Puslapio vaizdai

touch, so tender, felled Popo to the earth, where he groveled with tears and broken words and kisses for her little shoes, damp from the spongy soil. And she suddenly dropped her posings and her parasol, and forgot her complexion and her whalebones, and huddled down beside him in the bracken, hushing his sobs and wiping his face, with sweet epithets and sweeter assurances, finding a strange, wild comfort in mothering him recklessly, straight from the soul. At the height of which really promising situation she was startled by a familiar falsetto hail from her mama as the rest of the party descended into the cañoncito, whither it had been surmised that Popo had conducted Miss Cherry.

After flinging an artless yodel in response to the maternal signal, and while composing Popo and herself into lifelike attitudes suggestive of a mild absorption in the beauties of nature, she whispered. in his ear:

"The next time you come here you shall have two horses to tie in the bamboos."


"Ay Dios! All blessings on thee! when?" he pleaded. "Tell me when!" "Well, to-morrow," she replied after quick thought; "as you would say, my dear, mañana. Yes, I'll manage it. I'm dying for a horseback ride, and I 've had such a lovely time to-day."

To be the only blonde at a Mexican ball is to be reconciled for a few hours to the fate of being a woman. Alicia, her full-blown figure habited in the palest of pink, which seemed of the living texture. of her skin, with a generous measure of diamonds winking in effective constellations upon her golden head and dazzling bosom, absorbed through every pore the enravished admiration of the beholders, and beneficently poured it forth again in magnetic waves of the happiness with which triumph enhances beauty. Popo almost swooned with rapture at this apotheosis of the being who, a few hours earlier, had actually hugged him in the arms now revealed as those of a goddess. And to-morrow! With swimming brain he repeated over and over, as if to convince himself of the incredible, "Mañana!"

Almost as acute as the emotions of Popo, in a different way, were those of a

foreign gentleman who had just been presented to the governor by the newly arrived Mr. Montague Cherry. So palpably moved was the stranger at the sight of Alicia that Mrs. Cherry laid a soothing hand on his arm and whispered a conspirator's caution. Presently he and Alicia stood face to face. Had they been Mexican, there would have ensued an emotional and edifying scene. But all that Alicia said, after one sharp inspiration of surprise, was, with an equivocal halfsmile:

"Why, Edward! Of ali people!" And the gentleman addressed as Edward, finding his voice with difficulty, blurted out hoarsely:

"How are you, Alicia?"

At which Alicia turned smilingly to compliment Doña Elvira on the decorations.

Mr. Edward P. Winterbottom was one of those fortunate persons who seem to prefigure the ideal toward which their race is striving. A thousand conscientious draftsmen, with that national ideal in their subconsciousness, were always hard at work portraying his particular type in various romantic capacities, as those of foot-ball hero, triumphant engineer, "well-known clubman," and pleased patron of the latest collar, cigarette, sauce, or mineral water. Hence he would give you the impression of having seen him before somewhere under very admirable auspices. Extremely good-looking, with long legs, a magnificent chin, and an expression of concentrated manhood, he had every claim to be classed as "wholesome," cherishing a set of opinions suitable to his excellent station in life, a proper reverence for the female of the species, and an adequate working assortment of simple. emotions easily predicable by a reasonably clever woman. Of the weaknesses common to humanity he had fewer than the majority, and in the prostration of remorse and desire in which he now presented himself to Alicia he seemed to offer timber capable of being made over into a prince of lifelong protectors.

Alicia had come to feel that she needed a protector, chiefly from herself. Presently, without committing herself, however, she favored him with a waltz. As they started off, she saw the agonized face of Popo, who had been trying to

reach her. She threw him a smile, which he lamentably failed to return. Not until then did she identify the music as that of the waltz she had promised him on the night of that first serenata. After it was over she good-naturedly missed a dance or two in search of him, meaning to make amends; but he was nowhere to be found.

WITH many apologies, Doña Elvira mentioned to Alicia, when she appeared the following morning, that the household was somewhat perturbed over the disappearance of Próspero. No one could remember having seen him since early in the progress of the ball. He had not slept in his bed, and his favorite horse was missing from the stable. Don Fernando had set the police in motion. Moreover, la mamagrande, informed by telephone, was causing masses to be said for the safety of her favorite. God would undoubtedly protect him, and meanwhile the honored señorita and her mama would be so very gracious as to attribute any apparent neglect of the canons of hospitality to the anxieties of an unduly affectionate mother.

Alicia opened her mouth to reply to that tremulous speech, but, finding no voice, turned and bolted to her room, trying to shut out a vision of a slender boy lying self-slain among the ferns where he had received caresses and whispers of love from a goddess of light fancy and lighter faith. She had no doubt that he was there in his cañoncito. But perhaps he yet lived, waiting for her! She would go at once. Old Ned should escort her as far as the bamboos, to be within call in case of the worst.

Old Ned was so grateful for the privilege of riding into the blossoming country with his Alicia that she rewarded him with a full narration of the Popo episode; and he received the confidence with discreet respect, swallowing any qualms of jealousy, and extolling her for the highminded sense of responsibility which now possessed her to the point of tears.

"It's all your fault, anyway," she declared as they walked their horses up a long hill.

continued fretfully, "and that is that the summer flirtation of our happy land simply cannot be acclimated south of the Rio Grande. These people lack the necessary imperturbability of mind, which may be one good reason why they 're not permitted to hold hands before the marriage ceremony. To complicate matters, it seems that I'm the first blonde with the slightest claim to respectability that ever invaded this part of Mexico, and although the inhabitants have a deluded idea that blue eyes are intensely spiritual, they get exactly the same Adam-and-Eve palpitations from them that we do from the lustrous black orbs of the languishing tropics.'


He accepted the blame with alacrity as a breath of the dear connubial days.

"One thing I 've demonstrated," she

"Did you-ah-did you get as far as -um-kissing?" Mr. Winterbottom inquired, with an admirable air of detach


"Not quite, Edward; that was where the rest of the folks came tagging along. But I promise you this: if I find that Popo alive, I'm going to kiss him for all I 'm worth. The unfortunate child is entitled to nothing less."

"But would n't that-hum-add fuel to the flame?" he asked anxiously.

"It would give him back his self-respect," she declared. "It is n't healthy for a high-spirited boy to feel like a worm."

MR. WINTERBOTTOM, while waiting among the bamboos in company with three sociable horses,-Popo's was in possession when they arrived,-smoked one very long cigar and chewed another into pulpy remains. Alicia not having yodeled, he understood that she had found the boy alive, and he tried to derive comfort from that reflection. He had promised to preserve patience and silence, and such was his anxiety to propitiate Alicia that he managed to subjugate his native energy, although the process involved the kicking up of a good deal of soil. She reflected, when she noted on her return his carefully cheerful expression, that a long course of such discipline would go far toward regenerating him as a man and a husband.

"Well, how is our little patient today?" he inquired with gentle jocosity as he held the stirrup for her.

"I believe he'll pull through now," Alicia responded gravely. "I 've sent him

[blocks in formation]

"By Jove! I wish you would!" he cried earnestly.

"Well, Popo was n't a bit surprised to see me. In fact, he was expecting me." "Indeed? Had n't lost his assurance, then."

"He had simply worked out my probable actions, just as I had worked out his. Of course he looked like a wild thing, hair on end, eyes like a panther, regular young bandit. Well, I rag-timed up in my best tra-la-la style, but he halted me with a splendid gesture, and started a speech. You know what a command of language foreigners have, even the babies. He never fumbled for a word, and all his nouns had verbs waiting, and the climaxes just rolled over one another like waves. It was beautiful.”

"But what was it about?"

"Me, of course: my iniquity, the treacherous falseness residing as ashes in the Dead Sea fruit of my beauty, with a lurid picture of the ruin I had made of his belief in woman, his capacity for happiness, and all that. And he wound up with a burst of denunciation in which he called me by a name which ought not to be applied to any lady in any language."


“Oh, I deserved it, Edward, and I told him so. I did n't care how badly he thought of me if I could only give him back his faith in love. It 's such a wonderful thing to get that back! So I sang pretty small about myself; and when I revealed my exact status as an ex-wife in process of being courted by her divorced husband, his eyes nearly dropped out of his head. You see, they don't play "Tag! You 're it!' with marriage down here. That boy actually began to hand me out a line of missionary talk. He thinks I ought to remarry you, Ned."

"He must have splendid instincts, after all. So of course you did n't kiss him?"


'Wait a minute. After mentioning that I was eleven years older than he, and that my hair had been an elegant mousedrab before I started touching it up—”

"Not at all. I liked its color-a very pretty shade of-"

'After that, I told him that he could thank his stars for the education I had given him, in view of the fact that he 's going to be sent to college in the U. S. A., and I gave him a few first-rate pointers on the college widow breed. And finally, Ned, I put it to him that I was anxious to do the square thing, and if he considered himself entitled to a few kisses while you were waiting, he could help himself."

"And he?" Mr. Winterbottom inquired with a pinched look.

"He looked so cute that I could have hugged him. But he nobly declined."

"That young fellow," said Mr. Winterbottom, taking off his hat and wiping his brow, "is worthy of being an American."

"Why, that was his Indian revenge, the little monkey! But he was tempted, Ned."

"Of course he was. If you'd only tempt me! O Alicia, you 're a saint!"

"That's what Popo called me yesterday, and it was neither more nor less true than what he called me to-day. I suppose we 're all mixtures of one kind and another. And I 've discovered, Ned, that it's the healthiest kind of fun to be perfectly frank with-with an old pal. Let's try it that way next time, shall we, dear?" She offered her lips for the second time that day, and

[merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small]
« AnkstesnisTęsti »