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Title: San Isidro
Author: Crowninshield, Schuyler, Mrs.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "San Isidro" ***

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|Transcriber's note:                              |
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|Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.  |
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SAN ISIDRO

BY

Mrs. Schuyler Crowninshield

[Illustration: Logo]

HERBERT S. STONE & COMPANY
CHICAGO & NEW YORK
MDCCCC


COPYRIGHT 1899 BY
HERBERT S. STONE & CO.


TO
C. S. C.
A MEMORY OF "LA MADRUGADA"



SAN ISIDRO[1]



I


People wondered why Don Beltran remained in the casa down by the river.
He had been warned by his prudent neighbors, who lived anywhere from two
to six miles away, that some time a flood, greater than any that the
valley had yet known, would arise and sweep house and inmates away to
the sea.

Don Beltran laughed at this. He was happy as he was, and content. There
had always been floods, and they had sometimes caused the river to
overflow so as to wash across his potreros, but the cacao and bananas
were planted on gentle elevations where the water as yet had never
reached. Then, too, there was always the Hill Rancho, though neither so
large nor so comfortable as the casa. Why borrow trouble? At the first
sign of danger the cattle and horses had always betaken themselves to
the grove on the hill, there to browse and feed, until the shallow lake
which stretched across the plains below them had subsided. Once Don
Beltran, Adan, his faithful serving-man, and Adan's niece, Agueda, had
been belated. Adan had quickly untied the bridle of the little brown
horse from the tethering staple at the corner of the casa, and mounting
it, had swum away for safety.

"That is right," said Don Beltran; "he will swim Mexico"--Don Beltran
said Mayheco--"to the rising ground, and save the young rascal. As for
us, Agueda, the horse had stampeded before I noticed the cloud-burst. It
seems that you and I must stay."

Agueda made no answer, but she thought it no hardship to remain.

"There is no danger for us, child; we can go up to the thatch and wait."

"The peons have gone," said Agueda, shyly.

"They were within their rights," answered Don Beltran. "All must go who
are afraid. I have always told them that. For me, I have known many
floods. They were always interesting, never dangerous. Had I my choice,
I should have stayed."

"And I," said Agueda. She did not look at Don Beltran as she spoke. The
lids were drooped over her grey eyes.

Agueda turned away and entered the comidor, leaving Don Beltran looking
up the valley: not anxiously--merely as one surveys a spectacle of
interest. Once in the comidor, Agueda busied herself opening cupboards
and closets. She took therefrom certain articles of food which she
placed within a basket. She did not move nervously, but quickly, as if
to say, "It may come at any moment; we have not much time, perhaps." She
recalled, as she lightly hurried about, the last time that the flood had
overtaken them at the casa. Nada, her mother, had prepared the basket
then. Nada, Adan's sister, who had kept Don Beltran's house, after she
had been left alone on the hillside--Nada, sweet Nada, who had died six
months ago of no malady that the little Spanish doctor could discover.

Don Beltran prized his Capitas, Adan, above all the serving-men whom he
had ever employed, and nothing was too good for Adan's sister Nada--so
young, so fair-looking, so patient, her mouth set ever in that
heartrending smile, which is more bitter to look upon than a fierce
compression of the lips, whose gentle tones wring the heart more cruelly
than do the wild denunciations of the revengeful and vindictive. The
little Spanish doctor, who, like the Chinese, had never forgotten
anything, as he had never learned anything, had ordered a young calf
slain and its heart brought to where Nada lay wasting away. Warm and
almost beating, it had been opened and laid upon the spot where she
felt the gnawing pain; but as there is no prophylactic against the
breaking of a heart, so for that crushed and quivering organ there is no
remedy. And Nada, tortured in every feeling, physical and mental, had
suffered all that devotion and ignorance could suggest, and died.

Agueda knew little of her mother's history, and remembered only her
invariable patience and gentleness. She remembered their leaving Los
Alamos to come to the hacienda down by the river. She remembered that
one day she had suddenly awakened to the fact that Don Jorge was at the
casa no longer, that her mother smiled no more, that she paid slight
attention to her little daughter's questionings, that Nada was always
robed in black now, that there had been no funeral, no corpse, no grave!
Don Jorge was not dead, that she knew, because the old Capitas, Rafael,
was always ordering the peons about, saying, "The Señor wills it," or
"The Señor will have it so." Then there had come a day when the
bull-cart was brought to the door--the side door which opened from their
apartment. In it were placed her little trunk, which Nada had brought
her from Haldez, when she went to the midwinter fair, and her mother's
American chair, which Don Jorge had brought once when he returned from
the States; she remembered how kindly he had smiled at her pleasure. In
fact, all that in any way seemed to be part and parcel of the two was
placed in the cart, not unkindly, by Juan Filipe, and then the vehicle
awaited Nada's pleasure. She remembered how Nada had taken her by the
hand and led her through the rooms of the large, spreading, uneven casa.
They had passed through halls and corridors, and had finally come to a
pretty interior, which Agueda remembered well, but in which she had not
been now for a long time. The walls were pink, and on the floor was a
pink and white rug, faded it is true, but dainty still. Here Nada had
looked about with streaming eyes. She had gone round behind the bed, and
Agueda had looked up to see her standing, her lips pressed to the wall,
and whispering through her kisses, "Good by, good by!" Then she had
taken Agueda by the hand.

"Look at this room well, 'Gueda," she had said.

"Why, mother?"

But Nada did not speak. Her lips trembled. She could not form her words.
She stood for a moment, her eyes devouring that room which she should
never see again. Her tears had stopped; her eyes were burning.

She stooped down by her daughter.

"Agueda," she said, "repeat these words after me."

"Yes, mother."

"Say, 'All happiness be upon this house.'"

"No, no! mother, I will not. This casa has made you cry. I will not say
it."

"Agueda!" Nada's tone was almost stern. "Do as I tell you, child, repeat
my words--'All happiness come to this house.'"

But Agueda had pressed her lips tightly together and shaken her head.
She had closed the grey eyes so that the curled lashes swept her round
brown cheek. Nada had lifted the child in her arms and carried her
through the corridors and out to the side veranda. She had set her in
the cart and got in beside her.

"Where to, Señora?" Juan Filipe had asked gently.

"To San Isidro," Nada had answered from stiff lips.

"_Aaaaaiiieee!_" Juan Filipe had shouted, at the same time flourishing
the long lash of his whip round the animals' heads. They, knowing that
they must soon move, had tossed their noses stubbornly. Another warning,
the wheels had creaked, turned round, and they had passed down the hill.
Agueda never forgot that ride to San Isidro. Had it not been for her
mother's tears, she would have been more than happy. She had always
wished to ride in the new bull-cart; Juan Filipe had promised her many
a time. Now he was at last keeping his promise. This argued well. If she
could take one ride, how many more might she not have? All the time
during that little trip to San Isidro, Agueda was asking herself mental
questions. There was no use in speaking to her mother. She only looked
far away toward Los Alamos, and answered "Yes" and "No" at random.
Agueda remembered with what delight she had seen the patient bulls turn
the creaking cart into the camino which led to San Isidro.

"Oh," she said, clapping her hands, "we are going to Uncle Adan's!"

For was not this Uncle Adan's casa, and did not Don Beltran live with
Uncle Adan? She was not sure. But when she had been there with her
mother, she had seen that splendid tall Don Beltran about the house with
the dogs, or with his bulls in the field, or in his shooting coat with
his gun slung across his shoulder, or going with his fishing-tackle to
the river. Yes, she was sure that Don Beltran lived at Uncle Adan's
house.

Agueda's thoughts sped with the rapidity that reminiscence brings, and
as she placed some rounds of cassava bread in the basket she saw her
mother doing the same, as if it were but yesterday, and saying between
halting breaths:

"Never trust a gentleman--Agueda--marry some--plain, honest--man--a man
of--our people, Agueda--but do not--trust--"

"Who are our people, mother?" the girl had interrupted.

Aye, who were their people?

Nada had not answered. She had lain her thin arms round Agueda's
unformed shoulders, turned the girl's head backward with the other hand
laid upon her brow, and gazed steadily into the good grey eyes.

"My little Agueda," she had said--stopped short, and sighed. It was
hopeless. There was no escape from the burden of inheritance. Agueda had
not understood the cause of her mother's sigh and her halting words. She
had been ill to death--that she knew. Then came long years of patience,
as Agueda grew to girlhood. Could it be only six months ago that she had
lost her?

"My sweet Nada," she whispered, as she laid a napkin over the contents
of the basket, "I do not know what you meant, but I do not forget you,
Nada."

"Hasten, Agueda! There is no danger, but there is no need of getting a
wetting."

Agueda turned to see Don Beltran standing in the doorway of the comidor.
He was smiling. His face looked brown and healthful against the worn
blue of the old painted door. His white trousers were tucked within the
tops of his high boots, and he wore a belt of tanned leather, with the
usual accompaniment of a pistol-holder, which was empty, the belt
forming a strap for a machete, and holding safely that useful weapon of
domesticity or menace. His fine striped shirt hung in loose folds partly
over the belt; the collar, broad, and turned down from the brown throat,
being held carelessly in place by a flowing coloured tie. He had an old
Panama hat in his brown hand. His wavy hair swept back from his
forehead, crisp and changeable in its dark gold lights. His brown eyes
looked kindly at the girl, but more particularly at the basket which she
filled.

"Have you some glasses?" he asked, "and some--"

"Water, Señor? Yes, I have not forgotten that."

Don Beltran laughed merrily.

"I fancy that we shall have water enough, 'Gueda, child. Get my flask
and fill it with rum. The pink rum of the vega. Here, let me get the
demijohn. Run for the flask, child. Perhaps I should have listened to
the warning of old Emperatriz."

There were other warnings which Beltran had not taken into account. The
sultry day that had passed, the total absence of breeze, the low-flying
birds, the stridulous cry of the early home-flying parrots, the
dun-colored sky to the south and east, the whinneying and neighing of
the horses. The old grey, who knew the signs of the times, had torn his
bridle loose and raced across the pasture-land to the hill where stood
the rancho. He was the pioneer; the others had followed him, and the
little roan had galloped away last of all, with Adan to guide and
reassure him. The bulls, leaping and plunging with heads to earth and
hind hoofs raised in air, with shaking fringe of tail and bellowed
pleading, had asked, as plainly as could creatures to whom God gave a
soul, to be allowed to flee to the mountain. Adan, in passing, had
unclasped and thrown wide the gate, and they had raced with him for
certain life from the death which might be imminent. Emperatriz had
whined and had pounded her tail restlessly against the planks of the
floor. Then she had arisen, and stood with her great forepaws resting
upon Beltran's shoulder, gazing with anxiety that was almost human into
his face.

"Caramba Hombre!" Beltran had said, as he threw the great beast away
from him. Then he had laughed. "I am like the peons, who address even
the women so. It does mean a storm, Emperatriz, old girl, but I do not
care to go."

He had opened the outer door. The great hound had darted through,
leaped from the veranda to the ground, and fled toward the south,
barking as she ran at the encroaching enemy. She had circled round the
casa, nose in air, her whimpering cries ascending to the sky, which
shone, as yet, blue overhead. Then back she had torn to the steps, and
bounding up and in at the door, had crouched at her master's feet, her
nose upon the leather of his shoe, her flanks curved high. Then she had
leaped upon him again. She had taken his sleeve gently between her teeth
as if to compel him to safety, then crouched again, flapping her great
tail upon the floor, her eyes raised to his, her whine pleading like the
tones of a human voice. Beltran had shaken the dog away.

"I am not going, Emperatriz," he had said, impatiently. "Be off with
you!"

A few more circlings round the casa, a few more appealing cries, a
backward glance and a backward bark, and Emperatriz had started for the
rancho, and none too soon. The potrero had become a shallow lake,
through which she splashed before she had placed her forefeet upon the
rise.

"Hasten, Agueda! Come! Come!" called Beltran.

Agueda ran to the ladder, which was ever ready for just such surprises.
It was the expected which usually did not happen at San Isidro, but the
ladder was always there, fastened secure and firm, rivetted to the
floor and roof alike. It could move but with the house. Agueda stepped
lightly upon the rungs, one after the other. She raised the basket up to
Don Beltran's down-reaching grasp. He took it, placed it upon the gently
sloping roof, and held out a kindly hand to the girl, but Agueda did not
take it at once. She descended the ladder a round or two, and from a
nail in a near-by beam seized a coat which Don Beltran wore sometimes
when the nights were cool, and the trade winds blew up too freshly from
the sea. When she climbed again to the opening in the thatch, Don
Beltran was leaning against the old stone chimney, which raised its
moss-grown head between the casa and cocina. He had forgotten the girl.
His horizontal palm shaded his eyes from the ray of the level sun. There
was no sign of fear visible upon his face; he appeared rather like an
interested observer, which indeed he was, for he felt secure and safe,
for himself, his people, and his cattle.

"See the commotion among the forests up there, near Palmacristi, Agueda!
It may be only a slight storm and quickly over, but if we do have a
flood like the last one, I have no wish that Garcia and Manuel Medina
shall float in at my front door in their dugouts and carry off all
things movable. It is so easy to lay everything to the flood!"

"The men have been moving the furniture for an hour past, Señor. I
think there is little that can be carried away."

Don Beltran gave a sudden start.

"Where is the cross, Agueda? Did you remember that?"

"I have it here, Señor." Agueda laid her hand upon the bosom of her
gown. "And the Señor's little cart, that is locked within the inner
cupboard. It cannot go unless the casa goes also."

"And in that case I should want it no more in this world, Agueda. You
are thoughtful, child. The two souvenirs of my mother! Ah, see!" As he
spoke there was a stir among the treetops far over to the westward.
There, where yellow-brown clouds hung massed and solid as a wall over
the rift below, a strange agitation was visible.

"It is a dance, 'Gueda. Do you see them, those fairies? Watch that one
advancing there, to the southward. She approaches the lady from the
east. See them skip and whirl and pass as if in a quadrille. It is a
pretty sight. You will see that once in a lifetime--not oftener. They
call it the _trompa marina_ at sea."

Agueda raised her eyes and looked smiling towards the spot to which he
nodded. There white and twisting spirals danced and swayed against that
lurid background, and above the deep bay, which was hidden by the
hills. They advanced, they retreated, they dipped like sprites from palm
tuft to palm tuft. Sometimes they skipped gaily in couples, again one
was left to follow three or four that had their heads close together,
like schoolchildren telling secrets. It was all so human and
everyday-like, that Agueda laughed gaily and gazed fascinated at the
antics of these children of the storm. The long, ragged-edged split in
the angry clouds disclosed a blood-red glow behind, which sent its glare
down through the valley and across the woods, where it flecked the tree
trunks. From Beltran's vantage point the palm shafts stood black as
night against the glare. When he turned and looked behind him, unwilling
to lose a single bit of this latest painting from the brush of nature,
he found that she had dashed every tree trunk with one gorgeous splash
of ruddy gold.

Agueda lifted her basket and carried it to the chimenea unaided. Beltran
was so absorbed in the grand sight that he had forgotten to be kind.
There was usually no thought of gallantry in what he did for the girl,
but even the natural kindliness of his manner was in abeyance. Agueda
set the basket behind the great stone wall. She remembered what he had
said the last time they had sought shelter from the water. "It is
ridiculous, that great chimney," he had said: "but even the absurd
things of life have their uses." She remembered how she had crouched in
her mother's arms the whole long day, but beyond a few drops there had
been no cloud-burst, no flood that came higher than the top step of the
veranda. They had descended at night dry and unharmed.

"It may be like the last one," she ventured to say. But her sentence was
drowned. There came a rustling and swaying sound from afar, growing
louder as it approached. Beltran noted the ruthless path which it
indicated, and then, "there came a rushing, mighty wind from Heaven." It
fell upon the tall lilies as if they were grass, bent them to the earth,
and laid them prostrate. Some of them, denizens of the soil more
tenacious of their hold than others, clung to Mother Earth with the grip
of the inheritor of primogeniture. But the struggle was brief.

"I was certain that those I planted upside down would stand," said
Beltran to Agueda. "I allowed twelve-inch holes, too." But there comes a
time when precaution is proven of no avail. The massive stalks were torn
from their holdings like so much straw, and laid low with their weaker
brothers. As they began to fall in the near field, "It is upon us!"
shouted Beltran. He seized Agueda's wrist and drew her behind the
chimney. And there they cowered as the wind raved past them on either
side, carrying heavy missiles on its strong wings. At this Beltran's
face showed for the first time some uneasiness.

He was peering out from behind his stone bulwark.

"There goes Aranguez's casa," he said, regretfully. "I had no thought of
that. I wish I had sent you to the rancho, child."

They crouched low behind the chimney. He clung to one of the staples
mortared in the interstices of the stone-work, against just such a day
as this, and braced his foot beneath the eaves. Again he peered
cautiously out. A whistling, rustling sound had made him curious as to
its source.

The river, which had been flowing tranquilly but a few minutes before,
now threw upward white and pointed arms of foam, They reached to the
branches, which threshed through open space, and swayed over to meet
their supplication, then straightened a moment to bend again to north,
to east, to west. The floods had fallen fiercely upon the defenceless
bosom of the gentle Rio Frio, had beaten and lashed it and overcome it,
so that it mingled perforce with its conqueror, while raising appealing
arms for mercy. It grieved, it tossed, it wept, it wailed, but its
invader shrieked gleefully as he hurried his helpless prize down through
the savannas to that welcoming tyrant, the sea.

The water crept rapidly up toward the foundation of the casa. It washed
underneath the high flooring. It lapped against the pilotijos. It
carried underneath the house branches and twigs which it had brought
down in its mad rush toward the lowlands. As it rose higher and higher,
it wove the banana stalks and wisps of straw which it bore upon its
bosom in and out between the trunks and stems of trees. With the skill
of an old-time weaver, it interlaced them through the upright growth
which edged the bank. One saw the vegetable fabric there for years
after, unless the sun and rain had rotted it away, and another flood had
replaced within the warp a fresher woof.

Beltran arose and took a few cautious steps upon the roof, but the wind,
if warm, was fierce, and thrust him back with violence. He barely
escaped being dashed to the new-made lake below. He caught at the
chimenea, and edging slowly round, seated himself again by Agueda. She
had been calling to him, and had stretched out her hand. Her eyes showed
her fear, and also the relief which his presence gave her. When she felt
that he was safe beside her she made no further sign.

Beltran had laid his hand on Agueda's shoulder as he would have done
upon the chimney itself. By it he steadied himself in taking his seat.
She raised her eyes and shyly offered him his coat. He shook his head
with a smile. His lips moved, but she could hear no word for the noise
of the wind and water. Don Beltran put his hand to his mouth and placed
his lips to Agueda's ear.

"Do not be afraid," he shouted. "There is really no danger."

She shook her head and glanced up at him again, dropping almost at once
the childish eyes to the hands in her lap. She moved a little nearer to
their dividing line, and called in answer:

"I am not afraid."

He saw her lips move, and guessed at the words, though her look of
confidence would have answered him. Why had he never noticed those eyes
before? Was it because she had always kept them cast down? What slim
hands the girl had! What shapely shoulders! He looked at them as they
rested against the weather-beaten stones of the chimney.

Agueda turned her head backward and clutched quickly at the light
handkerchief which confined the waves of her short hair. She laughed and
looked upward at Don Beltran from under her sweeping lashes. Her soul
went forth to meet his gaze, unconscious as a little child that she had
a secret to tell; unconscious that the next moment she had told it. How
can one tell anything except by word of mouth?

Beltran drew sharply back, as far as the contracted space would allow.
He leaned over the edge of the roof, and saw that the water was now
sweeping through the casa, flowing more slowly as it spread over a
greater space. It glided in at the doors and out at the windows, which
he had left open purposely, not dreaming, it is true, that this flood
would be greater than others of its kind, but that in case it should be,
the resistance might be less. Glancing down stream, he saw a chair and
some tin pans bobbing and courtesying to each other as they drifted
across the potrero where the cattle usually browsed.

The sun declined, the dusk came creeping down, and with the approach of
night the wind subsided. Fortunately there was no rain. The clouds had
been carried in from the sea at right angles with the stream, and had
broken in the mountains and poured out their torrents there.

Still the rushing of the river drowned all other sounds. It grew quite
dark. Beltran leaned back against the chimenea. The slight creature at
his side rested, also, in silence. The darkness became intense. The
chimenea was needed no longer as a protection from the wind, but the
utter absence of all light made the slightest motion dangerous. A chill
mist crept up from the sea. The night began to grow cold, as do the
tropic nights of midwinter. Beltran shivered. Something was pushed
against his hand. He reached down and felt another hand, a hand slim
and cold. He took it within his own, but it was at once withdrawn, and a
rough and heavy article thrown across his knees. He felt some buttons, a
pocket which held papers, a collar. Ah! It must be his woollen coat,
which she had had the forethought to bring. Feeling for the sleeve, he
threw the coat round his shoulders, and with a resolve born in a moment,
reached out toward Agueda. His groping fingers fell upon her sweet
throat and the tendrils of her boyish hair, the great dark rings, which,
now that he could not see them, he suddenly remembered. Throwing his arm
around her, he drew the damp and shivering figure close. Then he grasped
the sleeve of his coat, and drew it towards him, forcing her head down
upon his breast. He sought the other hand, and later found the tremulous
lips. He held his willing prisoner close, and so they sat the whole
night through.

Many and strange thoughts rushed through Agueda's brain during those
blissful hours. Life began for her then, and she found it well worth
living. She awoke. Her child's heart sprang into full being, to lie
dormant never again. Nada's words came back to her. She did not wish to
recall them, but they forced themselves upon her: "Never trust a
gentleman, Agueda; he will only betray you."

"I should think much of your warning, Nada," thought Agueda, "if I saw
other gentlemen. I never do see them. If I do, he will protect me." The
danger had not arrived. It could never come now. She had found her
bulwark and her defence.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Pronounced E-see-dro.



II


"When the flood has subsided," Agueda had said to herself, "all will be
as before. But stay! Would anything ever be as before? Well, what
matter? Who would go back? Shall we not trust those whom we love? Life
is the better for it. This was life. Life was all happiness, all joy.
The future? There was to be no future but this. This life of hers and
his should be the same until death claimed the one or the other. God
grant that they might go together, rather than that one should be left
behind. Let them go in a greater flood, perhaps, than the one which they
had outspent upon the thatched roof in the shelter of the old chimenea."

Agueda knew not the meaning of those words of calculation--"the world."
She had never known the world, she had never seen the world. She found
herself living as many did about her. Only that they had heart-burnings,
jealousies, disappointments, and sorrows. She was secure, and she pitied
them that their lots had not been cast within so safe a fold as hers.
Her nature, if ignorant, was undefiled and undepraved; and noble, in
that she found no sacrifice too great for this splendid young god who
claimed her. What else was her mission in life but to make his life as
near Heaven as earthly existence could become? She stretched out her
young arms to the sky with a glow of happiness that asked nothing
further of God. There were the mountains, the fields, the forests, the
plantations, the river, and the rambling, thatched casa. These made for
her the world.

Sometimes she thought of and pitied Aneta at El Cuco. Poor Aneta, who
had thought that a life-long happiness was hers, when suddenly one day
Don Mateo had returned from the city with a bride.

"Poor Aneta!" Agueda used often to say, with a pitying smile through
which her own contentment broke in ripples of joy. How could she trust a
man like Don Mateo? As Agueda sat and thought, she mended with anxious
but unskilled fingers the pile of linen which old Juana had brought in
from the ironing room. Juana had clumped along the back veranda and set
the basket down with a heavy thump. There were table linen and bed
linen, there were the Señor's striped shirts of fine material from the
North, and his dainty underwear, and Agueda's neat waists and collars
keeping company with them in truly domestic manner. Agueda had never
done menial work; Uncle Adan's position as manager of the plantation
had secured something better for his niece.

If Uncle Adan knew the truth, he made no sign. The lax state of morals
in the country had always been the same. In reality he saw no harm in
it. Besides which, had he wished to, what change could he make--he, a
simple manager and farming man, against the owner of the hacienda, a
rich and powerful Señor from Adan's point of view.

Suddenly Agueda remembered that she had not seen Aneta for a long time.
She would go now, this very minute, and pay the visit so long overdue.
She arose at once. With characteristic carelessness she dropped the
sheet upon which she had been engaged on the floor, took from its peg
the old straw hat, and clapped it over her boyish curls. The hat was
yellow, it had a peaked crown, and twisted round the crown was a
handkerchief of pale blue. Agueda made no toilet; she hardly looked at
her smiling image in the glass. From the corner of the room she took a
time-worn umbrella, which had once been white, and started towards the
door. A backward glance showed her the confusion of the room. For
herself she did not care, but the Señor might come in perhaps before her
return. He had gone to the mail-station across the bay; the post-office
and the bank were both there. He was bringing home some bags of pesos
with which to pay his men. Possibly he would bring a letter or two from
the fruit agents, or the merchant to whom he sold the little coffee that
he raised; but the pesos were more of a certainty than the letters. If
he returned home before her, the sitting-room would have a disorderly
appearance, and he disliked disorder. His mother, the Doña Maria, had
been a very neat old lady.

There are some persons to whom order and neatness are inborn. With a
touch of a deft finger here or there, an apartment becomes at once a
place where the most critical may enter. To others it is a labor to make
a room appear well cared for. It may be immaculate in all that pertains
to dust or the thorough cleanliness of linen or woodwork, but the power
to so impress the beholder is lacking. Agueda was one of these. She
sighed as she gazed at the unkempt appearance of the room. There was not
much the matter, and yet she did not know how to remedy it. She
re-entered the room and picked up the sheet from the floor, together
with a pillow-slip whose starched glossiness had caused it to slide down
to keep the sheet company. Folding these, not any too precisely, she
laid them upon the chair where she had lately sat. Then she glanced
around the room again. Its careless air still offended her, but time was
flying, and she had a long walk before her. Suddenly she put her hand
to her ear and took from behind it the rose that had been there since
early morning. It was the first that she had struggled to raise, and it
had repaid her efforts, in that hot section of the country, by dwining
and dwindling like a puny child. Still, it was a rose. She laid it on
the badly folded sheet; it gave an air of habitation to the room. She
smiled down at this, her messenger. She gave the linen a final pat and
went out, closing the door softly. It was as if a young mother had left
her sleeping child to be awakened by its father, should he be the first
to return.

"It is something of me," thought Agueda. "It will be the first to greet
him."

Agueda stepped out on the broad veranda. The loose old boards creaked
even under her slight weight.

"Juana!" she called, "I'm going to see Aneta at El Cuco." She made no
other explanation. He would ask as soon as he returned, and they would
tell him.

"Youah neva fin youah roaad in dis yer fawg," squeaked Juana.

"The fog may lift," laughed Agueda.

The river, forgetful of its past turbulence, smiled and glanced and
beckoned as it slipped tranquilly onward, but Agueda did not answer the
summons. She turned abruptly to the right and crossed the well-known
potrero path. This led her for a quarter of a mile through the mellow
pasture-land, where horses were browsing. The grey was not there--sure
sign of his master's absence, but the little chestnut was in evidence,
and farther along, beyond the wire fence, were the great bulls, which
had not been driven afield with the suckers. There stood Cæsar, the big
brown bull with the great, irregular white spots. Agueda went close to
the fence, and picked a handful of sweet herbs, such as Cæsar loved.

"Cæsar," she called, "Cæsar, it is I that have the sweet things for
you."

Cæsar threw up his head quickly, tossing long strings of saliva into the
air. He stood for a moment with hesitant look, then perceiving that it
was Agueda, trotted, tail held stiff, to where she waited, her hand held
out to him. He extended his thick neck, holding his wet, pink nostrils
just over the barrier, wound his dripping tongue round the dainty, and
then withdrew his head that he might eat with ease.

"Too bad, poor Cæsar, that the horses get all the sweets, and you none."
With awkward arm held high, that she might not catch her sleeve upon the
topmost wire, she patted the animal's nose; then thrust one more bunch
of grass into the ready cavity, and turning, ran along toward the rise.

When Agueda had closed the rickety potrero gate, she started up the
elevation which confronted her. Here the young bananas were just showing
above the ground. She had deplored the fact that this pretty hill-forest
had been sacrificed to banana culture, and had hated to see the great
giants which she had known from childhood cut and slashed. At the fall
of each one of them she had felt as if she had lost a friend. "I shall
never sit under the gri-gri again," she had thought, "and eat my guavas
as I look down on the river"; or, "I shall never again play house
beneath the old mahogany that stood up there at the edge of the meadow."
The face of nature was changed for her in this particular. It was the
only thing that she had to make her unhappy. Who among us would think
the world a sadder place because of the felling of a tree! The stumps
stood even with Agueda's shoulder, for Natalio, that African giant, was
the axe-man of the hacienda. His ringing strokes struck hip high. It was
less work to cut through the trunk some distance above its spreading
roots. There was no clearing up nor carrying away of branches or limbs.
With all their massive foliage, the branches were hacked from the parent
stem, and left to dry in the tropic sun. They were then placed in great
piles about the mother tree, lighted, and left to burn. Sometimes these
fallen denizens of the wood, whose life had seen generations of puny
men fade and wither, and other generations spring up and die while they
stood splendid and vigourous, refused to be annihilated. The fallen
trunk remained for years, proof of the vandalism of man. More often, a
long line of ashes marked the spot where the giant had blazed, then
smouldered sullenly, to become wind-blown, intangible. This great
woodland crematory having been made ready by death for the life that was
to spring up through its vanquishment, the peons came with their
machetes and dug the graves in which the bulbs, teeming with quiescent
life, were to be planted, each sucker twelve feet from any one of its
neighbors, there to be warmed and nurtured in the bosom of Mother Earth.
Because exposed upon a windy hillside, the bulbs had been placed in
their graves head and sprouting end downward, and at the depth of ten
inches. This was a provision against hurricanes, which, with all their
power, find it difficult to uproot so securely planted a stalk.

And now the field which she had helped to "avita"--for one gives in when
the tide of circumstances flows too strong--the waste whose seed-graves
she had seen dug, whose bulbs she had seen buried from sight, had
suddenly become a field of life once more. Pale green spears were
springing up in every direction--a light, wonderful green with a tinge
of yellow. The spatulated leaves were handsomest, Agueda thought, when
spotted or marked with brown, or a rich chocolate shade. In their tender
infancy they were the loveliest things on earth, she thought, as she ran
about the damp, hot hillside, comparing one with another; and as she
again returned to the path, she nearly stumbled against the ebony giant,
who, standing just at the edge of the field, was watching her.

"It is wonderful, Natalio," she said, "how quickly they have sprouted."
She smiled upward.

"Si, Señorit'," said Natalio, smiling down. "It is the early rains that
bring the life. Perhaps the good God may be thanked a little, too, but
it is the good soil, and the rains most of all."

He stooped his great height, and took some of the earth in his fingers.
"It is the caliche so the Señor says." He rubbed the disintegrated
gravelly mass between his fingers. Some of it powdered away. The fine
bits of stone that it contained dropped in a faint patter upon his feet.

"I never heard the Señor say that," said Agueda, with the air of one who
would know what were the Señor's favourite convictions, "but of course
he knows, the Señor."

"Bieng," said Natalio. "It is certain that the Señor knows."

Agueda moved on up the hill. She felt, crunching beneath her feet, the
shells of the circular grub which had lost life and home in this
terrific holocaust.

"It seems hard," mused Agueda, "that some things must die that other
things may be created." She smiled as she said this. She need not die
that other things might live. It had no personal application for her. At
least it would not have for sixty or eighty years, and that was a whole
lifetime. She might not be glad to die even then! Agueda had reached the
summit of the hill. She turned to look back at Natalio. He was standing
gazing after her. When he saw her turn he expanded his handsome lips
into a smile, showing his white teeth. Then he uncovered his head, and
swept the ground with his ragged Panama hat. He called; Agueda could not
hear at first what he said.

"Que es eso?" she called back in answer.

Natalio approached a few feet with his great strides.

"I asked if the Señorit' would not ride the bull?"

"Pablo is away," said Agueda. "I cannot go alone. The Señor will not
have me to ride the bull alone."

"El Caballo Castaño, Señorit'," said Natalio, suggestively, approaching
nearer.

"Would you saddle him, Natalio?" asked Agueda, thinking this an
excellent change of programme.

"It would give me pleasure, Señorit'," said Natalio.

Agueda turned and began to walk rapidly down the hill.

"The small man's saddle, Natalio," she called. "I will be ready in a
moment." Agueda ran down the hill, keeping ahead of the giant, and sped
across the potrero. She flew to her room. There lay the rose as she had
left it upon the chair, but she had no time for sentiment. The horse
would be at the door in a moment, and indeed, before she had changed her
skirt for the cotton riding garment that she usually wore, and which our
ladies have imported of late under the name of a divided skirt, Natalio
was at the steps. Agueda buckled on her spur, and was out on the veranda
in the twinkling of an eye. Uncle Adan was coming up from the river. He
saw her stand upon the second step and throw her leg boy-fashion over
the saddle, seize the whip from Natalio, and canter away again toward
the hill. To his shout of "Where are you going?" she flung back the
words, "To Aneta's," and was off.

Her easy seat astride the animal gave her a sense of freedom and
independence. The top of the hill reached, she struck off toward Troja,
on the other side of which lived Aneta, at El Cuco. Agueda galloped
along the damp roads, and then clattered through the streets of the
quiet little West Indian town. Arrived upon its further outskirts, she
allowed the chestnut to walk, for he was warm and tired. She was passing
at the back of Escobeda's casa, through a narrow lane shaded with coffee
trees. The wall of the casa descended abruptly to this lane, the garden
being in front, facing the broad camino. Agueda heard her name softly
called. She halted and looked towards the casa. A shutter just at the
side of the balcony moved almost imperceptibly, then was pushed open a
trifle, and she saw a face, the face of Raquel, the niece of Escobeda.
Raquel had her finger upon her lips. Agueda guided her horse near, in as
cautious a manner as could be. When she was well under the opening,
Raquel spoke again.

"It is Agueda, is it not? Agueda from San Isidro?"

Raquel whispered her words. Agueda, seeing that there was need for
secrecy, also let her voice fall lower than was usual.

"Yes," she smiled, "I am certainly Agueda from San Isidro."

"Ah! you happy girl," said Raquel, in a cautious tone, "to be riding
about alone." Agueda's head was almost on a level with Raquel's.

"I am a prisoner, Agueda," said Raquel. "My uncle has shut me up here.
He means to take me away in a short time. It's a dreadful thing which is
to happen. Can you carry a note for me, Agueda?"

"I will carry a note for you," said Agueda. "Is it ready, Señorita?"

"I will write it in a moment. Agueda, good girl, you know the plantation
of the Silencios, do you not? Palmacristi?"

"I can find it," said Agueda. "It is down by the sea. It is not much out
of my way."

"If it were miles and miles out of your way, Agueda, dear, you must take
my letter."

"Give it to me, then," said Agueda.

There was a noise inside the room, at the door of the chamber.

"Ride on to the clump of coffee bushes where the roads meet," whispered
Raquel. "The fog will help hide you, too. I will drop the note."

As she tried to guide the chestnut softly over the turf, Agueda heard a
loud call from within. It was a man's coarse voice. She heard Raquel
answer drowsily, "In a moment, uncle; I was just asleep. Wait until I--"

Agueda halted for some minutes behind the concealment of the coffee
bushes. She grudged this delay, for she had still some distance to
travel, and must make a detour because of Raquel's request. "But," she
argued, "had I walked, I should have been much longer on the way." She
watched the window at the back of Escobeda's house, then, presently,
from the front, saw a man mount and ride away in the opposite direction.
Then, as she still awaited the fluttering of the note, the shutter was
flung wide, and an arm encased in a yellow sleeve beckoned desperately.
Agueda struck her spur into the chestnut, and was soon under the window
again.

"He has gone," said Raquel, "and I am locked in the house alone. All the
servants have gone to the fair."

"You can climb down," said Agueda. "It is not high."

"Where should I go then, Agueda?" asked Raquel. "No, he would only bring
me back. Now I will write my note, and I will ask you to take it to Don
Gil." As Raquel said this name her voice trembled. She coloured all over
her face.

"You are lovely that way," said Agueda. "What does he do to you,
Señorita?--the Señor Escobeda. Does he starve you? Does he ill treat--I
could tell the Señor Don Beltran--"

"You do not blush when you speak of him," said Raquel, who had heard
some rumours.

"I have no cause to blush," said Agueda, with dignity. "But come,
Señorita, the note!"

Raquel withdrew into the room. She scribbled a few words on a piece of
blue paper, folded it, and encased it in a long thin envelope. This she
sealed with a little pink wafer, on which were two turtle doves with
their bills quite close together. She leaned out and handed the missive
down to Agueda.

"Thank you, dear," she said. "I should like to kiss you."

"I should like much to have you," said Agueda. "Perhaps I can stand up."
Agueda spurred her horse closer under the window. She raised herself as
high as she could. The chestnut started.

"He will throw you," said Raquel. "I will lean out."

Raquel stretched her young form as far out of the window as possible.
She could just reach Agueda's forehead. She kissed her gently.

"I thank you, Señorita," said Agueda. She felt the kiss upon her
forehead all the way to the plantation; it seemed like a benediction.
She did not reason out the cause of her feeling, but it was true that no
one of Raquel's class had ever kissed her before.

Agueda rode along her way with quick gait. The plantation of Palmacristi
was some miles farther on, and she wished still to see Aneta. On her
way toward Palmacristi, and as she mounted the slope leading to the
casa, she met no one. Arrived at that splendid estate by the sea, she
spurred her horse over the hill and round to the counting-house. This
was the place, she had heard, where the Señor was usually to be found.
She had seen the Señor at a distance. She thought that she would know
him.


At that same hour the Señor Don Gil Silencio-y-Estrada sat within his
counting-house. The counting-house was constructed of the boards of the
palm, the inner side plain, the outer side curved, as the tree had
curved. The bark had not been removed. The roof of the building was also
made of palm boards; it was thickly thatched with yagua.

Since the days of the old Don Gil the finca had enlarged and improved.
The counting-house stood within its small enclosure, its back against
the side of the casa, and though it communicated with the interior of
the imposing mahogany mansion, it remained the same palm-board
counting-house--that is, to the outside world--that the estate of
Palmacristi had ever known.

Two tall palms stood like sentinels upon either side of the low step
before the doorway. The palm trees were dead. They had been topped by no
green plume of leaves since before the death of the old Don Gil. Now,
as then, the carpenter birds made their homes in the decaying shaft. The
round beak-made holes, from root to treetop, disclosed numberless heads,
if so much as a tap were given the resounding stem of the palm.

No one wondered why Don Gil still used the ancient structure as a
counting-house. No one ever wondered at anything at Palmacristi;
everything was accepted with quiescence. "The good God wills it," a
shrug of the shoulders accompanying the remark, made alike, if a tornado
unroofed a house or a peon died of the wounds received at the last
garito.[2]

The changes which had taken place at Palmacristi had nothing to say to
the condition of the counting-house, or it to them, except that it
acceded, somewhat slowly in some cases, to the payment of bills. Since
his father's day Don Gil had added much to the estate. Upon the right he
had bought more than twenty caballerias from Don Luis Salas--land which
marched with his own to the seashore. This included a tall headland,
with a sand spit at its base, which pushed itself a half mile out into
the sea. This sand spit curved in a hook to the left, and formed a
pleasant and safe harbour for boating.

To the north of his inheritance Don Gil had taken in the old estates of
La Flor and Provedencia, and at the back of the casa, which already
stood high up on the slope, he had extended his possessions over the
crest of the hill. Had the original owner of Palmacristi returned on a
visit to earth, he would have found his old plantation the center of a
magnificent estate, with, however, the same shiftless, careless ways of
master and servant that had obtained in his time. This would probably
grow worse as his descendants succeeded each other in ownership.

The casa was built upon a level, where the hill ceased to be a hill just
long enough to allow of a broad foundation for Don Gil's improvements.
At the edge of the veranda the hill sloped gently again for the distance
of a hundred yards, and then dropped in a short but steep declivity to
the sand beach.

The old habitation had been built entirely of palm boards, but in its
place, at the bidding of Don Gil, had arisen a new and more modern
erection, whose only material was mahogany. Pilotijos, escaleras,
ligazones, verandas, techos, all were hewn and formed of the fine red
mahogany. The boards were unpolished, it is true, but dark and rich in
tone. They made a cool interior, where, coming from the white glare
outside, body and eye alike were at once at rest. The covering of the
techos was the glazed tile of Italy. Perhaps one should speak of the
roofs as _tejados_, as they were covered with tiles. This tiling proved
a beacon by day, as it glittered in the blazing light of the sun of the
tropics.

Agueda guided her horse up the path between the two dead palm trees, and
rapped with the stock of her whip upon the counting-house door, which
stood partly open.

"Entra," was the reply. She rapped again.

"It is I who cannot enter, Señor," she called in her clear, young voice.
"I have not the time to dismount."

An inner door was opened and closed. A fine-looking young fellow stepped
across the intervening space and appeared upon the threshold of the
outer door. He raised his brows; he did not know Agueda. Don Beltran
made various pretexts for her absence when he had visitors.

Agueda held out the note. It was crumpled and dusty from being held in
her hand.

"I am sorry," she said; "the day is hot, and my Castaño is not quiet."

Don Gil gazed with interest at the boyish-looking figure riding astride
the little chestnut. "What a handsome lad she would make!" he thought.
"And you are from--"

"It makes no difference for me. I bring a message."

Silencio took the note which she reached out to him.

"You will dismount and let me send for some fruit, some coffee?"

"I thank you, Señor, I must hasten; I am going to El Cuco."

"That is not so far," said Don Gil, smiling.

"No, but I then have to ride a long way back to--"

"To--?"

"To San Isidro."

"The Señorita takes roundabout ways. Is she then carrying messages all
about the country?"

"Oh, no, Señor," said Agueda, smiling frankly. "When I go back to San
Isidro I go to my home. I live there."

"Ah!" What was there imperceptible in Don Gil's tone? "You live there?
Is the Señorita perhaps the niece of the manager, Señor Adan?"

"Si, Señor," answered Agueda, flushing hotly, she knew not why.

She wheeled Castaño and paced down between the palm trees.

"And you will not take pity on my loneliness?"

Don Gil was still smiling, but there was something new, something of
familiarity, it seemed to Agueda, in his tone.

"I cannot stop, Señor. A Dios!" she said, gravely.

As Agueda rode out of the enclosure the day seemed changed. Why was it?
She had been so happy before she had delivered the note! Now she felt
sad, depressed. The sun was still shining, though there were occasional
showers of rain, and the birds were still singing. Nothing in nature had
changed. Ah, stay! There was a cloud over there, hanging low down above
the sea. It was coming to the westward, she thought. She hoped that it
would come, and quickly. She hoped that it would burst in rain upon her,
and make her ride for it, and struggle with it. Anything to drive away
that unhappy impression.

Had Silencio been asked what he had said or done to cause this young
girl to change suddenly from a thoughtless, happy creature to one who
felt that she had reason for uneasiness, he could not have told. He had
heard vague rumours of the girl, Adan's niece, who lived over at San
Isidro. But that he had allowed any such impression to escape him in
intonation or gesture he was quite unaware. At all events, he was
entirely oblivious of Agueda the moment that she had ridden away, for he
opened the little blue note that she had brought, and was lost in its
contents.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] Cock-fight.



III


When Agueda left the Casa de Caboa she turned down the trocha towards
the sea. Although the sea was not far from San Isidro as the crow flies,
the dwellers at the hacienda rarely went there. In the first place,
there was the river to cross, and then the wood beyond the river was
filled with a thick, short growth of prickly pear. This sort of
underbrush was unpleasant to pull through. Don Beltran had tried to buy
it from Escobeda up at Troja, but Escobeda seemed to have been born to
annoy the human race in general, and Don Beltran and Silencio in
particular. He would not sell, and he would not cultivate, so that the
sea meadow, as they called it at San Isidro, was an eyesore and a cause
of heart-burning to Don Beltran.

Agueda chirruped to her horse, and was soon skirting the plantation of
Palmacristi. The chestnut was a pacer, and Agueda liked his single foot,
and kept him down to it at all hazards.

She felt as if she were in Nada's American chair, the motion was so easy
and pleasant. The beach was rather a new experience to the chestnut,
but after a little moment of hesitancy he started on with a nod of the
head.

"Ah!" said Agueda, with a laugh, "it is you, Castaño, who know that I
never lead you wrong."

She shook the bridle, and the horse put forth his best powers. They took
the wet sand just where the water had retreated but a little while
before. It was as hard and firm as the country road, but moist and cool.

"How I should like to plunge into that sea," said Agueda to Castaño.
Castaño again nodded an acquiescent head. A salt-water bath was a
novelty to these comrades.

After a few moments of pacing, Agueda came to the sand spit which ran
out from the plantation into the sea. Here was the boat-house which Don
Gil had built, and Agueda noticed that it was placed upon a high point,
with ways leading down on either side into the water. She looked
wistfully at the boat-house. "How I should love to sail upon that sea,"
thought Agueda. "No water, however high, could frighten me." Then she
recalled with a flash the flood which had brought her happiness. She
smiled faintly, for with the thought the unpleasant feeling which Don
Gil's words had called up returned, she knew not why. Agueda was pacing
towards the south. Upon her right stood up tall and high the asta of
Palmacristi, the staff from which hung the lantern that, she had heard,
sent forth its white ray each night to warn the seafarers on that lonely
coast.

"What harm for a ship to run on the sand," thought Agueda. "I have heard
that rocks are cruel. But the sand is soft. It need hurt no one."

She struck spurs to Castaño, and covered several miles before she again
drew rein. And now the bank grew high, and Agueda awoke to the fact that
she was alone upon the beach, screened from the eyes of every one. Again
the thought came to her of a bath in the sea, and she was about to rein
the chestnut in when she heard a shout from the plateau above her head.
She stopped, and tipping back her straw hat, she looked upward. All that
she could discover was a mass of flowers in motion. "They are the
air-plants, certainly," said Agueda to herself, "but I never saw them to
grow like that." She looked to right and to left, but there was no human
being in sight along the yellow bank outlined by sand and overhanging
weeds.

"Who calls me?" she cried aloud, holding her hair from her ears, where
the wind persisted in blowing it.

"Caramba, muchacho! Can you not see who it is? It is I, Gremo."

There was a violent agitation of the mass of blooms, and Agueda now
perceived that a head was shaking out its words from the centre of this
woodland extravaganza.

"I can hardly see you, Gremo," said Agueda. "What do you want with me,
Gremo?"

"And must I make brains for every muchacho[3] between here and the Port
of Entry? Do you not know there are the quicksands just beyond?"

"Quicksands, Gremo! Yes, I had heard of quicksands, but I did not think
them here. Can I get up the bank, Gremo?"

"No," answered Gremo, from his flower screen. "You must ride back a long
way." He wheeled suddenly toward the south--at least, the mass of
flowers wheeled, and a hand was stretched forth from the centre. A
finger pointed along the sand. Agueda turned in the saddle and shaded
her eyes again.

"What is it, Gremo?" she asked. "I see nothing."

"Then you do not see that small thing over which the vultures hover?"

"I see the vultures, certainly," said Agueda. "Some bit of fish,
perhaps."

"No bit of fish or fowl, but foul flesh, if you will, hombre. It is the
hand of a Señor, muchacho."

"The hand of a Señor? And what is the hand of a Señor doing, lying
along there on the shore?"

"It lies there because it cannot get loose. Caramba, muchacho! Do I not
know?"

"Cannot get loose from what?" asked Agueda, still puzzled.

"From the Señor himself, muchachito. He lies below there, and his good
horse with him. Do you not see a hoof just over beyond where the big
bird lights?"

Agueda turned pale. She had never been near such death before. Nada had
passed peacefully away with the sacred wafer upon her lips, and in her
ears the good padre's words of forgiveness for all her sins, of which
Agueda was sure she had committed none. Hers was a sweet, calm, sad
death. One thought of it with relief and hope, but this was tragedy.
There, along the beach, beneath the smiling sand, whose grains glistened
in a million, million sparkles, lay the bodies of horse and rider,
overtaken by this placid sea.

"I suppose he was a stranger," said Agueda. "There was no one to warn
him." Suddenly she felt faint. A strong whiff of air reached her from
the direction of the birds. She turned the chestnut rapidly, and struck
the spur to his side.

"Wait, Gremo, wait!" she cried, "I am coming! Do not leave me here
alone." The chestnut paced as never horse paced before, and after a few
minutes Agueda found a little cleft in the bank where a stream trickled
down. Into this opening she guided Castaño, and with spur and whip aided
him in his scramble up the bank. She galloped southward again, and
neared the place where Gremo stood. She was guided by the mass of bloom.
As she advanced she saw the blossoms shaking, but as yet perceived
nothing human. Tales of the forest suddenly came back to her. Could it
be that this was a woodland spirit, who had lured her here to this high
headland, to throw her over the cliff again to keep company with the
dead man yonder and the birds of prey? She had half turned her horse,
when Gremo, seeing her plan, thrust himself further from his gorgeous
environment.

"Ah! It is the little Agueda! Do not be afraid, Agueda, little Señorita.
It is I, Gremo."

Agueda's cheek had not as yet regained its colour.

"It is Gremo, muchachito."

"What terrible thing is that down there, Gremo? And to see you looking
like this frightened me!"

It was a curious sight which met Agueda's eyes. Gremo, the little yellow
keeper of Los Santos light, was standing not far from his signal pole.
He held a staff in each hand. The staves were crooked and uneven. They
were covered with bark, and scraggy bits of moss hung from them here
and there. The strange thing about them was that each blossomed like
the prophet's rod. At the top of the right-hand staff there shot out a
splendid orange-coloured flower, with velvety oval-shaped leaves. Near
the top of the left-hand staff was a pale pink blossom, large also, not
wilted, as plucked flowers are apt to be, but firm and fresh. But these
were not all the prophet's rods which Gremo carried. Across his back was
slung an old canvas stool, opened to its fullest extent, and laid
lengthwise across this were many more ragged staves, and on each and all
of them a flower of some shade or colour bloomed. Then there were
branches held under his arms, whose protruding ends blossomed in
Agueda's very face, and quite enclosed the yellow countenance of Gremo.
The glossy green of the leaves surrounding each bloom so concealed Gremo
that he was lost in his vari-coloured burden of loveliness.

"So it is really you, Gremo! Do they smell sweet, those air-plants?"

Gremo shifted from one leg to the other. One of Gremo's legs was shorter
than the other. He generally settled down on the short one to argue.
When he was indignant he raised himself upon his long leg and hurled
defiance from the elevation.

The mass of bloom seemed to exhale a delicate aroma. So evanescent was
it that Gremo often said to himself, "Have they any scent after all?"
And then, in a moment, a breeze blew from left to right, across the open
calix of each delicate flower, and Gremo said, "How sweet they are!"

"I sometimes think they are the sweetest things on God's earth," said
Gremo. "That is, when the Señorita is not by," he added, remembering
that his grandfather had brought some veneer from old Spain; "and then
again I ask myself, is there any perfume at all?"

"Oh, now I smell it, Gremo!" said Agueda, sniffing up her straight
little nose. "Now I smell it! It is delicious!"

"It is better than the perfume down below there," said Gremo, with a
grimace. Agueda turned pale again.

"And what do you do with them, Gremo?" asked she.

"I take them to the Port of Entry, Señorita. I get good payment there.
Sometimes a half-dollar, Mex. They stick them in the earth. They last a
long, long time."

"Were you going there when you called me from--from--down there?"

"Si, Señorita. I was walking along the bank. I had just come from my
casa"--Gremo gestured backward with a dignified wave of the hand--"when
I heard El Castaño's hoofs on the hard sand there below." He turned and
looked along the beach to where the noisome birds hovered. "I was too
late to warn the Señor. Had I been here, I should even have laid down my
plants and have run to the edge of the cliff"--Gremo jerked his head
towards the humped-up pit of sand--"and called, 'Olá! Porque hace Usted
eso? It is Gremo who has the kind heart, muchacho.'"

"I am not a boy, Gremo," said Agueda, glancing down at her riding
costume.

"It is the same to me, Señorita," said Gremo, who in common with his
fellows had but one gender of speech.

Agueda was looking at the hand which thrust itself out from the sand of
the shore. It seemed as if the fingers beckoned. She shuddered.

"They should put up a sign," she said, quickly. "I shall tell the Señor
Don Beltran. He will put up a notice--a warning."

"Caramba, hombre! And why must you interfere? No people in this part
will go that way. They all know the danger as well as the birds. I live
here in this part. Why not leave it to me?"

"But will you, Gremo?"

"What? Put up the sign? I most certainly shall, Señorita. Some day when
I have not the air-plants to gather, or the lanterna to clean, or when I
am not down with the calentura, or there is no fair at Haldez, or no
cock-fight at Saltona. The Señorita does not know how long I have
thought of this--I, Gremo! Why, as long ago as when the Señor Don Gil
bought the sand spit I had the board prepared. That is now going on four
years, if I count aright. I told the Señor Don Gil that I would get a
board, and I have."

"He thinks it there now, I am sure," said Agueda.

"Well, well! He may, he may, our Don Gil! I am not disputing it,
Señorita. I am only waiting for the padre to come and put the letters on
it."

"Have you told him, Gremo?" said Agueda, bending forward anxiously.

"Caramba, Señorita!" said Gremo, raising up on his long leg, "where do
you suppose I am to find the time to tell the padre? If I should take a
half-day from my work when I am at San Isidro, and walk over to the
bodega, the padre might be away at the cock-fight at Saltona, or the
christening at Haldez. The Don Beltran is a gentle hombre, but he would
not pay me for half a day when I did not earn it. If I could know when
the padre was at home, I would go, most certainly."

"You must have seen him many times in the last three years," said
Agueda.

"I will not deny that I have seen the padre," answered Gremo, rising
angrily on the tips of his knotted brown toes. "But would you have me
disturb a man like our padre when he was watching the shoemaker's black
cock from Troja, to see if his spurs were as long as the spurs of the
cock of Corndeau?--that vagamundo!"

Agueda reined Castaño round, so that his head pointed in the general
direction of the bodega, as well as homeward.

"I can tell the padre, Gremo," she said, and then added with
determination, "It must not be left another day."

Gremo settled down upon his short leg.

"Now, Señorita," he said argumentatively, "do not interfere. It is I
that have this matter well within my grasp. There is no one coming this
way to-day--along the beach, I mean."

"How do you know, Gremo?" questioned Agueda.

Gremo shrugged his shoulders.

"It is not likely, muchacho. Our own people never come that way, and
there are so few strangers--not three in as many years. We cannot now
help the Señor who lies there, can we, Señorita?"

"No," said Agueda, sadly; "but we can prevent--"

"Leave it to me, Señorita. I promise that I will attend to it to-morrow.
I--"

"And why not to-day?"

"Because, you see, muchacho, I must take the air-plants to the Port of
Entry. I am on my way there now. I but stopped to warn the Señorita, and
I pay well for my kindness. Now I shall not be able to return to-night.
As the Señorita has detained me all this long while, will she be so good
as to stop at my casa and tell Marianna Romando to come over and light
the lantern on the signal-staff at an early hour? This, you know, is
_my_ lighthouse, little 'Gueda. This is Los Santos."

"Have I come as far as Los Santos head?" asked the girl.

Agueda looked upwards at the place where the red lantern hung against
the staff.

"How can a woman climb up there?" she said.

"She will bring the ladder, the Marianna Romando," said Gremo, moving a
step onwards.

"I do not think I know Marianna Romando. Is she your wife, Gremo?"

"Well, so, so," answered Gremo. "But she will do very well to light the
lantern all the same."

Agueda sat her horse, lost in thought. When she raised her eyes nothing
was to be seen of Gremo. An ambulating mass of bloom, some distance
along on the top of the sea bank, told her that he was well on his way
toward the Port of Entry. This was the best way, Gremo considered, to
put an end to discussion.

Agueda did not know just where the casa of the light-keeper lay. Seeing
that a well-worn path entered the bushes just there, she turned her
horse's head and pushed into the tall undergrowth. After a few moments
she came out upon a well-defined footway. Her path led her through acres
of mompoja trees, whose great spreading spatules shaded her from the
scorching sun. She had descended a little below the hill, and once out
of the fresh trade breeze, began to feel the heat. She took off her hat
as she rode, and fanned herself. Five or six minutes of Castaño's
walking brought her to a hut; this hut was placed at a point where three
paths met. It stood in a sort of hollow, where the moisture from the
late rains had settled upon the clay soil. The hut was thatched with
yagua. It was so small that, Agueda argued, there could be but one room.
There was a stone before the doorway sunk deep in the mud. Before the
opening, where the door should be, hung a curtain of bull's hide. A long
ladder stood against the house. Its topmost rung was at least an entire
story in height above the roof, and Agueda wondered why it was needed
there. The only signs of life about the place were three or four
withered hens, which ran screaming, with wobbling bodies and thin necks
stretched forward, at the approach of the stranger. Their screams
brought a yellow woman to the door. If Gremo looked like a withered
apple, this was his feminine counterpart. Her one garment appeared to be
quite out of place. It seemed as if there could be nothing improper in
such a creature going about as she was created. The slits in the faded
cotton gown were more suggestive than utter nakedness would have been.
This person nodded at the chickens where they were disappearing in the
bush.

"They are as good as any watch-dog," said she. "There is no use of
thieves coming here."

Agueda rode close.

"I am not a thief," said Agueda. "Can you tell me where is the casa of
Gremo, the light-keeper?"

"And where but here in this very spot?" said the piece of parchment,
smiling a toothless smile and showing a fine array of gums. "But had you
said the casa of Marianna Romando, you would have come nearer the
truth."

Agueda had not expected the casa of which Gremo spoke with such pride to
look like this, or to belong to some one else.

"Well, then, I have come with a message from your hus--from Gremo."

"The Señorita will get off her horse and come in? What will the Señorita
have? Some bread, an egg--a little _ching-ching_?"

The woman smiled pleasantly all the time that she was speaking. Agueda
had difficulty in understanding her, for the entire absence of teeth
caused her lips to cling together, so that she articulated with
difficulty. Still she smiled. Agueda shook her head at the hospitable
words.

"I have no time, gracias, Señora. You will see that I have been wet with
the showers," she said; "and I have been delayed twice already. Gremo
asked me to tell you that he would come to the Port of Entry too late to
return and light the lantern. He asks that you will do it for him."

For answer the woman hurriedly pulled aside the bull's-hide curtain and
entered the hut. She reappeared in a moment with an old straw hat on her
head. She was lifting up her skirt as she came, and tying round her
waist a petticoat of some faded grey stuff. Her face had changed. She
smiled no longer.

"It is that fat wife of the inn-keeper at the sign of the 'Navío
Mercante.'[4] She it is who takes my Gremo from me." She entered the hut
again, and this time reappeared with a coarse pair of native shoes. She
seated herself in the doorway, her feet on the damp stone, and busily
began to put on the shoes, her tongue keeping her fingers in
countenance.

"As if I did not know why my Gremo goes to the Port of Entry! He will
sit in the doorway all the day! She will give him of the pink rum! He
will spend all the pesos he has made! His plants will wither! Oh, yes,
it is that fat Posadera who has got hold of my Gremo."

Agueda turned her horse's head.

"How do I go on from here?" she asked.

"Where is the Señorita going?"

"To San Isidro, but first to El--"

"_Aaaaiiiieee!_" said the woman, standing in the now laced shoes, arms
akimbo. "So this is Don Beltran's little lady?"

Agueda flushed.

"I live with my uncle, the Señor Adan, at San Isidro." She pushed into
the undergrowth.

"The Señora is going wrong," said the woman. "Señorita," said Agueda,
sharply, correcting the word. "Which way, then?"

Getting no answer, she turned again. She now saw that the woman had gone
to the side of the house and was taking the long ladder from its
position against the wall. She bent her back and settled it upon her
shoulders. Agueda looked on in astonishment while this frail creature
fitted her back to so awkward a burden. Marianna Romando looked up
sidewise from under the rungs.

"I go to light the señale now," she said. "It may burn all day, for me.
What cares Marianna Romando? Government must pay. Then, when it is
lighted I shall hide the ladder among the mompoja trees. He did not dare
to tell me that he would remain away. He knows that I do not like that
fat wife of the inn-keeper. I shall lead him home by the ear at about
four o'clock of the morning. There are ghosts in the mompoja patch, but
they will not appear to two."

All through this discourse Marianna Romando had not raised her voice.
She smiled as if she considered the weaknesses of Gremo amiable ones.
She started after him as a mother would go in search of a straying
child; like a guardian who would protect a weak brother from himself.

"I have only this to say to you, Señorita," she called after Agueda,
turning so that the ladder swished through the low bushes, cutting off
some of the tops of the tall weeds, both before and behind her. "Keep
the Señor well in hand. When they go away like that, no one knows whom
they may be going after."

Agueda closed her ears. She did not wish to hear that which her senses
had perforce caught. She pushed along the path that Marianna Romando had
indicated, and in twenty minutes saw the white palings of Don Mateo's
little plantation, El Cuco.

FOOTNOTES:

[3] Lad.

[4] Merchant ship.



IV


When Raquel had given Agueda the note and the kiss, and had seen her
ride rapidly away, she closed the shutter. She made the room as dark as
possible. She could not bear to have the sun shine on a girl who had
written to a man to come to her succour. It could mean nothing less than
marriage, and it was as if she had offered it. But what else remained
for her but to appeal to Don Gil? If the few words that he had spoken
meant anything, they meant love. If the beating of her heart, when she
caught ever so distant a glimpse of him, meant anything, it meant love.
She had received a note from him only a week back. She would read it
again. Her uncle had searched her room only yesterday for letters, and
she was thankful that she had had the forethought to conceal Silencio's
missive where he would not discover it. He had ordered old Ana to search
the girl's dresses, and Ana, with moist eyes and tender words, had
carried out Escobeda's instructions. She had found nothing, and so had
told the Señor Escobeda.

"And when does the child get a chance to receive notes from the
Señores?" asked Ana, indignant that her charge should be suspected. It
was the reflection upon herself, also, that galled her. "I guarded her
mother; I can guard her, Señor," said the old woman, with dignity.

"Do you not know that the young of our nation are fire and tow?" snarled
Escobeda. "I shall put it out of her power to deceive me longer."

With that he had flung out of the casa and ridden away. It was then that
Raquel had beckoned to Agueda, where she loitered under the shelter of
the coffee bushes. After Agueda had gone, Raquel seated herself upon a
little stool which had been hers from childhood. She raised one foot to
her knee, took the heel in her hand, and drew off the slipper. Some
small pegs had pressed through and had made little indentations in the
tender foot. But between the pegs and the stocking was a thick piece of
paper, whose folds protected the skin. She had just removed it when the
door opened, and Ana entered. Raquel started and seemed confused for a
moment.

"You frightened me, Ana," said Raquel. "I thought that you had gone to
the fair. So I told--"

"You told? And whom did you have to tell, Señorita?"

"I told my uncle. He was here but now. Oh! dear Ana, I am so tired of
this hot house. I long for the woods. When do you think that he will
let me go to the forest again?"

Ana drew the girl toward her. Her lips trembled.

"I am as sorry as you can be, muchachita; but what can I do? What is
that paper that you hold in your hand, Raquel?"

Raquel blushed crimson. Fortunately Ana's eyes were fixed upon the
paper.

"I had it folded in my shoe," said Raquel. She threw the paper in the
scrap basket as she spoke. "See, Ana." She held up the slipper. "Look at
those pegs! They have pushed through, and my heel is really lame. I can
hardly walk." Raquel limped round the room to show Ana what suffering
was hers, keeping her back always to the scrap-basket. "If he would
allow me to go to the town and buy some shoes!" said Raquel--Ana's
espionage having created the deceit whose prophylactic she would be.

"You had better put on your slipper," said the prudent Ana. "You will
wear out your stockings else."

"But how can I put on my slipper with those pegs in the heel?" asked
Raquel.

"You had the paper."

"It was punched full of holes."

"Let me see it," said Ana.

"I threw it away," said Raquel. "Get me another piece of paper, for the
love of God, dear Ana. My uncle does not allow me even a journal. I am
indeed in prison."

Ana arose.

"I will take the scrap-basket with me," she said.

"Not until you have brought the paper, Ana. I shall tear up some other
pieces."

When Ana had closed the door Raquel pounced upon the waste-basket. She
took the folded paper from the top of the few scraps lying there. This
she opened, pulling it apart with difficulty, for the pegs had punched
the layers together, as if they had been sewn with a needle. She spread
the paper upon her knee, but first ran to the door and called, "Ana,
bring a piece of the cotton wool, also, I beg of you."

"That will keep her longer," said Raquel, smiling. She spoke aloud as
lonely creatures often do. "She must hunt for that, I know." She heard
Ana pulling out bureau drawers, and sat down again to read her letter.


     "Dearest Señorita," it ran. "I hear that you are unhappy. What can
     I do? I hear that you are going away. Do not go, for the love of
     God, without letting me know.

     Your faithful servant, G."


"I have let you know, Gil," she said. "I am not going away, but I am
unhappy. I am a prisoner. I wonder if you will save me?" Ana's heavy
tread was heard along the corridor. Raquel hastily thrust the note
within the bosom of her dress. When the cotton had been adjusted and the
slipper replaced, Ana took up the scrap-basket.

"Dear Ana, stay a little while. I am so lonely. Don't you think he would
let me sit on the veranda?"

"He would let you go anywhere if you would promise not to speak to the
Señor Silencio," said Ana.

"I will never promise that, Ana," said Raquel, with a compression of the
lips.

She laid her head down on Ana's shoulder.

"I am so lonely," she said. The tears welled over from the childish
eyes. The lips quivered. "I wonder how it feels, Ana, to have a mother."
Ana's eyes were moist, too, but she repressed any show of feeling. Had
not the Señor Escobeda ordered her to do so, and was not his will her
daily rule?

Suddenly Raquel started--her hearing made sensitive by fear.

"I hear him coming, Ana," she said.

"You could not hear him, sweet; he has gone over to see the Señor
Anecito Rojas."

"That dreadful man!" Raquel shuddered. "Why does he wish to see the
Señor Anecito Rojas?"

"I do not know, Señorita." Ana shook her head pitifully. It seemed as
if she might tell something if she would.

Suddenly she strained her arms round the girl.

"Raquel! Raquel!" she said, "promise me that you will sometimes think of
me. That you will love me if we are separated. That if you can, if you
have the power, you will send for me--"

"Ana! Ana!" Raquel had risen to her feet and was crying. Her face was
white, her lips bloodless. "Tell me what you mean. How can I send for
you? Where am I going that I can send for you? Am I going away, Ana?
Ana, what do you know? Tell me, Ana, dear--dear Ana, tell me!"

But Ana had no time or reason to answer. There was a sound of horse's
hoofs before the door, a man's heavy foot alighting upon the veranda,
the throwing wide of the outer door, and Escobeda's voice within the
passage.

"Ana!" it shouted, "Ana!"

Ana arose trembling. "I am here, Señor," she said.

"Where is that girl, Raquel?"

"The Señorita is also here, Señor," answered Ana.

The door was flung open.

"Pack her duds," said Escobeda. "She leaves this by evening."

"_I--leave--here?_" Raquel had arisen, and was standing supporting
herself by Ana's shoulder.

"I suppose you understand your mother tongue. It is as I said; you leave
here this evening."

"Oh, uncle! Where--where am I to go?"

"That you will find out later. Pack her duds, Ana."

Ana trembled in every limb. She arose to obey. Raquel threw herself on
the bare floor at Escobeda's feet.

"Oh, uncle!" she said. "What have I done to be sent away? Will you not
tell me where I am going?"

The girl cried in terror. She wept as a little child weeps, without
restraint. "I am so young, uncle. I have no home but this. Do not send
me away!"

Escobeda looked down at the childish figure on the ground before him,
but not a ray of pity entered his soul, for between Raquel's face and
his he saw that of Silencio, whose father had been his father's enemy as
well as his own. He felt sure that soon or late Silencio would have the
girl. He spoke his thoughts aloud.

"I suppose he would even marry you to spite me," he said.

"Who, uncle? Of whom do you speak?"

"You know well enough; but I shall spoil his game. Get her ready, Ana;
we start this afternoon."

"There is a knocking at the outer door," said Ana. "I will go--"

"You will pack her duds," said Escobeda, who was not quite sure of Ana.
"I will answer the summons myself."

As he was passing through the doorway, Raquel said, despairingly:

"Uncle, wait a moment. You went to the Señor Anecito Rojas. How did you
get back so soon--"

"And who told you that I was going to him? Yes, I did start for the
house of Rojas, but I met him on the way, so I was saved the trouble."

"Are you going to send me to him, uncle?" asked Raquel. The girl's face
had again become white, her eyes were staring. There was some unknown
horror in store. What could it be?

"Send you to him? Oh, no! Why should I send you to him? I have a better
market for you than that of Rojas. He is only coming to aid me with
those trusty men of his, in case your friend Silencio should attempt to
take you from me. He had better not attempt it. A stray shot will
dispose of him very quickly."

"Am I to remain on the island, uncle?"

"Yes and no," answered Escobeda. "We take the boat to-night for the
government town. When we arrive, it will be as the governor says--he
must see you first."

Raquel understood nothing of his allusions. Ana cried silently as she
took Raquel's clothes from the drawers and folded them.

"I cannot see what the governor has to do with me?" said Raquel.

"You will know soon enough," said Escobeda. His laugh was cruel and
sneering.

Raquel turned from Escobeda with an increased feeling of that revulsion
which she had never been able entirely to control. She had felt as if it
were wrong not to care for her uncle, but even had he been uniformly
kind, his appearance was decidedly not in his favour. She glanced at his
low, squat figure, bowed legs, and thick hands. She had time to wonder
why he always wore earrings--something which now struck her as more
grotesque than formerly. Then she thrust her hand within the bosom of
her gown, raised it quickly, and slipped something within her mouth.

Escobeda caught the motion of Raquel's arm as he raised his eyes. She
backed toward the wall. He advanced toward her threateningly. He seized
her small shoulder with one hand, and with a quick, rough motion he
thrust the thick forefinger of the other between her lips, and ran it
round inside her mouth, as a mother does in seeking a button or some
foreign substance by which a child might be endangered. Raquel
endeavoured to swallow the paper. At first she held her teeth close
together, but the strength of Escobeda's finger was equal to the whole
force of her little body, and after a moment's struggle Silencio's note
was brought to light. He tried to open it.

"It is pulp! Nothing but pulp!" he said, shaking the empty hand at her.
Raquel stood outraged and pale. What was the matter with this man? He
had suddenly shown himself in a new light.

"How dare you treat me so?" she gasped.

"You have hurt her, Señor," said Ana, reproachfully. "Does it pain you,
sweet?" Ana had run to the girl, and was wiping her lips with a soft
handkerchief. A tiny speck of blood showed how less than tender had been
this rough man's touch.

"If it pains me? Yes, all over my whole body. How dare he! Anita, how
dare he!"

Escobeda laughed. He seated his thick form in the wicker chair, which
was Raquel's own. It trembled with his weight. He laid the paper
carefully upon his knee, and tried to smooth it.

"I thought you said she received no notes from gentlemen," he roared.
Ana stood red-eyed and pale.

"She never does, Señor," she answered, stifling her sobs.

"And what is that?" asked Escobeda, in a grating voice. He slapped the
paper with the back of his hand into the very face of Ana. "Do you think
that I cannot read my enemy's hand--aye, and his meaning? Even were it
written in invisible ink. '_Gil!_' Do you see it? '_Gil!_'" He slapped
the paper again, still thrusting it under Ana's nose.

"There may be more than one Gil in the world, Señor," sniffed the
shaking Ana.

"Do not try to prevaricate, Ana. You know there is not more than one Gil
in the world," said Raquel, scornfully.

Ana, in danger from the second horn of her dilemma, stood convicted of
both, and gasped.

"There is only one Gil in the world for me. That is Don Gil
Silencio-y-Estrada. That is his note which you hold, uncle. It is a love
letter. I have answered it this very day."

Raquel, now that the flood of her speech had started to flow, said all
that she could imagine or devise. She said that which had no foundation
in fact. She made statements which, had Silencio heard them, would have
lifted him to the seventh heaven of bliss.

"He wants me to go away with him. He knows that I am imprisoned. He
implores me to come to him. Be sure," said Raquel, her eyes flashing,
"that the opportunity is all that I need."

Ana stood aghast. She had never seen Escobeda defied before. All the
countryside feared to anger him. What would become of the two helpless
women who had been so unfortunate?

Escobeda was livid. His eyes rolled with rage; they seemed to turn red.
He arose from the chair, leaving it creaking in every straw. He clenched
his fist, and shook it at the woman and girl alternately. His ear-rings
danced and trembled. He seemed to be seized with a stuttering fit. The
words would not pass the barrier of his brown teeth. He jerked and
stammered.

"We--we--shall see. We shall s--s--see. This--this--eve--evening."

Raquel, her short spurt of courage fled, now stood with drooped head.
Escobeda's anger seemed to have left him as suddenly as it had appeared.
He threw Silencio's note on the floor.

"Ah! bah!" he said, contemptuously. "It sounds very fine. It is like
hare soup: first catch your hare. Silencio shall not catch you, my
little hare. His horses are not fleet enough, nor his arm long enough."

"All the same, I think that he will catch me," said Raquel, again
defiant, with a fresh burst of courage.

Escobeda turned on his heel.

"Go to the door, Ana," he said, "and see who keeps up that thumping."

When Ana had shuffled along the passage, Raquel turned to Escobeda. "It
may be a messenger from the Señor Silencio," she said. "I sent him a
letter some hours ago."

"And by whom, pray?"

"That I will not tell you. I do not betray those who are kind to me. You
told me early this morning that I was to be taken away. You will see now
that I, too, have a friend."

Ana's steps interrupted this conversation.

"Well?" asked Escobeda. "The messenger is--will you speak?"

"It is the man Rotiro from Palmacristi," said Ana, in a low voice.

Raquel gave a quick little draw of her breath inward. The sound made a
joyous note in that cruel atmosphere.

"It will do you no good," said Escobeda. "Go and tell him that I will
see him presently. I will lock you up, my pretty Señorita, that you send
no more notes to that truhan.[5] You have now but a few hours to make
ready. Put in all your finery; though, after all, your new master can
give you what he will, if you please him."

FOOTNOTE:

[5] Mountebank.



V


It was an unthrifty-looking place, El Cuco--very small, as its name
implied. How Don Mateo had asked any woman to marry him with no more to
give her than the small plantation of El Cuco, one could not imagine.
The place was little more than a conuco, and Don Mateo, through careless
ways and losses at gambling, selling a little strip of field here and
some forest land there, was gradually reducing the property to the size
of a native holding.

The lady who had inveigled Don Mateo into marrying her sat upon the
veranda, fat and hearty. Her eyes were beginning to open to the fact
that Don Mateo had not been quite candid with her. He had said, "My
house is not very fine, Señorita, but I have land; and if you will come
there as my wife, we will begin to build a new casa as soon as the crops
are in and paid for." The crops had never come in, as far as the Señora
had discovered; and how could crops be paid for before they were
gathered? There had grown up within the household a very fine crop of
complaints, but these Don Mateo smoothed over with his ready excuses
and kindliness of manner.

Agueda leaned down to the small footpath gate to unfasten the latch. She
found that the gate was standing a little way open and sunk in the mud,
but that there was no room to pass through.

"Go round to the other side," called a voice from the veranda.

A half-dozen little children, of all shades, came trooping down the
path. Then, as she turned to ride round the dilapidated palings, they
scampered across the yard, a space covered by some sort of wild growth.
They met her in a troop at the large gate, which was also sunk in the
ground through the sagging of its hinges. Fortunately, it had stood so
widely open now for some years that entrance was quite feasible.

Agueda struck spur to Castaño's side, and he trotted round to the
veranda. They stopped at the front steps, and throwing her foot over the
saddle, Agueda prepared to dismount.

"What do you want here?" asked a fat voice from the end of the veranda.

"I should like to see Aneta, Señora," said Agueda. "May one of the peons
take my horse?"

"You can go round to the back, where Aneta is, then," answered the
Señora, without rising. "She is washing her dishes, and it is not you
who shall disturb her."

Agueda looked up with astonishment. The last time that she had come to
El Cuco, Aneta had sat on the veranda in the very place where the
stranger was sitting now. That chair, Don Mateo had brought over from
Saltona once as a present for Aneta. It was an American chair, and Aneta
used to sit and rock in it by the hour and sing some happy song. Agueda
remembered how Aneta had twisted some red and yellow ribbons through the
wicker work. Those ribbons were replaced now by blue and pink ones.

Without a word Agueda rode round the house. Arrived at the tumble-down
veranda which jutted out from the servants' quarters, she heard sounds
which, taken in conjunction with the Señora's words, suggested Aneta's
presence. When Aneta heard the sound of horse's hoofs she came to the
open shutter. Agueda saw that her eyes were red and swollen. A faint
smile of welcome overspread Aneta's features, which was succeeded at
once by a shamefaced look that Agueda should see her in this menial
position.

"Dear Agueda!" said she; "how glad I am to see you! But this is no place
for you."

"I wish that you could come down to the river," said Agueda. "I have so
much to ask you. Who is the Señora on the veranda, Aneta?"

"Do you not know then that he is married?" asked Aneta, the tears
beginning to flow again.

"Married!" exclaimed Agueda, aghast. "To the Señora on the veranda?"

Aneta nodded her head, while the salt tears dropped down on the towel
with which she was slowly wiping a large platter. Agueda was guilty of a
slight bit of deceit in this. She had heard that Don Mateo was married,
but it had never occurred to her that things would be so sadly changed
for Aneta. Somehow she had expected to find her as she had always found
her, seated on the veranda in the wicker chair, the red and yellow
ribbons fluttering in the breeze, and in her lap the embroidery with
which she had ever struggled.

"Can you come down by the river?" asked Agueda.

"I suppose that I must finish these dishes," said Aneta, through her
tears. "Oh, Agueda, you have had nothing to eat, I am sure. You have
come so far. Let me get you something."

"Yes, I have come far, Aneta. I should like a little something." It did
not occur to Agueda to decline because of the Señora's rudeness. She had
never heard of any one's being refused food at any hut, rancho, or casa
in the island. The stranger was always welcome to what the host
possessed, poor though it might be.

"I will not dismount," said Agueda. "Perhaps you can hand me a cup of
coffee through the window." Agueda rode close to the opening. Aneta laid
her dish down on the table, and went to the stove, from which she took
the pot of the still hot coffee. She poured out a cupful, and handed it
to Agueda.

"Some sugar, please," said Agueda, holding the cup back again. Aneta
dipped a spoon in the sugar bowl which was standing on the table in its
pan of water. It was a large pan, for "there are even some ants who can
swim very well," so Aneta declared. Agueda took the cup gratefully, and
drained it as only a girl can who has ridden many miles with no midday
meal.

"I hoped that I should be asked to breakfast, Aneta," said Agueda,
wistfully. She remembered the time when she had sat at the table with
Aneta, and partaken of a pleasant meal.

"I can hand you some cassava bread through the window, Agueda," said
Aneta, with no further explanation.

She took from the cupboard a large round of the cassava and handed it to
Agueda. Agueda broke it eagerly and ate hungrily.

"That is good, Aneta. Some more coffee, please."

Aneta took up the pot to pour out a second cup.

"And who told you that you might give my food away?"

The voice was the fat voice of the Señora. She had exerted herself
sufficiently to come to the kitchen door.

"Pardon, Señora!" said Agueda. Her face expressed the astonishment that
she felt. She unconsciously continued to eat the round of cassava bread.

"You are still eating?"

Agueda looked at the woman in astonishment.

"Does the Señora mean that I shall not eat the bread?" asked she.

"We do not keep a house of refreshment," said the Señora.

Agueda handed the remainder of the cassava bread to Aneta.

"I see you do not, Señora. Come, Aneta, come down to the river."

Aneta looked hesitatingly at the Señora.

"You need not mind the Señora, Aneta. She does not own you."

At this Aneta looked frightened, and the Señora as angry as her double
chin would allow.

"If the girl leaves, she need not return," said the Señora.

"My work is nearly done," said Aneta, with a fresh flood of tears.

"Crying, Aneta! I am ashamed of you. Come, I will help you finish your
dishes."

Agueda rode around to the veranda pilotijo and dismounted. She tied
Castaño there, as is the custom, taking care that she chose the pilotijo
furthest removed from the main post, where several machetes were buried
with a deep blade stroke.

The Señora was too heavy and lazy to object to Agueda's generosity. She
seated herself in the doorway and watched the process of dish-washing.
When the girls had finished, the worn towels wrung dry and hung on the
line, Aneta took from the veranda nail her old straw hat.

"On further thought, you cannot go," said the Señora. "I need some work
done in my room."

Agueda put her arm round Aneta.

"I bought her off," she said. "Come, Aneta, I have so little time."

At these words the Señora had the spirit to rise and flap the cushion of
a shuffling sole on the floor in imitation of a stamp of the foot.

"You cannot go," she said.

For answer the two girls strolled down toward the river, Castaño's
bridle over Agueda's arm, Aneta trembling at her new-found courage.

Aneta was a very pretty, pale girl, with bronze-coloured hair, although
her complexion was thick and muddy, showing the faint strain of blood
which made her, and would always hold her, inferior to the pure Spanish
or American type. Her eyes were of a greenish cast, and though small,
were sweet and modest. She was perhaps twenty-three at this time. It is
sad to have lived one's life at the age of twenty-three.

"I have so many years before me, Agueda," said Aneta.

"Why do you stay here?" asked Agueda.

"Where have I to go?" asked Aneta.

"That is true," assented Agueda.

"My father will not have me back. He says that I should have been smart
and married Don Mateo; but I never thought of being smart, 'Gueda; I
never thought of anything but how I loved him."

A pang of pity pierced the heart of Agueda, all the stronger because she
herself was so secure.

The two girls walked down toward the shining river. Castaño followed
along behind, nibbling and browsing until a jerk of the bridle caused
him to raise his head and continue his march.

The river was glancing along below the bank. Low and shallow, it had
settled here and there into great pools, or spread out thinly over the
banks of gravel which rose between.

"Can we bathe, Aneta?" asked Agueda.

"I suppose so," said Aneta, mournfully.

"Smile, Aneta, do smile. It makes me wretched to see you so sad."

Aneta shook her head.

"What have I left, Agueda?"

Agueda hung Castaño's bridle on a limb, and seeking a sheltered spot,
the two girls undressed and plunged into the water, a pool near the
shore providing a basin. One may bathe there with perfect seclusion. The
ford is far below, and no one has reason to come to this lonely spot.
The water was cool and delicious to Agueda's tired frame.

"Agueda," said Aneta, as they were drying themselves in the sun, "will
Castaño carry double?"

"Why, Aneta, I suppose he will. I never tried him."

"I promised El Rey to come to see him one day soon. That was weeks ago.
You know that Roseta has gone. The little creature is alone. If I should
go there by myself the Señora would say bad things about me. She would
say that I had gone for some wrong purpose. God knows I have no wrong
purpose in my heart."

"Yes, I will go with you," said Agueda. "But, we must hasten. I have
been away so long already. What time should you think it is, Aneta?"

Aneta turned to the west and looked up to the sky with that critical
eye which rural dwellers who possess no timepiece acquire.

"Perhaps three o'clock, Agueda, perhaps four. Not so very late."

"So that I am home by six it will do," said Agueda.

She reproached herself that she should think of the happiness that
awaited her at home while Aneta was so sad.

When they were again dressed, Agueda mounted Castaño, and riding close
to an old mahogany stump, gave her hand to Aneta, aiding her to spring
up to the horse's flank. Castaño was not over-pleased at this addition
to his burden, but he made no serious demonstration, and started off
toward the ford. The ford crossed, Agueda guided Castaño along the bank
of the stream.

"Is this the Brandon place?" asked Agueda.

"No," said Aneta. "It is part of the Silencio estate."

Again Agueda felt the flush arise which had made her uncomfortable in
the morning.

"I have never been this way," said Agueda, who was following Aneta's
directions. "I was there this morning, but I rode down the gran'
camino."

"You went there?"

"Yes; to carry a note."

"To the Señor?"

"Am I going right, Aneta?"

"Yes," said the easily diverted Aneta. "Follow the little path. They
live on the river bank below the hill." In a few moments a thatched roof
began to show through the trees.

"There it is," said Aneta; "there is Andres' rancho."

When they arrived at the rancho they found that the door was closed.
Agueda rapped with her whip. "They are all away, I think," said she.

"Oh! then, they are not all away," piped a little voice from the inside.
"Take the key from the window, and I will let you open my door."

Agueda laughed. Aneta slid off the horse, and Agueda rode to the high
window, from whose ledge she took a key.

"My Roseta, is that you?" called the child's voice.

Aneta looked up at Agueda and shook her head with a pitying motion. The
child's sorrow had effaced her own for the time.

"No, El Rey," she called; "it is Aneta, and I bring Agueda, from San
Isidro."

"You are welcome, Señoritas," piped the little voice again.

By this time Aneta had inserted the key in the lock and opened the door.
A small, thin child was sitting on the edge of a low bed. He arose to
greet them with a show of politeness which struggled against weariness.

"Andres and Roseta are away," he said. "Andres said that he would bring
her if he could find her."

Agueda had heard of El Rey, but she had never seen the child before.

"I should think he would surely bring her," said she in a comforting
tone. She was seeing much misery to-day. She felt reproached for being
so happy herself, but she looked forward to her home-coming as
recompense for it all.

"Would you like to come to San Isidro some time, El Rey?" she asked.

"Does Roseta ever come there?" asked the child.

"She has never been yet, but she may come some day," answered Agueda,
with that merciful deceit which keeps hope ever springing in the breast.

Aneta stooped down towards the floor.

"Have you anything to play with, El Rey?" she asked.

"El Rey has buttons. El Rey has a book that the Señor at Palmacristi
gave him, but he is tired of those. When will Roseta come?"

Agueda turned away.

"I cannot bear it," she said.

El Rey looked at her curiously.

"Would you like to ride the pretty little horse, El Rey?"

The child walked slowly to the door and peered wistfully out.

"El Rey would like to ride; but Roseta might come."

"We will not go far," said Agueda. "Come, let me lift you up." El Rey
suffered himself to be lifted to the horse's back, but his eyes were
ever searching the dim vista of the woodland for the form that did not
appear.

"I cannot enjoy it, Señora," said he, politely. "El Rey would enjoy the
Señora's kindness if Roseta could see him ride."

"I must go, Aneta," said Agueda, her eyes moist.

She lifted the child down from Castaño's back. He at once entered the
casa. He turned in the doorway, his thin little figure occupying small
space against the dark background.

"Adios, Señoritas," said the child. "Oh! will the Señoritas please put
the key on the window ledge?"

"We cannot lock you in, El Rey," said Agueda.

"Do you mean that we are to lock you in, El Rey?" asked Aneta at the
same time.

"Will the Señoritas please not talk," said the child. "I cannot hear. I
sit and listen all day. If the Señoritas talk I cannot hear if any one
comes."

"But must we lock the door?" asked Agueda.

"Is that what Andres wishes?" asked Aneta.

"If you please, Señorita; put the key on the window ledge."

"I shall not lock him in," said Aneta. "I cannot do it. I will stay a
while, El Rey," she said.

Aneta sat down in the doorway, her head upon her hand. She belongs not
to the detail of this story. She is only one of that majority of
suffering ignorant beings with whom the world is filled, who make the
dark background against which happier souls shine out. Agueda rode back
to the ford. She galloped Castaño now. At the entrance of the forest she
turned and threw a kiss to Aneta. The girl was still in the doorway, but
El Rey was not to be seen. Agueda fancied him sitting on the low bed,
his ear strained to catch the fall of a faraway footstep.



VI


The shadows were growing long when Agueda cantered down the path that
ran alongside of the banana walk. She crossed the potrero at a slow
pace, for Castaño was tired and warm. As she slowly rounded the corner
of the veranda, a figure caught her eye. It was Don Beltran, cool and
immaculate in his white linen suit. He was smoking, and seemed to be
enjoying the sunset hour.

"Ah! are you here at last, child! I was just about to send your uncle to
look for you. Have you had dinner?"

"Not a mouthful," laughed Agueda, at the remembrance of the Señora at El
Cuco. It was cruel to laugh while Aneta wept, but it was so hard not to
be happy.

"Tell Juana to bring you some dinner. There was a san coche, very good,
and a pilauf of chicken. Did you see Don Mateo?"

"No, Señor," said Agueda, looking down.

"Why will you persist in calling me Señor, Agueda? I am Beltran. Say it
at once--Beltran!"

"Beltran," said Agueda, with a happy smile. Poor Aneta! Poor everybody
in the world who did not have a Beltran to love her!

As Agueda told Beltran the history of her long day, he listened with
interest. When she spoke of Aneta's changed life, "The brute!" said
Beltran, "the damned brute!"

While Agueda was changing her dress for the dark blue skirt and white
waist, Beltran sat and thought upon the veranda. When she came out
again, he spoke.

"Agueda," said he, "it is time that you and I were married."

Agueda blushed.

"I see no cause for haste," said Agueda.

"It is right," said Beltran, "and why should we wait? What is there to
wait for? I want you for my wife. I have never seen any one who could
take me from you, and there is no such person in all the world. All the
same, you must be my wife."

"I think the padre is away," said Agueda, looking down.

"He will be back before long, and then, if the river is still low, we
will go to Haldez some fine morning and be married. Your uncle can give
you away. He will be very glad, doubtless!" Don Beltran laughed as he
spoke. He was not unconscious of Uncle Adan's plans, but as they
happened to fall in with his own, he took them good-naturedly.

"Do you know, Agueda," he said presently, looking steadily at her, "that
you are better born than I?"

"What does the Señor mean?" laughed Agueda.

"The Señor?"

"Well, then, Señor--Beltran. What do you mean by that?"

"I mean what I say, Agueda. Your grandfather, Don Estevan, is a count in
his own country--in old Spain. That is where you get your pretty slim
figure, child, your height, and your arched instep. You are descended
from a long line of noble ladies, Agueda. I have seen many a Spanish
gran' Señora darker than you, my Agueda. When shall our wedding-day be,
child?"

Agueda shook her head and looked down at the little garment which she
was stitching. She had no wish to bind him. That was not the way to
treat a noble nature like his. Agueda had no calculation in her
composition. Beltran could never love her better were they fifty times
married. She was happy as the day. What could make her more so?

"Did the Señor enjoy his sail across the bay?" asked Agueda.

"It was well enough, child. I got the draft cashed, and, strange to
say, I found a letter at the post-office at Saltona."

"From the coffee merchant, I suppose, Señor?"

"No, not from the coffee merchant, Señora," Beltran laughed, teasingly.
"Guess from whom, Agueda; but how should you be able to guess? It is
from my uncle, Agueda. My mother's brother. You know that he married in
the States."

"I have heard the Señor say that the Señor his uncle married in the
es-States," said Agueda, threading her fine needle with care, and making
a tiny knot. Beltran drew his chair close. He twitched the small garment
from her hands. She uttered a slight exclamation. The needle had pricked
her finger. Beltran bent towards her with remorseful words, took the
slender finger between his own, and put it to his lips. His other hand
lay upon her shoulder. She smiled up at him with a glance of inquiry
mixed with shyness. Agueda had never got over her shy little manner. The
pressure of his fingers upon her shoulder thrilled her. She felt as ever
that dear sense of intimacy which usage had not dulled.

Beltran again consulted the letter which he held.

"Uncle Nóe will arrive in a week's time," he said. "He is a very
particular gentleman, is my Uncle Nóe. Quite young to be my uncle. Look
at my two grey hairs, Agueda."

She released her hand from his, and tried to twist her short hair into
a knot. It looked much more womanly so. She must try to make it grow if
a new grand Señor was coming to San Isidro. Don Beltran was still
consulting the letter.

"He brings his child--his little daughter. Now, Agueda, how can we amuse
the little thing?"

Agueda, with work dropped, finger still pressed between her small white
teeth, answered, wonderingly:

"A little child? Let me think, Señor."

"Ah!"

"Well, then, again I say Beltran, if you will. We have not much." How
dear and natural the plural of the personal pronoun! "We have not much,
I fear. There is the little cart that the Señora gave the Señor when he
was muchachito. That is a good little plaything. I have cleaned it well
since the last flood. The water washed even into the cupboard. Then
there is--there is--ah, yes, the diamond cross. She will laugh, the
little thing, when it flashes in the sunshine. Children love brilliant
things. I remember well that the little Cristina, from the conuco, up
there, used to love to see the sparkle of the jewels. But the little one
will like the toy best."

"That is not much, dear heart."

"And then--and then--there may be rides on the bulls, and punting on
the river in the flatboat, and the little chestnut--she can ride
Castaño, the little thing!"

"Not the chestnut; I trained him for you, Agueda, child."

"And why should not the little one ride him, also? We can take her into
the deep woods to gather the mamey apples, and to the bushes down in the
river pasture to gather the aguacate. Only the little thing must be
taught to keep away from the prickly branches, and--sometimes,
Don--Beltran, we might take the child as far as Haldez, if some acrobats
or circus men should arrive. We have not been there since Dondy-Jeem
walked the rope that bright Sunday. Oh, yes! we shall find something to
amuse her, certainly. A little child! We are to have a child in the
house!" It was always a happy "we" with Agueda. "How old is the little
thing?"

"I have not heard from my uncle for many years. I do not know when he
married; but he is a young man still, Uncle Nóe. Full of affectation,
speaking French in preference to Spanish and English, which are equally
his mother tongues--I might say his mother and father tongue--but with
all his affectations, delightful."

"A little child in the house! A little child in the house," murmured
Agueda over and over to herself.

Now it was all bustle at the casa. San Isidro took on a holiday air.
There was no more talk of marriage. Not because Don Beltran did not
think of it and wish it, but because there was no time. A room down the
veranda must be beautified for the little child. She was to be placed
next her father, that if she should want anything at night, he could
attend her.

"Where shall we put the nurse?" said Don Beltran.

"I am afraid the nurse will have to sleep in the rancho, Beltran. These
two rooms take all that we have." Agueda looked up wistfully. "I wonder
how soon she will come," she said. "The little thing! the little thing!"



VII


So soon as Agueda had disappeared down the trocha which leads to the
sea, Silencio called for Andres. Old Guillermina came with a halt and a
shuffle. This was caused by her losing ever and anon that bit of shoe in
which she thought it respectful to seek her master, or to obey his
summons. She agreed with some modern authorities, although she had never
heard of them or their theories, that contact with Mother Earth is more
agreeable and more convenient (she did not know of the claim that it is
more healthful) than encasing the foot in a piece of bull's hide or
calf's skin.

"Where is Andres?" asked Don Gil, impatiently.

"Has the Señor forgotten that the Andres has gone to the Port of Entry?"

"He has not gone there," said Silencio; "that I know, for I sent Troncha
in his place. See where he is, and let me know. I need a messenger at
once."

As Guillermina turned her back, Don Gil bit his lip. "Then I am
helpless," he said aloud, "if Andres is not here." He arose and started
after Guillermina, calling impatiently: "Do not wait for Andres; get
some one, any one. I must send a message at once."

While Guillermina shuffled away, Silencio sat himself down at his desk
and wrote. He wrote hurriedly, the pen tearing across the sheet as if
for a wager. As its spluttering ceased, there was a knock at the
counting-house door.

"Entra!" called Silencio, rising.

It was a moist day in May. The June rains were heralded by occasional
showers, an earnest of the future. The dampness was all-pervading, the
stillness death-like. No sound was heard but the occasional calling of
the peons to the oxen far afield. The leaves of the ceiba tree hung limp
and motionless; the rompe hache[6] had not stirred a leaf for two days
past. No tender airs played caressingly against the nether side of the
palm tufts and swayed them in fan-like motion. The gri-gri stood tall
and grand, full of foliage at the top. Its numberless little leaves were
precisely outlined, each one, against the sky. One might almost fear
that he were looking at a painting done by one of the artists of the
early Hudson River school, so distinctly was the edge of each leaf and
twig drawn against its background of blue.

Rotiro stood and waited. Then he knocked again. A step was heard
approaching from an inner room.

"Entra!" called a voice from within, but louder than before.

Rotiro obeyed the permission. He entered the outer room to find Don Gil
just issuing from the inner one--that holy of holies, where no profane
foot of peon, shod or unshod, had ever penetrated. Rotiro touched his
forelock by way of salutation, drew his machete from its yellow leathern
belt, swung it over his shoulder, and brought it round and down with a
horizontal cut, slashing fiercely into the post of the doorway. It sank
deep, and he left it there, quivering.

Silencio was moistening the flap of an envelope with his lip as Rotiro
entered. After a look at Rotiro, Don Gil thought it best to light a
taper, take a bit of wax from the tray and seal the note. He pressed it
with the intaglio of his ring. The seal bore the crest of the Silencios.
When he had finished he held the note for a moment in his hand, to dry
thoroughly. As he stood, he surveyed the machete of Rotiro, which still
trembled in the doorpost. The post was full of such gashes, indicating
it as a common receptacle for bladed weapons. It served the purpose of
an umbrella-stand at the north. Don Billy Blake had said: "We don't
carry umbrellas into parlours at the No'th, and I bedam if any man,
black or shaded, shall bring his machett into my shanty."

Don Billy was looked upon as an arbiter of fashion. This fashion,
however, antedated Don Billy's advent in the island.

Rotiro unslung his shotgun from his shoulder and stepped inside the
doorway. He leaned the gun against the inner wall.

"Buen' dia', Seño'," he nodded.

"Set that gun outside, Rotiro."

"My e'copeta very good e'copeta, Seño' Don Gil. It a excellent e'copeta.
It is, however, as you know, not much to be trusted; it go off sometimes
with little persuasion on my part, often again without much reason."

"Following the example of your tongue. Listen! Rotiro. I wish to do the
talking. Attend to what I say. Here is a note. I wish you to take it up
back of Troja, to the Señor Escobeda."

"But, Seño', I thought--"

"You thought! So peons think! On this subject you have no need to think.
Take this note up to Troja, and be quick about it. I want an answer
within an hour. Waste no time on thoughts or words, and above all, waste
no time in going or returning. See the Señor Escobeda. Hand him the
note, see what he has to say, and bring me word as soon as possible.
Notice how he looks, how he speaks, what--"

"But the Seño' may not--"

"Still talking? Go at once! Do you remember old Amadeo, who was struck
by lightning? I always believed that it was to quiet his tongue. It
certainly had that effect. But for the one servant I have had who has
been struck by lightning, I have had twenty who ought to have been.
There was a prince in a foreign land who was driven crazy by his
servants. He said, 'Words! words! words!' I wonder very much what he
would have said could he have passed a week on the plantation of
Palmacristi."

As the Devil twists Scripture to suit his purpose, so Silencio was not
behind him in his interpretation of Shakespeare, and Rotiro prepared for
his journey, with a full determination to utter no unnecessary word
during the rest of his life. In dead silence he withdrew his machete
from its gash in the doorpost, tied the letter round his neck by its
cord of red silk, swung his apology for a hat upon his head, and was
off. Meanwhile Don Gil sat and waited.

The hour ended as all hours, good or bad, must end. Don Gil kept his
eyes fixed upon the clock. Ah! it was five minutes past the hour now.

"If I find that he has delayed one minute beyond the
necessary--possibly Escobeda has held him there, taken him
prisoner--prisoner! In the nineteenth century! But an Escobeda is ready
for anything; perhaps he has--" There was a step at the doorway.

"Entra!" shouted Don Gil, before one had the time to knock, and Rotiro
entered. He had no time to say a word. He had not swung his arm round
his head, nor settled the machete safely in the post of the door, before
Don Gil said, impatiently:

"Well! well! What is it? Will the man never speak? Did you see the Señor
Escobeda? Open that stupid head of yours, man! Say something--"

Rotiro was breathless. He set his gun in the corner with great
deliberation. At first his words would not come; then he drew a quick
breath and said:

"I saw the Seño' E'cobeda, Don Gil. He is a fine man, the Seño'
E'cobeda. Oh! yes, he is a very fine man, the Seño'!"

"Ah!" said Don Gil, dryly, "did he send me a message, this very fine
man?"

Rotiro thrust his hand into the perpendicular slit that did duty for a
legitimate opening in his shirt. He was dripping with moisture. Great
beads stood out upon his dark skin. He pulled the faded pink cotton from
his wet body and brought to light a folded paper. This he handed to Don
Gil. The paper was far from dry. Don Gil took the parcel. He broke the
thread which secured it--the thread seemed much shorter than when he had
knotted it earlier in the day--and discovered the letter which he
sought. The letter was addressed to himself.

Don Gil opened this missive with little difficulty. The sticky property
of the flap had been impaired by its contact with the damp surroundings.
Don Gil read the note with a frown.

"Caramba hombre! Did you go up back of Troja for this?"

Rotiro raised his shoulders and turned his palms outward.

"As the Seño' see."

If Rotiro had gone "up back of Troja" for nothing, it was obviously the
initial occasion in the history of the island. The natives, as well as
the foreigners, seemed to go "up back of Troja" for every article that
they needed. They bought their palm boards back of Troja. They bought
their horses back of Troja. They bought their cattle back of Troja. Back
of Troja was made the best rum that was to be had in all the island.
Back of Troja, for some undiscovered reason, were found the best guns,
the best pistols, the sharpest "colinos," smuggled ashore at the cave,
doubtless, and taken in the night through dark florestas, impenetrable
to officers of the law. Many a wife, light of skin and slim of ankle,
had come from back of Troja to wed with the people nearer the sea. The
region back of Troja was a veritable mine, but for once the mine had
refused to yield up what the would-be prospector desired.

"He'll get no wife from back of Troja," thought Rotiro, whose own life
partner, out of the bonds of wedlock, had enjoyed that distinction.

"Whom did you see back of Troja?"

"The Seño' E'cobeda, Seño'. The Seño' E'cobeda is a ver--"

"Yes, yes, I know! How you natives will always persist in slipping your
's,' except when it is superfluous! How did Escobeda look?"

"Much as usual, Seño'. He is a very fi--"

"Was he pleasant, or did he frown?"

"In truth, Seño' Don Gil, I cannot say for one, how he look. I saw but
the back of the Seño' E'cobeda. He look--"

"As much of a cut-throat as ever, I suppose?"

"Si, Seño'. The Seño' was seated in his oficina. He had his back to me.
I saw nothing but his ear-rings and the very fine white shirt that he
wore."

"Well, well! He read the note, and--"

"He read the note, Seño', and--and--he read the note, and--he read the
n--"

"Well, well, well!"

"And shall I tell the Seño' all, then?"

"Will you continue? or shall I--" Don Gil's tone was threatening.

"If the Seño' will. He laugh, Seño' Don Gil. He laugh very long and very
loud, and then I hear a es-snarl. It es-sound like a dog. Once he reach
toward the wall for his 'colino.' I at once put myself outside of the
casa, and behind the pilotijo. When he did not advance, I put an eye to
the crack, all the es-same."

"And it was then that he wrote the note?"

"Si, Seño'; it was then that he wrote the answer and present it to me."

"And said--?"

"He said, oh! I assure the Seño' it was nothing worthy to hear; the
Seño' would not--"

"He said--?" There was a dangerous light in Don Gil's eye.

"And I must tell the Seño'? He said, 'Here! give this to that--that--'"

"That--?"

"'That _truhan!_' I pray the Don Gil forgive me; the Don Gil make me--"

Silencio's face had flushed darkly.

"Continue."

Rotiro, embarrassed beyond measure, forgot what he had learned by fair
means and what by foul, and blundered on.

"He did not say whether the Señorit' had go to the Port of Entry; he--"

"And who told you to enquire whether the Señorita had gone to the Port
of Entry or not?"

Rotiro perceived at once that he had made a gigantic slip. When Don Gil
next spoke, Rotiro was busy watching the parjara bobo which loped along
within the enclosure. The bird, stupid by name and nature alike, came so
close that Rotiro could almost have touched it with his hand.

"Do you hear my question?"

Rotiro started at the tones of thunder.

"No one inform me, Seño'. I had heard talk of it."

"Two fools in one enclosure! The bird is as clever as you. Do not try to
think, Rotiro. Have you never heard that peons should never try to
think? Leave the vacuum which nature abhors in its natural state."
Rotiro looked blankly at Don Gil, who often amused himself at the
expense of the stupid. Just now he was angry, and ready to say something
harsh which even a wiser peon than Rotiro could not understand. Rotiro's
vacuum was working, however, as even vacuums will. "Decidedly, I have
made a very grand mistake of some kind; but when a letter will not
stick, it is so easy--the thing, however, is not to let him--"

"Rotiro!"

The peon started. Don Gil stood facing him. His eyes were blazing.
Rotiro's arm twitched with the desire to reach for his machete.

"If I ever find you--" Don Gil spoke slowly and impressively, his
forefinger moving up and down in time with his words--"if ever I find
you opening a letter of mine, either a letter that I send or one that I
receive, I will send you to Saltona, and I shall ask the alcalde to put
you in the army."

Rotiro's knees developed a sudden weakness. He would much rather be led
to the wall outside the town, turned with his face towards its cold grey
stone, and have his back riddled with bullets. At least, so he thought
at the moment.

"The Seño' will never find me opening a letter, either now or at any
other time." (_Nor will he. Does he think that I should be so stupid as
to open them before his face? Or within two and a half miles of the Casa
de Caoba?_)

"Very well, then. Be off with you. Take your gun out of my
counting-house and your colino out of my doorpost, and yourself out of
my sight."

"The Seño' Don Gil allow that I accommodate myself with a little
ching-ching?"

"Always ching-ching, Rotiro. Bieng, bieng! Tell Alfredo to give you a
half-glass, not of the pink rum--that is not for such as you. You
remember, perhaps, what happened the last time that I gave you a
ching-ching. I should have said No."

"I assure the Seño' that Garcito Romando was a worthless man. O, yes,
Seño', an utterly worthless man--an entirely useless man. He could not
plant the suckers, he could not plant the cacao, he could not drive four
bulls at a time; there was no place for Garcito Romando either in heaven
or in hell. Marianna Romando was weary of him. Purgatory was closed to
him, and the blessed island was too good for him. He stole three dollars
Mex. of me once. My e'copeta did, perhaps, go off a little early, but
the Seño' should thank me. He has on his finca one bobo the less, and
the good God knows--"

Rotiro was not only fluent, he was confluent. He ran his words together
in the most rapid manner.

Don Gil raised his hand as if to ward off the storm of words. "He was
certainly a fool to tamper with a man whose gun shoots round the corner.
Come! Be off with you! Three fingers, and no more."

FOOTNOTE:

[6] Literally, _hatchet breaker_.



VIII


There are days which are crowded with events; days so bursting with
happenings that a single twenty-four hours will not suffice to tell the
tale. There are other days so blank and uneventful that one sighs for
very weariness when one thinks of them. It is not well to wish time
away, but such days are worse than useless. It is, however, of one of
the former that this chapter relates. To a little community like that
surrounding San Isidro and Palmacristi, to say nothing of Troja, the day
on which Agueda carried the note for Raquel was full of events.

When Escobeda went from Raquel's room, slamming the door after him, the
terrified girl dropped on her knees before Ana. All her courage seemed
to have flown. She bent her head and laid it in Ana's lap, and then
tears rained down and drenched Ana's new silk apron.

"Ana," she whispered, "Ana, who is there to help me?"

Ana sighed and sniffed, and one or two great drops rolled off her brown
nose and splashed down on the back of Raquel's dark head.

"There is no one but you and God, Ana."

"Holy Mother! child, do not be so irreverent."

"Can you steal out into the corridor and down the two little steps, and
into the rum room, Ana, and hear what is being said?"

"I am too heavy; that you know, Señorita. The boards creak at the very
sound of my name. I am tall, my bones are large. Such persons cannot
trip lightly; they tip the scales at a goodly number of pounds. Holy
Mother! If he should catch me at it!" and Ana shivered, her tears drying
at once from fright.

"You could very well do it if you chose. Listen, Ana. If he takes me
away, I shall die. Now I tell you truly, Ana, I will never go to that
government house alive; that you may as well know. Get me my mother's
dagger, Ana."

Ana arose and went to a bureau drawer. The drawer squeaked as she pulled
at the knobs.

A far door was heard opening. "What is that?" roared Escobeda.

"I am packing the child's trunks, Señor. How can I pack them unless I
may open the drawer?" There was a sound of retreating footsteps and the
closing of the door. Raquel looked at Ana, who was kneeling upon the
floor, searching in the drawer.

"Ah! here it is," said Ana. "But you will not use it, sweet?"

"Not unless I must," said Raquel. She sighed. "Not unless I must. I do
not want to die, Ana. I love my life, but there is a great horror over
there." She nodded her head in the direction of the Port of Entry. "When
that horror comes very near me, then I--" Raquel made as if she would
thrust the dagger within her breast. Ana shuddered.

"I shall not see it," she said. "But I advise it, all the same, if you
must."

She drew the girl up to her, and cried helplessly upon her neck.

"Can't you think a little for me, Ana? It is hard always to think for
one's self."

"No," said Ana, shaking her head, "I never have any fresh thoughts. I
always follow."

"Then, dear Ana, just tiptoe down and listen. It is the last thing that
I shall ever ask of you, Ana."

Ana, her eyes streaming with tears, took her slippers--those tell-tale
flappers--from her feet, and went to the door. She turned the knob
gently and pushed the door outward without noise. As she opened it she
heard Escobeda's voice, raised in angry tones.

"Go now! now! while he is scolding," whispered Raquel. "He will not hear
you. I must know what he is saying to that man. Do you think it is the
Señor Silencio's messenger?"

Ana nodded and put her finger to her lip. She crept noiselessly along
the passage. Raquel, listen as she would, heard nothing of Ana's
footsteps, for Escobeda was still swearing so loudly as to drown every
other sound.

Raquel went to the bureau, and took from the drawer a piece of kid. She
seated herself and began to polish her weapon of defence. "Of death,"
said Raquel to herself. "If I am forced--"

She peeped out, but Ana had turned the corner, and was hidden from
sight. Ah! she must be in the rum room now, where she could both peer
through the cracks and hear all that was said on either side. Suddenly a
far door was violently wrenched open, and Raquel heard Escobeda's steps
coming along the corridor. Where was Ana, then? Raquel's heart stood
still. Escobeda came on until he reached the door of Raquel's chamber.
The girl did not alter her position, and but for her flushed cheeks
there was no sign of agitation. She bent her head, and rubbed the
shining steel with much force.

"Where is that lazy Ana?"

Raquel raised her innocent eyes to his.

"Did you call, uncle? Well, then, she must have gone to the kitchen."

"You lie," said Escobeda.

Raquel's cheeks reddened still more.

"Perhaps I do, uncle. At all events, she is not here."

"What have you there?"

Escobeda had stooped towards the girl with hand outstretched, but she
had sprung to her feet in a moment, and stood at bay, the dagger held,
not in a threatening attitude, but so that it could be turned towards
the man at any moment.

"It is my mother's dagger, uncle."

"What are you doing with it?"

"Polishing it for my journey, uncle."

"Give it to me."

"Why should I give it to you, uncle?"

"Because I tell you to."

Raquel's hair had fallen down; she was scantily clothed. Her cheeks were
ablaze. She looked like a tigress brought to bay.

"Do you remember my mother, uncle?"

"I remember your mother; what of her?"

"Do you know what she said to me at the last--at the last, uncle?"

"I neither know nor care," said Escobeda. "Hand me the knife."

"My mother told me," said Raquel, still polishing the blade and changing
its direction so that the point was held towards Escobeda--"my mother
told me to keep this little thing always at hand. It has always been
with me. You do not know how many times I have had the thought to turn
it upon you"--Escobeda started and paled--"when your cruelties have been
worse than usual. Sometimes at night I have thought of creeping,
creeping along the hall there, and going to the side of your bed--"

"You murderess!" shouted Escobeda. "So you would do that, would you? It
is time that you came under the restraint that you will find over there
in the government town. Do you hear? Give me the knife. It was like that
she-dev--"

"I can hear quite well with it in my hand," said Raquel. "You may say
whatever comes into your head, only about my mother. That I will not
bear. Speak of her gently, I warn you--I warn you--"

"Do you know who the man was who came to me just now?"

"The Señor Silencio?" said Raquel, breathless, her eyes flashing with a
thousand lights.

"No, it was not the Señor Silencio." Raquel's eyelids drooped. "But it
was the next thing to it. It was that villain, Rotiro. I could have
bought him, as well as Silencio. A little rum and a few pesos, and he is
mine body and soul. But I do not want him. I have followers in plenty--"

"Those who follow you for love?" said Raquel, with sly malice in her
tone.

Escobeda flashed a dark and hateful look upon her.

"It makes no difference why they follow me. They are all mine, body and
soul, just as you are mine, body and soul."

"Are you going to tell me why Rotiro came here to-day?" asked Raquel.

"Yes, that is what I came to tell you. I came purposely to tell you
that. The Señor Silencio sent me a letter by the villain Rotiro."

"For me?" asked Raquel, breathless. "Oh, uncle! Let me see it, let me--"

"No, it was to me. But I will tell you its contents. I will tell you
gladly. He offers you his hand in marriage."

"Oh, uncle!"

The girl's eyes were dancing. She blushed and paled alternately; then
drew a long sigh, and waited for Escobeda to speak further.

"From your appearance, I should judge that you wish me to accept him for
you."

"Oh, uncle!" Again the girl drew short, quick breaths. She gazed eagerly
into Escobeda's face. "Can you think anything else? Now I need not go
away. Now I need not be longer a burden upon you. Now I shall have a
home! Now--I--shall--be--" The girl hesitated and dropped her voice, and
then it died away in a whisper. But one meaning could be drawn from
Escobeda's cunning screwed-up eyes, his look of triumph, his smile of
wickedness.

They stood gazing at each other thus for the space of a few seconds,
those seconds so fraught with dread on the one side, with malice and
triumphant delight on the other.

"Your mother hated me, Raquel. Perhaps she never had the kindness to
tell you that. I found her when she was dying. You remember, perhaps,
when she asked you, her little girl, to withdraw for a while, that she
might speak with me alone?"

"I remember, uncle," said Raquel, panting.

"It was not to be wondered at that she preferred your father to me. She
had loved me first. She was my father's ward. But when he came, with his
handsome face and girlish ways, she threw me aside like a battered doll.
She said that I was cruel, but she never discovered that until she fell
in love with your father. She ran away with him one night when I was at
the city on business for my father. The doting old man could not keep a
watch upon them, but I followed their fortunes. She never knew that it
was I who had him followed to the mines, where he thought he had
discovered a fortune, and killed him in the cold and dark--"

"Are you a devil?" asked Raquel.

"His bones, you can see them now, Raquel; they were never buried--they
lie up there on the floor of the old--"

The dagger slipped from Raquel's fingers, and she slid to the floor.

"No, I did not tell her that I should take out my vengeance upon her
child. I knew my time would come. Silencio's offer is of as much value
as if written in the sand down there by the river, the--"

Ana came in at the doorway. Escobeda stooped and picked up the dagger.
"She will hardly need this," he said, as he stuck it in his belt.

When Raquel opened her eyes Ana was bending over her, as usual in floods
of tears, drenching the girl alternately with warm water from her tender
eyes and cold water from the perron.

Raquel sat up and looked about her as one dazed. She clutched at the
folds of her dress. The piece of kid lay in her hand.

"Oh, Ana!" she sobbed, "he has taken it away. All that I had. My only
protection."

Ana arose and quietly closed the door.

"Sweet," she said, "I have good news for you."

"What is it?" asked Raquel, sitting up, all interest, her dull eyes
brightening.

"I crept along the hall," said Ana, "and when I reached the rum room I
slipped in and closed the door softly, and listened through the cracks.
When he came here, I slipped out to the kitchen, and there I have been
ever since."

"But the good news," asked Raquel. "Quick! Ana, tell me."

"He was sitting at his desk, the Señor Escobeda, his back to the door,
so unlike any other gentleman. If they must rage, they stand up and do
it. But there he sat, swearing by all the gods at something. I saw that
that man Rotiro from Palmacristi had run out of the counting-house, and
was peeping in at the door; and I listened, hoping to find out
something, and I have, sweet, I have."

"Well! well! Ana, dear Ana, hasten! hasten!--"

"I have found out that the Señor Don Gil asks your hand in marriage."

Raquel sank down again in a heap on the floor.

"Is that all, Ana?" she said.

"All! And what more can the Señorita want than to have a gentleman,
rich, handsome, devoted, offer her his hand in honourable marriage?"

"I only want one thing more, Ana dear," said Raquel, sadly, "the power
to accept it."

"The power to accept it?" said Ana, questioningly. "Is the child mad?"

"He twits me with it. He says that I shall not accept him, the Señor Don
Gil. He says that I shall go in any case to the government town. He has
taken away my dagger. I cannot even kill myself, Ana. Oh! what am I to
do? Gil! Gil! Come and save me."

At this heavy steps were heard coming along the corridor. The door was
burst open with a blow of Escobeda's fist.

"You need not scream or call upon your lover, or on anybody else. You
have no one to aid you."

"No one but God, and my dear Ana here," said Raquel.

"One is about as much use as the other," said Escobeda, laughing. "Call
as loud as you will, one is quite deaf and the other helpless."

Raquel rose to her feet.

"Will you leave my room?" she said with dignity.

"I will leave your room, because I have done all that I came to do."

"You have broken the child's heart, Señor," said Ana, with unwonted
courage, "if that is what you came to do."

"If I can break her spirit, that is all I care for," said Escobeda.

"You will never break my spirit," said Raquel. She stood there so
defiant, the color coming and going in her face, her splendid hair
making a veil about her, that Escobeda looked upon her with the
discriminating eye of fresh discovery.

"By Heaven," he said, "you are more beautiful than ever your mother was!
If I had not promised the Governor--"

"Spare her your insults," said Ana, her indignation aroused. She pushed
the door against his thick figure, and shot the bolt. They heard
Escobeda's laugh as he flung it back at them. "What shall we do now?"
asked Raquel. "Shall I drop from the window and run away? There must be
some one who will aid me."

Ana approached the closely drawn jalousies. She put her long nose to a
crack and peered down. The slight movement of the screen was seen from
the outside.

"It is you that need not look out, Anita Maria," came up to her in
Joyal's rasping voice. "This is not the front door."

"He has been quick about it," said Ana. "No matter, sweet, we must pack.
Some one must help us. When the Señor Silencio gets that devilish
message he must do something."

"What was the devilish message, Ana?" asked Raquel.

"Do not ask me, child; just hateful words, that is all."

Raquel put her young arms round Ana's old thin shoulders.

"Promise me one thing, Ana," she said.

"Promise! Who am _I_ to make promises, sweet? All that I can, I will.
That you must know."

"When I am gone, Ana"--Raquel looked searchingly at Ana and repeated the
words solemnly--"when I am gone, promise that you will go to the Señor
Silencio. Say to him--"

"But how am I to get there, sweet? I should have to wear my waist that I
keep for the saints' days. I--"

"Get there? Do you suppose if you asked me I would not find a way? My
uncle Escobeda will be gone. Remember he will be gone, Ana! There will
be no one to watch you, and you talk of clothes! You will not wear them
out in one afternoon, and when I am Señora"--Raquel halted in her
voluble speech and blushed crimson--"he, my uncle, would be glad to have
you go and say that he has taken me away. Nothing would please him
better. Now, promise me that when I am gone you will go to the Señor
Silencio, and tell him where he has taken me. Tell him that I accept his
offer. Tell him that if he loves me, he will find a way to save me. Tell
him that I sent him a note by that pretty Agueda from San Isidro--"

"You should not speak to such as she--"

"She seemed sweet and good. She carried my note, Ana. I must always be
her friend. Tell him--"

A loud thud upon the door.

Escobeda had stolen up softly, and was chuckling to himself outside in
the passage.

"Ana has my permission to go and tell him all about how you love him,
Muchacha. That will make it even more pleasant for me. I thank you for
helping me carry out my plans, but for the present, Ana had better pack
your things, and quickly. The sun is getting over to the west, and you
must start within two hours' time."

Raquel threw her arms round Ana and strained her to her childish breast.

"You will go, dear Ana, you promise me, do you not? You will go?"

"I will," said the weeping Ana, "even if I must go in my Sunday shoes."



IX


When the voluble Rotiro had vanished round the end of the
counting-house, Silencio retired to his inner sanctum and closed and
locked the door. The contrast between this room and the bare front
office was marked. Here cretonne draped the walls, its delicate white
and green relieving the plain white of the woodwork. Coming from the
outer glare, the cool coloring was more than grateful to the senses. The
large wicker chairs with which the room was furnished were painted
white, their cushions being of the same pale green whose color pervaded
the interior. The white tables, with their green silken cloths, the
white desk, the mirrors with white enameled frames, the white porcelain
lamps with green shades, all of the same exquisite tint, made the
sanctum a symphony of delicate color, a bower of grateful shade. Pull
one of the hangings aside, ever so little, and a fortress stared you in
the face--a fortress known of, at the most, to but two persons in the
island.

It is true that the more curious of the peons had wondered somewhat why
Don Gil had brought down from the es-States those large sheets of iron
with clamps and screws; but the native is not inquisitive as a rule, and
certainly not for long. All señors do strange things, things not to be
accounted for by any known rule of life, and the Señor Don Gil was rich
enough to do as he liked. What, then, was it to a hard-working peon,
what a grand señor like the Don Gil took into his mahogany house?

The man who had come down in the steamer with the sheets of iron had
remained at Palmacristi for a month or more. He had brought two workmen,
and when he sailed for Nueva Yorka no one but the owner of the Casa de
Caoba and the old Guillermina knew that the inner counting-house had
been completely sheathed with an iron lining, whose advent the peons had
forgotten.

"This is my bank," said Don Gil to Don Juan Smit'.

"It may become a fort some day, who knows?" answered the Don Juan Smit',
"if those rascally Spaniards come over here and create another rumpus."
Strange to say, Don Gil did not resent this remark about the nation
which had produced his ancestors. But, then, Don Gil was a
revolutionist, and had fought side by side with the bravest generals of
the ten years' Cuban war.

"It is a very secure place to detain a willing captive," smiled Don Gil.

"Well, I guess!" assented the Señor Don Juan Smit', with a very knowing
wink of the eye, which proved that he had not understood his employer's
meaning in the very slightest.

Old Guillermina, who had reared Don Gil's mother, was the only person
allowed within the counting-house.

"A very fine place for the black spiders to hide," remarked Guillermina,
as she twitched aside the green and white hangings, and exposed the iron
sheathing. "There is no place they would prefer to this."

When Don Gil had locked the door, he seated himself and took Escobeda's
note from his pocket. He examined the flap of the envelope; it was badly
soiled and creased. He was morally certain that Rotiro had possessed
himself of the contents of the letter. He had told Rotiro that peons
should not think, but they would think, semi-occasionally, and more than
that, they would talk. When a peon was found clever enough to carry a
message, he also possessed the undesirable quality of wishing to excite
curiosity in others, and to make them feel what a great man he was to be
trusted with the secrets of the Señor. By evening the insolence of
Escobeda would be the common property of every man, woman, and child on
the estate, and, what Silencio could bear least of all, the insulting
news as to the ultimate destination of Raquel would be gossiped over in
every palm hut and rancho far and near. All his working people would
know before to-morrow the message which had been brought to him by
Rotiro, and it was his own rum that would loosen Rotiro's tongue and aid
materially in his undoing. His face grew red and dark. His brow knotted
as he perused the vile letter for the fourth time. Escobeda's
handwriting was strong, his grammar weak, his spelling not always up to
par. The letter was written in Spanish, into which some native words had
crept. The translation ran:


     "TO THE SEÑOR DON GIL SILENCIO-Y-ESTRADA.

     "_Señor_:--You are forbidden to set foot in my house. You are
     forbidden to try to see or speak to the Señorita Raquel. I do not
     continue the farce of saying my niece; she is not more than a
     distant relative of mine. But in this case, might makes right. I
     control her and she is forever lost to you. You refused me the
     trocha farm for a fair price. See now, if it would not have been
     better to yield. The Señorita Raquel starts for the Port of Entry
     this afternoon. She sails to-night for the government town. The
     Governor desires her services. Knowing the Governor by repute, you
     may imagine what those services are."


Silencio struck the senseless sheet with his clenched fist. His ring
tore a jagged hole in the paper, so that he had difficulty in smoothing
it for re-perusal.


     "It pays me better to sell her to him than to give her to you."


Wild thoughts flew through the brain of Silencio. He started up, and
had almost ordered his horse. He was rich. He would offer all,
everything that he possessed, to save Raquel from such a fate, but he
sadly resumed his seat after a moment of reflection. Escobeda hated him,
there had been a feud between the families since the old Don Gil had
caused the arrest of the elder Escobeda, a lawless character; and the
son had made it the aim of his life to annoy and insult the family of
Silencio. Here was a screw that he could turn round and round in the
very heart of his enemy, and already the screwing process had begun. Don
Gil took up the mutilated letter and read to the end:


     "We start for the coast this afternoon. Do not try to rescue her. I
     have a force of brave men who will protect me from any number that
     you may bring. We have colinos and escopetes in plenty. Your case
     is hopeless. You dare not attack me on land; you cannot attack me
     on the water."


Don Gil dashed the paper on the floor and ground savagely beneath his
heel the signature "Rafael Escobeda."

"It is true," he said, shaking his head. "It is true; I am helpless!"

With a perplexed face and knitted brow he went into the outer room,
closed the entrance door and took a flat bar of iron from its
resting-place against the wall. This he fitted into the hasps at each
side of the door, which were ready to receive it. Then he returned to
the inner room, and secured the iron-sheathed door with two similar
bars. After this was done, he looked somewhat ruefully at his handiwork.
"The cage is secure," he said, "if I but had the bird."

Silencio opened the door which connected the office with the main part
of the house. He closed and locked it behind him, and proceeded along a
passage so dark that no light crept in except through the narrow slits
beneath the eaves. When he had traversed this passage, he opened a
further door and emerged at once into the main part of the house. Here
everything was open, attractive, and alluring. Here spacious apartments
gave upon broad verandas, whose flower boxes held blooms rare even in
this garden spot of the world. Here were beauty and colour and splendour
and glowing life.

Don Gil threw himself down in a hammock which stretched across a shady
corner. Through the opening between the pilotijos, he could see the
wooded heights in the distance, those heights beyond which Troja lay,
Troja, which held his heart and soul. What to do? To-night she would set
sail for the government town in the toils of Escobeda, her
self-confessed betrayer and barterer--set sail for that hateful place
where her worse than slavery would begin. The person to whom she was to
be sold--none the less sold because the price paid did not appear on
paper--was possessed of power and that might of which Escobeda had
spoken in his letter--that might which makes right. He could give
countenance to speculators and incorporators, he could grant concessions
for an equivalent; into such keeping Escobeda, with his devil's
calculation, was planning to deliver her--his Raquel, his little
sweetheart. That she loved him he knew. A word and a glance are enough,
and he had received many such. A note and a rose at the last _festin_,
where she had been allowed to look on for a while under the eye of her
old duenna! A pressure of her hand in the crowd, a trembling word of
love under her breath in answer to his fierce and fiery ones!

The cause for love, its object does not know nor question. The fact is
all that concerns him, and so far Silencio was secure. And here was this
last appeal from the helpless girl! They had started by this time
perhaps. Don Gil looked at the ancient timepiece which had descended
from old Don Oviedo. Yes, they had started. It was now twenty minutes
past six; they needed but two hours to ride to the Port of Entry. The
steamer would not sail until between nine and ten o'clock. Very shortly
Escobeda's party would cross the trocha, which at that point was a
public highway. It ran through the Palmacristi estate, and neared the
casa on the south. Could he not rescue her when they were so near? There
were not three men within the home enclosure. The others had gone direct
to their huts and ranchos from their work in the fields. He could not
collect them now, and if he could, of what use a skirmish in the road?
Escobeda was sure to ride with a large force, and a stray shot might do
injury to Raquel herself. No, no! Some other way must be thought of.

Silencio arose, passed quickly through the casa and entered the patio.
He ran up the stairs which ascended from the veranda to the flat roof
above. He stood upon the roof, shading his eyes with his hand, and
straining his vision to catch the first sight of Escobeda and his party
of cut-throats. He was none too early. A cloud of dust on the near side
of the cacao grove told him this, and then he heard the jingling of
spurs and the sound of voices. A group of some thirty horsemen swept
round the curve and came riding into full view. In their center rode a
woman. She was so surrounded that by no effort of hers could she break
through the determined-looking throng. One glance at those cruel faces,
and Silencio's heart sank like lead.

The woman was gazing with appealing eyes at the Casa de Caoba. Silencio
was not near enough to distinguish her features, but her attitude was
hopeless and appealing, and he knew that it was Raquel the moment that
he discovered her.

Suddenly she drew a handkerchief from her bosom and waved it above her
head. There was something despairing and pitiable in her action.
Silencio whirled his handkerchief wildly in the air. He was beside
himself! Escobeda turned and struck the girl, who dropped her signal
hand and drooped her head upon her breast.

Silencio put his hands to his mouth and shouted: "Do not fear; I will
save you!" He shook his clenched hand at Escobeda. "You shall pay for
that! By God in Heaven! you shall pay for that!"

Yes, pay for it, but how? How? Oh, God! how? He was so helpless. No one
to aid him, no one to succour.

At this defiance of Silencio's there came an order to halt. The men
faced the Casa de Caoba, Escobeda placed his rifle to his shoulder, but
as he fired, Raquel quickly reached out her hand and dashed the muzzle
downward. A crash of glass below stairs told Silencio where the shot had
found entrance.

"And for that shot, also, you shall pay. Aye, for twenty thousand good
glass windows." Glass windows are a luxury in the island.

A burst of derisive laughter and a scattering flight of bullets were
thrown back at him by the motley crew. They reined their horses to the
right, turned a corner, and were lost in their own dust.

Silencio descended the stairs, how he never knew. He ran through the
patio and the main rooms, and out on to the veranda, from which the path
led toward the gate of the enclosure. He was beside himself. He seized
his gun from the rack; he cocked it as he ran.

"He said that I could not reach him upon the water; I can reach him upon
the land. Piombo, my horse! Do not wait to saddle him, bring him at
once. No, I cannot reach him upon the water--"

A sound of footsteps. A head bound in a ragged cloth appeared above the
flower boxes which edged the veranda, and pushed its way between the
leaves. A body followed, and then a man ascended slowly to a level with
Don Gil Silencio. Over his shoulder was slung a shotgun; in his leathern
belt, an old one of his master's, was thrust a machete; from his hand
swung a lantern with white glass slides. This man was stupid but kindly.
He pattered across the veranda with bare and callous feet, and came to a
halt within a few paces of Don Gil. There he stopped and leaned against
the jamb of the open door.

At night Andres hung a lantern upon the _asta_ at the headland yonder,
more as a star of cheer than as a warning. The red lantern on Los
Santos, some miles further down the coast, was the beacon for and the
warning to mariners. The ray from its one red sector illumined the
channel until the morning sun came again to light the way. When the
white pane changed the ray of red to one of white, the pilot shouted,
"Hard over." With a wide and foaming curve, the vessel swept round and
out to sea, thus avoiding the sand spit of Palmacristi.

Silencio's eyes fell upon the lantern in the hand of Andres, and in that
moment the puzzle of the hour was solved. So suddenly does the bread of
necessity demand the rising of the yeast of invention. The expression of
Don Gil's face had changed in a moment from abject gloom to radiant
exultation.

"_Bien venido_, Andres! _Bien venido!_"

No dearest friend could have been greeted with a more joyous note of
welcome. Andres raised his eyes in astonishment to the face of the young
Señor. He had expected to meet with Guillermina's reproaches because he
had forgotten to lower the lantern from the asta that morning, and had
left it burning all the long day, so that now it must be refilled. Here
was a very different reception. He had been thinking over his excuses.
He had intended to say at once how ill El Rey had been all night, and
how he had forgotten everything but the child; and here, instead of the
scolding of the servant, he was greeted with the smiles of the master.
Truly, this was a strange world; one never knew what to expect.

"I come for oil for the lantern, Don Gil. It is a very good _farol de
señales_, but it is a glutton! It is never satisfied! It eats, and
eats!"

"Like the rest of you." Don Gil laughed aloud. Andres gazed at him with
astonishment. "That blessed glutton! Let us feed it, Andres! Give it
plenty to eat to-night, of all nights. I will hoist it upon the headland
myself to-night." At Andres's still greater look of astonishment, "Yes,
yes, leave it to me. I will hoist the blessed lantern myself to-night
upon my headland."

"The Señor must not trouble himself. It is a dull, dark night! The Señor
will find the _sendica_ rough and hard to climb."

"What! that little path? Have not I played there as a child? Raced over
it as a boy? I could go there blindfold. How is the little king,
Andres?" Andres's face fell.

"He is not so well, Señor. That is why I forgot the lantern. He was
awake in the night talking to her. I have left him for barely an hour to
fill the lantern and return it again to the asta. He talks to her at
night. Sometimes I think she has returned. He begged me to leave the
door unlocked; he thinks she may come when I am gone." Andres turned
away his heavy face, and brushed his sleeve across his eyes.

"You shall go home early to-night, Andres; as I said, I will hoist the
lantern."

The dull face of Andres lighted up with a tender smile, a smile which
glorified its homely lineaments--that smile which had always been ready
to appear at the bidding of El Rey. Poor little El Rey, who had never
ceased to call, in all his waking hours for Roseta, Roseta who had found
the charms of Dondy Jeem, with his tight-rope and his red trunk-hose and
his spangles and his delightful wandering life, much more to be desired
than the palm-board hut down on the edge of the river, with El Rey to
care for all day, and Andres to attend when he returned at night from
the sucker planting or banana cutting.

"How is the sea, Andres?"

"It is quiet, Señor, not a ripple."

"And we shall have no moon?"

"As the Señor says, not for some weeks past have we had a moon."

Don Gil laughed. He could laugh now, loud and long. His heart was almost
light. What better tool and confidant could he procure than a peon who
knew so little of times and seasons as Andres?

"And it is low tide at ten o'clock to-night?"

"As the Señor says."

Had Don Gil asked, "Is the sea ink?" Andres would have replied, "As the
Señor says."

"At about what time is the red lantern lighted on Los Santos?"

"At about six o'clock, Señor. I heard old Gremo say that he lights it
each evening at six o'clock."

"He does not live near it now?"

"As the Señor says. The old casa fell quite to pieces in the last
hurricane, and now Gremo lives at the Romando cannuca."

"He must start early from the conuco?"

"As the Señor says. At half after five. It is a long way to carry a
ladder--there and back. Gremo is afraid of the ghosts who infest the
mompoja patch. If one but thrusts his head at you, you are lost.
Marianna Romando says that Gremo is not much of a man, but far superior
to Garcito Romando. The few pesos that he gets for lighting the lantern
keep the game cock in food."

"And no one can tamper with the light, I suppose?"

"As the Señor says. The good God forbid! The cords by which it is
lowered hang so high that no one can reach them--not even Natalio, who,
as all know, is a giant."

"And you could not get that ladder, Andres?"

"As the Señor says, when Gremo carries it a mile away, and puts it
inside the enclosure. He is a good shot, though so old. There is only
one better in all the district. Besides, there are ghosts between the
asta and the cannuca."

Don Gil stood for a moment lost in thought.

"I suppose El Rey needs you at home, Andres. I should not keep--"

"That is quite true; I do, very much, Señor."

The thin little voice came from behind the giant ceiba round which the
circular end of the veranda had been built.

"You here, El Rey?"

A slight, childish figure emerged slowly from behind the giant trunk and
leaned against its corrugated bark.

"El Rey becomes weary staying down there in the palm hut, Señor. There
is nothing to do but watch the pajara bobo, and the parrots, and listen
to river, going, going, going! Always going! Has Roseta been here,
Señor?"

Don Gil shook his head. He gazed sadly at the child.

"When do you think she will come, Señor?"

"I know not, little one; perhaps to-morrow."

The boy raised his hand and smoothed down his thin hair. The hand
trembled like that of an old man. His cheek was sunken, his lips
colourless. He lifted his large eyes to Don Gil's face.

"They always tell me that. Mañana, mañana; always mañana!"

He sighed patiently, looking at the Señor, as if the great gentleman
could help him in his trouble.

Andres turned away his head. He gazed across the valley toward the hills
beyond which lay Troja. That was where they had gone to see Dondy Jeem,
he and his pretty Roseta--Roseta, who had tossed her head and shaken the
gold hoops in her ears when Dondy Jeem had kissed his hand to the
spectators. He had turned always to the seats where Roseta and Andres,
stupid Andres--he knew that now--sat. Then Roseta had given El Rey to
the ever-willing arms of Andres, and fixed her eyes on Dondy Jeem and
watched his graceful poise, the white satin shoes descending so easily
and securely upon the swaying rope, the long pole held so lightly in the
strong hands. It had been before those days that Roseta used to call the
child her king. Poor El Rey! He looked a sorry enough little king
to-day, a dethroned little king, with his pinched face and trembling
fingers and wistful eyes, searching the world in vain for the kingdom
which had been wrested from him.

"How did you get out of the rancho, El Rey?"

"That Señorita from El Cuco, she let me out."

"You should be in bed, muchachito."

"But it is lonely, Señor, in that bed. That is Roseta's bed. I turn
that way and this way. It is hot. I look for Roseta. She is not there. A
man look in at the door once; he frighten me. To-day a hairy beast came.
He push back the shutter. When he was gone, I ran. I stumble, I fell
over bajucos. I caught my foot in a root. That would not matter if I
could find Roseta. I would rather be here with the Señor than at the
river."

El Rey pushed a confiding little hand into Don Gil's palm. Don Gil sat
down and took the child between his knees.

"Andres, do you shoot as well as of old?"

"I shoot fairly well, Señor."

The Señor laughed. He had seen Andres at only the last fair, less than a
year ago, shoot, at eighty yards, a Mexican dollar from between the
fingers of Dondy Jeem. The scene recurred to Andres. "Had it been but
his heart!" he muttered, dully. And then, with a look at Don Gil, "There
are few who cannot do one thing well, Señor."

"You are far too modest, Andres."

Don Gil glanced again at the lantern which Andres had set down upon the
veranda rail. When he had first caught sight of that lantern in Andres's
hand his difficulty had vanished like the morning mist. With a flash of
thought, rather of many thoughts in one train, he had seen the
proceedings of the evening to come mapped out like a plan of campaign.

"Will you do something for me, Andres?"

"The good God knows; anything that I can, Señor. But what I should
prefer would be a night when the moon shines. He could not then see me
behind the old ironwood, and I could distinguish him better when there
is a little light. Is it the Señor E'cobeda, Señor?"

Don Gil laughed again. He put El Rey gently from him, and arose. He
walked to the corner of the veranda and back again. Andres took El Rey
tenderly up in his arms, the child laid his hot head on Andres's
shoulder.

"When will Roseta come?" he whispered. With the unreason and trustful
selfishness of childhood, he did not see that if his heart was breaking,
the heart of Andres had already broken.

"No, Andres; it is not Escobeda. I do not hire assassins, even for such
a villain as he. But I need a servant as faithful and as dumb as if that
were my custom. I want something done at once, Andres, and I truly
believe that you are the only one upon all the coloñia whom I can trust.
Come in here with me. No! Set the child down; he will listen and
repeat."

"El Rey will not listen at nothing, Señor," said the child. He clung
tightly to Andres's neck.

"Come in, then, both of you."

Andres, with El Rey in his arms, followed Don Gil across the large
living-room. Don Gil turned as he unlocked the door at the end of the
passage.

"I have something to say to you," he said, "which must not be
overheard."

Andres, the pioneer of his race, followed the Señor into the spring-like
privacy of the sanctum.

"Now don't worry your brain, Andres. Listen to what I shall ask of you,
and go and do it. You know it has always been my theory that a peon
should not try to think, and why? Simply because he has no brain,
Andres."

"As the Señor says," assented Andres.



X


When Andres issued from the counting-house of Palmacristi he was
examining critically the trigger of a gun. That fine Winchester it was
which had been the wonder and delight of the natives since the Señor Don
Juan Smit' had brought it down from the es-States. When the Señor
Silencio had asked the Señor Don Juan Smit' if the gun would shoot
straight, the Señor Don Juan Smit' had laughed softly, and had answered,
"Well, I guess!" and the Señor Don Juan Smit' had not exaggerated.

"And El Rey?"

"El Rey will go with Andres, Señor," answered the thin voice.

"The muchachito will do as he chooses, Señor." The child was following
close upon his father's steps.

"It is too far for him, Andres. Stay with me, El Rey."

The child looked wistfully up at Andres.

"Andres will carry El Rey. Perhaps we shall find Roseta at the place
where Andres goes to shoot."

"I will carry him, Señor. His weight is nothing. Dear God! nothing!"

Andres swung the child up to his hip, where he sat astride, securely
held by Andres's strong arm, and descended the veranda steps.

"Come and tell me when it is done," Silencio called after them.

"Si, Señor. Buen' noch', Señor."

"Buen' noch', Señor," echoed El Rey's piping voice.

"Here, Andres." From his height on the veranda floor Don Gil tossed a
key to Andres. "Open the boat-house, and run the boat out upon the
southern ways. The southern ways, do you hear? Those nearest the Port of
Entry."

Andres looked up wonderingly.

"Ah! you are trying to think. Do not try. It is useless. Obey! that is
all."

Blindly faithful, Andres, having caught the key, turned away with an "As
the Señor says," and disappeared down the camino which led toward the
ocean cliff.

When he reached the headland of Palmacristi he suddenly diverged from
the cliff path and ran hurriedly down the bank. The boat-house stood
upon a safe eminence in the middle of the sand spit, with ways running
down to the water on either side. Andres set El Rey down in the warm
sand, and unlocked the boat-house door. He then pushed the boat to the
end of the ways. The tide was still falling; it was nearly low water. He
laid the oars ready; then he arose and looked southward along the coast.
Ah! There shone the signal upon Los Santos headland. Old Gremo was at
his post, then. Andres raised his shoulders to his ears, turned the
palms of his hands outward, and said:

"Thy labour is of no use to-night, Gremo." He then took El Rey up from
his nest in the warm sand, swung the child again to his hip, and
remounting the bank, proceeded on his way.

So soon as Andres had departed Don Gil entered the comidor, and going to
the table, struck a bell hanging above it. Jorge Toleto lounged to the
doorway, against the side of which he propped himself.

"Tell Piomba to go over to the bodega at once, and ask the padre to dine
with me this evening. Piomba has little time. Tell him to be off at
once."

Jorge Toleto shuffled away, with the remnant of what in his youth had
been a respectful bow. When he was gone Don Gil crossed the living-room,
passed through two long passages, and entered a door at the end of the
second. Here was a sort of general storeroom. When he emerged he carried
in one hand a lantern, in the other he held a flat parcel. "A new
lantern will burn more brightly," he said to himself.

It was growing dusk now. Don Gil descended the veranda stair and
followed in the footsteps of Andres. As he crossed the rough grass
beyond the veranda, old Guillermina espied him from a further window.
She was engaged in opening the Señor's bed for the night, searching
among the snowy linen to make sure, before tucking the rose-coloured
netting beneath the mattress, that no black spider had hidden itself
away, to prove later an unwelcome bedfellow to her adored Don Gil. For
your tarantula will ensconce itself in unexpected corners at times, and
is at the best not quite a desirable sleepmate.

"And for the love of the saints, where is our Don Gil departing to at
this hour of the night? The dinner nearly ready, old Otivo watching the
san coch' to see that it does not burn! The table laid, everything fine
enough for a meal for the holy apostles! Aie! aie! for our Don Gil is
one who will have it as fine for himself as for the alcade, when--pouff!
off he goes, and we breaking our hearts while we wait. Ay de mi! ay de
mi!"

The Señor, unconscious that he had been observed, passed hurriedly along
the camino, and shortly struck into the little path or sendica which
Andres had traversed but a short time before. As Don Gil glanced over
the cliff, he saw that the sea was still; almost calm. Even the usual
ocean swell seemed but a wavelet, as it reached weakly up the beach,
expending itself in a tiny whirl of pebbles and foam whose force was
_nil_, and lapsed in a retreat more exhausted than its oncoming.

A walk of ten minutes brought Silencio to the headland which bounded his
property on the south. It was growing so dark that he could hardly
distinguish the staff upon which it had been Andres's custom to hang
each night his _lanterna de señales_, to send forth its white beam of
cheer across the sea. When, after passing the red light of Los Santos
Head, the pilot steered for the open ocean, the remark to the captain
was always the same stereotyped phrase:

"Ah! There is the Palmacristi lantern bidding us Godspeed."

It is a sad thing when the habit of years must be changed. When a
custom, fixed as the laws of the Medes, must be broken, chaos is often
the result. Thus thought Silencio, as he reached the foot of the _asta_.
It is, however, not necessary to say that his hand was not retarded by
the thought. He groped for the cords which dangled from the top, and
found them. He lighted a fusee and searched for and found the red slide,
which he had laid on the ground. This was all that he wanted. By
feeling, almost entirely, he removed the white pane from the lantern and
replaced it by the red one, which he took from its wrapping. He then
lighted the lantern, passed the cords through the metal hasps, and drew
the signal to the top of the staff. The cords were so arranged as to
permit of no swaying of the lantern. The light was fixed, and now from
the top of the staff a red beam shone southward.

When Don Gil mounted the steps of his veranda at Palmacristi a tall,
thin figure arose to greet him.

"Ah, padre, I am glad that Piomba succeeded in finding you. My dinners
are lonely ones."

The padre laughed in the cracked voice of an old man.

"Better is the stalled ox where love is, than a dinner of herbs and
poverty therewith."

"Just enough learning to misquote," quoted Don Gil, laughing also, but
in a preoccupied manner.

"Perhaps it would be better to say 'just enough appetite.' My dinners
are bad enough, since Plumero left me."

"Better to have him leave you, even if under a guard of soldiers, padre,
than to let him put you where you can eat no more dinners. What was
that, padre? Did you hear anything?"

"Nothing, my boy, but Jorge Toleto calling us to dinner. The willing
ear, you know."

Don Gil ushered the old man into the comidor. His tall figure was bent
and thin. The shabby black coat, whose seams shone with a generation's
wear, flapped its tails about the legs of his scant white trousers. The
good priest's figure was one in which absurdity and dignity were
inextricably combined. The padre showed his years. He had never quite
recovered from the attack made upon him by his trusted servant Plumero,
the Good--Plumero, who now languished in the cep' over at Saltona.

The savory meal was ended. The night was warm and close.

"Let us sit upon the veranda and enjoy our cigarillos, padre."

Silencio seemed unlike himself. He was nervous, ill at ease. He had no
sooner seated himself than he arose and paced the long veranda, the
spark of his cigarette, only, showing his whereabouts. He looked often
out to sea, and often in the direction of the _lanterna de señales_,
whose ray was hidden from sight by the near hill.

"Do you hear anything, padre? Anything like a cry or a--"

"No, nothing! my boy. And as I was saying, there was my poor fighting
cock lying in the corner, worse maltreated than he had ever been in any
garito, and when I awoke--"

"That was certainly a gun. You are not rising to leave, padre; why,
your cigarillo is not even half finished. I expect you to stay the
night. No, no! I will take no denial. Guillermina, prepare the western
room for the Padre Martinez."

"You know my weaknesses, muchacho mio. Very well, then, I will." But
Silencio was down the steps and some feet away in the darkness,
straining his ear for the sound which he knew must come. He took out his
watch, and by the light of the veranda lantern noted the time. "Early
yet," he muttered under his breath.

"Pardon, my son, you spoke to--"

"I was but saying that the moon is very late to--hark!"

"You are restless, Gil."

"It is this muggy weather. There! you certainly heard something?"

"Nothing, Gil; nothing but the nightingale yonder."

A cuculla flew into the padre's face. He brushed it gently away. It
returned to wander over the long wisps of grey hair which straggled over
the collar of the hot, dignified coat. The padre took the cuculla in his
fingers, and placed it gently upon the leaves of the bougainvillia vine.

"I certainly think that the sweetest songsters I ever heard are the
nightingales in this enclosure."

A footstep sounded on the graveled pathway which ran close to the
veranda.

"Buen' noch', Señor."

Silencio started nervously.

"Ah! It is you, Andres? Buenas noches." Silencio raised his hand with a
warning gesture. Andres's stolid face expressed as stolid acquiescence.

"Buen' noch', Señor. We did not find her at the _asta de lanterna_,
Señor."

"Andres, take the child home; he is weary."

The tone was curt, unlike the kindly Don Gil. It was as if he had laid
his hands on Andres's shoulders and were pushing him along.

"I should like to remain here, Señor. Perhaps she may come to-night. Who
knows? Perhaps the good God will send her. He knows that
I--cannot--bear--it, I can _not_ bear--" The child's voice broke in a
sob.

Silencio's kindly nature was touched. "Take him round to Guillermina,
Andres, and get dinner; both of you."

The two disappeared in the darkness.

Then Piombo brought a flaring Eastern lamp, at which Don Gil relighted
his often extinguished cigarette.

"How still the night! How far a sound would carry on a night like this."
The padre had but just uttered these words when a long, booming sound
struck upon the listening as well as the unexpectant ear.

Silencio bounded from his chair. He caught up a cloak which was lying
conveniently ready.

"A steamer ashore!" he shouted. The old padre struggled to his feet. "Do
not come. Go round to the quarters. Send the men to help. It must be at
the sand spit. Follow me to the headland," and he was gone in the
darkness. The padre wondered somewhat at Silencio's suspecting at once
the locality of the stranded steamer, if that were the cause of the gun
of distress. As he wondered, it spoke again, and gathering his wits
together, he hastened round to the quarters.

Silencio bounded along the camino and up the cliff pathway. His feet
seemed winged. The familiar local knowledge of childhood stood him in
good stead at this crucial moment. He reached the staff. It was short
work to release the cord and lower the lantern, extinguish the light,
replace the red slide with a white one, and hoist the darkened signal in
place again. Then he turned and ran quickly down the sandy bank.

"Now the light has simply gone out," he said to himself as he ran. His
boat was where Andres had left it, the rising water making it just
awash. A glance seaward showed to Silencio a steamer's lights. There
came to him across the water bewildered shouts, the sounds of running
feet, and evidences of confusion. He pushed his boat into the water, and
bent to the oars. The steamer was, at the most, not more than a quarter
of a mile distant. He pulled with desperation. He heard the sound of the
foam as the propeller turned over, and he feared that with every
revolution the vessel would back off into deep water. When he rowed
alongside he was not noticed in the dark and confusion of the moment. He
held his long painter in his hand, and as he climbed up over some
convenient projections of the little vessel, fastened it securely.

He drew himself up hurriedly to the taffrail, and slid down to deck,
mixing with the crew. He looked about now for the bewitching cause of
the disaster. Some dark forms were standing by the companion door, and
going close he discovered her whom he sought. He laid his hand on her
arm to draw her away. At first she started fearfully, but even in
darkness love is not blind, and she hurriedly withdrew with him to the
side of the vessel.

"Stand here for a moment, Raquel," he whispered. "I am afraid that I
cannot get you over the side without aid."

She stood where he placed her, and he ran forward with much bustle and
noise, seeking the captain, calling him by name.

"Ah! the saints preserve us! Is that you, Señor Silencio? Where are we,
Señor? There is no light anywhere to be seen. Where are we, for the love
of God?"

"I am afraid that you have run aground on my sand spit, Señor Capitan."

"On your sand spit, Señor! Where, then, is Los Santos Head?"

"Some miles further down the coast, Señor Capitan."

"Ay de mi! I knew that pilot was no good. This is the first light that
we have seen, and now that has gone out. This was a red light, Señor."

"Red light? You are dreaming, Señor Capitan."

The captain took this rejoinder in its literal meaning.

"It is true that I was dreaming, Señor. I beg of you not to mention it
at the port. I have suffered with a fearful toothache all day. The pilot
said that he was competent; we have never had any trouble." Silencio cut
him short.

"I am here to offer my services, Señor Capitan. Can I be of any use? You
may have a storm from the southward. To-day has been a weather-breeder.
I think you have women on board. I could take them--"

"Gracias! gracias! my kind Señor Silencio. That will help me above all
things."

"And if the wind does not rise, Señor Capitan, the tide will. Keep your
engines backing, and there will be no harm done. I will take whom I can,
and send for the others." Which proves that love, if not blind, may,
however, be untruthful upon occasion.

How Silencio got Raquel over the side he never knew. Some one aided him
at the captain's order, but he realized at last the blessed fact that
she was there beside him, and that they were gliding from the vessel's
hull as fast as he could impel the boat.

"Some miscreant has done this," roared the captain above the noise, as
he leant over the side and strained his eyes after Silencio. "I beg you,
Señor, to look for him, and when you have caught him, hand him over to
me."

"I shall remember your words, Señor Capitan."

"I will have him shot in the market-place of the Port of Entry, and send
for all the natives to see."

"I will remember your words, Señor Capitan, you may be sure of that,
when I catch him--" But the last words of Don Gil were lost in the
renewed efforts of the engineer to back the steamer from the sand spit.

No words passed at first between Raquel and her rescuer. If love is not
always blind and sometimes not truthful, he is apt to be silent. Raquel
needed no explanation. As the boat glided through the darkness, Silencio
dropped the oars. He took her hands in his. His lips were pressed to
hers. What question should she ask? What more did she crave to know?
Here were life and liberty and love, in exchange for slavery, pollution,
and worse than death.

When he lifted her slight form from the boat, he did not release her at
once, but held her in his arms for a moment. He could hardly believe
that his daring act had met with the one result for which he had hoped.

"Your uncle, where is he?"

"Escobeda? In the cabin, ill. There is a slight swell. He is always ill.
I had not noticed it, the swell, on board the steamer. But he is not my
uncle, Señor."

"I have proof of it in his own written words, dear heart. But uncle or
not, he shall never separate us now."

"When can they get the steamer off the sand spit, Señor? I heard you say
that the water is rising."

"They will float off by twelve o'clock to-night, Sweetheart. I hope they
will forget you. But whether they do or not, they shall not have you
ever again, beloved. No, never again! You are mine now."

"He has none of those men with him," said Raquel. "They went back to
Troja. But, Señor, he will come back from the capital, and
then--Señor--then--"

"We will reckon with that question when it arises, dear one. At present,
let us not think of Escobeda and his crew."

Half-way up the sandy slope they met the tall form of the padre
descending. Silencio said shortly what he chose. Explanations were not
in order, for, whatever had happened, and whatever might happen, this
young girl could not remain unmarried in the house of her lover. "You
must marry us this evening, padre; and we will go to the little church
at Haldez to-morrow," said Don Gil, "if that will salve your
conscience."

"My conscience needs no salving, my son. Yours rather. Perhaps, if you
have anything to confess, I had better receive your confession before--"

"Ah, padre, what a tempter you are! So holy a man, too! No, let them do
their worst. I have nothing to confess. I have won my stake; now let
them come on." But he regarded the beautiful girl at his side with some
uneasiness as he spoke.

"You must let me give you a chime of bells, Padre," said Raquel. The
moon was struggling forth, and Silencio noticed her shy look as she
raised her eyes to his. "That is, if--if the Señor will allow.

"Bribery, bribery!" said the padre in his thin old voice.

Silencio put his arm round Raquel, and they stepped to the edge of the
cliff. With her head pressed close to his shoulder, together they
watched the dancing lights upon the steamer, and listened to the hoarse
orders and shouts which, mingled with the foaming spray under the
vessel's stern, came to them across the water. They had forgotten the
padre, for love adds another to her many bad qualities, that of
ingratitude. The padre had just promised to perform for them the
greatest service that it was his to give, and they had become oblivious
of him, and of everything in the world but each other. They stood so,
and watched the steamer for a little space, and then Silencio gathered
the girl to his breast.

"Come home! dear Heart, come home!" he whispered, and she followed him
down the path, her hand in his.

As they neared the Casa de Caoba they saw that a man was sitting upon
the veranda steps. He had a child in his arms. The man was sleeping
heavily, the slumber of the labouring peon. As Raquel came up the steps
of her new home, the child raised his large eyes wistfully to hers.

"When El Rey saw it was a Señora, El Rey thought it might be Roseta.
When will Roseta come, Señor? When? When?"

Raquel stooped and lifted the boy tenderly from Andres's nerveless arms.
She asked no question. With the instinct of the motherhood lying dormant
within her, she knew that here was a motherless child, and that it
suffered. At that moment she loved all the world. She pressed the boy
close to her heart.

"Stay with me, little one; I will be Roseta to you."

El Rey raised his eyes to the sweet, dark face above him.

"Roseta was not gran', Señora," he said--he scanned her face
critically--"but she was more pretty than the Señora. The Señora will
pardon me if I say that Roseta's gown was much more handsome than the
one the Señora wear."

At the word "señora" the young girl stooped and laid her lips upon the
child's head.

"It was a gown of red. It had green spots--oh, such little green spots,
small, small spots. El Rey used to count them. There were some little
half-spots up there on the shoulder. Roseta said it was where the sewing
came. Roseta did not have shiny drops in her ears. The Señora's drops
are like the bits of glass that Andres shot from the top of the _asta_
to-night. He had a gun, the gun of the Señor."

Raquel looked inquiringly at Silencio.

"It is true," he admitted.

"At Los Santos?"

"At Los Santos."

"They came down in showers, Señor, like little red stars."

"You are a poet, El Rey."

"Rather," said Silencio, smiling down at the child, where he stood
leaning against Raquel, "El Rey is a little story-teller. He promised
not to say a word--"

"It is a Señora who may know everything, all things. She has the good
eyes."

"You are right, El Rey."

"The rings in Roseta's ears were round. They were big and round. She
used to shake them when we went to the circus, so!" The tired head shook
slowly. Andres stirred uneasily. He opened his dull, sad eyes and looked
at El Rey. He had felt the touch on the wound even in his sleep.

"I often put my finger round them, so! Often and often I did."

Raquel took the little fingers between her own. She put them between her
lips and bit them playfully. Her white teeth made tiny indentations in
the tender skin. El Rey smiled faintly, a promise, Raquel hoped, of a
brighter day of forgetfulness to come.

Silencio stood looking on. He loved to see her so, the child leaning
against her knee. Across the water came the sounds of shouts and hurried
orders which disturbed no one. Raquel stroked the thin, straight hair
over and over. She ran her soft fingers down the angular little face and
neck. Tiny tremors of affection ran gently through the child's veins. El
Rey laid his head upon the knee to which she drew him. His wasted hand
shook as he laid it upon hers.

"You are good," said the child. "You are beautiful, you are kind, kind
to El Rey." His tone was patient and old and full of monotony. "But oh!
the Señora will pardon me? You are not Roseta."


There was one other person at the wedding of Don Gil and Raquel, besides
the padre, who united them, and old Guillermina and Andres.

"Who will give you away?" asked Silencio.

"I myself," said she. Silencio laughed. "That cannot be," he said. As he
spoke there was a humble knocking at the door of the salon. Raquel
looked up and bounded from her seat.

"Oh, you dear old thing!" she said. She was fondling and kissing the
bony creature, who stood aghast before her, who in turn was crying and
begging the saints to have mercy upon her.

"And for the good God's sake, tell me how you got here, Señorita, and
will the Señor allow me to sit down? My Sunday shoes have killed me,
nearly. Is there anything that I could wear instead--" Ana stopped
abashed at the sight of so fine a man as Silencio.

"How did the Señor rescue you, my Sweet? Is the Señor Escobeda dead,
then?" Ana looked about her as if she expected to see the bodies of
Escobeda and his followers over there on the edge of the trocha.

"I have been shipwrecked, Ana," said Raquel, smiling down upon the old
woman.

"Ship--the holy saints pres--and you are not even wet--and where, then,
is the Señor Escobe--"

"You seem very much worried about the Señor Escobeda, Ana," said Don
Gil, who at once made Raquel's friend his own. "Do you not hear him off
there now, cursing as usual?"

Ana listened. She heard distant cries, and the sound of the water as it
churned underneath the propeller blades.

Ana shrank to the size of an ant as she answered, her face blanching:
"Indeed! yes, I do hear the Señor, Señor. I have heard the Señor like
that, Señor, many a time. And does the Señor think that the Señor can
come here to the casa of Palmacristi?"

"Not for some time, I think, Ana," said Don Gil, smiling, though a faint
wrinkle was discernible on his brow.

"It always seems to me as if the Señor Escobeda could get anywhere,
Señor," said Ana, simply. "He has only to wish, the Señor, and the thing
is done."

"That would be bad for us," said Silencio. "Ana, will you give this lady
to me?"

"I? And what does the Señor think that I have to do with it?"

"Is the Señor Escobeda a nearer relative than you are, Ana?"

"Indeed, no! Señor," said Ana. "I was her mother's own cousin once
removed, while the Señor Es--"

"Very well!" said Silencio, "that is all that I want. Come! padre, let
us prepare for the wedding."



XI


It was two or three days after this that Uncle Adan came in toward
sunset with a fine piece of news.

"The Señor knows the hacienda of Palmacristi?" began Uncle Adan, more as
a preface than as a question.

Don Beltran laughed. He had known the hacienda of Palmacristi as long as
he had known anything; he had known the old Don Gil well, who, indeed,
had been a distant relative of his own, and he had seen the young Don
Gil grow up to manhood. Beltran was ten years older than Silencio. He
had often envied the young fellow his independence and freedom in the
way of money. He thought him hot-headed and likely to get into trouble
some day, and now, from Uncle Adan's account, that day had arrived. He
did not think it necessary to say this; Adan knew it as well as he.

"What has he been doing now?" asked Don Beltran.

"Only getting married, Señor," answered the old capitas.

"I did not dream that he would do anything so sensible," said Don
Beltran, with a glance at Agueda.

Agueda bent her eyes low and blushed. How dear it was of him to think of
her first of all, and always in that connection. But what was the haste?
He loved her, of that she was sure. He would always love her. When he
was ready, she would be, but it was not a pressing matter.

"The Señor E'cobeda does not think it so sensible, Señor Don Beltran."

"Aaaah! it was the little Señorita Raquel, then. Wise man, wise
man!"--Agueda looked up suddenly--"to marry the girl of his choice. But
how did he get her, Adan? It was only three weeks ago that he wrote me a
line, begging that I would aid him in an effort to carry her off."

"And the Señor answered--?"

"I told him that I would come whenever he called upon me. I have no
liking for Escobeda. He will not sell me the lowlands between the river
and the sea. He is an unpleasant neighbour, he--"

"He is a devil," said Adan.

"I think that it must be I who made that marriage hasten as it did,"
said Agueda, smilingly. "The Señor remembers the day last week when I
came home and found the Señor with the letter from the Señor Don Noé
saying that he would make a visit at Palmacristi with the little child?
It was on that day that I carried the note from the Señorita to Don
Gil."

"And that was the very day of the marriage," broke in Adan, willing
enough to interrupt his niece, though not his master. "It was the very
day. There was a shipwreck, and somehow the young Señor got the Señorita
from the vessel. Como no, hombre! When one wants a thing he must have it
if he is gran' Señor. The padre was there, and he married them, and now
they have to reckon with the Señor E'cobeda."

"Where was the precious rascal all this time?" asked Don Beltran.

"Some say that he was on board the ship, Señor, and that he was carried
on to the government town. They say he knew nothing of the grounding of
the vessel; he was always sick with the sea, that Señor E'cobeda.
Caramba! _I_ should like to see him sick with the sea, or with the bite
of a black spider, or with anything else that would kill him--that Señor
E'cobeda!"

"I cannot see what he can do, Adan," said Don Beltran. "If she is
married, he cannot change that."

Adan nodded, and scratched his ankle with his machete.

"Married fast enough, Señor Don Beltran. First by the padre at the
hacienda, and then at the little church at Haldez. I cannot see what
rights he has over the young Señora now.

"None at all," said Don Beltran. "Does the lad want me over there--the
Señor Silencio?"

"I have heard nothing from him, Señor Don Beltran. Juan Rotiro told me
many things, but the Señor knows what Juan Rotiro is when the pink rum
gets into his judgment. He says that the Señor E'cobeda will soon
return, and that there will be fighting, but it seems to me that the
Señor Don Gil can hold his own. Como no! when he has the law on his
side."

"Law," Beltran laughed. "Do you suppose rascals like Escobeda care for
law? Besides, he has the Governor on his side. He pays large sums for
so-called concessions; that I know, and the Governor winks both eyes
very fast at anything that Escobeda chooses to do. Did you hear anything
about his getting that band from Troja together?"

"Caramba! yes, Señor Don Beltran! It was spoken under the breath, and
just from one peon to the other. They did not know much."

Don Beltran arose. "I think I will ride over to Palmacristi, Agueda; get
me my spur. Would you like to come, child?"

Agueda shook her head, and ran into the sitting-room to hide her
confusion. Her face was a dull crimson as she took the spur down from
the nail.

"The espuela is dusty; shall brighten it, Señor?"

"Call old Juana. I will not have you soil your pretty hands, child, on
my spur. The grey, Pablo," he shouted toward the rambling structure that
was dignified by the name of stable.

"And why not come with me, Agueda?"

Agueda bent over her stitching.

"I am much too busy to-day, Señor," she said. "Far too busy," she
thought, "to go over there, not sure of my welcome." Things had changed
at Palmacristi, and remembering the slight inflection in Silencio's tone
when last she saw him, she knew that henceforth Raquel was quite out of
her reach.

"I was good enough to take her note for her when she was Señorita,"
thought Agueda, "but I am not good enough to visit her now that she is
Señora."

Agueda's sensitive and delicate nature had evolved this feeling out of
an almost imperceptible glance, a faint, evanescent colouring of tone in
the inflection of Silencio's voice, but it told her, as memory called it
up, that the front door of Palmacristi would henceforth be closed to
her. She would not hamper Beltran. He was thoughtless, and might suffer
more from a slight to her than from one to himself; or else he might
become angry and break his pleasant friendship with Silencio, a
friendship which had existed between the families for generations. No,
she had better remain at home. Again, when Beltran asked her, she shook
her head and smiled, though a drop of water lay near the surface of her
eye, but Beltran did not see, and rode away gaily, waving his hand.

Arrived upon the height where stood the Casa de Caoba, he rode the grey
down to the bank, because on the calm sea he had discovered Silencio and
Raquel, in the little skiff in which Raquel had been rescued. He heard
Silencio say, "There is Beltran; let us go in and see him."

"I do not know that Don Beltran," said Raquel. "Does not the girl Agueda
live there, at San Isidro?"

"Yes; do you know Agueda?" As Silencio spoke he waved his hand to the
horseman on the bank.

"Bien venido," he shouted. And then to Raquel, "Where did you see the
girl Agueda?"

"I have often seen her," said Raquel. "She is very handsome. She looks
like a young boy. She is really no darker than I am. Have you forgotten
that she brought my note to you that day?"

"No," said Silencio; "I have not forgotten it. She has perhaps more good
Spanish blood in her veins than either of us," continued he, as he bent
to the oars.

"Such things are very sad," said Raquel. "She is so above her station.
I should like to have her come here and live with us."

"That would not do at all, Raquel," returned Silencio, gravely.

"Is there anything wrong with her?" asked Raquel, wonderingly.

"N--no, not that I know of, but she is not of your station."

"And yet you say that she has better ancestry than either you or I,"
argued Raquel, as the boat grounded. "I am sure her uncle is a great
deal more respectable than mine."

Silencio waved his hand to Beltran. "We were looking to see if there was
any sign of the yacht," he called. "I sent her round to Lambrozo to be
repaired. We may need her now any day. Oh! I quite forgot you do not
know my wife, Beltran. I must introduce you."

Raquel bowed and walked onward to order refreshments for the visitor.

"Let me congratulate you," said Beltran, when Silencio had thrown the
painter to Andres, who was standing near and had scrambled up the bank.
"I was surprised by your very charming news."

"Hardly more than I was myself."

"How did you manage, Gil?"

"The gods were with me," answered Silencio, laughing, though Beltran
noticed that his brow clouded over almost immediately. His laughter
sounded false. "It is true that I have what I wished, Beltran," he
continued--"the dearest blessing that any man, were he prince or noble,
could ask." ("She is not half so beautiful as my Agueda," thought
Beltran, while nodding acquiescence.) "I have her, she is mine;
but--there is Escobeda still to be reckoned with."

"Where is he?" asked Beltran.

"I wish he were in hell," said Silencio, fiercely.

"You are not singular in that, but the result is not always the
offspring of the desire. It would indeed be a blessing to send him
there, but unfortunately, my boy, there is law for him in this land,
though very little of it when it comes to the wrongs that you and I
suffer. The question is, where is he, and when do you expect him here?"

"He went on to the government town with the steamer."

Beltran threw his leg over the saddle and dropped to the ground, walking
beside his young friend. He heard all that there was to tell.

"He was very ill when the steamer ran on the sand spit that night."
Silencio looked narrowly at his friend. He wished to see if his share in
the decoying of the steamer had been noised abroad. Beltran listened
without a flicker of the eyelash.

"The doctor had given him something strong--a new thing down here,
called, I believe, chloral."

"Como no!" burst forth Beltran, "if they only gave him enough."

"They gave him enough for my purpose," said Silencio. "He was utterly
stupid. Was I going to awake him and ask permission to run away with his
niece? Caramba, Beltran! I should think not! He was stupid, I imagine,
all the way to the government town. When he called for the bird whose
wings he thought he had clipped, behold, the little thing had flown, and
with me, the dreaded enemy."

Don Beltran laughed long and heartily.

"You are a clever boy, Gil; but how about the future? As you say, you
have that still to reckon with."

The darkening of Silencio's face recalled to Beltran that antiquated
simile of the sweeping of a cloud across the brightness of the sun. But
not all old things have lost their uses.

"I know that," said Silencio; "that is the worst of it. I have taken her
from him to protect her, and now--and now--if--I--should fail--"

"I rode over to-day for that very thing, Gil, to ask if I could help. I
will come over with all my people if you say so, whenever you send for
me. My uncle, Don Noé Legaspi, comes within a day or so, to stay with me
at San Isidro. He brings his little child, a motherless little thing,
with him, but I can come all the same. I think that it was never said of
my house that we deserted a friend or a kinsman in trouble."

"I see what you are afraid of," said Silencio. "You think he will attack
me."

"I do," answered Beltran; "but we can stand him off, as the Yankees say.
You have the right to shoot if he attacks you, but I hope that it will
be my bullet that takes him off, the double-dyed scoundrel!"

"You will take some refreshment, Beltran?"

"No, it is late; my breakfast is waiting. A' Dios, Gil, a' Dios."

As they were about to part, Silencio called after his friend:

"I will send you word as soon as I receive the news myself. You will
come at once, eh, Beltran?"

Don Beltran paused in mounting the grey, and turned his head to look at
his friend. Silencio's fingers were nervously opening and closing around
one of the fence palings.

"For myself I should not care; that you know, Beltran; but for her, it
would kill me to have her fall into his hands again. It would be death
to me to lose her. She will die if she thinks that she can be taken from
me, and by that villain. Do you know what they meant to do with her,
Beltran? They meant--they meant--"

Silencio's voice sank to a whisper. His face had become white, his lips
bloodless. His eyes seemed to sink back in his head and emit sparks of
fire. In the compression of the mouth Beltran saw the determination of
certain death for Escobeda should he come within range of Silencio's
weapon.

Beltran was in the saddle now. He turned and surveyed his friend with
some anxiety.

"Be careful, Gil," he said; "don't come within reach of the villain.
Discretion is much the better part in this matter. Keep yourself under
cover. They will pick you off, those rascals. Send for me the night
before you know that he is coming, and I will ride over with ten of my
men. We can garrison at your house?"

"I shall make ready for you," said Silencio. "My only fear is that I
shall not have warning enough."



XII


Beltran rode down to the coast to meet his young uncle and the child. He
started early in the morning, riding the black. The groom led the roan
for Uncle Noé's use, Pablo rode the spotted bull, and those peons who
could be spared from the cacao planting walked over the two miles to the
boat landing, to be ready to carry the luggage that the strange Señor
and the little girl would bring.

As Dulgado's fin-keel neared the shore, Beltran could not distinguish
the occupants, for the sail hid them from view; but when the boat
rounded to alongside the company's landing, and a sprightly old
gentleman got out and turned to assist a young girl to climb up to the
flooring of the wharf, Beltran discovered that Time had not broken his
rule by standing still. On the contrary, he had broken his record by
outstripping in the race all nature's winners, for the young uncle had
become a thin little old man, and the child a charming girl in a very
pronounced stage of young ladyhood.

"I should have known that my cousin could not be a little child,"
thought Beltran, as he removed his old panama, wishing that he had worn
the new one. His dress was careless, if picturesque, and he regretted
that he had paid so little attention to it.

Notwithstanding his somewhat rough appearance, Beltran raised the
perfumed mass of ruffles and lace in his strong arms. He seated the girl
in the chair, fastened firmly to the straw aparejo on the back of the
great bull. At Agueda's suggestion, he had provided a safe and
comfortable seat for the little one, to whose coming Agueda was looking
forward with such unalloyed pleasure.

The girl filled it no more completely than Beltran's vision of her
younger self would have done, though her billowy laces overlapped the
high arms of her chair. Her feet, scarce larger than those of a child,
rested upon the broad, safe footboard which Beltran had swung at the
side of the straw saddle. Her delicate face was framed in masses of fair
hair--pale hair, with glints here and there like spun glass.

Beltran could hardly see her eyes, so shaded was her face by the broad
hat, weighted down by its wealth of vari-colored roses. To many a
Northern man, to whom style in a woman is a desideratum, Felisa would
have looked like a garden-escape. She had a redundant sort of
prettiness, but Beltran was not critical. What if her eyes were small,
her nose the veriest tilted tip, her nostrils and mouth large? The
fluffy hair overhung the dark eyebrows, the red lips parted to show
white little squirrel teeth, the delicate shell-like bloom on cheek and
chin was adorable. It brought to Beltran's memory the old farm in
Vermont where he had passed some summers as a lad, and the peach trees
in the orchard. His environment had not provided him with a strictly
critical taste. How fair she was! What a contrast to all the women to
whom he had been accustomed! There was nothing like her in that swarthy
land of dingy beauties. Her light and airy apparel was a revelation.
Unconsciously Beltran compared it with the plain, straight skirts and
blouse waists which he saw daily, and to its sudden and undeniable
advantage. He was expecting to greet a little child, and all at once
there appeared upon his near horizon a goddess full-blown. He had seen
nothing in his experience by which he could gauge her. She passed as the
purest of coin in this land of debased currency.

Her father, Uncle Noé, bestrode the roan which Eduardo Juan had brought
over for him. When Don Noé was seated, Eduardo Juan gave him the bridle,
and took his own place among the carriers of the luggage, which was
greater in quantity than Don Beltran had expected. Eduardo Juan
disappeared with a sulky scowl in answer to Pablo's contented grin,
which said, "I have only to walk home, guide the bull, and see that the
Señorita does not slip, while you--"

Pablo waited with patient servility, rope in hand, until the Señorita
was safely seated in her chair. There was a good deal of sprightly
conversation among the Señores. There was more tightening of girths and
questions as to the comfort of his guests by Don Beltran. Then the
cavalcade started, Pablo leading the bull, which followed him docilely,
with long strides. The animal, ignorant as are the creatures of the
four-footed race, with regard to his power over its enemy, man, was
obedient to the slightest twitch of the rope, to which his better
judgment made him amenable. The long rope was fastened to the ring in
his pink and dripping nostrils. He stretched his thick legs in long and
steady strides, avoiding knowingly the deeper pools which he had
heretofore aided his kind to fashion in the plastic clay of the forest
path.

Beltran rode as near his cousin as the path would allow. It was seldom,
however, that they could ride abreast.

It was the southern spring, and flowers were beginning to bloom, but
Felisa looked in vain for the tropical varieties which one ever
associates with that region. The bull almost brushed his great sides
against the tree trunks which outlined the sendica. When she was close
enough Felisa stretched out her hand and plucked the blackened remains
of a flower from the center of a tall plant. It had been scorched and
dried by the sun of the summer that was passed. She thrust the withered
stems into the bull's coarse hair, turned to Beltran, and laughed.

"If I remain long enough, there will be flowers of all colors, will
there not, cousin? Flowers of blue and red and orange."

"You will remain, I hope, long after they have bloomed and died again,"
answered Beltran, gallantly.

They had not been riding long before Felisa sent forth from her lips an
apprehensive scream. Beltran spurred his horse nearer.

"What is it, cousin? Is the _silla_ slipping?"

Felisa looked up from under her cloud of spun silk, and answered:

"No, I am wondering how I am to get round that great tree."

Beltran, to whom the path was as well known as his own veranda at San
Isidro, had no cause to turn his eyes from the charming face at his
side.

"Oh! the trunk of the old mahogany? That has lain across the path for
years. Do not be afraid, little cousin. Roncador has surmounted that
difficulty more times than I can remember."

They were now close upon the fallen trunk. Felisa closed her eyes and
clutched at the bull's shaggy neck. She screamed faintly.

Pablo turned to the right and pulled at the leading rope, but the bull,
with no apparent effort, stubborn only when he knew that he was in the
right, turned to the left, and Pablo perforce followed. It was a case of
the leader led. When Roncador had reached the point for which he had
started, a bare place entirely denuded of branches, he lifted one thick
foreleg over, then the other. The hind legs followed as easily, a slight
humping of the great flanks, and the tree was left behind. Suddenly
Felisa found that they were in the path again.

"Ze bull haave ze raight," commented Pablo. "Ah endeavo' taike de
Señorit' roun' de tre'. Bull ain' come. He know de bes' nor me." Don
Beltran leaped his horse over the tree trunk, and Don Noé was taken over
pale and trembling, whether or no, the roan following Don Beltran's
lead. Beltran smiled openly at Pablo's discomfiture, and somewhat
secretly at Uncle Noé's fear.

"A good little animal, that roan, Uncle Noé. How does he suit you?"
Uncle Noé looked up and endeavoured to appear at ease, releasing his too
tight clutch on the bridle.

"Il est rigolo, bien rigolo!" said Don Noé, gaily, between jerks
occasioned by the liveliness of the roan. He glanced sidewise at his
nephew to see if the Paris argot which he had just imported had had any
effect upon him. He owed Beltran something for his superior
horsemanship. Beltran never having heard the new word, was, however, not
willing to give Don Noé a modicum even of triumph. He was bending over,
securing a buckle on his bridle. Without raising his figure, he
answered, "C'est vrai, mon oncle, c'est tout à fait vrai, il est très,
très rigolo."

"Très ha ha!" added Don Noé.

"Bien ha ha!" nodded Don Beltran, not to be left behind.

"What wretched French Beltran speaks!" said Don Noé to his daughter,
later.

Uncle Noé belonged to that vast majority, the great army of the
unemployed. He loved the gaieties of the world, the enjoyments that
cities bring in their train. But sometimes nature calls a halt. Nature
had whispered her warning in Don Noé's ear, and he at once had thought
of the plantation of San Isidro as the place to rest from a too lavish
expenditure of various sorts. He had come to this remote place for a
purpose, but he yawned as they rode along.

Beltran, proud of the beauties of San Isidro, pointed out its chief
features as they proceeded. He turned, and said, still in French, to
please Uncle Noé, and perhaps to show him that even at San Isidro all
were not savages:

"There is much to be proud of, Uncle Noé. It is not a small place, when
one knows it all."

"C'est vrai," again acquiesced Uncle Noé. "A la campagne il y a toujours
beaucoup d'espace, beaucoup de tranquillité, beaucoup de verdure, et--"
The rest of the sentence was lost on Beltran, but was whispered in the
pink ear of Felisa, who laughed merrily.

"At what is my cousin laughing?" asked Beltran, turning, with a pleased
smile. Uncle Noé did not answer. The words with which he had finished
his sentence were, "_et beaucoup d'ennui_."

"You wanted to come," said Felisa, still laughing.

"Did you ever see such a God-forsaken place?" returned her father. "I
had really forgotten how bad it was. Look at those ragged grooms.
Imagine them in the Champs Elysées!"

"There can be no question of the Champs Elysées. How stupid you are,
papa."

"And down in this valley! Just think of putting a house--I say, Beltran,
who ever thought of putting your house down here in the valley?"

"It was my mother's wish," said Beltran. "I suppose that it was a
mistake, but the river was further away in those days. It has changed
its course somewhat, and encroached upon the casa, but we have never
had any serious trouble from it. I shall build a house on the hill next
year. The foundations are already laid." Don Beltran had said this for
some years past. "Not that I think that I shall ever need it. When we
have floods, the water makes but a shallow lake. It is soon gone."

As they entered the broad camino, Felisa saw a man coming toward them.
He was mounted upon a fine stallion; the glossy coat of the animal shone
in the sun. The rider wore an apology for a hunting costume, which was
old and frayed with use. The gun, slung carelessly across his shoulder,
had the appearance of a friend who could be depended upon at short
notice, and who had spent a long life in the service of his owner. The
stock was indented and scratched, but polished as we polish with loving
hands the mahogany table which belonged to our great-grandmother. The
barrel shone with the faithfulness of excellent steel whose good
qualities have been appreciated and cared for. The man was short and
dark. As he passed he removed his old panama with a sweep. Beltran gave
him a surly half-nod of recognition, so curt as to awaken surprise in
the mind of Felisa. The contrast between the greetings of the two men
was so great that her slits of eyes noticed and compared them.

"Who is that man, cousin?"

"Don Matéo Geredo."

"Why do you not speak to him?"

"I nodded," said Beltran.

"You did not return his salute. I am sure it was a very gracious one,
cousin. Why did you not return his--"

"Because he is a brute," said Beltran, shortly.

Felisa had not been oblivious of the glance of admiration observable in
the man's eyes as he passed her by.

"Jealous so soon," she thought, with that vanity which is ever the food
of small minds. Aloud she said, "He seems to have a pleasant face,
cousin."

"So others have thought," said Beltran, with an air which said that the
subject was quite worn out, threadbare. Then, changing his tone, "See,
there is the casa! Welcome to the plantation, my little cousin."

And thus chatting, they drew up at the steps of San Isidro.

Agueda came joyfully out to meet them. Ah! what was this? Where was the
little child of whom she and Beltran had talked so much? Agueda had
carefully dusted the little red cart. She had fastened a yellow ribbon
in the place from which the tongue had long ago been wrenched by Beltran
himself. The cart stood ready in the corner of the veranda, but Agueda
did not bring it forward. She caught sight of a glitter of bracelets and
rings against a snow-white skin, as Felisa was lifted down from the
aparejo in her cousin's arms. Her lips moved unconsciously.

"The diamonds, not the playthings," was her verdict.

As Agueda came forward, the surprise that she felt was shown in her
eyes. She bowed gravely to the Señorita, who condescended to her
graciously.

"Shall I show the Señorita to her room?" asked Agueda of Beltran.

With that wonderful adaptability which is the inalienable inheritance of
the American woman, Agueda had accepted in a moment the change from the
expected child to the present Señorita. It is true that Agueda's mother,
Nada, had been but a pretty, delicate octoroon, but Agueda's father had
been a white gentleman (God save the mark!) from a northern state, and
Nada's father a titled gentleman of old Spain. From these proud
progenitors and the delicate women of their families had Agueda
inherited the natural reserve, the refinement and delicacy which were so
obvious to all with whom she came in contact. She inherited them just as
certainly as if Nada had been a white woman of the purest descent, just
as certainly as if the gentle Nada had been united in wedlock to the
despoiler of her love and youth and life, George Waldon, for there ran
in Agueda's veins a heritage of good old blood, which had made the
daughters of the house of Waldon famous as pure and beautiful types of
womanhood.

As Agueda asked her hospitable question, Beltran's square shoulders were
turned toward her. He was busying himself with the strap of the aparejo.
Agueda, who knew him as her own soul, perceived an embarrassed air, even
in the turn of his head.

"If you please," said Beltran, without looking toward her.

The Señorita loitered. She asked Don Beltran for her bag. He lifted the
small silver-mounted thing from the pommel of his saddle and handed it
to Felisa with a smile. He seemed to look down at her indulgently, as if
humouring a child. Agueda noticed the glittering monogram as it flashed
In the sun. Beltran's hand touched Felisa's. A gentle pink suffused her
features. Agueda caught the sudden glance which shot from Beltran's eyes
to those of his cousin. A sickening throb pulsed upward in her throat.
She shivered as if a cold wind--something that she had seldom felt in
that tropic land--had blown across her shoulders.

Suddenly Aneta came into her thoughts, Aneta of El Cuco. Her lips grew
white and thin. It is moments like these, with their premonitions,
which streak the hair with grey. Agueda did not look at Beltran again.
She drew her breath sharply, and said:

"If the Señorita permit, I will show her the way."

"In a moment, my good girl," said Felisa, carelessly, and lingered
behind, bending above the flower boxes which lined the veranda's edge,
flowers which Agueda had planted and tended.

"What a pretty servant you have, cousin," said Felisa.

Beltran started.

"Servant? Oh, you mean Agueda. She--she--is scarcely a servant, Agueda;
she keeps my house for me."

Felisa turned and gazed after Agueda. The girl had walked the length of
the broad veranda and stood waiting opposite a door, lithe and upright.
She looked back, her face grave and serious. She was taller by several
inches than Felisa. Her figure, slender as Felisa's own, was clothed in
a pale blue cotton gown, fresh and clean, though faded with frequent
washings, a spotless collar and cuffs setting off the statuesque throat
and the shapely hands.

Felisa tick-tacked down the long veranda, her ruffles and billowy laces
bouncing with her important little body. She uttered a subdued scream of
surprise as she reached the open doorway and caught sight of the fresh,
cool-looking room, with its white furniture and bare floors, its general
air of luxurious simplicity. The wooden shutter in the wall opposite the
door was flung wide, and one was conscious of a tender tone of yellow
green, caused by the rays of sunlight shining through and over the broad
banana leaves. Great lilac and yellow pods hung from the shafts of
greenery; some of the large oval leaves had fallen upon the veranda.
Felisa noted them when she crossed the room to inquire further into her
surroundings.

A ragged black was sitting on the veranda edge, swinging his legs over
the six feet of space. "Hand me that leaf," said Felisa. The boy arose
at once, and picking up the lilac leaf of the banana flower, held it out
to her with a bow and the words in Spanish, "As the Señorita wishes."

Felisa took the leaf, but threw it down at once. She had expected to
find a soft thing which would crumple in her hand. The leaf was hard and
tough as leather. She could no more crush or break it with her small
fingers than if it had been made of india-rubber, which, but for its
color, it strongly resembled.

She turned and looked at Agueda.

"And do you have no curtains at the windows?"

"We have no curtains, and windows we do not have, either," answered
Agueda. "The Señorita can see that there are wooden shutters at the
windows. No one has windows on this side of the island."

The tone was perhaps slightly defiant. It was as if Agueda had said,
"What! Finding fault so soon?"

"Eet haave glaass obe' at dé ceety; Ah see eet w'en Ah obe' deyah."

Felisa started. The voice came from the corner of the room, which was
concealed by the open door. She peered into the shadow, and faced the
shriveled bit of brown flesh known as Juana.

Felisa laughed, as much at the words as at the speaker.

"Señ'it' t'ink Ah don' haave--yaas-been aat de ceety. Ah been aat ceety.
Eet haave, yaas, peepul." The tone implied millions.

Felisa was standing in front of the dressing-table, taking the second
long silver pin out of her hat.

"What does she say?" she asked through the hatpin which she held
horizontally between her teeth. She removed the open straw, and ran the
pins, one after the other, through the crown.

"She says that they have the glass--that is, the windows--at the city."

Still staring at Juana, Felisa seated herself upon the small white bed.
Agueda pushed back the rose-coloured netting which hung balloon-like
from the ceiling. A freshly knotted ribbon gathered its folds and held
them together, thus keeping the interior free from the intrusion of
annoying or dangerous insects.

Felisa reached down with one plump hand, and drew the ruffled skirt
upward, disclosing a short little foot, which she held out toward
Agueda. Agueda did not move. She looked at Felisa with a slight arch of
the eyebrows, and moved toward the door.

Juana hobbled up.

"De li'l laidy wan' shoe off? Ole Juana taake. Dat ain' 'Gueda business.
Don Be'tra' don' laike haave 'Gueda do de waak."

"And why not, I should like to know?"

Juana chuckled down in the confines of her black and wrinkled throat.

Agueda went out to the veranda. She stood looking over toward the river,
her arm round the pilotijo, her head leant against it. Her thoughts were
apprehensive ones. She paid no heed to Juana's words.

"She Don Be'tra' li'l laidy, 'Gueda is. She ain' no suvvan,[7] ain'
'Gueda. She 'ousekeep', 'Gueda."

By this time Juana, with stiff and knotted fingers, had unlaced the low
shoes. She took the small feet in her hand, and twisted them round, and
Felisa with them, to a lying posture upon the low couch.

FOOTNOTE:

[7] Servant.



XIII


The casa at San Isidro had verandas running on either side of its long
row of rooms. This row began with the kitchen, store and sleeping rooms,
and ended with the comidor and sitting-room. The verandas ran the entire
ninety feet in a straight line until they reached the comidor. There
they turned at right angles, making thus an outer and an inner corner.
These angles enclosed the dining and living rooms. The inner veranda was
a sheltered nook when the rain swept up from the savannas down by the
sea, the outer one a haven of delightful coolness when the sun glowed in
the west and threw its scorching beams, hot and melting, into the inner
corner. Here were the steps leading down the very slight incline into
the yard and flower garden. Here, to this inner corner, were the bulls
and horses driven or led, for mounting or dismounting; here the trunks
and boxes of visitors were carried up and into the house; and this was
what was happening now.

Agueda looked on listlessly as Felisa's large trunk and basket trunk and
Don Noé's various boxes and portmanteaus were deposited with
reproachful thumps upon the floor. The peons who had carried them,
shining with moisture, dripping streams of water, wiped their brows with
hardened forefingers, and snapped the drops from nature's laboratory off
on to the ground. They had carried the luggage slung upon poles across
country. For this duty six or eight of them were required, for there was
no cart road the way that they must come, as the broad camino ran
neither to the boat landing, nor extended to the plantation of San
Isidro.

The men stood awkwardly about. One could see that they were expectant of
a few centavos in payment for this unusual labour. Don Noé kept himself
religiously secluded upon the corner of the outer veranda. He well knew
that the luggage had arrived. The struggle up the steps, the shuffle of
men's feet, the scraping sort of hobble from callous soles, reached his
ear. The heavy setting down of boxes shook the uncarpeted bare house,
but Don Noé was consciously oblivious of all this. He had come to pay a
long visit, and thus redeem a depleted bank account. Should he begin at
the first hour to throw away money among these shiftless peons? Beltran
had doubtless plenty of them. Such menial work came within the rule of
the general demand. To be sure, he had brought many small boxes and
portmanteaus. Don Noé thought it a sure sign of a gentleman to travel
with all the small pieces that he and a porter or two could carry
between them.

A good-sized trunk would easily have held Don Noé's wardrobe, but there
was a certain amount of style in staggering out of a car or off a
steamer, loaded down with a parcel of canes, fishing-rods, and a
gun-case, while the weary servant, who did not care a fig for glory,
stumbled along behind with portmanteaus, bags, and hat boxes. It is
quite true, as Felisa sometimes reminded Don Noé, that he had never
caught a fish or shot a bird. Style, however, is a _sine qua non_, and
reputation, however falsely obtained, if the methods are not exposed,
stands by a man his whole life long. Self-valuation had Uncle Noé. From
his own account, he was a very remarkable man. And as he usually talked
to those who knew nothing of his past, they accepted his statements,
perforce, as the truth.

The dripping peons hung about the steps. Their shirts clung to their
shoulders, but those the sun would dry. Don Noé sat quiet as a mouse
upon the angle of the outer veranda.

Agueda came toward the lingerers.

"It is you that need not wait, Eduardo Juan, nor you, Garcia Garcito.
The Don Beltran will see that you get some reward."

"A ching-ching?" suggested the foremost, slyly.

"I suppose so," said Agueda, wearily.

She retraced her steps along the veranda, the men trooping after. Past
all the long length of the sleeping-rooms went Agueda, until she reached
the storeroom. The door of this she opened with a key which hung with
the bunch at her waist. She entered, and beckoned to Garcia Garcito to
follow.

"Lift down the demijohn, you, Garcia Garcito, and you, Trompa, go to
Juana for a glass."

Garcia Garcito entered, and raising his brawny arms to the shelf
overhead, grasped the demijohn and set it upon the table. Trompa
returned with the glass. Agueda measured out a drink of the rum for each
as the glass was emptied by his predecessor. The men took it gratefully.
Each as his turn came, approached the filter standing in the comer,
watered his dram, and drank it off, some with a "Bieng," others--those
of the better class--with a bow to Agueda, and a "Gracia." Eduardo Juan,
more careless than the rest, snapped the drops from his drained glass
upon the spotless floor, instead of from the edge of the veranda to the
grass, as the others had done.

"Eduardo Juan, you know very well that that rudeness is not allowed
here. Go and ask Juana for a cloth that is damp, that you may wipe those
spots."

Eduardo Juan smiled sheepishly, and loped off to the wash-house. He
returned with the damp cloth, got down upon his knees, and rubbed the
floor vigorously.

"De Señora 'Gueda maake de Eduardo Juan pay well for his impertinences,"
laughed the peons.

"Bastante! Bastante!" said Agueda.

Eduardo Juan obeyed as if Agueda were the house mistress. Such had been
Don Beltran's wish, and the peons were aware of it. Then Eduardo Juan
jumped to the ground, and followed the other peons where they had
disappeared in the direction of the stables.

When he no longer heard the scuffle of feet, Don Noé tiptoed down the
veranda, and entered the room which had been assigned to him. He aroused
Felisa from a waking doze on that borderland where she hovered between
dreams and actuality.

She was again seated upon the aparejo. The bull was plunging through the
forest, or with long strides crossing some prone giant of the woods.
Beltran was near; his kind eyes gazed into hers. His arm was
outstretched to steady her shaking chair. His voice was saying in
protecting tones, "Do not be afraid, little cousin; you are quite safe."
A pleasurable languor stole through Felisa's frame, a supreme happiness
pervaded her being. She felt that she had reached a safe haven, one of
security and rest. Her father had never troubled himself very much about
her wishes. She had been routed out of this town, that city, according
to his whims and the shortness or length of his purse. A dreamy thought
floated through her brain that he could not easily leave this place, so
difficult of access, more difficult of egress; so hospitable, so free!
The sound of Don Noé's short feet stamping about in the adjoining room
aroused Felisa from her lethargy. The absence of a carpet made itself
obvious, even when an intruder tried to conceal the knowledge of his
presence. Felisa now heard, in addition to the noise of tramping feet,
the voice of Don Noé, fiercely swearing, and scarcely under his breath.

"Ten thousand damns," was what he said, and then emphasized it with the
sentence, "Ten thousand double damns." This being repeated several
times, the number mounted rapidly into the billions. Ah! This was
delightful! Don Noé discomfited! She would, like a dutiful daughter,
discover the reason.

Felisa sprang from her bed, a plump little figure, and ran quickly to
the partition which separated her father's room from her own. This
partition did not run up all the way to the roof. It stopped short at
the eaves, so that through the open angle between the tops of the
partition boards and the peak of the roof one heard every sound made in
an adjoining room. She placed her eye to a crack, of which there were
many. The boards had sprung apart in some places, and numerous
peep-holes were thus accorded to the investigating.

A scene of confusion met Felisa's gaze. All of Don Noé's portmanteaus
were open and gaping wide. They were strewn about the floor, alternately
with his three hat boxes, the covers of which had been unstrapped and
thrown back. From each one shaking masses of bright and vari-colored
flowers revealed themselves.

"That dam' girl!" said Don Noé, under his breath.

Felisa chuckled. Her only wonder was that by replacing her father's
belongings with her own, and transporting her numerous gay shade hats
thus sumptuously, her methods had not been discovered before.

At each change of consequence, from boat to train, from horseback to
carriage, Don Noé had suggested unpacking a change of headgear for
himself. Felisa had, with much prudent forethought, flattened an old
panama and laid within it a travelling cap. These, with filial care, she
had placed in the top of her own small steamer trunk. With one excuse or
another, she had beguiled Don Noé into using them during the entire
trip. At Tampa it had been a secret joy to her to see the poor man
struggling out of the train laden with the hat boxes in which her own
gorgeous plumage reposed uninjured. In crossing to the island, in taking
the train to the little town where the small steamer was waiting to
carry them to their goal, and again, during their debarkation and
stowing away in the little schooner which carried them across the bay to
the spot where Don Beltran was to meet them, she had seen with supreme
satisfaction the care with which her millinery was looked after, while
Don Noé's assortment of hats was crowded into a small space in her own
Saratoga.

"I knew it, I knew it," whispered the chuckling Felisa. And then, aloud,
"What's the matter, Dad?"

Don Noé answered not. He was impatiently and without discrimination
hauling and jerking the clothes from an open portmanteau. Each shirt,
pair of trousers, necktie, or waistcoat was raised in air, and slapped
fiercely down on the floor with an oath. Don Noé was not a nice old man,
and his daughter relished his discomfiture.

"Oh, damn!" he said, for the twentieth time, as he failed of jerking a
garment from the confines of a tray, and sat down with precision in an
open hat box. Some pretty pink roses thrust their heads reproachfully
upward between his knees. There was discernible, from the front, a
wicked look of triumph in Don Noé's small eyes. He revelled in the
feeling that he was sinking, sinking down upon a bed of soft and
yielding straw.

"So I say," concurred Felisa, as the last exclamation left Don Noé's
lips. She sprang away from the partition and flew out of the doorway,
along the veranda, and into her father's room.

"Get up at once!" she said. "Dad, do you hear? Get up at once. That is
my very best, my fascinator! Get up! Do you hear me?"

She stamped her stockinged foot upon the bare floor. The pain of it made
her the more angry. Don Noé sank still further, smiling and helpless.

"Get up at once!"

Two of the peons had returned along the outer veranda. They still hoped
to receive a reward for their work of the morning. They lounged in at
the shutter opening, and looked on with a pleased grin. The disordered
room spoke loudly of Don Noé's rage; the crushed flowers and the stamp
of the foot, of the Señorita's fury.

Felisa raised her eyes to the ebony faces framed between the lintels.
She could not help but note their picturesque background, the yellow
green of the great banana spatules, through which the tropic sunshine
filtered.

"Come in here, you wretches, both of you! How dare you laugh!"

Eduardo Juan thrust a bony hand inside and unbuttoned the lower half
door. He pushed through, and Paladrez followed him. They entered with a
shuffle, and stood gazing at Don Noé. He, in turn, grinned at them. He
was paying Felisa double--aye, treble-fold--for packing his hats in some
close quarter, where, as yet, he knew not. Perhaps she had left them
behind. A crack of the hat box! He was sinking lower.

"If you don't care for my best hat, Dad, I should think you would not
wish to ruin your own hat box." Then, turning to Eduardo Juan, "Pull him
out at once!"

Don Noé, certain that he had done all the damage possible, stretched out
appealing hands. The men seized upon those aristocratic members with
their grimy paws, and pulled and tugged his arms nearly out of their
sockets. They got him partly to his feet, the box and flowers rising
with him. Felisa saw that there was no chance of resurrection for the
hat, the ludicrous side of the situation overcame her, and she laughed
unrestrainedly.

"Knock it off, confound you!" screamed Don Noé, in a sudden access of
rage. Felisa's return of good temper made him furious. She danced round
him, taunting and jibing. "The biter bit," she sang, "the biter bit."

"Take something, anything, knock it off!" shouted Don Noé again.

Palandrez, with a wrench, tore off the cover of the hat box and released
the prisoner.

"You've ruined my hat!" "You've ruined my hat box!" screamed father and
daughter in unison. He shook his fist in her face.

"Get out of my room, every man jack of you!"

The gentle peons fled, a shower of garments, boots, and brushes
following them. The room looked like the wreck of all propriety and
reserve.

"Don't you think you've made spectacle enough of yourself?" asked
Felisa, and with this parting fling she flew from her father's presence,
and fell almost into the arms of Don Beltran, chance having thus
favoured him. He held her close for a moment before he released her. She
was pink and panting from these two contrasting experiences.

"He is often like that." She spoke fast to cover her embarrassment. "Did
you ever know him before, cousin? If you did, I wonder that you asked us
here."

Beltran smiled. He did not say that the visit had been self-proposed on
Don Noé's part. His smile contracted somewhat as a heavy walking-shoe
flew out through the open doorway and knocked the panama from his head.
As Beltran stooped and recovered the hat, Felisa glanced at him
shamefacedly. She noticed the wet rings of hair, streaked faintly with
early grey, which the panama had pressed close to his forehead.

"I remember hearing that Uncle Noé was a young man with a temper," he
said. "The family called it moods." He recalled this word from the
vanishing point of the dim vista which memory flashed back to him at the
moment. As Beltran spoke he glanced apprehensively at the open square in
the palm-board exterior of the casa.

"Let us run away," he said, smiling down at the girl.

"Until he is sane again," agreed Felisa. She plunged into her room and
caught up the discarded shoes; then springing from veranda to the short
turf below, she ran with Beltran gaily toward the river. A bottle of ink
shot out through the opening, and broke upon the place where they had
stood.

"He is a lunatic at times," said Felisa, with a heightened colour. There
was a drop upon her eyelash which Beltran suddenly wished that he dared
have the courage to kiss away.

"I shall hurt my feet," she said, stopping suddenly. She dropped the
shoes upon the ground, thrust her feet into them, and started again to
run, her hand in Beltran's. The sun was scorching.

He took his broad panama from his head and placed it upon hers. It fell
to her pretty pink ears.

She laughed, his laughter chimed with hers, and thus, like two happy
children, they disappeared within the grove which fringed the river
bank.

Agueda saw them as they crossed the hot, white trocha. She saw them as
they entered the grove.

"And that is the little child," she said aloud, "the little child."
Then, with a sudden painful tightening at the heart, "I wonder if he
knew." So quickly does the appearance of deceit excite distrust which
has no foundation to build upon.

Beltran had known no more certainly than Agueda herself the age of this
unknown cousin. He was guiltless of all premeditation, but to say that
he was not conscious of an unmistakable joy when he found this charming
young girl at the landing, and knew that she would live under the same
roof with him for an indefinite period, would be to say that which is
not true. Beltran was a victim of circumstances. He had not desired a
change. He had not asked for it, yet when it came he accepted it,
welcomed it perhaps. Had the choice between the known and the imagined
been given him, he would have sought nothing better than his, until now,
happy environment. "It is fate," thought Beltran.

When the cousins reached the river, Beltran parted the branches for
Felisa, and she slipped out of the white heat into a soft-toned
viridescence of shade. A path ran downward to the river shore. It was
cut parallel with the water's flow. The path was overshadowed by thick
branches. Mangoes, mamey trees, and mahoganies were there. The tall palm
crowned all in its stately way. The young palms spread and pushed
fan-like across the path, in intimate relation now with human kind. The
time would come when no one would be able to lay a finger tip upon their
stiff and glossy sprays, when their lofty tufts would look down from a
vantage point of eighty or a hundred feet upon the heads of succeeding
generations.

Felisa ran down the sloping path and seated herself, all fluff and
laces, upon the slope of the bank. She sank into a bed of dry leaves,
through which the fresh green of new-born plants was springing.

"Not there, not there!" cried Beltran, sharply. "You never know what is
underneath those foot-deep leaves. Come down here, little cousin. I have
a bench at the washing-stone."

They descended still lower. Her hand was still in the one by which he
had raised her from the bank.

"You have closed the bench quite off from the river, cousin, with those
hateful wires. I cannot get at the water or even at the broad stone
there." Felisa spoke petulantly.

Beltran gazed down into the pretty face. The eyes, though not large,
held the dancing light of youth. The upturned little nose and the broad
mouth would not serve to make a handsome older woman, but the red lips
pouted over white and even teeth, a rose flush tinted the ear and cheek,
colourless curly tendrils escaped from under the large hat.

Felisa's clothes, that most important factor in a man's first attraction
toward a woman, were new and strange, and of a fashion that Beltran knew
must be a symptom of modernity. He was utterly unconscious that a
certain fascination lay in those wonderful great figures of colour
sprawling over a gauzy ground of white. He would have denied that the
ribbon knot at the waist, and its counterpart upon the left shoulder,
had any particular charm for him, or that the delicate aroma of the
lavender of an old-fashioned bureau, which emanated from those filmy
ruffles with every motion of the restless little body, had anything to
do with his being so drawn toward her.

Felisa seated herself and stretched out her feet, encased in a black
silk mystery of open work and embroidery. He knelt and tied the silken
laces. When he had finished this absorbing task he bent suddenly lower
and pressed his lips to the instep above. Felisa withdrew it quickly,
blushing. She knew nothing of such vigourous love-making as this. The
northern birds were more wary.

"My hat," she said, "please get me one."

Beltran turned and ran up the path.

"I did not dream that I should like him so much," said Felisa softly, as
she gazed after him.

Beltran ran swiftly to the casa and bounded up on to the veranda.
Felisa's door reached, he hesitated. Agueda stood within the room,
holding a hand-glass before her face. She was gazing at her reflection.
At the well-known step she started. What hopes arose within her breast!
He was coming back, the first moment that he was free, to tell her that
she must not mind his attentions to his cousin, that they were
necessary. She would meet him with a smile, she would convince him that
that hateful jealousy, which had been tearing at her vitals for the past
hour or two, had no part within her being. Ah! after all her suspicion
of him, she was still his first thought! She started and dropped the
glass. She turned toward him, a smile of welcome parting her lips.

Beltran hardly looked at Agueda.

"A hat! a bonnet, anything!" he said. "Give me something quickly!"

She took from the table the gay hat in which Felisa had arrived, and
placed it in his outstretched hand, but she did not look at him again.
He almost snatched it from her. Was not Felisa waiting bareheaded down
there by the river? He sprang to the ground and hastened across the
trocha. After he had entered the grove, he buried his face among the
flowers, which exhaled that faint, evanescent fragrance which already
spoke to him of her. Agueda sighed and placed the silver-backed mirror
upon the table. Had one asked her what she had been searching for in its
honest depths, she could hardly have told. Perhaps she had been
wondering whether with such aids to beauty as Felisa had, she would not
be as attractive. Perhaps looking to see if she had grown less sweet,
less lovable in these few short hours.

"Juana," she called. "Juana!" The old crone hobbled forth quickly from
the kitchen at Agueda's sharp tone. It was new to her.

"Make this room tidy," ordered Agueda. Juana wondered at the harsh note
in Agueda's voice. The girl herself was unconscious that she had spoken
differently than she had been wont to do, but she was filled with a
defiant feeling, a fear that now the others would not treat her with the
respect which Don Beltran had always demanded of them. That new pain was
accountable. At the sharp note in her voice, Juana had looked
inquiringly, but Agueda raised a haughty head and passed along the
veranda to her own room.

Felisa heard Beltran returning. Her quick ear noted every movement,
from the hurried run across the potrero and the trocha to his pushing
back with impatient hand the low-sweeping branches and his hasty
footfall down the path. She wondered if this new blossoming in her heart
were love? She had never felt so since those first early days of
adolescence, when as a young girl her trust had been deceived, ensnared,
entrapped, and left fluttering with wounded wings. Should she love him?
Was it worth her while? Her first word was a complaint. Experience had
taught her that complaisance is a girl's worst enemy.

"Why did you place those wires there, cousin?"

For answer Beltran came close and looked down upon her shining head.
Suddenly he took her in his arms and kissed her. She struggled, for she
was really somewhat indignant.

"And may not cousins kiss?" asked Beltran. "Those wires were placed
there to prevent the little child whom we--I--expected from falling into
the river. You are scarce larger than the little child--whom
we--I--pictured, but oh! how infinitely more sweet!"

He twisted one long brown finger in the ring of hair which strayed
downward nearly to her eyes. Felisa withdrew her head with a quick
motion. She was experiencing a mixture of feelings. She had come here
to San Isidro with a purpose, and now, within two short hours of her
arrival, she found that her purpose marched with her desires. Don Noé
had said, "Felisa, do you remember your Cousin Beltran, your mother's
nephew?"

"No, papa, how could I remember him? I never saw him. I have seldom
heard of him."

"Ah, yes, I know," returned Don Noé, with the sudden awakening of the
semi-centenarian to the fact that he is communing with a second
generation. "Well, that wretched old grandfather of yours, old Balatrez,
cut your mother off because she married _me_!"

"Had he seen the hat boxes?" asked Felisa, who had a humour of her own.

"Don't be impertinent. All that fine property has gone to Beltran, just
because your mother married _me_! She was sister to Beltran's mother,
your aunt, as you know. Now, Felisa, I intend to have that fortune
back."

"How, papa? Do you intend to call upon my cousin to stand and deliver?"

"I intend you to do that, Felisa."

"I am tired of being poor, too, papa."

Felisa considered a shrinkage from eighteen to eight new gowns a summer
a distinct sign of poverty. When Don Noé drew in his horns as to
expenditures, the young foreign attaché who had all but proposed to him
for the hand of Felisa relaxed his attentions. Felisa had hoped to be a
countess, but a title is no guarantee of perennial or even annual bread
and butter, and those indispensable articles some one must provide. At
the close of Don Noé's remarks, which were too extended to be repeated,
Felisa had said, "I am quite ready for your cousin-hunt, papa."

A feeling akin to shame swept through her as she sat there and recalled
this conversation, and realized what this new intimacy with Beltran
meant to her--what it might mean in the days to come, for that he loved
her at once and irrevocably her vanity gave her no chance to doubt, and
she knew now that she was beginning to find this impetuous lover more
than attractive. One who knew Felisa thoroughly would have said that she
was beginning to care for him as much as it was in her nature to care
for any one but herself.



XIV


Agueda saw all the plans which they had made together for the coming of
the little child carried out by Beltran alone. She could not accompany
Don Beltran and his cousin upon their different expeditions; she could
not go as an equal, she would not go as an inferior. Besides which,
there was never any question as to her joining them. The bull rides, the
search for mamey apples, the gathering of the aguacate pears, all of
which she had suggested, were taken part in by two only; so was the
lingering upon the river, until Agueda shuddered to think of the
miasmata which arise after nightfall and envelop the unwary in their
unseen though no less deadly clutches. The walks in the moonlight,
ending in a lingering beneath the old mahogany tree for a few last
confidences before the return to the home-light of the casa, left no
place for a third member, because of the close intimacy which naturally
was part and parcel of the whole.

All had come about as Agueda had planned, with the exception that she
herself was missing from plain, hill, and river. She had heard Beltran
say: "Yes, I will take you down to the potrero, little girl, to gather
the aguacates, but you must not approach the bushes, for the thorns
would sting your tender hands." Agueda recalled the day when she had
suggested this as one of the cautious pleasures open to the little thing
for whom they two were looking; but she, Agueda, who was to have been
the central figure, she, the one to whose forethought had been entrusted
the planning and carrying out of these small amusements, was excluded.
As the days passed by, Beltran and Agueda seldom met, except in the
presence of others. She addressed him now in the third person, as "If
the Don Beltran allow," or "If the Don Beltran wishes." When by chance
the two stumbled upon one another, neither could get out of the way
quickly enough.

It was on a day when she was forced to speak to him as to the
disposition of some furniture, that her utter dejection and spiritless
tone appealed to him. As he glanced at her, he noticed for the first
time how large her eyes were, what hollows showed beneath them, how
shrunken and thin was her cheek.

"What is it, Agueda? You treat me as a culprit."

"No, oh, no!" She shook her head sadly; then threw off the feeling
apparently with a quick turn of the head. "The Señor is within his
rights." Beltran's heart was touched. He drew near to her, and laid his
arm about her shoulder, as he had not done now for a long time. She
stooped her fine height, and drew her shoulder out from under his arm.
She had no right now to feel that answering thrill; he was hers no
longer. A sob, which she had tried to smother in her throat, struck him
remorsefully.

"They will soon be gone, Agueda; then all will be as before."

"Nothing can ever be as before, Señor. I see it now, either for you or
for me."

The wall within which she had encased herself, that dignity which
silence under wrong gives to the oppressed, once broken, the flood of
her words poured forth. The terrible sense of injustice overwhelmed and
broke down her well-maintained reserve. She looked up at Beltran with
reproach in her eyes, interrogation shining from their depths.

"Why could you not have told me, warned me, cautioned me? Ah, Nada! Nada
knew." Her helplessness overcame her. Beltran had been her salvation,
her teacher, her reliance. She felt wrecked, lost; she was drifting
rudderless upon an ocean whose shores she could not discern. Where could
she turn? Her only prop and stay withdrawn, what was there to count
upon?

"I do not know the world, Beltran. My people never know the world. I
have never known any world but this--but this." She stretched out her
despairing arms to the grey square which she had called home. "Ah! Nada,
dear Nada, you knew, you knew! I never dreamt that she meant you,
Beltran, you!"

Hark! It was Felisa's voice calling to him. Soon she would be here. She
would see them; she would suspect. Beltran shrugged his shoulders, he
pursed out his lips. The Agueda whom he had known was ever smiling, ever
ready to be bent to his will. This girl was complaining, reproachful;
besides which, her looks were going. How could he ever have thought her
even pretty? He contrasted her in a flash with the little white thing,
all soft filmy lawn and laces, and turned away to rejoin that other
sweeter creature who had never given him a discontented look.

It had come to this then! Her misery could wring from him nothing more
than a careless shrug of the shoulders!

She stood gazing afar off at the hillside, where the bulls were toiling
upward with their loads of suckers for the planting. Some fields were
yet being cleared, and the thin lines of smoke arose and poured straight
upward in the still atmosphere. A faint odor of burning bark filled the
air. Near by the banana leaves drooped motionless. There were no sounds
except the occasional stamp of a hoof in the stable. The silence was
phenomenal. Suddenly a shrill voice broke the stillness.

"Cousin, are you coming?"

A welcome summons! He would go to the hills with Felisa, as he had
promised. She should see the fields "avita"-ed. He would forget Agueda's
reproaches in the light of Felisa's smiles. He shook his tall frame, as
if to throw off something which had settled like a cloud upon him; he
hurried along the veranda with a quick stride. The excursion to-day was
to be to the palm grove upon the hill. Uncle Noé was to be one of the
party. The peons were to burn the great comahen nest, for in this remote
quarter of the world such simple duties made amusement for the chance
guest at the coloñia.

Agueda had prepared a dainty basket over-night. The old indented spoons,
the forks with twisted and bent tines, but bearing the glory and pride
of the Balatrez family in the crest upon the handle, were laid in the
bottom of the basket. Nothing was forgotten, from the old Señora's
silver coffee pot, carefully wrapped in a soft cloth, to the worn
napkins on the top with the crest in the corner, which was wearing thin
and pulling away from the foundation linen. The coffee, planted, raised,
picked, dried, roasted, and ground upon the plantation of San Isidro,
was ready for the making; the cassava bread was toasted ready for
heating at the woodland fire; the thick cream into which it was to be
dipped was poured into the well-scoured can; the fresh-laid eggs were
safely packed in a small basket; the mamey apples and the guavas would
be picked by the peons upon the ground, and the san-coche was still
bubbling in the oven. Juana, like one of Shakespeare's witches, bent
over the fragrant stew, and ever, when no one was looking, she put the
pewter spoon to her withered and critical lips. Where is the cook who
does not taste in secret?

Palandrez would start an hour hence, taking the fast little roan, to get
to the hill in time to serve the san-coche hot and savory.

Castaño, the horse which it had been Don Beltran's pleasure to break for
Agueda, stood at the foot of the veranda steps. Agueda's saddle was upon
its back; no other would fit Castaño. Indeed, there was no other. But
there was no sentiment to Agueda about the lady's saddle. She had always
ridden like the boy that she looked. Agueda walked with dragging step to
her solitary chamber; she would not remain to witness Felisa's hateful
affectations. She could bear it no longer; she could be neither generous
nor charitable. She had seen and heard so much of Felisa's clinging to
Beltran's arm, her little cries of fear, Beltran's soothing responses,
that her heart was sick. She closed her door to shut out the sounds,
and threw herself into her low sewing chair by the window. They would be
gone presently, and then she would wander forth in an opposite
direction, down by the river perhaps, or over to--where? Where could she
go?

A large pile of linen lay in the basket. She had not touched it of late.
Ah, no! There was no one now to make the duty a pastime, no one to come
in with ringing step, and lay upon the welcoming shoulder a kindly
hand--no one to twitch the tiresome sewing impatiently from her grasp,
and bid her come away, to the river or to the potrero; no one to stoop
and kiss the roughened finger. It was as if she had emerged into a
strange and horrible land, a land of dreams whose name is nightmare, and
had left behind her in that other dim world all that had been most dear.
She could not awake, no matter how hard she tried.

She sat looking dully out to where the flecks of sunshine touched here
and there the tropic shadows. She saw nothing. Nature was no longer a
book whose every leaf held some new beauty, each page printed with ink
from the great mother's alembic, telling a tale of joy that never palls.

Suddenly Agueda turned from the scene and clasped her hands over her
eyes, for into her landscape had passed two figures. She had thought
that they would go by the river path, but they were passing along the
winding way which ran through the banana walk, one seated delicate and
graceful upon the accustomed chestnut, shrinking somewhat and swaying a
little as if in fear, the other bent close to her and gazing into her
eyes as if he could never look his fill. The old story, her story, the
part of heroine played by a fresher, newer actress, the leading
personality unchanged. They made a picture as they rode, one which an
artist would love to paint; the flanks of the brave grey side by side
with the little chestnut, the handsome lover leaning toward the pretty
bundle of summer draperies, the red parasol held in his hand and shading
her form from the sun making the one bit of brilliant colour in the
picture. It was worthy of Vibert, but Agueda had never heard of Vibert,
and the picturesqueness of the scene did not appeal to her.

"This way?" questioned the high voice. "It is the longest way, cousin,
so you said this morning."

"Yes," was Beltran's answer. How plainly she heard it as the breeze blew
toward the casa. "The longest way to others, but--" He bent his head and
spoke lower. One had to imagine the rest. Agueda closed the shutter and
threw herself upon the bed, as if she could as easily forget the picture
as she could shut out the shrill voice of Felisa.

The day passed, as such days do, like an eternity. At noon-time a
stranger rode down the hill toward the casa. He brought a letter for Don
Beltran.

"The Señor is up in the woods," said Agueda. "I will give it to him when
he returns."

"It is from the Señor Silencio. He hopes that the Señor will read it at
once. The message admits of no delay."

"Do you know the palm grove up on the far hill, on the other side of the
grand camino?"

"I think that I might find it," said Andres, for it was he, "but I have
matters of importance at home. My little boy--El Rey--"

Andres turned away his head. Stupid Andres! Only one thing could make
him turn away his head.

"Are you, then, the father of that little El Rey?"

Andres nodded.

"Give me the letter," said Agueda. "I will send it to the palm grove."

Not waiting to see Andres depart, Agueda hurried to the home potrero.
There Uncle Adan was keeping tally at the sucker pile.

"Uncle Adan," she said, "is there a man who can take a message to the
Señor?"

"I cannot spare another peon, Agueda--that the good God knows. What with
Garcia Garcito and the Palandrez off all the morning at the palm grove,
and Eduardo Juan hurrying away but a half-hour ago with the san-coche,
I am very short of hands. What is it that you want? Do not load the
little white bull so heavily, Anito; it is these heavy weights that take
the life out of them. What is it that you want, Agueda, child?"

"It is a message for the Señor, Uncle Adan. It comes from the Señor
Silencio. It may be of importance."

"Very well, then; it is I who cannot go. The Señor should be at home
sometimes, like other Señors. Since these visitors came I cannot get a
word with him."

"The Señor is not always away, Uncle Adan," protested Agueda, faintly.

"It is true that he is not always away," said Uncle Adan, tossing a
sprouted sucker into a waste pile, "but his head is, and that is as bad.
He seems to take no interest in the coloñia nowadays, and I am doing
much for which I have no warrant."

Agueda recalled the many times when she had seen her uncle approach
Beltran with some request to make, or project to unfold, and his shrug
of the shoulders, and the answer, "Don't bother me now, Adan, there's a
good fellow; some other time--some other time." Agueda stood with her
eyes downcast. She knew it all but too well. Every word of Uncle Adan's
struck at her heart like a knife.

"But the Señor must have the letter, Uncle Adan," she persisted.

"Very well, then, child, carry it yourself. There is no one else to go."

"Is there anything that I can ride, Uncle Adan?"

"Caramba! muchacha! Castaño, certainly. Can you saddle him your--or, no!
I forgot. No, Agueda; there is nothing."

"The brown bull? The letter may be important."

"The brown bull has gone to the Port of Entry for tobacco for the Señor
Don Noé. No, there is nothing, child; you must walk if you will go. For
me, I would leave the letter on the table in the Señor's room. That
would be best."

Agueda went quickly back to the house. She took the old straw from its
peg in her closet, put it upon her head without one glance at the little
mirror on the wall, and ran quickly down the veranda steps. The way
seemed long to her. She was not feeling strong; an unaccustomed weight
dragged upon her health and spirits. All at once she saw, as if a
picture had been held up to her view, that future which must be hers,
toward which she was so quickly hastening. A few months--ah, God! Was
it, then, to be with her as with all those others whom she had held in
partial contempt--a pitying contempt, it is true, but none the less
contempt.

The distance seemed long to her. Time had been when she would have
thought a run over to the palm grove a mere nothing, but now every step
was a penance to both body and mind.

When Agueda reached the hill, she walked slowly. The day was hot, as
tropical days in the valley are apt to be. She moved languidly up the
hill. Arrived at the top, there was nothing to reward her gaze but the
form of Don Noé, asleep under a tree; Palandrez sitting by, waving a
large palm branch to keep the insects away. At a little distance the
dying embers of the picnic fire paled in the sun. The place was
otherwise bare of people or servants. Under the shade of some coffee
bushes stood the grey and the chestnut, but of their riders nothing was
to be seen. When Palandrez saw Agueda coming he put his finger on his
lip. She approached him and held out the letter. He made a half motion
to rise, but did not spring to his feet, as he formerly would have done
at the approach of the house mistress.

"I have a letter for the Señor, Palandrez," said Agueda. "I wish that
you take it to him at once."

"It is I that would oblige the Señorita," answered Palandrez, sinking
back hastily into his lounging attitude, when he saw that action was
required of him, "but I was ordered by the Señor Don Beltran to stay
here, and not leave the Don Noé, unless, indeed, an earthquake should
come."

"But it is a letter of importance," urged Agueda. "You must take it for
me, Palandrez."

"And am I to obey the Señor or the Señorita?" asked Palandrez, in a
half-defiant, half-impudent tone.

For answer Agueda turned away. She had thought of offering to keep the
buzzing insects from Don Noé's bald head, but her spirit revolted at the
thought of this menial service, and perhaps a slight curiosity as to
where the main actors in the drama had gone, and how they were employing
themselves, caused her to resolve to find Beltran herself.

"Where is the Don Beltran?" she asked of Palandrez.

"I have not seen them this half-hour, Señorita. When the feast was over
the old Don laid himself down to sleep, and the Don Beltran and the new
Señorita disappeared very suddenly. They went down there, in the
direction of the little brook."

Palandrez waved his hand toward the further slope of the hill, and again
returned to the duty of keeping Don Noé asleep, so long as he himself
could remain awake.

As Agueda began to descend the slope she heard a complaining voice. She
turned. Palandrez had stolen away to the edge of the hill. He had left
Don Noé sleeping with the branch stuck upright beside him in the soft
earth of the hilltop. The breeze waved the branch. "So," had thought
Palandrez, "it will do as well as if I was there fanning El Viejo." But
all in a moment the branch had fallen across Don Noé's face, and he had
awakened with a start. He belaboured Palandrez well with his sharp old
tongue.

"I will tell your master, the Señor. Yes, I will tell him the very
moment that I see him." Palandrez bowed his tattered form and scraped
his horny sole upon the ground, and exclaimed, with volubility:

"It was but muchachado,[8] Señor. I have the honour to assure the Señor
that it was but muchachado, no more, no less."

Palandrez, in fear of what his own particular Señor would say of his
treatment of the Señorita Felisa's father, returned hurriedly to his
fanning, and Don Noé, pretending to sleep, and weary with resting, kept
one eye open, so to speak, to catch him again at his muchachado.

Agueda descended the hill. When she came to the brook, she saw an old
log across which some one must have lately travelled, for it was
splashed with wet, and there were footmarks in the clay on the shore.
She crossed, and walked quickly along the further plain, and soon heard
the distant sound of voices, Felisa's high treble mingled with Don
Beltran's deeper, pleasant tones. The beauty of his voice had never been
so marked as now, when the thin soprano of Felisa set it off by
contrast.

Following the sound of the voices, Agueda again ascended a slight rise,
and before long saw in the distance the light frills of Felisa's gown
showing through the trees. She knew the pastime well enough, the pastime
which caused Felisa to sit upon a level with Agueda's head, and to wave
up and down as if in a swing or high-poised American chair. She knew
well, before she came near them, that Beltran had given Felisa the
pleasure that had often been hers; that he had bent an elastic young
tree over to the ground; that among its branches he had made a safe seat
for Felisa, and that he was letting it spring upward, and again pressing
it back to earth with regular motion, so that Felisa might ride the tree
in semblance of Castaño's back; only Beltran was closer to her than he
could be were they on horseback, and Felisa's nervous little screams and
cries gave him reason to hold her securely and to reassure her in that
ever kind and musical voice. When Felisa saw Agueda coming along the
path bordered with young palms, she said, "Here comes that girl of
yours, cousin, that Agueda! What can she want?"

Beltran turned with some surprise. Agueda had never dogged his footsteps
before. She had left him to work his own will, independent of her
claims--claims which had no foundation, in fact. All at once he
remembered those claims imagined, and he wondered if at last she had
come to denounce him before Felisa.

As Agueda came onward, hurrying toward them, Beltran ceased his motion
of the tree, and leaned against its trunk, touching Felisa familiarly as
he did so. It was as if he arrayed himself with her against Agueda. The
two seemed one in spirit.

Beltran's voice, as he questioned Agueda, showed some irritation, but
its musical note, a physical thing, which he could not control if he
would, was still there.

"Why have you come here? What do you want with me?" He did not use her
name.

Agueda stopped and leaned against a tree. She put her hand within the
bosom of her dress, brought forth the letter in its double paper, tied
round with a little green cord, and held it out to Beltran. She did not
speak.

"Very well, bring it to me," he said. He could not let go his hold on
the tree, for fear of harm coming to Felisa, and he saw no reason why
Agueda, having come thus far, should not cover the few steps that
remained between himself and her. She pushed herself away from the tree
with her hand, as if she needed such impetus, and walking unevenly, she
came near to Beltran and laid the letter in his hand. "The messenger
said that it was important. It was Andres who brought it," said Agueda.

"Ah! from Silencio," said Beltran, awkwardly breaking the seal, because
of the necessity of holding the tree in place.

He perused the short note in silence. When he raised his eyes from the
page, Agueda had turned and was walking away through the vista of young
palms. Her weary and dispirited air struck him somewhat with remorse.

"Agueda," he called, "stop at the hill yonder and get some coffee and
rest yourself." His words did not stay her. She turned her head, shook
it gravely, and then walked onward.

FOOTNOTE:

[8] A boyish trick.



XV


Don Gil Silencio and the Señora sat within the shady corner of the
veranda. In front of the Señora stood a small wicker table. Upon the
table was an old silver teapot, battered in the side, whose lid had
difficulty in shutting. This relic of the past had been brought from
England by the old Señora when she returned from the refuge she had
obtained there, in one of her periodical escapes from old Don Oviedo.
The old Señora had brought back with her the fashion of afternoon tea;
also some of the leaves from which that decoction is made. The teapot,
as well as the traditionary fashion of tea at five o'clock, had been
left as legacies to her grandson, but of the good English tea there
remained not the smallest grain of dust. The old Señora had been
prodigal of her tea. She had on great occasions used more than a
saltspoonful of the precious leaves at a drawing, and every one knows
that at that rate even two pounds of tea will not last forever.

They had been married now for two weeks, the Señor Don Gil and the
Señora, and for the first time in her young life the Señora was happy.
Sad to have reached the age of seventeen and not to have passed one
happy day, hardly a happy hour! Now the girl was like a bird let loose,
but the Señor, for a bridegroom, seemed somewhat distrait and dejected.
As he sipped his weak decoction he often raised his eyes to the wooded
heights beyond which Troja lay.

"What is the matter, Gil? Is not the tea good?"

"As good as the hay from the old potrera, dear Heart. And cold? One
would imagine that we possessed our own ice-machine."

The Señora looked at Don Gil questioningly. His face was serious. She
smiled. These were virtues, then! The Señora did not know much about the
English decoction.

"Be careful, Raquel. That aged lizard will fall into the teapot else; he
might get a chill. Chills are fatal to lizards." Don Gil was smiling
now.

Raquel closed the lid with a loud bang. The lizard scampered up the
allemanda vine, where it hid behind one of the yellow velvet flowers.

"But you seem so absent in mind, Gil. What is it all about? You look so
often up the broad camino. Do you expect any--any one--Gil?"

Don Gil dropped over his eyes those long and purling lashes which, since
his adolescence, had been the pride and despair of every belle within
the radius of twenty miles.

"You do expect some one, Gil; no welcome guest. That I can see. Oh! Gil.
It is my un--it is Escobeda whom you expect."

Don Gil did not look up.

"I think it is quite likely that he will come," he said. "I may as well
tell you, Raquel; the steamer arrived this morning. He must have waited
there over a steamer." Had Silencio voiced his conviction, he would have
added, "Escobeda's vengeance may be slow, but it is sure as well."

The Señora's face was colourless, her frightened eyes were raised
anxiously to his. Her lips hardly formed the word that told him of her
fear.

"When?" she asked.

"Any day now. But do not look so worried, dear Heart. I think that we
need not fear Escobeda."

"But he will kill us, Gil. He will burn the casa."

"No. He might try to crush some poor and defenceless peon, but hardly
the owner of Palmacristi. Still, all things are possible, all cruelties
and barbarities, with a man like Escobeda. His followers are a lawless
set of rascals."

"And he will dare to attack us here, in our home?"

The Señora's hands trembled as she moved the cups here and there upon
the table.

"An Englishman says, 'My house is my castle.' If I cannot say that; I
can say, 'My house is my fort.' I will try to show you that it is, when
the time comes, but look up! Raquel. Smile! dear one. I know that my
wife is not a coward."

With an assumption of carelessness, the Señora took a lump of sugar from
the bowl and held it out to the penitent lizard. It came haltingly down
the stem of the vine, stretching out its pointed nose to see what new
and unaccustomed dainties were to be offered it.

"He has sent you a message, Gil?"

"Who, Escobeda? Yes, child. He sent me a letter under a flag of truce,
as it were. The letter was written at the government town."

"And he sent it--"

"Back by the last steamer, Raquel. His people are not allowed to enter
our home enclosure, as you know. I allowed one of the peons to take the
letter. He brought it to the trocha. Any one can come there. It is
public land."

Raquel dropped the sugar; it rolled away.

"Gil, Gil!" she said, "you terrify me. What shall we do?" She arose and
went close to him and laid her hands upon his shoulders. "Escobeda! with
his cruel ways, and more cruel followers--"

"He is Spanish."

"So are we, Gil, we are Spanish, too."

"Yes, child, with the leaven of the west intermingled in our veins, its
customs, and its manners."

"Gil, dearest, I can never tell you what I suffered in that house. What
fear! What overpowering dread! Whenever one of those lawless men so much
as looked at me I trembled for the moment to come. And no one knows,
Gil, what would have hap--happened unless he--had been reserving--me
for--for a fate--worse than--" Her face was dyed with shame; she broke
off, and threw herself upon her husband's breast. Her words became
incoherent in a flood of tears.

Silencio held his young wife close to his heart, he pressed his lips
upon her wet eyelids, upon her disordered hair. He soothed her as a
brave man must, forgetting his own anxiety in her terror.

"My peons are armed, Raquel. They are well instructed. They are, I
think, faithful, as much so, at least, as good treatment can make them.
Even must they be bribed, they shall be. I have more money than
Escobeda, Raquel. Even were you his daughter, you are still my wife. He
could not touch you. As it is, he has no claim upon you. I am not afraid
of him. He may do his worst, I am secure."

"And I?"

"Child! Are not you the first with me? But for you I should go out
single-handed and try to shoot the coward down. But should I fail--and
he is as good a shot as the island boasts--Raquel, who would care for
you? I have thought it all out, child. My bullets are as good as
Escobeda's; they shoot as straight, but I hope I have a better way; I
have been preparing for your coming a long time, dear Heart, and my
grandfather before me."

Raquel looked up from her hiding-place on his breast.

"Your grandfather, Gil, for me?"

Silencio smiled down upon the upraised eyes.

"Yes, for you, Raquel, had he but known it. Come! child, come! Dry your
tears! Rest easy! You are safe." As Silencio spoke he shivered. "Your
tea has gone to my nerves."

He took the pretty pink teacup from the veranda rail, where he had
placed it, and set it upon the table. He looked critically at the
remains of the pale yellow decoction.

"Really, Raquel, if you continue to give me such strong drinks, I shall
have to eschew tea altogether."

"I am so sorry. I put in very little, Gil."

Silencio had brought a smile to her face. There is bravery in success of
this kind, bringing a smile to the face of a beloved and helpless
creature when a man's heart is failing him for fear.

"Let us walk round to the counting-house," he said.

He laid his arm about her shoulder, and together they strolled slowly to
the side veranda, traversed its lengths, and descended the steps. They
walked along the narrow path which led to the counting-house, and turned
in at the enclosure. At the door they halted. Silencio took a heavy key
from his pocket. Contrary to custom, he had kept the outer door locked
for the past fortnight.

"Our Don Gil is getting very grand with his lockings up, and his
lockings up," grumbled Anicito Juan. "There were no lockings up, the
good God knows, in the days of the old Señor."

"And the good God also knows there were no lazy peons in the days of the
old Señor to pry and to talk and to forget what they owe the family.
When did the peon see meat in the days of the old Señor? When, I ask?
When did you see fowl in a pot, except for the Señores? And now the best
of sugar, and bull for the san-coche twice a week. And peons of the most
useless can complain of such a master! Oh! Ta-la!"

A storm of words from the family champion, Guillermina, fell as heavily
upon the complainant as a volley of blows from a man. Anicito Juan
ducked his head as if a hurricane were upon him, and rushed away to
cover.

Silencio tapped with his key upon the trunk of the dead palm tree which
arose grand and straight opposite its mate at the side of the doorway.

"Now watch, Raquel," he said.

The tall trunk had sent back an answering echo from its hollow tube.
Then there was a strange stir within the tree. Raquel looked upward.
Numberless black beaks and heads protruded from the holes which
penetrated the sides of the tall stem from the bottom to the top, as if
to say, "Here is an inquisitive stranger. Let us look out, and see if we
wish to be at home."

Raquel laughed gleefully. She took the key from her husband's fingers,
crossed the path, and tapped violently upon the barkless trunk of the
second palm tree. As many more heads were thrust outward as in the first
instance. Some of the birds left their nests in the dead tree, flew a
little way off, and alighted upon living branches, to watch for further
developments about the shell where they had made their homes. Others
cried and chattered as they flew round and round the palm, fearing they
knew not what. Raquel watched them until they were quiet, then tapped
the tree again. As often as she knocked upon the trunk the birds
repeated their manoeuvres. She laughed with delight at the result of
each recurring invasion of the domestic quiet of the carpenter birds.

So engaged was Raquel that she did not perceive the entrance of a man
into the small enclosure of the counting-house, nor did she see Silencio
walk to the gate with the stranger. The two stood there talking
hurriedly, the sound of their voices quite drowned by the cries of the
birds.

As Raquel wearied of teasing the birds, she dropped her eyes to earth to
seek some other amusement. A man was just disappearing round the corner
of the paling. Silencio had turned and was coming back to her along the
path which led from the gate to the door of the counting-house.

She met him with smiles, her lips parted, her face flushed.

"Who was that, Gil--that man? I did not see him come."

"You have seen him go, dear Heart. Is not that enough?"

Silencio spoke with an effort. His face was paler than it had been;
Raquel's face grew serious. His anxiety was reflected in her face, as
the sign of a storm in the sky is mirrored in the calm surface of a
pool.

"Tell me the truth, Gil. You have had a message from Escobeda?"

"Not exactly a message, Raquel. That was one of my men. A spy, we should
call him in warfare."

"And he brings you news?"

"Yes, he brings me news."

"What news, Gil? What news? I am horribly afraid. If he should take me,
Gil! Oh! my God! Gil, dear Gil! do not let him take me!"

She threw herself against his breast, white and trembling. This was a
horror too deep for tears.

Silencio smiled, though the arm which surrounded her trembled.

"He shall never take you from me, never! I am not afraid of that. But
your fears unman me! Try to believe what I say, child. He shall never
take you from me. Come! let us go in."

He took the key from her hand, and unlocked and opened the outer door of
the counting-house. He pushed her gently into the room, and followed
her, closing and locking the door behind him. Then he opened the door of
the second room, and ushered her into this safe retreat. While he was
fastening the door of this room, Raquel was gazing about her with
astonishment. Her colour had returned; Silencio's positive words had
entirely reassured her. "I never knew of this pretty room, Gil. Why did
you never tell me of it?"

"I have hardly become accustomed to your being here, Raquel. There is
much yet to learn about Palmacristi. Wait until I show you--"

Silencio broke off with a gay laugh.

"What! What will you show me, Gil? Ah! that delicate shade of green
against this fresh, pure white! A little boudoir for me! How good you
are to me! You have kept it as a surprise?"

Silencio laughed again as she ran hither and thither examining this cool
retreat. He wondered if she would discover the real nature of those
walls. But the delicacy of Raquel prevented her from touching the
hangings, or examining the articles in the room except with her eyes.

"I spoke to you of my fortress, dear Heart."

"Oh! Are you going to show me your fortress? Come! come! Let us go!"

She took him by the arm and urged him to the further door.

"We need not go to seek it, child; it is here."

Silencio drew back the innocent-looking hangings and disclosed the steel
plates which the Señor Don Juan Smit' had brought down from the
es-States and had set in place. Silencio tapped the wall with his
finger.

"It is bullet-proof," he said.

At the sight of this formidable-looking wall Raquel's colour vanished,
as if it were a menace and not a protection, but not for long. Her cheek
flushed again. She laughed aloud, her eyes sparkled. She was like a
little child with a new toy, as she ran about and examined into the
secrets of this innocent-looking fortress.

"Gil! Gil!" she cried, "what a charming prison! How delightful it will
be to hear Escobeda's bullets rattling on the outside while we sit
calmly here drinking our tea."

"Perhaps we can find something even more attractive in the way of
refreshment." Silencio had not forgotten the cup which had neither
inebriated nor cheered.

"I see now that you have no windows. At first I wondered. How long
should we be safe here? Could he break in the door?"

Silencio bit his lip.

"Not the outer door. And the door leading into the house--well, even
Escobeda would hardly--I may as well tell you the truth, Raquel. Sit
down there, child, and listen."

The young wife perched herself upon the tall stool that stood before the
white desk, her lips parted in a delicious smile. The rose behind her
ear fell forward. She took it in her fingers, kissed it, and leaping
lightly from her seat, ran to Silencio and thrust it through the
buttonhole of his coat. Then she ran back and perched herself again upon
her stool.

"Go on," she said, "I am ready." And then, womanlike, not waiting for
him to speak, she asked the question, "Is he coming to-night, Gil?"

"I only wish that he would, for the darkness is our best friend.
Escobeda expects an ambush, and my men are ready for it, but he will be
here bright and early to-morrow. But be tranquil, I have sent for
Beltran, Raquel. He will surely come. He never deserted a friend yet."

"How many men can he muster, Gil?" anxiously asked Raquel.

"Ten or twelve, perhaps. The fact that we are the attacked party, the
men to hold the fortress, is in our favour. I still hope that the Coco
will arrive in time. I hardly think that Escobeda will dare to use
absolute violence--certainly not when he sees the force that I can
gather at Palmacristi, and recognises the moral force of Beltran's being
on my side."

"Oh, Gil! Why did you not send for the yacht before this?" Raquel
descended from her perch and crossed the floor to where Silencio stood.

"Child! I had sent her away to Lambroso to prepare for just such a
moment as this. It was the very day that your note came. She should be
repaired by now. I cannot think what keeps her. I am sure that the
repairs were not so very formidable."

"Do you think that Escobeda could have stopped the Coco, delayed her--?"

"No, hardly, though he may have seen the yacht over there. But after
all, Raquel, we may as well go to the root of the matter now as later.
It may be as well that the yacht is not here. If we should run away, we
might have the fight to make all over again. However, we must act for
the best when the time comes. Have no fear, Raquel, have no fear."

But as Don Gil looked down at the little creature at his side, a
horrible fear surged up within his own heart, and rose to his throat and
nearly choked him. She still raised her eyes anxiously to his.

"And your friend, your relative, that Don Beltran. You are sure that we
may trust him, Gil?"

"Beltran?" Silencio laughed. "I wish that I were as sure of Heaven as of
Beltran's faithfulness. He will be here, never fear. He never deserted a
friend yet. If you awake in the night at the sound of horses' hoofs,
that will be Beltran coming over the hill; do not think of Escobeda. Go
to sleep, and rest in perfect security. If you must think at all, let
your thoughts be of my perfect faith in my friend, who will arrive
before it is light. I wish that I were as sure of Heaven."



XVI


When Felisa had seen Agueda disappear below the hillside she turned to
Beltran.

"What is it, cousin?" asked Felisa, leaning heavily upon his shoulder.

He put his arm round her.

"You must get down, little lady. I have a summons from a friend; I must
go home at once."

"But if I choose not to go home?" said Felisa, pouting.

"All the same, we must go," said Beltran.

"But if I will not go?"

"Then I shall have to carry you. You must go, Felisa, and I must, at
once."

For answer Felisa leant over and looked into the eyes that were so near
her own. She laid her arm round Beltran's shoulders, the faint fragrance
that had no name, but was rather a memory of carefully cared for
_lingerie_, was wafted across his nostrils for the hundredth time. One
could not imagine Felisa without that evanescent thing that was part of
her and yet had no place in her contrivance, hardly any place in her
consciousness.

Beltran took her in his arms and lifted her to the ground. The tree,
released, sprang in air.

"Ah! there goes my stirrup. You must get it for me, Beltran."

The gay scarf, having been utilized as a stirrup, had been left to shake
and shiver high above them, with the tremors of the tree, which was
endeavouring to straighten its bent bark and wood to their normal
upright position.

"I can send for that; we must not wait," said Beltran.

"Send for it, indeed! Do you know that I got the scarf in Naples,
cousin?--that a Princess Pallavicini gave it to me? Send for it, indeed!
Do you think that I would have one of your grimy peons lay his black
finger upon that scarf? You pulled the tree down before, bend it down
again."

For answer, Beltran leaped in air, trying to seize the scarf. He failed
to reach it. Then he climbed the tree, and soon his weight had bent the
slight young sapling to earth again. Felisa sat underneath a ceiba,
watching Beltran's efforts. At each failure she laughed aloud. She was
obviously regretful when finally he released the scarf and handed it to
her.

Beltran urged haste with Felisa, but by one pretext or another she
delayed him.

"Sit down under this tree, and tell me what is in that letter, cousin."

Beltran stood before her.

"It is from my old friend, Silencio; he needs me--"

"I cannot hear, cousin; that mocking-bird sings so loud. Sit down here
and tell me--"

"It is from my friend, Silen--"

"I cannot hear, cousin. You must sit here by me, and tell me all about
it."

Beltran threw himself upon the ground with a sigh. She forced his head
to her knee, and played with the rings of his hair.

"Now tell me, cousin, and then I shall decide the question for you."

Beltran lay in bliss. Delilah had him within her grasp; still there was
firmness in the tone which said:

"I have already decided the question, Sweet. I promised him that I would
go to him when he should need me. The time has come, and I must go
to-night."

"And leave me?" said Felisa, her delicate face clouding under this news.
"And what shall I do if we are attacked while you are away?"

"There is no question of your being attacked, little cousin. Silencio
has an enemy, Escobeda, who, he thinks, will attack him to-morrow at
daylight. In fact, Felisa, you may as well hear the entire story. Then
you will understand why I must go. Silencio is a sort of cousin of mine.
He has married the niece of as great a villain as ever went unhung, and
he, the uncle, Escobeda, will attack Silencio to recover his niece. He
is clearly without the law, for Silencio is married as fast as the padre
can make him. But there may be sharp work; there is no time to get
government aid, and I doubt if under the circumstances it would be
forthcoming. So I must go to Silencio's help." Beltran made a motion as
if to rise.

Felisa now clasped her fingers round his throat. It was the first time
that she had voluntarily made such a demonstration, and Beltran's pulses
quickened under her touch. He relaxed his efforts, turned his face over
in her lap, and kissed the folds of her dress.

"Vida mia, vida mia! you will not keep me," he murmured through a mass
of lace and muslin.

"Indeed, that will I! Do you suppose that I am going to remain at that
lonely casa of yours, quaking in every limb, dreading the sound of each
footstep, while you are away protecting some one else? No, indeed! You
had no right to ask us here, if you meant to go away and leave us to
your cut-throat peons. I will not stay without you."

"But my peons are not cut-throats, Felisa. They will guard you as their
own lives, if I tell them that I must be gone."

"Do you mean to go alone?"

"No, I mean to take half a dozen good men with me, and leave the rest at
San Isidro. There is no cause to protect you, Felisa, little cousin; but
should you need protection, you shall have it."

"I shall not need it, for I will not let you leave me, Beltran. Suppose
that dreadful man, Escobeda, as you call him, becomes angry at seeing
you on the side of your friend, and starts without your knowledge, and
comes to San Isidro. He might take me away in the place of that niece of
his, to force you to get the Señor Silencio to give his niece back to
him."

"What nonsense are you conjuring up, Felisa, child! That is too absurd!
Escobeda's quarrel is with Silencio, not with me. Do not fear, little
one."

"And did I not hear you say that this Señor Escobeda hated your father,
and also hated you?"

"Yes, I did say that," admitted Beltran, reluctantly, as he struggled to
rise without hurting her; "but he will be very careful how he quarrels
openly with me. My friends in the government are as powerful as his
own."

"Well, you cannot go," said Felisa, decisively, "and let that end the
matter."

They went homeward slowly, much as they had come, Felisa delaying
Beltran by some new pretext at every step. She kept a watchful eye upon
him, to see that he did not drop her bridle rein and canter away at the
cross roads.

When they reached the picnic ground they found that Uncle Noé had
departed, and Beltran must, perforce, see his cousin safely within the
precincts of San Isidro. She did not leave the veranda after
dismounting, but seated herself upon the top step, which was now shaded
from the sun, and watched every movement of master and servants. Beltran
had disappeared within doors, but he could not leave the place on foot.
After a while he emerged from his room; behind him hobbled old Juana,
carrying a small portmanteau. As he came toward the steps, Felisa arose
and stood in his way.

"Why do you go to-night?" she said.

"Because he needs me at daybreak."

"I need you more." Felisa looked out from under the fringe of pale
sunshine. "You will not leave me, Beltran--cousin?"

"It is only for a few hours, dear child."

"Is this Silencio more to you than I am, then, Beltran?"

"Good God! No, child, but I shall return before you have had your dip in
the river."

"I do not like to be left here alone, cousin. I want you--"

"I _must_ go, and at once, Felisa. Silencio depends upon me. Good by,
good by! You will see me at breakfast."

Felisa arose. The time for pleading was past.

"You shall _not_ go," said she, holding his sleeve with her small
fingers.

"I must!" He pulled the sleeve gently away. She clasped it again
persistently. Then she said, resolutely and with emphasis, "So sure as
you do, I take the first steamer for home."

"You would not do that?"

"That is my firm intention."

"But Silencio needs me."

"I need you more."

Felisa withdrew her small hands from his sleeve and started down the
veranda, toward her room. Her little shoes tick-tacked as she walked.

He called after her, "Where are you going?"

"To pack my trunks," said Felisa, "if you can spare that girl of
yours--that Agueda--to help me."

A throb of joy flew upward in the heart of Agueda, whose nervous ear was
awake now to all sounds.

"Do you really mean it, Felisa?"

"I certainly do mean it," answered Felisa. "If you go away from me now,
I will take the first steamer home. To-morrow, if one sails."

"And suppose that I refuse you the horses, the conveyance, the
servants--"

Felisa turned and looked scornfully at Beltran.

"I suppose that you are a gentleman first of all," she said. "You could
not refuse."

"No, I could not."

"And you will remain?"

Beltran dropped his head on his breast.

"I will remain," he said.

Beltran drew his breath sharply inward.

"It is the first time," he added.

"The first time?" She looked at him questioningly.

"Did I speak aloud? Yes, the first time, Felisa, that I was ever false
to a friend. He counts on me; I promised--"

"Men friends, I suppose. What about women? I count on you, you have
promised _me_--"

Agueda threw herself face downward on her bed and stopped her ears with
deep buried fingers.



XVII


Silencio passed the night in wakeful watching and planning. Raquel slept
the innocent sleep of a careless child. Gil had promised that all would
come out well. She trusted him.

Very early in the morning the scouts whom Silencio had placed along the
boundaries of his estate were called in, and collected within the patio
of the casa. The outer shutters of the windows were closed and bolted;
the two or three glass windows, which spoke of the innovation which
civilization brings in its train, were protected by their heavy squares
of plank. The doors were locked, and the casa at Palmacristi was made
ready for a siege.

Silencio awakened Raquel as the first streak of dawn crept up from the
horizon. Over there to the eastward trembled and paled that opalescent
harbinger which told her that day was breaking. She looked up with a
child's questioning eyes.

"It is time, sweetheart. Now listen, Raquel. Pack a little bag, and be
ready for a journey."

Raquel pouted.

"Cannot Guillermina pack my bag?"

"No, not even Guillermina may pack your bag. When it is ready, set it
just inside your door. If you do not need it, so much the better. You
may open your windows toward the sea, but not those that look toward
Troja."

Silencio flung wide the heavy shutter as he spoke. Raquel glanced out to
sea.

"Oh, Gil! where is the Coco?"

"I wish I knew. She should be here."

"Are we to go on board, Gil?"

"Unfortunately, even should she arrive now, she is a half-hour too late.
Now hasten, I will give you fifteen minutes, no more."

"We might have gone out in the boat, Gil. Oh! why did you not call me?"

Silencio pointed along the path to the right. Some of Escobeda's men,
armed with machetes and shotguns, stood just at the edge of the forest,
where at any moment they could seek protection behind the trees. They
looked like ghosts in the early dawn.

"And where is your friend, Beltran?"

Silencio shook his head.

"He cannot have received my message," he said.

"And are the men of Palmacristi too great cowards to fight those
wretches?"

Silencio started as if he had been struck. He did not answer for a
moment; then he said slowly: "Raquel, do you know what we should be
doing were you not here?--I and my men?"

He spoke coldly. Raquel had never heard these tones before.

"We should be out there hunting those rascals to the death, no matter
how they outnumber us; but I dare not trust you between this and the
shore. My scouts tell me that they have kept up picket duty all night.
Escobeda expected the Coco back this morning; at all events, he was
ready for our escape in that way. The orders of those men are to take
you at any cost. Should I be killed, your protection would be gone. I am
a coward, but for you only, Raquel, for you only."

The young wife looked down. The colour mounted to her eyes. She drew
closer to her husband, but for once he did not respond readily to her
advances. He was hurt to the core.

"Get yourself ready at once," he said. "I will give you fifteen minutes,
no more. We have wasted much time already."

Raquel hardly waited for Silencio to close the door. She began to dress
at once, her trembling fingers refusing to tie strings or push the
buttons through the proper holes. As she hurriedly put on her everyday
costume, she glanced out of the window to see if in the offing she could
discover the Coco. The little yacht was at that very moment hastening
with all speed toward her master, but a point of land on the north hid
her completely from Raquel's view.

"Although he will not own it, he evidently intends to carry me away in
the yacht." Raquel smiled. "So much the better; it will be another
honeymoon."

When Silencio left Raquel, he ran out to the patio. On the way thither
he met old Guillermina with a tray on which was her mistress's coffee.
Upon the table in the patio veranda--that used by the servants--a hasty
meal was laid. Silencio broke a piece of cassava bread and drank the cup
of coffee which was poured out for him, and as he drank he glanced
upward. Andres was standing on the low roof, on the inner side of the
chimney of stone which carried off the kitchen smoke. He turned and
looked down at Don Gil.

"The Señor Escobeda approaches along the gran' camino, Señor."

Silencio set down his cup and ran up the escalera. He walked out to the
edge of the roof, and shaded his eyes with his hand.

"Yes, Andres; it is true. And I see that he has some gentlemen with
him." He turned and called down to the patio.

"Ask Guillermina if her mistress has had her coffee."

As he faced about a shot rang out. The bullet whistled near his head.

"Go down, Señor, for the love of God!" said Andres.

The company of horsemen were riding at a quick pace, and were now within
hearing.

Silencio waved his arm defiantly.

"Ah! then it is you, Señor Escobeda! I see whom you have with you. Is
that you, Pedro Geredo? Is that you, Marcoz Absalon? You two will have
something to answer for when I report this outrage at the government
town."

Escobeda had ridden near to the enclosure. His head was shaking with
rage. His earrings glittered in the morning sun, his bloodshot eyes
flashed fire. He raised his rifle and aimed it at Silencio.

"You know what I have come for, Señor. Send my niece out to me, and we
shall retire at once."

"How dare you take that name upon your lips?" Silencio was livid with
rage. Another shot was fired. This time it ploughed its way through
Silencio's sleeve.

"Shall I kill him, Señor?" Andres brought his escopeta to his shoulder;
he aimed directly at Escobeda. "I can kill him without trouble, Señor,
and avoid further argument. It is as the Señor says!"

Silencio looked anxiously seaward. No sign of the Coco!

"Not until I give the word, Andres." And then to Escobeda, "I defy you!
I defy you!"

Shots began to fall upon the casa from the guns of Escobeda's impudent
followers. Escobeda leaped his horse into the enclosure; his men
followed suit. Silencio saw them ride in lawless insolence along the
side of the building, and then heard the hollow ring of the horses'
hoofs upon the veranda. He ran down the escalera. The mob were battering
at the front door with the butt ends of their muskets.

Raquel appeared in the patio, pale and terrified.

"Gil! Gil!" she cried, "they are coming in! They will take me!"

"Coward! Come out and fight," was the cry from the outside.

"I am a coward for you, dear." He seized her wrists. "To the
counting-house!" he whispered, "to the counting-house!" As they ran she
asked, "Is there any sign of the Coco?"

"None," answered Silencio; "but we could not reach her now."

Together they flew through the hallways, across the chambers, where the
blows were sounding loud upon the wooden wall of the house, upon the
shutters, and the doors. They ran down the far passage and reached the
counting-house door. Silencio stumbled over something near the sill.

"Ah! your bag," he said. "I told Guillermina to set it there."

He opened the door with the key held ready, and together they entered.
Silencio tore the rug from the middle of the room, and disclosed to
Raquel's amazed eyes a door sunken in the floor. He raised it by its
heavy ring. A cold blast of air flowed upward into the warm interior.
Raquel had thought the room cool before; now she shivered as if with a
chill. Silencio pushed her gently toward the opening. "Go down," he
said.

Raquel gazed downward at the black depths.

"I cannot go alone, Gil." She shuddered.

"Turn round, dear Heart; put your feet on the rungs of the ladder, so!
Ah! what was that?" Silencio glanced anxiously toward the open doorway.
A heavy cracking of the stout house-door showed to what lengths Escobeda
and his followers were prepared to venture.

"Go, go! At the bottom is a lantern; light it if you can, while I close
the trap-door."

Raquel shrank at the mouth of this black opening, which seemed to yawn
for them. The damp smell of mould, the cold, the gloom, were sudden and
dreadful reminders of the tomb which this might become. She imagined it
a charnel house. She dreaded to descend for fear that she should place
her feet upon a corpse, or lay her fingers on the fleshless bones of a
skeleton.

"Courage, my Heart! Courage! Go down! Do not delay."

At the kindness of his tone, Raquel, taking courage, began to descend.
Terrible thoughts filled her mind. What if Escobeda and his men should
discover their retreat, and cut off escape at their destination? What
that destination was she knew not. Her eyes tried vainly to pierce the
mysterious gloom. It was as if she looked into the blackness of a
cavern. She turned and gazed for a moment back into the homelike
interior which she was leaving, perhaps for all time. The loud blows
upon the house-door were the accompaniment of her terrified thoughts.

Raquel descended nervously, her trembling limbs almost refusing to
support her. She reached the bottom of the ladder, and by the aid of the
dim light from above, she found the lantern and the matches, which
Silencio's thoughtful premonition had placed there, ready for her
coming. As she lighted the lantern she heard a terrific crash.

Silencio, with a last glance at the open door of the counting-house,
which he had forgotten to close, now lowered the trap-door, and joined
Raquel in the dark passage. He stood and listened for a moment. He heard
a footstep on the floor above, and taking Raquel's hand in his,
together they sped along the path which he hoped would lead her to
safety.

"Oh, child!" he said, in sharp, panting words, as they breathlessly
pursued the obscure way, "for the first time I have given you proof of
my love."

Raquel turned to look at him. She saw his dark face revealed fitfully by
the flashes of the lantern swinging from his hand.

"Here am I flying from that villain, when I ache to seize him by the
throat and choke the very breath of life out of him. Here am I running
away, _running away!_--do you hear me, Raquel?--while they, behind
there, are calling me coward. But should he take you--"

Raquel stumbled and almost fell at these dreadful words.

"Gil, Gil, dearest! do not speak of it; perhaps he is coming even now
behind us."

At the dreadful suspicion she fell against the wall, dragging him with
her. She clung to him in terror, impeding his progress.

"This is not the time to give way, Raquel." Silencio spoke sternly.
"Call all your will to your aid now. Run ahead of me, while I stand a
moment here."

Raquel gathered all her resolution, and without further question fled
again upon her way. Silencio waited a moment, facing the steps which
they had just descended, and listened intently. But all that he heard
was the sound of Raquel's flying feet. When he was convinced that no one
was following them, he turned again and ran quickly after Raquel. He
easily gained upon her.

"I hear nothing, Raquel. Do not be so frightened."

At these words the changeable child again regained confidence.

"You have heard of a man building better than he knew," he said. He
waved the lantern toward the sides of the tunnel. "There were wild tales
of smuggling in the old days--"

The colour had returned to Raquel's cheek. She laughed a little as she
asked:

"Did your grandfather smuggle, Gil?"

"He was no better and no worse than other men; who knows what--we will
talk later of that. Come!"

He took her hand in his, and again together they fled along the passage.
As no sound of pursuing feet came to their ears, confidence began to
return. They were like two children running a race. Silencio laughed
aloud, and as they got further from the entrance to the passage he
whistled, he sang, he shouted! The sound of his laughter chilled the
heart of Raquel with fear.

"Gil," she pleaded, "they will hear you. They will know where we have
gone." She laid her fingers on his lips as they ran, and he playfully
bit them, as he had seen her close her teeth upon El Rey's.

The passage was a long one. Raquel thought that it would never end.

"Have we come more than two miles, Gil?" she asked.

Raquel was not used to breathless flights in the dark. Silencio laughed.

"Poor little girl! Does it seem so long, then? When we have reached the
further end we shall have come just three hundred feet."

At last, at last! the further door was reached. Silencio unlocked it and
pushed it open. This was rendered somewhat difficult by the sand which
had been blown about the entrance since last he had brushed it away. A
little patient work, and the two squeezed themselves through the narrow
opening.

"Hark! I hear footsteps," whispered Raquel, her face pale with renewed
terror.

Silencio stood still and listened.

"You are right," he said; "they are behind us. Take the lantern and hold
it for me close to the keyhole." He began pushing the door into place.

She took the light from him and held it as he directed.

"Hold it steady, child. Steady!--Do not tremble so! I must see! I
_must!_ steady!"

Raquel's hand shook as if with a palsy.

The footsteps came nearer. To her they sounded from out the darkness
like the approach of death.

"Hasten!" she whispered, "hasten!" She held the lantern against the
frame of the solid door and pressed her shoulder against it, that her
nervousness should not agitate the flame, whispering "Hasten!" the while
to Silencio, whose trembling fingers almost refused to do this most
necessary work. At last, with a bang and a sharp twist of the key, the
heavy door was closed and locked.

"Do you see an iron bar anywhere, Raquel, in the bushes there on the
left?"

She ran to the side of the tunnel, which still arched above them here.
Silencio was close to her, and at once laid his hand upon the strong
piece of metal. He sprang back to the door, and slipped the bar into the
rust-worn but still faithful hasps.

Then he turned, seized her hand again, and led her hurriedly along
between the high banks. It was still dark where they stood, so overgrown
was the deep cut, but Silencio knew the way. He took the lantern from
Raquel's hand, extinguished it, and set it upon the ground. "We shall
need this no more," he said.

The trees and vines growing from the embankment, which nearly closed
overhead, were interwoven like a green basket-work, and almost shut out
the daylight. Silencio took Raquel's hand in his and led her along the
narrow path. The light became stronger with every step.

Suddenly Raquel stopped short.

"What was that, Gil?"

"What, dearest?"

"That! Do you not hear it? It sounds like a knocking behind us."

Silencio stood still for a moment, listening to the sounds.

"Yes," he said at last, "I do hear it. It is some of those villains
pursuing us. Hasten, Raquel. When they find the door is closed, they
will return to the casa to cut off our retreat."

Raquel found time to say:

"And the poor servants left behind, will they--"

"They are safe, child. You are the quarry they seek. Escobeda does not
exchange shots to no purpose."

A few more steps, and Silencio parted the thicket ahead. Raquel passed
through in obedience to his commanding nod, and emerged into the
blinding glare of a tropical morning. Beneath her feet was the hot,
fine sand of the seashore. A few yards away a small boat was resting,
her stern just washed by the ripples. Raquel turned and looked backward.
The mass of trees and vines hid the bank from view, the bank in its turn
concealed the casa. As she stood thus she heard again a slow knocking,
but much fainter than before. It was like the distant sound of heavy
blows.

"Thank God! they are knocking still," said Silencio. "Run to the boat,
child, quickly."

Raquel shrank with fear.

"They will see me from the house," she said.

"You cannot see the beach from the casa; have you forgotten? Run, run!
For the boat! the boat!"

Obeying him, she sped across the sand to the little skiff.

"The middle seat!" he cried.

He followed her as swiftly, and with all his strength pushed the light
weight out from the shore, springing in as the bow parted with the
beach. The thrust outward brought them within sight of the house. For a
moment they were not discovered, and he had shipped the oars and was
rowing rapidly toward the open sea before they were seen.

It required a moment for the miscreants to appreciate the fact that the
two whom they had thought hidden in the house had escaped in some
unknown way. Then a cry of rage went up from many throats, and one man
raised his rifle to his shoulder, but the peon next him threw up the
muzzle, and the shot flew harmless in the air.

It is one thing to fire at the bidding of a master, on whose shoulders
will rest all the blame, and quite another to aim deliberately at a
person who is quite within his rights--you peon, he gran' Señor.
Escobeda was nowhere to be seen. There was no one to give an order, to
take responsibility. The force was demoralized. The men formed in a
small group, and watched the little skiff as it shot out to sea,
impelled by the powerful arm and will of Silencio. As he rowed Silencio
strained his eyes northward, and perceived what was not as yet visible
from the shore. He saw the Coco just rounding the further
point--distant, it is true, but safety for Raquel lay in her black and
shining hull.


When old Guillermina saw Don Gil and the Señora retreat from the patio
and cross the large chamber, she knew at once their errand. Had she not
lived here since the days of the old Don Oviedo? What tales could she
not have told of the secret passage to the sea! But her lips were
sealed. Pride of family, the family of her master, was the padlock which
kept them silent. How many lips have been glued loyally together for
that same reason!

As Guillermina crossed the large chamber she heard the blows raining
upon the outer shutters and the large door. She heard Escobeda's voice
calling, "Open! open!" as he pounded the stout planking with the butt
end of his rifle. The firing had ceased. Even had it not, Guillermina
knew well that the shots were not aimed at her. She had withstood a
siege in the old Don Oviedo's time, and again in the time of the old Don
Gil, and from the moment that Silencio had brought his young wife home
she had expected a third raid upon the casa.

Guillermina walked in a leisurely manner. She passed through the
intervening passages, and found the counting-house door open. This she
had hardly expected. She joyously entered the room and closed the door.
Then her native lassitude gave way to a haste to which her unaccustomed
members almost refused their service. She quickly drew the rug over the
sunken trap-door, smoothed the edges, and rearranged the room, so that
it appeared as if it had not lately been entered. It was her step
overhead which Don Gil and Raquel had heard at first, and which had
caused them so much uneasiness.

As Guillermina turned to leave the room, she heard a crash. Escobeda,
having failed to break in the great entrance door, had, with the aid of
some of his men, pried off a shutter. The band came pouring into the
house and ran through all the rooms, seeking for the flown birds. As
Guillermina opened the door of the counting-house to come out, key in
hand, she met Escobeda upon the threshold. His face was livid. He held
his machete over his head as if to strike.

"So this is their hiding-place," he screamed in her ear.

He rushed past her, and entered the counting-house. Its quiet seclusion
and peaceful appearance filled him with astonishment, and caused him to
stop short. But he was not deceived for long. He tore away the green
hangings, hoping to find a door. Instead a wall of iron stared him in
the face. He ran all round the room, feeling of the panels or plates,
but nowhere could he discover the opening which he sought. Each plate
was firmly screwed and riveted to its neighbour. He turned and shook his
fist in Guillermina's face.

"You shall tell me where they have gone," he howled, in fury, and then
poured forth a volley of oaths and obscenities, such as no one but a
Spaniard could have combined in so few sentences.

Guillermina faced him, her hands on her fat hips.

"The Señor should not excite himself. It is bad to excite oneself.
There was the woodcutter over at La Floresta--"

"To hell with the woodcutter! Where is that Truhan?" Then Escobeda began
to curse Guillermina. He cursed her until he foamed at the mouth, his
gold earrings shaking in his ears, his eyes bloodshot, his lips sending
flecks of foam upon her gown. He cursed her father and her mother, her
grandfather and her grandmother, her great-grandfather and
great-grandmother, which was quite a superfluity in the way of cursing,
as Guillermina had no proof positive that she had ever possessed more
than one parent. He cursed her brothers and sisters, her aunts, her
uncles, her cousins, her nephews and nieces.

"The Señor wastes some very good breath," remarked Guillermina in a
perfectly imperturbable manner. "I have none of those people."

Escobeda turned on her in renewed frenzy. The vile words rolled out of
his mouth like a stream over high rocks. He took a fresh breath and
cursed anew. As he had begun with her ancestors, so he continued with
her descendants, the children whom she had borne, and those whom she was
likely to bear.

"The good God save us!" ejaculated old Guillermina. And still Escobeda
cursed on, his fury now falling upon her relationships in all their
ramifications, and in all their branches.

"Ay de mi! The gracious Señor wastes his time. If the gracious Señor
should rest a little, he could start with a fresh breath."

As Guillermina spoke, she rearranged the curtain folds, smoothed and
shook the silken pillows, and laid them straight and in place. She kept
her station as near the middle of the sunken door as possible.

Again he thundered at her the question as to where the fugitives had
found refuge. Guillermina, brave outwardly, was trembling inwardly for
the safety of her beloved Don Gil. The young Señora was all very well,
she might grow to care for her in time, but her little Gil, whom she had
taken from the doctor's arms, whom she had nursed on her knee with her
own little Antonio, who lay under the trees on the hillside yonder--she
must gain time.

"Does not the Señor know that the Señor Don Gil Silencio-y-Estrada and
the little Señora have gone to heaven?"

Escobeda stopped short in his vituperation.

"Dead? He was afraid, then! He killed her." Escobeda laughed cruelly.
"If I have lost her, so has he."

"Ay, ay, they have flown away, flown to heaven, the Señores. The good
God cares for his own. I wonder now who cares for the Señor Escobeda!"

With the scream of a wild beast he flew at her, and she, fearing
positive injury, sprang aside. Escobeda's spur caught in the rug and
tore it from its place on the floor. He stumbled and fell, pulling the
green and white carpet after him. Concealment was no longer possible;
the trap-door was laid bare. With a fiendish cry of delight he flew at
the ring in the sunken door.

"To hell! to hell!" he shouted. "That is where they have gone; not to
heaven, but to hell."

Escobeda had heard rumours all his life of the secret passage to the
sea--the passage which had never been located by the curious. At last
the mystery was solved. He raised the door, and without a word to
Guillermina, plunged into the black depths. The absence of a light was
lost sight of by him in his unreasoning rage. Almost before his fingers
had disappeared from view, Guillermina had lowered the trap-door into
its place in the most gentle manner.

If one is performing a good action, it is best to make as little noise
about it as possible. As she fitted the great iron bar across the
opening, there came a knocking upon the under side of the iron square.

"Give me a light! A light! you she-devil! A light, I say."

Guillermina went softly to the door of the counting-house and closed it
to prevent intrusion. She could hear Escobeda's followers running
riotously all over the casa. Her time would be short, that she knew. She
knelt down on the floor and put her lips close to the crack in the
trap-door.

"And he would curse my mother, would the Señor! And my little Antonio,
who lies buried on the hill yonder."

"A light!" he shouted, "a light! she-devil, a light, I say!"

"May the Señor see no light till he sees the flames of hell," answered
Guillermina. "The Señor must pardon me, but that is my respectful wish."

She smoothed the innocent-looking carpet in place, replaced the chairs,
and went out, locking the door after her.

"Let us hope," said she quietly, "that my muchacho has barred the door
at the further end of the passage." Looking for a wide crack, she found
it, and dropped the key through it.

This is why the disused passage is always called Escobeda's Walk.

Sometimes, when Don Gil and the little Señora sit and sip the
straw-coloured tea at five o'clock of an afternoon, the teapot, grown
more battered and dingy, the lid fitting less securely than of yore, the
Señora sets down her cup, and taking little Raquel upon her knee, holds
her close to her heart, and says:

"Do you hear that knocking, Gil? There is certainly a rapping on the
counting-house floor."

"I hear nothing," answers Silencio, as he gives a large lump of sugar to
the grandson of the brown lizard. And for that matter, there is an
ancient proverb which says that "None are so deaf as those who will not
hear."



XVIII


Uncle Adan had been taken ill. He was suffering from the exhalations of
the swamp land through which he must travel to clear the river field. He
had that and the cacao patch both on his mind. There was a general air
of carelessness about the plantation of San Isidro which had never
obtained before since Agueda's memory of the place. The peons and
workmen lounged about the outhouses and stables, lazily doing the work
that was absolutely needed, but there was no one to give orders, and
there was no one who seemed to long for them. It appeared to be a
general holiday.

Uncle Adan lay and groaned in his bed at the further end of the veranda,
and wondered if the cacao seed had spoiled, or if it would hold good for
another day. When Agueda begged him to get some sleep, or to take his
quinine in preparation for the chill that must come, he only turned his
face to the wall and groaned that the place was going to rack and ruin
since those northerners had come down to the island. "I have seen the
Señor plant the cacao," said Agueda. "He had the Palandrez and the
Troncha and the Garcia-Garcito with him. He ordered, and they worked. I
went with them sometimes." Agueda sighed as she remembered those happy
days.

Uncle Adan turned his aching bones over, so that he could raise his
weary eyes to Agueda's.

"That is all true," he said. "The Señor can plant, no Colono better. But
one cannot plant the cacao and play the guitar at one and the same
time."

Agueda hung her head as if the blame of right belonged to her.

"You act as if I blamed you, and I do," said Uncle Adan, shivering in
the preliminary throes of his hourly chill. "You who have influence over
the Señor! You should exert it at once. The place is going to rack and
ruin, I tell you!"

Agueda turned and went out of the door. She was tired of the subject.
There was no use in arguing with Uncle Adan, either with regard to the
quinine or the visitors. She went to her own room, and took her hat from
the peg. When again she came out upon the veranda, she had a long stick
in one hand and a pail in the other. Then she visited the kitchen.

"Juana," she said, "fill this pail with water and tell Pablo and Eduardo
Juan that I need them at once."

She waited while this message was sent to the recalcitrant peons, who
lounged lazily toward the House at her summons.

"De Señorit' send fo' me?" asked Pablo.

"I sent for both of you," said Agueda. "Why have you done no cacao
planting to-day?"

"Ain' got no messages," replied Pablo, who seemed to have taken upon
himself the rôle of general responder.

"You know very well that it is the messages that make no difference.
Bring your machetes, both of you," ordered Agueda, "and come with me to
the hill patch."

For answer the peons drew their machetes lazily from their sheaths.

"I knew that you had them, of course. Come, then! I am going to the
field. Where is the cacao, Pablo?"

"Wheah Ah leff 'em," answered Pablo.

"And where is that?"

"In de hill patch, Seño'it'."

"And did some one, perhaps, mix the wood ashes with them?"

Pablo turned to Eduardo Juan, open-mouthed, as if to say, "Did you?"

Agueda also turned to Eduardo Juan. "Well! well!" she exclaimed
impatiently, "were the wood ashes mixed, then, with the cacao seeds?"

Eduardo Juan shifted from one foot to the other, looked away at the
river, and said, "Ah did not ogsarve."

"You did not observe. Oh, dear! oh, dear! Why can you never do as the
Señor tells you? What will become of the plantation if you do not obey
what the Señor tells you?"

"Seño' ain' say nuttin'," said Eduardo Juan, with a sly smile.

Agueda looked away. "I am not speaking of the Señor. I mean the Señor
Adan," said she. "You know that he has charge of all; that he had charge
long before--come, then! let us go."

As Agueda descended the steps of the veranda, she heard Beltran's voice
calling to her. She turned and looked back. Don Beltran was standing in
the open door of the salon. His pleasant smile seemed to say that he had
just been indulging in agreeable words, agreeable thoughts.

"Agueda," said Beltran, "bring my mother's cross here, will you? I want
to show it to my cousin."

Agueda turned and came slowly up the steps again. She went at once to
her own room and opened the drawer where the diamonds lay in their
ancient case of velvet and leather. The key which opened this drawer
hung with the household bunch at her waist. The drawer had not been
opened for some time, and the key grated rustily in the lock. Agueda
opened the drawer, took the familiar thing in her hand, and returning
along the veranda, handed it to Beltran. Then she ran quickly down the
steps to join the waiting peons. But Felisa's appreciative scream as the
case was opened reached her, as well as the words which followed.

"And you let that girl take charge of such a magnificent thing as that!
Why, cousin, it must mean a fortune."

"Who? Agueda?" said Beltran. "I would trust Agueda with all that I
possess. Agueda knew my mother. She was here in my mother's time."

The motherly instinct, which is in the ascendant with most women, arose
within the heart of Agueda.

"Come, Palandrez, come, Eduardo Juan," said she. They could hardly keep
pace with her. If there was no one else to work for him while he dallied
with his pretty cousin, she would see that his interests did not suffer.

"Why, then, do you not go up there in the cool of the evening,
Palandrez? You could get an hour's work done easily after the sun goes
behind the little rancho hill."

"It is scairt up deyah," said Palandrez. "De ghos' ob de ole Señora waak
an' he waak. Ain' no one offer deyah suvvices up on de hill when it git
'long 'bout daak."

Agueda went swiftly toward the hill patch, the peons sulkily following
her. They did not wish to obey, but they did not dare to rebel. Arrived
at her destination, she turned to Pablo, who was in advance of Eduardo
Juan.

"Where, then, is the pail of seed, Pablo?"

Pablo, without answer, began to send his eyes roaming over and across
the field. Eduardo Juan, preferring to think that it was no business of
his, leaned against a tree-trunk and let his eyes rest on the ground at
his feet. As these two broken reeds seemed of no practical use, Agueda
began to skirt the field, and soon she came upon the pail, hidden behind
a stump.

"Here it is, Eduardo Juan," she called. "Begin to dig your holes, you
and Pablo, and I will--_oh!_" This despairing exclamation closed the
sentence, and ended all hope of work for the day. Agueda saw, as she
spoke, that the pail swarmed with ants. She pushed her stick down among
the shiny brown seed, and discovered no preventive in the form of the
necessary wood ashes. The seed was spoiled.

"It is no use, Pablo," she said. "Come and see these ants, you that take
no interest in the good of the Señor." She turned and walked dejectedly
down the hill. Pablo turned to Eduardo Juan.

He laughed under his breath.

"De Seño' taike no intrus' in hees own good."

"Seed come from Palmacristi; mighty hard git seed dis time o' yeah,"
answered Eduardo Juan, with a hopeful chuckle. If no more seed were to
be had, then no more planting could be done.

Later in the evening, as Agueda went toward the kitchen, she passed by
Felisa's doorway. A glimpse was forced upon her of the interior of the
pretty room and its occupant. Felisa was seated before the mirror. She
had donned a gown the like of which Agueda had never seen. The waist did
not come all the way up to the throat, but was cut out in a sort of
hollow, before and behind, for Agueda saw the shoulders which were
toward her, quite bare of covering, and in the mirror she caught the
reflection of maidenly charms which in her small world were not a part
of daily exhibit. Agueda stopped suddenly.

"Oh, Señorita!" she exclaimed under her breath. "Does the Señorita know
that her door is open? Let me close it, and the shutter on the other
side. I will run round there in a minute. Some one might see the
Señorita; people may be passing along the veranda at any moment."

Felisa gave a shrill and merry laugh.

"People might see! Why, my good girl, don't you know that is just why we
wear such gowns, that people may see? Come and fasten this thing. Isn't
it lovely against my neck?"

Agueda could not but admit to her secret soul that it was lovely
against Felisa's neck. But she coloured as she entered and closed the
door carefully behind her. She had seen nothing like this, except in
those abandoned picture papers that came sometimes from the States, or
from France, to Don Beltran, and then, as often as not, she hid them
that she might not see him looking at them. She could not bear to have
him look at them. She felt--

"Open the door, that's a good girl! There! Are you sure that the catch
is secure? These beauties were my aunt's. See how they become me. I
would not lose them for the world. Oh! had I only had them before."

"Are--are--they--has the Señor given them perhaps--to--to--"

"Well, not exactly, Agueda, good girl; but some day, who knows--there!"
Felisa made a pirouette and sank in a low curtsey on the bare floor,
showing just the point of a pink satin toe. "See how they glitter, even
in the light of these candles. Imagine them in a ball-room--Agueda, and
me in them! Now I must go and show my cousin. Open the door. Do you not
hear--open the--"

"The Señorita is never going to show herself to the Señor in such a gown
as that! What will the Señor say? The Señorita will never--"

But Felisa had pushed past Agueda, and was half-way down the veranda.

The thoughts that flashed through Agueda's mind were natural ones. She
had honestly done her best to keep the Señorita from disgracing herself
in the Señor's eyes, but she would have her way. She had gone to her own
destruction. There was a quickening of Agueda's pulses. Ah! Now he would
turn to her again. He could not bear any sign of immodesty in a woman.
He had often said to Agueda that that was her chief charm, her modesty.
He had called her "Little Prude," and laughed when she blushed. Was it
to be wondered at that Agueda rejoiced at Felisa's coming defeat, at her
imminent discomfiture, the moment that Beltran should see her? She stood
in the doorway of Felisa's room, watching the fairy-like figure as it
lightly danced like a will-o'-the-wisp down the dark veranda's length,
flashing out like a firefly as it passed an opening where there was a
light within, going out in the darkness between the doors, still keeping
up its resemblance to the _ignis fatuus_.

Before Felisa reached the salon Beltran came out to discover why his
charmer had absented herself for so long a time. Agueda caught the look
in his eyes, as he stood, almost aghast at the meretricious loveliness
of the little creature before him. He gazed and gazed at her. Was it in
disgust? Alas! no. Poor Agueda! Rapture shone from his eyes. He opened
his arms. But Felisa eluded him and danced round the corner of the
veranda.

"You pretty thing! You pretty, you lovely, you adorable thing!" she
heard Beltran exclaim, as utterly fascinated, he followed the small
siren in her tantalizing flight.



XIX


That succession of events designated as Time passed rapidly or slowly,
as was the fate of the beneficiary or the sufferer from its flight or
its delay. In some cases the milestones seemed leagues apart, in others
but a short foot of space separated them.

To Beltran the hours of the night dragged slowly by, when, as was often
the case, he lay half awake in a delirious dream of joy, longing for
dawn to break the gloom that he might come again within the magic of
that presence which had changed the entire world for him.

To Agueda the hours of the night flew on wings. As she heard the crowing
of the near and distant cocks answering each other from coloñia or river
patch, or conuco, she sighed to herself. "It is nearly four o'clock,
soon it will be five, then six, and the next stroke, oh, God! seven!"
For then would the cheery voice which could no longer wait call from the
veranda, "How are you this morning, little cousin?" and the answer from
that dainty interior would be, "Quite well, Cousin Beltran, if the
cocks could be persuaded not to roost directly under the floor of my
room, and keep me awake half the night."

Then Agueda must attend to the early breakfast. Trays must be sent to
the rooms of the visitors, and for two hours would the Señor impatiently
pace the veranda or the home enclosure, awaiting the reappearance of his
goddess.

There was no sign of the wearing effect of sleeplessness on the
shell-like face when that important little lady appeared upon the
veranda, clothed in some wonderful arrangement of diaphanous material,
which was to Beltran's vision as the stage manager's dream of the
unattainable in costume. With the joyous greeting there was offered a
jasmine or allemanda flower or bougainvellia bracht for the girdle
bouquet, which often Beltran assisted in arranging, as was a cousin's
right; and in return, if Felisa was very good-natured, there followed
the placing of a corresponding bud or blossom in Beltran's buttonhole by
those small, plump fingers, loaded down with their wealth of shining
rings.

It was at this time that Agueda received a shock which, as a preliminary
to her final fate, more than all conveyed to her mind how things were
going. It was early morning. Juana had brought to Agueda's room the
fresh linen piled high in the old yellow basket. Together they laid the
articles on chairs and table, selecting from the pile those that needed
a few stitches. Agueda sat herself down by the window to mend. She took
up her needle and threaded it, then let her hands fall in her lap, as
had become her custom of late. Her head was turned to the grove outside,
and her gaze rested among the leaves and penetrated their vistas without
perceiving anything in grove or trocha.

She had heard Beltran moving about in his room, but he had thrown the
door wide and gone whistling down the veranda toward that latest goal of
his hopes. She heard the gay greeting, and the distant faint response,
then a laugh at some sally of fun. Agueda looked wearily at the pile of
starched cleanliness, and took up her work again. How hateful the
drudgery seemed! Before this--in other days--time was--when--

It was a homely bit of sewing, a shirt of the Señor's, which needed
buttons. This recalled to Agueda that the last week's linen had been
neglected by her. It had been put away as it came from Juana's hands.
With sudden decision she determined now to face the inevitable, to
accept the world as it had become to her, all in a moment, as it were.

Agueda arose and dropped the linen from her lap to the floor. She had
never been taught careful ways. All that she knew of such things had
come to her by intuition, and her action showed the dominant strain of
her blood--not the exactness of a trained servant, but the carelessness
of a petted child of fortune. She stepped over the white mass at her
feet and went to the door that led from her room to Beltran's. She
walked as one who has come to a sudden determination. Of late she had
not been there, except to perform some such service as the present
moment demanded. She seized the knob in her hand, and turned it round,
pressing the weight of her young body against the door. Instead of
bursting hurriedly into the room, as was her wont, she found the door
unyielding. Again she tried it, twisting the knob this way and that.

She was about to call upon one of the men to come to her aid, as the
door had stuck fast, when suddenly she stopped, standing where the
exertion had left her. Her colour fled, her lips grew bloodless, she
leaned dizzy and sick against the door. On the floor, at her feet, she
had caught sight of a small shaving that had pushed itself through the
crack underneath. She put her hand to her side as if a physical pain had
seized her. She ran to the door of her room which opened upon the outer
and more secluded veranda. Passing through this, she walked with
trembling steps to the doorway of Beltran's room. She could hear his gay
badinage down at the end of the house, where she knew that Felisa was
sipping her chocolate inside her room, while he called impatiently to
know when she would be ready for the excursion of the day.

Agueda entered Beltran's room and walked swiftly to the communicating
door. Ah! it was as she had feared. Some shavings upon the floor, and a
new bolt, put there she knew not when, perhaps when she was up in the
field on the previous day, attested to the verity of her suspicion. What
did Beltran fear? That, remembering the old-time love and confidence,
she should take advantage of it and of her near proximity, and when all
the coloñia slept, go to him and endeavour to recall those past days,
try to rekindle the love so nearly dead? Nearly dead! It must be quite
so, when he could remind her thus cruelly, if silently, that a new order
of things now reigned at San Isidro.

Agueda appreciated, now perhaps for the first time fully, that her life
had changed, that she had become now as the Nadas and the Anetas of this
world. She closed her lips firmly as this thought came to her. Well, if
it were so, she must bear it. Like Aneta, she had not been "smart," but
unlike the Anetas of this life, she would learn something from her
misfortune, and be henceforth self-respecting, so far as this great and
overwhelming blow would allow. Never again should Beltran feel that he
had the right to bestow upon her a touch or a caress, however delicate,
however gentle. They were separated now for good and all. She saw it as
she had never seen it before. All along she had been hoping against
hope. She had constantly remembered Beltran's words that first week of
Felisa's stay: "They will be going home soon, and then all will be as
before." She saw now that Beltran had deceived himself, even while he
was deceiving her. He could not turn them out, as he had once said to
her, but he had now no wish to turn them out, nor did they wish to go.
He was lost to her, but even so, with the memory of what had been,
Beltran should respect her. He should find that, as she was not his
chattel, she would not be his plaything while he made love to that other
respectable girl, who would tolerate no advances which were not preceded
by a ceremony and the blessing of the church. Foolish, foolish Agueda!
Had she been "smart," she might have welcomed Felisa as her cousin,
instead of appearing as the slighted thing she now felt herself to be.
And then, again, her soul rebelled at such a view of the case. His wife!
What humiliation were hers to be Beltran's wife, and see what she saw
now every day, the proof of his love for this fair-haired cousin of his,
while she, his wife, looked on helpless. Then, indeed, would she have
been in his power. Now she was free--free from him, free to respect
herself, even in her shame.

As Felisa has been likened to a garden escape in point of looks, so
might one liken Agueda to a garden escape in point of what people
designate as morals. Agueda had never heard of morals as such. She had
had no teaching, only the one warning which Nada had given her, and
that, she considered, she had followed to the letter.

Agueda had stood intrenched within a garden whose soil was virtue. She
did not gaze with curiosity, nor did she care to look, over the palings
into the lane which ran just outside. She stood tall and splendid as a
young hollyhock, welcoming the sun and the dew that Heaven sent down
upon her proud young head. But though fate had surrounded her with this
environment, whose security she had never questioned, her inheritance
had placed her near the palings. Those other great white flowers that
stood in the middle of the garden could never come to disaster. But
Agueda, unwittingly, had been thrust to the wall. Love's hand had pushed
itself between the palings of the fence that surrounded her garden and
had bent the proud stalk and drawn it through into the outer lane. While
Beltran showed his love for her, she did not feel that she had escaped
from her secure stand inside. Her roots were strong and embedded in the
soil of virtue, and wanton love would never find a place within her
thoughts or feelings. She did not realise the loss of dignity. "All for
love," had been her text and creed. The remedy, if remedy were needed,
had been close at hand. It had been offered her. She had only to stretch
out her hand and take it, and draw back within her garden, showing no
bruise or wound, but happy in that she could still rear herself straight
and proud among the company of uninjured stalks. But though the remedy
had been at hand, Agueda had not grasped it with due haste. Unmindful of
self, she had allowed the opportunity to escape her, and now she could
not spring back among those other blooms whose freshness had never been
tarnished. Alas! She found herself still in the muddy lane. She had been
plucked and worn and tossed down into the rut along the roadside, where
she must forever lie, limp and faded.


What boots it to dwell upon the sufferings of a breaking heart? Hearts
must ache and break, just as souls must be born and die, for thus fate
plans, and the world goes on the same.

Things went on the same at the plantation of San Isidro. Don Noé made no
motion to leave it, and Felisa was happier than she had ever been, and
so for once was in accord with her father. Beltran dreaded from day to
day the signal for their departure, but it did not come.

Uncle Adan moved among all these happenings with a soul not above cacao
seed and banana suckers. He kept tally at the wagon-train or in the
field, and if he thought of Agueda at all it was with a shrug of the
shoulders and the passing reflection: "She is as the women of her race
have been. It is their fate." For she was surely of that race, though
only tradition and not appearance was witness to the fact.

As for Agueda, no one about her could say what she felt or thought. She
remained by herself. What she must see, that she saw. That which she
could keep from knowing, she dulled her mind to receive, and refused to
understand or to accept. She endeavoured to become callous to all
impressions. One would have said that she did not care, that her passing
fancy for Beltran, as well as his for her, had died a natural death. And
yet, so contradictory is woman's nature, when placed in such straits as
those which now overwhelmed her, that sometimes a fierce curiosity awoke
within her, and then she would pass, to all appearance on some household
errand bent, within the near neighbourhood of Beltran and his cousin.
They, grown careless, as custom encourages, always gave her something
to weep over. Then for a time she avoided them, only to return again to
her foolish habit of inquiry.

Agueda grew deathly in pallor, and thin and weary looking. Her face had
lost its brightness. Gaze where she would, she saw nothing upon her
horizon but dark and lowering clouds. Sometimes she opened her drawer to
look for a moment at the sewing, discarded now these many weeks, but she
did no more than glance at it. "It will not be needed," she said to
herself, with prophetic determination.

She might have said with Mildred: "I was so young. I loved him so. I had
no mother. God forgot me, and I fell." As for pardon, Agueda did not
think of that. Consciously she had committed no sin.

Not that she ever argued the matter out with herself. She would never
have thought of continuing Mildred's plaint, and saying, "There may be
pardon yet," although she felt, if she did not give expression to the
feeling in words, "All's doubt beyond. Surely, the bitterness of death
is past." There could be no "blot on the escutcheon" of Agueda. She had
no escutcheon, as had Browning's heroine, though perhaps some drops of
blood as proud coursed through her veins. She was not introspective. She
did not reason nor argue with herself about Beltran's treatment of her.
It was only that suddenly the light had become darkness, the sun had
grown black and cold. There was no more joy in life, everything had
finished for her. Truly, the bitterness of death was past.



XX


There came an evening when there were mutterings up among the hills. The
lightning pranked gayly about the low-hanging clouds. Occasionally a
report among the far-distant peaks broke the phenomenal stillness.

Felisa lounged within the hammock which swung across the veranda corner.
It was very dark, the only lights being those gratuitous ones displayed
by the cucullas as they flew or walked about by twos or threes. At each
succeeding flash of lightning Felisa showed increased nervousness. Her
hand sought Beltran's, and he took it in his and held it close.

"See, Felisa! I will get the guitar, and we will sing. We have not sung
of late."

Felisa clasped her hands across her eyes and burst into tears. Beltran
was kneeling at her feet in an instant.

"What is it, my Heart? What is it? Do not sob so."

"I am afraid, afraid!" sobbed Felisa. "All is so mysterious. There are
queer noises in the ground! Hear those hissing, rushing sounds! Cousin!
cousin! What is it?"

"You are nervous, little one. We often have such storms in the
mountains. It may not come this way at all. See, here is the guitar."

He patted the small fingers lying within his own, then stretched out his
hand for the guitar, hanging near. He swept his fingers across the
strings.

"What shall we sing?" he asked, with a smile in his voice. Volatile as a
child, believing that which she wished to believe, Felisa sat upright at
the first strain of music. She laughed, though the drops still stood
upon her cheeks, and hummed the first line of "La Verbena de la Paloma."

"I will be Susana," she said, "and you shall be Julian. Come now, begin!
'Y á los toros de carabanchel,'" she hummed.

The faint light from the lantern hanging in the comidor showed to Felisa
the look in Beltran's eyes as he bent toward her.

"I do not like you, my little Susana," he said, bending close to her
shoulder, "because you flout me, and flirt with me, and break my poor
heart all to little bits. Still, we will sing together once more."

"Once more? Why do you say once more, cousin?" asked Felisa,
apprehensively. A shadow had settled again over her face.

"Did I? I do not know. Come now, begin." His voice was lowered almost
to a whisper, as he sang the first lines of the seductive, monotonous
little Spanish air. The accompaniment thrilled softly from the
well-tuned strings.


     "Donde vas con mantón manila,
     Donde vas con vestido chiné,"


he sang.

Her high soprano answered him:


     "A lucirme y á ver la verbena,
     Y á meterme en la cama después."


Beltran resumed:


     "Porqué no has venido conmigo
     Cuando tanto te lo supliqué."


"'Lo sup--li--que,'" he repeated, with slow emphasis.

Felisa laughed, shook her head coquettishly, and answered as the song
goes.

Then,


     "'Quien es ese chico tan guapo,'"


sang Julian. "Who is he, little Felisa? Is there any whom I need fear?"
He dropped his hand from the strings, and seized the small one so near
his own.

"I know a great many young men, cousin, but I will not own that there is
a guapo among them. And this I tell you now, that I shall go to la
Verbena with whom I will, if ever I return to Sunny Spain."


     "Y a los toros de carabanchel,"


she sang again defiantly, her thin head-notes rising high and clear. Was
there no memory in Beltran's mind for the contralto voice which had sung
the song so often on that very spot--a voice so incomparably sweeter
that he who had heard the one must wonder how Beltran could tolerate the
other.

Agueda was seated half-way down the veranda alone. She could not sit
with them, nor did she wish to, nor was she accustomed to companionship
with the serving class. She endeavoured to deafen her ears to the sound
of their voices. She would have gone to her own room and closed the
door, but it was nearer their seclusion than where she sat at present,
and then--the air of the room was stifling on this sultry night. She
glanced down toward the river, where the dark water rolled on through
savannas to the great bay--a sea in itself. She could distinguish
nothing; all was black in that blackest of nights. She dared not go
forth, for she felt that the storm must soon burst. She sat, her head
drooped dejectedly, her hands lying idly in her lap. Uncle Adan joined
her, the lantern in his hand showing her dimly his short, dark form. The
manager looked sourly at his niece, and cast an angry glance in the
direction of the two at the corner of the casa. He had suddenly awakened
to the fact that Agueda's kingdom was slipping from her grasp, and if
from hers, then from his also. Should this northern Señorita come to be
mistress here at San Isidro, what hold had he, or even Agueda herself,
over its master? He spoke almost roughly to Agueda.

"Go you and join them," he said. "Go where by right you belong."

Agueda did not look at him. She shook her head, and drooped it on her
breast. A sudden flash of lightning made the place as bright as day.
Uncle Adan caught a glimpse of that at the further corner which made him
rage inwardly.

"Did you see that?" he whispered.

"No," said Agueda. "I see nothing."

"I have no patience with you," said Uncle Adan. He could have shaken
her, he was so angry. "Had you remained with them, as is your right,
some things would not have happened."

He left her and went hurriedly toward the stables. Presently he
returned. Agueda was aware of his presence only when he touched her.

"The storm will be here before long," he said. "Can you get him away
without her? Anything to be rid of those northern interlopers."

"What do you mean?"

"Call him away, draw him off. Tell him to come to the rancho--that I
wish to see him about preparations as to their safety. Get him away on
any pretext. Leave the others here with no one to--"

"It is not necessarily a flood," said the girl, with a strange, new,
wicked hope springing up within her heart.

"It will be a flood," said Uncle Adan. "It is breaking even now at Point
Galizza."

For answer Agueda arose.

"Good girl! You are going, then, to tell him--"

"Yes, to tell him--"

"Call him away! I will saddle the horses. I will have the grey at the
back steps in five minutes. Tell him that Don Silencio has need of him."

"If the Don Silencio's own letter would not--"

"The grey can carry double. You can ride with him. I will go ahead. The
flood is coming. It is near. I know the signs."

Agueda drew away from the hand which Uncle Adan laid upon her wrist.

"Let me go, uncle," she said.

Uncle Adan released her.

"The flood will last but a day or two," he whispered in her ear, "but it
will be a deep one. All the signs point to that. We have never had such
a one; but after--Agueda, after--there will be no one to interfere with
you--with me, if--"

Agueda allowed him to push her on toward the end of the veranda, where
the two were still singing in a desultory way.

"I shall warn them," she said.

"Him!" said Uncle Adan, in a tone of dictation.

"I shall warn them," again said Agueda, as if she had not spoken before.

"Fool!" shouted Uncle Adan, as he dashed down the veranda steps and ran
toward the stables. "And the forest answered 'fool!'"

Agueda heard hurrying footsteps from the inner side of the veranda. Men
were running toward the stables. She drew near to Beltran. The faint
light of the lantern in the comidor told her where the two forms still
sat, though it showed her little else. She laid her hand upon his
shoulder, but she laid it also upon a smaller, softer one than her own.
The hand was suddenly withdrawn, as Felisa gave an apprehensive little
scream.

"What do you want?" asked Beltran impatiently, who felt the warring of
two souls through those antagonistic fingers.

"You must come at once," said Agueda, with decision. "The storm will
soon burst."

"Nonsense! We have had many sultry nights like this. Where do you get
your information?"

"My uncle Adan says that the storm will soon burst. He has gone to
saddle the horses."

Felisa gave a cry of fear.

Beltran turned with rage upon Agueda. A flash of lightning showed her
the anger blazing in his eyes. It also disclosed to her gaze Felisa
cowering close to him.

"How dare you come here frightening the child? Your uncle has his
reasons, doubtless, for what he says. As for me, I am perfectly
convinced that there will be no storm--that is, no flood."

"I beg of you, come!" urged Agueda.

"Oh, cousin! What will become of us? Why does that girl fear the storm
so?"

"There will be no storm, vida mia, and if there is, has not the casa
stood these many years? Agueda knows that as well as I."

Agueda withdrew a little, she stood irresolute. She heard the sound of
horses' feet, she heard Uncle Adan calling to her. She heard Don Noé
calling to Eduardo Juan to bring a light, and not be so damned long
about it. Old Juana called, "'Gueda, 'Gueda, honey! come! Deyse deat' in
de air! 'Gueda!"

There was a sudden rush of hoofs across the potrero, and then the
despairing wail from Palandrez, "Dey has stampeded!" She heard without
hearing. She remembered afterward, during that last night that she was
to inhabit the casa, that all these sounds had passed across almost
unheeding ears. She ran again to Don Beltran.

"Come! Come, Beltran, dear Beltran," she said. "The river is upon us!"

She wrung her hands helplessly. It seemed to her as if Beltran had lost
his power of reasoning.

"How dare she call you Beltran?" said Felisa.

There came a crash which almost drowned the sound of her voice, then a
scream from Felisa, intense and shrill. Agueda heard Beltran's voice,
first in anger, then soothing the terrified girl again, shouting for
horses, and above it all, she heard the water topple over the
embankment, and the swash of the waves against the foundations of the
casa.

She ran hurriedly and brought the lantern which hung within the comidor.
When Felisa opened her eyes, and looked around her at the waste of
waters, she shrieked again.

"How dare you bring that light? Put it out!" ordered Beltran.

"We must see to get to the roof," answered Agueda, with determination.

"The roof! The water is not deep. See, Felisa, it is only a foot deep.
The grey can carry you and me with safety."

"Does not the Señor know that the horses have stampeded?" said Agueda.
"Our only hope of safety now lies upon the roof. We must get to the
roof. See how the water is already getting deeper."

And now, Agueda, her listlessness gone, ran into the casa and seized
upon what she knew was necessary for a night in the open air. Beltran
followed her into the hall. He laid his hand upon her shoulder, and
shook her angrily. His judgment seemed to have deserted him.

"Why did you not warn us?" he said. "Was it a part of your plan
to--to--"

"My plan!" said Agueda. "Have I not begged you? I could have gone--Uncle
Adan told me--"

Beltran seized the lantern and ran out and along the veranda to where
Felisa stood clinging to the pilotijo. She was crying wildly.

As Beltran approached, the light of his lantern revealed to Felisa more
fully the horror of her surroundings. A fierce wind had arisen in a
moment, and was beating and threshing the trees, flail-like, downward
upon the encroaching river. Felisa turned upon Beltran in fury. She
pointed with tragic earnestness to the waters which now surrounded the
casa, and which had assumed the proportions of a lake. A thin stream was
reaching, reaching over from the edge of the veranda; its searching
point wetted her shoe.

"You should have told me that such things happen in this barbarous
place! You pretend to love me, and to keep me with you, you keep me
ignorant of my danger, and now I must die. I must be drowned far away
from my home in a savage land, all because you pretend that you love me!
Oh, God! I am so young to die! So young to die!"

Beltran enfolded the girl in his arms.

"You shall not die. There is no danger of dying. We will go up on the
roof. See! here are the steps. You will behold a wonderful sight
to-night. You will laugh at your fears to-morrow."

Beltran urged her toward the ladder as he spoke.

"Agueda and I have spent more than one night up there, have we not,
Agueda? She will tell you that there is nothing to fear. Agueda, tell my
cousin that there is nothing to fear."

"I did not know what there was to fear," said Agueda in a low voice.

Felisa was crying bitterly, as Beltran aided her up the lower steps of
the ladder. Agueda followed Beltran and Felisa. She carried some heavy
wraps, and struggled up the steep incline unaided. Arrived upon the
roof, she found the cousins standing together, Beltran's arm cast
protectingly round the trembling girl, her eyes hid against his breast.

"My cousin is nervous," said he, in a half apologetic tone; for though
his intimacy with Felisa had passed the highest water-mark, where
cousinship ends and love begins, he had not obtruded his actions or
words upon Agueda's notice. But now as he felt the shaking of Felisa's
young form against his own, suddenly he seemed to throw off all reserve.

"Vida mia!" he said. "Vida mia! look up, speak to me. Do look. See that
faint light in the east! The moon will soon rise. It is a beautiful
sight. The Water will go down in a few hours. You will laugh at your
fears to-morrow, child. These floods do not last long, do they, Agueda?
When was the last one? Do you remember, Agueda?"

"Yes, I remember," answered Agueda.

"Come, then, and tell her. You can comfort her if you tell her how
little there is to fear."

"I do not think that I shall comfort her," said Agueda. She glanced at
the refuge behind the chimney, and then back at Beltran. "It was one
long year ago," she said.

He turned away. "Come, Felisa," he said. "There is shelter from this
wind behind the old chiminea."

He guided her along the slight slope of the roof. The wind was rising
higher with every moment. It howled down from the hills; it bent and
slashed at the treetops; it caught Felisa's filmy gauzes and whirled
them upward and about her head.

Beltran half turned to Agueda.

"Give me the cloak," he said. He took it from her and enveloped Felisa
in it, then led her to the safe shelter of the broad old chimney. Behind
it was a figure upon his knees. It was Don Noé. He was praying with the
fervour of the death-bed repenter.

Felisa, with a return of her flippant manner, laughed shrilly.

"The truly pious are also unselfish, papa. Give us a little shelter from
this searching wind."

"Oh, do not! Do not! If I move, I shall fall! You will push me off!" and
Don Noé continued petitioning Heaven in his own behalf.

Agueda was left standing in the centre of the roof. Palandrez and
Eduardo Juan, who had followed the Señores to this their only refuge,
were lying flat upon their faces. They held a lantern between them--a
doubtful blessing, in that it illumined with faint ray the gloom and
horror below, but it told so little that the possibility seemed more
dreadful than the reality was at the moment.

"Lay down, Seño'it' 'Gueda," called Eduardo Juan. "Lay yo' body down."

A sudden gust of wind forced Agueda to run. She guided herself to the
chimney, and was held against it. Her garments fluttered round its
corners, striking Beltran in the face with sharp slaps and cracks. She
could not intrude upon that shelter. Her place was now upon the hither
side. She threw herself flat upon her face, as Palandrez had suggested,
her head above the ridge pole, her feet extended down the slight
incline, and clutched at a staple in the roof, placed securely there for
just such a night as this.

There were no stars; there was no moon. Yet it must rise soon.

Suddenly the lantern was overturned and its light extinguished, making
more ominous the sound of water rising, rising, rising! It lapped and
played about the pilotijos. It must be half-way up the veranda posts by
now. It eddied round the corners of the casa. It forced its way through
the weak places. One could hear it tearing and ripping at unstable
portions of the house, as it flowed through the interior. Grinding
noises were heard, as great roots and trunks of trees were borne and
swayed by the flood against the walls. They piled themselves up at the
southern end, remaining thus for a short, unsteady moment, and then,
overpowered by the rush and force of water, they parted company, some to
hasten along on one side of the casa, and some on the other.



XXI


Suddenly Agueda was conscious of something creeping against her foot. It
was cold! Good God! It was wet! The sole of her shoe was soaked; the
river had reached even there. She heard the licking of those hungry lips
which were ready to drink in the helpless souls stranded at their mercy.
This was indeed a sudden rising! Then there was no hope. She wondered
how long it would be before Beltran would learn the fact, and what he
would do when the truth came to him. She drew herself up by the iron
staple and curled her body half way round the chimney. Her ear touched
the ruffles of Felisa's gown. She heard a tender voice speaking much as
it had to her a year ago.

"Come closer," it said. "Do not fear. I am here."

"Beltran!" she called. "Beltran!"

"Who calls me?" came his voice from out the blackness. "You, Agueda?"

"Yes, it is I, Agueda. The river is rising very high. It has come up
quickly. I felt it against my foot. Can you not try to catch some tree
or branch?"

"Oh, God! Oh, God! Save me!" It was Felisa's voice. "Why did I ever come
to this accursed island? Why, oh, why? How dared you tell me that I was
safe! Safe with you? Oh, my God! Safe with you! Are you greater than
God? If He cannot save me, can you?"

As Felisa shrieked these words, which were almost drowned by the sound
of the swiftly rushing waters, she raised her small fist and struck at
Beltran. The jewels on her fingers cut his lip.

His musical voice, patient and still tender, answered as if to a naughty
child.

"Careful! you will throw yourself off! Agueda, why must you come here
frightening my cousin? When the moon rises she will see the falseness of
your story."

As if to convict him out of his own mouth, the moon suddenly shone
through a rift in the black clouds which edged the horizon. It
discovered to Agueda Felisa clasped to a resting-place that was her own
by right. It showed her Beltran holding the little form in his arms, as
once he had held her own. It showed her Beltran covering the blonde head
with passionate kisses, as once he had covered her darker one.

Agueda clutched the chimney for support. Death was no worse than this.

Felisa opened her trembling lids and gazed abroad on the expanse of
waters. Wail after wail issued from her white lips and mingled with the
wind that blew wantonly the tendrils of her hair. She struck Beltran in
the face again, she pushed him from her with the fury of a maniac.

Great trees and branches were pounding against the roof. The peons had
climbed to the highest point, and now, as a trunk came tearing down
toward them, with a pitying glance at those they left behind, and a
chuckle at their own presence of mind, they caught at it, and were
whirled away to death or to succour.

Don Noé, ever on the watch, with face thin and fierce, with nostrils
extended and eyes wild and staring, peered round the chimney where he
hung in prayerful terror. His resolution was made in one of those sudden
moments of decision that come to the weakest. Watching his chance, he
sprang and clutched at the giant as it came bobbing and wobbling by, and
in company with Palandrez and Eduardo Juan, he floated away from his
late companions.

Agueda, left alone upon her side of the roof, crouched, looking ever
toward the south, searching for a cask, a boat, a tree, a plank, a piece
of household furniture, anything by which she might hold and save her
life and Beltran's. Not Felisa's; that she could not do, even though
Beltran loved her.

Until now Agueda had thought that she longed for death; but the instinct
of self-preservation is strong, and she could hardly comprehend her
newly awakened desire to seize upon some sort of floating thing which
might mean safety for herself. She stood gazing over the broad expanse
of water. It had become a sea. The face of nature was changed. The
position of the river bank was discernible only from the waving line of
branches which testified where their trunks stood. There were one or two
oases whose tops showed still above the surface of the stretching,
reaching flood. Agueda thought that she could discern some one in a
treetop near the hill rancho. She wondered if it could be Uncle Adan.
She thought that she heard a shout. She tried to answer, but the weak
sound of her voice was forced back into her throat. It would not carry
against the force of the wind. No other land nearer than the heights of
Palmacristi was to be seen. The horses and cattle must have perished. It
had indeed become, as Uncle Adan had warned her, a greater flood than
the country had ever known. To add to the unspeakable gloom of the
scene, the clouds parted wider and allowed the moon to sparkle more
fully upon the boiling water below and the trees and branches as they
rolled and hastened onward.

As Agueda stood and gazed up the stream, suddenly, from out the
perspective of the moon-flecked tide, a little craft came sailing
down--a tiny thing that seemed to have been set upon the waste of waters
by some pitying hand. She watched it with eager eyes, as it floated
onward. Her body swayed unconsciously with each change in its course or
pointing of its bow to right, to left, as if she feared that it would
escape her anxious hand. Fate drifted it exactly across the thatch at
the south end of the roof. On it came, and was driven to her very feet.
Here was succour! Here was help! She could save herself, unwatched,
unknown, of those others behind the shelter there, and float away to the
chance of rescue. Agueda stepped ankle-deep in the water, and stooping,
held in frenzied clutch this gift of the gods.

"The little duck boat of Felipe," she exclaimed, as she drew it toward
her. "The little duck boat of Felipe!"

Beltran had arisen as he heard the boat grate against the roof. He
stepped cautiously out from behind the chimney, Felisa leaning upon him.
Agueda raised her eyes to them. She shook as if with a chill. She was
drawing the boat nearer, and battling with the flood to keep her
treasure in hand.

"Agueda," called Beltran. "Take her with you. Her weight is slight."

Felisa raised her head from his shoulder, and cast a terrified look
about her. Beltran looked at Agueda, and then down at Felisa.

"She will save you," he said.

"I will not go without you, Beltran," sobbed Felisa. "I dare not go
without you. Oh! come with me! That girl of yours, that Agueda, I dare
not go with her! She hates me! She will kill me!"

When Beltran had said, "She will save you," Agueda had begun to draw the
skiff nearer to him. She moved with great care, that the flood might not
wrench from her this treasure trove.

"It is true that I hate you," said Agueda, in a hard, cold voice, as she
brought the boat to Felisa's feet, "but I will not kill you." She pushed
the tiny craft nearer to Felisa. "Take your place," said she. "I will
hold it steady."

"I will not go without you," again shrieked Felisa, turning to Beltran.
"I dare not go without you. Oh, Agueda! dear Agueda! You do not care to
live. What have you to live for? While I--"

"True," said Agueda. "Will the Señorita take her place?"

Felisa still held to Beltran's hand.

"I will not go alone," she said. "Come with me, dear love! Come with
me; I cannot live without you."

"There is not room for all," said Beltran, glancing, as he spoke, at
Agueda. "At least, Felisa, we can die together."

Ever changeable, and suddenly angered at this, Felisa again struck at
Beltran, and tried with her small strength to thrust him aside, so that
his footing was imperilled. Agueda turned pale as she saw his danger.
Beltran laughed nervously, and seized with firmer grasp the staple
buried in the mortar.

"And do you think that will compensate me?" screamed Felisa. "Do you
think that I shall welcome death because I may die in your company? I
tell you, I will not die. I love all the pleasant things of life--I love
myself, my pretty self. I am meant for life and love and warmth, not
cold and death. There is not a human being who could reconcile me to
death. Oh, my God! and such a death!"

Felisa screamed hysterically. She sobbed and choked, and amid her
shrieks were heard the disjointed words, "I--will--_not_--die!"

In her frenzy the fastening at her throat gave way, and Agueda caught
sight of the diamond pendant at her neck. Agueda, with her eyes on
Beltran, nodded her head toward the boat, as if to say, "Do as she
asks." When she spoke, she said:

"I will hold it steady, as steady as I can."

Felisa cast another horrified look around her upon the moonlit,
shoreless sea.

"Oh, God!" she sobbed, as holding frantically to Beltran's hand, she
stepped into the boat. She drew him toward her, so that he could with
difficulty resist the impelling of her hand. Beltran tried to release
his fingers from the grasp of Felisa. He turned to Agueda, and motioned
toward the one hope of succour.

She shook her head.

"I cannot hold it long," she said.

"Beltran! Beltran!" sobbed Felisa.

The boat pulled and jerked like a race horse. Even Felisa's slight
weight made a marked difference in its buoyancy.

Agueda's position was made the more unstable by her skirt, which
fluttered in the wind.

"I can hold it but a second more," she said. She was still stooping,
holding the boat in as firm a grasp as her footing would allow.

Beltran stood irresolute, wavering.

"I cannot leave you here, Agueda, to die perhaps--for--her--for me."

"I died long weeks ago," she muttered, more to herself than to him, and
motioned again with her head toward the boat.

The water was rushing past them. It was ankle-deep now. Agueda steadied
herself more firmly against the chimney.

Felisa, shivering with fright, stretched out her arms appealingly to
Beltran, her cheeks streaming with tears. Beltran glanced at Agueda,
with a look that was half beseeching, half apologetic, as if to
forestall the contempt which he knew that she must feel for him,
and--stepped into the boat. His weight tore it from Agueda's grasp. It
began to float away, but before it had passed a span from where Agueda
stood alone, he turned and shouted, "Come! Agueda, come! Throw yourself
in, I can save you!"

Ah! that was all that she cared to hear. It was the old voice. It sank
into her heart and gave her peace. For in that flash of sudden and
overwhelming remorse which is stronger than death, Beltran had seen that
which he had not noticed before, the sad change in her girlish figure.
Felisa clung to him, threatening to upset the skiff. He thrust her from
him. "Come!" again he shouted, "Come!" He stretched out his arms to
Agueda, but as the words left his lips he was whirled from her presence.

In that supreme moment Beltran caught the motion of her lips. "My
love!" they seemed to say, and still holding to the staple with one
hand, she raised the other toward him, in good-by perhaps--perhaps in
blessing.

Agueda kept her gaze fixed upon the little speck, shrinking
involuntarily when she saw some great trunk endanger its buoyancy.

The boat was drifting swiftly along in the waters now, and in that mad
rush to the sea Beltran strained his eyes ever backward to catch the
faint motion of that fluttering garment in its wave of farewell.


PRINTED BY R. R. DONNELLEY
AND SONS COMPANY AT THE
LAKESIDE PRESS, CHICAGO, ILL.





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