Rosa uttered a smothered cry.
“Colonel Fernandez,” Don Mario proceeded, impressively, “did me this favor, knowing me to be a suitor for Rosa’s hand. In spite of his duty and the evidence he—”
“Evidence? What evidence?” Esteban asked, sharply.
“For one thing, your own letter to Lopez, the rebel, warning him to beware of the trap prepared for him in Santa Clara, and advising him of the Government force at Sabanilla. Oh, don’t try to deny it! I read it with my own eyes, and it means—death.”
In the ensuing silence the fat man’s asthmatic breathing sounded loudly; it was like the respirations of an excited eavesdropper.
At last Rosa said, faintly: “Esteban! I warned you.”
Esteban was taken aback, but it was plain that he was not in the least frightened. “They haven’t caught me yet,” he laughed.
“You say they intend to arrest me also?” Rosa eyed the caller anxiously.
“Yes! Who accuses her, and of what?” Esteban indignantly demanded.
“That also I have discovered through the courtesy of Colonel Fernandez. Your accuser is none other than Pancho Cueto.”
“Yes, he has denounced both of you as rebels, and the letter is only part of his proof, I believe. I don’t know what other evidence he has, but, take my word for it, the Government does not require much proof these days. Suspicion is enough. Now, then, you can guess why I am here. I am not without influence; I can save Rosa, but for you, Esteban, I fear I can do nothing. You must look out for yourself. Well? What do you say? We’re wasting precious time standing here with our mouths open.”
When Esteban saw how pale his sister had grown, he took her in his arms, saying, gently: “I’m sorry, dear. It’s all my fault.” Then to the merchant, “It was very good of you to warn us.”
“Ha!” Don Mario fanned himself. “I’m glad you appreciate my efforts. It’s a good thing to have the right kind of a friend. I’ll marry Rosa within an hour, and I fancy my name will be a sufficient shield—”
Rosa turned to her elderly suitor and made a deep courtesy. “I am unworthy of the honor,” said she. “You see, I—I do not love you, Don Mario.”
“Love!” exploded the visitor. “God bless you! What has love to do with the matter? Esteban will have to ride for his life in ten minutes and your property will be seized. So you had better make yourself ready to go with me.” But Rosa shook her head.
“Eh? What ails you? What do you expect to do?”
“I shall go with Esteban,” said the girl.
This calm announcement seemed to stupefy De Castano. He sat down heavily in the nearest chair, and with his wet handkerchief poised in one pudgy hand he stared fixedly at the speaker. His eyes were round and bulging, the sweat streamed unheeded from his temples. He resembled some queer bloated marine monster just emerged from the sea and momentarily dazzled by the light.