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قراءة كتاب The Four Corners of the World

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‏اللغة: English
The Four Corners of the World

The Four Corners of the World

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 9

without a word to the railings at the end of the garden, whence one looks straight down upon the lights of the lower town along the river bank. Then she turned. A beam of light from the windows shone upon her face. The smile had gone from it. Her lips shook.

"What has happened?" I asked.

She spoke in jerks.

"He came to me to-night.... He danced with me...."

"Who?" I asked.

"Juan Ballester," said she.

I had half expected the name.

"He spoke of himself," she resumed. "Sometimes it is not easy to tell whether he is acting or whether he is serious. It was easy to-night. He was serious."

"What did he say?"

"That up till to-night all had been work with him.... That to-night had set the crown upon his work.... That now for the first time he could let other hopes, other thoughts, have play...."

"Yes, I see," I replied slowly. "Having done his work, he wants his prize. He would."

Ballester had toiled untiringly for thirteen years in both open and devious ways, and, as the consequence of his toil, he had lifted his Republic into an importance which it had never possessed before. He had succeeded because what he wanted, he wanted very much. It certainly looked as if there were considerable trouble in front of Olivia and Harry Vandeleur--especially Harry Vandeleur.

"So he wants you to marry him," I said; and Olivia gave me one swift look and turned her head away.

"No," she answered in a whisper. "He wants his revenge, too."

"Revenge?" I exclaimed.

Olivia nodded her head.

"He told me that I must go up to Benandalla"; and the remark took my breath away. Benandalla was the name of a farm which Ballester owned, up in the hills two hours away from Santa Paula; and the less said about it the better. Ballester was accustomed to retreat thither after any spell of unusually arduous work; and the great feastings which went on, the babel of laughter, the noise of music and castanets and the bright lights blazing upon the quiet night till dawn had made the farm notorious. Even at this moment, I knew, it was not nearly uninhabited.

"At Benandalla ... you?" I cried; and, indeed, it seemed to me that the mere presence of Olivia must have brought discomfort into those coarse orgies, so set apart was she by her distinction. "And he tells you to go," I continued, "as if you were his maidservant!"

Olivia clenched her small hands together and leaned upon the railings. Her eyes travelled along the river below and sought a brightness in the distant sky--the loom of the lights of Las Cuevas. For a little while, she was strengthened by thoughts of escape, and then once more she drooped.

"I am frightened," she said, and coming from her, the whispered and childish cry filled me with consternation. It was her manner and what she left unsaid rather than her words, which alarmed me. Where I should have expected pride and a flame of high anger, I found sheer terror, and the reason of that terror she had not yet given me.

"He spoke of Harry," she resumed. "He said that Harry must not interfere.... He used threats."

Yes, I thought, Juan Ballester would do that. It was not the usual way of conducting a courtship; but Juan Ballester's way was not the usual way of governing a country.

"What kind of threats?"

"Prisons," she answered with a break in her voice.

"What?" I exclaimed.

"Yes," she said. "Prisons--especially in the Northern Republics of South America.... He explained that, though you have more liberty here than anywhere else so long as you are free, you are more completely--destroyed--here than anywhere else if you once get into prison." From her hesitation I could guess that "destroyed" was a milder word than Juan Ballester had used.

"He described them to me," she went on. "Hovels where you sleep in the mud at night, and whence you are leased out by day to work in the fields without a hat--until, in a month or so, the sun puts an end to your misery."

I knew there was truth in that description. But it was not possible that Ballester could put his threat into force. It was anger now, not consternation, which filled me.

"Señorita, reflect!" I cried. "In whose garden are you standing now? The British Minister's--and Harry Vandeleur is an Englishman. It was no more than a brutal piece of bullying by Ballester. See! I am his secretary"--and she suddenly turned round towards me with a gleam in her eyes.

"Yes," she interrupted. "You are his secretary and Harry's friend. Will you help us, I wonder?"

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