This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
TOMASO'S FORTUNE and other stories by HENRY SETON MERRIMAN.
"The common problem, yours, mine, every one's, Is—not to fancy what were fair in life Provided it could be,—but, finding first What may be, then find how to make it fair . . ."
SISTER. A SMALL WORLD. IN A CROOKED WAY. THE TALE OF A SCORPION. ON THE ROCKS. "GOLOSSA-A-L". THE MULE. IN LOVE AND WAR. TOMASO'S FORTUNE. STRANDED. PUTTING THINGS RIGHT. FOR JUANITA'S SAKE. AT THE FRONT. THE END OF THE "MOOROO". IN A CARAVAN. IN THE TRACK OF THE WANDERING JEW. THROUGH THE GATE OF TEARS. A PARIAH. THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN.
It does not matter where it was. I do not want other people—that is to say, those who were around us—to recognize Sister or myself. It is not likely that she will see this, and I am not sure that she knows my name. Of course, some one may draw her attention to this paper, and she may remember that the name affixed to it is that which I signed at the foot of a document we made out together— namely, a return of deaths. At the foot of this paper our names stood one beneath the other—stand there still, perhaps, in some forgotten bundle of papers at the War Office.
I only hope that she will not see this, for she might consider it a breach of professional etiquette; and I attach great importance to the opinion of this woman, whom I have only seen once in my whole life. Moreover, on that occasion she was subordinate to me—more or less in the position of a servant.
Suffice it to say, therefore, that it was war-time, and our trade was what the commercial papers call brisk. A war better remembered of the young than of the old, because it was, comparatively speaking, recent. The old fellows seem to remember the old fights better—those fights that were fought when their blood was still young and the vessels thereof unclogged.
It was, by the way, my first campaign, but I was not new to the business of blood; for I am no soldier—only a doctor. My only uniform—my full-parade dress—is a red cross on the arm of an old blue serge jacket—such jacket being much stained with certain dull patches which are better not investigated.
All who have taken part in war—doing the damage or repairing it— know that things are not done in quite the same way when ball- cartridge is served out instead of blank. The correspondents are very fond of reporting that the behaviour of the men suggested a parade—which simile, it is to be presumed, was borne in upon their fantastic brains by its utter inapplicability. The parade may be suggested before the real work begins—when it is a question of marching away from the landing-stage; but after the work—our work— has begun, there is remarkably little resemblance to a review.
We are served with many official papers which we never fill in, because, on the spur of the moment, it is apt to suggest itself that men's lives are more important. We misapply a vast majority of our surgical supplies, because the most important item is usually left behind at headquarters or at the seaport depot. In fact, we do many things that we should leave undone, and omit to do more which we are expected (officially) to do.
For some reason—presumably the absence of better men—I was sent up to the front before we had been three days at work. Our hospital by the river was not full when I received orders to follow the flying column with two assistants and the appliances of a field-hospital.
Out of this little nucleus sprang the largest depot for sick and wounded that was formed during the campaign. We were within easy reach of headquarters, and I was fortunately allowed a free hand. Thus our establishment in the desert grew daily more important, and finally superseded the hospital at headquarters.
We had a busy time, for the main column had now closed up with the first expeditionary force, and our troops were in touch with the enemy not forty miles away from me.
In the course of time—when the authorities learnt to cease despising the foe, which is a little failing in British military high places—it was deemed expedient to fortify us, and then, in addition to two medical assistants, I was allowed three Government nurses. This last piece of news was not hailed with so much enthusiasm as might have been expected. I am not in favour of bringing women anywhere near the front. They are, for their own sakes and for the peace of mind of others, much better left behind. If they are beyond a certain age they break down and have to be sent back at considerable trouble—that is to say, an escort and an ambulance cart, of which latter there are never enough. If they are below the climacteric—ever so little below it—they cause mischief of another description, and the wounded are neglected; for there is no passion of the human heart so cruel and selfish as love.
"I am sorry to hear it," I said to light-hearted little Sammy Fitz- Warrener of the Naval Brigade, who brought me the news.
"Sorry to hear it? Gad! I shouldn't be. The place has got a different look about it when there are women-folk around. They are so jolly clever in their ways—worth ten of your red-cross ruffians."
"That is as may be," I answered, breaking open the case of whisky which Sammy had brought up on the carriage of his machine-gun for my private consumption.
He was taking this machine-gun up to the front, and mighty proud he was of it.
"A clever gun," he called it; "an almighty clever gun."
He had ridden alongside of it—sitting on the top of his horse as sailors do—through seventy miles of desert without a halt; watching over it and tending it as he might have watched and tended his mother, or perhaps some other woman.
"Gad! doctor," he exclaimed, kicking out his sturdy legs, and contemplating with some satisfaction the yellow hide top-boots which he had bought at the Army and Navy Stores. (I know the boots well, and—avoid them.) "Gad! doctor, you should see that gun on the war- path. Travels as light as a tricycle. And when she begins to talk- -my stars! Click-click-click-click! For all the world like a steam-launch's engine—mowing 'em down all the time. No work for you there. It will be no use you and your satellites progging about with skewers for the bullet. Look at the other side, my boy, and you'll find the beauty has just walked through them."
"Soda or plain?" I asked, in parenthesis.
"Soda. I don't like the flavour of dead camel. A big drink, please. I feel as if I were lined with sand-paper."
He slept that night in the little shanty built of mud and roofed chiefly with old palm-mats, which was gracefully called the head surgeon's quarters. That is to say, he partook of such hospitality as I had to offer him.
Sammy and I had met before he had touched a rope or I a scalpel. We hailed from the same part of the country—down Devonshire way; and, to a limited extent, we knew each other's people—which little phrase has a vast meaning in places where men do congregate.
We turned in pretty early—I on a hospital mattress, he in my bed; but Sam would not go to sleep. He would lie with his arms above his head (which is not an attitude of sleep) and talk about that everlasting gun.
I dozed off to the murmur of his voice expatiating on the extreme cunning of the ejector, and awoke to hear details of the rifling.
We did not talk of home, as do men in books when lying by a camp- fire. Perhaps it was owing to the absence of that picturesque adjunct to a soldier's life. We talked chiefly of the clever gun; and once, just before he fell asleep, Sammy returned to the question of the nurses.
"Yes," he said, "the head saw-bones down there told me to tell you that he had got permission to send you three nurses. Treat 'em kindly, Jack, for my sake. Bless their hearts! They mean well."
Then he fell asleep, and left me thinking of his words, and of the spirit which had prompted them.
I knew really nothing of this man's life, but he seemed singularly happy, with that happiness which only comes when daily existence has a background to it. He spoke habitually of women, as if he loved them all for the sake of one; and this not being precisely my own position, I was glad when he fell asleep.
The fort was astir next morning at four. The bugler kindly blew a blast into our glassless window which left no doubt about it.
"That means all hands on deck, I take it," said Sam, who was one of the few men capable of good humour before tiffin time.
By six o'clock he was ready to go. It was easy to see what sort of officer this cheery sailor was by the way his men worked.
While they were getting the machine-gun limbered up, Sam came back to my quarters, and took a hasty breakfast.
"Feel a bit down this morning," he said, with a gay smile. "Cheap— very cheap. I hope I am not going to funk it. It is all very well for some of you long-faced fellows, who don't seem to have much to live for, to fight for the love of fighting. I don't want to fight any man; I am too fond of 'em all for that."
I went out after breakfast, and I gave him a leg up on to his very sorry horse, which he sat like a tailor or a sailor. He held the reins like tiller-lines, and indulged in a pleased smile at the effect of the yellow boots.
"No great hand at this sort of thing," he said, with a nod of farewell. "When the beast does anything out of the common, or begins to make heavy weather of it, I AM NOT."
He ranged up alongside his beloved gun, and gave the word of command with more dignity than he knew what to do with.
All that day I was employed in arranging quarters for the nurses. To do this I was forced to turn some of our most precious stores out into the open, covering them with a tarpaulin, and in consequence felt all the more assured that my chief was making a great mistake.
At nine o'clock in the evening they arrived, one of the juniors having ridden out in the moonlight to meet them. He reported them completely exhausted; informed me that he had recommended them to go straight to bed; and was altogether more enthusiastic about the matter than I personally or officially cared to see.
He handed me a pencil note from my chief at headquarters, explaining that he had not written me a despatch because he had nothing but a "J" pen, with which instrument he could not make himself legible. It struck me that he was suffering from a plethora of assistance, and was anxious to reduce his staff.
I sent my enthusiastic assistant to the nurses' quarters, with a message that they were not to report themselves to me until they had had a night's rest. Then I turned in.
At midnight I was awakened by the orderly, and summoned to the tent of the officer in command. This youth's face was considerably whiter than his linen. He was consulting with his second in command, a boy of twenty-two or thereabouts.
A man covered with sand and blood was sitting in a hammock-chair, rubbing his eyes, and drinking something out of a tumbler.
"News from the front?" I inquired without ceremony, which hindrance we had long since dispensed with.
"Yes, and bad news."
It certainly was not pleasant hearing. Some one mentioned the word "disaster," and we looked at each other with hard, anxious eyes. I thought of the women, and almost decided to send them back before daylight.
In a few moments a fresh man was roused out of his bed, and sent full gallop through the moonlight across the desert to headquarters, and the officer in command began to regain confidence. I think he extracted it from the despatch-bearer's tumbler. After all, he was not responsible for much. He was merely a connecting-link, a point of touch between two greater men.
It was necessary to get my men to work at once, but I gave particular orders to leave the nurses undisturbed. Disaster at the front meant hard work at the rear. We all knew that, and endeavoured to make ready for a sudden rush of wounded.
The rush began before daylight. As they came in we saw to them, dressing their wounds and packing them as closely as possible. But the stream was continuous. They never stopped coming; they never gave us a moment's rest.
At six o'clock I gave orders to awaken the nurses and order them to prepare their quarters for the reception of the wounded. At half- past six an Army Hospital Corps man came to me in the ward.
"Shockin' case, sir, just come in," he said. "Officer. Gun busted, sir."
"Take him to my quarters," I said, wiping my instruments on my sleeve.
In a few minutes I followed, and on entering my little room the first thing I saw was a pair of yellow boots.
There was no doubt about the boots and the white duck trousers, and although I could not see the face, I knew that this was Sammy Fitz- Warrener come back again.
A woman—one of the nurses for whom he had pleaded—was bending over the bed with a sponge and a basin of tepid water. As I entered she turned upon me a pair of calmly horror-stricken eyes.
"OH!" she whispered meaningly, stepping back to let me approach. I had no time to notice then that she was one of those largely built women, with perfect skin and fair hair, who make one think of what England must have been before Gallic blood got to be so widely disseminated in the race.
"Please pull down that mat from the window," I said, indicating a temporary blind which I had put up.
She did so promptly, and returned to the bedside, falling into position as it were, awaiting my orders.
I bent over the bed, and I must confess that what I saw there gave me a thrill of horror which will come again at times so long as I live.
I made a sign to Sister to continue her task of sponging away the mud, of which one ingredient was sand.
"Both eyes," she whispered, "are destroyed."
"Not the top of the skull," I said; "you must not touch that."
For we both knew that our task was without hope.
As I have said, I knew something of Fitz-Warrener's people, and I could not help lingering there, where I could do no good, when I knew that I was wanted elsewhere.
Suddenly his lips moved, and Sister, kneeling down on the floor, bent over him.
I could not hear what he said, but I think she did. I saw her lips frame the whisper "Yes" in reply, and over her face there swept suddenly a look of great tenderness.
After a little pause she rose and came to me.
"Who is he?" she asked.
"Fitz-Warrener of the Naval Brigade. Do you know him?"
"No, I never heard of him. Of course—it is quite hopeless?"
She returned to her position by the bedside, with one arm laid across his chest.
Presently he began whispering again, and at intervals she answered him. It suddenly occurred to me that, in his unconsciousness, he was mistaking her for some one else, and that she, for some woman's reason, was deceiving him purposely.
In a few moments I was sure of this.
I tried not to look; but I saw it all. I saw his poor blind hands wander over her throat and face, up to her hair.
"What is this?" he muttered quite distinctly, with that tone of self-absorption which characterizes the sayings of an unconscious man. "What is this silly cap?"
His fingers wandered on over the snowy linen until they came to the strings.
As an aspirant to the title of gentleman, I felt like running away— many doctors know this feeling; as a doctor, I could only stay.
His fingers fumbled with the strings. Still Sister bent over the bed. Perhaps she bent an inch or two nearer. One hand was beneath his neck, supporting the poor shattered head.
He slowly drew off the cap, and his fingers crept lovingly over the soft fair hair.
"Marny," he said, quite clearly, "you've done your hair up, and you're nothing but a little girl, you know—nothing but a little girl."
I could not help watching his fingers, and yet I felt like a man committing sacrilege.
"When I left you," said the brainless voice, "you wore it down your back. You were a little girl—you are a little girl now." And he slowly drew a hairpin out.
One long lock fell curling to her shoulder. She never looked up, never noticed me, but knelt there like a ministering angel— personating for a time a girl whom we had never seen.
"My little girl," he added, with a low laugh, and drew out another hairpin.
In a few moments all her hair was about her shoulders. I had never thought that she might be carrying such glory quietly hidden beneath the simple nurse's cap.
"That is better," he said—"that is better." And he let all the hairpins fall on the coverlet. "Now you are my own Marny," he murmured. "Are you not?"
She hesitated one moment. "Yes, dear," she said softly. "I am your own Marny."
With her disengaged hand she stroked his blanching cheek. There was a certain science about her touch, as if she had once known something of these matters.
Lovingly and slowly the smoke-grimed fingers passed over the wonderful hair, smoothing it.
Then he grew more daring. He touched her eyes, her gentle cheeks, the quiet, strong lips. He slipped to her shoulder, and over the soft folds of her black dress.
"Been gardening?" he asked, coming to the bib of her nursing apron.
It was marvellous how the brain, which was laid open to the day, retained the consciousness of one subject so long.
"Yes—dear," she whispered.
"Your old apron is all wet!" he said reproachfully, touching her breast where the blood—his own blood—was slowly drying.
His hand passed on, and as it touched her, I saw her eyes soften into such a wonderful tenderness that I felt as if I were looking on a part of Sister's life which was sacred.
I saw a little movement as if to draw back, then she resolutely held her position. But her eyes were dull with a new pain. I wonder—I have wondered ever since—what memories that poor senseless wreck of a man was arousing in the woman's heart by his wandering touch.
"Marny," he said, "Marny. It was not TOO hard waiting for me?"
"It will be all right now, Marny. The bad part is all past."
"Marny, you remember—the night—I left—Marny—I want—no—no, your LIPS."
I knelt suddenly, and slipped my hand within his shirt, for I saw something in his face.
As Sister's lips touched his I felt his heart give a great bound within his breast, and then it was still. When she lifted her face it was as pale as his.
I must say that I felt like crying—a feeling which had not come to me for twenty years. I busied myself purposely with the dead man, and when I had finished my task I turned, and found Sister filling in the papers—her cap neatly tied, her golden hair hidden.
I signed the certificate, placing my name beneath hers.
For a moment we stood. Our eyes met, and—we said nothing. She moved towards the door, and I held it open while she passed out.
Two hours later I received orders from the officer in command to send the nurses back to headquarters. Our men were falling back before the enemy.
A SMALL WORLD
"Thine were the calming eyes That round my pinnace could have stilled the sea, And drawn thy voyager home, and bid him be Pure with their pureness, with their wisdom wise, Merged in their light, and greatly lost in thee."
It was midday at the monastery of Montserrat, and a monk, walking in the garden, turned and paused in his meditative promenade to listen to an unwonted noise. The silence of this sacred height is so intense that many cannot sleep at night for the hunger of a sound. There is no running water except the fountain in the patio. There are no birds to tell of spring and morning. There are no trees for the cool night winds to stir, nothing but eternal rock and the ancient building so closely associated with the life of Ignatius de Loyola. The valley, a sheer three thousand feet below, is thinly enough populated, though a great river and the line of railway from Manresa to Barcelona run through it. So clear is the atmosphere that at the great distance the contemplative denizens of the monastery may count the number of the railway carriages, while no sound of the train, or indeed of any life in the valley, reaches their ears.
What the monk heard was disturbing, and he hurried to the corner of the garden, from whence a view of the winding road may be obtained. Floating on the wind came the sound, as from another world, of shouting, and the hollow rumble of wheels. The holy man peered down into the valley, and soon verified his fears. It was the diligencia, which had quitted the monastery a short hour ago, that flew down the hill to inevitable destruction. Once before in the recollection of the watcher the mules had run away, rushing down to their death, and carrying with them across that frontier the lives of seven passengers, devout persons, who, having performed the pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Montserrat, had doubtless received their reward. The monk crossed himself, but, being human, forgot alike to pray and to call his brethren to witness the scene. It was like looking at a play from a very high gallery. The miniature diligencia on the toy road far below swayed from the bank of the highway to the verge—the four mules stretched out at a gallop, as in a picture. The shouts dimly heard at the monastery had the effect they were intended to create, for the monk could see the carters and muleteers draw aside to let the living avalanche go past.
There were but two men on the box-seat of the diligencia—the driver and a passenger seated by his side. The monk recollected that this passenger had passed two days at Montserrat, inscribing himself in the visitors' book as Matthew S. Whittaker.
"I am ready to take the reins when your arms are cramped," this passenger was saying at that precise moment, "but I do not know the road, and I cannot drive so well as you."
He finished with a curt laugh, and, holding on with both hands, he turned and looked at his companion. He was not afraid, and death assuredly stared him in the face at that moment.
"Thanks for that, at all events," returned the driver, handling his reins with a steady skill. Then he fell to cursing the mules. As he rounded each corner of the winding road, he gave a derisive shout of triumph; as he safely passed a cart, he gave voice to a yell of defiance. He went to his death—if death awaited him—with a fine spirit, with a light in his eyes and the blood in his tanned cheeks.
The man at his side could perhaps have saved himself by a leap which might, with good fortune, have resulted in nothing more serious than a broken limb. As he had been invited by the driver to take this leap and had curtly declined, it is worth while to pause and give particulars of this passenger on the runaway diligencia. He was a slightly built man, dressed in the ordinary dark clothes and soft black felt hat of the middle class Spaniard. His face was brown and sun-dried, with deep lines drawn downwards from the nose to the lips in such a manner that cynicism and a mildly protesting tolerance were contending for mastery in an otherwise studiously inexpressive countenance.
"The Excellency does not blame me for this?" the driver jerked out, as he hauled round a corner with a sort of pride.
"No, my friend," replied the American; and he broke off suddenly to curve his two hands around his lips and give forth a warning shout in a clear tenor that rang down the valley like a trumpet.
A muleteer leading a heavily laden animal drew his beast into the ditch, and leapt into the middle of the road. He stepped nimbly aside and sprang at the leading mule, but was rolled into the ditch like an old hat.
"That is an old torero," shouted the driver. "Bravo, bravo!"
As they flew on, Whittaker turned in his seat and caught a glimpse of the man standing in the middle of the road, with arms spread out in an attitude of apology and deprecation.
"Ah!" cried the driver, "we shall not pass these. Now leap!"
"No," answered the other, and gave his warning shout.
Below them on the spiral road two heavy carts were slowly mounting. These were the long country carts used for the carriage of wine- casks, heavily laden with barrels for the monastery. The drivers, looking up, saw in a moment what to expect, and ran to the head of their long teams of eight mules, but all concerned knew in a flash of thought that they could not pull aside in time.
"Leap, in the name of a saint!" cried the driver, clenching his teeth.
Whittaker made no answer. But he cleared his feet and sat forward, his keen face and narrow eyes alert to seize any chance of life. The maddened mules rushed on, seeking to free themselves from the swaying destroyer on their heels. The leaders swung round the corner, but refused to obey the reins when they caught sight of the cart in front. The brakes had long ceased to act; the wooden blocks were charred as by fire. The two heavier mules at the pole made a terrified but intelligent attempt to check the pace, and the weighty vehicle skidded sideways across the road, shuddering and rattling as it went. It poised for a moment on the edge of the slope, while the mules threw themselves into their collars—their intelligence seeming to rise at this moment to a human height. Then the great vehicle turned slowly over, and at the same moment Whittaker and the driver leapt into the tangle of heels and harness. One of the leaders swung right out in mid-air with flying legs, and mules and diligencia rolled over and over down the steep in a cloud of dust and stones.
When Matthew S. Whittaker recovered consciousness, he found himself in a richly furnished bedroom. He woke as if from sleep, with his senses fully alert, and began at once to take an interest in a conversation of which he had been conscious in the form of a faint murmur for some time.
"A broken arm, my child, and nothing more, so far as I can tell at present," were the first comprehensible words. Whittaker tried to move his left arm, and winced.
"And the other man?" inquired a woman's voice in Spanish, but with an accent which the listener recognised at once. This was an Englishwoman speaking Spanish.
"Ah! the other man is dead. Poor Mogul! He was always civil and God-fearing. He has driven the diligencia up to us for nearly twenty years."
Whittaker turned his head, and winced again. The speaker was a monk—fat and good-natured—one of the few now left in the great house on Montserrat. His interlocutor was a woman not more than thirty, with brown hair that gleamed in the sunlight, and a fresh, thoughtful face. Her attitude was somewhat independent, her manner indicated a self-reliant spirit. This was a woman who would probably make mistakes in life, but these would not be the errors of omission. She was a prototype of a sex and an age which err in advancing too quickly, and in holding that everything which is old- fashioned must necessarily be foolish.
Whittaker lay quite still and watched these two, while the deep- drawn lines around his lips indicated a decided sense of amusement. He was in pain, but that was no new condition to a man whose spirit had ever been robuster than his body. He had, at all events, not been killed, and his last recollection had been the effort to face death. So he lay with a twisted smile on his lips listening to Brother Lucas, who, sad old monk that he was, took infinite pleasure in glorifying to the young lady his own action in causing the monastery cart to be brought out, and in driving down the slope at a breakneck pace to place his medical knowledge at the disposal of such as might require it. He bowed in a portly way, and indicated with a very worldly politeness that he himself was, in fact, at the disposal of the Senorita.
"I was not always a monk—I began life as a doctor," he explained.
And his companion looked at him with speculative, clever eyes, scenting afar off, with the quickness of her kind, the usual little romance—the everlasting woman.
"Ah!" she said slowly.
And Whittaker in the alcove coughed with discretion. Both turned and hurried towards him.
"He has recovered his senses," said the girl.
The monk had, however, not laid aside all the things of this world. He remembered the little ceremonies appertaining to the profession which he had once practised. He waived aside the girl, and stooped over the bed.
"You understand what I say—you see me?" he inquired in a soothing voice.
"Most assuredly," replied Whittaker, coolly. "Most assuredly, my father. And I do not think there is much the matter with me."
"Holy Saints, but you go too quickly," laughed the monk. "You will be wanting next to get up and walk."
"I should not mind trying."
"Ah, that is good! Then you will soon be well. Senorita, we shall have no trouble with this patient. This, Senor, is the Senorita Cheyne; in whose house you find yourself, and to whom your thanks are due."
Whittaker turned in bed to thank her; but instead of speaking, he quietly fainted. He came to his senses again, and found that it was evening. The windows of his room were open, and he could see across the valley the brown hills of Catalonia, faintly tinged with pink. A nursing sister in her dark blue dress and white winged cap was seated at the open window, gazing reflectively across the valley. There was an odour of violets in the room. A fitful breeze stirred the lace curtains. Whittaker perceived his own travel-worn portmanteau lying half unpacked on a side table. It seemed that some one had opened it to seek the few necessaries of the moment. He noted with a feeling of helplessness that his simple travelling accessories had been neatly arranged on the dressing-table. A clean handkerchief lay on the table at the bedside. The wounded man became conscious of a feeling that he had lost some of the solitary liberty which had hitherto been his. It seemed that he had been picked up on the road helpless and insensible by some one with the will and power to take entire charge of him. The feeling was so new to this adventurer that he lay still and smiled.
Presently the nun rose and came quietly towards him, disclosing within the halo of her snowy cap a gentle pink-and-white face wrinkled by the passage of uneventful years. She nodded cheerfully on seeing that his eyes were open, and gave him some soup which was warming on a spirit lamp in readiness for his return to consciousness.
"I will tell the Senorita," she said, and noiselessly quitted the room.
A minute later Miss Cheyne came in with a pleasant frou-frou of silk, and Whittaker wondered for whom she had dressed so carefully.
"I did not know," she said in English, with an ease of manner which is of this generation, "that I had succoured a countryman. You were literally thrown at my gate. But the doctor, who has just left, confirms the opinion of Brother Lucas that you are not seriously hurt. A broken fore-arm and a severe shake, they say—to be cured by complete rest, which you will be able to enjoy here. For there is no one in the house but my aunt, Mrs. Dorchester, and myself."
She stood at the bedside, looking down at him with her capable, managing air. Whittaker now knew the source of that sense of being "taken in and done for," of which he had become conscious the moment his senses returned to him.
"They say," she went on, with a decisiveness which was probably an accentuation of her usual attitude, inspired by the necessity of sparing the patient the exertion of an explanation or an apology— "they say, however, that you are not naturally a very strong man, and that you have tried your constitution in the past, so that greater care is required than would otherwise be necessary in such a case."
She looked at the brown face and sinewy neck, the hollow cheeks, the lean hands ("all wires," as she decided in her own prompt mind), and her clear eyes were alight with a speculation as to what the past had been in which this man had tried his constitution.
"I have led a rough life," explained Whittaker; and Miss Cheyne nodded her head in a manner indicative of the fact that she divined as much.
"I thought you were a Spaniard," she said.
"No; I have lived in the Spanish colonies, however—the last few years—since the troubles began."
Miss Cheyne nodded again without surprise. She had gone about the world, with those clear eyes of hers very wide open, and was probably aware that in those parts where, as Whittaker gracefully put it, "troubles" are, such men as this are usually to be found. For it is not the large men who make a stir in the world. These usually sit at home and love a life of ease. It is even said that they take to novel-writing and other sedentary occupations. And in the forefront, where things are stirring and history is to be manufactured, are found the small and the frail, such as Matthew S. Whittaker, who, in addition to the battles of progress, have to contend personally against constitutional delicacy, nervous depression, and disease.
Miss Cheyne kept silence for a few moments, and, during the pause, turned at the sound of horses' feet on the gravel below the windows. She seemed to have been expecting an arrival, and Whittaker noticed a sudden brightening of the eyes, an almost imperceptible movement of the shoulders, as if Miss Cheyne was drawing herself up. The American quickly reflected that the somewhat elaborate "toilette" was unusual, and connected it with the expected visitor. He was not surprised when, with a polite assurance that he had only to ask for anything he might require, she turned and left him.
Whittaker now remembered having been told by the voluble driver of the diligencia the history of a certain English Senorita who, having inherited property from a forgotten uncle, had come to live in her "possession" on the mountain side. He further recollected that the house had been pointed out to him—a long, low dwelling of the dull red stone quarried in this part of Catalonia. Being of an observant habit, he remembered that the house was overgrown by a huge wisteria, and faced eastward. He turned his head painfully, and now saw that his windows were surrounded by mauve fronds of wisteria. His room was, therefore, situated in the front of the house. There was, he recollected, a verandah below his windows, and he wondered whether Miss Cheyne received her visitors there in the cool of the afternoon. He listened half-sleepily, and heard the horse depart, led away by a servant. There followed the murmur of a conversation, between two persons only, below his window. So far as he could gather from the tones, for the words were inaudible, they were spoken in English. And thus he fell asleep.
During the next few days Whittaker made good progress, and fully enjoyed the quiet prescribed to him by the doctors. The one event of the day was Miss Cheyne's visit, to which he soon learnt to look forward. He had, during an adventurous life, had little to do with women, and Miss Cheyne soon convinced him of the fact that many qualities—such as independence, courage, and energy—were not, as he had hitherto imagined, the monopoly of men alone. But the interest thus aroused did not seem to be mutual. Miss Cheyne was kind and quick to divine his wants or thoughts; but her visits did not grow longer day by day as, day by day, Whittaker wished they would. Daily, moreover, the visitor arrived on horseback, and the murmured conversation in the verandah duly followed. A few weeks earlier Whittaker had made the voyage across to the island of Majorca, to visit an old companion-in-arms there, and offer him a magnificent inducement to return to active service. That comrade had smilingly answered that he held cards of another suite. Miss Cheyne likewise appeared to hold another suite, and the American felt vaguely that the dealer of life's cards seemed somehow to have passed him by.
He daily urged the young doctor to allow him to leave his bed, "if only," he pleaded with his twisted smile, "to sit in a chair by the window." At last he gained his point, and sat, watch in hand, awaiting the arrival of Miss Cheyne's daily visitor. To the end of his life Matthew Whittaker believed that some instinct guided him at this time. He had only spoken with his nurse and the doctor, and had refrained from making inquiries of either respecting the lady whose hospitality he enjoyed. He had now carefully recalled all that the dead driver of the diligencia had told him, and had dismissed half of it as mere gossip. Beyond the fact that Miss Cheyne's aunt, Mrs. Dorchester, acted as her companion, he knew nothing. But he had surmised, from remarks dropped by the young lady herself, that her mother had been a Spaniard; hence the uncle from whom she had inherited this estate. He also had reason to believe that Miss Cheyne's mother had brought her up in the older faith.
He reflected on these matters, and smiled half cynically at the magnitude of his own interest in Miss Cheyne as he sat at the open window. He had not long to wait before the clatter of horse's feet on the hard road became audible. The house stood back from the high-road in the midst of terraced olive groves, and was entirely surrounded by a grove of cypress and ilex trees. The visitor, whose advent was doubtless awaited with as keen an impatience by another within the red stone house, now leisurely approached beneath the avenue of evergreen oak. Whittaker got painfully upon his feet, and stood, half concealed by the curtain. He was conscious of a singular lack of surprise when he recognized the face of the horseman as one that he had already seen, though, when he came in a flash of thought to reflect upon it, this among all he knew was the last face that he could have expected to see in that place.
He sat down quite coolly and mechanically, thinking and acting as men think and act, by instinct, in a crisis. He seemed to be obeying some pre-ordained plan.
The horseman was dark and clean-shaven—the happy possessor of one of those handsome Andalusian faces which are in themselves a passport in a world that in its old age still persists in judging by appearance. Whittaker scrupulously withdrew from the window. He had no desire to overhear their conversation. But his eyes were fierce with a sudden anger. The very attitude of the new-comer—his respectful, and yet patronizing, manner of removing his hat—clearly showed that he was a lover, perhaps a favoured one. And the American, who, with all his knowledge of the world, knew so little of women, stood in the middle of the room wrapt in thought. It seemed hardly possible that a woman of Miss Cheyne's intelligence, a woman no longer in the first flush of girlhood, should fail to perceive the obvious. He did not know that so far as her vanity is concerned a woman does not grow older, by the passage of years, but younger—that she will often, for the sake of a little admiration, accept the careless patronage of a man, knowing well that his one good quality is the skill with which he flatters her. He was not aware that Miss Cheyne was distinctly handicapped, and that her judgment was warped by the fact that she had by some chance or another reached to years of discretion without ever having had a lover.
Whittaker was not an impulsive man, although as prompt in action as he was quick to make a decision. He was a citizen of that new country where an old chivalry still survives. His sense of chivalry was also intensified by the fact, already stated, that he knew but little of that sex which is at the moment making a superficial stir in the world.
"If the harm is done, a day more will make it no worse, I reckon," he said reflectively. He would not listen to what they said, though he could have heard easily enough, had he so desired. He watched Miss Cheyne and her lover, however, as they slowly walked the length of the garden—she, holding a fan in the Spanish fashion, to shield her face from the setting sun; the man, hat in hand, and carrying himself with a sort of respectful grandeur, characteristic of his race. At the end of the garden they paused, and Whittaker smiled cynically at the sight of the man's dark eyes as he looked at Miss Cheyne. He was apparently asking for something, and she at last yielded, giving him slowly, almost shyly, a few violets that she had worn in her belt. Whittaker gave a curt laugh, but his eyes were by no means mirthful.
Later in the evening Miss Cheyne came into his room.
"You have had a visitor," he said, in the course of their usual conversation.
"Yes," she answered frankly; and Whittaker reflected that, at all events, she knew her own mind.
He said nothing further upon that subject, but later he referred to a topic which he had hitherto scrupulously avoided. He had passed his life among a class of men who were not in the habit of growing voluble respecting themselves.
"I think you take me for an Englishman," he said. "I am not. I am an American."
"Indeed! You have no accent," replied Miss Cheyne; and, despite that other suite of cards that she held, she looked at him speculatively. She was, in a way, interested in him.
"I have lived abroad a great deal, the last few years in Cuba." And his quick eyes flashed across her face. She was not interested in Cuba, at all events, and evidently knew nothing of that distressful island. When she left him, he stood looking at the closed door reflectively.
"It will be for to-morrow," he said to himself, with his short laugh.
The next morning the doctor paid his usual visit, and Whittaker handed him an envelope.
"I am leaving this evening," he said, "and I shall leave in your debt."
The doctor, who was a young man and a Spanish gentleman, slipped the envelope into his pocket.
"Thank you," he said. "The debt is mine. You are not fit to be moved yet; but it is as you like."
"Will you order me a carriage to be here at five o'clock this evening?"
"I will do as you like."
"And omit to mention it to my hostess. You understand my position here, and my fear of outstaying a most courteous welcome?"
"I understand," said the doctor, and departed.
At four o'clock Whittaker had packed his portmanteau. He took up his position at the window and waited. Before long he heard the sound of a horse's feet. Miss Cheyne's visitor presently appeared, and swung off his hat with the usual deferential pride. The horse was led away. The usual murmured conversation followed. Whittaker rose and walked to the door. He paused on the threshold, and looked slowly round the room as if conscious then that the moment was to be one of the indelible memories of his life.
On the stairs he needed the support of the balustrade. When he reached the verandah his face was colourless, with shining eyes. Miss Cheyne was sitting with her back turned towards him, but her companion saw him at once and rose to his feet, lifting his hat with a politely inquiring air. From long habit acquired among a naturally polite people, Whittaker returned the salutation.
"You do not recognise me, Senor?" he said, in English.
And the other shook his head, still polite and rather surprised.
"I was known in Cuba by the name of Mateo."
The Spaniard's handsome, sunburnt face slowly turned to the colour of ashes. His eyes looked into Whittaker's, not in anger, but with a pathetic mingling of reproach and despair.
"What is the meaning of this?" said Miss Cheyne, alert, and rising, characteristically, to the emergency of the moment.
Whittaker bit his lip and looked at the Spaniard, who seemed to be dazed.
"You had better go," he said, almost gently.
"What is the meaning of this?" repeated Miss Cheyne, looking from one to the other. Then she turned to Whittaker, by what instinct she never knew. "Who is this gentleman?" she asked, angrily. "What have you against him?"
Whittaker, still biting his lip, looked hard at her. Then he made a gesture with his two hands, which was more eloquent than a thousand words; for it seemed to convey to the two persons who breathlessly awaited his words that he found himself in a position that was intolerable.
"I knew him in Cuba," he said slowly. "I have nothing against him, Miss Cheyne; but the man is a priest."
* * *
"There, Senorita—I have made it myself."
The proprietor of the Venta of the Moor's Mill set down upon the table in front of the inn a cracked dish containing an omelette. It was not a bad omelette, though not quite innocent of wood-ash, perhaps, and somewhat ill-shapen. The man laughed gaily and drew himself up. So handsome a man could surely be forgiven a broken omelette and some charcoal, if only for the sake of his gay blue eyes, his curling brown hair, and his devil-may-care air of prosperity. He looked at the Senorita and laughed in the manner of a man who had never yet failed to "get on" with women. He folded his arms with fine, open gestures, and stood looking with approving nods upon his own handiwork. He was without the shadow of the trailing vine which runs riot over bamboo trelliswork in front of the Venta, affording a much needed shade in this the sunniest spot in all Majorca, and the fierce sun beat down upon his face, which was tanned a deep, healthy brown. He was clad almost in white; for his trousers were of canvas, his shirt of spotless linen. Round his waist he wore the usual Spanish faja or bright red cloth. He was consciously picturesque, and withal so natural, so good-natured, so astonishingly optimistic, as to be quite inoffensive in his child- like conceit.
The Venta of the Moor's Mill stands, as many know, at the northern end of the Val D'Erraha, looking down upon the broader valley, through which runs the high road from Palma to Valdemosa. The city of Palma, itself, is only a few miles away, for such as know the mountain path. Few customers come this way, and the actual trade of the Venta is small. Some day a German doctor will start a nerve- healing establishment here, with a table d'hote at six o'clock, and every opportunity for practising the minor virtues—and the Valley of Repose will be the Valley of Repose no longer.
"Ah! It is a good omelette," said the host of the Venta, as Miss Cheyne took up her fork. "Though I have not always been a cook, nor yet an innkeeper."
He raised one finger, shook it from side to side in an emphatic negation, and laughed. Then he turned suddenly, and looked down into the valley with a grave face and almost a sigh.
The man had a history it appeared—and, rarer still, was willing to tell it.
She knew too much of the Spanish race, or perhaps of all men, to ask questions.
"Yes," she said pleasantly, "it is a good omelette." And the man turned sharply and looked at her as if she had said something startling. She noticed his action, and showed surprise.
"It is nothing," he said with a laugh, "only a coincidence—a mere accident. It is said by the peasants that the mind of a friend has wings. Perhaps it is so. As I looked down into the valley I was thinking of a man—a friend. Yes—name of a Saint—he was a friend of mine, although a gentleman! Educated? Yes, many languages, and Latin. And I—what am I? You see, Senorita, a peasant, who wears no coat."
And he laughed heartily, only to change again suddenly to gravity.
"And as I looked down into the valley I was thinking of my friend— and, believe me, you spoke at that moment with something in your voice—in your manner—who knows?—which was like the voice and manner of my friend. Perhaps, Senorita, the peasants are right, and the mind of my friend, having wings, flew to us at that moment."
The lady laughed, and said that it might be so.
"It is not that you are English," the innkeeper continued, with easy volubility. "For I know you belong to no other nation. I said so to myself the moment I saw you, riding up here on horseback alone. I called upstairs to Juanita that there was an English Senorita coming on a horse, and Juanita replied with a malediction, that I should raise my voice when the nino was asleep. She said that if it was the Pope of Rome who came on a horse he must not wake the child. 'No,' I answered, 'but he would have to go upstairs to see it;' and Juanita did not laugh. She sees no cause to laugh at anything connected with the nino—oh, no! it is a serious matter."
He was looking towards the house as he spoke.
"Juanita is your wife?" said the Englishwoman.
"Yes. We have been married a year, and I am still sure that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Is it not wonderful? And she will be jealous if she hears me talking all this while with the Senorita."
"You can tell her that the Senorita has grey hair," said Miss Cheyne, practically.
"That may be," said the innkeeper, looking at her with his head on one side, and a gravely critical air. "But you still have the air"- -he shrugged his shoulders, and spread out his hands—"the air that takes a man's fancy. Who knows?"
Miss Cheyne, who had dealt much with a simple people, accustomed to the statement of simple facts in plain language, only laughed. There is a certain rough purity of thought which vanishes at the advance of civilisation. And cheap journalism, cheap fiction, cheap prudery have not yet reached Spain.
"I know nothing," went on the man, with a shrewd, upward nod of the head. "But the Senorita has a lover. He may be faithless, he may be absent, he may be dead—but he is there—the God be thanked!"
He touched his broad chest in that part where a deadly experience told him that the heart was to be found, and looked up to Heaven, all with a change of expression and momentary gravity quite incomprehensible to men of northern breed.
Miss Cheyne laughed again without self-consciousness. Uneducated people have a way of arriving at once at those matters that interest rich and poor alike, which is rather refreshing, even to the highly educated.
"But I, who talk like a washerwoman, forget that I am an innkeeper," said the man, with a truer tact than is often found under fine linen. And he proceeded to wait on her with a grand air, as if she were a queen and he a nobleman.
"If Juanita were about it would be different," he said, whipping the cloth from the table and shaking the crumbs to the four winds. "And the Senorita would be properly served. But—what will you? the nino is but a fortnight old, and I—I am new at my trade. The Senorita takes coffee?"
Miss Cheyne intimated that she did take coffee.
"And you, perhaps, will take a cup also," she added, whereupon the man bowed in his best manner. He had that perfect savoir-faire—a certain innate gentlemanliness—which is the characteristic of all Spaniards. His manner indicated an appreciation of the honour, and conveyed at the same time the intimation that he knew quite well how to behave under the circumstances.
He went into the house from which—all the doors and windows being open—came the sound of his conversation with Juanita, while he prepared the coffee. It was quite a frank and open conversation, having Miss Cheyne for its object, and stating that she had not only found the omelette good, but had eaten it all.
Presently he returned with the coffee-pot, two cups, and a small jug of cream on a tray. He turned the handle of the coffee-pot towards Miss Cheyne, and conveyed in one inimitable gesture that he would take his coffee from no other hand.
"The Senorita is staying in Palma?" he asked, pleasantly.
The innkeeper laughed gaily and deprecatingly, as if between persons of their station business was a word only to be mentioned as a sort of jest.
"I am the owner of a small property in the island—over in that direction—towards Soller. It is held on the 'rotas' system by a good farmer, who has frequently come to see me where I live at Monistrol, near Barcelona. He has often begged me to come to Majorca to see the property, and now I have come. I am staying a few days at Palma."
"Farming is good in Majorca," said the man, shrewdly. "You should receive a large sum for your share of the harvest. I, too, shall buy land presently when I see my chance, for I have the money. Ah, yes: I was not always an innkeeper!"
He sipped his coffee pensively.
"That reminds me again of my friend," he said, after a pause. "Why do I think of him this afternoon? It is a strange story; shall I tell it?"
"I shall be glad to hear it," replied Miss Cheyne, in her energetic way. She was stirring her coffee slowly and thoughtfully.
"I knew him in his own country—in America; and then in Cuba—"
Miss Cheyne ceased stirring her coffee suddenly, as if she had come against some object in the cup. A keen observer might have guessed that she had become interested at that moment in this idle tale.
"Ah! You know Cuba?" she said, indifferently interrogative.
"If I know Cuba?" he laughed, and spread out his hands in mute appeal to the gods. "If I know Cuba! When Cuba is an independent republic, Senorita—when the history of all this trouble comes to be written, you will find two names mentioned in its pages. The one name is Antonio. When you are an old woman, Senorita, you can tell your children—or perhaps your grandchildren, if the good God is kind to you—that you once knew Antonio, and took a cup of coffee with him. But you must not say it now—never—never. And the other name is Mateo. You can tell your children, Senorita, when your hair is white, that you once spoke to a man who was a friend to this Mateo."
He finished with his gay laugh, as if he were fully alive to his own fine conceit, and begged indulgence.
"He has been here—sitting where you sit now," he continued, with impressive gravity. "He came to me: 'Antonio,' he said, 'There are five thousand men out there who want you.' 'Amigo,' replied I, 'there is one woman here who does the same'—and I bowed, and Mateo went away without me. I thought he had gone back there to conduct affairs—to fight in his careless way, with his tongue in his cheek, as it were. He did all with his tongue in his cheek—that queer Mateo. And then came a message from Barcelona, saying that he wanted me. Name of a dog, I went—for his letter was unmistakable. He had, it appeared, had an accident. I found him with his arm in a sling. He had been cared for in the house of an Englishwoman—so much he told—but I guessed more. This Englishwoman—well, he said so little about her, that I could only conclude one thing. You know, Senorita—when a man will not talk of a woman—well, it assuredly means something. But there was, it appears, another man— this man, I grind my teeth to tell you of it—he was a priest. One Bernaldez, whom we had both known in Cuba. He had, it appears, come over to Spain in ordinary dress; for he was too well known to travel as Bernaldez, the priest. He was a fine man—so much I will say for him. The Englishwoman was, no doubt, beautiful. Bernaldez met her. She did not know that he was a priest."
Antonio paused, shrugged his shoulders and spread out his arms.
"The devil did the rest, Senorita. And she? Did she care for him? Ah—one never knows with women."
"Perhaps they do not always know themselves," suggested Miss Cheyne, without meeting her companion's eyes.
"Perhaps that is so, Senorita. At all events, Mateo went to these two, when they were together. Mateo was always quick and very calm. He faced Bernaldez, and he told the woman. Then he left them. And I found him in Barcelona, two days afterwards, living at the Hotel of the Four Nations, like one in his sleep. 'If Bernaldez wants me,' he said, 'he knows where to find me.' And the next day Bernaldez came to us, where we sat in front of the Cafe of the Liceo on the Rambla. 'Mateo,' he said, 'you will have to fight me.' And Mateo nodded his head. 'With the revolver.' Mateo looked up with his dry smile. 'I will take you at that game,' he said, 'for nuts'- -in the American fashion, Senorita—one of their strange sad jokes. Then Bernaldez sat down—his eyes were hollow; he spoke like one who has been down to the bottom of misery. 'I know a place,' he said, 'that will suit our purpose. It is among the mountains, on the borders of Andorra. You take the train from Barcelona to Berga, the diligencia from Berga to Organa. Between Organa and La Seo de Urgel is a bridge called La Puente del Diabolo. I will meet you at this bridge on foot on Thursday morning at nine o'clock. We can walk up into the mountains together. I shall bring a small travelling clock with me. We shall stand it on the ground between us, and when it strikes, we fire.'"
Antonio had, in the heat of his narrative, leant forward across the table. With quick gestures he described the whole scene, so that Miss Cheyne could see it as it had passed before his eyes.
"There is a madness, Senorita," he went on, "which shows itself by a thirst for blood. I looked at Bernaldez. He was sane enough, but I think the man's heart was broken. 'It is well,' said Mateo; 'I am your man—at the Puente del Diabolo at nine o'clock on Thursday morning.' And mind you, Senorita, these were not Italians or Greeks—they were a Spaniard and an American—men who mean what they say, whether it be pleasant or the reverse."
Miss Cheyne was interested enough now. She sat, leaning one arm on the table, and her chin in the palm of her hand. She held her lip with her teeth, and watched the man's quick expressive face.
"We were there at nine o'clock," he went on, "that Mateo, with his arm in a sling. We had passed the night at the hotel of the Libertad at Organa, where we both slept well enough. What will you?—when one is no longer young, the pulse is slow. The morning mist had descended the mountain side, the air was cold. There at the Puente, leaning against the wall, cloaked and quiet—was Bernaldez. 'Ah!' he said to me, 'you have come, too?' 'Yes, Amigo,' I answered, 'but I do not give the word for two friends to let go at each other. Your little clock can do that.' He nodded and said nothing. Senorita, I was sorry for the man. Who was I that I should judge? You remember, you, who read your Bible, the writing on the ground? Bernaldez led the way, and we climbed up into the mountains in the morning mist. Somewhere above us there was a little waterfall singing its eternal song. In the cloud, where we could not see him, a curlew hung on his heavy wings, and gave forth his low warning whistle. 'Have a care—have a care,' he seemed to cry. Presently Bernaldez stopped, and looked around him. It was a desolate place. 'This will do,' he said. 'And he who drops may be left here. The other may turn on his heel, say "A Dios," and go in safety. 'Yes,' answered Mateo. 'This will do as well as any other place.' Bernaldez looked at him, with a laugh. 'Ah,' he said, 'you think that you are sure to kill me—but I shall, at all events, have a shot for my money. Who knows? I may kill you.' 'That is quite possible,' answered Mateo. Bernaldez threw back his cloak. He carried the little travelling clock in one hand- -a gilt thing made in Paris. 'We will stand it here,' he said, 'on a rock between us.' We were in a little hollow far up the mountain side, and the mist wrapped us round like a cloak. I know these mountains, Senorita, for it was here that the fiercest of the fighting in the last Carlist War took place. There are many dead up there even now, who have never been found. I also was in that trouble—ah, no, I was not always an innkeeper!"
"Go on with your story," said Miss Cheyne, curtly, and closed her teeth over her lower lip again.
"We stood there, then, and watched Bernaldez take the clock from its case. He held it to his ear to make sure that it was going. It seemed to me that it ticked as loud up there as a clock ticks in a room at night. Bernaldez set forward the hands till they stood at five minutes to eleven. 'The eleventh hour,' said Mateo, with his dry laugh. Bernaldez set the clock down again. He took off his hat and threw it down to mark the ground. 'Ten paces,' he said, and, turning on his heel, counted aloud. I looked half-instinctively at his bared head. The tonsure was still visible to any who sought it; for it was but half-grown over. Mateo counted his steps and then turned. The clock gave a little tick, as such clocks do, four minutes before they strike. It seemed to me to hurry its pace as we three stood listening in that silence. We could hear the whisper of the clouds as they hurried through the mountains. The clock gave another click, and the two men raised their pistols of a similar pattern. The little gong rang out, and immediately after two shots, one following the other. Bernaldez had fired first. Mateo—a man with a reputation to care for—took a moment longer for his aim. I heard Bernaldez's bullet sing past his ear like a mosquito. Bernaldez fell forward—thus, on his arm—and the clock had not ceased striking when we stood over him; and Mateo had held the pistol in his left hand."
The narrator finished abruptly with a quick gesture. All through his story he had added a vividness to his description by quick movements of the hand and head, by his flashing eyes, his southern fire, so that his hearer could see the scene as he had seen it; could feel the stillness of the mountains; could hear the whisper of the clouds; could see the two men facing each other in the mist. With a gesture he showed her how Bernaldez lay, on his face on the wet stones, with a half-concealed tonsure, turned towards heaven in mute appeal, awaiting the last great hearing of his case in that Court where there is no appeal.
"And there we left him, Senorita," added Antonio, shortly.
He rose, walked away from her to the edge of the great slope, and stood looking down into the valley that lay shimmering below him. After a time he came back slowly. In his simplicity he was not ashamed of dimmed eyes.
"I tell you this, Senorita," he said with a laugh, "because you are an Englishwoman, and because this Mateo was my friend. He is an American. His name is Whittaker—Matthew S. Whittaker. And this afternoon I was reminded of him; I know not why. Perhaps it was something that I said myself, or some gesture that I made, which I had caught from him. If one thinks much about a person, one may catch his gestures or his manner: is it not so? And then you reminded me of him a second time. That was strange."
"Yes," said Miss Cheyne, thoughtfully; "that was strange."
"He went to Cuba again at once, Senorita; that was a year ago. And I have never heard from him. If, as the peasants say, the mind of a friend has wings, perhaps Mateo's mind has flown on to tell me that he is coming. He said he would come back."
"Why was he coming back?" asked Miss Cheyne.
"I do not know, Senorita."
Miss Cheyne had risen, and was making ready to depart. Her gloves and riding-whip lay on the table. The afternoon was far spent, and already the shadows were lengthening on the mountain-side. She paid the trifling account, Antonio taking the money with such a deep bow that the smallness of the coin was quite atoned for. He brought her horse from the stable.
"The horse and the Senorita are both tired," he said, with his pleasant laugh. And, indeed, Miss Cheyne looked suddenly weary. "It is not right that you should go by the mountain path," he added. "It is so easy to lose the way. Besides, a lady alone—it is not done in Spain."
"No; but in England women are learning to take care of themselves," laughed Miss Cheyne.
She placed her foot within his curved hands, and he lifted her to the saddle. All her movements were easy and independent. It seemed that she only stated a fact, and the man shook his head forebodingly. He belonged to a country which in some ways is a century behind England and America. She nodded a farewell, and turned the horse's head towards the mountain path.
"I shall find my way," she said. "Never fear."
"Only by good fortune," he answered, with a shake of the head.
The sun had almost set when she reached Palma. At the hotel her lawyer, who had made the voyage from Barcelona with her, awaited her with impatience, while her maid leant idly from the window. In the evening she went abroad again, alone, in her independent way. She walked slowly on the Cathedral terrace, where priests lingered, and a few soldiers from the neighbouring barracks smoked a leisurely cigarette. All turned at intervals, and looked in the same direction—namely, towards the west, where the daylight yet lingered in the sky. The moon, huge and yellow, was rising over the mountains, above Manacor, at the eastern end of the island. One by one the idlers dropped away, moving with leisurely steps towards the town. In very idleness Miss Cheyne followed them. She knew that they were going to the harbour in anticipation of the arrival of the Barcelona steamer. She was on the pier with the others, when the boat came alongside. The passengers trooped off, waving salutations to their friends. One among them, a small-made, frail man, detached himself from the crowd, and made his way towards Miss Cheyne, as if this meeting had been prearranged—and who shall say that it was not?—by the dim decrees of Fate.
IN A CROOKED WAY
"And let the counsel of thine own heart stand."
It was almost dark, and the Walkham River is much overhung in the parts that lie between Horrabridge and the old brickworks.
In the bed of the river a man stumbled heavily along, trusting more to his knowledge of the river than to his eyesight. He was fishing dexterously with flies that were almost white—flies which seemed to suit admirably the taste of those small brown trout which never have the sense to leave alone the fare provided for their larger white brethren.
Suddenly he hooked a larger fish, and, not daring to step back beneath the overhanging oak, he proceeded to tire his fish out in the deep water. In ten minutes he brought it to the landing-net, and as he turned to open his creel his heart leapt in his breast. A man was standing in the water not two feet behind him.
"Holloa," he gasped.
"I won't insult you by telling you not to be frightened," said the voice of a gentleman. There was no mistaking it. The speaker stood quite still, with the water bubbling round his legs. He was hatless, and his hair was cut quite short.
A thought flashed across the fisherman's slow brain. Like the rest of his craft, he was slower of mind than of hand.
"Yes," said the other, divining his thoughts, "I'm from Dartmoor. You probably heard of my escape two days ago."
"Yes," replied the other, quietly, while he wound in his line. "I heard of it."
"And where do they say I am?"
"Oh, the police have got a clue—as usual," replied the fisherman.
The escaped convict laughed bitterly, but the laugh broke off into a sickening cackle.
"I've been in those brickworks," he said, "all the time, meditating murder. I stole a loaf from a baker's cart; but man cannot live by bread alone; ah! Ha! ha!"
The fisherman held out his flask, which the other took, and opened the somewhat uncommon silver top with ease bred of knowledge.
He poured himself out a full glass and drank it off.
"I haven't had that taste in my mouth for four years," he said, returning the flask. "And you are guilty of felony!"
The fisherman probably knew this, for he merely laughed.
"Do you know Prince Town?" the convict asked abruptly.
The other nodded, glancing in the direction of the rising moor.
"And you've read the rules on the gate? Parcere subjectis, cut in the stone over the top. Good God!"
The fisherman nodded again.
"The question is," said the convict, after a pause, during which they had waded back to the bank, "whether you are going to help me or not? Heavens! I NEARLY killed you while you were playing that fish."
"Ya-as," drawled the fisherman. "I take it that you must have been tempted. I never heard you, owing to the rush of the water."
They were both big men, and the convict stared curiously into the long, clean-shaven face of this calm speaker. A smile actually flickered for a moment in his desperate eyes.
"What I want," he said, "is your mackintosh, your waders, and your hat—also your rod-case with a long stick in it. The handle of your landing-net will do. Where do you come from?"
"Plymouth. I am going back by the seven-thirty from Horrabridge."
"With a return ticket?"
"I should like that also."
The fisherman was slowly disjointing his rod.
"Suppose I told you to come and take 'em?" he said, with the drawl again.
The convict looked him up and down with a certain air of competent criticism.
"Then there would be a very pretty fight," he said, with a laugh, which he checked when he detected the savour of the prison-yard that was in it.
"We haven't time for the fight," said the fisherman.
And there came a hot gasp of excitement from the convict's lips. His stake was a very large one.
In the same slow, reflective manner, the fisherman unbuttoned the straps of his waders at the thigh, and sat down to unlace his brogues.
"Here," he said, "pull 'em off for me. They're so damnably sopped."
He held up his leg, and the convict pulled off the wet fishing- stockings with some technical skill.
He drew them on over his own stockinged legs, and the fisherman kicked the brogues towards him. In exchange the convict handed him his own shoes.
"Am I to wear these?" the fisherman asked, with something in his voice that might have been amusement.
"Yes; they're a little out of shape, I'm afraid. The Queen is no judge of a shoe."
"I guess not!" answered the other, lacing.
There was a little silence.
"I suppose," said the convict, with a curious eagerness, "that you have seen a bit of the world?"
"Here and there," answered the other, searching for the return half of his ticket.
"Should you think, now, that a girl would wait four years for a chap who, in the eyes of the world, was not worth waiting for?"
The fisherman, not being an absolute fool, knew that there was only one answer to give. But he was a kind-hearted man, so he told a lie. There was something about this convict that made him do it.
"Yes; I should think she would. Girls are not always rational, I guess."
The other said nothing. He took the mackintosh-coat and the creel and the rod-case without a word—even of thanks. His manners were brisker, as if the angler's lie had done him good. The change of costume was now complete, and the convict would pass anywhere for an innocent disciple of Isaac Walton.
For a moment they stood thus, looking at each other. Then the convict spoke.
"Can you lend me a fiver?" he asked.
Carelessly opening his purse, and displaying a good number of bank- notes, he passed one to the unsteady hand held out.
"Want any more?" he asked, with a queer laugh.
"I'll take another if you can spare it."
A second note passed from hand to hand.
"Thanks," said the convict. "Now, tell me your name and address; I shall want to send these things back to you if—if I have any luck."
And the effort to steady his voice was quite apparent.
"Caleb S. Harkness, United States frigate Bruiser, now lying at Plymouth," replied the other, tersely.
"Ah! you are an American?"
"That is why I don't care a d—-n for your laws."
"MR. Harkness—or what?"
"I'm her captain," he replied modestly.
They shook hands and parted.
It was only as he plodded along the Tavistock Road, limping in the regulation shoes, that the American remembered that he had quite omitted to ask the convict any questions. He had parted with his mackintosh, and it was pouring. Tavistock was two miles off, and he had no notion what trains there were to Plymouth. Yet he regretted nothing, and at times a queer smile flitted over his countenance. He was a man holding very decided views of his own upon most subjects, and no one suspected him of it, because he never sought to force them upon others. What he loved above all in men was that species of audacious and gentlemanly coolness which is found in greater perfection in the ranks of the British aristocracy than anywhere else in the world.
He was not the sort of man to be afraid of any one, or two, or three men—he had never, for a moment, thought of fearing the fellow who had gone off with his mackintosh, his waders, and his two five-pound notes. We all try to be our ideal, and Caleb S. Harkness prided himself on being the coolest man in the two hemispheres. He had met a cooler, and rather than acknowledge his inferiority he had parted with the valuables above mentioned, with no other guarantee of their safe return than a gentlemanly inflection of voice.
Two days later he received his waders, mackintosh, and brogues; also a new fishing-rod of the very best quality made in England, and two five-pound notes.
America loves to show her appreciation of her great sons, but she does not always do it wisely when she begins to cast honours about. If England showed the same appreciation, some of us would not be so cruelly industrious with our pens; but that is the affair of the British public, who suffer most.
Caleb S. Harkness was bound to get on. Firstly, because his audacity was unrivalled, and secondly, he knew it was wise to be audacious.
In due course he rose as high as he conveniently could in the Navy active, and turned his attention to the Navy passive, which latter means a nice little house in Washington, and the open arms of the best society in that enlightened city. Here also he got on, because men were even more impressed by his audacity than the sea had been. Also he developed a new talent. He found within himself an immense capacity for making others appear ridiculous, and there is no man in the world so sensitive as your American senator.
Thus in six years' time we find Caleb S. Harkness moving, not in the bed of an English trout-stream, but in the lap of Washingtonian luxury. It was a great night in the Government city, for England had sent one of her brightest stars to meet the luminaries of the United States in peaceful arbitration. The British Plenipotentiary had not yet been seen of the multitude—but he was the eldest son of a British Earl, and had a title of his own. That was enough for Washington, with some to spare for Boston and New York. Also he had proved himself equal to two American statesmen and their respective secretaries. He was, therefore, held in the highest esteem by all the political parties except that to which the worsted statesmen belonged.
The President's levee was better attended than usual; that is to say, there was not even room on the stairs, and America's first- born, as per election, had long ago lost all feeling in the digits of his right hand.
Caleb S. Harkness was moving about in the quieter rooms, awaiting the great crush, when a lady and a man entered and looked around them with some amusement.
"Lord!" ejaculated Admiral Harkness, when his slow and mournful eyes rested on the lady. The exclamation, if profane, was justified, for it is probable that the American had never before set eyes on such a masterpiece of the Creator's power. There was in this woman's being—in her eyes, her face, her every movement—that combination of nonchalance and dignity which comes to beautiful and bright- minded girls when they are beginning to leave girlhood behind them. She was moderately tall, with hair of living brown, and deep blue eyes full of life and sweetness. She was not slim, but held herself like a boy with the strength that comes of perfect proportion. She was one of those women who set a soldier or a sailor thinking what manner of men her brothers must be.
Caleb Harkness observed all this with the unobtrusive scrutiny of his nation. He was standing near a curtained doorway buttoning his glove, and some one coming behind him pushed against him.
"Beg pardon, Harkness," said a voice, and the Chief Secretary of the English Legation patted him on the shoulder. "Didn't see you. Looking for some one. By George, what a heat! Ah! there he is— thank goodness!"
And he went towards the lady and man who had just entered.
"Here, Monty, you're wanted at once," Harkness heard him say to the youth, who appeared to be a few years younger than his beautiful companion.
He spoke a few words to the lady, who replied laughingly, and the British Attache came towards Harkness.
"Harkness," he said; "want to introduce you to Lady Storrel."
The American followed with a smile on his lean face. He knew that he was being introduced to Lady Storrel merely because there happened to be no one else at hand and her cavalier was wanted elsewhere.
"Lady Storrel, let me present to you Admiral Harkness, the man," he added, over his shoulder, "who is going to make the United States the first Naval Power in the world."
And with a good-natured laugh the two men went off, speaking hurriedly together.
"Is that true?" asked the lady, smiling with that mixture of girlishness and English grand-ladyism, which was so new to Caleb S. Harkness.
"Quite," he answered; "but I am not going to tell you how."
"No, please don't. Of course, you are an American?"
"Yes; but you need not mind that."
"What do you mean?" she asked, looking at him frankly.
"I take it," he answered, with a twinkle in his grave eyes, which she saw, and liked him for, "that you want some one to listen to your impressions of—all this. It IS rum, is it not?"
She laughed. "Yes," she admitted, "it is—RUM."
In a few minutes they had found a seat beneath a marvellous stand of flowers, and she was chattering away like a schoolgirl while he listened, and added here and there a keen comment or a humorous suggestion.
Presently she began talking of herself, and in natural sequence of her husband, of their home in England, of his career, and her hatred of politics.
"And," she said suddenly, at the end of it, "here IS my husband."
Harkness followed the direction of her glance, and looked upon a man in English Court-dress coming towards them.
"Ah!" he said, in a peculiar, dull voice, "that is your husband?"
She was smiling upon the man who approached, beckoning to him to come with her eyes, as women sometimes do. She turned sharply upon Harkness, her attention caught by something in his voice.
"Yes?" she answered.
Harkness had risen with a clatter of his sword on the polished floor, and stood awaiting the introduction.
"My husband—Admiral Harkness."
The men bowed, and, before they could exchange a banal observation, the fair young man who had been called away came up.
"Phew, this is worse than Simla," he said; then, offering his arm to Lady Storrel, "Alice," he continued, "I have discovered some ices, THE most lovely ices."
They moved away, the lady favouring Harkness with a little nod, leaving the two tallest men in that assembly facing each other.
When they were gone, Caleb S. Harkness and Lord Storrel looked into each other's eyes.
"So," said Harkness, lapsing suddenly into a twang, "she waited."
The other nodded. He raised his perfectly gloved hand to his moustache, which he tugged pensively to either side.
"Yes," he answered; "she waited."
Then he looked round the room, and, seeing that they were almost alone, he moved towards the seat just vacated by his wife.
"Come and sit down," he said, "and I will tell you a little story."
"Does she know it?" enquired Harkness, when they were seated.
"Then I don't want to hear it! You'd better keep it to yourself, I reckon."
The Englishman gave a little laugh, and lapsed into silence— thinking abstractedly.
"I should like to tell you some of it, for my own sake. I don't want you to go away thinking—something that is not the fact."
"I would rather not have the story," persisted Harkness. This American had some strange notions of a bygone virtue called chivalry. "Give me a few facts—I will string them together."
Lord Storrel was sitting forward on his low chair, with his hands clasped between his knees. They were rather large hands—suggestive of manual labour.
"Suppose," he said, without looking round, "that a man is in a street row in Dublin, when no one knows he is even in the town. Suppose the—eh—English side of the question is getting battered, and he hits out and kills a drunken beast of an Irish agitator. Suppose an innocent man is accused of it and the right chap is forced to come forward and show up UNDER A FALSE NAME and gets five years. Suppose he escapes after three and a half, and goes home, saying that he has been in America, cattle ranching—having always been a scapegrace, and a ne'er-do-well, who never wrote home when he had gone off in a huff. Suppose he had tried all this for the sake of—a girl, and had carried it through—"
Caleb Harkness had discovered that the identity of the British Plenipotentiary had become known to some of the more curious of the President's guests, who were now mooning innocently around them as they sat. He moved in his chair as if to rise.
"Yes—I can suppose all that," he said.
The Englishman's nerve was marvellous. He saw what Harkness had seen a moment before, and over his face came the bland smile of an intelligent English man talking naval matters with an American admiral.
"Of course," he said, "I am at your mercy."
"I was at yours once; so now we are quits, I take it."
And the two big men rose and passed out of the room together.
THE TALE OF A SCORPION
Spain is a country where custom reigns supreme. The wonder of to- day is by to-morrow a matter of indifference.
The man who came a second time to the Cafe Carmona in the Calle Velasquez in Seville must have known this; else the politely surprised looks, the furtive glances, the whisperings that met his first visit would have sent him to some other house of mild entertainment. The truth was that the Cafe Carmona was, and is still, select; with that somewhat narrow distinctiveness which is observed by such as have no friendly feelings towards the authorities that be.
It is a small Cafe, and foreigners had better not look for it. Yet this man was a foreigner—in fact an Englishman. He was one of those quiet, unobtrusive men, who are taller than they look, and more important than they care to be considered. He could, for instance, pass down the crowded Sierpe of an evening, without so much as attracting a glance; for, by a few alterations in dress, he converted his outward appearance into that of a Spaniard. He was naturally dark, and for reasons of his own he spared the razor. His face was brown, his features good, and a hat with a flat brim is easily bought. Thus this man passed out of his hotel door in the evening the facsimile of a dozen others walking in the same street.
Moreover, he had no great reason for doing this. He preferred, he said, to pass unnoticed. But at the Foreign Office it was known that no man knew Spain as Cartoner knew it. Some men are so. They take their work seriously. Cartoner had looked on the map of Europe some years before for a country little known of the multitude, and of which the knowledge might prove to be of value. His eye lighted on Spain; and he spent his next leave there, and the next, and so on.
Consequently there was no one at the Foreign Office who could hold a candle to Cartoner in matters Spanish. That is already something— to have that said of one. He is a wise man nowadays who knows something (however small it be) better than his neighbour. Like all his kind, this wise man kept his knowledge fresh. He was still learning—he was studying at the Cafe Carmona in the little street in Seville, called Velasquez.
When he pushed the inner glass door open and lounged into the smoke- filled room, the waiter, cigarette in mouth, nodded in a friendly way without betraying surprise. One or two old habitues glanced at him, and returned to the perusal of La Libertad or El Imparcial without being greatly interested. The stranger had come the night before. He liked the place—the coffee suited his taste—"y bien," let him come again.
The waiter came forward without removing the cigarette from his lips; which was already a step. It placed this new-comer on a level with the older frequenters of the Carmona.
"Cafe?" he inquired.
"Cafe!" replied the stranger, who spoke little.
He had selected a little table standing rather isolated at one end of the room, and he sat with his back to the wall. The whole Cafe Carmona lay before him, and through the smoke of his cigarette he looked with quiet, unobtrusive eyes, studying . . . studying.
Presently an old man entered. This little table was his by right of precedence. He had been sitting at it the night before when the Englishman had elected to sit beside him; bowing as he did so in the Spanish manner, and clapping his hands in the way of Spain, to call the waiter when he was seated.
It was this evening the turn of the old man to bow, and the Englishman returned his salutation. They sat some time in silence, but when Cartoner passed the sugar the innate politeness of the Spaniard perceived the call for conversation.
"His Excellency is not of Seville?" he said, with a pleasant smile on his wrinkled, clean-shaven face.
"No; I am an Englishman."
The keen old face hardened suddenly, until the features were like the wrinkles of a walnut; and the Spaniard drew himself up with all the dignity of his race.
The quiet eyes of Cartoner of the Foreign Office never left his face. Cartoner was surprised; for he knew Spain—he was aware that the Peninsular War had not been forgotten. He had never, in whatsoever place or situation, found it expedient to conceal his nationality.
The old Spaniard slowly unfolded his cloak, betraying the shabbiness of its crimson plush lining. He lighted a cigarette, and then the national sense of politeness prevailed against personal feeling.
"His Excellency knows Gibraltar?"
"I have been there."
"Pardon me," said the old man, with a grave bow. "I thought—the Spanish of His Excellency misled me."
The Englishman laughed quietly. "You took me for a scorpion," he said. "I am not that. I learnt your language here and in the mountains of Andalusia."
"Then, I beg the pardon of His Excellency."
Cartoner made a Spanish gesture with his hand and shoulders, indicating that no such pardon was called for.
"Like you," he said, "I do not love the Scorpion."
The Spaniard's eyes lighted up with a gleam which was hardly pleasant to look upon.
"I HATE them," he hissed, bringing his face close to the quiet eyes; and the Spanish word means more than ours.
Then he threw himself back in his chair with an upward jerk of the head.
"I have good reason to do so," he added. "I sometimes wonder why I ever speak to an Englishman; for they resemble you in some things, these Scorpions. This one had a fair moustache, blue eyes, clean- cut features, like some of those from the North. But he was not large, this one—the Rock does not breed a large race. They are mean little men, with small white hands and women's feet. Ah, God! how I hate them all!"
The Englishman took a fresh cigarette from a Russia leather case, and pushed the remainder across the table for his companion to help himself when he had finished mashing the crooked paper between his lips.
"I know your language," the Spaniard went on, "as well almost as you know mine. But I do not speak it now. It burns my throat—it hurts."
Cartoner lighted his cigarette. He betrayed not the smallest feeling of curiosity. It was marvellous how he had acquired the manner of these self-contained Sons of the Peninsula.
"I will tell it."
The Englishman leant his elbow on the table, and his chin within his hand, gazing indifferently out over the marble tables of the Cafe Carmona. The men seated there interchanged glances. They knew from the fierce old face, from the free and dramatic gestures, that old Pedro Roldos was already telling his story to the stranger.
"Santa Maria!" the old man was saying. "It is not a pleasant story. I lived at Algeciras—I and my little girl, Lorenza. Too near the Rock—too near the Rock. You know what we are there. I had a business—the contraband, of course—and sometimes I was absent for days together. But Lorenza was a favourite with the neighbours— good women who had known my wife when she was the beauty of St. Roque—just such a girl as Lorenza. And I trusted Lorenza; for we are all so. We trust and trust, and yet we know that love and money will kill honesty and truth at any moment. These two are sacred— more sacred than honesty or truth. Diavolo! What a fool I was. I ought to have known that Lorenza was too pretty to be left alone— ignorant as she was of the ways of the world.