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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 6536

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


As a matter of fact, Don Luis knew even less than Seyd of the real reason behind his niece's departure. Like many another and much more important event, it was brought about by the simplest of causes, which went back to the afternoon when, on her arrival at San Nicolas, Francesca found Sebastien waiting there with the news of his mother's illness.

First in the sequence of cause and effect which sent her away stands Seyd's five-peso note; next, Pancho, Sebastien's mozo, for the conjunction of these two gave birth to the event. Ordinarily, that is, when in full possession of his simple wits, Tomas, Francesca's mozo, would have suffered crucifixion in her cause, and had he chosen any other than Pancho to assist in the transmutation of Seyd's note into alcohol at the San Nicolas wine shop the process would have been accomplished without damage to aught but his own head. But when in the cause of their tipplings Pancho began to enlarge on the benefits that would follow to all from the blending of their respective houses by marriage Tomas began to writhe under the itch of secret and superior knowledge. From knowing winks he progressed to mysterious hints, and finally ended with a clean confession of all he had seen that afternoon.

"But this is not to be spoken of, hombre," he warned Pancho, with solemn hiccoughs, at the close. "By the grave of thy father, let not even a whisper forth."

As being less difficult to find in a country where parenthood is more easily traced on the feminine side, Pancho swore to it by the grave of his mother. But, though he added thereto those of his aunts, grandmother, and entire female line, the combined weight still failed to balance such astonishing news. Inflamed by thoughts of the prestige he would gain in his master's sight, he moderated his potations. After he had seen Tomas comfortably bestowed under the cantina table he carried the tale straight to Sebastien's room.

In this, however, he showed more zeal than discretion, for in lieu of the expected prestige he got a blow in the mouth which laid him out in a manner convenient for the quirting of his life. Not until Sebastien's arm tired did he gain permission to retire, whimpering, to his straw in the stable; and next morning both he and Tomas trembled for their lives when Sebastien arraigned them before him.

"Listen, dogs!" He struck them with his whip across their faces. "For this piece of lying the tongues of you both should be pulled out by the roots. If I spare you it is because until now you have both been faithful servants. But remember!" He swore to it with an oath so frightfully sacrilegious that both shrank in anticipation of a bolt from the skies. "But remember! If ever, drunk or sober, there proceeds out of either of you one further word 'twill surely be done."

Leaving them shaking, he passed out and on upstairs to the patio where Francesca was sitting, with Roberta at her knees, in the shade of the corredor's green arches. The drone of hummers, fluting of birds in the patio garden set her soft musings to pleasant music, and she looked up with sudden vexation at the jangle of his spurs.

"So this is the child that we have renamed in his honor?"

Last night they had parted better friends than usual,

for out of the pity bred of her own realized love she had done her best to please him. Love had also sharpened her naturally sensitive perceptions. Divining his knowledge from the concentrated anger of his look, she rose, instinctively nerving herself for the encounter.

"Just so." He divined, in turn, her feeling. "Between those who understand words are wasted. Send the child away."

As he said "understand" a surge of passion wiped out the weary lines left by a night of hate. But while the child was passing along the corridor he controlled it and became his usual sardonic self. He was beginning "Thanks to the excellent Tomas-" when she interrupted with an angry gesture.

"Then it was he! I'll have him-"

"Caramba!" He shrugged. "What a heat! But easy-do not blame Tomas for your gringo's fault. What else could you expect from a peon that found himself enriched at a stroke? The wonder is that he did not proclaim his news from your topmost wall. Be content that he will never whisper one word again."

"You didn't-" she began, alarmed now for her servant.

"No. Pancho, to whom he told it, I flogged for the liar he now thinks Tomas, and Tomas-is trembling for his tongue. Except between us the matter is dead. Yet Tomas served his purpose. Thanks to him, we may now pass words and come to terms."

"Terms?" She faltered it after a silence.

"Terms!" he repeated, gravely. "That is, if you would save your gringo alive. Supposing this were to escape to the good uncle? Soft as he has been with these gringos of late, supposing that he were to hear of both this and that other night in the hut, how long, think you, would the man last?"

Her eyes told. After a pause her mouth opened with a small gasp. "You-oh! you will not?"

"Not if you obey. Now see you, Francesca." He dropped into a tone of grave confidence which was really winning. "If I had not known that his death at my hands would place you forever beyond me the man had never seen the dawn of another day. Whether he sees its setting depends on you. If you will go with my mother to Europe-"

"Si-if-I-go?" It issued between pauses of pain after a long silence.

"He lives. I will even protect him till he arrives at the end of his fool's rope."

"And-then?"

"There will be no 'then.' I know these gringos. They will disappear like their vanishing gold."

Her slight flush indicated defiant unbelief. But knowing that this was in deadly earnest, that Seyd's life hung by a hair, she let him go on. "Let there be no misunderstanding. I shall require your promise, on the word of a Garcia, not to attempt communication." He added, turning away, perhaps in pity for the misery of her face: "There is no hurry. Take time to think it over-an hour, two if you wish."

He could easily afford, too, the concession, for her love was playing into his hands. None knew better than she that a contrary answer would make of Seyd an Ishmaelite with every man's hand raised against his life. He could never escape. With that dread fact staring her in the face she could give but one answer; and while, later, she spent hours pacing her bedroom in restless strivings to find a way out, she reached her decision before he gained the end of the gallery.

"I will go."

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