Carmen Ariza Part 101

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The blanket of wet fog which had hung over the harbor with such exasperating tenacity lifted suddenly, late in the raw fall afternoon, and revealed to the wondering eyes of the girl who stood alone at the rail of the _Joachim_ a confusion of mountainous shadows, studded with myriad points of light which glittered and s.h.i.+mmered beneath the gray pall. Across the heaving waters came the dull, ominous breathing of the metropolis. Clouds of heavy, black smoke wreathed about the bay.

Through it shrieking water craft darted and wriggled in endless confusion. For two days the port of New York had been a bedlam of raw sound, as the great sirens of the motionless vessels roared their raucous warnings through the impenetrable veil which enveloped them.

Their noise had become acute torture to the impatient tourists, and added bewilderment to the girl.

The transition from the primitive simplicity of her tropical home had not been one of easy gradation, but a precipitate plunge. The convulsion which ensued from the culmination of events long gathering about little Simiti had hurled her through the forest, down the scalding river, and out upon the tossing ocean with such swiftness that, as she now stood at the portal of a new world, she seemed to be wandering through the mazes of an intricate dream. During the ocean voyage she had kept aloof from the other pa.s.sengers, partly because of embarra.s.sment, partly because of the dull pain at her heart as she gazed, day after day, at the two visions which floated always before her: one, the haggard face of the priest, when she tore herself from his arms in far-off Simiti; the other, that of the dark-faced, white-haired old man who stood on the clayey river bank at wretched Llano and watched her, with eager, straining eyes, until the winding stream hid her from his earthly sight--forever. She wondered dully now why she had left them, why she had so easily yielded to the influences which had caused the separation. They might have fled to the jungle and lived there in safety and seclusion. The malign influences which beset them all in Simiti never could have reached them in the trackless forest. And yet, she knew that had not Rosendo and Jose held out to her, almost to the last moment, a.s.surances of a speedy reunion, she would not have yielded to the pressure which they had exerted, and to the allurements of life in the wonderful country to which they had sent her. Her embarra.s.sment on the boat was due largely to a sense of awkwardness in the presence of women who, to her provincial sight, seemed visions of beauty. To be sure, the priest had often shown her pictures of the women of the outside world, and she had some idea of their dress. But that such a vast difference existed between the ill.u.s.trations and the actualities, she had never for a moment imagined. Their gowns, their jewels, their coiffures held her in open-mouthed marvel, until Mrs. Reed, herself annoyed and embarra.s.sed, remanded her to her cabin and bade her learn the impropriety of such manners.

Nor had the conduct of this lady throughout the voyage conduced to Carmen's happiness. Mrs. Reed showed plainly that the girl was an awkward embarra.s.sment to her; that she was tolerated because of reasons which pertained solely to her husband's business; and she took pains to impress upon her fellow-travelers that, in view of the perplexing servant problem, this unmannered creature was being taken to the States to be trained as a maid, though, heaven knew! the training would be arduous, and the result uncertain.

Reed, though measurably kind, gave Carmen scant attention. Harris alone saved the girl from almost complete neglect. He walked the deck with her, regardless of the smiles of the other pa.s.sengers. He taught her to play shuffle-board, checkers, and simple card games. He conducted her over the boat and explained the intricate machinery and the numberless wonders of the great craft. He sat with her out on the deck at night and told her marvelous stories of his experiences in frontier camps. And at the table he insisted that she occupy the seat next to him, despite the protestations of the chief steward, who would have placed her apart with the servants.

Carmen said little, but she clung to the man with an appeal which, though mute, he nevertheless understood. At Kingston he took her on a drive through the town, and bought post cards for her to send back to Jose and Rosendo. It consoled her immeasurably when he glowingly recounted the pleasure her loved ones would experience on receiving these cards; and thereafter the girl daily devoted hours to the preparation of additional ones to be posted in New York.

The lifting of the fog was the signal for a race among the stalled craft to gain the harbor entrance. The enforced retention of the vessels in the bay had resulted in much confusion in docking, and the _Joachim_ was a.s.signed to a pier not her own. The captain grumbled, but had no choice. At the pier opposite there docked a huge liner from Havre; and the two boats poured their swarming human freight into the same shed. When the gang plank dropped, Harris took charge of Carmen, while Reed and his wife preceded them ash.o.r.e, the latter giving a little scream of delight as she spied her sister and some friends with a profusion of flowers awaiting her on the pier. She rushed joyfully into their arms, while Reed hastened to his equipage with a customs officer.

But as Harris and the bewildered Carmen pushed into the great crowd in the shed, the absent-minded man suddenly remembered that he had left a bundle of Panama hats underneath his bunk. Dropping the girl's hand, the impetuous fellow tore back up the gang plank and dived into the boat.

For a moment Carmen, stood in confusion, bracing herself against the swarming mult.i.tude, and clinging tenaciously to the small, paper-wrapped bundle which she carried. Her first impulse was to follow Harris. But the eager, belated crowd almost swept her off her feet, and she turned again, drifting slowly with it toward the distant exit. As she moved uncertainly, struggling the while to prevent being crushed against the wall, she felt some one grasp her hand.

"Oh, here you are!" sounded a gentle voice close to her ear. "Well, how fortunate! We thought we had lost you! Come, they are waiting for us up ahead."

Carmen looked up at the speaker. It was a woman, comely of feature, and strikingly well dressed. The girl thought her beautiful. The anxious fears of a moment before vanished. "Is he up there--Mr. Reed?"

she asked quickly.

"He? Oh, yes--Mr. Reed and the others are waiting for us. They sent me back to find you. The automobiles came for you all; but I presume the others have gone by this time. However, you and I will follow in mine.

I am Auntie."

"His aunt?" the girl asked eagerly, as the woman forced a way for them through the ma.s.s of humanity.

"Yes, dear. And I am so glad to see you. I have heard all about you."

"Did he write to you--from Simiti?"

"Yes, long letters. And he told all about his little girl. He said your name was--"

"Carmen," interrupted the girl, with a great surge of gladness, for here was one woman who did not avoid her.

"Yes, Carmen. It is a sweet name."

"But--Mr. Harris!" cried Carmen, suddenly stopping as she remembered.

"Oh, did he wait? Well, he will come. He knows where to find the automobiles. I will leave word with the pier-master to tell him."

By this time they had wormed their way clear of the crowd and gained the street. The woman, still retaining Carmen's hand, went directly to a waiting automobile and pushed the unresisting girl through the open door. Carmen had never seen a conveyance like this, and her thought was instantly absorbed. She looked wonderingly for the horses. And then, sinking into the luxurious cus.h.i.+ons, she fell to speculating as to how the thing was moved.

As the chauffeur reached back to close the door a policeman, who had been eying the party since they came out of the shed, stepped up and laid a hand on the car.

"Er--little girl," he said, looking in and addressing Carmen, "_you--you know this lady, do you_?"

"Yes," replied Carmen, looking up confidently into the woman's smiling face. "She is Auntie, Mr. Reed's aunt." She thought his blue uniform and s.h.i.+ning b.u.t.tons and star gorgeously beautiful.

The officer stood hesitant a moment. Suspicion lurked in his eyes as he looked at the woman and then back again at the girl.

"She is a little girl who came up from the South with my nephew, Mr.

Reed," the woman explained easily. "But I don't wonder you asked. I will give you my card, if you wish."

Her air was supremely confident. The chauffeur, too, as he got out and leisurely examined his engine, served further to disarm suspicion. The officer raised up and removed his hand from the machine. The chauffeur slowly mounted the box and threw on his lever. As the car moved gently into the night the officer glanced at its number. "h.e.l.l!" he muttered, turning away. "What's the use? The number would be changed anyway.

What's a fellow going to do in a case like this, I'd like to know--go with 'em?"

Some minutes later, Harris, wild and disheveled, followed by Reed and his party, emerged hurriedly into the street.

"What you looking for?" asked the officer, planting himself in front of Harris, and becoming vaguely apprehensive.

"Girl!" sputtered Harris, his eyes protruding and his long arms pawing the air. "Girl--so high--funny dress--big straw hat! Seen her?"

The officer gasped. "She's gone! Aunt took her just now in an auto!"

"Aunt!" yelled Harris. "She's got no aunt! She's from the jungle!"

For a moment they all stood silent, big-eyed and gaping.

"Look here, Mr. Officer," said Reed, interposing. "My name's Reed. The girl came up from South America with me. Describe the woman--"

"Reed!" cried the policeman excitedly, his eyes lighting. "That's it!

Said she was your aunt!"

"Lord Harry! You great, blundering b.o.o.b!" cried the distracted Harris, menacing the confused officer. "And you let her nab the kid?"

Night had fallen, and a curious crowd was gathering around the excited, noisy group. Reed quickly signaled a taxicab and hustled the bewildered officer into it. "You, Harris, get the women folks home, and wait for me! I'll go to central with this officer and report the case!"

"Not I!" exclaimed Harris wildly. "I'm going to visit every dance hall and dive in this bloomin' town before I go home! I'm going to find that girl! And you, you blithering idiot," shaking a fist at the officer, "you're going to lose your star for this!"

Meantime, the car, in which Carmen lay deep in the soft cus.h.i.+ons, sped through the dusk like a fell spirit. A confused jumble of shadows flew past, and strange, unfamiliar noises rose from the animated streets.

The lights s.h.i.+mmered on the moist gla.s.s. It was confusing. The girl ceased trying to read any meaning in it. It all fused into a blur; and she closed her eyes and gave herself up to the novel sensations stimulated by her first ride in a carriage propelled--she knew not how.

At length came a creaking, a soft, skidding motion, and the big car rolled up against a curb and stopped.

"We are home now," said the woman softly, as she descended and again took Carmen's hand. They hurriedly mounted the white stone steps of a tall, gloomy building and entered a door that seemed to open noiselessly at their approach. A glare of light burst upon the blinking eyes of the girl. A negro woman softly closed the door after them. With a wondering glance, Carmen looked about her. In the room at her right she caught a glimpse of women--beautiful, they seemed to her--clad in loose, low-cut, gaily colored gowns. There were men there, too; and some one sat at a piano playing sprightly music. She had seen pianos like that in Cartagena, and on the boat, and they had seemed to her things bewitched. In the room at the end of the hall men and women were dancing on a floor that seemed of polished gla.s.s. Loud talk, laughter, and singing floated through the rooms, and the air was warm and stuffy, heavy with perfume. The odor reminded her of the roses in her own little garden in Simiti. It was all beautiful, wonderful, fairy-like.

But she had only a moment for this appraisal. Seizing her hand again, the woman whisked her up the flight of stairs before them and into a warm, light room. Then, without speaking, she went out and closed the door, leaving the girl alone.

Carmen sank into a great, upholstered rocking chair and tried to grasp it all as she swayed dreamily back and forth. So this was his home, Mr. Reed's. It was a palace! Like those Jose had described. She wondered if Harris dwelt in a place of such heavenly beauty; for he had said that he did not live with Reed. What would the stupid people of Simiti think could they see her now! She had never dreamed that such marvels existed in the big world beyond her dreary, dusty, little home town! Jose had told her much, ah, wonderful things! And so had Harris. But how pitifully inadequate now seemed all their stories! She still wondered what had made that carriage go in which she had come up from the boat. And what would one like it cost? Would her interest in La Libertad suffice to buy one? She speculated vaguely.

Then she rose and wandered about the room. She pa.s.sed her hand over the clean, white counterpane of the bed. "Oh," she murmured, "how beautiful!" She went dreamily to the bureau and took up, one by one, the toilet articles that lay there in neat array. "Oh, oh, oh!" she murmured, again and again. She glanced into the clear mirror. The little figure reflected there contrasted so oddly with the gorgeously beautiful ones she had glimpsed below that she laughed aloud. Then she went to the window and felt of the soft curtains. "It is heaven," she murmured, facing about and sweeping the room, "just heaven! Oh, how beautiful even the human mind can be! I never thought it, I never thought it!"

Again she sat down in the big rocker and gave herself up to the charm of her surroundings. Her glance fell upon a vase of flowers that stood on a table near another window. She rose and went to them, bending over to inhale their fragrance. "How strange!" she exclaimed, as she felt them crackle in her fingers. Poor child, they were artificial!

But she would learn, ere long, that they fittingly symbolized the life of the great city in which she was now adrift.

Time pa.s.sed. She began to wonder why the woman did not return. Were not the Reeds anxious to know of her safe arrival? But perhaps they had visitors. Surely that was the case. It was a ball--but so different from the simple, artless _baile_ of her native town. Stray s.n.a.t.c.hes of music drifted into the room from the piano below. It stimulated a hunger for more. She went to the door, thinking to open it a little and listen. The door was locked!

Carmen Ariza Part 101

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Carmen Ariza Part 101 summary

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