Page images

you, but how could I help it? From the hour I was snatched from the fangs of the bloodhound I learned to admire you and look on you as my protector. My happiest childhood days were spent wandering hand in hand about the coast and forest with you. When you left for Spain I experienced my greatest heartache, and on your return my most supreme joy. When you went to the strange, far-off southern land, infested by foes on earth and in air, I followed you. You remember well that no battle ever raged too hot, and death and danger were never too near, to keep me from your side. My own breast was often bared to the darts of the foe, that my buckler might screen you from danger. And when you went to the unknown land of the north, I was at your side, with no higher wish than to die for you. Estevan! Estevan! are you so blind as to not know what motive impelled me to deeds so unbecoming one of my sex?”

Her breath was exhausted, and she paused to await his answer. He was under the gunwale in the deeper shadow, so that his features could not be seen. What would Christoval not have given at that moment for a ray of light upon his face, to have watched the effect of her speech, to have seen the sudden burst of ripened love, to have worshipped with more than Persian adoration the rising

of that sun which her credulous soul believed was to break upon her dreary night?

Estevan's heart was full, and for a few moments the bitterness of his soul checked the utterance of his speech. Never did a sympathizing judge announce the sentence of a condemned prisoner with more bitter regret than he replied to the girl whom he loved as a dearest sister.

“I have known for some time, Christoval, that no sisterly love, however great, could prompt one to undergo the trials and hardships which you cheerfully assume. No Castilian maiden of this modern age, be lier love ever so great, would don the buskin, sword, and buckler, and march to the field of battle. Such events belong to the ages of the past. Your conduct has been unbecoming, yet, knowing, as I do, what prompted it, I am happy to freely forgive you. Nor have I forgotten that you have in your veins the blood of this aboriginal race, whose thoughts and emotions are all strange to us; but you are an angel, Christoval, the dearest sister man ever had. For your happiness I would willingly lay down my life; but you can never be more than a dear sister to me—II—have a wife at Panama.”

She neither shrieked nor swooned. She leaned for support against the gunwale, and her cheek, flushed to scarlet but a moment before, was now of the color of death, while her slender fingers were convulsively entwined about each other, her eyes were on the deck, and she scarce seemed to breathe. Doomed to return to Cuba-doomed to take shelter under his roof-doomed to breathe the same airand doomed, in the first rush of an awakening hope, to learn that he loved another, to realize that she was of a race far below him, to feel all at once the utter nothingness which she was—which she ever must be, but which, till then, her young mind had never realized. What wonder that, in her wild and passionate soul, all the elements jarred discordantly; that, if love reigned over the whole, it was charred and blackened by a heated blast of despair.

Estevan was shocked at her silence, at the awful pallor of her face, and the glassy stare of her eyes. He sprang to his feet, and, seizing her in his arms, breathed her name three or four times in his low, impassioned tones without receiving any answer.

“Christoval, sweet sister! your misery makes my existence a hell,” he murmured. “Won't you, for my sake, speak. Only one word, say you forgive me.”

It was a hard struggle for her to appear calm; but her stoical Indian nature came to her aid, although she was not able to entirely repress the fluttering of her heart.

“Christoval, you shall always be my sister, and, next to my wife, receive my warmest love and sympathy. Listen, I am rich, and all that I have shall be shared with you, and all that can be done shall be done to make you happy.”

At last she grew quite calm and sat at his side a long time, making him tell her of Inez, as if she were interested in her. She had him narrate his romantic career in Spain and his secret marriage in Panama over and over, as if she took pleasure in the story. Then he persuaded her to retire to the little cabin which he had prepared for her in the after part of the brigantine.

It was all over, and Estevan felt a sense of relief. She had borne the blow much better than he had feared she would. Then his mind wandered away to other scenes, and Christoval was, for the time being, forgotten. The cavalier lay on his back gazing at the moon soaring high in the heavens, and thought that the same moon shone on loved ones at home. Almost four years had elapsed since he sailed from Cuba. What changes might have come in that time? Were his wife and mother still living? Had the proud old don forgiven them for the secret marriage which had brought so much misery to poor Christoval? Despite all reasoning to the contrary, he felt guilty at not having told her of that marriage. Had he done so all this misery might have been averted; but he hoped for the best, and, as he lay gazing at the moon and far-off stars, he began weaving happiness for his beloved Christoval. He could, he would yet make her happy.

Care and sleepless toil overcame him. His eyes grew heavy and closed; he slept, while the brigantine glided slowly on amid the calm and silence of a peaceful night. When all save the drowsy helmsman were hushed in sleep, Christoval silently rose from her berth, and, softly stealing to the little door, opened it and glanced out on the deck. No one was in sight, and she emerged silently, and, gliding to where Estevan lay, bent timidly over him and kissed his brow and lips, while a tear fell on his cheek. Brushing it gently away, she fell on her knees, and, with her great, dark eyes upturned to Heaven, prayed:

“Holy Virgin, thou mother of Jesus, who doeth all things well, bless Estevan in his sacred love! Dear, dear Estevan, may you ever be happy with your beloved one! And may you sometimes have a tender thought for the poor, unfortunate Indian girl, who, like her despised race, is of no further use on earth.”

She rose and stole away along the deck, keeping under the shadow of the gunwale that the eyes of the man at the helm might not see her. Then, in the darker shadow of that cabin which had been

« PreviousContinue »