THE GREY LADY BY HENRY SETON MERRIMAN.
"The dog that snapt the shadow, dropt the bone."
BOOK THE FIRST
I. TWO IN THE FIELD. II. A MAN DOWN. III. A SEA DOG. IV. PURGATORIO. V. THE VALLEY OF REPOSE. VI. AN ACTOR PASSES OFF THE STAGE. VII. IN THE STREET OF THE PEACE. VIII. THE DEAL. IX. CUT FOR PARTNERS. X. THE GAME OPENS. XI. SHIPS UPON THE SEA. XII. A SHUFFLE. XIII. A CHOICE. XIV. A QUATRE. XV. DON QUIXOTE. XVI. BROKEN.
BOOK THE SECOND
I. BITS OF LIFE. II. A COMPACT. III. BAFFLED. IV. FOR THE HIGHEST BIDDER. V. THE TEAR ON THE SWORD. VI. THE COUNT STANDS BY. VII. A VOYAGE. VIII. A GREAT FIGHT. IX. THE EDITOR'S ROOM. X. THE CURTAIN LOWERS. XI. "MILKSOP". XII. THE END OF THE "CROONAH." XIII. AT D'ERRAHA AGAIN. XIV. THE COUNT'S STORY.
BOOK THE FIRST.
CHAPTER I. TWO IN THE FIELD.
Qui n'accepte pas le regret n'accepte pas la vie.
The train technically known as the "Flying Dutchman," tearing through the plains of Taunton, and in a first-class carriage by themselves, facing each other, two boys.
One of these boys remembers the moment to this day. A journey accomplished with Care for a travelling companion usually adheres to the wheels of memory until those wheels are still. Grim Care was with these boys in the railway carriage. A great catastrophe had come to them. A FitzHenry had failed to pass into her Majesty's Navy. Back and back through the generations—back to the days when England had no navy—she had always been served at sea by a FitzHenry. Moreover, there had always been a Henry of that name on the books. Henry, the son of Henry, had, as a matter of course, gone down to the sea in a ship, had done his country's business in the great waters.
There was, if they could have looked at it from a racial point of view, one small grain of consolation. The record was not even now snapped—for Henry had succeeded, Luke it was who had failed.
Henry sat with his back to the engine, looking out over the flat meadow-land, with some moisture remarkably like a tear in either eye. The eyes were blue, deep, and dark like the eastern horizon when the sun is setting over the sea. The face was brown, and oval, and still. It looked like a face that belonged to a race, something that had been handed down with the inherent love of blue water. It is probable that many centuries ago, a man with features such as these, with eyes such as these, and crisp, closely curling hair, had leaped ashore from his open Viking boat, shouting defiance to the Briton.
This son of countless Henrys sat and thought the world was hollow, with no joy in it, and no hope, because Luke had failed.
We are told that there shall be two in the field, that the one shall be taken and the other left. But we have yet to learn why, in our limited vision, the choice seems invariably to be mistaken. We have yet to learn why he who is doing good work is called from the field, leaving there the man whose tastes are urban.
Except for the sake of the record—and we cannot really be expected in these busy times to live for generations past or yet unborn— except for the record it would have been more expedient that Henry should fail and Luke succeed. Everybody knew this. It was the common talk on board the Britannia. Even the examiners knew it. Luke himself was aware of it. But there had always been a fatality about Luke.
And now, when it was quite apparent that Luke was a sailor and nothing else, the Navy would have none of him. Those who knew him— his kindly old captain and others—averred that, with a strict and unquestionable discipline, Luke FitzHenry could be made a first- class officer and a brilliant sailor. No one quite understood him, not even his brother Henry, usually known as Fitz. Fitz did not understand him now; he had not understood him since the fatal notice had been posted on the broad mainmast, of which some may wot. He did not know what to say, so, like the wise old Duke, he said nothing.
In the meantime the train raced on. Every moment brought them nearer to London and to the Honourable Mrs. Harrington.
Fitz seemed to be realising this, for he glanced uneasily at his brother, whose morose, sullen face was turned resolutely towards the window.
"She'll be a fool," he said, "if she does not give you another chance."
"I would not take it," answered Luke mechanically.
He was darker than his brother, with a longer chin and a peculiar twist of the lips. His eyes were lighter in colour, and rather too close together. A keen observer would have put him down as a boy who in manhood might go wrong. The strange thing was that no one could have hesitated for a moment in selecting Luke as the cleverer of the two.
Fitz paused. He was not so quick with his tongue as with his limbs. He knew his brother well enough to foresee the effect of failure. Luke FitzHenry was destined to be one of those unfortunate men who fail ungracefully.
"Do not decide in too great a hurry," said Fitz at length, rather lamely. "Don't be a fool!"
"No, it has been decided for me by my beastly bad luck."
"It WAS bad luck—deuced bad luck."
They had bought a packet of cigarettes at Exeter, but that outward sign of manhood lay untouched on the seat beside Fitz. It almost seemed as if manhood had come to them both in a more serious form than a swaggering indulgence in tobacco.
The boys were obviously brothers, but not aggressively twins. For Luke was darker than Fitz, and somewhat shorter in stature.
It is probable that neither of them had ever seriously contemplated the possibility of failure for one and not for the other. Neither had ever looked onward, as it were, into life to see himself there without the other. The life that they both anticipated was that life on the ocean wave, of which home-keeping poets sing so eloquently; and it had always been vaguely taken for granted that no great difference in rank or success could sever them. Fitz was too simple-minded, too honest to himself, to look for great honours in his country's service. He mistrusted himself. Luke mistrusted Providence.
Such was the difference between these two boys—the thin end of a wedge of years which, spreading out in after days, turned each life into a path of its own, sending each man inexorably on his separate way.
These two boys were almost alone in the world. Their mother had died in giving them birth. Their father, an old man when he married, reached his allotted span when his sons first donned Her Majesty's brass buttons, and quietly went to keep his watch below. Discipline had been his guiding star through life, and when Death called him he obeyed without a murmur, trusting confidently to the Naval Department in the first place, and the good God in the second, to look after his boys.
That the late Admiral FitzHenry had sorely misplaced his confidence in the first instance was a fact which the two boys were now called upon to face alone in their youthful ignorance of the world. Fitz was uneasily conscious of a feeling of helplessness, as if some all- powerful protector had suddenly been withdrawn. Their two lives had been pre-committed to the parental care of their country, and now it almost took their breath away to realise that Luke had no such protector.
His was the pride that depreciates self. During the last twenty- four hours Fitz had heard him boast of his failure, holding it up with a singularly triumphant sneer, as if he had always distrusted his destiny and took a certain pleasure in verifying his own prognostications. There are some men who find a satisfaction in bad luck which good fortune could never afford them.
In a large house in Grosvenor Gardens two ladies were at that same moment speaking of the FitzHenrys. It was quite easy to see that the smaller lady of the two was the mistress of the house, as also of that vague abstract called the situation. She sat in the most comfortable chair, which was, by the way, considerably too spacious for her, and there was a certain aggressive sense of possession about her attitude and manner.
Had she been a man, one would have said at once that here was a nouveau riche, ever heedful of the fact that the big room and all the appurtenances thereof were the fruits of toil and perseverance. There was a distinct suggestion of self-manufacture about Mrs. Harrington—distinct, that is to say, to the more subtle-minded. For she was not vulgar, neither did she boast. But the expression of her keen and somewhat worldly countenance betokened the intention of holding her own.
The Honourable Mrs. Harrington was not only beautifully dressed, but knew how to wear her clothes en grande dame.
"Yes," she was saying, "Luke has failed to pass off the Britannia. It is a rare occurrence. I suppose the boy is a fool."
Mrs. Harrington was rather addicted to the practice of calling other people names. If the butler made a mistake she dubbed him an idiot at once. She did not actually call her present companion, Mrs. Ingham-Baker, a fool, possibly because she considered the fact too apparent to require note.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker, stout and cringing, smoothed out the piece of silken needlework with which she moved through life, and glanced at her companion. She wanted to say the right thing. And Mrs. Harrington was what the French call "difficult." One could never tell what the right thing might be. The art of saying it is, moreover, like an ear for music, it is not to be acquired. And Mrs. Ingham-Baker had not been gifted thus.
"And yet," she said, "their father was a clever man—as I have been told."
"By whom?" inquired Mrs. Harrington blandly.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker paused in distress.
"I wonder who it was," she pretended to reflect.
"So do I," snapped Mrs. Harrington.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker's imagination was a somewhat ponderous affair, and, when she trusted to it, it usually ran her violently down a steep place. She concluded to say nothing more about the late Admiral FitzHenry.
"The boy," said Mrs. Harrington, returning to the hapless Luke, "has had every advantage. I suppose he will try to explain matters when he comes. I could explain it in one word—stupidity."
"Perhaps," put in Mrs. Ingham-Baker nervously, "the brains have all gone to the other brother, Henry. It is sometimes so with twins."
Mrs. Harrington laughed rather derisively.
"Stupid woman to have twins," she muttered.
This was apparently one of several grievances against the late Mrs. FitzHenry.
"They have a little money of their own, have they not?" inquired Mrs. Ingham-Baker, with the soft blandness of one for whom money has absolutely no attraction.
"About enough to pay their washerwoman."
There was a pause, and then Mrs. Ingham-Baker heaved a little sigh.
"I am sure, dear," she said, "that in some way you will be rewarded for your great kindness to these poor orphan boys."
She shook her head wisely, as if reflecting over the numerous cases of rewarded virtue which had come under her notice, and the action made two jet ornaments in her cap wobble, in a ludicrous manner, from side to side.
"That may be," admitted the lady of the house, "though I wish I felt as sure about it as you do."
"But then," continued Mrs. Ingham-Baker, in a low and feeling tone, "you always were the soul of generosity."
The "soul of generosity" gave an exceedingly wise little smile— almost as if she knew better—and looked up sharply towards the door. At the same moment the butler appeared.
"Mr. Pawson, ma'am," he said.
The little nod with which this information was received seemed to indicate that Mr. Pawson had been expected.
Beneath her black curls Mrs. Ingham-Baker's beady eyes were very much on the alert.
"In the library, James," said Mrs. Harrington—and the two jet ornaments bending over the silken needlework gave a little throb of disappointment.
"Mr. Pawson," announced the lady of the house, "is the legal light who casts a shadow of obscurity over my affairs."
And with that she left the room.
As soon as the door was closed Mrs. Ingham-Baker was on her feet. She crossed the room to where her hostess's key-basket and other belongings stood upon a table near the window. She stood looking eagerly at these without touching them. She even stooped down to examine the address of an envelope.
"Mr. Pawson!" she said, in a breathless whisper. "Mr. Pawson—what does that mean? Can she be going to alter her—no! But—yes, it may be! Perhaps Susan knows."
Mrs. Ingham-Baker then rang the bell twice, and resumed her seat.
Presently an aged servant came into the room. It was easy to see at a glance that she was a very old woman, but the years seemed to weigh less on her mind than on her body.
"Yes," she said composedly.
"Oh—eh, Susan," began Mrs. Ingham-Baker almost cringingly. "I rang because I wanted to know if a parcel has come for me—a parcel of floss-silk—from that shop in Buckingham Palace Road, you know."
"If it had come," replied Susan, with withering composure, "it would have been sent up to you."
"Yes, yes, of course I know that, Susan. But I thought that perhaps it might have been insufficiently addressed or something—that you or Mary might have thought that it was for Mrs. Harrington."
"She don't use floss silks," replied the imperturbable Susan.
"I was just going to ask her about it, when she was called away by some one. I think she said that it was her lawyer."
"Yes, Mr. Pawson."
Susan's manner implied—very subtly and gently—that her place in this pleasant house was more assured than that of Mrs. Ingham-Baker, and perhaps that stout diplomatist awoke to this implication, for she pulled herself up with considerable dignity.
"I hope that nothing is wrong," she said, in a tone that was intended to disclaim all intention of discussing such matters with a menial. "I should be sorry if Mrs. Harrington was drawn into any legal difficulty; the law is so complicated."
Susan was engaged in looking for a speck of dust on the mantelpiece, not for its own intrinsic value, but for the sake of Mary's future. She had apparently no observation of value to offer upon the vexed subject of the law.
"I was rather afraid," pursued Mrs. Ingham-Baker gravely, "that Mrs. Harrington might be unduly incensed against that poor boy, Luke FitzHenry; that in a moment of disappointment, you know, she might be making some—well, some alteration in her will to the detriment of the boy."
Susan stood for a moment in front of the lady, with a strange little smile of amusement among the wrinkles of her face.
"Yes, that may be," she said, and quietly left the room.
CHAPTER II. A MAN DOWN.
Caress the favourites, avoid the unfortunate, and trust nobody.
The atmosphere of Mrs. Harrington's drawing-room seemed to absorb the new-found manhood of the two boys, for they came forward shyly, overawed by the consciousness of their own boots, by the conviction that they carried with them the odour of cigarette smoke and failure.
"Well, my dears," said the Honourable Mrs. Harrington, suddenly softened despite herself by the sight of their brown young faces. "Well, come here and kiss me."
All the while she was vaguely conscious that she was surprising herself and others. She had not intended to treat them thus. Mrs. Harrington was a woman who had a theory of life—not a theory to talk about, but to act upon. Her theory was that "heart" is all nonsense. She looked upon existence here below as a series of contracts entered into with one's neighbour for purposes of mutual enjoyment or advantage. She thought that life could be put down in black and white. Which was a mistake. She had gone through fifty years of it without discovering that for the sake of some memory— possibly a girlish one—hidden away behind her cold grey eyes, she could never be sure of herself in dealing with man or boy whose being bore the impress of the sea.
The strange thing was that she had never found it out. We speak pityingly of animals that do not know their own strength. Which of us knows his own weakness? There was a man connected with Mrs. Harrington's life, one of the contractors in black and white, who had found out this effect of a brown face and a blue coat upon a woman otherwise immovable. This man, Cipriani de Lloseta, who contemplated life, as it were, from a quiet corner of the dress circle, kept his knowledge for his own use.
Fitz and Luke obeyed her invitation without much enthusiasm. They were boyish enough to object to kissing on principle. They then shook hands awkwardly with Mrs. Ingham-Baker, and drifted together again with that vague physical attraction which seems to qualify twins for double harness on the road of life. There was trouble ahead of them; and without defining the situation, like soldiers surprised, they instinctively touched shoulders.
It was the psychological moment. There was a little pause, during which Mrs. Harrington seemed to stiffen herself, morally and physically. Had she not stiffened herself, had she only allowed herself, as it were, to go—to call Luke to her and comfort him and sympathise with him—it would have altered every life in that room, and others outside of it. Even blundering, cringing, foolish Mrs. Ingham-Baker would have acted more wisely, for she would have followed the dictates of an exceedingly soft, if shallow, heart.
"I had hoped for a more satisfactory home-coming than this," said Mrs. Harrington in her hardest voice. When she spoke in this tone there was the faintest suggestion of a London accent.
Fitz made a little movement, a step forward, as if she had been unconsciously approaching the brink of some danger, and he wished to warn her. The peculiar twist in Luke's lips became momentarily more visible, and he kept his deep, despondent eyes fixed on the speaker's face.
There are two kinds of rich women. The one spends her money in doing good, the other pays it away to gratify her love of power. Of the Honourable Mrs. Harrington it was never reported that she was lavish in her charities.
"I think," she said, "that I ought to tell you that I have been paying the expenses of your education almost entirely. I was in no way bound to do so. I took charge of you at your father's death because I—because he was a true friend to me. I do not grudge the money, but in return I expected you to work hard and get on in your profession."
She stiffened herself with a rustling sound of silk, proudly conscious of injured virtue, full of the charity that exacteth a high interest.
"We did our best," replied Fitz, with a simple intrepidity which rather spoilt the awesomeness of the situation.
"I am not speaking to you," returned the lady. "You have worked and have passed your examination satisfactorily. You are not clever—I know that; but you have managed to get into the Navy, where your father was before you, and your grandfather before him. I have no doubt you will give satisfaction to your superior officers. I was talking to Luke."
"We all knew that," said Luke, in a dangerous voice, which trite observation she chose to ignore.
"You have had equal advantages," pursued the dispenser of charity. "I have shown no favour; I have treated you alike. It had been my intention to do so all your lives and after my death."
Mrs. Ingham-Baker was so interested at this juncture that she leant forward with parted lips, listening eagerly. The Honourable Mrs. Harrington allowed herself the plebeian pleasure of returning the stare with a questioning glance which broke off into a little laugh.
"Have you," she continued, addressing Luke directly, "any reason to offer for your failure—beyond the usual one of bad luck?"
Luke looked at her in a lowering way and made no reply. Had Mrs. Harrington been a poor woman, she would have recognised that the boy was at the end of his tether. But she had always been surrounded— as such women are—by men, and more especially by women, who would swallow any insult, any insolence, so long as it was gilded. The world had, in fact, accepted the Honourable Mrs. Harrington because she could afford to gild herself.
"It was bad luck, and nothing else," burst out Fitz, heedless of her sarcastic tones. "Luke is a better sailor than I am. But he always was weak in his astronomy, and it all turned on astronomy."
"I should imagine it all turned on stupidity," said Mrs. Harrington.
"I'm stupid, if you like," said Fitz; "Luke isn't. Luke is clever; ask any chap on board!"
"I do not need to ask any chap on board," said Mrs. Harrington. "My own common sense tells me that he is clever. He has proved it."
"It's like a woman—to hit a fellow when he's down," said Luke, with his hands deep in his pockets.
He turned to Mrs. Ingham-Baker for sympathy in this sentiment, and that soft-hearted lady deemed it expedient to turn hastily away, avoiding his glance, denying all partisanship.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker was not a person given to the disguise of her own feelings. She was plausible enough to the outer world. To herself she was quite frank, and hardly seemed to recognise this as the event she had most desired. It is to be presumed that her heart was like her physical self, a large, unwieldy thing, over which she had not a proper control. The organ mentioned had a way of tripping her up. It tripped her now, and she quite forgot that this quarrel was precisely what she had wanted for years. She had looked forward to it as the turning-point in her daughter Agatha's fortunes.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker had, in fact, wondered more than a thousand times why the Honourable Mrs. Harrington should do all for the FitzHenrys and nothing for Agatha. She did not attempt to attribute reasons. She knew her sex too well for that. She merely wondered, which means that she cherished a question until it grew into a grievance. The end of it she knew would be a quarrel. This might not come until the FitzHenrys should have grown to man's estate and man's privilege of quarrelling with his female relatives about the youthful female relative of some other person. But it would come, surely. Mrs. Ingham-Baker, the parasite, knew her victim, Mrs. Harrington, well enough to be sure of that.
And now that this quarrel had arisen—much sooner than she could have hoped—providentially brought about by an astronomical examination-paper, Mrs. Ingham-Baker was forced to face the humiliating fact that she felt sorry for Luke.
It would have been different had Agatha been present, but that ingenious maiden was at school at Brighton. Had her daughter been in the room, Mrs. Ingham-Baker's motherly instinct would have narrowed itself down to her. But in the absence of her own child, Luke's sorry plight appealed to that larger maternal instinct which makes good women in unlikely places.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker was, however, one of the many who learn to curb the impulse of a charitable intention. She looked out of the window, and pretended not to notice that the culprit had addressed his remark to her. To complete this convenient deafness she gave a simulated little cough of abstraction, which entirely gave her away.
Mrs. Harrington chose to ignore Luke's taunt.
"And," she inquired sweetly, "what do you intend to do now?"
Quite suddenly the boy turned on her.
"I intend," he cried, "to make my own life—whatever it may be. If I am starving I will not come to you. If half-a-crown would save me, I would rather die than borrow it from you. You think that you can buy everything with your cursed money. You can't buy me. You can't buy a FitzHenry. You—you can't—"
He gave a little sob, remembered his new manhood—that sudden, complete manhood which comes of sorrow—pulled himself up, and walked to the door. He opened it, turned once and glanced at his brother, and passed out of the room.
So Luke FitzHenry passed out into his life—a life which he was to make for himself. Passionate—quick to love, to hate, to suffer; deep in his feeling, susceptible to ridicule or sarcasm—an orphan. The stairs were dark as he went down them.
Mrs. Harrington gave a little laugh as the door closed behind him. She had always been able to repurchase the friendship of her friends.
Fitz made a few steps towards the door before her voice arrested him. "Stop!" she cried.
He paused, and the old sense of discipline that was in his blood made him obey. He thought that he would find Luke upstairs on the bed with his face buried in his folded arms, as he had found him a score of times during their short life.
"I think you are too hard on him," he answered hotly. "It is bad enough being ploughed, without having to stand abuse afterwards."
"My dear," said Mrs. Harrington, "just you come here and sit beside me. We will leave Luke to himself for a little. It is much better. Let him think it out alone."
What was there in this fair-haired boy's demeanour, voice, or being that appealed to Mrs. Harrington, despite her sterner self?
So Fitz was pacified by the lady's gentler manner, and consented to remain. He made good use of his time, pleading Luke's cause, explaining his bad fortune, and modestly disclaiming any credit to himself for having succeeded where his brother failed. But all the while the boy was restless, eager to get away and run upstairs to Luke, who he felt sure was living years in every moment, as children do in those griefs which we take upon ourselves to call childish.
At last he rose.
"May I go now?" he asked.
"Yes, if you like. But do not bring Luke to me until he is prepared to apologise for his ingratitude and rudeness."
"What a dear boy he is!" ejaculated Mrs. Ingham-Baker almost before the door was closed. "So upright and honest and straightforward."
"Yes," answered Mrs. Harrington, with a sigh of anger.
"He will be a fine man," continued Mrs. Ingham-Baker. "I shall die quite happy if my Agatha marries such a man as Henry will be."
Mrs. Harrington glanced at her voluminous friend rather critically.
"You do not look like dying yet," she said.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker put her head on one side and looked resigned.
"One never knows," she answered. "It is a great responsibility, Marian, to have a daughter."
"I should imagine, from what I have seen of Agatha, that the child is quite capable of taking care of herself."
"Yes," answered the fond mother, "she is intelligent. But a girl is so helpless in the world, and when I am gone I should feel happier if I knew that my child had a good husband, such as Fitz, to take care of her."
Neither of these ladies being of the modern school of feminine learning, the vague theology underlying this remark was allowed to pass unnoticed.
Mrs. Harrington drummed with her thin wrinkled fingers on the arm of her chair, and waited with a queer anticipatory little smile for her friend to proceed.
"But, of course," continued Mrs. Ingham-Baker, blundering into the little feminine snare, "a naval man can scarcely marry. They are always so badly off. I suppose poor Fitz will not be able to support a wife until he is quite middle-aged."
"That remains to be seen," said Mrs. Harrington, with a gleam in her hard grey eyes, and Mrs. Ingham-Baker pricked her finger.
"I am sure," said the latter lady unctuously, when she had had time to think it out, "I am sure I should be content for her to live very quietly if I only knew that she had married a good man. I always say that riches do not make happiness."
"Yes, a number of people say that," answered Mrs. Harrington, and at the same moment Fitz burst into the room.
"Aunt Marian," he cried, "he has gone!"
"Who has gone?" asked the lady of the house coldly. "Please close the door."
"Luke! He has gone! He went straight out of the house, and the butler does not know where he went to! It is all your fault, Aunt Marian; you had no right to speak to him like that! You know you hadn't. I am going to look for him."
"Now, do not get excited," said Mrs. Harrington soothingly. "Just come here and listen to me. Luke has behaved very badly. He has been idle and stubborn on board the Britannia. He has been rude and ungrateful to me."
She found she had taken the boy's hand, and she dropped it suddenly, as if ashamed of showing so much emotion.
"I am not going to have my house upset by the tantrums of a bad- tempered boy. It is nearly dinner time. Luke is sure to come back. If he is not back by the time we have finished dinner I will send one of the men out to look for him. He is probably sulking in some corner of the gardens."
Seeing that Fitz was white with anxiety, she forgot herself so much as to draw him to her again.
"Now, Fitz," she said, "you must obey me and leave me to manage Luke in my own way. I know best. Just go and dress for dinner. Luke will come back—never fear."
But Luke did not come back.
CHAPTER III. A SEA DOG.
There is one that slippeth in his speech, but not from his heart.
The glass door of the dining-room of the Hotel of the Four Nations at Barcelona was opened softly, almost nervously, by a shock-headed little man, who peered into the room.
One of the waiters stepped forward and drew out a chair.
"Thank ye—thank ye," said the new-comer, in a thick though pleasant voice.
He looked around, rather bewildered—as if he had never seen a table d'hote before. It almost appeared as if a doubt existed in his mind whether or not he was expected to go and shake hands with some one present, explaining who he was.
As, however, no one appeared to invite this confidence he took the chair offered and sat gravely down.
The waiter laid the menu at his side, and the elderly diner, whose face and person bespoke a seafaring life, gazed politely at it. He was obviously desirous of avoiding hurting the young man's feelings, but the card puzzled as much as it distressed him.
Observing with the brightest of blue eyes the manners and customs of his neighbours, the old sailor helped himself to a little wine from the decanter set in front of him, and filled up the glass with water.
The waiter drew forward a small dish of olives and another containing slices of red sausage of the thickness, consistency, and flavour of a postage stamp. The Englishman looked dubiously at these delicacies and shook his head—still obviously desirous of giving no offence. Soup was more comprehensible, and the sailor consumed his portion with a non-committing countenance. But the fish, which happened to be of a Mediterranean savour—served in little lumps—caused considerable hesitation.
"Is it slugs?" inquired the mariner guardedly—as if open to conviction—in a voice that penetrated half the length of the table.
The waiter explained in fluent Castilian the nature of the dish.
"I want to know if it's slugs," repeated the sailor, with a stout simplicity.
One or two commercial travellers, possessing a smattering of English, smiled openly, and an English gentleman seated at the side of the inquirer leant gravely towards him.
"That is a preparation of fish," he explained. "You won't find it at all bad."
"Thank you, sir," replied the old man, helping himself with an air of relief which would have been extremely comic had it been shorn of its pathos. "I am afraid," he went on confidentially, "of gettin' slugs to eat. I'm told that they eat them in these parts."
"This," replied the other, with stupendous gravity, "is not the slug season. Besides, if you did get 'em, I dare say you would be pleasantly surprised."
"Maybe, maybe! Though I don't hold by foreign ways."
Such was the beginning of a passing friendship between two men who had nothing in common except their country; for one was a peer of the realm, travelling in Spain for the transaction of his own private affairs, or possibly for the edification of his own private mind, and the other was Captain John Thomas Bontnor, late of the British mercantile service.
Being a simple-minded person, as many seamen are, Captain Bontnor sought to make himself agreeable.
"This is the first time," he said, "that I have set foot in Spain, though I've heard the language spoken, having sailed in the Spanish Main, and down to Manilla one voyage likewise. It is a strange- sounding language, I take it—a lot of jabbering and not much sense."
He spoke somewhat slowly, after the manner of one who had always had a silent tongue until grey hairs came to mellow it.
The young man, his hearer, looked slightly distressed, as if he was suppressing some emotion. He was rather a vacuous-looking young man—startlingly clean as to countenance and linen. He was shaven, and had he not been distinctly a gentleman, he might have been a groom. He apparently had a habit of thrusting forward his chin for the purpose of scratching it pensively with his forefinger. This elegant trick probably indicated bewilderment, or, at all events, a slight mystification—he had recourse to it now—on the question of the Spanish language.
"Well," he answered gravely, "if you come to analyse it, I dare say there is as much sense in it as in other languages—when you know it, you know."
"Yes," murmured the captain, with a glowing sense of satisfaction at his own conversational powers. He felt he was becoming quite a society man.
"But," pursued the hereditary legislator, "it's tricky—deuced tricky. The nastiest lot of irregular verbs I've come across yet. Still, I get along all right. Worst of it is, you know, that when I've got a sentence out all right with its verbs and things, I'm not in a fit state to catch the answer."
"Knocks you on to your beam-ends," suggested Captain Bontnor.
Lord Seahampton settled his throat more comfortably in his spotless collar, and proceeded to help himself to a fourth mutton cutlet.
"Staying here long?" he inquired.
"No, not long," answered Captain Bontnor slowly, as if meditating; then suddenly he burst into his story. "You see, sir," he said, "I'm getting on in years, and I'm not quite the build for foreign travel. It sort of flurries me. I'm a bit past it. I'm not here for pleasure, you know."
This seemed to have the effect of sending Lord Seahampton off into a brown study—not apparently of great value so far as depth of thought was concerned. He looked as if he were wondering whether he himself was in Barcelona for pleasure or not.
"No," he murmured encouragingly,
"It is like this," pursued Captain Bontnor, confidentially. "My sister, Amelia Ann, married above her."
"Very much to her credit," said Lord Seahampton, with a stolid face and a twinkle in his eye. "And—"
"Yes," pursued the captain, "she died nineteen years ago, leaving a little girl. He's dead now—Mr. Challoner. He's my brother-in-law, but I call him Mr. Challoner, because he's above me."
"I trust he is," said Lord Seahampton, cheerfully, with a glance at the painted ceiling. "I trust he is."
The captain chuckled. "I mean in a social way," he explained. "And now he's dead, his daughter Eve is left quite alone in the world, and she telegraphed for me. She is living in the Island of Majorca."
The kindly old blue eyes flashed round on his companion's face.
"Do you know it?"
The peer thrust forward his chin and spoilt what small claims he had to good looks.
"No; I've heard of it, though. I know of a wom—a lady, who has large estates there—a Mrs. Harrington."
"The Honourable Mrs. Harrington is a sort of relation of my niece's, Miss Challoner. I call her Miss Challoner, although she is my niece, because she is above me."
His lordship glanced at the ceiling again.
"I mean she is a lady. And I'm going to Majorca to fetch her. At least, I'm trying to get there, but I cannot somehow find out about the boat. They're a bit irregular, it seems, and this stupid jabbering of theirs does flurry me so. Now, what's this? Eh? Pudding, is it? Well, it doesn't look like it. No, thank ye!"
The poor old man was soon upset by insignificant trifles, and after he had given way to a little burst of petulance like this, he had a strange, half pathetic way of staring straight in front of him for a few seconds, as if collecting himself again.
It happened that Lord Seahampton was a good-natured young man, with rather a soft heart, such as many horsey persons possess. Something in Captain Bontnor touched him; some simple British quality which he was pleased to meet with, thus, in a foreign land.
"Look here," he said, "I'll go out with you afterwards and find out all about the boat, take your ticket, and fix the whole thing up."
"I'm sure you're very kind," began the old sailor hesitatingly. He fumbled at his necktie for a moment with unsteady, weather-beaten hands. "But I shouldn't like to trespass on your time. I take it you're here for pleasure?"
Lord Seahampton smiled.
"Yes, I'm here for pleasure; that's what I'm in the world for."
Still Captain Bontnor hesitated.
"You might meet some of your friends," he began tentatively, "in the streets, you know." He paused and looked down at his own hands; he turned one palm up, showing the faint tattoo on the wrist. "I'm only a rough seafaring man," he went on. "They might think it strange—might wonder whom you had picked up."
The spotless collar seemed to be very uncomfortable.
"I've always made a practice," mumbled Lord Seahampton, rather incoherently, "of letting my friends think what they damned well please. May I ask your name?"
"Bontnor's my name. Captain Bontnor, at your service."
"My name's Seahampton."
Captain Bontnor turned and looked at him.
"Yes, I'm Lord Seahampton."
"Oh!" ejaculated Captain Bontnor, under his breath. His social facilities did not quite rise to an occasion like this.
"As soon as you've finished," went on his companion rather hurriedly, "we'll go out and look up these steamer people. Miss Challoner will be anxious for you to get there as soon as you can."
The captain laid aside his napkin and began to show signs of getting flurried again.
"Her name is Eve," he said, in the hurried way which was rather pathetic. "Now, I wonder what I should call her. Poor young thing! if she's distressed about her father's death—which is only natural, I'm sure—it would sound a bit chilly like to call her Miss Challoner. What do you think, Mr.—eh—er—Lord—sir?"
"Well, I think I should call her Eve—it's a pretty name—and take her by the hand, and—yes, I think I'd kiss her. Especially if she was a nice-looking girl," he added for his own personal edification as he preceded his companion into the hall.
He was fumbling in the tail pocket of his short tweed coat as he went. In the hall he turned.
"Got anything to smoke?" he asked, in his most abrupt manner, as if the cut of his collar did not allow of verbosity.
The old man shyly produced some cigars in a leather case, which had never been of great value, even in the far-off days of its youth.
"I hardly like to offer them to you," he said slowly. "T—they're not expensive, and I couldn't explain to the young woman what I wanted."
"Rather like the look of them," said Lord Seahampton, taking one and cutting the end off with a certain show of eagerness. This young man's reputation for personal bravery was a known quantity on the hunting-field. "Old sailors," he continued, "generally know good tobacco."
And all the while he had half-a-dozen of the best Havanas in his pocket. Some instinct, which he was much too practical to define, and possibly too stupid to detect, told him that this was one of those occasions where it is much more blessed to receive than to give.
"And so," continued Captain Bontnor, as they were walking down the shady side of that noisiest street in the world, the Rambla, "and so you would just call her Eve, if you was me?"
"Remember that she is a lady, you know. Quite a lady."
"I am remembering that," replied the peer stolidly; "that's why I am of the opinion just expressed."
Captain Bontnor gave a little sigh of relief, as if one of his many difficulties had been removed. At the same time he glanced furtively towards the inexpensive cigar, which was affording distinct if somewhat exaggerated enjoyment.
Together they walked down the broad street and turned along the quay. And here Captain Bontnor found himself talking quite easily and affably about palm-trees and tramways, and other matters of local interest, to the first peer whom he had ever seen in the flesh.
Out of sheer good nature, and with a vague question in his mind as to whether Miss Challoner knew what sort of help she had called in, Lord Seahampton obtained the necessary information—no easy matter in this country—and took the necessary ticket. Ticket and information alike were obtained from a grave gentleman who smoked a cigarette, and did the honours of his little office as if it had been a palace—showing no desire to sell the ticket, and taking payment as if he were conferring a distinct favour.
The steamer left that same afternoon, and Lord Seahampton sent his protege back rejoicing to the hotel to pack up. Then the youthful peer bestowed the remainder of the cheap cigar on an individual in reduced circumstances and lighted one of his own. He was quite unconscious of having done a good action. Such actions are supposed to bring their own reward, but experience suggests that it is best not to count upon anything of a tangible nature.
CHAPTER IV. PURGATORIO.
Like lutes of angels, touched so near Hell's confines, that the damned can hear.
Time: Five o'clock in the afternoon. Five o'clock, that is to say, by the railway time. There is another time in Barcelona—the town time, to wit—which differs from the hour of the iron road by thirty minutes or thereabouts. But then the town time is Spanish, that is to say that no one takes any notice of it. For into Spanish life time comes but little. If one wishes to catch a train—but, by the way, in Spain we do not catch, we take the train—a subtle difference—if then we wish to take the train, we arrive at the station three-quarters of an hour before the time indicated for departure, and there we make our arrangements with due dignity.
Place: The Rambla, which for those who speak alien tongues has an Arabic sound, and tells us that this, the finest promenade in the world, was once a sandy river-bed. Here now the grave caballero promenades himself from early morning to an eve that knows no dew.
Priest and peasant, the great lady and the gentleman who sells one a glass of water for a centimo, brush past each other. The great lady is dressed in black, as all Spanish ladies are, and on her head she wears the long-lived mantilla, which will last our time and the time of our grandsons. The humbler women-folk wear bright handkerchiefs in place of the mantilla; in dress they affect bright colours.
With the sterner sex, the line of demarcation is equally distinct. There is the man who wears the peasant's blouse, and the man who wears the cloak.
It is with one of the latter that we have to deal—a tall, grave man, with quiet eyes and a long, pointed chin. The air is chilly, and this promenader's black cloak is thrown well over the shoulder, displaying the bright-coloured lining of velvet, which is all the relief the Spaniard allows his sombre self.
The caballero's face is brown, as of one whose walk is not always beneath the shady trees. The expression of it is chastened. One sees the history of a country in the faces of its men. In this there is the history of a past, it is the face of a man living in a bygone day. He notes the interest of the moment with grave surprise, but his life is behind him.
This man has the Spaniard's thoughtful interest in a trifle. He pauses to note the number of the sparrows, as thick as leaves upon the trees. He carefully unfolds his cloak, gives the loose end a little shake, and casts it skilfully over his shoulder, so that it falls across his back, and, hanging there, displays the bright lining. He pauses to watch the result of an infantile accident. The baby picks itself up and brushes the dust from its diminutive frock with all the earnestness of early youth. And the cavalier walks on.
All this with a contemplative grandeur of demeanour worthy of larger if not better things.
In the roadway at the side of the broad promenade a carriage and pair followed this gentleman—carriage and horses which were beautiful even in this land of horses. For this was Cipriani de Lloseta de Mallorca, a great man in Barcelona, if he wished it, a greater in his own little island of Majorca, whether he wished it or not.
Leading out of this same fascinating Rambla, to the left, up towards the impenetrable fortress of Juich—impenetrable excepting once, and then it was the pestilent Englishman, as usual—leading then to the left is the Calle de la Paz. In the Street of the Peace there is a house, on the left hand also, into the door of which one could not only drive a coach and four, but eke a load of straw. Moreover, the driver could go to sleep and leave it to the horses, for there is plenty of space. This is the Casa Lloseta, the town residence since time immemorial of the family of that name. There are servants at the door, there are servants on the broad marble staircase, there are servants everywhere! for the Spaniard is unapproachable in the gentle art of leaving things to others. In the patio, or marble courtyard, there plays a monotonous little fountain, peacefully plashing away the sunny hours.
In England el Senor Conde de Lloseta de Mallorca would be looked upon as a mystery, because he lived in a large house by himself; because it was not known what his tastes might be; because the interviewer interviewed him not, and because the Society rags had no opportunity of describing his drawing-room.
In Spain things are different. If the count chose to live in his own cellar, his neighbours would shrug their shoulders and throw the end of their capes well over to the back. That was surely the business of the count.
Moreover, Cipriani de Lloseta was not the sort of man of whom it is easy to ask questions. His was the pride of pride, which is a vice unbreakable. When the Moors went to Majorca in the eighth century they found Llosetas there, and Llosetas were left behind eight hundred years later, when the southern conqueror was driven back to his dark land. Among his friends it is known that Cipriani de Lloseta lived alone because he was faithful to the memory of one who, but for the hand of God, would have lived with him until she was an old woman, filling, perhaps, the great gloomy house in the Calle de la Paz with the prattle of children's voices, with the clatter of childish feet in the marble passages.
The younger women looked at him surreptitiously, and asked each other what sort of wife this must have been; while their elders shrugged their ample shoulders with a strange little Catalonian contraction of the eyes, and said -
"It is not so much the woman herself as that which the man makes her."
For they are wise, these stout and elderly ladies. They were once young, and they learnt the lesson.
This man, Cipriani de Lloseta, leads a somewhat lonely life, inasmuch as he associates but little with the men of his rank and station. It is, for instance, known that he walks on the Rambla, but no one of any importance whatever, no one that is likely to recognise him, is aware of the fact that another favourite promenade of his is the Muelle de Ponente, that forsaken pier where the stone works are and where no one ever promenades. Here Cipriani de Lloseta walks gravely in the evening—to be more precise, on Tuesday or Friday evening—about five o'clock, when the boat sails for Majorca.
He stands, a lonely, cloaked figure, at the end of the long stone pier, and his dark Spanish eyes rest on the steamer as it glides away into the darkening east and south.
Often, often this man watches the boats depart, but he never goes himself. Often, often he gazes out in his chastened, impenetrable silence over the horizon, as if seeking to pierce the distance and look on the bare heights of the far-off island.
For there, over the glassy smoothness of the horizon, behind those little grey clouds, is Majorca—and Lloseta.
Lloseta, a bare, brown village, standing on the hillside, as if it had economically crept up there among the pines, so as to leave available for cultivation every inch of the wonderful soil of the plain. Below, the vast fertile plateau, tilled like a garden, lies to the westward, while to the east the rising undulations terminate in the bare uplands of Inca. Olive-trees cover the plain like an army, trees that were planted by the Moors a thousand years ago.
Amid the rugged heights of the mountains, here at their highest, and in the fastness of a gorge, lies Lloseta itself.
From the heights above a subtle invigorating odour of marjoram, rosemary, lavender, growing wild like heather, comes down to mingle with the more languid breath of tropic plant and flower.
Such is Lloseta—a home to live for, to die for, to dream of when away from it. As a man is dreaming of it now, just across that hundred miles of smooth sea, on the end of the Muelle de Ponente at Barcelona,
He is always dreaming of it—in Spain, where he is a Spaniard—in England, where he might be an Englishman. It is not every one of us who has a home from whence his name is derived, who signs his letters with a word that is marked upon the map.
Such is Cipriani of that name, who has now left the Rambla and is wandering along the deserted pier.
The steamer has loosed its moorings, is slowly picking its way out of the crowded harbour, and it will pass the pier-head by the time that Cipriani de Lloseta reaches that point.
The man walks slowly, cloaked to the mouth, for the evening breeze is chilly. He gravely descends the steps and begins to walk on the little path around the circular tower at the end of the pier. He usually stands at the very end, so as to be as near to Majorca as possible, one might almost think.
He gravely walks on, and quite suddenly he comes upon a youthful Briton smoking a cigar and dangling a thick stick.
"Ah!" the two men exclaim.
"What are you doing in Barcelona?" asks the Spaniard.
"The devil only knows, my dear man. I don't."
"I hope he had nothing to do with your coming here—idle hands, you know."
The Englishman sat gravely down on a small granite column and reflected.
"No," he answered after a pause, "it was not that. I left England because I wanted to get away from—Well, from an old woman who wants me to marry her daughter. I went to Monte Carlo, and, if you don't mind my saying so, I'm hanged if she didn't follow me, bringing the poor girl with her."
The Spaniard smiled gravely.
"A willing victim!"
"No, Lloseta, you're wrong there. That's the beastly part of it. That girl, sir, was actually shivering with fright one night when the old woman managed to leave us on the terrace together. Some one else, you know!"
The dark eyes looking across towards Majorca were not pleasant to contemplate.
"However," pursued the ingenuous parti, "I spoke to her as one might have done to another chap, you know. I said, 'You're frightened of something.' She didn't answer. 'You're afraid that I'm going to ask you to marry me.' 'Yes,' she answered. 'Well, I'm not. I'm not such a cad.' And after that we got on all right. She would have told who it was if I had let her. Two days later I sloped off here. Spain choked her off—the old lady, I mean."
Lloseta laughed, and the young man began to think that he had said something rude.
"She did not know what a nice place it is," he added, with a transparency which did no harm. "Yes, you're right. The devil had something to do with my coming here. Match-making old women are the devil."
He paused and attended to his cigar. The steamer passed within a hundred yards of them.
The Englishman nodded towards it.
"Steamer's going to Majorca," he said.
Lloseta nodded his head.
"Yes," he answered gravely, "I know."
"I came down to see it off!"
The Spaniard looked at him sharply.
"Why?" he asked.
"I know an old chap on board—going across to fetch an English girl, a Miss Challoner. Her father's dead."
Lloseta said nothing. Presently he turned to go, and as they walked back together he arranged to send a carriage for the Englishman and his luggage to bring him to the big house in the Street of the Peace, which he explained with a shadowy smile was more comfortable than the hotel.
"So," he said to himself, as he walked towards his vast home alone, "so the Caballero Challoner is dead. They are passing off the stage one by one."
CHAPTER V. THE VALLEY OF REPOSE.
A home where exiled angels might forbear Awhile to moan for paradise.
There is a valley far up in the mountains behind the ancient city of Palma—the Val d'Erraha. Some thousand years ago the Arabs found this place. After toils and labours, and many battles by sea and land, a roaming sheikh settled here, calling it El Rahah—the Repose.
He dug a well—for where the Moor has been there is always sparkling water—he planted olive trees, and he built a mill. The well is there to-day; the olive trees, old and huge and gnarled as are no other olive trees on the earth, yield their yearly crop unceasingly; the mill grinds the Spaniard's corn to-day.
In the Val d'Erraha there stands a house—a rambling, ungainly Farm, as such are called in Majorca. It runs off at strange angles, presenting a broken face to all points of the compass. From a distance it rather resembles a village, for the belfry of the little chapel is visible and the buildings seem to be broken up and divided. On closer inspection it is found to be self-contained, and a nearer approach discloses the fact that it presents to the world four solid walls, and that it is only to be entered by an arched gateway.
In the centre of the open patio stands the Moorish well, surrounded, overhung by orange trees. This house could resist a siege—indeed, it was built for that purpose; for the Moorish pirates made raids on the island almost within the memory of living persons.
Such is the Casa d'Erraha—the House of Repose. It stands with its back to the pine slopes, looking peacefully down the valley, over terraces where grow the orange, the almond, the fig, the lemon, the olive; and far below, where the water trickles, the feathery bamboo.
The city of Palma is but a few miles away, in its strong thirteenth- century restriction within high ramparts. It has its cathedral, its court-house—all the orthodox requirements of a city, and, moreover, it is the capital of the whilom kingdom of Majorca. King Jaime is dead and gone. Majorca, after many vicissitudes, has settled down into an obscure possession of Spain; and to the old-world ways of that country it has taken very kindly.
But with the unwritten history of Majorca we have little to do, and we have much with the Casa d'Erraha and the owner thereof—a plain Englishman of the name of Challoner—the last of his line, the third of his race, to own the Casa d'Erraha.
Edward Challoner lay on his bed in the large room overlooking the valley and the distant sea. In the House of Repose he lay awaiting the call to a longer rest than earthly weariness can secure. The grave old Padre of the neighbouring village of St. Pablo stood near the bed. Eve Challoner had sent for him, with the instinct that makes us wish to be seen off on a long journey by a good man, of whatsoever creed or calling.
At times the old priest gently patted the hand of Eve Challoner as she stood by his side.
Climate and country and habit have a greater influence over the human frame than we ever realise. Eve Challoner had been subject to these subtle influences to a rare extent. Tall and upright, clad in black, as all Spanish ladies are, she was English and yet Spanish. Of a clear white, her skin was touched slightly by the sun and the warm air which blows ever from the sea, blow which way it may across the little island.
Romance tells of Andalusian beauty, of Catalonian grace—and in sober British earnest (a solid thing) there are few more beautiful women than high-born Spanish ladies. Eve Challoner had caught something—some trick of the head—which belongs to Spain alone. Her eyes had a certain northern vivacity of glance, a small something which is noticeable enough in Southern Europe, though we should hardly observe it in England, for it means education. In the matter of learning, be it noted in passing, the ladies of the Peninsula are not so very far above their duskier sisters of the harem farther east.
The girl's eyes were dull now, with a sort of surprised anguish, for sorrow had come to her before its time. The man lying on the bed before her had not reached the limit of his years. Quite suddenly, twelve hours before, he had complained of a numb feeling in his head, and the voice he spoke in was thick and strange. In a surprisingly short time Edward Challoner was no longer himself—no longer the cynical, polished gentleman of the world—but a hard- breathing, inert deformity, hardly human. From that time to this he had never spoken, and Heaven knew there was enough for him to say. Death had caught him unawares as, after all, he generally does catch us. There were several things to set in order as usual; for it is only in books and on the stage that folks make a graceful exit, clearing up the little mystery, forgiving the wrongs, boasting with feeble voice of the good they have done—with lowering tone and soft music slowly working together to the prompter's bell. It is not in real life that dying men find much time to prattle about their own souls. They usually want all their breath for those they leave behind. And who knows! Perhaps those waiting on the other side think no worse of the man who dies fearing for others and not for himself.
In Edward Challoner's paralysed brain there was a great wish to speak to his daughter, but the words would not come. He looked at those around him with a dreary indistinctness as from a distance, almost as if he had begun his long journey and was looking back from afar.
And so the afternoon wore on to the short southern twilight, and the goat-bells came tinkling up from the valley—for nature must have her way though men may die, and milking-time rules through all the changes.
While the light failed over the land two men were riding through it as fast as horse could lay hoof to the ground. They were on the small road running from the Soller highway up to the Val d'Erraha, and he who led the way seemed to know every inch of it. This was Henry FitzHenry, and his companion, ill at ease in a Spanish saddle, was the doctor of Her Majesty's gunboat Kittiwake.
Four months earlier, by one of those chances which seem no chance when we look back to them, the Kittiwake had broken down on leaving the anchorage of Port Mahon. Towed back by a consort, she had been there ever since, awaiting some necessary pieces of machinery to be made in England and sent out to her. Hearing by chance that the navigating lieutenant of the Kittiwake was Henry FitzHenry—usually known as Fitz—Mr. Challoner had written to Minorca from the larger island, introducing himself as the Honourable Mrs. Harrington's cousin, and offering what poor hospitality the Val d'Erraha had to dispense.
In a little island there is not very much to talk about, and the gossips of Majorca had soon laid hold of Fitz. They said that the English senorita up at the Casa d'Erraha had found a lover, and a fine, handsome one at that; else, they opined, why should this English sailor thrash his boat through any weather from Cuidadela in Minorca to Soller in Majorca, riding subsequently from that small and lovely town over the roughest country in the island to the Valley of Repose as if the devil were at his heels. That was only their way of saying it, for they knew as well as any of us that love in front can make us move more quickly than ever the devil from behind.
At Alcudia they watched his boat labour through the evil seas. The wind was never too boisterous for him, the waves never too high.
"It is," they said, "the English mariner from Mahon going to see the Senorita Challoner. Ah! but he has a firm hand."
And they smiled dreamily with their deep eyes, as knowing the malady themselves.
This time there had been two figures clad in black oilskins in the stern of the long white boat. Two horses had been ordered by cable to be ready at Soller instead of one. For Eve Challoner had telegraphed to her countrymen at Port Mahon when this strange and horrid numbness seized her father.
The sun was setting behind the distant line of the sea when Fitz and his companion urged their tired horses up the last slope to the Casa d'Erraha. Within the gateway Mrs. Baines, the only English servant in this English house, was awaiting them. She curtsied in an old- fashioned way to the doctor, who had not seen an Englishwoman's face for two years and more, and asked him to follow her. Fitz did not offer to accompany them—indeed, he made it quite obvious that he did not want to do so. Two of the vague attendants who are always to be found in their numbers about the doorway and stableyard of a Spanish country-house took the horses, and Fitz wandered round the patio to the southern door which led to the terrace.
There was not very much change in Henry FitzHenry since we saw him in Mrs. Harrington's drawing-room six years earlier. The promise of the boy had been fulfilled by the man, and here was a quiet Englishman, chiefly remarkable for a certain directness of purpose which was his, and seemed to pervade his being. Here was one who had commanded men—who had directed skilled labour for the six impressionable years of his life. And he who directs skilled labour is apt to differ in manner, in thought and habit, from him whose commands are obeyed mechanically.
The naval officer is a man of detail—he tells others to do that which they know he can do better himself.
They said on board the Kittiwake, which was a small ship, that Fitz,—"old" Fitz, they used to call him—was too big for a seafaring life. In height, he was nearly six feet—six feet of spare muscle and bone—such a man as one sees on the north-east coast of England, the east coast of Scotland, or the west coast of Norway—anywhere, in fact, where the Vikings passed.
The deep blue eyes had acquired a certain quiet which had been absent in the boyish face—the quiet that comes of a burden on the heart; of the certain knowledge that the burden can never be removed. Luke's life was not the only one that had been spoiled by an examination paper. Examination papers have spoilt more lives than they have benefited. A twin brother is something more than a brother, and Fitz went through life as if one side of him was suffering a dull, aching pain. The face of this man walking alone on the terrace of the House of Repose was not happy. Perhaps it was too strong for complete happiness—some men are so, and others are too wise. This was the face, not of a very wise or a brilliant man, but of one who was strong and simple—something in the nature of a granite rock. Sandstone is more easily shaped into a thing of beauty, but it is also the sandstone that is worn by weather, while a deep mark cut on granite stays there till the end.
Fitz had no intention of going upstairs. He was not a man to take the initiative in social matters. His instinct told him that if Eve wanted him she would send for him. She had cabled to him to bring the doctor. He had brought the doctor, and now he went out on the terrace to "stand by," as he put it to himself, for further orders. If, as the gossips averred, he was the Senorita's lover, he deemed it wiser to relinquish that position just now.
As a matter of fact, however, no word of love had passed between them.
Fitz was standing by the low wall of the terrace looking down into the hazy, dim depths of the valley, when the further orders which he awaited came to him.
Hearing a light step on the pavement behind him, he turned, and faced Eve, who was running towards him.
"Will you come upstairs?" she said. "I think he wants to see you."
"Certainly," he answered.
She had hurried out, but they walked back rather slowly. Nevertheless, they did not seem to have anything to say to each other.
When they entered the room upstairs together, a faint little smile full of wisdom hovered for a second round the old priest's clean- shaven lips.
The dying man had evidently wanted something or some one. The old priest knew human nature, hence the little shadowy smile called up by Eve's transparently partial interpretation of her father's desire.
Edward Challoner looked at him, but did not appear to recognise his face. It seemed that he had left the earth so far behind now that the faces of those walking on it were no longer distinguishable.
He gave a little half-pettish groan, and a stillness came over the room.
The old padre and the doctor, who did not know a word of any common language, exchanged a glance, and in a very business-like way, as of one whose trade it was, the priest got down upon his knees. Then the doctor, half-shyly, approached Eve, and taking her by the arm, led her gently out of the room.
Fitz stayed where he was, standing by the dead man, looking down at the priest's bowed head, while the bell of the little chapel attached to the Casa d'Erraha told the valley that a good man had gone to his rest.
CHAPTER VI. AN ACTOR PASSES OFF THE STAGE.
We pass; the path that each man trod Is dim, or will be dim, with weeds.
The priest was the first to speak.
"You are his friend, I also; but we are of different nations."
He paused, drawing the sheet up over the dead man's face.
"He was not of my Church. You have your ways; will you make the arrangements?"
"Yes," replied Fitz simply, "if you like."
"It is better so, my son"—the padre took a pinch of snuff— "because—he was not of my Church. You will stay here, you and your friend. She, the Senorita Eve, cannot be left alone, with her grief."
He spoke Spanish, knowing that the Englishman understood it.
They drew down the blinds and passed out on to the terrace, where they walked slowly backwards and forwards, talking over the future of Eve and of the Casa d'Erraha.
In Spain, as in other southern lands, they speed the parting guest. Two days later Edward Challoner was laid beside his father and grandfather in the little churchyard in the valley below the Casa d'Erraha. And who are we that we should say that his chance of reaching heaven was diminished by the fact that part of the Roman Catholic burial service was read over him by a Spanish priest?
Fitz had telegraphed to Eve's only living relative, Captain Bontnor, and Fitz it was who stayed on at the Casa d'Erraha until that mariner should arrive; for the doctor was compelled to return to his ship at Port Mahon, and the priest never slept in another but his own little vicarage house.
And in the Casa d'Erraha was enacted at this time one of those strange little comedies that will force themselves upon a tragic stage. Fitz deemed it correct that he should avoid Eve as much as possible, and Eve, on the other hand, feeling lonely and miserable, wanted the society of the simple-minded young sailor.
"Why do you always avoid me?" she asked suddenly on the evening after the funeral. He had gone out on to the terrace, and thither she followed him in innocent anger, without afterthought. She stood before him with her slim white hands clasped together, resting against her black dress, a sombre, slight young figure in the moonlight, looking at him with reproachful eyes.
He hesitated a second before answering her. She was only nineteen; she had been born and brought up in the Valley of Repose amidst the simple islanders. She knew nothing of the world and its ways. And Fitz, with the burden of the unique situation suddenly thrust upon him, was, in his chivalrous youthfulness, intensely anxious to avoid giving her anything to look back to in after years when she should be a woman. He was tenderly solicitous for the feelings which would come later, though they were absent now.
"Because," he answered, "I am not good at saying things. I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am for you."
She turned away and looked across to the hills at the other side of the valley, a rugged outline against the sky.
"But I know all that," she said softly, "without being told."
A queer smile passed over his sunburnt face, as if she had unintentionally and innocently made things more difficult for him.
"And," she continued, "it is—oh, so lonely."
She made an almost imperceptible little movement towards him. Like the child that she was, she was yearning for sympathy and comfort. "I know—I know," he said.
Outward circumstance was rather against Fitz. A clear, odorous Spanish night, the young moon rising behind the pines, a thousand dreamy tropic scents filling the air. And Eve, half tearful, wholly lovable, standing before him, innocently treading on dangerous ground, guilelessly asking him to love her.
She, having grown almost to womanhood, pure as the flowers of the field, ignorant, a child, knew nothing of what she was doing. She merely gave way to the instinct that was growing within her—the instinct that made her turn to this man, claiming his strength, his tenderness, his capability, as given to him for her use and for her happiness.
"You must not avoid me," she said. "Why do you do it? Have I done anything you dislike? I have no one to speak to, no one who understands, but you. There is the padre, of course—and nurse; but they do not understand. They are—so OLD! Let me stay here with you until it is time to go to bed, will you?"
"Of course," he answered quietly. "If you care to. To-morrow I should think we shall hear from your uncle. He may come by the boat sailing from Barcelona to-morrow night. It will be a good thing if he does; you see, I must get back to my ship."
"You said she would not be ready for sea till next month."
"No, but there is discipline to be thought of."
He looked past her, up to the stars, with a scrutinising maritime eye, recognising them and naming them to himself. He did not meet her eyes—dangerous, tear-laden.
"There is something the matter with you," she said. "You are different. Yes, you want my uncle to come the day after to-morrow— you want to go away to Mahon as soon as you can. I— Oh, Fitz, I don't want to be a coward!"
She stood in front of him, clenching her little fists, forcing back the tears that gleamed in the moonlight. He did not dare to cease his astronomical observations.
"I WON'T be a coward—if you will only speak. If you will tell me what it is."
Then Fitz told his first deliberate lie.
"I have had bad news," he said, "about my brother Luke. I am awfully anxious about him."
He did it very well; for his motive was good. And we may take it that such a lie as this is not writ very large in the Book.
The girl paused for a little, and then deliberately wiped the tears from her eyes.
"How horribly selfish I have been!" she said. "Why did you not tell me sooner? I have only been thinking of my own troubles ever since- -ever since poor papa— I am a selfish wretch! I hate myself! Tell me about your brother."
And so they walked slowly up and down the moss-grown terrace—alone in this wonderful tropic night—while he told her the little tragedy of his life. He told the story simply, with characteristic gaps in the sequence, which she was left to fill up from her imagination.
"I shall not like Mrs. Harrington," said Eve, when the story was told. "I am glad that she cannot come much into my life. My father wanted me to go and stay with her last summer, but I would not leave him alone, and for some reason he would not accept the invitation for himself. Do you know, Fitz, I sometimes think there is a past— some mysterious past—which contained my father and Mrs. Harrington and a man—the Count de Lloseta."
"I have seen him," put in Fitz, "at Mrs. Harrington's often."
The girl nodded her head with a quaint little assumption of shrewdness and deep suspicion.
"My father admired him—I do not know why. And pitied him intensely—I do not know why."
"He was always very nice to me," answered Fitz, "but I never understood him."
Talking thus they forgot the flight of time. It sometimes happens thus in youth. And the huge clock in the stable yard striking ten aroused Eve suddenly to the lateness of the hour.
"I must go," she said. "I am glad you told me about—Luke. I feel as if I knew you better and understood—a little more. Good-night."
She left him on the terrace, and walked sorrowfully away to the house which could never be the same again.
Fitz watched her slight young form disappear through an open doorway, and then he became lost in the contemplation of the distant sea, lying still and glass-like in the moonlight. He was looking to the north, and it happened that from that same point of the compass there was coming towards him the good steamer Bellver, on whose deck stood a little shock-headed man—Captain Bontnor.
There is a regular service of steamers to and from the Island of Majorca to the mainland, and, in addition, steamers make voyages when pressure of traffic may demand. The Bellver was making one of these supplemental journeys, and her arrival was not looked for at Palma.
Eve and Fitz were having breakfast alone in the gloomy room overshadowed by the trailing wings of the Angel of Death, when the servant announced a gentleman to see the senorita. The senorita requested that the gentleman might approach, and presently there stood in the doorway the quaintest little figure imaginable.
Captain Bontnor, with a certain sense of the fitness of things, had put on his best clothes for this occasion, and it happened that the most superior garment in his wardrobe was a thick pilot-jacket, which stood out from his square person with solid angularity. He had brushed his hair very carefully, applying water to compass a smoothness which had been his life-long and hitherto unattained aim. His shock hair—red turning to grey—stood up four inches from his honest, wrinkled face. It was unfortunate that his best garments should have been purchased for the amenities of a northern climate. His trousers were as stiff as his jacket, and he wore a decorous black silk tie as large as a counterpane.
He stood quaintly bowing in the doorway, his bright blue eyes veiled with shyness and a pathetic dumb self-consciousness.
"Please come in," said Eve in Spanish, quite at a loss as to who this might be.
Then Fitz had an inspiration. Something of the sea seemed to be wafted from the older to the younger sailor.
"Are you Captain Bontnor?" he asked, rising from the table.
"Yes, sir, yes! That's my name!"
He stood nervously in the doorway, mistrusting the parquet-floor, mistrusting himself, mistrusting everything.
Fitz went towards him holding out his hand, which the captain took after a manfully repressed desire to wipe his own broad palm on the seam of his trousers.
"Then you are my uncle?" said Eve, coming forward.
"Yes, miss, I'm afraid—that is—yes, I'm your uncle. You see—I'm only a rough sort of fellow."
He came a little nearer and held his arms apart, looking down at his own person in humble deprecation.
Eve was holding out her hand. He took it with a vague, deep-rooted chivalry, and she, stooping, very deliberately kissed him.
This seemed rather to bewilder the captain, for he shook hands again with Fitz.
"I— " he began, nodding into Fitz's face. "You are—eh? I didn't expect—to see—I didn't know—"
At that moment Eve saw. It came to her in a flash, as most things do come to women. She even had time to doubt the story about Luke.
"This," she said, with crimson cheeks, "is Mr. FitzHenry of the Kittiwake. He kindly came to us in our trouble. You will have to thank him afterwards—uncle."
"And in the meantime I expect you want breakfast?" put in Fitz, carefully avoiding Eve.
"Yes," added the girl, "of course. Sit down. No, here!"
"Thankye—thankye, miss—my dear, I mean. Oh, anything'll do for me. A bit of bread and a cup o' tea. I had a bit and a sup on board before she sheered alongside the quay."
He looked round rather helplessly, wondering where he should put his hat—a solid, flat-crowned British affair. Eve took it from him and laid it aside.
Captain Bontnor sat very stiffly down. His square form did not seem to lose any of its height by the change of position, and with a stiff back he looked admiringly round the room, waiting like a child at a school treat.
As the meal progressed he grew more at ease, telling them of the little difficulties of his journey, avoiding with a tact not always found inside a better coat all mention of the sad event which had caused him to take this long journey after his travelling days were done.
That which set him at ease more than all else was the fact, at length fully grasped, that Fitz was, like himself, a sailor. Here at least was a topic upon which he could converse with any man. General subjects only were discussed, as if by tacit consent. No mention was made of the future until this was somewhat rudely brought before their notice by the announcement that a second visitor desired to see the senorita.
With a more assured manner than that of his predecessor, a small, dark man came into the room, throwing off his cloak and handing it to the servant. He bowed ceremoniously and with true Spanish grace to Eve, with less ceremony and more dignity to the two men.
"I beg that your excellency will accept the sympathy of my deepest heart," he said. "I regret to trouble you so soon after the great loss sustained by your excellency, indeed, by the whole island of Majorca. But it is a matter of business. Such things cannot be delayed. Have I your excellency's permission to proceed?"
The man's clean-shaven face was like a mask. The expressions seemed to come and go as if worked by machinery. Sympathy was turned off, and in its place Polite-Attention-to-Business appeared. From under his arm he drew a leather portfolio, which he placed upon the table.
"The affairs of the late Cavalier Challoner were perhaps known to your excellency?"
"No; I knew nothing of my father's affairs."
Sympathy seemed to be struggling behind "Polite-Attention-to- Business," while for a moment a real look of distress flitted over the parchment face. He paused for an instant, reflecting while he assorted his papers.
"I am," he said, "the lawyer of his excellency the Count de Lloseta."
Eve and Fitz exchanged a glance, and as silence was kept the lawyer went on.
"Three generations ago," he said, "a Count de Lloseta, the grandfather of this present excellency, made over on 'rotas' the estate and house known as the Val d'Erraha to the grandfather of the late Cavalier Challoner—a Captain Challoner, one of Admiral Byng's men."
Again he paused, arranging his papers.
"The Majorcan system 'rotas' is known to your excellency?"
"On this system an estate is made over for one or two or three generations by the proprietor to the lessee who farms or sublets the land, and in lieu of rent hands over to the proprietor a certain proportion of the crops. Does your excellency follow me?"
Eve did not answer at once. Then the lawyer's meaning seemed to dawn upon her.
"Then," she said, "the Casa d'Erraha never belonged to my father?"
"Never"—with a grave bow.
"And I have nothing—nothing at all! I am penniless?"
The lawyer looked from her to Fitz, who was standing beside her listening to the conversation, but not offering to take part in it.
"Unless your excellency has private means—in England, perhaps."
"I do not know—I know nothing. And we must leave the Casa d'Erraha. When, senor? Tell me when."
The lawyer avoided her distressed eyes.
"Well," he said slowly, "the law is rather summary. I—your excellency understands I only do my duty. I am not the principal. I have no authority whatever—except the law."
"You mean that I must go at once?"
The lawyer's parchment face was generously expressive of grief now.
"Excellency, the lease terminated at the death of the late Caballero Challoner."
Eve stood for a moment, breathing hard. Fate seemed suddenly to have turned against her at every point. At this moment Captain Bontnor made bold—one could see him doing it—to take her hand.
"My dear," he said, "I don't quite understand what this foreign gentleman and you are talkin' about. But if it's trouble, dear, if it's trouble—just let me try."
CHAPTER VII. IN THE STREET OF THE PEACE.
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain, Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth.
"MY DEAR MISS CHALLONER,—I learn that you are in Barcelona, and at the same time I find with some indignation that my lawyer in Mallorca, with a deplorable excess of zeal, has been acting without my orders in respect to the property of the Val d'Erraha. I hasten to place myself and possessions at your disposition, and take the liberty of writing to request an interview, instead of calling on you at your hotel, for reasons which you will readily understand, knowing as you do the gossiping ways of hotels. As an old friend of your father's, and one who moved and lived in neighbourly intercourse with him before your birth, and before the deplorable death of your mother, I now waive ceremony, and beg that you and your uncle will come and take tea with me this afternoon at my humble abode in the 'Calle de la Paz.'—Believe me, dear Miss Challoner, yours very sincerely, "CIPRIANI DE LLOSETA DE MALLORCA."
Eve read this letter in her room in the Hotel of the Four Nations at Barcelona. She had only been on the mainland twenty-four hours when it was delivered to her by a servant of the Count's, who came to her apartment and delivered it into her own hands, as is the custom of Spanish servants.
Eve Challoner had grown older during the last few days. She had been brought face to face with life as it really is, and not as we dream it in the dreams of youth. She was not surprised to receive this letter, although she had no idea that the Count de Lloseta was in Spain. But the varying emotions of the last week had, as it were, undermined the confident hopefulness with which we look forward when we are young, and sometimes when we are old, to the management of our own lives here below. She was beginning to understand certain terms which she had heard applied to human existence, and to which she had hitherto attached no special meaning as relating to herself. More especially did she understand at this time that life may be compared to a stream, for she was vaguely conscious of drifting she knew not whither.
Fitz had come suddenly into her life; Captain Bontnor had come into it; and now this man, Cipriani de Lloseta, seemed to be asserting his right to come into it too. And she did not know quite what to do with them all. She had never, in the quiet, dreamy days of her youth, pictured a life with any of these men in it, and the future was suddenly tremendous, unfathomable. There were vast possibilities in it of misery, of danger, of difficulty; and behind these a vague, new feeling of a possible happiness far exceeding the happiness of her peaceful childhood.
Without consulting her uncle, who had gone out into the street to walk backwards and forwards before the door, as he had walked backwards and forwards on his deck for forty years, she sat down and accepted the Count's informal invitation. She seemed to do it without reflection, as if impelled thereto by something stronger than pro or con, as if acknowledging the Spaniard's right to come into her life, bringing to bear upon it an influence which she never attempted to fathom.
Thus it came about that Eve and Captain Bontnor found themselves awaiting their host in the massive, gloomy drawing-room of the Palace in the Calle de la Paz at five o'clock that afternoon.
Captain Bontnor had learnt a great deal during the last few days; among other things he had learnt to love his niece with a simple, dog-like devotion, which had a vein of pathos in it for those who see such things. He placed himself well behind Eve, and looked around him with a wondering awe.
"I think, my dear," he said, "that it would have been better if you had come alone. I—you know I am getting too old to learn manners now—eh—he! he! Yes. Having been so long at sea, you know."
"I think the sea teaches men manners, uncle," said Eve, with a little smile which he did not understand. "At any rate," she went on, touching his rough sleeve affectionately, "it teaches them something that I like."
"Does it, now? What, now? Tell me."
"I do not know," answered the girl, as if speaking to herself, and at this moment the door was opened. The man who came in was of medium height, with a long, narrow face, and singularly patient eyes.
"I should have known you," he said, approaching Eve, and holding out his hand. "You do not remember your mother? I do, however. You are like her—and she was a good woman. And this is Captain Bontnor—your uncle."
He shook hands with the old sailor without the faintest flicker of surprise at his somewhat incongruous appearance.
"I am glad," he said suavely, "to make Captain Bontnor's acquaintance."
He turned to draw forward a chair, and the light from the high, barred window falling full on his head, betrayed the fact that his hair, close cut as an English soldier's, was touched and flecked with grey. His lithe youthfulness of frame rather surprised Eve, who knew him to be a contemporary of her father's.
"It is very good of you to come," he went on in a low voice. "I took the privilege of the elder generation, you see! Captain, pray take that chair."
He did the honours with a British ease of manner, strangely touched by a Spanish dignity.
"When I heard of your great bereavement," he said, turning to Eve with a grave bow, "I ought perhaps to have gone to Mallorca at once to offer you what poor assistance was in my power. But circumstances, over which I had no control, prevented my doing so. My offer of help is tardy, I know, but it is none the less sincere."