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- The Grey Lady - 45/45 -
learnt a manlike reticence. She moved a little towards the open archway leading through to the terrace.
"We have some tea," she said, "waiting for you. Will you come to the terrace?"
He followed her, while the servant led the tired horse away.
They sat at the northern end of the terrace, where the garden-chairs always stood, and before, beneath, all around them rose and fell the finest of all the fine Majorcan scenery--scenery which only Sardinia can rival in Europe.
Eve poured out his tea, which he drank, and set the cup aside.
They all knew that the time had come for the Count de Lloseta to tell his story--to redeem the promise made to Eve and Fitz long ago, before they were married.
Cipriani de Lloseta leant back in his deep garden-chair nursing one booted leg over the other. He was dusty and travel-stained, but the natural hardiness of his frame seemed to be more apparent than ever in his native land, on his native mountains.
"My poor little tale," he said; "you will have it?"
"Yes," said Eve; and Fitz nodded.
Cipriani de Lloseta did not look at them, but down into the gathering blue of the valley beneath them. His quiet, patient eyes never turned elsewhere during his narrative, as if he were telling the story to the valley and the hills.
"When I was quite a young man everything was too prosperous with me. I was rich, I had health and liberty and many friends; life was altogether too simple and easy for me. Before I was twenty-one I met my dear Rosa and fell in love with her. Here again it was too easy, too convenient. Fate is cruellest when she is too kind. The parents wished it. The two families were equally old, equally rich; and lastly Rosa--Rosa was kind enough to be--kind to me."
He paused, pensively rubbing his clean-shaven chin with his forefinger, his long profile was turned towards Eve, standing out like brown marble against the gloom of the valley. Eve wondered about this woman, this Rosa, who had been forty years in her grave. She wondered what manner of woman this must have been to have kept the love of a man through all these years by a mere memory, but she did not wonder that Rosa had been kind.
"She saw things in me that do not exist," Cipriani de Lloseta went on quietly. "It is so with women when--and men may thank God that it is so."
He gave a little laugh, unpleasant to the ear--the laugh of a man who has been right down to the bottom of life and comes up again with a sneer.
Eve and Fitz made no sign. This story was like wine that has lain forgotten in the dark for many years, it needed careful handling. Henry Cyprian turned on his silken cushion, and opening his great dark eyes watched the speaker with that infantine steadfastness of gaze which may perchance see more than we suspect.
"We were married"--he paused and gave a jerk of the head towards Palma, behind him to the left--"in the cathedral, and were quite happy. At that time the Harringtons were living, or rather staying, in this house with your good father. Neither of you ever saw the Honourable George Harrington; your loss is infinitesimal. For some reason they began to come to Lloseta a good deal--some reason of Mrs. Harrington's. She was always a singular woman, with a reason for all that she did, which I, in my old-fashioned way, do not think good in a woman. She disliked my wife. I could see that through her affectionate ways. I do not know why. Men cannot understand these things. Rosa was very beautiful."
Eve, who was watching his face, gave a little nod--a mental nod, as it were, for her own edification. It is possible that she, being a woman, understood.
"Finally they came to stay a few days--you know the Spanish hospitality. She forced it on us against our will. I was particularly averse to it because of--Rosa. I wanted to be quietly at Lloseta. We intended to live almost entirely in Majorca. We wanted our children to be Majorcans, and especially a son. The Harringtons stayed longer than we invited them for. They were well- bred adventurers. I have met many such in English country houses-- people who shoot, and fish, and hunt at the expense of others. It suited them to stay at Lloseta, and they did so. They were people who got the best of everything by asking for it--by looking upon it in a well-bred way as their right. I did not mind that, but I wanted them to go, on account of Rosa. Also I disliked the woman's manner towards myself; it altered when Rosa was not there, you understand. We have a word for it in Spain, but I will not say it because the woman is dead."
There was a rasping sound as he drew his first and second fingers across his closely shaven chin. It is a singular thing that cynics usually reserve their keenest shafts for women.
"At last I informed Rosa that they must be told to go, and Rosa was very angry. It was her pride--the pride of a new-fledged hostess, of a young matron. She was Spanish, and hot tempered. My inhospitality was terrible to her, and she spoke sharply. I was quicker to feel and to act then than I am now. I answered her. I would not give way, thinking, as I was, of the son we hoped for. It was nothing, but we raised our voices. In the heat of the argument I lifted my hand. Rosa thought that I was going to strike her--a strange mistake. She stepped back and fell. You know our marble floors. She struck her temple against the floor, and she lay quite still. I heard a sound, and turning, saw Mrs. Harrington in the doorway. She had been listening; she had seen everything. Rosa never recovered consciousness; she died. It was terribly easy for her to die. It was equally hard for me to continue living. Mrs. Harrington helped me in my great sorrow to a certain extent, but she would not help me by going away. Then, as soon as Rosa was buried, she told me that unless I gave her money she would tell all Spain that I had murdered my wife. At first I did not understand. I did not know that God had created women such as this. But she made her meaning quite clear. Indeed to do this thoroughly, she hinted to the neighbours that she knew more than she had disclosed. All Majorca would turn its back upon me--all except Challoner. I paid the woman. I have paid her ever since, and I do not regret it. What else could I do? After many generations of honour and uprightness I could not let the name of Lloseta fall into the hands of a low woman such as Mrs. Harrington. I had to pay heavily, but it was still cheap. I saved the name. No breath of dishonour has reached the name of De Lloseta de Mallorca. I got her out of Majorca, and my old friend Challoner set himself the task of silencing the gossips. But I found that I had to leave Lloseta--for the name's sake I quitted my home."
He spread out his hands with a patient gesture of resignation.
"Such has been my life," he went on. "It has been spent in preserving the name unspotted, in paying Mrs. Harrington, and in praying the good God to make her life unhappy and short. In His greater wisdom He prolonged her life, but it was never a happy one, for God is just. I am the last of the Llosetas. The name will die, but it has lived for six hundred years, and it dies as it lived-- unspotted--one of the great names of the world."
He broke off with a little laugh.
"Spanish pride," he said. "I must beg your indulgence. My life you know. It has not been a happy one. I have never forgotten Rosa; I have never even tried. I have had several objects however in life; it has not been uninteresting. One of the chief of these objects has been to repay to a minute extent the true friendship of my dear Challoner. He was a friend in need. He taught me to look upon the English as the finest race of men on this planet. I may be wrong, but I shall adhere to my opinion. In my small way I attempted to repay in part to Challoner's daughter all that I owed to him; but I only ran against a pride as strong, as sensitive as my own. My child, you did quite right!"
He turned to Eve, smiling his patient smile.
"And now," he went on, "I shall have my way after all."
He laid his hand on Henry Cyprian, who was conscientiously putting the Valley of Repose to its best use.
"After all, this little caballero was born at D'Erraha. D'Erraha is his; is it not so?"
And Eve, giving up her pride to him--casting it down before his loftier pride--came round to his chair, and bending over, kissed him silently.
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