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RITA




BOOKS FOR GIRLS
By Laura E. Richards

_The_ MARGARET SERIES

Three Margarets
Margaret Montfort
Peggy
Rita
Fernley House


_The_ HILDEGARDE SERIES

Queen Hildegarde
Hildegarde's Holiday
Hildegarde's Home
Hildegarde's Neighbors
Hildegarde's Harvest


DANA ESTES & COMPANY
Publishers
Estes Press, Summer St., Boston


[Illustration: "RITA MONTFORT DREW HER DAGGER AND WAITED."]




RITA

BY

LAURA E. RICHARDS

AUTHOR OF

"PEGGY," "MARGARET MONTFORT," "THREE
MARGARETS," ETC.

Illustrated by
ETHELDRED B. BARRY

[Illustration]

BOSTON
DANA ESTES & COMPANY
PUBLISHERS




_Copyright, 1900_
BY DANA ESTES& COMPANY


Colonial Press
Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
Boston, Mass., U.S.A.




TO

FIVE GIRLS I KNOW

IN THE TOWN OF SAINT JO

If this story should seem extravagant to any of
my readers, I can only refer them to some one
of the many published accounts of the
Spanish-American War. They will find that many
delicate and tenderly nurtured girls were
forced to endure dangers and privations
compared to which Rita's adventures seem like
child's play.

L. E. R.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER PAGE
I. THREATENING WEATHER 11
II. THE STORM BURSTS 23
III. ON THE WAY 33
IV. THE CAMP AMONG THE HILLS 54
V. TO MARGARET 77
VI. IN THE NIGHT 93
VII. CAMP SCENE 110
VIII. THE PACIFICOS 130
IX. IN HIDING 142
X. MANUELA'S OPPORTUNITY 163
XI. CAPTAIN JACK 176
XII. FOR LIFE 190
XIII. MEETINGS AND GREETINGS 200
XIV. ANOTHER CAMP 216
XV. A FOREGONE CONCLUSION 233




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


PAGE

"RITA MONTFORT DREW HER DAGGER AND WAITED" _Frontispiece_

IN THE GARDEN 21

"THE FAMISHED CHILD LOOKED FROM THE BISCUIT TO
THE GLOWING FACE" 43

"'HUSH!' SAID THE YOUNG GIRL. 'SIT STILL'" 104

"'WAS SUCH A HAT EVER SEEN IN PARIS?'" 147

"'I THROW OPEN THE DOOR AND STEP BACK, MY HEART
IN MY MOUTH'" 172

"NOW AGAIN IT WAS A RIDE FOR LIFE" 205

"THE PATIENTS IDOLISE HER" 237




RITA.




CHAPTER I.

THREATENING WEATHER.


TO SEÑOR,

_Señor the illustrious Don John Montfort._

_Honoured Señor and Brother:_ - There are several months that I wrote to
inform you of the deeply deplored death of my lamented husband, Señor
Don Richard Montfort. Your letter of condolation and advice was balm
poured upon my bleeding wounds, received before yesterday at the hands
of my banker, Don Miguel Pietoso. You are the brother of my adored
husband, your words are as if spoken from his casket. You tell me, stay
at home, remain in quietness, till these alarms of war are over. Alas!
respectable señor, to accomplish this? Havana is since the shocking
affair of the _Maine_ in uproar; on each side are threats, are cries,
"Death to the Americanos!" My bewept angel, Don Richard, was in his
heart Spanish, by birth American; I see brows black upon me - me, a
Castilian! - when I go from my house. Already they speak of to burn the
houses of wealthy Americans, to drive forth those dwelling in.

Again, señor, my daughter, your niece Margarita - what to do, I ask you,
of this young person? She is Cuban, she is fanatic, she is impossible. I
apply myself to instruct her as her station and fortune demand, as
befits a Spanish lady of rank; she insubordinates me, she makes mockery
of my position as head of her house. She teach her parrot to cry "Viva
Cuba Libre!" She play at open windows her guitar, songs of Cuban rebels,
forbidden by the authorities. I exert my power, I exhort, I
command, - she laughs me at the nose, and sings more loud. I attend that
in few days we are all the two in prison. What to do? you already know
that her betrothed, Señor Santillo de Santayana, is dead a year ago of a
calenture. Her grief was excessive; she intended to die, and made
preparation costing large sums of money for her obsequies. She forget
all now, she says, for her country. In this alarming time, the freedom
her father permitted her (his extreme philanthropy overcoming his
judgmatism) becomes impossible. I implore you, highly honoured señor and
brother, to write your commands to this unhappy child, that she submit
herself to me, her guardian in nature, until you can assert your legal
potencies. I intend shortly to make retreat in the holy convent of the
White Sisters, few miles from here. Rita accompanionates me, and I trust
there to change the spirit of rebellion so shocking in a young person
unmarried, into the soul docile and sheep-like as becomes a highly
native Spanish maiden. The Sisters are of justice celebrated for their
pious austerities and the firmness of their rule. Rita will remain with
them until peace is assured, or until your emissaries apport distinct
advice.

For me, your kind and gracious inquiries would have watered my heart
were it not already blasted. Desolation must attend my remaining years;
but through them all I shall be, dear señor and brother, your most
grateful and in affliction devoted sister and servant,

MARIA CONCEPCION DE NARAGUA MONTFORT.
_Havana, April 30, 1898._


DEAREST, DEAREST UNCLE: - My stepmother says she has written to you
concerning me. I implore you, as you loved your brother, my sainted
father, to believe no single word she says. This woman is of a
duplicity, a falseness, impossible for your lofty soul to comprehend.
It needs a Cuban, my uncle, to understand a Spaniard. She wants to take
me to the convent, to those terrible White Sisters, who will shave my
head and lacerate my flesh with heated scourges, - Manuela has told me
about them; scourges of iron chains knotted and made hot, - me, a
Protestant, daughter of a free American. Uncle John, it is my corpse
alone that she will carry there, understand that! Never will I go alive.
I have daggers; here on my wall are many of them, beautifully arranged;
I polish them daily, it is my one mournful pleasure; they are sharp as
lightning, and their lustre dazzles the eye. I have poison also; a drop,
and the daughter of your brother is white and cold at the feet of her
murderess. Enough! she will be avenged. Carlos Montfort lives; and you,
too, I know it, I feel it, would spring, would leap across the sea to
avenge your Rita, who fondly loves you. Hear me swear, my uncle, on my
knees; never, never will I go alive to that place of death, the convent.
(I pray you to pardon this blot; I spilt the ink, kneeling in passion;
what would you have?)

Your unhappy
RITA.


BELOVED MARGUERITE: - I have written to our dear and honoured uncle of
the perils which surround me. My life, my reason, are at stake. It may
be that I have but a few weeks more to live. Every day, therefore,
dearest, let me pour out my soul to you, now my one comfort on earth,
since my heart was laid in the grave of my Santayana.

It is night; all the house is wrapped in slumber; I alone wake and weep.
I seldom sleep now, save by fitful snatches. I sit as at this moment, by
my little table, my taper illuminated, in my peignoir (you would be
pleased with my peignoir, my poor Marguerite! it is white _mousseline
d'Inde_, flowing very full from the shoulders, falling in veritable
clouds about me, with deep ruffles of Valenciennes and bands of
insertion; the ribbons white, of course; maidens should mourn in white,
is it not so, Marguerite? no colour has approached me since my
bereavement; fortunately black and white are both becoming to me, while
that other, Concepcion, looks like a sick orange in either. Even the
flowers in my room are solely white.)

It seems a thousand years since I heard from you, my cool snow-pearl of
cousins. Write more often to your Rita, she implores you. I pine for
news of you, of Uncle John, of all at dear, dear Fernley. Alas! how
young I was there! a simple child, sporting among the Northern daisies.
Now, in the whirlwind of my passionate existence, I look back to that
peaceful summer. For you, Marguerite, the green oasis, the palm-trees,
the crystal spring; for me, the sand storm and the fiery death. No
matter! I live and die a daughter of Cuba, the gold star on my brow,
the three colours painted on my heart. Good night, beloved! I kiss the
happy paper that goes to you. Till to-morrow, and while I live,

Your
RITA.


HAVANA, May 1, 1898.

Not until afternoon goes the mail steamer, Marguerite, only pearl of my
heart. I wrote you a few burning words last night; then I flung myself
on my bed, hoping to lose my sorrows for a few minutes in sleep. I
slept, a thing hardly known to me at present; it was the sleep of
exhaustion, Marguerite. When I woke, Manuela was putting back the
curtains to let in the light of dawn. It is still early morning, fresh
and dewy, and I am here in the garden. At no time of the day is the
garden more beautiful than now, in the purity of the day's birth. I have
described it to you at night, with the _cocuyos_ gleaming like lamps in
the green dusk of the orange-trees, or the moonlight striking the world
to silver. I wish you could see it now - this garden of my soul, so soon,
it may be, to be destroyed by ruthless hands of savage Spaniards. The
palms stand like stately pillars; till the green plumes wave in the
morning breeze, one fancies a temple or cathedral, with aisles of
crowned verdure. Behind these stand the banana-trees, rows and rows,
with clusters hanging thick, crimson and gold. Would Peggy be happy
here, do you think? Poor little Peggy! How often I long to cut down a
tree, to send her whole bunches of the fruit she delights in. The
mangoes, too! I used to think I could not live without mangoes. When I
went to you, it appeared that I must die without my fruits; now their
rich pulp dries untasted by my lips: what have I to do with food, save
the bare necessary to support what life remains? I am waiting now for my
coffee; at this moment Manuela brings it, with the grape-fruit and
rolls, and places it here on the table of green marble, close by the
fountain where I sit. The fountain soothes my suffering heart, as it
tinkles in the broad basin of green marble. Nature, Marguerite, speaks
to the heart of despair. You have not known despair, my best one; may it
be long, long before you do. Among her other vices, this woman,
Concepcion, would like to starve me, in my own house. She counts the
rolls, she knows how many lumps of sugar I put in my coffee; an hour
will dawn - I say no more! I am patient, Marguerite, I am forbearing, a
statue, marble in the midst of fire; but beyond a certain point I will
not endure persecution, and I say to you, let Concepcion Montfort, the
widow of my sainted father, beware!

[Illustration: IN THE GARDEN.]

Adios, my Magnolia Flower! I must feed my birds. Already they are awake
and calling the mistress they love. They hang - I have told you - in large
airy cages, all round under the eaves of the summer-house beside the
fountain. They are beautiful, Margaret, the Java sparrows, the little
love-birds, the splendid macaw, the paroquets, and mocking-birds; but
king among them all is Chiquito, our parrot, Marguerite, yours and mine,
the one link here that binds me to my Northern home; for I may call
Fernley my home, Uncle John has said it; the lonely orphan can think of
one spot where tender hearts beat for her, not passionately, but with
steadfast pulses. Chico is in superb health; he is - I tell you every
time - a revelation in the animal kingdom. More than this, he is a bird
of heart; he feels for me, feels intensely, in this dark time. Only
yesterday he bit old Julio severely; I am persuaded it was his love for
me that prompted the act. Julio is a Spaniard of the Spaniards, the
slave of Concepcion. He attempted to cajole my Chico, he offered him
sugar. To-day he goes with his arm in a sling, and curses the Cuban
bird, with threats against his life. Never mind, Marguerite! a time will
soon come - I can say no more. I am dumb; the grave is less silent; but
do you think your Rita will submit eternally to tyranny and despotism?
No, you know she will not, it is not her nature. You look, my best one,
for some outbreak of my passionate nature, you attend that the volcano
spring some sudden hour into flame, overwhelming all in its path. You
are right, heart of my heart. You shall not be disappointed. Rita will
prove herself worthy of your love. How? hush! ask not, dream not! trust
me and be silent.

MARGARITA DE SAN REAL MONTFORT.




CHAPTER II.

THE STORM BURSTS.


GREATLY HONOURED SIR: - I permit myself the privilege of addressing your
Excellency, my name being known to you as man of business of late your
admired brother, Señor Don Ricardo Montfort. I find myself, señor, in a
position of great hardness between the two admirable ladies, Señora
Montfort, widow of Don Ricardo, and his beautiful daughter, the Señorita
Margarita. These ladies, admirable, as I have said, in beauty,
character, and abilities, find it, nevertheless, impossible to live in
harmony. As man of affairs, I am present at painful scenes, which wring
the heart. Each cries to me to save her from the other. The señora
desires to make retreat at the convent of the White Sisters, thrice
holy and beatified persons, but of a strictness repugnant to the lively
and ardent spirit of the señorita. Last evening took place a terrible
enactment, at which I most unluckily assisted. Señora Montfort permitted
her lofty spirit to assert itself more strongly than her delicate
corporosity was able to endure, and fell into violent hystericality. Her
shrieks wanted little of arousing the neighbourhood; the servants became
appalled and lost their reason. Señorita Margarita maintained her
calmness, and even refused to consider the señora's condition as
serious. On the assurance of the young lady and the señora's maid, I was
obliged to accept the belief that the señora would shortly recover if
left to herself, and came away in deep grief, leaving that illustrious
matron - I speak with respect - in fits upon the floor. One would have
said, a child of six deprived of its toy. Greatly honoured Señor
Montfort, I am a man no longer young. Having myself no conjugal
ameliorations, I make no pretence to comprehend the more delicate and
complex nature of females. I am cut to the heart; the señora scrupled
not to address me as "Old Fool." Heaven is my witness that I have
endeavoured of my best lights to smoothen the path for her well-born and
at present bereaved feet. But what can I do? Neither lady will listen to
me. The señorita, let me hasten to say, shows me always a tender, I
might without too great a presumption say a filial, kindness. I held her
in my arms from the day of her birth, señor; she is the flower of the
world to me. When she takes me by the hands and says, "Dear old Donito
Miguelito, let me do as I desire and all will be well!" I have no
strength to resist her. Had I a house of my own, I would take this
charming child home with me, to be my daughter while she would; but - a
bachelor living in two rooms - what would you, señor? it is not
possible. Deign, I beseech you, to consider this my respectful report,
and if circumstances are proprietary come to my assistance, or send me
instructions how to act.

Accept, señor, the assurance of my perfect consideration, and believe me

Your obedient, humble servant,
MIGUEL PIETOSO.


TO THE HONOURABLE SEÑOR DON JOHN MONTFORT.

_Honoured and dear Brother:_ - Since I wrote you last week, things the
most frightful have happened. Rita's conduct grew more and more violent
and unruled; in despair, I sent for Don Miguel. This old man, though of
irreproached character, is of a weakness pitiable to see in one wearing
the form of mankind. I called upon him to uphold me, and command Rita to
obey the wife of her father. He had only smooth words for each of us,
and endeavoured to charm this wretched child, when terror should have
been his weapon. I leave you to imagine if she was influenced by his
gentle admonitions. To my face she caressed him, and he responded to her
caresses. Don Miguel is an old man, eighty years of age, but
nevertheless my anger, my just anger, rose to a height beyond my power
of control. I fainted from excess of emotion; I lay as one dead, and no
heart stirred of my sufferings. Since then I have been in my bed, with
no power more than has a babe of the cradle. This morning Margarita came
to me and expressed regret for her conduct, saying that she was willing
from now to submit herself to my righteous authority. I forgave her, - I
am a Christian, dear brother, and cannot forget the principles of my
holy religion, - and we embraced with tears. This evening we go to the
convent, where I hope to find ease for my soul-wounds and to subdue the
frightful disposition of my stepdaughter. I feel it my duty to relate
these occurrences to you, dear and honoured brother, for I feel that I
may succumb under the weight of my afflictions. We start this evening,
and Don Miguel will inform you of our departure and safe arrival at the
holy convent, whither he accompanies us.

Permit me to express, dear brother, the sentiments of exalted
consideration with which I must ever regard you as next in blood to my
adored consort, and believe me

Your devoted,
MARIA CONCEPCION DE NARAGUA MONTFORT.


GREATLY HONOURED AND ILLUSTRIOUS SIR: - Let me entreat you to prepare
yourself for news of alarming nature. Yesterday evening I was honoured
by the commands of the Señora Montfort, that I convey her and Señorita
Margarita to the holy convent of the White Sisters. My age, señor, is
such that a scene of emotion is infinitely distressing to me, but I
could not disobey the commands of this illustrious lady, the widow of my
kindest patron and friend. I went, prepared for tears, for outcries,
perhaps for violent resistance, for the ardent and high-strung nature of
my beloved Señorita Margarita is well known to me. Figure to yourself,
honoured señor, my surprise at finding this charming damsel calm,
composed, even smiling. She greeted me with her accustomed tenderness; a
more enchanting personality does not, I am assured, adorn the earth than
that of this lovely child. She bade me have no alarms for her, that all
was well, she was reconciled to her lot; indeed, she added that she
could not now wish things otherwise. Amazed, but also enchanted with her
docility and sweetness, I gave her an old man's blessing, and my prayers
that the rigour of the holy Sisters might be softened toward her tender
and high-spirited youth. She replied that she had no fear of the
Sisters; that in truth she thought they would give her no trouble of
any kind. I was ravished with this assurance, having, I may confess it
to you, señor, dreaded the contact between the señorita and the holy
Mother, a woman of incredible force and piety. But I must hasten my
narrative. At seven o'clock last evening two volantes were in readiness
at the door of the Montfort mansion. The first was driven by the
señora's own man, the second by Pasquale, a negro devoted since
childhood to the señorita. The señora would have placed her daughter in
the first of these vehicles; but no! the señorita sprang lightly into
the second volante, followed by her maid, a young person, also tenderly
attached to her. Interposing myself to produce calm, I persuade the
admirable señora to take the position that etiquette commanded, in the
first carriage. It is done; I seat myself by her side; procession is
made. The way to the convent of the White Sisters, señor, is a steep
and rugged one; on either hand are savage passes, are mountains of
precipitation. To conceive what happened, how is it possible? When we
reached the convent gate, the second volante was empty. Assassinated
with terror, I make demand of Pasquale; he admits that he may have slept
during the long traject up the hill. He swears that he heard no sound,
that no word was addressed to him. He calls the saints to witness that
he is innocent; the saints make no reply, but that is not uncommon. I
search; I rend the air with my cries; alone silence responds to me. The
señora is carried fainting into the convent, and I return to Havana, a
man distracted. I should say that in the carriage was found the long
mantle in which the señorita had been gracefully attired; to its fold a
note pinned, addressed me in affectionate terms, begging her dear Donito
Miguelito not to have fear, that she was going to Don Carlos, her
brother, and all would be well. Since then is two days, señor, that I
have not closed the eye. I attend a fit of illness, from grief and
anxiousness. In duty I intelligence you of this dolorous event, praying
you not to think me guilty of sin without pardon. I have deputed a
messenger of trust to scrub thoroughly the country in search of Don
Carlos, death to await him if he return without news of my beloved
señorita. He is gone now twelve hours. If it arrive me at any moment the
tidings, I make instantly to convey them to your Excellency, whether of
joy or affliction.

Receive, highly honoured señor, the assurance of my consideration the
most elevated.

MIGUEL PIETOSO.




CHAPTER III.

ON THE WAY.


"Ah, señorita! what will become of us? I can go no farther. Will this
wilderness never end?"

"Courage, Manuela! Courage, daughter of Cuba! See, it is growing light
already. Look at those streaks of gold in the east. A few moments, and
the sky will be bright; then we shall see where we are going, and all
will be well. In the meantime, we are free, and on Cuban soil. What can
harm us?"

Rita looked around her with kindling eyes. She was standing on a rock
that jutted from the hillside; it was a friendly rock, and they had been
sleeping under it, wrapped in their warm cloaks, for the night was
cool. A group of palms nodded their green plumes over the rock; on
every side stretched a tangle of shrubs and tall grasses, broken here
and there by palms, or by rocks like this. Standing thus in the early
morning light, Rita was a picturesque figure indeed. She was dressed in
a blouse and short skirt of black serge, with a white kerchief knotted
around her throat, and another twisted carelessly around her
broad-brimmed straw hat. Her beautiful face was alight with eager
inquiry and determination; her eyes roved over the landscape, as if
seeking some familiar figure; but all was strange so far. Manuela,
crouching at the foot of the rock, had lost, for the moment, all the
fire of her patriotism. She was cold, poor Manuela; also, she had had a
heavy bag to carry, and her arms ached, and she was hungry, and, if the
truth must be told, rather cross. It was absurd to bring all these
things into the desert. What use for the white silk blouse, or the lace
fichu? but indeed they had no weight, whereas this monster of a -

"How is Chico?" asked Rita, coming down from the rock. "Poor bird! what
does he think of our wandering? he must be in need of food, Manuela. You
brought the box of seed?"

"I did, señorita; as to the need of birdseed in a wilderness of hideous


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