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- The Grey Lady - 7/45 -
the old woman managed to leave us on the terrace together. Some one else, you know!"
The dark eyes looking across towards Majorca were not pleasant to contemplate.
"However," pursued the ingenuous parti, "I spoke to her as one might have done to another chap, you know. I said, 'You're frightened of something.' She didn't answer. 'You're afraid that I'm going to ask you to marry me.' 'Yes,' she answered. 'Well, I'm not. I'm not such a cad.' And after that we got on all right. She would have told who it was if I had let her. Two days later I sloped off here. Spain choked her off--the old lady, I mean."
Lloseta laughed, and the young man began to think that he had said something rude.
"She did not know what a nice place it is," he added, with a transparency which did no harm. "Yes, you're right. The devil had something to do with my coming here. Match-making old women are the devil."
He paused and attended to his cigar. The steamer passed within a hundred yards of them.
The Englishman nodded towards it.
"Steamer's going to Majorca," he said.
Lloseta nodded his head.
"Yes," he answered gravely, "I know."
"I came down to see it off!"
The Spaniard looked at him sharply.
"Why?" he asked.
"I know an old chap on board--going across to fetch an English girl, a Miss Challoner. Her father's dead."
Lloseta said nothing. Presently he turned to go, and as they walked back together he arranged to send a carriage for the Englishman and his luggage to bring him to the big house in the Street of the Peace, which he explained with a shadowy smile was more comfortable than the hotel.
"So," he said to himself, as he walked towards his vast home alone, "so the Caballero Challoner is dead. They are passing off the stage one by one."
CHAPTER V. THE VALLEY OF REPOSE.
A home where exiled angels might forbear Awhile to moan for paradise.
There is a valley far up in the mountains behind the ancient city of Palma--the Val d'Erraha. Some thousand years ago the Arabs found this place. After toils and labours, and many battles by sea and land, a roaming sheikh settled here, calling it El Rahah--the Repose.
He dug a well--for where the Moor has been there is always sparkling water--he planted olive trees, and he built a mill. The well is there to-day; the olive trees, old and huge and gnarled as are no other olive trees on the earth, yield their yearly crop unceasingly; the mill grinds the Spaniard's corn to-day.
In the Val d'Erraha there stands a house--a rambling, ungainly Farm, as such are called in Majorca. It runs off at strange angles, presenting a broken face to all points of the compass. From a distance it rather resembles a village, for the belfry of the little chapel is visible and the buildings seem to be broken up and divided. On closer inspection it is found to be self-contained, and a nearer approach discloses the fact that it presents to the world four solid walls, and that it is only to be entered by an arched gateway.
In the centre of the open patio stands the Moorish well, surrounded, overhung by orange trees. This house could resist a siege--indeed, it was built for that purpose; for the Moorish pirates made raids on the island almost within the memory of living persons.
Such is the Casa d'Erraha--the House of Repose. It stands with its back to the pine slopes, looking peacefully down the valley, over terraces where grow the orange, the almond, the fig, the lemon, the olive; and far below, where the water trickles, the feathery bamboo.
The city of Palma is but a few miles away, in its strong thirteenth- century restriction within high ramparts. It has its cathedral, its court-house--all the orthodox requirements of a city, and, moreover, it is the capital of the whilom kingdom of Majorca. King Jaime is dead and gone. Majorca, after many vicissitudes, has settled down into an obscure possession of Spain; and to the old-world ways of that country it has taken very kindly.
But with the unwritten history of Majorca we have little to do, and we have much with the Casa d'Erraha and the owner thereof--a plain Englishman of the name of Challoner--the last of his line, the third of his race, to own the Casa d'Erraha.
Edward Challoner lay on his bed in the large room overlooking the valley and the distant sea. In the House of Repose he lay awaiting the call to a longer rest than earthly weariness can secure. The grave old Padre of the neighbouring village of St. Pablo stood near the bed. Eve Challoner had sent for him, with the instinct that makes us wish to be seen off on a long journey by a good man, of whatsoever creed or calling.
At times the old priest gently patted the hand of Eve Challoner as she stood by his side.
Climate and country and habit have a greater influence over the human frame than we ever realise. Eve Challoner had been subject to these subtle influences to a rare extent. Tall and upright, clad in black, as all Spanish ladies are, she was English and yet Spanish. Of a clear white, her skin was touched slightly by the sun and the warm air which blows ever from the sea, blow which way it may across the little island.
Romance tells of Andalusian beauty, of Catalonian grace--and in sober British earnest (a solid thing) there are few more beautiful women than high-born Spanish ladies. Eve Challoner had caught something--some trick of the head--which belongs to Spain alone. Her eyes had a certain northern vivacity of glance, a small something which is noticeable enough in Southern Europe, though we should hardly observe it in England, for it means education. In the matter of learning, be it noted in passing, the ladies of the Peninsula are not so very far above their duskier sisters of the harem farther east.
The girl's eyes were dull now, with a sort of surprised anguish, for sorrow had come to her before its time. The man lying on the bed before her had not reached the limit of his years. Quite suddenly, twelve hours before, he had complained of a numb feeling in his head, and the voice he spoke in was thick and strange. In a surprisingly short time Edward Challoner was no longer himself--no longer the cynical, polished gentleman of the world--but a hard- breathing, inert deformity, hardly human. From that time to this he had never spoken, and Heaven knew there was enough for him to say. Death had caught him unawares as, after all, he generally does catch us. There were several things to set in order as usual; for it is only in books and on the stage that folks make a graceful exit, clearing up the little mystery, forgiving the wrongs, boasting with feeble voice of the good they have done--with lowering tone and soft music slowly working together to the prompter's bell. It is not in real life that dying men find much time to prattle about their own souls. They usually want all their breath for those they leave behind. And who knows! Perhaps those waiting on the other side think no worse of the man who dies fearing for others and not for himself.
In Edward Challoner's paralysed brain there was a great wish to speak to his daughter, but the words would not come. He looked at those around him with a dreary indistinctness as from a distance, almost as if he had begun his long journey and was looking back from afar.
And so the afternoon wore on to the short southern twilight, and the goat-bells came tinkling up from the valley--for nature must have her way though men may die, and milking-time rules through all the changes.
While the light failed over the land two men were riding through it as fast as horse could lay hoof to the ground. They were on the small road running from the Soller highway up to the Val d'Erraha, and he who led the way seemed to know every inch of it. This was Henry FitzHenry, and his companion, ill at ease in a Spanish saddle, was the doctor of Her Majesty's gunboat Kittiwake.
Four months earlier, by one of those chances which seem no chance when we look back to them, the Kittiwake had broken down on leaving the anchorage of Port Mahon. Towed back by a consort, she had been there ever since, awaiting some necessary pieces of machinery to be made in England and sent out to her. Hearing by chance that the navigating lieutenant of the Kittiwake was Henry FitzHenry--usually known as Fitz--Mr. Challoner had written to Minorca from the larger island, introducing himself as the Honourable Mrs. Harrington's cousin, and offering what poor hospitality the Val d'Erraha had to dispense.
In a little island there is not very much to talk about, and the gossips of Majorca had soon laid hold of Fitz. They said that the English senorita up at the Casa d'Erraha had found a lover, and a fine, handsome one at that; else, they opined, why should this English sailor thrash his boat through any weather from Cuidadela in Minorca to Soller in Majorca, riding subsequently from that small and lovely town over the roughest country in the island to the Valley of Repose as if the devil were at his heels. That was only their way of saying it, for they knew as well as any of us that love in front can make us move more quickly than ever the devil from behind.
At Alcudia they watched his boat labour through the evil seas. The wind was never too boisterous for him, the waves never too high.
"It is," they said, "the English mariner from Mahon going to see the
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