“Thin I’ll do me dooty if I rot jest here,” declared the simple hero.
Thurstane came back, grasped Sweeny’s hand in silence, turned away to hide his shaken face, and commenced his anxious journey.
There were both terrible and beautiful thoughts in his soul as he pushed on into the desert. Would he find the trail? Would he encounter the rare chance of traders or emigrants? Would there be food and rest for him and rescue for his comrades? Would he meet Clara? This last idea gave him great courage; he struggled to keep it constantly in his mind; he needed to lean upon it.
By the time that he had marched ten miles he found that he was weaker than he had supposed. Weeks of wretched food and three days of almost complete starvation had taken the strength pretty much out of his stalwart frame. His breath was short; he stumbled over the slightest obstacles; occasionally he could not see clear. From time to time it struck him that he had been dreaming or else that his mind was beginning to wander. Things that he remembered and things that he hoped for seemed strangely present. He spoke to people who were hundreds of miles away; and, for the most part, he spoke to them pettishly or with downright anger; for in the main he felt more like a wretched, baited animal than a human being.
It was only when he called Clara to mind that this evil spirit was exorcised, and he ceased for a moment to resemble a hungry, jaded wolf. Then he would be for a while all sweetness, because he was for the while perfectly happy. In the next instant, by some hateful and irresistible magic, happiness and sweetness would be gone, and he could not even remember them nor remember her.
Meantime he struggled to command himself and pay attention to his route. He must do this, because his starving comrades lay behind him, and he must know how to lead men back to their rescue. Well, here he was; there were hills to the left; there was a mountain to the right; he would stop and fix it all in his memory.
He sat down beside a rock, leaned his back against it to steady his dizzy head, had a sensation of struggling with something invincible, and was gone.
Leaving Thurstane in the desert, we return to Clara in the desert. It will be remembered that she stood on the roof of the Casa Grande when her lover was swept oarless down the San Juan.
She was watching him; of course she was watching him; at the moment of the catastrophe she saw him; she felt sure also that he was looking at her. The boat began to fly down the current; then the two oarsmen fell to paddling violently; what did it mean? Far from guessing that the towline had snapped, she was not aware that there was one.
On went the boat; presently it whirled around helplessly; it was nearing the rocks of the rapid; there was evidently danger. Running to the edge of the roof, Clara saw a Mexican cattle-driver standing on the wall of the enclosure, and called to him, “What is the matter?”