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- The Treasure of the Incas - 40/63 -
with me for, as he says, throwing away my chances; that is to say, of marrying a man I do not care for, simply because he is rich. But I can bear that. Mother is very very good, and does all in her power to cheer me; but, as you know, she has never been much more than a cipher, accustomed always to submit to my father's will, and it is wonderful to me that in our matter she has ventured, not openly to oppose him, but to give me what strength and comfort she can.
"I hardly know how I should have got on without her comfort. My father hardly speaks to me. He treats me as if I had been convicted of some deadly sin, and is only restrained from punishing me in some way because, by some blunder or other, contumacy against the will of a father has been omitted from the penal code. Seriously, Harry, it makes me unhappy, not only for myself but for him. Until I was unable to give in to him in this question he has always been the kindest of fathers. I am sure he feels this estrangement between us almost as much as I do, but believes that he is acting for my good; and it is a great pain to him that I cannot see the matter in the same light as he does. Of course to me it is most ridiculous that he should suppose that my happiness depends upon having a title, and cutting a figure at court, and that sort of thing; but there is no arguing over it, and I am as thoroughly convinced that my view is the correct one as he is that it is utter folly.
"However, I am almost as sorry for him as for myself, and would do almost anything short of giving you up to make him happy. However, do not think that I am very miserable, because I am not. Somehow, though I can't give any good reason for my belief, I do think you will succeed. I do not say that I think for a moment you are likely to come home with the sum my father named as necessary; that seems to be quite hopeless. But I think somehow you may succeed in doing well; and though some people might consider that he was justified in refusing his consent to what he might think was a bad match, he could not do so with any justice were I to determine upon marrying a gentleman with some fortune. He thinks a great deal of public opinion, and would know that even chat would be against him. But Indeed, Harry, I am beginning to doubt whether in the end I shall be able to sacrifice my life to his unfortunate mania, that I must marry what he calls well. I love you, and told him that if at the end of two years you were not in a position to claim my hand, I would give in to my father's wishes. I will keep my promise so far, that I will not run away with you or marry you in defiance of his command. But as I have agreed to wait for two years for you, I may ask you to wait another two years for me.
"When I think of you going through all sorts of dangers and hardships for my sake, I feel that it would be downright wickedness to turn against you if you find that you cannot perform an impossible task. Instead of this separation making you less dear to me, it is affecting me in quite the other way. My thoughts are always with you. How could it be otherwise? I have worked myself up to such a pitch that I have almost resolved that, when the two years are up, I will say to my father: 'I shall ask Harry to release me from my promise to him, and for two years, Father, I will go about and allow men a fair chance of winning my love. If at the end of that time I have met no one to whom I can give my heart, I will then go my own way, and if Harry will take me I will marry him.' It will require a great deal of courage to say so; but you are doing so much to try and win me, that it would be hard indeed if I were to shrink from doing a little on my part.
"Still, it would make it easier for me if you should have the good fortune to bring home something; not because, as I have told you many times, I should shrink for a moment from renouncing all the luxuries in which I have been brought up, and for which I care so little, but because it would, in his eyes, be a proof of how earnestly you have striven to do what you could to meet his requirements. I did not mean to say this when I began my letter, but it seems to me that it will give you heart and strength in your work, and that you will see from it that I, too, have taken my courage in my hand, and show you that your love and faithfulness shall some day have the reward they deserve.
"God bless you and keep you, dearest,
"Your loving HILDA."
Harry read the letter through again and again, and at last Bertie came in.
"What! at it still, Harry?" he said with a laugh. "You must have got your letters by heart by this time. I have been sitting in the patio by myself for two mortal hours expecting you to come down. At last I said to myself, 'This sort of thing will bring on madness. When a healthy sailor forgets that his brother is waiting for supper, to say nothing of himself, it is clear that there is something radically wrong.'"
"It is evident, Bertie, that at present you know nothing of human nature. If there had been anything radically wrong in this letter I should probably have been down long ago. It is just the contrary. Hilda says that if I don't succeed here, she will give herself, or rather her father, two years, and at the end of that time, if she doesn't find someone she likes better, she will marry me, whether he likes it or not--at least, that is what it comes to."
"I congratulate you, old boy. At the same time, it is evident that she would not have been worth her salt if she had arrived at any other conclusion. Now, having settled that comfortably, let us go and have something to eat. You appear to forget altogether that you have had nothing since breakfast, and it is now past eight o'clock."
"You boys think of nothing but eating," Harry grumbled.
"Well, up till now, Harry, from the time we started, I have observed that you have a very healthy appetite yourself, and I can tell you it has cost me half a dollar in bribing the cook to stay on beyond his usual hour. I did not like to tell him that you were engaged in reading a love-letter fifty times, so I put it delicately and said that you were engaged in business of importance. It went against my conscience to tell such a buster."
"There, come on, Bertie. I had begun to hope that you were growing into a sensible fellow, but I am afraid that there is no chance of that now, and that you will continue to be a donkey to the end of your life."
Harry had told Dias that they had better take two or three days at home before they came into Lima again, but to his surprise the muleteer came in at ten o'clock next morning.
"Well, Dias, I did not expect to see you again so soon. You have found everything right at home, I hope?"
"No, seņor, I am sorry to say I did not. Three days after we left here our house was burnt down."
"Burnt down, Dias! I am sorry indeed to hear that. How did it happen? I thought you said that you had locked it up, and left no one there."
"That was so, seņor. The people who took over the garden were to go into the house once a week to see that everything was in order; but as this fire broke out only three days after I left, they had not entered it. Everyone says that it must have been fired on purpose, for the flames seem to have burst out in all parts at once. No one in the town thought that I had an enemy in the world, and all have been wondering who could have had a grudge against me. Of course we need not go very far to guess who was at the bottom of it."
"I suppose not, Dias. It must have been those scoundrels we gave such a thrashing to."
"There is no doubt of that, seņor. But this time they have got the best of me, for they know very well that I have no proof against them, and that it would be useless to lodge any complaint."
"I am afraid it would, Dias. Is it quite burnt down?"
"The walls are standing, seņor. It takes a good deal to burn adobe."
"What do you suppose it would cost to put it in the same condition as before, with the furniture and everything?"
"No great thing, seņor; two hundred or two hundred and fifty dollars. It would not be as much as that if it hadn't been that Maria had left her festa dresses and her silver trinkets behind. There was not much furniture in the house; but I think I could replace everything for about two hundred dollars, and I have a good deal more than that laid by."
"I shall certainly make that up to you, Dias. It was entirely your kindness in deciding to take us on Mr. Barnett's recommendation, and to undertake this journey, that brought the ill-will of these scoundrels upon you. Of course it is of no use doing anything now, but when our search is over I shall certainly see that you are not in any way the loser."
"No, seņor; if I could not replace it myself I might accept your kind offer, but I can do it without breaking very heavily into my savings. And indeed their attack on me was the outcome of an old grudge. I have been long regarded as a fortunate man, and truly I have been so. If there was a job for five mules, and I was disengaged, I always had the first offer."
"But that was not fortune, Dias; that was because you were known to be wholly trustworthy."
"There are few muleteers who are not so, seņor; it is rarely indeed that muleteers are false to their trust. I can scarce remember an instance. We Indians have our faults, but we are honest."
"Well, perhaps your getting the first job to go with foreign travellers may have been a piece of good fortune, but it is because these were so well satisfied with you that others engaged you. Trustworthiness is not the only thing wanted in a muleteer; willingness, cheerfulness, and a readiness to oblige are almost as important for the comfort of travellers. Well, do you think these fellows will try and play you another trick, Dias?"
"I hope they will," Dias said savagely, "that is, if they don't have too much odds against me. I owe them a big score now, for twice they have got the better of me. I should like to get even with them."
"Well, Dias, I hope they won't try anything of the sort. If anything should happen to you, I should not only be extremely sorry for your sake and your wife's, but it would destroy the last chance I have of carrying out my search for treasure. Do you think that if I were to go to the consul and lay a complaint against them, on the ground, in the first place, of their attack on you, and now of burning your house, it would have any effect?"
"If you were to make a complaint it might do, seņor; it certainly would not were I to do so. A little bribe would, of course, be necessary; you cannot do anything without that. The officials here are all Gamarra's men, and there is not one of them who would not take a bribe. But would it be worth while, as we are only going to stay here a week? And if you got them imprisoned they would be out again before I came back, and would be more anxious than ever to get rid of me."
"There is a good deal in that, Dias. As, of course, we shall be away, and
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