The Heritage of the Desert (Chapter 3, page 2 of 11)


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Chapter 3

"Maybe he's that too."

"Likely enough. Hurry along and keep the gray team going lively. They've had a week's rest."

Hare watched the glimmering lights of the village vanish one by one, like Jack-o'-lanterns. The horses kept a steady, even trot on into the huge windy hall of the desert night. Fleecy clouds veiled the stars, yet transmitted a wan glow. A chill crept over Hare. As he crawled under the blankets Naab had spread for him his hand came into contact with a polished metal surface cold as ice. It was his rifle. Naab had placed it under the blankets. Fingering the rifle Hare found the spring opening on the right side of the breech, and, pressing it down, he felt the round head of a cartridge. Naab had loaded the weapon, he had placed it where Hare's hand must find it, yet he had not spoken of it. Hare did not stop to reason with his first impulse. Without a word, with silent insistence, disregarding his shattered health, August Naab had given him a man's part to play. The full meaning lifted Hare out of his self-abasement; once more he felt himself a man.

Hare soon yielded to the warmth of the blankets; a drowsiness that he endeavored in vain to throw off smothered his thoughts; sleep glued his eyelids tight. They opened again some hours later. For a moment he could not realize where he was; then the whip of the cold wind across his face, the woolly feel and smell of the blankets, and finally the steady trot of horses and the clink of a chain swinging somewhere under him, recalled the actuality of the night ride. He wondered how many miles had been covered, how the drivers knew the direction and kept the horses in the trail, and whether the outlaws were in pursuit. When Naab stopped the team and, climbing down, walked back some rods to listen, Hare felt sure that Dene was coming. He listened, too, but the movements of the horses and the rattle of their harness were all the sounds he could hear. Naab returned to his seat; the team started, now no longer in a trot; they were climbing. After that Hare fell into a slumber in which he could hear the slow grating whirr of wheels, and when it ceased he awoke to raise himself and turn his ear to the back trail. By-and-by he discovered that the black night had changed to gray; dawn was not far distant; he dozed and awakened to clear light. A rose-red horizon lay far below and to the eastward; the intervening descent was like a rolling sea with league-long swells.

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