In which a captive humbles a captor, a dictator shows his claws and a woman pierces the mystery enshrouding a magnificent inheritance
The story: After forty years of adventuring in both Americas, John Warde lies ill in the bedroom of his San Francisco home. A handsome fellow dressed like a tramp calls and demands to see him on urgent business. While waiting, the stranger plays a haunting gypsy song on the piano. He tells Nan, daughter of the house, that he is Anthony Carteret and recently escaped from a convict colony in Boriador after spending ten years there. He implies that Mr. Warde has something to do with Ins imprisonment. He goes upstairs to see the sick man, and when he comes down he kisses Nan violently, leaves the bedroom key in her hand and walks off. Nan, flying upstairs, finds her father dead on the floor with a bruise on his forehead. The police do not succeed in arresting the stranger.
With Dick Couzens. her fiance. Nun goes south to the Republic of San Lozada to visit the Yacoo Mines which she now oicns. The country’s dictator. General Román, is absent, but has placed his palace at the capital, El Taranta, at her disposal.
While riding, Nan and Dick lose their way, and Nan is amazed to hear the gypsy song which Carteret sang in her San Francisco home. She f inds Carteret in a cabin along with an old native woman and a native girl called Chiquita. Carteret tells her that her father died fulling out of bed, and if she tries to have him arrested for murder she will learn things best left undisclosed.
Nan is surprised to find in Román’s villa, books and silver bearing a Carteret coat-of-arms.
Carteret abducts Nan and holds her in a rock-enclosed valley in which natives gather to plot for liberty. He tells her that Román will think she has been captured by a bandit named Cerazé, about whom she has heard from a mine employee named Tucker.
NAN had REALIZED heard from Johnny the force Tucker of this, of remembering Emilio Cerazé, what the Dick last man to defy Roman.
She said to Carteret: “How despicable you are! Most men who do such things have some excuse: they’re ignorant or subnormal or they’re destitute. But you’re not. You know better—and three months ago you stole ten thousand dollars.” Their eyes met in an intense clash of will power in which neither gave an inch. “But you’ll pay for it, I promise you. Who are you, anyway? I found your name on an old bookplate in Roman’s house, and the crest that was with it on the silver. What is this mystery you’re always hinting at?”
At this attack, Carteret’s sang-froid seemed to leave him and he stared at her. He said in an altogether different voice: “You found things there, did you?” He nodded wistfully: “Of course. You would; plenty of them.”
His face took an expression she had seen before—when he came down from her father’s room, having left him lying dead. There was hunger in it, pleading and something not far from despair. Then he seemed deliberately to lash himself to anger.
“Haven’t you sense enough to take a hint? I’ve told you once already, but you seem determined to’find trouble. It doesn’t matter to you who I am. The less you see or know of me the better. Have you forgotten what I said last time? To that I’ll add this: Inside a week you’ll be safe in El Taranta. Go back home then. Go back at once, forget this place and forget you ever heard of me.”
His withdrawal, his refusal to admit her to his knowledge and the inference it held of superior discretion, increased her resentment, and she strove for words fitly to express it, while she met his gaze with eyes hard, bright and hostile.
He went on: “And I hope to God I can forget you, too. Except for one thing I could.”
He leaned close and she saw a kindling in his eyes. And suddenly her head began to sing; her knees were weak and her lips began to tremble. She struggled to retain her grip on sanity.
He said in a queer, strained voice: “But that thing happened, and since then I-
She wrenched her gaze away and struck him with her whole strength
in the mouth, then turned and fled across the open, through the gap and into the hut on the hot, cedar-scented ledge. The flower bowl had been freshly filled and a new one set beside the door. One after another she hurled them out, then flung herself face downward on the bed.
Hours must have passed, she did not know how many, when she looked out and saw that there was no one on the shelf of rock. The flowers, withered, lay where she had thrown them; the sun was sinking, half the ledge shadowed. She went out and sat down on the squared stone underneath a gnarled small cedar, chin in hand, to stare to the left across the lake, which shimmered like a sheet of opalescent silk with the mauve misty bulk of hills beyond. There was a drift of air from off the water, which brought to mingle with the pungency of cedar the moist scent of jungle. Presently, through the lush green where the forest met the water at the inlet’s head, approached a chattering and rustling and soft crashings in the trees, as a troop of monkeys came down for their evening drink. They left the woods and straggled through the grey reeds to the shallows above which she brooded. The crackle of their progress and their gibbering made a foil for the quiet.
Her thoughts in her extremity had turned to him who all her life had been her stay and' refuge, and she could feel her father’s presence just as if he sat beside her. She recalled vividly their last evening. They had been so happy; he had returned from the brink of death and she was twenty-one. That was the last time they had been really close in spirit. After that this man had come, this Carteret, his wild, hungry presence stalking into their tranquillity and ending it for ever. After she had told him of the impending visit, John Warde’s spirit had withdrawn to where his daughter could not reach it and there stayed until he died. She recalled his words that evening when he’d discussed Dick’s wish to marry her. It was that, she assured herself defiantly. Her mind had been made up long before she left her father’s room and saw in the hall a battered hat and heard a strange voice singing.
Behind her sounded footsteps and her nerves grew taut. Carteret sat down on a block close by and for a little did not speak. She sat, her mind filled with words of her father’s that she never could forget.
"D Y AND BY Carteret said quietly:
“Aren’t we even now? I did—that—to you that night, and you wiped it out today. Don’t be afraid of me. There’ll be no more dramatics. But can’t we behave like human beings while we’re here together? You know, it’s almost eleven years since I talked to anyone like you.
Think what that means.” His tone grew faintly bantering. “P’raps that’s what’s wrong with me, why I can’t take life more easily. You might even be the means of my reform. It’s queer, down there in Quisunta I used to dream of evenings just like this, with ease and peace and loveliness, and a woman. I got so that I could live entirely in my mind. I’m tough. I could work all day in the sun once I got broken in, and it didn’t bother me. I was determined to come through it, too, and I guess that helped. All the men of my family have had too much imagination, but mine saved my sanity down there. Shovelling that awful stuff all day, I lived in a world of my mind; hours used to slip away and I’d wake up surprised to find that ash-heap sort of place and the chains on me and the scum of Latin America for company. I used to dream myself elaborate occasions down to the tiniest detail; what she wore, what I wore, what we did and said, every little thing. And, d’you know, queer it was, she never had a face. I could visualize everything, I could talk to her and choose her clothes and buy her food, but I never saw her face. I tried and tried to fit one in, but it wasn’t any use. But now, if ever I dream like that again—”
“When you become maudlin in future, I should think your friend with the knife would be glad to substitute for your dream-woman.”
He said, very softly:
“Ah ! So you think that? Little 'Quita ! What a lot there is that you can’t grasp. You only seem to see the obvious. You’re lull of fixed ideas you don’t think to examine. Couzens has a thousand times the savvy you have. You’re pig-headed, too; you’d try and stick to your opinion even though facts proved you wrong. It’s not your fault. You haven’t had a chance; you’ve brains all right; you’ll learn. It’s that you’ve been kept in cotton wool, stayed on the pretty surface while real life went on down underneath. I saw that when I first talked to you. You’ve courage, too; that's clear from the way you’ve taken this affair. But you’ve no understanding and no sympathy for what you do not grasp. I don’t regret any more that I had to drag you into this. It’ll do you good, for once in your life to do as you’re told and have to like it.” His head jerked up with a listening look and, glancing at him to see what caused his sudden silence, she heard too—-the heavy droning of an airplane. He stood up and walked from underneath the cedar, she following. It was coming across the lake straight for their inlet. He said : “No regular route comes this way. It’s just barely possible he might be after you. You come back under cover.”
She whipped round angrily, but he seized her wrist and yanked her underneath the tree beside the hut.
“They’ll never spot this place,” he said, “unless they’re definitely looking for the kind of thing and come right down. From that height the trees break up the outlines.” The machine was now above the lake—a squat amphibian that she recognized as of the type which Yacoo used, one of which had brought her down from Mexico. Her heart began to pound. Dick might be in it, so near, just across the lake, looking for her. She must do something. Carteret read her face and said :
“Don’t you be silly now, will you?”
In her excitement she put her hands into her breeches pockets, to come in contact with her petrol lighter. And then she suddenly stood still, while a tiny shiver rippled up her spine. Just by her head was the hut roof’s thick brown thatch. Feigning to peer absorbedly through the foliage at the plane, she slipped out the lighter. Then she whipped round, snapping on the flame, and ran it underneath the ragged eaves. A foot length of thatch had caught by the time he turned, and as the anger sprang upon his face she flung her arms around his neck and clung on desperately. But with a single thrust he broke her clasp and leaped to sweep out the baby flames, while she ran past him out into the open, standing on the brink and waving frantically.
TNSIDE ten seconds he dashed out and rushed her with him into cover of the cedars on the other side, where he penned her under a low tree in the angle between rocky wall and precipice.
“One more move like that and I’ll tie you to your bed,” he panted. “You shan’t spoil our only chance if I can help it.”
Behind her was grey, lichen-covered rock; before, the dark man with the bronzed chest underneath the shoddy cotton. Beside her was the precipice. And suddenly she had a vision of that cliff as she that morning had considered
it, with the sloping spoil-bank at the bottom that appeared as though it might be soft. She looked again and strengthened her impression—but to test it, ten to one, would cost her life.
“Thinking of jumping?” he jeered, and therein was grievously at fault, for the taunt lashed her already overstrung antagonism to unthinking fury. The only thing that mattered upon earth was that she must humble him.
She looked at him and her face turned white. Then, she whipped about and stepped off into space. There was a swoop which she endured with her heart in her throat. Then she lit on stinging feet in the posture taught by ski-jumping, high up on the bank of loose stones and dirt. It gave beneath lier and she swept, half buried in an avalanche of debris, downward. Her jump was perfect, her guess as to the bank correct. She came to a stop without an impact, half buried among rubble in a rolling cloud of dust. She was bruised and filthy, a little nauseated, and her mouth was full of dirt. Staggering to her feet, she wiped the dust from lier face in time to see Carteret come after her. But he jumped out too far, struck the bank low down, rolled over once or twice among the rubble and then hit firm earth with a thump.
The plane was now almost overhead. She dashed out. through the shallows, waving. And then she realized that all this time she had been clutching in her hand the lighter. She saw the parched reeds stretching up into the inlet, snapped on a flame and set fire to the nearest spear. It caught, the blaze ran to others and the landward drift trailed out a wisp of creamy smoke.
She ran along repeating the ignition, till a broad band of smoke and flames was rolling down the sluggish wind. Then she ran knee-deep in the water, clear of the ‘ back-spreading fire, and stood there waving. The plane boomed on with not 1,500 feet of altitude. It roared overhead and seemed about to pass behind the mountain, so that her heart began to sink, when suddenly it banked, came right around and set a long glide for a landing on the lake.
And then she looked to see what had become of Carteret. He lay where he had fallen, a grey patch where the spoil-bank met the shore. With a glance to reassure herself that the plane meant to land, she waded toward him through the shallows.
He was half buried in the debris. She rolled him free and straightened his dustladen limbs. His face was black with dirt, and blood came from his mouth and nose. She took out her handkerchief and wiped it, went to the brink and rinsed the rag. When she returned his eyes were opened. He came to his elbow with a grimace of pain, smeared his mouth with the back of his hand and stared at her uncomprehendingly. Then his head cleared and he looked past her to the plane, now water-borne and turning in a wide curve to come up the inlet. He made a grab at her, but sank down, wincing. She backed away and, carefully this time, he essayed to rise and found his feet unsteadily. He swayed toward her, and she turned and fled into the shallow's, waded till she could wade no longer and the cool water almost reached her armpits. Then she struck out for the plane, now scudding like some monstrous water insect straight toward her.
The cabin door flew open and a man climbed down on to the float ; his hair was red against the plane’s blue body. Her riding boots were filled and swimming w'as an enormous labor. But the plane was near. From the float dived Johnny Tucker, to come at a slashing crawl stroke to her aid. The engine stopped and the pilot helped him drag her up on to the steep back of the blue pontoon.
Her first thought w'as for Carteret and she looked to where she had left him. He was gone. And then, up the inlet, on the slope between the burning reed-bed and the jungle, she saw him, doubled up and hobbling painfully for cover.
Nan Warde came slowly from her room in Pedro Roman’s house on the
square of La Virgen Purísima into the dim, cool hall. Two hours ago, wet, cold and filthy, she had been delivered there by Johnny Tucker, and after Dick’s incredulous and profoundly thankful welcome, had retired to repair the ravages of the past hectic days.
On either side the great front door, slim windows of stained glass diffused a deephued radiance on carved stone walls and spiral pillars, reaching up to blackened arches. The hall’s open end framed the patio like a painting in a golden motif, with gouts of purple, cream and scarlet blossom, and Dick’s white figure pacing to and fro beyond the fountain’s glittering slim spurt.
Hearing her steps, he came to meet her, slipping a heavy arm about her shoulders, and in harmony too deep for words they paced back to the long cane chairs:
“Ooooh! That’s gorgeous,” she ejaculated, as she sank into one. “I’m sore all over; but I’ve stewed out the dirt and now I’m sleepy.”
He sat on the chair-foot, taking her hand: “Rest then, and when you’re better you must get away from here at once.” Her head came up: “Oh, no. I can’t do that. I’ve got to stay till that man is captured, and I’ve got to know what there was between him and father. Sometimes I don’t know what to think. Wait till I’ve told you everything that happened. In the first place, it wasn’t Carteret himself who grabbed me; it was another man, a Spaniard. He—”
Sounded the blare announcing Pedro Roman’s big car, and Ignacio hurried to admit the President of San Lozada. He came striding through the hall and up to Nan. She had not realized how tall he was, his gaunt frame with its bony head and sloping shoulders topping even that of Dick, who had risen to greet him. He bent above her, showing long yellow teeth between his full red lips. “My dear Mees Warde, this is indeed a relief. I came the moment I received the news. Are you quite unhurt?”
“Perfectly, thank you, General Román.” “That is good. I take this matter as a personal affront. The fellow I would have shot years ago, but he crossed the border to a state not so well governed.”
Dick said: “You mean Emilio Cerazé, general?”
Román gave him that blank stare with which he always greeted interruption. “Of course.”
“But it wasn’t Cerazé, it was Carteret.” Román’s pale blue and red-veined yellow eyes seemed to protrude further, and his greying blonde beard and mustache to bristle. "What is that?” he rasped.
“The kidnapper was Carteret. Pie used Cerazé’s name because he knew the man’s reputation would assure prompt action.” Pedro Román stood still; the hard, thrusting eyes that looked like marbles went from Dick to Nan, lying fair and lovely in her black lace dinner gown which so softened and matured her looks, back to Dick again.
Then he breathed: “Soh! That one
again !” Simple words, spoken softly, but with an intonation that held threat unspeakable.
Nan, watching him, felt through her deep revulsion a small chill of fear. She was coming to realize what it meant to be a citizen of San Lozada.
Pedro Román nodded his high, narrow skull with the sparse hair smoothed across the top, then drew up a chair and sat down facing her.
“Well,” he said, softly still, “we shall see. First, this place from which you have escaped. Describe it to me. There will be people there. I will bring them in and examine them. And it will be strange if I cannot induce one of them to talk.”
There was in his tone not only threat but also satisfaction, making plain his relish of the prospect of coercing helpless men.
Nan forgot Pedro Román. Her gaze was on his bearded face but she did not see it. She did not see the thickening sunshine,
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the gay-hued finches at their evening feed nor the scarlet sunbird fluttering in the pool’s green shallows. Instead, she saw the great stone image of Tonantzin, brooding in a solitude as silent as thoughv'all the world were dead, and through that, silence came the voice of Carteret: f “The only place from sea to sea the Indian can call his own . . . for four hundred years they’ve prayed here for deliverance . . . but what’s four hundred years in the life of a people ...” She saw the wide arena packed from wall to wall witli pleading faces, and heard the voices fervent in some hungry chant.
And suddenly that that shrine should remain inviolate was the most important thing on earth for her. Whatever might depend on it—the punishment of a man she hated, the elucidation of what had been between him and her father, her own life itself if such a situation should arise—she would not betray to Pedro Roman the secret of the Indians’ last sanctuary. Carteret had said Román was aware of it already but could not locate it, and so sure had Carteret been of its concealment that he believed it safe, even though after her release she might describe it to his enemies. But that was before the plane came and she fired the reeds. Now, the pilot could return approximately to the spot, and there would be the blackened inlet by which to locate the ledge above it.
Pedro Roman controlled but could not hide his gathering irascibility. “If you please, Mees Warde, there is no time to lose. This place where Señor Tucker picked you up?”
She lied: “That wouldn’t help you,
general. I’d been travelling for hours after I got away before I came out on that lake and saw the plane.”
“Then the place from which you escaped?”
With the need for a convincing tale, she recalled her first day’s captivity. She said: “It was a big deserted building like a monastery. My cell had a crucifix carved in the door and a saint’s niche in the wall. The floor was of fine sand and somewhere near was a big waterfall or rapids; and there was a smell of coffee.”
Roman smiled his satisfaction. “Ah! Have I not told you that I know this country every inch? There is only one
such place; the abandoned nunnery of La Concepcion by the falls of the Daranopo. There it is all white sand and the building has been used by finca men since the depression to store their unsold coffee. You will excuse me?”
He rose and stalked away, and they heard him at the telephone, barking order after concise order. He came back, rubbing his long hands and with his face coldly gleaming. “That is arranged. I take out twenty trucks loaded with cavalry and surround the place in a milewide circle. I shall sweep up everyone inside it.” He turned to Dick. “Will you not join me, señor? There may be sport. All Americans love sport, and is there any greater than the hunting of a man?” Dick shook his head, not hiding his disgust; neither did Pedro Roman hide his disdain of so unmasculine a refusal. “As you will.”
He said to Nan: “It reminds me of the days when your father and I were young together. We had much sport, much hunting of men.” He laughed. “And sometimes we were not the hunters but the hunted. And that, when one is young and the blood is hot, is the greatest sport of all.”
She said coldly. “I do not understand you, general. My father was a miner.” “In those days one had first to fight and then to mine. And may I say that, good miner as he was, he was a better fighter. But he turned soft. A woman softened him and he was no good any more. But I am Pedro Román, and woman cannot soften me; although”—he drew his hand down his pointed beard—“they have their place. But you will excuse me. The law and the State must be served and I am the slave of both. I shall take food in my car as we go.” He bowed and hurried out, roaring: “Ignacio! Hola, Ignacio!” and the fiat-faced boy came running with the haste of panic.
NAN AND DICK looked at each other.
Said Dick: “The unmitigated, stinking swine. He’s one reason why I want you out of here. Tucker loosened up and told me. This isn’t the official residence. It’s his private hang-out, his love nest in fact. He turned out his latest woman to make
room for you.”
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Nan had sat up. Her cheeks had two high spots of color. So that was it! That was the meaning of those sumptuous clothes and the heavy perfume in the room she occupied, and of the carnal-eyed Mama Gomez’s obsequious insinuations. “Well, of all the cheek!” she exclaimed. “You don’t suppose he had the effrontery to hope—”
“I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s a specimen, is £7 Presidente, a megalomaniac, drunk with his own conceit, and he’s got this little country absolutely cinched. It’s his hobby, the thing with which he feeds his stupendous vanity, and he’s clever and as cruel as hell.”
She heaved a sigh of profound relief: “Oh, Dick ! I’m so glad !”
She told him of her evasion for the sake of Tonantzin’s sanctuary, and recounted her entire adventure from the time when the man Baltazar seized her, which till now she had not had time to do. When she had done he nodded soberly: “Well!
Thank God you’re safe. Some experience for you, Nan. And an odd pair to be bandits. Something’s brewing here all right. You know I’ve thought that all along, and I’ve had, and still have, my hunch as to what. Men like Roman don’t go on for ever. There never was a man so tough that a tougher didn’t come along one day and liquidate him. Was Carteret much hurt, do you suppose?”
“It’s hard to say. He looked ghastly and he walked all doubled up. I’m sure Tucker would have caught him, but the Indian started shooting from the cliff and he had to run.”
“How much does Tucker know?” “Nothing but what he saw. You can’t talk in that plane without earphones, and I was too all-in to want to try.”
“Of course. Well, I’m glad, too, you didn’t tell Roman. Carteret won’t be there now anyway, you may be sure. And I think that somehow we’ll know presently what’s in the wind. As I’ve said, men like Roman can’t go on for ever. In all history not one of his sort lasted. Their methods produce their own inevitable consequences. 1 saw something of his technique while you were gone. The troops grabbed an Indian whom they thought knew something. I was there when Roman undertook to make him talk, and what he did to that poor brute was ghastly. I thought such things ended with the Middle Ages. It all sums up to the same thing—this is no place for you. It looks romantic; underneath it’s rotten. So you’ll take the first plane north.”
She shook her head. “No, Dick, I’ve got to stay until this business is cleared up. I won’t run from trouble, and I refuse to quit till I’ve made Carteret pay for what he did in San Francisco.”
Consciously or not, she quoted Carteret. “It’s all experience for me. I’ve not had much. I never realized it before, but I grew up in cotton wool. I’m not going to stay that way. It isn’t sense. I’ve got to learn what life really is, and this seems a good beginning. The affair concerns me more than anyone, and whatever happens I shall stay and see it through.”
NEXT MORNING she was wakened by a pounding on her door and Dick’s voice: “Hullo there! You conscious?”
“Of course. What is it?”
“Can I come in?”
Leaning on the carved rail at the foot of the great bed, he told her: “His nibs came in last night with a hundred Indians and mestizos jammed into trucks. Who do you think was with ’em?”
“Carteret’s friend with the knife.”
“Not that girl?”
“Yes! Chiquita. Tucker and I were coming down late from his place and we met the trucks. Roman stopped them to speak to us and I spotted her at once.” “And where is she now?”
“Hoosegow, I suppose. To tell the truth, I don’t feel easy. After all, she’s only a kid
and now Román has got her. I should have waited till today before I spoke, but I was surprised and didn’t think.”
Nan exclaimed: “Dick, I must talk to her. We might learn things. Where’s Roman?”
“The boys say he went out at dawn. He’s after Carteret like a pup after a rat.” “Well, find who’s in charge and fix it for me, won’t you?”
“It’s a good idea. I’ll do my best.”
At eleven o’clock they were following the commandante into the yard of El Taranta prison, and never had Nan conceived a place so dreary or so grim. A ten-foot wall of dingy white enclosed a naked square without a blade of green within its confines. At one end reared the gaunt shape of a gallows with a rope still dangling, and a few yards to one side a massive post stood, behind which the wall was pocked by bullets. Facing these naked implements of death were rows of cells like stables at a racecourse, and as she crossed the parched corral toward these Nan’s spirit sank. The sun was hot, and in that woeful place took on a quality of pitilessness. The four blank walls enclosed the emanations of a world of suffering, which hung between them stagnant, tangible as mist.
Their guide led them down a row of cages where crouched ragged men and women with lack-lustre eyes. At first the one at which he stopped seemed empty, so still lay its slender tenant in the angle between red-brick wall and flag-stoned floor.
The girl was stretched face downward, head pillowed on her arms, her back a sight at which Nan paled and turned to Dick in horror and compassion.
“Oh, my God !” Dick breathed. ‘That’s all my fault. I might have known. I should have kept my fool mouth shut.” Nan whipped round on the commandante, a squat man in a baggy smoke-blue uniform, with greasy ringlets, dull pockmarked face, and on his thigh a well-oiled automatic pistol. It might have been John Warde himself who demanded icily: “What is this?”
Moisés da Costa shrugged and spread a pudgy hand: “El Presidente questioned
her this morning. She is a wildcat, that one; stubborn, too; but I think she will soon be glad to talk.”
“Open that gate.”
Nan had authority to visit, so da Costa did as he was bid. As the hinges screeched, Chiquita raised a haggard face. At sight of Nan, with a painful writhe she reared up on her elbows, glaring like the wildcat which da Costa said she was. When Nan stooped over her in pity she ejaculated in Spanish: “Though you kill me I will not tell a word,” then hid her face and cowered from the retribution she was sure would follow.
Nan stood up and her face was white. She stepped out and said: “That child’s coming out of here to be taken care of. Pick her up, Dick.”
But Moisés da Costa interposed a dirty hand: “What do you do?”
Nan said, not hiding her repugnance of the man: “I’m taking her away to attend to that back.”
“You are not. Your permission is to visit her only.”
“You may hold me responsible to General Román. I am his guest and will explain to him. All right, Dick.”
Da Costa slammed the heavy gate and set his back against it; his hand was on his pistol. “Without authority she does not leave. Do you think I want my back like hers is?”
NAN RECOGNIZED defeat. She said to Dick: “It’s no use. I’ll stay here with her. You go to Gamio. Tell him I’ll be responsible, bribe him, knock his teeth down his throat if you have to, so long as I get this poor thing out of here.”
But when in half an hour Dick returned he shook his head. “It’s no go. He’s afraid to do it. Román has him scared
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stiff. But I pointed out that he might find himself in trouble for refusing a request of yours, and so he hedged by giving me this order. She’s to be moved to the gatehouse, and you can be with her and do anything we want. I’ve got bedding and stuff in the car outside. And we can make these brutes be decent to her if there’s any use in money.”
In a dismal whitewashed room in the main building of the jail, Nan sat on a stool beside Chiquita, keeping the flies off with a fan. The girl lay on a native bedstead, white with Pedro Roman’s linen, and cane hoops liad been rigged to keep the covers from her contused body. Nan had bathed and dressed her back, combed her black hair and fed her brandy and hot soup, and now was waiting while she rested, face in her elbow, save for the gentle rhythm of her breathing, motionless.
Nan’s sleeves were rolled up on her strong white arms, her hair a bit dishevelled from her labors, and on her face was that quiet look which mothers have who watch beside their children.
She had sat thus for an hour or more, moving tirelessly the split-cane fan, when Chiquita stirred and turned her head. In her pale, oval face, her eyes were sunk with suffering; they met Nan’s in mingled wonder, apprehension and mistrust. Nan smiled and, quietly, began to talk.
It was long before Chiquita answered, and then merely in a sentence. But for Nan that sentence altered the complexion of the universe.
Afterward, looking back at that moment, in the sordid room with the sunlight slanting in and the makeshift bed with the clothes domed above the girl -afterward, looking back, Nan recalled always howtime missed a beat. The flow of her life was interrupted, leaving a gap between that part of it which has passed and that which was to follow, which could not be filled or bridged. Curiously and in spite of the intense shock it gave her, she did not doubt the truth of what the girl had said, and in the light of her conviction
everything she till then had believed receded for a space along its journey into time past and not recoverable. Everything she had known or counted on ended then; her life from that moment started newly, a new existence differently oriented with no standards against which to measure it, strange, terrifying, unfamiliar.
An hour passed before she left the room, closing the door behind her softly. In the soiled white lobby beyond the iron grille a dozen small brown soldiers lounged and smoked their bitter cigarettes. Their greyblue uniforms were of ill-fitting fustian and their weapons looked too lethal for such inconsiderable beings. Among them, on a stool with his back to the wall, Dick sat dozing. A soldier let her through the gate. In his room across the filthy floor could be seen Moisés da Costa, feet on a battered table, smoking a thin black cigar, and through the main doorway facing him goats drowsed and chickens dusted in the sun-drenched street.
She went to Dick and spoke his name, and he awoke with a start. “Oh, hullo! Sorry. I was asleep. Want to go now? How is the kid?”
For some moments Nan did not reply, but faced him with a queer expression he could not interpret. It held incredulity, hurt and sadness, but the ghost as well of a strange new radiance. She said: “Dick, she says Carteret owns the Jacaranda, and that Román and father stole it from him.”
“She’s raving. The poor kid’s mad with fright.”
“I wish I could think so, but I can’t. I can’t forget what Carteret said. You know: “Things in the past which are best left buried.” And what made him so certain father would see him? I cant believe father would do such a thing. But yet— there’s something about that man.” The glint of anger came into her eyes: “I hate him but—well, you said it long ago and I felt it then, though I wouldn’t admit it, even to myself—the things he says ring like the truth. And this would explain everything.”
Her eyes fell and she bit her lip. She stood tom by conflict between heart and head, between loyalty to her father and the voice of her intelligence, while the small brown soldiers stared and in the room beyond da Costa craned and watched the two Americans, wishing he could understand what they were saying.
Dick said: “But how could it come
about? And why didn’t he tell us when he had the chance?”
“She doesn’t know the details; she’s only fifteen, for all she looks so mature. And she doesn’t trust me. She won’t say anything of what he’s doing now, for fear I’m being kind to worm out where he is. She believes we’re after him to kill him and so end the matter, and she blurted it out at me by way of her defiance. But she’s told me this much: There’s an old man in the Jacaranda office called Porfirio Lasquiti who knows everything. We’ll have to see him. We can trust Tucker. We’ll explain to him and malie him arrange it. Give me what money you have. I’ll give it to this man and promise more if Chiquita tells me she’s been taken care of. That’s the best I can do till Roman comes back. But just wait till he does !”
r"PHE VISIT to the mine was planned with care to hide its actual reason. They went up early and were shown the workings, immaculate and modern, in strong contrast with the old-world air of El Taranta. They ended at a room that led from the main office. Johnny opened it with a gesture. “Look at this. You can see what they expected when they started. I must say they took no chances.” The place was lined with rifles and revolvers and stacked ammunition cases.
“You ever need these things?” Dick asked.
“Nope! Hang-over from the early days. We’ve got plenty men could use ’em though, if we wanted. You get some toughish white men working south the Rio Grande, you know.”
Nan thought of what Roman had said: “First fight for your mine, then work it.”
They dined in Johnny’s quarters on the low green hill behind the mine. The room had that unkempt air peculiar to the rooms of bachelors who are men of action rather than ideas. There were the conventional furnishings, together with a native rug or two, a few photographs, a saddle on a wooden “horse” and five guns on a homemade rack. A hanging petrol lamp burned with an intense blue-white flame and a subdued roaring; its round shadow lay beneath it, and about it swooped and clicked the jungle insects which its glare lured to their doom.
As the boy removed the coffee, Johnny said: “I don’t think we’ll attract undue attention with Porfirio. Pie’s just a pensioner at the office now, has the keys, opens and locks up. I left an important looking package addressed to Mr. Couzens, and a while ago I sent a message saying that you had to have it and he was to bring it here. The boys are leaving now, so we’ll be alone.”
“Sounds smooth enough,” Dick approved.
Nan said: “It’s awfully nice of you to have us here like this, Mr. Tucker.”
Johnny’s freckled visage flushed: “Matter of fact, it’s a break for me. I’d been trying to screw up nerve enough to ask you to have dinner with me.”
“Had you? Well, I should have been flattered, Mr. Tucker. I gather you know nothing of this matter of which Mr. Couzens told you?”
“Not a thing, Miss Warde. I’ve been here five years; came from the Rio de Oro copper-gold up in Sonora. It’s been just another job to me, though I was tickled to death to make one of the Yacoo holdings. Ah ! here’s the old man now.”
They saw him on the verandah in the light from the door, a small, bent, peering figure. Johnny called in his crudely pronounced Spanish, “Come in, Porfirio,” and Porfirio Lasquiti entered to the light’s blue glare.
T-JTE WAS AN ancient man in soiled white shirt and trousers, shod—defiant proclamation of his status in the social scale of San Lozada. His head was bald, his dark face withered, and he wore brass spectacles with thick round lenses. A white mustache stained with tobacco jutted from his lip, and on his chin a few long hairs grew curling—sure sign of a preponderance of native blood.
This senile fragment of humanity came shuffling across the floor and passed to Johnny the sealed envelope which he had brought.
“Gracias, Porfirio,” said Johnny. “Sorry to drag you out like this.”
The old man humbly bowed. Johnny said, indicating Nan: “Know who this is, Porfirio?”
Porfirio looked at her with rheumy eyes: “Men say the señorita is the daughter of Juan Warde.”
“Owner of most of the Jacaranda, Porfirio.”
The old man acknowledged this politely. Nan’s heart was pounding. Ever afterward she was to remember that occasion in meticulous detail of sight, sound and odor: the roaring of the pressure-lamp, the smells mixed of the sweaty saddle close to her and of jasmine from the garden, and the bent old mestizo peering in his patience and humility. She said: “You knew my father then, Porfirio?”
“Si, señorita, I knew him.”
“You have known the Jacaranda very long?”
. “Very long.”
“Since it began?”
Her voice was none too steady. “Porfirio, when the Jacaranda began, who was its owner?”
Porfirio Lasquiti’s hairless head came up and he looked at Nan, and as she met his eyes she saw draw over them a blank veil of concealment.
“How should I know? I have been a poor man, working for my pay. How should I learn about such matters?”
“Yet I have been told that you do know. By a friend. By a girl—Chiquita Ortega.” Lasquiti did not show surprise but his voice was bitter: “No friend of El Presidente is the friend of Chiquita Ortega.” Nan said, in a voice she could no longer keep from shaking: “There is one thing of which I am the friend before I am the friend of any man, and that is justice.” “It is long since there was justice in this country, señorita.”
“So I discover. And I am concerned that justice shall be done. I have heard that in the past there was great injustice in the matter of the Jacaranda. Juan Warde is dead; his share of the mine has come to me, and I wish to know the truth.” Old Porfirio’s eyes met hers and told her nothing; they were blank, remote, with a studied and habitual impartiality. Yet underneath she sensed the movement of some thought far from impartial.
Of the four present, no one moved. Johnny, cross-legged, hugged his chairback; Dick, whose Spanish was of the “commercial” sort and limited, strained in concentration; and Nan sat with her hands in her lap, a blonde young woman in a simple white silk dress, with a face whose features her intentness drew more sharply than was usual. She sat upright, to the observer cool and poised, her body actually a mass of sentience on which her emotions played like wind upon a flame.
She came forward in her seat a little. “Porfirio, you knew here once, did you not, an Englishman, a tall old gentleman with snow-white hair? His name was Carteret?”
Old Porfirio’s head came up and his voice had a strength which it had lacked before. “I knew him, señorita. He was a great hidalgo and all the people loved him.”
NAN’S MOUTH was dry and she had to swallow: “Then tell me of him.
Tell what you know of this great hidalgo, of Pedro Román and Juan Warde and the Jacaranda. If you wish it I will pay you
well ; and if you are afraid of consequences I will take you away and care for you always.”
“I am an old man. What would I do away from my sons and my grandsons? And of what use would be money if Pedro Roman desired my end?”
His logic was unanswerable, and suddenly Nan felt very tired. But, meeting the old man’s eyes again, she saw spring up behind their ingrained caution a small glint, a glimmer of that soul which in the deeps of every man exists and which since time began nothing save death had ever fully quenched. Old Porfirio Lasquiti said: “Yet I have not long to live; and should I die tomorrow there would be small loss; and I think, señorita, that you speak the truth. It is too late by eleven years for justice; yet if she is the friend of justice, it might be well for Juan Warde’s daughter to know whose loss it was that made her rich.”
The old man faltered now, while his hatred of Pedro Román fought with his fear of that accomplished chief’s ubiquitous espionage. Then suddenly he took the plunge.
“He came here long ago. There was no railroad then, no mines, no government. A dozen old families owned the land, but none one-tenth as much as Joaquin Ortega, who was their acknowledged head. The country was contented then. True, the hacendados took their tax, and if a village did not pay they rode in to shoot and hang. But there is always death in the world, and there was enough left for the people. Men tilled the soil and thought life well enough; they danced and sang, and there were fiestas every month.
“El señor Carteret came here alone, a stranger, speaking good Spanish, and became the friend of both great and lowly. It was said he had fled from some great sorrow and had come here to forget. He it was who found the gold, upon this hill among the roots of a jacaranda tree where he was digging up an ancient house-site. Joaquin Ortega granted him the right to mine, claiming a reasonable share. El señor called the mine “Jacaranda” and he spent much money, drilling and bringing in engineers and machinery. It prospered and el señor and Joaquin Ortega grew rich. El señor stayed among us, excavating the temples that the Spaniards overthrew, learning the Indians’ ancient lore. He loved them, and the birds and the beasts and the land itself, and all the Indians loved him.
“And then Joaquin Ortega died, leaving two sons, Venustiano, his heir, and a young boy of thirteen, Baltazar. Venustiano was a dog. He loved best the wild life in Habana and for it wanted money without end or reason. He doubled the land tax. Then he trebled it. He taxed the mine, more and more. He brought in foreign majors-domo to enforce his demands, and gathered round him an army of all the riff-raff of the Central States. And nine months of the year he spent in Cuba, gambling, drinking, racing horses, while here at home his jefe squeezed money from the people.
“And at last el señor Carteret said that it must end, and the people trusted him and obeyed him. He brought in weapons and made his plans, and they rose and in one night ended Venustiano’s power. He fled to Cuba and el señor said that we should call no man master, but should govern ourselves as did the people long ago before the Spaniards came. He organized a council of old men and they prayed that he would lead them. Those were good days. Even the Indians were happy, and bit by bit the temples of the old gods were cleared and used again. And then suddenly Venustiano returned.
“There was no warning. At once he was here, with two hundred fighting men led by Pedro Román and Juan Warde.”
PORFIRIO stopped and looked uncertainly from Nan to Dick, to red-headed Johnny Tucker, and she saw in his face
that fear that rode all humble folk in San Lozada. Nan said, in a voice tense but gentle: “Go on, Porfirio. Don’t be afraid.”
“The story went that these were the remnant of a broken rebel army from Boriador, far to the south, and that Venustiano had promised them a great reward. They were all gringos and wellarmed, Venustiano’s riff-raff joined them and Román and Juan Warde led them, hungry for plunder. We were caught by surprise and we had no chance. They hunted us like dogs. El señor barely escaped with his life to the hills.
“Then Venustiano said that we were a republic, like Guatemala and El Salvador, and that he was President. He said that the grant of the mine by his father to el señor was illegal, that it belonged to the State and Juan Warde was its manager. But that was all a mockery: for now Venustiano controlled the entire country instead of just his father’s lands, and his council was filled with his own paid men. Pedro Román ruled the people, Juan Warde ruled the mine and they three shared the profits, but while the first two worked and governed, Venustiano lived like a prince, most of the time in Habana— until one day he was found here in the street with a knife in his back, and Pedro Román was in his place. Venustiano was bad, but Román was the devil himself. Whereas Venustiano worshipped money, Román loved power. He liked money, too, and was a wolf in search of it, but what pleased him most of all was to say to the whole country “Go” and “Come,” and to bend men to his will. He grew slowly drunk with power, and his grip spread across the land and choked us as a lip’ vine chokes a tree.
“Juan Warde was different. He had fought for plunder and the lust of fighting; he had stolen the mine and driven el señor into the hills. Yet for all that, he was no murderer and he respected the pride of a man. In El Taranta he alone was not afraid. Because he needed him to work the mine Román feared to offend Juan Warde, and so long as he remained there was a bridle on Román. But he took no part in politics, working always with the mine which grew ever richer. Presently he married a blonde Spanish lady from Venezuela.
“And all this while el señor Carteret hid in the hills among the Indians and with him young Baltazar Ortega. They did not rest, those two, and lived on the dream that one day they would break Román, and they worked and planned and waited. And Román knew it, and he watched and planned and waited till the time was ripe.
The señora Warde died and Juan Warde sickened for his own country. He was a rich man now, and he brought a gringo engineer to work the mine and went north with his baby daughter.
And the next year Pedro Román struck at the only thing remaining to oppose him. He had waited long and planned well. He knew every hide in the hills and every man who was the friend of el señor, and he moved without warning or mercy, everywhere at once. He murdered el señor, Baltazar Ortega and every man of substance known to be their friend. And since then there has been nothing here but Pedro Román and slavery.”
The thin old voice trailed off, and only the lamp’s roar and the small sound of the whirling moths persisted. The rheumy eyes went from Nan to Johnny Tucker, back to Nan again. She drew a long, shuddering breath. No one spoke. Only Dick watched her face to see what the old man’s tale had meant to her.
She said, and her face was drawn and pale: “And this man, this dark, young man who hides in the hills and calls himself Antony Carteret, who is he?”
PORFIRIO LASQUITI gaped at Nan, showing his black, ragged teeth: “But señorita, I know of no such man.”
She wondered if he lied; if, like Chiquita,
he would tell her only such things as could not possibly harm Carteret. Watching his face, she hazarded: “You know, Porfirio, that I was kidnapped for ransom but escaped?”
“Si, señorita, everyone knows that. Emilio Cerazé—”
“It was not Cerazé; it was this man who calls himself Antony Carteret.”
The old mestizo shook his head and his face revealed profound astonishment: “I am amazed, señorita. I know of no such man.”
“He spoke of things past which were best left buried, and whose discovery I should regret. It is in my mind, Porfirio, that he must be the son of him whom you so loved.”
“But el señor had no son, nor any kin. He went always alone.”
“Chiquita Ortega knows him. I saw them together in the hills.”
“And when was that, señorita?”
“Ten days ago.”
The old man shook his head: “I have not seen her for four months—” He stopped with a gasp, fear in his eyes like flame at his admission, till Nan, understanding, gently said: “Do not be afraid, Porfirio. I am your friend. I am the friend of everyone who fears Pedro Román. Tell me, who is this girl? What is she to these Ortegas of whom you speak?”
“You would not tell him, señorita? Whatever happened? You swear it?”
She guessed then that he did not know Chiquita was in prison. “I swear it,” she assured him.
Porfirio licked his thick mauve lips. “She is the child of that Baltazar who was killed with el señor. He had married the daughter of a Hijo valley hacendado who was also hiding. Always the women of my family have nursed the Ortegas, and when the child was bom my daughter went to it. There was a son also, a year younger. After he had killed Baltazar with the rest, Román took his wife, and she shot herself in his house. My daughter brought home the child. No one knew who she was, and she stayed with us as our own till four months ago, when she said she wished to try and find her brother, and my daughter went back with her into the hills.”
Mistily, in Nan’s staggered mind, the many disconnected scraps of information she had gleaned since Carteret came to San Francisco began to take an intelligible sequence.
“Porfirio, did you ever hear of Quisunta, in Boriador, where there is a prison and the convicts work the mines?”
“How long is it since Baltazar Ortega died?”
The old man considered, face upturned and eyelids drooping, telling off events upon his fingers, till at last he answered: “Ten years it must be, señorita. Perhaps eleven.”
“Porfirio, listen! This man. This strange man calling himself Antony Carteret. Let us assume he is the son of el señor who was the friend of Baltazar Ortega. He was ten years in this prison at Quisunta, but last year escaped. So much I know. Chiquita Ortega was with him in the hills. And there is a man there, too, who was at Quisunta and is called Baltazar.”
Lasquiti breathed incredulously: “Señorita!”
“Now, if el señor had had a son, and if Baltazar Ortega had not been killed but had somehow gone to Quisunta, and if they two had escaped and come back here, it would explain many things. Would it not also explain Chiquita’s sudden visit to the hills—to be with her father? They might keep that secret from you even, for fear of Román.”
The old man stared, slack-jawed: “I am amazed. I cannot think. Everyone knows Baltazar Ortega died. And el señor was always alone. But it comes to my mind that when Pedro Román and Juan Warde came with their fighting men and took our
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Continued from page 46
country, it was said that they had fled from defeat in Boriador.”
A/fORE LIGHT, more lurid, hateful light, to tum her few surviving doubts into conviction. She had a sudden picture, sprung from she knew not what cell in her brain, of that rabble of defeated white men. led by Roman and by John Warde with that determination which she knew so well, swarming into the old, sleepy city where the people worked and sang in peace.
With an effort she returned to the present, said: “Porfirio, there is bad news.
Yet not so bad as might have been. Pedro Roman went to the hills pursuing those who kidnapped me. He brought in Chiquita. She is in prison. She has been beaten. But he does not know who she is and now I’m taking care of her. It was she who told me the Jacaranda rightfully belongs to Carteret and that Porfirio Lasquiti could tell me why.”
The old man’s hands shook and his voice was anguished: “Oh, la nina! The dog has beaten her! Oh, pobra, pobra nina.” “Steady, Porfirio. That is over now. Listen to me. I am your friend; I am the friend of every man who has been hurt by Román and Juan Warde; trust me and wait and you shall see.”
He bobbed his naked head: “Si, señorita. Si, si.”
“No one outside this room will know that I have talked with you. Go your way
and do not be afraid. I will take care of vour Chiquita.” She rose, and with diffidence old Lasquiti gave the hand she offered him a skinny grasp.
“Gracias, señorita. I do not doubt you now. But you cannot fight Roman. Not any woman. He is a devil. He loves to break men to his will; he never sleeps; he can read your thoughts but no one can read his; he plans and waits, and when he strikes it is the end.”
“Perhaps, Porfirio. But then, who knows, a woman might oppose him more successfully than men have done.”
When the frail old form had shuffled out Nan turned to the two men, and her pride, her spirit, for a moment left her. “Well,” she said dully, “now we know. Everything I own, everything I ever had, belongs to them. And my father was—” “Oh, I say now,” burst out Johnny. “You can’t take all he said as gospel. Óf course, there must be something in it, but not as final as all that. You’re not even certain that this chap is the son of the old man; you’ve assumed it. And anyway, if you go back to most of these mine titles you find queer things that happened in the old days.”
“Thanks, Mr. Tucker. It’s nice of you to try and help. But there’s too much evidence. A hundred things I know that didn’t signify at all till now, fit this tale perfectly. I only want to know just where this present Carteret enters and it’s quite complete.”
To be Continued