A TALE OF THE ALAMO
AUGUSTA J. EVANS
Author of "Beulah," "St. Elmo," "Infelice," "Macaria," Etc.
THE FEDERAL BOOK COMPANY
TO THE TEXAN PATRIOTS, WHO TRIUMPHANTLY UNFURLED AND WAVED ALOFT THE "BANNER OF THE LONE STAR!" WHO WRENCHED ASUNDER THE IRON BANDS OF DESPOTIC MEXICO! AND WREATHED THE BROW OF THE "QUEEN STATE" WITH THE GLORIOUS CHAPLET OF "CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY!" THIS WORK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR.
INEZ: A TALE OF THE ALAMO.
"But O, th' important budget! Who can say what are its tidings?"
"There is the bell for prayers, Florry; are you ready?" said Mary Irving, hastily entering her cousin's room at the large boarding-school of Madame ——.
"Yes; I rose earlier than usual this morning, have solved two problems, and translated nearly half a page of Telemaque."
"I congratulate you on your increased industry and application, though you were always more studious than myself. I wish, dear Florry, you could imbue me with some of your fondness for metaphysics and mathematics," Mary replied, with a low sigh.
A momentary flush passed over the face of her companion, and they descended the stairs in silence. The room in which the pupils were accustomed to assemble for devotion was not so spacious as the class-room, yet sufficiently so to look gloomy enough in the gray light of a drizzling morn. The floor was covered with a faded carpet, in which the indistinct vine seemed struggling to reach the wall, but failed by several feet on either side. As if to conceal this deficiency, a wide seat was affixed the entire length of the room, so high
"That the feet hung dangling down, Anxious in vain to find the distant floor."
There were no curtains to the windows, and the rain pattered drearily down the panes.
The teacher who officiated as chaplain was seated before a large desk, on which lay an open Bible. He seemed about twenty-four, his countenance noble rather than handsome, if I may make so delicate a distinction. Intelligence of the first order was stamped upon it, yet the characteristic expression was pride which sat enthroned on his prominent brow; still, hours of care had left their impress, and the face was very grave, though by no means stern. His eye was fixed on the door as the pupils came in, one by one, for prayers, and when Florence and Mary entered, it sunk upon his book, In a few moments he rose, and, standing with one arm folded across his bosom, read in a deep, distinct tone, that beautiful Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd." He had only reached the fourth verse, when he was interrupted by two girls of twelve or fourteen, who had been conversing from the moment of their entrance. The tones grew louder and louder, and now the words were very audible:
"My father did not send me here to come to prayers, and Madame has no right to make us get up before day to hear him read his Bible!"
Many who coincided with them tittered, others stared in silence, while Florence's lip curled, and Mary looked sorrowingly, pityingly upon them—hers was the expression with which the angel multitudes of Heaven regard their erring brethren here. The chaplain turned toward them, and said, in a grave yet gentle voice, "My little friends, I am afraid you did not kneel beside your bed this morning, and ask God to keep your hearts from sinful thoughts, and enable you to perform all your duties in a humble, gentle spirit. In your present temper, were I to read the entire book instead of one Psalm, I fear you would receive no benefit."
The girls were awed more by the tone than words, and sat silent and abashed. The reading was concluded, and then he offered up a prayer earnest and heartfelt. Instead of leaving the room immediately, the pupils waited as for something, and taking a bundle of letters from the desk, their tutor distributed them as the direction indicated.
"My budget is not so large as usual, and I regret it for your sakes, as I fear some are disappointed. Miss Hamilton, here are two for you;" and he handed them to her without looking up.
"Two for Florry, and none for me?" asked Mary, while her voice slightly trembled. He was leaving the room, but turned toward her.
"I am very sorry, Miss Mary, but hope you will find a comforting message in your cousin's."
Gently he spoke, yet his eyes rested on Florence the while, and, with a suppressed sigh, he passed on. "Come to my room, Mary; it is strange the letters are postmarked the same day." And while she solves the mystery, let us glance at her former history.
"Calm on the bosom of thy God, Fair spirit! rest thee now! Ev'n while with us thy footsteps trod, His seal was on thy brow."
Florence Hamilton had but attained her fourth year when she was left the only solace of her widowed father. Even after the lapse of long years, faint, yet sweet recollections of her lost parent stole, in saddened hours, over her spirit, and often, in dreams, a face of angelic beauty hovered around, and smiled upon her.
Unfortunately, Florence proved totally unlike her sainted mother, both in personal appearance and cast of character. Mr. Hamilton was a cold, proud man of the world; one who, having lived from his birth in affluence, regarded with a haughty eye all who, without the advantages of rank or wealth, strove to attain a position equal to his own. Intelligence, nobility of soul, unsullied character, weighed not an atom against the counterpoise of birth and family. He enjoyed in youth advantages rare for the unsettled times in which he lived; he tasted all that France and Italy could offer; and returned blase at twenty-seven to his home in one of the Southern States. Attracted by the brilliant fortune of an orphan heiress, he won and married her; but love, such as her pure, gentle spirit sought, dwelt not in his stern, selfish heart. All of affection he had to bestow was lavished on his only sister, who had married during his absence.
His angel wife drooped in the sterile soil to which she was transplanted, and, when Florence was about four years old, sunk into a quiet grave.
Perhaps when he stood with his infant daughter beside the newly-raised mound, and missed the gentle being who had endeavored so strenuously to make his home happy, and to win for herself a place in his heart, one tear might have moistened the cold, searching eyes that for years had known no such softening tendency. "Perhaps," I say; but to conjecture of thee, oh Man! is fruitless indeed.
As well as such a nature could, he loved his child, and considered himself extremely magnanimous in casting aside all thought of a second marriage, and devoting his leisure moments to the formation of her character, and direction of her education.
Florence inherited her father's haughty temperament without his sordid selfishness, and what may seem incompatible with the former, a glowing imagination in connection with fine mental powers. To all but Mr. Hamilton she appeared as cold and impenetrable as himself; but the flashing eye and curling lip with which she listened to a tale of injustice, or viewed a dishonorable act, indicated a nature truly noble. Two master passions ruled her heart—love for her parent, and fondness for books. Idolized by the household, it was not strange that she soon learned to consider herself the most important member of it. Mr. Hamilton found that it was essential for the proper regulation of his establishment that some lady should preside over its various departments, and accordingly invited the maiden sister of his late wife to make his house her home, and take charge of his numerous domestics.
Of his daughter he said nothing. Aunt Lizzy, as she was called, was an amiable, good woman, but not sufficiently intellectual to superintend Florry's education. That little individual looked at first with distrustful eyes on one who, she supposed, might abridge her numerous privileges; but the affectionate manner of the kind-hearted aunt removed all fear, and she soon spoke and moved with the freedom which had characterized her solitude.
One day, when Florence was about nine years old, her father entered the library, where she sat intently reading, and said,
"Florence, come here, I have something to tell you."
"Something to tell me! I hope it is pleasant;" and she laid her hand on his knee, and looked inquiringly in his face.
"You remember the cousin Mary, whose father died not long ago? Well, she has lost her mother too, and is coming to live with us." As he spoke, his voice faltered, and his proud curling lip quivered, yet he gave no other evidence of the deepest grief he had known for many years.
"She will be here this evening, and I hope you will try to make her contented." With these words he was leaving the room, but Florence said,
"Father, is she to stay with us always, and will she sleep in my room, with me?"
"She will live with us as long as she likes, and, if you prefer it, can occupy the same room."
The day wore on, and evening found her on the steps, looking earnestly down the avenue for the approach of the little stranger.
At length a heavy carriage drove to the door, and Florry leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the inmate's face. A slight form, clad in deep mourning, was placed on the piazza by the coachman.
Mr. Hamilton shook her hand kindly, and, after a few words of welcome, said,
"Here is your cousin Florence, Mary. I hope you will love each other, and be happy, good little girls." Mary looked almost fearfully at her proud young cousin, but the sight of her own pale, tearful face touched Florry's heart, and she threw her arms round her neck and kissed her. The embrace was unexpected, and Mary wept bitterly.
"Florence, why don't you take Mary to her room?"
"Would you like to go up-stairs, cousin?"
"Oh yes! if you please, I had much rather." And taking her basket from her hand, Florry led the way.
Mary took off her bonnet, and turned to look again at her cousin. Their eyes met; but, as if overcome by some sudden recollection, she buried her face in her hands and burst again into tears.
Florence stood for some time in silence, at length she said gently,
"It is almost tea-time, and father will be angry if he sees you have been crying."
"Oh! I can't help it, indeed I can't," sobbed the little mourner, "he is so much like my dear, darling mother;" and she stifled a cry of agony.
"Is my father like your mother, cousin Mary?"
"Oh yes! When he spoke to me just now, I almost thought it was mother."
A tear rolled over Florry's cheek, and she slowly replied, "I wish I knew somebody that looked like my mother." In that hour was forged the chain which bound them through life, and made them one in interest.
Years rolled on, and found Mary happy in her adopted home. If her uncle failed to caress her as her loving heart desired, she did not complain, for she was treated like her cousin, and found in the strong love of Florence an antidote for every care. Mary was about sixteen, and Florence a few months younger, at the time our story opens, and had been placed in New Orleans to acquire French and music, as good masters could not be obtained nearer home. We have seen them there, and, hoping the reader will pardon this digression, return to Florry's letter.
"Philosophy can hold an easy triumph over past and future misfortunes; but those which are present, triumph over her."
A Striking difference in personal appearance was presented by the cousins, as they stood together. Florence, though somewhat younger, was taller by several inches, and her noble and erect carriage, in connection with the haughty manner in which her head was thrown back, added in effect to her height. Her hair and eyes were brilliant black, the latter particularly thoughtful in their expression. The forehead was not remarkable for height, but was unusually prominent and white, and almost overhung the eyes. The mouth was perfect, the lips delicately chiseled, and curving beautifully toward the full dimpled chin. The face, though intellectual, and artistically beautiful, was not prepossessing. The expression was cold and haughty; and for this reason she had received the appellations of "Minerva" and "Juno," such being considered by her fellow-pupils as singularly appropriate.
Mary, on the contrary, was slight and drooping, and her sweet, earnest countenance, elicited the love of the beholder, even before an intimate acquaintance had brought to view the beautiful traits of her truly amiable character.
And yet these girls, diametrically opposed in disposition, clung to each other with a strength of affection only to be explained by that strongest of all ties, early association.
Florence broke the seal of her letter, and Mary walked to the window. It looked out on a narrow street, through which drays rattled noisily, and occasional passengers picked their way along its muddy crossings.
Mary stood watching the maneuvers of a little girl, who was endeavoring to pass dry-shod, when a low groan startled her; and turning quickly, she perceived Florence standing in the center of the room, the letter crumpled in one hand: her face had grown very pale, and the large eyes gleamed strangely.
"Oh! Florry, what is the matter? Is your father ill—dead—tell me quick?" and imploringly she clasped her hands.
Florence made a powerful effort, and spoke, in her usual tone:
"I was foolish to give way to my feelings, even for a moment—my father is well." She paused, and then added, as if painfully, "But, oh! he is almost penniless!"
"Penniless!" echoed Mary, as though she could not comprehend her cousin's meaning.
"Yes, Mary, he has been very unfortunate in his speculations, obliged to sell our plantation and negroes, and now, he says, 'a few paltry thousands only remain;' but, oh! that is not the worst; I wish it were, he has sold out everything, broken every tie, and will be here this evening on his way to Texas. He writes that I must be ready to accompany him to-morrow night."
She paused, as if unwilling to add something which must be told, and looked sadly at her cousin.
Mary understood the glance.
"Florry, there is something in the letter relating to myself, which you withhold for fear of giving me pain: the sooner I learn it the better."
"Mary, here is a letter inclosed for you; but first hear what my father says," and hurriedly she read as follows: ... "With regard to Mary, it cannot be expected that she should wish to accompany us on our rugged path, and bitterly, bitterly do I regret our separation. Her paternal uncle, now in affluence, has often expressed a desire to have her with him, and, since my misfortunes, has written me, offering her a home in his family. Every luxury and advantage afforded by wealth can still be hers. Did I not feel that she would be benefited by this separation, nothing could induce me to part with her, but, under existing circumstances, I can consent to give her up."
Florence flung the letter from her as she concluded, and approaching her cousin, clasped her arms fondly about her. Mary had covered her face with her hands, and the tears glistened on her slender fingers.
"Oh, Florry, you don't know how pained and hurt I am, that uncle should think I could be so ungrateful as to forget, in the moment of adversity, his unvaried kindness for six long years. Oh! it is cruel in him to judge me so harshly," and she sobbed aloud.
"I will not be left, I will go with him, that is if—if—Florry, tell me candidly, do you think he has any other reason for not taking me, except my fancied dislike to leaving this place—tell me?"
"No, dear Mary; if he thought you preferred going with us, no power on earth could induce him to leave you."
Mary placed her hand in her cousin's, and murmured,
"Florry, I will go with you; your home shall be my home, and your sorrows my sorrows."
A flash of joy irradiated Florence's pale face as she returned her cousin's warm embrace.
"With you, Mary, to comfort and assist me, I fear nothing; but you have not yet read your uncle's letter, perhaps its contents may influence your decision."
Mary perused it in silence, and then put it in her cousin's hand, while the tears rolled over her cheeks.
"Mary, think well ere you reject this kind offer. Remember how earnestly he entreats that you will come and share his love, his home, and his fortune. Many privations will be ours, in the land to which we go, and numberless trials assail the poverty-stricken. All these you can avoid, by accepting this very affectionate invitation. Think well, Mary, lest in after-years you repent your hasty decision."
There came a long pause, and hurriedly Florence paced to and fro. Mary lifted her bowed head, and pushing back her clustering hair, calmly replied, "My heart swells with gratitude toward my noble, generous uncle. Oh, how fervently I can thank him for his proffered home! yet, separated from you, dear Florry, I could not be happy; my heart would ache for you, and your warm, trusting love. I fear neither poverty nor hardships. Oh, let me go with you, and cheer and assist my dear uncle!"
"You shall go with us, my pure-hearted cousin. When I thought a moment since, of parting with you, my future seemed gloomy indeed, but now I know that you will be near, I am content."
A short silence ensued, broken by a mournful exclamation from Florence.
"Ah! Mary, it is not for myself that I regret this change of fortune, but for my proud, haughty father, who will suffer so keenly. Oh, my heart aches when I think of him!"
"Florry, we must cheer him by those thousand little attentions, which will lead him to forget his pecuniary troubles."
Florence shook her head.
"You do not know my father as I do. He will have no comforters, broods over difficulties in secret, and shrinks from sympathy as from a 'scorching brand.'"
"Still, I think we can do much to lighten his cares, and I pray God I may not be mistaken," replied Mary.
Florence lifted her head from her palm and gazed vacantly at her cousin, then started from her seat.
"Mary, we must not sit here idly, when there is so much to do, Madame —— should know we leave to-morrow, and it will take us all day to prepare for our journey."
"Do let me go and speak to Madame——; it will be less unpleasant to me?"
"No, no; I will go myself; they shall not think I feel it so sensibly, and their condolence to-morrow would irritate me beyond measure. I scorn such petty trials as loss of fortune, and they shall know it."
"Who shall know it, Florry?"
Her cheek flushed, but without a reply she left the room, and descended the steps which led to Madame ——'s parlor. Reaching the door, she drew herself proudly up, then knocked.
"Come in," was the response.
She did so. In the center of the apartment, with an open book on the table before him, sat the teacher who officiated at prayers. He rose and bowed coldly in answer to her salutation.
"Pardon my intrusion, Mr. Stewart. I expected to find Madame here."
"She has gone to spend the morning with an invalid sister, and requested me to take charge of her classes, in addition to my own. If I can render you any assistance, Miss Hamilton, I am at your service."
"Thank you, I am in need of no assistance, and merely wished to say to Madame that I should leave New Orleans to-morrow, having heard from my father that he will be here in the evening boat."
"I will inform her of your intended departure as early as possible."
"You will oblige me by doing so," replied Florence, turning to go.
"Miss Hamilton, may I ask you if your cousin accompanies you?"
"She does," was the laconic answer, and slowly she retraced her steps, and stood at her own door. The cheeks had become colorless, and the delicate lips writhed with pain. She paused a moment, then entered.
"Did you see her, Florry?"
"No, she is absent, but I left word for her."
Her tone was hard, dry, as though she had been striving long for some goal, which, when nearly attained, her failing strength was scarce able to grasp. It was the echo of a fearful struggle that had raged in her proud bosom. The knell it seemed of expiring exertion, of sinking resistance. Mary gazed sadly on her cousin, who stood mechanically smoothing her glossy black hair. The haughty features seemed chiseled in marble, so cold, stony was the expression.
"Dear Florry! you look harassed and weary already. Why, why will you overtask your strength, merely to be called a disciple of Zeno? Surely you cannot seriously desire so insignificant an honor, if it merits that title?"
"Can, you, then, see no glory in crushing long-cherished hopes—nay, when your heart is yearning toward some 'bright particular' path, to turn without one symptom of regret, and calmly tread one just the opposite! Tell me, can you perceive nothing elevating in this Stoical command?"
The cold, vacant look had passed away; her dark eyes gleamed, glittered as with anticipated triumph.
"Florry, I do not understand you exactly; but I do know that command of the heart is impossible, from the source whence you draw. It may seem perfect control now, but it will fail you in the dark hour of your need, if many trials should assail. Oh! my cousin, do not be angry if I say 'you have forsaken the fountain of living water, and hewn out for yourself broken cisterns, which hold no water.' Oh! Florry, before you take another step, return to Him, 'who has a balm for every wound.'"
Florence's face softened; an expression of relief began to steal over her countenance; but as Mary ceased speaking, she turned her face, beautiful in its angelic purity, full upon her. A bitter smile curled Florence's lip, and muttering hoarsely, "A few more hours and the struggle will be over," she turned to her bureau, and arranged her clothes for packing.
The day passed in preparation, and twilight found the cousins watching intently at the casement. The great clock in the hall chimed out seven, the last stroke died away, and then the sharp clang of the door-bell again broke silence. They started to their feet, heard the street door open and close—then steps along the stairs, nearer and nearer—then came a knock at the door. Mary opened it; the servant handed in a card and withdrew. "Mr. J.A. Hamilton." Florence passed out, Mary remained behind.
"Come, why do you linger?"
"I thought, Florry, you might wish to see him alone; perhaps he would prefer it."
"Mary, you have identified yourself with us. To my father we must be as one." She extended her hand, and the next moment they stood in the reception-room.
The father and uncle were standing with folded arms, looking down into the muddy street below. He advanced to meet them, holding out a hand to each. Florence pressed her lips to the one she held, and exclaimed,
"My dear father, how glad I am to see you!"
"Glad to see me! You did not receive my letters then?"
"Yes, I did, but are their contents and pleasure at meeting you incompatible?"
He made no reply, and then Mary said, in a low, tremulous tone,
"Uncle, you have done me a great injury, and you must make me all the reparation in your power. You said, in your letter to Florry, that you did not think I would wish to go with you. Oh, uncle! you do not, cannot believe me so ungrateful, so devoid of love as to wish, under any circumstances, to be separated from you. Now ease my heart, and say I may share your new home. I should be very miserable away from you."
An expression of pleasure passed over his face, but again the brow darkened.
"Mary! Florence is my child—my destiny hers, my misfortunes hers; but I have no right to drag you with me in my fall; to deprive you of the many advantages that will be afforded, by your uncle's wealth, of the social position you may one day attain."
"Uncle! uncle! am I not your child by adoption? Have you not loved and cared for me during long years? Oh! what do I care for wealth—for what you call a high position in the world? You and Florry are my world." She threw her arms about his neck, and sobbed, "Take me! oh, take me with you!"
"If you so earnestly desire it, you shall indeed go with us, my Mary." And, for the first time in her life, he imprinted a kiss on her brow.
When he departed, it was with a promise to call for them the next morning, that they might make, with their aunt, some necessary purchases, and remove to a hotel near the river.
Everything was packed the ensuing day, when Mary suddenly remembered that her books were still in the recitation-room, and would have gone for them, but Florence said,
"I will bring up the books, Mary; you are tired and pale with bending so long over that trunk." And accordingly she went.
Mary threw herself on the couch to rest a moment, and fell into a reverie of some length, unheeding the flying minutes, when she recollected that Florence had been absent a long time, and rising, was about to seek her; just then her cousin entered. A change had come over her countenance—peace, quiet, happiness reigned supreme. One hour later, and they had gone from Madame ——'s, never to return again.
"Time the supreme! Time is eternity, Pregnant with all eternity can give; With all that makes archangels smile Who murders time, he crushes in the birth A power ethereal."
A year had passed away. "How paradoxical is the signification of the term!" How vast, when we consider that each hour hastens the end of our pilgrimage! How insignificant in comparison with futurity! A single drop in the boundless deep of eternity! Oh Time! thou greatest of all anomalies! Friend yet foe, "preserver and yet destroyer!" Whence art thou, great immemorial? When shall thy wondrous mechanism be dissolved? When shall the "pall of obscurity" descend on thy Herculean net-work? Voices of the past echo through thy deserted temples, and shriek along thy bulwarks—Never, no never!
Season had followed season in rapid succession, and the last rays of an August sun illumined a scene so beautiful, that I long for the pencil of a Claude Lorraine. It was a far-off town, in a far-off state, yet who has gazed on thy loveliness, oh, San Antonio, can e'er forget thee! Thine was the sweetness of nature; no munificent hand had arranged, with artistic skill, a statue here, a fountain there.
The river wound like an azure girdle round the town; not confined by precipitous banks, but gliding along the surface, as it were, and reflecting, in its deep blue waters, the rustling tule which fringed the margin. An occasional pecan or live-oak flung a majestic shadow athwart its azure bosom, and now and then a clump of willows sighed low in the evening breeze.
Far away to the north stretched a mountain range, blue in the distance; to the south, the luxuriant valley of the stream. The streets were narrow, and wound with a total disregard of the points of the compass. Could a stranger have been placed blindfold in one of them, and then allowed to look about him, the flat roofs and light appearance of most of the houses would have forced him to declare that he had entered a tropical town of the far east.
Many of the buildings were of musquit pickets, set upright in the ground, lashed together with strips of hide, and thatched with the tule before mentioned. There were scarce three plank-floors in the town; by far the greater number being composed of layers of pebbles, lime, and sand, rolled with a heavy piece of timber till quite compact; daily sprinkling was found necessary, however, to keep down the dust, produced by constant friction.
The wealthy inhabitants built of sun-dried bricks, overcast with a kind of stucco. Yet, unfortunately, the plastering art died with the Montezumas, for the most vivid imagination failed to convert this rough coating into the "silver sheen" which so dazzled Cortes's little band. The reader will exclaim, "I can fancy no beauty from so prosy a description. Thatched roofs and dirt floors, how absurd!"
Although a strict analysis might prove detrimental, I assure you the tout ensemble was picturesque indeed.
"Italia! oh Italia! thou who hast The fatal gift of beauty."
Art rivaled here. Thy gorgeous skies have floated hither, and hover like a halo round the town. The sun had set; the glowing tints faded fast, till of the brilliant spectacle naught remained save the soft roseate hue which melted insensibly into the deep azure of the zenith. Quiet seemed settling o'er mountain and river, when, with a solemn sweetness, the vesper bells chimed out on the evening air. Even as the Moslem kneels at sunset toward the "Holy City," so punctiliously does the devout papist bend for vesper prayers. Will you traverse with me the crooked streets, and stand beneath the belfry whence issued the holy tones?
This ancient edifice was constructed in 1692. It fronted the Plaza, and was a long, narrow building, flanked, as it were, by wings lower than the main apartment, and surmounted by a dome, in which were five or six bells. This dome or belfry was supported by pillars, and in the intervening openings were placed the bells. The roof was flat, and the dark green and gray moss clung along the sides. The interior presented a singular combination of art and rudeness; the seats were of unpainted pine, and the cement floor between was worn irregularly by the knees of devout attendants. The railing of the altar was of carved mahogany, rich and beautiful. Over this division of the long room hung a silken curtain, concealing three niches, which contained an image of the "Virgin," the "Child," and in the center one, a tall gilt cross. Heavy silver candlesticks were placed in front of each niche, and a dozen candles were now burning dimly. A variety of relics, too numerous to mention, were scattered on the altar, and in addition, several silver goblets, and a massive bowl for holding "holy water." A few tin sconces, placed against the wall, were the only provision for lighting that dark, gloomy church, and dreary enough it looked in the twilight hour. About a dozen devotees were present, all kneeling on the damp, hard floor. The silk curtain which concealed the altar was drawn aside, with due solemnity, by two boys habited in red flannel petticoats, over which hung a loose white slip. The officiating priest was seen kneeling before the altar, with his lips pressed to the foot of the cross. He retained his position for several moments, then rising, conducted the ceremonies in a calm, imposing manner. When these were concluded, and all had departed save the two boys, who still knelt before the Virgin, he beckoned them to him, and speaking a few words in Spanish, ended by pointing to the door and uttering, emphatically, "Go." Crossing themselves as they passed the images, they disappeared through a side door, and the priest was left alone.
* * * "He was a man Who stole the livery of the court of heaven To serve the devil in; in Virtue's guise, Devoured the widow's house and orphan's bread; In holy phrase, transacted villanies That common sinners durst not meddle with."
In years, he could not have exceeded twenty-five, yet the countenance was that of one well versed in intrigue. The cast was Italian—the crisp black hair, swarthy complexion, and never-to-be-mistaken eyes. A large amount of Jesuit determination was expressed in his iris, blended with cunning, malignity, and fierceness. The features were prominent particularly the nose; the lips finely cut, but thin; the teeth beautiful and regular. In stature he was low, and habited in the dress of his order, a long black coat or gown, buttoned to the throat, and reaching nearly to the feet.
Glancing at his watch as the sound of the last step died away, he paced round and round the altar, neglecting now the many genuflections, bows, and crossings with which he had honored the images in the presence of his flock. His brows were knit, as if in deep thought, and doubtless he revolved the result of some deep-laid plan, when the door was hurriedly opened, and a man, bowing low before the images, approached him. The dress of the stranger declared him a ranchero: he wore no jacket but his pantaloons were of buckskin, and his broad sombrero was tucked beneath his arm.
"Bueno noche, Padre."
"What tidings do you bring me?" said Father Mazzolin.
The Mexican handed him a letter, and then, as if much fatigued, leaned heavily against the wall, and wiped his brow with a large blue cotton handkerchief. As the priest turned away and perused his letter, a smile of triumphant joy irradiated his face, and a momentary flush tinged his dark cheek. Again he read it, then thrusting it into his bosom, addressed the bearer:
"May the blessing of the church rest upon you, who have so faithfully served your Padre;" and he extended his hand. Warmly it was grasped by Juan, with a look of grateful surprise.
"Este bueno?" inquired Juan.
"Si mui bueno. Juan, do you read American writing?"
"Chiquito," was answered, with a slight shrug.
"What is the news in the el-grand Ciudad?"
"They have a strong ox to pull the ropes, now Santa Anna is at the head. Bravura!" and the ranchero tossed his hat, regardless of the place.
It was, however, no part of Mazzolin's policy to allow him for one moment to forget the reverence due the marble images that looked so calmly down from their niches, and with a stern glance he pointed to them, crossing himself as he did so. Juan went down on his knees, and with an "Ave Maria," and a Mexican dollar (which he laid on the altar), quieted his conscience.
"Senor Austin is in the Calaboose," he said, after a pause.
Mazzolin started, and looked keenly at him, as if striving to read his inmost thoughts.
"You must be mistaken. Juan; there is no mention of it in my letter?" he said, in a tone of one fearing to believe good news.
"Not at all, Padre. We started together—there were fifteen of us—and after we had come a long way, so far as Saltillo, some of Santa Anna's cavaleros overtook us, and carried Senor Americano back with them, and said they had orders to do it, for he was no friend to our nation. I know, for I heard for myself."
"Do you know the particular reason of his arrest?"
Juan shook his head, and replied, "That the officers did not say."
"Did you mention to any one your having a letter for me?"
"No, Padre; I tell no man what does not concern him."
"A wise plan, Juan, I would advise you always to follow; and be very careful that you say nothing to any one about my letter: I particularly desire it."
"Intiendo," said Juan, turning toward the door. "I go to my ranche to-morrow, but come back before many sunsets, and if you want me again, Padre, you know where to find me."
"The blessing of the Holy Virgin rest upon you, my son, and reward you for your services in behalf of the church."
"Adios!" And they parted.
Father Mazzolin drew forth the letter, and read it attentively for the third time, then held it over one of the twelve candles, and deliberately burnt it, muttering the while, "Ashes tell no tales."
Extinguishing the candles and locking the door of the church, he said to himself:
"All is as I foresaw; a breach is made which can only be closed by the bodies of hundreds of these cursed heretics; and Santa Anna is bloodthirsty enough to drain the last drop. Alphonso Mazzolin, canst thou not carve thy fortune in the coming storm? Yea, and I will. I am no unworthy follower of Loyola, of Gavier, and of Bobadillo. Patience! a Cardinal's cap shall crown my labors;" and with a chuckling laugh he entered the narrow street which led to his dwelling.
"There is but one obstacle here," he continued; "that Protestant girl's work is hard to undo," and his step became quicker. "But for her, I should have been confessor to the whole family, and will be yet, despite her warning efforts, though I had rather deal with any three men. She is as untiring as myself." He reached his door, and entered.
"And ruder words will soon rush in To spread the breach that words begin; And eyes forget the gentle ray They wore in courtship's smiling day; And voices lose the tone that shed A tenderness round all they said."
Inez de Garcia was an only child, and in San Antonio considered quite an heiress. Her wealth consisted in broad lands, large flocks, and numerous herds, and these valuable possessions, combined with her beautiful face, rendered her the object of considerable attention. Inez was endowed with quick perceptions, and a most indomitable will, which she never surrendered, except to accomplish some latent design; and none who looked into her beautiful eyes could suppose that beauty predominated over intellect. She was subtile, and consciousness of her powers was seen in the haughty glance and contemptuous smile. Her hand had been promised from infancy to her orphan cousin, Manuel Nevarro, whose possessions were nearly as extensive as her own. Inez looked with indifference on her handsome cousin, but never objected till within a few weeks of her seventeenth birthday (the period appointed for her marriage), when she urged her father to break the engagement. This he positively refused to do, but promising, at Father Mazzolin's suggestion, that she should have a few more months of freedom, she apparently acquiesced. Among the peculiar customs of Mexicans, was a singular method of celebrating St. ——'s day. Instead of repairing to their church and engaging in some rational service, they mounted their half wild ponies, and rode furiously up and down the streets till their jaded steeds refused to stir another step, when they were graciously allowed to finish the day on the common. The celebration of the festival was not confined to the masculine portion of the community; silver-haired Senoras mingled in the cavalcade and many a bright-eyed Senorita looked forward to St. ——'s day with feelings nearly akin to those with which a New York belle regards the most fashionable ball of the season.
On the evening preceding the day of that canonized lady, Manuel entered the room where Inez sat, her needle work on the floor at some distance, as though flung impatiently from her, her head resting on one hand, while the other held a gentleman's glove. Light as was his step, she detected it and thrusting the glove into her bosom, turned her fine face full upon him.
"What in the name of wonder brings you here this time of day, Manuel? I thought every one but myself was taking a siesta this warm evening."
"I have been trying a new horse, Inez, and came to know at what hour you would ride to-morrow." He stood fanning himself with his broad sombrero as he spoke.
"Excuse me, Senor, I do not intend to ride at all."
"You never refused before, Inez; what is the meaning of this?" and his Spanish brow darkened ominously.
"That I do not feel inclined to do so, is sufficient reason."
"And why don't you choose to ride, pray? You have done it all your life."
"I'll be cross-questioned by no one!" replied Inez, springing to her feet, with flashing eyes, and passionately clinching her small, jeweled hand.
Manuel was of a fiery temperament, and one of the many who never pause to weigh the effect of their words or actions. Seizing her arm in no gentle manner, he angrily exclaimed,
"A few more weeks, and I'll see whether you indulge every whim, and play the queen so royally!"
Inez disengaged her arm, every feature quivering with scorn.
"To whom do you speak, Senor Nevarro? You have certainly mistaken me for one of the miserable peons over whom you claim jurisdiction. Allow me to undeceive you! I am Inez de Garcia, to whom you shall never dictate, for I solemnly declare, that from this day the link which has bound us from childhood is at an end. Mine be the hand to sever it. From this hour we meet only as cousins! Go seek a more congenial bride!"
"Hold, Inez! are you mad?"
"No, Manuel, but candid; for eight years I have known that I was destined to be your wife, but I never loved you, Manuel. I do not, and never can, otherwise than as a cousin."
In a tone of ill-suppressed range, Nevarro retorted:
"My uncle's authority shall compel you to fulfil the engagement! You shall not thus escape me!"
"As you please, Senor. Yet let me tell you, compulsion will not answer. The combined efforts of San Antonio will not avail—they may crush, but cannot conquer me." She bowed low, and left the room.
Every feature inflamed with wrath, Nevarro snatched his hat, and hurried down the street. He had not proceeded far, when a hand was laid upon his arm, and turning, with somewhat pugnacious intentions, encountered Father Mazzolin's piercing black eyes.
"Bueno tarde, Padre."
The black eyes rested on Nevarro with an expression which seemed to demand an explanation of his choler. Manuel moved uneasily; the hot blood glowed in his swarthy cheek, and swelled like cords on the darkened brow.
"Did you wish to speak with me, Padre?"
"Even so, my son. Thou art troubled, come unto one who can give thee comfort."
They were standing before the door of the harkell occupied by the priest: he opened it and drew Manuel in.
An hour later they emerged from the house. All trace of anger was removed from Nevarro's brow, and Father Mazzolin's countenance wore the impenetrable cast he ever assumed in public. It was his business expression, the mask behind which he secretly drew the strings, and lured his dupes into believing him a disinterested and self-denying pastor, whose only aim in life was to promote the welfare and happiness of his flock.
When Don Garcia sat that night, a la Turk, on a buffalo-robe before his door, puffing his cigarrita, and keeping time to the violin, which sent forth its merry tones at a neighboring fandango, Inez drew near, and related the result of her interview with Manuel, concluding by declaring her intention to abide by her decision, and consult her own wishes in the selection of a husband.
His astonishment was great. First he tried reasoning, but she refuted every argument advanced with the adroitness of an Abelard: the small stock of patience with which "Dame Nature" had endowed the Don gave way, and at last, stamping with rage, he swore she should comply, or end her life in a gloomy cell of San Jose.
Inez laughed contemptuously. She felt the whirlwind she had raised gathering about her, yet sought not to allay it: she knew it was the precursor of a fierce struggle, yet quailed not. Like the heroine of Saragossa, or the martyr of Rouen, she knew not fear; and her restless nature rather joyed in the strife.
A low growl from the dog who shared the robe, announced an intruder, and the next moment the Padre joined them. He was joyfully hailed by De Garcia as an ally; but a dark look of hatred gleamed from Inez's eyes, as they rested on his form: it vanished instantly, and she welcomed him with a smile. She was cognizant of his interview with Nevarro, for her window overlooked the street in which it took place. She knew, too, his powers of intrigue; that they were enlisted against her; and a glance sufficed to show the path to be pursued. Long ago her penetrating eye had probed the mask of dissimulation which concealed, like the "silver veil" of Mokanna, a great deformity: how much greater because, alas! a moral one.
Father Mazzolin inquired, with apparent interest, the cause of contention. The Don gave a detailed account, and wound up by applying to him for support, in favor of Nevarro. The look of sorrowful astonishment with which he listened, compelled Inez to fix her large Spanish eyes on the ground, lest he should perceive the smile which lurked in their corners, and half played round her lip.
He rebuked her gently, and spoke briefly of the evils which would result, if she persisted in her wilful and ungrateful course. Inez listened with a meekness which surprised both parent and Padre; and when the latter rose to go, approached, and, in a low tone, requested him to meet her, that day week, in the confessional.
Woman's heart is everywhere the same, and in the solitude of her own apartment, Inez's softer feelings found full vent. She sat with her face in her hands, one long deep; sigh, which struggled up, telling of the secret pain that was withering her joys and clouding her future. Suddenly she started up, and passionately exclaimed,
"It is hard that his love should be wasted, on one whose heart is as cold and stony as this wall;" and she struck it impatiently. Then drawing forth the glove, which on Manuel's entrance had been so hastily secreted, she pressed it repeatedly to her lips, returned it to its hiding-place, and sought her couch.
"What cause have we to build on length of life: Temptations seize when fear is laid asleep; And ill-foreboded is our strongest guard."
St. ——'s dawn was welcomed by joyous peals from the church-bells, and the occasional firing of a few muskets, by way of accompaniment. The sun rose with a brilliance which would have awakened deep tones in Memnon's statue, and gilded mountain and valley. Beautiful beyond description the city looked in his golden light, and
"All nature seemed rejoicing."
Half hid by a majestic live-oak which shaded the front, and within a few yards of the river, stood a small white house. It was built of adoles, and contained only three rooms. Instead of reaching these by a broad flight, one step from the threshold placed you on the ground. The floor was uncovered, and, as usual, of cement. In one corner of the front apartment stood a sideboard, covered with glass of various kinds, and a few handsome pieces of plate. Its vis-a-vis was a range of shelves, filled with books; and on the plain deal mantelpiece stood a pair of neat China vases, decked with brilliant prairie flowers. Before the open window was placed the table, arranged for the morning meal. How pure the cloth looked, how clear the glass; and then the bouquet of fragrant roses which adorned the center, how homelike, fresh, and beautiful it seemed! An air of comfort—American, southern comfort—pervaded the whole. The breakfast was brought in by a middle-aged negress, whose tidy appearance, and honest, happy, smiling face presented the best refutation of the gross slanders of our northern brethren. I would that her daguerreotype, as she stood arranging the dishes, could be contrasted with those of the miserable, half-starved seamstresses of Boston and New York, who toil from dawn till dark, with aching head and throbbing heart, over some weary article, for which they receive the mighty recompense of a shilling.
When she had arranged every dish with great exactness, a small bell was rung; and, waiter in hand, she stood ready to attend the family.
A bright, young face appeared at the open window.
"I hope, Aunt Fanny, you have a nice breakfast. You have no idea what an appetite my walk has given me."
"Now, Miss Mary, ain't my cooking always nice?"
"Indeed, it is. Your coffee would not disgrace a pasha's table; and your rolls are
'The whitest, the lightest, that ever were seen.'"
She disappeared from the window, and entered the room just as Mr. Hamilton came in, followed by Florence.
"My dear uncle, have you forgotten the old adage of 'early to bed, and early to rise?'"
"I am not sure that I ever learned it, Mary;" he dryly replied, seating himself at the table.
"One would suppose you had taken a draught from the 'Elixir of Life;'" said Florence, glancing affectionately at her beaming face.
"I have discovered the fountain of perpetual youth, so vainly sought in South America!"
"Indeed! Is it located in this vicinity?"
"Yes; and if you will rise to-morrow with Aurora, when 'she sprinkles with rosy light the dewy lawn,' I will promise to conduct you to it."
"Thank you; but, Mary, what induced you to ramble so early?"
"I have been nearly two miles for some roots Mrs. Carlton expressed a wish for. See, Florry, how I have dyed my hands pulling them up!"
"Were you alone, Mary?" asked Mr. Hamilton.
"I was, most of the time. As I came back, Dr. Bryant overtook me. He spent the night at San Jose mission, with a sick Mexican, and was returning. But where is Aunt Lizzy?" continued Mary, with an inquiring glance round the room.
"She went to mass this morning," replied her cousin.
"Oh, yes! It is St. ——'s day. I heard the bells at daybreak."
"It is a savage, heathenish custom they have adopted here, of tearing up and down the streets from morning till night. I wish, by Jove! they would ride over their canting Padre! I think he would find some other mode of celebrating the festival!"
"He would lay claim to saintship on the strength of it," replied Mary.
"You had better keep out of the street to-day, girls," rejoined Mr. Hamilton, pushing his cup away, and rising from the table.
At this moment Aunt Lizzy entered; and after the morning salutation, turned toward the door.
"You are later than usual this morning, aunt. Do sit down and eat your breakfast, or it will be so cold you cannot touch it," said Mary.
"No really devout Catholic tastes food on this holy day," she answered, motioning it from her.
"It must be quite a penance to abstain, after your long walk," said Mr. Hamilton with a smile.
"Father Mazzolin said, this morning, that all who kept this holy day would add a bright jewel to their crown, and obtain the eternal intercession of the blessed saint;" and she left the room.
"That falsehood adds another stone to the many that will sink him in the lake of perdition, if there be one!" muttered Mr. Hamilton, as he departed for the counting-room. The last few sentences had fallen unheeded on Florence's ear, for she sat looking out the window, her thoughts evidently far away. But every trace of merriment vanished from Mary's face, and instead of her bright smile, a look of painful anxiety settled there. A long silence ensued; Mary stood by the table, wiping the cups as Aunt Fanny rinsed them, and occasionally glancing at her cousin. At length she said,
"Florry, will you walk over to Mrs. Carlton's with me? I promised to go, and the walk will do you good, for indeed your cheeks are paler than I like to see them."
"Certainly, Mary, but do you remember what father said about our remaining at home, to-day?"
"There is no danger, Florry, if we only look about us, and I really must go."
"Well then, let us start at once."
In a few moments they set out, equipped in large straw hats, and equally large gloves; in addition, Mary carried in her hand a basket, filled with herbs and flowers.
"If we walk briskly, we shall get there before any of the riders set forth. Ah! I am mistaken, there they come. Florry, don't go so near the street: that horseman in blue, looks as though he were riding on ice—see how his horse slides about!"
A party of twenty or thirty thundered past, and the girls quickened their pace. A few minutes' walk brought them to Mrs. Carlton's door, which closed after them.
That lady was reading, as they entered, but threw aside her book, and advanced joyously to greet them. She kissed Mary affectionately, and cordially shook Florence's hand.
"I am glad you came, Mary. I feared you would not, and really I want you very much."
"What can I do, Mrs. Carlton?"
"You can take off your hat and gloves, and prepare yourselves to spend the day with me."
They laughingly complied, protesting, however, that they could only remain a short time.
"Mary, my poor blind proselyte died yesterday, and bequeathed her orphan child to me: I feel almost obliged to accept the charge, for her fear lest it should fall into the Padre's hands was painful to behold, and I promised to protect it if possible. The poor little fellow is nearly destitute of clothes; I have cut some for him, and knew you would assist me in making them."
"With pleasure, dear Mrs. Carlton, and so will Florry; fill my basket with work, and we will soon have him a suit. Oh! how glad I am that he has such kind friends as yourself and husband."
"The Padre came last night to demand the child, but we refused to give him up: he said he intended clothing and educating the boy free of charge; yet I knew better, for he refused to baptize Madame Berara's orphan-niece without the customary fee, though he well knew she could ill afford it, and was compelled to sell her last cow to make up the requisite sum. I feel assured he will do all in his power to entice Erasmo from me; but hope, by constant watchfulness, to counteract his influence. Oh! Mary, how much we need a Protestant minister here: one who could effectually stem the tide of superstition and degradation that now flows unimpeded through this community. Oh! my dear friend, let us take courage, and go boldly forth in the cause of truth, and strive to awaken all from the lethargy into which they have fallen—a lethargy for which their priests are alone responsible, for they administered the deadly drug."
"I feel as deeply as yourself, dear Mrs. Carlton, the evil tendency and deplorable consequences of the institutions by which we are surrounded, and the little that I can do will be gladly, oh, how gladly! contributed to the work of reformation you have so nobly begun."
"You forget, Mary, in your proselyting enthusiasm, that Aunt Lizzy belongs to the despised sect; surely you can not intend, by attacks on her religion, to render her home unpleasant?" said Florence.
Mary's eyes filled with tears, as she glanced reproachfully at her cousin, and replied,
"Nothing is further from my wishes, Florry, than to make her home other than happy. Aunt Lizzy has every opportunity of informing herself on this important question. Yet she prefers the easier method, of committing her conscience to the care of the priest; she has chosen her path in life, and determinately closes her eyes to every other. The state of the Mexicans around us is by no means analogous. They were allowed no choice: bred from infancy in the Romish faith, they are totally unacquainted with the tenets of other creeds. Implicit obedience to the Padre is their primary law, the grand ruling principle of life, instilled from their birth. To lay before them the truths of our own 'pure and undefiled religion,' is both a privilege and duty."
"You spoke just now, Miss Florence, of the 'despised sect;' allow me, in all modesty, to say, that to the true and earnest Christian there is no such class. Believe me, when I say, that though deeply commiserating their unhappy condition, and resolved to do all in my power to alleviate it, still I would as cheerfully assist the conscientious Papist, and tender him the hospitalities of my home, as one of my own belief."
"You have expressed my feelings exactly, Mrs. Carlton, and there are times when I wish myself a missionary, that I might carry light to this benighted race," exclaimed Mary, enthusiastically.
"We are very apt, my dear child, to consider ourselves equal to emergencies, and capable of great actions, when a strict examination would declare that the minor deeds and petty trials which test the temper and the strength too often destroy our equanimity, and show our inability to cope with difficulties. Woman's warfare is with little things, yet we are assured by the greatest of all female writers, that 'trifles make the sum of human things;' therefore, let us strive more and more earnestly to obtain perfect control of ourselves; then shall we be enabled to assist others."
"I often think," replied Mary, thoughtfully, "that we make great sacrifices with comparative ease, because we feel our own insufficiency, and rely more on God for assistance; while in lesser troubles we are so confident of success, that we neglect to ask his blessing, and consequently fail in our unaided attempts."
"You are right, Mary, and it should teach us to distrust our powers, and lead us to lean upon 'Him, who is a very precious help in time of need.'"
A long silence ensued, broken at length by the entrance of Mrs. Carlton's two children, who carried a large basket between them. Hastily they set it down, on seeing Mary, and sprung to her side: the little girl clung around her neck, and kissed her repeatedly.
"Maria, you are too boisterous, my little girl; Miss Mary will have no cause to doubt your affection. Elliot, why do you not speak to Miss Florence, my son?"
Blushing at his oversight, the boy obeyed, and, joined by his sister, stood at his mother's side. Maria whispered something in his ear, but he only shook his head and replied,
"Not now, sister, let us wait."
She hesitated a moment, then laid her little hand on Mrs. Carlton's shoulder.
"Mother, I know you said it was rude to whisper in company, but I want to tell you something very much."
Mrs. Carlton smiled.
"I am sure the young ladies will excuse you, my daughter, if it is important." She bent her head, and a prolonged whispering followed. A flush rose to the mother's cheek and a tear to her eyes, as she clasped her to her heart, and said,
"I wish you, my children, to speak out, and tell all you know of this affair."
Elliot was spokesman.
"We went into the garden as you desired us, mother, and Erasmo and I picked the peas, while sister held the basket; presently we heard a noise in the brush fence like something coming through, and sister got frightened (here he laughed), and wanted to run to the house, but we told her it was only a sheep or dog outside; but it turned out to be the Padre, and he came and helped us to pick. Mother, he told us such pretty stories; I can't think of the names; they must have been Dutch, they were so long and hard. But I remember one of the tales; he said there was once a good man who lived in Asia, and one day he lost his crucifix; he looked everywhere for it, but could not find it; and a long time afterward, he happened to be walking by the sea-shore and looked out on the water, and oh, what do you think! He saw his crucifix moving on the water, and a great crab paddled out to land and laid his crucifix down before him, and then paddled right back into the sea again. Now wasn't that funny. I can't think of the good man's name, Saint—Somebody—Saint—Saint—"
"Brother, I reckon it was Saint Crab!"
"No, no! It was the crab that found the crucifix, and I think he was smarter than the saint."
"Now, Florry, should I repeat this legend to Aunt Lizzy, it would be impossible to convince her that it proceeded from the Padre's lips. Yet even prelates of Rome scruple not to narrate as miracles tales equally absurd, where their auditory is sufficiently ignorant to credit them. Pardon my interruption, Elliot, and finish your story," continued Mary.
"Mother, the Padre talked to Erasmo in Spanish. I could not understand all he said, but it was about coming to live with him, and going to Mexico, to see the sights there. When he came to the rows you left for seed, I told him we must come to the house, and asked him to come in; but he would not, and offered us all some money, and said we must not tell a soul we had seen him, for he happened to see us through the fence, and just came in to speak to us, and you and father might think he ought not to come into our garden. But oh, mother, would you believe it! he told Erasmo, as he went off, that he must ask you to let him go to bathe to-morrow; and instead of going to the river, he must come to the church: he wanted to give him something. He told him in Spanish, but I understood what he said. Now, wasn't that teaching him to tell a lie? and he a Padre too! Mother, don't you think he ought to be ashamed?"
"Elliot, if you would gladden the hearts of your father and mother, be ever truthful. Remember the story of 'Pedro and Francisco' you read not long ago, and put dishonesty and dissimulation far from you: 'honesty is the best policy,' and if you adhere to it through life, it will prove of 'far more worth than gold.' Be sure you keep nothing from me, particularly what the Padre may say."
"Shall we take the peas out under the hackberry and shell them," said Maria.
"Yes, my dear, but first tell me where Erasmo is."
"Sitting on the steps, mother. I know he will help us to shell them, for he said it was mere fun, picking peas."
"Say nothing to him of the Padre or his conversation, but interest him about other things."
They left the room swinging the basket between them. Mrs. Carlton's eyes filled as she looked after her children. "A mother's care can do a great deal, yet how little did I imagine that temptation would assail them at such a time, and in such a garb."
"Oh, guard them carefully; for, surrounded by these influences, it will be difficult to prevent contamination," said Mary, earnestly.
Just then a long, loud shout from the street attracted their attention, and hastening to the door, they perceived a crowd gathered on the Plaza. In the center was a body of Mexican cavalry, headed by their commanding officer, who, hat in hand, was haranguing them. The ladies looked at each other in dismay.
"To what does this tend?" asked Mary, anxiously.
"My husband told me several days since that Austin was imprisoned in Mexico, and said he feared difficulties would ensue, but knew not the cause of his confinement."
"There is Dr. Bryant coming toward us; I dare say he can tell us the meaning of this commotion."
That gentleman, bowing low in the saddle, reined his Steed as near the step as possible.
"How do you do, Miss Hamilton, and you, my dear sister? I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Mary in her morning rambles; she is a most remarkable young lady. Assures me she actually loves early rising." His dark eyes were fixed laughingly upon her.
"Do stop your nonsense, Frank, and tell us the cause of that crowd," said Mrs. Carlton, laying her hand on his arm.
"My dear sister, that tall, cadaverous-looking cavalier is the brother-in-law of Santa Anna, and no less a personage than General Cos, sent hither to fortify this and every other susceptible place."
"Against whom or what?"
"It is a long story, ladies. You know that Coahuila has pursued an oppressive policy toward us for some time, and refused to hear reason: Austin remonstrated again and again, and at last went to Mexico, hoping that the authorities would allow us (here he bit his lip, and his cheek flushed)—it galls my spirit to utter the word—allow us to form a separate State. The Congress there took no notice of his petition, for, in truth they were too much engaged just then about their own affairs to heed him, and he wrote to several persons in Austin, advising them at all hazards to proceed. Some cowardly wretch, or spy in disguise, secretly despatched one of his letters to the ministers; consequently, as Austin was returning, they made him prisoner, and carried him back to Mexico. Santa Anna is at the head of affairs. He has subverted the too liberal constitution of 1824, but is opposed by a few brave hearts, who scorn the servitude in store for them. Santa Anna knows full well that we will not submit to his crushing yoke, and therefore sends General Cos to fortify the Alamo. This is the only definite information I have been able to glean from several sources."
"Do you think there is probability of a war?"
"It will most inevitably ensue, for total submission will be exacted by Santa Anna, and the Texans are not a people to comply with any such conditions."
"You think General Cos is here to fortify the Alamo?"
"Yes; the work commences to-morrow, I hear, and the fort will be garrisoned by Spanish troops."
"How many has he with him?" inquired his sister.
"Only fifty or sixty; this is merely the advanced guard, the main body will probably arrive in a few days."
"I suppose they are joyously welcomed by the Mexicans here, who have ever regarded with jealous eyes Protestant settlers."
"Oh, yes, that shout testified the hearty welcome they received."
At this moment Mr. Hamilton joined the group.
"Have you heard the news?" he inquired.
"Yes, and sad enough it is," said Mary, with a sigh.
"It will be a bloody conflict."
"I am afraid so," replied Dr. Bryant.
"Come, girls, I am going home, will you go now?"
Mary took her basket, which Mrs. Carlton had filled with work, and they descended the steps.
"I declare, Miss Irving, I have a great desire to know what that basket contains; it is as inseparably your companion as was the tub of Diogenes. I often see it round a corner before you are visible, and at the glimpse of it, invariably sit more erect in saddle, and assume my most amiable expression."
He raised himself, and peeped inquiringly over the edge; Mary swung it playfully behind her.
"I never gratify idle curiosity, Dr. Bryant."
"Indeed, how very remarkable; but I assure you I know full well the use to which those same herbs you had this morning are to be applied; you are amalgamating nauseous drugs, and certain pills, to be administered to my patients. I am grieved to think you would alienate what few friends I have here, by raising yourself up as a competitor. Pray, where did you receive your diploma? and are you Thomsonian, Allopathic, Homeopathic, or Hydropathic?"
Mary looked at Mrs. Carlton: both smiled.
"Ah! I see Ellen is associated with you. Do admit me to partnership; I should be a most valuable acquisition, take my word for it. A more humble-minded, good-hearted, deeply-read, and experienced disciple of Esculapius never felt pulse, or administered a potion."
They laughed outright.
"Mary, shall we tell Frank what we intend those herbs for?"
"By no means, he does not deserve to know."
"Ah! I see Terence was right after all, in his opinion of woman's nature—'When you request, they refuse; when you forbid, they are sure to do it.'"
"Come, girls, come! I have business at home;" said Mr. Hamilton, and they set out homeward. They had not proceeded far, when Mary exclaimed, pointing behind her,
"Oh, uncle, that woman will be killed! Can nobody help her?"
"She will certainly be thrown from her horse!"
A party of five or six Mexicans were riding with their usual rapidity toward them. An elderly woman in the rear had evidently lost control of her fiery horse, which was plunging violently. The other members of the company seemed unable to render any assistance, as their own could scarcely be restrained. The unfortunate Senora was almost paralyzed with fright; for instead of checking him by the reins, they had fallen over his head, become entangled in his feet, and, now grasping the mane, she was shrieking fearfully.
"Oh, can't we do something for her!" cried Mary, clasping her hands.
"I do not see how we can assist her," said Mr. Hamilton.
"At least, let us try;" and they hastened to the spot where the infuriated animal was struggling.
"Stand back, girls! you can do nothing."
He made several ineffectual attempts to catch the bridle, as the forefeet rose in air, and at last succeeded in getting one end. He bade the woman let go the mane, and slide off. She did so, but some portion of her dress was caught in the saddle, and she hung suspended. The horse feeling the movement, again plunged, despite Mr. Hamilton's efforts to hold him down. The scene was distressing indeed, as she was raised and then, flung down again.
Mary saw the danger, and rushing round the enraged horse, fearlessly pushed off the piece which was attached to the pommel of the saddle, and freed the unfortunate matron. The horse, feeling relieved of his burden, gave a desperate bound, and rushed off down the street.
Florence shrieked, and sprung to her father's side. Mary was bending over the moaning woman, but turned suddenly, and saw her uncle stretched at Florence's feet. He was insensible, and a stream of blood oozed from his lips. They raised his head, and motioned to the Mexicans, that now gathered round, for water; some was hastily procured, and then Mary entreated one of them to go for Dr. Bryant: as she spoke, the tramp of hoofs caused her to look up, and she perceived him urging his horse toward them. He flung the reins to a man who stood near, and bent over the prostrate form.
"There is some internal injury, I see no outward wound; how did this happen?"
Florence briefly explained the manner in which her father received a kick on the chest. Happily, they were near their own home, and, with the assistance of two men, Dr. Bryant carefully bore him in, and laid him on a couch near the open window. A restorative was administered, and soon the sufferer opened his eyes. The flow of blood had ceased, but he lay quite exhausted.
The physician examined the wounded place, and assured Florence there was no fracture.
"I am afraid some blood-vessel is ruptured?" said she, anxiously.
"It is only a small one, I hope, but cannot tell certainly for several days. He must be perfectly quiet; the least excitement might prove fatal, by causing a fresh hemorrhage."
Nearly a week passed, and one evening Mary followed the physician as he left the house: he heard her step, and turned. His usually laughing countenance was grave and anxious; but he strove to seem cheerful.
"Doctor, I wish to know what you think of my uncle's case; we are afraid it is more serious than you at first pronounced it?"
"It is better that you should know the worst. I am pained to grieve you, but candor compels me to say, that a fatal injury has been inflicted. I hoped for the best, but an examination this evening confirmed my fears."
Mary sobbed bitterly and long. Dr. Bryant sought not to comfort her by exciting false hopes, but paced up and down the gravel-walk beside her.
"You do not fear a rapid termination of the disorder?" she said at last, in a low, trembling tone.
"He may linger some days, but I do not think it probable that he will."
"Florry, Florry! what is to become of us?" cried the weeping girl, in a voice of agony. "Oh, God! spare him to us!"
"Do you think your cousin comprehends her father's danger?"
"She fears the worst, and requested me this evening to ask your opinion. Oh, how can I tell her that he must die!"
"Do not crush all hope (though I have none); let her believe that he may recover. She is not of a temperament to bear prolonged agony. The shock will be less painful, rest assured. Believe me, I deeply sympathize with you both." And pressing her hand, he withdrew.
"See! the dappled gray coursers of the morn Beat up the light with their bright silver hoofs, And chase it through the sky!"
Inez left her father's door as the last notes of the matin bell died away on the cool, clear morning air. She held in her hand a silken scarf, which, according to the custom of her country, was thrown lightly across the head, and confined at the chin.
Beautiful she looked, with the feverish glow on her cheek, and her large Spanish eyes, restless and piercing, flashing out at times the thoughts of her inmost soul. She threw the mantilla round her head, and turned toward the church. The step was firm yet hasty. She seemed endeavoring to escape from herself.
The streets were silent and the Plaza deserted, and naught seemed stirring save the swallows that twittered and circled round and round the belfry of the church. There was something soothing in the deep stillness that reigned on that balmy morning, and Inez felt its influence. She paused at the entrance of the gray old church, and stretched forth her arms to the rosy east.
"Peace, peace!" she murmured, in a weary tone, and sunk her head upon her bosom. The door opened behind her, and raising herself proudly, she drew the scarf closer about her, and entered.
A basin of holy water was placed near, and hastily she signed the figure of the cross and proceeded down the aisle to a side door leading to one of the wings. She pushed it noiselessly ajar and passed in.
A solitary tin sconce dimly lighted the small confessional, dark and gloomy as night, at that early hour. A wooden cross suspended from the wall, a stone bench, and table, on which lay a rosary and crucifix, and a small vessel of holy water, formed the entire furniture. Before this table sat Father Mazzolin, his face buried in his hands. Her step, light as it was, startled him; yet without rising, he murmured, "Benedicit."
"Bueno dios, Padre."
He motioned to her to kneel, and she did so, on the damp floor at his feet, drawing the scarf over her face, so as to conceal the features.
"Bless me, my Father, because I have sinned."
He laid his hands on her bowed head, and muttered indistinctly a Latin phrase. "I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary, ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I beseech the blessed Mary, ever Virgin, the blessed Michael the Archangel, the blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, to pray to the Lord our God for me.
"Since my last confession, I accuse myself of many sins. I have missed mass, vespers and many holy ordinances of our most holy church. Have borne hatred, and given most provoking language.
"I have broken the engagement thou did'st command me to keep; have angered Manuel, and enraged my father greatly. I neglected fasting on the day of our most holy Saint ——.
"I have entered this church, this holy sanctuary, without crossing myself; and passed the image of the Blessed Virgin without kneeling." She paused, and bent her head lower.
'The Padre then said, "My daughter, thy sins are grievous; my heart bleeds over thy manifold transgressions."
"Even so, my Father; even so."
"Dost thou still bear enmity to Manuel Nevarro, who loves thee truly, and is thy promised husband?"
"No, my Father; I desire to be speedily reconciled to him whom I have offended."
"Wilt thou promise to offer no objection, but become his wife?"
"My Father, I do not wish to be his wife; yet thy will, not mine."
A smile of triumph glittered in the Padre's eye at this confession; yet his low tone was unchanged.
"Inez, I will not force thee to marry Manuel, yet thou shalt never be another's wife. In infancy thou wast promised, and thy hand can never be joined to another. Choose you, my daughter, and choose quickly."
"Padre, give me time. May one so guilty as I speak out?"
"Yes, speak; for I would have thine inmost thoughts."
"Father, let me spend a month of quiet and peace among the holy sisters at San Jose; there will I determine either to be Manuel's wife, or dedicate the remainder of my life to the service of God and our most Holy Lady."
"You have spoken well: even so shall it be; but, Inez, I would question you further and see you answer me truly, as you desire the intercession of the Blessed Virgin."
Inez lifted her head, and fixing her eyes full on his swarthy face, replied with energy:
"My Father, even as I desire the intercession of our Blessed Virgin, so will I answer."
The head was bent again on her bosom. He had sought to read her countenance during that brief glance, but there was a something in its dark depths he could not quite understand.
"My daughter, hast thou been of late with that Protestant girl, by name Mary Irving?"
"I have seen her twice since last confession."
"Where did you meet her?"
"Once at Senora Perraras, and once she came for me, to walk with her."
"Answer truly. Upon what subjects did you converse?"
Inez seemed striving to recall some portion of what had past. At last she said, "Indeed, Padre, I cannot remember much she said. It was mostly of birds, and trees, and flowers, and something, I believe, about this beautiful town, as she called it."
"Think again. Did she not speak lightly of the blessed church, and most holy faith? Did she not strive to turn you to her own cursed doctrines, and, above all, did she not speak of me, your Padre, with scorn?"
"No, my Father, most truly she did not." Again she raised her eyes to his face. Piercing was the glance he tent upon her. Yet hers fell not beneath it: calm and immovable she seemed.
He lifted his hand menacingly.
"I bid you now beware of her, and her friend, the trader's wife. They are infernal heretics, sent hither by the evil one to turn good Catholics from their duty. I say again, beware of them!" and he struck his hand heavily on the table beside him. "And now, my daughter, have you relieved your conscience of its burden? Remember, one sin withheld at confession will curse you on your death-bed, and send you, unshriven, to perdition!"
A sort of shudder ran through the bowed form of Inez, and in a low tone, she replied, "I also accuse myself of all the sins that may have escaped my memory, and by which, as well as those I have confessed, I have offended Almighty God, through my most grievous fault."
"I enjoin upon you, as penance for the omission of the holy ordinances of our most holy church, five Credos when you hear the matin bell, twelve Paters when noon comes round, and five Aves at vespers. These shall you repeat, kneeling upon the hard floor, with the crucifix before you, and your rosary in your hand. In addition, you must repair to a cell of San Jose, and there remain one month. Moreover, you shall see and speak to none, save the holy sisters. And now, my daughter, I would absolve you."
Inez bent low, while he spread his hands above her head and pronounced the Latin text to that effect, then bade her rise, and dismissed her with a blessing.
The sun was just visible over the eastern hills, as Inez stepped upon the Plaza. Her face was deadly pale, and the black eyes glittered strangely.
"I have knelt to thee for the last time, Father Mazzolin. Long enough you have crushed me to the earth; one short month of seeming servitude, and I am free. Think you I too cannot see the gathering tempest? for long I have watched it rise. It may be that happiness is denied me; but yonder gurgling waters shall receive my body ere I become a lasting inmate of your gloomy cell. My plan works well; even my wily Padre thinks me penitent for the past! But dearly have I bought my safety. I have played false! lied! where is my conscience? Have I one? No, no! 'tis dead. Dead from the hour I listened to the Padre's teachings! If there be a hereafter, and, oh! if there is a God, what will become of me?" And the girl shuddered convulsively. "Yet I have heard him lie. I know that even he heeds not the laws of his pretended God! He bade me follow his teachings, and I did, and I deceived him! Hal he thinks the game all at his fingers' ends. But I will neither marry Manuel, nor be a holy sister of Jose. There will come a time for me. Now I must work, keep him in the dark, spend the month in seclusion; by that time the troubles here will begin, and who may tell the issue?"
A quick step behind her caused Inez to turn in the midst of her soliloquy. Dr. Bryant was hastening by, but paused at sight of her face.
"Ah, Senorita! How do you do this beautiful morning?" He looked at her earnestly, and added, "You are too pale, Inez—much too pale. Your midnight vigils do not agree with you; believe me, I speak seriously, you will undermine your health." Her eyes were fixed earnestly on his noble face, beaming with benevolence, and a slight flush tinged her cheek, as she replied, "Dr. Bryant, I am not the devout Catholic you suppose me. The Padre thinks me remiss in many of my duties, and I am going for a short time to San Jose. You need not look at me so strangely, I have no idea of becoming a nun, I assure you."
"Inez, one of your faith can never be sure of anything; let me entreat you not to go to the convent. You need recreation, and had much better mount your pony, and canter a couple of miles every morning; it would insure a more healthful state of both body and mind."
"I must go, Dr. Bryant."
"Well then, good-by, if you must, yet I fear you will not return looking any better."
"Adios," and they parted.
Inez's eye followed the retreating form till an adjoining corner intervened. Then pressing her hand on her heart, as if to still some exquisite pain, she murmured in saddened tones—"Oh! I would lay down my life for your love, yet it is lavished on one who has no heart to give in return. Oh, that I may one day be able to serve you!"
At the moment she perceived Manuel Nevarro crossing the Plaza, and drawing closer the mantilla, she hastened homeward.
"A perfect woman, nobly planned; To warn, to counsel, to command, The reason firm, the temperate will, Prudence, foresight, strength, and skill."
The beautiful ideal of Wordsworth seemed realized in Mrs. Carlton. She was by nature impetuous, and even irritable; but the careful training of her deeply pious mother early eradicated these seeds of discord and future misery. She reared her "in the way she should go," and taught her to "remember her Creator in the days of her youth." Crushing vanity, which soon rose hydra-headed in her path, she implanted in her daughter's heart a sense of her own unworthiness, and led her to the "fountain of light and strength."
Under her judicious care, Ellen's character was molded into perfect beauty. She became a Christian, in the purest sense of the term. Hers were not the gloomy tenets of the anchorite, which, with a sort of Spartan stoicism, severs every tie enjoined by his great Creator, bids adieu to all of joy that earth can give, and becomes a devotee at the shrine of some canonized son of earth, as full of imperfections as himself. Neither did she hold the lighter and equally dangerous creed of the latitudinarian. Her views were of a happy medium; liberal, yet perfectly orthodox.
Ellen married early in life, and many were the trials which rose up to test her fortitude, and even her reliance on almighty God. Of six beautiful children that blessed her union, four went down to an early tomb. Though bowed to the earth by the weight of her affliction, she murmured not against the hand that chastened her; but as one by one was snatched from her warm embrace, she poured out the depth of a mother's love on the remaining two.
One stroke of fortune reduced her, in a day, from affluence to comparative penury; and leaving his luxurious home, Mr. Carlton resolved to seek his fortune in the Western World. Hither she had accompanied him, encountering, without a murmur, the numerous hardships, which those who have not endured can never fully realize. They had preceded Mr. Hamilton but a few months, and joyfully welcomed him as an agreeable acquisition to their little circle.
Mrs. Carlton found in Mary a real friend; one who sympathized with, and assisted her in her many benevolent plans for ameliorating the condition of the destitute Mexicans around them.
With Florence, the former had little affinity, and, consequently, little intercourse. Their tastes were directly opposite, and though they often met, there was no interchange of the deep and holier feelings of the heart.
Frank Bryant was the orphan-brother of Mrs. Carlton, and almost as dearly loved by her as her own darling Elliot. A few months before St. ——'s day, he reached San Antonio, on a visit to the sister, from whom he had been separated several years. Soon after his arrival, an epidemic made its appearance among the lower order of Mexicans; and as there was no resident physician at that early time, his services were speedily in requisition. The Padre, who numbered among his many acquirements a tolerable knowledge of medicine, viewed with indifference the suffering around him; and was only roused from his lethargy by discovering the flattering estimation in which Frank was held. Fearing so formidable a rival in the affections of his people, he left no means untried to undermine the popularity so deservedly acquired. But gratitude is a distinguishing trait of Indian character; and though apparently obeying the injunctions of their Padre, to follow no directions save his own, they reverenced Dr. Bryant as a being of superior order.
It was beside the bed of a dying friend that Inez first met him. One long weary night they watched together, and when at last death freed the sufferer, with mingled emotions of admiration and gratitude she thanked him for the attentions conferred with such disinterested benevolence. She could not avoid contrasting the conduct of the cold and calculating Jesuit with the warm-hearted kindness of the noble stranger.
In a few days it became evident that she had herself imbibed the disease, and her terrified father brought the young physician to restore her. With unwearied patience he watched over the beautiful Senorita, whom Mrs. Carlton and Mary most carefully nursed, and was rewarded by the glow of returning health.
The idols of her youth were neglected and forgotten; one image filled Inez's heart, and before it she poured out all the passionate love of her ardent nature; hence her aversion to a union with Manuel Nevarro.
Dr. Bryant early perceived her attachment; and knowing full well that he could never return it, avoided her society with a delicacy peculiarly his own. When thrown accidentally into her presence, his manner was frank, kind, and brotherly.
Inez did not deceive herself for a moment by supposing that he would ever return her love. She knew too well the nature of the barrier which intervened. To remain unfettered, to see, to love, and one day to serve him, was her dearest wish; and for its gratification she dared the rage of her father, and the hatred of her Padre. She fancied he loved another, and with the characteristic jealousy of her nation, an aversion to that object settled on her heart.
Dr. Bryant had nursed the last patient into convalescence: still he lingered, and at the close of St. ——'s day, announced his intention of remaining until the difficulties with Mexico were either amicably arranged, or war declared. Mary and Florence he often met, for he was a constant visitor at Mr. Hamilton's. His manner toward them was very different; with Mary he ever assumed the light bantering tone of brotherly freedom; with Florence he was always grave and earnest. Their conversation was generally upon literary topics, of which she was fond. Many were their discussions for and against their favorite authors and philosophers. In these arguments Mary seldom took part, though fully qualified to do so. Occasionally her cousin asked her opinion on various topics; at such times she gave them clearly, yet modestly, and with a gentle dignity peculiar to herself. The earnest attention with which Frank listened to her views, and his happy smile, when they coincided with his own, somewhat puzzled Mary; yet she welcomed his repartees with the same bright smile, and allowed distrust and jealousy no room in her heart.
"He swore that love of souls Alone had drawn him to the church; yet strewed The path that led to hell with tempting flowers, And in the ear of sinners, as they took The way of death, he whispered peace."
How wearily pass the hours to the anxious watcher beside the couch of pain. To her, it seems as though the current of time had forgotten to run on and join the mighty past, and that its swift waters were gathering glassily around her. With unmitigated care, Florence had attended the bedside of her suffering parent; occasionally slumbering on his pillow, but more frequently watching through the long nights, and often stealing to the casement, to look out upon surrounding gloom, and wonder if the light of day would ever fall again on earth. Ah! in the midnight hour, when all nature is hushed when universal darkness reigns, when the "still small voice" will no longer be silenced, then we are wont to commune with our own hearts. All barriers melt away, and the saddened past, the troubled present, and the shadowy future rise successively before us, and refuse to be put by. In vain we tightly close the aching lids; strange lurid lights flare around us, and mysterious forms glide to and fro.
To the guilty, how fearful must the season of darkness prove, when, unable longer to escape from themselves, they yield to the pangs of remorse, and toss in unutterable anguish!
"By night, an atheist half believes a God."
And thousands, who in the sunny light of day rush madly on to ruin, pause, shudderingly, in the midnight hour, and look yearningly toward the narrow path where Virtue's lamp, flashing into the deepest recesses of surrounding gloom, dispels all shadow; and, in imagination, view the Christian peacefully descending the hill of life, fearlessly crossing the "valley of the shadow of death," and resting at last on that blest shore, where night and darkness are unknown, "swallowed up in endless day."
It was very evident that Mr. Hamilton could survive but a few days; and to every entreaty that she would take some rest, Florence but shook her head, and replied, that she would not leave him when he must die so soon.
One evening Dr. Bryant, having administered a soothing potion, turned to her and said, "My dear Miss Hamilton, you will seriously injure your health by such constant watching. Your father needs nothing now but quiet. Let me entreat you to go out for a short time; the air will refresh you, and your aunt will remain with Mr. Hamilton." He drew her reluctantly from her seat as he spoke, and whispered Mary to accompany her.
Drawing her arm round Florence, Mary turned in the direction of their accustomed rambles, but her cousin said, "I am too weary to walk far, let us go to our old seat by the river."
The stream was only a few yards distant, and they seated themselves on a broad, flat stone, beneath a cluster of pomegranate and figs. The evening was beautifully clear, the soft light which still lingered in the west mellowing every object, and the balmy southern breeze, fresh from "old ocean's bosom," rustling musically amidst the branches above. As if to enhance the sweetness of the hour, and win the mourners from their sad thoughts, the soothing tones of the vesper bells floated afar on the evening air; distance had softened them, and now they sounded clear and Eolian-like. The river eddied and curled rapidly along at their feet; and ever and anon, the stillness that seemed settling around was broken by the plunging fish, that gambled in hundreds amidst its blue waters.
"How calm and holy this stillness seems! Florry, does it not cause you to lift your heart in gratitude to the 'almighty Giver' of so many blessings?"
"All things are dark to sorrow;" replied Florence, and folding her arms across her bosom, she dropped her head wearily upon them.
"Oh, Florry, do not give up so! I cannot bear to hear your despairing tone. Still hope; your dear father may be spared to us;" and she put her arms caressingly around her.
"Hope!" echoed Florence; "I have ceased to hope that he will recover. I know that he cannot; and in a few hours I shall be alone in the world. Alone, alone!" she repeated the words, as if fully to realize the misery in store for her. "O God! why hast thou not taken me before? Take me now; oh, in mercy, take me with him!"
In vain Mary strove to soothe and console her; she remained perfectly still, her face hid in her arms, and replied not to her anxious questionings. A long silence ensued, and Mary wept. A feeling of desolation began to creep over her; a second time she was to be thrown on the wide, cold world. She thought of her uncle's generosity and unvaried kindness during the many years she had dwelt under his roof, and scarcely felt that it was not her own. And then there stole up the image of her lost mother; the wan, but saint-like face, and the heavenly smile with which she pointed upward, and bade her child prepare for the glorious union, in that mansion which Jehovah assigned to those who are faithful on earth.
Poor Mary's heart was sad indeed; yet there was no bitterness in her soul, no rebellious feelings toward Almighty God, who had thus afflicted her so sorely. She wiped away her tears, and calming herself as much as possible, repeated, in a faltering voice, the beautiful hymn commencing "I would not live always." She paused at the conclusion of the second verse; but Florence did not lift her head, and hoping to cheer her, she finished the hymn.
Twilight had fallen on the earth, and the blue vault of heaven was studded with its myriad lamps. The new moon glittered like a golden thread—low in the west—and seemed almost to rest upon the bosom of the stream, as it curved in the distance to meet the horizon.
"Come, Florry, you must not stay out so late; I am afraid you will take cold!"
Florence rose mechanically and accompanied her.
"Oh, Florry, do try and trust in God, and believe that in every trial and affliction he will comfort and assist us."
Her cousin sighed heavily, but made no reply.
As they reached the gate it was quickly opened, and the Padre met them: he bowed coldly to Mary, but shook hands with Florence, and promised to come again the ensuing day. It was so late that Mary could not distinguish his features; but just as he turned to go, Aunt Fanny threw open the kitchen door, and the light streamed full on his face; their eyes met, and she started at the smile of triumph that irradiated his dark countenance: he bowed, and passed on.
Mary hastened down the walk, and entered the sick room, fearing she scarcely knew what. The invalid Was tossing restlessly from side to side, and on the pillow lay a rosary and crucifix. For an instant she stood motionless; then sprang forward, and clasped his burning hand in hers. "Uncle! dear uncle! tell me who has been with you! Aunt Lizzy promised she would not leave you till we came back You have been excited: your hands are burning with fever!"
"I was not alone, Mary; the Padre sat and talked with me;" as the sufferer spoke, he shuddered and closed his eyes.
"And did he leave these here!" said she, taking up the crucifix and rosary.
"No, no! they are mine!" and he snatched them from her.
Mary turned pale, and leaned against the bed for support. Florence, now bending over her father, motioned to her cousin to be silent; without effect, however; for, passing round the bed, she knelt beside him. "Uncle, was it by your desire that the Padre came here this evening?"
He did not seem to hear her question; she repeated it.
"Yes; that is, this is not his first visit."
"Uncle, why do you evade me? Tell me, I entreat you, if he did not force himself here in my absence!"
"Mary, will you drive my father delirious with your interference with his wishes?"
"No, Florry, not when I am convinced that such are his wishes. I know that in health he is no more a Papist than you or I; yet, now I see him clinging to that rosary and crucifix, what am I to think? If you can explain this mystery, do so, Florry."
"The day that you were at Mrs. Carlton's, learning to make that custard my father likes so well, the Padre came, and kindly sat with him some time. He came the next night, and the next; and read and prayed with him. I hope you are satisfied now that there is no intrusion." All this was whispered so low as not to reach the ears of the invalid.
"Were you present at any of these interviews, Florry?"
"No; they always preferred being alone,"
"Oh! why did you not tell me this before?"
"I am sure I can't see what you are so excited about! If my father chooses to become a Catholic, I should think it would relieve you to know that he realizes his situation." She turned resolutely away as she finished speaking, and seated herself beside the bed.
Mary left the room almost stunned by the discovery she had made; and scarce knowing what to do, wrapped her shawl about her, and walked quickly to Mrs. Carlton's. To her she related all she had just learned, and begged her advice and assistance.
Mrs. Carlton was sorely puzzled and much distressed.
"I fear, Mary, it is too late to remedy the evil."
"Oh, do not say so! I cannot bear that he should die in that faith; he is too feeble to oppose anything they offer, and is scarcely conscious of his own actions. In health, they dared not approach him; for they knew full well that he scorned their creed, and disliked their Padre. Yet now that he is so weak, in both body and mind, they hope to influence him. Oh, how could Florence be so blind! Dear Mrs. Carlton, come and reason with him. I know he esteems you very highly, and your opinion might weigh with him."
"Indeed, my dear child, I will do all in my power to dissuade him from the unfortunate course he has taken, but not to-night; he must be wearied very much already. I will come in the morning."
Early the ensuing day she fulfilled her promise, and in Florence's presence strove to elicit his views and belief. To her surprise he refused to hold any conversation on the subject; declaring that his mind was made up, and that he was determined to die a member of the holy Catholic Church.
Before she could frame a reply, they were startled by the sound of a struggle at the door, and the next moment it was flung wide open, and Father Mazzolin, livid with rage, rushed in. Mrs. Carlton rose with gentle dignity, and inquired his business. He heeded not her question, but strode to the bed, and whispered in Mr. Hamilton's ear. The invalid, in a voice so feeble that it was scarce audible, requested them to leave him with the Padre for an hour, as he wished to converse with him alone. Mrs. Carlton perfectly well understood that he but repeated the priest's orders, and perceiving that nothing could now be effected, left the room accompanied by Florence. But Mary clung to the bed, and refused to go.
"You have taken advantage of my uncle's weakness to force yourself where your presence is unwelcome, and I will not leave him when he is too weak to oppose your orders."
He strove to force her out, but she clung firmly to the bed; and muttering an oath between his teeth, he turned to the sufferer, and spoke in an unknown tongue; a feeble response in the same language seemed to satisfy him, and darting a triumphant glance at the kneeling girl, he seated himself, and conversed for nearly an hour. Then offering up a Latin prayer, departed, promising to come again.
Mrs. Carlton had not left the house; she waited anxiously for Mary. And when Florence re-entered the sick room, the former hastened to her friend.