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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 10626

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


With Seyd and his cargo of reflections aboard, the train meanwhile puffed steadily up the four-per-cent. grades which carry the railway eleven thousand feet high to the shoulder of the old giant volcano, Ajuasoa. While he stared out of the window the vivid panorama of the hot country, the green seas of corn or cane which surged around white-walled haciendas, the chocolate peons behind their wooden plows, and the pretty brown girls at the stations gradually gave place to volcanic lava fields and gloomy woods of pi?on, and these again merged into the innumerable hamlets which spread brown adobe skirts around Mexico City unseen by him.

"She is coming back! She is coming back!" It ran all the while in his mind, and formed the undertone of his conversation with Don Luis in the patio of the Iturbide that evening. When the old man stated his intention of taking the night train down to the Gulf it was only by a powerful effort that Seyd avoided the lunacy of offering to accompany him. All that night he burned in a flame of feeling, and as a consequence he rose tired out and presented such a picture of meekness when ushered into the office of the general manager, one so opposite to the usual fiery mien of the wronged shipper, that the stony heart of the official was melted within him.

"You certainly have a kick coming," he admitted. "A big one, at that. I'll look into this myself, and if you'll please return at four I hope to have news of your freight."

In their passage down through the departments, however, his inquiries soon came to a stop. "So this is the fellow who has been bucking old General Garcia in the Barranca de Guerrero?" he commented to his third assistant; and his further remarks were equally enlightening. "Well, politics are politics, but this has gone far enough. I like the boy's looks, and this railroad isn't going to be used to fight the General's battles any longer. After this, Mr. Chauvez, see that Mr. Seyd gets his freight. Where is that last car?"

The third assistant's shoulders executed the Latin equivalent of "Search me!" At last news, peon "brakies" on the Nacional had been using it as a roller coaster on the mountain grades going down to Monterey. If Providence had intervened before it ran off into the sea Mr. Chauvez opined that it would most likely be found on that city's wharves. All of which, after some clicking and humming of wires, culminated in the manager's report to Seyd at four.

"It seems that your freight was switched by mistake over to Monterey. If you leave it to us"-his stern eye loosed a twinkle-"you'll probably get it sometime in the next six months. But if you'll take these passes for the evening train and hunt it up yourself you can have it tagged onto the train that leaves to-morrow night."

Though the vicissitudes of thirty years' railroading had almost petrified his heart, the organ stirred faintly as Seyd returned hearty thanks. Watching him go out, he even muttered: "It's a damned shame! But I'll take care that he's bothered no more."

More grateful on his part than he had any legal right to be, Seyd would have been better pleased had the passes read to Vera Cruz. Knowing that Francesca must pass through Mexico City on her way home, he would have preferred even to stay where he was. But the thought of Billy fretting himself thin at the mine reinforced his naturally strong sense of duty, and he took the train out that night. And his steadfastness made for his good. During his three days' absence the flame of feeling which was consuming his resolution and blinding his thought burned itself out. The morning after he had seen his car billed through to his own station he rose with his mind clear and a renewed purpose to do the right thing.

"At the first favorable opportunity I shall tell her," he told himself, in the coach going down to the station. With the thought strong in his mind he stepped on the train and-came face to face with Francesca herself.

"Oh! it is you!"

"I-I-thought you were already gone!"

While he blushed and stammered confusedly his senses, nevertheless, took cognizance of the fluttering rush of her hands, the happy eyes in the midst of her flushes, other things that answered, without words, several questions which had greatly perplexed him. Whatever the cause behind her long silence, it was neither the resurrection of her racial pride nor, as he had sometimes suspected, her discovery of his marriage. Indeed, her very next words gave him an inkling.

"You must have wondered why I did not write? But I-could not help it." She glanced at her mother, who, with eloquent hands, was telegraphing him welcome from the other end of the car. "I will tell you later-all."

In his surprise and gladness his mind still clung to his resolve, and, nearly as possible, he kept his pact with himself. "I also have something to tell."

She looked up quickly. But his eyes indicated no diminution of the old feeling. Satisfied, she asked, with a little sigh: "The mine? Something gone wrong? You will tell us-now."

The se?ora, who had caught the last sentence, added her word. "Si, for we, you know, are your friends." Making room for him by her side, she punctuated his tale of the summer's mishaps with pitiful exclamations, and comforted him at the e

nd with maternal solicitude. "Si, at the first glance I saw it, that you had suffered. But, courage, amigo, it will make for your greater enjoyment in the end."

Francesca had taken the seat opposite, and, catching her eye just then, Seyd saw, along with the sympathy and understanding, a gleam of exultation. "You suffered, si, but I'm glad for-'twas for me." Her glance said it plainly as words, and he ached to answer it; but, in accordance with the honest course he had laid out for himself, he refrained, and went on talking to her mother.

"Don Luis," she answered his question, "is in the front car with Sebastien-in attendance on our dear friend, his mother."

He knew that he had no part in their grief, and, tentatively, he began, "If I can be of any help-"

Divining his feeling from the pause, she answered at once: "You are very kind. Francesca, poor ni?a, has been under a great strain. 'Twill be a mercy if you will stay here and talk."

Now that her first blushes had died, he could see it for himself. Her smile added the soft confession, "You did not suffer alone."

Under her look Seyd felt his resolution weaken; to save it he looked out of the window, whereupon it gained strength from the thought of his impending confession. But it relaxed again the next time their glances met; and, as love is an anarchist who scoffs alike at law and death, their communications proceeded with alternate thawings and freezings, while, in reverse order, the black lava fields and gloomy pi?on gave place to the painted hamlets, pink churches, and villages of huts in green seas of corn. Yet, if a little worse for wear, his resolution held. Indeed, it found definite expression when the train stopped at last at their station.

"I must see you soon!" he said, as they went out. "I have something very serious to say."

Once more she looked up quickly. "We shall be at El Quiss, Sebastien's place, for three days. After that you will find me at home. But do not come alone!" The hasty addition threw more light on the causes behind her sudden departure. "As you value your life-nay, you were always careless of that-promise, for my sake, that you will not come alone? When you go out anywhere take with you at least one man."

"Is it so serious as that?" But he stopped laughing when he saw she was hurt. "There! I promise!"

She paid him, alighting, with a clasp of her hand that left its soft clinging pressure tingling after she disappeared in the crowd of rancheros and hacendados, Sebastien's retainers and friends, who filled the station. His sharp gray eye had already singled out his car on a side track, and while he waited for the agent Sebastien and Don Luis passed, walking behind the coffin.

He was seen, moreover, by them, and after they had mounted and were riding side by side at the head of the funeral procession Sebastien spoke. "Your gringo was at the station."

Don Luis nodded. "Si, he came down on the train."

After a silence Sebastien spoke again. "It seems that he has been having trouble with his freight."

Ignoring the subtle suggestion conveyed by the accent, Don Luis laconically answered, "He is not the first."

"But will be the last. Ernestino Chauvez, my second cousin, is in the department of freights. Yesterday he told me that, by special order, there are to be no more miscarriages of this man's freight."

The heavy brown mask refused even a sign. "This had better happened a year ago."

"Then he is near the end of his rope?" Sebastien leaped to the conclusion.

"His first note of hand to me is due next month."

"And-"

Don Luis's massive shoulders rose. "How should I know, amigo, what money he has?"

"But if he pay not?"

Again Don Luis shrugged. "Sebastien, how often am I to tell it-that no gringo shall force in on my lands."

* * *

In happy ignorance as yet of the significance implied in their conversation, Seyd at that moment was reading and rereading, with incredulous joy, a newspaper clipping which had been forwarded by a friend in Albuquerque.

MRS. ROBERT SEYD, WIFE OF PROMINENT

MINING ENGINEER, GRANTED DIVORCE

The content below ran as is usual when feminine enthusiasm over its wrongs has been unchecked by fear of a reply, and in handing down his decision the local Dogberry-who was unaware that the notice of the plaintiff's remarriage would appear in the same issue with his remarks-had pronounced it the most heartless case of desertion in all his experience upon the bench. Reading a second clipping which set forth the marriage, Seyd indulged in a grin. But this quickly faded. Pity and sympathy colored his remark.

"Poor thing! I hope she'll be happy." Self reproach vibrated in the addition, "She was not, never could have been, with me."

With that she passed out of his thought just as she had already gone from his life. His mind leaped to review the consequences. Free! Free! In the first flush of his joy he exulted over the fact that his intended confession was now unnecessary. But later and more sober reflections caused him to shake his head.

"No!" He laid down the law peremptorily for himself. "There's been enough and to spare of shilly-shallying. You will go to her and tell her-all! And if she refuses you there'll be no one to blame but yourself."

* * *

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