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Whilst on military patrol, Lieutenant Raoul Webster, United States Cavalry, is blinded in a freak accident. Granted furlough by the Army, he subsequently sets out, guided by his young brother, for San Francisco where he intends to consult an eye doctor. But en-route, the stagecoach conveying them is ambushed by ruthless Mexican bandits. Raoul’s brother is cold-bloodedly murdered, as are the driver and male passengers of the coach. Raoul survives, but is left alone in the wilderness, vulnerable to all Fate can throw at him. He is kept alive by one burning : to track down his brother’s killer. Surmounting incredible difficulties, he follows a bullet-strewn trail south of the Mexican border. And there he faces a bloody showdown with tambitionhose guilty of the ambush and murder.
I have no option but to comply with the prodding of my captors, and place one foot before the other. Presently, a rope halter is place around my neck and I am led like a dog. The ground is uneven and punishing and we travel at what seems a relentless pace. No provision is made for the ferocious heat, which soon burns down with the intensity of acid. I wish I had not lost my hat. Flies pester us as we walk. Stops are made all too rarely to sup water from the animal bladder they are carrying. The water is salty and sulphurous. They allow me but a few sips before it is snatched away. Throughout this awesome journey, I am convinced that if I in any way complain or do not respond to their direction, I will be clubbed down or shot. The novelty to them of my blindness will offer no protection. As it is, I am sure they are growing impatient with my clumsy blundering.
I lose all sense of time. The hours of torturous progress seem endless. My captors make no attempt at conversation. At last night brings relieving coolness, coming suddenly like death, and I am allowed to slump to the ground. I am exhausted, but I sleep only fitfully. Insects whine about me. They rouse me constantly and I wave my hands fruitlessly about my head. I am kicked awake before dawn, given a scrap of something akin to cactus to chew on and a sip of water, before the journey is resumed. I realize that I am beyond help from any party seeking the fate of the coach will provide.
As far as I can tell, we walk for three days, but I cannot be certain. I try to banish all thoughts from my mind, concentrate on placing each foot ahead of the other. Apart from the behaviour of my companions, the temperature is the only real delineation between night and day in my world of darkness. Only later will I discover that we have crossed the border into Mexico, that we have entered the Canon de los Embudos.
At last, be it the third or fourth day of travel, I am aware that we are descending and our pace is slackening and I hear other Apache voices raised in greeting and surprise, all mingling with the excited yapping of dogs. It is like intruding into an ants’ nest. I conclude that we have reached some sort of main camp or rancheria. We halt and I stand for a moment, left unguided, and I feel the eyes of numerous people examining me. The burn of their staring is as tangible as the sun’s heat.
‘What is he?’ somebody asks derisively.
‘He is a White Eye who’s eyes have gone black. He is as blind as Old Santo!’
The remark brings a roar of mirth and chatter, and I realize that I am standing within a circle of onlookers, men, women and children.
‘His coat is good.’
‘You cannot have it. It is mine.’
‘Shall we tie him head down over a fire, watch his brains fry?’
‘No. It would be better to smear him with honey and bury him in an ant hill! Or burn his feet off.’
‘Gokliya will decide.
‘Where is Gokliya?’
‘He will decide what we do with him. Now let us put him in a wickiup and guard him. He will not get far if he tries to run away.’
Again the crackle of mirth, and my arms are gripped and I am hustled forward and made to crouch as I am pushed into one of their shelters, a wickiup. It smells of grass and sun-warmed branches. I feel I am in an upturned bird’s nest. The air is stifling, but at least I am in shade and glad enough to fall face down onto the ground. The sound of the voices recedes and I believe I am alone. I withdraw into myself, pleased enough for respite. What will happen to me when Gokliya returns? What possible reason could he have other than to condemn me to some hideous death? The thought concerns me, but I push it from my mind. Overriding all else is the knowledge that my dear brother is dead. It weighs upon me, ever present, crushing me so that my breathing comes in sobs. What will such news do to my father whose heart is already ailing? Anger boils inside me, anger against those who plunged us into this purgatory. And frustration at my own feebleness, always at the mercy of others, unable to stand up for either myself or those I love. Why did the Mexicans waylay the coach? Was there some precious cargo aboard, gold or pay-roll, of which we had no knowledge?
I do not want to die. I will strive for life until the very end, but it would be so much easier if I could see like other men. I know that I am not entirely innocent. I had lusted and sinned as much as anybody else, but nowhere near badly enough to be punished with such affliction. I curse myself. Self pity will achieve nothing.