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Chapter 11

  • It was in the middle of the rainy season. Stepping out of his office, where h_ad just added a few drops of Scotch to the water he was absorbing at ever_ore, the station agent came face to face with the engineer of the down train.
  • “Nine hours late?” The engineer gruffly repeated the other’s comment. “We ar_ucky to be here at all. Besides being sopping wet, the wood we’re burning i_hat dosey it’d make a fireproof curtain for hell. This kind of railroadin_on’t suit my book, and I’m telling you that if they don’t serve us ou_omething pretty soon that smells like wood I know one fat engineer that wil_e missing on this line.” Jerking his thumb at the lone passenger who ha_escended at the station, he added: “But for that chap we’d never have go_hrough. When the track went out from under us at La Puente he pitched in an_howed us no end of wrinkles. If you’ve got anything inside just give him _ip for me.”
  • “Hullo, Mr. Seyd!” Coming face to face with the passenger after the train ha_one on, the agent thrust out his hand. “What a pity you weren’t on the othe_rain. She was twenty hours late—in fact, only pulled out a couple of hour_go. Miss Francesca was aboard, and she just left.”
  • “Not alone?”
  • The agent laughed. “Sure! She don’t care. Three weeks ago she came gallopin_n through one of the heaviest rains and took the up train.”
  • “So she has been home since I left?”
  • “Let me see—that’s nigh on three months, isn’t it? Sure, she came home jus_fter you left.”
  • With this bit of information lingering in the forefront of his mind Seyd, _ittle later, rode out from the station. Not that it engrossed, by any means, the whole of his thought. Even had he been free, the hard work and bitte_isappointment of the first venture, and the equally hard thought and carefu_lanning for the second during his long absence in the States, would have bee_ufficient to keep her in the background. If he had never happened to se_rancesca again she would probably have lingered as an unusually pretty fac_n the gallery of his mind. While it was only natural that he should wonder i_he news that he sent in by Caliban had ever reached her ear, it was merely _assing thought. His mind soon turned again to his plans. Up to the momen_hat, four hours later, he came slipping and sliding downhill upon her she wa_ltogether out of his thought.
  • For that very reason his fresh senses leaped to take the picture she mad_tanding in the gray sheeting rain beside her fallen horse, and through it_ery difference from either the tan riding habit or virginal batiste of hi_emory her loose waterproof with its capote hood helped to stamp this figur_pon his brain. Before she said a word he had gone back to the feelings o_our months ago.
  • The pelting rain had washed all but a few clay streaks off her coat. Touchin_hem, she explained: “The poor beast fell under me. I fear it has broken _eg.”
  • While speaking she offered her hand; and if that had not been sufficient, he_riendly smile more than answered his speculation. Caliban’s niece ha_ertainly done her duty! Indeed, while he was stooping over the fallen anima_ quick glance upward would have given him a look evenly compounded o_ischief and remorse. It gave place to sudden sorrow when he spoke.
  • “It is broken, all right. There is only one thing to be done. If you will lea_y horse around the shoulder of the hill I will put the poor thing out of it_ain.”
  • Her life had been cast too much in the open for her to be ignorant of th_eeds of the case. Nevertheless, he saw that her eyes were brimming as she le_is horse away; and, remembering their black fire on the day that she ha_rdered the charcoal-burners flogged, he wondered. It would have been eve_arder to reconcile the two impressions had he seen the tears rolling down he_heeks when the muffled report of his pistol followed her around the hill. Bu_he had wiped them away before he rejoined her. If the sensitive red mout_rembled, her voice was under control.
  • “No, I had not waited long,” she answered his question. “You see, the poo_reature lost a shoe earlier in the day, and I had to ride back to have i_eplaced. It would have been better had I stayed there.”
  • For the moment he was puzzled. An hour ago he had ridden past the las_abitation, a flimsy hut already overcrowded with the peon, his wife, thei_hildren, chickens, and pigs. All around them stretched wide wastes o_olcanic rock and scrub. They were, as he knew, on the hacienda San Angel, bu_he buildings lay five leagues to the north. With hard riding he had expecte_o make the inn at the foot of the Barranca wall that night. She might do i_y taking his horse. But if anything went wrong? She would be alone—al_ight—in the rain! He felt easier when she refused the offer of his beast.
  • “And leave you to walk? No, sir.”
  • A second offer to walk by her side not only ran counter to the prejudice of _ace of riders, but also aroused her sympathies. “I could never think of it!” After a moment of thought she propounded her own solution. “Your beast i_trong. I have ridden double on an animal half his size. We will both ride.”
  • Now, though Seyd had long ago grown to the sight of rancheros on their way t_arket in the embrace of their buxom brown wives, the suddenness of it mad_im gasp. But by a quick mounting he succeeded in hiding the rush of blood t_is face. Also he managed to control his voice.
  • “Fine idea! Give me your hand.”
  • Just touching his foot, she rose like a bird to the croup. When, as the hors_oved on, she slid an arm around his waist his demoralization was full an_omplete. If he glanced down it was to see her fingers resting like smal_hite butterflies on his raincoat. Did he look up, then a faint perfume o_amp hair would come floating over his shoulder. He thrilled when her clas_ightened as the horse broke into a gentle trot, and was altogether in a ba_ay when her merry laugh restored order among his senses.
  • “Now we can play Rosa and Rosario on their way to market. It will be for yo_o grumble at prices while I rail at the government tax that puts woolen_eyond the purse of a peon.”
  • “I prefer to ask what brought you out in such weather.” He returned her laugh.
  • “A pretty pickle you would have been in if I had not come along.”
  • He felt the vigorous shake of her head. “I should have walked back to the las_ut, and an oxcart would have taken me in to the station.”
  • “But then you would have been out all night.”
  • “I should have loved it.” Though he did not see the sudden blooming under he_ood, he felt the unconscious squeeze which testified to the sincerity of he_eeling. “I love them—the roar of the wind, black darkness, the beat of th_ain in my face. Mother would have had me stay in Mexico till the rains wer_ver, but when Don Luis wrote that the river was at flood nothing could hol_e.” He had thrilled under her unconscious pressure, but her conclusion prove_n excellent corrective. “I am afraid that the site for your new building_ust be under water.”
  • “How can that be?” He spoke quickly. “We are building well back from las_ear’s mark, and Don Luis said that it was the highest known.”
  • “But this year it has gone even higher—and all because of the Yankee companie_hat are stripping the upper valley of timber. There were great fires, too, last year which broke away from their servants and burned hundreds of miles o_oods.”
  • Her quiet answer went far to allay his sudden suspicion, but not his anxiety.
  • He spoke of Billy. “It is over a month since he came out to the station fo_tores, and the agent told me that none of your people had seen him fo_eeks.”
  • “But he has with him Angelo”—she gave Caliban his correct name—“and he, as _nce told you, was counted Sebastien’s best man in his war against th_rigands. Though he may not show it to you, he is not ungrateful for the gif_f his life. If food is to be had in the country, Mr. Thornton will not g_acking.”
  • He spoke more cheerfully. “Then I don’t care; though if the site _is_ floode_e shall be thrown back at least three months with our work.”
  • “And what is three months?” she added, laughing.
  • To him it was a great deal. Before paying over the loan Don Luis’s lawyers ha_aken Seyd’s signatures upon certain instruments which exhibited the Genera_n the new light of a shrewd and conservative business man. Withal, havin_till plenty of time, he answered quite cheerfully when she turned th_onversation with a question concerning his plans. Under the stimulation o_er curiosity, which surprised him by its intelligence, he went into details, talking and answering her questions while the horse trudged steadily on int_he darkening rain. If the trail had not suddenly faded out, night would hav_aught them unnoticed.
  • In that volcanic country, where for long stretches a hoof left no impression, the loss of a trail was a common experience, and, trusting to the instinct o_he beast, Seyd gave it the rein. Left to its own devices, however, i_radually swerved from the beating rain and presently turned on to a cattl_rack which swung away into gum copal trees and scrub oak at an imperceptibl_ngle. Had he been alone Seyd would have soon noticed the absence of the Azte_uin. As it was, but not until an hour later, Francesca was the first t_peak.
  • “That’s so,” he agreed, when she drew his attention. “We ought to have passe_t long ago. The animal evidently picked up a wrong track coming out from th_ocks.” After a moment’s reflection he said: “It would be worse than foolis_o try to go back. We could never find the trail in this black rain. Bette_ollow on and see where it will bring us.” With a sudden remembrance of wha_t might mean to her, a young girl brought up in the rigid conventions of th_ountry, he repentantly added: “I’m awfully sorry for you. I ought to b_icked for my carelessness.”
  • “No, I have traveled this trail much oftener than you,” she quietly protested.
  • “If any one is blamed I should be the one.”
  • Sitting there in black darkness, lost in those lonely volcanic hills, with th_ain dashing in his face and the roar of the wind in his ears, he was prepare_o appreciate her quiet answer. “You are a brick!” he exclaimed.
  • “Nevertheless, I feel my guilt.”
  • “Then you need not.” She gave a little laugh. “Did I not say that I enjoye_eing out at night in the rain?”
  • “And now the gods have called your bluff.”
  • “ _Bluff?_ ” She laughed again at the meaning of that rank Americanism. “I_as no bluff, as you will presently see.”
  • And see he did—during the long hour they spent splashing along in blac_arkness, up hill, down dale, fording swollen arroyos, through chaparral whic_ore at them with myriad claws and wet woods whose boughs lashed their faces.
  • Up to the moment that the roof of a hut suddenly loomed out against the dim, dark sky she uttered no doubt or complaint. When, having tied his horse unde_he wide eaves, he lit a match inside, its flare revealed her face, quiet an_erene.
  • Also it showed that which, while not nearly so interesting, had its immediat_ses—a candle stuck in a _tequila_ bottle; and its steadier flare presentl_elped them to another find—a chemisette and other garments of feminine wear, spotlessly clean and smoothly ironed, arranged on a string that ran over _unk in one corner.
  • “The fiesta wear of our hostess,” Francesca remarked. “How lucky! for I a_renched.”
  • “And look at that pile of dry wood!” he exclaimed. “The gods are with us. I’l_uild a fire, then while I rub down the horse you can change. What’s this?”
  • It was a rough sketch done with charcoal on the table. Two parallelograms wit_ticks for legs were in furious pursuit of certain horned squares which, i_heir turn, were in full flight toward a doll’s house in the far corner.
  • “Oh, I know!” the girl cried, after a moment of study. “Here, in the wil_ountry where they never see man, are raised the fighting bulls for the ring_f Mexico. This hut belongs to a vaquero of San Angel, and this is an order, left in his absence, to drive the bulls into the hacienda.” Laying her finge_n a triangle which had evidently been added later, she continued, laughing: “This shows that his woman has gone with him. They were evidently called awa_nexpectedly, for she had already set the corn to soak in this _olla_ for th_upper tortillas. And the saints be praised! Here are dried beef, salt, an_hilis. Now hurry the fire, and you shall see what a cook I am.”
  • While he was building it in the center of the mud floor she made other finds—_ube of brown sugar, coffee, a cake of goat’s cheese; and her little delighte_xclamations over each discovery both amused him and proved how sincere wa_er acceptance of the situation. “She’s a brick!” he told the horse, rubbin_im down, outside, with wisps pulled out from the under side of the thatch.
  • “Thoroughbred in blood and bone.” As the animal had already experimented wit_he thatch and found it quite to its liking, the question of provender wa_ettled. But in order that Francesca might have ample time to change, Sey_ubbed and rubbed and rubbed till a rattle of clay pots inside gave him leav_o come in.
  • At the door he paused to admire the picture she made in the red glow of th_ire. In place of the slender girl of the stylish raincoat a pretty peon_aised velvet eyes from the stone _metate_ on which she was vigorously rubbin_oaked corn for the supper tortillas. By emphasizing some features an_oftening others strange attire always gives a new view of a woman. Th_leeveless garment showed the round white arms and foreshortened and fille_ut her slender lines.
  • Glancing down at her arms, she confessed, with an uneasy wriggle: “I don’_ike it, though I wear décolleté every evening when we are in the city. But _hall soon get used to it.”
  • Conscious of his admiring eyes, she found them employment in watching th_ortillas. But, having grown accustomed to the new dress by the time suppe_as ready, she left him free to watch the white arms and small hands whic_overed like butterflies over the clay pot. In the lack of all other utensils, they used bits of tortilla for spoons, dipping alternately into the pot whic_he had set between them; nor did he find the chili any the worse for it_ontact with the tortilla which had just taken an impression of her smal_eeth. It required only an after-dinner pipe, to which she graciousl_onsented, to seal his content.
  • After the wet and fatigue of the trail the warmth and cheer of food and fir_ere extremely grateful, but not conducive to talk. While he sat watching th_obacco smoke curl up into the blackened peak of the roof she leaned, chin i_er hands, elbows on crossed knees, studying the fire. Leaping out of re_oal, an occasional flame set its reflection in her deep eyes, and as his gaz_andered from her around the rough _jacal_ Seyd found it difficult to realiz_hat it was indeed he, Robert Seyd, mining engineer of San Francisco, who sa_here sharing food and fire with a girl, on the one hand scion of the Mexica_ristocracy, descendant on the other of a line which ran back into the di_ime of the Aztecs. The thought stirred the romance within him and helped t_rolong his silence. It would have held him still longer if his musings ha_ot been suddenly interrupted by her merry laugh.
  • “ _Si?_ ” he inquired, looking suddenly up.
  • “I was thinking what they would say—my mother, Don Luis, the neighbors?”
  • “Horrible!” he agreed. “Your mother? What would she say?”
  • As the white hands flew up in a horrified gesture it was the señora herself. “ _Santa Maria Marissima!_ ”
  • “And Don Luis?”
  • Her expression changed from laughter into sudden mischievous demureness. “Hi_emarks, señor, are not for me to repeat.”
  • “Well—the neighbors?”
  • Once more her hands went up. “‘Was it not that we always said it of that ma_irl! Maria, thou shalt not speak with her again.’” Smiling, she added, “Fo_ou must know, señor, that I have been held as a horrible example of th_hings a girl should not do since the days of my childhood.”
  • “Like the devil in the old New England theology,” he suggested, smiling, “yo_ake more converts than the preacher?”
  • He had to explain before she understood. Then she laughed merrily. “Just so.
  • What they would do were I to marry, die, or reform, I really cannot tell. I_ould leave a gap almost equal to the loss of the catechism.” She finishe_ith a mock sigh, “They will never appreciate me till I’m dead.”
  • “Any present danger?”
  • The smiling mouth pursed demurely under his whimsical glance. “I am afrai_ot. You saw my performance at supper. I am the despair of my mother, wh_ould have me more delicate and refined.”
  • “Marriage?”
  • “No one wants me.”
  • “Don Sebastien?”
  • It slipped out, and he was immediately sorry, but she only laughed. “Tut! tut!
  • A cousin?”
  • Surveying him from under drooping lashes, a glance soft and warm as velvet, she added: “I will confess. There _were_ others. Some too fat, some too thin, all too stupid, here at home. In Mexico they were triflers—or worse. But o_he honor of a lone maid, señor, never a man among them.” With a sudde_elapse into seriousness she repeated, “Among _all_ of them—never a man.” Though she was looking directly at him, her glance seemed to go on, fly t_ome further vision which, for one second, set its reflection in her eyes.
  • Then her long silky lashes wiped it out. When they rose again it was ove_ischievous lights. “Never a _man_ ,” with a change of accent.
  • “But he will come—some day,” he teased.
  • “And go—after the fashion of dream men.”
  • “And dream women.”
  • For a while she studied him curiously. “Then she has not come?”
  • “Yes,” he answered, with sudden impulse. “But—”
  • She softly filled the pause. “‘But’ and ‘because’ are woman’s reasons.”
  • “Unhappily, sometimes man’s,” he gravely answered; and, feeling, perhaps, tha_he conversation was drifting into unsafe latitudes, he rose and began to pul_ry grass from the under side of the thatch. “For you,” he exclaimed, with _lance at the bunk. “I knew you wouldn’t care to sleep there.”
  • Having arranged a thick layer at a safe distance from the fire, he gathere_nother armful, and was going outside when she called him back. “To make m_ed,” he answered her question.
  • “In the wet?”
  • “Oh, it isn’t so bad—here under the eaves.”
  • “Only an inch of water,” she answered him, with pretty sarcasm; and, indicating certain small trickles that were coming through the cane siding, she gave him his orders. “You will sleep here—inside.”
  • “But—” he began.
  • “Señor, I said that you would sleep _inside_.”
  • As a matter of fact, the “prospect” outside was not inviting, and hi_cquiescence lowered the quick colors his previous obstinacy had raised. Sh_ad already settled down on one elbow; and when, having arranged a bed on th_pposite side of the fire, he lit a second pipe, she studied him through th_moke, wondering what pictures were responsible for his earnest gaze. Bu_armth and comfort presently produced their natural effect, and she began t_od. After a few shy, sleepy glances that showed him still staring moodil_nto the fire her head sank upon the white fullness of her doubled arm.
  • As a matter of fact, it was his wife’s face that returned his steady gaze fro_ nest of red coal. Absorbed in bitter musings, he received the firs_ntimation of Francesca’s sleep from a sigh which caused him to start a_hough at the report of a gun. Then while the warm blood streamed through hi_rumming pulses, every sense vividly alive, he looked down upon her. With al_he timid awe that Adam must have displayed when he awoke to the sight of Ev_e studied this greatest of masculine experiences, a woman clad in the sof_rmor of sleep.
  • For some time his senses dwelt only on the fact, and gave him merely the sof_igh of her sleep, the play of firelight over the unconscious figure. Bu_resently his mind began to work, to compare the broad forehead, ova_ontours, fine-cut nostrils, delicate chiseling of her features, with th_ommon prettiness of his wife. Even the little foot and slender ankle, free_y relaxation from the jealous skirt, helped to emphasize differences wide a_hose between a hummingbird and a pouter pigeon. It had required the rigi_election of a thousand generations, the pre-eminence in strength and brain_f a line of fighters to produce the one, just as the slacker choice of _ommoner breed had created the other; and Seyd, whose own blood had come dow_hrough the clean channels of good Colonial stock, recognized the fact. A_ever before he was impressed with the fatuity of his chivalric rashness.
  • While the firelight rose and fell he strained at the ties which stretched ove_ountains, desert, plains, binding him to the coarse woman in Albuquerque.
  • His sudden jerk forward was the physical equivalent of his mental strain.
  • Though homely, even slangy, his mutter, “Your cake is baked, son. The soone_ou let this girl know it the better,” was none the less tragic. The though_as the last in his waking mind.
  • Before going to sleep he performed one last service. Noticing that sh_hivered under the wet breath of the night, he took off his coat, tiptoe_cross, and, after laying it softly across her shoulders, returned with equa_aution. She did not stir or even change the slow rhythm of her breath, but h_ad no more than lain down before her eyes slowly opened. When his dee_espirations told that he was fast asleep she rose on one elbow and looked a_im across the fire.
  • In her turn, with glances shyly curious as those with which Eve, newly formed, may have eyed Adam still in “deep sleep,” she noted the wide-spaced, deep-se_yes, strong nose, the ideality of the brows, the humorous puckers at th_orners of his mouth. Though she did not analyze their individual meanings, the totality made a strong appeal to instinct and intuitions formed by th_ast experience of the race. Her impression phrased itself in her murmur, “_holesome face.”
  • Only the cleft chin seemed to carry a special meaning. Surveying it, a glea_f mischief shot through the soft satisfaction of her look, and she murmure_eneath her breath in Spanish, “Oh, fickle! fickle! Thy wife will need th_harpest of eyes.”
  • The thought brought a little laugh, and for a minute thereafter she sat, _inger upon her lip, listening for a break in his breathing. When it did no_ome she rose slowly, stole like a mouse across the floor, and laid his coat, light as a feather, over his unprotected shoulders. Back again on her ow_ouch, she looked across at him again; a glance naïve in its enjoyment of th_omantic impropriety of the entire proceeding. Then, curling up under he_aincoat, she fell fast asleep.
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