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- Tomaso's Fortune and Other Stories - 3/41 -


"That is better," he said--"that is better." And he let all the hairpins fall on the coverlet. "Now you are my own Marny," he murmured. "Are you not?"

She hesitated one moment. "Yes, dear," she said softly. "I am your own Marny."

With her disengaged hand she stroked his blanching cheek. There was a certain science about her touch, as if she had once known something of these matters.

Lovingly and slowly the smoke-grimed fingers passed over the wonderful hair, smoothing it.

Then he grew more daring. He touched her eyes, her gentle cheeks, the quiet, strong lips. He slipped to her shoulder, and over the soft folds of her black dress.

"Been gardening?" he asked, coming to the bib of her nursing apron.

It was marvellous how the brain, which was laid open to the day, retained the consciousness of one subject so long.

"Yes--dear," she whispered.

"Your old apron is all wet!" he said reproachfully, touching her breast where the blood--his own blood--was slowly drying.

His hand passed on, and as it touched her, I saw her eyes soften into such a wonderful tenderness that I felt as if I were looking on a part of Sister's life which was sacred.

I saw a little movement as if to draw back, then she resolutely held her position. But her eyes were dull with a new pain. I wonder--I have wondered ever since--what memories that poor senseless wreck of a man was arousing in the woman's heart by his wandering touch.

"Marny," he said, "Marny. It was not TOO hard waiting for me?"

"No, dear."

"It will be all right now, Marny. The bad part is all past."

"Yes."

"Marny, you remember--the night--I left--Marny--I want--no--no, your LIPS."

I knelt suddenly, and slipped my hand within his shirt, for I saw something in his face.

As Sister's lips touched his I felt his heart give a great bound within his breast, and then it was still. When she lifted her face it was as pale as his.

I must say that I felt like crying--a feeling which had not come to me for twenty years. I busied myself purposely with the dead man, and when I had finished my task I turned, and found Sister filling in the papers--her cap neatly tied, her golden hair hidden.

I signed the certificate, placing my name beneath hers.

For a moment we stood. Our eyes met, and--we said nothing. She moved towards the door, and I held it open while she passed out.

Two hours later I received orders from the officer in command to send the nurses back to headquarters. Our men were falling back before the enemy.

A SMALL WORLD

"Thine were the calming eyes That round my pinnace could have stilled the sea, And drawn thy voyager home, and bid him be Pure with their pureness, with their wisdom wise, Merged in their light, and greatly lost in thee."

It was midday at the monastery of Montserrat, and a monk, walking in the garden, turned and paused in his meditative promenade to listen to an unwonted noise. The silence of this sacred height is so intense that many cannot sleep at night for the hunger of a sound. There is no running water except the fountain in the patio. There are no birds to tell of spring and morning. There are no trees for the cool night winds to stir, nothing but eternal rock and the ancient building so closely associated with the life of Ignatius de Loyola. The valley, a sheer three thousand feet below, is thinly enough populated, though a great river and the line of railway from Manresa to Barcelona run through it. So clear is the atmosphere that at the great distance the contemplative denizens of the monastery may count the number of the railway carriages, while no sound of the train, or indeed of any life in the valley, reaches their ears.

What the monk heard was disturbing, and he hurried to the corner of the garden, from whence a view of the winding road may be obtained. Floating on the wind came the sound, as from another world, of shouting, and the hollow rumble of wheels. The holy man peered down into the valley, and soon verified his fears. It was the diligencia, which had quitted the monastery a short hour ago, that flew down the hill to inevitable destruction. Once before in the recollection of the watcher the mules had run away, rushing down to their death, and carrying with them across that frontier the lives of seven passengers, devout persons, who, having performed the pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Montserrat, had doubtless received their reward. The monk crossed himself, but, being human, forgot alike to pray and to call his brethren to witness the scene. It was like looking at a play from a very high gallery. The miniature diligencia on the toy road far below swayed from the bank of the highway to the verge--the four mules stretched out at a gallop, as in a picture. The shouts dimly heard at the monastery had the effect they were intended to create, for the monk could see the carters and muleteers draw aside to let the living avalanche go past.

There were but two men on the box-seat of the diligencia--the driver and a passenger seated by his side. The monk recollected that this passenger had passed two days at Montserrat, inscribing himself in the visitors' book as Matthew S. Whittaker.

"I am ready to take the reins when your arms are cramped," this passenger was saying at that precise moment, "but I do not know the road, and I cannot drive so well as you."

He finished with a curt laugh, and, holding on with both hands, he turned and looked at his companion. He was not afraid, and death assuredly stared him in the face at that moment.

"Thanks for that, at all events," returned the driver, handling his reins with a steady skill. Then he fell to cursing the mules. As he rounded each corner of the winding road, he gave a derisive shout of triumph; as he safely passed a cart, he gave voice to a yell of defiance. He went to his death--if death awaited him--with a fine spirit, with a light in his eyes and the blood in his tanned cheeks.

The man at his side could perhaps have saved himself by a leap which might, with good fortune, have resulted in nothing more serious than a broken limb. As he had been invited by the driver to take this leap and had curtly declined, it is worth while to pause and give particulars of this passenger on the runaway diligencia. He was a slightly built man, dressed in the ordinary dark clothes and soft black felt hat of the middle class Spaniard. His face was brown and sun-dried, with deep lines drawn downwards from the nose to the lips in such a manner that cynicism and a mildly protesting tolerance were contending for mastery in an otherwise studiously inexpressive countenance.

"The Excellency does not blame me for this?" the driver jerked out, as he hauled round a corner with a sort of pride.

"No, my friend," replied the American; and he broke off suddenly to curve his two hands around his lips and give forth a warning shout in a clear tenor that rang down the valley like a trumpet.

A muleteer leading a heavily laden animal drew his beast into the ditch, and leapt into the middle of the road. He stepped nimbly aside and sprang at the leading mule, but was rolled into the ditch like an old hat.

"That is an old torero," shouted the driver. "Bravo, bravo!"

As they flew on, Whittaker turned in his seat and caught a glimpse of the man standing in the middle of the road, with arms spread out in an attitude of apology and deprecation.

"Ah!" cried the driver, "we shall not pass these. Now leap!"

"No," answered the other, and gave his warning shout.

Below them on the spiral road two heavy carts were slowly mounting. These were the long country carts used for the carriage of wine- casks, heavily laden with barrels for the monastery. The drivers, looking up, saw in a moment what to expect, and ran to the head of their long teams of eight mules, but all concerned knew in a flash of thought that they could not pull aside in time.

"Leap, in the name of a saint!" cried the driver, clenching his teeth.

Whittaker made no answer. But he cleared his feet and sat forward, his keen face and narrow eyes alert to seize any chance of life. The maddened mules rushed on, seeking to free themselves from the swaying destroyer on their heels. The leaders swung round the corner, but refused to obey the reins when they caught sight of the cart in front. The brakes had long ceased to act; the wooden blocks were charred as by fire. The two heavier mules at the pole made a terrified but intelligent attempt to check the pace, and the weighty vehicle skidded sideways across the road, shuddering and rattling as it went. It poised for a moment on the edge of the slope, while the mules threw themselves into their collars--their intelligence seeming to rise at this moment to a human height. Then the great vehicle turned slowly over, and at the same moment Whittaker and the driver leapt into the tangle of heels and harness. One of the leaders swung right out in mid-air with flying legs, and mules and diligencia rolled over and over down the steep in a cloud of dust and stones.


Tomaso's Fortune and Other Stories - 3/41

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