He walked away from the camp-fire, under the dark pinyons, out into the starry open; and every step was hard to take, unless it pointed toward the home of the girl whose beauty and sadness and mystery had bewitched him. After what seemed hours he took the well-known path toward her cabin, and then every step seemed lighter. He divined he was rushing to some fate—he knew not what.
The porch was in shadow. He peered in vain for the white form against the dark background. In the silence he seemed to hear his heart-beats thick and muffled.
Some distance down the path he heard the sound of hoofs. Withdrawing into the gloom of a cedar, he watched. Soon he made out moving horses with riders. They filed past him to the number of half a score. Like a flash of fire the truth burned him. Mormons come for one of those mysterious night visits to sealed wives!
Shefford stalked far down the valley, into the lonely silence and the night shadows under the walls.
VIII. THE HOGAN OF NAS TA BEGA
The home of Nas Ta Bega lay far up the cedared slope, with the craggy yellow cliffs and the black canyon and the pine-fringed top of Navajo Mountain behind, and to the fore the vast, rolling descent of cedar groves and sage flats and sandy washes. No dim, dark range made bold outline along the horizon; the stretch of gray and purple and green extended to the blue line of sky.
Down the length of one sage level Shefford saw a long lane where the brush and the grass had been beaten flat. This, the Navajo said, was a track where the young braves had raced their mustangs and had striven for supremacy before the eyes of maidens and the old people of the tribe.
“Nas Ta Bega, did you ever race here?” asked Shefford.
“I am a chief by birth. But I was stolen from my home, and now I cannot ride well enough to race the braves of my tribe,” the Indian replied, bitterly.
In another place Joe Lake halted his horse and called Shefford’s attention to a big yellow rock lying along the trail. And then he spoke in Navajo to the Indian.
“I’ve heard of this stone—Isende Aha,” said Joe, after Nas Ta Bega had spoken. “Get down, and let’s see.” Shefford dismounted, but the Indian kept his seat in the saddle.
Joe placed a big hand on the stone and tried to move it. According to Shefford’s eye measurement the stone was nearly oval, perhaps three feet high, by a little over two in width. Joe threw off his sombrero, took a deep breath, and, bending over, clasped the stone in his arms. He was an exceedingly heavy and powerful man, and it was plain to Shefford that he meant to lift the stone if that were possible. Joe’s broad shoulders strained, flattened; his arms bulged, his joints cracked, his neck corded, and his face turned black. By gigantic effort he lifted the stone and moved it about six inches. Then as he released his hold he fell, and when he sat up his face was wet with sweat.