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'All is still as yet,' he said, returning to the table, where Father Concha was philosophically cutting up a cold chicken. 'That is a good idea of yours,' he said. 'We may all require our full forces of mind and body before the dawn.'
He drew forward a chair, and Estella, obeying his gesture, sat down and so far controlled her feelings as to eat a little.
'Do queens always feed on old birds such as this?' asked Concha, discontentedly; and Vincente, spreading out his napkin, laughed with gay good humour.
'Before the dawn,' he said to Conyngham, 'we may all be great men, and the good Concha here on the high road to a bishopric.'
'He would rather be in bed,' muttered the priest, with his mouth full.
It was a queer scene, such as we only act in real life. The vast room, with its gorgeous hangings, the flickering candles, the table spread with delicacies, and the strange party seated at it— Concha eating steadily, the General looking round with his domesticated little smile, Estella with a new light in her eyes and a new happiness on her face, Conyngham, a giant among these southerners, in his dust-laden uniform-all made up a picture that none forgot.
'They will probably attack this place,' said the General, pouring out a glass of wine; but the house is a strong one. I cannot rely on the regiments stationed at Toledo and have sent to Madrid for cavalry. There is nothing like cavalry-in the streets. We can stand a siege-till the dawn.'
He turned, looking over his shoulder towards the door; for he had heard a footstep unnoticed by the others. It was Concepcion Vara who came into the room, coatless, his face grey with dust, adding a startling and picturesque incongruity to the scene.
'Pardon, Excellency,' he said, with that easy grasp of the situation which always made an utterly unabashed smuggler of him, but there is one in the house whom I think his Excellency should speak with.'
'The Señorita Barenna.'
The General rose from the table.
'How did she get in here?' he asked, sharply. 'By the side door in the Calle de la Ciudad. that door, Excellency, is a mule. The Señorita
The keeper of forced him to
admit her. The sex can do so much,' he added, with a tolerant shrug of the shoulders.
And the other-this Larralde?'
Concepcion raised his hand with outspread fingers and shook it slowly from side to side from the wrist, with the palm turned towards his interlocutor-a gesture which seemed to indicate that the subject was an unpleasant, almost an indelicate, one.
'Larralde, Excellency,' he said, 'is one of those who are never found at the front. He will not be in Toledo to-night-that Larralde.'
'Where is the Señorita Barenna ?' asked the General.
'She is downstairs-commanding his Excellency's soldiers to let her pass.'
'You go down, my friend, and bring her here. Then take that door yourself.'
Concepcion bowed ceremoniously and withdrew. He might have been an ambassador, and his salutation was worthy of an Imperial Court.
A moment later Julia Barenna came into the room, her dark eyes wide with terror, her face pale and drawn.
'Where is the Queen Regent?' she asked, looking from one face to the other and seeing all her foes assembled as if by magic before her.
'Her Majesty is on the road between Aranjuez and Madridin safety, my dear Julia,' replied the General, soothingly.
'But they think she is here. The people are in the streets. Look out of the window. They are in the Plaza.'
'I know it, my dear,' said the General.
'They are armed-they are going to attack this house.' 'I am aware of it.'
"Their plan is to murder the Queen.'
'So we understand,' said the General, gently. He had a horror of anything approaching sensation or a scene, a feeling which Spaniards share with Englishmen. 'That is the Queen for the time being,' added Vincente, pointing to Estella.
Julia stood looking from one to the other—a self-contained woman made strong by love. For there is nothing in life or human experience that raises and strengthens man or woman so much as a great and abiding love. But Julia Barenna was driven and almost panic-stricken. She held herself in control by an effort that was drawing lines in her face never to be wiped out.
'But you will tell them? I will do it. Let me go to them. I am not afraid.'
'No one must leave this house now,' said the General. have come to us, my dear, you must now throw in your lot with
'But Estella must not take this risk,' exclaimed Julia. 'Let me do it.'
And some woman's instinct sent her to Estella's side-two women alone in that great house amid this man's work, this strife of reckless politicians.
'And you, and Señor Conyngham,' she cried, 'you must not run this great risk.'
'It is what we are paid for, my dear Julia,' answered the General, holding out his arm and indicating the gold stripes upon it.
He walked to the window and opened the massive shutters, which swung back heavily. Then he stepped out on to the balcony without fear or hesitation.
'See, he said, 'the square is full of them.'
He came back into the room, and Conyngham, standing beside him, looked down into the moonlit Plaza. The square was, indeed, thronged with dark and silent shadows, while others, stealing from the doorways and narrow alleys with which Toledo abounds, joined the groups with stealthy steps. No one spoke, though the sound of their whispering arose in the still night air like the murmur of a breeze through reeds. A hundred faces peered upwards through the darkness at the two intrepid figures on the balcony.
'And these are Spaniards, my dear Conyngham,' whispered the General. A hundred of them against one woman. Name of God! I blush for them.'
The throng increased every moment, and withal the silence never lifted but brooded breathlessly over the ancient town. Instead of living men, these might well have been the shades of the countless and forgotten dead who had come to a violent end in the streets of a city where Peace has never found a home since the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Vincente came back into the room leaving shutter and window open.
"They cannot see in,' he said, 'the building is too high. And across the Plaza there is nothing but the Cathedral, which has no windows accessible without ladders.'
He paused, looking at his watch.
'They are in doubt,' he said, speaking to Conyngham. They are not sure that the Queen is here. We will keep them in doubt for a short time. Every minute lost by them is an inestimable gain to us. That open window will whet their curiosity, and give them something to whisper about. It is so easy to deceive a crowd.'
He sat down and began to peel a peach. Julia looked at him, wondering wherein this man's greatness lay, and yet perceiving dimly that against such as he men like Esteban Larralde could do nothing.
Concha, having supped satisfactorily, was now sitting back in his chair seeking for something in the pockets of his cassock. It is to be presumed,' he said, 'that one may smoke—even in a palace.'
And under their gaze he quietly lighted a cigarette with the deliberation of one in whom a long and solitary life had bred habits only to be broken at last by death.
Presently the General rose and went to the window again.
'They are still doubtful,' he said, returning, and I think their numbers have decreased. We cannot allow them to disperse.' He paused, thinking deeply.
'My child,' he said suddenly to Estella, 'you must show yourself on the balcony.'
Estella rose at once; but Julia held her back.
'No,' she said; 'let me do it. Give me the white mantilla.’ There was a momentary silence while Estella freed herself from her cousin's grasp. Conyngham looked at the woman he loved while she stood, little more than a child, with something youthful and inimitably graceful in the lines of her throat and averted face. Would she accept Julia's offer? Conyngham bit his lip and awaited her decision. Then, as if divining his thought, she turned and looked at him gravely.
'No,' she said; 'I will do it.'
She went towards the window. Her father and Conyngham had taken their places, one on each side, as if she were the Queen indeed. She stood for a moment on the threshold, and then passed out into the moonlight, alone. Immediately there arose the most terrifying of all earthly sounds-the dull antagonistic roar of a thousand angry throats. Estella walked to the front of the balcony and stood, with an intrepidity which was worthy or
the royal woman whose part she played, looking down on the upturned faces. A red flash streaked the darkness of a far corner of the square, and a bullet whistled through the open window into the woodwork of a mirror.
'Come back,' whispered General Vincente. Slowly, my child -slowly.'
Estella stood for a moment looking down with a royal insolence, then turned, and with measured steps approached the window. As she passed in she met Conyngham's eyes, and that one moment assuredly made two lives worth living.
MIDNIGHT AND DAWN.
'I have set my life upon a cast
And I will stand the hazard of the die.'
'EXCELLENCY,' reported a man who entered the room at this moment, they are bringing carts of fuel through the Calle de la Ciudad to set against the door and burn it,'
'To set against which door, my honest friend?'
'The great door on the Plaza, Excellency; the other is an old door of iron.'
'And they cannot burn it or break it open?'
'No, Excellency. And besides, there are loopholes in the thickness of the wall at the side.'
The General smiled on this man as being after his own heart. 'One may not shoot to-night, my friend. I have already given the order.'
'But one may prick them with the sword, Excellency?' suggested the trooper with a sort of suppressed enthusiasm.
The General shrugged his shoulders, wisely tolerant.
'Oh yes,' he answered, 'I suppose one may prick them with the sword.'
Conyngham, who had been standing half in and half out of the open window listening to this conversation, now came forward. 'I think,' he said, 'that I can clear the Plaza from time to time if you give me twenty men. We can thus gain time.'
'Street-fighting,' answered the General, gravely. 'Do you know anything of it? It is nasty work.'