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Riders of the Purple Sage

15.
Shadows On The Sage-Slope
In the cloudy, threatening, waning summer days shadows lengthened down the
sage-slope, and Jane Withersteen likened them to the shadows gathering and
closing in around her life.
Mrs. Larkin died, and little Fay was left an orphan with no known relative. Jane's
love redoubled. It was the saving brightness of a darkening hour. Fay turned now
to Jane in childish worship. And Jane at last found full expression for the mother-
longing in her heart. Upon Lassiter, too, Mrs. Larkin's death had some subtle
reaction. Before, he had often, without explanation, advised Jane to send Fay
back to any Gentile family that would take her in. Passionately and reproachfully
and wonderingly Jane had refused even to entertain such an idea. And now
Lassiter never advised it again, grew sadder and quieter in his contemplation of
the child, and infinitely more gentle and loving. Sometimes Jane had a cold,
inexplicable sensation of dread when she saw Lassiter watching Fay. What did
the rider see in the future? Why did he, day by day, grow more silent, calmer,
cooler, yet sadder in prophetic assurance of something to be?
No doubt, Jane thought, the rider, in his almost superhuman power of foresight,
saw behind the horizon the dark, lengthening shadows that were soon to crowd
and gloom over him and her and little Fay. Jane Withersteen awaited the long-
deferred breaking of the storm with a courage and embittered calm that had
come to her in her extremity. Hope had not died. Doubt and fear, subservient to
her will, no longer gave her sleepless nights and tortured days. Love remained.
All that she had loved she now loved the more. She seemed to feel that she was
defiantly flinging the wealth of her love in the face of misfortune and of ate. No
day passed but she prayed for all--and most fervently for her enemies. It troubled
her that she had lost, or had never gained, the whole control of her mind. In
some measure reason and wisdom and decision were locked in a chamber of her
brain, awaiting a key. Power to think of some things was taken from her.
Meanwhile, abiding a day of judgment, she fought ceaselessly to deny the bitter
drops in her cup, to tear back the slow, the intangibly slow growth of a hot,
corrosive lichen eating into her heart.
On the morning of August 10th, Jane, while waiting in the court for Lassiter,
heard a clear, ringing report of a rifle. It came from the grove, somewhere toward
the corrals. Jane glanced out in alarm. The day was dull, windless, soundless.
The leaves of the cottonwoods drooped, as if they had foretold the doom of
Withersteen House and were now ready to die and drop and decay. Never had
Jane seen such shade. She pondered on the meaning of the report. Revolver
shots had of late cracked from different parts of the grove--spies taking snap-
shots at Lassiter from a cowardly distance! But a rifle report meant more. Riders
seldom used rifles. Judkins and Venters were the exceptions she called to mind.
Had the men who hounded her hidden in her grove, taken to the rifle to rid her of
Lassiter, her last friend? It was probable--it was likely. And she did not share his
cool assumption that his death would never come at the hands of a Mormon.
Long had she expected it. His constancy to her, his singular reluctance to use the
 
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