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A Gleam Of Sunshine








From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

While these various passions had been kindled by her compatriots in
the peaceful ashes of Todos Santos, Eleanor Keene had moved among them
indifferently and, at times, unconsciously. The stranding of her young
life on that unknown shore had not drawn her towards her fellow-exiles,
and the circumstances which afterwards separated her from daily contact
with them completed the social estrangement. She found herself more in
sympathy with the natives, to whom she had shown no familiarity,
than with her own people, who had mixed with them more or less
contemptuously. She found the naivete of Dona Isabel more amusing than
the doubtful simplicity of that married ingenue Mrs. Brimmer, although
she still met the young girl's advances with a certain reserve. She
found herself often pained by the practical brusqueness with which Mrs.
Markham put aside the Comandante's delicate attentions, and she was
moved with a strange pity for his childlike trustfulness, which she knew
was hopeless. As the months passed, on the few occasions that she still
met the Excelsior's passengers she was surprised to find how they
had faded from her memory, and to discover in them the existence of
qualities that made her wonder how she could have ever been familiar
with them. She reproached herself with this fickleness; she wondered
if she would have felt thus if they had completed their voyage to San
Francisco together; and she recalled, with a sad smile, the enthusiastic
plans they had formed during the passage to perpetuate their fellowship
by anniversaries and festivals. But she, at last, succumbed, and finally
accepted their open alienation as preferable to the growing awkwardness
of their chance encounters.

For a few weeks following the flight of Captain Bunker and her
acceptance of the hospitality and protection of the Council, she became
despondent. The courage that had sustained her, and the energy she had
shown in the first days of their abandonment, suddenly gave way, for no
apparent reason. She bitterly regretted the brother whom she scarcely
remembered; she imagined his suspense and anguish on her account, and
suffered for both; she felt the dumb pain of homesickness for a home
she had never known. Her loneliness became intolerable. Her condition
at last affected Mrs. Markham, whose own idleness had been beguiled by

writing to her husband an exhaustive account of her captivity, which had
finally swelled to a volume on Todos Santos, its resources, inhabitants,
and customs. "Good heavens!" she said, "you must do something, child,
to occupy your mind--if it is only a flirtation with that conceited
Secretary." But this terrible alternative was happily not required. The
Comandante had still retained as part of the old patriarchal government
of the Mission the Presidio school, for the primary instruction of
the children of the soldiers,--dependants of the garrison. Miss Keene,
fascinated by several little pairs of beady black eyes that had looked
up trustingly to hers from the playground on the glacis, offered to
teach English to the Comandante's flock. The offer was submitted to
the spiritual head of Todos Santos, and full permission given by Padre
Esteban to the fair heretic. Singing was added to the Instruction, and
in a few months the fame of the gracious Dona Leonor's pupils stirred to
emulation even the boy choristers of the Mission.

Her relations with James Hurlstone during this interval were at first
marked by a strange and unreasoning reserve. Whether she resented
the singular coalition forced upon them by the Council and felt the
awkwardness of their unintentional imposture when they met, she did not
know, but she generally avoided his society. This was not difficult, as
he himself had shown no desire to intrude his confidences upon her; and
even in her shyness she could not help thinking that if he had treated
the situation lightly or humorously--as she felt sure Mr. Brace or Mr.
Crosby would have done--it would have been less awkward and unpleasant.
But his gloomy reserve seemed to the high-spirited girl to color their
innocent partnership with the darkness of conspiracy.

"If your conscience troubles you, Mr. Hurlstone, in regard to the
wretched infatuation of those people," she had once said, "undeceive
them, if you can, and I will assist you. And don't let that affair
of Captain Bunker worry you either. I have already confessed to the
Comandante that he escaped through my carelessness."

"You could not have done otherwise without sacrificing the poor
Secretary, who must have helped you," Hurlstone returned quietly.

Miss Keene bit her lip and dropped the subject. At their next meeting
Hurlstone himself resumed it.

"I hope you don't allow that absurd decree of the Council to disturb
you; I imagine they're quite convinced of their folly. I know that
the Padre is; and I know that he thinks you've earned a right to the
gratitude of the Council in your gracious task at the Presidio school
that is far beyond any fancied political service."

"I really haven't thought about it at all," said Miss Keene coolly. "I
thought it was YOU who were annoyed."

"I? not at all," returned Hurlstone quickly. "I have been able to assist
the Padre in arranging the ecclesiastical archives of the church, and
in suggesting some improvement in codifying the ordinances of the last
forty years. No; I believe I'm earning my living here, and I fancy they
think so."

"Then it isn't THAT that troubles you?" said Miss Keene carelessly, but
glancing at him under the shade of her lashes.

"No," he said coldly, turning away.

Yet unsatisfactory as these brief interviews were, they revived in Miss
Keene the sympathizing curiosity and interest she had always felt for
this singular man, and which had been only held in abeyance at the
beginning of their exile; in fact, she found herself thinking of him
more during the interval when they seldom saw each other, and apparently
had few interests in common, than when they were together on the
Excelsior. Gradually she slipped into three successive phases of feeling
towards him, each of them marked with an equal degree of peril to her
peace of mind. She began with a profound interest in the mystery of
his secluded habits, his strange abstraction, and a recognition of
the evident superiority of a nature capable of such deep
feeling--uninfluenced by those baser distractions which occupied Brace,
Crosby, and Winslow. This phase passed into a settled conviction that
some woman was at the root of his trouble, and responsible for it. With
an instinctive distrust of her own sex, she was satisfied that it must
be either a misplaced or unworthy attachment, and that the unknown woman
was to blame. This second phase--which hovered between compassion and
resentment--suddenly changed to the latter--the third phase of her
feelings. Miss Keene became convinced that Mr. Hurlstone had a settled
aversion to HERSELF. Why and wherefore, she did not attempt to reason,
yet she was satisfied that from the first he disliked her. His studious
reserve on the Excelsior, compared with the attentions of the others,
ought then to have convinced her of the fact; and there was no doubt
now that his present discontent could be traced to the unfortunate
circumstances that brought them together. Having given herself up to
that idea, she vacillated between a strong impulse to inform him that
she knew his real feelings and an equally strong instinct to avoid him
hereafter entirely. The result was a feeble compromise. On the ground
that Mr. Hurlstone could "scarcely be expected to admire her inferior
performances," she declined to invite him with Father Esteban to listen
to her pupils. Father Esteban took a huge pinch of snuff, examined
Miss Keene attentively, and smiled a sad smile. The next day he
begged Hurlstone to take a volume of old music to Miss Keene with his
compliments. Hurlstone did so, and for some reason exerted himself to be
agreeable. As he made no allusion to her rudeness, she presumed he did
not know of it, and speedily forgot it herself. When he suggested a
return visit to the boy choir, with whom he occasionally practiced, she
blushed and feared she had scarcely the time. But she came with Mrs.
Markham, some consciousness, and a visible color!

And then, almost without her knowing how or why, and entirely unexpected
and unheralded, came a day so strangely and unconsciously happy, so
innocently sweet and joyous, that it seemed as if all the other days
of her exile had only gone before to create it, and as if it--and it
alone--were a sufficient reason for her being there. A day full of
gentle intimations, laughing suggestions, childlike surprises and
awakenings; a day delicious for the very incompleteness of its vague
happiness. And this remarkable day was simply marked in Mrs. Markham's
diary as follows:--"Went with E. to Indian village; met Padre and J. H.
J. H. actually left shell and crawled on beach with E. E. chatty."

The day itself had been singularly quiet and gracious, even for that
rare climate of balmy days and recuperating nights. At times the slight
breath of the sea which usually stirred the morning air of Todos Santos
was suspended, and a hush of expectation seemed to arrest land and
water. When Miss Keene and Mrs. Markham left the Presidio, the tide was
low, and their way lay along the beach past the Mission walls. A walk
of two or three miles brought them to the Indian village--properly a
suburban quarter of Todos Santos--a collection of adobe huts and rudely
cultivated fields. Padre Esteban and Mr. Hurlstone were awaiting them in
the palm-thatched veranda of a more pretentious cabin, that served as a
school-room. "This is Don Diego's design," said the Padre, beaming with
a certain paternal pride on Hurlstone, "built by himself and helped by
the heathen; but look you: my gentleman is not satisfied with it, and
wishes now to bring his flock to the Mission school, and have them
mingle with the pure-blooded races on an equality. That is the
revolutionary idea of this sans culotte reformer," continued the good
Father, shaking his yellow finger with gentle archness at the young man.
"Ah, we shall yet have a revolution in Todos Santos unless you ladies
take him in hand. He has already brought the half-breeds over to his
side, and those heathens follow him like dumb cattle anywhere. There,
take him away and scold him, Dona Leonor, while I speak to the Senora
Markham of the work that her good heart and skillful fingers may do for
my poor muchachos."

Eleanor Keene lifted her beautiful eyes to Hurlstone with an artless
tribute in their depths that brought the blood faintly into his cheek.
She was not thinking of the priest's admonishing words; she was thinking
of the quiet, unselfish work that this gloomy misanthrope had been
doing while his companions had been engaged in lower aims and listless
pleasures, and while she herself had been aimlessly fretting and
diverting herself. What were her few hours of applauded instruction with
the pretty Murillo-like children of the Fort compared to his silent and
unrecognized labor! Yet even at this moment an uneasy doubt crossed her
mind.

"I suppose Mrs. Brimmer and Miss Chubb interest themselves greatly in
your--in the Padre's charities?"

The first playful smile she had seen on Hurlstone's face lightened in
his eyes and lips, and was becoming.

"I am afraid my barbarians are too low and too near home for Mrs.
Brimmer's missionary zeal. She and Miss Chubb patronize the Mexican
school with cast-off dresses, old bonnets retrimmed, flannel petticoats,
some old novels and books of poetry--of which the Padre makes an
auto-da-fe--and their own patronizing presence on fete days. Providence
has given them the vague impression that leprosy and contagious
skin-disease are a peculiarity of the southern aborigine, and they have
left me severely alone."

"I wish you would prevail upon the Padre to let ME help you," said Miss
Keene, looking down.

"But you already have the Commander's chickens--which you are bringing
up as swans, by the way," said Hurlstone mischievously. "You wouldn't
surely abandon the nest again?"

"You are laughing at me," said Miss Keene, putting on a slight pout to
hide the vague pleasure that Hurlstone's gayer manner was giving
her. "But, really, I've been thinking that the Presidio children are
altogether too pretty and picturesque for me, and that I enjoy them too
much to do them any good. It's like playing with them, you know!"

Hurlstone laughed, but suddenly looking down upon her face he was struck
with its youthfulness. She had always impressed him before--through her
reserve and independence--as older, and more matured in character. He
did not know how lately she was finding her lost youth as he asked her,
quite abruptly, if she ever had any little brothers and sisters.

The answer to this question involved the simple story of Miss Keene's
life, which she gave with naive detail. She told him of her early
childhood, and the brother who was only an indistinct memory; of her
school days, and her friendships up to the moment of her first step into
the great world that was so strangely arrested at Todos Santos. He
was touched with the almost pathetic blankness of this virgin page.
Encouraged by his attention, and perhaps feeling a sympathy she had
lately been longing for, she confessed to him the thousand little things
which she had reserved from even Mrs. Markham during her first apathetic
weeks at Todos Santos.

"I'm sure I should have been much happier if I had had any one to
talk to," she added, looking up into his face with a naivete of faint
reproach; "it's very different for men, you know. They can always
distract themselves with something. Although," she continued
hesitatingly, "I've sometimes thought YOU would have been happier if you
had had somebody to tell your troubles to--I don't mean the Padre;
for, good as he is, he is a foreigner, you know, and wouldn't look upon
things as WE do--but some one in sympathy with you."

She stopped, alarmed at the change of expression in his face. A quick
flush had crossed his cheek; for an instant he had looked suspiciously
into her questioning eyes. But the next moment the idea of his quietly
selecting this simple, unsophisticated girl as the confidant of his
miserable marriage, and the desperation that had brought him there,
struck him as being irresistibly ludicrous and he smiled. It was the
first time that the habitual morbid intensity of his thoughts on that
one subject had ever been disturbed by reaction; it was the first
time that a clear ray of reason had pierced the gloom in which he had
enwrapped it. Seeing him smile, the young girl smiled too. Then they
smiled together vaguely and sympathetically, as over some unspoken
confidence. But, unknown and unsuspected by himself, that smile had
completed his emancipation and triumph. The next moment, when he sought
with a conscientious sigh to reenter his old mood, he was half shocked
to find it gone. Whatever gradual influence--the outcome of these few
months of rest and repose--may have already been at work to dissipate
his clouded fancy, he was only vaguely conscious that the laughing
breath of the young girl had blown it away forever.

The perilous point passed, unconsciously to both of them, they fell into
freer conversation, tacitly avoiding the subject of Mr. Hurlstone's past
reserve only as being less interesting. Hurlstone did not return Miss
Keene's confidences--not because he wished to deceive her, but that he
preferred to entertain her; while she did not care to know his secret
now that it no longer affected their sympathy in other things. It was a
pleasant, innocent selfishness, that, however, led them along, step by
step, to more uncertain and difficult ground.

In their idle, happy walk they had strayed towards the beach, and had
come upon a large stone cross with its base half hidden in sand, and
covered with small tenacious, sweet-scented creepers, bearing a pale
lilac blossom that exhaled a mingled odor of sea and shore. Hurlstone
pointed out the cross as one of the earliest outposts of the Church on
the edge of the unclaimed heathen wilderness. It was hung with strings
of gaudy shells and feathers, which Hurlstone explained were votive
offerings in which their pagan superstitions still mingled with their
new faith.

"I don't like to worry that good old Padre," he continued, with a light
smile, "but I'm afraid that they prefer this cross to the chapel for
certain heathenish reasons of their own. I am quite sure that they still
hold some obscure rites here under the good Father's very nose, and
that, in the guise of this emblem of our universal faith, they worship
some deity we have no knowledge of."

"It's a shame," said Miss Keene quickly.

To her surprise, Hurlstone did not appear so shocked as she, in her
belief of his religious sympathy with the Padre, had imagined.

"They're a harmless race," he said carelessly. "The place is much
frequented by the children--especially the young girls; a good many of
these offerings came from them."

The better to examine these quaint tributes, Miss Keene had thrown
herself, with an impulsive, girlish abandonment, on the mound by the
cross, and Hurlstone sat down beside her. Their eyes met in an innocent
pleasure of each other's company. She thought him very handsome in the
dark, half official Mexican dress that necessity alone had obliged him
to assume, and much more distinguished-looking than his companions
in their extravagant foppery; he thought her beauty more youthful and
artless than he had imagined it to be, and with his older and graver
experiences felt a certain protecting superiority that was pleasant and
reassuring.

Nevertheless, seated so near each other, they were very quiet. Hurlstone
could not tell whether it was the sea or the flowers, but the dress of
the young girl seemed to exhale some subtle perfume of her own freshness
that half took away his breath. She had scraped up a handful of sand,
and was allowing it to escape through her slim fingers in a slender rain
on the ground. He was watching the operation with what he began to fear
was fatuous imbecility.

"Miss Keene?--I beg your pardon"--

"Mr. Hurlstone?--Excuse me, you were saying"--

They had both spoken at the same moment, and smiled forgivingly at
each other. Hurlstone gallantly insisted upon the precedence of her
thought--the scamp had doubted the coherency of his own.

"I used to think," she began--"you won't be angry, will you?"

"Decidedly not."

"I used to think you had an idea of becoming a priest."

"Why?"

"Because--you are sure you won't be angry--because I thought you hated
women!"

"Father Esteban is a priest," said Hurlstone, with a faint smile, "and
you know he thinks kindly of your sex."

"Yes; but perhaps HIS life was never spoiled by some wicked woman
like--like yours."

For an instant he gazed intently into her eyes.

"Who told you that?"

"No one."

She was evidently speaking the absolute truth. There was no deceit or
suppression in her clear gaze; if anything, only the faintest look of
wonder at his astonishment. And he--this jealously guarded secret, the
curse of his whole wretched life, had been guessed by this simple girl,
without comment, without reserve, without horror! And there had been no
scene, no convulsion of Nature, no tragedy; he had not thrown himself
into yonder sea; she had not fled from him shrinking, but was sitting
there opposite to him in gentle smiling expectation, the golden light
of Todos Santos around them, a bit of bright ribbon shining in her dark
hair, and he, miserable, outcast, and recluse, had not even changed his
position, but was looking up without tremulousness or excitement, and
smiling, too.

He raised himself suddenly on his knee.

"And what if it were all true?" he demanded.

"I should be very sorry for you, and glad it were all over now," she
said softly.

A faint pink flush covered her cheek the next moment, as if she had
suddenly become aware of another meaning in her speech, and she turned
her head hastily towards the village. To her relief she discerned that a
number of Indian children had approached them from behind and had halted
a few paces from the cross. Their hands were full of flowers and shells
as they stood hesitatingly watching the couple.

"They are some of the school-children," said Hurlstone, in answer to her
inquiring look; "but I can't understand why they come here so openly."

"Oh, don't scold them!" said Eleanor, forgetting her previous orthodox
protest; "let us go away, and pretend we don't notice them."

But as she was about to rise to her feet the hesitation of the little
creatures ended in a sudden advance of the whole body, and before she
comprehended what they were doing they had pressed the whole of their
floral tributes in her lap. The color rose again quickly to her laughing
face as she looked at Hurlstone.

"Do you usually get up this pretty surprise for visitors?" she said
hesitatingly.

"I assure you I have nothing to do with it," he answered, with frank
amazement; "it's quite spontaneous. And look--they are even decorating
ME."

It was true; they had thrown a half dozen strings of shells on
Hurlstone's unresisting shoulders, and, unheeding the few words he
laughingly addressed them in their own dialect, they ran off a few
paces, and remained standing, as if gravely contemplating their work.
Suddenly, with a little outcry of terror, they turned, fled wildly past
them, and disappeared in the bushes.

Miss Keene and Hurlstone rose at the same moment, but the young girl,
taking a step forward, suddenly staggered, and was obliged to clasp one
of the arms of the cross to keep herself from falling. Hurlstone sprang
to her side.

"Are you ill?" he asked hurriedly. "You are quite white. What is the
matter?"

A smile crossed her colorless face.

"I am certainly very giddy; everything seems to tremble."

"Perhaps it is the flowers," he said anxiously. "Their heavy perfume in
this close air affects you. Throw them away, for Heaven's sake!"

But she clutched them tighter to her heart as she leaned for a moment,
pale yet smiling, against the cross.

"No, no!" she said earnestly; "it was not that. But the children were
frightened, and their alarm terrified me. There, it is over now."

She let him help her to her seat again as he glanced hurriedly around
him. It must have been sympathy with her, for he was conscious of a
slight vertigo himself. The air was very close and still. Even the
pleasant murmur of the waves had ceased.

"How very low the tide is!" said Eleanor Keene, resting her elbow on
her knees and her round chin upon her hand. "I wonder if that could have
frightened those dear little midgets?" The tide, in fact, had left the
shore quite bare and muddy for nearly a quarter of a mile to seaward.

Hurlstone arose, with grave eyes, but a voice that was unchanged.

"Suppose we inquire? Lean on my arm, and we'll go up the hill towards
the Mission garden. Bring your flowers with you."

The color had quite returned to her cheek as she leant on his proffered
arm. Yet perhaps she was really weaker than she knew, for he felt the
soft pressure of her hand and the gentle abandonment of her figure
against his own as they moved on. But for some preoccupying thought,
he might have yielded more completely to the pleasure of that innocent
contact and have drawn her closer towards him; yet they moved steadily
on, he contenting himself from time to time with a hurried glance at
the downcast fringes of the eyes beside him. Presently he stopped,
his attention disturbed by what appeared to be the fluttering of a
black-winged, red-crested bird, in the bushes before him. The next
moment he discovered it to be the rose-covered head of Dona Isabel, who
was running towards them. Eleanor withdrew her arm from Hurlstone's.

"Ah, imbecile!" said Dona Isabel, pouncing upon Eleanor Keene like an
affectionate panther. "They have said you were on the seashore, and I
fly for you as a bird. Tell to me quick," she whispered, hastily putting
her own little brown ear against Miss Keene's mouth, "immediatamente,
are you much happy?"

"Where is Mr. Brace?" said Miss Keene, trying to effect a diversion, as
she laughed and struggled to get free from her tormentor.

"He, the idiot boy! Naturally, when he is for use, he comes not. But
as a maniac--ever! I would that I have him no more. You will to me
presently give your--brother! I have since to-day a presentimiento that
him I shall love! Ah!"

She pressed her little brown fist, still tightly clutching her fan,
against her low bodice, as if already transfixed with a secret and
absorbing passion.

"Well, you shall have Dick then," said Miss Keene, laughing; "but was it
for THAT you were seeking me?"

"Mother of God! you know not then what has happened? You are a blind--a
deaf--to but one thing all the time? Ah!" she said quickly, unfolding
her fan and modestly diving her little head behind it, "I have ashamed
for you, Miss Keene."

"But WHAT has happened?" said Hurlstone, interposing to relieve his
companion. "We fancied something"--

"Something! he says something!--ah, that something was a temblor! An
earthquake! The earth has shaken himself. Look!"

She pointed with her fan to the shore, where the sea had suddenly
returned in a turbulence of foam and billows that was breaking over the
base of the cross they had just quitted.

Miss Keene drew a quick sigh. Dona Isabel had ducked again modestly
behind her fan, but this time dragging with her other arm Miss Keene's
head down to share its discreet shadow as she whispered,--

"And--infatuated one!--you two never noticed it!"





Next: Clouds And Change

Previous: International Courtesies



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