Treacherous Velasco by W. C. Morrow
Sitting at the open window of her room in the upper story of the
farmhouse, on the Rancho San Gregorio, Señora Violante Ovando de
McPherson watched, with the deepest interest, a cloud of dust which
rose in the still May air far down the valley; for it was evident that
the color in her cheeks and the sparkle in her violet-black eyes spoke
a language of devotion and happiness. Her husband was coming home, and
with him his vaqueros, after a tedious drive of cattle to San
Francisco. He had been gone but a month; but what an interminable
absence that is to a wife of a year! She had watched the fading of the
wild golden poppies; she had seen the busy workers of the bee-hives
laying up their stores of honey culled from the myriads of flowers
which carpeted the valley; and she had ridden over the Gabilan Hills to
see the thousands of her husband's cattle which dotted them. She had
been respectful of her housekeeping duties, and had directed Alice, the
sewing-girl, in the making of garments for the approaching hot season.
Yet, busy as she thought she was, and important as she imagined herself
to be in the management of the great ranch, time had dragged itself by
in manacles. But now was coming the cloud of dust to lift the cloud of
loneliness; and if ever a young wife's heart quickened with gladness,
it was hers.
Presently the fine young Scotchman leaped from his horse, clasped
his wife in his arms, asked a few hurried questions concerning her
welfare during his absence, untied a small buckskin bag which depended
from the pommel of his saddle, and, remarking, I thought you might
need some spending-money, Violante, held up the bag containing gold,
containing a hundred times more gold than her simple tastes and
restricted opportunities would permit her to employ. But was not her
Robert the most generous of men? Other eyes than hers saw itthose of
Basilio Velasco, one of the vaqueros; a small, swarthy man, with the
blackest and sharpest of eyes, in which just then was a strange
What a handsome couple were the young husband and wife, as,
arm-in-arm, they entered the househe so large, and red, and
masculine; she so dark, and reliant, and feminine! Beautiful Spanish
girls were plentiful in those youthful days of California; but Violante
had been known as the most beautiful of all the maidens between the
Santa Barbara Channel and the Bay of Monterey. Hard-headed and
fiery-tempered Scotch Presbyterian; gentle, patient, and faithful
Catholic; they were the happiest and most devoted of couples.
Well, little Violante, he said, take the bag up to your room, and
give us dinner; for before we rest we must ride over to the range and
look after the cattle, and after that you and I shall have a good, long
These pleasant duties were quickly dispatched, and the dusty men,
led by her husband, galloped away. From the open window of her room she
saw the receding cloud of dust, wondering at that urgent sense of duty
which could make so fond a husband leave her, even though for a short
time, after so long a separation. Thus she sat, dreamily thinking of
her great happiness in having him once again at home, and drinking in
the rich perfume of the racemes of wistaria-blossoms which covered the
massive vine against the house. This old vine, springing from the
ground beneath the window at which she sat, spread its long arms almost
completely over that part of the wall, divided on either side for the
window, and hung gracefully from beneath the eaves, embowering their
lovely owner in a tangled mass of purple blossoms. It was an exquisite
picturethe pretty wife sitting there, in the whitest of lawns,
looking out over the hills from this frame of gorgeous flowersall the
more charming from her unconsciousness of its beauty. Behind her, at
the opposite side of the room, sat her maid, Alice, sewing in silence.
As the señora looked dreamily over the hills, she became aware of
the peculiar actions of a man on horseback, who was approaching the
house from the direction in which her husband and the vaqueros had
disappeared. That which summoned her attention was the fact that the
man was approaching by an irregular route, which no ordinary
circumstance would have required. He had such a way of keeping behind
the trees that she could not determine his identity. It looked strange
and mysterious, and something impelled her to drop the lace curtain
over the window, for behind it she could watch without danger of being
The horseman disappeared, and this made her uneasiness all the
greater, but she said nothing to Alice. Soon she noticed the man on
foot approaching the house, in a watchful, skulking fashion, slipping
from one tree or one bit of shrubbery to another. Then, with a swift
run, he came near, and, stealthily and noiselessly as a cat, began to
ascend to her window by clambering up the wistaria-vine. Her spirit
quailed and her cheeks blanched when she saw the naked blade of a
dagger held between his teeth. She understood his missionit was her
life and the gold; and the glittering eyes of the robber she recognized
as those of Basilio Velasco. After a moment of nerveless terror the
ancient resisting blood of the Ovandos sprang into alert activity, and
this gentlest and sweetest of young women armed her soul to meet Death
on his own ground and his own terms, and try the issue with him.
She gave no alarm, for there was none in the house except herself
and Alice. To have given way to fear would have destroyed her only hope
of life. Quietly, in a low tone, she said,
Alice, listen, but do not say a word. There was an impressiveness
in her manner that startled the nervous, timid girl; but there were
also in it a strength and a self-reliance that reassured her. She
dropped her work and regarded her mistress with wonder. Look in the
second drawer of the bureau. You will find a pistol there. Bring it to
me quickly, without a word, for a man is clambering up the vine under
my window to rob me, and if we make any outcry or lose our heads we are
dead. Place full confidence in me, and it will be all right.
Alice, numb and nervous with fear, found the pistol and brought it
to her mistress.
Go and sit down and keep quiet, she was told; and this she did.
Violante, seeing that the weapon was loaded, cocked it, and glanced
out the window. Basilio was climbing very slowly and carefully, fearing
that the least disturbance of the vine would alarm the señora. When he
had come sufficiently near to make her aim sure, Violante suddenly
thrust aside the curtain, leaned out the window, and brought the barrel
of the weapon in line with Velasco's head.
What do you want, Basilio? she asked.
Hearing the musical voice, the Spaniard quickly looked up. Had the
bullet then imprisoned in the weapon been sent crashing through his
vitals, he would have received hardly a greater shock than that which
quivered through his nerves when he saw the black barrel of the pistol,
the small but steady hand which held it aimed at his brain, and the
pale and beautiful face above it. Thus holding the robber at her mercy,
she said firmly to the girl,
Alice, there is nothing to fear now. Run as fast as you can to the
west end of the house, about a hundred yards away, and you will find
this man's horse tied there somewhere in the shrubbery. Mount it, and
ride as fast as God will let you. Find my husband, and tell him I have
a robber as prisoner.
The girl, almost fainting, passed out of the room, found the horse,
and galloped away, leaving these two mortal enemies facing each other.
Velasco had heard all this, and he heard the horse clattering up the
road to the range beyond the hills of Gabilan. The picture of a fierce
and angry young Scotchman dashing up to the house and slaying him
without a parley needed no elaboration in his dazed imagination. He
gazed steadily at the señora and she at him; and, while he saw a
strange pity and a sorrow in her glance, he saw also an unyielding
determination. He could not speak, for the knife between his teeth held
his tongue a prisoner. If only he could plead with her and beg for his
Basilio, she quietly said, seeing that he was preparing to release
one hand by finding a firmer hold for the other, if you take either of
your hands away from the vine I will shoot you. Keep perfectly still.
If you make the least movement, I will shoot. You have seen me throw
apples in the air and send a bullet through every one with this
There was no boastfulness in this, and Velasco knew it to be true.
I would have given you money, Basilio, if you had asked me for it;
but to come thus with a knife! You would have killed me, Basilio, and I
have never been unkind to you.
If he could only remove the dagger from his mouth! Surely one so
kind and gentle as she would let him go in peace if he could only plead
with her! But to let the dagger fall from his teeth would be to disarm
himself, and he was hardly ready for that; and there was much thinking
and planning to be done within a very few minutes.
Velasco, still with his gaze on the black hole in the pistol-barrel,
soon made a discouraging discovery; the position in which he had been
arrested was insecure and uncomfortable, and the unusual strain that it
brought upon his muscles became painful and exhausting. To shift his
position even in the smallest way would be to invite the bullet. As the
moments flew the strain upon particular sets of muscles increased his
pain with alarming rapidity, and unconsciously he began to speculate
upon the length of time that remained before his suffering would lead
him into recklessness and death. While he was thus approaching a very
agony of pain, with the end of all human endurance not far away,
another was suffering in a different manner, but hardly less severely.
The beautiful señora held the choice of two lives in the barrel of
her pistol; but that she should thus hold any life at all was a matter
that astounded, perplexed, and agonized her; that she had the courage
to be in so extraordinary a position amazed her beyond estimation. Now,
when one reflects that one is courageous, one's courage is
questionable. And then, she was really so tender-hearted that she
wondered if she could make good her threat to shoot if the murderer
should move. That he believed she would was sufficient.
But after the arrival of her husbandwhat then? With his passionate
nature could he resist the temptation to cut the fellow's throat before
her very eyes? That was too horrible to think of. ButGod!the robber
himself had a knife! By thus summoning her husband was she not inviting
him to a mortal struggle with a desperate man better armed than he? It
would have been easy to liberate Basilio and let him go his way; but
she knew that her husband would follow and find him. Now that the
mischief of notifying him had been done, it was best to keep the
prisoner with her, that she might plead for his life. Therein lay her
hope that she could avert the shedding of blood by either of the men.
Her suspense; her self-questionings; her dread of a terrible
termination to an incident which already had assumed the shape of a
tragedy; her fearful responsibility; the menacing possibility that she
herself, in simple defence of her life, might have to kill Basilio; her
trepidation on the score of her aim and the reliability of the
pistolall these things and others were wearing her out; and at last
she, too, began to wonder how long she could bear the strain, and
whether or not her husband would arrive in time to save her.
Meanwhile, Velasco, racked to the marrow by the pains which tortured
him, and driven by a desire to drop the dagger and plead for his life
and by fear of parting with his weapon, was urged to despair, and
finally to desperation. All the supplication that his face and eyes
could show pleaded eloquently for him, and with this silent pleading
came evidence of his physical agony. The muscles of his arms and legs
twitched and trembled, and his labored breathing hissed as it split
upon the edge of the knife. He was unable longer to control the muscles
of his lips; the keen edge of his weapon found a way into the flesh at
either side of his mouth, and two small streams of blood trickled down
his chin and fell upon his breast. Not for a moment did he take his
gaze from her eyes; and thus these two regarded each other in a silence
and a stillness that were terrible. A crisis had to come. Here was a
test of nerve that inevitably would make a victim of one or the other.
The spectacle of the man's agony, the pitiful sight of his imploring
look, were more than the feminine flesh of which Violante was composed
The crash cameBasilio was the first to break down. Whether
voluntarily or not, he released his hold upon the knife, which went
clattering through the vine-branches to the ground. In another instant
his tongue, now free, began pouring forth a supplication in the Spanish
language with an eloquence which Violante had never heard equalled.
Oh, señora! he said, who but an angel could show a mercy tenderer
than human? And yet, as I hope for the mercy of the Holy Virgin, there
are a sweetness and a kindness in your face that belong to an angel of
mercy. Oh, Mother of God! surely thy unworthy son has been brought into
this strait for the trying of his soul, and for its chastisement and
purification at the hands of thy sweetest and gentlest of daughters;
for thou hast put it into her heartwhich is as pure as her face is
beautifulto spare me from a most horrible end. Thou hast whispered
into her mother-soul that one of thy sons, however base and
undeserving, should not be sent unshriven to the judgment-seat of the
most Holy Christ, thy son. Through the holy church thou hast
enlightened her soul to the duties of a Christian, for in her beautiful
face shines the radiance of heaven.Ah, señora! see me plead for
mercy! Behold the agonies which beset me, and let my sufferings unlock
the door of your heart. Let me go in peace, señora; and you shall find
in me a slave all the days of my lifethe humblest and most devoted of
slaves, happy if you beat me, glorying in my slavery if you starve me,
and giving praise to Almighty God if you trample me under your feet.
Señora, señora, release me, for time is pressingI can barely escape
if you let me go this instant. Would you have my blood on your hands?
Can you face the Virgin with that? Oh, señoraseñora
Her head swam, and all her senses were afloat in a sea of agonies.
Still she looked down into his eyes as he continued his pleadings, but
the outlines of his body were wavering and uncertain, and inexpressible
suffering numbed her faculties. Still she listened vaguely to his
outpouring of speech; and it was not until her husband, with two of his
vaqueros, dashed up on horseback that either of these two strangely
situated sufferers was aware of his approach. Seeing him, Violante
threw her arms abroad, and the pistol went flying to the ground; and
then she sank down to the floor, and the brilliant sunshine became
night and the shining glories of the day all nothingness.
* * * * *
She awoke and found herself lying on her bed, with her husband
sitting beside her, caressing her hands and watching her anxiously. It
was a little time before she could summon her faculties to exercise and
to an understanding of her husband's endearing words; but, seeing him
safe with her, her next thought was of Velasco.
Where is Basilio? she asked, starting up and looking fearfully
He is safe, my dear one. Think no more of Basilio, who would have
harmed my Violante. Be calm, for my sake, sweet wife.
Oh, I can't, I can't! You must tell me about Basilio. And, in a
frightened whisper, she asked, Did you kill him?
No, loved one; Basilio is alive.
She sank back upon her pillow. God be praised! she whispered.
Suddenly she started again and looked keenly into her husband's
eyes. You have never deceived me, she hurriedly said; but, Robert, I
must know the truth. Have no fearI can bear it. For God's sake, my
husband, tell me the truth!
Alarmed, he took her in his arms, and said, Be calm, my Violante;
for as the Almighty is my witness, Basilio is alive.
Alive! alive! she cried; what does that mean? You are keeping
something back, my husband. I know your passionate nature too wellyou
could not let him off so easily. Tell me the whole truth, Robert, or I
shall go mad!
There was a frantic earnestness in this that would have made evasion
I will, Violante; I will. Listenfor upon my soul, this is the
whole truth: When I saw you drop the pistol and sink back upon the
floor, I knew that you had fainted. I ordered the vaqueros to secure
the weapon and make Basilio descend to the ground. Then I ran upstairs,
placed you on the bed, loosened your clothing, and did what I could to
restore you. But you remained unconscious
Basilio! Basilio! tell me about him.
I went to the window and sent one of the men to the hacienda for a
doctor for you, and told the other to bring Basilio to this room. He
came in very weak and trembling, for he had fallen from the vine and
was slightly stunned, but not much hurt. He expected me to kill him
here in this room, but I could not do thatI was afraid on your
account, Violante. He was very quiet and ill
Hurry, Robert, hurry!
He said nothing. I spoke to him. He hung his head and asked me if I
would let him pray. I told him I would not kill him. A great light
broke over his face. He fell at my feet and clasped my knees and kissed
my boots and wept like a child. It was pitiful, Violante.
He begged me to punish him. He removed his shirt and implored me to
beat him. I told him I would not touch him. He said he would be your
slave and mine all his life; but he insisted that he must make some
physical atonementhe must be punished. 'Very well,' I said. Then I
turned to Nicolas and told him to give Basilio some light punishment,
as that would relieve his mind. Nicolas took him down and lashed him to
the back of a horse, and turned the animal into the horse-corral. Then
Nicolas came back and told me what he had done. I replied that it was
all right, and that as soon as I could leave you I would go and release
Basilio. And then I told Nicolas to go to the range and look up Alice
and bring her home, for she was too weak to come back with me.
And Basilio is in the corral now?
How was he lashed to the horse?
I don't knowNicolas didn't tell me; but you may be sure that he
is all right.
She threw her arms around her husband's neck and kissed him again
and again, saying, My noble, generous husband! I love you a thousand
times more than ever. Now go, Robert, at once, and release Basilio.
I can't leave you, dear.
You mustyou shall! I am fully recovered. If you don't go, I
No sooner had he left the room than she sprang out of the bed,
caught up a penknife, and noiselessly followed him; he did not suspect
her presence close behind him as he went towards the corral. When they
had gone thus a short distance from the house her alert ear caught a
peculiar sound that sent icicles through her body. They were feeble
cries of human agony, and they came from a direction other than that of
the corral. Heedlessly, and therefore unwisely, she ran towards their
source, without having summoned her husband, and soon she came upon a
McPherson pursued his way to the corral; but when he arrived there
he was surprised not to find Basilio in the enclosure. The gate was
closedthe horse to which he was lashed could not have escaped through
it. Looking about, he read the signs of a commotion that must have
occurred among the horses, caused, undoubtedly, by the strange sight of
a man lashed in some peculiar way to the back of one of their number.
The ground was torn by flying hoofs in all directions; there had been a
wild stampede among the animals. Even when he entered, possibly more
than a half-hour after Basilio was introduced among them, they were
huddled in a corner, and snorted in alarm when he approached them. The
horse to which Nicolas had lashed Basilio was not to be seen. Annoyed
at the stupidity of Nicolas, McPherson looked about until he found the
place in the fence through which Basilio's horse had broken; only two
of the rails had been thrown down. Alarmed and distressed, McPherson
leaped over the fence, took up the trail of the horse, and followed it,
running. Presently he discovered that the horse, in his mad flight, had
broken through the fence enclosing the apiary, and had played havoc
among the twenty or more bee-hives therein. Then McPherson saw a
spectacle that for a little while took all the strength out of his
The señora, guided by a quicker sense than that of her husband, had
gone straight to the apiary. There she saw the horse, with Basilio,
naked to the waist, strapped upon his back, the animal plunging madly
among the bee-hives, kicking them to fragments as the vicious insects
plied him with their stings. Basilio was tied with his face to the sun,
which poured its fierce rays into his eyes; for Nicolas was devoted to
the señora, and he had been determined to make matters as uncomfortable
for the ingrate as possible. Upon Basilio's unprotected body the bees
swarmed by hundreds, giving him a score of stings to one for the horse,
and he was utterly helpless to protect himself. Already the poison of a
thousand stings had been poured into his face and body; his features
were hideously swollen and distorted, and his chest was puffed out of
resemblance to a human shape, and was livid and ghastly.
Without a moment's hesitation, the señora flew through the gate and
went to the deliverance of Basilio, praying to God with every breath.
His cries were feeble, for his strength was nearly gone, and his
incredible agony, aided by the poison of the bees, had sent his wits
astray. For Violante to approach the maddened horse and the swarming
bees was to offer herself to death; but what cared she for that, when
another's life was at stake? Into this desperate situation she threw
herself. With the coolness of a trained horsewoman, she finally twisted
the fingers of one hand into the frantic horse's nostrils, bringing him
instantly under control. In another moment, unmindful of the stings
which the bees inflicted upon her face and hands, she had cut Basilio's
lashings and caught his shapeless body in her arms as it slipped to the
ground. Then, taking him under the arms, she dragged him, with uncommon
strength, from the enclosure and away from the murderous assaults of
He moaned; his head rolled from one side to the other. His eyes were
closed by the swelling of the lids, and he could not see her; but even
had this not been so, he was past knowing her. She laid him down in the
shade of a great oak, and she saw from his faint and interrupted gasps
that in another moment all would be over with him. Unconscious of the
presence of her husband, who now stood reverently, with uncovered head,
behind her, she raised to heaven her blanched face and beautiful eyes,
and softly prayed, Holy mother of Jesus, hear the prayer of thy
wretched daughter, and intercede for this unshriven spirit. She
glanced down at Basilio, and saw that he was dead. Feebly she staggered
to her feet, and, seeing her husband, cried out his name, stretched out
her arms towards him, and sank unconscious into his strong grasp; and
thus he bore her to the house, kissing her face, while tears streamed
down his cheeks.