Puslapio vaizdai

Donna, found himself regarding this gentleman with some degree of asperity and a disposition to resent any reference to his client's business as an unwarrantable impertinence. But when the dinner was over, and he had smoked a cigar on the corridor without further communication with Donna Dolores, he began to be angry with himself for accepting her invitation, and savagely critical of the motives that impelled him to it. He was meditating an early retreateven a visit to Mrs. Sepulvida-when Manuela entered.


Would Don Arturo grant the Donna his further counsel and presence?

Don Arturo was conscious that his cheek was flushing, and that his counsel at the present moment would not have been eminently remarkable for coolness or judiciousness, but he followed the Indian woman with a slight inclination of the head. They entered the room where he had first met the Donna. She might not have moved from the position she had occupied that morning on the couch, so like was her attitude and manner. As he approached her respectfully, he was conscious of the same fragrance, and the same mysterious magnetism that seemed to leap from her dark eyes, and draw his own resisting and unwilling gaze toward her.

"You will despise me, Don Arturo-you, whose countrywomen are so strong and active, because I am so little and weak, and, -Mother of God!-so lazy! But I am an invalid, and am not yet quite recovered. But then I am accustomed to it. I have lain here for days, Don Arturo, doing nothing. It is weary-eh? You think? This watching, this waiting!-day after day always the same!"

There was something so delicately plaintive and tender in the cadence of her speech -a cadence that might, perhaps, have been attributed to the characteristic intonation of the Castilian feminine speech, but which Arthur could not help thinking was peculiar to herself, that at the moment he dared not lift his eyes to her, although he was conscious she was looking at him. But by an impulse of safety he addressed himself to the fan.

"You have been an invalid then-Donna Dolores ?"

"A sufferer, Don Arturo." "Have you ever tried the benefit of change of scene-of habits of life? Your ample means, your freedom from the cares of family or kinship, offer you such oppor

tunities," he continued, still addressing the fan.

But the fan, as if magnetized by his gaze, became coquettishly conscious; fluttered, faltered, drooped, and then languidly folded its wings. Arthur was left helpless.

"Perhaps," said Donna Dolores, "who knows?"

She paused for an instant, and then made a sign to Manuela. The Indian woman rose and left the room.

"I have something to tell you, Don Arturo," she continued, "something I should have told you this morning. It is not too late now. But it is a secret. It is only that I have questioned my right to tell it-not that I have doubted your honor, Don Arturo, that I withheld it then."

Arthur raised his eyes to hers. It was her turn to evade his glance. With her long lashes dropped, she went on:

"It was five years ago, and my fatherwhom may the Saints assoil-was alive. Came to us then at the Presidio of San Geronimo, a young girl-an American, a stranger and helpless. stranger and helpless. She had escaped from a lost camp in the snowy mountains where her family and friends were starving. That was the story she told my father. It was a probable one-was it not?"

Arthur bowed his head but did not reply. "But the name that she gave was not a true one, as it appeared. My father had sent an Expedicion to relieve these people, and they had found among the dead the person whom this young girl-this stranger -assumed to be. That was their report. The name of the young girl who was found dead and the name of the young girl who came to us was the same. It was Grace Conroy."

Arthur's face did not move a muscle, nor did he once take his eyes from the drooping lids of his companion.


'It was a grave matter-a very grave matter. And it was the more surprising because the young girl had at first given another name—the name of Grace Ashley— which she afterward explained was the name of the young man who helped her to escape, and whose sister she at first assumed to be.

"My father was a good man, a kind man -a saint, Don Arturo. It was not for him to know if she were Grace Ashley or Grace Conroy-it was enough for him to know that she was alive, weak, helpless, suffering. Against the advice of his officers, he took her into his own house, into his own family, into his own fatherly heart, to wait until her

[ocr errors]

brother, or this Philip Ashley, should return. | injured dignity in his manner, as he rose, He never returned. In six months she was without giving the speechless and astonished taken ill-very ill-a little child was born- woman before him chance to recover herDon Arturo-but in the same moment itself, and said: died and the mother died-both, you comprehend-both died-in my arms!"

"That was bad," said Arthur, curtly. "I do not comprehend," said Donna Dolores.

"Pardon. Do not misunderstand me. I say it was bad, for I really believe that this girl the mysterious stranger, with the alias, was really Grace Conroy."

Donna Dolores raised her eyes and stared at Arthur.

"And why?"

"Because the identification of the bodies by the Expedicion was hurried and imperfect."

"How knew you this?"

Arthur rose and drew his chair a little nearer his fair client.

"You have been good enough to intrust me with an important and honorable secret. Let me show my appreciation of that confidence by intrusting you with one equally important. I know that the identification was imperfect and hurried, because I was present. In the report of the Expedicion you will find the name, if you have not already read it, of Lieutenant Arthur Poinsett. That was myself."

Donna Dolores raised herself to a sitting posture.

"But why did you not tell me this before?" "Because, first, I believed you knew that I was Lieutenant Poinsett. Because, secondly, I did not believe that you knew that Arthur Poinsett and Philip Ashley were one and the same person."

"I do not understand," said Donna Dolores slowly, in a hard metallic voice.

"I am Lieutenant Arthur Poinsett, formerly of the army, who, under the assumed name of Philip Ashley, brought Grace Conroy out of Starvation Camp. I am the person who afterward abandoned her the father of her child."

He had not the slightest intention of saying this when he first entered the room, but something in his nature, which he had never tried to control, brought it out. He was neither ashamed of it nor apprehensive of its results; but, having said it, leaned back in his chair, proud, self-reliant and self-sustained. If he had been uttering a moral sentiment, he could not have been externally more calm or inwardly less agitated. More than that, there was a certain

"You will be able now to know whether your confidence has been misplaced. You will be able now to determine what you wish done, and whether I am the person best calculated to assist you. I can only say, Donna Dolores, that I am ready to act either as your witness to the identification of the real Grace Conroy, or as your legal adviser, or both. When you have decided which, you shall give me your further commands, or dismiss me. Until then, adios!"

He bowed, waved his hand with a certain grand courtesy, and withdrew. When Donna Dolores raised her stupefied head, the door had closed upon him.

When this conceited young gentleman reached his own room, he was, I grieve to say, to some extent mentally, and, if I may use the word, morally exalted by the interview. More than that, he was in better spirits than he had been since his arrival. From his room he strode out into the corridor. If his horse had been saddled, he would have taken a sharp canter over the low hills for exercise, pending the decision of his fair client, but it was the hour of the noonday siesta, and the court-yard was deserted. He walked to the gate and looked across the plain. A fierce wind held uninterrupted possession of earth and sky. Something of its restlessness, just at that instant, was in Arthur's breast, and, with a glance around the corridor, and a momentary hesitation, as an opening door, in a distant part of the building, suggested the possibility of another summons from Donna Dolores, he stepped beyond the walls.



THE absolute freedom of illimitable space, the exhilaration of the sparkling sunlight, and the excitement of the opposing wind, which was strong enough to oblige him to exert a certain degree of physical strength to overcome it, so wrought upon Arthur, that in a few moments he had thrown off the mysterious spell which the Rancho of the Blessed Trinity appeared to have cast over his spirits, and had placed a material distance between himself and its gloomy The landscape, which had hitherto seemed monotonous and uninspiring, now became suggestive; in the low, dome-shaped


hills beyond, that were huddled together | and unerring instincts of a powerful will, he


like half-blown earth bubbles raised by the fiery breath of some long-dead volcano, he fancied he saw the origin of the Mission architecture. In the long sweep of the level plain, he recognized the calm, uneventful life that had left its expression in the patient gravity of the people. In the fierce, restless wind that blew over it-a wind so persistent and perpetual that all umbrage, except a narrow fringe of dwarfed willows defining the line of an extinct water-course, was hidden in sheltered cañons and the leeward slopes of the hills-he recognized something of his own restless race, and no longer wondered at the barrenness of the life that was turned toward the invader. "I dare say," he muttered to himself, "somewhere in the leeward of these people's natures may exist a luxurious growth that we shall never know. I wonder if the Donna has not"-but here he stopped, angry; and, if the truth must be told, a little frightened at the persistency with which Donna Dolores obtruded herself into his abstract philosophy and sentiment.

Possibly something else caused him for the moment to dismiss her from his mind. During his rapid walk he had noticed, as an accidental, and by no means an essential feature of the bleak landscape, the vast herds of crawling, purposeless cattle. An entirely new and distinct impression was now forming itself in his consciousness-namely, that they no longer were purposeless, vagrant, and wandering, but were actually obeying a certain definite law of attraction, and were moving deliberately toward an equally definite object. And that object was himself!

Look where he would; before, behind, on either side,-north, east, south, west,-on the bleak hill-tops, on the slope of the falda, across the dried up arroyo, there were the same converging lines of slowly moving objects toward a single focus-himself! Although walking briskly, and with a certain definiteness of purpose, he was apparently the only unchanging, fixed, and limited point in the now active landscape. Everything that rose above the dead, barren level was now moving slowly, irresistibly, instinctively, but unmistakably, toward one common center-himself! Alone and unsupported, he was the helpless, unconscious nucleus of a slowly gathering force, almost immeasuraable in its immensity and power!

At first the idea was amusing and grotesque. Then it became picturesque. Then it became something for practical consideration. And then-but no!-with the quick

choked down the next consideration before it had time to fasten upon or paralyze his strength. He stopped and turned. The Rancho of the Blessed Trinity was gone! Had it suddenly sunk in the earth, or had he diverged from his path? Neither; he had simply walked over the little elevation. in the plain beside the arroyo and corral, and had already left the Rancho two miles behind him.

It was not the only surprise that came upon him suddenly like a blow between the eyes. The same mysterious attraction had been operating in his rear, and when he turned to retrace his steps toward the Mission, he faced the staring eyes of a hundred bulls not fifty yards away. As he faced them, the nearest turned, the next rank followed their example, the next the same, and the next, until in the distance he could see the movement repeated with military precision and sequence. With a sense of relief, that he put aside as quickly as he had the sense of fear, he quickened his pace, until the nearest bull ahead broke into a gentle trot, which was communicated line by line to the cattle beyond, until the whole herd before him undulated like a vast monotonous sea. He continued on across the arroyo and past the corral until the blinding and penetrating cloud of dust, raised by the plunging hoofs of the moving mass before him, caused him to stop. A dull reverberation of the plain-a sound that at first might have been attributed to a passing earthquake-now became so distinct that he turned. Not twenty yards behind him rose the advance wall of another vast, tumultuous sea of tossing horns and undulating backs that had been slowly following his retreat! He had forgotten that he was surrounded.

The nearest were now so close upon him that he could observe them separately. They were neither large, powerful, vindictive, nor ferocious. On the contrary, they were thin, wasted, haggard, anxious beasts-economically equipped and gotten up, the better to wrestle with a six months' drought, occasional famine, and the incessant buffeting of the wind-wild and untamable, but their staring eyes and nervous limbs expressed only wonder and curiosity. And when he ran toward them with a shout, they turned, as had the others, file by file, and rank by rank, and in a moment were, like the others, in full retreat. Rather, let me say, retreated as the others had retreated, for when he faced about again to retrace his steps toward

the Mission, he fronted the bossy bucklers and inextricable horns of those he had driven only a few moments ago before him. They had availed themselves of his diversion with the rear guard to return.

With the rapidity of a quick intellect and swift perceptions, Arthur saw at once the resistless logic and utter hopelessness of his situation. The inevitable culmination of all this was only a question of time-and a very brief period. Would it be sufficient to enable him to reach the casa? No! Could he regain the corral? Perhaps. Between iting and himself already were a thousand cattle. Would they continue to retreat as he advanced? Possibly. But would he be overtaken meanwhile by those in his rear?

He answered the question himself by drawing from his waistcoat pocket his only weapon, a small " 'Derringer," and taking aim at the foremost bull. The shot took effect in the animal's shoulder, and he fell upon his knees. As Arthur had expected, his nearer comrades stopped and sniffed at their helpless companion. But, as Arthur had not expected, the eager crowd pressing behind overbore them and their wounded brother, and in another instant the unfortunate animal was prostrate and his life beaten out by the trampling hoofs of the resistless, blind, and eager crowd that followed. With a terrible intuition that it was a foreshadowing of his own fate, Arthur turned in the direction of the corral, and ran for his very life!

As he ran he was conscious that the act precipitated the inevitable catastrophe-but he could think of nothing better. As he ran, he felt, from the shaking of the earth beneath his feet, that the act had once more put the whole herd in equally active motion behind him. As he ran, he noticed that the cattle before him retreated with something of his own precipitation. But as he ran, he thought of nothing but the awful fate that was following him, and the thought spurred him to an almost frantic effort. I have tried to make the reader understand that Arthur was quite inaccessible to any of those weaknesses which mankind regard as physical cowardice. In the defense of what he believed to be an intellectual truth, in the interests of his pride or his self-love, or in a moment of passion, he would have faced death with unbroken fortitude and calmness. But to be the victim of an accident; to be the lamentable sequel of a logical succession of chances, without motive or purpose; to be sacrificed for nothing-without proving

or disproving anything; to be trampled to death by idiotic beasts, who had not even the instincts of passion or revenge to justify them; to die the death of an ignorant tramp, or any negligent clown-a death that had a ghastly ludicrousness in its method, a death. that would leave his body a shapeless, indistinguishable, unrecognizable clod which affection could not idealize nor friendship reverence,-all this brought a horror with it so keen, so exquisite, so excruciating, that the fastidious, proud, intellectual being, flee

from it, might have been the veriest dastard that ever turned his back on danger. And superadded to it was a superstitious thought that for its very horror, perhaps it was a retribution for something that he dared not contemplate!

And it was then that his strength suddenly flagged. His senses began to reel. His breath, which had kept pace with the quick beating of his heart, intermitted, hesitated-was lost! Above the advancing thunder of hoofs behind him, he thought he heard a woman's voice. He knew now he was going crazy; he shouted and fell, he rose again and staggered forward a few steps and fell again. It was over now! A sudden sense of some strange, subtile perfume, beating up through the acrid, smarting dust of the plain, that choked his mouth and blinded his eyes, came swooning over him. And then the blessed interposition of unconsciousness and peace.

He struggled back to life again with the word" Philip" in his ears, a throbbing brow, and the sensation of an effort to do something that was required of him. Of all his experience of the last few moments only the perfume remained. He was lying alone in the dry bed of the arroyo; on the bank a horse was standing, and above him bent the dark face and darker eyes of Donna Dolores.

"Try to recover sufficient strength to mount that horse," she said, after a pause.

It was a woman before him. With that innate dread which all masculine nature has of exhibiting physical weakness before a weaker sex, Arthur struggled to rise without the assistance offered by the small hand of his friend. That, however, even at that crucial moment, he so far availed himself of it, as to press it, I fear was the fact.

"You came to my assistance alone?" asked Arthur, as he struggled to his feet.

"Why not? We are equal now, Don Arturo," said Donna Dolores, with a dazzling smile. "I saw you from my window. You

were rash-pardon me-foolish! The oldest vanquero never ventures afoot upon these plains. But come; you shall ride with me. There was no time to saddle another horse, and I thought you would not care to let others know of your adventure! Am I right?"

There was a slight dimple of mischief in her cheek, and a quaint sparkle in her dark eye, as she turned her questioning gaze on Arthur. He caught her hand and raised it respectfully to his lips.

"You are wise as you are brave, Donna Dolores."

Arthur lifted the rein and dropped his heels into the flanks of the horse. In five "We shall see. But at present you must minutes the briefest, as it seemed to him, believe that I am right, and do as I say. he had ever passed-they were once more Mount that horse-I will help you if you within the walls of the Blessed Trinity. (To be continued.)


O PRAISE is ever sweet to hear;
In simple candor I confess it;
And then, I own, 'tis doubly dear,
When loving lips,-like yours,-express it.


And yet, when calmly I reflect

How much is due to Cupid's blindness, Forgive me, dear, if I suspect

Your praises only prove your kindness.

VOL. XI.-37.

are too weak-and-leave a space for me behind you!"

Thus adjured, Arthur leaped into the saddle. If his bones had been broken instead of being bruised, he would still have found strength for that effort. In another instant Donna Dolores' little foot rested on his, and she lightly mounted behind him.

"Home now. Hasten; we will be there before any one will know it," she said, as she threw one arm around his waist, with superb unconsciousness.

Whatever virtues I may boast,

(And slight indeed is my profession,) The one you praise and prize the most May be the least in my possession.

You tell me, sweet! you love-revere

A mind so steady and unswerving; But never Poet yet, I fear,

Of such applause was quite deserving.

The Poet's constancy, at best,

Is like the Bee's-voluptuous rover; Still constant to her honey-quest,

Though found in lily, rose, or clover.

And do I thus my faith impeach

As one untrue to Love's vocation? A moment's patience-I beseech

And you shall hear the explanation:

Suppose the Bee-so prone to stray,

As Fancy bids, from bower to bower, Should chance to find, some lucky day, A wondrous honey-bearing flower;

Which, though she sipped, and came again
As often as the day was sunny,-
Quite unexhausted should remain,

An ever-flowing fount of honey.

Such praise as she might fitly claim,

If ne'er again she proved a rover,
So much (the cases are the same)

Is due your fond and faithful lover!

« AnkstesnisTęsti »