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The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 8710

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Instead of the steps of a church, which form the natural way to their new estate for the great majority of brides, Francesca stepped into hers from the companion ladder of the Cura?ao. But there had been various happenings-the visit of the Do?a Gracio de Gallardo y Garcio to urge, in her own stout black person, Francesca's acceptance of her house and contents, her husband's equally hospitable offer of horses and escort for her safe conduct to San Nicolas, also his subsequent espionage and the means by which they evaded it. And now she was stepping from the companionway into the launch which was to take the newly married pair.

Just as the consul had done his best for Seyd, so, with a woman's natural enthusiasm for a wedding, his wife had dressed the girl. By means of a few pins plus a basting needle a pretty dress had been pulled into a perfect fit, and out of its foam her shapely head now rose like a delicate dark flower. In the dusk of a crushed panama her clear-cut face glowed with unusual color. Swaying there on Seyd's arm, she made a picture which drew the admiration of the men and the tender sympathy of the women passengers who looked down upon them from the rail. While Seyd was handing her into the launch a storm of rice broke overhead and fell softly into the water, and when, leaving them dancing in its wake, the big hulk of the ship moved on, a hearty cheer floated back to them.

If not so boisterous, the congratulations of the consul at the pier were equally hearty. "You didn't do it a bit too soon," he informed them. "Just after you left friend Eduardo notified me that it had been decided in a family council that your wife should go at once to the house of her relative. Without actually saying it he gave me to understand that a charge of kidnapping lay behind the demand. Just for the fun of it I let him wander along, and when I sprang it, and told him that by this time you were undoubtedly married, you should have seen his face. He won't trouble you again-neither will he furnish you horses."

"That doesn't matter," his wife put in. "I have that all arranged."

"What?" The consul looked his surprise. "What's this? A conspiracy? I expected that you would stay with us at least a week?"

"No." His wife took the answer into her own hands. "You know, Francesca's mother and uncle are grieving in the belief that she is drowned. And she has other reasons of her own-and yours," she added for Seyd. "Though you are not to bother her with questions."

At the consulate breakfast was waiting, and in the cheer of the following hour and bustle of departure, Seyd forgot his momentary wonder. It did not revive until, early that afternoon, they reined in to rest their horses on the crest of the first hill in the chain that led in giant steps up to the plateau above the Barranca. As they rode on, after a last look at the harbor, which lay like a huge turquoise within its setting of hills, he looked inquiringly at Francesca.

"Can you not guess?" she asked. When he shook his head she rallied him with a happy laugh upon his dullness. "I think your memory is very poor, Se?or Rosario."

"What-Rosa!" For instantly there flashed up a picture of her wet face looking at him from under her capote hood on the day that he found her standing in the rain beside her fallen horse.

"So you recognize me at last?"

"You don't mean to say-"

"Si, se?or, my husband"-contradicting her laugh, a deep thrill inhered in the words-"it is even so. In the days before the railroad, when there was great travel between San Nicolas and the port, Don Luis maintained houses a day's journey apart. Though none of our family has visited them in the last two years, they were in good condition when Paulo passed this way at the beginning of the rains. So to-night, Rosario, we bide in our own house."

Again did her accent on the "our" move and thrill him. Always undemonstrative, however, he merely caught her hand, and so, linked like children, they rode on side by side. At first they observed a happy silence, but presently the trail took on such remarkable likeness to the one they had traveled that other day, proceeding from the stretches of black volcanic rock through copal and scrub oak to sparsely grassed barrens, that the strength of the associations forced them into talk.

"That's where your h

orse fell," he began it. When she agreed, he asked, "I wonder if you had any conception of the risks you were running when you rode behind me?"

Though she knew very well what he meant, she pretended ignorance and made him explain in detail his feelings at the sight of her hands resting like white butterflies on the front of his coat, his sudden emotion when the scent of her wet hair floated over his shoulder, utter intoxication whenever a slip of his horse caused her to tighten her hold on his waist.

"You hid it very cleverly," was her comment upon these revelations.

"And you never knew it?"

"Of course I did." To which she added the brazen confession, "Or I would not have done it."

Shooting over a hill not long thereafter, the trail suddenly fell through copal and oak woods into a sheltered valley where, with a suddenness that drew an exclamation of admiration from Seyd, they came in sight of the house. A small adobe, washed with gold with pale-violet borders, it stood under a great banyan tree within the embrace of a grove of tall palms. Almost across its doorway a bright arroyo ran swiftly, to disappear in the dark shade of clump tamarinds. All the afternoon the sun had pursued a futile struggle with the ocean mists, and now, completing the beauty of the place, it shot a last coppery shaft between two clouds.

"A happy augury," was Francesca's greeting to the pathway of light. "Now let it rain."

The door was unlocked, and, entering with her, he found the interior equally to his taste. The solid walls were cream-tinted, and after he had lit the wood which was ready on the open hearth they reflected a comfortable glow on massive tables and chairs of plain oak, wide settees, and roomy lounges. His satisfaction was complete when she told him that it stood alone. The knowledge that they would be barred by leagues of distance, shut in by the rainy night from the rest of the world, filled him with deep content. From a survey, conscious of warmth and comfort, his satisfied gaze returned to the fingers which were fluttering like white butterflies from button to button down her raincoat.

"Lazy one!" She spoke with a pretty assumption of wifely authority. "Stable the horses-but first bring in the bundle from my crupper. While you are out I shall prepare our meal."

"What! Do we really eat? How thoughtful! It had never occurred to me."

"A pretty beginning," she made demure answer, "for a wife to starve her husband."

Neither could there be any complaint of the meal that faced him on his return, for it represented the best that could be bought or borrowed by the consul's wife. Afterward Seyd would have washed the dishes, but, taking him by the shoulders, Francesca marched him back to the fire.

"No, I shall do it myself. Please?" She headed off the mutiny betrayed by his eyes. "If you knew how often I have peeped into our work-folks' adobes at night to watch, with envy, some little peona preparing her man's meal, you would understand." So, smoking by the fire, he watched with huge comfort the play of dimples in her arms and the fluttering of the small hands which seemed so hopelessly at odds with their task.

While working she chattered happily, but after the last dish was ranged in the plate rack on the wall she came to him and sank in a graceful heap beside his chair. Head pillowed on one white arm spread across his knee, she gazed thoughtfully into the fire; and, looking down upon her, Seyd's thought reverted once more to the shepherd's hut. Again he had difficulty in realizing that it was indeed he, Robert Seyd, mining engineer, who was sharing food and fire with this, his wife, daughter on one side of a proud Spanish house and on the other of descent that ran back into the dim time of the Aztecs.

Her voice called him out of his wonder, and while the fire leaped and crackled in defiance of the wind and rain without they talked of this and that, their trials and travail, absent thoughts, hopes; and in the telling of it they obtained surcease from the smart of past misunderstandings. Also there were confessions. Each told-she with a blush-how they had overlooked each other's sleep in the shepherd's hut. Because opportunity for such communion had been altogether lacking, they talked late. Their murmurs died with the last light of the fire.

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