Copyright
Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 96 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 96 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


nevertheless, the evident intent of the pict-
ure, or even the sentiment of the place, did
not touch his heart or brain. But he still
half-unconsciously dropped into a seat, and,.
leaning both arms over the screen before
him, bowed his. head against the oaken
panel. A soft hand laid upon his shoulder
suddenly aroused him.

He looked up sharply and met the ejres



Digitized by



Google



GABRIEL CONROY,



555



of the Padre looking down on him with a
tenderness that both touched and exasper-
ated him.

"Pardon!" said Padre Felipe, gently.
"I have broken in upon your thoughts,
child!"

A litde more brusquely than was his habit
with the Padre, Arthur explained that he
had been studying up a difficult case.

" So !" said the Padre softly^ in response.
"With tears in your eyes, Don Artiut)?
Not so!" he added to himself, as he drew
the young man's arm in his own and the
two passed slowly out once more into the
sunlight.

CHAPTER XIX.

IN WHICH THE DONNA MARIA MAKES AN
IMPRESSION.

The Rancho of the Blessed Fisherman
looked seaward as became its tide. If the
founder of the rancho had shown a religious
taste in the selection of the site of the
dwelling, his charming widow had certainly
shown equal practical taste, and indeed a
profitable availing of some advantages that
the founder did not contemplate, in th^
adornment of the house. The low-walled
square adobe dwelling had been relieved of
much of its hard practical outline by several
feminine additions and suggestions. The
tiled roof had been carri^ over a very
broad veranda supported by vine-clad col-
umns, and the lounging corridor had been,
in defiance of all Spanish custom, trans-
ferred fix)m the inside of the house to the
outside. The interior court-yard no longer
existed. The sombemess of the heavy
Mexican architecture was relieved by bright
French chintzes, delicate lace curtains, and
fipesh colored hangings. The broad veranda
was filled with the later novelties of Chinese
bamboo chairs aiid settees, and a striped
Venetian awning shaded the glare of the
seaward firont Nevertheless, E^nna Maria,
out of respect to the local opinion, which
regarded these changes as ominous of if not
a symbolical putting off the weeds of wid-
owhood, still dung to a few of the local
traditions. It is true that a piano occupied
one side of her drawing-room, but a harp
stood in the comer. If a fi-eshly cut novel
lay open on the piano, a breviary was con-
spicuous on the marble center-table. If, on
the mantel, an elaborate French dock with
bronze shepherdesses trifled with Time, on
the wall above it an iron crucifix spoke of
Eternity.

Mrs. Sepulvida was at home that morning



expecting a guest. She was lying in a
Manilla hammock swimg between two posts
of the veranda, with her face partially hidden
by the netting, and the toe of a litde shoe
just peeping beyond. Not that Donna Maria
expected to receive her guest thus ; on the
contrary, she had given orders to her ser-
vants that the moment a stranger caballero
appeared on the road she was to be apprised
of the fact. For I grieve to say that, far
fi-om taking Arthur's advice, the details of
the adventure at the Point of Pines had
been imparted by her own lips to most of
her female friends, and even to the domes-
tics of her household. In the earlier stages
of a woman's interest in a man she is apt to
be exceedingly communicative; it is only
when she becomes fully aware of the gravity
of the stake involved that she begins to
hedge before the public. The morning after
her adventure Donna Maria was innocentiy
full of its hero and unreservedly voluble.

I have forgotten whether I have described
her. Certainly I could not have a better
opportunity than the present. In the ham-
mock she looked a little smaller, as women
are apt to when their length is rigidly
defined. She had the average quantity of
brown hair, a litde badly treated by her
habit of wearing it flat over her temples — a
tradition of her boarding-school days, fifteen
years ago. She had soft brown eyes, with
a slight redness of the eyelid not incon-
sistent nor entirely unbecoming to widow-
hood ; a small mouth depressed at the cor-
ners with a charming, child-like discontent ;
white re^lar teeth, and the eloquence of a
complexion that followed unvaryingly her
spirits or her physical condition. She
appeared to be about thirty, and had that
unmistakable "married" look, which even
the most amiable and considerate of us, my
dear sir, are apt to impress upon the one
woman whom we choose to elect to years
of exdusive intimacy and attention. The
late Don Jos^ Sepulvida's private mark — as
well defined as the brand upon his catde —
was a certain rigid line, like a grave accent,
from the angle of this little woman's nostril
to the comers of her mouth, and possibly to
an increased peevishness of depression at
those comers. It bore witness to the fond-
ness of the deceased for bear-baiting and
bull-fighting, and a possible weakness for a
certain Senora X. of San Francisco, whose
reputation was none of the best, and was
not increased by her distance from San
Antonio and the surveillance of Donna
Maria.



Digitized by



Google



ss^



GABRIEL CON ROY.



When an hour later " Pepe " appeared to
his mistress, bearing a salver with Arthur
Poinsett's business card and a formal request
for an interview, I am afraid Donna Maria
was a little disappointed. If he had sud-
denly scaled the veranda, evaded her ser-
vants, and appeared before her in an impul-
sive, forgivable way, it would have seemed
consistent with his character as a hero, and
perhaps more in keeping with the general
tenor of her reveries when the servitor
entered. Howbeit, after heaving an im-
patient little sigh, and bidding " Pepe "
show the gentleman into the drawing-room,
she slipped quietly down from the hammock
in a deft womanish way, and whisked her-
self into her dressing-room.

" He couldn't have been more formal if
Don Jos^ had been alive," she said to her-
self, as she walked to her glass and dressing-
table.

Arthur Poinsett entered the vacant draw-
ing-room not in the best of his many humors.
He had read in the eyes of the lounging
vaqu^rosy in the covert glances of the
women servants, that the story of his advent-
ure was known to the household. Habit-
ually petted and spoiled as he had been by
the women of his acquaintance, he was
half inclined to attribute this reference and
assignment of his client's business to the
hands of Mrs. Sepulvida, as the result of a
plan of Father Felipe's, or absolute collusion
between the parties. A little sore yet, and
irritated by his recollection of the Padre's
counsel, and more impatient of the imputa-
tion of a weakness than anything else,
Arthur had resolved to limit the interview
to the practical business on hand, and in so
doing had, for. a moment, I fear, forgotten
his native courtesy. It did not tend to
lessen his irritation and self-consciousness
when Mrs. Sepulvida entered the room
without the slightest evidence of her recent
disappointment visible in her perfectly easy,
frank self-possession, and after a conven-
tional. half-Snanish solicitousness regarding
e their last interview, without
Uusions to their adventure,
be seated. She herself took
on the opposite side of the
imed at once an air of respect-
lat indifferent attention.
' said Arthur, plunging at
jubject to get rid of his em-
id the slight instinct of antago-
)eginning to feel toward the
: him, "I believe — that is, I
besides your own business,



you are intrusted with some documents and
facts regarding a claim of the Donna Dolores
Salvatierra. Which shall we have first? I
am entirely at your service for the next
two hours, but we shall proceed faster and
with less confusion by taking up one thing
at a time."

" Then let us begin with Donna Dolores,
by all means," said Donna Maria; "my own
affairs can wait Indeed," she added, lan-
guidly, " I dare say one of your clerks could
attend to it as well as yourself. If your
time is valuable — as indeed it must be — I
can put the papers in his hands and make
him listen to all my foolish, irrelevant talk.
He can sift it for you, Don Artxux). I really
am a child about business, really."

Arthur smiled, and made a slight gesture
of deprecation. In spite of his previous
resolution. Donna Maria's tone of slight
pique pleased him. Yet he graveljr opened
his note-book, and took up his pencil without
a word. Donna Maria observed the move-
ments, and said more seriously :

" Ah yes ! how foolish ! Here I am talk-
ing about my own affairs, when I should be
speaking of Donna Dolores'. Well, to begin.
Let me first explain why she has put this
matter in my hands. My husband and her
father were friends, and had many business
interests in common. As you have doubt-
less heard, she has always been very quiet,
very reserved, very religious — almost a nun.
I dare say she was driven into this isolation
by reason of the delicacy of her position
here, for you know — do you not? — that her
mother was an Indian. It is only a few
years ago that the old Governor, becoming
a widower and childless, bethought himself
of this Indian child, Dolores. He found
the mother dead, and the girl living some-
where at a distant Mission as an acolyte.
He brought her to San Antonio, had • her
baptized and christened, and made legally
his daughter and heiress. She was a mere
slip of a thing, about fourteen or fifteen.
She might have had a pretty complexion, for
some of these half-breeds are nearly white,
but she had been stained when an infant with
some barbarous and indelible dye, after the
savage custom of her race. She is now a
light copper color, not unlike those bronze
shepherdesses on yonder clock. In spite of
all this I call her pretty. Perhaps it is
because I love her and am prejudiced.
But you gentlemen are so critical about com-
plexion and color — ^no wonder that the poor
child refuses to see anybody, and never goes
into society at alL It is a shame! But —



Digitized by



Google



GABRIEL CONROY.



557



pardon, Mr. Poinsett, here am I gossiping
about your client*s looks, when I should be
stating her grievances."

" No, no!" said Arthur, hastily, "go on —
in your own way." '

Mrs. Sepulvida lifted her forefinger archly.

"Ah! is it so, Don Arturo? I thought
so! Well, it is a great shame that she is not
here for you to judge for yourselfl"

Angry with himself for his embarrassment,
and for the rising color on his cheek, Arthiu-
would have explained himself, but the lady,
with feminine tact, did not permit him.

"To proceed: Partly because I did not
participate in the prejuchces with which the
old families here regarded her race and color,
partly, perhaps, because we were both stran-
gers here, we became firiends. At first she
resisted all my advances — indeed, I think
she was more sh^ of me than the others, but
I triumphed in time, and we became good
firiends. Friends, you understand, Mr. Poin-
sett, not confidants. You men, I know, deem
this impossible, but Donna Dolores is a sin-
gular girl, and I have never, except upon
the most general topics, won her from her
habitual reserve. And I possess perhaps
her only firiendship." .

"Except Father Felipe, her coniSessor?"

Mrs. Sepulvida shrugged her shoulders,
and then borrowed the habitual skeptical
formula of San Antonio.

" Quien sahe? But I am rambhng again.
Now for the case."

She rose, and taking from a drawer of the
secretary an envelope, drew out some papers
it contained, and referred to them as she
went on.

" It appears that a ^rant of Micheltorena
to Salvatierra was discovered recently at
Monterey, a grant of which there was no
record amon^^ Salvatierra*s papers. The
explanation given is that it was placed some
five years ago in trust with a Don Pedro
Ruiz, of San Francisco, as security for a
lease now expired. The grant is apparentlv
regular, properly witnessed, and attested
Don Pedro has written that some of the
witnesses are still alive, and remember it"

"Then why not make the proper applica-
tion for a patent?"

"True, but if that were all, Don Arturo
would not have been summoned fix>m San
Francisco for consultation. There is some-
thing else. Don Pedro writes that another
grant for the same land has been discovered
recorded to another party."

" That is, I am sorry to say, not a singular
experience in our profession," said Anhur,



with a smile. " But Salvatierra's known rep-
utation and probity would probably be suffi-
cient to outweigh equal documentary evi-
dence on the other side. It's unfortunate
he's dead, and the grant was discovered
after his death."

" But the holder of the other grant is dead,
too!" said the widow.

"That makes it about equal again. But
who is he?"

Mrs. Sepulvida referred to her papers, and
then said,

"Dr. Devarges."

"Who?"

" Devarges," said Mrs. Sepulvida, referring
to her notes. " A singular name— a foreigner,
I suppose. No, r^y, Mr. Poinsett, you
shall not look at the paper until I have cop-
ied it — ifs written horribly — ^you can't
understand it! I'm really ashamed of my
writing, but I was in such a hurry, expecting
you every moment! Why, la! Mr. Poinsett,
how cold your hands are!"

Arthur Poinsett had risen hurriedly, and
reached out almost brusquely for the paper
that she held. But the widow had coquet-
tishly resisted him with a mischievous show
of force, and had caught and— dropped his
hand!

"And you are pale, too. Dear me! I'm
afraid you took cold that morning," said
Mrs. Sepulvida. "I should never forgive
myself if you did. I should cry my eyes
out!" and Donna Maria cast a dangerous
look fix)m under her slightly swollen lids
that looked as if they might threaten a
deluge.

" Nothing, nothing, I have ridden far this
morning, and rose early," said Arthur, chafing
his hands with a slight embarrassed smile.
" But I interrupted you. Pray go on. Has
Dr. Devarges any heirs to contest the grant ? "

But the widow did not seem inclined to
go on. She was positive that Arthur wanted
some wine. Would he not let her order some
slight repast before they proceeded further
in this horrid business ? She was tired. She
was quite sure that Arthur must be so too.

" It is my business," said Arthur, a little
stiffly, but, recovering himself again in a sud-
den and new alann of the widow, he smiled
and suggested that the sooner the business
was over, the sooner he would be able to
partake of her hospitality.

The widow beamed prospectively.

"There are no heirs that we can find.
But there is a — what do you call it? — a
something or other — in possession ! "

"A squatter?" said Poinsett, shortly.



Digitized by



Google



S5»



GABRIEL VONROY.



"Yes," continued the widow with a light
laugh ; " a ^ squatter,* by the name of— of —
my writing is so homd — ^let me see, oh,
yes! * Gabriel Conroy/"

Arthur made an mvolimtary gesture to-
ward the paper with his hand, but the
widow mischievously skipped toward the
window, and, luckily for the spectacle of his
bloodless face, held the paper before her
dimpled face and laughing eyes, as she
did so.

"Gabriel Conroy," repeated Mrs. Sepul-
vida, " and — and — and — ^his — ^"

" His sister ? " said Arthur, with an effort

* No, sir!" responded Mrs. Sepulvida,
with a dight pout, " his wife I Sister mdeed !
As if we married women are always to be
ignored by you legal gendemen !"

Arthur remained silent, with his face turned
toward the sea. When he did speak his
voice was quite natural.

" Might I change my mind regarding
your offer of a moment ago, and take a
glass of wine and a biscuit now ?"

Mrs. Sepulvida ran to the door.

" Let me look over your notes while you
are gone 1 " said Arthur.

" You won't laugh at my writing ?"

"No!"

Donna Maria tossed him the envelope
gayly and flew out of the room. Arthur
humed to the window with the coveted
memoranda. There were the names she
had given him — but nothing more! At
least this was some slight relief.

The suddenness of the shock, rather than
any moral sentiment or fear, had upset him.
Like most imaginative men, he was a trifle
superstitious, and with the first mention of
Devarges'sname came a swift recoUecticHi of
Padre Felipe's analysis of his own character,
his sad, ominous reverie in the chapel, the
trifling circumstance that brought him instead
of his partner to San Antonio, and the
remoter chance that had discovered the for-
gotten grant and selected him to prosecute
Its recovery. This conviction entertained
and forgotten, all the resoiirces of his com-
bative nature returned. Of course he could
not prosecute this claim ; of course he ought
to prevent others fix)m doing it. There was
every probability that the grant of Devarges
was a true one — and Gabriel was in posses-
sion! Had he really become Devarges's
heir, and if so, why had he not claimed the
grant boldly ? And where was Grace ?

In this last question there was a sHght
tinge of sentimental recollection, but no
remorse or shame. That he might in some



way be of service to her, he fervently hoped
Tliat, time having blotted out the ronuntic
quality of their early acquaintance, that
would really be something fine and loyal in fo
doing, he did not for a moment doubc &
would suggest a compromise to his fidr
client, himself seek out and confer with
Grace and Gabriel, and all should be made
right His nervousness and his agitatioo
was, he was satisfied, only the result of a
conscientiousness and a delicately honofafaie
nature, perhaps too fine and ^iritual for the
exigencies of his profession. Of one thing
he was convinced ; he really otight to care-
fully consider Father Felipe's advice; he
ought to put himself beyond the leadi of
these romantic relapses.

In this self-sustained, self-satisfied mood,
Mrs. Sepulvida found him (m her letmiL
Since she had been gone, he said, he had
been able to see his way quite dearly into
this case, and he had no doubt his pcnpi-
cacity was gready aided by the admirable
manner in which she had indicated the vari-
ous points on the paper she had given him.
He was now ready to take up her own nutf-
ters, only he begged as clear and coociae a
brief as she had already made for her ftiend.
He was so cheerful and gallant that by the
time luncheon was announced, die widow
found him quite charming, and was indined
to forgive him for the disaj^xMntment of tk
morning. And when, after luncheon, be
challenged her to a sharp canter widi him
alon^ die beach, by way, as he said, of
keepmg her memory fh>m taking c<^ ami
to sat^ herself that the Point of Pines
could be doubled without going out to aet.
I fear that, without a prudent considentioii
of the gossips of San Antonio before her
eyes, she assented. There could be do
harm in riding with her late husband's kgsl
adviser, who had called, as everybody knev,
on business, and whose time was so pveoov
that he must return even before the busiiiev
was concluded. And then " P^)e" coaW
follow them, to return with herl

It did not, of course, occur to either Aidur
or Donna Maria that they might ootniD
'' Pepe," who was &t and indisposed to rio
lent exertion; nor that they should fiad
other things to talk about dian the deoik
of business; nor that the afternoon shoiM
be so marvelously beautiful as to cause tbem
to fi^uently stop and admire the stretdi of
glittering sea beyond ; nor that the roir of
die waves was so deafening as to obfis?
them to keep so near each other for the por
poses of xonversation that the widow's so6



Digitized by



Google



GABRIEL CONROY.



SS9



breath was continually upon Arthur's cheek ;
nor that Donna Maria's saddle girth should
become so loose that she was forced to dis-
mount while Arthur tightened it, and that
he should he obliged to lift her in his arms
to restore her to her seat again. But finally,
when the Point of Pines was sa£dy rounded,
and Arthur was delivering a few parting
words of legal counsel, holding one of her
hands in his, while with the odier he was
untwisting a long tress of her blown-down
bair, that, after buffeting his cheek into color,
bad suddenly twined itself around his neck,
an old-£iishioned family carnage, drawn by
four black mules with alver harness, passed
them suddenly on the road.

Donna Maria drew her head and her
hand away with a quick Uush and laugh,
and then gayly kissed her finger-tips to the
retreating carnage. Arthur laughed also-*
but a little foolishly— and looked as if
expecting some explanation*

" You should have your wits about you, sir.
Did you know who that was ? "

Aith'ur sincerely confessed ignorance. He
had not noticed the carriage until it had
passed.

"Think what you have lost! That was
your fair young client"

" I did not even see h«r," laughed Arthur.

" But she saw you 1 She never took her
eyes off fou. Adios ! "

CHAPTER XX.
THE LADY OF GRIEF.

"You will not go to-day," said Father
Pelipe to Axtiiur, as he entered Ae Mission
refectory eariy the next morning to break-
fast.

"I shall be on the road in an hour,
Pather," replied Arthur, gayly.

" But not toward San Francisco," said the
Padre. " Listen I Your wish of yesterday
has been attained. You are to have your
desired interview with the fair invisible. Do
you comprehend ? Donna Dolores has sent,
to you."

Arthur looked up in surprise. Perhaps
his &ce did not express as much pleasure
as Father Felipe expected, i«^o lifted his
eyes to the ceiling, took a philosophical
pinch of snuff and muttered :

"-^A, lo que es el mundo / — Now that he
has his wish — ^it is nothing, Mother of God 1 "

" This S&your kindness, Father."

"God forbid," returned Padre Felipe,
hastily. " Believe me, my son, I know
nothing. When the Donna left here befinc



the Angtlus yesterday, she said nothing of
this. Perhaps it is the office of yoiu: friend,
Mrs. Sepulvida."

" Hardly, I think," said Arthur ; " she was
so well prepared with all the £^cts as to
render an interview with Donns^ Dolores
unnecessary. Bueno^ be it sol I will go."

Nevertheless, he was ill at ease. He ate
little, he was silent All the fears he had
argued away with such self-satisfied logic
the day before, returned to him again with
greater anxiety. Could there have been
any further facts regarding this inc^portune
grant that Mrs. Sepulvida had not disclosed ?
Was there any particular reason why this
strange recluse, who had hidierto avoided
his necessary professional presence, should
now desire a personal interview which was
not apparently necessary? Could it be
possibly that communication had already
been established with Gabrid or Grace and
that the history of their previous life had
become known to his client ? Had his con-
nection with it been in any way revealed to
the Donna Dolores ?

If he had been able to contemplate this
last possibility with calmness and courage
yest^ay when Mrs. Sepulvida first repeated
the name of Crabriel Conroy, was he capa-
ble of equal resignation now ? Had any-
thing occurred since then ? — had any new
resolution entered his head to which such
a revelation would be fatal ? Nonsense !
And yet he could not help commenting,
with more or less vague uneasiness di
mind, on his chance meeting of Donna Do-
lores at the Point of Pines yesterday and
the summons of this morning. Would not
his foolish attitude with Donna Maria,
aided, perhaps, by some indiscreet expres-
sion from the well-meaning but senile Padre
Felipe, be sufficient to exasperate his fair
dient had she been cognizant of his first
relations with Grace? It is not mean
natures, alone, that are the most suspidous ?
A ^uick, ^[enerous, imagination, feverishly
exated, will project theories of character
and intention £ur more ridiculous and un-
complimentary to humanity than the lowest
surmises of ignorance and imbecility. Arthur
was feverish and exdted; with' all the
instincts of a contradictory nature, his easy
sentimentalism dreaded, while his combative
principles longed for, this interview. Within
an hour of the time appointed by Donna
Dolores, he had thrown himself on his horse,
and was galloping furiously toward the
" Rancho of the Holy Trinity.'*

It was inland and three leagues away



Digitized by



Google



560



GABRIEL CONROY,



under the foot-hills. But as he entered upon
the long level plain, unrelieved by any water-
course, and baked and cracked by the fierce
sun into narrow gaping chasms and yawning



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 96 of 163)