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?”
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.