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of the Padre looking down on him with a tenderness that both touched and exasperated him.
"Pardon!" said Padre Felipe, gently. "I have broken in upon your thoughts, child!"
A little more brusquely than was his habit with the Padre, Arthur explained that he had been studying up a difficult case.
"So!" said the Padre softly, in response. "With tears in your eyes, Don Arturo? Not so!" he added to himself, as he drew the young man's arm in his own and the two passed slowly out once more into the sunlight.
IN WHICH THE DONNA MARIA MAKES AN
expecting a guest. She was lying in a Manilla hammock swung between two posts of the veranda, with her face partially hidden by the netting, and the toe of a little shoe just peeping beyond. Not that Donna Maria expected to receive her guest thus; on the contrary, she had given orders to her servants that the moment a stranger caballero appeared on the road she was to be apprised of the fact. For I grieve to say that, far from taking Arthur's advice, the details of the adventure at the Point of Pines had been imparted by her own lips to most of her female friends, and even to the domestics of her household. In the earlier stages of a woman's interest in a man she is apt to be exceedingly communicative; it is only when she becomes fully aware of the gravity of the stake involved that she begins to hedge before the public. The morning after her adventure Donna Maria was innocently full of its hero and unreservedly voluble.
THE Rancho of the Blessed Fisherman looked seaward as became its title. If the founder of the rancho had shown a religious taste in the selection of the site of the dwelling, his charming widow had certainly shown equal practical taste, and indeed a profitable availing of some advantages that the founder did not contemplate, in the adornment of the house. The low-walled square adobe dwelling had been relieved of much of its hard practical outline by several feminine additions and suggestions. The tiled roof had been carried over a very broad veranda supported by vine-clad columns, and the lounging corridor had been, in defiance of all Spanish custom, transferred from the inside of the house to the outside. The interior court-yard no longer existed. The somberness of the heavy Mexican architecture was relieved by bright French chintzes, delicate lace curtains, and fresh colored hangings. The broad veranda was filled with the later novelties of Chinese bamboo chairs and settees, and a striped Venetian awning shaded the glare of the seaward front. Nevertheless, Donna Maria, out of respect to the local opinion, which regarded these changes as ominous of if not a symbolical putting off the weeds of widowhood, still clung to a few of the local traditions. It is true that a piano occupied one side of her drawing-room, but a harp stood in the corner. If a freshly cut novel lay open on the piano, a breviary was conspicuous on the marble center-table. If, on the mantel, an elaborate French clock with bronze shepherdesses trifled with Time, on the wall above it an iron crucifix spoke of Eternity. Mrs. Sepulvida was at home that morning Maria.
I have forgotten whether I have described her. Certainly I could not have a better opportunity than the present. In the hammock she looked a little smaller, as women are apt to when their length is rigidly defined. She had the average quantity of brown hair, a little badly treated by her habit of wearing it flat over her temples-a tradition of her boarding-school days, fifteen years ago. She had soft brown eyes, with a slight redness of the eyelid not inconsistent nor entirely unbecoming to widowhood; a small mouth depressed at the corners with a charming, child-like discontent; white regular teeth, and the eloquence of a complexion that followed unvaryingly her spirits or her physical condition. appeared to be about thirty, and had that unmistakable "married" look, which even the most amiable and considerate of us, my dear sir, are apt to impress upon the one woman whom we choose to elect to years of exclusive intimacy and attention. The late Don José Sepulvida's private mark-as well defined as the brand upon his cattlewas a certain rigid line, like a grave accent, from the angle of this little woman's nostril to the corners of her mouth, and possibly to an increased peevishness of depression at those corners. It bore witness to the fondness of the deceased for bear-baiting and bull-fighting, and a possible weakness for a certain Señora X. of San Francisco, whose reputation was none of the best, and was not increased by her distance from San Antonio and the surveillance of Donna
When an hour later "Pepe" appeared to his mistress, bearing a salver with Arthur Poinsett's business card and a formal request for an interview, I am afraid Donna Maria was a little disappointed. If he had suddenly scaled the veranda, evaded her servants, and appeared before her in an impulsive, forgivable way, it would have seemed consistent with his character as a hero, and perhaps more in keeping with the general tenor of her reveries when the servitor entered. Howbeit, after heaving an impatient little sigh, and bidding "Pepe" show the gentleman into the drawing-room, she slipped quietly down from the hammock in a deft womanish way, and whisked herself into her dressing-room.
"He couldn't have been more formal if Don José had been alive," she said to herself, as she walked to her glass and dressingtable.
Arthur Poinsett entered the vacant drawing-room not in the best of his many humors. He had read in the eyes of the lounging vaqueros, in the covert glances of the women servants, that the story of his adventure was known to the household. Habitually petted and spoiled as he had been by the women of his acquaintance, he was half inclined to attribute this reference and assignment of his client's business to the hands of Mrs. Sepulvida, as the result of a plan of Father Felipe's, or absolute collusion between the parties. A little sore yet, and irritated by his recollection of the Padre's counsel, and more impatient of the imputation of a weakness than anything else, Arthur had resolved to limit the interview to the practical business on hand, and in so doing had, for a moment, I fear, forgotten his native courtesy. It did not tend to lessen his irritation and self-consciousness when Mrs. Sepulvida entered the room without the slightest evidence of her recent disappointment visible in her perfectly easy, frank self-possession, and after a conventional, half-Spanish solicitousness regarding his health since their last interview, without any further allusions to their adventure, begged him to be seated. She herself took an easy chair on the opposite side of the table, and assumed at once an air of respectful but somewhat indifferent attention.
"I believe," said Arthur, plunging at once into his subject to get rid of his embarrassment and the slight instinct of antagonism he was beginning to feel toward the woman before him, "I believe—that is, I am told that besides your own business,
you are intrusted with some documents and facts regarding a claim of the Donna Dolores Salvatierra. Which shall we have first? I am entirely at your service for the next two hours, but we shall proceed faster and with less confusion by taking up one thing at a time."
"Then let us begin with Donna Dolores, by all means," said Donna Maria; "my own affairs can wait. Indeed," she added, languidly, "I dare say one of your clerks could attend to it as well as yourself. If your time is valuable-as indeed it must be-I can put the papers in his hands and make him listen to all my foolish, irrelevant talk. He can sift it for you, Don Arturo. I really am a child about business, really."
Arthur smiled, and made a slight gesture of deprecation. In spite of his previous resolution, Donna Maria's tone of slight pique pleased him. Yet he gravely opened his note-book, and took up his pencil without a word. Donna Maria observed the movements, and said more seriously:
"Ah yes! how foolish! Here I am talking about my own affairs, when I should be speaking of Donna Dolores'. Well, to begin. Let me first explain why she has put this matter in my hands. My husband and her father were friends, and had many business interests in common. As you have doubtless heard, she has always been very quiet, very reserved, very religious-almost a nun. I dare say she was driven into this isolation by reason of the delicacy of her position here, for you know-do you not?-that her mother was an Indian. It is only a few years ago that the old Governor, becoming a widower and childless, bethought himself of this Indian child, Dolores. He found the mother dead, and the girl living somewhere at a distant Mission as an acolyte. He brought her to San Antonio, had her baptized and christened, and made legally his daughter and heiress. She was a mere slip of a thing, about fourteen or fifteen. She might have had a pretty complexion, for some of these half-breeds are nearly white, but she had been stained when an infant with some barbarous and indelible dye, after the savage custom of her race. She is now a light copper color, not unlike those bronze shepherdesses on yonder clock. In spite of all this I call her pretty. Perhaps it is because I love her and am prejudiced. But you gentlemen are so critical about complexion and color-no wonder that the poor child refuses to see anybody, and never goes into society at all. It is a shame! But
pardon, Mr. Poinsett, here am I gossiping about your client's looks, when I should be stating her grievances."
"No, no!" said Arthur, hastily, "go onin your own way."
Mrs. Sepulvida lifted her forefinger archly. "Ah! is it so, Don Arturo? I thought so! Well, it is a great shame that she is not here for you to judge for yourself."
Angry with himself for his embarrassment, and for the rising color on his cheek, Arthur would have explained himself, but the lady, with feminine tact, did not permit him.
"To proceed: Partly because I did not participate in the prejudices with which the old families here regarded her race and color, partly, perhaps, because we were both strangers here, we became friends. At first she resisted all my advances-indeed, I think she was more shy of me than the others, but I triumphed in time, and we became good friends. Friends, you understand, Mr. Poinsett, not confidants. You men, I know, deem this impossible, but Donna Dolores is a singular girl, and I have never, except upon the most general topics, won her from her habitual reserve. And I possess perhaps her only friendship."
"Except Father Felipe, her confessor?" Mrs. Sepulvida shrugged her shoulders, and then borrowed the habitual skeptical formula of San Antonio.
Quien sabe? But I am rambling again. Now for the case."
She rose, and taking from a drawer of the secretary an envelope, drew out some papers it contained, and referred to them as she
"It appears that a grant of Micheltorena to Salvatierra was discovered recently at Monterey, a grant of which there was no record among Salvatierra's papers. The explanation given is that it was placed some five years ago in trust with a Don Pedro Ruiz, of San Francisco, as security for a lease now expired. The grant is apparently regular, properly witnessed, and attested. Don Pedro has written that some of the witnesses are still alive, and remember it." "Then why not make the proper application for a patent?"
"True, but if that were all, Don Arturo would not have been summoned from San Francisco for consultation. There is something else. Don Pedro writes that another grant for the same land has been discovered recorded to another party."
with a smile. "But Salvatierra's known reputation and probity would probably be sufficient to outweigh equal documentary evidence on the other side. It's unfortunate he's dead, and the grant was discovered after his death."
"But the holder of the other grant is dead, too!" said the widow.
"That makes it about equal again. But who is he?"
Mrs. Sepulvida referred to her papers, and then said,
"Dr. Devarges." "Who?"
"Devarges," said Mrs. Sepulvida, referring to her notes. "A singular name—a foreigner, I suppose. No, really, Mr. Poinsett, you shall not look at the paper until I have copied it-it's written horribly-you can't understand it! I'm really ashamed of my writing, but I was in such a hurry, expecting you every moment! Why, la! Mr. Poinsett, how cold your hands are!"
Arthur Poinsett had risen hurriedly, and reached out almost brusquely for the paper that she held. But the widow had coquettishly resisted him with a mischievous show of force, an...d caught and-dropped his hand!
"That is, I am sorry to say, not a singular experience in our profession," said Arthur,
"And you are pale, too. Dear me! I'm afraid you took cold that morning," said Mrs. Sepulvida. "I should never forgive myself if you did. I should cry my eyes out!" and Donna Maria cast a dangerous look from under her slightly swollen lids that looked as if they might threaten a deluge.
"Nothing, nothing, I have ridden far this morning, and rose early," said Arthur, chafing his hands with a slight embarrassed smile. "But I interrupted you. Pray go on. Has Dr. Devarges any heirs to contest the grant?" But the widow did not seem inclined to go on. She was positive that Arthur wanted some wine. Would he not let her order some slight repast before they proceeded further in this horrid business? She was tired. She was quite sure that Arthur must be so too.
"It is my business," said Arthur, a little stiffly, but, recovering himself again in a sudden and new alarm of the widow, he smiled and suggested that the sooner the business was over, the sooner he would be able to partake of her hospitality.
The widow beamed prospectively.
"There are no heirs that we can find. But there is a-what do you call it ?-a something or other-in possession!"
"A squatter?" said Poinsett, shortly.
"Yes," continued the widow with a light laugh; "a 'squatter,' by the name of-ofmy writing is so horrid let me see, oh, yes! Gabriel Conroy.""
Arthur made an involuntary gesture toward the paper with his hand, but the widow mischievously skipped toward the window, and, luckily for the spectacle of his bloodless face, held the paper before her dimpled face and laughing eyes, as she did so.
"Gabriel Conroy," repeated Mrs. Sepulvida, "and-and-and-his-"
"His sister?" said Arthur, with an effort. No, sir!" responded Mrs. Sepulvida, with a slight pout, "his wife! Sister indeed! As if we married women are always to be ignored by you legal gentlemen!"
Arthur remained silent, with his face turned toward the sea. When he did speak his voice was quite natural.
"Might I change my mind regarding your offer of a moment ago, and take a glass of wine and a biscuit now?”
Mrs. Sepulvida ran to the door.
"Let me look over your notes while you are gone!" said Arthur.
"You'won't laugh at my writing?" "No!"
Donna Maria tossed him the envelope gayly and flew out of the room. Arthur hurried to the window with the coveted memoranda. There were the names she had given him-but nothing more! At least this was some slight relief.
The suddenness of the shock, rather than any moral sentiment or fear, had upset him. Like most imaginative men, he was a trifle superstitious, and with the first mention of Devarges's name came a swift recollection of Padre Felipe's analysis of his own character, his sad, ominous reverie in the chapel, the trifling circumstance that brought him instead of his partner to San Antonio, and the remoter chance that had discovered the forgotten grant and selected him to prosecute its recovery. This conviction entertained and forgotten, all the resources of his combative nature returned. Of course he could not prosecute this claim; of course he ought to prevent others from doing it. There was every probability that the grant of Devarges was a true one-and Gabriel was in possession! Had he really become Devarges's heir, and if so, why had he not claimed the grant boldly? And where was Grace?
In this last question there was a slight tinge of sentimental recollection, but no remorse or shame. That he might in some
way be of service to her, he fervently hoped. That, time having blotted out the romantic quality of their early acquaintance, there would really be something fine and loyal in so doing, he did not for a moment doubt. He would suggest a compromise to his fair client, himself seek out and confer with Grace and Gabriel, and all should be made right. His nervousness and his agitation was, he was satisfied, only the result of a conscientiousness and a delicately honorable nature, perhaps too fine and spiritual for the exigencies of his profession. Of one thing he was convinced; he really ought to carefully consider Father Felipe's advice; he ought to put himself beyond the reach of these romantic relapses.
In this self-sustained, self-satisfied mood, Mrs. Sepulvida found him on her return. Since she had been gone, he said, he had been able to see his way quite clearly into this case, and he had no doubt his perspicacity was greatly aided by the admirable manner in which she had indicated the various points on the paper she had given him. He was now ready to take up her own matters, only he begged as clear and concise a brief as she had already made for her friend. He was so cheerful and gallant that by the time luncheon was announced, the widow found him quite charming, and was inclined to forgive him for the disappointment of the morning. And when, after luncheon, he challenged her to a sharp canter with him along the beach, by way, as he said, of keeping her memory from taking cold, and to satisfy herself that the Point of Pines could be doubled without going out to sea, I fear that, without a prudent consideration of the gossips of San Antonio before her eyes, she assented. There could be no harm in riding with her late husband's legal adviser, who had called, as everybody knew, on business, and whose time was so precious that he must return even before the business was concluded. And then "Pepe" could follow them, to return with her!
It did not, of course, occur to either Arthur or Donna Maria that they might outrun "Pepe," who was fat and indisposed to violent exertion; nor that they should find other things to talk about than the details of business; nor that the afternoon should be so marvelously beautiful as to cause them to frequently stop and admire the stretch of glittering sea beyond; nor that the roar of the waves was so deafening as to oblige them to keep so near each other for the purposes of conversation that the widow's soft
breath was continually upon Arthur's cheek; nor that Donna Maria's saddle girth should become so loose that she was forced to dismount while Arthur tightened it, and that he should he obliged to lift her in his arms to restore her to her seat again. But finally, when the Point of Pines was safely rounded, and Arthur was delivering a few parting words of legal counsel, holding one of her hands in his, while with the other he was untwisting a long tress of her blown-down hair, that, after buffeting his cheek into color, had suddenly twined itself around his neck, an old-fashioned family carriage, drawn by four black mules with silver harness, passed them suddenly on the road.
Donna Maria drew her head and her hand away with a quick blush and laugh, and then gayly kissed her finger-tips to the retreating carriage. Arthur laughed also but a little foolishly-and looked as if expecting some explanation.
"You should have your wits about you, sir. Did you know who that was?"
Arthur sincerely confessed ignorance. He had not noticed the carriage until it had passed.
the Angelus yesterday, she said nothing of this. Perhaps it is the office of your friend, Mrs. Sepulvida.”
"Hardly, I think," said Arthur; "she was so well prepared with all the facts as to render an interview with Donna Dolores unnecessary. Bueno, be it so! I will go."
Nevertheless, he was ill at ease. He ate little, he was silent. All the fears he had argued away with such self-satisfied logic the day before, returned to him again with. greater anxiety. Could there have been any further facts regarding this inopportune grant that Mrs. Sepulvida had not disclosed? Was there any particular reason why this strange recluse, who had hitherto avoided his necessary professional presence, should now desire a personal interview which was not apparently necessary? Could it be possible that communication had already been established with Gabriel or Grace and that the history of their previous life had become known to his client? Had his connection with it been in any way revealed to the Donna Dolores ?
If he had been able to contemplate this last possibility with calmness and courage yesterday when Mrs. Sepulvida first repeated the name of Gabriel Conroy, was he capable of equal resignation now? Had anything occurred since then?-had any new resolution entered his head to which such a revelation would be fatal ? Nonsense! And yet he could not help commenting, with more or less vague uneasiness of mind, on his chance meeting of Donna Dolores at the Point of Pines yesterday and the summons of this morning. Would not his foolish attitude with Donna Maria, aided, perhaps, by some indiscreet expression from the well-meaning but senile Padre Felipe, be sufficient to exasperate his fair client had she been cognizant of his first relations with Grace? It is not mean natures, alone, that are the most suspicious? A quick, generous, imagination, feverishly excited, will project theories of character and intention far more ridiculous and uncomplimentary to humanity than the lowest surmises of ignorance and imbecility. Arthur was feverish and excited; with all the instincts of a contradictory nature, his easy sentimentalism dreaded, while his combative principles longed for, this interview. Within an hour of the time appointed by Donna Dolores, he had thrown himself on his horse, and was galloping furiously toward the "Rancho of the Holy Trinity."
It was inland and three leagues away