The sun had sunk red and fiery below the edge of the waving mesa, and a full tropical moon shed its glory over the landscape, making dark and mysterious the waving fields of cane, which surrounded the whitewashed courts of the palatial hacienda. The building was brilliantly lighted within, and from it came such sounds of discordant merriment as could be produced only by a singularly inferior native orchestra. Through one of the long French windows which gave on to the veranda of the house, there stepped forth the figure of a man. He stood for a moment taking long breaths of the heavy miasmatic air, as if it were grateful and refreshing after the stifling atmosphere of the ballroom. Had he not worn the uniform of a British officer he would still have been unmistakably military in appearance, standing six feet or over, a fine specimen of an animal, and handsome to look upon. But it was a weak face for a soldier, in spite of its bronze and scars, a weakness which was accentuated by the traces of a recent illness. To judge from his pallor it had been severe. The man had a pair of shifty grey eyes, which never by any chance looked you straight in the face, and now expressed ill-concealed ennui and annoyance. Not the countenance of a joyful bridegroom certainly, and yet, he had but that moment left the side of his wife of a few hours, the most beautiful woman in that South American State, and the only child and sole heiress of its most famous planter, Señor De Costa.
Up to that day the progress of his suit and the many obstacles which might intervene to prevent its successful consummation, had given a certain zest to the game. Now that he had won, he was heartily sick and tired of the whole affair. Seizing a moment when his wife was dancing with one of her relations, he had stolen out on the broad veranda to be alone, and to pull himself together in order that he might play out the rest of what was, to him, a little comedy; and to the woman within—well, time would show. The soft moonlight tempted him. His place was in the ballroom, he knew, but he put one foot off the edge of the piazza, and as it pressed the soft grass under his feet, he fell a willing victim to the spell of the night, and strolled slowly off into the darkness.