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- Tomaso's Fortune and Other Stories - 10/41 -
and he hits out and kills a drunken beast of an Irish agitator. Suppose an innocent man is accused of it and the right chap is forced to come forward and show up UNDER A FALSE NAME and gets five years. Suppose he escapes after three and a half, and goes home, saying that he has been in America, cattle ranching--having always been a scapegrace, and a ne'er-do-well, who never wrote home when he had gone off in a huff. Suppose he had tried all this for the sake of--a girl, and had carried it through--"
Caleb Harkness had discovered that the identity of the British Plenipotentiary had become known to some of the more curious of the President's guests, who were now mooning innocently around them as they sat. He moved in his chair as if to rise.
"Yes--I can suppose all that," he said.
The Englishman's nerve was marvellous. He saw what Harkness had seen a moment before, and over his face came the bland smile of an intelligent English man talking naval matters with an American admiral.
"Of course," he said, "I am at your mercy."
"I was at yours once; so now we are quits, I take it."
And the two big men rose and passed out of the room together.
THE TALE OF A SCORPION
Spain is a country where custom reigns supreme. The wonder of to- day is by to-morrow a matter of indifference.
The man who came a second time to the Cafe Carmona in the Calle Velasquez in Seville must have known this; else the politely surprised looks, the furtive glances, the whisperings that met his first visit would have sent him to some other house of mild entertainment. The truth was that the Cafe Carmona was, and is still, select; with that somewhat narrow distinctiveness which is observed by such as have no friendly feelings towards the authorities that be.
It is a small Cafe, and foreigners had better not look for it. Yet this man was a foreigner--in fact an Englishman. He was one of those quiet, unobtrusive men, who are taller than they look, and more important than they care to be considered. He could, for instance, pass down the crowded Sierpe of an evening, without so much as attracting a glance; for, by a few alterations in dress, he converted his outward appearance into that of a Spaniard. He was naturally dark, and for reasons of his own he spared the razor. His face was brown, his features good, and a hat with a flat brim is easily bought. Thus this man passed out of his hotel door in the evening the facsimile of a dozen others walking in the same street.
Moreover, he had no great reason for doing this. He preferred, he said, to pass unnoticed. But at the Foreign Office it was known that no man knew Spain as Cartoner knew it. Some men are so. They take their work seriously. Cartoner had looked on the map of Europe some years before for a country little known of the multitude, and of which the knowledge might prove to be of value. His eye lighted on Spain; and he spent his next leave there, and the next, and so on.
Consequently there was no one at the Foreign Office who could hold a candle to Cartoner in matters Spanish. That is already something-- to have that said of one. He is a wise man nowadays who knows something (however small it be) better than his neighbour. Like all his kind, this wise man kept his knowledge fresh. He was still learning--he was studying at the Cafe Carmona in the little street in Seville, called Velasquez.
When he pushed the inner glass door open and lounged into the smoke- filled room, the waiter, cigarette in mouth, nodded in a friendly way without betraying surprise. One or two old habitues glanced at him, and returned to the perusal of La Libertad or El Imparcial without being greatly interested. The stranger had come the night before. He liked the place--the coffee suited his taste--"y bien," let him come again.
The waiter came forward without removing the cigarette from his lips; which was already a step. It placed this new-comer on a level with the older frequenters of the Carmona.
"Cafe?" he inquired.
"Cafe!" replied the stranger, who spoke little.
He had selected a little table standing rather isolated at one end of the room, and he sat with his back to the wall. The whole Cafe Carmona lay before him, and through the smoke of his cigarette he looked with quiet, unobtrusive eyes, studying . . . studying.
Presently an old man entered. This little table was his by right of precedence. He had been sitting at it the night before when the Englishman had elected to sit beside him; bowing as he did so in the Spanish manner, and clapping his hands in the way of Spain, to call the waiter when he was seated.
It was this evening the turn of the old man to bow, and the Englishman returned his salutation. They sat some time in silence, but when Cartoner passed the sugar the innate politeness of the Spaniard perceived the call for conversation.
"His Excellency is not of Seville?" he said, with a pleasant smile on his wrinkled, clean-shaven face.
"No; I am an Englishman."
The keen old face hardened suddenly, until the features were like the wrinkles of a walnut; and the Spaniard drew himself up with all the dignity of his race.
The quiet eyes of Cartoner of the Foreign Office never left his face. Cartoner was surprised; for he knew Spain--he was aware that the Peninsular War had not been forgotten. He had never, in whatsoever place or situation, found it expedient to conceal his nationality.
The old Spaniard slowly unfolded his cloak, betraying the shabbiness of its crimson plush lining. He lighted a cigarette, and then the national sense of politeness prevailed against personal feeling.
"His Excellency knows Gibraltar?"
"I have been there."
"Pardon me," said the old man, with a grave bow. "I thought--the Spanish of His Excellency misled me."
The Englishman laughed quietly. "You took me for a scorpion," he said. "I am not that. I learnt your language here and in the mountains of Andalusia."
"Then, I beg the pardon of His Excellency."
Cartoner made a Spanish gesture with his hand and shoulders, indicating that no such pardon was called for.
"Like you," he said, "I do not love the Scorpion."
The Spaniard's eyes lighted up with a gleam which was hardly pleasant to look upon.
"I HATE them," he hissed, bringing his face close to the quiet eyes; and the Spanish word means more than ours.
Then he threw himself back in his chair with an upward jerk of the head.
"I have good reason to do so," he added. "I sometimes wonder why I ever speak to an Englishman; for they resemble you in some things, these Scorpions. This one had a fair moustache, blue eyes, clean- cut features, like some of those from the North. But he was not large, this one--the Rock does not breed a large race. They are mean little men, with small white hands and women's feet. Ah, God! how I hate them all!"
The Englishman took a fresh cigarette from a Russia leather case, and pushed the remainder across the table for his companion to help himself when he had finished mashing the crooked paper between his lips.
"I know your language," the Spaniard went on, "as well almost as you know mine. But I do not speak it now. It burns my throat--it hurts."
Cartoner lighted his cigarette. He betrayed not the smallest feeling of curiosity. It was marvellous how he had acquired the manner of these self-contained Sons of the Peninsula.
"I will tell it."
The Englishman leant his elbow on the table, and his chin within his hand, gazing indifferently out over the marble tables of the Cafe Carmona. The men seated there interchanged glances. They knew from the fierce old face, from the free and dramatic gestures, that old Pedro Roldos was already telling his story to the stranger.
"Santa Maria!" the old man was saying. "It is not a pleasant story. I lived at Algeciras--I and my little girl, Lorenza. Too near the Rock--too near the Rock. You know what we are there. I had a business--the contraband, of course--and sometimes I was absent for days together. But Lorenza was a favourite with the neighbours-- good women who had known my wife when she was the beauty of St. Roque--just such a girl as Lorenza. And I trusted Lorenza; for we are all so. We trust and trust, and yet we know that love and money will kill honesty and truth at any moment. These two are sacred-- more sacred than honesty or truth. Diavolo! What a fool I was. I ought to have known that Lorenza was too pretty to be left alone-- ignorant as she was of the ways of the world.
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