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The winter season was at its height now. For weeks there had been no rain, and the Pacific side of the Isthmus was growing sere and yellow beneath the ceaseless glare of the sun. The musty dampness of the rainy season had disappeared, the steady trade-winds breathed a dreamy languor, and the days fled past in one long, unending procession of brilliant sameness. Every ship from the North came laden with tourists, and the social life of the city grew brilliant and gay. There were receptions, dinners, dances; the plazas echoed to the strains of music almost nightly. Now that Nature smiled, the work upon the Canal went forward with ever- growing eagerness. Records were broken in every department, the railroad groaned beneath its burden, the giant human machine was strained to its fullest efficiency.
Young Anthony mastered the details of his work very rapidly, for railroading had been bred into him. He needed little help from Runnels, and soon began to feel a conscious grasp of affairs as surprising to himself as to his chief. Being intensely interested in his work, he avoided all social entanglements, despite repeated invitations from Mrs. Cortlandt. But, when the grand-opera season began, he made an exception, and joined her box-party on the opening night.
It seemed quite like old times to don an evening suit; the stiff, white linen awakened a pang of regret. The time was not far distant when he had felt never so much at home as in these togs; but now they were hot and uncomfortable--and how they accentuated his coat of tan!
There was a somewhat formal dinner in the Cortlandts' new home, at which there were a dozen guests; so Kirk had no opportunity of speaking with his hostess until they had reached the theatre, where he found himself seated immediately behind her.
"I've scarcely seen you lately," she said, at the first opportunity. "You're a very neglectful young man."
"I knew you were getting settled in your house, and we've been tremendously busy at the office."
"I began to think you were avoiding us."
"You must know better than that."
She regarded him shrewdly over her shoulder. "You're not still thinking of--that night at Taboga? You haven't seemed the same since."
He blushed, and nodded frankly. "I can't help thinking about it. You were mighty nice to overlook a break like that, but--" Unconsciously his eyes shifted to Cortlandt, who was conversing politely with a giggly old lady from Gatun.
She tapped his cheek lightly with her fan. "Just to show you how forgiving I am, I am going to ask you to go riding with me. The late afternoons are lovely now, and I've found a good horse for you. I suppose you ride?"
"I love it."
"Wednesday, at five, then." She turned to another guest, and Kirk leaned back to take in the scene about him.
Like most Latin-American cities, Panama prides herself upon her government theatre, which is in truth very beautiful. Although it remains dark most of the year, its brief period of opera is celebrated by a notable outpouring. To-night the magnificent white-and-gold auditorium was filled to the topmost gallery, and the two circles of boxes were crowded with the flower of Panamanian society, tourists from the North, and Americans from the whole length of the Canal Zone. Kirk himself had seen to running a theatre special from Colon, and recognized all six of the Commissioners, with their families. It was an exceedingly well-dressed audience, and although the pit was plentifully sprinkled with men in white, the two lower galleries were in solid full-dress. Bejewelled women in elaborate gowns lent the affair almost the elegance of a night at the Metropolitan, while the flash of many uniforms made the scene colorful.
Suddenly the orchestra broke into the national air, and with a great rustling and turning of heads the audience rose to its feet. In the centre box of the first tier, ornately hung with flags and a coat of arms, Anthony beheld a giant black man of majestic appearance, drawn to his full height and flanked by a half-dozen aides in uniform, all at a stiff military salute.
"That is President Galleo," Edith told him.
"Jove! He's a regal-looking chap," Kirk exclaimed.
"He's very much of a man, too, yet even here there is a color line. Nobody acknowledges it, but the old Castilian families are keenly aware of it just the same."
As the last measured strain died out the audience reseated itself, the introduction to "La Tosca" sounded, and the curtain rose. Although the names of the performers were unknown to Kirk, their voices were remarkably good, and he soon became absorbed in the drama. A sudden lonesomeness surged over him as he recalled another night when he and Darwin K. Anthony had heard these same notes sung. But then they had sat enthralled by the art of Caruso, Scotti, and the ravishing Cavalieri. It had been one of the rare hours when he and his father had felt themselves really in sympathy. The Governor had come down for some fabulous directors' meeting, he remembered, and had wired his son to run in from New Haven for the evening. They had been real chums that night, and even at their modest little supper afterward, when the old gentleman had rowed with the waiter and cursed his dyspepsia, they had laughed and chatted like cronies. Yet a week later they had quarrelled.
With an unexpected access of tenderness, Anthony Jr. longed to see once more that tumbled shock of white hair, that strong-lined face; to hear again the gruff tones of that voice he loved so well. After all, there were only two Anthonys left in the world, and he had been to blame. He acknowledged that he had been a ne'er-do-well. No wonder his father had been harsh, but still--old Darwin K. should not have been so domineering, so ready to credit all he heard. Kirk pressed his lips together and swore to make good, if for no other reason than to show his dad.
As the curtain fell on the first act, he rose with the others and, accompanied by Mrs. Cortlandt, made his way down the long passageway and out into a brightly lighted, highly decorated foyer filling now with voluble people. It was a splendid room; but he had no eyes for it. His gaze was fixed upon the welcome open-air promenade outside, and his fingers fumbled with his cigarette- case.
"Oh, wait, please," he heard Edith say, "I want you to meet some one."
He had done little except respond to meaningless introductions all the evening, and nothing could have pleased him less at the moment. But, somewhat awkwardly, he began to edge his way through the press in the wake of his hostess. The next moment he halted and stood stock-still in helpless surprise.
There, not a yard away, was the girl of his dreams demurely bowing to Edith Cortlandt, her hand upon the arm of a swarthy man whom Kirk knew at once as her father. He felt the blood rush blindingly to his head, felt it drumming at his ears, knew that he must be staring like a man bereft. Mrs. Cortlandt was speaking, and he caught the name "Garavel" like a bugle-call. They turned upon him, the Spanish gentleman bowed, and he saw that Chiquita's little white-gloved hand was extended toward him.
She was the same dainty, desirous maid he had met in the forest, but now splendidly radiant and perfect beyond his imagining. She was no longer the simple wood-sprite, but a tiny princess in filmy white, moulded by some master craftsman. As on that earlier meeting, she was thrilling with some subtle mirth which flickered on her lips or danced in the depths of her great, dark eyes.
How he ever got through that wild introductory moment without making a show of himself, Anthony never knew, for his first overwhelming impulse was to seize the girl and never let her escape. It was the same feeling he had had at Las Savannas, only ten times harder to resist. The general confusion, perhaps, helped to hide his emotion, for around them eddied a constant human tide, through which at last came Mr. Cortlandt and the other members of his party. There were more introductions, more bows and polite exchanges of words which had the maddening effect of distracting Miss Garavel's attention. Then, by some glorious miracle, Kirk found himself moving toward the open air at her side, with Mrs. Cortlandt and the banker in advance of them.
"Oh, Chiquita," he said, softly, "I thought I'd NEVER find you. I've hunted everywhere."
At the tremulous intensity of his tone, she gave an uncertain laugh and flashed him a startled glance.
"Chiquita is not my name," she said, reprovingly.
"Yes, it is; it must be. I can't think of you by any other. Hasn't it been whispering at my ears ever since you said it? It has nearly driven me mad."
"Senor Antonio! I have seen you but once."
"I have seen you every day, every hour-"
"I can't see anything else. Don't you understand?"
"You forget that we have but just been introduced."
"Don't be offended; you see, I can't realize that I have found you at last. When I learned you had gone away, I thought I would surely-"
"I have been nowhere."
"Didn't you go away on a ship?"
"That is absurd! I have remained always in my father's house."
"Then wait until I catch that boy of mine! Didn't you know I was looking for you? Couldn't you FEEL it?"
"Indeed, why should I imagine such things?"
"Why, if you couldn't feel a thing like that, you can't love me."
"Of a certainly not," she gasped. "You should not joke about such things."
"I'm not joking; I never was so serious in my life. I-I'm afraid I can't tell you everything-it all wants to come out at once. Why didn't you come back as you promised?"
"It was Stephanie-she is such a ferocious person! I was brought to the city that day-but no, senor. I did not promise. I said only 'perhaps.'"
"Have you done your penance?"
"It was finished yesterday. This is the first time I have been out. Oh, it is delightful. The music-the people!"
"And I can come to see you now?"
"Very well do you know that you cannot. Have you not learned our customs?" Then, with an abrupt and icy change of tone: "I forget. Of course you are familiar with those customs, since you have become the wooer of Miss Torres."
"Oh, Lord! Where did you hear about that?"
"So! It is true. You are fickle, senor-or is it that you prefer dark people?"
"I was looking for you. I thought it was you behind those curtains all the time." He began a flurried defence of his recent outrageous behavior, to which Miss Garavel endeavored to listen with distant composure. But he was so desperately in earnest, so anxious to make light of the matter, so eager to expose all his folly and have done with it, that he must have been funnier than he knew. In the midst of his narrative the girl's eyes showed an encouraging gleam, and when he described his interview with Torres and Heran their surprise and dramatic indignation, she laughed merrily.
"Oh, it wasn't funny at the time," he hastened to add. "I felt as though I had actually proposed, and might have to pay alimony."
"Poor Maria! It is no light thing to be cast aside by one's lover. She is broken-hearted, and for six months she will do penance."
"This penance thing is a habit with you girls. But I wasn't her lover; I'm yours."
"Do not be foolish," she exclaimed, sharply, "or I shall be forced to walk with my father."
"Don't do that. Can't you see we must make haste while the curtain is down?"
"I do not see. I am strolling in search of the cool air." She bowed and smiled at some passing friends. She seemed very careless, very flippant. She was not at all the impetuous, mischievous Chiquita he had met in the woods.
"See here!" he said, soberly. "We can't go on this way. Now that I've met your father, I'm going to explain my intentions to him, and ask his permission to call on you."
"We have a--proverb, senor, 'Ir por lana, y volver trasquilado,' which means, 'Take heed lest you find what you do not seek.' Do not be impetuous."
"There's only one thing I'm seeking."
"My father is a stern man. In his home he is entirely a Spaniard, and if he learned how we met, for instance"-even under the electric light he saw her flush-"he would create a terrible scene." She paused in her walk and leaned over the stone balustrade, staring out across the ink-black harbor.
"Trust me! I shan't tell him."
"There are so many reasons why it is useless."
"One!" She shrugged lightly. "In the first place I care nothing for you. Is not that enough?"
"No, indeed. You'll get over that."
"Let us imagine, then, the contrary. You Americans are entirely different from our people. You are cold, deliberate, wicked-your social customs are not like ours. You do not at all understand us. How then could you be interested to meet a Spanish family?"
"Why, you're half American."
"Oh yes, although it is to be regretted. Even at school in your Baltimore I learned many improper things, against which I have had to struggle ever since."
"Ah," she sighed, "I saw so much liberty; I heard of the shocking conduct of your American ladies, and, while I know it is quite wrong and wicked, still-it is interesting. Why, there is no other nice girl in all Panama who would have talked with you as I did in the forest that day."
"But what has all this to do with my coming to see you?"
"It is difficult to explain, since you will not understand. When a young man is accepted into a Spanish house, many things are taken for granted. Besides that, we do not know each other, you and I. Also, if you should come to see me, it would cause gossip, misunderstanding among my friends."
"I'll declare myself in advance," he promised warmly.
"No, no, no! We Spanish-Americans do not care for strangers. We have our own people and we are satisfied. You Yankees are not very nice; you are barbarous; you assume such liberties. Our young men are gentle, modest, sweet--"
"Um-m! I hadn't noticed it."
"This is the first time I have ever talked so freely with a gentleman, and I suppose it is immodest. After all, it is much better that old people who are of more experience should discuss these questions."
"But don't you want to have a voice in your own affairs?" he eagerly urged. "Do you really want your relatives to tell you whom to meet, whom to love, and whom to marry?"
She answered, frankly: "Sometimes I feel that way. Yet at other times I am sure they must know best."
"I don't believe you are the sort to shut your eyes and do exactly as you're told."
"I do rebel sometimes. I protest, but it is only the American blood in me."
"If you'd learn to know me a little bit, maybe you'd enjoy having me around the house."
"But I cannot know you, any more than you can know me," she cried, with a little gesture of despair at his dullness. "Don't you see-- before we could get acquainted nicely people would be talking?"
"Let's try. You're living at the country place again, aren't you? Suppose I should get lost some day--tomorrow, for instance?"
"No, no! Listen. It is the warning bell, and we must return."
The crowd was filing into the theatre now. They fell in behind Senor Garavel and Mrs. Cortlandt.
"I'm going hunting again tomorrow," prophesied Kirk, "and I'm almost certain to lose my way-about three o'clock."
"You should take with you a guide."
"That's not a bad idea. I'd like to talk it over with you. Suppose we have another stroll after the next act?"
"I shall be with my father. Never before have I enjoyed so much liberty." She sighed gratefully.
"Oh, I detest your blamed, straitlaced Spanish customs," he cried, hotly. "What do they amount to, anyhow? I love you. I do, I do-"
She laughed and darted to her father's side.
"Don't you think Miss Garavel is a pretty girl?" Mrs. Cortlandt questioned, as they strolled toward their box.
"She's a dream." Anthony's tone left nothing unsaid.
"You got along together capitally. Most of the senoritas are impossible."
"By the way, what is her name?"
"Gertrudis. Rather pleasing, I think."
Kirk thought so, too. In fact, it pleased him so greatly that he thought of nothing else during the entire second act of "La Tosca." It was even sweeter than the music of her hesitating accent.
When, after an age, the curtain fell for a second time, he escaped from his companions, mumbling some excuse or other, and made haste to find her again. But as he approached he felt a sudden pang of jealous rage.
Ramon Alfarez was beside her, and the two were chatting with an appearance of intimacy that made him furious. Close at hand stood Garavel, deep in conversation with Colonel Jolson.
"Ah, Ramon, I wish you to meet Mr. Anthony," said Gertrudis. "So! You have met before?"
"In Colon," Kirk explained, while Alfarez scorched him with his eyes. "Mr. Alfarez was very hospitable to me."
"Yes," the Spaniard exclaimed. "It is my great regret that Senor Ant'ony did not remain for longer."
"Ramon is with the President's party this evening. He is Senor Galleo's Secretary, you know."
"I informed you concerning those good fortunes some time since, eh?" Ramon's insulting stare made Kirk long to take him by the throat.
"Yes, you told me. I suppose it is a fine position."
Alfarez swelled pompously. "I 'ave many responsibilities."
"It brings you very close to the Chief Executive, no doubt."
"I 'ave indeed the honor to be his intimate!"
"He's the tallest negro I ever saw," Kirk said, simply, at which the haughty Ramon seemed about to explode, and Miss Garavel quite shamelessly giggled.
"That is funny," she exclaimed. "But you must not tease Ramon. You understand, the voice of the people has made Galleo President, but no one forgets that he is not one of us."
Her youthful countryman twisted his mustache with trembling fingers.
"It is politics!" he declared. "And yet Galleo is a great man; I am honor' to be his Secretary. But by the grace of God our next President will be w'ite."
"Ramon's father, Don Anibal, you know." Gertrudis nodded wisely at the American. "We are very proud of Ramon, he is so young to be high in politics."
"Eh! Yes, and many of our bravest patriots 'ave been black men."
"Oh, we've had some brave negroes, too," Kirk acknowledged.
"So! You see!" Alfarez was triumphant.
"The greatest fighter we ever had was a colored chap."
"His name was Gans--Joe Gans."
"You are still joking," said Miss Garavel. "In Baltimore I read the newspapers about that Gans. He was a-box-fighter, what?"
"Exactly. But he never carried a Secretary."
Alfarez's countenance was sallow as he inquired:
"Does Senor Ant'ony discover our climate to be still agreeable?"
"Very. It hasn't grown too warm for me yet."
"We are but approaching our 'ot season." The speaker's eyes snapped.
"Oh, I'll stand the heat all right, and the mosquitoes, too."
"Eh! Do not be too sure. The mosquito makes a leetle buzzing-but it is well to take warning. If not, behol', some day you grow ver' seeck."
Heretofore Kirk had hated Ramon in a careless, indifferent sort of way, feeling that he owed him a good drubbing, which he would be pleased to administer if ever a fitting time arrived. But now, since he saw that the jackanapes had the audacity to love Gertrudis, his feeling became intense. The girl, of course, was fully alive to the situation, and, although she evidently enjoyed it, she did her best to stand between the two men.
As for Alfarez, he was quick to feel the sudden fierce hostility he had aroused, and it seemed to make him nervous. Moreover, he conceived that he had scored heavily by his last retort, at which Kirk had only smiled. It therefore seemed best to him to withdraw from the conversation (annoyingly conducted in English), and a few moments later he stalked majestically away. This was just what Kirk wanted, and he quickly suggested the balcony. But Gertrudis was obstinate.
"I must remain with my father," she said.
"May I sit beside you, then? I've been thinking of a lot of things to say. I always think of bully remarks when it's too late. Now I've forgotten them. Do you know, I'm going to nestle up to your father and make him like me?"
"Again you are speaking of that subject. I have known you but an hour, and you talk of nothing but my father, of me, of coming to call."
"Well, I can't think of anything else."
"You are too bold. Spanish fathers do not like such young men. But to hear me talk!" She flushed slightly. "I have lost all modesty to speak of those things. You force me to embarrass myself."
"I was an instantaneous success with Miss Torres' father. He was ready to send a dray for my trunks."
"Let us discuss other things."
"I haven't the strength. You once spoke of a chap your people had picked out. It isn't-Alfarez?"
She let her dark eyes rest upon his a moment, and his senses swam. Then she nodded slowly.
"You do not like him?"
"Just like a nose-bleed. The day you and I are married I'm going to send him a wreath of poison ivy."
"It pleases you always to joke."
"No joke about that. You won't give in, will you?"
"There is no question of force nor of surrender, senor. I insist now that we shall speak of other things."
A few moments later he was constrained to rejoin his hostess' party.
"When are you going back to Las Savannas?" he asked, as he reluctantly arose.
"The hunting ought to be good-"
But she frowned at him in annoyance, and he left her, after all, without knowing whether he had gained or lost ground. Of one thing only he was sure-their meeting had been in some respects a disappointment. She was not by any means so warm and impulsive as he had supposed. Her girlishness, her simplicity, her little American ways, cloaked a deep reserve and a fine sense of the difference in their positions. She could be Spanish enough when she chose, he perceived, and he felt, as he was intended to feel, that the little lady of quality he had met to-night would be much harder to win than the girl of the woods. The plague of it was that, if anything, he was more in love with the definite and dazzling Gertrudis Garavel than he had been with the mysteriously alluring Chiquita. If only she were all American, or even all Spanish, perhaps he would know better how to act. But, unfortunately, she was both-just enough of both to be perplexing and wholly unreliable. And then, too, there was Alfarez!
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