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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 13. Chiquita
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The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 13. Chiquita Post by :ninja1023 Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :1516

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The Ne'er-do-well - Chapter 13. Chiquita

CHAPTER XIII. CHIQUITA

The next day Kirk borrowed a shot-gun and went hunting. The events of the night before seemed like a dream. Could it be that he had really blundered irretrievably? Was it possible that he had offended his best friend past forgiveness? He wanted to get away somewhere and collect his thoughts. For the present, at least, he wished to avoid an interview with Mrs. Cortlandt.

A mile or two beyond the railroad track, to the north and east, began what appeared to be an unbroken wilderness, and thither he turned his steps. Low, rolling hills lay before him, densely over- grown and leading upward to a mountain range which paralleled the coast until the distant haze swallowed it up. These mountains, he reflected with a thrill of interest, led on to South America, the land of the Incas, hidden in mystery as the forests close at hand were veiled in faint purple. The very thought was romantic. Balboa had strained his eyes along these self-same placid shores; Pizarro, the swineherd, had followed them in search of Dabaiba, that fabled temple of gold, leaving behind him a trail of blood. It was only yonder, five miles away, that Pedrarias, with the murder of a million victims on his soul, had founded the ancient city which later fell to Morgan's buccaneers. Even now, a league back from the ocean, the land seemed as wild as then. Anthony suspected that there were houses--perhaps villages--hidden from his view; but vast stretches of enchanted jungle intervened, which he determined to explore, letting his feet stray whither they would. If game, of which he had heard great stories, fell to his hand, so much the better.

Heeding a warning not to bear arms through the streets of Panama without a permit from the alcalde, he struck off across the fields in a bee-line for the woods. It was a vast relief to be out in the open air with a gun upon his arm once more, and he felt his blood coursing vigorously. The burden upon his spirits insensibly began to lighten. After all, he had done nothing for which he needed to be ashamed the rest of his life. Edith, of course, was right in being deeply offended. That was to be expected. Yet his conduct, regrettable as it was, had been only natural under the circumstances. Now that the first tumult of feeling had subsided, he found that his conscience did not accuse him very severely.

And, somehow, he was unable to believe that the breach with Edith would prove irreparable. She was a sensible woman of the world-- not a mere school-girl. Perhaps when the immediate shock of the occurrence had passed she would consent to take a different view of it, and they might return to their old friendly footing. If not--well, he would be his own man soon, anyhow. Their lives would part, and the incident would be forgotten. He was sorry that in his momentary madness he had behaved improperly toward a woman to whom he owed so much, yet it was not as if he had shown meanness or ingratitude.

Across the meadows deep in grass he went, skirting little ponds and marshy spots, growing more cheerful with every step. In one place he had the good-luck to raise a flock of water birds, which he took for purple gallinule and spur-wing plover, although they were unlike any he had ever seen. In some scattered groves beyond he bagged a pigeon and missed a quail which unexpectedly whirred out of a thicket. Then he continued past herds of grazing cattle to another patch of woodland, where he came upon something that looked like a path. Through rankly growing banana-patches, yam- fields, and groves of mango-trees, he followed it, penetrating ever deeper into the rolling country, until at last he reached the real forest. He had come several miles, and realized that he could not retrace his steps, for the trail had branched many times; he had crossed other pathways and made many devours. He rejoiced in the thought that he had successfully lost himself.

At midday he paused in an open glade against a hillside to eat his lunch. Back of him the rising ground was heavily timbered; beneath him a confusion of thickets and groves and cleared fields led out to a green plain as clean as any golf links, upon which were scattered dwellings.

Evidently this was the Savannas of which he had heard so much, and these foreign-looking bungalows were the country homes of the rich Panamanians. Beyond, the bay stretched, in unruffled calm, like a sheet of quicksilver, its bosom dotted with rocky islets, while hidden in the haze to the southward, as he knew, were the historic Pearl Islands, where the early Spaniards had enriched themselves.

Gazing at this view in lazy enjoyment, Kirk found himself thinking how good it was to be young and free, and to be set down in such a splendidly romantic country. Above all, it was good to be heart- whole and unfettered by any woman's spell--men in love were unhappy persons, harassed by a thousand worries and indecisions, utterly lacking in poise. It was a lamentable condition of hysteria with which he decided to have nothing to do. He did not care for women, anyhow. One could scarcely have any dealings with them without becoming involved in some affair that unduly harrowed one's feelings. How much better it was to know the clean spirit of adventure and the joy of living, undisturbed by feverish emotions!

As he reclined there, busied with these thoughts, two vivid little paroquets alighted near him, to quarrel noisily, then make up and kiss each other like any pair of lovers. It was disgusting. A toucan peered at him with an appearance of exaggerated curiosity, due to its huge, grotesquely proportioned beak. Now and then came the harsh notes of parrots as they fluttered high above the tree- tops. Meanwhile the young man's ears became attuned to the jungle noises, his eyes observant of the many kinds of life about him.

The wood was crowded with plant-life utterly strange to him. On the hill above towered a giant ceiba-tree, its trunk as smooth as if polished by hand and bare of branches except at the very top, where, instead of tapering, it ended abruptly in a tuft of foliage. Here and there stood tremendous cotton-trees, their limbs so burdened with air-plants as to form a series of aerial gardens, their twigs bearing pods filled with down. Beside them palm-trees raised their heads, heavy with clusters of nuts resembling dates in size and form, but fit only for wild pigs. Clumps of bamboo were scattered about, their shoots springing from a common centre like the streams from a fountain, and sweeping through graceful curves to a spray of shimmering green. He had never seen such varieties of growth. There were thick trees with bulbous swellings; tall trees with buttressed roots that ran high up the trunks; slender trees propped up head-high above the earth on tripod-like roots or clusters of legs; trees with bark that shone like a mirror; trees guarded with an impregnable armor of six-inch bony spikes--Kirk did not know the names of half of them, nor did he care to learn.

Vines and creepers abounded, from the tiny honeysuckle that reared itself with feeble filaments, to the giant liana creeping through the forest like a python, throttling full-grown trees in its embrace. On every side was the never-ceasing battle for light and the struggle of the weak against the strong. The air was heavy with the breath of triumphant blooms and the odor of defeated, decaying life. A thousand voiceless tragedies were being enacted; the wood was peopled by distorted shapes that spoke of forgotten encounters; rich, riotous, parasitic growths flourished upon starved limbs or rotting trunks. It was weird and beautiful and pitiless. Unlike the peaceful order of our Northern forests, here was a savage riot, an unending treacherous warfare without light or room or mercy. There was something terrible in it all.

Tiring of the scene at last, Kirk continued his wanderings, bearing gradually toward the right, that he might eventually emerge upon the Savannas below, where he knew there was a good paved road leading to the city. But the trails were devious and seemed to lead nowhere, so at last he struck out through the jungle itself. Having no machete with which to clear a way, his progress was slow, but he took his time, keeping a wary outlook for game, twisting back and forth to avoid the densest thickets, until he finally came out upon the margin of a stream. Through the verdure beyond it he saw the open, sunlit meadows, and he followed the bank in the hope of finding a foot-log or a bridge upon which to cross. He had gone, perhaps, a hundred yards when he stumbled out into a cleared space, where he paused with an exclamation of surprise.

The brook had been dammed and widened into a deep, limpid pool to which the clean, white sand of its bottom lent a golden hue. At the lower end it overflowed in a waterfall, the purling music of which filled the glade. Overhead the great trees were arched together and interlaced, their lower branches set with flowering orchids like hothouse plants upon a window-ledge. The dense foliage allowed only a random beam of sunlight to pass through and pierce the pool, like a brilliant, quivering javelin. Long vines depended from the limbs above, falling sheer and straight as plumb-lines; a giant liana the size of a man's body twined up and up until lost in the tangle overhead.

Although set just within the border of the untouched forest, it was evident that this spot had been carefully cut away and artfully cultivated. But, if man's hand had aided nature by a few deft touches here and there and a careful pruning of her lavish riches, it could be seen that no human artist had designed the wondrous stage effect. To step suddenly out of an uncut wilderness into such a scene as this was bewildering, and made the American gasp with delight. The place had an air of strictest privacy. A spring-board mirrored in the depths below invited one to plunge, a pair of iron gymnasium rings were swung by chains to a massive limb, a flight of stone steps led up the bank and into a hut artistically thatched and walled with palm-leaves to harmonize with its setting. Kirk thanked his fortune that he had not blundered in while the place was in use, for it had almost the sacred air of a lady's boudoir.

Instead of promptly withdrawing, he allowed his admiration full play, and stood staring for a long time. What a delightful nook in which to dream away the days! It was dim and cool and still, although outside its walls of green the afternoon sun was beating down fiercely. A stranger might pass and never guess its presence. It had been cunningly shaped by fairies, that was evident. Doubtless it was peopled by them also, and his mistake had been in coming upon it so suddenly. If he had approached with caution he would surely have surprised them at their play, for yonder was the music of their dances--that chuckling, singing waterfall could serve no other purpose. Perhaps one was hidden under it at present. Kirk was half tempted to conceal himself and wait for them to reappear, though he knew that it requires extraordinary cunning to deceive wood-sprites once they have been alarmed. But, undoubtedly, they were somewhere close by, probably watching him from behind the leaves, and if they were not such timid bodies he might try to search them out.

As it was, he took a lingering, farewell look and turned to retrace his steps, whereupon the queen fairy laughed at him softly. He paused abruptly, then turned around, with care, so as not to frighten her. But of course she was invisible. Then she spoke again with the sweetest foreign accent imaginable.

"You had better cross upon the waterfall, sir. There is no bridge above." After an instant, during which he strained his eyes to find her, she laughed again.

"Here I am, in the tree, across the pond."

"Oh!" Looking over the fork of a tree-trunk, perhaps twice the height of his head above the ground, Anthony beheld a ravishing face and two very bright eyes. Without removing his gaze, he leaned his gun carefully against a bush--firearms have an abominable effect upon hamadryads--and said:

"I knew you were here all the time."

"Indeed!" The eyes opened in astonishment. "You did not see me at all."

"Of course, but I knew you were somewhere close by, just the same. How did you get up there?"

"I climbed up."

"Why didn't you hide under the waterfall?"

"I did not hide, senor. I am trying to reach my orchid."

A little hand appeared beside the face, and a finger pointed to one of the big air plants above her. Kirk beheld a marvellous white, dove-shaped flower, nodding upon a slender stalk.

"I climbed up on the big vine; it is just like a ladder."

"Then you can't be the queen!"

Two very large, very dark eyes looked at him questioningly.

"Queens don't pick flowers," he explained. "They hide in 'em."

"The queen?"

"Some of them live in trees, and some preside over lakes and fountains. Which kind are you?"

"Oh! I am neither, I live in my father's house." She tossed her head in the direction of the Savannas behind her. "Do you wish to cross the stream?"

"If you please."

"Wait." The face disappeared. There was a sound from behind the twisted tree-trunk, a twig fell, then a piece of bark, and the next instant the girl herself stepped into view.

"I was afraid you'd gone for good," acknowledged the young man, gravely. He took up his gun and stepped out upon the crest of the dam.

"You must look where you go," she admonished, "or you will fall-- splash!" She laughed delightedly at the thought, and he saw that her eyes had a way of wrinkling almost shut in the merriest fashion. He balanced upon the slippery surface of the waterway with the stream up to his ankles.

"Will you promise not to whisk yourself away if I look down?" he asked.

"Yes."

But even with this assurance he found it difficult to remove his eyes from her even for the brief instant necessary for a safe passage; and when at last he stood beside her he felt an irresistible desire to seize her gently so that she could not escape.

"Well?" she said at length, and he found he had been standing stock-still staring at her for several seconds.

"Excuse me! I really took you for a wood-nymph. I'm not sure yet-- you see the place is so well suited. It--it was a natural mistake."

She dropped her eyes shyly and turned away at his look.

"It is only our swimming-pool. There have been no fairies here since I was a very little girl. But once upon a time there were many--oh, a great many." It was impossible to describe the odd, sweet sound her tongue gave to the English words. It was not a dialect, hardly an accent, just a delicious, hesitating mannerism born of unfamiliarity.

"Did you ever see them?"

"N-no! I arrived always a little too late. But there are such things."

He nodded. "Everybody knows that since 'Peter Pan.'"

Another shy glance told her that he was still regarding her with his look of wondering admiration. She pointed to a path, saying:

"This way will bring you to the road, sir, if you wish."

"But--I don't wish--not yet." He sought wildly for an excuse to stay, and exclaimed: "Oh, the orchid. I must get it for you."

"That will be very nice of you, sir. For two years I have awaited its blooming. If you had not arrived I would have got it, anyhow."

"Girls shouldn't climb trees," he said, severely. "It tears their dresses."

"Oh, one cannot tear a dress like this." She glanced down at her skirt. Allowing his eyes to leave her face for a moment, Kirk saw that she was clad, oddly enough, in a suit of denim, which was buttoned snugly clear to her neck. It struck him as most inappropriate, yet it was extremely well made, and he could not complain of the effect.

He broke his gun and removed the shells; then, leaving it beside the bath-house, went to the tree where he had first seen her. With one hand resting upon the trunk, he turned to say:

"Promise you won't disappear while I'm up there, or change into a squirrel, or a bird, or anything like that."

"What a funny man you are!"

"Do you promise?"

"Yes, yes."

"Do you live around here?"

"Of course."

"Why do you want this orchid?"

"To put it in the house."

Instead of beginning his climb, the young man lounged idly against the tree.

"Funny how I found you, wasn't it?" he remarked. "I mean it's funny I should have stumbled right on you this way--there's only one of you and one of me, and--er--this country is so big! I might have gone some other way and then perhaps we'd never have met." He contemplated this contingency for an instant. "And if you hadn't spoken I'd never have seen you, either."

"But I had to speak. You could not cross above."

"Awfully nice of you. Some people would have let me go away."

"But the orchid, senor. Do you fear to climb so high?" she inquired, with the faintest gleam of amusement at his obvious effort to prolong the conversation.

"Oh no!"

He cast about for something further to talk about, but, failing to find it, began slowly to clamber upward, supporting himself upon the natural steps afforded by the twining vine and the protuberances of the trunk itself.

When he had reached the first fork, he turned and seated himself comfortably, peering downward through the leaves for a sight of her.

"Not gone yet!" he exclaimed. "That's good."

"Are you out of breath that you stop so soon?"

He nodded. "I need to rest a minute. Say, my name is Anthony--Kirk Anthony." Then, after a pause, "I'm an American."

"So am I, at least I am almost. My mother was an American."

"You don't say!" The young man's face lighted up with interest, and he started eagerly down the tree-trunk, but she checked him promptly.

"The orchid!"

"Oh yes!" He reseated himself. "Well, well, I suppose your mother taught you to speak English?"

"I also attended school in Baltimore."

Anthony dangled his legs from his perch and brushed aside a troublesome prickly pod that depended in such a position as to tickle his neck. "I'm from Yale. Ever been to New Haven? What are you laughing at?"

"At you. Do you know what it is which you are fighting from your neck?"

"This?" Kirk succeeded in locating the nettle that had annoyed him.

"Yes. It is cow-eetch. Wait! By-and-by you will scratch like everything." The young lady laughed with the most mischievous, elf-like enjoyment of this prospect.

"All right. Just for that, I will wait."

Now that the first surprise of meeting was over, Kirk began a really attentive scrutiny of this delightful young person. So far he had been conscious of little except her eyes, which had exercised a most remarkable effect upon him from the first. He had never cared for black eyes--they were too hard and sparkling, as a rule--but these--well, he had never seen anything quite like them. They were large and soft and velvety, like--like black pansies! That was precisely what they were, saucy, wide-awake black pansies, the most beautiful flower in all creation; and, while they were shadowed by the intangible melancholy of the tropics, they were also capable of twinkling in the most roguish manner imaginable, as at the present moment. Her hair was soft and fine, entirely free from the harsh lustre so common to that shade, and it grew down upon her temples in a way that completed the perfect oval of her face. His first glimpse had told him she was ravishingly pretty, but it had failed to show how dainty and small she was. He saw now that she was considerably below the usual height, but so perfectly proportioned that one utterly lost perspective. Even her thick, coarse dress could not conceal the exquisite mould in which she was cast. But her chief charm lay in a certain winsome vivacity, a willful waywardness, an ever- changing expression which showed her keenly alive and appreciative. Even now pure mischief looked out of her eyes as she asked:

"Have you rested enough to attack the orchid?"

"Yes." He roused himself from his trance, and with a strangely leaping heart proceeded carefully to detach the big air plant from its resting-place. The wonderful flower, nodding to his touch, was no more perfect than this dryad whom he had surprised.

"Don't break it," she cautioned as he came gingerly down the tree. "It is what we call 'Espiritu Santa,' the 'Holy Spirit' flower. See, it is like a white bird."

"First one I've seen," he said, noting how the purity of the bloom enhanced the olive of her cheek. Then he began another fruitless search for a topic of conversation, fearing that if he allowed the slightest pause she would send him away. But all his thoughts were of her, it seemed. His tongue would frame nothing but eager questions--all about herself. At last in desperation he volunteered to get another orchid; but the suggestion met with no approval. There were no more, she told him, of that kind.

"Maybe we can find one," he said, hopefully.

"Thank you. I know them all." She was looking at him now as if wondering why he did not make a start, but wild horses could not have dragged him away. Instead of picking up his gun, he inquired:

"May I rest a moment? I'm awfully tired."

"Certainly. You may stay as long as you wish. When you are rested the little path will bring you out."

"But you mustn't go!" he exclaimed, in a panic, as she turned away. "Oh, I say, please! You wouldn't do a thing like that?"

"I cannot speak to you this way, sir." The young lady blushed prettily.

"Why not, I'd like to know?"

"Oh!" She raised her hand and shook her head to express the absolute impossibility of such a thing. "Already I have been terrible. What will Stephanie say?"

"You've been nothing of the sort, and who is Stephanie?"

"She is a big black woman--very fierce. It is because of Stephanie that the fairies have gone away from here."

"If we wait a minute, maybe they'll come out."

"No. I have waited many times and I never saw them."

"Somehow I feel sure we'll see 'em this time," he urged. Then, as she shook her head doubtfully: "Good heavens! Don't you want to see 'em? I'm so tired that I must sit down."

The corners of her eyes wrinkled as she said, "You are not very strong, senor. Have you been ill?"

"Yes--no. Not exactly." He led her to a bamboo bench beside the palm hut. "I've been hunting. Now won't you please tell me how you chanced to be here? I thought these country places were unoccupied at this season."

"So they are. But, you see, I am doing a penance."

"Penance! You?"

"Oh yes. And it is nothing to laugh about, either," she chided, as he smiled incredulously, "I am a bad girl; I am disobedient. Otherwise I would not allow you to speak to me alone like this. You are the first gentleman I have ever been so long in the company with, Senor Antonio."

"Really?"

"Now I will have to do more penance." She sighed sadly, but her eyes were dancing.

"I don't understand this penance affair. What do you do?"

She lifted a fold of her coarse denim dress. "For six months I must wear these garments--no pretty ones. I must not go out in public also, and I have been sent here away from the city for a time to cure my rebellious spirit."

"Those dresses must be hot."

"Oh, very uncomfortable! But, you see, I was bad."

"Not very bad?"

"Indeed. I disobeyed my father, my uncle, everybody." For the first time her eyes grew bright with anger. "But I did not wish to be married."

"Now, I see. They wanted you to marry some fellow you don't like?"

"I do like him--"

"You did exactly right to refuse. By all means stand pat, and don't--"

"'Stand pat.' I have not heard that word since I was in Baltimore."

"It's awful to marry somebody you don't like," he declared, with such earnest conviction that she inquired, quickly:

"Ah, then are you married?"

"No! But everybody says it's positively criminal to marry without love."

"The gentleman is very handsome."

He shuddered, "Beware of handsome men. If you have any idea of marriage, select a large, plain man with blue eyes and light hair."

"I do not know such a person."

"Not yet, of course; that is, not well enough to marry him."

"It is not nice to speak of such things," said the young lady, primly. "And it is not nice also to speak with strange gentlemen who come out of the forest when one is doing penance. But I am a half American, you know. Perhaps that is what makes me so bad."

"Will you catch it for talking to me?"

"Oh yes. It is not allowed. It is most improper."

"Then I suppose I'd better leave." Anthony settled himself more comfortably upon the bench. "And yet there is nothing really wrong about it, is there? Why, it's done every day in my country. Besides, who's going to know?"

"The padre. I tell him everything."

"You girls down here have a pretty tough time of it; you are guarded pretty closely, aren't you?"

She gave him a puzzled look.

"I mean, you don't have any liberty. You don't go out alone, or let fellows take you to lunch, or to the matinee, or anything like that?"

Evidently the mere mention of such things was shocking. "Oh, senor," she cried, incredulously, "such terrible actions cannot be permitted even in your country. It is awful to think of!"

"Nonsense! It's done every day."

"Here it would not do at all. One's people know best about such things. One must be careful at all times. But you Americans are so wicked!"

"How does a fellow ever get acquainted with a girl down here? How does he get a chance to propose?"

But this frank questioning on so sacred a topic was a little more than the young lady was prepared to meet, and for the moment confusion held her tongue-tied.

"One's people attend to that, of course," she managed to say, at length, then changed the subject quickly.

"Do you live in Panama?" she asked.

"Yes. I work on the railroad, or will, in a few days."

"You are so young for such authority. It must be very difficult to manage railroads."

"Well--I won't have to run the whole works--at first. I'm beginning gradually, you know--one train at a time."

"That will be easier, of course. What did you say is your whole name?"

"Kirk Anthony."

"Keerk! It has a fonny sound, has it not?"

"I never noticed it. And yours?"

"Do you speak Spanish?" She regarded him curiously.

"Not a word."

"My name is Chiquita."

He repeated it after her. "It's pretty. What is your last name?"

"That is it. If I told you my first name, you could not use it; it would not be proper."

"It ought to be something like Ariel. That means 'spirit of the air and water,' I believe. Ariel Chiquita. No, they don't go together. What are you laughing at?"

"To see you scratch your neck."

Anthony became conscious of a growing sensation where the strange pod had dangled against his skin, and realized that he had been rubbing the spot for some time.

"You did not know it was the cow-nettle, eh?"

"You enjoy seeing me suffer," he said, patiently.

"You do not soffer," she retorted, mimicking his tone. "You only eetch! You wish me to sympathize."

"See here, Miss Chiquita, may I call on you?"

"Oh!" She lifted her brows in amazement. "Such ideas! Of a certainly not."

"Why?"

"You do not onderstand. Our young men do not do those things."

"Then I'll do whatever is customary--really I will, but--I'm awfully anxious to see you again--and--'

"I do not know you--My father--"

"I'll look up Mr. Chiquita and be introduced."

At this the young lady began to rock back and forth in an abandon of merriment. The idea, it seemed, was too utterly ridiculous for words. Her silvery laughter filled the glade and caused the jealous waterfall to cease its music.

"No, no," she said, finally. "It is impossible. Besides, I am doing penance. I can see no one. In the city I cannot even sit upon the balcony." She fetched a palpably counterfeit sigh, which ended in a titter.

Never had Kirk beheld such a quaintly mischievous, such a madly tantalizing creature.

"Say! You're not really going to marry that fellow!" he exclaimed, with considerable fervor.

She shrugged her shoulders wearily. "I suppose so. One cannot forever say no, and there are many reasons--"

"Oh, that's the limit. You'll go nutty, married to a chap you don't care for."

"But I am naughty, now."

"Not 'naughty'--nutty. You'll be perfectly miserable. There ought to be a law against it. Let me call and talk it over, at least. I know all about marriage--I've been around so many married people. Promise?"

"I cannot let you 'call,' as you say. Besides, for two weeks yet I must remain here alone with Stephanie." She regarded him mournfully. "Every day I must do my penance, and think of my sins, and--perhaps look for orchids."

He saw the light that flickered in the depths of her velvet eyes, and his heart pounded violently at the unspoken invitation.

"To-morrow?" he inquired, breathlessly. "Do you intend to hunt orchids to-morrow?"

Instead of answering she started to her feet with a little cry, and he did likewise. Back of them had sounded an exclamation--it was more like the snort of a wild animal than a spoken word--and there, ten feet away, stood a tall, copper-colored negress, her eyes blazing, her nostrils dilated, a look of utmost fury upon her face. She was fully as tall as Kirk, gaunt, hook-nosed, and ferocious. About her head was bound a gaudy Barbadian head-dress, its tips erect like startled ears, increasing the wildness of her appearance.

"Stephanie!" exclaimed the girl. "You frightened me."

The negress strode to her, speaking rapidly in Spanish, then turned upon Kirk.

"What do you want here?" she cried, menacingly. She had thrust her charge behind her and now pierced him with her eyes.

"Miss Chiquita--" he began, at which that young lady broke into another peal of silvery laughter and chattered to her servant. But her words, instead of placating the black woman, only added to her fury. She pointed with quivering hand to the path along the creek- bank and cried:

"Go! Go quick, you man!" Then to her charge: "You bad, BAD! Go to the house."

"Miss Chiquita hasn't done anything to make you huffy. I came out of the woods yonder and she was good enough to direct me to the road."

But Stephanie was not to be appeased. She stamped her flat foot and repeated her command in so savage a tone that Kirk perceived the uselessness of trying to explain. He looked appealingly at the girl, but she merely nodded her head and motioned him to be gone.

"Very well," he said, regretfully. "Thank you for your assistance, miss." He bowed to the little figure in blue with his best manner and took up his gun. "This way out! No crowding, please."

"Adios, Senor Antonio," came the girl's mischievous voice, and as he strode down the path he carried with him the memory of a perfect oval face smiling at him past the tragic figure of the Bajan woman. He went blindly, scarcely aware of the sun-mottled trail his feet were following, for his wits were a-flutter and his heart was leaping to some strange intoxication that grew with every instant.

It threatened to suffuse him, choke him, rob him of his senses; he wanted to cry out. Her name was Chiquita. He repeated it over and over in time to his steps. Was there ever such a beautiful name? Was there ever such a ravishing little wood-sprite? And her sweet, hesitating accent that rang in his ears! How could human tongue make such caressing music of the harshest language on the globe? She had called him "Senor Antonio," and invited him to come again to-morrow. Would he come? He doubted his ability to wait so long. Knowing that she agreed to the tryst, no power on earth could deter him.

What a day it had been! He had started out in the morning, vaguely hoping to divert his mind with some of those trite little happenings that for lack of a better term we call adventures in this humdrum world. And then, with the miraculous, unbelievable luck of youth, he had stumbled plump into the middle of the most wondrous adventure it was possible to conceive. And yet this wasn't adventure, after all--it was something bigger, finer, more precious. With a suddenness that was blinding he realized that he was in love! Yes, that was it, beyond the shadow of a doubt. This mischief-ridden, foreign-born little creature was the one and only woman in the world for whom the fates had made him and brought him across two oceans.

That evening he sat for a long time alone on the gallery of his hotel, his spirit uplifted with the joy of it, a thousand whispering voices in his ears. And when at last he fell asleep it was to dream of an olive, oval face with eyes like black pansies.

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