The Justice Of Tacon





When the parades were over, or church was out, or it was near time for

the play, one always found a dozen officers and gallants sauntering

down the Calle de Comercio, bound for the same place: the tobacco shop

of Miralda Estalez. In 1835 Miralda was known all over the town as

"the pretty cigar girl," and it was quite the thing for young sprigs

of family to lounge against her counter, tell her how charming she

was, make her light their cigarettes and sometimes take the first

puff from their cigars. All this she took with jesting good-nature,

chaffing all of her customers, commiserating with them in mocking tones

on their fractured hearts, and lamenting the poverty that confined

their purchases to the cheaper brands of her wares. She knew how far

to allow a compliment to go. If it became too free the smile faded

from her lip, her black eyes flashed, and an angry rose mounted into

the clear olive of her cheek.



If there was one young man who, more than any other, caused these

angry symptoms to appear it was the Count Almonte. His attentions had

become annoying. She had told him that his flattery was distasteful;

that her betrothed was Pedro Mantanez, the boatman, and that they were

waiting to be married only until their savings had reached a certain

figure. After one of these dismissals of more than usual frankness,

the count went to his apartments in town, arrayed himself in his

uniform of honorary lieutenant of the guards, asked the commandant to

let him have an escort of half a dozen men, as he expected trouble

at his country-place at Cerito, and within an hour or two appeared

before Miralda's little shop. He entered this time with an easy,

confident air and an evil smile. "You must come with me, my beauty,"

he said, trying to chuck her under the chin.



"Leave my place at once, senor. I have nothing more to say to you."



"Oh, but I have much to say to you; and to begin with, I have a

warrant for your arrest."



"Arrest!"



"For theft,--the theft of a heart,--my heart."



"Your jokes are always in such wretched taste. Your heart! You never

had one."



"Then my duty becomes all the easier. You see this paper? It is an

order for your arrest. Will you go quietly, or do you prefer to go

under guard of a whole company."



Astonished, confused, afraid, yet hoping that one of those wretched

pleasantries known as practical jokes would be the upshot of this

seeming outrage, the girl locked her door, allowed the count to assist

her into the carriage that was in waiting, and was rapidly driven,

not to the jail, not to the forts, not to the police office, but out

of town--to Cerito. He assisted her to alight, urged her hastily in at

the door of a handsome residence, where she was received by a couple

of servants, and escorted to a large, comfortably furnished apartment,

with windows barred after the fashion usual in Spanish houses.



"This, my pretty one, is your home for the future," explained the

count, dropping easily upon a divan and lighting a cigar.



"What place is this?"



"It is my house. Ah, but it shall be yours, if only you are kind. It

is for you to say how long you will be a prisoner."



"But the arrest--the order----"



"Ha! ha! Mere sham. I was bound to have you in one way, if I could

not get you in another. All's fair in love and war. You made war. I

made love."



There was an explosion of wrath, of scorn, of hate; there were tears,

cries, prayers, threats, promises. Count Almonte merely laughed,

and left the young woman to weep herself into a state of resignation

or exhaustion.



Mantanez, the boatman, learned before long that the shop was closed,

and naturally fearing that Miralda had been taken ill, he hurried

around to make inquiry. What he heard was disquieting enough, but he

could not, would not believe it, until he had gone to Cerito to see

for himself. In the gown of a monk he gained access to the grounds,

and walked slowly by, singing the verse of a song that Miralda liked,

meanwhile scanning the windows closely. His heart gave a leap, and then

sank miserably low, for his love appeared behind the bars of an upper

window. She stretched her hands to him appealingly, told him in a few

half-whispered words the story of her abduction, implored him to hurry

back to town, put the case before General Tacon and demand justice.



Mantanez did so. The tale was so unusual that the general made him

swear to the truth of it on his knees before the crucifix. Then he

sent for the count and ordered him to bring the girl with him. In

two hours they were at the palace. The general looked searchingly at

Almonte. "It is a strange charge that has been brought against you,

count," said he, "that of stealing a woman in open day, taking her

to your house and keeping her under lock and key."



"The young woman has been well treated, general."



"You arrested her?"



"Yes."



"In our uniform?"



"It was the only way. I loved her."



"You still love her?"



"To distraction."



"Humph! We shall see. Orderly, send a priest to me, and tell him to

come prepared to perform a marriage ceremony."



Tacon was sphinx-like, and busied himself with his papers. The count

was puzzled, yet smiling, and disposed to be incredulous. The girl

and her lover wore looks of doubt and fear. The priest arrived.



"Father," said Tacon, "you will make the Count Almonte and Miralda

Estalez man and wife."



"Impossible!" exclaimed the count.



"You have just said that you loved her."



"But, your Excellency, you seem to forget that she is but a girl of

the people. I have to remind you that I am of the Spanish nobility;

that my ancestors--"



"Tush, tush! What have your ancestors to do here? You have ruined

the girl, and you shall make amends, here and now."



Miralda clasped her hands in a passion of entreaty, and her betrothed,

the boatman, sank upon a bench, overcome with despair.



"I am sorry for you," continued Tacon, "but there is no other

way. Proceed with the ceremony."



Knowing Tacon to be inflexible, and with a wholesome dread of

punishment in case of refusal, the young rake finally expressed his

willingness to yield to the command, and with a freckled trooper

for bridesmaid, and another for groomsman, the marriage rites were

said. While the priest was speaking Tacon had written a note which he

gave to an orderly, instructing him to deliver it to the captain of

the guard. After the nobleman, flushed and trembling with anger, and

the half-fainting girl had been pronounced man and wife, the boatman

meanwhile abandoning himself to a frenzy of tears, Tacon said to the

count, "Your wife will remain here for the present. It is my order

that you return to your country-house alone. You will depart at once."



With blazing eye, widened nostril, and hard-set jaw, Count Almonte

left the room without any recognition of his bride, without the

usual acknowledgment of the governor-general's presence. Tacon bade

the young woman be seated, and told Mantanez also to remain, as he

wished to speak with them after a time. Ten minutes passed. Some

guns were heard at a distance. In ten minutes more an officer hastily

entered the room. Tacon looked up from his writing. "Report, captain,"

he commanded.



"I have to inform your Excellency that your orders have been

obeyed. The Count Almonte lies dead with nine bullets in his body."



The general arose, took the hand of the young woman and placed it in

that of the boatman. "Countess," he said, "you are the widow of a rich

man. You are sole heir to the estate of the late Count Almonte. As

to you, sir, I presume you have no objection to wedding a lady so

well provided with this world's goods. Adieu, Madame Countess, and

may your second marriage be happier than your first."





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