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Gilbert, W. B / Margaret Tudor A Romance of Old St. Augustine
I had never been a stranger to trouble; but, as a child, I knew it
only as a formless cloud that cast its shadow sometimes on my path,
dimming the sunlight for a moment and hushing the song upon my lips.
Even when my mother died I was too young for more than a child's
grief--an April shower of tears; and although my earliest maidenhood was
often lonely, I had made me my own happiness with bright imaginings, and
prayed God to bring them to pass. So I awaited my future always with a
smile and never doubted that it would be fair. All that had gone by.
Trouble had shown its face to me, and I knew it for something terrible
and strong, ready to leap at my throat and crush life out of me. What
wonder, then, that I walked fearfully from hour to hour?

Padre Felipe spoke again after a time. "The woods are thinning," he
said. "A few more steps and we shall come out on the shores of the San
Juan, near to a small village of the Yemassees, in which there are many
whose eyes have been opened to the truth. There we shall find shelter
from the storm, and means to pursue our journey when the clouds are
past. Let us hasten; the bearers with the litter are far ahead."

He gave me his arm once more, and ere many minutes were past, we came in
sight of the bold stream of the San Juan and the crowded huts of an
Indian village.

The settlement did not appear to be near so large as that at Santa
Catalina, nor did the buildings seem of as great size and
commodiousness. The most imposing edifice I took to be the mission
chapel, for before it was the great cross mounted aloft. It was circular
in shape, with mud walls, and a thatched roof rising to an apex. There
was a door in the side, of heavy planks battened strongly together; but
I could perceive no windows, only a few very small square apertures,
close under the eaves, for light and air.

The clouds were beginning to spill great drops upon our heads, so we
quickened our steps into a run. The litter and its bearers had paused
beside the door of the chapel, and from the neighbouring huts several
Indians emerged and advanced to meet us. A young woman with a little
copper-coloured babe strapped to her back, its tiny head just visible
over her shoulder, peered at us from the low doorway of her mud-walled
dwelling, but meeting my eyes, drew back hastily out of sight.

I was very weary, and Barbara, who had dismounted from the litter,
seemed unable to stand. The padre was holding converse with those of his
dark-skinned flock who had approached; so we two women crouched down
under the chapel eaves and gazed around us at the wind-tossed,
rain-blurred scene.

Before us was a thick grove of trees; to the left we could catch
glimpses of the river, gray and angry like the sky, and all along its
banks the huddled dwellings of the poor barbarians, whose ideals of
architecture were no whit better than those of the wasp,--not near so
complex as those of the ant and the bee.

Suddenly, while we waited there forlorn, my thoughts flew back to an
English home, with its ivied walls, its turreted roof, its long faįade
of warm red brick. I saw green slopes, broad terraces, a generous
portal, and a spacious hall; I thought of a room with an ample chimney
set round with painted tiles, and I pictured myself kneeling upon the
bearskin rug before a blazing fire, with my head upon my mother's knee
and her fingers toying with my hair. For that moment I forgot even my
dear love, and I would have given all the world just to be a little
child at home.

The padre turned to us at last and motioned us to follow him. He led us
to the rear of the chapel, where, plastered against the wall, was a
semicircular excrescence,--a tiny cell, with a narrow door hewn from a
single plank and fastened with a heavy padlock. Drawing forth a key from
his belt he unlocked this and bade us enter. We did so, and he closed
the door behind us.

Within, the hard earth floor was slightly raised and covered with mats
of woven palmetto-leaves. A narrow chink in the wall admitted a faint
ray of light, enabling us to perceive dimly the few objects which the
room contained. Apparently it was Padre Felipe's sleeping apartment and
the chapel vestry combined in one. There was a curtained doorway that
gave access to the chapel itself; pushing aside the hangings, we could
see the dim interior, empty except for the high altar set with tall
candles, and a carven crucifix upon the wall.

As I caught sight of these emblems of a Christian faith I bethought me
of the bloody sacrifices that had been offered to a pitiful God in the
name of orthodoxy, and I wondered whether heretics like us would not be
safer out in the wild woods and the driving storm--aye, even at the
mercy of infidel barbarians; but suddenly I remembered the solid silver
service which was to be the gift of Doņa Orosia to this little new
mission, and I took courage.

The rain was now pouring in torrents from the thatched roof, and the
wind, which blew from the northeast, dashed it back against the mud
walls of our refuge. I turned to Barbara and gave voice to an anxiety
that for some time, had been growing within me.

"Dear dame," I said, "think you this storm is worse at sea?"

"Aye, my lamb,'tis from an ugly quarter; but the _Carolina_ has
weathered harder blows, and haply she has found good anchorage in some
safe harbour."

I tried to think the same; nevertheless, in the long hours that we sat
there, listening to the heavy gusts and beating rain, my heart went
faint at the possibility of this new danger to my beloved.

It must have been past noon when the padre came to us again. He brought
food with him freshly cooked,--meat and fish, and broth of parched
corn-flour, not unpleasant to the taste.

"The wind is abating," he declared, "and the clouds are breaking away.
When the rain ceases we may venture to pursue our journey."

I begged to know how he purposed to convey us, for neither Barbara nor
I could go afoot much longer.

Then he laid his plans before us. This wide river, the San Juan, flowing
by the settlement, continues northward for many miles and then curves
eastward and empties itself into the sea. We were to start in two swift
canoes--piraguas, he styled them--and, keeping at first under the lee of
the shore, follow the river to its mouth, then proceed up the coast
along the safe passage afforded by an outlying chain of islands. It
would be a journey of about ten days to the Indian settlement at Santa
Helena; the Indians there, he explained, were allies of our English
friends and would doubtless aid us to rejoin them.

I asked if we must pass by Santa Catalina; and he said 'twas on our way,
but no one there would hinder us while we were under his protection.

"Unless," he added, "the Governor of San Augustin sends out a ship to
intercept us there, or anywhere upon the way; in which case there will
be naught for me to do but give you up to him."

Upon that I was in a fever to be gone; for I felt that the day could not
pass by without Melinza's discovering my flight, and I would endure any
hardship rather than risk his intercepting us.




CHAPTER XXI.


It was not until the rain-clouds had all passed by that the padre chose
to embark. The wind was still high, and our frail canoes were roughly
cradled on the river's turbulent bosom.

Padre Felipe, Barbara, and I, with two Indians, filled the smaller of
the two piraguas; the other held five Indians and a store of provisions
for the journey.

The afternoon sky was naught but windy gloom; white clouds rolled over
us in billowy folds, and tattered scarves of mist trailed lower still
and seemed almost to snare their fringes on the topmost branches of the
forest. Close under the protecting river-bank sped our light canoes,
cutting their way through the gray waters. The dark-skinned crews bent
to the paddle silently, with corded muscles tightening in their lean
brown arms, and still, impassive faces fixed upon the seething current
or the swiftly flying shores.

The gloom deepened slowly with the coming of the night. The waters
darkened, the dun forest became black and vague. At last, to my eyes,
it seemed that the sailing shadows in the sky, the inky, swirling
stream, and the mysterious shores blended in one all-pervading
impenetrable midnight. I could not realize that we were moving; it
seemed, rather, that we alone were still, while over us and around us
the spirits of the night flew past. I felt the wind of unseen wings
lifting my hair; I heard the splash and gurgle of strange creatures
swimming by. With my hands close locked on Barbara's arm, and wide eyes
staring into nothingness, I waited for some human sound to break the
palpitating silence.

Finally the padre spoke. He asked some question in the Indian tongue.
One of the rowers grunted in reply, and there was a sudden cessation of
the rapid paddle-strokes. Then a signal was given to the other canoe,
and after some further discussion I felt that we approached the shore.
There was a scraping, jarring sound, followed by the soft trampling of
feet upon a marshy bank; and then a hand drew me up and guided me to
land.

"The tide is running too strongly against us," explained the voice of
Padre Felipe. "We will rest an hour or two and wait for it to turn."

They kindled a fire somehow and spread a blanket upon the damp ground.
I remember that Barbara and I stretched ourselves upon it and I laid my
head against the dame's shoulder,--then weariness overcame me.

It seemed the very next moment that I was roused; but the fire was out,
and in the sky glimmered a few dim stars. There was a strange calm
reigning as we re-embarked; for the wind had died and the whole aspect
of the night had changed. All around us a faintly luminous sky lifted
itself above the dense horizon line, and the broad bosom of the river
paled to the hue of molten lead. Still brighter grew the heavens; the
thin clouds drew aside, and the crescent of a waning moon spilled glory
over us. And now our dark piraguas sped over the surface of a silver
stream, and every paddle-blade dripped diamonds.

It is a noble river, this San Juan, with its broad sweeps and curves. At
times it widens to a lake, and again thrusts itself into the shores as
though its waters filled the print of some giant hand that in ages past
had rested heavily with outspread fingers on the yielding soil. Aided by
the strong current we glided on as swiftly as the passing hours. Our
faces were set eastward now, and I waited, breathless, for the day to
wake.

There was a slow parting of the filmy skies, as though Dawn's rosy
fingers brushed aside the curtains of her couch; then came a gleam of
golden hair that slid across her downy pillows. A long-drawn sigh
shivered across the silent world, and with a sudden dazzlement we saw--

--"the opening eyelids of the Morn."

From the southwest a fresh wind arose and swept clean the blue heavens;
and, with the early sunbeams sparkling on the ripples of the tide, the
canoes darted on toward the river's mouth. A heron flew up from the
marshes suddenly, and sailed over our heads on its strong white wings.
As I watched it dip out of sight in the river far beyond us I caught
sight of another gleaming wing that slowly unfurled itself toward the
sky.

Touching the padre's arm, I pointed to it.

"A sail!" he said.

Our canoes quickly sought the curve of the shore and crept with caution
toward the unknown vessel.

"It can scarcely be the Habana ship," murmured the padre, "for the
_Virgen de la Mar_ was at anchor in the harbour when we left San
Augustin, and ere morning the storm had risen, so she would hardly have
ventured forth to sea."

"There are other vessels carrying sail that ply between the fort and
these coast islands. We came from Santa Catalina aboard one of them," I
whispered.

"Yes," said the padre, "but this is too large." He paused for some
moments, and then added: "Do you see the long, straight lines of her
hull, and the square stern? This is no Spanish galley, but a frigate of
English build."

"'Tis the _Carolina_!" I exclaimed, "'tis the _Carolina_!"

"Oh! the blessed, blessed English ship!" sobbed the good dame.

Then all energies were bent to reach her, for it was plain that she was
making ready to leave her anchorage.

"If we could only signal to those on board!" I cried. "Loose your
neck-kerchief, Barbara, and wave it--wave it in the sunlight!"

"We are too close to the shore," the padre said. "She can scarce
distinguish us until we strike out into the open."

"But how plainly we can perceive her crew! And see the stir upon the
decks--are they not drawing up the anchor? Oh, Padre Felipe!" I cried
piteously, "wave to them! signal them! or they will leave us after all!"

The friar rose carefully to his feet; he, too, was heartily glad of this
chance to be rid of his charges, and in no mind to let it slip by. With
Barbara's white kerchief in his hand he was about to make another effort
to attract the notice of the _Carolina_, when suddenly he glanced over
his shoulder toward the land, his hand fell quickly to his side, and he
dropped back into his seat with an exclamation of dismay.

One of the Indians rose immediately, and with shaded eyes gazed along
the beach as it stretched away southward to San Augustin. He gave a
grunt of acquiescence and sat down, and the motion of the paddles
ceased.

"What have you seen?" I cried in agony, struggling also to my feet.

We were so near the river's mouth--almost upon the blue waves of the
ocean rolling out to the shining east! Under the lee of the northern
shore lay the English ship; and south of us the coast spun out its
gleaming line of sandy beach away, away back to the prison we had left.
But what were those dark forms that swarmed the sands?

"We are too late!" muttered the Spanish friar. "Discovering your flight,
they have not waited for calm weather to follow in a swift
sailing-vessel, as I had thought they would, but have sent out a
search-party afoot to overtake you at the outset."

"But we must reach the _Carolina_ before they arrive, Padre!"

"It can be done, easy enough," he answered, "but what shall I and my
followers do if we are seen? Girl, I have too much at stake! I choose
not to incur the Governor's anger. 'Tis not likely that they connect us
with your disappearance, for Doņa Orosia swore to shield me in the
matter. I have done all I could. It is thus far and no farther. But you
may yet escape; 'tis only a little distance to the ship; take up the
paddles and make your way thither."

As he spoke he stepped from our canoe to the larger one which had closed
up with us, and the two Indians followed him.

"Padre! oh, Padre! Do not leave me, do not desert me!"

They paid no heed to my appeal save to give a mighty shove to our canoe
that sent it out toward midstream; then, seizing their paddles, with
swift strokes they sent their own piragua speeding up the river.

It had all passed so quickly--so suddenly our hopes had been destroyed!
Barbara and I had been thrown forward by the impetus given to our frail
boat, and we cowered down in silence for a moment. The current was still
bearing us outward; but every second our motion slackened: we would
never reach the ship without some effort on our part.

I seized a paddle and worked vigorously; but the light boat only swung
round and round.

"Barbara!" I cried, "take the other paddle and work with me. I can do
nothing all alone!"

The dame obeyed me, sobbing and praying under her breath; but we made
sorry work of it.

I looked shoreward and could see our pursuers drawing closer and closer;
they had not yet perceived us, but in a moment more they could not fail
to do so. As they drew still nearer, riding on his dappled gray in the
midst of them, I recognized Melinza! With him were a troop of Spanish
soldiers--I saw the sunlight flashing on their arms--and some twenty
half-naked Indians, who might so easily swim out and drag us back to
land!

"They see us! Mistress Margaret, they see us!" shouted Barbara.

"Oh! not yet, dame, not yet!" I groaned, plying the paddle wildly.

"The English, my lamb--the English see us! Look you, they are putting
put a boat from the ship!"

It was true; but ere I could utter a "Thank God!" a yell from the shore
told us that those fiends had seen us also. Barbara would have dropped
her paddle in despair, but I ordered her sternly to make what play she
could. As for me, I dipped my blade now on one side, now on the other;
the trick of it had come to me like an inspiration; my fingers tightened
their hold, and my arms worked with the strength born of a great terror.

Our pursuers had reached the river-shore, and a swarm of dark forms now
threw themselves into the stream. But the long-boat from the frigate
came toward us rapidly; I saw white English faces and heard shouts of
encouragement in my mother tongue.

Then a volley of musketry rang out from the land. Instantly, the frigate
made response; her heavy guns thundered forth, and the white smoke
wreathed her like a cloud. But all the shots were falling short.

[Illustration: "NEARER CAME THE LONG BOAT, YET NEARER WAS THE FOREMOST
SWIMMER."--_Page 162._]

Nearer came the long-boat, yet nearer was the foremost swimmer. I saw
his brown arms cleaving the clear tide, I saw the white eyeballs
gleaming in his dark face. Friends and foes were now so close together
that from the shore it was impossible to distinguish them; so the shots
had ceased, and in their place rang out wild curses and savage yells. A
sinewy brown hand rose from the water and seized the edge of our
frail canoe, tilting it far over. The sudden jerk destroyed my balance,
and in a moment I felt the waters close over my head.

Strong hands grasped me as I rose again and I battled fiercely; for I
thought the Indian had me in his hold, and I chose rather, to die. But
my weak strength was overcome, and I was lifted--aye, thank God!--lifted
into the English boat, and Master Collins wiped the water from my face.

I saw them drag the dame in also, and then I closed my eyes. I did not
faint,--never in all my life had I been so very much alive; but the
sunlight and the blue sky were too bright for me.

I cannot tell much of what followed. There were a few more shots, and
one of the English sailors dropped his oar and held up a bleeding hand.
I sought my kerchief to bind it up for him, but I could not find it. And
then, I looked up and saw the _Carolina_ close beside us. A ringing
cheer went up to heaven, and kind hands raised me to the deck. The
sunburnt face of Captain Brayne bent over me, and there were tears in
his honest eyes.




CHAPTER XXII.


There were other women on the ship, and one of them came forward and led
me away to her cabin and aided me to rid myself of my drenched garments,
lending me others in their stead. I learned from her that the _Carolina_
had come direct from Barbadoes, bearing freight and some very few
passengers,--the noise of our treatment at the Spaniards' hands
deterring many who would else have ventured to throw in their lot with
the young colony. Captain Brayne bore also the duplicate of the orders
of the Spanish Council--which had been forwarded from England to
Barbadoes; and he had been instructed by their Lordships the
Proprietors, to stop at San Augustin and demand the prisoners.

All this my new friend told me during her kindly ministrations. She
asked, also, many questions concerning my escape and the treatment I had
received during our long captivity; but I was too exhausted to answer
these at length, and begged that I might be left awhile to rest. She
went away then, to get me a soothing potion from the ship's surgeon;
and I made haste to unwrap the little packet that had lain hidden in my
bosom, in which was the written story of my prison life. As I smoothed
out the damp pages I thought of how I would place it in my dear love's
hand and leave him to read all that my tongue could never say to him!

I slept for some hours and woke refreshed. Then came a message from the
captain, asking if I would see him. I was eager to be out, for many
reasons, the chief being my desire to see him from whom I had been so
long parted; it was his face I sought first among the many familiar ones
that crowded round me.



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