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   Chapter 6 CONCERNING THAT WHICH LAY IN THE EYES OF ZORAIDA

Daughter of the Sun By Jackson Gregory Characters: 22097

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Jim Kendric guessed, before the last door was thrown open for him, that he was being led before Zoraida Castelmar. The serving maid flitted on ahead, out through a deep, shadow-filled doorway into the dusk, down a long corridor and into the house again at an end which Kendric judged must be close to the flank of the mountain. Down a second hallway, to a heavy, nail-studded door which opened only when the little maid had knocked and called. This room was lighted by a swinging lamp and its rays showed its scanty but rich furnishings, and the one who had opened, a tall, evil-looking Yaqui who wore in his sash a long-barreled revolver on one side and a longer, curved knife at the other. The girl sidled about the doorkeeper and, safe behind his back made a grimace of distaste at him, then hurried on. Again she knocked at a locked door; again it was swung open only when she had added her voice to her rapping. Who opened this door Kendric did not know; for it was pitch dark as soon as the door was shut after them and they stood in a room either windowless or darkened by thick curtains. But the girl hastened on before him and he followed the patter of her soft moccasins, albeit with a hand under his left arm pit; all of this locking and unlocking of doors and the attendant mystery struck him as clap-trap and he set it down as further play for effect by the mistress of the place, but none the less he was ready to strike back if a wary arm struck at him through the dark.

The girl had stopped before another door, Kendric close behind her. This time she neither knocked nor called. He heard her fingers groping along the wall; then the silvery tinkle of a bell faintly heard through the thick oak panels.

"You will wait," she whispered. And he knew that she was gone.

He was not forced to wait long. Suddenly the door was opened; he heard it move on its hinges and made out a pale rectangle of light. A softly modulated voice said: "Entra, se?or." He stepped across the threshhold and into the presence of another serving girl, taller than the other two maidens, finer bred, a calm-eyed, serene girl of twenty dressed in a plain white gown girdled with a smooth gold band.

They were in a little anteroom; the curtains between them and the main apartment had made the light dim, for just beyond he could make out the blurred glowing of many lamps.

The girl's great calm eyes looked at him frankly an instant, vague shadows drifting across them. Then, abruptly, she put her lips quite close to his ear, and whispered: "Do not anger her, se?or!" Then, stepping quickly to the curtain, she threw it back and he entered.

A vain, headstrong girl, deemed Kendric, given the opportunity and very great wealth, might be looked to for absurdities of this kind. But was all of this nothing more, nothing worse, than absurdity? Suppose Zoraida were sincere in all that she had said to him, in all the things she did? He had heard a rumor concerning Ruiz Rios, long ago, half forgotten. Certain wild deeds laid to the Mexican's door had brought forth the insinuation that he was a little mad. Zoraida had claimed kinship with him.

At any rate, to Kendric's matter-of-fact way of thinking, here was further clap-trap that might well have been the result of a mad mind working extravagantly. The room was empty. All four walls, from ceiling to floor, were draped in gorgeously rich hangings, oriental silks, he imagined, deep purples and yellows and greens and reds cunningly arranged so that their glowing colors and the ornamental designs worked upon them made no discordant clash of color. The chamber in which he had met Zoraida at the hotel was mild hued, colorless compared to this one. There were no chairs but a couch against each wall, each a bright spot with its high heaped cushions. In the middle of the room was a small square ebony stand; upon it, glowing like red fire upon its frail crystal stem, the familiar stone.

He had stepped a couple of paces into the room, his boots sinking without sound into the deep carpet. In no mood for a girl's whims, mad or sane, he waited, impatient and irritated. He regretted having come; he should have sat tight in the patio and let her come to him. No doubt she was spying on him now from behind the hangings somewhere. There was no comfort in the thought, no joy in imagining that while he stood forth in the clear light of the hanging lamps she and her maidens and attendants might all be watching him. He vastly preferred solid walls and thick doors to silken drapes.

While he waited, two distinct impressions slowly forced themselves upon him. One was that of a faint perfume, coming from whence he had no way of knowing, the unforgettable, almost sickeningly sweet fragrance he remembered. One instant he was hardly conscious of it, it was but a suspicion of a fragrance. And then it filled the room, strongly sweet, strangely pleasant, a near opiate in its soothing effect.

The other impression was no true sensation in that it was registered by none of the five senses; a true sensation only if in truth there is in man a subtle sixth sense, uncatalogued but vital. It was the old uncanny certainty that at last eyes, the eyes of none other than Zoraida Castelmar, were bent searchingly on him. So strong was the feeling on him that he turned about and fixed his own eyes on a particular corner where the silken folds hung graceful and loose. He felt that she was there, exactly at that spot.

He strode across the room and laid a sudden hand on the fabric. It parted readily and just behind it, her eyes more brilliant, more triumphant than he had ever seen them, stood Zoraida.

"Can you say now, Se?or Americano," she cried out, the music of her voice rising and vibrating, "that I have not set the spell of my spirit upon your spirit, the influence of my mind upon your mind? You stood here and the chamber was empty about you. I came, but so that you might not hear with your ears and might not see with your eyes. And yet, looking at you through a pin hole in a drawn curtain, I made you conscious of me and called voicelessly to you to come and you came!"

There was laughter in her oblique eyes and upon her scarlet lips, and Kendric knew that it was not merely light mirth but the deeper laughter of a conqueror, a high rejoicing, the winged joy of victory.

"I am no student of mental forces," said Kendric. "But to my knowledge there is nothing unusual in one's feeling the presence of another. As for any power which your mind can exert over mine, I don't admit it. It's absurd."

Contempt hardened the line of her mouth and the laughter died in her eyes.

"Man is an animal of little wisdom," she murmured as she passed by him into the room, "because he has not learned to believe the simple truth."

"If there is anything either simple or true in your establishment," he blurted out, "I haven't found it."

She went to the table before she turned. A flowing garment of deep blue fell about her; on her black hair like a coronet was a crest of many colored, tiny feathers, feathers of humming birds, he learned later; throat and arms were bare save for many blazing red and green stones, feet bare save for exquisitely wrought sandals which were held in place by little golden straps which ended in plain gold bands about the round white ankles.

Slowly she turned and faced him. But not yet did she speak. She clapped her hands together and the curtains at her right bellied out, parted and a man stepped before her, bending deeply in genuflection. No Yaqui, this time; no Mexican as Kendric knew Mexicans. The man was short, but a few inches over five feet, and remarkably heavy-muscled, the greater part of the body showing since his simple cotton tunic was wide open across the deep chest, and left arms and legs bare. The forehead was atavistically low, the cheek bones very prominent, the nose wide and flat, the lips loose and thick. The man looked brutish, cruel and ugly as he stood face to face with the noble beauty of Zoraida. And yet Kendric, glancing swiftly from one to the other, saw a peculiar resemblance. It was the eyes. This squat animal's eyes were like Zoraida's in shape though they lacked the fire of spirit and intellect; long eyes that sloped outward and upward toward the temples.

Zoraida spoke briefly, imperiously. Kendric did not understand the words though he readily recognized the tongue for one of the native Nahua dialects. Old Aztec it might have been, or Toltec.

The man saluted, bowed and was gone. But in a moment he returned, another man with him who might have been his twin brother, so strongly pronounced in each were the racial physiognomic characteristics. Between them they bore a heavy chair of black polished wood the feet of which were eagles' talons gripping and resting on crystal balls. They placed it and stood waiting for orders or dismissal. She gave both, the first in a few low words in the same ancient tongue, the latter with a gesture. They bowed and disappeared. Zoraida, one hand resting upon the stand near the jewel glowing upon the transparent stem, sank gracefully into the seat.

"All very imposing," muttered Kendric. "But if you have anything to say to me I am waiting."

From somewhere in the room a parrot which he had not seen until now and which had no doubt been released by one of her low-browed henchmen behind the curtains, flew by Kendric's head and perched balancing upon an arm of her chair. Idly she put out her hand, stroking the bright feathers. From somewhere else, startling the man when he saw it gliding by him on its soft pads, a big puma, ran forward, threw up its head, snarling, its tail jerking back and forth restlessly. Zoraida spoke quietly; the monster cat crept close to her chair and lay down before her, stretched out to five feet of graceful length. Zoraida set one foot lightly upon the tawny back. The big cat lay motionless, its eyes steady and unwinking upon Kendric.

He felt himself strangely impressed though he sought to argue with himself that here was but more absurdity from an empty-headed girl who had the money and the power to unleash her extravagant desires. But since everything about him was stamped with the barbaric, even to the oblique-eyed woman staring boldly at him; since everything in the exotic atmosphere was in keeping, even to the parrot at her elbow and the heavy, honey-sweet perfume filling the room, he was unable to shake off, as he wished to, the impression made upon him.

"In your heart," said Zoraida gravely, "you censure me for empty by-play, you accuse me of vain trifling. You are wrong, Se?or Americano! And soon you will know you are wrong. There is no woman throughout the wide sweep of my country or yours who has the work to do that I have to do; the destiny to fulfil; or the power to wrest from the gods that which she would have. And will have!"

Steadfast conviction, fearlessly voiced, rang through her speech. What she said she meant with all of the fiery

ardor of her being. Her words spoke her thought. Whatever the fate which she judged was hers to fulfil, she accepted it with a fervor not unlike some ecstatic religious devotion. Of all this he was confident on the instant; she might surround herself with colorful accessories but her purpose was none the less serious.

"Symbols, if you like," she said carelessly-she had been staring at him profoundly and well might have glimpsed something of his train of thought-"as are statues and pictures symbols in the Roman church. My bright colored bird is older now than you will be, or I, when we die. Age, bright feathers and chatter! My puma means much to me that you would not understand, being of another race. Further, did you or another lift a hand against his mistress he would tear out your throat."

"You have had me brought here for some purpose?" said Kendric.

She sat forward, straight in her chair, her two hands gripping the carved arms.

"Did I not tell you when first we spoke together that I had use for you? Since then have I not sent myself into your thoughts many times? Did I not come to you, that you should remember, on the boat that brought you here?"

"I am no man for mysteries," he said. "Tell me: Did you somehow get aboard the New Moon at San Diego? Or did my fancy play me a trick?"

"You ask me questions!" she mocked. "When you would believe what pleased you, no matter what word I spoke! If I said that across the miles, over mountain and desert and water I sent my spirit to you-would you believe?"

"No. Not when there are other readier explanations."

She raised a quick hand and pointed to the parrot.

"Chatter! Questions put when you do not expect an answer. A hundred years of words and only a red and yellow bundle of feathers at the end. It is deeds we want, Se?or Americano, you and I!"

He returned her look steadily.

"Then tell me what you want of me," he said. "And in one word I'll give you yes or no."

"That is man talk!" she cried. "And yet, Se?or Jim Kendric, there come times even in a man's life when the yes or no is spoken for him." She paused for him to drink in all that her statement meant. Then, when he remained silent, his eyes hostile upon hers, she went on, her speech quick and passionate. "There are great happenings on foot, American. There will be war and death; there will be tearing down and building up. And it is I who will direct and it is you who will take my orders and make them law. And in the end I shall be a Zoraida whom the world shall know and you shall be a mighty man, the man of Mexico."

"Fine words!" It was his time to mock, his time to glance at the ancient bird.

"Yes, Jim Kendric. Fine words and more since they are great truths. Lest you think Zoraida Castelmar a girl of mad fancies, I will speak freely with you. Since all depends on me and it is in my mind that much will depend on you. And why on you? Why have I put my hand out upon you, a foreigner? Because you are such a man as I would make were I God; a man strong and fearless and masterful; a man trustworthy to the death when his word is given and his honor is at stake. No, I do not judge you alone by what happened at Ortega's gambling house. But that fitted in with all I knew of you. Where else can I find a man to lose ten thousand, twenty thousand dollars, all that he has and think no more of the matter than of a cigaret paper that the wind has blown from his hands? I have heard of you, Jim Kendric, and I have said to myself: 'Is there such a man? I know none like him!' Then I went for myself, saw for myself, judged for myself. And now I offer you what I offer no other man and what no other mortal can offer you."

"You give me a pretty clean bill of health," he said quietly. "Now what follows?"

"This: There will be war in Mexico--"

"No new thing," he cut in. "There is always war in Mexico."

"And I will direct that war," she went on serenely, "from this chair in this room and from elsewhere. Lower California will raise its own standard and it will be my standard. Already has word stirred Sonora into restlessness and a beginning of activity; already is Chihuahua armed and eager. Already have the thousands of Yaquis listened and agreed; already have I made them large promises of ancient tribal lands restored and money. A Yaqui guards my door yonder. But you did not know that he was the son of Chief Pima, nor that in ten days the son will be Chief after having served in the household of Zoraida! And Sonora and Chihuahua and the Yaqui tribes are pledged to one thing: To an independent Lower California over which I shall rule."

"Wild schemes," muttered Kendric. "Foredoomed, like other mad schemes in Mexico. And if your great plannings are feasible, which I very much doubt, has your feathered companion failed to remind you that talk with a stranger is rash?"

"You are no stranger," she said coolly. "Nor have I spoken a word to you that is not known already to all about me. My cousin, Ruiz Rios, whom I distrust and detest; the Captain Escobar who is a small man and a murderer, the other men whom I have gathered about me, they all know, for in this, if in nothing else, I can trust them all."

"But if I went away," he asked, "and talked?"

"You are not going away."

He lifted his brows quickly at that.

"I go where I please," he reminded her. "When I please. I am my own man, Se?orita Castelmar."

"Large words." She smiled at him curiously.

"You mean that my going would be interfered with?"

"I mean that you may make yourself free of the house; that you may walk in the gardens; that, if you sought to pass the outer wall, you would be detained. You remain my prisoner, Se?or Kendric, until you become my trusted captain!"

"You're a devilish hospitable hostess," he remarked. She was watching him shrewdly, interested to see just how he would accept her ultimatum. He returned her look with clear, untroubled eyes.

"You will think of what I have told you," she said slowly. "My wealth is very great; the fertile lands which I have inherited and those which I have purchased, embrace hundreds of thousands of acres; the barren lands which are mine, desert and mountain, stretch mile after mile. There is no power like mine in all Mexico, though until now it has lain hidden, giving no sign. It is in my heart to make you a rich man and, what you like more, Jim Kendric, a man to play the biggest of all games and for the biggest of all stakes. And further-further--"

"Further?" He laughed. "What comes after all that, Queen Zoraida?"

"Look into my eyes," she said softly. "Look deep."

He looked and though to him were women unread books, at last a slow flush crept up into his cheeks. For now neither he nor any other man could have failed to understand the silent speech of Zoraida's eyes. It was as though she invited him not so much to look into her eyes as through them and on, deep into her heart; as though these were gates, open to him, through which he might glimpse paradise. Zoraida, her look clinging to his passionately, was seeking to offer the final argument. The case would have not been plainer had she whispered with her lips: "I, even I, Zoraida, love you! You shall be my master; I your willing slave. What you will, I will also. My beauty shall be yours; my wealth, my estate, my ambitions, my power, all those shall be my lord's. Of a kingdom which shall be built you shall be king. You shall go far, you shall climb high. All because I, Zoraida, love you!"

She stood there watching him, her eyes burning into his. In her own mind were pictures made, pictures of pride and power and, as a mirror reflects the scene before it, so for a little did Jim Kendric's mind hold an image of the thing in Zoraida's. He felt her influence upon him; he felt that odd stirring of the blood; he stared back into her eyes like a man bewildered as pictures rose and swept magnificently by. He saw the red of her parted lips and heard her soft breathing; for a certain length of time-long or short he had little conception-he was motionless and speechless under her spell.

He stirred restlessly. Those visions conjured up within him, either by Zoraida's previous words and what had gone before or by the subtle workings of her mind now, were not unbroken. He thought of Twisty Barlow. Barlow had gone to her at the border town hotel; from his own experiences with her Kendric thought that he could imagine how she stood before the sailor, how she talked with him and looked at him, how in the first small point she won over him. He thought of an ancient tale of Circe and the swine. Was he a free man, a man's man or was he a woman's plaything?… It flashed over him again that it might be that Zoraida was mad. Even now, that he seemed to be reading her inmost soul, was she but playing the siren to his imaginings? Was this some barbaric whim of hers or was she, for the once, sincere? While appearing to be all yielding softness, was she but playing a game? Would she, at one instant swaying toward a man's arms, the next whip back from him, laughing at him?

Confused thoughts winging through his chaos of uncertainty held him where he was, his eyes staring at hers. Zoraida might read some of his mind but surely not all. What she realized was that she had offered much, everything, and that he stood, seemingly unmoved and frowned at her. Quick in all her emotions, now suddenly her cheeks flamed and the light in her eyes altered swiftly to blazing anger.

"Go!" she cried, pointing. She leaped to her feet, her eyes flaming. "By the long vanished Huitzil, I swear that I am of a mind to let those dogs, Rios and Escobar, have their way with you! What! am I Zoraida Castelmar, of a race of kings, daughter of the Montezumas, to have a man stand up before me weighing me in the balance of his two eyes? Go!"

He turned to go, eager to be out in the open air. But as he moved she called out to him:

"Wait! At least I will say my say. You and that fool Barlow came here, into my land, seeking gold. Escobar comes slinking in like a desert wolf on the same errand. Oh, I know something of it as I know something of all that goes forward from end to end of a land that will one day all be mine. Juarez died from Escobar's knife but his last gasp was for one of my agent's ears. When you or Barlow or Escobar lay hand on the treasure of the Montezumas, it will be to step aside for the last Montezuma. It will be mine!"

Fury filled her eyes. The hands at her sides clenched until the knuckles shone white through the blaze of her rings. The great cat rose and yawned, showing its glistening teeth and red throat. Its eyes were no more merciless and cruel than its mistress's. Kendric felt queerly as though he were looking back across dead centuries into ancient Mexico and upon the angry princess of the most cruel of all peoples, the blood-lusting Aztecs.

"Go!" she panted.

With one after another of the doors thrown open before him Kendric hurried away.

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