... Her idea of God had been first defined by the sight of a quaint French picture of the Creation,--an engraving which represented a shoreless sea under a black sky, and out of the blackness a solemn and bearded gray head emerging, and a cloudy hand through which stars glimmered. God was like old Doctor de Coulanges, who used to visit the house, and talk in a voice like a low roll of thunder.... At a later day, when Chita had been told that God was "everywhere at the same time "--without and within, beneath and above all things,--this idea became somewhat changed. The awful bearded face, the huge shadowy hand, did not fade from her thought; but they became fantastically blended with the larger and vaguer notion of something that filled the world and reached to the stars,--something diaphanous and incomprehensible like the invisible air, omnipresent and everlasting like the high blue of heaven ....
... She began to learn the life of the coast.
With her acquisition of another tongue, there came to her also the understanding of many things relating to the world of the sea She memorized with novel delight much that was told her day by day concerning the nature surrounding her,--many secrets of the air, many of those signs of heaven which the dwellers in cities cannot comprehend because the atmosphere is thickened and made stagnant above them--cannot even watch because the horizon is hidden from their eyes by walls, and by weary avenues of trees with whitewashed trunks. She learned, by listening, by asking, by observing also, how to know the signs that foretell wild weather:--tremendous sunsets, scuddings and bridgings of cloud,--sharpening and darkening of the sea-line,--and the shriek of gulls flashing to land in level flight, out of a still transparent sky,--and halos about the moon.
She learned where the sea-birds, with white bosoms and brown wings, made their hidden nests of sand,--and where the cranes waded for their prey,--and where the beautiful wild-ducks, plumaged in satiny lilac and silken green, found their food,--and where the best reeds grew to furnish stems for Feliu's red-clay pipe,--and where the ruddy sea-beans were most often tossed upon the shore,--and how the gray pelicans fished all together, like men--moving in far-extending semicircles, beating the flood with their wings to drive the fish before them.
And from Carmen she learned the fables and the sayings of the sea,--the proverbs about its deafness, its avarice, its treachery, its terrific power,--especially one that haunted her for all time thereafter: Si quieres aprender a orar, entra en el mar (If thou wouldst learn to pray, go to the sea). She learned why the sea is salt,--how "the tears of women made the waves of the sea,"--and how the sea has ii no friends,"--and how the cat's eyes change with the tides.
What had she lost of life by her swift translation from the dusty existence of cities to the open immensity of nature's freedom? What did she gain?
Doubtless she was saved from many of those little bitternesses and restraints and disappointments which all well-bred city children must suffer in the course of their training for the more or less factitious life of society:--obligations to remain very still with every nimble nerve quivering in dumb revolt;--the injustice of being found troublesome and being sent to bed early for the comfort of her elders;--the cruel necessity of straining her pretty eyes, for many long hours at a time, over grimy desks in gloomy school-rooms, though birds might twitter and bright winds flutter in the trees without;--the austere constrains and heavy drowsiness of warm churches, filled with the droning echoes of a voice preaching incomprehensible things;--the progressively augmenting weariness of lessons in deportment, in dancing, in music, in the impossible art of keeping her dresses unruffled and unsoiled. Perhaps she never had any reason to regret all these.
She went to sleep and awakened with the wild birds;--her life remained as unfettered by formalities as her fine feet by shoes. Excepting Carmen's old prayer-book,--in which she learned to read a little,--her childhood passed without books,--also without pictures, without dainties, without music, without theatrical amusements. But she saw and heard and felt much of that which, though old as the heavens and the earth, is yet eternally new and eternally young with the holiness of beauty,--eternally mystical and divine,---eternally weird: the unveiled magnificence of Nature's moods,--the perpetual poem hymned by wind and surge,--the everlasting splendor of the sky.