A Gleam Of Sunshine





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!"





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