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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 7495

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

A hard gallop of eight miles carried Francesca to the forks where the path to and from Santa Gertrudis joined the main valley trail, and she had traveled no more than a hundred yards beyond before she was roused from renewed musings by the thud of hoofs. Turning in her saddle, she saw Sebastien coming along the valley trail at a gallop. Passing the mozo, whose beast had lagged, the hacendado pulled his beast down to a trot, and as Tomas, answering a question, nodded backward toward the hills, vexation swept the girl's face.

It cleared, however, as quickly, and while waiting for Sebastien she measured him with a narrow glance. The straight, lithe figure, easy carriage, dark, quiet face could stand inspection, and she paid unconscious tribute. "If I hadn't gone to Europe I suppose-" A decided shake of the head completed while dismissing the thought. In the next breath she murmured, "Now for a fight." Yet her expression, saluting him, displayed no apprehension.

"Yes, I was at Santa Gertrudis." She quietly answered his question. "Two of our people shot one of the gringos as he was leaving our place, and the good mama would have it that it was our duty to cure him."

"Ah! the good mother?" He raised his brows. "And she chose you for her doctor?"

"As you see."

"Yes, I see. 'No, Francesca, thou canst not go. It would not be right for a young girl-well, if you must-' I hear it as though I had been there, and wonder that the se?ora, who was brought up in the letter of our conventions, should send her daughter to a gringo camp with only a mozo for escort. But Don Luis? Is he also mad?"

"No, only wise." She answered with irritating simplicity. "Take care that you do not put heavier strains on a slight kinship. Third, fifth, tenth, just what is the degree of our cousinship?"

"God knows!" He shrugged. "The slighter the better. 'Twill serve till replaced by a closer."

"Which will be never."

"Only the gods say 'never.'" He quoted the proverb. "But returning to your amigos, the gringos-"

"My amigos?"

"You have received and repaid their visits. But listen! It is not that I would set bounds for your freedom, but if you had stood, as I have, on a street corner in Ciudad, Mexico, and had heard the gringo tourists pass comments on our women-Dios! I choke at the thought! If you but realized their coxcombry, conceit, the contempt in which they hold us-"

She had flushed slightly, but with a toss of her head she broke in: "It is not necessary. I have heard young Mexican men comment on both our own and American women. If the gringos can teach them any lessons-"

"Apes!" he burst angrily in. "Fools! The degenerate apes who put on the vices of civilization with its collars!"

"Perhaps. But, even so, it makes for the same point-there are gringos and gringos just as we have Mexicans and Mexicans."

"And these, of course, are the other sort?"

"Exactly!" She robbed his sarcasm by her quiet. "If one judges, as one must, by their behavior. I am pleased to find you, for once, of my opinion."

"Of your opinion?" He regarded her with sudden sternness. "That is, to be friends with these men who have forced themselves in on your lands? I had never expected to hear it fall from the lips of a Garcia. Now listen! What if your people did wound this man? Is he the first? Will he be the last?" His face darkening under a rush of blood, he continued: "I had thought this pair would soon ruin themselves as did the other fools before them. But since they are working on a surer plan-"

"What do you mean?" She searched his face.

"So anxious?" he laughed bitterly. "What is it to you?"

"Only that I would not have them murdered."

"And would they be the first? Is there a foot of

Mexican soil which has not been soaked with good Mexican blood that you should be so careful for a gringo?" Slanting through an opening in the trees overhead the sun shone on his face, transforming it into a red mask of hate. "As yet no one of them has secured himself in the Barranca de Guerrero! So long as a Rocha is left to do the duty that belongs to the Garcias no one of them ever will."

But now he had touched another string, and, straightening in her saddle, she gave him look for look. "When the Garcias need the Rochas to settle their quarrels it will be time for you to interfere. I should not advise you to speak thus to my uncle."

Nevertheless she flinched a little at his answer. "That is my intention-this very night."

With that they rode on, in silence for a while, then speaking of other things. But when he left her in the upper courtyard an hour later she stood at her door, listening apprehensively to the jingle of his spurs along the gallery. When he took a chair beside Don Luis, who sat there smoking, she listened for a while. Then, flushing suddenly, she hastily went in.

If she had remained there was nothing to hear, for during many minutes the conversation ran altogether on the herds as they came winding in from distant pastures to the corrals in the square. Night had reduced everything to a dark blur before Sebastien commented on a yellow twinkle high up on the Barranca wall.

"That will be the gringos' light at Santa Gertrudis." After a long pause, "It is now a month past since they came, and-they are still here."

Don Luis flicked the ash from his cigar. "What hurry?"

"But this new business? The smelter you spoke of the other day."

"Si, the smelter?"

Sebastien gave his own interpretation to the other's slow tone. "Then there is something forward?"

"What need? The gringo at the station tells me they have no money. A single mistake and they are done." After a sententious pause he added, "It is the part of youth to make mistakes."

The dusk did not conceal the other's impatience. "But why this tender care? Are they so different from the others? A word from thee and-"

"Yes, yes, a nod and it would have been done long ago. There speaks young blood-the hot blood that lost us Texas and Alta California. These lads are of good family, Sebastien, and there can be no disappearance without inquiry. Their death would be but one more thorn in the side of the rabid beast that requires small urging to devour us. No, let them make their own end."

"And Francesca? Is she to have the run of their camp?"

Don Luis's deep laugh rumbled through the courtyard. "At last from a long cast we come to the quarry. Francesca? She is a wild filly, the despair of every staid tabby in the countryside. Long ago I discovered that the one way to manage her was to let her have her head. Nor will it be the part of wisdom for thee to interfere."

"Neither would I try-yet. Commands are for husbands; lovers must wait. That which I propose she will never know. It is-" Answering the other's interrogative look, he leaned over, whispering in rapid Spanish.

Don Luis emitted an amused chuckle. "Sebastien, thou art truly a devil. Had thy father possessed but the half of thy wit, some things had gone different in the last war. Yes, feet that are still spoiling good sod would now be rotten bones." After a pause he went on: "It seems a scurvy trick, yet it depends on the men themselves. But-if they rise not at the bait?"

"If?" Sebastien repeated it with bitter scorn. "Was there ever a gringo that would not bite at such? They are kind as goats. I ask only that you go there with Francesca at the close of the week."

"And thou?"

"I shall go there to-morrow."

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