UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS
Author of "The Magnetic North," "The Open Question" etc.
Illustrated & Decorated by John Rae
New York Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers
Copyright, 1907, by Frederick A. Stokes Company October, 1907
PAGE I. OUR AGREEABLE FELLOW PASSENGER 1
II. MY INTERPRETER AT MAZATLAN 39
III. I AM LECTURED 65
IV. I DRINK COCOANUT MILK AND GO FISHING FOR PEARLS 101
V. THE BARON IS CRAZY WITH MADNESS 133
VI. THE BARANCA 165
VII. THE INCA EYE 199
"FRUITS AND FLOWERS WERE SHOWERED UPON US" Frontispiece
"LOOK, SENORITA!" Facing page 48
"THE BARON HAS FOUND A PEARL!" " " 112
"YOU MUST TAKE ME BACK!" " " 210
OUR AGREEABLE FELLOW PASSENGER
In the same spirit in which a solicitous mamma or benevolent middle-aged friend will sometimes draw forth from the misty past some youthful misdeed, and set the faded picture up before a girl's eyes, framed in fiery retribution—for an object lesson and a terrible example—so will I, benevolent, if not middle-aged, put before the eyes of my sisters a certain experience of mine. I expect my little act of self-abasement for the instruction of my sex to have this merit: the picture I will show you is not dim with age, and not cut and cramped to fit the frame of a special case. The colours are hardly dry, and both picture and tale are quite unvarnished.
I am a plain American girl of twenty. I am not so plain, as I come to think of it, as one or two others I know—not being distinguished even by unusual or commanding ugliness. I spent last winter in San Francisco with relatives, and intended returning home as I came—overland. But the invalid friend who was asked to chaperon me back to New York, was advised by her physicians to take the trip by sea via Panama, for health's sake, and I was easily induced to change my arrangements and bear her company.
It was on a sunny April morning that our friends met us at the wharf of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to bid us God-speed on our month's voyage from the Golden Gate to the harbour of New York.
Fruits and flowers, boxes of salted almonds and Maskey's best bonbons, as well as books, from Prescott's "Conquest of Mexico" to the latest novels, were showered upon us, with the understanding that it was to be a long and tedious voyage, and we should need all the comfort obtainable to support existence, with the knowledge that if we survived, we might be the better for the journey. The signal for visitors to leave the ship had been given, and Major Sanford, turning to go, stood face to face with a tall, foreign-looking young man, who smiled with quick recognition, showing small white teeth like a woman's.
"You raimembair me, Major?"
Major Sanford did "raimembair," and, turning to me, presented "Baron de Bach."
"—he knows all our good friends, was here four years ago on his way round the world in his steam yacht—glad to think you'll have such good company. Good-bye!" And Major Sanford was the last to run down the gangway. How little he knew what entertainment he was providing in coupling my farewell to him with "hail" to Baron de Bach!
Slowly we moved away from the dense crowd that covered the wharf. In the cloud of fluttering handkerchiefs, our friends' faces grew dim and slowly faded; the fair city at our Western portal looked like dreamland in a haze.
"You air not sorry dthat you go?" says a voice over my shoulder.
"No," I say, without turning; "I'm always glad of a change. You must have had a good time in that yacht of yours, going where you liked, and getting up steam the moment you had seen enough."
"Yes," says the new acquaintance meditatively, coming forward to the side of the vessel where I can see his face, "Mais je suis tres fatigue. I am glad dthat I now go home."
"You are young to be tired." I look sideways at the boyish face. He is German, I think to myself, making a mental note of his complexion, strangely fair for a yachtsman the eyes—heavily fringed blue eyes—the full-lipped, sensuous mouth, shapely of its kind, shadowed by a curling blond moustache.
"You are going home round Robin Hood's barn, aren't you?"
"Robeen Hoohd? Pardon, vill you tell me who is he en francais?"
"No, I'm not proud of my French, and if mistakes must be made I would rather you made them. I meant isn't this a curious way to go to Germany, if you are tired of travel and in haste to get home?"
"I lif not in Jhermany, how could you dthink——"
"Oh, I fancied the name was German, and——"
"Yes—yes, dthe name, but——"
"And you look a little German."
"Ah, mademoiselle, look at me more, I am in nodthing like Jhermans."
I could see the tall young stranger was a bit distressed that his Teutonic cast betrayed him.
"My fadthur was Jherman—my modthur is Castilian, my home is Lima, I am Peruvian, but I am educate in France. I am cosmopolite. And you—air Frainch?"
"I wonder where Mrs. Steele is?" I say, and turn away to find my friend standing at the stern, with the tears streaming down her handsome, care-worn face, and her great hollow eyes fixed on the fading outlines of the San Franciscan harbour. The Baron has followed, but I turn my back and devote myself to diverting Mrs. Steele.
"We must arrange our stateroom before we are ill," she says presently, in a state of hopeful anticipation, and we retire to No. 49 in the Steamship San Miguel, which all who have taken this journey know to be the best double room on the "crack" steamer of the line. We put up hangers, divide pockets and racks, and prepare for a three weeks' occupancy. Having finished our work, we go to the stern to get a whiff of the stiff breeze blowing from the southeast. The air is sweet and sun-laden, the rhythmic rise and fall of the little steamer seems a bit of caressing pastime between ship and sea—"the whole world is shining and exultant," think I, "and the contagion reaches me."
"Mademoiselle ees fery happy for somedthing," says the Baron's deep, low voice.
"Yes, I'm always happy, but especially just now. Mrs. Steele—Baron de Bach, a friend of Major Sanford."
For half an hour the young Peruvian devotes himself making a good impression on Mrs. Steele. He carries her chair about until a place is discovered sufficiently sheltered from the sun and yet not too cold; he puts all our wraps and rugs on and about "Madame," who watches him with quiet amusement until I ask:
"And now, pray, what am I to do for a rug?"
"You need not a rug; you vill valk dthe deck, vill you not?"
To tell the truth, walking the deck is much more in my line than being swathed and pinioned in a chair, but——
"Yes, my dear, it will do you good—bring me a book, and then you may explore if you like."
So Madame is left with her French romance, and up and down in the sunshine I walk with our new acquaintance at my side.
"You air not Frainch?" he asks with a scrutinising side glance out of his fine eyes.
"I am happy to say that I am an American, and so are my ancestors for three hundred years."
"Naixt to dthe Frainch, dthe American ladies air most beautiful, charmante and clevair, but you haf chic, and more dthings; you might be angry I vould say. Vhen I stood at dthe ship and see you coming abord du San Miguel I vas so happy, for I haf fear for a dull voyage."
"H'm! You fancy then I may entertain you?"
Very reproachful is the droop of the long lashes.
"It ess my gude hope ve may be friends, and if I succeed to amuse you, I am content a present."
"And what office do you aspire to in the future? Shall you instruct, perhaps?"
"Dthat ees more your role, for if you pairmeet me to listen to your so beautiful Eenglish, I must learn much. But you will let me spik to you a leedle in Frainch, mademoiselle? Dthere air zome dthings I cannot say in Eenglish."
We stop at the vessel's side, and in a glance across to Mrs. Steele I see her looking with wide-eyed amusement and a dash of concern at my companion. I turn in time to catch a queer, earnest look in the boyish face, as he stands with one hand grasping the rope ladder and his head bent down to mine.
"Anything clever or graceful that occurs to you in French, you may say to Madame Steele if you like, but you must speak English to me. There's the gong for dinner."
At the table I am placed at the Captain's right. My friends had given him special charges about me, and in a rough, kind-hearted way he shows me every attention. On my right sits a Guatemalan, Senor Jose Noma, then Mrs. Steele, and beside her, Baron de Bach. Opposite is an army officer, Captain Ball, and his wife, and several Mexicans. I feel a little unsteady and disinclined to eat, but the Baron sends me, by the Chinese waiter, a glass of champagne frappe—and my courage and interest in life return.
The Guatemalan proves to be a rich coffee planter exiled from home for political reasons, and returning now after an absence of several years to make his peace with the government. Senor Jose Noma is a clever, entertaining person, and one thing about him I am not likely to forget. He ate more chili-peppers, more mustard, more pickled chow-chow, more curry, and more cayenne pepper than I would have believed any mortal could dispose of and live.
I used to wonder whether his diet had any share in making him such a flaming firebrand of rebellion that he must needs be sent North to cool off! I am convinced, at least, that had he not drunk a generous amount of wine he must inevitably have been scorched to a cinder. He was always passing me his favourite dainties and urging upon me garlic, and some particularly awful and populous cheese. I was especially impressed in this, my first intercourse with a Spanish-speaking race, by their invincible habit of paying compliments, and yet their inability to convince even an unsophisticated person like myself that they meant one word they were saying.
The afternoon I devote to Mrs. Steele in our airy, pleasant stateroom. She is not exactly ill, but wants to lie down and to be read to. So we begin the "Conquest of Mexico." Towards evening I emerge from retirement, and Baron de Bach drops from somewhere at my side.
"Gude-efening, Mademoiselle. You haf us long deserted."
I explain that my friend is not well.
"But she vill make you ill vhen you stay inside. I vill tell her."
"In French it may be safe, but don't attempt it in English."
He looks mystified.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle, you look efer as if you laugh at me, but I am not sure."
"No, it's only my natural buoyancy that gives me a smiling aspect," and I turn the conversation to Mexico. "We shall go ashore at Mazatlan and dine at a native hotel and see the people."
"May I accompany you?" says the Baron.
"Mrs. Steele makes all the arrangements; you must see her about that."
"Ah, but you spik not Spanish, and you must haf intairpretair. Madame Steele!" he says, as my friend appears, looking refreshed from her long rest, "desire you not an intairpretair at Mazatlan, or spik you Spanish?"
Mrs. Steele does not "spik Spanish," and accepts his offices. In some way the Peruvian has secured the confidence and goodwill of my friend in a very brief acquaintance. He is decidedly agreeable, but his slight knowledge of English puts him at constant and amusing disadvantage.
The next evening as we stand at the vessel's side, watching the marvellous display of phosphorescence that plays about the prow of the San Miguel, Mrs. Steele is joined by Senor Noma, and the Baron urges me to come a little further away from the light—"ve can see dthe yelly fishes viel besser." I move away unsuspectingly out of the shine of the ship's lanterns, and the Baron, folding his arms on the railing beside me, begins quite low to recite a Spanish sonnet, liquid, musical, impassioned. I look out over the waters well-named Pacific, and yield my luxurious sense a moment to the charm of the dusky beauty stretching away endless in the night, listening half in a dream to the lapping of the weirdly lit water against the side of the San Miguel, and to the sweet, low music of the Spanish tongue. The spell is broken when the Peruvian begins in a rapid, excited French a sentimental declaration.
"I'm afraid I don't quite follow you," I interrupt. "Are you telling me about jelly fish or the Peruvians?"
A low, repressed volley of Castilian followed by a few words in German.
"Seit jenem Tage wo ich zum ersten Male in deinen schoenen Augen geblickt habe, habe ich dich grenzenlos geliebt."
"I'm sorry I can understand nothing but English," I say, turning to see if I can catch a glimpse of Mrs. Steele.
The Peruvian holds my finger tips fast to the rail with a hand that trembles a little.
"Senorita, I must gif you anodther proof dthat I am not Jherman, and am unlike your—how you say—practical countrymen. I haf know you two days, yust so long haf I loaf you, and being Peruvian, I must die if I tell you not."
"Blanche, where are you?" It is Mrs. Steele's voice, and I call out:
"Do come here, the jelly fish are simply resplendent on this side."
The Peruvian moves out of range of recognition, into the darkness beyond, while Mrs. Steele joins me on the other side.
"Where is Baron de Bach? I thought he was with you."
"So he was, but he's just gone daft—I mean aft."
"What is the matter?" says my friend; "have you disagreed about something?"
"Yes," I say, "we've disagreed, and he has the best of it, for he can argue his point with four tongues and I've only one."
Mrs. Steele is curious; she slips her arm through mine.
"Has he been overpolite to you, my dear?"
"Mrs. Steele," I say, thoughtfully, "I'm a little amused and still more perplexed by this man. Will you allow me the American girl's privilege of taking care of herself and promise not to interfere if I tell you how matters go?"
"Yes," says Mrs. Steele quickly, "I need no convincing that you can take care of yourself, but I rather like that big Peruvian with all his worldly experience and boyish heart. I hope he hasn't been translating into broken English the eloquence of his face. If you're wise, you'll keep him on friendly ground till near the end of the voyage at least; he will make an agreeable third in our excursions on shore. His knowledge of Spanish and Mexican customs will be useful, but if you allow him to make a goose of himself, there's an end to all friendly intercourse."
She pauses a moment and then adds hopefully:
"But still we've known him only two days; I merely warn you in time for future need."
"It's too late," I say, leaning far over the railing to watch the phosphorescence gleam and darken. "He has just been making furious love in four languages. Let's go in, dear."
That night I wake out of some unpleasant dream to hear Mrs. Steele saying:
"You sleep like the dead; we shall all go to the bottom and you will never find it out till the fish begin to nibble."
I realise sleepily there's a great commotion without; hurried feet fly about the decks; loud orders are shouted under our window, and with a mighty trembling and throbbing, the ship's engine seems to stop suddenly. Mrs. Steele is scrambling into her robe de chambre, and has her head out of the porthole, while I, hardly awake even yet, lean in a bewildered way over the side of my berth to listen.
"What has happened?" Mrs. Steele calls out.
"Man overboard," answers one of the sailors; "we're lowering a boat."
"Dthere ees no fear, Madame," says the Peruvian's voice outside.
I am so sleepy I gladly take his word for it, and am off again to the Land of Nod. Mrs. Steele's voice comes to me from afar off, with some question about a pistol, but the real soon mixes with a dream, and I know no more.
The next morning I hear that for two hours the whole ship was in a commotion. A drunken passenger of the intermediate class had tumbled overboard, been sobered by his bath, and swam valiantly till the ship's engine could be reversed and a boat lowered to his rescue. This occupied so much time that he was sinking from exhaustion when finally the sailors pulled him in. The passengers were in a panic during the outcry and subsequent stoppage of the machinery. Many believed the last hour was at hand, and appeared on deck in ascension robes, and faces by no means expressive of joy at the immediate prospect of Heaven. It was great fun hearing the various experiences at breakfast. Every one had some joke on his neighbour—only the Peruvian was quiet and rather pale. As we sat on deck in the later morning sunshine, he said to me in German:
"You face danger bravely. I heard Madame Steele cry out last night, but no word from you."
"Good reason for that; I was asleep nearly all the time."
"Asleep!" he repeats. "Impossible!"
"But quite true; I only heard you say there was no fear, and then I turned over and went on with my dream."
"Ah!" he says, making the German words rumble and bristle with emphasis, "I am happy that assurance from me could so calm and comfort you."
"Yes," I say hypocritically, "the effect was magical; but were you frightened?"
"Yes, I admit it. Very much. But not for myself, I hardly need say——"
"What was that I heard about a pistol?" I interrupt, "or did I dream it?" A faint flush passes over the Peruvian's face.
"Did you hear? I was looking to see if it was in order when Madame Steele opened her window. I was waked very suddenly, you see, and my neighbour was shrieking that the boiler had broken and in a moment we would all be in Eternity. I thought of you, Fraeulein——"
"In English, please," I say, "I can't follow you in German."
He stops an instant, eying me doubtfully; a moment longer he hesitates, and then, seeing that Mrs. Steele is busily talking of the terrors of the night to a group of passengers, he continues in a lower tone:
"I dthought about you, it is needless dthat I zay. I hurry on mit my long ofercoat and hold mine pistol deep in mine—mine—how you zay?"
"Yes, in mine pawket, and I come dthree steps by a time up here to your door."
"Heavens!" I say, "did you want to shoot me?"
"No, I vould safe you!"
"What was the pistol for?"
"You zee a Peruvian vill dthink qvick by a time like zo—he vill zay: 'I must safe dthe life of Senorita—dthere vill be boats, but dthere vill be many to crowd in and all vill be lost. So I vill take von leedle boat and I put dtherein Madame Steele and Senorita; if any people try to growd in, I hold dthem back; if any inseest, I shoot dthem dead, and safe Senorita.'"
"Very humane of you.—Senor Noma," I call out suddenly, as that fiery gentleman is passing by, "I want to hear how heroic you were last night."
"Ah, mees," says the Guatemalan deprecatingly, as he stops before us, "I did sit one meeserable quarter-hour by the rail with two life presairvairs and try to raimember one Ave Maria."
Acting on Mrs. Steele's wise suggestion, I keep the Peruvian at bay as much as possible; but this is not so easy as it might seem, and my best safeguard is to stay with Mrs. Steele every moment and insist I understand only English. Baron de Bach observes a day or two after this:
"Senorita's knowledge of French and Jherman ees better zome days dthan odthers. But it ees gude for me that I vill learn spik zo beautiful Eenglish."
"Forgif me, Senorita," he says, beginning afresh after a pause, "but vhat blue eyes you haf!"
"You are colour blind, Baron," observes Mrs. Steele, with a quiet smile. The Peruvian starts slightly. Had he forgotten her?
"Madame——" he begins.
"Hush!" I say, with uplifted finger, "I hear the bells of San Blas."
Mrs. Steele shades her eyes with one little grey-gloved hand, and looks intently towards the undulating outline of the coast. The flood of sunshine that bathes the world is flung back ceaselessly from the shimmering sea, till the poor eyes of mortals are dazed and blinded with the shifting splendour.
Beyond, the rugged coast of misty purple has rest and charm for the dazzled vision. There is a sympathetic interest in Mrs. Steele's beautiful face, and I knew her fancy, like my own, had restored the ancient Jesuit mission to the far-off headland, and the legend of consecrated bells—that still ring out from a tower long since crumbled—is fresh and vivid in her memory.
"I really believe I hear the bells, don't you, Mrs. Steele?" She puts the grey-gloved hand over her eyes as if she were tired.
"I could hear them, dear, if I were twenty."
"Vhat bells ees dthat?" The Peruvian turns away his fine head to listen. "I hear nodthing."
"You are the only one that hears them, Blanche; tell us what they say."
"Even Longfellow can't do that," I answer, "and his sense was so acute and fine he heard them half across the world."
I look out to the misty coast line and repeat:
"What say the Bells of San Blas To the ships that outward pass To the harbour of Mazatlan? To them it is nothing more Than the sound of surf on the shore— Nothing more to master or man. But to me, a dreamer of dreams, To whom what is and what seems Are often one and the same, The Bells of San Blas to me Have a strange wild melody, And are something more than a name."
"Ah, vas I not right, Madame Steele? I vill learn zo beautiful Eenglish on dthis voyage."
MY INTERPRETER AT MAZATLAN
On the fifth day out from San Francisco we make the harbour of Mazatlan, on the Mexican coast. The courtesy of the Captain secures us a good view from "the bridge" as we approach our first port. A great white rock juts up in the bay like a fragment of some Titan's fortress; a lighthouse stares out to sea from a cliff at the harbour's entrance; the tall cocoa palms wave their fern leaves in the blinding sunshine, and red-roofed houses huddle below the dome of the Cathedral rising white above the town.
The harbour soon swarms with the countless boats of the natives coming with fruit and wares to sell or hoping to earn a few reales by rowing the curious to the wharf.
Senor Noma engages the largest of these boats and invites as many as it will hold to go ashore with him. He helps in Mrs. Steele, Baron de Bach brings me, and we are soon followed by Captain Ball and his wife, and Miss Rogers, a pretty girl with her photographic camera and her mamma, who is an Episcopal clergyman's wife, and so proud of the circumstance that the gentlemen have dubbed her "The Church of England."
The Mexican oarsmen make one think of comic opera brigands, except that they look rather dirtier and their speech is music without song. We land at a rude wharf in the low sea wall and pass through groups of dark-skinned natives who eye us with sleepy interest. Through narrow streets we troop one after another towards the heart of Mazatlan.
It is oppressively warm, and Captain Ball begs us all to come into a restaurant and get some cooling drink. Mrs. Steele and I have limes and Apollinaris, while Senor Noma, true to his red-hot appetite, tosses off a glass of mezcal, the fire-water of the Mexicans, the most scorching beverage ever concocted.
"How would you like a true Megsican dinair, Mees?" says Senor Noma, blinking a little as the liquid fire pours down his throat. "It ees not bad."
"I should fancy it might be very interesting," I say.
"Well, then, if Madama Steele and the ladies and zhentlemen present will do me so much honour I will await them at the Hotel Nacional at seven o'clock. I must now see a friend. Adios!"
While the rest are taking leave Baron de Bach bows to me with his glass of Rhine wine held out to touch mine. With a comparatively serene face he mutters:
"You talk to efery one but me; I vould like to shoot dhem all."
"It mightn't do," I say, "even in Mexico."
He turns away with a frown between his fine, straight brows.
"Madame, vill you and Senorita come to drive? I know dthe place and vill be intairpretair?"
"Yes," says Mrs. Steele. "I intend sending for a carriage; we can get over more ground in that way, and we have so little time."
The Peruvian gives an order to the servant and shortly a vehicle stands at the door. It is a lumbering old open carriage that has evidently been grand in its day—with two white horses that match it in age and decrepitude. In the best of spirits we drive off. The Baron talks Spanish with the driver and answers all our million inquiries.
We learn that the best houses are built round a hollow square called a patio, and the occasional glimpses through the opening of massive doors into these courts reveal a sun-shiny garden of tropical fruits and flowers. Roses everywhere fill the afternoon with fragrance, and the strong aroma of ripening bananas and pines makes the hot air heavy.
"Ees it like vhat you dthought?" asks the Peruvian.
"Much better in some respects," I say, "but the houses look dreadfully dreary outside; they are more like prisons than homes, with their great blank walls and here and there an arched and grated window."
"And there's not a pane of glass in the town," says Mrs. Steele, "lattices inside and wooden shutters without."
"Yes, and I've noticed ever so many pairs of bright eyes peering through those lattices. Poor things!" I say feelingly, "I suppose a Mexican girl of good family must have a very stupid time."
"Not in dthe slightes'," says the Peruvian with decision. "Vomans air much better take care off; dthey air fery happy, I 'sure you," and turning to me—"You vould like it yourself after a leedle."
"Indeed I shouldn't! And neither would the unfortunates who had charge of me."
We pass a Catholic graveyard with high adobe wall and are at the Hospital Municipal, our objective point. A dark young man in ill-fitting clothes receives us and shows us about this primitive refuge. The floors are tiled and all the appointments are rude, but very clean.
Baron de Bach distributes his Mexican dollars so generously the dark young man is quite overcome. He asks some question with solemn black eyes fixed on me. The Peruvian laughs with slight confusion and I catch "Si" in his reply. The dark young man puts another query.
"What's it all about?" says Mrs. Steele; "you promised to interpret."
"Oh, yes, if I must. Dthis zhentleman ask if dthis young lady ees my wife and if she like roses."
"Oh, let us see the roses," says Mrs. Steele, calmly ignoring the wretch's prevarication, for I know to the first question he said "Yes." With my nose in the air I follow the rest into the rose garden of the hospital, where all is so lovely I quite forget I am offended.
Oh, the rose trees and the wilderness of bloom!
The dark young man gathers for Mrs. Steele and the Baron de Bach for me.
"You ask me vonce vhat kind was a Castilian rose. Look, Senorita, so weich so suess, so fein, wie die Castilien Frauen," and he hands me a pale pink rose, loose-petalled, fragile, and very fragrant. With great bunches in our hands we leave the hospital garden, and I notice with irritation that the dark young man in bidding me good-bye, long life and happiness, salutes me as "Senora."
It is six o'clock and we drive towards the town. The narrow streets are full of idlers in every attitude of picturesque languor. Mrs. Steele sympathises deeply with the lean and patient little burros with wooden racks on their backs holding on either side a clay jar filled with water.
"Efery yar ees two media, about twenty-five cent your money. Vater ees more dearer dthan vine," explains our interpreter.
We find all the rest of the company assembled at the Hotel Nacional in the gallery on the ground floor that looks into the patio. Mrs. Steele and I are shown by a native servant (half Indian, I should think) into a room across the court, where we make a primitive toilet. This is the very best hotel of Mazatlan, but the guest chamber is guiltless of carpet or rug; the one high window, grated and latticed, looks into the narrow street. A bed heavily draped with coarse curtains stands in one corner, and under a cracked glass giving forth a freckled and bilious reflection stands the deal toilet-table. A tin pan does duty for bowl, a delightful old clay carafe holds the water, and an abalone shell contains a bit of yellow laundry soap.
With these aids to beauty we reappear refreshed and ready for the dinner that is spread in the half-open gallery. Only a trellis thickly mantled with grape vines is between us and the garden; indeed, over the top of this screen I can see, as I sit at the table, the vine-leaves rise and fall in the soft air, and the more ambitious tendrils daintily pencilled against the red sky of that lovely Mexican evening. An odd dinner it is; but Senor Noma makes a most courteous host, and the dishes are certainly rare and interesting—generally peppery beyond words to describe and most of them liberally seasoned with garlic. But the luscious fruits, the "vino blanco," and champagne cool our smarting palates and reconcile us to our gastronomic ventures. At the beginning of the meal, out of the meditative mood that has overtaken him, Baron de Bach rouses himself to enter into earnest conversation with the little Mexican boy who is helping to serve us. I notice the boy's snapping black eyes and fine oval face, and how he nods with an added gleam as he says "Si! si!" to every remark of the Baron's, and finally disappears. In a few minutes he returns and presents a large bunch of lovely orchids to Mrs. Steele. Then he exchanges a few words with the Baron and is off again like a shot.
"Yust to show you dthat flowers can grow here out of a hospital garden," explains the Baron, bowing across the table to my friend and adding under his breath:
"I haf send for odthers for you, Senorita."
Towards the end of this curious dinner the Mexican boy returns with a great round native basket piled high with roses and strange rare flowers I have never seen before—such wonderful fantastic conceits in bloom that I can only look and clasp my hands about the dainty store. Mrs. Steele recalls Hernando Cortes' wonder and delight at the flowery surprises of the new world three hundred years ago.
"Ah, yes," says Senor Noma, who has caught the remark, "you see we haf something worth your notice in this dark corner of America. If you stay here longer you will find we haf many things you would like."
Baron de Bach is strangely quiet all the evening, but the unfailing good temper of our host and the gaiety of the others keep us at the table till the pale crescent of the new moon looks in over the vine trellis to warn us of the waning hours.
"We must remember the Captain's caution to be back by eleven," says Captain Ball, consulting his watch.
"Yes, but it ees scarce nine o'clock," says Senor Noma. "Mrs. Steele, will you accept my escor'?" And our clever host, having won over the only possible objector, leads the way out into the dim, mysterious street.
"Vill you haf zome Eendian dthings, en souvenir?" asks the Baron, offering me his arm.
"Indian things!" I echoed, delighted. "I should like to see them immensely, wouldn't you, Mrs. Steele?" and I explain. The notion is received with enthusiasm, and Baron de Bach takes us to a little shop, where some sinister-looking men and women show us glazed clay mugs rudely decorated and often adorned with some Spanish name in scrawling script. There are carafes with cups to match, pipes, whistles, and animals in clay and little dishes of every description. The Baron buys a great tray full of these things, and hires a barefooted "moso" to carry them down to the wharf. We go on to the garden-planted Plaza that had so attracted us by day. Now it is a blaze of light and resonant with the strains of a Mexican band. Dark-visaged idlers lounge on the long seats about the garden, and a constantly shifting throng moves up and down on every side.
Affecting to show me a white flower that thrust its dainty head through the garden's iron fence and filled the air with heavy, strange perfume, Baron de Bach separates me a few moments from my friends.
"At last," he says, with a deep breath, looking around and seeing that the others have passed on, "I haf you a moment alone. I haf been in torture dthese seven hours."
"Very polite speech," I answer, peering through the garden's iron palings, "seeing that you have been with me these seven sad hours."
"Ah, Senorita, it ees no use dthat I egsplain, you air zo fery heartless. I do not find myself possible to make you out. You haf pairhaps had too many tell you 'I loaf you'—you care not any more. I haf travel dthe vorld ofer, many beautiful and clevair vomans haf loaf me. I haf seen nefer a voman like you for not to care. Efery body loaf you, you loaf nobody, and vhen a man say 'You air charmante,' you say 'Vill ve feeshe to-day?' If a man say 'You haf eyes wie die Sternen im Himmel' you ask 'Hear you dthose bells of San Blas?' and vhen a man say 'I loaf you to deestraction' you tell him 'I do so like dthose qveer Megsican Eendians.'" The Baron strikes the pavement violently with his stick. "Vill you marry von qveer Megsican Eendian, Senorita?" I laugh at the funny conclusion and the Peruvian's excited face.
"Monsieur," I say, "I'm told that nearly every man says 'I love you' to an average of eighteen women in a lifetime; he perhaps really cares at various times for three, and the rest do well to let the mistake pass unchallenged and soon forgotten. I am not especially strong-minded myself, and I don't object to your talking a little nonsense, for I find you very entertaining; but I won't deceive you so far as to let you think I believe you."
A low volley of French so quick and excited that I cannot follow it is the Peruvian's reply. I am a little bit uneasy at the look in his face; the glow of ruddy health runs out like a fast-ebbing tide, and although I have not understood his French, with the intuition of my sex I comprehend his face, and I look around for the rest of the party. He catches the glance and seems to struggle for self-control.
"Senorita, take my arm; ve shall valk. I vill hope to teach Senorita zome day dthat Peruvians air no liars."
"Ah, Baron," I say deprecatingly, "I never meant that, you didn't understand me—I——"
"No," he interrupts—"I know dthat often I understand you not and zometimes it ees my so bad Eenglish dthat ees to blame. If I could tell you all in Spanish you must believe," and before all the people in the Plaza he lifts the hand that lies on his arm and kisses it.
I flash a horrified look around, but no one seems to have noticed.
"Like you dthe Spanish tongue?" he asks quite unconcerned.
"Yes, very much," I say, glad to get him on some impersonal subject, "it is the most musical in the world, I believe."
"You vould soon learn it," he says, "you understand many words now, I know by your face. Can you say my name, I vondair; try! Federico Guillermo."
"Federico Guillermo," I repeat imperfectly—"what a beautiful name!"
"Dthen Blanca vill call me 'Guillermo.' I like not 'de Baron de Bach' from her lips. Besides ve use not titles in Peru."
Mrs. Steele and Senor Noma call us from the corner of the Plaza as we approach.
"We've been round four times hunting for you; where in the world have you been?" says Mrs. Steele, looking disapproving and a little out of breath.
"Walking about here looking for you! I couldn't imagine where you were," I say.
The others come up and we turn our faces towards the harbour. The dusky oarsmen are waiting for us, and we are soon skimming over the dark water—I with my hoard of flowers in my lap and my eyes fixed on the great dim hulk of the San Miguel anchored out in the bay.
I AM LECTURED
"Blanche," says Mrs. Steele the next morning as she brushes out the lovely waves of prematurely grey hair, "what are you going to do about t h e Baron?"
"Do?" I repeat innocently. "What's the matter with him?"
"Now, Blanche, you said if I would promise not to interfere you would be frank. I'm not sure I am wise to adhere to my side of the bargain under any circumstances. I never thought you the kind of a girl to go on letting a man fall more and more in love knowing all the while you would never be able to give him more than a passing interest."
"How do you know that? Perhaps I'm disguising all sorts of fierce and fiery feelings under my cool exterior?"
"No, my dear, you can't impose on an old friend so far as that. You are a queer girl and not always easy to understand, but you care less for the Baron de Bach than I do, and you know it. Now, what makes you act so?" and she arraigns me with uplifted brush.
"Dear Mrs. Steele, I'm a student of human nature in a small way. If I know anything about our Peruvian friend he will fall out of 'love,' as you are pleased to call his chronic state of sentiment, as readily as he fell in, and no bones broke, either. He would have forgotten all about me before this and gone over to pretty Miss Rogers and the study of photography except that I've been a bit obdurate—unusually so, he is naive enough to assure me, and his vanity is piqued."
Mrs. Steele lays down her brush and begins to coil up the long, soft hair.
"My dear, you are very old for your years. When I was twenty I would have made a hero out of that man instead of calmly picking out his foibles—girls are not what they used to be."
I retire to my stateroom after breakfast to read. The Baron retaliates by becoming aware of pretty Miss Rogers' existence. Pretty Miss Rogers' mamma is conspicuously polite to him, and pretty Miss Rogers' self offers to play the piano to his violin. It is Mrs. Steele who brings me these tidings and assures me that Miss Rogers plays well, and, as for the Baron de Bach, he is a master! I resolutely read my book till luncheon time and, going up on deck afterwards, I am surprised that the ever-watchful Baron has not hurried to meet me. He seems utterly indifferent to the fact of my presence and leans beside Miss Rogers at the ship's rail talking contentedly.
"H'm!" I muse, "music hath charms! At all events he must not be allowed to suppose that I notice, much less care for, his defection," and I turn to talk animatedly with Captain Ball about Mazatlan. His wife comes up with an aggressive-looking Californian who has asked several persons to present him, but I've successfully evaded his acquaintance till now.
"It's not often we have the pleasure of a word with you," says Mrs. Ball, after introducing her companion. "Baron de Bach is such a monopolist. Just see how he is engrossing Miss Rogers now. What a pretty girl she is, and how well she plays. Did you hear her and the Baron this morning?"
"No," I say calmly, "I was so unfortunate as to miss that. Baron de Bach has contracted a benevolent habit of reading French aloud to Mrs. Steele and me every morning, and one doesn't always yearn to listen to French with a dreadful German accent, so I excused myself and passed the forenoon in my room."
"You must be glad to hear the Baron has found some other congenial occupation." Mrs. Ball laughs, and exchanges a look with the Californian.
"It may have its advantages," I reply, determined not to be ruffled.
At that moment the Peruvian comes up to ask me if I will sit in a group to be photographed.
"Oh, please don't ask me," I say pleasantly; "I hate sitting for my picture."
"But I beg you. Madame Steele haf promise to help us. She ask me to zay she will spik vidth you."
With a show of indolence I accompany him to where Mrs. Steele's chair is stretched out under the awning, for the day is very sultry.
"I haf play vidth Mees Rogair," he whispers on the way, "and haf make her promise to get out her camarah—I vould haf your photographie."
Mrs. Steele groups the party, and we succeed in getting several unusually grotesque and dreadful pictures. If anything could cure one person's sentimental regard for another, it would be the sight of just such amateur caricatures as were turned out that afternoon. Mrs. Steele looks a little like her handsome self in the proofs shown us next day. Miss Rogers develops an unflattering likeness to a dutch doll—I am as black as a Congo negro and wear the scowl of a brigand, while Baron de Bach, after carefully brushing his hair and twirling his moustache to the proper curve, comes out with a white blot instead of a face; a suggestion of one eye peers shyly forth from the moon-like mask, and the Peruvian is greatly disgusted. I shall ever regard an amateur's camera as a great moral engine for the extirpation of personal vanity.
On the evening of the eighth day we steam into the far-famed Bay of Acapulco.
It is sunset, and from the Captain's bridge we watch the headlands taking bolder shape against the brilliant sky, the lighthouse flushing pink in the reflection. We see the long, low red-roofed Lazaretto set peacefully among the hills, and away to the right the straggling town of Acapulco, fringed with cocoa palms and guarded on the other side by an old and primitive fort.
A wonderful land-locked harbour is Acapulco, and the bold hills circling it seemed that night to shut it out from all the rest of the world.
"That town is more like old Spain than Spain herself," I hear a gentleman from Madrid say to Mrs. Steele. "It has remained since Cortes' day, with no other land communication than an occasional mule train affords; and the manners and customs and speech of Cortes' followers are preserved there to-day."
"Can't we go ashore?" I ask the Captain, pleadingly.
"Well, you can't stay long," is the gruff answer. "We must get away early to-morrow morning."
But Baron de Bach, overhearing, says:
"I tell Madame Steele ve can haf supper in dthe town. Vill you come, Senorita?"
"Thanks, with pleasure, if Mrs. Steele agrees," and my spirits rise high at the prospect.
The great red sun rests one splendid moment on the wooded heights and dyes the waters of Acapulco's bay in dusky carmine, and it throws into bolder silhouette the black hull of the disabled man-of-war Alaska, anchored after many storms in this fair and quiet haven. The health commissioners are long in coming, and it is late before Mrs. Steele, the Baron and I are pushed off from the San Miguel and headed towards the town. It is dark when we reach the wharf, and Baron de Bach gives us each an arm, saying:
"It ees not safe dthat you leaf me; stay close beside."
"Yes," observes Mrs. Steele encouragingly, "I've heard that these wretches think nothing of murdering a stranger for a ring or a few reales."
"Dthere ees no fear; I haf mine pistol."
But nevertheless I have a delightfully creepy sensation as we pass the occasional groups of evil-looking natives, and I keep close beside the muscular Peruvian, with a new sense of comfort in his presence. At the little hotel not far from the wharf the Baron orders supper, and then takes us into the market.
This interesting place is lit with smoky old lamps and flaring torches, and the fitful light shows weird pictures to our unaccustomed eyes. Each booth is in charge of one or more women, and here and there is a man resplendent in overshadowing sombrero, with heavy silver braid wound about the crown. The women have the scantiest of clothing, arms and neck bare, dark eyes glittering, and dusky unkempt hair. The atmosphere is stifling, but we must endure it long enough to get some of the wares. The women chatter volubly, and even leave their booths to come and take us by the dress and urge us to some dingy stall. Vegetables and fruit are piled about in profusion, but we make our way to the pottery tables. I am afraid to admire the curious designs and archaic workmanship, for everything I notice approvingly the Peruvian straightway buys, and we soon have a basket full.
"Ah! Figurines you must haf!" he exclaims as we approach a booth populous with little clay figures, tiny men and women in native dress, engaged in native avocations. These evidence no small cleverness in the modeller, and the Baron insists on taking a dozen. Far on the other side of the market some Indian women crouch in a semi-circle over an open air fire.
"What are they doing?" asks Mrs. Steele.
"Dthey make tortillas," says the Baron.
"Oh, yes, I've heard about these meal cakes," says my friend, stopping to look at the queer group. One old woman jumps up and offers her something smoking in a pan. Mrs. Steele, bent upon discovery, bravely tears off a bit and tastes it, throwing the woman a coin.
"Give me some," I say.
"No," interposes the Baron, with a fatherly decision; "you vill haf supper soon, and I haf order tortillas. Mine vill be better. Vait leedle."
Really, the Baron has quite taken me in hand, I think, half amused. But he is a very necessary quantity in this pilgrimage ashore, and I walk on obediently by his side, meditating how queer that one who appeared so masterful and imperious at times could be at others so weak and almost childish. It shed a new light on his character to see him ashore. Here he knows the people and their tongue, all our wants must pass through his interpretation, and he is master of the situation. He seems, moreover, to fall naturally and simply into the new office, and treats me quite as if I were a child. I want to stop and get some plantains as we pass a fruit stall.
"No," says the Baron, "you must not eat dthem; dthey air—unreif."
"Ah, but really," I say, "I must taste a plaintain; suppose you had never seen one of that kind before."
"I vill not buy dthem; I vill not see you ill," he says.
"Very well, I'll buy one for myself." I drop his arm and run to the booth, and, laying my finger on the greenest plantain I can find, I say:
The old woman in charge gabbles away for dear life, and, not feeling that I am progressing very rapidly, I lay down a media and take up the plantain. The Baron comes to my rescue with a half-amused, half-vexed smile.
"She haf cheat you," and he levels a volley of Spanish at the old criminal. "See," he says, "she vill gif you all dthose limes if you gif back dthat plantain, you vill be glad of limes abord du San Miguel."
"Yes," I say. "I'll have the limes, too." And I put down another media. He looks at me curiously.
"Ask her to send them to the hotel," I say. He gives the old woman some rapid directions.
"Now ve vill haf supper," and we are soon sitting in a private room at the hotel discussing soup, fish, tortillas and frejoles (the Mexican black bean) and enchalades, which are only the coarse Indian meal cakes, "tortillas," rolled up like a French pancake, with cheese and cayenne pepper and a variety of disagreeable things inside, but considered quite a delicacy among Mexicans. It is long before I recover from my first mouthful, and the Baron stands over me with a fan and a glass of wine, while Mrs. Steele laughs until the tears come into her eyes.
"Water! water!" I gasp.
"No, vino blanco, Senorita," says the Baron, putting the glass to my lips. I drain the last drop.
"Now some water, please."
"Yes, leedle more vino blanco," says the Peruvian, pouring out another glass.
"Don't you understand?" I say hotly. "I want water—Wasser! De l'eau—Aqua!"
The waiter starts at the last word and takes up a clay carafe.
The Baron shakes his head and gives some brief command in Spanish. The servant looks sulky and puts down the bottle.
"What do you mean?" I say, with still smarting tongue. "Is it Spanish etiquette to ask a lady to supper and then refuse her a glass of water?"
"Madame," says the Peruvian quietly to Mrs. Steele, "no von here drink vater; it makes always fery seeck," and he signs to the servant to serve the next course.
"I despise vino blanco," I say; "I'd as soon drink weak vinegar." Nevertheless I sip my second glass, as there is no prospect of anything else.
A "moso" comes in with a big basket containing our purchases. I beckon him to bring it to me, and look among the limes for my precious plantain.
"Senorita," says the Peruvian, breaking off a conversation with Mrs. Steele upon native dishes, "I haf here pineapple sairve vidth ice and sugar and vine; it is dthe most delicieux of all fruit. Allow me to raicommend you." And the waiter puts the tempting plate before me.
"Thank you," I say, "but I am looking for my plantain. Will you have the boy find it, there are so many things in this basket?" A few words between the "moso" and the Baron, the latter smiles a little.
"Tres curieux, dthat old voman forget to put in dthat plantain!"
Mrs. Steele's amusement is most offensive.
"My dear, you are in the power of the interpreter; you will find our friend less manageable on shore than on board the San Miguel."
The Baron looks innocence itself and creates a diversion by throwing pieces of roll out over the lattice to the street children, whose black eyes and black fingers appear through the slats. Each piece is received with squeals, a grand rush and protracted squabbling, and finally the more audacious appear at the door. They peep in, throw us a flower and then scuttle away. One tiny beggar brings a small bouquet and puts it in my lap. The Baron gives her a media and says something about "vamos." She flies off, but only to tell the rest of the success of her mission, and the whole horde troop in and pile the corner of the table with more or less faded roses and appeal vociferously for "Media! media!" The Baron, seeing that we are amused, tosses a coin over their heads. It goes over the lattice and into the street, and the black little troop tear out and fight and scuffle under the window. They come in again and again, but finally, Peruvian patience and Mexican medias being alike exhausted, the Baron rises in his seat looking remarkably ferocious, and addresses them in stirring Spanish. The whole crowd take to their heels, tumbling one over another in excited haste.
"What in the world have you said?" asked Mrs. Steele, greatly amused.
"Oh, nodthing much," says the Baron in his usual low and gentle tone; "I only zay if dthey effer come again I vill cut dthem up vidth a big knife and haf dthem boil for breakfast."
"You barbarian!" laughs Mrs. Steele, rising. And then she looks about. "We might have a glimpse of the church before we go if there's time."
"Sairtainly!" agrees the Baron, and we find our way through the now quieter and dimmer thoroughfare to the Catholic Cathedral behind the Plaza. The occasional candle gives out too dim a light for us to form much of an idea of the interior, but it is cool and damp and mysterious. Mrs. Steele, who is a thorough and highly intelligent sightseer, explores the dim corners and finally goes back for a last look at some detail she found specially interesting. I wait for her in the dusk down by the door; the Baron has disappeared for the moment. "I wish Mrs. Steele wouldn't be so particular about taking notes," I say to myself. "I'm tired, and it's very uncanny and grave-like here." A little sound beside me, and I turn with a start. In the dim light I see a chimpanzee-like face looking up to mine. It is horribly seared and wrinkled, one tooth sticks out from the wide, shrivelled lips, and the beady animal-like eyes glare through grey elf locks. I am speechless with fright, till the dreadful apparition stretches out a skinny arm and with some strange words lays a claw-like hand on my bare wrist. I shrink back, uttering a little muffled cry of horror.
The big Peruvian comes hurriedly towards me from the other side of the church.
"Vas dthat you, Senorita?" he says.
Faint with fatigue and fright, I put out a shaking hand to steady myself self against the damp pillar.
"Senorita, you air so white!" he says hurriedly, and coming near he draws me away from the clammy wall.
"You haf been frighten?" he asks softly, his face close to mine.
"Yes," I find breath to say; "a witch or a monkey is in the church, and it touched me in the dark."
A shiver runs over me again at the remembrance, but I try to draw away from the strong, close grasp.
"You vill faint, Senorita—I cannot let you go; dthere ees no seat here." He takes off my hat and fans me. "Zome boy try to frighten you," he says consolingly.
Mrs. Steele calls from the other side: "Where are you, Blanche?"
The Baron answers for me, holds me closer for an instant, and I think he touches my hair lightly with his lips.
"Forgif me, Senorita. I vill find dthat boy vhat frighten you zo; I vill gif him von hundred pesos for my sake, and I vill kill him afterwards for yours."
I put on my hat a little unsteadily, still thinking more of that awful brutish face than of the Baron. Mrs. Steele comes up with note-book open in her hand.
"I've just seen the most dreadful little old crone," she says cheerily; "she's like some grotesque dream—why, what's the matter——?"
She breaks off, looking at me as we stand under the lamplight just outside the door.
"It must be the same thing I saw," I say to the Baron; "what a goose I am—but it looked like nothing human in the half light. I was so scared," I confess, a little nervously.
"You look like a ghost, child; it was only a withered old beggar." And Mrs. Steele puts her arm about me, and we go to inspect an ancient well where the native women are filling clay jars and chatting merrily as they file in and out of the gateway of the enclosure with their picturesque burdens gracefully poised on head or shoulder.
"Let us go to dthe Plaza; Madame and Senorita can sit down for a leedle."
It is only a step, and we are soon resting on one of the semi-circular stone seats, listening to some primitive music and watching the enjoyment of the people. Mrs. Steele draws my head down on her shoulder and I shut my eyes. The Baron puts a coat over me and hums a low accompaniment to the fantastic air. Suddenly I become aware of someone touching me from behind the stone seat. I start up and turn quickly, to find my apparition of the church chattering at my back. Her restless eyes and the one white fang shine out from the shrivelled monkey-face, and the skeleton arms with wrinkled, black skin drawn loosely over the bones hold out long strings of shells. The strong light shows her even uglier than I had thought, but it robs her of her ghostliness, and I interrupt the Baron's probably impolite remarks by saying:
"Don't drive her away. I'll buy some of her shells in remembrance of the worst shock I've received in Mexico."
Soon I am decorated with chains of sea-treasures wound about waist and neck and arms, and the old crone stands by gibbering and nodding approval.
The Baron laughs at her last shot as she moves away with my media in her hand and some unusually rich guerdon from him.
"What is she chattering about?" asks Mrs. Steele.
"She zay she know dthe Senorita vidth dthe pretty eyes would like dthe shaills, and dthat vas vhy she follow her in dthe church, but Senorita ees easy frighten. Senor must take gude care off her and nefer leaf her."
Mrs. Steele smiles indulgently and draws out her watch.
"It's time we were going," she says. "The San Miguel's lights will be all out, I'm afraid."
The Baron's "cargodor" meets us at the wharf laden with our bizarre purchases, and, after bestowing us and them in the boat, he dips his oars and we glide out into the bay. The far-off steamer is wrapped in darkness, the lamps are all extinguished in the staterooms, for it is long past eleven, but the waves flash every attack of the oar, and the Southern Cross shines aslant the sky.
I DRINK COCOANUT MILK AND GO FISHING FOR PEARLS
I fancy I have just fallen asleep when I am roused by hearing someone speaking at the port hole. I open my eyes to find it is the peep o' day, and out of the dull, grey dawn a Mexican's face looks in at my window.
"What do you want?" I demand, and in the same breath, "Go away! Mrs. Steele! Mrs. Steele!" To my amazement Mrs. Steele appears in the doorway all dressed.
"That's only the Baron's boatman, my dear, come to call you. I've had a raging headache, and the place was so hot I dressed and went up on deck, and there was the Baron de Bach pacing up and down—he couldn't sleep, either. He suggests we take a boat and go out to catch the early breeze and see the sun rise from the other side of the bay. Will you come?"
"Of course I will," I say sleepily, and not in the best of tempers. "There was no need to send that evil-looking brigand to wake me! My nerves are in a continual tremor in this blessed place. Do you know, Mrs. Steele," I say, fishing under the berth for a renegade stocking, "I've a sort of presentiment I shan't leave the shores of the Pacific without some kind of misfortune or hair-breadth escape."
"Nonsense!" says my practical friend, "you've eaten something that has disagreed with you. Hurry as fast as you can; the Captain says we weigh anchor at eight o'clock."
I finish a hasty toilet and follow Mrs. Steele on deck. The Baron is waiting—he looks pale and rather graver than usual.
"Good-morning, Senorita," he says, and we shake hands. "Haf you sleep?"
"Oh, yes," I say, accepting the coffee he has ordered. "I always sleep."
The first faint flush of the coming splendour spreads above the hills as we push off from the San Miguel. Deeper and deeper grow the purple and the saffron till long shafts of golden light shoot up from hilltop to high heaven, and the great red sun of the tropics peers an instant over the mountain wall that shuts in Acapulco.
"This is a sunrise I think we shall never forget," says Mrs. Steele with grave enjoyment.
The Baron and I say nothing.
The air blows cool and fresh, and we skirt the rugged beach, close to the high-piled rocks at the water's edge, till we come to a cocoa grove sheltering a few thatched cottages.
The Baron gives some direction to the boatman, and we are moored in shallow water. The Mexican jumps out of the boat and disappears in the grove. The water is so clear we have been able to see the bottom for a long time, and now the Baron shows me how to use a boathook in spearing the red starfish. We succeed in bringing up several, but they turn brown when out of the water and are said to sting. So we throw them back and turn to hear the Indian water-women singing and laughing as they follow the winding, rugged path half way up the heights. The red-brown feet and ankles must be as strong as they are shapely; the arms holding aloft the water jars are well moulded and taper finely to the wrist; splendid freedom is in every motion and a grace their fairer sisters have forgotten. I see the admiration in Baron de Bach's face.
"You like that type?" I ask.
"It ees part of dthe landscape," he answers; "ve like it in dthe picture. Ve put more deeferent vomans in our hearts and homes."
"H'm!" coughs Mrs. Steele. "My dear, the boatman is coming back with a huge bunch of cocoanuts."
"Yes," the Baron says, "I dthought you vould like to taste dthe milk."
The Mexican rolls up his white trousers and wades back to the boat. He pulls his naked knife out of his sash and begins to cut away the thick green rind of the nut. That done, the Baron takes it from him and shows us the three eyes at one end where the fibre is soft. When the sharp point of the knife is inserted the liquid within spurts up into the Baron's face.
"Oh!" he says, with a comical look of dismay, "ve haf no cup; ve must drink like dthe natives," and he saws away an opening and hands the cocoanut to Mrs. Steele. She puts her lips to the shell and tastes a drop with dainty distrust.
"Oh, Madame, it ees fery gude—you vill like it if you drink more!" But Mrs. Steele passes it on to me. The first sip is so cool and refreshing I greedily tip the shell to take a long draught, and the liquid runs down both sides of my mouth into my lap. The Baron insists there is an art in cocoanut tippling.
"You must hold dthe mout' zo—" and he illustrates, "and dthe cocoa zo." He puts it cautiously to his lips. "Now!" he says, after taking a sip, "you try!"
With childish good faith I take the clumsy nut, but as I lift it to drink I notice a covert gleam of satisfaction in the Peruvian's eyes, and I realise in a flash that the cocoa shell is becoming a sort of a loving-cup—for there was but one little place cut for drinking where first I essayed the draught and then the Baron.
"My dear," remarks my quiet but observant chaperon, "I have never been able before to account for the milk in the cocoanut. I know all about it now!"
I throw the shell into the water with an impatient gesture.
"I know all I wish to. It's a great bother and very little gained."
The Baron looks disagreeably amused, and I feel hot.
"Capitan," he says to me, "vill you take dthe tiller again?"
I pick up the tiller ropes and steer out towards some small schooners grouped to the left of the town near the entrance of the harbour.
"I do believe those are pearl fishers," says Mrs. Steele, who has been looking through her glass. The Baron starts up and questions the Mexican.
"Si! Si!" he answers, and with long, even strokes he brings us within speaking distance of the nearest vessel. Baron de Bach stands up and shouts out a series of inquiries in Spanish. I look over the side of the boat, and at a vision in the water I start from my seat with a shriek of delight and almost capsize the poor Peruvian. He clutches wildly at the air and finally keels over backwards on the astonished Mexican.
When they recover they find Mrs. Steele and me leaning over the side of the boat following the uncertain motions of a bloated crab-like monster crawling along the bottom of the deep.
"Why, that's the diver," explains Mrs. Steele. "You see that rubber tube—one end is attached to the machine on the schooner, the other to his helmet; he breathes through that. They are pumping air through it every moment."
"Yes," says the Baron, having regained his equilibrium. "You cannot zee, but he haf a basket tie vidth a cord to hees belt; he fill it vidth shaills, and vhen he make a pull dthey draw it up and empty it. Zee, now!"
He points to the steamer where, hand over hand, they haul in a cable. At the end is the square wicker basket filled with great pearl shell oysters. They turn them out and lower the receptacle for another load. The Baron throws some money to a man in the schooner, and soon three or four pearl oysters are tossed into our boat. The Mexican's knife is again called into requisition and the shells are forced open. Nothing in the first—nothing in the second—nothing in th——stop! the Baron has found a pearl!
"It ees von chance out of a dthousand!" he says, amazed. "I nefer found von before—but it ees so leedle!"
"Never mind!" I say with enthusiasm. "We've been pearl-fishing and we've found a pearl!"
Mrs. Steele is examining it minutely; the Baron leans over to me and says low, in German:
"It shall be set for you in diamonds, Fraeulein; it will remind you of spilt cocoanut milk and pearl-fishing in Acapulco's shining bay—it will mean to me a woman, Blanca, fine and fair, I found on the ocean. As I think of all it signifies to me, I believe I must ask you to let me keep my pearl," and he gazes into my eyes with such a world of meaning in his own, I look away and trail my hand in the water. "What say you, Fraeulein?" he persists. "I have travelled so far to find it, I have so nearly missed it, and here at last it lies in my possession."
"Are you so sure it is in your possession?" I say, looking across to Mrs. Steele, who is rolling the tiny treasure about in her palm.
"At least," he says, "it is within the reach of a strong arm, and if a jewel begged is not generously given, it can be snatched out of a capricious hand, if only for safer keeping——" and the Peruvian's deep eyes look into my half-averted face.
"My friend does not speak German," I say; "she will think you very rude." Then in English, "Please let me see the pearl again, Mrs. Steele."
"It is absolutely flawless," she says, holding it out to me. The Peruvian intercepts it. He draws out of an inner pocket a gold-mounted letter-case and a book of cigarette paper. Deliberately he wraps the pearl in one of the tissue leaves, and, looking steadily at me, pushes the new treasure far into a corner of the crested case. There is more significance than mirth in the laugh with which he says:
"I vill show all unbeliefers dthat I know how to value and to keep a pearl vhen I find von."
Mrs. Steele succumbs to one of her old headaches on our return to the steamer, and I pass the greater part of the day in seclusion with her. After luncheon, as I linger to superintend the arrangements of the invalid's tea-tray, the Baron joins me.
"I am vairy sorry about Madame Steele's headache. Tell me, please, vhat can I do?"
"Nothing, thank you," I say; "there is no remedy. She is accustomed to these attacks."
"If nodthing does gude dthen vhy stay you efer in dthat room; you vill be ill, too."
"Oh, no," I say, "no fear of that."
"But," he insists, "if you do nodthing only sit in dthat room, let me stay vidth her and you come out in dthe air. Madame Steele ees not like you; she like me vairy vell."
"She likes me better, and I can't leave her."
"Haf you no care for your healdth? You air not fit to take care of yourself—dthat old voman in Acapulco vas right; you should nefer be leaf alone."
"Doesn't it ever occur to you that I might be so accustomed to managing my own affairs that interference from an outsider might seem strange?"
"Outsidah!" he repeats. "I know not dthat word. I know only dthat you American vomans haf yust one fault: you air—how you zay?—spoil vidth too great power; you raispect no von's judgment, you need zome strong man to rule."
"To rule!" I echo, scornfully; "that may do for Peruvians, but our women are neither slaves nor imbeciles."
"No," he retorts, "but zome zay your men air a leedle of bodth!"
"It is not to the credit of 'some'"—I set down the salt cellar hard on the tray—"that they fail to appreciate my countrymen. They have at least encouraged our learning to take such good care of ourselves that no Peruvian need trouble his head about us."
I beckon to the Chinese waiter.
"Take this tray up to 49," and I follow him with some show of disdain. Senor Noma meets me at the foot of the dining-room stairs.
"I haf sent for a jar of chili-peppers for Mrs. Steele. Will you say your friend I raicommend chili-peppers, and I advice you put a little cayenne in the bif-tea. It makes vairy seeck without."
"Thank you, Senor Noma," I say; "Wah-Ching will bring up the peppers and I will tell Mrs. Steele what you say." I glance back at the Peruvian. He is sitting by the table just as I left him, his chin in one hand, while with the other he strokes the wavy moustache and regards me with lowering looks. "He's a handsome creature," I think, as I go upstairs; "but he's been told it too often, and he has abominably mediaeval ideas about women."
All that hot afternoon I sit in the stuffy stateroom with Mrs. Steele. The wind has veered to the other side and not a breath stirs the curtains at our little window. About four o'clock the "Church of England" knocks at the door. She is profuse in proffers of assistance, and kindly tells me I am looking very badly. "You'd better go out for a little air," she says; "you'll find my daughter and Baron de Bach sitting in the breeze on the other side. He has teased Nellie to get out her guitar; we've had quite a concert. What a charming, bright companion he is!" she says, appealing to me.
"Very, very!" I assent, with a slight yawn.
"Do go out, Blanche, I don't need you here." Mrs. Steele looks a little self-reproached.
"No, dear, I know you don't care about my staying," I answer, "but I'm a little tired of the deck."
The "Church of England" drones on about Nellie, who is "such a child, only seventeen; so unsophisticated and so unworldly."
"Just imagine, she quite snubs that handsome Peruvian nobleman, and he is really delightful, you know."
We draw a simultaneous sigh of relief when the "Church of England" leaves us to ourselves.
"Blanche," says Mrs. Steele, "you've been fighting again with the Baron. Those Rogers people would be only too glad to attach him to their party. I wouldn't let them do it if I were you. It would be too much of a feather in their cap to have distracted him from us after his very palpable devotion and our unusual friendliness."
"No, dear, I won't let our interpreter be wiled away from us. Leave him to me. He's very exasperating at times, but I'll bear with him in future; there's no denying it would be comparatively stupid without him."
Mrs. Steele raises the bandage from her eyes and looks at me.
"It strikes me you are about to experience a change of heart. If it were almost any other girl, I'd say beware!"
I laugh with confident unconcern.
"Oh, I don't deny I find him more interesting than I did at first. He enrages me with his imperious self-confidence, and then charms me with his curious, romantic ways. I look upon the Baron de Bach as a kind of blessed invention for my entertainment on this trip, and that I've grown to like him better than I expected makes the amusement keener, of course. I'm tired to death of the commonplace, mild and circumspect adorer. Baron de Bach is a continual surprise and an occasional alarm! Nothing reprehensible!" I say, in answer to the quick lifting of the bandage a second time. "Only he is so unlike all the other men I have known I can't judge him by any previous standard. I have the same interest in him Uncle John had in the new variety of anthropoid ape in the Zoo at home. I study his possibilities, I starve him, I feed him, I poke him, just to see what he'll do."
"You're a wicked girl," says Mrs. Steele, slowly, "and I'm afraid a righteous judgment will overtake you. Do you remember telling me how that same ape tore your Uncle John's hand one day?—and he was caged."
"Maybe the element of uncertainty accounts for some of the interest," I say, yawning. "I believe I'll have a nap before dinner." And soon all is quiet in stateroom 49.
On Saturday morning, the day following, Mrs. Steele, the Baron and I are sitting as usual under the deck awning. Baron de Bach is reading a French story aloud to Mrs. Steele, and I, lying back in my steamer chair, regard the reader with half-shut but attentive eyes.
"He's only a boy," I ruminate, "a romantic, absurd, but very nice boy. There's no reason why I shouldn't like him very much; and if he must be in love with someone, I'm a very safe person for him to select as the victim." I smile as the last word comes across my mind, for I am honest enough to doubt if I really mind it so much. The Baron turns a page and sees the look.
"Vhy you laugh, Senorita?"
"Thinking about something funny."
"I'd think you laugh at me."
"Don't you suppose I may once in a while think of someone else besides you?" The Baron looks puzzled and a little bit offended.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Steele," says the "Church of England," bustling up to my friend with Mrs. Ball behind her. "How tired you look! Haven't you had enough of that French? Baron de Bach has promised to come and practise over the chants and hymns for to-morrow; can you spare him? As for you," she says, turning to me, "we shall earn your eternal gratitude if we carry off the Baron. You know her pet aversion is having French read out loud"—she nods in a commiserating way to the Peruvian.
"Certainly, don't let us keep you"—Mrs. Steele with her pleasant tact ignores the reference to me—"we will finish that charming chapter another time."
"Vhat means petta-vairsion?" says the Baron, looking undecided and not exactly delighted.
"Oh, it means favourite pastime," says Mrs. Steele.
"Oh! oh!" giggles Mrs. Ball. "Miss Blanche said the reading made her tired."
The Baron shuts up the book with a snap.
"Madame Rogair, I am at your sairvice!"
Without looking at me he raises his cap to Mrs. Steele and follows the "Church of England."
"Did you say the reading tired you?" asks Mrs. Steele.
"I believe I did, or something of the kind."
"Pity! Those people will make all they can out of it. The Baron told me at breakfast that Mrs. Rogers had asked him to join their party at the next port."
"But he won't"—I open my journal to write up the previous day.
The morning was rather dull, to tell the truth, and the sounds of revelry that floated up from the scene of the practising below were not too "sacred" to be irritatingly attractive. But even after luncheon the Baron remains with the "Church of England."
"Gone over to the enemy. I told you so," Mrs. Steele observes, as we sit alone in our corner of the deck, while over on the opposite side Baron de Bach stands laughing and chatting with pretty Miss Rogers.
"Mrs. Steele," I whisper, "I believe he only does it for our edification and because I said the reading tired me. Let us go to our stateroom; the wind is on our side to-day." We read and sleep in seclusion until evening.
THE BARON IS CRAZED WITH MADNESS
At dinner, refreshed with my long rest, I feel unusually light-hearted and gay. I laugh and chat with Senor Noma and the rough old Captain, till Mrs. Steele leans over and gives me a look of surprise. Not once do the eyes of the Peruvian turn in my direction, and he leaves the table before dessert. He is not visible on deck when we go up later and, after talking a while to the others, I start off on a tour of discovery.
Down at the further end of the steamer, to windward of the smokestack, stands the Baron in a depressed attitude smoking a pipe and looking out to sea.
"Oh, you're here!" I call out in friendly fashion. "I've been looking for you. I'm sorry if I was rude about the reading"—I look as meek and penitent as I know how.
The Baron takes out his pipe and walks to the vessel's side, where he knocks out the ashes.
"Well!" I insist, "I've said I'm sorry, and in English the proper reply to that is 'I forgive you.'"
A curious, lingering look out of those dark eyes of his.
"I forgif you," he says, as a child repeats a lesson.
"And we must be friends again, nicht wahr?" I hold out my hand.
"No, Senorita." He takes the hand, but shakes his head.
"No!" I echo; "why not?"
"Because I haf nefer been your friend. I haf always loaf you, I haf forget vhat it vas like not to loaf you. It ees true you vere scarce polite about dthe reading. I did not know I bore you. I feel it fery deep. It might not matter to zome Nordthern zhentlemen, but I am dthe most sensible man you ever know."
"Sensible!" I say, in a tone scarcely flattering, trying to keep my lips from twitching.
"Yes, I am terrible sensible; a fery leedle dthing vill hurt me."
"Well, well, I'll be your friend, anyhow, and I'll try to be very considerate. I'll show you what a good friend a North American can be."
"My gude friend haf make my head zo ache I dthink it vill burst."
He pushes back his cap, and carries my hand to his forehead; it is very hot and the temples throb under my fingers.
"Poor fellow!" I say, hoping with might and main that no one sees. "Shall I send you some eau de Cologne?"
"No! no! If you vould gif me your hand again."
"No," I say, "not here. Anyone who saw us would misunderstand. Come to Mrs. Steele; she'll give you something."
"No!" says the Peruvian. "I vill stay here; you stay, too. Ah, Senorita, how can you be so indifferent to my loaf?"
"I can't stay here if you talk nonsense."
"Mein Gott! Vhat more sense can a man haf dthan to loaf you?"
"Oh, see the porpoises!" I say abruptly. The great clumsy fish are floundering about us in schools.
"Vhat heafen eyes you haf, Senorita!"
"I do believe that's 'San Jose Joe.'" I run to the rail. "You know! the huge old shark all covered with barnacles the seamen tell about."
"You vill nefer listen," says the Peruvian, plunging his hands far down in his yachtsman's jacket. "I dthink, Senorita, ven you die, and St. Peter meet you at dthe gate and say, 'You haf lif gude life, come into Heaven'—you vill fery like look over your shoulder and say, 'Oh, Peter! vhere go all dthose nice leedle devils?'"
The Peruvian's last shot certainly diverts me from all finny creatures, and we sit down on a pile of lumber, and the Baron shows me his rings and seals—tells me where each came from and the story attached. He finally pulls out of his pocket a rosary. "I haf carry dthis efer since I was in Egypt."
This simple little string of olive stones and carved ebony beads quite captivates my fancy, and the penalty for the expression of my liking is that I must try it on. He winds it about my wrist and, having forced open one of the silver links, he bends down and with those sharp, white teeth bites the open link close again—the blond moustache sweeps my wrist and the rosary is securely fastened.
"Now," I say, "see what you've done! How will you get it off?"
"It comes not off till you are zomething less dthan my friend or zomething more."
"Oh, but I can't take your rosary; that's absurd!"
"You cannot take a few leedle pieces of vood from your friend? Vhy, dthose leedle voods are only dthe—dthe—dthe—how you say?—bones off dthe olive."
I laugh till I ache. "Bones of the olive!" I almost roll off the lumber in a spasm of merriment. Mrs. Steele, who wonders at my long absence, comes with Senor Noma to find me, and soon there are three laughing at the poor Baron's expense.
"Hush, Blanche, it's really too bad—you must pardon her, Baron," says Mrs. Steele.
"I mind it not more," says the Peruvian, with new philosophy. "Senorita vould laugh in dthe face of St. Peter."
When the gong sounds for service on the morning of the second Sunday out, the Baron grumbles feelingly at the interruption. He is sketching Mrs. Steele and me and says he "hates playing on a zo bad violin"—but a promise is a promise, and we all go down "to church" in the close dining-room. The Captain reads the beautiful Morning Prayers and Litanies like a schoolboy, but the music is really admirable. Pretty Miss Rogers appears to striking advantage. Dressed simply in white, she plays the accompaniments and leads the singing in a sweet, true voice. Mrs. Steele and I sit in the background, and I'm afraid I think but little of the service. Now what perversity is in the mind of man, I meditate, that blinds him to such real beauty and accomplishment as Miss Rogers is blessed with? Of course, I'm not such a fool as not to see that with all my sadly palpable defects of face and temper, the big Peruvian finds me somehow interesting and "Miss Rogair a nice girl, but, like a dthousand odthers I haf know, a leedle stupeed." Ah, the "stupidity" is on the other side, I'm afraid! Miss Rogers is too inexperienced, my thoughts run on, to disguise her liking for the Baron, and instead of being pleased or flattered as he should be, he will leave her at a look from me, only to get laughed at for his pains. A strange world! I say to myself. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be!" sings the choir, and Miss Rogers' clear voice lingers in the "Amen."
As I walk the deck with the Baron that evening he tells me about his lovely sister, "Alvida," and about Peruvian customs.
"My sister ees dthe most beautiful voman in Peru; she haf many suitors, but she ees nefer allow to see dthem except when dthe family air vidth her. It ees not like your country; a man can nefer know dthe voman he loaf till he marry her."
"Very stupid custom," I say. "I wouldn't give a fig for such love. You could only care for the face or the fortune of a woman so hemmed about. What could you know of the character, of the real individual, that after all is the only safe thing to pin one's faith to."
"I like your customs better in zome dthings, but it makes you vomans too clevair; you know men better dthan ve know you."
"You have the same opportunities. It's not our fault if you don't profit by them."
"You tell me yourself," he goes on, unheeding, "you haf many gude friends among your fadther's and brodthers' acquaintances; dthat make you care so leedle for men."
"Not a bit of it!" I laugh. "On the contrary, it has so accustomed me to their friendship I would find life utterly unendurable without it."
"I vill make you fery angry pairhaps, but I have deescovair you like me leedle more dthan a friend."
"I suppose it is often flattering to a man's vanity to have a fancy like that," I say coolly, but I am conscious of a twinge; what if I do like him more than I want to think?
"It ees not fancy, Senorita; you do not know yourself you care, but you do."
"Nonsense; I know all about it. I'm not a sentimental person and I don't mind telling you in plain English I like you. I must like you rather more than usual, or I wouldn't see so much of you." By this time we are away from the rest of the passengers, down by the smokestack. "I feel as if I'd known you for years!" I end with a sense of having turned the tide of sentiment by a little frank speaking, and feel rather proud of myself.
"Senorita," he clasps his hand over mine and speaks hurriedly, "I know you loaf me; tell me so."
Oddly enough, I feel no indignation, but I open my lips for a denial.
"If you tell me not," he says excitedly, laying one hand on the rail and looking greatly wrought-up, tragic and comical all at once, "if you tell me not," he repeats, raising his voice, "I yump in dthe vater."
I tighten my hold on his arm, trying not to let him see how much I want to laugh.
"Of course, one loves one's friends; don't be silly."
A quick light leaps into the dark eyes. I am reproached and vaguely uneasy at the sight of his gladness.
"I'm going back to Mrs. Steele; she doesn't like me to leave her so long." I turn away and like a flash he is at my side. He draws my hand through his arm, holding it against his heart. I can feel the great leaps under the yachtman's gay jacket.
"Ah!" sighs the wearer, "I feel suffocate on dthis boat—it ees so small, people eferywhere and you and I so leedle alone. Ah, ve vill soon be at San Jose!"
"I don't see how that will mend matters." I am anxious to see what he has in mind.
"Madame Steele vant to go to Guatemala."
"Yes, but so do most of the other passengers."
"From San Jose to Guatemala ees seventy mile, and dthe Paris of Central America ees zomething more large dthan dthis San Miguel. Much can happen before ve come back."
We join Mrs. Steele and talk over our plan.
The next day we arrive at Champerico, but no one goes ashore; we stay so short a time.
The deck party breaks up early that night, everyone anxious to be ready for the six o'clock breakfast call next morning.
"To-morrow ve air at San Jose de Guatemala, and much can happen before ve see San Miguel again." The Baron takes my hand at the saloon door as I say good-night.
"That's the second time you've made that ominous remark, Baron de Bach. What do you mean?"
"Baron de Bach!" he echoes. "My name ees 'Guillermo,' Blanca."
Somehow it doesn't seem so familiar or significant as if he said "Blanche."
"What do you think will happen to us in Guatemala, Guillermo?"
"Blanca vill see;" he lifts the hand with the rosary falling about it to his lips and kisses the crucifix.
By half-past seven the next morning all who purpose going ashore are standing on the lower deck of the San Miguel, wondering how they are to get from the steamer to the clumsy "lighter" or freight boat that the great breakers are tossing about below, and which is reported to be our sole means of making the shore.
"The passengers are hauled up and down in a big barrel," says the Captain, who has come from the bridge to receive some official from the settlement. "You're not going ashore, Mrs. Steele!" He fixes a look of astonishment on my friend in her travelling dress.
"Of course I am."
"Why, there's nothing to see but huts and sand-piles."
"Ve go to Guatemala," says the Baron, giving our wraps to the Chinese porter.
"You do nothing of the kind." The brusque Captain is nothing if not unceremonious. "We'll have this Hamburg cargo loaded in a day, and you can't go and get back in time; and I won't wait—I won't wait a second for anyone mad enough to go to Guatemala! You'll have to give it up," he says to Mrs. Steele.
There is a chorus of disappointment from the assembled crowd, but Mrs. Steele, with evident reluctance, says:
"Of course, it would never do to be left behind; there's yellow fever in all these ports, I'm told."
"Place is full of it—stay on the ship like sensible people. There's nothing worth seeing in Guatemala. I hate to be bothered with passengers going off—" and the Captain walks to the railing to wave his hand with stiff pomposity to a Mexican who sits in the lighter.
"You air meestake, Captain," says the Baron de Bach; "all dthose vorkmen say it vill be two days loading dthis cafe."
The Captain, never very good-tempered at the best of times, is especially peppery to-day.
"Are you runnin' this ship, young man, or am I?" He seems to think he has made a forcible and irrefutable rejoinder and turns away like one who has settled something forever.
"I vill spik vidth you inside." The Baron sets down his small valise and follows the apparently unheeding Captain into the saloon. We stand undecided, looking down at the lighter shifting about in the breakers, and watching a stout Mexican get into a huge barrel that has one side cut down and a seat fitted in—a rope with huge iron hook attached is lowered from a pulley on the steamer, and the barrel full of San Jose official is lifted into the air. The barrel twirls about, the official puts his hand to his eyes, and in a moment he is landed like a mammoth fish on the deck of the San Miguel.
We hear the voices in the saloon rising with anger. Mrs. Steele looks apprehensive and makes a step towards the door. Out strides the Baron, looking hot and excited.
"Ladies, ve vill go. I promise you ve vill be back in time."
Already the crowd is lessened and some have given up going even to San Jose, and several have made the trip in the barrel and are safely landed in the lighter.
"I think we won't run any risk," says Mrs. Steele gently, "though we can go to San Jose, of course."
"Madame, I do assure you," and the Baron is most emphatic, "if you vill trust to go vidth me I see dthat you come safe back before San Miguel sails."
The second mate comes up with an amused look.
"You ladies jest go 'long; th' Cap'n's alwus like that; nobuddy minds. We can't get away under two days, and he knows it. We ain't 'lowed to leave under forty-eight hours on 'count o' passengers from the coast."
That settles it, and each in turn we go spinning down in the barrel and sit on piles of freight in the unsteady lighter. The Mexican oarsmen stand up and propel the boat through the surf with long oars. It is rougher than it looks, and I suffer my first touch of sea-sickness. We understand why we are anchored so far away, and why the huge iron pier running out from San Jose extends such a distance seawards. I am quite faint and miserable when we reach the landing. The Baron is still so consumed with rage at the Captain's "interference," he has no eyes, happily, for my pitiable condition. I look about disconsolately for the barrel elevator, for the pier is far above our heads, and the great waves are dashing us against its iron side. To Mrs. Steele's horror, we perceive a sort of iron cage is employed in the process of elevation at this end of the journey, and soon we three are swinging in mid-air between the angry waves and the iron pier.
"Oh!" I say, breathlessly, clutching at Mrs. Steele, "what would Uncle John say if he could see me now?"
"He would probably advise you to follow his example and make your observations from the outside of the cage."
I've observed that Mrs. Steele is sometimes lacking in sympathy at trying moments.
At last we are landed, and at the end of the long pier we find a narrow-gauge train—strange, primitive little cars and very dirty withal. We make ourselves as comfortable as possible—opening the windows and each one occupying a double seat, for the carriage is only half full.
"It's not more than seventy miles, I believe," says Mrs. Steele, "but it takes five hours to get there; it's an up-hill grade all the way."
"Five hours!" I repeat, dismayed. "Oh, why did no one tell me that before? I had scarcely a mouthful of breakfast."
"We haf another breakfast at Escuintla, mees, a gude one," says Senor Noma, passing through our coach to the smoking-car. I am consoled and full of interest at the prospect, as the dingy little train moves off. Mrs. Steele and I are facing each other, while the Baron sits behind me and points out the most noteworthy features of this notable expedition. We are in the tropics truly; the heat is overpowering, and the Baron leans over the back of my seat with my rough Mazatlan fan, and uses it with a generous devotion that tires him and does not cool me.
"Do fan yourself a little," I say. "You've been the colour of a lobster ever since your interview with the Captain."
The Peruvian's brows contract—he looks ferocious in the extreme—and I am a little sorry I mentioned the Captain.
"Dthat Capitan ees von fool! He know not how to treat a zhentleman. I tell him I make a proces to dthe company and get him reprimand for how he spik to me."
"Why, what did he say?" asks Mrs. Steele.
"He tell me I act like I vas Capitan, dthen he call me 'damn.' I tell him he vas a coachman!"
The Baron looks surprised and a bit resentful at our laughter.
"What made you call him a coachman?" Mrs. Steele is the first, as usual, to pull a straight face.
"Madame forget I know not all Eenglish vords. I could dthink of nodthing more vorse—I vas zo crazy vidth madness."
"See the banana plantations! Oh, those date-palms!" Mrs. Steele leans out of her window, full of delight at the curious panorama moving past.
"Mrs. Steele!" I bend over and take her hand. "I hope all this will never grow dim. I want to remember it all my life."
"You will, dear." She turns away absorbed, eager to lose nothing of this new phase of Nature.
"Haf no fear—you vill not forget—Blanca."
The low voice over my shoulder is an interruption; to enjoy the gift of sight is all-sufficient for a time. With happy disregard of the man at my back, I take in the changeful, fantastic vision.
The adobe houses standing in orange groves, the long stretches of jungle, wild tangles of rank growth, cactus, giant ferns, brake and netted vines; birds of gorgeous plumage and discordant note, alligators basking on the sunny bank of a sluggish stream, half-dressed natives at work in coffee fincas, sugar-cane and cotton fields; nude children standing in the doorways of palm-thatched huts, staring with still and stupid wonder at the train, and looking like inanimate clay models of a fairer, finer race to come. It is all like a curious dream from which we waken at Escuintla to take our eleven o'clock breakfast. This place has been partially destroyed by earthquake, and Mrs. Steele urges despatch with breakfast that we may see what is left. A very tolerable meal is served in the wide, open veranda of the station.
"What a nice little spoon!" Mrs. Steele remarks, as we sit down, noticing one of tortoise shell quaintly carved.
"You like it?" is all the Baron says, and coolly puts it in his pocket. Mrs. Steele is aghast. "I pay dthem," he says unconcernedly. "Haf leedle salade?"
I have finished first and go out to the platform. Groups of natives are gathered about, carrying on their heads round shallow baskets like trays displaying fruit, eggs and water for sale. These people seem very different from the Mexican Indians. They are blacker, their faces are more flat and stupid, and the women's dress is a straight piece of gay cotton cloth wound round the lower half of the body and secured at the waist with a scarf tied over. The only other encumbrance is a thin white cotton sacque, short and loose. The women immediately attack me with vociferous gibberish, offering me their wares. Mrs. Steele sends the Baron out to look after me, and when he has bought a basket full of pineapples, sappadillos, mangoes and grenadillas, he proposes a little walk up the road. We have twenty minutes yet, he says, and Mrs. Steele is stopping to buy some grass baskets and fans. We walk up the dusty little highway, and the burning sun beats down strong and hot in our unaccustomed faces.
"How can people endure it?" I marvel, wiping away great drops of moisture.
"See dthat big house all come down? Dthat ees eardthquake," explains my escort.
"How dreadful! Look at the thatch roofs of those queer little huts—it makes me think of peaked Robinson Crusoe hats. Just see how they're pulled far down over the sun-burnt wall as if to shade their eyes from the scorching sun."
"Robeen Crusa?" The Baron looks puzzled. "I know not dthat kind of hat. Ees it like vhat you tell me about vhen I first see you—dthat 'Robeen Hood'?"
I stand still in the quiet street and wake a far-off echo with my laughter. The Peruvian gets red in the face and begins to look offended.
"Please don't mind me; I think you've said something a little 'komisch'—but perhaps I've got a sunstroke and it acts like laughing gas. Don't be cross, Guillermo." I take his arm and notice covertly that he is mollified.
"Blanca," he says, with a half smile, "dthat adobe house vidth vines look cool—suppose I buy dthat and ve stay here leedle vhile."
I follow his eyes.
"That mansion would hardly hold our party; it doesn't look as if it boasted more than two rooms."
"Dthat vould be enough. Madame Steele vish much to see Guatemala; she go on and ve miss dthat train."
"Brilliant scheme!" I admit, "but——" A shrill blast cuts through the air. "Heavens and earth! that's the whistle!"
Like one possessed I tear down the road with never a glance behind—it seems miles to the station, and as I come near I see the train is moving. I make a rush for the rear platform. Voices behind scream reproof and warning, but I never look back; I grasp the iron railing and am whisked off my feet by the motion. With a desperate wrench I pull myself up the steps and steady my trembling body against the door of the baggage car. I look in. It's locked, and no one is there. "Stupid idiot!" I mutter. "That mooning Baron hasn't the smallest grain of sense—saying we had twenty minutes! Well, he's left anyhow—serves him right!" And then I cool down and reflect that going to Guatemala without the Baron may not be so amusing. I shake the door of the car, but no one hears, and I notice the train is slowing. "Mrs. Steele thinks I'm left and has made them come back—well, I'm not sorry, for now we'll get that stupid Baron again. Yes, just as I thought——" as we begin to move back to Escuintla—"there's the vine-covered hut that idiotic person proposed buying—here's the station and ... who's that?" Before my astonished eyes stand Mrs. Steele and the Baron de Bach, looking anxiously for the advancing train. As it stops they run forward.
"My dear, don't you ever do such a foolhardy thing again," begins Mrs. Steele, severely.
"If I had known vhat you vould do, I vould haf hold you till——"
"The train doesn't go for ten minutes," Mrs. Steele interrupts; "it was only shifting to another track. You might have known the Baron would watch the time."
Mrs. Steele looks weak with apprehension—it is only when she has been alarmed that I realise how delicate she is.
"I'm so sorry you were frightened," I say, feeling too utterly reduced to rebuff the Baron for lifting me down from the platform as he would have taken a child.
"Come," says Mrs. Steele, "we will get our old places."
An Indian woman comes to the window after we are seated and offers a paraquito for sale. The Baron buys it and shows me how to hold it on my fan and let it take a piece of sappadilla from my teeth. This performance somewhat restores my spirits, and the incident of catching the wrong train at the risk of life and limb fades before the crowding interests of an eventful day. It seems hotter and closer in the cramped little car. Mrs. Steele grows faint.
"Come in dthe air." The Baron and I support her to the door. She recovers a little and the Peruvian returns for his valise. He brings out a silver travelling flask and sprinkles a white silk handkerchief with delicious eau de Cologne and gives it to Mrs. Steele. I can see it refreshes her, and I throw the Peruvian a grateful glance for his thoughtfulness. From the platform we have a far finer view of the country. The rugged wilderness of the Cordilleras hems us in on every side.