The Dynamiter

Page 71

The next day Harry consumed an ounce of tobacco in vain upon the neutral terrace; neither sight nor sound rewarded him, and the dinner-hour summoned him at length from the scene of disappointment. On the next it rained; but nothing, neither business nor weather, neither prospective poverty nor present hardship, could now divert the young man from the service of his lady; and wrapt in a long ulster, with the collar raised, he took his stand against the balustrade, awaiting fortune, the picture of damp and discomfort to the eye, but glowing inwardly with tender and delightful ardours. Presently the window opened, and the fair Cuban, with a smile imperfectly dissembled, appeared upon the sill.

'Come here,' she said, 'here, beside my window. The small verandah gives a belt of shelter.' And she graciously handed him a folding- chair.

As he sat down, visibly aglow with shyness and delight, a certain bulkiness in his pocket reminded him that he was not come empty- handed.

'I have taken the liberty,' said he, 'of bringing you a little book. I thought of you, when I observed it on the stall, because I saw it was in Spanish. The man assured me it was by one of the best authors, and quite proper.' As he spoke, he placed the little volume in her hand. Her eyes fell as she turned the pages, and a flush rose and died again upon her cheeks, as deep as it was fleeting. 'You are angry,' he cried in agony. 'I have presumed.'

'No, Senor, it is not that,' returned the lady. 'I--' and a flood of colour once more mounted to her brow--'I am confused and ashamed because I have deceived you. Spanish,' she began, and paused-- 'Spanish is, of course, my native tongue,' she resumed, as though suddenly taking courage; 'and this should certainly put the highest value on your thoughtful present; but alas, sir, of what use is it to me? And how shall I confess to you the truth--the humiliating truth--that I cannot read?'

As Harry's eyes met hers in undisguised amazement, the fair Cuban seemed to shrink before his gaze. 'Read?' repeated Harry. 'You!'

She pushed the window still more widely open with a large and noble gesture. 'Enter, Senor,' said she. 'The time has come to which I have long looked forward, not without alarm; when I must either fear to lose your friendship, or tell you without disguise the story of my life.'

It was with a sentiment bordering on devotion, that Harry passed the window. A semi-barbarous delight in form and colour had presided over the studied disorder of the room in which he found himself. It was filled with dainty stuffs, furs and rugs and scarves of brilliant hues, and set with elegant and curious trifles-fans on the mantelshelf, an antique lamp upon a bracket, and on the table a silver-mounted bowl of cocoa-nut about half full of unset jewels. The fair Cuban, herself a gem of colour and the fit masterpiece for that rich frame, motioned Harry to a seat, and sinking herself into another, thus began her history.


I am not what I seem. My father drew his descent, on the one hand, from grandees of Spain, and on the other, through the maternal line, from the patriot Bruce. My mother, too, was the descendant of a line of kings; but, alas! these kings were African. She was fair as the day: fairer than I, for I inherited a darker strain of blood from the veins of my European father; her mind was noble, her manners queenly and accomplished; and seeing her more than the equal of her neighbours, and surrounded by the most considerate affection and respect, I grew up to adore her, and when the time came, received her last sigh upon my lips, still ignorant that she was a slave, and alas! my father's mistress. Her death, which befell me in my sixteenth year, was the first sorrow I had known: it left our home bereaved of its attractions, cast a shade of melancholy on my youth, and wrought in my father a tragic and durable change. Months went by; with the elasticity of my years, I regained some of the simple mirth that had before distinguished me; the plantation smiled with fresh crops; the negroes on the estate had already forgotten my mother and transferred their simple obedience to myself; but still the cloud only darkened on the brows of Senor Valdevia.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book