Herewith the smashing climax of one of the season’s most popular serials
FOLLOWED once more a pause of leaden moments, while Roman watched and listened, hoping to learn what waited for him in the room beyond. But he was no more quiet and patient than were they, and
presently he wearied and essayed a move.
Sure that, if there were danger, it would be greatest while he occupied the doorway, he designed to pass this instantaneously, shooting, if he had to, as he came. One moment the dark rectangle which Nan and Don Baltazar Ortega watched was empty, the next his form in one long stride had filled it, with his gun held low.
The move was just what Baltazar had anticipated, and, quick though Román was, the enfeebled man was quicker. The flash and thunder of one weaix>n only filled the place, and after that there was nothing but the stink of powder and a scuffling in the doorway as the man, face downward on the tiles, kicked out his life. A .45 bullet in the liver grants no time for dying speeches.
When Pedro Román lay still, a quiet followed, not broken even by the men outside. From Lita came a long-drawn, shuddering sigh. Then Don Baltazar’s pistol clattered on the floor. He rolled slowly over sideways on the couch and lay quite still.
Nan ran across and pulled him back on to the pillows, raised his legs and laid them straight. His face was livid with his fever and his heart was pounding. But she saw his nostrils flare as do those of horses when their race is run. He gave the shadow of a smile and closed his eyes.
She stood up, suddenly possessed by a queer, aimless feeling, an emptiness, and utter boredom and impatience. This was an affair of which she was completely tired, and she wished to leave it, to return to her appointed life and to forget it.
She had experienced such reactions at the end of other less excitements—dances, journeys, parties, all departures from her chosen round ; she was glad when they were over and she rid of them. In just such a manner she wished to be rid of this.
The voice that said that no escape could be, she heard with weariness and petulance. She turned and looked at the doorway, a dark arch past the bed with a lank white figure sprawled across the floor beneath it.
At least there was an end to Román. He was dead— finished. The fact brought her no emotion. Evil he had been, carrion he was, in each state equally abhorrent.
But of the rest the end was not yet come, the unwelcome whisper told her. There would never be for her an end to it, the whisper said—but that thought she denied with passion.
Where was Dick? Why hadn’t he called her? There was no shooting in the city now. What had that meant; and what was the explosion that had shaken the house?
Standing beside the injured man who lay so quietly, she heard the sound of a heavy motor nearing fast, and as with a roar it swung into the square she ran across and peered out through the shutter.
The moonlight was intensely brilliant, the square fringed with people who had been attracted by Román’s guards battering on the door. A big truck was swinging round before the house, men clad in white and handling rifles leaping from all sides of it before it stopped.
She saw the hulking Pete Antonichuk run toward them, to recoil and fling his hands up in the face of levelled rifles. White men, the strangers seemed to be, and, save for their weapons, strangely out of key with that grim night and El Taranta. They wore ducks, clean and smart, and neckties; some of them even had white jackets. She heard a familiar voice, and as a second truck roared into sight made out the loose-limbed form of Johnny Tucker, and beside him recognized a foreman from the mine.
Then she understood. These were the white staff from the Jacaranda. There had been a dance there tonight, hence the dapper turnout. This had been Dick’s idea, and
the reason he had wanted money, to enlist their support and go to open warfare with Pedro Román. Tucker had said he had many useful fighting men, and there had been John Warde’s well-provided armory from which to equip them.
SHE RAN hard to the door, turned the key and slammed back the bolts. It opened instantly and Tony Carteret stepped in, clad only in his ragged cotton trousers. He grabbed her by the arm and thrust down an unshaved face whose eyes gleamed fiercely through his lank black hair. “Where is Román?” he demanded. “He came up here.” She nodded toward her bedroom. “In there. He’s dead.” Startled, Carteret’s face thrust closer. “Dead! You mean Román?”
“Yes! Don Baltazar shot him.”
He dropped her arm and ran into the room, as from the street, for the second time that night in their hunt for Román, entered Joaquin and his young companions. Nan followed them into her room.
Joaquin and Carteret were kneeling either side the wounded man. Carteret’s body was as brown as leather, muscled like a race horse; on wrist and ankle still were shackles, with a few links dangling of the chain that had been cut by shooting through it with a high-powered bullet. There was a gun-belt round his hips and he leaned on a rifle as he told Don Baltazar:
“It was Couzens. He got a crowd from the mine to make a feint attack in front, while he brought a truck round behind and blew' the wall down. He got Chiquita. They
had us both out before most of the troops guessed what was happening.”
Joaquin dashed out, running like a deer, to return at once with his sister, still stooped and moving stiffly from her beating, and in a state of pitiful dishevelment. She fell on her knees beside her father and his arms went round her.
Nan stood with her back against the thick carved bedpost, watching.
Since Carteret had released her arm, no one had so much as looked at her, and the sight of the joy of that reunion stabbed her with loneliness.
Where was Dick? Why hadn’t he come in? She wanted him.
Carteret had risen beside the couch, unkempt, half naked, wild-looking as an eagle. Without a glance at her he said to Joaquin: “So far, so good, ligrecito. It may be that the tide has turned. But we must move fast. Strike while the iron is hot. Come on.” He led out of the room.
Nan followed, close behind him. As he walked, his brown back rippled and the loose links made a quiet jingling sound.
He crossed the hall and opened the front door, stood in the gap and called: “Oh, Tucker. Will you come in?”
As he re-entered she heard Joaquin excitedly announcing to the men outside, Román’s death.
Carteret stood by the spiral pillar at the door and she saw he studiously avoided her regard. His manner heightened a suspicion that was growing on her. Something new was in the air, she felt it, something detestable that she did not understand. It reached her from the minds of those
about her, a thing more real and frightening than the trial through which she had just passed.
Tucker came in, saw her and gave a curious strained smile that sealed her apprehensions. As she watched the door for Dick to come she heard Carteret say: “It was done before we got here. Baltazar shot him, heaven alone knows how. Now if I can somehow get this to the army, and—”
Nan, watching eagerly for Dick, heard no more. Her attention passed to what was taking place outside. There was the broken tread of heavy feet, and then the door was pushed wide by a broad, bluepainted wooden plank, borne by half a dozen men. On it, stretched prone and still, lay a big white figure with a red bandana handkerchief across its face.
With parted lips and eyes aghast she whipped round to Carteret and Tucker. “No!” she cried. “No!”
/MARTERET nodded. His voice was deep with feeling and it held ^ as well seme inference that she did not understand: “With two of his men and one of mine,” he told her. “He took a party in to get Chiquita, and da Costa turned a gun on them as they were running clear.”
She stood without moving, as the bearing party with their solemn faces entered. Carteret said to them: “I don’t think perhaps we’d better—well, all right then, take him in for now. That’s his room there, I believe.” And they shuffled through the hall into the room he indicated.
Nan went behind them. A lamp was burning in the room. They laid him on the bed, improvised bier and all, and tiptoed out, six big embarrassed white men from the Jacaranda, gazing at their feet.
She was alone, looking dully at the sky-blue door torn from some native house, and the still white body, its face covered with the red bandana.
The sense of dreaming that had held her through this San Lozadan madness had completely left her now. This was reality, as cold and hard as winter clay.
With a steady hand she removed the handkerchief.
His eyes were closed, his sandy hair a little ruffled; his friendly face was calm, with on the lips the faintest glimmer of the smile she knew so well.
She seemed to hear him saying, so long ago it seemed: “If he can be got, I’ll get him for you. One of us may as well have what he wants.”
A sound man, Dick. You could rely on Dick.
In those few moments, memory of all their time together fled through her consciousness. She knew she had been selfish with him, taken everything he had to give, and given little that she could not spare in payment.
She had not even said “Thanks” or “Good-by,” when he had left to toss his life away in the attempt to win for her, to his great cost, the thing she wanted.
That was all she felt now; that, and a hurt too sharp, a nervous strain too taut for her to cry. She stood like a statue, looking down at him, sensing a vague emptiness ahead that was the future.
She did not hear the door behind her open, nor the pad of bare feet crossing. Only when her arm was touched did she turn to see Chiquita, her dark hair wild about her head, her big eyes liquid in her delicate and oval face beneath the lamp. “I have come to be with you,” she said simply. “Toni sent me.”
Nan nodded without speaking, and the girl stood by her with a look of understanding and compassion. Chiquita put out a slender hand and laid the lightest touch upon Dick's finger. “Que pobre joven hombre!" she said tenderly. “He was carrying me when the bullet struck him. So strong he was, so gentle.”
Nan’s lips began to shake, and then her feelings burst the restraint of her will in an intense low cry: “Oh, Dick !” and she fell on her knees, her face buried in the bed, while her grief poured from her as penned water rushes through a broken barrier.
The slim, dusky girl beside her knelt and drew from where they hung inside the bosom of her ragged dress, a rosary of amber beads. She closed her eyes and commenced to tell them over. They clicked softly through her fingers and her voice intoned prayers in liquid Spanish, sweetest of all tongues on the lips of a woman.
HOW LONG she knelt beside the bed Nan did not know, but she was brought out of her daze of grief by a touch on her shoulder, and raised a dishevelled face to find beside her, Lita. "El señor,” the girl told her, “begs to speak with you.”
She got mechanically to her feet, Chiquita following, and went out to the hall.
Under the lamp, Carteret was speaking to an intent group made up of Joaquin’s five companions and the household servants, fifteen or so Indians of both sexes.
“It must be done before daybreak,” she heard him tell them. “Tomorrow will be too late. You women, go to the soldiers’ women with thé message I have given you. Men, scatter through the city, telling all your people. Do not stay in one place and gossip, but speak and push on. Say that Román is dead, and that if they think you lie, on
the bandstand in the plaza may be seen the proof that you do not. Say that Don Baltazar Ortega killed him, and that he and the son of el señor are back from prison where Roman sent them. Say that we have come to make the country as it was with el señor my father, w'hen the Indians owned their land, when no man worked unpaid, or was hanged or beaten without judgment by the council. Say that if they would have it so. no official of Roman’s must be allowed to leave his house, and before daybreak all roads leading from the country must be blocked with trees. Tell them that if the people will do that, I will do the rest. You have heard me. Go, and with all speed, it will too soon be morning.
For a space the broad bronzed faces stared at him. Then they turned to one another and began to talk, slowly at first but with excitement rising rapidly till in a vociferous group they trooped off down the hall and across the patio.
Carteret said to the five youths remaining:
“It is an unpleasant thing to do, but our only hope. They live in terror of Román, and unless we can end it they will not take action: the Jesu Maria showed us that tonight. But if they are convinced that he is dead, enough will join to give at least a fighting chance. Go out and commandeer a car to take him down. But do not leave till there has been time for the news to draw a crowd into the plaza. I am counting on the press of people to keep Gamio from moving quickly when he finds we have not left the town.”
As they left he turned and saw Nan beside him, her hair awry and her face red with weeping. His manner became restrained and formal. He said: “Please
forgive the intrusion. It could not be avoided. There may be trouble here at any moment, and dispositions must be made.”
She sensed the effort which it cost him to maintain his poise. His eyes belied it; they were quick with emotion. They were narrowed, too, holding a glint which seemed as though it might at any instant flare to anger. She had seen them so twice before; on the morning when he met her father, and then again two days ago when he had faced Roman.
He went on: “It will be better if you leave the country. This house happens to belong to me and I shall take possession. In any case, it may soon be most unsafe. Don Baltazar is being moved to the Jacaranda hospital. You will go with the party. Mr. Tucker will accommodate you tonight, and has been kind enough to promise that a plane to take you up to Mexico will be ready in the morning.”
SHE COULD understand his having reservations with regard to her. It could not be denied that she was responsible for all the ill luck he had met since she had come to El Taranta. He could not but believe that she deliberately had brought about Chiquita’s capture, and so forced the sequence of events that had ended thus disastrously. But for her advent, he would have been left at leisure to perfect his plans for Román’s downfall; and she realized that the living down of this unpalatable fact was a burden which she must accept.
But she was 'conscious of between them now a different estrangement, deeper even than was justified by that, and which was, she felt, the reason for the new and chilling tension she had felt when he came in.
He went on: “Tucker has promised also to relieve me of a duty which, but for obligations I cannot avoid, I should count my own,” and his eyes went to the room where Dick lay, cold and still and smiling gently.
And then she knew what was this latest bitterness. Between those two had been a primitive attraction which both had recognized at sight and which had become a vital thing between them. He believed still that, even after she had learned the truth, like her father, she had stood beside Román against himself and the Ortegas. He knew that Dick would be opposed to
her in this, and so thought that his rescue had been prompted solely by the loyalty of man to man. Thus he held her guilty of the death of one whom he had come to count a friend in the best sense of the term: and she had learned from Baltazar Ortega what the word friendship meant to him.
It was as though he had struck her, and the shock left her frigid, showing him a face grown older and eyes hard and cold. Her hurt w'as the greater for the fact that he had grounds for forming such opinion.
He bowed to her slightly, turning to Chiquita: “You will go with your father, ‘Quita. It will be best for all of us. He needs you. You will be safe at the mine, and I promise I will send you word of how things go. Come now, we must hurry.”
He led through the doorway to the head of the steps. By now a considerable crowd had gathered in the moonlight round the two trucks and the white-clad fellows from the Jacaranda, who were leaning on their rifles, talking quietly.
This crew of skilled mine workers were a mixed assembly of Americans, English, Germans, Swedes, men mostly blonde and of the type called ne’er-do-well, because they seek for color in their lives and find security synonymous with boredom. They made a compact gathering just below the semicircular three steps, a party of them holding, disarmed in the angle, Pete Antonichuk and the rest of Roman’s bodyguard.
Them Carteret addressed with quiet deference, standing on the top step in the pallid light, his naked torso black against the fretted stonework of the grand old doorway. “Gentlemen,” he called, his deep voice vibrant with a warmth whose contrast to the tone which he had used to Nan brought to her throat a lump and scalding tears into her eyes.
Their conversation ceased and they looked up with mingled interest and uncertainty. They were laboring fellows, mechanics, drillers, electricians, men neither gently bred nor subsequently cultured. The terms of address familiar to them were, “Hey, you!” “Youse guys!’ or “Fellas!”
But this wild man whom they had just sprung from the local coop had called them “Gentlemen,” and, more than the word itself, the way he spoke it brought a strange and gratifying sense of dignity.
He said: “You have heard, I think, that Roman was killed before we got here, by Don Baltazar Ortega. In case you should call that murder, let me say that Roman shot my father in cold blood, for no cause but that he was the rightful owner of the Jacaranda.”
A RUMBLE of indignant comment rose, to die as he went on: “For what you have done for me, no words could serve for thanks, but I hope if my luck holds to be able before long to prove my gratitude. Meanwhile I beg to be excused. I have much to do if tonight is to bear fruit.”
A brawny driller spoke up quickly: “You’d ha’ done as much yourself for anyone. Couzens told us what sort you are. And we’re not quittin’ now. I can speak for the whole gang. We’ve started an’ we’re goin’ to see you through.”
A chorus of approval followed, but Carteret shook his head.
“Thank you more than I can say. But this has cost too much already. I asked you to bring me to this house because it seemed the only chance to save my friend. More than that I am determined not to take of you. I and the people here must work out our destiny. I can accept no further sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice, horsefeathers ! We done it for fun. I been bored bughouse ever since I quit the leathernecks, chasin’ Sandino down in Nicaragua. I know spig-fightin’, buddy, and so do a dozen other of these guys. We’re in. Now where do we go from here?”
Carteret laughed. “Thank you,” he said. “I must confess you tempt me.” But
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he shook his head decisively. “Forgive me if I seem ungrateful, but I have made up my mind. Already four lives have been lost which had no interest in the quarrel. I refuse to risk any more. This must remain a private fight, my friends. If you please, I ask it of you. And now, till I may be free to renew our acquaintance, I beg to be excused.”
As they turned to one another with an outburst of disgruntled comment, he left them, came into the hall and fell to talking earnestly to Joaquin of his plans of action.
While he was thus absorbed, Tucker entered with a half dozen men, who carried out the couch with Don Baltazar upon it and Chiquita hovering anxiously behind them. Lita went in and out of the door with bundles which Nan recognized as her own effects. Carteret must have ordered that; she had observed before that he had a flair for detail.
He was absorbed with Joaquin when the bearing party went into Dick’s room, but as they came out with their load he saw them and abruptly ran across. To a man at the head he said: “If you please, I
should appreciate that honor.”
“Why, sure. Sure, chum,” replied the Cockney, and Carteret slipped into his place. They went slowly down the hall, through the soft radiance of the lantern and out past the carved, bolt-studded door.
Nan stood without moving, watching what went on with eyes that showed the hurt, the anger and the protest that was rampant in her, till young Joaquin came and said, with that courtesy which sat so well upon his youth and picturesque dishevelment: “Toni has told me that we shall not see you any more. Good-by, señorita. Accept our thanks for your kindness to our father.”
She put out her hand. “Good-by, Joaquin. And good luck.”
He shook her hand, glanced at her shyly and then raised it to his lips. She did not know what prompted such a gesture and it did not comfort her. Since the day Carteret had come to San Francisco, she had met a slow crescendo of adversity which now had reached this hope-annihilating climax. All she had cared for in her life up till that moment had been blotted out; and the future was a vague, grey emptiness.
She went after what remained of Dick, out of the house and down the steps to where the men were clambering on board the trucks. Carteret was with them, exchanging cordial salutations. Two of his San Lozadans had relieved the miners guarding the captured men. He saw her and came across.
“Everything is ready now,” he told her. “Your things are in, your girl is with them. Good-by. I hope you have a pleasant trip to a less exacting destination.” He did not offer to shake hands.
“Thank you,” she replied. “I am sure I shall. May I wish you all success. You may rely upon me to do my share toward your rehabilitation.”
He made no reply to that, but bowed her toward the driver’s cab. “No,” she said, “I wish to ride with—with—”
His response was quick, and his voice was not so cold. “Of course. This way. The other truck. Let me help you.”
She sat on the dirty boards beside the still white figure, with the feet and rifle butts surrounding her of the men ranged round the sides. The truck bumped and rumbled over the suburban streets by which they circled, so as to reach the mine without risk of obstruction in the city.
NAN WAS pacing to and fro in Johnny’s bedroom, which he had insisted on relinquishing to her. Chiquita had gone to the hospital to be with her father. Dick lay in the armory at the mine-head just
close by; she had sat with him till Johnny came and begged that she would leave and rest. That had been hours ago, but she still paced to and fro between the whitewashed walls.
The room was stone-floored and bare, with a small bed shrouded in mosquito netting, a plain oak dressing table with a man’s meagre toilet things, a couple of trunks against the wall, boots in a row on a rack. There was a nickel-plated lamp on a wicker table, about which moths and beetles pinged and circled. Down in the city rose and fell the sound of fighting.
Out of the suffering of her heart was being born a new reaction, an impulse of which the woman that she was three months ago had not been capable. It was a product of the fact that she was John Warde’s daughter, combined with her life as she had known it till his death and all1 she had experienced since then.
It was revolt, the rearing of the instinct of self-preservation, to oppose a profound sense of outrage and injustice. She would, this new voice insisted, not be spiritually destroyed either by her own misfortunes or the aftermath of her father’s piracies. She would go on and make life good in spite of any such negation. It was such a mood as, following not dissimilar experiences, had changed John Warde, a debonair and friendly mining fellow, into a ruthless buccaneer.
Her brain began to work with method and with clarity. Tomorrow, she was to leave San Lozada for all time, and then she would at once give battle to these malignant circumstances. She would begin with the transfer to Carteret and Baltazar Ortega of her interest in the Jacaranda. She would include a million dollars cash to boot. It was their due, and as well the sum of her responsibility toward them. That for the material problem. As for the moral: she would from now on relinquish all quixotic sentiment. She was not answerable for her father’s sins. They were his and he was dead. She was herself and answerable for herself alone. The gift to Carteret and the Ortegas she would make, not because she felt she should but because she wished—a different matter. And after that she would forget San Lozada, the Jacaranda mine and Tony Carteret.
She looked at her watch. Three o’clock. The night would soon be over. Outside the tree frogs and cicadas shrilled, and she could hear the distant rumble of the stamp mills at the mine that never stopped. She must face one more ordeal, an awful one, the thought of which twisted her heart. This was the tropics, with the conditions they imposed. Johnny had said Dick must be buried as soon as it was day. Dick, as much a part of life as her right hand, and whom yet she knew she had not loved as a woman loves a mate. Life without Dick! The thought was a wound. But they were to bury him tomorrow.
She had arranged to leave immediately afterward. Why should she stay? She wished to be done and to forget. The object of her life from now on would be to achieve that end.
Her feet ached from pacing in thin slippers on the hard stone floor. She lifted the mosquito net, kicked off her shoes and lay down as she was, with dry eyes staring at the white net close above her, with its sprinkling of dead flies, moths and bits of fallen plaster. From the city underneath the hill came intermittently the sound of fighting . . .
WHEN LITA came at dawn she had not slept and she was not tired. She was burning to be done with San Lozada and to take a new hold on life. Moving with controlled deliberation, she took a cold sponge, groomed herself with care and
donned crisp tea-colored linen. She was not of those who believe in mourning garb.
Johnny, at his unpretentious breakfast table, met a taut restraint, against which his blundering efforts to make conversation broke uncomfortably. She felt sorry for him, but she could not meet him. He faced a very different looking person from the one whom Dick three weeks ago had brought into the Yacoo office. She had looked then a fresh and cheerful, inexperienced young woman. Now her face had subtly changed. The stress of the past days had tempered it, sharpened the easy curves and drawn the flesh down closer to the bones. In one whose looks are those of youth alone, this means their finish. But there is a beauty that is of the features, not dependent on the bloom of youth, its smooth flesh and its coloring, but inherent in the structure of the skull itself, the settling of the flesh on which seems only to more strongly mold the countenance. The eyes become deeper set, the mouth more firm, the cheek and jaws more sure in outline, and less susceptible to change of every sort. The past weeks’ travail had refined Nan’s immaturity to something stronger, keener, far more to be desired.
This unfamiliar person with her strange new remoteness, the guileless Johnny faced with awe and some misgivings.
As soon as the mockery of a meal was done, they drove to meet the funeral cortège on the hill behind the hospital.
Not a few men had died up at the mine since old Antony Carteret found beneath a jacaranda tree the first signs of the wealth it hid. Their resting-place had been hacked from the forest, an oblong area beside the red dirt road that wound into the hills beyond. The first graves were already smothered by encroaching jungle, as the forest inexorably marched back to claim its own. At the nearer end, as yet quite trimly kept, Nan stood beside the four slots in the red-brown earth which relays of men had worked all night to dig.
The entire white staff of the mine was gathered, hushed and embarrassed, about the hastily built coffins laid on ox-carts. The forest stood about them in dense, tall green walls, with here and there a tufted palm rising above the main mass of the vegetation.
Though only just clear of the trees, the sun was hot; its rays seemed to press the shoulders, and distilled from the dank vegetation odors partly fragrant, partly corrupt.
A parson lacking, Tucker, most unhappy, read the service. His words came to Nan as from far away: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust ...”
They were still in her ears when the car, with Nan, Johnny and Chiquita, swung crackling off the road, crossed the dusty landing field and pulled up by the waiting airplane. It was the same blue-and-red amphibian she had flown in twice before, poised with that dainty look of imminent departure which marks all airplanes at rest. Hank Symonds slouched across and touched his cap: “Your stuff’s all in,
Miss Warde. Any time you say.”
Nan stood up but she did not get out. Instead, she looked across the splendid mountain basin that held El Taranta. The ’drome stood well back on the hill, and so she could not see the fine old city that the conquering Spaniard built. But she saw the pleasant cultivated lands beyond it, and the hills that rolled, green, blue and amethyst, to the bare range at the back. The white fang of Penjaro stood like crystal up against the morning sky, and from the unseen city reached her, faint but clear, the crackling sound of rifle fire.
She got out of the car and walked to the airplane, Johnny and Chiquita following in silence. She held out her hand to the girl. "Adios, Chiquita. The bad days are over for you now. I hope you will be very happy.”
The brown eyes met hers gravely: 4 Adios. You have been kind to us and I give you thanks. I shall pray every night that we may all be happy.”
She shook hands with Tucker. “Good-
by, Johnny. Thank you for everything.”
Johnny blushed and inarticulately pumped her hand.
TNRY-EYED and self-contained, she climbed up to the cabin and took her place in one of the upholstered seats behind the pilot. The door slammed. Symonds looked round, she nodded and the engine thundered into life.
And that was the end for her of San Lozada. She looked down at the city sliding into sight from underneath the hill. Even so early in the day, the signs of unusual happenings were obvious. The plaza was black with people. The government square was empty, but the streets approaching it were crammed, save for those enfiladed from the west end of the barracks. That must be where the fighting was. From the burning jail a plume of smoke rolled down the wind.
For a few moments she gazed downward. Then she settled resolutely back into her seat. In four days she would be at home, and the twinge that came to think how strange and empty it would be she smothered with a desperate determination.
That which was past was done, ended, finished. She would not be shackled to it. She knew that for a time her life could have no savor. Somewhere she had read that work and time were the proved assuagers of human grief. Well, she would crowd her days with the one until the other should have worked its balm.
First, there would be the business to attend to. That would not take long, and then she would make extensive explorations into life. Of what use to be rich and young, if the world could not be made to pay her tribute.'* San Lozada had been but an interlude, a sickness, an infliction of the law that the fathers’ sins are visited upon the children. It was behind her, fading into the limbo of things past and done with.
Her father she had lost, and Dick. Them she had loved, each in a separate fashion. Carteret had never been, except as a swift, frightening apparition in a lurid dream. They had all left her lonely. Well, so she would live; and for all her losses she would make life good. Her will alone should rule, and her desires. Till now they had been secondary to a dozen sentiments. She would crowd her life with’ new delights, with things seen, known and done from which devotion to her father had till now debarred her. She would travel wide and far, and to strange places.
And when she tired of idling, there would be work and sport. She would enter the “Spanish” riding school at Vienna and acquire the old-world hante école; she would take a course in medieval art at some Italian university; she would resume work with her voice, which was first -rate and in a less wealthy person might have meant a sound career. And she would ski in Norway, the home of the art; she would fish for salmon in the lovely Irish valleys; she would go to ride in England, not daintily along a bridle path on a Kentucky five-gaited hack, but hard and dangerously.
And there would be men. She knew her value and was sure of that. There were as good fish in the sea as ever had been caught in it, and she would make them pay her homage like the fools they were. She was a favored person and she knew it, free as the air and with the whole world spread for her delight. A pity if she could not make it good.
A half-hour had passed in such mental fortifying of herself, when Symonds turned in his seat in front and pointed downward with a grin. Then he made swimming motions with his arms.
She looked below and saw a great lake of a strange electric blue translucency, its inlets veining the surrounding hills. One offshoot, straight beneath, drew out to a black wedge in the green of jungle, and she realized it was the reed bed she had fired three days ago when she escaped from Carteret, and that she was above Tonantzin’s sanctuary. She could make out the outline of the amphitheatre by the cedars.
green against the fawn and grey rocks that enclosed it.
She thought of it objectively, as from far away, like something fascinating, once seen at a show or read about.
A strange, secret place, haunted by omens, and presences unseen but vital. Would she find ever any stranger or of more profound significance? She had known strange things there, portentous, moving happenings.
WITH UNCANNY vividness the feeling of the place came back to her; the intense quiet and baking heat, the incense of wood smoke and cedar, the sense of solitude and time suspended, the ring of a dropped knife through the silence. Came back to her the hush of night in the grey stone hut, with the scents mingling of sweet-clay water ollas and the fruit ylangylang, with the bright blanket for her only door and the bed of sheepskins and vicuna wool whereinto she had sunk to such exquisite rest.
And she recalled the sense of sanctuary, the mysterious and perfect peace that she had found that night, together with a strange new thrill that ravished her.
So deep was the abstraction into which she thus was drawn that when a heavy airbump ended it she was surprised to see again the cockpit, with its little windows framed by metal struts, the worn blue leather of the empty seat beside her and Hank lounging at his work in front. The contrast between these and the things with which her mind had been preoccupied offended her, and she closed her eyes and lay back to recapture the delight that for a little time had been vouchsafed . . .
Something was happening to her, something she tried in vain to stop. There was a pressure at her heart that seemed to grow and grow till in spite of her it reached her throat and began to choke her. It had followed on the upsurge of a truth that she had known but had fought to nullify.
She knew why she had felt safe in that eerie place, alone with two strange Indians and a bandit. She knew what had caused the singing at her heart as she lay in the dark and listened to the silence. Dick, with a lover’s insight, had been sure of it before they had left San Francisco. For all her bitter efforts to deny it, the singing at her heart began again whenever her thoughts turned to Tony Carteret.
Her deepest instincts whispered that, whatever splendors and success the years might bring, they would be pale beside the happiness of merely being close to him. And she was leaving him behind for ever.
It came to her that she was doing what John Warde had done, bowing to failure and to hide the fact advancing with the sound of drums to easier but shameful triumphs. Failure to master life in honorable ways had driven him to brigandage, and worse; failure to face the onus of his legacy to her was sending her from what she loved to drown her lack of faith in sensuality.
The lump in her throat appeared to burst, flooding her body with a poignant warmth. Her bosom heaved and two big tears rolled down her cheeks . . .
Life had all at once become ridiculously simple; there was duty to be done and a light to guide her in her labors. The duty was to serve where John Warde and his crew had plundered, and the light that of the enduring passion which she knew she had for Tony Carteret.
She dried her eyes and repaired her ravaged countenance. Then she leaned and tapped Hank Symonds on the shoulder. When he turned she signalled him— round, back and down.
He stared in surprise, then, seeing that she was in earnest, banked around and set the nose for El Taranta.
IN HALF an hour they had boomed back across the city, every detail distinct in the morning sun. Judged by the crowd, there did not seem to be much change since they had crossed before. Symonds wheeled in above the mine and put the plane down
lightly as a bird. When he cut the gun and turned to her she said: “I’m sorry, but there’s something that I must attend to. I shan’t be going up to Mexico after all.”
“Okay by me, Miss Warde. I picks her up and I sets her down, that’s all I’m paid for,” and Hank grinned at her.
She climbed down from the plane and walked across the landing ground. It had been levelled with dumped tailings from the mine, crushed rock and gravel, from which rose heat waves, baking her face and setting everything a-quiver to her eyes. There was a dreary looking hangar with the wind-sock drooping over it, at the far end banana brakes with the green hill beyond. As she headed for the road, a vulture glided close above on hissing wings, set for the city. There were others, as there had been since daylight, sailing magnificently in from all directions, toward the feasting that their instinct promised. But neither sun, nor dust, nor carrion birds could stop the singing at her heart.
Tucker had seen the plane return, and as she reached the road his car came up the hill. He pulled up beside her with a jerk and before he could speak she said: “I’ve changed my mind. I’m staying.” She got in and slammed the door: “Please take me to your place. I want to talk. What is the news from down below?”
“There’s a scrap on. Part of the army has joined the rebels, and de Marquina and some of Roman’s toughs have held the rest. They’re having it out in the west end of the city. I believe there’s fighting" too, at the barriers on the roads—the civilians are all solid for the rebels and they had ’em blocked with trees by daylight. All quiet this end, of course. Nothing here but the mestizo quarter and the mine.”
They climbed the steps to his verandah and sat down. He looked at her enquiringly. She said:
“Please do what I ask and don’t try to argue. If you won’t, I’ll have to do it for myself. I’m going back to the house, and I’ll need men with me in case there’s trouble. There’s that fellow who said he’d been in the Marines. Get him and half a dozen others. Tell them I’ll make it worth their while.”
“But, Miss Warde, I simply couldn’t let
She stood up: “I understand. I’ll see to it myself.”
He threw up his hands. “All right. I quit.”
“Thanks, Johnny. And please call me Nan. From now on you’re going to see lots of me.”
He looked at her, started to speak but changed his mind. Then he said, practically: “I believe that girl of yours is still with my servants. Better take her along.”
“Oh, yes. That will be splendid.”
Then he was gone, and she was alone on the verandah, looking out across the city. From the barracks came the intermittent crack of rifles. The streets covered by their fire were empty, but the plaza and the central avenues were black with crowds. Above the jail, the plume of smoke climbed lazily. She sat and watched, detached and quite content, till Johnny came with Marty Connors and a half dozen men, grinning at the unexpected change from working in the mine.
She explained her plans and what she wanted of them. Marty, by virtue of his sergeant’s service their acknowledged leader, accepted for the lot:
“Cando, miss! We understand. You’ll be all right once we get there. I’ve been listening to my crews jabbering. There ain’t nothing else but him been talked about since it came out who he is, and they seem cocksure that he’s the berries. That house was his old man’s; whatever else they do they’ll leave it for him. We’ll go wide to miss the ruckus and head in when we’re clear.”
They started in two cars, Nan beside Connors in the first with three men behind them, and Lita with the rest in the other. They had rifles hidden on the floor beneath their feet.
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"YES SIR, I'LL DO THE WHOLE JOB"...It's the smiling chap in the Imperial uniform
speaking. He's talking about that Spring change-over job every motorist has to have done sometime, somewhere. New, clean, Summer oil and grease for old, thin, dirty Winter stuff. Have you bad YOUR car put in tune with Spring, yet?
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CIRCLING wide to keep clear of the city, their drive through the mestizo's quarter was quite uneventful. The little streets of thatched huts, bowered in plantains, palms and flowering shrubs, were devoid of men, and the children and the saddle-colored women eyed them curiously. But when they turned and drew near to the city, the sound of rifle fire grew plain and, as well, a steady murmur that she came to realize was the distant tumult of a mob.
The street by which they planned to reach the square was choked with Indians, pouring down it in a solid stream, intent upon some common purpose. They were in a state of wild excitement, a horde of short bronzed figures with bare, urgent feet, their faces wet with sweat, eyes rolling and teeth white as they vociferated.
She had turned to speak to Connors when she saw his eyes go wide: “Saay! Looka that, will you?” he breathed.
From up the street, deep in the stream of natives, came one of their disc-wheeled carts yoked to two white oxen. On it was rigged a pole, straight up, with a box below to make a seat, and on the box, tied by the neck to keep him upright, sat Pedro Roman. His head lolled drunkenly, crowned in derision by a jasmine wreath. Behind his ear was a red hibiscus and on his breast a chain of frangipanni blossoms; he was waist-deep in flowers.
Around the cart the Indians danced, yelling frenziedly. She realized that they were drunk, and saw that many carried obvious loot. One of them saw the cars, dashed a few steps toward them, brandishing a closed green silk sunshade, obviously plundered from a shop. His eyes stared and there was foam on his lips. It was Ignacio. He screamed out something that she could not catch, then turned and plunged into the crowd behind the cart.
Nan was not afraid or horrified. It was all of a part with San Lozada as she had come to know it, and to which she had returned in a spirit of complete acceptance. Whatever she found here must be equably endured or dealt with.
Connors said: “Better back up and try it by the back. They’re crazy with the hooch. Something’s liable to happen when a mob’s as wild as that.”
They wound through narrow empty streets to therear of the house, in a steep lane paved with cobbles. There was a high white wall devoid of windows, with red tiled eaves and a big arched door with a bell-pull on an iron bracket.
They got out and Nan rang the bell. No one replied, and she was about to ring again when she noticed that the door was not completely shut. It gave to her hand and with a shove she sent it open. There was a small untidy court, with the dark servants’ passage leading from it to the patio beyond, gay with its flowers, tranquil and empty in the morning sunshine.
Connors said: “Seems like she’s empty, miss.”
They went in and crossed the patio to the now familiar hall. They called and no one answered. She beckoned Connors and led to her room. It was just as she had left it, save that the pink settee had gone. Outside in the square the crowd roared like an angry sea. She opened a shutter and looked out.
The square, and the side streets as far as they could follow them, were jammed with frenzied Indians. The ox-cart now had reached the beautiful stone colonnade before the garden of the bishop’s palace. There were two men astride the centre arch, who with the eager aid of those below were hanging Roman up by his neck.
Opposite the house, the wide steps of the church were packed with Indians, battering the doors. These proving staunch, a human pyramid had been formed against the wall a little to one side, and as they watched, a man with a machete started hacking at the lovely stained-glass window.
At this the church door opened and out
stepped the white-haired bishop, holding a big brass crucifix before him. An instant rush of natives swarmed around him, and as an eddy follows a big fish across a pool, a swirl of yelling Indians began to travel through the mob toward the arch where Roman’s body dangled. In its centre showed the white head of Eusebio Montara.
When he reached the arch someone tossed to the men on top a scarlet sash, and among the seething crowd below she saw the white head gleam against the tightening scarlet.
Connors pulled her back and slammed shut the shutter. “Better not watch. Then you won’t have to forget. We can’t do nothing. I seen mobs before. It’s like a woman with hy-sterics, she has to get ’em off her chest. Nothing won’t stop her. Come back away from there and don’t be thinkin’ of it.”
SHE KNEW that he was right. But she knew also things which he did not. She recalled the words of Carteret, spoken as they stood before Tonantzin’s statue: “What’s four hundred years in the life of a people? That old girl’s been there four thousand, and they put her up.”
The church of La Virgen Purísima had been built from the material of Tonantzin’s shrine that Alvarado’s monks demolished. The vine whose crimson plumes hung down the fretted stone had been the old god’s emblem of eternal life. Four hundred years had passed, for much of which the fear of death had not availed to stop an enslaved people’s offerings within the structure formed of what their race held sacred. Now at the end of two decades of savage despotism, looted whisky and the mob hysteria of a childlike race had brewed this debauch of blind reprisal.
She thought of Carteret and knew what he would feel. He would not wish the fruit of his return to be a saturnalia. So, she thought wistfully, does man betray the spirit, and the cold truth affront romance. But in the hills, where Indians lived still in their old-time fashion, before Tonantzin’s statue there might be today what he had visualized—songs of joy, and gold and feather robes and turquoises, heaped up in thankfulness.
She walked slowly back to the patio and said to Connors; “There will be nothing to be done till this is over. There are lots of rooms, make yourselves comfortable. The servants will come back some time, I imagine; meanwhile ask my girl to try and find some food for you.” “Sure, miss. We’ll be okay. And if anyone rings the bell or anything, let a couple of us go.”
She left him and went to the library, which, opening from the patio, was away from the front of the house. There she began to pace again from end to end of the book-lined chamber.
She was not thinking much. She did not know what she intended doing, nor hazard what might be the outcome. She only knew she followed her profoundest instincts, and with that she was content.
She realized that she was very tired, but did not fancy lying in her room, so near to the frenzied crowd whose roaring went on like the roaring of a rapid. She took a volume of the Carterets’ old Shakespeare and lay on the lounge beside the empty fireplace.
Her mind was curiously clear and unperturbed, because her determination was so simple; she found that she could read without distraction and did so till her lids grew heavy. Her hands dropped with the book and presently she was asleep.
She awoke to the long room banked with books, with its fat nymphs and pureemouthed cherubs painted on the ceiling and the far wall pierced with arches leading through the portico to the sunny court beyond. She looked at her watch. She had slept five hours. Then she realized the tumult of the crowd had given place to silence. She went out to the patio. It was
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Continued from page 41
hushed and empty, filled with noonday sun and blazing with flowers. An emerald humming bird came to a trumpet vine six inches from her face and probed a blossom, its wings purring strongly in her ear. As she went through the hall to her own room, her footsteps echoed from the ancient walls. Opening a shutter, she looked out into the square.
SAVE FOR a score or so of Indians sprawled here and there dead drunk, and the litter shed by the frenzied mob, it was empty. Before the church smoldered what remained of a great fire of pews, books, screens and altar, anything that could be moved and burned. It was now a heap of embers from which rose a column of blue smoke, smooth and gently wavering in the tranquil air. From the arch, beside Pedro Roman, four other bodies dangled, those of the old bishop and three of his priests, and from head to foot the corpses were assailed by kites and vultures. They were five long swinging masses of blue-black or dark-brown wings that flogged the air, as the birds with wails and ghoulish croakings fought for hold by beak or claw. The ridge of the whole fine colonnade was lined with sitting scavengers of either sort, shoulder to shoulder, and the air was thick with others, wheeling endlessly in interlocking circles about what they hoped to reach.
With the slaking of their frenzy, fear had come upon the people. Except for such a flash of passion as had wrought this crime, the habit of four hundred years of servitude is not broken in a day. Their liquor and their fury waning, every Indian who could move had fled in panic from the sight of that for which he might be held responsible.
She closed the shutter and returned to the patio; rang to see if there were any servants. Lita answered.
Nan said : “Are any of the mozos back?” “Si, señorita. Some are here. There is Ignacio. He is drunk, and afraid.”
“What is the news from the city?”
“There is no more fighting. El colonel Gamio is dead, el colonel de Marquina a prisoner. El señor is with the soldiers in the plaza. Men say the old days are back and that the Indians will have their farms again; and that el señor will live here and sit with the council as his father did before him.”
“Get me a meal, and see that the caballeros from the mine are fed, and well.” There was nothing to be done. She did not know what next she might expect, and was content to wait and see. The matter would move on, and what would be the end only time could reveal. The thing she was determined on was to create for herself no more regrets.
The sultry tropic afternoon drowsed by without event. She took a siesta, through which she contrived to sleep, if fitfully, and dawdled in a bath which she had for once succeeded in obtaining really hot. Then she sat with tea and a cigarette in the little boudoir, with the table still awry beneath the window where Roman had carried it when she had trapped him.
She was conscious that the feeling of the house had subtly changed, and knew this was because his baleful presence was no longer imminent. The utterance by Lita of the truth that Carteret was to live there, had made her for the first time truly conscious of that fact.
What would the house be like when he was master? She had seen something of his taste, in the hut he had prepared for her up in the mountains—the thought of it made her heart turn over. This house, when it was his! She could picture it. There would be time-mellowed things that suited it, and hospitality, and contented servants; there would be many books, and music—songs such as he had sung in San Francisco, and as well the slow, sweet songs of Spain. Don Baltazar Ortega would be a constant guest, and Joaquin, and Chiquita . . .
That thought touched her on the quick, and she was roused from apprehensive contemplation of it by the ringing of the doorbell.
CHE RAN through to her window and ^ looked out. A car was driving off. On either side the door stood guard a small brown soldier with fixed bayonet; the balance of a company were in the act of lying down to take their ease in the shadow of the bishop’s garden.
She went out to the hall, and heard men’s voices in the patio. She went to see, and there was Carteret, talking to Marty Connors and his men. His back was toward her and she quickly signed to Connors that she wanted him to leave them.
Connors rose to the occasion nobly. He said to Carteret: “There’s a lady wants you, mister,” and with his eyes he gathered up his men as does a hostess women at a dinner table.
As Carteret turned and saw her there, they trooped off to their rooms. He was just as she had seen him last, save that the shackles had been cut from wrist and ankle. His feet were thick with dust, his bare shoulders powdered with it. There was a wound of some sort on his upper arm, and the blood had trickled down and dried. His heavy beard, together with his eyes, deep-sunk with weariness, that peered through his uncombed black hair, gave him an uncouth and feral look.
He gazed at her erect and gracious figure, groomed and cool in her fawn linen, her hair a shining casque about her head and her new comprehensions lighting up her features’ new maturity. Thus, face to face, alone, they had met first, three months ago at home in San Francisco.
“Oh! You!” he said dully. “I came here to get some sleep.”
“I came back because I had to. There’s work here for me to do as well as you. What you think about me isn’t true. None of it is, and I’ve got to make you see it.”
He passed a weary hand across his face. “What does it matter? What’s any of it matter? Everything’s rotten anyway.”
He sank down on the footrest of a cane reclining chair, leaned his elbows on his knees and stared before him. His was the hopelessness of one who has lived for ten years solely for and by a vision, and finds that vision gone. Whether it ends by success or by failure does not matter then; the lodestar is out and the world is black.
He motioned with his head toward the square. “I suppose you think that’s what I wanted? Brutes! Old Eusebio wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
He put his face down in his hands and sat there motionless, and she stood looking at him, wrung with pity.
Then she swiftly went across and slid into the chair behind him, but he made no sign whatever that he was aware of it.
She put her arm about his naked shoulders. where the sweat had washed the dust away, as brown as old mahogany, and pulled him round toward her.
He looked up; his eyes, deep, blue, unutterably tired, searched with surprise and wonder the calm grey of hers. She slid her fingers through his hair caressingly. “There,” she said. “There! You’re only tired. It’s all over now.”
His head sank down until his face was in her lap. There was no passion in him, only weariness and the need for succour.
She bent down close above his head and whispered: “You know why I came back, don’t you?”
He gave no sign. She said: “You do know. You nearly said it once, up there in the mountains.”
He nodded, and suddenly his corded arms slid round her waist and clung there tightly. She sat quite still, save for the hand that stroked his head, and by and by she felt his shoulders heave. With a sigh he relaxed completely and drew up closer to her as a child might do.