From the great plateau of the Snake River, at a point that is far from any main station, the stage-road sinks into a hollow which the winds might have scooped, so constantly do they pounce and delve and circle round the spot. Down in this pothole, where sand has drifted into the infrequent wheel tracks, there is a dead stillness while the perpetual land gale is roaring and troubling above.
One noon at the latter end of summer a wagon carrying four persons, with camp gear and provision for a self-subsisting trip, jolted down into this hollow, the horses sweating at a walk as they beat through the heavy sand. The teamster drew them up and looked hard at the singular, lonely place.
“I don’t see any signs of that old corral, do you?” objected the man beside him. He spoke low, as if to keep his doubts from their neighbors on the back seat. These, an old, delicate, reverend looking gentleman, and a veiled woman sitting very erect, were silent, awaiting some decision of their fellow travelers.
“There wouldn’t be much of anything left of it,” the teamster urged on the point in question; “only a few rails and wattles, maybe. Campers would have made a clean-up of them.”
“You think this is the place, do you not, Mr. Thane? This is Pilgrim Station?” The old gentleman spoke to the younger of the two men in front, who, turning, showed the three-quarter view of a tanned, immobile face and the keen side glance of a pair of dense black eyes,–eyes that saw everything and told nothing.
“One of our landmarks seems to be missing. I was just asking Kinney about it,” he said.
Mr. Kinney was not, it appeared, as familiar as a guide should be with the road, which had fallen from use before he came to that part of the country; but his knowledge of roads in general inclined him to take with allowance the testimony of any one man of merely local information.
“That fool Mormon at the ferry hain’t been past here, he said himself, since the stage was pulled off. What was here then wouldn’t be here now–not if it could be eat up or burnt up.”
“So you think this is the place?” the old gentleman repeated. His face was quite pale; he looked about him shrinkingly, with a latent, apprehensive excitement strangely out of keeping with the void stillness of the hollow,–a spot which seemed to claim as little on the score of human interest or association as any they had passed on their long road hither.
“Well, it’s just this way, Mr. Withers: here’s the holler, and here’s the stomped place where the sheep have camped, and the cattle trails getherin’ from everywheres to the water, and the young rabbit brush that’s sprung up since the plains was burnt over. If this ain’t Pilgrim Station, we’re lost pilgrims ourselves, I guess. We hain’t passed it; it’s time we come to it, and there ain’t no road but this. As I put it up, this here has got to be the place.”
“I believe you, Mr. Kinney,” the old man solemnly confirmed him. “Something tells me that this is the spot. I might almost say,” he added in a lower tone to his companion, while a slight shiver passed over him in the hot sunlight, “that a voice cries to us from the ground!”
Those in front had not heard him. After a pause Mr. Thane looked round again, smiled tentatively, and said, “Well?”
“Well, Daphne, my dear, hadn’t we better get out?” Mr. Withers conjoined.
She who answered to this pretty pagan name did so mutely by rising in her place. The wind had moulded her light-colored veil close to her half-defined features, to the outline of her cheeks and low-knotted hair; her form, which was youthful and slender, was swathed in a clinging raw-silk dust-cloak. As she stood, hesitating before summoning her cramped limbs to her service, she might have suggested some half-evolved conception of doubting young womanhood emerging from the sculptor’s clay. Personality, as yet, she had none; but all that could be seen of her was pure feminine.