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Daughter of the Sun By Jackson Gregory Characters: 12434

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02



Had horse and rider been only a painting, immovable upon hung canvas, they would have drawn to themselves the enrapt eyes of mute, admiring artists. Endowed with the glorious attribute of pulsating life, they fascinated. Kendric saw the white mare's neck arch, marked how the satiny skin rippled, how the dainty ears tipped forward, how the large intelligent eyes bespoke the proud spirit. He could fancy the mare prancing forth from the stables of an Eastern prince, the finest pure bred Arabian of his stud, the royal favorite, the white queen-rose of his costly gardens. From the mare he looked to the rider, not so much as a man may regard a woman but as he must pay tribute to animal perfection. He told himself that as a woman Zoraida Castelmar displeased him; that there was no place in his fancies for the bold eyes of an adventuress. But he deemed a man might look upon her as impersonally as upon the white mare, giving credit where credit was due. It struck him then that all that was wrong with Zoraida Castelmar was that she was an anachronism; that had he lived a thousand years ago and had she then, a barbaric queen, stepped before him, he would have seen the superb beauty of her and would have gone no further. Before now he had felt that she was "foreign." That was on the border. Here, deep in Old Mexico, she still remained foreign. Rightly she belonged to another age, if not to another star.

For the moment she sat smiling at him, her eyes dancing and yet masking her ultimate thought. Triumph he had glimpsed and, as always, a shadowy hint of mockery. Suddenly she turned from him and put out her gauntleted hand to Barlow, flashing him another sort of smile, one that made Barlow's eyes brighten and brought a hotter flush to his tanned cheeks.

"You have kept your promise with me," she said softly. "I shall not forget and you will not regret!" Even while she spoke her eyes drifted back to Kendric, laughing at him, taunting him.

He looked sharply at Barlow. But he said nothing and Barlow, intent upon the girl, did not note his turned head.

Zoraida turned imperiously upon Fernando Escobar. "These men are my guests," she said sharply, her tone filled with defiant warning. "Remember that, Se?or el Capitan. You will escort them to the house where my cousin will receive them. Until we meet at table, se?ores all."

From her neck hung a tiny whistle from a thin gold chain; she lifted it to her lips, blew a long clear note and with a last sidelong look at Kendric touched her dainty spurs to her mare's sides and shot away.

"You will follow me," said Escobar stiffly. "This way, caballeros."

He pressed by them, dismissing his following with a glance, and rode through the wide arched gateway. Barlow turned in after him but hesitated when Kendric called coolly:

"I have small hankering to accept the lady's hospitality, Barlow. Why should we establish ourselves here instead of going on about our business? By the lord, her invitation smacks to me too damned much of outright command!"

"No use startin' anything, Jim," said Barlow. "Come ahead."

At them both Escobar smiled contemptuously.

"Look," he said, pointing toward the adobe. "Judge if it be wise to hesitate when la se?orita reina says enter."

They saw graveled driveways and flower bordered walks under the oaks; blossoming, fragrant shrubs welcoming countless birds; an expanse of velvet lawn with a marble-rimmed pool and fountain. A beautiful garden, empty one instant, then slowly filling as from about a far corner of the house came a line of men. Young men, every one of them, fine-looking, dark-skinned fellows dressed after the extravagant fashion of the land which mothered them, with tall conical hats and slashed trousers, broad sashes and glistening boots. They came on like military squads, silent, erect, eyes full ahead. Out in the driveway they halted, fifty of them. And like one man, they saluted.

"Will you enter as a guest?" jeered Escobar.

Kendric's anger flared up.

"I'll tell you one thing, my fine friend Fernando Escobar," he said hotly, "I don't like the cut of your sunny disposition. You and I are not going to mix well, and you may as well know it from the start. As for this 'guest' business, just what do you mean?"

Escobar shrugged elaborately and half veiled his insolent eyes with the long lashes.

"You mean," went on Kendric stubbornly, "your 'Queen Lady' as you call her, has instructed her rabble to bring us in, willy-nilly?"

"Ai!" cried Escobar in mock surprise. "El Americano reads the secret thought!"

"Come ahead, Jim," urged Barlow anxiously. "Don't I tell you there is no sense startin' a rumpus? Suppose you weeded out half of 'em, the other half would get you right. And haven't we got enough ahead of us without goin' out of our way, lookin' for a row?"

For answer Kendric gave his horse the spur and dashed through the gate. If a man had to tie into fifty of a hard-looking lot of devils like those saturnine henchmen of Zoraida, it would at least be a scrimmage worth a man's going down in; but Barlow was right and there was no doubt enough trouble coming without wandering afield for it.

So, close behind Escobar, they rode under the oaks and to the house. Here was a quadrangle, flanked about with white columns; through numerous arches one saw oaken doors set into the thick walls of the shaded building. The three men dismounted; three of the men in the driveway took the horses. Escobar stepped to the broad double door directly in front of them. As his spurred boot rang on the stone floor the door opened and Ruiz Rios opened to them. He bowed deeply, courteously, his manner cordial, his eyes inscrutable.

At his invitation they entered. He led them through a great, low-ceiled room where dim light hovered over luxurious appointments, across Oriental rugs and hardwood floors to a wide hallway. Down this for a long way, past a dozen doors at each hand and finally into a suite looking out into the gardens from a corner of the building. As they went in, two Mexican girls, young and pretty, with quick black eyes and in white caps and

aprons, came out. The girls dropped their eyes, curtsied and passed on, as silent as little ghosts.

"Your rooms, se?ores," said Rios, standing aside for them. "When you are ready you will ring and a servant will show you to the patio, where I will be waiting for you. If there is anything forgotten, you have but to ring and ask."

He left them and hurried away, obviously glad to be done with them. They went in and closed the door and looked about them. Here were big leather chairs, a mahogany table, cigars, smoking trays, cigarets, a bottle of brandy and one of fine red wine standing forth hospitably. Through one door they saw an artistically and comfortably furnished bedroom; through another a tiled, glisteningly white bath; beyond the bath the second bedroom.

All this they marked at a glance. Then Kendric turned soberly to his companion.

"I've known you a good many years off and on, Twisty," he said bluntly, "for the sort of man to name pardner and friend. For half a dozen years, however, I've seen little of you. What have those half-dozen years done to you?"

"What do you mean?" asked Barlow.

"I mean that for a mate on a crazy expedition like this I want a man I can tie to. That means a man that turns off every card from the top, straight as they come. A man that doesn't bury the ace. I haven't held out anything on you. What have you held out on me?"

Barlow looked troubled. He uncorked the brandy bottle and helped himself, sipping slowly.

"You've got in mind what she said outside?" he asked.

"Yes. That and other things."

"If I had told you at the beginnin'," said Barlow, "that you and me were comin' to a place, lookin' for treasure, that was right next door to where Zoraida Castelmar lived, would you of come?"

"No. I don't think I would."

"Well, that's why I didn't tell you."

"And you promised her-just what?"

"That I'd be showin' up down this way. And that you'd be comin' along with me." He finished off his brandy and set his glass down hard.

Kendric took a cigaret and wandered across the room, looking out into the gardens. The string of men who had appeared at Zoraida's whistle, were filing off around the house again, going toward the nearby outbuildings.

"I'm not going to pump questions at you, Barlow," he said without turning. "What you do is up to you. Only, if you can't play the game straight with me, our trails fork for good and all. Now, let's get a bath and see the dance through."

Five minutes later Jim Kendric, splashing mightily in a roomy tub, began to sing under his breath. After all, matters were well enough. Life was not dull but infinitely profligate of promise. He fancied that Ruiz Rios was boiling inwardly with rage; the thought delighted him. His old zest flooded back full tide into his veins. His voice rose higher, his lively tune quickened. Barlow's face brightened at the sound and his lungs filled to a sigh of relief.

Within half an hour a servant ushered them into the patio. There, under a grape arbor, their chairs drawn close up to the little fountain, were Rios and Escobar, talking quietly. Both men rose as they appeared, offering chairs. Both were all that was courteous and yet it needed no guessing to understand that their courtesy was but like so much thin silken sheathing over steel; they were affable only because of a command. And that command, Zoraida's.

"As far as they are concerned," mused Kendric, "she is absolutely the Queen Lady. Wonder how she works it? Wouldn't judge either one of them an easy gent to handle."

The conversation was markedly impersonal. They spoke of stock raising, of the best breeds of beef cattle, of what had been done with irrigation and of what Rios planned for another year. It became clear that Zoraida was the sole owner of several thousand fair acres here and that Ruiz Rios stood in the position of general manager to his cousin. That he envied her her possessions, that it galled him to be her underling over these acres, was a fact which lay naked on top of many mere surmises. Once, with simulated carelessness, Escobar said:

"The rancho would have been yours, had there been no will, is it not so, amigo Rios?" And Ruiz flashed an angry look at him, knowing that the man taunted him.

"It is called the Rancho Montezuma, isn't it?" put in Kendric. "Why that name, Rios?"

"It is the old name," said Rios lightly. "That is all I know."

When a servant announced dinner they went to an immense dining-room wherein a prince might have taken his state meals. But Zoraida did not join them, sending word by one of the little Mexican maids that she would not appear. It was significant that no reason was offered; from the instant that they had set foot down at the hacienda it was to be known that here Zoraida did as she pleased and accounted to none. Two tall fellows, looking pure-bred Yaqui Indians, served perfectly, soft voiced, softer footed, stony eyed. During the meal Kendric fell into the way of chatting with young Escobar, seeking to draw him out and failing, while Barlow and Rios talked together, Rios regarding Barlow intently. When they rose from table Barlow accepted an invitation from Rios to look over the stables, while Kendric was led by Escobar back to the patio. Even then Kendric had the suspicion that the intention was to separate him from his friend, but he saw nothing to be done. He hardly looked for any sort of violence, and were such intended there was scant need to waste time over such trifles as separating two men who would have to stand against two score.

"If you will pardon me a moment, se?or?" said Escobar briefly.

He left Kendric standing by the little fountain and disappeared. On the instant one of the little maids stole softly forward.

"This way, se?or," she said, looking at him curiously.

"Where?" he demanded. "And why?"

She smiled and shook her head.

"It is commanded," she replied. "Will el se?or Americano be so kind as to follow?"

He had asked why and got no answer. Now he demanded of himself, "Why not?" He was playing the other fellow's game and might as well play straight on until he saw what was what.

"Lead on," he said. "I'm with you."

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