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Maruja Bret Harte

Chapter VI

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"No matter what it is, it shall be done," said Carroll, quickly. "I am your mother's slave if she will but let me serve at your side. Only," he paused, "I wish it was not business--I know nothing of business."

"If it were only business, Captain Carroll," said Maruja, slowly, "I would have spoken to Raymond or the Senor Buchanan; if it were only confidence, Pereo, our mayordomo, would have dragged himself from his sick-bed this morning to do my mother's bidding. But it is more than that--it is the functions of a gentleman--and my mother, Captain Carroll, would like to say of--a friend."

He seized her hand and covered it with kisses. She withdrew it gently.

"What have I to do?" he asked, eagerly.

She drew a note from her belt. "It is very simple. You must ride over to Aladdin with that note. You must give it to him ALONE-- more than that, you must not let any one who may be there think you are making any but a social call. If he keeps you to dine--you must stay--you will bring back anything he may give you and deliver it to me secretly for her."

"Is that all?" asked Carroll, with a slight touch of disappointment in his tone.

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"No," said Maruja, rising impulsively. "No, Captain Carroll--it is NOT all! And you shall know all, if only to prove to you how we confide in you--and to leave you free, after you have heard it, to do as you please." She stood before him, quite white, opening and shutting her fan quickly, and tapping the tiled floor with her little foot. "I have told you Dr. West was my mother's business adviser. She looked upon him as more--as a friend. Do you know what a dangerous thing it is for a woman who has lost one protector to begin to rely upon another? Well, my mother is not yet old. Dr. West appreciated her--Dr. West did not depreciate himself--two things that go far with a woman, Captain Carroll, and my mother is a woman." She paused, and then, with a light toss of her fan, said: "Well, to make an end, but for this excellent horse and this too ambitious rider, one knows not how far the old story of my mother's first choice would have been repeated, and the curse of Koorotora again fallen on the land."

"And you tell me this--you, Maruja--you who warned me against my hopeless passion for you?"

"Could I foresee this?" she said, passionately; "and are you mad enough not to see that this very act would have made YOUR suit intolerable to my relations?"

"Then you did think of my suit, Maruja," he said, grasping her hand.

"Or any one's suit," she continued, hurriedly, turning away with a slight increase of color in her cheeks. After a moment's pause, she added, in a gentler and half-reproachful voice, "Do you think I have confided my mother's story to you for this purpose only? Is this the help you proffer?"

"Forgive me, Maruja," said the young officer, earnestly. "I am selfish, I know--for I love you. But you have not told me yet how I could help your mother by delivering this letter, which any one could do."

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