THE declining sun had shifted the shadows from west to east amongst the
houses of the town. It had shifted them upon the whole extent of the immense
Campo, with the white walls of its haciendas on the knolls dominating the green
distances; with its grass-thatched ranches crouching in the folds of ground by the
banks of streams; with the dark islands of clustered trees on a clear sea of grass,
and the precipitous range of the Cordillera, immense and motionless, emerging
from the billows of the lower forests like the barren coast of a land of giants. The
sunset rays striking the snow-slope of Higuerota from afar gave it an air of rosy
youth, while the serrated mass of distant peaks remained black, as if calcined in
the fiery radiance. The undulating surface of the forests seemed powdered with
pale gold dust; and away there, beyond Rincon, hidden from the town by two
wooded spurs, the rocks of the San Tome gorge, with the flat wall of the
mountain itself crowned by gigantic ferns, took on warm tones of brown and
yellow, with red rusty streaks, and the dark green clumps of bushes rooted in
crevices. From the plain the stamp sheds and the houses of the mine appeared
dark and small, high up, like the nests of birds clustered on the ledges of a cliff.
The zigzag paths resembled faint tracings scratched on the wall of a cyclopean
blockhouse. To the two serenos of the mine on patrol duty, strolling, carbine in
hand, and watchful eyes, in the shade of the trees lining the stream near the
bridge, Don Pepe, descending the path from the upper plateau, appeared no
bigger than a large beetle.
With his air of aimless, insect-like going to and fro upon the face of the rock, Don
Pepe's figure kept on descending steadily, and, when near the bottom, sank at
last behind the roofs of store-houses, forges, and workshops. For a time the pair
of serenos strolled back and forth before the bridge, on which they had stopped a
horseman holding a large white envelope in his hand. Then Don Pepe, emerging
in the village street from amongst the houses, not a stone's throw from the
frontier bridge, approached, striding in wide dark trousers tucked into boots, a
white linen jacket, sabre at his side, and revolver at his belt. In this disturbed time
nothing could find the Senor Gobernador with his boots off, as the saying is.
At a slight nod from one of the serenos, the man, a messenger from the town,
dismounted, and crossed the bridge, leading his horse by the bridle.
Don Pepe received the letter from his other hand, slapped his left side and his
hips in succession, feeling for his spectacle case. After settling the heavy
silvermounted affair astride his nose, and adjusting it carefully behind his ears,
he opened the envelope, holding it up at about a foot in front of his eyes. The
paper he pulled out contained some three lines of writing. He looked at them for
a long time. His grey moustache moved slightly up and down, and the wrinkles,
radiating at the corners of his eyes, ran together. He nodded serenely. "Bueno,"
he said. "There is no answer."
Then, in his quiet, kindly way, he engaged in a cautious conversation with the
man, who was willing to talk cheerily, as if something lucky had happened to him