Rita Part 8

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Again she caught a quizzical glance of the blue eyes, and was reminded, she hardly knew why, of her Uncle John. But Uncle John's eyes were brown.

"You are--alone here, Senor Delmonte?" she asked, glancing around the solitary dell.

"Yes," said the young man, composedly. "I'm in hiding."

Rita's eyes flashed. Hiding! a son of Cuba! skulking about in the woods, while his brother soldiers were at the front, or, like Carlos, guarding the hill pa.s.ses! This was indeed being only half a Cuban. She would have nothing to do with recreant soldiers; and she turned away with a face of cold displeasure.

"How's your foot?" asked Senora Carreno, abruptly. "That last dressing fetch it, do you think?"



"All right!" said the young man. "Look! I have my shoe on." And he held up one foot with an air of triumph. "I shall be ready for the road to-night, and take my troublesome self off your hands, Senora Carreno."

"No trouble at all!" said the good woman, earnestly. "Not a mite of trouble but what was pleasure, Captain Jack."

Captain Jack! where had Rita heard that name? Before she could try to think, her hostess went on.

"Well, I kinder hate to have you go, but of course you're eager, same as all young folks are. But look here! You'd better pa.s.s the night with us, and let me see to your foot once more, and give you a good night's sleep in a Christian bed; and then I can mend up your things a bit, and you lay by till night again, and start off easy and comfortable."

"It sounds very delightful," said the young man, with a glance at the charming girl who would stand with her head turned away. "But how about the Gringos, Donna Prudencia? Supposing some of them should come along to-morrow!"

"They won't come to-morrow!" said Marm Prudence, significantly.

"No? you have a.s.surance of that? and why may they not come to-morrow?"

"Because they've come to-day, most likely!"

Rita started, and turned back toward the speakers.

"The Gringos? to-day?" she cried.

Marm Prudence nodded. "That was why I brought you here, dear," she said; "most of the reason, that is. We got word they was most likely comin', quite a pa.s.sel of 'em; and we judged it was well, Don Noonsey and me, that they shouldn't see you. I thought mebbe," she added, with a sly glance at the basket, "that if I brought a little something extry, we might get an invitation to take a bite of luncheon, but we don't seem to."

"Oh! but who could have supposed that I was to have _all_ the good things in the world?" cried Delmonte, merrily. "This is really too good to be true. Help me, Donna Prudencia, while I set out the feast! Why, this is the great day of the whole campaign."

The two unpacked the basket, with many jests and much laughter; they were evidently old friends. Meantime Rita stood by, uncertain of her own mood. To miss an experience, possibly terrible, certainly thrilling; to have lost an opportunity of declaring herself a daughter of Cuba, possibly of shooting a Spaniard for herself, and to have been deceived, tricked like a child; this brought her slender brows together, ominously, and made her eyes glitter in a way that Manuela would have known well. On the other hand--here was a romantic spot, a young soldier, apparently craven, but certainly wounded, and very good-looking; and here was luncheon, and she was desperately hungry. On the whole--

The tragedy queen disappeared, and it was a cheerful though very dignified young person who responded gracefully to Delmonte's pet.i.tion that she would do him the favour to be seated at his humble board.

CHAPTER X.

MANUELA'S OPPORTUNITY.

That was a pleasant little meal, under the great plane-tree in the cup-shaped dell. Marm Prudence had kept, through all her years of foreign residence, her New England touch in cookery, and Senor Delmonte declared that it was worth a whole campaign twice over to taste her doughnuts. They drank "_Cuba Libre_" in raspberry vinegar that had come all the way from Vermont, and Rita was obliged to confess that Senor Delmonte was a charming host, and that she was enjoying herself extremely.

It was late in the afternoon when she and Marm Prudence took their way back through the forest. At first Rita was silent; but as distance increased between them and the dell, she could not restrain her curiosity.

How was it, she asked, that this young man was there alone, separated from his companions? He said he was in hiding. Hiding! a detestable, an unworthy word! Why should a son of Cuba be in hiding, she wished to know! She had worked herself into a fine glow of indignation again, and was ready to believe anything and everything bad about the agreeable youth with the blue eyes.

"I must know!" she repeated, dropping her voice to a contralto note that she was fond of. "Tell me, Marm Prudence; tell me all! have I broken the bread of a recreant?"

"I thought it was my bread," said Marm Prudence, dryly. "I'll tell you, if you'll give me a chance, Miss Margaritty. I supposed, though, that you'd have heard of Jack Delmonty; Captain Jack, as they call him. Since his last raid the Gringos have offered a big reward for him, alive or dead. He was wounded in the foot, and thought he might hender his troop some if he tried to go with them in that state. So he camped here, and we've seen to him as best we could."

Rita was dumb, half with amazement, half with mortification. How was it possible that she had been so stupid? Heard of Captain Jack? where were her wits? the daring guerrilla leader, the pride of the Cuban bands, the terror of all Spaniards in that part of the island. Why, he was one of her pet heroes; only--only she had fancied him so utterly different. The Captain Jack of her fancy was a gigantic person, with blue-black curls, with eyes like wells of black light (she had been fond of this bit of description, and often repeated it to herself), a superb moustache, and a nose absolutely Grecian, like the Santillo nose of tender memory. This half-Yankee stripling, blue-eyed, with a nose that--yes, that actually turned up a little, and the merest feather of brown laid on his upper lip--how could she or any one suppose this to be the famous cavalry leader?

Rita blushed scarlet with distress, as she remembered her bearing, which she had tried to make as scornful as was compatible with good manners.

She had meant, had done her best, to show him that she thought lightly of a Cuban soldier who, for what reason soever, proclaimed himself without apology to be "in hiding." To be sure, he had not seemed to feel the rebuke as she had expected he would. Once or twice she had caught that look of Uncle John in his eyes; the laughing, critical, yet kindly scrutiny that always made her feel like a little girl, and a silly girl at that. Was that what she had seemed to Captain Delmonte? Of course it was. She had had the great, the crowning opportunity of her life, of doing homage to a real hero (she forgot good General Sevillo, who had been a hero in a quiet and business-like way for sixty years), and she had lost the opportunity.

It was a very subdued Rita who returned to the house that evening. At the edge of the wood they were met by Don Annunzio, who stood as before, smoking his long black cigar, and scrutinising the road and the surrounding country. A wave of his hand told them that all was well, and they stepped quickly across the road, and in another minute were on the verandah.

Don Annunzio followed them with an elaborate air of indifference; but once seated in his great chair, he began to speak eagerly, gesticulating with his cigar.

"_Dios!_ Prudencia, you had an inspiration from heaven this day. What I have been through! the sole comfort is that I have lost twenty pounds at least, from sheer anxiety. Imagine that you had not been gone an hour, when up they ride, the _guerrilla_ that was reported to us yesterday. At their head, that pestiferous Col. Diego Moreno. He dismounts, demands coffee, bananas, what there is. I go to get them; and, the saints aiding me, I meet in the face the pretty Manuela. Another instant, and she would have been on the verandah, would have been seen by these swine, female curiosity having led her to imagine a necessary errand in that direction. I seize this charming child by the shoulders, I push her into her room. I tell her, 'Thou hast a dangerous fever. Go to thy bed on the instant, it is a matter of thy life.'

"My countenance is such that she obeys without a word. She is an admirable creature! Beauty, in the female s.e.x--"

"Do go on, Noonsey," said his wife, good-naturedly, "and never mind about beauty now. Land knows we have got other things to think about."

"It is true, it is true, my own!" replied the amiable fat man. "I return to the verandah. This man is striding up and down, cutting at my poor vines with his apoplexy of a whip. He calls me; I stand before him thus, civil but erect.

"'Have you any strangers here, Don Annunzio?'

"'No, Senor Colonel.'

"It is true, senorita. To make a stranger of you, so friendly, so gracious--the thought is intolerable.

"He approaches, he regards me fixedly.

"'A young lady, Senorita Montfort, and her maid, escaped from the carriage of her stepmother, the honourable Senora Montfort, while on the way to the convent of the White Sisters, ten days ago. A man of my command was taken by these hill-cats of Mambis, and carried to a camp in this neighbourhood. He escaped, and reported to me that a young lady and her attendant were in the camp. I raided the place yesterday.'

"'With success, who can doubt?' I said. Civility may be used even to the devil, whom this officer strongly resembled.

"He stamped his feet, he ground his teeth, fire flashed from his eyes.

'They were gone!' he said. 'They had been gone but a few hours, for the fires were still burning, but no trace of them was to be found. I found, however, in a deserted _rancho_,--this!' and he held up a delicate comb of tortoise-sh.e.l.l."

"My side-comb!" cried Rita. "I wondered where I had lost it. Go on, pray, Don Annunzio."

"He questioned me again, this colonel, on whom may the saints send a lingering disease. I can swear that there is no young lady in the house?

but a.s.suredly, I can, and do swear it, with all earnestness. He whistles, and swears also--in a different manner. He says, 'I must search the house. This is an important matter. A large reward is offered by the Senora Montfort for the discovery of this young lady.'

"'Search every rat-hole, my colonel,' I reply; 'but first take your coffee, which is ready at this moment.'

"In effect, Antonia arrives at the instant with the tray. While she is serving him, I find time to slip with the agility of the serpent into the pa.s.sage, and turn the handle of the bedroom door. 'Spotted fever!' I cry through the crack; and am back at my post before the colonel could see round Antonia's broad back. Good! he drinks his coffee. He devours your cakes, my Prudencia, keeping his eye on me all the time, and plying me with questions. I tell him all is well with us, except the sickness.

"'How then? what sickness?'

"'A servant is ill with fever,' I say. 'We hope that it will not spread through the house; it is a bad time for fever.' I see he does not like that, he frowns, he mutters maledictions. I profess myself ready to conduct him through my poor premises; I lead him through the parlour, which he had not sense to admire, to the kitchen, to our own apartment, my cherished one. All the time my heart flutters like a wounded dove. I cry in my soul, 'All depends on the wit of that child. If she had but gone with Prudencia to the forest!'

Rita Part 8

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Rita Part 8 summary

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