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- In Kedar's Tents - 10/47 -
looked at Estella Vincente, his gay blue eyes meeting her dark glance with a frankness which was characteristic, and knew from that instant that his world held no other woman. It came to him as a flash of lightning that left his former life grey and neutral, and yet he was conscious of no surprise, but rather of a feeling of having found something which he had long sought.
The girl acknowledged his salutation with a little inclination of the head and a smile which was only of the lips, for her eyes remained grave and deep. She had all the dignity of carriage famous in Castilian women, though her figure was youthful still, and slight. Her face was a clean-cut oval, with lips that were still and proud, and a delicately aquiline nose.
'My daughter speaks English better than I do,' went on the General in the garrulous voice of an exceedingly domesticated man. 'She has been at school in England--at the suggestion of my dear friend Watterson--with his daughters, in fact.'
'And must have found it dull and grey enough compared with Spain,' said Conyngham.
'Ah! Then you like Spain?' said the General eagerly. 'It is so with all the English. We have something in common, despite the Armada, eh? Something in manner and in appearance, too; is it not so?'
He left Conyngham, and walked slowly on with one hand at his daughter's waist.
'I was very happy in England,' said Estella to Conyngham, who walked at her other side; 'but happier still to get home to Spain.'
Her voice was rather low, and Conyngham had an odd sensation of having heard it before.
'Why did you leave your home?' she continued in a leisurely conversational way which seemed natural to the environments.
The question rather startled the Englishman, for the only answer seemed to be that he had quitted England in order to come to Ronda and to her, following the path in life that fate had assigned to him.
'We have troubles in England also--political troubles,' he said, after a pause.
'The Chartists,' said the General cheerfully. 'We know all about them, for we have the English newspapers. I procure them in order to have reliable news of Spain.'
He broke off with a little laugh, and looked towards his daughter.
'In the evening Estella reads them to me. And it was on account of the Chartists that you left England?'
'Ah, you are a Chartist, Mr. Conyngham.'
'Yes,' admitted the Englishman after a pause, and he glanced at Estella.
CHAPTER VII. IN A MOORISH GARDEN.
'When love is not a blasphemy, it is a religion.'
There is perhaps a subtle significance in the fact that the greatest, the cruellest, the most barbarous civil war of modern days, if not of all time, owed its outbreak and its long continuance to the influence of a woman. When Ferdinand VII. of Spain died, in 1833, after a reign broken and disturbed by the passage of that human cyclone, Napoleon the Great, he bequeathed his kingdom, in defiance of the Salic law, to his daughter Isabella. Ferdinand's brother Charles, however, claimed the throne under the very just contention that the Salic law, by which women were excluded from the heritage of the crown, had never been legally abrogated.
This was the spark that kindled in many minds ambition, cruelty, bloodthirstiness, self-seeking and jealousy--producing the morale, in a word, of the Spain of sixty years ago. Some sided with the Queen Regent Christina, and rallied round the child-queen because they saw that that way lay glory and promotion. Others flocked to the standard of Don Carlos because they were poor and of no influence at Court. The Church as a whole raised its whispering voice for the Pretender. For the rest, patriotism was nowhere, and ambition on every side. 'For five years we have fought the Carlists, hunger, privation, and the politicians at Madrid! And the holy saints only know which has been the worst enemy,' said General Vincente to Conyngham when explaining the above related details.
And indeed the story of this war reads like a romance, for there came from neutral countries foreign legions as in the olden days. From England an army of ten thousand mercenaries landed in Spain, prepared to fight for the cause of Queen Christina, and very modestly estimating the worth of their services at the sum of thirteenpence per diem. After all, the value of a man's life is but the price of his daily hire.
'We did not pay them much,' said General Vincente with a deprecating little smile, 'but they did not fight much. Their pay was generally in arrear, and they were usually in the rear as well. What will you, my dear Conyngham? You are a commercial people--you keep good soldiers in the shop window, and when a buyer comes you serve him with second-class goods from behind the counter.'
He beamed on Conyngham with a pleasant air of benign connivance in a very legitimate commercial transaction.
This is no time or place to go into the history of the English Legion in Spain, which, indeed, had quitted that country before Conyngham landed there, horrified by the barbarities of a cruel war where prisoners received no quarter and the soldiers on either side were left without pay or rations. In a half-hearted manner England went to the assistance of the Queen Regent of Spain, and one error in statesmanship led to many. It is always a mistake to strike gently.
'This country,' said General Vincente in his suavest manner, 'owes much to yours, my dear Conyngham; but it would have been better for us both had we owed you a little more.'
During the five years prior to Conyngham's arrival at Ronda the war had raged with unabated fury, swaying from the west to the east coast as fortune smiled or frowned on the Carlist cause. At one time it almost appeared certain that the Christino forces were unable to stem the rising tide which bade fair to spread over all Spain--so unfortunate were their generals, so futile the best endeavours of the bravest and most patient soldiers. General Vincente was not alone in his conviction that had the gallant Carlist leader Zumalacarreguy lived he might have carried all before him. But this great leader at the height of his fame--beloved of all his soldiers, worshipped by his subordinate officers--died suddenly, by poison, as it was whispered, the victim of jealousy and ambition. Almost at once there arose in the East of Spain one, obscure in birth and unknown to fame, who flashed suddenly to the zenith of military glory--the ruthless, the wonderful Cabrera. The name is to this day a household word in Catalonia, while the eyes of a few old men still living, who fought with or against him, flash in the light of other days at the mere mention of it.
Among the many leaders who had attempted in vain to overcome by skill and patriotism the thousand difficulties placed in their way by successive unstable, insincere Ministers of War, General Vincente occupied an honoured place. This mild-mannered tactician enjoyed the enviable reputation of being alike unconquerable and incorruptible. His smiling presence on the battlefield was in itself worth half a dozen battalions, while at Madrid the dishonest politicians, who through those years of Spain's great trial systematically bartered their honour for immediate gain, dreaded and respected him.
During the days that followed his arrival at Ronda and release from the prison there, Frederick Conyngham learnt much from his host and little of the man himself, for General Vincente had that in him with which no great leader in any walk of life can well dispense--an unsoundable depth.
Conyngham learnt also that the human heart is capable of rising at one bound above differences of race or custom, creed and spoken language. He walked with Estella in that quiet garden between high walls on the trim Moorish paths, and often the murmur of the running water which ever graced the Moslem palaces was the only sound that broke the silence. For this thing had come into the Englishman's life suddenly, leaving him dazed and uncertain. Estella, on the other hand, had a quiet savoir-faire that sat strangely on her young face. She was only nineteen, and yet had a certain air of authority, handed down to her from two great races of noble men and women.
'Do all your countrymen take life thus gaily?' she asked Conyngham one day; 'surely it is a more serious affair than you think it.'
'I have never found it very serious, senorita,' he answered. 'There is usually a smile in human affairs if one takes the trouble to look for it.'
'Have you always found it so?'
He did not answer at once, pausing to lift the branch of a mimosa tree that hung in yellow profusion across the pathway.
'Yes, senorita, I think so,' he answered at length, slowly. There was a sense of eternal restfulness in this old Moorish garden which acted as a brake on the thoughts, and made conversation halt and drag in an Oriental way that Europeans rarely understand.
'And yet you say you remember your father's death?'
'He made a joke to the doctor, senorita, and was not afraid.'
Estella smiled in a queer way, and then looked grave again.
'And you have always been poor, you say, sometimes almost starving?'
'Yes--always poor, deadly poor, senorita,' answered Conyngham with a
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