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Gilbert, W. B / Margaret Tudor A Romance of Old St. Augustine
I must hasten on to those
happenings that more nearly concerned Mr. Rivers. Yet, in looking
backward, I find it hard to tear my thoughts from the memory of that
last hour of quiet converse with my dear love, under the starlit
southern skies. How seldom we realize our moments of great happiness
until after they have slipped away! It seemed to me then that we were in
the shadow of a dark-winged host of fears; but now I know that it served
only to make our mutual faith burn the more brightly.

I did not, thereafter, neglect Mr. Rivers's warning, and avoided the
Spaniard as much as possible. My dear love lingered always at my elbow,
and replied for me, in easy Spanish, to all the courteous speeches of
Don Pedro.

Sometimes I think it would have been far better had he left me to follow
my own course. There are some men who need only a hint of rivalry to
spur them on where of their own choice they had never thought to
adventure. Melinza's attentions did not diminish, while his manner
toward Mr. Rivers lost in cordiality as time went on.




CHAPTER V.


Among the Spaniard's followers was a young mulatto whom he called
"Tomas." Very tall and slight of figure was he, yet sinewy and strong,
with corded muscles twining under the brown skin of his lean young
limbs. He wore a loose shirt, open at the throat, with sleeves uprolled
to the shoulder; and his short, full trousers reached barely to the
knee.

I was admiring the agile grace of the lad as he bestirred himself upon
the deck the last morning of our voyage. With him young Poole (clothed
once more like a Christian, in borrowed garments) was engaged in the
task of shifting a great coil of rope; and the sturdy, fair-skinned
English youth was a pretty contrast to the other.

Don Pedro was standing near to Mr. Rivers and myself, and his eyes took
the same direction as our own.

"They are well matched in size," said he, pointing to the lads. "Let us
see which can bear off the palm for strength." He called out a few words
in Spanish to the young mulatto, who raised his dark head--curled over
with shiny rings of coal-black hair--and showed a gleaming row of white
teeth as he turned his smiling face toward his master.

Mr. Rivers spoke a word to Poole, and the boy blushed from brow to neck,
and his blue eyes fell sheepishly; but he stood up against the other
with a right good will, and there was not a hair's difference in their
height.

At a signal from Don Pedro the lads grappled with each other; the brown
and ruddy limbs were close entwined, and with bare feet gripping the
decks they swayed back and forth like twin saplings caught in a gale.

In the first onset the mulatto had the best of it; his lithe dark limbs
coiled about his adversary with paralyzing force: but soon the greater
weight of the English youth began to tell; his young, well-knit figure
straightened and grew tense.

I saw a sudden snarl upon the other's upturned face. His short, thick
upper lip curled back upon his teeth as a dog's will when in anger. He
rolled his eyes in the direction of his master, who threw him a
contemptuous curse. Stung into sudden rage, the mulatto thrust forth his
head and sank his sharp white teeth in the shoulder of young Poole.

There was a startled cry, and the English youth loosened his grasp. In
another moment the two figures rolled upon the deck, and the flaxen head
was undermost.

"Foul play!" cried Mr. Rivers, springing forward to tear the lads apart;
for now the mulatto's fingers were at his opponent's throat.

Melinza's hand flew to his sword; with a volley of oaths he interposed
the shining blade between Mr. Rivers and the writhing figures on the
floor. Quick as thought another blade flashed from its sheath, and the
angerful gray eyes of my betrothed burned in indignant challenge.

I had looked on in dumb amaze; but at the sight of the naked weapons I
screamed aloud.

Instantly the two men seemed to recollect themselves. They drew back and
eyed each other coldly.

"_Hasta conveniente ocasion, caballero!_" said the Spaniard, returning
his sword to its scabbard, and bowing low.

"_A la disposicion de vuestra seņoria, Don Pedro_," replied my
betrothed, following his example.

And I, listening, but knowing no word of the language, believed that an
apology had passed between them!

The scuffle on the deck had ceased when the swords clashed forth, and
the lads had risen to their feet. Melinza turned now to young Tomas and
struck him a sharp blow on the cheek.

"Away with you both!" said the gesture of his impatient arm; but I
believe his tongue uttered naught but curses.

All of our English had appeared upon the deck, and when Melinza strode
past them with a scowl still upon his brow they exchanged meaning
glances. Captain Baulk shook his grizzled head as he approached us.

"What have I always said, Mr. Rivers"----he began; but my betrothed
looked toward me and laid a finger on his lip. Afterward they drew apart
and conversed in whispers. What they said, I never knew; for when Mr.
Rivers returned to my side he spoke of naught but the dolphins sporting
in the blue waters, and the chances of our reaching San Augustin ere
nightfall.

"So," I thought, "I am no longer to be a sharer in their discussions, in
their hopes or fears. I am but a very child, to be watched over and
amused, to be wiled away from danger with a sweetmeat or a toy! And
truly, I have deserved to be treated thus. But now 'tis time for me to
put away childish things and prove myself a woman."

I had the wit, however, not to make known my resolutions, nor to insist
on sharing his confidence. I leaned over the vessel's side and watched
the silver flashing of the two long lines of oars as they cut the waves,
and I held my peace. But in my heart there was tumult. I had seen the
glitter of a sword held in my dear love's face!--and I grew cold at the
memory. I had coquetted with the man whose sword it was!--and that
thought sent hot surges over my whole body. I shut my eyes and wished
God had made them less blue; I bit my lip because it was so red. I had
not thought, till now, that my fair face might bring danger on my
beloved.

He stood at my side, so handsome and so debonair; a goodly man to look
upon and a loyal heart to trust; not over-fervent in matters of
religion, yet never soiling his lips with a coarse oath, or his honour
with a lie! As I glanced up at him, and he bent down toward me, I
suddenly recalled the disloyal caution of our father Abraham when he
journeyed in the land of strangers; and I thought: "Surely must God
honour a man who is true to his love at any cost of danger!"

So passed the day.

It was evening when we crossed the bar and entered Matanzas Bay. The
setting sun cast a crimson glow over the waters; I thought of the blood
of the French martyrs that once stained these waves, and I shuddered.

Outlined against the western sky was the town of San Augustin,--square
walls and low, flat roofs built along a low, green shore. The
watch-tower of the castle fort rose up in menace as we came nearer.

Upon the deck of the Spanish galley, hand in hand, stood my love and I.

"Yonder is----our destination," said Mr. Rivers.

"Our prison, you would say," I answered him, "and so I think also.
Nevertheless, I would rather stand here, at your side, than anywhere
else in this wide world--_alone_!"

He smiled and raised my fingers to his lips. "Verily, dear lady, so
would I also."

There was a rattle of heavy chains, and a loud plash as the anchor
slipped down in the darkening waters.




CHAPTER VI.


We were received by the Spanish Governor immediately after our landing.

I had already pictured him, in my thoughts, as a man of commanding
presence, with keen, dark eyes set in a stern countenance; crisp,
curling locks--such as Melinza's--but silvered lightly on the temples;
an air of potency, of fire, as though his bold spirit defied the heavy
hand of time.

'Twas therefore a matter of great surprise to me--and some relief--when,
instead, I beheld advancing toward us a spare little figure with
snow-white hair and a pallid face. His small blue eyes blinked upon us
with a watery stare; his flabby cheeks were seamed with wrinkles, and
his tremulous lips twitched and writhed in the shadowy semblance of a
smile: there was naught about him to suggest either the soldier or the
man of parts.

He was attired with some pretension, in a doublet of purple velvet with
sleeves of a lighter color. His short, full trousers were garnished at
the knee with immense roses; his shrunken nether limbs were cased in
silken hose of a pale lavender hue, and silver buckles fastened the
tufted purple ribbons on his shoes. On his breast was the red cross of
St. James--patent of nobility; had it not been for that and his fine
attire he might have passed for a blear-eyed and decrepit tailor from
Haberdashery Lane.

I plucked up heart at the sight of this little manikin.

"Can this be the Governor and Captain-General of San Augustin?" I
whispered in the ear of my betrothed.

"'Tis not at the court of _our_ Charles only that kissing, or promotion,
goes by favour!" was his answer, in a quick aside. Then he met the
advancing dignitary and responded with grave punctilio to the suave
welcome that was accorded us.

Melinza's part was that of master of ceremonies on this occasion. He
appeared to have laid aside his rancour, and his handsome olive
countenance was lightened with an expression of great benignance when he
presented me to the Governor as--"_the honourable and distinguished
seņorita Doņa Margarita de Tudor_."

I looked up at Mr. Rivers with an involuntary smile.

"My betrothed, your Excellency," he said simply, taking me by the hand.

The blear-eyed Governor made me a compliment, with a wrinkled hand upon
his heart. I understood no word of it, and he spoke no French, so Mr.
Rivers relieved the situation with his usual ease.

This audience had been held in the courtyard of the castle, which is a
place of great strength,--being, in effect, a square fort built of
stone, covering about an acre of ground, and garrisoned by more than
three hundred men.

We stood in a little group beneath a dim lamp that hung in a carved
portico which appeared to be the entrance to a chapel. Captain Baulk and
the rest were a little aloof from us; and all around, at the open doors
of the casemates, lurked many of the swarthy soldiery.

Suddenly light footsteps sounded on the flagged pavement of the chapel
in our rear, and a tall, graceful woman stepped forth and laid her hand
upon my shoulder. Through the delicate folds of black, filmy lace
veiling her head and shoulders gleamed a pair of luminous eyes that
burned me with their gaze.

She waved aside the salutations of the two Spaniards and spoke directly
to me in a rich, low voice. The sight of a woman was so welcome to me
that I held out both hands in eager response; but she made no move to
take them: her bright eyes scanned the faces of our party, lingering on
that of my betrothed, to whom she next addressed herself, with a little
careless gesture of her white hand in my direction.

Mr. Rivers bowed low, and said, in French: "Madame, I commend her to
your good care." Then to me: "Margaret, the Governor's lady offers you
the protection of her roof."

His eyes bade me accept it, and I turned slowly to the imperious
stranger and murmured: "Madame, I thank you."

"So!" she exclaimed, "you can speak, then? You are not dumb? I had
thought it was a pretty waxen effigy of Our Lady, for the padre here,"
and she laughed mockingly, with a glance over her shoulder.

Another had joined our group, but his bare feet had sounded no warning
tread. The sight of the coarse habit and the tonsured head struck a
chill through me. Two sombre eyes held mine for a moment, then their
owner turned silently away and re-entered the chapel door.

Melinza was standing by, with a gathering frown on his forehead.

"Such condescension on your part, Doņa Orosia, is needless. We can
provide accommodations for all our English guests here in the castle."

"What! Would Don Pedro stoop to trick out a lady's boudoir?--Nay, she
would die of the horrors within these gloomy walls. Come with me, child,
I can furnish better entertainment."

I turned hastily toward my dear love.

"Go!" said his eyes to me.

Then I thought of Barbara, and very timidly I asked leave to keep her by
me.

"She may follow us," said the Governor's lady carelessly, and sharply
clapped her hands. Two runners appeared, bearing a closed chair, and set
it down before us.

"Enter," said my self-elected guardian. "You are so slight there is room
for us both."

In dazed fashion I obeyed her, and then she followed me.

I thought I should be crushed in the narrow space, and the idea of being
thus suddenly torn away from my betrothed filled me with terror. I made
a desperate effort to spring out again; but a soft, strong hand gripped
my arm and held me still, and in a moment we were borne swiftly away
from the courtyard into the dark without.

I wrung my hands bitterly, and burst into tears.

"_O cielos!_ what have we here?" cried the rich voice, petulantly. "'Tis
not a waxen saint, after all, but a living fountain! Do not drown me, I
pray you. What is there to weep for? Art afraid, little fool? See, I am
but a woman, not an ogress."

But 'twas not alone for myself that I feared: the thought of my dear
love in Melinza's power terrified me more than aught else,--yet I dared
not put my suspicions into words. I tried hard to control my voice as I
implored that I might be taken back to the fort and to Mr. Rivers.

"Is it for the Englishman, or Melinza, that you are weeping?" demanded
my companion sharply.

"Madame!" I retorted, with indignation, "Mr. Rivers is my betrothed
husband."

"Good cause for affliction, doubtless," she replied, "but spare me your
lamentations. Nay, you may _not_ return to the fort. 'Tis no fit place
for an honest woman,--and you seem too much a fool to be aught else.
Here, we have arrived----"

She pushed me out upon the unpaved street, then dragged me through an
open doorway, across a narrow court filled with blooming plants, and
into a lighted room furnished with rich hangings, and chairs, tables,
and cabinets of fine workmanship.

I gazed around me in wonder and confusion of mind.

"How does it please your pretty saintship? 'Tis something better than
either Padre Ignacio's hut or Melinza's galley, is it not? Are you
content to remain?"

"Madame," I said desperately, "do with me what you will; only see, I
pray you, that my betrothed comes to no harm."

"What should harm him?" she demanded. "Is he not the guest of my
husband?"

"His guest, madame, or his prisoner?"

She gave me a keen glance. "Whichever rôle he may have the wit--or the
folly--to play."

I wrung my hands again. "Madame, madame, do not trifle with me!"

"Child, what should make thee so afraid?"

I hesitated, then exclaimed: "Seņor de Melinza bears him no good
will--he may strive to prejudice your husband!"

The Governor's wife looked intently at me. "Why should Melinza have
aught against your Englishman?"

I could not answer,--perhaps I had been a fool to speak. I dropped my
face in my hands, silently.

Doņa Orosia leaned forward and took me by the wrists. "Look at me!" she
said.

Timidly I raised my eyes, and she studied my countenance for a long
minute.

"'Tis absurd," she said then, and pushed me aside. "'Tis impossible! And
yet----a new face, a new face and passably pretty. Oh, my God, these
men! are they worth one real heart pang? Tell me," she cried, fiercely,
and shook me roughly by the shoulder, "has Melinza made love to you
already?"

"Never, madame, never!" I answered quickly, frightened by her vehemence.
"Indeed, their quarrel did not concern me. 'Twas about two lads that had
a wrestling-match upon the galley. And although they were both angered
at the time, there may be no ill feeling between them now. I was foolish
to speak of it. Forget my imprudence, I pray you!"

But her face remained thoughtful. "Tell me the whole story," she said;
and when I had done so she was silent.

I sat and watched her anxiously. She was a beautiful woman, with a
wealth of dark hair, a richly tinted cheek, glorious eyes, and a small,
soft, red-lipped, passionate mouth--folded close, at that moment, in a
scornful curve.

Suddenly she rose and touched a bell. A young negress answered the
summons. Doņa Orosia spoke a few rapid words to her in Spanish, then
turned coldly to me.

"Go with her; she will show you to your apartment, and your woman will
attend you there later on. You must be too weary to-night to join us at
a formal meal, and your wardrobe must be somewhat in need of
replenishing. To-morrow you shall have whatever you require. I bid you
goodnight!"--and she dismissed me with a haughty gesture of her white
hand.

The chamber that had been assigned to me--which I was glad to share with
the good Dame Barbara--was long and narrow. There was a window at one
end that gave upon the sea; and through the heavy barred grating, set
strongly in the thick casement, I could look out upon the low sea-wall,
and, beyond that, at the smooth bosom of the dreaming ocean, heaving
softly in the quiet starlight, as though such a sorrow lay hidden in its
deep heart as troubled even its sleep with sighs.

If I pressed my face close against the bars I could see, to the left of
me, the ramparts of the castle, where my dear love was. The slow tears
rose in my eyes as I thought that this night the same roof would not
shelter us, nor would there be the same swaying deck beneath our feet.

While we had been together no very real sense of danger had oppressed
me; but from the first hour of our parting my heart grew heavier with
forebodings of the evil and sorrow which were yet to come.




CHAPTER VII.


At first all seemed to go well enough. The Governor's lady was fairly
gracious to me; old Seņor de Colis was profuse in his leering smiles and
wordy compliments, none of which I could understand; I saw Mr. Rivers
and Melinza from time to time, and they seemed upon good terms with each
other: but I did not believe this state of affairs could last,--and I
was right in my fears.

One night ('twas the twenty-second of June, and the weather was sultry
and oppressive; the sea held its breath, and the round moon burned hot
in the hazy sky) the evening meal was served in the little courtyard of
the Governor's house, and both Mr. Rivers and Melinza were our guests.

This was not the first occasion on which we had all broken bread at the
same board; but there was now an air of mockery in the civilities of
Melinza,--he passed the salt to my betrothed with a glance of veiled
hostility, and pledged him in a glass of wine with a smile that ill
concealed the angry curl of his sullen red lip.

'Twas a strange meal; the memory of it is like a picture stamped upon my
brain.

From the tall brass candlesticks upon the table, the unflickering tapers
shone down upon gleaming damask and glistening silver, and kindled
sparks amid the diamonds that caught up the folds of lace on the dark
head of Doņa Orosia, and that gemmed the white fingers clasping her
slow-moving fan. Hers was a beauty that boldly challenged men's
admiration and exacted tribute of their eyes. The white-haired Governor
paid it in full measure, with a fixed and watery gaze from beneath his
half-closed lids, and a senile smile lurking under his waxed moustache.
But whenever I glanced upward I met the eyes of Mr. Rivers and Don Pedro
turned upon me; and I felt a strange thrill made up, in part, of triumph
that my dear love was not to be won from his allegiance, and in part of
terror because there was that in the Spaniard's gaze that betokened a
nature ruled wholly by its hot passions and a will to win what it craved
by fair means or by foul.

I could eat little for the heat and the pungent flavour of strange
sauces, so I dallied with my plate only as an excuse for lowered
eyes; and, although I listened all the while with strained attention,
the talk ran by too swiftly for me to grasp any of its meaning.

[Illustration: "TO THE BRIGHTEST EYES AND THE LIPS MOST WORTHY OF
KISSES!"--_Page 55._]

But Doņa Orosia was neither deaf nor blind; her keen black eyes had
noted every glance that passed her by.



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