The steep mountain road narrowed again twisting upward on a hairpin curve. The battered little Model T sputtered as Dart shoved the throttle and spark lever and pushed the pedal into low, while the yellow head lamps dimmed then flickered over the dirt road ahead.
They were still climbing, towards El Capitan Pass on the eastern slope of the Pinal range. Outside of the car there was nothing but an immense brooding darkness. The dark of the cliff on the right, faintly tufted with the chaparral growth of the foothills. On the left, a deeper blackness of the canyon. Night seemed to fall so swiftly in Arizona and tonight there were no stars.
The somber enigma of the mountains held Amanda silent. Nor had Dart spoken since they turned south off the Globe highway a few miles back. His calm eyes scanned the road ahead as it unrolled in washboard corrugations after each switchback. He was watching for rockslides or the distant lights of a descending car. There were few good places to pass. Still, they had seen no other cars since sunset when they were driving through the San Carlos Apache reservation.
Dart drove expertly and without tension, allotting to the process the exact amount of awareness which it required. What under-surface thoughts he might be having, Amanda could not guess, deeply though she loved him. Nor was she ever quite sure of his inner life apart from her.
Dart swerved sharply to avoid a chuckhole, the Ford’s left wheels bounced within inches of the hundred-foot drop to the creek bed below. Amanda held her breath and stared ahead until the middle of the road jiggling resumed. “How much further now, Dart?”
“Oh, about twenty miles to Dripping Springs, and then twelve more up the Lodestone road. It’s pretty rough, but we ought to get into town before midnight.”
“Don’t you consider this road we’re on rough?” asked Amanda.
“Why, no, ma’am,” said Dart chuckling. “This is a highway to Tucson. Didn’t you know that? They’ll grade it pretty soon, though, when winter’s over. Getting tired, Andy?”
Amanda uncrossed her slim silk-covered legs and buttoned her British tweed topcoat tight under her chin. It pushed up her dark gold curls into a little ruff. It had been stifling hot all day crossing the southern desert but now it was cold. A few snowflakes drifted down and melted as they landed.
“Not exactly tired .?.?.” she said, “I’m all keyed up to see Lodestone, I can’t wait, and .?.?. but, oh, I don’t know .?.?.” She checked this incoherence and made an effort to express the not quite unpleasant feeling which had been growing each hour since they had entered Arizona. “I’m not used to mountains, at least not stark queer ones like these. The country’s overpowering. It’s spooky. Canyons, cactus, empty, vast, lonely.” She laughed. “All the things I’ve read you’re supposed to feel about the Southwest.?.?.?. Well, I feel ’em.”
Dart didn’t answer at once. Then he spoke with quiet amusement. “I think you always obligingly try to feel what books tell you to feel; you’re a romantic little thing.”
“Well, of course I’m romantic! That’s one reason you love me, darling. Temperamental contrast. Dewy-eyed little romantic versus big, silent realist. We complement each other.”
Dart made a noncommittal sound then peered through the dirty windshield as a huge red-tailed hawk sailed above the amber lights and disappeared.
I’m being silly, Amanda thought. Ingenue and brittle. He hates that. Fluffy badinage that did not mean anything, analyzing emotions. A habit developed in sub-deb days and always successful with men like Tim Merrill. Amanda shivered a little, lit a cigarette and thought about Tim with remote and affectionate tolerance. The image of Tim presented itself to her now in a sort of phony glitter, like a carrousel with the painted horses whirling by, the calliope screeching, and with Tim you caught the gold ring every time. She had very nearly persuaded herself that she was in love with him, because they laughed so much, and kept up a line of chatter by the hour, half teasing, half amorous.
Like the night three years ago after the Princeton Prom when seven of them had all piled into Tim’s Packard roadster and careened sixty miles to the ocean at Sea-Girt to go swimming at dawn. They’d kidnaped a little Italian accordionist somewhere along the way, and he had played “O Sole Mio” for them on the beach while they dashed in and out of the freezing surf in their evening clothes. Crazy but fun. That was the night Tim had first asked her to marry him. But even then, long before she met Dart, or dreamed of the dark profound compulsions of real love, she had not wanted to commit herself yet. Tim had scarcely listened to her groping refusal. He had kissed her on the nose, rubbed sand into her hair, and they had drunk together from his flask of imported gin. Tim had plenty of money to pay the best bootleggers. He still had.
“Look, Dart — isn’t that a man standing there ahead by the road?” Amanda asked suddenly pointing and clutching his arm.
“That’s a cactus, my girl,” Dart answered patiently. “A saguaro. We’re getting down in desert country again.”
Amanda said “Oh” and laughed. “You must bear with your tenderfoot bride.”
“I do,” he said and though he did not move his hands from the wheel she felt the pressure of his arm against hers. She sighed voluptuously, resting her head on his shoulder. Her heart beat faster and she thought of these past nights since their marriage. The surroundings had not mattered too much. She thought of the tourist court outside Harrisburg on her bridal night, a shabby little cabin, straw mattress and dust on the carpet. But there had been beauty in the dingy cabin with them. Fulfillment. No doubts then, and no regrets. She thought of the note she had written to her mother from St. Louis.
“I’m so happy. Don’t ever worry about me. Marriage is a gorgeous, wonderful thing.”
This note was for reassurance in answer to her mother’s misgivings during the weeks before the wedding. Mrs. Lawrence was worldly and realistic; she was also a pleasant woman and a tactful one, inclined to talk in worthy clichés, since they saved trouble and were never misunderstood. On the whole, she had managed to keep most of her doubts to herself once she had been forced to accept the strength of Amanda’s desire for Dart. This time, however, she had voiced her worry. “But baby, you hardly know the man — shipboard flirtations don’t really count — nor is he an easy man to understand — such different background from yours, too. And the life of a mining engineer’s wife is no bed of roses. It isn’t as though I could help you out either, unfortunately .?.?. She sighed and cut across Amanda’s protests, “Oh, I know, dear, money doesn’t mean much to you, you haven’t really had to face that yet — and I’m not so calloused by middle age that I don’t know the strength of your love, but —” Here Mrs. Lawrence had smiled to soften the anxiety of her blue eyes under their frowning, carefully tweezed brows. “Well, there is the fact of Dart’s rather — rather peculiar parentage.”
Amanda had laughed. “Oh, if that’s all! It adds to his charm. I think it’s exciting.”
Mrs. Lawrence shook her head. “Marriage is a hard enough job at best, without adding extra handicaps.”