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about the hut, brushing, smoothing, tidying up, with an air of smiling
alacrity. But indeed, yes! she said; the señorita put her to shame. If
the señorita could endure these trials, it was not for her poor Manuela
to complain. No, indeed, sooner would she die. And after all, the hut
was small, but that made things more handy, perhaps. The beautiful table
that this would become, if she might remove the Señor Don Carlos's
cigar-ashes? There! a scarf thrown over it - ah! What fortune, that she
had brought the crimson satin scarf! Behold, an exhibition of beauty! As
for the bed, she had heard from - from those who were soldiers
themselves, that no couch was so soft, so wooing to sleep, as one of
forest boughs. It stood to reason; there was poetry in the thought, as
the señorita justly remarked. Now, with a few nails or pegs to hang
things on, their little apartment would be complete. Let the señorita of
her goodness forget the foolishness of her poor Manuela; she should hear
no more of it; that was a promise.

Rita looked in amazement at her follower; the girl's eyes were
sparkling, her cheeks flushed, and she could not keep back the smiles
that came dimpling and rippling over her pretty face.

"But what has happened to you, Manuela?" cried Rita. "I insist upon
knowing. What have you seen?"

What had Manuela seen, to produce such a sudden and amazing change?
Nothing, surely; or next to nothing. A ragged soldier had strolled past
the door of the hut; a black-browed fellow, with a red handkerchief tied
over his head, and a black cigar nearly a foot long; but what should
that matter to Manuela?

Rita looked at her curiously, but could get no explanation, save that
Manuela had come to her senses, owing to the noble and glorious example
set her by her beloved señorita.

"Well!" said Rita, turning away half-petulantly. "Of course I know you
are as changeable as a weathercock, Manuela. But as you were saying, if
we had a few nails, we should do well enough here. I will go ask the
Señor Don Carlos - "

"Pardon, dearest señorita!" cried Manuela, hastily. "But what a pity
that would be, to disturb the señor during his arduous labours. Without
doubt the illustrious Señor Don Generalissimo (Manuela loved a title,
and always made the most of one) requires him every instant, in the
affairs of the nation. I - I can find some one who will get nails for us,
and drive them also."

"You can find some one?" repeated Rita. "And whom, then, can you find,
pray?"

"Only Pepe!" said Manuela, in a small voice.

Was the name a conjuring-spell? It had hardly been spoken when Pepe
himself stood in the doorway, ducking respectfully at the señorita, but
looking out of the corners of his black eyes at Manuela. Rita smiled in
spite of herself. Was this ragamuffin, barefoot, tattered, his hair in
elf-locks, - was this the once elegant Pepe, the admired of himself and
all the waiting-maids of Havana? He had once been Carlos's servant, when
the young Cuban had time and taste for such idle luxuries; now he was
his fellow soldier and faithful follower.

"Well, Pepe," said Rita; "you also are here to welcome us, it appears.
That is well. If you could find us a few nails, my good Pepe? the Señor
Don Carlos is occupied with the General at present, and you can help
us, if you will."

Where had Rita learned this new and gracious courtesy? A few months ago,
she would have said, "Pepe! drive nails!" and thought no more about it.
Indeed, she could have given no explanation, save that "things were
different." Perhaps our Rita is growing up, inside as well as outside?
Certainly the pretty airs and graces have given way to a womanly and
thoughtful look not at all unbecoming to any face, however beautiful.

The thoughtful look deepened into anxiety, as a sudden recollection
flashed into her mind. "Oh!" she cried. "And here I sit in peace, and
have done nothing about those poor creatures in the hut! I must go to
the General! But stay! Pepe, do you know - is there a man in the camp
called Pedro Valdez?"

But, yes! Pepe said. Assuredly there was such a man. Did the señorita
require him?

"Oh, please bring him!" said Rita. "Tell him that I have something of
importance to tell him. Quick, my good Pepe!"

Pepe vanished, and soon returned, dragging by the collar a lean
scarecrow even more dilapidated than himself. Apparently the poor fellow
had been asleep, and had been roughly clutched and hauled across the
camp, for his hair was full of leaves and grass, and he was rubbing his
eyes and swearing softly under his breath, vowing vengeance on his
captor.

"Silence, animal!" said Pepe, admonishing him by a kick of the presence
of ladies; "Behold the illustrious señorita, who does you the honour to
look at you. Attention, Swine of the Antilles!"

Thus adjured, poor Pedro straightened himself, made the best bow he
could, and stood sheepishly before Rita, trying furtively to brush a few
of the sticks and straws off his ragged clothing.

"You are Pedro Valdez?" asked Rita.

At the service of the illustrious señorita. Yes, he was Pedro Valdez; in
no condition to appear in such company, but nevertheless her slave and
her beast of burden.

"Oh, listen!" cried Rita, her eyes softening with compassion and
anxiety. "You have a wife, Pedro Valdez, - a wife and a dear little
child, is it not so? and your mother - she is old and weak. When have you
seen them all, Valdez? Where did you leave them?"

The man looked bewildered. "Leave them, señorita? I left them at home,
in our village. They were well, all was well, when I came away. Has
anything befallen them?"

"They are safe! All is well with them now, or will be well, when you go
to them. They are near here, Valdez. The Spaniards broke up the village,
do you see? Dolores and your mother fled with the little one. The
village was burned, and many souls perished; but Dolores was so strong,
so brave, that she got the old mother away alive and safe, and the child
as well. They have suffered terribly, my poor man; you must look to find
them pale and thin, but they are alive, and all will be well when once
they have found you."

Seeing Valdez overcome for the moment, Rita hastened to the General's
tent and told her story, begging that the husband and father might be
allowed to go at once to the relief of his suffering family.

"And he shall bring them here, shall he not?" she cried, eagerly. "They
cannot be separated again, can they, dear Señor General? you will make
room for Dolores - that is the wife; oh, such a brave woman! and the old
mother, and the dear little child!"

The General looked puzzled; a look half quizzical, half sad, stole over
his fine face; while he hesitated, Carlos broke out hastily: "Rita! you
are too unreasonable! Do you think we are in a city here? do you think
the General has everything at his command, to maintain an establishment
of women and children? It is not to be thought of. We have no room, no
supplies, no conveniences of any kind; they must go elsewhere."

"They can have my house!" cried Rita, "Your house, brother Carlos, which
you have given to me. I will sleep in a hammock, under a tree. What
matter? I will live on bread and water; I will - "

"My dear young lady!" said the General, interrupting her eager speech
with a lifted hand. "My dear child, if an old man may call you so, if
only we had bread for all, there would be no further question. We would
gladly take these poor people, and hundreds of other suffering ones who
fill the hills and valleys of our unhappy country. But - Carlos is right,
alas! that I must say it. Here in the mountain camp, it is impossible
for us to harbour refugees, unless for a night or so, while other
provision is making. Let Valdez bring his family here for the night - we
can make shift to feed and shelter them so long. After that - "

He shook his head sadly. Rita clasped her hands in distress. To be
brought face to face with the impossible was a new experience to the
spoiled child. There was a moment's silence. Then:

"Señor General," she cried, "I know! I see! all may yet be managed. They
shall go to our house."

"To - "

"To our house, Carlos's and mine, in Havana. There are servants, troops
of them; there is food, drink, everything, in abundance, in wicked,
shameful abundance. Julio shall take care of them; Julio shall treat
them as his mother and his sister. I will write commands to him; this
instant I will write."

Snatching a sheet of paper from the table, she wrote furiously for a
moment, then handed the paper to the General with a look of
satisfaction. The General - oh, how slow he was! - adjusted his glasses,
and read the paper carefully; looked at Rita; looked at Carlos, and read
the paper again. Rita clenched her little hands, but was calm as marble,
as she assured herself. "Have I the señorita's permission to read this
aloud?" asked the old man at last. "It may be that Don Carlos's
advice - a thousand thanks, señorita." He read:

"JULIO: - The bearer of this is the wife of
Pedro Valdez. You are to take her and her
family in, and give them the best the house
contains; the best, do you hear? put them in
the marble guest-chamber, and place the house
at their disposal. Send for Doctor Blanco to
attend them; let Teresa wait upon them, and let
her furnish them with clothes from my wardrobe.
If you do not do all this, Julio, I will have
you killed; so fail not as you value your life.

"MARGARITA DE SAN REAL MONTFORT.

"P.S. The Señor Don Carlos is here with me, and
echoes what I say. We are with the brave
General Sevillo, and if you dare to disobey,
terrible revenge will be taken."

"The ardent patriotism of the señorita," said the General, cautiously,
"is beautiful and inspiring; nevertheless, is it not possible that a
more conciliatory tone might - I would not presume to dictate, but - "

"Oh, Rita!" cried Carlos. "Child, when will you learn that we are no
longer acting plays at home? This is absurd!"

With an impatient movement that might have been Rita's own, he snatched
the paper and tore it in two. "The General cannot be troubled with such
folly!" he said, shortly. "Go to your room, my sister, and repose
yourself after your fatigues."

"By no means!" cried the kindly General, seeing Rita's eyes fill with
tears of anger and mortification. "The señorita has promised to make my
tea for me this evening. Give orders, I pray you, Don Carlos, that
Valdez bring his family to us for the night; the rest can well wait for
to-morrow's light. The señorita is exhausted, I fear, with her manifold
fatigues, and she must have no more anxieties to-day. Behold the tea at
this moment! Señorita Rita, this will be the pleasantest meal I have had
since I left my home, two years ago."

No anger could stand against the General's smile. In a moment Rita was
smiling herself, though the tears still stood in her dark eyes, and one
great drop even rolled down her cheek, to the General's great distress.
Carlos, seeing with contrition his sister's effort at self-control, bent
to kiss her cheek and murmur a few affectionate words. Soon they were
all seated around the little table, Rita and the General on
camp-stools, Carlos on a box. The tea was smoking hot; what did it
matter that the nose of the teapot was broken? Rita had never tasted
anything so delicious as that cup of hot tea, without milk, and with a
morsel of sugar-cane for sweetening. The camp fare, biscuits soaked in
water and fried in bacon fat, was better, she declared, than any food
she had ever tasted in her life. To her delight, a small box of
chocolate still remained in her long-suffering bag; this she presented
to the General with her prettiest courtesy, and he vowed he was not
worthy to taste such delicacies from such a hand. So, with interchange
of compliments, and with a real friendliness that was far better, the
little feast went on gaily; and when, late in the evening, Rita withdrew
to her tent, she told Manuela that she had never enjoyed anything so
much in her life; never!




CHAPTER V.

TO MARGARET.


CAMP OF THE SONS OF CUBA,
May the - , Midnight.

MY MARGUERITE: - What will you say when your eyes, those calm gray eyes,
rest upon the above heading? Will they open wider, I ask myself? Will
the breath come quicker between those cool rose-leaves of your lips? "It
is true!" you will murmur to yourself. "She has done as she said, as she
swore she would. My Rita, my wild pomegranate flower, has kept her vow;
she is in the mountains with Carlos; she has taken her place beside the
defenders of her country."

Ah! you thought it was play, Marguerite, confess it! You thought the
wild Cuban girl was uttering empty breath of nothingness; you have had
no real anxiety, you never dreamed that I should really find
myself - where now I am. Where is it? Listen, Marguerite! My house - once
Carlos's house, now mine by his brotherly gift - stands in a little glen
of the hills. An open space, once dry grass, now bare earth, baked by
the sun, trodden by many feet; a cluster of palms, a mountain spring
gushing from a rock hard by; on every side hills, the brown, rugged
hills of Cuba, fairer to me than cloudy Alps of Italy, or those other
great mountains of which never can I remember the barbarous names. To
teach me geography, Marguerite, you never could succeed, you will
remember; more than our poor Peggy history. Poor little Peggy! I could
wish she were here with me; it would be the greatest pleasure of her
life. For you, Marguerite, the scene is too wild, too stern; but Peggy
has a martial spirit under her somewhat clumsy exterior. But I wander,
and Peggy is without doubt sleeping at this moment under the stern eye
of her schoolmistress. I began to tell you about my house, Marguerite.
So small a house you saw never. Standing, I reach up my hand and touch
the roof, of brown canvas, less fresh than once it was. Sitting, I
stretch out my arms - here is one wall; there - almost, but a few feet
between - is the other. In a corner my bed - ah, Marguerite! on your white
couch there, with snowy draperies falling softly about you, consider my
bed! a pile of dried grasses and leaves, shaken and tossed anew every
morning, covered with a camp blanket. I tell you, the gods might sleep
on it, and ask no better. In another corner sleeps Manuela, my faithful
maid, my humble friend, the companion of my wanderings. Some day you
shall see Manuela; she is an excellent creature. Cultivated, no;
intellinctual - what is that for a word, Marguerite? Ah! when will you
learn Spanish, that I may pour my soul with freedom? - no; but a heart
of gold, a spirit of fire and crystal. She keeps my hut neat, she
arranges my toilet, - singular toilets, my dear, yet not wholly
unbecoming, I almost fancy, - she helps me in a thousand ways. She has a
little love-affair, that is a keen interest to me; Pepe, formerly the
servant of Carlos, adores her, and she casts tender eyes upon the young
soldier. For me, as you know, Marguerite, these things are for ever
past, buried in the grave of my hero, in the stately tomb that hides the
ashes of the Santillos. I take a sorrowful pleasure in watching the
budding happiness of these young creatures. More of this another time.

I sit, Marguerite, in the doorway of my little house. It is the middle
hour of the night, when tomb-yards gape, as your Shakespeare says. Am I
sleepy? No! The camp slumbers, but I - I am awake, and I watch. I had a
very long siesta, too. The moon is full, and the little glade is bathed
in silver light. Here in Cuba, Marguerite, the moon is other than with
you in the north. You call her pale moon, gentle moon, I know not what.
Here she shines fiercely, with passion, with palpitations of fiery
silver. The palms, the aloes, the tangled woods about the camp, are
black as night; all else is a flood of airy silver. I float, I swim in
this flood, entranced, enraptured. I ask myself, have I lived till now?
is not this the first real thrill of life I have ever experienced? I
alone wake, as I said; the others slumber profoundly. The General in his
tent; ah, that you could know him, Marguerite! that you and my uncle
could embrace this noble, this godlike figure! He is no longer young,
the snows of seventy winters have blanched his clustering locks; it is
the only sign of age. For the rest, erect, vigorous, a knight, a
paladin, a - in effect, a son of Cuba. The younger officers regard him as
a divinity; they live or die at his command. They are three, these
officers; Carlos is one; the others, Don Alonzo Ximenes, Don Uberto
Cortez. Don Alonzo is not interesting; he is fat, and rather stupid, but
most good-natured. Don Uberto is Carlos's friend, a noble young captain,
much admired formerly in Havana. I have danced with him, my cousin, in
halls of rose-wreathed marble; we meet here in the wilderness, I with my
shattered affections, he with his country's name written on his soul. It
is affecting; it is heart-stirring, Marguerite; yet think nothing of it;
romance is dead for Margarita Montfort. Carlos is my kind brother, as
ever. He was vexed at first at my coming here. Heavens! what was I to
do? My stepmother was dragging me to a convent; my days would have been
spent there, and in a short time my life would have gone out like a
flame. "Out, short candle!" You see I remember your Shakespeare
readings, my dearest. Can I forget anything that recalls you to me, half
of my heart? If there had been time, indeed, I might have written to my
uncle; I might even have come to you; but the hour descended like a
thunderbolt; I fled, Manuela with me. The manner of my flight? you will
ask. Marguerite, it was managed - I do not boast, I am the soul of
humility, you know it! - the manner of it was perfect. Listen, and you
shall hear all. You remember that in my last letter - written, alas! in
my beloved garden, which I may never see more - I spoke with a certain
restraint, even an approach to mystery. It was thus. At first, when that
woman proposed to take me to the convent, I was a creature distracted.
The fire of madness burned in my veins, and I could think of nothing
save death or revenge. But with time came reflection; came wisdom,
Marguerite, and inflexible resolve. To those she loves, Margarita
Montfort is wax, silk, down, anything the most soft and yielding that
can be figured. To her enemies, steel and adamant are her composition.
I had two friends in that house of Spaniards; one was Pasquale, good,
faithful Pasquale, an under gardener and helper; the other, Manuela, my
maid. I have described her to you - enough! I realised that action must
be of swiftness, the lightning flash, the volcano fire that I predicted.
Do not say that I did not warn you, Marguerite; knowing me, you must
have expected from my last letter what must come. I called Manuela to my
room, I made pretence that she should arrange my hair. My hair has grown
three inches, Marguerite, since I left you; it now veritably touches the
floor as I sit. Our holy religion tells us that it is a woman's crown,
yet how heavy a one at times! I closed the door, I locked it; I caused
to draw down the heavy Persians. Then, tiger-like, I sprang upon my
attendant, and laid my hand on her mouth. "Hush!" I tell her. "Not a
word, not a sound! dare but breathe, and you may be my death. My life,
I tell you, hangs by a thread. Hush! be silent, and tell me all. Tell me
who assists Geronimo in the stables since Pablo is ill." Manuela
struggles, she releases herself to reply -

"Pasquale!"

It is the answer from heaven. Pasquale, I have said, is my one friend
beside Manuela. I say to her, "Do thus, and thus! give these orders to
Pasquale; tell him that it imports of your life and mine, saying nothing
of his own; that if I am not obeyed, the evil eye will be the least of
his punishments, and death without the sacraments the end for him."

Manuela hears; she trembles; she flies to execute my commands. Then,
Marguerite - then, what does the daughter of Cuba do? She goes to the
wall, to the trophy I have described to you so often. She selects her
weapons. Ah, if you could see them! First, a long slender dagger, the
steel exquisitely inlaid with gold, in a sheath of green enamel; a
dagger for a prince, Marguerite, for your Lancelot or Tristram!
Another, short and keen, the blade plain but deadly, cased in wrought
leather of Cordova. Last, my machete, my pearl of destructiveness. It
was his, my Santayana's; he procured it from Toledo, from the master
sword-maker of the universe. The blade is so fine, the eye refuses to
tell where it melts into the air; a touch, and the hardest substance is
divided exactly in two pieces. The handle, gold, set with an ancestral
emerald, which for centuries has brought victory in the field to the arm
of the hero who wore it; the sheath - I forget myself; this weapon has no
sheath. When a Santillo de Santayana rides into battle, he has no
thought to sheathe his sword. These, Marguerite, are my armament; these,
and a tiny gold-mounted revolver, a gem, a toy, but a toy of deadly
purpose. Enough! I lay them apart, ready for the night. I go to my
stepmother, I smile, I make submission. I will do all she wishes; I am
a child; her age impresses me with the truth that I should not set my
will against hers. Concepcion is thirty on her next birthday; she tells
the world that she is twenty, but I know! it grinds her bones when I
remind her of her years, as they were revealed to me by a member of her
family. So! She is pleased, we embrace, the volantes are commanded, all
goes smoothly. I demand permission to take my parrot to the convent; it
is, to my surprise, accorded; I know she thought those savage sisters
would kill him the first time he uttered his noble and inspiring words.

The night comes, the hour of the departure. To accompany us goes my good
Don Miguel, the dear old man of whom I have told you, whom I revere as
my grandfather. My heart yearns to tell him all, to cast myself on his
venerable bosom and cry, "Come with me; take me yourself to my brother;
share with us the perils and glories of the tented field!" But no! he
is old, this dear friend; his hair is the snow, his step is feeble.
Hardships such as Rita must now endure would end his feeble life. I
speak no word; a marble smile is all I wear, though my heart is rent
with anguish. The carriages are at the door. Concepcion would have me
ride in the first, that she may have her eyes on me at each instant. She
suspects nothing, no; it is merely the base and suspicious nature which
reveals itself at every occasion. I refuse, I prodigate expressions of
my humility, of my determination to take the second place, leaving the
first to her; briefly, I take the second volante, Manuela springing to
my side. After some discontent, appeased by dear Don Miguel, who is
veritably an angel, and wants but death to transport him among the
saints, Concepcion mounts in the first volante. I have seen that
Pasquale is on the box of mine; I possess my soul, I lean back and count
the beats of my fevered pulse, as we ascend the steep road, winding
among hills and forests. The convent is at the top of a long, long hill,
very steep and rugged; the horses pant and strain; humanity demands that
they slacken their pace, that the carriages are slowly, slowly, drawn up
the rugged track. The night descends, I have told you, swiftly in our
southern climate; already it is dark. On either side of the road are
tall shrouded forms, which Manuela takes for sentinels, for Spanish
soldiers drawn up to watch, perhaps to arrest us. I laugh; I see they
are the aloes only, planted here in rows along the road. Presently, at a
turn of the road, a light! a fire burning by the roadside, and soldiers
running, real ones this time, to the horses' heads. "_Alerta! quien
va?_" It is the Spanish challenge, Marguerite; it is a piquette of the
Gringos, of the hated Spaniards. They peer into the carriages, faces of
savages, of brutes, devils; I feel their glances like poisoned arrows.
They demand, Don Miguel makes answer, shows his papers. Of the instant
these slaves are cringing, are bowing to the earth. "Pass, most
honourable and illustrious Señor Don Miguel Pietoso, with the heavenly
ladies under your charge!" It is over. The volantes roll on. I clasp
Manuela in my arms and whisper, "We are free!" We mingle our tears of
rapture, but for a moment only. We approach the steepest pitch of the


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