Samuel Crockett.

The Firebrand



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But ere he curled himself up to sleep in the dryest corner of the cave, he burst into a laugh.

"In truth," he said, "she deserves La Perla. For a cleverer wench or a prettier saw I never one!"

The young man's last act before he laid himself down in his new quarters had been to take from his coat the circular disc with the letters "C. V.," the badge of the only Catholic, absolute, and legitimate king. Then, approaching the precipice as nearly as in the uncertain light he dared, he cast it from him in the direction of the Carlist lines.

"Shoot whom you will at sunrise, queen or camp-wench, king or knave," he muttered, "you shall not have Adrian Zumaya of Vitoria to put a bullet through!"

So easily was allegiance laid down or taken up in these civil wars of Spain. And that night it was noised abroad through all the camp that young Zumaya of the Estella regiment of cavalry had taken his horse and gone off with the pretty Se?orita whom he had been set to watch.

Upon which half his comrades envied him, and the other half hoped he would be captured, saying, "It will be bad for Adrian Zumaya of the Estella regiment if he comes again within the clutches of our excellent Don Ramon Cabrera."

And this was a fact of which the aforesaid Adrian himself was exceedingly well aware. But the most curious point about the whole matter is that when he awoke late next morning he found the sun shining brilliantly into the mouth of the cave. The camp had vanished. There was a haze of sulphur in the air which bit his nostrils, and lo! beneath him, on a little plot of coarse green grass and hill-plants, a cream-coloured horse was quietly feeding.

"It is my own Perla!" he cried, as, careless of danger, he hastened down. There was a red object attached to the mare's bridle. He went round and detached a red boina, to which was pinned a scrap of paper. Upon it was written these words:

"I hope you have not missed either of the objects herewith returned. They served me nobly. I send my best thanks for the loan. – C. C."

"That is very well," said the young man, smiling as he mounted his horse, "but all the same, had my heels not served me better than my head, your best thanks, pretty mistress, had come too late. They would not have kept me from biting the dust at sunrise with half a dozen bullets in my gizzard, instead of waking here comfortably on an empty stomach. Well, I suppose I must don the cap of liberty now and be a chapelgorri. It is a pity. 'Tis not one half so becoming as the boina to one of my complexion."

Then Adrian Zumaya, late of the Estella regiment of Carlist horse, meditated a little longer upon the mutability of all earthly affairs.

"Yet perhaps that is just as well!" he added. "It is ever my hard fate to lose my head where a woman is concerned."

For he thought how the last admirer of his red boina had served him. So with a little sigh of regret he tossed it into the first juniper bush, and tying a kerchief about his head in the manner of the Cristinos, rode forth light-heartedly to seek his fate, like a true soldier of fortune.

CHAPTER XLIV
"FOR ROLLO'S SAKE"

Yet for all this brave adventure Concha was as far as ever from meeting with General Elio.

She had not even reached Vera, where it sits proudly on the northern slopes of the Moncayo – not though El Sarria had quite correctly pointed out the path, and though La Perla had served her like the very pearl and pride of all Andalucian steeds.

For once more, as so often in this history and in all men's lives, the cup had slipped on its way to the lip, the expected unexpected had happened – and Concha found herself in the wrong camp.

She rode at full speed (as we have seen) out of sight – that is, the sight of La Perla's owner. And owing to the red boina– which Master Adrian considered to become her so well, she came very near to riding out of this history. For, through the higher arroyo of Aranda de Moncayo, which (like a slice cut clean out of a bride's cake) divides the shoulder of the mountain, she rode directly into the camp of a field force operating against Cabrera under the personal command of General Espartero, the future dictator and present Commander-in-Chief of all the armies of the Queen-Regent.

At first she was nowise startled, thinking only that Vera and General Elio were nearer than had been represented. "Well," she thought, "so much the better!"

But as she came near she saw the measured tread of sentries to and fro. She observed the spick-and-span tents, the uniforms and the shining barrels of the muskets, which in another moment would have arrested her headlong course.

Concha at once perceived, even without looking at the standard which drooped at the tent door of the officer in command, that this could be no mere headquarters of Carlist partidas.

As women are said by the Wise Man to be of their lover's religion if he have one, and if he have none, never to miss it; so Concha was quite ready to be of the politics which were most likely to deliver Rollo from his present difficulties. Therefore, taking the red boina from her head, an act which disturbed still more the severe precision of her locks, she dashed at full speed into the camp, crying, "Viva la Reina! Viva Maria Cristina! Viva Isabel Segunda!"

Checking her steed before the standard, Concha first saluted the surprised group. Then giving a hand to the nearest (and best-looking) officer, she dismounted with a spring light as the falling of a leaf from a tree. With great solemnity she advanced to the staff from which the heavy standard hung low, and taking the embroidered fringe between finger and thumb, touched it with her lips.

Yet if you had called our little Concha a humbug – which in certain aspects of her character would have been a perfectly proper description – she would have replied in the utmost simplicity, and with a completely disarming smile, "But I only did it for Rollo's sake!"

Which was true in its way, but (strangely enough) the thought of an audience always stirred Mistress Concha to do her best – "for Rollo's sake!"

"Take me to the General," she said, with a glance round the circle; "I have ridden from the camp of the enemy to bring him tidings of the utmost importance. Every moment is precious!"

"But the General is asleep," a staff-officer objected; "he gave orders that he was not to be called on any account."

"Tell him that upon his hearing my news depend the lives of the Queen-Regent and her daughter, the young Queen. The Cause itself hangs in the balance!"

And to hear Concha pronounce the last words was enough to have made a convert of Don Carlos himself. Who could have supposed that till within a few hours she had been heart and soul with the enemies of "The Cause"? Certainly not the smart Madrid officers who stood round, wishing that they had shaved more recently, and that their "other" uniforms had not been hanging, camphor-scented on account of the moths, in the close-shuttered lodgings about the Puerta del Sol.

The Commander-in-Chief solved the difficulty, however, at that very moment, by appearing opportunely at the door of his tent.

General Espartero at this time was a man of forty-five. His services in South America had touched his hair with grey. In figure he was heavily built, but, in spite of fever-swamps and battle-wounds, still erect and soldierly.

"What news does the Se?orita bring?" he asked with a pleasant smile.

"That I can only tell to yourself, General," the girl answered; "my name is Concha Cabezos of Seville. My father had the honour to serve with you in the War of the Independence!"

"And a good soldier he was, Se?orita," said Espartero, courteously. "I remember him well at Salamanca. He fought by my side like a brother!"

Now since Concha was well aware that her father had not even been present at that crowning mercy, she smiled, and was comforted to know that even the great General Baldomero Espartero was an Andalucian – and a humbug.

For which the Commander-in-Chief had the less excuse, since he could not urge that it was done "for Rollo's sake!"

Concha knew better than to blurt out her news concerning the presence of the Queen and her daughter so near the camp. That wise little woman had her terms to make, and for so much was prepared to give so much.

Therefore from the first word she kept Rollo in the foreground of her narrative. He it was who, single-handed, had saved the little Queen. He it was who had defended La Granja against the gipsies. It was, indeed, somewhat unfortunate that the Queen-Regent should have conceived a certain prejudice against him, but then (here Concha smiled) the General knew well what these great ladies were – on mountain-heights one day, in deep sea-abysses the next. Rollo had compelled the party to leave the infected district of La Granja for the healthy one of the Sierra de Moncayo. What else, indeed, could he do? The road to Madrid was in the hands of roving partidas of the malignant, as his Excellency knew, and it was only in this direction that there was any chance of safety. That was Master Rollo's whole offence.

Most unfortunately, however, when on the very threshold of safety, his party had been ambushed and taken by Cabrera. But the captor's force was a small one, and with boldness and caution the whole band of the malignants, together with their prisoners, might be secured. The Carlist General had threatened to murder the two Queens and the Duke of Rianzares at sunrise, as was his butcherly wont. And if Espartero would deliver the royal party, not only was his own future assured, but the fortunes of all who had taken any part in the affair.

The General listened carefully, looking all the while, not at Concha, but down at the little folding table of iron which held a map of Northern Spain. He continued to draw figures of eight upon it with his forefinger till Concha's eyes wearied of watching him, as she nervously waited his decision.

"How came you here?" he asked at last.

"I borrowed a mare and a Carlist boina, and rode hither as fast as horseflesh could carry me. I heard from a friend of the Cause that your command was in the neighbourhood!"

"And from whom did you receive that intelligence? I thought the fact was pretty well concealed? Indeed, we only arrived an hour ago!"

Concha cast about for a name. The necessary fiction was also, of course, "for Rollo's sake." A thought struck her. She would serve another comrade, as it were, en passant.

"From a good friend in the Carlist ranks," she said, "one Sergeant Cardono!"

The General looked a little nonplussed, for, like many generals of all nationalities, he had no slight penchant for omniscience.

"I never heard of him," he said sharply. "Who may he be?"

Concha leaned yet closer and laid a small, soft, brown hand gently upon the General's gold-embroidered cuff. The General, not being so simple as he looked, drew back his arm a little so that the hand rested a moment on his wrist ("for Rollo's sake") before it was gently withdrawn.

"You have heard of Jos? Maria of Ronda?" she whispered.

The General's face lighted up, and as swiftly dulled down.

"Certainly; what Andalucian has not?" he said. "But Jos? Maria is dead. He was executed at Salamanca!"

"Ah," said Concha, "that tale was for the consumption of Don Carlos and his friends! In fact, he is the best spy we Nationals ever had – aye, or ever will have!"

"Ah!" said Espartero, lost in thought. There were some matters which seemed to need clearing up, but on the whole the thing looked probable.

Espartero had but recently been appointed to the district, and, being an Andalucian, he was naturally still imperfectly acquainted with much that had been done by his many incapable predecessors. Now, it is true that on this occasion our Concha was inventing or rather (for the word is a hard one to use of so charming a personality) restating as facts certain hints which had fallen from the lips of La Giralda. But she was also speaking from a profound knowledge of gipsy nature, which, as in the case of Ezquerra and La Giralda herself, never attaches itself permanently or from conviction to any cause, but uses all equally according to whim, liking, or self-interest.

Concha, in a whirlwind of excitement, would have liked the General to attack the Carlist camp immediately, but the more cautious Don Baldomero only shook his head.

"That is all very well when a small force is to be rushed at any cost," he said, "or a strong position taken along lines previously studied by daylight or opened up by artillery. But when our object is to preserve the lives of persons so important to the world as the royal family of Spain, lying at the mercy of ruffians who would not hesitate to murder every one of them in cold blood – it is best to wait for the attack till the morning. So I will push forward my forces on all sides, and, if all goes well, surprise Cabrera at the earliest glimmering of dawn."

"And my friends who have suffered so much to bring this about?" urged Concha, anxiously. "What of them?"

"I promise you, on my honour, that they shall be protected and rewarded!" said Espartero.

"And Don Rollo, the brave Scot – even if the Queen continues to dislike him?" persisted Concha.

"Se?orita," smiled the General, "it will be a vastly greater peril to the young man, I fear, if you like him! He will have so many jealous rivals on his hand!"

For Baldomero Espartero also was an Andalucian, and the men of that province, high and low, never permit themselves to get out of practice when there is opportunity for a compliment.

Concha looked the General full in the face with her deep, magnificent eyes, which were aquamarine, violet, or dark-grey, according to the light upon them. They were (as she would sometimes own) fallacious eyes, and upon occasion were wont to express far more than their owner meant to stand by. But, the latent love power behind them once fixed, these same eyes could convince the most sceptical of the unalterable nature of the affection which they professed. So it was in the present instance. Concha merely looked at the General squarely for a moment, and said, without flinching, "I love him!"

Espartero stooped and touched her brow lightly with his lips, graciously and tenderly as a father might upon a solemn occasion. Then he gathered up her little brown hands in his. They were trembling now, not rock-steady as when they held the musket on the balcony at La Granja.

"My daughter," he said, "do not fear for your young Scot. Queens and consorts and premiers are not the most powerful folk in Spain – not, at least, so long as Baldomero Espartero, the Andalucian, commands those good lads out there!"

Then the future Dictator stepped to his tent door, summoned a staff officer, and ordered him to put a tent at the disposal of the young Se?orita. "And request the commandants of the several columns to come immediately to me at headquarters, as also the gipsy-spy Ezquerra, our late headsman of Salamanca!"

Thus did Mistress Concha, "for Rollo's sake!"

CHAPTER XLV
FORLORNEST HOPES

But Rollo himself, our firebrand from the slopes of the Fife Lothians – what of him? The foxes that Samson sent among the cornfields of Philistia, with the fire at their tails, ran not more swiftly than his burning thoughts.

We have followed his career long enough to know that he is not of those who sit long with his head upon his hands. Even as we look we feel assured that while he grasps it between his palms, plans, ideas, possibilities, are passing and repassing within that brain, coming up for judgment, being set aside for reconsideration, kicked into the limbo of the finally rejected, jerked sharply back by the collar for another look over, or brayed in a mortar and mixed into new compounds – all finally settling down within him into a series of determinations and alternatives as definite as Euclid and more certain of being carried into practice than most Acts of Parliament.

After a long time Rollo raised his head. With supremest indifference he heard about him the first hubbub of the hue-and-cry after Concha. So heavy was his heart within him that (to his shame be it writ!) he had never even missed her as she went up the mountain. Yet she would have missed him had fifty queens and princesses been in danger of their lives – aye, and her own honour and that of her race at stake throughout all their generations.

Rollo, however, gave no heed, but following his intent, stalked slowly and steadily to the General's quarters.

"No one is allowed to enter," called out an officer, whose only mark of rank was a small golden badge with "C. V." upon it, pinned upon the collar of his blue shirt. He was sitting cross-legged on the grass, mending the hood of his cloak with a packing needle.

"I am Colonel Rollo Blair," said the young man; "I brought hither the royal party, and I must see General Cabrera!"

"Young man," said the other, in good English, "I am a countryman of yours – in so far, that is, as a poor Southern may be, whose ancestors fought on the wrong side at Bannockburn. But for your own sake I advise you not to disturb the General at this hour. The occupation cannot be recommended on the score of health."

"I thank you, sir," said Rollo, "but I have my duty to do and my risks to run as well as you. And if you, an Englishman, desire to be art and part in the shooting of a Queen-Mother and her little royal daughter, well – I wish you joy of your conscience and your birthright of Englishman!"

The other shrugged his shoulders as he answered.

"I have nothing to do with the matter. Colonel Rollo Blair brings the party hither, and General Cabrera shoots them. You two can divide the responsibility between you as you please!"

"That is just what I mean to do," quoth Rollo, and lifted the flap of the tent door.

"General Cabrera," he said, "I would speak to you!"

An inarticulate growl alone replied, and though there was more of wild beast wrath than permission to enter in the tone, Rollo put aside the flap and entered.

Cabrera was lying on a camp bed, his face a deathly white, from which a pair of small bloodshot eyes peered out with startling effect. He had bound a red handkerchief about his black hair, and altogether his appearance was more that of an engorged tiger roused from the enjoyment of his kill, than that of a leading General in the service of the most Christian and Catholic of Pretenders.

"Your Excellency," said Rollo, "I have come to urge you to reconsider your intentions with regard to Queen Maria Cristina, widow of the late King, and the child her daughter, and that for several reasons."

"Let me hear them – and as briefly as may be, se?or," thundered Cabrera. "I shall then make up my mind whether it would not make for the King's peace that such a firebrand adventurer as you should not be shot along with them. And, I can tell you this, that if all the pretty girls in the peninsula were to come with a whole herd of Papal Bulls, they would not save you a second time!"

As he spoke Cabrera reared himself on his elbow and glared at Rollo, who stood still holding the tent flap in his hand.

"These are my reasons for this request, General," said Rollo, without taking the least notice of the threat. "First, such an act would alienate the sympathy of the whole civilised world from the cause of Don Carlos."

"For that I do not give the snap of my finger," cried Cabrera. "I bite my thumb at the civilised world. What has it done for us or for Don Carlos either? Next!"

"Secondly, I appeal to your pity, as a man with the heart of a man within his breast. This lady hath never done you any wrong. Her daughter is little more than a babe. Spare them, and if an example must be made, be satisfied with executing Se?or Mu?oz and myself. I shall right willingly stand up by his side, if the shedding of my blood will save the Queen and the little Princess!"

"And the fair maid Do?a Concha?" said Cabrera, mockingly. "What would she say to such an act of self-sacrifice?"

"She would rejoice to see me do my duty, General!" said Rollo, with confidence.

Cabrera laughed long, loud, and scornfully.

"Not by a thousand leagues!" he cried, "not if I know a maiden of Spain – to save another woman! No, no; go out of this tent in safety, Don Rollo. I like a man who has no fear. And indeed great need have you of the fear of God, for, when a man dares thus to beard Ramon Cabrera, the fear of man is not in him. Go out, I say, and give thanks to any god you heathen Scots may worship. But do not come hither a second time to prate of mercy and innocence, and 'those who never did me any harm.' See here, hombre– "

Rollo was about to speak, but Cabrera suddenly rose to his feet, steadied himself a moment upon the tent pole, and lifted from a stool a small tin case like a much battered despatch box. Opening it, he revealed another casket within. He unlocked that, and drawing out a long grey tress of woman's hair he put it to his lips.

"The hatred of men has been mine," he cried fiercely, "aye, ever since I was twelve years old has my knife kept my head. But through all one woman has loved me – and only one. See that! 'Tis my mother's hair, which the butcher officers of the woman Cristina sent me in mockery, warm and clotted from the shambles of the Barbican. Touch it, cold man of the north! Aye, let it stream through your fingers like a love token, and say – what would you do to those who sent you that?"



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