The Mystery of the Hacienda by Bret Harte
Dick Bracy gazed again at the Hacienda de los Osos, and hesitated. There
it lay—its low whitewashed walls looking like a quartz outcrop of
the long lazy hillside—unmistakably hot, treeless, and staring
broadly in the uninterrupted Californian sunlight. Yet he knew that behind
those blistering walls was a reposeful patio, surrounded by low-pitched
verandas; that the casa was full of roomy corridors, nooks, and recesses,
in which lurked the shadows of a century, and that hidden by the further
wall was a lonely old garden, hoary with gnarled pear-trees, and smothered
in the spice and dropping leaves of its baking roses. He knew that,
although the unwinking sun might glitter on its red tiles, and the
unresting trade winds whistle around its angles, it always kept one
unvarying temperature and untroubled calm, as if the dignity of years had
triumphed over the changes of ephemeral seasons. But would others see it
with his eyes? Would his practical, housekeeping aunt, and his pretty
"Well, what do you say? Speak the word, and you can go into it with your
folks to-morrow. And I reckon you won't want to take anything either, for
you'll find everything there—just as the old Don left it. I don't
want it; the land is good enough for me; I shall have my vaqueros and
rancheros to look after the crops and the cattle, and they won't trouble
you, for their sheds and barns will be two miles away. You can stay there
as long as you like, and go when you choose. You might like to try it for
a spell; it's all the same to me. But I should think it the sort of thing
a man like you would fancy, and it seems the right thing to have you
there. Well,—what shall it be? Is it a go?"
Dick knew that the speaker was sincere. It was an offer perfectly
characteristic of his friend, the Western millionaire, who had halted by
his side. And he knew also that the slow lifting of his bridle-rein,
preparatory to starting forward again, was the business-like gesture of a
man who wasted no time even over his acts of impulsive liberality. In
another moment he would dismiss the unaccepted offer from his mind—without
concern and without resentment.
"Thank you—it is a go," said Dick gratefully.
Nevertheless, when he reached his own little home in the outskirts of San
Francisco that night, he was a trifle nervous in confiding to the lady,
who was at once his aunt and housekeeper, the fact that he was now the
possessor of a huge mansion in whose patio alone the little eight-roomed
villa where they had lived contentedly might be casually dropped. "You
see, Aunt Viney," he hurriedly explained, "it would have been so
ungrateful to have refused him—and it really was an offer as
spontaneous as it was liberal. And then, you see, we need occupy only a
part of the casa."
"And who will look after the other part?" said Aunt Viney grimly. "That
will have to be kept tidy, too; and the servants for such a house, where
in heaven are they to come from? Or do they go with it?"
"No," said Dick quickly; "the servants left with their old master, when
Ringstone bought the property. But we'll find servants enough in the
neighborhood—Mexican peons and Indians, you know."
Aunt Viney sniffed. "And you'll have to entertain—if it's a big
house. There are all your Spanish neighbors. They'll be gallivanting in
and out all the time."
"They won't trouble us," he returned, with some hesitation. "You see,
they're furious at the old Don for disposing of his lands to an American,
and they won't be likely to look upon the strangers in the new place as
anything but interlopers."
"Oh, that is it, is it?" ejaculated Aunt Viney, with a slight puckering of
her lips. "I thought there was SOMETHING."
"My dear aunt," said Dick, with a sudden illogical heat which he tried to
suppress; "I don't know what you mean by 'it' and 'something.' Ringstone's
offer was perfectly unselfish; he certainly did not suppose that I would
be affected, any more than he would he, by the childish sentimentality of
these people over a legitimate, every-day business affair. The old Don
made a good bargain, and simply sold the land he could no longer make
profitable with his obsolete method of farming, his gang of idle
retainers, and his Noah's Ark machinery, to a man who knew how to use
steam reapers, and hired sensible men to work on shares." Nevertheless he
was angry with himself for making any explanation, and still more
disturbed that he was conscious of a certain feeling that it was
"I was thinking," said Aunt Viney quietly, "that if we invited anybody to
stay with us—like Cecily, for example—it might be rather dull
for her if we had no neighbors to introduce her to."
Dick started; he had not thought of this. He had been greatly influenced
by the belief that his pretty cousin, who was to make them a visit, would
like the change and would not miss excitement. "We can always invite some
girls down there and make our own company," he answered cheerfully.
Nevertheless, he was dimly conscious that he had already made an airy
castle of the old hacienda, in which Cecily and her aunt moved ALONE. It
was to Cecily that he would introduce the old garden, it was Cecily whom
he would accompany through the dark corridors, and with whom he would
lounge under the awnings of the veranda. All this innocently, and without
prejudice or ulterior thought. He was not yet in love with the pretty
cousin whom he had seen but once or twice during the past few years, but
it was a possibility not unpleasant to occasionally contemplate. Yet it
was equally possible that she might yearn for lighter companionship and
accustomed amusement; that the passion-fringed garden and shadow-haunted
corridor might be profaned by hoydenish romping and laughter, or by that
frivolous flirtation which, in others, he had always regarded as
commonplace and vulgar.
Howbeit, at the end of two weeks he found himself regularly installed in
the Hacienda de los Osos. His little household, re-enforced by his cousin
Cecily and three peons picked up at Los Pinos, bore their transplantation
with a singular equanimity that seemed to him unaccountable. Then occurred
one of those revelations of character with which Nature is always ready to
trip up merely human judgment. Aunt Viney, an unrelenting widow of calm
but unshaken Dutch prejudices, high but narrow in religious belief, merged
without a murmur into the position of chatelaine of this unconventional,
half-Latin household. Accepting the situation without exaltation or
criticism, placid but unresponsive amidst the youthful enthusiasm of Dick
and Cecily over each quaint detail, her influence was, nevertheless, felt
throughout the lingering length and shadowy breadth of the strange old
house. The Indian and Mexican servants, at first awed by her practical
superiority, succumbed to her half-humorous toleration of their
incapacity, and became her devoted slaves. Dick was astonished, and even
Cecily was confounded. "Do you know," she said confidentially to her
cousin, "that when that brown Conchita thought to please Aunty by wearing
white stockings instead of going round as usual with her cinnamon-colored
bare feet in yellow slippers—which I was afraid would be enough to
send Aunty into conniption fits—she actually told her, very quietly,
to take them off, and dress according to her habits and her station? And
you remember that in her big, square bedroom there is a praying-stool and
a ghastly crucifix, at least three feet long, in ivory and black, quite
too human for anything? Well, when I offered to put them in the corridor,
she said I 'needn't trouble'; that really she hadn't noticed them, and
they would do very well where they were. You'd think she had been
accustomed to this sort of thing all her life. It's just too sweet of her,
any way, even if she's shamming. And if she is, she just does it to the
life too, and could give those Spanish women points. Why, she rode en
pillion on Manuel's mule, behind him, holding on by his sash, across to
the corral yesterday; and you should have seen Manuel absolutely scrape
the ground before her with his sombrero when he let her down." Indeed, her
tall, erect figure in black lustreless silk, appearing in a heavily
shadowed doorway, or seated in a recessed window, gave a new and patrician
dignity to the melancholy of the hacienda. It was pleasant to follow this
quietly ceremonious shadow gliding along the rose garden at twilight,
halting at times to bend stiffly over the bushes, garden-shears in hand,
and carrying a little basket filled with withered but still odorous
petals, as if she were grimly gathering the faded roses of her youth.
It was also probable that the lively Cecily's appreciation of her aunt
might have been based upon another virtue of that lady—namely, her
exquisite tact in dealing with the delicate situation evolved from the
always possible relations of the two cousins. It was not to be supposed
that the servants would fail to invest the young people with Southern
romance, and even believe that the situation was prearranged by the aunt
with a view to their eventual engagement. To deal with the problem openly,
yet without startling the consciousness of either Dick or Cecily; to allow
them the privileges of children subject to the occasional restraints of
childhood; to find certain household duties for the young girl that kept
them naturally apart until certain hours of general relaxation; to calmly
ignore the meaning of her retainers' smiles and glances, and yet to
good-humoredly accept their interest as a kind of feudal loyalty, was part
of Aunt Viney's deep diplomacy. Cecily enjoyed her freedom and
companionship with Dick, as she enjoyed the novel experiences of the old
house, the quaint, faded civilization that it represented, and the change
and diversion always acceptable to youth. She did not feel the absence of
other girls of her own age; neither was she aware that through this
omission she was spared the necessity of a confidante or a rival—both
equally revealing to her thoughtless enjoyment. They took their rides
together openly and without concealment, relating their adventures
afterwards to Aunt Viney with a naivete and frankness that dreamed of no
suppression. The city-bred Cecily, accustomed to horse exercise solely as
an ornamental and artificial recreation, felt for the first time the
fearful joy of a dash across a league-long plain, with no onlookers but
the scattered wild horses she might startle up to scurry before her, or
race at her side. Small wonder that, mounted on her fiery little mustang,
untrammeled by her short gray riding-habit, free as the wind itself that
blew through the folds of her flannel blouse, with her brown hair
half-loosed beneath her slouched felt hat, she seemed to Dick a more
beautiful and womanly figure than the stiff buckramed simulation of man's
angularity and precision he had seen in the parks. Perhaps one day she
detected this consciousness too plainly in his persistent eyes. Up to that
moment she had only watched the glittering stretches of yellow grain, in
which occasional wind-shorn evergreen oaks stood mid-leg deep like cattle
in water, the distant silhouette of the Sierras against the steely blue,
or perhaps the frankly happy face of the good-looking young fellow at her
side. But it seemed to her now that an intruder had entered the field—a
stranger before whom she was impelled to suddenly fly—half-laughingly,
half-affrightedly—the anxious Dick following wonderingly at her
mustang's heels, until she reached the gates of the hacienda, where she
fell into a gravity and seriousness that made him wonder still more. He
did not dream that his guileless cousin had discovered, with a woman's
instinct, a mysterious invader who sought to share their guileless
companionship, only to absorb it entirely, and that its name was—love!
The next day she was so greatly preoccupied with her household duties that
she could not ride with him. Dick felt unaccountably lost. Perhaps this
check to their daily intercourse was no less accelerating to his feelings
than the vague motive that induced Cecily to withhold herself. He moped in
the corridor; he rode out alone, bullying his mustang in proportion as he
missed his cousin's gentle companionship, and circling aimlessly, but
still unconsciously, around the hacienda as a centre of attraction. The
sun at last was sinking to the accompaniment of a rising wind, which
seemed to blow and scatter its broad rays over the shimmering plain until
every slight protuberance was burnished into startling brightness; the
shadows of the short green oaks grew disproportionally long, and all
seemed to point to the white-walled casa. Suddenly he started and
instantly reined up.
The figure of a young girl, which he had not before noticed, was slowly
moving down the half-shadowed lane made by the two walls of the garden and
the corral. Cecily! Perhaps she had come out to meet him. He spurred
forward; but, as he came nearer, he saw that the figure and its attire
were surely not hers. He reined up again abruptly, mortified at his
disappointment, and a little ashamed lest he should have seemed to have
been following an evident stranger. He vaguely remembered, too, that there
was a trail to the high road, through a little swale clothed with myrtle
and thorn bush which he had just passed, and that she was probably one of
his reserved and secluded neighbors—indeed, her dress, in that
uncertain light, looked half Spanish. This was more confusing, since his
rashness might have been taken for an attempt to force an acquaintance. He
wheeled and galloped towards the front of the casa as the figure
disappeared at the angle of the wall.
"I don't suppose you ever see any of our neighbors?" said Dick to his aunt
"I really can't say," returned the lady with quiet equanimity. "There were
some extraordinary-looking foreigners on the road to San Gregorio
yesterday. Manuel, who was driving me, may have known who they were—he
is a kind of Indian Papist himself, you know—but I didn't. They
might have been relations of his, for all I know."
At any other time Dick would have been amused at this serene relegation of
the lofty Estudillos and Peraltas to the caste of the Indian convert, but
he was worried to think that perhaps Cecily was really being bored by the
absence of neighbors. After dinner, when they sought the rose garden, he
dropped upon the little lichen-scarred stone bench by her side. It was
still warm from the sun; the hot musk of the roses filled the air; the
whole garden, shielded from the cool evening trade winds by its high
walls, still kept the glowing memory of the afternoon sunshine. Aunt
Viney, with her garden basket on her arm, moved ghost-like among the
"I hope you are not getting bored here?" he said, after a slight
"Does that mean that YOU are?" she returned, raising her mischievous eyes
"No; but I thought you might find it lonely, without neighbors."
"I stayed in to-day," she said, femininely replying to the unasked
question, "because I fancied Aunt Viney might think it selfish of me to
leave her alone so much."
"But YOU are not lonely?"
Certainly not! The young lady was delighted with the whole place, with the
quaint old garden, the mysterious corridors, the restful quiet of
everything, the picture of dear Aunt Viney—who was just the sweetest
soul in the world—moving about like the genius of the casa. It was
such a change to all her ideas, she would never forget it. It was so
thoughtful of him, Dick, to have given them all that pleasure.
"And the rides," continued Dick, with the untactful pertinacity of the
average man at such moments—"you are not tired of THEM?"
No; she thought them lovely. Such freedom and freshness in the exercise;
so different from riding in the city or at watering-places, where it was
one-half show, and one was always thinking of one's habit or one's self.
One quite forgot one's self on that lovely plain—with everything so
far away, and only the mountains to look at in the distance. Nevertheless
she did not lift her eyes from the point of the little slipper which had
strayed beyond her skirt.
Dick was relieved, but not voluble; he could only admiringly follow the
curves of her pretty arms and hands, clasped lightly in her lap, down to
the point of the little slipper. But even that charming vanishing point
was presently withdrawn—possibly through some instinct—for the
young lady had apparently not raised her eyes.
"I'm so glad you like it," said Dick earnestly, yet with a nervous
hesitation that made his speech seem artificial to his own ears. "You see
I—that is—I had an idea that you might like an occasional
change of company. It's a great pity we're not on speaking terms with one
of these Spanish families. Some of the men, you know, are really fine
fellows, with an old-world courtesy that is very charming."
He was surprised to see that she had lifted her head suddenly, with a
quick look that however changed to an amused and half coquettish smile.
"I am finding no fault with my present company," she said demurely,
dropping her head and eyelids until a faint suffusion seemed to follow the
falling lashes over her cheek. "I don't think YOU ought to undervalue it."
If he had only spoken then! The hot scent of the roses hung suspended in
the air, which seemed to be hushed around them in mute expectancy; the
shadows which were hiding Aunt Viney from view were also closing round the
bench where they sat. He was very near her; he had only to reach out his
hand to clasp hers, which lay idly in her lap. He felt himself glowing
with a strange emanation; he even fancied that she was turning
mechanically towards him, as a flower might turn towards the fervent
sunlight. But he could not speak; he could scarcely collect his thoughts,
conscious though he was of the absurdity of his silence. What was he
waiting for? what did he expect? He was not usually bashful, he was no
coward; there was nothing in her attitude to make him hesitate to give
expression to what he believed was his first real passion. But he could do
nothing. He even fancied that his face, turned towards hers, was
stiffening into a vacant smile.
The young girl rose. "I think I heard Aunt Viney call me," she said
constrainedly, and made a hesitating step forward. The spell which had
held Dick seemed to be broken suddenly; he stretched forth his arm to
detain her. But the next step appeared to carry her beyond his influence;
and it was even with a half movement of rejection that she quickened her
pace and disappeared down the path. Dick fell back dejectedly into his
seat, yet conscious of a feeling of RELIEF that bewildered him.
But only for a moment. A recollection of the chance that he had impotently
and unaccountably thrown away returned to him. He tried to laugh, albeit
with a glowing cheek, over the momentary bashfulness which he thought had
overtaken him, and which must have made him ridiculous in her eyes. He
even took a few hesitating steps in the direction of the path where she
had disappeared. The sound of voices came to his ear, and the light ring
of Cecily's laughter. The color deepened a little on his cheek; he
re-entered the house and went to his room.
The red sunset, still faintly showing through the heavily recessed windows
to the opposite wall, made two luminous aisles through the darkness of the
long low apartment. From his easy-chair he watched the color drop out of
the sky, the yellow plain grow pallid and seem to stretch itself to
infinite rest; then a black line began to deepen and creep towards him
from the horizon edge; the day was done. It seemed to him a day lost. He
had no doubt now but that he loved his cousin, and the opportunity of
telling her so—of profiting by her predisposition of the moment—had
passed. She would remember herself, she would remember his weak hesitancy,
she would despise him. He rose and walked uneasily up and down. And yet—and
it disgusted him with himself still more—he was again conscious of
the feeling of relief he had before experienced. A vague formula, "It's
better as it is," "Who knows what might have come of it?" he found himself
repeating, without reason and without resignation.
Ashamed even of his seclusion, he rose to join the little family circle,
which now habitually gathered around a table on the veranda of the patio
under the rays of a swinging lamp to take their chocolate. To his surprise
the veranda was empty and dark; a light shining from the inner
drawing-room showed him his aunt in her armchair reading, alone. A slight
thrill ran over him: Cecily might be still in the garden! He noiselessly
passed the drawing-room door, turned into a long corridor, and slipped
through a grating in the wall into the lane that separated it from the
garden. The gate was still open; a few paces brought him into the long
alley of roses. Their strong perfume—confined in the high, hot walls—at
first made him giddy. This was followed by an inexplicable languor; he
turned instinctively towards the stone bench and sank upon it. The long
rows of calla lilies against the opposite wall looked ghostlike in the
darkness, and seemed to have turned their white faces towards him. Then he
fancied that ONE had detached itself from the rank and was moving away. He
looked again: surely there was something gliding along the wall! A quick
tremor of anticipation passed over him. It was Cecily, who had lingered in
the garden—perhaps to give him one more opportunity! He rose
quickly, and stepped towards the apparition, which had now plainly
resolved itself into a slight girlish figure; it slipped on beneath the
trees; he followed quickly—his nervous hesitancy had vanished before
what now seemed to be a half-coy, half-coquettish evasion of him. He
called softly, "Cecily!" but she did not heed him; he quickened his pace—she
increased hers. They were both running. She reached the angle of the wall
where the gate opened upon the road. Suddenly she stopped, as if
intentionally, in the clear open space before it. He could see her
distinctly. The lace mantle slipped from her head and shoulders. It was
But it was a face so singularly beautiful and winsome that he was as
quickly arrested. It was a woman's deep, passionate eyes and heavy hair,
joined to a childish oval of cheek and chin, an infantine mouth, and a
little nose whose faintly curved outline redeemed the lower face from
weakness and brought it into charming harmony with the rest. A yellow rose
was pinned in the lustrous black hair above the little ear; a yellow silk
shawl or mantle, which had looked white in the shadows, was thrown over
one shoulder and twisted twice or thrice around the plump but petite bust.
The large black velvety eyes were fixed on his in half wonderment, half
amusement; the lovely lips were parted in half astonishment and half a
smile. And yet she was like a picture, a dream,—a materialization of
one's most fanciful imaginings,—like anything, in fact, but the
palpable flesh and blood she evidently was, standing only a few feet
before him, whose hurried breath he could see even now heaving her
His own breath appeared suspended, although his heart beat rapidly as he
stammered out: "I beg your pardon—I thought—" He stopped at
the recollection that this was the SECOND time he had followed her.
She did not speak, although her parted lips still curved with their faint
coy smile. Then she suddenly lifted her right hand, which had been hanging
at her side, clasping some long black object like a stick. Without any
apparent impulse from her fingers, the stick slowly seemed to broaden in
her little hand into the segment of an opening disk, that, lifting to her
face and shoulders, gradually eclipsed the upper part of her figure,
until, mounting higher, the beautiful eyes and the yellow rose of her hair
alone remained above—a large unfurled fan! Then the long eyelashes
drooped, as if in a mute farewell, and they too disappeared as the fan was
lifted higher. The half-hidden figure appeared to glide to the gateway,
lingered for an instant, and vanished. The astounded Dick stepped quickly
into the road, but fan and figure were swallowed up in the darkness.
Amazed and bewildered, he stood for a moment, breathless and irresolute.
It was no doubt the same stranger that he had seen before. But WHO was
she, and what was she doing there? If she were one of their Spanish
neighbors, drawn simply by curiosity to become a trespasser, why had she
lingered to invite a scrutiny that would clearly identify her? It was not
the escapade of that giddy girl which the lower part of her face had
suggested, for such a one would have giggled and instantly flown; it was
not the deliberate act of a grave woman of the world, for its sequel was
so purposeless. Why had she revealed herself to HIM alone? Dick felt
himself glowing with a half-shamed, half-secret pleasure. Then he
remembered Cecily, and his own purpose in coming into the garden. He
hurriedly made a tour of the walks and shrubbery, ostentatiously calling
her, yet seeing, as in a dream, only the beautiful eyes of the stranger
still before him, and conscious of an ill-defined remorse and disloyalty
he had never known before. But Cecily was not there; and again he
experienced the old sensation of relief!
He shut the garden gate, crossed the road, and found the grille just
closing behind a slim white figure. He started, for it was Cecily; but
even in his surprise he was conscious of wondering how he could have ever
mistaken the stranger for her. She appeared startled too; she looked pale
and abstracted. Could she have been a witness of his strange interview?
Her first sentence dispelled the idea.
"I suppose you were in the garden?" she said, with a certain timidity. "I
didn't go there—it seemed so close and stuffy—but walked a
little down the lane."
A moment before he would have eagerly told her his adventure; but in the
presence of her manifest embarrassment his own increased. He concluded to
tell her another time. He murmured vaguely that he had been looking for
her in the garden, yet he had a flushing sense of falsehood in his
reserve; and they passed silently along the corridor and entered the patio
together. She lit the hanging lamp mechanically. She certainly WAS pale;
her slim hand trembled slightly. Suddenly her eyes met his, a faint color
came into her cheek, and she smiled. She put up her hand with a girlish
gesture towards the back of her head.
"What are you looking at? Is my hair coming down?"
"No," hesitated Dick, "but—I—thought—you were looking
just a LITTLE pale."
An aggressive ray slipped into her blue eyes.
"Strange! I thought YOU were. Just now at the grille you looked as if the
roses hadn't agreed with you."
They both laughed, a little nervously, and Conchita brought the chocolate.
When Aunt Viney came from the drawing-room she found the two young people
together, and Cecily in a gale of high spirits.
She had had SUCH a wonderfully interesting walk, all by herself, alone on
the plain. It was really so queer and elfish to find one's self where one
could see nothing above or around one anywhere but stars. Stars above one,
to right and left of one, and some so low down they seemed as if they were
picketed on the plain. It was so odd to find the horizon line at one's
very feet, like a castaway at sea. And the wind! it seemed to move one
this way and that way, for one could not see anything, and might really be
floating in the air. Only once she thought she saw something, and was
"What was it?" asked Dick quickly.
"Well, it was a large black object; but—it turned out only to be a
She laughed, although she had evidently noticed her cousin's eagerness,
and her own eyes had a nervous brightness.
"And where was Dick all this while?" asked Aunt Viney quietly.
Cecily interrupted, and answered for him briskly. "Oh, he was trying to
make attar of rose of himself in the garden. He's still stupefied by his
"If this means," said Aunt Viney, with matter-of-fact precision, "that
you've been gallivanting all alone, Cecily, on that common plain, where
you're likely to meet all sorts of foreigners and tramps and savages, and
Heaven knows what other vermin, I shall set my face against a repetition
of it. If you MUST go out, and Dick can't go with you—and I must say
that even you and he going out together there at night isn't exactly the
kind of American Christian example to set to our neighbors—you had
better get Concepcion to go with you and take a lantern."
"But there is nobody one meets on the plain—at least, nobody likely
to harm one," protested Cecily.
"Don't tell ME," said Aunt Viney decidedly; "haven't I seen all sorts of
queer figures creeping along by the brink after nightfall between San
Gregorio and the next rancho? Aren't they always skulking backwards and
forwards to mass and aguardiente?"
"And I don't know why WE should set any example to our neighbors. We don't
see much of them, or they of us."
"Of course not," returned Aunt Viney; "because all proper Spanish young
ladies are shut up behind their grilles at night. You don't see THEM
traipsing over the plain in the darkness, WITH or WITHOUT cavaliers! Why,
Don Rafael would lock one of HIS sisters up in a convent and consider her
disgraced forever, if he heard of it."
Dick felt his cheeks burning; Cecily slightly paled. Yet both said eagerly
together: "Why, what do YOU know about it, Aunty?"
"A great deal," returned Aunt Viney quietly, holding her tatting up to the
light and examining the stitches with a critical eye. "I've got my eyes
about me, thank heaven! even if my ears don't understand the language. And
there's a great deal, my dears, that you young people might learn from
"And do you mean to say," continued Dick, with a glowing cheek and an
uneasy smile, "that Spanish girls don't go out alone?"
"No young LADY goes out without her duenna," said Aunt Viney emphatically.
"Of course there's the Concha variety, that go out without even
As the conversation flagged after this, and the young people once or twice
yawned nervously, Aunt Viney thought they had better go to bed.
But Dick did not sleep. The beautiful face beamed out again from the
darkness of his room; the light that glimmered through his deep-set
curtainless windows had an odd trick of bringing out certain hanging
articles, or pieces of furniture, into a resemblance to a mantled figure.
The deep, velvety eyes, fringed with long brown lashes, again looked into
his with amused, childlike curiosity. He scouted the harsh criticisms of
Aunt Viney, even while he shrank from proving to her her mistake in the
quality of his mysterious visitant. Of course she was a lady—far
superior to any of her race whom he had yet met. Yet how should he find
WHO she was? His pride and a certain chivalry forbade his questioning the
servants—before whom it was the rule of the household to avoid all
reference to their neighbors. He would make the acquaintance of the old
padre—perhaps HE might talk. He would ride early along the trail in
the direction of the nearest rancho,—Don Jose Amador's,—a
thing he had hitherto studiously refrained from doing. It was three miles
away. She must have come that distance, but not ALONE. Doubtless she had
kept her duenna in waiting in the road. Perhaps it was she who had
frightened Cecily. Had Cecily told ALL she had seen? Her embarrassed
manner certainly suggested more than she had told. He felt himself turning
hot with an indefinite uneasiness. Then he tried to compose himself. After
all, it was a thing of the past. The fair unknown had bribed the duenna
for once, no doubt—had satisfied her girlish curiosity—she
would not come again! But this thought brought with it such a sudden sense
of utter desolation, a deprivation so new and startling, that it
frightened him. Was his head turned by the witcheries of some black-eyed
schoolgirl whom he had seen but once? Or—he felt his cheeks glowing
in the darkness—was it really a case of love at first sight, and she
herself had been impelled by the same yearning that now possessed him? A
delicious satisfaction followed, that left a smile on his lips as if it
had been a kiss. He knew now why he had so strangely hesitated with
Cecily. He had never really loved her—he had never known what love
was till now!
He was up early the next morning, skimming the plain on the back of "Chu
Chu," before the hacienda was stirring. He did not want any one to suspect
his destination, and it was even with a sense of guilt that he dashed
along the swale in the direction of the Amador rancho. A few vaqueros, an
old Digger squaw carrying a basket, two little Indian acolytes on their
way to mass passed him. He was surprised to find that there were no ruts
of carriage wheels within three miles of the casa, and evidently no track
for carriages through the swale. SHE must have come on HORSEBACK. A
broader highway, however, intersected the trail at a point where the low
walls of the Amador rancho came in view. Here he was startled by the
apparition of an old-fashioned family carriage drawn by two large piebald
mules. But it was unfortunately closed. Then, with a desperate audacity
new to his reserved nature, he ranged close beside it, and even stared in
the windows. A heavily mantled old woman, whose brown face was in high
contrast to her snow-white hair, sat in the back seat. Beside her was a
younger companion, with the odd blonde hair and blue eyes sometimes seen
in the higher Castilian type. For an instant the blue eyes caught his,
half-coquettishly. But the girl was NOT at all like his mysterious
visitor, and he fell, discomfited, behind.
He had determined to explain his trespass on the grounds of his neighbor,
if questioned, by the excuse that he was hunting a strayed mustang. But
his presence, although watched with a cold reserve by the few peons who
were lounging near the gateway, provoked no challenge from them; and he
made a circuit of the low adobe walls, with their barred windows and
cinnamon-tiled roofs, without molestation—but equally without
satisfaction. He felt he was a fool for imagining that he would see her in
that way. He turned his horse towards the little Mission half a mile away.
There he had once met the old padre, who spoke a picturesque but limited
English; now he was only a few yards ahead of him, just turning into the
church. The padre was pleased to see Don Ricardo; it was an unusual thing
for the Americanos, he observed, to be up so early: for himself, he had
his functions, of course. No, the ladies that the caballero had seen had
not been to mass! They were Donna Maria and her daughter, going to San
Gregorio. They comprised ALL the family at the rancho,—there were
none others, unless the caballero, of a possibility, meant Donna Inez, a
maiden aunt of sixty—an admirable woman, a saint on earth! He
trusted that he would find his estray; there was no doubt a mark upon it,
otherwise the plain was illimitable; there were many horses—the
world was wide!
Dick turned his face homewards a little less adventurously, and it must be
confessed, with a growing sense of his folly. The keen, dry morning air
brushed away his fancies of the preceding night; the beautiful eyes that
had lured him thither seemed to flicker and be blown out by its practical
breath. He began to think remorsefully of his cousin, of his aunt,—of
his treachery to that reserve which the little alien household had
maintained towards their Spanish neighbors. He found Aunt Viney and Cecily
at breakfast—Cecily, he thought, looking a trifle pale. Yet (or was
it only his fancy?) she seemed curious about his morning ride. And he
became more reticent.
"You must see a good many of our neighbors when you are out so early?"
"Why?" he asked shortly, feeling his color rise.
"Oh, because—because we don't see them at any other time."
"I saw a very nice chap—I think the best of the lot," he began, with
assumed jocularity; then, seeing Cecily's eyes suddenly fixed on him, he
added, somewhat lamely, "the padre! There were also two women in a queer
"Donna Maria Amador, and Dona Felipa Peralta—her daughter by her
first husband," said Aunt Viney quietly. "When you see the horses you
think it's a circus; when you look inside the carriage you KNOW it's a
Aunt Viney did not condescend to explain how she had acquired her
genealogical knowledge of her neighbor's family, but succeeded in breaking
the restraint between the young people. Dick proposed a ride in the
afternoon, which was cheerfully accepted by Cecily. Their intercourse
apparently recovered its old frankness and freedom, marred only for a
moment when they set out on the plain. Dick, really to forget his
preoccupation of the morning, turned his horse's head AWAY from the trail,
to ride in another direction; but Cecily oddly, and with an exhibition of
caprice quite new to her, insisted upon taking the old trail. Nevertheless
they met nothing, and soon became absorbed in the exercise. Dick felt
something of his old tenderness return to this wholesome, pretty girl at
his side; perhaps he betrayed it in his voice, or in an unconscious
lingering by her bridle-rein, but she accepted it with a naive reserve
which he naturally attributed to the effect of his own previous
preoccupation. He bore it so gently, however, that it awakened her
interest, and, possibly, her pique. Her reserve relaxed, and by the time
they returned to the hacienda they had regained something of their former
intimacy. The dry, incisive breath of the plains swept away the last
lingering remnants of yesterday's illusions. Under this frankly open sky,
in this clear perspective of the remote Sierras, which admitted no
fanciful deception of form or distance—there remained nothing but a
strange incident—to be later explained or forgotten. Only he could
not bring himself to talk to HER about it.
After dinner, and a decent lingering for coffee on the veranda, Dick rose,
and leaning half caressingly, half mischievously, over his aunt's
rocking-chair, but with his eyes on Cecily, said:—
"I've been deeply considering, dear Aunty, what you said last evening of
the necessity of our offering a good example to our neighbors. Now,
although Cecily and I are cousins, yet, as I am HEAD of the house, lord of
the manor, and padron, according to the Spanish ideas I am her recognised
guardian and protector, and it seems to me it is my positive DUTY to
accompany her if she wishes to walk out this evening."
A momentary embarrassment—which, however, changed quickly into an
answering smile to her cousin—came over Cecily's face. She turned to
"Well, don't go too far," said that lady quietly.
When they closed the grille behind them and stepped into the lane, Cecily
shot a quick glance at her cousin.
"Perhaps you'd rather walk in the garden?"
"I? Oh, no," he answered honestly. "But"—he hesitated—"would
"Yes," she said faintly.
He impulsively offered his arm; her slim hand slipped lightly through it
and rested on his sleeve. They crossed the lane together, and entered the
garden. A load appeared to be lifted from his heart; the moment seemed
propitious,—here was a chance to recover his lost ground, to regain
his self-respect and perhaps his cousin's affection. By a common instinct,
however, they turned to the right, and AWAY from the stone bench, and
walked slowly down the broad allee.
They talked naturally and confidingly of the days when they had met
before, of old friends they had known and changes that had crept into
their young lives; they spoke affectionately of the grim, lonely, but
self-contained old woman they had just left, who had brought them thus
again together. Cecily talked of Dick's studies, of the scientific work on
which he was engaged, that was to bring him, she was sure, fame and
fortune! They talked of the thoughtful charm of the old house, of its
quaint old-world flavor. They spoke of the beauty of the night, the
flowers and the stars, in whispers, as one is apt to do—as fearing
to disturb a super-sensitiveness in nature.
They had come out later than on the previous night; and the moon, already
risen above the high walls of the garden, seemed a vast silver shield
caught in the interlacing tops of the old pear-trees, whose branches
crossed its bright field like dark bends or bars. As it rose higher, it
began to separate the lighter shrubbery, and open white lanes through the
olive-trees. Damp currents of air, alternating with drier heats, on what
appeared to be different levels, moved across the whole garden, or gave
way at times to a breathless lull and hush of everything, in which the
long rose alley seemed to be swooning in its own spices. They had reached
the bottom of the garden, and had turned, facing the upper moonlit
extremity and the bare stone bench. Cecily's voice faltered, her hand
leaned more heavily on his arm, as if she were overcome by the strong
perfume. His right hand began to steal towards hers. But she had stopped;
she was trembling.
"Go on," she said in a half whisper. "Leave me a moment; I'll join you
"You are ill, Cecily! It's those infernal flowers!" said Dick earnestly.
"Let me help you to the bench."
"No—it's nothing. Go on, please. Do! Will you go!"
She spoke with imperiousness, unlike herself. He walked on mechanically a
dozen paces and turned. She had disappeared. He remembered there was a
smaller gate opening upon the plain near where they had stopped. Perhaps
she had passed through that. He continued on, slowly, towards the upper
end of the garden, occasionally turning to await her return. In this way
he gradually approached the stone bench. He was facing about to continue
his walk, when his heart seemed to stop beating. The beautiful visitor of
last night was sitting alone on the bench before him!
She had not been there a moment before; he could have sworn it. Yet there
was no illusion now of shade or distance. She was scarcely six feet from
him, in the bright moonlight. The whole of her exquisite little figure was
visible, from her lustrous hair down to the tiny, black satin,
low-quartered slipper, held as by two toes. Her face was fully revealed;
he could see even the few minute freckles, like powdered allspice, that
heightened the pale satin sheen of her beautifully rounded cheek; he could
detect even the moist shining of her parted red lips, the white outlines
of her little teeth, the length of her curved lashes, and the meshes of
the black lace veil that fell from the yellow rose above her ear to the
black silk camisa; he noted even the thick yellow satin saya, or skirt,
heavily flounced with black lace and bugles, and that it was a different
dress from that worn on the preceding night, a half-gala costume, carried
with the indescribable air of a woman looking her best and pleased to do
so: all this he had noted, drawing nearer and nearer, until near enough to
forget it all and drown himself in the depths of her beautiful eyes. For
they were no longer childlike and wondering: they were glowing with
He threw himself passionately on the bench beside her. Yet, even if he had
known her language, he could not have spoken. She leaned towards him;
their eyes seemed to meet caressingly, as in an embrace. Her little hand
slipped from the yellow folds of her skirt to the bench. He eagerly seized
it. A subtle thrill ran through his whole frame. There was no delusion
here; it was flesh and blood, warm, quivering, and even tightening round
his own. He was about to carry it to his lips, when she rose and stepped
backwards. He pressed eagerly forward. Another backward step brought her
to the pear-tree, where she seemed to plunge into its shadow. Dick Bracy
followed—and the same shadow seemed to fold them in its embrace.
He did not return to the veranda and chocolate that evening, but sent word
from his room that he had retired, not feeling well.
Cecily, herself a little nervously exalted, corroborated the fact of his
indisposition by telling Aunt Viney that the close odors of the rose
garden had affected them both. Indeed, she had been obliged to leave
before him. Perhaps in waiting for her return—and she really was not
well enough to go back—he was exposed to the night air too long. She
was very sorry.
Aunt Viney heard this with a slight contraction of her brows and a renewed
scrutiny of her knitting; and, having satisfied herself by a personal
visit to Dick's room that he was not alarmingly ill, set herself to find
out what was really the matter with the young people; for there was no
doubt that Cecily was in some vague way as disturbed and preoccupied as
Dick. He rode out again early the next morning, returning to his studies
in the library directly after breakfast; and Cecily was equally reticent,
except when, to Aunt Viney's perplexity, she found excuses for Dick's
manner on the ground of his absorption in his work, and that he was
probably being bored by want of society. She proposed that she should ask
an old schoolfellow to visit them.
"It would give Dick a change of ideas, and he would not be perpetually
obliged to look so closely after me." She blushed slightly under Aunt
Viney's gaze, and added hastily, "I mean, of course, he would not feel it
She even induced her aunt to drive with her to the old mission church,
where she displayed a pretty vivacity and interest in the people they met,
particularly a few youthful and picturesque caballeros. Aunt Viney smiled
gravely. Was the poor child developing an unlooked-for coquetry, or
preparing to make the absent-minded Dick jealous? Well, the idea was not a
bad one. In the evening she astonished the two cousins by offering to
accompany them into the garden—a suggestion accepted with eager and
effusive politeness by each, but carried out with great awkwardness by the
distrait young people later. Aunt Viney clearly saw that it was not her
PRESENCE that was required. In this way two or three days elapsed without
apparently bringing the relations of Dick and Cecily to any more
satisfactory conclusion. The diplomatic Aunt Viney confessed herself
One night it was very warm; the usual trade winds had died away before
sunset, leaving an unwonted hush in sky and plain. There was something so
portentous in this sudden withdrawal of that rude stimulus to the
otherwise monotonous level, that a recurrence of such phenomena was always
known as "earthquake weather." The wild cattle moved uneasily in the
distance without feeding; herds of unbroken mustangs approached the
confines of the hacienda in vague timorous squads. The silence and
stagnation of the old house was oppressive, as if the life had really gone
out of it at last; and Aunt Viney, after waiting impatiently for the young
people to come in to chocolate, rose grimly, set her lips together, and
went out into the lane. The gate of the rose garden opposite was open. She
walked determinedly forward and entered.
In that doubly stagnant air the odor of the roses was so suffocating and
overpowering that she had to stop to take breath. The whole garden, except
a near cluster of pear-trees, was brightly illuminated by the moonlight.
No one was to be seen along the length of the broad allee, strewn an inch
deep with scattered red and yellow petals—colorless in the
moonbeams. She was turning away, when Dick's familiar voice, but with a
strange accent of entreaty in it, broke the silence. It seemed to her
vaguely to come from within the pear-tree shadow.
"But we must understand one another, my darling! Tell me all. This
suspense, this mystery, this brief moment of happiness, and these hours of
parting and torment, are killing me!"
A slight cough broke from Aunt Viney. She had heard enough—she did
not wish to hear more. The mystery was explained. Dick loved Cecily; the
coyness or hesitation was not on HIS part. Some idiotic girlish caprice,
quite inconsistent with what she had noticed at the mission church, was
keeping Cecily silent, reserved, and exasperating to her lover. She would
have a talk with the young lady, without revealing the fact that she had
overheard them. She was perhaps a little hurt that affairs should have
reached this point without some show of confidence to her from the young
people. Dick might naturally be reticent—but Cecily!
She did not even look towards the pear-tree, but turned and walked stiffly
out of the gate. As she was crossing the lane she suddenly started back in
utter dismay and consternation! For Cecily, her niece,—in her own
proper person,—was actually just coming OUT OF THE HOUSE!
Aunt Viney caught her wrist. "Where have you been?" she asked quickly.
"In the house," stammered Cecily, with a frightened face.
"You have not been in the garden with Dick?" continued Aunt Viney sharply—yet
with a hopeless sense of the impossibility of the suggestion.
"No, I was not even going there. I thought of just strolling down the
The girl's accents were truthful; more than that, she absolutely looked
relieved by her aunt's question. "Do you want me, Aunty?" she added
"Yes—no. Run away, then—but don't go far."
At any other time Aunt Viney might have wondered at the eagerness with
which Cecily tripped away; now she was only anxious to get rid of her. She
entered the casa hurriedly.
"Send Josefa to me at once," she said to Manuel.
Josefa, the housekeeper,—a fat Mexican woman,—appeared. "Send
Concha and the other maids here." They appeared, mutely wondering. Aunt
Viney glanced hurriedly over them—they were all there—a few
comely, but not too attractive, and all stupidly complacent. "Have you
girls any friends here this evening—or are you expecting any?" she
demanded. Of a surety, no!—as the padrona knew—it was not
night for church. "Very well," returned Aunt Viney; "I thought I heard
your voices in the garden; understand, I want no gallivanting there. Go to
She was relieved! Dick certainly was not guilty of a low intrigue with one
of the maids. But who and what was she?
Dick was absent again from chocolate; there was unfinished work to do.
Cecily came in later, just as Aunt Viney was beginning to be anxious. Had
she appeared distressed or piqued by her cousin's conduct, Aunt Viney
might have spoken; but there was a pretty color on her cheek—the
result, she said, of her rapid walking, and the fresh air; did Aunt Viney
know that a cool breeze had just risen?—and her delicate lips were
wreathed at times in a faint retrospective smile. Aunt Viney stared;
certainly the girl was not pining! What young people were made of
now-a-days she really couldn't conceive. She shrugged her shoulders and
resumed her tatting.
Nevertheless, as Dick's unfinished studies seemed to have whitened his
cheek and impaired his appetite the next morning, she announced her
intention of driving out towards the mission alone. When she returned at
luncheon she further astonished the young people by casually informing
them they would have Spanish visitors to dinner—namely, their
neighbors, Donna Maria Amador and the Dona Felipa Peralta.
Both faces were turned eagerly towards her; both said almost in the same
breath, "But, Aunt Viney! you don't know them! However did you—What
does it all mean?"
"My dears," said Aunt Viney placidly, "Mrs. Amador and I have always
nodded to each other, and I knew they were only waiting for the slightest
encouragement. I gave it, and they're coming."
It was difficult to say whether Cecily's or Dick's face betrayed the
greater delight and animation. Aunt Viney looked from the one to the
other. It seemed as if her attempt at diversion had been successful.
"Tell us all about it, you dear, clever, artful Aunty!" said Cecily gayly.
"There's nothing whatever to tell, my love! It seems, however, that the
young one, Dona Felipa, has seen Dick, and remembers him." She shot a keen
glance at Dick, but was obliged to admit that the rascal's face remained
unchanged. "And I wanted to bring a cavalier for YOU, dear, but Don Jose's
nephew isn't at home now." Yet here, to her surprise, Cecily was faintly
Early in the afternoon the piebald horses and dark brown chariot of the
Amadors drew up before the gateway. The young people were delighted with
Dona Felipa, and thought her blue eyes and tawny hair gave an added
piquancy to her colorless satin skin and otherwise distinctively Spanish
face and figure. Aunt Viney, who entertained Donna Maria, was nevertheless
watchful of the others; but failed to detect in Dick's effusive greeting,
or the Dona's coquettish smile of recognition, any suggestion of previous
confidences. It was rather to Cecily that Dona Felipa seemed to be
characteristically exuberant and childishly feminine. Both mother and
stepdaughter spoke a musical infantine English, which the daughter
supplemented with her eyes, her eyebrows, her little brown fingers, her
plump shoulders, a dozen charming intonations of voice, and a complete
vocabulary in her active and emphatic fan.
The young lady went over the house with Cecily curiously, as if recalling
some old memories. "Ah, yes, I remember it—but it was long ago and I
was very leetle—you comprehend, and I have not arrive mooch when the
old Don was alone. It was too—too—what you call melank-oaly.
And the old man have not make mooch to himself of company."
"Then there were no young people in the house, I suppose?" said Cecily,
"No—not since the old man's father lif. Then there were TWO. It is a
good number, this two, eh?" She gave a single gesture, which took in, with
Cecily, the distant Dick, and with a whole volume of suggestion in her
shoulders, and twirling fan, continued: "Ah! two sometime make one—is
it not? But not THEN in the old time—ah, no! It is a sad story. I
shall tell it to you some time, but not to HIM."
But Cecily's face betrayed no undue bashful consciousness, and she only
asked, with a quiet smile, "Why not to—to my cousin?"
"Imbecile!" responded that lively young lady.
After dinner the young people proposed to take Dona Felipa into the rose
garden, while Aunt Viney entertained Donna Maria on the veranda. The young
girl threw up her hands with an affectation of horror. "Santa Maria!—in
the rose garden? After the Angelus, you and him? Have you not heard?"
But here Donna Maria interposed. Ah! Santa Maria! What was all that! Was
it not enough to talk old woman's gossip and tell vaqueros tales at home,
without making uneasy the strangers? She would have none of it. "Vamos!"
Nevertheless Dona Felipa overcame her horror of the rose garden at
infelicitous hours, so far as to permit herself to be conducted by the
cousins into it, and to be installed like a rose queen on the stone bench,
while Dick and Cecily threw themselves in submissive and imploring
attitudes at her little feet. The young girl looked mischievously from one
to the other.
"It ees very pret-ty, but all the same I am not a rose: I am what you call
a big goose-berry! Eh—is it not?"
The cousins laughed, but without any embarrassed consciousness. "Dona
Felipa knows a sad story of this house," said Cecily; "but she will not
tell it before you, Dick."
Dick, looking up at the coquettish little figure, with Heaven knows what
OTHER memories in his mind, implored and protested.
"Ah! but this little story—she ees not so mooch sad of herself as
she ees str-r-r-ange!" She gave an exaggerated little shiver under her
lace shawl, and closed her eyes meditatively.
"Go on," said Dick, smiling in spite of his interested expectation.
Dona Felipa took her fan in both hands, spanning her knees, leaned
forward, and after a preliminary compressing of her lips and knitting of
her brows, said:—
"It was a long time ago. Don Gregorio he have his daughter Rosita here,
and for her he will fill all thees rose garden and gif to her; for she
like mooch to lif with the rose. She ees very pret-ty. You shall have seen
her picture here in the casa. No? It have hang under the crucifix in the
corner room, turn around to the wall—WHY, you shall comprehend when
I have made finish thees story. Comes to them here one day Don Vincente,
Don Gregorio's nephew, to lif when his father die. He was yong, a pollio—same
as Rosita. They were mooch together; they have make lofe. What will you?—it
ees always the same. The Don Gregorio have comprehend; the friends have
all comprehend; in a year they will make marry. Dona Rosita she go to
Monterey to see his family. There ees an English warship come there; and
Rosita she ees very gay with the officers, and make the flirtation very
mooch. Then Don Vincente he is onhappy, and he revenge himself to make
lofe with another. When Rosita come back it is very miserable for them
both, but they say nossing. The warship he have gone away; the other girl
Vincente he go not to no more. All the same, Rosita and Vincente are very
triste, and the family will not know what to make. Then Rosita she is sick
and eat nossing, and walk to herself all day in the rose garden, until she
is as white and fade away as the rose. And Vincente he eat nossing, but
drink mooch aguardiente. Then he have fever and go dead. And Rosita she
have fainting and fits; and one day they have look for her in the rose
garden, and she is not! And they poosh and poosh in the ground for her,
and they find her with so mooch rose-leaves—so deep—on top of
her. SHE has go dead. It is a very sad story, and when you hear it you are
very, very mooch dissatisfied."
It is to be feared that the two Americans were not as thrilled by this sad
recital as the fair narrator had expected, and even Dick ventured to point
out that those sort of things happened also to his countrymen, and were
not peculiar to the casa.
"But you said that there was a terrible sequel," suggested Cecily
smilingly: "tell us THAT. Perhaps Mr. Bracy may receive it a little more
An expression of superstitious gravity, half real, half simulated, came
over Dona Felipa's face, although her vivacity of gesticulation and
emphasis did not relax. She cast a hurried glance around her, and leaned a
little forward towards the cousins.
"When there are no more young people in the casa because they are dead,"
she continued, in a lower voice, "Don Gregorio he is very melank-oaly, and
he have no more company for many years. Then there was a rodeo near the
hacienda, and there came five or six caballeros to stay with him for the
feast. Notabilimente comes then Don Jorge Martinez. He is a bad man—so
weeked—a Don Juan for making lofe to the ladies. He lounge in the
garden, he smoke his cigarette, he twist the moustache—so! One day
he came in, and he laugh and wink so and say, 'Oh, the weeked, sly Don
Gregorio! He have hid away in the casa a beautiful, pret-ty girl, and he
will nossing say.' And the other caballeros say, 'Mira! what is this?
there is not so mooch as one young lady in the casa.' And Don Jorge he
wink, and he say, 'Imbeciles! pigs!' And he walk in the garden and twist
his moustache more than ever. And one day, behold! he walk into the casa,
very white and angry, and he swear mooch to himself; and he orders his
horse, and he ride away, and never come back no more, never-r-r! And one
day another caballero, Don Esteban Briones, he came in, and say, 'Hola!
Don Jorge has forgotten his pret-ty girl: he have left her over on the
garden bench. Truly I have seen.' And they say, 'We will too.' And they
go, and there is nossing. And they say, 'Imbecile and pig!' But he is not
imbecile and pig; for he has seen, and Don Jorge has seen; and why? For it
is not a girl, but what you call her—a ghost! And they will that Don
Esteban should make a picture of her—a design; and he make one. And
old Don Gregorio he say, 'madre de Dios! it is Rosita'—the same that
hung under the crucifix in the big room."
"And is that all?" asked Dick, with a somewhat pronounced laugh, but a
face that looked quite white in the moonlight.
"No, it ees NOT all. For when Don Gregorio got himself more company
another time—it ees all yonge ladies, and my aunt she is invite too;
for she was yonge then, and she herself have tell to me this:—
"One night she is in the garden with the other girls, and when they want
to go in the casa one have say, 'Where is Francisca Pacheco? Look, she
came here with us, and now she is not.' Another one say, 'She have conceal
herself to make us affright.' And my aunt she say, 'I will go seek that I
shall find her.' And she go. And when she came to the pear-tree, she heard
Francisca's voice, and it say to some one she see not, 'Fly! vamos! some
one have come.' And then she come at the moment upon Francisca, very white
and trembling, and—alone. And Francisca she have run away and say
nossing, and shut herself in her room. And one of the other girls say: 'It
is the handsome caballero with the little black moustache and sad white
face that I have seen in the garden that make this. It is truly that he is
some poor relation of Don Gregorio, or some mad kinsman that he will not
we should know.' And my aunt ask Don Gregorio; for she is yonge. And he
have say: 'What silly fool ees thees? There is not one caballero here, but
myself.' And when the other young girl have tell to him how the caballero
look, he say: 'The saints save us! I cannot more say. It ees Don Vincente,
who haf gone dead.' And he cross himself, and—But look! Madre de
Dios! Mees Cecily, you are ill—you are affrighted. I am a gabbling
fool! Help her, Don Ricardo; she is falling!"
But it was too late: Cecily had tried to rise to her feet, had staggered
forward and fallen in a faint on the bench.
Dick did not remember how he helped to carry the insensible Cecily to the
casa, nor what explanation he had given to the alarmed inmates of her
sudden attack. He recalled vaguely that something had been said of the
overpowering perfumes of the garden at that hour, that the lively Felipa
had become half hysterical in her remorseful apologies, and that Aunt
Viney had ended the scene by carrying Cecily into her own room, where she
presently recovered a still trembling but reticent consciousness. But the
fainting of his cousin and the presence of a real emergency had diverted
his imagination from the vague terror that had taken possession of it, and
for the moment enabled him to control himself. With a desperate effort he
managed to keep up a show of hospitable civility to his Spanish friends
until their early departure. Then he hurried to his own room. So
bewildered and horrified he had become, and a prey to such superstitious
terrors, that he could not at that moment bring himself to the test of
looking for the picture of the alleged Rosita, which might still be
hanging in his aunt's room. If it were really the face of his mysterious
visitant—in his present terror—he felt that his reason might
not stand the shock. He would look at it to-morrow, when he was calmer!
Until then he would believe that the story was some strange coincidence
with what must have been his hallucination, or a vulgar trick to which he
had fallen a credulous victim. Until then he would believe that Cecily's
fright had been only the effect of Dona Felipa's story, acting upon a
vivid imagination, and not a terrible confirmation of something she had
herself seen. He threw himself, without undressing, upon his bed in a
benumbing agony of doubt.
The gentle opening of his door and the slight rustle of a skirt started
him to his feet with a feeling of new and overpowering repulsion. But it
was a familiar figure that he saw in the long aisle of light which led
from his recessed window, whose face was white enough to have been a
spirit's, and whose finger was laid upon its pale lips, as it softly
closed the door behind it.
"Hush!" she said, in a distracted whisper: "I felt I must see you
to-night. I could not wait until day—no, not another hour! I could
not speak to you before them. I could not go into that dreadful garden
again, or beyond the walls of this house. Dick, I want to—I MUST
tell you something! I would have kept it from every one—from you
most of all! I know you will hate me, and despise me; but, Dick, listen!"—she
caught his hand despairingly, drawing it towards her—"that girl's
awful story was TRUE!" She threw his hand away.
"And you have seen HER!" said Dick, frantically. "Good God!"
The young girl's manner changed. "HER!" she said, half scornfully, "you
don't suppose I believe THAT story? No. I—I—don't blame me,
Dick,—I have seen HIM."
She pushed him nervously into a seat, and sat down beside him. In the half
light of the moon, despite her pallor and distraction, she was still very
human, womanly, and attractive in her disorder.
"Listen to me, Dick. Do you remember one afternoon, when we were riding
together, I got ahead of you, and dashed off to the casa. I don't know
what possessed me, or WHY I did it. I only know I wanted to get home
quickly, and get away from you. No, I was not angry, Dick, at YOU; it did
not seem to be THAT; I—well, I confess I was FRIGHTENED—at
something, I don't know what. When I wheeled round into the lane, I saw—a
man—a young gentleman standing by the garden-wall. He was very
picturesque-looking, in his red sash, velvet jacket, and round silver
buttons; handsome, but oh, so pale and sad! He looked at me very eagerly,
and then suddenly drew back, and I heard you on Chu Chu coming at my
heels. You must have seen him and passed him too, I thought: but when you
said nothing of it, I—I don't know why, Dick, I said nothing of it
too. Don't speak!" she added, with a hurried gesture: "I know NOW why you
said nothing,—YOU had not seen him."
She stopped, and put back a wisp of her disordered chestnut hair.
"The next time was the night YOU were so queer, Dick, sitting on that
stone bench. When I left you—I thought you didn't care to have me
stay—I went to seek Aunt Viney at the bottom of the garden. I was
very sad, but suddenly I found myself very gay, talking and laughing with
her in a way I could not account for. All at once, looking up, I saw HIM
standing by the little gate, looking at me very sadly. I think I would
have spoken to Aunt Viney, but he put his finger to his lips—his
hand was so slim and white, quite like a hand in one of those Spanish
pictures—and moved slowly backwards into the lane, as if he wished
to speak with ME only—out there. I know I ought to have spoken to
Aunty; I knew it was wrong what I did, but he looked so earnest, so
appealing, so awfully sad, Dick, that I slipped past Aunty and went out of
the gate. Just then she missed me, and called. He made a kind of
despairing gesture, raising his hand Spanish fashion to his lips, as if to
say good-night. You'll think me bold, Dick, but I was so anxious to know
what it all meant, that I gave a glance behind to see if Aunty was
following, before I should go right up to him and demand an explanation.
But when I faced round again, he was gone! I walked up and down the lane
and out on the plain nearly half an hour, seeking him. It was strange, I
know; but I was not a bit FRIGHTENED, Dick—that was so queer—but
I was only amazed and curious."
The look of spiritual terror in Dick's face here seemed to give way to a
less exalted disturbance, as he fixed his eyes on Cecily's.
"You remember I met YOU coming in: you seemed so queer then that I did not
say anything to you, for I thought you would laugh at me, or reproach me
for my boldness; and I thought, Dick, that—that—that—this
person wished to speak only to ME." She hesitated.
"Go on," said Dick, in a voice that had also undergone a singular change.
The chestnut head was bent a little lower, as the young girl nervously
twisted her fingers in her lap.
"Then I saw him again—and—again," she went on hesitatingly.
"Of course I spoke to him, to—to—find out what he wanted; but
you know, Dick, I cannot speak Spanish, and of course he didn't understand
me, and didn't reply."
"But his manner, his appearance, gave you some idea of his meaning?" said
Cecily's head drooped a little lower. "I thought—that is, I fancied
I knew what he meant."
"No doubt," said Dick, in a voice which, but for the superstitious horror
of the situation, might have impressed a casual listener as indicating a
trace of human irony.
But Cecily did not seem to notice it. "Perhaps I was excited that night,
perhaps I was bolder because I knew you were near me; but I went up to him
and touched him! And then, Dick!—oh, Dick! think how awful—"
Again Dick felt the thrill of superstitious terror creep over him. "And he
vanished!" he said hoarsely.
"No—not at once," stammered Cecily, with her head almost buried in
her lap; "for he—he—he took me in his arms and—"
"And kissed you?" said Dick, springing to his feet, with every trace of
his superstitious agony gone from his indignant face. But Cecily, without
raising her head, caught at his gesticulating hand.
"Oh, Dick, Dick! do you think he really did it? The horror of it, Dick! to
be kissed by a—a—man who has been dead a hundred years!"
"A hundred fiddlesticks!" said Dick furiously. "We have been deceived!
No," he stammered, "I mean YOU have been deceived—insulted!"
"Hush! Aunty will hear you," murmured the girl despairingly.
Dick, who had thrown away his cousin's hand, caught it again, and dragged
her along the aisle of light to the window. The moon shone upon his
flushed and angry face.
"Listen!" he said; "you have been fooled, tricked—infamously tricked
by these people, and some confederate, whom—whom I shall horsewhip
if I catch. The whole story is a lie!"
"But you looked as if you believed it—about the girl," said Cecily;
"you acted so strangely. I even thought, Dick,—sometimes—you
had seen HIM."
Dick shuddered, trembled; but it is to be feared that the lower, more
natural human element in him triumphed.
"Nonsense!" he stammered; "the girl was a foolish farrago of absurdities,
improbable on the face of things, and impossible to prove. But that
infernal, sneaking rascal was flesh and blood."
It seemed to him to relieve the situation and establish his own sanity to
combat one illusion with another. Cecily had already been deceived—another
lie wouldn't hurt her. But, strangely enough, he was satisfied that
Cecily's visitant was real, although he still had doubts about his own.
"Then you think, Dick, it was actually some real man?" she said piteously.
"Oh, Dick, I have been so foolish!"
Foolish she no doubt had been; pretty she certainly was, sitting there in
her loosened hair, and pathetic, appealing earnestness. Surely the ghostly
Rosita's glances were never so pleading as these actual honest eyes behind
their curving lashes. Dick felt a strange, new-born sympathy of suffering,
mingled tantalizingly with a new doubt and jealousy, that was human and
"Oh, Dick, what are WE to do?"
The plural struck him as deliciously sweet and subtle. Had they really
been singled out for this strange experience, or still stranger
hallucination? His arm crept around her; she gently withdrew from it.
"I must go now," she murmured; "but I couldn't sleep until I told you all.
You know, Dick, I have no one else to come to, and it seemed to me that
YOU ought to know it first. I feel better for telling you. You will tell
me to-morrow what you think we ought to do."
They reached the door, opening it softly. She lingered for a moment on the
"Tell me, Dick" (she hesitated), "if that—that really were a spirit,
and not a real man,—you don't think that—that kiss" (she
shuddered) "could do me harm!"
He shuddered too, with a strange and sympathetic consciousness that,
happily, she did not even suspect. But he quickly recovered himself and
said, with something of bitterness in his voice, "I should be more afraid
if it really were a man."
"Oh, thank you, Dick!"
Her lips parted in a smile of relief; the color came faintly back to her
A wild thought crossed his fancy that seemed an inspiration. They would
share the risks alike. He leaned towards her: their lips met in their
"I think—we are saved."
"It wasn't at all like that."
He smiled as she flew swiftly down the corridor. Perhaps he thought so
No picture of the alleged Rosita was ever found. Dona Felipa, when the
story was again referred to, smiled discreetly, but was apparently too
preoccupied with the return of Don Jose's absent nephew for further
gossiping visits to the hacienda; and Dick and Cecily, as Mr. and Mrs.
Bracy, would seem to have survived—if they never really solved—the
mystery of the Hacienda de los Osos. Yet in the month of June, when the
moon is high, one does not sit on the stone bench in the rose garden after
the last stroke of the Angelus.