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From: The Crusade Of The Excelsior

The garden over whose wall Brace had mysteriously vanished was
apparently as deserted as the lane and plaza without. But its
solitude was one of graceful shadow and restful loveliness. A tropical
luxuriance, that had perpetuated itself year after year, until it was
half suffocated in its own overgrowth and strangled with its own beauty,
spread over a variegated expanse of starry flowers, shimmering leaves,
and slender inextricable branches, pierced here and there by towering
rigid cactus spikes or the curved plumes of palms. The repose of ages
lay in its hushed groves, its drooping vines, its lifeless creepers;
the dry dust of its decaying leaves and branches mingled with the living
perfumes like the spiced embalmings of a forgotten past.

Nevertheless, this tranquillity, after a few moments, was singularly
disturbed. There was no breeze stirring, and yet the long fronds of a
large fan palm, that stood near the breach in the wall, began to move
gently from right to left, like the arms of some graceful semaphore,
and then as suddenly stopped. Almost at the same moment a white curtain,
listlessly hanging from a canopied balcony of the Alcalde's house, began
to exhibit a like rhythmical and regular agitation. Then everything was
motionless again; an interval of perfect peace settled upon the garden.
It was broken by the apparition of Brace under the balcony, and the
black-veiled and flowered head of Dona Isabel from the curtain above.

"Crazy boy!"

"Senorita!"

"Hush! I am coming down!"

"You? But Dona Ursula!"

"There is no more Dona Ursula!"

"Well--your duenna, whoever she is!"

"There is no duenna!"

"What?"

"Hush up your tongue, idiot boy!" (this in English.)

The little black head and the rose on top of it disappeared. Brace drew
himself up against the wall and waited. The time seemed interminable.
Impatiently looking up and down, he at last saw Dona Isabel at a
distance, quietly and unconcernedly moving among the roses, and
occasionally stooping as if to pick them. In an instant he was at her
side.

"Let me help you," he said.

She opened her little brownish palm,--

"Look!" In her hand were a few leaves of some herb. "It is for you."

Brace seized and kissed the hand.

"Is it some love-test?"

"It is for what you call a julep-cocktail," she replied gravely. "He
will remain in a glass with aguardiente; you shall drink him with a
straw. My sister has said that ever where the Americans go they expect
him to arrive."

"I prefer to take him straight," said Brace, laughing, as he nibbled a
limp leaf bruised by the hand of the young girl. "He's pleasanter, and,
on the whole, more wildly intoxicating this way! But what about your
duenna? and how comes this blessed privilege of seeing you alone?"

Dona Isabel lifted her black eyes suddenly to Brace.

"You do not comprehend, then? Is it not, then, the custom of the
Americans? Is it not, then, that there is no duenna in your country?"

"There are certainly no duennas in my country. But who has changed the
custom here?"

"Is it not true that in your country any married woman shall duenna
the young senorita?" continued Dona Isabel, without replying; "that any
caballero and senorita shall see each other in the patio, and not under
a balcony?--that they may speak with the lips, and not the fan?"

"Well--yes," said Brace.

"Then my brother has arranged it as so. He have much hear the Dona
Barbara Brimmer when she make talk of these things frequently, and he
is informed and impressed much. He will truly have that you will come
of the corridor, and not the garden, for me, and that I shall have no
duenna but the Dona Barbara. This does not make you happy, you American
idiot boy!"

It did not. The thought of carrying on a flirtation under the
fastidious Boston eye of Mrs. Brimmer, instead of under the discreet
and mercenarily averted orbs of Dona Ursula, did not commend itself
pleasantly to Brace.

"Oh, yes," he returned quickly. "We will go into the corridor, in the
fashion of my country"--

"Yes," said Dona Isabel dubiously.

"AFTER we have walked in the garden in the fashion of YOURS. That's only
fair, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Dona Isabel gravely; "that's what the Comandante will call
'internation-al courtesy.'"

The young man slipped his arm around the young diplomatist's waist, and
they walked on in decorous silence under the orange-trees.

"It seems to me," said Brace presently, "that Mrs. Brimmer has a good
deal to say up your way?"

"Ah, yes; but what will you? It is my brother who has love for her."

"But," said Brace, stopping suddenly, "doesn't he know that she has a
husband living?"

Dona Isabel lifted her lashes in childlike wonder.

"Always! you idiot American boy. That is why. Ah, Mother of God! my
brother is discreet. He is not a maniac, like you, to come after a silly
muchacha like me."

The response which Brace saw fit to make to this statement elicited a
sharp tap upon the knuckles from Dona Isabel.

"Tell to me," she said suddenly, "is not that a custom of your country?"

"What? THAT?"

"No, insensate. To attend a married senora?"

"Not openly."

"Ah, that is wrong," said Dona Isabel meditatively, moving the point of
her tiny slipper on the gravel. "Then it is the young girl that shall
come in the corridor and the married lady on the balcony?"

"Well, yes."

"Good-by, ape!"

She ran swiftly down the avenue of palms to a small door at the back of
the house, turned, blew a kiss over the edge of her fan to Brace, and
disappeared. He hesitated a moment or two, then quickly rescaling the
wall, dropped into the lane outside, followed it to the gateway of the
casa, and entered the patio as Dona Isabel decorously advanced from
a darkened passage to the corridor. Although the hour of siesta had
passed, her sister, Miss Chubb, the Alcalde, and Mrs. Brimmer were still
lounging here on sofas and hammocks.

It would have been difficult for a stranger at a first glance to
discover the nationality of the ladies. Mrs. Brimmer and her friend Miss
Chubb had entirely succumbed to the extreme dishabille of the Spanish
toilet--not without a certain languid grace on the part of Mrs. Brimmer,
whose easy contour lent itself to the stayless bodice; or a certain
bashful, youthful naivete on the part of Miss Chubb, the rounded
dazzling whiteness of whose neck and shoulders half pleased and half
frightened her in her low, white, plain camisa--under the lace mantilla.

"It is SUCH a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Brace," said Mrs. Brimmer,
languidly observing the young man through the sticks of her fan; "I was
telling Don Ramon that I feared Dona Ursula had frightened you away. I
told him that your experience of American society might have caused you
to misinterpret the habitual reserve of the Castilian," she continued

with the air of being already an alien of her own country, "and I should
be only too happy to undertake the chaperoning of both these young
ladies in their social relations with our friends. And how is dear Mr.
Banks? and Mr. Crosby? whom I so seldom see now. I suppose, however,
business has its superior attractions."

But Don Ramon, with impulsive gallantry, would not--nay, COULD not--for
a moment tolerate a heresy so alarming. It was simply wildly impossible.
For why? In the presence of Dona Barbara--it exists not in the heart of
man!

"YOU cannot, of course, conceive it, Don Ramon," said Mrs. Brimmer, with
an air of gentle suffering; "but I fear it is sadly true of the American
gentlemen. They become too absorbed in their business. They forget their
duty to our sex in their selfish devotion to affairs in which we are
debarred from joining them, and yet they wonder that we prefer the
society of men who are removed by birth, tradition, and position from
this degrading kind of selfishness."

"But that was scarcely true of your own husband. HE was not only
a successful man in business, but we can see that he was equally
successful in his relations to at least one of the fastidious sex," said
Brace, maliciously glancing at Don Ramon.

Mrs. Brimmer received the innuendo with invulnerable simplicity.

"Mr. Brimmer is, I am happy to say, NOT a business man. He entered into
certain contracts having more or less of a political complexion, and
carrying with them the genius but not the material results of trade.
That he is not a business man--and a successful one--my position here at
the present time is a sufficient proof," she said triumphantly. "And I
must also protest," she added, with a faint sigh, "against Mr. Brimmer
being spoken of in the past tense by anybody. It is painfully premature
and ominous!"

She drew her mantilla across her shoulders with an expression of
shocked sensitiveness which completed the humiliation of Brace and the
subjugation of Don Ramon. But, unlike most of her sex, she was wise
in the moment of victory. She cast a glance over her fan at Brace, and
turned languidly to Dona Isabel.

"Mr. Brace must surely want some refreshment after his long ride. Why
don't you seize this opportunity to show him the garden and let him
select for himself the herbs he requires for that dreadful American
drink; Miss Chubb and your sister will remain with me to receive the
Comandante's secretary and the Doctor when they come."

"She's more than my match," whispered Brace to Dona Isabel, as they left
the corridor together. "I give in. I don't understand her: she frightens
me."

"That is of your conscience! It is that you would understand the Dona
Leonor--your dear Miss Keene--better! Ah! silence, imbecile! this Dona
Barbara is even as thou art--a talking parrot. She will have that the
Comandante's secretary, Manuel, shall marry Mees Chubb, and that the
Doctor shall marry my sister. But she knows not that Manuel--listen so
that you shall get sick at your heart and swallow your moustachio!--that
Manuel loves the beautiful Leonor, and that Leonor loves not him, but
Don Diego; and that my sister loathes the little Doctor. And this Dona
Barbara, that makes your liver white, would be a feeder of chickens with
such barley as this! Ah! come along!"

The arrival of the Doctor and the Comandante's secretary created another
diversion, and the pairing off of the two couples indicated by Dona
Isabel for a stroll in the garden, which was now beginning to recover
from the still heat of mid-day. This left Don Ramon and Mrs. Brimmer
alone in the corridor; Mrs. Brimmer's indefinite languor, generally
accepted as some vague aristocratic condition of mind and body, not
permitting her to join them.

There was a moment of dangerous silence; the voices of the young people
were growing fainter in the distance. Mrs. Brimmer's eyes, in the shadow
of her fan, were becoming faintly phosphorescent. Don Ramon's melancholy
face, which had grown graver in the last few moments, approached nearer
to her own.

"You are unhappy, Dona Barbara. The coming of this young cavalier, your
countryman, revives your anxiety for your home. You are thinking of this
husband who comes not. Is it not so?"

"I am thinking," said Mrs. Brimmer, with a sudden revulsion of solid
Boston middle-class propriety, shown as much in the dry New England
asperity of voice that stung even through her drawling of the Castilian
speech, as in anything she said,--"I am thinking that, unless Mr.
Brimmer comes soon, I and Miss Chubb shall have to abandon the
hospitality of your house, Don Ramon. Without looking upon myself as a
widow, or as indefinitely separated from Mr. Brimmer, the few words let
fall by Mr. Brace show me what might be the feelings of my countrymen
on the subject. However charming and considerate your hospitality has
been--and I do not deny that it has been MOST grateful to ME--I feel
I cannot continue to accept it in those equivocal circumstances. I
am speaking to a gentleman who, with the instincts and chivalrous
obligations of his order, must sympathize with my own delicacy in coming
to this conclusion, and who will not take advantage of my confession
that I do it with pain."

She spoke with a dry alacrity and precision so unlike her usual languor
and the suggestions of the costume, and even the fan she still kept
shading her faintly glowing eyes, that the man before her was more
troubled by her manner than her words, which he had but imperfectly
understood.

"You will leave here--this house?" he stammered.

"It is necessary," she returned.

"But you shall listen to me first!" he said hurriedly. "Hear me, Dona
Barbara--I have a secret--I will to you confess"--

"You must confess nothing," said Mrs. Brimmer, dropping her feet from
the hammock, and sitting up primly, "I mean--nothing I may not hear."

The Alcalde cast a look upon her at once blank and imploring.

"Ah, but you will hear," he said, after a pause. "There is a ship
coming here. In two weeks she will arrive. None know it but myself, the
Comandante, and the Padre. It is a secret of the Government. She will
come at night; she will depart in the morning, and no one else shall
know. It has ever been that she brings no one to Todos Santos, that she
takes no one from Todos Santos. That is the law. But I swear to you
that she shall take you, your children, and your friend to Acapulco in
secret, where you will be free. You will join your husband; you will be
happy. I will remain, and I will die."

It would have been impossible for any woman but Mrs. Brimmer to have
regarded the childlike earnestness and melancholy simplicity of this
grown-up man without a pang. Even this superior woman experienced a
sensible awkwardness as she slipped from the hammock and regained an
upright position.

"Of course," she, began, "your offer is exceedingly generous; and
although I should not, perhaps, take a step of this kind without the
sanction of Mr. Brimmer, and am not sure that he would not regard it as
rash and premature, I will talk it over with Miss Chubb, for whom I am
partially responsible. Nothing," she continued, with a sudden access of
feeling, "would induce me, for any selfish consideration, to take any
step that would imperil the future of that child, towards whom I feel as
a sister." A slight suffusion glistened under her pretty brown lashes.
"If anything should happen to her, I would never forgive myself; if I
should be the unfortunate means of severing any ties that SHE may have
formed, I could never look her in the face again. Of course, I can well
understand that our presence here must be onerous to you, and that you
naturally look forward to any sacrifice--even that of the interests
of your country, and the defiance of its laws--to relieve you from a
position so embarrassing as yours has become. I only trust, however,
that the ill effects you allude to as likely to occur to yourself after
our departure may be exaggerated by your sensitive nature. It would be
an obligation added to the many that we owe you, which Mr. Brimmer would
naturally find he could not return--and that, I can safely say, he would
not hear of for a single moment."

While speaking, she had unconsciously laid aside her fan, lifted her
mantilla from her head with both hands, and, drawing it around her
shoulders and under her lifted chin, had crossed it over her bosom
with a certain prim, automatic gesture, as if it had been the starched
kerchief of some remote Puritan ancestress. With her arms still
unconsciously crossed, she stooped rigidly, picked up her fan with three
fingers, as if it had been a prayer-book, and, with a slight inclination
of her bared head, with its accurately parted brown hair, passed slowly
out of the corridor.

Astounded, bewildered, yet conscious of some vague wound, Don Ramon
remained motionless, staring after her straight, retreating figure.
Unable to follow closely either the meaning of her words or the logic
of her reasoning, he nevertheless comprehended the sudden change in
her manner, her voice, and the frigid resurrection of a nature he had
neither known nor suspected. He looked blankly at the collapsed hammock,
as if he expected to find in its depths those sinuous graces, languid
fascinations, and the soft, half sensuous contour cast off by this
vanishing figure of propriety.

In the eight months of their enforced intimacy and platonic seclusion
he had learned to love this naive, insinuating woman, whose frank
simplicity seemed equal to his own, without thought of reserve, secrecy,
or deceit. He had gradually been led to think of the absent husband
with what he believed to be her own feelings--as of some impalpable,
fleshless ancestor from whose remote presence she derived power,
wealth, and importance, but to whom she owed only respect and certain
obligations of honor equal to his own. He had never heard her speak of
her husband with love, with sympathy, with fellowship, with regret. She
had barely spoken of him at all, and then rather as an attractive factor
in her own fascinations than a bar to a free indulgence in them. He was
as little in her way as--his children. With what grace she had adapted
herself to his--Don Ramon's--life--she who frankly confessed she had no
sympathy with her husband's! With what languid enthusiasm she had taken
up the customs of HIS country, while deploring the habits of her own!
With what goddess-like indifference she had borne this interval
of waiting! And yet this woman--who had seemed the embodiment of
romance--had received the announcement of his sacrifice--the only
revelation he allowed himself to make of his hopeless passion--with the
frigidity of a duenna! Had he wounded her in some other unknown way?
Was she mortified that he had not first declared his passion--he who had
never dared to speak to her of love before? Perhaps she even doubted
it! In his ignorance of the world he had, perhaps, committed some grave
offense! He should not have let her go! He should have questioned,
implored her--thrown himself at her feet! Was it too late yet?

He passed hurriedly into the formal little drawing-room, whose bizarre
coloring was still darkened by the closed blinds and dropped awnings
that had shut out the heat of day. She was not there. He passed the open
door of her room; it was empty. At the end of the passage a faint light
stole from a door opening into the garden that was still ajar. She must
have passed out that way. He opened it, and stepped out into the garden.

The sound of voices beside a ruined fountain a hundred yards away
indicated the vicinity of the party; but a single glance showed him that
she was not among them. So much the better--he would find her alone.
Cautiously slipping beside the wall of the house, under the shadow of a
creeper, he gained the long avenue without attracting attention. She was
not there. Had she effectively evaded contact with the others by leaving
the garden through the little gate in the wall that entered the Mission
enclosure? It was partly open, as if some one had just passed through.
He followed, took a few steps, and stopped abruptly. In the shadow of
one of the old pear-trees a man and woman were standing. An impulse of
wild jealousy seized him; he was about to leap forward, but the next
moment the measured voice of the Comandante, addressing Mrs. Markham,
fell upon his ear. He drew back with a sudden flush upon his face. The
Comandante of Todos Santos, in grave, earnest accents, was actually
offering to Mrs. Markham the same proposal that he, Don Ramon, had made
to Mrs. Brimmer but a moment ago!

"No one," said the Comandante sententiously, "will know it but myself.
You will leave the ship at Acapulco; you will rejoin your husband in
good time; you will be happy, my child; you will forget the old man
who drags out the few years of loneliness still left to him in Todos
Santos."

Forgetting himself, Don Ramon leaned breathlessly forward to hear Mrs.
Markham's reply. Would she answer the Comandante as Dona Barbara had
answered HIM? Her words rose distinctly in the evening air.

"You're a gentleman, Don Miguel Briones; and the least respect I can
show a man of your kind is not to pretend that I don't understand the
sacrifice you're making. I shall always remember it as about the biggest
compliment I ever received, and the biggest risk that any man--except
one--ever ran for me. But as the man who ran that bigger risk isn't here
to speak for himself, and generally trusts his wife, Susan Markham, to
speak for him--it's all the same as if HE thanked you. There's my hand,
Don Miguel: shake it. Well--if you prefer it--kiss it then. There--don't
be a fool--but let's go back to Miss Keene."





Next: A Gleam Of Sunshine

Previous: The Mourners At Todos Santos



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