Desert Gold (Chapter 6, page 2 of 19)

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Chapter 6

This young man was Dick Gale, but not the listless traveler, nor the
lounging wanderer who, two months before, had by chance dropped into
Casita. Friendship, chivalry, love--the deep-seated, unplumbed
emotions that had been stirred into being with all their incalculable
power for spiritual change, had rendered different the meaning of life.
In the moment almost of their realization the desert had claimed Gale,
and had drawn him into its crucible. The desert had multiplied weeks
into years. Heat, thirst, hunger, loneliness, toil, fear, ferocity,
pain--he knew them all. He had felt them all--the white sun, with its
glazed, coalescing, lurid fire; the caked split lips and rasping,
dry-puffed tongue; the sickening ache in the pit of his stomach; the
insupportable silence, the empty space, the utter desolation, the
contempt of life; the weary ride, the long climb, the plod in sand, the
search, search, search for water; the sleepless night alone, the watch
and wait, the dread of ambush, the swift flight; the fierce pursuit of
men wild as Bedouins and as fleet, the willingness to deal sudden
death, the pain of poison thorn, the stinging tear of lead through
flesh; and that strange paradox of the burning desert, the cold at
night, the piercing icy wind, the dew that penetrated to the marrow,
the numbing desert cold of the dawn.

Beyond any dream of adventure he had ever had, beyond any wild story he
had ever read, had been his experience with those hard-riding rangers,
Ladd and Lash. Then he had traveled alone the hundred miles of desert
between Forlorn River and the Sonoyta Oasis. Ladd's prophecy of
trouble on the border had been mild compared to what had become the
actuality. With rebel occupancy of the garrison at Casita, outlaws,
bandits, raiders in rioting bands had spread westward. Like troops of
Arabs, magnificently mounted, they were here, there, everywhere along
the line; and if murder and worse were confined to the Mexican side,
pillage and raiding were perpetrated across the border. Many a
dark-skinned raider bestrode one of Belding's fast horses, and indeed
all except his selected white thoroughbreds had been stolen. So the
job of the rangers had become more than a patrolling of the boundary
line to keep Japanese and Chinese from being smuggled into the United
States. Belding kept close at home to protect his family and to hold
his property. But the three rangers, in fulfilling their duty had
incurred risks on their own side of the line, had been outraged,
robbed, pursued, and injured on the other. Some of the few waterholes
that had to be reached lay far across the border in Mexican territory.
Horses had to drink, men had to drink; and Ladd and Lash were not of
the stripe that forsook a task because of danger. Slow to wrath at
first, as became men who had long lived peaceful lives, they had at
length revolted; and desert vultures could have told a gruesome story.
Made a comrade and ally of these bordermen, Dick Gale had leaped at the
desert action and strife with an intensity of heart and a rare physical
ability which accounted for the remarkable fact that he had not yet
fallen by the way.

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