قراءة كتاب Dust of the Desert
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Dust of the Desert
Pullman’s steps, mounted with a quick swirl of skirts and was gone. Grant thought he saw a half-formed determination to follow flash into the Spaniard’s eyes. Without knowing why he did it, the New Yorker hastily put one foot upon the lower Pullman step and bent his body so as to block access to it. Very painstakingly he unloosed the knot on his low shoe, straightened the tongue in place and began taking in slack on every loop of the strings.
A grunt of exasperation from behind Grant. When at last he straightened himself and looked around the Spanish gentleman was gone. He chuckled.
“Now that, señor, should teach you not to play rough with a red-head.”
He walked down to the Pullman his ticket called for and climbed aboard. Just as the conductor’s bellow, “Bo-oa-rd,” sounded, Grant, looking through the glass of the vestibule, saw the Spanish gentleman with a grip flying for the train out of the baggage room of the station.
Passing into the body of the car he found his bags piled upon a seat midway of its length. As he seated himself he was the least bit startled to see flaming coils of hair above the top of the seat across the aisle and one beyond his. Grant was not displeased. Girls with spirit always walked straight into his somewhat susceptible affections; and a girl who carried a home-made fish spear in her coiffure—
“’Scuse me, Cap’n; ef I could jes’ have a look at youah berth ticket. This gentmum says he reckons you-all’s settin’ in his seat.” Grant looked up to see the porter shifting uneasily before him and with a deprecatory grin on his face. By him stood the waspish Spanish gentleman; the latter inclined himself in a stiff bow as Grant’s gaze met his. Out of the tail of his eye Grant thought he saw a slow turning of the sunset cloud against the high seat-back ahead.
“This is my section,” Grant drawled with no show of inclination to arbitrate the matter. “I always buy a section when I travel.”
“But, pardon, sir—” The Spanish gentleman extended a pink slip. “The agent at the station has but now sold me this lower berth.”
“Indeed?” A slow ache of perversity began to travel along Grant’s spine. He had no love for a man who will manhandle women. “Indeed. The agent at El Paso sold me mine yesterday.”
“Ef I could see youah ticket,” the porter began feebly.
“You couldn’t,” Grant snapped. “Perhaps the Pullman conductor may.”
A cloud began gathering over the finely chiselled features of the Spaniard. His toy moustache went up. He spoke to the porter:
“The señor is not what we call sympatico. Have the kindness to fetch the conductor.”
The darkey disappeared. Grant turned to look out of the window, ignoring completely the standing figure in the aisle. But he did not ignore the reflection a trick of the sun cast on the double glass of the window. He saw there just the faint aura of a fiery head which refused to turn, though the compelling gaze of the standing man strove mightily to command it. Faintly in the magic of the dusty glass was carried to this bystander, whose neutrality already was considerably strained, the silent battle of wills.
The Pullman conductor bustled up to Grant’s seat. To him the Spaniard appealed, offering the evidence of the berth check. Grant vouchsafed no comment when he passed his own up for inspection. The man in blue compared them.
“Some ball-up somewhere,” he grunted. Then to Grant: “When was this ticket sold to you?”
“Yesterday morning at ten-fifteen o’clock,” came the prompt answer. The waspish Spanish person admitted he had purchased his only a minute before the train started. The conductor waved at Grant.
“Then I guess the seat belongs to this gentleman. I’ll have to find you one in another car.”
“But, señor, I have special reason for remaining in this car.” The Spaniard’s carefully restrained wrath began to bubble over. Grant looked up at him and smiled frankly.
“So have I,” he declared levelly. The other’s eyes snapped and his lips lifted over small white teeth in what was meant to be a smile.
“Señor,” he began with a shaking voice, “your courtesy deserves remembrance. I hope some day it may be my pleasure to show you equal consideration.”
“Until then—au revoir,” Grant caught him up. With the porter preceding him, the loser walked down the aisle to the far door of the car. As he passed the seat where the girl was he half turned with a sulky smile. But it was lost. She was looking out at the procession of the telegraph poles. Grant, catching this final passage in the little comedy, grinned.
“There’s going to be lots of paprika in this Western hike,” joyfully he assured himself—“or do we call it chili?”
A GIRL NAMED BENICIA
Grant Hickman was not one of that tribe dignified by the name of he-flirts. He abominated the whole slimy clan with the loathing of a clean man. When he had seized upon the part of studied rudeness toward the Spaniard it was not with the ulterior purpose of winning a smile or paving the way for acquaintance with a pretty woman; Grant’s vivid recollection of the sidewalk cafés of Paris in war time and their hunting women left him cold toward the type that is careless of men’s approaches. In flouting the foreigner and preventing his scheme to gain a place in the car with the girl he had bullied on the station platform the New York man had acted merely on instinct; he had protected a girl from annoyance. Yet now that he had won through by dint of crass boorishness—and the young man’s conscience gave him a twinge over the substance of his discourtesy—he suffered a not unreasonable curiosity regarding the possessor of that glorious beacon in the seat across the aisle.
Who was she? What circumstances had led to that scene on the platform which had ended with the unexpected dagger thrust of the steel hair ornament? Was this little black-and-tan whipper-snapper a lover—a brother—blackmailer? Grant’s galloping imagination built up flimsy hypotheses only to rip them apart. And his eyes dwelt upon the soft involutions of flame coloured hair, which were the only physical indices of personality granted him thus far.
Once the object of his conjectures shifted her seat so that a profile peeped out from behind the wide seat arm. Grant’s eyes hungrily conned delectable details: one broad wing of hair sweeping down in a line of studied carelessness over a forehead somewhat low and rounded; fine line of nose with the hint of a passionate spirit in the modelling; mouth that was all girlish, mobile, ready to reflect whims or laughter. The sort of mouth, Grant reflected, that could load a laugh with poison—even as he had seen it done that tense instant on the platform at El Paso—or freight it with sweetness for a favoured one. A world of fire and seduction untried lay in the full round lips, yet a chin with the thrust of will in it warned that the promise of those lips was jealously guarded.
A broad sheaf of sunlight lay across her cheek. Grant saw that hers was not the usual apple tint of the red-haired, the characteristic skin so delicate as to suggest translucence. Rather a touch of the sun had spread an impalpable film of tan, warm as the colour of old ivory, over cheek and throat. Duskiness of a southland dyed cheek and throat despite the anomaly of the burning hair, quite