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WILDFIRE, Etc., Etc.



Published by Arrangement with Harper & Brothers

Made in the United States of Americ"


Copyright, 1913. by Harper & Brofsr*

Printed in the United States of America
Published April, 1913



PROLOGUE ............ . . j

I. OLD FRIENDS .............. . 23

II. MERCEDES CASTANEDA ........... . 34

III. A FLIGHT INTO THE DESERT ..... . . . . 47

IV. FORLORN RIVER ............. . 61

V. A DESERT ROSE .............. 81

VI. THE YAQUI ............... 96

VII. WHITE HORSES .............. 114



X. ROJAS ................. 153


XII. THE CRATER OF HELL ........... 200


XIV. A LOST SON ............... 233

XV. BOUND IN THE DESERT ........... 247

XVI. MOUNTAIN SHEEP ............. 263




XX. DESERT GOLD .............. c 323



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 pros
pector for gold, a hunter of solitude, a lover of the drear,
rock-ribbed infinitude, because he wanted to be alone to

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 waning campfire. He
was somewhere along the wild border line between So-
nora and Arizona ; and the prospector who dared the heat
and barrenness of that region risked other dangers some
times 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

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.

"Find any mineral ?" asked Cameron, presently.

His visitor looked up quickly, as if startled by the
sound of a human voice. He replied, and then the two
men talked a little. But the stranger evidently preferred
silence. Cameron understood that. He laughed grimly
and bent a keener gaze upon the furrowed, shadowy face.
Another of those strange desert prospectors in whom there
was some relentless driving power besides the lust for


gold! Cameron felt that between this man and himself
there was a subtle affinity, vague and undefined, perhaps
born of the divination that here was a desert wanderer
like himself, perhaps born of a deeper, an unintelligible
relation having its roots back in the past. A long-
forgotten sensation stirred in Cameron s breast, one so
long forgotten that he could not recognize it. But it was
akin to pain.


When he awakened he found, to his surprise, that
his companion had departed. A trail in the sand led
off to the north. There was no water in that direction.
Cameron shrugged his shoulders; it was not his affair;
he had his own problems. And straightway he forgot
his strange visitor.

Cameron began his day, grateful for the solitude that
was now unbroken, for the canon-furrowed and cactus-
spired scene that now showed no sign of life. He trav
eled southwest, never straying far from the dry stream
bed ; and in a desultory way, without eagerness, he hunted
for signs of gold.

The work was toilsome, yet the periods of rest in which
he indulged were not taken because of fatigue. He
rested to look, to listen, to feel. What the vast silent
world meant to him had always been a mystical thing,
which he felt in all its incalculable power, but never

That day, while it was yet light, and he was digging in
a moist white-bordered wash for water, he was brought
sharply up by hearing the crack of hard hoofs on stone.
There down the canon came a man and a burro. Cameron
recognized them.

"Hello, friend," called the man, halting. "Our trails
crossed again. That s good."


"Hello," replied Cameron, slowly. "Any mineral sign


They made camp together, ate their frugal meal,
smoked a pipe, and rolled in their blankets without ex
changing many words. In the morning the same reti
cence, the same aloofness characterized the manner of
both. But Cameron s companion, when he had packed
his burro and was ready to start, faced about and said:
"We might stay together, if it s all right with you."

"I never take a partner," replied Cameron.

"You re alone; I m alone," said the other, mildly.
"It s a big place. If we find gold there ll be enough for

"I don t go down into the desert for gold alone," re
joined Cameron, with a chill note in his swift reply.

His companion s deep-set, luminous eyes emitted a
singular flash. It moved Cameron to say that in the
years of his wandering he had met no man who could
endure equally with him the blasting heat, the blinding
dust storms, the wilderness of sand and rock and lava
and cactus, the terrible silence and desolation of the
desert. Cameron waved a hand toward the wide, shim
mering, shadowy descent of plain and range. "I may
strike through the Sonora Desert. I may head for Pin-
acate or north for the Colorado Basin. You are an old

"I don t know the country, but to me one place is the
same as another," replied his companion. For moments
he seemed to forget himself, and swept his far-reaching
gaze out over the colored gulf of stone and sand. Then
with gentle slaps he drove his burro in behind Cameron.
"Yes, I m old. I m lonely, too. It s come to me just
lately. But, friend, I can still travel, and for a few days
my company won t hurt you."

"Have it your way," said Cameron.

They began a slow march down into the desert. At



sunset they camped under the lee of a low mesa. Cam
eron was glad his comrade had the Indian habit of silence,
Another day s travel found the prospectors deep in the
wilderness. Then there came a breaking of reserve,
noticeable in the elder man, almost imperceptibly gradual
in Cameron. Besides the meager mesquite campfire
this gray-faced, thoughtful old prospector would remove
his black pipe from his mouth to talk a little ; and Cam
eron would listen, and sometimes unlock his lips to speak
a word. And so, as Cameron began to respond to the
influence of a desert less lonely than habitual, he began
to take keener note of his comrade, and found him differ
ent from any other he had ever encountered in the wik
derness. This man never grumbled at the heat, the glare,
the driving sand, the sour water, the scant fare. During
the daylight hours he was seldom idle. At night he sat
dreaming before the fire or paced to and fro in the gloom.
He slept but little, and that long after Cameron had had
his own rest. He was tireless, patient, brooding.

Cameron s awakened interest brought home to him the
realization that for years he had shunned companion
ship. In those years only three men had wandered into
the desert with him, and these had left their bones to
bleach in the shifting sands. Cameron had not cared to
know their secrets. But the more he studied this latest
comrade the more he began to suspect that he might have
missed something in the others. In his own driving pas
sion to take his secret into the limitless abode of silence
and desolation, where he could be alone with it, he had
forgotten that life dealt shocks to other men. Somehow
this silent comrade reminded him.

One afternoon late, after they had toiled up a white,
winding wash of sand and gravel, they came upon a dry
waterhole. Cameron dug deep into the sand, but with
out avail. He was turning to retrace weary steps back
to the last water when his comrade asked him to wait.
Cameron watched him search in his pack and bring forth


what appeared to be a small, forked branch of a peach
tree. He grasped the prongs of the fork and held them
before him with the end standing straight out, and then
he began to walk along the stream bed. Cameron, at
first amused, then amazed, then pitying and at last
curious, kept pace with the prospector. He saw a strong
tension of his comrade s wrists, as if he was holding hard
against a considerable force. The end of the peach
branch began to quiver and turn. Cameron reached out
a hand to touch it, and was astounded at feeling a power
ful vibrant force pulling the branch downward. He felt
it as a magnetic shock. The branch kept turning, and
at length pointed to the ground.

"Dig here," said the prospector.

"What!" ejaculated Cameron. Had the man lost his

Then Cameron stood by while his comrade dug in the
sand. Three feet he dug four five, and the sand grew
dark, then moist. At six feet water began to seep through.

"Get the little basket in my pack," he said.

Cameron complied, and saw his comrade drop the
basket into the deep hole, where it kept the sides from
caving in and allowed the water to seep through. While
Cameron watched, the basket filled. Of all the strange
incidents of his desert career this was the strangest.
Curiously he picked up the peach branch and held it as
he had seen it held. The thing, however, was dead in
his hands.

"I see you haven t got it," remarked his comrade.
"Few men have."

"Got what?" demanded Cameron.

"A power to find water that way. Back in Illinois an
old German used to do that to locate wells. He showed
me I had the same power. I can t explain. But you
needn t look so dumfounded. There s nothing super
natural about it."

"You mean it s a simple fact that some men have a



magnetism, a force or power to find water as you
did? 5

"Yes. It s not unusual on the farms back in Illinois,
Ohio, Pennsylvania. The old German I spoke of made
money traveling round with his peach fork."

"What a gift for a man in the desert !"

Cameron s comrade smiled the second time in all
those days.

They entered a region where mineral abounded, and
their march became slower. Generally they took the
course of a wash, one on each side, and let the burros
travel leisurely along nipping at the bleached blades of
scant grass, or at sage or cactus, while they searched in
the canons and under the ledges for signs of gold. When
they found any rock that hinted of gold they picked off a
piece and gave it a chemical test. The search was fas
cinating. They interspersed the work with long, restful
moments when they looked afar down the vast reaches
and smoky shingles to the line of dim mountains. Some
impelling desire, not all the lure of gold, took them to the
top of mesas and escarpments ; and here, when they had
dug and picked, they rested and gazed out at the wide
prospect. Then, as the sun lost its heat and sank lower
ing to dent its red disk behind far-distant spurs, they
halted in a shady canon or likely spot in a dry wash and
tried for water. When they found it they unpacked, gave
drink to the tired burros, and turned them loose. Dead
mesquite served for the campfire. While the strange twi
light deepened into weird night they sat propped against
stones, with eyes on the dying embers of the fire, and
soon they lay on the sand with the light of white stars on
their dark faces.

Each succeeding day and night Cameron felt himself
more and more drawn to this strange man. He found
that after hours of burning toil he had insensibly grown
nearer to his comrade. He reflected that after a few
weeks in the desert he had always.become a different man.


In civilization, in the rough mining camps, he had oeen a
prey to unrest and gloom. But once down on the great
billowing sweep of this lonely world, he could look into
his unquiet soul without bitterness. Did not the desert
magnify men? Cameron believed that wild men in wild
places, fighting cold, heat, starvation, thirst, barrenness,
facing the elements in all their ferocity, usually retro
graded, descended to the savage, lost all heart and soul
and became mere brutes. Likewise he believed that men
wandering or lost in the wilderness often reversed that
brutal order of life and became noble, wonderful, super
human. So now he did not marvel at a slow stir stealing
warmer along his veins, and at the premonition that per
haps he and this man, alone on the desert, driven there
by life s mysterious and remorseless motive, were to see
each other through God s eyes.

His companion was one who thought of himself last.
It humiliated Cameron that in spite of growing keenness
he could not hinder him from doing more than an equal
share of the day s work. The man was mild, gentle,
quiet, mostly silent, yet under all his softness he seemed
to be made of the fiber of steel. Cameron could not
thwart him. Moreover, he appeared to want to find gold
for Cameron, not for himself. Cameron s hands always
trembled at the turning of rock that promised gold; he
had enough of the prospector s passion for fortune to
thrill at the chance of a strike. But the other never
showed the least trace of excitement.

CHe night they were encamped at the head of a canon.
The day had been exceedingly hot, and long after sundown
the radiation of heat from the rocks persisted. A desert
bird whistled a wild, melancholy note from a dark cliff,
and a distant coyote wailed mournfully. The stars shone
white until the huge moon rose to burn out all their
whiteness. And on this night Cameron watched his
comrade, and yielded to interest he had not heretofore



Tardner, what drives you into the desert?"

"Do I seem to be a driven man?"

"No. But I feel it. Do you come to forget ?"


"Ah!" softly exclaimed Cameron. Always he seemed
to have known that. He said no more. He watched the
old man rise and begin his nightly pace to and fro, up and
down. With slow, soft tread, forward and back, tirelessly
and ceaselessly, he paced that beat. He did not look up
at the stars or follow the radiant track of the moon along
the canon ramparts. He hung his head. He was lost
in another world. It was a world which the lonely desert
made real. He looked a dark, sad, plodding figure, and
somehow impressed Cameron with the helplessness of

Cameron grew acutely conscious of the pang in his own
breast, of the fire in his heart, the strife and torment of
his passion-driven soul. He had come into the desert to
remember a woman. She appeared to him then as she
had looked when first she entered his life a golden-haired
girl, blue-eyed, white-skinned, red-lipped, tall and slender
and beautiful. He had never forgotten, and an old, sick
ening remorse knocked at his heart. He rose and climbed
out of the canon and to the top of a mesa, where he paced
to and fro and looked down into the weird and mystic
shadows, like the darkness of his passion, and farther on
down the moon track and the glittering stretches that
vanished in the cold, blue horizon. The moon soared
radiant and calm, the white stars shone serene. The
vault of heaven seemed illimitable and divine. The desert
surrounded him, silver-streaked and black-mantled, a
chaos of rock and sand, silent, austere, ancient, always
waiting. It spoke to Cameron. It was a naked corpse, but
it had a soul. In that wild solitude the white stars looked
down upon him pitilessly and pityingly. They had shone
upon a desert that might once have been alive and was
now dead, and might again throb with life, onlv to die.


It was a terrible ordeal for him to stand there alone and
realize that he was only a man facing eternity. But that
was what gave him strength to endure. Somehow he was
a part of it all, some atom in that vastness, somehow
necessary to an inscrutable purpose, something inde
structible in that desolate world of ruin and death and
decay, something perishable and changeable and growing
under all the fixity of heaven. In that endless, silent hall
of desert there was a spirit ; and Cameron felt hovering
near him what he imagined to be phantoms of peace.

He returned to camp and sought his comrade.

"I reckon we re two of a kind," he said. "It was a
woman who drove me into the desert. But I come to
remember. The desert s the only place I can do that."

"Was she your wife?" asked the elder man.


A long silence ensued. A cool wind blew up the canon
sifting the sand through the dry sage, driving away the
last of the lingering heat. The campfire wore down to a
ruddy ashen heap.

"I had a daughter," said Cameron s comrade. "She
lost her mother at birth. And I I didn t know how to
bring up a girl. She was pretty and gay. It was the
the old story."

His words were peculiarly significant to Cameron.
They distressed him. He had been wrapped up in his
remorse. If ever in the past he had thought of any one
connected with the girl he had wronged he had long for
gotten. But the consequences of such wrong were far-
reaching. They struck at the roots of a home. Here in
the desert he was confronted by the spectacle of a splendid
man, a father, wasting his life because he could not for
get because there was nothing left to live for. Cameron
understood better now why his comrade was drawn by the

"Well, tell me more?" asked Cameron, earnestly.

"It was the old, old story. My girl was pretty and



free. The young bucks ran after her. I guess she did
not run away from them. And I was away a good deal
working in another town. She was in love with a wild
fellow. I knew nothing of it till too late. He was en
gaged to marry her. But he didn t come back. And
when the disgrace became plain to all, my girl left home.
She went West. After a while I heard from her. She
was well working living for her baby. A long time
passed. I had no ties. I drifted West. Her lover had
also gone West. In those days everybody went West. I
trailed him, intending to kill him. But I lost his trail.
Neither could I find any trace of her. She had moved
on, driven, no doubt, by the hound of her past. Since
then I have taken to the wilds, hunting gold on the desert."

"Yes, it s the old, old story, only sadder, I think," said
Cameron; and his voice was strained and unnatural.
"Pardner, what Illinois town was it you hailed from?"


"And your your name?" went on Cameron,

"Warren Jonas Warren."

That name might as well have been a bullet. Cameron
stood erect, motionless, as men sometimes stand mo
mentarily when shot straight through the heart. In an
instant, when thoughts resurged like blinding flashes of
lightning through his mind, he was a swaying, quivering,
terror-stricken man. He mumbled something hoarsely
and backed into the shadow. But he needed not have
feared discovery, however surely his agitation might have
betrayed him. Warren sat brooding over the campfire,
oblivious of his comrade, absorbed in the past.

Cameron swiftly walked away in the gloom, with the
blood thrumming thick in his ears, whispering over and

"Merciful God ! Nell was his daughter !"


As thought and feeling multiplied, Cameron was over-



whelmed. Beyond belief, indeed, was it that out of
the millions of men in the world two who had never
seen each other could have been driven into the desert by
memory of the same woman. It brought the past so
close. It showed Cameron how inevitably all his spiritual
life was governed by what had happened long ago. That
which made life significant to him was a wandering in
silent places where no eye could see him with his secret.
Some fateful chance had thrown him with the father of
the girl he had wrecked. It was incomprehensible; it
was terrible. It was the one thing of all possible happen
ings in the world of chance that both father and lover
would have found unendurable.

Cameron s pain reached to despair when he felt this
relation between Warren and himself. Something within
him cried out to him to reveal his identity. Warren would
kill him; but it was not fear of death that put Cameron
on the rack. He had faced death too often to be afraid.
It was the thought of adding torture to this long-suffering
man. All at once Cameron swore that he would not aug
ment Warren s trouble, or let him stain his hands with
blood. He would tell the truth of Nell s sad story and
his own, and make what amends he could.

Then Cameron s thought shifted from father to daugh
ter. She was somewhere beyond the dim horizon line. In
those past lonely hours by the campfire his fancy had tor
tured him with pictures of Nell. But his remorseful and
cruel fancy had lied to him. Nell had struggled upward
out of menacing depths. She had reconstructed a broken
life. And now she was fighting for the name and happi
ness of her child. Little Nell! Cameron experienced a
shuddering ripple in all his being the physical rack of an
emotion born of a new and strange consciousness.

As Cameron gazed out over the blood-red, darkening
desert suddenly the strife in his soul ceased. The moment
was one of incalculable change, in which his eyes seemed



to pierce the vastness of cloud and range, and mystery
of gloom and shadow to see with strong vision the
illimitable space before him. He felt the grandeur of the
desert, its simplicity, its truth. He had learned at last
the lesson it taught. No longer strange was his meeting
and wandering with Warren. Each had marched in the
steps of destiny ; and as the lines of their fates had been
inextricably tangled in the years that were gone, so now
their steps had crossed and turned them toward one com
mon goal. For years they had been two men marching
alone, answering to an inward driving search, and the
desert had brought them together. For years they had
wandered alone in silence and solitude, where the sun
burned white all day and the stars burned white all night,
blindly following the whisper of a spirit. But now Cam
eron knew that he was no longer blind, and in this flash
of revelation he felt that it had been given him to help
Warren with his burden.

He returned to camp trying to evolve a plan. As
always at that long hour when the afterglow of sunset
lingered in the west, Warren plodded to and fro in the
gloom. All night Camepon lay awake thinking.

In the morning, when Warren brought the burros to
camp and began preparations for the usual packing,
Cameron broke silence.

"Pardner, your story last night made me think. I
want to tell you something about myself. It s hard
enough to be driven by sorrow for some one you ve loved,
as you ve been driven ; but to suffer sleepless and eternal
remorse for the ruin of one you ve loved as I have suffered
that is hell. . . . Listen. In my younger days it seems
long now, yet it s not so many years I was wild. I

Online LibraryZane GreyDesert gold : a romance of the border → online text (page 1 of 25)