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   Chapter 25 No.25

The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 6059

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Breaking through the stream of ocean vapors, the morning sun showed the jungle raising a languid head above the ruins of the flood. Long rents in its green mantle, bare patches of yellow mud, dark bruises where acres of debris had been piled in twisted masses, testified to the force of the wave. But, overlooking the wreckage from the smelter, Seyd took notice principally of a fact that suited his purpose-the river had been swept clean of driftwood. Not since the beginning of the rains had it shown such open stretches.

"Good!" he muttered. "The sooner we get away the better. I'll call her at once."

When, however, he knocked at the office door Francesca answered "Come!" When he entered she smiled at his surprise. "You said that we were to start early. Here I am, dressed and dried."

"Not before breakfast," he laughed. "It is ready. I'll have it brought right in."

All through the meal her eyes questioned, but, denying her curiosity, he talked of anything and everything but that which filled her mind. Even when, clothed in his waterproof, she took her seat opposite him in the stern of the dugout he denied their eloquent appeal. While sending the boat with vigorous strokes flying downstream he drew her attention to this and that phase of devastation and commented on the beauty of the morning, but not a word as to his purpose. It was cruel, and her eyes said so. But, remorseless, he held on till, about midway of the morning, they sighted San Nicolas. All the way down he had hugged the Santa Gertrudis side, and she received the first inkling when he replied to her question if it were not time to pull across.

"We are not going there."

"Not going there?" she repeated, surprised.

"No, we shall keep right on-down to sea."

"The sea?"

"The sea." He nodded firmly. "And the minute we land there we're going to be married."

The idea was altogether too radical to be absorbed at once. No doubt she thought he was joking, for a smile broke around her mouth. Not until they were almost opposite San Nicolas did it give place to puzzled alarm.

"But, se?or-Rob-Roberto." She changed it in answer to his quick look. "But, Roberto-"

"Might as well make it Bob," he cut in, crisply. "It may seem strange at first, but seeing that we're to be married you might as well begin to get used to it now."

The San Nicolas walls now lay, a long, warm band, across their beam. From them her glance returned to the pendulum swing of his body. Finality centered in his steady stroke. It told that he had settled down for the day. Had he calculated its effect beforehand he could not have done better. Accustomed to Spanish deference, she was nonplussed by his authoritative air, yet its very unusualness invested it with a certain charm.

"But-Bob?" Somehow the curt appellation acquired grace and softness from her Spanish lisp. It fell so prettily that he made her repeat it. But, though she added to its attraction an appealing glance, he remained grimly obdurate.

"Give me time to think?"

"All you want. At this speed"-the oars creaked under his stroke-"you will have about twenty-four hours."

She looked at him, frightened. "Please? At least let us talk it over."

The cheerful roll of oars in the rowlocks returned wooden answer.

"Won't you?"

He stopped rowing and sat regarding her sternly. "I'm allowing you more time than you gave me. If"-he paused, then, judging it necessary, relentlessly continued-"if he were here in my place do you suppose-"

"Oh, he would! He did! After he had insured me against-"

"-Me," he supplied, with a dogged shake of the head, then went on, "Well, even if he would, I won't." As he bent again to the oars the touch of admiration that leavened her undoubted fright paid tribute to his stubborn logic. Settling to his stroke, he began again: "Supposing that I complied and put you ashore at San Nicolas? Do you think that Don Luis would be any more favorably inclined toward me? You know that he wouldn't. I should do well to escape with my life. But if you go back as my wife-well, the most they can do is to turn us out. Of course I can understand your feeling. It will be a frightful breach of the conventions-"

"No, it is not that," she interrupted him. "My friends will be scandalized, si, but they are long ago broken to that. They would be dreadfully disappointed if I did not fulfil their predictions by making a shameful end. And it isn't-he. It is wicked to acknowledge it, but I know-I know now that no matter how hard I tried to school myself I should sooner or later have run away to you. They'll think it shocking-my friends, my mother-but I can endure it."

"And that can be avoided. I'll take you away-throw up everything here-make a new start somewhere else."

"No! no!" She shook her head. "Your work is here, and I am just as proud of it as you could be. Let them chatter. No, it isn't even that."

"Then what is it?"

"You wouldn't understand. It is silly, just a woman's reason. No, you would not understand."

"I'll try."

"It is so foolish." Nevertheless, encouraged by his sympathy, she continued: "Do you know that since the first kiss passed between us a year ago we have had speech together only for a few minutes in the presence of others? And her courtship is of such supreme importance in a girl's life. It is her love time, and she loves to lengthen and draw out its lingering sweetness. And ours has been so short."

It was the poignant cry of her girl's heart expressing the yearning of her starved love, and, coming from such spirited lips, it moved him deeply. Slipping the oars, he seized her two hands and pulled her forward into his arms. Then, while her dark head lay pillowed upon his shoulder, he continued the argument to better advantage.

The walls of San Nicolas had dwindled to a golden streak before she looked up in his face. "Supposing that I had refused?"

"I'd have carried you off in spite of yourself."

And, whether she believed him or not, she clung the closer in that embrace.

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