Taggart

Adam Stark was three months out of Tucson when he found his first color. It appeared as a few scattered flakes of gold dry-panned from the base of an alluvial fan, but the gold was rough under the magnifying glass.

Gold that has washed any distance from its source becomes worn and polished by the abrasive action of the accompanying rocks and gravel, so this gold could not be far from its point of origin.

With caution born of hard experience, he seated himself and lighted his pipe. A contemplative man by nature, experience had taught him how Man my be deluded by hope, and so he smoked his pipe through, considering all aspects of the problem.

He was in the red heart of Apache country, some miles from the nearest white man and beyond any possibility of help if attacked. He was forty-four years old, with a Mexican wife and an unmarried sister, and both were in camp close by.

In Tucson they thought him insane for taking women away from town with Apache trouble always imminent, but he had neither a place to leave them nor means of supporting them during his absence. Nor did he wish to leave his wife behind. Miriam was another story, for she had a mind of her own. That was one of the reasons she was still unmarried, although she'd had more chances than most.

The gold he panned had been taken from a spot on that alluvial fan which left small doubt that the source lay higher up the mountain, for there was no other way the gold could have reached the place where he had discovered it.

Yet every moment they were in danger, and if discovered by Apaches they would surely be killed. Nonetheless, the quest for gold had brought him here, and he meant to have what he had found.

His reasons for wanting the gold were two. He wanted gold to buy and stock a ranch for himself and his wife, and he wanted the gold so that he might take Consuelo to San Francisco and give her the taste of luxury and easy living she seemed so much to want.

For himself the desert was enough, the desert and that ranch and the freedom it offered. But he enjoyed the giving of pleasure to others, and to Consuelo whom he loved, he could not give too much. Adam Stark knew himself thoroughly, and he knew that his wife did not know him. Despite the fact that she now insisted she no longer loved him, he was sure she was mistaken, and he did love her. She had wanted a more obviously strong man, one with flash and demonstration. He suspected that Consuelo accepted the appearance of strength for its reality . . . and there was considerable difference. Adam had been in love with her from their first meeting, but he had been amazed when she accepted him.

Adam Stark turned his thoughts to the immediate problems. Their supplies, if augmented by game and what herbs they could gather, would last them, at most, two months. Connie knew the plants the Indians used for food, and whatever faults she might have, she was not lazy. She was, as old Fritz at Tucson had said, "a lot of woman."

The first requirement was shelter, a place of concealment, relatively close to water; and the second thing was to eradicate, so far as possible, the tracks left by their wagon and horses and mules. And then he must establish a pattern of operation.

Adam Stark was a man of method, and half of his success here would result from proper habits of work and movement. He must plan for their protection and their food, and for getting out the gold itself.

Rising from the place where he sat, Adam Stark climbed Rockinstraw Mountain.

The western approaches to his position were walled off by the mesas except for two gaps, through one of which the Salt River flowed. To the east the country was broken by many canyons, most of them small, but from the top of Rockinstraw an observer could study most of the country in that direction. He started to turn away when his eye caught an odd shape among the canyons to the east, and not far off.

Getting out his field glasses, over the end of which Stark arranged a hood of stiff leather to prevent the sun from reflecting off the glass, he directed them at the canyon where he had seen that odd, straight-edged rock.

The canyon itself was narrow, scarcely more than a wide crack in the earth, and nondescript in appearance, but from his place on top of the mountain he could see what appeared to be not a rock but the edge of a roof, and beyond it something that might bea church tower.

He was suddenly excited. It was absurd, but there were stories of the Lost Mine of the Padres supposedly somewhere in this area.

Taking careful sightings and establishing landmarks from the top of the mountain, he went down, mounted his horse, and began his search. Yet even after locating the canyon form the top of the mountain, it took him more than an hour to find it, so hidden was it.

It required another hour to find a way to descend into the canyon, but by that time he had decided. This was to be their home.

There was a chapel, only large enough to seat ten or twelve persons, and there was a long building constructed of stone slabs and roofed with cedar timbers. There was also an adobe stable, partly in ruins. Nearby was an arrastra where the ore had been broken up to extract the gold.

He dismounted and went into the long house. Pack rats had nested here, an owl slept on a low beam. The house was still dry, compact, perfect.

Beyond the chapel in a corner of rocks he found a trickle of water falling into a basin some six feet in diameter. It was good water, clear, cold, and sweet.

The following day Adam Stark brought his wife and sister to the canyon and they moved in. The wagon he concealed in the brush some three miles away, and covered it with brush in a clump of prickly pear.

Miriam Stark put the bucket under the trickle of water and then straightened to wait until the bucket was full, shading her eyes toward Rockinstraw Mountain. It was time for Adam to be returning.

In the three weeks they had lived in the canyon only Adam had been to the diggings. Each day he returned with a sack or two of ore which he broke up for the highgrade they contained. He had found the mother lode . . . the very gold for which this settlement had been constructed, but which the padres themselves had never found.

When the bucket was filled she carried it back to the house. Consuelo was preparing supper.

"You see him?"

"No . . .he's probably on his way back."

"You think what we do if he does not come back? Suppose somebody kill him? What we do then?"

"We would saddle up and ride to Tucson."

"I think `Paches come here," Consuelo said gloomily. "I feel it. We are fool to stay."

"You wanted to go to San Francisco and buy a lot of fancy clothes . . .that was all you talked about in Tucson, so what did you expect him to do? He loves you."

"He is a fool."

"Any man is a fool who will waste time on a woman who does not love him, and you don't love Adam. He ought to take you back to Tucson and leave you there."

"He is weak. He is frighten. Once . . . once I think I love him, but I like a strong man. Adam is not strong."

"Adam has a sort of strength you'll never understand, Connie and he has gentleness, too. I hope the day comes when you realize the sort of man you married. He's worth a dozen of that trash you seem to think are strong . . . like Tom Sanifer."

Consuelo's eyes flashed. "You know why Adam bring me here? Because he was `fraid I run off with Tom Sanifer, that's why . . . and he was right. If Tom had come back I would have gone where he asked me. Tom told Adam when he came back he'd take me away."

"In front of you?"

"Yes . . . he told him. Adam, he just stand there and say, `I think you won't do that.' Adam is a coward. If he is not a coward he would shoot Tome Sanifer then. He would shoot him dead, and then I love Adam. But he does nothing, he just looks at Tom and he say, `I think you not do that.'"

"What happened when Tom came back?"

"He did not come back before you came, and then Adam bring us here. He bring us here because he is afraid that I will go with Tom."

"You don't know your husband, Connie. Adam was not afraid. That is his way, and if you two are to be happy you must understand that . . . you are Latin, and your people are demonstrative. Adam is not."

Consuelo turned sharply around. "I do not care! You think I want to live all my life in the desert? I am woman! I want to have happiness! I want music, good food to eat, place to go! I want to dance, to sing, to be glad! There are men who will give me what I want."

"And after?"

"Who thinks of after? He has gold now . . . why don't we go? Why does he wait until we are all dead?"

Miriam was folding the clothes she had washed. "In some ways," she said quietly, "I think Adam is a fool. If he had used good sense he would have let you go with that man, and be glad that you were gone."

"Oh?" Consuelo turned on her angrily. "What do you know about man? I think you never have a man. I think you don't know what you do with one if you have him."

"Maybe I wouldn't," Miriam agreed, "but I could give it a try."

"You afraid of man. You afraid of what man do to you. I like a strong man, who wants a strong woman. I think Tom Sanifer was like that."

"From what they told me in Tucson, Tom Sanifer was a cheap bully in a loud shirt."

"You hear lie. He was a strong man . . . a big man."

Miriam wiped off the table top and began placing dishes for the evening meal. She had never known much about the relationship between Connie and her brother. Adam was not inclined to discuss his personal affairs, but she had guessed he was not happy. However, she was equally aware that he loved the girl he had married, and if Adam loved her that was enough for Miriam.

"I think you don't like me," Consuelo said suddenly. "I think you hate me."

Miriam considered it, and then shook her head. "I don't hate you. I might even like you if you weren't married to Adam, but he deserves better than you're giving him."

"Does he complain? Does he think I am not enough woman?"

"There's more to being a woman than what happens with a man in bed, believe me. You should learn that. What you can give a man in bed he can get from any street woman, what he wants from a wife is that, but much more. He wants tenderness, understanding, the feeling of working together for something. You're stealing from him, Connie."

"I? Steal?"

"You're robbing him of that. If you don't give him more than you're giving him now, you're not a wife, you're a whore."

"So? You know nothing."

"He should have let Tom Sanifer have you. You'd have been better for him . . . he'd probably want nothing more from you."

"Some day," Connie straightened and her eyes flashed, "some day I think I kill you."

"You won't kill me. You won't even try, Connie, because if you did I'd kill you. You might kill Adam because he loves you, but you won't kill me, and you won't even try."

"You think."

Boots scraped on the gravel outside and Adam Stark came in the door, smiling. "It was a good day," he said, "the best yet."

"Supper's ready."

"Stay home tomorrow," Consuelo suggested suddenly.

"No." Adam Stark drew back a home-made chair. "There's work to do. Every day I don't dig makes it a day more we have to stay . . . so I'd rather work."

"Did you see anything from the mountain?""I'm not sure," he said. "I thought once I saw a flash over north of here . . . like a sunlight on a rifle barrel, but nobody would be up in that country."

"You've been there?"

"Hunting . . . there's nothing over there."

"Did you see it again? That flash, I mean?"

"No."

"But you think it was somebody? You think somebody was over there?"

"Maybe . . . it was sudden, then gone. Might have been the sunlight on a sliding rock, or something."

"You don't believe that!"

"No," he replied honestly, "I don't."

"I am not afraid," Consuelo said, and seated herself at the table. "I can shoot."