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tevan found him in his quarters burning with a malignant fever.
“Governor, you are ill! What do you wish?” he asked.
“To return to New Spain, to see my wife again; but that can never be.”
“Cheer up, governor; you must not despair.”
“Estevan, my friend, I thank you for the encouragement you try to give; but it is of no use. We have fought our last battle, conquered our last nation, and made our last discovery together. I want all who can to return to Cuba and report this country as boundless. As for me, I shall not live to advance a single league. Bring my officers to me for a last council.”
They came, and he named Moscoso as his successor. All night long Estevan and Nicosia watched by his bedside. He became delirious, raving of cities of gold, mountains of pearls, and rivers of blood. When he called the name of his young and beautiful wife, in his more lucid intervals, his watchers were melted to tears. Shortly after sunrise he sank into a comatose state from which he never rallied, dying at noon on the 21st day of May, 1542. His death was kept a secret from the Indians, and for a long time it was a serious question how they were to dispose of the body. Moscoso ordered him to be buried secretly
at the gateway in the camp, and gave it out that he had gone up to Heaven, but would soon return. The suspicions of the Indians, who had seen him sick, were aroused, and Moscoso ordered him to be disinterred at midnight. He was taken in a boat, wrapped in his finest robe, and sunk in the great river which he had discovered.
The enterprise was now in its fourth year, and nothing but disaster had followed it from the beginning. It was decided to seek Mexico by land, rather than reach Cuba by such wretched vessels as they could procure; but after another half a year spent in wandering through wilderness and prairie, they returned once more to the Mississippi, reaching it a few leagues below the mouth of Red River, where they erected forges, and, with every bit of available iron, proceeded to make brigantines. Horses and hogs were killed, and the flesh dried for food, and in July, 1543, they were ready to begin the voyage home.
Going home! What a world of joy the thought brought to Estevan! In the last terrible three and a half years he had expended his ambition to become a great explorer. Away from home and wife, from mother and scenes of peace, with Christoval a constant care upon him, no wonder he longed to go home!
Christoval had borne up well under the hardships of the long and fatiguing march. During the tedious voyage of over five hundred miles down the Mississippi she maintained the same wonderful fortitude. She was gay and sad at intervals, as hope and despair caused her spirits to rise and fall. Estevan would watch her for hours, studying the varied emotions stirring the gentle soul of the Indian girl, asking himself how this was to end. He dreaded the awful fate to which they seemed helplessly drifting. Often she detected his gaze and read its meaning by his sighs and silence. At such times she would press her hands across her breast as if to keep back the bitter, jealous thoughts, and turn away, afraid to trust herself longer.
The Gulf of Mexico was reached, and the brigantines carefully hugged the shore, dreading to launch out on the voyage to Cuba. One evening, as Estevan, wearied with the toils and anxieties of the day, reclined upon some skins in the forecastle, gazing at the stars and moon just rising o'er the deep, he heard a light footfall, and Christoval, with whom he had not been able to speak for three days, stood at his side. Turning his eyes upon the sad, sweet face, he bade her be seated, at the same time making room for her at his side. All the while he felt a strange premonition that something he had all along dreaded would result from this interview. For a moment the girl's face beamed with hope and joy. “Sister,” he whispered, “we will soon be home again, and the joy at my own safe return will be insignificant compared to the knowledge that I shall be able to restore you to our mother.”
“To your mother, not mine,” she quickly interrupted, with a sigh of pain. “O Christopher, Christopher!” she gasped in uncontrollable agony, “I must speak, or my heart will break. Why keep up this miserable farce longer? I am not your sister, and the same blood flows not in our veins; but I love you,” she whispered hysterically.
The avowal almost took away her breath, and Estevan trembled. She regained her speech, and with her southern blood on fire resumed:
“For three days I have been banished from your presence. I know not during that period if the sun has shone, or the sky smiled. My sky and sun were hidden from me, for I live only in the light of your eyes. Am I too bold? Do I breathe that secret which the modesty of my sex should keep locked in my heart? Alas, I must, for in you alone can I find sympathy and hope. We have traversed mountain wilds and forest glades together. Side by side, we never faltered or failed each other in the thickest of the battle. It is no ordinary affair, but one of happiness or misery which prompts me to speak.”
“Speak boldly, Christoval, and I can promise you my sympathy,” he sadly answered. Though not much encouraged, she continued:
“Even were I of the humblest mould, the spirit of your nature has entered my soul to ennoble, to sanctify, to inspire. But I am not one for whom you should blush. In my veins flows the gentlest blood of two proud races. My mother was a princess and my father a Spanish cavalier of the best blood of old Castile; am I one of whom any one should be ashamed?"
“The Holy Virgin can testify that you are not, Christoval. You are one of whom the greatest in the world might well feel proud.”
As his trembling hand seized hers, Christoval's heart gave a joyous bound, and she felt as by a sudden revelation that those feelings which she had so long and innocently cherished were love. Alas, there was only a brotherly touch in that grasp, and even as she trembled with hope, her heart grew heavy. For a moment her maidenly modesty was crowded into the background by the wild promptings of her heart, and in a voice almost choked with emotion she went on:
“Forgive me, Christopher, for this bold, unseemly avowal. Have you been so blind all along? Will the scales never fall from your eyes, that you may see me as I am, and as I should be? It may be wrong in an Indian girl to love one as great as