Desert Gold (Chapter 9, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 9

No man ever had a more eloquent and beautiful pleader for his cause
than had Dick Gale in Mercedes Castaneda. He peeped through the green,
shining twigs of the palo verde that shaded his door. The hour was
high noon, and the patio was sultry. The only sounds were the hum of
bees in the flowers and the low murmur of the Spanish girl's melodious
voice. Nell lay in the hammock, her hands behind her head, with rosy
cheeks and arch eyes. Indeed, she looked rebellious. Certain it was,
Dick reflected, that the young lady had fully recovered the wilful
personality which had lain dormant for a while. Equally certain it
seemed that Mercedes's earnestness was not apparently having the effect
it should have had.

Dick was inclined to be rebellious himself. Belding had kept the
rangers in off the line, and therefore Dick had been idle most of the
time, and, though he tried hard, he had been unable to stay far from
Nell's vicinity. He believed she cared for him; but he could not catch
her alone long enough to verify his tormenting hope. When alone she
was as illusive as a shadow, as quick as a flash, as mysterious as a
Yaqui. When he tried to catch her in the garden or fields, or corner
her in the patio, she eluded him, and left behind a memory of
dark-blue, haunting eyes. It was that look in her eyes which lent him
hope. At other times, when it might have been possible for Dick to
speak, Nell clung closely to Mercedes. He had long before enlisted the
loyal Mercedes in his cause; but in spite of this Nell had been more
than a match for them both.

Gale pondered over an idea he had long revolved in mind, and which now
suddenly gave place to a decision that made his heart swell and his
cheek burn. He peeped again through the green branches to see Nell
laughing at the fiery Mercedes.

"Qui'en sabe," he called, mockingly, and was delighted with Nell's
quick, amazed start.

Then he went in search of Mrs. Belding, and found her busy in the
kitchen. The relation between Gale and Mrs. Belding had subtly and
incomprehensively changed. He understood her less than when at first
he divined an antagonism in her. If such a thing were possible she had
retained the antagonism while seeming to yield to some influence that
must have been fondness for him. Gale was in no wise sure of her
affection, and he had long imagined she was afraid of him, or of
something that he represented. He had gone on, openly and fairly,
though discreetly, with his rather one-sided love affair; and as time
passed he had grown less conscious of what had seemed her unspoken
opposition. Gale had come to care greatly for Nell's mother. Not only
was she the comfort and strength of her home, but also of the
inhabitants of Forlorn River. Indian, Mexican, American were all the
same to her in trouble or illness; and then she was nurse, doctor,
peacemaker, helper. She was good and noble, and there was not a child
or grownup in Forlorn River who did not love and bless her. But Mrs.
Belding did not seem happy. She was brooding, intense, deep, strong,
eager for the happiness and welfare of others; and she was dominated by
a worship of her daughter that was as strange as it was pathetic. Mrs.
Belding seldom smiled, and never laughed. There was always a soft, sad,
hurt look in her eyes. Gale often wondered if there had been other
tragedy in her life than the supposed loss of her father in the desert.
Perhaps it was the very unsolved nature of that loss which made it
haunting.

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