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crown and brim. In a creditably short space of time, Rita, with infinite
pride, held her first hat aloft, and twirled it round and round on her

"But, it is perfect!" she cried. "The shape, the colour, the air of it.
Manuela, quick! a mirror! hold it for me - so! look!" She took the ribbon
from her belt, and began to twist it in one coquettish knot after
another about the hat, which she had set on her dark hair.

"Is that _chic_? Is it adorable, I ask you? Was such a hat ever seen in
Paris? Never! I wear no other from this day on; hear me swear it! It
will become the rage; I will make it so. Or - no! I will keep to myself
the secret, and others will die of envy. I name it, Manuela. The
Prudencia, for thee, my kind hostess. Why do you laugh?"

Marm Prudence was twinkling in her quiet way. "I was only thinkin'
there'd have to be one soldier boy go without his hat to-morrow!" she
said, good-humouredly. "It does look nice on you, though, Miss
Margaritty, that's certin."

Blushing scarlet, Rita tore the hat from her head.

"Ah!" she cried, casting it on the floor. "Wretch, ingrate, _serpent_
that I am! Take away the glass, girl! take it away; break it into a
thousand pieces, to shame my vanity, and never speak to me of hats
again. Henceforward I tie a shawl over my head, for the remainder of my
life; I have said it."

Much depressed, she worked away in silence, as if her life depended upon
it. Manuela, shrugging her shoulders, carried off the glass, but did
not think it necessary to obey the injunction to break it. She was used
to her señorita's outbreaks, and returned placidly to her braiding as if
nothing had happened.

The good hostess regarded her pretty visitor with some alarm, mingled
with amusement and admiration. She might have her hands full, she
thought, if she attempted to keep this young lady occupied, and out of
mischief. The time when she was asleep was likely to be the most
peaceful time in Casa Annunzio. Yet how pretty she was! and what a
pleasure it was to hear her speak, something between a bird and a flute.
On the whole, Marm Prudence thought her coming a thing to be thankful

Talking with Don Annunzio himself that evening, Rita found him far less
guarded than his wife in his expression of patriotic zeal. He echoed her
saying, that every Mambi in the country knew where to come when he
wanted anything; and he went on to draw lurid pictures of what he would
do to the Gringos if he but had the power.

"See, señorita!" he said, in his wheezy, asthmatic voice. "I am
powerless, am I not? Already of a certain age, I am afflicted with an
accession of flesh; moreover, I am short of breath, owing to this
apoplexy of an asthma. Worse than this, my legs, if the señorita can
pardon the allusion, refuse now these two years to do their office. With
two sticks, I can hobble about the house and garden; without them,
behold me a fixture. How, then? When the war breaks out, I go to my
General, to General Sevillo, under whom I served in the ten years' war.
I say to him, 'Things are thus and thus with me, but still I would serve
my country. Give me a horse, and let me ride with you as an orderly.'
Alas! it may not be. 'Annunzio,' he says, 'your day of service in the
field is over. Stay at home, and help our men when they call upon you.
Thus you can do more good ten-fold than you could do in the saddle.'

"_Ohimé_! my heart is broken; it is reduced to powder, but what will
you? reason, joined to authority, - I am but a simple man, and I obey.
Since then, I sit and whittle splints for my admirable wife. A woman,
señorita, to rule a nation! The Gringos pass by, and see me working at
my trade. I greet them civilly, I supply requisitions when backed by
authority; again, what will you? I suffer in silence till their back is
turned, and my maledictions accompany them along the road. Ah! if none
of them had longer life than I wish him, the road would be encumbered
with corpses. Then, - draw your chair nearer, señorita, if you will have
the infinite graciousness, - then, at night - it may be this very
night - the others come. Hush! yes - the Mambis; the sons of Cuba.
Quietly, by ones, by twos, they appear, dropping from the sky, rising
from the earth. Then - ha! then, you shall see. Not a word more,
Señorita Margarita! Donna Prudencia is a pearl, an empress among women,
but rightly named; she complains that I talk too much on these subjects.
But when one's heart is in the field, and one's legs refuse to
follow, - again, what would you? No matter! silence is golden! Wait but a
little, and you shall see. Who knows? It may be this very night."

Thus Don Annunzio, with many nods and winks, and gestures of dramatic
caution. His words fanned the flame of Rita's zeal, and she longed for
one of the promised nocturnal visits. That night and the next she was
constantly waking, listening for a whisper, the clank of a chain, the
jingle of a spur; but none came, and the nights passed as peacefully as
the days. The dozen, and more, were completed; and then, in spite of her
vow, Rita found time to make one for herself, certainly as pretty a hat
as heart could desire. So pretty, Rita thought it a thousand pities
that there was no one beside Don Annunzio and Marm Prudence to see her
in it. She sighed, and thought of the camp among the hills, of Carlos
and the General, and Don Uberto.

One day, soon after noon, Marm Prudence asked Rita if she would like to
take a walk with her. Rita assented eagerly, and put on her pretty hat.
She looked on with surprise as Marm Prudence proceeded to take from a
cupboard an ample covered basket, from which protruded the neck of a
bottle and some plump red bananas.

"Are we going on a picnic, then?" she asked.

The good woman nodded. "You'll see, time enough!" she said. "It's a
picnic for somebody, if not for us, Miss Margaritty. Look, dear! is Don
Noonsey out in the ro'd there?"

Don Annunzio was out in the road, having made what was quite a journey
for him, down the verandah steps, along the garden walk, and across the
sunny road. He now stood shading his eyes with his hand, looking this
way and that with anxious glances.

At length, "All is quiet!" he said. "The road is clear, and no sign
anywhere. Make haste then, _mi alma_, and cross while yet all is safe."

Beckoning to Rita, Marm Prudence slipped out and across the road
swiftly, not pausing till she had gained the screen of a thick clump of
cacti. Rita kept close to her side, drinking the mystery like wine. They
stood for a few moments behind the aloes; then Don Annunzio spoke again.

"All is still perfect, and you may go without fear. Carry my best
greetings whither you are going. At the proper hour I will await you
here, and signal when return is safe."

Without wasting words, his wife waved her hand, and turning, plunged
into the forest, followed by the delighted Rita.

The tangle of underbrush was higher than their heads, but they made
their way quickly, and Rita soon saw that a narrow path wound along
through the bush, and that the ground under her feet had been trodden
many times. The trees towered high above the dense undergrowth, some
leafy and branching, others, the palms, tossing their single plume
aloft. Open near the wood, the wood grew thicker and thicker, till it
stood like a wall on either side of the narrow footpath; the twigs and
leaves, broken and crushed here and there, showed, like the path, the
traces of frequent passage.

Rita was burning with curiosity, yet she would not for worlds have asked
a question. They were nearing every moment the heart of the mystery; she
would not spoil the dramatic effect by prying into it too soon.

Suddenly, a gleam of sunlight struck through the trees. They were near
the end of the wood, then. A few steps more, and she caught her breath,
with a low cry of amazement.

A round hollow, dipping deep like a cup, with here and there a great
tree standing. On one side, a clear spring flowing from a rocky cleft.
Under one tree, a hammock slung, and in a hammock a man asleep. Thus
much Rita saw at the first glance. The next instant the man was on his
feet, and the long barrel of his carbine gleamed level at sight.

"_Alto! quien va?_" the challenge rang clear and sharp.

"_Cuba!_" replied Señora Carreno. "For the land's sake, Mr. Delmonty,
don't start a person like that. You'd oughter know my sunbunnit by this

The young man had already lowered his weapon, and showed a laughing face
of apology as he lifted his broad-brimmed hat.

"I beg your pardon, Donna Prudencia," he said. "I was asleep, and
dreaming; not of angels!" he added, as he made another low bow, which
included Rita in its sweep of respectful courtesy.

He spoke English like an Anglo-Saxon, without trace of accent or
hesitation. His hair and complexion were brown, but a pair of bright
blue eyes lightened his face in an extraordinary manner.

Who might this be?

"Mr. Delmonty, let me make ye acquainted with Miss Margaritty Montfort!"
said Señora Carreno, with some ceremony. "Miss Montfort is stoppin' with
us for a spell. Both of you bein' half Yankee, I judged you might be
pleased to meet up with each other."

Rita bowed with her most queenly air; then relaxed, as she met the merry
glance of the blue eyes.

"Are you?" she said. "I am very glad - but your name is Spanish."

"My father was a Cuban," said the young man; "my mother is American. She
was a Russell of Claxton." He paused a moment, as if inviting comment;
but Rita, brought up in Cuba, knew nothing of the Russells of Claxton, a
famous family.

"I've been in the North most of the time since I was a little shaver,"
he went on, "at school and college; came down here last year, when
things seemed to be brewing. Have you been much in Boston, Miss
Montfort? We might have some acquaintances in common."

Rita shook her head, and told him of her one summer in the North. "I
hope to go again," she said, "when our country is free. When Cuba has no
longer need of her daughters, as well as her sons, I shall gladly return
to that fair northern country."

Again she caught a quizzical glance of the blue eyes, and was reminded,
she hardly knew why, of her Uncle John. But Uncle John's eyes were

"You are - alone here, Señor Delmonte?" she asked, glancing around the
solitary dell.

"Yes," said the young man, composedly. "I'm in hiding."

Rita's eyes flashed. Hiding! a son of Cuba! skulking about in the woods,
while his brother soldiers were at the front, or, like Carlos, guarding
the hill passes! This was indeed being only half a Cuban. She would have
nothing to do with recreant soldiers; and she turned away with a face of
cold displeasure.

"How's your foot?" asked Señora Carreno, abruptly. "That last dressing
fetch it, do you think?"

"All right!" said the young man. "Look! I have my shoe on." And he held
up one foot with an air of triumph. "I shall be ready for the road
to-night, and take my troublesome self off your hands, Señora Carreno."

"No trouble at all!" said the good woman, earnestly. "Not a mite of
trouble but what was pleasure, Captain Jack."

Captain Jack! where had Rita heard that name? Before she could try to
think, her hostess went on.

"Well, I kinder hate to have you go, but of course you're eager, same as
all young folks are. But look here! You'd better pass the night with us,
and let me see to your foot once more, and give you a good night's sleep
in a Christian bed; and then I can mend up your things a bit, and you
lay by till night again, and start off easy and comfortable."

"It sounds very delightful," said the young man, with a glance at the
charming girl who would stand with her head turned away. "But how about
the Gringos, Donna Prudencia? Supposing some of them should come along

"They won't come to-morrow!" said Marm Prudence, significantly.

"No? you have assurance of that? and why may they not come to-morrow?"

"Because they've come to-day, most likely!"

Rita started, and turned back toward the speakers.

"The Gringos? to-day?" she cried.

Marm Prudence nodded. "That was why I brought you here, dear," she said;
"most of the reason, that is. We got word they was most likely comin',
quite a passel of 'em; and we judged it was well, Don Noonsey and me,
that they shouldn't see you. I thought mebbe," she added, with a sly
glance at the basket, "that if I brought a little something extry, we
might get an invitation to take a bite of luncheon, but we don't seem

"Oh! but who could have supposed that I was to have _all_ the good
things in the world?" cried Delmonte, merrily. "This is really too good
to be true. Help me, Donna Prudencia, while I set out the feast! Why,
this is the great day of the whole campaign."

The two unpacked the basket, with many jests and much laughter; they
were evidently old friends. Meantime Rita stood by, uncertain of her own
mood. To miss an experience, possibly terrible, certainly thrilling; to
have lost an opportunity of declaring herself a daughter of Cuba,
possibly of shooting a Spaniard for herself, and to have been deceived,
tricked like a child; this brought her slender brows together,
ominously, and made her eyes glitter in a way that Manuela would have
known well. On the other hand - here was a romantic spot, a young
soldier, apparently craven, but certainly wounded, and very
good-looking; and here was luncheon, and she was desperately hungry. On
the whole -

The tragedy queen disappeared, and it was a cheerful though very
dignified young person who responded gracefully to Delmonte's petition
that she would do him the favour to be seated at his humble board.



That was a pleasant little meal, under the great plane-tree in the
cup-shaped dell. Marm Prudence had kept, through all her years of
foreign residence, her New England touch in cookery, and Señor Delmonte
declared that it was worth a whole campaign twice over to taste her
doughnuts. They drank "_Cuba Libre_" in raspberry vinegar that had come
all the way from Vermont, and Rita was obliged to confess that Señor
Delmonte was a charming host, and that she was enjoying herself

It was late in the afternoon when she and Marm Prudence took their way
back through the forest. At first Rita was silent; but as distance
increased between them and the dell, she could not restrain her

How was it, she asked, that this young man was there alone, separated
from his companions? He said he was in hiding. Hiding! a detestable, an
unworthy word! Why should a son of Cuba be in hiding, she wished to
know! She had worked herself into a fine glow of indignation again, and
was ready to believe anything and everything bad about the agreeable
youth with the blue eyes.

"I must know!" she repeated, dropping her voice to a contralto note that
she was fond of. "Tell me, Marm Prudence; tell me all! have I broken the
bread of a recreant?"

"I thought it was my bread," said Marm Prudence, dryly. "I'll tell you,
if you'll give me a chance, Miss Margaritty. I supposed, though, that
you'd have heard of Jack Delmonty; Captain Jack, as they call him. Since
his last raid the Gringos have offered a big reward for him, alive or
dead. He was wounded in the foot, and thought he might hender his troop
some if he tried to go with them in that state. So he camped here, and
we've seen to him as best we could."

Rita was dumb, half with amazement, half with mortification. How was it
possible that she had been so stupid? Heard of Captain Jack? where were
her wits? the daring guerrilla leader, the pride of the Cuban bands, the
terror of all Spaniards in that part of the island. Why, he was one of
her pet heroes; only - only she had fancied him so utterly different. The
Captain Jack of her fancy was a gigantic person, with blue-black curls,
with eyes like wells of black light (she had been fond of this bit of
description, and often repeated it to herself), a superb moustache, and
a nose absolutely Grecian, like the Santillo nose of tender memory. This
half-Yankee stripling, blue-eyed, with a nose that - yes, that actually
turned up a little, and the merest feather of brown laid on his upper
lip - how could she or any one suppose this to be the famous cavalry

Rita blushed scarlet with distress, as she remembered her bearing, which
she had tried to make as scornful as was compatible with good manners.
She had meant, had done her best, to show him that she thought lightly
of a Cuban soldier who, for what reason soever, proclaimed himself
without apology to be "in hiding." To be sure, he had not seemed to feel
the rebuke as she had expected he would. Once or twice she had caught
that look of Uncle John in his eyes; the laughing, critical, yet kindly
scrutiny that always made her feel like a little girl, and a silly girl
at that. Was that what she had seemed to Captain Delmonte? Of course it
was. She had had the great, the crowning opportunity of her life, of
doing homage to a real hero (she forgot good General Sevillo, who had
been a hero in a quiet and business-like way for sixty years), and she
had lost the opportunity.

It was a very subdued Rita who returned to the house that evening. At
the edge of the wood they were met by Don Annunzio, who stood as before,
smoking his long black cigar, and scrutinising the road and the
surrounding country. A wave of his hand told them that all was well, and
they stepped quickly across the road, and in another minute were on the

Don Annunzio followed them with an elaborate air of indifference; but
once seated in his great chair, he began to speak eagerly, gesticulating
with his cigar.

"_Dios!_ Prudencia, you had an inspiration from heaven this day. What I
have been through! the sole comfort is that I have lost twenty pounds at
least, from sheer anxiety. Imagine that you had not been gone an hour,
when up they ride, the _guerrilla_ that was reported to us yesterday. At
their head, that pestiferous Col. Diego Moreno. He dismounts, demands
coffee, bananas, what there is. I go to get them; and, the saints
aiding me, I meet in the face the pretty Manuela. Another instant, and
she would have been on the verandah, would have been seen by these
swine, female curiosity having led her to imagine a necessary errand in
that direction. I seize this charming child by the shoulders, I push her
into her room. I tell her, 'Thou hast a dangerous fever. Go to thy bed
on the instant, it is a matter of thy life.'

"My countenance is such that she obeys without a word. She is an
admirable creature! Beauty, in the female sex - "

"Do go on, Noonsey," said his wife, good-naturedly, "and never mind
about beauty now. Land knows we have got other things to think about."

"It is true, it is true, my own!" replied the amiable fat man. "I return
to the verandah. This man is striding up and down, cutting at my poor
vines with his apoplexy of a whip. He calls me; I stand before him
thus, civil but erect.

"'Have you any strangers here, Don Annunzio?'

"'No, Señor Colonel.'

"It is true, señorita. To make a stranger of you, so friendly, so
gracious - the thought is intolerable.

"He approaches, he regards me fixedly.

"'A young lady, Señorita Montfort, and her maid, escaped from the
carriage of her stepmother, the honourable Señora Montfort, while on the
way to the convent of the White Sisters, ten days ago. A man of my
command was taken by these hill-cats of Mambis, and carried to a camp in
this neighbourhood. He escaped, and reported to me that a young lady and
her attendant were in the camp. I raided the place yesterday.'

"'With success, who can doubt?' I said. Civility may be used even to the
devil, whom this officer strongly resembled.

"He stamped his feet, he ground his teeth, fire flashed from his eyes.
'They were gone!' he said. 'They had been gone but a few hours, for the
fires were still burning, but no trace of them was to be found. I found,
however, in a deserted _rancho_, - this!' and he held up a delicate comb
of tortoise-shell."

"My side-comb!" cried Rita. "I wondered where I had lost it. Go on,
pray, Don Annunzio."

"He questioned me again, this colonel, on whom may the saints send a
lingering disease. I can swear that there is no young lady in the house?
but assuredly, I can, and do swear it, with all earnestness. He
whistles, and swears also - in a different manner. He says, 'I must
search the house. This is an important matter. A large reward is offered
by the Señora Montfort for the discovery of this young lady.'

"'Search every rat-hole, my colonel,' I reply; 'but first take your
coffee, which is ready at this moment.'

"In effect, Antonia arrives at the instant with the tray. While she is
serving him, I find time to slip with the agility of the serpent into
the passage, and turn the handle of the bedroom door. 'Spotted fever!' I
cry through the crack; and am back at my post before the colonel could
see round Antonia's broad back. Good! he drinks his coffee. He devours
your cakes, my Prudencia, keeping his eye on me all the time, and plying
me with questions. I tell him all is well with us, except the sickness.

"'How then? what sickness?'

"'A servant is ill with fever,' I say. 'We hope that it will not spread
through the house; it is a bad time for fever.' I see he does not like
that, he frowns, he mutters maledictions. I profess myself ready to
conduct him through my poor premises; I lead him through the parlour,
which he had not sense to admire, to the kitchen, to our own apartment,
my cherished one. All the time my heart flutters like a wounded dove. I
cry in my soul, 'All depends on the wit of that child. If she had but
gone with Prudencia to the forest!'

"Finally there is no escape, we must pass the door. I stop before it.
'Open!' says the colonel.

"'Your Excellency will observe,' I say, 'that there is a dangerous case
of spotted fever in this room.'

"He turns white, then black. He pulls his moustache, which resembles a

"At last 'How do I know?' he cries; 'You may be lying! all Cubans are
liars. The girl may be in this room!'


"I throw open the door and step back, my heart in my mouth, my eyes
flinging themselves into the apartment. Heavens! what do we see? a
hideous face projects itself from the bed. Red - black - a face from the
pit! A horrible smell is in our nostrils - we hear groans - enough! The
colonel staggers back, cursing. I close the door and follow him out to
the verandah. My own nerves are shaken, I admit it; it was a thing to
shatter the soul. Still cursing, he mounts his horse, and rides away
with his troop. I see them go. They carry away the best of what the
house holds, but what of that? they are gone!

"I hasten, as well as my infirmity allows, to the chamber. I cry
'Manuela, is it thou?'

"I am bidden to enter. I open the door, and find that admirable child at
the toilet-table, washing her face and laughing till the tears flow.
Already half of her pretty face is clean, but half still hideous to

"'How did you do it?' I ask her. She laughs more merrily than before; if
you have noticed, she has a laughter of silver bells, this maiden. 'The
red lip-salve,' she says, 'and a little ink. Have no fear, Don
Annunzio; it was you who discovered the fever, you know.'

"'But the smell, my child? there must be something bad here, something
unhealthy; a vile smell!'

"She laughs again, this child. 'I burned a piece of tortoise-shell,' she
says. 'Saint Ursula forgive me, it was one of the señorita's side-combs,
but there was nothing else at hand.'

"Thus then, señorita, thus, my Prudencia, has Manuela virtually saved
our house and ourselves. Hasten to embrace her! I have already permitted
myself the salute of a father upon her charming cheek, as simple
gratitude enjoined it."

As if by magic - could she have been listening in the passage? - Manuela
appeared, blushing and radiant. Donna Prudencia did not think it
necessary to kiss her, but she shook her warmly by the hand, telling her
that she was a good girl, and fit to be a Yankee, a compliment which
Manuela hardly appreciated. As for Rita, she kissed the girl on both
cheeks, and stood holding her hands, gazing at her with wistful eyes.

"Ah, Manuela," she cried; "I must not begrudge it to you. You are a
heroine; you have had the opportunity, and you knew how to take it.
Daughter of Cuba, your sister blesses you."

Before Manuela could reply, Donna Prudencia broke in. "There! there!"

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Online LibraryLaura Elizabeth Howe RichardsRita → online text (page 6 of 9)