"I heard only too distinctly, Juan Canito," said the Senora in a sweet but icy tone. "It is not well for one servant to backbite another. It gives me great grief to hear such words; and I hope when Father Salvierderra comes, next month, you will not forget to confess this sin of which you have been guilty in thus seeking to injure a fellow-being. If Senor Felipe listens to you, the poor boy Luigo will be cast out homeless on the world some day; and what sort of a deed would that be, Juan Canito, for one Christian to do to another? I fear the Father will give you penance, when he hears what you have said."
"Senora, it is not to harm the lad," Juan began, every fibre of his faithful frame thrilling with a sense of the injustice of her reproach.
But the Senora had turned her back. Evidently she would hear no more from him then. He stood watching her as she walked away, at her usual slow pace, her head slightly bent forward, her rosary lifted in her left hand, and the fingers of the right hand mechanically slipping the beads.
"Prayers, always prayers!" thought Juan to himself, as his eyes followed her. "If they'll take one to heaven, the Senora'll go by the straight road, that's sure! I'm sorry I vexed her. But what's a man to do, if he's the interest of the place at heart, I'd like to know. Is he to stand by, and see a lot of idle mooning louts run away with everything? Ah, but it was an ill day for the estate when the General died,-- an ill day! an ill day! And they may scold me as much as they please, and set me to confessing my sins to the Father; it's very well for them, they've got me to look after matters. Senor Felipe will do well enough when he's a man, maybe; but a boy like him! Bah!" And the old man stamped his foot with a not wholly unreasonable irritation, at the false position in which he felt himself put.
"Confess to Father Salvierderra, indeed!" he muttered aloud. "Ay, that will I. He's a man of sense, if he is a priest," -- at which slip of the tongue the pious Juan hastily crossed himself,-- "and I'll ask him to give me some good advice as to how I'm to manage between this young boy at the head of everything, and a doting mother who thinks he has the wisdom of a dozen grown men. The Father knew the place in the olden time. He knows it's no child's play to look after the estate even now, much smaller as it is! An ill day when the old General died, an ill day indeed, the saints rest his soul!" Saying this, Juan shrugged his shoulders, and whistling to Capitan, walked towards the sunny veranda of the south side of the kitchen wing of the house, where it had been for twenty odd years his habit to sit on the long bench and smoke his pipe of a morning. Before he had got half-way across the court-yard, however, a thought struck him. He halted so suddenly that Capitan, with the quick sensitiveness of his breed, thought so sudden a change of purpose could only come from something in connection with sheep; and, true to his instinct of duty, pricked up his ears, poised himself for a full run, and looked up in his master's face waiting for explanation and signal. But Juan did not observe him.
"Ha!" he said, "Father Salvierderra comes next month, does he? Let's see. To-day is the 25th. That's it. The sheep-shearing is not to come off till the Father gets here. Then each morning it will be mass in the chapel, and each night vespers; and the crowd will be here at least two days longer to feed, for the time they will lose by that and by the confessions. That's what Senor Felipe is up to. He's a pious lad. I recollect now, it was the same way two years ago. Well, well, it is a good thing for those poor Indian devils to get a bit of religion now and then; and it's like old times to see the chapel full of them kneeling, and more than can get in at the door; I doubt not it warms the Senora's heart to see them all there, as if they belonged to the house, as they used to: and now I know when it's to be, I have only to make my arrangements accordingly. It is always in the first week of the month the Father gets here. Yes; she said, 'Senor Felipe will be well enough in a week or two, he thinks.' Ha! ha! It will be nearer two; ten days or thereabouts. I'll begin the booths next week. A plague on that Luigo for not being back here. He's the best hand I have to cut the willow boughs for the roofs. He knows the difference between one year's growth and another's; I'll say that much for him, spite of the silly dreaming head he's got on his shoulders."
Juan was so pleased with his clearing up in his mind as to Senor Felipe's purpose about the time of the sheep-shearing, that it put him in good humor for the day,-- good humor with everybody, and himself most of all. As he sat on the low bench, his head leaning back against the whitewashed wall, his long legs stretched out nearly across the whole width of the veranda, his pipe firm wedged in the extreme left corner of his mouth, his hands in his pockets, he was the picture of placid content. The troop of youngsters which still swarmed around the kitchen quarters of Senora Moreno's house, almost as numerous and inexplicable as in the grand old days of the General's time, ran back and forth across Juan's legs, fell down between them, and picked themselves up by help of clutches at his leather trousers, all unreproved by Juan, though loudly scolded and warned by their respective mothers from the kitchen.
"What's come to Juan Can to be so good-natured to-day?" saucily asked Margarita, the youngest and prettiest of the maids, popping her head out of a window, and twitching Juan's hair. He was so gray and wrinkled that the maids all felt at ease with him. He seemed to them as old as Methuselah; but he was not really so old as they thought, nor they so safe in their tricks. The old man had hot blood in his veins yet, as the under-shepherds could testify.
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