Wherein a woman decides to right a great wrong and a dictator counters : "He will be hanged in the morning"
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 Antony Carteret, recently escaped from a convict colony in Boriador after spending ten years there. He implies that Mr. Warde has something to do with his 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 fiancé, Nan goes south to the Republic of San Tozada to visit the Yacoo Mines which she now owns. 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 finds Carteret in a cabin along with an old native woman and a native girl called Chiquita. Carteret tells her that her father died falling 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.
Nan is abducted by Carteret and held in a secret valley in which revolutionaries plot Román’s overthrow; and is rescued by a mine employee, Johnny Tucker, who arrives in an airplane. She learns from an old native that when Román seized power he murdered the father of Antony Carteret and also the father of the girl, Chiquita Ortega; that these men were the real owners of the Jacaranda Mine; that her father was involved with Román in this robbery though he had left the country before the murders were committed.
Nan thus learns that she is part owner of properly which rightfully belongs to Carteret and Chiquita Ortega.
JOHNNY BIT his lip and looked unhappy. Dick’s friendly eyes were dark with his distress. She said: “You won’t mind if we leave now, Mr. Tucker, I’ve got to think.’’
Johnny, whose complete subjugation had for days been patent, was all sympathy: “Of course, Miss Warde. And if there’s anything I can do, anything at all—-”
“Thank you very much. I shall count on you.”
They boarded the car in the cool, bright night in silence. Traversing the dark road edged by palms and plantains black against star-powdered sky, Dick laid his hand on her knee. It felt firm and warm. Strength, sympathy, flowed from it like a current. She said: "Stop at a good place, Dick. I don’t want to go back for a bit. He might be there, and I’m not ready for him yet.”
He pulled up a side-road running out to cultivated milpas, across whose shadowy levels they could see the mountains’ distant silhouettes, with old Penjaro sentinel above them. The engine panted into silence and only the shrilling of the night things and the “grunk, grunk, grunk,” of frogs remained. There was a tang of wood smoke down the wind and the dank scent of swamp flowers.
She felt as though she might be spinning off through space, detached, bereft, helpless as spume on a gale, her mind groping for some thought to which to cling before she tried to struggle toward firm ground again. But she found none. Her feelings for her father had not changed. He had been what he was and she had loved him. What he had done, he had done. It made no difference. But as between her and this strange man, that was her own affair. And no standard she had known was adequate by which to judge the situation.
Dick said: “Tucker’s right, you know. You mustn’t
take everything for granted.”
“You too?” she replied, between weariness and reproach. “I thought you knew me better. It’s support I need, not soothing. Don’t treat me like a child. What am I going to do?”
His hand found hers, firm, gentle. “Sorry, honey.”
Her grasp closed quickly. “Dear Dick.”
Presently he said: “It’s all this Roman. I’ve said it before and I say it again, he’s a madman. You’ve got to treat him as such.”
“Yes, I know. We’ll have to get them out of the country. That’s the first thing. They’re in danger every minute they’re here. I can’t see how, but it must be done.”
“You feel differently about—your father’s death?”
For a while she did not answer. She was seeing a lean, dark face and deep-blue eyes, distraught with anger and despair. She felt the grasp of broken hands and heard the deep voice bitterly declare: “I’ll be darned if I will. It’s all I’ll ever get of what I should have had.”
Then she remembered how Carteret pressed his lips on hers, and the blood surged over her, leaving her burning. She said: “I don’t know. I don’t know what I think. I’m— I’m numb.”
Nan burst out between tears and bitterness: “But if Carteret caused father’s death, could anybody blame him? Father got all he wanted and then settled down in comfort. You can’t blame the other fellow if he came to get his own
back in the way the others took it from him. But there are things that I can’t see. How is it no one here seems to know Antony Carteret, and why was he in prison three thousand miles away? Why didn’t he tell me what his business was with father? He had no reason not to. He had every chance. Why didn’t he tell me up there in the hills when I was his captive?”
“W’ould you have believed him if he had?” asked Dick Couzens.
“No. But that’s no reason why he shouldn’t have. And before that, at home, when I wouldn’t let him see father. He hardly dropped a hint of what might be between them. Then when we nearly caught him that time,' he could have told us then, and we could not have helped but listen. It would have justified him, put him in the right and us in the' wrong. But he didn’t. All the while that old man was talking, I was thinking of it. Why didn’t he? Instead he tried to spare me learning of it. He told me to go home, and that if I persisted I’d regret it.”
“And do you regret it?”
Silence: The steady whirr and chirp of insects, the dry rattle of the split fronds of banana leaves, and the peace and dark-blue space of night.
Then: “No.” Nan replied, quietly but with profound emotion. “So long as it’s the truth it had to come out, sooner or later. I’m pretty inexperienced, but I do know that much. Nothing survives but the truth. Everything else must break and fall away. Now this life that father built for me on lies is broken, and I can start to build again on something better.”
The mere speaking of such clear determination calmed her. “We must get in touch with him somehow; through Chiquita is the obvious way. We must get her out of prison and make her trust us. Through her we might get a letter to him. That’s all we can plan just now.”
Dick nodded: “Have to be careful. I wouldn’t give a cent for her life if Roman guessed who she was. How’ll we get her out?”
“I don’t know, but it’s going to be done.” They drove home by and by, and left their car in its garage. Traversing an empty street or two, they emerged beside the church of La Virgen Purisima. The cobbled square lay empty in the wan gleam of the starlight. The shadows on the stones were dark as dark-blue velvet. Above and to their left the twin towers reared against the sky, and, opposite, the stained-glass windows on either side of Roman’s door glowed from the light within. From near by came the throb of strings and a nostalgic male falsetto singing some slow old song.
Before they had left the shadows, the horn of Pedro Roman’s car sounded, and as it slid up to the house they stopped and waited in their darkness, watching. Its owner’s bony length ascended the three steps, the door opened, closed behind him.
They had already moved to follow, when out of a lane behind the car darted two dark figures. They separated, dashed up on either side and grappled with the driver. Three others followed, leaping into the tonneau. A limp form was dragged backward from his seat, then all but a man at the wheel crouched out of sight and, apparently holding no one but the driver, the car glided off. The capture was effected with the silence and the slick precision of a shadow-show.
“Well, holy smokes!” Dick breathed.
Nan said in a tense, shaky whisper: “You said this morning something was about to break.”
“What’ll we do?”
“Nothing. Anyone against Román has my sympathy. If we butt in, we might spoil some plan and more men will suffer. Let nature take its course. We didn’t know if Roman was at home. We didn’t see a thing.”
There was admiration in Dick’s: “I get you. Okay then.”
In some trepidation lest they themselves might be attacked, they crossed the square and rang the doorbell.
Within, the house was quiet. The big iron lamp suffused the hall with yellow radiance. Beyond the stone walls studded with arched doorways could be seen another,
hung from the eave-beam of the portico. Its glow gilded the group of long chairs and the table, a pillar or two. some foliage and the rim of the pool.
When Nan went out after tidying herself, Dick was waiting. Said he: “A little drink, I think, considering.”
“Yes. One with a kick. I’m needing it.”
Dick lifted up his voice: “Ignacio!” and the sound brought from his inner room their host’s lank figure. He was dressed in well-cut English riding things which he wore with distinction. His dusty boots and spurs were excellent, and bore the stains of a long and hot day in the saddle. “Ah ! my dear Mees Warde. Good evening, señor.”
THIS, NAN appreciated, was the beginning. Here must commence her vindication of herself, the test of her loyalty to ideals which till now had been abstractions merely. She had a job to do, a great wrong to set right, and the obstacle was Pedro Román. Strong, cruel, subtle, utterly unscrupulous, he stood between her and her obvious duty, and whatever she achieved must be in spite of him. Though her heart beat fast and her palms were damp, she contrived to master her revulsion and to greet him in a conventional tone and brightly: “Good evening, general. We’ve been dining with Mr. Tucker.”
“Ah! The excellent Meester Tucker. That is good. You were also busy, before that?”
Instinctively she knew he had been at the jail. “Yes,” she replied. “I went down to see that girl.”
Roman was silent. Not knowing what her reaction might have been to what she saw at the prison, he waited for his cue. And Nan waited, too, for some move in the drama whose beginning they had witnessed in the sleepy square outside. W’ho were those swift, silent men, and to what end had the car been stolen? That it was but a preliminary to some other move, she felt quite sure. She said:
“You know, general, I don’t believe your methods in this case are quite the
best. I think she meant it when she said she’d die before she talked. We don’t want that, you know. We want the man— and she’s our only link.”
The general's tone was soft: surprised too, tinged with that menace which he always showed at any questioning of his autocracy. So used was he to unchallenged dominance that it was hard for him to reckon that with her and Dick he did not rule. But he had also realized that if he was to achieve what he had desired so fiercely since he first saw Nan, he must observe the subtleties, so all he said was: “Soh?”
"Yes. I wish you’d leave her to me, general. I think I can promise you results.”
His tone was both a query and a challenge: “Soh?
“Yes. Keep her in prison for the present, but let me see and care for her as 1 did today. 1 11 get her confidence and make her talk. I’m sure that that will be the best way, general.” *
Pedro Roman considered, while she watched those dead, protruding eyes that she could never read. Nan was a new sort of woman in his wide experience. He saw her strong, fair person with the acutest pleasure and desire. But she had come to stand to him for more than a woman in herself alluring beyond any he had known. Through her he had seen a new and splendid vista of the power he might achieve. Nan was, in so delectable a vessel, Yacoo Consolidated and all its wealth. For the first time in his life he contemplated matrimony, and so used was he to success that he did not count the chance that he might not achieve it. His yellow brows went up and he smiled his mirthless smile:
“Why not, since you request it, my dear lady? Ary and make her talk. If you do not, then.I can try again.
“Thank you, general. Who is the girl? Anyone in particular?”
“Just one of the old decadent Spanish. The hills are full of them and a young man can pick them up. She is pretty, very pretty.” He turned to Dick. “Do you not think so, señor? Are not our dark wenches pretty?”
Dick flushed and his face showed his dislike. He growled, “Haven’t noticed,” and Nan gave him a warning look. She said: “And you, general? Have you had a successful day? I see you’ve ridden hard.”
“I have not caught this fellow, no. But I shall, rest assured of that. I have troops at every outlet in the mountains, and within the country—” The telephone pealed in the library and by and by Ignacio came bowing: ‘‘Por El Presidente.”
“You will excuse me?” The gaunt shape rose and stalked away. They heard him bark in staccato Spanish: “Alo? Si! Que es?” Then his voice rose to almost a scream: “What? What are you telling me? Ten thousand devils—” It sank into gloating. “Ahhh! Soh? Yes. Bring him. Bring him pronto and we shall see.”
He strode back, the picture of sardonic animation, showing the big buck teeth between his full red lips.
“You see? Did 1 not say? There has been an attempt to release the girl. They dared to steal my car for it, but they failed because she was not in the cells. They used a rope to scale the wall; there is glass on top and it cut through and the last man fell—inside. He is a gringo and we shall learn something from him. They are bringing him here now. Things are going well. If the girl were not important to these people, they would not take such a risk for her release. We have her still and now this fellow. It will be strange if between the two I am not able to glean what I want to know.” He rubbed his bony hands together, nodding satisfaction.
WHILE THEY waited he was never still, and for the first time she perceived how great was the nervous tension under which he had his being. He seemed incapable of repose or contemplation; shifted, peered, listened with a continuous unrest which she realized was both animal and morbid. She thought of what Dick maintained, that he was not wholly sane, and decided that Dick perhaps was right. Her chair was just clear of the roof and, looking ui), she saw the sky past fronds of jasmine on the eaves. Within the portico the lamplight spread up to its limit, a colonnade leading to the sala with the library beyond. The fine proportions, the spirals and Castilian arches, the heavy yellow light on foliage and the forms of Dick and Roman, made a picture that might have been a painting by Velasquez or Goya.
At last the doorbell clanged and Ignacio hurried past. From where she sat she could not see into the hall. Roman stood on the edge of the pool of light, arms akimbo, his beard cocked up, as he watched those come whose footsteps she could hear. Seen from behind, his figure had a picaresque and handsome quality. “Here,” he grated. “Bring him underneath the light.” Her heart began to thump. She brought down her feet and came forward in her seat.
Between two of the opera bouffe soldiers, the captive’s white form loomed beyond the lamp. A gun-belt crossed his hips, the holster empty; a machete’s scabbard dangled at his side; his wrists were manacled behind him. Moisés da Costa thrust him forward with a pudgy hand. It was Tony Carteret, and with her surprise and concern Nan felt also anger and exasperation.
A malign fate dogged her relations with this fellow, always to put her at a disadvantage. Again, he and Chiquita had been injured by the thing she represented. It was she who had caused the girl’s removal from the cells. They were Roman’s prisoners now, while but for her they might have both been free.
She saw him differently now, not as an importunate invader of her privacy, not as the man who had brought about her father’s death, but as one whom John Warde had mistreated cruellysuch were her values that she held her father no less culpable than Roman in the grim tale of the elder Carteret—and to whom rightfully belonged all that had made the splendid life that she till then had known.
Carteret’s gaze went past Roman to where she sat, big-eyed and pale. There was dust on his lean face and blood trickled from his wild black hair. His eyes were as she always thought of them -deep, hungry, sensitive. She could not meet them as she so defiantly had done before. Hers fell before them and the slow blood tinged her face.
Carteret saw Dick and nodded with a small, grim smile, and Dick nodded back; he looked most uncomfortable.
Roman faced his prisoner, tugging at his sparse mustache, head thrown back and booted legs apart. He turned to her: “I suspect this is the man from whom you have escaped. Mees Warde?”
She found that she could not reply. She
would not say yes, and for an instant she could find no other words. So she sat tongue-tied, and Roman had his answer.
“Soh!” he said softly. “Soh! We shall have no more hunting.” He stared down at Carteret—he was half a head the taller —with acute and obviously puzzled interest. His curiosity was palpable, and Nan realized what till then she had not credited — that when Roman had told her he had never seen this man, he spoke the truth. Now this was a strange and puzzling thing; that no one, not even Pedro Roman, should know him.
“Well, and who may you be?” Roman rasped at length.
One corner of the prisoner’s mouth and one eyebrow rose a trifle. He said: “You know well enough. You’ve been told. But if you prefer it, call me Nemesis, the weil-known hand of fate.”
Pedro Roman’s beard seemed to bristle. With rising menace: “Hurrr?” he snarled. “You are comical, huh?”
Carteret did not reply, but looked him in the eyes.
“Your name? Tell it me?”
The prisoner maintained his arrogant regard, and Nan grew tense with apprehension as she saw the fractious working of Roman’s hands at his side.
At length, in his own good time, the dark man said: “Anthony Carteret. You knew my father, I believe?”
T) OMAN’S gaunt form relaxed. He •Cv pulled at his mustache and shifted on his feet. For the first time since Nan had known him he seemed at a loss; and in that cell which, deep within her mind, remained immune from her emotions, she knew he realized that in meeting Carteret in her presence he had been at fault. The politic reasons which had made him deny all knowledge, even of the name of Carteret, to the police at home, would make him also loath that she and Dick should learn the abominable facts that linked him with it. And if, as she now suspected, he had become convinced of Carteret’s identity, he would wish at any cost to keep them separated.
But Roman did not hesitate for long. He said, duplicating Carteret’s chill politeness: “That is a lie. It is not possible. The man whose name you use was quite alone. I knew him well.”
“I got here from England on the day before you killed my father; crossed the border from Honduras on your account. He was waiting till I’d come down from Cambridge and could help him take another crack at you. But you’re bright, you always were. You moved unexpectedly and caught him napping. None of your men knew me and I was knocked on the head and pitched into the gang of his people you sold to Boriador as jailbirds for their blasted mines.”
Nan and Dick exchanged awestricken glances. Now was complete the tale of Carteret and Baltazar Ortega. Baltazar had not been killed as Lasquiti thought, but shipped with the Englishman in a gang of deportees, sold as condemned men at so much a head to work until they died 3,000 miles away. Nan looked at Carteret with enlightened eyes. Came to her then some glimmer of what must have been his feelings as he sat at her piano on the day she found him, picking out his song with labor-stiffened hands. And such a song, to have been sung as he had sung it, a man ten years in chains: “The wild hawk to the windswept sky. . .” Her heart moved in her breast.
Carteret went on: “But that was where you slipped, Roman. In your sized game, it wasn’t worth the head money you got. You should have killed us all, because there were one or two whom Quisunta couldn’t. We had too much to live for. We had you to think of. It was a long time ago, but you didn’t get away with it. I came back here to break you, and I shall.”
Roman struck him in the mouth and would have done so again, but Dick leaped up and sent the Spaniard backward with an angry shove. “That’ll be enough.” Dick told him. “You can do your stuff without that sort of thing.”
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Roman glared, for an instant dumb with surprise and fury. It was so long since he had been opposed that he had forgotten the sensation. And now he had been defied twice in ten seconds and by different men. In the pause Moisés da Costa slid out his automatic. Dick stood with his clenched fists at his sides, flushed and dogged, watching the eyes of Pedro Román. He had forgotten el commandante da Costa.
Then Nan sprang up between Dick and Román and said quickly: “Please, general, let me apologize for Mr. Couzens. He does not understand. He has curious American inhibitions and cannot appreciate the feelings of us of Spanish blood.”
She whipped round on Dick: “Perhaps you had better leave us. This is hardly your concern. It will be easier if you do.” Dick stared at her incredulously while her eyes entreated him.
Her back was to the others, and with all the feeling she could summon she mouthed silently: “Dick! Please!”
For a second he stood nonplussed, but then understanding dawned. For a space still he hesitated. And after that he proved a trust in her far greater than she would have credited. He turned on his heel and left them. His door slammed.
She turned to Román : “I beg you to forget it, general. He is not important. It is this other who is important, and we have him now. I gather that he is your enemy as well as mine. I did not realize we had so strong an interest in common.”
That wheeled his mind away from Dick. He gave her a quick, keen look, then turned on Carteret, who stood quietly waiting: “This scum. He is a nothing to me. A bandit ! I do not call a rat an enemy.”
He said to Moisés da Costa: “Take him away.” His voice grew cold. “And be very sure that he does not escape, you understand?”
“Si, si. Excellence,” the pock-marked man replied with fervor, seized Carteret’s arm and swung him round. “March, thou.” As Carteret walked away between the small brown soldiers he looked back at Nan, but he was already in the half-light (ff the hall so that she could not see what his face revealed.
WHEN HE HAD gone Román turned to her with a new, an intent and appraising look, as though for the first time he perceived her truly and was gratified by what he saw. Save for the effrontery of the upstart Yankee lawyer—for such was his secret attitude toward Dick—he had had a splendidly successful day. A matter which he had begun to worry about was now happily concluded, and the man claiming to be the son of old Antony Carteret would cease to trouble him. He would presently arrange for that.
Now he could proceed to consummate the wish that had been growing on him since he first saw Nan. What he conceived to have been a spontaneous revelation of her nature had delighted him. He appreciated fire, spirit, quality, in all things. The fiercer the spirit a man possessed, the greater the zest in forcing it to do his will.
He laid his hand on her shoulder and his touch revolted her. “Pray, will you sit down, dear lady.” He pressed her down and perforce she obeyed. He said: “After such unpleasantness we shall take a drink together. Nightcap, as your father used to call it.” He shouted for Ignacio.
The remark made real in revolting fashion the relationship that had existed between this man and her father, with whose dire aftermath she had now to deal. Now that a dangerous crisis had been averted, loneliness and apprehension gripped her. The patio was silent, save for that metro-
nomic chirp of crickets by the pool. Of Dick there was no sign, though she knew that a call would bring him running.
Román leaned toward her: “Mees
Warde. I am for the hundredth time reminded that I have seen you all too little, but you can hardly fail to see that circumstances did not permit. All that is finished now, and it shall be my pleasure to redeem my lack of hospitality.”
“You are very kind, general.”
Román pulled at his peaked, grey-yellow beard. “As you must know, I have achieved greatly in my time. You have seen what I have done, the mine I have created, this country which I rule. Everything here belongs to me. Everything. Yet my life is not complete. I have never found a woman fit to fill the place Pedro Román can offer. Women, yes. A man such as I never need lack for women. But for amusement only, lovely playthings, not to bear his name. I had begun to despair of ever finding such a woman.”
In answer to his earlier summons now appeared Ignacio, eyes big and mournful in his flat bronze face below the bound black hair. “Ah! Now what will you take for this so pleasant nightcap?”
But she had seized the chance afforded by the interruption and stood up, determined to escape this self-created tête-àtête which promised to grow odious. “If you please, general, I should like to be excused. I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes from shutting. I expect you forgot that I’ve hardly rested since I got back from the hills. Please do forgive me. There is always tomorrow.”
Román had risen. He had drawn himself up and his face had that “bristling” look. For a moment she thought he would try and make her stay, but he recalled the expediences and smiled silkily : “Of course. I had forgotten. You must rest. And. as you say. there is always tomorrow. But permit me to say how gratified I am that a lifetime in America has not killed the Spaniard in you. You are your mother’s daughter. She was ravishing. I knew her well.”
He did not add that he had been her determined suitor but that John Warde had cut him out. He reached for her hand and she suffered him to kiss it, then left him pulling his mustache and hurried to her room, where she sat on the bed and shook.
She had lost the power of sustained thought, knew only that she was devoured by fear, rebellion and bewilderment.
By and by she forced herself to undress and get into bed. But she achieved no rest. She tossed and turned and sighed, her brain filled with pictures conjured up by old Lasquiti’s story and those other tales that she had learned through the momentous days just past—grim, lurid, utterly preposterous facts which she must argue with herself to credit.
; She strove for composure, for clarity of mind in which to regard what confronted her. But she found none, till out of the chaos of her mind distilled with gripping clarity a recollection of the peace in which she had lain down in the eyrie above the lake before Tonantzin’s sanctuary. She recalled the hush, the sense of mystery and vastitude. the smell of flowers and cedar, and the repose which she had found between the gaudy blankets in the stone hut with the carved lintels of zapote wood.
And with that picture rest came, but for moments only. Then in her heart welled up an intolerable resentment of the man who had come with his parched frame and gypsy eyes and bitter tongue into her tranquil life at home and changed it to the hectic thing which now it was. Her heart began to swell; and when she could no longer bear it she began to cry. Her father’s death she had endured dry-eyed, but now she broke and her repressed emotion left her in a spate of silent tears.
WHEN NAN AWOKE it was to the grey of dawn and a sense of momentous events impending, which induced at once a nervous state that could not tolerate a moment’s inactivity. With her first consciousness her mind was busy on the problems of the coming day.
She realized that last night had occurred a vital change in the alignment of the human forces touching her. By Dick’s act and by the manner of her intervention, the balance had been overset, and the future must be faced on new and widely different terms. The duel of wits which she had started with Román must be fought out in the intensely personal and risky vein in which she had begun it. The sympathy which from the first had been between Carteret and Dick would have a new bond now—Román would be Dick’s enemy always. That he never would forgive, she was quite certain, as she was also that he would seek revenge. The knowledge frightened her. For Román was unpredictable. No decency or higher power bound him. He was capable of anything.
And the most important charge of all was to help Carteret and Chiquita Ortega, who lay at his mercy in the prison. Nothing must hinder the immediate assumption of her duty toward them. She must see Dick at once. They must have some time together before they had to face Román. They had ridden now and then together before breakfast, and with this precedent to allay Román’s possible suspicions she hurried out of bed, and in the first pale light wrote Dick a note. She asked that he get up and go at once for horses, and promised she would meet him in a certain near-by street.
In slippers and gown she stole out with the envelope. The patio was cool and tranquil, filled with a twilight not yet colored by the sun. A bird flitted here and there; the scent of camellia filled it, heavy and too sweet. She rapped on Dick’s door. His voice came instantly; it sounded as if he too were up. “Hullo?”
She tossed in the envelope, went back and, longing for her icy shower at home, sponged down with the tepid water which was all the house provided.
Before she was dressed she heard Dick go whistling past her door and leave the house. Dear Dick. You could rely on Dick. That lamely whistled tune was his, “Okay, honey.”
She did not know if Román had slept there. Sometimes he did, sometimes not. A wolf-like uncertainty and stealth masked all his movements. Though sometimes he came and went in ostentatious fashion, at others he appeared without her having heard his advent; and then when she was certain he was in the house, though she had not heard him leave, it would transpire that he was not. But for fear the horses’ clatter should draw his attention she had arranged for Dick to meet her in the side street.
Soon she had stolen through the hall and out to the rosy light of sunrise. The square was flanked by the grilled front of the convent of La Virgen Purísima, with facing it an ornate wall pierced by an arch into the court before the palace of the bishop, Eusebio Montara. Over the church’s ornate façade the crimson vine poured down, and, with the sun, the life of El Taranta came to motion. A string of tiny burros hidden between enormous panniers piled with corn-ears pattered through the square; up the wide step« of the church a priest in rusty black was plodding; beyond the arch a gardener with a brown and yellow serape stooped among the bishop’s roses.
Taking in the tranquil picture, breathing the thin mountain air that affected her like wine, the sense of urgency to which she had awakened was intensified and shot through with another feeling, a deep and thrilling expectation whose cause she did not understand.
Then in the narrow side street came the clack of hoofs, and she crossed to meet Dick with the horses.
HE LOOKED big and young and wholesome, and he greeted her with more than usual warmth that was not untouched by sheepishness: “Hullo, honey. This was a good idea. I wanted to see you badly and in another minute I’d have been off up to Tucker’s. Gimme a kiss, won’t you?” She put her lips up to him with a child’s frank gravity.
He told her: “That was a fool break of mine last night, I know. But I saw red and was on my feet before I knew it. And,” he added unrepentantly, “I wish I’d broken his neck while I was at it.”
“I know, Dick. I don’t blame you. But it does complicate things.”
“I’ll say it does. And for heaven’s sake, why did you have to take the line you did with him? I’ve been worried stiff. Don’t you know you can’t pull that with Roman’s sort of fellow? This isn’t San Francisco. He’s no college boy. He’s dynamite, and particularly where you’re concerned. He’ll call your hand.”
“Well, I like that. And in another second you’d have been at each other and da Costa might have shot you.”
“Oh, I know. But you could have put your oar in without going all Salome, couldn’t you? He was too free already with ideas about you; I could see that if you couldn’t.”
“I only had a second. Someone had to do something and that was what came to the top. It’s a sweet mess now, anyway. He’ll never forgive you. Heaven knows what he’ll spring on us. And it’s going to be twice as hard to do what we must for— for these people.”
“I don’t think so. I’ve got that all figured out. I was dressing when you pitched in your note, to go up to Tucker’s and start things rolling. Román won’t try his shenanigan with me. It wouldn’t be sound policy, and he’s always sound in what he does, the snake. None of these people he’s used to bulldozing have had any comeback. Anything that happened began and ended here in San Lozada. I’m different. I’m Yacoo’s counsel and your dad’s trustee and a prominent legal light of San Francisco. If I got hurt, things would pop, and well he knows it. He’s too smooth to make that sort of trouble. And I can protect Carteret the same way. I’m going to make him a legal ward of Uncle Sam, so that if anything should happen, Román’ll be forced to explain. I’ve got a coded cable ready, and we’re going up to dig the operator out and make him send it.”
It was good to be on horseback and with Dick, clattering in the bright sun through the grand old city as it stirred into its time-grooved daily round. To see his steady face against the sky and hear his plans for Carteret’s deliverance soothed her fears. But though her apprehension waned, Nan achieved no calm. Her excitement mounted until she found her hand was trembling.
The day was so young that they caught Johnny Tucker shaving. Dick went to his room, leaving her on the verandah with a peon walking the horses on the lawn outside.
The Jacaranda settlement was on the slope above the workings, across which she could see the green-wreathed patchwork of the city at the bottom of its hillrimmed basin.
The shaft-heads with their steel stacks and great spindly hoist wheels, the huge smooth cones of spoil-heaps with the long antennae of the automatic tip-gears craning to their necks, looked stark and clean and practical. Their sight brought to her vividly a sense of the mine’s significance. From it had sprung her father’s fortune and came still enough to keep her rich, even though Yacoo itself should fail. Almost as much went to Román. She perceived in his attitude toward it the astuteness, as apart from his fanatical selfaggrandisement, which Dick had mentioned. He never meddled with the mine; letting it exist a little realm apart within his country, run with every aid of Yankee science, from which poured out a golden stream, the life-blood of the power he loved to wield. The city which she saw spread out beyond it, old El Taranta, and the little mountain-girt domain whose heart it was, was no more than the toy of his preposterous lust to dominate.
And the mine was his—and hers—by no right except that of violence. It had been taken by an act of piracy, which years after had been clinched by cold-blooded, wholesale murder. All her delightful years, stretching to the dim of childhood in this very city, had been at the cost of Carteret and Chiquita Ortega and who knew how many others, paid for in pain and destitution and, by some, with death. Oh, hateful!
HER GAZE went out across the city.
That white-and-green rectangle was the plaza, with a wedding cake, the band' stand, in the centre. From there the houses spread, growing smaller and more tree-embedded till at last they merged in verdure. Below and to her right was a white-framed brown oblong with low redroofed ranks of buildings at one end. That was El Taranta prison.
Her heart began to thump. He would be there, caged like a beast in the bleak loneliness that always seemed to be his portion; and the girl Chiquita, beaten and miserably housed, who loved him and— who knew?—perhaps he loved.
And they two could look down on that which she stood for, as she in her pride and ignorance had despised all sordid and dishonorable things. Her house was irretrievably and basely in their debt, for how could be repaid lost years of youth, how recompensed ten years of manhood spent in slavery?
The fact that she herself was not responsible afforded her no balm. In so far as she had loved and still loved her father, so far was it her nature to hold that she shared his guilt. She felt defiled and degraded, furiously rebellious at the state in which she found herself. It was insufferable. She must move, act, demonstrate that to her. if not to John Warde, her father, wealth could be purchased at too great a cost. Only in deeds could her soiled pride be cleansed. Her need for self-expression grew so fierce as to be intolerable. She looked into the bungalow. The living room was empty. Beyond, she heard Dick and Johnny talking. She ran down the steps and took her horse. “Tell the señor,” she ordered the iieon. “when he comes out, that I have gone down to the jail.” She swung on to the horse and galloped headlong down the red dirt road.
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As to what she meant to do, she was not clear; her act had been instinctive. She only knew that there were those to whom for her pride’s sake she must be justified, and that she was doing what she could toward that end.
She still had Gamio’s permit, written yesterday, to visit the girl. It might yet serve to admit her. She could minister to Chiquita, cheer her, tell her that restitution would be made quickly, and that the
grim, lean years were done.
Through the mean streets she swept, where rose the acrid morning smokes from pink, blue, ochre 'dobe houses, and curs and chickens fled before the pounding hoofs, down the bare lane between the barracks and the high jail wall, to pull up in a cloud of dust before the gate-house.
The dirty lobby held three times as many small brown soldiers as had been there yesterday. One took her horse, and in response to her query for Moisés da Costa shouted. Appeared a small plump sergeant with a self-conscious strut. Like a small, friendly boy. Nan thought he looked, playing soldier.
He gave her an equable and admiring
grin. El Commandante was still sleeping, he told her, having been up most of the night.
She gave the cocky little fellow Gamio’s permit, at which he stared blankly till she realized he could not read. She said: “If is the permission of el colonel Gamio to see the girl Chiquita.”
The sergeant beamed : "Ah, si! Si. si!” The señorita had been there yesterday. He was at her service. He unlocked the big iron gate and led down the passage to Chiquita’s room.
THE GIRL slept face down on the tumbled bed that Nan had made for her, her head on her arm and her black hair spread about it.
Nan put out a hand to waken her, but stopped in time with a feeling of acute selfreproach. The girl was asleep, free for so long of all pain or trouble. To waken her. simply so that she might unload her own burden on her. would be cruel.
Abashed to realize how selfish were her impulses, she backed out and softly closed the door, explaining to the sergeant: “She is sleeping. It is early and she has suffered much. I will wait.”
The sergeant spread his hands: As the presence wished, he said.
The corridor was squalid and stalesmelling, with unpainted woodwork browned by time, and limed walls smeared and stained. Through the grimy windows on the inner wall came sunlight; in the comers were big cobwebs carrying red. hairy spiders; across the far end hopped a rat with a scrap of candle in its teeth.
Nan leaned on the wall as though resigned to waiting, while the sergeant stole admiring glances at the tall girl in white riding things, with her spurred black boots and her blush-velvet skin, and the shadow of her trouble in her clear grey eyes. She saw that the situation was propitious to another end: First, no da Costa, and now an excuse for loitering within the prison. What she might do with such a chance hung between tact and fortune, and she waited to collect herself before she tried.
In the barracks across the way a tinny trumpet blared: she heard the unvirile voices of the soldiers, and from high in the sky outside the thin wail of the wheeling kites. Presently she caught the sergeant’s eye and smiled, and he grinned and swaggered. “How are you called, sergeant?” she enquired.
“Sancho Solchaga, excellence.”
“You had trouble here last night. Sergeant Solchaga?”
"Si. An attempt to release a prisoner. We caught one of the men.”
“Yes. El Presidente told me. You do not
All El Taranta knew of her adventure. At one time in San Lozada kidnappings had been common, but since the redoubtable Cerazé's flight none had occurred. "Dios!” exclaimed the sergeant in congratulatory surprise, “the tables are well turned.”
“Yes. You will appreciate that I am gratified. It is not good to lie tied like a fowl for five hours in an ox-cart, underneath a load of hay.”
"Caramba! Such an outrage!”
Nan looked up suddenly, as if at a novel thought. “Since I have to wait, sergeant, now that the tables have been turned, to see this fellow might be entertaining. Is there any reason why I should not?” Sergeant Solchaga saw the humor of the situation and entered into it enthusiastically. But surely she should see the dog. Was she not El Presidente's guest? She was in the prison by permission. What harm could it do?
Without delay he led along the corridor and to the door that opened on the square. The sun was climbing, the morning one to exalt the soul. The air was crisp and fragrant. the sky cloudless. Ahead, above the long low buildings and beyond the clumps of palms outside the walls, rose the dark heaves of the hills in pastel shades of mauve and amethyst, the ultimate snowpeaks glittering against the tranquil blue.
rT'HE DESCENT from their beauty to Y the grimness of the cells was an affront to the eyes and the god who made the morning. The prisoner was in the first rank, facing the square. Near by two sentries lounged. Pedro Roman did not take chances.
Carteret sat on the ground close to the thick black bars, his arms crossed on his drawn-up knees and his forehead resting on them. On his right wrist was a shackle, on his left leg another; caught up at his waist, a rusty chain joined the two. At the footsteps he looked up disinterestedly, blinking in the glare. His bronzed face was unshaved and gaunt, his eyes sunken.
Then with a rattle of the chain he was on his feet, staring at Nan with a hard, inscrutable expression. For several moments they thus faced each other, till he said bitingly: “Come to see the animals?” She did not speak. She could find no words. The three San Lozadans watched with interest and the kites wailed overhead.
Then Carteret said: “Don’t they give buns to the monkeys? I should appreciate a bun.” And he glanced at a battered tin plate on the fioor, on whose contents flies were feasting.
She meant to speak tenderly. He looked so forlorn, so utterly alone, and she sensed the desperation that lay close beneath his bravado. But stronger than lier pity was the resentment that surged up because he held her at so great a disadvantage. Her face was hostile and her tone restrained: “I’ve come to tell you that I know.” “Oh? And what is this that you know?” “Aboutyour father, and Román, and the Jacaranda and—my father.”
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Continued from page 52 f ie took hold of the bars and came forward quickly, his face between them, intent and curious: “Now who the devil told you that?”
“I ask you to believe that I knew nothing of it, and shall do what can be done to make amends.”
His eyes looked into hers, deep down, and once more she was conscious of the intense vitality that burned in him. Facing him so, there reached her some force not of his body, a living effluence of spirit that ravished her senses and abased her pride.
"You’re late,” he said. But she did not realize till afterward exactly what he meant.
She burst out between hurt and anger: “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me go on and humiliate me so?”
“That is a question I have asked myself.
I think I must have been a bit unbalanced.
I hadn’t seen a fair-haired woman for ten years, you know, and the sight of you made me a littlemaudlin, I think, was the term you used for what I mean. Strange as it seems now that I know you better,
I thought that night that—”
Sergeant Solchaga had beheld in some surprise a meeting whose language he could not understand but which seemed in a vein not quite what he had visualized. But now, aware who neared with angry strides, he muttered in alarm, “Señorita!" and when she ignored him drove his thumb into her ribs: “Señorita. El Commandante.”
MOISES DA COSTA hurried up and stared suspiciously from Nan to Carteret: “What is this?”
Nan said: “The girl was asleep and it amused me to see this fellow while I waited. You will understand that he interests me.” Da Costa answered surlily: “You had permission to see the girl only.”
“I know. I did not think it was important. I am sorry if I have offended. It was not the sergeant’s fault. I will go now.” She dared not look at Carteret for fear of doing him more harm by exposing to da Costa the true nature of her interest.
In the lobby beyond the iron gate was Dick, towering in his clean whites over the stunted guards.
“So help me, you’re the limit, Nan,” he exploded. “Don’t you know yet that you can’t barge about in this town on your own? Haven’t we got trouble enough? And here, of all places. Lord knows what beastliness you might run into.”
“Well, they have to put up with it. I had to see them. There was just a chance that the pass might work. And it did, I got to him and told him.”
“Well, I’m glad of that. But, for Pete’s sake, try and use some sense.”
Her nerves were ragged and she whipped round on him: “Sense ! Is this any place for sense? Is there, has there been, any sense in anything since we came here?” “No,” he retorted surprisingly and with no less feeling. “If I’d had any, I’d have made you marry me before we started. I’m a sucker, that’s what’s wrong with me. I’m too easy. We ought to have been married years ago. But, believe me, when we get back home we shall be. And then I can handle you and we shan’t have to swap notes in the middle of the night.” He looked hot and indignant and she did not answer as they mounted, while the small brown soldiers stared.
But as they clattered off she felt an impulse to clutch at the security he stood for. She knew him so well. With Dick would be companionship, unswerving loyalty to count upon, the tranquil and familiar days in San Francisco and an end for all time to the fear that swept her when she met what lived behind the eyes of Tony Carteret.
Yet what she answered was: ‘Tou got the wire off?”
“Yep. All okay. Next thing is, how’s Román going to take me, after last night? Till that’s clear I shan’t know how to try and handle him, and I confess I’ve no idea how he may jump. I’d like to get out of
his beastly house, though with the job we’ve to do I suppose I’d better not. If he turns up snooty though, I’ll have to. And you’ll come with me.”
Trotting smartly through the city, at this, the busiest time of its day, filled with colorful activity, it grew clear to both of them that much must hang on Román’s attitude when he met Dick today.
When they went in he was at breakfast underneath the portico. Dick muttered: “Good. Come on. Let’s get it over with before we clean ourselves.”
DICK NEED NOT have been apprehensive as to his reception. Román was at his most self-sufficient and urbane. Save for, perhaps, some accent on his suavity, last night’s fracas might not have taken place.
“Ah, my dear lady! Good morning, señor. I trust you had a pleasant ride. It is unfortunate that I am without my three best horses.”
She had forgotten that. Carteret’s associates had the beasts. She replied: “I’m afraid that’s my fault, general. If you will let me, I shall be most happy to replace them.”
“My dear Mees Warde. They will be recovered. Also my car, in which this gang escaped last night. My men are tracking it already. I fear I have been lax of late and the country has got out of hand. It is years since there was brigandage in San Lozada. And,” he concluded bleakly, “when I am done, it will be years till there is more.”
It was such an opening as Dick had hoped for. Copying Román’s studied indifference to what had happened between them, he remarked: “About the prisoner, general. I’ve cabled the police at home that we have their man ; their formal notice that they wish to extradite will be here by wire today.”
Román received this news with a polite interest which they both sensed covered something deeper. “Indeed, señor.” He lapsed into non-committal silence and Dick saw that the move was his. He went on: “Miss Warde is anxious to dispose of this unpleasant matter quickly, and to save time has instructed them to route the officer who will come for him by airplane at her expense. He’ll be here inside two days.”
Román replied, still distantly polite: “That is a pity. It is an expense that will be wasted.” He volunteered no further information, and in the silence following, a vague sense of dread stole over Nan.
Dick knew quite well that he was being baited, but was too concerned upon his point to bother with finesse. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand you, general.” “The man’s misdemeanors in this country must be answered for before he can be sent elsewhere.”
“Oh, but they are small, and secondary to the principal offense. The trial in San Francisco will cover everything.”
Pedro Román affected a surprised enlightenment. “Ah! I think I understand. It is the matter of this man’s identity which keeps us at cross purposes. He has succeeded in confusing you. Once and for all, you must know that he is Emilio Cerazé, a bandit well known for his crimes to every government on the isthmus.” Nan burst out: “He is not! He used that name to make sure that the ransom would be paid. He is Antony Carteret.” Roman turned to her, bland, deprecatory. “My dear Mees Warde. It does not do to be so credulous. The story is absurd. I happen to know that it is impossible. It is the name Carteret that is assumed— and for good reason. There was here years ago, as I believe you know, an old fellow of that name. When he died, for want of heirs his property reverted to the state. Cerazé learned of this and hoped to claim it.”
THIS WAS a bombshell, ominous and unexpected. Román’s cunning had not been overstated by Porfirio Lasquiti and a dozen others.
Dick realized that his only chance was to hold his line and try and bluff it through. “That’s interesting,” he admitted. “It might explain his trip to San Francisco in the first place, because I believe Mr. Warde knew this old Carteret well. But whatever his real name may be, the man must answer for the death of Mr. Warde, and our Government will insist that he stand trial in San Francisco.”
Román regarded him with his protruding eyes that never showed his thoughts. “He is guilty of innumerable crimes here in this country. Mees Warde need not wait so long for satisfaction.”
Dick’s tone was not so impersonal as it had been till now. “You are mistaken as to Miss Warde’s attitude. It is justice she wants, not revenge. The Government of the United States is concerned deeply in this. They will insist on extradition.”
“Of course. That is their duty. When I hear from them, they will be advised of events. But San Lozada is a sovereign state with its own machinery of justice which it is my duty to administer. This man’s guilt is proved in this country; I shall see him officially today and hang him in the morning.”
To Nan, his words and the conviction that went with them that he meant exactly what he said, came like a blow in the stomach, shocking, disintegrating, nauseating. To Dick they were checkmate, for his trained mind saw at once that he was powerless and that nothing he could say would be anything but futile. Carteret had placed himself beyond all outside help. By inscribing the name of a condemned man to his note demanding ransom, he had signed his own death warrant.
From a rebuff whose true significance to them they dared not show, they escaped on the pretext of washing for breakfast, and when they met later at the table Roman had left the house.
Nan gave Dick a look of frightened incredulity, mixed with another he of late had seen her wearing all too often. He faced her silently with his grave and kindly countenance, until she said in a small, scared voice: “What can we do?”
“I’ll have to think. It’s a bit of a jam. But never fear, we’ll wangle out of it somehow.”
But by late afternoon, when after a day of mental searchings they went again to Tucker’s office in the hope that he had thought of something, they had made no progress.
To Dick’s question, Johnny shook his head. “I’m darned if I can figure a way out.”
DICK NODDED unhappily. “I’m afraid so. It’s a gift. He’d be bound to kill the fellow anyway, even if it had to be a barefaced murder. He’s got to. He can’t afford to let him go. He wouldn’t hesitate to do it, either. Who is there to make him answer for it?”
“I used to wonder at that,” concurred Johnny, “until I got to know the place. You couldn’t realize how he’s weeded out the opposition, till now there’s no one left but those who value peace at any price. He doesn’t even bother with his own guards any more, as he used to do; though he’s got some solid backing up and down the country that you hardly ever see. You’re right, Mr. Couzens. It’s a cinch for him. He’d murder this poor devil anyway. and no one would call him for it. But here he can hang him in the open, in the name of justice, and publish the details to the world with the ransom note as evidence to prove his case. And any interest you or Miss Warde show will only make the end more certain. So far, he doesn’t think you know the link between this man and the Jacaranda, and it is you above all others whom he doesn’t wish to learn the truth. If he thought you suspected, he would go to any length to hide it.”
A clerk came in from the main office with the smeary little El Taranta daily news sheet, La Nación. After a glance, Johnny handed it to Dick with a somewhat awestruck look. “There you are. Bold as brass. I bet you there’ll be squibs with that bit in half the rags at home.”
The headlines shouted: “Emilio Cerazé, notorio bandido à ser ejecutado al alba manana." (“Emilio Cerazé, notorious bandit, to be hanged at dawn.”)
At sight of this grim pronouncement Nan sprang to her feet. “Oh, let’s do something. I can’t stand this sitting still. There’s Chiquita. If she hears of this she’ll be half crazy. Let’s go down and see if we ¿an get to her. I’ve still got that pass. It might work again.”
For want of adequate objection, the two men obeyed. Outside the jail among the San Lozadan soldiers now lounged new guards of a very different sort—big, hardbitten white men with bold eyes and a careless truculence of manner. They wore nondescript civilian clothing and were armed with rifles and belted automatics. Sprawling about the lobby, they looked Nan up and down with insolent appraisal.
“Ah! I thought as much,” Johnny told them. ‘‘La Legion Etrangère. Last night’s raid has made him leery and he’s a boy who takes no chances. These are the chaps I told you of, his private thugs who back his racket—he’s really only one more
gangster. Any egg from here to Patagonia can join if Roman thinks he’s tough and smart enough. They live up and down the country, and have land and women that he’s given them. Mostly they stick around their places and strong-arm for him locally, but if anything gets in the wind he whistles up as many as he wants.”
In the lobby also was the plump Sergeant Solchaga, obviously proud of Nan’s acquaintance, and keen to demonstrate it to his friends. He approached, grinning. ‘‘Salud, señorita.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the gallows on the square inside, made the gesture of a tightening noose and rolled his eyes up with a realistic sound of choking. “Emilio Cerazé— Manana por la manana,” he elucidated waggishly.
Nan felt physically sick.
A huge blonde man with flat face, high cheekbones, ice-blue eyes, lounged toward them. Johnny muttered: “Pete Antonichuk. Ex-Russian Guards.”
Dick offered him Nan’s pass, which the Slav ignored. “No one goes in,” he growled in clumsy Spanish, gave his belt a hitch and turned his back.
“Charming,” Johnny Tucker murmured.
To be Continued