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'I know something of it. One has to shout very loud. I studied it—at Dublin University.'
To be sure-I forgot.'
Julia and Estella watched and listened. Their lot had been cast in the paths of war, and since childhood they had remembered naught else. But neither had yet been so near to the work, nor had they seen and heard men talk and plan with a certain grim humour-a curt and deliberate scorn of haste or excitement— as these men spoke and planned now. Conyngham and Concepcion Vara were altered by these circumstances, there was a light in their eyes which women rarely see, but the General was the same little man of peace and of a high domestic virtue, who seemed embarrassed by a sword which was obviously too big for him. Yet in all their voices there rang alike a queer note of exultation. For man is a fighting animal, and, from St. Paul down to the humblest little five-foot-one recruit, would find life a dull affair were there no strife in it.
'Yes,' said the General, after a moment's reflection, that is a good idea, and will gain time. But let them first bring their fuel and set it up. Every moment is a gain.'
At this instant some humorist in the crowd threw a stone in at the open window. The old priest picked up the missile and examined it curiously.
'It is fortunate,' he said, 'that the stones are fixed in Toledo. In Xeres they are loose and are always in the air! I wonder if I can hit a citizen.'
And he threw the stone back.
'Close the shutters,' said the General. Let us avoid arousing ill-feeling.'
The priest drew the jalousies together but did not quite shut them. Vincente stood and looked out through the aperture at the moonlit square and the dark shadows moving there.
'I wish they would shout,' he said. 'It is unnatural. They are like children. When there is noise there is little
Then he remained silent for some minutes, watching intently. All in the room noted his every movement. At length he turned on his heel.
'Go, my friend,' he said to Conyngham. Form your men in the Calle de la Ciudad, and charge round in line. Do not place yourself too much in advance of your men or you will be killed,
and remember-the point! Resist the temptation to cut-the point is best.'
He patted Conyngham on the arm affectionately, as if he were sending him to bed with a good wish, and accompanied him to the door.
'I knew,' he said, returning to the window and rubbing his hands together, 'that that was a good man the first moment I saw him.'
He glanced at Estella, and then, turning, opened another window, setting the shutters ajar so as to make a second point of observation.
'My poor child,' he whispered, as she went to the window and looked out. 'It is an ill-fortune to have to do with men whose trade this is.'
Estella smiled-a little whitely-and said nothing. The moon was now shining from an almost cloudless sky. The few fleecy remains of the storm sailing towards the east only added brightness to the night. It was almost possible to see the faces of the men moving in the square below, and to read their expressions. The majority stood in a group in the centre of the Plaza, while a daring few, reckoning on the Spanish aversion to firearms, ran forward from time to time and set a bundle of wood or straw against the door beneath the balcony.
Some, who appeared to be the leaders, looked up constantly and curiously at the windows, wondering if any resistance would be made. Had they known that General Vincente was in that silent house they would probably have gone home to bed, and the crowd would have dispersed like smoke.
Suddenly there arose a roar to the right hand of the square where the Calle de la Ciudad was situated, and Conyngham appeared for a moment alone, running towards the group, with the moonlight flashing on his sword. At his heels an instant later a single line of men swung round the corner and charged across the
'Dear, dear,' muttered the General; 'too quick, my friend, too quick.'
For Conyngham was already among the crowd, which broke and surged back towards the Cathedral. He paused for a moment to draw his sword out of a dark form that lay upon the ground, as a cricketer draws a stump. He had at all events remembered the point. The troopers swept across the square like a broom, send
ing the people as dust before them, and leaving the clean, moonlit square behind. They also left behind one or two shadows, lying stark upon the ground. One of these got upon its knees and crawled painfully away, all one-sided, like a beetle that has been trodden underfoot. Those watching from the windows saw with a gasp of horror that part of him-part of an arm-had been left behind, and a sigh of relief went up when he stopped crawling and lay quite still.
The troopers were now retreating slowly towards the Calle de la Ciudad.
'Be careful, Conyngham,' shouted the General from the balcony. They will return.'
And as he spoke a rattling fire was opened upon them from the far corner of the square, where the crowd had taken refuge in the opening of the Calle del Arco. Immediately the people, having noted that the troopers were few in number, charged down upon them. The men fought in line, retreating step by step, their swords gleaming in the moonlight. Estella, hearing footsteps in the room behind her, turned in time to see her father disappearing through the doorway. Concepcion Vara, coatless as he loved to work, his white shirt-sleeves fluttering as his arm swung, had now joined the troopers, and was fighting by Conyngham's side.
Estella and Julia were out on the balcony now, leaning over and forgetting all but the breathless interest of battle. Concha stood beside them, muttering and cursing like any soldier.
They saw Vincente appear at the corner of the Calle de la Ciudad and throw away his scabbard as he ran.
'Now, my children,' he cried in a voice that Estella had never heard before, which rang out across the square and was answered by a yell that was nothing but a cry of sheer delight. The crowd swayed back as if before a gust of wind, and the General, following it, seemed to clear a space for himself as a reaper clears away the standing corn before him. It was however only for a moment. The crowd surged back, those in front against their will, and on to the glittering steel--those behind shouting encouragement.
'Carramba!' shouted Concha, and was gone.
They saw him a minute later appear in the square, having thrown aside his cassock. He made a strange lean figure of a man with his knee breeches and dingy purple stockings, his grey flannel shirt, and the moonlight shining on his tonsured head. He fought without skill and heedless of danger, swinging a great
sword that he had picked up from the hand of a fallen trooper, and each blow that he got home killed its man. The metal of the man had suddenly shown itself after years of suppression. This, as Vincente had laughingly said, was no priest, but a soldier.
Concepcion, in the thick of it, using the knife now with a deadly skill, looked over his shoulder and laughed. Suddenly the crowd swayed. The faint sound of a distant bugle came to the ears of all.
'It is nothing,' shouted Concha, in English. It is nothing. It is I who sent the bugler round.'
And his great sword whistled into a man's brain. In another moment the square was empty; for the politicians who came to murder a woman had had enough steel. The sound of the bugle, intimating, as they supposed, the arrival of troops, completed the work of demoralisation which the recognition of General Vincente had begun.
The little party-the few defenders of the Casa del Ayuntamiento-were left in some confusion in the Plaza, and Estella saw with a sudden cold fear that Conyngham and Concha were on their knees in the midst of a little group of hesitating men. It was Concha who rose first and held up his hand to the watchers on the balcony, bidding them stay where they were. Then Conyngham rose to his feet, slowly, as one bearing a burden. Estella looked down in a sort of dream and saw her lover carrying her father towards the house, her mind only half comprehending, in that semi-dreamlike reception of sudden calamity which is one of Heaven's deepest mercies.
It was Concepçion who came into the room first, his white shirt dyed with blood in great patches like the colour on a piebald horse. A cut in his cheek was slowly dripping. He went straight to a sofa covered in gorgeous yellow satin and set the cushions in order.
'Señorita,' he said, and spread out his hands. The tears were in his eyes. Half of Spain,' he added, 'would rather that it had been the Queen-and the world is poorer.'
A moment later Concha came into the room dragging on his cassock.
'My child, we are in God's hand,' he said, with a break in his gruff voice.
And then came the heavy step of one carrying sorrow.
was holding his handkerchief to his side, and his eyes, which had a thoughtful look, saw only Estella's face.
'I have sent for a doctor,' said Conyngham. Your father is wounded.'
'Yes,' said Vincente, immediately; 'but I am in no pain, my dear child. There is no reason, surely, for us to distress ourselves.' He looked round and smiled.
'And this good Conyngham,' he added, 'carried me like a child.'
Julia was on her knees at the foot of the sofa, her face hidden in her hands.
'My dear Julia,' he said, 'why this distress?'
'Because all of this is my doing,' she answered, lifting her drawn and terror-stricken face.
'No, no!' said Vincente, with a characteristic pleasantry. 'You take too much upon yourself. All these things are written down for us beforehand. We only add the punctuation-delaying a little or hurrying a little.'
They looked at him silently, and assuredly none could mistake the shadows that were gathering on his face. Estella, who was holding his hand, knelt on the floor by his side, quiet and strong, offering silently that sympathy which is woman's greatest gift.
Concepcion, who perhaps knew more of this matter than any present, looked at Concha and shook his head. The priest was buttoning his cassock and began to seek something in his pocket. 'Your breviary?' whispered Concepcion, 'I saw it lying out there among the dead.'
'It is a comfort to have one's duty clearly defined,' said the General suddenly in a clear voice. He was evidently addressing Conyngham. One of the advantages of a military life. We have done our best, and this time we have succeeded. But-it is only deferred. It will come at length, and Spain will be a republic. It is a failing cause-because, at the head of it—is a bad woman.'
Conyngham nodded, but no one spoke. No one seemed capable of following his thoughts. Already he seemed to look at them as from a distance, as if he had started on a journey and was looking back. During this silence there came a great clatter in the streets and a sharp voice cried 'Halt!' The General turned his eyes towards the window.
'The cavalry,' said Conyngham, 'from Madrid.'