Marah Ellis Martin Ryan.

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would be your greater loss ! "



" Lads, lads, this thing is no jest, but a serious matter.
The fractious jade says plainly there are gallants in
Seville who are not too busy to woo, also that she has
misgivings that the convent life may be her true voca
tion. If no letter goes to her by next ship, I wash my
hands of you both, dolts that you are."

There was laughter among us at Don Rodrigo fuming
over a letter of love, and Tristan, noting that his heart
was in it, spoke up.

" The letter shall go, senor, if it will give you content.
Marco must write it, else you and I will do it, and shame

" Done ! " said Don Rodrigo, eager as a boy. " We
will toss dice to decide which does the task, though if
chance be that Marco writes the letter he will drive the
maid to a nunnery rather than wed anyone of his name
or family. Even the reckonings at the mine he could
not keep in a way to be deciphered."

So, with a new jug of wine to give them courage, the
dice were thrown, first by Don Rodrigo, who threw
seven, then by Marco, who sang in glee and did a caper
when he threw but six. And Tristan sat silent when
the fates, or the saints, sent double six to his hand that
he write letters to the wilful maid across the sea.

There was much rejoicing on the part of Don Rodrigo
over this, for he, in all honesty, feared that a letter from
Marco would hurt his suit more than help it, and Tristan,
once his word was pledged, would carry it through

Thus it began the jest in the shade of the monastery
wall in Mexico. For myself, I think the guardian angels
of all three were taking a siesta that day.

1..1 i i> Ifl. -; LJ~:/iJ L3 " . . [ I/. - " .


Once it was settled, Marco was gay as a lark, willing
to discuss the letter and advise regarding it, but Tristan
had the better of him there.

" You will play your hand, or you will keep out of the
game," he directed. " Also the letters must come to
my hand."

"That is as it should be," and Don Rodrigo passed
over the letters. " This donkey this burro has sent
her only strings of beads until she is all but lost to us.
Now, the saints willing, all will go merrily and smooth
till we sail home for the wedding, with treasure chests
well filled."

" And you, Tristan, shall be my second, and salute the
bride," offered Marco in high good spirits.

" Take him away ere I do him harm," said Tristan to
Don Rodrigo, " and if he has not made his daily call on
the family of De Dasmarinas, this is the hour."

" Family? but there is no family but Dona Perfecta,
and "

" She is quite enough in herself," commented Tristan
unfolding the letters, and not even looking up to see the
red flush in the face of Marco. " Get you gone and find
a messenger to bear the letter to the ship captain. If I
am to attend to your affairs of love, give me, at least,

So they left him, Marco going without further words
for a messenger, and Don Rodrigo hobbling in to his
couch. When I returned from waiting upon him, Tris
tan still sat by the table with the unfolded letter in his

" Strange it is that the pearls of life sink often to low
usage," he said, when I sat myself quiet beside him;


" and strange that his heart is not touched by that which
is good in this."

" Is it truly done by herself? " I asked, for while she
had boasted of her new accomplishment, I had seen none
of it.

" It truly is and it is a shame to deceive so fair a
soul even though I made promise. His name, at least,
I will not sign. I will find some lie to cover that. Who
could trick a child heart such as shows itself here? God !
how strangely the pearls are portioned ! "

This was a new turn, after the jests, and the wine,
and the dice, and I knew not whether to take myself
away, or how to speak.

" You were right, Juanito," he said at last, " the child
but tries to be loyal to a dream of childhood. Hear to

Then he read me the letter Marco had laughed at.

To Don Marcos de Ordono of Mexico,


This will be the first of letters writ by my hand. You did
not know I write. I have learned for the reason I am weary
of priest letters. If you are to be my husband, it is right you
should have my first letter. I look at the stars and wonder if
the same ones shine where you are now, and I have sent mes
sages some days with the white butterflies, and wished the
messages had wings, that they go to you. My own saint is
the beautiful one of the white bees who is called the Saint
of the Impossible; not yet is she made a saint by the church, but
in our hearts she is one. I am not a saint or I could go through
the sea to where you are, as did she through walls of stone
for holiness. But the mother abbess says a maid must abide
at home and wait and make prayers, thinking not of sea jour
neys. Yet when the stars go over to you in the west I do think
of it; and also I make prayers for you in your far travels.


It is not gay to have a life always in a convent, though that
thought may not have come to you. This I have told Padre
Juan to write for me; but no more priest letters will I send
nor will I read. The letters are most fine, but the only letters
I want are from him I am to marry. I cannot marry the priest,
also he would not want me. Padre Juan tells me I am rebel
lious, but I think it is not that. I but ask to know the true
thought of the man I may wed.

Therefore my own hand writes, and I am,

Your friend in graciousness,
Encarnacian Maria Emanuella de Llorente y Rivera.

" Proud little lady lonely, though exalted ! " said
Tristan. " Think you she would pen this if she knew
the course he runs in Mexico? "

" You will not tell her? " I asked, recalling how Don
Rodrigo had said that ranging youths often made the
best of husbands after the settling down had come.

" No, that I could not do, but the child shall no longer
be lonely. It is as a work sent because my own thoughts
are not good company. In this I may forget, for a
little while."

I did not ask what his own sorrows were ; I had grown
fearful of knowing too much.

" You will keep this secret? " he asked.

" Yes, if it is the only way for her happiness," I said ;
for, of course, I believed that when she saw Marco she
would be in love as most maids were, and the letters
would be forgotten no matter who did the writing
of them.

"You promise?" he insisted. "For I know she is
dear to you as a sister."

" That is true. But I give my word. When you, your
self, tell her, I may ; but not before."


" When I tell her ha ! " and he had a bitter smile.
" It is so likely that I, of the name of sorrow, should tell
a Marquesa de Llorente y Rivera that I had dared to
write to her letters from a lover ! Yet that is my task
take yourself away while I prepare my soul."

I did so, looking back at him as he sat, chin on hand,
with the jug, and the wine cups, and the open letters on
the table.

It did not seem to me so fitting an altar for the prep
aration of a soul, and I had my own doubt of a letter to
our Sancha if sent from such a place, yet the very place
may have brought its own help, for the letter was sent,
and in after days my own eyes saw it, and this is it :

To the Lady of the White Butterflies:

It did not come to my mind that you, exalted on the convent
hill, could wish for letters from one far below. But when I
have the word of your hand, my thoughts go over seas to you
more swift than any letter made by man.

I do see the white butterflies here, great ones with wide wings
and velvet soft bodies, but it was the reading of your letter by
which I was able to know the message they strive to give me.
They will never be far from me now, and if I were a knight of
old bearing shield, the butterfly of white should be marked
on it. If I were indeed the knight of an older day I might plead
also for a worn glove. Know you a fair and gracious maid of
the convent hill who would be kind in that?

The land here seems in some things like a country of enchant
ment it is so very, very old, and had been sleeping so many
ages when the conquerors came in with rude awakenings. This
is not what is often told, but it is truth, and much evidence of
the truth was swept away or burned by Cortez, and by others
after Cortez.

If you were here you would learn new things of the stars, for
they come close to earth in this high air. Also the pagans had
their own love and worship of them. They call the moon


" mother," and greet her with gifts of grain meal and flowers
of the night, tossed upwards. Their sanctuaries were many on
the high places, and their shrines in the " houses of the dawn "
were dear as are your altars in old Spain. The white butterfly
is to them the symbol of the spirit of life, and their other sym
bols are many.

Do you ever look at the still star of the north, around which
others circle? That star is as a god to them for the reason
that it is enthroned steadily. Do you ever see that Cassiopeia
has the wings of a great eagle, and the curve of the Dipper is
like a serpent half twisted in coil? Ever these two change
places in the sky. When the eagle is high in the sky the serpent
is under the throne of Polaris, and again the eagle circles low,
and the serpent curves above. Thus in their pictures these
pagans show this endless battle of sky things and earth
things, good and evil, light and darkness, and the enthroned
star, Polaris, holds the balance. Their standards bore the sym
bols of this meaning. In desert nights these thoughts, held
sacred by them, are told at times, little by little, to a friend,
and they make one see how God prepared man by all these
wonders for the revelation of the greater Wonder!

I write of the stars because you ask of them, and I see your
own constellation in the sky as I write. I saw you once on the
convent hill above the olive trees, standing clear against the
sky, with the white doves about you. You were Virgo to me,
white and serene, I have looked at Virgo many times since then
from the wild corners of Mexico, and my thoughts have gone to
you little maid on the hill!

Be lonely no more, but look at the stars at night. Under the
feet of Virgo stretches the great Hydra, with the Solitary One,
Alphard, beating there its steady warmth as the heart of it. I
am thus at your feet, White Virgo! At your feet I will be all
the days I have to live, and here I write, that you may know it,
the name of



AFTER the ship sailed away with that letter,
decided by the dice, Tristan kept me closer to
him than before, and the barrier was down re
garding Sancha. Never before had he spoken
of her, but it was, I think, as he said to talk of places
or people over seas took his thoughts from matters
troubling him, and they were many.

The plans of Fray Payo were made, and we were both
given choice of service in his train. But I looked at
Tristan, and his decision was to stay. Don Rodrigo,
despite his good days, was not well enough for a journey,
and fretted his soul over the mining matters until twice
Tristan rode across the wilderness to set things right
for him, and I an adventurer of the wilds at last
rode with him.

But I cared not much for the living at the camps where
meat was scarce, and little else plenty but the rich silver
in the ore. My own money had gone into shares there,
and slaves to work with, but the camp life was tame,
and I was glad to ride back.

With the ship of Fray Payo went another letter to
Sancha, and then Tristan settled down to make a finish
of the painting, and complete some tasks of records left
by the departing viceroy.



There was great change of ceremony and state when
the new viceroy went in, but it did not lessen the im
portance of the De Dasmarinas. The office of secretary
bestowed upon her husband by the new viceroy, Don
Tomas, Conde de Paredes, gave Dona Perfecta oppor
tunities to show favor to whom she chose, and this time
it was not Marco who was sent with the message ; she
came herself to visit the chapel, and Tristan, in a tat
tered old monk s gown smeared with paint, could do no
less than bow when the Fray Bernardino brought her
in to see the holy saints all in a row, on either side
the altar.

" Is it true, Don Tristan, you have grown so devout
that you paint only heavenly things these days ? " she
asked, and watched him approvingly with those brown
slumberous eyes of hers. No one would call Tristan
handsome, as was Marco, yet heads did turn to look
after him, and his strong dark face made him remem

" I dare not say they are of heaven," he answered ;
" no poor worker of earth may hope for that."

" You might hope for more than you know," she said
softly, as Fray Bernardino shuffled away to send some
one with wine and sweets to the visitor. " The message
that I sent with Don Marco should have told you that."

" Marco is scarce a safe messenger, especially for
exalted ladies, Excellencia," and when Tristan said it
he looked at her very hard, and with no more of courtesy
than he would bestow on a dealer who offered wares he

" Send that boy away," she said. " How is it you are
never alone, whether in the palace, or monk s cell? "


" It is, perhaps, that I have found a comrade."

" Send him away," she said again, and this time she
was close beside him, looking up to his face.

" Juanito, the Dona Perfecta would have you see
that her carriage is waiting at the portal," said Tristan,
and I saw him step back as she caught at his arm.

" You shall not ! " she said. " Listen it is a year
since you said "

" I was a boy a year ago, senora ; also I was proud that
you desired the portrait. But in a year one learns "

" What did you learn that sent you away what? "

" Only that my art is not fine enough for your face,
Excellencia," he said, and I was so eaten up with curios
ity that I peered back and saw the ugly smile on his

" It is not that I know it ! " she insisted, and again
she caught his arm. " What did that girl tell you
Mercedes? It will be well the day she is safe married,
and no time left to play spy ! "

" I have no memory of anything told me," he said
coldly. " Is his excellency, your husband, Don Eduardo,
visiting the monastery today? "

" You know he is not. Listen things are changed,
Tristan. I have power now and "

" So it is said, Excellencia," and his words were like
ice, and again the ugly smile was there.

" Who dares say it? I can make them pay if I choose.
We have not now a viceroy who is a saint."

" So it is said, Excellencia," and again he smiled.

" Ah ! I could could break my fan in your face ! "

" And then, Excellencia? "

" Then weep because I had done it," she whispered,


and again went close to him. " Tristan, why did you
steal away to the Indian deserts, and why "

" The Indian Desert is a good safe place for weak
mortals afraid of temptations, senora."

" Afraid ! You? " and she laughed. " You are no more
afraid than you are weak. You are only devil-possessed
not to grant me that which I desire."

" There are better painters of portraits than I, senora."

" But if I think not? If I have both the viceroy and
Don Eduardo eager to please me and give you a good
price? Can you not see it is favor from the palace I
bring to you? What more can I do? "

" Senora, you do more than I may find thanks for."

" It is not thanks for which I am here it is that I
shall not go out the portal till you promise. The por
trait I must have. I will see that the viceroy himself
asks for it if I fail."

Tristan looked at her in thought though many a
man would lose every sane thought at sight of her. Per
haps he saw the contest would be endless, and I couk
plainly discern that the favor shown Tristan by her
was not a new thing. He could have first place, even
while he jeered at Marco for coveting it.

" I will not put his Excellency to the trouble of a
request," he said. " If my poor talent is of service, I
will, of course, endeavor to make of you a portrait."

" Ah ! " and she was a sparkle of gladness in her de
light. " And you will come to the palace to paint, and
doff that monk s robe, and be human once more?"

" I shall be human enough for the task."

" Task ! You speak as if I set you a penance for sins.
Yet look you, Tristan, you have promised, and I shall


give you else to think of than your pale saints on the
wall. You will forget them all."

" All but one perhaps."

" Which one? " she demanded, and turned to look at
those of the chancel.

" The one I have not dared to paint," he said.

"Where is she?"

He smiled, and reached up, catching at a sunbeam
making clear its bar of light against a shadow.

" It is that, senora, the unattainable."

" Tah ! " and she laughed in derision, " only that ! But
for these drawings did you get their faces from sun
beams alone? "

" Not all. I have a little foster sister who is a pretty
maid, and she has sat still as a mouse, many times, that
I might make drawings of her head or eyes."

" It would please me to see this maid. I bid you bring
her to me at the palace."

" The mother must say as to that ; and I think she
will say no."

" What? Do places go begging in the palace of the
viceroy?" she said smilingly. "We will make her
future if she is fair. Did I not tell you I would have
favors to confer ? "

" Favors of the palace are dangerous sometimes to us
common people of the cots."

But at that she laughed again, and looked at him.

" You of the people of the cots ! You look royal enough
for a throne, though your name tells me nothing. Tris
tan, who are you?"

" An adventurer whose name is Tristan which
means sorrow. Find a gayer painter, Dona Perfecta."


" I will have only you. There will be long hours of
the work, and you will tell me the things of the far
deserts you love more than women."

Then Fray Bernardino came in with the prior and re
freshments, and Tristan got away with what civility he
could. Dona Perfecta talked with the prior a long time
while her horses fretted beyond the portal. If there
were any questions she failed to ask concerning Tristan
and the family of his foster mother, Luiza Gomez, they
were few indeed, and at last she swept away, leaving
the impression that she meant to give patronage to all
of them, also to send some special gifts to the monastery
of San Carlos for the pleasure of her visit. The prior
accompanied her to the carriage, well satisfied that he
had gained the favor of the new rule in Mexico.

It was not a matter of great surprise to me to learn
later that Dona Perfecta had sent for Luiza, who was
vastly flattered at preference shown Mateo, who was
given place as guard at the palace, while Anita was
offered chance to learn embroideries and other fine
handicraft, and have training beyond the hope of a
pretty paisana, which she, in truth, was.

The rage of Mateo and the dismay of Luiza were great
when Tristan broke in on the pretty plan with some
oaths a Christian could not approve.

" Have I fought and made threats to keep her out of
dangerous influences, only to have you toss her into hell
to hold patronage for Mateo? " he asked.

" But her excellency, the Dona Perfecta "

" Ay yes, I know all of that ! " he assented, but he
could not say that her excellency had but a whim to
learn if Anita were the reason her own enchantments


had failed! He knew it, and I knew it, but the good
Luiza would have thought me mad had I spoke it. Tris
tan with his somber eyes and monkish learning was not
thought of as a gallant, though it is true that when he
rode down the street, heads turned to look at him, and
questions were asked by strangers.

Like Dona Perfecta, I had often in my heart the query
" Tristan, who are you? "

Mateo was more than a little surly, and poor Luiza
was in despair between the two of them, and out of the
despair came an idea.

" Listen, Don Tristan," she begged. " We all know
you are right in your thoughts, and always wise, and
with gracious care for Anita, but remember your warn
ing against the advances of Don Marco. You told her
he had more sweethearts than fingers to his hands and
that his thoughts are all for the people exalted and im
portant. Tristan, she is a good child, and she loves you
as a sister, but in her heart she does not believe one
thing you said, from the smallest to the greatest. The
heart of the child is so full of the thought of him that
he is to her like an angel of God on the throne. It will
always be like that unless we make her see. How can
I, when she goes not away from our door but to con
fession or mass? But at the palace she will see with
her own eyes. So I think the saints have sent us this
chance to make her sensible, for she is a pious child, but
overmuch in love for her own good."

Luiza talked it all over with me many times after
wards, and told how, little by little, Tristan gave way,
though he said at the last, " Then you leave me nothing
but to keep my word."


" Tristan, your word was to deal him death if he did
wrong to her, but that he would not do, and that you
could not do."

" Then tell Anita, that I may not be called to," he said.
" In all things I am loyal to the De Ordono except where
two maids are in question."

"Two, Don Tristan!"

" Two, and Anita is one of them. Give her warning.
She may guard him by guarding herself in the midst of
all that tinsel."

So, very quietly, as if there were no gallants ready
to war for her, pretty Anita went with Mateo to the
palace one morning, and there was passed from guard to
lackey until the breakfast room was reached, and Mer
cedes Herrara looked her over, and took her in charge.

" Though you are too fine of grain to easily find tasks
for," she observed, " and I wonder much why the senora
has called you here."

But when Tristan came for the first drawing, a light
task had been found for her, and she wore a dress of
white, and drew the threads for an altar cloth to be
embroidered by Dona Perfecta.

" It will be given to the good prior in memory of the
visit to the saints," she said, looking at Tristan with a
little crooked smile. " N ow that I have one of your
angels before my eyes in life, I see how good the like
ness was made."

" Yes, Anita sits very still, and was good to copy
from," said Tristan.

He confessed later that he felt ashamed of his fears
over Anita when he found her thus among the women,
petted, and talked to, yet not unduly. No men were


present, and Dona Mercedes had a kindly notice of the

Dona Perfecta watched carefully the first meeting of
Tristan and Anita there, and then turned radiant, and
was graciousness itself to everyone, even to me, whom
she had sent out of the chancel that she might vent her
humor on him!

And having seen that Anita was nothing to Tristan
but a kindly charge, it did not enter the thoughts of
Dona Perfecta that the quiet maid could ever aspire to
the very handsomest gallant in her own following!

The beginning of the picture making, with all the
group about her, gave me distrust of Tristan s judg
ment. Why hold out so stubbornly against the favor
other painters envied him? I found myself deciding
that he had read monkish books and lived with old
thoughts until his views of life were curious.

When I was there Marco never but once entered the
room, and then with a brief message from Senor de
Dasmarinas. He gave Tristan a playful thrust or two
because at last he had been chained and dragged from
monastery walls, and then, with a gay salute to Dona
Perfecta and a teasing word to Dona Mercedes, he took
himself away. If he even glanced at Anita it was as if
he had noted a pretty bit of furniture, and the ladies
certainly gave no note to her flushed cheek and shy eyes.
His familiarity with palace ways and people certainly
appeared like a high barrier between them, and though
she might admire him more than ever at a distance, she
must plainly see that her world of life must ever be
far below the ladies who smiled on him there. To me
it seemed that the reasoning of Luiza had sense.


After the second day, Dona Periecta found useful task
for her in teaching Indio maids the linen work, and
under Dona Mercedes there was a gay group of the
young girls in the ramada intent on spacing and stitches.

Online LibraryMarah Ellis Martin RyanThe house of the dawn → online text (page 6 of 26)