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Gilbert, W. B / Margaret Tudor A Romance of Old St. Augustine
Designedly
she chose the corner nearest the iron gate, through which we could
command a portion of the sunny street; and here she lay and made me sing
to her all the songs I knew, the while she dozed and waked again, and
whiles teased her parrot into uttering discordant cries until for very
anger I would sing no more.

Suddenly she laid aside her petulance, and with a quick, imperious
gesture bade me take up the lute again; then, falling back among her
pillows, she closed her eyes and let her bosom rise and fall with the
gentle breathings of a sleeping child.

I hesitated in some astonishment; but again the sharp command hissed
from her softly parted lips,--

"Sing, little fool!--Melinza passes!"

I touched the lute with shaking fingers and lifted my trembling voice.
The notes stuck in my throat and came forth huskily at first; but then I
thought on my dear love in his hateful prison, and I sung as I had never
sung before.

Above the gray wall I saw Don Pedro's plumed hat passing by. He reached
the gate and halted, gazing in with eager eyes. His quick glance
compassed the green nook, passed over the sleeping figure, and fixed
itself upon my face.

The song died away; I leaned forward, smiling, and laid a warning finger
on my lip.

He made me a bow so courtly that the feather in his laced hat swept the
ground.

"So, seņorita, the caged bird can sing?"

"When her jailer wills it so, Don Pedro," I said softly, and smiled--and
sighed--and gave a half-fearful glance over my shoulder; then added, in
a lower whisper: "And when she wills otherwise, I must be silent."

"How, would she even keep a lock upon your lips?"

"Upon my lips--and my eyes also. Indeed, my very brows are under her
jurisdiction, and are oft constrained to frown, against their will!"

"So!" he exclaimed; and I saw a sweet doubt creep over his face. "Must I
place to her account the many frowns you have bestowed on me?"

"_Si, seņor_--and add to those some others that would not be coerced."

The fire in his black eyes frightened me not a little as he whispered:

"If that be true, then grant me the rose in your bosom, lady!"

I lifted a trembling hand to the flower, and shot a frightened glance at
the seņora's quivering lashes.

"Oh! I dare not!" I murmured, and let my hand fall against the lute upon
my knee. The jangling strings roused the pretended sleeper from her
dreams.

She half rose, and, seizing a pillow from her couch, hurled it at me,
saying angrily: "Here is for such awkwardness!"

The soft missile failed of its proper mark; but found another in the
green parrot, who was dangling, head downward, from his perch; and there
was an angry squawk from the insulted bird.

I threw a timorous glance toward the gateway, motioning the intruder
away. He would have lingered, being to all appearances greatly angered
at the discourteous treatment of my lady warder; but prudence prevailed,
and he fell back out of sight, with a hand upon his heart, protesting
dumbly.

* * * * *

The comedy had just begun. Now it must be played through to the end.

It is a strange thing to see the zest with which my gentle jailer
prepares, each day, an ambush for the unwary foe, and how he always
falls into the trap--to be assailed by me with smiles, and soft
complaints, piteous appeals for sympathy, and shy admissions of my
tender friendship; which are always cut short by some well-contrived
interruption or the sudden appearance of Doņa Orosia on the scene.
Though only a week has passed, already Don Pedro would take oath that I
love him well.

Early this morning I heard him underneath my window; and I was right
glad of the chance to smile on him from behind the protecting bars. This
meeting had not been of Doņa Orosia's contriving, so I thought I would
use it for my own ends.

I vowed to him that I was unhappy--which was true. I protested that I
was sick with longing for freedom--and that, too, was no lie. But to
that I added a whole tissue of falsehood, declaring that I had never
drawn a free breath since I came into the world; that my uncle had been
a tyrant, and the man to whom he had betrothed me was jealous and
exacting; that I had been brought across the seas against my will; and
that I dreaded the hardships of life in this new country. I said I had
no wish to rejoin the English settlers, and I denied, with tears, any
partiality for my dear love. Heaven forgive me! but I professed I loved
Don Pedro better than any man I had ever seen, and I entreated him to
take me away from these barbarous shores.

I had not thought that I could move him, yet, strange to say, the man
seemed touched. I wondered as I listened to him, for I had thought him
all bad, and deemed his passion but a passing fancy. He was speaking now
of Habana, a city of some refinement, where, as his wife, I would enjoy
the companionship of other ladies of my own station.

"I'd never suffer thee to live here, my fairest lady, where yon dark
devil of a woman could vent her spite on thee!" he whispered softly; and
my conscience smote me, for I was playing with a man's heart, of flesh
and blood.

But I bethought me, if there was in truth any good in that heart, I
would dare appeal to it; for I mistrusted that at any time Doņa Orosia
would break her promised word.

"Truly, Don Pedro, I would go gladly, for I hate the very sight of these
walls; but--if you love me--I would crave of your graciousness another
boon. Set free the English gentleman who was my promised husband, and
send him, with the other prisoners, back to his friends."

There was no answer, and I feared I had overstepped the mark; but I
dared further.

"Seņor de Melinza," I said, "it is true that I come of a race for which
you have no love, and that I hold a creed which you condemn;
nevertheless it must be remembered that we have our own code of
chivalry, and there have lived and died in England as brave knights and
true as even your valiant Cid. I would not have the man I am to wed
guilty of an unknightly act. Therefore be generous. You have been
mutually wounded; but it was in fair duello,"--this I said feigning
ignorance of the coward blow that so nearly reached my dear love's
heart,--"and now, Don Pedro, it would be the more honourable to set free
the countryman of your promised bride and send him in safety to his
friends."

"Seņorita," said the Spaniard,--and there was a cloud upon his brow,--"I
would you had asked me any boon but this. Nevertheless I give you my
knightly word that the man shall go, and go unharmed."

"I thank you, Don Pedro," I said, and fought down the cry of joy that
struggled to my lips. Then, because I could find no other words, and
feared to fail in the part I had to play, I took Dame Barbara's scissors
and cut off a long lock of my yellow hair, bound it with riband, and
threw it down to him as guerdon for the favour he had granted me.

This noon, when I joined the Governor's wife as usual under the
vine-hung balcony, I boasted cheerfully of the promise I had wrung from
Melinza; and she demanded at once to hear all that had passed between
us,--then called me a fool for my pains!

"Little marplot! Had you shown less concern for the fate of your
Englishman, it would have been vastly better. You do but cast obstacles
in my way. There is nothing for me to do now but hotly to oppose his
leaving! If needs must I will pretend a liking for the man myself, and
vow to hold him as my guest yet a while longer, for the sake of his
pretty wit and his gallant bearing,--any device to throw dust in their
eyes, so that we seem not to be of the same minds and putting up the
selfsame plea. Oh! little saint with the blue eyes, your _métier_ is not
diplomacy!"

"In sooth, seņora, till you first taught me to dissemble I was
unlessoned in the art."

She laughed then, and said that when I had less faith in others I could
more easily deceive.

"If the little Margarita believed Melinza's pretty fable about Habana,
and the excellent company there which his _wife_ would enjoy, 'tis no
wonder that she made a tangle of her own little web."

"But Doņa Orosia, think you he would deal unfairly with me? His words
rang so true--even a bad man may love honestly! And if I trifle with the
one saving virtue in his heart, will it not be a grievous sin?"

The mocking smile died out of the Spaniard's eyes and left them
fathomless and sombre.

I felt as one who--looking into an open window, and seeing the light of
a taper glancing and flickering within--draws back abashed, when
suddenly the flame is quenched, and only the hollow dark stares back at
his blinded gaze.

"If he loves you," she said slowly, "it is but as he has loved before,
more times than one. He would skim the cream of passion, brush the dew
from the flower, crush the first sweetness from the myrtle-blooms,--and
leave the rest. You child, what do you know of men? It is only the
unattainable that is worth striving for. There is much of the brute
beast in their passions. Did you mark, the other day, how the dead hound
turned a scornful nozzle to the first sweet morsel that I pressed on his
acceptance? But afterward, the fear of losing it made him eager to the
leaping-point. Just so I shall trick his master--shall let him see thee,
_almost_ grasp and taste; then, when the moment of mad longing comes,
I'll stab him with the final loss of thee! Only so can I arouse a desire
that will outlive a day; for I know men's hearts to the core, thou
blue-eyed babe!"

"Seņora," I cried, stung by her scornful words, "I cannot say I know
men's hearts; but I do know the heart of one true gentleman; and I
believe, when he had won from me the betrothal kiss, I was not less
desirable in his eyes!"

"So you believe," she said, and shook her head. "_Bueno_, go on
believing--while you can. Woman's faith in man's fealty lives just so
long----" and she bent forward from her couch, plucked a fragile blossom
from the swaying vines, and cast it under foot.

I would have spoken again of my trust in the leal true heart that
trusted me; but I saw the trembling of the laces on her bosom, I saw the
dark eyes growing more angerful, and a slow crimson rising in the rich
cheek. She was always "studying her revenge,"--this beautiful, unhappy
woman, "keeping her wounds green which otherwise might heal and do
well."

As I watched her a great pity overcame me, so that I held my peace.




CHAPTER XVII.


The 20th of March--a day never to be forgot!

I have seen Mr. Rivers. It is the first time since that night--nine
months ago. I have seen him and spoken with him in the presence of
Melinza, Doņa Orosia, and the Governor.

Whatever may befall us now, nothing can take away the memory of this
last hour. If ever we leave these walls together and taste freedom
again, it will have been dearly bought. A maid's truth tarnished, and
the brave heart of a most loyal gentleman robbed of its faith! Dear God,
what a price to pay!

'Twas noon when Doņa Orosia came herself to fetch me.

"There is some deviltry afoot," she said. "I cannot fathom it as yet;
but, as you hope for freedom for yourself and your Englishman, don't
fail to play your part to the end. Come quickly! Melinza demands to see
you, and the Governor permits it. Don't blame me, child--I can do
nothing to prevent it. But, I warn you, act the part, whatever it may
cost you."

I followed her, as in a dream, along the corridor, into the room where
the old Governor sat in his arm-chair beside a carved table, whereon
were a decanter of wine, glasses half drained, and a litter of
playing-cards. He drummed upon the table with his withered fingers, and
looked uneasily, first at his wife's flushed face as she entered the
door, and then at the determined countenance of Melinza, who was
standing before the heavy arras which divided that room from another in
the rear.

"Doņa Margarita," said the Governor, clearing his throat nervously, "is
it so that you are detained within my house against your will?"

"Your Excellency," I began, and was thankful I could speak truth, "I,
and all the other English, have been held here in San Augustin for many
a long month against our will."

"Without the orders of the Spanish Council I could not liberate you,
seņorita; though now we purpose to do so, having authority. But
concerning yourself--Melinza assures me that you do not desire to be
sent with your countrymen."

I felt my heart grow cold. Must I still cling to the lie? I looked at
Doņa Orosia, whose black eyes flashed a warning.

"That is true, Seņor de Colis," I said, and my voice sounded far off and
strange.

"You would wish to remain here as my guest and companion, Margarita,"
said the Governor's wife in vehement tones.

I looked at her in wonder. What did they desire between them? My head
swam, and I would have said Yes to her also; but her black eyes menaced
me again. I drew a deep breath and shook my head. "No, please your
Excellency."

Melinza smiled a slow triumphant smile. "Doņa Orosia is unfortunate. I
trust I shall be more successful. You would rather go to Habana as _my_
companion,--is it not so, Margarita mia?"--and he stepped forward and
held forth his hand to me.

One day in the early spring Doņa Orosia had called me to see a new pet
which had been brought to her, a young crocodile, loathsome and hideous;
and she had forced me to touch the tethered monster as it crawled, the
length of its chain, over the floor. I do remember the cold disgust I
felt at the horrid contact; but it was as naught to the feeling that
passed over me when I let the Spaniard take my hand.

He drew me toward him, laughing softly. "Who doubts that the lady goes
willingly?" and lifted his voice with a defiant question in its ringing
tones.

"I do, seņor!"--and it was my dear love who pushed aside the arras and
came forward into the room,--my dear love, wasted by fever and long
imprisonment, white and gaunt and spectral, yet bearing himself with all
his olden dignity.

The Spaniard turned to meet him, holding me still within the circle of
his arm. I gave one final glance at the Governor's wife and read my cue.
After that I could see nothing but my love's white face.

"Have I lied to you, Seņor Englishman? Do you believe, now, that I hold
that golden tress as a pledge of future favours? The lady on whose faith
you were ready to stake your soul is here to answer for herself, and she
has thrown in her lot with me--with me, seņor."

"Margaret--Margaret!" cried my dear love, "tell him he lies,
sweetheart!"

I opened my lips, but the words died on my tongue. Again my poor love
cried to me, holding out his arms. I saw his white face grow paler
still, and he swayed uncertainly where he stood. Then, gathering all his
strength, he threw himself upon the Spaniard and would have torn us
apart, had not his weak limbs given way, so that he fell prone upon the
floor.

Melinza's hand went to his sword; he drew the blade and held it to my
dear love's throat.

[Illustration: "SPARE THE MAN, DON PEDRO! I LIKE NOT THE SIGHT OF
BLOOD."--_Page 125._]

At last my voice came back to me; I laid my hand upon the Spaniard's
arm. "Spare the man, Don Pedro! I like not the sight of blood!"

Then I saw mortal agony in a brave man's eyes. He made no move to rise,
but lay there at my feet and looked at me.

"Margaret Tudor," he said, "do you love me still?"

I looked down at him. If I spoke truth, Melinza's blade would soon cut
short his hearing of it. A wild laugh rose in my throat; I could not
hold it back, and it rang out, merrily mad, in the silent room.

"Seņores," I said, "Seņores, I love a brave man, not a coward!" and that
was truth, though none in that room read me aright, save Doņa Orosia.

The man at my side laughed with me, and he at my feet gave me one look
and swooned away.

Melinza sheathed his sword, saying, "Your Excellency, the prisoner
appears convinced; so you can scarce doubt the evidence yourself."

The Governor cleared his throat again, and glanced helplessly toward his
wife. She stepped forward with scornful composure and took my arm.

"Things are come to a pretty pass, Seņor de Colis, when Don Pedro brings
his prisoners under this roof and your wife is made a witness to a
brawl. I crave your leave to withdraw; and I take this girl with me till
the question of her guardianship is settled." Then, still holding me by
the arm, she left the room; and neither of the two men ventured to stop
our progress.

Arrived at my chamber Doņa Orosia opened the door and thrust me in,
bidding me draw the bolt securely.

I was left alone with my thoughts. Such thoughts as they are! I cannot
weep; my eyes are hot and dry. There is no grief like unto this. Oh, my
mother! when your beloved clasped you to his heart in that last
farewell, there were between you thoughts of parting, of bodily pains to
be borne, of scourgings and fetters,--aye, and of death. But what were
those compared with what I have to bear, who am humbled in the sight of
my dear love?




CHAPTER XVIII.


After writing these words I cast aside my pen, and, throwing myself upon
the bed, buried my face in the pillow. I could feel the drumming pulses
in my ears, and my heart swelled till it was like to burst within my
bosom. Though I pressed my hot fingers against my close-shut eyes, I
still could see my poor love's white, set face, the great hollows in his
bearded cheeks, the blue veins on his thin temples, and the large eyes,
one moment all love-lighted, the next, stricken with horror at the sight
of my unfaith.

How long I lay there I can scarcely tell. It was many hours after noon
when I heard heavy steps without my door, which suddenly began to shake
as though one beat upon it with frantic hands.

"Who is there?" I cried, lifting my head.

"Oh! Mistress Margaret! a God's mercy--undo the door!"

I drew the bolt in haste, and Dame Barbara burst in and dropped down,
weeping, at my feet.

"Lord love ye, Mistress Margaret! Lord help us both this day! They have
sent off all our men to meet the blessed English ship--and we two poor
women left behind!"

I could not think it true. I seized the weeping dame by her heaving
shoulders and fairly dragged her to her feet, demanding what proof she
had that this was so. She pointed dumbly to the window, and fell
a-sobbing louder than before.

Then I looked out.

The _Carolina_ frigate stood off the bar of Matanzas Bay, and over the
waves, in the direction of the frigate, went a small boat impelled by
the brawny arms of six swarthy Spaniards. With them were the English
prisoners: I saw the honest face of Captain Baulk, and next him worthy
Master Collins; also the three seamen of the Barbadian sloop; and
another, whom I did not know, but guessed to be the second of the two
unlucky messengers; and--in the midst of all--my dear love.

He lay full length, his white face resting against the good captain's
knees; and my first thought was one of terror lest he was dead: but I
saw him lift himself, and give one long look at the castle walls, then
fall back as before--and I knew, in that moment, he put me from his
heart for ever.

They were gone, all gone. Doņa Orosia had played me false--God had
turned His face from me--and the man I loved would never love me more.

I turned away from the window to the weeping dame, and I laughed,
laughed again as I had done in the face of my dear love that very morn.

"The piece is near ended, dame," I said. "'Tis almost time to pray _God
save His Majesty_ and draw the curtain. But what strange tricks does
Fate play sometimes with her helpless puppets! She did cast us, long
ago, for a lightsome comedy, and lo! 'tis to be a tragedy instead! Think
you, dear Barbara, that death would come easier by means of yonder
bed-cord, or of those great scissors dangling at thy waist? Or, perhaps,
if thou couldst play Othello to my Desdemona, it might seem a gentler
prelude to the grave. How heavy is a lie, good dame? Think you it would
drag a soul to hell? If so, I need not to go alone; for if I lied to
Melinza, he also lied to me--and Doņa Orosia also"--then a strong
shudder shook my frame.



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