The grey car took the lead again, and at a turn of the road it seemed that the whole world lay at our feet; yet it was not even all of Old Castile, so vast a country is my Spain.
Far as the eye could travel spread the fair land, green with the tender green of spring, yellow with patches of golden sand, darkly tufted with woods; struck with flying shafts of light, ringed in with ethereal blue.
Nothing could steal from me this illuminated missal of memories, and were I to be banished to-morrow, I should have Spain to keep in my heart, I said, as we rushed down the steep, winding way that serpentined along the southern slope of the Guadarrama. A breakneck road it was, but nobly engineered, twisting back upon itself in many coils, letting us fly with the speed of a bird to lower levels; and it seemed that scarcely had we sunk over the brink of the mountain than we were at the turn on the right which would lead to the Escurial.
Straight before us, rising out of the bare mountain side and seeming a part of it, towered and stretched a building vaster than any I had seen even in the limitless spaces of dreamland. Were it not for its cold regularity, I should have thought myself approaching another desert of giants who made toys of monoliths and obelisks; but these appalling domes and towers could be the work of man alone. There was no toying here; all was forbidding and gloomy; for this was the Escurial—immense, sinister, as if fashioned from the grim product of those iron mines which gave its name.
I could imagine the fanatical satisfaction Philip's dry mind had found in planning this monument to represent the gridiron on which Saint Lawrence was martyred. He who was to stand in history as the great Inquisitor, must build his monastery and palace in honour of a martyr! But Philip was the last man to have a sense of humour; and it was like him to appease an injured saint by giving him a church a thousand times bigger than the one destroyed on Saint Lawrence's own day, in the battle of San Quentin.
"Wouldn't the Escurial be hideous if it were anywhere else but just here?" asked Pilar.
She was right; for on the Sierra it seemed an expression of the Sierra; and in spite of Philip rather than because of him, it was splendid in the melancholy strength which made it a brother of mountains.
We lunched on extremely Spanish food at a fonda opposite the Escurial; and when the time came for sightseeing—a time for us, but not for the public—the Duke began by marshalling us all, except the weary Duchess and the lazy Cherub, through the great door guarded by Saint Lawrence. Once within, we saw the treasures, as a bird in flight sees the beauties of a town over which he swoops; but we did see them, and once I had three words and one look from Monica, before it occurred to Lady Vale-Avon to link an arm in her daughter's, in a sudden overflow of maternal affection.
Carmona had made a point of the "influence" which could open for us doors that, for others, would remain shut; and he did smuggle us into the Library of Manuscripts, the Queen's Oratory, and the Capilla Mayor to see the royal tombs. But after we had stopped longer than he wished in the church, and the Choir, where Philip learned that Lepanto had saved Europe from the Turks, and listened to the sad music of Mary Stuart's requiem, the Duke promised something still better, in the palace. "What you shall see there," he said, "is a secret. It was a secret of King Philip's—so great a secret that even the writers of guide-books know nothing of it; while, if a tourist should have heard a rumour and asked a question, the attendants would say, 'There's no such thing in existence.' Only the Royal Family know, a few privileged people about the Court, and the guardians of the Escurial. As for me, I was told by someone here—someone whom I myself placed in the palace."
My curiosity was excited; and even Dick, who resented this expedition, looked interested as we arrived at the palace—the great gridiron's handle. At the entrance Carmona separated himself from the rest of the party, saying that he must have a few words in private with the attendant who would show the rooms of Philip the Second. He walked ahead, engaged the brown-liveried guide in low-voiced conversation, and seemed to ask a question with some eagerness.
Observing the pantomime from a distance, I fancied that, for some reason, Carmona was to be denied the privilege of which he had boasted; but, apparently, he did not intend to accept defeat without a struggle. He and the guide moved on, then stopped again to argue—this time with their backs to us; but, from the action of Carmona's elbows, I judged that he put his hand into his pocket. Five or six minutes later he returned, to announce that after some difficulty he had succeeded in getting his own way. We might go, unattended, into the private apartments of Philip the Second; and while we were there, other visitors would be kept out. "If there are any, they'll be taken another round," said Carmona, "and won't be ready to come into the King's rooms until we're ready to come out."
The guide led us down the narrow staircase to the outer door of Philip's suite, then slipped away, shutting the door behind him. Lady Vale-Avon and Monica (the mother still clasping her daughter's arm), Pilar, Dick, Carmona, and I were now alone between the gloomy walls behind which the bigot and despot had lived his miserable life and died his miserable death.
There was a chill in the sombre place which froze the spirit; yet I, for one, did not feel sad. I was conscious only of an excited expectancy, as if I were waiting for something to happen.
We let our imagination set the meagre form of Philip in his chair, or by the desk at which he used to write; examined the grim relics of his monk-like existence; and finally moved to the death-chamber, set like a stage-box at the theatre, beside the high altar of the chapel.
So small was the room that it was filled by our little party of six; yet I felt there another presence which none of us could see—a grey ghost agonising for his sins, through a bleak eternity.
Monica felt it too, for she shivered, and exclaimed, "Let us go. This room seems haunted with evil. I can't breathe in it."
"But now for the secret," said Carmona. "Would you guess at any hidden opening in these walls?"
We stared critically about, and I began to test the wainscot, but the Duke stopped me. "You'd never find the place," he said; "and I promised the person who told me not to give away the secret; but that doesn't prevent me from showing you what's behind the door."
He moved close to the wall, stood for an instant, then stepped back, as we heard a slight clicking sound, like the snap of a spring on an old box-lid. At the same time a part of the wainscoting rolled away, leaving a narrow aperture.
It was dark on the other side, but Carmona took a gold match-box from his pocket and struck a bunch of little wax fosforos.
"Philip had this cell made for a place of penance and self-torture," he said, "and it's just as it used to be during his lifetime, before he was too ill to go in any more. His twisted wire scourge is there, with his blood on it, his horsehair shirt, and a girdle bristling with small, sharp spikes. Will you have a look, Lady Vale-Avon? I can't go with you, for the cell isn't big enough for two, but I'll hold the matches at the door."
Lady Vale-Avon is of the type of woman who enjoys seeing such things as these; and though she would not have tortured herself had she lived in feudal days, I am sure she would have dined calmly over an underground dungeon where an enemy—an inconvenient wretch like me, for instance—suffered the pangs of starvation.
She squeezed into the cell, descending a couple of steps, remained for two or three minutes, and came out, pronouncing it extremely interesting.
"Now, Lady Monica, it's your turn," said Carmona; but Monica drew back, "I hate seeing torture-things," said she, "and blood, even wicked old blood like Philip's, which I used to think, when I read about him in history, I'd love to shed. No, I won't go in, thank you."
Pilar also refused, for if she went she would certainly have a nightmare and dream she was walled up; thus there remained only the three men to inspect the hidden horrors.
Carmona held his match-box to me, saying that when we had seen the place he would look in to refresh his recollections. But Dick calmly helped himself to several fosforos and took first turn, probably suspecting something in the way of an oubliette, especially prepared for me.
He reappeared presently, however, his suspicions allayed. "Beastly hole," he remarked; "almost bad enough for Philip, though he did grill some of my best ancestors."
I took a couple of matches, lighting them on the Duke's box; then, bending my head low, and pushing in one shoulder at a time, I squirmed through the aperture. In so doing, however, I contrived to trip over Carmona's foot, which must have been thrust forward, staggered against the opposite wall of the narrow cell, and lost both my lighted vestas. Carmona exclaimed, I stumbled, and almost simultaneously the door slid into place with a sharp click.
There was not space to fall at length. I merely lost my balance, and saved my head from a bump by shielding it with a raised arm, I steadied myself in a second or two; but I was in black darkness. Outside I could hear a confused murmur of voices, and would have given something to know what Dick was saying at the moment.
I was thinking that I should not like to be a prisoner in this hole (only large enough for the swing of Philip's scourge) for many hours on end, when there came an imperative tapping. "Holloa!" I answered, expecting to hear Dick speak in return; but it was Carmona's voice which replied. Evidently he was speaking with his mouth close to the secret door.
"I'm very sorry for this accident," said he distinctly. "When you stumbled, you knocked my arm, and made me touch the spring. Unfortunately the door closed with such a crash, that the spring seems out of order, and I can't move it. But if you'll be patient a few minutes, I'll look for an attendant who understands the thing, to bail you out of gaol."
If I had been Lieutenant Cristobal O'Donnel I would have heard no more in the rhyming junction of those words "gaol" and "bail" than met the ear, but being the man I was—the man he suspected me to be—I did hear more; and I believed that he wished me to catch a double meaning.
"Does he mean to hand me over to the police now, on suspicion?" I wondered in my black cell—"before Monica's eyes?" But aloud I said, "Thanks; don't be too long, or I shall be tempted to smash the door."
"You'll find that impossible," answered Carmona. "Don't worry if I seem to be gone an age. There's only one man on duty to-day who knows the secret of this room; I asked for him when we came, but his comrade said he was away on leave till four o'clock. It must be that now, and I'll have him here as soon as possible. He will be the more pleased to set you free, as he's an old friend of yours. You remember little Rafael Calmenare?"
I was silent, seeing, as if by the glare of lightning, the whole design of the trap, and seeming to see also the triumph which must be in Carmona's eyes. But the pause had not lengthened to a second, when I heard Pilar's voice, speaking also close to the door.
"Of course you remember, Cristobal. Rafael Calmenare of the Duke's ganaderia. But it's a long time since he went away."
"After he was gored by Nero and lost his health, through the influence of a friend at Court I got him a place here," I heard Carmona say. Then raising his voice for my ears, he went on, "Poor Rafael will be pleased to see you again. You must have played with him when a boy. I'm off to find him now."
Silence followed these last words. I could picture the consternation of Dick and Pilar. Neither could do anything to help me, nor could I help myself. I could but wait in this suffocating black hole for the moment when a stranger should give me light, and exclaim, "This is not Don Cristobal!"
Almost I admired Carmona for his quick wit. After a few moments of rage, at sight of the suspected man of Burgos Cathedral on his track in the red motor-car, the thought of the Escurial and his old servant must have sprung into his mind.
Had Calmenare been available at first, Carmona would have been spared the trouble of shutting me up in Philip the Bigot's torture-chamber; but hard pressed for an excuse to keep us at the Escurial till his man came back, he had put me where I could be kept while needed. And now that he was gone in search of Rafael, we three loyal comrades could not discuss the situation, because of Lady Vale-Avon's presence.
A brilliant stroke of Carmona's to have me betrayed by another than himself, so that Monica might not bear him a grudge! Who was this person masquerading as an officer of the Spanish army? would be the first question of the police. And the answer need not be long in coming. The Duke had reason to congratulate himself; I had been a fool to drop like a fly into his net, and now that I was in, I saw no way out.
"Oh, how I wish we could open the secret door!" I heard Monica exclaim.
"I can't even see exactly where it is now," Pilar said. "Cristobal?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Poor little Rafael; a good fellow, wasn't he?"
"Very good," I replied. To what end was she working? I wondered. But I was not to be made wiser. Before she had time to finish the hint I heard Carmona speaking.
"I've sent for Calmenare, who has returned, and will be here in a few minutes," he called to me. It was like him to hurry back, so that by no possible means could the three suspected ones reach any understanding.
The moments dragged on, and I could have lashed myself with Philip's scourge in fury at the rashness which might involve the whole O'Donnel family in my disaster. Never had I been able to think less clearly; but perhaps it was the stifling atmosphere of the cell which made me feel that fingers in a mailed glove were clenched round my temples.
Outside, voices buzzed; but those who spoke must have stood at a distance, for I could catch no words. Then, at last, there was a new voice in the room. Calmenare had come.
"How do you do, Don Rafael?" Pilar exclaimed, as politely as if she had addressed an equal. "I'm glad to see you again. I've been waiting for you impatiently. Only think, my dear brother Cristobal, whom you know so well, is in that dreadful place and can't get out, because the Senor Duque shut him in—by mistake—and broke the spring."
"I do not find that it is broken, senorita," answered the new voice.
"I couldn't make it work," Carmona said hastily.
Click! went the spring under skilled fingers. The door sliding back gave me a rush of light and air which set me blinking for a second or two; and there I stood at the stranger's mercy.
What I saw, when my suddenly contracted pupils expanded, was a little man in the palace livery; a pale little man with insignificant features, and large, steady eyes. There was absolutely no expression in his face as for one brief instant our glances met. Then—"God be with you, Don Cristobal," said he. "I am glad to have been even of this slight service. I hope, senorito, you have not suffered from lack of air?"
"Very little," said I. I held out my hand. He took it respectfully.
"Is it long since you saw each other?" asked Carmona, sallow and red by turns.
"About two years only, Senor Duque," replied his ex-servant, expressionless as before, and quietly respectful to all. "I could not forget the date, for the Senor Colonel and the senorita, as well as the senorito himself, were always very good to me."
The Duke was silenced. The test invented by himself had failed. Calmenare accepted me as Cristobal O'Donnel; he was obliged to accept me too—at least for the present.
"Shall we get out of this place?" he said to Lady Vale-Avon.
She swept her daughter with her; but Monica had a backward look for me, sparkling now with malice for Carmona, radiant with relief for Casa Triana.
We said good-bye to Calmenare in the Duke's presence; and I would have pressed a gold piece into his hand for "opening my prison door," but he would not have it. Afterwards, while we followed the grey car on the downhill road to Madrid, Pilar told the whole story with dramatic effect to the Cherub.
"My one hope was in Rafael," she said. "I was good to him, you remember, when he was ill. And he and I had a great sympathy over Corcito, the dear grey bull. I prayed he'd never forgiven the Duke for that crime, and that he'd still be grateful to me. Well, I looked Rafael straight in the eyes when I said, 'My brother Cristobal is in that place, shut up by the Duke, who has broken the spring.' With all my soul I willed him to understand, and he did. 'If the senorita chooses to have a strange gentleman for her brother, he is her brother for me,' is what he said to himself; no more! But what if he hadn't?"
"That's where I should have come in," remarked Dick.
"What would you have done?" asked Pilar, breathless.
"I don't know," said Dick. "I only know I should have done it; and that if I had, maybe Carmona wouldn't have been feeling as well as he feels now."
LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
No longer did the Duke desire our company. He had played his little comedy of good-fellowship, and it was over, though it had not ended according to his hopes. The grey car did its forty-horse best to outdistance us on the way to Madrid, but the road—so good that perhaps we lost nothing in the detour to the Escurial—distributed its favours evenly. We kept close on the Lecomte's flying heels until one of our four cylinders went to sleep, and Ropes had to get down and wake it up by testing the ignition.
Some fellow-motorists would have turned to offer help, but the Lecomte was ever a Levite where we were concerned; and when we were ready to go on, the grey car was not even a speck in the distance. Luckily, however, there was little or no doubt where its occupants would put up.
Though the Madrid house of the Carmonas had been burned down ten years ago (since when the Duchess had made her home at the old palace in Seville), there was scarcely a Continental paper which had not described the splendours of the Duke's apartment in one of the finest modern flat-houses of Madrid. Naturally, he would entertain his mother and guests there, so that it would be difficult to slip away with them unknown to us.
The thing I did not know was, how long he meant to stay in the capital; but as he must show Seville in Holy Week, and later perhaps other places in the south of Spain, to Lady Vale-Avon and Monica before their return to Madrid for the Royal Wedding, it was almost certain that he would go on in a couple of days.
The O'Donnels recommended to us the Hotel Ingles, the best Spanish hotel in Madrid, as well as the most amusing, and it was with a heart comparatively light that I looked forward to a first sight of my country's capital. How would it compare with Paris, with Vienna, with London? What adventures awaited me there? What was to be the next pass in this queer duel with Carmona?
But I need not have searched for comparisons. As we rushed into Madrid without threading through any suburbs,—since suburbs the city has none,—I discovered that it bore no resemblance to any other place.
We flashed from open country to a shady park, set about with buvettes and beer gardens; ran through a massive gateway, and were in the heart of Madrid. Electric trams whizzed confusingly round us, and far above the hubbub of such traffic loomed proudly a hill crowned with an enormous palace. There was no need to ask if it were the royal palace, for it was essentially Royal, a house worthy of a king.
My father had fought to put Don Carlos there—Don Carlos, far away now in Venice; but with all my admiration for his brave son Don Jaime, my sympathies flowed loyally towards the young dweller on those heights.
We swept under and round the palace hill, as Colonel O'Donnel directed. In spite of his instructions, however, Dick lost the way twice, plunging into wrong turnings; but the second time he did this it seemed that San Cristobal—whose medal now adorned our Gloria and shaped our destinies—must have twisted the steering-wheel. There, before the door of an official building guarded by sentries, panted the grey car of Carmona; and among its passengers Carmona alone was absent.
"That's the Ministry of War," said the Cherub, and with a quick thought I asked Dick to slow down. Taking advantage of her son's late cordiality, I spoke to the Duchess.
"We thought we had lost you," said I airily. "I hope nothing's wrong, that you stop here?"
"Not in the least, thank you," coldly replied the Duchess.
But Monica spoke up bravely. "The Duke didn't tell us why he wanted to go in. He only said he wouldn't keep us many minutes. Senorita O'Donnel, shall you be in Madrid long?"
"Only a few days," said Pilar. "And you?"
"We shall be here again at the time of the wedding," Monica answered quickly; "so I believe the Duke and Duchess will—"
"It is undecided," Lady Vale-Avon cut in before the girl could make us a present of Carmona's plans. "We may take some excursions. As there's a fine road to Barcelona, we may go there and to Montserrat; and the Duke has said something about Bilbao—"
"But, Mother, surely we're going to Seville for Holy Week!" cried Monica.
"There's no reason why we should arrive before Maundy Thursday," replied Lady Vale-Avon, hiding annoyance. "But isn't that the Duke coming out? I hope he won't be long. It's windy here, and you have a cold coming on, my dear Duchess."
We were dismissed; and raising our hats again we drove on, Pilar waving a small, encouraging hand to Monica. "They won't do any of those things," said the Spanish girl. "Something tells me they mean to start for Seville as soon as they can."
"Something tells me so too," said I. "And something tells me that Carmona's errand at the Ministry of War is to find out whether Lieutenant Cristobal O'Donnel y Alvarez is really away from Burgos on leave."
"That's what I was thinking," murmured the Cherub. "But the thought will not bring a grey hair. Cristobal is on leave; and he told his brother officers that he expected to go with his family to Seville. It was at the last minute that his plans were changed. No one was taken into his confidence; and it will be very negligent of San Cristobal to let him meet in Biarritz any common acquaintance of his and Carmona's."
"I'm putting my faith in San Cristobal," said I. "But as he has a good deal to attend to, the less I show myself in Madrid, where my adopted brother must be known, the better."
"He hasn't been as often here as Pilar and I," said the Cherub, "so he knows few people. Still, Cristobal's uniform should now be put away, and Cristobal should wear civilian clothes."
"He certainly will," I answered, laughing. And Colonel O'Donnel gave himself up to directing Dick which way to go, as we were in the most crowded centre now, close to the Puerta del Sol.
This big, open space, shaped like a parallelogram, walled by hotels, Government buildings, and shops, struck me as a Spanish combination of Piccadilly Circus and the Mansion House, thrown into one. Ten busy streets poured their traffic into the place; intricate lines of tramways converged there. The pavements were crowded with loungers who had the air of never doing anything but lounge, and wait for excitements. There was much coming and going of leisurely pedestrians, talking and laughing, all classes mingling together; men in silk hats on the way to their clubs chatting with men in capas and grey sombreros, who belonged to very different clubs; smart officers in uniform shoulder to shoulder with bull-fighters whose little twisted pigtails of black hair appeared under their tilted hats; ragged but handsome beggars thinking themselves as good, if not as fortunate, as their brothers in broadcloth; merry boys shouting the evening papers, black-eyed women and men selling cheap but colourful jewelry, post-cards, toys, and marvellous sweets. It was as gay a scene as could be found in any capital, and it seemed to me that this absolute democracy was after all the true note of modern Spain. Whatever else we may be, we never have been, never will be a nation of snobs, we Spaniards whose favourite saint is the peasant Isidro.
Steering cautiously through the throng which scarcely troubled itself to move before us, we took one of the main arteries leading out from the Puerta del Sol (where no sign of a gate was to be seen), and turned into the deep blue shadows of the Calle Echegaray to our hotel.
Already I had discovered that it is not the habit of Spanish landlords to descend from the important first floor to the unimportant ground floor and welcome their guests. They are glad to have you come if you choose, but they do not care if you stop away, for there are plenty of others; and whether you are cousin to the King of England or an American millionaire, or a Spanish commercial traveller, very timid and just starting in business, you will be given the same reception, unless you put on "proud airs," when you will be shown that you had better go elsewhere. But with an old friend, all is different; everyone welcomed the Cherub and the senorita; for their sakes everyone welcomed Dick and me. I was vaguely introduced as a relative—no name given; no name, in the flurry of greeting, asked; for Spain is not like France or Germany, where the first thing to do is to write down all particulars about yourself on a piece of paper.
Ropes drove the car off to a garage, and we were shown to rooms which made us realize that we had left the provinces behind and come into the capital.
"Thank goodness I shall have a pillow to sleep on to-night," said Dick, "instead of doing the carved-knight-on-a-marble-tomb act. I looked particularly at the two neat, rounded blocks those chaps in Burgos Cathedral had to rest their heads on, and the alleged pillows on my bed were an exact copy, hardness and all."
"I like them hard," said I.
"That's right! Stand up for Spanish institutions."
"There's one anyhow I don't think you'd run down," I remarked.
We dined in great spirits that evening, in the big scarlet and gold restaurant; and in rich, red Marques de Riscal Dick drank confusion to the Duque de Carmona. The Cherub had told us where Carmona's flat was situated, saying that his car would perhaps be kept under the same roof with his carriage and the state coach.
The company was interesting to watch. Leoncavallo had as a guest the famous ex-bull-fighter Mazzantini; a Russian prince entertained several beauties of the Opera; and there were two or three politicians greatly in the public eye. We were hungry; the dinner was good; there was much to talk over; and all seemed to be going well.
But about half-past ten, when Pilar had gone, and the Cherub was having a "yarn" and a cigar in the sitting-room of our suite; Ropes appeared, looking serious.
"Something bad has happened, sir; and I blame myself," said he.
"Something wrong with the car," I asked quickly.
"Something out of the car, sir," he amended. "The main shaft of the change-speed gear."
"Impossible!" said I. "A car can't go along dropping her gearing, as a woman drops her purse!"
"No, sir. But she can, so to speak, have her pocket picked. After all that's come and gone, I ought to have kept my eyes open."
"Out with it, my good chap," said I; "don't try to break it to us."
"It's the car that's broken into, sir. I found the garage all right, left her safe and sound, came back here, but after dinner thought I'd go round again to tinker a bit at the car in case of an early start to-morrow. When I got to the place there were three new fellows on duty, and they seemed astonished when they saw I intended to work on the Gloria. The chauffeur who looked after that car had been in, they said; and you can believe, sir, I pricked up my ears. He'd been working like a demon, said they, opening the gear-box and dismounting the main shaft. Then he went off with it over his shoulder, after telling the foreman his master wouldn't believe the pinions were so worn there ought to be a new set, and he was going to show it to him. They were surprised, I can tell you, sir, when I said we'd been robbed, and that the thief wasn't your chauffeur. But just then one of the old lot came in, and bore witness that I was the right man. It did seem like a bad dream, but a peep at the gear-box showed me it was real enough. I was a fool not to give somebody warning, or pay a man to stay by the car."
"I can't see that you had reason to be suspicious," said I, "although it's a rascally outrage, and makes me feel murderous. Did they describe the supposed chauffeur?"
"They did sir; and I expected to recognize the description. But I didn't; they're too smart for that."
"You think we know him?"
"Sure of it, sir. Nothing easier than a bit of disguise."
"It might be a common motor-car thief, who wanted a main shaft for a Gloria car."
"And then again, sir, it mightn't."
"Anyhow," said I, "the thing to do would be to apply to the police, have the ruffian run to earth and arrested, no matter what his position. The worst of it is, though, I'm not anxious to have the eye of the Spanish police turned upon me, and there are those who count on that fact."
"Wouldn't I like to smash their heads for this! Wouldn't I like to smash their car!" growled Dick.
"No. That would be playing it too low down," said I.
Ropes coloured under his sunburnt skin, and began to search for non-existent dust on the leather cap in his hand.
"You're right, sir, no doubt," he said, in a meek voice.
I was half sorry that he, or anyone, should agree with me. It seemed somehow as if my chauffeur were taking this monstrous thing too coolly. "Well, the fact remains that we're done," I said, with suppressed fury. "If the Duke of Carmona has had a hand in this act, it's a sign that he means to get off while we're held up waiting for a new shaft and pinions to arrive—probably all the way from Paris. He can go to-morrow—"
"Beg pardon, sir; he can't, not in his own car," said Ropes. "If we can't leave, no more can't he."
"Why, what have you done?" I tried to speak sternly.
"Oh, next to nothing, sir. A bit of a touch on his magneto ignition, and a tickling of his coil, just enough to keep him in hospital till he's doctored up."
Rope's expression was so childlike that Dick and I burst out laughing. "You demon!" I said. "How did you get at the car?"
"Much the same as they did at ours, though I don't pretend to be as clever as some. I said to myself, as this car of the Duke's is new, and he doesn't drive it himself, chances are he's never had a motor before, and wouldn't have a garage in Madrid, though he does live here part of the year and must have fine stables. I inquired what was the best garage besides ours, and strolled round, thinking the chauffeur would have gone straight to the Duke with his news. I found the place, and all the chaps were standing outside open doors, watching a couple of dogs having a fight. I walked in, without a word to anyone, though I'd have said I came from the Duke if I'd had to. There was the car; and before one of those blessed dogs had chewed the other's nose off, I'd polished up my little job. Then I came to you, feeling a bit better than a few minutes before."
"You ought to be crushed with remorse," said I; but I'm afraid I grinned; and Dick remarked that if he were King of England he'd give Ropes a knighthood.
"Heaven knows what the next move will be," I commented, when the avenger had gone, not too stricken in spirit. "It begins to look as though the enemy would stick at little, and we can't go on giving tit for tat."
"He won't take open action against you for the present," said the Cherub, "as he isn't sure you aren't Cristobal O'Donnel; and you're warned if he tries to strike in the dark. He's probably found out through the Ministry of War that Cristobal's on leave, so to rid himself of your company he's resorted to the only means which occurred to him."
"I have to thank you that he had no surer means," I said.
"It's the fashion in Spain, if a friend wants a thing, to tell him it is his," replied Colonel O'Donnel. "You wanted me for a father, Pilar for a sister. I said, 'We are yours.' There's not much to be thankful for. I would do ten times more for your father's son; and my confessor's a sympathetic man. Besides, to tell you a secret of mine which even Pilar doesn't know, though she has most others at her finger-end, your mother was my first love. I adored her! You have her eyes!"
Whereupon I shook hands with the Cherub.
THE MAN WHO LOVED PILAR
When Ropes had gone to send a telegram to Paris, Dick and I talked the matter over from so many points of view, that Colonel O'Donnel apparently went to sleep. It was only when I burst into vituperation against Carmona, that the excellent man suddenly showed signs of life.
"I've been thinking," said he, and I found myself cheering up at the statement; for I had noticed that, though the Cherub often had the air of being silent through laziness; that from his mellifluous Andaluz he discarded all possible consonants as he would discard the bones of fish; yet, with his murmurings, invariably rolled from his tongue some jewel of good sense.
"We have a friend near Madrid," said he, "who has an automobile. I know little about such things; but when I heard that you had a twenty-four horse-power Gloria, I thought, 'It is the same as the Conde de Roldan's.' It will be days before your new parts can come from Paris, even if you send Ropes; and there are few automobiles on sale here, if any. It's a hundred chances to one you could get parts to fit your car in that way. But if Don Cipriano's car is what I think, he will give you what you want. When the new parts arrive, they will be for him."
"Colonel O'Donnel," said Dick, "you and your family are bricks!"
"That's true," said I; "but if you could persuade your friend to such an act of generosity, I couldn't accept. I—"
"Oh," said the good man, with cherubic slyness, "he would give his left hand for such a chance to please us! Perhaps you haven't noticed that my nina is rather attractive; but it has not escaped the observation of Don Cipriano."
So the wind blew from that quarter! I threw a glance at Dick, and saw on his face the same expression of disconcerted amour propre I had once seen when a bullet went whistling by his nose. But he said nothing about either missile; and now it was left for me to justify our appreciation of the senorita.
Ordinarily, if there is one thing which the Cherub loves, it is to dawdle, but now he rose without a sigh and remarked that there was no time to waste. He must fetch Pilar.
"She will have gone to bed," I objected.
The Cherub smiled. Pilar go to bed at half-past ten on her first night in Madrid after months of absence? Not she. Her father was willing to bet that she was at her window looking down upon the street, and wishing she had been born a man that she might be in it. "Night is the time for amusement in Madrid," said he. "One can lie in bed till afternoon without missing anything; but at night—that is the time to be alive here! And though our home is in the southern country, when we are in Madrid my Pilar and I, we are true Madrilenos. Had she and I been alone, she would have made me take her to the theatre or circus. We should not have got home till one: and then I should have had to give her supper. Oh, she will be enchanted when I call her back to life!"
With that he trotted off, and before it seemed that he could have explained anything, he had brought Pilar to us in triumph, her hat on her head, dimples in her cheeks, and stars in her eyes. "I'm ready!" she exclaimed.
"Ready?" I echoed. "For what?"
"Why to drive with you all to Don Cipriano's! What else? We mustn't lose a minute, or our bad fairy will have time to work some other evil charm before we've remedied the first. Oh, I may be only a girl, and not of importance; but Don Cipriano thinks me important, and I shall have to be there to make smiles at him. He has a Gloria, and it is twenty-four horse-power. Father sent to order a carriage while I put on my hat and coat. Don Cipriano's place is only half an hour out of Madrid, even with a 'simon.' He breeds horses, and oh, such dogs! Come along—come along!"
"At this time of night?" said Dick. "He'll think we're mad!"
"It's always early till to-morrow morning in Madrid," laughed Pilar. "Ah, how nice to have an excitement!"
"He won't be at home," said Dick.
"Yes, he will. San Cristobal will keep him there."
Before we knew what we were doing, this small Spanish whirlwind had swept us downstairs in her train, into the vehicle which had actually arrived, and out into the midst of a night-scene as lively as a fair. Many shops were open and brilliantly illuminated. Cafe windows blazed like diamonds; half the population of Madrid was in the streets, and a stranger might have thought that something unusual had happened; but Pilar assured us it was "always like that." "You can live in the street if you like, in Madrid," said she, "and I should think lots of quite charming people do. There are sweets and fruit when you're hungry, and water and wine and fresh milk of goats when you're thirsty, cool doorways or nice hot pavements to sleep on when you're tired, with lettuce leaves or a cabbage for a pillow, all at a cost of a penny or two a day; and if you're clever somebody passing by will give you that penny. So, rich or poor, with a palace or no home, you can be happy in Madrid."
"I wonder how you'd like New York?" muttered Dick.
"That depends on the person I lived with!" said Pilar.
Soon we had left the gold and crimson glow of the streets, and were out in the blue night. Over the Puente de Toledo we passed, and on along a broad white road.
Pilar had said that we would reach our destination in half an hour; but her enthusiasm ran faster than our horses; and it was nearly midnight when we stopped in front of a tall archway that glimmered in the dark. A clanging bell had to be pulled, and was echoed by a musical baying of many dogs. "The darlings!" exclaimed Pilar. "I know their voices. It's Melampo, and Cubillon, and Lubina, the dearest pets of all; named after the dogs who went with the shepherds to see the Christ-child in His cradle—you remember—so they can never go mad."
By this time the gate was open, and a wave of beautiful greyhounds surged round us, although called imperatively back by a man who looked like a cross between a porter and a gamekeeper. Then came a cordial burst of recognition between the Cherub, Pilar, and the servant. We drove into a courtyard, and before we could descend from our carriage the master of the house had appeared at a lighted doorway, tall, brown, ruddy, picturesque in Spanish riding breeches and short coat; a handsome man of thirty-five, perhaps, whose face lit from surprise to rapture at sight of Pilar. Dick and I came in for a welcome too, though I could see that the Conde de Roldan was not easy in his mind about these young men who seemed on terms of intimacy with his friends.
From the courtyard we passed through a doorway into a patio, and from the patio into a nondescript room which could have belonged to no one but a bachelor and a sportsman. There was, however, a mother, and the poor lady would have been torn from her bed to greet the welcome ones, had not the father and daughter protested. To-morrow, if all went well, they would come again, and see dear Dona Rosita; but now, let her sleep. We were here on business.
"May I explain you?" Pilar appealed to me. "Don Cipriano is safe. And I want him to be interested."
Poor Don Cipriano! He had visibly a bad half moment, trembling lest we had rushed out to announce my engagement to the adorable Pilarcita; but it was good to see the light come back to his eyes when he heard that I—blind worm—had fallen in love with another girl. Clever Pilarcita made this fact clear, so that Don Cipriano's jealous heart might warm to me before he knew what thing was wanted. Dick became tolerable also, as a friend following in the train of my adventures; and soon the poor fellow was ready to put not only the gearing of his motor-car, but his house and everything in it, at our service.
He blessed his patron saint for bringing us to his door, and for permitting him to have ridden home from a distant farm in time to greet us; he roundly cursed the Duke of Carmona, consigning him to Purgatory for a longer period than usual; and when everyone of us (except Dick) was in the best of humours with everybody else, we paid a visit to his car.
She might, in all but colour, have been twin-sister to mine. There seemed reason to hope that the pinions of this Gloria would fit the other Gloria, and that no time might be lost in making the experiment, the Conde de Roldan volunteered to spin us into Madrid, letting our "simon" go back empty. If we decieved ourselves, rather than I should be delayed (said he), his car was mine to take where I would, and the Cherub stepped on my foot to check a refusal.
There was a chauffeur in this interesting household, but he was several other things as well, and was a better dog-doctor than the vet. At that moment he was assisting at an addition to the family of Lubina's daughter; but in any case, Don Cipriano, protested, he would have allowed no one to drive us save himself.
We raced to Madrid in a fourth of the time we had taken in coming; and two hours after the moment when we had news of the disaster, we arrived at the garage of my injured Gloria.
A somnolent night-porter (one of the few persons in Madrid who appeared to use the night for sleep) let us in; and at the sound of our entrance the figure of a man sprang from the cushions of my car. Pilar gave a cry, which changed to a laugh as she saw that it was Ropes.
"San Cristobal failed you for a few minutes this evening, didn't he? But he's going to make up for it now," she said. "And I'm going to see him do it, if it takes all night."
In vain did the Cherub try to persuade her that it would be well to let him escort her home, as the experiment would be a long affair. Nobody seconded his efforts, and, if they had, ten chances against one that Pilarcita would have listened. Never, in all her life, said she, had she known anything like the excitements of the last few days, and it was too probable that she never would again.
With this, she climbed into her old place in my Gloria's tonneau, her bright eyes bewitching in the uncertain yellow light; and enchanted with the prospect of retaining her society, Don Cipriano proposed a feast. He would not listen to discussions, but rushed the bewildered watchman off to a neighbouring restaurant, whence a waiter appeared with the speed of magic. Supper was ordered; chicken, salad, champagne, all that could be found of the best; and dulces for the senorita.
While Ropes and I worked as if for a wager, a swarm of amused waiters came buzzing about the garage, bringing chairs, a table, clattering dishes, clinking knives and forks, and silver pails wherein tinkled ice embedding gold-labelled bottles.
Ropes is unrivalled as a mechanic, and I am not unhandy with tools, so that between us, under the inspiration of Pilar's bright eyes and sayings, we had the pinions out of Don Cipriano's car by the time the champagne was cold. Then, while corks were popping, the great experiment was tried. "A fit! a fit!" I exclaimed, and joyously we drank to the health of the two Glorias.
Such tips as they got that night, those waiters and that watchman could never have seen. No doubt they thought us mad, and perhaps we were; but it was partly the fault of San Cristobal.
A PARCEL FOR LIEUTENANT O'DONNEL
Never was such a man as Don Cipriano, Conde de Roldan. Not content with lending me his wings that I might fly while he was left to crawl, he proposed to heap other favours upon the friend of his friends.
He offered me an asylum at his place for my rejuvenated car, lest the enemy in reconnoitring should learn our secret before the time; and, better still, he volunteered to visit the camp of that enemy, and discover his plans.
Being an acquaintance of the lady whom Carmona had jilted, he was no admirer of the Duke's. Nevertheless, he was a member of a club which Carmona frequented when in Madrid, and he thought that the Duke would look in next day. Even if he should decide to proceed by rail, after discovering how "two can play at the same game," such a change of plan would mean delay; therefore Carmona and his party would spend at least one day in Madrid. Don Cipriano offered to go early to the club, and not to leave until he had seen the Duke. The moment he had any news he would bring it to us.
I accepted my new friend's invitation to house the Gloria, as his place was so close to town that Ropes or I could spin her back at short notice; and at dawn, when merry Madrid was thinking of bed, my car towed out his dismantled one. Pilar and her father had gone home to dream their good deeds over; Dick, when he heard that we were to drive behind the Conde's horses, developed a headache, and Ropes and I had to carry the business through ourselves.
We bathed and breakfasted in the country, and drove back to Madrid while the gay world slept. He would now, Don Cipriano announced, spend the day in the city, on watch-dog duty; but as he would have no news until afternoon, I might visit the picture galleries if I liked. "They will make you feel proud of your country," he said; and so they would, no doubt. But I resolved to sacrifice them in the fear that, after all, Carmona might evade me if I gave him so good a chance.
Never had I seen Dick so gloomy as when I returned to him, and the black dog was not chased away by my praises of Don Cipriano. He cheered up, however, at the prospect of sightseeing with the Cherub and Pilar; the Cherub martyred; Pilar joyous in the thought of showing off the Murillos and Velasquez which she adored.
They did the Armeria and picture galleries all the morning, until they were drooping with fatigue; waggled back in a dilapidated cab, clamouring for their lunch and my tidings; departed again in the afternoon to finish what they had left undone.
Meanwhile I had heard nothing; and the day, spent in waiting for Don Cipriano or for some bit of gossip picked up by Ropes, was long.
But five o'clock and Don Cipriano came together. Carmona had been to the club. The Conde de Roldan had not spoken to him, but the Duke had talked to another man, a motoring friend of the King's. Perhaps, with few others, would the Duke have been so expansive. He had said, "I'm only in Madrid for the day. Should have been off this morning, with my mother and two ladies who are going to visit her in Seville, but had an accident to my automobile, which has made me a lot of bother. I hope to get away, though, sometime to-morrow." Then he had asked after the health of a certain actress, and the subject had been definitely changed.
This was a triumph. I heartily thanked Don Cipriano, all the while feeling a guilty thing; for if I were loyal to Dick and wished him luck, I must be disloyal and wish defeat for my benefactor.
We spoke of the road, which he knew, and said was not too bad; and about brigands, who were making themselves talked of just then. "You'd better buy arms, if you haven't them," said Don Cipriano; "but there's not much danger on this side Seville."
He had brought a road-map; and we were examining it, in the reading-room of the hotel, wondering whether Cannona would take the direct way through Manzanares, Valdepenas, and Cordoba, or another which Don Cipriano considered better, though longer, by Talavera de la Reina, Trujillo, and Zafra, when the concierge came to say a messenger with a parcel wished to see me.
"It must be a mistake," I replied.
"He asked for el Teniente O'Donnel; and he has a packet for you."
"Bring it in, please, and let me see how it's addressed."
"He won't give it up, sir, without seeing you himself. Those were his instructions."
I got up impatiently and went into the hall, where a boy in the livery of some shop handed me a small parcel. There was no address upon it, and I wondered if this were not some purchase of Pilar's, sent back to my care. However, I decided to open it, and found nothing inside except a little steel paper-knife with the word Toledo engraved on the black and gold handle.
I stared at the thing stupidly for a moment, as I fumbled for a pourboire to give the messenger, when it occurred to me that he might explain the mystery. "Did a lady buy this?" I asked; "a young lady, with a tall senor also young, and another middle-aged?"
"A young lady? yes, sir. But she was with only one senor, and two senoras, both of an age."
"You saw them?"
"Describe all four, and you shall have two pesetas instead of one."
"One senora was Spanish, brunette, fat, with dead eyes in a large, soft face of two chins. The other was tall and foreign, handsome, but with an air! I would not be her servant. The senor was distinguished. Dark, with a thin nose that turned down, like his moustache; a face of an old picture; one shoulder higher than the other."
"But the young lady?"
"Oh, sir, the senorita was a white and gold angel, made of a sunbeam! It was she who bought the knife, while the others chose a thing for the tall senora. She quickly gave it and the money to an attendant, with the address, saying it must be put into the gentleman's own hand."
I gave the boy five pesetas instead of two.
A paper-knife with the word Toledo engraved upon it from Monica for me! No message, only that! But was it not in itself a message—the only one she could find a way to send?
I went back to Don Cipriano. "I've just heard," said I, "that when Carmona starts, he intends to go to Toledo."
THE MAGIC WORD
When the others came back, and the paper-knife was shown, all agreed with me that it could mean but one thing. The best of it was that to go to Toledo the grey car must pass the Conde de Roldan's place where my Gloria lay; and all we need do would be to await the moment when the Lecomte flashed by. Then we might give Carmona a surprise.
None of us doubted that he must guess the cause of his accident, as we guessed at ours; nevertheless, the blow he had inflicted was far more severe than our retaliation, and he doubtless hoped that, despite our revengeful scratch, he could slip out of Madrid leaving us hors de combat.
Don Cipriano dined with us that night, and went with the others to the Teatro Espanol, where the great Guerrero and her husband were acting. It was not thought well for me to appear, lest the Duke should be there, and say to some acquaintance, "You see the O'Donnel's. Is that the son who is in the army?"
When they returned, Pilar had news. Carmona, with the Duchess, Lady Vale-Avon, and Monica had all been at the theatre in a box.
"I knew that girl was beautiful," said Pilar, "but I didn't know how beautiful until to-night! With her pearly skin and golden hair among all the dark heads, she gleamed like a pearl amid carbuncles, and everyone was looking at her. You know how we admire fair beauties, and how we expect to adore the young queen when she comes? Well, if it had been Princess Ena herself, people could hardly have stared more, and the Duke was delighted. He wants everything that's best for himself, and to have others appreciate it. He was so proud of Lady Monica between acts, and kept bending over her as if she belonged to him. I don't think he saw us; but I was glad you weren't there, or you would have been wild to fly at him."
"You make me wild to do that now," I said.
"Have a little patience, and you will steal her," said Pilar.
"If she would only let me! But she won't."
"Who knows what she will be ready to do if they press her? And after to-night, too! She seemed half afraid of him, as if she began to realize more and more what he is. Oh, if you weren't here I should want to do some desperate deed and snatch her away myself! He likes having her admired, while she's not yet his; but he has enough of the Moor in him to shut up a wife, so that no other man should see her beauty. And then presently he would tire, and be cruel."
"Don't let's talk of it," said I. "It's not going to happen."
Though it was so late before we slept, we were dressed at an unearthly hour—according to the Cherub—and driving out with the small luggage which accompanied us on the car, to Don Cipriano's place on the Toledo road.
Ropes had spent the night there, and the Gloria was ready. The luggage was got into place; and Don Cipriano and his mother—a fairy godmother of an old lady, with a white dome of hair under a priceless black lace mantilla—were determined to provide us with food and drink as if to withstand a siege.
There was a snow-cured ham from Trevelez, the most famed in Andalucia. There was delicious home-made bread, cuernos, molletes, and panecillos; and olives large as grapes. There was white, curded cheese; quince jam or carne de membrillo; angels' hair, made of shredded melons with honey; mazapan, smelling of almonds, and shaped like figures of saints, serpents, and horses; oranges from Seville and Tarifa; fat figs dried on sticks; and, most wonderful of all, a wineskin of the country, so old that the taste of the skin was gone a generation ago, and plump with as much good red wine as would have filled six bottles.
"You will need these things," insisted the old lady, giving the Cherub a friendly pat on the arm, as she encircled Pilar's waist. "It is different on the road between Madrid and Seville, from those you have travelled. You will want to lunch out of doors, in the sunshine, for you won't find good things like these at any little venta. I know, for I have been with my son. I am a heroine, my friends say. We will pack everything well for you."
"And the wineskin you must hang on the side of the car," said Don Cipriano, all solicitude for our welfare, poor fellow, believing happily, as he did now, that neither Dick nor I was dangerous. "There's no cure for Spanish dust, except Spanish wine. Besides, you're going through wild country where automobiles are seldom seen. If peasants are inclined to throw stones, the sight of a good skin of wine should soften them. And what true man would risk damaging a wineskin?"
That fairy godmother, Dona Rosita, conceived a fancy for Dick, who flirted with her in his bad Spanish so outrageously that she was delighted. He made her feel young again, she said, and it was a shock to find that he was an American. She had not forgiven America for the Cuban war, which she had not understood in the least. "But you are not wicked!" she exclaimed. "I thought all American men were wicked, and would do anything for money. Ay de mi! I must again pardon Columbus for discovering your country, I suppose; though I have often said in these last years, how much better if he had left it alone. I used to stop in my carriage near the Cristobal Colon statue in the Prado, when the war was on, and laugh to watch the people throw things, because they were annoyed with him for the trouble he had brought. Yet now I see there's something to thank him for, after all." This last with a look at Dick which must have melted his American heart like water if she had been of the age of Pilarcita. But what would she have said had she known that—indirectly—Columbus had sent to Spain a rival for her adored Cipriano?
Ignorance being bliss, the delightful mother and son were a hostess and a host almost too hospitable.
As if the hampers stowed in the car were not enough, a tremendous breakfast on a table loaded with flowers was provided for us. But just as we sat down, at ten o'clock, a servant on duty as scout appeared, panting after a scamper across fields, to say that a motor had passed. Our chauffeur sent word that it was the motor; and was ready to start our car.
This was the signal for confusion, cries of regret, wishes for good luck, laughter, and exclamations. Pilar and the Cherub were persuaded to finish their cups of thick chocolate, flavoured with cinnamon, while Dick and I drank our strong coffee and left our aguardiente.
Off we went, in flowery Spanish speech kissing the senora's feet, while she kissed our hands; Don Cipriano leaped upon a horse to see us off, all his dogs about him; and ten minutes later our pneus were pressing the track in the white dust made by the Lecomte.
We soon lost sight of gay Madrid, with its domes and spires clear cut against the white mountains, to run through a green landscape of growing corn and grape, vineyards framed for our eyes with distant hills flaming in Spanish colours, red and gold. Colonel O'Donnel pointed out an isolated elevation which he said was the exact centre of Spain; and of course there was a convent on its top. Every other hill had a ruined watch-tower, brown against a sky of deeper, more thoughtful blue than Italy's radiant turquoise. Men we met rode upright as statues on noble Andaluz animals, grand as war-horses in mediaeval pictures; but some did not scorn to turn abruptly aside at sight and sound of our motor, to go cantering across fields to a prudent distance. Carters with nervous mules held striped rugs over the creatures' faces till we had passed; donkeys brayed and hesitated whether to sit down or run away, but ended in doing neither; yet no man frowned.
Dick said that now, at last, he began to feel he was really in Spain, because we met the right sort of Spanish faces, the only kind he was ready to accept as Spanish. He had been satisfied with the strongly characteristic qualities of everything else (especially the balconies, the hall-mark of domestic architecture in Spain); the rich, oily cooking; the pillows, oh, the stony pillows! the manners of the people, and the costumes of Castile. But the features of the people hadn't been, till to-day, typical enough to please him. He had expected in the north mysterious looking Basques; then, something Gothic or Iberian, if not Moorish, with a touch of the Berber to give an extra aquiline curve to the nose. But not a bit of it! Noses were as blunt as in England, Ireland, or America, and might have been grown there. It was only this morning that we had flashed past a few picture-book Spanish features, and fierce, curled moustaches.
"Wait till you get farther south," murmured the Cherub, "you will see the handsome peasants. They put townspeople to shame."
"And mantillas—I want mantillas," said Dick. "I've only seen one so far, except in the distance at Vitoria; I expected every woman to wear one. Now you, senorita, owe it to your country."
Pilar laughed. "Fancy a mantilla in a motor-car. You haven't seen me yet, senores—no, not even when I went to the play. When we're at Seville, why, then you'll be introduced to the Real Me. Look you, I have but one sole hat in this wide world, beyond this motoring thing I bargained for at Burgos. You've no idea what a hat—such a hat as a self-respecting senorita can put upon the head God made—costs in this land of Spain. Twice—three times what it would be elsewhere, so travelled women say, and to have a smart one is necessary a trip at least to Biarritz. As for Dona Rosita, she is old-fashioned, and always wears the mantilla; indeed, on her wedding tour to Paris she had to buy her first hat in Marseilles, she says; for thirty years ago, you could hardly find one in Spain. Now, most of the ladies in Madrid wear hats, except for the bull-fight; but in dear Seville, it's different. I shall no longer have a headache with the hatpins which pinch these hairs of mine. Santa Maria Purisima, you shall see what you shall see."
She spoke as if to me; but she glanced at Dick, who—though he had still to pose as the owner of the car—was growing fond of the tonneau, while Ropes drove. Woe betide Don Cipriano if he had seen that glance!
By and by we turned off the main road at Cetafe, and got caught by closed bars at a railway crossing.
"We shall probably be here an hour, and might as well lunch," said the Cherub resignedly; but when a humble-looking luggage train had crept in, it was so impressed with our air of superior importance that, to our surprise, it backed out rather than obstruct our honourable path; and the gates were wheeled back for us to pass in front of the engine's polite little nose.
It was a spin of but fifty miles from Madrid to the olive plantations (the first I'd seen in Spain) near Toledo; but the road surface was not of velvet; and we had often to slow down for animals who hated, because they did not understand, that most faithful and loyal of beasts, the automobile. Therefore it was close upon one o'clock when the noble old town rose in wild majesty before us on its granite, horseshoe hill, girdled by the dark gold bed of the Tagus.
Madrid seen from afar off had scarcely been impressive, but this Rome of Spain—though we did not approach it by way of the world-famous bridge—was grander than any picture had led me to believe.
We had seen nothing of the grey car yet, not even a cloud of dust, but we knew it must be here, and everyone of us looked forward to watching the face of the Duke when we should march into the dining-room of the best hotel, where by this time he and his party were probably about to lunch.
In a few minutes I should see Monica, perhaps be as near to her as at the fonda of the Escurial. That was the thought most absorbing; yet my spirit was on its knees before this ancient throne of kings.
I could hardly believe that the sullen yellow stream pounding its way through the gorge, and shouldering aside huge rocks as if they were pebbles, was really the Tagus, enchanted river of my childish dreams—the river my father loved—the golden river I had scarcely dared hope to see.
Not a legend of the Tagus or Toledo that I did not know, I reminded myself dreamily. I knew how, in the grand old days of the city's glory, the Jews of Jerusalem had respectfully sent a deputation to the wise Jews of Toledo, asking: "Shall this man who says He is the Son of God be given up to the Roman law, and die?" And how the Jews of Toledo had hastened to return for answer: "By no means commit this great crime, because we believe from the evidence that He is indeed the long looked-for Redeemer." How the caravan had made all speed back, arriving too late; and how, because of their wisdom and piety, the Jews of Toledo had been spared by the Inquisition when all others burned.
I knew how, in a time of disaster and poverty for Toledo, San Alonzo, a poor man, prayed heartily to the Virgin, in whose lifetime the cathedral had been begun, imploring her help for the town; how she came at his call, and looking about to see what she could do, touched the rock, which throbbed under her fingers like a heart, until all its veins flowed with molten iron; how this iron was drunk by the Tagus in such draughts that the water became the colour of old gold; and how after that, the city grew rich and famous through the marvellous quality of its steel, which, the faithful believe, owes its value to the iron-impregnated Tagus.
I knew how the King of the Visigoths had here become a Christian, and made of Toledo the ecclesiastical capital of Spain. I knew how the Cid had ridden to the city on Babieca, beside treacherous Alonzo. I knew how Philip the Second had been driven away by the haughtiness of the clergy, pretending greater love for Madrid, that town built to humour a king's caprice. I knew how, even as in the mountains round Granada, in every cave among the rocks of the wild gorge, sleeps an enchanted Moor in armour, on an enchanted steed, guarding hidden treasure, or waiting for the magic word which will set him free to fight for his banished rulers. And yet, here was I entering this ancient citadel mighty in history and fable, in an automobile, with a photographic camera!
"But you are a banished prince yourself," said Pilar, when I spoke something of what was in my mind. "And you've come out of your enchanted cave at the magic word. That magic word is—Love."
THE DUCHESS'S HAND
High on the hill Colonel O'Donnel pointed out the Alcazar of many vicissitudes, long since turned into a military academy, which has made Toledo to Spain what Woolwich is to England. "There your father and I went to school," said he. "I come every year or two, and wander about with my thoughts."
With this, he began bowing right and left to young officers who sauntered inside the gateway. Nearly everyone knew and seemed delighted to see him; indeed, who could see the excellent Cherub, and not be glad?
He himself was happy. "There go your father and I!" he exclaimed, picking out the two best-looking infants in a procession of incredibly small boys proudly wearing a smart uniform. "Oh, where are the girls who used to smile at us?"
So we drove into the Moorish-looking stronghold, through a labyrinth of steeply ascending tunnels which were streets. They were so narrow that I would not have believed the car could scrape along without smashing the mud-guards, had not the Cherub valiantly urged us on, with assurances that it could be done. And always we did slide through, the sides of the Gloria so close to open doors and windows that we could have reached into dark rooms, and helped ourselves to loaves of bread, brass cooking vessels, coarse green pottery, jars of flowers, or astonished babies.
There was no space for dwellers in these shadowed lanes to rush from their houses before our car, when warned by the "choof, choof" of the motor as we rattled over the "agony stones," that something extraordinary was coming; but mothers shrieked for their offspring, while young girls hailed their friends to the free show; and men, women, and children jostled each other good-naturedly in every window and door as we approached, pouring out in our wake, though seemingly half afraid even then that the dragon might take to charging back upon them.
Beautiful faces peered from behind rusty bars, with eyes to tempt any man to "eat iron," as the saying is. Dark men with sun-warmed eyes, and black heads wrapped in handkerchiefs of scarlet silk, stared curiously at Pilar's veil; and when we emerged from the stone-and-plaster labyrinth, into a wider space where the hotel stands like an ancient palace, we were swamped by the laughing crowd which had formed into a trotting procession behind us.
Just as the marble whiteness of the patio cooled our eyes, down the stairs came those with whom my thoughts had raced ahead; the Duchess of Carmona; Monica and her mother; behind them the Duke.
Monica grew rose-red at sight of us. Her elders, not in the Duke's confidence concerning the Gloria's disabilities, appeared as little surprised as pleased; but Carmona's various and visible emotions included extreme astonishment. I looked at him, my cap off for the ladies, smiling and nonchalant as if nothing had happened since our last meeting; and despite the self-control inherited from Oriental ancestors, for an instant he tried in vain to hide mingled rage and bewilderment. Possibly he might have fancied that we had come by train, had not Ropes been starting the car at that moment, en route for some resting-place masquerading as a garage; and the "choof, choof" of my Gloria came in through the open doors like a defiant laugh.
Then he must have wondered how, by all that was demoniac, we had contrived to track him to Toledo!
"This is quite a surprise, Senor Duque!" said I, as we met in the patio at the foot of the stairs.
"Ye—es," he answered, tugging at his moustache, and wishing us and our car on some uninhabited planet.
"And a great pleasure!"
"Um—er—of course," he mumbled; and I dared not meet Monica's laughing eyes, lest our lips should laugh as well.
They went to lunch; but we were not many moments behind, and Pilar, murmuring in my ear, "Cats may look at a king, whether the king likes or not," gaily selected a table next to the others. She then kept up a stream of talk with Monica, exchanging impressions of Madrid. "Didn't you love the shops?" she asked. "And shall you buy Toledo things to-day; scarf-pins and hatpins and paper-knives; or did you buy too many yesterday?"
"I think I bought just enough," said Monica, with a quick smile. "But I shall get more here. We're going to a metal work-shop, after the cathedral."
But this was sheer audacity, and was punished as I feared it would be.
Not wishing to pursue with too conspicuous violence, lest we defeat our object, we let Carmona's party leave the dining-room before us. A quarter of an hour later we followed, going out into the strange grey streets, haunted by men and women who have made history. Dick (armed with a book by Leonard Williams, greatest of authorities on Spain) was allowed to walk beside Pilar, while that most unsuspecting and kindly of chaperons, the Cherub, bestowed his society on me. But, according to his habit, he was often silent, giving me time to dream of Toledo's past.
Picturesque enough were the figures of to-day in the old grey capital of the Visigoths, yet they were not as real for me as other figures which only my mind's eye could see.
Here was the long, flat facade of the building legend had chosen as the palace of Wamba the Benefactor—the Farmer King. I saw the old man waking to life in the dungeon where the treachery of one loved and trusted had thrown him, dressed in the monkish garb which never again could be changed for robes of state. I saw a haggard company of Jews marching into "Tarshish," scarred and bleeding from the persecutions of Nebuchadnezzar who had flung them from Jerusalem. I saw Moorish men fighting to take Toledo—the "Lookout," "the Light of the World," and fighting again to save it for themselves.
There, in the towering Alcazar, had Rodrigo betrayed his beautiful queen, Egilona, for the still more beautiful Florinda, daughter of Julian, Espatorios of Spain; at least, so legend said, mingling the romantic music of its ballads inextricably with the deep organ notes of history. Below, on the cliff above the Tagus, in the Tower of Hercules, had Rodrigo taken the painted linen cloths from the enchanted casket, and seen the awful vision of the Moorish horde with his own figure fleeing before them, one day when he forgot the prophecy which warned all kings of Spain against entering that mysterious, locked door.
Up this narrow street in the town, behind that barred window with its curious cannon-ball decorations, perhaps the incomparable Dona Flor of Dumas' "Bandit" had smiled and pierced the heart of the "Courier of Love" with her beauty.
It was like awaking from a brilliant dream when the Cherub stopped abruptly, to point up at the vast, incongruous bulk of the cathedral towering over us. But there was nothing incongruous in the rich, Gothic splendour within; and my sole shock of disappointment came when I gave up hope of finding Monica.
They had punished her by changing their plan of campaign, and I must seek her elsewhere. But I could not wrench my friends from this great monument of Spanish glory, merely because I cared more to look on Monica Vale's face than the face of any saint, carved or painted by a master's hand.
I stayed, therefore, finding such consolation as I could in the jewelled gleam of rare old glass, the magnificence of bronze doors; tombs of kings and heroes; and all the wonders of gold, silver, pearls, and diamonds which, stored in the sacristy, do honour to the famous Black Virgin, the cathedral's Queen.
Coming out again into the town was like stepping with a single stride back from Europe into Africa; for nowhere can Moslem and Christian civilizations be more closely tangled than in Toledo. Moorish streets were like scimitar strokes cleft deep in the city; narrow chasms lined with secretive houses, giving here and there a glimpse of some bright, flowery patio, through half-open doors studded with iron bosses, and heavy enough to resist a siege; yet above the tiled roofs soared Christian spires in the translucent blue.
No one cared for us now that we were no longer gods in a car, except an occasional beggar, to whom the Cherub would murmur, "God will aid you, sister!" "Pardon me, brother!" and then, changing his mind, drop a penny into a withered old hand, or a pink, childish palm.
"They'll leave the shopping to the last, because Lady Monica told us it was to be done first," said Pilar sagely; so we wandered through the shabby aisles of Rag Fair, Pilar hoping against hope to unearth a treasure; because, did not a man once pick up, for a song, a Greco worth a fortune, and did not one always find something at least amusing in the Rag Fair of Madrid? Thence we went on to the Moorish mosque, which the Visigoths began, and so to San Juan de los Reyes, which, Pilar said, I must like better than anything else in Toledo, because she did. With an air of possession she explained the votive chains of captive Christians darkly festooning the outer walls, and I did not tell her I had heard the story long ago. She shuddered as she pointed to the crucifix which used to go with the procession of the auto-da-fe. "Only think how different times are now!" said she. "When Philip the Second was going to be married to his bride, not fourteen, a great show in honour of the marriage was a burning of heretics, here in the Zoco—the market-place of Toledo! I shouldn't have cared much to see a royal wedding then. I don't even like to look at that crucifix, it gives me such thoughts. But see, aren't those carved stone galleries where Ferdinand and Isabel used to hear mass, like two great chased silver goblets? I hope the king and queen never sat there watching the poor wretches bound before marching off to the Zoco to die; but I'm sure Isabel wouldn't: she was so sweet, she must often have wished she hadn't made that awful promise to Torquemada."
"You're Catholic, yet you say that!" I exclaimed, as we stood looking at the gorgeous shields of Los Reyes Catolicos. Dick was near, listening with concealed eagerness for the girl's answer,—and no wonder, since he was Protestant, and not the man to be a turncoat, even for his love.
"Oh yes, I'm Catholic," said she. "But,"—half whispering,—"Spaniards, even the most ardent Catholics, didn't really love the Inquisition. It was thrust on them; and—I suppose in those brutal old days it was a horrible excitement to see the burnings. It's natural to us Latins to have excitement; and after years of such dreadful ones as we had in those times, do you wonder the people clamour for bull-fights?"
"Then you don't think we Protestants deserve burning?" asked Dick, staring at the crucifix.
"How can you ask such a question?"
"But you—couldn't make a real friend of one, I suppose, or—er—let yourself care about one much?"
"I should try and convert him—or her."
"Supposing you couldn't?"
"Then, I'd have to like him—or her—in spite of all. And he—or she—would have to leave my religion alone. But I'm tired of solemn things; and brother Cristobal's dying to buy metal-work."
I don't think that Dick knew whether he had been encouraged or not. And he must have remembered that the Conde de Roldan is the best and most eligible of Catholics. Poor Dick! Perhaps he was beginning to realize how much easier it is to advise another man to be sensible than to be sensible yourself.
Pilar had been right in her surmises as to the workings of Carmona's mind. When we came to the showroom of the Fabrica de Espadas, where the dusk was shot with a thousand gleams and glitters of strange weapons, there were those we had sought in vain till now. The Duchess, yellow with fatigue, was resting her stout person on a bench in the long, low room, Lady Vale-Avon beside her, looking tired and bored. But Carmona was at the glass-covered counter, begging Monica's advice in the selection of his purchases.
His back was towards us as we entered, and, unnoticed by him, we saw him hold up to the light a small sharp dagger, with a handle beautifully ornamented. He was indicating with his finger, for Monica's benefit, the delicate tracery upon gold, when, warned by lack of attention and wandering glances on the part of his companion, he turned in our direction. Then, hastily laying down the dagger, he pushed it away as though resenting the intrusion of our eyes.
"After all, we went to the Cave of Hercules," said Monica, "and to the house where the Moorish nobles were supposed to be murdered; so we missed you when we got to the cathedral. Senorita O'Donnel, do come and help me choose presents for some girls at home, in England."
She spoke brightly, yet wistfully, as if wondering whether she would be allowed to go back to those girls, a girl herself, and able to call England home.
Pilar crossed to her at once, and Dick and I followed. The good Cherub tactfully engaged the attention of the Duchess and Lady Vale-Avon, looking so innocent that it was more than they could do to be rude to him. And while the Duke sulked, we picked out wonderful knives and forks for our luncheon-hampers, and thin sword-sticks of leather which imitated bamboo and concealed blades so flexible that they could be rolled up like watch-springs.
"Let's all buy presents for each other, in memory of the day," suggested Dick; and began by offering Pilar a pair of splendid hatpins. She retaliated with sleeve-links; so, emboldened by this prelude, I begged Monica to accept a brooch shaped like a shield. "Now I shall never lack protection," said she, with gentle emphasis; and it was well for me that the Cherub was showing Lady Vale-Avon some marvellous sword passes. "Let me see," the girl went on, when she had defiantly pinned the trinket into her lace cravat, under Carmona's furious frown. "What shall I give you for luck? Shall it be a dagger? Where's the one you were looking at, Duke?"
"I don't know," he answered, so angry with me for my presumption that he could hardly speak, though not daring to show his true feelings and imperil his chances. "It seems to have disappeared. But we must really go at once. My mother is tired, and we still have several things to see before I can take you back to the hotel to rest."
Purposely, he spoke in a loud tone, and Lady Vale-Avon heard through the Cherub's honeyed murmurs. She rose, and called Monica, who was swept away without finding the dagger.
It was dinner-time when we returned to our hotel; but Carmona's party did not appear in the dining-room. We lingered on hoping that they would come, until it was useless to hope longer, and as we drank black coffee, in the patio, Colonel O'Donnel asked a waiter where were the people who had lunched with us. "They have taken a private sitting-room," replied the man, which was a relief, as I began to be haunted by black fear that Carmona had flitted by night.
By and by Pilar's long lashes drooped, and the Cherub, catching her in the act of stifling a yawn, laughingly ordered her off to bed. "You haven't had enough sleep these last few nights to keep a cigarron alive," said he. Soon afterwards his own eyes began to look like those of a sleepy child, and he excused himself with all the ceremony of Spanish leave-takings. Dick and I were left alone together, and were discussing what the morrow might bring forth, when a waiter hovered near us, bowing.
"The Excelentisima Senora Duquesa de Carmona would consider it a favour if Senor Waring and Teniente O'Donnel would visit her in her sitting-room," he announced.
Were the heavens about to fall? My lifted eyebrows and Dick's questioned each other in bewilderment. But our lips were silent as we followed the servant.
The sitting-room of the "Excelentisima Senora" was on the first floor, perhaps a big bedroom hastily transformed. What we expected to see as the waiter opened the door I hardly know; but we assuredly did not expect to see the Duchess sitting alone.
The table where the party had dined was covered now by a piece of gaudy, pseudo-Moorish embroidery, and adorned with flowers. A few guide-books and novels were scattered about, and in her hand the Duchess held a paper-covered volume, as if she had been reading. But the expression of the dark, heavy face contradicted her pose. We could see that she was excited.
"Forgive my not rising, as I am tired," she said, as we came in. "It is kind of you to be so prompt, and I thank you." Then she paused, and we waited.
"I beg you to sit down. I want the pleasure of a talk."
We obeyed. And still waited.
"I am a little embarrassed," went on the Duchess. "You must be patient. What I wish to say is difficult. And yet the Senor Teniente, being himself Spanish, will understand. We are in Spain, the land of formality and rigid etiquette, among people of our class. That an automobile with two young unmarried men in it (and even Colonel O'Donnel is a widower, not old)—that such an automobile should be closely following ours which contains a beautiful girl, is calculated to cause gossip. Everywhere we go along this route my son and I have acquaintances, friends; and already there has been talk, which flies from place to place in gossiping letters between women. I am sure you would not like to think that you had caused me this distress on account of my sweet young guest and her mother?"
Never had I been more completely taken aback. She had us at her mercy; for how is a man to fight against a woman?
"We are motoring in your direction," I said lamely. "The chances of the road bring us together."
"Ah! but I ask you, as a woman of my age may ask a favour of young men like you, senores, not to take those chances. If it is as you say—and of course I believe—that you happen to be motoring on our road, it would be no great hardship to delay and give us a longer start. Remember, it is for the sake of a young girl, and for an old woman's peace of mind. Will you do this kindness, then, for me?"
She had struck me dumb. I did not know how to answer her, and she knew it. Even Dick, with his quick Yankee wit, for once was unready. And indeed, the Duchess had us at a hateful disadvantage.
"We are in something of a hurry, Senora Duquesa," I stammered awkwardly.
"Then, rather than cause you loss of time, we will be off very early, and go as far as may be in the day. If we leave at—let us say seven o'clock to-morrow, it would not be too inconvenient for you to wait till nine? That is all I ask; and to stay the night at Manzanares instead of trying to get on to some other stopping place. If you promise this, you are honourable men, and I know you will keep your word."
She had her lesson well, and had evidently rehearsed it with her son, for this lymphatic, weary-eyed woman was not one to know in advance the names of halting places on an automobile tour. It was clever of Carmona to use his mother's plump hand as a cat's-paw to pull his chestnuts from the fire; but it was not brave, because he must know that we could not let it touch the flames.
I thought for a moment in silence. Only boors could in so many words refuse such a request, put with apparent frankness by a woman old enough to be their mother. Yet I must not be trapped into promising anything that could separate me from Monica.
To be near her, at her service always, was the one thing of supreme importance; but to throw aside my sheep's clothing and declare myself a wolf would be to lose her; for the instant that Carmona was sure of my identity he would denounce me. I would be sent across the frontier while Monica remained with him, unprotected save by her mother, who was his loyal friend. This was sure to happen, even if I did not count the trouble I might cause Colonel O'Donnel if I were arrested while posing as his son.
It seemed to me that we must agree to do what the Duchess asked, and, while keeping the letter of our promise, take means to see Monica in Seville. There, I must let her know all that had taken place, even if I could not communicate with her before. And I must implore her to come away with me lest some plot had been hatched meanwhile behind my back.
"What do you think, Waring?" I said. Then, giving him a cue, "I feel that we must consent, even though we may not see things according to the Duchess's point of view."
"Why, of course, a man can't refuse a lady; a lady generally knows that," Dick answered, avenging our wrongs with one sharp dig.
She thanked us effusively. "Then I may depend on you?" she asked, looking at me.
"You may depend upon us," I said. "And pray don't trouble to leave at an inconvenient time. My friend and I promise you two hours' start."
THE LUCK OF THE DREAM-BOOK
It was late, and Monica must have gone to bed, therefore it was impossible to send her a message. Next morning I was up early, and had my coffee and roll on a little table in the patio, in the hope of snatching a word with her. But she came down as closely attended by her mother and the Duchess as if she had been a queen, and they her ladies-in-waiting. I had only a chance to say good-bye, as they were ready to drive off; and when I would have added a hasty explanation of our delay, the Duchess began to speak, so that Monica was whisked away without hearing.
"Wicked—old—cat!" was Pilar's exclamation when Dick told her the story of last night's dilemma. But when asked what she would have done in our place, her invention failed; and the Cherub approved our course.
The others had taken full advantage of our generosity, and had not left Toledo till nine. Therefore, according to our contract, we were obliged to wait until eleven, surprising Ropes by our procrastination.
But as we were on the point of spinning away from the hotel, a goat-herd turned the corner at the head of his shaggy flock. The man, tanned a dark bronze with constant exposure, wore his rags with the air of a king marching to conquest, and rather than show vulgar curiosity, strode past scarcely deigning a look at the automobile, though it was as likely as not the first he had ever seen. His goats, equally unconcerned, strayed among our wheels without hurry, and when they chose clattered off with much play of little cloven hoofs on cobblestones. A sharper note of contrast could hardly have been struck, Dick and I said to each other. A meeting between the automobile, latest product of man's restless invention, made to fly across states and continents, and the goat-herd whose knowledge of the world might extend ten miles beyond the place where, since his birth, he had carried on one of the most ancient occupations on the globe. So the ages seemed united, and Virgil and Theocritus brought suddenly face to face with Maeterlinck and Henley; and an instant later we had taken a small excursion into the middle ages of superstition. Pilar told us gravely that in a volume of "Dreams and Love Lore," valued beyond all other books by the young girls of Andalucia, one read that it brought good luck to lovers to meet a flock of goats when starting on a journey in the morning.
Thus encouraged to hope for what I dared not expect, we set off, again and again finding ourselves hard put to it to get the long chassis of the Gloria round sharp corners of narrow streets. More than once it could be done only by backing the car, a feat which was witnessed with cries of astonishment by a crowd of water-sellers with painted tin vessels, milkmen on donkey back, knife-grinders, and Murillo cherubs who were following to see us off. Thus attended we slid down the steep hill which twisted past the old fortifications of Toledo, and brought us out at last upon the Puente de Alcantara, that most wonderful bridge of all the world.
The Tagus, grandest river in Spain, and golden as old father Tiber himself, plunged through his narrow gorge a hundred feet below the arch of stone, and on either hand stood up the sun-baked cliffs, Toledo seated on their summit, crowned with towers, like an empress upon her throne. Far beneath, in the swirl of yellow water were Moorish mills, white with age, grinding corn for their new masters.
As we passed across the bridge at a foot-pace between strings of tasselled and jingling mules, little grey donkeys loaded with pigskins of wine, brown jugs of olive oil, or bags of meal, and charming children who offered us roses for a perrilla, we had our last sight of the cathedral spires. The voice of a young girl, washing white and blue clothing in a trough of running water, sped us upon our journey. Her head was bound in a scarlet handkerchief; and smiling at us while she pounded the linen, she sang a strange song, half chant, with that wild Eastern lilt which has been handed down from the Moors to the sons and daughters of Spain.
"She's improvising a copla!" exclaimed Pilar. "Listen; it's for you, brother Cristobal."
So I listened, and heard that my eyes though dark as starless skies, could blaze as the sun with love, and that the blessing of a poor girl who had none to care for her, was upon the rich girl who held the treasure of my heart.