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too.

Jim Montfort glanced at her, and nodded to himself. "She'll do!" he said
in his beard. "Montfort grit's good grit, and she's got it. This would
be nuts to little Peggy."

Jack Delmonte, too, looked more than once at the slender figure riding
so lightly between him and the big rough rider. How beautiful she was!
He had not realised half how beautiful till now. What nerve! what
steadiness! It might be the _Reina de Cuba_, Donna Hernandez herself,
riding to victory.

He felt an unreasonable jealousy of "Cousin Jim." Half - nay! a quarter
of an hour ago, she was riding with him; there were only they two in
the world, they and Aquila, poor Aquila, - who had given his life for
theirs. She was his comrade then, his charge, his - and now she was Miss
Montfort, a young lady of fortune and position, under charge of her
cousin, a Yankee captain of rough riders; and he, Jack Delmonte,
was - nothing in particular.

As he was thinking these thoughts, Rita chanced to turn her head, and
met his gaze fixed earnestly upon her. She blushed suddenly and deeply,
the lovely colour rising in a wave over cheeks and forehead; then turned
her head sharply away.

"Now I have offended her!" said Jack. "Idiot!" and perhaps he was not
very wise.

But there was little time for thinking or blushing. The Spaniards,
seeing Delmonte, whom they regarded as the devil in person, descending
upon them in company with a giant and an army (for so they described
the band of rough riders at headquarters next day), abandoned their
prisoners. The Americans chased them for a mile or so, killed three or
four, and, as they reported, "scared the rest into Kingdom Come,"
leaving them only on coming to a thick wood, into which the Gringos,
leaping from their horses, vanished, and were seen no more. The victors
then returned to the forlorn little group of women and negroes, huddled
together by the roadside. Rita had already dismounted, and had Manuela
in her arms. She felt her all over, hurrying question upon question.

"My child, you are not hurt? not wounded? these ruffians - did they dare
to touch you? did they have the audacity to speak to you, Manuela? Oh,
why did I leave you? I could not help it; you saw I could not help it.
You are _sure_ you have no hurt?"

"But, positively, señorita," said Manuela. "See! not a scratch is on me.
They - one fellow - offered to tie my hands; I scratched him so well that
he ran away. I am safe, safe - praise be to all saints, to our Holy Lady,
and the Señor Delmonte. But - poor Cerito, señorita? what of him? he was
with us; he fought like a lion. I saw him fall - "

"Poor Cerito!" said Rita, gravely. "He was a brave, brave lad. A
thousand sons to Cuba like him!"

Donna Prudencia was sitting apart on a stone by the roadside. Rita went
up to her, took her hand, and kissed her cheek. The Yankee woman looked
kindly at her and nodded comprehension, but did not speak. Rita stood
silent for a few minutes, timidly stroking the brown cheek and white
hair. Her cousin Margaret came into her mind. What would Margaret say,
if she were here? She would know the right word, she always did.

"Marm Prudence," she said, presently, "to have the memory of a hero, of
one who dies for his country, - that is something, is it not? some
little comfort?"

Marm Prudence did not answer at once.

"Mebbe so," she said, presently. "Mebbe so, Miss Margaritty. Noonzio was
a good man. Yes'm, I've lost a good husband and a good home! A good
husband and a good home!" she repeated. "That's all there is to it, I
expect." Her rugged face was disturbed for a moment, and she hid it in
her hands; when she looked up, she was her own composed self.

"And what's the next thing?" she asked. "Thank you, Cap'n Delmonty, I'm
feeling first-rate. Don't you fret about me. You done all you could.
I'll never forget what you done. Poor husband's last words before he was
shot was thanking the Lord Miss Margaritty was off safe. We knew we
could trust her with you."

"Indeed," said honest Delmonte, "it is not me you must thank, Donna
Prudencia. I did what I could, but it was Captain Montfort and his men
who saved both her life and mine."

He told the story briefly, and Marm Prudence listened with interest.
"Well," she said, "that was pretty close, wasn't it? Anyway, you done
all you could, Cap'n Jack, and nobody can't do no more. And he's Miss
Margaritty's cousin, you say? I want to know! He's big enough for three,
ain't he?"

Rita laughed, in spite of herself. She beckoned to Cousin Jim, who came
up and shook hands with the widow with grave sympathy. But he seemed
preoccupied, and, while they were preparing to return to the ruined
farm, he was pulling his big beard and meditating with a puzzled air.

"Look here!" he broke out at last, addressing his men. "I've been
wondering what was wrong. I couldn't seem to round up, somehow, and now
I've got it. Where's that poor old Johnny? I left him with you when I
rode forward to reconnoitre."

The rough riders looked at one another, and hung their heads.

"Guess he must have dropped behind," said Raynham. "We didn't wait long
after you signalled to us to come on. We - came."

"That's so!" clamoured the rough riders, in sheepish chorus. "We came,
Cap'n Jim. That's a fact!"

"Well - that's all right!" said Jim. "You might have brought the old
Johnny along, though, seems to me. Two of you ride back and get him;
you, Bill, and Juckins. If he seems used up, Juckins can carry him, pony
and all."

Juckins, a huge Californian, second only to Montfort in stature,
chuckled, and rode off with Raynham at a hand gallop.

Montfort turned to Rita.

"I haven't had time to tell you about it before," he said. "Cousin Rita,
I've been hunting for you for three days. We met an old Johnny - an old
gentleman, I should say - riding about on a pony, for all the world like
Yankee Doodle. He'd got lost, poor old duffer, among these inferior
crossroads, and didn't know whether he was in China or Oklahoma. We
picked him up, and, riding along, it came out that he was searching for
his ward, a young lady who had run away from a convent. Ever heard of
such a person, missy? He had started out alone, to ride about Cuba till
he found her. Kind of pocket Don Quixote, about five foot high, white
hair, silk clothes; highly respectable Johnny."

"Don Miguel!" cried Rita. "Poor, dear, good Don Miguel! I have never
written to him, wicked that I am. Oh, where is he, Cousin Jim?"

"Come to ask him," Jim continued, "it appeared that the young lady's
name was Montfort. Now, I had just had a letter from Uncle John,
wanting me to raise the island to get hold of you and ship you North at
once. He had had no letters; was alarmed, you understand. Laid up with a
bad knee, or would have come himself. I was just going to start back to
the city in search of you, when up comes Don Quixote. When he heard I
was your cousin, he fell into my arms, pony and all. Give you my word he
did! Almost lost him in my waistcoat pocket. I cheered him up a bit, and
we've been poking about together these three days, looking for General
Sevillo's camp. Thought you might be there. We were camping by the
roadside when we heard your firing. Ah! here he comes now!"

The rough riders came back, their horses trotting now, instead of
galloping. Between them, ambling gently along, was a piebald pony of
amiable appearance, and on the pony sat a little old gentleman with
snow-white hair and a face as mild and gentle as the pony's own. At
sight of Rita running to meet him, he uttered a cry of joy, and checked
his horse. Next moment he had dismounted, and had her in his arms,
sobbing like a child.

"Dear Donito Miguelito!" cried Rita. "Forgive me! please do forgive me,
for frightening you. I could not go to the convent, indeed I could not.
I am a wretch to have treated you so, but I could not go to that place."

"Of course you could not, my child," said the good old man. "_Nunc
dimittis_, Domine! Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. Of
course you could not."

"I could not live with Concepcion; don't you know I could not, Donito
Miguelito?"

"The thought is impossible, my Pearl. Speaking with all possible
respect, the Señora Montfort, though high-born and accomplished, is a
hysterical wildcat. You did well, my child; you did extremely well. So
long as I have found you, nothing matters; but, nothing at all. As my
great, my gigantic friend, my colossal preserver, el Capitan Gimmo,
says, 'Ourrah for oz!'"

"Hurrah!" shouted the rough riders.




CHAPTER XIV.

ANOTHER CAMP.


They made but a brief halt at the ruined farm. The house was completely
gutted; the widow of Don Annunzio had the clothes she stood in, and
nothing beside. She stood quietly by while her husband's body was laid
in the grave beside that of young Cerito; a shallow grave, hastily dug
in what had lately been the garden. She listened with the same quiet
face while good old Don Miguel, with faltering voice, recited a Latin
prayer. She was a Methodist, he a fervent Catholic; but it mattered
little at that moment.

By this time it was daylight. A small patch of bananas was found, that
had escaped the destroying torch, and on these the party made a hasty
meal; then they rode away, all save the negroes, who preferred to stay
in the neighbourhood where their lives had been spent.

They rode slowly, in deference to Don Miguel's age and that of his pony.
Rita, riding beside the good old man, listened to the recital of his
terrors and anxieties from the time her flight was discovered to the
present moment. These caused her real grief, and she begged again and
again for the forgiveness which he assured her was wholly unnecessary.
But when he described the hysterical rage of her stepmother, her eyes
brightened, and the colour came back to her pale cheek. She had no doubt
that Concepcion Montfort was sorry to lose her; the larger part of her
father's fortune had been settled upon her, Rita, before his second
marriage.

"The señora also has made diligent search for you, my child!" said Don
Miguel. "She has offered ample rewards - "

"I know it!" said Rita. "Only yesterday - can it be that it was only
yesterday? - Don Diego Moreno was here - there, I should say, at that
peaceful home that is now a heap of ashes. These Spaniards!"

Had she seen Don Diego? the old man asked; and he seemed relieved when
she answered in the negative.

"It is well; it is well!" he said. "He is a relative of the señora's, I
am aware; but it would have been unsuitable, most unsuitable."

"What would have been unsuitable, Donito Miguelito?"

Don Miguel looked confused. "A - nothing, my child. The Señora Montfort
had an idea - Don Diego made certain advances - in short, he would have
asked for your hand, my señorita - well, my Margarita, if you will have
it so. But I took it upon myself to refuse these overtures without
consulting you."

Rita heard a low exclamation, and turning, saw Delmonte's face like
dark fire beside her.

"I beg your pardon!" he said. "I could not help hearing. Don Miguel, if
Diego Moreno makes any more such proposals, kindly let me know, and I'll
shoot him at sight."

"I - thank you! thank you, my son!" said Don Miguel, somewhat fluttered.
"I hope no violence will be necessary. I used strong language, very
strong language, to Don Diego Moreno. I - I told him that I considered
him a person entirely objectionable, unfit to sweep the road before the
Señorita Montfort's feet. He went away very angry. I thought we should
hear no more of him; but it seems that he still retains his presumptuous
idea. Without doubt, it will be best, my dear child, for you to seek the
northern home of your family without delay."

Why, at this obviously sensible remark, should Rita feel a sinking at
the heart, and a sudden anger against her dear old friend? And again,
why, on stealing a glance at Delmonte, and seeing the trouble reflected
in his face, should her heart as suddenly spring up again, and dance
within her? What had happened?

They had ridden some miles, when Jim Montfort, on his big gray horse,
ranged alongside of Delmonte.

"It appears to me," he said, "that something is going on in these woods
here. I've seen two or three bits of brown that weren't bark, and if I
didn't catch the shine of a gun-barrel just now, you may call me a
Dutchman. I think I'll fire, and see what happens."

"No, don't do that!" said Delmonte, quietly. "It's only my fellows.
They've been keeping alongside for the last half-mile, waiting for a
signal. They might as well come out now."

He gave a low call in two notes; the call Rita had heard - was it only
the night before? it seemed as if a week had passed since then.

The call was answered from the wood; and as if by magic, from every
tree, from every clump of bushes, came stealing lean brown figures,
leading equally lean horses, all armed and on the alert. They saluted,
and, at a word from the burly Juan, fell into order with the precision
of a troop on drill.

"What's all this, Juan?" asked Delmonte. "No order was given."

Juan replied with submission that a negro boy had brought news an hour
ago that Don Annunzio's house had been burned, he and his whole
household murdered, and their captain taken prisoner; and that the
latter was being brought in irons along the road to Santiago. They, Juan
and the rest, had planned a rescue, and disposed themselves to that end
in the most advantageous manner. That they were about to fire, when they
recognised their captain's escort as Americans; and that they then
resolved to accompany the party as quietly as might be till they came
near the camp, and then make their presence known to all, as they had at
once made it known to Delmonte himself by a low call which only he had
noticed.

"Not wishing to intrude," Juan concluded, with a superb salute.

Delmonte turned to his companions. "Miss Montfort," he said, "Captain
Montfort - you'll all come up to my place, of course, and rest, for
to-day, at least. It isn't much of a place to ask you to, but - it's
quiet, at least, and - you can rest; and you must be half-starved. I know
I am."

His face was eager as a boy's. Rita's was not less so, as she gazed at
the big cousin, who stroked his beard as usual, and reflected.

"I did mean to push straight on to Santiago," he said, "but - it's a good
bit of a way, to be sure; what do you say, little cousin? tired? hey?"

Rita blushed. "A - a little tired, Cousin Jim; and _very_ hungry!"

This settled it. Captain Montfort bid Delmonte "fire away." The latter
said a few rapid words to Juan, and the scout shot off like an arrow
across the fields, riding as if for his life.

An hour later, the whole party was seated around a fire, in as
comfortable a nook of the hills as guerilla leader could desire, sipping
coffee, and eating broiled chicken and fried bananas, fresh from the
_parilla_. The fire was built against a great rock that rose abruptly
from the dell, forming one side of it, and towering so high that the
smoke disappeared before it reached the top. Thick woods framed the
other sides of the natural fastness, and here the Cuban riders could lie
hidden for days and weeks, unsuspected, unseen, save by the wandering
birds that now and then circled above their heads. No tents or huts
here; the horses were tethered to trees; the commander's hammock was
swung in a shady thicket near the great rock; as for his men, a ragged
blanket and the "soft side of a stone" were all they asked.

Rita had dressed Captain Delmonte's wound, and bandaged the arm in
approved style, Cousin Jim looking on with grunts of approval. He and
Delmonte himself both assured her that, if they were handling it, they
should simply squirt carbolic acid into it, and tie it up with anything
that came handy; but Rita shook her head gravely, and three of her
delicate handkerchiefs, brought from the long-suffering bag which
Manuela had somehow managed to save from the ruins, torn into strips,
made a very sufficient bandage. The wound was, in truth, slight.
Delmonte looked almost as if he wished it more severe, for the whole
matter of bathing and dressing could not be stretched beyond ten
minutes; but Rita's pride in her neat bandage was pretty to see, and he
watched her with delighted eyes through every stage.

"Snug quarters!" said Jim Montfort, approvingly, as, the breakfast over,
he stretched his huge length along the grass and looked about him; and
all the party echoed his opinion. The two captains fell into talk of the
war and its ways, while the women, wearied out, rested after their long
night of distress and fatigue. Marm Prudence chose the dry grass, with a
cloak for a pillow, but Rita curled herself thankfully in Captain Jack's
hammock, after trying in vain to persuade him that he was an invalid,
and ought to take it himself. After some rummaging in a hole in the rock
which served him for cupboard and wardrobe, Delmonte brought her a small
pillow in a somewhat weather-beaten cover. "I wish I had a better one,"
he said. "This has been out in the rain a good deal, and I'm afraid it
smells of smoke, but it's a great pillow for sleeping on."

"Oh, thank you!" said Rita. "It is very comfortable indeed. How good you
are to me, Captain Delmonte. And whatever you may say, it is a great
shame for me to take your own hammock. If there were only another - "

"Oh, please don't!" said Jack. "It's really - you must not talk so, Miss
Montfort. As if there was anything I wouldn't do - why, this hammock will
never be the same again. I - I mean - oh, you know what I mean, and I
never could make pretty speeches. But - it is a pleasure, and - an honour,
to have you here; and you can't think how much it means to me. Good
night! I mean - sleep well."

He added a few words of a German song relative to the desirability of a
certain lovely angel's slumbering sweetly. Rita did not understand
German, but the tone of Delmonte's voice was in no particular language,
and, tired as she was, it was some time before she went to sleep.

It was late afternoon when they took the road again. Before starting
they held a council, seated together beneath the great tree, under whose
shade Rita had slept peacefully for several hours. Jim Montfort was the
first speaker.

"I take it," he said, "we'd better, each one of us, say what we mean to
do. Then the sky will be clear, and we can fit in or shake apart, as
seems best in each case. We all ride together to Pine del Rio, as
Captain Delmonte is so friendly as to ride with us. After that - I'll
begin with you, ma'am." He addressed, the widow respectfully. "How can I
best serve you? I am going to see my cousin safe off, and you must call
upon me for any service I can possibly render you."

"She will stay with me!" cried Rita. "Dear Marm Prudence, you will stay
with me, will you not?"

Marm Prudence shook her head, though with a look of infinite kindliness.
"Thank you, dear," she said; "it's like you to say it, but I'm going
home to Greenvale, Vermont. I've a sister living there yet. I'll go back
to my own folks at last, and lay my bones alongside o' mother's. I'll
never forgit you, though, Miss Margaritty," she added, "nor you, Cap'n
Jack. There! I can't say much yet."

She turned away, and all were silent for a moment, as she wiped the
tears from her rugged face.

"You go straight home, I suppose, sir?" said Jim, addressing Don Miguel.

"Yes, yes!" cried the little gentleman. "I go to Pine del Rio with my
dear ward here. To see her safe on board a good vessel, bound for the
North; to say farewell to the joy of my old days, and put out the light
of my eyes - that is my one sad desire, Señor Montfort. After that - I am
old, I have but a short time left, and my prayers will require that."

"Well, then, it seems as if the first thing on all hands was to find a
steamer sailing for home," said Jim. "If Mrs. Annunzio will take charge
of you, Cousin Rita, I think that will be the best thing. Uncle John
will send some one to meet you in New York and take you to Fernley. How
does that suit you?"

Rita was silent. She had grown very pale. Delmonte looked at her
eagerly, but did not speak.

"What do you say, little cousin?" repeated Montfort. "You have a mind of
your own, and a pretty decided one, if I'm not mistaken. Let's hear it!"

Rita spoke slowly and with difficulty, her ready flow of speech lacking
for once.

"Cousin Jim - dear Don Miguel - you are both so kind, so good. You too,
Marm Prudence. I love the North. I love my dear uncle and cousin - ah,
how dearly! - but - I do not want to go to Fernley."

"Not want to go!" repeated the others.

"No! indeed, indeed, I cannot go. I have been thinking, Cousin Jim, a
great deal, while all these things have been happening; these wonderful,
terrible things. I - I ought to have learned a great deal; I hope I have
learned a little. I have talked enough about helping my country; too
much I have talked; now I want to do something. I am going to work in
one of the hospitals. Nurses are needed, I know, every day more of them.
I do not know enough - yet - to be a nurse, but I can be a helper. I am
very humble; I will do the meanest work, but - but that is what I mean to
do."

She ceased, and all the others, looking in her face, saw it bright and
lovely with earnest resolve. But Don Miguel cried out in expostulation.
It was impossible, he said. It could not be. She was too young, too
delicate, too - the proposition was monstrous. He appealed to Captain
Montfort to support him, to exercise his authority, to persuade this
dear child that the noble idea which filled her young and ardent heart
was wholly impracticable.

Jim Montfort was silent for a time, looking at Rita from under his heavy
eyebrows. Presently - "You mean it?" he said.

"I mean it with all my heart!" said Rita.

"Well," said Jim, "my opinion is - considering my sister Peggy and her
views, to say nothing of Jean and Flora - my opinion is, Rita - hurrah for
you!"

A month ago, Rita would have gone into violent heroics at such a moment
as this. As it was, she smiled, though her eyes filled with tears, and
said, quietly, "Thank you, cousin! It is what I expected from Peggy's
brother."

"May I speak?" said another voice. They turned, and saw Jack Delmonte,
his blue eyes alight with eager gladness.

"If - if Miss Montfort has this noble desire to help in the good cause,"
he said, "it is easy for her to do it. My mother has turned her
_residencia_, just outside the city, into a hospital. I am going there
to-day. She needs more help, I know. You - you would like my mother, Miss
Montfort; everybody likes my mother. She would do all she could to make
it easy for you, and she would be so glad - oh, I can't tell you how glad
she would be. And I think you are quite certain to like her."

"Ah!" said Rita. "Have I not heard of the Saint of Las Rosas? There is
no need to tell me how good and how noble the Señora Delmonte is.
But - but will she like me, Captain - Captain Jack?"

"Will she?" said Jack. "Will the sun shine?"




CHAPTER XV.

A FOREGONE CONCLUSION.


LAS ROSAS, June - , 1898.

DEAR UNCLE JOHN: - Since I last wrote you, telling of our finding Rita,
and of her safe delivery to Señora Delmonte, things have been happening.
In the first place, I got a shot in my leg, in a skirmish, and, as the
bone was broken, and it didn't seem to come round as it ought, I came
here to be coddled, and am having a great time of it. Señora Delmonte is
a fine woman, sir. You don't see many such women in a lifetime. She has
a little hospital here, as complete as if she had New York City in her
back dooryard; all her own place, you understand. Kind of Florence
Nightingale woman. What's more, little Rita promises to become her
right hand; if she's given a chance, that is - I'll come to that by and
by, though. The way that little girl takes hold, sir, is a caution.
She's quick, and she's quiet, and she's cheerful; and she has brains in
her head, which is a mighty good thing in a woman when you do find it.
She and Señora Delmonte are like mother and daughter already; and this
brings me to something else I want to say. It's pretty clear that Jack
Delmonte has lost his heart to this little girl of ours. It began, I
suspect, the night he carried her off from the Spaniards; you have heard
all about that; and it's been going on here, while a little flesh wound
he had was healing. Yes, sir, he's in it deep, and no mistake; and, for
that matter, I guess she is, too, though those things aren't in my line.
Anyhow, what I want to say is this: Jack Delmonte is as fine a fellow as


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