Gracian Palma was in his fourteenth year when his father died suddenly, and the boy, already motherless, became the ward of Senor Palma’s old and trusted friend, Don Jesus de Viscarra. Gracian had seen Don Jesus only once in his life; he remembered him as a tall, distinguished-looking man whom his father described as the owner of Black Valley—“where the wind roars,” his father had added. To Gracian these words seemed to cast an air of mystery about Don Jesus and his home.
Shortly after Senor Palma’s death, Don Jesus visited Gracian at the convent school in Cordoba and promised to take him to Black Valley for the summer. On the last day of the term, Don Jesus appeared at the school, and that afternoon, they took a train for Cosquin. From there they traveled by horseback through a wild, hilly countryside that reminded Gracian of fairies and witches. Darkness fell long before they arrived at the ranch house, where Gracian met the other members of Don Jesus’ family—his young daughter Mirra and his sister Flavia. While they were at supper, a harsh scream sounded from the darkness outside. Flavia said that the cry had been made by old Pichana. Lazarus, the creole overseer, spoke up to say that he had seen Pichana about a league away on the road to Cosquin. Gracian felt that there was some mystery at Black Valley that he did not understand.
The next morning, Don Jesus left to visit his brother, a rancher in the sierras, and Gracian was free to play with Mirra. While they were eating some roasted corn near a willow grove, the boy saw an old black woman in ragged clothes crouched in the fork of one of the trees. Mirra said that the crone was Pichana, a beggar whom many people believed a witch, but really a harmless old woman. Later the girl pointed out the house of the neighboring landowner. She said that Don Pablo Camargo claimed part of Don Jesus’ land and that Flavia was unkind to her because she had once quarreled with Victoria, Don Pablo’s daughter. When they returned home, Flavia drew Gracian aside and asked him if he had seen anyone on the Camargo estate.
Because of a boundary dispute, the Camargos and the Viscarras had been enemies for several generations. Don Jesus had been prepared to forget the ancient grudge until Don Pablo met Flavia de Viscarra and fell in love with her. Because of the young man’s reputation for wildness and violence, Don Jesus refused to consent to his sister’s engagement to his family’s enemy, and he had sent her to live with some distant relatives. There she had stayed, nursing her resentment, until Don Jesus’ wife died and Flavia came to live at Black Valley as his housekeeper. What Don Jesus did not know, however, was that Flavia had secretly given birth to Don Pablo’s child, the little girl Victoria. For a time after her return to Black Valley, Flavia had avoided her former lover, but at last her desire to see her daughter had drawn her to him. When he arrived at their meeting place, Don Pablo would imitate Pichana’s wild screech and Flavia would steal out to join him. Although she was deeply disturbed in her own conscience by her deceit, she continued to meet him because she hoped that he would sometime bring Victoria...
(The entire section is 1312 words.)