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Gilbert, W. B / Margaret Tudor A Romance of Old St. Augustine
"Barbara, Barbara, must I e'en have their
company for all eternity?"

She ran to me, good soul, and hushed me like a child to her ample bosom.

"Lord help ye, dear lamb! And He will--He will!" I heard her say over
and over; then everything turned dark before my eyes, and I thought
death had come to me indeed.

When consciousness returned I lay upon my bed in a gray twilight, and
beside me were Dame Barbara and the Governor's wife.

As my eyes fell upon Doņa Orosia, I cried out bitterly that I had been a
fool to trust even to her hate; for now she had grown weary of her
revenge, and would discard her tool without paying the price for it.

She covered my mouth with her hand, laughing shortly.

"Melinza thinks he has been too sharp for me. He despatched the
prisoners in great haste to the English ship without my knowledge. I
went to him just now and demanded to know if he dared to send away Seņor
Rivers without leave from me.

"'Aye,' he said, and bowed to me. 'Since Doņa Orosia desired for some
reason to detain him here, I thought it best to be rid of him at once;
but the girl remains.'

"'The girl remains in my guardianship,' said I.

"'Until to-morrow,' Melinza answered. 'To-morrow the _Virgen de la Mar_
returns to Habana, and with her go the English girl and your humble
servant.'

"'The Governor,' I cried, 'will not permit it!'

"'Will he not? Ask him,' said Melinza, 'ask his Excellency the Governor
of San Augustin!' Then he laughed at me--_Dios!_ he laughed at me!"

She bit her red lip at the remembrance, and clenched her white hands.

"And did you ask the Governor, seņora?"

She nodded fiercely. "The old dotard! He did but shrug his shoulders and
offer me a diamond necklace in exchange for my pretty puppet of a
plaything. It is plain Melinza has some hold upon him, what it is I
cannot guess; but it is stronger than my wishes. He would sooner brave
my anger than oppose his nephew's schemes."

I watched the dark shadow settling on her brow, and I thought all hope
was over.

"Doņa Orosia," I said at last, "will you lend me your dagger?"

"Not yet, child--not unless there is no other way to thwart them both.
Look--" she said, and threw a purse of gold pieces on the bed beside me.
"This is your purchase money, and 'twill serve to buy assistance. When I
could make no better terms, I was forced to take this and a kiss to
boot--Pah!" and she rubbed her cheek. "To-morrow, when the tide is
full, the _Virgen de la Mar_ will leave the harbour. Before then I must
contrive your escape."

"And Barbara's," I added, for I could see the poor dame was in deep
anxiety.

Doņa Orosia stared. "Upon my soul, we had all forgotten the old woman.
She might have gone well enough with the other prisoners; but how am I
to smuggle _two_ women from the town?"

Then I besought her not to separate me from the dame, to whom I clung as
my last friend; and after a time she yielded me a grudging promise and
left me, bidding me make ready for the evening meal, at which I must
appear in order not to arouse the Governor's suspicions.

My hands were cold and trembling; but with Barbara's aid I decked me out
in one of the gay gowns which had been given me by my protectress, and,
taking up a fan--with which I had learned the Spanish trick of screening
my face upon occasion--I joined the Governor and his beautiful spouse in
the brightly lighted _comedor_, where covers at table were laid for
three. I was thankful for Melinza's absence, for to play at love-making
that night would have been beyond my powers.

At first I could eat nothing; but an urgent glance from Doņa Orosia,
and the thought of what need there would be for all my strength prompted
me to force some morsels, in spite of the convulsive swelling of my
throat. I made shift, also, to answer when addressed by either host or
hostess; but the Governor was in no great spirits himself and seemed to
stand in some awe of his lady's frown.

Suddenly, without the door, sounded voices in altercation, and a servant
entered, protesting with many apologies that there was a reverend father
without who demanded to see his Excellency at once on a matter that
would brook no delay.

The Governor leaned back in his chair with an air of great annoyance;
but Doņa Orosia said quickly, "Bid the father enter."

A tall form in a friar's dark habit appeared on the threshold. I
recognized, under the cowl, the thin, sallow face and the sombre eyes. I
had seen them at the door of the chapel in the castle courtyard on the
night of our arrival, and many times since. They belonged to Padre
Felipe, the confessor of the Governor's wife, and her adviser, I
believed, in affairs temporal as well as spiritual. Something told me he
had come hither at her bidding, and I glanced at her for confirmation;
but Doņa Orosia leaned with one elbow on the table, her chin upon her
white hand, the other rounded arm outstretched with an almond in the
slim fingers for the delectation of the green parrot on his perch beside
her. Not a flicker of interest was visible on her beautiful, sullen
face; so I turned away with some disappointment to hear what the padre
was saying.

His voice was low-pitched and husky, and I could scarce distinguish what
he said, save that it concerned someone who was ill--nay, _dead_, it
seemed, and needing instant burial.

The Governor listened with a gathering scowl upon his face, till
suddenly he started up with such haste that his chair fell backward with
a noisy clatter.

"_Santa Maria!_ Dead of the black vomit? And you come hither with the
vile contagion clinging to your very garments!"

"Nay," said the friar's deep, hollow voice, as he lifted a reassuring
hand. "I have changed my robes. You and yours are in no danger, my son."

"In no danger!" repeated the Governor, his face becoming purple and his
voice choked; "no danger, when the foul carcass lies unburied, tainting
the very air with death! Throw it over in the sea--nay, set fire to the
miserable hut in which it lies, and let all be consumed together!"

"Who is it that is dead?" asked Doņa Orosia. She had risen, and stood
with one hand holding back her skirts, her full, red upper lip slightly
drawn, and her delicate nostrils dilated, as though the very mention of
the loathed disease filled her with disgust.

"A wretched half-breed boy, some thieving member of the padre's flock,"
exclaimed the Governor impatiently. "Set fire to the hut, I say!"

But Doņa Orosia interrupted once again. "Padre, what is it that you
desire?"

The sombre eyes were turned on her for the first time. "The boy was a
Christian, my daughter, and I would give him Christian burial."

"Surely," said Doņa Orosia. "What is to prevent?"

"Would you spread the infection through the town?" exclaimed the
Governor, white with fear.

"Nay," said the friar, "I ask but a permit to take the body without the
gates. None but I and a few of my followers need be exposed to danger.
Let a bell be rung before us, to warn all in the streets to stand away;
and we will carry a vessel of strong incense before the bier. Those who
go out with me, I pledge you my word, shall not return for some days
till they are free of all taint themselves."

"My plan is better,--to burn hut, corpse, and all," replied the
Governor. But Padre Felipe turned on him fiercely.

"How shall I keep my hold upon my people, and they retain their faith in
consecrated things, if you treat a Christian's body as you would the
carcass of a dog?"

"As you will," the Governor exclaimed; and, throwing himself into a
chair, he called for pen and paper. "Here," he added presently, "deliver
this to Don Pedro de Melinza, and bid him warn the sentries at the gate.
Say, furthermore, that if any one in the town comes within twenty paces
of the bier, out of the gate he shall go also."

The friar received the permit silently, lifted his hand in benediction,
and left the apartment.

As my glance returned from the doorway it met that of Doņa Orosia, and
in hers there was a passing flash of triumph. Soon after, she rose, and
together we withdrew. I felt her hand upon my arm tighten convulsively;
but I walked on with the same sense of unreality that had oppressed me
all the day.

When we reached my chamber she bade me change my dress again for
something dark and warm; for the night air was damp and chill. As I did
so I slipped within my bosom the roll of closely written pages
containing these annals of my prisonment. Then I asked for Barbara, and
Doņa Orosia quietly replied,--

"She has gone upon an errand and will join us in due time." Then she
threw a mantle over my head, wrapped herself in another, and led me out
into the garden.




CHAPTER XIX.


It was a moonless night, and a haze of cloud obscured the stars. We
passed silently under the vine-covered arbour, across the garden, to the
gateway. Into the heavy lock Doņa Orosia slipped a great key; it turned
easily, the door swung open, and we stepped out. Locking it once more,
my companion took my arm and hurried me along the dark, deserted street.
We turned a corner, came upon an open square, and paused beside a huge
palmetto that grew near the centre. I heard the crisp rustle of its
leaves in the night wind, and I shivered with a nameless dread.

Then, through the darkness, two dim forms approached us. My heart beat
quickly, and I drew the mantle closer round my face; but one of them
proved to be the friar, the other, my dear, dear Barbara. I sprang to
meet her with a quick cry; but Doņa Orosia laid a hand upon my lips and
hurried me on. Padre Felipe now led the way, and we followed him for
some moments more until he paused before a low doorway and motioned us
to enter.

"Seņora," I whispered, "why do you come? I have no fear of the disease,
but why should you needlessly expose yourself?"

"Little fool," she answered, pushing me gently on, "there is no fever,
no contagion here."

Wondering still, I entered the narrow passage, and beyond it a dimly
lighted room.

On the floor lay a long wooden stretcher covered with hide; at its foot
and head, fixed each in a rude socket, were two candles, still
unlighted. A brass pot with long chains, and a heap of dark cloth, lay
upon the floor; there was also a rough table on which stood a bottle of
water and a loaf of bread; otherwise, except for a dim lamp upon the
wall, the room was empty. Doņa Orosia looked around, with quick eyes
taking in every detail; then she turned to Padre Felipe.

"Can you trust the bearers?"

He bowed his head.

"Then the only difficulty is this old woman. Better to leave her
behind."

But again I pleaded most earnestly; and presently the friar left the
room and returned soon after with a dingy cloak, with which he enveloped
the poor dame from head to foot.

"Let her follow behind," he said, "and if there is no trouble she may
pass out with us." He charged her, then, to keep her face hidden and to
stand well away from the light of the candles.

After that there was a pause, and the Spanish woman and the friar looked
at each other.

"See you do not fail!" she said.

"And remember your word," he replied.

"A solid silver service for the new mission chapel at San Juan,--I swear
it," was the quick response; "that is, if you succeed."

The friar folded his arms silently.

"Nay, then, in any case! only do your utmost," whispered Doņa Orosia
hurriedly.

"The result is as God wills it," said Padre Felipe calmly, and, pointing
to the stretcher, he bade me lie down upon it. I did so, trembling in
every limb, and he would have covered me over with the wrappings when
the Governor's wife pushed him aside, knelt down herself, and slipped
into my hand a little dagger, whispering:

"In case you are discovered."

I hid it in my bosom, thanking her. "Farewell, seņora," I said, with
tears, "you have been kind to me and I am very grateful. Whether or not
I win freedom and friends, I believe you have done your utmost for me. I
cannot think"--and I lifted my head close to hers and whispered--"I
cannot think it is for revenge alone. There must be some pity prompting
it."

"Thou little foolish one," she said, and laughed, pushing me back upon
the bier. Then suddenly I felt a hot tear drop upon my forehead. She
stooped lower and kissed me on the cheek.

I gave a little cry and would have risen again; but she drew the dark
coverings over me and I could see no longer. As I felt her soft hands
tucking me in, as a mother would her babe, I could only weep silently
and pray God bless her.

A pungent smoke of something burning filled the room and reached me even
through the coverings. I heard the padre lighting the tapers at my head
and feet. After a time the stretcher on which I lay was lifted up and
carried, foot foremost, from the room--out of the passage and into the
street. I heard the feet of my bearers pattering on the ground as we
moved onward at a swinging pace; I was conscious of the heavy smoke of
burning incense that enveloped us; I heard the sound of a bell going
before me, and a voice raised in a steady cry of warning; but I could
see nothing save a faint radiance through the wrappings, where the
candles burned.

After a time there was a halt and I heard voices in dispute. My fingers
closed around the hilt of the seņora's dagger. If death must come, so
be it! I thought, and felt no fear, only regret that my dear love could
never understand, unless the spirit that quivered so wildly within my
still and shrouded form could speed to him in the first moment of its
freedom and whisper the truth to his heart!

Another voice joined in. It was Melinza's own.

"Stand back!" he called loudly. "Out of the way, slaves! Who dares
dispute the orders of his Excellency? If a man goes within twenty paces
of that leprous crew he may follow them to perdition; but there'll be no
longer any room for him within these walls!"

A murmur rose, and died away in the distance. We moved on once more.
Then sounded the rattling clang of iron bars--but it came from behind
us. The bell had ceased to ring; but as we moved slowly on I heard the
voice of the padre chanting in a low and solemn key. Then utter silence
fell, except the unshod footfall of my bearers and a murmur as of
night-winds in the trees. Suddenly an owl hooted overhead, and then----I
must have fainted.

I thought I was again in the Barbadian sloop, during the storm. Bound in
my narrow berth I rocked and swayed, while overhead the boisterous wind
howled in the rigging. The strained timbers creaked and groaned, and now
and then sounded the sharp snapping of some frail spar. A woman's
sobbing reached me through it all,--the low, gasping sobs of one whose
breath is spent. I pushed back the covers and looked around me.

It was gray dawn in the forest. Through the tossing branches overhead I
saw the pale clouds scudding beneath an angry heaven. I looked toward my
feet and perceived the back of a strange man with dark head, bent
shoulders, and bare brown arms grasping the sides of my litter. Some one
was at my head also; turning quickly, I met his eyes looking into mine:
it was Padre Felipe. I sat up, with a sudden gasp.

"Barbara!" I cried, "where are you, Barbara?"

When only the weak sobs answered me I threw myself from the litter to
the ground, falling in an impotent heap with my feet entangled in the
wrappings. But I caught sight of my good dame staggering on behind, half
dragged, half carried by two Indian youths. Her clothing was torn and
draggled, her face pitiably scratched, while great tears chased each
other down her wrinkled cheeks.

The litter had stopped. Padre Felipe helped me to my feet; but I turned
from him and threw my arms around Barbara's neck. She clung to me
desperately, her breath catching and her voice broken as she tried to
speak.

The friar took her by the shoulder roughly.

"She is worn out with tramping through the woods all night. It is no
wonder! But 'twas her own doing, for she would come; now she must keep
up or be left behind. We must reach shelter before the storm breaks in
earnest, for it will be no light one."

A heavier gust passed while he was speaking; there was a louder moan in
the tree-tops, and a broken branch crashed down at our very feet.

"Have we much farther to go?" I asked. He shook his head.

"About a league, perhaps?"

"Not more," was his reply.

"Then put the poor dame in the litter, and I will walk."

He looked intently at me. "Can you do it?"

"Better than she. I feel faint here," I added, laying my hand upon my
bosom, "but my limbs are young and strong and unwearied."

"You want food," was his brief comment; and, turning to the litter, he
drew out from a concealed pouch that was slung beneath it, a bottle of
water, and a loaf of bread, and gave me to drink and to eat. I took it
gladly, and Barbara did likewise. I thought, then, he would have taken
some himself; but he put by the remainder, saying he had no need of it,
and signed to the old woman to take her place in the litter, which was
then raised by two of his followers. The third went in advance to clear
away obstacles from the path, and we followed behind, I clinging to the
padre's arm.

He said no more to me, but the touch of his hand was not ungentle. I
marked how he led me over the smoothest ground, choosing the briars
himself, though his feet were bare, and shielding me with his arm from
the sharp blades of the dwarf palmettos that hedged the way.

As I walked beside him I could but marvel at the strange turns of Fate;
for now it seemed that I would owe my deliverance, in part, to one of
the very class I most hated as being the first cause of our captivity.
From time to time I glanced up at his dark, stern face, and wondered
whether, if I had not chanced to be his charge and under his sworn
protection, he could have found it in his heart to burn me for a
heretic!




CHAPTER XX.


The light grew ever stronger behind the hurrying clouds, but the deep
places in the forest held their shadows still. Tall cypress-trees reared
their heads amid the hollows and spread their branches like a wide
canopy over our heads; huge live-oaks crowned the hummocks; and here and
there great laurels lifted their pyramids of glossy, dark-green foliage.
Our passage was frequently obstructed by fallen logs, mossed over with
the growth of years; and tangles of vine, tough-stemmed and supple,
flung themselves from tree to tree across our path, resisting our
advance. All through the forest's higher corridors howled the riotous
wind; but along the tunneled ways we traveled it was scarce perceptible
at times.

In spite of my fatigue I felt a greater strength rising within me. We
had come so far without pursuit! I began to hope as I had never done
before; for was not my dear love free, and my face also set toward
friends?

As I mused thus we reached a higher level, and, through a rent in the
stormy sky a shaft of morning sunlight glanced across my shoulder and
plunged forward into the woods beyond. I looked back, startled, and for
a brief moment saw the sun's golden disc; then a black cloud effaced it
from the sky.

"Padre!" I cried, "we are travelling westward!"

"Yes," he said calmly.

"Westward!" I exclaimed again. "Westward--and inland! when the English
settlement lies to the north of us, upon the coast!"

He bowed again in silent acquiescence. Then my indignation broke forth,
and without stopping for further question I accused him bitterly of
breach of trust.

"Did you not promise Doņa Orosia to deliver me to my friends?" I cried.

"What cause have you to doubt my good faith?" he asked, turning his
sombre eyes toward me, but still speaking in the same calm tones. "Had I
a ship at San Augustin in which we could set sail? Or could such a ship
have left the harbour unperceived? Not even a canoe could have been
obtained there without danger of discovery. We have a long journey
before us,--could we set out upon it unprovisioned?"

I hung my head, ashamed, of my doubts. Once it was not my nature to be
suspicious; but so much of trouble had come to me of late that I began
to fear I would never again feel the same confidence in my fellow
creatures, the same implicit trust in Heaven that I had held two years
ago.



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