Chapter VII. A Meeting at Midnight.
 
"All faiths are to their own believers just,
 For none believe because they will, but must;
 The priest continues what the nurse began,
 And thus the child imposes on the man."
                            --DRYDEN.

"--if he be called upon to face
 Some awful moment, to which heaven has joined
 Great issues good or bad for humankind,
 Is happy as a lover; and attired
 With sudden brightness, like a man inspired;
 And through the heat of conflict keeps the law
 In calmness made; and sees what he foresaw,
 Or, if an unexpected call succeed,
 Come when it will, is equal to the need."
                            --WORDSWORTH.

"Ah! love, let us be true
 To one another, through the world which seems
 To lie before us like a land of dreams!"

The gathering at Don Valasco's was constantly repeated in various degrees of splendor among the loyal Mexicans of the city. They were as fully convinced of the justice of their cause as the Americans were. "They had graciously permitted Americans to make homes in their country; now they wanted not only to build heretic churches and sell heretic bibles, but also to govern Texas after their own fashion." From a Mexican point of view the American settlers were a godless, atheistical, quarrelsome set of ingrates. For eaten bread is soon forgotten, and Mexicans disliked to remember that their own independence had been won by the aid of the very men they were now trying to force into subjection.

The two parties were already in array in every house in the city. The Senora at variance with her daughters, their Irish cook quarrelling with their Mexican servants, only represented a state of things nearly universal. And after the failure of the Mexicans at Gonzales to disarm the Americans, the animosity constantly increased.

In every church, the priests--more bitter, fierce and revengeful than either the civil or military power--urged on the people an exterminating war. A black flag waved from the Missions, and fired every heart with an unrelenting vengeance and hatred. To slay a heretic was a free pass through the dolorous pains of purgatory. For the priesthood foresaw that the triumph of the American element meant the triumph of freedom of conscience, and the abolition of their own despotism. To them the struggle was one involving all the privileges of their order; and they urged on the fight with passionate denunciations of the foe, and with magnificent promises of spiritual favors and blessings. In the fortress, the plaza, the houses, the churches, the streets, their fiery words kept society in a ferment.

But through all this turmoil the small duties of life went on. Soldiers were parading the streets, and keeping watch on the flat roofs of the houses; men were solemly{sic} swearing allegiance to Santa Anna, or flying by night to the camp of the Americans; life and death were held at a pin's fee; but eating and dressing, dancing and flirting were pursued with an eagerness typical of pleasure caught in the passing.

And every hour these elements gathered intensity. The always restless populace of San Antonio was at a feverish point of impatience. They wanted the war at their own doors. They wanted the quarrel fought out on their own streets. Business took a secondary place. Men fingered weapons and dreamed of blood, until the temper of the town was as boisterous and vehement as the temper of the amphitheatre when impatiently waiting for the bulls and the matadores.

Nor was it possible for Antonia to lock the door upon this pervading spirit. After Doctor Worth's flight, it became necessary for her to assume control over the household. She had promised him to do so, and she was resolved, in spite of all opposition, to follow out his instructions. But it was by no means an easy task.

Fray Ignatius had both the Senora and Rachela completely under his subjection. Molly, the Irish cook, was already dissatisfied. The doctor had saved her life and given her a good home and generous wages, and while the doctor was happy and prosperous Molly was accordingly grateful. But a few words from the priest set affairs in a far pleasanter light to her. She was a true Catholic; the saints sent the heretic doctor to help. It was therefore the saints to whom gratitude was due. Had she not earned her good wage? And would not Don Angel Sandoval give her a still larger sum? Or even the Brothers at the Mission of San Jose? Molly listened to these words with a complacent pleasure. She reflected that it would be much more agreeable to her to be where she could entirely forget that she had ever been hungry and friendless, and lying at death's door.

Antonia knew also that Rachela was at heart unfaithful, and soon the conviction was forced on her that servants are never faithful beyond the line of their own interest--that it is, indeed, against certain primary laws of nature to expect it. Certainly, it was impossible to doubt that there was in all their dependents a kind of satisfaction in their misfortunes.

The doctor had done them favors--how unpleasant was their memory! The Senora had offended them by the splendor of her dress, and her complacent air of happiness. Antonia's American ways and her habit of sitting for hours with a book in her hand were a great irritation.

"She wishes to be thought wiser than other women--as wise as even a holy priest--she! that never goes to mass, and is nearly a heretic," said the house steward; and as for the Senorita Isabel, a little trouble will be good for her! Holy Mary! the way she has been pampered and petted! It is an absurdity. `Little dear,' and `angel,' are the hardest words she hears. Si! if God did not mercifully abate a little the rich they would grow to be `almightys.'"

This was the tone of the conversation of the servants of the household. It was not an unnatural tone, but it was a very unhappy one. People cannot escape from the mood of mind they habitually indulge, and from the animus of the words they habitually use; and Antonia felt and understood the antagonistic atmosphere. For the things which we know best of all are precisely the things which no one has ever told us.

The Senora, in a plain black serge gown, and black rebozo over her head, spent her time in prayers and penances. The care of her household had always been delegated to her steward, and to Rachela; while the duties that more especially belonged to her, had been fulfilled by her husband and by Antonia. In many respects she was but a grown-up baby. And so, in this great extremity, the only duty which pressed upon her was the idea of supplicating the saints to take charge of her unhappy affairs.

And Fray Ignatius was daily more hard with her. Antonia even suspected from his growing intolerance and bitterness, that the Americans were gaining unexpected advantages. But she knew nothing of what was happening. She could hear from afar off the marching and movements of soldiers; the blare of military music; the faint echoes of hurrahing multitudes; but there was no one to give her any certain information. Still, she guessed something from the anger of the priest and the reticence of the Mexican servants. If good fortune had been with Santa Anna, she was sure she would have heard of "The glorious! The invincible! The magnificent Presidente de la Republica Mexicana! The Napoleon of the West!"

It was not permitted her to go into the city. A proposal to do so had been met with a storm of angry amazement. And steam and electricity had not then annihilated distance and abolished suspense. She could but wonder and hope, and try to read the truth from a covert inspection of the face and words of Fray Ignatius.

Between this monk and herself the breach was hourly widening. With angry pain she saw her mother tortured between the fact that she loved her husband, and the horrible doubt that to love him was a mortal sin. She understood the underlying motive which prompted the priest to urge upon the Senora the removal of herself and her daughters to the convent. His offer to take charge of the Worth residencia and estate was in her conviction a proposal to rob them of all rights in it. She felt certain that whatever the Church once grasped in its iron hand, it would ever retain. And both to Isabel and herself the thought of a convent was now horrible. "They will force me to be a nun," said Isabel; "and then, what will Luis do? And they will never tell me anything about my father and my brothers. I should never hear of them. I should never see them any more; unless the good God was so kind as to let me meet them in his heaven."

And Antonia had still darker and more fearful thoughts. She had not forgotten the stories whispered to her childhood, of dreadful fates reserved for contumacious and disobedient women. Whenever Fray Ignatius looked at her she felt as if she were within the shadow of the Inquisition.

Never had days passed so wearily and anxiously. Never had nights been so terrible. The sisters did not dare to talk much together; they doubted Rachela; they were sure their words were listened to and repeated. They were not permitted to be alone with the Senora. Fray Ignatius had particularly warned Rachela to prevent this. He was gradually bringing the unhappy woman into what he called "a heavenly mind"--the influence of her daughters, he was sure, would be that of worldly affections and sinful liberty. And Rachela obeyed the confessor so faithfully, that the Senora was almost in a state of solitary confinement. Every day her will was growing weaker, her pathetic obedience more childlike and absolute.

But at midnight, when every one was asleep, Antonia stepped softly into her sister's room and talked to her. They sat in Isabel's bed clasping each other's hand in the dark, and speaking in whispers. Then Antonia warned and strengthened Isabel. She told her all her fears. She persuaded her to control her wilfulness, to be obedient, and to assume the childlike thoughtlessness which best satisfied Fray Ignatius. "He told you to-day to be happy, that he would think for you. My darling, let him believe that is the thing you want," said Antonia. "I assure you we shall be the safer for it."

"He said to me yesterday, when I asked him about the war, `Do not inquire, child, into things you do not understand. That is to be irreligious,' and then he made the cross on his breast, as if I had put a bad thought into his heart. We are afraid all day, and we sit whispering all night about our fears; that is the state we are in. The Lord sends us nothing but misfortunes, Antonia."

"My darling, tell the Lord your sorrow, then, but do not repine to Rachela or Fray Ignatius. That is to complain to the merciless of the All-Merciful."

"Do you think I am wicked, Antonia? What excuse could I offer to His Divine Majesty, if I spoke evil to him of Rachela and Fray Ignatius?"

"Neither of them are our friends; do you think so?"

"Fray Ignatius looks like a goblin; he gives me a shiver when he looks at me; and as for Rachela--I already hate her!"

"Do not trust her. You need not hate her, Isabel."

"Antonia, I know that I shall eternally hate her; for I am sure that our angels are at variance."

In conversations like these the anxious girls passed the long, and often very cold, nights. The days were still worse, for as November went slowly away the circumstances which surrounded their lives appeared to constantly gather a more decided and a bitterer tone. December, that had always been such a month of happiness, bright with Christmas expectations and Christmas joys, came in with a terribly severe, wet norther. The great log fires only warmed the atmosphere immediately surrounding them, and Isabel and Antonia sat gloomily within it all day. It seemed to Antonia as if her heart had come to the very end of hope; and that something must happen.

The rain lashed the earth; the wind roared around the house, and filled it with unusual noises. The cold was a torture that few found themselves able to endure. But it brought a compensation. Fray Ignatius did not leave the Mission comforts; and Rachela could not bear to go prowling about the corridors and passages. She established herself in the Senora's room, and remained there. And very early in the evening she said "she had an outrageous headache," and went to her room.

Then Antonia and Isabel sat awhile by their mother's bed. They talked in whispers of their father and brothers, and when the Senora cried, they kissed her sobs into silence and wiped her tears away. In that hour, if Fray Ignatius had known it, they undid, in a great measure, the work to which he had given more than a month of patient and deeply-reflective labor. For with the girls, there was the wondrous charm of love and nature; but with the priest, only a splendid ideal of a Church universal that was to swallow up all the claims of love and all the ties of nature.

It was nearly nine o'clock when Antonia and Isabel returned to the parlor fire. Their hearts were full of sorrow for their mother, and of fears for their own future. For this confidence had shown them how firmly the refuge of the convent had been planted in the anxious ideas of the Senora. Fortunately, the cold had driven the servants either to the kitchen fire or to their beds, and they could talk over the subject without fear of interference.

"Are you sleepy, queridita?"--(little dear).

"I think I shall never go to sleep again, Antonia. If I shut my eyes I shall find myself in the convent; and I do not want to go there even in a dream. Do you know Mother Teresa? Well then, I could tell you things. And she does not like me, I am sure of that; quite sure."

"My darling, I am going to make us a cup of tea. It will do us good."

"If indeed it were chocolate!"

"I cannot make chocolate now; but you shall have a great deal of sugar in your cup, and something good to eat also. There, my darling, put your chair close to the fire, and we will sit here until we are quite sleepy."

With the words she went into the kitchen. Molly was nodding over her beads, in the comfortable radius made by the blazing logs; no one else was present but a young peon. He brought a small kettle to the parlor fire, and lifted a table to the hearth, and then replenished the pile of logs for burning during the night. Isabel, cuddling in a large chair, watched Antonia, as she went softly about putting on the table such delicacies as she could find at that hour. Tamales and cold duck, sweet cake and the guava jelly that was Isabel's favorite dainty. There was a little comfort in the sight of these things; and also, in the bright silver teapot standing so cheerfully on the hearth, and diffusing through the room a warm perfume, at once soothing and exhilarating.

"I really think I shall like that American tea to-night, Antonia, but you must half fill my cup with those little blocks of sugar--quite half fill it, Antonia; and have you found cream, my dear one? Then a great deal of cream."

Antonia stood still a moment and looked at the drowsy little beauty. Her eyes were closed, and her head nestled comfortably in a corner of the padded chair. Then a hand upon the door-handle arrested her attention, and Antonia turned her eyes from Isabel and watched it. Ortiz, the peon, put his head within the room, and then disappeared; but oh, wonder and joy! Don Luis entered swiftly after him; and before any one could say a word, he was kneeling by Isabel kissing her hand and mingling his exclamations of rapture with hers.

Antonia looked with amazement and delight at this apparition. How had he come? She put her hand upon his sleeve; it was scarcely wet. His dress was splendid; if he had been going to a tertullia of the highest class, he could not have been more richly adorned. And the storm was yet raging! It was a miracle.

"Dear Luis, sit down! Here is a chair close to Iza! Tell her your secrets a few minutes, and I will go for mi madre. O yes! She will come! You shall see, Iza! And then, Luis, we shall have some supper."

"You see that I am in heaven already, Antonia; though, indeed, I am also hungry and thirsty, my sister."

Antonia was not a minute in reaching her mother's room. The unhappy lady was half-lying among the large pillows of her gilded bed, wide awake. Her black eyes were fixed upon a crucifix at its foot, and she was slowly murmuring prayers upon her rosary.

"Madre! Madre! Luis is here, Luis is here! Come quick, mi madre. Here are your stockings and slippers, and your gown, and your mantilla--no, no, no, do not call Rachela. Luis has news of my father, and of Jack! Oh, madre, he has a letter from Jack to you! Come dear, come, in a few minutes you will be ready."

She was urging and kissing the trembling woman, and dressing her in despite of her faint effort to delay--to call Rachela-- to bring Luis to her room. In ten minutes she was ready. She went down softly, like a frightened child, Antonia cheering and encouraging her in whispers.

When she entered the cheerful parlor the shadow of a smile flitted over her wan face. Luis ran to meet her. He drew the couch close to the hearth; he helped Antonia arrange her comfortably upon it. He made her tea, and kissed her hands when he put it into them. And then Isabel made Luis a cup, and cut his tamales, and waited upon him with such pretty service, that the happy lover thought he was eating a meal in Paradise.

For a few minutes it had been only this ordinary gladness of reunion; but it was impossible to ignore longer the anxiety in the eyes that asked him so many questions. He took two letters from his pockets and gave them to the Senora. They were from her husband and Jack. Her hands trembled; she kissed them fervently; and as she placed them in her breast her tears dropped down upon them.

Antonia opened the real conversation with that never-failing wedge, the weather. "You came through the storm, Luis? Yet you are not wet, scarcely? Now then, explain this miracle."

"I went first to Lopez Navarro's. Do you not know this festa dress? It is the one Lopez bought for the feast of St. James. He lent it to me, for I assure you that my own clothing was like that of a beggar man. It was impossible that I could see my angel on earth in it."

"But in such weather? You can not have come far to-day?"

"Senorita, there are things which are impossible, quite impossible! That is one of them. Early this morning the north wind advanced upon us, sword in hand. It will last fifty hours, and we shall know something more about it before they are over. Very well, but it was also absolutely necessary that some one should reach San Antonio to-night; and I was so happy as to persuade General Burleson to send me. The Holy Lady has given me my reward."

"Have you seen the Senor Doctor lately; Luis," asked the Senora.

"I left him at nightfall."

"At nightfall! But that is impossible!"

"It is true. The army of the Americans is but a few miles from San Antonio."

"Grace of God! Luis!"

"As you say, Senora. It is the grace of God. Did you not know?"

"We know nothing but what Fray Ignatius tells us--that the Americans have been everywhere pulling down churches, and granting martyrdom to the priests, and that everywhere miraculous retributions have pursued them."

"Was Gonzales a retribution? The Senor Doctor came to us while we were there. God be blessed; but he startled us like the rattle of rifle-shots in the midnight! `Why were you not at Goliad?' he cried. `There were three hundred stand of arms there, and cannon, and plenty of provisions. Why were they not yours?' You would have thought, Senora, he had been a soldier all his life. The men caught fire when he came near them, and we went to Goliad like eagles flying for their prey. We took the town, and the garrison, and all the arms and military stores. I will tell you something that came to pass there. At midnight, as I and Jack stood with the Senor Doctor by the camp-fire, a stranger rode up to us. It was Colonel Milam. He was flying from a Mexican prison and had not heard of the revolt of the Americans. He made the camp ring with his shout of delight. He was impatient for the morning. He was the first man that entered the garrison. Bravissimo! What a soldier is he!"

"I remember! I remember!" cried the Senora. "Mi Roberto brought him here once. So splendid a man I never saw before. So tall, so handsome, so gallant, so like a hero. He is an American from--well, then, I have forgotten the place."

"From Kentucky. He fought with the Mexicans when they were fighting for their liberty; but when they wanted a king and a dictator he resigned his commision{sic} and was thrown into prison. He has a long bill against Santa Anna."

"We must not forget, Luis," said the Senora with a little flash of her old temper, "that Santa Anna represents to good Catholics the triumph of Holy Church."

Luis devoutly crossed himself. "I am her dutiful son, I assure you, Senora--always."

A warning glance from Antonia changed the conversation. There was plenty to tell which touched them mainly on the side of the family, and the Senora listened, with pride which she could not conceal, to the exploits of her husband and sons, though she did not permit herself to confess the feeling. And her heart softened to her children. Without acknowledging the tie between Isabel and Luis, she permitted or was oblivious to the favors it allowed.

Certainly many little formalities could be dispensed with, in a meeting so unexpected and so eventful. When the pleasant impromptu meal was over, even the Senora had eaten and drunk with enjoyment. Then Luis set the table behind them, and they drew closer to the fire, Luis holding Isabel's hand, and Antonia her mother's. The Senora took a cigarette from Luis, and Isabel sometimes put that of Luis between her rosy lips. At the dark, cold midnight they found an hour or two of sweetest consolation. It was indeed hard to weary these three heart-starved women; they asked question after question, and when any brought out the comical side of camp life they forget their pleasure was almost a clandestine one, and laughed outright.

In the very midst of such a laugh, Rachela entered the room. She stood in speechless amazement, gazing with a dark, malicious face upon the happy group. "Senorita Isabel!" she screamed; "but this is abominable! At the midnight also! Who could have believed in such wickedness? Grace of Mary, it is inconceivable!"

She laid her hand roughly on Isabel's shoulder, and Luis removed it with as little courtesy. "You were not called," he said, with the haughty insolence of a Mexican noble to a servant--"Depart."

"My Senora! Listen! You yourself also--you will die. You that are really weak--so broken-hearted--"

Then a miracle occurred. The Senora threw off the nightmare of selfish sorrow and spiritual sentimentality which had held her in bondage. She took the cigarito from her lips with a scornful air, and repeated the words of Luis:

"You were not called. Depart."

"The Senorita Isabel?"

"Is in my care. Her mother's care! do you understand?"

"My Senora, Fray Ignatius--"

"Saints in heaven! But this is intolerable! Go."

Then Rachela closed the door with a clang which echoed through the house. And say as we will, the malice of the wicked is never quite futile. It was impossible after this interruption to recall the happy spirit dismissed by it; and Rachela had the consolation, as she muttered beside the fire in the Senora's room. this conviction. So that when she heard the party breaking up half an hour afterwards, she complimented herself upon her influence.

"Will Jack come and see me soon, and the Senor Doctor?" questioned the Senora, anxiously, as she held the hand of Luis in parting.

"Jack is on a secret message to General Houston. His return advices will find us, I trust, in San Antonio. But until we have taken the city, no American can safely enter it. For this reason, when it was necessary to give Lopez Navarro certain instructions, I volunteered to bring them. By the Virgin of Guadalupe! I have had my reward," he said, lifting the Senora's hand and kissing it.

"But, then, even you are in danger."

"Si! If I am discovered; but, blessed be the hand of God! Luis Alveda knows where he is going, and how to get there."

"I have heard," said the Senora in a hushed voice, "that there are to be no prisoners. That is Santa Anna's order."

"I heard it twenty days ago, and am still suffocating over it."

"Ah, Luis, you do not know the man yet! I heard Fray Ignatius say that."

"We know him well; and also what he is capable of"; and Luis plucked his mustache fiercely, as he bowed a silent farewell to the ladies.

"Holy Maria! How brave he is!" said Isabel, with a flash of pride that conquered her desire to weep. "How brave he is! Certainly, if he meets Santa Anna, he will kill him."

They went very quietly up-stairs. The Senora was anticipating the interview she expected with Rachela, and, perhaps wisely, she isolated herself in an atmosphere of sullen and haughty silence. She would accept nothing from her, not even sympathy or flattery; and, in a curt dismission, managed to make her feel the immeasurable distance between a high-born lady of the house of Flores, and a poor manola that she had taken from the streets of Madrid. Rachela knew the Senora was thinking of this circumstance; the thought was in her voice, and it cowed and snubbed the woman, her nature being essentially as low as her birth.

As for the Senora, the experience did her a world of good. She waited upon herself as a princess might condescend to minister to her own wants--loftily, with a smile at her own complaisance. The very knowledge that her husband was near at hand inspired her with courage. She went to sleep assuring herself "that not even Fray Ignatius should again speak evil of her beloved, who never thought of her except with a loyal affection." For in married life, the wife can sin against love as well as fidelity; and she thought with a sob of the cowardice which had permitted Fray Ignatius to call her dear one "rebel and heretic."

"Santa Dios!" she said in a passionate whisper; "it is not a mortal sin to think differently from Santa Anna"--and then more tenderly--"those who love each other are of the same faith."

And if Fray Ignatius had seen at that moment the savage whiteness of her small teeth behind the petulant pout of her parted lips, he might have understood that this woman of small intelligence had also the unreasoning partisanship and the implacable sense of anger which generally accompanies small intelligence, and which indicates a nature governed by feeling, and utterly irresponsive to reasoning which feeling does not endorse.