ALTHOUGH that romance which constitutes the softening mist through which posterity is wont to read the blurred pages of history, has dealt almost as lovingly with the great Spanish brigand as with any kindred creation of time or fancy, one point on which Don Q. much insisted has never been sufficiently recognized by the world at large. The point, namely, is that there are two classes of men who follow the career of robbery. There is the petty peseta-wolf—the penny-thief—who is the dread of the pleasure-loving peasant; and, far above him, the sequestrador—the great robber who holds to ransom—the “king of the mountains.”
It is not too much to say that there were two Don Q.’s. The one a sneering, vengeful, tiger-hearted chief of sequestradores, who dealt in death, pain, and blood-stained money; the other a charming, soft-spoken gentleman, full of courtesy and culture. But one quality remained always apparent, whichever side of his character was uppermost—the man was a most terrible enemy. “He knows no fear,” wrote a prisoner of his on one occasion, “nor do I think he has ever known it. Yet he has an imagination that cuts like a knife to the heart of things. It is this faculty of placing himself in the position of his foes that has so long enabled him to baffle all designs made against his liberty and his life.”
But of this particular point in Don Q.’s character Don Felipe Majada thought not at all as he lay at ease in a long chair and gazed up at the glorious blue sky of Spain. A cigarette dropped from his fat lips; his fat hands were loosely clasped upon his waist-sash; but though his body was extended at ease there was no smile of enjoyment playing over his features, for Don Q., from a neighbor with whom he could very well live at peace, was now become a thorn in his side.
In the past the relations between the successive governors of the ancient white city and the great sequestrador had not been unfriendly. “Live and let live” is an excellent motto or axiom of life. But in recent years Don Q. had made the mistake—in Don Felipe’s eyes—of capturing more than one Englishman, with the result that the British Government took a hand in the game, and peremptory orders from Madrid came down to the effect that Don Q. must be got rid of at the earliest opportunity.
It was all very well for the headquarter people at Madrid to say that the powerful robber must be removed out of hand, but how was such a result to be brought about? As has been told in a former chronicle, Don Felipe had made an attempt in this direction by sending an emissary into the Sierras to poison the Chief. The plan failed, and ever since, the shadow of Don Q. had lain cold across the life of the Governor. Moreover, lately the terrible Chief had come down into the plains and outdone his former exploits. And now, behold, an ultimatum had arrived from Madrid which said that if Don Q. was not captured or effaced within seven days, the governorship would be given into more capable hands.
“Ah, most beautiful,” he said aloud, shifting his fat back to a more convenient niche in the deep chair, “life has many trials, but it is only when the heart is broken that one tastes the full depths of despair.”
The woman he addressed moved her fan a little faster. She looked handsome and defiant, this full-throated, deep-bosomed Andalusian with magnificent sulky eyes, and the trace of dark down on her upper lip, giving, in Don Felipe’s opinion, the last touch of piquancy to her beauty.
“Have you no words, my Rosita?” he said again with a piteous accent.
“What shall I say?” She raised her heavy eyelids. “How does one show despair? Does one grow fat upon it?”
“Do not mock me, I implore you!” continued Don Felipe. “It is because of this carrion bird of the Sierras that I shall be thrust from my place. To-day I am one of the highest officials of the State, in seven days—caramba!—I shall be——”
“Without money, position, or credit,” concluded Rosita, giving every word its full value of sound, while the listener felt each as a blow.
“Unless I get rid of Don Q. within seven days,” Don Felipe repeated. “Don Q., mark you, Rosita, the abominable brigand who has defied all efforts to capture him since before I became Governor, for years, for lustrums!”
Rosita’s lip curled, showing her fine teeth. She exercised a great influence over the heart of the widower, who had been the husband of her dead cousin—a great influence, but not quite strong enough to gain the point she desired. She laughed with a touch of mockery.
“Some men would not accept defeat so easily,” she remarked. “Sooner than that you would go single-handed into the Sierra.”
“Me? Single-handed into the Sierra? The saints forbid!”
“But think,” she urged, still smiling, “how life will appear to you without money, position, honor, credit!”
“You do not understand!” exclaimed the Governor, his voice rising to the treble note of excitement. “You do not understand. It is death to face him!”
Rosita shrugged her shapely shoulders.
“So I have heard, but it is as good a fate as the other—to my mind,” her eyes burned so fierce a scorn that even Don Felipe Majada’s dull nerves quivered.
“Ah, my most beautiful, you do not understand!” he repeated helplessly. “You are far from understanding. This vulture hates me. If I were in his grip”—he shuddered—“he would kill me. Not by an easy death, Rosita, by inches. He is a terrible man.”
“He is at least a brave one!”
“Brave?” echoed the Governor. “He was born lacking the nerve of fear! He would face an entire army alone.”
“’Whereas you,” she pointed her fan at him with a little mocking gesture, “would head the army in running away. Is it not so?”
The Governor sat up, puffing out his cheeks, with some idea of protesting.
“Doña Rosita, you forget that I——”
She took the words from his lips, laughingly shaking her head.
“On the contrary, my Felipe, I remember that you——”
Don Felipe occupied himself in rolling another cigarette with care, reflecting meanwhile that he had made a false step in confiding the state of affairs to Rosita, toward whom his feelings, though strong, were so annoyingly divided. He half feared, half loved her. He leaned upon the higher force of her character, yet resented her power over him. Long ago, in the early flush of his admiration, he had spoken of marriage; now he had not the smallest intention of binding himself irrevocably to that compelling will.
But Rosita’s heart was tempestuous with ambition, and not at all with love. Born of ill-matched parents, her father a man of noble family, her mother sprung from a very different class, she had resolved to even the odds against herself by becoming the wife of the Governor. But Don Felipe, indolent and cowardly though he might be, was hard to drive and to hold. He had a hundred shifty fashions of eluding her pursuit, yet he always returned, allured by her beauty, and unconsciously by the moral support and help he derived from her counsel in his difficulties.
“You are cruel,” he said at last, “more cruel than the Government, Rosita.”
“You will find many of your friends cruel when you no longer are Governor of the province,” she rejoined.
Don Felipe cast away his cigarette. He wrung his hands. How wretchedly true this prophecy was he well knew. In sheer distress he wailed out the true object of his visit.
“What am I to do? You, who have so often counselled me, do not desert me now, my beloved! You, who are my Minerva and my Venus, tell me what I am to do.”
“But why should I?”
“Because our destinies are bound together,” he replied with fervor, hoping to pass an awkward point with a pretty paraphrase.
“That promise of marriage—you will fulfil it?” Her dark eyes flashed out on him.
“The day of Don Q.’s death. I swear it!” Majada was not so shy of giving his oath on this subject as one might expect, because he had given it before, and shuffled out of his responsibility.
“Is that true?” Rosita asked, rising from her seat, and standing over him.
“On the honor of a Majada!”
Perhaps this warrant was less satisfying than it sounded, but Doña Rosita accepted it. Her fan waved rapidly for a few moments.
“As you will not take my suggestion of going into the Sierras——”
“Which is impossible!” interjected Don Felipe resolutely.
“We must turn to some trick to tempt Don Q. down into the plains—into your power.”
Majada pursed his lips and shook his head in disappointment.
“Tricks have been tried times without number—and failed. No trap can tempt him,” he asserted dolefully.
“Not if baited with a woman?” Rosita’s splendid eyes looked coquettishly at him over the edge of her fan.
“Ah, lovely angel!” exclaimed her admirer amorously, “I yield, I melt at that glance. But Don Q.—” he snapped his finger and thumb, “he cares no more than his own mountains, even for beauty as glorious as yours!”
“That may be,” she replied; “for all that, I will tell you a plan by which you may draw the Chief out of the Sierras within three days.”
“Then we can capture him easily,” cried the Governor. “Jewel of a Rosita! Are you sure you can perform this miracle?”
She nodded, smiling.
“By playing upon what is best in him.”
“Best in him? He is a bloodthirsty rascal!”
“He has never harmed a woman.”
“Your country house is empty. You must imprison me there —because I refuse to marry you.”
“Oh!” commented Don Felipe dubiously.
“I will implore the assistance of Don Q. by a letter. He will come down in person to release me. I will tell him in the letter that you are sending some wine through the mountains in the hope that he will intercept it, and so die, for the wine will be poisoned. This you must do, and so prove my good faith.”
“It is a magnificent plan, my Rosita, and worthy of you,” exclaimed Don Felipe in genuine admiration. “I have but to conceal twoscore or threescore men in the gardens of the Casa de Segli.—”
“And you will remain Governor,” she added.
“With the most beautiful wife in Spain!” He gazed at her fervently.
“I wonder, my Felipe, what kind of a wife I shall make you?” she replied.
“What kind of a wife she will make me?” echoed the stout lover as he drove homewards along the streets, his glance fixed on the distant crests of the Sierra. “I shall fear to test that result, my most beautiful. If she were jealous of me! Caramba! the old vulture yonder is not more fierce than she. But we are not yet married, no! There are still three of us. You, Rosita, myself, and that other, Don Q. as they call him. I will first rid myself of the brigand—then when I am safe—ah—we shall see.”
IN the long state of war which existed between the Brigand Chief and the authorities pitted against him, it must be admitted Don Q. was the more scrupulous in the choice of weapons used. So it came to pass that the letter of Doña Rosita de Rivero, which betrayed the plot of the convoy of poisoned wine intended to fall into his hands, lit in his mind a cold and deadly fury against Don Felipe.
“This over-gorged carrion would endeavor a second time to poison me!” he reflected. “Am I a rat or a dog that he should do this? He must be taught. He has imprisoned this girl, moreover.”
For hours after receiving the letter he brooded vengefully, buried in one of his fits of deep depression. But the longer he thought, the more wary he became. Suspicion was as gall in his veins, and he possessed a fine capacity for putting himself in the place of his enemies, and looking upon their probable line of action from their standpoint.
So for many hours the Chief brooded in his cave, for when times permitted he liked to consider every possibility of the game. He held brigandage to be as honorable a profession as that of a soldier, a more artistic one in truth, and giving greater scope for the display of strategic ability, in that the odds against the brigand were the heavier.
After these hours of silence, he went to a table that stood in one corner of his cave and began to write. They were but a few lines, which ran somewhat as follows: He kissed the hand of the lovely Doña Rosita. He thanked her for the hint she sent him, and he would take steps for her deliverance on the coming Friday evening. He paused for a moment as if about to add more, then sealed the letter and called Robledo.
The young fellow came running up the pathway to the cave-mouth.
“Bring also Antonio,” was the order.
Don Q. looked keenly from the worn, handsome face of Robledo to his companion’s. Antonio was a meager man, with a cunning twist of the features, set in habitual discontent. Scattered tufts of hair decorated his cheeks and chin, over which his hand wandered nervously while he bore the scrutiny of his Chief.
“A week ago,” began Don Q. at last in his quiet voice, “your appearance offended my artistic susceptibilities, which are very strong. I ordered you to grow hair on your face to cover your deficiencies. It is slow in coming.”
“Pardon, lord,” the robber shifted his feet uneasily.
“I fear that if you remain in the mountains,” pursued Don Q., “my fastidiousness may perhaps carry me away, and I shall be forced to take measures to remove from the face of nature so unpleasant a blot as yourself. No one would regret this more than myself, therefore I have decided to lessen the temptation by sending you on a mission into the plains. Here is a note.”
A flash passed over the man’s face.
“I perceive you are glad to leave us,” remarked the Chief urbanely.
Antonio stammered some denials. Don Q. held up his hand.
“I am about to trust you. I pray you may prove yourself worthy of the honor. I am about to put my life in your keeping.”Antonio strove to maintain a quiet aspect. “This letter must be placed in the hands of the lady whom you will find detained at the Casa de Segli. Take care that by no chance it falls into the hands of Don Felipe Majada—my life would pay the penalty. You understand?”
Don Q. looked after the man with that quiver of his drooping eyelids which with him betrayed amusement or anger. “A very meager intellect,” he murmured. “That insect will do exactly as I calculate; he will endeavor to betray me.”
Then he turned to the second of his followers, who stood waiting meekly.
“For you, Robledo, I have a double mission,” the Chief resumed, in his soft, sibilant tones. “Go down to the shrine of San Pedro and beg one of the good fathers to come up into the mountains to the Gorge of the Torrent. Say that his presence will be urgently needed on Friday evening. They are good men, and, moreover, know that I am a patron of the church. Further——” He bent forward and whispered for a few moments in the ear of the young man.
NOW followed two days of apparent inaction on the part of Don Q. The weather was glorious, and through the sun-smitten afternoon there was a constant coming and going in the Boca de Lobo. Brigands who had held converse with charcoal-burners, goatherds, peasant women, or kept watch upon the bridle-paths, streamed almost without intermission into the cave where the Chief sat huddled by his fire. He issued his orders characteristically, and no one of those who received or fulfilled them could see whither they led. Yet his plan was clear and needed but the passage of a couple of days to develop it.
Now Don Felipe Majada and the lady of his love had conceived only one course of action open to Don Q. They imagined him setting forth in person to the rescue of the distressed damsel. But the policy of counterstroke appealed very strongly to his subtle intelligence.
He arranged, therefore, to slash in a counterblow. And following, as he pondered with gratification, the example of Lord Wellington, at Salamanca, and of many other notable generals in other parts of the world, both before and since, had decided to relieve the pressure upon Doña Rosita in the Casa de Segli by attacking the Governor in another place.
The sun had already passed overhead and was dropping in the fierce blue sky, when the Chief mounted his fragile frame on an ambling mule and led a body of his followers downward toward the plains. By many bridle-paths they passed, over wild scrub-grown areas, through glimmering summer woods, until in the splendid glow of evening they came to where a rugged path wound and tumbled through the lower ravines. Here a charcoal-burner rose from a thicket in which he had been crouching.
With his eyes on the ground he told of the passing of a convoy with wine for the Casa de Segli. That was sixteen hours ago. He had kept watch ever since.
“We have secured the convoy. And the soldiers?” inquired Don Q.
“They also passed, my lord, in the dark before the dawn. I could count sixty, but others passed in the gloom; there were more than sixty.”
“Good. You shall be rewarded, Tomas.”
“The saints watch over my lord of the mountains, and have him in their holy keeping!” exclaimed Tomas in pious gratitude.
“I trust so, I trust so, Tomas,” returned the brigand mildly. “And now, my children, forward. The soldiers will enjoy a quiet evening in the pleasant gardens of the Casa de Segli. We will not disturb them.”
IT was deep in the night, and in the streets of that white and ancient city where Don Felipe held office the watchmen had just cried the hour and the facts that the night was black and the stars hidden, when six men in Indian file slipped noiselessly through the shadows under the sleeping houses, and paused by the wall of the Governor’s residence. Then their leader, drawing on more tightly his long, muffling cloak, delivered an order or two. Something flopped softly down from the balcony above, and a slender figure passed by a rope ladder into the window overhead.
History is uncertain as to whether it was a man or a woman who met him, but, in any case, the accomplice—for Don Q. had friends everywhere, equally in the little local courts of officials as in the huts of the goatherds—holding the thin hand of the Chief drew him through a passage or two, and left him before a high closed door.
Don Q. took from his belt a knife, turned the handle of the door, and walked in. A faint lamp burned beside the bed. The brigand stepped up into the circle of its light, and tapped the sleeper sharply on the ears.
The Governor awoke. Surely this was some horrid nightmare, this vision of the vulture-face, and the fierce, flickering eyes! But, nightmare or no, frightful tremors shook Don Felipe as he lay breathless.
“Do not presume to utter a sound,” commanded Don Q.
The Governor’s face, bulged with terror, peered from the bedclothes. If he could but rouse himself, and clap his hands to scare away this monstrous bird of the Sierras, he felt his dream must end. But this he had no power to do. He could only stare in a paroxysm of grotesque helplessness at his visitor.
“Rise at once and come with me,” went on the urbane, inexorable voice. “Dress warmly, for it is chilly in the mountains and I should never forgive myself if you were to contract pneumonia.”
At the word “mountains” Don Felipe’s jaw fell. He found his tongue at last, but the sound it sent forth was like the bleating of a kid.
“Wh—who are you?—I refuse to go with you.”
“You will not, I am sure, do anything so rash as refuse. You cannot know that it is Don Q.’s shadow that lies across your face. Corpse of a scullion! Do not keep me waiting! My patience has its limits. I have ripped up a man for less.”
SUNRISE saw the Governor, woebegone and chilled, bound on a pony with rough paces, mounting higher and ever higher into those Sierras he had hitherto beheld only in terrified visions of the night. The wind, crashing in bitter volleys through the passes, would pass her cold hand over the mountain sides. Don Felipe shivered in vain. No one took the smallest heed of his discomfort, and the attenuated form riding ahead seemed to feel cold as little as fear. This was Friday. What had happened? It was the day on which Don Q. had promised in his letter to deliver Doña Rosita. What was going to become of him?
The air was growing warm by the time they encamped in the Gorge of the Torrent, a remote and lonely spot, seldom trodden by the foot of man. The Chief had disappeared into the shelter of a choza, a hut of wattle and grass, and Don Felipe, lying under a tree close at hand, felt little appetite for the food served to him on a leaf.
Soon the sibilant voice called from the choza.
“Bring the prisoner here, Robledo.” And in a moment the Governor stood, transfixed under the heavy-lidded gaze of the great Sequestrador. He stood within the gloom of the hut, a small fire smoldering on the ground at his feet.
“You are Don Felipe Majada?”
The fat captive quaked and bowed.
“I have received some complaints of your conduct toward a lady,” went on Don Q. politely. “I trust you will find yourself able to demolish these accusations.”
Don Felipe feebly shook his head. His throat was dry, and speech far beyond him.
“It pains me greatly,” resumed the brigand, “to be obliged to touch on so delicate a subject; but I am given to understand that you have pestered a lady with your attentions. I trust for your own sake that gossip rather than truth lies at the root of these reports?”
“They are false, señor;” gasped Don Felipe in an agony of apprehension. “I swear they are false!”
“Then how can you explain this?” demanded Don Q., handing him the letter that he and Doña Rosita had concocted together only four days earlier.
Majada read it, wagging his head and swallowing with difficulty in sheer terror, as he strove to speak.
“It is all false. She loves me!” he said.
“And the wine?” questioned Don Q. “Bring here a bottle, Robledo.”
It was laid at his feet.
“Do you recognize this bottle?”
“No, no!” Majada almost screamed.
“Then will you gratify me by taking a glass with me? You appear overcome. A glass of good wine is a restorative,” Don Q. said with his suave gravity.
“No, no! I—do not drink wine.”
“I am of a trustful nature, but this I cannot believe. I fear the story I have heard is true,” commented the brigand. “What do you deserve? Not death only, but a death.”
“Spare me, spare me!” howled Don Felipe, groveling. “It was not my fault. Send this man away, I will tell you all. No one else must know the whole truth of this affair.”
Don Q. smiled sourly, and raised his eyebrows.
“This man already knows,” he said trenchantly, nodding at Robledo.
“It is impossible! Harken to me, señor! Have mercy on me!” and there on his knees with his hands stretched for mercy, Don Felipe gave his rendering—the ancient rendering of Adam—of all that had passed between himself and Doña Rosita. In spite of his sobs and blunders, the meaning was plain, that he was not to blame for the nefarious plot against the life of this estimable gentleman, whom folks called Don Q., and who had a whim for living secluded in the mountains.
A long and heavy silence fell upon the group. Don Felipe, exhausted by his efforts, found himself crying dumbly. At last Don Q. spoke.
“This lady loves you?”
“She adores me! She would marry me in spite of myself,” mumbled the other.
“How fortunate for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“That I am about to send for her, Don Felipe. If she loves you, she will come.”
“It is impossible. My servants have her in charge.”
“Take a pen and write to your major-domo, or whoever has the good fortune to be in command at the Casa de Segli, ordering that the Señorita de Rivero be allowed to accompany the bearer of your letter. No more.”
“I repeat,” stammered Majada, “that it is impossible.”
“The poor soul would be terrified to accompany your brigands.”
Don Q. glanced at him queerly.
“If she fancies you, how much more, think you, will she admire this stalwart fellow?” He pointed at Robledo.
“She will not come; I am sure of it,” persisted the prisoner.
“How unlucky—as I said before—for you!”
“You are chivalrous—she is a woman,” pleaded Don Felipe, overwhelmed with the fear that Doña Rosita would turn the tables on him if she came into the presence of the bandit.
“Señor,” said Don Q., in his softest manner, “write the letter; and if you have any influence with Doña Rosita, as you say you have, use it to bring her here.”
Resistance was hopeless. Majada’s shaking hand produced the words.
“You have finished?” demanded the Chief, gently.
“Yes,” puffed Don Felipe.
“Then add this postscript. If she loves you it will cause her to fly to your side.” The exquisite courtesy of the brigand’s manner only deepened with each sentence.
“Write, señor: ‘Don Q. desires me to add that if you are not here by eight o’clock I shall be buried at a quarter past.’ ”
“Señor,” protested Majada miserably “this—is—”
“The truth—no more.”
THE long hours of that delicious day of the early Spanish summer passed. Lying in the shade of pleasant trees, the sunlight seeming to glitter through the pure air of the Sierras, and with as much as one needed to eat, drink, and smoke, what more could one desire for absolute content? Don Q. urged this point of view upon his captive.
But in vain, Don Felipe remained plunged in the wretchedness of anticipation, though he gave to his depression the name of anxiety about Doña Rosita.
“When she comes, we will have a talk and apportion the guilt,” returned the Chief agreeably. “She is an important witness. Now, señor, you know the course that events will take. Let us dismiss all thoughts of the future; the future will take care of itself.”
The valleys had fallen into shadow, but light lingered strongly upon the mountains. Don Q., seated alone in the choza, considered the position. In spite of the somewhat damaging reports brought up from the city by Robledo he could not bring himself to believe in the Governor’s story of Rosita’s guilt. The Chief found it hard to suspect a woman. For the sake of one woman, whose name never crossed his lips, and about whom you may be told a story, he chivalrously regarded all women, protected them when necessary, though as far as possible he eschewed having anything to do with the sex.
“This fatted animal,” he reflected, “has evidently ill-treated the señorita, whichever way the truth lies. She has been in his power; now he is in mine. Very good. I must do justice to both if I can—to the lady if a choice is afforded me.”
He sighed and rolled another cigarette. He began to see his way dimly.
Soon the slight bustle of some arrival on the little plateau under the ilex trees reached his ears. He waited but a moment before he called for Robledo. The young bandit, handsome, panting, travel-worn, appeared at the opening of the choza.
“You have done my bidding?”
“The lady is here, lord.”
“Good.” The Chief pondered a short time, and gave some orders before he commanded that Don Felipe Majada, and the lady, should be brought before him.
Doña Rosita had never looked more handsome. A coquettish veil, fastened with a crimson flower, covered her dark head, and she moved with a sort of defiant majesty.
Don Q. rose and bowed before her, sweeping his sombrero to the ground. If his aspect chilled her courage she showed no sign. Lifting her haughty eyes upon him she demanded why they had inflicted upon her this horrible journey through the mountains, following upon an imprisonment so painful and degrading?
As a matter of fact, Doña Rosita was in a very bad temper indeed. It appeared to her that the plot had miscarried through some imbecility of Don Felipe’s, and she foresaw herself in a very unpleasant position when the folks down in the ancient white town got hold of the particulars. Don Felipe in his official position was distinctly desirable, but the same man outwitted and discredited by the great sequestrador, and thrust from the emoluments and dignities of his various functions under Government was the reverse.
“I crave your pardon, fairest señorita,” began the Chief, with sibilant fluency. “I am to blame. This love-lorn gallant implored me not to put you to so much inconvenience for his sake. But a certain story he has told me requires to be investigated. Without your delightful presence I could do nothing. The sight of your beauty has refreshed my dim eyes, your amiability my poor heart,” again the sombrero swept the dusty floor.
Doña Rosita bit her lip with a look askance at the suave gentleman whose ominous gaze flickered over her, but whose fragile figure and emaciated, delicate hands spoke of ill-health and weakness.
She bowed coldly.
“What would you know of me? Ask your questions and let me be gone. Give me my liberty, señor.”
“But certainly. It will be my happiness to secure that of the lovely Doña Rosita. Condescend to hear me.” Don Q. recited the story of the plot as it had been told him by Majada.
As he went on Don Felipe assumed more and more the appearance of a pricked windbag. His folds of flesh seemed to hang more loosely, his puffy cheeks to fall into more obvious jowls.
When at the close Rosita turned her flashing regard upon him, his shaking knees gave way altogether, and he sank in a sitting posture to the ground.
The lady did not speak for a long moment; she pierced the unhappy Governor with a silent gaze. Then sweeping round upon Don Q., she advanced to the door of the hut, within which he stood.
“Grant me a moment, señor,” she implored, “out of the hearing of all these ears,” she waved a contemptuous fan at the guards who had accompanied her. “Let me enter the choza and tell you all.”
Don Q. signified his acquiescence, and bade his men draw off.
“Order this traitor to come too.” Doña Rosita touched Majada on the shoulder. “He shall be forced to tell the truth.”
Robledo helped the foundered Governor to his feet, and retired from sight.
Don Q. threw some twigs upon the fire, till its flames lit up the three faces. Then with an apology to the señorita, resumed his hat as she began to speak.
“So,” she cried, “this false man has dared to say many things to prejudice me in your eyes? He would save himself by throwing the guilt upon me! Oh, noble caballero! Oh, chivalrous gentleman! I thank you!”
“Oh, Rosita, Rosita!” moaned the Governor.
“I hate you! You have torn me from my home. You would force me to marry you!—Lord of the Sierras!” she turned to Don Q. with a magnificent movement, “What is such a traitor worthy of?”
“It is, indeed, a most shameful affair, señorita. Shall I punish him? Pray command me,” replied the brigand with an air of respectful sympathy.
“No!—I will deal with him myself.” Then springing to the side of Don Q. she added passionately, “Give me your knife, señor, and I will show you how we Spanish women deal with such a one!”
Don Felipe cowered, his hands over his blanched face, as the Chief handed the weapon to Rosita. She took it and faced Majada.
“Felipe,” she said, with a sudden break into a caressing tone, “listen to me.”
The Governor, struck by the change in her voice, peered up at her, his hand only half withdrawn from his face.
“Felipe, you swore to marry me in seven days if —something happened.”
“If,” repeated the man sulkily. “What’s the good of bothering me about that now?”
“Because that is going to happen now. Help me, Felipe, help me!”
Lithe as a wild creature, she flung herself round upon Don Q. as she spoke, stabbing viciously at him with the knife. The Chief raised his arms, and his dark cloak swirled about his head like the flapping of huge wings; but she pressed upon him, driving her knife deep as the folds of the cloak closed and settled in a heap upon Don Q.’s falling body. Nothing of him remained visible but one ghastly, emaciated, yellow hand, grasping loosely at nothing.
Terrified at her success, Rosita stood spellbound, gazing at the motionless and shapeless heap of black clothing, under which lay the body of the famous brigand. At last she drew a long breath of satisfaction and relief.
“I have won! I have defeated even Don Q.! There he lies, your unconquered thief, killed and out-maneuvered by a woman! You allowed my first plot to fail.”
But Majada only moaned.
“Yes; it is all very well. You have killed him; now they will kill us—those wolves of his,” he whimpered.
“You coward! You thought all was lost before, but I would not yield! As soon as I saw the robber’s weakly body, his thin wrists, his pallor, the idea of doing this darted into my mind. I told myself I could not fail! Felipe, you will remain Governor, and I shall be your wife!” But Majada made no response, he only gaped at her open-mouthed as she stood over him flushed and splendid in a storm of triumph. He had never been a brave man, and at that moment the probable vengeance of Don Q.’s followers drifted with a ghastly vividness before his mind’s eye. Suddenly an odd expression crossed his face, his jaw fell, and before she could comprehend what this meant her wrists were seized from behind. She wrenched her hands toward her breast to free them, and looked back over her shoulder into the face of Don Q.
“Help, help, Felipe!” this time the cry was an agonized appeal.
But Majada stood heavily apart. He had no stomach for fighting; moreover, he desired to consult his own safety, since Rosita by her act had confirmed his version of the plot. So he looked on with small interest while Rosita struggled like a gripped hawk, beak and talon. But to no purpose, for the wrists she had counted strengthless were made of steel, and soon she stood with her hands bound behind her.
“You have condemned yourself, señorita,” the Chief said. “Had I not been on my guard——” he stooped and raised his hat from the ground, the knife transfixed through crown and brim.
She shrugged her shoulders and laughed bitterly, “I had hoped it was your heart!”
“It would seem that you and Don Felipe have been partners in a conspiracy against my life,” pursued the Chief. “Down in the plains you permitted yourselves to compass my death. The soldiers still wait for me in the gardens of the Casa de Segli.”
Doña Rosita’s eyes flashed.
“I should have retrieved that disaster, if this creature’s blood were not made of milk,” she pointed at Majada. “Now do as you like with us.”
“What does Don Felipe deserve at my hands?” asked Don Q.
“Spare me, spare me!” cried Don Felipe, given over to fresh apprehensions.
Don Q. held up his hand for silence. “You deserve to die.” He paused. “But this lady loves you.”
“Not now. He is a coward. I would kill him rather than marry him,” Rosita said hotly.
“Lady, you have courage enough for two; thus, when you are made one, that will be no hindrance.” The Chief paid his compliment handsomely. “To become his wife has been your desire. You deserve punishment as certainly as he.”
“But I have heard you never hurt a woman,” she protested.
“True. But I give them their heart’s desire, which occasionally serves my purpose equally well.” He turned to Robledo, “Bring hither the good father.”
“I will not submit! I will not be the wife of Don Felipe!” she exclaimed.
“Will you permit me to kill him instead?” inquired the Chief sadly.
“I pray you to do so.”
Don Q. considered her for a long moment.
“You have shared his guilt; you must, therefore, share his punishment,” he said. “Choose, and remember, in choosing for him, you choose for yourself.” She met his eyes, a red spark seemed to glow under the drooping lids. The fiery spirit died within her. This terrible man was capable of anything. She shrank back with a gesture of compliance.
AN hour later the couple were about to start for the lower passes. As they mounted Doña Rosita on a mule for her ride, Don Felipe approached the Chief.
“You have forced me to marry a tigress!” he complained.
Don Q. was once more the amiable gentleman.
“But a beautiful tigress,” he amended. “Pray accept my warm congratulations. I cannot answer for her qualities as a wife, but I am very sure the Señora Majada will make a very charming widow.”