Nina L Smith.

Tales of St. Augustine online

. (page 1 of 7)
Online LibraryNina L SmithTales of St. Augustine → online text (page 1 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




By N. L. sS

'''>- * SIGHTS &&&&.

Bancroft Library


*' Je m* amuse pour vous am user"

N. L. S.





( ( A S the tiny mote floating in the sunbeam, does its part

1\ toward maintaining the balance of the Universe, so the
influence of our lives, despite their individual insignificance,
can not be wholly lost."

Cyril Winthrop had but to close her eyes on the luxurious
disorder of her room, with its countless knicknacks and costly
appointments, to imagine herself again listening to those words
in the dimly lit Cathedral. She saw the drooping, pathetic
face of the Christ on the high altar ; the twinkling lights
below, indistinct and blurred by the clouds of incense floating
in wreaths about the chancel ; the absorbed attention of the
congregation, white and black, and the impassioned face of
the preacher. The remembrance of that face disturbed her
its terrible earnestness had shaken her habitual complacency.

"The influence of our lives is never lost." Was it true?
Was her selfish life to mar other lives after she had passed
away? "He, at least, believes it," she thought. "It is all real
to him our eternal damnation or everlasting bliss and he
cares !"

The previous evening she had been sitting in the rotunda of

10 St. Augustine Remnants.

the hotel, among a number of other frost-bitten Northerners who
had fled to St. Augustine for a thaw under the orange blos
soms. The season's gaieties had somewhat palled upon her,
and her usually radiant spirits were rather depressed. John
Nesbitt coming in from his after dinner cigar, had suggested
that they should hear the midnight mass at the Cathedral. It
was Good Friday, and the services were to be especially im

1 'Father Gaston is to preach," he said, "and he is really
unusual. He is just over from Rome, and has taken this as
his first pastorate. They say he is as handsome as Antinous,
as eloquent as Demosthenes, and as spiritually exalted as
Savonarola. Could you ask more?"

She went, much as she would to the play, with the result
that she, the cynic of twenty-two, lay here tossing to and fro
on her comfortable bed, with the closing sentence of the ser
mon ringing in her ears.

"If I could but know whether he is right and all my old
ideas wrong! Was his mind simply trained to accept it all,
or is his faith a natural attribute?"

She was conscious of a curious mental uneasiness. She rose
and went to the window. The soft, moist air swayed the
curtains inward, and stirred her hair as she stood there. The
light from the low-hanging moon of the Southern skies rippled
through the lace draperies, and swept over her into the room,

It Might Have Been. 11

glinting here and there on the polished surface of the silver
knicknacks of her dressing-table, revealing distinctly the luxu
rious furnishings of the room.

Cyril Winthrop had been compared by a friend from Boston
to the Egyptian obelisk in Central Park with its coating of
parafine. "Like it, you are apparently impervious to both the
burnings and frosts of life, with this effective though intangi
ble mask," he had said.

She recalled this dubious compliment as she leaned against
the window. "Am I really feeling this, or am I simply relish
ing the artistic side of circumstances? How I wish I could
look over and beyond myself! He might help me to do it : in
fact, he did make me forget myself while he spoke. I should
like to meet the man. He is original, clever, and has the
novelty of never having known women. I wonder what he
thinks of us !" With a sudden thought, she stood erect and

"I have it," she said, half audibly. "I will make this inter
esting priest's acquaintance."

She searched about in the dimness, and found her pen, ink
and paper. These she brought to the window, and kneeling
down placed them on the window sill.

"Heavens!" she thought: "if Mamma should awaken and
come in, to find me writing to an unknown man, and he a
priest ! Yet there can be no real harm in it. 7

12 St. Augustine Remnants.

With one hand gathering back her loosened hair, she held
the pen poised over the crested sheet.


"Pardon the liberty taken by a stranger sojourning here for the
Winter months. Chancing to hear your sermon last evening I was
impressed bv some of the points. If you could find time to call, it
would be agreeable, and no doubt profitable to talk further with you
upon the subject of your sermon.

Sincerely yours,
Hotel Ponce de Leon. CYRIL WINTHROP.

"There ! it is done. But it is certainly somewhat audacious.
Yet he won't know whether it is from a man or woman till he
comes, for the name tells nothing, and John says my hand
writing is masculine enough for a Wall Street broker."

The note, folded and sealed, was placed conspicuously upon
her pin-cushion with a complacent smile. Then with a yawn,
the girl sought her pillow, and was soon oblivious of theology
and all else.

She had left New York reluctantly, for she loved her bril
liant existence there, much as the gamin loves the blaze of the
street procession with its prancing and feathers, and all the
other excitements of his irresponsible existence. Her delicate
beauty concealed the strength and force which was the under
current of her character. Her sensitive, mobile face appeared
the mirror of every thought, but alas ! for those unlucky wights

It Mi g Jit Have Been. 13

who so regarded her. Superficially, she was candor itself.
Few detected the shrewd and analytical spirit that lay ambushed
behind that "thoroughbred" frankness.

It was an oft-repeated joke of her mother's, that when a
child she was first taught that a-b spelled ab she asked, "How
do you know that it does?" "Because it does I was told so
when I was your age," her governess replied, rather staggered.
"But how did your teacher know and her teacher know?" she
asked again, and again, and refused to accept the proposition.
She required proof beyond question as to all people and all
things without it she gave neither her confidence nor belief.
Some people thought her hard, and it was sometimes now a
question with herself. She certainly lacked sensitiveness, yet
there were times when sympathy of the most tender sort
proved a heart far from indifferent. Once, while driving in
the Park, she noticed a poor woman with young children try
ing to cross the crowded road, while the policeman stood bv,
wholly blind to her frightened efforts. With a bound Cyril
was out of the carriage, and with eyes aflame guided the
woman across, and then gave the startled guardian of pedes
trians a lecture which left him half indignant but wholly re

Her mother, a nervous woman of amiable but rather feeble
proclivities, regarded her daughter much as a brilliant bird of
another species than her own. Her pride in Cyril's beauty.

14 St. Augustine Remnants.

artistic gowns and social success, was the mainspring of her
existence. She was emotionally religious, and extremely high
church in her views, and spent her leisure hours in embroider
ing elaborated stoles and altar cloths. Cyril allowed her to
do as she liked, but when, during a Lent of special devotion,
her mother with several other ladies of high degree, relieved
their over-burdened consciences by scrubbing the floor of their
church, Cyril thought things had gone far enough. Perhaps
it was the effect of such affectations, combined with the girl's
natural type of mind, that left her with so limited a religious
belief. For the clergy, as a class, she professed but little ad
miration. When on Sunday she joined other respectable
members of society in their luxurious church on Fifth Avenue,
and the sleek, well kept rector rose to dilate on the responsi
bility of saving human souls, the girl queried "Does he really
mean all that? Can he believe that one single soul in this
vast congregation is in danger of Hell fire, and after his elo
quent peroration go out smiling and contented to his comfort
able dinner? Either he does not believe what he preaches, or
else he is without a spark of love for his fellowmen."

And was not the whole system one of selfishness? If she
was good, she was told she would receive as a reward the
sugarplum. If she was not good, then punishment was to
follow. And yet she was so made as to find all wrong things
attractive, and all good things irksome. In fact she generally
found it more pleasant to serve Mammon, and she did so.

// Might PTave Been. 15

John Nesbitt, whom she was to marry the coming June,
represented in great part, the Mammon which she served.
The son of wealthy parents, he had not joined the great army
of money-seekers, but spent several years in Europe, where he
picked up several languages, a slightly foreign manner, and
some very good bric-a-brac. A big, kind-hearted fellow,
essentially a Club man, he troubled himself very little about
things beyond his own horizon. He adored Cyril as a being
far above him mentally, and since their engagement he had
given up any hopes of understanding what he called her

She dominated him in every particular and had convinced
herself she loved him. He had an attractive background of
yachts, fine horses and houses in New York and London, and
this prospective brilliancy surrounded him as a golden halo.
All this was to be Cyril's some day, but occasionally, in spite
of the envy of her friends, she felt a certain contempt for the
sort of woman that circumstances were to make her.

"At forty, I shall be a cool-headed, hard woman of the
world," she often thought. "My better impulses will die a
natural death, and I shall not even regret their loss. I shall be
a giver of fine dinners and the owner of a bad digestion shall
have contempt for the world I live in, yet be a slave to its
opinion, and shall die a joyless old woman."


CATHER GASTON stood at the door of the post-office on
St. George St., with his unopehed letters in his hand, hesi
tating. All through the long, hot day, he had been going from
one end of the town to the other, visiting his flock, nearly all
strangers to him. He had adapted himself to so many differ
ent individualities, and interested himself in so many divergent
channels of the lives about him, that he felt a little dazed and

His great batch of letters, some from his colleagues far away
in Rome, tempted him to a quiet hour before the Vesper ser
vice ; but he crossed to his house on the corner of the Plaza
and gave them to a lad in a long, black soutane, who was
watering the flowers. Then, with his long, swinging
stride the priest went rapidly up King Street to the Ponce
de Leon, for he had the day before received a note from some
one who might be leaving.

Under the entrance he paused, and drew from his wallet a
square envelope, addressed in a bold masculine hand. He
glanced at the signature, then passed on through the court,
with its group of men and women scattered among the palms,
through the rotunda, to the desk. More than one head turned
as he passed, and a bell-boy nudging his companion, asked

// Might Have Been. 17

"Who's dat stunner any how? He's like de bery king

The smiling clerk forgot to twirl his moustache as he looked
into the grave, beautiful face of the priest.

'Will you kindly send my card to Mr. Cyril Winthrop ?"

The clerk turned several leaves of the register before him.

"There is no Mr. Winthrop ^stopping here," he replied,
"but a Miss Cyril Winthrop of New York, is here."

Father Gaston looked puzzled and opened the note again.

"Well, she may, perhaps, be the person." Then after a
little pause. "You may send up the card."

The clerk touched a bell. "Room 248, and the gentleman
is waiting."

The boy returned in a moment. "Dis way, sar, if you
please, sar, one flight up."

With an impish grin thrown to his companions, he led the
way up the marble steps, and along the thickly carpeted hall,
pausing before a white-paneled door. He knocked. Through
the open transom came only a murmur of voices and tinkling
as of glass. A louder knock brought a clear "Come in !"
The door opened. A confused crowd of youthful faces met
Father Gaston's eyes. From the corner of the room a tall,
girlish figure advanced with outstretched hand.

"Father Gaston, is it not?" she asked. "I am the writer of
the note, and thank you so much for coming."


18 St. Augustine Remnants.

She led him to a divan before which stood the samovar and,
drawing aside the delicate draperies, motioned him to the va
cant seat beside her. The ripple of voices and laughter about
them dropped sensibly to a lower key. John Nesbitt crossed to
Mrs. Winthrop, who with lorgnette raised was coolly survey
ing the stranger.

"Who is he?" she asked, with suppressed curiosity. "Isn't
he superb?"

John smiled and leaned toward her.

"He is Father Gaston of whom everyone is talking, but only
Heaven knows how Cyril got him to five o'clock tea. The
man is just out of a Roman College, and presumably knows
no more of social life than a monk of the middle ages. But
Cyril has captured the lion in some mysterious way. Just like
her but odd she didn't mention it."

Meanwhile Father Gaston, having placed his broad-brimmed
hat on the floor beside him, was endeavoring to adapt himself
to circumstances as best he could.

"One or two lumps?" asked Cyril with utmost ease, sugar
tongs poised over his cup, and a glance at his grave face, which
she was glad showed no sign of embarrassment or regret. "No
doubt he is inwardly praying that his eyes may be turned away
from beholding vanity," she thought.

"It was very kind of you to come," she said, "for I under
stand you have recently settled here, and must necessarily have
much to occupy your time."

It Might Have Been. 19

"It gives me great pleasure," he replied, with a bright smile,
"and still more to find that my sermons can reach beyond my
parish. I really did not know it was a lady who asked me to
call. But," he added, "I have sisters and I know the value of
woman's work in the world, and shall be most happy to be
of any assistance to Miss Winthrop."

Cyril found herself coloring at being taken for a "worker."

"Oh ! I beg you to understand that I am not a Roman
Catholic : indeed I am not a very good Protestant. I was sim
ply impressed strongly by your views of life, and I very impul
sively resolved to ask you to help me to accomplish some little
good while here this Winter. We have come here to rest from
our gaieties in New York, but what with the out-door life all
day, and dancing every night, one is more tired than before.
It was your sermon of Good-Friday which made me feel still
more tired of it all. She paused and glanced at Father Gas-
ton's strong face.

"I am only too glad Miss Winthrop, if any words of mine
helped you to realize the importance of earnest living. Believe
me, it is that which makes noble men and women. There
are many things to be done here in St. Augustine, which I
feel sure you could do ably, and which would benefit you as
well as others."

Cyril, thinking no more of the incongruous surroundings,
leaned forward, her eyes brilliant and eager. "Only tell me

20 St. Augustine Remnants.

what," she said, "and I'll try. You don't know how glad I
should be. So far, my life hasn't been much to boast of: the
world would get on quite as well without me."

"If you are really in want of something to do," Father Gas-
ton said with candid interest, "I can tell you now of a young
girl, no older than yourself but poor, terribly poor, who is lying
ill in such poverty as you doubtless never dreamed of. She is
one of a family of poor whites "Crackers," they are called
here, who live in a shanty by the San Sebastian river. The
girl, Hannah Neal, is suffering for the bare necessities, and if
you could see and aid her, I should be very grateful."

Cyril assented eagerly and while getting explicit directions,
her mother approached. Cyril presented Father Gaston and
left them together in animated conversation. He observed the
girl as she moved about the room. She is as full of force as a
race-horse," he thought. Her frankness and her course in seek
ing his help puzzled him. Women he knew were full of
impulses and difficult to understand, but this girl's face was
noble beneath her apparent flippancy ; surely her nature must
be so too. Her strong individuality impressed him, and Pascal's
trite saying came into his mind " Si le nez de Cleopafre eut plus
ete, ou plus court, pcut&tre toute la surface de la terre aurait
changee. " Women were certainly a power in the world.

She came back to him.

"I want to present my friend Mr. Nesbitt," she said gaily,

// Might Have Been. 21

and while they talked, stood silently by, taking mental
measurement of the two men. When the priest took leave,
with the savoir faire of an accomplished man of the world,
she listened to John Nesbitt's good-natured opinion, "Father
Gaston w r as an all round jolly chap," with an expression that
mystified him. At dinner also, he found his usually gay fian-
ce somewhat reflective and subdued. Afterward, while saun
tering through the loggias he rallied her on her mood. She
roused herself, obviously with an effort.

"You are satisfied with me just as I am as I am, are you
not?" she asked.

"Of course, my Cyril," he replied. "I would not have you
different in any way. You are just the prettiest, best dressed
girl going and "

"But," she interrupted, "for all that I'm going to try to be
different. I don't like being merely pretty and well dressed."

"Now don't frighten me, my dear girl," he said laughingly.
"I shall be afraid of seeing a halo shine around your head if
you are going to be more perfect."


A ONE story, white-washed shanty, built on four posts, on
the muddy shore of the San Sebastian. The waters flowed
at full tide almost to the door, and at every ebb left cypress shav
ings and other refuse from the mills farther up the river.
Planks were laid from the road to the entrance, over which
Cyril Winthrop and her maid found their way with some diffi
culty. The air was redolent of noxious odors from the gas
works near by and insect life was evident, in all the activity of
a Southern latitude. After knocking without answer, they
took advantage of the half opened door, and entered. There
was no one to be seen in this room, half chamber and half
kitchen. The floor, through the cracks of which the moist
ground below was visible, had apparently never known a
broom, and upon a small stove a kettle sent up a thin curl of
steam. Cyril passed on to a door at the farther end of the
room and upon opening it, an exclamation of astonishment and
pity escaped her. On a cot, covered with a wretched, patched
quilt, lay a girl, her pallid face turned to the wall. Tangled
curls lay in matted rings about her forehead, and one hand
held a small brown, wooden crucifix. The sun plaved through
the window, from the sill of which a chicken took flight at

// Might Have Been. 23

their entrance. Cyril crossed to the motionless girl and softly
touched her claw-like hand. A pair of sunken brown eyes
opened and stared as though at a vision.

"Father Gaston has sent me to you," she said, U I am to try
and make you more comfortable. Don't talk now wait till I
arrange things a little." And at the mention of the priest's
name came an expression of satisfaction into the wan face.
"Dobbs," turning to her maid, standing horrified in the door
way, "bring the basket. Now go and see if you can find some
clean, warm water."

A fever of energy possessed her. Out of the basket she
brought a bottle of wine, some biscuits and a change of linen.
Dobbs returned with water, and together they worked over the
girl who submitted to them with dull, passive eyes, and smiled
faintly, when clean and refreshed she was laid back on her pil
low. Then Dobbs was sent to the nearest shop for dark cam
bric and tacks. Cyril drew a chair to the bed and sat down.
The sick girl looked with silent wonder at the beautiful, pitying
face bent over her.

"Now tell me something about yourself, if you are able,"
she said. "Why are you here alone?"

Cyril had to bend lower to catch the whispered answer.

"Father has to go off to work every day. The colored wo
man next door comes in now and then, but she has her own
family to look after."

24 vS 1 /. Augustine Remnants.

"How long have you been ill, Hannah?"

"Two months Miss. It's slow fever. I wouldn't mind so
much if I could sleep more."

"Poor child !" said Cyril. "No wonder with this heat and
flies. We'll remedy all that."

Presently the girl asked timidly, "Did you say Father Gas-
ton sent you ?"

"Yes, Hannah."

The pallid face brightened. "He is good, Miss, he is. He
sends things to eat, and sends the doctor too, and has sat
where you are talking so beautiful. It rests me to look at him."

The girl's eyes closed. "So this is poverty," thought Cyril.
She looked about the bare, ugly little room, and thought of
her own, at home. Here was a glimpse of a world of which
she had never dreamed a world where ease and pleasure
were only names, and where want and suffering were terrible
facts. It seemed to her as though a great, gay bubble had
been pricked. Could she ever laugh and dance as gaily as be
fore, with this picture of misery to remember? And such scenes
were the daily portion of Father Gaston. That splendid
strength was spent in alleviating such woes. In this life of total
self-abnegation, without the ordinary ties of human affection,
he was to live till he died. There were, of course, Protestant
clergymen who were noble and self-sacrificing men tc ), but
she had met few like Father Gaston. What a pity he hr ppened

// Might Have Been. 2o

to be a priest. He could be such a power among thousands
like herself.

Dobbs stood in the doorway. Cyril mounted on a nail keg,
tacked the green curtain over the window, and a net across the
bed, and the floor was swept. When all was done, Cyril
viewed her work with pride. With a warm feeling at her heart
she stroked back the girl's curls.

"I will come again soon, Hannah. Meanwhile let your
father get anything you need," and she tucked a crisp bank
note beneath the pillow.

When she was gone, the girl's eyes closed. "It must be
something like this to have a mother," she thought.


Seven o'clock in the morning. Cyril, awake and restless
resolved to go for a walk in the March air, now laden with the
odor of orange blossoms which whitened the groves in and
around St. Augustine. The streets were scarcely yet animated
by any signs of life as she strolled towards the water which
glimmered through the Plaza shrubbery. She mounted the
sea-wall, following it to the Fort. How beautiful was this
fresh awakening world ! Up on the ramparts she shaded her
eyes with her hand, and looked about. To the left, the gray
line of the beach divided the ocean's deep blue from the paler
blue of the Harbor. A faint haze hung over land and water,
foretelling heat for the coming day. Beyond, the low lines of
Anastatia Island the Southern Atlantic was beating upon the
bar with white fury. She threw up both arms in very gladness
of the scene before her, and was about scaling the ladder of the
old Spanish watch tower, when hearing steps behind her, she
turned to see Father Gaston coming toward her. He looked
up, smiling at her confusion. During the past fortnight they
had not only met beside the sick girl's bed, but he had availed
himself of Mrs. Winthrop's earnest invitation to repeat his
previous visit, and the formality of a new acquaintanceship had
sensibly lessened.

It Might Have Been. 27

"I am as much astonished to find myself here as you are. It
was one of my impulses" said Cyril, laughing, as she perched
herself upon the wall, Father Gaston standing before her.

"I want to thank you for what you are accomplishing at the
Deals," he said. "The girl talks of you continually, and al
though she is not much better of her illness, the change in her
surroundings is like new life to her. She calls you 4 the
Angel Miss.' "

"I too, am helped," Cyril replied, looking off into the dis
tance with a softness in the gray depths of her eyes which
touched him.

"There is material here for making a noble woman," he
thought. "Who would not wish to help her ?"

The girl turned to him. "I cannot imagine how you ever
became a priest, you seem so much a man of the world in
many ways. Yet it must have been of your own free will.

1 3 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryNina L SmithTales of St. Augustine → online text (page 1 of 7)