Mateo, who had come to the country while a boy, spoke English better than the rest of the cheniere people;--he acted as interpreter whenever Feliu found any difficulty in comprehending or answering questions; and he told them of the child rescued that wild morning, and of Feliu's swim. His recital evoked a murmur of interest and excitement, followed by a confusion of questions. Well, they could see for themselves, Feliu said; but he hoped they would have a little patience;--the child was still weak;--it might be dangerous to startle her. "We'll arrange it just as you like, " responded the captain;--"go ahead, Feliu!" ...
All proceeded to the house, under the great trees; Feliu and Captain Harris leading the way. It was sultry and bright;--even the sea-breeze was warm; there were pleasant odors in the shade, and a soporific murmur made of leaf-speech and the hum of gnats. Only the captain entered the house with Feliu; the rest remained without--some taking seats on a rude plank bench under the oaks--others flinging themselves down upon the weeds--a few stood still, leaning upon their rifles. Then Carmen came out to them with gourds and a bucket of fresh water, which all were glad to drink.
They waited many minutes. Perhaps it was the cool peace of the place that made them all feel how hot and tired they were: conversation flagged; and the general languor finally betrayed itself in a silence so absolute that every leaf-whisper seemed to become separately audible.
It was broken at last by the guttural voice of the old captain emerging from the cottage, leading the child by the hand, and followed by Carmen and Feliu. All who had been resting rose up and looked at the child.
Standing in a lighted space, with one tiny hand enveloped by the captain's great brown fist, she looked so lovely that a general exclamation of surprise went up. Her bright hair, loose and steeped in the sun-flame, illuminated her like a halo; and her large dark eyes, gentle and melancholy as a deer's, watched the strange faces before her with shy curiosity. She wore the same dress in which Feliu had found her--a soft white fabric of muslin, with trimmings of ribbon that had once been blue; and the now discolored silken scarf, which had twice done her such brave service, was thrown over her shoulders. Carmen had washed and repaired the dress very creditably; but the tiny slim feet were bare,--the brine-soaked shoes she wore that fearful night had fallen into shreds at the first attempt to remove them.
--"Gentlemen, " said Captain Harris,--"we can find no clew to the identity of this child. There is no mark upon her clothing; and she wore nothing in the shape of jewelry--except this string of coral beads. We are nearly all Americans here; and she does not speak any English ... Does any one here know anything about her?"
Carmen felt a great sinking at her heart: was her new-found darling to be taken so soon from her? But no answer came to the captain's query. No one of the expedition had ever seen that child before. The coral beads were passed from hand to hand; the scarf was minutely scrutinized without avail. Somebody asked if the child could not talk German or Italian.
--"Italiano? No!" said Feliu, shaking his head.... One of his luggermen, Gioachino Sparicio, who, though a Sicilian, could speak several Italian idioms besides his own, had already essayed.