Desert Gold (Chapter 4, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 4

When Dick opened his eyes a flood of golden sunshine streamed in at the
open window under which he lay. His first thought was one of blank
wonder as to where in the world he happened to be. The room was large,
square, adobe-walled. It was littered with saddles, harness, blankets.
Upon the floor was a bed spread out upon a tarpaulin. Probably this
was where some one had slept. The sight of huge dusty spurs, a gun
belt with sheath and gun, and a pair of leather chaps bristling with
broken cactus thorns recalled to Dick the cowboys, the ride, Mercedes,
and the whole strange adventure that had brought him there.

He did not recollect having removed his boots; indeed, upon second
thought, he knew he had not done so. But there they stood upon the
floor. Ladd and Lash must have taken them off when he was so exhausted
and sleepy that he could not tell what was happening. He felt a dead
weight of complete lassitude, and he did not want to move. A sudden
pain in his hand caused him to hold it up. It was black and blue,
swollen to almost twice its normal size, and stiff as a board. The
knuckles were skinned and crusted with dry blood. Dick soliloquized
that it was the worst-looking hand he had seen since football days, and
that it would inconvenience him for some time.

A warm, dry, fragrant breeze came through the window. Dick caught
again the sweet smell of flowers or fruit. He heard the fluttering of
leaves, the murmur of running water, the twittering of birds, then the
sound of approaching footsteps and voices. The door at the far end of
the room was open. Through it he saw poles of peeled wood upholding a
porch roof, a bench, rose bushes in bloom, grass, and beyond these
bright-green foliage of trees.

"He shore was sleepin' when I looked in an hour ago," said a voice that
Dick recognized as Ladd's.

"Let him sleep," came the reply in deep, good-natured tones. "Mrs. B.
says the girl's never moved. Must have been a tough ride for them
both. Forty miles through cactus!"

"Young Gale hoofed darn near half the way," replied Ladd. "We tried to
make him ride one of our hosses. If we had, we'd never got here. A
walk like that'd killed me an' Jim."

"Well, Laddy, I'm right down glad to see you boys, and I'll do all I
can for the young couple," said the other. "But I'm doing some worry
here; don't mistake me."

"About your stock?"

"I've got only a few head of cattle at the oasis now, I'm worrying
some, mostly about my horses. The U. S. is doing some worrying, too,
don't mistake me. The rebels have worked west and north as far as
Casita. There are no cavalrymen along the line beyond Casita, and
there can't be. It's practically waterless desert. But these rebels
are desert men. They could cross the line beyond the Rio Forlorn and
smuggle arms into Mexico. Of course, my job is to keep tab on Chinese
and Japs trying to get into the U.S. from Magdalena Bay. But I'm
supposed to patrol the border line. I'm going to hire some rangers.
Now, I'm not so afraid of being shot up, though out in this lonely
place there's danger of it; what I'm afraid of most is losing that
bunch of horses. If any rebels come this far, or if they ever hear of
my horses, they're going to raid me. You know what those guerrilla
Mexicans will do for horses. They're crazy on horse flesh. They know
fine horses. They breed the finest in the world. So I don't sleep
nights any more."

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