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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Desert of Wheat By Zane Grey Characters: 12122

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The journey homeward held many incalculable differences from the uncertain doubts and fears that had tormented Lenore on the outward trip.

For a long time she felt the warm, tight clasp of Dorn's hand on hers as he had said good-by. Very evidently he believed that was to be his last sight of her. Lenore would never forget the gaze that seemed to try to burn her image on his memory forever. She felt that they would meet again. Solemn thoughts revolved in her mind; still, she was not unhappy. She had given much unsought, but the return to her seemed growing every moment that she lived.

The dust had been settled by the rain for many miles; however, beyond Palmer there began to show evidences that the storm had thinned out or sheered off, because the road gradually grew dry again. When dust rose once more Lenore covered her face, although, obsessed as she was by the deep change in herself, neither dust nor heat nor distance affected her greatly. Like the miles the moments sped by. She was aware through closed eyes when darkness fell. Stops were frequent after the Copper River had been crossed, and her father appeared to meet and question many persons in the towns they passed. Most of his questioning pertained to the I.W.W. And even excited whispering by her father and Jake had no power to interest her. It was midnight when they reached "Many Waters" and Lenore became conscious of fatigue.

Nash crowded in front of Jake as she was about to step out, and assisted her. He gave her arm a hard squeeze and fiercely whispered in her ear, "To-morrow!"

The whisper was trenchant with meaning and thoroughly aroused Lenore. But she gave no sign and moved away.

"I seen strangers sneakin' off in the dark," Jake was whispering to Anderson.

"Keep your eyes peeled," replied Anderson. "I'll take Lenore up to the house an' come back."

It was pitch black up the path through the grove and Lenore had to cling to her father.

"Is there-any danger?" she whispered.

"We're lookin' for anythin'," replied Anderson, slowly.

"Will you be careful?"

"Sure, lass. I'll take no foolish risks. I've got men watchin' the house an' ranch. But I'd better have the cowboys down. There's Jake-he spots some prowlin' coyotes the minute we reach home."

Anderson unlocked and opened the door. The hall was dark and quiet. He turned on the electric light. Lenore was detaching her veil.

"You look pale," he said, solicitously. "No wonder. That was a ride. But I'm glad we went. I saved Dorn's wheat."

"I'm glad, too, father. Good-night!"

He bade her good-night, and went out, locking the door. Then his rapid footsteps died away. Wearily Lenore climbed the stairs and went to her room.

* * *

She was awakened from deep slumber by Kathleen, who pulled and tugged at her.

"Lenorry, I thought you was dead, your eyes were shut so tight," declared the child. "Breakfast is waiting. Did you fetch me anything?"

"Yes, a new sister," replied Lenore, dreamily.

Kathleen's eyes opened wide. "Where?"

Lenore place a hand over her heart.

"Here."

"Oh, you do look funny.… Get up, Lenorry. Did you hear the shooting last night?"

Instantly Lenore sat up and stared.

"No. Was there any?"

"You bet. But I don't know what it was all about."

Lenore dispelled her dreamy state, and, hurriedly dressing, she went down to breakfast. Her father and Rose were still at the table.

"Hello, big eyes!" was his greeting.

And Rose, not to be outdone, chirped, "Hello, old sleepy-head!"

Lenore's reply lacked her usual spontaneity. And she felt, if she did not explain, the wideness of her eyes. Her father did not look as if anything worried him. It was a way of his, however, not to show stress or worry. Lenore ate in silence until Rose left the dining-room, and then she asked her father if there had been shooting.

"Sure," he replied, with a broad smile. "Jake turned his guns loose on them prowlin' men last night. By George! you ought to have heard them run. One plumped into the gate an' went clear over it, to fall like a log. Another fell into the brook an' made more racket than a drownin' horse. But it was so dark we couldn't catch them."

"Jake shot to frighten them?" inquired Lenore.

"Not much. He stung one I.W.W., that's sure. We heard a cry, an' this mornin' we found some blood."

"What do you suppose these-these night visitors wanted?"

"No tellin'. Jake thinks one of them looked an' walked like the man Nash has been meetin'. Anyway, we're not takin' much more chance on Nash. I reckon it's dangerous keepin' him around. I'll have him drive me to-day-over to Vale, an' then to Huntington. You can go along. That'll be your last chance to pump him. Have you found out anythin'?"

Lenore told what had transpired between her and the driver. Anderson's face turned fiery red.

"That ain't much to help us," declared, angrily. "But it shows him up.… So his real name's Ruenke? Fine American name, I don't think! That man's a spy an' a plotter. An' before he's another day older I'm goin' to corner him. It's a sure go I can't hold Jake in any longer."

To Lenore it was a further indication of her father's temper that when they went down to enter the car he addressed Nash in cool, careless, easy speech. It made Lenore shiver. She had heard stories of her father's early career among hard men.

Jake was there, dry, caustic, with keen, quiet eyes that any subtle, clever man would have feared. But Nash's thought seemed turned mostly inward.

Lenore took the front seat in the car beside the driver. He showed unconscious response to that action.

"Jake, aren't you coming?" she asked, of the cowboy.

"Wal, I reckon it'll be sure dull fer you without me. Nobody to talk to while your dad fools around. But I can't go. Me an' the boys air a-goin' to hang some I.W.W.'s this mawnin', an' I can't miss thet fun."

Jake drawled his speech and laughed lazily as he ended it. He was just boasting, as usual, but his hawklike eyes were on Nash. And it was certain that N

ash turned pale.

Lenore had no reply to make. Her father appeared to lose patience with Jake, but after a moment's hesitation decided not to voice it.

Nash was not a good nor a careful driver under any circumstances, and this morning it was evident he did not have his mind on his business. There were bumps in the orchard road where the irrigation ditches crossed.

"Say, you ought to be drivin' a hay-wagon," called Anderson, sarcastically.

At Vale he ordered the car stopped at the post-office, and, telling Lenore he might be detained a few moments, he went in. Nash followed, and presently came back with a package of letters. Upon taking his seat in the car he assorted the letters, one of which, a large, thick envelope, manifestly gave him excited gratification. He pocketed them and turned to Lenore.

"Ah! I see you get letters-from a woman," she said, pretending a poison sweetness of jealousy.

"Certainly. I'm not married yet," he replied. "Lenore, last night-"

"You will never be married-to me-while you write to other women. Let me see that letter!… Let me read it-all of them!"

"No, Lenore-not here. And don't speak so loud. Your father will be coming any minute.… Lenore, he suspects me. And that cowboy knows things. I can't go back to the ranch."

"Oh, you must come!"

"No. If you love me you've got to run off with me to-day."

"But why the hurry?" she appealed.

"It's getting hot for me."

"What do you mean by that? Why don't you explain to me? As long as you are so strange, so mysterious, how can I trust you? You ask me to run off with you, yet you don't put confidence in me."

Nash grew pale and earnest, and his hands shook.

"But if I do confide in you, then will you come with me?" he queried, breathlessly.

"I'll not promise. Maybe what you have to tell will prove-you-you don't care for me."

"It 'll prove I do," he replied, passionately.

"Then tell me." Lenore realized she could no longer play the part she had assumed. But Nash was so stirred by his own emotions, so carried along in a current, that he did not see the difference in her.

"Listen. I tell you it's getting hot for me," he whispered. "I've been put here-close to Anderson-to find out things and to carry out orders. Lately I've neglected my job because I fell in love with you. He's your father. If I go on with plans-and harm comes to him-I'll never get you. Is that clear?"

"It certainly is," replied Lenore, and she felt a tightness at her throat.

"I'm no member of the I.W.W.," he went on. "Whatever that organization might have been last year, it's gone wild this year.… There are interests that have used the I.W.W. I'm only an agent, and I'm not high up, either. I see what the government will do to the I.W.W. if the Northwest leaves any of it. But just now there're plots against a few big men like your father. He's to be ruined. His crops and ranches destroyed. And he's to be killed. It's because he's so well known and has so much influence that he was marked. I told you the I.W.W. was being used to make trouble. They are being stirred up by agitators, bribed and driven, all for the purpose of making a great disorder in the Northwest."

"Germany!" whispered Lenore.

"I can't say. But men are all over, and these men work in secret. There are American citizens in the Northwest-one right in this valley-who have plotted to ruin your father."

"Do you know who they are?"

"No, I do not."

"You are for Germany, of course?"

"I have been. My people are German. But I was born in the U.S. And if it suits me I will be for America. If you come with me I'll throw up this dirty job, advise Glidden to shift the plot from your father to some other man-"

"So it's Glidden!" exclaimed Lenore.

Nash bit his lip, and for the first time looked at Lenore without thinking of himself. And surprise dawned in his eyes.

"Yes, Glidden. You saw him speak to me up in the Bend, the first time your father went to see Dorn's wheat. Glidden's playing the I.W.W. against itself. He means to drop out of this deal with big money.…Now I'll save your father if you'll stick to me."

Lenore could no longer restrain herself. This man was not even big in his wickedness. Lenore divined that his later words held no truth.

"Mr. Ruenke, you are a detestable coward," she said, with quivering scorn. "I let you imagine-Oh! I can't speak it!… You-you-"

"God! You fooled me!" he ejaculated, his jaw falling in utter amaze.

"You were contemptibly easy. You'd better jump out of this car and run. My father will shoot you."

"You deceitful-cat!" he cried, haltingly, as anger overcame his astonishment. "I'll-"

Anderson's big bulk loomed up behind Nash. Lenore gasped as she saw her father, for his eyes were upon her and he had recognized events.

"Say, Mister Ruenke, the postmaster says you get letters here under different names," said Anderson, bluntly.

"Yes-I-I-get them-for a friend," stammered the driver, as his face turned white.

"You lyin' German pup!… I'll look over them letters!" Anderson's big hand shot out to clutch Nash, holding him powerless, and with the other hand he searched Nash's inside coat pockets, to tear forth a packet of letters. Then Anderson released him and stepped back. "Get out of that car!" he thundered.

Nash made a slow movement, as if to comply, then suddenly he threw on the power. The car jerked forward.

Anderson leaped to get one hand on the car door, the other on Nash. He almost pulled the driver out of his seat. But Nash held on desperately, and the car, gaining momentum, dragged Anderson. He could not get his feet up on the running-board, and suddenly he fell.

Lenore screamed and tore frantically at the handle of the door. Nash struck her, jerked her back into the seat. She struggled until the car shot full speed ahead. Then it meant death for her to leap out.

"Sit still, or you'll kill yourself." shouted Nash, hoarsely.

Lenore fell back, almost fainting, with the swift realization of what had happened.

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