselves in the shadows under the overhanging cliffs.
"If he means business," wondered Northrup, "why doesn't he make the fight as they come up the cliffs? The way Tiyo went for him? Or has his nerve left him, after all?"
Now, standing upon the cliff's edge where all above and below might see them, were three forms, that of a white-clad maiden, her face radiant, a strange brightness in her eyes, the form of Strang close to her at her left, Northrup upon her right, a dozen steps away. Then there was old Inaa, standing between Northrup and Yahoya, then Tiyo a little back, his eyes like hard, cold stones upon Strang. The others who had followed until now remained a score of steps from the precipice where they were not to be seen from below.
"Now the show-down," grunted Northrup to himself. "It's Strang against Tiyo. Who wins?"
Inaa slowly lifted his hand. The shouting ceased below; again the leaping forms grew still save for a little swaying. It seemed to Northrup, however, that they were vaguely restless, eager for the happening of something at which he could only guess. Was it merely the marriage ceremony? Or were there many men down there waiting a signal to take sides, some with Strang, some with Inaa and Tiyo?
"Look, People of the Hidden Spring!" cried Inaa suddenly, his voice floating out wildly, his two arms wide-flung. "See how Inaa has kept you from under the heel of the world of Bahanas! How many have come here in the memory of grown men? Two—no more. How many have gone away again, to tell of what they have seen here? None! Has not Inaa guarded you well? Look before the light comes; see where, across the desert, the eyes of Inaa are watching!"
Then Northrup, looking out the way the old man pointed across the wide sweep of desert to the south, saw a great pillar of flame standing red against the pale sky. It shot upward from the distant mountainpeaks, and he knew that at the least those peaks were fifty miles away!
He looked to the eastward and saw again a pillar of red fire lapping at the skies and knew that it was little closer than the first. He looked to the west and saw the third. And suddenly, as he remembered the old Indian woman who had kept him alive, he thought that there was less madness than sanity in the things she had told him. Was she one of the outposts of this strange people, after all? Had her fires shot their swift messages here that Inaa might know if all were well? Had the blaze his own hands had kindled before her dying eyes spoken to Inaa, too? Were there seven cities of Chebo, as she had told; was this people but the first of them? Had the old Spanish adventurers but told the truth after all of the wonderful cities of Cibola; and had they remained all these years hidden from the white man? He felt his blood tingling through him.
He looked to the north. Here the cliffs stood up so that one might not look far out as in the other directions. But here, clearly outlined against the sky, was the form of a man. And the man was shouting, his voice coming down clearly:
"In the north all is well, Father! The fire burns red!"
Again the people below shouted, crying:
"The red fires burn! It is well!"
And again they fell silent abruptly.
"Inaa has guarded his children well," went on the priest solemnly. "For fifty years has he not been Inguu and Inaa (mother and father) to you? Because the gods were pleased did they not send one of their kind, the Goddess Yahoya, to live with you? Did they not send the Bahana whom you call the Man of Wisdom to cure the sick and teach you how to make better things from gold—beautiful things for you to wear, cups from which to drink? And has not Inaa kept the Bahana here so that he might not go out to tell of what he has seen and so bring the cursed white men here, as they have gone everywhere else over the world?"
A moment he was silent. Then, his voice lowered a little, he continued:
"Inaa is old, his years weigh him down. Yahoya this night, her heart opened to the future, has said that already is the Skeleton House made ready for the coming of Inaa. But he does not go and leave his people without a thought for their welfare. He leaves behind him one to step into his place, the biggest man among you, the mightiest with his hands, the swiftest runner across the desert, the most tireless, Tiyo, the head captain of your young men!"
A great shout swept up from below:
"Tiyo! Tiyo! Tiyo!"
And then, as silence was settling, a loud voice boomed out:
"Tiyo for our Head Man; Yahoya for our Goddess! Tiyo and Yahoya!" And again many voices arose crying, "Tiyo and Yahoya!"
Tiyo himself, at a sharp glance from the old man, came forward another step, swiftly, standing very close to Yahoya, so close that her gown brushed him. The cheering rose more windily from below. Strang's eyes and Tiyo's met then. To Northrup it was a sheer wonder that the two men could hold themselves back from flying at each other's throats.
While they shouted down there Inaa was speaking swiftly with Yahoya. Northrup could not catch the words, but words were not needed now to tell what Inaa was saying. He was commanding, urging, threatening. And when Yahoya answered, it seemed that she had given him an answer that pleased him.
"Listen, my children," cried Inaa, his voice ringing with the triumph in it. "The White Goddess is pleased with you this dawning. Her heart is yours. It is not her wish to journey back up through the skies down which she came; it is not her wish to move on down into the underworld where the abode of the gods is. She will linger here with you, she will wed Tiyo and you shall be their children, blessed of the gods!"
Northrup could see that Yahoya was smiling. She leaned out over the abyss until he was afraid for her, thinking that madness had come upon her and that she was38 Adventure going to fall. She lifted her hand and there fell the great silence again, seeming now more breathless than ever. And then, when everything was still, when they waited and wondered why she did not speak, suddenly she broke the silence. And not with a spoken word, but with a clear burst of laughter leaping out over them from her red lips.
Inaa frowned and plucked at his beard; Tiyo shifted his feet, looking uncertainly from his father to Yahoya; Strang stared at her much as Northrup was staring. And still, until she had done, Yahoya gave free vent to her tinkling laughter.
"You have heard Inaa," she cried at last, her voice clear and steady, confident and imperious. "Now hear Yahoya! Do I look to you like one afraid? Do I tremble as if with fear? Does my body shake as men's bodies do when they look on death? And yet have I been threatened tonight! Aliksai. Listen. "It is the dawning and Yahoya, the Goddess, has said that she would wed. Whom would you have her take for husband, my People of the Hidden Spring? Shall it be Tiyo here? He is hungry for me; he is shaking with the desire for me; Inaa bids me marry him! Shall it be the Man of Wisdom? He is covetous of beautiful things and he wants Yahoya! His eyes burn me with the greed in them. Shall I take him for husband?
"Are you not my people, O People of the Hidden Spring? Shall not your wish enter the heart of the White Goddess? Cry out in a loud voice and say whom shall Yahoya wed?"
Northrup moved closer without knowing that he did so, thrilled with the girl's fearlessness. He had heard her words to Strang, he had seen her seem to agree with Inaa.
What was she going to do?
She herself had given the sign for division. In the shouting which answered her there were many voices clamoring for Tiyo, many for Strang. And as by magic the throng about the fires was shaken into its two factions, women drawing back, men grouping here and yonder about their leaders.
"Wait!" Yahoya's clear young voice cut through the din like a bell through a roll of thunder. "Wait and listen! The Man of Wisdom has said to me: 'Will you wed me?' And Yahoya, the Goddess, promised! Inaa has said to me, 'Will you wed Tiyo my son?' And Yahoya told him, T have promised and a goddess may not break her word!' What is the answer, my people?"
Only a murmur crept up to her in answer. Men looked at her wonderingly, waiting and listening as she had commanded. And again she laughed.
"Yahoya will tell you," she cried lightly, her rising voice seeming to soar upward upon wings of happiness. "Yahoya, the goddess, may not lie. But what maiden among you would not lie for her lover? Yahoya, who is no goddess but a white maid, will not wed with Tiyo. And she will not wed with Strang, who is a coward. She chooses her own lover, and if it be death why then, she chooses death with him."
Like a flash she had fled along the cliff-edge, sweeping by Tiyo, avoiding Inaa's clutching fingers. She had sped to Northrup's side and her arms flashed upward and about his shoulders.
"Save me from them, Saxnorthrup!" she whispered. "I am only a maid—and I am afraid!"
As Northrup stared down at the face at his breast, he felt the wild nutter of her heart against him and heard her whispering: "Of you only am I not afraid—because I love you, Saxnorthrup!"
ONLY a little while ago Northrup himself had said: "Love does not come like this, in a hurry!" And now he knew in a flash that then he had known nothing of it: that love comes as it wills, without man's bidding or consent. And, madness though it might be, it had come to him.
As his arms shut about her, hurting her in that first embrace, his heart was beating as wildly as hers. He wanted her; she belonged to him; and he was going to have her!
He wanted to get her away from here and to make her happy; he wanted to show her a world which would be like fairyland to her; he wanted to teach her his language, her own forgotten tongue; he wanted to mother her and father her and lover her. She was at once to him both an incomparable maiden and a little, frightened, hunted wild thing.
But while something deep within him, until now unawakened, talked to his soul of these things, his eyes and brain were keenly alive to what lay about him. The thing which he read in Strang's eyes was little different from the thing he saw in the eyes of Tiyo and Inaa. Amazement first, then incredulity which was still half stupefaction, then baffled rage and open threat.
Northrup's thought just then was that it was going to end with him and Yahoya going over the cliff together. And yet, in that first wild moment, it was only elation which beat through his heart. She lifted her head a little, looking straight up into his eyes. And there before them all, not to be robbed of what life seemed to be bringing them at its close, he kissed her.
"You love me, Saxnorthrup?" the girl whispered.
"I love you, Yahoya," he told her.
It was Inaa who took the first step forward. Yahoya, seeing him coming, slipped quickly from Northrup's arms. She alone had been in a position to plan for all things since she alone knew what Yahoya was going to do. She cried out clearly, sending her voice downward, calling:
"Will you hear Yahoya speak, my people? Will you bid Inaa stand back while Yahoya speaks?"
There came quick answer to her, many voices shouting:
"Yahoya! Listen to Yahoya!"
Down below, the two distinct factions now stood fully separated, grouped upon opposite sides of the fires. Clearly they were nearly equal in numbers; clearly then half of the men down there hungered to see Inaa and Tiyo fail in their wishes; while the other half clung to the old order and stood ready to oppose Strang's party in all things.
"There is our one chance," muttered Northrup, ready for whatever might happen; and he waited anxiously for Yahoya to speak.
Inaa, too, waited, and Tiyo and Strang, each for the moment uncertain. Yahoya, with a swift glance at them, turned again toward the expectant tribe.
"Among you," she cried, "are many young men and maidens. What man of you will stand aside and see another take his mana? What maiden of you will let Inaa or another tell her which lover she must love? You can look into Yahoya's heart and into Yellow Beard's heart and understand!
"But listen further! Many of you, drawn off there against the cliffs, have your hearts filled with hatred of Inaa and Tiyo! Over there stand you others, and your hearts are filled with hatred of the Man of Wisdom. Across the space between you your eyes run like the eyes of wolves hungering.
"The People of the Hidden Spring love their cornfields and their homes and their quiet lives of security. And yet, even now, they are about to spring upon one another to send many souls down to the Skeleton House, to tear themselves in two. Is it wise? Or has magic fallen upon you? Magic from the Man of Wisdom or from Inaa himself?
"If I wed Tiyo there will be war. If I wed the Man of Wisdom there will be war. What say you, my people, if Yahoya weds neither of them, but the man of her own choice, the great Yellow Beard? Then tonight you will not spill your blood and your brother's, but instead you will drink deep, feast full and sleep in peace! Now you can command Inaa to wed me to Yellow Beard and so, those of you who hate Tiyo can laugh at him; those of you who hate the Man of Wisdom can laugh at him!
"Aliksai. Listen. One way you shall have Yahoya's death and Yellow Beard's, for they will go down over the cliffs together; you will have Inaa's death and Tiyo's and Strang's and Muyingwa's, and the deaths of many young men, the strongest in the tribe, for they will fall! Another way and you will have peace. And tomorrow you can have your election if you like, keeping Inaa where he is or putting another in his place. What say you, my people?"
She drew back a little, not so far as to be lost from their sight, just so that she could stretch out her hand and slip it into Northrup's. Inaa began shouting; Tiyo's voice joined his angrily; Strang, stepping forward, called with them. And from below, out of a little silence, came a great shout of laughter!
"Let us drink, brothers!" cried a loud voice. "We were bewitched. The maid is right. Why should we fight when it is easier to drink and eat, to dance and sleep? Inaa had promised us a wedding; let him marry the maid to Yellow Beard!"
Now many shouted one thing, many another. But again and again a grumble of dissatisfaction was drowned in a shout of laughter. In the main the faction hating Tiyo was satisfied to see him thrust aside for another; those hating Strang were satisfied in his discomfiture.
The Hopi are at heart peace-loving people; a dance and a feast appeal to them far more than an orgy of blood. Here was at once a compromise and a huge joke on their head men. And perhaps many lovers below felt their rude sympathy for the lovers above.
Tiyo's twenty men, drawing closer now, looked at one another a trifle uncertainly. They began speaking in low tones and Northrup heard one of them laugh. The half-dozen men Strang had left in the shadows had been joined secretly by several others; they too had drawn closer and were speaking among themselves.
Looking to them Northrup saw a quick figure flit out of Yahoya's stone building and run toward them. It was the girl, Nayangap. She went hastily to the side of the young man, Muyingwa, and began speaking to him earnestly. And Muyingwa, nodding, came on until he stood close to Yahoya's side. Strang stared at him anxiously.
"Aliksai. Listen!" he cried loudly, until the din below grew still. "It is I, Muyingwa, who speak. Inaa has said that it is Tiyo who is the strongest of us, the swiftest runner. He lies! Even now will I run out across the desert with Tiyo, as many miles as he will and come back ahead of him! The men who are my men know this and have no love for liars! So they would not see Yahoya wedded to one of them. But with Yellow Beard it is different. Let Inaa wed them and we shall throw down our arms and feast. Then I will race with Tiyo, and the man who is strongest and swiftest will be your head captain. Then you will vote for Inaa or the other as your head priest. What say you? Is not Yahoya right? What man of us loves Tiyo or the Man of Wisdom better than his own life?"
While those bent upon strife murmured everywhere, those who had gone into the division half-heartedly or not at all, outnumbered them many to one. When, after that, Inaa sought to make himself heard, no one would listen; when Tiyo shouted, his words were lost to the ears of those standing close to him; when Strang shot out a sharp word and an evil glance at Muyingwa, it was met with a hard stare. Muyingwa had gone back to his mana, and the two of them were standing like Northrup and Yahoya, hand in hand.
It was perhaps Muyingwa's offer to race with Tiyo as much as anything which settled the matter. There are no runners in the world like the runners of the southwestern desert; they are men who can run an unbelievable number of miles out across blazing sands in the morning to dig in their fields and run back the same evening. With them running is at once a necessary thing, a part of their religious training, and a way of settling just such debates as the one that had arisen now.
They began sweeping up along the steep steps now, the men of the two factions mingling, jostling one another, each eager to be the first to come to the top. Northrup pressed Yahoya's hand
"You are a God-blessed wonder, Yahoya," he whispered. "We are going to pull through."
"You hurt my hand, Saxnorthrup!" she smiled up at him. "But—do it again!"
SOON they were in the center of a great ring, they with Inaa, Strang and Tiyo. Men were laughing openly everywhere. And their eyes, when they had finished with Yahoya and Northrup, had already measured Tiyo and were seeking to measure Muyingwa that they might lay their wagers upon the endurance run.
A man is not head priest of such a people as this for fifty years without learning something. There was not a cooler, craftier mind among them than Inaa's. He knew full well that in time of storm the reed that bends is better off than the stubborn tree. He frowned warningly at Tiyo, then, making his face over into its habitual mask, turned to Yahoya.
"Yahoya has been pleased," he said steadily, "to test her people. She has declared herself no true goddess but a mere maid to see if in our hearts' fear of the goddess were greater than love of Yahoya! Her will is the will of her people. The dawn has come and a wedding is promised. Let Yahoya and the great Bahana come forward."
Northrup, looking down quickly at Yahoya saw that her dimples had come back, that her eyes were shining softly, that a happy flush had run up into her cheeks. What wonderful thing was this? Had it been just a few hours since he had come here, dying of thirst? Or had it been years? Was he, Sax Northrup, about to be joined to this radiant girl in matrimony, none the less holy to him because of the heathen rites with which it was to be celebrated? Or was he dreaming the whole mad thing?
Slowly, his hand holding hers, he and Yahoya stepped forward. And then a sudden dread came upon him. If it had come to open fight it would have been one thing, a thing Northrup knew. But now that no knife-blade caught the early light he knew that none the less there were knives hungering for him, perhaps for Yahoya. He felt that all about him was menace, the more terrible because it was glossed over with smiles—a concealed, masked danger.
But these things he promptly forgot. Inaa, fighting hard for the mastery of himself, and getting it wonderfully, gave the people what they demanded, a wedding. Northrup, looking down at Yahoya's upturned face, saw a great, unfeigned gladness there. Her lips moved silently with Inaa's, as if she knew each word of the ceremony and were saying it within her heart.
Northrup did not know if he were doing a good or a bad thing in letting this go on; he only knew that he loved Yahoya and that she thought that she loved him. And there was no time for thought. Already he heard Inaa's words, saw Yahoya forming them silently.
"The Spider Woman and the Great Earth Woman, the goddess who weaves the colors of sunrise and sunset, the goddess to whom belongs the world, the god who makes green things grow and the God of Rain, the great gods and the small gods bless you, Yahoya and Yellow Beard! You are a mana and his woman. The woman's house is open to the man, to none but him. It is done!"
And between two long lines, instantly formed, of shouting, laughing men, Sax Northrup and his wife, given to him by her own will and by the head priest of the People of the Hidden Spring, passed into the stone house.
"WE are married, Saxnorthrup! Is it not nice to be married to Yahoya?"
She came into his arms like a bird to its nest, fluttering a little, eager to be there.
"You are my man!" she whispered. "And I am your mana! Oh, but I am proud of you, Saxnorthrup! There is no other man like you in the world! Did I not see you lift up Tiyo and cast him down so that his bones ached? Did I not see you strike Eddie mightily so that he reeled back afraid? I am glad you are no god, but a man, Saxnorthrup. Glad that I am no goddess, but a maid to love as other maids love—but harder!"
Outside, the last of the procession had passed by, the shouting forms had gone down the stairway; men were forgetting them in their eagerness for a test of strength and speed between Tiyo and Muyingwa.
Northrup drew the girl tenderly to him, a little sense of awe upon him now that they were alone together, a little sense of pity for her, a feeling that though Inaa had given her to him, and the tribe had cheered, all was not well. They were forgotten for the moment. But Northrup had not missed the look in Strang's eyes, in Inaa's, in Tiyo's, as they had passed the open door and gone on.
"Yahoya," he said gently, "I love you. Things have a way of happening which I had not expected. I didn't know just what love was, and now I know. I didn't believe in it overmuch, I suppose; and now I know that there is nothing else in the world this morning that counts. If a man looks at you I want to murder him. I am going to try to take you away with me, Yahoya, where you will see other men, better men to look upon than I am. I am going to play square, if I can. And if you find you don't love me after all, that you do love some other man, then "
"Then, Saxnorthrup?" she asked softly.
"I think I'd kill the brute!" said Northrup savagely.
Whereupon Yahoya was vastly delighted.
"You do love me," she told him sagely. "For I feel like that! And," eagerly, "you'll take me into the world of the Bahanas? So that I shall see the wagons running uphill without horses? And great houses that float on the water? And many, many wonderful things?"
Could he do these things? Could he one day take Yahoya to her first opera? Could he take her to marvel at the great spectacular shows of the great cities? Could he be the first to initiate her into a life which would be a veritable wonderland to her? Had his destiny saved this one glorious thing for him to do? Would ever any one in all the world have been so equipped as was Yahoya for enjoyment, for marveling from day to day, from night to night?
He could imagine her little cry of ecstasy when they drove down Broadway the first night, when she saw the lights, the many- colored electric displays above. To her it would be magic. The train upon which they traveled, the women's gowns, the porters in their uniforms, books and pictures and music; dainty things to eat—why, an ice-cream would be a thing of wonder to her. Could he, Sax Northrup, take this maid by the hand and lead her out into the new world?
He remembered Strang's look, Tiyo's and Inaa's, and his brows contracted. Yahoya looked at him wonderingly.
"What is it, Saxnorthrup?" she asked uncertainly. "I have displeased you?"
He laughed at her, drew her even closer to him, kissing the alarmed look out of her eyes.
"I was just thinking, my little wild girl," he told her gaily. "Thinking makes a man's face look like that. I won't do it any more."
So much, loverwise. Then, man-like, he began thinking seriously again. Here was the situation:
He had come here, led by the lure of gold. If he got out at all it seemed that he would go as empty-pocketed as he had come. He thought disparagingly of the thousand dollars he had outside in a bank. He didn't know much about the cost of women's garments, but he had the hazy idea that the sort of gown he wanted Yahoya to wear would cost the greater part of his thousand. And then, how was he going to take her everywhere in the world, give her everything she would bE sure to want? She'd be asking for a hundred things every minute at first.
So much for the money end of it. There was still left the greater question—"Can we get out at all?"
It was almost as if she had read some of his thoughts. She had slipped away from him, running to the door of one of the anterooms. Holding aside the curtain there, she said happily,
"This is Yahoya's sleeping-room. Will you see how pretty it is, Saxnorthrup? And the pretty things her people gave her as gifts to the goddess?"
He hesitated at the door a moment, uncertain if he should profane it with his presence. It drew from him a little gasp of admiration and amazement.
There was a couch made cozy with the skins thrown over it. A table, cunningly made of wood so precious here, stood out in the center of the little room, a square of snow-white buckskin thrown over it. Upon the table was a vase with pale-blue flowers. And the vase itself was of solid gold, skilfully hammered.
Upon the floor, arranged about the walls, were countless cups and vases, tiny jugs, belts, forehead bands, moccasin ornaments, jeweled bracelets—all of solid gold, many set with flawless turquoises.
"All presents to Yahoya," she smiled at him. "You see, Saxnorthrup, Yahoya was a goddess and a great lady before she gave herself away to you! And presently, after Tiyo and Muyingwa race, there will be more presents. For me, the bride, and for you, the bridegroom, Saxnorthrup."
She made herself comfortable upon one end of her couch, drew up her feet under her, gathered her knees into her arms and dimpled over them at Northrup.
"No wonder Strang counts himself a millionaire," thought Northrup. "And small chance that he will let us get away if he knows the way to stop us."
And to Yahoya he said slowly:
"Do you know—Mrs. Sax Northrup"—she laughed delightedly and blushed becomingly at the new name which she interrupted him by saying over softly to herself—"you are a disgracefully rich young woman?"
"Oh," she laughed, "this is nothing! In each of the Seven Cities Yahoya has a house "
"Seven Cities!" broke in Northrup quickly. "What Seven Cities, Yahoya?"
She lifted her brows at him in surprise.
"You do not know then? This is but one of the Seven Cities of Chebo, the smallest, where Yahoya has come but seldom for the Festival of Silence. The others have many people and big houses in the cliffs, with wide stairways up and down, and hundreds of rooms. And in each is a great house with five, six, nine rooms, all belonging to Yahoya. Here I bring but two maids; there I have many to dress my hair, to bathe me, to do little things for me that I do not wish to do. There I have many golden things: a table all of gold, with many turquoises; a little bed with golden feet; white furs to walk on; a chair to ride in, heavy with gold, that strong men carry. You shall see, Saxnorthrup! And you shall know that Yahoya does not come to her lover with empty hands!"
Nayangap and Tocha came in to serve them a breakfast of milk and little corn-meal cakes in Yahoya's room, and until they had gone, taking their trays away with them, Northrup listened eagerly to what Yahoya had to tell him. And, in brief, this is what he learned:
The Seven Cities of Chebo controlled a district, perhaps two hundred miles across. There were rich valleys, hidden in the mountains, where they grew their melons and corn and cotton. There were mines from which they took vast quantities of gold and silver, fashioning ornaments and table service for the rich.
A young man was overlord of the Seven Cities, having been elected to hold office for life. He had turned his eyes upon Yahoya, but since he had already two wives, the priests, very powerful throughout the district, had forbidden him wedding her.
In order that white men might not come into a country which nature had so cunningly hidden from them, there were stationed out through the desert, upon any of the water-trails, sentinels who signaled by fire or smoke when a man came into sight. Generally these were the older folk, men and women, useless to the state for other purposes, who believed that thus they would be pleasing their gods, and who considered it a high honor to be chosen for so responsible a task.
So if a white man had turned toward the Seven Cities, he might not come within fifty miles of the nearest of them when he was met by runners sent out to intercept him. A friendly greeting, a sharp knife from the back, and one more name stricken from the list of adventurers. Or, if men were needed in the mines, a living death. Besides the outposts, there were lookouts upon the cliff-tops, alert, keen-eyed men, who did not miss the slinking form of a gray coyote upon the gray sands.
Northrup thought swiftly of the sandstorm, of his lying so long blotted out from sight against the drifting sand; of how when he had at last come on, it was night, and the lookouts had perhaps come down to take part in the Festival of Silence.
"If you did not know of the Seven Cities," Yahoya asked him, "how is it that you came journeying this way, Saxnorthrup?"
He began telling her of the Indian in Santa Fe, only to be interrupted by Yahoya saying quickly—
"You were with Eddie then, when the runner died?"
"Yes. Strang has told you about that?"
"No," she answered. "He always lied to me, not knowing that I knew he lied. He said that in his heart he dreamed a dream of me, and that that brought him across the sands, hurrying!"
Northrup grunted. Then, moved to curiosity he demanded—
"If Strang didn't tell you of it, how do you know?"
"Tiyo told me," she answered, puzzling him still more.
"Tiyo? Who told Tiyo?"
"He was there. It was Tiyo who shot the poisoned arrow in at the window."
"Tiyo went way down to Santa Fe, killed his man, and came back here?"
"The other was Chiwakala, son of the old man that Strang would make head priest in the place of Inaa. Chiwakala was a friend of Kish-taka, the Hawk Man, who is overlord of the Seven Cities, and not without power himself. Between him and Tiyo there has always been rivalry and hatred. Kish-taka sought to make him head captain of the youths of the Hidden Spring. But even Kish-taka's power was less in this matter than Inaa's, and so Tiyo was elected.
"Chiwakala was bad in his heart, nukpana. People said he was a Powaka, who casts evil and sickness into men. It was Tiyo's doing that Chiwakala was condemned to spend all his life down in a mine where bad men and women are put, and those that Kish-taka or the priests do not like. Then Chiwakala, who was a great runner like Tiyo and Muyingwa, fled, having in his heart to go out among the Bahana and, because he hated Tiyo and others, to send certain of the Bahanas into our land, telling them of riches to be had.
"Chiwakala went swiftly, but Tiyo went after him, also swiftly. Chiwakala, coming first among the Bahanas, had told his story, and men laughed at him, calling him liar. Then, in Santa Fe, he was to tell a man who is known among the Bahanas as a hardy adventurer. There Tiyo came up with him, and, shooting quickly through the open window a little blue-winged arrow with poison tip, killed him. Then Tiyo came back, and even Kish-taka, who had befriended Chiwakala, said that he had been nukpana, and that Tiyo had done well for the people of the Seven Cities."
From Santa Fe, Northrup estimated roughly that he had traversed some four hundred miles in coming here. A round trip of eight hundred miles! And yet Yahoya spoke of the matter lightly, as if Tiyo had run but a little way.
"How long was Tiyo gone?" he asked curiously. "From the moonrise when he departed until the dawning when he dropped down before me," she answered, "twenty days had passed!"
"Twenty days!" gasped Northrup.
"Oh," she said quickly, misunderstanding his thought, "it was because he lost time in seeking out Chiwakala among the white men. Tiyo would have come back sooner but for that."
Eight hundred miles in twenty days! And Yahoya was apologizing for Tiyo's slowness! A clip of over forty miles a day, day in and day out, over such country as Northrup knew stretched between these people and Santa Fe! It was incredible and yet it was the sober truth. For here are a people not like other men, a people with a strange, seemingly tireless power and swiftness, that is the result of desert training, inheritance, evolution, all aided by the religious ceremonies calling for an abnormally developed physique. The desert had made creatures like the coyote, the snake, the jackrabbit that knew how to live a very long time without water. The desert had made its own plant life to exist and flourish where water was not. The desert had made its men.
Even now that a great issue held in balance, that issue was to be decided by such a race as perhaps no white man had ever seen. Tiyo and Muyingwa, down in the cañon were ready.
"Shall we go out upon the cliff edge and watch them?" said Northrup. "I think that very much depends on this race—for you and me, Yahoya!"
TIYO and Muyingwa showed an equal eagerness to be off. They stood side by side, stripped, the sun already beating hot upon their naked bodies. As he looked down, Northrup marveled how the desert had made her children into what they must be to wrest nourishment and draw life from her barren breasts.
The men were alike, as he looked upon them from the back. Their shoulders were not wide, though they were tall men, both of them. Their bodies were slender, almost reed-like in smooth symmetry and pliant toughness. There was no hint of a useless ounce of flesh, nothing but hard muscle.
But while bigness of body was nowhere evident in the torsos, which were none the less magnificent, the hips were thicker than the hips of white men, the thighs bulged out with endurance in every knotted sinew; the calves were the swelling, powerful calves of Marathon men.
The desert Indian in his heart is a born gambler, his love for hazard no whit less than the Mongolian's. Already were the onlookers caught in a fever of excitement as they cried out for their favorites and eagerly sought takers for their wagers. From the voices coming up to him Northrup knew that one man was seeking to bet his whole year's yield of corn that Tiyo would come in the victor; that another staked many gold cups on Muyingwa; that even the women were wagering personal ornaments.
"Where will they run?" he asked of Yahoya.
"Yonder," she pointed, "to the foot of that peak, without water on the way. There grow red flowers that are found nowhere else. The one who brings the first flower back wins. It is the custom."
Northrup judged that to the base of the cliff it was at the least fifteen miles. A race of thirty miles through the hot sun, and without water!
"Who will win?"
She shook her head thoughtfully.
"It lies with the gods, Saxnorthrup. There are in the world no two runners like them since Chiwakala is dead. No man could beat them—except you, Saxnorthrup!" she ended loyally.
"Good Lord!" grunted Northrup. "I'd shrivel up in about ten minutes!" But he spoke in English.
Inaa made his way through the throng which drew back for him. From a cup in his hand he sprinkled water upon both men.
"The gods watch you, my sons," he said loudly. "Run!"
They broke away from the throng which watched them silently and went down the gentle slope from the cañon mouth at a trot, their elbows rubbing. Northrup noted how Tiyo held his arms drawn up a little so that the relaxed hands were close to his stomach; how Muyingwa ran with his arms at his sides, the hands dangling. And in their action he saw no other difference. There was the same free stride, the same way of bending the body slightly forward with the head held up a little, the same easy play of muscles and rhythmic swing.
"If I had to bet on either of them," was his thought, "I'd toss a coin for it."
And then, mindful of what the result of the race might mean to Yahoya and to him, he cried sharply:
"Go to it, Muyingwa! I'm backing you!" Like two great, gaunt greyhounds, Tiyo and Muyingwa were already slipping out into the desert, their bare feet seeming scarcely to touch the loose sand. Each had hit his stride, and Northrup saw that now Muyingwa was setting the pace, forging a step ahead, and that Tiyo seemed quite content to drop the step behind. He frowned as he asked of Yahoya—
"Which man has won the most races in his life?"
And she answered—
Steadily, each keeping to his stride, the two passed out into the gray expanse, Muyingwa increasing the distance lying between him and his rival, Tiyo never seeming to see Muyingwa. Now, more than ever before, did the desert seem like a mighty ocean, with these men, two bold swimmers, striking straight out into it, and the thought must arise in the mind of a white man who watched them: "Is their strength so mighty a thing that it will not forsake them before they can get back?"
But they would be back soon enough, and then there would be a settling of scores.
Northrup drew his eyes away from the two forms growing smaller in the distance, beginning to blend into the monotone of desert, and stared down at the throng below him. He found Strang in a center of a group of silent, attentive men. Beyond him was Inaa, the priest, also with his group around him.
"They are like a crowd of schoolboys," thought Northrup. "Ready to break off in the middle of a fight to watch a race; ready to get into mischief again the next minute."
"Yahoya," he said gently, "do you know what it will mean for us if Tiyo wins this race?"
"Yes." She spoke quite steadily, slipping her hand into his, and smiling a little. "But we are not afraid to die, you and I, Saxnorthrup."
"So it would be death then?"
"For you," she told him, "it would be a laborer's work down in the mines. For me it would mean bride to Tiyo, or my own knife in my heart. We would not wait, Saxnorthrup, you and I."
"What would we do?" he asked curiously, wondering at the girl's calmness.
"When we saw Tiyo running home before Muyingwa we would leap out to meet him, Saxnorthrup. Hand in hand, as lovers should."
"You love me like that, Yahoya?"
She pressed his hand hard in her own.
"That is the only way Yahoya knows how to love, my husband. But I am praying to Haruing Wuhti and Kokang Wuhti that it may be Muyingwa who races home first."
"In either case there is going to be trouble," he said thoughtfully. "Those men down there are not to be cheated of their fight. While they are watching the race, should we try to leave by the way which I came?"
"Where you go I go with you," she answered. "But if they wished they could come up with us out in the desert, and there are no cliffs out there for us to leap from, Saxnorthrup."
MEN were already coming up from the cañon, seeking the heights from which they might watch the race until Tiyo and Muyingwa were lost to even their piercing eyes. In a little the level space would be crowded.
"Let us go back into the house, Yahoya," suggested Northrup. "There we can be alone for a little. And there we can have certain men come presently whom we shall want to talk with."
Before they could gain the wide doorway Northrup saw many hard, frowning eyes turned upon him, and knew that a little while ago these same eyes had looked on laughingly at his wedding with Yahoya. The Indians had enjoyed the moment, had found perhaps a pleasure in piquing at once Strang and Tiyo and Inaa, had yielded to the impulse of the moment and Yahoya's influence over them. But now stood out their eternal hatred of a white man.
Quickly the level space about the pool and the spires of rock uplifted into the air were covered with men seeking to find the two little moving dots in the wide sweep of sand. Early among them came the girl, Nayangap. With no glance at Northrup now, stooping swiftly, she caught up the hem of Yahoya's gown and lifted it to her lips.
"Yahoya," she said softly, her voice troubled, as were her eyes, "goddess or maid, it is all the same to the heart of Nayangap. In her heart Nayangap loves you and worships."
"You are a good girl," said Yahoya, with a little touch of her old air of a young queen. "Look. I give you this."
She caught up one of the many jeweled cups from the floor. Nayangap shook her head, saying quickly—
"Nayangap does not come for presents. She brings you word from Muyingwa."
Northrup looked at the girl eagerly. For the first time now, Nayangap looked at him. And it was to him rather than to Yahoya that she spoke.
"Muyingwa will win the race, because he is the better man, and because the gods love him best! Then his followers—and they are many—will name him head captain of the young men, in Tiyo's place. Then, too, the good men who are fair in their hearts will name him head captain because they have said the man who wins will be their chief. But there are others and they are many, too, who are nukpana. They will break their promises as if they were the shells of humming-birds' eggs. Then, because Muyingwa is no coward, there may be a great spilling of blood."
"Go on," said Northrup impatiently, seeing that the girl was stopping. Her eyes had been very hard. Now, suddenly, they grew soft, and into her dusky cheeks a tide of red surged up.
"Muyingwa loves power and gold!" she cried passionately. "Muyingwa loves to strive with other men. But most of all Muyingwa loves a mana, and that mana is Nayangap! His heart sings like a thrush and makes music in Nayangap's heart when he comes to her.
"Nayangap loves gold, too, and she loves power for Muyingwa, and pretty gowns for herself. But most of all she loves Muyingwa's self. And after Muyingwa she loves Yahoya! This Muyingwa knows. His heart is big; he would give to his mana all things. So he has called me aside before the race and told me what I must do for Yahoya's sake."
"If Yahoya were in truth goddess," cried Yahoya, her eyes bright, "she would make Muyingwa this day overlord of all the Seven Cities! Since she is but a maid like you, Nayangap, she prays to the gods for him."
"This is the word of Muyingwa," went on Nayangap swiftly. "There will be a great struggle and many men will go down to Maski. But Muyingwa will win because he will have the stronger party, and because the gods are with him. He has no love for the Man of Wisdom, who has tricked him, saying that Yahoya would be left free to do what she wished.
"Muyingwa says that if the fight comes Yahoya is to stay in her kiva, where harm can not come to her; and that her lover, Yellow Beard, shall come out to stand at Muyingwa's right hand and fight the fight with him."
"Askwali. I thank you," said Yahoya gently. "You will bring us water and food, Nayangap. Yellow Beard shall rest here and sleep, so that when the time comes he shall fight a man's fight. That is best."
Nayangap withdrew upon her errand, going swiftly. Yahoya came to Northrup, then, putting up her arms, looking up into his face:
"My man," she said softly. "Kiss me!' And when he had kissed her: "I love you. I am proud of you. You are such a man as never before came into the world. If you fall to-day I shall run out and throw myself upon your body and die with you. If you live I shall live always with you in paradise. Kiss me again. And now sleep, Saxnorthrup."
The wonder is that Northrup did sleep.
He awoke from a dream of sitting in a box at the theater with Yahoya, watching her while she watched the actors. Yahoya was bending over him, her hand laid lightly upon his shoulder.
"The lookout has called out that he can see them returning, Muyingwa and Tiyo," she said gravely. "Shall we go out and watch them, you and I?"
PASSING with Yahoya through the curtained doorway into the larger room, Northrup saw that at the wider entrance there were two young men standing, their backs turned toward him.
"Two of Muyingwa's men," said Yahoya. "He sent them to stand guard here."
Northrup stopped to offer his hand to each.
"If there is a fight," he said, "we fight together? That is good."
Their eyes upon his were hard and expressionless.
"We are Muyingwa's men," said one bluntly. "We obey our orders."
Again there were many men upon the ledge, all looking out toward the desert where their eyes had found the forms of the racers. Before Northrup and Yahoya had come to where they too could see, Strang had moved out of a knot of men and had come swiftly to meet them. A good deal of the bluster of a few hours ago had oozed out of him; he was looking anxious.
"Look here, Northrup," he said hurriedly, "it strikes me that there's going to be an almighty row in no time. You and I have had our troubles and there's no denying it. But at a time like this I guess we've got to remember we're white men stacked up against a bunch of damned Indians. You chip in on my side, and I'll see you through if we come out of this alive."
Strang was armed like the Indians; now Northrup was certain that the man had either lost his gun out in the desert or had had it taken away from him here.
"I'll chip in on your side," returned Northrup coldly, "not because I am fool enough to believe a man like you, Strang, but just because I see my one chance with your crowd."
He saw in Strang's eyes a quick light of eagerness. Then the light died down, the eyes grew anxious again. Plainly Strang was afraid. He sought to speak further, but Northrup and Yahoya passed on.
Everywhere were black looks turned upon them, many men sneering openly at Yahoya, who was no longer goddess, but mere maid; many of them speaking of him in ugly voices, which they did not seek to keep from his ears. Northrup looked at Yahoya swiftly; it was if she had neither seen nor heard.
But again men forgot them for the moment. Tiyo and Muyingwa from being mere slow, drifting dots grew into two men, striving mightily. From afar it was clear that they had fought their way, mile after mile, with skill and cunning and muscle. They were now two staggering, dust-covered forms, and no man yet could tell which was Muyingwa, which Tiyo.
On they came, plunging across the loose sand which caught at the feet that no longer might spurn it lightly, their lean bodies crouching, their arms dangling, their knees rising and falling only because stubborn wills drove them. On they staggered, neither man looking up, their hearts near bursting, their dry, dusty tongues lolling, their bodies rocking as in agony. On through a reeling world, with only a scant two or three yards between them.
And only silence greeting them, as men strove to see which of those dark, tortured forms grasping a wilted flower in a dangling hand, was Tiyo, which Muyingwa.
Then, at last, they had come so close to the base of the cliffs that they were recognizable human beings, no longer merely exhausted machines. A great crowd rumbled out to greet them then, many voices shouting together—
For it was Tiyo in the lead. Even Northrup saw that now, and realized swiftly that Tiyo's winning would strengthen Tiyo's hand, so that there would be little hope for Muyingwa and those whom he stood ready to befriend.
At the shout the two men jerked up their heads. Their faces were twisted and haggard; their mouths dropped open; their eyes were wild, telling mutely of the anguish-racked bodies upon which so terrible a tax had been levied.
Then the heads dropped, the gaunt forms staggered on, feet sinking deep into the sand, being caught there, dragged out with effort more and more obvious. And still, no great distance between them and the end of the long run, Tiyo held his place in the lead.
Now many voices called out, "Muyingwa! Muyingwa!" but they called half-heartedly. Through the bedlam rose the shrill cry of a woman, a wail of grief; Nayangap, hurrying down the stairway to meet her defeated lover, carried to him a face scarcely less tortured than his own. Yahoya slipped her hand into Northrup's.
"Look," she whispered. "If to-day you fall, my husband, Yahoya will fall with you!"
The sun flashed a moment upon the keen blade she had slipped from her gown. Then, as quickly as it had come, the knife was gone, and she was pressing his hand hard.
On came Tiyo, staggering more drunkenly than ever, fighting for every step. On came Muyingwa just behind him, head down and dogged. Cheer after cheer broke out to greet the victor; cheer after cheer drummed into the ears of the man who had challenged and who was losing.
Inaa, his eyes seeming on fire, was drawing with a sacred baho a small circle at the head of the slope. Already were Tiyo's feet upon the harder ground, already was he plunging, reeling up the first of the hundred yards of incline. He swung up one arm with a visible effort, showing the fingers gripping the stem of the red flower. Inaa's voice, until now stilled, called out triumphantly:
"On, Tiyo, my son! The victor's circle, wherein is room for one man only, awaits you! On, Tiyo!"
Then Tiyo turned a little for the first time and saw Muyingwa's bowed, reeling form behind him. Tiyo's staring eyes and panting mouth grew into a twisted smile. Then Tiyo did not turn again.
As they ran the two men stumbled now, their numb feet striking against the stones in their path, each seeming ever upon the verge of falling. If Tiyo should indeed fall—if Muyingwa fell—then before either man could get upon his feet the race would be lost.
It seemed to Northrup that Muyingwa was driving some last ounce of reserve strength into his lagging limbs. It seemed while a man could not be certain, that he had shaved off a fraction of the half-dozen feet stretching between him and Tiyo. But if he had cut off an inch, what of it? There were but seventy-five yards now, and Tiyo was a man's height in advance.
Northrup caught a glimpse of a face thrust close up to his own, Strang's face. The blood had drawn out of it, leaving a strange pallor over the sunburned skin.
"The quitter!" groaned Strang. "He said he could beat Tiyo!"
"You talk about a quitter!" snapped Northrup. "Shut up!"
It seemed now that nothing less than miracle could save the day for Muyingwa, unless Tiyo should fall. And why should one fall rather than the other?
There was a flutter of white close by Inaa's side. Nayangap stood there, her arms thrown out toward the men racing so slowly up the broken slope.
"Muyingwa!" she called. "Muyingwa!"
He did not lift his head as he struggled on; he gave no sign that he had heard. And yet, in the silence which had fallen, a silence of breathless, intense eagerness, he could not but have heard.
"Tiyo!" thundered Inaa. "Tiyo! Ti-yo!"
"Muyingwa!" cried Nayangap. "Muyingwa!"
The eyes of those who watched, drawn for an instant to the forms of the old man and the young mana, came back quickly to the runners. Was it in the seeming only, or had Muyingwa crept a little closer?
With hard ground underfoot, with Nayangap's voice ringing in his ears, had he added a little swiftness to his slow plodding? Had he, in fact, held a little reserve force for the final dash? Was Tiyo, already so close to the victor's circle, and with his rival in his rear, already the victor?
It was ending as a distance run so rarely ends, with the end in doubt until the very close of endeavor. Muyingwa was gaining. Tiyo was driving his muscles harder and harder at every lagging step to make them bend to his will. But they were only twenty- five yards from the goal, and Tiyo still led the way.
"Tiyo!" shouted Inaa.
"Muyingwa!" cried the girl, her voice throbbing in its appeal.
Then all were still, their bodies tense, their breathing hushed, their hearts beating thickly. Northrup's hand, gripping Yahoya's, grew into a vise, which at another time would have hurt her cruelly. Yahoya did not feel it.
There was no sound now save the rattle of stones set rolling, the thud, thud, thud of bare bleeding feet dropping heavily, the gasping breathing of Tiyo and Muyingwa. One might fancy that he heard the hammering of their hearts, despair in one not untinged with wild hope, victory in the other touched with dread. For Tiyo could hear Muyingwa's whistling breath close upon his right, a step behind.
So they came to the worst of the broken ground not a dozen yards from the circle Inaa had drawn. Here an exhausted man might fall if he were not wary. In each of the bursting hearts was the same thought: if a man fall now he sees his rival win. Tiyo, having everything to lose, feeling himself already crowned with green leaves and yellow flowers, swerved a step to the left. Muyingwa, feeling the game all but lost already, kept straight ahead. His thudding feet struck among the jagged stones, which cut at them and tore them with cruel knife-edges. Muyingwa felt nothing, but flung himself forward, staggering, falling, catching himself, staggering on.
Tiyo saw him from the corner of his eye, abreast now, and, gathering his last strength, reeled on, gaining a little. Muyingwa saw a white, fluttering gown just there in front of him, saw Tiyo at his side, and made the supreme call upon his quivering muscles.
He struck a stone in his way, pitching over it, close to falling for the hundredth time.
"Muyingwa!" Hardly more than a maid's whisper, but many men heard it. "My man!"
Tiyo had run his race, and was tottering almost at the rim of the circle his dizzy eyes could not see. Muyingwa was like a spent ball, plowing on with its own momentum. Tiyo's foot struck a little mound of loose dirt and he fell. As he went down he threw out his hand, and Muyingwa, striking it, fell with him. Both men down, and the goal just there, where it seemed either man might reach it!
Then men shouted as they had not shouted until now, so that Inaa's voice and Nayangap's were lost in the thunderous roar. The cañon echoes went mad with the word,
"Tiyo, Tiyo, Tiyo!"
The cañon walls themselves seemed to have awakened, moved at last from their cold slumber, and to be shouting, "Muyingwa!" Northrup heard men yelling about him, and did not know that his own voice was lending its volume to theirs.
Would the men never get to their feet? Did they not know what hung upon them? Were they loitering now at the very end?
But they were up now. They were going on, both of them. It seemed as if they were seeking to drive men mad, lifting their feet so slowly, holding them so long suspended in air, taking such puny, baby steps ahead. Even their faces were drawn into grotesque grins, as if they were mocking those who clamored for them, jeering at the world. Who was ahead now? Their elbows struck.
But now men saw that at each slow step it was Tiyo who held longest balanced upon his spreading toes; it was Tiyo's leg which held longest suspended in air.
Muyingwa threw high up above his head the hand gripping the broken flower. Swaying terribly, Muyingwa set his foot over the circle.
Muyingwa stood first in the narrow circle wherein there is room for only one man. Then, staring stupidly at Nayangap he half turned, seeing through a blur another man coming on falteringly. Then Muyingwa, not hearing the roar of voices, dropped his arm, stooped a little, a little more, sought to lift his hand and could not, rocked blindly back and forth, and then, strength and consciousness going out of him, fell heavily. And as he fell, Tiyo's body pitched forward and fell across him.
"QUICK!" cried Northrup sharply. "Into your house, Yahoya. We must be ready now for what comes!"
Drawing her after him he hurried through the clamoring throng. He realized that now for a moment, men would not be thinking of him and Yahoya. Now was the time for him to get her where she would be safest. He would not have been afraid for Yahoya had it not been for the look he had seen in Inaa's eyes so few hours ago. The old man's temper would have hardly been sweetened by Tiyo's defeat, nor his anger at Yahoya lessened.
The two men Muyingwa had deputed to stand guard at the kiva's entrance had quite naturally forsaken their posts, but were back now as Yahoya and Northrup went in. That day Northrup and Yahoya sat long alone together in her little room, waiting. Nor did time drag for them, there was so much in each heart which must be told to the other.
As the man looked into the clear gray eyes, fearless, and filled with the love she had given him so generously, he sought to close his thoughts to what might lie in the future for them both. One of the rare moments of a man's life had come to him when past and future are hazy and unimportant, when he lives richly and to the full in the glowing present. He no longer marveled at the love which had come to them. It seemed as natural a thing as the sunshine outside.
A third man joined the two at the door, spoke with them in quick, sharp tones, and went away. The two remained, keeping their silent watch, calm, seeming untouched by thought of a near crisis. Tocha came and brought food, saying that Nayangap was with Muyingwa, and that both her lover and Tiyo were like men whose souls had gone down to Maski.
All forms had disappeared from the ledge where the pool was. Yahoya's parrot swayed upon his branch, admired his gay plumage in the water's clear mirror, and flew to the kiva seeking his mistress. From the cañon where the men of the tribe were assembled came a voice only now and then at long intervals. Then, at last,
came Nayangap, her eyes bright, her face suffused with happiness, a strange elation in her manner. "Listen!" she cried to Yahoya, running to her mistress. "In a moment you will hear the shouting. Down there they proclaim Muyingwa head captain in Tiyo's place!"
"And Tiyo?" demanded Northrup eagerly. "What does he say about it?"
"Is not Muyingwa the greater man, the better?" the girl flashed at him. "Did not Muyingwa beat Tiyo so that all men might laugh?"
Northrup had not noted that Tiyo's defeat was so marked as that, but he said nothing. Yahoya smiled a little at her maid's loyal enthusiasm.
"Men who are wise and men who are good," ran on Nayangap, "will draw to Muyingwa's side, calling him their chief. Men whose hearts are black and who listen to the words of Inaa will stand with Tiyo. Then will Muyingwa lead his men out and strike down the men of Tiyo!"
Before she had finished Strang came hurriedly into the kiva, brushing by her rudely.
"Both of them are on their feet again," he said quickly. "They have eaten and drunk, and though they have been already through hell today, both of them are as fit right now as an ordinary man! What are the devils made of? And trouble is coming, coming quick!"
"Why then are you not with your men?" cried Yahoya swiftly. "It is you who have stirred them up to this madness, you with your whisperings! And now you come here —you coward!"
"Coward, am I?" he snarled at her. "What about the man you keep here with you?"
He broke off sharply. From the cañon came the mighty shout, "Muyingwa!" And, as had already so many times happened, an answering shout arose, "Tiyo!"
It had come. Until strength had crept back into the two exhausted bodies of their principals, the tribe had waited. Now, moved everywhere by Muyingwa's ringing words and Inaa's, fierce fire had flashed out of smoldering restlessness. There came other cries, sharper cries, the shriek of a man with a knife driven into his body.
Northrup, gathering Yahoya passionately into his arms, held her there a long moment. Then he pushed by Strang, and ran out to the edge of the cliffs.
BELOW, the men of the tribe had drawn into two compact masses, fronting each other ominously, their short stabbing spears lifted. Between them lay a man, writhing, slowly growing still.
Northrup's first thought was that it might be Muyingwa or Tiyo. But another glance showed both of them in front of their factions. Suddenly, Muyingwa shouted out something, and his men, following him, ran toward the long stairway. Tiyo saw, understood, and shouting bore down upon them. Northrup, seeing that both factions strove now for the higher ground, ran to the head of the stairway, his automatic gripped, ready for use.
The fighting began at the foot of the stairway. Already the two sides had mixed, for, although Muyingwa's men came first to the stair, its narrow steepness held them back a little. Northrup saw Muyingwa's form surrounded by his men, saw Tiyo and Inaa, and the great spare form of the man Strang had selected for head priest to replace Inaa. He saw the whole body of men bristling with short spears and great knives, the sun glittering upon them brightly, seething back and forth, struggling for the stair.
One by one Muyingwa's men in the fore were passing up; in the rear they were striking now, dealing death, and often enough being dragged down to the death. And in the strange silence which fell over them, all the struggle down there looked some weird play, scarcely real. It was hard for him to convince himself that this was not a mock battle, that the distorted faces, the writhing of fallen bodies, was not all sham and skilful acting. About them the mountains were so serene, above, the skies so deep a blue, the whole atmosphere so charged with quiet peacefulness. High in air a vulture hung on motionless wings, watching with sharp eyes.
But when men fell stricken by those great knives and two-edged spears, they did not move from where they had fallen; or at best but dragged their wounded bodies a little way to fall and lie still. Tiyo's men pressed forward; Muyingwa's men held back, and many were swiftly mounting the stairs.
At that Northrup wondered. For certainly Muyingwa's force was larger than the one that attacked him, and as certainly Muyingwa was no coward. But now he drew his men back, ever back, until they had gained the stairway, while Tiyo's sinister crowd charged stubbornly.
Now men were contending everywhere, upon the floor of the cañon, along the cliff sides, even at the top of the stairway, close to where Northrup stood. He saw them go down under vicious thrusts, saw two of them, their arms locked about each other, their skins red with many wounds, reel outward and drop fifty feet. And as yet the gun in his hand was cold, for there was no way for him to determine which man was Muyingwa's man, which Tiyo's. And to chance a shot at Tiyo or at Inaa in that packed mass would be to waste lead, or perhaps to kill a friend of Muyingwa.
Now he saw something which he could not understand. He figured roughly that the tribe numbered between two and three hundred men. Muyingwa and the men with him now pressing up the steep way which led to the ledge were not over twenty-five in number; the party at Tiyo's heels could have numbered only about that. And down in the cañon the rest of the men, a great mass of them, had drawn aside, and were merely watching.
At last Muyingwa had come to the top. He stood there, shouting out his short commands, then stepped back, his men following him, leaving the way open for such men as might wish to come up after them. This again seemed madness to Northrup, who, grumbling, gave way with the others. It was Muyingwa's voice in his ear that explained.
"Let them come, Yellow Beard! We shall fight them here in the open, man to man!"
"But the others, down there?" demanded Northrup.
"It is my fight and Tiyo's. Each of us has chosen twenty-five of his young men. The rest watch. And I have chosen the Man of Wisdom and you to be of my number."
"Then," cried Northrup hotly, "why do you wait for them to come up with you? You have the advantage now; strike as they climb up!"
An odd smile touched Muyingwa's stern lips.
"It is in my heart to fight fair, Yellow Beard. It is not Muyingwa's wish to be named the 'Fox.' Men already speak of him as the Eagle Chief! Let them come!"
"Then," demanded Northrup, "why didn't you fight your fight down there? You had the chance."
Muyingwa shook his head.
"I will tell you, Yellow Beard, but time has passed for long words. I am the better man, and Tiyo knew that when he raced with me. But for trickery on his part I should have come into the circle an hour before him. Look!"
He threw up his arm, and for the first time Northrup saw a long gash in the man's side.
"When we were far out, where men could not see us," he said, his face black with his anger, "Tiyo, who was behind, ran like a madman that he might come up with me. I saved my strength, thinking he had lost his senses. Then, when he was upon me, I saw that he had carried a knife with him, concealing it cunningly under his arm. He would have killed me then had I not been the greater man! Even so—you saw it I won over him."
All of Muyingwa's men were upon the ledge now. At their head man's command they had drawn back and were watching those with Tiyo come up.
"I have sworn an oath to the great gods," Muyingwa ended briefly. "I have promised them that if they let me triumph over Tiyo in the race, I should kill Tiyo with my own hands in a way that all men might see."
Up the stairway, after the last of Tiyo's men, came surging many others who were eager to stand back and see. Northrup, glancing about, saw that many others were climbing swiftly to the cliffs upon the opposite side of the cañon. After that he had little enough time or opportunity to see anything but the steely menace before him.
Tiyo's men, mistaken in the reason for Muyingwa's retreat, thinking that they had to do with men whose hearts were already failing them, bore on at a run, lifting their voices in a hideous charging shout. Each man carried his stabbing spear drawn a little back at his hip, so that when the moment came a quick thrust outward would drive the keen edges through a man's body. It came to Northrup, even at the moment before the running line struck, that Tiyo's was the better generalship, that Muyingwa's men, waiting, must go down before the force of the wild attack.
The spit of Northrup's gun was lost in the storm of shouting. But a man had thrown wide his arms and had gone down in a heap. They were twenty feet away, every running leap cutting the distance down so that Northrup must fire as fast as he could to empty the first clip. And he realized, and his lips tightened grimly, that he would have no chance for a second. And still Muyingwa's men were standing erect, waiting. But they were men trained under Muyingwa's own eye, cool to the last, mindful of orders. Suddenly came Muyingwa's shout, and suddenly the spears in his men's hands were lifted. Lifted, balanced high overhead, and, when the eyes of the men charging them glared redly not three-spear lengths away, the short spears were hurled outward.
Then many of Tiyo's men went down on both sides of Tiyo himself, who came on, untouched.
The two lines met, Tiyo's men that were left wielding their spears mightily, Muyingwa's men driving home their broad-bladed knives with little coughing grunts. Northrup did not know that his gun was empty, that he had cast it down, that somewhere his hands had closed about a fallen spear. He only knew that about him surged a mad carnage, that men were shouting, cursing, shrieking; that a man drove at him with uplifted spear, only to graze his shoulder and to stop dead in his tracks with Northrup's spear driven fairly through his body.
Tiyo and Muyingwa had met at last. Northrup saw that dimly, as if through a fog, saw and forgot as again he was breast to breast with a great-bodied man, who was red with blood, and who held high above his head a dripping knife.
The knife swept downward, and Northrup felt it like a burning iron in his neck and shoulder. A wild rage came upon him; a burning hatred, and from then on nothing was clear to him, no emotion rode him, but the one unleased primitive desire to kill, kill, kill! He struck out savagely, and the man who had cut at him went down and did not move.
Tiyo and Muyingwa were still struggling; yonder two of Tiyo's men drove their spears through one man so that the steel heads struck together; yonder Strang, his face ashen, hurled his spear at a man who rushed down upon him and, missing, shrieked wildly; close to the edge of the precipice three men drove two back, fighting for every step of the way.
Then bigness of body and strength of limb stood Sax Northrup in such stead as never until now. Where the fray was thickest there was his great form, his clothes splotched red, his eyes spitting blue fire, his hair and beard wet with blood. When he struck, a man must give back; when he thrust, a man must go down; when a thirsting blade drank of his own blood, his roar was like the cry of a wounded lion.
Now it seemed that the struggle had swept like great whirlpools about two centers. Tiyo and Muyingwa had been swept apart, both wounded, both standing grimly up to their bloody work. A surging knot of men contended near the edge of the cliffs. Close to Yahoya's kiva, Muyingwa was in the center of a ring of glittering blades seeking him.
Through this ring of men came Northrup, like a mad bull breaking through a flimsy fence. Two men went down before him, and but one rose again.
He stumbled over a prone man, and did not know that it was Strang's body his foot had struck. Muyingwa was here, one man against a half dozen, and it was unfair fighting. That was the one thing perfectly plain to him.
But now no longer was Muyingwa one against six. Back to back stood Northrup and Muyingwa, the two biggest men upon the ledge. Muyingwa, striking swiftly, sent a shouting laugh out by way of greeting.
"Well done, Yellow Beard!" he shouted, and shouting, thrust. "Well done, brother!"
A man went reeling back from his thrust, another stepped into his place. Northrup struck out, and a man went down. But before he could jerk back his spear another menacing figure had leaped upon him.
Northrup saw and swung his body to the right, seeking to avoid the glittering death leaping out at him. Again he felt a pain like the searing of white-hot iron, this time in his shoulder, and he went down upon one knee, his teeth set hard, the thought upon him that soon or late a man must die, and it was well to die like a man. He had lived to the uttermost, his lips had touched the lips of Yahoya; he would not cry out at taking the bitter with the sweet.
But Muyingwa, hard pressed as he was, had seen, and the knife he was wielding now drove between Northrup and instant death, buried to the hilt in the body of the man over him. Northrup jerked himself to his feet, his groping hand sweeping up his fallen spear, blacker rage than ever before in his heart that he had seemed a lesser man than Muyingwa. And before his berserk rush men fell back, muttering.
There was a great shout from the men at the cliff's edge. Northrup, pursuing a man who fled nimbly before him, saw a dozen forms racing to meet him and braced himself against them. But he saw that they divided and swept about him, that they must be Muyingwa's men come at last to the aid of their chief.
And then Northrup felt suddenly weary, and crouched down close to the precipice. It seemed that it was all over. Men stood about and did nothing. Northrup was alive, so he supposed that his side had won in the bloody game of brutes. It had all begun so suddenly, seeming merely a hideous dream. It was ending so absurdly suddenly, still like some frenzied nightmare, with the broken men lying about him.
His eyes passed by the little knot of idle men, and he saw that it had not yet ended. Muyingwa still lived, Tiyo lived, and they alone fought on. Northrup watched them curiously.
They moved back and forth, spear opposing spear, the bright points leaping forward, jerking back, thrusting skilfully, guarding jealously where death might pay forfeit for the wink of an eyelid. But it seemed to Northrup that always they drew a little near to him, that it was Muyingwa who was forcing the fight, that steadily, but oh, so slowly, he was driving Tiyo back.
Northrup ran his hand across his dimming eyes and the hand came away wet. There was a cut across his forehead which puzzled him; he had felt no wound there. Some one came running to him. He saw that it was Yahoya. He marveled at the look in her eyes. She dropped down beside him, her arms about him.
"Watch them, Yahoya," he said thickly. "It is Muyingwa against Tiyo now."
Yes, they were drawing closer. Now there could be no doubt of that. Both men were wounded, one could not guess how badly. But both fought savagely, desperately, knowing that only in death for one if not for both, could the blood feud end.
"It's Muyingwa's fight!" said Northrup slowly. "Can't you see it, Yahoya?"
Yahoya saw nothing in all the world but her lover, crouching at her feet, her lover wounded in a dozen places. She sought to answer, but her voice broke.
"Look at their eyes," Northrup insisted. "You can guess the end in a man's eyes at a time like this, Yahoya. Tiyo is just desperate, seeking to postpone the end. Muyingwa is filled with elation. He has made a promise to his gods! Can't you see the difference?"
Yahoya sobbed and knelt, drawing her arms tighter about him. On they came, Tiyo lunging heavily, but always on the guard; Muyingwa, lighter of foot, his eyes bright with hard laughter and steely with hatred. On, until they were so close that Yahoya and Northrup must move a little to the side; on until Tiyo dared take no further step backward for fear of a plunge to death on the rocks below.
Then Muyingwa, calling out loudly, struck such a blow as he had not yet struck The haft of his spear broke against Tiyo's right wrist, and his shattered weapon and Tiyo's fallen one struck the ground together.
While men looked on, their mouths agape, Muyingwa sprang forward, only his hands lifted against the knife which Tiyo had whipped from his belt with his left hand. As Tiyo's hand went up, Muyingwa's rose with it. As Tiyo's sought to drive downward, Muyingwa's fingers shut hard about his wrist.
Now they struggled man to man, body to body, their muscles cracking, the sweat running from them like water, red sweat across deep cuts. Slowly Tiyo's hand came down, the pointed blade finding its sheath only in the empty air. Down and down, though Tiyo strove wildly to wrest it away from the fingers which shut like iron talons about his wrist. And slowly Muyingwa forced Tiyo back toward the cliff's edge.
"I have sworn, Tiyo," panted Muyingwa, "with my two hands, to cast you straight down into Maski! See how I keep my promise!"
Men gasped out at what they saw. The skin upon Muyingwa's bowed back seemed splitting asunder with the bunching of the muscles under it; the veins in his arms and forehead threatened to burst. But the fierce flames in his eyes were undimmed by thought of failing power.
For an instant the two struggling forms grew still, only the slow swelling of a muscle, the hard breathing, telling that they lived and strove. But it seemed that strength was flowing out of Tiyo, fresh strength flowing into Muyingwa.
Slowly one man bent under the other's iron hands. Slowly Tiyo's body twisted as Muyingwa's fingers commanded; slowly Muyingwa forced him down to his knees. Then—there was no slowness now, Muyingwa's movement being like a flash of light —Tiyo was swept upward in the other's grasp as he had before been swung aloft in Northrup's. Their shadows fell across Northrup. Looking up he saw Tiyo's wildly beating arms above him. An instant he thought they were both going together. Then he saw that with a last mighty effort Muyingwa had broken Tiyo's clutch upon him, and, as a great roar rose up from the hundreds who watched, Tiyo was flung far out.
Then Northrup gave up to the sickness upon him and was quite content to sink back into Yahoya's arms.
"IT was a good fight, my brother!"
Northrup, lying upon the couch in Yahoya's little room, Yahoya's hand held in his, looked up to see the tall, gaunt form of Muyingwa in the doorway.
"Now," went on Muyingwa slowly, "am I a great man among my people! Now am I head captain of the People of the Hidden Spring. There is no man among all in the Seven Cities who will not have Muyingwa's name upon his lips. Time may come who can look into the darkness of unborn tomorrow?—when Muyingwa may step up to be Overlord of all the cities of Chebo! And, my brother, there was a time when we fought yonder, when Muyingwa was close to his death, and Yellow Beard came to fight the fight with Muyingwa, forcing through spearmen like a hungry wolf through little rabbits! Askwali! You are my brother, Yellow Beard! Muyingwa, thirsting on the desert, would share his last cup of water with you."
"As for that," answered Northrup, "we are even. You saved my life for me-—
"It was nothing," cut in Muyingwa. "I struck down one man who threatened you. You hurled yourself upon many. You shall see that I am no man to forget* We wait here until your wounds are whole; then we move on to Chebo. There already has Inaa run to tell his lies; but men shall know them for lies. I shall enter the city as a great man; Nayangap shall go at my side, a great lady for great ladies to wait upon. And you, at my right, shall go, not as the other Bahana who died like a coward, but as Muyingwa's brother. As Muyingwa rises, you shall rise, Yellow Beard!"
Had one spoken thus to the old Sax Northrup, saying, "I will lead you to rich cities unknown to white men, where perhaps there is wealth to be got and power!" there would have been only eagerness in Ins heart. But now—he shook his head.
"Muyingwa," he said slowly, "it seems to me that it is only a little thing I have done for you, no greater than the thing you have done for me. So let us put it aside. You are a man as I am a man, Muyingwa, and you have called me brother. We may speak plainly with each other.
"It is not in my heart to go with you to Chebo to become a great man under your hand. It is my wish to be what I have always been, a man free to follow what trail he wishes. The trail I must follow leads away from you, and back to the world of the Bahanas. You must let us go, Yahoya and me."
Muyingwa stared at him frowning. Northrup, looking into the man's hard eyes, felt his heart sink. Yahoya pressed his hand softly.
"We shall be happy even here, Saxnorthrup!" she whispered.
Muyingwa silently lifted his hand. A dozen of his men came into the main room of the kiva.
"Tell Yellow Beard," said Muyingwa to the man who stood at their head, "what are the vows the soldier must take when he is no longer a boy, but a man, when the Chief Priest and the Overlord of the Seven Cities put spear and knife into his hands." The man looked at him curiously as he answered:
"The young soldier swears that in all things he will obey blindly the command of the captain above him; that he will die before he break one of the Five Priestly Orders; that torture will not drive him to forget what is the chief cause of his people."
"Tell him," went on Muyingwa, "what is the oath a soldier must take when he becomes such as I, a head man."
"That he will, in all things, obey the command of the Overlord; that the Five Priestly Orders are supreme in his heart; that though the gods themselves commanded he would not forget the chief cause of his people."
"Tell him," said Muyingwa, "what is this chief cause of our people."
"It is this," answered the man: "There shall come among us no Bahana to despoil our empire. If a Bahana come he shall be as a prisoner among us; and above all things, no Bahana shall go forth from us to talk of what he has seen."
"You hear, Yellow Beard?" demanded Muyingwa, his tone seeming suddenly to have grown savage.
"I hear," answered Northrup.
"Then," cried Muyingwa, so that the sound of his voice reverberated strangely in the stone room, "hear what Muyingwa says to you! Before Muyingwa there may be great riches and honor, or there may be death. Today you saved Muyingwa's life, and he used great words of his gratitude to you. He called you brother. Now it is in your heart to go back to your own people. What is my answer? You are a man as I am a man. You love a maiden as I love a maiden. I have said 'Brother' to you! Here is my word:
"You are no liar as was the Man of Wisdom. Tell me that you will tell no living man the way to come upon the people of the Seven Cities, and I will believe you. I will go with you, you and Yahoya, across the desert, leaving Inaa to spin what lies he likes in the ear of the Overlord. I will bring my men with us, bearing in their hands things of gold, to make a great lord of you in your own land. And then I will leave you and come back to what awaits me in Chebo. When Muyingwa says 'Brother,' it is with his heart."
Northrup stepped forward swiftly, his breast swelling deeply to the emotion bursting from his heart, his eyes shining, his hand shutting hard, hard upon the hand of Muyingwa.
"What you ask, I promise," he said simply. "I give you my word—Brother!"
For a moment these two strong men, who in verity had come from the ends of the earth, stood, hands locked, looking deeply into each other's eyes. And as the two hands fell away, through the stillness of the room could be heard Northrup's sigh and Muyingwa's as one.
"It is better," whispered little Nayangap, "to be a man than a god!"
Yahoya slipped swiftly to her feet, came to Muyingwa's side, and lifted his hand to her lips. Her eyes were bright, and there was the glitter of tears in them.
"You are a man of a great heart," she cried softly. "For does not Yahoya know that in Chebo you will have to stand trial before the Overlord for the thing which you have done? That Inaa, whose power is great, will cry loudly for your death? That only if Muyingwa's power has grown in the night and he has the secret ear of Kish-Taka will death be averted?"
"Muyingwa is not without power," was the calm answer. "Not without favor in the eyes of Kish-Taka, the Overlord. And Muyingwa is not a coward."
THERE came a star-filled night when Muyingwa's tall form, leading his men, was turned away from them as he slowly moved back into the desert toward the hidden cities. Northrup and Yahoya, standing side by side, watched him until at last the night swallowed him. At the foot of a great mesquite were buried in the sand the things which Muyingwa's men had brought from the place of the People of the Hidden Spring, many things of heavy gold. To-morrow Northrup would come back here for them. Now they had passed out of his thought.
"For there is a thing greater than gold!" he whispered, as he opened his arms for her. "And we have found it, Yahoya."
So as Muyingwa turned back to seek that which lay in the future for him, Sax Northrup and Yahoya turned their eyes toward the shadowy outlines of their own dreamings.
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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