The Heart of the Desert (Chapter 4, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 4

It was some time before the call of a coyote close beside her penetrated Rhoda's senses. At its third or fourth repetition, she sighed and opened her eyes. Night had come, the luminous lavender night of the desert. Her first discovery was that she was seated on a horse, held firmly by a strong arm across her shoulders. Next she found that her uneasy breathing was due to the cloth tied round her mouth. With this came realization of her predicament and she tossed her arms in a wild attempt to free herself.

The arm about her tightened, the horse stopped, and the voice went on repeating the coyote call, clearly, mournfully. Rhoda ceased her struggling for a moment and looked at the face so close to her own. In the starlight only the eyes and the dim outline of the features were visible, and the eyes were as dark and menacing to her as the desert night that shut her in.

Mad with fear, Rhoda strained at the rigid arm. Kut-le dropped the reins and held her struggling hands, ceased his calling and waited. Off to the left came an answering call and Kut-le started the pony rapidly toward the sound. In a few moments Rhoda saw a pair of horsemen. Utterly exhausted, she sat in terror awaiting her fate. Kut-le gave a low-voiced order. One of the riders immediately rode forward, leading another horse. Kut-le slipped another blanket from this and finished binding Rhoda to her saddle so securely that she scarcely could move a finger. Then he mounted his horse, and he and one of the Indians started off, leading Rhoda's horse between them and leaving the third Indian standing silently behind them.

Rhoda was astride of the pony, half sitting, half lying along his neck. The Indians put the horses to a trot and immediately the discomfort of her position was made agony by the rough motion. But the pain cleared her mind.

Her first thought was that she never would recover from the disgrace of this episode. Following this thought came fury at the man who was so outraging her. It only he would free her hands for a moment she would choke him! Her anger would give her strength for that! Then she fought against her fastenings. They held her all but motionless and the sense of her helplessness brought back the fear panic. Utterly helpless, she thought! Flying through darkness to an end worse than death! In the power of a naked savage! Her fear almost robbed her of her reason.

After what seemed to her endless hours, the horses were stopped suddenly. She felt her fastenings removed. Then Kut-le lifted her to the ground where she tumbled, helpless, at his feet. He stooped and took the gag from her mouth. Immediately with what fragment of strength remained to her, she screamed again and again. The two Indians stood stolidly watching her for a time, then Kut-le knelt in the sand beside her huddled form and laid his hand on her arm.

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