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tongue, lest I should say the wrong thing.

Then, one day of beauty, when the winter rain made
the world sparkle anew, Tristan Rueda rode from the
north; and when he was hailed, I stared and choked,
and tried in vain to say the civil thing, but could not,
for my own amazement at the new Tristan, who now
had the look of a sad and bitter man stamped on the
features of youth.

I was not alone in the wonder. There were many
questions asked of his health, and I heard comments of
various sorts. He had ridden away ruddy and careless,


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and came back pale and hard, as from a campaign where
he had fared ill.

Yet he took both my hands in the old friendly way,
and looked in my eyes, and when he went in to Fray
Payo, I was the only one who went with him. To the
message of Don Fernando he had listened with sudden
tears, and he did not let go my hand. My venerable
relative smiled on us both, and the others in the room
were sent away.

Then Tristan took from under his cloak a girdle of
cord and a rosary of brown wood and turquoise and
shell beads with a silver crucifix, and laid them on the
knee of Don Payo.

Don Payo knew that crucifix, and his hands trembled
pitifully as he touched it.

" Where? " he said, and that was all.

" In the waters north of the Panuco."


" Dead many days, and alone. There was a boat and
a storm. If others were there they escaped north or
went to the bottom, but the Indies found no boat."

Fray Payo asked for a map, and traced with his finger
the long line of coast past Florida to the Virginias. Then
he traced the great river from the north, and sat in

" That way the countries of the French could be
reached," he said, "but the wide lands of the pagans
would have to be crossed and with women! It took
Alvarado and his men ninety days to reach Panuco, and
they had no women. It is seven years since the French
Jesuit and the merchant came down the mighty river
whose source is said to be somewhere in Kathay. It


may be that people of a colony have followed their trail
by ship or land, and that beyond the Texas, these ref
ugees will be hidden and guarded. But the way is
through such a wilderness as to appall the bravest. Such,
Tristan, is the only refuge for the benighted souls fleeing
from the true God."

Tristan was white and silent while that wonderful
old mind thought out the chances against escape of the
scholarly, refined Lispanos, who had been accustomed
only to the luxuries of life.

" Leave these with me," he said at last, " and to both
you lads silence! Careful thought must be given ere
a brother monk is held forth to blame or shame, and
such a brother ! Every turquoise bead and every silver
one here is some pledge of prayer from some brown
convert. This is a matter as of our own family."

Then Tristan went out, and I beside him. He had to
listen to all the rumors and conjectures I had learned
by heart, and I wondered that he kept his face steady,
knowing what he knew.

" These are the ends to which a fool s hunger for
knowledge may bring his friends if they try to help
him ! " he said to me. " Be you content, Juanito, with
the little learning of a harmless man."

And beyond this he uttered no word, either then or
later, of the books, or of the people who had hidden
them; but I saw him often poring over the maps of
that north shore, and knew that he thought much of the
trails to be taken for safety, for away beyond there to
the east was the country of the French, and the heretical
Lutherans, and in no other place in the lands of the
New World was there refuge from the Holy Office


unless, indeed, a sinner might risk himself with the
brown pagans, and few souls could brave that choice.

Yet, in after days, I took note that from every trader
or traveler Tristan added to his knowledge of these
foreign coasts and the tribes or rulers, and though he
said little, his ears were ever open to the older men
concerning the missions of the north. These men held
much converse over the strange loss of Fray Fernando,
whose zeal among the heathen had been great.

Mateo, when he got his wits and his tongue, could tell
nothing of that strange going. Don Fernando had gone
in to the heretics, and the door had closed. In peace he
had done guard service and seen no one ; then a blow
had made him senseless. He could tell nothing.

But the Lispanos were all burnt in effigy at the next
auto-da-fc and their names execrated as enchanters and
evil heretics.

For myself, I had the feeling that one of the huge
volcanos might be fuming and groaning under the very
city, so fearful was I that some sort of explosion was
due from all the thoughts suppressed. But as the days
went by, and nothing further happened, I began to
breathe freely, and be a boy again, instead of a scared

Don Rodrigo had a touch of the fever, and was bled
until some of the color left his ruddy face, and there were
days when I was more his page than Don Payo s, for
always there was some seasonable thing sent from the
kitchen of the viceroy to the old soldier in the inn by
the monastery. From there was but the flight of a
chicken to the house of Luiza, and thus I saw most of
our friends daily.


Tristan had quietly fitted himself into the niche of the
cloister life because of some saintly figures with which
he was helping Fray Bernardino for the chapel there.
Why he did not go as he so easily could on some
of the adventurous expeditions north or west, would
have been a puzzle to me, had it not been for the memo
ries of the Lispano family and the books. He plainly
meant to stay in the center of things ; yet by taking up
the painting he was leaving himself free from all offices
by which his feet might be chained, did he again feel the
hunger of far quests, and to all Marco s urging he would
take but little share in the affairs of state at the palace.
Only when Fray Payo sent a call, did he go and go
willingly, and his service was great in many matters
dealing with the tribes.

To me it was as if he had put aside that search for
adventure and strange lore, and was striving to take up,
in body and spirit, all the work for the brown pagans
which Don Fernando had laid down.

To Don Rodrigo he was doubly devoted in the illness
caught in the night mists, or from the evil waters of a
bad camp, and Don Rodrigo had much of sympathy for
himself over many things those days, when he sat,
shaded from the sun, by the great rose tree at the edge
of the monastery wall. A ship was to sail for Spain,
and by trick or craft a letter must go in exchange for
those I had borne to him under seal. Of the contents
he had never spoken in my hearing, so I had only my
guess as to the messages of Sancha. All I did know was
that he had urged Marco to sail for Spain in the train
of Don Payo, and had been given good excuses instead
of consent.


So I found him one day, grumbling and blinking
sleepily across the plaza, where the Indian carriers, with
bent backs, passed in line under the pepper trees. They
bore loads so great that all but their feet were hidden
as they walked patiently on in the sunshine. I have not
to this day ceased to wonder at the grave repose of those
people who pass on fatefully with our burdens, while we
lounge, fretful, in the shadow of walls built from stones
of their temples. Whence the endurance?

But Don Rodrigo, fingering the letters from Spain,
frowned and looked at them, yet saw only his own

" They have no cares but for a bowl of meal or a cup
of their native brandy," he insisted. " And I look at
the loads I carry! To avoid marriage until my age,
yet have the matches to make or hold steady, for every
young gallant of the family ! What use to pray to the
saints if they never keep a man out of trouble? "

" Yet without doubt you will go on paying for good
candles the rest of your life," I said, eager to hear his
discourse of the letters.

He stared at me.

" A man must be a Christian soul in spite of the devil,"
he affirmed solemnly, as if recollecting the duty of in
structing youth, " and the light of altar candles does
give a glow of righteous satisfaction over all." Then,
after another stare, " Did you know the jade had learned
to write?"

He regarded me as if he thought I was somehow to
blame for this objectionable acquirement, but I could
only confess I had heard somewhat of her mind on the
matter, though I had seen no written evidence.


" Well, it is here," he acknowledged morosely, " a dic
tated letter to me by the hand of Padre Juan, and a
threat of worse to follow! A prayerful letter from the
abbess, because with neither guardian nor husband to
control her, the little Arab is like to do some wild thing.
Then to Marco a writing of her own and nothing less
than a return by his own hand will content her ! "

I had a glimmer of light on a puzzling matter.

" Is it for that reason the hand of Marco has still the
wrappings of a lameness? " I asked. " I was so silly as
to think it more excuse for the sympathy of ladies ; they
ever love a man to need their ministrations."

" The cowl of a monk to you, you learn fast ! " he
growled. " Yet under a cowl there is peace, and I half
regret I turned from it at your age. Fine work for me
to have this marriage business on my hands with the
two of them half a world apart. If Fernando rest his
soul had lived "

The whistle of an old Moorish air came along the
corridor. Don Rodrigo listened and then nodded his
head as one who had found a solution of his problem.

" Tristan always knows," he observed ; " every man-
jack down-at-the-heels scholar in the city is more or
less in his knowledge. He will find me someone to do
the letters instead of a priest, and as no letter by Marco s
own hand has ever gone to her, how is she, with all her
temper, to know the difference? It will be a discipline
she sorely needs, and it is a kindness, too for Marco
writes a vile, unreadable scrawl. We will get her an
cscribienie of elegance."

Tristan swung along the corridor, humming the air
he had ceased to whistle. His step, in the soft leather


boots, had the virile spring of life in it, eager, yet not
impetuous. He looked a strong animal held in check,
almost an idler for want of a task he fitted and dan
gerous fuel for the fates. I did not reason it out thus,
I was too much of a boy, but I was set athrill by the
force within him.

He was momentarily elated over some completed
work in the chapel. Fray Payo had sent some painters
of note to view it, and their praise was high. Fray
Bernardino gave him credit, and they had protested
against a youth of such talent wasting time on Indian

" That marches with my own thought," decided Don
Rodrigo ; " why rope an Indian in the lake and drag
him to shore for baptizing? If they have souls, they
have also a saint to drive them in for confession when
the time comes."

" Many would wait long for that."

" And better so than that good men should be wasted
on them. Think of the army of priests now in the north."

" Mines of turquoise are there, and it is said gold,"
commented Tristan ; " that should be good cause to you,
if not the souls."

" Yet the true mines of Mexican gold have never yet
been found, with all the aid of converts," grumbled the
old man. " A little here and a little there yes, and
much of silver but the real mines, the great treasure
houses, where are they? With all your journeyings
have you traced them, or with all your converts? "

" The gold is sacred to the sun god, and to their houses
of dawn," said Tristan. " I have never sought by words
to find trails to their sacred things. If they want you


to know they will tell you with an open heart. If they
are made to answer, they will only lie."

" All hopeless sinners given over to the devil ! But it
was not of their red souls I would talk. It was to ask
how far you would go to favor a friend."

" If you are the friend, Don Rodrigo, you know these
many years I am bound to your house."

" Hark now ! That is it, lad ; it is for the house of
De Ordono itself I need loyalty, else how is the house to
continue if there are not marriages? and how are mar
riages to be if there is not love-making of some sort
or pretense? "

Tristan smiled, and it was the first smile of his I had
seen in Mexico.

" If it is love-making, why not do it yourself? " he
asked. " You are substantial, and comely to the eye,
even after all your bloodletting."

" But this is a serious matter ! " protested the old man.
" The ship sails in less than a week, and Marco is use
less, and "

" Tell me," said Tristan.

" It is this. Don Fernando God rest his soul has
written all the letters for us since we came from Spain.
He is gone, yet the letters must be written, more than
ever they must be written, for the girl has the devil in
her, and demands things. You remember the child,

" I remember."

" Good ! Gifts have gone to her from Marco all these
years I myself sent them. Letters have gone for her
to Padre Juan or to the abbess I had them written."

" All this I know," said Tristan, " for all of the letters


from there were among papers of Don Fernando, and
Fray Payo gave me the task of sorting them."

" Praise to the saints if you have not destroyed them !
This is a day of good fortune. You are yourself so good
a scribe and scholar that you will know every worthy
scribe in the city who hires his pen and his time."

" That is true, senor. Many of them, failing to find
the El Dorado of dreams, are glad to keep accounts, or
act as scribe, or turn monk at the last ! "

" Softly and with care ! Your careless speech may
earn for you a trial of the faith some dark day if you
guard it not. Monks are vowed to God s service."

" And a fat living here," grinned Tristan.

" Had you and Fray Fernando so fat a living when
you were on that desert trail to the north? "

" Let me not remember that time of the lost way in
a land of plenty. We dug roots and ate snakes. But
Don Fernando was never a monastery man. To me he
was ever the soldier who had somehow broken into a

" That is true, that is how it was," said Don Rodrigo,
and sat in silence a space ; I started as if to leave them,
for it was always a pain for me to hear of Don Fernando
in the presence of Tristan. Pie was guarded even while
he seemed careless, and our eyes ever avoided each

Don Rodrigo put out his hand to detain me.

" Stay you here, Juanito, unless you are needed else
where. You may serve as help, you saw the little spitfire
later than I."

" Your pardon, sefior, but she is no longer so small,"
I said.


" Her height has kept pace with her temper, then? "

" About that, senor," I conceded.

" You see, Tristan, that is what I have to deal with
a temper of pepper, and the height of a woman ! I have
asked little help of any but Don Fernando, and he "

" Senor, many of the tasks he did have been given to
me by Fray Payo. That I work here at the painting for
pure love of it, does not mean that I take no other

" I could wish Marco as willing. He ever has some
errand of state if I need to talk sense to him and that
ship must carry a letter to Spain. When I did remind
him of it, he gave me leave to write it ; schoolmaids, he
said, were not to his fancy. She could wait there safe
in the convent until he went back; so stands it with
Marco. But Marco should recall that the girl is a little
Arab of temper ; truly there was the blood of Moresco in
that family. This letter is not at all an you will, your
excellency ; it is a shoulder stroke, direct ! An you do
not, there are other men, also there are cloisters ! She
is wearied of letters from priest to abbess, and with her
own hand has she learned to write that she may say

" Life of my soul ! this grows amusing. And does
your rebel lady demand of you a letter of love from

" Ay, she does and if it does not in the first ship,
there are others comely gallants nearer home and
there are cloisters."

" That ever Marco should drive a maid to a cloister
for lack of love-making ! " said Tristan. " If she were
this side the water he would not let her go begging. I


had a bad hour with him ere he ceased tossing roses or
sweetmeats over the wall to the child, Anita. He took
it ill at that time, but seems again a friend. And now,
senor, to serve you, how can I? "

" Read the letters, and have reply made that is courtly,
and what it should be. Save the child s name if you
can. And have replies sent to Marco in your care. Thus
the maid will be content in the thought that he writes
them, and no harm will be done. If you will do this
and get the letters to ship, it will be all heavenly har
mony instead of cat scratches. It will not be for long;
our intent is to go back another springtime."

" Marco knows? "

" Marco knows, and laughs, and says I started it and
must finish it. I, who have worked with heart and care
to join a marquesa of Llorente y Rivera and De Ordofio!
He is an ungrateful donkey, and knows not his own
good fortune. Also, he says she should have faith as has
he, and no letters would be needed. For myself, I do
deplore even the thought of letters, and it goes hard to
chide the lad for the same natural feeling. We De
Ordonos have never been much with a quill."

" Faith, as he has ! " repeated Tristan. " The maid
locked tight in a convent, and he ranging the world for
pleasure ! Which recalls to me a small matter : Is it not
by the friendship of Senor Don de Dasmarinas that
Marco has lately been shown some special preferences? "

" It may be so ; he has said nothing."

" Then you say something, Don Rodrigo, and save
troubles to come. Tell him to range elsewhere for
sweethearts than so close to forbidden ground. I inter
fered in one direction, and he would think me turned


spy if I should speak of another. At the very mildest,
he would take it ill."

" That is true. What is wrong? Are you rivals? "

" Not at all, my heart is at the feet of Mercedes, the
cousin of Dona Perfecta. She is safely betrothed to my
friend Ernesto Galvez and is not for me; but she is
wise that girl and sees things. Dona Perfecta will
also be wise to hasten the wedding, lest Mercedes see
too much. That beauteous Perfecta is a woman am
bitious for special place at the palace, and uses all tools
to her hand. Also she is a pretty cat, no, rather is she
a tigress, and likes pretty boys instead of kittens to
play with! "

" Marco would say then that you were safe," said Don
Rodrigo, rolling a cigarro, and watching the face of
Tristan to see if he flushed, or paled, or lied.

But Tristan only smiled.

" It is true," he said, " my beauty will not make trou
bles for me. If I told Marco all I could tell, we would
end by fighting, and that would win pleasure for none
of us. Where is the letter? "

" It is here all three of them from the abbess, the
priest, and the girl, and the last deserves better treat
ment than it is getting."

" Also, here is Marco de Ordono," I warned them as
I sighted him across the little plaza. " It will be a joke
on Marco that you help save a wife for him from the

" If there is a joke, it will be on me, that I plan letters
of love for a girl over seas when I am thinking only of
Mercedes Herrara here in Mexico!"

Later I knew how bravely he lied about that little



matter, though at the time I had a boy s sorrow for him.
I knew how it was to adore a divinity at a distance.

Marco shrugged and smiled when he saw the creased
and crumpled letters. Don Rodrigo had evidently taken
his worries to bed.

" So you have Tristan in it now," he jeered ; " but I
have a better task for him. Whether with good or ill
will, your presence is entreated soon as may be at the
house of Senor Don de Dasmarinas. The fame of your
churchly paintings is abroad; you are asked again to
paint the portrait of the loveliest lady of the land."

Tristan looked at him and smiled.

" One woman at a time," he said ; " and if her time
ever comes, it must come second."

" Let him alone, Marco," said Don Rodrigo. " He will
be our salvation if you give him a free hand. A letter
must go on that ship if you want ever to join the De
Ordofio with the illustrious family of Llorente y Rivera."

" Does she fancy we carry secretaries to the mines? "
growled Marco.

" What she fancies is not spelled out here, though the
letter of Padre Juan makes much plain. Here she says,
It is five years, and I have grown tall. I pray you con
vey to Don Marco that the Indian dolls he sends have
made much merriment for the nuns here at Santa Maria,
also that I lately hung each one of them by the neck to
a pomegranate tree, and if Padre Juan has a mind to tell
you what I said of them he is free to write it in this
letter, for I am making sanbenitos for each one, and the
little pagans will all go into the fire on some fine day !

" The little Arab devil! " said Marco. " She was ten
when we came from Spain, was she not? "


" Twelve," said Don Rodrigo, " and should she ever
hear you call her Arab there would be troubles
enough. That Moresco blood was proud as any in Cas
tile ; it was used to ruling in other days. And this word
of hers is more than the whim of a child. Look to it,
Marco, that you lose not a pearl you would gladly
wear ! "

" In a year we will go back, weighted with treasure
is that not good reason enough for delay? How can a
man make love to a girl in far Spain when there are as
pretty, here to one s hand?"

" There needs no love-making ; the child has never
had it, and cannot miss it. But letters of your own
writing she does demand."

" I will marry, as I will die, when my time comes,"
said Marco sulkily, " but to wear out my brain with
letters to a little vixen like that I can t and won t !
Also my hand is lame, even if I would also you can
get another priest to write, for after all she has never
seen writing of mine. Who is to tell her the difference? "

He looked at me as though I might not be trusted, but
Don Rodrigo spoke for me.

" We can trust Juanito. He is too fond of Sancha not
to want her happy and safe wedded."

" If it makes her happy," I said, and had doubts.

" How else will it be if only she is quiet and tame for
a little longer? "

" A clerkly wife is the last thing I should have asked
the saints for," growled Marco, looking at the letters,
and throwing them back on the table. " Why could she
not be content with trinkets, as would any other maid? "

" Because there is not like her any other maid any-


where in all the rest of the world ! " I declared. " She
has a brain to think with, and your trinkets have been a
jest to her since ever you came away ; also your ladies
of Mexico are tinsel beside her gold, and no maid of the
house of Llorente y Rivera need go pleading for a hus
band, Senor de Ordofio. She is loyal, but she has no
love for you, she only thinks she loves the memory of

How I said it to thrust my tongue into their man s
discourse I could not tell. Never before had I pre
sumed before my elders, but my blood was hot with
anger at his easy confidence.

Tristan put his hand on my own as if he feared my
effrontery might make trouble, but Marco was so amazed
he had no time to be angry. And Don Rodrigo watched
me with a curious look.

" It is the same blood, Marco, safe and loyal, yet prone
to wild doings in the older days. You had best take
that little warning, for wild blood may lead your maid to
strange decisions there is always a cloister and she
mentions that there are also men in Spain ! "

" I have thought over the accursed matter until I am
past thinking," said Marco, suddenly truculent. " But
you and Tristan are not the ones to desert a comrade in
trouble. I would as soon hope to preach a sermon as
write a letter, while this escriblente can write easily as
he can eat. Come, Tristan, refresh yourself with a cup
to give you heart, and help a comrade. Get a letter
written for me before the ship sails."

" I ll write for myself," threatened Tristan, " and steal
your maid and her fortune, and the latter, as I see it,

Online LibraryMarah Ellis Martin RyanThe house of the dawn → online text (page 5 of 26)