But a clerk in the Cut-rate Drug Store was Samuel Tansey, yet his
slender frame was a pad that enfolded the passion of Romeo, the gloom
of Laura, the romance of D'Artagnan, and the desperate inspiration of
Melnotte. Pity, then, that he had been denied expression, that he was
doomed to the burden of utter timidity and diffidence, that Fate had
set him tongue-tied and scarlet before the muslin-clad angels whom he
adored and vainly longed to rescue, clasp, comfort, and subdue.
The clock's hands were pointing close upon the hour of ten while
Tansey was playing billiards with a number of his friends. On
alternate evenings he was released from duty at the store after seven
o'clock. Even among his fellow-men Tansey was timorous and
constrained. In his imagination he had done valiant deeds and
performed acts of distinguished gallantry; but in fact he was a sallow
youth of twenty-three, with an over-modest demeanour and scant
When the clock struck ten, Tansey hastily laid down his cue and struck
sharply upon the show-case with a coin for the attendant to come and
receive the pay for his score.
"What's your hurry, Tansey?" called one. "Got another engagement?"
"Tansey got an engagement!" echoed another. "Not on your life.
Tansey's got to get home at Motten by her Peek's orders."
"It's no such thing," chimed in a pale youth, taking a large cigar
from his mouth; "Tansey's afraid to be late because Miss Katie might
come down stairs to unlock the door, and kiss him in the hall."
This last delicate piece of raillery sent a fiery tingle into Tansey's
blood, for the indictment was true--barring the kiss. That was a thing
to dream of; to wildly hope for; but too remote and sacred a thing to
think of lightly.
Casting a cold and contemptuous look at the speaker--a punishment
commensurate with his own diffident spirit--Tansey left the room,
descending the stairs into the street.
For two years he had silently adored Miss Peek, worshipping her from a
spiritual distance through which her attractions took on stellar
brightness and mystery. Mrs. Peek kept a few choice boarders, among
whom was Tansey. The other young men romped with Katie, chased her
with crickets in their fingers, and "jollied" her with an irreverent
freedom that turned Tansey's heart into cold lead in his bosom. The
signs of his adoration were few--a tremulous "Good morning," stealthy
glances at her during meals, and occasionally (Oh, rapture!) a
blushing, delirious game of cribbage with her in the parlour on some
rare evening when a miraculous lack of engagement kept her at home.
Kiss him in the hall! Aye, he feared it, but it was an ecstatic fear
such as Elijah must have felt when the chariot lifted him into the
But to-night the gibes of his associates had stung him to a feeling of
forward, lawless mutiny; a defiant, challenging, atavistic
recklessness. Spirit of corsair, adventurer, lover, poet, bohemian,
possessed him. The stars he saw above him seemed no more unattainable,
no less high, than the favour of Miss Peek or the fearsome sweetness
of her delectable lips. His fate seemed to him strangely dramatic and
pathetic, and to call for a solace consonant with its extremity. A
saloon was near by, and to this he flitted, calling for absinthe--
beyond doubt the drink most adequate to his mood--the tipple of the
roue, the abandoned, the vainly sighing lover.
Once he drank of it, and again, and then again until he felt a
strange, exalted sense of non-participation in worldly affairs pervade
him. Tansey was no drinker; his consumption of three absinthe
anisettes within almost as few minutes proclaimed his unproficiency in
the art; Tansey was merely flooding with unproven liquor his sorrows;
which record and tradition alleged to be drownable.
Coming out upon the sidewalk, he snapped his fingers defiantly in the
direction of the Peek homestead, turned the other way, and voyaged,
Columbus-like into the wilds of an enchanted street. Nor is the figure
exorbitant, for, beyond his store the foot of Tansey had scarcely been
set for years--store and boarding-house; between these ports he was
charted to run, and contrary currents had rarely deflected his prow.
Tansey aimlessly protracted his walk, and, whether it was his
unfamiliarity with the district, his recent accession of audacious
errantry, or the sophistical whisper of a certain green-eyed fairy, he
came at last to tread a shuttered, blank, and echoing thoroughfare,
dark and unpeopled. And, suddenly, this way came to an end (as many
streets do in the Spanish-built, archaic town of San Antone), butting
its head against an imminent, high, brick wall. No--the street still
lived! To the right and to the left it breathed through slender tubes
of exit--narrow, somnolent ravines, cobble paved and unlighted.
Accommodating a rise in the street to the right was reared a phantom
flight of five luminous steps of limestone, flanked by a wall of the
same height and of the same material.
Upon one of these steps Tansey seated himself and bethought him of his
love, and how she might never know she was his love. And of Mother
Peek, fat, vigilant and kind; not unpleased, Tansey thought, that he
and Katie should play cribbage in the parlour together. For the Cut-
rate had not cut his salary, which, sordidly speaking, ranked him star
boarder at the Peek's. And he thought of Captain Peek, Katie's father,
a man he dreaded and abhorred; a genteel loafer and spendthrift,
battening upon the labour of his women-folk; a very queer fish, and,
according to repute, not of the freshest.
The night had turned chill and foggy. The heart of the town, with its
noises, was left behind. Reflected from the high vapours, its distant
lights were manifest in quivering, cone-shaped streamers, in
questionable blushes of unnamed colours, in unstable, ghostly waves of
far, electric flashes. Now that the darkness was become more friendly,
the wall against which the street splintered developed a stone coping
topped with an armature of spikes. Beyond it loomed what appeared to
be the acute angles of mountain peaks, pierced here and there by
little lambent parallelograms. Considering this vista, Tansey at
length persuaded himself that the seeming mountains were, in fact, the
convent of Santa Mercedes, with which ancient and bulky pile he was
better familiar from different coigns of view. A pleasant note of
singing in his ears reinforced his opinion. High, sweet, holy
carolling, far and harmonious and uprising, as of sanctified nuns at
their responses. At what hour did the Sisters sing? He tried to think
--was it six, eight, twelve? Tansey leaned his back against the
limestone wall and wondered. Strange things followed. The air was full
of white, fluttering pigeons that circled about, and settled upon the
convent wall. The wall blossomed with a quantity of shining green eyes
that blinked and peered at him from the solid masonry. A pink, classic
nymph came from an excavation in the cavernous road and danced,
barefoot and airy, upon the ragged flints. The sky was traversed by a
company of beribboned cats, marching in stupendous, aerial procession.
The noise of singing grew louder; an illumination of unseasonable
fireflies danced past, and strange whispers came out of the dark
without meaning or excuse.
Without amazement Tansey took note of these phenomena. He was on some
new plane of understanding, though his mind seemed to him clear and,
indeed, happily tranquil.
A desire for movement and exploration seized him: he rose and turned
into the black gash of street to his right. For a time the high wall
formed one of its boundaries; but further on, two rows of black-
windowed houses closed it in.
Here was the city's quarter once given over to the Spaniard. Here were
still his forbidding abodes of concrete and adobe, standing cold and
indomitable against the century. From the murky fissure, the eye saw,
flung against the sky, the tangled filigree of his Moorish balconies.
Through stone archways breaths of dead, vault-chilled air coughed upon
him; his feet struck jingling iron rings in staples stone-buried for
half a cycle. Along these paltry avenues had swaggered the arrogant
Don, had caracoled and serenaded and blustered while the tomahawk and
the pioneer's rifle were already uplifted to expel him from a
continent. And Tansey, stumbling through this old-world dust, looked
up, dark as it was, and saw Andalusian beauties glimmering on the
balconies. Some of them were laughing and listening to the goblin
music that still followed; others harked fearfully through the night,
trying to catch the hoof beats of caballeros whose last echoes from
those stones had died away a century ago. Those women were silent, but
Tansey heard the jangle of horseless bridle-bits, the whirr of
riderless rowels, and, now and then, a muttered malediction in a
foreign tongue. But he was not frightened. Shadows, nor shadows of
sounds could daunt him. Afraid? No. Afraid of Mother Peek? Afraid to
face the girl of his heart? Afraid of tipsy Captain Peek? Nay! nor of
these apparitions, nor of that spectral singing that always pursued
him. Singing! He would show them! He lifted up a strong and untuneful
"When you hear them bells go tingalingling,"
serving notice upon those mysterious agencies that if it should come
to a face-to-face encounter
"There'll be a hot time
In the old town
How long Tansey consumed in treading this haunted byway was not clear
to him, but in time he emerged into a more commodious avenue. When
within a few yards of the corner he perceived, through a window, that
a small confectionary of mean appearance was set in the angle. His
same glance that estimated its meagre equipment, its cheap soda-water
fountain and stock of tobacco and sweets, took cognizance of Captain
Peek within lighting a cigar at a swinging gaslight.
As Tansey rounded the corner Captain Peek came out, and they met /vis-
a-vis/. An exultant joy filled Tansey when he found himself sustaining
the encounter with implicit courage. Peek, indeed! He raised his hand,
and snapped his fingers loudly.
It was Peek himself who quailed guiltily before the valiant mien of
the drug clerk. Sharp surprise and a palpable fear bourgeoned upon the
Captain's face. And, verily, that face was one to rather call up such
expressions on the faces of others. The face of a libidinous heathen
idol, small eyed, with carven folds in the heavy jowls, and a
consuming, pagan license in its expression. In the gutter just beyond
the store Tansey saw a closed carriage standing with its back toward
him and a motionless driver perched in his place.
"Why, it's Tansey!" exclaimed Captain Peek. "How are you, Tansey? H-
have a cigar, Tansey?"
"Why, it's Peek!" cried Tansey, jubilant at his own temerity. "What
deviltry are you up to now, Peek? Back streets and a closed carriage!
"There's no one in the carriage," said the Captain, smoothly.
"Everybody out of it is in luck," continued Tansey, aggressively. "I'd
love for you to know, Peek, that I'm not stuck on you. You're a
"Why, the little rat's drunk!" cried the Captain, joyfully; "only
drunk, and I thought he was on! Go home, Tansey, and quit bothering
grown persons on the street."
But just then a white-clad figure sprang out of the carriage, and a
shrill voice--Katie's voice--sliced the air: "Sam! Sam!--help me,
Tansey sprung toward her, but Captain Peek interposed his bulky form.
Wonder of wonders! the whilom spiritless youth struck out with his
right, and the hulking Captain went over in a swearing heap. Tansey
flew to Katie, and took her in his arms like a conquering knight. She
raised her face, and he kissed her--violets! electricity! caramels!
champagne! Here was the attainment of a dream that brought no
"Oh, Sam," cried Katie, when she could, "I knew you would come to
rescue me. What do you suppose the mean things were going to do with
"Have your picture taken," said Tansey, wondering at the foolishness
of his remark.
"No, they were going to eat me. I heard them talking about it."
"Eat you!" said Tansey, after pondering a moment. "That can't be;
there's no plates."
But a sudden noise warned him to turn. Down upon him were bearing the
Captain and a monstrous long-bearded dwarf in a spangled cloak and red
trunk-hose. The dwarf leaped twenty feet and clutched them. The
Captain seized Katie and hurled her, shrieking, back into the
carriage, himself followed, and the vehicle dashed away. The dwarf
lifted Tansey high above his head and ran with him into the store.
Holding him with one hand, he raised the lid of an enormous chest half
filled with cakes of ice, flung Tansey inside, and closed down the
The force of the fall must have been great, for Tansey lost
consciousness. When his faculties revived his first sensation was one
of severe cold along his back and limbs. Opening his eyes, he found
himself to be seated upon the limestone steps still facing the wall
and convent of Santa Mercedes. His first thought was of the ecstatic
kiss from Katie. The outrageous villainy of Captain Peek, the
unnatural mystery of the situation, his preposterous conflict with the
improbable dwarf--these things roused and angered him, but left no
impression of the unreal.
"I'll go back there to-morrow," he grumbled aloud, "and knock the head
off that comic-opera squab. Running out and picking up perfect
strangers, and shoving them into cold storage!"
But the kiss remained uppermost in his mind. "I might have done that
long ago," he mused. "She liked it, too. She called me 'Sam' four
times. I'll not go up that street again. Too much scrapping. Guess
I'll move down the other way. Wonder what she meant by saying they
were going to eat her!"
Tansey began to feel sleepy, but after a while he decided to move
along again. This time he ventured into the street to his left. It ran
level for a distance, and then dipped gently downward, opening into a
vast, dim, barren space--the old Military Plaza. To his left, some
hundred yards distant, he saw a cluster of flickering lights along the
Plaza's border. He knew the locality at once.
Huddled within narrow confines were the remnants of the once-famous
purveyors of the celebrated Mexican national cookery. A few years
before, their nightly encampments upon the historic Alamo Plaza, in
the heart of the city, had been a carnival, a saturnalia that was
renowned throughout the land. Then the caterers numbered hundreds; the
patrons thousands. Drawn by the coquettish /senoritas/, the music of
the weird Spanish minstrels, and the strange piquant Mexican dishes
served at a hundred competing tables, crowds thronged the Alamo Plaza
all night. Travellers, rancheros, family parties, gay gasconading
rounders, sightseers and prowlers of polyglot, owlish San Antone
mingled there at the centre of the city's fun and frolic. The popping
of corks, pistols, and questions; the glitter of eyes, jewels and
daggers; the ring of laughter and coin--these were the order of the
But now no longer. To some half-dozen tents, fires, and tables had
dwindled the picturesque festival, and these had been relegated to an
ancient disused plaza.
Often had Tansey strolled down to these stands at night to partake of
the delectable /chili-con-carne/, a dish evolved by the genius of
Mexico, composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the
poignant /chili colorado/--a compound full of singular flavour and a
fiery zest delightful to the Southron's palate.
The titillating odour of this concoction came now, on the breeze, to
the nostrils of Tansey, awakening in him hunger for it. As he turned
in that direction he saw a carriage dash up to the Mexicans' tents out
of the gloom of the Plaza. Some figures moved back and forward in the
uncertain light of the lanterns, and then the carriage was driven
Tansey approached, and sat at one of the tables covered with gaudy
oil-cloth. Traffic was dull at the moment. A few half-grown boys
noisily fared at another table; the Mexicans hung listless and
phlegmatic about their wares. And it was still. The night hum of the
city crowded to the wall of dark buildings surrounding the Plaza, and
subsided to an indefinite buzz through which sharply perforated the
crackle of the languid fires and the rattle of fork and spoon. A
sedative wind blew from the southeast. The starless firmament pressed
down upon the earth like a leaden cover.
In all that quiet Tansey turned his head suddenly, and saw, without
disquietude, a troop of spectral horsemen deploy into the Plaza and
charge a luminous line of infantry that advanced to sustain the shock.
He saw the fierce flame of cannon and small arms, but heard no sound.
The careless victuallers lounged vacantly, not deigning to view the
conflict. Tansey mildly wondered to what nations these mute combatants
might belong; turned his back to them and ordered his chili and coffee
from the Mexican woman who advanced to serve him. This woman was old
and careworn; her face was lined like the rind of a cantaloupe. She
fetched the viands from a vessel set by the smouldering fire, and then
retired to a tent, dark within, that stood near by.
Presently Tansey heard a turmoil in the tent; a wailing, broken-
hearted pleading in the harmonious Spanish tongue, and then two
figures tumbled out into the light of the lanterns. One was the old
woman; the other was a man clothed with a sumptuous and flashing
splendour. The woman seemed to clutch and beseech from him something
against his will. The man broke from her and struck her brutally back
into the tent, where she lay, whimpering and invisible. Observing
Tansey, he walked rapidly to the table where he sat. Tansey recognized
him to be Ramon Torres, a Mexican, the proprietor of the stand he was
Torres was a handsome, nearly full-blooded descendant of the Spanish,
seemingly about thirty years of age, and of a haughty, but extremely
courteous demeanour. To-night he was dressed with signal magnificence.
His costume was that of a triumphant /matador/, made of purple velvet
almost hidden by jeweled embroidery. Diamonds of enormous size flashed
upon his garb and his hands. He reached for a chair, and, seating
himself at the opposite side of the table, began to roll a finical
"Ah, Meester Tanse," he said, with a sultry fire in his silky, black
eyes, "I give myself pleasure to see you this evening. Meester Tansee,
you have many times come to eat at my table. I theenk you a safe man--
a verree good friend. How much would it please you to leeve forever?"
"Not come back any more?" inquired Tansey.
"No; not leave--/leeve/; the not-to-die."
"I would call that," said Tansey, "a snap."
Torres leaned his elbows upon the table, swallowed a mouthful of
smoke, and spake--each word being projected in a little puff of gray.
"How old do you theenk I am, Meester Tansee?"
"Oh, twenty-eight or thirty."
"Thees day," said the Mexican, "ees my birthday. I am four hundred and
three years of old to-day."
"Another proof," said Tansey, airily, "of the healthfulness of our
"Eet is not the air. I am to relate to you a secret of verree fine
value. Listen me, Meester Tansee. At the age of twenty-three I arrive
in Mexico from Spain. When? In the year fifteen hundred nineteen, with
the /soldados/ of Hernando Cortez. I come to thees country seventeen
fifteen. I saw your Alamo reduced. It was like yesterday to me. Three
hundred ninety-six year ago I learn the secret always to leeve. Look
at these clothes I war--at these /diamantes/. Do you theenk I buy them
with the money I make with selling the /chili-con-carne/, Meester
"I should think not," said Tansey, promptly. Torres laughed loudly.
"/Valgame Dios/! but I do. But it not the kind you eating now. I make
a deeferent kind, the eating of which makes men to always leeve. What
do you think! One thousand people I supply--/diez pesos/ each one pays
me the month. You see! ten thousand /pesos/ everee month! /Que
diable/! how not I wear the fine /ropa/! You see that old woman try to
hold me back a little while ago? That ees my wife. When I marry her
she is young--seventeen year--/bonita/. Like the rest she ees become
old and--what you say!--tough? I am the same--young all the time.
To-night I resolve to dress myself and find another wife befitting my
age. This old woman try to scr-r-ratch my face. Ha! ha! Meester Tansee
--same way they do /entre los Americanos/."
"And this health-food you spoke of?" said Tansey.
"Hear me," said Torres, leaning over the table until he lay flat upon
it; "eet is the /chili-con-carne/ made not from the beef or the
chicken, but from the flesh of the /senorita/--young and tender. That
ees the secret. Everee month you must eat of it, having care to do so
before the moon is full, and you will not die any times. See how I
trust you, friend Tansee! To-night I have bought one young ladee--
verree pretty--so /fina, gorda, blandita/! To-morrow the /chili/ will
be ready. /Ahora si/! One thousand dollars I pay for thees young
ladee. From an /Americano/ I have bought--a verree tip-top man--/el
Capitan Peek/--/que es, Senor/?"
For Tansey had sprung to his feet, upsetting the chair. The words of
Katie reverberated in his ears: "They're going to eat me, Sam." This,
then, was the monstrous fate to which she had been delivered by her
unnatural parent. The carriage he had seen drive up from the Plaza was
Captain Peek's. Where was Katie? Perhaps already--
Before he could decide what to do a loud scream came from the tent.
The old Mexican woman ran out, a flashing knife in her hand. "I have
released her," she cried. "You shall kill no more. They will hang you
Torres, with a hissing exclamation, sprang at her.
"Ramoncito!" she shrieked; "once you loved me."
The Mexican's arm raised and descended. "You are old," he cried; and
she fell and lay motionless.
Another scream; the flaps of the tent were flung aside, and there
stood Katie, white with fear, her wrists still bound with a cruel
"Sam!" she cried, "save me again!"
Tansey rounded the table, and flung himself, with superb nerve, upon
the Mexican. Just then a clangour began; the clocks of the city were
tolling the midnight hour. Tansey clutched at Torres, and, for a
moment, felt in his grasp the crunch of velvet and the cold facets of
the glittering gems. The next instant, the bedecked caballero turned
in his hands to a shrunken, leather-visaged, white-bearded, old, old,
screaming mummy, sandalled, ragged, and four hundred and three. The
Mexican woman was crawling to her feet, and laughing. She shook her
brown hand in the face of the whining /viejo/.
"Go, now," she cried, "and seek your senorita. It was I, Ramoncito,
who brought you to this. Within each moon you eat of the life-giving
/chili/. It was I that kept the wrong time for you. You should have
eaten /yesterday/ instead of /to-morrow/. It is too late. Off with
you, /hombre/! You are too old for me!"
"This," decided Tansey, releasing his hold of the gray-beard, "is a
private family matter concerning age, and no business of mine."
With one of the table knives he hastened to saw asunder the fetters of
the fair captive; and then, for the second time that night he kissed
Katie Peek--tasted again the sweetness, the wonder, the thrill of it,
attained once more the maximum of his incessant dreams.
The next instant an icy blade was driven deep between his shoulders;
he felt his blood slowly congeal; heard the senile cackle of the
perennial Spaniard; saw the Plaza rise and reel till the zenith
crashed into the horizon--and knew no more.
When Tansey opened his eyes again he was sitting upon those self-same
steps gazing upon the dark bulk of the sleeping convent. In the middle
of his back was still the acute, chilling pain. How had he been
conveyed back there again? He got stiffly to his feet and stretched
his cramped limbs. Supporting himself against the stonework he
revolved in his mind the extravagant adventures that had befallen him
each time he had strayed from the steps that night. In reviewing them
certain features strained his credulity. Had he really met Captain
Peek or Katie or the unparalleled Mexican in his wanders--had he
really encountered them under commonplace conditions and his over-
stimulated brain had supplied the incongruities? However that might
be, a sudden, elating thought caused him an intense joy. Nearly all of
us have, at some point in our lives--either to excuse our own
stupidity or to placate our consciences--promulgated some theory of
fatalism. We have set up an intelligent Fate that works by codes and
signals. Tansey had done likewise; and now he read, through the
night's incidents, the finger-prints of destiny. Each excursion that
he had made had led to the one paramount finale--to Katie and that
kiss, which survived and grew strong and intoxicating in his memory.
Clearly, Fate was holding up to him the mirror that night, calling him
to observe what awaited him at the end of whichever road he might
take. He immediately turned, and hurried homeward.
* * * * *
Clothed in an elaborate, pale blue wrapper, cut to fit, Miss Katie
Peek reclined in an armchair before a waning fire in her room. Her
little, bare feet were thrust into house-shoes rimmed with swan's
down. By the light of a small lamp she was attacking the society news
of the latest Sunday paper. Some happy substance, seemingly
indestructible, was being rhythmically crushed between her small white
teeth. Miss Katie read of functions and furbelows, but she kept a
vigilant ear for outside sounds and a frequent eye upon the clock over
the mantel. At every footstep upon the asphalt sidewalk her smooth,
round chin would cease for a moment its regular rise and fall, and a
frown of listening would pucker her pretty brows.
At last she heard the latch of the iron gate click. She sprang up,
tripped softly to the mirror, where she made a few of those feminine,
flickering passes at her front hair and throat which are warranted to
hypnotize the approaching guest.
The door-bell rang. Miss Katie, in her haste, turned the blaze of the
lamp lower instead of higher, and hastened noiselessly down stairs
into the hall. She turned the key, the door opened, and Mr. Tansey
"Why, the i-de-a!" exclaimed Miss Katie, "is this you, Mr. Tansey?
It's after midnight. Aren't you ashamed to wake me up at such an hour
to let you in? You're just /awful/!"
"I was late," said Tansey, brilliantly.
"I should think you were! Ma was awfully worried about you. When you
weren't in by ten, that hateful Tom McGill said you were out calling
on another--said you were out calling on some young lady. I just
despise Mr. McGill. Well, I'm not going to scold you any more, Mr.
Tansey, if it /is/ a little late--Oh! I turned it the wrong way!"
Miss Katie gave a little scream. Absent-mindedly she had turned the
blaze of the lamp entirely out instead of higher. It was very dark.
Tansey heard a musical, soft giggle, and breathed an entrancing odour
of heliotrope. A groping light hand touched his arm."
"How awkward I was! Can you find your way--Sam?"
"I--I think I have a match, Miss K-Katie."
A scratching sound; a flame; a glow of light held at arm's length by
the recreant follower of Destiny illuminating a tableau which shall
end the ignominious chronicle--a maid with unkissed, curling,
contemptuous lips slowly lifting the lamp chimney and allowing the
wick to ignite; then waving a scornful and abjuring hand toward the
staircase--the unhappy Tansey, erstwhile champion in the prophetic
lists of fortune, ingloriously ascending to his just and certain doom,
while (let us imagine) half within the wings stands the imminent
figure of Fate jerking wildly at the wrong strings, and mixing things
up in her usual able manner.