THE BIG NIGHT down at Benny’s “Galleon of Panama” café comes twice a month, when the Black Line boat from San Francisco to New York ties up at Balboa.
The touts had steered in a splendid haul of customers that evening, mostly tourists, eager to taste the glamour which the Black Line’s highly tinted literature had promised them. They sat at tables drinking, or else danced with gaudy gold diggers whom Benny brought from northern cities on six months contracts, trying to feel wicked in a dance hall just like hundreds they had known at home.
At the inner end of Benny’s is a long bar, which this night was fully lined, mostly with men. The other end is open to the street, and sheds its light across the sidewalk where the local, saddle-colored people walk.
Toward half past ten, out of this throng appeared a girl, who halted and stood peering in. The contrast her appearance made with that of Benny’s hostesses was notable. She wore a plain, white, short-sleeved dress, no stockings and white high-heeled shoes. She was small featured. Her curls were brown and tight, cropped at the back but longer on the crown, giving her a quality of boyishness. You could have called her beautiful.
She asked a question of the doorman, who sent her to Benny, and the Greek waved her impatiently toward the bar.
Neither Benny nor any drinker there doubted the nature of her business. Only one sort of girl came to the “Galleon of Panama” alone. The third mate of a fruit boat said, “Here comes a new line for this honkatonk, the lonely-little-sister act. I’ve seen ’em work that one at home, but not down here. It ought to click.”
When the girl reached the bar, she eyed the rank of men enquiringly. She was not bashful and she spoke with confidence. “Would someone tell me which is Mr. Driscoll, please?”
Propped up a few yards down there was a tall, bronzed fellow in a soiled white suit badly the worse for wear. His face was lean his frame was hard-knit and his blue eyes, although sombre and deep-set, were keen. He gazed before him with a manner of sardonic tolerance, the air of one who has investigated most things and has found them void.
With no more than a glance her way, he said, "I’m Driscoll but you’re wasting time. I’ve dropped the stake I had upstairs.” “Upstairs,” meant Benny’s gambling room.
He returned to his brooding. But then suddenly he turned on her. “But how did you know that I had that cash?”
The girl maintained her poise. “I’m not concerned with that. Mr. Oswald of the consul’s office told me you had come to town. I’d like to talk to you.”
Ladies in Benny’s place who liked to talk to dead-broke men were rarities, and Driscoll showed some curiosity.
“What did he say about me that could interest you, except I’d come back with a roll of cash?”
“He said you were an expert on the mountains down in South America."
The dark man cocked a thick black brow. “He did? Those boys should take me on their staff if they think I’m as good as that.”
The girl looked at the grinning men on either side of him. “Couldn’t we go and sit somewhere? Look, there’s an empty table. Get it! Quick!” She darted to secure the place.
The dark man did not move and for a moment it seemed that he might refuse to go. Then lazily he followed and sat down, to give her a deliberate scrutiny. And then he said, “Good lord! You’re just a kid. Oswald needs kicking, letting you come in here.”
“He didn’t. He promised he would find you in the morning, but l couldn’t wait. He said you were a—wandering sort of person and I was afraid you'd leave. This thing is so important that I couldn’t risk that, so I came to find you on my own, at once. It ’s true you know a lot about the Andes?” she asked anxiously.
“I was born and brought up in them and I've been in since then, on and off.”
“You didn’t meet a mining engineer, called Saltmarsh, down there, some time in the last three years?”
“Can’t say I did. The coast is full of mining men.”
Her face fell. “Well then, Boriador. I want to learn about Boriador—”
A negro waiter came up and addressed him in a tone in keeping with the news he brought. “Barman he ask the boss and he says you don’t get no cuff.”
“Does that mean that you gambled all you had?” she asked.
“I had a hunch, and I’ve won thousands when I felt like that. This time it didn’t work, that’s all,” he said defensively.
The waiter loomed above them with significance, and she ordered drinks. “And see they’re cold.”
The dark man looked rebellious as she asked, “I wonder if you’d talk about Boriador? Tell me what sort of place it is, about the people, anything. I have to go down there and do some business.”
Disgruntled still at his exposure, he said. “Tell me what sort of business, then I’ll know what interests you.”
“It’s—rather personal. Oh, I don't mind the least bit telling you. This man I asked about's my brother. He trained as a miner, but he couldn’t get a job when he left college and he wouldn’t wait. He said one thing was as good and that was gold and he was going to find some, down in South America. There was an ancient city, a lost place, all gold—”
The dark man laughed. "That’ll be El Dorado, the old golden city. All miners get that bug. It wrecked my father. I spent two years as a youngster hunting it in Guatemala and got jaundice, jiggers, duodenal ulcers and malaria. The thing’s a myth. Utopia, The Happy Isles and El Dorado, they all mean the same; they’re symbols for the perfect state all men have dreamed about.”
The waiter brought the drinks. She paid for them and picked hers up. The dark man made no move. She said, "Do you object to drinking with me?"
He relented, disarmed by the flank attack. “Why no!” But the rebellion in his face was plain.
She said, “Drink up then. Here’s to better luck,” and grudgingly he raised his glass.
SHE SET the drink down and resumed her tale. "My brother went down south. His last note said that he was starting on a trip into the mountains, prospecting. We never had another, till we got a message, a queer message, that we couldn’t understand. We tried to trace it but we had no luck and father said the only thing was to come down and see. There were just the two of us and so we started, but when we’d got this far he died, of typhoid.”
She looked up, and he nodded sympathetically.
“My brother's all I've got. We’re twins. We’ve that affinity twins have. I 'm certain he’s not dead and I determined I’d keep on. But I’d no Spanish and I had to have it, so I stayed to learn. I got to know the consuls and that Mr. Oswald told me you had come to town. He said that you knew more about the Andes than any other ten men.”
Driscoll ignored the flattery. “You can’t go looking for a lone man up and down the Andes. You don’t know their size. If your brother’s dead, he’s dead. If not, he’ll turn up by-and-by. Prospecting, he might easily be gone two years.”
“But there’s the message that we got.”
“What was it?”
“I should have brought it but it's in my room. I’ll show you if you’ll come with me.”
His earlier suspicions were at once aroused. “This wouldn’t be some sort of line?”
“And you without a penny! Is that sense?”
“There could be angles.”
“You’ll have to make your own mind upon that.”
He looked at her, then nodded. “Oh, all right.”
They rose. He steered her through the back way with its tiled court, moonlight, potted palms and bougainvillea, into the street.
THE lamp-lit street was filled with strollers in the sultry night. Two lesser dance halls opposite maintained full blast. Threading their way among the press, he saw the straightness of her carriage and her chin’s firm tilt. The girl had quality.
She turned into a side street where native women gossiped on sagging wooden stoops. The beat of jazz grew faint, paving gave way to planks, planks to uneven earth. The sweet, dank scent of isthmus vegetation met them. Where the street ended at a wide lagoon, level as glass, she said, “I chose this place because it’s high and you can see a distance. I hate streets.” The side of the house faced the water, and up it a shaky stairs led to a balcony, above the road skirting the edge. She led up, halted on the landing. “Wait, please, while I get a light.”
The light bloomed out and filled a large room with rough-plastered walls. There was a small bed, netted in against mosquitoes, a wardrobe trunk, a makeshift dressing table with a bookshelf and a few odd chairs. There were flowers here and there, a bowl of fruit, a table prepared for a meal for one. For all the makeshift, here were charm, order and a sense of home.
“Will you come in?”
A big mulatto woman in a green kimono appeared at the inner door.
The girl said, “This is Julia, my housekeeper.”
"Buenos noches, Julia,” the dark man said.
“ 'Noches, señor caballero.”
“Sit down, won’t you?” the girl said.
She took some papers from her trunk and passed them to him. The first one was in Spanish with a typed translation.
“Written at the request of Don Segundo y Genero de Verona, he being unable to use the pen, at his Fonda y Posada de Santissima Dolores upon Chirialba Pass. May First, 1938. Don Segundo says:
“ ‘On nineteenth March of this year my peons, gathering fuel in the hills, found a Hiapé Indian dying of hunger and a bullet wound, old many weeks. He died saying only: “Send! Send!” Clenched in his hand we found this envelope, which for his soul’s sake I now send to whom it is addressed.
Signed: Segundo y Genero de Verona, by the hand of Narciso, of La Mercéd mission upon Santapépé.’ ”
The dark man looked around and she gave him a crushed, soiled envelope. Across the top in smeared indelible was written:
“Will anyone this note may reach be kind enough to stamp and mail it? Life may depend on it.”
Miss Judith Saltmarsh,
He looked inside.
“It was empty,” she explained. “It’s been torn open as you see. The writing’s Johnnie’s.”
“And is this all?”
“The note and envelope were in another, posted in Arostenango in Boriador. We wrote the Government but got no help.”
“Umm! Mighty queer! Some fellow put a bullet in this Indian to get the note. The envelope was thrown away and he recovered it?”
“That’s what we think.”
She handed him a few thin sheets of government replies, which he read carefully. He nodded then. “They wouldn’t give a darn. They’re in the Middle Ages there. The Church runs Boriador and they don’t modernize.”
“We realized that. That’s why we came.”
They faced each other in the yellow light, a fat moth pinging round the lamp, the brown-skinned woman watching curiously.
“You’re Judith Saltmarsh?” he said then.
“Yes! Look! I have a meal now. Join me. Then we can talk.”
Once more he showed reluctance.
“You can pay for it with information,” she said, “or, if your conscience hurts you, you can chop some wood for Julia or something. Why be so thin skinned?”
His face turned red. And then his manner changed. “I shall be glad to try and help,” he said. “Forgive my boorishness.”
“You weren’t. Now, I’m all hot, after that place. I’d like to change. You pay attention to the landscape till I call you, will you?”
He turned to go out to the balcony. A guitar lay on a chair; as he passed he picked it up. He sat down on the stairhead and leaned back against the peeling wall.
THE lake lay glassy, the sky thick with stars against whose glitter palms stood black. To the left grew jungle, at the base of which the fireflies gleamed. There was the "Zig zig zig,” of crickets and the shrill of frogs.
He heard quick footstep as she changed, the tinkle of poured water and the clink of ware. He sprawled and plucked slow Spanish music with a fine, true ear.
When she came out she stood and listened and felt in the moment a deep sense of charm. Then his head turned and he stood up. She smiled. “Food’s ready,’’ and led the way inside.
There were curried shrimps, green salad and the bowl of fruit. On the table by the lamp there was a young man’s portrait and he picked it up. He reached and turned the girl’s head to the angle of that in the frame. Put short curls on the boy or cut and smooth the girl’s and they would look identical, yet he lacked no virility and she no charm.
“That’s an uncanny likeness,” he said. “What’s your age?”
“You ought to be home at school, not lodging in a dump like this.”
She did not answer and he took his seat. His blue eyes watched her with a puzzled concern. He said, “You go home while you have the chance. You don’t know what your’re monkeying with.”
“That’s nice of you but I've made up my mind. My brother’s all I’ve got. I’m going on. I wish that I knew someone I could hire to help. I’ve got four thousand dollars and—”
He said impatiently, “You shouldn’t tell me you have cash like that. I could arrange to have you trimmed.”
She laughed. “Oh, but you won’t.”
“It isn’t funny,” he said. “Down south it’s not like here, where there’s some sort of order, and police. Fellows aren’t like the college boys and brokers off these Black Line boats. You’ll meet with birds who’d take you and your money both, and make you like it, till they left you flat. I’m telling you. You watch your step.”
“Why do you think I chose a woman weighing near two hundred pounds to live with me? I know the facts of life.”
“You mean you’ve heard of ’em. If you go south, you’ll hit ’em head-on and they’ll scatter you. Look at the way you wandered into Benny’s joint—”
“And what harm came of it?”
He glowered. Before he could reply, her face lit up. “Of course! You’re an expert on the Andes. You need a job and I need help that you can give. You come. A hundred a month and your expenses till my brother’s found or I go broke.”
He shook his head. “No! No can do !”
“Why not? The thing’s a break for both of us.”
“Sorry! No soap!”
“I’ll be a lot worse broke before I hire out to a woman, if you must have it.”
His tone and manner crystallized the thought she’d had, right from the first. This man was sore. Something had hurt him and the wound burned still.
She said, “You dislike women, don’t you?”
“They’re all right! Maybe there are some popular delusions that I don’t subscribe to. Does it matter?”
“Of course. Tell me”—the words came unasked—“what is it makes you so cantankerous?”
It almost drew him. His form stiffened and he told her hotly, “Well for one thing—” Then he stopped and went on with a bantering note, “I’m not well up on women but my father had some rules that weren’t too bad.”
She knew she was inviting trouble but she could not stop. “Tell me. I’m always out to learn.”
Lazy and slow the answer came, but bleak as though he’d slapped her face. “One of ’em was: Never chase a street car or a woman. There'll be another passing in a minute.”
Even now she could not stop.
“You’ve found that true?”
“Oh, by and large. For every one who’ll turn you down, there’s one who won’t.”
Always her weakness, now her temper flared. “Then let me tell you that my interest is impersonal, and it will remain that way. I’m interested in your knowledge and in nothing else.”
His bitterness departed, suddenly as it had come. He laughed: white teeth in a leathern face and blue eyes with a wicked glint. “Oh quite. My father also told me not to make love to a woman till she shows me that she wants me to, so you’re quite safe.” He capped it: “He said, too, that makes sure she always will.”
She contrived to laugh even while groping for an apt retort, without success.
“Yes, women are weak,” she dodged. “We’re stubborn though. I’m going to find my brother and I need the help that you could give. If you won’t come, I hope you won’t refuse to talk.”
He did not answer but sat motionless, absently gazing at his plate. She tried to read him, watching his lean brown face: white crow’s-feet round the eyes, gaunt cheeks, that hungry air, as though he had seen splendor that he could not touch. She saw he’d known great pain, that deep in him it rankled still.
The lamplight made its pool upon the table. Outside, the night things shrilled. The colored woman made occasional sounds, while they sat in a tension greater than words could have drawn. He took an orange, peeled it, passed her half.
“Thank you,” she said.
They ate in silence. Then he looked up, and at his face her hopes sank low. “I’ll tell you. This stunt’s futile—you’ll know when you’ve seen the Andes. But I see you’re set. I’ll make a deal with you. I’d like to get down south, since Benny’s wheel got through with me. I’m not keen on existing on bananas and plain water and I’ve heard about a job up in the capital. I’ll go down with you and I’ll work a month on digging up what news we can. You'll see by then that what I say is right and I can put you on the boat for home. I’ll take a third-class passage and expenses on the understanding that I work a month. After the month—no strings.”
She shook her head. “That isn’t fair. You must have pay. I couldn’t let—” He stood up. "They’re my terms. You suit yourself.”
She saw that he was adamant. “All right. I have no choice. I want to have you. It’s a deal.”
He chose an orange, tossed it, put it in his pocket. “Okay. We’ll sleep on it. I’ll whistle for you in the morning, say, at ten, to talk. How’s that?”
They went out to the balcony. The night was breathless and the light of stars lay over the lagoon, the distant isles, the westward patch of jungle and the near-by houses, but in the east up to the zenith of the sky the stars had paled. “Look,” she said, pointing. “Moonrise.”
Above the black line of the jungle to the east the sky was pale, and while they watched it turned to silver as the moon’s rim showed. Above them came a croak as two night herons sailed down to their wading ground.
The dark man said, "Moonrise! The ancient mystery,” gave her his crooked smile and started down.
Assailed by sudden doubt, she called, “You will come back?”
He halted, looking up. “Appearances deceive. I keep my word.”
She was abashed. “I’m sorry.”
He waited on the step beneath. She said, “Tell me your name, to call you by?”
“It’s a devil of a name—Horatio. We had it in the family, like insanity. But I'm called Slim. Good night.”
She answered, “Good night, Slim,” and watched him while he plodded down.
AT SAN FELIPE, the railroad from the coast turns north into the mining districts, so that the capital must be reached by road. The Spaniards built the city of Arostenango to protect the mouth of Chirialba Pass, which threads the Andes just south of the peaks that culminate that mighty range.
Leaving the office of the Minister of the Interior, Judith and Driscoll came into a blue-tiled patio rich with carved sandstone. There was a fountain of one slender spurt, jasmine and frangipani and a scarlet vine.
“Well,” Driscoll said. “That's that. I said how it would be.
“I know. We had to try, didn’t we?”
They passed out to the plaza with its bandstand, marble paving, palms and flowering shrubs. Slim said, "Now what?"
"The man who found the envelope."
"Okay. I've got the dope about the inn. It's up the pass, three hundred miles back east. We'll need a car and sleeping things. There are posthouses on the way but they'll be full of Indians. This Chirialba used to be the main route from the central jungles, but Brazil grew up and drew the trade the other way. Now only Indians and llamas use it."
Above the buildings to the northward reared the vast dark Andes, topped by a frieze of ice-clad peaks against a pale-blue sky. They held for her a sense of drama which was heightened by the feeling of antiquity the town contained. There was a thing which further raised this, for with cobbled alleys, carved doors, scrollwork grilles and blackened cedar balconies, Slim Driscoll's sunburned arrogance seemed of a part
Throughout the journey down they had grown friendly but not intimate. She'd learned he was Peruvian born, his father Texan and his mother of pure Irish blood but born in Lima, speaking only Quechua and Spanish. He had been brought up in the mountains and received an engineering education between Lima and the Massachusetts Tech.
When they reached the city's one hotel the sun was high, the place steeped in the noonday hush, They parted for a siesta.
When, three hours later, she came down, she found him talking with a grey-haired South American.
Suiting his manner to his guest's, he seemed all Spaniard as he bowed and said, "Permit me to present an old friend of my father's, Don Arturo Reyes. It was to find him that I wanted to come here."
The slim Peruvian bowed. His eyes admired her as he said, "Horatio is like his father. He, too, was romantic."
Slim Driscoll glanced at her derisively. To her chagrin, she blushed. She noticed, though, that Driscoll's banter was confined to her. He showed no levity as he explained, "Miss Saltmarsh has employed me, Don Arturo. She is the sister of this young American I am enquiring for."
Reyes said, "Then, senorita. I am in your debt, for meeting with Horatio has solved a problem for me. Men with his training, added to his knowledge of the hills, are rare, and I was badly needing one."
"I've got the job I came for," Driscoll said. "Don Arturo has agreed to hold it. He has been very kind."
"No kindness," answered Reyes. "The Commission could find no one better qualified. And now will you excuse me, please? I've much to do." He spoke to Driscoll in his native tongue. She caught the words, "At Santa Rosales on the nineteenth then."
The nineteenth was twelve days away, just after Driscoll's month with her was up!
AS THE slim, dapper gentleman went out, Driscoll said gaily, "Now, is that a break? Five hundred bucks a month, expenses and two years up in the hills. There's no place where I'd rather be!"
It was a setback to the plans she had begun to form, but she contrived to share his satisfaction, "I'm so glad."
He stabbed a finger at her. "See! My hunch at Benny's wasn't rotten, it just needed time. If I'd not busted at roulette I'd not have come down here or bothered to hunt up old Reyes."
"That's how it goes," was all that she could find to say. "Coincidence and circumstance. They're what decide. Tell me some more about this job. You seem to have a reputation."
"There's always been a row about the border of this state, `way back nor'east beyond the hills. Now they've agreed to let the League of Nations settle it. Old Don Arturo heads the mission to investigate. Both sides are tabling claims and there's to be a survey. I'm to run ground-crews and there'll be aerial photography."
"He must think highly of you. That's not the picture of yourself you've drawn!"
His eyes grew distant and took on a look she'd come to know. Then he gave one of his rare, full smiles. "At last I'll be a credit to my relatives back home. Up there, I'm the family mistake; the white haired boy's my cousin Stukeley, in the State Department. I'll have to let `em know now I'm an international figure in my own right."
There was a silence, broken by the clink of mule-bells and the servants' talk.
She said, "As I've so little of your time, may we talk business now?"
"Of course. It's all arranged. First thing tomorrow, we start for the inn."
After the evening meal, they sat with coffee in the patio; he was gay, excited by the prospect of the work to come, she sobered by the prospect of losing a companionship she'd come to like. By-and-by they saw a man approaching. He was a thickset man of middle height, wearing a wooden-looking store suit with the manner of one used to freer garb.
Mistral Jenato was at this time fifty-five. His broad and deep-lined face was brown, tinged with the bronze-green of his Indian blood and with the bold nose and the wide, strong mouth of Andalusia. For all his bulk, his hips were lean, his step light and his body poised. As he drew near, he took off his wide-brimmed felt hat, showing black, tumbled hair, and bowed with an impressive courtesy.
"The Senorita Saltmarsh?" he enquired, in English that was somewhat accented.
She acknowledged her identity. He said, "I am a friend of Don Arturo Reyes. He has been telling me of your most interesting quest. I am a mountain man, although my home is far from here, and should be glad if I could help."
His words had a sincerity that moved her much. She said, “You’re very kind. Won’t you sit down?”
He brought a chair, sat down and started asking details of her brother’s disappearance and what followed it. He listened to her answers with the closest interest, sitting upright, his broad hat on his knees, and gazing at her with a face impassive as though cast in bronze. Slim, a shrewd judge of men, read from it nothing.
When she had told her tale, Jenato said. “This gentleman is right. To search the hills would be like searching for a single cactus—and your cactus would stay in one spot. But”—he gave her a smile—“if you feel sure your brother is unhurt, then rest assured that must be so. A woman’s instinct is more certain than is logic or the minds of men. He will turn up, quite safe.”
He spoke with such assurance that she waited for some explanation, but he faced her with his broad face smiling yet inscrutable, until he said, “Go home. You can do nothing more. The Señor Reyes, myself and”—bowing to Slim, conveying that he knew of his new work—“this gentleman, will all be in the mountains and do what we can. All will be well.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. But I can’t go—not yet. I must see where the note was found and those who saw the Indian.”
After a time Jenato nodded. “Then you’re going up the pass to see these men?”
“Tomorrow,” she said.
THEY met at sunrise by an ancient car piled high with gear. She wore whipcord breeches, woollen shirt and brown cord jacket. Half up her calves reached laced oiled boots. “Good kit,” Slim commented. “Been worn, I see.”
“Holidays, with my father in the mountains.”
He nodded sympathetically.
The sun had cleared the skyline, flooding the Andes’ blue sweep and the ancient city with hard, brilliant light. At their eight thousand feet the air was chill, whipping the senses into tingling life. The car wheezed round the plaza, entered a warren of old drowsy streets, passed to less beautiful and newer ones which soon gave place to ’dobe huts in compounds rioting with vegetation. Barren when dry, the mountain soil when watered becomes prodigally fertile.
The humblest dwellings ceased, they wound through fields of grain, past pastures where mules and llamas grazed until suddenly they reached the limit of Arostenango’s cultivation. Inside five hundred yards the green gave place to desert: rock, sand and yellow bunch-grass, the stunted algaraba and a leafless, low, domed bush called the yaretta.
All day the shaky car climbed up the pass while, save for odd trains of aborigines with mules and llamas, the vast land seemed lifeless. Judith had visualized a gorge, or else a valley between timbered slopes, but Chirialba was a saddle three miles wide through a stupendous mountain country, bare of timber even in its lower slopes. Hour after hour they chugged along a plain between far pastel-colored ramparts which grew ever higher. The Andes’ size eclipsed all she’d imagined, despite Driscoll’s warnings. The masses to the northward stayed unchangingly remote and, yet above them and beyond, piercing the cloud banks, ice-shrouded peaks gleamed in the sky.
They camped that night beside a spring, and slept in blankets by their fire.
Toward evening on the second day, the pass contracted to a mile-wide plain between sheer walls that rose a thousand feet. Midway through this they saw the inn, a rambling building, flat-roofed among walled brown fields and flanked by trees and scattered huts. From a distance, centred in that mighty canyon, it looked like a toy community.
When they came close, they saw the walls had once been stuccoed but much stuff had fallen from the ’dobe bricks. Save for one arch of noble curves, only barred windows pierced the walls. Above the entrance hung a faded sign with a heraldic painting and the legend, “Fonda y Posada de Santissima Dolores.” They entered through the archway to the patio.
Of what the inn had been when dons in gold-chased armor used it but a shell remained, but a shell that bore still the tatters of its ancient splendor.
Nothing could spoil the beautiful proportions. The tessellated floor showed through the filth. The portico’s square pillars had their rose-hued tiles. The pool held spring water. But the carved vases grew tin cans instead of blossoms, and the fine balconies were shored up by poles on which hung mule-gear. Everywhere were fodder, chickens, goats and half-breed children; their smells, mingling with the smells of garlic, wood-smoke and the flowering vines, hung in a penetrating reek.
In the failing light there came to them an aged man who wore a filthy shirt, with trousers tattered round his skinny calves and rawhide sandals. Slung on his shoulder was a red-striped poncho. The man was gaunt and bent, with thick white hair and beard, from which projected a long, eagle nose, and blue eyes met theirs with a childlike stare.
Leaning upon a long staff bound with silver, this wreck of a man bowed low and wheezed, “Señor, señora, buenos noches.”
Driscoll’s eyes twinkled. He bowed deeper. “Noches, señor. Have I the honor of addressing Don Segundo de Verona?”
“Your servant, excellence. My house and all that it contains, and all the country round about, is yours.”
“We are overwhelmed. Is it permitted that we stay the night?”
“So great an honor! We shall attempt fit entertainment for so fine a caballero and so lovely a señora.”
“This lady,” Driscoll told him dryly, “is not my señora.”
The ancient stared with his pale, vacant eyes. “A thousand pardons.” He called crackedly to peons to bring in the baggage.
“I will show you your apartments. They are not quite ready. Few people come here now. In the old days they came in hundreds, great hidalgos, but they come no more.”
The room that he led Judith to was large. The ceiling, where it had not fallen, had fat cherubs gambolling on starry clouds. There was a great four-poster but the bare frame only and that white with droppings from the roosting fowls. The window glass was dim with dirt; the door was split; in the corners were piled sacks and harness.
Their host disposed of all this with a lofty gesture, “All shall be put right.”
THEY dined at twilight at a table underneath the portico. A bloated Indian woman bore the viands to a cart-tail, whence it was served them by a half-breed girl whose eyes were all for Driscoll and who, when she thought he’d notice, shyly smiled. The Don did not appear.
But when they had their coffee in thick earthen bowls, and dark was falling, he came, carrying a lantern.
He was without the poncho and had donned a velvet jacket with braid frogs and epaulettes, and braided trousers, the whole worn and stained. Hanging the lantern on the cart, he held up ceremoniously a long-necked flask. “I have here brandy, ah, such brandy, made by myself here at this inn. Is it your pleasure to partake of it?”
He eyed a vacant chair expectantly.
Driscoll said gravely, “If by that means we could ensure your presence, we could not resist it, Don Segundo.”
The old man sat down with a child's alacrity.
The brandy was a turbid spirit of tremendous strength. Judith’s sip turned her purple, but Slim Driscoll mouthed his while their host watched him with intent concern.
In due course Slim pronounced his verdict. “Perfect! Worth of itself the journey here,” and she recalled his mother had been named O'Hara!
Darkness had come. Beyond the eaves she saw the great bright stars. Across the court against the wall a big fire blazed. Odors of beasts, of wood-smoke and of jasmine mingled. The sound of voices was small in the mighty quiet.
The old Don said, “The dinner, excellence? You found it satisfactory?”
It had been tough chicken stewed with chili, and raw onions and a leadlike bread.
“None better to be had in Lima, no, nor Madrid itself,” Slim Driscoll lied.
The old man’s head went up. “Such has been this fondas reputation these four centuries. But it is hard to keep a great tradition when none come but Indians,” he ended dolefully.
“But for a strange affair we should ourselves have missed the privilege.”
“Oh? So, señor?”
“A year ago, from an Indian who died, you had an envelope, which of your kindness you dispatched.”
The ancient peered at him, surprised. “Si, señor, si.”
“It had been written by this lady’s brother, who had gone prospecting to the hills.”
“We have come seeking him. Will you please tell us all you know?”
“Alas, señor, there is no more. The Indian’s wound was healing. It was privation killed him, and we think he had come far. We searched for miles but found no one. It was a mystery.”
Driscoll asked Judith, “Could you follow?”
“Don Segundo, will you look well at this lady?”
The vacant eyes were turned on her.
“This young man whom we seek and she are twins. Have you seen, anywhere, a man as like her as two peas are like?”
“Never, señor. Men pass this way into the hills and some return and some do not, but never one like this so-lovely señorita.”
There was a silence, broken only by the voices round the fire across the court. Slim said to her, “You see. The trail ends here.”
“Nonsense!” she countered, “I want to see the man who found the Indian, and see the spot.”
At Slim’s request, the old man bowed. “If the señorita wishes, anything. Tomorrow it shall be arranged.”
When they were parting to retire, Slim said, “We’ll have to use the rooms or we shall break his heart, but don’t go near that bed. I warn you. Spread your bedroll in the widest space and pray.”
His warning was unnecessary. In the room nothing had been done. As she entered with her lantern, lean rats fled. On the bare bed-frame chickens roosted. She followed Slim’s advice and then, tired out, slept like the dead.
It was strange to wake in the morning on the hard floor of that musty room with its bleared ghosts of former grandeur. Through the grilled window sunshine slanted, flooding the place. She wriggled out and rose, a slender form in red pyjamas, with a mop of crisp brown curls. The warped door was ajar and from the patio came laughter.
She peered out and saw Driscoll, stripped to the waist and shaving at a glass propped on a cart. His form was brown and muscled, with a deep red scar across the ribs. The people of the inn watched him with beaming interest. Beside him stood the half-breed girl, holding his towel. She had thick, creamy skin with ripe red lips and soft black eyes. He spoke to her and they went laughing to the pool, where he bent over and she sluiced him down with water. Red from the chill and towelling vigorously, he passed by Judith’s door.
She dodged back and he pounded on it, “Show a leg sister, show a leg,” then went on, singing.
AFTER they’d had a meal, the Indian who had found the envelope appeared and with the old Don they got in the car and angled down the canyon till the cliffs gave place to slopes and soon turned up an intersecting valley. After a while, the car stopped by broken ground whence, slowly for the old man's shaking knees, they made their way.
At length the guide stopped by a clump of cactus. “Here is the place. The man had fallen half a mile away and crawled this far.”
“You said you tracked him farther,” Judith said. “Please take us there.”
They followed, for a mile or so, a valley bottom difficult with rocks and growth. “Here, on this stretch of rock,” the guide explained, “the signs ran out.”
Judith gazed around her at the mighty slopes, grand in their morning veils of rose and amethyst, and then up the valley. She turned to Don Segundo and said in her careful Spanish. “What is in there, señor?”
The old man stared. “In there? Nothing! It is the wilderness. There’s nothing there.”
Her gaze went up the gulf that swept back till it merged in bluffs and precipices that rose, broke and spread, soared through the clouds and reappeared in green-white spires against the sky.
“Oh, yes, there is,” she said. “My brother’s there.”
There was a silence then. The Indians with their lined bronze faces, Don Segundo and Slim Driscoll waited in uncertainty.
Then Driscoll said, “You’ve done your best. He’ll turn up by-and-by. Bound to.”
She turned on him. “I haven’t started yet.”
He said. “There isn’t any more that you can do.”
“I can go in and search.”
He laughed. “Those mountains go straight north a thousand miles. Even nor'east, it’s hundreds to the eastern slopes.”
“I know! But he’s there somewhere. He sent out that Indian.”
"The fellow’s wound was old. Those chaps hold onto life like snakes. He might have come three hundred miles.”
“And he might have come five. How can we tell?”
“That was a year ago. Whatever the situation was then, it has changed by now. If he’s alive, he'll turn up some day.” Driscoll paused. “If not—it’s too bad, but you can’t do anything.”
“He is alive. I know he is. We always know about each other. He’s there in trouble and I’m going to find him.”
She pointed up the valley yawning between great dark slopes back to the wilderness. “The Indian with the letter came down there. I’m going in.”
“You’d lose yourself.”
“Oh, not alone. That’s where you’re going to help.”
He shook his head. “I’ve got the first good job I’ve had in three years waiting for me. No can do.”
“I don’t mean come with me. You fix me up a party, men and mules and everything. You know what it should be and how much cash I have.”
“You can’t go pounding through the Andes with a bunch of Indians.”
“A dozen reasons. It’s not sense.”
“That’s not your worry.”
“Yes it is. If I do this and you get into trouble, it will be my fault. I know the way you feel, but it’s no good.” He pointed nor’east. “I'll be surveying over there and meeting everyone who knows these hills. I’ll ask ’em all—do everything I can to get you news and write it you. You give this up and get back home where you belong.”
“Look, Slim. You’re not responsible for me. Thanks for your thought. You finish up our deal and go out to your job. I’ll be all right.”
“Sorry! I can’t help you kill yourself.”
“We made a deal.”
“Not as to this.”
“You promised to do everything you could to help me for a month. I’ve still ten days of that. Make me a party with a man, whose Spanish I can understand, to lead. That’s all I ask.”
“You’ve no option.”
“I made no deal to help you kill yourself. It’s up to me to see you don’t.”
“You can’t stop me. I’ll get these people here to fix me up.”
“You do that and I’ll tell the government you’re not responsible. They’ll send police to take you out and put you on a boat, where you belong.”
Her temper went. “I find you starving in a bar and take your word as though you were a gentleman. I’ve done my part. And now you welsh.”
His deep eyes gleamed. “You take that back.”
“You take it back.”
“I won’t! You’re swindling me. You do the job I’ve paid you for.”
She had never seen a man so angry and for a moment she feared that he might strike her. Instead he said, “All right! The devil with you! You’re not my ball-and-chain. Why should I care?”
“That suits me too.”
“Okay! I hope you like the rest as much. You seem to think these hills are full of hot-dog stands and filling stations.”
THROUGHOUT the visit to Arostenango, anger, veiled by extreme politeness, stood between them like a wall, and when they came up Chirialba ten days later it had not died down.
They reached the inn in early evening with two trucks piled with her stores and gear from which, warned by their previous experience, they took provisions for a gift to Don Segundo that would make sure that they had good meals while there.
As they emerged into the patio, a massive, brown-faced man was talking to the Don. It was the man who had called on them in Arostenango, Mistral Jenato, and he bowed to Judith in his old-world way. “Good evening. So we meet again. I wondered if we should when business brought me here.”
Slim wondered what concern could bring him to this dead-end spot where, by the Don’s admission, patrons had long ceased to come.
Jenato said, “I hear you are continuing your search, into the hills.”
Driscoll’s jaw set, and Judith told Jenato. “Yes. By myself, that is. Mr. Driscoll is assembling my outfit, that is all.”
Jenato turned to Slim. “Don Arturo Reyes has told me he has made you field surveyor for the border mission.”
“It will be a great day for this country when the line is fixed. It is not good to live not knowing to what government you owe allegiance.”
“You speak with feeling,” Slim said. “You are from the north?”
“From the border lands to nor’east, back beyond the range. The only route for us to southward is by sea.”
“Then you will wish the deal to put you in the northern state?”
For a moment on Jenato’s face there closed a mask, as though the subject were taboo. But then he said, “There are things greater than convenience. There is the faith. The State of Boriador holds to the Church. I am happy that the line as now proposed is set to north of us. It was to work for that that I came to the capital.”
Slim wondered how his business at the inn came out of that.
Jenato turned to Judith, “Señorita, may an older man intrude and say it is unwise to go into the hills. Our host has told me what you’ve planned. It’s hopeless. You say you’re sure your brother has not come to harm, and such an instinct does not lie. Be guided by those with experience.”
His obvious sincerity touched Judith but she answered: “Thank you. But my mind’s made up. There are some things one must do. This is like that.”
“That is the outcome of your feeling for your brother, and a natural and noble one. But it is futile! The hills are dangerous and vast. One man in them is like an ant. Be wise. Do not go in. All will be well!”
She smiled but shook her head. “Thank you. Thank you so much. I know it will. That’s why I’m going in.”
THE pack-train mustered in the morning on the plain outside the inn, twelve llamas, two Aymara Indians and the mixed-blood, Ismael Garabote, as head mountaineer.
As they left the inn. Slim Driscoll was reiterating: “These are picked men. Their women all live here and the priest holds their wages till they bring out satisfactory account of you. Here are the lists of gear and grub. Remember that the grub’s packed to be used up load by load. Don’t let ’em break out one until they’ve finished all the last. Stick to the rules and it will last you ninety days going. But if you don’t, and if you don’t head out when it’s half gone, you’ll starve. Take maté regularly. It’s a substitute for greens. And use the flea powder. With these men, you’ll be crawling in a week unless you do.”
They reached the llamas, where old Don Segundo and some of his people waited. Judith looked fresh and dapper in her well-worn trail kit, dark curls golden where the sun struck and her bearing lively as a bird’s.
She shook hands with the Don, waved to the rest and turned to Garabote. Bueno, Ismael. Let us go.”
As the men herded off the beasts, she offered Slim her hand. “Thanks, Slim, for everything. You’ve done much more than I’ve paid for.”
His lean face reddened but his mouth was set. The two shook hands.
He said, “Good luck. And I’ll ask everyone I meet about your brother.”
“Thanks, Slim. And good luck, too.”
They stood a moment, and the air was pregnant with unspoken things. Then she went after Garabote.
He watched them file across the plain in the hard sunlight toward the valley wall.
Behind him in the inn a cock crowed and he heard the clatter of a pot.
The twelve beasts and the figure at their head grew small. Once she stopped, turned and waved, and he waved back. Then they filed in behind a bluff. He watched until the last form disappeared, then turned away and strode back to the inn.
Don Segundo, struggling to keep up, began some garrulous speech. He cut him off. “Give me your bill. I leave at once.”
As he passed underneath the sign a large pig blocked his way. He kicked it savagely. The pig was hard, his shoe was soft. He swore with pain and hobbled to his quarters and began to cram things in a bag.
When he came out, the Don, crestfallen, waited, hunched up on a cart. Slim settled his account, then gave his hand. “Adios, Don Segundo.”
The old car wheezed, he jammed the gears in, passed through the arch and headed westward in a cloud of dust.
JUDITH walked slowly with her llama train. They had turned northward from the pass into the valley out of which the Indian with her brother’s envelope had come. She stood aside to watch her animals file past.
The llama is a curious beast, a giant sheep but with a longer neck and legs. It has thick wool and those whom it dislikes it spits upon. It is amenable to handling by Indians only but may be tethered by a single cord. At its own fitful pace and browsing as it goes, it packs a hundred pounds some fifteen miles a day and lies all night where darkness falls and never strays.
Of these mild beasts, Judith had nine with food, one carrying water, one for her private things and one for cook pots and the natives’ gear.
The Indians were the mountain men, Aymaras, stocky fellows with impassive faces of dark greenish-bronze. They went barefoot in ragged trousers, shirts and coats, with over all a woollen poncho. They had long hair and wore thick knitted skullcaps against icy winds.
The headman—Garabote, spawn of vague mesalliances of Spaniard, Indian and negro—had been headman to prospecting parties. He had a dark, crafty face, was dressed as were the Indians, but wore sandals and a low-crowned hat of thick white felt.
She watched them pass, the twelve beasts and three strange male primitives who for a half a year would be her sole companions in a wilderness. Already, not ten minutes from their starting place, the small flat clickings of the llamas’ hoofs made the sole sound.
She followed, left behind the spot to which they’d tracked the bearer of her brother’s note, passed round a bluff and started winding among desert growths. When she looked back, there seemed no outlet from the valley, so soon had the Andes, whose iced heights like fairy spires hung in the sky, engulfed them. In all her sight there was no tree, only the rearing heights, blue, mauve and brown, with peaks and glaciers above and in the valley clumps of cactus among sparse brown grass. Nothing within her vision moved till she looked up and saw against the sky the circling black shape of the greatest winged thing on earth, the condor.
The air was sharp but the sun beat down, burning her face. The mountain breath struck in her nostrils with a thin, cold smell, and she was conscious of exhilaration.
This changed into the feeling that this was a dream. Soon she would wake up in her room at home, with the elms outside her window and her brother singing out of tune as he shaved in the bathroom. That picture brought her face to face with the fact.
Johnnie! She had a twisting at her heart that hurt the way it had when they were little and her father punished him, and she remembered how they’d clung together sobbing afterward. She recalled vividly their intimate companionship, and felt the heartache that had followed his departure with his eager hopes.
She looked round at the mountains’ vast grave bulk. Somewhere within them Johnnie must be waiting. She had to find him. She would walk on bare feet if she had to and, whatever came, she’d find him, for she knew that he was there and he was calling her.
Miles, hours, half a day went by. Toward noon, they found a pool of snow-water like pale green jade. White egrets, tall brown storks, flamingos and a cloud of plover rose as they came near. The Indians lit her fire and she had tea and bread made at the inn.
The Indians ate nothing, squatting in enigmatic silence, ragged heaps among their beasts, cheeks bulging with the quids of coca leaf which, with its cocaine content, meant to them more than food.
Toward afternoon, they came out on a slope that stretched below them and above. Garabote called and pointed.
“What?” she said.
“See, where it rounds the bluff.” And then she saw, a sort of shelf a hundred feet in length built of hewn rocks along the slope.
“Why,” she said, “what is that?”
“The road. The old road of the people who lived long ago.”
“Where does it lead?”
"Nowhere. It crops out here and there and then it ends. It leads nowhere.”
“It must lead somewhere. All roads do.”
The fellow shrugged.
For all the confidence she had shown Driscoll, there were misgivings in her heart. All that inspired her was her instinct and the passion to be with her twin. But, once in the hills, the question of just how to search had taken shape. She had no clue, no sign to seek, only the mountains and the feeling that in them she’d find the answer to the mystery. This broken road, emerging from the wilderness. seemed like an answer to her hopes. She told the fellow, “Follow it. And tell me when we reach the end.”
At dusk, she called the halt at a ravine that opened on the slope. Out of this flowed snow-water, making a pool upon a shelf that looked back down the valley along which they’d come.
She had them make her fire on this and stood for some time looking backward with a thoughtful air. The Indians built their fire apart. They pitched her tent. She opened out her bedding. She replaced her boots by slippers and then cooked a meal, soup from a beef-cube, bacon and a flapjack with, instead of tea, that most sustaining brew of South America, the verba maté. Driscoll had shown her how to drink it through the tube called a bombilla.
When she had done, night had closed down. The valley lay like silver in a new risen moon. Beyond, the slopes looked like black velvet, the far crests a jagged line against the stars. The air was chilly. She donned her sheepskin coat and pulled the blankets round her, sitting cross-legged to smoke a cigarette.
So silent were the hills that her own blood flowing in her ears was like a roar through which came, thin and pure, a bar or two of music one of the men was playing on some flute-like instrument. She thought it was the saddest sound she’d ever heard.
The sense of unreality began again with its strong magic, shot through with something between fear and ecstasy. It was the sense that with the vastness round her she was one and that, whatever came, though she died in the hills, she would not mind. It would be part of life, which was at one with nature and the universe, in which she had an indivisible, eternal share.
And she felt Johnnie too. Somewhere in those impassive and vast masses to the north, he was waiting. She knew he was.
Her thoughts were broken by a movement of the Indians. She turned and saw them all three on their feet and gazing down the valley.
“What is it, Ismael?” she called.
“Someone is coming, excellence. I heard shod beasts.”
She rose and walked clear of the fire. Soon she heard what they heard, the click of hoofs on stone.
And then she saw them, lower down the slope, black in the moon, two burros, one with an enormous pack, one carrying a man. She stood there till he rode into the firelight and swung to the ground.
He wore short Spanish boots. Slung on his shoulder was a poncho and he wore a wide black hat. Slim Driscoll said, “You sure don’t hide your fires. I thought I’d have to camp till morning but I saw them five miles back.”
“Why have you come?”
“I needed exercise!”
To be Continued