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Remember the Alamo ANTONIA AND ISABEL
ANTONIA AND ISABEL
"He various changes of the world had known,
"Ladies whose bright eyes
"But who the limits of that power shall trace,
For many years there had never been any doubt in the mind of Robert Worth as to the ultimate destiny of Texas, though he was by no means an adventurer, and had come into the beautiful land by a sequence of natural and business-like events. He was born in New York. In that city he studied his profession, and in eighteen hundred and three began its practice in an office near Contoit's Hotel, opposite the City Park. One day he was summoned there to attend a sick man. His patient proved to be Don Jaime Urrea, and the rich Mexican grandee conceived a warm friendship for the young physician.
At that very time, France had just ceded to the United States the territory of Louisiana, and its western boundary was a subject about which Americans were then angrily disputing. They asserted that it was the Rio Grande; but Spain, who naturally did not want Americans so near her own territory, denied the claim, and made the Sabine River the dividing line. And as Spain had been the original possessor of Louisiana, she considered herself authority on the subject.
The question was on every tongue, and it was but natural that it should be discussed by Urrea and his physician. In fact, they talked continually of the disputed boundary, and of Mexico. And Mexico was then a name to conjure by. She was as yet a part of Spain, and a sharer in all her ancient glories. She was a land of romance, and her very name tasted on the lips, of gold, and of silver, and of precious stones. Urrea easily persuaded the young man to return to Mexico with him.
The following year there was a suspicious number of American visitors and traders in San Antonio, and one of the Urreas was sent with a considerable number of troops to garrison the city. For Spain was well aware that, however statesmen might settle the question, the young and adventurous of the American people considered Texas United States territory, and would be well inclined to take possession of it by force of arms, if an opportunity offered.
Robert Worth accompanied General Urrea to San Antonio, and the visit was decisive as to his future life. The country enchanted him. He was smitten with love for it, as men are smitten with a beautiful face. And the white Moorish city had one special charm for him--it was seldom quite free from Americans, Among the mediaeval loungers in the narrow streets, it filled his heart with joy to see at intervals two or three big men in buckskin or homespun. And he did not much wonder that the Morisco-Hispano-Mexican feared these Anglo-Americans, and suspected them of an intention to add Texan to their names.
His inclination to remain in San Antonio was settled by his marriage. Dona Maria Flores, though connected with the great Mexican families of Yturbide and Landesa, owned much property in San Antonio. She had been born within its limits, and educated in its convent, and a visit to Mexico and New Orleans had only strengthened her attachment to her own city. She was a very pretty woman, with an affectionate nature, but she was not intellectual. Even in the convent the sisters had not considered her clever.
But men often live very happily with commonplace wives, and Robert Worth had never regretted that his Maria did not play on the piano, and paint on velvet, and work fine embroideries for the altars. They had passed nearly twenty-six years together in more than ordinary content and prosperity. Yet no life is without cares and contentions, and Robert Worth had had to face circumstances several times, which had brought the real man to the front.
The education of his children had been such a crisis. He had two sons and two daughters, and for them he anticipated a wider and grander career than he had chosen for himself. When his eldest child, Thomas, had reached the age of fourteen, he determined to send him to New York. He spoke to Dona Maria of this intention. He described Columbia to her with all the affectionate pride of a student for his alma mater. The boy's grandmother also still lived in the home wherein, he himself had grown to manhood. His eyes filled with tears when he remembered the red brick house in Canal Street, with its white door and dormer windows, and its one cherry tree in the strip of garden behind.
But Dona Maria's national and religious principles, or rather prejudices, were very strong. She regarded the college of San Juan de Lateran in Mexico as the fountainhead of knowledge. Her confessor had told her so. All the Yturbides and Landesas had graduated at San Juan.
But the resolute father would have none of San Juan. "I know all about it, Maria," he said. "They will teach Thomas Latin very thoroughly. They will make him proficient in theology and metaphysics. They will let him dabble in algebra and Spanish literature; and with great pomp, they will give him his degree, and `the power of interpreting Aristotle all over the world.' What kind of an education is that, for a man who may have to fight the battles of life in this century?"
And since the father carried his point it is immaterial what precise methods he used. Men are not fools even in a contest with women. They usually get their own way, if they take the trouble to go wisely and kindly about it. Two years afterwards, Antonia followed her brother to New York, and this time, the mother made less opposition. Perhaps she divined that opposition would have been still more useless than in the case of the boy. For Robert Worth had one invincible determination; it was, that this beautiful child, who so much resembled a mother whom he idolized, should be, during the most susceptible years of her life, under that mother's influence.
And he was well repaid for the self-denial her absence entailed, when Antonia came back to him, alert, self-reliant, industrious, an intelligent and responsive companion, a neat and capable housekeeper, who insensibly gave to his home that American air it lacked, and who set upon his table the well- cooked meats and delicate dishes which he had often longed for.
John, the youngest boy, was still in New York finishing his course of study; but regarding Isabel, there seemed to be a tacit relinquishment of the purpose, so inflexibly carried out with her brothers and sister. Isabel was entirely different from them. Her father had watched her carefully, and come to the conviction that it would be impossible to make her nature take the American mintage. She was as distinctly Iberian as Antonia was Anglo-American.
In her brothers the admixture of races had been only as alloy to metal. Thomas Worth was but a darker copy of his father. John had the romance and sensitive honor of old Spain, mingled with the love of liberty, and the practical temper, of those Worths who had defied both Charles the First and George the Third. But Isabel had no soul-kinship with her father's people. Robert Worth had seen in the Yturbide residencia in Mexico the family portraits which they had brought with them from Castile. Isabel was the Yturbide of her day. She had all their physical traits, and from her large golden-black eyes the same passionate soul looked forth. He felt that it would be utter cruelty to send her among people who must always be strangers to her.
So Isabel dreamed away her childhood at her mother's side, or with the sisters in the convent, learning from them such simple and useless matters as they considered necessary for a damosel of family and fortune. On the night of the Senora Valdez's reception, she had astonished every one by the adorable grace of her dancing, and the captivating way in which she used her fan. Her fingers touched the guitar as if they had played it for a thousand years. She sang a Spanish Romancero of El mio Cid with all the fire and tenderness of a Castilian maid.
Her father watched her with troubled eyes. He almost felt as if he had no part in her. And the thought gave him an unusual anxiety, for he knew this night that the days were fast approaching which would test to extremity the affection which bound his family together. He contrived to draw Antonia aside for a few moments.
"Is she not wonderful?" he asked. "When did she learn these things? I mean the way in which she does them?"
Isabel was dancing La Cachoucha, and Antonia looked at her little sister with eyes full of loving speculation. Her answer dropped slowly from her lips, as if a conviction was reluctantly expressed:
"The way must be a gift from the past--her soul has been at school before she was born here. Father, are you troubled? What is it? Not Isabel, surely?"
"Not Isabel, primarily. Antonia, I have been expecting something for twenty years. It is coming."
"And you are sorry?"
"I am anxious, that is all. Go back to the dancers. In the morning we can talk."
In the morning the doctor was called very early by some one needing his skill. Antonia heard the swift footsteps and eager voices, and watched him mount the horse always kept ready saddled for such emergencies, and ride away with the messenger. The incident in itself was a usual one, but she was conscious that her soul was moving uneasily and questioningly in some new and uncertain atmosphere.
She had felt it on her first entrance into Senora Valdez's gran sala--a something irrepressible in the faces of all the men present. She remembered that even the servants had been excited, and that they stood in small groups, talking with suppressed passion and with much demonstrativeness. And the officers from the Alamo! How conscious they had been of their own importance! What airs of condescension and of an almost insufferable protection they had assumed! Now, that she recalled the faces of Judge Valdez, and other men of years and position, she understood that there had been in them something out of tone with the occasion. In the atmosphere of the festa she had only felt it. In the solitude of her room she could apprehend its nature.
For she had been born during those stormy days when Magee and Bernardo, with twelve hundred Americans, first flung the banner of Texan independence to the wind; when the fall of Nacogdoches sent a thrill of sympathy through the United States, and enabled Cos and Toledo, and the other revolutionary generals in Mexico, to carry their arms against Old Spain to the very doors of the vice-royal palace. She had heard from her father many a time the whole brave, brilliant story--the same story which has been made in all ages from the beginning of time. Only the week before, they had talked it over as they sat under the great fig-tree together.
"History but repeats itself," the doctor had said then; "for when the Mexicans drove the Spaniards, with their court ceremonies, their monopolies and taxes, back to Spain, they were just doing what the American colonists did, when they drove the English royalists back to England. It was natural, too, that the Americans should help the Mexicans, for, at first, they were but a little band of patriots; and the American-Saxon has like the Anglo-Saxon an irresistible impulse to help the weaker side. And oh, Antonia! The cry of Freedom! Who that has a soul can resist it?"
She remembered this conversation as she stood in the pallid dawning, and watched her father ride swiftly away. The story of the long struggle in all its salient features flashed through her mind; and she understood that it is not the sword alone that gives liberty--that there must be patience before courage; that great ideas must germinate for years in the hearts of men before the sword can reap the harvest.
The fascinating memory of Burr passed like a shadow across her dreaming. The handsome Lafayettes--the gallant Nolans--the daring Hunters--the thousands of forgotten American traders and explorers--bold and enterprising--they had sown the seed. For great ideas are as catching as evil ones. A Mexican, with the iron hand of Old Spain upon him and the shadow of the Inquisition over him, could not look into the face of an American, and not feel the thought of Freedom stirring in his heart.
It stirred in her own heart. She stood still a moment to feel consciously the glow and the enlargement. Then with an impulse natural, but neither analyzed nor understood, she lifted her prayer-book, and began to recite "the rising prayer." She had not said to herself, "from the love of Freedom to the love of God, it is but a step," but she experienced the emotion and felt all the joy of an adoration, simple and unquestioned, springing as naturally from the soul as the wild flower from the prairie.
As she knelt, up rose the sun, and flooded her white figure and her fair unbound hair with the radiance of the early morning. The matin bells chimed from the convent and the churches, and the singing birds began to flutter their bright wings, and praise God also, "in their Latin."
She took her breakfast alone. The Senora never came downstairs so early. Isabel had wavering inclinations, and generally followed them. Sometimes, even her father had his cup of strong coffee alone in his study; so the first meal of the day was usually, as perhaps it ought to be, a selfishly- silent one. "Too much enthusiasm and chattering at breakfast, are like too much red at sunrise," the doctor always said; "a dull, bad day follows it"--and Antonia's observation had turned the little maxim into a superstition.
In the Senora's room, the precept was either denied, or defied. Antonia heard the laughter and conversation through the closed door, and easily divined the subject of it. It was, but natural. The child had a triumph; one that appealed strongly to her mother's pride and predilections. It was a pleasant sight to see them in the shaded sunshine exulting themselves happily in it.
The Senora, plump and still pretty, reclined upon a large gilded bed. Its splendid silk coverlet and pillows cased in embroidery and lace made an effective background for her. She leaned with a luxurious indolence among them, sipping chocolate and smoking a cigarrito. Isabel was on a couch of the same description. She wore a satin petticoat, and a loose linen waist richly trimmed with lace. It showed her beautiful shoulders and arms to perfection. Her hands were folded above her head. Her tiny feet, shod in satin, were quivering like a bird's wings, as if they were keeping time with the restlessness of her spirit.
She had large eyes, dark and bright; strong eyebrows, a pale complexion with a flood of brilliant color in the checks, dazzling even teeth, and a small, handsome mouth. Her black hair was loose and flowing, and caressed her cheeks and temples in numberless little curls and tendrils. Her face was one flush of joy and youth. She had a look half-earnest and half-childlike, and altogether charming. Antonia adored her, and she was pleased to listen to the child, telling over again the pretty things that had been said to her.
"Only Don Luis was not there at all, Antonia. There is always something wanting," and her voice fell with those sad inflections that are often only the very excess of delight.
The Senora looked sharply at her. "Don Luis was not desirable. He was better away--much better!"
"Because, Antonia, he is suspected. There is an American called Houston. Don Luis met him in Nacogdoches. He has given his soul to him, I think. He would have fought Morello about him, if the captain could have drawn his sword in such a quarrel. I should not have known about the affair had not Senora Valdez told me. Your father says nothing against the Americans."
"Perhaps, then, he knows nothing against them."
"You will excuse me, Antonia; not only the living but the dead must have heard of their wickedness. They are a nation of ingrates. Ingrates are cowards. It was these words Captain Morello said, when Don Luis drew his sword, made a circle with its point and stood it upright in the centre. It was a challenge to the whole garrigon, and about this fellow Houston, whom be calls his friend! Holy Virgin preserve us from such Mexicans!"
"It is easier to talk than to fight. Morello's tongue is sharper than his sword."
"Captain Morello was placing his sword beside that of Don Luis, when the Commandant interfered. He would not permit his officers to fight in such a quarrel. `Santo Dios!' he said, `you shall all have your opportunity very soon, gentlemen.' Just reflect upon the folly of a boy like Don Luis, challenging a soldier like Morello!"
"He was in no danger, mother," said Antonia scornfully. "Morello is a bully, who wears the pavement out with his spurs and sabre. His weapons are for show. Americans, at least, wear their arms for use, and not for ornament."
"Listen, Antonia! I will not have them spoken of. They are Jews--or at least infidels, all of them!--the devil himself is their father--the bishop, when he was here last confirmation, told me so."
"At least they are unbaptized Christians, Antonia. If you are not baptized, the devil sends you to do his work. As for Don Luis, he is a very Judas! Ah, Maria Santissima! how I do pity his good mother!"
"Poor Don Luis!" said Isabel plaintively.
He is so handsome, and he sings like a very angel. And he loves my father; he wanted to be a doctor, so that he could always be with him. I dare say this man called Houston is no better than a Jew, and perhaps very ugly beside. Let us talk no more about him and the Americans. I am weary of them; as Tia Rachella says, `they have their spoon in every one's mess.'"
And Antonia, whose heart was burning, only stooped down and closed her sister's pretty mouth with a kiss. Her tongue was impatient to speak for the father, and grandmother, and the friends, so dear to her; but she possessed great discretion, and also a large share of that rarest of all womanly graces, the power under provocation, of "putting on Patience the noble."
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