THE VELVET GLOVE
Henry Seton Merriman (HUGH STOWELL SCOTT)
I. IN THE CITY OF THE WINDS II. EVASIO MON III. WITHIN THE HIGH WALLS IV. THE JADE—CHANCE V. A PILGRIMAGE VI. PILGRIMS VII. THE ALTERNATIVE VIII. THE TRAIL IX. THE QUARRY X. THISBE XI. THE ROYAL ADVENTURE XII. IN A STRONG CITY XIII. THE GRIP OF THE VELVET GLOVE XIV. IN THE CLOISTER XV. OUR LADY OF THE SHADOWS XVI. THE MATTRESS BEATER XVII. AT THE INN OF THE TWO TREES XVIII. THE MAKERS OF HISTORY XIX. COUSIN PELIGROS XX. AT TORRE GARDA XXI. JUANITA GROWS UP XXII. AN ACCIDENT XXIII. KIND INQUIRIES XXIV. THE STORMY PETREL XXV. WAR'S ALARM XXVI. AT THE FORD XXVII. IN THE CLOUDS XXVIII. LE GANT DE VELOURS XXIX. LA MAIN DE FER XXX. THE CASTING VOTE
List of Illustrations: "'ARE YOU SURE YOU HAVE NOT HEARD FROM PAPA?'" "A MOMENT LATER THE TRAVELER WAS LYING THERE ALONE." "ALL TURNED AND LOOKED AT HIM IN WONDER." "'DO YOU INTEND TO PUNISH YOUR FATHER'S ASSASSINS?'" "MARCOS WAS ESSENTIALLY A MAN OF HIS WORD." "THE DOOR WAS OPENED BY A STOUT MONK." "'HE IS NOT KILLED,' SAID MARCOS, BREATHLESSLY." "HE LEFT JUANITA ALONE WITH MARCOS."
IN THE CITY OF THE WINDS The Ebro, as all the world knows—or will pretend to know, being an ignorant and vain world—runs through the city of Saragossa. It is a river, moreover, which should be accorded the sympathy of this generation, for it is at once rapid and shallow.
On one side it is bordered by the wall of the city. The left bank is low and sandy, liable to flood; a haunt of lizards in the summer, of frogs in winter-time. The lower bank is bordered by poplar trees, and here and there plots of land have been recovered from the riverbed for tillage and the growth of that harsh red wine which seems to harden and thicken the men of Aragon.
One night, when a half moon hung over the domes of the Cathedral of the Pillar, a man made his way through the undergrowth by the riverside and stumbled across the shingle towards the open shed which marks the landing-place of the only ferry across the Ebro that Saragossa possesses. The ferry-boat was moored to the landing-stage. It is a high-prowed, high-sterned vessel, built on Viking lines, from a picture the observant must conclude, by a landsman carpenter. It swings across the river on a wire rope, with a running tackle, by the force of the stream and the aid of a large rudder.
The man looked cautiously into the vine-clad shed. It was empty. He crept towards the boat and found no one there. Then he examined the chain that moored it. There was no padlock. In Spain to this day they bar the window heavily and leave the door open. To the cunning mind is given in this custom the whole history of a great nation.
He stood upright and looked across the river. He was a tall man with a clean cut face and a hard mouth. He gave a sharp sigh as he looked at Saragossa outlined against the sky. His attitude and his sigh seemed to denote along journey accomplished at last, an object attained perhaps or within reach, which is almost the same thing, but not quite. For most men are happier in striving than in possession. And no one has yet decided whether it is better to be among the lean or the fat.
Don Francisco de Mogente sat down on the bench provided for those that await the ferry, and, tilting back his hat, looked up at the sky. The northwest wind was blowing—the Solano—as it only blows in Aragon. The bridge below the ferry has, by the way, a high wall on the upper side of it to break this wind, without which no cart could cross the river at certain times of the year. It came roaring down the Ebro, bending the tall poplars on the lower bank, driving before it a cloud of dust on the Saragossa side. It lashed the waters of the river to a gleaming white beneath the moon. And all the while the clouds stood hard and sharp of outline in the sky. They hardly seemed to move towards the moon. They scarcely changed their shape from hour to hour. This was not a wind of heaven, but a current rushing down from the Pyrenees to replace the hot air rising from the plains of Aragon.
Nevertheless, the clouds were moving towards the moon, and must soon hide it. Don Francisco de Mogente observed this, and sat patiently beneath the trailing vines, noting their slow approach. He was a white-haired man, and his face was burnt a deep brown. It was an odd face, and the expression of the eyes was not the usual expression of an old man's eyes. They had the agricultural calm, which is rarely seen in drawing-rooms. For those who deal with nature rarely feel calm in a drawing-room. They want to get out of it, and their eyes assume a hunted look. This seemed to be a man who had known both drawing-room and nature; who must have turned quietly and deliberately to nature as the better part. The wrinkles on his face were not those of the social smile, which so disfigure the faces of women when the smile is no longer wanted. They were the wrinkles of sunshine.
"I will wait," he said placidly to himself in English, with, however, a strong American accent. "I have waited fifteen years—and she doesn't know I am coming."
He sat looking across the river with quiet eyes. The city lay before him, with the spire of its unmatched cathedral, the domes of its second cathedral, and its many towers outlined against the sky just as he had seen them fifteen years before—just as others had seen them a hundred years earlier.
The great rounded cloud was nearer to the moon now. Now it touched it. And quite suddenly the domes disappeared. Don Francisco de Mogente rose and went towards the boat. He did not trouble to walk gently or to loosen the chains noiselessly. The wind was roaring so loudly that a listener twenty yards away could have heard nothing. He cast off and then hastened to the stern of the boat. The way in which he handled the helm showed that he knew the tricks of the old ferryman by wind and calm, by high and low river. He had probably learnt them with the photographic accuracy only to be attained when the mind is young.
The boat swung out into the river with an odd jerking movement, which the steersman soon corrected. And a man who had been watching on the bridge half a mile farther down the river hurried into the town. A second watcher at an open window in the tall house next to the Posada de los Reyes on the Paseo del Ebro closed his field-glasses with a thoughtful smile.
It seemed that Don Francisco de Mogente had purposely avoided crossing the bridge, where to this day the night watchman, with lantern and spear, peeps cautiously to and fro—a startlingly mediaeval figure. It seemed also that the traveler was expected, though he had performed the last stage of his journey on foot after nightfall.
It is characteristic of this country that Saragossa should be guarded during the day by the toll-takers at every gate, by sentries, and by the new police, while at night the streets are given over to the care of a handful of night watchmen, who call monotonously to each other all through the hours, and may be avoided by the simplest-minded of malefactors.
Don Francisco de Mogente brought the ferry-boat gently alongside the landing-stage beneath the high wall of the Quay, and made his way through the underground passage and up the dirty steps that lead into one of the narrow streets of the old town.
The moon had broken through the clouds again and shone down upon the barred windows. The traveler stood still and looked about him. Nothing had changed since he had last stood there. Nothing had changed just here for five hundred years or so; for he could not see the domes of the Cathedral of the Pillar, comparatively modern, only a century old.
Don Francisco de Mogente had come from the West; had known the newness of the new generation. And he stood for a moment as if in a dream, breathing in the tainted air of narrow, undrained streets; listening to the cry of the watchman slowly dying as the man walked away from him on sandaled, noiseless feet; gazing up at the barred windows, heavily shadowed. There was an old world stillness in the air, and suddenly the bells of fifty churches tolled the hour. It was one o'clock in the morning. The traveler had traveled backwards, it would seem, into the middle ages. As he heard the church bells he gave an angry upward jerk of the head, as if the sound confirmed a thought that was already in his mind. The bells seemed to be all around him; the towers of the churches seemed to dominate the sleeping city on every side. There was a distinct smell of incense in the air of these narrow streets, where the winds of the outer world rarely found access.
The traveler knew his way, and hurried down a narrow turning to the left, with the Cathedral of the Pillar between him and the river. He had made a de tour in order to avoid the bridge and the Paseo del Ebro, a broad road on the river bank. In these narrow streets he met no one. On the Paseo there are several old inns, notably the Posada de los Reyes, used by muleteers and other gentlemen of the road, who arise and start at any hour of the twenty-four and in summer travel as much by night as by day. At the corner, where the bridge abuts on the Paseo, there is always a watchman at night, while by day there is a guard. It is the busiest and dustiest corner in the city.
Francisco de Mogente crossed a wide street, and again sought a dark alley. He passed by the corner of the Cathedral of the Pillar, and went towards the other and infinitely grander Cathedral of the Seo. Beyond this, by the riverside, is the palace of the archbishop. Farther on is another palace, standing likewise on the Paseo del Ebro, backing likewise on to a labyrinth of narrow streets. It is called the Palacio Sarrion, and belongs to the father and son of that name.
It seemed that Francisco de Mogente was going to the Palacio Sarrion; for he passed the great door of the archbishop's dwelling, and was already looking towards the house of the Sarrions, when a slight sound made him turn on his heels with the rapidity of one whose life had been passed amid dangers—and more especially those that come from behind.
There were three men coming from behind now, running after him on sandaled feet, and before he could do so much as raise his arm the moon broke out from behind a cloud and showed a gleam of steel. Don Francisco de Mogente was down on the ground in an instant, and the three men fell upon him like dogs on a rat. One knife went right through him, and grated with a harsh squeak on the cobble-stones beneath.
A moment later the traveler was lying there alone, half in the shadow, his dusty feet showing whitely in the moonlight. The three shadows had vanished as softly as they came.
Almost instantly from, strangely enough, the direction in which they had gone the burly form of a preaching friar came out into the light. He was walking hurriedly, and would seem to be returning from some mission of mercy, or some pious bedside to one of the many houses of religion located within a stone's throw of the Cathedral of the Seo in one of the narrow streets of this quarter of the city. The holy man almost fell over the prostrate form of Don Francisco de Mogente.
"Ah! ah!" he exclaimed in an even and quiet voice. "A calamity."
"No," answered the wounded man with a cynicism which even the near sight of death seemed powerless to effect. "A crime."
"You are badly hurt, my son."
"Yes; you had better not try to lift me, though you are a strong man."
"I will go for help," said the monk.
"Lay help," suggested the wounded man curtly. But the friar was already out of earshot.
In an astonishingly short space of time the friar returned, accompanied by two men, who had the air of indoor servants and the quiet movements of street-bred, roof-ridden humanity.
Mindful of his cloth, the friar stood aside, unostentatiously and firmly refusing to take the lead even in a mission of mercy. He stood with humbly-folded hands and a meek face while the two men lifted Don Francisco de Mogente on to a long narrow blanket, the cloak of Navarre and Aragon, which one of them had brought with him.
They bore him slowly away, and the friar lingered behind. The moon shone down brightly into the narrow street and showed a great patch of blood amid the cobblestones. In Saragossa, as in many Spanish cities, certain old men are employed by the municipal authorities to sweep the dust of the streets into little heaps. These heaps remain at the side of the streets until the dogs and the children and the four winds disperse the dust again. It is a survival of the middle ages, interesting enough in its bearing upon the evolution of the modern municipal authority and the transmission of intellectual gifts.
The friar looked round him, and had not far to look. There was a dust heap close by. He plunged his large brown hands into it, and with a few quick movements covered all traces of the calamity of which he had so nearly been a witness.
Then, with a quick, meek look either way, he followed the two men, who had just disappeared round a corner. The street, which, by the way, is called the Calle San Gregorio, was, of course, deserted; the tall houses on either side were closely shuttered. Many of the balconies bore a branch of palm across the iron railings, the outward sign of priesthood. For the cathedral clergy live here. And, doubtless, the holy men within had been asleep many hours.
Across the end of the Calle San Gregorio, and commanding that narrow street, stood the Palacio Sarrion—an empty house the greater part of the year—a vast building, of which the windows increased in size as they mounted skywards. There were wrought-iron balconies, of which the window embrasures were so deep that the shutters folded sideways into the wall instead of swinging back as in houses of which the walls were of normal thickness.
The friar was probably accustomed to seeing the Palacio Sarrion rigidly shut up. He never, in his quick, humble scrutiny of his surroundings glanced up at it. And, therefore, he never saw a man sitting quietly behind the curiously wrought railings, smoking a cigarette—a man who had witnessed the whole incident from beginning to end. Who had, indeed, seen more than the friar or the two quiet men-servants. For he had seen a stick—probably a sword-stick, such as nearly every Spanish gentleman carries in his own country—fly from the hand of Don Francisco de Mogente at the moment when he was attacked, and fall into the gutter on the darker side of the street, where it lay unheeded. Where, indeed, it still remained when the friar with his swinging gait had turned the corner of the Calle San Gregorio.
EVASIO MON There are some people whose presence in a room seems to establish a mental centre of gravity round which other minds hover uneasily, conscious of the dead weight of that attraction.
"I have known Evasio all my life," the Count de Sarrion once said to his son. "I have stood at the edge of that pit and looked in. I do not know to this day whether there is gold at the bottom or mud. I have never quarreled with him, and, therefore, we have never made it up."
Which, perhaps, was as good a description of Evasio Mon as any man had given. He had never quarreled with any one. He was, in consequence, a lonely man. For the majority of human beings are gregarious. They meet together in order to quarrel. The majority of women prefer to sit and squabble round one table to seeking another room. They call it the domestic circle, and spend their time in straining at the family tie in order to prove its strength.
It was Evasio Mon who, standing at the open window of his apartment in the tall house next door to the Posada de los Reyes on the Paseo del Ebro, had observed with the help of a field-glass, that a traveler was crossing the river by the ferry-boat after midnight. He noted the unusual proceeding with a tolerant shrug. It will be remembered that he closed his glasses with a smile—not a smile of amusement or of contempt—not even a deep smile such as people wear in books. It was merely a smile, and could not be construed into anything else by any physiognomist. The wrinkles that made it were deeply marked, which suggested that Evasio Mon had learnt to smile when he was quite young. He had, perhaps, been taught.
And, after all, a man may as well show a smile to the world as a worried look, or a mean look, or one of the countless casts of countenance that are moulded by conceit and vanity. A smile is frequently misconstrued by the simple-hearted into the outward sign of inward kindness. Many think that it conciliates children and little dogs. But that which the many think is usually wrong.
If Evasio Mon's face said anything at all, it warned the world that it had to deal with a man of perfect self-control. And the man who controls himself is usually able to control just so much of his surrounding world as may suit his purpose.
There was something in the set of this man's eyes which suggested no easy victory over self. For his eyes were close together. His hair was almost red. His face was rather narrow and long. It was not the face of an easy-going man as God had made it. But years had made it the face of a man that nothing could rouse. He was of medium height, with rather narrow shoulders, but upright and lithe. He was clean shaven and of a pleasant ruddiness. His eyes were a bluish gray, and looked out upon the world with a reflective attention through gold-rimmed eye-glasses, with which he had a habit of amusing himself while talking, examining their mechanism and the knot of the fine black cord with a bat-like air of blindness.
In body and mind he seemed to be almost a young man. But Ramon de Sarrion said that he had known him all his life. And the Count de Sarrion had spoken with Christina when that woman was Queen of Spain.
Mon was still astir, although the bells of the Cathedral of the Virgin of the Pillar, immediately behind his house, had struck the half hour. It was more than thirty minutes since the ferry-boat had sidled across the river, and Mon glanced at the clock on his mantelpiece. He expected, it would seem, a sequel to the arrival which had been so carefully noted.
And at last the sequel came. A soft knock, as of fat fingers, made Mon glance towards the door, and bid the knocker enter. The door opened, and in its darkened entry stood the large form of the friar who had rendered such useful aid to a stricken traveler. The light of Mon's lamp showed this holy man to be large and heavy of face, with the narrow forehead of the fanatic. With such a face and head, this could not be a clever man. But he is a wise worker who has tools of different temper in his bag. Too fine a steel may snap. Too delicately fashioned an instrument may turn in the hand when suddenly pressed against the grain.
Mon held out his hand, knowing that there would be no verbal message. From the mysterious folds of the friar's sleeves a letter instantly emerged.
"They have blundered. The man is still living. You had better come," it said; and that was all.
"And what do you know of this affair, my brother?" asked Mon, holding the letter to the candle, and, when it was ignited, throwing it on to the cold ashes in the open fireplace, where it burnt.
"Little enough, Excellency. One of the Fathers, praying at his window, heard the sound of a struggle in the street, and I was sent out to see what it signified. I found a man lying on the ground, and, according to instructions, did not touch him, but went back for help."
Mon nodded his compact head thoughtfully.
"And the man said nothing?"
"You are a wise man, my brother. Go, and I will follow you."
The friar's meek face was oily with that smile of complete self-satisfaction which is only found when foolishness and fervour meet in one brain.
Mon rose slowly from his chair and stretched himself. It was evident that had he followed his own inclination he would have gone to bed. He perhaps had a sense of duty. He had not far to go, and knew the shortest ways through the narrow streets. He could hear a muleteer shouting at his beasts on the bridge as he crossed the Calle Don Jaime I. The streets were quiet enough otherwise, and the watchman of this quarter could be heard far away at the corner of the Plaza de la Constitucion calling to the gods that the weather was serene.
Evasio Mon, cloaked to the eyes against the autumn night, hurried down the Calle San Gregorio and turned into an open doorway that led into the patio of a great four-sided house. He climbed the stone stair and knocked at a door, which was instantly opened.
"Come!" said the man who opened it—a white-haired priest of benevolent face. "He is conscious. He asks for a notary. He is dying! I thought you—"
"No," replied Mon quickly. "He would recognise me, though he has not seen me for twenty years. You must do it. Change your clothes."
He spoke as with authority, and the priest fingered the silken cord around his waist.
"I know nothing of the law," he said hesitatingly.
"That I have thought of. Here are two forms of will. They are written so small as to be almost illegible. This one we must get signed if we can; but, failing that, the other will do. You see the difference. In this one the pin is from left to right; in that, from right to left. I will wait here while you change your clothes. As emergencies arise we will meet them."
He spoke the last sentence coldly, and followed with his narrow gaze the movements of the old priest, who was laying aside his cassock.
"Let us have no panics," Evasio Mon's manner seemed to say. And his air was that of a quiet pilot knowing his way through the narrow waters that lay ahead.
In a small room near at hand, Francisco de Mogente was facing death. He lay half dressed upon a narrow bed. On a table near at hand stood a basin, a bottle, and a few evidences of surgical aid. But the doctor had gone. Two friars were in the room. One was praying; the other was the big, strong man who had first succoured the wounded traveler.
"I asked for a notary," said Mogente curtly. Death had not softened him. He was staring straight in front of him with glassy eyes, thinking deeply and quickly. At times his expression was one of wonder, as if a conviction forced itself upon his mind from time to time against his will and despite the growing knowledge that he had no time to waste in wondering.
"The notary has been sent for. He cannot delay in coming," replied the friar. "Rather give your thoughts to Heaven, my son, than to notaries."
"Mind your own business," replied Mogente quietly. As he spoke the door opened and an old man came in. He had papers and a quill pen in his hand.
"You sent for me—a notary," he said. Evasio Mon stood in the doorway a yard behind the dying man's head. The notary moved the table so that in looking at his client he could, with the corner of his eye, see also the face of Evasio Mon.
"You wish to make a statement or a last testament?" said the notary.
"A statement—no. It is useless since they have killed me. I will make a statement ... Elsewhere."
And his laugh was not pleasant to the ear.
"A will—yes," he continued—and hearing the notary dip his pen—
"My name," he said, "is Francisco de Mogente."
"Of?" inquired the notary, writing.
"Of this city. You cannot be a notary of Saragossa or you would know that."
"I am not a notary of Saragossa—go on."
"Of Saragossa and Santiago de Cuba. And I have a great fortune to leave."
One of the praying friars made a little involuntary movement. The love of money perhaps hid itself beneath the brown hood of the mendicant. The man who spoke was dying; already his breath came short.
"Give me," he said, "some cordial, or I shall not last."
After a pause he went on.
"There is a will in existence which I now cancel. I made it when I was a younger man. I left my fortune to my son Leon de Mogente. To my daughter Juanita de Mogente I left a sufficiency. I wish now to make a will in favour of my son Leon"—he paused while the notary's quill pen ran over the paper—"on one condition."
"On one condition"—wrote the notary, who had leant forward, but sat upright rather suddenly in obedience to a signal from Evasio Mon in the doorway. He had forgotten his tonsure.
"That he does not go into religion—that he devotes no part of it to the benefit or advantage of the church."
The notary sat very straight while he wrote this down.
"My son is in Saragossa," said Mogente suddenly, with a change of manner. "I will see him. Send for him."
The notary glanced up at Evasio Mon, who shook his head.
"I cannot send for him at two in the morning."
"Then I will sign no will."
"Sign the will now," suggested the lawyer, with a look of doubt towards the dark doorway behind the sick man's head. "Sign now, and see your son to-morrow."
"There is no to-morrow, my friend. Send for my son at once."
Mon grudgingly nodded his head.
"It is well, I will do as you wish," said the notary, only too glad, it would seem, to rise and go into the next room to receive further minute instructions from his chief.
The dying man laid with closed eyes, and did not move until his son spoke to him. Leon de Mogente was a sparely-built man, with a white and oddly-rounded forehead. His eyes were dark, and he betrayed scarcely any emotion at the sight of his father in this lamentable plight.
"Ah!" said the elder man. "It is you. You look like a monk. Are you one?"
"Not yet," answered the pale youth in a low voice with a sort of suppressed exultation. Evasio Mon, watching him from the doorway, smiled faintly. He seemed to have no misgivings as to what Leon might say.
"But you wish to become one?"
"It is my dearest desire."
The dying man laughed. "You are like your mother," he said. "She was a fool. You may go back to bed, my friend."
"But I would rather stay here and pray by your bedside," pleaded the son. He was a feeble man—the only weak man, it would appear, in the room.
"Then stay and pray if you want to," answered Mogente, without even troubling himself to show contempt.
The notary was at his table again, and seemed to seek his cue by an upward glance.
"You will, perhaps, leave your fortune," he suggested at length, "to—to some good work."
But Evasio Mon was shaking his head.
"To—to—?" began the notary once more, and then lapsed into a puzzled silence. He was at fault again. Mogente seemed to be failing. He lay quite still, looking straight in front of him.
"The Count Ramon de Sarrion," he asked suddenly, "is he in Saragossa?"
"No," answered the notary, after a glance into the darkened door. "No—but your will—your will. Try and remember what you are doing. You wish to leave your money to your son?"
"Then to—your daughter?"
And the question seemed to be directed, not towards the bed, but behind it.
"To your daughter?" he repeated more confidently. "That is right, is it not? To your daughter?"
Mogente nodded his head.
"Write it out shortly," he said in a low and distinct voice. "For I will sign nothing that I have not read, word for word, and I have but little time."
The notary took a new sheet of paper and wrote out in bold and, it is to be presumed, unlegal terms that Francisco de Mogente left his earthly possessions to Juanita de Mogente, his only daughter. Being no notary, this elderly priest wrote out a plain-spoken document, about which there could be no doubt whatever in any court of law in the world, which is probably more than a lawyer could have done.
Francisco de Mogente read the paper, and then, propped in the arms of the big friar, he signed his name to it. After this he lay quite still, so still that at last the notary, who stood watching him, slowly knelt down and fell to praying for the soul that was gone.
WITHIN THE HIGH WALLS In these degenerate days Saragossa has taken to itself a suburb—the first and deadliest sign of a city's progress. Thirty years ago, however, Torrero did not exist, and those terrible erections of white stone and plaster which now disfigure the high land to the south of the city had not yet burst upon the calm of ancient architectural Spain. Here, on Monte Torrero, stood an old convent, now turned into a barrack. Here also, amid the trees of the ancient gardens, rises the rounded dome of the church of San Fernando.
Close by, and at a slightly higher level, curves the Canal Imperial, 400 years old, and not yet finished; assuredly conceived by a Moorish love of clear water in high places, but left to Spanish enterprise and in completeness when the Moors had departed.
Beyond the convent walls, the canal winds round the slope of the brown hill, marking a distinctive line between the outer desert and the green oasis of Saragossa. Just within the border line of the oasis, just below the canal, on the sunny slope, lies the long low house of the Convent School of the Sisters of the True Faith. Here, amid the quiet of orchards—white in spring with blossom, the haunt of countless nightingales, heavy with fruit in autumn, at all times the home of a luxuriant vegetation—history has surged to and fro, like the tides drawn hither and thither, rising and falling according to the dictates of a far-off planet. And the moon of this tide is Rome.
For the Sisters of the True Faith are a Jesuit corporation, and their Convent School is, now a convent, now a school, as the tide may rise or fall. The ebb first came in 1555, when Spain threw out the Jesuits. The flow was at its height so late as 1814, when Ferdinand VII—a Bourbon, of course—restored Jesuitism and the Inquisition at one stroke. And before and after, and through all these times, the tide of prosperity has risen and fallen, has sapped and sagged and undermined with a noiseless energy which the outer world only half suspects.
In 1835 this same long, low, quiet house amid the fruit-trees was sacked by the furious populace, and more than one Sister of the True Faith, it is whispered, was beaten to the ground as she fled shrieking down the hill. In 1836 all monastic orders were rigidly suppressed by Mendizabal, minister to Queen Christina. In 1851 they were all allowed to live again by the same Queen's daughter, Isabel II. So wags this world into which there came nineteen hundred years ago not peace, but a sword; a world all stirred about by a reformed rake of Spain who, in his own words, came "to send fire throughout the earth;" whose motto was, "Ignem veni metteri in terram, et quid volo nisi ut accendatur."
The road that runs by the bank of the canal was deserted when the Count de Sarrion turned his horse's head that way from the dusty high road leading southwards out of Saragossa. Sarrion had only been in Saragossa twenty-four hours. His great house on the Paseo del Ebro had not been thrown open for this brief visit, and he had been content to inhabit two rooms at the back of the house. From the balcony of one he had seen the incident related in the last chapter; and as he rode towards the convent school he carried in his hand—not a whip—but the delicately-wrought sword-stick which had fallen from the hand of Francisco de Mogente into the gutter the night before.
In the grassy sedge that bordered the canal the frogs were calling to each other with that conversational note of interrogation in their throats which makes their music one of Nature's most sociable and companionable sounds. In the fruit-trees on the lower land the nightingales were singing as they only sing in Spain. It was nearly dark, a warm evening of late spring, and there was no wind. Amid the thousand scents of blossom, of opening buds, and a hundred flowering shrubs there arose the subtle, soft odour of sluggish water, stirred by frogs, telling of cool places beneath the trees where the weary and the dusty might lie in oblivion till the morning.
The Count of Sarrion rode with a long stirrup, his spare form, six feet in height, a straight line from heel to shoulder. His seat in the saddle and something in his manner, at once gentle and cold, something mystic that attracted and yet held inexorably at arm's length, lent at once a deeper meaning to his name, which assuredly had a Moorish ring in it. The little town of Sarrion lies far to the south, on the borders of Valencia, in the heart of the Moorish country. And to look at the face of Ramon de Sarrion and of his son, the still, brown-faced Marcos de Sarrion, was to conjure up some old romance of that sun-scorched height of the Javalambre, where history dates back to centuries before Christ—where assuredly some Moslem maiden in the later time must have forsaken all for love of a wild yet courteous Spanish knight of Sarrion, bequeathing to her sons through all the ages the deep, reflective eyes, the impenetrable dignity, of her race.
Sarrion's hair was gray. He wore a moustache and imperial in the French fashion, and looked at the world with the fierce eyes and somewhat of the air of an eagle, which resemblance was further accentuated by a finely-cut nose. As an old man he was picturesque. He must have been very handsome in his youth.
It seemed that he was bound for the School of the Sisters of the True Faith, for as he approached its gate, built solidly within the thickness of the high wall, without so much as a crack or crevice through which the curious might peep, he drew rein, and sat motionless on his well-trained horse, listening. The clock at San Fernando immediately vouchsafed the information that it was nine o'clock. There was no one astir, no one on the road before or behind him. Across the narrow canal was a bare field. The convent wall bounded the view on the left hand.
Sarrion rode up to the gate and rang a bell, which clanged with a sort of surreptitiousness just within. He only rang once, and then waited, posting himself immediately opposite a little grating let into the solid wood of the door. The window behind the grating seemed to open and shut without sound, for he heard nothing until a woman's voice asked who was there.
"It is the Count Ramon de Sarrion who must without fail speak to the Sister Superior to-night," he answered, and composed himself again in the saddle with a southern patience. He waited a long time before the heavy doors were at length opened. The horse passed timorously within, with jerking ears and a distended nostril, looking from side to side. He glanced curiously at the shadowy forms of two women who held the door, and leant their whole weight against it to close it again as soon as possible.
Sarrion dismounted, and drew the bridle through a ring and hook attached to the wall just inside the gates. No one spoke. The two nuns noiselessly replaced the heavy bolts. There was a muffled clank of large keys, and they led the way towards the house.
Just over the threshold was the small room where visitors were asked to wait—a square, bare apartment with one window set high in the wall, with one lamp burning dimly on the table now. There were three or four chairs, and that was all. The bare walls were whitewashed. The Convent School of the Sisters of the True Faith did not err, at all events, in the heathen indiscretion of a too free hospitality. The visitors to this room were barely beneath the roof. The door had in one of its panels the usual grating and shutter.
Sarrion sat down without looking round him, in the manner of a man who knew his surroundings, and took no interest in them.
In a few minutes the door opened noiselessly—there was a too obtrusive noiselessness within these walls—and a nun came in. She was tall, and within the shadow of her cap her eyes loomed darkly. She closed the door, and, throwing back her veil, came forward. She leant towards Sarrion, and kissed him, and her face, coming within the radius of the lamp, was the face of a Sarrion.
There was in her action, in the movement of her high-held head, a sudden and startling self-abandonment of affection. For Spanish women understand above all others the calling of love and motherhood. And it seemed that Sor Teresa—known in the world as Dolores Sarrion—had, like many women, bestowed a thwarted love—faute de mieux—upon her brother.
"You are well?" asked Sarrion, looking at her closely. Her face, framed by a spotless cap, was gray and drawn, but not unhappy.
She nodded her head with a smile, while her eyes flitted over his face and person with that quick interrogation which serves better than words. A woman never asks minutely after the health of one in whom she is really interested. She knows without asking. She stood before him with her hands crossed within the folds of her ample sleeves. Her face was lost again in the encircling shadow of her cap and veil. She was erect and motionless in her stiff and heavy clothing. The momentary betrayal of womanhood and affection was passed, and this was the dreaded Sister Superior of the Convent School again.
"I suppose," she said, "you are alone as usual. Is it safe, after nightfall—you, who have so many enemies?"
"Marcos is at Torre Garda, where I left him three days ago. The snows are melting and the fishing is good. It is unusual to come at this hour, I know, but I came for a special purpose."
He glanced towards the door. The quiet of this house seemed to arouse a sense of suspicion and antagonism in his mind.
"I wished, of course, to see you also, though I am aware that the affections are out of place in this—holy atmosphere."
She winced almost imperceptibly and said nothing.
"I want to see Juanita de Mogente," said the Count. "It is unusual, I know, but in this place you are all-powerful. It is important, or I should not ask it."
"She is in bed. They go to bed at eight o'clock."
"I know. Is not that all the better? She has a room to herself, I recollect. You can arouse her and bring her to me and no one need know that she has had a visitor—except, I suppose, the peeping eyes that haunt a nunnery corridor."
He gave a shrug of the shoulder.
"Mother of God!" he exclaimed. "The air of secrecy infects one. I am not a secretive man. All the world knows my opinions. And here am I plotting like a friar. Can I see Juanita?"
And he laughed quietly as he looked at his sister.
"Yes, I suppose so."
He nodded his thanks.
"And, Dolores, listen!" he said. "Let me see her alone. It may save complications in the future. You understand?"
Sor Teresa turned in the doorway and looked at him.
He could not see the expression of her eyes, which were in deep shadow, and she left him wondering whether she had understood or not.
It would seem that Sor Teresa, despite her slow dignity of manner, was a quick person. For in a few moments the door of the waiting-room was again opened and a young girl hastened breathlessly in. She was not more than sixteen or seventeen, and as she came in she threw back her dark hair with one hand.
"I was asleep, Uncle Ramon," she exclaimed with a light laugh, "and the good Sister had to drag me out of bed before I would wake up. And then, of course, I thought it was a fire. We have always hoped for a fire, you know."
She was continuing to attend to her hasty dress as she spoke, tying the ribbon at the throat of her gay dressing-gown with careless fingers.
"I had not even time to pull up my stockings," she concluded, making good the omission with a friendly nonchalance. Then she turned to look at Sor Teresa, but her eyes found instead the closed door.
"Oh!" she cried, "the good Sister has forgotten to come back with me. And it is against the rules. What a joke! We are not allowed to see visitors alone—except father or mother, you know. I don't care. It was not my fault."
And she looked doubtfully from the door to Sarrion and back again to the door. She was very young and gay and careless. Her cheeks still flushed by the deep sleep of childhood were of the colour of a peach that has ripened quickly in the glow of a southern sun. Her eyes were dark and very bright; the bird-like shallow vivacity of childhood still sparkled in them. It seemed that they were made for laughing, not for tears or thought. She was the incarnation of youth and springtime. To find such ignorance of the world, such innocence of heart, one must go to a nunnery or to Nature.
"I came to see you to-night," said Sarrion, "as I may be leaving Saragossa again to-morrow morning."
"And the good Sister allowed me to see you. I wonder why! She has been cross with me lately. I am always breaking things, you know."
She spread out her hands with a gesture of despair.
"Yesterday it was an altar-vase. I tripped over the foot of that stupid St. Andrew. Have you heard from papa?"
Sarrion hesitated for a moment at the sudden question.
"No," he answered at length.
"Oh! I wish he would come home from Cuba," said the girl, with a passing gravity. "I wonder what he will be like. Will his hair be gray? Not that I dislike gray hair you know," she added hurriedly. "I hope he will be nice. One of the girls told me the other day that she disliked her father, which seems odd, doesn't it? Milagros de Villanueva—do you know her? She was my friend once. We told each other everything. She has red hair. I thought it was golden when she was my friend. But one can see with half an eye that it is red."
Sarrion laughed rather shortly.
"Have you heard from your father?" he asked.
"I had a letter on Saint Mark's Day," she answered. "I have not heard from him since. He said he hoped to give me a surprise, he trusted a pleasant one, during the summer. What did he mean? Do you know?"
"No," answered Sarrion, thoughtfully. "I know nothing."
"And Marcos is not with you?" the girl went on gaily. "He would not dare to come within the walls. He is afraid of all nuns. I know he is, though he denies it. Some day, in the holidays, I shall dress as a nun, and you will see. It will frighten him out of his wits."
"Yes," said Sarrion looking at her, "I expect it would. Tell me," he went on after a pause, "Do you know this stick?"
And he held out, under the rays of the lamp, the sword-stick he had picked up in the Calle San Gregorio.
She looked at it and then at him with startled eyes.
"Of course," she said. "It is the sword-stick I sent papa for the New Year. You ordered it yourself from Toledo. See, here is the crest. Where did you get it? Do not mystify me. Tell me quickly—is he here? Has he come home?"
In her eagerness she laid her hands on his dusty riding coat and looked up into his face.
"No, my child, no," answered Sarrion, stroking her hair, with a tenderness unusual enough to be remembered afterwards. "I think not. The stick must have been stolen from him and found its way back to Saragossa in the hand of the thief. I picked it up in the street yesterday. It is a coincidence, that is all. I will write to your father and tell him of it."
Sarrion turned away, so that the shade of the lamp threw his face into darkness. He was afraid of those quick, bright eyes—almost afraid that she should divine that he had already telegraphed to Cuba.
"I only came to ask you whether you had heard from your father and to hear that you were well. And now I must go."
She stood looking at him, thoughtfully pulling at the delicate embroidery of her sleeves, for all that she wore was of the best that Saragossa could provide, and she wore it carelessly, as if she had never known other, and paid little heed to wealth—-as those do who have always had it.
"I think there is something you are not telling me," she said, with the ever-ready laugh twinkling beneath her dusky lashes. "Some mystery."
"No, no. Good-night, my child. Go back to your bed."
She paused with her hand on the door, looking back, her face all shaded by her tumbled hair hanging to her waist.
"Are you sure you have not heard from papa?"
"Quite sure—! I wish I had," he added when the door was closed behind her.
THE JADE—CHANCE The same evening, by the light of his solitary lamp, in the small room—which had been a lady's boudoir in olden days—the Count de Sarrion sat down to write a letter to his son. He despatched it at once by a rider to Torre Garda, far beyond Pampeluna, on the southern slope of the Pyrenees.
"I am growing too old for this work," he said to himself as he sealed the letter. "It wants a younger man. Marcos will do it, though he hates the pavement. There is something of the chase in it, and Marcos is a hunter."
At his call a man came into the room, all dusty and sunburnt, a typical man of Aragon, dry and wrinkled, burnt like a son of Sahara. His clothing, like his face, was dust-coloured. He wore knee-breeches of homespun, brown stockings, a handkerchief that had once been coloured bound round his head, with the knot over his left ear. He was startlingly rough and wild in appearance, but his features, on examination, were refined, and his eyes intelligent.
"I want you to go straight to Torre Garda with this letter, and give it into the hand of my son with your own hand. It is important. You may be watched and followed; you understand?"
The man nodded. They are a taciturn people in Aragon and Navarre—so taciturn that in politely greeting the passer on the road they cut down the curt good-day. "Buenas," they say, and that is all.
"Go with God," said the Count, and the messenger left the room noiselessly, for they wear no shoe-leather in this dry land.
There was a train in those days to Pampeluna and a daily post, but then, as now, a letter of any importance is better sent by hand, while the railway is still looked upon with suspicion by the authorities as a means of circulating malcontents and spreading crime. Every train is still inspected at each stopping place by two of the civil guards.
The Count was early astir the next morning. He knew that a man such as Marcos, possessing the instinct of the chase and that deep insight into the thoughts and actions of others, even into the thoughts and actions of animals, which makes a great hunter or a great captain, would never have let slip the feeble clue that he had of the incident in the Calle San Gregorio. The Count had been a politician in his youth, and his position entailed a passive continuance of the policy he had actively advocated in earlier days. But as an old sailor, weary with the battle of many storms, learns at last to treat the thunder and the tempest with a certain tolerant contempt, so he, having passed through evil monarchies and corrupt regencies, through the storm of anarchy and the humiliation of a brief and ridiculous republic, now stood aside and watched the waves go past him with a semi-contemptuous indifference.
He was too well known in the streets of Saragossa to wander hither and thither in them, making inquiry as to whether any had seen his lifelong friend Francisco de Mogente back in the city of his birth from which he had been exiled in the uncertain days of Isabella. Francisco de Mogente had been placed in one of those vague positions of Spanish political life where exile had never been commuted, though friend and enemy would alike have welcomed the return of a scapegoat on their own terms. But Mogente had never been the man to make terms—any more than this grim Spanish nobleman who now sat wondering what his next move must be.
After his early coffee Sarrion went out into the Calle San Gregorio. The sound of deep voices chanting the matins came to him through the open doors of the Cathedral of the Seo. A priest hurried past, late, and yet in time to save his record of services attended. The beggars were leisurely making their way to the cathedral doors, too lazy to make an earlier start, philosophically reflecting that the charitable are as likely to give after matins as before.
The Count went over the ground of the scene that he had witnessed in the fitful moonlight. Here the man who might have been Francisco de Mogente had turned on his heel. Here, at the never opened door of a deserted palace, he had stood for a moment fighting with his back to the wall. Here he had fallen. From that corner had come aid in the person—Sarrion was sure—of a friar. It was an odd coincidence, for the Church had never been the friend of the exiled man, and it was in the days of a priest-ridden Queen that his foes had triumphed.
They had carried the stricken man back to the corner of the Calle San Gregorio and the Plazuela San Bruno, and from the movements of the bearers Sarrion had received the conviction that they had entered the house immediately beyond the angle of the high building opposite to the Episcopal Palace.
Sarrion followed his memory step by step. He determined to go into the house—a huge building—divided into many small apartments. The door had never particularly attracted his attention. Like many of the doorways of these great houses, it was wide and high, giving access to a dark stairway of stone. The doors stood open night and day. For this stairway was a common one, as its dirtiness would testify.
There was some one coming down the stairs now. Sarrion, remembering that his face was well known, and that he had no particular business in any of the apartments into which the house was divided, paused for a moment, and waited on the threshold. He looked up the dark stairs, and slowly distinguished the form and face of the newcomer. It was his old friend Evasio Mon—smart, well-brushed, smiling a good-morning to all the world this sunny day.
They had not met for many years. Their friendship had been one of those begun by parents, and carried on in after years by the children more from habit than from any particular tie of sympathy. For we all find at length that the nursery carpet is not the world. Their ways had parted soon after the nursery, and, though they had met frequently, they had never trodden the same path again. For Evasio Mon had been educated as a priest.
"I have often wondered why I have never clashed—with Evasio Mon," Sarrion once said to his son in the reflective quiet of their life at Torre Garda.
"It takes two to clash," replied Marcos at length in his contemplative way, having given the matter his consideration. And perhaps that was the only explanation of it.
Sarrion looked up now and met the smile with a grave bow. They took off their hats to each other with rather more ceremony than when they had last met. A long, slow friendship is the best; a long, slow enmity the deadliest.
"One does not expect to see you in Saragossa," said Mon gently. A man bears his school mark all through life. This layman had learnt something in the seminary which he had never forgotten.
"No," replied the other. "What is this house? I was just going into it."
Mon turned and looked up at the building with a little wave of the hand, indicating lightly the stones and mortar.
"It is just a house, my friend, as you see—a house, like another."
"And who lives in it?"
"Poor people, and foolish people. As in any other. People one must pity and cannot help despising."
He laughed, and as he spoke he led the way, as it were, unconsciously away from this house which was like another.
"Because they are poor?" inquired Sarrion, who did not move a step in response to Evasio Mon's lead.
"Partly," admitted Mon, holding up one finger. "Because, my friend, none but the foolish are poor in this world."
"Then why has the good God sent so many fools into the world?"
"Because He wants a few saints, I suppose."
Mon was still trying to lead him away from that threshold and Sarrion still stood his ground. Their half-bantering talk suddenly collapsed, and they stood looking at each other in silence for a moment. Both were what may be called "ready" men, quick to catch a thought and answer.
"I will tell you," said Sarrion quietly, "why I am going into this house. I have long ceased to take an interest in the politics of this poor country, as you know."
Mon's gesture seemed to indicate that Sarrion had only done what was wise and sensible in a matter of which it was no longer any use to talk.
"But to my friends I still give a thought," went on the Count. "Two nights ago a man was attacked in this street—by the usual street cutthroats, it is to be supposed. I saw it all from my balcony there. See, from this corner you can perceive the balcony."
He drew Mon to the corner of the street, and pointed out the Sarrion Palace, gloomy and deserted at the further end of the street.
"But it was dark, and I could not see much," he added, seeming unconsciously to answer a question passing in his companion's mind; for Mon's pleasant eyes were measuring the distance.
"I thought they brought him in here; for before I could descend help came, and the cutthroats ran away."
"It is like your good, kind heart, my friend, to interest yourself in the fate of some rake, who was probably tipsy, or else he would not have been abroad at that hour."
"I had not mentioned the hour."
"One presumes," said Mon, with a short laugh, "that such incidents do not happen in the early evening. However, let us by all means make inquiries after your dissipated protege."
He moved with alacrity to the house, leading the way now.
"By an odd chance," said Sarrion, following him more slowly, "I have conceived the idea that this man is an old friend of mine."
"Then, my good Ramon, he must be an old friend of mine, too."
"Francisco de Mogente."
Mon stopped with a movement of genuine surprise, followed instantly by a quick sidelong glance beneath his lashes.
"Our poor, wrong-headed Francisco," he said, "what made you think of him after all these years? Have you heard from him?"
He turned on the stairs as he asked this question in an indifferent voice and waited for the answer; but Sarrion was looking at the steps with a deep attention.
"See," he said, "there are drops of blood on the stairs. There was blood in the street, but it had been covered with dust. This also has been covered with dust—but the dust may be swept aside—see!"
And with the gloves which a Spanish gentleman still carries in his hand whenever he is out of doors, he brushed the dust aside.
"Yes," said Mon, examining the steps, "yes; you may be right. Come, let us make inquiries. I know most of the people in this house. They are poor people. In my small way I help some of them, when an evil time comes in the winter."
He was all eagerness now, and full of desire to help. It was he who told the Count's story, and told it a little wrong as a story is usually related by one who repeats it, while Sarrion stood at the door and looked around him. It was Mon who persisted that every stone should be turned, and every denizen of the great house interrogated. But nothing resulted from these inquiries.
"I did not, of course, mention Francisco's name," he said, confidentially, as they emerged into the street again. "Nothing was to be gained by that. And I confess I think you are the victim of your own imagination in this. Francisco is in Santiago de Cuba, and will probably never return. If he were here in Saragossa surely his own son would know it. I saw Leon de Mogente the day before yesterday, by the way, and he said nothing of his father. And it is not long since I spoke with Juanita. We could make inquiry of Leon—but not to-day, by the way. It is a great Retreat, organised by some pilgrims to the Shrine of our Lady of the Pillar, and Leon is sure to be of it. The man is half a monk, you know."
They were walking down the Calle San Gregorio, and, as if in illustration of the fact that chance will betray those who wait most assiduously upon her, the curtain of the great door of the cathedral was drawn aside, and Leon de Mogente came out blinking into the sunlight. The meeting was inevitable.
"There is Leon—by a lucky chance," said Mon almost immediately.
Leon de Mogente had seen them and was hurrying to meet them. Seen thus in the street, under the sun, he was a pale and bloodless man—food for the cloister. He bowed with an odd humility to Mon, but spoke directly to the Count de Sarrion. He knew, and showed that he knew, that Mon was not glad to see him.
"I did not know that you were in Saragossa," he said. "A terrible thing has happened. My father is dead. He died without the benefits of the Church. He returned secretly to Saragossa two days ago and was attacked and robbed in the streets."
"And died in that house," added Sarrion, indicating with his stick the building they had just quitted.
"Ye—es," answered Leon hesitatingly, with a quick and frightened glance at Mon. "It may have been. I do not know. He died without the consolation of the Church. It is that that I think of."
"Yes," said Sarrion rather coldly, "you naturally would."
A PILGRIMAGE Evasio Mon was a great traveler. In Eastern countries a man who makes the pilgrimage to Mecca adds thereafter to his name a title which carries with it not only the distinction conferred upon the dullest by the sight of other men and countries, but the bearer stands high among the elect.
If many pilgrimages could confer a title, this gentle-mannered Spaniard would assuredly have been thus decorated. He had made almost every pilgrimage that the Church may dictate—that wise old Church, which fills so well its vocation in the minds of the restless and the unsatisfied. He had been many times to Rome. He could tell you the specific properties of every shrine in the Roman Catholic world. He made a sort of speciality in latter-day miracles.
Did this woman want a son to put a graceful finish to her family of daughters, he could tell her of some little-known pilgrimage in the mountains which rarely failed.
"Go," he would say. "Go there, and say your prayer. It is the right thing to do. The air of the mountains is delightful. The journey diverts the mind."
In all of which he was quite right. And it was not for him, any more than it is for the profane reader, to inquire why latter-day miracles are nearly always performed at or near popular health resorts.
Was another in grief, Evasio Mon would send him on a long journey to a gay city, where the devout are not without worldly diversion in the evenings.
Neither was it upon hearsay only that he prescribed. He had been to all these places, and tested them perhaps, which would account for his serene demeanour and that even health which he seemed to enjoy. He had traveled without perturbment, it would seem, for his journeys had left no wrinkles on his bland forehead, neither was the light of restlessness in his quiet eyes.
He must have seen many cities, but cities are nearly all alike, and they grow more alike every day. Many men also must he have met, but they seemed to have rubbed against him and left him unmarked—as sandstone may rub against a diamond. It is upon the sandstone that the scratch remains. He was not part of all that he had seen, which may have meant that he looked not at men or cities, but right through them, to something beyond, upon which his gaze was always fixed.
Living as he did, in a city possessing so great a shrine as that of the "Virgen del Pilar," the scene of a vision accorded to St. James when traveling through Spain, Mon naturally interested himself in the pilgrims, who came from all parts of the world to worship in the cathedral, who may be seen at any hour kneeling in the dim light of flickering candles before the altar rails.
Mon's apartment, indeed, in the tall house next door to the Posada de los Reyes on the Paseo del Ebro was a known resort of the more cultured of the pilgrims, of these who came from afar; from Rome and from the farthest limits of the Roman Church—from Warsaw to Minnesota.
Evasio Mon had friends also among the humble and such as sheltered in the Posada de los Reyes, which itself was a typical Spanish hostelry, and one of those houses of the road in which the traveler is lucky if he finds the bedrooms all occupied; for then he may, without giving offense, sleep more comfortably in the hayloft. Here, night and day, the clink of bells and the gruff admonition of refractory mules told of travel, and the constant come and go of strange, wild-looking men from the remoter corners of Aragon, far up by the foothills of the Pyrenees. The huge two-wheeled carts drawn by six, eight or ten mules, came lumbering through the dust at all hours of the twenty-four, bringing the produce of the greener lands to this oasis of the Aragonese desert. Some came from other oases in the salt and stony plains where once an inland sea covered all, while the others hailed from the north where the Sierras de Guara rise merging into the giant Pyrenees.
Many of these drivers made their way up the stairs of the house where Evasio Mon lived his quiet life, and gave a letter or merely a verbal message, remembered faithfully through the long and dusty journey, to the man who, though no priest himself, seemed known to every priest in Spain. These letters and messages were nearly always from the curate of some distant village, and told as often as not of a cheerful hopefulness in the work.
Sometimes the good men themselves would come, sitting humbly beneath the hood of the great cart, or riding a mule, far enough in front to avoid the dust, and yet near enough for company. This was more especially in the month of February, at the anniversary of the miraculous appearance, at which time the graven image set up in the cathedral is understood to be more amenable to supplication than at any other. And, having accomplished their pilgrimage, the simple churchmen turned quite naturally to the house that stood adjoining the cathedral. There, they were always sure of a welcome and of an invitation to lunch or dinner, when they were treated to the very best the city could afford, and, while keeping strictly within the letter of the canonical law, could feast their hearty country appetites even in Lent.
Mon so arranged his journeys that he should be away from Saragossa in the great heats of the summer and autumn, which wise precaution was rendered the easier by the dates of the other great festivals which he usually attended. For it will be found that the miracles and other events attractive to the devout nearly always happen at that season of the year which is most suitable to the environments. Thus the traditions of the Middle Ages fixed the month of February for Saragossa when it is pleasant to be in a city, and September for Montserrat—to quote only one instance—at which time the cool air of the mountains is most to be appreciated.
Evasio Mon, however, was among those who deemed it wise to avoid the great festival at Montserrat by making his pilgrimage earlier in the summer, when the number of the devout was more restricted and their quality more select. Scores of thousands of the very poorest in the land flock to the monastery in September, turning the mountain into a picnic ground and the festival into a fair.
Mon never knew when the spirit would move him to make this pleasant journey, but his preparations for it must have been made in advance, and his departure by an early train the day after meeting his old friend the Count de Sarrion was probably sudden to every one except himself.
He left the train at Lerida, going on foot from the station to the town, but he did not seek an hotel. He had a friend, it appeared, whose house was open to him, in the Spanish way, who lived near the church in the long, narrow street which forms nearly the whole town of Lerida. In Navarre and Aragon the train service is not quite up to modern requirements. There is usually one passenger train in either direction during the day, though between the larger cities this service has of late years been doubled. It was afternoon, and the hour of the siesta, when Evasio Mon walked through the narrow streets of this ancient city.
Although the sun was hot, and all nature lay gasping beneath it, the streets were unusually busy, and in the shades of the arcades at the corner of the market-place, at the corner of the bridge, and by the bank of the river, where the low wall is rubbed smooth by the trousers of the indolent, men stood in groups and talked in a low voice. It is not too much to state that the only serene face in the streets was that of Evasio Mon, who went on his way with the absorbed smile which is usually taken in England to indicate the Christian virtues, and is associated as often as not with Dissent.
The men of Lerida—a simpler, more agricultural race than the Navarrese—were disturbed; and, indeed, these were stirring times in Spain. These men knew what might come at any moment, for they had been born in stirring times and their fathers before them. Stirring times had reigned in this country for a hundred years. Ferdinand VII—the beloved, the dupe of Napoleon the Great, the god of all Spain from Irun to San Roque, and one of the thorough-paced scoundrels whom God has permitted to sit on a throne—had bequeathed to his country a legacy of strife, which was now bearing fruit.
For not only Aragon, but all Spain was at this time in the most unfortunate position in which a nation or a man—and, above all, a woman—can find herself—she did not know what she wanted.
On one side was Catalonia, republican, fiery, democratic, and independent; on the other, Navarre, more priest-ridden than Rome herself, with every man a Carlist and every woman that which her confessor told her to be. In the south, Andalusia only asked to be left alone to go her own sunny, indifferent way to the limbo of the great nations. Which way should Aragon turn? In truth, the men of Aragon knew not themselves.
Stirring times indeed; for the news had just penetrated to far remote Lerida that the two greatest nations of Europe were at each other's throats. It was a long cry from Ems to Lerida, and the talkers on the shady side of the market-place knew little of what was passing on the banks of the Rhine.
Stirring times, too, were nearer at hand across the Mediterranean. For things were approaching a deadlock on the Tiber, and that river, too, must, it seemed, flow with blood before the year ran out. For the greatest catastrophe that the Church has had to face was preparing in the new and temporary capital of Italy; and all men knew that the word must soon go forth from Florence telling the monarch of the Vatican that he must relinquish Rome or fight for it.
Spain, in her awkward search for a king hither and thither over Europe, had thrown France and Germany into war. And Evasio Mon probably knew of the historic scene at Ems as soon as any man in the Peninsula; for history will undoubtedly show, when a generation or so has passed away, that the latter stages of Napoleon's declaration of war were hurried on by priestly intrigue. It will be remembered that Bismarck was the deadliest and cleverest foe that Jesuitism has had.
Mon knew what the talkers in the market-place were saying to each other. He probably knew what they were afraid to say to each other. For Spain was still seeking a king—might yet set other nations by the ears. The Republic had been tried and had miserably failed. There was yet a Don Carlos, a direct descendant of the brother whom Ferdinand the beloved cheated out of his throne. There was a Don Carlos. Why not Don Carlos, since we seek a king? the men in the Phrygian caps were saying to each other. And that was what Mon wanted them to say.
After dark he came out into the streets again, cloaked to the lips against the evening air. He went to the large cafe by the river, and there seemed to meet many acquaintances.
The next morning he continued his journey, by road now, and on horseback. He sat a horse well, but not with that comfort which is begotten of a love of the animal. For him the horse was essentially a means of transport, and all other animals were looked at in a like utilitarian spirit.
In every village he found a friend. As often as not he was the first to bring the news of war to a people who have scarcely known peace these hundred years. The teller of news cannot help telling with his tidings his own view of them; and Evasio Mon made it known that in his opinion all who had a grievance could want no better opportunity of airing it.
Thus he traveled slowly through the country towards Montserrat; and wherever his slight, black-clad form and serene face had passed, the spirit of unrest was left behind. In remote Aragonese villages, as in busy Catalan towns where the artisan (that disturber of ancient peace) was already beginning to add his voice to things of Spain, Evasio Mon always found a hearing.
Needless to say he found in every village Venta, in every Posada of the towns, that which is easy to find in this babbling world—a talker.
And Evasio Mon was a notable listener.
PILGRIMS It is not often that nature takes the trouble to stir the heart of man into any emotion stronger than a quiet admiration or a peaceful wonder. Here and there on the face of the earth, however, the astonishing work of God gives pause to the most casual observer, the most thoughtless traveler.
"Why did He do this?" one wonders. And no geologist—not even a French geologist with his quick imagination and lively sense of the picturesque—can answer the question.
On first perceiving the sudden, uncouth height of Montserrat the traveler must assuredly ask in his own mind, "Why?"
The mountain is of granite, where no other granite is. It belongs to no neighbouring formation. It stands alone, throwing up its rugged peaks into a cloudless sky. It is a piece from nothing near it—-from nothing nearer, one must conclude, than the moon. No wonder it stirred the imagination of mediaeval men dimly groping for their God.
Ignatius de Loyola solved the question with that unbounded assurance which almost always accompanies the greatest of human blunders. It is the self-confident man who compasses the finest wreck, Loyola, wounded in the defense of that strongest little city in Europe, Pampeluna—wounded, alas! and not killed—jumped to the conclusion that God had reared up Montserrat as a sign. For it was here that the Spanish soldier, who was to mould the history of half the world, dedicated himself to Heaven.
Within sight of the Mediterranean and of the Pyrenees, towering above the brown plains of Catalonia, this shrine is the greatest in Christendom that bases its greatness on nothing but tradition. Thousands of pilgrims flock here every year. Should they ask for history, they are given a legend. Do they demand a fact, they are told a miracle. On payment of a sufficient fee they are shown a small, ill-carved figure in wood. The monastery is not without its story; for the French occupied it and burnt it to the ground. For the rest, its story is that of Spain, torn hither and thither in the hopeless struggle of a Church no longer able to meet the demands of an enlightened religious comprehension, and endeavouring to hold back the inevitable advance of the human understanding.
To-day a few monks are permitted to live in the great houses teaching music and providing for the wants of the devout pilgrims. Without the monastery gate, there is a good and exceedingly prosperous restaurant where the traveler may feed. In the vast houses, is accommodation for rich and poor; a cell and clean linen, a bed and a monastic basin. The monks keep a small store, where candles may be bought and matches, and even soap, which is in small demand.
Evasio Mon arrived at Montserrat in the evening, having driven in open carriage from the small town of Monistrol in the valley below. It was the hour of the table d'hote, and the still evening air was ambient with culinary odours. Mon went at once to the office of the monastery, and there received his sheets and pillow-case, his towel, his candle, and the key of his cell in the long corridor of the house of Santa Maria de Jesu. He knew his way about these holy houses, and exchanged a nod of recognition with the lay brother on duty in the office.
Then this traveler hurried across the courtyard and out of the great gate to join the pilgrims of the richer sort at table in the dining-room of the restaurant. There were four who looked up from their plates and bowed in the grave Spanish way when he entered the room. Then all fell to their fish again in silence; for Spain is a silent country, and only babbles in that home of fervid eloquence and fatal verbosity, the Cortes. It is always dangerous to enter into conversation with a stranger in Spain, for there is practically no subject upon which the various nationalities are unable to quarrel. A Frenchman is a Frenchman all the world over, and politics may be avoided by a graceful reference to the Patrie, for which Republican and Legitimist are alike prepared to die. But the Spaniard may be an Aragonese or a Valencian, an Andalusian or a Guipuzcoan, and patriotism is a flower of purely local growth and colour.
Thus men, meeting in public places have learnt to do so in silence; and a table d'hote is a wordless function unless the inevitable Andalusian—he who takes the place of the Gascon in France—is present with his babble and his laugh, his fine opinion of himself, and his faculty for making a sacrifice of his own dignity at that over-rated altar—the shrine of sociability.
There was no Andalusian at this small table to serve at once as a link of sympathy between the quiet men, who would fain silence him, and a means of making unsociable persons acquainted with each other. The five men were thus permitted to dine in a silence befitting their surroundings and their station in life. For they were obviously gentlemen, and obviously of a thoughtful and perhaps devout habit of mind. A keen observer who has had the cosmopolitan education, say, of an attache, is usually able to assign a nationality to each member of a mixed assembly; but there was a subtle resemblance to each other in these diners, which would have made the task a hard one. These were citizens of the world, and their likeness lay deeper than a mere accident of dress. In fact, the most remarkable thing about them was that they were all alike studiously unremarkable.
After the formal bow, Evasio Mon gave his attention to the fare set before him. Once he raised his narrow gaze, and, with a smile of recognition, acknowledged the grave and very curt nod of a man seated opposite. A second time he met the glance of another diner, a stout, puffy man, who breathed heavily while he ate. Both men alike averted their eyes at once, and both looked towards a little wizened man, doubled up in his chair, who ate sparingly, and bore on his wrinkled face and bent form, the evidence of such a weight of care as few but kings and ministers ever know.
So absorbed was he that after one glance at Evasio Mon he lapsed again into his own thoughts. The very manner in which he crumbled his bread and handled his knife and fork showed that his mind was as busy as a mill. He was oblivious to his surroundings; had forgotten his companions. His mind had more to occupy it than one brief lifetime could hope to compass. Yet he was so clearly a man in authority that a casual observer could scarcely have failed to perceive that these devout pilgrims, from Italy, from France, from far-off Poland, and Saragossa close at hand in Catalonia, had come to meet him and were subordinate to him.
It was probably no small task to command such men as Evasio Mon—and the other four seemed no less pliable behind their gentle smile.
When the dessert had been placed on the table and one or two had reflectively eaten a baked almond, more from habit than desire, the little wizened man looked round the table with the manner of a rather absent-minded host.
"It is eight o'clock," he said in French. "The monastery gate closes at half-past. We have no time to discuss our business at this table. Shall we go within the monastery gates? There is a seat by the wall, near the fountain, in the courtyard—"
He rose as he spoke, and it became at once apparent that this was a great man. For all stood aside as he passed out, and one opened the door as to a prince; of which amenities he took no heed.
The monastery is built against the sheer side of the mountain, perched on a cornice, like a huge eagle's nest. The buildings have no pretense to architectural beauty, and consist of barrack-like houses built around a quadrangle. The chapel is at the farther end, and is, of course, the centre of interest. Here is kept the sacred image, which has survived so many chances and changes; which, hidden for a hundred and fifty years in a cavern on the mountainside, made itself known at last by a miraculous illumination at night, and for the further guidance of the faithful gave forth a sweet scent. It, moreover, selected this spot for its shrine by jibbing under the immediate eye of a bishop, and refusing to be carried further up the mountain.
The house of Santa Maria de Jesu has the advantage of being at the outer end of the quadrangle, and thus having no house opposite to it, faces a sheer fall of three thousand feet. A fountain splashes in the courtyard below, and a low wall forms a long seat where the devout pass the evening hours in that curt and epigrammatic conversation, which is more peaceful than the quick talk of Frenchmen, and deeper than the babble of Italy.
It was to this wall that the little wizened man led the way, and here seated himself with a gesture, inviting his companions to do the same. Had any idle observer been interested in their movements he would have concluded that these were four travelers, probably pilgrims of the better class, who had made acquaintance at the table d'hote.
"I have come a long way," said the little man at once, speaking in the rather rounded French of the Italian born, "and have left Rome at a time when the Church requires the help of even the humblest of her servants—I hope our good Mon has something important and really effective this time to communicate."
Mon smiled at the implied reproach.
"And I, too, have come from far—from Warsaw," said the stout man, breathing hard, as if to illustrate the length of his journey. "Let us hope that there is something tangible this time."
He spoke with the gaiety and lightness of a Frenchman; for this was that Frenchman of the North, a Pole.
Mon lighted a cigarette, with a gay jerk of the match towards the last speaker, indicative of his recognition of a jest.
"Something," continued the Pole, "more than great promises—something more stable than a castle—in Spain. Ha, ha! You have not taken Pampeluna yet, my friend. One does not hear that Bilboa has fallen into the hands of the Carlists. Every time we meet you ask for money. You must arrange to give us something—for our money, my friend."
"I will arrange," answered Mon in his quiet, neat enunciation, "to give you a kingdom."
And he inclined his head forward to look at the Pole through the upper half of his gold-rimmed glasses.
"And not a vague republic in the region of the North Pole," said the stout man with a laugh. "Well, who lives shall see."
"You want more money—is that it?" inquired the little wizened man, who seemed to be the leader though he spoke the least—a not unusual characteristic.
"Yes," replied the Spaniard.
"Your country has cost us much this year," said the little man, blinking his colourless eyes and staring at the ground as if making a mental calculation. "You have forced Germany and France into war. You have made France withdraw her troops from Rome, and you gave Victor Emmanuel the chance he awaited. You have given all Europe—the nerves."
"And now is the moment to play on those nerves," said Mon.
"With your clumsy Don Carlos?"
"It is not the man—it is the Cause. Remember that we are an ignorant nation. It is the ignorant and the half educated who sacrifice all for a cause."
"It is a pity you cannot buy a new Don Carlos with our money," put in the Pole.
"This one will serve," was the reply. "One must look to the future. Many have been ruined by success, because it took them by surprise. In case we succeed, this one will serve. The Church does not want its kings to be capable—remember that."
"But what does Spain want?" inquired the leader.
"Spain doesn't know."
"And this Prince of ours, whom you have asked to be your king. Is not that a spoke in your wheel?" asked the man of few words.
"A loose spoke which will drop out. No one—not even Prim—thinks that he will last ten years. He may not last ten months."
"But you have to reckon with the man. This son of Victor Emmanuel is clever and capable. One can never tell what may arise in a brain that works beneath a crown."
"We have reckoned with him. He is honest. That tells his tale. No honest king can hope to reign over this country in their new Constitution. It needs a Bourbon or a woman."
The quick, colourless eyes rested on Mon's face for a moment, and—who knows?—perhaps they picked up Mon's secret in passing.
"Something dishonest, in a word," put in the Pole.
But nobody heeded him; for the word was with the leader.
"When last we met," he said at length, "and you received a large sum of money, you made a distinct promise; unless my memory deceives me."
He paused, and no one suggested that his memory had ever made slip or lapse in all his long career.
"You said you would not ask for money again unless you could show something tangible—a fortress taken and held, a great General bought, a Province won. Is that so?"
"Yes," answered Mon.
"Or else," continued the speaker, "in order to meet the very just complaint from other countries, such as Poland for instance, that Spain has had more than her share of the common funds—you would lay before us some proposal of self-help, some proof that Spain in asking for help is prepared to help herself by a sacrifice of some sort."
"I said that I would not ask for any sum that I could not double," said Mon.
The little man sat blinking for some minutes silent in that absolute stillness which is peculiar to great heights—and is so marked at Montserrat that many cannot sleep there.
"I will give you any sum that you can double," he said, at length.
"Then I will ask you for three million pesetas."
All turned and looked at him in wonder. The fat man gave a gasp. With three million pesetas he could have made a Polish republic. Mon only smiled.
"For every million pesetas that you show me," said the little man, "I will hand you another million—cash for cash. When shall we begin?"
"You must give me time," answered Mon, reflectively. "Say six months hence."
The little man rose in response to the chapel bell, which was slowly tolling for the last service of the day.
"Come," he said, "let us say a prayer before we go to bed."
THE ALTERNATIVE The letter written by the Count de Sarrion to his son was delivered to Marcos, literally from hand to hand, by the messenger to whose care it was entrusted.
So fully did the mountaineer carry out his instructions, that after standing on the river bank for some minutes, he deliberately walked knee-deep into the water and touched Marcos on the elbow. For the river is a loud one, and Marcos, intent on his sport, never turned his head to look about him.
This, the last of the Sarrions, was a patient looking man, with the quiet eyes of one who deals with Nature, and the slow movements of the far-sighted. For Nature is always consistent, and never hurries those who watch her closely to obey the laws she writes so large in the instincts of man and beast.
The messenger gave his master the letter and then stood with the water rustling past his woollen stockings. There was an odd suggestion of brotherhood between these men of very different birth. For as men are equal in the sight of God, so are those dimly like each other who live in the open air and cast their lives upon the broad bosom of Nature.
Marcos handed his rod to the messenger, whose face, wrinkled like a walnut by the sun of Aragon, lighted up suddenly with pleasure.
"There," he said, pointing to a swirling pool beneath some alders. "There is a big one there, I have risen him once."
He waded slowly back to the bank where a second crop of hay was already showing its new green, and sat down.
It seemed that Marcos de Sarrion was behind the times—these new and wordy times into which Spain has floundered so disastrously since Charles III was king—for he gave a deeper attention to the matter in hand than most have time for. He turned from the hard task of catching a trout in clear water beneath a sunny sky, and gave his attention to his father's letter.
"After all," it read, "I want you, and await you in Saragossa."
And that was all. "Marcos will come," the Count had reflected, "without persuasion. And explanations are dangerous."
In which he was right. For this river, known as the Wolf, in which Marcos was peacefully fishing, was one of those Northern tributaries of the Ebro which have run with blood any time this hundred years. The country, moreover, that it drained was marked in the Government maps as a blank country, or one that paid no taxes, and knew not the uniform of the Government troops.
Torre Garda, the long two-storied house crowning a hill-top farther up the valley of the Wolf, was one of the few country houses that have not stood empty since the forties. And all the valley of the Wolf, from the grim Pyrenees standing sentinel at its head to the sunny plain almost in sight of Pampeluna, where the Wolf merges into other streams, was held quiescent in the grip of the Sarrions.
"We will fight," said the men of this valley, "for the king, when we have a king worth fighting for. And we will always fight for ourselves."
And it was said that they only repeated what the Sarrions had told them. At all events, no Carlists came that way.
"Torre Garda is not worth holding," they said.
"And you cannot hold Pampeluna unless you take Torre Garda first," thought those who knew the art of guerilla warfare.
So the valley of the Wolf awaited a king worth fighting for, and in the meantime they paid no taxes, enjoyed no postal service, and were perhaps none the worse without it.
There were Carlists over the mountains on either side of the valley. Eternal snow closed the northern end of it and fed the Wolf in the summer heats. Down at the mouth of the valley where the road was wide enough for two carts to pass each other, and a carriage could be driven at the trot, there often passed a patrol from the Royalist stronghold of Pampeluna. But the Government troops never ventured up the valley which was like a mouse-hole with a Carlist cat waiting round the corner to cut them off. Neither did the Carlists hazard themselves through the narrow defile where the Wolf rushed down its straightened gate; for there were forty thousand men in Pampeluna, only ten miles away.
Which reasons were sound enough to dictate caution in any written word that might pass from the Count in Saragossa to his son at Torre Garda.
A white dog with one yellow and black ear—a dog that might have been a nightmare, a bad, distorted dream of a pointer—stood in front of Marcos de Sarrion as he read the letter and seemed to await the hearing of its contents.
There are many persons of doubtful social standing, who seek to make up—to bridge that narrow and unfathomable gulf—by affability. This dog it seemed, knowing that he was not quite a pointer, sought to conciliate humanity by an eagerness, by a pathetic and blundering haste to try and understand what was expected of him and to perform the same without delay, which was quite foreign to the nature of the real breed.
In Spain one addresses a man by the plain term: Man. And after all, it is something—deja quelque chose—to be worthy of that name. This dog was called Perro, which being translated is Dog. He had been a waif in his early days, some stray from the mountains near the frontier, where dogs are trained to smuggle. Full of zeal, he had probably smuggled too eagerly. Marcos had found him, half starved, far up the valley of the Wolf. He had not been deemed worthy of a baptismal name and had been called the Dog—and admitted as such to the outbuildings of Torre Garda. From thence he had worked his humble way upwards. By patience and comfort his mind slowly expanded until men almost forgot that this was a disgraceful mongrel.
Perro had risen from a slumberous contemplation of the tumbling water and now stood awaiting orders, his near hind leg shaking with eagerness to please, by running anywhere at any pace.
Marcos never spoke to his dog. He had seen Spain humbled to the dust by babble, and the sight had, perhaps, dried up the spring of his speech. For he rarely spoke idly. If he had anything to say, he said it. But if he had nothing, he was silent. Which is, of course, fatal to social advancement, and set him at one stroke outside the pale of political life. Spain at this time, and, indeed, during the last thirty years, had been the happy hunting ground of the beau sabreur, of those (of all men, most miserable) who owe their success in life to a woman's favour.
This silent Spaniard might, perhaps, have made for himself a name in the world's arena in other days; for he had a spark of that genius which creates a leader. But fate had ruled that he should have no wider sphere than an obscure Pyrenean gorge, no greater a following than the men of the Valley of the Wolf. These he held in an iron grip. Within his deep and narrow head lay the secret which neither Madrid nor Bayonne could ever understand; why the Valley of the Wolf was neither Royalist nor Carlist. The quiet, slow eyes had alone seen into the hearts of the wild Navarrese mountaineers and knew the way to rule them.
It may be thought that their small number made the task an easy one. But it must also be remembered that these mountain slopes have given to the world the finest guerilla soldiers that history has known, and are peopled by one of the untamed races of mankind.
Moreover, Marcos de Sarrion was a restful man. And those few who see below the surface, know that the restful man is he whose life's task is well within the compass of his ability.
Perro, it seemed, with an intelligence developed at the best and hardest of all schools, where hunger is the usher, awaited, not word, but action from his master; and had not long to wait.
For Marcos rose and slowly climbed the hill towards Torre Garda, half hidden amid the pine trees on the mountain crest above him. There was a midnight train, he knew, from Pampeluna to Saragossa. The railway station was only twenty miles away, which is to this day considered quite a convenient distance in Navarre. There would be a moon soon after nightfall. There was plenty of time. That far-off ancestress of the middle-ages had, it would appear, handed down to her sons forever, with the clear cut profile, the philosophy which allows itself time to get through life unruffled.
The Count de Sarrion was taking his early coffee the next morning at the open window in Saragossa when Marcos, with the dust of travel across the Alkali desert still upon him, came into the room.
"I expected you," said the father. "You will like a bath. All is ready in your room. I have seen to it myself. When you are ready come back here and take your coffee."
His attitude was almost that of a host. For Marcos rarely came to Saragossa. Although there was a striking resemblance of feature between the Sarrions, the father was taller, slighter and quicker in his glance, while Marcos' face seemed to bespeak a greater strength. In any common purpose it would assuredly fall to Marcos' lot to execute that which his father had conceived. The older man's presence suggested the Court, while Marcos was clearly intended for the Camp.
The Count de Sarrion had passed through both and had emerged half cynical, half indifferent from the slough of an evil woman's downfall.
"You would have made a good soldier," he said to Marcos, when his son at last came home to Torre Garda with an education completed in England and France. "But there is no opening for an honest man in the Spanish Army. Honesty is in the gutter in Spain to-day."
And Marcos always followed his father's advice. Later he found that Spain indeed offered no career to honest men at this time. Gradually he supplanted his father in an unrecognised, indefinable monarchy in the Valley of the Wolf; and there, in the valley, they waited; as good Spaniards have waited these hundred years until such time as God's wrath shall be overpast.
"I have a long story to tell you," said the Count, when his son returned and sat down at once with a keen appetite to his first breakfast of coffee and bread. "And I will tell it without comment, without prejudice, if I can."
Marcos nodded. The Count had lighted a cigarette and now leant against the window which opened on to the heavily barred balcony overlooking the Calle San Gregorio.
"Four nights ago," he said, "at about midnight, Francisco de Mogente returned secretly to Saragossa. I think he was coming to this house; but we shall never know that. No one knew he was coming—not even Juanita."
The Count glanced at his son only long enough to note the passage of a sort of shadow across his dark eyes at the mention of the schoolgirl's name.
"Francisco was attacked in the street down there, at the corner of the Calle San Gregorio, and was killed," he concluded.
Marcos rose and crossed the room towards the window. He was, it appeared, an eminently practical man, and desired to see the exact spot where Mogente had fallen before the story went any farther. Perro went so far as to push his plebeian head through the bars and look down into the street. It was his misfortune to fall into the fault of excess as it is the misfortune of most parvenus.
"Does Juanita know?" asked Marcos.
"Yes. My sister Dolores has told her. Poor child! It is more in the nature of a disappointment than a sorrow. Her heart is young; and disappointment is the sorrow of the young."
Marcos sat down again in silence.
"We must remember," said the Count, "that she never knew him. It will pass. I saw the incident from this window. There is no door at this side of the house. I should, as you know, have had to go round by the Paseo del Ebro. To render help was out of the question. I went down afterwards, however, when help had come and the dying man had been carried away—by a friar, Marcos! I had seen something fall from the hand of the murdered man. I went down into the street and picked it up. It was the sword-stick which Juanita sent to her father for the New Year."
"Why did he not let us know that he was coming to Europe?" asked Marcos.
"Ah! That he will tell us hereafter. The mere fact of his being attacked in the streets of Saragossa and killed for the money that was in his pockets is, of course, quite simple, and common enough. But why should he be cared for by a friar, and taken to one of those numerous religious houses which have sprung into unseen existence all over Spain since the Jesuits were expelled?"
"Has he left a will?" asked Marcos.
Sarrion turned and looked at him with a short laugh. He threw his cigarette away, and coming into the room, sat down in front of the small table where Marcos was still satisfying his honest and simple appetite.
"I have told my story badly," he said, with a curt laugh, "and spoilt it. You have soon seen through it. Mogente made a will on his death-bed—which was, by the way, witnessed by Leon de Mogente as a supernumerary, not a legal witness—just to show that all was square and above board."
"Then he left his money—?"
"To Juanita. One can only conclude that he was wandering in mind when he did it. For he was fond of her, I think. He had no reason to wish her harm. I have picked up what unconsidered trifles of information I can, but they do not amount to much. I cabled to Cuba for news as to Mogente's fortune; for we know that he has made one. There is the reply." He handed Marcos a telegram which bore the words: