For Juanita's Sake by Henry Seton Merriman

Cartoner, of the Foreign Office, who is still biding his time, is not tired of Spain yet—and it must be remembered that Cartoner knows the Peninsula. He began to know it twenty years ago, and his knowledge is worthy of the name, inasmuch as it moves with the times. Some day there will be a war in Spain, and we shall fight either for or against the Don, which exercise Englishmen have already enjoyed more than once. Cartoner hopes that it may come in his time, when, as he himself puts it, he will be "there or thereabouts." Had not a clever man his opportunity when the Russian war broke out, and he alone of educated Britons knew the Crimea? That clever man had a queer temper, as we all know, and so lost his opportunity; but, if he gets it, Cartoner will take his chance coolly and steadily enough. In the mean time he is, if one may again borrow his own terse expression, "by no means nowhere," for in the Foreign Office those who know Spain are a small handful; and those who, like Cartoner, can cross the Pyrenees and submerge themselves unheeded in the quiet, sleepy life of Andalusia, are to be numbered on two fingers, and no more. When a question of Spain or of, say, Cuba, arises, a bell is rung in the high places of the Foreign Office, and a messenger in livery is despatched for Cartoner, who, as likely as not, will be discovered reading El Imparcial in his room. It is always pleasant to be able to ring a bell and summon a man who knows the difference between Andalusia and Catalonia—and can without a moment's hesitation say where Cuba is and to what Power it belongs, such matters not always being quite clear to the comprehension of a Cabinet Minister who has been brought up to the exclusive knowledge of the Law, or the manufacture of some article of daily domestic consumption.

While possessing his knowledge in patience, Cartoner naturally takes a mean advantage of those in high places who have it not, nor yet the shadow of it. About once in six months he says that he thinks he ought to go to Spain, and raps out a few technicalities relating to the politics of the Peninsula. A couple of days later he sets off for the land of sun and sleep with what he calls his Spanish kit in a portmanteau. This he purchased in the "Sierpe" for forty pesetas at a ready-made tailor's, where it was labelled "Fantasia." It is merely a tweed suit, but, wearing it, Cartoner is safe from the reproach that doggeth the step of the British tourist abroad.

It was during one of these expeditions that Cartoner, in his unobtrusive way, found himself in Toledo, where, the guide-books tell us, the traveller will obtain no fit accommodation. It was evening, and the company who patronized the Cafe of the New Gate were mostly assembled at small tables in the garden of that house of entertainment. The moon was rising over the lower lands across the Tagus, behind the gate which gives its name to this cafe. It is very rightly called the New Gate. Did not Wemba build it in the sixth century, as he has cheerfully written upon its topmost stone?

Cartoner sat at one of the outside tables, where the hydrangeas, as large as a black currant bush, are ranged in square green boxes against the city wall. He was thoughtfully sipping his coffee when a man crawled between his legs and hid himself like a sick dog between Cartoner's chair and the hydrangea trees. The hiding-place was a good one, provided that the fugitive had the collusion of whosoever sat in Cartoner's chair.

"His Excellency would not betray a poor unfortunate," whispered an eager voice at Cartoner's elbow, while, with a sang-froid which had been partly acquired south of the Pyrenees, the Briton sat and gazed across the Tagus.

"That depends upon what the unfortunate has been after."

There was a silence while Truth wrestled with the Foe in the shadows of the bush in the green box.

"His Excellency is not of Toledo."

"Nor yet of Spain," replied Cartoner, knowing that it is good to speak the truth at times.

"They have chased me from Algodor. They on horseback, I running through the forest. You will hear them rattling across the bridge soon. If I can only lie hidden here until they have ridden on into the town, I can double and get away to Barcelona."

Cartoner was leaning forward on the little tin table, his chin in the palm of his hand.

"You must not speak too loud," he said, "especially when the music is still."

For the Cafe of the New Gate had the additional attraction of what the proprietor called a concert. The same consisting of a guitar and a bright-coloured violin, the latter in the hands of a wandering scoundrel, who must have had good in him somewhere—it peeped out in the lower notes.

"Has his Excellency had coffee?" inquired the man behind Cartoner's chair.

"Yes."

"Does any sugar remain? I have not eaten since morning."

Cartoner dropped the two square pieces of sugar over his shoulder, and there was a sound of grinding.

"His Excellency will not give me up. I can slip a knife into his Excellency's liver where I sit."

"I know that. What have you been doing?"

"I killed Emmanuelo Dembaza, that is all."

"Indeed—but why kill Senor Dembaza?"

"I did it for Juanita's sake."

A queer smile flitted across Cartoner's face. He was a philosopher in his way, and knew that such things must be.

"He was a scoundrel, and had already ruined one poor girl," went on the voice from the tree. The cheap violin was speaking about good and bad mixed together again—and to talk aloud was safe. "But she was no better than she should be—a tobacco-worker. And tobacco for work or pleasure ever ruins a woman, Senor. Look at Seville. But Juanita is different. She irons the fine linen. She is good—as good as his Excellency's mother—and beautiful. Maria! His Excellency should see her eyes. You know what eyes some Spanish women have. A history and something one does not understand."

"Yes," answered Cartoner again. "I know."

"Juanita thought she liked him," went on the voice, bringing its hearer suddenly back to Toledo; "she thought she liked him until she found him out. Then he turned upon her and said things that were not true. Such things, Senor, ruin a girl, whether they be true or not—especially if the women begin to talk. Is it not so?"

"Yes."

"She told me of it, and we decided that there was nothing to do but kill Emmanuelo Dembaza. She kissed me, Excellency, and every time she did that I would kill a man if she asked me."

"Indeed."

"Yes, Excellency."

"And if you are taken and sent to prison for, say, twenty years?" suggested Cartoner.

"Then Juanita will drown herself. She has sworn it."

"And if I do not give you up? If you escape?"

"She will follow me to Argentina, Excellency; and, Madre de Dios, we shall get married."

At this moment the waiter came up, cigarette in mouth, after the manner of Spain, and suggested a second cup of coffee, to which Cartoner assented—with plenty of sugar.

"Have you money?" asked Cartoner, when they were alone again.

"No, Senor."

"In this world it is no use being a criminal unless you are rich. If you are poor you must be honest. That is the first rule of the game."

"I am as poor as a street-dog," said the voice, unconcernedly.

"And you would not take a loan as from one gentleman to another?"

"No," answered Spanish pride, crouching in the bushes, "I could not do that."

Cartoner reflected for some moments. "In the country from which I come," he said at length, "we have a very laudable reverence for relics and a very delicate taste in such matters. If one man shoots another we like to see the gun, and we pay sixty centimes to look upon it. There are people who make an honest living by such exhibitions. If they cannot get the gun they put another in its place, and it is all the same. Now, your knife—the one the Senorita sharpens with a kiss—in my country it will have its value. Suppose I buy it; suppose we say five hundred pesetas?"

And Cartoner's voice was the voice of innocence.

There was silence for some time, and at last the knife came up handlewise between the leaves of the hydrangea. Spanish pride is always ready to shut its eyes.

"But you must swear that what you tell me is true and that Juanita will join you in Argentina. Honour of a gentleman."

"Honour of a gentleman," repeated the voice; and the hand of a blacksmith came through the leaves, seeking Cartoner's grasp.

"They are turning the lights out," said Cartoner, when the bargain was concluded. "But I will wait until it is safe to leave you here. Your friends the guardia civile do not arrive."

"Pardon, Senor, I think I hear them."

And the fugitive's ears did not err. For presently a tall man, white with dust in his great swinging cloak, stalked suspiciously among the tables, looking into each face. He saluted Cartoner, who was better dressed than the other frequenters of the Cafe of the New Gate, and passed on. A horrid moment.

"The good God will most likely remember that you have done this deed to-night," said the voice, with a queer break in it.

"He may," answered Cartoner, who was lighting his cigarette before going. "On the other hand, I may get five years in a Spanish prison."