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- A WAIF OF THE PLAINS - 20/21 -
died long before I ever knew you."
"Yes; that's what YOU used to say, Clarence, but papa says it isn't so." But seeing the boy's wondering eyes fixed on her with a troubled expression, she added quickly, "Oh, then, he IS your cousin!"
"Well, I think I ought to know," said Clarence, with a smile, that was, however, far from comfortable, and a quick return of his old unpleasant recollections of the Peytons. "Why, I was brought to him by one of his friends." And Clarence gave a rapid boyish summary of his journey from Sacramento, and Flynn's discovery of the letter addressed to Silsbee. But before he had concluded he was conscious that Susy was by no means interested in these details, nor in the least affected by the passing allusion to her dead father and his relation to Clarence's misadventures. With her rounded chin in her hand, she was slowly examining his face, with a certain mischievous yet demure abstraction. "I tell you what, Clarence," she said, when he had finished, "you ought to make your cousin get you one of those sombreros, and a nice gold-braided serape. They'd just suit you. And then--then you could ride up and down the Alameda when we are going by."
"But I'm coming to see you at--at your house, and at the convent," he said eagerly. "Father Sobriente and my cousin will fix it all right."
But Susy shook her head, with superior wisdom. "No; they must never know our secret!--neither papa nor mamma, especially mamma. And they mustn't know that we've met again--AFTER THESE YEARS!" It is impossible to describe the deep significance which Susy's blue eyes gave to this expression. After a pause she went on--
"No! We must never meet again, Clarence, unless Mary Rogers helps. She is my best, my ONLIEST friend, and older than I; having had trouble herself, and being expressly forbidden to see him again. You can speak to her about Suzette--that's my name now; I was rechristened Suzette Alexandra Peyton by mamma. And now, Clarence," dropping her voice and glancing shyly around the saloon, "you may kiss me just once under my hat, for good-by." She adroitly slanted her broad-brimmed hat towards the front of the shop, and in its shadow advanced her fresh young cheek to Clarence.
Coloring and laughing, the boy pressed his lips to it twice. Then Susy arose, with the faintest affectation of a sigh, shook out her skirt, drew on her gloves with the greatest gravity, and saying, "Don't follow me further than the door--they're coming now," walked with supercilious dignity past the preoccupied proprietor and waiters to the entrance. Here she said, with marked civility, "Good-afternoon, Mr. Brant," and tripped away towards the hotel. Clarence lingered for a moment to look after the lithe and elegant little figure, with its shining undulations of hair that fell over the back and shoulders of her white frock like a golden mantle, and then turned away in the opposite direction.
He walked home in a state, as it seemed to him, of absurd perplexity. There were many reasons why his encounter with Susy should have been of unmixed pleasure. She had remembered him of her own free will, and, in spite of the change in her fortune, had made the first advances. Her doubts about her future interviews had affected him but little; still less, I fear, did he think of the other changes in her character and disposition, for he was of that age when they added only a piquancy and fascination to her--as of one who, in spite of her weakness of nature, was still devoted to him! But he was painfully conscious that this meeting had revived in him all the fears, vague uneasiness, and sense of wrong that had haunted his first boyhood, and which he thought he had buried at El Refugio four years ago. Susy's allusion to his father and the reiteration of Peyton's skepticism awoke in his older intellect the first feeling of suspicion that was compatible with his open nature. Was this recurring reticence and mystery due to any act of his father's? But, looking back upon it in after-years, he concluded that the incident of that day was a premonition rather than a recollection.
When he reached the college the Angelus had long since rung. In the corridor he met one of the Fathers, who, instead of questioning him, returned his salutation with a grave gentleness that struck him. He had turned into Father Sobriente's quiet study with the intention of reporting himself, when he was disturbed to find him in consultation with three or four of the faculty, who seemed to be thrown into some slight confusion by his entrance. Clarence was about to retire hurriedly when Father Sobriente, breaking up the council with a significant glance at the others, called him back. Confused and embarrassed, with a dread of something impending, the boy tried to avert it by a hurried account of his meeting with Susy, and his hopes of Father Sobriente's counsel and assistance. Taking upon himself the idea of suggesting Susy's escapade, he confessed the fault. The old man gazed into his frank eyes with a thoughtful, half-compassionate smile. "I was just thinking of giving you a holiday with--with Don Juan Robinson." The unusual substitution of this final title for the habitual "your cousin" struck Clarence uneasily. "But we will speak of that later. Sit down, my son; I am not busy. We shall talk a little. Father Pedro says you are getting on fluently with your translations. That is excellent, my son, excellent."
Clarence's face beamed with relief and pleasure. His vague fears began to dissipate.
"And you translate even from dictation! Good! We have an hour to spare, and you shall give to me a specimen of your skill. Eh? Good! I will walk here and dictate to you in my poor English, and you shall sit there and render it to me in your good Spanish. Eh? So we shall amuse and instruct ourselves."
Clarence smiled. These sporadic moments of instruction and admonition were not unusual to the good Father. He cheerfully seated himself at the Padre's table before a blank sheet of paper, with a pen in his hand. Father Sobriente paced the apartment, with his usual heavy but noiseless tread. To his surprise, the good priest, after an exhaustive pinch of snuff, blew his nose, and began, in his most lugubrious style of pulpit exhortation:--
"It has been written that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children, and the unthinking and worldly have sought refuge from this law by declaring it harsh and cruel. Miserable and blind! For do we not see that the wicked man, who in the pride of his power and vainglory is willing to risk punishment to HIMSELF--and believes it to be courage--must pause before the awful mandate that condemns an equal suffering to those he loves, which he cannot withhold or suffer for? In the spectacle of these innocents struggling against disgrace, perhaps disease, poverty, or desertion, what avails his haughty, all-defying spirit? Let us imagine, Clarence."
"Sir?" said the literal Clarence, pausing in his exercise.
"I mean," continued the priest, with a slight cough, "let the thoughtful man picture a father: a desperate, self-willed man, who scorned the laws of God and society--keeping only faith with a miserable subterfuge he called 'honor,' and relying only on his own courage and his knowledge of human weakness. Imagine him cruel and bloody--a gambler by profession, an outlaw among men, an outcast from the Church; voluntarily abandoning friends and family,--the wife he should have cherished, the son he should have reared and educated--for the gratification of his deadly passions. Yet imagine that man suddenly confronted with the thought of that heritage of shame and disgust which he had brought upon his innocent offspring--to whom he cannot give even his own desperate recklessness to sustain its vicarious suffering. What must be the feelings of a parent--"
"Father Sobriente," said Clarence softly.
To the boy's surprise, scarcely had he spoken when the soft protecting palm of the priest was already upon his shoulder, and the snuffy but kindly upper lip, trembling with some strange emotion, close beside his cheek.
"What is it, Clarence?" he said hurriedly. "Speak, my son, without fear! You would ask--"
"I only wanted to know if 'padre' takes a masculine verb here," replied Clarence naively.
Father Sobriente blew his nose violently. "Truly--though used for either gender, by the context masculine," he responded gravely. "Ah," he added, leaning over Clarence, and scanning his work hastily, "Good, very good! And now, possibly," he continued, passing his hand like a damp sponge over his heated brow, "we shall reverse our exercise. I shall deliver to you in Spanish what you shall render back in English, eh? And--let us consider--we shall make something more familiar and narrative, eh?"
To this Clarence, somewhat bored by these present solemn abstractions, assented gladly, and took up his pen. Father Sobriente, resuming his noiseless pacing, began:
"On the fertile plains of Guadalajara lived a certain caballero, possessed of flocks and lands, and a wife and son. But, being also possessed of a fiery and roving nature, he did not value them as he did perilous adventure, feats of arms, and sanguinary encounters. To this may be added riotous excesses, gambling and drunkenness, which in time decreased his patrimony, even as his rebellious and quarrelsome spirit had alienated his family and neighbors. His wife, borne down by shame and sorrow, died while her son was still an infant. In a fit of equal remorse and recklessness the caballero married again within the year. But the new wife was of a temper and bearing as bitter as her consort. Violent quarrels ensued between them, ending in the husband abandoning his wife and son, and leaving St. Louis--I should say Guadalajara--for ever. Joining some adventurers in a foreign land, under an assumed name, he pursued his reckless course, until, by one or two acts of outlawry, he made his return to civilization impossible. The deserted wife and step-mother of his child coldly accepted the situation, forbidding his name to be spoken again in her presence, announced that he was dead, and kept the knowledge of his existence from his own son, whom she placed under the charge of her sister. But the sister managed to secretly communicate with the outlawed father, and, under a pretext, arranged between them, of sending the boy to another relation, actually dispatched the innocent child to his unworthy parent. Perhaps stirred by remorse, the infamous man--"
"Stop!" said Clarence suddenly.
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