The Shepherd of Guadaloupe - Zane Grey - ebook
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The Shepherd of Guadaloupe” is not a traditional Western: the story begins in 1919 and there are no gunslingers, rustlers, Indians, or stagecoaches. Cliff Forest returns from the war to find that his parents’ home has been taken over by the brutal Lundeen, whose own lovely daughter is terrified of him. To break the feud, save his parents, and win the woman who loves him, Cliff will have to defeat death itself. Virginia knows of the injustice done to his family by her father and decides to fight with Cliff to restore the property and to win his heart. This is a poignant love story of a man who only dares to dream of such a woman as Virginia because he knows he is about to die; and the passion of a woman who encourages him and tries her best in every way possible to see he does not die.

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Liczba stron: 406

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Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER ONE

THE sea out there, dark and heaving, somehow reminded Forrest of the rolling rangeland of his beloved West, which he prayed to see once more, before he succumbed to havoc the war had done his body and soul.

He leaned propped against the rail of the great ship, in an obscure place aft, shadowed by the life-boats. It was the second night out of Cherbourg and the first time for him to be on deck. The ridged and waved Atlantic, but for its turbulence, looked like the desert undulating away to the uneven horizon. The roar of the wind in the rigging bore faint resemblance to the wind in the cottonwoods at home–a sound that had haunted him for all the long years of his absence. There was the same mystery in the black hollows of the sea as from boyhood he had seen and feared in the gloomy gulches of the foothills.

But he hated this restless, unstable, treacherous sea which seemed a part of the maelstrom in which he had been involved. He yearned for the mountains, the desert, the valley of cottonwoods, home and mother, far across this waste of waters, those dear remembered ties of the past that still survived. The emotion had only come strong during those moments when, ignoring his weakness and pain, he had clung to the rail, gazing into the pale obscurity of the night, out over the boundless ocean, with the consciousness that the dream that had mocked him during nine months on a hospital cot had become a reality. He was on the way home–home to Cottonwoods!

He visualized the winding valley between the silver hills beautiful with the green-gold trees that gave their name to the place; the rocky stream that wound leisurely down, bordered by sage and willow, bringing the blue-tinted snow water from the mountains; the old rambling Spanish ranch house, white-walled, with the vines climbing up to the red tiles.

This retrospect seemed to release him from the vise of the war horrors that had clamped him. It would be best, now he was going home, to live in thought of the brief future allotted him; and his mind clutched at the revivifying memories.

There had been changes at home, his mother’s recent letter had intimated–a strange letter coming many months after a long silence, full of thanksgiving and joy that the report of his being among the missing had been erroneous, and evidently stultified over ills she had not the courage to confide. Thinking back, Forrest recalled a letter here, another there, widely separated, the content of which had not augured well for the prosperity of the Forrests. But he had dismissed them with a bitter laugh of recollection at the absurd idea of Clay Forrest, his father, ever losing land or stock enough to matter.

How would he find things at home? The query gave him a pang, for that thought had been seldom in his mind. He hoped now to find his parents well, and surely, in view of his service to his country and the supreme sacrifice he was soon to make, they would forgive the disgrace he had brought upon them. How long ago that expulsion from college! It seemed so trivial now, the cards, the drunkenness, the fight which had ended his school career. He had tramped and worked, now a rolling stone, and again a young man in whom hope could not wholly die. Then 1914 and the war! And now, broken in body and mind, victim of an appalling chaos, like thousands of other young men who had sustained a brutal and terrible affront to faith, honor, patriotism, love, he was voyaging across the ocean, battling the gray specter that hung grimly on his trail, longing for the land of his birth, the wide sweep of the Western ranges, the sage, the cottonwoods–there gladly to lay down the burden.

The huge black ship plowed on through the sullen sea, spreading the inky billows into white, seething, crashing foam, that raced by with spectral glow and phosphorescent gleam, to pale and fade in the darkness. The funnels roared and emitted bulging clouds of smoke that hid the stars. The mighty iron mass drove on masterfully, as if to fling defiance at nature. Forward along the wide deck bright lights shone on women scantily and beautifully gowned, and men in conventional black, not one of whom, it seemed to Forrest, had a thought of the greedy, mystic sea, or the perilously rushing ship, or the precious life so prodigally theirs.

Forrest left his post and walked along the deck, hiding his limp, and the pangs in his wounded side, and the burn in his breast. He walked erect. These were Americans returning home, and many of them were young. He felt no kinship with them. What was a crippled soldier to these idle, luxurious travelers? But once in his stateroom he sagged, and the face he saw in his mirror dropped its mask. Crawling into his berth, he lay in the dark, listening to the rhythmic pulse of the engines, deep in the bowels of the ship. Alone there with his phantoms in attendance he wooed slumber until at last it mercifully came.

*     *

*

On the following day Forrest vacated his stuffy stateroom late in the morning, and sought relief in the open air. The sea had gone down. There was no side roll, only a slow stately pitch, as the ship headed into a moderate southeast swell. Spring was in the air, coming almost balmy on the soft breeze. Passengers were out in force, in sport clothes, making the most of the fine weather. The sea shone bright green without any white crests. Smoke on the horizon attested to the passing of a ship.

Forrest found a steamer chair and made himself as comfortable as his stiff leg would permit. His position was near the wide space on deck where quoits and other games were adding to the amusement of passengers. In the chair next him sat a man whose friendly overtures could not without open rudeness be avoided. So Forrest agreed about the weather and that the halfway point on the journey had been passed and that the passengers were showing themselves this morning.

“I see you’ve been in the service,” remarked the man, after an interval.

Forrest nodded. If his civility invited curiosity, he would have to move, though he was reluctant to do this, because it required effort that was painful.

“My wife and I have been in France,” went on the stranger. “We had a boy in the service. Over a year ago he was reported missing. We thought perhaps we might find his grave or get some trace of him.”

“Did you?” queried Forrest, in quick sympathy.

“Nothing.–He was just gone.”

Forrest turned to eye this father who spoke so calmly of a tragedy. He looked like a small-town merchant, or a farmer who was lost without his overalls and boots. His geniality did not hide the furrows in his face nor did the kindly interest of his eyes conceal their sad depths.

Forrest expressed regret and inquired about the missing son’s regiment, thinking that he might have heard something. But the father knew little except the bare facts, and did not seem inclined to talk further about his loss. Forrest liked this plain, simple man, and was quick to feel that such contact was good for him, despite his sensitiveness.

“I was among the ‘missing’ for over a year,” he vouchsafed. “At least that was the belief in my home. I turned up in the hospital, but no report of that was ever sent–and, well, I wasn’t in any condition to know what was happening.”

“But your people know now?” queried the man, eagerly.

“Yes. They know.”

“How good that is!… Strange I should meet you…. I suppose I’ll never cease to hope my boy will turn up alive.”

“It might happen.”

“I’d like my wife to meet you if she happens along. Would you mind?”

“Not at all.”

“Where is your home?”

“New Mexico.”

“Way out West! Well, you have a trip ahead of you…. And you don’t look very strong yet.”

“I think I’ll make it,” replied Forrest, smiling wanly.

“You must! Think of your dad–and your mother,” rejoined the man, feelingly. “Maybe I can lend you a hand when we dock?”

“No, thanks. I’ll manage. Fact is I feel better this morning than for months.”

The little man did not press the point and tactfully changed the subject for a hazard on the ship’s run. Then after a desultory conversation peculiar to ocean travel he excused himself and withdrew.

Forrest was left the better for that meeting, though how, he could not define. But he realized that he must not build a wall round himself for everyone. His own father and this kindly stranger would have had much in common a twelvemonth ago.

The sun climbed overhead, making the day pleasant for the passengers at their games or promenading the decks. Forrest, however, felt the slight chill in the air, even under his rug; nevertheless, he was conscious of something that might have been an exhilarating movement of his blood. Not improbably this accounted for a languid interest in the stream of promenaders.

Presently he made the surprising discovery that he was an object of some interest to the feminine contingent. It annoyed him and his first impulse was to retire to the seclusion of his stateroom. Still, it was pleasant there and he was resting more comfortably. What did these women see in him, anyway? To be sure, a half-blind person could read his story from his telltale face. The fact that the interest he roused was sympathetic rather than curious did not allay his irritation. It had rather a contrary effect.

Forrest tried lying back with his eyes closed. This worked fairly well, but as he could not sleep and quite forgot the reason for the pretense, he soon opened them. He found himself staring straight up into the beautiful face of a girl he had noticed before, though not closely enough to observe how really attractive she was. Detected in her scrutiny of his features, she blushed. Then she swiftly averted her face and went on with her companion, a girl of slighter build and less striking appearance.

He stared after them, noting in the taller a supple strong figure and a head of bright chestnut hair, the curls of which tossed in the breeze. Forrest imagined her face perhaps, at least her dark, wide blue eyes, familiar to him. They had been bent upon him with a wondering, penetrating look, for which he was at loss to account.

The incident had about faded from his unquiet mind when he espied the two girls coming back along the deck, arm in arm, rosy with their brisk exercise, walking more swiftly than the other passengers. He watched them approach and pass, which they did this time without apparent notice of him. Both girls were Americans, clad obviously in the latest Parisian styles, of which the short skirts rather jarred upon Forrest. The one with the chestnut hair had the build of a Western girl and the step of a mountaineer. It had been long since Forrest had seen her like, but he had never forgotten.

Upon their next circle of the decks they took up the quoits just abandoned by others, and began to play, with the taller girl at the end nearer Forrest. How gracefully she bent, with long sweep of arm to pitch the quoit! She was an open-air girl, and she had a wrist and hand that could hold a horse. Presently at the conclusion of the game she changed sides with her opponent, and then Forrest had full view of her face. Reluctantly he surrendered to its charm, somehow strangely familiar, as if it were that of a girl of his dreams or of some one he might have known in a far-off happy past.

She was gay, full of fun, and keenly desirous of beating her opponent, who evidently had a shade the more skill. Despite attention to the game, however, while her rival was pitching, she glanced at Forrest. And finally he grasped that it was neither casual nor flirtatious, but an augmentation of her former puzzled and wondering look.

Something of a thrill stirred in Forrest’s sad and lonely heart. For six years girls had meant little or nothing to him. Before that he had been sentimental enough, and even up to the age of twenty-two he had suffered divers attachments. In France he had known two girls, both of whom he would have loved if he could have been capable of love. But the war had been hell. He could not become callous. He had not been built to function like a machine. His emotions had destroyed his soul as bullets had his body. Still this young American Diana recalled Christine, a little French girl whom the war had made a waif. She had been petite, with glossy, fine, black hair and eyes to match, that peered roguishly from her pale, pretty face. She had no parents, no home, no friends except chance soldiers; she was a little derelict, yet she somehow embodied the spirit of France, and was unforgettable. Forrest did not quite understand what connection there could be in his mind between her and this girl of his native land. Certainly, there was no physical resemblance.

Again these merry quoit-players changed positions, and presently one of the quoits slid under Forrest’s deck chair.

The chestnut-haired girl tripped over, flushed and shy.

“That was a wild pitch. I’m sorry,” she apologized.

Forrest suddenly realized what was expected of a gentleman, and he forgot the need of guarding against abrupt movements. As he jerked out of his lounging position, to reach for the quoit, he sustained a tearing agony in his side. But he secured the quoit, and his shaking hand touched hers in awkward contact. No one could have mistaken the caution with which he leaned back in his chair.

“Oh, you hurt yourself?” she asked, in hurried compassion.

“A little. It’s nothing,” replied Forrest, faintly. Her wide startled eyes denied his assertion.

“You should have let me pick it up,” she went on.

“I don’t often forget, but you made me,” he said, gazing up at her, with a wry smile.

“Ah! You’re an American soldier, going home?” she asked.

“All that’s left of me.”

She did not voice the pity and regret which her face expressed. Evidently confused, if not agitated, by the little incident, she turned to her game, which she rather abruptly terminated.

Forrest lay back in his chair, resenting the angry palpitations of his injured side. How impossible to grow insensible to pain! The tear, the rend, the fiery shock shooting back to the heart, then the quivering raw nerves, and the slow icy sickening settling to normal! He disliked the intrusion of this beautiful, healthy, care-free girl upon his misery; and he overcame some deep unfamiliar warmth within to resent her pity.

*     *

*

Late in the day, when he ventured on deck at the hour most passengers were dressing for dinner, he essayed to walk up and down a little, as he had been instructed to do, at whatever cost to his sensibilities. He really managed very well for a cripple, and in spite of sundry qualms the exercise was good for him.

The sunset lacked warmth and color, yet its pale yellow and turquoise blue, hemmed in by russet clouds, was worth watching, if only to remind him of the West, where the setting sun was a ritual for the Indian, and the best of the day for the hunter, the range man, the rider on his trail, and the rancher on his porch.

Forrest at length had recourse to his chair, and he found pinned to his steamer rug a little packet wrapped in tissue paper. Violets! Who could have placed them there? Only one reply seemed possible. The act touched Forrest deeply, for he took it as an expression which could not have been made in words. He carried them to his stateroom and placed them on his pillow. One of his many tribulations was the fact that he was not permitted to eat more than once a day, and then sparingly. And as he shunned the saloons and was too nervous to read by artificial light, there appeared nothing to do but go to bed.

Soon, in the darkness of his stateroom, he lay with his cheek touching the tiny bunch of fragrant violets, and it was certain that his tears fell upon them. It had been a sweet and compassionate action of the chestnut-haired girl, but it hurt even in its aloof tenderness. For the moment it pierced his bitter armor. In the silence and blackness of the night, with only the faint throb of the engines and the roar of the sea in his ears, he felt what he had missed during these wasted years and now could never have. He held that his sacrifice had been futile. The magnificent glow and inspired fighting fervor with which he had volunteered for the war, had died in the ghastly reality of the truth. Even his belief in God had succumbed.

How strange to feel that there still abided in him depths that stirred to the look in a girl’s eyes and the meaning in a gift of violets. She had not known that he should have been beyond the pale of such human sentiments. The worst of it was that he was not. Long indeed were the hours before slumber claimed him.

Next day the donor of the kindly gift might as well not have been on the ship, for all Forrest saw of her. On the ensuing morning he thought he caught a glimpse of wavy chestnut hair disappearing behind a corner of deck, but it did not reappear. And gradually the persuasive force of the incident faded; the fleeting interest that had kept him from morbid retrospection lost its healthy tone, and he drifted back. The little affair, perhaps only a kind thought for her, yet of such incalculable good for him, had been ended. Chestnut-haired girls were not for him.

*     *

*

When in the early rose and gold of sunrise the ship steamed up the Narrows and on past the Statue of Liberty, the hour was one of tremendous moment to Clifton Forrest. His own, his native land! One of his prayers at least had been answered. There was only one left, and he renewed that with a faith incurred by this beautiful answer.

At the docking his ordeal of transfer began. But he kept out of the press of the crowd, and watched the gay fluttering of handkerchiefs, the upturned faces, eager and intent, the hurry of passengers down the gangplank. And looking among them, suddenly he espied her. Had he forgotten? She was clad in white and those around her dimmed in his sight. Yet he saw her welcomed by young men and women, who whisked her away, leaving a blankness over the noisy crowd, the incessant movement and changing color.

*     *

*

After complying with the wearying customs regulations, Forrest sat resting upon his luggage until he could engage a steward who would take him to a taxi. Soon, then, he was dodging the traffic of the streets of New York, the peril of which he thought equal to tank warfare in France.

Uptown, the great canyon streets, with their endless stream of humanity, and in the center the four rows of continuous motors, brought stunningly to him the bewildering fact that he was in New York City. To be sure, a thousand leagues still separated him from his destination, yet this was home. It roused him to a high pitch of gratitude, and of an inexplicable emotion that had long been dormant in his breast.

The stimulus of this grew as he turned into Fifth Avenue, where the wild taxi-driver had to join the right-hand procession and slow up at frequent intervals. Thus Forrest had opportunity to revel in the sidewalks packed with his countrymen. The bitterness of neglect had no place in his full heart then, and the hour was too big for the tragedy of his life to prevail. He had not dreamed it would be like this. Perhaps there was something his misery had blunted or which his intelligence had never divined. Among the thousands of pedestrians he saw women of all degrees, from the elegant lithe-stepping patrician to the overdressed little shopgirl. And it was these his hungry heart seemed to seize. Had he not seen enough men to last ten lifetimes?

At the Grand Central Station he expended about the last of his strength reaching a bench in the waiting-room. The huge domed vault, which he could see through the doorway, seemed dim, and the hurrying people vague in his sight. He leaned back with his coat under his head, and slowly watched the arch clear of dim gloom, of spectral cubistic shapes, like the things of a nightmare; and rays of colored sunlight shine upon the splendor of sculptured walls and the painted dome.

Oddly it struck him then that the clearing of the vast space above might be a symbol of his homecoming. Out of chaos, out of turgid gloom, the beautiful lights on the storied painted windows! But if it were true it must mean out of travail into ease, out of insupportable life to dreamless death.

It took hours sometimes for Forrest to recover from undue exertion. This appeared to be a time when he would just about be rested and free from torture, then be compelled to rouse the fiends of flesh and bone again. It was well that he had to wait for one of the slow trains, upon which no extra fare was charged.

Eventually he once more got pleasure and excitement from the hurrying throngs. Wherever did so many people come from? Whither were they going? Indeed, their paths seemed the pleasanter lanes of life, for few indeed belonged to the lower classes. All well dressed, intent on thought or merry with companions, bright-faced and eager for whatever lay ahead, they impressed Forrest with the singular and monstrous fact of their immeasurable distance from him, from the past that had ruined him, from the bleak ash-strewn shore of the future.

He had given his all for them and they passed him by, blind to his extremity. But for the moment he soared above bitterness and he had clearness of vision. Surely one or more of these handsome girls had a brother under the poppies in the fields of France. Perhaps some of these business-like young men had shared with him the battlefield, but had escaped his misfortunes.

So the hours passed, not tediously for the latter half, until the porter who had carried his bags and purchased his ticket arrived to put him on his train.

“Come, buddy,” said the porter, with a grin; “hang on to me and we’ll go over the top.”

Anyone who ran could read, thought Forrest with resignation. Still his pride would never succumb. Without a falter he followed his guide to Pullman, and once sunk in his seat he sighed and wiped the cold dew from his brow. Only one more like ordeal–the bus ride in Chicago from station to station–and then the Santa Fé Limited! How often from the hills outside Las Vegas had he reined his horse to watch the famous Western train wind like a snake across the desert!

The Palisades above the Hudson, with the sinking sun behind them, appeared to have a faint bursting tinge of spring. At home the cottonwoods would be in leaf, full-foliaged, and green as emerald. He watched the reflection of cliff and hill in the broad river until dusk. Then he ventured boldly for the dining-car. It brought poignant memories. How different his first experience in a diner six years before on his way to college at Lawrence, Kansas!

*     *

*

That night he did not sleep very well, though he rested comfortably. The rushing of the train through the darkness, fearful as it was, seemed welcome because of the miles so swiftly annihilated.

Morning came, and finally Chicago, dark under its cloud of smoke. Forrest naturally was slow in disembarking from the train. All was bustle and confusion. Porters were scarce. And as the connection for the Santa Fé was close he could not risk missing the bus. So he carried his luggage. As a result he had to be helped into the bus, and at Dearborn Street put in a wheel chair and taken out to his Pullman. He was staggering and groping like one in the dark, while the porter led him to his berth and deposited his luggage. When Forrest sagged into the seat he felt that it was not any too soon. He was glad indeed to lay his head on a pillow the porter brought. Outside, the conductor called all aboard. The train gave a slight jar and started to glide. Forrest heard a passenger exclaim that the Twentieth Century Limited had just made the connection and that was all. Then the train emerged from the shaded station out into the sunlight.

Forrest knew that he had overshot his strength, but if it did not kill him outright, he did not care. He was on the last lap home. And the ecstasy of it counter-balanced the riotous protest of his broken body. Had he not endured as much without any help at all save the brute instinct to survive? He opened his heavy eyelids, and the first person he saw was the chestnut-haired girl he had met on the ship.

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