قراءة كتاب Dust of the Desert

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‏اللغة: English
Dust of the Desert

Dust of the Desert

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4

id="Page_14" class="x-ebookmaker-pageno" title="[14]"/> claim sanctuary of Holy Church. We have ridden far, and good Uncle Felice can not deny us the charity of his order.”

Don Padraic was being swiftly mastered by his rage when the friar to whom the unwelcome horseman had appealed pushed his way to the side of the older man.

“He speaks the truth, sire,” urged the man in the brown habit. “Here on God’s ground we can not be guilty of uncharity.” Then, looking up into the laughing blue eyes of his nephew, “I ask you to descend, sir, and refresh yourself and your servant until such time as you take the road.”

So all merriment in the oasis of the Four Evangelists was stilled. There in the single green spot on all the leagues of the Road of the Dead Men was wrought a comedy; a prelude it was to swift tragedy. The clan O’Donoju, its satellites and retainers ate and drank in silence, and apart from this company sat El Rojo and his naked copper giant alone. From time to time El Rojo lifted his cup as if in ceremonious health to his kin. Only Frecia Mayortorena read the glint in the blue eyes which told that the toast was to her—and to what would eventuate.

Near sundown El Rojo and his Indian rode off to the west, but not until the outlaw had spent a few minutes alone in the mission. Padre Felice saw him at prayer before the altar of the Virgin and was deeply touched that the spirit of religion had not altogether departed from the family’s scapegrace.

In the dark of midnight Frecia Mayortorena, who had cried herself to sleep, was awakened by the touch of a hand stretched under the side of the tent where she slept with the women of the party. A silver embroidered hat was slipped under the tent to rest on her arm. The girl dressed herself in a folly of love and terror and stole outside. The waiting figure of El Rojo’s giant Indian detached itself from the shadow of the mesquite, motioning her to a tethered horse. Blind infatuation for a hero lover brooked no questioning on the girl’s part. She mounted and followed her guide through the alleys of heavy shade.

A single dreadful cry sounded from out the opened door of the mission. A minute later a vague horseman spurred to her side and stopped the beating of her heart with flaming kisses. The silent desert swallowed three phantom shapes on horseback.

Dawn brought revelation and the beginning of that cycle of tragedy and dreadful pursuit of Nemesis which was to overwhelm the clan O’Donoju. Padre Felice murdered at the altar of the Virgin, where he had tried to stay the hand of impiety. The green pearls of the Virgin gone. A daughter of the house of O’Donoju flown with a thief and a murderer.

One word more and this mirage of years long dead fades. The curse that all Papagueria saw descend on the clan O’Donoju spared not even the sanctuary of the Four Evangelists. A year to the night of the Virgin’s despoliation the Apaches came again to this frontier post of the Church, and after a spiteful siege they slew the white priests, burned the mission and carried the Indian converts over the mountains into slavery. The Franciscans dared not rebuild on such accursed ground. Winds of the desert, which move sand mountains in their eternal sweep, played upon the ruined mission year on year to blot even a vestige of it from the eyes of man. God’s hand—so the Indians had it—shook the mountains behind the little oasis so that the source of the tiny life-giving stream was blocked. The green vanished like a mist, and scabrous desert cacti crept in on prickly feet.

The Mission de los Cuatros Evangelistas became legend.


The Golden Sunset Limited, Pacific Coast bound, snaked its way through a cleft in mountains and came sighing to a stop at the man’s town, El Paso. A patchwork crowd spilled out from the station platform to push around the ladders of the car icers to the train steps. Swarthy Mexicans under sombreros, with their black-shawled women and their little tin trunks, scrambled and clogged at the approaches to the oven-like day coaches forward. Pullman passengers sauntered over frogs and switches to plush and rosewood at the train’s end.

Among these was Grant Hickman, civil engineer, New York, lately captain in the First Division overseas. Arizona bound and west of the Ohio River for the first time in his thirty years, Hickman had broken his journey by a day’s stopover in El Paso. He had given Juarez a whirl, decided the kind of life he saw across the International Bridge was spurious and of little worth, and now was entraining again for his destination some four hundred miles to the westward. He gave the porter his bags to stow for him according to the directions scribbled on his Pullman ticket and began a lazy pacing of the platform, his eye alert for the colour and the bustle of it all. The blending of two races, of widely differing civilizations, here in this sturdy city gave Hickman’s restless imagination a smart fillip. He saw men with gaily coloured blankets worn as cloaks over their shoulders like prayer shawls in a synagogue; Indians with ornaments of beaten silver and raw turquoise hasps on their belts had their shoulders planted against solid brick walls with a grace born only of perfect indolence. All great stuff—regular musical show background.

On his first lap down the platform the New York man’s eyes rested momentarily on two figures standing in the drip of one of the car icers’ laden pushcarts. A girl and a man; she hatless as she had left the car for a stroll, the man all gesticulating hands and eloquently moving shoulders. Hickman caught a scrap of the man’s fervid speech as he strolled past; it was in a foreign tongue, liquid—almost lisping—with its softly rolled r’s and a peculiar singing intonation at the upward lift of each period. Spanish undoubtedly. Just an over-shoulder glimpse of a thin, dark face in sharp profile confirmed Grant in his guess at the speaker’s nationality. The girl’s bared head attracted his appreciative eye; it bore a glory of wondrously burning red hair, coiled in great masses, vividly alive.

Grant turned his corner at the platform’s end and began to retrace his steps, consciously bearing in the direction of the beacon hair. When he was still twenty paces off he saw that the swarthy man had gripped one of the girl’s wrists and that his hawk face was pushed close to hers in what might have been an access of fury or of pleading. Grant quickened his pace instinctively; he did not like the looks of that man’s talon grip on a girl’s wrist. He paused a decent distance from the twain and made a pretence of lighting a cigarette while his eyes glanced steadily over his cupped palms.

Then a surprising thing. The girl launched some verbal javelin at the man who gripped her wrist, at the same instant looking down at the clamping fingers as if to emphasize what must have been a command to release her. No answer but a flash of white teeth beneath a toy moustache. The girl’s free hand shot to a great coil of hair over the nape of her neck, came away with twin prongs of thin steel—anchorage of some hair ornament—showing below her clenched fingers. A lightning jab downward, and the Spanish-speaking man dropped the imprisoned hand to whip his own to his mouth. He snarled something in sharp falsetto. The girl with the red hair tilted her chin at him, and the laugh that slipped between her grudging little teeth was thin and sharp as the double dagger points she had used.

She turned, took three steps to a stool below the