Riders of the Purple Sage
3. Amber Spring
No unusual circumstances was it for Oldring and some of his men to visit
Cottonwoods in the broad light of day, but for him to prowl about in the dark with
the hoofs of his horses muffled meant that mischief was brewing. Moreover, to
Venters the presence of the masked rider with Oldring seemed especially
ominous. For about this man there was mystery, he seldom rode through the
village, and when he did ride through it was swiftly; riders seldom met by day on
the sage, but wherever he rode there always followed deeds as dark and
mysterious as the mask he wore. Oldring's band did not confine themselves to
the rustling of cattle.
Venters lay low in the shade of the cottonwoods, pondering this chance meeting,
and not for many moments did he consider it safe to move on. Then, with sudden
impulse, he turned the other way and went back along the grove. When he
reached the path leading to Jane's home he decided to go down to the village.
So he hurried onward, with quick soft steps. Once beyond the grove he entered
the one and only street. It was wide, lined with tall poplars, and under each row
of trees, inside the foot-path, were ditches where ran the water from Jane
Between the trees twinkled lights of cottage candles, and far down flared bright
windows of the village stores. When Venters got closer to these he saw knots of
men standing together in earnest conversation. The usual lounging on the
corners and benches and steps was not in evidence. Keeping in the shadow
Venters went closer and closer until he could hear voices. But he could not
distinguish what was said. He recognized many Mormons, and looked hard for
Tull and his men, but looked in vain. Venters concluded that the rustlers had not
passed along the village street. No doubt these earnest men were discussing
Lassiter's coming. But Venters felt positive that Tull's intention toward himself
that day had not been and would not be revealed.
So Venters, seeing there was little for him to learn, began retracing his steps.
The church was dark, Bishop Dyer's home next to it was also dark, and likewise
Tull's cottage. Upon almost any night at this hour there would be lights here, and
Venters marked the unusual omission.
As he was about to pass out of the street to skirt the grove, he once more slunk
down at the sound of trotting horses. Presently he descried two mounted men
riding toward him. He hugged the shadow of a tree. Again the starlight, brighter
now, aided him, and he made out Tull's stalwart figure, and beside him the short,
froglike shape of the rider Jerry. They were silent, and they rode on to disappear.
Venters went his way with busy, gloomy mind, revolving events of the day, trying
to reckon those brooding in the night. His thoughts overwhelmed him. Up in that
dark grove dwelt a woman who had been his friend. And he skulked about her
home, gripping a gun stealthily as an Indian, a man without place or people or
purpose. Above her hovered the shadow of grim, hidden, secret power. No
queen could have given more royally out of a bounteous store than Jane
Withersteen gave her people, and likewise to those unfortunates whom her