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ever had, that he was never taken quite by surprise. Vincente smiled as he thought ; a habit he had acquired on the field, where a staff, and perhaps a whole army, took its cue from his face and read the turn of fortune there. Then he looked up straight at Estella who was watching him.
'Can you start on a journey now-in five minutes ?' he asked.
“Yes,' she answered, rising and going towards the door.
* Have you a white mantilla among your travelling things ? he asked again.
Estella turned at the doorway and nodded.
"You can come with us ?' said the General to Concha, half command, half interrogation.
If you wish it.' “You may be wanted. I have a plan—a little plan,' and he gave a short laugh. It may succeed.'
He went to a side table where some cold meats still stood, and taking up a small chicken daintily with a fork, he folded it in a napkin.
• It will be Saturday,' he said simply, before we have reached our journey's end, and you will be hungry. Have you a pocket ?'
• Has a priest a pocket ?' asked Concha with a grim humour, and he slipped the provisions into the folds of his cassock. He was still eating a biscuit hurriedly.
'I believe you have no money ? ' said the General suddenly.
'I have only enough,' admitted the old man, 'to take me back to Ronda ; whither, by the way, my duty calls me.'
'I think not. Your Master can spare you for a while; my mistress cannot do without you.'
At this moment Estella came back into the room ready for her journey. The girl had changed of late. Her face had lost a little roundness and had gained exceedingly in expression. Her eyes, too, were different. That change had come to them which comes to all women between the ages of twenty and thirty, quite irrespective of their state. A certain restlessness or a quiet content is what one usually sees in a woman's face. Estella's eyes wore that latter look which seems to indicate a knowledge of the meaning of life and a contentment that it should be no different.
Vincente was writing at the table.
"We shall want help,' he said, without looking up. 'I am sending for a good man.' And he smiled as he shook the small sand-caster over the
paper. May one ask,' said Concha,' whither we are going ?'
'We are going to Ciudad Real, my dear friend, since you are so curious. But we shall come back—we shall come back.'
He was writing another despatch as he spoke, and, at a sign from him, Estella went to the door and clapped her hands, the only method of summoning a servant in general use at that time in Spain. The call was answered by an orderly, who stood at attention in the doorway for fully five minutes while the General wrote further orders in his neat small caligraphy. There were half-adozen letters in all-curt military despatches without preamble and without mercy. For this soldier conducted military matters in a singularly domestic way, planning his campaigns by the fireside and bringing about the downfall of an enemy while sitting in his daughter's drawing-room. Indeed, Estella's blotting-book bore the impress of more than one death-warrant, or an order as good as such, written casually on her stationery and with her pen.
“Will you have the goodness to despatch these at once ?' was the message taken by the orderly to the General's aide-de-camp, and the gallopers, who were always in readiness, smiled as they heard the modest request.
It will be pleasant to travel in the cool of the evening, provided that one guards against a chill,' said the General, making his final preparations. “I require but a moment to speak to my
' faithful aide-de-camp, and then we embark.'
The moon was rising as the carriage rattled across the Bridge of Alcantara, and Larralde, taking the air between Wamba's gate and the little fort that guards the entrance to the city, recognised the equipage as it passed him. He saw also the outline of Concha's figure in the darkest corner of the carriage, with his back to the horses, his head bowed in meditation. Estella he saw and recognised, while two mounted attendants clattering in the rear of the carriage testified by their presence to the fact that the General had taken the road again. ' * It is well,' said Larralde to himself. They are all going
• back to Ronda, and Julia will be rid of their influence. Ronda will serve as well as Toledo so far as Vincente is concerned. But I will wait to make sure that they are not losing sight of him.'
So Señor Larralde, cloaked to the eyebrows, leant gracefully against the wall, and, like many another upon the bridge after that breathless day, drank in the cool air that rose from the river. Presently-indeed, before the sound of the distant wheels was quite lost—two horsemen, cloaked and provided with such light luggage as the saddle can accommodate, rode leisurely through the gateway and up the incline that makes a short cut to the great road running southward to Ciudad Real. Larralde gave a little nod of self-confidence and satisfaction, as one who, having conceived and built up a great scheme, is pleased to see each component part of it act independently and slip into its place.
The General's first thought was for Estella's comfort, and be utilised the long hill which they had to ascend on leaving the town to make such arrangements as space would allow for their
You must sleep, my child,' he said. • We cannot hope to reach Ciudad Real before midday to-morrow, and it is as likely as not that we shall have but a few hours' rest there.'
And Estella, who had travelled vast distances over vile roads so long as her memory went back, who had never known what it is to live in a country that is at peace, leant back in her corner and closed her eyes. Had she really been disposed to sleep, however, she could scarcely have done it, for the General's solicitude manifested itself by a hundred little devices for her greater repose.
For her comfort he made Concba move. * An old traveller like you must shift for yourself,' he said gaily.
"No need to seek shelter for an old ox,' replied Concha, moving into the other corner, where he carefully unfolded his pockethandkerchief and laid it over his face, where his long nose, protruding, caused it to fall into fantastic folds. He clasped his hands upon his hat, which lay on his knee, and, leaning back, presently began to snore gently and regularly—a peaceful, sleepinducing sound, and an excellent example. The General, whose sword seemed to take up half the carriage, still watched Estella, and, if the air made her mantilla flutter, drew up the window with the solicitude of a lover and a maternal noiselessness. Then, with one hand on hers, and the other grasping his sword, he leant back but did not close his eyes.
Thus they travelled on through the luminous night. The roads were neither worse nor better than they are to-day in Spain—than they were in England in the Middle Ages-and
their way lay over the hill ranges that lie between the watersheds of the Tagus and the Guadiana. At times they passed through well-tended valleys, where corn and olives and vines seemed to grow on the same soil, but for the greater part of the night they ascended and descended the upper slopes, where herds of goats, half awakened as they slept in a ring about their guardian, looked at them with startled eyes. The shepherds and goatherds, who, like those of old, lay cloaked upon the ground, and tended their locks by night, did not trouble to raise their heads.
Concha alone slept, for the General had a thousand thoughts that kept him awake and bright-eyed, while Estella knew from her father's manner and restlessness that these were no small events that now stirred Spain, and seemed to close men's mouths, so that near friends distrusted one another, and brother was divided against brother. Indeed, others were on the road that night, and horsemen passed the heavy carriage from time to time.
In the early morning a change of horses was effected at a large inn near the summit of a pass above Malagon, and here an orderly, who seemed to recognise the General, was climbing into the saddle as the Vincentes quitted their carriage and passed into the common room of the venta for a hasty cup of coffee.
• It is the Queen's courier,' said the innkeeper grandly, 'whọ takes the road before her Majesty in order to secure horses.'
"Ah,' said the General, breaking his bread and dropping it into his cup. “Is that so ? The Queen Regent you mean?'
'Queen or Queen Regent, she requires four horses this evening, Excellency—that is all my concern.'
'True, my friend; true. That is well said. And the horses will be forthcoming, no doubt.'
• They will be forthcoming,' said the man, . And the Excellency's carriage is ready.'
In the early morning light they drove on, now descending towards the great valley of the Guadiana, and at midday, as Vincente had foreseen, gained a sight of the ancient city of Ciudad Real lying amid trees below them. Ciudad Real is less interesting than its name, and there is little that is royal about its dirty streets and ill-kept houses. No one gave great heed to the travelling-carriage, for this is a great centre where travellers journeying east or west, north or south, must needs pause for a change of horses. At the inn there were vacant rooms, and that
hasty welcome accorded to the traveller at wayside houses where none stay longer than they can help.
No,' said the landlord, in answer to the General's query. •We are not busy; though we expect a lady who will pass the hour of the siesta here and then proceed northward.'
•Il est rare que la tête des rois soit faite à la mesure de leur couronne.
In the best room of the inn where Vincente and his tired companions sought a few hours' rest, there sat alone and in thought a woman of middle age. Somewhat stout, she yet had that air which arouses the attention without being worthy of the name of beauty. This lady had doubtless swayed men's hearts by a word or a glance, for she still carried herself with assurance, and a hundred little details of her dress would have told another woman that she still desired to please. She wore a white mantilla.
The hour of the siesta was over, and after the great heat of the day a cool air was swinging down on the bosom of the river to the parched lowlands. It stirred the leaves of a climbing heliotrope which encircled the open windows, and wafted into the ill-furnished room a scent of stable-yard and dust.
The lady, sitting with her chin resting in the palm of her small white hand, seemed to have lately roused herself from sleep, and now had the expectant air of one who awaits a carriage and is about to set out on a long journey. Her eyes were dark and tired-looking, and their expression was not that of a good woman. A sensual man is usually weak, but women are different; and this face, with its faded complexion and tired eyes, this woman of the majestic presence and beautiful hands, was both strong and sensual. This, in a word, was a Queen who never forgot that she was a woman. As it was said of the Princess Christina, so it has been spoken of the Queen, that many had killed themselves for hopeless love of her. For this was the most dangerous of the world's creatures—a royal coquette. Such would our own Queen Bess have been had not God for the good of England given her a plain face and an ungainly form. For surely the devil is in it when a woman can command both love and men.