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The Mystery of The Barranca By Herman Whitaker Characters: 8930

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


At high noon two days thereafter Seyd and Francesca drew rein on the rim of the Barranca above San Nicolas.

During the moment that the horses rested their thoughts reverted to the last occasion when they had overlooked the great void, and if the thought of Sebastien brought a touch of sadness into the girl's reflections it caused no bitterness. She turned with a low laugh when Seyd produced from an inner pocket the handkerchief he had picked up that day on the trail.

"It did," she said, when he told how it seemed to drip tears. "I had cried all the way up the trail to the rim."

After the usual nightly downpour the sun had come out, and under a flood of golden light the valley floor stood out in relief, with its wooded hills and hollows diminished to toy proportions by the awful depth. In the center the casa of San Nicolas sat like a gold cup in the wide green saucer of surrounding pastures. Beyond, the river lay, a band of fretted silver, splitting the valley; and, following its course upward, the girl's eye paused at the yellow scar, high on the opposite wall, which marked Santa Gertrudis.

"My beacon on many a dark day." She pointed.

"And that reminds me that it is in great danger of being extinguished," Seyd answered. "Our first payment was due the day before yesterday. Unless Billy has returned in my absence with the money-and I haven't the slightest hope-the property is forfeited to your uncle."

"But he will not claim it." Out of her simple woman's faith she went on: "He is too good and kind to advantage himself by your misfortune. In spite of his hate for the gringos, he likes you personally. Now that you are-my husband, he will not attempt your harm."

In view of his present clear view of Don Luis's machinations, Seyd was not so sure. Unwilling to hurt her, he conceded: "Well, we shall see. Let us ride on down."

"Not together, dear." Leaning over, she caught his arm. "I must see him first alone. He will be furiously angry, of course. But the angrier the better, for just so much sooner will follow the calm."

"But he may try-"

"-To take me from you?" She took the words out of his mouth. "He cannot. In a day, a week, a month, sooner or later, I should escape. They could not forever keep me locked up. But he will not try. You know, he stole his own wife, snatched her away while she was going to church to marry another, and he comes of a race that gained wives as often as not by the sword. He cannot blame you without condemning himself, and I am sure that he will not try. If you give me a little time to conquer him and soothe my poor scandalized mother it will come out all right. So you must go on to Santa Gertrudis now and see if there be any news of Se?or Thornton. And to-morrow-you may come."

"If you have the slightest doubt"-loath to let her out of his hands, he hesitated-"I would ride on to the station. Beautiful as is this place, and much as I have come to love it, I would rather abandon all than incur the risk."

"But there is none, husband mine." She looked up in his face, tenderly smiling. "He will rage and roar like an old lion, but that is all. I should be only half a woman to have come to my age without learning to manage him. Remember, for the second time you have saved my life, and, being already married, he cannot deny us. So go in peace, and"-she put up her mouth-"love."

In spite of her reassurance, he watched her go with apprehension that took a blacker tinge when, arriving at the inn late in the afternoon, he found no word from Billy. Though the inn's meager accommodations had not been improved by a slap from the wing tip of the wave, he remained there all night in preference to crossing and recrossing the river. With so much at stake, Santa Gertrudis could take care of itself for another day. Sleeping with anxiety for a bedfellow, he rose and was on the road at daybreak-but not a bit earlier than Francesca, who met him halfway.

"I knew you would be anxious," she explained, "so I saddled a horse and stole away while all of San Nicolas was still asleep. But not for nothing are you to have my news. Si, it is good!

"'Twas as I said," she went on, having received her reward. "The madre had already cried herself beyond further tears, and was glad to have me on any terms. The good uncle, of course, stormed. Never was there such a battle since the French wars, and had you been there 'twould not have lacked its killed and wounded

. Until midnight we fought; then, after cursing the blood of the Irishman that has always led me astray, he gave in. ''Tis not for an old soldier to cross tongues with a woman,' he growled. 'To-morrow bring me thy man.' But he knew that he was beaten," she finished, confidently, "for when I kissed him he laughed in his throat and patted my hair."

Again Seyd refused to dash her hope, but he was not quite convinced, and when they entered the big living-room where Don Luis stood with Paulo in waiting his dark gravity cast its shadow over the girl's glad face. His immobility afforded no clue to the feeling that lay behind the stereotyped greeting, "The house, se?or, is yours.

"I am the more pleased to see you," he went on, "because Paulo reminded me an hour ago of a matter of business that lies between us. Such things stick not in my memory. But I believe it concerns some money."

"Se?or!" Her face flaming with the scarlet of shame, Francesca was moving forward.

He stopped her with a shake of his heavy head. "This is between me and-your husband. The papers, Paulo. Hand them to the se?or."

It was a legal process, signed and sealed according to Mexican law, and before opening it Seyd knew it for the end. More out of curiosity than for information, he rapidly scanned the terms which had taken Santa Gertrudis and its mined riches forever out of his hands. While he read, Don Luis studied his face. If he looked for signs of deep hurt there were none to be seen, for in the long game between them Seyd was confronted for the first time by the expected. He looked up, squaring his shoulders.

"The victory is yours, se?or."

To Francesca's anxious eyes it seemed that the old man's gravity lightened by a shade. "You will concede, se?or, that I warned you-that no gringo would ever force himself in on my lands?"

"Yes, and I did my best to disprove it. For my partner's sake I am sorry. For my own"-he looked at his wife-"I am glad."

"Well spoken, se?or." The shadow of a smile illumined the old man's dark reserve. "But if I warned you, it does not follow that I have not watched with some sympathy your struggle. In watching, too, my old eyes have been opened upon truths that I had refused to see, though they lay under my nose. We are an old people, se?or, we Mexicans. The old blood of Spain added no effervescence to the Aztec strains that were grown stagnant long before Cortez landed, and when a people ages nature removes it to make way for younger stock. Si, though I refused to acknowledge it, I have known many years that just as the Moors overran Spain, and the Spanish overran the Aztecs, so will your people overrun Mexico from the Northern Sierras to the Gulf.

"Once I had thought to stay it. But time cools the hottest blood, and the one I had counted upon to uphold my old hands is gone to his place forever. Also I have seen that no man can dam the tide or shut the gates that Porfirio Diaz opened. As it went with Texas and Alta California so will it go with all our states. Against your Yankee our softer people can never stand. In the time to come only those of us that mix blood with shrewder strains will be able to withstand the flood, and thus it is I, who would have killed once the man that said I should ever take a gringo for kinsman, accept you with resignation. Perhaps it is the easier because one such mixture gave us this bright girl. And if you took time by the forelock 'tis not for me to grumble. One word more-" He threw one arm around Francesca, who had crossed to his side. "It has never been the habit of the Garcias to overlook a good dower to one of the house, and the fact that my niece has given you herself in exchange for her life does not cancel my debt. Give me the papers. The others, Paulo-to the se?or."

While Seyd gazed at the title deeds to Santa Gertrudis, made out to himself and Billy, the old man slowly tore up the forfeiture. Applying a match to the pieces, he threw them on the hearth, and, blazing up, they added warmth to the grim smile that accompanied his words.

"I told you, se?or, that no gringo should ever force himself in on my land."

THE END

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Transcriber's Notes:

1. Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.

2. The original of this e-text did not have a Table of Contents; one has been added for the reader's convenience.

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