Fragrance in Literature 10-Zane Grey



Zane Grey(January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was an American author who wrote many novels and stories conveying an idealized vision of the old West. In his works he often connected with the environments in which his characters were passing through the agency of olfactory perception.

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The Heritage of the Desert, by Zane Grey

"A Mormon custom, 'the laying on of hands.' We know its efficacy in trouble and illness. A Bishop of the Mormon Church has the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of revelation, of healing. Let him administer to you. It entails no obligation. Accept it as a prayer."
"I'm willing." replied the young man.
Thereupon Naab spoke a few low words to some one through the open door. Voices ceased; soft footsteps sounded without; women crossed the threshold, followed by tall young men and rosy-checked girls and round-eyed children. A white-haired old woman came forward with solemn dignity. She carried a silver bowl which she held for the Bishop as he stood close by Hare's couch. The Bishop put his hands into the bowl, anointing them with fragrant oil; then he placed them on the young man's head, and offered up a brief prayer, beautiful in its simplicity and tremulous utterance.

From under the snugness of his warm blankets Jack watched out the last wakeful moments of that day of days. A star peeped through the fringe of cedar foliage. The wind sighed, and rose steadily, to sweep over him with breath of ice, with the fragrance of juniper and black sage and a tang of cedar.

"I wanted to live!" he cried. He buried his face in the fragrant juniper; he rolled on the soft brown mat of earth and hugged it close; he cooled his hot cheeks in the primrose clusters. He opened his eyes to new bright green of cedar, to sky of a richer blue, to a desert, strange, beckoning, enthralling as life itself. He counted backward a month, two months, and marvelled at the swiftness of time. He counted time forward, he looked into the future, and all was beautiful—long days, long hunts, long rides, service to his friend, freedom on the wild steppes, blue-white dawns upon the eastern crags, red-gold sunsets over the lilac mountains of the desert. He saw himself in triumphant health and strength, earning day by day the spirit of this wilderness, coming to fight for it, to live for it, and in far-off time, when he had won his victory, to die for it.

The warm breeze came down in puffs from the crags; it rustled in the cedars and blew fragrant whiffs of camp-fire smoke into his face; and presently it bore a low, prolonged whistle. He had never before heard its like. The sound broke the silence again, clearer, a keen, sharp whistle.

SOON the shepherds were left to a quiet unbroken by the whistle of wild mustangs, the whoop of hunters, the ring of iron-shod hoofs on the stones. The scream of an eagle, the bleating of sheep, the bark of a coyote were once more the only familiar sounds accentuating the silence of the plateau. For Hare, time seemed to stand still. He thought but little; his whole life was a matter of feeling from without. He rose at dawn, never failing to see the red sun tip the eastern crags; he glowed with the touch of cold spring-water and the morning air; he trailed Silvermane under the cedars and thrilled when the stallion, answering his call, thumped the ground with hobbled feet and came his way, learning day by day to be glad at sight of his master. He rode with Mescal behind the flock; he hunted hour by hour, crawling over the fragrant brown mats of cedar, through the sage and juniper, up the grassy slopes. He rode back to camp beside Mescal, drove the sheep, and put Silvermane to his fleetest to beat Black Bolly down the level stretch where once the gray, even with freedom at stake, had lost to the black. Then back to camp and fire and curling blue smoke, a supper that testified to busy Piute's farmward trips, sunset on the rim, endless changing desert, the wind in the cedars, bright stars in the blue, and sleep—so time stood still.

For Mescal was there. Far away she must be, a mere grain of sand in all that world of drifting sands, perhaps ill, perhaps hurt, but alive, waiting for him, calling for him, crying out with a voice that no distance could silence. He did not see the sharp peaks as pitiless barriers, nor the mesas and domes as black-faced death, nor the moisture-drinking sands as life-sucking foes to plant and beast and man. That painted wonderland had sheltered Mescal for a year. He had loved it for its color, its change, its secrecy; he loved it now because it had not been a grave for Mescal, but a home. Therefore he laughed at the deceiving yellow distances in the foreground of glistening mesas, at the deceiving purple distances of the far-off horizon. The wind blew a song in his ears; the dry desert odors were fragrance in his nostrils; the sand tasted sweet between his teeth, and the quivering heat-waves, veiling the desert in transparent haze, framed beautiful pictures for his eyes.

With the long rifle in the hollow of his arm Jack forgot that he was a sick man. When he came within gunshot of the flock the smell of sheep effectually smothered the keen, tasty odor of black sage and juniper. Sheep ranged everywhere under the low cedars. They browsed with noses in the frost, and from all around came the tinkle of tiny bells on the curly-horned rams, and an endless variety of bleats.

A blast as from a furnace smote Hare from this open break in the wall. The air was dust-laden, and carried besides the smell of dust and the warm breath of desert growths, a dank odor that was unpleasant.
For Mescal was there. Far away she must be, a mere grain of sand in all that world of drifting sands, perhaps ill, perhaps hurt, but alive, waiting for him, calling for him, crying out with a voice that no distance could silence. He did not see the sharp peaks as pitiless barriers, nor the mesas and domes as black-faced death, nor the moisture-drinking sands as life-sucking foes to plant and beast and man. That painted wonderland had sheltered Mescal for a year. He had loved it for its color, its change, its secrecy; he loved it now because it had not been a grave for Mescal, but a home. Therefore he laughed at the deceiving yellow distances in the foreground of glistening mesas, at the deceiving purple distances of the far-off horizon. The wind blew a song in his ears; the dry desert odors were fragrance in his nostrils; the sand tasted sweet between his teeth, and the quivering heat-waves, veiling the desert in transparent haze, framed beautiful pictures for his eyes.

Other Indians, russet-skinned warriors, with black hair held close by bands round their foreheads, joined the circle, and sitting before the fire clasped their knees and talked. Hare listened awhile, and then, being fatigued, he sought the cedar-tree where he had left his blankets. The dry mat of needles made an odorous bed. He placed a sack of grain for a pillow, and doubling up one blanket to lie upon, he pulled the others over him. Then he watched and listened. The cedar-wood burned with a clear flame, and occasionally snapped out a red spark. The voices of the Navajos, scarcely audible, sounded "toa's" and "taa's"—syllables he soon learned were characteristic and dominant—in low, deep murmurs. It reminded Hare of something that before had been pleasant to his ear. Then it came to mind: a remembrance of Mescal's sweet voice, and that recalled the kinship between her and the Navajo chieftain. He looked about, endeavoring to find her in the ring of light, for he felt in her a fascination akin to the charm of this twilight hour. Dusky forms passed to and fro under the trees; the tinkle of bells on hobbled mustangs rang from the forest; coyotes had begun their night quest with wild howls; the camp-fire burned red, and shadows flickered on the blanketed Indians; the wind now moaned, now lulled in the cedars.

At last Black Bolly disappeared, likewise the bobbing burros, one by one, then Noddle, wagging his ears, reached a level. Then Hare saw a gray-green cedar forest, with yellow crags rising in the background, and a rush of cold wind smote his face. For a moment he choked; he could not get his breath. The air was thin and rare, and he inhaled deeply trying to overcome the suffocation. Presently he realized that the trouble was not with the rarity of the atmosphere, but with the bitter-sweet penetrating odor it carried. He was almost stifled. It was not like the smell of pine, though it made him think of pine-trees.

A thin coating of frost crackled on his bed when he awakened; and out from under the shelter of the cedar all the ground was hoar-white. As he slipped from his blankets the same strong smell of black sage and juniper smote him, almost like a blow. His nostrils seemed glued together by some rich piny pitch; and when he opened his lips to breathe a sudden pain, as of a knife-thrust, pierced his lungs. The thought following was as sharp as the pain. Pneumonia! What he had long expected! He sank against the cedar, overcome by the shock. But he rallied presently, for with the reestablishment of the old settled bitterness, which had been forgotten in the interest of his situation, he remembered that he had given up hope. Still, he could not get back at once to his former resignation. He hated to acknowledge that the wildness of this desert canyon country, and the spirit it sought to instil in him, had wakened a desire to live. For it meant only more to give up. And after one short instant of battle he was himself again. He put his hand under his flannel shirt and felt of the soreness of his lungs. He found it not at the apex of the right lung, always the one sensitive spot, but all through his breast. Little panting breaths did not hurt; but the deep inhalation, which alone satisfied him filled his whole chest with thousands of pricking needles. In the depth of his breast was a hollow that burned.

On the top of the next little ridge Hare heard Silvermane snort as he did when led to drink. There was a scent of water on the wind. Hare caught it, a damp, muggy smell. The sheep had noticed it long before, and now under its nearer, stronger influence began to bleat wildly, to run faster, to crowd without aim.

They camped in the lee of an uplifting crag. When the wind died down the night was no longer unpleasantly cool; and Hare, finding August Naab uncommunicative and sleepy, strolled along the rim of the cliff, as he had been wont to do in the sheep-herding days. He could scarcely dissociate them from the present, for the bitter-sweet smell of tree and bush, the almost inaudible sigh of breeze, the opening and shutting of the great white stars in the blue dome, the silence, the sense of the invisible void beneath him—all were thought-provoking parts of that past of which nothing could ever be forgotten. And it was a silence which brought much to the ear that could hear. It was a silence penetrated by faint and distant sounds, by mourning wolf, or moan of wind in a splintered crag. Weird and low, an inarticulate voice, it wailed up from the desert, winding along the hollow trail, freeing itself in the wide air, and dying away. He had often heard the scream of lion and cry of wildcat, but this was the strange sound of which August Naab had told him, the mysterious call of canyon and desert night.

Nor was the month's hard riding with the Navajos without profit. He made friends with the Indians, and learned to speak many of their words. Then a whole host of desert tricks became part of his accumulating knowledge. In climbing the crags, in looking for water and grass, in loosing Silvermane at night and searching for him at dawn, in marking tracks on hard ground, in all the sight and feeling and smell of desert things he learned much from the Navajos. The whole outward life of the Indian was concerned with the material aspect of Nature—dust, rock, air, wind, smoke, the cedars, the beasts of the desert. These things made up the Indians' day. The Navajos were worshippers of the physical; the sun was their supreme god. In the mornings when the gray of dawn flushed to rosy red they began their chant to the sun. At sunset the Navajos were watchful and silent with faces westward. The Moki Indians also, Hare observed, had their morning service to the great giver of light. In the gloom of early dawn, before the pink appeared in the east, and all was whitening gray, the Mokis emerged from their little mud and stone huts and sat upon the roofs with blanketed and drooping heads.