REVOLUTION IN SAN LOZADA-A WARDE TO THE RESCUE-AND A FANTASTIC DUEL IN A DICTATOR’S PALACE
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 ichen 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 Lozada 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 arid Dick lose their ivay, 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 air-
plane. She learns from an old native that when Roman 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.
Having thus learned that she is part owner of property which rightfully belongs to Carteret and Chiquita Ortega, Nan's feelings loteard the man change; and when she learns that Carteret has been captured by Román she tries to procure his release. She fails. Román says his prisoner is not Carteret bul Cerazé, a bandit, and that he will be hanged next morning.
DINNER’ had been done three hours. Nan and Dick J sat silent and defeated in the dusky patio. Where the ridge of the roof cut the sky there showed the pale light of a climbing moon. Román had not appeared since breakfast. All day they had talked round and round in a futile circle. But for half an hour neither had spoken.
Nan felt stifled, shocked, beaten by her hopeless impotence. It was incredible. Everyone struggled for the things they cared about. Her father plundered to grow rich, Pedro Román killed and tyrannized for lust of power, Carteret fought Román with naked hands, and Chiquita suffered torture for his sake. But she, to save a man’s life to whom she was immeasurably indebted, could do nothing.
Each time her circling thoughts reached that absurd conclusion she received a new surprise and started to examine the position freshly. At last she burst out: “And
we’ve to sit here, like this, doing nothing; and then go to bed. knowing that he—that he—he—”
“What can we do?”
She sprang up and stamped her foot. “You! You and Tucker ! Everyone goes after what they want, but we just sit and shake our heads.” Her breath came short and her eyes were blazing: “Why don’t we do something?”
Dick got to his feet and stepped up close to her. He took her chin between his thumb and fingers and none too gently turned her face up: “Tell me,” he said in a queer, strained voice: “Exactly what is this to you? Three
months ago you didn’t know the man. For all we really know, he might be an impostor. We’ve taken him on trust. We’ve done our best for him and can do no more. Why should you be so concerned?”
She glared up at him defiantly. Then all at once the wildness left her eyes and in them dawned the age-old tragedy of womanhood. Her lips began to shake.
Dick’s nostrils spread and his usually kind lips tightened. He said bitterly: “I’ll tell you. I’ve known since the day I found you standing in the hall after I’d passed him on the doorstep and you said he’d kissed you.”
That swept the confusion of her mind to clarity. For a moment she returned his look with one of scared defiance. Then she flung her arms around and clung to him: “Oh, Dick ! W’hat shall I do?”
For a little time Dick did not move but gazed straight before him while she clung to his shoulders. They were two white figures in the late dusk, close to the dark cone of a camellia studded with pale, plump rosettes of blossom. Then his arms went round her, and he moved her head and
stroked it. A frog “plopped” in the pool: overhead the wind twanged through the taut wings of a swooping nighthawk.
Presently she quietened. He said: “Better now?”
She nodded, her face hidden in his coat, and he put her off and turned her chin up so that she must meet his eyes. “Now listen to me,” he said evenly. “We’re getting rattled, both of us. It won’t do. We’ve got to pull up.”
She looked at him in acquiescent silence, dumb with her helplessness before the onrush of events and her own unbidden feelings, while in the tranquil air the too sweet perfume drawn by evening from the wax-like blossoms drifted round them.
“You look an awful mess,” he told her. “You go fix yourself. That’s the best thing you can do. Have a bath and change your things and get your grip again. There must be some way out of this. We just haven’t thought of it. But there’s time yet. Do as I say and everything will be all right. You hear me?” •
His tenderness and quiet strength restored her shaken poise. She nodded. “Yes, Dick.”
“Okay then. Off you go.” He turned her round and gave a little push, and she went obediently to her room.
THE ORNATE iron hanging lamp had just been lit; in the mirror its glow showed her, clear against the dark behind, the image of a frightened woman. Tonight the last veil had been stripped from her vision, the last conceit of sentiment, of easy idealism, romance, ignorance, through which she had regarded life. Not till now had she so much as glimpsed the verities of being unadorned. Her father’s passing had not truly shown her death; the atmosphere of home, the sympathetic friends, the flowers, ceremony, music, all had conspired to drape it in a false if melancholy glamor.
But today, in El Taranta prison, the gaunt shape of the gallows and Sergeant Solchaga’s grisly pantomime of a tightening noose, had shown her death. And the shock of that revelation and the fact of whom it threatened had unmasked the truth of love.
And love was not the amiable thing she had imagined, till she had wondered if she so might call the comradeship she shared with Dick. It was not a sweet emotion which you gave to whomsoever you selected; it was a pang that leaped on you from the inscrutable, gripped you like sickness, broke down your pride and strength, leaving you wrung with feeling for a man whom you had willed to hate.
She recalled now the words of her father on the last night of his life. She saw him in his purple gown, his big torso propped by pillows with, beyond, the gold-pricked dusk of San Francisco bay. She heard his deep voice answering her question: “And what is it to love a person, that way?”
He had said: “. . .the passing of the springs of your existence into the keeping of another, so that you can t live without that one—and it hurts.”
John Warde had known. For all she had learned to his discredit, her conception of his stature had increased. A
spoiler and a pirate, he had been a man, had loved and dared greatly, forced good and evil both to serve his will, and persisted to the end unchastened.
And all these people—Carteret, Chiquita, Lasquiti, Pedro Román even—grappled with their fates and did not flinch.
But she! Dick had been right. She was badly scared.
The thought brought her to her feet with burning cheeks, in the angry impulse to prove herself no less a being than they were, and, lacking any other»means of self-expression, she began to do as Dick had told her.
She undressed in the shadowy room, which her thoughts had come to people with the shades of Pedro Román’s mistresses. Them she saw now with greater understanding. There had been many—she had gleaned that fact—and very beautiful. She pictured them: some purely mercenary; some content with a voluptuous existence; some perhaps grateful for the sanctuary the place afforded; and some— she recalled the self-slain widow of Don Baltazar Ortega — tragic. Was it possible that any of them could have felt for Román such an exalted passion as the one which now gripped her?
And Dick, who for years had told her that he loved her. Had he for all that while endured so poignant a desire?
Inevitably her thoughts veered to Carteret, and in her mind grew vague imaginings, in contrast witli the travail she till then had felt so rapturous that she gave herself to them wholly. There grew on her a sense of ceremony, the feeling of a great occasion, as if it might have been her wedding night and she preparing for him who presently would come to her. She bathed with care. Her splendid body, lit by yellow light, stood out against the blue tiles of the bathroom walls. She powdered, put on her softest underthings and an amber-colored negligee of soft cutvelvet, brushed and braided into twin bright ropes her yellow hair.
When all was finished, still charmed by her flight of fancies, she sat down on the bed. She had done her part; now she must wTait until the rapture she envisioned should descend on her. The house was silent. From a distance came the harsh crepitation of a passing ox-cart, from near at hand the throb of a guitar. Slowly her mood was ended by a feeling of futility. The play was done. It could go no farther—ever. Pedro Román stood in the way, and Román was a god in San Lozada. He would hang Carteret in the morning. There was nothing anyone could do.
It was the baldness of the latter fact that most of all outraged her; that that one man, that semi-maniac, should hold them both so impotent. She knew the power of her wealth. The thought more than once had come that she might buy Carteret’s safety. If it was his claim on the Jacaranda, source of Román’s main revenue, that made Román desire his end, could she not bargain with the man upon that basis?
She knew instinctively that such a hope was vain. He would not be tempted. That was not his principal concern. He loved money, yes; but he loved power more. The thing
he lusted after was the exaltation of Pedro Román, and at one stroke it would seem to him he could secure past risk of challenge both his hold on the mine and his public triumph.
She was distracted from so hopeless a conclusion by a rap on the door. "Quien esta ahi?" she called.
Dick answered: “Let me speak to you a minute.”
SEEING HER framed in the carved stone archway, with the raised fabric of her gown in the rich light of the great hall lantern looking like minutely embossed gold, the shadow of his hurt and disappointment touched him. It was only for an instant and his face was shadowed, but she did not miss it, nor the curbed emotion that his casual tone concealed. "I’m going up to Tucker’s. And I want you to stay in your room while I’m away, in case Roman turns up. Promise me. Then I shan’t have to worry and can do my best.”
She rebelled: “But I’m coming.”
“No ! You’d just be underfoot.”
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know yet myself. I’ve got a hunch and I’m going up to talk it out with Tucker. And you can help. First promise that l needn’t worry about you; and then, I may want money, lots of money. I take it I’ve got carte blanche.”
“Okay then. Now let me go. Keep your head and wait in here until you hear from me. I’ve told them to send in your girl to keep you company. Everything’s going to be all right. Now promise me.”
Reluctantly she yielded: “Very well, Dick.”
“Splendid.” He reached down and took her hand, gave it an awkward little squeeze. He was like a young boy again, diffident and uneasy: “Don’t you worry. If he can be got, I’ll get him for you. One of us may as well have what he wants.”
She watched him down the dusky hallway, the door opened, closed, and he was gone, leaving her alone with the wraiths in the silent house.
Behind her came the pad of naked feet as the girl Lita neared.
Nan led to the little boudoir with its tapestry-draped walls of mellow stone and high, grilled window giving on the patio.
Lita turned up the lamp and Nan sat beside a quaint squat table with a volume of the English Shakespeare she had found on her first morning in that house—how long ago it seemed. In the half-light against the wall Lita squatted, with the dumb patience of her beaten people in her doelike eyes.
Nan tried to read the bard’s inimitable comedy, but the words did not reach her brain. She saw them but they had no life. She turned back to the flyleaf of the volume, with the etched coat-of-arms, its crest of a mailed fist and a broken sword, and the motto: “Honor.”
Her family, the house of the great John Warde, king in a
world of mines and money, boasted no armorial bearings. And if they had, it came to her, so bright a word could not have been inscribed to them.
Thinking, waiting, the sense of unreality grew on her. The setting, the facts of the occasion and, more than all, her new and self-subversive impulses, seemed alike fantastic. It was all a dream, she argued with herself, an unsought figment of imagination; it would fade presently. The realities were San Francisco, the big house on the hill, John Warde with his leonine head and understanding eyes, and Dick beside her with his simple and undeviating loyalty. Soon she would awaken in her own room, high above the bay, to clear Californian sunshine and the gulls that wheeled and cried against the sky outside her window . . .
A half-hour or so had passed in such abstraction when suddenly her head came up, as struck her ears a series of staccato, unfamiliar sounds: “Thud! Thud!
She asked Lita sharply: “What is that?”
The Indian woman’s eyes met hers in melancholy wonder. “It is guns, señorita— shooting. I have heard it so when 1 was little and el señor Carteret fought Venustiano Ortega. But it is long since any fought in FI Taranta.”
The sounds rose to the rattle of a sustained engagement, swelled presently by what Nan could not recognize as the steady drumming of machine guns. She looked at her watch. Eleven o’clock ! Dick should be at 'Fucker’s now. She hurried out to telephone and ask him what was happening.
THE patio was all dusky-blue and silver, the moon a green, incandescent disc whose ghostly radiance made clear the smallest details. Nothing moved there; a tree frog maintained his clear, high shrilling, the crickets their harder, more deliberate monotone. Beyond the court she heard the chatter of excited servants and the voice of Mama Gomez, demanding shrilly what was taking place.
Nan had just turned toward the library when she halted and stood staring. Silent, intent with deadly purpose, from the archway leading to the servants’ entrance had emerged a knot of armed San Lozadan natives, running, W'ho scattered for the different doorways giving on the patio. One came straight for where she stood and at sight of her checked and flung up a pistol. Then, seeing what she was, he left her and ran on into the library. She stood spellbound while men, hunting vainly, darted out of one room into another, and the house resounded with the noise of slamming doors and purposefully running feet.
Then, in the unlit corridor from whence they had emerged, she grew aware of other footsteps, not impetuous but uncertain, as of an aged man. And as she waited, breathless, took shape in the gloom a figure in the familiar white pyjamas of the indigent mestizo. He wore a full cartridge belt and heavy automatic pistol, one of his arms hung in a sling, and when he reached the full light of the room she saw that the bandages were dark with blood.
With a sustained screeching, from her doorway scuttled like a frightened hen the v'hite form of Mama Gomez, ludicrous in cap and nightgown. A small slim man pursued her, who, as he reached the light, stopped and raised a pistol.
Nan screamed, as Mama Gomez pitched down and lay squirming, halfway in the lily pool and close to the wounded man.
Nan ran and knelt beside her, but by then the crone was still. She sprang up and turned on the stranger, who forestalled her outburst with the stem injunction: “Do not condemn my son. He had good cause. She was unclean.”
He was dark and graceful, his delicately shaped features outlined sharply by the moon-cast shadow's. His voice, speaking cultivated Spanish, seemed familiar, but his face she did not know'.
The killer of Mama Gomez now ran up, a slender, handsome youth with about him also something vaguely familiar.
His father rebuked him: “You should not have done that, Joaquin. She was old and a woman.”
Defiantly the boy retorted: “I have
heard you say death was too good for her.” And he turned and glowered at Nan as though inclined to shoot her, too.
One by one the others now ran up, handling their weapons, panting. There were six of them—slim, dark young Latins, unkempt and tattered, yet bearing unmistakably the marks of breeding. They wore remnants of the ubiquitous shoddy white pyjamas, but their weapons—pistols, machetes and short rifles—were all new and of the best. “He is not in this house, Don Baltazar,” one of them reported, and then Nan knew where she had heard the hurt man’s voice before. It was in the darkness of a mountain road, with close by the snuffling of bul’ocks and the mutter of men talking, stars overhead and a sense of great space close by. Tony Carteret had called, “Buenos noches, Baltazar,” and this man had replied, “Buenos noches, amigo mio.”
She said impulsively: “You are Don
He bowed, and rocked weakly on his feet: "Señorita,” he acknowledged. “Now tell me quickly. Where is Roman? Men’s lives hang upon it.”
. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since this morning. Please, what is going on?”
Don Baltazar Ortega did not answer her. He motioned toward the sound of firing and addressed the remnant of the aristocracy that had ruled the land before Pedro Román: "Señores,” he said with
simple dignity. “We left that fight because we felt we could serve better in this fashion. Now we have failed, shall we not go to those we have deluded?”
The young men eyed each other. They had been children when Roman had killed their fathers and their elder brothers. In tne remoter hills they had lived furtively with their tragic womenfolk, till as from the dead had come among them Tony Carteret and Baltazar Ortega, seared and sun-dried from their slavery, breathing of splendid things to come when Roman should be thrown down. As one man they turned and trooped toward the arch whence they had come. Don Baltazar took two steps with them, then his legs gave and he thudded softly to a crumpled heap upon the tiling.
NAN AND his son knelt beside him and the young men stood round in a tightlipped cluster, the shadows dark among them from the moon’s pale radiance. Soon Don Baltazar’s eyes opened, closed again: "Cansado, consado mucho”—“tired, too tired”—they heard him whisper.
The boy ejaculated bitterly: “How
could he last? He has bled since yesterday.”
She echoed: “Yesterday?”
Young Joaquin Ortega turned on her with hating eyes: “Yes, yesterday. When we tried to take my sister from your jail.” She knew then that the boy held her to be a creature of Roman’s, and she knew, too, that had she been a man she would not now have been alive.
Joaquin had bent again above his father when she seized his arm and shook it: “Listen to me.”
He whipped round angrily. He was very like Chiquita, the same rich curve of the lips, big liquid eyes and fine straight nose.
She said with passion, for she had been cut to the quick: “I know what you feel and I understand. But I, too, was a child when these things were done. I only learned of them two days ago. If I tell you that I care and will do all I can to make amends, will you not believe?”
His expression did not change, and suddenly her anger w'aned to apprehension and a terrifying sense of loneliness. Her wrath changed to supplication: “Will you not believe, Joaquin?” she pleaded.
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But young Joaquin Ortega only glowered, till between them Don Baltazar, his father, said in a voice faint but whose warmth was not to be mistaken: “I was told that you were such a woman, señorita, but till now I did not believe. My son is very young. When he is older he will learn to recognize the sound of truth.”
And then young Joaquin’s mouth was shaking, and Nan was all unnerved.
Not trusting herself to speak for fear she might break down, she reached out and gripped his shoulder, inarticulately kneading it in the desire to make him feel her sympathy. Presently she said: “Your
father can’t lie here. Please pick him up and come with me.”
Without question they obeyed and followed to her bedroom, where they laid him on the couch. She straightened his limbs, sent Lita for whisky, took a handkerchief soaked in Cologne.
While she cooled his forehead she asked Joaquin: “What is happening?”
“It is Toni,” he said despairingly. “Word came to us about—tomorrow, and we could not let Toni hang. We were not prepared. Our plans were but begun; these guns he bought for us we only smuggled in two days ago. But we had to try; and we had friends in the regiment Jesu Maria, and they thought that if they led perhaps the rest would rise. We were to kill Roman while they forced the jail. He dined in the palace and we did not see him leave, but when we broke in he was gone. And the Jesu Maria did not rise, only our handful, and we were cornered, fighting without hope. So we came here, hoping to find Román or to meet him coming down.” The boy made an old man’s gesture of despair.
Lita brought whisky and Nan bent down with it. By and by the hurt man’s eyes opened. The instant that his brain had cleared he thrust the glass aside and cried despairingly: “Señores, I am of no use now. I beg of you to waste no time. If we fail tonight, no friend of ours will be alive tomorrow.”
But Nan said: “Wait! From now on I am with you. We must work together. The señor Couzens is away, trying to do something to save Toni. Please wait while I telephone him. It may make all the difference.”
Don Baltazar regarded her with his unhappy eyes: “Very well. But hurry.
The night will soon be gone.”
SHE HURRIED to the library. There was no light there. As she stood at the instrument she could see a group of mozos clustered, dumb and frightened, in the moonlight about Mama Gomez’s corpse.
The El Taranta telephone was primitive; no exchange, a few lines only, worked by signals rung by the caller on a crank-bell.
A mestizo servant answered. Dick had been there; but Tucker was at a dance in the engineering staff quarters and he had gone to find him.
She ordered the man: “Go at once to the señor Couzens. Tell him that I must speak to him. Say that he must not leave till he has talked to me or till he has seen a messenger that I am sending. Do you understand?”
The man repeated the instructions and she hurried to the youthful insurrectos waiting, hands on rifle muzzles, by the prone form of their leader.
She told young Joaquin: “Go to the
mine as fast as you can. The señor Couzens will be waiting for you. Tell him what is going on, and trust him. He has all I own to draw on, and will do everything he can to help.”
With their dark eyes, intent, distrustful, their wild black hair and free hillmen’s carriage, they resembled young colts herded into unfamiliar confines. When they did not move she turned to Don
Baltazar. “Is it not the best thing to be done, señor?”
He said to his men: “Go, señores. Do as the señorita bids you. You are of the country and know what is going on. Ours was at most a gambler’s chance, but with such support as she can give there is no limit to what we may hope for.”
At this they headed for the exit, and Don Baltazar Ortega raised his head and watched them go. His face was gaunt, his eyes wide and unnaturally bright. At the door young Joaquin stopped and raised his rifle in salute, then they trooped out and were lost to sight. When the lisp of their sandals died the hurt man lay back with a sigh and closed his eyes, as one knowing he could do no more.
Nan stood gazing at the tragic sight he made: the unkempt state of delicate physique and noble features; the makeshift sling and wrappings soaked with blood; the mean soiled cotton clothes, two garments only, and the thin coat open on his naked chest. Against his poverty, the fine new leather of the gun belt, stuffed with cartridges, and the blue, gleaming pistol, contrasted intensely. So that was where the money stolen from her father’s safe had gone? She might have known !
But this man was desperately sick, and her responsibility. He must be cared for and, till he could be got away, ensured against the advent of his enemies. When Dick telephoned she would have down the Jacaranda doctor and a car to take Don Baltazar to safety. Meanwhile at best the risk was extreme; she must do what she could and trust to luck.
Hurrying to where the Indians clustered round the body in the patio, she said to the head boy: “Ignacio, you fear your master?”
His eyes gleamed in his dark flat face framed in its lank black hair. He muttered: “Si, señorita.”
“And all of you?” With a glance she made the question general. The children of the imperial Maya stared, dumb, docile, apprehensive.
“Very well.” Nan pointed to the body. “Take that away. Clean up the blood— there is a trail through to my door. Then go to your quarters. If anyone should come, Don Pedro, anyone, you have seen nothing, heard nothing, know nothing. Go your ways as though nothing has occurred. Then no hurt can come to you because of this.”
Ignacio bobbed his head emphatically:
“Si, si, excellenza. We go. We say, we know, nothing. We want no trouble, we mozos, we have trouble enough.”
“Then do as I have said; go to your quarters and, whatever happens, stay there.”
She left them as they stooped about the body.
TN HER ROOM, the downward fan of I lamplight held the ornate bedfoot, the front of the massive dressing table and the pink brocade settee, carrying the prone form of Don Baltazar Ortega. In her corncolored smock and gay embroidery, Lita stood and watched him, motionless.
Nan ordered: “Help me. Gently now.” She unbuckled the gun belt and they pulled it out from under him. The heavy weapon clattered on the tiles. Nan had no nursing knowledge, must rely solely on her common sense. She told Lita: “Hot water and clean linen for bandages. Much linen. If you can’t get it elsewhere, rip a sheet.”
As she unwound the blood-caked cloths there arose a fetid smell that sickened her, but she set her teeth and worked on steadily. Such an incident as this was but as one iota against what he and his had suffered so that she might live on a sunny hill over San Francisco Bay.
She bared a hideous machete cut. much inflamed and from which the blood oozed
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steadily. She saw how fast the pulse beat in the sick man’s throat, found his brow burning and realized he was in high fever. And he had endured all this since yesterday, and still contrived to lead his forlorn rescue party. Not for nothing had Tony Carteret called him "Amigo.”
When hot water came she cleansed the gash. Her face was pale and her gorge rose, but she worked with tenderness and concentration, bent down close above her task. Behind her Lita ripped a sheet with long tearing sounds.
When she had done her best she strapped a wet pad on the cut to try and stop the blood, and reslung the arm.
Then she told Lita: "A cold drink made with many limes. And take these away and see that they are burned, blurry.”
The girl left with the gory wrappings, and Nan pulled up a stool close to the couch.
Don Baltazar lay still, his eyes closed and his breathing rapid. On his wrist protruding from the sling she saw the deep gall of the shackle he for ten years had worn. Like Carteret’s, his hands were pink where the scales had peeled and the flesh had not had time to harden.
By and by Lita brought a long glass of a pale green liquid. Nan touched his hand: “Don Baltazar.”
His eyes opened. “A cool drink. Let us help you.”
With Lita’s aid he came to his elbow, while Nan held the tumbler. Between sips he breathed, "Muchas gracias, señorita,” and smiled at her faintly.
Then his head jerked up, spilling the drink, and his face twisted in despair.
For a moment she was at a loss to understand, but then it came to her. The rifle fire had stopped, cut off as though a door had closed on it.
Don Baltazar fell back, eyes closed, chest heaving, and she realized what depths of despair he plumbed. The starveling revolt was crushed. Pedro Román had prevailed again.
A dream that had kept two men struggling through ten years of hell had ceased to live. Don Baltazar Ortega was a helpless man, and Tony Carteret would kick his life out on the gallows before sunrise.
The sick man groaned: "Madre de Dios —the good men—thrown away.”
There was nothing she could say. She crouched on the stool, holding his hand and staring past him at the shadows where the lamplight did not reach.
Why hadn’t Dick called? It was time he should.
She hurried to the telephone, but though she rang and rang, in Tucker’s bungalow no one answered. In the patio the corpse had gone, the floor had been cleansed. The moon was high now, shadows all foreshortened ; across the starlit sky a huge black fruit-bat flapped like the spirit of the tragedy that stalked abroad that night.
She went back to the brooding room, the pool of light, the hurt man and the stolid Indian, and sat down to wait.
rT'IME TICKED along, while silence -*• that was ominous because of what it told oppressed the city. Don Baltazar lay on his back, his eyes closed and his breathing short and hard. From time to time he muttered unintelligibly.
His sudden movement brought her thoughts back to him. He had risen on his elbow and he stared at her with wide, blank eyes.
In tones of utter weariness he said: “You say! You say! Always you say. But the years go by and we still are here. It is well enough for you. You have your star to follow that you tell me of. But I have no star. I have only you and this misery.”
She had heard of delirium, read of it. It was a thing that occurred in fiction, opportunely to reveal secrets otherwise unfathomable. She had not thought it really happened, but she recognized it now.
Staring with his empty eyes, Don
Baltazar Ortega said portentously: “Only three left now, amigo; Rodriguez, de Pano and Peralta, and he half gone with the rot in his lungs ...”
“I am afraid. I do not fear to die, but I cannot face more years like this . . , Tell me again, amigo, tell me what life will be when this is over. Don’t let me forget. I am not strong like you. I cannot live on dreams alone. So! Yes! I hear and I believe. But how long must we wait, amigo ...” Don Baltazar fell back and his eyes closed.
Sitting there helplessly, she saw again the drawing-room at home, and Carteret by her piano in his preposterous new blue suit and yellow shoes. She heard him telling her: “Way up in the Cordillera
where the air’s thin and cold, but the sun blisters you. Shovelling that awful stuff all day, I got so that I could live outside my body ...” That, and the sick man’s ravings, brought her a quick and magically vivid picture—the thin air and the crystal sunshine, a wall of great peaks like Penjaro, the two men shovelling the grey astringent mineral that dried the sap from their hands, and Carteret dreaming his dreams and making this man live by the sheer warmth of his spirit.
Don Baltazar lay quiet for a while. Then he shook his head and whispered: “How strange a man you are. Have we suffered nothing that this woman should be spared so small a hurt? She and John Warde enjoyed life all these years at our expense. What thought had they for us? How has Chiquita lived while she grew up to think her father was an honest man ; and if she knew, would she care more for us than he did? But if you wish it, it shall be as you say, for I have learned that you are wiser far than I.”
Nan stared ahead with eyes that did not see. So that was it. The last page of the tale of Tony Carteret was turned. She should have known. Anyone with half an eye would have done. She should have known at home when he asked her the question “You’re pretty fond of your father?” and then capitulated: “No. I
think on the whole I’d rather not tell you my business.”
Oh, the fool, the quixotic, stubborn, splendid fool. That was why he told her to go home, why he had warned her not to try and run him down. Not for his sake but for hers, to preserve a misplaced hero worship from the grim light of the truth. And the reward of his chivalry was hate and persecution, defeat of the only thing he had to live for, and in the end a lonely, sordid death.
She was brought back from such tormenting thoughts by the change of the sick man’s tone to that of panic: “Talk to me,” he implored. “Talk to me, I say. I cannot stand this place tonight. I shall go mad. Tell me of living. Tell how you rode the great horse in the jumping race in England. That makes me forget. Begin at the start, tell how it felt when he rose under you and cleared two fallen ones and the jump beyond. Ah, is there still a world like that, beyond these mountains? Well to be you, amigo, you can live within your mind, on dreams and visions. But I—my life makes my mind, and I am tired to death.”
Nan, listening spellbound to these echoes of a triumph of the spirit over flesh, was conscious of an urgent tapping on her arm. When she turned, Lita, big eyed, pointed toward the square, and she realized that something new was happening.
She heard the purring of a car, the scrape of heavy-booted feet, bass AngloSaxon voices.
Dick! Dick and Tucker. Oh, thank heaven !
She hurried to the window and peeped out through a partly opened jalousie at the square that lay bright almost as day.
A car stood before the door, from which men were descending, white men, bristling with weapons. She recognized the careless truculence of Pedro Román’s corps d’élite, and among them, belted with a pistol,
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rapping out concise instructions, moved the lank form of the President of San Lozada.
She stood, sick with apprehension, watching the old guerrilla fighter making dispositions for his personal security.
' I 'HE CAR had brought six men besides Roman. Half of them, trailing rifles, three careless figures in white shirts and ducks, lounged across the angle of the square and disappeared among the shadows of the bishop’s garden. The other three passed underneath her window and she knew they went to mount guard at the back door of the house.
As the car drove away, leaving the square devoid of life. Roman turned and climbed the steps. She heard the rattle of his key, heard the door open, close again, and the deliberate “Slam! Slam!” home of the two big bolts. Then passed through the hall the light, thrusting step that she had come to hate.
She stood with her back to the window, fighting with her consternation. Roman could not apprehend, she thought, that anything untoward had happened at the house. Why should he? There was no reason. There had been revolt against him, and his feral wariness dictated the precaution of the hidden guards. That was all. He thought Don Baltazar Ortega to have died at Quisunta long ago. How could he suspect so preposterous a thing as his presence, hidden at midnight wounded in the bedroom of a girl whom he believed to be the enemy of Carteret and all he stood for.
No! There was no cause for panic. Roman had come here to rest. It was late and he would go to his room. Everything would be all right. Dick would come presently and Dick would contrive some way out.
But the servants ! They might lose their nerve. They might even go at once and tell him, fearing the results if they did not.
With an effort she closed her mind to all such speculations. The catastrophe had happened and the result was in the balance. There was nothing she could do but keep her head and trust to luck.
Then Don Baltazar resumed his wandering monologue and she dashed in panic tiptoe to his side: “Shhh ! Quiet!”
His head rolled on the gaudy pink silk cushion and he whispered, hoarse and anxious: “What is it? Are we lost again? We must reach the sea before daybreak.”
She sank down on the stool and prayed that he would quieten. His voice was low, but the house was devoid of other sound.
“Toni!” he demanded. “Toni! Is all well? Are we on the proper road?”
Seeing that he expected a reply, she whispered: “Yes! This is the road. But we must be quiet.”
“Si! Si! Quiet—quiet, amigo."
Appeased, he lay back, and as the moments passed she breathed again.
Presently he said in a voice poignant with feeling: “Ahhh! How cool is the sea. How often have we dreamed of it, up there, amigo. I do not think that I can swim so far, and if I fail, swim on . . . ” His voice waned and for a while he was quiet.
Within the house she heard now and then a footstep. That was all. If Roman was retiring all would yet be well. Perhaps Don Baltazar would fall asleep.
Vain hope! Suddenly he heaved up with a shout: “No! I will not die. We have work to do and it will not be our time till we have done it.”
Then while her heart stood still she listened for signs that Roman had heard.
They came—quick steps in the hall, which stopped as he paused to wait for further sounds to guide him.
A FTER THAT followed silence, heavy with suspense. And then out of the travail of the months just past Don Baltazar Ortega voiced a declaration of his faith, a faith that had kept him struggling for years long after his own will to live had failed. “I tell you he will not desert us. He
has gone to make John Warde give help: he promised me he would come back and he will come.” And there came a rapping, not on the bedroom but on the sitting-room door.
Nan realized that Roman, thinking the voice came from there, was seeking a conventional entrance.
She sat dismayed and checkmated, praying that Don Baltazar would not speak again, till a sound next door told her that El Presidente, finding the room unoccupied, had realized that the voice was in the farther chamber and stealthily was crossing to investigate.
Her legs moved then, it seemed to her, of their own volition. Since learning of what sort of man she was the guest, she had looked to the locks of her apartments. There was but one key, fitting all three of them, and by good luck it was now in the communicating door.
Hurrying across and using all the care she could, she turned with both her hands the big old ring and felt the bolt silently slide home. She waited for a knock or an attempt to open, but neither came. Roman, believing those within to be unsuspecting of his close proximity, was eavesdropping.
Then the injured man, his mind adrift among his memories, cried exultantly: “See! He is back! Did I not say he would return?” and she knew that Roman must have heard and that the game was up.
Afterward, looking back Nan never could remember what immediately followed. She recalled the fear that for the sick man’s sake possessed her as the thought crystallized that Roman was just beyond the door and soon concealment would be ended.
The next impression that her mind retained was of how she stood in the hall outside and stared at the dark niche framing the entrance to the sitting room.
In the interval she had been driven by her subconscious, not her conscious, mind. During that brief period of rule by instinct, she had pulled out the key which she just had turned, run out of her room and down the hall and made Román a prisoner in the little boudoir.
This time the lock made a grating noise which he did not fail to hear, and she heard him swiftly come across and test the door.
The discovery that he had been trapped elicited from him no sound, and the ensuing silence tried her more than would have done the bellow she had half anticipated.
Pedro Roman was old in dark and devious adventure. He had known a hundred intrigues where an ill-judged move meant ruin. Something he did not understand had suddenly transpired and placed him at a disadvantage, so he stayed still and waited for the other man to show his hand. Waiting as well. Nan’s palms were wet, her body tense with apprehension.
The tree frog in the court had ceased his song and only the cicadas’ more metallic chirp persisted. The deep yet somehow always pregnant peace of night in El Taranta held the house.
She did not think Roman could break out of the little room. Dick had remarked the thickness of the doors, set in their deep stone arches, with their massive, handforged locks. The only window was that giving on the patio, in the old-time Spaniard’s almost Oriental way, set high and grilled with iron.
An urge to reassure herself as to that grille caused her to move into the patio as far as the point whence she could see it, and as she came into the moonlight she saw on the table there the gun belt which Roman had worn when he came in. The holster was empty, which meant that he was armed. Her gaze went to the window, high in the cream stone wall and barred by the graceful scrollwork of some Andalusian smith, just in time to see the head and shoulders of Roman appear behind it. In crafty silence he had moved a table on which he could stand and see what might
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be learned from quiet observation of the patio.
There was the sheer wall in the moonlight, ending in the tiled eaves sharp against translucent sky. A close-clinging creeper blotched the wall, and through the grille Roman looked down between his hands, grasping the bars. These, with their curved shadows, crossing his face with black, prevented her from reading his expression.
He said, in a tone silkily reproachful yet which did not convey that he held the situation to be extraordinary: “I appreciate your feelings, my dear lady, but you need not have gone to such a length as this. Naturally I was curious when I heard your voices, but a word in explanation would have been enough.”
AT FIRST his meaning did not reach ■AY her, and he went on: “I have only to reproach myself that I so neglected my own opportunities. I misjudged you badly. And had I not, I should have thought the estimable Señor Couzens to have been the object of your favors. For the second time I have had to be reminded that half your blood is Spanish.”
She grasped it then. And the light of understanding came as anticlimax carried to the extent of absurdity. A hysterical reaction made her weak all over. Roman imagined he had caught her with a lover in her bedroom! It was the sly and unclean sort of thing in which he dealt.
He continued: “Need I say that I
apologize? Envious as I am. I would not for worlds have embarrassed you by proving your companion’s fears to be well grounded.” She realized that he referred to what Don Baltazar had said while he was listening. “And now please let me out. This lucky fellow will have left by now, and I promise to respect your blushes and conceal my knowledge from the señor Couzens, who appears to sleep so soundly.”
As he talked, the relief by which her indignation had been quite outweighed changed to misgiving. Something was false here. Roman’s behavior was not true to the nature of the man as she had come to know it. She was sure that his conceit would not allow him to accept with grace a thing that so reflected on his gallantry, and there was not involved in the event itself so great an issue as to make him hide his ire for reasons politic. Further, if he had heard what Don Baltazar had said, he had heard as well the tone in which he’d said it, and that was not compatible with the meaning which Roman pretended to have taken.
No! The man was bluffing. Suddenly she was positivé. Disaffection was abroad that night, and of so seasoned a conspirator all suspicions would be rampant. He trusted no one under any circumstances. That was why he had stolen to her door and listened. He had no idea what he had stumbled on by coming here for the night, but was sure that she would not have gone to the length she had without some vital reason. Thus, his one chance for escape from impotence within that room was to convince her that he thought she acted from some comparatively trivial cause.
He was subtle; and he gave her also credit for a quick and crafty wit. She was to seize his assumption that she acted to conceal a cheap amour and let him go, believing he would play the understanding gallant and efface himself.
But he was not convincing. He had said too much; in his anxiety to make his point he had labored it.
Seeing her hesitate, he said, in a patronizing and indulgent tone: “Come. This has gone far enough. I have had a mutiny to deal with. I assure you”—even now he could not forbear the boast—“I assure you I have dealt with it.” She knew what that would mean, and her heart sank. “And now I am tired. Please let me go to bed. You will have your moments to live over in the way that women have.” Even through her distress his insinuation made her flush.
Then their eyes met in mutually unfeigned astonishment.
Down in the city fighting had begun anew; the gunfire rose at once to the sound of a considerable conflict.
Romangave up finesse and rasped: “Open that door and let me out,” and she moved back into the hall, but of his line of vision.
Thiç she did merely to escape his surveillance, but he assumed that his bluff had worked., She heard him jump down from the table, cross the room and halt, waiting for the key to tum. Not hearing it, he tried the door, and finding it still fast rattled the latch and shouted: “Open!
Ojien this door!”
With her eyes on the dark arched niche, she backed away until she reached the stone wall opjiosite to it. She was nonplussed. There was nothing she could do. She stood in the half-light and quaked, while down in the town the sounds qf fighting rose and fell.
Presently came from Román a furious shout: “Ignacio! Ignacio!” By the sound, she knew that he was at the grille again, and also that he had abandoned artifice. The gloves were off. From now on, between them would be open battle.
TN THE DARK corridor beyond the
patio she saw the servants, once again disturbed, gathered in a whispering cluster. Roman roared: “Ignacio!” and by and by the Indian emerged. Cringingly, his furtive eyes ujx>n the window, he came to do his master’s bidding.
She advanced to the moonlight so that he could see her, yet not as far as Román’s line of vision, and motioned him with both hands: “Back! Back!”
He checked. His gaze left her for Román, returned again. Román shouted: “Pig! Imbecile! Why are you stopping? Come and unlock the door.”
Like a cowed dog Ignacio advanced.
And then the ground beneath them shook, and three seconds afterward arrived the heavy sound of an explosion : “Boom !”
Ignacio stopped beside the lily jx>ol and stood there gaping.
One thing was now impressed on Nan. Whatever could be taking place—and she had no idea what it might be—was hostile to Román, and so long as he was held its chances of success were multiplied. She hurried to the door and removed the key. A broad stone molding ran round the hall, and she stood on tiptoe in the dusk and laid the key ujxrn the ledge which it provided.
Ignacio could not have seen what she had done, and until she chose the key was lost.
Román renewed his cursing and the Indian shambled on and reached the door. Thence he called fearfully: “But, excel-
lence, there is no key. No es culpa mia, señor,” he protested.
“She has it then. The woman. Get it, imbecile!”
Ignacio turned to her with hand outstretched. There was in his face no fight, no purpose, only dumb fear and helplessness.
She told him: “The key is lost. You cannot let him out. Stay here and say nothing. That will be best for you.”
He stared in futile apprehension.
Presently it came to Román that Ignacio was to be of no assistance, and at the grille again his voice rose, calling to his men outside: “Schwartz!” he roared. “Schwartz! Antonichuk !”
The front door was secure, what of the back? She turned to Ignacio, who was huddled now against the wall, slack-jawed with fear. She seized his arm and shook it : “Eschuche me! If he gets out now, or if those men get in, he will beat you to death. You know that well enough. But if he is held, tonight may see the end of him for ever. Come with me and tell that to the others. Vamos! And run. He has a pistol !”
She hustled him toward the moonlight, thrust him out, and, as he dashed across
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with the speed of panic, followed and kept on through the gloomy passage where stale smells of cooking hung and frightened servants clustered, to the door beyond. There were bolts and a key, and the door had been secured when Joaquin and his men had left. She turned and stood with her back to it.
The occasion had assumed the aspect of a moving picture show, of an utterly preposterous melodrama. This place reeked of garlic and the bitter Indian tobacco. To one side she heard the excited whispering of Ignacio to his fellow servants. The bell jangled. On the front door came heavy knocking as the guards, roused by Roman’s shouting, sought for entrance. She moved through the passage to the patio, on whose far side, framed high up in the moonlit wall, she saw Roman behind his grille. Gripping the bars and moving excitedly from side to side, with their shadows on his hairy face and big bared teeth as he put his head back and roared, he looked for all the world like some great, furious ape in a menagerie.
She hated to go out to the light where he could see her, but it was necessary and she ran hard across. His shouts to his men gave place to a torrent of vituperation. For the first time in a decade thwarted, he raged like a demented beast. With a tingling of fear lest he might shoot at her, she reached the haven of the dark beyond, went to the telephone and rang Tucker’s call. There was no reply, and after a few attempts she gave up and hurried to her room.
Under the lamp the figure of Don Baltazar in his dingy white was sitting up; his legs had fallen to the floor and he dropped over the support of his uninjured arm. The shouts and batterings had served to bring his deranged senses to a focus, and in the bloodshot eyes that peered at her as through a mist she recognized the light of reason.
TN THE STREET outside she heard the
feet of men run to and fro; the knocking on the door kept up insistently. Roman flung down the shattered stool and began to roar again to the servants to admit his men, with fearsome threats of what would happen did they not. She thanked heaven for the fortresslike construction of the old Spanish house.
Don Baltazar whispered hoarsely : “What is it?”
She answered: “Román. I locked him in.”
He eyed her with the wonder of a child that tries to understand some new and scarcely credible pronouncement.
Then he looked at the door and said unbelievingly: “In there—Roman?”
She nodded and as Roman roared again, “Antonichuk! Break in. I am locked up,” and on the front door rifle butts began to crash, she told him: “He heard you talking and came through that room to see, and I locked both doors. Those are his men outside, but they won’t get in.”
Don Baltazar Ortega stared at her, while his fever-clouded mind worked out the meaning of what he had heard, till presently he smiled, a slow, contented, pregnant smile.
His eyes went to the gun belt they had taken from him, lying on the tiles near by. He moved his weight to free his unhurt arm and bent toward it, swayed uncertainly and only just recovered. He said to her: “Be so gracious as to give it to me, señorita.”
Wondering, she held the belt toward him, and he drew out the heavy automatic pistol. He hefted the bluely gleaming weapon, and with his thumb disengaged the safety catch. He lodged the muzzle down against the frame of the settee, and by leaning all his weight forced back the sliding jacket. There had been a cartridge in the chamber, which shot out, and the action slid back, loading in another with a sweet: “Click-click.”
Satisfied that the weapon would not fail him, Don Baltazar Ortega faced with
feverishly burning eyes the door that penned Pedro Román. His face ran with sweat and his breath came short. Nan saw the pulse race in his throat and the trembling of his hands and knees. He edged back on his seat and spread his feet to give their best support, and propped his uninjured arm on his thigh to take his weight, the heavy pistol resting on the other knee. Then his eyes closed and he sat thus several moments, marshalling his strength, while rifle butts beat thunderously on the door outside.
When he looked up he said to her gently: “And now, señorita, be so kind as to unlock.”
At first she did not realize what he intended, and when it came to her, she did not move.
He said, to himself as much as to her: “Ten years down there; my father; Toni’s father; all their friends; my—wife.” He paused again and his body sagged, and he seemed as he dwelt on wrongs done long ago to be in danger of collapse into the murk of sickness and despair from which he so stubbornly had reared himself. But with an effort clearly to be seen, he dispelled the climbing weakness, his head came up and his eyes sought hers beseechingly: “Señorita, will you not unlock the door.”
“But you’re so ill; and he has a pistol.”
“So?” He smiled grimly. “Then it will not be quite a murder.”
She found herself out in the hall, where at one end the lantern shed its orange light above the door which boomed to batterings outside, and at the other lay the patio, still and lovely in its dark blue, black and silver. She crossed the timeworn flags, reached up and felt along the molding for the key.
Then she went back. Don Bsltazar had not moved; his hunched-up figure faced the door and waited, husbanding his strength against the supreme effort soon to be demanded of it. Seeing in her hand the key, he said: “Push the door open,
just a little, and then leave me quickly.
This is not a thing which such as you should see.”
fier heart began to thump hard in her throat, as it did always when she was afraid. She went and stood before the door. Within, Roman had ceased his bellowing. She slid in and turned the key. The door was hung to open from her. She lifted the latch, which was separate from the lock, and gave a little shove. Then, her eyes fixed on the door as it swung slowly inward, she backed step by step until she bumped into the bed. The door had ceased to move, leaving an opening of a foot or two.
The latch had clicked, and she thought Roman must have heard, but nothing happened as, still staring at the door, she felt her way along the bed until she cleared it, then backed away, past Don Baltazar and across the room until she found the far wall, in the dusk where the lamplight did not reach.
Outside, the hammering had ceased, and the voices of the baffled men could be heard in heated altercation. Near by, close to the bathroom entrance, Lita crouched and stared. Nan gazed across Don Baltazar’s hunched form to the boudoir door, which he was watching as a cat a rat-hole. The light, above the injured man, just reached it. The room was still as though it held none but the dead, and from the one beyond reached them no sound. They waited in suspense so taut that presently she felt she must at any cost cry out and end it.
And then her heart leaped and began to beat so fast as to impair her breathing. The door was moving ! Slowly, imperceptibly, yet with an even pace that showed it was not swinging of its own accord, the gap between it and the post was widening. They watched with agonizing tension till it stood at right angles. Then it stoppd; and then Don Baltazar Ortega drew his breath and sat up straight. She saw him raise the pistol, bringing it to rest against his shoulder, to be ready but at the same time to conserve his strength.
To be Concluded