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The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 7284

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Oh Bob, just look at them!"

Leaning down from his perch on the sacked mining tools which formed the apex of their baggage, Billy Thornton punched his companion in the back to call his attention to a scene which had spread a blaze of humor over his own rich crop of freckles.

As a matter of fact, the spectacle of two men fondly embracing can always be depended on to stir the crude Anglo-Saxon sense of humor. In this case it was rendered still more ridiculous by age and portliness, but two years' wandering through interior Mexico had accustomed Thornton's comrade, Robert Seyd, to the sight. After a careless glance he resumed his contemplation of the crowd that thronged the little station. Exhibiting every variety of Mexican costume, from the plain white blanket of the peons to the leather suits of the rancheros and the hacendados, or owners of estates, it was as picturesque and brilliant in color and movement as anything in a musical extravaganza. The European clothing of a young girl who presently stepped out of the ticket office emphasized the theatrical flavor by its vivid contrast. She might easily have been the captive heroine among bandits, and the thought actually occurred to Billy. While she paused to call her dog, a huge Siberian wolf hound, she was hidden from Seyd's view by the stout embracers. Therefore it was to the dog that he applied Billy's remark at first.

"Isn't she a peach?"

She seemed the finest of her race that he had ever seen, and Seyd was just about to say that she carried herself like a "perfect lady" when the dissolution of the aforesaid embrace brought the girl into view. He stopped-with a small gasp that testified to his astonishment at her unusual type.

Although slender for her years-about two and twenty-her throat and bust were rounded in perfect development. The clear olive complexion was undoubtedly Spanish, yet her face lacked the firm line that hardens with the years. Perhaps some strain of Aztec blood-from which the Spanish-Mexican is never free-had helped to soften her features, but this would not account for their pleasing irregularity. A bit rétrousée, the small nose with its well-defined nostrils patterned after the Celtic. Had Seyd known it, the face in its entirety-colors and soft contours-is to be found to this day among the descendants of the sailors who escaped from the wreck of the Spanish Armada on the west coast of Ireland. Pretty and unusual as she was, her greatest charm centered in the large black eyes that shone amid her clear pallor, conveying in broad day the tantalizing mystery of a face seen for an instant through a warm gloaming. In the moment that he caught their velvet glance Seyd received an impression of vivacious intelligence altogether foreign in his experience of Mexican women.

As she was standing only a few feet away, he knew that she must have heard Billy's remark; but, counting on her probable ignorance of English, he did not hesitate to answer. "Pretty? Well, I should say-pretty enough to marry. The trouble is that in this country the ugliness of the grown woman seems to be in inverse ratio to her girlish beauty. Bet you the fattest hacendado is her father. And she'll give him pounds at half his age."

"Maybe," Billy answered. "Yet I'd be almost willing to take the chance."

As the girl had turned just then to look at the approaching train neither of them caught the sudden dark flash, supreme disdain, that drew an otherwise quite tender red mouth into a scarlet line. But for the dog they would never have been a whit the wiser. For as the engine came hissing along the platform the brute spran

g and crouched on the tracks, furiously snarling, ready for a spring at the headlight, which it evidently took for the Adam's apple of the strange monster. The train still being under way, the poor beast's faith would have cost it its life but for Seyd's quickness. In the moment that the girl's cry rang out, and in less time than it took Billy to slide from his perch, Seyd leaped down, threw the dog aside, and saved himself by a spring to the cow-catcher.

"Oh, you fool! You crazy idiot!" While thumping him soundly, Billy ran on, "To risk your life for a dog-a Mexican's, at that!"

But he stopped dead, blushed till his freckles were extinguished, as the girl's voice broke in from behind.

"And the Mexican thanks you, sir. It was foolhardy, yes, and dearly as I love the dog I would not have had you take such a risk. But now that it is done-accept my thanks." As the stouter of the embracers now came bustling up, she added in Spanish, "My uncle, se?or."

At close range she was even prettier; but, though gratitude had wiped out the flash of disdain, a vivid memory of his late remarks caused Seyd to turn with relief to the hacendado. During the delivery of effusive thanks he had time to cancel a first impression-gained from a rear view of a gaudy jacket-of a fat tenor in a Spanish opera, for the man's head and features were cast in a massive mold. His big fleshy nose jutted out from under heavy brows that overshadowed wide, sagacious eyes, Indian-brown in color. If the wind and weather of sixty years had tanned him dark as a peon, it went excellently with his grizzled mustache. Despite his stoutness and the costume, every fat inch of him expressed the soldier.

"My cousin, se?or."

Having been placed, metaphorically, in possession of all the hacendado's earthly possessions, Seyd turned to exchange bows with a young man who had just emerged from the baggage-room-at least he seemed young at the first glance. A second look showed that the impression was largely due to a certain trimness of figure which was accentuated by the perfect fit of a suit of soft-dressed leather. When he raised his felt sombrero the hair showed thin on his temples. Neither were his poise and imperturbable manner attributes of youth.

"It was very clever of you, se?or."

A slight peculiarity of intonation made Seyd look up. "Jealous," he thought, yet he was conscious of something else-some feeling too elusively subtle to be analyzed on the spur of the moment. Suggesting, as it did, that he had made a "gallery play," the remark roused in him quick irritation. But had it been possible to frame an answer there was no time, for just then the familiar cry, "Vaminos!" rang out, and the American conductor hustled uncle, niece, and her dog into the nearest car.

The entire incident had occupied little more than a moment, and as, a little bewildered by its rush, Seyd stood looking after the train he found himself automatically raising his cap in reply to a fluttering handkerchief.

"You Yankees are certainly very enterprising."

Turning quickly, Seyd met again the glance of subtle hostility. But, though he felt certain that the remark had been called forth by his salute, he had no option but to apply it to the mining kit toward which the other was pointing.

"You are for the mines, se?or? In return for your service to my cousin it is, perhaps, that I can be of assistance-in the hiring of men and mules?"

While equally quiet and subtle, the patronage in his manner was easier to meet. Undisturbed, however, when Seyd declined his offer, he sauntered quietly away.

"Bueno! As you wish."

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