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Chapter 12

  • Thoroughly fagged out by six weary nights on the train, Seyd slept like th_ead, and did not awaken until a sudden clatter of pots aroused him t_nowledge of a golden cobweb of light streaming in between the flimsy sidin_f the hut. Through the open doorway he obtained a glimpse of a bejewele_orld, resonant with the song of birds. After informing him of these facts, his eyes reintroduced him to the young lady in the tan riding habit who ha_usted the pretty peona of last night from her command over fire and dishes.
  • The satisfying odor of hot coffee completed the verdict of his senses.
  • “Breakfast all ready? I must have slept like a log.”
  • “You did.” She laughed. “I rattled the dishes in vain. I was just about t_hrow something at you.”
  • Now, his last waking thought had outlined a purpose to inform her at once o_is marriage, and while they were eating breakfast it recurred again. But no_ith the same force. That which, when imbued with the sentimental values o_irelight and silence, appeared necessary and right somehow appeared almos_bsurd when viewed in broad day. Checking sentiment, too, by its ver_riendliness, her manner did not invite confession.
  • “It would be impertinent,” he concluded. “She has no personal interest in me.”
  • If he had observed her only an hour earlier re-entering the _jacal_ after _hivering exchange outside with the peona he might not have been quite s_ure. Once or twice she had indulged in softer thought, whose key was to b_ound in her murmur just before she tried to awake him:
  • “ _Adios_ , Rosario.”
  • Also the morning had brought its own problem to fill his mind. He could no_ut see that their appearance at the inn in the Barranca so early in the da_ould be a confession of their breach of the most rigid of Spanis_onventions. But how to broach the subject without offense? Though he racke_is brains while saddling the horse and, later, when it was carrying the_ouble upon their way, he had come to no conclusion up to the moment that sh_ettled it herself with a little cry.
  • “Now I know where I am.” She was indicating an outcropping of rock on _terile hillside. “We strayed miles away from our trail. We shall soon come t_ path that leads past a rancho where I can borrow a horse.”
  • Almost as they spoke the cattle track they had been following joined a trail, and shortly after she spoke again, laughing. “And now, Señor Rosario, I mus_id you good-by. This good beast has done nobly, but we shall gain time if on_ides forward to the rancho and sends back a horse. Which shall it be?”
  • But he was already on the ground, hat in hand. “Rosa, _adios_.”
  • Laughing, she rode on while he sat down on an outcropping of rock to wait, fo_e was not minded to wade through the wet grass and brush of some woods at th_oot of the hill. Until she passed from sight he sat watching, then, feeling _ittle lazy, he fitted his angles into a sort of natural couch in the rock an_ell to musing, reviewing again the incidents of the night. He had no_ntended to sleep. But what with the warmth and stillness, he presently passe_uietly away, was still unconscious when the stroke of a hoof on a rock awok_im to the sight of two horsemen with a led beast.
  • “For me,” he thought. Then, as he recognized Sebastien Rocha in the secon_orseman, he whistled his consternation. If the hacendado had not actually me_rancesca he must surely have pumped the _mozo_ dry, and now the sight of him, Seyd, would fully reveal their case!
  • “Now for a big fat row,” he told himself. But, greatly to his surprise, Sebastien passed on with a nod, and presently turned from the trail, followin_heir fresh hoof tracks over the hill. The _mozo_ had already gone on t_etrieve Francesca’s saddle from the dead horse, and, irritated and alarmed, Seyd mounted the led beast and rode on at a gallop. But, quickly realizin_hat his further company was not likely to improve the girl’s case, h_resently pulled the beast back to a walk. Lost in frowning thought, he rod_n slowly until, an hour later, there came a beat of galloping hoofs, an_ebastien rode up from behind.
  • His reiteration of the thought “Now for the row!” was colored by the way i_hich the hacendado’s hand went to his holster. But Seyd’s hand, which move_s quickly to his own gun, dropped, and he blushed crimson as the other hel_ut his brier pipe.
  • “Merely _this_ , señor.” He glanced meaningly at Seyd’s gun. “For _that_ yo_ould have been too late. I could have shot you through the back. After thi_o not let your foolish Yankee pride stop you from looking behind.”
  • Though both angry and alarmed, the cold impudence of it made Seyd laugh. “Yes?
  • How did you resist the temptation?”
  • “It was a temptation.” He gravely approved the word. “Your back made such _ine smooth mark. I could see the bullet splash in the center.”
  • “Then why didn’t you? Since you are so frank I don’t mind saying that _elieve that you already had a hand in at least one of three attempts on m_ife! Is it that you would prefer to have me blown up?”
  • “Like your predecessor, the Hollander?” Sebastien’s shrug might have mean_nything. “I have, of course, my preferences, and some day I shall have t_ecide in just which way I would wish you put to death. In passing th_pportunity now you ought to feel complimented, for let me tell you that _ould never leave any Mexican lips free to tell of your experiences las_ight.”
  • The man’s tone of quiet certainty robbed the words of extravagance; and, accustomed now to a life that out-melodramaed melodrama, Seyd knew better tha_o take them for jest. “That’s very nice of you,” he quietly answered, and a_ust then the trail narrowed to pass through a copal grove he added: “Forewarned is forearmed. Just to keep you out of temptation—will you pleas_o go first?”
  • “With pleasure.”
  • Faint though it was, the smile that loosened the firm mouth made it easier fo_eyd to continue when they were riding once more side by side. “For the youn_ady’s sake I am glad to have you take such a sensible view of an unavoidabl_ituation. I take it that you were going the other way. If you can trust me—”
  • “Trust no one and you will never be deceived. If I had my way of it ther_ould be an end to the girl’s wild tricks. But since she _will_ be abroad, what better escort could she have than her kinsman?”
  • “None,” Seyd agreed. “I overtook her by accident, cared for her the best tha_ could; now she is in your hands.”
  • Sebastien shook his head. “Not so swiftly. She would hardly thank me for you_ismissal.” While the shadow of a smile lifted the corner of his thin lips h_dded: “The last time I mixed in her affairs she refused to speak with me fo_ver a year, and I have no mind to repeat the experience. We are all going t_an Nicolas. It would be foolish to ride apart.”
  • “Very well,” Seyd agreed, not, however, with any great degree of pleasure.
  • Apart from the strain involved by a day’s travel with a man who had jus_onfessed to a permanent intention of killing him he felt more disappointmen_han he would have cared to admit at the spoiling of the tête-à-tête with th_irl. In fact, the feeling was so acute that he found it necessary to justif_t in his own thought. “It was only for a day,” he mused, slightly changin_is previous conclusion to fit the case, “and I’d like to have seen it out.”
  • “So! so! The storm proved a little too much for this one.”
  • They had just ridden into copal woods, and, looking up, Seyd saw that he wa_ointing at a pile of bones and wet tatters of clothing that lay under _winging fray of rope. If possible, it was more grisly of appearance than _econd mummy which still swung, clicking its miserable bones in the wind.
  • Whether or no he noticed Seyd’s shiver of disgust Sebastien ran easily on:
  • “He was a stout rogue, this fellow, with a keen eye for a pretty woman an_mall scruples as to how he got her. It was, indeed, through this littl_eakness that we caught him, using a girl to bait the trap. But he die_ame—with a joke on his lips. ‘Señor,’ he said, as the mule went from unde_im, ‘if but one-half of my brats walk in my steps thou wilt have need of a_rmy to finish us up.’
  • “He had humor, too. He it was that stole the altar service from the church o_an Anselmo to pay the priest of Guadaloupe to say a thousand masses for th_epose of his soul. He was dead and the masses said before the service wa_raced by a pilgrim to the Guadaloupe shrine, and ever since the priests hav_een at war—both over the return of the service and to decide the burnin_uestion as to whether it is possible to nullify a heavenly title obtaine_hrough fraud. It makes a pretty point in theology, and the battle stil_ages. Being debarred from physical expression, the brute in a pries_xercises itself through the tongue, and they will not leave such a choic_orsel till the last shred of meat has been gnawed from the bones.”
  • In presence of those dumb witnesses to its truth, the grim banter sounded eve_rimmer. During the long white nights that followed hard days at work on th_melter nothing had suited Caliban more than to be drawn on to talk of the wa_gainst the brigands. Under the red light of a camp fire, with the vast nigh_f the Barranca yawning below, the tales had been spun—tales that had outdon_he dime novels of Seyd’s youth. Of them all, that which had ended with th_anging of the last bandit in this very glade had outdone all in shee_esperation.
  • Kindling to the romance of it all, he took stealthy note, as they rode on, o_he lithe muscular figure, which was as extraordinary in its balanced strengt_s the calm power of the quiet brown face. When memory drew a vivid contras_etween Sebastien and his early training in the sober atmosphere of th_nglish commercial boarding-school Seyd wondered, and finally put his wonde_nto words.
  • “Didn’t you find the transition from Manchester rather sudden? It must hav_een like plunging head first into a romance.”
  • “Romance?” For the first time that morning, for matter of that, in all thei_ntercourse, Sebastien laughed outright. “Oh, you Anglo-Saxons! Romance is _reature of your own dreamy idealism. We do not know it. We are passionate, nervous, hysterical, gross, materialistic, but for all our heat we see lif_ore clearly than you. It would be better for us if we did not. For where i_he mirror of your imaginings you see your strength enormously magnified ou_learer perceptions show our weaknesses. Even at the point of death yo_either see nor accept defeat. But we, cowering before it, are swept th_uicker away.” Just as on that other occasion when he stood talking besid_heir fire on the rim of the Barranca, this came out of his quiet wit_olcanic heat. Dropping as quickly into his usual calm, he finished, “No, _id not find it romantic—merely amusing.”
  • Nettled a little by his amused contempt, Seyd quickly retorted: “I fail to se_ow you can claim to have no ideals? You who are striving with all your migh_gainst the American invasion?”
  • Sebastien shrugged. “Racial aversion—backed up by the instinct of self- preservation. Even cattle will band together against the wolves. But remov_he danger and the bulls fall at once fighting for command of the herd. Befor_iaz we had sixty-five rulers in sixty years, very few of whom died in thei_eds. Once remove his iron hand from our throats and we shall go at it again, revolution upon revolution, for the sole purpose of satisfying some man’_ersonal ambition, lust, or individual greed. No, señor, we are individualist_n the extreme. We have nothing in our make-up to correspond to the racia_deal that makes you Northmen subordinate personal interest to the genera_ood. And because of our lack you will eventually rule us.”
  • “Yet you strive against it?”
  • “For the one reason, as I told you, that the weaker wolf declines to be eaten.
  • Individually, I find it amusing. I would much prefer shooting gringo soldier_o hanging Mexican bandits.”
  • “And the General—Don Luis?”
  • Once again Sebastien laughed. “That old revolutionist? He would deny all _ave said as rank heresy, though he himself is its most startling example. H_ould say that he was for Mexico, but Mexico, to him, is Mexico with a Garci_or president. Selfish to the backbone, every one of us.”
  • In a phrase he had described Don Luis, and, while he could not but smile a_ts truth, Seyd was just a little startled by the keen intelligence an_lashing intuition. Even after allowing for advantages of travel and educatio_he man’s sharp reasoning and originality were remarkable. Like a clear blac_ool his mind sharply reflected all that passed over it, and always th_onception stood out as under a lightning flash.
  • “No, señor,” he went on, after a pause, “we are individualists, and as suc_an only obtain happiness by following our own bent. If we are held back for _hile by Porfirio, be sure that sooner or later we shall return with greate_est to our ancient pastime of cutting each other’s throats.”
  • His uncanny intelligence, too, threw sinister lights on everything the_assed. “I told you we were gross,” he said, indicating a youth and a brow_irl who were flirting through the barred windows of an adobe ranch house.
  • “The proof—the bars. With us love is a passion; the ideal exists only in ou_ongs.”
  • Shortly thereafter they rode out on the rim overlooking the Barranca, and th_ecessity of riding in single file down the zigzag staircases brought an en_o their talk. Neither did he begin it again as they crossed the bottom fla_o the inn. Coming after a long silence, the invitation which he delivered a_ast, as they rode into the patio, came as a greater surprise.
  • “I feel certain, señor, that my cousin will wish you to lunch with us.”
  • Because another trait in Sebastien’s nature was not revealed until, a fe_inutes later, he knocked at Francesca’s door, Seyd failed to see that which, after all, was perhaps even more surprising. As he entered in response to he_all she rose and stood, one hand resting on the small altar where burned _iny taper; and as he stood looking at her across the length of the room th_nquiry in her wide eyes became touched with fear.
  • “It is you?” she broke the silence. “They told me that you spent last nigh_ere. How was it that I did not meet you on the way?”
  • “Simply because I had happened to turn in at the Rancho del Rio to look a_ome cattle. But I overtook the _mozo_ you sent back with the horse for th_ringo. Also I called in at the _jacal_ of Miguel, the vaquero of San Angel, where I found Maria, his woman, just returned. She was rejoicing over _upernatural visitation. It seems that while she and Miguel were away th_irgin Guadaloupe abode in their house, and even honored Maria by putting o_er best fiesta clothes. In proof thereof she showed me a silver peso that th_irgin left tied up in one corner of her chemisette. It was truly remarkable, and I was well on my way to a healthy conversion when I happened to stumble o_he gringo’s pipe—at least, he claimed it on sight.”
  • “And you immediately turned about to tattle this to me?”
  • He merely smiled under her bright scorn. “To see you home.”
  • “Where you will proceed to make my mother eternally miserable, and uncle—”
  • “—Infernally angry? On the contrary, I am prepared to back up with pistol an_nife the tale of Maria’s visitation. Why should I wish to bring suffering t_he good mother? It was a hap of the trail, and, much as I hate all gringos, it was far better that you should have been in this man’s hands. Some day _ay have to kill him, and I shall do it with greater pleasure because o_his!”
  • “If the attempt does not fail as miserably as that which you made on hi_oul.”
  • “Put it morals, cousin, just to bring it within the bounds of m_omprehension. You know my beliefs as to souls.”
  • “In any case it was a mean trick.”
  • “Tricks are tricks only when they fail. Successful, they rise to the dignit_f strategems. And he ought not to complain. Did he not come out of the ordea_nscathed, tricked out in the flowers of virtue? He’s really in my debt. Bu_eturning to my point, some day I shall kill him; but in the mean time I hav_sked him to lunch with us. As he looked hungry, I should suggest a littl_aste.”
  • “I am ready now.” Going toward him, she spoke, hesitantly: “Let me—thank you.
  • Were you always thus, Sebastien, we should be better friends.”
  • “ _Gracias_ , anything but that.” Bowing, he stood aside to permit her t_ass. “The half liking that you deal out to Anton, Javier, and other fat- jowled hacendados, your admirers, would never do for me. I prefer your—fear.”
  • “But I am not afraid of you.” She looked straight in his eyes passing out.
  • “You will be—some day.”
  • * * *