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Authors: Rosemary Pollock

The Mountains of Spring

BOOK: The Mountains of Spring
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THE MOUNTAINS OF SPRING

Rosemary Pollack

 

Caroline Ashton went to Mexico to find out what had happened to her brother Peter—and was horrified to find him completely in the power of Diego Rivel.

The more she learned about Peter

s situation, the more her hatred for the arrogant Mexican increased. But isn

t there a saying about hate—and love?

 

CHAPTER I

The aircraft had been lurching violently for nearly three-quarters of an hour now, and each succeeding crash of thunder seemed slightly more
alarming than
the one before it. Caroline, who wasn

t fond of storms at the best of times, supposed that if only one happened to have enough nerve to enjoy that kind of thing the spectacle of the heavens being illumined every thirty seconds or so by vivid tropical lightning might quite probably be something worth remembering, but as things were she felt considerably happier when she kept her eyes averted from the all too excellent view provided by the porthole beside her.

It wouldn

t ha
ve seemed so bad, she knew, if sh
e had had someone to talk to. But the seat next to hers was empty, and all four stewardesses were fully occupied in struggling to keep down the rising tide of panic among their other passengers. Near the front of the long cabin a woman was weeping, noisily and hysterically, and not far behind her a voluble Italian businessman was demanding to know why the plane had been allowed to run into such conditions. Caroline could sense fear all around her, and although, as a reasonably experienced traveller, she knew that they would probably come through the storm without suffering any damage whatsoever, she couldn

t help feeling more uneasy than she had ever felt in her life before.

Throughout the flight, for one thing—all the way from London—a small, nagging voice at the back
of her
mind
had been telling her that what she was doing was absolutely crazy and utterly irresponsible. No sooner had they taken off from Heathrow Airport into the cloudy, rain-filled skies of early April than she had wanted nothing more earnestly than to be able to turn back again, and for several hours now the thought of the problems that would await her when the huge silver airliner finally reached its destination had been making her feel slightly sick.

She was travelling towards Mexico—a country which she had never visited before, and about which she knew virtually nothing—and when she landed there would be nobody to meet her. In the whole of the country there was nobody who was even expecting her.

She heard one of the stewardesses telling a passenger bracingly that in less than half an hour

s time they would be in Mexico City. The passenger in question was an agitated lady who obviously suspected that she and all her fellow-travellers were in imminent danger of extinction, and it wasn

t easy to
c
alm
her down, but the stewardess was cool and completely unruffled, and her composure was having its effect. As they lost height, she explained, they would lose the storm too, and everything would be fine
...
perhaps in the meantime the Senora would like a cup of coffee?

And then the cabin gave another tremendous lurch, and somebody

s glass of whisky crashed to the floor, sending its contents cascading down the central aisle. There were several screams, and Caroline felt herself thrown sideways. She hit her head on something sharp, and as a searing pain shot through her temples the lavender-blue decor of the
plane

s interior began to swim around her.

For several seconds, in a detached sort of way, she felt quite certain that she was about to lose consciousness. As it happened, she didn

t do anything of the kind, but even when the aircraft itself steadied again her surroundings continued to revolve, and she realized that a stewardess was bending over her.


Miss Ashley, are you all right?

And then the girl caught sight of a small spot of blood on the upholstery, and smothered a gasp of alarm.

You

ve cut yourself, haven

t you? I

d better have a look at it.

Caroline sta
r
ed up at her dazedly.
‘I
don

t quite know how I did it,

she said, rather as if it were all her own fault.

I hit my head on something, and—


Yes, well, just put your head back, and keep still. I

ll go and get the first-aid kit.

A second stewardess appeared beside the first, and the two of them consulted together in an undertone, while Caroline, now feeling decidedly sick, closed her eyes, and felt beads of perspiration break out on her forehead.

One or two of the other passengers were beginning to realize what had happened, and an American voice was to be heard offering assistance. Caroline realized that she had been responsible for the creation of a diversion, and when the two stewardesses returned to her side armed with an alarming selection of bottles and bandages and gleaming instruments she made an effort to protest that she was really feeling perfectly all right. But as she was obviously very far from all right, and the unpleasant gash above her left eyebrow was beginning to bleed profusely, she was forced to submit to its being first
examined, and then bathed, and then dressed.

Fortunately, the aircraft itself managed to remain fairly stable while this operation was in progress, but when it was completed she still felt faint and unpleasantly dizzy, and she heard someone murmur that a doctor had better be asked to meet the plane. A cup of tea was put into her hand, and as she accepted it gratefully, and did her best to smile, one of the stewardesses asked whether anyone would be waiting for her at the airport.


Oh, no.

She frowned with the effort to concentrate.

Nobody

s expecting me. I

m going to Toluca.


Toluca? But that

s forty or fifty miles from Mexico City. And you can

t—

Seeing the look in Caroline

s eyes, the girl stopped,

Well, we

ll see what the doctor says.

All at once, in a matter of minutes, they had passed out of the clutches of the storm, and now they were gliding smoothly in to land. Relief tinged with more than a hint of hysteria was spreading among the passengers, and everyone seemed to be laughing and talking at the same time. The woman whose distress had a few minutes earlier been audible throughout the length and breadth of the aircraft was now busily engaged in repairing the damage to her make-up, and the Italian businessman was pressing one of the stewardesses to convey his congratulations to the pilot.

The only person, apart from Caroline herself, who didn

t appear to be surrendering to the urge to communicate with his fellow human beings was a tall dark man seated near the front of the plane, who for the last two or three hours had scarcely lifted
h
is eyes from his book. Caroline had noticed him first at the height of the storm, and been fascinated by his apparent indifference to what was going on around him, and now her eyes kept wandering back to him, for there was something about his cool, unemotional detachment that in the circumstances was oddly soothing. In a few minutes

time they would be landing in Mexico City, and the thought loomed over her like a hazy nightmare, filling her with panic. She glanced out of the window, and saw that the city was rising to meet them ... a great circular ocean
o
f light, for it was now nearly ten o

clock in the evening, and overhead the sky was like black velvet.

Minutes later she felt the slight jolt as they hit the runway, and then vivid lights flashed past the windows, and the whole world was filled with the throbbing of engines. The noise seemed to grow and grow until Caroline felt that she could stand it no longer, and then, all at once, they were stationary, and everything was quiet. For a moment or two, nobody even spoke—and then the spell was broken, and half a dozen people started talking at once.

Caroline fumbled with her seat-belt, and was absurdly relieved when the stewardess who had given her her cup of tea arrived to unfasten it for her.


I seem to be a bit shaky,

she said apologetically.

It must have been the bump
...’


Yes; don

t let it worry you.

The girl in the smart blue uniform smiled at her reassuringly.

Just stay where you are. The doctor will be here in a minute.


Doctor?

Caroline

s eyes widened, and she looked more anxious than ever.

But I really don

t want a doctor! I

m in a hurry—I have to catch a train.


Well, I don

t think you ought to go dashing off until you have seen a doctor—just in case you

re not fit to travel by yourself. Don

t worry, there

s bound to be another train. We

ll fix you up somehow, anyway. Isn

t there someone we can telephone for you—to let them know you

ve been delayed?


No, thank you.

Without thinking, she shook her head, and promp
t
ly realized that in her present condition that sort of activity was best avoided. A few minutes later the doctor boarded the plane, and as he seated himself beside her and placidly opened his
small
black case a second wave of panic flooded over her, causing her pulse to accelerate to such a degree that the plump, benevolent-looking little Mexican shook his head at her.


You are a little shocked, I think,
senorita.
There is no one travelling with you?


No, but—


But you are quite all right
,’
the doctor smiled.

That is good, but we will have a small look at the head, however.

He conducted a swift examination, and then sat back.


You are near the end of your journey,
senorita
?
Someone will be meeting you?

The stewardess intervened.

Miss Ashley is planning to travel on to Toluca, doctor—by train. And she

s not being met.


Well, she cannot do this.

He frowned at Caroline.

Senorita,
you are not badly hurt, but you must rest. There must be no more travelling for a week, at least. After that
...’
He shrugged.

After that you must see another doctor, and then
perhaps—


But I must go on to-night! I

ve got to get to Toluca.

She was making a violent effort to collect her thoughts, and the effort showed itself in her face.

You see, my brother lives near Toluca, and I don

t know anybody else in Mexico. I wouldn

t have come if it hadn

t been for my brother!

The doctor patted her hand, and glanced expressively at the stewardess.

Then you must tell us your brother

s name, and where he lives. He will come for you, yes?


I don

t know. I mean...

The stewardess smiled at her.

I

ll telephone him for you, shall I? I expect he

s on the telephone.

Caroline

s head began to spin violently, and then, as she struggled to think coherently, another man appeared behind the stewardess, and a quiet voice

said:


Forgive me,
senorita,
but I know Toluca well. Will you tell me your brother

s name?

She glanced up, and found herself looking into the eyes of the dark-skinned man who throughout the worst of the recent storm had coolly occupied himself with a book. Most of the other passengers
had
left the aircraft by this time, but he had not, and the earnest discussion going on over the head of the injured English girl had obviously captured his attention.


I could not avoid overhearing what you said,

he continued, still addressing Caroline.

And
I think that perhaps I may know your brother.


You
...
know my brother?

She looked up a
t
him again, and this time there was a touch of eagerness in her face ... the eagerness of a lost child
who has suddenly come upon a link with familiar things.

Oh, do you really know him? His name is Peter Ashley, and he keeps horses
...
lots of horses
...’

The Mexican bowed, and his eyes, which were almost as black as the night sky beyond the windows, swept over Caroline with a sort of detached interest.

I know him very well. May I take you to him,
senorita
?

The doctor intervened.

This is most kind,
senor,
but the Senorita Ashley should certainly rest within the
ci
ty for at l
e
ast one night.

He added something in rapid Spanish, and the dark man nodded.

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