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- Tomaso's Fortune and Other Stories - 4/41 -
When Matthew S. Whittaker recovered consciousness, he found himself in a richly furnished bedroom. He woke as if from sleep, with his senses fully alert, and began at once to take an interest in a conversation of which he had been conscious in the form of a faint murmur for some time.
"A broken arm, my child, and nothing more, so far as I can tell at present," were the first comprehensible words. Whittaker tried to move his left arm, and winced.
"And the other man?" inquired a woman's voice in Spanish, but with an accent which the listener recognised at once. This was an Englishwoman speaking Spanish.
"Ah! the other man is dead. Poor Mogul! He was always civil and God-fearing. He has driven the diligencia up to us for nearly twenty years."
Whittaker turned his head, and winced again. The speaker was a monk--fat and good-natured--one of the few now left in the great house on Montserrat. His interlocutor was a woman not more than thirty, with brown hair that gleamed in the sunlight, and a fresh, thoughtful face. Her attitude was somewhat independent, her manner indicated a self-reliant spirit. This was a woman who would probably make mistakes in life, but these would not be the errors of omission. She was a prototype of a sex and an age which err in advancing too quickly, and in holding that everything which is old- fashioned must necessarily be foolish.
Whittaker lay quite still and watched these two, while the deep- drawn lines around his lips indicated a decided sense of amusement. He was in pain, but that was no new condition to a man whose spirit had ever been robuster than his body. He had, at all events, not been killed, and his last recollection had been the effort to face death. So he lay with a twisted smile on his lips listening to Brother Lucas, who, sad old monk that he was, took infinite pleasure in glorifying to the young lady his own action in causing the monastery cart to be brought out, and in driving down the slope at a breakneck pace to place his medical knowledge at the disposal of such as might require it. He bowed in a portly way, and indicated with a very worldly politeness that he himself was, in fact, at the disposal of the Senorita.
"I was not always a monk--I began life as a doctor," he explained.
And his companion looked at him with speculative, clever eyes, scenting afar off, with the quickness of her kind, the usual little romance--the everlasting woman.
"Ah!" she said slowly.
And Whittaker in the alcove coughed with discretion. Both turned and hurried towards him.
"He has recovered his senses," said the girl.
The monk had, however, not laid aside all the things of this world. He remembered the little ceremonies appertaining to the profession which he had once practised. He waived aside the girl, and stooped over the bed.
"You understand what I say--you see me?" he inquired in a soothing voice.
"Most assuredly," replied Whittaker, coolly. "Most assuredly, my father. And I do not think there is much the matter with me."
"Holy Saints, but you go too quickly," laughed the monk. "You will be wanting next to get up and walk."
"I should not mind trying."
"Ah, that is good! Then you will soon be well. Senorita, we shall have no trouble with this patient. This, Senor, is the Senorita Cheyne; in whose house you find yourself, and to whom your thanks are due."
Whittaker turned in bed to thank her; but instead of speaking, he quietly fainted. He came to his senses again, and found that it was evening. The windows of his room were open, and he could see across the valley the brown hills of Catalonia, faintly tinged with pink. A nursing sister in her dark blue dress and white winged cap was seated at the open window, gazing reflectively across the valley. There was an odour of violets in the room. A fitful breeze stirred the lace curtains. Whittaker perceived his own travel-worn portmanteau lying half unpacked on a side table. It seemed that some one had opened it to seek the few necessaries of the moment. He noted with a feeling of helplessness that his simple travelling accessories had been neatly arranged on the dressing-table. A clean handkerchief lay on the table at the bedside. The wounded man became conscious of a feeling that he had lost some of the solitary liberty which had hitherto been his. It seemed that he had been picked up on the road helpless and insensible by some one with the will and power to take entire charge of him. The feeling was so new to this adventurer that he lay still and smiled.
Presently the nun rose and came quietly towards him, disclosing within the halo of her snowy cap a gentle pink-and-white face wrinkled by the passage of uneventful years. She nodded cheerfully on seeing that his eyes were open, and gave him some soup which was warming on a spirit lamp in readiness for his return to consciousness.
"I will tell the Senorita," she said, and noiselessly quitted the room.
A minute later Miss Cheyne came in with a pleasant frou-frou of silk, and Whittaker wondered for whom she had dressed so carefully.
"I did not know," she said in English, with an ease of manner which is of this generation, "that I had succoured a countryman. You were literally thrown at my gate. But the doctor, who has just left, confirms the opinion of Brother Lucas that you are not seriously hurt. A broken fore-arm and a severe shake, they say--to be cured by complete rest, which you will be able to enjoy here. For there is no one in the house but my aunt, Mrs. Dorchester, and myself."
She stood at the bedside, looking down at him with her capable, managing air. Whittaker now knew the source of that sense of being "taken in and done for," of which he had become conscious the moment his senses returned to him.
"They say," she went on, with a decisiveness which was probably an accentuation of her usual attitude, inspired by the necessity of sparing the patient the exertion of an explanation or an apology-- "they say, however, that you are not naturally a very strong man, and that you have tried your constitution in the past, so that greater care is required than would otherwise be necessary in such a case."
She looked at the brown face and sinewy neck, the hollow cheeks, the lean hands ("all wires," as she decided in her own prompt mind), and her clear eyes were alight with a speculation as to what the past had been in which this man had tried his constitution.
"I have led a rough life," explained Whittaker; and Miss Cheyne nodded her head in a manner indicative of the fact that she divined as much.
"I thought you were a Spaniard," she said.
"No; I have lived in the Spanish colonies, however--the last few years--since the troubles began."
Miss Cheyne nodded again without surprise. She had gone about the world, with those clear eyes of hers very wide open, and was probably aware that in those parts where, as Whittaker gracefully put it, "troubles" are, such men as this are usually to be found. For it is not the large men who make a stir in the world. These usually sit at home and love a life of ease. It is even said that they take to novel-writing and other sedentary occupations. And in the forefront, where things are stirring and history is to be manufactured, are found the small and the frail, such as Matthew S. Whittaker, who, in addition to the battles of progress, have to contend personally against constitutional delicacy, nervous depression, and disease.
Miss Cheyne kept silence for a few moments, and, during the pause, turned at the sound of horses' feet on the gravel below the windows. She seemed to have been expecting an arrival, and Whittaker noticed a sudden brightening of the eyes, an almost imperceptible movement of the shoulders, as if Miss Cheyne was drawing herself up. The American quickly reflected that the somewhat elaborate "toilette" was unusual, and connected it with the expected visitor. He was not surprised when, with a polite assurance that he had only to ask for anything he might require, she turned and left him.
Whittaker now remembered having been told by the voluble driver of the diligencia the history of a certain English Senorita who, having inherited property from a forgotten uncle, had come to live in her "possession" on the mountain side. He further recollected that the house had been pointed out to him--a long, low dwelling of the dull red stone quarried in this part of Catalonia. Being of an observant habit, he remembered that the house was overgrown by a huge wisteria, and faced eastward. He turned his head painfully, and now saw that his windows were surrounded by mauve fronds of wisteria. His room was, therefore, situated in the front of the house. There was, he recollected, a verandah below his windows, and he wondered whether Miss Cheyne received her visitors there in the cool of the afternoon. He listened half-sleepily, and heard the horse depart, led away by a servant. There followed the murmur of a conversation, between two persons only, below his window. So far as he could gather from the tones, for the words were inaudible, they were spoken in English. And thus he fell asleep.
During the next few days Whittaker made good progress, and fully enjoyed the quiet prescribed to him by the doctors. The one event of the day was Miss Cheyne's visit, to which he soon learnt to look forward. He had, during an adventurous life, had little to do with women, and Miss Cheyne soon convinced him of the fact that many qualities--such as independence, courage, and energy--were not, as he had hitherto imagined, the monopoly of men alone. But the interest thus aroused did not seem to be mutual. Miss Cheyne was kind and quick to divine his wants or thoughts; but her visits did not grow longer day by day as, day by day, Whittaker wished they would. Daily, moreover, the visitor arrived on horseback, and the murmured conversation in the verandah duly followed. A few weeks earlier Whittaker had made the voyage across to the island of Majorca, to visit an old companion-in-arms there, and offer him a
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