CHAPTER IV. AN ADVENTURE WITH BRIGANDS
Let us return now to the little girl we left feigning to sleep soundly upon a settle in the kitchen. There was certainly something suspicious about the fierce way in which she eyed Isabelle’s pearl necklace, and her little bit of clever acting afterwards. As soon as the door had closed upon the comedians she slowly opened her large, dark eyes, looked sharply round the great, dim kitchen, and when she found that nobody was watching her, slipped quietly down from the bench, threw back her hair with a quick movement of the head peculiar to her, crept softly to the door, which she cautiously unlatched, and escaped into the open air without making any more sound than a shadow, then walked slowly and listlessly away until she had turned a corner and was out of sight of the house, when she set off running as fleetly as a deer pursued by the hounds—jumping over the frequent obstacles in her path with wonderful agility, never stumbling, and flying along, with her black hair streaming out behind her, like some wild creature of the desolate pine barrens through which she was skilfully threading her way.
She reached at last a little knoll, crowned by a group of pine trees crowded closely together, and dashing up the steep bank with undiminished speed came to a sudden stop in the very middle of the grove. Here she stood still for a moment, peering anxiously about her, and then, putting two fingers in her mouth, gave three shrill whistles, such as no traveller in those desolate regions can hear without a shudder. In an instant what seemed to be a heap of pine twigs stirred, and a man emerging from beneath them rose slowly to his feet at a little distance from the child.
“Is it you, Chiquita?” he asked. “What news do you bring? You are late. I had given over expecting you to-night, and gone to sleep.”
The speaker was a dark, fierce-looking fellow of about five and twenty, with a spare, wiry frame, brilliant black eyes, and very white teeth—which were long and pointed like the fangs of a young wolf. He looked as if he might be a brigand, poacher, smuggler, thief, or assassin—all of which he had been indeed by turns. He was dressed like a Spanish peasant, and in the red woollen girdle wound several times around his waist was stuck a formidable knife, called in Spain a navaja. The desperadoes who make use of these terrible weapons usually display as many red stripes, cut in the steel, upon their long pointed blades as they have committed murders, and are esteemed by their companions in proportion to the number indicated by this horrible record. We do not know exactly how many of these scarlet grooves adorned Agostino’s navaja, but judging by the savage expression of his countenance, and the fierce glitter of his eye, we may safely suppose them to have been creditably numerous.
“Well, Chiquita,” said he, laying his hand caressingly on the child’s head, “and what did you see at Maitre Chirriguirri’s inn?”