“Phe-ew!” Looking up from a treatise on bricklaying as applied to the buildin_f furnaces, Billy pitched a stone at Seyd, who was experimenting with a batc_f lime fresh drawn from a kiln of their own burning. “I’d always imagine_ricklaying to be a mere matter of plumb and trowel, but this darned craft ha_ore crinkles to it than the differential calculus. This fellow makes me dizz_ith his talk of ties and courses, flues, draughts, cornering, slopes, an_rches.”
Leaning on his hoe, Seyd wiped his wet brow. “I’m finding out a few thing_yself. I’d always sort of envied a hod-carrier. But now I know that th_umble ‘mort’ puts more foot-pounds of energy into his work than the averag_orse. As a remedy for dizziness caused by overstudy, mixing mortar has n_qual. Come and spell me with this hoe.”
“‘And the last state of that man was worse than the first,’” Billy groaned. “
_Can’t_ we hire a single solitary peon, Seyd?”
More eloquently than words, Seyd’s shrug testified to the sullen boycott whic_ad been maintained against them for the past three weeks. On the morning o_heir arrival at the mine, while the fear of Sebastien Rocha still lay heav_pon him, Carlos had been half bullied, half persuaded into the sale of Pa_nd Luz at a price which raised him almost to the status of a ranchero. Bu_hat single transaction summed up their dealings with the natives. No man ha_nswered their call for laborers at wages which must have appeared as wealt_o a peon. The charcoal-burners who drove their burros past the mine every da_eturned to their greetings either muttered curses or black stares. They wer_s stubborn in their cold obstinacy as the face of the temple god. Indeed, i_hese days the stony face of the image had become inseparably associated i_eyd’s mind with the determined opposition that had routed his predecessor_nd now aimed to oust him. He saw it even in the soft, round faces of th_hildren who peeped at him from the doorways of cane huts, a somber look,
centuries old in its stubborn dullness.
Not that he and Billy were in the least discouraged. Once convinced that labo_as not to be obtained, they had stripped and pitched in. In one month the_ebuilt the adobe dwelling which had been somewhat shattered by the Dutchman’_urried exit, dug a lime kiln, and hauled the wood and stone for the firs_urning. They had completed the laying out of the smelter foundation, fillin_n odd moments by picking for the first charge the choicest ore from th_undreds of tons that the Englishmen had unwisely mined before they ran head-
on into the hostile combination of freights and prices.
This last had been an inspiriting labor, for so rich were the values which th_re carried that after a trial assay Billy had danced all over the plac_eating an old pan. It is doubtful whether young men ever had bette_rospects; and so, knowing that Billy’s present pessimism arose from a stron_isinclination for physical labor in the hot sun, Seyd merely grinned. Sittin_own on a pile of brick, he mopped his face and stared out over the valley.
Situated, as the mine was, on a wide bench which gave pause to the earth’_izzy plunge from the rim three thousand feet above, Seyd sat at the meeting-
place of temperate and tropic zones. A hundred feet below—just where they ha_limbed the stiff trail out of the jungle that flooded the valley with it_ecund life—a group of cocoanut palms stood disputing the downward rush of th_ine, and all along the bench piñon and copal, upland growths, shouldere_edars and ceibas, the tropical giants. While these battled above for ligh_nd room there came, writhing snake-like up from the tropics, creepers an_limbers, vines and twining plants, to engage the ferns and bracken, th_ine’s green allies. A plague of orchids here attacked the copal, wreathin_runk and limb in sickly flame. The bracken there overswept the riotou_ropical life. All along the borderland the battle raged, here following _harge of the pine down a cool ravine, there mounting with the tropic growth_o a sunlit slope. But in the valley below the tropics ruled clear down to th_rilliant green of the San Nicolas cane fields.
“By the way”—Seyd spoke as his eye fell on these—“Don Luis is back from Mexic_ity. The hunchbacked charcoal-burner told me as he went past this morning.”
“The deuce he did!” Of all the black looks that came their way that of th_ripple was the most vindictive. “You must have him hypnotized.”
“You wouldn’t think so if you had heard his accent. ‘El General is again a_an Nicolas,’ just as though he were sentencing me to hang. Nevertheless, th_ews comes pat. I think it would be good policy for me to run down and pay th_enunciation taxes before we begin work on the smelter. No, I don’t apprehen_ny trouble. Your Mexican hasn’t much stomach for litigation, and no doubt th_ld fellow feels quite safe in his pull with the metals companies an_ailroads. But while he is still in the mind we had better pay the money an_omplete title. If he once gets wind of the smelter—”
“Just so.” Billy threw down the hoe. “While you dress I’ll saddle up a mule—i_ou will please say to which demon you prefer to intrust your precious neck.
Light began the day by kicking me through the side of the stable. She need_hastening. But then Peace dined on my arm yesterday. It’s Peace for yours,
and I only hope you get it.”
“Hum!” he coughed when, half an hour later, Seyd emerged shaved, bathed, an_lad in immaculate white. “Is this magnificence altogether for el General, o_id Caliban drop some word of our niece? Really, old chap, you look fine. If _ere the señorita I’d go for you myself.”
Though Seyd laughed, yet the instant he passed out of sight he fell int_rowning thought which was evidently related to the letter he pulled out an_eread while he rode down the steep grades. Written in a characterless roun_and, it covered so many pages that he was halfway down before, after tearin_t in shreds, he tossed it to the winds. Its destruction, however, did no_eem to change his mood. He let Peace take her own way until, having slipped,
slid, and tobogganed on tense haunches down the last grade, she felt able t_ssert her individuality by attempting to rub him off against a tree. Next sh_ttempted the immolation of a fat brown baby that was rolling with a nest o_oung pigs in the dust outside a hut; and thereafter her performances were s_aried that he was simply compelled to take some notice of the sights an_ounds of the trail.
Not the least remarkable were the frequent and familiar scowls of the peopl_e met. Various in expression, they ranged between the copious curses of th_at señora whose pacing-mule was driven by Peace off the trail, and th_narling malice of occasional muleteers; but, undisturbed, he pursued hi_nquiries for laborers at every chance.
“No, señor, we do not desire work.”
The stereotyped answer merely stimulated the quiet persistence which forme_he basis of his character, and he continued to ask at the village whic_aised graceful palm roofs out of a jungle clearing, at the ranchos which no_egan to cover the valley with a green checker of maize fields, and a_cattered huts, half hidden by the rich foliage of palms and bananas. It wa_hile he was questioning a peon who was hulling rice with a wooden pole an_hurn arrangement that the subdued hostility broke out in open demonstration.
The trail here ran between a fence of split poles, which inclosed the peon’_orn and frijoles, and the steep bank of a dry creek bed, so that only a fe_eet leeway was left for the train of burros which came trotting out of th_ungle behind him. In single file they could have passed, but looking aroun_e saw they were coming three abreast.
Had he chosen, there was time to make the end of the fence. But he had see_ehind the train the sparkling, beady eyes of Caliban, the hunchback, and th_ark grins of two of his fellows. Flushing with quick anger, he backed Peac_gainst the fence, leaned forward over her neck, and slashed with his whip a_he leading beasts. Checked by this, they would have fallen back to singl_ile but for the whips behind that bit out hair and hide and drove them on i_ huddled mass.
It seemed for a few seconds that he would be crushed. That he escaped injur_as simply due to the hereditary hate between the mule and the ass whic_uddenly turned Peace into a raging fiend. While her chisel teeth slit ragge_ides her other and busier end beat a devil’s tattoo on resounding ribs an_illed the air with flying charcoal. Yet even her demoniac energies had thei_imitations. If she held the ground for herself and master she could no_reserve the inviolability of his white trousers, which emerged sadly smudge_rom the fray. It is a pity she could not. Little things always cause th_reatest trouble, and but for the smudges the incident would probably hav_losed with Seyd’s challenge:
“Can’t you be content with half the road?”
His patience even survived their insolent grins. Not until the hunchback i_assing emitted a hoarse chuckle as he surveyed the smudges did Seyd’s tempe_urst its bonds. Swinging his whip then with all his might, he laid it acros_he crooked shoulders once, twice, thrice, before the fellow sprang, snarling,
out of reach. The others, who had already passed, came leaping back at hi_ry, knives flashing as they ran, and though they stopped under the sudde_rown of a Colt’s automatic, they did not retire, but stood, fingering thei_nives, muttering curses.
A little sorry on his part for the anger which had turned the sullen hostilit_nto open feud, Seyd faced them, puzzled just what to do. It was too late t_ive way, for that would expose him to future insult. Yet if, taking th_nitiative, he should happen to kill a man, he knew enough of the quality o_ustice as dealt out by the Mexican courts to realize the danger.
While he debated, the puzzle was almost solved by the peon rice-huller, wh_ame stealing up from behind the fence. Not until the man had swung his heav_estle and was tiptoeing to his blow did Seyd divine the reason for th_lances that were passing behind him. Looking quickly, he caught the glint o_olished hardwood in the tail of his eye; then, without a pause for thought,
he dropped flat on the rump of the mule, and not a second too soon, for,
raising the hair on his brow as it passed, the club smashed down through th_op rail of the fence. In falling backward his weight on the bridle brough_eace scurrying a few paces to the rear. When he snapped upright again th_ourth enemy was also under his gun.
But what to do? The puzzle still remained—to be solved by another, for jus_hen came a sudden beat of hoofs, and from behind a bamboo thicket gallope_irst the Siberian wolf hound, then the girl he had met at the train.