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FELICIDAD

The Romantic Adventures of an Enthusiastic

Young Pessimist

By ROWLAND THOMAS

CHAPTER VII

PEPITA OF THE SAINTS

SHUT my eyes.

The drone of the surf was very faint.

The air was very still and warm about me, and the throbbing in my ankle was so slight that it was almost pleasant. Then I must have fallen sound asleep, for without sleeping I could not have been awakened. And I was wakened suddenly.

The catch of the big door somewhere behind me clicked, and the door swung open noiselessly, but I knew it opened by the tiny stir of air it caused. It swung to again. Footsteps came lightly and swiftly, yet hesitatingly, across the wide plain of the floor and stopped at last beside my chair.

Something soft and warm brushed. my hand as it hung beside the chair, something so wondrously soft and so very livingly warm that the touch of it sent a shiver of pure physical delight coursing through me, as the touch of sun or wind will when one is fit.

At that touch I opened my eyes at last and found them looking down into the flower-like face of a girl, pale and clear in the dusk of the sala.

served for us upon their husbands' tombs.

The eyes were very large and dark and grave, and a light like starlight lay in the depths of them.

I smiled down, unreasonably glad again that I had leaped in time.

"Master," said the girl, touching my hand again with those soft lips of hers, "Don Feliciano said that I might come to thank you. And I do thank you that you thought my life worth keeping."

"Nonsense," said I. "Before I'd let that old cayman eat you, I'd eat the ugly brute myself."

"I know you would." She answered me quite literally. "But-" her eyes clouded with painful memory, "you might have been killed. He is a devil."

"So might you," I retorted, smiling at her.

She did not smile. "That's different," she said. "I am only una muchachita - the least of servingmaids. And you-"

"Indeed, it's different," I said. "You are so very young, and you have life all before you, I," I explained to her, "have lived mine away till I am poverty-stricken. I am a good deal older than any hills. I have outlived myself, I think sometimes. That may be why I have no longer any country, any home but a prau, any friends,-"

and

"Master!" she murmured, something in the cadence of her voice caught hold of me.

"Unless you are willing to be my friend." I said.

The face they looked at was a faultless oval, still and perfect, and yet all alive with feeling. The coloring of it was like that of rare old ivory. The features might have been some rare carving in old ivory, too. They were so lovingly chiseled, so "Oh!" she cried. Her voice was delicately proportioned, that it was very joyful. Then her eves shadlike looking at the profiles of those owed. "I am a muchacha," she said vanished ladies of old Egypt, pre- regretfully. "And you—“

"I am but a sailor, I admit," said I. "Though that is an ancient and honorable profession, too. Noah was a sailor, Don Feliciano tells me. You remember Noah? And speaking of muchachos, wasn't Jacob Laban's muchacho for seven years? It appears that you and I are of almost equally ancient dignity of calling-what parvenus most other professions are compared to ours-and so, though only a sailor, I venture to ask you to be my friend."

"If you wish it, Master," said the girl, with that direct simplicity of hers.

"Then you mustn't kneel there any longer," I directed. "Climb up on the arm of my chair, as my little sister would if I had one. And never call me Master again."

"But you are,' she objected, perching lightly on the broad seat where I had drawn her. "You saved my life." Suddenly she began rattling off a well-learned lesson. "Whither thou goest I will go," she pattered, "and where thou lodgest-"

"I've heard that before," said I. "Where did you learn it?"

"Padre Isidro taught me," she answered. "Aren't they pretty words?"

"But

"Very," I said laughingly. they're hardly applicable here, I'm afraid."

"Why?" she asked.

"Well," said I, "you see I haven't any place to put you. And then I'm not sure that I could afford it." "Why?" she demanded, "Well," I said, "you see I'd have to ge things to eat-I suppose you do eat occasionally-and some sort of clothes to wear, which would cost money, even if they were of such stuff as dreams are made of-"

་་

Her eager eyes clouded again. “I see," she said. "You must be very poor. But it does not matter," she added. "So am I. My father and my mother and my little brothers are all dead. I haven't anybody to take care of now, so I will take care

of you. And I will eat hardly anything at all, and I will wear hardly anything at all, and I will”

"You," said I, "are a very impulsive person. On the whole I think it will cause less complications for us just to be friends, as we are going to be. You won't call me Master any more, will you? It makes me feel terribly elderly and out of it."

"What shall I call you then?" she asked.

"My name," said I, "is John."

"D-jon!" she imitated lispingly. "D-jon? Don D-jon. I like that name," she said decidedly and tried it again. "Don D-jon. It is a good name."

"I'm humbly glad you think so," said I, laughing at the way she said it. "I suppose you also have a name?"

"Mine," she said, "is Josefa Maria Dolores de los Santos. But everybody calls me just Pepita."

"Because you're too delightfully young and pretty to live up to a solemner one?"

"That's it," she agreed modestly. "Well, Pepita of the Saints," said I, laughing again,-I was full of an unwonted sort of laughter; at the childishness of her, perhaps, and the simple seriousness of her face outlined against the dimness of the room. by its own glow of life.-"Pepita, promise me that you won't play with crocodiles again unless I'm there to crack my ankles—”

"I never will again," she promised solemnly. "It's been a lesson to me. Oh!" she cried, looking at me reproachfully. "Oh! You've made me forget it all this time." She slipped down from her perch and knelt beside that detached foot of mine, and looked at it with infinite sympathy, and laid an infinitely gentle hand on it.

"A Mother-Mind." I murmured to myself appreciatively, "pounds more unfleshly than good Doña Ceferina. And therefore, I should

think, to high-browed friends proportionately the more adorable." "Does it hurt?" Pepita of the Saints cooed anxiously.

"A good deal," I answered, with a fairly unobtrusive sigh. "But, of course, I don't mind that."

"Oh!" cooed Pepita of the Saints. "O-o-oh! It hurts you, and you do not care! And you did it for me!" She stooped, with infinite womanly tenderness in her face, and I felt on my detached foot, even through Doña Ceferina's bandages, the tingling touch of those warm lips of hers.

་་

Something stirred in me again. "Do that once more,' I begged. "Then I promise you that the ankle will be well."

She looked up, startled, and I saw that her tenderness had been unconscious. The old shyness dawned in her eyes. She rose and stood poised for a moment, with the restless hand fluttering like a rosy moth above Then she went running, her hair. lightly, quickly, toward the door.

I heard the latch of it click. "Good-by, Don D-jon!" The voice was full of shyness.

"Hasta la vista. Pepita of the Saints," said I.

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"I suppose," said he, with friendly dryness, "that the congratulations are for your escape, and the condolences are for your injury."

And

"But surely," I objected, "one is to be congratulated on an injury. that keeps one in your house. I was not aware that I had had an escape.

"I think you may call it an escape," said he. "That cayman is a devil. I go to bring your visitors."

He ushered them in, those slender men in their eternal white linen, with the dark masks of faces which were to become friends' faces for me, long remembered,-Don Rafael of the San Rafael, Francisco Rafael, Don Patriarch, Augusto father and Augusto son; and two who were a little different, Father Isidro, a man of the Peninsula, with a strong head set like a rock above the rusty black of his cassock, and Mateo Besa the Dealer. He was a short, stout man, blood who seemed than the others.

of

commoner

they pressed the hands and

mur

One by one wounded hero's mured friendly, stately-sounding nothings with that precise courtesy of theirs. Then they took seats in a half circle about me, and there was the momentary hush which, with them, precedes the birth of a topic of conversation. They are not chat

terers.

Mateo Besa, alone of the group, seemed ill-at-ease and flurried. He sat uneasily in his chair, as if his legs itched to draw up under him till he was squatting on his heels as Pedro squats. I fancied that only his constant watchfulness kept them dangling decorously.

But suddenly something took his attention from his legs. He looked very steadily at me. His eyes grew round.

"Diós mio, Señores!" he cried. "To look on one who could do such a deed! The quickness, the prompt decision. The agility! The strength! Mira!" He cried out the word dramatically. "Behold! He stands there at the window. He sees the girl treading herself on the mud. He sees that devil floating himself on the water. Without hesitation he leaps! Through the air he flies. He thuds himself upon the earth. He stoops, he reaches down—”

San Rafael's smiling eyes caught mine. "You see," he murmured, "how your deed is already famous in Felicidad? As it well deserves to be," he hastened to add. "No such thing has happened here before."

"Señor Besa was there?" I asked. "I'm afraid I missed the pleasure of seeing him."

Besa's eyes grew round again. "Saints in Heaven!" he cried. "How could you? You had no time then to see people. Yes, I was there. But only from a distance," he confessed, raising pudgily deprecatory hands. "From a distance looking on. It is me always to be present almost everywhere only from a distance, looking on. I am unfortunate. But then," he added philosophically, "what does it matter? I am no good. I am useless in emergencies. I have not the agility. I am fat. And I am also afraid. Always it does not encourage me to remember that I should probably get myself hurt."

"I should think not," said I, and the others nodded their agreement that such a thought is not encourag

ing. Don Feliciano, with quick consideration for the dealer's frank humility and regret, remarked that I ought to see Don Mateo play chess, though.

Mateo Besa agreed without hesitation. "Yes," he said, “I can do that. You shall play with me some day, if you do not mind getting beaten." His eyes grew round again. "To have the honor of defeating such a one!" he muttered. "Mira, Señores! He stands there but a moment, yet he comprehends. He encourages himself. Instantly with agility he leaps-"”

A perfecting touch to the picture flashed into my head. "Did you not notice," I asked him, "how in that moment as I stood there comprehending before I leaped, I raised my eyes to Heaven and murmured a brief prayer?"

"Diós mio," he said with regretful admiration, "did I miss seeing that? But it was only from a great distance I was present, looking on. Mira, Señores! He comprehends, he lifts his hands. He shuts his eyes and encourages himself with one brief prayer that if it is convenient he shall not hurt himself. Instantly with agility he leaps-" Besa broke off and looked at me doubtfully. "It must have been a very brief one. There was no time. Already the

cavman

Quiet amusement shone in the eyes about me when a harsh voice broke in. "There is always time for prayer, Mateo, and it is always a good and helpful thing. You also, Señor,' Padre Isidro turned to me, and his face was hard, and he chose his words with coldly scornful irony, "you also agree with us, I trust, that the prayer of a righteous man-availeth much?"

With his eyes on me, I could only answer that I hoped it did. Then that pattern of tactfulness, Rafael of San Rafael, relieved the situation. "You come to Felicidad at a fortunate time," said he.

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"I don't know that I can be here," said I. "How long is it to the harvest now?"

"With two weeks more of this sun," he told me, "the cane will be yellow, like moonlight on the sea. Then we shall cut it. You must give us the happiness of having you with us. It is our great fiesta."

"Ordinarily," said I, "I am a very busy man. But just at present, of course, this stupid ankle of mine--"

"It does not pain you, I hope?"

Don Feliciano asked across the circle.

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may

"The knowledge of good deeds done salves anv hurt they cause the doer. Mateo," said Father Isidro in his harsh voice. "Doubtless that is what you meant?” Again his eyes held mine, and again I had to murmur that I hoped it was. Of the men I had seen in Felicidad I liked its spiritual master least.

As my visitors went out, the priest lingered behind a moment. "You are not Catholic, my son?"

"No, Father," said I.

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must give him great credit, it was so hard a thing for him to do.

"Neither," said I with sudden. perversity, "am I a heretic." "What are you, then?" His tone was very dry.

"Nothing, I suppose," said I.

"Nothingness," said the priest, more dryly still, "is not a very desirable estate. But I dare say it would be preferable to the state which awaits an infidel--a man of no faith at all-in the hereafter."

"And that is-?"

"Hell," he explained, even more dryly. "I am very sorry indeed for you. Señor," said he with formal courtesy, "it has been my privilege to meet you, and now I have the honor of bidding you a very good dav."

I looked at the door where his gaunt form had disappeared, and I laughed, as soon as the sound of his descending footsteps had quite died away. "Hell," I echoed. Father Isidro's old-fashioned manner

speech amused me a good deal.

of

"I hope," said Don Feliciano, coming into my room above the river the last thing that night to find. settled comfortably in bed, "that you did not mind my bringing those gentlemen to your acquaintance?"

me

"On the contrary," I answered, "I found them all very proper pillars for Happiness. Saving Father Isidro. He seems to me to be cast in an incongruous part."

"You do not get on with him?" "He talks about Hell," said I, "with a hint of proprietorship in his tone."

Don Feliciano looked at me gravely. "You are not yet as old as you expect to become?" he asked me suddenly.

"I am eight-and-twenty," I confessed.

"I am even older than that," said he, smilingly. "May I tell you one thing I have learned? It is never

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