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   Chapter 16 “ No.16

The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 6808

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Really, I don't know what to make of it. That last car load of machinery rusted for a month in the damp heat of the Tehuantepec tropics before we got it traced. It has happened so often now that I'm almost tempted to suspect a design."

Seyd's complaint to Peters, the agent, nearly a year later summed the exasperating experiences which had retarded the building of the new smelter. Beginning before the end of the last flood, the failure in deliveries had multiplied as the work of construction proceeded, until it seemed to Seyd that his material had been distributed on a thousand side tracks by an impartial hand. While two high-priced American mechanics had spent their expensive leisure shooting and fishing he had spent most of his own time tracing the shipments, and now, with the rains almost due again, another month would be required to finish the work.

"You have sure had your share of bad luck." While sympathizing with him, Peters discouraged the idea of premeditation. "You don't know these Mexican roads. Our charter calls for the employment of sixty-five per cent. of Mexican help, and, if you'll believe me, that means six hundred per-cent. of inefficiency. Take this mozo of mine. He's been with me six years. But, though I show him the correct way to do a thing a thousand times, the moment my back is turned he'll go at it in some fool wrong-headed way of his own. The wonder to me is not, that your freight goes wrong, but that it ever arrives. Nevertheless, you've had, as I say, your fill of bad luck. If I were you I'd just jump the up train-she's due in twenty minutes-and call on the general traffic manager in Mexico City. He can do more for you in five minutes than I can in ten days."

It was sound advice. Quick always to perceive advantage, Seyd answered, "Give me a ticket."

Because of his isolation, the agent's wells of speech were always brimming, and while waiting for the train he delivered himself of several pieces of news. "By the way, Don Luis went up yesterday to lodge a protest with the government against the dam a gringo company is building across the valley fifty miles north of San Nicolas. It is located just below the Barranca de Tigres, a ca?on that drains all the watershed west of the volcano. They have cloudbursts up there, and when one lets go-well, old Noah's deluge isn't in it. When I was hunting jaguar in the ca?on a couple of years ago I saw watermarks a hundred and fifty feet up the mountainside. Boulders big as churches were piled up in the bed of the stream like pebbles, and if that dam was built of solid concrete instead of clay they'd go through it like it was dough. Though I'd be the last man to go back on my own folks, I'm bound to confess that we do carry some things with a bit too high a hand. If that dam ever breaks, the wave will sweep the barranca clean between its walls. But, Lordy! that won't cut any figure with the paint-eaters that hedge in Diaz. To secure a rake-off they'd see all Guerrero drown, and I'm doubting that the General's kick will do any good."

Seyd nodded. "No, the times are against him-both in this and his other efforts to hold back civilization. So far, he and Sebastien have succeeded pretty well in checking it here in Guerrero. But it is creeping in around them-some day will flow over their heads. They might as well stand in the path of a barranca flood."

The naming of Seba

stien brought the second piece of news. "That reminds me-you almost had him for a fellow traveler. I forwarded a cable message last night that his mother had died in France. I rather thought that he'd be in for this train."

"Then she is coming back?"

Seyd meant Francesca. But Peters misunderstood. "Yes, they've shipped her by a German line that runs to Havana and Vera Cruz. By mistake the cable was sent to another Rocha somewhere up in Sinaloa, and, being a Mexican, he slept on it a week before replying that his mother was there, quite lively and frisky at home. So it arrived here ten days late-long enough to put Miss Francesca and her mother into Vera Cruz. Yes, the se?ora was there-had just joined them-luckily, for death is too grim a thing for a young girl to face by herself." Just then the train drew into the station, and as Seyd climbed on, he added: "If you could find time to pass the word on to Don Luis he'd surely appreciate it. He puts up at the Iturbide."

Seyd's nod was purely automatic, for the news had loosed once more bitter tides which had lain dormant these last few months under the weight of his business cares. Unconscious, too, of the import that events would presently give to such apparently trivial consent, he nodded again when Peters asked permission to look through a batch of American papers which had come for him by yesterday's mail.

For that matter, it would have been difficult to discern anything unusual or alarming in the spectacle of Peters as he sat in his office after the departure of the train, heels on the table and chair comfortably tilted, while he slit, one after the other, the covers of Seyd's papers. Yet while he smoked and read his way down through the pile he unconsciously but surely prepared the way for the event which was approaching at the top speed of Sebastien's horse. Had he read, or Sebastien ridden, a little faster or slower things had gone differently. But, just as though it had been predoomed and destined, eyes and hoofs kept perfect time. Just as Peters opened Seyd's Albuquerque paper Sebastien walked in.

"Left-an hour ago." Yawning, Peters laid down the Albuquerque paper on top of the pile, and as the train usually ran from two to twelve hours late three hundred and sixty-five days in the year he lent a sympathetic ear to Sebastien's vitriolic curses.

"I can wire for a special," he suggested. "They could send an engine and car down from Cuernavaca in little more than an hour."

"If you will be so kind, se?or."

In all Guerrero, Peters was the one gringo with whom Sebastien was on speaking terms, and he now accepted both a cigar and a paper to while away the time. After one glance had shown it to be a gringo sheet he would have cast it aside, but the one word "Mexico!" in scare heads caught his eye. Setting forth the international complications that were likely to come from the lynching of a Mexican in Arizona, it held his interest. He not only read it to the bottom of the column, but followed over to the next page, upon which heavy ink lines had been scored around a local article.

As the heading caught his eye he started, looked again, then bent over the paper and read to the end. For a few seconds thereafter he sat thinking. A stealthy glance showed Peters at the key clicking off the call for the special. Quietly folding the paper, he slid it beneath his coat.

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