Samuel Crockett.

The Firebrand

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"Come you and play," she cried, "the red foreigner plays like a wooden puppet. And where is that darling little page-boy from Aranjuez?"

"That I cannot tell," quoth Rollo, smiling, "but here comes his sister!"

A moment after Concha entered the room talking confidentially to La Giralda. She was now dressed in her own girlish costume of belted blouse, black basqui?a pleated small after the Andalucian manner, and the quaint and pretty rebozo thrown coquettishly back from the finest and most bewitching hair in Spain.

The little Isabel went up to Concha, took her by the hand, perused her from head to foot, and then remarked with deep feeling —

"You are very well, Se?orita, but – I liked your brother better!"


It was not, however, so simple a matter as Rollo supposed to obtain an audience with the Queen-Regent of Spain. Her daughter, willing, but by no means eager to see her mother, had at last been taken up to her room by one of the serving-men, whose faithfulness during the night had been so greatly stimulated by La Giralda's declared intention of shooting either of them who should fail from his post for an instant.

To the same gold-laced functionary, upon his return, Rollo made his request.

"Tell her Majesty that those gentlemen who last night defended the palace, wish to be admitted into her presence in order that they may represent to her the danger of remaining longer in a house exposed alike to the attacks of bloodthirsty villains and to the ravages of the plague."

"Her Majesty, being otherwise engaged, is not at present able to receive the gentlemen," was the civil but unsatisfactory answer brought back.

Rollo stood a moment fuming, biting his thumb-nail as he had a fashion of doing when thinking deeply. Then he asked a sudden question —

"Where is El Sarria?"

"Without on the terrace – doing a little sentry duty on his own account," said the Sergeant. "I told him that the gipsies, being walkers in darkness, had gone off for at least twelve hours, and that there was no use in any further vigilance till nightfall, should it be our ill-fortune to spend another night in this place. But" (here the Sergeant shrugged his shoulders very slightly, as only an Andalucian or a Frenchman can), "well – our excellent Don Ramon is the best and bravest of men. But it is a pity that he has not room here for more than one idea at a time!"

And Sergeant Cardono tapped his brow with his forefinger.

"I do not know," said Rollo, smiling, "if the one idea is a good one, it may carry a man far! But that matters nothing now. Let these two friends of mine, Don Juan and M. de Saint Pierre, take his place on the terrace. We have a difficult part to play upstairs, and we want only men of your nation or mine – men neither easily excited nor yet too over-scrupulous!"

He added the last words under his breath.

And so, on pretext that it was time El Sarria should be relieved, a few minutes thereafter John Mortimer and Etienne found themselves pleasantly situated on the broad terrace looking out on the dry fountains and the glittering waterfalls of La Granja, while El Sarria solemnly mounted the stairs to hold audience with his young leader.

No great talker was El Sarria at any time, and now he had nothing to say till Rollo informed him why he wanted his help.

Then he was ready to do everything but talk – go to the world's end, fight to the death, give up all except Dol?res (and risk even her!) that he might do the will of his chief. El Sarria was not good at fine ethical distinctions, but he understood obedience prompt and unquestioning, through and through and up and down.

Rollo did not directly reveal his intentions to his followers, nor did he take Concha into his confidence. He had not even spoken another word to her, but a glance had passed between them, and Concha was satisfied. It had told her much – that he loved her, that his heart held her to be the best-beloved thing the sun shone on – that there were dangers and difficulties before them, but that whatever happened neither would look back nor take their hands from the plough. Yes, oh too wise sceptic, it was indeed a comprehensive glance, yet it passed as swiftly as when in a placid lake a swallow dips his wing in full flight and is off again with the drops pearling from his feathers.

"I wish you to follow me, gentlemen," he said slowly. "Bring your arms. If her Majesty the Queen-Regent of Spain will not see us, perhaps we may fare better with the Queen's Consort! I for one intend that we shall!"

Without offering any further explanation, Rollo turned and marched steadily but not hastily to the chamber door of Se?or Mu?oz, Duke of Rianzares. The liveried servant who was approaching with a jug of hot water (the younger of La Giralda's charges on the previous night), called out to them that they could not at that moment see his Excellency. He was, it appeared, in the act of dressing. With the coming of the morning light these two gentlemen of the bed-chamber had resumed the entire etiquette of the Spanish court, or at least such modified forms of it as, a little disarranged by altitude and the portent of an informal and (as yet) unauthorised Prince Consort, prevailed at La Granja.

But Rollo would have nothing of all this. Enough time had been wasted. He merely moved his head a hair's-breadth to the side, and the young man in gold lace, a most deserving valet-de-chambre, found himself looking down at the curved edge of El Sarria's sword-bayonet, whose point touched his Adam's apple in a suggestive manner. He promptly dropped the silver pipkin, whereupon the shaving-water of the Duke slowly decanted itself over the parqueterie floor. A portion scalded the valet's finely shaped leg, yet he dared not complain, being in mortal fear of the sword-bayonet. But in spite of the danger, his mind ran on the question whether the skin would accompany the hose when he had an opportunity to remove the latter in order to examine his injuries.

Rollo knocked on the Duke's door with loud confident knuckles, not at all as the gentleman with the shaving-water would have performed that feat.

Whereupon, inclining his ear, he heard hasty footsteps crossing the floor, and, suspecting that if he stood on any sort of ceremony he might find the door bolted and barred in his face, Rollo turned the handle and quietly intruded a good half of a bountifully designed military riding-boot within the apartment of the Duke.

So correctly had he judged the occupant's intentions that an iron bolt was actually pushed before Don Fernando discovered that his door would not close, owing to an unwonted obstruction.

"Your Excellency," cried Rollo, in a stern voice, "we desire to speak with you on a question which concerns the lives of all within this castle. Being unable to obtain an interview with her Majesty the Queen-Regent, we make bold to request you to convey our wishes and – our intentions to her!"

"I am dressing – I cannot see you, not at present!" cried a voice from within.

"But, Se?or, see you we must and shall," said Rollo, firmly; "in half a minute we shall enter your apartment, so that you have due notice of our intention."

For this Rollo of ours had an etiquette of his own applicable even to circumstances so unique as obtained at the Castle of La Granja – which, had the occurrences we describe not been the severest history, might justly have been called the chiefest of all "Chateaux en Espagne."

Watch in hand Rollo stood, absorbed in the passage of the thirty seconds of which he had given notice, and had not the Sergeant suddenly dashed the chamber door open, the young Scot's foot would certainly have been crushed to a jelly. For by this act the excellent Duke of Rianzares was disclosed in the very act of dropping a ponderous marble bust of his wife's grandfather upon the young man's toes.

After that, of course, there was no more ceremony with Se?or Mu?oz. He was immediately relieved of his weapons, ordered to the farther side of the room away from all possible avenues of escape, and further guarded by the Sergeant, who bent upon him a stern and threatening brow.

Then Rollo began to develop his intentions in a loud clear voice. For if, as he suspected, Maria Cristina chanced to be within earshot, it might save an explanation in duplicate if she should hear at first hand what he was now about to communicate to her consort.

On either side of the young man were his two aides, the Sergeant and Ramon Garcia, the first gaunt, tough, and athletic, of any age between thirty and sixty, courage and invincible determination written plainly on his brow, and in his eyes when as now he was angered, the Angel of Death himself standing like a threat. On the other side stood Don Ramon Garcia, gigantic in stature, deep-chested and solemn, driven by fate to actions of blood, but all the same with the innocent heart of a little child within his breast.

"Se?or Mu?oz," said Rollo, speaking sharp and sudden, "let me introduce these gentlemen to your notice. They are two of the most famous men in all Spain and worthy of your acquaintance. This on my left is Se?or Don Jos? Maria, late of the town of Ronda, and this on my right is Don Ramon Garcia, better known as El Sarria of Aragon!"

For the first time the colour slowly forsook the handsome but somewhat florid countenance of the Duke of Rianzares. He was, as his valet had truly said, engaged at his toilet, and it is certainly difficult to look impressive in a flowered dressing-gown. Being Spaniards and therefore gentlemen, El Sarria and the Sergeant bowed slightly at Rollo's introduction, and stood waiting. Rollo, noways loth, continued his speech.

"Your Excellency is now aware of the names of two of those whom you may thank for your safety. I myself, to whom the Queen-Regent owes the recovery of her daughter, am a Scottish gentleman of good birth. My companions below are severally the Count de Saint Pierre, a French nobleman of ancient family, and Don Juan Mortimer, an English merchant of unchallenged probity.

"Here therefore are five men who have defended the Queen-Regent with their lives, and who now judge it to be necessary for her and the Princess that they should put themselves immediately under our protection and leave this place of instant and terrible danger!"

"The Queen will not be dictated to by any combination of men whatsoever," the Duke answered; "she has resolved to remain at La Granja, and therefore nothing can move her!"

Rollo bowed gracefully, but there was a dangerous glitter in his eye which might have warned his opponent.

"Your Excellency," he went on, with great calmness, "we look confidently for your voice and interest in this matter. You will have the goodness to introduce us into the presence of the Queen-Regent. You are at liberty to announce our intentions and prepare her Majesty for a visit!"

A quick light flashed over the indifferent and dogged countenance of Se?or Mu?oz. The hope of escape was written there as plainly as if printed in Roman characters across his brow. But for this also Rollo had made provision.

"Guard that inner door," he cried to El Sarria; and the giant moved swiftly to his post, motioning away the gentleman-in-waiting as one might displace a dog from a cushion. Then Rollo stepped briskly into the corridor, set his hand to his mouth and called a single word aloud.


And the girl stood before him almost ere his voice had ceased to echo along the corridors. Silent she waited his pleasure. For this time it was not Rollo, upon whose love for her the new sun had risen, who called her, but Colonel Rollo Blair, the chief of the expedition of which she was no insignificant part.

"You are armed?" he queried, as she followed him within the door and her quick eyes took in the scene.

The girl nodded a little resentfully. Surely it was a superfluous question. An Andalucian maiden, whose lover's life is in danger every hour, always goes armed. But of course it was Rollo's duty as an officer to make certain. All the same he might have known. She would.

"Then," said Rollo, firmly, "you will accompany this gentleman to the apartments of the Queen-Regent. You will permit him ten minutes' private conversation with her Majesty in your presence. You will then accompany him back. During his absence he is not to lay his hand upon any weapon, have any personal contact with the Queen, or open any drawer, cabinet, or case-of-arms. Also he is to return with you as soon as you inform him that the time allotted is at an end. Here is my watch!"

"And if the Se?or should refuse to comply with any of these demands?" suggested Concha.

"He will not refuse," answered Rollo; "but if the thing should happen, why, you have full discretion! You understand?"

Concha nodded, and her lips, ordinarily so sweet and yielding, grew firm with determination. She understood. So also did Mu?oz.

"You do not need to say more," she said clearly; "I am an Andalucian."

Rollo turned to Mu?oz. Not being a Spaniard, he thought it necessary to make the matter yet more clear.

"You have heard," he said; "treachery will do you no good, and may indeed suddenly deprive her reigning Majesty of the inestimable consolations of your companionship. Be good enough to accompany this young lady, sir. In ten minutes I shall expect your return with a favourable answer. Permit them to pass, Don Ramon!"

But the consort of the Queen-Regent Maria Cristina fingered his chin uncertainly without moving, and Rollo's brow darkened ominously, while the Sergeant began to look hopeful. Neither were in the mood to put up calmly with any further refusal or hesitation.

"I am quite willing – nay, even anxious to oblige you," said Mu?oz; "I would gladly undertake the commission, but – but – !"

He stopped as if searching for words, still, however, rubbing his chin.

"But what?" thundered Rollo. The blood of all the Blairs was rising.

"Well, to put the matter plainly, I have never appeared before her Majesty in this condition before. You would not have me go as I am?"

"In what condition?" cried the Scot in great astonishment.

"Unshaven, and with my hair undressed. That idiot there" – pointing to the trembling valet – "spilt the water just when you came in."

"Nay," laughed Rollo, much relieved that there was to be no shedding of blood, "indeed you must forgive him for that. El Sarria there is entirely to blame. And on this occasion I trust that her Most Catholic Majesty will pardon the informality of your appearance. You can point out to her that you come, not on your own part, but as the ambassador of others who were somewhat over-earnest in persuading you. I am sure that my two friends here will share with me the very serious responsibility of your unshaven chin."

"That I shall not fail to represent to her Majesty," said the Duke, bowing imperturbably.

And without any further objections he went out, followed by Concha. And that young lady with all the dignity of responsibility swelling in pride under the crossed folds of her rebozo, did not vouchsafe even so much as one glance to Rollo, but passed her commanding officer with eyes like those of a rear-rank man on parade, fixed immovably on the broad back of Se?or Mu?oz. As soon as they were alone, however, she moved up alongside, fingering her pistol-butt significantly. For this little Concha was quite resolved to use her discretion to the uttermost should any treachery be intended – aye, or even the appearance of it.

During their absence the remaining quartette in the chamber of Don Fernando Mu?oz held their ground without a word of mutual converse. Rollo stared out of the window and listened eagerly to the slamming of doors and the far-away murmur of voices in the direction of the royal apartments. Ramon, like the natural fine gentleman he was, fixed his eyes on the Persian rugs which strewed the polished floor and awaited orders. But Sergeant Cardono, unconditioned by any such fine scruples, regarded with undisguised contempt mingled with pity the gold and ivory fittings of the ducal dressing-table, the plated lamps, the gilt candelabra, the Dresden china shepherdesses holding out ash-trays, and all the varied elegancies which the affection and gratitude of a Queen had provided for the tobacco-seller of Torrejon de Ardoz, who, like our own Shakespeare, was said to have held many a steed outside his father's door for a meagre dole of pence. For thus by merit, diverse in kind it is true, do the really great soar above the insignificance of their birth.

Thus in a straining silence, acute almost to breaking point, they waited. Yet something of the epic's argument came to them even at that distance – a shrill woman's voice vehemently debating, then a bass mutter of masculine argument, a quick stamp, distinctly feminine, upon the floor, then the slamming of a door, and on the back of that the sound of returning footsteps.

"The Queen refuses to receive you, I am sorry to inform you, gentlemen," said the Duke. "That I did my best this lady will bear me witness. But having had no opportunity of private conference with her Majesty, I was unable (as indeed I anticipated) to effect anything."

Rollo turned to Concha without wasting words on his former ambassador.

"Return to the Queen's chamber," he said, "and inform her Majesty that we will wait her pleasure here for other ten minutes. And if by the end of that time we are not honoured with a visit from her Majesty, we shall (most reluctantly and with all respect) be compelled to shoot Se?or Fernando Mu?oz, whose person we hold as a hostage for her Majesty's complaisance in the affair we have undertaken. We can waste no more time."

Concha's lips became more rigid than ever. They looked as if they never would, should, or could be kissed. Juno herself, passing sentence upon the object of great Jove's latest admiration, could not have appeared more inflexibly stern.

But she only saluted, turned on her heel like a drill-sergeant, and marched out by the side door.

In these trying circumstances the Duke of Rianzares displayed an unexpected and wholly admirable calm. He leaned against the mantelpiece, glanced once at the ormolu timepiece with the address of a Paris maker below the winding-holes, and fell again to fingering his unshaven chin. He then turned quickly toward the trembling valet, who regarded him with eyes which seemed to apologise for such unprecedented circumstances.

"There would have been time to shave me even yet," he said, "only that you were fool enough to spill the shaving-water."

Then, as if relinquishing hope, he sighed again and fell listlessly to regarding himself in the mirror. He was a handsome man, even with an unshaven chin that showed over a dressing-gown with yellow flowers on a purple ground. Also the pulses of the tobacco-seller's son of the Ardoz estanco must have been urged by a pretty equal-beating heart, to enable him to take matters so calmly.

The Sergeant muttered to himself once or twice as if making mental note of an important fact which he desired to remember.

"All dandies are not cowards," was what he was saying.


Five, six, seven, eight of the ten slow minutes passed away, and beyond a glance at the clock and a more absorbing interest in the furze on his chin, Se?or Mu?oz had not moved. The seconds hand upon the clock on the mantelshelf was crawling round its miniature dial for the ninth time with vast apparent deliberation, when a noise was heard from the direction of the Queen's apartments.

There was a rapid gabble of tongues, a scurry of footsteps, the hissing rustle of stiff silken skirts along narrow passages, and a voice which exclaimed more and more shrilly, "The murderers! The cowards! Surely they will never dare! Have they forgotten that I am a Queen?"

And with these words Maria Cristina of Naples burst like a whirlwind into the room. Her long black hair streamed down her back. Her little daughter followed, a comb still in the hand with which she had been struggling to take the place of the lost Do?a Susana, who, as before related, had gone to visit her relations.

After these two Concha followed, in appearance calm and placid as the windless Mediterranean on a day of winter.

Upon his mistress's entrance the Duke threw himself upon one knee. The rest of the company bowed with grace or awkwardness according to their several abilities, but the Queen-Regent did not heed them. She flew instantly to her husband and raised him in her arms.

"Fernando," she cried, "what is this I hear? Did they threaten to kill you if I would not grant them an interview? Well, here I am. Let them slay me instead. What have you to say to me, gentlemen and cowards? What I have to say to you is that I hope you may not live to repent having used such compulsion with a woman and a Queen."

Again Rollo bowed very low, and was about to speak when the Queen interrupted.

"And as for this hussy," she cried, turning upon Concha, "if I had my way she should be indicted for witchcraft and burnt alive at the stake as in the good times of the Holy Office. Yet you, Fernando, for whom I daily risk my life, you defended her – yes, defended her to my very face!"

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