Riders of the Purple Sage HTML version

9. Silver Spruce And Aspens
The rest of that night seemed to Venters only a few moments of starlight, a dark
overcasting of sky, an hour or so of gray gloom, and then the lighting of dawn.
When he had bestirred himself, feeding the hungry dogs and breaking his long
fast, and had repacked his saddle-bags, it was clear daylight, though the sun had
not tipped the yellow wall in the east. He concluded to make the climb and
descent into Surprise Valley in one trip. To that end he tied his blanket upon Ring
and gave Whitie the extra lasso and the rabbit to carry. Then, with the rifle and
saddle-bags slung upon his back, he took up the girl. She did not awaken from
heavy slumber.
That climb up under the rugged, menacing brows of the broken cliffs, in the face
of a grim, leaning boulder that seemed to be weary of its age-long wavering, was
a tax on strength and nerve that Venters felt equally with something sweet and
strangely exulting in its accomplishment. He did not pause until he gained the
narrow divide and there he rested. Balancing Rock loomed huge, cold in the gray
light of dawn, a thing without life, yet it spoke silently to Venters: "I am waiting to
plunge down, to shatter and crash, roar and boom, to bury your trail, and close
forever the outlet to Deception Pass!"
On the descent of the other side Venters had easy going, but was somewhat
concerned because Whitie appeared to have succumbed to temptation, and
while carrying the rabbit was also chewing on it. And Ring evidently regarded this
as an injury to himself, especially as he had carried the heavier load. Presently
he snapped at one end of the rabbit and refused to let go. But his action
prevented Whitie from further misdoing, and then the two dogs pattered down,
carrying the rabbit between them.
Venters turned out of the gorge, and suddenly paused stock-still, astounded at
the scene before him. The curve of the great stone bridge had caught the
sunrise, and through the magnificent arch burst a glorious stream of gold that
shone with a long slant down into the center of Surprise Valley. Only through the
arch did any sunlight pass, so that all the rest of the valley lay still asleep, dark
green, mysterious, shadowy, merging its level into walls as misty and soft as
morning clouds.
Venters then descended, passing through the arch, looking up at its tremendous
height and sweep. It spanned the opening to Surprise Valley, stretching in almost
perfect curve from rim to rim. Even in his hurry and concern Venters could not
but feel its majesty, and the thought came to him that the cliff-dwellers must have
regarded it as an object of worship.
Down, down, down Venters strode, more and more feeling the weight of his
burden as he descended, and still the valley lay below him. As all other canyons
and coves and valleys had deceived him, so had this deep, nestling oval. At
length he passed beyond the slope of weathered stone that spread fan-shape
from the arch, and encountered a grassy terrace running to the right and about
on a level with the tips of the oaks and cottonwoods below. Scattered here and
there upon this shelf were clumps of aspens, and he walked through them into a