Read CHAPTER TWENTY of The Rover of the Andes A Tale of Adventure on South America , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

IS CUMULATIVELY ASTONISHING.

There are, we suppose, in the lives of all men, critical periods- testing-points, as it were-when their faith in everything true is shaken almost, if not quite, to the foundation, and when they are tempted to ask with more or less of bitterness, “Who will show us any good?”

Well is it for such when, in the hour of trial, they can look up to the Fountain of all good and, in the face of doubt, darkness, difficulty, ay, and seeming contradiction, simply “believe” and “trust.”

When Lawrence Armstrong slowly sauntered back to the inn after his final interview with Manuela, it surprised even himself to find how strong had been his feelings, how profound his faith in the girl’s goodness of heart, and how intensely bitter was his disappointment.

“But it’s all over now,” he muttered, thrusting his hands deep into the pockets of his coat, and frowning ferociously at some imaginary wrong, though he would have been puzzled, if required, to state exactly what the wrong was.  “All over,” he repeated, and then continued with an affected air of indifference, “and what of that?  What matters it to me that I have been mistaken?  I never was in love with the girl.  How could I be with a black-well, a brown squaw.  Impossible!  It was only admiration-strong admiration I admit-of what I had fancied were rarely fine qualities, especially in a sav-an Indian; and I’ve been mistaken; that’s all.  That’s all.  But,” (after a pause), “have I been mistaken?  Does this unaccountably callous indifference at saying good-bye to one who is nothing to her-who never can be anything to her-argue that all the good qualities I have admired so much are non-existent, or bad qualities?  Surely not!  Let me consider.  Let me look this perplexing matter straight in the face, and see what is to be made of it.  What are the good qualities that I seem to have been so mistaken about?”

Frowning still more ferociously, as if with a view to constrain himself to the performance of a deed of impartial justice, our hero continued to mutter-

“Earnest simplicity-that’s the first-no, that’s two qualities.  Be just, Lawrence, whatever you are, be just.  Earnestness, then, that’s the first point.  Whatever else I may have been wrong about, there can be no mistake about that.  She is intensely earnest.  How often have I noticed her rapt attention and the eager flash of her dark eyes when Pedro or I chanced to tell any anecdote in which injustice or cruelty was laid bare.  She is so earnest that I think sometimes she has difficulty in perceiving when one is in jest.  She does not understand a practical joke-well, to be sure there was that upsetting of the coffee on Quashy’s leg!  But after all I must have been mistaken in that.  So much, then, for her earnestness.  Next, simplicity.  No child could be more simple.  Utterly ignorant of the ways of the world-the nauseous conventionalities of civilised life!  Brought up in a wigwam, no doubt, among the simple aborigines of the Pampas, or the mountains-yes, it must have been the mountains, for the Incas of Peru dwelt in the Andes.”

He paused here for a few minutes and sauntered on in silence, while a tinge of perplexity mingled with the frown.  No doubt he was thinking of the tendency exhibited now and then by the aborigines of the Pampas and mountains to raid on the white man now and then, and appropriate his herds as well as scalp himself!

“However, she had nothing to do with that,” he muttered, apologetically, “and cannot help the peculiarities of her kindred.  Gentleness; that is the next quality.  A man may mistake motives, but he cannot mistake facts.  Her gentleness and sweetness are patent facts, and her modesty is also obvious.  Then, she is a Christian.  Pedro told me so.  She never omits to pray, night and morning.  Of course, that does not constitute a Christian, but-well, then the Sabbath-day she has all along respected; and I am almost sure that our regular halts on that day, although ordered by Pedro, were suggested by Manuela.  Of course, praying and Sabbath-keeping may be done by hypocrites, and for a bad end; but who, save a consummately blind idiot, would charge that girl with hypocrisy?  Besides, what could she gain by it all?  Pshaw! the idea is ridiculous.  Of course there are many more good qualities which I might enumerate, but these are the most important and clearly pronounced-very clearly.”

He said this very decidedly, for somehow a counteracting suggestion came from somewhere, reminding him that he had twice saved the Indian girl’s life; that he had tried with earnest devotion to help and amuse her in all their journeyings together, and that to be totally indifferent about final separation in these circumstances argued the absence of even ordinary gratitude, which is clearly one of the Christian virtues!

“But, after all,” he muttered, indignantly, “would not any young fellow have done the same for any woman in the circumstances?  And why should she care about parting from me?  I wouldn’t care much about parting from myself just now, if I could.  There, now, that’s an end o’ the matter.  She’ll go back to the wigwam of her father, and I’ll go and have a jolly good splitting gallop across the Pampas with Pedro and Quashy.”

“Dat’s just de bery best t’ing what you can do, massa.”

Lawrence turned round abruptly, and found that his faithful servant was hurrying after him, and grinning tremendously.

“Why, you’re always laughing, Quash,” said the youth, a little sharply.

“O massa!” exclaimed the negro, turning his mouth the other way.  “I’s nebber laugh no more if you don’ like it.”

“Like it, my good fellow!” exclaimed Lawrence, himself giving way to a short laugh to conceal his feelings, “of course I like it, only you came on me unexpectedly, and, to say truth, I am-”

“Still out ob sorts, massa?”

“Yes, that’s it-exactly.”

“Well, for a man out ob sorts, you walk most awrful irriglar-one time slow, noder time so quick.  I was ’bleeged to run to obertake you.”

Further converse was checked by their arrival in the town.  On reaching the hotel they found the place in considerable confusion and bustle owing to preparations for the governor’s ball, about to take place that evening.

They met Pedro at the door.

“You’ll go, I suppose?” he said to Lawrence, referring to the ball.

“Indeed I will not.  I’ve had no invitation, and have no evening dress.”

“Why, Senhor Armstrong forgets he is not now in England,” said Pedro.  “We require neither invitation nor evening dress in an out-o’-the-way place like this.  You’ll find all sorts of people there.  Indeed, a few are likely to be of the class who prefer to dance with their coats off.”

“No matter, I’ll not go.  Nothing will induce me to go,” returned Lawrence, firmly-almost testily.

“Don’t say that,” rejoined Pedro, regarding his companion with a peculiar smile.  “You may perhaps meet friends there.”

“You know that I have no friends here,” returned our hero, who thereupon went off to his own room to meditate over his uncomfortable feelings.

But when he had reached his room and shut his door, Pedro’s reference to meeting with friends, coupled with his peculiar look, recurred to him.  What could the fellow mean?  What friends had he in the country except Pedro himself and Quashy and Spotted Tiger and-and-Manuela, but of course he could not refer to the last, for who ever heard of a governor inviting an unknown Indian girl to a ball!  No; Pedro must have been jesting.  He would not go!

But the longer he thought over the matter, the more were his perplexity and curiosity increased, until at last he wavered in his firm determination not to go, and when the ball was about to begin, of which the sounds of hurrying steps and musical instruments apprised him, he changed his mind.  Combing his hair slightly, he tried to brush his rough garments with his hands, arranged his necktie and flannel collar a little, dusted his long boots with a towel, washed his hands, laid aside his weapons, and went off to the hall with the intention of at least looking in at the door to see what was going on.

He met Pedro in the corridor.

“Ha!  Senhor Armstrong has changed his mind?”

“Yes, I have.”

Lawrence said this in the slightly defiant tone of a man who gives in with a bad grace.  He was altogether “out of sorts” and unlike himself, but Pedro, like a true friend, took no notice of that.

“I’m glad you have given in, senhor,” said Pedro, “for it saves me the trouble of dragging you there by force, in order that I may have the pleasure of seeing how you will look under the influence of a surprise.”

“A surprise, Pedro?”

“Yes.  But come; the ball is about to begin.”

At the end of the corridor they encountered the English sportsman, who at the same moment chanced to meet his friend, to whom he said-

“I say, just come and-aw-have a look at the company.  All free and easy, no tickets required, no dress, no-aw-there goes the governor-”

The remainder was lost in distance as the two sporting characters sauntered to the ballroom, where they stood near the door, looking on with condescending benignity, as men might for whose amusement the whole affair had been arranged.

And truly there was much to be amused at, as Lawrence and his companion, standing just within the doorway, soon found.  Owing to the situation of the little town near the base of the mountains, there were men there of many nations and tongues on their way to various mines, or on business of some sort in or on the other side of the mountains-Germans, French, Italians, English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  All strangers were welcomed by the hospitable governor and landlord-the latter of whom felt, no doubt, that his loss on food was more than counterbalanced by his gain on drink.  Among the guests there were Gauchos of the Pampas, and the head men of a band of péons, who had just arrived with a herd of cattle.  As these danced variously, in camp-dresses, top-boots, silver spurs, ponchos, and shirt sleeves, and as the ladies of the town appeared in picturesque and varied costumes with mantillas and fans, Lawrence felt as if he were witnessing a fancy dress gathering, and soon became so absorbed as to forget himself and his companion entirely.

He was aroused from his reverie by the drawling exclamation-

“Aw! indeed?”

“Yes,” replied the landlord to the sportsman, “the colonel’s coming.  He’s a jolly old man, and likes to see other people enjoyin’ a bit o’ fun.  An’ what’s more, he’s goin’ to bring his daughter with him, and another girl-a niece, I suppose.  They say they’re both splendid creatures.”

“Aw! indeed,” languidly replied the sportsman, twisting his moustache.

It was evident that the landlord had failed to arouse his interest.

At that moment the first dance came to an end, and there was a stir at the upper end of the room, where was another door of entrance.

“It’s the colonel,” exclaimed the landlord, hurrying forward.

Colonel Marchbanks entered with a lady on either arm.  He was a splendid old man-so tall that Lawrence could distinguish his fine bald head, with its fringe of white hair, rising high above the intervening guests.

People became silent and fell away from him, as if to have a better look at him.

“Come,” said Pedro, suddenly, “I will introduce you.”

There was a strange gleam in Pedro’s eyes, and unwonted excitement in his manner, as he pushed his way through the crowd.

Lawrence followed in some surprise.

Suddenly he heard a sharp, strange, indescribable shout.  It was the voice of Pedro, who was only a few yards in advance of him.  Our hero sprang forward and beheld a sight which filled him with surprise.  One of the girls who leaned on the colonel’s arm was a beautiful blonde of about fifteen, with flowing golden hair and rich brown eyes.  She stood as if petrified, with the brown eyes gazing intensely at Pedro, who also stood transfixed returning the gaze with compound interest.

“Mariquita!” he murmured, holding out both hands.

“Yes,” said the delighted colonel, “I felt quite sure she was your child, but said nothing about-”

“Father!” burst from the girl, as, with a cry of joy, she bounded into Pedro’s arms.

“Just so,” continued the colonel, “I didn’t like to mention my suspicions for fear of raising false hopes, and thought the surest way would be to bring them face to face.  Wasn’t it so, Manuela?”

Lawrence turned as if he had received an electric shock.  He had been so absorbed in the scene we have just described, that he had not looked at the girl who leaned on the colonel’s other arm.  He now turned and beheld-not the Indian girl of his travels, but a fair-skinned, dark-eyed senhorina.  Yet as he gazed, the blood seemed to rush to his brain, for these were the eyes of Manuela, and the slightly open little mouth was hers-the straight Grecian nose, and the graceful figure.  It seemed as if his wildest dream were realised, and that Manuela had become white!

He clasped his hands and gazed, as Pedro had just done, with such intensity that the sportsman, observing the rudeness, said to his friend-

“Aw-don’t you think it would be as well to-aw-kick the fellow out of the room?”

“Hallo! what’s this?” exclaimed the old colonel, turning sharply on Lawrence with a magnificent frown.

It was quite evident that he, as well as Pedro and our hero, had also received a most unexpected surprise, for, not only did the youth continue to stand gazing, with clasped hands, but the young lady did not seem in the least offended.  On the contrary, she looked up at the colonel with an incomprehensible expression and a bewitching smile, as she said, in excellent English-

“He is not rude, father, only astonished.  Let me introduce my friend and preserver, Mr Lawrence Armstrong.”

But Lawrence heard not, and cared nothing for the introduction.

“It is Manuela!” he exclaimed, with a hesitating step forward, and a look of unbelief still lingering in his eyes.

She held out her little white hand!

He grasped it.  The same hand certainly!  There could be no doubt about that.

“’Pon my honour-aw-the most interesting tableau vivant I ever-aw- saw!”

“Come, come,” cried the colonel, whose pleased smile had given place to unimaginable astonishment.  “You-you should have prepared me for this, Manuela.  I-I’m obliged to you, senhor, of course, for-for saving my daughter; but-come, follow me!”

He turned and left the room with rapid strides, and would have dragged Manuela after him, if that young lady had not been endued with a pace- neat, active, and what is sometimes called “tripping,”-which kept her easily alongside of the ancient man of war.

Lawrence followed mechanically.

Pedro, with an arm round Mariquita’s waist, brought up the rear.

As they vanished through the doorway the people gave them a hearty cheer, and resumed dancing.

The sportsman found himself so much overcome that he could only ejaculate, “aw!” But presently he recovered so far as to say, “Let’s go an’ have a ciga’,” and he also melted from the scene.