Desert Gold (Prologue, page 1 of 15)


 
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I

A face haunted Cameron--a woman's face. It was there in the white
heart of the dying campfire; it hung in the shadows that hovered over
the flickering light; it drifted in the darkness beyond.

This hour, when the day had closed and the lonely desert night set in
with its dead silence, was one in which Cameron's mind was thronged
with memories of a time long past--of a home back in Peoria, of a woman
he had wronged and lost, and loved too late. He was a prospector for
gold, a hunter of solitude, a lover of the drear, rock-ribbed
infinitude, because he wanted to be alone to remember.

A sound disturbed Cameron's reflections. He bent his head listening. A
soft wind fanned the paling embers, blew sparks and white ashes and
thin smoke away into the enshrouding circle of blackness. His burro
did not appear to be moving about. The quiet split to the cry of a
coyote. It rose strange, wild, mournful--not the howl of a prowling
upland beast baying the campfire or barking at a lonely prospector, but
the wail of a wolf, full-voiced, crying out the meaning of the desert
and the night. Hunger throbbed in it--hunger for a mate, for
offspring, for life. When it ceased, the terrible desert silence smote
Cameron, and the cry echoed in his soul. He and that wandering wolf
were brothers.

Then a sharp clink of metal on stone and soft pads of hoofs in sand
prompted Cameron to reach for his gun, and to move out of the light of
the waning campfire. He was somewhere along the wild border line
between Sonora and Arizona; and the prospector who dared the heat and
barrenness of that region risked other dangers sometimes as menacing.

Figures darker than the gloom approached and took shape, and in the
light turned out to be those of a white man and a heavily packed burro.

"Hello there," the man called, as he came to a halt and gazed about
him. "I saw your fire. May I make camp here?"

Cameron came forth out of the shadow and greeted his visitor, whom he
took for a prospector like himself. Cameron resented the breaking of
his lonely campfire vigil, but he respected the law of the desert.

The stranger thanked him, and then slipped the pack from his burro.
Then he rolled out his pack and began preparations for a meal. His
movements were slow and methodical.

Cameron watched him, still with resentment, yet with a curious and
growing interest. The campfire burst into a bright blaze, and by its
light Cameron saw a man whose gray hair somehow did not seem to make
him old, and whose stooped shoulders did not detract from an impression
of rugged strength.

 
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