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beauty of her? "

" How did you hold it in your mind all these years,
and then glorify it like that?" I asked, and he smiled.

" Rather, how have I kept from painting it into each
face I have had canvas for? You perceive I did resist
that until they gave me a last task."

" Tristan, have you no thought of what the people
say?"

" Why should I? I shall be dead and out of it before
anyone comes who knows the face, and it may be that
even now she is changed until only you and I, out of
all the world, remember."

I could not say anything after that. His words, " I
shall be dead and out of it," told me the Holy Brother
hood could have no surprises for him. He lived with
out hope while biding their time.

" I would wish to write one letter before the end
comes," he said ; " some day your eyes will look on her
again."

I nodded my head and went away, for it was like hear
ing a man prepare for death, and I was only a boy. I
asked Fray Bernardino to let him have paper and pen
so long as he wrote no heretical record, for I knew
Fray Bernardino was very happy over the picture, and
disposed to think the inspiration of Tristan not an
evil thing.

Gilberto Lanchitas met me at the palace with word




THE COMING OF SANCHA



that a ship was in, and the carriers had been sighted on
the far slopes, so we rode out together to meet the mail.
I would rather have gone alone for my own reasons,
as Gilberto was constantly alert for all new enterprises.
Yet my anxiety was without cause, for there was no
letter.

I had planned every conceivable way to get and hide
it when it arrived, but for its non-arrival I had made
no provisions, and Gilberto laughed at my face when I
showed my disappointment.

" Is it a lover left behind? " he asked. " Your eager
riding and long face would indicate that."

Then he asked questions of the ship, and passengers,
and the journey. All arrived well but a noble nun of
St. Dominic, who had come with a band of sisters for
mission work. She was ill in Vera Cruz, and their
journey delayed, but the other travelers were coming
up the mountains soon as might be. I recalled the men
tion Sancha had made of the nuns, yet gave them little
thought. The lack of a letter was most in my mind. I
rode back, wondering, and went to Fray Bernardino.

" I had asked Tristan for help with a letter," I said,
" but a ship is in, and no letter has come for me. Will
you tell him?"

" I will tell him, but already the letter for you is writ
ten by him, and I am to give it to your hand. No evil is
in it, and there seems no fair reason why you should not
have it. A letter of love it might be, yet prayerfully
writ as a farewell might be. It will make you a poet
to the lady, and anon is certain to bring you gracious
word."

The good monk looked at me, and smiled as if encour-



i 4 2 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

aging young love, and smiled more when my face burned
red.

" Go with God, my son," he said in kindness, " it
is the spring of the year with you."

I took the letter and went my way after slipping a
gold piece into his warm hand. It was a comfort to
know a heart like that was near Tristan, even though
his power could not be great when it came to the things
of life and death.

There was a note to me, and it said,

Don Juanito:

I would do much more for you than to write the letter which
I send, but the things I may do are not many, and I dare not
plan for the days of tomorrow. This hour I have is all I call
mine, and in it I write. The future hours are yet with God.
May they bring you blessings. Tristan.

Then I opened the letter the monk had said would
win me a gracious word from a lady. With Don Rodrigo
dead and Marco gone, all the weight of the letters of
the dice was mine to bear, and I had to know. The
letter showed me that after the task of the picture was
accomplished, Tristan expected nothing of future re
spite, for this was indeed the farewell.

White Virgo:

So long as the skies of earth are before my eyes, my mind
sees you poised, serene and queenly between Hydra and Leo.
It is thus I will think of you when the last hour comes.

The skies grow dark where I am, and I go, perhaps, on a far
journey. Words of mine may not reach to you again for a
long and weary while, but in the place you know, I will be
waiting. You will never quite forget to look at the circling
stars of night, and it may be that a wandering butterfly will



THE COMING OF SANCHA 143

help you remember. Hold close your dreams to your saint of
the white bees, and lay a rose on her shrine for me, to whom
she brought the joy impossible.

Give deep thought to a man before giving your trust, for
your white life is so precious a thing that you are placed on an
altar in a heart here in this far land. May all the light of the
" houses of dawn " enshrine you, for this means the stars of
the morning, and the young sun, and the white thoughts they
bring to a soul.

More I may not say, and when this prayer comes to your
hand, the writer may have found the long trail to the place at
your feet the place of rest to Alphard.

I had been past all further wonder when I looked on
her face smiling its glory on the world from the shadowy
chancel, and the letters belonged to that dream life of
hers, as she believed, through her Saint of the Impos
sible. The saint had decreed me the one soul left to
help keep her dream as long as might be, and I folded
and sealed the letter, and had it addressed and sent
with the first carrier. Nothing gave me the feeling of
safety and I never knew when I might be searched,
or even placed where I could not start the letter on
the way to her hand. Also I did not want the heart
ache of seeing again a hopeless man s farewell, and
whatever the future might bring to Tristan, I knew
I should never be able to see him as I saw other men.
Whether heretic, or true son of the true faith, I should
only see the painter of her wonderful face, the finder
of the key to her wonderful dreams.

And then, having fought out my own battle with
my boyish self, in spite of my own sorrows, and having
made the letter safe, there was little to do but see him
as I might, either within the prison or on the street



i 4 4 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

in the regular round of the penitents led to mass with
neck in halter, and the robe of shame. It was a sor
rowful thing at best, yet he ever walked with head in
the air and eyes looking above and beyond the faces
of the street.

A week after the sending of the letter I saw him thus,
but his face was bitter and hard as he ranged his eyes
over the crowd until he saw me, then there was the
slight lifting of the chin, and the old look of command
in the eye. I knew nothing of what it boded, yet I
saw he was still human enough for anger, and that he
commanded me to come to him.

I went, early as might be, the next morning, and he
gazed at me in hard question and reproof.

" You have known it ever since that night," he said
bitterly. Then I knew he meant Marco and Anita.

" And I risked my life for a De Ordofio for that ! "
and he laughed shortly. " Does he forget my promise?
I told him if he touched that child, I would trail him till
he died or I did. Does he hold my word so light a
thing?"

"But, Tristan, within these walls what can you do?
What but sorrow could the telling bring you? So I
kept silent."

" No added breach of their rules can add to the les
son they mean to make of me here when the time
comes," he said grimly. " Though I followed him
to death, they can only kill me once for all, and that
they will do in their own way some morning of holiday.
Juanito, if a change should come to me and any
change means death whether soon or late go you
back to Sgain, and remember your blood kindred to



THE COMING OF SANCHA 145

Don Payo if you have need of a friend. Take this to
your heart and remember."

" Tristan," I said, and my heart was sick and shaking
within me, " Tristan, have you heard, then, aught of
your sentence? "

" Nay," he said, " it is only that I have sentenced
myself for a task to be done if chance offers. Be safe,
Juanito, go you back to Spain, and comfort as best you
may the exalted maid whose name we do not speak."

I went back to Luiza, and told her Tristan knew, and
was bitter, and said strange things I could not under
stand. And in trying to understand, I fretted myself
into a fever of illness that night, and had two days of
nursing and medicines ere I was on the street again, and
then it was to see in the plaza and before the palace a
gathering of people to give greeting to the reverent
mother of the Dominican nuns who was to be the guest
of the viceroy, together with others of her sisters.
The viceregal carriage had gone with an escort to meet
them at the borders of the city, and the superiors of
other convents were already invited to the palace.
Altogether there was an impressive group of ecclesias
tics gathered there, and with Ernesto Galvez I stood
at one side of the portal using my eyes as a boy will at
any new pageant.

Don Tomas himself came there and bent the knee
to religion as shown in the person of the mother supe
rior, and led her graciously through the line of ladies
to the seat of honor between himself and the arch
bishop. Following came the other sisters in their white
robes of the pure in heart, and as one weary woman
looked like another to me, I was turning away, feeling of



146 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

no use, when from the carriage of the viceroy there came
a high sweet call like that of a happy bird,

" Juanito ! O Juanito ! "

Eyes turned to me ere I could locate the voice, and
then through the group she came running, with her
hands outstretched and all her face alight.

" Juanito ! I have come I have crossed the seas to
come ! I am really here, Juanito ! "

Gilberto the lank cub grinned at the dismay in
my face, and that brought me to my wits.

I took her two hands, and kissed them and bowed
in my best manner, and presented Don Eduardo.

" My cousin, the Dona Encarnacian, Marquesa de
Llorente y Rivera," I said, and had my own revenge
to see plumes sweep the tiles as she passed.

She looked all of sweet girlhood in the soft folds of
the novice garb, yet she bent graciously as a young
queen before the viceroy, and kissed with humility
the ring of the archbishop.

There was more than the usual flutter over a pretty
maid as the mother superior took her hand with a little
smile of humor, and glanced at the viceroy.

" Here is a very worldly young mocking bird in the
raiment of a modest wren," she said. " Our Dona
Encarnacian would go adventuring, and had our pro
tection to your court, Your Excellency."

" The court is honored. The apartments of Don
Payo have had no occupant since his going, and are at
disposal of his kinswoman."

While Dona Perfecta was introduced, I made bold
to speak aside to Don Eduardo, asking that time for
consultation should be allowed, for it might be that my




THE COMING OF SANCHA 147

cousin would prefer not to be of the gay palace guests
when she heard of Don Rodrigo, and of other things.
The convent might prove a more restful retreat.

Don Eduardo smiled as he watched her, all alive with
interest in new scenes and new people.

" Her excellencia does not give appearance of a seek
er of rest," he observed. " She flashes color not to be
quelled by all the nun s robe."

Which was the truth. She was seated by the viceroy,
who warmed wonderfully to this sparkling masquerader.
Dona Perfecta joined them, and regarded Sancha cu
riously. Her gay freedom, which was yet not boldness,
made her difficult for the older woman to understand.

" Our men of Mexico will bless the reverend mother
for sheltering you on the journey, Marquesa," she said.
" Spanish brides are still so rare that our men speak
for wives soon as a girl child is christened."

" That is why I came ! " confessed Sancha, smiling.

" Your pardon ! You came because brides were
scarce? "

" Not that, quite," and Sancha blushed, and looked at
me the only wretched devil-driven soul in all the gay
group "I came because I was spoken for in child
hood, and the man is here, Your Excellency."

" May I ask his name that I may add to your hap
piness by sending for him? " asked Don Tomas. With
an arch glance at me, she whispered Marco s name to
the viceroy.

His face changed, and he lowered his eyes as he
bowed.

" I regret I may not serve you on the instant as I
could wish," he said, " but Don Marco de Ordono has



i 4 8 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

undertaken an expedition for the state into the deserts
of the north. It is a journey of sixty days."

" I know it is far his letter told me that but sixty
days more is not much when I have crossed the seas to
follow."

" His letter? " I muttered, and got near enough to
touch her arm, my wits all but gone in the sudden
silence around her, "what letter?"

" One meeting me at Vera Cruz," she said eagerly.
" Think of it, Juanito ! I might have missed that letter
if it had not been for the ship captain who knew I
hoped for one. He brought it to me at the convent
where we nursed Mother Maria Ynez. So I knew Marco
was going but I did not know where."

Then everyone began talking at once, and the viceroy
kindly turned to speak to the Mother Ynez and left
me to draw Sancha away to a window overlooking the
plaza.

"Is it not wonderful?" she whispered, pressing my
hand in excess of joy. " What difference can a little
sixty days make after I am actually here? Tell all
you know of him, Juanito, for I am not the girl you
left in Spain his letters have made all the world a
different place."

" His letter has not, perhaps, told you the sad thing
we have had to meet," I said, and then I told her of the
death of Don Rodrigo, and that I alone was now in
Mexico to do her will since Marco had gone as the
viceroy informed her on an expedition for the state.

" Poor Don Rodrigo! " she murmured, " what a trial
I was to him and what a lecture I was prepared for !
His soul to God for he was a good and kind man."



THE COMING OF SANCHA 149

Then after a bit of silence while my mind was in a
whirl, she asked softly, " Tell me truly, Juanito is it
a journey of great danger on which he is sent."

" Who? " I asked stupidly.

" Marco. I feel sure it is so. His letter fills me with
strange fears for him every day was a week down
there at Vera Cruz by the sea. I would have ridden
alone to come, but the nuns were horrified, so I had
to wait for them. But the letter of farewell for the
far journey makes for me a heartache. He is very
lonely is he not, Juanito?"

" How can I know? " I asked, and she smiled and
sighed.

"No, you cannot know, Juanito. No one can know
but me, and for that reason is he more mine than we
ever could have thought."

The reverend mother elected to remain at the palace
while rooms were being arranged at convents, also she
elected to keep Sancha with her. It was no pleasure
for me to see her there, where Dona Perfecta held a
suddenly discreet sway. Yet, since it was so decided,
I could put forth no objection that she remained under
the charge of Mother Maria Ynez, Countess de Monde-
jar, for whom the palace became as a great reception
hall for ecclesiastics of note. Mother Maria Ynez
promised to be a person of importance in mission work
and, as sister of a cardinal, was a social acquisition of
value to any establishment.

The viceroy sent for me, and was in all things gra
cious. Mine was to be the pleasant task of page or
guardian of the two noble visitors. My relationship
to the Marquesa de Llorente y Rivera made me the most



150 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

fitting and agreeable person to arrange their drives, and
learn their wishes. Also I was to take up my old lodg
ings in the palace as in the days of Don Payo. To house
in the cottage of a soldier of the guard was scarce in
keeping with my importance.

When this had been concluded, he made excuse to
send Don Eduardo from the audience, and smiled at me
shrewdly.

" Now tell me of this brilliant and lovely cousin. It
is true that the marriage is arranged?"

" So true that my wits are near gone at the shock of
her coming at this most unhappy time ! "

He had a bit of serene amusement at my dismay, and
serene vanity enough to cope with it.

" Surely the courtiers of Mexico can serve to enter
tain her after a fashion until the wanderer can be
brought back," he suggested.

" But who is to bring him? "

" There will be no difficulty in that. I can send a
courier."

I knew he could but would he? Lovely maids of
degree were not so plentiful; Don Tomas had a record
for gallantry, and a long waiting in the city might bring
Sancha knowledge making her less eager for that one
stray. So I voiced my doubt as to whether she would
be content to wait; she was alive for an adventure,
and had even spoken of going north to Sonora where
a convent was to be established by Mother Maria Ynez
or by the money she donated to the task. Four nuns
were to go, and already Sancha was studying maps and
reckoning how short a way on paper the trail
looked from Sonora to Sante Fe on the Rio Bravo.



THE COMING OF SANCHA 151

" Let us hope she will be content with adventures in
safer places," he said easily ; " there are many novel
things to be seen here in Mexico."

When I told Sancha this, she laughed. To her there
was only one thing worth her while in all the world
and she meant to find it.

" By all means let the viceroy send courier," she
said. " But why may I not cross the lands, and be of
aid to the nuns, and meet Marco half way on his return?
I am helping with the cost of this new convent. Why
may I not, in courtesy, ride with them, and learn what
other needs they may have? "

I saw that she was indeed a different maid from the
one I had left in Spain. She was alert to every point
in favor of the thing she meant to do ; added to which,
she had the good will of the mother superior. If the
child wished to serve God by such labor, the nuns
united in wishing that she make the journey with them
rather than wait idly through the long months until
the return of her betrothed.

What I could, I said, but she only took my face in
her two hands, and laughed at me.

" Not only will I go when the train is ready, but you
shall go with me as escort," she decided. " Think of
it, Juanito, to ride through the forests together day
after day, and see the wonders of it the birds, the
butterflies, the stars at night "

" With the addition of snakes and other creeping
things," I added, " and who knows what prowling
savages to thieve each thing left unguarded."

" All the more will I need you, Juanito. We will
ride north as two knights protecting the holy women



i 5 2 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

on their mission, and you shall tell me all the wondrous
things of him we are riding to find."

The wondrous things I most wished to tell of him
grew silent on my lips as I saw her joy in the thought
of him.

" You have spoke scarce two words of him since I
came," she pouted, " yet you lived near him all these
months, and heard him discourse. He has grown so
very wonderfully wise, Juanito."

I said nothing to this of what use was it when I
saw that light in her eyes?

" Perhaps he does not talk to you as he writes me,"
she went on, a bit more shyly, as the little dimples
deepened in her cheeks. " His letters to me are so
wonderful they drew my heart ahead of the ship all
the journey."

She touched her bosom where I knew the letters lay.
Though she had changed her garb of the nun s robe and
wore silk of a sapphire blue, I knew that in all her mag
nificence her most precious jewels were the words
written and hidden under her laces the words decided
by the toss of the dice!

I wanted to kneel at her feet and tell her she was
cheated that there was no honesty in anyone any
where and that the safer thing was to don again the
nun s robe, and wear it forever.

" Little cousin," I said, " men are sometimes one thing
on paper, and another thing in real life. If If Marco
should not prove what you think? Men are not saints,
you know, and their rovings take them in strange
places."

" I know," she said softly, " but he is very lonely in



THE COMING OF SANCHA 153

the strange places ; his heart tells that loneliness to my
heart, though no one else in all the world might think
it. Dona Mercedes says he is handsomer all the time,
and of course he is grand favorite yet deep in his
heart he is the most lonely of men and that is why
I am here."

" But he may be in a fury with me if I let you go into
the wilderness," I protested weakly, and she laughed
and caught my hand.

" Look at me, Juanito ! " she said. " If you had been
writing your very heart out to me, and you suddenly
turned a corner and found me in your arms, could you
have anger with any soul on earth who helped me on
my way to you? "

" But I am not Marco," I said, and looked away rather
than at her as she commanded. It was quite true no
man but must have been glad of her. Eyes turned her
way at every chance, and I saw more than one person
look at her in puzzled wonder, while I grew hot and
cold with fear because of the question in their minds.

Dona Mercedes voiced it when she said, " I have never
been in Seville, senorita, yet you made me feel that I
had seen you in a dream somewhere. I thought it
was the robe of the novice which you wore but it is
not. It is very puzzling almost I place you, and then
you smile, or turn your head, and I lose you again."

I breathed more freely, for Sancha was smiling or
turning her head most of the time, and it was true that
only with her face in repose, and the eyes looking
straight out over the world, did she have likeness to
the Virgin of the Fawn in the chancel of San Carlos.

It was as Tristan had said she had grown different.



154 THE HOUSE OF THE DAWN

The mouth was no longer wistful, but tremulous with
the happiness of her heart. The face had more color,
and only the eyes of velvet softness were the same
yet out of all the world, who but Tristan and I could
be sure? The reflected light from the blue silk of the
dress made even her eyes look different. So I praised
the dress, and urged that she wear such color always.

" That may not be possible on the trail," she said,
" for I shall wear, as I wore in coming, the dress of a
novice. You know I made promise that I would wed
or turn nun."

She laughed at the past promise, made in a temper,
and then was led away by Ernesto Galvez to see some
birds of wondrous hues brought up from the south.

" What if she knew what we could all tell her? " asked
Dona Mercedes. " Are we friends that we do not? "

" It will all come right," said Don Eduardo. " The
viceroy will send a courier. But a word would be wise
in Don Marco s ear when he finds his bride he would
best wed as soon as may be, and take first ship for
Spain. He is not high in favor these days except for
courtesy to Dona Encarnacian."

" Think you he can wed, and take ship, and leave her
none the wiser of his love days in Mexico? "

"Why not, if his friends are loyal?" asked Dona
Perfecta, and at that moment Don Tomas halted out
side the window, looking after Sancha in the garden
below.

" Loyalty to Don Marco is a poor investment of either
head or heart," said Dona Mercedes. " See what Don
Tristan got for his loyalty I shudder to think what
would happen if he were free."



THE COMING OF SANCHA 155

" It would make useless the journey of the Marquesa
de Llorente y Rivera," observed Don Eduardo, " for she
would have no gay gallant for the wedding day. Tristan
would kill him like a dog. I hear he vowed it."

Dona Mercedes laughed. " Of murders I do not ap
prove," she said lightly, " yet in my heart I feel as if it
would be for the happiness of Dona Sancha if the vice
roy should select Tristan as courier to the north."

" For her happiness," echoed Don Eduardo in horror,
"when the girl is mad with love for him?"

" If he were sent to heaven she would keep on loving
him which is more than a sane woman could do who
had to live with him," she retorted. " It is not Marco
de Ordono she loves it is the man he pretends in his
letters to be, and I maintain that a courier like Tristan
would be the safe one to send. It would end all this
tangle for a sweet and honest maid."

" What unchristian hate you have for him," said
Dona Perfecta reprovingly.

" Yes I think I have," confessed Dona Mercedes.
" He is too pretty for a man a sheltered, luxurious
cat ! But I will say a rosary in penance for my jealous
dislike of his complexion ; " and with a hard look at


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Online LibraryMarah Ellis Martin RyanThe house of the dawn → online text (page 10 of 26)