The rainbow trail, p.1
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       The Rainbow Trail, p.1
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           Zane Grey
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The Rainbow Trail

  Produced by Doug Levy



  Transcriber's note:

  In the original text the words "canyon" and "pinyon" are spelled in theSpanish form, "canon" and "pinon", with tildes above the center "n"s.Since the plain text format precludes the use of tildes, I've changedthese words to the more familiar spelling to make them easier toread.--D.L.


























  The spell of the desert comes back to me, as it always will come. I seethe veils, like purple smoke, in the canyon, and I feel the silence. Andit seems that again I must try to pierce both and to get at the strangewild life of the last American wilderness--wild still, almost, as itever was.

  While this romance is an independent story, yet readers of "Riders ofthe Purple Sage" will find in it an answer to a question often asked.

  I wish to say also this story has appeared serially in a differentform in one of the monthly magazines under the title of "The DesertCrucible." ZANE GREY.

  June, 1915.



  Shefford halted his tired horse and gazed with slowly realizing eyes.

  A league-long slope of sage rolled and billowed down to Red Lake, a dryred basin, denuded and glistening, a hollow in the desert, a lonely anddesolate door to the vast, wild, and broken upland beyond.

  All day Shefford had plodded onward with the clear horizon-line a thingunattainable; and for days before that he had ridden the wild bare flatsand climbed the rocky desert benches. The great colored reaches andsteps had led endlessly onward and upward through dim and deceivingdistance.

  A hundred miles of desert travel, with its mistakes and lessons andintimations, had not prepared him for what he now saw. He beheld whatseemed a world that knew only magnitude. Wonder and awe fixed his gaze,and thought remained aloof. Then that dark and unknown northland flunga menace at him. An irresistible call had drawn him to this seamed andpeaked border of Arizona, this broken battlemented wilderness of Utahupland; and at first sight they frowned upon him, as if to warn him notto search for what lay hidden beyond the ranges. But Shefford thrilledwith both fear and exultation. That was the country which had beendescribed to him. Far across the red valley, far beyond the ragged lineof black mesa and yellow range, lay the wild canyon with its hauntingsecret.

  Red Lake must be his Rubicon. Either he must enter the unknown to seek,to strive, to find, or turn back and fail and never know and be alwayshaunted. A friend's strange story had prompted his singular journey; abeautiful rainbow with its mystery and promise had decided him. Once inhis life he had answered a wild call to the kingdom of adventurewithin him, and once in his life he had been happy. But here in thehorizon-wide face of that up-flung and cloven desert he grew cold; hefaltered even while he felt more fatally drawn.

  As if impelled Shefford started his horse down the sandy trail, but hechecked his former far-reaching gaze. It was the month of April, and thewaning sun lost heat and brightness. Long shadows crept down the slopeahead of him and the scant sage deepened its gray. He watched thelizards shoot like brown streaks across the sand, leaving their slendertracks; he heard the rustle of pack-rats as they darted into theirbrushy homes; the whir of a low-sailing hawk startled his horse.

  Like ocean waves the slope rose and fell, its hollows choked with sand,its ridge-tops showing scantier growth of sage and grass and weed. Thelast ridge was a sand-dune, beautifully ribbed and scalloped and linedby the wind, and from its knife-sharp crest a thin wavering sheet ofsand blew, almost like smoke. Shefford wondered why the sand looked redat a distance, for here it seemed almost white. It rippled everywhere,clean and glistening, always leading down.

  Suddenly Shefford became aware of a house looming out of the barenessof the slope. It dominated that long white incline. Grim, lonely,forbidding, how strangely it harmonized with the surroundings! Thestructure was octagon-shaped, built of uncut stone, and resembled afort. There was no door on the sides exposed to Shefford's gaze, butsmall apertures two-thirds the way up probably served as windows andport-holes. The roof appeared to be made of poles covered with redearth.

  Like a huge cold rock on a wide plain this house stood there on thewindy slope. It was an outpost of the trader Presbrey, of whom Sheffordhad heard at Flagstaff and Tuba. No living thing appeared in thelimit of Shefford's vision. He gazed shudderingly at the unwelcominghabitation, at the dark eyelike windows, at the sweep of barren slopemerging into the vast red valley, at the bold, bleak bluffs. Could anyone live here? The nature of that sinister valley forbade a home there,and the spirit of the place hovered in the silence and space. Sheffordthought irresistibly of how his enemies would have consigned him tojust such a hell. He thought bitterly and mockingly of the narrowcongregation that had proved him a failure in the ministry, that hadrepudiated his ideas of religion and immortality and God, that haddriven him, at the age of twenty-four, from the calling forced upon himby his people. As a boy he had yearned to make himself an artist; hisfamily had made him a clergyman; fate had made him a failure. A failureonly so far in his life, something urged him to add--for in the lonelydays and silent nights of the desert he had experienced a strange birthof hope. Adventure had called him, but it was a vague and spiritualhope, a dream of promise, a nameless attainment that fortified hiswilder impulse.

  As he rode around a corner of the stone house his horse snorted andstopped. A lean, shaggy pony jumped at sight of him, almost displacinga red long-haired blanket that covered an Indian saddle. Quick thudsof hoofs in sand drew Shefford's attention to a corral made of peeledpoles, and here he saw another pony.

  Shefford heard subdued voices. He dismounted and walked to an open door.In the dark interior he dimly descried a high counter, a stairway, apile of bags of flour, blankets, and silver-ornamented objects, but thepersons he had heard were not in that part of the house. Around anothercorner of the octagon-shaped wall he found another open door, andthrough it saw goat-skins and a mound of dirty sheep-wool, black andbrown and white. It was light in this part of the building. When hecrossed the threshold he was astounded to see a man struggling witha girl--an Indian girl. She was straining back from him, panting, anduttering low guttural sounds. The man's face was corded and dark withpassion. This scene affected Shefford strangely. Primitive emotions werenew to him.

  Before Shefford could speak the girl broke loose and turned to flee. Shewas an Indian and this place was the uncivilized desert, but Sheffordknew terror when he saw it. Like a dog the man rushed after her. It wasinstinct that made Shefford strike, and his blow laid the man flat. Helay stunned a moment, then raised himself to a sitting posture, hishand to his face, and the gaze he fixed upon Shefford seemed to combineastonishment and rage.

  "I hope you're not
Presbrey," said Shefford, slowly. He felt awkward,not sure of himself.

  The man appeared about to burst into speech, but repressed it. Therewas blood on his mouth and his hand. Hastily he scrambled to his feet.Shefford saw this man's amaze and rage change to shame. He was tall andrather stout; he had a smooth tanned face, soft of outline, with a weakchin; his eyes were dark. The look of him and his corduroys and his softshoes gave Shefford an impression that he was not a man who worked hard.By contrast with the few other worn and rugged desert men Shefford hadmet this stranger stood out strikingly. He stooped to pick up a softfelt hat and, jamming it on his head, he hurried out. Shefford followedhim and watched him from the door. He went directly to the corral,mounted the pony, and rode out, to turn down the slope toward the south.When he reached the level of the basin, where evidently the sand washard, he put the pony to a lope and gradually drew away.

  "Well!" ejaculated Shefford. He did not know what to make of thisadventure. Presently he became aware that the Indian girl was sitting ona roll of blankets near the wall. With curious interest Shefford studiedher appearance. She had long, raven-black hair, tangled and disheveled,and she wore a soiled white band of cord above her brow. The color ofher face struck him; it was dark, but not red nor bronzed; it almosthad a tinge of gold. Her profile was clear-cut, bold, almost stern. Longblack eyelashes hid her eyes. She wore a tight-fitting waist garment ofmaterial resembling velveteen. It was ripped along her side, exposinga skin still more richly gold than that of her face. A string of silverornaments and turquoise-and-white beads encircled her neck, and it movedgently up and down with the heaving of her full bosom. Her skirt wassome gaudy print goods, torn and stained and dusty. She had little feet,incased in brown moccasins, fitting like gloves and buttoning over theankles with silver coins.

  "Who was that man? Did he hurt you?" inquired Shefford, turning to gazedown the valley where a moving black object showed on the bare sand.

  "No savvy," replied the Indian girl.

  "Where's the trader Presbrey?" asked Shefford.

  She pointed straight down into the red valley.

  "Toh," she said.

  In the center of the basin lay a small pool of water shining brightly inthe sunset glow. Small objects moved around it, so small that Sheffordthought he saw several dogs led by a child. But it was the distancethat deceived him. There was a man down there watering his horses. Thatreminded Shefford of the duty owing to his own tired and thirsty beast.Whereupon he untied his pack, took off the saddle, and was about readyto start down when the Indian girl grasped the bridle from his hand.

  "Me go," she said.

  He saw her eyes then, and they made her look different. They were asblack as her hair. He was puzzled to decide whether or not he thoughther handsome.

  "Thanks, but I'll go," he replied, and, taking the bridle again, hestarted down the slope. At every step he sank into the deep, soft sand.Down a little way he came upon a pile of tin cans; they were everywhere,buried, half buried, and lying loose; and these gave evidence of howthe trader lived. Presently Shefford discovered that the Indian girlwas following him with her own pony. Looking upward at her against thelight, he thought her slender, lithe, picturesque. At a distance heliked her.

  He plodded on, at length glad to get out of the drifts of sand to thehard level floor of the valley. This, too, was sand, but dried and bakedhard, and red in color. At some season of the year this immense flatmust be covered with water. How wide it was, and empty! Sheffordexperienced again a feeling that had been novel to him--and it was thathe was loose, free, unanchored, ready to veer with the wind. From thefoot of the slope the water hole had appeared to be a few hundred rodsout in the valley. But the small size of the figures made Shefforddoubt; and he had to travel many times a few hundred rods before thosefigures began to grow. Then Shefford made out that they were approachinghim.

  Thereafter they rapidly increased to normal proportions of man andbeast. When Shefford met them he saw a powerful, heavily built young manleading two ponies.

  "You're Mr. Presbrey, the trader?" inquired Shefford.

  "Yes, I'm Presbrey, without the Mister," he replied.

  "My name's Shefford. I'm knocking about on the desert. Rode from beyondTuba to-day."

  "Glad to see you," said Presbrey. He offered his hand. He was a stalwartman, clad in gray shirt, overalls, and boots. A shock of tumbled lighthair covered his massive head; he was tanned, but not darkly, and therewas red in his cheeks; under his shaggy eyebrows were deep, keen eyes;his lips were hard and set, as if occasion for smiles or words was rare;and his big, strong jaw seemed locked.

  "Wish more travelers came knocking around Red Lake," he added. "Reckonhere's the jumping-off place."

  "It's pretty--lonesome," said Shefford, hesitating as if at a loss forwords.

  Then the Indian girl came up. Presbrey addressed her in her ownlanguage, which Shefford did not understand. She seemed shy and wouldnot answer; she stood with downcast face and eyes. Presbrey spoke again,at which she pointed down the valley, and then moved on with her ponytoward the water-hole.

  Presbrey's keen eyes fixed on the receding black dot far down that ovalexpanse.

  "That fellow left--rather abruptly," said Shefford, constrainedly. "Whowas he?"

  "His name's Willetts. He's a missionary. He rode in to-day with thisNavajo girl. He was taking her to Blue Canyon, where he lives andteaches the Indians. I've met him only a few times. You see, not manywhite men ride in here. He's the first white man I've seen in sixmonths, and you're the second. Both the same day!... Red Lake's gettingpopular! It's queer, though, his leaving. He expected to stay all night.There's no other place to stay. Blue Canyon is fifty miles away."

  "I'm sorry to say--no, I'm not sorry, either--but I must tell you I wasthe cause of Mr. Willetts leaving," replied Shefford.

  "How so?" inquired the other.

  Then Shefford related the incident following his arrival.

  "Perhaps my action was hasty," he concluded, apologetically. "I didn'tthink. Indeed, I'm surprised at myself."

  Presbrey made no comment and his face was as hard to read as one of thedistant bluffs.

  "But what did the man mean?" asked Shefford, conscious of a littleheat. "I'm a stranger out here. I'm ignorant of Indians--how they'recontrolled. Still I'm no fool.... If Willetts didn't mean evil, at leasthe was brutal."

  "He was teaching her religion," replied Presbrey. His tone held faintscorn and implied a joke, but his face did not change in the slightest.

  Without understanding just why, Shefford felt his conviction justifiedand his action approved. Then he was sensible of a slight shock ofwonder and disgust.

  "I am--I was a minister of the Gospel," he said to Presbrey. "What youhint seems impossible. I can't believe it."

  "I didn't hint," replied Presbrey, bluntly, and it was evident thathe was a sincere, but close-mouthed, man. "Shefford, so you're apreacher?... Did you come out here to try to convert the Indians?"

  "No. I said I WAS a minister. I am no longer. I'm just a--a wanderer."

  "I see. Well, the desert's no place for missionaries, but it's good forwanderers.... Go water your horse and take him up to the corral. You'llfind some hay for him. I'll get grub ready."

  Shefford went on with his horse to the pool. The water appeared thick,green, murky, and there was a line of salty crust extending around themargin of the pool. The thirsty horse splashed in and eagerly bent hishead. But he did not like the taste. Many times he refused to drink, yetalways lowered his nose again. Finally he drank, though not his fill.Shefford saw the Indian girl drink from her hand. He scooped up ahandful and found it too sour to swallow. When he turned to retrace hissteps she mounted her pony and followed him.

  A golden flare lit up the western sky, and silhouetted dark and lonelyagainst it stood the trading-post. Upon his return Shefford found thewind rising, and it chilled him. When he reached the slope thin graysheets of sand were blowing low, rising, whipping, falling, sweepingalong with soft silken
rustle. Sometimes the gray veils hid his boots.It was a long, toilsome climb up that yielding, dragging ascent, and hehad already been lame and tired. By the time he had put his horse awaytwilight was everywhere except in the west. The Indian girl left herpony in the corral and came like a shadow toward the house.

  Shefford had difficulty in finding the foot of the stairway. He climbedto enter a large loft, lighted by two lamps. Presbrey was there,kneading biscuit dough in a pan.

  "Make yourself comfortable," he said.

  The huge loft was the shape of a half-octagon. A door opened upon thevalley side, and here, too, there were windows. How attractive the placewas in comparison with the impressions gained from the outside! Thefurnishings consisted of Indian blankets on the floor, two beds, adesk and table, several chairs and a couch, a gun-rack full of rifles,innumerable silver-ornamented belts, bridles, and other Indian articlesupon the walls, and in one corner a wood-burning stove with teakettlesteaming, and a great cupboard with shelves packed full of canned foods.

  Shefford leaned in the doorway and looked out. Beneath him on a roll ofblankets sat the Indian girl, silent and motionless. He wondered whatwas in her mind, what she would do, how the trader would treat her. Theslope now was a long slant of sheeted moving shadows of sand. Dusk hadgathered in the valley. The bluffs loomed beyond. A pale star twinkledabove. Shefford suddenly became aware of the intense nature of thestillness about him. Yet, as he listened to this silence, he heardan intermittent and immeasurably low moan, a fitful, mournful murmur.Assuredly it was only the wind. Nevertheless, it made his blood runcold. It was a different wind from that which had made music underthe eaves of his Illinois home. This was a lonely, haunting wind, withdesert hunger in it, and more which he could not name. Shefford listenedto this spirit-brooding sound while he watched night envelop the valley.How black, how thick the mantle! Yet it brought no comforting senseof close-folded protection, of walls of soft sleep, of a home. Insteadthere was the feeling of space, of emptiness, of an infinite hall downwhich a mournful wind swept streams of murmuring sand.

  "Well, grub's about ready," said Presbrey.

  "Got any water?" asked Shefford.

  "Sure. There in the bucket. It's rain-water. I have a tank here."

  Shefford's sore and blistered face felt better after he had washed offthe sand and alkali dust.

  "Better not wash your face often while you're in the desert. Bad plan,"went on Presbrey, noting how gingerly his visitor had gone about hisablutions. "Well, come and eat."

  Shefford marked that if the trader did live a lonely life he fared well.There was more on the table than twice two men could have eaten. It wasthe first time in four days that Shefford had sat at a table, and hemade up for lost opportunity.

  His host's actions indicated pleasure, yet the strange, hard face neverrelaxed, never changed. When the meal was finished Presbrey declinedassistance, had a generous thought of the Indian girl, who, he said,could have a place to eat and sleep down-stairs, and then with the skilland despatch of an accomplished housewife cleared the table, after whichwork he filled a pipe and evidently prepared to listen.

  It took only one question for Shefford to find that the trader wasstarved for news of the outside world; and for an hour Shefford fed thatappetite, even as he had been done by. But when he had talked himselfout there seemed indication of Presbrey being more than a good listener.

  "How'd you come in?" he asked, presently.

  "By Flagstaff--across the Little Colorado--and through Moencopie."

  "Did you stop at Moen Ave?"

  "No. What place is that?"

  "A missionary lives there. Did you stop at Tuba?"

  "Only long enough to drink and water my horse. That was a wonderfulspring for the desert."

  "You said you were a wanderer.... Do you want a job? I'll give you one."

  "No, thank you, Presbrey."

  "I saw your pack. That's no pack to travel with in this country. Yourhorse won't last, either. Have you any money?"

  "Yes, plenty of money."

  "Well, that's good. Not that a white man out here would ever take adollar from you. But you can buy from the Indians as you go. Where areyou making for, anyhow?"

  Shefford hesitated, debating in mind whether to tell his purpose or not.His host did not press the question.

  "I see. Just foot-loose and wandering around," went on Presbrey. "I canunderstand how the desert appeals to you. Preachers lead easy, safe,crowded, bound lives. They're shut up in a church with a Bible and goodpeople. When once in a lifetime they get loose--they break out."

  "Yes, I've broken out--beyond all bounds," replied Shefford, sadly.He seemed retrospective for a moment, unaware of the trader's keen andsympathetic glance, and then he caught himself. "I want to see some wildlife. Do you know the country north of here?"

  "Only what the Navajos tell me. And they're not much to talk. There'sa trail goes north, but I've never traveled it. It's a new trail everytime an Indian goes that way, for here the sand blows and covers oldtracks. But few Navajos ride in from the north. My trade is mostly withIndians up and down the valley."

  "How about water and grass?"

  "We've had rain and snow. There's sure to be, water. Can't say aboutgrass, though the sheep and ponies from the north are always fat....But, say, Shefford, if you'll excuse me for advising you--don't gonorth."

  "Why?" asked Shefford, and it was certain that he thrilled.

  "It's unknown country, terribly broken, as you can see from here, andthere are bad Indians biding in the canyon. I've never met a man who hadbeen over the pass between here and Kayenta. The trip's been made, sothere must be a trail. But it's a dangerous trip for any man, let alonea tenderfoot. You're not even packing a gun."

  "What's this place Kayenta?" asked Shefford.

  "It's a spring. Kayenta means Bottomless Spring. There's a littletrading-post, the last and the wildest in northern Arizona. Withers, thetrader who keeps it, hauls his supplies in from Colorado and New Mexico.He's never come down this way. I never saw him. Know nothing of himexcept hearsay. Reckon he's a nervy and strong man to hold that post. Ifyou want to go there, better go by way of Keams Canyon, and then aroundthe foot of Black Mesa. It'll be a long ride--maybe two hundred miles."

  "How far straight north over the pass?"

  "Can't say. Upward of seventy-five miles over rough trails, if there aretrails at all.... I've heard rumors of a fine tribe of Navajos living inthere, rich in sheep and horses. It may be true and it may not. But I doknow there are bad Indians, half-breeds and outcasts, hiding in there.Some of them have visited me here. Bad customers! More than that,you'll be going close to the Utah line, and the Mormons over there areunfriendly these days."

  "Why?" queried Shefford, again with that curious thrill.

  "They are being persecuted by the government."

  Shefford asked no more questions and his host vouchsafed no moreinformation on that score. The conversation lagged. Then Sheffordinquired about the Indian girl and learned that she lived up the valleysomewhere. Presbrey had never seen her before Willetts came with herto Red Lake. And this query brought out the fact that Presbrey wascomparatively new to Red Lake and vicinity. Shefford wondered why alonely six months there had not made the trader old in experience.Probably the desert did not readily give up its secrets. Moreover, thisRed Lake house was only an occasionally used branch of Presbrey's maintrading-post, which was situated at Willow Springs, fifty miles westwardover the mesa.

  "I'm closing up here soon for a spell," said Presbrey, and now hisface lost its set hardness and seemed singularly changed. It was adifference, of light and softness. "Won't be so lonesome over at WillowSprings.... I'm being married soon."

  "That's fine," replied Shefford, warmly. He was glad for the sake ofthis lonely desert man. What good a wife would bring into a trader'slife!

  Presbrey's naive admission, however, appeared to detach him from hispresent surroundings, and with his massive head enveloped by a cloud ofsmoke he lived in dr

  Shefford respected his host's serene abstraction. Indeed, he wasgrateful for silence. Not for many nights had the past impinged soclosely upon the present. The wound in his soul had not healed, and tospeak of himself made it bleed anew. Memory was too poignant; the pastwas too close; he wanted to forget until he had toiled into the heart ofthis forbidding wilderness--until time had gone by and he dared to facehis unquiet soul. Then he listened to the steadily rising roar of thewind. How strange and hollow! That wind was freighted with heavy sand,and he heard it sweep, sweep, sweep by in gusts, and then blow withdull, steady blast against the walls. The sound was provocative ofthought. This moan and rush of wind was no dream--this presence of hisin a night-enshrouded and sand-besieged house of the lonely desert wasreality--this adventure was not one of fancy. True indeed, then, mustbe the wild, strange story that had led him hither. He was going on toseek, to strive, to find. Somewhere northward in the broken fastnesseslay hidden a valley walled in from the world. Would they be there, thoselost fugitives whose story had thrilled him? After twelve years wouldshe be alive, a child grown to womanhood in the solitude of a beautifulcanyon? Incredible! Yet he believed his friend's story and he indeedknew how strange and tragic life was. He fancied he heard her voiceon the sweeping wind. She called to him, haunted him. He admitted theimprobability of her existence, but lost nothing of the persistentintangible hope that drove him. He believed himself a man stricken insoul, unworthy, through doubt of God, to minister to the people who hadbanished him. Perhaps a labor of Hercules, a mighty and perilous work ofrescue, the saving of this lost and imprisoned girl, would help him inhis trouble. She might be his salvation. Who could tell? Always as a boyand as a man he had fared forth to find the treasure at the foot of therainbow.

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