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    Chapter 1

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    Chapter 1
    To and fro, like a wild creature in its cage, paced that handsome woman,
    with bent head, locked hands, and restless steps. Some mental storm,
    swift and sudden as a tempest of the tropics, had swept over her and
    left its marks behind. As if in anger at the beauty now proved
    powerless, all ornaments had been flung away, yet still it shone
    undimmed, and filled her with a passionate regret. A jewel glittered at
    her feet, leaving the lace rent to shreds on the indignant bosom that
    had worn it; the wreaths of hair that had crowned her with a woman's
    most womanly adornment fell disordered upon shoulders that gleamed the
    fairer for the scarlet of the pomegranate flowers clinging to the bright
    meshes that had imprisoned them an hour ago; and over the face, once so
    affluent in youthful bloom, a stern pallor had fallen like a blight, for
    pride was slowly conquering passion, and despair had murdered hope.

    Pausing in her troubled march, she swept away the curtain swaying in the
    wind and looked out, as if imploring help from Nature, the great mother
    of us all. A summer moon rode high in a cloudless heaven, and far as eye
    could reach stretched the green wilderness of a Cuban _cafetal_. No
    forest, but a tropical orchard, rich in lime, banana, plantain, palm,
    and orange trees, under whose protective shade grew the evergreen coffee
    plant, whose dark-red berries are the fortune of their possessor, and
    the luxury of one-half the world. Wide avenues diverging from the
    mansion, with its belt of brilliant shrubs and flowers, formed shadowy
    vistas, along which, on the wings of the wind, came a breath of far-off
    music, like a wooing voice; for the magic of night and distance lulled
    the cadence of a Spanish _contradanza_ to a trance of sound, soft,
    subdued, and infinitely sweet. It was a southern scene, but not a
    southern face that looked out upon it with such unerring glance; there
    was no southern languor in the figure, stately and erect; no southern
    swarthiness on fairest cheek and arm; no southern darkness in the
    shadowy gold of the neglected hair; the light frost of northern snows
    lurked in the features, delicately cut, yet vividly alive, betraying a
    temperament ardent, dominant, and subtle. For passion burned in the deep
    eyes, changing their violet to black. Pride sat on the forehead, with
    its dark brows; all a woman's sweetest spells touched the lips, whose
    shape was a smile; and in the spirited carriage of the head appeared the
    freedom of an intellect ripened under colder skies, the energy of a
    nature that could wring strength from suffering, and dare to act where
    feebler souls would only dare desire.

    Standing thus, conscious only of the wound that bled in that high heart
    of hers, and the longing that gradually took shape and deepened to a
    purpose, an alien presence changed the tragic atmosphere of that still
    room and woke her from her dangerous mood. A wonderfully winning guise
    this apparition wore, for youth, hope, and love endowed it with the
    charm that gives beauty to the plainest, while their reign endures. A
    boy in any other climate, in this his nineteen years had given him the
    stature of a man; and Spain, the land of romance, seemed embodied in
    this figure, full of the lithe slenderness of the whispering palms
    overhead, the warm coloring of the deep-toned flowers sleeping in the
    room, the native grace of the tame antelope lifting its human eyes to
    his as he lingered on the threshold in an attitude eager yet timid,
    watching that other figure as it looked into the night and found no
    solace there.


    She turned as if her thought had taken voice and answered her, regarded
    him a moment, as if hesitating to receive the granted wish, then
    beckoned with the one word.


    Instantly the fear vanished, the ardor deepened, and with an imperious
    "Lie down!" to his docile attendant, the young man obeyed with equal
    docility, looking as wistfully toward his mistress as the brute toward
    her master, while he waited proudly humble for her commands.

    "Manuel, why are you here?"

    "Forgive me! I saw Dolores bring a letter; you vanished, an hour passed,
    I could wait no longer, and I came."

    "I am glad, I needed my one friend. Read that."

    She offered a letter, and with her steady eyes upon him, her purpose
    strengthening as she looked, stood watching the changes of that
    expressive countenance. This was the letter:


    Six months ago I left you, promising to return and take you home my
    wife; I loved you, but I deceived you; for though my heart was wholly
    yours, my hand was not mine to give. This it was that haunted me through
    all that blissful summer, this that marred my happiness when you owned
    you loved me, and this drove me from you, hoping I could break the tie
    with which I had rashly bound myself. I could not, I am married, and
    there all ends. Hate me, forget me, solace your pride with the memory
    that none knew your wrong, assure your peace with the knowledge that
    mine is destroyed forever, and leave my punishment to remorse and time.


    With a gesture of wrathful contempt, Manuel flung the paper from him as
    he flashed a look at his companion, muttering through his teeth,
    "Traitor! Shall I kill him?"

    Pauline laughed low to herself, a dreary sound, but answered with a slow
    darkening of the face that gave her words an ominous significance. "Why
    should you? Such revenge is brief and paltry, fit only for mock
    tragedies or poor souls who have neither the will to devise nor the will
    to execute a better. There are fates more terrible than death; weapons
    more keen than poniards, more noiseless than pistols. Women use such,
    and work out a subtler vengeance than men can conceive. Leave Gilbert to
    remorse--and me."

    She paused an instant, and by some strong effort banished the black
    frown from her brow, quenched the baleful fire of her eyes, and left
    nothing visible but the pale determination that made her beautiful face
    more eloquent than her words.

    "Manuel, in a week I leave the island."

    "Alone, Pauline?"

    "No, not alone."

    A moment they looked into each other's eyes, each endeavoring to read
    the other. Manuel saw some indomitable purpose, bent on conquering all
    obstacles. Pauline saw doubt, desire, and hope; knew that a word would
    bring the ally she needed; and, with a courage as native to her as her
    pride, resolved to utter it.

    Seating herself, she beckoned her companion to assume the place beside
    her, but for the first time he hesitated. Something in the unnatural
    calmness of her manner troubled him, for his southern temperament was
    alive to influences whose presence would have been unfelt by one less
    sensitive. He took the cushion at her feet, saying, half tenderly, half
    reproachfully, "Let me keep my old place till I know in what character I
    am to fill the new. The man you trusted has deserted you; the boy you
    pitied will prove loyal. Try him, Pauline."

    "I will."

    And with the bitter smile unchanged upon her lips, the low voice
    unshaken in its tones, the deep eyes unwavering in their gaze, Pauline
    went on:

    "You know my past, happy as a dream till eighteen. Then all was swept
    away, home, fortune, friends, and I was left, like an unfledged bird,
    without even the shelter of a cage. For five years I have made my life
    what I could, humble, honest, but never happy, till I came here, for
    here I saw Gilbert. In the poor companion of your guardian's daughter he
    seemed to see the heiress I had been, and treated me as such. This
    flattered my pride and touched my heart. He was kind, I grateful; then
    he loved me, and God knows how utterly I loved him! A few months of
    happiness the purest, then he went to make home ready for me, and I
    believed him; for where I wholly love I wholly trust. While my own peace
    was undisturbed, I learned to read the language of your eyes, Manuel, to
    find the boy grown into the man, the friend warmed into a lover. Your
    youth had kept me blind too long. Your society had grown dear to me, and
    I loved you like a sister for your unvarying kindness to the solitary
    woman who earned her bread and found it bitter. I told you my secret to
    prevent the utterance of your own. You remember the promise you made me
    then, keep it still, and bury the knowledge of my lost happiness deep in
    your pitying heart, as I shall in my proud one. Now the storm is over,
    and I am ready for my work again, but it must be a new task in a new
    scene. I hate this house, this room, the faces I must meet, the duties I
    must perform, for the memory of that traitor haunts them all. I see a
    future full of interest, a stage whereon I could play a stirring part. I
    long for it intensely, yet cannot make it mine alone. Manuel, do you
    love me still?"

    Bending suddenly, she brushed back the dark hair that streaked his
    forehead and searched the face that in an instant answered her. Like a
    swift rising light, the eloquent blood rushed over swarthy cheek and
    brow, the slumberous softness of the eyes kindled with a flash, and the
    lips, sensitive as any woman's, trembled yet broke into a rapturous
    smile as he cried, with fervent brevity, "I would die for you!"

    A look of triumph swept across her face, for with this boy, as
    chivalrous as ardent, she knew that words were not mere breath. Still,
    with her stern purpose uppermost, she changed the bitter smile into one
    half-timid, half-tender, as she bent still nearer, "Manuel, in a week I
    leave the island. Shall I go alone?"

    "No, Pauline."

    He understood her now. She saw it in the sudden paleness that fell on
    him, heard it in the rapid beating of his heart, felt it in the strong
    grasp that fastened on her hand, and knew that the first step was won. A
    regretful pang smote her, but the dark mood which had taken possession
    of her stifled the generous warnings of her better self and drove her

    "Listen, Manuel. A strange spirit rules me tonight, but I will have no
    reserves from you, all shall be told; then, if you will come, be it so;
    if not, I shall go my way as solitary as I came. If you think that this
    loss has broken my heart, undeceive yourself, for such as I live years
    in an hour and show no sign. I have shed no tears, uttered no cry, asked
    no comfort; yet, since I read that letter, I have suffered more than
    many suffer in a lifetime. I am not one to lament long over any hopeless
    sorrow. A single paroxysm, sharp and short, and it is over. Contempt has
    killed my love, I have buried it, and no power can make it live again,
    except as a pale ghost that will not rest till Gilbert shall pass
    through an hour as bitter as the last."

    "Is that the task you give yourself, Pauline?"

    The savage element that lurks in southern blood leaped up in the boy's
    heart as he listened, glittered in his eye, and involuntarily found
    expression in the nervous grip of the hands that folded a fairer one
    between them. Alas for Pauline that she had roused the sleeping devil,
    and was glad to see it!

    "Yes, it is weak, wicked, and unwomanly; yet I persist as relentlessly
    as any Indian on a war trail. See me as I am, not the gay girl you have
    known, but a revengeful woman with but one tender spot now left in her
    heart, the place you fill. I have been wronged, and I long to right
    myself at once. Time is too slow; I cannot wait, for that man must be
    taught that two can play at the game of hearts, taught soon and sharply.
    I can do this, can wound as I have been wounded, can sting him with
    contempt, and prove that I too can forget."

    "Go on, Pauline. Show me how I am to help you."

    "Manuel, I want fortune, rank, splendor, and power; you can give me all
    these, and a faithful friend beside. I desire to show Gilbert the
    creature he deserted no longer poor, unknown, unloved, but lifted higher
    than himself, cherished, honored, applauded, her life one of royal
    pleasure, herself a happy queen. Beauty, grace, and talent you tell me I
    possess; wealth gives them luster, rank exalts them, power makes them
    irresistible. Place these worldly gifts in my hand and that hand is
    yours. See, I offer it."

    She did so, but it was not taken. Manuel had left his seat and now stood
    before her, awed by the undertone of strong emotion in her calmly spoken
    words, bewildered by the proposal so abruptly made, longing to ask the
    natural question hovering on his lips, yet too generous to utter it.
    Pauline read his thought, and answered it with no touch of pain or pride
    in the magical voice that seldom spoke in vain.

    "I know your wish; it is as just as your silence is generous, and I
    reply to it in all sincerity. You would ask, 'When I have given all that
    I possess, what do I receive in return?' This--a wife whose friendship
    is as warm as many a woman's love; a wife who will give you all the
    heart still left her, and cherish the hope that time may bring a harvest
    of real affection to repay you for the faithfulness of years; who,
    though she takes the retribution of a wrong into her hands and executes
    it in the face of heaven, never will forget the honorable name you give
    into her keeping or blemish it by any act of hers. I can promise no
    more. Will this content you, Manuel?"

    Before she ended his face was hidden in his hands, and tears streamed
    through them as he listened, for like a true child of the south each
    emotion found free vent and spent itself as swiftly as it rose. The
    reaction was more than he could bear, for in a moment his life was
    changed, months of hopeless longing were banished with a word, a
    blissful yes canceled the hard no that had been accepted as inexorable,
    and Happiness, lifting her full cup to his lips, bade him drink. A
    moment he yielded to the natural relief, then dashed his tears away and
    threw himself at Pauline's feet in that attitude fit only for a race as
    graceful as impassioned.

    "Forgive me! Take all I have--fortune, name, and my poor self; use us as
    you will, we are proud and happy to be spent for you! No service will be
    too hard, no trial too long if in the end you learn to love me with one
    tithe of the affection I have made my life. Do you mean it? Am I to go
    with you? To be near you always, to call you wife, and know we are each
    other's until death? What have I ever done to earn a fate like this?"

    Fast and fervently he spoke, and very winsome was the glad abandonment
    of this young lover, half boy, half man, possessing the simplicity of
    the one, the fervor of the other. Pauline looked and listened with a
    soothing sense of consolation in the knowledge that this loyal heart was
    all her own, a sweet foretaste of the devotion which henceforth was to
    shelter her from poverty, neglect, and wrong, and turn life's sunniest
    side to one who had so long seen only its most bleak and barren. Still
    at her feet, his arms about her waist, his face flushed and proud,
    lifted to hers, Manuel saw the cold mask soften, the stern eyes melt
    with a sudden dew as Pauline watched him, saying, "Dear Manuel, love me
    less; I am not worth such ardent and entire faith. Pause and reflect
    before you take this step. I will not bind you to my fate too soon lest
    you repent too late. We both stand alone in the world, free to make or
    mar our future as we will. I have chosen my lot. Recall all it may cost
    you to share it and be sure the price is not too high a one. Remember I
    am poor, you the possessor of one princely fortune, the sole heir to

    "The knowledge of this burdened me before; now I glory in it because I
    have the more for you."

    "Remember, I am older than yourself, and may early lose the beauty you
    love so well, leaving an old wife to burden your youth."

    "What are a few years to me? Women like you grow lovelier with age, and
    you shall have a strong young husband to lean on all your life."

    "Remember, I am not of your faith, and the priests will shut me out from
    your heaven."

    "Let them prate as they will. Where you go I will go; Santa Paula shall
    be my madonna!"

    "Remember, I am a deserted woman, and in the world we are going to my
    name may become the sport of that man's cruel tongue. Could you bear
    that patiently; and curb your fiery pride if I desired it?"

    "Anything for you, Pauline!"

    "One thing more. I give you my liberty; for a time give me forbearance
    in return, and though wed in haste woo me slowly, lest this sore heart
    of mine find even your light yoke heavy. Can you promise this, and wait
    till time has healed my wound, and taught me to be meek?"

    "I swear to obey you in all things; make me what you will, for soul and
    body I am wholly yours henceforth."

    "Faithful and true! I knew you would not fail me. Now go, Manuel.
    Tomorrow do your part resolutely as I shall do mine, and in a week we
    will begin the new life together. Ours is a strange betrothal, but it
    shall not lack some touch of tenderness from me. Love, good night."

    Pauline bent till her bright hair mingled with the dark, kissed the boy
    on lips and forehead as a fond sister might have done, then put him
    gently from her; and like one in a blessed dream he went away to pace
    all night beneath her window, longing for the day.

    As the echo of his steps died along the corridor, Pauline's eye fell on
    the paper lying where her lover flung it. At this sight all the softness
    vanished, the stern woman reappeared, and, crushing it in her hand with
    slow significance, she said low to herself, "This is an old, old story,
    but it shall have a new ending."
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