The Desert Valley by Jackson Gregory


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Page 2

Finally came the fourth figure of the procession. This was a girl.
Like the man, she was booted; like him, she carried a broad hat in her
hand. Here the similarity ended. She wore an outdoor costume, a
little thing appropriate enough for her environment. And yet it was
peculiarly appropriate to femininity. It disclosed the pleasing lines
of a pretty figure. Her fatigue seemed less than the man's. Her youth
was pronounced, assertive. She alone of the four paused more than an
instant upon the slight eminence; she put back her head and looked up
at the few stars that were shining; she listened to the hushed voice of
the desert. She drew a scarf away from her neck and let the cooling
air breathe upon her throat. The throat was round; no doubt it was
soft and white, and, like her whole small self, seductively feminine.

Having communed with the night, the girl withdrew her gaze from the sky
and hearkened to her companion. His voice, now remarkably eager and
young for a man of his years, came to her clearly through the clumps of
bushes.

'It is amazing, my dear! Positively. You never heard of such a thing.
The horse, the tall, slender one, ran away, from me. I hastened in
pursuit, calling to him to wait for me. It appeared that he had become
suddenly refractory: they do that sometimes. I was going to reprimand
him; I thought that it might be necessary to chastise him, as sometimes
a man must do to retain the mastery. But I stayed my hand. The animal
had not run away at all! He actually knew what he was doing. He came
straight here. And what do you think he discovered? What do you
imagine brought him? You would never guess.'

'Water?' suggested the girl, coming on.

Something of the man's excitement had gone from his voice when he
answered. He was like a child who has propounded a riddle that has
been too readily guessed.

'How did you know?'

'I didn't know. But the horses must be thirsty. Of course they would
go straight to water. Animals can smell it, can't they?'

'Can they?' He looked to her inquiringly when she stood at his side.
'It is amazing, nevertheless. Positively, my dear,' he added with a
touch of dignity.

The two horses, side by side, were drinking noisily from a small
depression into which the water oozed slowly. The girl watched them a
moment abstractedly, sighed and sat down in the sand, her hands in her
lap.

'Tired, Helen?' asked the man solicitously.

'Aren't you?' she returned. 'It has been a hard day, papa.'

'I am afraid it has been hard on you, my dear,' he admitted, as his
eyes took stock of the drooping figure. 'But,' he added more
cheerfully, 'we are getting somewhere, my girl; we are getting
somewhere.'

'Are we?' she murmured to herself rather than for his ears. And when
he demanded 'Eh?' she said hastily: 'Anyway, we are doing something.
That is more fun than growing moss, even if we never succeed.'

'I tell you,' he declared forensically, lifting his hand for a gesture,
'I know! Haven't I demonstrated the infallibility of my line of
action? If a man wants to--to gather cherries, let him go to a cherry
tree; if he seeks pearls, let him find out the favourite habitat of the
pearl oyster; if he desires a--a hat, let him go to the hatter's. It
is the simplest thing in the world, though fools have woven mystery and
difficulty about it. Now----'

'Yes, pops.' Helen sighed again and saw wisdom in rising to her feet.
'If you will begin unpacking I'll make our beds. And I'll get the fire
started.'

'We can dispense with the fire,' he told her, setting to work with the
first knot to come under his fingers. 'There is coffee in the thermos
bottle and we can open a tin of potted chicken.'

'The fire makes it cosier,' Helen said, beginning to gather twigs.
Last night coyotes had howled fearsomely, and even dwellers of the
cities know that the surest safeguard against a ravening beast is a
camp-fire. For a little while the man strove with his tangled rope;
she was lost to him through the mesquite. Suddenly she came running
back.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 18th Aug 2019, 19:49