Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 36 Senora Martinez

  • Although Mr. Underwood escaped the stroke which it was feared might follow th_xcitement of his final interview with Walcott, it was soon apparent that hi_ervous system had suffered from the shock. His physician became insistent i_is demands that he not only retire from business, but have an entire chang_f scene, to insure absolute relaxation and rest. This advice was earnestl_econded by Mr. Britton, not alone for the sake of his friend's health, bu_ore especially because he believed it unsafe for Mr. Underwood or Kate t_emain in that part of the country so long as Walcott had his liberty. Thei_ombined counsel and entreaties at length prevailed. A responsible man wa_ound to take charge, under Mr. Britton's supervision, of Mr. Underwood'_usiness interests. The Pines was closed, two or three faithful servants bein_etained to guard and care for the property, and early in April Mr. Underwood,
  • accompanied by his sister and daughter, left Ophir ostensibly for the South.
  • They remained south, however, only until he had recuperated sufficiently for _onger journey, and then sailed for Europe, but of this fact no one in Ophi_ad knowledge save Mr. Britton.
  • During the last days of Kate's stay in Ophir she watched in vain for anothe_limpse of her strange friend. On the morning of her departure, as the trai_as leaving the depot, she suddenly saw the olive-skinned messenger of forme_ccasions running alongside the Pullman in which she was seated. Catching he_ye, he motioned for her to raise the window; she did so, whereupon he tosse_ little package into her lap, pointing at the same time farther down th_latform, and lifting his ragged sombrero, vanished. An instant later th_eñora came into view, standing at the extreme end of the platform, a lac_antilla thrown about her head and shoulders, the ends of which she now wave_n token of farewell. Kate held up the little package with a smile; sh_esponded with a deprecatory gesture indicative of its insignificance, the_ith another wave of the lace scarf and a flutter of Kate's handkerchief, the_assed out of each other's sight.
  • Kate hastily undid the package; a little box of ebony inlaid with pear_lipped from the wrappings, which, upon touching a secret spring, opened,
  • disclosing a small cross of Etruscan gold of the most exquisite workmanship.
  • In her first letter to Mr. Britton Kate related the incident, and begged hi_o look out for the woman and render her any assistance possible.
  • To this Mr. Britton needed no urging. Since his first sight of her that nigh_n Mr. Underwood's office he had been looking for her, for a twofold purpose.
  • For a number of weeks he failed to get even a glimpse of her, nor could h_btain any clew to her whereabouts.
  • One night, well into the summer, he came upon her, unexpectedly, standing i_ront of a cheap restaurant, looking at the edibles displayed in the window.
  • She was not veiled, her face was pale and haggard, and there was no mistakin_he expression in her eyes as she finally turned away.
  • "My friend," said Mr. Britton, laying his hand gently on her shoulder, "ar_ou hungry?"
  • She shrank from him with a start till a glance in his face reassured her, an_he answered, with an expressive gesture,—
  • "Yes, Señor; I have had nothing to eat to-day, and but little yesterday."
  • "This is no fit place; come with me," Mr. Britton replied, leading the way tw_r three blocks down the street, to a first-class restaurant. He conducted he_hrough the ladies' entrance into a private box, where he ordered _ubstantial dinner for two.
  • "Señor," she protested, as the waiter left the box, "I have no money, no wa_o repay you for this, you understand?"
  • "I understand," he answered, quickly; "I want no return for this. Mis_nderwood wished me to find you, and help you, if I could."
  • "Yes, I know; you are the Señorita's friend."
  • "And your friend also, if I can help you."
  • "You saved his life that night, Señor; I do not forget," the woman said, wit_eculiar emphasis.
  • "Yes, I undoubtedly saved the scoundrel from a summary vengeance; possibly _ight not have done it, had I known what the alternative would be. Where i_hat man now?" he asked, with sudden directness.
  • "I do not know, Señor; he tells me nothing, but I have heard he went sout_ome time ago."
  • The entrance of the waiter with their orders put a temporary stop t_onversation. The woman ate silently, regarding Mr. Britton from time to tim_ith an expression of childlike wonder. When her hunger was appeased, and sh_eemed inclined to talk, he said,—
  • "Tell me something of yourself. When and where did you marry that man?"
  • "We were married in Mexico, seven years ago."
  • "Your home was in Mexico?"
  • "No, Señor, my father owned a big cattle ranch in Texas. Señor Walcott, as yo_all him here, worked for him. He wanted to marry me, but my father oppose_he marriage. We lived close to the line, so we went across one day and wer_arried. My father was very angry, but I was his only child, and by and by h_orgave and took us back."
  • "Do I understand you that Walcott is not this man's real name?" Mr. Britto_nterposed.
  • "His name is José Martinez, Señor."
  • "But is he not a half-breed? I have understood his father was an Englishman."
  • "His father was an Englishman, but no one ever knew who he was, yo_nderstand, Señor? Afterwards his mother married Pablo Martinez, and her chil_ook his name. That was why my father opposed our marriage."
  • "I understand," said Mr. Britton; "but he claims heavy cattle interests in th_outh; how did he come by them?"
  • "My father's, all of them;" she replied. "He and my father quarrelled soo_fter we went there to live. Then we came away north; we lived for a while i_his State,"—she paused and hesitated as though fearing she had said too much,
  • but Mr. Britton's face betrayed nothing, and she continued: "Then, in a yea_r so, we went south and he and my father quarrelled again. My father wa_ound dead on the plains, trampled by the cattle, but no one knew how it cam_bout. Then José took everything and told me I had nothing. He went nort_gain three years ago. A year later he came back and told me I was not hi_ife, that our marriage was void because it was not performed in this country.
  • I became very ill. He took me away among strangers and left me there, to die,
  • as he thought. But he was mistaken. I had something to live for,—to follo_im, as I have followed him and will follow him to the end."
  • The woman rose from the table; Mr. Britton rose also, and stood for a moment,
  • facing her.
  • "He is a dangerous man," he said; "how is it that you do not fear him?"
  • She laughed softly. "He fears me, Señor; why should I fear him?"
  • "I understand," Mr. Britton said; "he fears you because you know him to be _riminal; because his freedom—perhaps his very life—is in your hands. Why ar_ou not in danger on that account? What is to hinder his taking a life s_nimical to his own?"
  • A cunning, treacherous smile crept over her face and a baleful light gleame_n her eyes, as she replied, "If I die at his hand my secret does not die wit_e. I have fixed that. If I die to-day, the world knows my secret to-morrow.
  • He knows it, Señor, and I am safe."
  • "Did it never occur to you," said Mr. Britton, slowly, "that for the safety o_thers your secret should be made known now?"
  • The woman's whole appearance changed; she regarded Mr. Britton with a look o_ingled anger and terror, as he continued:
  • "That man's life and freedom are a constant menace to other lives. Are yo_illing to take the responsibility of the results which may follow you_ithholding that secret, keeping it locked within your own breast?"
  • The woman looked quickly for a chance of escape, but Mr. Britton barred th_nly means of exit. Her expression was that of a creature brought to bay.
  • "I understand the meaning of your kindness to-night," she cried, fiercely.
  • "You are one of the 'fly' men, and you thought to buy my secret from me. Le_e tell you, you will never buy it, nor can you force it from me! So long a_e does me no harm I will never make it known, and if I die a natural death,
  • it dies with me!"
  • "You are mistaken," he replied, calmly; "I am no detective, no official of an_ort. My bringing you here to-night was of itself wholly disinterested, don_or the sake of a friend who wished me to help you. I have wished to meet yo_nd talk with you, as I was interested to learn your story, out of sympath_or you and a desire to help you, and also to shed new light on your husband'_haracter, of which I have made quite a study; but I am not seeking to forc_ou into making any disclosures against your will."
  • Her anger had subsided as quickly as it had been aroused.
  • "Pardon me, Señor," she said; "I was wrong. Accept my gratitude for you_indness; I will not forget."
  • "Don't mention it. If you need help at any time, let me know; I do not forge_hat you saved my friend's life. But one word in parting: don't think you_ecret will not become known. Those things always work themselves out, an_ustice will overtake that man yet. When it does, your own life may not be a_afe as you now think it is. If you need a friend then, come to me."
  • The woman regarded him silently for a moment. "Thank you, Señor," she said,
  • gently; "I understand. Justice will yet overtake him, as you say; and when i_oes," she added, significantly, "I will need no help."