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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: 6


The afternoon waned with no favouring fortune throwing Grant’s way opportunity to study the girl closer. When the sunset was in the sky he walked through the train to the observation platform. As he drew near the glassed-in end of the observation car he noted with a little leap of elation that the girl was sitting under the awning beyond the screen door. He saw, too, the objectionable Spanish gentleman. His midget body was packed into a chair, one neatly booted foot under him; like some hunting cat he sat in watchful patience inside the body of the car, his eyes never leaving the figure of the girl beyond the screen door.

Grant passed through to the platform, not giving the Spaniard so much as a glance. As the door slammed behind him the girl looked up quickly. Grant saw her eyes were blue, saw, too, a fighting gleam quickly pass from them. Evidently he was not the one they expected to fall upon. A pretty confusion which tried to deny recognition swiftly replaced the strained look. Grant allowed himself to be bold to the extent of tip-tilting his cap. The girl evidently decided that to overlook a service done would be pushing decorum too far; she gave Grant a quick, shy smile which might have carried a hint of gratitude mingled with naïve humour.

“You were very kind,” she said as Grant took the camp-stool next to her, “and very amusing. The high hand—you possess the art of using it, sir.”

“I should be ashamed of my rudeness,” he answered with a quick smile. “But somehow I am not. Your way of repelling attack has its advantages, too—” His eyes strayed to the silver comb, whose concealed steel had been so efficacious on the El Paso platform. The girl reddened prettily.

“Always one must be—prepared against—persuasion,” was the answer that put a period to all reference which might be distasteful. Grant would have liked to know more of circumstances that had pushed this radiant young person into the grip of a bullying little civet cat of a Spaniard, but he dared not risk rudeness by further questioning. Reward enough was his already; he had it in the swift play of laughter across delicate features, in the sweetly resonant quality of her voice, all of a part with the engaging exotic character of the girl. For American she assuredly was not, though her trim tailoring was impeccably the mode of the moment. Her speech had a rippling musical lilt to it suggestive of a mother tongue less harsh than Anglo-Saxon; her enunciation was too perfect to be American. There was a trick of the eyes, something almost vocal, which was an inheritance from mothers whose speech is sternly hedged about by conventions but who find subtler ways of expression.

What could her nationality be? Assuredly not Irish, though eyes and hair were exactly what Grant had seen in the green island during a furlough spent in jaunting cars and peaty inns. Mexican? The flame hair denied that. Here was another mystery to be set aside with that of the encounter at the station. With two avenues of conversation closed Grant plunged blindly along one strictly innocuous.

“We seem to be getting rather deep into the desert.” He waved out at a hundred mile vista of sunset painted waste, all purple and hot gold in the glory from the west—a new picture for the eastern man. The girl made an unconscious movement of half-stretched arms as if to free her soul for wandering in limitless spaces.

“Yes, the desert,” she breathed. “How wonderful! And for me, returning to it after two years in cities—in cities where one chokes from walls all about—you see how the desert welcomes with all its glory.” Grant looked at her curiously; he saw a vision in her eyes.

“Then you like this—this dry and barren land? Why, I thought nobody lived out here unless he had to. No trees, no water—” The girl’s wondering eyes upon him checked his summary of the desert’s shortcomings.

“You do not know the desert then,” she reproved. “You have never seen the palo verde tree when every branch is heavy with gold. You do not know how the sahuaro wreathes itself a crown of blossoms—the tough old sahuaro, a giant with flowers on his head ready to play with spring fairies. Water!”—a crescendo gust of laughter—“You think water only comes from a faucet. If you dug for it with your bare hands—dug and dug in hot sands while death moved closer to you each hour, then you would come to see a real beauty in water.”

“You know something of the desert,” Grant conceded.

“Something! Señor”—the alien word slipped from her in her flurry of devotion—“señor, my home is there and my father’s home has been there more than a hundred and fifty years. I have been away from it in the slavery of the cities—two years at music in New Orleans and Baltimore. Now I return. To-morrow morning at Arizora big Quelele, my father’s Indian servant, meets me to take me a hundred miles—a hundred miles off the railroad and away from the nearest city to my home.”

“But Arizora is where I am bound,” Grant eagerly caught her up. “That’s on the Line, isn’t it? A hundred miles—why, then you must live in Mexico.” She nodded. His curiosity would not down:

“Then you are Mexican?”

An instant her blue eyes sparkled resentment. Grant sensed he had made some blunder, though he could not for the life of him guess how his innocent question could have offended. The girl, on her part, quickly regretted her show of displeasure; one new to the Southwest naturally could not know much about its social distinctions.

“Not Mexican,” she amended gently. “We are Spanish folk living in Mexico. We have always been Spanish since the time one of my ancestors got his grant from the king of Spain. Never Mexican. That sounds like silly boasting to you. When you have lived in this country for a little while you will understand why we have pride in our blood. Just as you have pride, señor, in your American blood when all the cities of your country are choked with mongrels.”

Hoping to hear her name, Grant gave her his own. She repeated it as if to fix it in memory; then she told him hers. Benicia O’Donoju it is written, but in her mouth the two words had a quality like a muted violin note, too fugitive to be imprisoned in letters. She spoke the surname without accent on any syllable—“Odonohoo.” The man grasped at something evanescent in the sound:

“Why, I’d pronounce that ‘O’Donohue.’”

“My great-great-grandfather did.” Once more Grant’s ears drank in that velvety contralto laughter which bubbled to her lips so easily. “You would pronounce his first name ‘Mike,’ and so did he.”

“Then your first name should be Peg or Molly-o,” Grant rallied. She shook her head in gay denial.

“Señorita Peg—impossible! Benicia is much better. It means ‘Blessed’ in our tongue. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart,’ Señor Hickman; or ‘Blessed are the meek.’ I might be either if I could forget I am an O’Donoju.”

“Benicia.” Grant tried to copy the slurring softness she gave to the word.—“B’nishia: that sounds like little bells. I like it.”

“You are gracious, señor. I thought Americans were too busy with skyscrapers and wheat markets to learn the art of paying compliments gracefully.”

“Compliments are born, not paid,” he joked. Conversation limped no longer. Youth has a way of opening little windows in the souls of two brought together under its wizardry and giving each elusive peeps into secret chambers. It was Benicia who first became conscious of the