A Table of Contents has been added.
Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.
Mrs. Schuyler Crowninshield
HERBERT S. STONE & COMPANY
CHICAGO & NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT 1899 BY
HERBERT S. STONE & CO.
C. S. C.
A MEMORY OF "LA MADRUGADA"
People wondered why Don Beltran remained in the casa down by the river.He had been warned by his prudent neighbors, who lived anywhere from twoto six miles away, that some time a flood, greater than any that thevalley had yet known, would arise and sweep house and inmates away tothe sea.
Don Beltran laughed at this. He was happy as he was, and content. Therehad always been floods, and they had sometimes caused the river tooverflow so as to wash across his potreros, but the cacao and bananaswere planted on gentle elevations where the water as yet had neverreached. Then, too, there was always the Hill Rancho, though neither solarge nor so comfortable as the casa. Why borrow trouble? At the firstsign of danger the cattle and horses had always betaken themselves tothe grove on the hill, there to browse and feed,[Pg 2] until the shallow lakewhich stretched across the plains below them had subsided. Once DonBeltran, Adan, his faithful serving-man, and Adan's niece, Agueda, hadbeen belated. Adan had quickly untied the bridle of the little brownhorse from the tethering staple at the corner of the casa, and mountingit, had swum away for safety.
"That is right," said Don Beltran; "he will swim Mexico"—Don Beltransaid Mayheco—"to the rising ground, and save the young rascal. As forus, Agueda, the horse had stampeded before I noticed the cloud-burst. Itseems that you and I must stay."
Agueda made no answer, but she thought it no hardship to remain.
"There is no danger for us, child; we can go up to the thatch and wait."
"The peons have gone," said Agueda, shyly.
"They were within their rights," answered Don Beltran. "All must go whoare afraid. I have always told them that. For me, I have known manyfloods. They were always interesting, never dangerous. Had I my choice,I should have stayed."
"And I," said Agueda. She did not look at Don Beltran as she spoke. Thelids were drooped over her grey eyes.
Agueda turned away and entered the comidor,[Pg 3] leaving Don Beltran lookingup the valley: not anxiously—merely as one surveys a spectacle ofinterest. Once in the comidor, Agueda busied herself opening cupboardsand closets. She took therefrom certain articles of food which sheplaced within a basket. She did not move nervously, but quickly, as ifto say, "It may come at any moment; we have not much time, perhaps." Sherecalled, as she lightly hurried about, the last time that the flood hadovertaken them at the casa. Nada, her mother, had prepared the basketthen. Nada, Adan's sister, who had kept Don Beltran's house, after shehad been left alone on the hillside—Nada, sweet Nada, who had died sixmonths ago of no malady that the little Spanish doctor could discover.
Don Beltran prized his Capitas, Adan, above all the serving-men whom hehad ever employed, and nothing was too good for Adan's sister Nada—soyoung, so fair-looking, so patient, her mouth set ever in thatheartrending smile, which is more bitter to look upon than a fiercecompression of the lips, whose gentle tones wring the heart more cruellythan do the wild denunciations of the revengeful and vindictive. Thelittle Spanish doctor, who, like the Chinese, had never forgottenanything, as he had never learned anything, had ordered a young calfslain and its heart brought to where Nada lay wasting away. Warm andalmost[Pg 4] beating, it had been opened and laid upon the spot where shefelt the gnawing pain; but as there is no prophylactic against thebreaking of a heart, so for that crushed and quivering organ there is noremedy. And Nada, tortured in every feeling, physical and mental, hadsuffered all that devotion and ignorance could suggest, and died.
Agueda knew little of her mother's history, and remembered only herinvariable patience and gentleness. She remembered their leaving LosAlamos to come to the hacienda down by the river. She remembered thatone day she had suddenly awakened to the fact that Don Jorge was at thecasa no longer, that her mother smiled no more, that she paid slightattention to her little daughter's questionings, that Nada was alwaysrobed in black now, that there had been no funeral, no corpse, no grave!Don Jorge was not dead, that she knew, because the old Capitas, Rafael,was always ordering the peons about, saying, "The Señor wills it," or"The Señor will have it so." Then there had come a day when thebull-cart was brought to the door—the side door which opened from theirapartment. In it were placed her little trunk, which Nada had broughther from Haldez, when she went to the midwinter fair, and her mother'sAmerican chair, which Don Jorge had brought once when he returned fromthe States; she remembered how[Pg 5] kindly he had smiled at her pleasure. Infact, all that in any way seemed to be part and parcel of the two wasplaced in the cart, not unkindly, by Juan Filipe, and then the vehicleawaited Nada's pleasure. She remembered how Nada had taken her by thehand and led her through the rooms of the large, spreading, uneven casa.They had passed through halls and corridors, and had finally come to apretty interior, which Agueda remembered well, but in which she had notbeen now for a long time. The walls were pink, and on the floor was apink and white rug, faded it is true, but dainty still. Here Nada hadlooked about with streaming eyes. She had gone round behind the bed, andAgueda had looked up to see her standing, her lips pressed to the wall,and whispering through her kisses, "Good by, good by!" Then she hadtaken Agueda by the hand.
"Look at this room well, 'Gueda," she had said.
But Nada did not speak. Her lips trembled. She could not form her words.She stood for a moment, her eyes devouring that room which she shouldnever see again. Her tears had stopped; her eyes were burning.
She stooped down by her daughter.
"Agueda," she said, "repeat these words after me."
"Say, 'All happiness be upon this house.'"
"No, no! mother, I will not. This casa has made you cry. I will not say it."
"Agueda!" Nada's tone was almost stern. "Do as I tell you, child, repeatmy words—'All happiness come to this house.'"
But Agueda had pressed her lips tightly together and shaken her head.She had closed the grey eyes so that the curled lashes swept her roundbrown cheek. Nada had lifted the child in her arms and carried herthrough the corridors and out to the side veranda. She had set her inthe cart and got in beside her.
"Where to, Señora?" Juan Filipe had asked gently.
"To San Isidro," Nada had answered from stiff lips.
"Aaaaaiiieee!" Juan Filipe had shouted, at the same time flourishingthe long lash of his whip round the animals' heads. They, knowing thatthey must soon move, had tossed their noses stubbornly. Another warning,the wheels had creaked, turned round, and they had passed down the hill.Agueda never forgot that ride to San Isidro. Had it not been for hermother's tears, she would have been more than happy. She had alwayswished to ride in the new bull-cart; Juan Filipe had promised[Pg 7] her manya time. Now he was at last keeping his promise. This argued well. If shecould take one ride, how many more might she not have? All the timeduring that little trip to San Isidro, Agueda was asking herself mentalquestions. There was no use in speaking to her mother. She only lookedfar away toward Los Alamos, and answered "Yes" and "No" at random.Agueda remembered with what delight she had seen the patient bulls turnthe creaking cart into the camino which led to San Isidro.
"Oh," she said, clapping her hands, "we are going to Uncle Adan's!"
For was not this Uncle Adan's casa, and did not Don Beltran live withUncle Adan? She was not sure. But when she had been there with hermother, she had seen that splendid tall Don Beltran about the house withthe dogs, or with his bulls in the field, or in his shooting coat withhis gun slung across his shoulder, or going with his fishing-tackle tothe river. Yes, she was sure that Don Beltran lived at Uncle Adan'shouse.
Agueda's thoughts sped with the rapidity that reminiscence brings, andas she placed some rounds of cassava bread in the basket she saw hermother doing the same, as if it were but yesterday, and saying betweenhalting breaths:
"Never trust a gentleman—Agueda—marry[Pg 8] some—plain, honest—man—a manof—our people, Agueda—but do not—trust—"
"Who are our people, mother?" the girl had interrupted.
Aye, who were their people?
Nada had not answered. She had lain her thin arms round Agueda'sunformed shoulders, turned the girl's head backward with the other handlaid upon her brow, and gazed steadily into the good grey eyes.
"My little Agueda," she had said—stopped short, and sighed. It washopeless. There was no escape from the burden of inheritance. Agueda hadnot understood the cause of her mother's sigh and her halting words. Shehad been ill to death—that she knew. Then came long years of patience,as Agueda grew to girlhood. Could it be only six months ago that she hadlost her?
"My sweet Nada," she whispered, as she laid a napkin over the contentsof the basket, "I do not know what you meant, but I do not forget you,Nada."
"Hasten, Agueda! There is no danger, but there is no need of getting awetting."
Agueda turned to see Don Beltran standing in the doorway of the comidor.He was smiling. His face looked brown and healthful against the wornblue of the old painted door. His white trousers[Pg 9] were tucked within thetops of his high boots, and he wore a