In Kedar's Tents
by Henry Seton Merriman
from the 1909 Smith, Elder and Co. edition by Les
Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.
CHAPTER I. ONE
LIKE SHIPS UPON
CHAPTER IV. LE
CHAPTER VI. AT
CHAPTER VII. IN
THE LOVE LETTER.
CHAPTER IX. A
WAR OF WIT.
CHAPTER X. THE
CHAPTER XI. A
CHAPTER XII. ON
THE TOLEDO ROAD.
CHAPTER XIII. A
CHAPTER XIV. A
CHAPTER XV. AN
CHAPTER XVI. IN
CHAPTER XVII. IN
CHAPTER XX. ON
CHAPTER XXI. A
CHAPTER XXVII. A
THE CITY OF
CHAPTER XXX. THE
DAWN OF PEACE.
CHAPTER I. ONE SOWETH.
'If it be a duty to respect other men's claims, so also is it a
duty to maintain our own.'
It is in the staging of her comedies that fate shows herself
superior to mere human invention. While we, with careful regard to
scenery, place our conventional puppets on the stage and bid them play
their old old parts in a manner as ancient, she rings up the curtain
and starts a tragedy on a scene that has obviously been set by the
carpenter for a farce. She deals out the parts with a fine
inconsistency, and the jolly-faced little man is cast to play Romeo,
while the poetic youth with lantern jaw and an impaired digestion finds
no Juliet to match his love.
Fate, with that playfulness which some take too seriously or quite
amiss, set her queer stage as long ago as 1838 for the comedy of
certain lives, and rang up the curtain one dark evening on no fitter
scene than the high road from Gateshead to Durham. It was raining
hard, and a fresh breeze from the south-east swept a salt rime from the
North Sea across a tract of land as bare and bleak as the waters of
that grim ocean. A hard, cold land this, where the iron that has
filled men's purses has also entered their souls.
There had been a great meeting at Chester-le-Street of those who
were at this time beginning to be known as Chartists, and, the Act
having been lately passed that torchlight meetings were illegal, this
assembly had gathered by the light of a waning moon long since hidden
by the clouds. Amid the storm of wind and rain, orators had expounded
views as wild as the night itself, to which the hard-visaged sons of
Northumbria had listened with grunts of approval or muttered words of
discontent. A dangerous game to play—this stirring up of the
people's heart, and one that may at any moment turn to the deepest
Few thought at this time that the movement awakening in the working
centres of the North and Midlands was destined to spread with the
strange rapidity of popular passion—to spread and live for a decade.
Few of the Chartists expected to see the fulfilment of half of their
desires. Yet, to-day, a moiety of the People's Charter has been
granted. These voices crying in the night demanded an extended
suffrage, vote by ballot, and freedom for rich and poor alike to sit in
Parliament. Within the scope of one reign these demands have been
The meeting at Chester-le-Street was no different from a hundred
others held in England at the same time. It was illegal, and yet the
authorities dared not to pronounce it so. It might prove dangerous to
those taking part in it. Lawyers said that the leaders laid themselves
open to the charge of high treason. In this assembly as in others
there were wirepullers—men playing their own game, and from the
safety of the rear pushing on those in front. With one of these we
have to do. With his mistake Fate raised the curtain, and on the
horizon of several lives arose a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.
Geoffrey Horner lived before his time, insomuch as he was a
gentleman-Radical. He was clever, and the world heeded not. He was
brilliant, well educated, capable of great achievements, and the world
refused to be astonished. Here were the makings of a malcontent. A
well-born Radical is one whom the world has refused to accept at his
own valuation. A wise man is ready to strike a bargain with Fate. The
wisest are those who ask much and then take half. It is the coward who
asks too little, and the fool who imagines that he will receive without
Horner had thrown in his lot with the Chartists in that spirit of
pique which makes a man marry the wrong woman because the right one
will have none of him. At the Chester-le-Street meeting he had
declared himself an upholder of moral persuasion, while in his heart he
pandered to those who knew only of physical force and placed their
reliance thereon. He had come from Durham with a contingent of
malcontents, and was now returning thither on foot in company with the
local leaders. These were intelligent mechanics seeking clumsily and
blindly enough what they knew to be the good of their fellows. At
their heels tramped the rank and file of the great movement. The
assembly was a subtle foreshadowing of things to come—of Newport and
the march of twenty thousand men, of violence and bloodshed, of strife
between brethren, and of justice nonplussed and hesitating.
The toil-worn miners were mostly silent, their dimly enlightened
intellects uneasily stirred by the words they had lately heard—their
stubborn hearts full of a great hope with a minute misgiving at the
back of it. With this dangerous material Geoffrey Horner proposed to
play his game.
Suddenly a voice was raised.
'Mates,' it cried, at the cross-roads, 'let's go and smash
And a muttered acquiescence to the proposal swept through the moving
mass like a sullen breeze through reeds.
The desire for action rustled among these men of few words and
Horner hurriedly consulted his colleagues. Was it wise to attempt
to exert an authority which was merely nominal? The principles of
Chartism were at this time to keep within the limits of the law, and
yet to hint, when such a course was safe, that stronger measures lay
behind mere words. Their fatal habit was to strike softly.
In peace and war, at home and abroad, there is but one humane and
safe rule: Hesitate to strike—strike hard.
Sir John Pleydell was a member of that Parliament which had treated
the Charter with contempt. He was one of those who had voted with the
majority against the measures it embodied.
In addition to these damnatory facts, he was a local Tory of some
renown—an ambitious man, the neighbours said, who wished to leave his
son a peerage.
To the minds of the rabble this magnate represented the tyranny
against which their protest was raised. Geoffrey Horner looked on him
as a political opponent and a dangerous member of the winning party.
The blow was easy to strike. Horner hesitated—at the cross roads of
other lives than his own—and held his tongue.
The suggestion of the unknown humorist in the crowd commended itself
to the more energetic of the party, who immediately turned towards the
by-road leading to Dene Hall. The others—the minority—followed as
minorities do, because they distrusted themselves. Some one struck up
a song with words lately published in the 'Northern Liberator' and set
to a well-known local air.
The shooting party assembled at Dene Hall was still at the dinner
table when the malcontents entered the park, and the talk of coverts
and guns ceased suddenly at the sound of their rough voices. Sir John
Pleydell, an alert man still, despite his grey hair and drawn, careworn
face, looked up sharply. He had been sitting silently fingering the
stem of his wineglass—a habit of his when the ladies quitted the room
- and, although he had shot as well as, perhaps better than, any
present, had taken but little part in the conversation. He had, in
fact, only half listened, and when a rare smile passed across his grey
face it invariably owed its existence to some sally made by his son,
Alfred Pleydell, gay, light-hearted, débonnaire, at the far end
of the table. When Sir John's thoughtful eyes rested on his motherless
son, a dull and suppressed light gleamed momentarily beneath his heavy
lids. Superficial observers said that John Pleydell was an ambitious
man; 'not for himself,' added the few who saw deeper.
When his quick mind now took in the import of the sound that broke
the outer silence of the night, Sir John's glance sought his son's
face. In moments of alarm the glance flies to where the heart is.
'What is that?' asked Alfred Pleydell, standing up.
'The Chartists,' said Sir John.
Alfred looked round. He was a soldier, though the ink had hardly
dried upon the parchment that made him one—the only soldier in the
'We are eleven here,' he said, 'and two men downstairs—some of you
fellows have your valets too—say fifteen in all. We cannot stand
this, you know. '
As he spoke the first volley of stones crashed through the windows,
and the broken glass rattled to the floor behind the shutters. The
cries of the ladies in the drawing-room could be heard, and all the men
sprang to their feet. With blazing eyes Alfred Pleydell ran to the
door, but his father was there before him.
'Not you,' said the elder man, quiet but a little paler than usual;
'I will go and speak to them. They will not dare to touch me. They
are probably running away by this time. '
'Then we'll run after 'em,' answered Alfred with a fine spirit, and
something in his attitude, in the ring of his voice, awoke that demon
of combativeness which lies dormant in men of the Anglo-Saxon race.
'Come on, you fellows!' cried the boy with a queer glad laugh, and
without knowing that he did it Sir John stood aside, his heart warm
with a sudden pride, his blood stirred by something that had not moved
it these thirty years. The guests crowded out of the room—old men
who should have known better—laughing as they threw aside their
dinner napkins. What a strange thing is man, peaceful through long
years, and at a moment's notice a mere fighting devil.
'Come on, we'll teach them to break windows!' repeated Alfred
Pleydell, running to the stick rack. The rain rattled on the skylight
of the square hall, and the wind roared down the open chimney. Among
the men hastily arming themselves with heavy sticks and cramming caps
upon their heads were some who had tasted of rheumatism, but they never
thought of an overcoat.
'We'll know each other by our shirt fronts,' said a quiet man who
was standing on a chair in order to reach an Indian club suspended on
Alfred was at the door leading through to the servants' quarters,
and his summons brought several men from the pantry and kitchens.
'Come on!' he cried, 'take anything you can find—stick or poker—
yes, and those old guns, use 'em like a club, hit very hard and very
often. We'll charge the devils—there's nothing like a charge—come
And he was already out of the door with a dozen at his heels.
The change from the lighted rooms to the outer darkness made them
pause a moment, during which time the defenders had leisure to group
themselves around Alfred Pleydell. A hoarse shout, which indeed
drowned Geoffrey Horner's voice, showed where the assailants stood.
Horner had found his tongue after the first volley of stones. It was
the policy of the Chartist leaders and wirepullers to suggest rather
than demonstrate physical force. Enough had been done to call
attention to the Chester-le-Street meeting, and give it the desired
prominence in the eyes of the nation.
'Get back, go to your homes!' he was shouting, with upraised arms,
when the hoarse cry of his adherents and the flood of light from the
opened door made him turn hastily. In a moment he saw the meaning of
this development, but it was too late.
With a cheer, Alfred Pleydell, little more than a boy, led the
charge, and seeing Horner in front, ran at him with upraised stick.
Horner half warded the blow, which came whistling down his own stick
and paralysed his thumb. He returned the stroke with a sudden fury,
striking Pleydell full on the head. Then, because he had a young wife
and child at home, he pushed his way through the struggling crowd, and
ran away in the darkness. As he ran he could hear his late adherents
dispersing in all directions, like sheep before a dog. He heard a
And Horner, who an hour—nay, ten minutes—earlier had had no
thought of violence, ran his fastest along the road by which he had
lately come. His heart was as water within his breast, and his staring
eyes played their part mechanically. He did not fall, but he noted
nothing, and had no knowledge whither he was running.
Alfred Pleydell lay quite still on the lawn in front of his father's
CHAPTER II. ANOTHER REAPETH.
'Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt.'
During the course of a harum-scarum youth in the city of Dublin
certain persons had been known to predict that Mr. Frederick Conyngham
had a future before him. Mostly pleasant-spoken Irish persons these,
who had the racial habit of saying that which is likely to be welcome.
Many of them added, 'the young divil,' under their breath, in a pious
hope of thereby cleansing their souls from guilt.
'I suppose I'm idle, and what is worse, I know I'm a fool,' said
Conyngham himself to his tutor when that gentleman, with a toleration
which was undeserved, took him severely to task before sending him up
for the Bar examination. The tutor said nothing, but he suspected that
this, his wildest pupil, was no fool. Truth to tell, Frederick
Conyngham had devoted little thought to the matter of which he spoke,
namely, himself, and was perhaps none the worse for that. A young man
who thinks too often usually falls into the error of also thinking too
much, of himself.
The examination was, however, safely passed, and in due course
Frederick was called to the Irish Bar, where a Queen's Counsel, with an
accent like rich wine, told him that he was now a gintleman, and
entitled so to call himself.
All these events were left behind, and Conyngham, sitting alone in
his rooms in Norfolk Street, Strand, three days after the breaking of
Sir John Pleydell's windows, was engaged in realising that the
predicted future was still in every sense before him, and in nowise
nearer than it had been in his mother's lifetime.
This realisation of an unpleasant fact appeared in no way to disturb
his equanimity, for, as he knocked his pipe against the bars of the
fire, he murmured a popular air in a careless voice. The firelight
showed his face to be pleasant enough in a way that left the land of
his birth undoubted. Blue eyes, quick and kind; a square chin, closely
curling hair, and square shoulders bespoke an Irishman. Something,
however, in the cut of his lips—something close and firm—suggested
an admixture of Anglo-Saxon blood. The man looked as if he might have
had an English mother. It was perhaps this formation of the mouth that
had led those pleasant-spoken persons to name to his relatives their
conviction that Conyngham had a future before him. The best liars are
those who base their fancy upon fact. They knew that the ordinary
thoroughbred Irishman has usually a cheerful enough life before him,
but not that which is vaguely called a future. Fred Conyngham looked
like a man who could hold to his purpose, but at this moment he also
had the unfortunate appearance of not possessing one to hold to.
He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and held the hot briar bowl
against the ear of a sleeping fox terrier, which animal growled,
without moving, in a manner that suggested its possession of a sense of
humour and a full comprehension of the harmless practical joke.
A moment later the dog sat up and listened with an interest that
gradually increased until the door opened and Geoffrey Horner came into
'Faith, it's Horner!' said Conyngham. 'Where are you from?'
'Ah—sit down. What have you been doing up there—tub-thumping?'
Horner came forward and sat down in the chair indicated. He looked
five years older than when he had last been there. Conyngham glanced
at his friend, who was staring into the fire.
'Edith all right?' he asked carelessly.
'And—the little chap?'
Conyngham glanced at his companion again. Horner's eyes had the
hard look that comes from hopelessness; his lips were dry and white.
He wore the air of one whose stake in the game of life was heavy, who
played that game nervously. For this was an ambitious man with wife
and child whom he loved. Conyngham's attitude towards Fate was in
strong contrast. He held his head up and faced the world without
encumbrance, without a settled ambition, without any sense of
responsibility at all. The sharp-eyed dog on the hearthrug looked from
one to the other. A moment before, the atmosphere of the room had been
one of ease and comfortable assurance—an atmosphere that some men,
without any warrant or the justification of personal success or
distinction, seem to carry with them through life. Since Horner had
crossed the threshold the ceaseless hum of the streets seemed to be
nearer, the sound of it louder in the room; the restlessness of that
great strife stirred the air. The fox terrier laid himself on the
hearthrug again, but instead of sleeping watched his two human
Conyngham filled his pipe. He turned to the table where the
matchbox stood at his elbow, took it up, rattled it, and laid it down.
He pressed the tobacco hard with his thumb, and, turning to Horner,
'What is it?'
'I don't know yet; ruin, I think.'
'Nonsense, man!' said Conyngham cheerily. 'There is no such thing
in this world. At least, the jolliest fellows I know are bankrupts, or
no better. Look at me: never a brief; literary contributions returned
with thanks; balance at the bank, seventeen pounds ten shillings;
balance in hand, none; debts, the Lord only knows! Look at me! I'm
'Yes, you're a lonely devil.'
Conyngham looked at his friend with inquiry in his gay eyes.
'Ah! perhaps so. I live alone, if that is what you mean. But as
for being lonely—no, hang it! I have plenty of friends, especially
at dividend time.'
'You have nobody depending on you,' said Horner with the
irritability of sorrow.
'Because nobody is such a fool. On the other hand, I have nobody to
care a twopenny curse what becomes of me. Same thing, you see, in the
end. Come, man, cheer up. Tell me what is wrong. Seventeen pounds
ten shillings is not exactly wealth, but if you want it you know it is
'I do not want it, thanks,' replied the other. 'Seventeen hundred
would be no good to me. '
He paused, biting his under lip and staring with hard eyes into the
'Read that,' he said at length, and handed Conyngham a cutting from
a daily newspaper.
The younger man read, without apparent interest, an account of the
Chester-le-Street meeting, and the subsequent attack on Sir John
'Yes,' he commented, 'the usual thing. Brave words followed by a
cowardly deed. What in the name of fortune you were doing in that
galère you yourself know best. If these are politics, Horner, I
say drop them. Politics are a stick, clean enough at the top, but
you've got hold of the wrong end. Young Pleydell was hurt, I see—
"seriously, it is feared."'
'Yes,' said Horner significantly; and his companion, after a quick
look of surprise, read the slip of paper carefully a second time. Then
he looked up and met Horner's eyes.
'Gad!' he exclaimed in a whisper.
Horner said nothing. The dog moved restlessly, and for a moment the
whole world—that sleepless world of the streets—seemed to hold its
'And if he dies,' said Conyngham at length.
'Exactly so,' answered the other with a laugh—of scaffold mirth.
Conyngham turned in his chair and sat with his elbows on his knees,
his face resting on his closed fists, staring at the worn old
hearthrug. Thus they remained for some minutes.
'What are you thinking about?' asked Horner at length.
'Nothing—got nothing to think with. You know that, Geoffrey.
Wish I had—never wanted it as I do at this moment. I'm no good, you
know that. You must go to some one with brains—some clever devil.'
As he spoke he turned and took up the paper again, reading the
paragraph slowly and carefully. Horner looked at him with a breathless
hunger in his eyes. At some moments it is a crime to think, for we
never know but that thought may be transmitted without so much as a
'"The miners were accompanied by a gentleman from London,"'
Conyngham read aloud, '"a barrister, it is supposed, whose speech was a
feature of the Chester le-Street meeting. This gentleman's name is
quite unknown, nor has his whereabouts yet been discovered. His sudden
disappearance lends likelihood to the report that this unknown agitator
actually struck the blow which injured Mr. Alfred Pleydell. Every
exertion is being put forth by the authorities to trace the man who is
possibly a felon and certainly a coward."'
Conyngham laid aside the paper and again looked at Horner, who did
not meet his glance nor ask now of what he was thinking. Horner,
indeed, had his own thoughts, perhaps of the fireside—modest enough,
but happy as love and health could make it—upon which his own
ambition had brought down the ruins of a hundred castles in the air—
thoughts he scarce could face, no doubt, and yet had no power to drive
away, of the young wife whose world was that same fireside; of the
child, perhaps, whose coming had opened for a time the door of Paradise.
Conyngham broke in upon these meditations with a laugh.
'I have it!' he cried. 'It's as simple as the alphabet. This paper
says it was a barrister—a man from London—a malcontent, a felon, a
coward. Dammy, Geoff—that's me!'
He leapt to his feet. 'Get out of the way, Tim!' he cried to the
dog, pushing the animal aside and standing on the hearthrug.
'Listen to this,' he went on. 'This thing, like the others, will
blow over. It will be forgotten in a week. Another meeting will be
held—say in South Wales, more windows will be broken, another young
man's head cracked, and Chester-le-Street (God-forsaken place, never
heard of it!) will be forgotten.'
Horner sat looking with hollow eyes at the young Irishman, his lips
twitching, his fingers interlocked—there is nothing makes so complete
a coward of a man as a woman's love. Conyngham laughed as the notion
unfolded itself in his mind. He might, as he himself had said, be of
no great brain power, but he was at all events a man and a brave one.
He stood a full six foot, and looked down at his companion, who sat
whitefaced and shrinking.
'It is quite easy,' he said, 'for me to disappear in such a manner
as to arouse suspicion. I have nothing to keep me here; my briefs—
well, the Solicitor-General can have 'em! I have no ties—nothing to
keep me in any part of the world. When young Pleydell is on his feet
again, and a few more windows have been broken, and nine days have
elapsed, the wonder will give place to another, and I can return to my
'I couldn't let you do it.'
'Oh yes, you could,' said Conyngham with the quickness of his race
to spy out his neighbour's vulnerable point. 'For the sake of Edith
and the little devil.'
Horner sat silent, and after a moment Conyngham went on.
'All we want to do is to divert suspicion from you now—to put them
on a false scent, for they must have one of some sort. When they find
that they cannot catch me they will forget all about it.'
Horner shuffled in his seat. This was nothing but detection of the
thoughts that had passed through his own mind.
'It is easily enough done,' went on the Irishman. 'A paragraph here
and there in some of the newspapers; a few incriminating papers left in
these rooms, which are certain to be searched. I have a bad name—an
Irish dog goes about the world with a rope round his neck. If I am
caught it will not be for some time, and then I can get out of it
somehow—an alibi or something. I'll get a brief at all events. By
that time the scent will be lost, and it will be all right. Come,
Geoff, cheer up! A man of your sort ought not to be thrown by a
mischance like this.'
He stood with his legs apart, his hands thrust deep into his
pockets, a gay laugh on his lips, and much discernment in his eyes.
'Oh, d---n Edith!' he added after a pause, seeing that his efforts
met with no response. 'D---n that child! You used to have some pluck,
Horner.' Horner shook his head and made no answer, but his very
silence was a point gained. He no longer protested nor raised any
objection to his companion's hare-brained scheme. The thing was
feasible, and he knew it.
Conyngham went on to set forth his plans, which with characteristic
rapidity of thought he evolved as he spoke.
'Above all,' he said, 'we must be prompt. I must disappear
to-night, the paragraphs must be in to-morrow's papers. I think I'll
go to Spain. The Carlists seem to be making things lively there. You
know, Horner, I was never meant for a wig and gown—there's no doubt
about that. I shall have a splendid time of it out there—'
He stopped, meeting a queer look in Horner's eyes, who sat leaning
forward and searching his face with jealous glance.
'I was wondering,' said the other, with a pale smile, 'if you were
ever in love with Edith.'
'No, my good soul, I was not,' answered Conyngham, with perfect
carelessness, 'though I knew her long before you did.'
He paused, and a quick thought flashed through his mind that some
men are seen at their worst in adversity. He was ready enough to find
excuses for Horner, for men are strange in the gift of their
friendship, often bestowing it where they know it is but ill deserved.
He rattled on with unbroken gaiety, unfolding plans which in their
perfection of detail suggested a previous experience in outrunning the
While they were still talking a mutual friend came in—a
quick-spoken man already beginning to be known as a journalist of
ability. They talked on indifferent topics for some time. Then the
new-comer said jerkily:
'Heard the news?'
'No,' answered Conyngham.
'Alfred Pleydell—young fellow who resisted the Chartist rioters at
Durham—died yesterday morning.' Frederick Conyngham had placed
himself in front of Horner, who was still seated in the low chair by
the fire. He found Horner's toe with his heel.
'Is that so?' he said gravely. 'Then I'm off.'
'What do you mean?' asked the journalist with a quick look—the man
had the manner of a ferret.
'Nothing, only I'm off, that's all, old man. And I cannot ask you
to stay this evening, you understand, because I have to pack.'
He turned slowly on Horner, who had recovered himself, but still had
his hand over his face.
'Got any money, Geoff?' he asked.
'Yes, I have twenty pounds if you want it,' answered the other in a
'I do want it—badly.'
The journalist had taken up his hat and stick. He moved slowly
towards the door, and, there pausing, saw Horner pass the bank-notes to
'You had better go too,' said the Irishman. 'You two are going in
the same direction, I know.'
Horner rose, and, half laughing, Conyngham pushed him towards the
'See him home, Blake,' he said. 'Horner has the blues to-night.'
CHAPTER III. LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA.
'No one can be more wise than destiny.'
'What are we waiting for? why, two more passengers—grand ladies as
they tell me—and the captain has gone ashore to fetch them,' the
first mate of the 'Granville' barque, of London, made answer to
Frederick Conyngham, and he breathed on his fingers as he spoke, for
the north-west wind was blowing across the plains of the Medoc, and the
sun had just set behind the smoke of Bordeaux.
The 'Granville' was lying at anchor in the middle of the Garonne
river, having safely discharged her deck cargo of empty claret casks
and landed a certain number of passengers. There are few colder spots
on the Continent than the sunny town of Bordeaux when the west wind
blows from Atlantic wastes in winter time. A fine powder of snow
scudded across the flat land, which presented a bleak brown face,
patched here and there with white. There were two more passengers on
board the 'Granville,' crouching in the cabin—two French gentlemen
who had taken passage from London to Algeciras in Spain, on their way
Conyngham, with characteristic good-nature, had made himself so
entirely at home on board the Mediterranean trader that his presence
was equally welcomed in the forecastle and the captain's cabin. Even
the first mate, his present interlocutor, a grim man given to muttered
abuse of his calling and a pious pessimism in respect to human nature,
gradually thawed under the influence of so cheerful an acceptance of
heavy weather and a clumsy deck cargo.
'The ladies will be less trouble than the empty casks, at all
events,' said Conyngham, 'because they will keep below.'
The sailor shook his head forebodingly and took an heroic pinch of
'One's as capable of carrying mischief as the other,' he muttered in
the bigoted voice of a married teetotaller.
The ship was ready for sea, and this mariner's spirit was ever
uneasy and restless till the anchor was on deck and the hawser stowed.
'There's a boat leaving the quay now,' he added. 'Seems she's
lumbered up forr'ard wi' women's hamper.'
And indeed the black form of a skiff so laden could be seen
approaching through the driving snow and gloom. The mate called to the
steward to come on deck, and this bearded servitor of dames emerged
from the galley with uprolled sleeves and a fine contempt for cold
winds. A boy went forward with a coil of rope on his arm, for the tide
was running hard and the Garonne is no ladies' pleasure stream. It is
not an easy matter to board a ship in mid-current when tide and wind
are at variance, and the fingers so cold that a rope slips through them
like a log-line. The 'Granville,' having still on board her cargo of
coals for Algeciras, lay low in the water with both her anchors out and
the tide singing round her old-fashioned hempen hawsers.
'Now see ye throw a clear rope,' shouted the mate to the boy who had
gone forward. The proximity of the land and the approach of women—a
bête noire no less dreaded—seemed to flurry the brined spirit of
the Granville's' mate.
Perhaps the knowledge that the end of a rope, not judged clear,
would inevitably be applied to his own person, shook the nerve of the
boy on the forecastle—perhaps his hands were cold and his faculties
benumbed. He cast a line which seemed to promise well at first. Two
coils of it unfolded themselves gracefully against the grey sky, and
then Confusion took the others for herself. A British oath from the
deck of the ship went out to meet a fine French explosion of profanity
from the boat, both forestalling the splash of the tangled rope into
the water under the bows of the ship, and a full ten yards out of the
reach of the man who stood, boathook in hand, ready to catch it. There
were two ladies in the stern of the boat, muffled up to the eyes, and
betokening by their attitude the hopeless despair and misery which
seize the southern fair the moment they embark in so much as a ferry
boat. The fore part of the heavy craft was piled up with trunks and
other impedimenta of a feminine incongruity. A single boatman had
rowed the boat from the shore, guiding it into mid-stream, and there
describing a circle calculated to insure a gentle approach on the lee
side. This man, having laid aside his oars, now stood, boathook in
hand, awaiting the inevitable crash. The offending boy in the bows was
making frantic efforts to haul in his misguided rope, but the
possibility of making a second cast was unworthy of consideration. The
mate muttered such a string of foreboding expletives as augured ill for
the delinquent. The boatman was preparing to hold on and fend off at
the same moment—a sudden gust of wind gave the boat a sharp buffet
just as the man grappled the mizzen-chains—he overbalanced himself,
fell, and recovered himself, but only to be jerked backwards into the
water by the boathook, which struck him in the chest.
'À moi!' cried the man, and disappeared in the muddy water.
He rose to the surface under the ship's quarter, and the mate, quick as
lightning, dumped the whole coil of the slack of the main sheet on to
the top of him. In a moment he was at the level of the rail, the mate
and the steward hauling steadily on the rope, to which he clung with
the tenacity and somewhat the attitude of a monkey. At the same
instant a splash made the rescuers turn in time to see Conyngham, whose
coat lay thrown on the deck behind them, rise to the surface ten yards
astern of the 'Granville' and strike out towards the boat, now almost
disappearing in the gloom of night.
The water, which had flowed through the sunniest of the sunny plains
of France, was surprisingly warm, and Conyngham, soon recovering from
the shock of his dive, settled into a quick side-stroke. The boat was
close in front of him, and in the semi-darkness he could see one of the
women rise from her seat and make her way forward, while her companion
crouched lower and gave voice to her dismay in a series of wails and
groans. The more intrepid lady was engaged in lifting one of the heavy
oars, when Conyngham called out in French:
'Courage, mesdames! I will be with you in a moment.'
Both turned, and the pallor of their faces shone whitely through the
gloom. Neither spoke, and in a few strokes Conyngham came alongside.
He clutched the gunwale with his right hand, and drew himself breast
'If these ladies,' he said, 'will kindly go to the opposite side of
the boat, I shall be able to climb in without danger of upsetting.'
'If mama inclines that way I think it will be sufficient,' answered
the muffled form which had made its way forward. The voice was clear
and low, remarkably self-possessed, and not without a suggestion that
its possessor bore a grudge against some person present.
'Perhaps mademoiselle is right,' said Conyngham with becoming
gravity, and the lady in the stern obeyed her daughter's suggestion,
with the result anticipated. Indeed, the boat heeled over with so much
goodwill that Conyngham was lifted right out of the water. He
clambered on board and immediately began shivering, for the wind cut
like a knife.
The younger lady made her way cautiously back to the seat which she
had recently quitted, and began at once to speak very severely to her
mother. This stout and emotional person was swaying backwards and
forwards, and, in the intervals of wailing and groaning, called in
Spanish upon several selected saints to assist her. At times, and
apparently by way of a change, she appealed to yet higher powers to
receive her soul.
'My mother,' said the young lady to Conyngham, who had already got
the oars out, 'has the heart of a rabbit, but—yes—of a very young
'Madame may rest assured that there is no danger,' said Conyngham.
'Monsieur is an Englishman—'
'Yes, and a very cold one at the moment. If madame could restrain
her religious enthusiasm so much as to sit still, we should make better
He spoke rather curtly, as if refusing to admit the advisability of
manning the boat with a crew of black-letter saints. The manner in
which the craft leapt forward under each stroke of the oars testified
to the strength of his arms, and madame presently subsided into
whispers of thankfulness, having reason, it would seem, to be content
with mere earthly aid in lieu of that heavenly intervention which
ladies of her species summon at every turn of life.
'I wish I could help you,' said the younger woman presently, in a
voice and manner suggestive of an energy unusual to her countrywomen.
She spoke in French, but with an accent somewhat round and full, like
an English accent, and Conyngham divined that she was Spanish. He
thought also that under their outer wraps the ladies wore the mantilla,
and had that graceful carriage of the head which is only seen in the
'Thank you, mademoiselle, but I am making good progress now. Can
you see the ship?'
She rose and stood peering into the darkness ahead—a graceful,
swaying figure. A faint scent as of some flower was wafted on the keen
wind to Conyngham, who had already decided with characteristic haste
that this young person was as beautiful as she was intrepid.
'Yes,' she answered, 'it is quite close. They are also showing
lights to guide us.'
She stood looking apparently over his head towards the 'Granville,'
but when she spoke it would seem that her thoughts had not been fixed
on that vessel.
'Is monsieur a sailor?'
'No, but I fortunately have a little knowledge of such matters—
fortunate, since I have been able to turn it to the use of these
'But you are travelling in the "Granville."'
'Yes; I am travelling in the "Granville."'
Over his oars Conyngham looked hard at his interlocutrice, but could
discern nothing of her features. Her voice interested him, however,
and he wondered whether there were ever calms on the coast of Spain at
this time of the year.
'Our sailors,' said the young lady, 'in Spain are brave, but they
are very cautious. I think none of them would have done such a thing
as you have just done for us. We were in danger. I knew it. Was it
'The boat might have drifted against some ship at anchor and been
upset. You might also have been driven out to sea. They had no boat
on board the "Granville" ready to put out and follow you.'
'Yes; and you saved us. But you English are of a great courage.
And my mother, instead of thanking you, is offering her gratitude to
James and John the sons of Zebedee, as if they had done it.'
'I am no relation to Zebedee,' said Conyngham with a gay laugh.
'Madame may rest assured of that.'
'Julia,' said the elder lady severely, and in a voice that seemed to
emanate from a chest as deep and hollow as an octave cask, 'I shall
tell Father Concha, who will assuredly reprove you. The saints upon
whom I called were fishermen, and therefore the more capable of
understanding our great danger. As for monsieur, he knows that he
shall always be in my prayers.'
'Thank you, madame,' said Conyngham gravely.
'And at a fitter time I hope to be able to tender him my thanks.'
At this moment a voice from the 'Granville' hailed the boat, asking
whether all was well and Mr. Conyngham on board. Being reassured on
this point, the mate apparently attended to another matter requiring
his attention, the mingled cries and expostulations of the cabin boy
sufficiently indicating its nature.
The boat, under Conyngham's strong and steady strokes, now came
slowly and without mishap alongside the great black hull of the vessel,
and it soon became manifest that, although all danger was past, there
yet remained difficulty ahead; for when the boat was made fast and the
ladder lowered, the elder of the two ladies firmly and emphatically
denied her ability to make the ascent. The French boatman, shivering
in a borrowed great coat, and with a vociferation which flavoured the
air with cognac, added his entreaties to those of the mate and
steward. In the small boat Conyngham, in French, and the lady's
daughter, in Spanish, represented that at least half of the heavenly
host, having intervened to save her from so great a peril as that
safely passed through, could surely accomplish this smaller feat with
ease. But the lady still hesitated, and the mate, having clambered
down into the boat, grabbed Conyngham's arm with a large and not
unkindly hand, and pushed him forcibly towards the ladder.
'You hadn't got no business, Mr. Conyngham,' he said gruffly, 'to
leave the ship like that, and like as not you've got your death of
cold. Just you get aboard and leave these women to me. You get to
your bunk, mister, and stooard'll bring you something hot.'
There was nought but obedience in the matter, and Conyngham was soon
between the blankets, alternately shivering and burning in the first
stages of a severe chill.
The captain having come on board, the 'Granville' presently weighed
anchor, and on the bosom of an ebbing tide turned her blunt prow
towards the winter sea. The waves out there beat high, and before the
lights of Pauillac, then a mere cluster of fishers' huts, had passed
away astern, the good ship was lifting her bow with a sense of
anticipation, while her great wooden beams and knees began to strain
During the following days, while the sense of spring and warmth
slowly gave life to those who could breathe the air on deck, Conyngham
lay in his little cabin and heeded nothing; for when the fever left him
he was only conscious of a great lassitude, and scarce could raise
himself to take such nourishment as the steward, with a rough but
kindly skill, prepared for him.
'Why the deuce I ever came—why the deuce I ever went overboard
after a couple of señoras—I don't know,' he repeated to himself
during the hours of that long watch below.
Why, indeed? except that youth must needs go forth into the world
and play the only stake it owns there. Nor is Frederick Conyngham the
first who, having no knowledge of the game of life, throws all upon the
board to wait upon the hazard of a die.
CHAPTER IV. LE PREMIER PAS.
'Be as one that knoweth and yet holdeth his tongue.'
The little town of Algeciras lies, as many know, within sight of
Gibraltar, and separated from that stronghold by a broad bay. It is on
the mainland of Spain, and in direct communication by road with the
great port of Cadiz. Another road, little better than a bridle-path,
runs northward to Ximena and through the corkwood forests of that plain
towards the mountain ranges that rise between Ronda and the sea.
By this bridle-path, it is whispered, a vast smuggled commerce has
ever found passage to the mainland, and scarce a boatman or passenger
lands at Algeciras from Gibraltar but carries somewhere on his person
as much tobacco as he may hope to conceal with safety. Algeciras, with
its fair white houses, its prim church, and sleepy quay, where the blue
waters lap and sparkle in innocent sunlight, is, it is to be feared, a
town of small virtue and the habitation of scoundrels. For this is the
stronghold of those contrabandistas whom song and legend have praised
as the boldest, the merriest, and most romantic of law-breakers.
Indeed, in this country the man who can boast of a smuggling ancestry
holds high his head and looks down on honest folk.
The 'Granville' having dropped anchor to the north of the rough
stone pier, was soon disburdened of her passengers—the ladies going
ashore with undisguised delight, and leaving behind them many gracious
messages of thanks to the gentleman whose gallantry had resulted so
disastrously; for Conyngham was still in bed, though now nearly
recovered. Truth to tell, he did not hurry to make his appearance in
the general cabin, and came on deck a few hours after the departure of
the ladies, whose gratitude he desired to avoid.
Two days of the peerless sunshine of these southern waters
completely restored him to health, and he prepared to go ashore. It
was afternoon when his boat touched the beach, and the idlers, without
whom no Mediterranean seaboard is complete, having passed the heat of
the day in a philosophic apathy amounting in many cases to a siesta,
now roused themselves sufficiently to take a dignified and indifferent
interest in the new arrival. A number of boys, an old soldier, several
artillerymen from the pretty and absolutely useless fort, a priest and
a female vendor of oranges put themselves out so much as to congregate
in a little knot at the spot where Conyngham landed.
'Body of Bacchus!' said the priest, with a pinch of snuff poised
before his long nose, 'an Englishman—see his gold watch chain.'
This remark called forth several monosyllabic sounds, and the
onlookers watched the safe discharge of Conyngham's personal effects
with a characteristic placidity of demeanour which was at once tolerant
and gently surprised. That any one should have the energy to come
ashore when he was comfortable on board, or leave the shore when amply
provided there with sunshine, elbowroom, and other necessaries of life,
presented itself to them as a fact worthy of note but not of
emulation. The happiest man is he who has reduced the necessities of
life to a minimum.
No one offered to assist Conyngham. In Spain the onlooker keeps his
hands in his pockets.
'The English, see you, travel for pleasure,' said the old soldier,
nodding his head in the direction of Gibraltar, pink and shimmering
across the bay.
The priest brushed some stray grains of snuff from the front of his
faded cassock—once black, but now of a greeny brown. He was a
singularly tall man, gaunt and grey, with deep lines drawn downwards
from eye to chin. His mouth was large and tender, with a humorous
corner ever awaiting a jest. His eyes were sombre and deeply shaded by
grey brows, but one of them had a twinkle lurking and waiting, as in
the corner of his mouth.
'Everyone stretches his legs according to the length of his
coverlet,' he said, and, turning, he courteously raised his hat to
Conyngham, who passed at that moment on his way to the hotel. The
little knot of onlookers broke up, and the boys wandered towards the
fort, before the gate of which a game at bowls was in progress.
'The Padre has a hungry look,' reflected Conyngham. 'Think I'll
invite him to dinner.'
For Geoffrey Horner had succeeded in conveying more money to the man
who had taken his sins upon himself, and while Conyngham possessed
money he usually had the desire to spend it.
Conyngham went to the Fonda de la Marina, which stands to-day—a
house of small comfort and no great outward cleanliness; but, as in
most Spanish inns, the performance was better than the promise, and the
bedroom offered to the traveller was nothing worse than bare and ill
furnished. With what Spanish he at this time possessed the Englishman
made known his wants, and inquired of the means of prosecuting his
journey to Ronda.
'You know the Captain-General Vincente of Ronda?' he asked.
'But. . . yes—by reputation. Who does not in Andalusia?' replied
the host, a stout man, who had once cooked for a military mess at
Gibraltar, and professed himself acquainted with the requirements of
'I have a letter to General Vincente, and must go to Ronda as soon
as possible. These are stirring times in Spain.'
The man's bland face suddenly assumed an air of cunning, and he
glanced over his shoulder to see that none overheard.
'Your Excellency is right,' he answered. 'But for such as myself
one side is as good as another—is it not so? Carlist or Christino—
the money is the same.'
'But here in the South there are no Carlists.'
'Who knows?' said the innkeeper with outspread hands. 'Anything
that his Excellency requires shall be forthcoming,' he added
grandiosely. 'This is the dining-room, and here at the side a little
saloon where the ladies sit. But at present we have only gentlemen in
the hotel—it being the winter time.'
'Then you have other guests?' inquired Conyngham.
'But. . . yes—always. In Algeciras there are always travellers.
Noblemen—like his Excellency—for pleasure. Others—for commerce,
the Government—the politics.'
'No flies enter a shut mouth, my friend,' said a voice at the door,
and both turned to see standing in the doorway the priest who had
witnessed Conyngham's arrival.
'Pardon, señor,' said the old man, coming forward with his shabby
hat in his hand. 'Pardon my interruption. I came at an opportune
moment, for I heard the word politics.'
He turned and shook a lean finger at the innkeeper, who was backing
towards the door with many bows.
'Ah, bad Miguel,' he said, 'will you make it impossible for
gentlemen to put up at your execrable inn? The man's cooking is
superior to his discretion, señor. I, too, am a traveller, and for the
moment a guest here. I have the honour. My name is Concha—the Padre
Concha—a priest, as you see.'
Conyngham nodded, and laughed frankly.
'Glad to meet you,' he said. 'I saw you as I came along. My name
is Conyngham, and I am an Englishman, as you hear. I know very little
'That will come—that will come,' said the priest, moving towards
the window. 'Perhaps too soon, if you are going to stay any length of
time in this country. Let me advise you—do not learn our language
He shook his head and moved towards the open window.
'See to your girths before you mount, eh? Here is the verandah,
where it is pleasant in the afternoon. Shall we be seated? That chair
has but three legs—allow me! this one is better.'
He spoke with the grave courtesy of his countrymen. For every
Spaniard, even the lowest muleteer, esteems himself a gentleman, and
knows how to act as such. The Padre Concha had a pleasant voice, and a
habit of gesticulating slowly with one large and not too clean hand,
that suggested the pulpit. He had led the way to a spacious verandah,
where there were small tables and chairs, and at the outer corners
orange trees in square green boxes.
'We will have a bottle of wine—is it not so?—yes,' he said, and
gravely clapped his hands together to summon the waiter—an Oriental
custom still in use in the Peninsula.
The wine was brought and duly uncorked, during which ceremony the
priest waited and watched with the preoccupied air of a host careful
for the entertainment of his guest. He tasted the wine critically.
'It might be worse,' he said. 'I beg you to excuse it not being
There was something simple in the old man's manner that won
'The wine is excellent,' he said. 'It is my welcome to Spain.'
'Ah! Then this is your first visit to this country,' the priest
said indifferently, his eyes wandering to the open sea, where a few
feluccas lay becalmed.
Conyngham turned and looked towards the sea also. It was late in
the afternoon, and a certain drowsiness of the atmosphere made
conversation, even between comparative strangers, a slower, easier
matter than with us in the brisk North. After a moment the Englishman
turned with, perhaps, the intention of studying his companion's face,
only to find the deep grey eyes fixed on his own.
'Spain,' said the Padre, 'is a wonderful country, rich, beautiful,
with a climate like none in Europe; but God and the devil come to
closer quarters here than elsewhere. Still for a traveller, for
pleasure, I think this country is second to none.'
'I am not exactly a traveller for pleasure, my father.'
'Ah!' and Concha drummed idly on the table with his fingers.
'I left England in haste,' added Conyngham lightly.
'And it will be inexpedient for me to return for some months to
come. I thought of taking service in the army, and have a letter to
General Vincente, who lives at Ronda, as I understand, sixty miles from
here across the mountains.'
'Yes,' said the priest thoughtfully, 'Ronda is sixty miles from here
- across the mountains.'
He was watching a boat which approached the shore from the direction
of Gibraltar. The wind having dropped, the boatmen had lowered the
sail and were now rowing, giving voice to a song which floated across
the smooth sea sleepily. It was an ordinary Algeciras wherry built to
carry a little cargo, and perhaps a dozen passengers, a fishing boat
that smelt strongly of tobacco. The shore was soon reached, and the
passengers, numbering half a dozen, stepped over the gunwale on to a
small landing stage. One of them was better dressed than his
companions, a smart man with a bright flower in the buttonhole of his
jacket, carrying the flowing cloak brightly lined with coloured velvet
without which no Spaniard goes abroad at sunset. He looked towards the
hotel, and was evidently speaking of it with a boatman whose attitude
was full of promise and assurance.
The priest rose and emptied his glass.
'I must ask you to excuse me. Vespers wait for no man, and I hear
the bell,' he said with a grave bow, and went indoors.
Left to himself, Conyngham lapsed into the easy reflections of a man
whose habit it is to live for the present, leaving the future and the
past to take care of themselves. Perhaps he thought, as some do, that
the past dies—which is a mistake. The past only sleeps, and we carry
it with us through life, slumbering. Those are wise who bear it gently
so that it may never be aroused.
The sun had set, and Gibraltar, a huge couchant lion across the bay,
was fading into the twilight of the East when a footstep in the
dining-room made Conyngham turn his head, half expecting the return of
Father Concha. But in the doorway, and with the evident intention of
coming towards himself, Conyngham perceived a handsome dark-faced man
of medium height, with a smart moustache brushed upward, clever eyes,
and the carriage of a soldier. This stranger unfolded his cloak, for
in Spain it is considered ill-mannered to address a stranger and remain
'Señor,' he said, with a gesture of the hat, courteous and yet manly
enough to savour more of the camp than the court, 'señor, I understand
you are journeying to Ronda.'
'I, too, intended to go across the mountains, and hoped to arrive
here in time to accompany friends who I learn have already started on
their journey. But I have received letters which necessitate my return
to Malaga. You have already divined that I come to ask a favour.'
He brought forward a chair and sat down, drawing from his pocket a
silver cigarette case, which he offered to the Englishman. There was a
certain picturesqueness in the man's attitude and manner. His face and
movements possessed a suggestion of energy which seemed out of place
here in the sleepy South, and stamped him as a native not of dreamy
Andalusia, but of La Mancha perhaps, where the wit of Spain is
concentrated, or of fiery Catalonia, where discontent and unrest are in
the very atmosphere of the brown hills. This was a Spanish gentleman
in the best sense of the word, as scrupulous in personal cleanliness as
any Englishman, polished, accomplished, bright and fascinating, and yet
carrying with him a subtle air of melancholy and romance which lingers
still among the men and women of aristocratic Spain.
''Tis but to carry a letter,' he explained, 'and to deliver it into
the hand of the person to whom it is addressed. Ah, I would give five
years of life to touch that hand with my lips.'
He sighed, gave a little laugh which was full of meaning, and yet
quite free from self-consciousness, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
Then, after a little pause, he produced the letter from an inner pocket
and laid it on the table in front of Conyngham. It was addressed, 'To
the Señorita J. B.,' and had a subtle scent of mignonette. The
envelope was of a delicate pink.
'A love letter,' said Conyngham bluntly.
The Spaniard looked at him and shrugged his shoulders.
'Ah! you do not understand,' he said, 'in that cold country of the
North. If you stay in Spain, perhaps some dark-eyed one will teach
you. But,' and his manner changed with theatrical rapidity, as he laid
his slim hand on the letter, 'if, when you see her you love her, I will
Conyngham laughed and held out his hand for the letter.
'It is insufficiently addressed,' he said practically. 'How shall I
find the lady?'
'Her name is Barenna, the Señorita Barenna; that is sufficient in
Conyngham took up the letter and examined it. 'It is of
importance?' he said.
'Of the utmost.'
'And of value?'
'Of the greatest value in the world to me.'
The Spaniard rose and took up his cloak, which he had thrown over
the back of the nearest chair, not forgetting to display a picturesque
corner of its bright lining.
'You swear you will deliver it, only with your own hand, only to the
hand of the Señorita Barenna? And—you will observe the strictest
'Oh, yes,' answered Conyngham carelessly, 'if you like.'
The Spaniard turned, and, leaning one hand on the table, looked
almost fiercely into his companion's face. 'You are an Englishman,' he
said, 'and an Englishman's word—is it not known all the world over?
In the North, in my country, where Wellington fought, the peasants
still say "word of an Englishman" instead of an oath.'
He threw his cloak over his shoulder, and stood looking down at his
companion with a little smile as if he were proud of him.
'There!' he said. 'Adios. My name is Larralde, but that is of no
With a courteous bow he took his leave, and Conyngham presently saw
him walking down to the landing stage. It seemed that this strange
visitor was about to depart as abruptly as he had come. Conyngham rose
and walked to the edge of the verandah, where he stood watching the
departure of the boat in which his new friend had taken passage.
While he was standing there, the old priest came quietly out of the
open window of the dining room. He saw the letter lying on the table
where Conyngham had left it. He approached, his shabby old shoes
making no sound on the wooden flooring, and read the address written on
the pink and scented envelope. When the Englishman at length turned,
he was alone on the verandah, with the wine bottle, the empty glasses,
and the letter.
CHAPTER V. CONTRABAND.
'What rights are his that dares not strike for them?'
An hour before sunrise two horses stood shuffling their feet and
chewing their bits before the hotel of the Marina at Algeciras, while
their owner, a short and thick-set man of an exaggeratedly villanous
appearance, attended to such straps and buckles as he suspected of
latent flaws. The horses were lean and loose of ear, with a melancholy
thoughtfulness of demeanour that seemed to suggest the deepest
misgivings as to the future. Their saddles and other accoutrements
were frankly theatrical, and would have been at once the delight of an
artist and the despair of a saddler. Fringes and tassels of
bright-coloured worsted depended from points where fringes and tassels
were distinctly out of place. Where the various straps should have
been strong they looked weak, and scarce a buckle could boast an
innocence of knotted string. The saddles were of wood, and calculated
to inflict serious internal injuries to the rider in case of a fall.
They stood at least a foot above the horse's backbone, raised on a
thick cushion upon the ribs of the animal, and leaving a space in the
middle for the secretion of tobacco and other contraband merchandise.
'I'll take the smallest cut-throat of the crew,' Conyngham had said
on the occasion of an informal parade of guides the previous evening.
And the host of the Fonda, in whose kitchen the function had taken
place, explained to Concepçion Vara that the English Excellency had
selected him on his—the host's—assurance that Algeciras contained
no other so honest.
'Tell him,' answered Concepçion with a cigarette between his lips
and a pardonable pride in his eyes, 'that my grandfather was a smuggler
and my father was shot by the Guardia Civil near Algatocin.'
Concepçion, having repaired one girth and shaken his head dubiously
over another, lighted a fresh cigarette and gave a little shiver, for
the morning air was keen. He discreetly coughed. He had seen
Conyngham breakfasting by the light of a dim oil lamp of a shape and
make unaltered since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and, without appearing
impatient, wished to convey to one gentleman the fact that another
Before long Conyngham appeared, having paid an iniquitous bill with
the recklessness that is only thoroughly understood by the poor. He
appeared as usual to be at peace with all men, and returned his guide's
grave salutation with an easy nod.
'These the horses?' he inquired.
Concepçion Vara spread out his hands. 'They have no equal in
Andalusia,' he said.
'Then I am sorry for Andalusia,' answered Conyngham with a pleasant
They mounted and rode away in the dim cool light of the morning.
The sea was of a deep blue, and rippled all over as in a picture.
Gibraltar, five miles away, loomed up like a grey cloud against the
pink of sunrise. The whole world wore a cleanly look as if the night
had been passed over its face like a sponge, wiping away all that was
unsightly or evil. The air was light and exhilarating, and scented by
the breath of aromatic weeds growing at the roadside.
Concepçion sang a song as he rode—a song almost as old as his
trade—declaring that he was a smuggler bold. And he looked it, every
inch. The road to Ronda lies through the cork woods of Ximena, leaving
St. Roque on the right hand—such at least was the path selected by
Conyngham's guide; for there are many ways over the mountains, and none
of them to be recommended. Beguiling the journey with cigarette and
song, calling at every venta on the road, exchanging chaff with every
woman and a quick word with all men, Concepçion faithfully fulfilled
his contract, and, as the moon rose over the distant snow-clad peaks of
the Sierra Nevada, pointed forward to the lights of Gaucin, a mountain
village with an evil reputation.
The dawn of the next day saw the travellers in the saddle again, and
the road was worse than ever. A sharp ascent led them up from Gaucin
to regions where foliage grew scarcer at every step, and cultivation
was unknown. At one spot they turned to look back, and saw Gibraltar
like a tooth protruding from the sea. The straits had the appearance
of a river, and the high land behind Ceuta formed the farther bank of
'There is Africa,' said Concepçion gravely, and after a moment
turned his horse's head uphill again. The people of these mountain
regions were as wild in appearance as their country. Once or twice the
travellers passed a shepherd herding sheep or goats on the mountain
side, himself clad in goatskin, with a great brown cloak floating from
his shoulders—a living picture of Ishmael or those sons of his who
dwelt in the tents of Kedar. A few muleteers drew aside to let the
horses pass, and exchanged some words in an undertone with Conyngham's
guide. Fine-looking brigands were these, with an armoury of knives
peeping from their bright-coloured waistbands. The Andalusian peasant
is for six days in the week calculated to inspire awe by his clothing
and general appearance. Of a dark skin and hair, he usually submits
his chin to the barber's office but once a week, and the timid
traveller would do well to take the road on Sundays only. Towards the
end of the week, and notably on a Saturday, every passer-by is an
unshorn brigand capable of the darkest deeds of villany, while
twenty-four hours later the land will be found to be peopled by as
clean and honest and smart, and withal as handsome, a race of men as
any on earth.
Before long all habitations were left behind, and the horses climbed
from rock to rock like cats. There was no suggestion of pathway or
landmark, and Concepçion paused once or twice to take his bearings. It
was about two in the afternoon when, after descending the bed of a
stream long since dried up, Concepçion called a halt, and proposed to
rest the horses while he dined. As on the previous day, the guide's
manner was that of a gentleman, conferring a high honour with becoming
modesty when he sat down beside Conyngham and untied his small sack of
provisions. These consisted of dried figs and bread, which he offered
to his companion before beginning to eat. Conyngham shared his own
stock of food with his guide, and subsequently smoked a cigarette which
that gentleman offered him. They were thus pleasantly engaged when a
man appeared on the rocks above them in a manner and with a haste that
spoke but ill of his honesty. The guide looked up knife in hand, and
made answer to a gesture of the arm with his own hand upraised.
'Who is this?' said Conyngham. 'Some friend of yours? Tell him to
keep his distance, for I don't care for his appearance.'
'He is no friend of mine, Excellency. But the man is, I dare say,
honest enough. In these mountains it is only of the Guardia Civil that
one must beware. They have ever the finger on the trigger and shoot
'Nevertheless,' said the Englishman, now thoroughly on the alert,
'let him state his business at a respectable distance. Ah! he has a
comrade and two mules.'
And indeed a second man of equally unprepossessing exterior now
appeared from behind a great rock leading a couple of heavily laden
Concepçion and the first traveller, who was now within a dozen
yards, were already exchanging words in a patois not unlike the
Limousin dialect, of which Conyngham understood nothing.
'Stop where you are,' shouted the Englishman in Spanish, 'or else I
shoot you! If there is anything wrong, Señor Vara,' he added to the
guide, 'I shoot you first, understand that.'
'He says,' answered Concepçion with dignity, 'that they are honest
traders on the road to Ronda, and would be glad of our company. His
Excellency is at liberty to shoot if he is so disposed.'
'No,' he answered, 'I am not anxious to kill any man, but each must
take care of himself in these times.'
'Not against an honest smuggler.'
'Are these smugglers?'
'They speak as such. I know them no more than does his Excellency.'
The second new-comer was now within hail, and began at once to speak
in Spanish. The tale he told was similar in every way to that
translated by Concepçion from the Limousin dialect.
'Why should we not travel together to Ronda?' he said, coming
forward with an easy air of confidence, which was of better effect than
any protestation of honesty. He had a quiet eye, and the demeanour of
one educated to loftier things than smuggling tobacco across the
Sierra, though indeed, he was no better clad than his companion. The
two guides instinctively took the road together, Concepçion leading his
horse, for the way was such that none could ride over it. Conyngham
did the same, and his companion led the mule by a rope, as is the
custom in Andalusia.
The full glare of the day shone down on them, the bare rock giving
back a puff of heat that dried the throat. Conyngham was tired and not
too trustful of his companion, who, indeed, seemed to be fully occupied
with his own thoughts. They had thus progressed a full half-hour when
a shout from the rocks above caused them to halt suddenly. The white
linen head coverings of the Guardia Civil and the glint of the sun on
their accoutrements showed at a glance that this was not a summons to
In an instant Concepçion's companion was leaping from rock to rock
with an agility only to be acquired in the hot fear of death. A report
rang out and echoed among the hills. A bullet went 'splat' against a
rock near at hand, making a frayed blue mark upon the grey stone. The
man dodged from side to side in the panic-stricken irresponsibility of
a rabbit seeking covert where none exists. There was not so much as to
hide his head. Conyngham looked up towards the foe in time to see a
puff of white smoke thrown up against the steely sky. A second report,
and the fugitive seemed to trip over a stone. He recovered himself,
stood upright for a moment, gave a queer spluttering cough, and sat
slowly down against a boulder.
'He is killed!' said Concepçion, throwing down his cigarette.
'Mother of God! these Guardias Civiles!'
The two guards came clambering down the face of the rock.
Concepçion glanced at his late companion writhing in the sharpness of
'Here or at Ronda, to-day, or to-morrow, what matters it?' muttered
the quiet-eyed man at Conyngham's side. The Englishman turned and
looked at him.
'They will shoot me too, but not now.'
Concepçion sullenly awaited the arrival of the guards. These men
ever hunt in couples of a widely different age, for the law has found
that an old head and a young arm form the strongest combination. The
elder of the two had the face of an old grey wolf. He muttered some
order to his companion, and went towards the mule. He cut away the
outer covering of the burden suspended from the saddle, and nodded his
head wisely. These were boxes of cartridges to carry one thousand
each. The grey old man turned and looked at him who lay on the ground.
'A la longa,' he said with a grim smile. 'In the long run, Antonio.'
The man gave a sickly grin and opened his mouth to speak, but his
jaw dropped instead, and he passed across that frontier which is
watched by no earthly sentinel.
'This gentleman,' said the quiet-eyed man, whose guide had thus paid
for his little mistake in refusing to halt at the word of command, 'is
a stranger to me—an Englishman, I think.'
'Yes,' answered Conyngham.
The old soldier looked from one to the other.
'That may be,' he said, 'but he sleeps in Ronda prison to-night.
To-morrow the Captain-General will see to it.'
'I have a letter to the Captain-General,' said Conyngham, who drew
from his pocket a packet of papers. Among these was the pink scented
envelope given to him by the man called Larralde at Algeciras. He had
forgotten its existence, and put it back in his pocket with a smile.
Having found that for which he sought, he gave it to the soldier, who
read the address in silence and returned the letter.
'You I know,' he said, turning to the man at Conyngham's side, who
merely shrugged his shoulders. 'And Concepçion Vara, we all know him.'
Concepçion had lighted a cigarette, and was murmuring a popular air
with the indifferent patience and the wandering eye of perfect
innocence. The old soldier turned and spoke in an undertone to his
comrade, who went towards the dead man and quietly covered his face
with the folds of his own faja or waistcloth. This he weighted at the
corners with stones, carrying out this simple office to the dead with a
suggestive indifference. To this day the Guardias Civiles have plenary
power to shoot whomsoever they think fit—flight and resistance being
No more heeding the dead body of the man whom he had shot than he
would have heeded the carcase of a rat, the elder of the two soldiers
now gave the order to march, commanding Concepçion to lead the way.
'It will not be worth your while to risk a bullet by running away,'
he said. 'This time it is probably a matter of a few pounds of tobacco
The evening had fallen ere the silent party caught sight of the town
of Ronda, perched, as the Moorish strongholds usually are, on a
height. Ronda, as history tells, was the last possession of the brave
and gifted Moslems in Spain. The people are half Moorish still, and
from the barred windows look out deep almond eyes and patient faces
that have no European feature. The narrow streets were empty as the
travellers entered the town, and the clatter of the mules slipping and
stumbling on the cobble stones brought but few to the doors of the
low-built houses. To enter Ronda from the south the traveller must
traverse the Moorish town, which is divided from the Spanish quarter by
a cleft in the great rock that renders the town impregnable to all
attack. Having crossed the bridge spanning the great gorge into which
the sun never penetrates even at midday, the party emerged into the
broader streets of the more modern town, and, turning to the right
through a high gateway, found themselves in a barrack yard of the
CHAPTER VI. AT RONDA.
'Le plus grand art d'un habile homme est celui de savoir cacher
When Conyngham awoke after a night conscientiously spent in that
profound slumber which waits on an excellent digestion and a careless
heart, he found the prison attendant at his bedside. A less easy-going
mind would perhaps have leapt to some nervous conclusion at the sight
of this fierce-visaged janitor, who, however, carried nothing more
deadly in his hand than a card.
'It is the Captain-General,' said he, 'who calls at this early
hour. His Excellency's letter has been delivered, and the
Captain-General scarce waited to swallow his morning chocolate.'
'Very much to the Captain-General's credit,' returned Conyngham
rising. 'Cold water,' he went on, 'soap, a towel, and my luggage—and
then the Captain-General.'
The attendant, with an odd smile, procured the necessary articles,
and when the Englishman was ready led the way downstairs. He was a
solemn man from Galicia, this, where they do not smile.
In the patio of the great house, once a monastery, now converted
into a barrack for the Guardias Civiles, a small man of fifty years or
more stood smoking a cigarette. On perceiving Conyngham he came
forward with outstretched hand and a smile which can only be described
as angelic. It was a smile at once sympathetic and humorous, veiling
his dark eyes between lashes almost closed, parting moustached lips to
disclose a row of pearly teeth.
'My dear sir,' said General Vincente in very tolerable English, 'I
am at your feet. That such a mistake should have been made in respect
to the bearer of a letter of introduction from my old friend General
Watterson—we fought together in Wellington's day—that such a
mistake should have occurred overwhelms me with shame.'
He pressed Conyngham's hand in both of his, which were small and
white—looked up into his face, stepped back and broke into a soft
laugh. Indeed his voice was admirably suited to a lady's drawing-room,
and suggested nought of the camp or battle field. From the
handkerchief which he drew from his sleeve and passed across his white
moustache a faint scent floated on the morning air.
'Are you General Vincente?' asked Conyngham.
'Yes—why not?' And in truth the tone of the Englishman's voice
had betrayed a scepticism which warranted the question.
'It is very kind of you to come so early. I have been quite
comfortable, and they gave me a good supper last night,' said
Conyngham. 'Moreover, the Guardias Civiles are in no way to blame for
my arrest. I was in bad company, it seems.'
'Yes; your companions were engaged in conveying ammunition to the
Carlists; we have wanted to lay our hands upon them for some weeks.
They have carried former journeys to a successful termination.'
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
'The guide, Antonio something-or-other, died, as I understand.'
'Well, yes; if you choose to put it that way,' admitted Conyngham.
The General raised his eyebrows in a gentle grimace expressive of
deprecation, with, as it were, a small solution of sympathy, indicated
by a moisture of the eye, for the family of Antonio something-or-other
in their bereavement.
'And the other man? Seemed a nice enough fellow. . .' inquired
The General raised one gloved hand as if to fend off some
'He died this morning—at six o'clock.'
Conyngham looked down at this gentle soldier with a dawning light of
comprehension. This might after all be the General Vincente whom he
had been led to look upon as the fiercest of the Spanish Queen's
'Of the same complaint?'
'Of the same complaint,' answered the General softly. He slipped
his hand within Conyngham's arm, and thus affectionately led him across
the patio towards the doorway where sentinels stood at attention. He
acknowledged the attitude of his subordinates by a friendly nod;
indeed, this rosy-faced warrior seemed to brim over with the milk of
'The English,' he said, pressing his companion's arm, 'have been too
useful to us for me to allow one of them to remain a moment longer in
confinement. You say you were comfortable. I hope they gave you a
clean towel and all that.'
'Yes, thanks,' answered Conyngham, suppressing a desire to laugh.
'That is well. Ronda is a pleasant place, as you will find. Most
interesting—Moorish remains, you understand. I will send my servant
for your baggage, and of course my poor house is at your disposal. You
will stay with me until we can find some work for you to do. You wish
to take service with us, of course?'
'Yes,' answered Conynghamn. 'Rather thought of it—if you will
The General glanced up at his stalwart companion with a measuring
'My house,' he said, in a conversational way, as if only desirous of
making matters as pleasant as possible in a life which nature had
intended to be peaceful and sunny, and perhaps trifling, but which the
wickedness of men had rendered otherwise, 'my house is, as you would
divine, only an official residence, but pleasant enough—pleasant
enough. The garden is distinctly tolerable; there are orange trees now
in bloom—so sweet of scent.'
The street into which they had now emerged was no less martial in
appearance than the barrack yard, and while he spoke the General never
ceased to dispense his kindly little nod on one side or the other in
response to military salutations.
'We have quite a number of soldiers in Ronda at present,' he said,
with an affectionate little pressure of Conyngham's arm, as if to
indicate his appreciation of such protection amid these rough men.
'There is a great talk of some rising in the South—in Andalusia—to
support Señor Cabrera, who continually threatens Madrid. A great
soldier, they tell me, this Cabrera, but not—well, not perhaps quite,
eh?—a caballero, a gentleman. A pity, is it not?'
'A great pity,' answered Conyngham, taking the opportunity at last
afforded him of getting a word in.
'One must be prepared,' went on the General with a good-natured
little sigh, 'for such measures. There are so many mistaken
enthusiasts—is it not so? Such men as your countryman, Señor
Flinter. There are so many who are stronger Carlists than Don Carlos
The secret of conversational success is to defer to one's listener.
A clever man imparts information by asking questions, and obtains it
without doing so.
'This is my poor house,' continued the soldier, and as he spoke he
beamed on the sentries at the door. 'I am a widower, but God has given
me a daughter who is now of an age to rule my household. Estella will
endeavour to make you comfortable, and an Englishman—a soldier—will
surely overlook some small defects.'
He finished with a good-natured laugh. There was no resisting the
sunny good-humour of this little officer, or the gladness of his face.
His attitude towards the world was one of constant endeavour to make
things pleasant, and acquit himself to his best in circumstances far
beyond his merits or capabilities. He was one who had had good fortune
all his days. Those who have greatness thrust upon them are never much
impressed by their burden. And General Vincente had the air of
constantly assuring his subordinates that they need not mind him.
The house to which he conducted Conyngham stood on the broad main
street, immediately opposite a cluster of shops where leather bottles
were manufactured and sold. It was a large gloomy house with a patio
devoid of fountain and even of the usual orange trees in green boxes.
'Through there is the garden—most pleasant and shady,' said the
General, indicating a doorway with the riding-whip he carried.
A troop of servants awaited them at the foot of the broad Moorish
staircase open on one side to the patio and heavily carved in
balustrade and cornice. These gentlemen bowed gravely—indeed, they
were so numerous that the majority of them must have had nothing to do
but cultivate this dignified salutation.
'The señorita?' inquired the General.
'The señorita is in the garden, Excellency,' answered one with the
air of a courtier.
'Then let us go there at once,' said General Vincente, turning to
Conyngham, and gripping his arm affectionately.
They passed through a doorway whither two men had hurried to open
the heavy doors, and the scent of violets and mignonette, of orange in
bloom, and of a hundred opening buds swept across their faces. The
brilliant sunlight almost dazzled eyes that had grown accustomed to the
cool shade of the patio, for Ronda is one of the sunniest spots on
earth, and here the warmth is rarely oppressive. The garden was
Moorish, and running water in aqueducts of marble, yellow with
stupendous age, murmured in the shade of tropical plants. A fountain
plashed and chattered softly, like the whispering of children. The
pathways were paved with a fine white gravel of broken marble. There
was no weed amid the flowers. It seemed a paradise to Conyngham, fresh
from the grey and mournful northern winter, and no part of this weary,
busy world. For here were rest and silence, and that sense of eternity
which is only conveyed by the continuous voice of running or falling
water. It was hard to believe that this was real and earthly.
Conyngham rubbed his eyes and instinctively turned to look at his
companion, who was as unreal as his surroundings—a round-faced,
chubby little man, with a tender mouth and moist dark eyes looking
kindly out upon the world, who called himself General Vincente; and the
name was synonymous in all Spain with bloodthirstiness and cruelty,
with daring and an unsparing generalship.
'Come,' said he, 'let us look for Estella.'
He led the way along a path winding among almond and peach trees in
full bloom, in the shadow of the weird eucalyptus and the feathery
pepper tree. Then with a little word of pleasure he hurried forward.
Conyngham caught sight of a black dress and a black mantilla, of fair
golden hair, and a fan upraised against the rays of the sun.
'Estella, here is a guest: Mr. Conyngham, one of the brave
Englishmen who remember Spain in her time of trouble.'
Conyngham bowed with a greater ceremony than we observe to-day, and
stood upright to look upon that which was for him from that moment the
fairest face in the world. As, to some men, success or failure seems
to come early and in one bound, so, for some, Love lies long in ambush,
to shoot at length a single and certain shaft. Conyngham looked at
Estella Vincente, his gay blue eyes meeting her dark glance with a
frankness which was characteristic, and knew from that instant that his
world held no other woman. It came to him as a flash of lightning that
left his former life grey and neutral, and yet he was conscious of no
surprise, but rather of a feeling of having found something which he
had long sought.
The girl acknowledged his salutation with a little inclination of
the head and a smile which was only of the lips, for her eyes remained
grave and deep. She had all the dignity of carriage famous in
Castilian women, though her figure was youthful still, and slight. Her
face was a clean-cut oval, with lips that were still and proud, and a
delicately aquiline nose.
'My daughter speaks English better than I do,' went on the General
in the garrulous voice of an exceedingly domesticated man. 'She has
been at school in England—at the suggestion of my dear friend
Watterson—with his daughters, in fact.'
'And must have found it dull and grey enough compared with Spain,'
'Ah! Then you like Spain?' said the General eagerly. 'It is so
with all the English. We have something in common, despite the Armada,
eh? Something in manner and in appearance, too; is it not so?'
He left Conyngham, and walked slowly on with one hand at his
'I was very happy in England,' said Estella to Conyngham, who walked
at her other side; 'but happier still to get home to Spain.'
Her voice was rather low, and Conyngham had an odd sensation of
having heard it before.
'Why did you leave your home?' she continued in a leisurely
conversational way which seemed natural to the environments.
The question rather startled the Englishman, for the only answer
seemed to be that he had quitted England in order to come to Ronda and
to her, following the path in life that fate had assigned to him.
'We have troubles in England also—political troubles,' he said,
after a pause.
'The Chartists,' said the General cheerfully. 'We know all about
them, for we have the English newspapers. I procure them in order to
have reliable news of Spain.'
He broke off with a little laugh, and looked towards his daughter.
'In the evening Estella reads them to me. And it was on account of
the Chartists that you left England?'
'Ah, you are a Chartist, Mr. Conyngham.'
'Yes,' admitted the Englishman after a pause, and he glanced at
CHAPTER VII. IN A MOORISH GARDEN.
'When love is not a blasphemy, it is a religion.'
There is perhaps a subtle significance in the fact that the
greatest, the cruellest, the most barbarous civil war of modern days,
if not of all time, owed its outbreak and its long continuance to the
influence of a woman. When Ferdinand VII. of Spain died, in 1833,
after a reign broken and disturbed by the passage of that human
cyclone, Napoleon the Great, he bequeathed his kingdom, in defiance of
the Salic law, to his daughter Isabella. Ferdinand's brother Charles,
however, claimed the throne under the very just contention that the
Salic law, by which women were excluded from the heritage of the crown,
had never been legally abrogated.
This was the spark that kindled in many minds ambition, cruelty,
bloodthirstiness, self-seeking and jealousy—producing the morale
, in a word, of the Spain of sixty years ago. Some sided with the
Queen Regent Christina, and rallied round the child-queen because they
saw that that way lay glory and promotion. Others flocked to the
standard of Don Carlos because they were poor and of no influence at
Court. The Church as a whole raised its whispering voice for the
Pretender. For the rest, patriotism was nowhere, and ambition on every
side. 'For five years we have fought the Carlists, hunger, privation,
and the politicians at Madrid! And the holy saints only know which has
been the worst enemy,' said General Vincente to Conyngham when
explaining the above related details.
And indeed the story of this war reads like a romance, for there
came from neutral countries foreign legions as in the olden days. From
England an army of ten thousand mercenaries landed in Spain, prepared
to fight for the cause of Queen Christina, and very modestly estimating
the worth of their services at the sum of thirteenpence per diem.
After all, the value of a man's life is but the price of his daily hire.
'We did not pay them much,' said General Vincente with a deprecating
little smile, 'but they did not fight much. Their pay was generally in
arrear, and they were usually in the rear as well. What will you, my
dear Conyngham? You are a commercial people—you keep good soldiers
in the shop window, and when a buyer comes you serve him with
second-class goods from behind the counter.'
He beamed on Conyngham with a pleasant air of benign connivance in a
very legitimate commercial transaction.
This is no time or place to go into the history of the English
Legion in Spain, which, indeed, had quitted that country before
Conyngham landed there, horrified by the barbarities of a cruel war
where prisoners received no quarter and the soldiers on either side
were left without pay or rations. In a half-hearted manner England
went to the assistance of the Queen Regent of Spain, and one error in
statesmanship led to many. It is always a mistake to strike gently.
'This country,' said General Vincente in his suavest manner, 'owes
much to yours, my dear Conyngham; but it would have been better for us
both had we owed you a little more.'
During the five years prior to Conyngham's arrival at Ronda the war
had raged with unabated fury, swaying from the west to the east coast
as fortune smiled or frowned on the Carlist cause. At one time it
almost appeared certain that the Christino forces were unable to stem
the rising tide which bade fair to spread over all Spain—so
unfortunate were their generals, so futile the best endeavours of the
bravest and most patient soldiers. General Vincente was not alone in
his conviction that had the gallant Carlist leader Zumalacarreguy lived
he might have carried all before him. But this great leader at the
height of his fame—beloved of all his soldiers, worshipped by his
subordinate officers—died suddenly, by poison, as it was whispered,
the victim of jealousy and ambition. Almost at once there arose in the
East of Spain one, obscure in birth and unknown to fame, who flashed
suddenly to the zenith of military glory—the ruthless, the wonderful
Cabrera. The name is to this day a household word in Catalonia, while
the eyes of a few old men still living, who fought with or against him,
flash in the light of other days at the mere mention of it.
Among the many leaders who had attempted in vain to overcome by
skill and patriotism the thousand difficulties placed in their way by
successive unstable, insincere Ministers of War, General Vincente
occupied an honoured place. This mild-mannered tactician enjoyed the
enviable reputation of being alike unconquerable and incorruptible.
His smiling presence on the battlefield was in itself worth half a
dozen battalions, while at Madrid the dishonest politicians, who
through those years of Spain's great trial systematically bartered
their honour for immediate gain, dreaded and respected him.
During the days that followed his arrival at Ronda and release from
the prison there, Frederick Conyngham learnt much from his host and
little of the man himself, for General Vincente had that in him with
which no great leader in any walk of life can well dispense—an
Conyngham learnt also that the human heart is capable of rising at
one bound above differences of race or custom, creed and spoken
language. He walked with Estella in that quiet garden between high
walls on the trim Moorish paths, and often the murmur of the running
water which ever graced the Moslem palaces was the only sound that
broke the silence. For this thing had come into the Englishman's life
suddenly, leaving him dazed and uncertain. Estella, on the other hand,
had a quiet savoir-faire that sat strangely on her young face.
She was only nineteen, and yet had a certain air of authority, handed
down to her from two great races of noble men and women.
'Do all your countrymen take life thus gaily?' she asked Conyngham
one day; 'surely it is a more serious affair than you think it.'
'I have never found it very serious, señorita,' he answered. 'There
is usually a smile in human affairs if one takes the trouble to look
'Have you always found it so?'
He did not answer at once, pausing to lift the branch of a mimosa
tree that hung in yellow profusion across the pathway.
'Yes, señorita, I think so,' he answered at length, slowly. There
was a sense of eternal restfulness in this old Moorish garden which
acted as a brake on the thoughts, and made conversation halt and drag
in an Oriental way that Europeans rarely understand.
'And yet you say you remember your father's death?'
'He made a joke to the doctor, señorita, and was not afraid.'
Estella smiled in a queer way, and then looked grave again.
'And you have always been poor, you say, sometimes almost starving?'
'Yes—always poor, deadly poor, señorita,' answered Conyngham with
a gay laugh; 'and since I have been on my own resources frequently—
well, very hungry. The appetite has been large and the resources have
been small. But when I get into the Spanish army they will no doubt
make me a general, and all will be well.'
He laughed again, and slipped his hand into his jacket pocket.
'See here,' he said, 'your father's recommendation to General
Espartero in a confidential letter.'
But the envelope he produced was that pink one which the man called
Larralde had given him at Algeciras.
'No—it is not that,' he said, searching in another pocket. 'Ah!
here it is—addressed to General Espartero, Duke of Vittoria.'
He showed her the superscription, which she read with a little
inclination of the head, as if in salutation of the great name written
there. The greatest names are those that men have made for
themselves. Conyngham replaced the two letters in his pocket and
almost immediately asked:
'Do you know anyone called Barenna in Ronda, señorita?' thereby
proving that General Espartero would do ill to give him an appointment
requiring even the earliest rudiments of diplomacy.
'Julia Barenna is my cousin. Her mother was my mother's sister. Do
you know them, Señor Conyngham?'
'Oh no,' answered Conyngham, truthfully enough. 'I met a man who
knows them. Do they live in Ronda?'
'No; their house is on the Cordova road, about half a league from
the Customs station.'
Estella was not by nature curious, and asked no questions. Some who
knew the Barennas would have been glad to claim acquaintance with
General Vincente and his daughter, but could not do so. For the
Captain-General moved in a circle not far removed from the Queen Regent
herself, and mixed but little in the society of Ronda, where, for the
time being, he held a command.
Conyngham required no further information, and in a few moments
dismissed the letter from his mind. Events seemed for him to have
moved rapidly within the last few days, and the world of roadside inns
and casual acquaintance into which he had stepped on his arrival in
Spain was quite another from that in which Estella moved at Ronda.
'I must set out for Madrid in a few days at the latest,' he said a
few moments afterwards; 'but I shall go against my will, because you
tell me that you and your father will not be coming North until the
Estella shook her head with a little laugh. This man was different
from the punctilious aides-de-camp and others who had hitherto begged
most respectfully to notify their admiration.
'And three days ago you did not know of our existence,' she said.
'In three days a man may be dead of an illness of which he ignored
the existence, señorita. In three days a man's life may be made
miserable or happy—perhaps in three minutes.'
And she looked straight in front of her in order to avoid his eyes.
'Yours will always be happy, I think,' she said, 'because you never
seem to go below the surface, and on the surface life is happy enough.'
He made some light answer, and they walked on beneath the orange
trees, talking of these and other matters—indulging in those
dangerous generalities which sound so safe, and in reality narrow down
to a little world of two.
They were thus engaged when the servant came to announce that the
horse which the General had placed at Conyngham's disposal was at the
door in accordance with the Englishman's own order. He went away
sorrowfully enough, only half consoled by the information that Estella
was about to attend a service at the Church of Santa Maria, and could
not have stayed longer in the garden.
The hour of the siesta was scarce over, and as Conyngham rode
through the cleanly streets of the ancient town more than one idler
roused himself from the shadow of a doorway to see him pass. There are
few older towns in Andalusia than Ronda, and scarce anywhere the habits
of the Moors are so closely followed. The streets are clean, the
houses whitewashed within and without. The trappings of the mules and
much of the costume of the people are Oriental in texture and
Conyngham asked a passer-by to indicate the way to the Cordova road,
and the polite Spaniard turned and walked by his stirrup until a
mistake was no longer possible.
'It is not the most beautiful approach to Ronda,' said this
garrulous person, 'but well enough in the summer, when the flowers are
in bloom and the vineyards green. The road is straight and dusty until
one arrives at the possession of the Señora Barenna—a narrow road to
the right leading up into the mountain. One can perceive the house—
oh, yes—upon the hillside, once beautiful, but now old and decayed.
Mistake is now impossible. It is a straight way. I wish you a good
Conyngham rode on, vaguely turning over in his mind a half-matured
plan of effecting a seemingly accidental entry to the house of Señora
Barenna, in the hope of meeting that lady's daughter in the garden or
grounds. Once outside the walls of the town he found the country open
and bare, consisting of brown hills, of which the lower slopes were
dotted with evergreen oaks. The road soon traversed a village which
seemed to be half deserted, for men and women alike were working in the
fields. On the balcony of the best house a branch of palm bound
against the ironwork balustrade indicated the dwelling of the priest,
and the form of that village despot was dimly discernible in the
darkened room behind. Beyond the village Conyngham turned his horse's
head towards the mountain, his mind preoccupied with a Macchiavellian
scheme of losing his way in this neighbourhood. Through the evergreen
oak and olive groves he could perceive the roof of an old grey house
which had once been a mere hacienda or semi-fortified farm.
Conyngham did not propose to go direct to Señora Barenna's house,
but described a semicircle, mounting from terrace to terrace on his
When at length he came in sight of the high gateway where the
ten-foot oaken gates still swung, he perceived someone approaching the
exit. On closer inspection he saw that this was a priest, and on
nearing him recognised the Padre Concha, whose acquaintance he had made
at the Hotel of the Marina at Algeciras.
The recognition was mutual, for the priest raised his shabby old hat
with a tender care for the insecurity of its brim.
'A lucky meeting, Señor Englishman,' he said; 'who would have
expected to see you here?'
'I have lost my way.'
'Ah!' And the grim face relaxed into a smile. 'Lost your way?'
'Then it is lucky that I have met you. It is so easy to lose one's
way—when one is young.'
He raised his hand to the horse's bridle.
'You are most certainly going in the wrong direction,' he said; 'I
will lead you right.'
It was said and done so quietly that Conyngham had found no word to
say before his horse was moving in the opposite direction.
'This is surely one of General Vincente's horses,' said the priest;
'we have few such barbs in Ronda. He always rides a good horse, that
'Yes, it is one of his horses. Then you know the General?'
'We were boys together,' answered the Padre; 'and there were some
who said that he should have been the priest and I the soldier.'
The old man gave a little laugh.
'He has prospered, however, if I have not. A great man, my dear
Miguel, and they say that his pay is duly handed to him. My own—my
princely twenty pounds a year—is overdue. I am happy enough,
however, and have a good house. You noticed it, perhaps, as you passed
through the village, a branch of palm against the rail of the balcony—
my sign, you understand. The innkeeper next door displays a branch of
pine, which, I notice, is more attractive. Every man his day. One
does not catch rabbits with a dead ferret. That is the church—will
you see it? No? Well, some other day. I will guide you through the
village. The walk will give me appetite, which I sometimes require,
for my cook is one whose husband has left her.'
CHAPTER VIII. THE LOVE LETTER.
'I must mix myself with action lest I wither by despair.'
'No one,' Conyngham heard a voice exclaiming as he went into the
garden on returning from his fruitless ride, 'no one knows what I have
He paused in the dark doorway, not wishing to intrude upon Estella
and her visitors; for he perceived the forms of three ladies seated
within a miniature jungle of bamboo, which grew in feathery luxuriance
around a fountain. It was not difficult to identify the voice as that
of the eldest lady, who was stout, and spoke in deep, almost manly
tones. So far as he was able to judge, the suffering mentioned had
left but small record on its victim's outward appearance.
'Old lady seems to have stood it well,' commented the Englishman in
'Never again, my dear Estella, do I leave Ronda, except indeed for
Toledo, where, of course, we shall go in the summer if this terrible
Don Carlos is really driven from the country. Ah! but what suffering!
My mind is never at ease. I expect to wake up at night and hear that
Julia is being murdered in her bed. For me it does not matter; my life
is not so gay that it will cost me much to part from it. No one would
molest an old woman, you think? Well, that may be so; but I know all
the anxiety, for I was once beautiful—ah! more beautiful than you or
Julia; and my hands and feet—have you ever noticed my foot, Estella?
- even now—!'
And a sonorous sigh completed the sentence. Conyngham stepped out
of the doorway, the clank of his spurred heel on the marble pavement
causing the sigh to break off in a little scream. He had caught the
name of Julia, and hastily concluded that these ladies must be no other
than Madame Barenna and her daughter. In the little bamboo grove he
found the elder lady lying back in her chair, which creaked ominously,
and asking in a faint voice whether he were Don Carlos.
'No,' answered Estella, with a momentary twinkle in her grave, dark
eyes; 'this is Mr. Conyngham—my aunt, Señora Barenna, and my cousin
The ladies bowed.
'You must excuse me,' said Madame Barenna volubly, 'but your
approach was so sudden. I am a great sufferer—my nerves, you know.
But young people do not understand.'
And she sighed heavily, with a side glance at her daughter, who did
not even appear to be trying to do so. Julia Barenna was darker than
her cousin, quicker in manner, with an air of worldly capability which
Estella lacked. Her eyes were quick and restless, her face less
beautiful, but expressive of a great intelligence, which, if brought to
bear upon men in the form of coquetry, was likely to be infinitely
'It is always best to approach my mother with caution,' she said
with a restless movement of her hands. This was not a woman at her
ease in the world or at peace with it. She laughed as she spoke, but
her eyes were grave, even while her lips smiled, and watched the
Englishman's face with an air almost of anxiety. There are some faces
that seem to be watching and waiting. Julia Barenna's had such a look.
'Conyngham,' said Madame Barenna reflectively. 'Surely I have heard
that name before. You are not the Englishman with whom Father Concha
is so angry—who sells forbidden books—the Bible, it is said?'
'No, señora,' answered Conyngham with perfect gravity; 'I have
nothing to sell.'
He laughed suddenly, and looked at the elder lady with that air of
good humour which won for him more friends than he ever wanted; for
this Irishman had a ray of sunshine in his heart which shone upon his
path through life, and made that uneven way easier for his feet. He
glanced at Julia, and saw in her eyes the look of expectancy which was,
in reality, always there. The thought flashed through his mind that by
some means, or perhaps feminine intuition beyond his comprehension, she
knew that he possessed the letter addressed to her, and was eagerly
awaiting it. This letter seemed to have been gaining in importance the
longer he carried it, and this opportunity of giving it to her came at
the right moment. He remembered Larralde's words concerning the person
to whom the missive was addressed, and the high-flown sentiments of
that somewhat theatrical gentleman became in some degree justified.
Julia Barenna was a woman who might well awaken a passionate love.
Conyngham realised this, as from a distance, while Julia's mother spoke
of some trivial matter of the moment to unheeding ears. That distance
seemed now to exist between him and all women. It had come suddenly,
and one glance of Estella's eyes had called it into existence.
'Yes,' Señora Barenna was saying, 'Father Concha is very angry with
the English. What a terrible man! You do not know him, Señor
'I think I have met him, señora.'
'Ah, but you have never seen him angry. You have never confessed to
him! A little, little sin—no larger than the eye of a fly—a little
bite of a calf's sweetbread on Friday in mere forgetfulness, and Sancta
Maria! what a penance is required! What suffering! It is a purgatory
to have such a confessor.'
'Surely madame can have no sins,' said Conyngham pleasantly.
'Not now,' said Señora Barenna with a deep sigh. 'When I was young
it was different.'
And the memory of her sinful days almost moved her to tears. She
glanced at Conyngham with a tragic air of mutual understanding, as if
drawing a veil over that blissful past in the presence of Julia and
Estella. 'Ask me another time,' that glance seemed to say.
'Yes,' the lady continued, 'Father Concha is very angry with the
English. Firstly, because of these bibles. Blessed Heaven! what does
it matter? No one can read them except the priests, and they do not
want to do so. Secondly, because the English have helped to overthrow
'You will have a penance,' interrupted Miss Julia Barenna quietly,
'from Father Concha for talking politics.'
'But how will he know?' asked Señora Barenna sharply; and the two
young ladies laughed.
Señora Barenna looked from one to the other, and shrugged her
shoulders. Like many women she was a strange mixture of foolishness
and worldly wisdom. She adjusted her mantilla and mutely appealed to
Heaven with a glance of her upturned eyes. Conyngham, who was no
diplomatist, nor possessed any skill in concealing his thoughts, looked
with some interest at Julia Barenna, and Estella watched him. 'Julia
is right,' Señora Barenna was saying, though nobody heeded her; 'one
must not talk nor even think politics in this country. You are no
politician, I trust, Señor Conyngham—Señor Conyngham, I ask you, you
are no politician?'
'No, señora,' replied Conyngham hastily; 'no; and if I were, I
should never understand Spanish politics.'
'Father Concha says that Spanish politics are the same as those of
any other country—each man for himself,' said Julia with a bitter
'And he is, no doubt, right.'
'Do you really think so?' asked Julia Barenna, with more earnestness
than the question would seem to require; 'are there not true patriots
who sacrifice all—not only their friends, but themselves—to the
cause of their country?'
'Without the hope of reward?'
'There may be, señorita—a few,' answered Conyngham with a laugh,
'but not in my country. They must all be in Spain.'
She smiled and shook her head in doubt. But it was a worn smile.
The Englishman turned away and looked through the trees. He was
wondering how he could get speech with Julia alone for a moment.
'You are admiring the garden,' said that young lady; and this time
he knew that there had in reality been that meaning in her eyes which
he had imagined to be there.
'Yes, señorita, I think it must be the most beautiful garden in the
He turned as he spoke, and looked at Estella, who met his glance
quietly. Her repose of manner struck him afresh. Here was a woman
having that air of decision which exacts respect alike from men and
women. Seen thus, with the more vivacious Julia at her side, Estella
gained suddenly in moral strength and depth—suggesting a steady fire
in contrast with a flickering will-o'-the-wisp blown hither and thither
on every zephyr. Yet Julia Barenna would pass anywhere as a woman of
will and purpose.
Julia had risen, and was moving towards the exit of the little grove
in which they found themselves. Conyngham had never been seated.
'Are the violets in bloom, Estella? I must see them,' said the
visitor. 'We have none at home, where all is dry and parched.'
'So bad for the nerves—what suffering!—such a dry soil that one
cannot sleep at night,' murmured Madame Barenna, preparing to rise from
Julia and Conyngham naturally led the way. The paths winding in and
out among the palms and pepper trees were of a width that allowed two
to walk abreast.
'Señorita, I have a letter for you.'
Señora Barenna was chattering in her deep husky tones immediately
behind them. Julia turned and looked up at the windows of the house,
which commanded a full view of the garden. The dwelling rooms were as
usual upon the first floor, and the windows were lightly barred with
curiously wrought iron. Each window was curtained within with lace and
The paths wound in and out among the trees, but none of these were
large enough to afford a secure screen from the eye of any watcher
within the house. There was neither olive nor ilex in the garden to
afford shelter with their heavy leaves. Julia and Conyngham walked on,
out-distancing the elder lady and Estella. From these many a turn in
the path hid them from time to time, but Julia was distrustful of the
windows and hesitated, in an agony of nervousness. Conyngham saw that
her face was quite colourless, and her teeth closed convulsively over
her lower lip. He continued to talk of indifferent topics, but the
answers she made were incoherent and broken. The course of true love
did not seem to run smooth here.
'Shall I give you the letter? No one can see us, señorita.
Besides, I was informed that it was of no importance except to
yourself. You have doubtless had many such before, unless the Spanish
gentlemen are blind.'
He laughed and felt in his pocket.
'Yes!' she whispered. 'Quickly—now.'
He gave her the letter in its romantic pink, scented envelope with a
half-suppressed smile at her eagerness. Would anybody—would Estella
- ever be thus agitated at the receipt of a letter from himself? They
were at the lower end of the inclosure, which was divided almost in two
by a broader pathway leading from the house to the centre of the
garden, where a fountain of Moorish marble formed a sort of carrefour,
from which the narrower pathways diverged in all directions.
Descending the steps into the garden from the house were two men,
one talking violently, the other seeking to calm him.
'My uncle and the Alcalde—they have seen us from the windows,'
said Julia quickly. All her nervousness of manner seemed to have
vanished, leaving her concentrated and alert. Some men are thus in
warfare—nervous until the rifle opens fire, and then cool and ready.
'Quick!' whispered Julia. 'Let us turn back.'
She wheeled round, and Conyngham did the same.
'Julia!' they heard General Vincente call in his gentle voice.
Julia, who was tearing the pink envelope, took no heed. Within the
first covering a second envelope appeared, bearing a longer address.
'Give that to the man whose address it bears, and save me from ruin,'
said the girl, thrusting the letter into Conyngham's hand. She kept
the pink envelope.
When, a minute later, they came face to face with General Vincente
and his companion, a white-faced, fluttering man of sixty years, Julia
Barenna received them with a smile. There are some men who, conscious
of their own quickness of resource, are careless of danger, and run
into it from mere heedlessness, trusting to good fortune to aid them
should peril arise. Frederick Conyngham was one of these. He now
suspected that this was no love letter which the man called Larralde
had given him in Algeciras.
'Julia,' said the General, 'the Alcalde desires to speak with you.'
Julia bowed with that touch of hauteur which in Spain the nobles
ever observe in their manner towards the municipal authorities.
'Mr. Conyngham,' continued the General, 'this is our brave Mayor, in
whose hands rests the well-being of the people of Ronda.'
'Honoured to meet you,' said Conyngham, holding out his hand with
that frankness of manner which he accorded to great and small alike.
The Alcalde, a man of immense importance in his own estimation,
hesitated before accepting it.
'General,' he said, turning and bowing very low to Señora Barenna
and Estella, who now joined them, 'General, I leave you to explain to
your niece the painful duties of my office.'
The General smiled and raised a deprecating shoulder.
'Well, my dear,' he said kindly to Julia, 'it appears that our good
Alcalde has news of a letter which is at present passing from hand to
hand in Andalusia. It is a letter of some importance. Our good Mayor,
who was at the window a minute ago, saw Mr. Conyngham hand you a
letter. Between persons who only met in this garden five minutes ago
such a transaction had a strange air. Our good friend, who is all zeal
for Spain and the people of Ronda, merely asks you if his eyes deceived
him. It is a matter at which we shall all laugh presently over a
lemonade—is it not so? A trifle, eh?' He passed his handkerchief
across his moustache, and looked affectionately at his niece.
'A letter!' exclaimed Julia. 'Surely the Alcalde presumes. He
takes too much upon himself.' The official stepped forward.
'Señorita,' he said, 'I must be allowed to take that risk. Did this
gentleman give you a letter three minutes ago?'
Julia laughed and shrugged her shoulders.
'May I ask the nature of the letter?'
'It was a love letter.'
Conyngham bit his lip and looked at Estella.
The Alcalde looked doubtful, with the cunning lips of a cheap
'A love letter from a gentleman you have never seen before?' he said
with a forced laugh.
'Pardon me, Señor Alcalde, this gentleman travelled in the same ship
with my mother and myself from Bordeaux to Algeciras, and he saved my
She cast a momentary glance at Conyngham; which would have sealed
his fate had the fiery Mr. Larralde been there to see it. The Prefect
paused, somewhat taken aback. There was a momentary silence, and every
moment gave Julia and Conyngham time to think. Then the Alcalde turned
'It will give me the greatest pleasure,' he said, 'to learn that I
have been mistaken. I have only to ask this gentleman's confirmation
of what the señorita has said. It is true, señor, that you
surreptitiously handed to the Señorita Barenna a letter expressing your
'Since the señorita has done me the honour of confessing it, I must
ask you to believe it,' answered Conyngham steadily and coldly.
CHAPTER IX. A WAR OF WIT.
'La discrétion est l'art du mensonge.'
The Alcalde blew out his cheeks and looked at General Vincente.
Señora Barenna would with small encouragement have thrown herself into
Conyngham's arms; but she received none whatever, and instead frowned
at Julia. Estella was looking haughtily at her father, and would not
meet Conyngham's glance.
'I feel sure,' said General Vincente in his most conciliating
manner, 'that my dear Julia will see the necessity of satisfying the
good Alcalde by showing him the letter—with, of course, the consent
of my friend Conyngham.'
He laughed, and slipped his hand within Conyngham's arm.
'You see, my dear friend,' he said in English, 'these local magnates
are a trifle inflated; local magnitude is a little inclined to inflate,
eh? Ha! ha! And it is so easy to conciliate them. I always try to do
so myself. Peace at any price—that is my motto.'
And he turned aside to arrange his sword, which dragged on the
'Tell her, my dear Conyngham, to let the old gentleman read the
'But it is nothing to do with me, General.'
'I know that, my friend, as well as you do,' said Vincente with a
sudden change of manner, which gave the Englishman an uncomfortable
desire to know what he meant. But General Vincente, in pursuit of that
peace which had earned him such a terrible reputation in war, turned to
Señora Barenna with his most reassuring smile.
'It is nothing, my dear Iñez,' he said. 'In these times of trouble
the officials are so suspicious, and our dear Alcalde knows too much.
He remembers dear Julia's little affair with Esteban Larralde, now long
since lived down and forgotten. Larralde is, it appears, a malcontent,
and on the wrong side of the wall. You need have no uneasiness. Ah!
your nerves—yes, I know! A great sufferer—yes, I remember.
Patience, dear Iñez, patience!'
And he patted her stout white hand affectionately.
The Alcalde was taking snuff with a stubborn air of disbelief,
glancing the while suspiciously at Conyngham, who had eyes for none but
'Alcalde,' said General Vincente, 'the incident is past, as we say
in the diplomatic service; a lemonade now?'
'No, General, the incident is not past, and I will not have a
'Oh!' exclaimed General Vincente in gentle horror.
'Yes, this young lady must give me the letter, or I call in my men.'
'But your men could not touch a lady, my dear Alcalde.'
'You may be the Alcalde of Ronda,' said Conyngham cheerfully, in
continuation of the General's argument; 'but if you offer such an
insult to Señorita Barenna, I throw you into the fountain, in the
deepest part, where it is wettest, just there by the marble dolphin.'
And Conyngham indicated the exact spot with his riding-whip.
'Who is this gentleman?' asked the Alcalde. The question was in the
first place addressed to space and the gods—after a moment the
speaker turned to General Vincente.
'A prospective aide-de-camp of General Espartero.'
At the mention of the great name the Mayor of Ronda became
beautifully less and half bowed to Conyngham.
'I must do my duty,' he said with the stubbornness of a small mind.
'And what do you conceive that to be, my dear Alcalde?' inquired the
'To place the Señorita Barenna under arrest unless she will hand to
me the letter she has in her possession.' Julia looked at him with a
smile. She was a brave woman, playing a dangerous game with consummate
courage, and never glanced at Conyngham, who with an effort kept his
hand away from the pocket where the letter lay concealed. The manner
in which she trusted him unreservedly and entirely was in itself
cunning enough, for it appealed to that sense of chivalry which is not
yet dead in men.
'Place me under arrest, Señor Alcalde,' she said indifferently, 'and
when you have satisfied me that you have a right to inspect a lady's
private correspondence I will submit to be searched—but not before.'
She made a little signal to Conyngham not to interfere.
Señora Barenna took this opportunity of asserting herself and her
nerves. She sat heavily down on a stone seat and wept. She could
hardly have done better, for she was a countess in her own right, and
the sight of high-born tears distinctly unnerved the Alcalde.
'Well,' he said, 'the señorita has made her own choice. In these
times' (he glanced nervously at the weeping lady) 'one must do one's
'My dear Julia,' protested the General, 'you who are so sensible—'
Julia shrugged her shoulders and laughed. She not only trusted
Conyngham but relied upon his intelligence. It is as a rule safer to
confide in the honesty of one's neighbour than in his wit; better
still, trust in neither. Conyngham, who was quick enough when the
moment required it, knew that she was fostering the belief that the
letter at that moment in his pocket was in her possession. He
suspected also that he and Julia Barenna were playing with life and
death. Further, he recognised her and her voice. This was the woman
who had showed discrimination and calmness in face of a great danger on
the Garonne. Had this Englishman, owning as he did to a strain of
Irish blood, turned his back on her and danger at such a moment he
would assuredly have proved himself untrue to the annals of that race
which has made a mark upon the world that will never be wiped out. He
looked at the Alcalde and smiled, whereupon that official turned and
made a signal with his hand to a man who, dressed in a quiet uniform,
had appeared in the doorway of the house.
'What the deuce we are all trying to do I don't know,' reflected
Conyngham, who indeed was sufficiently at sea to awake the most dormant
The Alcalde, now thoroughly aroused, protested his inability to
neglect a particle of his duty at this troubled period of Spain's
history, and announced his intention of placing Julia Barenna under
surveillance until she handed him the letter she had received from
'I am quite prepared,' he added, 'to give this caballero the benefit
of the doubt, and assume that he has been in this matter the tool of
unscrupulous persons. Seeing that he is a friend of General
Vincente's, and has an introduction to his Excellency the Duke of
Vittoria, he is without the pale of my jurisdiction.'
The Alcalde made Conyngham a profound bow and proceeded to conduct
Julia and her indignant mother to their carriage.
'There goes,' said General Vincente with his most optimistic little
chuckle, 'a young woman whose head will always be endangered by her
heart.' And he nodded towards Julia's retreating form.
Estella turned and walked away by herself.
'Come,' said the General to Conyngham, 'let us sit down. I have
news for you. But what a susceptible heart—my dear young friend—
what a susceptible heart! Julia is, I admit, a very pretty girl—
la beauté du diable, eh! But on so short an acquaintance—rather
rapid, rather rapid!'
As he spoke he was searching among some letters which he had
produced from his pocket, and at length found an official envelope that
had already been opened.
'I have here,' he said, 'a letter from Madrid. You have only to
proceed to the capital, and there I hope a post awaits you. Your
duties will at present be of a semi-military character, but later I
hope we can show you some fighting. This pestilential Cabrera is not
yet quelled, and Morella still holds out. Yes, there will be fighting.'
He closed the letter and looked at Conyngham. 'If that is what you
want,' he added.
'Yes, that is what I want.'
The General nodded and rose, pausing to brush a few grains of dust
from his dapper riding-breeches.
'Come,' he said, 'I have seen a horse which will suit you at the
cavalry quarters in the Calle de Bobadilla. Shall we go and look at
Conyngham expressed his readiness to do as the General proposed.
'When shall I start for Madrid?' he asked.
'Oh, to-morrow morning will be time enough,' was the reply, uttered
in an easy-going, indolent tone, 'if you are early astir. You see, it
is now nearly five o'clock, and you could scarcely be in saddle before
'No,' laughed Conyngham, 'scarcely, considering that I have not yet
bought the saddle or the horse.'
The General led the way into the house, and Conyngham thought of the
letter in his pocket. He had not yet read the address. Julia relied
upon him to deliver it, and her conduct towards the Alcalde had the
evident object of gaining time for him to do so. She had
unhesitatingly thrust herself into a position of danger to screen him
and further her own indomitable purpose. He thought of her—still as
from a distance at which Estella had placed him—and knew that she not
only had a disquieting beauty, but cleverness and courage, which are
qualities that outlast beauty and make a woman powerful for ever.
When he and his companion emerged from the great doorway of the
house into the sunlight of the Calle Mayor, a man came forward from the
shade of a neighbouring porch. It was Concepçion Vara, leisurely and
dignified, twirling a cigarette between his brown fingers. He saluted
the General with one finger to the brim of his shabby felt hat as one
great man might salute another. He nodded to Conyngham.
'When does his Excellency take the road again?' he said. 'I am
ready. The Guardia Civil was mistaken this time—the judge said there
was no stain on my name.'
He shrugged his shoulders and waved away the slight with the
magnanimity of one who can forgive and forget.
'I take the road to-morrow; but our contract ceased at Ronda. I had
no intention of taking you on.'
'You are not satisfied with me?' inquired Concepçion, offering his
interlocutor the cigarette he had just made.
'Buen! We take the road together.'
'Then there is nothing more to be said?' inquired Conyngham with a
'Nothing, except the hour at which your Excellency starts.'
'Six o'clock,' put in General Vincente quietly. 'Let me see, your
name is Concepçion Vara.'
'Yes, Excellency—of Algeciras.'
'It is well. Then serve this gentleman well, or else—' The
General paused, and laughed in his most deprecating manner.
Concepçion seemed to understand, for he took off his hat and turned
gravely away. The General and Conyngham walked rapidly through the
streets of Ronda, than which there are none cleaner in the whole world,
and duly bought a great black horse at a price which seemed moderate
enough to the Englishman, though the vendor explained that the long war
had made horseflesh rise in value. Conyngham, at no time a keen
bargainer, hurried the matter to an end, and scarce examined the
saddle. He was anxious to get back to the garden of the great house in
the Calle Mayor before the cool of evening came to drive Estella
'You will doubtless wish to pack your portmanteau,' said the General
rather breathlessly, as he hurried along with small steps beside
'Yes,' answered the Englishman ingenuously, 'yes, of course.'
'Then I will not detain you,' said General Vincente. 'I have
affairs at headquarters. We meet at dinner, of course.'
He waved a little salutation with his whip and took a side turning.
The sun had not set when Conyngham with a beating heart made his way
through the house into the garden. He had never been so serious about
anything in his life. Indeed, his life seemed only to have begun in
that garden. Estella was there. He saw her black dress and mantilla
through the trees, and the gleam of her golden hair made his eyes
almost fierce for the moment.
'I am going to-morrow morning,' he said bluntly when he reached her
where she sat in the shade of a mimosa.
She raised her eyes for a moment—deep velvet eyes with something
in them that made his heart leap within his breast.
'And I love you, Estella,' he added. 'You may be offended—you may
despise me—you may distrust me. But nothing can alter me. I love
you—now and ever.'
She drew a deep breath and sat motionless.
'How many women does an Englishman love at once?' she asked coldly
'Only one, señorita.'
He stood looking at her for a moment. Then she rose and walked past
him into the house.
CHAPTER X. THE CITY OF DISCONTENT.
'En paroles ou en actions, être discret, c'est s'abstenir.'
'There is,' observed Frederick Conyngham to himself as he climbed
into the saddle in the grey dawn of the following morning, 'there is a
certain picturesqueness about these proceedings which pleases me.'
Concepçion Vara indeed supplied a portion of this romantic
atmosphere, for he was dressed in the height of contrabandista fashion,
with a bright-coloured handkerchief folded round his head underneath
his black hat, a scarlet waistcloth, a spotless shirt, and a flower in
the ribbon of his hat.
He was dignified and leisurely, but so far forgot himself as to sing
as he threw his leg across his horse. A dark-eyed maiden had come to
the corner of the Calle Vieja, and stood there watching him with
mournful eyes. He waved her a salutation as he passed.
'It is the waiting-maid at the venta where I stay in Ronda—what
will you?' he explained to Conyngham with a modest air as he cocked his
hat farther on one side.
The sun rose as they emerged from the narrow streets into the open
country that borders the road to Bobadilla. A pastoral country this,
where the land needs little care to make it give more than man requires
for his daily food. The evergreen oak studded over the whole plain
supplies food for countless pigs and shade where the herdsmen may dream
away the sunny days. The rich soil would yield two or even three crops
in the year, were the necessary seed and labour forthcoming.
Underground, the mineral wealth outvies the richness of the surface,
but national indolence leaves it unexplored.
'Before General Vincente one could not explain oneself,' said
Concepçion, urging his horse to keep pace with the trot of Conyngham's
'No,' pursued Concepçion. 'And yet it is simple. In Algeciras I
have a wife. It is well that a man should travel at times. So,' he
paused and bowed towards his companion with a gesture of infinite
condescension, 'so—we take the road together.'
'As long as you are pleased, Señor Vara,' said Conyngham, 'I am sure
I can but feel honoured. You know I have no money.'
The Spaniard shrugged his shoulders.
'What matter?' he said. 'What matter? We can keep an account—a
mere piece of paper—so: "Concepçion Vara, of Algeciras, in account
current with F. Conyngham; Englishman. One month's wages at one
hundred pesetas." It is simple.'
'Very,' acquiesced Conyngham. 'It is only when pay-day comes that
things will get complicated.'
'You are a caballero after my own heart,' he said. 'We shall enjoy
ourselves in Madrid. I see that.'
Conyngham did not answer. He had remembered the letter and Julia
Barenna's danger. He rose in his stirrups and looked behind him.
Ronda was already hidden by intervening hills, and the bare line of the
roadway was unbroken by the form of any other traveller.
'We are not going to Madrid yet,' said Conyngham. 'We are going to
Xeres, where I have business. Do you know the road to Xeres?'
'As well that as any other, Excellency.'
'What do you mean?'
'I know no roads north of Ronda. I am of Andalusia, I,' replied
Concepçion easily, and he looked round about him with an air of
interest which was more to the credit of his intelligence as a
traveller than his reliability as a guide.
'But you engaged to guide me to Madrid.'
'Yes, Excellency—by asking the way,' replied Concepçion with a
light laugh, and he struck a sulphur match on the neck of his horse to
light a fresh cigarette.
Thus with an easy heart Frederick Conyngham set out on his journey,
having for companion one as irresponsible as himself. He had
determined to go to Xeres, though that town of ill repute lay far to
the westward of his road towards the capital. It would have been
simple enough to destroy the letter entrusted to him by Julia Barenna,
a stranger whom he was likely never to see again—simple enough and
infinitely safer as he suspected, for the billet-doux of Mr. Larralde
smelt of grimmer things than love. But Julia Barenna wittingly, or in
all innocence, appealed to that sense of chivalry which is essentially
the quality of lonely men who have never had sisters, and Conyngham was
ready to help Julia where he would have refused his assistance to a
man, however hard pressed.
'Cannot leave the girl in a hole,' he said to himself, and proceeded
to act upon this resolution with a steadiness of purpose for which some
may blame him.
It was evening when the two travellers reached Xeres after some
weary hours of monotonous progress through the vine-clad plains of this
'It is no wonder,' said Concepçion, 'that the men of Xeres are
malcontents, when they live in a country as flat as the palm of my
It happened to be a fête day, which in Spain, as in other countries
farther North, is synonymous with mischief. The men of Xeres had taken
advantage of this holiday to demonstrate their desire for more. They
had marched through the streets with banner and song, arrayed in their
best clothes, fostering their worst thoughts. They had consumed
marvellous quantities of that small Amontillado which is as it were a
thin fire to the blood, heating and degenerating at once. They had
talked much nonsense and listened to more. Carlist or Christino—it
was all the same to them, so long as they had a change of some sort.
In the meantime they had a desire to break something, if only to assert
A few minutes before Conyngham and his guide rode into the
market-place, which in Xeres is as long as a street, some of the free
sons of Spain had thought fit to shout insulting remarks to a
passer-by. With a fire too bright for his years this old gentleman,
with fierce white moustache and imperial, had turned on them, calling
them good-for-nothings and sons of pigs.
Conyngham rode up just in time to see the ruffians rise as one man
and rush at the victim of their humour. The old man with his back to
the wall repelled his assailants with a sort of fierce joy in his
attitude which betokened the soldier.
'Come on, Concepçion!' cried Conyngham, with a dig of the spurs that
made his tired horse leap into the air. He charged down upon the
gathering crowd, which scattered right and left before the wild
onslaught. But he saw the flash of steel, and knew that it was too
late. The old man, with an oath and a gasp of pain, sank against the
wall with the blood trickling through the fingers clasped against his
breast. Conyngham would have reined in, but Concepçion on his heels
gave the charger a cut with his heavy whip that made him bound forward
and would have unseated a short-stirruped rider.
'Go on,' cried the Spaniard; 'it is no business of ours. The police
And Conyngham, remembering the letter in his pocket, rode on without
looking back. In the day of which the present narrative treats, the
streets of Xeres were but ill paved, and the dust lay on them to the
depth of many inches, serving to deaden the sound of footsteps and
facilitate the commission of such deeds of violence as were at this
time of daily occurrence in Spain. Riding on at random, Conyngham and
his companion soon lost their way in the narrow streets, and were able
to satisfy themselves that none had followed them. Here in a quiet
alley Conyngham read again the address of the letter of which he
earnestly desired to rid himself without more ado.
It was addressed to Colonel Monreal at No. 84 Plaza de Cadiz.
'Let his Excellency stay here and drink a glass of wine at this
venta,' said Concepçion. 'Alone, I shall be able to get information
without attracting attention. And then, in the name of the saints, let
us shake the dust of Xeres off our feet. The first thing we see is
steel, and I do not like it. I have a wife in Algeciras to whom I am
much attached, and I am afraid—yes, afraid. A gentleman need never
hesitate to say so.'
He shook his head forebodingly as he loosened his girths and called
for water for the horses.
'I could eat a cocida,' he went on, sniffing the odours of a
neighbouring kitchen, 'with plenty of onions and the mutton as becomes
the springtime—young and tender. Dios! this quick travelling and an
empty stomach, it kills one.'
'When I have delivered my letter,' replied Conyngham, 'we shall eat
with a lighter heart.'
Concepçion went away in a pessimistic humour. He was one of those
men who are brave enough on good wine and victuals, but lack the
stamina to fight when hungry. He returned presently with the required
information. The Plaza de Cadiz was, it appeared, quite close.
Indeed, the town of Xeres is not large, though the intricacies of its
narrow streets may well puzzle a new-comer. No. 84 was the house of
the barber, and on his first floor lived Colonel Monreal, a retired
veteran who had fought with the English against Napoleon's armies.
During his servant's absence, Conyngham had written a short note in
French, conveying, in terms which she would understand, the news that
Julia Barenna doubtless awaited with impatience; namely, that her
letter had been delivered to him whose address it bore.
'I have ordered your cocida and some good wine,' he said to
Concepçion. 'Your horse is feeding. Make good use of your time, for
when I return I shall want you to take the road again at once. You
must make ten miles before you sleep to-night, and then an early start
in the morning.'
'For where, señor?'
Concepçion shrugged his shoulders. His life had been spent upon the
road, his wardrobe since childhood had been contained in a saddle-bag,
and Spaniards, above all people, have the curse of Ishmael. They are a
homeless race, and lay them down to sleep, when fatigue overtakes them,
under a tree or in the shade of a stone wall. It often happens that a
worker in the fields will content himself with the lee side of a
haystack for his resting-place when his home is only a few hundred
yards up the mountain side.
'And his Excellency?' inquired Concepçion.
'I shall sleep here to-night and proceed to Madrid to-morrow, by way
of Cordova, where I will wait for you. I have a letter here which you
must deliver to the Señorita Barenna at Ronda without the knowledge of
anyone. It will be well that neither General Vincente nor any other
who knows you should catch sight of you in the streets of Ronda.'
Concepçion nodded his head with much philosophy.
'Ah! these women,' he said, turning to the steaming dish of mutton
and vegetables which is almost universal in the South, 'these women,
what shoe leather they cost us!'
Leaving his servant thus profitably employed, Conyngham set out to
find the barber's shop in the Plaza de Cadiz. This he did without
difficulty, but on presenting himself at the door of Colonel Monreal's
apartment learnt that that gentleman was out.
'But,' added the servant, 'the Colonel is a man of regular habits.
He will return within the next fifteen minutes, for he dines at five.'
Conyngham paused. He had no desire to make Colonel Monreal's
acquaintance, indeed preferred to remain without it, for he rightly
judged that Señor Larralde was engaged in affairs best left alone.
'I have a letter for the Colonel,' he said to the servant, a man of
stupid countenance. 'I will place it here upon his table, and can no
doubt trust you to see that he gets it.'
'That you can, Excellency,' replied the man, with a palm already
half extended to receive a gratuity.
'If the Colonel fails to receive the letter I shall certainly know
of it,' said Conyngham, stumbling down the dark staircase, and well
pleased to have accomplished his mission.
He returned with all speed to the inn in the quiet alley where he
had elected to pass the night, and found Concepçion still at table.
'In half an hour I take the road,' said the Spaniard. 'The time for
a cup of coffee, and I am ready to ride all night.'
Having eaten, Concepçion was in a better frame of mind, and now
cheerfully undertook to carry out his master's instructions. In little
more than half an hour he was in the saddle again, and waved an airy
adieu to Conyngham as he passed under the swinging oil lamp that hung
at the corner of the street.
It was yet early in the evening, and Conyngham, having dined, set
out to explore the streets of Xeres, which were quiet enough now, as
the cafes were gayer and safer than the gloomy thoroughfares where a
foe might lurk in every doorway. In the market-place, between rows of
booths and tents, a dense crowd walked backwards and forwards with that
steady sense of promenading which the Spaniard understands above all
other men. The dealers in coloured handkerchiefs from Barcelona or
mantillas from Seville were driving a great trade, and the majority of
them had long since shouted themselves hoarse. A few quack dentists
were operating upon their victims under the friendly covert of a big
drum and a bassoon. Dealers in wonderful drugs and herbs were
haranguing the crowd, easily gaining the attention of the simple
peasants by handling a live snake or a crocodile which they allowed to
crawl upon their shoulders.
Conyngham lingered in the crowd, which was orderly enough, and
amused himself by noting the credulity of the country folk, until his
attention was attracted by a solemn procession passing up the
market-place behind the tents. He inquired of a bystander what this
'It is the police carrying to his apartment the body of Colonel
Monreal, who was murdered this afternoon in the Plaza Mayor,' was the
Conyngham made his way between two tents to the deserted side of the
market-place, and, running past the procession, reached the barber's
shop before it. In answer to his summons a girl came to the door of
the Colonel's apartment. She was weeping and moaning in great mental
Without explanation Conyngham pushed past her into the room where he
had deposited the letter. The room was in disorder, and no letter lay
upon the table.
'It is,' sobbed the girl, 'my husband, who, having heard that the
good Colonel had been murdered, stole all his valuables and papers and
has run away from me.'
CHAPTER XI. A TANGLED WEB.
'Wherein I am false, I am honest—not true to be true.'
'And—would you believe it?—there are soldiers in the house, at
the very door of Julia's apartments.' Señora Barenna, who made this
remark, heaved a sigh and sat back in her canework chair with that
jerkiness of action which in elderly ladies usually betokens impatience
with the ways of young people.
'Policemen—policemen, not soldiers,' corrected Father Concha
patiently, as if it did not matter much. They were sitting in the
broad vine-clad verandah of the Casa Barenna, that grim old house on
the Bobadilla road, two miles from Ronda. The priest had walked
thither, as the dust on his square-toed shoes and black stockings would
testify. He had laid aside his mournful old hat, long since brown and
discoloured, and was wiping his forehead with a cheap
pocket-handkerchief of colour and pattern rather loud for his station
'Well, they have swords,' persisted the lady.
'Policemen,' said Father Concha, in a stern and final voice, which
caused Señora Barenna to cast her eyes upwards with an air of resigned
'Ah, that Alcalde!' she whispered between her teeth.
'A little dog, when it is afraid, growls,' said Concha
philosophically. 'The Alcalde is a very small dog, and he is at his
wit's end. Such a thing has not occurred in Ronda before, and the
Alcalde's world is Ronda. He does not know whether his office permits
him to inspect young ladies' love letters or not.'
'Love letters!' ejaculated Señora Barenna. She evidently had a keen
sense of the romantic, and hoped for something more tragic than a mere
flirtation begotten of idleness at sea.
'Yes,' said Concha, crossing his legs and looking at his companion
with a queer cynicism. 'Young people mostly pass that way.'
He had had a tragedy, this old man. One of those grim tragedies of
the cassock which English people rarely understand. And his tragedy
sat beside him on the cane chair, stout and eminently worldly, while he
had journeyed on the road of life with all his illusions, all his
half-fledged aspirations, untouched by the cold finger of reality. He
despised the woman now, the contempt lurked in his cynical smile, but
he clung with a half-mocking, open-eyed sarcasm to his memories.
'But,' he said reassuringly, 'Julia is a match for the Alcalde, you
may rest assured of that.'
Señora Barenna turned with a gesture of her plump hand indicative of
'I do not understand her. She laughs at the soldiers—the
policemen, I mean. She laughs at me. She laughs at everything.'
'Yes, it is the hollow hearts that make most noise in the world,'
said Concha, folding his handkerchief upon his knee. He was deadly
poor, and had a theory that a folded handkerchief remains longer
clean. His whole existence was an effort to do without those things
that make life worth living.
'Why did you send for me?' he asked.
'But to advise me—to help me. I have been, all my life, cast upon
the world alone. No one to help me—no one to understand. No one
knows what I have suffered—my husband—'
'Was one of the best and most patient of mortals, and is assuredly
in heaven, where I hope there are a few mansions reserved for men only.'
Señora Barenna fetched one of her deepest sighs. She had a few
lurking in the depth of her capacious being, reserved for such
occasions as this. It was, it seemed, no more than her life had led
her to expect.
'You have had,' went on her spiritual adviser, 'a life of ease and
luxury, a husband who denied you nothing. You have never lost a child
by death, which I understand is—one of the greatest sorrows that God
sends to women. You are an ungrateful female.'
Señora Barenna, whose face would have graced one of the very
earliest of the martyrs, sat with folded hands waiting until the storm
'Do you wish me to see Julia?' asked Concha abruptly.
'Yes—yes! And persuade her to conciliate the Alcalde—to tell
him some story or another. It does not surely matter if it be not the
strict truth. Anything to get these men out of the house. My maid
Maria is so flighty. Ah—these young people! What a trial—my dear
Padre, what a trial!'
'Of course,' said Father Concha. 'But what a dull world it would be
if our neighbour knew how to manage his own affairs! Shall we go to
The perturbed lady preferred that the priest should see her daughter
alone. A military-looking individual in white trousers and a dark
green tunic stood guard over the door of Julia's apartment, seeking by
his attitude and the curl of his moustache to magnify his office in the
eyes of a maid who happened to have an unusual amount of cleaning to do
in that particular corridor.
'Ah!' said Father Concha, by no means abashed by the sentinel's
sword. 'Ah, it is you, Manuel. Your wife tells me you have objections
to the christening of that last boy of yours, number five, I think.
Bring number five on Sunday, after vespers—eh? You understand—and
a little something for the poor. It is pay day on Saturday. And no
more nonsense about religion, Manuel, eh?'
He shook his lean finger in the official's face and walked on
'May I come in?' he said, tapping at the door; and Julia's voice
bade him enter.
He closed the door behind him and laid aside his hat. Then he stood
upright, and slowly rubbing his hands together looked at Julia with the
humorous twinkle lurking in his eye and its companion dimple twitching
in his lean cheek. Then he began to feel his pockets, passing his
hands down his worn cassock.
'Let me see, I had a love letter—was it from Don Carlos? At all
events, I have lost it!'
He laughed, made a perfunctory sign of the cross and gave her his
blessing. Then, his face having become suddenly grave as if by
machinery at the sound of the solemn Latin benediction, he sat down.
Julia looked worn and eager. Her eyes seemed to search his face for
'Yes, my dear child,' he said. 'Politics are all very well as a
career. But without a distinct profit they are worth the attention of
few men, and never worth the thought of a woman.'
He looked at her keenly, and she turned to the window, which was
open to admit the breath of violets and other flowers of the spring.
She shrugged her shoulders and gave a sharp sigh.
'See here, my child,' said Padre Concha abruptly. 'For reasons
which concern no one, I take a great interest in your happiness. You
resemble some one whose welfare was once more important to me than my
own. That was long ago, and I now consider myself first, as all wise
men should. I am your friend, Julia, and much too old to be
over-scrupulous. I peep and pry into my neighbours' affairs, and I am
uneasy about you, my child.'
He shook his head and drummed upon the table with his dirty fingers.
'Thank you,' answered the girl with her defiant little laugh, 'but I
can manage my own affairs.'
The priest nodded reflectively.
'Yes,' he said. 'It is natural that you should say that. One of
the chief blessings of youth is self confidence. Heaven forbid that I
should shake yours. But, you see, there are several people who happen
to be anxious that this little affair should blow over and be
forgotten. The Alcalde is a mule, we know that, and anything that
serves to magnify himself and his office is likely to be prolonged. Do
not play into his hand. As I tell you, there are some who wish to
forget this incident, and one of them is coming to see you this
'Ah!' said the girl indifferently.
Julia changed colour and her eyelids flickered for a moment as she
looked out of the open window.
'A good friend,' continued Concha, 'but—'
He finished the phrase with an eloquent little gesture of the hand.
At this moment they both heard the sound of an approaching carriage.
'He is coming now,' said Concha. 'He is driving, so Estella is with
'Estella is of course jealous.'
The priest looked at her with a slow wise smile and said nothing.
'She—' began Julia, and then closed her lips—true to that
esprit de sexe which has ruled through all the ages. Then Julia
Barenna gave a sharp sigh as her mind reverted from Estella's affairs
to her own.
Sitting thus in silence, the two occupants of the quiet room heard
the approach of steps and the clink of spurs in the corridor.
'It is the reverendo who visits the señorita,' they heard the voice
of the sentinel explain deprecatingly.
The priest rose and went to the door, which he opened.
'Only as a friend,' he said. 'Come in, General.'
General Vincente entered the room followed by Estella. He nodded to
Concha and kissed his niece affectionately.
'Still obdurate?' he said, with a semi-playful tap on her shoulder.
'Still obdurate? My dear Julia, in peace and war the greatest quality
in the strong is mercy. You have proved yourself strong—you have
worsted that unfortunate Alcalde—be merciful to him now, and let this
He drew forward a chair, the others being seated, and laid aside his
gloves. The sword which he held upright between his knees, with his
two hands resting on the hilt, looked incongruously large and reached
the level of his eyes. He gave a little chuckling laugh.
'I saw him last night at the Café Real—the poor man had the air of
a funeral, and took his wine as if it were sour. Ah! these civilians,
they amuse one—they take life so seriously.'
He laughed and looked round at those assembled as if inviting them
to join him in a gayer and easier view of existence. The Padre's
furrowed face answered the summons in a sudden smile, but it was with
grave eyes that he looked searchingly at the most powerful man in
Andalusia; for General Vincente's word was law south of the Tagus.
The two men sat side by side in strong contrast. Fate indeed seems
to shake men together in a bag, and cast them out upon the world
heedless where they may fall; for here was a soldier in the priest's
habit, and one carrying a sword who had the keen heart and sure
sympathy for joy or sorrow that should ever be found within a black
coat if the Master's work is to be well done.
General Vincente smiled at Estella with sang-froid and an
unruffled good nature, while the Padre Concha, whose place it surely
was to take the lead in such woman's work as this, slowly rubbed his
bony hands together, at a loss and incompetent to meet the urgency of
'Our guest left us yesterday morning,' said the General, 'and of
course the Alcalde placed no hindrance on his departure.'
He did not look at Julia, who drew a deep breath and glanced at
'I do not know if Señor Conyngham left any message for you with
Estella—to me he said nothing,' continued Estella's father; and that
young lady shook her head.
'No,' she put in composedly.
'Then it remains for us to close this foolish incident, my dear
Julia; and for me to remind you, seeing that you are fatherless, that
there are in Spain many adventurers who come here seeking the sport of
love or war, who will ride away when they have had their fill of
He ceased speaking with a tolerant laugh, as one who, being a
soldier himself, would beg indulgence for the failings of his comrades,
examined the hilt of his sword, and then looked blandly round on three
faces which resolutely refused to class the absent Englishman in this
'It remains, my dear niece, to satisfy the Alcalde—a mere glance
at the letter—sufficient to satisfy him as to the nature of its
'I have no letter,' said Julia quietly, with her level red lips set
'Not in your possession, but perhaps concealed in some place near at
hand—unless it is destroyed.'
'I have destroyed no letter, I have concealed no letter, and I have
no letter,' said the girl quietly. Estella moved uneasily in the
chair. Her face was colourless and her eyes shone. She watched her
cousin's face intently, and beneath his shaggy brows the old priest's
eyes went from one fair countenance to the other.
'Then,' cried the General, rising to his feet with an air of relief,
'you have but to assure the Alcalde of this, and the whole incident is
terminated. Blown over, my dear Concha—blown over!'
He tapped the priest on the shoulder with great good nature.
Indeed, the world seemed sunny enough and free from cares when General
Vincente had to deal with it.
'Yes—yes,' said the Padre, snuff-box in hand. 'Blown over—of
'Then I may send the Alcalde to you, Julia—and you will tell him
what you have told us? He cannot but take the word of a lady.'
'Yes—if you like,' answered Julia.
The General's joy knew no bounds.
'That is well,' he cried, 'I knew we could safely rely upon your
good sense. Kiss me, Julia—that is well! Come, Estella—we must
not keep the horses waiting.'
With a laugh and a nod he went towards the door. 'Blown over, my
dear Concha,' he said over his shoulder.
A few minutes later the priest walked down the avenue of walnut
trees alone. The bell was ringing for vespers, but the Padre was an
autocratic shepherd and did not hurry towards his flock. The sun had
set, and in the hollows of the distant mountains the shades of night
already lay like a blue veil.
The priest walked on and presently reached the high road. A single
figure was upon it—the figure of a man sitting in the shadow of an
ilex tree half a mile up the road towards Bobadilla. The man crouched
low against a heap of stones and had the air of a wanderer. His face
was concealed in the folds of his cloak.
'Blown over,' muttered the Padre as he turned his back upon
Bobadilla and went on towards his church. 'Blown over, of course; but
what is Concepçion Vara doing in the neighbourhood of Ronda to-night?'
CHAPTER XII. ON THE TOLEDO ROAD.
'Une bonne intention est une échelle trop courte.'
Conyngham made his way without difficulty or incident from Xeres to
Cordova, riding for the most part in front of the clumsy diligencia
wherein he had bestowed his luggage. The road was wearisome enough,
and the last stages, through the fertile plains bordering the
Guadalquivir, dusty and monotonous.
At Cordova the traveller found comfortable quarters in an old inn
overlooking the river. The ancient city was then, as it is now, a
great military centre, and the headquarters of the picturesque corps of
horse-tamers, the 'Remonta,' who are responsible for the mounting of
the cavalry and the artillery of Spain. Conyngham had, at the
suggestion of General Vincente, made such small changes in his costume
as would serve to allay curiosity and prevent that gossip of the stable
and kitchen which may follow a traveller to his hurt from one side of a
continent to the other.
'Wherever you may go learn your way in and out of every town, and
you will thus store up knowledge most useful to a soldier,' the General
had said in his easy way.
'See you,' Concepçion had observed, wagging his head over a
cigarette; 'to go about the world with the eyes open is to conquer the
From his guide, moreover, whose methods were those that Nature
teaches to men who live their daily lives in her company, Conyngham
learnt much of that road craft which had raised Concepçion Vara to such
a proud eminence among the rascals of Andalusia. Cordova was a good
object upon which to practise, for Roman and Goth, Moor and Christian,
have combined to make its tortuous streets well-nigh incomprehensible
to the traveller's mind.
Here Conyngham wandered, or else he sat somnolently on a seat in the
Paseo del Gran Capitan in the shade of the orange trees, awaiting the
arrival of Concepçion Vara. He made a few acquaintances, as every
traveller who is not a bear must needs do in a country where politeness
and hospitality and a grave good fellowship are the natural habit of
high and low alike. A bullfighter or two, who beguiled the long winter
months, when the rings are closed, by a little innocent horse dealing,
joined him quietly in the streets and offered him a horse—as between
gentlemen of undoubted honour—at a price much below the current
value. Or it was perhaps a beggar who came to him on the old yellow
marble seat under the orange trees, and chatted affably about his
business as being bad in these times of war. Once, indeed, it was a
white-haired gentleman, who spoke in English, and asked some very
natural questions as to the affairs that brought an Englishman to the
town of Cordova. This sweet-spoken old man explained that strangers
would do well to avoid all questions of politics and religion, which he
classed together in one dangerous whole. Nevertheless, Conyngham
thought that he perceived his ancient friend the same evening hurrying
up the steps of the Jesuit College of La Campania.
Two days elapsed and Concepçion Vara made neither appearance nor
sign. On the second evening Conyngham decided to go on alone,
prosecuting his journey through the sparsely populated valley of the
Alcadia to Ciudad Real, Toledo, and Madrid.
'You will ride,' the innkeeper told him, 'from the Guadalquivir to
the Guadiana, and if there is rain you may be a month upon the road.'
Conyngham set out in the early morning, and as he threw his leg
across the saddle the sun rose over the far misty hills of Ronda, and
Concepçion Vara awoke from his night's rest under the wall of an olive
terrace above the Bobadilla road, to begin another day of patient
waiting and watching to get speech with the maid or the mistress; for
he had already inaugurated what he lightly called 'an affair' with
Julia's flighty attendant. The sun rose also over the plains of Xeres,
and lighted up the picturesque form of Esteban Larralde, in the saddle
this hour and more, having learnt that Colonel Monreal's death took
place an hour before Conyngham's arrival in the town of Xeres de la
Frontera. The letter, therefore, had not been delivered to Colonel
Monreal, and was still in Conyngham's possession.
Larralde bestrode a shocking steed, and had but an indifferent seat
in the saddle. Nevertheless, the dust rose beneath his horse's feet,
and his spurs flashed in the sunlight as this man of many parts hurried
on towards Utrera and Cordova.
In the old Moorish palace in Ronda, General Vincente, summoned to a
great council of war at Madrid, was making curt military preparations
for his journey and the conveyance of his household to the capital.
Señora Barenna was for the moment forgetful of her nerves in the
excitement of despatching servants in advance to Toledo, where she
owned a summer residence. Julia was nervously anxious to be on the
road again, and showed by every word and action that restlessness of
spirit which is the inheritance of hungry hearts. Estella, quiet and
self-contained, attended to the details of moving a vast and formal
household with a certain eagerness which in no way resembled Julia's
feverish haste. Estella seemed to be one of those happy people who
know what they want.
Thus Frederick Conyngham, riding northward alone, seemed to be a
pilot to all these persons into whose lives he had suddenly stepped as
from a side issue, for they were one and all making ready to follow him
to the colder plains of Castile, where existence was full of strife and
ambition, of war and those inner wheels that ever jar and grind where
politicians contend together for the mastery of a moment.
As he rode on, Conyngham left a message from time to time for his
self-appointed servant. At the offices of the diligencias in various
towns on the great road from Cordova to Madrid he left word for
Concepçion Vara to follow, should the spirit of travel be still upon
him, knowing that at these places where travellers were ever passing,
the tittle-tattle of the road was on the tongue of every ostler and
stable help. And truly enough there followed one who made careful
inquiries as to the movements of the Englishman, and heard his messages
with a grim smile. But this was not Concepçion Vara.
It was late one evening when Conyngham, who had quitted Toledo in
the morning, began to hunger for the sight of the towers and steeples
of Madrid. He had ridden all day through the bare country of
Cervantes, where to this day Spain rears her wittiest men and plainest
women. The sun had just set behind the distant hills of Old Castile,
and from the east, over Aranjuez, where the great river cuts Spain in
two parts from its centre to the sea, a grey cloud—a very shade of
night—was slowly rising. The aspect of the brown plains was dismal
enough, and on the horizon the rolling unbroken land seemed to melt
away into eternity and infinite space.
Conyngham reined in and looked around him. So far as eye could
reach, no house arose to testify to the presence of man. No labourer
toiled home to his lonely hut. For, in this country of many wars and
interminable strife, it has, since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, been the
custom of the people to congregate in villages and small townships,
where a common danger secured some protection against a lawless foe.
The road rose and fell in a straight line across the table-land without
tree or hedge, and Madrid seemed to belong to another world, for the
horizon, which was distant enough, bore no sign of cathedral spire or
Conyngham turned in his saddle to look back, and there, not a mile
away, the form of a hurrying horseman broke the bare line of the dusty
road. There was something weird and disturbing in this figure, a
suggestion of pursuit in every line. For this was not Concepçion
Vara. Conyngham would have known him at once. This was one wearing a
better coat; indeed Concepçion preferred to face life and the chances
of the world in shirt sleeves.
Conyngham sat in his saddle awaiting the new-comer. To meet on such
a road in Spain without pausing to exchange a salutation would be a
gratuitous insult, to ride in solitude within hail of another traveller
were to excite or betray the deepest distrust. It was characteristic
of Conyngham that he already waved his hand in salutation, and was
prepared to hail the new-comer as the jolliest companion in the world.
Esteban Larralde, seeing the salutation, gave a short laugh, and
jerked the reins of his tired horse. He himself wore a weary look, as
if the fight he had in hand were an uphill one. He had long recognised
Conyngham; indeed the chase had been one of little excitement, but
rather an exercise of patience and dogged perseverance. He raised his
hat to indicate that the Englishman's gay salutations were perceived,
and pulled the wide brim well forward again.
'He will change his attitude when it becomes apparent who I am,' he
But Conyngham's first word would appear to suggest that Esteban
Larralde was a much less impressive person than he considered himself.
'Why, it's the devout lover!' he cried. 'Señor Larralde, you
remember me, Algeciras, and your pink love letter—deuced fishy love
letter, that; nearly got me into a devil of a row, I can tell you. How
are you, eh?'
And the Englishman rode forward with a jolly laugh and his hand held
out. Larralde took it without enthusiasm. It was rather difficult to
pick a picturesque quarrel with such a person as this. Moreover, the
true conspirator never believes in another man's honesty.
'Who would have expected to meet you here?' went on Conyngham
'It is not so surprising as you think.'
There was no mistaking Larralde's manner, and the Englishman's gay
blue eyes hardened suddenly and rather surprisingly.
'No, I have followed you. I want that letter.'
'Well, as it happens, Señor Larralde, I have not got your letter,
and if I had I am not quite sure that I would give it to you. Your
conduct in the matter has not been over-nice, and, to tell you the
truth, I don't think much of a man who gets strangers and women to do
his dirty work for him.'
Larralde stroked his moustache with a half-furtive air of contempt.
'I should have given the confounded letter to the Alcalde of Ronda
if it had not been that a lady would have suffered for it, and let you
take your chance, Señor Larralde.'
Larralde shrugged his shoulders.
'You would not have given it to the Alcalde of Ronda,' he said in a
sneering voice, 'because you want it yourself. You require it in order
to make your peace with Estella Vincente.'
'We are not going to talk of Señorita Vincente,' said Conyngham
quietly. 'You say you followed me because you wanted that letter. It
is not in my possession. I left it in the house of Colonel Monreal at
Xeres. If you are going on to Madrid, I think I will sit down here and
have a cigarette. If, on the other hand, you propose resting here, I
shall proceed, as it is getting late.'
Conyngham looked at his companion with a nod and a smile which was
not in the least friendly and at the same time quite cheerful. He
seemed to recognise the necessity of quarrelling, but proposed to do so
as light-heartedly as possible. They were both on horseback in the
middle of the road, Larralde a few paces in the direction of Madrid.
Conyngham indicated the road with an inviting wave of the hand.
'Will you go on?' he asked.
Larralde sat looking at him with glittering eyes, and said nothing.
'Then I will continue my journey,' said the Englishman, touching his
horse lightly with the spur. The horse moved on and passed within a
yard of the other. At this moment Larralde rose in his stirrups and
flung himself on one side.
Conyngham gave a sharp cry of pain and threw back his head.
Larralde had stabbed him in the back. The Englishman swayed in the
saddle as if trying to balance himself, his legs bent back from the
knee in the sharpness of a biting pain. The heavy stirrups swung
free. Then, slowly, Conyngham toppled forward and rolled out of the
saddle, falling to the road with a thud.
Larralde watched him with a white face and staring eyes. Then he
looked quickly round over the darkening landscape. There was no one in
sight. This was one of the waste places of the world. Larralde seemed
to remember the Eye that seeth even there, and crossed himself as he
slipped from the saddle to the ground. He was shaking all over. His
face was ashen, for it is a terrible thing to kill a man and be left
alone with him.
Conyngham's eyes were closed. There was blood on his lips. With
hands that shook like leaves Esteban Larralde searched the Englishman,
found nothing, and cursed his ill fortune. Then he stood upright, and
in the dim light his face shone as if he had dipped it in water. He
crept into the saddle and rode on towards Madrid.
It was quite dark when Conyngham recovered consciousness. In
turning him over to search his pockets Larralde had perhaps,
unwittingly, saved his life by placing him in a position that checked
the internal hæmorrhage. What served to bring back the Englishman's
wandering senses was the rumbling of heavy wheels and the crack of a
great whip as a cart laden with hay and drawn by six mules approached
him from the direction of Toledo.
The driver of the team was an old soldier, as indeed were most of
the Castilians at this time, and knew how to handle wounded men. With
great care and a multitude of oaths he lifted Conyngham on to his cart
and proceeded with him to Madrid.
CHAPTER XIII. A WISE IGNORAMUS.
'God help me! I know nothing—can but pray.'
It was Father Concha's custom to attend, at his church between the
hours of nine and ten in the morning, to such wants spiritual or
temporal as individual members of his flock chose to bring to him.
Thus it usually happened that the faithful found the old priest at
nine o'clock sunning himself at the front door of the sacred edifice,
smoking a reflective cigarette and exchanging the time of day with
passers-by or such as had leisure to pause a moment.
'Whether it is body or soul that is in trouble—come to me,' he
would say. 'For the body I can do a little—a very little. I have
twenty pounds a year, and it is not always paid to me, but I sometimes
have a trifle for charity. For the soul I can do a little more.'
After a storm of wind and rain, such as come in the winter-time, it was
no uncommon sight to see the priest sweeping the leaves and dust from
the church steps and using the strongest language at the bootmaker over
the way whose business this was supposed to be.
'See!' he would cry to some passer-by. 'See!—it is thus that our
sacristan does his work. It is for this that the Holy Church pays him
fifteen—or is it twenty?—pesetas each year.'
And the bootmaker would growl and shake his head over his last; for,
like most who have to do with leather, he was a man of small humour.
Here, too, mothers would bring their children—little girls
cowering under their bright handkerchiefs, the mantilla of the poor,
and speak with the Padre of the Confirmation and first Communion which
had lately begun to hang like a cloud over the child's life. Father
Concha would take the child upon his knee as he sat on the low wall at
the side of the steps, and when the mother had left them, would talk
quietly with the lines of his face wonderfully softened, so that before
long the little girl would run home quite happy in mind and no longer
afraid of the great unknown. Here, in the spring time, came the young
men with thoughts appropriate to the season, and sheepish exceedingly;
for they knew that Father Concha knew all about them, and would take an
unfair advantage of his opportunities, refusing probably to perform the
ceremony until he was satisfied as to the ways and means and prudence
of the contracting parties—which of course he had no right to do.
Here came the halt, the lame, the blind, the poor, and also the rich.
Here came the unhappy. They came naturally and often. Here, so the
bootmaker tells, came one morning a ruined man, who after speaking a
few words to the Padre, produced a revolver and tried to shoot
himself. And the Padre fell on him like a wild beast. And they
fought, and fell, and rolled down the steps together into the road,
where they still fought till they were white like millers with dust.
Then at last the Padre got the strong man under him and took the
revolver away and threw it into the ditch. Then he fell to belabouring
the would-be suicide with his fists, until the big man cried for mercy
and received it not.
'You saved his life,' the people said.
'It was his soul that I was caring for,' replied the Padre with his
Concha was not a clever man, but he was wise. Of learning he had
but little. It is easy, however, to be wise without being learned. It
is easier still to be learned without being wise. The world is full of
such persons to-day when education is too cheap. Concha steered his
flock as best he could through the stormy paths of insurrection and
civil war. He ruled with a rod of iron whom he could, and such as were
beyond his reach he influenced by ridicule and a patient tolerance.
True to his cloth, he was the enemy of all progress and distrusted
'The Padre,' said the barber, who was a talker and a radical, 'would
have the world stand still.'
'The Padre,' replied Concha, tenderly drying his chin with a towel,
'would have all barbers attend to their razors. Many are so busy
shouting "Advance!" that they have no breath to ask whither they are
On the whole, perhaps, his autocratic rule was a beneficent one, and
contributed to the happiness of the little northern suburb of Ronda
over which it extended. At all events, he was a watchful guardian of
his flock, and knew every face in his parish.
It thus happened one morning that a strange woman, who had come
quietly into church to pray, attracted his attention as he passed out
after matins. She was a mere peasant and ill clad. The child seated
on a chair by her side and staring with wondering eyes at the simple
altar and stained-glass window had a hungry look.
Concha sat down on the low wall without the doors and awaited the
exit of this devotee who was not of his flock. For though, as he often
said, the good God had intended him for a soldier, his own strong will
and simple faith had in time produced a very passable priest who, with
a grim face, went about doing good.
The woman presently lifted the heavy leathern curtain and let out
into the sunlight a breath of cool, incense-laden air.
She curtsied and paused as if expecting recognition. Concha threw
away his cigarette and raised his hand to his hat. He had not lifted
it except to ladies of the highest quality for some years, out of
regard to symptoms of senile decay which had manifested themselves at
the junction of the brim and the crown.
'Have I not seen your face before, my child?' he said.
'Yes, reverendo. I am of Ronda but have been living in Xeres.'
'Ah! then your husband is no doubt a malcontent?'
The woman burst into tears, burying her face in her hands and
leaning against the wall in an attitude that was still girlish. She
had probably been married at fifteen.
'No, reverendo! He is a thief.'
Concha merely nodded his head. He never had been a man to betray
much pious horror when he heard of ill-doing.
'The two are almost identical,' he said quietly. 'One does what the
other fears to do. And is your husband in prison? Is that why you
have come back? Ah! you women—in foolishness you almost equal the
'No, reverendo. I am come back because he has left me. Sebastian
has run away, and has stolen all his master's property. It was the
Colonel Monreal of Xeres—a good man, reverendo, but a politician.'
'Yes, and he was murdered, as your reverence has no doubt seen in
the newspapers. A week ago it was—the day that the Englishman came
with a letter.'
'What Englishman was that?' inquired Father Concha, brushing some
grains of snuff from his sleeve. 'What Englishman was that, my child?'
'Oh, I do not know! His name is unknown to me, but I could tell he
was English from his manner of speaking. The Colonel had an English
friend who spoke so—one engaged in the sherry in Xeres.'
'Ah yes! And this Englishman, what was he like?'
'He was very tall and straight, like a soldier, and had a moustache
quite light in colour, like straw.'
'Ah yes. The English are so. And he left a letter?'
'A rose-coloured letter—?'
'Yes,' said the woman, looking at him with surprise.
'And tell me what happened afterwards. I may perhaps be able to
help you, my child, if you tell me all you know.'
'And then, reverendo, the police brought back the Colonel who had
been murdered in the streets—and I who had his Excellency's dinner on
the table waiting for him!'
'And Sebastian ate the dinner, reverendo.'
'Your husband appears to be a man of action,' said Concha with a
queer smile. 'And then—'
'Sebastian sent me on a message to the town, and when I came back he
was gone and all his Excellency's possessions were gone—his papers
'Including the letter which the Englishman had left for the Colonel?'
'Yes, reverendo. Sebastian knew that in these times the papers of a
politician may perhaps be sold for money.'
Concha nodded his head reflectively and took a pinch of snuff with
infinite deliberation and enjoyment.
'Yes—assuredly, Sebastian is one of those men who get on in the
world—up to a certain point—and at that point they get hanged.
There is in the universe a particular spot for each man—where we all
think we should like to go if we had the money. For me it is Rome.
Doubtless Sebastian had some such spot, of which he spoke when he was
intoxicated. Where is Sebastian's earthly paradise, think you, my
'He always spoke of Madrid, reverendo.'
'Yes—yes, I can imagine he would.'
'And I have no money to follow him,' sobbed the woman, breaking into
tears again. 'So I came to Ronda, where I am known, to seek it.'
'Ah, foolish woman!' exclaimed the priest severely, and shaking his
finger at her. 'Foolish woman to think of following such a person.
More foolish still is it to weep for a worthless husband, especially in
public, thus, on the church steps, where all may see. All the other
women will be so pleased. It is their greatest happiness to think that
their neighbour's husband is worse than their own. Failure is the
royal road to popularity. Dry your tears, foolish one, before you make
too many friends.'
The woman obeyed him mechanically with a sort of dumb hopelessness.
At this moment a horseman clattered past, coming from Ronda and
hastening in the direction of Bobadilla or perhaps to the Casa
Barenna. He wore his flat-brimmed hat well forward over the eyes, and
kept his gaze fixed upon the road in front. There was a faint
suggestion of assumed absorption in his attitude, as if he knew that
the priest was usually at the church door at this hour, and had no
desire to meet his eye. It was Larralde.
A few minutes later Julia Barenna, who was sitting at her window
watching and waiting—her attitude in life—suddenly rose with eyes
that gleamed and trembling hands. She stood and gazed down into the
valley below, her attention fixed on the form of a horseman slowly
making his way through the olive groves. Then breathlessly she turned
to her mirror.
'At last!' she whispered, her fingers busy with her hair and
mantilla, a thousand thoughts flying through her brain, her heart
throbbing in her breast. In a moment the aspect of the whole world had
changed—in a moment Julia herself was another woman. Ten years
seemed to have rolled away from her heart, leaving her young and
girlish and hopeful again. She gave one last look at herself and
hurried to the door.
It was yet early in the day, and the air beneath the gnarled and
ancient olive trees was cool and fresh as Julia passed under them to
meet her lover. He threw himself out of the saddle when he saw her,
and, leaving his horse loose, ran to meet her. He took her hands and
raised her fingers to his lips with a certain fervour which was sincere
enough. For Larralde loved Julia according to his lights, though he
had another mistress, Ambition, who was with him always and filled his
thoughts, sleeping or waking. Julia, her face all flushed, her eyes
aglow, received his gallant greeting with a sort of breathless
eagerness. She knew she had not Larralde's whole heart, and,
woman-like, was not content with half.
'I have not seen you for nearly a fortnight,' she said.
'Ah!' answered Larralde, who had apparently not kept so strict an
account of the days. 'Ah! yes—I know. But, dearest, I have been
burning the high-roads. I have been almost to Madrid. Ah! Julia, why
did you make such a mistake?'
'What mistake?' she asked with a sudden light of coquetry in her
eyes. She thought he was about to ask her why she loved him. In
former days he had had a pretty turn for such questions.
'In giving the letter to that scoundrel Conyngham—he has betrayed
us, and Spain is no longer safe for me.'
'Are you sure of this?' asked Julia, alert. Had she possessed
Larralde's whole heart she would have been happy enough to take part in
Larralde gave a short laugh and shrugged his shoulders.
'Heaven only knows where the letter is now,' he answered. Julia
unfolded a note and handed it to him. She had received it three weeks
earlier from Concepçion Vara, and it was from Conyngham, saying that he
had left her note at the house of the Colonel.
'The Colonel was dead before Conyngham arrived at Xeres,' said
Larralde shortly. 'And I do not believe he ever left the letter. I
suspected that he had kept it as a little recommendation to the
Christinos under whom he takes service. It would have been the most
natural thing to do. But I have satisfied myself that the letter is
not in his possession.'
'How?' asked Julia with a sudden fear that blanched her face.
Larralde smiled in rather a sickly way and made no answer. He
turned and looked down the avenue.
'I see Father Concha approaching,' he said; 'let us go towards the
CHAPTER XIV. A WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE.
'The woman who loves you is at once your detective and
The old priest was walking leisurely up the avenue towards the Casa
Barenna when the branches of a dwarf ilex were pushed aside, and there
came to him from their leafy concealment, not indeed a wood-nymph, but
Señora Barenna, with her finger at her lips.
'Hush!' she said; 'he is here.'
And from the anxious and excited expression of her face it became
apparent that madame's nerves were astir.
'Who is here?'
'Why, Esteban Larralde, of course.'
'Ah!' said Concha patiently. 'But need we for that hide behind the
bushes and walk on the flower borders? Life would be much simpler,
señora, if people would only keep to the footpath. Less picturesque, I
allow you, but simpler. Shall I climb up a tree?'
The lady cast her eyes up to heaven and heaved an exaggerated sigh.
'Ah—what a tragedy life is!' she whispered, apparently to the
angels, but loud enough for her companion to hear.
'Or a farce,' said Concha, 'according to our reading of the part.
Where is Señor Larralde?'
'Oh, he has gone to the fruit garden with Julia—there is a high
wall all round, and one cannot see. She may be murdered by this time.
I knew he was coming from the manner in which she ran downstairs. She
walks at other times.'
Concha smiled rather grimly.
'She is not the first to do that,' he said, 'and many have stumbled
on the stairs in their haste.'
'Ah! You are a hard man—a terrible man with no heart. And I have
no one to sympathise with me. No one knows what I suffer. I never
sleep at night—not a wink—but lie and think of my troubles. Julia
will not obey me. I have warned her not to rouse me to anger—and she
laughs at me. She persists in seeing this terrible Esteban Larralde—
a Carlist, if you please.'
'We are all as God made us,' said Concha—'with embellishments
added by the Evil One,' he added, in a lower tone.
'And now I am going to see General Vincente. I shall tell him to
send soldiers. This man's presence is intolerable—I am not obeyed in
my own house,' cried the lady. 'I have ordered the carriage to meet me
at the lower gate. I dare not drive away from my own door. Ah! what a
'I will go with you, since you are determined to go,' said Concha.
'What! And leave Julia here with that terrible man?'
'Yes,' answered the priest. 'Happiness is a dangerous thing to
meddle with. There is so little of it in the world, and it lasts so
short a time.'
Señora Barenna indicated by a sigh and her attitude that she had had
no experience in the matter. As a simple fact, she had been enabled
all through her life to satisfy her own desires—the subtlest form of
'Then you would have Julia marry this terrible man,' said the lady,
shielding her face from the sun with the black fan which she always
'I am too old and too stupid to take any active part in my
neighbours' affairs. It is only the young and inexperienced who are
competent to do that,' answered the priest.
'But you say you are fond of Julia.'
'Yes,' said the priest quietly.
'I wonder why.'
'So do I,' he said in a tone that Señora Barenna never understood.
'You are always kinder to her than you are to me,' went on the lady
in her most martyred manner. 'Her penances are always lighter than
mine. You are patient with her and not with me. And I am sure I have
never done you any injury—'
The old Padre smiled. Perhaps he was thinking of those illusions
which she had during the years pulled down one by one—for the greater
peace of his soul.
'There is the carriage,' he said. 'Let us hasten to General
Vincente—if you wish to see him.'
In a few minutes they were rattling along the road, while Esteban
Larralde and Julia sat side by side in the shade of the great wall that
surrounded the fruit garden. And one at least of them was gathering
that quick harvest of love which is like the grass of the field,
inasmuch as to-day it is, and to-morrow is not.
General Vincente was at home. He was one of those men who are happy
in finding themselves where they are wanted. So many have, on the
contrary, the misfortune to be always absent when they are required,
and the world soon learns to progress without them.
'That man—that Larralde is in Ronda,' said Señora Barenna,
bursting in on the General's solitude. Vincente smiled, and
nevertheless exchanged a quick glance with Concha, who confirmed the
news by a movement of his shaggy eyebrows.
'Ah, these young people!' exclaimed the General with a gay little
sigh. 'What it is to be young and in love! But be seated, Iñez—be
seated. Padre—a chair.'
'What do you propose to do?' asked Señora Barenna breathlessly, for
she was stout and agitated and had hurried up the steps.
'When, my dear Iñez—when?'
'But now—with this man in Ronda. You know quite well he is
dangerous. He is a Carlist. It was only the other day that you
received an anonymous letter saying that your life was in danger. Of
course it was from the Carlists, and Larralde has something to do with
it; or that Englishman—that Señor Conyngham with the blue eyes. A
man with blue eyes—bah! Of course he is not to be trusted.'
The receiver of the anonymous warning seemed to be amused.
'A little sweeping, your statements, my dear Iñez. Is it not so?
Now, a lemonade! the afternoon is warm.'
He rose and rang the bell.
'My nerves,' whispered the Señora to Concha. 'My nerves—they are
so easily upset.'
'The liqueurs,' said the General to the servant with perfect gravity.
'You must take steps at once,' urged Señora Barenna when they were
alone again. She was endowed with a magnificent imagination without
much wisdom to hold it in check, and at times persuaded herself that
she was in the midst, and perhaps the leader, of a dangerous whirl of
'I will, my dear Iñez; I will. And we will take a little
maraschino, to collect ourselves, eh?'
And his manner quite indicated that it was he and not Madame Barenna
who was upset. The lady consented, and proceeded to what she took to
be a consultation, which in reality was a monologue. During this she
imparted a vast deal of information, and received none in return, which
is the habit of voluble people, and renders them exceedingly dangerous
to themselves and useful to others.
Presently the two men conducted her to her carriage, with many
'Never fear, Iñez; never fear. He will be gone before you return,'
said the General, with a wave of the hand. He had consented to invite
Julia to accompany Estella and himself to Madrid, where she would be
out of harm's way.
The two men then returned to the General's study, and sat down in
that silence which only grows to perfection on the deep soil of a
long-standing friendship. Vincente was the first to speak.
'I have had a letter from Madrid,' he said, looking gravely at his
companion. 'My correspondent tells me that Conyngham has not yet
presented his letter of introduction, and, so far as is ascertainable,
has not arrived in the capital. He should have been there six weeks
The Padre took a pinch of snuff, and held the box out towards his
companion, who waved it aside. The General was too dainty a man to
indulge in such a habit.
'He possessed no money, so he cannot have fallen a victim to
thieves,' said Concha.
'He was accompanied by a good guide, and an honest enough scoundrel,
so he cannot have lost his way,' observed the General, with a queer
expression of optimistic distress on his face.
'His movements were not always above suspicion—' the priest closed
his snuff-box and laboriously replaced it in the pocket of his cassock.
'That letter—it was a queer business!' and the General laughed.
There was a silence, during which Concha sneezed twice with
enjoyment and more noise than is usually considered necessary.
'And your letter,' he said, carefully folding his handkerchief into
squares; 'that anonymous letter of warning that your life is threatened
- is that true? It is the talk of Ronda.'
'Ah, that!' laughed Vincente. 'Yes, it is true enough. It is not
the first time—a mere incident, that is all.'
'That which the Señora Barenna said just now,' observed the priest
slowly, 'about our English friend—may be true. Sometimes thoughtless
people arrive at a conclusion which eludes more careful minds.'
'Yes—my dear Padre—yes.'
The two grey-headed men looked at each other for a moment in silence.
'And yet you trust him,' said Concha.
'Despite myself, despite my better judgment, my dear friend.'
The priest rose and went to the window which overlooked the garden.
'Estella is in the garden?' he asked, and received no answer.
'I know what you are thinking,' said the General. 'You are thinking
that we should do well to tell Estella of these distressing suspicions.'
'For you it does not matter,' replied the priest. 'It is a mere
incident, as you say. Your life has been attempted before, and you
killed both the men with your own hand, if I recollect aright.'
Vincente shrugged his shoulders and looked rather embarrassed.
'But a woman,' went on Concha, 'cannot afford to trust a man against
her better judgment.'
By way of reply the General rose and rang the bell, requesting the
servant when he answered the summons to ask the señorita to spare a few
moments of her time.
They exchanged no further words until Estella came hurrying into the
room with a sudden flush on her cheeks and something in her dark eyes
that made her father say at once—
'It is not bad news that we have, my child.'
Estella glanced at Concha and said nothing. His wise old eyes
rested for a moment on her face with a little frown of anxiety.
'We have had a visit from the Señora Barenna,' went on the General,
'and she is anxious that we should invite Julia to go to Madrid with
us. It appears that Esteban Larralde is still attempting to force his
attentions on Julia, and is at present in Ronda. You will not object
to her coming with us?'
'Oh no,' said Estella without much interest.
'We have also heard rather disquieting news about our pleasant
friend, Mr. Conyngham,' said the General, examining the tassel of his
sword. 'And I think it is only right to tell you that I fear we have
been deceived in him.'
There was silence for a few moments, and then Vincente spoke again.
'In these times, one is almost compelled to suspect one's nearest
friends. Much harm may be done by being over-trustful, and appearances
are so consistently against Mr. Conyngham that it would be folly to
The General waited for Estella to make some comment, and after a
'He arrived in Ronda under singularly unfortunate circumstances, and
I was compelled to have his travelling companion shot. Then occurred
that affair of the letter, which he gave to Julia—an affair which has
never been explained. Conyngham would have to show me that letter
before I should be quite satisfied. I obtained for him an introduction
to General Espartero in Madrid. That was six or seven weeks ago. The
introduction has not been presented, nor has Conyngham been seen in
Madrid. In England, on his own confession, he was rather a scamp; why
not the same in Spain?'
The General spread out his hands in his favourite gesture of
deprecation. He had not made the world, and while deeply deploring
that such things could be, he tacitly admitted that the human race had
not been, creatively speaking, a complete success.
Father Concha was brushing invisible grains of snuff from his
cassock sleeve and watching Estella with anxious eyes.
'I only tell you, my dear,' continued the General, 'so that we may
know how to treat Mr. Conyngham should we meet him in Madrid. I liked
him. I like a roving man—and many Englishmen are thus wanderers—
but appearances are very much against him.'
'Yes,' admitted Estella quietly. 'Yes.'
She moved towards the door, and there turning looked at Concha.
'Does the Padre stay to dinner?' she asked.
'No, my child, thank you. No; I have affairs at home.'
Estella went out of the room, leaving a queer silence behind her.
Presently Concha rose.
'I, too, am going to Madrid,' he said. 'It is an opportunity to
press my claim for the payment of my princely stipend, now two years
He walked home on the shady side of the street, exchanging many
salutations, pausing now and then to speak to a friend. Indeed, nearly
every passer-by counted himself as such. In his bare room, where the
merest necessities of life scarce had place, he sat down thoughtfully.
The furniture, the few books, his own apparel, bespoke the direst
poverty. This was one who in his simplicity read his Master's words
quite literally, and went about his work with neither purse nor scrip.
The priest presently rose and took from a shelf an old wooden box
quaintly carved and studded with iron nails. A search in the drawer of
the table resulted in the finding of a key and the final discovery of a
small parcel at the bottom of the box which contained letters and other
'The rainy day—it comes at last,' said the Padre Concha, counting
out his little stock of silver with the care that only comes from the
knowledge that each coin represents a self-denial.
CHAPTER XV. AN ULTIMATUM.
'I do believe yourself against yourself.'
Neither Estella nor her father had a great liking for the city of
Madrid, which indeed is at no time desirable. In the winter it is
cold, in the summer exceedingly hot, and during the changes of the
seasons of a treacherous weather difficult to surpass. The social
atmosphere was no more genial at the period with which we deal. For it
blew hot and cold, and treachery marked every change.
Although the Queen Regent seemed to be nearing at last a successful
issue to her long and eventful struggle against Don Carlos, she had
enemies nearer home whose movements were equally dangerous to the
throne of the child queen.
'I cannot afford to have an honest soldier so far removed from the
capital,' said Christina, who never laid aside the woman while playing
the Queen, as Vincente kissed her hand on presenting himself at Court.
The General smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
'What did she say? What did she say?' the intriguers whispered
eagerly as the great soldier made his way towards the door, with the
haste of one who was no courtier. But they received no answer.
The General had taken a suite of rooms in one of the hotels on the
Puerta del Sol, and hurried thither, well pleased do have escaped so
easily from a palace where self-seeking—the grim spirit that haunts
the abodes of royalty—had long reigned supreme. There was, the
servants told him, a visitor in the salon—one who had asked for the
General, and on learning of his absence had insisted on being received
by the señorita.
'That sounds like Conyngham,' muttered the General, unbuckling his
sword—for he had but one weapon, and wore it in the presence of the
Queen and her enemies alike.
It was indeed Conyngham, whose gay laugh Vincente heard before he
crossed the threshold of Estella's drawing-room. The Englishman was in
uniform, and stood with his back turned towards the door by which the
'It is Señor Conyngham,' said Estella at once, in a quiet voice,
'who has been wounded and six weeks in the hospital.'
'Yes,' said Conyngham. 'But I am well again now! And I got my
appointment while I was still in the Sisters' care.'
He laughed, though his face was pale and thin, and approached the
General with extended hand. The General had come to Madrid with the
intention of refusing to take that hand, and those who knew him said
that this soldier never swerved from his purpose. He looked for a
moment into Conyngham's eyes, and then shook hands with him. He did
not disguise the hesitation, which was apparent to both Estella and the
'How were you wounded?' he asked.
'I was stabbed in the back on the Toledo road, ten miles from here.'
'Not by a robber—not for your money?'
'No one ever hated me or cared for me on that account,' laughed
'Then who did it?' asked General Vincente, unbuttoning his gloves.
'A man with whom I quarrelled on the road,' he made reply; but it
was no answer at all, as hearers and speaker alike recognised in a
flash of thought.
'He left me for dead on the road, but a carter picked me up and
brought me to Madrid, to the hospital of the Hermanas, where I have
been ever since.'
There were flowers on the table, and the General stooped over them
with a delicate appreciation of their scent. He was a great lover of
flowers, and indeed had a sense of the beautiful quite out of keeping
with the colour of his coat.
'You must beware,' he said, 'now that you wear the Queen's uniform.
There is treachery abroad, I fear. Even I have had an anonymous letter
'I should like to know who wrote it,' exclaimed Conyngham, with a
sudden flash of anger in his eyes. The General laughed pleasantly.
'So should I,' he said. 'Merely as a matter of curiosity.'
And he turned towards the door, which was opened at this moment by a
'A gentleman wishing to see me—an Englishman, as it would appear,'
he continued, looking at the card.
'By the way,' said Conyngham, as the General moved away, 'I am
instructed to inform you that I am attached to your staff as extra
aide-de-camp during your stay in Madrid.'
The General nodded and left Estella and Conyngham alone in the
drawing-room. Conyngham turned on Estella.
'So that I have a right to be near you,' he said, 'which is all that
He spoke lightly enough, as was his habit; but Estella, who was wise
in those matters that women know, preferred not to meet his eyes, which
were grave and deep.
'Such things are quickly said,' Estella retorted.
'Yes—and it takes a long time to prove them.'
The General had left his gloves on the table. Estella took them up
and appeared to be interested in them. 'Perhaps a lifetime,' she
'I ask no less, señorita.'
'Then you ask much.'
'And I give all—though that is little enough.'
They spoke slowly—not bandying words but exchanging thoughts.
Estella was grave. Conyngham's attitude was that which he ever
displayed to the world—namely, one of cheerful optimism, as behoved a
strong man who had not yet known fear.
'Is it too little, señorita?' he asked.
She was sitting at the table and would not look up—neither would
she answer his question. He was standing quite close to her—upright
in his bright uniform, his hand on his sword—and all her attention
was fixed on the flowers which had called forth the General's unspoken
admiration. She touched them with fingers hardly lighter than his.
'Now that I think of it,' said Conyngham after a pause, 'what I give
Estella's face wore a queer little smile, as of a deeper knowledge.
'Nothing at all,' continued the Englishman. 'For I have nothing to
give, and you know nothing of me.'
'Three months ago,' answered Estella, 'we had never heard of you—
and you had never seen me,' she added, with a little laugh.
'I have seen nothing else since,' Conyngham replied deliberately;
'for I have gone about the world a blind man.'
'In three months one cannot decide matters that affect a whole
lifetime,' said the girl.
'This matter decided itself in three minutes, so far as I am
concerned, señorita, in the old palace at Ronda. It is a matter that
time is powerless to affect one way or the other.'
'With some people; but you are hasty and impetuous. My father said
it of you—and he is never mistaken.'
'Then you do not trust me, señorita?'
Estella had turned away her face so that he could only see her
mantilla and the folds of her golden hair gleaming through the black
lace. She shrugged her shoulders.
'It is not due to yourself, nor to all who know you in Spain, if I
do,' she said.
'All who know me?'
'Yes,' she continued; 'Father Concha, Señora Barenna, my father, and
others at Ronda.'
'Ah! And what leads them to mistrust me?'
'Your own actions,' replied Estella.
And Conyngham was too simple-minded, too inexperienced in such
matters, to understand the ring of anxiety in her voice.
'I do not much mind what the rest of the world thinks of me,' he
said; 'I have never owed anything to the world nor asked anything from
it. They are welcome to think what they like. But with you it is
different. Is it possible, señorita, to make you trust me?'
Estella did not answer at once. After a pause she gave an
indifferent jerk of the head.
'Perhaps,' she said.
'If it is possible, I will do it.'
'It is quite easy,' she answered, raising her head and looking out
of the window with an air that seemed to indicate that her interests
lay without and not in this room at all.
'How can I do it?'
She gave a short, hard laugh, which to experienced ears would have
betrayed her instantly.
'By showing me the letter you wrote to Julia Barenna,' she said.
'I cannot do that.'
'No,' she said significantly. A woman fighting for her own
happiness is no sparing adversary.
'Will nothing else than the sight of that letter satisfy you,
Her profile was turned towards him—delicate and proud, with the
perfect chiselling of outline that only comes with a long descent, and
bespeaks the blood of gentle ancestors. For Estella Vincente had in
her veins blood that was counted noble in Spain—the land of a bygone
'Nothing,' she answered. 'Though the question of my being satisfied
is hardly of importance. You asked me to trust you, and you make it
difficult by your actions. In return I ask a proof, that is all.'
'Do you want to trust me?'
He had come a little closer to her, and was grave enough now.
'Why do you ask that?' she inquired in a low voice.
'Do you want to trust me?' he asked, and it is to be supposed that
he was able to detect an infinitesimal acquiescent movement of her head.
'Then, if that letter is in existence, you shall have it,' he said.
'You say that my actions have borne evidence against me. I shall trust
to action and not to words to refute that evidence. But you must give
me time—will you do that?'
'You always ask something.'
'Yes, señorita, from you; but from no one else in the world.'
He gave a sudden laugh and walked to the window, where he stood
looking at her.
'I suppose,' he said, 'I shall be asking all my life from you.
Perhaps that is why we were created, señorita—I to ask, you to give.
Perhaps that is happiness, Estella.'
She raised her eyes but did not meet his, looking past him through
the open window. The hotel was situated at the lower end of the Puerta
del Sol—the quiet end, and farthest removed from the hum of the
market and the busy sounds of traffic. These only came in the form of
a distant hum, like the continuous roar of surf upon an unseen shore.
Below the windows a passing waterseller plied his trade, and his
monotonous cry of 'Agua-a-a! Agua-a-a!' rose like a wail—like the
voice of one crying in that human wilderness where solitude reigns as
surely as in the desert.
For a moment Estella glanced at Conyngham gravely, and his eyes were
no less serious. They were not the first, but only two out of many
millions, to wonder what happiness is and where it hides in this busy
They had not spoken or moved when the door was again opened by a
servant, who bowed towards Conyngham and then stood aside to allow
ingress to one who followed on his heels. This was a tall man,
white-haired, and white of face. Indeed, his cheeks had the dead
pallor of paper, and seemed to be drawn over the cheekbones at such
tension as gave to the skin a polish like that of fine marble. One
sees many such faces in London streets, and they usually indicate
suffering, either mental or physical.
The stranger came forward with a perfect lack of embarrassment,
which proved him to be a man of the world. His bow to Estella clearly
indicated that his business lay with Conyngham. He was the incarnation
of the Continental ideal of the polished cold Englishman, and had the
air of a diplomate such as this country sends to foreign Courts to
praise or blame, to declare friendship or war with the same calm
suavity and imperturbable politeness.
'I come from General Vincente,' he said to Conyngham, 'who will
follow in a moment, when he has despatched some business which detains
him. I have a letter to the General, and am, in fact, in need of his
He broke off, turning to Estella, who was moving towards the door.
'I was especially instructed,' he said quickly to her, 'to ask you
not to leave us. You were, I believe, at school with my nieces in
England, and when my business, which is of the briefest, is concluded,
I have messages to deliver to you from Mary and Amy Mainwaring.'
Estella smiled a little and resumed her seat. Then the stranger
turned to Conyngham.
'The General told me,' he went on in his cold voice, without a gleam
of geniality or even of life in his eyes, 'that if I followed the
servant to the drawing-room I should find here an English aide-de-camp
who is fully in his confidence, and upon whose good-nature and
assistance I could rely.'
'I am for the time General Vincente's aide-de-camp, and I am an
Englishman,' answered Conyngham.
The stranger bowed.
'I did not explain my business to General Vincente,' said he, 'who
asked me to wait until he came, and then tell the story to you both at
one time. In the meantime I was to introduce myself to you.'
Conyngham waited in silence.
'My name is Sir John Pleydell,' said the stranger quietly.
CHAPTER XVI. IN HONOUR.
'He makes no friend who never made a foe.'
Conyngham remembered the name of Pleydell well enough, and glanced
sharply at Estella, recollecting that the General received the 'Times'
from London. Before he had time to make an answer, and indeed he had
none ready, the General came into the room.
'Ah!' said Vincente in his sociable manner, 'I see you know each
other already—so an introduction is superfluous. And now we will
have Sir John's story. Be seated, my dear sir. But first—a little
refreshment. It is a dusty day—a lemonade?'
Sir John declined, his manner strikingly cold and reserved beside
the genial empressement of General Vincente. In truth the two
men seemed to belong to opposite poles—the one of cold and the other
of heat. Sir John had the chill air of one who had mixed among his
fellow men only to see their evil side; for the world is a cold place
to those that look on it with a chilling glance. General Vincente, on
the other hand, whose life had been passed in strife and warfare,
seemed ready to welcome all comers as friends and to hold out the hand
of good-fellowship to rich and poor alike.
Conyngham shrugged his shoulders with a queer smile. Here was a
quandary requiring a quicker brain than his. He did not even attempt
to seek a solution to his difficulties, and the only thought in his
mind was a characteristic determination to face them courageously. He
drew forward a chair for Sir John Pleydell, his heart stirred with that
sense of exhilaration which comes to some in moments of peril.
'I will not detain you long,' began the new-comer, with an air
slightly suggestive of the law court, 'but there are certain details
which I am afraid I must inflict upon you, in order that you may fully
understand my actions.'
The remark was addressed to General Vincente, although the speaker
appeared to be demanding Conyngham's attention in the first instance.
The learned gentlemen of the Bar thus often address the jury through
the ears of the judge.
General Vincente had seated himself at the table and was drawing his
scented pocket-handkerchief across his moustache reflectively. He was
not, it was obvious, keenly interested, although desirous of showing
every politeness to the stranger. In truth, such Englishmen as brought
their affairs to Spain at this time were not as a rule highly desirable
persons or a credit to their country. Estella was sitting near the
window, rather behind her father, and Conyngham stood by the fireplace,
facing them all.
'You perhaps know something of our English politics,' continued Sir
John Pleydell, and the General making a little gesture indicative of a
limited but sufficient knowledge, went on to say—'of the Chartists
The General bowed. Estella glanced at Conyngham, who was smiling.
'One cannot call them a party, as I have heard them designated in
Spain,' said Sir John parenthetically. 'They are quite unworthy of so
distinguished a name. These Chartists consist of the most ignorant
people in the land—the rabble, in fact, headed by a few scheming
malcontents: professional agitators who are not above picking the
pockets of the poor. Many capitalists and landowners have suffered
wrong and loss at the hands of these disturbers of the peace, none—'
He paused and gave a sharp sigh which seemed to catch him unawares, and
almost suggested that the man had, after all, or had at one time
possessed, a heart. 'None more severely than myself,' he concluded.
The General's face instantly expressed the utmost concern.
'My dear sir,' he murmured.
'For many years,' continued Sir John hurriedly, as if resenting
anything like sympathy, as all good Britons do, 'the authorities acted
in an irresolute and foolish manner, not daring to put down the
disturbances with a firm hand. At length, however, a riot of a more
serious character at a town in Wales necessitated the interference of
the military. The ringleaders were arrested, and for some time the
authorities were in considerable doubt as to what to do to them. I
interested myself strongly in the matter—having practised the law in
my younger days—and was finally enabled to see my object carried
out. These men were arraigned, not as mere brawlers and rioters, but
under a charge of high treason—a much more serious affair for them.'
He broke off with a harsh laugh, which was only a matter of the
voice, for his marble face remained unchanged, and probably had not at
any time the power of expressing mirth.
'The ringleaders of the Newport riots were sentenced to long terms
of imprisonment, which served my purpose excellently.'
Sir John Pleydell spoke with that cynical frankness which seems
often to follow upon a few years devoted to practice at the Common Law
Bar, where men in truth spend their days in dissecting the mental
diseases of their fellow creatures, and learn to conclude that a pure
and healthy mind is possessed by none. He moved slightly in his chair,
and seemed to indicate that he had made his first point.
'I hope,' he said, addressing Conyngham directly, 'that I am not
'Not at all,' returned the younger Englishman coolly; 'I am much
The General was studying the texture of his pocket-handkerchief.
Estella's face had grown cold and set. Her eyes from time to time
turned towards Conyngham. Sir John Pleydell was not creating a good
'I will now come to the more personal part of my story,' went on
that gifted speaker, 'and proceed to explain my reason for inflicting
it upon you.'
He still spoke directly to Conyngham, who bowed his head in silence,
with the queer smile still hovering on his lips. Estella saw it and
drew a sharp breath. In the course of her short life, which had almost
been spent in the midst of warfare, she had seen men in danger more
than once, and perhaps recognised that smile.
'I particularly beg your attention,' explained Sir John to
Conyngham, 'because I understand from General Vincente that you are in
reality attached to the staff of General Espartero, and it is to him
that I look for help.'
Sir John paused again. He had established another point. One
almost expected to see him raise his hand to his shoulder to throw back
the silken gown.
'Some months ago,' he went on, 'these Chartists attacked my house in
the North of England, and killed my son.'
There was a short silence, and the General muttered a curt and
polite Spanish oath under his breath. But somehow the speaker had
failed to make that point, and he hurried on.
'It was not, technically speaking, a murder; my boy, who had a fine
spirit, attacked the rioters, and a clever counsel might have got a
verdict for the scoundrel who actually struck the blow. I knew this,
and awaited events. I did not even take steps against the man who
killed my son—an only son and child. It was not, from a legal point
of view, worth while.'
He laughed his unpleasant laugh again and presently went on.
'Fortune, however, favoured me. The trouble grew worse, and the
Newport riots at last aroused the Government. The sentence upon the
ringleaders gave me my opportunity. It was worth while to hunt down
the murderer of my son when I could ensure him sixteen or twenty years'
'Quite,' said the General; 'quite.' And he smiled. He seemed to
fail to realise that Sir John Pleydell was in deadly earnest, and
really harboured the implacable spirit of revenge with which he
cynically credited himself.
'I traced my man to Gibraltar, and thence he appears to have come
north,' continued Sir John Pleydell. 'He has probably taken service
under Espartero—many of our English outlaws wear the Spanish Queen's
uniform. He is, of course, bearing an assumed name; but surely it
would be possible to trace him?'
'Oh, yes,' answered Conyngham, 'I think you will be able to find
Sir John's eyes had for a moment a gleam of life in them.
'Ah!' he said, 'I am glad to hear you say that. For that is my
object in coming to this country; and although I have during the course
of my life had many objects of ambition or desire, none of them has so
entirely absorbed my attention as this one. Half a dozen men have gone
to penal servitude in order that I might succeed in my purpose.'
There was a cold deliberation in this statement which was more cruel
than cynicism, for it was sincere. Conyngham looked at Estella. Her
face had lost all colour, her eyes were burning—not with the dull
light of fear, for the blood that ran in her veins had no taint of that
in it—but with anger. She knew who it was that Sir John Pleydell
sought. She looked at Conyngham, and his smile of cool intrepidity
made her heart leap within her breast. This lover of hers was at all
events a brave man—and that which through all the ages reaches the
human heart most surely is courage. The coward has no friends.
Sir John Pleydell had paused, and was seeking something in his
pocket. General Vincente preserved his attitude of slightly bored
'I have here,' went on the baronet, 'a list of the English officers
serving in the army of General Espartero at the time of my quitting
England. Perhaps you will, at your leisure, be kind enough to cast
your eye over it, and make a note of such men as are personally unknown
to you, and may therefore be bearing assumed names.'
Conyngham took the paper, and, holding it in his hand, spoke without
moving from the mantelpiece against which he leant.
'You have not yet made quite clear your object in coming to Spain,'
he said. 'There exists between Spain and England no extradition
treaty; and even if such were to come in force I believe that persons
guilty of political offences would be exempt from its action. You
propose to arraign this man for high treason—a political offence
according to the law of many countries.'
'You speak like a lawyer,' said Sir John, with a laugh.
'You have just informed us,' retorted Conyngham, 'that all the
English in the Spanish service are miscreants. None know the law so
intimately as those who have broken it.'
'Ah!' laughed Sir John again, with a face of stone. 'There are
exceptions to all rules—and you, young sir, are an exception to that
which I laid down as regards our countrymen in Spain, unless my
experience of faces and knowledge of men play me very false. But your
contention is a just one. I am not in a position to seek the aid of
the Spanish authorities in this matter. I am fully aware of the fact.
You surely did not expect me to come to Spain with such a weak case as
'No,' answered Conyngham slowly, 'I did not.'
Sir John Pleydell raised his eyes and looked at his fellow
countryman with a dawning interest. The General also looked up, from
one face to the other. The atmosphere of the room seemed to have
undergone a sudden change, and to be dominated by the personality of
these two Englishmen. The one will, strong on the surface, accustomed
to assert itself and dominate, seemed suddenly to have found itself
faced by another as strong and yet hidden behind an easy smile and
'You are quite right,' he went on in his cold voice. 'I have a
better case than that, and one eminently suited to a country such as
Spain, where a long war has reduced law and order to a somewhat low
ebb. I at first thought of coming here to await my chance of shooting
this man—his name, by the way, is Frederick Conyngham; but
circumstances placed a better vengeance within my grasp—one that will
He paused for a moment to reflect upon this long-drawn-out expiation.
'I propose to get my man home to England, and let him there stand
his trial. The idea is not my own; it has, in fact, been carried out
successfully before now. Once in England I shall make it my business
to see that he gets twenty years' penal servitude.'
'And how do you propose to get him to England?' asked Conyngham.
'Oh! that is simple enough. Only a matter of paying a couple of
such scoundrels as I understand abound in Spain at this moment—a
little bribing of officials, a heavy fee to some English ship-captain.
I propose, in short, to kidnap Frederick Conyngham. But I do not ask
you to help me in that. I only ask you to put me on his track—to
help me to find him, in fact. Will you do it?'
'Certainly,' said Conyngham, coming forward with a card in his
hand. 'You could not have come to a better man.'
Sir John Pleydell read the card, and had himself in such control
that his face hardly changed. His teeth closed over his lower lip for
a second; then he rose. The perspiration stood out on his face—the
grey of his eyes seemed to have faded to the colour of ashes. He
looked hard at Conyngham, and then, taking up his hat, went to the door
with curious, uneven steps. On the threshold he turned.
'Your insolence,' he said breathlessly, 'is only exceeded by your—
As the door closed behind him there came, from that part of the room
where General Vincente sat, a muffled click of steel, as if a sword
half out of its scabbard had been sent softly home again.
CHAPTER XVII. IN MADRID.
'Some keepeth silence knowing his time.'
'Who travels slowly may arrive too late,' said the Padre Concha,
with a pessimistic shake of the head, as the carrier's cart in which he
had come from Toledo drew up in the Plazuela de la Cebada at Madrid.
The careful penury of many years had not, indeed, enabled the old
priest to travel by the quick diligences, which had often passed him on
the road with a cloud of dust and the rattle of six horses. The great
journey had been accomplished in the humbler vehicles plying from town
to town, that ran as often as not by night in order to save the horses.
The priest, like his fellow-travellers, was white with dust. Dust
covered his cloak so that its original hue of rusty black was quite
lost. Dust coated his face and nestled in the deep wrinkles of it.
His eyebrows were lost to sight, and his lashes were like those of a
As he stood in the street the dust arose in whirling columns and
enveloped all who were abroad; for a gale was howling across the
tableland, which the Moors of old had named 'Majerit'—a draught of
wind. The conductor, who, like a good and jovial conductor, had never
refused an offer of refreshment on the road, was now muddled with drink
and the heat of the sun. He was, in fact, engaged in a warm
controversy with a passenger. So the Padre found his own humble
portmanteau, a thing of cardboard and canvas, and trudged up the Calle
de Toledo, bearing the bag in one hand and his cloak in the other—a
lean figure in the sunlight.
Father Concha had been in Madrid before, though he rarely boasted of
it, or indeed of any of his travels.
'The wise man does not hang his knowledge on a hook,' he was in the
habit of saying.
That this knowledge was of that useful description which is usually
designated as knowing one's way about, soon became apparent; for the
dusty traveller passed with unerring steps through the narrower streets
that lie between the Calle de Toledo and the street of Segovia. Here
dwell the humbler citizens of Madrid, persons engaged in the small
commerce of the marketplace, for in the Plazuela de la Cebada a hundred
yards away is held the corn market, which, indeed, renders the dust in
this quarter particularly trying to the eyes. Once or twice the priest
was forced to stop at the corner of two streets and there do battle
with the wind.
'But it is a hurricane,' he muttered; 'a hurricane.'
With one hand he held his hat, with the other clung to his cloak and
'But it will blow the dust from my poor old capa,' he added, giving
the cloak an additional shake.
He presently found himself in a street which, if narrower than its
neighbours, smelt less pestiferous. The open drain that ran down the
middle of it pursued its varied course with a quite respectable speed.
In the middle of the street Father Concha paused and looked up, nodding
as if to an old friend at the sight of a dingy piece of palm bound to
the ironwork of a balcony on the second floor.
'The time to wash off the dust,' he muttered as he climbed the
narrow stairs, 'and then to work.'
An hour later he was afoot again in a quarter of the city which was
less known to him—namely, in the Calle Preciados, where he sought a
venta more or less suspected by the police. The wind had risen, and
was now blowing with the force of a hurricane. It came from the
north-west with a chill whistle which bespoke its birthplace among the
peaks of the Gaudarramas. The streets were deserted; the oil lamps
swung on their chains at the street corners, casting weird shadows that
swept over the face of the houses with uncanny irregularity. It was an
evening for evil deeds, except that when Nature is in an ill-humour
human nature is mostly cowed, and those who have bad consciences cannot
rid their minds of thoughts of the hereafter.
The priest found the house he sought, despite the darkness of the
street and the absence of any from whom to elicit information. The
venta was on the ground-floor, and above it towered storey after
storey, built with the quaint fantasy of the middle ages, and
surmounted by a deep, overhanging gabled roof. The house seemed to
have two staircases of stone and two doors—one on each side of the
venta. There is a Spanish proverb which says that the rat which has
only one hole is soon caught. Perhaps the architect remembered this,
and had built his house to suit his tenants. It was on the fifth floor
of this tenement that Father Concha, instructed by Heaven knows what
priestly source of information, looked to meet with Sebastian, the
whilom bodyservant of the late Colonel Monreal of Xeres.
It was known among a certain section of the Royalists that this man
had papers and perchance some information of value to dispose of, and
more than one respectable, black-clad elbow had brushed the greasy
walls of this staircase. Sebastian, it was said, passed his time in
drinking and smoking. The boasted gaieties of Madrid had, it would
appear, diminished to this sordid level of dissipation.
The man was, indeed, thus occupied when the old priest opened the
door of his room.
'Yes,' he answered in a thick voice, 'I am Sebastian of Xeres, and
no other; the man who knows more of the Carlist plots than any other in
'Can you read?'
'Then you know nothing,' said the Padre. 'You have, however, a
letter in a pink envelope which a friend of mine desires to possess.
It is a letter of no importance, of no political value—a love letter,
'Ah, yes! Ah, yes! That may be, reverendo. But there are others
who want it—your love letter.'
'I offer you, on the part of my friend, a hundred pesetas for this
The priest's wrinkled face wore a grim smile. It was so little—a
hundred pesetas, the price of a dinner for two persons at one of the
great restaurants on the Puerta del Sol. But to Father Concha the sum
represented five hundred cups of black coffee denied to himself in the
evening at the cafe—five hundred packets of cigarettes, so-called of
Havana, unsmoked—two new cassocks in the course of twenty years—a
hundred little gastronomic delights sternly resisted season after
'Not enough, your hundred pesetas, reverendo, not enough,' laughed
the man. And Concha, who could drive as keen a bargain as any
market-woman of Ronda, knew by the manner of saying it that Sebastian
only spoke the truth when he said that he had other offers.
'See, reverendo,' the man went on, leaning across the table and
banging a dirty fist upon it, 'come to-night at ten o'clock. There are
others coming at the same hour to buy my letter in the pink envelope.
We will have an auction, a little auction, and the letter goes to the
highest bidder. But what does your reverence want with a love letter,
'I will come,' said the Padre, and, turning, he went home to count
his money once more.
There are many living still who remember the great gale of wind
which was now raging, and through which Father Concha struggled back to
the Calle Preciados as the city clocks struck ten. Old men and women
still tell how the theatres were deserted that night and the great
cafés wrapt in darkness. For none dare venture abroad amid such whirl
and confusion. Concha, however, with that lean strength that comes
from a life of abstemiousness and low-living, crept along in the shadow
of the houses and reached his destination unhurt. The tall house in
the alley leading from the Calle Preciados to the Plazuela Santa Maria
was dark, as indeed were most of the streets of Madrid this night. A
small moon struggled, however, through the riven clouds at times, and
cast streaks of light down the narrow streets. Concha caught sight of
the form of a man in the alley before him. The priest carried no
weapon, but he did not pause. At this moment a gleam of light aided
'Señor Conyngham!' he said. 'What brings you here?'
And the Englishman turned sharply on his heel.
'Is that you—Father Concha, of Ronda?' he asked.
'No other, my son.'
Standing in the doorway Conyngham held out his hand with that air of
good-fellowship which he had not yet lost amid the more formal
'Hardly the night for respectable elderly gentlemen of your cloth to
be in the streets,' he said; whereat Concha, who had a keen
appreciation of such small pleasantries, laughed grimly.
'And I have not even the excuse of my cloth. I am abroad on worldly
business, and not even my own. I will be honest with you, Señor
Conyngham. I am here to buy that malediction of a letter in a pink
envelope. You remember—in the garden at Ronda, eh?'
'Yes, I remember; and why do you want that letter?'
'For the sake of Julia Barenna.'
'Ah! I want it for the sake of Estella Vincente.'
Concha laughed shortly.
'Yes,' he said. 'It is only up to the age of twenty-five that men
imagine themselves to be the rulers of the world. But we need not bid
against each other, my son. Perhaps a sight of the letter before I
destroy it would satisfy the señorita.'
'No, we need not bid against each other,' began Conyngham; but the
priest dragged him back into the doorway with a quick whisper of
Someone was coming down the other stairway of the tall house, with
slow and cautious steps. Conyngham and his companion drew back to the
foot of the stairs and waited. It became evident that he who descended
the steps did so without a light. At the door he seemed to stop,
probably making sure that the narrow alley was deserted. A moment
later he hurried past the door where the two men stood. The moon was
almost clear, and by its light both the watchers recognised Larralde in
a flash of thought. The next instant Esteban Larralde was running for
his life with Frederick Conyngham on his heels.
The lamp at the corner of the Calle Preciados had been shattered
against the wall by a gust of wind, and both men clattered through a
slough of broken glass. Down the whole length of the Preciados but one
lamp was left alight, and the narrow street was littered with tiles and
fallen bricks, for many chimneys had been blown down, and more than one
shutter lay in the roadway, torn from its hinges by the hurricane. It
was at the risk of life that any ventured abroad at this hour and amid
the whirl of falling masonry. Larralde and Conyngham had the Calle
Preciados to themselves—and Larralde cursed his spurs, which rang out
at each footfall, and betrayed his whereabouts.
A dozen times the Spaniard fell, but before his pursuer could reach
him, the same obstacle threw Conyngham to the ground. A dozen times
some falling object crashed to earth on the Spaniard's heels, and the
Englishman leapt aside to escape the rebound. Larralde was fleet of
foot despite his meagre limbs, and leapt over such obstacles as he
could perceive, with the agility of a monkey. He darted into the
lighted doorway—the entrance to the palatial mansion of an upstart
politician. The large doors were thrown open, and the hall-porter
stood in full livery awaiting the master's carriage. Larralde was
already in the patio, and Conyngham ran through the marble-paved
entrance hall, before the porter realised what was taking place. There
was no second exit as the fugitive had hoped—so it was round the
patio and out again into the dark street, leaving the hall-porter
Larralde turned sharply to the right as soon as he gained the Calle
Preciados. It was a mere alley running the whole way round a church—
and here again was solitude, but not silence, for the wind roared among
the chimneys overhead as it roars through a ship's rigging at sea. The
Calle Preciados again! and a momentary confusion among the tables of a
café that stood upon the pavement, amid upturned chairs and a fallen,
flapping awning. The pace was less killing now, but Larralde still
held his own—one hand clutched over the precious letter regained at
last—and Conyngham was conscious of a sharp pain where the Spaniard's
knife had touched his lung.
Larralde ran mechanically with open mouth and staring eyes. He
never doubted that death was at his heels, should he fail to distance
the pursuer. For he had recognised Conyngham in the patio of the great
house, and as he ran the vague wonder filled his mind whether the
Englishman carried a knife. What manner of death would it be if that
long arm reached him? Esteban Larralde was afraid. His own life—
Julia's life—the lives of a whole Carlist section were at stake. The
history of Spain, perhaps of Europe, depended on the swiftness of his
The little crescent moon was shining clearly now between the
long-drawn rifts of the rushing clouds. Larralde turned to the right
again, up a narrow street which seemed to promise a friendly darkness.
The ascent was steep, and the Spaniard gasped for breath as he ran—
his legs were becoming numb. He had never been in this street before,
and knew not whither it led. But it was at all events dark and
deserted. Suddenly he fell upon a heap of bricks and rubbish, a whole
stack of chimneys. He could smell the soot. Conyngham was upon him,
touched him, but failed to get a grip. Larralde was afoot in an
instant, and fell heavily down the far side of the barricade. He
gained a few yards again, and, before Conyngham's eyes, was suddenly
swallowed up in a black mass of falling masonry. It was more than a
chimney this time; nothing less than a whole house carried bodily to
the ground by the fall of the steeple of the church of Santa Maria del
Monte. Conyngham stopped dead, and threw his arms over his head. The
crash was terrific, deafening—and for a few moments the Englishman
was stunned. He opened his eyes and closed them again, for the dust
and powdered mortar whirled round him like smoke. Almost blinded, he
crept back by the way he had come, and the street was already full of
people. In the Calle Preciados he sat down on a door-step, and there
waited until he had gained mastery over his limbs, which shook still.
Presently he made his way back to the house where he had left Concha.
The man Sebastian had, a week earlier, seen and recognised Conyngham
as the bearer of the letter addressed to Colonel Monreal, and left at
that officer's lodging in Xeres at the moment of his death in the
streets. Sebastian approached Conyngham, and informed him that he had
in his possession sundry papers belonging to the late Colonel Monreal,
which might be of value to a Royalist. This was, therefore, not the
first time that Conyngham had climbed the narrow stairs of the tall
house with two doors.
He found Concha busying himself by the bedside, where Sebastian lay
in the unconsciousness of deep drink.
'He has probably been drugged,' said the priest. 'Or, he may be
dying. What is more important to us is, that the letter is not here.
I have searched. Larralde escaped you?'
'Yes; and of course has the letter.'
'Of course, amigo.'
The priest looked at the prostrate man with a face of profound
contempt, and, shrugging his shoulders, went towards the door.
'Come,' he said, 'I must return to Toledo and Julia. It is thither
that this Larralde always returns, and she, poor woman, believes in
him. Ah, my friend'—he paused and shook his long finger at
Conyngham. 'When a woman believes in a man she makes him or mars him;
there is no medium.'
CHAPTER XVIII. IN TOLEDO.
'Meddle not with many matters; for if thou meddle much thou shalt
not be innocent.'
The Café of the Ambassadeurs in the Calle de la Montera was at this
time the fashionable resort of visitors to the city of Madrid. Its
tone was neither political nor urban, but savoured rather of the
cosmopolitan. The waiters at the first-class hotels recommended the
Café of the Ambassadeurs, and stepped round to the manager's office at
the time of the New Year to mention the fact.
Sir John Pleydell had been rather nonplussed by his encounter with
Conyngham, and, being a man of the world as well as a lawyer, sat down,
as it were, to think. He had come to Spain in the first heat of a
great revenge, and such men as he take, like the greater volcanoes, a
long time to cool down. He had been prepossessed in the favour of the
man who subsequently owned to being Frederick Conyngham. And the very
manner in which this admission was made redounded in some degree to the
honour of the young Englishman. Here, at least, was one who had no
fear, and fearlessness appeals to the heart of every Briton from the
peer to the navvy.
Sir John took a certain cold interest in his surroundings, and in
due course was recommended to spend an evening at the Café des
Ambassadeurs, as it styled itself, for the habit of preferring French
to Spanish designations for places of refreshment had come in since the
great revolution. Sir John went, therefore, to the café, and with
characteristic scorn of elemental disturbance chose to resort thither
on the evening of the great gale. The few other occupants of the
gorgeous room eyed his half-bottle of claret with a grave and decorous
wonder, but made no attempt to converse with this chill-looking
Englishman. At length, about ten o'clock or a few minutes later,
entered one who bowed to Sir John with an air full of affable promise.
This was Larralde, who called a waiter and bade him fetch a coat-brush.
'Would you believe it, sir?' he said, addressing Sir John in broken
English, 'but I have just escaped a terrible death.'
He shrugged his shoulders, spread out his hands, and laughed
good-humouredly, after the manner of one who has no foes.
'The fall of a chimney—so—within a metre of my shoulder.' He
threw back his cloak with a graceful swing of the arm and handed it to
the waiter. Then he drew forward a chair to the table occupied by Sir
John, who sipped his claret and bowed coldly.
'You must not think that Madrid is always like this,' said
Larralde. 'But perhaps you know the city—'
'No—this is my first visit.'
Larralde turned aside to give his order to the waiter. His
movements were always picturesque, and in the presence of Englishmen he
had a habit of accentuating those characteristics of speech and manner
which are held by our countrymen to be native to the Peninsula. There
is nothing so disarming as conventionality—and nothing less
suspicious. Larralde seemed ever to be a typical Spaniard—indolently
polite, gravely indifferent—a cigarette-smoking nonentity.
They talked of topics of the day, and chiefly of that great event,
the hurricane, which was still raging. Larralde, whose habit it was to
turn his neighbour to account—a seed of greatness this!—had almost
concluded that the Englishman was useless when the conversation turned,
as it was almost bound to turn between these two, upon Conyngham.
'There are but few of your countrymen in Madrid at the moment,'
Larralde had said.
'I know but one,' was the guarded reply.
'And I also,' said Larralde, flicking the ash from his cigarette.
'A young fellow who has made himself somewhat notorious in the Royalist
cause—a cause in which I admit I have no sympathy. His name is
Then a silence fell upon the two men, and over raised glasses they
glanced surreptitiously at each other.
'I know him,' said Sir John at length, and the tone of his voice
made Larralde glance up with a sudden gleam in his eyes. There thus
sprang into existence between them the closest of all bonds—a common
'The man has done me more than one ill-turn,' said Larralde after a
pause, and he drummed on the table with his cigarette-stained fingers.
Sir John, looking at him, coldly gauged the Spaniard with the deadly
skill of his calling. He noted that Larralde was poor and ambitious—
qualities that often raise the devil in a human heart when fate brings
them there together. He was not deceived by the picturesque manner of
Julia's lover, but knew exactly how much was assumed of that air of
simple vanity to which Larralde usually treated strangers. He probably
gauged at one glance the depth of the man's power for good or ill, his
sincerity, his possible usefulness. In the hands of Sir John Pleydell,
Larralde was the merest tool.
They sat until long after midnight, and before they parted Sir John
Pleydell handed to his companion a roll of notes, which he counted
carefully and Larralde accepted with a grand air of condescension and
'You know my address,' said Sir John, with a slight suggestion of
masterfulness which had not been noticeable before the money changed
hands. 'I shall remain at the same hotel.'
Larralde nodded his head.
'I shall remember it,' he said. 'And now I go to take a few hours'
rest. I have had a hard day, and am as tired as a shepherd's dog.'
And indeed the day had been busy enough. Señor Larralde hummed an
air between his teeth as he struggled against the fierce wind.
Before dawn the gale subsided, and daylight broke with a clear, calm
freshness over the city, where sleep had been almost unknown during the
night. The sun had not yet risen when Larralde took the road on his
poor, thin black horse. He rode through the streets, still littered
with the débris of fallen chimneys, slates, and shutters, with
his head up and his mind so full of the great schemes which gave him no
rest, that he never saw Concepçion Vara going to market with a basket
on his arm and a cigarette, unlighted, between his lips. Concepçion
turned and watched the horseman, shrugged his shoulders, and quietly
followed until the streets were left behind and there could no longer
be any doubt that Larralde was bound for Toledo.
Thither, indeed, he journeyed throughout the day with a
leisureliness begotten of the desire to enter the ancient city after
nightfall only. Toledo was at this time the smouldering hotbed of
those political intrigues which some years later burst into flame, and
resulted finally in the expulsion of the Bourbons from the throne of
Spain. Larralde was sufficiently dangerous to require watching, and,
like many of his kind, considered himself of a greater importance than
his enemies were pleased to attach to him. The city of Toledo is, as
many know, almost surrounded by the rapid Tagus, and entrance to its
narrow confine is only to be gained by two gates. To pass either of
these barriers in open day would be to court a publicity singularly
undesirable at this time, for Esteban Larralde was slipping down the
social slope, which gradual progress is the hardest to arrest. If one
is mounting there are plenty to help him—those from above seeking to
make unto themselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; those
from below hoping to tread in the footsteps he may leave. Each step,
however, of the upward progress has to be gained at the expense of
another. But on the descent there are none to stay and many to push
behind, while those in front make room readily enough. Larralde had
for the first time accepted a direct monetary reward for his services.
That this had been offered and accepted in a polite Spanish manner as
an advance of expenses to be incurred was, of course, only natural
under the circumstances, but the fact remained that Esteban Larralde
was no longer a picturesque conspirator, serving a failing cause with
that devotion which can only be repaid later by high honours, and a
post carrying with it emoluments of proportionate value. He had, in
fact, been paid in advance; which is the surest sign of distrust upon
one side or the other.
The Barennas had been established at their house in Toledo some
weeks, and, for Julia, life had been dull enough. She had hastened
northward, knowing well that her lover's intrigues must necessarily
bring him to the neighbourhood of the capital—perhaps to Toledo
itself. Larralde had, however, hitherto failed to come near her, and
the news of the day reported an increasing depression in the ranks of
the Carlists. Indeed, that cause seemed now at such a low ebb that the
franker mercenaries were daily drifting away to more promising scenes
of warfare, while some cynically accepted commissions in the army of
'I always said that Don Carlos would fail if he employed such men—
as—well, as he does,' Madame Barenna took more than one opportunity
of observing at this time, and her emphatic fan rapped the personal
She had just made this remark for perhaps the sixth time one evening
when the door of the patio where she and Julia sat was thrown open, and
Larralde—the person indirectly referred to—came towards the
ladies. He was not afraid of Madame Barenna, and his tired face
lightened visibly at the sight of Julia. Concha was right. According
to his lights Larralde loved Julia. She, who knew every expression,
noted the look in his face, and her heart leapt within her breast. She
had long secretly rejoiced over the failure of the Carlist cause.
Such, messieurs, is the ambition of a woman for the man she really
Señora Barenna rose and held out her hand with a beaming smile. She
was rather bored that evening, and it was pleasant to imagine herself
in the midst of great political intrigues.
'We were wondering if you would come,' she said.
'I am here—there—everywhere—but I always come back to the Casa
Barenna,' he said gallantly.
'You look tired,' said Julia quietly. 'Where are you from?'
'At the moment I am from Madrid. The city has been wrecked by a
tornado—I myself almost perished.'
He paused, shrugged his shoulders.
'What will you?' he added carelessly. 'What is life—a single life
- in Spain to-day?'
Julia winced. It is marvellous how an intelligent woman may blind
herself into absolute belief in one man. Señora Barenna shuddered.
'Blessed Heaven!' she whispered. 'Why does not someone do
'One does one's best,' answered Larralde, with his hand at his
'But yes!' said Madame eagerly. She had a shrewd common sense, as
many apparently foolish women have, and probably put the right value on
Señor Larralde's endeavours. Father Concha and the General were,
however, far away, and all women are time-servers.
Larralde spoke of general news, and when he at length proposed to
Julia that they should take a 'paseo' in the garden the elder lady made
no objection. For some moments Julia was quite happy. She had
schooled herself into a sort of contentment in the hope that her turn
would come when ambition failed. Perhaps this moment had arrived. At
all events, Larralde acquitted himself well, and seemed sincere enough
in his joy at seeing her again.
'Do you love me?' he asked suddenly.
Julia gave a little laugh. Heaven has been opened by such a laugh
ere now, and men have seen for a moment the brightness of it.
'Enough to leave Spain for ever and live in another country?'
'Enough to risk something now for my sake?'
'Enough to risk everything,' she answered.
'I have tried to gain a great position for you,' went on Larralde,
'and fortune has been against me. I have failed. The Carlist cause is
dead, Julia. Our chief has failed us—that is the truth of it. We
set him up as a king, but unless we hold him upright he falls. He is a
man of straw. We are making one last effort, as you know, but it is a
dangerous one, and we have had misfortunes. This pestilential
Englishman! No one may say how much he knows. He has had the letter
too long in his possession for our safety. But I have outwitted him
Larralde paused, and drew from his pocket the letter in the pink
envelope—somewhat soiled by its passage through the hands of Colonel
'It requires two more signatures and will then be complete,' said
the upholder of Don Carlos. 'We shall then make our "coup," but we
cannot move while Conyngham remains in Spain. It would never do for me
to—well, to get shot at this moment.'
Julia breathed hard.
'And that is what Mr. Conyngham is endeavouring to bring about. In
the first place he wants this letter to show to Estella Vincente—some
foolish romance. In the second place he hates me, and seeks promotion
in the Royalist ranks. These Englishmen are unscrupulous. He tried to
take my life—only last night. I bear him no ill-feeling. A la
guerre comme à la guerre. My only intention is to get him quietly
out of Spain. It can be managed easily enough. Will you help me—to
save my own life?'
'Yes,' answered Julia.
'I want you to write a letter to Conyngham saying that you are tired
of political intrigue.'
'Heaven knows that would be true enough,' put in Julia.
'And that you will give him the letter he desires on the condition
that he promises to show it to no one but Estella Vincente and return
it to you. That you will also swear that it is the identical letter
that he handed to you in the General's garden at Ronda. If Conyngham
agrees, he must meet you at the back of the Church of Santo Tome in the
Calle Pedro Martir here, in Toledo, next Monday evening at seven
o'clock. Will you write this letter, Julia?'
'And Estella Vincente?' inquired Julia.
'She will forget him in a week,' laughed Larralde.
CHAPTER XIX. CONCEPÇION TAKES THE ROAD.
'Who knows? the man is proven by the hour.'
After the great storm came a calm almost as startling. It seemed
indeed as if Nature stood abashed and silent before the results of her
sudden rage. Day after day the sun glared down from a cloudless sky,
and all Castile was burnt brown as a desert. In the streets of Madrid
there arose a hot dust and the subtle odour of warm earth that rarely
meets the nostrils in England. It savoured of India and other
sun-steeped lands where water is too precious to throw upon the roads.
Those who could, remained indoors or in their shady patios until the
heat of the day was past; and such as worked in the open lay
unchallenged in the shade from midday till three o'clock. During those
days military operations were almost suspended, although the heads of
departments were busy enough in their offices. The confusion of war,
it seemed, was past, and the sore-needed peace was immediately turned
to good account. The army of the Queen Regent was indeed in an almost
wrecked condition, and among the field officers jealousy and
backbiting, which had smouldered through the war-time, broke out
openly. General Vincente was rarely at home, and Estella passed this
time in quiet seclusion. Coming as she did from Andalusia, she was
accustomed to an even greater heat, and knew how to avoid the
discomfort of it.
She was sitting one afternoon, with open windows and closed
jalousies, during the time of the siesta, when the servant announced
The old priest came into the room wiping his brow with simple ill
'You have been hurrying and have no regard for the sun,' said
'You need not find shelter for an old ox,' replied Concha, seating
himself. 'It is the young ones that expose themselves unnecessarily.'
Estella glanced at him sharply but said nothing. He sat,
handkerchief in hand, and stared at a shaft of sunlight that lay across
the floor from a gap in the jalousies. From the street under the
windows came the distant sounds of traffic and the cries of the vendors
of water, fruit, and newspapers.
Father Concha looked puzzled, and seemed to be seeking his way out
of a difficulty. Estella sat back in her chair, half hidden by her
slow-waving, black fan. There is no pride so difficult as that which
is unconscious of its own existence, no heart so hard to touch as that
which has thrown its stake and asks neither sympathy nor admiration
from the outside world. Concha glanced at Estella and wondered if he
had been mistaken. There was in the old man's heart, as indeed there
is in nearly all human hearts, a thwarted instinct. How many are there
with maternal instincts who have no children; how many a poet has been
lost by the crying need of hungry mouths! It was a thwarted instinct
that made the old priest busy himself with the affairs of other people,
and always of young people.
'I came hoping to see your father,' he said at length, blandly
untruthful. 'I have just seen Conyngham, in whom we are all
interested, I think. His lack of caution is singular. I have been
trying to persuade him not to do something most rash and imprudent.
You remember the incident in your garden at Ronda—a letter which he
gave to Julia?'
'Yes,' answered Estella quietly, 'I remember.'
'For some reason which he did not explain I understand that he is
desirous of regaining possession of that letter, and now Julia, writing
from Toledo, tells him that she will give it to him if he will go there
and fetch it. The Toledo road, as you will remember, is hardly to be
recommended to Mr. Conyngham.'
'But Julia wishes him no harm,' said Estella.
'My child, rarely trust a political man and never a political
woman. If Julia wished him to have the letter she could have sent it
to him by post. But Conyngham, who is all eagerness, must needs refuse
to listen to any argument, and starts this afternoon for Toledo—
alone. He has not even his servant Concepçion Vara, who has suddenly
disappeared, and a woman who claims to be the scoundrel's wife from
Algeciras has been making inquiries at Conyngham's lodging. A hen's
eyes are where her eggs lie. I offered to go to Toledo with Conyngham,
but he laughed at me for a useless old priest, and said that the saddle
would gall me.'
He paused, looking at her beneath his shaggy brows, knowing, as he
had always known, that this was a woman beyond his reach—cleverer,
braver, of a higher mind than her sisters—one to whom he might
perchance tender some small assistance, but nothing better. For women
are wiser in their generation than men, and usually know better what is
for their own happiness. Estella returned his glance with steady eyes.
'He has gone,' said Concha. 'I have not been sent to tell you that
he is going.'
'I did not think that you had,' she answered.
'Conyngham has enemies in this country,' continued the priest, 'and
despises them—a mistake to which his countrymen are singularly
liable. He has gone off on this foolish quest without preparation or
precaution. Toledo is, as you know, a hotbed of intrigue and
dissatisfaction. All the malcontents in Spain congregate there, and
Conyngham would do well to avoid their company. Who lies down with
dogs gets up with fleas.'
He paused, tapping his snuffbox, and at that moment the door opened
to admit General Vincente.
'Oh! the Padre!' cried the cheerful soldier. 'But what a sun, eh?
It is cool here, however, and Estella's room is always a quiet one.'
He touched her cheek affectionately, and drew forward a low chair
wherein he sat, carefully disposing of the sword that always seemed too
large for him.
'And what news has the Padre?' he asked, daintily touching his brow
with his pocket-handkerchief.
'Bad,' growled Concha, and then told his tale over again in a
briefer, blunter manner. 'It all arises,' he concluded, 'from my
pestilential habit of interfering in the affairs of other people.'
'No,' said General Vincente; 'it arises from Conyngham's
pestilential habit of acquiring friends wherever he goes.'
The door was opened again, and a servant entered.
'Excellency,' he said, 'a man called Concepçion Vara, who desires a
'What did I tell you?' said the General to Concha. 'Another of
Conyngham's friends. Spain is full of them. Let Concepçion Vara come
to this room.'
The servant looked slightly surprised, and retired. If, however,
this manner of reception was unusual, Concepçion was too finished a man
of the world to betray either surprise or embarrassment. By good
fortune he happened to be wearing a coat. His flowing unstarched shirt
was as usual spotless, he wore a flower in the ribbon of the hat
carried jauntily in his hand, and about his person in the form of
handkerchief and faja were those touches of bright colour by means of
which he so irresistibly attracted the eye of the fair.
'Excellency,' he murmured, bowing on the threshold; 'Reverendo,'
with one step forward and a respectful semi-religious inclination of
the head towards Concha; 'Señorita!' The ceremony here concluded with
a profound obeisance to Estella full of gallantry and grave
admiration. Then he stood upright, and indicated by a pleasant smile
that no one need feel embarrassed, that in fact this meeting was most
'A matter of urgency, Excellency,' he said confidentially to
Vincente. 'I have reason to suspect that one of my friends—in fact,
the Señor Conyngham, with whom I am at the moment in service—happens
to be in danger.'
'Ah! what makes you suspect that, my friend?'
Concepçion waved his hand lightly, as if indicating that the news
had been brought to him by the birds of the air.
'When one goes into the café,' he said, 'one is not always so
particular—one associates with those who happen to be there—
muleteers, diligencia-drivers, bull-fighters, all and sundry, even
He made this last admission with a face full of pious toleration,
and Father Concha laughed grimly.
'That is true, my friend,' said the General, hastening to cover the
priest's little lapse of good manners, 'and from these gentlemen—
honest enough in their way, no doubt—you have learnt—?'
'That the Señor Conyngham has enemies in Spain.'
'So I understand; but he has also friends?'
'He has one,' said Vara, taking up a fine, picturesque attitude,
with his right hand at his waist where the deadly knife was concealed
in the rolls of his faja.
'Then he is fortunate,' said the General, with his most winning
smile; 'why do you come to me, my friend.'
'I require two men,' answered Concepçion airily, 'that is all.'
'Ah! What sort of men. Guardias Civiles?'
'The Holy Saints forbid! Honest soldiers, if it please your
Excellency. The Guardia Civil! See you, Excellency.'
He paused, shaking his outspread hand from side to side, palm
downwards, fingers apart, as if describing a low level of humanity.
'A brutal set of men,' he continued; 'with the finger ever on the
trigger and the rifle ever loaded. Pam! and a life is taken—many of
my friends—at least, many persons I have met—in the café!'
'It is better to give him his two men,' put in Father Concha, in his
atrocious English, speaking to the General. 'The man is honest in his
love of Conyngham, if in nothing else.'
'And if I accord you these two men, my friend,' said the General,
from whose face Estella's eyes had never moved, 'will you undertake
that Mr. Conyngham comes to no harm?'
'I will arrange it,' replied Concepçion, with an easy shrug of the
shoulders. 'I will arrange it, never fear.'
'You shall have two men,' said General Vincente, drawing a
writing-case towards himself and proceeding to write the necessary
order. 'Men who are known to me personally. You can rely upon them at
'Since they are friends of his Excellency's,' interrupted Concepçion
with much condescension, 'that suffices.'
'He will require money,' said Estella in English—her eyes bright
and her cheeks flushed. For she came of a fighting race, and her
repose of manner, the dignity which sat rather strangely on her slim
young shoulders, were only signs of that self-control which had been
handed down to her through the ages.
The General nodded as he wrote.
'Take that to headquarters,' he said, handing the papers to
Concepçion, 'and in less than half an hour your men will be ready. Mr.
Conyngham is a friend of mine, as you know, and any expenses incurred
on his behalf will be defrayed by myself—'
Concepçion held up his hand.
'It is unnecessary, Excellency,' he said. 'At present Mr. Conyngham
has funds. Only yesterday he gave me money. He liquidated my little
account. It has always been a jest between us—that little account.'
He laughed pleasantly, and moved towards the door.
'Vara,' said Father Concha.
'If I meet your wife in Madrid, what shall I say to her?'
Concepçion turned and looked into the smiling face of the old priest.
'In Madrid, reverendo? How can you think of such a thing? My wife
lives in Algeciras, and at times, see you—' he stopped, casting his
eyes up to the ceiling and fetching an exaggerated sigh, 'at times my
heart aches. But now I must get to the saddle. What a thing is Duty,
reverendo! Duty! God be with your Excellencies.'
And he hurried out of the room.
'If you would make a thief honest, trust him,' said Concha, when the
door was closed.
In less than an hour Concepçion was on the road accompanied by two
troopers, who were ready enough to travel in company with a man of his
reputation. For in Spain, if one cannot be a bull-fighter it is good
to be a smuggler. At sunset the great heat culminated in a
thunderstorm, which drew a veil of heavy cloud across the sky, and
night fell before its time.
The horsemen had covered two-thirds of their journey when he whom
they followed came in sight of the lights of Toledo, set upon a rock
like the jewels in a lady's ring, and almost surrounded by the swift
Tagus. Conyngham's horse was tired, and stumbled more than once on the
hill by which the traveller descends to the great bridge and the gate
that Wamba built thirteen hundred years ago.
Through this gate he passed into the city, which was a city of the
dead, with its hundred ruined churches, its empty palaces and silent
streets. Ichabod is written large over all these tokens of a bygone
glory; where the Jews flying from Jerusalem first set foot; where the
Moor reigned unmolested for nearly four hundred years; where the Goth
and the Roman and the great Spaniard of the middle ages have trod on
each other's heels. Truly these worn stones have seen the greatness of
the greatest nations of the world.
A single lamp hung slowly swinging in the arch of Wamba's Gate, and
the streets were but ill lighted with an oil lantern at an occasional
corner. Conyngham had been in Toledo before, and knew his way to the
inn under the shadow of the great Alcazar, now burnt and ruined. Here
he left his horse; for the streets of Toledo are so narrow and
tortuous, so ill-paved and steep, that wheel traffic is almost unknown,
while a horse can with difficulty keep his feet on the rounded cobble
stones. In this city men go about their business on foot, which makes
the streets as silent as the deserted houses.
Julia had selected a spot which was easy enough to find, and
Conyngham, having supped, made his way thither without asking for
'It is at all events worth trying,' he said to himself, 'and she can
scarcely have forgotten that I saved her life on the Garonne as well as
But there is often in a woman's life one man who can make her forget
all. The streets were deserted, for it was a cold night, and the cafés
were carefully closed against the damp air. No one stirred in the
Calle Pedro Martir, and Conyngham peered into the shadow of the high
wall of the Church of San Tome in vain. Then he heard the soft tread
of muffled feet, and turning on his heel realised Julia's treachery in
a flash of thought. He charged to meet the charge of his assailants.
Two of them went down like felled trees, but there were others—four
others—who fell on him silently like hounds upon a fox, and in a few
moments all was quiet again in the Calle Pedro Martir.
CHAPTER XX. ON THE TALAVERA ROAD.
'Les barrières servent à indiquer où il faut passer.'
An hour's ride to the west of Toledo, on the road to Torrijos and
Talavera, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the village of Galvez,
two men sat in the shadow of a great rock, and played cards. They
played quietly and without vociferation, illustrating the advantages of
a minute coinage. They had gambled with varying fortune since the hour
of the siesta, and a sprinkling of cigarette ends on the bare rocks
around them testified to the indulgence in a kindred vice.
The elder of the two men glanced from time to time over his
shoulder, and down towards the dusty high road which lay across the
arid plain beneath them like a tape. The country here is barren and
stone-ridden, but to the west, where Torrijos gleamed whitely on the
plain, the earth was green with lush corn and heavy blades of maize,
now springing into ear. Where the two soldiers sat the herbage was
scant and of an aromatic scent, as it mostly is in hot countries and in
rocky places. That these men belonged to a mounted branch of the
service was evident from their equipment, and notably from the great
rusty spurs at their heels. They were clad in cotton—dusky white
breeches, dusky blue tunics—a sort of undress, tempered by the
vicissitudes of a long war and the laxity of discipline engendered by
political trouble at home.
They had left their horses in the stable of a venta, hidden among
ilex trees by the roadside, and had clambered to this point of vantage
above the highway, to pass the afternoon after the manner of their
race. For the Spaniard will be found playing cards amid the wreck of
the world and in the intervals between the stupendous events of the
'He comes,' said the elder man at length, as he leisurely shuffled
the greasy cards. 'I hear his horse's hoofs.'
And, indeed, the great silence which seems to brood over the uplands
of Spain—the silence, as it were, of an historic past and a dead
present—was broken by the distant regular beat of hoofs.
The trooper who had spoken was a bullet-headed Castilian, with
square jaw and close-set eyes. His companion, a younger man, merely
nodded his head, and studied the cards which had just been dealt to
him. The game progressed, and Concepçion Vara, on the Toledo road,
approached at a steady trot. This man showed to greater advantage on
horseback and beneath God's open sky than in the streets of a city.
Here, in the open and among the mountains, he held his head erect and
faced the world, ready to hold his own against it. In the streets he
wore a furtive air, and glanced from left to right fearing recognition.
He now took his tired horse to the stable of the little venta,
where, with his usual gallantry, he assisted a hideous old hag to find
a place in the stalls. While uttering a gay compliment, he deftly
secured for his mount a feed of corn which was much in excess of that
usually provided for the money.
'Ah!' he said, as he tipped the measure; 'I can always tell when a
woman has been pretty; but with you, señora, no such knowledge is
required. You will have your beauty for many years yet.'
Thus Vara and his horse fared ever well upon the road. He lingered
at the stable door, knowing perhaps that corn poured into the manger
may yet find its way back to the bin, and then turned his steps towards
The cards were still falling with a whispering sound upon the rock
selected as a table, and, with the spirit of a true sportsman,
Concepçion waited until the hand was played out before imparting his
'It is well,' he said at length. 'A carriage has been ordered from
a friend of mine in Toledo to take the road to-night to Talavera—and
Talavera is on the way to Lisbon. What did I tell you?'
The two soldiers nodded. One was counting his gains, which amounted
to almost threepence. The loser wore a brave air of indifference, as
behoved a reckless soldier taking loss or gain in a Spartan spirit.
'There will be six men,' continued Concepçion. 'Two on horseback,
two on the box, two inside the carriage with their prisoner—my
'Ah!' said the younger soldier thoughtfully.
Concepçion looked at him.
'What have you in your mind?' he asked.
'I was wondering how three men could best kill six.'
'Out of six,' said the older man, 'there is always one who runs
away. I have found it so in my experience.'
'And of five there is always one who cannot use his knife,' added
Still the younger soldier, who had medals all across his chest,
shook his head.
'I am afraid,' he said. 'I am always afraid before I fight.'
Concepçion looked at the man whom General Vincente had selected from
a brigade of tried soldiers, and gave a little upward jerk of the head.
'With me,' he said, 'it is afterwards—when all is over. Then my
hand shakes, and the wet trickles down my face.'
He laughed, and spread out his hands.
'And yet,' he said gaily, 'it is the best game of all—is it not
The troopers shrugged their shoulders. One may have too much of
even the best game.
'The carriage is ordered for eight o'clock,' continued the practical
Concepçion, rolling a cigarette, which he placed behind his ear where a
clerk would carry his pen. 'Those who take the road when the
night-birds come abroad have something to hide. We will see what they
have in their carriage, eh? The horses are hired for the journey to
Galvez, where a relay is doubtless ordered. It will be a fine night
for a journey. There is a half moon, which is better than the full for
those who use the knife; but the Galvez horses will not be required, I
The younger soldier, upon whose shoulder gleamed the stars of a
rapid promotion, looked up to the sky, where a few fleecy clouds were
beginning to gather above the setting sun like sheep about a gate.
'A half moon for the knife and a full moon for firearms,' he said.
'Yes; and they will shoot quick enough if we give them the chance,'
said Concepçion. 'They are Carlists! There is a river between this
and Galvez—a little stream such as we have in Andalusia—so small
that there is only a ford and no bridge. The bed of the river is soft;
the horses will stop, or, at all events, must go at the walking pace.
Across the stream are a few trees' (he paused, illustrating his
description with rapid gestures and an imaginary diagram drawn upon the
rock with the forefinger), 'ilex, and here, to the left, some pines.
The stream runs thus from north-east to south-west. This bank is high,
and over here are low-lying meadows where pigs feed.'
He looked up, and the two soldiers nodded. The position lay before
them like a bird's-eye view; and Concepçion, in whom Spain had perhaps
lost a guerilla general, had only set eyes on the spot once as he rode
'This matter is best settled on foot; is it not so? We cross the
stream, and tie our horses to the pine trees. I will recross the
water, and come back to meet the carriage at the top of the hill—
here. The horsemen will be in advance. We will allow them to cross
the stream. The horses will come out of the water slowly, or I know
nothing of horses. As they step up the incline, you take their riders,
and remember to give them the chance of running away. In midstream I
will attack the two on the box, pulling him who is not driving into the
water by his legs, and giving him the blade in the right shoulder above
the lung. He will think himself dead, but should recover. Then you
must join me. We shall be three to three, unless the Englishman's
hands are loose; then we shall be four to three, and need do no man any
injury. The Englishman is as strong as two, and quick with it, as big
men rarely are.'
'Do you take a hand?' asked the Castilian, fingering the cards.
'No; I have affairs. Continue your game.'
So the sun went down, and the two soldiers continued their game,
while Concepçion sat beside them and slowly, lovingly sharpened his
knife on a piece of slate which he carried in his pocket for the
After sunset there usually arises a cold breeze which blows across
the table-lands of Castile quite gently and unobtrusively. A local
proverb says of this wind that it will extinguish a man but not a
candle. When this arose, the three men descended the mountain-side and
sat down to a simple if highly-flavoured meal provided by the ancient
mistress of the venta. At half-past eight, when there remained nothing
of the day but a faint greenish light in the western sky, the little
party mounted their horses and rode away towards Galvez.
''Tis better,' said Concepçion, with a meaning and gallant bow to
the hostess. ''Tis for my peace of mind. I am but a man.'
Then he haggled over the price of the supper.
They rode forward to the ford described by Concepçion, and there
made their preparations—carefully and coolly—as men recognising the
odds against them. The half moon was just rising as the soldiers
splashed through the water leading Concepçion's horse, he remaining on
the Toledo side of the river.
'The saints protect us!' said the nervous soldier, and his hand
shook on the bridle. His companion smiled at the recollection of
former fights passed through together. It is well, in love and war, to
beware of him who says he is afraid.
Shortly after nine o'clock the silence of that deserted plain was
broken by a distant murmur, which presently shaped itself into the beat
of horses' feet. To this was added soon the rumble of wheels. The
elder soldier put a whole cigarette into his mouth and chewed it. The
younger man made no movement now. They crouched low at their posts one
on each side of the ford. Concepçion was across the river, but they
could not see him. In Andalusia they say that a contrabandist can
conceal himself behind half a brick.
The two riders were well in front of the carriage, and, as had been
foreseen, the horses lingered on the rise of the bank as if reluctant
to leave the water without having tasted it. In a moment the younger
soldier had his man out of the saddle, raising his own knee sharply as
the man fell, so that the falling head and the lifted knee came into
deadly contact. It was a trick well known to the trooper, who let the
insensible form roll to the ground, and immediately darted down the
bank to the stream. The other soldier was chasing his opponent up the
hill, shelling him, as he rode away, with oaths and stones.
In mid-stream the clumsy travelling carriage had come to a
standstill. The driver on the box, having cast down his reins, was
engaged in imploring the assistance of a black-letter saint, upon which
assistance he did not hesitate to put a price, in candles. There was a
scurrying in the water, which was about two feet deep, where Concepçion
was settling accounts with the man who had been seated by the driver's
side. A half-choked scream of pain appeared to indicate that
Concepçion had found the spot he sought, above the right lung, and that
amiable smuggler now rose dripping from the flood and hurried to the
'Conyngham!' he shouted, laying aside that ceremony upon which he
never set great store.
'Yes,' answered a voice from within. 'Is that you, Concepçion?'
'Of course; throw them out.'
'But the door is locked,' answered Conyngham in a muffled voice.
And the carriage began to rock and crack upon its springs, as if an
earthquake were taking place inside it.
'The window is good enough for such rubbish,' said Concepçion. As
he spoke a man, violently propelled from within, came head foremost,
and most blasphemously vociferous, into Concepçion's arms, who
immediately, and with the rapidity of a terrier, had him by the throat
and forced him under water.
'You have hold of my leg—you, on the other side,' shouted
Conyngham from the turmoil within.
'A thousand pardons, señor!' said the soldier, and took a new grip
of another limb.
Concepçion, holding his man under water, heard the sharp crack of
another head upon the soldier's kneecap, and knew that all was well.
'That is all?' he inquired.
'That is all,' replied the soldier, who did not seem at all nervous
now. 'And we have killed no one.'
'Put a knife into that son of a mule who prays upon the box there,'
said Concepçion judicially. 'This is no time for prayer. Just where
the neck joins the shoulder—that is a good place.'
And a sudden silence reigned upon the box.
'Pull the carriage to the bank,' commanded Concepçion. 'There is no
need for the English Excellency to wet his feet. He might catch a
They all made their way to the bank, where, in the dim moonlight,
one man sat nursing his shoulder while another lay, at length, quite
still, upon the pebbles.
The young soldier laid a second victim to the same deadly trick
beside him, while Concepçion patted his foe kindly on the back.
'It is well,' he said, 'you have swallowed water. You will be sick,
and then you will be well. But if you move from that spot I will let
the water out another way.'
And, laughing pleasantly at this delicate display of humour, he
turned to help Conyngham, who was clambering out of the carriage window.
'Whom have you with you?' asked Conyngham.
'Two honest soldiers of General Vincente's division. You see,
señor, you have good friends.'
'Yes, I see that.'
'One of them,' said Concepçion meaningly, 'is at Toledo at the
moment, journeying after you.
'The Señor Pleydell.'
'Then we will go back to meet him.'
'I thought so,' said Concepçion.
CHAPTER XXI. A CROSS-EXAMINATION.
'Wherein I am false I am honest—not true to be true.'
'I will sing you a contrabandista song,' said Concepçion, as the
party rode towards Toledo in the moonlight. 'The song we—they sing
when the venture has been successful. You may hear it any dark night
in the streets of Gaucin.'
'Sing,' said the older soldier, 'if it is in your lungs. For us—
we prefer to travel silent.'
Conyngham, mounted on the horse from which the Carlist rider had
been dragged unceremoniously enough, rode a few paces in front. The
carriage had been left behind at the venta, where no questions were
asked, and the injured men revived readily enough.
'It is well,' answered Concepçion, in no way abashed. 'I will
sing. In Andalusia we can all sing. The pigs sing better there than
the men of Castile.'
It was after midnight when the party rode past the Church of the
Cristo de la Vega, and faced the long hill that leads to the gate Del
Cambron. Above them towered the city of Toledo—silent and
dreamlike. Concepçion had ceased singing now, and the hard breathing
of the horses alone broke the silence. The Tagus, emerging here from
rocky fastness, flowed noiselessly away to the west—a gleaming ribbon
laid across the breast of the night. In the summer it is no uncommon
thing for travellers to take the road by night in Spain, and although
many doubtless heard the clatter of horses' feet on the polished cobble
stones of the city, none rose from bed to watch the horsemen pass.
At that time Toledo possessed, and indeed to the present day can
boast of, but one good inn—a picturesque old house in the Plaza de
Zocodover, overhung by the mighty Alcazar. Here Cervantes must have
eaten and Lazarillo de Tormes no doubt caroused. Here those melancholy
men and mighty humorists must have delighted the idler by their talk.
Concepçion soon aroused the sleeping porter, and the great doors being
thrown open, the party passed into the courtyard without quitting the
'It is,' said Concepçion, 'an English Excellency and his suite.'
'We have another such in the house,' answered the sleepy doorkeeper,
'though he travels with but one servant.'
'We know that, my friend, which is the reason why we patronise your
dog-hole of an inn. See that the two Excellencies breakfast together
at a table apart in the morning.'
'You will have matters to speak about with the Señor Pleydell in the
morning,' said Concepçion, as he unpacked Conyngham's luggage a few
'Yes, I should like to speak to Señor Pleydell.'
'And I,' said Concepçion, turning round with a brush in his hand,
'should like a moment's conversation with Señor Larralde.'
'Yes, Excellency, he is in this matter too. But the Señor Larralde
is so modest—so modest! He always remains in the background.'
In the tents of Kedar men sleep as sound as those who lie on soft
pillows, and Conyngham was late astir the next morning. Sir John
Pleydell was, it transpired, already at his breakfast, and had ordered
his carriage for an early hour to take the road to Talavera. It was
thus evident that Sir John knew nothing of the arrival of his
fellow-countryman at midnight.
The cold face of the great lawyer wore a look of satisfaction as he
sat at a small table in the patio of the hotel and drank his coffee.
Conyngham watched him for a moment from the balcony of the courtyard,
himself unseen, while Concepçion stood within his master's bedroom, and
rubbed his brown hands together in anticipation of a dramatic moment.
Conyngham passed down the stone steps and crossed the patio with a gay
smile. Sir John recognised him as he emerged from the darkness of the
stairway, but his face betrayed neither surprise nor fear. There was a
look in the grey eyes, however, that seemed to betoken doubt. Such a
look a man might wear who had long travelled with assurance upon a road
which he took to be the right one, and then at a turning found himself
in a strange country with no landmark to guide him.
Sir John Pleydell had always outwitted his fellows. He had, in
fact, been what is called a successful man—a little cleverer, a
little more cunning than those around him.
He looked up now at Conyngham, who was drawing forward a chair to
the neighbouring table, and the cold eye, which had been the dread of
many a criminal, wavered.
'The waiter has set my breakfast near to yours,' said Conyngham,
unconcernedly seating himself.
And Concepçion in the balcony above cursed the English for a
cold-blooded race. This was not the sort of meeting he had
anticipated. He could throw a knife very prettily, and gave a short
sigh of regret as he turned to his peaceful duties.
Conyngham examined the simple fare provided for him, and then looked
towards his companion with that cheerfulness which is too rare in this
world; for it is born of a great courage, and outward circumstances
cannot affect it. Sir John Pleydell had lost all interest in his meal,
and was looking keenly at Conyngham—dissecting, as it were, his face,
probing his mind, searching through the outward manner of the man, and
running helplessly against a motive which he failed to understand.
'I have in my long experience found that all men may be divided into
two classes,' he said acidly.
'Fools and knaves?' suggested Conyngham.
'You have practised at the Bar,' parenthetically.
Conyngham shrugged his shoulders.
'Unsuccessfully—anybody can do that.'
'Which are you—a fool or a knave?' asked Sir John.
And suddenly Conyngham pitied him. For no man is proof against the
quick sense of pathos aroused by the sight of man, or dumb animal,
baffled. At the end of his life Sir John had engaged upon the greatest
quest of it—an unworthy quest, no doubt, but his heart was in it—
and he was an old man, though be bore his years well enough.
'Perhaps that is the mistake you have always made,' said Conyngham
gravely. 'Perhaps men are not to be divided into two classes. There
may be some who only make mistakes, Sir John.'
Unconsciously he had lapsed into the advocate, as those who have
once played the part are apt to do. This was not his own cause, but
Geoffrey Horner's. And he served his friend so thoroughly that for the
moment he really was the man whose part he had elected to play. Sir
John Pleydell was no mean foe. Geoffrey Horner had succeeded in
turning aside the public suspicion, and in the eternal march of events,
of which the sound is louder as the world grows older and hollower, the
murder of Alfred Pleydell had been forgotten by all save his father.
Conyngham saw the danger, and never thought to avoid it. What had been
undertaken half in jest would be carried out in deadly earnest.
'Mistakes,' said Sir John sceptically. In dealing with the seamy
side of life men come to believe that it is all stitches.
'Which they may pass the rest of their lives in regretting.'
Sir John looked sharply at his companion, with suspicion dawning in
his eyes again. It was Conyngham's tendency to overplay his part.
Later, when he became a soldier, and found that path in life for which
he was best fitted, his superior officers and the cooler tacticians
complained that he was over-eager, and in battle outpaced the men he
'Then you see now that it was a mistake?' suggested Sir John. In
cross-examinations the suggestions of Sir John Pleydell are remembered
in certain courts of justice to this day.
'To have mixed yourself in such an affair at all?'
Sir John seemed to be softening, and Conyngham began to see a way
out of this difficulty which had never suggested itself to him before.
'Such mistakes have to be paid for—and the law assesses the price.'
Conyngham shrugged his shoulders.
'It is easy enough to say you are sorry—the law can make no
allowance for regret.'
Conyngham turned his attention to his breakfast, deeming it useless
to continue the topic.
'It was a mistake to attend the meeting at Durham—you admit that?'
continued Sir John.
'Yes—I admit that, if it is any satisfaction to you.'
'Then it was worse than a mistake to actually lead the men out to my
house for the purpose of breaking the windows. It was almost a crime.
I would suggest to you, as a soldier for the moment, to lead a charge
up a steep hill against a body of farm labourers and others entrenched
behind a railing.'
'That is a mere matter of opinion.'
'And yet you did that,' said Sir John. 'If you are going to break
the law you should insure success before embarking on your undertaking.'
Conyngham made no answer.
'It was also a stupid error, if I may say so, to make your way back
to Durham by Ravensworth, where you were seen and recognised. You see
I have a good case against you, Mr. Conyngham.'
'Yes, I admit you have a good case against me, but you have not
caught me yet.'
Sir John Pleydell looked at him coldly.
'You do not even take the trouble to deny the facts I have named.'
'Why should I, when they are true?' asked Conyngham carelessly.
Sir John Pleydell leant back in his chair.
'I have classified you,' he said with a queer laugh.
'Ah!' answered Conyngham, suddenly uneasy.
'Yes—as a fool.'
He leant forward with a deprecating gesture of his thin white hand.
'Do not be offended,' he said, 'and do not reproach yourself for
having given your case away. You never had a case, Mr. Conyngham.
Chartists are not made of your material at all. As soon as you gave me
your card in Madrid, I had a slight suspicion. I thought you were
travelling under a false name. It was plain to the merest onlooker
that you were not the man I sought. You are too easy-going, too much
of a gentleman to be a Chartist. You are screening somebody else. You
have played the part well, and with an admirable courage and fidelity.
I wish my boy Alfred had had a few such friends as you. But you are a
fool, Mr. Conyngham. No man on earth is worth the sacrifice that you
Conyngham slowly stirred his coffee. He was meditating.
'You have pieced together a very pretty tale,' he said at length.
'Some new scheme to get me within the reach of the English law, no
'It is a pretty tale—too pretty for practical life. And if you
want proofs I will mention the fact that the Chartist meeting was at
Chester-le-Street, not Durham; that my house stands in a hollow and not
on a hill; that you could not possibly go to Durham viâ
Ravensworth, for they lie in opposite directions. No, Mr. Conyngham,
you are not the man I seek. And, strange to say, I took a liking to
you when I first saw you. I am no believer in instinct, or mutual
sympathy, or any such sentimental nonsense. I do not believe in much,
Mr. Conyngham, and not in human nature at all. I know too much about
it for that. But there must have been something in that liking for you
at first sight. I wish you no harm, Mr. Conyngham. I am like Balaam—
I came to curse, and now stay to bless. Or, perhaps, I am more like
Balaam's companion and adviser—I bray too much.'
He sat back again with a queer smile.
'You may go home to England to-morrow if you care to,' he added,
after a pause, 'and if that affair is ever raked up against you I will
be your counsel, if you will have me.'
'You do not want to go home to England?' suggested Sir John, whose
ear was as quick as his eye.
'No, I have affairs in Spain.'
'Or—perhaps a castle here. Beware of such—I once had one.'
And the cold grey face softened for an instant. It seemed at times
as if there were after all a man behind that marble casing.
'A man who can secure such a friendship as yours has proved itself
to be,' said Sir John after a short silence, 'can scarcely be wholly
bad. He may, as you say, have made a mistake. I promise nothing; but
perhaps I will make no further attempts to find him.'
Conyngham was silent. To speak would have been to admit.
'So far as I am concerned,' said Sir John, rising, 'you are safe in
this or any country. But I warn you—you have a dangerous enemy in
'I know,' answered Conyngham, with a laugh, 'Mr. Esteban Larralde.
I once undertook to deliver a letter for him. It was not what he
represented it to be, and after I had delivered it he began to suspect
me of having read it. He is kind enough to consider me of some
importance in the politics of this country owing to the information I
am supposed to possess. I know nothing of the contents of the letter,
but I want to regain it—if only for a few moments. That is the whole
story, and that is how matters stand between Larralde and myself.'
CHAPTER XXII. REPARATION.
'Il s'en faut bien que l'innocence trouve autant de protection
que le crime.'
For those minded to leave Spain at this time, there was but one
route, namely, the south, for the northern exits were closed by the
Carlists, still in power there, though thinning fast. Indeed, Don
Carlos was now illustrating the fact, which any may learn by the study
of the world's history, that it is not the great causes, but the great
men, who have made and destroyed nations. Nearly half of Spain was for
Don Carlos. The Church sided with him, and the best soldiers were
those who, unpaid, unfed, and half clad, fought on the southern slopes
of the Pyrenees for a man who dared not lead them.
Sir John Pleydell had intended crossing the frontier into Portugal,
following the carriage conveying his prisoner to the seaport of Lisbon,
where he anticipated no difficulty in finding a ship captain who would
be willing to carry Conyngham to England. All this, however, had been
frustrated by so unimportant a person as Concepçion Vara, and the
carriage ordered for nine o'clock to proceed to Talavera now stood in
the courtyard of the hotel, while the Baronet in his lonely apartment
sat and wondered what he should do next. He had dealt with justice all
his life, and had ensued it not from love, but as a matter of
convenience and a means of livelihood. From the mere habit, he now
desired to do justice to Conyngham.
'See if you can find out for me the whereabouts of General Vincente
at the moment, and let the carriage wait,' he said to his servant, a
valet-courier of taciturn habit.
The man was absent about half an hour, and returned with a face that
'There is a man in the hotel, sir,' he said, 'the servant of Mr.
Conyngham, who knows, but will not tell me. I am told, however, that a
lady living in Toledo, a Contessa Barenna, will undoubtedly have the
information. General Vincente was lately in Madrid, but his movements
are so rapid and uncertain, that he has become a by-word in Spain.'
'So I understand. I will call on this Contessa this afternoon,
unless you can get the information elsewhere during the morning. I
shall not want the carriage.'
Sir John walked slowly to the window, deep in thought. He was
interested in Conyngham, despite himself. It is possible that he had
not hitherto met a man capable of so far forgetting his own interests
as to undertake a foolish and dangerous escapade without anything in
the nature of gain or advantage to recommend it. The windows of the
hotel of the Comercio in Toledo look out upon the market-place, and Sir
John, who was an indoor man, and mentally active enough to be intensely
bored at times, frequently used this opportunity of studying Spanish
He was looking idly through the vile panes, when an old priest
passed by, and glanced up beneath shaggy brows.
'Seen that man before,' said Sir John.
'Ah!' muttered Father Concha, as he hurried on towards the Palazzo
Barenna. 'So far, so good. Where the fox is, will be found the stolen
Concepçion Vara, who was saddling his horse in the stable yard of
the inn, saw the Padre pass.
'Ah, clever one!' he muttered, 'with your jokes about my wife. Now
you may make a false journey for all the help you receive from me.'
And a few minutes later Concepçion rode across the Bridge of
Alcantara, some paces behind Conyngham, who deemed it wise to return to
his duties at Madrid without delay.
Despite the great heat on the plains, which, indeed, made it almost
dangerous to travel at midday, the streets of Toledo were cool and
shady enough, as Sir John Pleydell traversed them in search of the
Palazzo Barenna. The Contessa was in, and the Englishman was ushered
into a vast room, which even the taste of the day could not entirely
deprive of its mediæval grandeur. Sir John explained to the servant in
halting Spanish that his name was unknown to the Señora Barenna, but
that—a stranger in some slight difficulty—he had been recommended
to seek her assistance.
Sir John was an imposing-looking man, with that grand air which
enables some men not only to look, but to get over a wall while an
insignificant wight may not so much as approach the gate. The señora's
curiosity did the rest. In a few minutes the rustle of silk made Sir
John turn from the contemplation of a suit of armour.
'Madame speaks French?'
'But yes, señor.'
Madame Barenna glanced towards a chair, which Sir John hastened to
bring forward. He despised her already, and she admired his manner
'I have taken the immense liberty of intruding myself upon your
'Not to sell me a Bible?' exclaimed Señora Barenna, with her fan
upheld in warning.
'A Bible! I believe I have one at home, in England, Madame, but—'
'It is well,' said Madame sinking back and fanning herself rather
faintly. 'Excuse my fears. But there is an Englishman—what is his
name? I forget.'
'Yes; that is it, Borrow. And he sells Bibles; and Father Concha,
my confessor, a bear, but a holy man—a holy bear, as one might say—
has forbidden me to buy one. I am so afraid of disobeying him, by
heedlessness or forgetfulness. There are, it appears, some things in
the Bible which one ought not to read, and one naturally—'
She finished the sentence with a shrug, and an expressive gesture of
'One naturally desires to read them,' suggested Sir John. 'The
privilege of all Eve's daughters, Madame.'
Señora Barenna treated the flatterer to what the French call a
fin sourire, and wondered how long Julia would stay away. This man
would pay her a compliment in another moment.
'I merely called on the excuse of a common friendship, to ask if you
can tell me the whereabouts of General Vincente,' said Sir John,
stating his business in haste and when the opportunity presented itself.
'Is it politics?' asked the lady, with a hasty glance round the room.
'No, it is scarcely politics; but why do you ask? You are surely
too wise, Madame, to take part in such. It is a woman's mission to
please—and when it is so easy!'
He waved his thin white hand in completion of a suggestion which
made his hearer bridle her stout person.
'No, no,' she whispered, glancing over her shoulder at the door.
'No; it is my daughter. Ah! señor, you can scarce imagine what it is
to live upon a volcano!'
And she pointed to the oaken floor with her fan. Sir John deemed it
wise to confine his display of sympathy to a glance of the deepest
'No,' he said; 'it is merely a personal matter. I have a
communication to make to my friend General Vincente or to his daughter.'
'To the Señorita Estella.'
'Do you think her beautiful? Some do, you know. Eyes—I admit—
'I admire the señorita exceedingly.'
'Ah yes, yes. You have not seen my daughter, have you, señor?
Julia—she rather resembles Estella.'
Señora Barenna paused and examined her fan with a careless air.
'Some say,' she went on, apparently with reluctance, 'that Julia is
- well—has some advantages over Estella. But I do not, of
course. I admire Estella, excessively—oh yes, yes.'
And the señora's dark eyes searched Sir John's face. They might
have found more in sculptured marble.
'Do you know where she is?' asked Sir John, almost bluntly. Like a
workman who has mistaken his material, he was laying aside his finer
'Well, I believe they arrive in Toledo this evening. I cannot think
why. But with General Vincente one never knows. He is so pleasant, so
playful—such a smile—but you know him. Well, they say in Spain
that he is always where he is wanted. Ah!' Madame paused and cast her
eyes up to the ceiling, 'what it is to be wanted somewhere, señor.'
And she gave him the benefit of one of her deepest sighs. Sir John
mentally followed the direction of her glance, and wondered what the
late Count thought about it.
'Yes, I am deeply interested in Estella—as indeed is natural, for
she is my niece. She has no mother, and the General has such absurd
ideas. He thinks that a girl is capable of choosing a husband for
herself. But to you—an Englishman—such an idea is naturally not
astonishing. I am told that in your country it is the girls who
actually propose marriage.'
'Not in words, Madame—not more in England than elsewhere.'
'Ah,' said Madame, looking at him doubtfully, and thinking, despite
herself, of Father Concha.
Sir John rose from the chair he had taken at the señora's silent
'Then I may expect the General to arrive at my hotel this evening,'
he said. 'I am staying at the Comercio, the only hotel, as I
understand, in Toledo.'
'Yes, he will doubtless descend there. Do you know Frederick
'But everyone knows him!' exclaimed the lady vivaciously. 'Tell me
how it is. A most pleasant young man, I allow you—but without
introductions and quite unconnected. Yet he has friends everywhere.'
She paused and, closing her fan, leant forward in an attitude of
intense confidence and secrecy.
'And how about his little affair?' she whispered.
'His little affair, Madame?'
'De coeur,' explained the lady, tapping her own breast with an
'Estella,' she whispered after a pause.
'Ah!' said Sir John, as if he knew too much about it to give an
opinion. And he took his leave.
'That is the sort of woman to break one's heart in the witness box,'
he said as he passed out into the deserted street, and Señora Barenna,
in the great room with the armour, reflected complacently that the
English lord had been visibly impressed.
General Vincente and Estella arrived at the hotel in the evening,
but did not of course appear in the public rooms. The dusty old
travelling carriage was placed in a quiet corner of the courtyard of
the hotel, and the General appeared on this, as on all occasions, to
court retirement and oblivion. Unlike many of his brothers-in-arms, he
had no desire to catch the public eye.
'There is doubtless something astir,' said the waiter, who, in the
intervals of a casual attendance on Sir John, spoke of these things,
cigarette in mouth. 'There is doubtless something astir, since General
Vincente is on the road. They call him the Stormy Petrel, for when he
appears abroad there usually follows a disturbance.'
Sir John sent his servant to the General's apartment about eight
o'clock in the evening asking permission to present himself. In reply,
the General himself came to Sir John's room.
'My dear sir,' he cried, taking both the Englishman's hands in an
affectionate grasp, 'to think that you were in the hotel and that we
did not dine together. Come, yes, come to our poor apartment, where
Estella awaits the pleasure of renewing your acquaintance.'
'Then the señorita,' said Sir John, following his companion along
the dimly-lighted passage, 'has her father's pleasant faculty of
forgetting any little contretemps of the past?'
'Ask her,' exclaimed the General in his cheery way. 'Ask her.' And
he threw open the door of the dingy salon they occupied.
Estella was standing with her back to the window, and her attitude
suggested that she had not sat down since she had heard of Sir John's
presence in the hotel.
'Señorita,' said the Englishman, with that perfect knowledge of the
world which usually has its firmest basis upon indifference to
criticism, 'señorita, I have come to avow a mistake and to make my
'It is surely unnecessary,' said Estella, rather coldly.
'Say rather,' broke in the General in his smoothest way, 'that you
have come to take a cup of coffee with us and to tell us your news.'
Sir John took the chair which the General brought forward.
'At all events,' he said, still addressing Estella, 'it is probably
a matter of indifference to you, as it is merely an opinion expressed
by myself which I wish to retract. When I first had the pleasure of
meeting you, I took it upon myself to speak of a guest in your father's
house, fortunately in the presence of that guest himself, and I now
wish to tell you that what I said does not apply to Frederick Conyngham
himself, but to another whom Conyngham is screening. He has not
confessed so much to me, but I have satisfied myself that he is not the
man I seek. You, General, who know more of the world than the
señorita, and have been in it almost as long as I have, can bear me out
in the statement that the motives of men are not so easy to discern as
younger folks imagine. I do not know what induced Conyngham to
undertake this thing; probably he entered into it in a spirit of
impetuous and reckless generosity, which would only be in keeping with
his character. I only know that he has carried it out with a
thoroughness and daring worthy of all praise. If such a tie were
possible between an old man and a young, I should like to be able to
claim Mr. Conyngham as a friend. There, señorita—thank you, I will
take coffee. I made the accusation in your presence. I retract it
before you. It is, as you see, a small matter.'
'But it is of small matters that life is made up,' put in the
General in his deferential way. 'Our friend,' he went on after a
pause, 'is unfortunate in misrepresenting himself. We also have a
little grudge against him—a little matter of a letter which has not
been explained. I admit that I should like to see that letter.'
'And where is it?' asked Sir John.
'Ah!' replied Vincente, with a shrug of the shoulders and a gay
little laugh, 'who can tell? Perhaps in Toledo, my dear sir—perhaps
CHAPTER XXIII. LARRALDE'S PRICE.
'It is as difficult to be entirely bad as it is to be entirely
To those who say that there is no Faith, Spain is in itself a
palpable answer. No country in the world can show such cathedrals as
those of Granada, Cordova, Seville, Toledo, Burgos. In any other land
any one of these great structures would suffice. But in Spain these
huge monuments to that Faith which has held serenely through war and
fashion, through thought and thoughtlessness, are to be found in all
the great cities. And the queen of them all is Toledo.
Father Concha, that sour-visaged philosopher, had a queer pride in
his profession and in the history of that Church which is to-day seen
in its purest form in the Peninsula, while it is so entangled with the
national story of Spain that the two are but one tale told from a
different point of view. As a private soldier may take pleasure in
standing on a great battlefield noting each spot of interest—here a
valley of death, there the scene of a cavalry charge of which the
thunder will echo down through all the ages—so Concha, a mere country
priest, liked to pace the aisles of a great cathedral, indulging the
while in a half-cynical pride. He was no great general, no leader, of
no importance in the ranks. But he was of the army, and partook in a
minute degree in those victories that belonged to the past. It was his
habit thus to pay a visit to Toledo Cathedral whensoever his journeys
led him to Castile. It was, moreover, his simple custom to attend the
early mass which is here historical; and, indeed, to walk through the
church, grey and cool, with the hush that seems to belong only to
buildings of stupendous age, is in itself a religious service.
Concha was passing across the nave, hat in hand, a gaunt, ill-clad,
and somewhat pathetic figure, when he caught sight of Sir John
Pleydell. The Englishman paused involuntarily and looked at the
Spaniard. Concha bowed.
'We met,' he said, 'for a moment in the garden of General Vincente's
house at Ronda.'
'True,' answered Sir John. 'Are you leaving the Cathedral? We
might walk a little way together. One cannot talk idly—here.'
He paused and looked up at the great oak screen—at the towering
'No,' answered Concha gravely. 'One cannot talk idly here.'
Concha held back the great leathern portière, and the
Englishman passed out.
'This is a queer country, and you are a queer people,' he said
presently. 'When I was at Ronda I met a certain number of persons—I
can count them on my fingers. General Vincente, his daughter, Señora
Barenna, Señorita Barenna, the Englishman Conyngham, yourself, Señor
Concha. I arrived in Toledo yesterday morning; in twenty-four hours I
have caught sight of all the persons mentioned, here in Toledo.'
'And here, in Toledo, is another of whom you have not caught sight,'
'Yes; Señor Larralde.'
'Is he here?'
'Yes,' said Concha.
They walked on in silence for some minutes.
'What are we all doing here, Padre?' inquired Sir John, with his
'What are you doing here, señor?'
Sir John did not answer at once. They were walking leisurely. The
streets were deserted, as indeed the streets of Toledo usually are.
'I am putting two and two together,' the great lawyer answered at
length. 'I began doing so in idleness, and now I have become
'Yes. I have become interested. They say, Padre, that a pebble set
in motion at the summit of a mountain may gather other pebbles and
increase in bulk and speed until, in the form of an avalanche, it
overwhelms a city in the valley.'
'And I have conceived the strange fancy that Frederick Conyngham,
when he first came to this country, set such a pebble in motion at the
summit of a very high mountain. It has been falling and falling
silently ever since, and it is gaining in bulk. And you, and General
Vincente, and Estella Vincente, and Señorita Barenna, and Frederick
Conyngham, and in a minor degree myself, are on the slope in the track
of the avalanche, and are sliding down behind it. And the General and
Estella, and yourself and Conyngham, are trying to overtake it and stop
it. And, reverendo, in the valley below is the monarchy of Spain—the
Father Concha, remembering his favourite maxim that no flies enter a
shut mouth, was silent.
'The pebble was a letter,' said Sir John.
'And Larralde has it,' he added after a pause. 'And that is why you
are all in Toledo—why the air is thick with apprehension, and why all
Spain seems to pause and wait breathlessly. Will the avalanche be
stopped, or will it not? Will the Bourbons—than whom history has
known no more interesting and more unsatisfactory race, except our own
Stuarts—will the Bourbons fall, Señor Padre?'
'Ah!' said Concha, whose furrowed face and pessimistic glance
betrayed nothing. 'Ah!'
'You will not tell me, of course. You know much that you will not
tell me, and I merely ask you from curiosity. You perhaps know one
thing, and that I wish to learn from you—not out of curiosity, but
because I, too, would fain overtake the avalanche and stop it. I am no
politician, señor, though of course I have my views. When a man has
reached my age, he knows assuredly that politics merely mean
self-aggrandisement, and nothing else. No—the Bourbons may fall;
Spain may follow the lead of France and make an exhibition of herself
before the world as a Republic. I am indifferent to these events. But
I wish to do Frederick Conyngham a good turn, and I ask you to tell me
where I shall find Larralde—you who know everything, Señor Padre.'
Concha reflected while they walked along on the shady side of the
narrow street. It happened to be the street where the saddlers live,
and the sharp sound of their little hammers on leather and wood came
from almost every darkened doorway. The Padre had a wholesome fear of
Esteban Larralde, and an exaggerated estimation of that schemer's
ability. He was a humble-minded old man, and ever hesitated to pit his
own brain against that of another. He knew that Sir John was a
cleverer man than Larralde, deeper versed in that side of human nature
where the seams are and the knots and the unsightly stitches; older,
more experienced, and probably no more scrupulous.
'Yes,' said the priest, 'I can tell you that. Larralde lodges in
the house of a malcontent, one Lamberto, a scribbling journalist, who
is hurt because the world takes him at its own valuation and not at
his. The house is next to the little synagogue in the Calle de Madrid,
a small stationer's shop, where one may buy the curse of this
generation—pens and paper.'
'Thank you,' said Sir John, civilly and simply. This man has no
doubt been ill-painted, but some may have seen that with different
companions he wore a different manner. He was, as all successful men
are, an unconscious actor, and in entering into the personality of the
companion of the moment he completely sank his own. He never sought to
be all things to all men, and yet he came near to the accomplishment of
that hard task. Sir John was not a sympathetic man; he merely mistook
life for a court of justice, and arraigned all human nature in the
witness-box, with the inward conviction that this should by rights be
exchanged for the felon's dock.
With Concha he was as simple, as direct, and as unsophisticated as
the old priest himself, and now took his leave without attempting to
disguise the fact that he had accomplished a foreset purpose.
Without difficulty he found the small stationer's shop next to the
synagogue in the Calle de Madrid, and bade the stationer—a spectacled
individual with upright hair and the air of seeking something in the
world which is not usually behind a counter—take his card to Señor
Larralde. At first the stationer pretended ignorance of the name, but
on discovering that Sir John had not sufficient Spanish to conduct a
conversation of intrigue, disappeared into a back room, whence emanated
a villanous smell of cooking.
While Sir John waited in the little shop, Father Concha walked to
the Plazuela de l'Iglesia Vieja, which small square, overhanging the
Tagus and within reach of its murmuring voice, is deserted except at
midday, when the boys play at bull-fighting and a few workmen engage in
a grave game of bowls. Concha sat, book in hand, opened honestly at
the office of the day and hour, and read no word. Instead, he stared
across the gorge at the brown bank of land which commands the city and
renders it useless as a fortress in the days of modern artillery. He
sat and stared grimly, and thought perhaps of those secret springs
within the human heart that make one man successful and unhappy, while
another, possessing brains and ability and energy, fails in life, yet
is perhaps the happier of the two. For it had happened to Father
Concha, as it may happen to writer and reader at any moment, to meet
one who in individuality bears a resemblance to that self which we
never know and yet are ever conscious of.
Sir John Pleydell, a few hundred yards away, obeyed the shopman's
invitation to step upstairs with something approaching alacrity.
Larralde was seated at a table strewn with newspapers and soiled by
cigarette ash. He had the unkempt and pallid look of one who has not
seen the sun or breathed fresh air for days. For, as Concepçion had
said, this was a conspirator who preferred to lurk in friendly shelter
while others played the bolder game at the front. Larralde had, in
fact, not stirred abroad for nearly a week.
'Well, señor,' he said, with a false air of bravado. 'How fares it
with your little undertaking?'
'That,' replied Sir John, 'is past—and paid for. And I have
another matter for your consideration. Conyngham is not, after all,
the man I seek.'
Sir John's manner had changed. He spoke as one having authority.
And Larralde shrugged his shoulders, remembering a past payment.
'Ah!' he said, rolling a cigarette with a fine air of indifference.
'On the one hand,' continued Sir John judicially, 'I come to make
you an offer which can only be beneficial to you; on the other hand,
Señor Larralde, I know enough to make things particularly unpleasant
Larralde raised his eyebrows and sought the matchbox. His thoughts
seemed to amuse him.
'I have reason to assume that a certain letter is now in your
possession again. I do not know the contents of this letter, and I
cannot say that I am at all interested in it. But a friend of mine is
particularly anxious to have possession of it for a short space of
time. I have, unasked, taken upon myself the office of intermediary.'
Larralde's eyes flashed through the smoke.
'You are about to offer me money; be careful, señor,' he said hotly,
and Sir John smiled.
'Be careful, that it is enough,' he suggested. 'Keep your grand
airs for your fellows, Señor Larralde. Yes, I am about to offer you
two hundred pounds—say three thousand pesetas—for the loan of that
letter for a few hours only. I will guarantee that it is read by one
person only, and that a lady. This lady will probably glance at the
first lines, merely to satisfy herself as to the nature of its
contents. Three thousand pesetas will enable you to escape to Cuba if
your schemes fail. If you succeed, three thousand pesetas will always
be of use, even to a member of a Republican Government.'
Larralde reflected. He had lately realised the fact that the
Carlist cause was doomed. There is a time in the schemes of men, and
it usually comes just before the crisis, when the stoutest heart
hesitates and the most reckless conspirator thinks of his retreat.
Esteban Larralde had begun to think of Cuba during the last few days,
and the mention of that haven for Spanish failures almost unnerved him.
'In a week,' suggested Sir John again, 'it may be—well—settled
one way or the other.'
Larralde glanced at him sharply. This Englishman was either
well-informed or very cunning. He seemed to have read the thought in
'No doubt,' went on the Englishman, 'you have divined for whom I
want the letter and who will read it. We have both mistaken our man.
We both owe Conyngham a good turn—I, in reparation, you, in
gratitude; for he undoubtedly saved the Señorita Barenna from
imprisonment for life.'
Larralde shrugged his shoulders.
'Each man,' he said, 'must fight for himself.'
'And the majority of us for a woman as well,' amended Sir John. 'At
least, in Spain, chivalry is not dead.'
Larralde laughed. He was vain, and Sir John knew it. He had a keen
sight for the breach in his opponent's armour.
'You have put your case well,' said the Spaniard patronisingly, 'and
I do not see why, at the end of a week, I should not agree to your
proposal. It is, as you say, for the sake of a woman.'
Larralde leant back in his chair, remembering the legendary
gallantry of his race, and wearing an appropriate expression.
'For a woman,' he repeated with an eloquent gesture.
'Then I will do it, señor. I will do it.'
'For two hundred pounds?' inquired Sir John coldly.
'As you will,' answered the Spaniard, with a noble indifference to
such sordid matters.
CHAPTER XXIV. PRIESTCRAFT.
'No man I fear can effect great benefits for his country without
some sacrifice of the minor virtues.'
The Señora Barenna was a leading social light in Toledo, insomuch as
she never refused an invitation.
'One has one's duties towards society,' she would say with a sigh.
'Though the saints know that I take no pleasure in these affairs.'
Then she put on her best Seville mantilla and bustled off to some
function or another, where she talked volubly and without discretion.
Julia had of late withdrawn more and more from that life of
continued and mild festivity of which it is to be feared the existence
of many women is composed. This afternoon she sat alone in the great
gloomy house in Toledo, waiting for Larralde. For she, like thousands
of her sisters, loved an unworthy object—faute de mieux—with
open eyes and a queer philosophy that bade her love Larralde rather
than love none. She had lately spent a large part of her existence in
waiting for Larralde, who, indeed, was busy enough at this time, and
rarely stirred abroad while the sun was up.
'Julia,' said Señora Barenna to Concha, 'is no longer a companion to
me. She does not even attempt to understand my sensitive
organisation. She is a mere statue, and thinks of nothing but
'For her, Madame, as for all women, there would be no politics if
there were no politicians,' the priest replied.
This afternoon Julia was more restless than ever. Larralde had not
been to see her for many days, and had only written a hurried note from
time to time in answer to her urgent request, telling her that he was
well and in no danger.
She now no longer knew whether he was in Toledo or not, but had
sufficient knowledge of the schemes in which he was engaged to be aware
of the fact that these were coming to a crisis. Esteban Larralde had
indeed told her more than was either necessary or discreet, and it was
his vanity that led him into this imprudence. We are all ready enough
to impart information which will show our neighbours that we are more
important than we appear.
After a broiling day the sun was now beginning to lose a little of
his terrific power, and, in the shade of the patio upon which the
windows of Julia's room opened, the air was quite cool and pleasant. A
fountain plashed continuously in a little basin that had been white six
centuries ago, when the Moors had brought the marble across the Gulf of
Lyons to build it. The very sound of the water was a relief to
overstrained nerves, and seemed to diminish the tension of the
Julia was alone, and barely made pretence to read the book she held
in her hand. From her seat she could see the bell suspended on the
opposite wall of the courtyard, of which the deep voice at any time of
day or night had the power of stirring her heart to a sudden joy. At
last the desired sound broke the silence of the great house, and Julia
stood breathless at the window while the servant leisurely crossed the
patio and threw open the great door, large enough to admit a carriage
and pair. It was not Larralde, but Father Concha, brought hither by a
note he had received from Sir John Pleydell earlier in the afternoon.
'I shall have the letter in a week from now,' the Englishman had
'Which will be too late,' commented Concha pessimistically.
The señora was out, they told him, but the señorita had remained at
'It is the señorita I desire to see.'
And Julia, at the window above, heard the remark with a sinking
heart. The air seemed to be weighted with the suggestion of calamity.
Concha had the manner of one bringing bad news. She forgot that this
was his usual mien.
'Ah, my child,' he said, coming into the room a minute later and
sitting down rather wearily.
'What?' she asked, her two hands at her breast.
He glanced at her beneath his brows. The wind was in the
north-east, dry and tingling. The sun had worn a coppery hue all day.
Such matters affect women and those who are in mental distress. After
such a day as had at last worn to evening, the mind is at a great
tension, the nerves are strained. It is at such times that men fly
into sudden anger and whip out the knife. At such times women are
reckless, and the stories of human lives take sudden turns.
Concha knew that he had this woman at a disadvantage.
'What?' he echoed. 'I wish I knew. I wish at times I was no
'Because I could help you better. Sometimes it is the man and not
the priest who is the truest friend.'
'Why do you speak like this?' she cried. 'Is there danger? What
'You know best, my child, if there is danger; you know what is
likely to happen.'
Julia stood looking at him with hard eyes—the eyes of one in
'You have always been my friend,' she said slowly, 'my best friend.'
'Yes. A woman's lover is never her best friend.'
'Has anything happened to Esteban?'
The priest did not answer at once, but paused, reflecting, and
dusting his sleeve, where there was always some snuff requiring
attention at such moments.
'I know so little,' he said. 'I am no politician. What can I say?
What can I advise you when I am in the dark? And the time is slipping
'I cannot tell you,' she answered, turning away and looking out of
'You cannot tell the priest—tell the man.'
Then, suddenly, she reached the end of her endurance. Standing with
her back towards him, she told her story, and Concha listened with a
still, breathless avidity as one who, having long sought knowledge,
finds it at last when it seemed out of reach. The little fountain
plashed in the courtyard below; a frog in the basin among the
water-lilies croaked sociably while the priest and the beautiful woman
in the room above made history. For it is not only in kings' palaces
nor yet in Parliaments that the story of the world is shaped.
Concha spoke no word, and Julia, having begun, left nothing unsaid,
but told him every detail in a slow mechanical voice, as if bidden
thereto by a stronger will than her own.
'He is all the world to me,' she said simply, in conclusion.
'Yes; and the happiest women are those who live in a small world.'
A silence fell upon them. The old priest surreptitiously looked at
his watch. He was essentially a man of action.
'My child,' he said, rising, 'when you are an old woman with
children to harass you and make your life worth living, you will
probably look back with thankfulness to this moment. For you have done
that which was your only chance of happiness.'
'Why do you always help me?' she asked, as she had asked a hundred
'Because happiness is so rare that I hate to see it wasted,' he
answered, going towards the door with a grim laugh.
He passed out of the room and crossed the patio slowly. Then, when
the great door had closed behind him, he gathered up the skirts of his
cassock and hurried down the narrow street. In such thoroughfares as
were deserted he ran with the speed and endurance of a spare,
hard-living man. Woman-like, Julia had, after all, done things by
half. She had timed her confession too late.
At the hotel they told the Padre that General Vincente was at dinner
and could not be disturbed.
'He sees no one,' the servant said.
'You do not know who I am,' said Concha, in an irony which, under
the circumstances, he alone could enjoy. Then he passed up the stairs
and bade the waiter begone.
'But I carry the General's dessert,' protested the man.
'No,' said Concha half to himself, 'I have that.'
Vincente was indeed at table with Estella. He looked up as the
priest entered, fingering a cigarette delicately.
'How soon can you take the road?' asked Concha abruptly.
'Ten minutes—the time for a cup of coffee,' was the answer, given
with a pleasant laugh.
'Then order your carriage.'
Vincente looked at his old friend, and the smile never left his
lips, though his eyes were grave enough. It was hard to say whether
aught on earth could disturb this man's equanimity. Then the General
rose and went to the window which opened upon the courtyard. In the
quiet corner near the rain-tank, where a vine grows upon trellis-work,
the dusty travelling-carriage stood, and upon the step of it, eating a
simple meal of bread and dried figs, sat the man who had the reputation
of being the fastest driver in Spain.
'In ten minutes, my good Manuel,' said the General.
'Bueno,' grumbled the driver, with his mouth full—a man of few
'Is it to go far?' asked the General, turning on his heel and
'A long journey.'
'To take the road, Manuel,' cried Vincente, leaning out. He closed
the window before resuming his seat.
'And now, have you any more orders?' he asked with a gay
carelessness. 'I counted on sleeping in a bed to-night.'
'You will not do that,' replied Concha, 'when you hear my news.'
'But first you must promise me not to make use of the information I
give you against any suspected persons—to take, in fact, only
'You have only to name it, my friend. Proceed.'
The old priest paused and passed his hand across his brow. He was
breathless still, and looked worn.
'It is,' he said, 'a very grave matter. I have not had much
experience in such things, for my path has always lain in small
parochial affairs—dealings with children and women.'
Estella was already pouring some wine into a glass. With a woman's
instinct she saw that the old man was overwrought and faint. It was a
Friday, and in his simple way there was no more austere abstinent than
Father Concha, who had probably touched little food throughout the long
'Take your time, my friend; take your time,' said the General, who
never hurried and was never too late. 'A pinch of snuff now—it
stimulates the nerves.'
'It is,' said Concha at length—breaking a biscuit in his long bony
fingers and speaking unembarrassedly with his mouth full—'it is that
I have by the merest accident lighted upon a matter of political
The General nodded, and held his wine up to the light.
'There are matters of much political importance,' he said, 'in the
air just now.'
'A plot,' continued Concha, 'spreading over all Spain; the devil is
surely in it, and I know the Carlists are. A plot, believe me, to
assassinate and rob and kidnap.'
'Yes,' said the General with his tolerant little smile. 'Yes, my
dear Padre. Some men are so bloodthirsty; is it not so?'
'This plot is directed against the little Queen; against the Queen
Regent; against many who are notable Royalists occupying high posts in
the Government or the army.'
He glanced at Estella, and then looked meaningly at the General, who
could scarcely fail to comprehend. 'Let us deal with the Queen and the
Queen Regent,' said Vincente; 'the others are probably able to take
care of themselves.'
'None can guard himself against assassination.'
The General seemed for a moment inclined to dispute this statement,
but shrugged his shoulders and finally passed it by.
'The Queen,' he said. 'What of her?'
In response, Concha took a newspaper from his pocket and spread it
out on the table. After a brief search up and down the ill-printed
columns, he found the desired paragraph, and read aloud:
'The Queen is in Madrid. The Queen Regent journeys from Seville to
rejoin her daughter in the capital, prosecuting her journey by easy
stages and accompanied by a small guard. Her Majesty sleeps at Ciudad
Real to-night, and at Toledo to-morrow night.'
'This,' said Concha, folding the newspaper, 'is a Carlist and
revolutionary rag whose readers are scarcely likely to be interested
for a good motive in the movements of the Queen Regent.'
'True, my dear Padre—true,' admitted Vincente, half reluctantly.
'Many kiss hands they would fain see chopped off. In the streets
and on the Plaza I have seen many reading this newspaper and talking
over it with unusual interest. Like a bad lawyer, I am giving the
confirmation of the argument before the argument itself.'
'No matter—no matter.'
'Ah! but we have no time to do things ill or carelessly,' said the
priest. 'My story is a long one, but I will tell it as quickly as I
'Take your time,' urged the General soothingly. 'This great plot,
you say, which is to spread over all Spain—'
'Is for to-morrow night, my friend.'
CHAPTER XXV. SWORDCRAFT.
'Rien n'est plus courageux qu'un coeur patient, rien n'est plus
sûr de soi qu'un ésprit doux.'
The General set down his glass, and a queer light came into his
eyes, usually so smiling and pleasant.
'Ah! Then you are right, my friend. Tell us your story as quickly
'It appears,' said Concha, 'that there has been in progress for many
months a plot to assassinate the Queen Regent and to seize the person
of the little Queen, expelling her from Spain, and bringing in, not Don
Carlos, who is a spent firework, but a Republic—a more dangerous
firework, that usually bursts in the hands of those that light it.
This plot has been finally put into shape by a letter—'
He paused, tapped on the table with his bony fingers, and glanced at
'A letter which has been going the round of all the malcontents in
the Peninsula. Each faction-leader, to show that he has read it and
agrees to obey its commands, initials the letter. It has then been
returned to an intermediary, who sends it to the next—never by post,
because the post is watched—always by hand, and usually by the hand
of a person innocent of its contents.'
'Yes,' murmured the General absently, and there was a queer little
smile on Estella's lips.
'To think,' cried Concha, with a sudden fire less surprising in
Spain than in England, 'to think that we have all seen it—have
touched it! Name of a saint! I had it under my hand in the hotel at
Algeciras, and I left it on the table. And now it has been the round,
and all the initials are placed upon it, and it is for to-morrow night.'
'Where have you learnt this?' asked the General in a voice that made
Estella look at him. She had never seen him as his enemies had seen
him, and even they confessed that he was always visible enough in
action. Perhaps there was another man behind the personality of this
deprecating, pleasant-spoken little sybarite—a man who only appeared
(oh rara avis!) when he was wanted.
'No matter,' replied Concha, in a voice as hard and sharp.
'No; after all, it is of no matter, so long as your information is
'You may stake your life on that,' said Concha, and remembered the
words ever after. 'It has been decided to make this journey from
Seville to Madrid the opportunity of assassinating the Queen Regent.'
'It will not be the first time they have tried,' put in the General.
'No. But this time they will succeed, and it is to be here—
to-morrow night—in Toledo. After the Queen Regent's death, and in
the confusion that will supervene, the little Queen will disappear, and
then upon the rubbish-heap will spring up the mushrooms as they did in
France; and this rubbish-heap, like the other, will foul the whole air
He shook his head pessimistically till the long, wispy grey hair
waved from side to side, and his left hand, resting on the wrist-bone
on the table, made an indescribable gesture that showed a ftid air
tainted by darksome growths.
There was a silence in the room broken by no outside sound but the
chink of champed bits as the horses stood in their traces below.
Indeed, the city of Toledo seemed strangely still this evening, and the
very air had a sense of waiting in it. The priest sat and looked at
his lifelong friend, his furrowed face the incarnation of cynical
hopelessness. 'What is, is worst,' he seemed to say. His yellow, wise
old eyes watched the quick face with the air of one who, having posed
an insoluble problem, awaits with a sarcastic humour the admission of
General Vincente, who had just finished his wine, wiped his
moustache delicately with his table-napkin. He was thinking—quickly,
systematically, as men learn to think under fire. Perhaps, indeed, he
had the thoughts half matured in his mind—as the greatest general the
world has seen confessed that he ever had—that he was never taken
quite by surprise. Vincente smiled as he thought: a habit he had
acquired on the field, where a staff, and perhaps a whole army, took
its cue from his face and read the turn of fortune there. Then he
looked up straight at Estella, who was watching him.
'Can you start on a journey, now—in five minutes?' he asked.
'Yes,' she answered, rising and going towards the door.
'Have you a white mantilla among your travelling things?' he asked
Estella turned at the doorway and nodded. 'Yes,' she said again.
'Then take it with you, and a cloak, but no heavy luggage.'
Estella closed the door.
'You can come with us?' said the General to Concha, half command,
'If you wish it.'
'You may be wanted. I have a plan—a little plan,' and he gave a
short laugh. 'It may succeed.'
He went to a side table, where some cold meats still stood, and,
taking up a small chicken daintily with a fork, he folded it in a
'It will be Saturday,' he said simply, 'before we have reached our
journey's end, and you will be hungry. Have you a pocket?'
'Has a priest a pocket?' asked Concha, with a grim humour, and he
slipped the provisions into the folds of his cassock. He was still
eating a biscuit hurriedly.
'I believe you have no money?' said the General suddenly.
'I have only enough,' admitted the old man, 'to take me back to
Ronda; whither, by the way, my duty calls me.'
'I think not. Your Master can spare you for a while; my mistress
cannot do without you.'
At this moment Estella came back into the room ready for her
journey. The girl had changed of late. Her face had lost a little
roundness and had gained exceedingly in expression. Her eyes, too,
were different. That change had come to them which comes to all women
between the ages of twenty and thirty, quite irrespective of their
state. A certain restlessness, or a quiet content, are what one
usually sees in a woman's face. Estella's eyes wore that latter look,
which seems to indicate a knowledge of the meaning of life and a
contentment that it should be no different.
Vincente was writing at the table.
'We shall want help,' he said, without looking up. 'I am sending
for a good man.'
And he smiled as he shook the small sand-castor over the paper.
'May one ask,' said Concha, 'where we are going?'
'We are going to Ciudad Real, my dear friend, since you are so
curious. But we shall come back—we shall come back.'
He was writing another despatch as he spoke, and at a sign from him
Estella went to the door and clapped her hands, the only method of
summoning a servant in general use at that time in Spain. The call was
answered by an orderly, who stood at attention in the doorway for a
full five minutes while the General wrote further orders in his neat,
small calligraphy. There were half a dozen letters in all—curt
military despatches without preamble and without mercy. For this
soldier conducted military matters in a singularly domestic way,
planning his campaigns by the fireside and bringing about the downfall
of an enemy while sitting in his daughter's drawing-room. Indeed,
Estella's blotting-book bore the impress of more than one death warrant
or an order as good as such, written casually on her stationery and
with her pen.
'Will you have the goodness to despatch these at once?' was the
message taken by the orderly to the General's aide-de-camp, and the
gallopers, who were always in readiness, smiled as they heard the
'It will be pleasant to travel in the cool of the evening, provided
that one guards against a chill,' said the General, making his final
preparations. 'I require but a moment to speak to my faithful
aide-de-camp, and then we embark.'
The moon was rising as the carriage rattled across the Bridge of
Alcantara, and Larralde, taking the air between Wamba's Gate and the
little fort that guards the entrance to the city, recognised the
equipage as it passed him. He saw also the outline of Concha's figure
in the darkest corner of the carriage, with his back to the horses, his
head bowed in meditation. Estella he saw and recognised, while two
mounted attendants clattering in the rear of the carriage testified by
their presence to the fact that the General had taken the road again.
'It is well,' said Larralde to himself. 'They are all going back to
Ronda, and Julia will be rid of their influence. Ronda will serve as
well as Toledo so far as Vincente is concerned. But I will wait to
make sure that they are not losing sight of him.'
So Señor Larralde, cloaked to the eyebrows, leant gracefully against
the wall, and, like many another upon the bridge after that breathless
day, drank in the cool air that rose from the river. Presently—
indeed, before the sound of the distant wheels was quite lost—two
horsemen, cloaked and provided with such light luggage as the saddle
can accommodate, rode leisurely through the gateway and up the incline
that makes a short cut to the great road running southward to Ciudad
Real. Larralde gave a little nod of self-confidence and satisfaction,
as one who, having conceived and built up a great scheme, is pleased to
see each component part of it act independently, and slip into its
The General's first thought was for Estella's comfort, and he
utilised the long hill which they had to ascend on leaving the town to
make such arrangements as space would allow for their common ease.
'You must sleep, my child,' he said. 'We cannot hope to reach
Ciudad Real before midday to-morrow, and it is as likely as not that we
shall have but a few hours' rest there.'
And Estella, who had travelled vast distances over vile roads so
long as her memory went back, who had never known what it is to live in
a country that is at peace, leant back in her corner and closed her
eyes. Had she really been disposed to sleep, however, she could
scarcely have done it, for the General's solicitude manifested itself
by a hundred little devices for her greater repose. For her comfort he
made Concha move.
'An old traveller like you must shift for yourself,' he said gaily.
'No need to seek shelter for an old ox,' replied Concha, moving into
the other corner, where he carefully unfolded his pocket-handkerchief
and laid it over his face, where his long nose, protruding, caused it
to fall into fantastic folds. He clasped his hands upon his hat, which
lay on his knee, and, leaning back, presently began to snore gently and
regularly—a peaceful, sleep-inducing sound, and an excellent
example. The General, whose sword seemed to take up half the carriage,
still watched Estella, and if the air made her mantilla flutter, drew
up the window with the solicitude of a lover and a maternal
noiselessness. Then, with one hand on hers, and the other grasping his
sword, he leant back, but did not close his eyes.
Thus they travelled on through the luminous night. The roads were
neither worse nor better than they are to-day in Spain—than they were
in England in the Middle Ages—and their way lay over the hill ranges
that lie between the watersheds of the Tagus and the Guadiana. At
times they passed through well-tended valleys, where corn and olives
and vines seemed to grow on the same soil, but for the greater part of
the night they ascended and descended the upper slopes, where herds of
goats, half awakened as they slept in a ring about their guardian,
looked at them with startled eyes. The shepherds and goatherds, who,
like those of old, lay cloaked upon the ground, and tended their flocks
by night, did not trouble to raise their heads.
Concha alone slept, for the General had a thousand thoughts that
kept him awake and bright-eyed, while Estella knew from her father's
manner and restlessness that these were no small events that now
stirred Spain, and seemed to close men's mouths, so that near friends
distrusted one another, and brother was divided against brother.
Indeed, others were on the road that night, and horsemen passed the
heavy carriage from time to time.
In the early morning a change of horses was effected at a large inn
near the summit of a pass above Malagon, and here an orderly, who
seemed to recognise the General, was climbing into the saddle as the
Vincentes quitted their carriage and passed into the common room of the
venta for a hasty cup of coffee.
'It is the Queen's courier,' said the innkeeper grandly, 'who takes
the road before her Majesty in order to secure horses.'
'Ah,' said the General, breaking his bread and dropping it into his
cup. 'Is that so? The Queen Regent, you mean?'
'Queen or Queen Regent, she requires four horses this evening,
Excellency—that is all my concern.'
'True, my friend; true. That is well said. And the horses will be
forthcoming, no doubt.'
'They will be forthcoming,' said the man. 'And the Excellency's
carriage is ready.'
In the early morning light they drove on, now descending towards the
great valley of the Guadiana, and at midday, as Vincente had foreseen,
gained a sight of the ancient city of Ciudad Real lying amid trees
below them. Ciudad Real is less interesting than its name, and there
is little that is royal about its dirty streets and ill-kept houses.
No one gave great heed to the travelling-carriage, for this is a great
centre where travellers journeying east or west, north or south, must
needs pause for a change of horses. At the inn there were vacant
rooms, and that hasty welcome accorded to the traveller at wayside
houses where none stay longer than they can help.
'No,' said the landlord, in answer to the General's query. 'We are
not busy, though we expect a lady who will pass the hour of the siesta
here and then proceed northward.'
CHAPTER XXVI. WOMANCRAFT.
'Il est rare que la tête des rois soit faite à la mesure de leur
In the best room of the inn where Vincente and his tired companions
sought a few hours' rest there sat alone, and in thought, a woman of
middle age. Somewhat stout, she yet had that air which arouses the
attention without being worthy of the name of beauty. This lady had
doubtless swayed men's hearts by a word or a glance, for she still
carried herself with assurance, and a hundred little details of her
dress would have told another woman that she still desired to please.
She wore a white mantilla.
The hour of the siesta was over, and after the great heat of the day
a cool air was swinging down on the bosom of the river to the parched
lowlands. It stirred the leaves of a climbing heliotrope which
encircled the open windows, and wafted into the ill-furnished room a
scent of stable-yard and dust.
The lady, sitting with her chin resting in the palm of her small
white hand, seemed to have lately roused herself from sleep, and now
had the expectant air of one who awaits a carriage and is about to set
out on a long journey. Her eyes were dark and tired-looking, and their
expression was not that of a good woman. A sensual man is usually
weak, but women are different; and this face, with its faded complexion
and tired eyes, this woman of the majestic presence and beautiful
hands, was both strong and sensual. This, in a word, was a Queen who
never forgot that she was a woman. As it was said of the Princess
Christina, so it has been spoken of the Queen, that many had killed
themselves for hopeless love of her. For this was the most dangerous
of the world's creatures—a royal coquette. Such would our own Queen
Bess have been had not God, for the good of England, given her a plain
face and an ungainly form. For surely the devil is in it when a woman
can command both love and men. Queen Christina, since the death of a
husband who was years older than herself (and, as some say, before that
historic event), had played a woman's game with that skill which men
only half recognise, and had played it with the additional incentive
that behind her insatiable vanity lay the heavier stake of a crown.
She was not the first to turn the strong current of man's passion to
her own deliberate gain—nay, ninety-nine out of a hundred women do
it. But the majority only play for a suburban villa and a few hundred
pounds a year; Queen Christina of Spain handled her cards for a throne
and the continuance of an ill-starred dynasty.
As she sat in the hotel chamber in Ciudad Real—that forlornest of
royal cities—her face wore the pettish look of one who, having passed
through great events, having tasted of great passions and moved amid
the machinery of life and death, finds the ordinary routine of
existence intolerably irksome. Many faces wear such a look in this
country; every second beautiful face in London has it. And these women
- heaven help them—find the morning hours dull, because every
afternoon has not its great event and every evening the excitement of a
The Queen was travelling incognita, and that fact alone robbed her
progress of a sense of excitement. She had to do without the shout of
the multitude—the passing admiration of the man in the street. She
knew that she was yet many hours removed from Madrid, where she had
admirers, and the next best possession—enemies. Ciudad Real was
intolerably dull and provincial. A servant knocked at the door.
'General Vincente, your Majesty, craves the favour of a moment.'
'Ah!' exclaimed the Queen, the light returning to her eyes, a faint
colour flushing her cheek. 'In five minutes I will receive him.'
And there is no need to say how the Queen spent those minutes.
'Your Majesty,' said the General, bending over her hand, which he
touched with his lips, 'I have news of the greatest importance.'
The suggestion of a scornful smile flickered for a moment in the
royal eyes. It was surely news enough for any man that she was a woman
- beautiful still—possessing still that intangible and fatal gift of
pleasing. The woman slowly faded from her eyes as they rested on the
great soldier's face, and the Queen it was who, with a gracious
gesture, bade him be seated. But the General remained standing. He
alone perhaps of all the men who had to deal with her—of all those
military puppets with whom she played her royal game—had never
crossed that vague boundary which many had overstepped to their own
'It concerns your Majesty's life,' said Vincente bluntly, and calm
in the certainty of his own theory that good blood, whether it flow in
the veins of man or woman, assuredly carries a high courage.
'Ah!' said the Queen Regent, whose humour still inclined towards
those affairs which interested her before the affairs of State. 'But
with men such as you about me, my dear General, what need I fear?'
'Treachery, Madame,' he answered, with his sudden smile and a bow.
She frowned. When a Queen stoops to dalliance a subject must not be
'Ah! What is it that concerns my life? Another plot?' she inquired
'Another plot, but one of greater importance than those that exist
in the republican cafés of every town in your Majesty's kingdom. This
is a widespread conspiracy, and I fear that many powerful persons are
concerned in it; but that, your Majesty, is not my department nor
'What is your concern, General?' she asked, looking at him over her
'To save your Majesty's life to-night.'
'To-night!' she echoed, her coquetry gone.
'But how and where?'
'Assassination, Madame, in Toledo. You are three hours late in your
journey. But all Toledo will be astir awaiting you, though it be till
The Queen Regent closed her fan slowly. She was, as the rapid
events of her reign and regency have proved, one of those women who
rise to the occasion.
'Then one must act at once,' she said.
The General bowed.
'What have you done?' she asked.
'I have sent to Madrid for a regiment that I know; they are as my
own children. I have killed so many of them that the remainder love
me. I have travelled from Toledo to meet your Majesty on the road, or
'And what means have you of preventing this thing?'
'I have brought the means with me, Madame.'
'Troops?' asked the Queen doubtfully, knowing where the canker-worm
'A woman and a priest, Madame.'
'And I propose that your Majesty journey to Madrid in my carriage,
attended only by my orderlies, by way of Aranjuez. You will be safe in
Madrid, where the Queen will require her mother's care.'
'Yes. And the remainder of your plan?'
'I will travel back to Toledo in your Majesty's carriage with the
woman and the priest and your bodyguard—just as your Majesty is in
the habit of travelling. Toledo wants a fight; nothing else will
satisfy them. They shall have it—before dawn. The very best I have
to offer them.'
And General Vincente gave a queer, cheery little laugh, as if he
were arranging a practical joke.
'But the fight will be round my carriage—'
'Possibly. I would rather that it took place in the Calle de la
Ciudad, or around the Casa del Ayuntamiento, where your Majesty is
expected to sleep to-night.'
'And these persons—this woman who risks her life to save mine—
who is she?'
'My daughter,' answered the General gravely.
'She is here—in the hotel now?'
The General bowed.
'I have heard that she is beautiful,' said the Queen, with a quick
glance towards her companion. 'How is it that you have never brought
her to Court, you who come so seldom yourself?'
Vincente made no reply.
'However, bring her to me now.'
'She has travelled far, Madame, and is not prepared for presentation
to her Queen.'
'This is no time for formalities. She is about to run a great risk
for my sake, a greater risk than I could ever ask her to run. Present
her as one woman to another, General.'
But General Vincente bowed gravely and made no reply. The colour
slowly rose to the Queen Regent's face—a dull red. She opened her
fan, closed it again, and sat with furtive downcast eyes. Suddenly she
looked up and met his gaze.
'You refuse,' she said, with an insolent air of indifference. 'You
think that I am unworthy to—meet your daughter.'
'I think only of the exigency of the moment,' was his reply. 'Every
minute we lose is a gain to our enemies. If our trick is discovered
Aranjuez will be no safer for your Majesty than is Toledo. You must be
safely in Madrid before it is discovered in Toledo that you have taken
the other route, and that the person they have mistaken for you is in
reality my daughter.'
'But she may be killed,' exclaimed the Queen.
'We may all be killed, Madame,' he replied lightly. 'I beg that you
will start at once in my carriage with your chaplain and the holy lady
who is doubtless travelling with you.'
The Queen glanced sharply at him. It was known that although her
own life was anything but exemplary, she loved to associate with women
who, under the cloak of religion and an austere virtue, intrigued with
all parties and condoned the Queen's offences.
'I cannot understand you,' she said, with that sudden lapse into
familiarity which had led to the undoing of more than one ambitious
courtier. 'You seem to worship the crown and despise the head it rests
'So long as I serve your Majesty faithfully—'
'But you have no right to despise me,' she interrupted passionately.
'If I despised you, should I be here now—should I be doing you
'I do not know. I tell you I do not understand you.'
And the Queen looked hard at the man who, for this very reason,
interested one who had all her life dealt and intrigued with men of
obvious motive and unblushing ambition.
So strong is a ruling passion that even in sight of death (for the
Queen Regent knew that Spain was full of her enemies and rendered
callous to bloodshed by a long war) vanity was alert in this woman's
breast. Even while General Vincente, that unrivalled strategist,
detailed his plans, she kept harking back to the question that puzzled
her, and but half listened to his instructions.
Those desirous of travelling without attracting attention in Spain
are wise to time their arrival and departure for the afternoon. At
this time, while the sun is yet hot, all shutters are closed, and the
business of life, the haggling in the market-place, the bustle of the
barrack yard, the leisurely labour of the fields, are suspended. It
was about four o'clock—indeed, the city clocks were striking that
hour—when the two carriages in the inn yard at Ciudad Real were made
ready for the road. Father Concha, who never took an active part in
passing incidents while his old friend and comrade was near, sat in a
shady corner of the patio and smoked a cigarette. An affable ostler
had in vain endeavoured to engage him in conversation. Two small
children had begged of him, and now he was left in meditative solitude.
'In a short three minutes,' said the ostler, 'and the Excellencies
can then depart. In which direction, reverendo, if one may ask?'
'One may always ask, my friend,' replied the priest. 'Indeed, the
holy books are of opinion that it cannot be overdone. That chin strap
is too tight.'
'Ah, I see the reverendo knows a horse.'
'And an ass,' added Concha.
At this moment the General emerged from the shadow of the staircase,
which was open and of stone. He was followed by Estella, as it would
appear, and they hurried across the sunlighted patio, the girl carrying
her fan to screen her face.
'Are you rested, my child?' asked Concha at the carriage door.
The lady lowered the fan for a moment and met his eyes. A quick
look of surprise flashed across Concha's face and he half bowed. Then
he repeated his question in a louder voice:
'Are you rested, my child, after our long journey?'
'Thank you, my father, yes.'
And the ostler watched with open-mouthed interest.
The other carriage had been drawn up to that side of the courtyard
where the open stairway was, and here also the bustle of departure and
a hurrying female form, anxious to gain the shade of the vehicle, were
discernible. It was all done so quickly, with such a military
completeness of detail, that the carriages had passed through the great
doorway and the troopers—merely a general's escort—had clattered
after them before the few onlookers had fully realised that these were
surely travellers of some note.
The ostler hurried to the street to watch them go.
'They are going to the north,' he said to himself, as he saw the
carriages turn in the direction of the river and the ancient Puerta de
Toledo. 'They go to the north—and assuredly the General has come to
conduct her to Toledo.'
Strange to say, although it was the hour of rest, many shutters in
the narrow street were open, and more than one peeping face was turned
towards the departing carriages.
CHAPTER XXVII. A NIGHT JOURNEY.
'Let me but bear your love, I'll bear your cares.'
At the cross-roads on the northern side of the river the two
carriages parted company, the dusty equipage of General Vincente taking
the road to Aranjuez that leads to the right and mounts steadily
through olive groves. The other carriage—which, despite its plain
and sombre colours, still had an air of grandeur and almost of royalty,
with its great wheels and curved springs—turned to the left and
headed for Toledo. Behind it clattered a dozen troopers, picked men,
with huge swinging swords and travel-stained clothes. The dust rose in
a cloud under the horses' feet and hovered in the sullen air. There
was no breath of wind, and the sun shone through a faint haze which
seemed only to add to the heat.
Concha lowered the window and thrust forward his long inquiring nose.
'What is it?' asked the General.
'Thunder—I smell it. We shall have a storm to-night.' He looked
out mopping his brow. 'Name of a saint! how thick the air is.'
'It will be clear before the morning,' said Vincente the optimist.
And the carriage rattled on towards the city of strife, where Jew,
Goth and Roman, Moor and Inquisitor, have all had their day. Estella
was silent, drooping with fatigue. The General alone seemed unmoved
and heedless of the heat—a man of steel, as bright and ready as his
There is no civilised country in the world so bare as Spain, and no
part of the Peninsula so sparsely populated as the Castiles. The road
ran for the most part over brown and barren uplands, with here and
there a valley where wheat and olives and vineyards graced the lower
slopes. The crying need of all nature was for shade; for the ilex is a
small-leaved tree giving a thin shadow with no cool depths amid the
branches. All was brown and barren and parched. The earth seemed to
lie fainting and awaiting the rain. The horses trotted with extended
necks and open mouths, their coats wet with sweat. The driver—an
Andalusian, with a face like a Moorish pirate—kept encouraging them
with word and rein, jerking and whipping only when they seemed likely
to fall from sheer fatigue and sun-weariness. At last the sun began to
set in a glow like that of a great furnace, and the reflection lay over
the land in ruddy splendour.
'Ah!' said Concha, looking out, 'it will be a great storm—and it
will soon come.'
Vast columns of cloud were climbing up from the sunset into a sullen
sky, thrown up in spreading mares' tails by a hundred contrary gusts of
wind, as if there were explosive matter in the great furnace of the
'Nature is always on my side,' said Vincente, with his chuckling
laugh. He sat, watch in hand, noting the passage of the kilometres.
At last the sun went down behind a distant line of hill—the
watershed of the Tagus—and immediately the air was cool. Without
stopping, the driver wrapped his cloak round him, and the troopers
followed his example. A few minutes later a cold breeze sprung up
suddenly, coming from the north and swirling the dust high in the air.
'It is well,' said Vincente, who assuredly saw good in everything;
'the wind comes first, and therefore the storm will be short.'
As he spoke the thunder rolled among the hills.
'It is almost like guns,' he added, with a queer look in his eyes
suggestive of some memory.
Then, preceded by a rushing wind, the rain came, turning to hail,
and stopping suddenly in a breathless pause, only to recommence with a
renewed and splashing vigour. Concha drew up the windows, and the
water streamed down them in a continuous ripple. Estella, who had been
sleeping, roused herself. She looked fresh, and her eyes were bright
with excitement. She had brought home with her from her English school
that air of freshness and a dainty vigour which makes Englishwomen
different from all other women in the world, and an English schoolgirl
one of the brightest, purest, and sweetest of God's creatures.
Concha looked at her with his grim smile—amused at a youthfulness
which could enable her to fall asleep at such a time and wake up so
A halt was made at a roadside venta, where the travellers partook of
a hurried meal. Darkness came on before the horses were sufficiently
rested, and by the light of an ill-smelling lamp the General had his
inevitable cup of coffee. The rain had now ceased, but the sky
remained overcast and the night was a dark one. The travellers took
their places in the carriage, and again the monotony of the road, the
steady trot of the horses, the sing-song words of encouragement of
their driver, monopolised the thoughts of sleepy minds. It seemed to
Estella that life was all journeys, and that she had been on the road
for years. The swing of the carriage, the little varieties of the
road, but served to add to her somnolence. She only half woke up when,
about ten o'clock, a halt was made to change horses, and the General
quitted the carriage for a few minutes to talk earnestly with two
horsemen, who were apparently awaiting their arrival. No time was lost
here, and the carriage went forward with an increased escort. The two
new-comers rode by the carriage, one on either side.
When Estella woke up, the moon had risen and the carriage was making
slow progress up a long hill. She noticed that a horseman was on
either side, close by the carriage window.
'Who is that?' she asked.
'Conyngham,' replied the General.
'You sent for him?' inquired Estella, in a hard voice.
Estella was wakeful enough now, and sat upright, looking straight in
front of her. At times she glanced towards the window, which was now
open, where the head of Conyngham's charger appeared. The horse
trotted steadily, with a queer jerk of the head and that willingness to
do his best which gains for horses a place in the hearts of all who
have to do with them.
'Will there be fighting?' asked Estella suddenly.
The General shrugged his shoulders.
'One cannot call it fighting. There may be a disturbance in the
streets,' he answered.
Concha, quiet in his corner, with his back to the horses, watched
the girl, and saw that her eyes were wide with anxiety now—quite
suddenly. She, who had never thought of fear till this moment. She
moved uneasily in her seat, fidgeting as the young ever do when
troubled. It is only with years that we learn to bear a burden quietly.
'Who is that?' she asked shortly, pointing to the other window,
which was closed.
'Concepçion Vara—Conyngham's servant,' replied the General, who
for some reason was inclined to curtness in his speech.
They were approaching Toledo, and passed through a village from time
to time, where the cafés were still lighted up, and people seemed to be
astir in the shadow of the houses. At last, in the main thoroughfare
of a larger village within a stage of Toledo, a final halt was made to
change horses. The street, dimly lighted by a couple of oil lamps
swinging from gibbets at the corners of a crossroad, seemed to be
peopled by shadows surreptitiously lurking in doorways. There was a
false air of quiet in the houses, and peeping eyes looked out from
behind the bars that covered every window, for even modern Spanish
houses are barred as if for a siege, and in the ancient villages every
man's house is indeed his castle.
The driver had left the box, and seemed to be having some trouble
with the ostlers and stable-helps; for his voice could be heard raised
in anger and urging them to greater haste.
Conyngham, motionless in the saddle, touched his horse with his
heel, advancing a few paces so as to screen the window. Concepçion, on
the other side, did the same, so that the travellers in the interior of
the vehicle saw but the dark shape of the horses and the long cloaks of
their riders. They could perceive Conyngham quickly throw back his
cape in order to have a free hand. Then there came the sound of
scuffling feet and an indefinable sense of strife in the very air.
'But we will see—we will see who is in the carriage!' cried a
shrill voice, and a hoarse shout from many bibulous throats confirmed
'Quick!' said Conyngham's voice. 'Quick—take your reins—never
mind the lamps.'
And the carriage swayed as the man leapt to his place. Estella made
a movement to look out of the window, but Concha had stood up against
it, opposing his broad back alike to curious glances or a knife or a
bullet. At the other window the General, better versed in such
matters, held the leather cushion upon which he had been sitting across
the sash. With his left hand he restrained Estella.
'Keep still,' he said. 'Sit back. Conyngham can take care of
The carriage swayed forward, and a volley of stones rattled on it
like hail. It rose jerkily on one side, and bumped over some obstacle.
'One who has his quietus,' said Concha; 'these royal carriages are
The horses were galloping now. Concha sat down rubbing his back.
Conyngham was galloping by the window, and they could see his spur
flashing in the moonlight as he used it. The reins hung loose, and
both his hands were employed elsewhere, for he had a man half across
the saddle in front of him, who held to him with one arm thrown round
his neck, while the other was raised and a gleam of steel was at the
end of it. Concepçion, from the other side, threw a knife over the
roof of the carriage—he could hit a cork at twenty paces but he
missed this time.
The General, from within, leant across Estella, sword in hand, with
gleaming eyes. But Conyngham seemed to have got the hold he desired,
for his assailant came suddenly swinging over the horse's neck, and one
of his flying heels crashed through the window by Concha's head, making
that ecclesiastic swear like any layman. The carriage was lifted on
one side again, and bumped heavily.
'Another,' said Concha, looking for broken glass in the folds of his
cassock. 'That is a pretty trick of Conyngham's.'
'And the man is a horseman,' added the General, sheathing his sword
- 'a horseman. It warms the heart to see it.'
Then he leant out of the window and asked if any were hurt.
'I am afraid, Excellency, that I hurt one,' answered Vara. 'Where
the neck joins the shoulder. It is a pretty spot for the knife—
nothing to turn a point.'
He rubbed a sulphur match on the leg of his trouser, and lighted a
cigarette as he rode along.
'On our side no accidents,' continued Vara, with a careless
grandeur, 'unless the reverendo received a kick in the face.'
'The reverendo received a stone in the small of the back,' growled
Concha pessimistically, 'where there was already a corner of lumbago.'
Conyngham, standing in his stirrups, was looking back. A man lay
motionless on the road, and beyond, at the cross-roads, another was
riding up a hill to the right at a hand gallop.
'It is the road to Madrid,' said Concepçion, noting the direction of
the Englishman's glance.
The General, leaning out of the carriage window, was also looking
'They have sent a messenger to Madrid, Excellency, with the news
that the Queen is on the road to Toledo,' said Concepçion.
'It is well,' answered Vincente, with a laugh.
As they journeyed, although it was nearly midnight, there appeared
from time to time, and for the most part in the neighbourhood of a
village, one who seemed to have been awaiting their passage, and
immediately set out on foot or horseback by one of the shorter
bridle-paths that abound in Spain. No one of these spies escaped the
notice of Concepçion, whose training amid the mountains of Andalusia
had sharpened his eyesight and added keenness to every sense.
'It is like a cat walking down an alley full of dogs,' he muttered.
At last the lights of Toledo hove in sight, and across the river
came the sound of the city clocks tolling the hour.
'Midnight,' said Concha. 'And all respectable folk are in their
beds. At night all cats are grey.'
No one heeded him. Estella was sitting upright, bright-eyed and
wakeful. The General looked out of the window at every moment. Across
the river they could see lights moving, and many houses that had been
illuminated were suddenly dark.
'See,' said the General, leaning out of the window and speaking to
Conyngham, 'they have heard the sound of our wheels.'
At the farther end of the Bridge of Alcantara, on the road which now
leads to the railway station, two horsemen were stationed, hidden in
the shadow of the trees that border the pathway.
'Those should be Guardias Civiles,' said Concepçion, who had studied
the ways of those gentry all his life. 'But they are not. They have
horses that have never been taught to stand still.'
As he spoke the men vanished, moving noiselessly in the thick dust
which lay on the Madrid road.
The General saw them go—and smiled. These men carried word to
their fellows in Madrid for the seizure of the little Queen. But
before they could reach the capital the Queen Regent herself would be
there—a woman in a thousand, of inflexible nerve, of infinite
The carriage rattled over the narrow bridge which rings hollow to
the sound of wheels. It passed under the gate that Wamba built and up
the tree-girt incline to the city. The streets were deserted, and no
window showed a light. A watchman in his shelter, at the corner by the
synagogue, peered at them over the folds of his cloak, and noting the
clank of scabbard against spur, paid no further heed to a traveller who
took the road with such outward signs of authority.
'It is still enough—and quiet,' said Concha, looking out.
'As quiet as a watching cat,' replied Vincente.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE CITY OF STRIFE.
'What lot is mine
Whose foresight preaches peace, my heart so slow
To feel it!'
Through these quiet streets the party clattered noisily enough, for
the rain had left the rounded stones slippery, and the horses were too
tired for a sure step. There were no lights at the street corners, for
all had been extinguished at midnight, and the only glimmer of a lamp
that relieved the darkness was shining through the stained-glass
windows of the Cathedral, where the sacred oil burnt night and day.
The Queen was evidently expected at the Casa del Ayuntamiento, for
at the approach of the carriage the great doors were thrown open and a
number of servants appeared in the patio, which was but dimly lighted.
By the General's orders the small body-guard passed through the doors,
which were then closed, instead of continuing their way to the barracks
in the Alcazar.
This Casa del Ayuntamiento stands, as many travellers know, in the
Plaza of the same name, and faces the Cathedral, which is without doubt
the oldest, as it assuredly is the most beautiful, church in the
world. The mansion-house of Toledo, in addition to some palatial halls
which are of historic renown, has several suites of rooms used from
time to time by great personages passing through or visiting the city.
The house itself is old, as we esteem age in England, while in
comparison to the buildings around it it is modern. Built, however, at
a period when beauty of architecture was secondary to power of
resistance, the palace is strong enough, and General Vincente smiled
happily as the great doors were closed. He was the last to look out
into the streets and across the little Plaza del Ayuntamiento, which
was deserted and looked peaceful enough in the light of a waning moon.
The carriage door was opened by a lacquey, and Conyngham gave
Estella his hand. All the servants bowed as she passed up the stairs,
her face screened by the folds of her white mantilla. There was a
queer hush in this great house, and in the manner of the servants. The
cathedral clock rang out the half-hour. The General led the way to the
room on the first floor that overlooks the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. It
is a vast apartment, hung with tapestries and pictures such as men
travel many miles to see. The windows, which are large in proportion
to the height of the room, open upon a stone balcony, which runs the
length of the house and looks down upon the Plaza and across this to
the great façade of the Cathedral. Candles, hurriedly lighted, made
the room into a very desert of shadows. At the far end, a table was
spread with cold meats and lighted by high silver candelabra.
'Ah!' said Concha, going towards the supper-table.
Estella turned, and for the first time met Conyngham's eyes. His
face startled her. It was so grave.
'Were you hurt?' she asked sharply.
'Not this time, señorita.'
Then she turned with a sudden laugh towards her father. 'Did I play
my part well?' she asked.
'Yes, my child.' And even he was grave.
'Unless I am mistaken,' he continued, glancing at the shuttered
windows, 'we have only begun our task.' He was reading, as he spoke,
some despatches which a servant had handed to him.
'There is one advantage in a soldier's life,' he said, smiling at
Conyngham, 'which is not, I think, sufficiently recognised—namely,
that one's duty is so often clearly defined. At the present moment it
is a question of keeping up the deception we have practised upon these
good people of Toledo sufficiently long to enable the Queen Regent to
reach Madrid. In order to make certain of this we must lead the people
to understand that the Queen is in this house until, at least,
daylight. Given so much advantage, I think that her Majesty can reach
the capital an hour before any messenger from Toledo. Two horsemen
quitted the Bridge of Alcantara as we crossed it, riding towards
Madrid; but they will not reach the capital—I have seen to that.'
He paused and walked to one of the long windows, which he opened.
The outer shutters remained closed, and he did not unbar them, but
'All is still as yet,' he said, returning to the table, where Father
Concha was philosophically cutting up a cold chicken. 'That is a good
idea of yours,' he said. 'We may all require our full forces of mind
and body before the dawn.'
He drew forward a chair, and Estella, obeying his gesture, sat down
and so far controlled her feelings as to eat a little.
'Do queens always feed on old birds such as this?' asked Concha
discontentedly; and Vincente, spreading out his napkin, laughed with
gay good humour.
'Before the dawn,' he said to Conyngham, 'we may all be great men,
and the good Concha here on the high road to a bishopric.'
'He would rather be in bed,' muttered the priest, with his mouth
It was a queer scene, such as we only act in real life. The vast
room, with its gorgeous hangings, the flickering candles, the table
spread with delicacies, and the strange party seated at it—Concha
eating steadily, the General looking round with his domesticated little
smile, Estella with a new light in her eyes and a new happiness on her
face, Conyngham, a giant among these southerners, in his dust-laden
uniform—all made up a picture that none forgot.
'They will probably attack this place,' said the General, pouring
out a glass of wine; 'but the house is a strong one. I cannot rely on
the regiments stationed at Toledo, and have sent to Madrid for
cavalry. There is nothing like cavalry—in the streets. We can stand
a siege—till the dawn.'
He turned, looking over his shoulder towards the door; for he had
heard a footstep unnoticed by the others. It was Concepçion Vara who
came into the room, coatless, his face grey with dust, adding a
startling and picturesque incongruity to the scene.
'Pardon, Excellency,' he said, with that easy grasp of the situation
which always made an utterly unabashed smuggler of him, 'but there is
one in the house whom I think his Excellency should speak with.'
'The Señorita Barenna.'
The General rose from the table.
'How did she get in here?' he asked sharply.
'By the side door in the Calle de la Ciudad. The keeper of that
door, Excellency, is a mule. The señorita forced him to admit her.
The sex can do so much,' he added, with a tolerant shrug of the
'And the other—this Larralde?'
Concepçion raised his hand with outspread fingers, and shook it
slowly from side to side from the wrist, with the palm turned towards
his interlocutor—a gesture which seemed to indicate that the subject
was an unpleasant, almost an indelicate, one.
'Larralde, Excellency,' he said, 'is one of those who are never
found at the front. He will not be in Toledo to-night—that Larralde.'
'Where is the Señorita Barenna?' asked the General.
'She is downstairs—commanding his Excellency's soldiers to let her
'You go down, my friend, and bring her here. Then take that door
Concepçion bowed ceremoniously and withdrew. He might have been an
ambassador, and his salutation was worthy of an Imperial Court.
A moment later Julia Barenna came into the room, her dark eyes wide
with terror, her face pale and drawn.
'Where is the Queen Regent?' she asked, looking from one face to the
other, and seeing all her foes assembled as if by magic before her.
'Her Majesty is on the road between Aranjuez and Madrid—in safety,
my dear Julia,' replied the General soothingly.
'But they think she is here. The people are in the streets. Look
out of the window. They are in the Plaza.'
'I know it, my dear,' said the General.
'They are armed—they are going to attack this house.'
'I am aware of it.'
'Their plan is to murder the Queen.'
'So we understand,' said the General gently. He had a horror of
anything approaching sensation or a scene, a feeling which Spaniards
share with Englishmen. 'That is the Queen for the time being,' added
Vincente, pointing to Estella.
Julia stood looking from one to the other—a self-contained woman
made strong by love. For there is nothing in life or human experience
that raises and strengthens man or woman so much as a great and abiding
love. But Julia Barenna was driven and almost panic-stricken. She
held herself in control by an effort that was drawing lines in her face
never to be wiped out.
'But you will tell them? I will do it. Let me go to them. I am
'No one must leave this house now,' said the General. 'You have
come to us, my dear, you must now throw in your lot with ours.'
'But Estella must not take this risk,' exclaimed Julia. 'Let me do
And some woman's instinct sent her to Estella's side—two women
alone in that great house amid this man's work, this strife of reckless
'And you, and Señor Conyngham,' she cried, 'you must not run this
'It is what we are paid for, my dear Julia,' answered the General,
holding out his arm and indicating the gold stripes upon it.
He walked to the window and opened the massive shutters, which swung
back heavily. Then he stepped out on to the balcony without fear or
'See,' he said, 'the square is full of them.'
He came back into the room, and Conyngham, standing beside him,
looked down into the moonlit Plaza. The square was, indeed, thronged
with dark and silent shadows, while others, stealing from the doorways
and narrow alleys with which Toledo abounds, joined the groups with
stealthy steps. No one spoke, though the sound of their whispering
arose in the still night air like the murmur of a breeze through
reeds. A hundred faces peered upwards through the darkness at the two
intrepid figures on the balcony.
'And these are Spaniards, my dear Conyngham,' whispered the
General. 'A hundred of them against one woman. Name of God! I blush
The throng increased every moment, and withal the silence never
lifted, but brooded breathlessly over the ancient town. Instead of
living men, these might well have been the shades of the countless and
forgotten dead who had come to a violent end in the streets of a city
where Peace has never found a home since the days of Nebuchadnezzar.
Vincente came back into the room, leaving shutter and window open.
'They cannot see in,' he said, 'the building is too high. And
across the Plaza there is nothing but the Cathedral, which has no
windows accessible without ladders.'
He paused, looking at his watch.
'They are in doubt,' he said, speaking to Conyngham. 'They are not
sure that the Queen is here. We will keep them in doubt for a short
time. Every minute lost by them is an inestimable gain to us. That
open window will whet their curiosity, and give them something to
whisper about. It is so easy to deceive a crowd.'
He sat down and began to peel a peach. Julia looked at him,
wondering wherein this man's greatness lay, and yet perceiving dimly
that, against such as he, men like Esteban Larralde could do nothing.
Concha, having supped satisfactorily, was now sitting back in his
chair seeking for something in the pockets of his cassock.
'It is to be presumed,' he said, 'that one may smoke—even in a
And under their gaze he quietly lighted a cigarette with the
deliberation of one in whom a long and solitary life had bred habits
only to be broken at last by death.
Presently the General rose and went to the window again.
'They are still doubtful,' he said, returning, 'and I think their
numbers have decreased. We cannot allow them to disperse.'
He paused, thinking deeply.
'My child,' he said suddenly to Estella, 'you must show yourself on
Estella rose at once; but Julia held her back.
'No,' she said; 'let me do it. Give me the white mantilla.'
There was a momentary silence while Estella freed herself from her
cousin's grasp. Conyngham looked at the woman he loved while she
stood, little more than a child, with something youthful and inimitably
graceful in the lines of her throat and averted face. Would she accept
Julia's offer? Conyngham bit his lip and awaited her decision. Then,
as if divining his thought, she turned and looked at him gravely.
'No,' she said; 'I will do it.'
She went towards the window. Her father and Conyngham had taken
their places, one on each side, as if she were the Queen indeed. She
stood for a moment on the threshold, and then passed out into the
moonlight, alone. Immediately there arose the most terrifying of all
earthly sounds—the dull, antagonistic roar of a thousand angry
throats. Estella walked to the front of the balcony and stood, with an
intrepidity which was worthy of the royal woman whose part she played,
looking down on the upturned faces. A red flash streaked the darkness
of a far corner of the square, and a bullet whistled through the open
window into the woodwork of a mirror.
'Come back,' whispered General Vincente. 'Slowly, my child—
Estella stood for a moment looking down with a royal insolence, then
turned, and with measured steps approached the window. As she passed
in she met Conyngham's eyes, and that one moment assuredly made two
lives worth living.
CHAPTER XXIX. MIDNIGHT AND DAWN.
'I have set my life upon a cast
And I will stand the hazard of the die.'
'Excellency,' reported a man who entered the room at this moment,
'they are bringing carts of fuel through the Calle de la Ciudad to set
against the door and burn it.'
'To set against which door, my honest friend?'
'The great door on the Plaza, Excellency; the other is an old door
'And they cannot burn it or break it open?'
'No, Excellency. And, besides, there are loopholes in the thickness
of the wall at the side.'
The General smiled on this man as being after his own heart.
'One may not shoot to-night, my friend. I have already given the
'But one may prick them with the sword, Excellency?' suggested the
trooper, with a sort of suppressed enthusiasm.
The General shrugged his shoulders, wisely tolerant.
'Oh yes,' he answered, 'I suppose one may prick them with the sword.'
Conyngham, who had been standing half in and half out of the open
window, listening to this conversation, now came forward.
'I think,' he said, 'that I can clear the Plaza from time to time if
you give me twenty men. We can thus gain time.'
'Street-fighting,' answered the General gravely. 'Do you know
anything of it? It is nasty work.'
'I know something of it. One has to shout very loud. I studied it
- at Dublin University.'
'To be sure—I forgot.'
Julia and Estella watched and listened. Their lot had been cast in
the paths of war, and since childhood they had remembered naught else.
But neither had yet been so near to the work, nor had they seen and
heard men talk and plan with a certain grim humour—a curt and
deliberate scorn of haste or excitement—as these men spoke and
planned now. Conyngham and Concepçion Vara were altered by these
circumstances—there was a light in their eyes which women rarely see,
but the General was the same little man of peace and of a high domestic
virtue, who seemed embarrassed by a sword which was obviously too big
for him. Yet in all their voices there rang alike a queer note of
exultation. For man is a fighting animal, and from St. Paul down to
the humblest little five-foot-one recruit, would find life a dull
affair were there no strife in it.
'Yes,' said the General, after a moment's reflection, 'that is a
good idea, and will gain time. But let them first bring their fuel and
set it up. Every moment is a gain.'
At this instant some humorist in the crowd threw a stone in at the
open window. The old priest picked up the missile and examined it
'It is fortunate,' he said, 'that the stones are fixed in Toledo.
In Xeres they are loose, and are always in the air. I wonder if I can
hit a citizen.' And he threw the stone back.
'Close the shutters,' said the General. 'Let us avoid arousing
The priest drew the jalousies together, but did not quite shut
them. Vincente stood and looked out through the aperture at the
moonlit square and the dark shadows moving there.
'I wish they would shout,' he said. 'It is unnatural. They are
like children. When there is noise there is little mischief.'
Then he remained silent for some minutes, watching intently. All in
the room noted his every movement. At length he turned on his heel.
'Go, my friend,' he said to Conyngham. 'Form your men in the Calle
de la Ciudad, and charge round in line. Do not place yourself too much
in advance of your men, or you will be killed, and remember—the
point! Resist the temptation to cut—the point is best.'
He patted Conyngham on the arm affectionately, as if he were sending
him to bed with a good wish, and accompanied him to the door.
'I knew,' he said, returning to the window and rubbing his hands
together, 'that that was a good man the first moment I saw him.'
He glanced at Estella, and then, turning, opened another window,
setting the shutters ajar so as to make a second point of observation.
'My poor child,' he whispered, as she went to the window and looked
out, 'it is an ill-fortune to have to do with men whose trade this is.'
Estella smiled—a little whitely—and said nothing. The moon was
now shining from an almost cloudless sky. The few fleecy remains of
the storm sailing towards the east only added brightness to the night.
It was almost possible to see the faces of the men moving in the square
below, and to read their expressions. The majority stood in a group in
the centre of the Plaza, while a daring few, reckoning on the Spanish
aversion to firearms, ran forward from time to time and set a bundle of
wood or straw against the door beneath the balcony.
Some, who appeared to be the leaders, looked up constantly and
curiously at the windows, wondering if any resistance would be made.
Had they known that General Vincente was in that silent house they
would probably have gone home to bed, and the crowd would have
dispersed like smoke.
Suddenly there arose a roar to the right hand of the square where
the Calle de la Ciudad was situated, and Conyngham appeared for a
moment alone, running towards the group, with the moonlight flashing on
his sword. At his heels an instant later a single line of men swung
round the corner and charged across the square.
'Dear, dear,' muttered the General; 'too quick, my friend, too
For Conyngham was already among the crowd, which broke and surged
back towards the Cathedral. He paused for a moment to draw his sword
out of a dark form that lay upon the ground, as a cricketer draws a
stump. He had, at all events, remembered the point. The troopers
swept across the square like a broom, sending the people as dust before
them, and leaving the clean, moonlit square behind. They also left
behind one or two shadows, lying stark upon the around. One of these
got upon its knees and crawled painfully away, all one-sided, like a
beetle that has been trodden underfoot. Those watching from the
windows saw with a gasp of horror that part of him—part of an arm—
had been left behind, and a sigh of relief went up when he stopped
crawling and lay quite still.
The troopers were now retreating slowly towards the Calle de la
'Be careful, Conyngham,' shouted the General from the balcony.
'They will return.'
And as he spoke a rattling fire was opened upon them from the far
corner of the square, where the crowd had taken refuge in the opening
of the Calle del Arco. Immediately, the people, having noted that the
troopers were few in number, charged down upon them. The men fought in
line, retreating step by step, their swords gleaming in the moonlight.
Estella, hearing footsteps in the room behind her, turned in time to
see her father disappearing through the doorway. Concepçion Vara,
coatless, as he loved to work, his white shirtsleeves fluttering as his
arm swung, had now joined the troopers, and was fighting by Conyngham's
Estella and Julia were out on the balcony now, leaning over and
forgetting all but the breathless interest of battle. Concha stood
beside them, muttering and cursing like any soldier.
They saw Vincente appear at the corner of the Calle de la Ciudad and
throw away his scabbard as he ran.
'Now, my children!' he cried in a voice that Estella had never heard
before, which rang out across the square, and was answered by a yell
that was nothing but a cry of sheer delight. The crowd swayed back as
if before a gust of wind, and the General, following it, seemed to
clear a space for himself as a reaper clears away the standing corn
before him. It was, however, only for a moment. The crowd surged
back, those in front against their will, and on to the glittering steel
- those behind shouting encouragement.
'Name of God!' shouted Concha, and was gone. They saw him a minute
later appear in the square, having thrown aside his cassock. He made a
strange lean figure of a man with his knee-breeches and dingy purple
stockings, his grey flannel shirt, and the moonlight shining on his
tonsured head. He fought without skill, and heedless of danger,
swinging a great sword that he had picked up from the hand of a fallen
trooper, and each blow that he got home killed its victim. The metal
of the man had suddenly shown itself after years of suppression. This,
as Vincente had laughingly said, was no priest, but a soldier.
Concepçion, in the thick of it, using the knife now with a deadly
skill, looked over his shoulder and laughed.
Suddenly the crowd swayed. The faint sound of a distant bugle came
to the ears of all.
'It is nothing,' shouted Concha, in English. 'It is nothing. It is
I who sent the bugler round.'
And his great sword whistled into a man's brain. In another moment
the square was empty, for the politicians who came to murder a woman
had had enough steel. The sound of the bugle, intimating, as they
supposed, the arrival of troops, completed the work of demoralisation
which the recognition of General Vincente had begun.
The little party—the few defenders of the Casa del Ayuntamiento—
were left in some confusion in the Plaza, and Estella saw with a sudden
cold fear that Conyngham and Concha were on their knees in the midst of
a little group of hesitating men. It was Concha who rose first and
held up his hand to the watchers on the balcony, bidding them stay
where they were. Then Conyngham rose to his feet slowly, as one
bearing a burden. Estella looked down in a sort of dream, and saw her
lover carrying her father towards the house, her mind only half
comprehending, in that semi-dreamlike reception of sudden calamity
which is one of Heaven's deepest mercies.
It was Concepçion who came into the room first, his white shirt dyed
with blood in great patches like the colour on a piebald horse. A cut
in his cheek was slowly dripping. He went straight to a sofa covered
in gorgeous yellow satin, and set the cushions in order.
'Señorita,' he said, and spread out his hands. The tears were in
his eyes, 'Half of Spain,' he added, 'would rather that it had been the
Queen—and the world is poorer.'
A moment later Concha came into the room dragging on his cassock.
'My child, we are in God's hand,' he said, with a break in his gruff
And then came the heavy step of one carrying sorrow.
Conyngham laid his burden on the sofa. General Vincente was holding
his handkerchief to his side, and his eyes, which had a thoughtful
look, saw only Estella's face.
'I have sent for a doctor,' said Conyngham. 'Your father is
'Yes,' said Vincente immediately; 'but I am in no pain, my dear
child. There is no reason, surely, for us to distress ourselves.'
He looked round and smiled.
'And this good Conyngham,' he added, 'carried me like a child.'
Julia was on her knees at the foot of the sofa, her face hidden in
'My dear Julia,' he said, 'why this distress?'
'Because all of this is my doing,' she answered, lifting her drawn
and terror-stricken face.
'No, no!' said Vincente, with a characteristic pleasantry. 'You
take too much upon yourself. All these things are written down for us
beforehand. We only add the punctuation—delaying a little or
hurrying a little.'
They looked at him silently, and assuredly none could mistake the
shadows that were gathering on his face. Estella, who was holding his
hand, knelt on the floor by his side, quiet and strong, offering
silently that sympathy which is woman's greatest gift.
Concepçion, who perhaps knew more of this matter than any present,
looked at Concha and shook his head. The priest was buttoning his
cassock, and began to seek something in his pocket.
'Your breviary?' whispered Concepçion; 'I saw it lying out there—
among the dead.'
'It is a comfort to have one's duty clearly defined,' said the
General suddenly, in a clear voice. He was evidently addressing
Conyngham. 'One of the advantages of a military life. We have done
our best, and this time we have succeeded. But—it is only deferred.
It will come at length, and Spain will be a republic. It is a failing
cause—because, at the head of it, is a bad woman.'
Conyngham nodded, but no one spoke. No one seemed capable of
following his thoughts. Already he seemed to look at them as from a
distance, as if he had started on a journey and was looking back.
During this silence there came a great clatter in the streets, and a
sharp voice cried 'Halt!' The General turned his eyes towards the
'The cavalry,' said Conyngham, 'from Madrid.'
'I did not expect—them,' said Vincente slowly, 'before the dawn.'
The sound of the horses' feet and the clatter of arms died away as
the troop passed on towards the Calle de la Ciudad, and the quiet of
night was again unbroken.
Then Concha, getting down on to his knees, began reciting from
memory the office—which, alas! he knew too well.
When it was finished, and the gruff voice died away, Vincente opened
'Every man to his trade,' he said, with a little laugh.
Then suddenly he made a grimace.
'A twinge of pain,' he said deprecatingly, as if apologising for
giving them the sorrow of seeing it. 'It will pass—before the dawn.'
Presently he opened his eyes again and smiled at Estella, before he
moved with a tired sigh and turned his face towards that Dawn which
knows no eventide.
CHAPTER XXX. THE DAWN OF PEACE.
'Quien no ama, no vive.'
The fall of Morella had proved to be, as many anticipated, the knell
of the Carlist cause. Cabrera, that great general and consummate
leader, followed Don Carlos, who had months earlier fled to France.
General Espartero—a man made and strengthened by circumstances—was
now at the height of his fame, and for the moment peace seemed to be
assured to Spain. It was now a struggle between Espartero and Queen
Christina. But with these matters the people of Spain had little to
do. Such warfare of the council-chamber and the boudoir is carried on
quietly, and the sound of it rarely reaches the ear, and never the
heart, of the masses. Politics, indeed, had been the daily fare of the
Spaniards for so long that their palates were now prepared to accept
any sop so long as it was flavoured with peace. Aragon was devastated,
and the northern provinces had neither seed nor labourers for the
coming autumn. The peasants who, having lost faith in Don Carlos,
rallied round Cabrera, now saw themselves abandoned by their worshipped
leader, and turned hopelessly enough homewards. Thus gradually the
country relapsed into quiet, and empty garners compelled many to lay
aside the bayonet and take up the spade who, having tasted the thrill
of battle, had no longer any taste for the ways of peace.
Frederick Conyngham was brought into sudden prominence by the part
he played in the disturbance at Toledo—which disturbance proved, as
history tells, to be a forerunner of the great revolution a year later
in Madrid. Promotion was at this time rapid, and the Englishman made
many strides in a few months. Jealousy was so rife among the Spanish
leaders, Christinos distrusted so thoroughly the reformed Carlists,
that one who was outside these petty considerations received from both
sides many honours on the sole recommendation of his neutrality.
'And besides,' said Father Concha, sitting in the sunlight on his
church steps at Ronda, reading to the barber, and the shoemaker, and
other of his parishioners, the latest newspaper, 'and besides—he is
He paused, slowly taking a pinch of snuff.
'Where the river is deepest it makes least noise,' he added.
The barber wagged his head after the manner of one who will never
admit that he does not understand an allusion. And before any could
speak the clatter of horses in the narrow street diverted attention.
Concha rose to his feet.
'Ah!' he said, and went forward to meet Conyngham, who was riding
with Concepçion at his side.
'So you have come, my son,' he said, shaking hands. He looked up
into the Englishman's face, which was burnt brown by service under a
merciless sun. Conyngham looked lean and strong, but his eyes had no
rest in them. This was not a man who had all he wanted.
'Are you come to Ronda, or are you passing through?' asked the
'To Ronda. As I passed the Casa Barenna I made inquiries. The
ladies are in the town, it appears.'
'Yes; they are with Estella in the house you know—unless you have
'No,' answered Conyngham getting out of the saddle. 'No; I have
Concepçion came forward and led the horse away.
'I will walk to the Casa Vincente. Have you the time to accompany
me?' said Conyngham.
'I have always time—for my neighbour's business,' replied Concha.
And they set off together.
'You walk stiffly,' said Concha. 'Have you ridden far?'
'From Osuna—forty miles since daybreak.'
'You are in a hurry.'
'Yes, I am in a hurry.'
Without further comment he extracted from inside his smart tunic a
letter—the famous letter in a pink envelope—which he handed to
'Yes,' said the priest, turning it over. 'You and I first saw this
in the Hotel de la Marina at Algeciras, when we were fools not to throw
it into the nearest brazier. We should have saved a good man's life,
He handed the letter back, and thoughtfully dusted his cassock where
it was worn and shiny with constant dusting, so that the snuff had
nought to cling to.
'And you have got it—at last. Holy saints—these Englishmen! Do
you always get what you want, my son?'
'Not always,' replied Conyngham, with an uneasy laugh. 'But I
should be a fool not to try.'
'Assuredly,' said Concha, 'assuredly. And you have come to Ronda—
They walked on in silence, on the shady side of the street, and
presently passed and saluted a priest—one of Concha's colleagues in
this city of the South.
'There walks a tragedy,' said Concha, in his curt way. 'Inside
every cassock there walks a tragedy—or a villain.'
After a pause it was Concha who again broke the silence. Conyngham
seemed to be occupied with his own thoughts.
'And Larralde—?' said the priest.
'I come from him—from Barcelona,' answered Conyngham, 'where he is
in safety. Catalonia is full of such as he. Sir John Pleydell, before
leaving Spain, bought this letter for two hundred pounds—a few months
ago—when I was a poor man and could not offer a price for it. But
Larralde disappeared when the plot failed, and I have only found him
lately in Barcelona.'
'In Barcelona?' echoed Concha.
'Yes; where he can take a passage to Cuba, and where he awaits Julia
'Ah!' said Concha, 'so he also is faithful—because life is not
long, my son. That is the only reason. How wise was the great God
when He made a human life short! '
'I have a letter,' continued Conyngham, 'from Larralde to the
'So you parted friends in Barcelona—after all—when his knife has
been between your shoulders?'
'God bless you, my son!' said the priest, in Latin, with his
careless, hurried gesture of the Cross.
After they had walked a few paces he spoke again.
'I shall go to Barcelona with her,' he said, 'and marry her to this
man. When one has no affairs of one's own there always remain—for
old women and priests—the affairs of one's neighbour. Tell me—' he
paused and looked fiercely at him under shaggy brows—'tell me why you
came to Spain.'
'You want to know who and what I am—before we reach the Calle
Mayor?' said Conyngham.
'I know what you are, amigo mio, better than yourself,
As they walked through the narrow streets Conyngham told his simple
history, dwelling more particularly on the circumstances preceding his
departure from England, and Concha listened with no further sign of
interest than a grimace or a dry smile here and there.
'The mill gains by going, and not by standing still,' he said, and
added, after a pause, 'But it is always a mistake to grind another's
wheat for nothing.'
They were now approaching the old house in the Calle Mayor, and
Conyngham lapsed into a silence which his companion respected. They
passed under the great doorway into the patio, which was quiet and
shady at this afternoon hour. The servants, of whom there are a
multitude in all great Spanish houses, had apparently retired to the
seclusion of their own quarters. One person alone was discernible amid
the orange trees and in the neighbourhood of the murmuring fountain.
She was asleep in a rocking-chair, with a newspaper on her lap. She
preferred the patio to the garden, which was too quiet for one of her
temperament. In the patio she found herself better placed to exchange
a word with those engaged in the business of the house, to learn, in
fact, from the servants the latest gossip, to ask futile questions of
them, and to sit in that idleness which will not allow others to be
employed. In a word, this was the Señora Barenna, and Concha, seeing
her, stood for a moment in hesitation. Then, with a signal to
Conyngham, he crept noiselessly across the tessellated pavement to the
shadow of the staircase. They passed up the broad steps without sound
and without awaking the sleeping lady. In the gallery above, the
priest paused and looked down into the courtyard, his grim face twisted
in a queer smile. Then, at the woman sitting there—at life and all
its illusions, perhaps—he shrugged his shoulders and passed on.
In the drawing-room they found Julia, who leapt to her feet and
hurried across the floor when she saw Conyngham. She stood looking at
him breathlessly, her whole history written in her eyes.
'Yes,' she whispered, as if he had called her. 'Yes—what is it?
Have you come to tell me—something?'
'I have come to give you a letter, señorita,' he answered, handing
her Larralde's missive. She held out her hand, and never took her eyes
from his face.
Concha walked to the window—the window whence the Alcalde of Ronda
had seen Conyngham hand Julia Barenna another letter. The old priest
stood looking down into the garden, where, amid the feathery foliage of
the pepper trees and the bamboos, he could perceive the shadow of a
black dress. Conyngham also turned away, and thus the two men who held
this woman's happiness in the hollow of their hands stood listening to
the crisp rattle of the paper as she tore the envelope and unfolded her
lover's letter. A great happiness and a great sorrow are alike
impossible of realisation. We only perceive their extent when their
importance has begun to wane.
Julia Barenna read the letter through to the end, and it is possible
(for women are blind in such matters) failed to perceive the
selfishness in every line of it. Then, with the message of happiness
in her hand, she returned to the chair she had just quitted, with a
vague wonder in her mind, and the very human doubt that accompanies all
possession, as to whether the price paid has not been too high.
Concha was the first to move. He turned and crossed the room
'I see,' he said, 'Estella in the garden.'
And they passed out of the room together, leaving Julia Barenna
alone with her thoughts. On the broad stone balcony Concha paused.
'I will stay here,' he said. He looked over the balustrade. Señora
Barenna was still asleep.
'Do not awake her,' he whispered. 'Let all sleeping things sleep.'
Conyngham passed down the stairs noiselessly, and through the
doorway into the garden.
'And at the end—the Gloria is chanted,' said Concha, watching him
The scent of the violets greeted Conyngham as he went forward
beneath the trees planted there in the Moslems' day. The running water
murmured sleepily as it hurried in its narrow channel towards the
outlet through the grey wall, whence it leapt four hundred feet into
the Tajo below.
Estella was seated in the shade of a gnarled fig tree, where tables
and chairs indicated the Spanish habit of an out-of-door existence.
She rose as he came towards her, and met his eyes gravely. A gleam of
sun glancing through the leaves fell on her golden hair, half hidden by
the mantilla, and showed that she was pale with some fear or desire.
'Señorita,' he said, 'I have brought you the letter.' He held it
out, and she took it, turning over the worn envelope absent-mindedly.
'I have not read it myself, and am permitted to give it to you on
one condition—namely, that you destroy it as soon as you have read
She looked at it again.
'It contains the lives of many men—their lives and the happiness
of those connected with them,' said Conyngham. 'That is what you hold
in your hand, señorita—as well as my life and happiness.'
She raised her dark eyes to his for a moment, and their tenderness
was not of earth or of this world at all. Then she tore the envelope
and its contents slowly into a hundred pieces, and dropped the
fluttering papers into the stream pacing in its marble bed towards the
Tajo and the oblivion of the sea.
'There—I have destroyed the letter,' she said, with a thoughtful
little smile. Then, looking up, she met his eyes.
'I did not want it. I am glad you gave it to me. It will make a
difference to our lives. Though—I never wanted it.'
Then she came slowly towards him.