A Small World by Henry Seton Merriman
"Thine were the calming eyes
That round my pinnace could have stilled the sea,
And drawn thy voyager home, and bid him be
Pure with their pureness, with their wisdom wise,
Merged in their light, and greatly lost in thee."
It was midday at the monastery of Montserrat, and a monk, walking in the
garden, turned and paused in his meditative promenade to listen to an
unwonted noise. The silence of this sacred height is so intense that many
cannot sleep at night for the hunger of a sound. There is no running water
except the fountain in the patio. There are no birds to tell of spring and
morning. There are no trees for the cool night winds to stir, nothing but
eternal rock and the ancient building so closely associated with the life
of Ignatius de Loyola. The valley, a sheer three thousand feet below, is
thinly enough populated, though a great river and the line of railway from
Manresa to Barcelona run through it. So clear is the atmosphere that at
the great distance the contemplative denizens of the monastery may count
the number of the railway carriages, while no sound of the train, or
indeed of any life in the valley, reaches their ears.
What the monk heard was disturbing, and he hurried to the corner of the
garden, from whence a view of the winding road may be obtained. Floating
on the wind came the sound, as from another world, of shouting, and the
hollow rumble of wheels. The holy man peered down into the valley, and
soon verified his fears. It was the diligencia, which had quitted the
monastery a short hour ago, that flew down the hill to inevitable
destruction. Once before in the recollection of the watcher the mules had
run away, rushing down to their death, and carrying with them across that
frontier the lives of seven passengers, devout persons, who, having
performed the pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Montserrat, had
doubtless received their reward. The monk crossed himself, but, being
human, forgot alike to pray and to call his brethren to witness the scene.
It was like looking at a play from a very high gallery. The miniature
diligencia on the toy road far below swayed from the bank of the highway
to the verge—the four mules stretched out at a gallop, as in a
picture. The shouts dimly heard at the monastery had the effect they were
intended to create, for the monk could see the carters and muleteers draw
aside to let the living avalanche go past.
There were but two men on the box-seat of the diligencia—the driver
and a passenger seated by his side. The monk recollected that this
passenger had passed two days at Montserrat, inscribing himself in the
visitors' book as Matthew S. Whittaker.
"I am ready to take the reins when your arms are cramped," this passenger
was saying at that precise moment, "but I do not know the road, and I
cannot drive so well as you."
He finished with a curt laugh, and, holding on with both hands, he turned
and looked at his companion. He was not afraid, and death assuredly stared
him in the face at that moment.
"Thanks for that, at all events," returned the driver, handling his reins
with a steady skill. Then he fell to cursing the mules. As he rounded each
corner of the winding road, he gave a derisive shout of triumph; as he
safely passed a cart, he gave voice to a yell of defiance. He went to his
death—if death awaited him—with a fine spirit, with a light in
his eyes and the blood in his tanned cheeks.
The man at his side could perhaps have saved himself by a leap which
might, with good fortune, have resulted in nothing more serious than a
broken limb. As he had been invited by the driver to take this leap and
had curtly declined, it is worth while to pause and give particulars of
this passenger on the runaway diligencia. He was a slightly built man,
dressed in the ordinary dark clothes and soft black felt hat of the middle
class Spaniard. His face was brown and sun-dried, with deep lines drawn
downwards from the nose to the lips in such a manner that cynicism and a
mildly protesting tolerance were contending for mastery in an otherwise
studiously inexpressive countenance.
"The Excellency does not blame me for this?" the driver jerked out, as he
hauled round a corner with a sort of pride.
"No, my friend," replied the American; and he broke off suddenly to curve
his two hands around his lips and give forth a warning shout in a clear
tenor that rang down the valley like a trumpet.
A muleteer leading a heavily laden animal drew his beast into the ditch,
and leapt into the middle of the road. He stepped nimbly aside and sprang
at the leading mule, but was rolled into the ditch like an old hat.
"That is an old torero," shouted the driver. "Bravo, bravo!"
As they flew on, Whittaker turned in his seat and caught a glimpse of the
man standing in the middle of the road, with arms spread out in an
attitude of apology and deprecation.
"Ah!" cried the driver, "we shall not pass these. Now leap!"
"No," answered the other, and gave his warning shout.
Below them on the spiral road two heavy carts were slowly mounting. These
were the long country carts used for the carriage of wine-casks, heavily
laden with barrels for the monastery. The drivers, looking up, saw in a
moment what to expect, and ran to the head of their long teams of eight
mules, but all concerned knew in a flash of thought that they could not
pull aside in time.
"Leap, in the name of a saint!" cried the driver, clenching his teeth.
Whittaker made no answer. But he cleared his feet and sat forward, his
keen face and narrow eyes alert to seize any chance of life. The maddened
mules rushed on, seeking to free themselves from the swaying destroyer on
their heels. The leaders swung round the corner, but refused to obey the
reins when they caught sight of the cart in front. The brakes had long
ceased to act; the wooden blocks were charred as by fire. The two heavier
mules at the pole made a terrified but intelligent attempt to check the
pace, and the weighty vehicle skidded sideways across the road, shuddering
and rattling as it went. It poised for a moment on the edge of the slope,
while the mules threw themselves into their collars—their
intelligence seeming to rise at this moment to a human height. Then the
great vehicle turned slowly over, and at the same moment Whittaker and the
driver leapt into the tangle of heels and harness. One of the leaders
swung right out in mid-air with flying legs, and mules and diligencia
rolled over and over down the steep in a cloud of dust and stones.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
magnificent inducement to return to active service. That comrade had
smilingly answered that he held cards of another suite. Miss Cheyne
likewise appeared to hold another suite, and the American felt vaguely
that the dealer of life's cards seemed somehow to have passed him by.
He daily urged the young doctor to allow him to leave his bed, "if only,"
he pleaded with his twisted smile, "to sit in a chair by the window." At
last he gained his point, and sat, watch in hand, awaiting the arrival of
Miss Cheyne's daily visitor. To the end of his life Matthew Whittaker
believed that some instinct guided him at this time. He had only spoken
with his nurse and the doctor, and had refrained from making inquiries of
either respecting the lady whose hospitality he enjoyed. He had now
carefully recalled all that the dead driver of the diligencia had told
him, and had dismissed half of it as mere gossip. Beyond the fact that
Miss Cheyne's aunt, Mrs. Dorchester, acted as her companion, he knew
nothing. But he had surmised, from remarks dropped by the young lady
herself, that her mother had been a Spaniard; hence the uncle from whom
she had inherited this estate. He also had reason to believe that Miss
Cheyne's mother had brought her up in the older faith.
He reflected on these matters, and smiled half cynically at the magnitude
of his own interest in Miss Cheyne as he sat at the open window. He had
not long to wait before the clatter of horse's feet on the hard road
became audible. The house stood back from the high-road in the midst of
terraced olive groves, and was entirely surrounded by a grove of cypress
and ilex trees. The visitor, whose advent was doubtless awaited with as
keen an impatience by another within the red stone house, now leisurely
approached beneath the avenue of evergreen oak. Whittaker got painfully
upon his feet, and stood, half concealed by the curtain. He was conscious
of a singular lack of surprise when he recognized the face of the horseman
as one that he had already seen, though, when he came in a flash of
thought to reflect upon it, this among all he knew was the last face that
he could have expected to see in that place.
He sat down quite coolly and mechanically, thinking and acting as men
think and act, by instinct, in a crisis. He seemed to be obeying some
The horseman was dark and clean-shaven—the happy possessor of one of
those handsome Andalusian faces which are in themselves a passport in a
world that in its old age still persists in judging by appearance.
Whittaker scrupulously withdrew from the window. He had no desire to
overhear their conversation. But his eyes were fierce with a sudden anger.
The very attitude of the new-comer—his respectful, and yet
patronizing, manner of removing his hat—clearly showed that he was a
lover, perhaps a favoured one. And the American, who, with all his
knowledge of the world, knew so little of women, stood in the middle of
the room wrapt in thought. It seemed hardly possible that a woman of Miss
Cheyne's intelligence, a woman no longer in the first flush of girlhood,
should fail to perceive the obvious. He did not know that so far as her
vanity is concerned a woman does not grow older, by the passage of years,
but younger—that she will often, for the sake of a little
admiration, accept the careless patronage of a man, knowing well that his
one good quality is the skill with which he flatters her. He was not aware
that Miss Cheyne was distinctly handicapped, and that her judgment was
warped by the fact that she had by some chance or another reached to years
of discretion without ever having had a lover.
Whittaker was not an impulsive man, although as prompt in action as he was
quick to make a decision. He was a citizen of that new country where an
old chivalry still survives. His sense of chivalry was also intensified by
the fact, already stated, that he knew but little of that sex which is at
the moment making a superficial stir in the world.
"If the harm is done, a day more will make it no worse, I reckon," he said
reflectively. He would not listen to what they said, though he could have
heard easily enough, had he so desired. He watched Miss Cheyne and her
lover, however, as they slowly walked the length of the garden—she,
holding a fan in the Spanish fashion, to shield her face from the setting
sun; the man, hat in hand, and carrying himself with a sort of respectful
grandeur, characteristic of his race. At the end of the garden they
paused, and Whittaker smiled cynically at the sight of the man's dark eyes
as he looked at Miss Cheyne. He was apparently asking for something, and
she at last yielded, giving him slowly, almost shyly, a few violets that
she had worn in her belt. Whittaker gave a curt laugh, but his eyes were
by no means mirthful.
Later in the evening Miss Cheyne came into his room.
"You have had a visitor," he said, in the course of their usual
"Yes," she answered frankly; and Whittaker reflected that, at all events,
she knew her own mind.
He said nothing further upon that subject, but later he referred to a
topic which he had hitherto scrupulously avoided. He had passed his life
among a class of men who were not in the habit of growing voluble
"I think you take me for an Englishman," he said. "I am not. I am an
"Indeed! You have no accent," replied Miss Cheyne; and, despite that other
suite of cards that she held, she looked at him speculatively. She was, in
a way, interested in him.
"I have lived abroad a great deal, the last few years in Cuba." And his
quick eyes flashed across her face. She was not interested in Cuba, at all
events, and evidently knew nothing of that distressful island. When she
left him, he stood looking at the closed door reflectively.
"It will be for to-morrow," he said to himself, with his short laugh.
The next morning the doctor paid his usual visit, and Whittaker handed him
"I am leaving this evening," he said, "and I shall leave in your debt."
The doctor, who was a young man and a Spanish gentleman, slipped the
envelope into his pocket.
"Thank you," he said. "The debt is mine. You are not fit to be moved yet;
but it is as you like."
"Will you order me a carriage to be here at five o'clock this evening?"
"I will do as you like."
"And omit to mention it to my hostess. You understand my position here,
and my fear of outstaying a most courteous welcome?"
"I understand," said the doctor, and departed.
At four o'clock Whittaker had packed his portmanteau. He took up his
position at the window and waited. Before long he heard the sound of a
horse's feet. Miss Cheyne's visitor presently appeared, and swung off his
hat with the usual deferential pride. The horse was led away. The usual
murmured conversation followed. Whittaker rose and walked to the door. He
paused on the threshold, and looked slowly round the room as if conscious
then that the moment was to be one of the indelible memories of his life.
On the stairs he needed the support of the balustrade. When he reached the
verandah his face was colourless, with shining eyes. Miss Cheyne was
sitting with her back turned towards him, but her companion saw him at
once and rose to his feet, lifting his hat with a politely inquiring air.
From long habit acquired among a naturally polite people, Whittaker
returned the salutation.
"You do not recognise me, Senor?" he said, in English.
And the other shook his head, still polite and rather surprised.
"I was known in Cuba by the name of Mateo."
The Spaniard's handsome, sunburnt face slowly turned to the colour of
ashes. His eyes looked into Whittaker's, not in anger, but with a pathetic
mingling of reproach and despair.
"What is the meaning of this?" said Miss Cheyne, alert, and rising,
characteristically, to the emergency of the moment.
Whittaker bit his lip and looked at the Spaniard, who seemed to be dazed.
"You had better go," he said, almost gently.
"What is the meaning of this?" repeated Miss Cheyne, looking from one to
the other. Then she turned to Whittaker, by what instinct she never knew.
"Who is this gentleman?" she asked, angrily. "What have you against him?"
Whittaker, still biting his lip, looked hard at her. Then he made a
gesture with his two hands, which was more eloquent than a thousand words;
for it seemed to convey to the two persons who breathlessly awaited his
words that he found himself in a position that was intolerable.
"I knew him in Cuba," he said slowly. "I have nothing against him, Miss
Cheyne; but the man is a priest."
* * *
"There, Senorita—I have made it myself."
The proprietor of the Venta of the Moor's Mill set down upon the table in
front of the inn a cracked dish containing an omelette. It was not a bad
omelette, though not quite innocent of wood-ash, perhaps, and somewhat
ill-shapen. The man laughed gaily and drew himself up. So handsome a man
could surely be forgiven a broken omelette and some charcoal, if only for
the sake of his gay blue eyes, his curling brown hair, and his
devil-may-care air of prosperity. He looked at the Senorita and laughed in
the manner of a man who had never yet failed to "get on" with women. He
folded his arms with fine, open gestures, and stood looking with approving
nods upon his own handiwork. He was without the shadow of the trailing
vine which runs riot over bamboo trelliswork in front of the Venta,
affording a much needed shade in this the sunniest spot in all Majorca,
and the fierce sun beat down upon his face, which was tanned a deep,
healthy brown. He was clad almost in white; for his trousers were of
canvas, his shirt of spotless linen. Round his waist he wore the usual
Spanish faja or bright red cloth. He was consciously picturesque, and
withal so natural, so good-natured, so astonishingly optimistic, as to be
quite inoffensive in his child-like conceit.
The Venta of the Moor's Mill stands, as many know, at the northern end of
the Val D'Erraha, looking down upon the broader valley, through which runs
the high road from Palma to Valdemosa. The city of Palma, itself, is only
a few miles away, for such as know the mountain path. Few customers come
this way, and the actual trade of the Venta is small. Some day a German
doctor will start a nerve-healing establishment here, with a table d'hote
at six o'clock, and every opportunity for practising the minor virtues—and
the Valley of Repose will be the Valley of Repose no longer.
"Ah! It is a good omelette," said the host of the Venta, as Miss Cheyne
took up her fork. "Though I have not always been a cook, nor yet an
He raised one finger, shook it from side to side in an emphatic negation,
and laughed. Then he turned suddenly, and looked down into the valley with
a grave face and almost a sigh.
The man had a history it appeared—and, rarer still, was willing to
She knew too much of the Spanish race, or perhaps of all men, to ask
"Yes," she said pleasantly, "it is a good omelette." And the man turned
sharply and looked at her as if she had said something startling. She
noticed his action, and showed surprise.
"It is nothing," he said with a laugh, "only a coincidence—a mere
accident. It is said by the peasants that the mind of a friend has wings.
Perhaps it is so. As I looked down into the valley I was thinking of a man—a
friend. Yes—name of a Saint—he was a friend of mine, although
a gentleman! Educated? Yes, many languages, and Latin. And I—what am
I? You see, Senorita, a peasant, who wears no coat."
And he laughed heartily, only to change again suddenly to gravity.
"And as I looked down into the valley I was thinking of my friend—and,
believe me, you spoke at that moment with something in your voice—in
your manner—who knows?—which was like the voice and manner of
my friend. Perhaps, Senorita, the peasants are right, and the mind of my
friend, having wings, flew to us at that moment."
The lady laughed, and said that it might be so.
"It is not that you are English," the innkeeper continued, with easy
volubility. "For I know you belong to no other nation. I said so to myself
the moment I saw you, riding up here on horseback alone. I called upstairs
to Juanita that there was an English Senorita coming on a horse, and
Juanita replied with a malediction, that I should raise my voice when the
nino was asleep. She said that if it was the Pope of Rome who came on a
horse he must not wake the child. 'No,' I answered, 'but he would have to
go upstairs to see it;' and Juanita did not laugh. She sees no cause to
laugh at anything connected with the nino—oh, no! it is a serious
He was looking towards the house as he spoke.
"Juanita is your wife?" said the Englishwoman.
"Yes. We have been married a year, and I am still sure that she is the
most beautiful woman in the world. Is it not wonderful? And she will be
jealous if she hears me talking all this while with the Senorita."
"You can tell her that the Senorita has grey hair," said Miss Cheyne,
"That may be," said the innkeeper, looking at her with his head on one
side, and a gravely critical air. "But you still have the air"—he
shrugged his shoulders, and spread out his hands—"the air that takes
a man's fancy. Who knows?"
Miss Cheyne, who had dealt much with a simple people, accustomed to the
statement of simple facts in plain language, only laughed. There is a
certain rough purity of thought which vanishes at the advance of
civilisation. And cheap journalism, cheap fiction, cheap prudery have not
yet reached Spain.
"I know nothing," went on the man, with a shrewd, upward nod of the head.
"But the Senorita has a lover. He may be faithless, he may be absent, he
may be dead—but he is there—the God be thanked!"
He touched his broad chest in that part where a deadly experience told him
that the heart was to be found, and looked up to Heaven, all with a change
of expression and momentary gravity quite incomprehensible to men of
Miss Cheyne laughed again without self-consciousness. Uneducated people
have a way of arriving at once at those matters that interest rich and
poor alike, which is rather refreshing, even to the highly educated.
"But I, who talk like a washerwoman, forget that I am an innkeeper," said
the man, with a truer tact than is often found under fine linen. And he
proceeded to wait on her with a grand air, as if she were a queen and he a
"If Juanita were about it would be different," he said, whipping the cloth
from the table and shaking the crumbs to the four winds. "And the Senorita
would be properly served. But—what will you? the nino is but a
fortnight old, and I—I am new at my trade. The Senorita takes
Miss Cheyne intimated that she did take coffee.
"And you, perhaps, will take a cup also," she added, whereupon the man
bowed in his best manner. He had that perfect savoir-faire—a certain
innate gentlemanliness—which is the characteristic of all Spaniards.
His manner indicated an appreciation of the honour, and conveyed at the
same time the intimation that he knew quite well how to behave under the
He went into the house from which—all the doors and windows being
open—came the sound of his conversation with Juanita, while he
prepared the coffee. It was quite a frank and open conversation, having
Miss Cheyne for its object, and stating that she had not only found the
omelette good, but had eaten it all.
Presently he returned with the coffee-pot, two cups, and a small jug of
cream on a tray. He turned the handle of the coffee-pot towards Miss
Cheyne, and conveyed in one inimitable gesture that he would take his
coffee from no other hand.
"The Senorita is staying in Palma?" he asked, pleasantly.
The innkeeper laughed gaily and deprecatingly, as if between persons of
their station business was a word only to be mentioned as a sort of jest.
"I am the owner of a small property in the island—over in that
direction—towards Soller. It is held on the 'rotas' system by a good
farmer, who has frequently come to see me where I live at Monistrol, near
Barcelona. He has often begged me to come to Majorca to see the property,
and now I have come. I am staying a few days at Palma."
"Farming is good in Majorca," said the man, shrewdly. "You should receive
a large sum for your share of the harvest. I, too, shall buy land
presently when I see my chance, for I have the money. Ah, yes: I was not
always an innkeeper!"
He sipped his coffee pensively.
"That reminds me again of my friend," he said, after a pause. "Why do I
think of him this afternoon? It is a strange story; shall I tell it?"
"I shall be glad to hear it," replied Miss Cheyne, in her energetic way.
She was stirring her coffee slowly and thoughtfully.
"I knew him in his own country—in America; and then in Cuba—"
Miss Cheyne ceased stirring her coffee suddenly, as if she had come
against some object in the cup. A keen observer might have guessed that
she had become interested at that moment in this idle tale.
"Ah! You know Cuba?" she said, indifferently interrogative.
"If I know Cuba?" he laughed, and spread out his hands in mute appeal to
the gods. "If I know Cuba! When Cuba is an independent republic, Senorita—when
the history of all this trouble comes to be written, you will find two
names mentioned in its pages. The one name is Antonio. When you are an old
woman, Senorita, you can tell your children—or perhaps your
grandchildren, if the good God is kind to you—that you once knew
Antonio, and took a cup of coffee with him. But you must not say it now—never—never.
And the other name is Mateo. You can tell your children, Senorita, when
your hair is white, that you once spoke to a man who was a friend to this
He finished with his gay laugh, as if he were fully alive to his own fine
conceit, and begged indulgence.
"He has been here—sitting where you sit now," he continued, with
impressive gravity. "He came to me: 'Antonio,' he said, 'There are five
thousand men out there who want you.' 'Amigo,' replied I, 'there is one
woman here who does the same'—and I bowed, and Mateo went away
without me. I thought he had gone back there to conduct affairs—to
fight in his careless way, with his tongue in his cheek, as it were. He
did all with his tongue in his cheek—that queer Mateo. And then came
a message from Barcelona, saying that he wanted me. Name of a dog, I went—for
his letter was unmistakable. He had, it appeared, had an accident. I found
him with his arm in a sling. He had been cared for in the house of an
Englishwoman—so much he told—but I guessed more. This
Englishwoman—well, he said so little about her, that I could only
conclude one thing. You know, Senorita—when a man will not talk of a
woman—well, it assuredly means something. But there was, it appears,
another man—this man, I grind my teeth to tell you of it—he
was a priest. One Bernaldez, whom we had both known in Cuba. He had, it
appears, come over to Spain in ordinary dress; for he was too well known
to travel as Bernaldez, the priest. He was a fine man—so much I will
say for him. The Englishwoman was, no doubt, beautiful. Bernaldez met her.
She did not know that he was a priest."
Antonio paused, shrugged his shoulders and spread out his arms.
"The devil did the rest, Senorita. And she? Did she care for him? Ah—one
never knows with women."
"Perhaps they do not always know themselves," suggested Miss Cheyne,
without meeting her companion's eyes.
"Perhaps that is so, Senorita. At all events, Mateo went to these two,
when they were together. Mateo was always quick and very calm. He faced
Bernaldez, and he told the woman. Then he left them. And I found him in
Barcelona, two days afterwards, living at the Hotel of the Four Nations,
like one in his sleep. 'If Bernaldez wants me,' he said, 'he knows where
to find me.' And the next day Bernaldez came to us, where we sat in front
of the Cafe of the Liceo on the Rambla. 'Mateo,' he said, 'you will have
to fight me.' And Mateo nodded his head. 'With the revolver.' Mateo looked
up with his dry smile. 'I will take you at that game,' he said, 'for nuts'—in
the American fashion, Senorita—one of their strange sad jokes. Then
Bernaldez sat down—his eyes were hollow; he spoke like one who has
been down to the bottom of misery. 'I know a place,' he said, 'that will
suit our purpose. It is among the mountains, on the borders of Andorra.
You take the train from Barcelona to Berga, the diligencia from Berga to
Organa. Between Organa and La Seo de Urgel is a bridge called La Puente
del Diabolo. I will meet you at this bridge on foot on Thursday morning at
nine o'clock. We can walk up into the mountains together. I shall bring a
small travelling clock with me. We shall stand it on the ground between
us, and when it strikes, we fire.'"
Antonio had, in the heat of his narrative, leant forward across the table.
With quick gestures he described the whole scene, so that Miss Cheyne
could see it as it had passed before his eyes.
"There is a madness, Senorita," he went on, "which shows itself by a
thirst for blood. I looked at Bernaldez. He was sane enough, but I think
the man's heart was broken. 'It is well,' said Mateo; 'I am your man—at
the Puente del Diabolo at nine o'clock on Thursday morning.' And mind you,
Senorita, these were not Italians or Greeks—they were a Spaniard and
an American—men who mean what they say, whether it be pleasant or
Miss Cheyne was interested enough now. She sat, leaning one arm on the
table, and her chin in the palm of her hand. She held her lip with her
teeth, and watched the man's quick expressive face.
"We were there at nine o'clock," he went on, "that Mateo, with his arm in
a sling. We had passed the night at the hotel of the Libertad at Organa,
where we both slept well enough. What will you?—when one is no
longer young, the pulse is slow. The morning mist had descended the
mountain side, the air was cold. There at the Puente, leaning against the
wall, cloaked and quiet—was Bernaldez. 'Ah!' he said to me, 'you
have come, too?' 'Yes, Amigo,' I answered, 'but I do not give the word for
two friends to let go at each other. Your little clock can do that.' He
nodded and said nothing. Senorita, I was sorry for the man. Who was I that
I should judge? You remember, you, who read your Bible, the writing on the
ground? Bernaldez led the way, and we climbed up into the mountains in the
morning mist. Somewhere above us there was a little waterfall singing its
eternal song. In the cloud, where we could not see him, a curlew hung on
his heavy wings, and gave forth his low warning whistle. 'Have a care—have
a care,' he seemed to cry. Presently Bernaldez stopped, and looked around
him. It was a desolate place. 'This will do,' he said. 'And he who drops
may be left here. The other may turn on his heel, say "A Dios," and go in
safety. 'Yes,' answered Mateo. 'This will do as well as any other place.'
Bernaldez looked at him, with a laugh. 'Ah,' he said, 'you think that you
are sure to kill me—but I shall, at all events, have a shot for my
money. Who knows? I may kill you.' 'That is quite possible,' answered
Mateo. Bernaldez threw back his cloak. He carried the little travelling
clock in one hand—a gilt thing made in Paris. 'We will stand it
here,' he said, 'on a rock between us.' We were in a little hollow far up
the mountain side, and the mist wrapped us round like a cloak. I know
these mountains, Senorita, for it was here that the fiercest of the
fighting in the last Carlist War took place. There are many dead up there
even now, who have never been found. I also was in that trouble—ah,
no, I was not always an innkeeper!"
"Go on with your story," said Miss Cheyne, curtly, and closed her teeth
over her lower lip again.
"We stood there, then, and watched Bernaldez take the clock from its case.
He held it to his ear to make sure that it was going. It seemed to me that
it ticked as loud up there as a clock ticks in a room at night. Bernaldez
set forward the hands till they stood at five minutes to eleven. 'The
eleventh hour,' said Mateo, with his dry laugh. Bernaldez set the clock
down again. He took off his hat and threw it down to mark the ground. 'Ten
paces,' he said, and, turning on his heel, counted aloud. I looked
half-instinctively at his bared head. The tonsure was still visible to any
who sought it; for it was but half-grown over. Mateo counted his steps and
then turned. The clock gave a little tick, as such clocks do, four minutes
before they strike. It seemed to me to hurry its pace as we three stood
listening in that silence. We could hear the whisper of the clouds as they
hurried through the mountains. The clock gave another click, and the two
men raised their pistols of a similar pattern. The little gong rang out,
and immediately after two shots, one following the other. Bernaldez had
fired first. Mateo—a man with a reputation to care for—took a
moment longer for his aim. I heard Bernaldez's bullet sing past his ear
like a mosquito. Bernaldez fell forward—thus, on his arm—and
the clock had not ceased striking when we stood over him; and Mateo had
held the pistol in his left hand."
The narrator finished abruptly with a quick gesture. All through his story
he had added a vividness to his description by quick movements of the hand
and head, by his flashing eyes, his southern fire, so that his hearer
could see the scene as he had seen it; could feel the stillness of the
mountains; could hear the whisper of the clouds; could see the two men
facing each other in the mist. With a gesture he showed her how Bernaldez
lay, on his face on the wet stones, with a half-concealed tonsure, turned
towards heaven in mute appeal, awaiting the last great hearing of his case
in that Court where there is no appeal.
"And there we left him, Senorita," added Antonio, shortly.
He rose, walked away from her to the edge of the great slope, and stood
looking down into the valley that lay shimmering below him. After a time
he came back slowly. In his simplicity he was not ashamed of dimmed eyes.
"I tell you this, Senorita," he said with a laugh, "because you are an
Englishwoman, and because this Mateo was my friend. He is an American. His
name is Whittaker—Matthew S. Whittaker. And this afternoon I was
reminded of him; I know not why. Perhaps it was something that I said
myself, or some gesture that I made, which I had caught from him. If one
thinks much about a person, one may catch his gestures or his manner: is
it not so? And then you reminded me of him a second time. That was
"Yes," said Miss Cheyne, thoughtfully; "that was strange."
"He went to Cuba again at once, Senorita; that was a year ago. And I have
never heard from him. If, as the peasants say, the mind of a friend has
wings, perhaps Mateo's mind has flown on to tell me that he is coming. He
said he would come back."
"Why was he coming back?" asked Miss Cheyne.
"I do not know, Senorita."
Miss Cheyne had risen, and was making ready to depart. Her gloves and
riding-whip lay on the table. The afternoon was far spent, and already the
shadows were lengthening on the mountain-side. She paid the trifling
account, Antonio taking the money with such a deep bow that the smallness
of the coin was quite atoned for. He brought her horse from the stable.
"The horse and the Senorita are both tired," he said, with his pleasant
laugh. And, indeed, Miss Cheyne looked suddenly weary. "It is not right
that you should go by the mountain path," he added. "It is so easy to lose
the way. Besides, a lady alone—it is not done in Spain."
"No; but in England women are learning to take care of themselves,"
laughed Miss Cheyne.
She placed her foot within his curved hands, and he lifted her to the
saddle. All her movements were easy and independent. It seemed that she
only stated a fact, and the man shook his head forebodingly. He belonged
to a country which in some ways is a century behind England and America.
She nodded a farewell, and turned the horse's head towards the mountain
"I shall find my way," she said. "Never fear."
"Only by good fortune," he answered, with a shake of the head.
The sun had almost set when she reached Palma. At the hotel her lawyer,
who had made the voyage from Barcelona with her, awaited her with
impatience, while her maid leant idly from the window. In the evening she
went abroad again, alone, in her independent way. She walked slowly on the
Cathedral terrace, where priests lingered, and a few soldiers from the
neighbouring barracks smoked a leisurely cigarette. All turned at
intervals, and looked in the same direction—namely, towards the
west, where the daylight yet lingered in the sky. The moon, huge and
yellow, was rising over the mountains, above Manacor, at the eastern end
of the island. One by one the idlers dropped away, moving with leisurely
steps towards the town. In very idleness Miss Cheyne followed them. She
knew that they were going to the harbour in anticipation of the arrival of
the Barcelona steamer. She was on the pier with the others, when the boat
came alongside. The passengers trooped off, waving salutations to their
friends. One among them, a small-made, frail man, detached himself from
the crowd, and made his way towards Miss Cheyne, as if this meeting had
been prearranged—and who shall say that it was not?—by the dim
decrees of Fate.