Isidro was right when he said Ramon Rotil slept but little, for the very edg_f the dawn was scarce showing in the east when he opened his eyes, moved hi_ounded leg stiffly, and then lay there peering between half-shut eyelids a_he first tint of yellow in the sky.
“Chappo,” he said curtly, “look beyond through that window. Is it a band o_orses coming down the mesa trail, or is it men?”
“Neither, my General, it is the women who are left of the rancherias o_alomitas. They come to do a prayer service at an old altar here. Once Mes_lanca was a great hacienda with a chapel for the peons, and they like t_ome. It is a custom.”
“What saint’s day is this?”
“I am not wise enough, General, to remember all;––our women tell us.”
“Um!––saint’s day unknown, and all a pueblo on a trail to honor it! Cal_idelio.”
There was a whistle, a quick tread, and one of the men of Palomitas stood i_he door.
“Take two men and search every woman coming for prayers––guns have bee_arried under _serapes_.”
“Search every woman,––even though your own mother be of them!”
“General, my own mother is already here, and on her knees beyond there in th_ltar room. They pray for heart to ask of you their rights in Soledad.”
“That is some joke, and it is too early in the morning for jokes with me. I’_oo empty. What have Palomitas women to do with rights in Soledad?”
“I have not been told,” said Fidelio evasively. “It is a woman matter. But a_o breakfast, it is making, and the _tortillas_ already baking for you.”
“Order all ready, and a long stirrup for that leg,” said the general, movin_t about experimentally. “It is not so bad, but Marto can ride fasting t_oledad for giving it to me.”
“But, my General, he asks–––”
“Who is he to ask? After yesterday, silence is best for him. Take him along. _ill decide later if he is of further use––I may––need––a––man!”
There was something deliberately threatening in his slow speech, and th_uards exchanged glances. Without doubt there would be executions at Soledad!
Rotil got off the cot awkwardly, but disdaining help from the guards hopped t_ chair against the wall between the two windows.
Isidro came in with a bowl of water, and a much embroidered towel for the us_f the distinguished guest, followed by a vaquero with smoking _tortillas_ , and Tula with coffee.
The general eyed the ornate drawnwork of the linen with its cobweb fingers, and grinned.
“I am not a bridegroom this morning, _muchachita_ , and need no necktie o_uch fineness for my beauty. Bring a plainer thing, or none.”
Tula’s eyes lit up with her brief smile of approval.
“I am telling them you are a man and want no child things, my General,” sh_tated firmly, “and now it proves itself! On the instant the right thin_omes.”
She darted out the door, bumping into Rhodes, and without even the customary “with your permission” ran past him along the corridor, and, suddenl_autious, yet bold, she lifted the latch of the guest room where she had see_hat looked to her like wealth of towels,––and felt sure Doña Jocasta woul_ot miss one of the plainest.
Stealthy as a cat she circled the bed, scarce daring to glance at it lest th_ady wake and look reproach on her.
But she stepped on some hard substance on the rug by the wooden bench wher_he towels hung, and stooping, she picked it up, a little wooden crucifix, once broken, and then banded with silver to hold it solid. The silver wa_eautifully wrought and very delicate, surely the possession of a lady, an_ot a thing let fall by chance from the pocket of Valencia.
Tula turned to lay it carefully on the pillow beside the señora, and the_tared at the vacant bed.
Only an instant she halted and thrust her hand under the cover.
“Cold,––long time cold!” she muttered, and with towel and crucifix she spe_ack to the _sala_ where Rotil was joking concerning the compliment she pai_im.
“Don’t make dandies of yourselves if you would make good with a woman,” h_aid. “Even that little crane of a _muchacha_ has brain,––and maybe heart fo_ man! She has boy sense.”
Kit, seeing her dart into the guest room, stood in his tracks watching for he_o emerge. She gave him one searching curious look as she sped past, and h_ealized in a flash that his glance should have been elsewhere, or at leas_ore casual.
She delivered the towel and retired, abashed and silent at the jests of th_an she regarded with awe as the god-sent deliverer of her people. Once in th_orridor she looked into Valencia’s room, then in the kitchen where Valenci_nd Maria and other women were hastening breakfast, and last she sough_lodomiro at the corral.
“Where did you take her, and how?” she demanded, and the youth, tired with th_ndless rides and tasks of two days and nights, was surly, and looked hi_mpatience. “She, and she, and she! Always women!” he grumbled. “Have I no_erded all of them from over the mesa at your order? Is one making a slo_rail, and must I go herding again?”
She did not answer, but looked past him at the horses.
“Which did the señora ride from Soledad?” she inquired, and Clodomiro pointe_ut a mare of shining black, and also a dark bay ridden by Marto.
“Trust him to take the best of the saddle herd,” he remarked. “Why have yo_ome about it? Is the señora wanting that black?”
“Maybe so; I was not told,” she answered evasively. “But there is earl_reakfast, and it is best to get your share before some quick task i_et,––and this day there are many tasks.”
The women were entering the portal at the rear, because the chapel of the ol_acienda was at the corner. There was considerable commotion as Fideli_nforced the order to search for arms;––if the Deliverer suspected treachery, how could they hope for the sympathy they came to beg for?
“Tell him there is nothing hidden under our rags but hearts of sorrow,” sai_he mother of Fidelio. “Ask that he come here where we kneel to give Go_hanks that El Aleman is now in the power of the Deliverer.”
“General Rotil does not walk, and there is no room for a horse in this door.
Someone of you must speak for the others, and go where he is.”
The kneeling women looked at each other with troubled dark eyes.
“Valencia will be the best one,” said an old woman. “She lost no one by th_ale beast, but she knows us every one. Marta, who was wife of Miguel, wa_lways mother and spoke for us to the padre, or anyone, but Marta–––”
She paused and shook her head; some women wept. All knew Marta was one wh_ried to them for vengeance.
“That is true,” said Valencia. “Marta was the best, but the child of Marta i_ere, and knows more than we. She has done much,––more than many women. _hink the daughter can speak best for the mother, and that the Deliverer wil_isten.”
Tula had knelt like the others, facing a little shelf on the wall where _arven saint was dimly illuminated by the light of a candle. All the room wa_ery dark, for the dawn was yet but as a gray cloak over the world, and n_indow let in light.
The girl stood up and turned toward Valencia.
“I will go,” she said, “because it is my work to go when you speak, but th_eliverer will ask for older tongues and I will come back to tell you that.”
Without hesitation she walked out of the door, and the others bent their head_nd there was the little click-click of rosary beads, slipping through thei_ingers in the dusk. Among the many black-shawled huddled figures kneeling o_he hard tiles, none noticed the one girl in the corner where shadows wer_eepest, and whose soft slender hands were muffled in Valencia’s fringes.
Kit stood until he noted that the searching for arms did not include her, an_hen crossed the patio with Fidelio on his way to the corrals. If the blac_are of Doña Jocasta could be gotten to the rear portal, together with the fe_urros of the older women, she might follow after unnoticed. The adobe wall a_he back was over ten feet high and would serve as a shield, and the entir_avalcade would be a half mile away ere they came in range from the plaza.
He planned to manage that the mare be there without asking help of any Indian, and he thought he could do it while the guard was having breakfast. It woul_e easy for them to suppose that the black was his own. Thus scheming fo_eauty astray in the desert, he chatted with Fidelio concerning the pilgrimag_f the Palomitas women, and the possibility of Rotil’s patience with them, when Tula crossed the patio hurriedly and entered the door of the _sala_.
The general was finishing his breakfast, while Isidro was crouched beside hi_ewinding the bandage after a satisfactory inspection of the wound. Th_welling was not great, and Rotil, eating cheerfully, was congratulatin_imself on having made a straight trail to the physician of Mesa Blanca; i_as worth a lost day to have the healing started right.
He was in that complacent mood when Tula sped on silent bare feet through th_sala_ portal, and halted just inside, erect against the wall, gazing at him.
“Hola! _Niña_ who has the measure of a man! The coffee was of the best. Wha_rrand is now yours?”
“Excellency, it is the errand too big for me, yet I am the one sent with it.
They send me because the mother of me, and Anita, my sister, were in the slav_rive south, and the German and the Perez men carried whips and beat the wome_n that trail.”
Her brave young heart seemed to creep up in her throat and choke her a_hought of those whips and the women who were driven, for her voice tremble_nto silence, and she stood there swallowing, her head bent, and her hand_rossed over her breast, and clasped firmly there was the crucifix she ha_ound in the guest room. Little pagan that she was, she regarded it entirel_s a fetish of much potency with white people, and surely she needed help o_ll gods when she spoke for the whole pueblo to this man who had power ove_any lives.
Rotil stared at her, frowning and bewildered.
“What the devil,––” he began, but Isidro looked up at him and nodded assent.
“It is a truth she is telling, Excellency. Her father was Miguel, once major- domo of this rancho. He died from their fight, and his women were taken.”
“Oh, yes, that!––it happens in many states. But this German––who says th_erman and Perez were the men to do it?”
“I, Tula, child of Miguel, say it,” stated the girl. “With my eyes I sa_im,––with my ears I heard the sister call out his name. The name was Do_dolf. Over his face was tied a long beard, so! But it was the man,––th_riend of Don José Perez of Soledad; all are knowing that. He is now your man, and the women ask for him.”
“All the women of Palomitas. On their knees in the chapel they make prayers.
Excellency, it robs you of nothing that you give them a Judas for Holy Week. _m sent to ask that of the Deliverer.”
She slid down to her knees on the tiles, and looked up at him.
He stared at her, frowning and eyeing her intently, then chuckled, and grinne_t the others.
“Did I not tell you she had the heart of a boy? And now you see it! Get up of_our knees, _chiquita_. Why should you want a Judas? It is a sweetheart I mus_ind for you instead.”
“I am not getting up,” said Tula stolidly. “I am kneeling before you, m_eneral. See! I pray to you on the tiles for that Judas. All the women ar_raying. Also the old women have made medicine to send El Aleman once more o_his trail, and see you,––it has come to pass! You have him in your trap, bu_e is ours. Excellency, come once and see all the women on their knees befor_he saint as I am here by you. We make prayers for one thing:––the Judas fo_ur holy day!”
“You young devil!” he grinned. “I wish you were a boy. Here, you men help me, or get me a crutch. I will see these women on their knees, and if you don’_ie–––”
With the help of Fidelio and a cane, he started very well, and nodded to Kit.
“You pick well, amigo,” he observed. “She is a wildcat, and of interest. Com_ou and see. _Por Dios!_ I’ve seen a crucifixion of the Penitentes and helpe_ig the hidden grave. Also I have heard of the ‘Judas’ death on Holy Friday, but never before this has so young a woman creature picked a man for it,––_an alive! Courage of the devil!”
Tula arose, and went before them across the plaza to the door of the chapel.
Kit knew this was the right moment for him to disappear and get the black mar_ack of the wall, but Rotil kept chuckling to him over the ungirlish request, and so pointedly included him in the party that there seemed no excus_vailable for absenting himself.
A flush of rose swept upward to the zenith heralding the sun, but in the adob_oom, with its door to the west, no light came, except by dim reflection, an_s Tula entered and the men stood at the threshold, they blocked the doorwa_f even that reflection, and the candle at the saint’s shrine shone dimly ove_he bent heads of the kneeling women.
Rotil stood looking about questioningly; he had not expected to see so many.
Then at the sound of the click of the prayer beads, some recollection of som_ast caused him to automatically remove his wide-brimmed hat.
“Mothers,” said Tula quietly, “the Deliverer has come.”
There was a half-frightened gasp, and dark faces turned toward the door.
“He comes as I told you, because I am no one by myself, and he could not kno_ was sent by you. I am not anyone among people, and he does not believe. Onl_eople of importance should speak with a soldier who is a general.”
“No, _por Dios_ , my boy, you speak well!” said Rotil, clapping his hand o_er shoulder, “but your years are not many and it cannot be you know the thin_ou ask for.”
“I know it,” asserted Tula with finality.
An old woman got up stiffly, and came towards him. “We are very poor, yet eve_ur children are robbed from us––that is why we pray. Don Ramon, your mothe_as simple as we, and had heart for the poor. Our lives are wasted for th_asters, and our women children are stolen for the sons of masters. That i_one, and we wish they may find ways to kill themselves on the trail. But th_an who drove them with whips is now your man––and we mothers ask him of you.”
The wizened old creature trembled as she spoke, and scarce lifted her eyes.
She made effort to speak further, but words failed, and she slipped to he_nees and the beads slid from her nervous fingers to the tiles. She was ver_ld, and she had come fasting across the mesa in the chill before the dawn; her two grandchildren had been driven south with the slaves––one had been _ride but a month––and they killed her man as they took her.
Valencia came to her and wiped the tears from her cheeks, patting her on th_ack as one would soothe a child, and then she looked at Rotil, nodding he_ead meaningly, and spoke.
“It is all true as Tia Tomasa is saying, señor. Her children are gone, an_his child of Capitan Miguel knows well what she asks for. The days of th_orrows of Jesus are coming soon, and the Judas we want for that day of th_ays will not be made of straw to be bound on the wild bull’s back, and hun_hen the ride is over. No, señor, we know the Judas asked of you by thi_aughter of Miguel;––it is the pale beast called El Aleman. For many, man_ays have we made prayers like this, before every shrine, that the saint_ould send him again to our valley. You, señor, have brought answer to tha_rayer. You have him trapped, but he belongs only to us women. The saint_istened to us, and you are in it. Men often are in prayers like that, an_ave no knowing of it, señor.”
Kit listened in amazement to this account of prayers to Mexican saints for _udas to hang on Good Friday! After four centuries of foreign priesthood, an_oreign saints on the shrines, the mental effect on the aborigines had no_isen above crucifixion occasionally on some proxy for their supreme earthl_od, or mad orgies of vengeance on a proxy for Judas. The great drama o_alvary had taught them only new forms of torture and the certainty tha_engeance was a debt to be paid. Conrad was to them the pale beast whippin_omen into slavery,––and as supreme traitor to human things must be given _udas death!
He shivered as he listened, and looked at the eyes of women staring out of th_usk for the answer to their prayers.
“ _Por Dios!_ ” muttered Rotil, half turning to Kit, yet losing nothing of th_leading strained faces. “Does your head catch all of that, señor? Can’t wome_eat hell? And women breed us all! What’s the answer?”
“In this case it’s up to you, General,” replied Kit. “I’m glad th_esponsibility is not mine. Even as it is, women who look like these ar_ikely to walk through my dreams for many a night!”
Rotil gloomed at them, puzzled, frowning, and at times the flicker of _oubtful smile would change his face without lighting it. No one moved o_poke.
“Here!” he said at last, “this child and two women have spoken, but there ar_ver twenty of you here. Three out of twenty is no vote––hold up your hands.
Come, don’t hang back, or you won’t get Judas! There are no priests here, an_o spies for priests, and there have been words enough. Show your hands!”
Kit looked back into the darkest corner, wondering what the vote of Jocast_ould be; her mother was said to be Indian, or half Indian, and her hatred o_he German would help her understand these darker tribal sisters.
But in the many lifted hands her own could not be seen and he felt curiousl_elieved, though it was no affair of his, and one vote either way would weig_othing.
Rotil looked at the lifted hands, and grunted.
“You win, _muchacha_ ,” he said to Tula. “I think you’re the devil, and it’_ou made the women talk. You can come along to Soledad and fetch their Juda_ack to them.”
“My thanks to you, and my service, Excellency,” said Tula. “I will go and b_lad that I go for that. But I swear by the Body and Blood, and I swear o_his, that I only pay the debt of my people to El Aleman.”
She was helping old Tia Tomasa to her feet with one hand, and held up th_ittle crucifix to him with the other. She had noted that white people mak_ath on a cross when they want to be believed, and she wished with all he_agan heart to be believed by this man who had been a sort of legendary her_o her many months before she had seen his face, or dared hope he would eve_rant favor to her––Tula!
But whatever effect she hoped to secure by emphasizing her oath on th_hristian symbol, she was not prepared for the rough grasp on her arm, or th_arsh command of his voice.
“Holy God!” he growled, “why do you thrust that in my face,––you?”
“Excellency––I––” began Tula, but he shook her as a cat would shake a mouse.
“Answer me! How comes it in your hands?”
“I found it, señor––and did no harm.”
A note of warning flashed from some wireless across the girl’s mind, for i_as no little thing by which Ramon Rotil had suddenly become a growling tige_ith his hand near her throat.
“Where?” he repeated.
“On a trail, señor.”
“Three days ago.”
“At the place where the Soledad trail leaves that of Mesa Blanca.”
Rotil stared at her, and then turned to Kit.
“Do you know of this thing?”
“No, General, I don’t,” he said honestly enough, “but these women have man_uch–––”
“No,” contradicted Rotil, “they haven’t,––there’s a difference.”
He had seized the crucifix and held it, while he scanned the faces, and the_rought his gaze back to Tula.
“You will show me that place, and prove yourself, _muchacha_ ,” he sai_rimly. “There’s something––something––Do you know, you damned young crane, that I can have my men shoot you against the wall out there if you lie to me?”
“Yes, my General, but it is better to give lead to enemies––and not friends.
Also a knife is cheaper.”
“Silence! or you may get both!” he growled. “Here, look well––you––all of you!
Have any of you but this creature seen it?”
He held it out, and Valencia, who was nearest, caught sight of it.
“Ai! Tula!” she said in reproof, “you to take that when the poor–––”
Tula flashed one killing look at her, and Valencia stopped dead, and turned a_shen gray, and Rotil watching!
“Ah––ha! I thought it!” he jeered. “Now whose trick is it to make me a fool?
Come, sift this thing! You,” to Valencia, “have looked on this before. Whos_s it?”
“So!” he said with a sort of growl in the voice, “something chokes you? Loo_t me, not at the others! Also listen:––if a lie is told to me, every lia_ere will go before a firing squad. Whose is this crucifix?”
Valencia’s eyes looked sorrow on Tula, still under his hand, and then on th_ood and silver thing held up before her. The sun was just rolling hot and re_bove the mountains, and Rotil’s shaggy head was outlined in a sort of curiou_adiance as the light struck the white wall across the patio at his back. Eve_he silver of the crucifix caught a glimmer of it, and to Valencia he looke_ike the warrior padres of whom her grandmother used to tell, who woul_hunder hell’s terrors on the frightened neophytes until the bravest woul_rovel in the dust and do penances unbelievable.
That commanding picture came between her and Rotil,––the outlaw and soldie_nd patriot. She stumbled forward with a pleading gesture towards Tula.
“Excellency, the child does no harm. She is a stranger in the house. She ha_icked it up perhaps when lost by the señora, and–––”
“She who is most sorrowful guest here, Excellency, and her arms still bruise_rom the iron chains of El Aleman.”
“And her name?”
“Excellency, it is the woman saved from your man by the Americano señor her_eside you. And,––she asked to be nameless while sheltered at Mesa Blanca.”
“But not to me! So this is a game between you two––” and he looked from Tul_o Kit with sinister threat in his eyes, “it is then _your_ woman who–––”
“Ramon––no!” said a voice from the far shadows, and the black shawled figur_tood erect and cast off the muffling disguise. Her pale face shone like _tar above all the kneeling Indians.
“God of heaven!” he muttered, and his hand fell from the shoulder of Tula.
“You–– _you_ are one of the women who knelt here for vengeance?”
“For justice,” she said, “but I was here for a reason different;––it was _lace to hide. No one helped me, let the child go! Give these women what the_sk or deny them, but send them away. To them I am nameless and unknown. Yo_an see that even my presence is a thing of fear to them,––let them go!”
He stared at her across those frightened dark faces. It was true they dre_way from her in terror; her sudden uprising was as if she had materialize_rom the cold tiles of the chapel floor. Kit noted that their startled eye_ere wide with awe, and knew that they also felt they were gazing on a beaut_kin to that of the pictured saints. Even the glimmer of the candle touchin_er perfect cheek and brow added to the unearthly appearance there in th_hadows.
But Ramon Rotil gazed at her across a wider space than that marked by th_neeling Indian women! Four years were bridged by that look, and where th_thers saw a pale Madonna, he saw a barefooted child weaving flowers of th_ountain for a shrine where poverty prevented a candle.
He had sold maize to buy candles, and shoes for her feet, and she had give_im the little brown wooden crucifix.
Once in the height of her reign of beauty in the hacienda of Perez, a ragge_rown boy from the hills had lain in wait for her under the oleanders, an_hrust a tightly bound package of corn husks into her hand, and her mai_egarded with amazement the broken fragments of a wooden cross so poor an_heap that even the most poverty stricken of the peons could own one, and he_onder was great that her mistress wept over the broken pieces and strove t_it them together again.
And now it lay in his hand, bound and framed in silver wires delicatel_rought.
He had traveled farther than she during the years between, and the memento o_he past made him know it.
“Ramon, let them go!” she repeated with gentle appeal.
“Yes,” he said, taking a deep breath as if rousing from a trance, “that i_est. Child––see to it, and have your way. Señor, will you arrange that th_eñora has what comfort there is here? Our horses wait, and work waits–––”
He saw Valencia go with protecting, outstretched hands to Jocasta, and turne_way.
Jocasta never moved. To save her friends from his rage she had spoken, and t_er the big moment of humiliation dreamed of and feared had come and bee_ived through. He had seen her on her knees among all that brown herd made u_f such women as his mother and her mother had been. From mistress of a palac_n an estate large as many European kingdoms she had become an outcast wit_arks of fetters on her arms, while he was knelt to as a god by the simpl_eople of the ranges, and held power of life and death over a wide land!
Kit could not even guess at all the tempestuous background of the dram_nacted there in the chill of the chapel at sunrise, but the clash of thos_wo outlaw souls suddenly on guard before each other, thrilled him by th_nexpected. Rotil, profane, ruthless, and jeering, had suddenly grown stil_efore the face of a woman from whom he turned away.
“Late! An hour late!” he grumbled, hobbling back to the plaza. “What did _ell you? Hell of women! Well, your damned little crane got what she starte_fter––huh! Why did she lie?”
“Well, you know, General,” said Kit doubtfully, “that the enmity between yo_nd José Perez is no secret. Even the children talk of it, and wish success t_ou––I’ve heard that one do it! Doña Jocasta is of a Perez household, so i_as supposed you would make prisoner anyone of their group. And Tula––well, _eckon Tula listened last night to some rather hard things the señora ha_ived through at Soledad, and knew she would rather die here than go bac_here.”
Kit realized he was on delicate ground when trying to explain any of th_ctions of any of the black and tan group to each other, but he sought th_afest way out, and drew a breath of relief at his success, for Rotil listene_losely, nodding assent, yet frowning in some perplexity.
“Um! what does that mean,––rather die than go back?” he demanded. “No one ha_old me why the lady has come to Mesa Blanca, or what she is doing here. _on’t see––What the devil ails you?”
For Kit stared at him incredulous, and whistled softly.
“Haven’t you got it _yet_?” he asked. “Last night you joked about a girl Mart_tole, and we stole from him again. Don’t you realize now who that girl is?”
“ _Jocasta!_ ”
It was the first time he had uttered her name and there was a low terribl_ote in his voice, half choked by smothered rage.
“But how could Marto,––or why should––” he began and then halted, checked b_arious conflicting facts, and stared frowningly at Rhodes who again strove t_xplain that of which he had little knowledge.
“General, I reckon Marto was square to your interests about everything but th_oman Perez and Conrad sent north into the desert, and it was Marto’s job t_ee that she never left it alive. Evidently he did not report that extra tas_o you, for he meant to save the woman for himself. But even at that, General, you’ve got to give him credit. He says she bewitched him, and he couldn’t kil_er, and he wouldn’t let the others have her. Also he risked a whale of _eating up, and some lead souvenirs, in trying to save her, even if it was fo_imself. So you see, Marto was only extra human, and is a good man. Hi_eart’s about broke to think he failed you, and I’ll bet he wouldn’t fail yo_gain in a thousand years!”
“Yes, you have the right of that,” agreed Rotil. “I did not know; I don’t kno_et what this means about Perez and––and–––”
“None of us do, General,” stated Kit. “I heard Valencia say it must b_omething only a confessor could know,––but it must be rather awful at that!
She was started north like an insane criminal, hidden and in chains. Sh_xplains nothing, but General, you have now the two men at Soledad who mad_he plan, and you have here Marto who was their tool––and perhaps––a_oledad––” he paused questioning.
“Sure! that is what will be done,” decided Rotil. “See to it, you, after w_re gone. Bring Doña Jocasta to Soledad with as much show of respect as can b_ustered in a poor land, your girl and Isidro’s wife to go along, and an_omforts you can find. Yes, that is the best! Some way we will get to th_ottom of this well. She must know a lot if they did not dare let her live, and Marto––well, you make a good talk for him, straight too––Marto will g_ith me. Tell no one anything. Make your own plans. By sunset I will have tim_or this mystery of the chains of Doña Jocasta. Be there at Soledad b_unset.”
“At your command, General.”
Then Chappo and Fidelio helped their leader into the saddle. Marto, crestfallen and silently anticipating the worst, was led out next; a _reata_assed around the saddle horn and circling his waist was fastened back of th_addle. His hands were free to guide his horse, but Chappo, with a wicke_ooking gun and three full cartridge belts, rode a few paces back of him t_ee that he made no forbidden use of them.
Kit watched them ride east while the long line of women of Palomitas took u_he trail over the mesa to the north. Their high notes of a song came back t_im,––one of those wailing chants of a score of verses dear to the Mexica_eart. In any other place he would have deemed it a funeral dirge wit_ariations, but with Indian women at sunrise it meant tuneful content.
Kit listened with a shiver. Because of his own vagrant airs they had calle_im “El Pajarito” when he first drifted south over Mexican trails,––but happ_rratic tunefulness was smothered for him temporarily. Over the vast land o_iches, smiling in the sun, there brooded the threats of Indian gods chained, inarticulate, reaching out in unexpected ways for expression through the dusk_evotees at hidden shrines. The fact that occasionally they found expressio_hrough some perverted fragment from an imported cult was a gruesome joke o_he importers. But under the eagle of Mexico, whose wide wings were used a_hield by the German vultures across seas, jokes were not popular. Germa_ducators and foreign priests with Austrian affiliations, saw to that. Th_piritual harvest in Mexico was not always what the planters anticipated,––fo_urious crops sprung up in wild corners of the land, as Indian grains wrappe_n a mummy’s robe spring to life under methods of alien culturists.
Vague drifting thoughts like this followed Kit’s shiver of repulsion at tha_ndian joy song over the promise of a veritable live Judas. On him they coul_reak a personal vengeance, and go honestly to confession in some future day, with the conviction that they had, by the sufferings they could individuall_nd collectively invent for Judas, in some vague but laudable manner mitigate_he sufferings of a white god far away whose tribulations were dwelt upon muc_y the foreign priesthood.
He sensed this without analysis, for his was not the analytical mind. Wha_rain Kit had was fairly well occupied by the fact that his own devote_artner was the moving spirit of that damnable pagan _Come, all ye_ ––driftin_ack to him from the glorified mesa, flushed golden now by the full sun.
Clodomiro came wearily up from the corral. The boy had gone without sleep o_est until his eyes were heavy and his movements listless. Like the women o_alomitas he also had worked overtime at the call of Tula, and Kit wondered a_he concerted activity––no one had held back or blundered.
“Clodomiro,” he said passing the lad a cigarette and rolling one for himsel_rom good new tobacco secured from Fidelio, “how comes it that even the wome_f years come in the night for prayers when you ride for them? Do they giv_eed to any boy who calls?”
Clodomiro gave thanks for the cigarette, but was too well bred to light it i_he presence of an elder or a superior. He smelled it with pleasure, thrust i_ver his ear and regarded Rhodes with perfectly friendly and apparently sleep_lack eyes.
“Not always, señor, but when Tula sends the call of Miguel, all are surel_oming, and also making the prayer.”
“The call of Miguel? Why––Miguel is dead.”
“That is true, señor, but he was head man, and he had words of power, also th_ld Indians listened. Now Tula has the words, and as you see,––the words ar_till alive! I am not knowing what they mean,––the words,––but when Tula tell_e, I take them.”
“ _O Tippecanoe, and Tyler too!_ ” hummed Kit studying the boy. “What’s in _ord? Do you mean that you take a trail to carry words you don’t understand, because a girl younger than you tells you to?”
The boy nodded indifferently.
“Yes, señor, it is my work when it is words of old prayer, and Tula is sendin_hem. It would be bad not to go, a quicksand would surely catch my horse, or _ight die from the bite of a _sorrilla rabioso_ , or evil ghosts might lure m_nto wide _medanos_ where I would seek trails forever, and find only my own!
Words can do that on a man! and Tula has the words now.”
“Indeed! That’s a comfortable chum to have around––not! And have you no fear?”
“Not so much. I am very good,” stated Clodomiro virtuously. “Some day maybe _ake her for my woman;––her clan talks about it now. She has almost enoug_ge, and––you see!”
He directed the attention of Rhodes to the strips of red and green and pin_alico banding his arms, their fluttering ends very decorative when he move_wiftly.
“Oh, yes, I’ve been admiring them. Very pretty,” said Kit amicably, no_nowing the significance of it, but conscious of the wide range one migh_over in a few minutes of simple Sonora ranch life. From the tragic and weir_o the childishly inane was but a step.
Clodomiro passed on to the kitchen, and Kit smoked his cigarette and paced th_uter corridor, striving for plans to move forward with his own interests, an_mploy the same time and the same trail for the task set by Ramon Rotil.
Rotil had stated that the escort of Doña Jocasta must be as complete as coul_e arranged. This meant a dueña and a maid at least, and as he had bidden Tul_ave her way with her “Judas,” it surely meant that Tula must go to Soledad.
Very well so far, and as Rotil would certainly not question the extent of th_utfit taken along, why not include any trifles Tula and he chanced to car_or? He remembered also that there were some scattered belongings of th_hitely’s left behind in the haste of departure. Well, a few mule loads woul_e a neighborly gift to take north when he crossed the border, and Soledad wa_earer the border!
It arranged itself very well indeed, and as Tula emerged from the pati_moothing out an old newspaper fragment discarded by Fidelio, and chewin_chica_ given her by Clodomiro, he hailed her with joy.
“Blessed Indian Angel,” he remarked appreciatively, “you greased the tobogga_or several kinds of hell for us this day of our salvation, but your jinx wa_n the job, and turned the trick our way! Do you know you are the greates_ittle mascot ever held in captivity?”
But Tula didn’t know what “mascot” meant, and was very much occupied with th_dvertisement of a suit and cloak house in the old Nogales paper in which som_rader at the railroad had wrapped Fidelio’s tobacco. It had the picture of a_lluring lady in a dress of much material slipping from the shoulders an_ragging around the feet. To the aboriginal mind that seemed a very grea_aste, for woven material was hard to come by in the desert.
She attempted an inquiry concerning that wastefulness of Americanas, but go_o satisfactory reply. Kit took the tattered old paper from her hand, an_urned it over because of the face of Singleton staring at him from the othe_ide of the page. It was the account of the inquest, and in the endeavor t_dd interest the local reporters had written up a column concernin_ingleton’s quarrel with the range boss, Rhodes,––and the mysteriou_isappearance of the latter across the border!
There was sympathetic mention made of Miss Wilfreda Bernard, heiress o_ranados, and appreciative mention of the efficient manager, Conrad, who ha_ffered all possible assistance to the authorities in the sad affair. Th_eneral expression of the article was regret that the present situation alon_he border prevented further investigation concerning Rhodes. The said Rhode_ppeared to be a stranger in the locality, and had been engaged by the victi_f the crime despite the objections of Manager Conrad.
There followed the usual praise and list of virtues of the dead man, togethe_ith reference to the illustrious Spanish pioneer family from whom his wif_ad been descended. It was the first time Kit had been aware of the importanc_f Billie’s genealogy, and remembering the generally accepted estimates o_panish pride, he muttered something about a “rose leaf princess, and _ennessee hill-billy!”
“It’s some jolt, two of them!” he conceded.
> _Twinkle, twinkle little star, > How I wonder what you are!_
“They say bunches of stars and planets get on a jamboree and cross eac_ther’s trail at times, and that our days are rough or smooth according t_heir tantrums. Wish I knew the name of the luminary raising hell for me thi_orning! It must be doing a highland fling with a full moon, and I’m bein_lunked by every scattered spark!”