Marah Ellis Martin Ryan.

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proof that the water there had not been boiled as had
been the order of Mother Clemente.

And I, filled with a fury of resentment at thought of
bitter tea of herbs, and at the easy and ungodly lies of
Tristan, got to my feet and faced him standing there in
his rags of covering, yet ruling already the camp.

At that instant it was that Sancha, seeing my horse
browsing off the low branches of the tree, came over
the sands calling to me, and in her arms were long
stocks of that which she called star blossoms because
they were as sunflowers yet not so big, and she carried
also some creeping blooms of a wonderful blue and bade
me to learn the name of it for her !

Not until she was near did she see that a stranger
was with me, and was staring at her as eyes stare from
the wooden saints of the Mexicans. She gave him no
notice, for all her gaze was to me, who stood with
tears on my cheeks, and muttered speech of anger in
my mind.

" Juanito mine ! " she breathed in a frightened way,


and came close, the yellow flowers of the sun falling at
her feet, " Juanito, you have news of evil is it so?
Have you had word not good of him?"

She half whispered the last word in her fright, and
I strangled the curse in my throat.

" Sefior Alcatraz tells me I have a chill or a fever,
and that is all," I growled roughly, " may one not have
even an illness in peace? "

So strange was a cold word to her that she flushed
red, and her head was held high as she passed over
Tristan a slighting glance.

" Such chill, or fever, seems strange in its sudden
coming," she stated, " and since you know not which
it is, your new friend may help you discover."

She turned away, and walked slowly towards the tent
of Mother Clemente, while we two stood looking at
each other. But her good heart conquered her anger
at me, and she called back.

" When your spirit is more friendly, Juanito, I will
hear your word for pardon."

" So you my friend have cheated me also in
this? " he said with frowning eyes. " There in Mexico
you hid from me her coming, and here in the Desert "

Then he was silent, for I laughed aloud with my
tears yet wet on my cheek.

" Yes she is here ! " I declared, freeing myself of
the horrors over which I had been all but strangled.
" She comes north on a trail of love to follow the man
of those letters the wonderful lover who painted the
face of her on an altar! His name is Marco; she is as
sure of that in her heart that she is to wed with him, or
die a nun in the habit she wears ! Now you have it all


the things of which I have cheated you. And you

you go north over the same trail to hunt him for
death! Is it not enough to make mirth for the very
devils who wait for him there in hell? "

And then I did in truth have a chill, or a fever, or a
faint, and Tristan lifted me in his arms as he had done
on a night long ago, and carried me from the hot sand
to shelter. And in the end I had to drink of the de
tested tea at his bidding, and the only comfort I had
was to hear Sancha argue against it, for the smell of it
seemed to her an ungodly thing, and she had her fears
it might be a poison.

But for all that, it was poured down me, and was the
beginning of the rule of Senor Alcatraz in our camps.


SANCHA was in a strange way rebellious at his
rule as was no other. Why should a man in
rags who rose up from the earth in the Desert
step thus to the lead of things? She pitied me
much for my sudden attack of fever, and was a tender
nurse on the trail. In a way she came more close to me,
as if near to jealousy of the stranger to whom I talked
when chance offered. It was the first time I had
thought for any but her, and her eye was keen for the
knowledge that often, though we did not speak of a
matter, this Senor Alcatraz and I had mutual under

"Who is he this Senor cura who is no cura?"
she demanded. " I have comfort that he is not in or
ders, for confess to him I would not. Do they train
the priests for the deserts to ride like that? "

" Sanchita, you are hard to please," I said as reason
ably as might be. " Each day you have made protest
at the slowness, and the wasted time in morning start
for the trail. We start now at starlight and the cool
of dawn, because he arranges all things well."

" Also he has an unpriestly pride, and looks over the
heads of people," she continued. " To see his high gaze



you would think we were not reasonable beings or
that we did not possess souls."

I could have laughed at that, had my heart been gay
enough for laughter, for I knew there were few hours
of the night when he did not himself patrol the tent
where she slept, also I dared not put into words my
question as to reasonable beings, for none of the things
we were doing seemed to me reasonable, though it was
not in my power to change any of them.

After two days when affairs moved well, though the
heat was great, our new master of the camp made
changes by which our plan would be to travel at night
for the sake of the horses. The moon was growing
and the nights of the Desert were as a land of enchant
ment under the stars. With a week of night travel he
hoped to ride clear of the roving bands of Indies who
were seen more often now, and who watched us but
kept their distance. There was no longer the friendly
barter of the earlier days.

Mother Clemente and the nuns said their prayers and
were content with whatever plans were made so long
as their course held steadily towards Kavorka and the
crop of pagan souls to be saved. But Sancha laughed,
and asked if our new cura who rode so bravely was
afraid to ride in the light of the sun lest the poor pagans
see him?

Unnoticed by her, he was at the door of the tent when
she said it, and he stepped into the light and spoke.

" It is true, Excellencia, that I am afraid," he said
quietly " never before have I had aught so precious
to guard. If it pleases you to think it is a coward s
plans I make get your laughter out of it while you


may. But for your own sake I ask that you keep to
the rules of the camp, for we need every man, and I can
ill spare one for even a slight change."

" You have taken a man who was my special servant
and added him to your guard," she said accusingly,
and at that he smiled.

" I could wish that you had brought a cavalry troop
as special servants, that I could take them as well," he
said. " I should certainly take every man I could find."

"Is this a priestly custom in your Desert?" she
asked turning her eyes haughtily towards him, yet
dropping them at his steady gaze.

" The Desert is not mine, Excellencia, else I should
have barred you out of it," he said, " also, as I have
told the revered Mother, I am no priest. I wear the
robe of one because at times it has been permitted to
me and at this time because this illustrious company
found me in rags and showed itself generous. My one
wish is that I may show service in return, and guard
you safely to the place you seek."

" There he will be glad to see the last of us," she
made comment as he bowed to her, and turned away.
" You see, Juanito, it is as I told you ; he looks over
us or down upon us as if we were children playing a
trifling game. Also he steals you too often from beside
me, and our long talks are broken."

" But think of riding together under the stars," I
made eager suggestion. " It is a most perfect thing he
has made the plan of. Have you not rebelled each
night of the moons that we had to sleep through the
beauty of it? He has done the thing you wished to
do yet you have only disdain."


" Why should he know my wishes, and let them be
done as if it was to humor a child or forbids the doing
as it pleases him? There is only one man in the world
whom I want to know things as this man knows them.
I am also jealous because you leave me to seek him out.
He takes from me everything, and he would bar me
from the land if he could you heard him say it."

" Sancha dear, so would I," I confessed ; " and I be
lieve truly that if we ever get out alive from these end
less ranges, it will be because of the man you do not

" He made you drink that stuff of the herbs, and I
cannot conceive why you should take his part," she re
torted. " I should hate him for that if I were you
also I asked him not to make you swallow it, and he
did. Everything is different since he is here and you
no longer have any love for me."

At that, of course, my heart was all but broken, for
I saw the anxiety of Tristan, and had heard the careful
orders of which the women were to know nothing. He
had made all plans for their safety, yet all preparations
for their death if need be. It was a grim and dreary
time over which we kept up pretense of light hearts,
and I was accused of not loving her when I could have
wept in very terror of the dangers, feared for her.

On our first night ride Tristan ranged his horse beside
us in the warm moonlight, and bent his head to Sancha.

" May I speak with you, Excellencia? " he asked. It
was the first time he had sought her, and I held my
breath to listen.

" Is it to tell me again that I am not here by your
will, Senor Cura? " she asked mockingly. " When you


call me excellencia you make me feel ancient as my
own grandmother ! "

" I could wish you safe with her," he said.

" My thanks to you but she is dead ! " she retorted,
" and if I were with her someone on earth must needs
say masses for my soul. If you were in orders I might
ask you but as it is "

" As it is we will all pray you need them not for long
happy years," he said untouched by her humor or her
words. " But prayers for life are needed as well as in
death, and it is of that I would speak. I have here a
thing of prayer very well known, and very sacred to
these warring tribes ; will you wear it until this danger
land is crossed? "

He held out the rosary of Fray Fernando with the
turquoise and shell beads in among the brown. She
stared at it curiously, but did not touch it.

" I am well provided with a rosary," she said ; " my
own is of amethyst and gold. I think I prefer it to the
brown beads, but my thanks to you."

" It is not as a rosary alone I offer it, but because the
priests of many desert tribes have bestowed the beads
threaded here. They make it a pledge of peace and
friendship to the wearer."

" If pagan priests had aught to do with it, I should
fear it bore enchantments," she persisted. " If you are
brave enough to carry it, Juanito and I will ride in
your shadow to win merit if it have any but to wear
it I should have fear."

" I could wish that Don Juan might prevail upon
you," he said, and said no more; neither would she
hearken to me, for she said, rightly, that I knew less


of what might be pagan enchantments than did she, for
the sacredness of certain prayer thoughts of theirs had
been written to her very wonderfully before ever she
journeyed from Seville.

Whereupon she began more amiably to hold converse
with Tristan asking of the ways of the Indio for find
ing roads in the darkness, and giving special notice
when he pointed out the northern stars, and acknowl
edged to knowing a few of the Indian names, and their
importance in the heretical religions they professed.

But he betrayed no special interest in these matters,
and did little to quell her curiosity. Never, I knew, had
she seen a man like him, and nothing in her well or
dered life had ever made it possible for a man to arise
out of nowhere, and without intent or desire, be given
the ruling over respectable and pious souls. Her re
sentment was strange as if she shrank from the
power of him, and even tried to make little of it to me.
And ever and ever in her mind she compared his knowl
edge with that of Marco, and found it very much of the
earth cares as to pastures and water wells and herbs
of the field.

But not even the saints in heaven could hold their
own in her mind if compared with Marco, yet she was
a good Christian, and would have been in rage with me
had I said that in her heart her lover of the letters was
a new god enthroned.

The Pima friend of Tristan had gone back to the
tribe and it appeared plain that the peace with these
people had been marred by some young Castilians of
the colonists who had passed north to New Granada.
The Pima girls were hidden now if strangers came.


" Yet Don Juanito says there was a woman with you
back there at the wells when you did us the favor to
take charge of our camp and brew bitter tea," stated

He turned to her with the rare smile by which his
face was made a different one, and his eyes flashed their
natural youth. It amused him that the herb tea re
mained an unforgivable cruelty to her mind. I knew
even then it was not the bitter herbs she resented it
was the quiet dominance she had never before seen ex
erted except by ruler of church or state. It affronted
her to feel such dominance in a stranger who came in
rags out of the desert willows, and who confessed that
even the rags were borrowed garb ! Also, except in the
matter of the beads he had shown no disposition to be
tray that in his mind she was exalted beyond the simple
nuns who rode whispering prayers in the moonlight.
This to Sancha de Llorente y Rivera, late favorita
exalted at the viceregal court, was a change she could
not readily bring herself to understand. She had raged
to me that her sheep herders up in the Sierra Morena,
where her people were masters of three towns in the
ancient times, would not dare appear before her so
nearly naked as had he in his ragged habit that first
day. To remind her that she had admired naked skins
in the brown Indies only gave her an impatience with
me, though Tristan was burnt brown enough by the
desert sun to satisfy anyone that he had a good dark
serviceable coat. Few would recognize him for the man
of the prison pallor who dared raise his eyes to the
palace balcony.

Yet at that mention of the bitter tea, and of the


woman, his smile bridged over all her scornful words of

" I thank your saint, whichever one it may be, that it
fell not to my task to order herbs for your excellency,"
he said with a laugh in his eyes ; " and as to the little
woman of the rancheria she has left her field of maize
and calabashes to raiders, and travels back to the home
in Tusayan for which her heart is sick."

" Could any heart be sick for desert life ? " asked
Sancha with slight belief, " and where is the home a
mud hovel by evil smelling waters? "

" So far from it that I could scarce convey in words
the marvel of the difference," said Tristan. " It is
scarce to be believed except by men who have looked
upon the carven and painted temples of Palenque or
Mitla, or the wonderful pagan palaces of Ho in Yuka-
tan. Not that there are such carvings in the north, for
there the people are as an island of civilization broke
free from some mainland. Secluded thus they have de
veloped more slowly yet they are alive today and
hold to their original gods, while the great body of their
brothers who migrated to the hot lands built stupen
dously yet died as a nation leaving only carven records
of their greatness."

" They must have been wicked and heretical as are
the Jews, who also are dead as a nation," observed
Sancha. " It is said they were once kings in their land."

" They yet remain kings in memory so long as the
ancient Hebrew is read," said Tristan. "All the poetry
of the Christian bible comes from them."

" Perhaps that is why our confessors forbid the read
ing of it," mused Sancha. " I had not thought of it


before, for I knew not that infidels had the writing of
it. Is it quite true?"

" They built a wonderful foundation of a wonderful
edifice and gave ages to the building," said Tristan;
" then a new thought was grafted upon it as a Nor
man tower built upon the frozen music of a Moorish
temple, and the weight of the tower crushed its beauty
of line, and the fragments are now scattered abroad in
many lands."

" H m ! " murmured Sancha. " I never heard a
thing like that before ; but the church gives you to read
things not allowed to women. You say you are not in
priestly orders, yet they have let you gain knowledge
of priestly things. Tell me more of the Indio woman."

At that I smiled in my silence, for the question of
the woman had been curious to her; my own knowl
edge had not been enlightening.

" As a maid she was stolen by the Apache at a time
when they fought her nation. They are the Hopitu
the People of Peace, and they live in great houses high
on rock mesas. From the lower levels they are seen
afar off like castles of enchantment against the desert
skies. A thousand years they have stood there as
islands of civilized people in the heart of a land where
other tribes live in shelter of boughs, or under skins of

" What are they that they are civilized? " persisted
Sancha. " If they are not Christian how are they people
of reason? and if not that how civilized? I cannot
see them as you say."

" No you could not," he agreed. " No one could
see them by the eyes of another, and no woman who is


white has ever seen them. They go not out to war, yet
are not cowards. Their religion forbids anger or spirit
of conquest, and they live to their religion. They wed
with one wife, and she is ruler of the children, and the
home. They grow maize and melons in their fields sur
rounding the high islands of stone where they live.
Their weaving of garments is good and their making of
burnt vessels of clay has merit in beauty scarcely to be
given belief. They are gentle people, yet very strong
people. They pray much, and give thank offerings each
day to their gods of the sky. Never anywhere have I
seen such peace as is theirs."

" And how came the woman so far in this land? "

" She was traded by the Apache to a Pima man whose
son wanted her for wife. He was a kind man, and their
home was a good resting place to me and to other of
the Castilians. Her life was content, yet when the pois
oned arrow of the Seri struck him she knew naught of
the art of healing such wound ; her people have none
such poison. Thus he died when I reached him too
late, and I bade poor little Movi go north and weep for
him among her own people and not in a stranger s land."

" Why should she weep at freedom when he had held
her as slave?" demanded Sancha in high scorn "it
betokens a mean blood."

" Nay love held her and he gave her love," said
Tristan. " Love serves freely, thus he was not as other
men or masters to her. It may be that to woman such
love makes man king even in a rancheria of small fields.
It may be so."

" So it is," conceded Sancha after a silence. " I per
ceive now how it is. He was the greatest, mayhaps,


she had ever had knowledge of, and I see how it would
be if there is truly love; but how, holy father, do you
know, when you are too young to confess women or

It was her first of gay mockery with him, rather than
at him, and it told me that the good nuns with their
endless devotions, and my poor art in providing new
amusements, had wearied her more than I guessed since
it drove her to seek distraction in fraternity with the
man she disdained.

I already felt sadly enough my own lackings, and glad
was I that she had at least called truce to her jealousy
of him. But when I saw him looking at her in silence
looking at her with a gaze belonging to moonlit
nights, but not to her desert love trail to another man,
my heart jumped, and again I seemed to hear the cold
voice of the viceroy when he said " What is there he
has not dared? "

" You do not speak ! " she said pettishly. " Juanito
mine, how do priests in convents learn of pagan loves? "

" I have not had good luck to be a priest in a con
vent," I confessed, " and no one has taken pains to teach
me loves pagan or otherwise for my own use."

At that she laughed, and said I was lacking in gal
lantry, for she had herself been instructing me always
to slight avail.

" I said, for my own usage, " I repeated ; " to look at
love through the eyes of another teaches only the
hunger of love, and not any of its comforts if it in
deed confers comfort."

" Infidel! " she laughed, " have you doubts? "

"Have not you?" I returned. "We take this trail


for love s sake, and what comfort has it gained for any
of us? The weary weeks, and bad water and now a
forced trail in the night the sooner to get beyond scalp
ing knives ! "

" O Juanito mine " she breathed. " You are
right, only a great love is worth it."

" Or a great hate," I said, looking at Tristan.

He turned his horse, and halted to speak to Mother
Clemente, who was alarmed at a fire on a hill to the east.
To her it looked a signal of danger. He assured her
that it was from the west the danger was to be guarded
against, and that two more days would see us safe
beyond the Pima frontier.

"How is he so wise?" demanded Sancha, "or does
he only make pretense to know? If he is not a priest,
how does he know priestly things? "

"Oh, Sanchita," I said, "how do I know? He tells
us he has traveled with mission priests, and studied to
give them aid. You take any mongrel on trust who
begs of you by the wayside, yet you give out only
bitter thoughts to the one man who offers you the most
holy possession of his."

" That is true," she agreed, " he did offer me the
beads and it was a strange thing to do. Yes I will
believe with you that he means well, but he did not
make answer when I asked how he knew about loves;
he did not so much as speak to me again. I have con
viction that the man owns a bad conscience. He only
looks at me when he thinks I do not observe."

The night wore on, and the dawn came, but Tristan
did not return to ride beside us. At times he was far
ahead, and at other times he halted to review all, and


waited until the last of the rear guards came up. Sancha
grew silent, and slept at times briefly in her saddle,
drooping like a tired child, but rousing as her horse
made an uneven step on the wild trail.

The sun was high over the hills of the east when
we reached the next waterholes having traveled
nearly double the distance possible under the hot sun.
Trees were there and grass in a near valley, a breakfast
was eaten, and shelters put up for the women where
they retired for the sleep they so sadly needed. I
fell into sudden slumber with my head pillowed on
my saddle, and half the guard slept near the horses,
with one of their number as sentinel, the others with
their heads under any shelter to be found near the camp.

It was late in the day when I was roused by voices
and smell of smoke, to find the cooks busy with the
evening meal, and saw Tristan coming into camp on
foot from the east, and without a word stretched him
self under my bush and settled his head on my pillow

" Tristan you have ranged away on foot while the
camp rested. Why on foot?"

" To save a horse for the night much depends on
their rest."

"And what on yours?" I demanded, excited and in
a bit of fear at sight of his tired face. " Where have
you wandered while we slept?"

" Three leagues east, and a bit north. I had to see
the old men of the clans."

" But three leagues on foot, and return no sleep
and all this hell of heat ! "

" Enough ! A man of these tribes will make twenty


leagues on a handful of pinole to munch on the way.
A wayfarer in their desert must do as well or fade
out of the land."

" The guard already brings in the horses," I warned
him ; " you have scarce an hour to rest."

" Then if you love me give me that hour,
Juanito, and, boy, prevail that she wear the rosary."

In an instant he slumbered heavily. I, who toss and
turn to nurse myself to sleep even on good feathers,
stared at him in awe. To me it was scarce a thing
of nature that a man should say " I will sleep," and on
that instant go into a stupor. Yet that is what he did,
and I, sorely troubled, still stood regarding him when
Sancha came from the ladies bower looking fresh as a
rose in the cool breeze beginning to sift from the

She came over to me, and then stood in her tracks
looking down upon him in derision.

" I would that Mother Clemente would see him thus

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Online LibraryMarah Ellis Martin RyanThe house of the dawn → online text (page 13 of 26)