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I passed them, and spoke. Later I learned that Don
Eduardo had made a week s journey to Michoacan, and
that Dona Perfecta had sent for Tristan that the paint
ing of the picture might be continued without delay in
the sala.

It is not a gracious task to write the record of an ex
alted lady who makes opportunities for gallants, and
I will only set down here that no one is ever like to know
what did chance in the sala that morning. But with the
unthinking folly of youth, I did not note the closed door
until I had tried to open it, and found the bolt held

With what haste I could, I was making retreat when
I heard a chair crash to the floor, and a wicked word or
two from Tristan.

He shot back the bolt, and I heard the silks of the lady
rustle across the floor.

" Tristan, Tristan ! " she said, and he halted in the
half-open door lest she echo the call where there was
more danger. " Tristan, you will not go like that? And
the portrait "

He stood very straight and looked at her.

" As I told you, senora, the deserts or the monastery
walls are safest! I find I cannot work in this light. I
grieve at being a trouble to you, but if Senor de Das-
marinas wishes the portrait, he may be able to arrange
to bring you to the monastery the workroom of Fray
Bernardino is a better place."


" I will not go there I will not ! Tristan "

" Then I regret I cannot "

" You do not mean it you are mad ! I can win you
favor, or I can work you ill."

" Surely, yes," he said, and bowed low. " Adios,

" No! Tristan, I will go to you, I will do as you say
for the portrait. But you are mad, Tristan, quite mad ! "

She laughed a little, nervously, as though to pass the
scene by as a jest, but he only bowed again, and walked
out without seeing me where I stood in the shadow of a
pillar. The door of the sala was slammed shut, and I
heard the bolt click again.

Tristan lied complacently, and growled that the light
came from three sides in the sala, and was a devil of a
place to paint anyway ; he liked a good tile floor where
a bit of trodden charcoal or a drop of paint would make
no difference.

And the next day the carriage of the de Dasmarinas
was again at the monastery with the lovely Dona Per-
fecta. And there the painting went on, the Dona Merce
des seated demurely by, with her little embroideries and
her velvety black eyes.

Tristan worked, silent and square jawed, while that
lovely glowing creature made a blaze of color in an
amber silk the color of her eyes. He would stand off
and stare at her as if the gracious and exalted lady had
been one of the least important of the lay brothers in
an old cowl.

Once her husband came to cast an eye on the very
safe appearing group, and once the carriage of the
viceroy halted there by chance, and the prior was made


to feel that Tristan was, indeed, bringing special pat
ronage through the using of Fray Bernardino s work
shop. But with it all, Tristan was irritable, and not so
good a companion. Always he was courteous to all
women; and Dona Mercedes he smiled at as at a com
rade, but I could see him hold himself tense if Dona
Perfecta came close or touched him. He hated the
woman beyond reason, and his very coldness attracted
her by its novelty. She sent him letters which he
burned, and even to me she made affairs pleasant that
he might see all his friends were shown favor. Some
times she sent a message to him by me, for Marco was
getting sulky on her hands, and was not in good humor
if Tristan was praised over much.

I tried, as I might flattered by her sweet voice to
show Tristan what he was throwing away with his sad
lack of tact, but he shook me and laughed, and bade
me keep clear of her net.

" She is a fair devil, but there is a loathsome feeling
here in my heart for her so what use to reason?
Others are glad of her favors, and, as you see, her hus
band has been made of necessity to the viceroy because
of her beauty. If she keeps all those lads dangling
Marco and his sort His Excellency may well think it
is as a careless cloak to cover other sociabilities. But
for me she is a sweet poison thing, and if this keeps
up "

He broke off and laughed, and burned the letter I had
taken, and then sought among some old Indian relics
until he found an ugly little carving of a woman s figure
with the robes and fan of the ruling class.

He looked at it, and laughed again.

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" Yesterday she wanted a flower to hold, or some
other thing to give her hands occupation," he said, " and
it is this I will give her. Thus will I write thoughts
into her portrait which every Indio may read as he runs.
She hates the Indies also I think she would need to
fear them if chance should take her their way. They
often measure rightly the people who would look down
on them."

" But the little statue? What is its meaning? "

" She was a queen once here in Mexico, and was a
very powerful lady," he said. " Her name would mean
nothing to you, but this is the thing for the hands of
Dona Perfecta to hold. It will make her own beauty
more glowing by contrast."

This he told her when she came, and again when she
demurred at the queer little statue and its queer smile.

" But it might be a pagan god, and have evil power ! "
she protested.

" It is not a god, but a princess so charming that many
men died for love of her," said Tristan, carefully mix
ing his colors, yet watching her with amusement as she
held the little gilded figure so curiously made. " There,
senora, that is just right for you to hold, and, as I said,
the lucky figure shows your white hands more white."

It was the nearest to a compliment she had wrung
from him during the painting, and her face flushed with
the triumph.

" And men did die for her truly? " she asked.

" Truly they did. So famous was the love felt for her
that images were made also of many of the lovers after
they were dead all this that the land should not for
get one who charmed so well."


I could see a laughing devil in the eyes of Tristan
while the wife of De Dasmarinas, the friend of a viceroy,
held the image, quite content at his words and tone. He
even hummed an air as he worked, and then broke off to
regard her with pleasure.

Thus went on the portrait he had made protest against
doing. All was in harmony except, perhaps, Marco, who
fretted at sight of the carriage of Dona Perfecta so often
out by the monastery, and once at the palace I saw her
slip her hand on his as she chided him for it.

With all this, I think most of us forgot that the 1 girl
Anita, with her pretty tasks, was left without company
of the ladies for at least an hour or two each day. But
Luiza was much pleased that she was seeing the world
a little, and acquiring a dignity from the palace air. As
for Mateo, he was so proud that two of the family were
under patronage of Dona Perfecta that he was slavish
as a dog for her, and would have either done murder at
her word or made himself a rug for her feet.


IT WAS the day of the last sitting for the picture that
word came from Vera Cruz a ship from Spain was
in, and it was my pleasure to ride south, meeting the
carriers. Besides a letter for me, there was a thick,
soft packet addressed to " Don Marco de Ordono by
the hand of Rueda at Convent of San Carlos in Mexico."

By going to meet the train of packers, I headed the
bearer straight to the monastery with no risk of the let
ter arriving at the hands of Marco. Her own letter to
me, full of joy and excitement, showed me that happi
ness was hers, and I was of a mind that it should not be
made subject to the jeers of Marco.

There was a flutter among the women when I en
tered, waving my letter in triumph, and gave the packet
to Tristan.

He held it, staring at the writing on it, and his face
flushed warm. His first movement was to put it aside,
but the mockery of Dona Mercedes and the half closed
eyes of Senora de Dasmarinas warned him that secrecy
was not in high favor. An open face would make the
matter forgotten more quickly.

So, careless as might be, he lifted a knife from a bench
of brushes and tools, cut the cord, and lifted the seal.
With the first unfolding of the paper there was a scream



of laughter from Dona Mercedes, and the little carved
figure slipped from the hand of Dona Perfecta as she

For, from the folded paper there fell a soft glove of
kid, fringed with silver, and lay, a white spot on the
red tile at the feet of Tristan.

" Ai, ai ! " laughed the Dona Mercedes. " The man
has made my Ernesto jealous that I am so often in this
place of paint and brushes. Now I can tell him he can
rest his soul ! Don Tristan is guarded by a mistress who
sends the glove as promise of the hand. Ai, ai ! "

Her merriment gave Tristan a chance to smile with
her, and he lifted the glove and thrust it, with the letter,
in his belt under the old robe.

" You will note, lovely lady, that I turned nowhere
for glove or letter till the day of your betrothal," he
said, and she laughed again, and teased him. Those two
were ever care-free comrades, and I had been told it
was Tristan who had helped Ernesto Galvez to his woo
ing. Galvez was in the north, and Dona Mercedes made
embroideries for her wedding, and jested happily while
waiting his return.

Then Tristan lifted the little carven figure and placed
it in the hands of Dona Perfecta, and went on with the

" It is the last day I shall tire you, senora," he said,
" but there are the last little touches a worker must
linger over."

Dona Perfecta said no word, and sat there as steady
and cold as the carving of the dead princess of many
lovers. Dona Mercedes had eyes for all, and smiled
over her pretty silken webs. Her life had not been one


of joy in the house of De Dasmarinas, where, beyond
doubt, she saw enough to make her dread domestic up
heavals any morning she opened her eyes. It was easy
to perceive that her heart was glad of that glove and
letter of mystery ; it gave a new color to her day, and she
ceased not to make merry over it, even singing softly
a love song for Tristan of a loved one far away.

But in the midst of it, Dona Perfecta arose, and rustled
her silks ovet the tiles, and stood close to Tristan to look
at the picture.

He bent to write with a brush like a needle a strange
name on the base of the little carving, then stepped back
a pace.

" It is done, Excellencia," he said. " Were it not a
portrait it should be called Two Queens of Mexico. "

" That would be treason," said Dona Mercedes, " since
there can be only one vicereine in Mexico."

" I doubt if Don Tomas would punish a loyal subject
for naming a lady queen of loves," said Tristan.

He was so little given to compliment, and so beyond
reason cold to the lady the viceroy certainly delighted
to honor, that I was puzzled to understand his words or
his mocking smile, for the picture itself was not a thing
to smile at. Once at work he had forgotten that she
was the sweet poison he had once said, and the painting
seemed to me a quite glorious thing, her face like a
flower, a string of topaz girding her golden hair, and the
amber silk in soft folds about her. One red flower lay
in her lap, and her jeweled hand held the ugly Mexican
statue while she looked at it as if she would read its
riddle of colors and symbols.

" It is then done ! " she said, and looked at Tristan.


" Go you out, Mercedes, and see that the carriage is
ready for it."

" There would be wisdom in letting it rest here until
the drying is complete," he observed.

" And my visits would not be needed for that ! Go
you out, Mercedes, while I speak with Senor Rueda."

Of course, at that, there was nothing for me but to go
out also, which I did, and Dona Mercedes laughed and
made a mocking bow to Senora de Dasmarinas when
once the corridor hid us.

" Go you out, Mercedes ! " she mimicked with slight
respect. " Small care she has of me, to send me out with
a gallant and no duenna ! "

We laughed at and made merry over this in the cor

But for all that, we were given a long wait, and I was
made to see that Dona Perfecta s selection of a com
panion had been thought out with care. An older
woman could not be dismissed with such briefness, nor
keep so silent.

" For the first time in her life Perfecta is made mad
by a man unlike all the others," she whispered. " I do
not know that she would look at him twice if he were
at her call as is Marco de Ordono perhaps not. On
my soul, I think if he but satisfied her pride to seek
her, she would delight in seeing the viceroy send him
on missions so far he could never get back! It is her
pride he offends at every turn ; but it is over a year now,
and I never knew her to show favor so long."

"What becomes of those forgotten?" I asked, not
because I cared, but the wait was long, and one must
not be dull.


Mercedes looked at me, suddenly grave.

" God knows ! now that she has power," she said.
" When Don Eduardo was but governor of a southern
province, there were always troubles with the natives.
Young soldiers were needed, and many never came back.
It is a nice sign of favor, you know, to be made a lieuten
ant of guard over the heads of older men ! Most youths
think it a feather in their cap."

"What of Marco?" I asked.

" Oh, he is safe ! Betrothed to a very exalted lady
and due to return to Spain any day. She has use for
Don Marco and they are well matched. He may be of
use to her in Spain if ever she goes back, and she has
been of special use to him here. They understand each
other those two! But who understands Don

When Dona Perfecta joined us at the portal, it was
without the picture, and only the prior was with her. At
that moment the viceroy drove by with Don Eduardo
beside him in the carriage, and there were lifted hats
and smiles, and all looked so harmless one would never
guess the adventures under the thin surface of things.

I made excuse to Dona Perfecta, who was so gracious
as to ask me to drive with them, and once they had
rolled away, I rushed back to Tristan to read him my
letter my first letter from Sancha! That matter of
the glove was a mystery for me as well as for the ladies,
and it was many days before it was made clear.

He was alone, the yellow glow of the picture was
already turned to the wall, and the letter was open
before him.

" Come out into the garden," he said. " There is still


the odor of palace perfumes lingering here. Come out
under the sky."

" See what you have done ! " I protested angrily. " You
have made her in love with Marco, so in love that she
has even kind thoughts of you because you have done
him service. I learn new things of him each day, and
love for him is the last thing she should know. Read
the letter!"

So he read aloud:

My dear Cousin Juanito:

I send my blessings and my love to you. I feel today love
for all the world! No more dolls have come, but a letter from
his own hand. His wisdom is beyond that of all the padres.
How sweet it is that you can see him, walk by him, and hear
his voice! Why must maids be left behind? I am wild to fol
low you! Nothing happens here but what happened to our
grandmothers, and where you are there are new things, and
wonderful things.

Sister Teresa tells me that when the next ship sails, nuns go
to Mexico to establish a convent for Indian maids. I would
wish myself a nun if it were not that he could not wed a nun
and some day he is to wed with me! I was very wicked to say I
was not his wife; that was childish of me, for I know now in my
heart that the betrothal was as a marriage. Why cannot I also
go over sea when all I love is there with you? I am not now
a child. What use of gold if it takes me not to my dreams?
The world here is empty. Write me by every ship and tell
me how he fares. By the address I see he is friends always
with that Tristan Rueda of whom the padre wrote when he
saved the life of Marco in the wilderness. I think it was he
who put me in a rage once when Marco s picture was new. I
thought of him as a cruel black bear after that, but perhaps he
is not so bad now. I love all who are near to Marco, so give
Tristan Rueda my blessing. Also to Don Rodrigo my saluta
tion. What word would he have for me if I became a nun that

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I might go to Mexico? Frighten them with that so they come
home, and quickly!

A good safe ship to take this to you and the love of your
cousin, Sancha.

" You see ! " I said, shaking my head with the wisdom
of nineteen years. " You all sat here, and threw dice,
and made jests, and thought she was a child but you
have made her love him, and raised the devil ! "

He looked at me, laughed at my fuming, and then

" So it seems," said he.

" And the glove that too was for him," I blundered,
" what to do but give it to him, and save trouble in the
future for all of us? "

" And have him flaunt it in the sala of Dona Perfecta
to make others jealous? "

That silenced me on the matter of the glove, though
I thought the least he could do was to give it to me, her

" And God only knows what she wrote in the letter,"
I grumbled.

" God only," he said, " and I."

I saw by that how little use there was to question,
though I did sulk over it a little. I had run to him with
a free heart and let him read her writing with his own
eyes, even her good words of him. And he buckled close
his own message, and did not even let me touch the

Yet the letter was to come to me as he least expected,
and thus I learned the new Sancha. I give it here as
it was written :



To Alphard in the Sky:

I send the glove because I may not send the hand to you.
Think in your heart that I only whisper what I say here for
how else might Virgo send message to Alphard but by whisper
on the wind? So wise you grow that I write in fear of my
simple words, but I think you do know I look at the circling
stars to find the wonders you read there it makes you closer
to me. Did you know that long ago there was a legend of a
Moor of Granada in our family? He was a prince, and also
most wise in star knowledge. That seems true to me now, for
your letter wakes things sleeping in my mind, though I have
no memory of when they went to sleep. It may sound childish
to your wisdom but that is what you make me feel. I have a
wish that the sea were not so wide, that I might go where you
are and see with you the wonders you write. You write of
serpent things which have been things of fear, but as I read,
I remember the tale in the " Pentameron " of the serpent who
was a prince under enchantment. Then a maid gave him ten
derness so that his true spirit awoke, and they lived in happi
ness in a palace. I do not ask -a palace, but your deserts and
" houses of dawn " speak their mysteries and beauty to me. This
night there is a new moon. I kissed a rose and tossed it up in
my gladness to be alive and in your thoughts, then I knelt in
the grass and looked and looked as the crescent sunk far in
the sky going the path to you. I was trying to know what the
red pagans feel when they make the moon prayer, and tears
came into my eyes at the beauty of the night, and the wish that
you might kneel beside me. Will that night come? I think of
the wilderness shrines under the sky, and wish much to know
of the " houses of the dawn." It is a marvel that you learn these
prayer thoughts and places. Juanito will tell you I have had
wild hours of desire to go where you are but even Juanito
does not know how wild! Could Virgo step down and go
a-journeying? Why may I not travel when all the others do?
I am making prayers to my Saint of the Impossible that this
may come to pass. I said a prayer to her when I wrote you
my first letter. She made the reply to come on the first ship
is that not a true miracle? For I knew not then there was


anyone in the world to think of me as you think yet she
brought it to be! Shall we build a shrine to her some fair
day in some secret place where white butterflies are? That is
a dear wish of mine. Is it yours?

Virgo trembles at thought of the great glowing heart of
Hydra under her feet; she would lift him high as her heart
and journey together in the skies where souls grow big and
full of beauty. Thus you will read that Virgo is only a lonely
maid who awaits the day of enchantment when a dream comes
true. This from the hand of Sancha.

In my letter by the next ship I gave what wise warn
ing I was able against roving maids, and added a cau
tious word against dreaming that Mexico was another
heaven on earth, for, despite the work of the church, it
yet had its own hells. The men were not yet saints,
nor the women angels. In my own opinion, it would be
better that Marco be called to Spain with Don Rodrigo,
who was ill in health.

I did not add, as was my desire, that no land would
be the richer of him, however far he might journey, for
in every country alike can be found pretty youths who
grow to pretty men and sport a cock s feather, and a
strut, and know how to wear a cloak or hide a woman
under it ! So far as I could see, the travels of Marco had
given him no vision broader than that.

But of what use my advice and labored wisdom, when
another of those letters of the dice went forward in the
same ship? I do not think Tristan had a mind contrary
to my own, but of a certainty he had a way of writing
his thoughts in a different manner and the effect was
beyond our knowing. I still think my own the wiser
way, thought it might not so quickly enchant a maid as
this of his.


White Butterfly Lady:

That heart in the sky is at once lifted high at your words,
and I wish it were wise to leave go all earthly things on this
shore and cross over to your world, or say to you "come!"
and count the hours until I dared look on your face.

But even your Saint of the Impossible could scarce bring
that to be. Believe me when I say it were an easier task she
had when she brought roses from under winter snows. Won
drous with strange beauty though this land may be, all hearts
are not joyous here. I could not sadden you with troubles of
the earth, and for that reason bade you look to the things of
the sky.

The Houses of the Dawn are many from Peru to New
Granada. They are the sanctuaries of sun worship, where a
priest stands with lifted hands of adoration when his visible
symbol of God comes to him out of the darkness. Some of
these houses were things of beauty, but many have been
destroyed for the gold of their vessels, and for the salvation
of souls. In secret places of the deserts and forests they still
stand to catch the light on certain high places, and are thought
holy. They mean more than a house; they have a sky spirit to
lift earth spirits out of darkness. For this reason are they both
sanctuaries and places of refuge to the pagan mind so sure
are they that the god of the sun has a care of them.

Records have been made of such matters for Don Payo, but
many good Christians do not approve, and there is feeling
against speech or writing of these pagan things, and I must
write not so much lest your confessor give you warning.

The glove is with me. It is truly to me as the rose of your
Santa Rita from under the snow a blossom I never dared
hope would cross the seas to touch my hand! If I could write
that which is within me, I could cover much paper to you, but
words are weak and even strength must often choose silence.
I write here a little song of that silence:

If Love were mine

The love of maid divine to me!

I d build a shrine

Within my heart where none could sec.


And there my litany
Of heart beats, endlessly
Would whisper all the vows
I dare not say!

Once when I dreamed of you in a wonderful desert place to
the north, I woke with that song singing in my heart. It was
long ago, little maid. At that time I did not know white Virgo
would ever whisper a warm word to Alphard, who has ever
been, in all the night skies, the solitary one. The song is
simple, for the reason that the writer is many other things, but
not a poet. Yet he does think poet thoughts when Virgo comes

Online LibraryMarah Ellis Martin RyanThe house of the dawn → online text (page 7 of 26)