- a new serial
ALTHOUGH her coming-of-age was to be marked by no more than dinner with an ailing man. Nan was supremely happy. Her father was her dearest friend; for months he had been dangerously ill and this was to be his first meal out of bed. When she went down, dusk was falling, and the firelight glowed on cut glass and silver against polished wood and on the form of John Warde waiting for her at the table, placed for the occasion before his bedroom fire. A citizen of parts, John Warde, famous as such through forty years adventuring in both Americas. Backed by pillows propping him, he made an impressive figure of a man well past a splendid prime. The dressing gown of purple brocade over maroon pyjamas set off his big torso, his rugged head and arrogant grey curls, and his seamed, wise face lit up as she came in and kissed him eagerly. He held her at arm’s length. “You look wonderful. Stand over there, where I can see you.” Flushing with pleasure, she stepped back into the firelight,
a long-limbed Diana of a girl with large grey eyes, dark brows, and heavy hair the color of old gold coiled round her head.
Her father gazed with admiration and a hint of wonder. "Only the other day you were a yellow-headed chica running about the patio down in El Taranta and a thousand dollars looked to me like money, and now you’re a woman and a raving beauty.”
A cocktail was brought her, and John Warde raised his sick-man’s glass of orange juice. “This isn’t the coming-of-age I’d planned for you, but you would have it this way. Here’s to you, and may all your dreams come true.”
She went across and kissed him again. “What a lovely wish, father. Did yours come true—the things you dreamed when you were twenty-one?” He regarded her in some surprise. “Umm! Some of ’em did, and weren’t as much fun as I’d
expected. Some of ’em didn’t. And some things came I’d never dreamed of that were better than the wildest dreams 1 ever had. Your mother, for instance, and now. you.”
He smiled and squeezed her hand, then produced a jewel case and took from it a broad diamond and sapphire bracelet. “Here, gimme your wrist?”
“Father! You shouldn’t have. It's much, much too splendid, and 1 can't wear a quarter of my things already.” “Nonsense. Put ’em all on. Your type can carry any quantity of jewellery. And why shouldn’t 1 spend my money on you? I’ve nothing else to do with it. It’soneo! the things that didn’t come up to the expectation. The getting ol it. was the fun.
“And I’ve got to make the most, of you. I know that. Some man will be taking you one day. It’s a wonder no one has as yet. if you’d been south when I was young there’d have been murder done for you by now.” I le smiled grimly. “What we wanted we went after, and the devil took the hindmost.”
There was a crease between her eyes as she replied: “It’s queer you should say that, because Dick asked me again today. He’s always at me lately,”
"Can’t say ! blame him. Why don’t you? He’s a rare good man, you know, and my right hand. 'S ou could have your own rooms here, and I’d stay out till I was asked; you wouldn’t, kick me out the house, now would you?”
SHE WAS looking past, him through the window, across the peaked tops of cedars growing on the slope below, to the roofs of San Francisco, among which the evening lights began to twinkle. She saw the. ferry-furrowed purple of the harbor, with beyond the Golden Gate the blood-red sun sinking into the vast Pacific. The beauty brought her suddenly a poignant, unfamiliar sense of longing. “Daddy,” she said, “what should there be between people before they marry?”
lie looked at her with a puzzled face. “We-ell, there’s a world of opinion about that. Some say that compatibility and sufficient money are the first things, and that love will follow. Some say there must be love to start with, that it’s the only thing that counts. And some say love is always separate from marriage.”
“And what is it to love a person—that way, father?”
For a little John Warde did not answer but gazed at the white heart of the fire, till presently he said in a different voice: “Love is a madness. It’s a fever, and as well a
splendid peace. It shifts-the gears of life and makes it run at a different tempo. .If means the passing of the springs of your existence into the keeping of another, so that you can’t live without that one and so long as you’re together nothing matters. And it hurts.” His head came up and he looked at her with ice-blue eyes that age and sickness had not dimmed. For a moment she beheld a man she did not know; not the genial and indulgent father, not the president of Yacoo and the power behind the politics of the sovereign state of California, but the soldier of fortune, leader of revolutions, treasure-seeker and spearhead ol forlorn hopes, who had loved the blonde Spanish daughter of an enemy and had lost her all too soon. “That’s what love is, daughter.” “That’s how you cared?”
I-Ie nodded. And suddenly his face was soil and his eyes glistened.
The switching on of lights broke the spell, and they realized how far they had drifted from the gay mood in which they had begun. Deliberately, both disciplined their thoughts and gave themselves to each other’s entertainment, so that the sadness passed and their careless camaraderie was re-established.
It was two hours before, her last cup of coffee emptied, she stood up. “And now back to bed for you.”
“Shucks! I’m all right here. Sit down and light another cigarette.”
“Now! You promised. If you hadn’t, Doctor Hume would not have let you sit. up for my birthday.” She rang for his man. “Mr. Warde will retire now, Curtis. As soon as you’re ready, daddy, I’ll come back and read to you."
Thompson was clearing up the temporary serving table which had been installed outsk|\ and to her surprise she heard the piano being played downstairs. The butler came across: “Miss Nan, there’s aman below who insists on
seeing Mr. Warde. He forced his way in before Garnet could stop him. I told him Mr. Warde was ill and could see no one, but he wouldn’t go, and when I said you were at dinner he said he'd wait. 1 le’s been playing the piano for the last hour, the same tune over and over.”
“Well, who is he? What does he want?”
“He wouldn’t say his name or his business.”
It sounded very strange. No friend of her father’s would be so tactless as to call casually at seven o'clock and while he was ill; and should one come for some especial reason he most certainly would send his name up. Others than dose friends did not come to John Warde’s home and demand to see him.
“All right, Thompson,” she said. “I’ll attend to it.”
AS SHE WENT down the wide, curved staircase the -¿L piano was still playing. The tune was a favorite of hers —Kipling’s "Gvpsv Trail.” rendered with a curious blend of hesitancy and feeling. In the hall she at once saw, lying
on a chest, a hat. It was not so much a hat as the ruin of a hat; a stained and battered, bandless felt with a rakish air that disturbed her subtly.
The piano stood close to the door, but so intent was the intruder on his music that he was unaware of her entry. He was a tall, dark man in a cheap blue suit, who seemed oblivious to all else but the effort which his playing cost him. Her attention was at once focused on his hands. Strange, repellent-looking hands they were, scaly and caked and dry, of a curious grey color, more like the claws of some huge bird than the hands of a musician. And here and there a scale was peeling and the new skin underneath was pink. But they played well, though slowly and at the expense of the utmost effort ; the man’s whole will was bent upon the task.
When the song was done, he relaxed a moment, working his hands together as though to limber them; and she was about to make her presence known when he began to play again—this time tentatively, experimentally, she sensed— and in a deep rich baritone, began to sing. His singing had the same blend of awkwardness and power which had marked his playing, and she realized that it must be very long since he had clone either, and that while he waited he had been practising the song again and again, to recall a long-disused familiarity.
“The white moth to the closing bine,
The bee to the opened clover.
And the gypsy blood to the gypsy blood,
Ever the wide world over ...”
She saw his clothes were pitifully cheap, his body lean as a hound’s. She stood still as a statue while he sang:
“The wild hawk to the windswept sky,
The deer to the wholesome wold,
And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid,
As it were in the days of old.
The heart of a man to the heart of a maid,
Light of my tent, be fleet,
Morning waits at the end of the world,
And the world is all at our feet.”
When the last note died he sat and stared before him. till he heard her hard-held breath escape in a long exhalation and sprang to his feet—too quickly, like a hunted man—to glare at her with hot blue eyes in a face burned brown by the sun.
He was tall and arrogant of bearing, the shoddy suit too tight for his wide shoulders, tero loose for his panther hips, and far too short at wrists and ankles. On his feet were new shoes of a bilious tan. She had an impression of a fiery spirit, and of a body from which the last trace of grossness had been wrung by some relentless travail.
For several moments he stared, startled at the fair girl in the sleek white gown, with her jewels glittering and her head high in surprise, her face lit by the glamor of his song. Then he ejaculated. “Oh—er—I’m sorry. I’d no idea you were there. It’s years since I saw a piano.”
She did not answer. She was tongue-tied in a most unfamiliar way; she was trying to separate her thoughts from her emotions.
His face turned bleak and he remarked: “I don’t like
these clothes cither, but my others were crawling and where I bought these they don’t cater for the aesthetic. And 1 only had sixteen dollars. If you ever heard of such a sum!” he concluded with abrupt, surprising bitterness.
rT'HEN SHE realized that she had been staring like a rustic and blushed to the ears. “1 wasn’t thinking that at all,” she lied indignantly, and was at once angry with herself for allowing him to draw her.
He did not smile. “No? But you were thinking something mighty hard. What was it, if it wasn’t the reach-medowns?”
Her speech seemed to come of its own volition. “I was thinking how like you are to the song you sang.” And then she could have kicked herself, for she had blushed again.
He relaxed a little and the change brought to his lean brown face a strange, hungry charm. She said: “You wish to see my father?”
“John Warde of Yacoo Consolidated, I want to see.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. He is just recovering from a severe illness.”
. “I’ve got to see him. It’s necessary. Your man said he was having dinner with you. If he’s well enough for that, he can see me.”
“I’m sorry, but he mustn’t be disturbed. He has been seriously ill and is not yet out of danger.”
“That’s all the more reason for my seeing him. I’ve waited ten years and come six thousand miles for it, and he shan’t die before I do if 1 can help it.”
His insistence and his callousness incensed her. She decided that she disliked this man. She said: “I’m sorry, but it is impossible.”
“I tell you I’ve got to. I’m sorry to make a scene, but either you show me up or I’ll go on my own.” He took a step forward and she sprang into his path with eyes big with indignation. “You will not! How dare you! If your business is so important, I’ll give you the address of my father’s attorney.”
“My business is personal and immediate—and if I leave
this house without completing it I don’t suppose I’ll get in again, now shall I?”
■‘Who are you. please? What do you want? I am in my father’s confidence and will do anything for you that he would.” Those preposterous clothes gave her an idea: “Is it a matter—1 should be glad ...”
He made a gesture of polite if sardonic acknowledgment: “That’s kind of you, but I’m not a beggar, though I am fiat broke. It’s no good, Miss Warde. I’m going to see him.” She was angry now. Quite beside the issue, their wills were locked in an antagonism that was fundamental.
“You are not. I f you’re so positive he would be interested, tell me your business. In the morning when he’s rested, if he’s well enough, I’ll tell him. And if he wishes it. and if and when the doctor gives permission, we’ll make an appointment.”
He looked at her with a manner of appraisal, weighing the matter in his mind. He saw her dewy womanhood, the soft bloom of her skin, flushed with her anger, her grey eyes hot with indignation, her chin high in defiance of him. For several moments he considered.
“You’re pretty fond of your father, aren’t you?” he remarked irrelevantly.
Her resentment intensified, but she contrived to control it and reply: “Of course.”
“He’s a pretty fine fellow?”
“He’s the finest gentleman I know.”
The man maintained his critical regard of her, till at last he said: “No. I think on the whole I’d rather not tell you my business. It’s his and my affair exclusively.”
YET HIS manner made clear that it would concern her, and she wondered what there possibly could be between her father and this importunate and forceful hobo.
The man made up his mind. “I’ll go you halfway,” he decided. “When the boat got in I felt I couldn’t wait another minute, but I’ve waited this long and can hang on one more day. Give me your word that you’ll arrange for me tomorrow, and I’ll go now.”
“And suppose 1 decline?”
“Then I go upstairs.”
“There are three menservants in the house.’
“To put me out?” He laughed, and impotently she realized just what would happen to the soft and comfortable servants if they dared lay hands on such a man.
“There are also the police.”
Suddenly he looked tired, and for an instant his forceful-
ness gave place to something close to pleading. But it was only for an instant. Then his face hardened.
“Miss Warde.” he said. “I intend to see your father if it’s the last thing on earth I do. No one in this house can stop me, and once I speak to him he’ll want to listen, I give you my word. Stand aside, if you please.”
“I shall not.”
“Very well. I'm sorry.” He pushed her from his path, but before he reached the door she cried. “Stop!” and he stopped and turned.
She said frigidly: “My consideration for my father gives me no choice. He must not be shocked like this.”
“I have your word you’ll make an appointment for me?” For a long time she could not bring herself to yield, and he waited patiently. At last she nodded. “Yes.”
“And you promise not to tell the police or do any other thing to stop my getting here?”
Once again he had read her thoughts, as her hesitation showed. “Well, of course,” he said, and swung toward the door.
“Wait,” she capitulated. “I promise.”
He turned back and regarded her. “And why should I believe you? I know you’ll stop me if you can.”
Fury welled up in her. “You are insolent.”
“This is not a polite business. But I’ll take your word. Tomorrow at eleven then. 'Fell him that Antony Carteret will be here from Quisunta in Boriador. and if he doesn’t sit up at that you may call me a Chinaman.”
The clasp of her new bracelet, unfamiliar to her father and not fastened by him properly, had been working from its socket; now it came free and the glittering thing dropped on the rug. Startled, she stopped to recover it. but Carteret was before her. The jewels lay in his grey, scaly palm and glittered as he turned them to and fro to catch the light, and she noticed that his hand was small and slender, not the hand of one bred to manual work.
HE MET her eyes with a strange expression. “He gave you this?”
“Yes. Today. It’s my birthday.”
“Must have cost a fortune. Looks weird in my hand.
Pretty hand, isn’t it? Nitrate does that. You never heard of the nitrate beds? In Boriador they are. ’way up in the Cordillera where the air’s thin and cold but the sun blisters you. They send convicts there and it kills most of ’em. I worked there ten years, but it didn't kill me—I’m tough, and I have things to do before I die. That’s why I’m here. It won’t be my time to die until I’ve done what I’m beginning now. I've always known that. Gad! That’s a thought. Ix)ok. I’ve got a bracelet, too; not so beautiful as yours but more expensive. Ten years of my life it cost.” He thrust out his wrist, to display encircling it an ugly thing, a broad, purple scar, indented to the bone. Then he opened his hand again and made the jewels glitter. “Ten years,” he reiterated. “You got this”—his gesture embraced the house, the view of the sea. her jewels and herself—“and I got that! ’ He stood as if in contemplation of the thought, till by and by his head came up and he looked at her. She could not read his mind; his bronzed face was set. but his eyes were alive with feeling. Then suddenly he smiled, and it was as though a light had sprung within him, so vastly it transfigured his dark countenance.
“But that’s no fault of yours, now is it?” He dropped the bracelet into her hand. “I’ll go now, till tomorrow at eleven. You tell him. Tony Carteret. He’ll see me.”
He went out to the hall, leaving her staring from the bracelet to the door and back again. Then he reappeared. His white teeth gleamed as he smiled and made a gesture with the battered hat. “Oh. and many happy returns of the day.” He disappeared again.
She stood without moving, feeling his eyes upon her still, as though he had not gone. She had a distressing consciousness. as though he had caught her naked of both mind and body and was free of all her secrets. Then she heard the front door softly close.
By and by she went upstairs. Her father was back in bed, propped on his pillows, with only the shade-light burning, and the novel they were reading open ready by his side. She could see that he was hurt by her long absence. “I’m sorry to have been so long,” she said. “I couldn’t get away.”
“Oh? What kept you, this time of night?”
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She had not thought to tell him till the morning. She could not avoid keeping the promise which had been forced from her. but she had meant to phone Dick and ask him to handle the entire affair. Yet in spite of this she found herself saying: “Daddy, there was a man came to see you. He forced his way in and wouldn’t go away.”
Warde was amused. “The devil he did. What did he want?”
“His name was Antony Carteret and he wouldn’t—”
Her father, whose attention had been no more than casual, looked up. “Eh! What name was that?” ,
“Carteret, father; Tony Carteret.”
TOHN WARDE’S eyes had suddenly grown J keen and most perplexed. “The only Carteret I ever knew has been dead for years, but his name was Antony. What sort of a man was this?”
“Tall and dark, and deeply sunburned; and dressed in awful clothes that didn’t fit. He was sort of desperate looking, and— handsome—in a way.”
“About how old?” her father asked with careful unconcern.
“That’s hard to say. He’d been through a lot, you could see, and it had marked him. But not much over thirty.”
“The man I knew must have been sixty then, a tall old buck with snow-white hair, a gentleman of the old-fashioned sort.”
“Well”—suddenly she realized it—“this man was a gentleman.”
For a little while Warde did not speak. His face was noncommittal but she saw that he was thinking hard, till presently he said with interest acute but guarded: “Well,
and what happened? Tell me all about it.” “He insisted on seeing you, and when I said he couldn’t he made clear he’d force his way upstairs. I said I’d call the servants and he simply laughed, and to spare you a scene I promised to make an appointment for tomorrow. He’s coming at eleven.”
“And you don’t know what he wants?” “He refused to say.”
“But surely you gleaned some idea?” “Nothing except—well, he seemed to believe that you and he had some strong interest in common. He was confident that you would see him once you heard his name. His manner was threatening. He said he’d waited ten years and come from Boriador to see you, and would if it was the last thing he did.”
John Warde stared, his keen blue eyes betraying an incredulous conviction and acute concern. “Boriador! I haven’t been there for twenty years. Yes, yes! Go on!” “And he’d been working in some mines, he said—nitrate, is it?—up in the Cordilleras. And he had an awful scar on his wrist.” She stopped, her jaw dropped and her hand went to it. “Of course! He said there were convicts; and that it had cost him ten years of his life. That was why he hadn’t seen a piano and his voice was rusty. The scar was the mark of a chain. He’d been chained up. He was a convict! Father, I’m frightened. That man means no good. I gave him my word he could see you—it was that or have him burst in here—but I’ll phone Dick and have him here to meet him with you.”
John Warde was gazing straight before him, but he did not see the room. He had gone back to his headlong youth. He saw sunshine on pink dobe houses amid palms and yuccas, fresh blood on sand and small brown soldiers running; he heard the crack of rifles and the gabble of the fleeing peons, and smelt the reek of cordite mixed with horse-sweat and the perfume of ylangylang . . .
Presently his eyes came back; but his mind did not. “Nonsense,” he almost snapped, “I'll see the fellow. It’s—it’s only some stranded panhandler from down below who’s found the mother lode and wants a grubstake. I’ve been broke myself. I know.”
“But you’re not to see him alone. He’s dangerous. Dick must be here.”
John Warde thrust out a commanding finger. His eyes were cold and his face was hard. “You listen to me. I’ll see this fellow when he comes, alone! You understand?”
C HE AWOKE next day to September sun*0 shine and the wail of gulls that wheeled against the sky outside her window, and her first sensation was a happy one. Her father was quite out of danger and they could resume their sweet companionship. A song began in her ears: “The wild hawk to the .windswept sky ...” It brought at once the vision of a big, dark man incongruously clad, with a bronzed lean face and deep-blue eyes that held hers hotly. Last night’s emotions crowded back and her contentment was displaced by tension. She rolled out of bed, kicked off her pyjamas, stuffed her dull-gold braid into a rubber cap and stepped beneath the shower, to emerge blowing and tingling. Against her slender tan, the mark of her bathing suit showed white as milk. As Lupe, her Mexican maid, helped her dry, she could think of one thing only—the man Tony Carteret, with the broken hands and bitter tongue, who had read her thoughts and forced his will on her. Recalling last night’s events, her resentment of him heightened. As she pulled on her stockings, it was as though his intent eyes were on her there, and she blushed all over and involuntarily reached for her wrap, to fling it down in exasperation. The man would be here at eleven. Well, whatever else transpired, for her part she would put him in his place, once and for all.
First thing, she called Dick, who, beside her most ardent suitor, was her father’s personal attorney. “Please be here when he comes,” she asked him. “I’m worried. I’m sure he means no good, and father was so strange about it.”
“Of course, darling. I’ll be there the moment I can. I’ve got to represent your father at a meeting at nine-thirty, but I’ll come over right after that. I should be there well before eleven.”
She found her father none the worse for last night’s happenings, more silent perhaps than usual, answering her with less frequent monosyllables.
All morning she kept rather feverishly busy, arranging flowers, answering notes of enquiry for him, choosing fresh books from the library. Neither mentioned what was dominating both their minds till he was brought his morning milk. At this hour, usually she took some time to herself downstairs with coffee and a newspaper. As the clock chimed the quarter he looked up. His valet was in the room. “Curtis,” he told him, “there’ll be a man to see me at eleven. I do not wish to be disturbed. You understand?” And to Nan he said, smiling, but she could see his mind was distant: “Send him straight up. I’m ready.”
She left him and went downstairs, where she expected to find Dick. But he had not come. She took her coffee on the seat lining the great bay window, with the green wealth of cedar tops below, and beyond the expanse of city, harbor and open sea. The yellow sunshine slanted through the window, enriched the autumn colors of her tailored suit and charged her hair with radiance.
She had no more than unfolded her paper when the butler came, bristling. “Miss Nan, that man is here again.”
“All right, Thompson. I’m expecting him.”
The servant so far forgot himself as to stare, then departed with his whole form eloquent of protest.
BY DAYLIGHT Tony Carteret’s ill-fitting suit and jaundiced shoes looked even more incongruous than they had before, but they could not abate his arrogance. He was shaved, his black hair groomed, and he entered like an honored
guest and bowed to her, which made his inadequate trouser-legs rise up his ankles ludicrously. “Good morning.”
“Good morning. 1 have arranged for you to see my father.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry I’ve been compelled to force myself on you.” He showed his white teeth in a smile. “I wish you were as pleased to see me as I was to come.”
His meaning was plain. He referred, not to his business with her father, but to her. This was a personality, an insolence. While she groped for words with which to rebuff him, she felt the color flood her cheeks. And she could find no comment adequate to express her anger.
In impotence, to save her face, she said: “Will you please come up.”
As side by side they climbed the stairs, she felt tension like a wire between them.
Meeting this undreamed-of visitation from his turbulent past years, her father’s square, lined face against the white of pillows was devoid of expression. Not by a flicker did he betray his thoughts. The man from Quisunta became equally inscrutable. She said: “Father, this is Mr. Carteret.”
John Warde nodded and said non-comittally: “Good morning.”
Carteret replied in a voice not altogether steady: “Good morning, I regret the necessity for this intrusion,” and lapsed into guarded silence.
“All right, Nan,” her father said. “Thank you. I’ll ring if I want anything.” And perforce she left them and returned downstairs.
Dick had not come. Why hadn’t he? She had been counting on him.
She could not compose herself. She sat on the window seat, got up, sat down once more; she began determinedly to read the paper, but in thirty seconds had forgotten it.
She began to hum, “The wild hawk to the windswept sky ...” Fie had looked wild and hawklike, and he seemed to belong to windswept places. She slammed down the paper and began to pace the room.
The time ticked by. What was going on up there? What did that man want with her father? Where was Dick? Why had he failed her? She cocked a knee on the seat and stared out of The window at the glittering sweep of blue pacific.
She looked at her watch for the dozenth time. Forty-five minutes! Why hadn’t Dick come? She’d telephone and see. But as she emerged into the hall she saw Carteret coming down the stairs and halted.
HE CROSSED the polished floor and stood before her, and he seemed a different man. The arrogance had left him; he showed hurt, bewilderment and supplication.
She saw him gulp. He said: “I’m going now. This hasn’t turned out as I thought it would. Flere, you’ll be needing this.” He offered her some concealed object, and when she made no move reached out and took her hand. His scaly fingers felt not human; they were rough and cold and their touch revolted her, which fact her face betrayed. At sight of this a desperate anger seized him. When she tried to snatch her hand away he held it, drawing her nearer and saying in a harsh voice: “So you loathe me, do you? That is too much.”
She pulled back wildly. “Let me go ! You let me go!”
“I’ll be darned if I will. It’s all I’ll ever get of what I should have had.” He caught her to him and despite her struggles kissed her. Then he released her abruptly and strode to the door.
When he opened it Dick stood there. They stared at each other, a striking contrast. Both were big, virile men, the stranger pantherish and dark, Dick heavylimbed, slow, fair and wholesome.
Then Carteret was gone, and Dick was inside and had closed the door. She stood at the stair-foot, white, with a crimson spot on either cheek, scrubbing her mouth with the back of her hand. Dick went across. “That the chap, eh? I simply couldn’t get away—why, what’s the matter?”
She could barely speak for anger. “He kissed me !”
“Whaat! I’ll break his . . . .”
Curtis came running down the stairs. “Miss Nan, there’s something wrong. I heard that man leave the room and found it locked. I’ve knocked and knocked, but no one comes. And the key was outside, I know. It’s gone!”
They stared at each other. Then she opened her hand. “Dick!” she gasped. “Look ! He gave me this !” On her palm lay the key. In silence they turned and dashed upstairs.
She had left her father in bed in his pyjamas. Now he lay on the floor before the fire, wearing his purple dressing gown. With a cry she dashed across and knelt beside him, raising his head. Fie was quite limp, his face like yellow wax. Slowly she looked up and met Dick’s eyes. He shook his head and laid his hand upon lier arm. As she looked down, disbelieving, she saw that on her hands was blood.
' i "'FIE PLAZA of El Taranta City has a L white rococo handstand, elegant stone seats, shrubberies of orange, oleander and camelia, and tall palms round whose tops green parakeets wheel, screeching. The heated air is redolent of goats and flowers; bronzed Indians in gay-striped scrapes drowse in the sun; and from it can be seen the encircling rampart of the Cordillera snow pinnacles far off, and near at hand the verdant cones of extinct volcanoes.
The car bringing Nan and Dick Couzens from the airport skirted this oasis and stopped before a high white building with grilled windows and a brass plate beside tall twin doors:
Yacoo Consolidated Mining Corporation of America
Jacaranda Mines, Inc.
It was two months since her father had been found dead in his room with a bloodmarked fire-iron by him and his wall safe looted, and the murderer had got clean away. Compelled to visit San Lozada on the business of the Warde estate, Dick had persuaded her for the sake of the change to go with him to this land of her birth.
A quaint, toy country, high in the mountains, tucked between the principal republics of the waist of the Americas. Few Northerners are aware of it, fewer visit it. “Geografía manda'’ the Spaniards say, and geography has made the fate of San Lozada. It has a single city, built by Spain in her glory, 300 years ago, a few old families of distinguished lineage, and the usual nondescript mestizo townsmen. But the bulk of its people is los Indios; those patient, sad descendants of the splendid civilization which Cortez and Alvarado found and choked.
Nan looked at the drowsy plaza while a string of laden burros pattered by, and for the first time since her father’s death she experienced an emotion other than distress. “It feels just as I remember that it did when I was little,” she said. “This is fun.”
They passed carved massive doors into a churchlike building with a faint exotic smell. Here was no office bustle. A dozen sleepy mestizos crouched above enormous ledgers, and one of them, in answer to Nan’s query in her childhood’s Spanish, bowed them to an inner room.
Red-headed Johnny Tucker sprang to his feet. Johnny was thirty, snub-nosed and gregarious, and he had not seen a girl like Nan for fifteen months. “Excuse me. You’re Miss Warde, of course, and Mr. Couzens. I’m glad to meet you. I’d have been down at the port but didn’t know when you’d be in.”
“That was my fault,” she assured him. “My coming was an eleventh-hour idea and I’m afraid it upset everything.”
“Oh, not at all.”
Johnny looked uncomfortable. “I have a note for you from General Román. He had to go down to the coast.”
Once the plane had landed, Nan’s mind had begun to move in channels long unused : “Roman?” she said. “Would that be the Roman who used to be the President?”
“Is,” Johnny corrected. “Fías been for twenty years, and looks like going on
twenty more. He’s also treasurer, commander-in-chief of the army, and chief of police. Believe me, that man understands the business.”
He handed her an envelopeemdash;thick, handmade paper, monogrammed flap, faintly perfumed. She regarded the contents briefly, then passed it back: “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to read it. .1 can still speak Spanish”emdash;she had often been in Mexico with her fatheremdash;“but I never learned to read it well, and this writing defeats me.”
JOHNNY declaimed: “General Don
J Emilio Alcazar Pedro Roman presents his compliments to the daughter of his old comrade, Don Juan Warde, and implores her and the esteemed Señor Don Ricardo Couzens to accept the use of his poor house. Owing to the uncertainty of the date of her arrival, he fears that she may come while he is absent, and should this occur he begs that she will treat his humble dwelling as her own. All is prepared, and the Señor Tucker Tvill instruct the servants.”
She looked at Dick in pleased surprise while she tried to recall some impression of the man. But she could not. The life of a girl-child in Latin America does not include grown-ups other than her parents, and all she now could visualize of the general's probable appearance was as one of many small dark men, seen at a distance, whose Loks her childish memory retained. “That’s really most kind of him,” she said. “Dick, vhat do you think?”
“It’s up to you. I’m just an appendage, I know that. If I’d come alone, I should not have been asked. You’re Yacoo Consolidated as well as Jacaranda, remember; I’m just a half-baked lawyer.”
Johnny said, and in his tone was something she could not interpret: “Of course I arranged for you at the hotel as you wrote me to do, but the general went so far as to cancel the reservations.”
Her eyebrows rose a shade: “Oh, he did? Well, he’s a very old friend of father’s.” Johnny watched her with a curious expression. His face was troubled, and twice he opened his mouth to speak and twice shut it again.
Dick said: “After all, I may be pretty
busy for some days, and this would make your stay much more enjoyable. Sounds all to the good to meemdash;and such an old friend, as you say.”
“Very well, Mr. Tucker,” she decided, “We’ll go. And thank you very much.” Johnny said slowly: “Not at all. Miss
Warde. I'll phone the housekeeper and have them send his car for you.”
PEDRO ROMAN’S car came from England. It was twice as long as some; it was cream-colored outside and scarlet within, and on the radiator cap was poised an indiscreet bacchante in gold. They drove in the hard, hot sun down narrow ways between grave house fronts with carved doors and iron-grilled windows, to stop at a house in a small square opposite a venerable church, from whose cornices cactus sprouted and a blossoming vine hung down like blood-red stalactites. Kites wheeled and mewed about its twin square towers, and vultures with blue, naked heads gloomed on the roof.
A tugged bell-chain beside the stately door elicited a distant jangling, and they were admitted by an Indian in white linen with à gaudy sash. Though his face was stolid, his brown eyes were apprehensive, like those of one habitually afraid.
The hall was high and spacious, floored with timeworn blue flags and walled with yellow stone. There were spiral pillars and line masons’ work, and a forged iron hanging lamp. From either side arched doorways opened, and its inner end gave on a sunny patio with a fountain and a riot of flowering shrubs and creepers.
An ancient woman garbed in black appeared, wearing a lace mantilla and earrings of heavy gold. Her face was brown and wrinkled like a walnut, her big black eyes were subtle and her voice was smooth as oil. Don Pedro’s house was honored. All was in readiness. Don Pedro, unfortunately,
was a bachelor, but she, Mama Gomez, was at the señoritas service. Would the señorita enjoy a light repast before her siesta?
A sen-ant bowed Dick toward his quarters and Mama Gomez said: “This way, if the señorita pleases.”
The bedroom was in startling contrast with the hoary atmosphere of street and hall, being furnished gaudily with jumbled late American and Empire French, and reeking with some heavy perfume. A young Indian girl, flat-faced but not unattractive, entered on bare feet. Would the señorita make her toilet, Mama Gomez purred? This girl would attend her. Luncheon would be ready in the patio in half an hour.
Nan learned soon that though the President of San Lozada was a bachelor, he was not always lonely. Several of the big wardrobes were filled with costly women's clothes, which shed the heavy scent that filled the room.
Opening from the bedroom was a little boudoir, which led again to the hall outside. A sumptuous small place, it had one window only, looking on the patio, which was grilled with iron scrolls and set so high that she could not see out.
Dick was waiting underneath a portico whose eaves were thick with purple blossom. In the centre of the court, tiled in blue, rose and yellow, the fountain played; there were orange trees in tubs, gardenias, jasmine on the comices; the sunlit wall across was lovely with cascades of yellow vine. And an air of timelessness, of drowsy peace, hung in the place.
Dick’s eyes kindled as he drew up a chair.
The past two months strain had left its mark on her; her cheeks were faintly hollow, her eyes deeper.
“There was some mail here for me, with a letter from that man we sent to Boriador,” he said when they were settled.
Her head came up, her face at once intent.
“No wonder the police didn’t answer us; the place seems absolutely medieval. Kerr says they send condemned men and lifers from all parts of the country to work nitrate in chains at these Quisunta mines. He has established that a man answering our description did escape.”
She said impatiently: “But we knew that before he went. What has he found out?”
“No more, so far. The mine officials don’t know the antecedents of the convicts, they’re just slaves, working till they die, with no hope of reprieve. No one knows anything of our man except that he was there ten years and then got away.”
JLJER FACE did not relax, and her hand tapped the seat beside her. Dick went on: “The more I think, the queerer this
thing looks. The details just don't click. If Carteret had come from San Lozada here, it would make sense, but the police wrote us definitely that they’d never heard of him. Boriador is three thousand miles farther south. Where’s the connection, that’s what I can’t see? Your father hadn’t been south of Panama for twenty years. This man’s age couldn’t have been much more than thirty. Take off his ten years in jail and he’s only a boy. And yet he comes straight from Boriador to San Francisco, forces his way in, cocksure that your father would see him once he heard his name, and is so darned right he gets a private interview in the bedroom. I don’t know what to think.”
She answered hotly: “I don’t have to. I know he killed my father and that nothing has been done about it.”
“Oh, now! We’ve got Federal and State police and two private detectives at work.”
“And what have they achieved? The man must be somewhere; heaven knows lie’s conspicuous enough. He’s probably hidden all this time in San Francisco. Do something more! Double the reward! Spend fifty thousand if you have to.” Her lips shook and her eyes were wet, and her face showed bleak resentment.
Dick looked at her unhappily.
“There you go, and you promised me you wouldn’t let it get you all worked up. I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I’d thought it would spoil everything again like this.”
“A man is to walk into our house, force me
I into a promise so that lie can kill mv father, and then go free?”
“I know, my dear, I know. But everything is being done. Can’t you let it go at. that?”
"There are some things one can’t forget, which rankle more as time goes on.”
His face was grave now; angry, too, but, most of all. puzzled.
“You mean what happenedafterward. That's the queerest thing of all. What made him do it? He had just killed a man; his pockets were filled with stolen cash and jewellery; his one thought should have been to get. away. Yet he got furious because he saw you didn’t like him, he kissed you and he said that it was all he’d ever get of what he should have had. What could he have meant?”
“He might have meant a hundred things, or nothing. It was the sort of thing that a man with a grievance against life, a weakling. says. And 1 don’t care why he said it. What he did was enough for me.”
“I’m beginning to realize that. It’s changed you completely. Before it happened, you were all set to marry me. On your birthday you practically said so. Now you’re an entirely different person.”
At this she softened, self-reproach mingling with the revolt her face contained. A proper man, Dick, she realized anew, with his fine, strong face, unmarked by dissipation, cropped sandy hair, and spread of heavy shoulder. And he worshipped her.
"I'm terribly sorry, Dick, but it would have been the same if nothing had occurred. On my birthday 1 almost, did say yes—you wanted it so much and you’re so dear and I like you so. But 1 asked father what it meant, to love, and what he told me made me realize I don’t love you. You’re my dear friend, but that’s not the same. ”
“I don’t believe it. Since that day you haven’t been yourself. You’re all worked up, obsessed with catching this cursed fellow. You’re brooding yourself into morbidity. And your attitude is queer and warped as well. It’s not like you to be bitter.” He hesitated, and his face grew distressed. “Sometimes I feel you’re more concerned to punish the man who kissed you than the man who killed your father.”
She did not speak. She could not articulate for anger. But the slow blood suffused her face and her look startled him.
“Forgive me. Nan,” he exclaimed, “I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know what made me. It was an impulse, expressed before I thought.”
She sprang up and her lijos were shaking: “That makes it worst of all. It means you feel it. Oh, everything’s just beastly!” She pushed back her chair and rushed to her room, to fling herself, face down, on the bed.
CHE AWAKENED to a feeling of suspense and remoteness, to the sultry perfume of that too luxurious room and to half-light slanting through the jalousies. On the sunny street outside the soft jangling of mule-bells and the muleteer’s long ululation sounded. Save for that there was silence, the brooding of a tropic city unchanged for three centuries, without a river, with one train of a single coach a day, a hundred miles from the sea and a mile and a half above it. Nostalgia stole over her, born of her memories of childhood and of the longing they induced. She had behaved disgracefully to Dick, which was most unfair. Dick was a brick, and everything he said was true. She realized that he was the only real thing between her and loneliness, so great had been the intimacy between her and her murdered father. She must be less selfish, pull herself together, take hold of life with a determined hand.
Mama Gomez entered softly and came to the bedside. Beneath the mantilla her sunken eyes were filled with venal wisdom. The jefe cuadra was here for orders. Don Pedro owned many horses, and most splendid. Would the señorita care to ride in the cool of the day, before the evening meal?
The señorita was delighted. The señor Couzens should be told at once. They would start as soon as she could get ready.
She bathed in a big, cement-floored bathroom with walls tiled in maroon and yellow and tun-bellied water ollas in a row. The heavy odor of the bedroom was shut out, and the cool caress of water freed her from the oppression that the place engendered. At the thought of riding a good horse her spirits rose.
She found Dick propped on a ehairback in the palio, swinging a booted leg and whistling: “All set?” was his cheerful greeting.
They went out to a joair of tine grey horses, mounted and walked them through the quiet streets toward the. peak Penjaro, crowning the west rim of the range that walls the El Taranta basin.
That was a memorable ride, into a world which to sight, smell and hearing was fresh yet subtly familiar. They worked their way through the cultivated belt around the city and deep into the wooded foothills, and by the time they turned reluctantly toward home the sun was down behind Penjaro, and the reflected light of afterglow suffused the land with orange radiance.
It was some time after they had turned when Nan remarked: “I suppose we’re on the proper road. Shouldn’t we be getting out of these hills soon?”
“Sure ! We’ll run into theojuen presently.”
But the trail wound on among the hills while the West paled through rose to yellow, silhouetting the high Cordillera, and out of Nicaragua a cartwheel moon slid into view, till it ended in a smoky pueblo of a dozen tattered huts, the bastard Spanish of whose people they failed to understand.
“We’ve missed the trail, all right,” Dick admitted, “but we’ll be okay if we keep going downhill. The town is at the bottom ! of the basin. Can’t miss it very well. I’m sorry, honey.”
“Who cares? Let’s canter.”
STRANGE, heady scents were in their nostrils and wild things rustled from their path as they swept through the dusk, while the horses’ measured breathing kept time with their pounding feet. And darkness closed and fireflies in the jungle caves began to twinkle, and the road ran sometimes up and sometimes down, till at last perforce they reined the lathered horses to a walk. “I’ve made a jrroper mess of this,” Dick confessed sheepishly. “I wouldn't have believed these hills could be so tricky. Now that we can’t see that big peak. I’m darned if I know where the city lies. We’ll be pretty late for our first dinner in your birthplace.” “What’s it matter? We can have lots of dinners, but not many nights like this. It’s too gorgeous. And we’re bound to get there by and by.”
She lounged in the saddle and yielded up to beauty. The West was almost dark, and a small wind worried through the hills. A sense of glamor stole upon her. Her life seemed to stretch ahead like the road they travelled, lovely, darkly beckoning, leading she knew not whither and fraught with a delectable uncertainty. A hunger, a longing, gripped her, for what she did not know. There was a song in her ears, a song that she had always loved and which held in its words both that night’s magic and the hunger of her heart. It recalled vividly the time on which she last had heard it sung, by a strange, dark man with hunted eyes and broken hands—who had kissed her. The memory came to her now, as clear as though she actually could hear his voice: “The wild hawk to the windswept sky, the deer to the wholesome wold : and the gypsy blood to the gypsy blood, as it was in the days of old .
Then incredibly she realized that the song was more than her imagination and she clutched Dick’s arm. “Dick, wait a moment! Listen!”
Obediently he reined his mount.
They were angling down a parklike hillside. In the intense shadow fireflies played in thousands, and where the trail was wide the shadows of the palms lay, black on silver. The insects chirred in the brake, and overhead the “sough sough sough” of leathern wings beat as a big fruit-bat flapped past.
"There! Can’t you hear it?" she whisjxired. “ A man, singing. ”
There was a pause while the horses champed their bits. “Yes.” he said, “by heck, I can. That’s queer.”
“It’s he ! It’s that man ! That’s the very song he sang. I’d recognize it anywhere.” “What?”
It came quite clearly now, the voice and the mellow twang of strings. “It’s down below us somewhere,” she insisted. “Come on. Quickly!”
Soon the trail cleared a banana clump, and revealed a tiny homestead underneath some tall coquitos. There were a few splitpalm storehouses on stilts, a goat byre and a small (lobe dwelling with a verandah before its open door, door and windows blanked in yellow light. There was no one in sight.
She said: “Itwashe; I’m certain.”
“We’ll soon find out. You take my horse and wait here in the shadow.”
“No! What can you do? He’ll be armed, and he’s dangerous. You’d only warn him. We must get back and bring the police.” “I’ll handle him. I knew things happened in these countries and I’m carrying a gun. If you’re right, I’ll make sure of him.”
HE LED into the shadows and dismounted. Her voice shook. “There’s a sort of fence here: we can tie them to it.” “No. You hold them.”
“But I’m coming.”
“You can’t. Anything might happen.” “I’m coming!”
He demurred a moment; then, knowing her stubbornness, did not waste words, but. keeping to the shadows, led on till they faced the unglazed window. Then they stole across the moonlit open until they could peer within. They saw a dingy white-walled room, a table underneath the window, facing the door a battered cast-iron stove. There was a chair or two, a crucifix, the floor was of mud. By the table sat an aged woman in voluminous and rusty black, making lace pinned to an upright bolster; her hands darted among multifarious depending bobbins. Prone on her face on a mat ol grass, her chin in her hands as she gazed at the singer, lay a dark, slender girl. She was olive-skinned and lovely in the dusky Spanish fashion, with black hair sleekly parted and a white camelia behind her ear; and though it was clear that she was very young, the single cotton garment that she wore revealed her physical maturity. But what caught Nan’s eye was a gold-andturquoise bracelet clasped above one elbow. She recognized the thing. With a mass ot antique Spanish jewellery, it had been stolen from her father’s safe on the night he died.
On a stool against the wall, stroking a battered old guitar and singing softly, sat Tony Carteret. Save that he wore the thin white pyjamas of a local mestizo, with on his feet grass espadrilles, he looked just as she so vividly remembered him. The lamplight gleamed on his bronzed face and chest, throwing up the contours of his gypsy countenance. There was the strange dark charm that she remembered.
As the song came to an end he laid the guitar across his knees. But the girl clapped her hands and cried in liquid Spanish: "More, Toni. Sing me some more.”
" Nina (little one), must I sing to you all night?”
“Why not? It is beautiful. And is there any other thing to do?”
“One can make lace. That way is money earned. . .” His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. The girl, following his gaze, rolled over and sat up.
Filling the doorway was a big, fair man in English riding things, holding a small black automatic pistol. Behind him, dim in the gloom, showed another figure. Dick Couzens said: “Don’t you move, Carteret.”
Carteret stared, blinked, stared again: “The bloke on the doorstep,” he said incredulously. “Am I drunk, or are visions about?”
“I’m no vision. You’re coming back with me.”
“Might I ask why?”
“You know well enough. Put that thing down and stand up, and be careful.” Carteret obeyed.
“I'm not sure just what’s on your mind.” he said. “Of what am I accused?" “Principally, murder.”
“Ah ! I was afraid of that. You wouldn’t credit it if I said you were mistaken.”
NAN PUSHED past Dick. She was pale and her face was bleak.
The amazement on Carteret's face was absolute. “You would hardly expect that, would you?” she said. "You broke in. You threatened him from the first. Anyone but a fool would have seen what you meant.”
“Yes. It did look like that. Nevertheless I didn’t do it. He got out of bed to get some money for me, and that, added to the jolt of my turning up, must have been too much for his heart. He dropped, all of a sudden; the poker was propped on the hearth-dog and he hit the knob. He was alive when I got there, but he died in thirty seconds.”
“And perhaps you can explain as innocently the fact that you emptied the safe?” She whipped round on the girl, crouched against the wall, who rose slowly to her feet. “That bracelet there came out of it.”
“Yes. I could. Your father—sort of —owed me money. He willingly admitted it. He had opened the safe to give me some. When I realized that he was dead and saw the wound, I knew what I was up against. There was enough evidence to hang me, that was clear. And it wasn’t time for me to die —for something I hadn’t done, at that. I’ve got a job to do before I die; it’s for that I was needing money. There was nothing for it but a bolt. So I took all I could get and— you know the rest.”
“And what was this claim you had on j my father?”
At this he paused, looked at her in his ; measuring way. “There’s no point in my telling you. It was a personal matter. If I’m forced to, I’ll explain, but I’d prefer not to.” Her voice was cold, though the spark in lier eyes belied it: “You will have even-
opportunity in San Francisco. Your story is ridiculous. You’re an ex-convict. You break into our house, you force me into a promise knowing that I’d keep my word, you kill my father and rob him—and then you say you can explain it all.”
“You state your viewpoint admirably.” They faced each other as they had the night they met two months ago. their wills locked in inflexible antagonism. He went on with a little smile: “But you didn’t finish the list of my crimes. The last is the one I can’t explain and which I don’t regret, though I admit I should not have done it if I hadn't lost my head.”
Angrily she turned to Dick, big and alert in the doorway. “I don’t know why we’re talking here.”
The dark girl crouched against the wall spoke now in Spanish: “What is this,
He replied, very clearly, in her own tongue: “They are going to take me to
the city. Quita, into the hands of Pedro Roman.”
The girl gave a little cry, and the old woman, who till now had sat watching with her bright, black eyes, broke into vehement speech in some argot which Nan could not grasp, to which the girl replied in the same unintelligible fashion.
Dick said: “We’ll have to tie him or he’ll bolt in the dark. Look around for something, will you, Nan, and take care you don't get between us.” Then his face changed and he cried sharply: “Carteret! You’re getting ready. Don’t!”
Carteret did not relax; his face was tense, his body obviously bracing for a spring. Dick said: “Don’t be a fool. I’ll shoot!"
Carteret stared into Dick’s eyes and held them, while Nan, too, watched him in an agony of apprehension. So totally did Carteret grip their interest that neither saw the gliding forward of the girl Chiquita, till from behind Nan two slim arms slid round her and at her breast was laid a lean, worn knife. Tire girl’s warm body pressed against Nan’s back, its odor mingling with the perfume of camelia, and as the knife-point pricked above her heart, Nan’s flesh crept and the hair moved in her neck.
To be Continued