Puslapio vaizdai



By L. FRANK TOOKER Author of "Under Rocking Skies"

Illustrations by Gerald Leake

T was very hot in Camagüey that afternoon, and very still. High in the burnished-silver sky a vulture wheeled slowly on motionless wings, the only living creature that Caxton's wandering gaze encountered. A lingering touch of the nervous restlessness that had forced him to seek a long rest in the tropics had driven him forth from his hotel while all Camagüey was hushed in the siesta, and already regretting his abnormal activity, he had stopped for a moment in the shadowed recess of an orange-hued wall. Above the top of the opposite wall of the narrow street he caught the sound of the heaving surge of wind-blown boughs; but there was no coolness in the sound or in the actual pressure of the trade-wind on his flushed face. He gasped in the hot rush of the scented air; for a moment he felt the light-headed and incorporeal sensation of one suddenly awakened from fevered sleep.

The feeling passed, and presently he became aware of a new sensation: he felt that he was not alone. Turning slowly, his gaze met the fixed look of a woman's eyes. A narrow, grated window set in the shadowed wall brought its sill slightly above the level of his head, and above the sill, a little back from the opening, her eyes gazed straight into his.

The black mantilla that dropped to the edge of her clearly marked brows was held in such fashion that only the eyes, with a narrow setting of face, and the slender hand that held the mantilla in place were to be seen. The rimming face and the hand were ivory-hued, the fingers delicate, shapely, and untouched by marks of toil.

They disclosed, Caxton was pleased to fancy, the presence of gentle breeding; but the eyes were beautiful and held the potentiality of supreme devotion. He told himself that they could be no other than the eyes of a young girl as yet untouched by love or great joy or sorrow, so starry pure was their gaze, so fearlessly childlike. A certain susceptibility of his nature to romantic influences that had something almost boyish in its disregard of convention was deeply stirred. The familiar story of Cuvier's power to reconstruct a prehistoric animal from a single bone came to him now with none of his old awe of Cuvier's genius. From these eyes alone, he told himself fervidly, he might with reasonable certainty reconstruct their harmonious abode. All at once he awoke to the length of his scrutiny.

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"And that past is, the señor thinks-is -is-" Her eyes searched him questioningly.

"Very beautiful," he promptly responded.

She laughed then; but suddenly she leaned forward impetuously, and said with a little quaver of excitement in her voice: "Listen, Señor! In all my life nothing so exciting as this has ever before happened to me. So very beautiful like that it has been! The great dullness-that is how I call it. And now I am very much frightened, me. You think that is very funny, Señor, to be frightened because of the speaking to some man?"

"Not funny," he gravely answered. "I should be very sorry to think I had made you unhappy in any way."

"Oh, but not unhappy, Señor!" she hastened to reassure him. "Frightened-only a little frightened. Sufficient to make the heart beat with rapidity, you understand, but not to cause some unhappiness. Au contraire, Señor."

"Then I am glad that I stopped at your window and stared," he declared.

"Yes, Señor," she said meekly.

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"I did not know it was your windowany one's window," he continued. "You see, I was very lonely. I have been ill, and to-day I felt restless, and could not stay in my room; but when I had come this far I realized that I was still too weak to be hurrying through your streets at this hour. I felt a little ill, and stopped here in the shade. Then, curiously indeed, I felt you were near, and turned. Perhaps that is why I stared-at first, because I felt a little ill."

"Señor! You been ill, yet walk at this hour in the sun!" she cried. "You want to get dead? Señor!"

"It was very foolish, I know," he confessed.

"It was wicked," she declared, "very wrong."

"Yet I am glad," he said; "for now I have seen you."

"You must walk very slow to your house, and keep very still for the longest time," she told him with tender severity.

"Yes, I suppose I must go now," he replied sadly. His feet, however, appeared to consider the question debatable; they made no move to depart.

"Now, in the yet so great heat!" she exclaimed. "Señor, you crazy? No one shall come here at this hour. You think I am so wicked to desire anybody to walk in the hot sun now?"

"You wicked!" he exclaimed. “I have seen only your eyes, but I know you are good and-beautiful. I know." He looked up into her face like one who has burned all his bridges behind him. "Señorita, do you believe in fate?" he asked suddenly. "Fate?" she repeated. "You mean She paused expectantly.

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"Yes," he said, "some power, I don't know what, that brings people together, surely, inevitably, and perhaps from the very corners of the earth; and when they at last stand face to face, it is as though nothing else could have possibly happened. Two months ago I had never heard of Camagüey. I had been working too hard and had to rest, and by the merest chance, it seemed, wandered down here-here in Camagüey. Did any one ever before start out for a walk in Camagüey in the hour of the siesta? Well, I did to-day. And, Señorita, have you often looked out of this window at this hour?"

She shook her head.

"I do not remember ever looking," she replied. "To-day I was restless. Something-" she paused.

"But you looked to-day," he said eagerly, "and I stared up into your face. You see? Something has brought it strangely about-fate. It had to be."

"Certainly it seems very strange, Señor," she replied. She seemed impressed, but suddenly she looked up with a little laugh as she went on: "And now you will go away, and when next I look out the window I shall see only the empty street, as before. That fate is very funny, I think to take so great trouble for so little thing.'

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"Not little," he protested. "I have seen you. I no longer care to go away."

"It would be very funny for the señor

to stand there always-very inconvenient," she declared, and laughed again. "But to come back, Señorita?" he asked eagerly. "Would you be angry? Would you again look out?"

"But the señor forgets he has been ill," she reminded him gently. "It is unwise to walk in the sun at such times." She shook her head slowly. "No, Señor, I cannot permit. I shall sleep very sound at this hour always."

"But is there no other way?" he persisted. "I could prove to your father and you that I am-oh, all the things that a father might wish to know. Is there no way? Señorita, I must know you better."

Her eyes dropped for a moment; then slowly she shook her head.

"My father would be very much surprised, I think; yes, very angry," she replied. "Never have I spoken like this to a stranger. My father he is very kind, but he has his own thoughts; he expects them to be ours. My country is different from yours, Señor-much different."

"But your thoughts, Señorita!" he said. eagerly. "Would you not be willing for me to see you again? It need mean nothing to you. We have met in such a strange way, I-well, it would be pretty hard to have it all end like this."

"But the señor has not even seen me now," she reminded him. "He might be very much disappointed, very sorry, some day."

"Never!" he exclaimed. "So sure of that am I that I don't even ask to sec your face now. I've heard your voice and seen your eyes. That is enough for me.

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"The señor is very quick-sudden," she said in a low voice.

"But sure, Señorita," he replied; "I know my own mind. Can't it be managed in some way? Would you not be willing to see me again?"

She looked at him gravely as he spoke, and when he had ended she said with the frankness of a child:

"I never before saw any one like the señor-never."

"Do you mean silly, rude?" he asked dubiously.

"No, Señor; I mean interesting," she answered.

"Well, that is something," he said, with a smile.

But she had not finished.


"Ah," she sighed softly, “I pleased just to look at the señor. He is very beautiful-like the St. Michael in the stained-glass window above the altar in the church. Since I was a little child I have always looked at that most. Alas! sometimes I forget to listen to the padre. from watching the light on his face. You have the same bright hair, Señor, the same proud look. Are you very proud, Señor?"

Were her eyes laughing, or were they tenderly questioning? Certainly her voice. was gently grave. Yet surely it sounded like mockery. Was she mocking him? Had she a subtle coquetry beyond that of other women that he had known? He could not be sure. But her eyes-surely they were wells of truth. He brushed his doubts aside.

"I am very proud to know that I am like your St. Michael," he replied.

"Oh, so much, Señor!" she exclaimed. "Go to see him in the church that you, too, may know."

"If you would only be there, too!" he cried. To that she made no reply, and presently he added: "But which church is it, Señorita? There are so many!"

"Did I say?" she answered. She shook her head sadly. "I fear, Señor, you are not thinking of going to see St. Michael or even to pray.'

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"I'd pray fast enough if you were there, for thankfulness and joy," he declared with fervor.

"That is very wrong to pray only when you are glad," she said gravely. "Such prayers rise no higher than the lips that speak them. You should pray when you have the great disappointment-for strength to bear it."

"Was that your St. Michael's way?" he asked boldly. "No, he tried to do things-did them. Must I be like him only in looks, Señorita? Will you tell me what church?"

It was only for a moment that she hesi

tated, and then he saw her eyes take on a new light as she said demurely:

"Would St. Michael ask for help, Señor? I ask, who do not know. He did things, you say." She stepped back quickly, and he saw her no more.

He accepted her last words as a challenge. In the course of the next twelve hours he learned much. That Don Miguel Alvarez y Morny lived in the house under the window of which he had stood; that Don Miguel was rich and proud and high tempered; that he had four sons and five daughters, two of the latter married; that he hated Americans of the North, though he had once admired them greatly, and had educated his sons in Northern schools and his daughters in the Convent of the Ursulines in New Orleans; that his wife was dead, and he ruled his house like a lord of feudal days-all this he learned. That it was nothing to the point so far as it concerned the identity of the girl with whom he had talked he was sadly aware. To which daughter had he spoken? Could he even be sure that it was a daughter at all? But she had spoken of her father in a way that seemed to point to Don Miguel, and her confession of the dullness of her life and her perturbation at speaking to a man had about it a hint of maiden unsophistication. Surely she must be one of the three still unmarried, he decided. His pride in his deduction gave him new courage and hope.

He did not go to the house again at the hour of the siesta, but at other hours, day and night, he haunted it; but though he now and then caught a glimpse of a covered carriage returning to the house with its freight of sedate and mantilla-hooded forms, no eyes ever flashed bright or veiled glances toward him as the carriage passed into the courtyard and the heavy, green gates closed behind it. Don Miguel himself he saw often, a dark little man with a stern face and a high look of pride, who made his way through the city mostly in solitude, and shunned the social diversions that brought the men of Camagüey to the cafés at night with a certain relaxation of their usual formality.

A week passed, and Caxton still lingered on in Camagüey, though no longer under any delusion as to the possibility of meeting the girl with the eyes. No matter what his social standing at home, he was at last aware that in his present position it would not count, that nothing would count. Even his hope of catching a casual glimpse of the girl at church seemed destined to be denied him, for though he in time found the church of the St. Michael and spent hours in it and in the shaded little plaza before it, he saw no one enter it that he could even remotely liken to the girl of his search.

The romantic temperament needs little to feed upon, but with nothing at all, it soon languishes, and at the end of his fruitless week the fascination of the girl began to grow dim in Caxton's mind. As it faded, the charm of Camagüey also began to pass, and one afternoon as he sat alone at a little round table in the patio of his hotel, the heavy scents of the flowering court, the great red water-jars, the fronds of the palmettos, the limpid blue of the tropic sky, seemed like the setting of some fevered dream from which he had suddenly awakened in his right mind. At that moment his longing for the bracing coolness of his Northern spring was overwhelming. He would depart at once, he told himself impatiently, and as Francisco, his elderly waiter, came softly forward with the light repast that he had ordered more for the purpose of bridging the dragging hours that lay between the end of the siesta and the time when he might stroll through the city with the least discomfort rather than for refreshment, he began to question Francisco concerning the earliest hour of a departing train. Francisco made no direct reply.

"Ah, the señor is going?" he said in a tone that had about it an implication of personal loss. "But he will come again? And soon? He has learned to love Camagüey?"

"I have come a long way, you know, Francisco," he replied—“too long to think of coming again, I fear."

"But a road is shorter the second time

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