Transcribed from the 1909 Smith, Elder and Co. edition by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
IN KEDAR'S TENTS by Henry Seton Merriman.
CHAPTER I. ONE SOWETH. II. ANOTHER REAPETH. III. LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA. IV. LE PREMIER PAS. V. CONTRABAND. VI. AT RONDA. VII. IN A MOORISH GARDEN. VIII. THE LOVE LETTER. IX. A WAR OF WIT. X. THE CITY OF DISCONTENT. XI. A TANGLED WEB. XII. ON THE TOLEDO ROAD. XIII. A WISE IGNORAMUS. XIV. A WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE. XV. AN ULTIMATUM. XVI. IN HONOUR. XVII. IN MADRID. XVIII. IN TOLEDO. XIX. CONCEPCION TAKES THE ROAD. XX. ON THE TALAVERA ROAD. XXI. A CROSS-EXAMINATION. XXII. REPARATION. XXIII. LARRALDE'S PRICE. XXIV. PRIESTCRAFT. XXV. SWORDCRAFT. XXVI. WOMANCRAFT. XXVII. A NIGHT JOURNEY. XXVIII. THE CITY OF STRIFE. XXIX. MIDNIGHT AND DAWN. XXX. THE DAWN OF PEACE.
CHAPTER I. ONE SOWETH.
'If it be a duty to respect other men's claims, so also is it a duty to maintain our own.'
It is in the staging of her comedies that fate shows herself superior to mere human invention. While we, with careful regard to scenery, place our conventional puppets on the stage and bid them play their old old parts in a manner as ancient, she rings up the curtain and starts a tragedy on a scene that has obviously been set by the carpenter for a farce. She deals out the parts with a fine inconsistency, and the jolly-faced little man is cast to play Romeo, while the poetic youth with lantern jaw and an impaired digestion finds no Juliet to match his love.
Fate, with that playfulness which some take too seriously or quite amiss, set her queer stage as long ago as 1838 for the comedy of certain lives, and rang up the curtain one dark evening on no fitter scene than the high road from Gateshead to Durham. It was raining hard, and a fresh breeze from the south-east swept a salt rime from the North Sea across a tract of land as bare and bleak as the waters of that grim ocean. A hard, cold land this, where the iron that has filled men's purses has also entered their souls.
There had been a great meeting at Chester-le-Street of those who were at this time beginning to be known as Chartists, and, the Act having been lately passed that torchlight meetings were illegal, this assembly had gathered by the light of a waning moon long since hidden by the clouds. Amid the storm of wind and rain, orators had expounded views as wild as the night itself, to which the hard- visaged sons of Northumbria had listened with grunts of approval or muttered words of discontent. A dangerous game to play—this stirring up of the people's heart, and one that may at any moment turn to the deepest earnest.
Few thought at this time that the movement awakening in the working centres of the North and Midlands was destined to spread with the strange rapidity of popular passion—to spread and live for a decade. Few of the Chartists expected to see the fulfilment of half of their desires. Yet, to-day, a moiety of the People's Charter has been granted. These voices crying in the night demanded an extended suffrage, vote by ballot, and freedom for rich and poor alike to sit in Parliament. Within the scope of one reign these demands have been granted.
The meeting at Chester-le-Street was no different from a hundred others held in England at the same time. It was illegal, and yet the authorities dared not to pronounce it so. It might prove dangerous to those taking part in it. Lawyers said that the leaders laid themselves open to the charge of high treason. In this assembly as in others there were wirepullers—men playing their own game, and from the safety of the rear pushing on those in front. With one of these we have to do. With his mistake Fate raised the curtain, and on the horizon of several lives arose a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.
Geoffrey Horner lived before his time, insomuch as he was a gentleman-Radical. He was clever, and the world heeded not. He was brilliant, well educated, capable of great achievements, and the world refused to be astonished. Here were the makings of a malcontent. A well-born Radical is one whom the world has refused to accept at his own valuation. A wise man is ready to strike a bargain with Fate. The wisest are those who ask much and then take half. It is the coward who asks too little, and the fool who imagines that he will receive without demanding.
Horner had thrown in his lot with the Chartists in that spirit of pique which makes a man marry the wrong woman because the right one will have none of him. At the Chester-le-Street meeting he had declared himself an upholder of moral persuasion, while in his heart he pandered to those who knew only of physical force and placed their reliance thereon. He had come from Durham with a contingent of malcontents, and was now returning thither on foot in company with the local leaders. These were intelligent mechanics seeking clumsily and blindly enough what they knew to be the good of their fellows. At their heels tramped the rank and file of the great movement. The assembly was a subtle foreshadowing of things to come—of Newport and the march of twenty thousand men, of violence and bloodshed, of strife between brethren, and of justice nonplussed and hesitating.
The toil-worn miners were mostly silent, their dimly enlightened intellects uneasily stirred by the words they had lately heard— their stubborn hearts full of a great hope with a minute misgiving at the back of it. With this dangerous material Geoffrey Horner proposed to play his game.
Suddenly a voice was raised.
'Mates,' it cried, at the cross-roads, 'let's go and smash Pleydell's windows!'
And a muttered acquiescence to the proposal swept through the moving mass like a sullen breeze through reeds.
The desire for action rustled among these men of few words and mighty arms.
Horner hurriedly consulted his colleagues. Was it wise to attempt to exert an authority which was merely nominal? The principles of Chartism were at this time to keep within the limits of the law, and yet to hint, when such a course was safe, that stronger measures lay behind mere words. Their fatal habit was to strike softly.
In peace and war, at home and abroad, there is but one humane and safe rule: Hesitate to strike—strike hard.
Sir John Pleydell was a member of that Parliament which had treated the Charter with contempt. He was one of those who had voted with the majority against the measures it embodied.
In addition to these damnatory facts, he was a local Tory of some renown—an ambitious man, the neighbours said, who wished to leave his son a peerage.
To the minds of the rabble this magnate represented the tyranny against which their protest was raised. Geoffrey Horner looked on him as a political opponent and a dangerous member of the winning party. The blow was easy to strike. Horner hesitated—at the cross roads of other lives than his own—and held his tongue.
The suggestion of the unknown humorist in the crowd commended itself to the more energetic of the party, who immediately turned towards the by-road leading to Dene Hall. The others—the minority— followed as minorities do, because they distrusted themselves. Some one struck up a song with words lately published in the 'Northern Liberator' and set to a well-known local air.
The shooting party assembled at Dene Hall was still at the dinner table when the malcontents entered the park, and the talk of coverts and guns ceased suddenly at the sound of their rough voices. Sir John Pleydell, an alert man still, despite his grey hair and drawn, careworn face, looked up sharply. He had been sitting silently fingering the stem of his wineglass—a habit of his when the ladies quitted the room—and, although he had shot as well as, perhaps better than, any present, had taken but little part in the conversation. He had, in fact, only half listened, and when a rare smile passed across his grey face it invariably owed its existence to some sally made by his son, Alfred Pleydell, gay, light-hearted, debonnaire, at the far end of the table. When Sir John's thoughtful eyes rested on his motherless son, a dull and suppressed light gleamed momentarily beneath his heavy lids. Superficial observers said that John Pleydell was an ambitious man; 'not for himself,' added the few who saw deeper.
When his quick mind now took in the import of the sound that broke the outer silence of the night, Sir John's glance sought his son's face. In moments of alarm the glance flies to where the heart is.
'What is that?' asked Alfred Pleydell, standing up.
'The Chartists,' said Sir John.
Alfred looked round. He was a soldier, though the ink had hardly dried upon the parchment that made him one—the only soldier in the room.
'We are eleven here,' he said, 'and two men downstairs—some of you fellows have your valets too—say fifteen in all. We cannot stand this, you know. '
As he spoke the first volley of stones crashed through the windows, and the broken glass rattled to the floor behind the shutters. The cries of the ladies in the drawing-room could be heard, and all the men sprang to their feet. With blazing eyes Alfred Pleydell ran to the door, but his father was there before him.
'Not you,' said the elder man, quiet but a little paler than usual; 'I will go and speak to them. They will not dare to touch me. They are probably running away by this time. '
'Then we'll run after 'em,' answered Alfred with a fine spirit, and something in his attitude, in the ring of his voice, awoke that demon of combativeness which lies dormant in men of the Anglo-Saxon race.
'Come on, you fellows!' cried the boy with a queer glad laugh, and without knowing that he did it Sir John stood aside, his heart warm with a sudden pride, his blood stirred by something that had not moved it these thirty years. The guests crowded out of the room— old men who should have known better—laughing as they threw aside their dinner napkins. What a strange thing is man, peaceful through long years, and at a moment's notice a mere fighting devil.
'Come on, we'll teach them to break windows!' repeated Alfred Pleydell, running to the stick rack. The rain rattled on the skylight of the square hall, and the wind roared down the open chimney. Among the men hastily arming themselves with heavy sticks and cramming caps upon their heads were some who had tasted of rheumatism, but they never thought of an overcoat.
'We'll know each other by our shirt fronts,' said a quiet man who was standing on a chair in order to reach an Indian club suspended on the wall.
Alfred was at the door leading through to the servants' quarters, and his summons brought several men from the pantry and kitchens.
'Come on!' he cried, 'take anything you can find—stick or poker— yes, and those old guns, use 'em like a club, hit very hard and very often. We'll charge the devils—there's nothing like a charge—come on!'
And he was already out of the door with a dozen at his heels.
The change from the lighted rooms to the outer darkness made them pause a moment, during which time the defenders had leisure to group themselves around Alfred Pleydell. A hoarse shout, which indeed drowned Geoffrey Horner's voice, showed where the assailants stood. Horner had found his tongue after the first volley of stones. It was the policy of the Chartist leaders and wirepullers to suggest rather than demonstrate physical force. Enough had been done to call attention to the Chester-le-Street meeting, and give it the desired prominence in the eyes of the nation.
'Get back, go to your homes!' he was shouting, with upraised arms, when the hoarse cry of his adherents and the flood of light from the opened door made him turn hastily. In a moment he saw the meaning of this development, but it was too late.
With a cheer, Alfred Pleydell, little more than a boy, led the charge, and seeing Horner in front, ran at him with upraised stick. Horner half warded the blow, which came whistling down his own stick and paralysed his thumb. He returned the stroke with a sudden fury, striking Pleydell full on the head. Then, because he had a young wife and child at home, he pushed his way through the struggling crowd, and ran away in the darkness. As he ran he could hear his late adherents dispersing in all directions, like sheep before a dog. He heard a voice calling:
And Horner, who an hour—nay, ten minutes—earlier had had no thought of violence, ran his fastest along the road by which he had lately come. His heart was as water within his breast, and his staring eyes played their part mechanically. He did not fall, but he noted nothing, and had no knowledge whither he was running.
Alfred Pleydell lay quite still on the lawn in front of his father's house.
CHAPTER II. ANOTHER REAPETH.
'Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt.'
During the course of a harum-scarum youth in the city of Dublin certain persons had been known to predict that Mr. Frederick Conyngham had a future before him. Mostly pleasant-spoken Irish persons these, who had the racial habit of saying that which is likely to be welcome. Many of them added, 'the young divil,' under their breath, in a pious hope of thereby cleansing their souls from guilt.
'I suppose I'm idle, and what is worse, I know I'm a fool,' said Conyngham himself to his tutor when that gentleman, with a toleration which was undeserved, took him severely to task before sending him up for the Bar examination. The tutor said nothing, but he suspected that this, his wildest pupil, was no fool. Truth to tell, Frederick Conyngham had devoted little thought to the matter of which he spoke, namely, himself, and was perhaps none the worse for that. A young man who thinks too often usually falls into the error of also thinking too much, of himself.
The examination was, however, safely passed, and in due course Frederick was called to the Irish Bar, where a Queen's Counsel, with an accent like rich wine, told him that he was now a gintleman, and entitled so to call himself.
All these events were left behind, and Conyngham, sitting alone in his rooms in Norfolk Street, Strand, three days after the breaking of Sir John Pleydell's windows, was engaged in realising that the predicted future was still in every sense before him, and in nowise nearer than it had been in his mother's lifetime.
This realisation of an unpleasant fact appeared in no way to disturb his equanimity, for, as he knocked his pipe against the bars of the fire, he murmured a popular air in a careless voice. The firelight showed his face to be pleasant enough in a way that left the land of his birth undoubted. Blue eyes, quick and kind; a square chin, closely curling hair, and square shoulders bespoke an Irishman. Something, however, in the cut of his lips—something close and firm—suggested an admixture of Anglo-Saxon blood. The man looked as if he might have had an English mother. It was perhaps this formation of the mouth that had led those pleasant-spoken persons to name to his relatives their conviction that Conyngham had a future before him. The best liars are those who base their fancy upon fact. They knew that the ordinary thoroughbred Irishman has usually a cheerful enough life before him, but not that which is vaguely called a future. Fred Conyngham looked like a man who could hold to his purpose, but at this moment he also had the unfortunate appearance of not possessing one to hold to.
He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and held the hot briar bowl against the ear of a sleeping fox terrier, which animal growled, without moving, in a manner that suggested its possession of a sense of humour and a full comprehension of the harmless practical joke.
A moment later the dog sat up and listened with an interest that gradually increased until the door opened and Geoffrey Horner came into the room.
'Faith, it's Horner!' said Conyngham. 'Where are you from?'
'Ah—sit down. What have you been doing up there—tub-thumping?'
Horner came forward and sat down in the chair indicated. He looked five years older than when he had last been there. Conyngham glanced at his friend, who was staring into the fire.
'Edith all right?' he asked carelessly.
'And—the little chap?'
Conyngham glanced at his companion again. Horner's eyes had the hard look that comes from hopelessness; his lips were dry and white. He wore the air of one whose stake in the game of life was heavy, who played that game nervously. For this was an ambitious man with wife and child whom he loved. Conyngham's attitude towards Fate was in strong contrast. He held his head up and faced the world without encumbrance, without a settled ambition, without any sense of responsibility at all. The sharp-eyed dog on the hearthrug looked from one to the other. A moment before, the atmosphere of the room had been one of ease and comfortable assurance—an atmosphere that some men, without any warrant or the justification of personal success or distinction, seem to carry with them through life. Since Horner had crossed the threshold the ceaseless hum of the streets seemed to be nearer, the sound of it louder in the room; the restlessness of that great strife stirred the air. The fox terrier laid himself on the hearthrug again, but instead of sleeping watched his two human companions.
Conyngham filled his pipe. He turned to the table where the matchbox stood at his elbow, took it up, rattled it, and laid it down. He pressed the tobacco hard with his thumb, and, turning to Horner, said sharply:
'What is it?'
'I don't know yet; ruin, I think.'
'Nonsense, man!' said Conyngham cheerily. 'There is no such thing in this world. At least, the jolliest fellows I know are bankrupts, or no better. Look at me: never a brief; literary contributions returned with thanks; balance at the bank, seventeen pounds ten shillings; balance in hand, none; debts, the Lord only knows! Look at me! I'm happy enough.'
'Yes, you're a lonely devil.'
Conyngham looked at his friend with inquiry in his gay eyes.
'Ah! perhaps so. I live alone, if that is what you mean. But as for being lonely—no, hang it! I have plenty of friends, especially at dividend time.'
'You have nobody depending on you,' said Horner with the irritability of sorrow.
'Because nobody is such a fool. On the other hand, I have nobody to care a twopenny curse what becomes of me. Same thing, you see, in the end. Come, man, cheer up. Tell me what is wrong. Seventeen pounds ten shillings is not exactly wealth, but if you want it you know it is there, eh?'
'I do not want it, thanks,' replied the other. 'Seventeen hundred would be no good to me. '
He paused, biting his under lip and staring with hard eyes into the fire.
'Read that,' he said at length, and handed Conyngham a cutting from a daily newspaper.
The younger man read, without apparent interest, an account of the Chester-le-Street meeting, and the subsequent attack on Sir John Pleydell's house.
'Yes,' he commented, 'the usual thing. Brave words followed by a cowardly deed. What in the name of fortune you were doing in that galere you yourself know best. If these are politics, Horner, I say drop them. Politics are a stick, clean enough at the top, but you've got hold of the wrong end. Young Pleydell was hurt, I see— "seriously, it is feared."'
'Yes,' said Horner significantly; and his companion, after a quick look of surprise, read the slip of paper carefully a second time. Then he looked up and met Horner's eyes.
'Gad!' he exclaimed in a whisper.
Horner said nothing. The dog moved restlessly, and for a moment the whole world—that sleepless world of the streets—seemed to hold its breath.
'And if he dies,' said Conyngham at length.
'Exactly so,' answered the other with a laugh—of scaffold mirth.
Conyngham turned in his chair and sat with his elbows on his knees, his face resting on his closed fists, staring at the worn old hearthrug. Thus they remained for some minutes.
'What are you thinking about?' asked Horner at length.
'Nothing—got nothing to think with. You know that, Geoffrey. Wish I had—never wanted it as I do at this moment. I'm no good, you know that. You must go to some one with brains—some clever devil.'
As he spoke he turned and took up the paper again, reading the paragraph slowly and carefully. Horner looked at him with a breathless hunger in his eyes. At some moments it is a crime to think, for we never know but that thought may be transmitted without so much as a whisper.
'"The miners were accompanied by a gentleman from London,"' Conyngham read aloud, '"a barrister, it is supposed, whose speech was a feature of the Chester le-Street meeting. This gentleman's name is quite unknown, nor has his whereabouts yet been discovered. His sudden disappearance lends likelihood to the report that this unknown agitator actually struck the blow which injured Mr. Alfred Pleydell. Every exertion is being put forth by the authorities to trace the man who is possibly a felon and certainly a coward."'
Conyngham laid aside the paper and again looked at Horner, who did not meet his glance nor ask now of what he was thinking. Horner, indeed, had his own thoughts, perhaps of the fireside—modest enough, but happy as love and health could make it—upon which his own ambition had brought down the ruins of a hundred castles in the air—thoughts he scarce could face, no doubt, and yet had no power to drive away, of the young wife whose world was that same fireside; of the child, perhaps, whose coming had opened for a time the door of Paradise.
Conyngham broke in upon these meditations with a laugh.
'I have it!' he cried. 'It's as simple as the alphabet. This paper says it was a barrister—a man from London—a malcontent, a felon, a coward. Dammy, Geoff—that's me!'
He leapt to his feet. 'Get out of the way, Tim!' he cried to the dog, pushing the animal aside and standing on the hearthrug.
'Listen to this,' he went on. 'This thing, like the others, will blow over. It will be forgotten in a week. Another meeting will be held—say in South Wales, more windows will be broken, another young man's head cracked, and Chester-le-Street (God-forsaken place, never heard of it!) will be forgotten.'
Horner sat looking with hollow eyes at the young Irishman, his lips twitching, his fingers interlocked—there is nothing makes so complete a coward of a man as a woman's love. Conyngham laughed as the notion unfolded itself in his mind. He might, as he himself had said, be of no great brain power, but he was at all events a man and a brave one. He stood a full six foot, and looked down at his companion, who sat whitefaced and shrinking.
'It is quite easy,' he said, 'for me to disappear in such a manner as to arouse suspicion. I have nothing to keep me here; my briefs— well, the Solicitor-General can have 'em! I have no ties—nothing to keep me in any part of the world. When young Pleydell is on his feet again, and a few more windows have been broken, and nine days have elapsed, the wonder will give place to another, and I can return to my—practice.'
'I couldn't let you do it.'
'Oh yes, you could,' said Conyngham with the quickness of his race to spy out his neighbour's vulnerable point. 'For the sake of Edith and the little devil.'
Horner sat silent, and after a moment Conyngham went on.
'All we want to do is to divert suspicion from you now—to put them on a false scent, for they must have one of some sort. When they find that they cannot catch me they will forget all about it.'
Horner shuffled in his seat. This was nothing but detection of the thoughts that had passed through his own mind.
'It is easily enough done,' went on the Irishman. 'A paragraph here and there in some of the newspapers; a few incriminating papers left in these rooms, which are certain to be searched. I have a bad name—an Irish dog goes about the world with a rope round his neck. If I am caught it will not be for some time, and then I can get out of it somehow—an alibi or something. I'll get a brief at all events. By that time the scent will be lost, and it will be all right. Come, Geoff, cheer up! A man of your sort ought not to be thrown by a mischance like this.'
He stood with his legs apart, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, a gay laugh on his lips, and much discernment in his eyes.
'Oh, d—-n Edith!' he added after a pause, seeing that his efforts met with no response. 'D—-n that child! You used to have some pluck, Horner.' Horner shook his head and made no answer, but his very silence was a point gained. He no longer protested nor raised any objection to his companion's hare-brained scheme. The thing was feasible, and he knew it.
Conyngham went on to set forth his plans, which with characteristic rapidity of thought he evolved as he spoke.
'Above all,' he said, 'we must be prompt. I must disappear to- night, the paragraphs must be in to-morrow's papers. I think I'll go to Spain. The Carlists seem to be making things lively there. You know, Horner, I was never meant for a wig and gown—there's no doubt about that. I shall have a splendid time of it out there—'
He stopped, meeting a queer look in Horner's eyes, who sat leaning forward and searching his face with jealous glance.
'I was wondering,' said the other, with a pale smile, 'if you were ever in love with Edith.'
'No, my good soul, I was not,' answered Conyngham, with perfect carelessness, 'though I knew her long before you did.'
He paused, and a quick thought flashed through his mind that some men are seen at their worst in adversity. He was ready enough to find excuses for Horner, for men are strange in the gift of their friendship, often bestowing it where they know it is but ill deserved.
He rattled on with unbroken gaiety, unfolding plans which in their perfection of detail suggested a previous experience in outrunning the constable.
While they were still talking a mutual friend came in—a quick- spoken man already beginning to be known as a journalist of ability. They talked on indifferent topics for some time. Then the new-comer said jerkily:
'Heard the news?'
'No,' answered Conyngham.
'Alfred Pleydell—young fellow who resisted the Chartist rioters at Durham—died yesterday morning.' Frederick Conyngham had placed himself in front of Horner, who was still seated in the low chair by the fire. He found Horner's toe with his heel.
'Is that so?' he said gravely. 'Then I'm off.'
'What do you mean?' asked the journalist with a quick look—the man had the manner of a ferret.
'Nothing, only I'm off, that's all, old man. And I cannot ask you to stay this evening, you understand, because I have to pack.'
He turned slowly on Horner, who had recovered himself, but still had his hand over his face.
'Got any money, Geoff?' he asked.
'Yes, I have twenty pounds if you want it,' answered the other in a hoarse voice.
'I do want it—badly.'
The journalist had taken up his hat and stick. He moved slowly towards the door, and, there pausing, saw Horner pass the bank-notes to Conyngham.
'You had better go too,' said the Irishman. 'You two are going in the same direction, I know.'
Horner rose, and, half laughing, Conyngham pushed him towards the door.
'See him home, Blake,' he said. 'Horner has the blues to-night.'
CHAPTER III. LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA.
'No one can be more wise than destiny.'
'What are we waiting for? why, two more passengers—grand ladies as they tell me—and the captain has gone ashore to fetch them,' the first mate of the 'Granville' barque, of London, made answer to Frederick Conyngham, and he breathed on his fingers as he spoke, for the north-west wind was blowing across the plains of the Medoc, and the sun had just set behind the smoke of Bordeaux.
The 'Granville' was lying at anchor in the middle of the Garonne river, having safely discharged her deck cargo of empty claret casks and landed a certain number of passengers. There are few colder spots on the Continent than the sunny town of Bordeaux when the west wind blows from Atlantic wastes in winter time. A fine powder of snow scudded across the flat land, which presented a bleak brown face, patched here and there with white. There were two more passengers on board the 'Granville,' crouching in the cabin—two French gentlemen who had taken passage from London to Algeciras in Spain, on their way to Algiers.
Conyngham, with characteristic good-nature, had made himself so entirely at home on board the Mediterranean trader that his presence was equally welcomed in the forecastle and the captain's cabin. Even the first mate, his present interlocutor, a grim man given to muttered abuse of his calling and a pious pessimism in respect to human nature, gradually thawed under the influence of so cheerful an acceptance of heavy weather and a clumsy deck cargo.
'The ladies will be less trouble than the empty casks, at all events,' said Conyngham, 'because they will keep below.'
The sailor shook his head forebodingly and took an heroic pinch of snuff.
'One's as capable of carrying mischief as the other,' he muttered in the bigoted voice of a married teetotaller.
The ship was ready for sea, and this mariner's spirit was ever uneasy and restless till the anchor was on deck and the hawser stowed.
'There's a boat leaving the quay now,' he added. 'Seems she's lumbered up forr'ard wi' women's hamper.'
And indeed the black form of a skiff so laden could be seen approaching through the driving snow and gloom. The mate called to the steward to come on deck, and this bearded servitor of dames emerged from the galley with uprolled sleeves and a fine contempt for cold winds. A boy went forward with a coil of rope on his arm, for the tide was running hard and the Garonne is no ladies' pleasure stream. It is not an easy matter to board a ship in mid-current when tide and wind are at variance, and the fingers so cold that a rope slips through them like a log-line. The 'Granville,' having still on board her cargo of coals for Algeciras, lay low in the water with both her anchors out and the tide singing round her old- fashioned hempen hawsers.
'Now see ye throw a clear rope,' shouted the mate to the boy who had gone forward. The proximity of the land and the approach of women— a bete noire no less dreaded—seemed to flurry the brined spirit of the Granville's' mate.
Perhaps the knowledge that the end of a rope, not judged clear, would inevitably be applied to his own person, shook the nerve of the boy on the forecastle—perhaps his hands were cold and his faculties benumbed. He cast a line which seemed to promise well at first. Two coils of it unfolded themselves gracefully against the grey sky, and then Confusion took the others for herself. A British oath from the deck of the ship went out to meet a fine French explosion of profanity from the boat, both forestalling the splash of the tangled rope into the water under the bows of the ship, and a full ten yards out of the reach of the man who stood, boathook in hand, ready to catch it. There were two ladies in the stern of the boat, muffled up to the eyes, and betokening by their attitude the hopeless despair and misery which seize the southern fair the moment they embark in so much as a ferry boat. The fore part of the heavy craft was piled up with trunks and other impedimenta of a feminine incongruity. A single boatman had rowed the boat from the shore, guiding it into mid-stream, and there describing a circle calculated to insure a gentle approach on the lee side. This man, having laid aside his oars, now stood, boathook in hand, awaiting the inevitable crash. The offending boy in the bows was making frantic efforts to haul in his misguided rope, but the possibility of making a second cast was unworthy of consideration. The mate muttered such a string of foreboding expletives as augured ill for the delinquent. The boatman was preparing to hold on and fend off at the same moment—a sudden gust of wind gave the boat a sharp buffet just as the man grappled the mizzen-chains—he overbalanced himself, fell, and recovered himself, but only to be jerked backwards into the water by the boathook, which struck him in the chest.
'A moi!' cried the man, and disappeared in the muddy water. He rose to the surface under the ship's quarter, and the mate, quick as lightning, dumped the whole coil of the slack of the main sheet on to the top of him. In a moment he was at the level of the rail, the mate and the steward hauling steadily on the rope, to which he clung with the tenacity and somewhat the attitude of a monkey. At the same instant a splash made the rescuers turn in time to see Conyngham, whose coat lay thrown on the deck behind them, rise to the surface ten yards astern of the 'Granville' and strike out towards the boat, now almost disappearing in the gloom of night.
The water, which had flowed through the sunniest of the sunny plains of France, was surprisingly warm, and Conyngham, soon recovering from the shock of his dive, settled into a quick side-stroke. The boat was close in front of him, and in the semi-darkness he could see one of the women rise from her seat and make her way forward, while her companion crouched lower and gave voice to her dismay in a series of wails and groans. The more intrepid lady was engaged in lifting one of the heavy oars, when Conyngham called out in French:
'Courage, mesdames! I will be with you in a moment.'
Both turned, and the pallor of their faces shone whitely through the gloom. Neither spoke, and in a few strokes Conyngham came alongside. He clutched the gunwale with his right hand, and drew himself breast high.
'If these ladies,' he said, 'will kindly go to the opposite side of the boat, I shall be able to climb in without danger of upsetting.'
'If mama inclines that way I think it will be sufficient,' answered the muffled form which had made its way forward. The voice was clear and low, remarkably self-possessed, and not without a suggestion that its possessor bore a grudge against some person present.
'Perhaps mademoiselle is right,' said Conyngham with becoming gravity, and the lady in the stern obeyed her daughter's suggestion, with the result anticipated. Indeed, the boat heeled over with so much goodwill that Conyngham was lifted right out of the water. He clambered on board and immediately began shivering, for the wind cut like a knife.
The younger lady made her way cautiously back to the seat which she had recently quitted, and began at once to speak very severely to her mother. This stout and emotional person was swaying backwards and forwards, and, in the intervals of wailing and groaning, called in Spanish upon several selected saints to assist her. At times, and apparently by way of a change, she appealed to yet higher powers to receive her soul.
'My mother,' said the young lady to Conyngham, who had already got the oars out, 'has the heart of a rabbit, but—yes—of a very young rabbit.'
'Madame may rest assured that there is no danger,' said Conyngham.
'Monsieur is an Englishman—'
'Yes, and a very cold one at the moment. If madame could restrain her religious enthusiasm so much as to sit still, we should make better progress.'
He spoke rather curtly, as if refusing to admit the advisability of manning the boat with a crew of black-letter saints. The manner in which the craft leapt forward under each stroke of the oars testified to the strength of his arms, and madame presently subsided into whispers of thankfulness, having reason, it would seem, to be content with mere earthly aid in lieu of that heavenly intervention which ladies of her species summon at every turn of life.
'I wish I could help you,' said the younger woman presently, in a voice and manner suggestive of an energy unusual to her countrywomen. She spoke in French, but with an accent somewhat round and full, like an English accent, and Conyngham divined that she was Spanish. He thought also that under their outer wraps the ladies wore the mantilla, and had that graceful carriage of the head which is only seen in the Peninsula.
'Thank you, mademoiselle, but I am making good progress now. Can you see the ship?'
She rose and stood peering into the darkness ahead—a graceful, swaying figure. A faint scent as of some flower was wafted on the keen wind to Conyngham, who had already decided with characteristic haste that this young person was as beautiful as she was intrepid.
'Yes,' she answered, 'it is quite close. They are also showing lights to guide us.'
She stood looking apparently over his head towards the 'Granville,' but when she spoke it would seem that her thoughts had not been fixed on that vessel.
'Is monsieur a sailor?'
'No, but I fortunately have a little knowledge of such matters— fortunate, since I have been able to turn it to the use of these ladies.'
'But you are travelling in the "Granville."'
'Yes; I am travelling in the "Granville."'
Over his oars Conyngham looked hard at his interlocutrice, but could discern nothing of her features. Her voice interested him, however, and he wondered whether there were ever calms on the coast of Spain at this time of the year.
'Our sailors,' said the young lady, 'in Spain are brave, but they are very cautious. I think none of them would have done such a thing as you have just done for us. We were in danger. I knew it. Was it not so?'
'The boat might have drifted against some ship at anchor and been upset. You might also have been driven out to sea. They had no boat on board the "Granville" ready to put out and follow you.'
'Yes; and you saved us. But you English are of a great courage. And my mother, instead of thanking you, is offering her gratitude to James and John the sons of Zebedee, as if they had done it.'
'I am no relation to Zebedee,' said Conyngham with a gay laugh. 'Madame may rest assured of that.'
'Julia,' said the elder lady severely, and in a voice that seemed to emanate from a chest as deep and hollow as an octave cask, 'I shall tell Father Concha, who will assuredly reprove you. The saints upon whom I called were fishermen, and therefore the more capable of understanding our great danger. As for monsieur, he knows that he shall always be in my prayers.'
'Thank you, madame,' said Conyngham gravely.
'And at a fitter time I hope to be able to tender him my thanks.'
At this moment a voice from the 'Granville' hailed the boat, asking whether all was well and Mr. Conyngham on board. Being reassured on this point, the mate apparently attended to another matter requiring his attention, the mingled cries and expostulations of the cabin boy sufficiently indicating its nature.
The boat, under Conyngham's strong and steady strokes, now came slowly and without mishap alongside the great black hull of the vessel, and it soon became manifest that, although all danger was past, there yet remained difficulty ahead; for when the boat was made fast and the ladder lowered, the elder of the two ladies firmly and emphatically denied her ability to make the ascent. The French boatman, shivering in a borrowed great coat, and with a vociferation which flavoured the air with cognac, added his entreaties to those of the mate and steward. In the small boat Conyngham, in French, and the lady's daughter, in Spanish, represented that at least half of the heavenly host, having intervened to save her from so great a peril as that safely passed through, could surely accomplish this smaller feat with ease. But the lady still hesitated, and the mate, having clambered down into the boat, grabbed Conyngham's arm with a large and not unkindly hand, and pushed him forcibly towards the ladder.
'You hadn't got no business, Mr. Conyngham,' he said gruffly, 'to leave the ship like that, and like as not you've got your death of cold. Just you get aboard and leave these women to me. You get to your bunk, mister, and stooard'll bring you something hot.'
There was nought but obedience in the matter, and Conyngham was soon between the blankets, alternately shivering and burning in the first stages of a severe chill.
The captain having come on board, the 'Granville' presently weighed anchor, and on the bosom of an ebbing tide turned her blunt prow towards the winter sea. The waves out there beat high, and before the lights of Pauillac, then a mere cluster of fishers' huts, had passed away astern, the good ship was lifting her bow with a sense of anticipation, while her great wooden beams and knees began to strain and creak.
During the following days, while the sense of spring and warmth slowly gave life to those who could breathe the air on deck, Conyngham lay in his little cabin and heeded nothing; for when the fever left him he was only conscious of a great lassitude, and scarce could raise himself to take such nourishment as the steward, with a rough but kindly skill, prepared for him.
'Why the deuce I ever came—why the deuce I ever went overboard after a couple of senoras—I don't know,' he repeated to himself during the hours of that long watch below.
Why, indeed? except that youth must needs go forth into the world and play the only stake it owns there. Nor is Frederick Conyngham the first who, having no knowledge of the game of life, throws all upon the board to wait upon the hazard of a die.
CHAPTER IV. LE PREMIER PAS.
'Be as one that knoweth and yet holdeth his tongue.'
The little town of Algeciras lies, as many know, within sight of Gibraltar, and separated from that stronghold by a broad bay. It is on the mainland of Spain, and in direct communication by road with the great port of Cadiz. Another road, little better than a bridle- path, runs northward to Ximena and through the corkwood forests of that plain towards the mountain ranges that rise between Ronda and the sea.
By this bridle-path, it is whispered, a vast smuggled commerce has ever found passage to the mainland, and scarce a boatman or passenger lands at Algeciras from Gibraltar but carries somewhere on his person as much tobacco as he may hope to conceal with safety. Algeciras, with its fair white houses, its prim church, and sleepy quay, where the blue waters lap and sparkle in innocent sunlight, is, it is to be feared, a town of small virtue and the habitation of scoundrels. For this is the stronghold of those contrabandistas whom song and legend have praised as the boldest, the merriest, and most romantic of law-breakers. Indeed, in this country the man who can boast of a smuggling ancestry holds high his head and looks down on honest folk.
The 'Granville' having dropped anchor to the north of the rough stone pier, was soon disburdened of her passengers—the ladies going ashore with undisguised delight, and leaving behind them many gracious messages of thanks to the gentleman whose gallantry had resulted so disastrously; for Conyngham was still in bed, though now nearly recovered. Truth to tell, he did not hurry to make his appearance in the general cabin, and came on deck a few hours after the departure of the ladies, whose gratitude he desired to avoid.
Two days of the peerless sunshine of these southern waters completely restored him to health, and he prepared to go ashore. It was afternoon when his boat touched the beach, and the idlers, without whom no Mediterranean seaboard is complete, having passed the heat of the day in a philosophic apathy amounting in many cases to a siesta, now roused themselves sufficiently to take a dignified and indifferent interest in the new arrival. A number of boys, an old soldier, several artillerymen from the pretty and absolutely useless fort, a priest and a female vendor of oranges put themselves out so much as to congregate in a little knot at the spot where Conyngham landed.
'Body of Bacchus!' said the priest, with a pinch of snuff poised before his long nose, 'an Englishman—see his gold watch chain.'
This remark called forth several monosyllabic sounds, and the onlookers watched the safe discharge of Conyngham's personal effects with a characteristic placidity of demeanour which was at once tolerant and gently surprised. That any one should have the energy to come ashore when he was comfortable on board, or leave the shore when amply provided there with sunshine, elbowroom, and other necessaries of life, presented itself to them as a fact worthy of note but not of emulation. The happiest man is he who has reduced the necessities of life to a minimum.
No one offered to assist Conyngham. In Spain the onlooker keeps his hands in his pockets.
'The English, see you, travel for pleasure,' said the old soldier, nodding his head in the direction of Gibraltar, pink and shimmering across the bay.
The priest brushed some stray grains of snuff from the front of his faded cassock—once black, but now of a greeny brown. He was a singularly tall man, gaunt and grey, with deep lines drawn downwards from eye to chin. His mouth was large and tender, with a humorous corner ever awaiting a jest. His eyes were sombre and deeply shaded by grey brows, but one of them had a twinkle lurking and waiting, as in the corner of his mouth.
'Everyone stretches his legs according to the length of his coverlet,' he said, and, turning, he courteously raised his hat to Conyngham, who passed at that moment on his way to the hotel. The little knot of onlookers broke up, and the boys wandered towards the fort, before the gate of which a game at bowls was in progress.
'The Padre has a hungry look,' reflected Conyngham. 'Think I'll invite him to dinner.'
For Geoffrey Horner had succeeded in conveying more money to the man who had taken his sins upon himself, and while Conyngham possessed money he usually had the desire to spend it.
Conyngham went to the Fonda de la Marina, which stands to-day—a house of small comfort and no great outward cleanliness; but, as in most Spanish inns, the performance was better than the promise, and the bedroom offered to the traveller was nothing worse than bare and ill furnished. With what Spanish he at this time possessed the Englishman made known his wants, and inquired of the means of prosecuting his journey to Ronda.
'You know the Captain-General Vincente of Ronda?' he asked.
'But. . . yes—by reputation. Who does not in Andalusia?' replied the host, a stout man, who had once cooked for a military mess at Gibraltar, and professed himself acquainted with the requirements of English gentlemen.
'I have a letter to General Vincente, and must go to Ronda as soon as possible. These are stirring times in Spain.'
The man's bland face suddenly assumed an air of cunning, and he glanced over his shoulder to see that none overheard.
'Your Excellency is right,' he answered. 'But for such as myself one side is as good as another—is it not so? Carlist or Christino- -the money is the same.'
'But here in the South there are no Carlists.'
'Who knows?' said the innkeeper with outspread hands. 'Anything that his Excellency requires shall be forthcoming,' he added grandiosely. 'This is the dining-room, and here at the side a little saloon where the ladies sit. But at present we have only gentlemen in the hotel—it being the winter time.'
'Then you have other guests?' inquired Conyngham.
'But. . . yes—always. In Algeciras there are always travellers. Noblemen—like his Excellency—for pleasure. Others—for commerce, the Government—the politics.'
'No flies enter a shut mouth, my friend,' said a voice at the door, and both turned to see standing in the doorway the priest who had witnessed Conyngham's arrival.
'Pardon, senor,' said the old man, coming forward with his shabby hat in his hand. 'Pardon my interruption. I came at an opportune moment, for I heard the word politics.'
He turned and shook a lean finger at the innkeeper, who was backing towards the door with many bows.
'Ah, bad Miguel,' he said, 'will you make it impossible for gentlemen to put up at your execrable inn? The man's cooking is superior to his discretion, senor. I, too, am a traveller, and for the moment a guest here. I have the honour. My name is Concha—the Padre Concha—a priest, as you see.'
Conyngham nodded, and laughed frankly.
'Glad to meet you,' he said. 'I saw you as I came along. My name is Conyngham, and I am an Englishman, as you hear. I know very little Spanish.'
'That will come—that will come,' said the priest, moving towards the window. 'Perhaps too soon, if you are going to stay any length of time in this country. Let me advise you—do not learn our language too quickly.'
He shook his head and moved towards the open window.
'See to your girths before you mount, eh? Here is the verandah, where it is pleasant in the afternoon. Shall we be seated? That chair has but three legs—allow me! this one is better.'
He spoke with the grave courtesy of his countrymen. For every Spaniard, even the lowest muleteer, esteems himself a gentleman, and knows how to act as such. The Padre Concha had a pleasant voice, and a habit of gesticulating slowly with one large and not too clean hand, that suggested the pulpit. He had led the way to a spacious verandah, where there were small tables and chairs, and at the outer corners orange trees in square green boxes.
'We will have a bottle of wine—is it not so?—yes,' he said, and gravely clapped his hands together to summon the waiter—an Oriental custom still in use in the Peninsula.
The wine was brought and duly uncorked, during which ceremony the priest waited and watched with the preoccupied air of a host careful for the entertainment of his guest. He tasted the wine critically.
'It might be worse,' he said. 'I beg you to excuse it not being better.'
There was something simple in the old man's manner that won Conyngham's regard.
'The wine is excellent,' he said. 'It is my welcome to Spain.'
'Ah! Then this is your first visit to this country,' the priest said indifferently, his eyes wandering to the open sea, where a few feluccas lay becalmed.
Conyngham turned and looked towards the sea also. It was late in the afternoon, and a certain drowsiness of the atmosphere made conversation, even between comparative strangers, a slower, easier matter than with us in the brisk North. After a moment the Englishman turned with, perhaps, the intention of studying his companion's face, only to find the deep grey eyes fixed on his own.
'Spain,' said the Padre, 'is a wonderful country, rich, beautiful, with a climate like none in Europe; but God and the devil come to closer quarters here than elsewhere. Still for a traveller, for pleasure, I think this country is second to none.'
'I am not exactly a traveller for pleasure, my father.'
'Ah!' and Concha drummed idly on the table with his fingers.
'I left England in haste,' added Conyngham lightly.
'And it will be inexpedient for me to return for some months to come. I thought of taking service in the army, and have a letter to General Vincente, who lives at Ronda, as I understand, sixty miles from here across the mountains.'
'Yes,' said the priest thoughtfully, 'Ronda is sixty miles from here—across the mountains.'
He was watching a boat which approached the shore from the direction of Gibraltar. The wind having dropped, the boatmen had lowered the sail and were now rowing, giving voice to a song which floated across the smooth sea sleepily. It was an ordinary Algeciras wherry built to carry a little cargo, and perhaps a dozen passengers, a fishing boat that smelt strongly of tobacco. The shore was soon reached, and the passengers, numbering half a dozen, stepped over the gunwale on to a small landing stage. One of them was better dressed than his companions, a smart man with a bright flower in the buttonhole of his jacket, carrying the flowing cloak brightly lined with coloured velvet without which no Spaniard goes abroad at sunset. He looked towards the hotel, and was evidently speaking of it with a boatman whose attitude was full of promise and assurance.
The priest rose and emptied his glass.
'I must ask you to excuse me. Vespers wait for no man, and I hear the bell,' he said with a grave bow, and went indoors.
Left to himself, Conyngham lapsed into the easy reflections of a man whose habit it is to live for the present, leaving the future and the past to take care of themselves. Perhaps he thought, as some do, that the past dies—which is a mistake. The past only sleeps, and we carry it with us through life, slumbering. Those are wise who bear it gently so that it may never be aroused.
The sun had set, and Gibraltar, a huge couchant lion across the bay, was fading into the twilight of the East when a footstep in the dining-room made Conyngham turn his head, half expecting the return of Father Concha. But in the doorway, and with the evident intention of coming towards himself, Conyngham perceived a handsome dark-faced man of medium height, with a smart moustache brushed upward, clever eyes, and the carriage of a soldier. This stranger unfolded his cloak, for in Spain it is considered ill-mannered to address a stranger and remain cloaked.
'Senor,' he said, with a gesture of the hat, courteous and yet manly enough to savour more of the camp than the court, 'senor, I understand you are journeying to Ronda.'
'I, too, intended to go across the mountains, and hoped to arrive here in time to accompany friends who I learn have already started on their journey. But I have received letters which necessitate my return to Malaga. You have already divined that I come to ask a favour.'
He brought forward a chair and sat down, drawing from his pocket a silver cigarette case, which he offered to the Englishman. There was a certain picturesqueness in the man's attitude and manner. His face and movements possessed a suggestion of energy which seemed out of place here in the sleepy South, and stamped him as a native not of dreamy Andalusia, but of La Mancha perhaps, where the wit of Spain is concentrated, or of fiery Catalonia, where discontent and unrest are in the very atmosphere of the brown hills. This was a Spanish gentleman in the best sense of the word, as scrupulous in personal cleanliness as any Englishman, polished, accomplished, bright and fascinating, and yet carrying with him a subtle air of melancholy and romance which lingers still among the men and women of aristocratic Spain.
''Tis but to carry a letter,' he explained, 'and to deliver it into the hand of the person to whom it is addressed. Ah, I would give five years of life to touch that hand with my lips.'
He sighed, gave a little laugh which was full of meaning, and yet quite free from self-consciousness, and lighted a fresh cigarette. Then, after a little pause, he produced the letter from an inner pocket and laid it on the table in front of Conyngham. It was addressed, 'To the Senorita J. B.,' and had a subtle scent of mignonette. The envelope was of a delicate pink.
'A love letter,' said Conyngham bluntly.
The Spaniard looked at him and shrugged his shoulders.
'Ah! you do not understand,' he said, 'in that cold country of the North. If you stay in Spain, perhaps some dark-eyed one will teach you. But,' and his manner changed with theatrical rapidity, as he laid his slim hand on the letter, 'if, when you see her you love her, I will kill you.'
Conyngham laughed and held out his hand for the letter.
'It is insufficiently addressed,' he said practically. 'How shall I find the lady?'
'Her name is Barenna, the Senorita Barenna; that is sufficient in Ronda.'
Conyngham took up the letter and examined it. 'It is of importance?' he said.
'Of the utmost.'
'And of value?'
'Of the greatest value in the world to me.'
The Spaniard rose and took up his cloak, which he had thrown over the back of the nearest chair, not forgetting to display a picturesque corner of its bright lining.
'You swear you will deliver it, only with your own hand, only to the hand of the Senorita Barenna? And—you will observe the strictest secrecy?'
'Oh, yes,' answered Conyngham carelessly, 'if you like.'
The Spaniard turned, and, leaning one hand on the table, looked almost fiercely into his companion's face. 'You are an Englishman,' he said, 'and an Englishman's word—is it not known all the world over? In the North, in my country, where Wellington fought, the peasants still say "word of an Englishman" instead of an oath.'
He threw his cloak over his shoulder, and stood looking down at his companion with a little smile as if he were proud of him.
'There!' he said. 'Adios. My name is Larralde, but that is of no consequence. Adios!'
With a courteous bow he took his leave, and Conyngham presently saw him walking down to the landing stage. It seemed that this strange visitor was about to depart as abruptly as he had come. Conyngham rose and walked to the edge of the verandah, where he stood watching the departure of the boat in which his new friend had taken passage.
While he was standing there, the old priest came quietly out of the open window of the dining room. He saw the letter lying on the table where Conyngham had left it. He approached, his shabby old shoes making no sound on the wooden flooring, and read the address written on the pink and scented envelope. When the Englishman at length turned, he was alone on the verandah, with the wine bottle, the empty glasses, and the letter.
CHAPTER V. CONTRABAND.
'What rights are his that dares not strike for them?'
An hour before sunrise two horses stood shuffling their feet and chewing their bits before the hotel of the Marina at Algeciras, while their owner, a short and thick-set man of an exaggeratedly villanous appearance, attended to such straps and buckles as he suspected of latent flaws. The horses were lean and loose of ear, with a melancholy thoughtfulness of demeanour that seemed to suggest the deepest misgivings as to the future. Their saddles and other accoutrements were frankly theatrical, and would have been at once the delight of an artist and the despair of a saddler. Fringes and tassels of bright-coloured worsted depended from points where fringes and tassels were distinctly out of place. Where the various straps should have been strong they looked weak, and scarce a buckle could boast an innocence of knotted string. The saddles were of wood, and calculated to inflict serious internal injuries to the rider in case of a fall. They stood at least a foot above the horse's backbone, raised on a thick cushion upon the ribs of the animal, and leaving a space in the middle for the secretion of tobacco and other contraband merchandise.
'I'll take the smallest cut-throat of the crew,' Conyngham had said on the occasion of an informal parade of guides the previous evening. And the host of the Fonda, in whose kitchen the function had taken place, explained to Concepcion Vara that the English Excellency had selected him on his—the host's—assurance that Algeciras contained no other so honest.
'Tell him,' answered Concepcion with a cigarette between his lips and a pardonable pride in his eyes, 'that my grandfather was a smuggler and my father was shot by the Guardia Civil near Algatocin.'
Concepcion, having repaired one girth and shaken his head dubiously over another, lighted a fresh cigarette and gave a little shiver, for the morning air was keen. He discreetly coughed. He had seen Conyngham breakfasting by the light of a dim oil lamp of a shape and make unaltered since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and, without appearing impatient, wished to convey to one gentleman the fact that another awaited him.
Before long Conyngham appeared, having paid an iniquitous bill with the recklessness that is only thoroughly understood by the poor. He appeared as usual to be at peace with all men, and returned his guide's grave salutation with an easy nod.
'These the horses?' he inquired.
Concepcion Vara spread out his hands. 'They have no equal in Andalusia,' he said.
'Then I am sorry for Andalusia,' answered Conyngham with a pleasant laugh.
They mounted and rode away in the dim cool light of the morning. The sea was of a deep blue, and rippled all over as in a picture. Gibraltar, five miles away, loomed up like a grey cloud against the pink of sunrise. The whole world wore a cleanly look as if the night had been passed over its face like a sponge, wiping away all that was unsightly or evil. The air was light and exhilarating, and scented by the breath of aromatic weeds growing at the roadside.
Concepcion sang a song as he rode—a song almost as old as his trade—declaring that he was a smuggler bold. And he looked it, every inch. The road to Ronda lies through the cork woods of Ximena, leaving St. Roque on the right hand—such at least was the path selected by Conyngham's guide; for there are many ways over the mountains, and none of them to be recommended. Beguiling the journey with cigarette and song, calling at every venta on the road, exchanging chaff with every woman and a quick word with all men, Concepcion faithfully fulfilled his contract, and, as the moon rose over the distant snow-clad peaks of the Sierra Nevada, pointed forward to the lights of Gaucin, a mountain village with an evil reputation.
The dawn of the next day saw the travellers in the saddle again, and the road was worse than ever. A sharp ascent led them up from Gaucin to regions where foliage grew scarcer at every step, and cultivation was unknown. At one spot they turned to look back, and saw Gibraltar like a tooth protruding from the sea. The straits had the appearance of a river, and the high land behind Ceuta formed the farther bank of it.
'There is Africa,' said Concepcion gravely, and after a moment turned his horse's head uphill again. The people of these mountain regions were as wild in appearance as their country. Once or twice the travellers passed a shepherd herding sheep or goats on the mountain side, himself clad in goatskin, with a great brown cloak floating from his shoulders—a living picture of Ishmael or those sons of his who dwelt in the tents of Kedar. A few muleteers drew aside to let the horses pass, and exchanged some words in an undertone with Conyngham's guide. Fine-looking brigands were these, with an armoury of knives peeping from their bright-coloured waistbands. The Andalusian peasant is for six days in the week calculated to inspire awe by his clothing and general appearance. Of a dark skin and hair, he usually submits his chin to the barber's office but once a week, and the timid traveller would do well to take the road on Sundays only. Towards the end of the week, and notably on a Saturday, every passer-by is an unshorn brigand capable of the darkest deeds of villany, while twenty-four hours later the land will be found to be peopled by as clean and honest and smart, and withal as handsome, a race of men as any on earth.
Before long all habitations were left behind, and the horses climbed from rock to rock like cats. There was no suggestion of pathway or landmark, and Concepcion paused once or twice to take his bearings. It was about two in the afternoon when, after descending the bed of a stream long since dried up, Concepcion called a halt, and proposed to rest the horses while he dined. As on the previous day, the guide's manner was that of a gentleman, conferring a high honour with becoming modesty when he sat down beside Conyngham and untied his small sack of provisions. These consisted of dried figs and bread, which he offered to his companion before beginning to eat. Conyngham shared his own stock of food with his guide, and subsequently smoked a cigarette which that gentleman offered him. They were thus pleasantly engaged when a man appeared on the rocks above them in a manner and with a haste that spoke but ill of his honesty. The guide looked up knife in hand, and made answer to a gesture of the arm with his own hand upraised.
'Who is this?' said Conyngham. 'Some friend of yours? Tell him to keep his distance, for I don't care for his appearance.'
'He is no friend of mine, Excellency. But the man is, I dare say, honest enough. In these mountains it is only of the Guardia Civil that one must beware. They have ever the finger on the trigger and shoot without warning.'
'Nevertheless,' said the Englishman, now thoroughly on the alert, 'let him state his business at a respectable distance. Ah! he has a comrade and two mules.'
And indeed a second man of equally unprepossessing exterior now appeared from behind a great rock leading a couple of heavily laden mules.
Concepcion and the first traveller, who was now within a dozen yards, were already exchanging words in a patois not unlike the Limousin dialect, of which Conyngham understood nothing.
'Stop where you are,' shouted the Englishman in Spanish, 'or else I shoot you! If there is anything wrong, Senor Vara,' he added to the guide, 'I shoot you first, understand that.'
'He says,' answered Concepcion with dignity, 'that they are honest traders on the road to Ronda, and would be glad of our company. His Excellency is at liberty to shoot if he is so disposed.'
'No,' he answered, 'I am not anxious to kill any man, but each must take care of himself in these times.'
'Not against an honest smuggler.'
'Are these smugglers?'
'They speak as such. I know them no more than does his Excellency.'
The second new-comer was now within hail, and began at once to speak in Spanish. The tale he told was similar in every way to that translated by Concepcion from the Limousin dialect.
'Why should we not travel together to Ronda?' he said, coming forward with an easy air of confidence, which was of better effect than any protestation of honesty. He had a quiet eye, and the demeanour of one educated to loftier things than smuggling tobacco across the Sierra, though indeed, he was no better clad than his companion. The two guides instinctively took the road together, Concepcion leading his horse, for the way was such that none could ride over it. Conyngham did the same, and his companion led the mule by a rope, as is the custom in Andalusia.
The full glare of the day shone down on them, the bare rock giving back a puff of heat that dried the throat. Conyngham was tired and not too trustful of his companion, who, indeed, seemed to be fully occupied with his own thoughts. They had thus progressed a full half-hour when a shout from the rocks above caused them to halt suddenly. The white linen head coverings of the Guardia Civil and the glint of the sun on their accoutrements showed at a glance that this was not a summons to be disregarded.
In an instant Concepcion's companion was leaping from rock to rock with an agility only to be acquired in the hot fear of death. A report rang out and echoed among the hills. A bullet went 'splat' against a rock near at hand, making a frayed blue mark upon the grey stone. The man dodged from side to side in the panic-stricken irresponsibility of a rabbit seeking covert where none exists. There was not so much as to hide his head. Conyngham looked up towards the foe in time to see a puff of white smoke thrown up against the steely sky. A second report, and the fugitive seemed to trip over a stone. He recovered himself, stood upright for a moment, gave a queer spluttering cough, and sat slowly down against a boulder.
'He is killed!' said Concepcion, throwing down his cigarette. 'Mother of God! these Guardias Civiles!'
The two guards came clambering down the face of the rock. Concepcion glanced at his late companion writhing in the sharpness of death.
'Here or at Ronda, to-day, or to-morrow, what matters it?' muttered the quiet-eyed man at Conyngham's side. The Englishman turned and looked at him.
'They will shoot me too, but not now.'
Concepcion sullenly awaited the arrival of the guards. These men ever hunt in couples of a widely different age, for the law has found that an old head and a young arm form the strongest combination. The elder of the two had the face of an old grey wolf. He muttered some order to his companion, and went towards the mule. He cut away the outer covering of the burden suspended from the saddle, and nodded his head wisely. These were boxes of cartridges to carry one thousand each. The grey old man turned and looked at him who lay on the ground.
'A la longa,' he said with a grim smile. 'In the long run, Antonio.'
The man gave a sickly grin and opened his mouth to speak, but his jaw dropped instead, and he passed across that frontier which is watched by no earthly sentinel.
'This gentleman,' said the quiet-eyed man, whose guide had thus paid for his little mistake in refusing to halt at the word of command, 'is a stranger to me—an Englishman, I think.'
'Yes,' answered Conyngham.
The old soldier looked from one to the other.
'That may be,' he said, 'but he sleeps in Ronda prison to-night. To-morrow the Captain-General will see to it.'
'I have a letter to the Captain-General,' said Conyngham, who drew from his pocket a packet of papers. Among these was the pink scented envelope given to him by the man called Larralde at Algeciras. He had forgotten its existence, and put it back in his pocket with a smile. Having found that for which he sought, he gave it to the soldier, who read the address in silence and returned the letter.
'You I know,' he said, turning to the man at Conyngham's side, who merely shrugged his shoulders. 'And Concepcion Vara, we all know him.'
Concepcion had lighted a cigarette, and was murmuring a popular air with the indifferent patience and the wandering eye of perfect innocence. The old soldier turned and spoke in an undertone to his comrade, who went towards the dead man and quietly covered his face with the folds of his own faja or waistcloth. This he weighted at the corners with stones, carrying out this simple office to the dead with a suggestive indifference. To this day the Guardias Civiles have plenary power to shoot whomsoever they think fit—flight and resistance being equally fatal.
No more heeding the dead body of the man whom he had shot than he would have heeded the carcase of a rat, the elder of the two soldiers now gave the order to march, commanding Concepcion to lead the way.
'It will not be worth your while to risk a bullet by running away,' he said. 'This time it is probably a matter of a few pounds of tobacco only.'
The evening had fallen ere the silent party caught sight of the town of Ronda, perched, as the Moorish strongholds usually are, on a height. Ronda, as history tells, was the last possession of the brave and gifted Moslems in Spain. The people are half Moorish still, and from the barred windows look out deep almond eyes and patient faces that have no European feature. The narrow streets were empty as the travellers entered the town, and the clatter of the mules slipping and stumbling on the cobble stones brought but few to the doors of the low-built houses. To enter Ronda from the south the traveller must traverse the Moorish town, which is divided from the Spanish quarter by a cleft in the great rock that renders the town impregnable to all attack. Having crossed the bridge spanning the great gorge into which the sun never penetrates even at midday, the party emerged into the broader streets of the more modern town, and, turning to the right through a high gateway, found themselves in a barrack yard of the Guardias Civiles.
CHAPTER VI. AT RONDA.
'Le plus grand art d'un habile homme est celui de savoir cacher son habilete.'
When Conyngham awoke after a night conscientiously spent in that profound slumber which waits on an excellent digestion and a careless heart, he found the prison attendant at his bedside. A less easy-going mind would perhaps have leapt to some nervous conclusion at the sight of this fierce-visaged janitor, who, however, carried nothing more deadly in his hand than a card.
'It is the Captain-General,' said he, 'who calls at this early hour. His Excellency's letter has been delivered, and the Captain-General scarce waited to swallow his morning chocolate.'
'Very much to the Captain-General's credit,' returned Conyngham rising. 'Cold water,' he went on, 'soap, a towel, and my luggage— and then the Captain-General.'
The attendant, with an odd smile, procured the necessary articles, and when the Englishman was ready led the way downstairs. He was a solemn man from Galicia, this, where they do not smile.
In the patio of the great house, once a monastery, now converted into a barrack for the Guardias Civiles, a small man of fifty years or more stood smoking a cigarette. On perceiving Conyngham he came forward with outstretched hand and a smile which can only be described as angelic. It was a smile at once sympathetic and humorous, veiling his dark eyes between lashes almost closed, parting moustached lips to disclose a row of pearly teeth.
'My dear sir,' said General Vincente in very tolerable English, 'I am at your feet. That such a mistake should have been made in respect to the bearer of a letter of introduction from my old friend General Watterson—we fought together in Wellington's day—that such a mistake should have occurred overwhelms me with shame.'
He pressed Conyngham's hand in both of his, which were small and white—looked up into his face, stepped back and broke into a soft laugh. Indeed his voice was admirably suited to a lady's drawing- room, and suggested nought of the camp or battle field. From the handkerchief which he drew from his sleeve and passed across his white moustache a faint scent floated on the morning air.
'Are you General Vincente?' asked Conyngham.
'Yes—why not?' And in truth the tone of the Englishman's voice had betrayed a scepticism which warranted the question.
'It is very kind of you to come so early. I have been quite comfortable, and they gave me a good supper last night,' said Conyngham. 'Moreover, the Guardias Civiles are in no way to blame for my arrest. I was in bad company, it seems.'
'Yes; your companions were engaged in conveying ammunition to the Carlists; we have wanted to lay our hands upon them for some weeks. They have carried former journeys to a successful termination.'
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
'The guide, Antonio something-or-other, died, as I understand.'
'Well, yes; if you choose to put it that way,' admitted Conyngham.
The General raised his eyebrows in a gentle grimace expressive of deprecation, with, as it were, a small solution of sympathy, indicated by a moisture of the eye, for the family of Antonio something-or-other in their bereavement.
'And the other man? Seemed a nice enough fellow. . .' inquired Conyngham.
The General raised one gloved hand as if to fend off some approaching calamity.
'He died this morning—at six o'clock.'
Conyngham looked down at this gentle soldier with a dawning light of comprehension. This might after all be the General Vincente whom he had been led to look upon as the fiercest of the Spanish Queen's adherents.
'Of the same complaint?'
'Of the same complaint,' answered the General softly. He slipped his hand within Conyngham's arm, and thus affectionately led him across the patio towards the doorway where sentinels stood at attention. He acknowledged the attitude of his subordinates by a friendly nod; indeed, this rosy-faced warrior seemed to brim over with the milk of human kindness.
'The English,' he said, pressing his companion's arm, 'have been too useful to us for me to allow one of them to remain a moment longer in confinement. You say you were comfortable. I hope they gave you a clean towel and all that.'
'Yes, thanks,' answered Conyngham, suppressing a desire to laugh.
'That is well. Ronda is a pleasant place, as you will find. Most interesting—Moorish remains, you understand. I will send my servant for your baggage, and of course my poor house is at your disposal. You will stay with me until we can find some work for you to do. You wish to take service with us, of course?'
'Yes,' answered Conynghamn. 'Rather thought of it—if you will have me.'
The General glanced up at his stalwart companion with a measuring eye.
'My house,' he said, in a conversational way, as if only desirous of making matters as pleasant as possible in a life which nature had intended to be peaceful and sunny, and perhaps trifling, but which the wickedness of men had rendered otherwise, 'my house is, as you would divine, only an official residence, but pleasant enough— pleasant enough. The garden is distinctly tolerable; there are orange trees now in bloom—so sweet of scent.'
The street into which they had now emerged was no less martial in appearance than the barrack yard, and while he spoke the General never ceased to dispense his kindly little nod on one side or the other in response to military salutations.
'We have quite a number of soldiers in Ronda at present,' he said, with an affectionate little pressure of Conyngham's arm, as if to indicate his appreciation of such protection amid these rough men. 'There is a great talk of some rising in the South—in Andalusia—to support Senor Cabrera, who continually threatens Madrid. A great soldier, they tell me, this Cabrera, but not—well, not perhaps quite, eh?—a caballero, a gentleman. A pity, is it not?'
'A great pity,' answered Conyngham, taking the opportunity at last afforded him of getting a word in.
'One must be prepared,' went on the General with a good-natured little sigh, 'for such measures. There are so many mistaken enthusiasts—is it not so? Such men as your countryman, Senor Flinter. There are so many who are stronger Carlists than Don Carlos himself, eh?'
The secret of conversational success is to defer to one's listener. A clever man imparts information by asking questions, and obtains it without doing so.
'This is my poor house,' continued the soldier, and as he spoke he beamed on the sentries at the door. 'I am a widower, but God has given me a daughter who is now of an age to rule my household. Estella will endeavour to make you comfortable, and an Englishman—a soldier—will surely overlook some small defects.'
He finished with a good-natured laugh. There was no resisting the sunny good-humour of this little officer, or the gladness of his face. His attitude towards the world was one of constant endeavour to make things pleasant, and acquit himself to his best in circumstances far beyond his merits or capabilities. He was one who had had good fortune all his days. Those who have greatness thrust upon them are never much impressed by their burden. And General Vincente had the air of constantly assuring his subordinates that they need not mind him.
The house to which he conducted Conyngham stood on the broad main street, immediately opposite a cluster of shops where leather bottles were manufactured and sold. It was a large gloomy house with a patio devoid of fountain and even of the usual orange trees in green boxes.
'Through there is the garden—most pleasant and shady,' said the General, indicating a doorway with the riding-whip he carried.
A troop of servants awaited them at the foot of the broad Moorish staircase open on one side to the patio and heavily carved in balustrade and cornice. These gentlemen bowed gravely—indeed, they were so numerous that the majority of them must have had nothing to do but cultivate this dignified salutation.
'The senorita?' inquired the General.
'The senorita is in the garden, Excellency,' answered one with the air of a courtier.
'Then let us go there at once,' said General Vincente, turning to Conyngham, and gripping his arm affectionately.
They passed through a doorway whither two men had hurried to open the heavy doors, and the scent of violets and mignonette, of orange in bloom, and of a hundred opening buds swept across their faces. The brilliant sunlight almost dazzled eyes that had grown accustomed to the cool shade of the patio, for Ronda is one of the sunniest spots on earth, and here the warmth is rarely oppressive. The garden was Moorish, and running water in aqueducts of marble, yellow with stupendous age, murmured in the shade of tropical plants. A fountain plashed and chattered softly, like the whispering of children. The pathways were paved with a fine white gravel of broken marble. There was no weed amid the flowers. It seemed a paradise to Conyngham, fresh from the grey and mournful northern winter, and no part of this weary, busy world. For here were rest and silence, and that sense of eternity which is only conveyed by the continuous voice of running or falling water. It was hard to believe that this was real and earthly. Conyngham rubbed his eyes and instinctively turned to look at his companion, who was as unreal as his surroundings—a round-faced, chubby little man, with a tender mouth and moist dark eyes looking kindly out upon the world, who called himself General Vincente; and the name was synonymous in all Spain with bloodthirstiness and cruelty, with daring and an unsparing generalship.
'Come,' said he, 'let us look for Estella.'
He led the way along a path winding among almond and peach trees in full bloom, in the shadow of the weird eucalyptus and the feathery pepper tree. Then with a little word of pleasure he hurried forward. Conyngham caught sight of a black dress and a black mantilla, of fair golden hair, and a fan upraised against the rays of the sun.
'Estella, here is a guest: Mr. Conyngham, one of the brave Englishmen who remember Spain in her time of trouble.'
Conyngham bowed with a greater ceremony than we observe to-day, and stood upright to look upon that which was for him from that moment the fairest face in the world. As, to some men, success or failure seems to come early and in one bound, so, for some, Love lies long in ambush, to shoot at length a single and certain shaft. Conyngham looked at Estella Vincente, his gay blue eyes meeting her dark glance with a frankness which was characteristic, and knew from that instant that his world held no other woman. It came to him as a flash of lightning that left his former life grey and neutral, and yet he was conscious of no surprise, but rather of a feeling of having found something which he had long sought.
The girl acknowledged his salutation with a little inclination of the head and a smile which was only of the lips, for her eyes remained grave and deep. She had all the dignity of carriage famous in Castilian women, though her figure was youthful still, and slight. Her face was a clean-cut oval, with lips that were still and proud, and a delicately aquiline nose.
'My daughter speaks English better than I do,' went on the General in the garrulous voice of an exceedingly domesticated man. 'She has been at school in England—at the suggestion of my dear friend Watterson—with his daughters, in fact.'
'And must have found it dull and grey enough compared with Spain,' said Conyngham.
'Ah! Then you like Spain?' said the General eagerly. 'It is so with all the English. We have something in common, despite the Armada, eh? Something in manner and in appearance, too; is it not so?'
He left Conyngham, and walked slowly on with one hand at his daughter's waist.
'I was very happy in England,' said Estella to Conyngham, who walked at her other side; 'but happier still to get home to Spain.'
Her voice was rather low, and Conyngham had an odd sensation of having heard it before.
'Why did you leave your home?' she continued in a leisurely conversational way which seemed natural to the environments.
The question rather startled the Englishman, for the only answer seemed to be that he had quitted England in order to come to Ronda and to her, following the path in life that fate had assigned to him.
'We have troubles in England also—political troubles,' he said, after a pause.
'The Chartists,' said the General cheerfully. 'We know all about them, for we have the English newspapers. I procure them in order to have reliable news of Spain.'
He broke off with a little laugh, and looked towards his daughter.
'In the evening Estella reads them to me. And it was on account of the Chartists that you left England?'
'Ah, you are a Chartist, Mr. Conyngham.'
'Yes,' admitted the Englishman after a pause, and he glanced at Estella.
CHAPTER VII. IN A MOORISH GARDEN.
'When love is not a blasphemy, it is a religion.'
There is perhaps a subtle significance in the fact that the greatest, the cruellest, the most barbarous civil war of modern days, if not of all time, owed its outbreak and its long continuance to the influence of a woman. When Ferdinand VII. of Spain died, in 1833, after a reign broken and disturbed by the passage of that human cyclone, Napoleon the Great, he bequeathed his kingdom, in defiance of the Salic law, to his daughter Isabella. Ferdinand's brother Charles, however, claimed the throne under the very just contention that the Salic law, by which women were excluded from the heritage of the crown, had never been legally abrogated.
This was the spark that kindled in many minds ambition, cruelty, bloodthirstiness, self-seeking and jealousy—producing the morale, in a word, of the Spain of sixty years ago. Some sided with the Queen Regent Christina, and rallied round the child-queen because they saw that that way lay glory and promotion. Others flocked to the standard of Don Carlos because they were poor and of no influence at Court. The Church as a whole raised its whispering voice for the Pretender. For the rest, patriotism was nowhere, and ambition on every side. 'For five years we have fought the Carlists, hunger, privation, and the politicians at Madrid! And the holy saints only know which has been the worst enemy,' said General Vincente to Conyngham when explaining the above related details.
And indeed the story of this war reads like a romance, for there came from neutral countries foreign legions as in the olden days. From England an army of ten thousand mercenaries landed in Spain, prepared to fight for the cause of Queen Christina, and very modestly estimating the worth of their services at the sum of thirteenpence per diem. After all, the value of a man's life is but the price of his daily hire.
'We did not pay them much,' said General Vincente with a deprecating little smile, 'but they did not fight much. Their pay was generally in arrear, and they were usually in the rear as well. What will you, my dear Conyngham? You are a commercial people—you keep good soldiers in the shop window, and when a buyer comes you serve him with second-class goods from behind the counter.'
He beamed on Conyngham with a pleasant air of benign connivance in a very legitimate commercial transaction.
This is no time or place to go into the history of the English Legion in Spain, which, indeed, had quitted that country before Conyngham landed there, horrified by the barbarities of a cruel war where prisoners received no quarter and the soldiers on either side were left without pay or rations. In a half-hearted manner England went to the assistance of the Queen Regent of Spain, and one error in statesmanship led to many. It is always a mistake to strike gently.
'This country,' said General Vincente in his suavest manner, 'owes much to yours, my dear Conyngham; but it would have been better for us both had we owed you a little more.'
During the five years prior to Conyngham's arrival at Ronda the war had raged with unabated fury, swaying from the west to the east coast as fortune smiled or frowned on the Carlist cause. At one time it almost appeared certain that the Christino forces were unable to stem the rising tide which bade fair to spread over all Spain—so unfortunate were their generals, so futile the best endeavours of the bravest and most patient soldiers. General Vincente was not alone in his conviction that had the gallant Carlist leader Zumalacarreguy lived he might have carried all before him. But this great leader at the height of his fame—beloved of all his soldiers, worshipped by his subordinate officers—died suddenly, by poison, as it was whispered, the victim of jealousy and ambition. Almost at once there arose in the East of Spain one, obscure in birth and unknown to fame, who flashed suddenly to the zenith of military glory—the ruthless, the wonderful Cabrera. The name is to this day a household word in Catalonia, while the eyes of a few old men still living, who fought with or against him, flash in the light of other days at the mere mention of it.
Among the many leaders who had attempted in vain to overcome by skill and patriotism the thousand difficulties placed in their way by successive unstable, insincere Ministers of War, General Vincente occupied an honoured place. This mild-mannered tactician enjoyed the enviable reputation of being alike unconquerable and incorruptible. His smiling presence on the battlefield was in itself worth half a dozen battalions, while at Madrid the dishonest politicians, who through those years of Spain's great trial systematically bartered their honour for immediate gain, dreaded and respected him.
During the days that followed his arrival at Ronda and release from the prison there, Frederick Conyngham learnt much from his host and little of the man himself, for General Vincente had that in him with which no great leader in any walk of life can well dispense—an unsoundable depth.
Conyngham learnt also that the human heart is capable of rising at one bound above differences of race or custom, creed and spoken language. He walked with Estella in that quiet garden between high walls on the trim Moorish paths, and often the murmur of the running water which ever graced the Moslem palaces was the only sound that broke the silence. For this thing had come into the Englishman's life suddenly, leaving him dazed and uncertain. Estella, on the other hand, had a quiet savoir-faire that sat strangely on her young face. She was only nineteen, and yet had a certain air of authority, handed down to her from two great races of noble men and women.
'Do all your countrymen take life thus gaily?' she asked Conyngham one day; 'surely it is a more serious affair than you think it.'
'I have never found it very serious, senorita,' he answered. 'There is usually a smile in human affairs if one takes the trouble to look for it.'
'Have you always found it so?'
He did not answer at once, pausing to lift the branch of a mimosa tree that hung in yellow profusion across the pathway.
'Yes, senorita, I think so,' he answered at length, slowly. There was a sense of eternal restfulness in this old Moorish garden which acted as a brake on the thoughts, and made conversation halt and drag in an Oriental way that Europeans rarely understand.
'And yet you say you remember your father's death?'
'He made a joke to the doctor, senorita, and was not afraid.'
Estella smiled in a queer way, and then looked grave again.
'And you have always been poor, you say, sometimes almost starving?'
'Yes—always poor, deadly poor, senorita,' answered Conyngham with a gay laugh; 'and since I have been on my own resources frequently— well, very hungry. The appetite has been large and the resources have been small. But when I get into the Spanish army they will no doubt make me a general, and all will be well.'
He laughed again, and slipped his hand into his jacket pocket.
'See here,' he said, 'your father's recommendation to General Espartero in a confidential letter.'
But the envelope he produced was that pink one which the man called Larralde had given him at Algeciras.
'No—it is not that,' he said, searching in another pocket. 'Ah! here it is—addressed to General Espartero, Duke of Vittoria.'
He showed her the superscription, which she read with a little inclination of the head, as if in salutation of the great name written there. The greatest names are those that men have made for themselves. Conyngham replaced the two letters in his pocket and almost immediately asked:
'Do you know anyone called Barenna in Ronda, senorita?' thereby proving that General Espartero would do ill to give him an appointment requiring even the earliest rudiments of diplomacy.
'Julia Barenna is my cousin. Her mother was my mother's sister. Do you know them, Senor Conyngham?'
'Oh no,' answered Conyngham, truthfully enough. 'I met a man who knows them. Do they live in Ronda?'
'No; their house is on the Cordova road, about half a league from the Customs station.'
Estella was not by nature curious, and asked no questions. Some who knew the Barennas would have been glad to claim acquaintance with General Vincente and his daughter, but could not do so. For the Captain-General moved in a circle not far removed from the Queen Regent herself, and mixed but little in the society of Ronda, where, for the time being, he held a command.
Conyngham required no further information, and in a few moments dismissed the letter from his mind. Events seemed for him to have moved rapidly within the last few days, and the world of roadside inns and casual acquaintance into which he had stepped on his arrival in Spain was quite another from that in which Estella moved at Ronda.
'I must set out for Madrid in a few days at the latest,' he said a few moments afterwards; 'but I shall go against my will, because you tell me that you and your father will not be coming North until the spring.'
Estella shook her head with a little laugh. This man was different from the punctilious aides-de-camp and others who had hitherto begged most respectfully to notify their admiration.
'And three days ago you did not know of our existence,' she said.
'In three days a man may be dead of an illness of which he ignored the existence, senorita. In three days a man's life may be made miserable or happy—perhaps in three minutes.'
And she looked straight in front of her in order to avoid his eyes.
'Yours will always be happy, I think,' she said, 'because you never seem to go below the surface, and on the surface life is happy enough.'
He made some light answer, and they walked on beneath the orange trees, talking of these and other matters—indulging in those dangerous generalities which sound so safe, and in reality narrow down to a little world of two.
They were thus engaged when the servant came to announce that the horse which the General had placed at Conyngham's disposal was at the door in accordance with the Englishman's own order. He went away sorrowfully enough, only half consoled by the information that Estella was about to attend a service at the Church of Santa Maria, and could not have stayed longer in the garden.