Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gunslinger Ridge Experiment

The rider stepped away from Jane, moving out with the same slow, measured stride in which he had approached, and the fact that his action placed her wholly to one side, and him no nearer to Tull, had a penetrating significance.
“Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet.”
Tull fumed between amaze and anger.
“Meddler, we have a law here something different from woman’s whim–Mormon law!... Take care you don’t transgress it.”
“To hell with your Mormon law!”
Zane Grey ~ Riders of the Purple Sage

The rider made a swift move that left his hat on the ground and his gun-sheaths empty.

“LASSITER!” cried Jane.

Keeping his guns trained on Tull, the rider called Lassiter acknowledged Jane with a slight nod of his head.

 “If you know me at all, then you know I always give people a choice,” said Lassiter. “Here is yours: You will come with me to Gunslinger Ridge or your body stays where it is.”

Tull started to protest, but Jane stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What are you going to do to Elder Tull?”

“Ma’am, if you will accompany us, you will find out. I promise I will see you safely back to your home.”

Gunslinger Ridge rose before them like a flat-topped sentinel.  Lassiter dismounted and motioned for Jane and Tull to follow him.  He led them up a switchback to the top of the ridge.  If Tull considered bolting for freedom, he made no outward sign.  Lassiter’s reputation bound him more securely than any rope. He scanned the horizon, noting the distant peaks and hints of canyons.  The valley below was mottled with purple sage. The sight comforted him. He was still Elder Tull and ruled this land.  He turned to the rider.

“Well, Lassiter, I’m here. State your purpose.”

 “You hold to Mormon law,” Lassiter said, “and I say woman’s word is law. This day will reveal which one is stronger. Up here on Gunslinger Ridge, I control the elements: fire, water, wind, and earth.  To you and to the lady, I will give power over fire, water, and wind.  Show me what you can do with them, and I will decide which law is the more powerful.  Tull, you go first.”

Lassiter stepped back and motioned to Jane.

“Ma’am, I think it best if you stay close to me over here.”

Jane hesitated. Lassiter! Everyone in Utah territory knew of him. It was said that he left it to others to keep track of all the men he had killed; he forgot about them as soon as breath left their body. Yet a second look at his face revealed lines of sorrow, which Jane perceived was born of compassion. She drew a deep breath and inched closer to him.

“That’s right, ma’am.  Over here, you’ll be safe.”

Once Jane was by his side, Lassiter pointed at Tull.

“You got power over fire, water and wind.  Let’s see what you do with it.”

Tull stiffened. He felt his neck hairs rise.  He lifted his hand. It tingled with warmth. He was afraid that Lassiter was making a fool of him and was about to refuse. Then he remembered Lassiter’s guns. He was more afraid of them.

“Alright then,” he said. “I call forth fire.” 

Immediately a geyser of fire burst from the ground at his feet.  Startled, Tull jumped back. The fire towered over him like a pillar. Hesitantly, Tull stretched his hand toward the horizon.  His action directed the fire over the valley where its flames began consuming the sagebrush, the trees, and the grasses.  Tull cast a fierce look of joy at Lassiter and Jane.

“Water!” he said.

The sky opened and waters rained down.  It quenched the flames, sending billows of steam to the heavens.  Water filled the valley and mounted the walls of the canyons, drowning all wildlife. Tull waved his arms.

“Wind!” he shouted.

A gust of wind swept over the ridge and into the valley, driving back the waters.  It swirled on the ground and roared through the canyon walls. It caught birds in flight, scattering their feathers in a whirlwind.  Tull threw his hat into the air and caught it, laughing.
Suddenly the wind ceased. Tull looked at the valley below; it was purple with sage.  He whirled on Lassiter.

“What sort of devilry is this?” he said. “Did I or did I not have power over fire, water, and wind? Or was this some sort of low trick?”

“It’s no trick,” said Lassiter. “You showed what you would do with power just as truly as you are standing here. But now you have to see what the lady will do.”

Turning to Jane, he said, “Ma’am, you now have the same power as Tull here. What will you do?”

Jane walked to the middle of the ridge and turned in a slow circle.  She saw the valley, the distance hills, and the canyons in a panorama below her.  The valley was her home; its inhabitants were her people–family, friends, and neighbors.  She thought about what she could do to show her power; she wondered whether she wanted that kind of power.

“Lassiter,” she said, “if you give me power over fire, will you also give me a sheaf of wheat, a grinding stone, and a cake of leaven?  For if you give me fire, I will use it to bake bread.”
Lassiter shook his head.

“Sorry, ma’am, I don’t have those things at present. You’ll have to wait til you get back to your place.”

“Fool woman,” Tull muttered.

“Well, then,” said Jane, blushing, “I’ll make do with water.  Can you show me where the elderberry bushes grow on this ridge?  If you give me water, I will dig a channel to water the elderberry bushes.  When the elderberries are ripe, I will pick them and make elderberry wine.”
Again, Lassiter shook his head.

“As much as it would please me to oblige you, ma’am, I can’t guide you to an elderberry bush.  None grow up here–only in the valley.”

“Ha!” said Tull.

Jane shuddered and looked at Lassiter.
“Ma’am,” he said, “you’re doin’ just fine. You still got power over wind.”

Jane felt him supporting her, giving her strength, even though he made no move to touch her.  She felt a slight breeze on her cheek.  Wind!  She would use the wind.

“Lassiter, I have a field of sunflowers that are ripe for harvest. May I use the wind to turn my mill to press the seeds for oil?”
Lassiter held out his hands.
“Ma’am, you need the wind of the valley. I only control the wind up on this ridge.”

“That’s it!” cried Tull.  “It’s plain that Jane has no more sense of power than a child.  Lassiter, you are witness.  I alone could control the elements–my law is stronger.”
He strode over to Jane and grabbed her by the arm.

“Lassiter, help me!” cried Jane. 
There was no response except the sound of a shovel striking dirt.  Lassiter was digging a hole.

“Lassiter” shouted Tull. “I’m leaving now and taking Jane with me.  You hear?  I won! You can’t stop me!”

Lassiter stopped digging and leaned on his shovel.
“That ain’t the way it goes,” he said. “I’m the one who decides who’s stronger, and I still say, Jane’s word is law–over your Mormon law.”

“What!” said Tull. “You saw with your own eyes what I did. I burned up the valley, then I flooded it, and finally I blew the waters away.  Jane couldn’t command that kind of power.”

“She didn’t have to,” said Lassiter. “She had the power in her own hand to make the bread, the wine, and the oil just by honoring nature’s own laws.  She won.  And I’m keepin’ my word to her and seein’ her safe back home.”

“Wait!” said Tull, “That’s not fair. You said nothing about keeping to nature. There’s still one element left–earth! Give us power over earth to settle the matter.”

Lassiter shook his head.
“I’m the only one with power over the earth.”
He pointed to the hole.
“There’s your grave. The only way you’ll leave this ridge alive is to admit you were wrong. All your power is an illusion–it’s not real. You’ll remain here until you realize that.”
Lassiter saw Jane safely back home.
“Why?” Jane asked.

“Well, ma’am, it’s a grand experiment I’m doin’,” said Lassiter. “People all have a story about themselves–you, me, everybody. No harm in that; in fact, our story gets us through life. And as life goes on, most people change their story to keep it real.  But people like Tull make the mistake of writin’ the ending of their story. Then, no matter what the facts are, they make it fit their narrative, even if it means believin’ a lie. So far, you’re the only one who has ever returned from Gunslinger Ridge.”

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