But next morning Shefford understood. Nas Ta Bega and Joe Lake were gone. It was a shock to Shefford. Yet what could he have said to either? Joe had shirked saying good-by to him and Fay. And the Indian had gone out of Shefford’s life as he had come into it.
What these two men represented in Shefford’s uplift was too great for the present to define, but they and the desert that had developed them had taught him the meaning of life. He might fail often, since failure was the lot of his kind, but could he ever fail again in faith in man or God while he had mind to remember the Indian and the Mormon?
Still, though he placed them on a noble height and loved them well, there would always abide with him a sorrow for the Mormon and a sleepless and eternal regret for that Indian on his lonely cedar slope with the spirits of his vanishing race calling him.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Willow Springs appeared to be a lively place that morning. Presbrey was gay and his sweet-faced wife was excited. The teamsters were a jolly, whistling lot. And the lean mustangs kicked and bit at one another. The trader had brought out two light wagons for the trip, and, after the manner of desert men, desired to start at sunrise.
Far across the Painted Desert towered the San Francisco peaks, black-timbered, blue-canyoned, purple-hazed, with white snow, like the clouds, around their summits.
Jane Withersteen looked at the radiant Fay and lived again in her happiness. And at last excitement had been communicated to the old gun-man.
“Shore we’re goin’ to live with Fay an’ John, an’ be near Venters an’ Bess, an’ see the blacks again, Jane. . . . An’ Venters will tell you, as he did me, how Wrangle run Black Star off his legs!”
All connected with that early start was sweet, sad, hopeful.
And so they rode away from Willow Springs, through the green fields of alfalfa and cotton wood, down the valley with its smoking hogans and whistling mustangs and scarlet-blanketed Indians, and out upon the bare, ridgy, colorful desert toward the rosy sunrise.
On the outskirts of a little town in Illinois there was a farm of rolling pasture-land. And here a beautiful meadow, green and red in clover, merged upon an orchard in the midst of which a brown-tiled roof showed above the trees.
One afternoon in May a group of people, strangely agitated, walked down a shady lane toward the meadow.
“Wal, Jane, I always knew we’d get a look at them hosses again—I shore knew,” Lassiter was saying in the same old, cool, careless drawl. But his clawlike hands shook a little.
“Oh! will they know me?” asked Jane Withersteen, turning to a stalwart man—no other than the dark-faced Venters, her rider of other days.
“Know you? I’ll bet they will,” replied Venters. “What do you say, Bess?”