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- Tomaso's Fortune and Other Stories - 20/41 -
suspicion was in my mind. Presently I ran downstairs and uncorked the bottle which I now label "Bertha." The smell was identical, and I went upstairs again.
"Help me to get him into his boots and tunic," I said.
And Le Mesurier-Groselin and I huddled the man's fighting clothes on to him by the light of a flickering candle. Le Mesurier-Groselin was a big man, and my trade had taught me a certain skill in the handling of the dead. We soon had Austin Graham in full uniform sitting up in my arms, with the helmet crammed on his head at an unseemly angle. He was perfectly insensible, but his heart went well.
"Now help me to get him on to his horse," I said.
Le Mesurier-Groselin dropped his eye-glass for the first and last time on record, and looked at me with a surprised eye and a solemn one.
"I'll obey orders," he said. "But I take it that you are very drunk or else mad."
We carried him downstairs and I climbed into Graham's saddle. Le Mesurier-Groselin lifted Graham, who must have weighed fourteen stone, into the saddle in front of me, and I rode twenty miles that night with him there. He recovered consciousness an hour before we reached the Khan's stronghold, and, as I expected, awoke, as if from sleep, refreshed and ready for any exertion. We had no time for explanations.
"You were drugged," I said, "by some native spy, who must have got wind of the intended attack to-night. I knew that the stuff would have to run its course, so I did not physic you, but brought you along with the column."
I am glad to say he believed me.
Some one found me a restless field-artillery horse which was giving the gunners a lot of trouble, and I rode back to Oadpur alone--not having any business at the front. As I approached the old Gate House, the flutter of a white dress caught my eye. It was almost dawn, and a pink haze hung over the paddy-fields. The world had that appearance of peace and cleanliness which is left by the passage of an Indian night. My rooms were on the ground-floor, and it seemed to me that, at the sound of my horse's feet, some one had come out of them to pass up the stone stairs that led to Graham's quarters. As I slipped out of the saddle the sound of a distant cannon broke the silence of the night, and my horse, despite his forty miles accomplished in little more than five hours, pricked up his ears. I tied him up, and instead of going to my own rooms went upstairs.
Miss Watson was standing in the first room I entered. The quick tropic dawn had come, and I saw the face of a woman who had not slept.
"Major Graham's servant told me that he was ill. I have--a--a right to know how he is, and where he is," she said with her imperturbable self-possession.
"Graham is at the front," I answered, and the sound of the cannon, dull and distant, finished the sentence for me.
Bertha Watson bit her lip to hide its quivering, and looked at me, breathing hard.
"We have rung up the curtain," I added, remembering our talk in the verandah of the Residency.
"How did he get there?"
"Across my saddle in a state of insensibility, which passed off, as I expected it would, an hour before the time fixed for the storming of the fortifications. Some one drugged him in order that he might not take part in this action. Some one who feared him--or for him. Le Mesurier-Groselin called me to him, and only we three know of it. I am the only medical man connected with the affair, and I can certify that it was a native drug that was used, and that therefore a native must have done this thing. Probably a native spy, Miss Watson, who, finding out the proposed surprise too late to warn the rebels, attempted to disorganize the force by this means. Do you understand?"
She looked at me with all her keen wits in her eyes.
"No one would ever dream that another had done it--say some one who was attached to Graham, and who, in a panic, gave way to temptation and did him a great wrong, while saving him from danger."
I stood aside as I spoke and motioned her towards the door, for the place would soon be astir.
"My!" she exclaimed. "And I reckoned you were a fool--behind that single eye-glass. It is not you that is the fool, doctor."
Then suddenly she turned at the head of the stairs and whispered hoarsely -
"And if he is killed?"
"That is what he is paid for, Miss Watson. We can only wait and hope that he isn't."
Austin Graham was not killed, but came back with, as the Brigadier said, the Victoria Cross up his sleeve. I happened to be near Bertha Watson when they met, and there was that in her eyes when they encountered his which was a revelation to me and makes me realize even now what a lonely man I am.
"You talk of poor men, Senora--then you talk of me. See, I have nothing but the wits that are under my hat."
And Felipe Fortis spread himself out on the trellis-bordered bench of the little Venta that stands at the junction of the Valdemosa Road and the new road from Miramar to Palma in the island of Majorca.
Felipe was, of course, known to be a young man of present position and future prospects, or he would not have said such a thing. It was supposed, indeed, by some, to be a great condescension that he should stop at the little Venta of the Break of Day and take his half of wine on market-days. And, of course, there were women who eagerly sought the woman in it, and said that Felipe drank the widow Navarro's sour wine to the bright eyes of the widow's daughter.
"No such luck for her," said Rosa's cousins and aunts, who were dotted all up the slopes of the valley on either side in their little stone cottages; right up from the river to the Val d'Erraha-- that sunny valley of repose which lies far above the capital of Majorca, far above the hum of life and sound of the restless sea.
Felipe, who was a good-looking young fellow, threw his hat down on the bench beside him. He had fair hair and a white skin--both, he understood, much admired by the dark-eyed daughters of the Baleares. He shook his finger with a playful condescension at the widow Navarro, with whom he was always kind enough to exchange a few light pleasantries. And she, womanlike, suited her fire to the calibre of the foe, for she was an innkeeper.
"That is all--the wits that are under my hat," he repeated.
And Rosa, who was standing in the deep shadow of the doorway, muttered to herself -
"Then you are indeed a poor man."
Felipe glanced towards her, and wondered whether the sun was shining satisfactorily through the trellis on his fair hair.
Rosa looked at him with inscrutable eyes--deep as velvet, grave and meditative. She was slight and girlish, with dull blue-black hair, and a face that might have been faithfully cut on a cameo. It was the colour of a sun-burnt peach, and usually wore that air of gentle pride which the Moors seem to have left behind them in those lands through which they passed, to the people upon whom they have impressed an indelible mark. But when she smiled, which was not often, her lips tilted suddenly at the corners in a way to make an old man young and a young man mad.
Tomaso of the Mill, who sat on the low wall across the road in the shadow of a great fig-tree, was watching with steady eyes. Tomaso was always watching Rosa. He had watched for years. She had grown up under that steady eye. And now, staring into the deep shadow of the cottage interior, he thought that he saw Rosa smile upon Felipe. And Felipe, of course, concluded that she was smiling at him. They all did that. And only Rosa knew the words she had whispered respecting the gallant Felipe.
Tomaso of the Mill was a poor man if you like, and usually considered a dull one to boot. He only had the mill half-way up the hill to the Val d'Erraha--a mill to which no grist came now that there was steam communication between Palma and Barcelona, and it paid better to ship the produce of the island to the mainland, buying in return the adulterated produce of the Barcelona mills. Tomaso's father had been a prosperous man almost to the day of his death, but times had moved on, leaving Tomaso and his mill behind. And there is no man who watches the times move past him with a prouder silence than a Spaniard. The mill hardly brought in ten pesetas a month now, and that was from friends--poor men like himself who were yet gentlemen, and found some carefully worded reason why they preferred home-milled flour. Tomaso, moreover, was deadly simple: there is nothing more fatal than simplicity in these days. It never occurred to him to sell his mill, or let it fall in ruins and go elsewhere for work. His world had always been bounded on the south by the Val d'Erraha, on the north by the Valdemosa road, on the west by the sea, and on the east by Rosa. He had never suffered from absolute hunger, and nothing but absolute hunger will make a Spaniard leave his home. So Tomaso of the Mill remained at the mill, and, like his forefathers, only repaired the sluices and conduit when the water-supply was no longer heavy enough to drive the creaking wheel.
Since the death of his mother he had lived alone, cooking his own
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