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Maruja Bret Harte

Chapter V

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"'Tis only an Americano--a runaway, with some ill-gotten gold," said Miguel, sullenly, yet with unmistakable fear of the old man. "Besides, it was only to frighten him, the braggart. But since thou fearest to touch a hair of those interlopers--"

"Fearest!" said Pereo, fiercely, clutching him by the throat, and forcing him against the wall. "Fearest! sayest thou. I, Pereo, fear? Dost thou think I would soil these hands, that might strike a higher quarry, with blood of thy game?"

"Forgive me, padrono," gasped Miguel, now thoroughly alarmed at the old man's awakened passion; "pardon; I meant that, since thou knowest him--"

"I know him?" repeated Pereo scornfully, contemptuously throwing Miguel aside, who at once took that opportunity to increase his distance from the old man's arm. "I know him? Thou shalt see. Come hither, child," he called, beckoning to Guest. "Come hither, thou hast nothing to fear now."

Guest, who had been attracted by the sound of altercation behind him, but who was utterly unconscious of its origin or his own relation to it, came forward impatiently. As he did so, Miguel took to his heels. The act did not tend to mollify Guest's surly suspicions, and, pausing a few feet from the old man, he roughly demanded his business with him.

Pereo raised his head, with the dignity of years and habits of command. The face of the young man confronting him was clearly illuminated by the moonlight. Pereo's eyes suddenly dilated, his mouth stiffened, he staggered back against the wall.

"Who are you?" he gasped, in uncertain English.

Believing himself the subject of some drunkard's pastime, Guest replied, savagely, "One who has enough of this d--d nonsense, and will stand no more of it from any one, young or old," and turned abruptly on his heel.

"Stay, one moment, Senor, for the love of God!"

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Some keen accent of agony in the old man's voice touched even Guest's selfish nature. He halted.

"You are--a stranger here?"--faltered Pereo. "Yes?"

"I am."

"You do not live here?--you have no friends?"

"I told you I am a stranger. I never was here before in my life," said Guest, impatiently.

"True; I am a fool," said the old man, hurriedly, to himself. "I am mad--mad! It is not HIS voice. No! It is not HIS look, now that his face changes. I am crazy." He stopped, and passed his trembling hands across his eyes. "Pardon, Senor," he continued, recalling himself with a humility that was almost ironical in its extravagance. "Pardon, pardon! Yet, perhaps it is not too much to have wanted to know who was the man one has saved."

"Saved!" repeated Guest, with incredulous contempt.

"Ay!" said Pereo, haughtily, drawing his figure erect; ay, saved! Senor." He stopped and shrugged his shoulders. "But let it pass-- I say--let it pass. Take an old man's advice, friend: show not your gold hereafter to strangers lightly, no matter how lightly you have come by it. Good-night!"

Guest for a moment hesitated whether to resent the old man's speech, or to let it pass as the incoherent fancy of a brain maddened by drink. Then he ended the discussion by turning his back abruptly and continuing his way to the high-road.

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