The Heart of the Desert (Chapter 3, page 1 of 7)

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Chapter 3

DeWitt debated with himself for some time as to whether or not he ought to speak to Jack of Porter's warning. Finally he decided that Porter's suspicions would only anger Jack, who was intensely loyal to his friends. He determined to keep silence until he had something more tangible on which to found his complaint than Billy's bitter prejudice against all Indians. He had implicit faith in Rhoda's love for himself. If any vague interest in life could come to her through the young Indian, he felt that he could endure his presence. In the meantime he would guard Rhoda without cessation.

In the days that followed, Rhoda grew perceptibly weaker, and her friends went about with aching hearts under an assumed cheerfulness of manner that deceived Rhoda least of any one. Rhoda herself did not complain and this of itself added a hundredfold to the pathos of the situation. Her unfailing sweetness and patience touched the healthy, hardy young people who were so devoted to her more than the most justifiable impatience on her part.

Time and again Katherine saw DeWitt and Jack leave the girl's side with tears in their eyes. But Cartwell watched the girl with inscrutable gaze.

Rhoda still hated the desert. The very unchanging loveliness of the days wearied her. Morning succeeded morning and noon followed noon, with always the same soft breeze stirring the orchard, always the clear yellow sunlight burning and dazzling her eyes, always the unvarying monotony of bleating sheep and lowing herds and at evening the hoot of owls. The brooding tenderness of the sky she did not see. The throbbing of the great, quiet southern stars stirred her only with a sense of helpless loneliness that was all but unendurable. And still, from who knows what source, she found strength to meet the days and her friends with that unfailing sweetness that was as poignant as the clinging fingers of a sick child.

Jack, Katherine, DeWitt, Cartwell, all were unwearying in their effort to amuse her. And yet for some reason. Cartwell alone was able to rouse her listless eyes to interest. Even DeWitt found himself eagerly watching the young Indian, less to guard Rhoda than to discover what in the Apache so piqued his curiosity. He had to admit, however reluctantly, that Kut-le, as he and Rhoda now called him with the others, was a charming companion.

Neither DeWitt nor Rhoda ever before had known an Indian. Most of their ideas of the race were founded on childhood reading of Cooper. Kut-le was quite as cultured, quite as well-mannered and quite as intelligent as any of their Eastern friends. But in many other qualities he differed from them. He possessed a frank pride in himself and his blood that might have belonged to some medieval prince who would not take the trouble outwardly to underestimate himself. Closely allied to this was his habit of truthfulness. This was not a blatant bluntness that irritated the hearer but a habit of valuing persons and things at their intrinsic worth, a habit of mental honesty as bizarre to Rhoda and John as was the young Indian's frank pride.

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