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Inez found Miguel Zaloa smoking his cigarette among the orange trees. He was quite alone and looked at the girl in an expectant way as she approached.
“Oh, Miguel!” she cried. “I tell you a secret. Of course it is no secret any more, for now they all know it, up there at the house. Meeldred Travers, the girl from New York, is not Meeldred Travers. She is the child of Leighton the smuggler—she is Meeldred Leighton!”
The old ranchero stood as if turned to stone, but he bit his cigarette in two and it fell unnoticed upon the ground. While Inez regarded him with disappointment, because he had exhibited no emotion at hearing the wonderful news, Miguel turned his back and mechanically walked away through a row of trees. A dozen paces distant he halted and again stood motionless for the space of a full minute. Then he swung around and with slow, hesitating steps returned to Inez.
“You say—she—ees Meeldred Leighton?” he asked, as if he thought he had not heard aright.
“Of course. Don’t you remember, Miguel? She say, when she used to come here, a little girl, with Leighton the great smuggler, you did know her. It was then you served Señor Cristoval, at the big house.”
He nodded, his dark eyes fixed upon her face but displaying no expression.
“Leighton is dead,” continued Inez, delighted to be able to gossip of all she had heard. “They put him in a prison an’ he died. So Meeldred was ashame of her father’s bad name an’ call herself Travers. She is poor, an’ that is why she come here as nurse, so she can find the money that belong to her.”
Miguel suddenly seized her wrist in a powerful grip.
“What money?” he demanded.
“Don’t; you hurt my arm! It is the money Señor Cristoval owed her father. Take your hand away, Miguel Zaloa!”
Slowly he released her.
“Where will she find thees money?” he asked.
“She does not know. Perhaps it is not here at all. But there was a great heap of laces, worth much money, which Señor Cristoval hid in the wall to keep for Leighton.”
Miguel laughed. He seemed suddenly to have regained his equanimity. He began rolling another cigarette.
“They will be old, by now, thees lace,” said he.
“A lace is better when it is old,” asserted the girl.
The man paused, looked at the half-made cigarette and tossed it away. Then he glanced around to see if they were observed and taking Inez’ arm—gently, this time—he led her away from the path and into a thicket of orange trees.
“Thees Meeldred,” he said in soft tones, “you hate.”
“No, no! I do not hate her now. I love Meeldred.”
“So!” he said, drawing in his breath and regarding the girl with surprise. “You tell me once she is witch-woman.”
“I am wrong,” declared Inez earnestly. “She is good. She have been poor an’ friendless, all because of her father, the noble smuggler Leighton. But see, Miguel; I have been all night shut up in the wall with her. We talk, an’ I learn to know her better. I do not hate Meeldred any more—I love her!”
“Sit down,” said the old man, pointing to a hillock beside a tree. Inez obeyed, and he squatted on the ground facing her and coolly rolled another cigarette. “Tell me more about thees girl—Leighton’s girl,” he said.
Inez related Mildred’s story as well as she was able, exaggerating such romantic details as appealed to her fancy, but showing unbounded sympathy for her new friend. The aged ranchero listened intently, nodding his white head now and then to show his interest. When the girl had finished he smoked for a time in silence.
“What Meeldred do now?” he inquired.
“They will hunt in the wall, to-morrow, to find the lace,” she replied. “Meest Weldon say for you to come to the house at nine o’clock, in morning, to help them.”
“Meest Weld say that?”
“Yes. But we have search already—Meeldred an’ me—an’ Meest Bul-Run have search, an’ no lace is there. I am sure of that. I am sure no money is there, too. So Meeldred mus’ stay as nurse all her life an’ help me take care of Mees Jane.”
Miguel pondered this.
“B’m’by Mees Jane grow up,” said he. “What can Leighton’s daughter do then?”
“How can I tell that?” answered Inez, shaking her head. “Always poor people mus’ work, Miguel. Is it not so?”
“Rich people mus’ work, too,” continued the Mexican girl dreamily, as she embraced her drawn-up legs and rested her chin upon her knees. “Was old Señor Cristoval more happy than we, with all the money he loved? No! Meest Weldon works; Meest Hahn works; even Meest Bul-Run works—sometime. If one does not work, one is not happy, Miguel; an’ if one mus’ work, money makes not any difference. So, when Meeldred find she is still poor, an’ has no money an’ no laces, like she hope for, she will work jus’ the same as ever, an’ be happy.”
“I, too, work,” remarked the old man. “I have always work.”
“If you had much money, Miguel, you would still work.”
“You would not care for money; not you. It would not do you any good. It would not change your life.”
Again they sat in silence, as if reflecting on this primitive philosophy. Finally Inez said:
“You remember Leighton, Miguel?”
“Yes. He was good man. He make much money for Señor Cristoval an’ for heemself. Sometime I see them count gold—ten pieces to Señor Cristoval, ten pieces to Leighton—to divide even. Then Leighton will throw me a gold-piece an’ say: ‘That for you, Miguel, because you are faithful an’ true.’”
“An’ Señor Cristoval, did he throw the gold-piece to you, also?”
“What did you do with the gold Leighton give you, Miguel?”
The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Tobacco. Some wine. A game of card.”
“An’ were you faithful an’ true, as Leighton say?”
He looked at her long and steadily.
“What you theenk about that, Inez?”
“When people talk about Miguel Zaloa, they always say he is good man. I hear Meest Weldon say: ‘Miguel is honest. I would trust Miguel with all I have.’”
“Meest Weld say that?”
“I think you are sometime honest, sometime not; like I am myself,” replied the girl.
The old man rose and led the way back to the path.
“To be always honest is to be sometime foolish,” he muttered on the way. “Tell Meest Weld I will be there, like he say, at nine o’clock.”
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