HOOD FOR A HAWK
POPLARS, stripped of all foliage except for tufts at their summits, lined the straight, deserted road. Driving a jeep painted black with yellow wheels, Henry Bow, exchange professor of history at a French university, narrowed his grey eyes against the glare of the sunset.
He was a little like a poplar himself, thin and tall, and his grey-ilanneled knees stuck up bonily on each side of the steering wheel. A worn leather golf jacket was zipped open over a khaki shirt unbuttoned at his neck. His hair was dark and short, and already, at thirty-five, in his tanned, thin face there were well-worn lines of meditation and humor.
Tumbled in the back of the jeep were an old military valise, a fishing rod and a number of books on Pyrenean history and topography, to the re-examination of which, on the actual ground, he was proposing to devote his vacation. There was also a brief case bulging with the manuscript of an unfinished book, designed to demonstrate a truth he never was tired of trying to hammer into the heads of crassly practical-minded students.
“If you needs must have a utilitarian reason for the study of history,” Professor Bow was apt to declare dryly, “then consider that it’s only by such a study that we may enable the dead to serve the purposes of the living.”
But no such thought was in his mind at the
moment. He was thinking about trout. Since passing through the turreted town of Foix, he had been keeping company with a fast-running river. The lively water sparkled between the poplars on his right. Henry reflected that if the hotel at Ax-les-Thermes, his stopping place for the night en route into the Andorran valleys, had angling rights, then he should be in nice time to fish the evening rise. A mess of trout, well cooked by a French—
He stamped on the brake with a sudden shout, as a cyclist swooped out of the eye of the sunset, from a humpbacked bridge at right angles to the road. The jeep’s locked wheels screeched. The cyclist, bent double óver racing handle bars, swerved violently, careened across the road with a foot scuffing, slammed into the trunk of a poplar. He came down with his machine falling heavily on top of him.
Henry swung over the side of the jeep, loped across to lift the bicycle from the fallen man. He was a year or two younger than Henry, and lean and wiry, with a good-looking, clever, olive-dark face. He wore a shabby tweed knickerbocker suit, heavy shoes, a white shirt with a narrow black tie, and a beret. His mouth twisted in an attempt at a grin.
“Sorry,” he said weakly, in Spanish. “Not your fault, señor. No brakes—He tried to sit up, but sank back with a gasp, his face grey. “My leg!”
Henry looked at the man’s twisted left leg, frowned. “Cuidado,” he said. “This’ll hurt.” Gripping the ankle, he drew the leg straight with a firm, even pull, watching the man’s face. “Esta bienV'
Henry planned to write history, not live it, until a password led him to a grim adventure in the high Pyrenees
The Spaniard looked up. “Broken,” he gasped.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Henry said.
Doubling across to the jeep, he rummaged out his liquor flask and fishing rod. He gave the Spaniard a sip of brandy, then splinted the leg with joints of the fishing rod, binding them firmly with the cloth cover.
“That’ll hold it,” said Henry, “till I get you to a hospital. I’ll fetch the jeep.”
The Spaniard had been looking up at him intently. As he made to rise from his knees, the man caught his wrist. “Wait, señor! Anyone coming?”
Henry glanced around. The shadows of the poplars were lengthening. The river sang. The road lay empty. To the right the rampart of mountains towered in a wash of rose. The foothill town of Ax, though only a few miles otf, was invisible, drowned in trees.
“Not a soul,” said Henry. “Don’t worry, I can—”
The hot grip tightened on his wrist. “You’re an American, and have been a soldier,” the Spaniard said. “I can tell. For God’s sake, help me, brother!” His eyes burned. “Listen, this is a worse catastrophe than it looks. I’m carrying courier.”
Sweat beaded the Spaniard’s lip. “I’m trusting you because I’ve got to,” he said, through his teeth. “Quickly, listen to me—in case I pass out. You go into Andorra—tomorrow?”
“Then it’ll be easy for you—what I ask. You’ll take the road out, of course, through L’Hospitalet, cross into Andorra. A mile this side of the first village there’s a track up through a wood—on your left. You can’t mistake it—there’s a shrine at the corner of the track. You’ll have to go up the track on foot. It leads to what used to be a charcoalburner’s cottage, on a little plateau. You’ll find a woman there. Say to her, ‘Miranda?’ If she nods her head, twice, say to her, ‘Speed the wings.’ She’ll answer, ‘Because of hawks.’ Then—tell her you’re from Juan Garrigo. Give her—here—in my pocket—”
His left hand groped toward the inside of his jacket. Feeling in the pocket there, Henry drew out two tiny aluminum phials, which he recognized instantly as of the type used for pigeon courier.
“Si, si,” Juan Garrigo said—“those.” His
breathing was shallow, rapid; he was fighting black-out. “You must be there by two—in afternoon. It’ll be—time enough, with your car, if you leave Ax—at dawn. It’d have taken me—much longer. Just a couple hours out of your wayeasy. But life or death—life or death—for many ! Swear you’ll do it! Promise—promise—”
His voice trailed off. His eyes closed. Heavily his hand dropped from Henry’s wrist to the dusty roadside grass.
HENRY unfolded himself lengthily from his knees. The river sang carefree across the road. He frowned for a moment at the aluminum phials, then thrust them into his hip pocket, loaded the bicycle into the back of the jeep. Turning the jeep he backed it up close to the injured man, lowered the windscreen flat. Kneeling beside Garrigo he pulled the Spaniard’s limp left arm around his shoulders, gripped the wrist with his left hand. Raising Garrigo gently, using his right hand and arm to support the splinted leg, he levered him into the front seat, raising his leg so that it thrust out straight across the windscreen. He folded an old khaki blanket, wadded it under the leg. Again backing and turning the jeep, he headed for Ax, driving one-handed, slowly and carefully, supporting Garrigo with an arm around his shoulders.
It was twilight when he entered the little town. Lights from the cafés gilded the leaves of trees arching across the steep main street and glimmered on crystal-clear mountain water running musically in roadside channels. Seeing a gendarme Henry pulled up to ask the whereabouts of a hospital.
“An accident, hein?” The gendarme peered at the unconscious man. “Zut, another of the Spanish exiles—Juan Garrigo. Plenty of them in these parts, monsieur, and always in trouble!” He clambered into the back of the jeep, along with the bicycle. “Straight on! We will take him to the convent hospital. The nuns, they care for these Spaniards. Only yesterday 1 delivered one, Curios Cajal, to them no older than this fellow but dying of a heart complaint. Always in trouble, les pauvres! What happened?”
Henry explained as he drove, and the gendarme clicked his tongue sympathetically. “No fuult of yours,” he said. “I can see for myself this deathtrap here has no brakes. A gauche, monsieur— voila!”
He jumped out to pull the bell of an old, dark, massive building. Admitted by a nun, he reappeared after a minute bearing a stretcher, and with Henry’s aid lifted Garrigo onto it. They carried him into a big, dimly lighted, stone-floored hall. The nun beckoned to them from a room on the left, waited while they got Garrigo on the bed.
“I will fetch the doctor,” she said then. “He is with Cajal.”
The gendarme mopped the inside of his kepi. “How goes it with that one, Mère Leclerc?”
The nun’s worn, spiritual face was calm. “He will not see tomorrow’s sundown, the doctor says.” She held open the door for them.
With a troubled glance at Garrigo’s waxen face and dark-lashed, closed eyes, Henry followed the gendarme from the room.
There was good reason in the aluminum phials for Henry to be troubled -as he discovered when, after some heart searching, he examined their contents in his room at the hotel. Single, small sheets of very thin paper were covered with minute, sharp, pencilled figures in groups of five. Cipher.
Henry frowned. A secret pigeon post up there in the mountains, where the traffic of birds would be unnoticed, almost certainly implied a contact between Spanish exiles and some maquis group within Spain.
Henry was conscious of conflict within his own character.
The professor of history in him, detached and judicial, was perturbed by scruples, perceptive of subtleties, touching the propriety of carrying out the mission that had been entrusted to him. On the other hand, the ex-lieutenant of artillery in him, the ex-lieutenant who had just dealt competently with a broken
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leg, felt the strong pull of the Spaniard’s appeal: “For God’s sake, help me, brother. Life or death «— for many!”
It was plain to Henry that, if he were to make the rendezvous by the time stated, there would be no chance of questioning Garrigo, for the Spaniard would be under anaesthetics for many hours following the setting of his leg.
Henry Bow resented the situation, the need for a decision, thrust on him by chance.
All through dinner in the big bare dining room, scattered with Frenchmen with napkins tucked under their chins, the responsible brow of the professor of history at the table in the window bay remained furrowed. But when, over the coffee, Henry drew out a tattered map, it was the knowledgeable grey eye of the ex-lieutenant of artillery that studied contour and hatching, visualizing the ground.
Henry lighted a cigarette, leaned back in his chair. He listened for a long time to the song of the river racing over and around its rocks, under the wide windows. But it brought no decision to him—only a compromise. As he stubbed out his fourth cigarette he said to himself impatiently, “We’ll see. It depends. We’ll see what sort of a person is—Miranda.”
IN THE high Pyrenees, on the summit of a spur of mountainside thickly grown with fir and aspen, stood a grey, stone-built cottage with a lichened slate roof and a squat chimney over which trembled a colorless shimmer of heat. It was one hour after noon of a blazing day, and the only sound here was the lonesome, deep boom of a torrent falling.
From the doorway of the cottage emerged a tall girl about twenty-three or twenty-four. Her hands were cupped around a chipped enamel mug, from which she sipped as she stood glancing about the little, dusty, boulder-strewn plateau. Slender and brown-skinned, she wore hempen sandals and a cotton frock of bleached blue with a leather belt. Earrings winked gold against the dark cloud of her hair as she turned her head to look north, over trees falling away from the plateau, toward a brown, bald, rounded hilltop far off across the intervening valley.
Henry Bow, lying flat in a nest of boulders near the head of the stony track up which for the past two hours he had been toiling on foot, saw her face clearly for a moment—a young face, sensitive yet spirited, eager yet proud, with dark eyes remotely gazing. Then she shrugged, sipped again from the mug, turned, and with the lithe, easy movement of the mountain girl, moved toward the far side of the clearing.
Henry eased back his old tweed fishing hat, to protect his neck from the fierce sun. At the movement a big yellow-and-black lizard, clinging to a boulder a foot from his thin, brown, sweating face, watching him, vanished with a soundless flicker.
Henry, too, had seen enough. The more he had thought, the sharper had grown the challenge of Juan Garrigo’s words: “Life or death—for manyl” Now, at the glimpse of this girl keeping her solitary vigil in the mountains, the sophistries of the professor yielded finally to the instinctive partisanship of the veteran. Henry Bow rose from behind the boulders and stalked out across the clearing.
Because of the muted booming of the unseen torrent the girl didn’t hear his approach. She lay face down on a slanted outcrop of rock, looking over the edge. Bone-dry lichen patched the rock, and out of cracks in it grew three stone pines, warped and fantastic, sharply silhouetted against the heat-pale sky.
Henry Bow took off his hat. “Buenas tardes,” he said. And as the girl turned her head quickly, looking up, he added courteously, “Don’t move,” and dropped down beside her.
He looked over the edge of the rock into a yawning canyon, in the bottom of which a river like a silver thread flashed between toy poplars. Several hundred feet below, from a fault in a sheer precipice at right angles
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to the cliff where he lay, there plunged forth a solid torrent, falling in subdued thunder to the river. The lip of the precipice, to the right there, was fringed densely with trees, and sloped away above him to what was evidently a pass between two high summits.
Henry glanced sidelong at the girl. “Miranda?” he said. And she nodded her head slowly, twice. The good lines of meditation and humor deepened at the corners of Henry Bow’s eyes. Watching the river far below, he said. “Speed the wings.”
“Because of hawks,” said Miranda.
Henry looked at her, held out his left hand, closed. She opened her own hand, her dark eyes fixed tensely on him, and he dropped the aluminum phials into her small, hard palm.
“From Juan Garrigo,” he said.
“Gracias—stranger.” There was relief in the release of her pent breath.
“My name,” said ex-Lieutenant Bow, “is Henry.”
“Enrique,” said Miranda, and smiled. “Wait, please.” Rising, she crossed the clearing, vanished among the tawny shadows of the trees to Henry’s right.
“Well,” thought Henry Bow, “it’s done now!” He rolled over and sat up, tossing aside his hat, folding his long arms around his knees. He saw the girl’s mug balanced on the rock, and reached out for it. It was half full of near-coffee, still hot, and he sipped it gratefully, watching for Miranda’s return. When she reappeared from the trees, he held up the mug. “Permeso?”
She laughed. “I’ll get you some hot in a minute. You must be tired and hungry.”
She carried a covered basket. Sitting below him on the slant of rock, she raised the lid of the basket carefully, took out one of a pair of pigeons. Deftly fastening the tiny container to its leg she smoothed with her brown fingers the pastel-tinted feathers of the neck and back.
“God speed, chicito,” she whispered -—and, rising, tossed the bird into the air.
It swept thrice above their heads, circling, seeking altitude and direction; then, with its rapid, intent flight, it headed for the pass between the peaks, showed there for an instant as a dot against the sky, and was gone.
Miranda, with a shrug and a faint sigh, turned to Henry. “Now, I’ll get you some food.”
From the cottage she brought sausage, grey bread, cold tortilla, cheese, and a balloon-shaped glass vessel of wine with two thin, long spouts.
“You’ve another pigeon in the basket?” Henry asked, as he started hungrily on the piquant sausage.
“Yes. We shall send it off,” she said—“after an interval, or they would fly together. This is a one-way courier —only used as a last resort, in emergency. The birds are smuggled up from Spain from time to time, over the contrabandista trails. I don’t know where they come from or where they return to. Only the chief knows that.”
“Si, si. Courier over this route is always—desperate. So it goes in duplicate, by two birds. Because of hawks, as the password says—hawks and eagles. Mountain country is terrible for pigeons.” She scanned the sky anxiously as she spoke. “But one of them is sure to get through.”
“They come down to roost at night?” Henry asked. “That’s why I had to be here by two—to give them flying time?”
Miranda nodded. And she asked, “Did you come on foot?”
“By car,” said Henry. “I left it way down at the bottom of the trail there—hid it among the trees.”
“Did you see anybody?” said Miranda. “I mean, besides the gardes mobiles at the French post? They’re all right—they’re kind when they know you. But anybody else?”
“Only some troops at the Spanish post, right out in the middle of a huge amphitheatre to the east there. It’s lonesome country, Miranda.”
“Lonesome,” she said. “But here in Andorra—free!" Sitting with her hands linked about her knees, she looked up toward the pass, toward Spain.
Henry said gently, “You belong over there?”
“Aragon,” she said, and her hands tightened. “One day we shall go back.” She looked up at Henry suddenly. “Why did Juan Garrigo send a stranger —a foreigner? The secret of this courier is jealously guarded.”
“He’s in the convent hospital at Ax with a broken leg,” Henry said, and explained what had happened. “I was in two minds,” he added, “right up to the last, as to whether I ought to carry out this mission.”
“What decided you?”
He looked at her thoughtfully. And with a sudden, deep conviction, he knew just what had decided him, at the last. He said simply, “Watching you—that’s what decided me.”
She met his eyes gravely. “You still have doubts — about what you’ve done?”
He shook his head. “It seemed right to me. I’ve no doubts, Miranda, and no regrets. Not now.”
She looked at him searchingly for a moment. Then she said, “Thank you for what you’ve done, Enrique. Thank you.” She rose. “It’s time for the other pigeon.”
Taking it from the basket, she affixed the second container, stroked the sleek feathers gently, making her little, whispered exhortation to the messenger, then tossed it into the air. It slanted up on beating wings, circled back, swept again above their heads, out over the canyon. And as their eyes followed it, a gun roared, close by. The bird dissolved in mid-air into a shapeless tangle of feather, blood and splintered bone, spinning dizzily downward, a dwindling black dot, toward the thread of river crawling silver in the gulf below.
The echoes awoke, clapping mockery from the summits. Two men stood at the edge of the trees.
HENRY BOW, sitting on the rock, and the girl Miranda, standing beside him, were as still as though death had touched them, too, with a cold finger. And as the echoes of the report faded in the mountaintops, the enduring, deep note of the torrent became once more audible.
The newcomers stood at that point of the trees where Miranda had gone among the brown boles to fetch the pigeons.
The slighter of the two men broke open his twelve-gauge, blew a wisp of smoke from the breech, dropped in a shell, closed the gun with a solid thock. He was hatless, with enamel-black hair parted in the centre and brushed back, and jet-black, sharp eyes. His aquiline, grey face was blue-shaven about the lean jaw. He had a thin, close-clipped mustache and a thinner but smiling mouth. He wore a covert cloth hunting coat, a green silk muffler, cord riding breeches, neat puttees and trim, brown boots.
“Pretty shooting, amigos,” he said to Henry and the girl. And to the
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man beside him, “Pablo, take a look in the cottage.”
The second man was a mountain man, hulking, heavy-shouldered, in hempen sandals, corduroys and ragged shirt, with a sweat rag round his throat and a black cloth cap pushed to the back of his stubbled head. His face was lantern-jawed, hard as mahogany. Reluctantly he lowered the light sporting rifle with which he had been covering Henry and the girl, and with a couple of fine pointer dogs padding at his heel, slouched across to the hut.
Two more mountain men came out from the trees. The arrogant, trim man with the grandee air nodded at Henry. “See if he has weapons, Miguel.”
Miguel sweated garlic at Henry as he ran his hands down his long flanks. “He has nothing, Don Salva.”
“Don Salva?” Henry said. His heart had started to thump, with great, measured, heavy strokes. He was afraid for Miranda, so still beside him. He moved forward. “My name is Bow—an American—a professor of history—”
“A companion of rebels, an associate of spies, Professor Bow!” The trim man looked Henry up and down with the cold eye of a falcon.
More ragged mountain men came filing out from the tawny shade of the trees into the currents of heat quivering over the little plateau. Two of the men led panniered mules, across one of which was slung a shot stag.
“I will eat here, Martin,” said Don Salva. His gun couched in the crook
of his arm, he took a gold cigarette case from his pocket, studying Henry with a kind of icy vivacity. “A little hunting party, Professor Bow,” he said—“as you see.” Snapping a lighter he dipped a cigarette in invisible flame, exhaled smoke. “Somewhat the wrong side of« the frontier, you fancy? How right you are! But then such things are always liable to happen or hunting trips—certain kinds of hunting trips, Professor! How come you here?”
“Pm on vacation,” Henry said; “just a traveller—”
“Just,” said Don Salva, “a traveller! And what do you think this girl’s dispatching by pigeon courier—cartas d’amor? Come, you forget I arrived at a pregnant juncture. I have eyes, my learned friend. They suggest compellingly to me that you’re here because you were the bearer of the tidings we’ve just seen fall into the canyon.” Suddenly his voice lashed: “ Who sent you?”
“Muy bien.” Don Salva strode to Miranda. “Perhaps, nina, you and I,” he said, “will better understand each other. First, grasp this—I know all about this post. 1 know the destination of birds that fly from it. At this instant measures are in operation to liquidate the individuals at that destination. Fd hazard a guess that the message you’ve just sent, brought to you undoubtedly by this reticent intellectual here, was a belated warning from your intelligence network to those misguided individuals. But you reckoned without counterintelligence,
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señorita—and you’ve seen what’s happened to your message!”
Miranda’s face was pale, but from the shine in her eyes Henry knew she was thinking, with triumph, with prayer, of the pigecn already on its way.
“Entonces," said Don Salva. “Your post here is no longer of the remotest significance. I’m no hawk sent merely to clean out a cote of pigeons. I’m here because I’ve learned that, among the recalcitrants and exiles over there in Ax and elsewhere, one onlythe leader—handles messages destined for this courier. That leader’s an active, bold man who has had the insolence to organize actual demonstrations across the frontier in Catalonia, causing great—vexation. I desire to know his identity. What is the name of the man with headquarters in or near Ax from whom, and normally by hand of whom, messages come for dispatch by this courier?”
“I don’t know,” said Miranda.
“Nina," Don Salva said softly, “you lie in your teeth!”
Henry thought he was going to strike her. And Henry lunged. He was checked by the rifle of the hovering, hulking Pablo, rammed hard against his concave middle.
Don Salva looked with narrowed, shrewd eyes from Miranda to Henry He shrugged. “Aluy bien," he said. “We have the time.” Picking up the glass drinking vessel Miranda had brought from the cottage, he threw back his enamelled head, and without touching the spout to his lips poured unerringly into his mouth a needle-thin
jet of wine. He made a wry face, hurled the vessel over the rock into the canyon.
“Ahora mismo!” A wizened man came forward with a picnic basket. Kneeling in the dust he took from the basket a white cloth and some bottles.
nON SALVA »it down on the rock.
The unending boom of the torrent rose from the canyon. Sprawling dogs snapped lazily at butterflies flickering here and there about the sun-smitten clearing. The sweat crawled down Henry’s flanks. The professor in him was bewildered by a scene fantastic as a dream. But the ex-lieutenant in him knew he and Miranda were living what well might be their last hour. His grey eyes slid cautiously around the plateau, marking the disposition of the men. Four, including Pablo, hovered close, watchful, armed with sporting rifles. Four more were busy around the mules. Others, evidently to guard against surprise, had gene on down the track leading to the valley.
Don Salva said abruptly, “Are you a chess player, Professor? If so, having looked over the board, you’ll recognize checkmate when you see it.” He took the wineglass handed up to him by the rat-faced Martin, passed the pale gold sherry to and fro appreciatively under his nose. “You and the girl have information I want. Understand this—from one or other of you, whatever the cost, I intend to get it.”
He tossed off the wine, took a leg of chicken from the dish preferred him by Martin.
“I don’t know,” said Don Salva, poising the chicktn leg between finger and thumb, “how you come to be involved in this, Professor, but from the look of you I deduce it was chance, or mischance—some accident, perhaps. Only in most exceptional circumstances can I picture our anonymous friend trusting a foreigner with courier for this pigeon post.”
He sank his excellent teeth in the chicken leg, munching with relish as he studied Henry.
“Your shifty look confirms my deduction, Professor. H’m!” He took another mouthful. “You realize, of course, that 1 could have you heaved over that precipice, and that if and when your body was found the tragedy certainly would be attributed to accident. ‘Sad fate of American educator!’ Hah!”
“What would that get you?” Henry said.
“Not a thing.” Don Salva tossed the chicken bone over the rock, took a buttered cracker from the dish. “For myself, Fd as soon not bereave the intelligentsia. You can’t run to your Embassy; they look askance at nationals who get into trouble because they meddle with other people’s clandestine courier. As for the girl, she’s a pawn—nada. You can have her. We’re in a kind of no man’s land here; it inclines me to make a generous gesture. Give me the information I want and you can go—the pair of you.”
ON THE plateau, the men watched. listened, munching bread and sausage and swigging from a goatskin wine bag which they tossed from one to another. The professor’s heart thumped, but the voice and eyes of the ex-lieutenant were steady.
“You’re offering us a bargain?” said Henry. “That man’s name against our two lives?”
Miranda’s voice broke in suddenly, with appeal and warning: “His life, Enrique! They’ll murder him!” Henry frowned at her. “Across the frontier?”
“You don’t understand,” she said, in anguish. “Such things—”
“Such things,” said Don Salva, “happen both sides of the frontier, don’t they, nina?” He took a drink of claret.
Miranda was looking desperately at Henry. “If we told,” she said, “they wouldn’t let us go—not at once—to warn him. First they’d kill him, then they’d let us go!”
“Is that the bargain you offer, Don Salva?” Henry said.
“Pablo,” said Don Salva, tapping salt over a hard-boiled egg, “how long do you reckon to—say—Ax and back, by your smugglers’ paths? You can take a burro.”
The hulking man squinted up at the sun. “I could be there a bit before midnight. If there was no—holdup there I could be back here soon after dawn.”
Don Salva bit into his egg. “That brown hilltop away there to the north, Pablo. You could come back over that hill, make us a mirror signal?” “Certainly.”
“Then there you are, Professor,” Don Salva said. “Tell me what 1 want to know, and when in the morning Pablo sends me three flashes of a mirror from that hill—meaning the job’s done, the man’s dead—you and the girl shall leave here unmolested. You have my word.” His jet eyes glittered as he looked up at Henry. “I take it my word is good enough for you, Professor?”
Henry knew that it was. He sensed that this poised, lithe man was a man of narrow bigotry but a man of courage, a man of wicked pride but by his own
code a man of honor. It was in every line of his hawk head.
“Just the same,” Henry said slowly, “1 don’t like your bargain.”
“Muy bien!" Don Salva washed claret around his teeth. He wiped his fingers on a napkin, touched it to his neat mustache. Tossing the napkin to Martin, he rose. “I’d hoped to avoid extreme measures,” he said. “I'd looked for a modicum of realism, detachment, from a foreigner. I should have known better. A professor, and a girl filled with half-baked student notions in some college. The intelligentsia preaching an effete idealism! Muy bien. You force me to an act that fills me with contempt—for you and myself. Pa blo ! Miguel !”
The men closed in.
“Take the girl to the cottage,” Don Salva said. “Bind her. Shave her head. If that doesn’t work get pincers from the gun kit and pull a fingernail or two. She’ll talk.”
Pablo and Miguel seized Miranda. The other two men moved between Henry and the girl, their rifles on him. Her eyes implored him to silence.
“Don’t move, Professor Bow,” Don Salva said. “A dead man can’t help her. Only an intelligent man could help her.”
His gesture held Pablo and Miguel motionless, waiting. He eyed Henry Bow with the hovering menace of a hawk gauging a stilt-legged heron.
“You can hardly believe,” he said softly, “that I don’t mean this. I’ve told you I intend to have that information. Then why force this abomination on me—by futility, vain heroics? I tell you now I know one of the two will break—either this girl’s student stubbornness or, at her first scream, your pedagogic sensibility. I know. Then in God’s name,” he suddenly screamed, “why force this iniquity upon me?”
But Don Salva had said too much. Don Salva had encroached on the terrain of the historian, on the pet theories of Professor Bow dryly enunciated in tranquil classrooms. Don Salva had said that a dead man couldn’t help Miranda. He had said it to a teacher who held that the utilitarian reason for the study of history was that it enabled the dead to serve the purpose of the living. Henry tasted the sweat salt on his lips. He glanced up at the sun.
Don Salva spun around from him to the men. “Take her!”
“Wait,” said Henry.
Miranda cried out, in sudden fear, “Enrique!”
But the ex-lieutenant in Henry, frantic to avert a horror, swept him into his gamble before the judgment of the professor could weigh the values involved.
He looked steadily at Don Salva, and his voice, toneless, sounded like a stranger’s in his own ears.
“He’s in the convent hospital at Ax-les-Thermes,” Henry said. “I met him by chance. He—”
Miranda tore suddenly free from the mountain men and, raging before Henry, struck him with all her strength across the mouth.
“Coward! Coward! Coward!”
The men dragged her back. The torrent boomed deeply in the canyon. The sun was reddening above the peaks. Henry passed the back of a hand across his mouth. A piston thudded in his chest.
He said harshly, “He’d had a heart attack. I found him at the roadside near Ax. I took him to the hospital in my car. He was desperate. He begged me to carry the courier to this post.”
He was conscious of Miranda’s
rigid stillness, of her eyes on liim.
“His nameI * * * *
* 7” said Don Salva. The voice of the nun. Mère Leclerc, sounded clear and calm in Henry’s mind: “He
will not see tomorrow’s
sundown.” “Carlos Cajal,” he said. For a moment there was no sound but the eternal booming of the torrent. Then Don Salva said crisply, “Pablo, a word with you. Martin, make
camp for the night. Pablo—” They moved away across the clearing. The guards remained, watchful. Miranda sat down on the rock. Henry dared not look at her. He took a cigarette from his pocket. The instinct of the ex-lieutenant, which had driven him into the mortal gamble, insisted that Don Salva was briefing a murderer for a rendezvous death already had kept. The professor, slower, detached, judicial, knew that a doctor and a nun could be wrong,
Pablo might get there first— 7TTH the approach of sunset the torrent in the canyon took
on a colder, deeper note. Three tiny flashes of a mirror, like the glitter of the sun on dew, seen afar on a bald, brown hilltop two hours after dawn. Smoke rising from the squat chimney of a grey stone cottage, and the white face of a girl emerging from the doorway. Slouching men with rifles, dogs scratching as the dust warmed to the sun over the peaks, the abiding deep note of a mountain torrent. Dim Salva’s voice, icily mocking as he lowered his field glasses: “So—he’s dead! Bastante!” A hawk who didn’t know, perhaps never would know, how the hood had been drawn over his eyes. “The way’s open, Profeasor!” Rut for Henry Bow a question
still unanswered, gripping his heart— It was
nearly noon when, in the black jeep with yellow wheels, he drove once more into the foothill town of Ax, pulled
up before the convent hospital. The lines of the impossibly long, wakeful night were drawn deep in his thin, brown, unshaven face as, with Miranda beside him, he mounted the hospital steps, pulled the bell. It chimed sweetly in the coo!, stone depths of the building. After a minute, the old, heavy door
was opened by Mère Leclerc. Henry Bow said, with dry
lips, “Carlos Cajol, reverend mother?” The nun looked up at him with calm eyes. “He died yesterday,” she said. “A little before sundown.” She added, “You’re the second
visitor who’s come too late.” Henry’s
body was iron. “The second?” “A fellow countryman of his came here near midnight,” the nun explained. “He was told he was too late, but that he could come in and say adios to his friend if he wished. But he
said no, and went away.” “I see,”
Henry said slowly. “Thank y°u.” “That was his only visitor,” said the nun. “He was a lonesome man.” She added, “I thought probably it was the other Spaniard you had come to see—Juan Garrigo. He was asking only a few minutes ago if
you’d called. He keeps asking.” “I should like to see him,”
said Miranda, “if 1 may?” The nun smiled at
her. “You knew him, too?” “Yes,” Miranda said softly.
“Oh, yes. He’s my husband.” The nun motioned her to follow, moved away across the hall. Miranda looked searchingly, deeply, for a moment, at Henry Bow. Suddenly she lifted his hand, kissed it, and turned