There is in Cintra a good specimen of the purely Portuguese hotel, which is worth a trial if you can speak the language of the country and eat its meats; if you want to feel as much abroad as you are, this is the spot to promote that sensation. The whole concern is engagingly indigenous. They will give you a dinner of which every course (there must be nearly twenty) has the twofold charm of novelty and mystery combined; and you shall dine in a room where it is safe, if unsportsmanlike, to criticise aloud your fellow-diners, when their ways are most notably not your ways. Then, after dinner, you may make music in a pleasant drawing room or saunter in the quaint garden behind the hotel; only remember that the garden has a view which is necessarily lost at night.
The view is good, and it improves as the day wears on by reason of the beetling crag that stands between Cintra and the morning sun. So close is this crag to the town, and so sheer, that at dawn it looms the highest mountain on earth; but with the afternoon sunlight streaming on its face you see it for what it is, and there is much in the sight to satisfy the eye. Halfway up the vast wall is forested with fir trees picked out with bright villas and streaked with the white lines of ascending roads. The upper portion is of granite, rugged and bare and iron gray. The topmost angle is surmounted by square towers and battlements that seem a part of the peak, as indeed they are, since the Moors who made them hewed the stones from the spot; and the serrated crest notches the sky like a crown on a hoary head. Finer effects may recur very readily to the traveled eye, but to one too used to flat regions this is fine enough: thus Tiny Luttrell was in love with Cintra from the moment when she and Ruth and Erskine first set foot in the garden of the Portuguese hotel, and let their eyes climb up the sunlit face of the rock.
They were a merrier party now than when leaving Plymouth. They had left fog and damp behind them (it was near the end of October), and steamed back to summer in a couple of days; and that alone was inspiriting. Then they had already stayed a day or two in Lisbon, where Erskine had spent as many years when Ruth was an infant at the other end of the world, so that he was naturally a good guide. There, too, Ruth and Tiny made some friends, being charmingly treated by people with whom they were unable to converse, while Erskine attended to the business matter which had brought him over. The girls were not sorry to hear that this matter was hanging fire, as such matters have a way of doing in Lisbon, for they were enjoying themselves thoroughly. Ruth felt prouder than ever of her big husband when she saw him among his Portuguese friends, and she thought him very clever to speak their language so fluently. As for Tiny, she seemed herself again; she was willing to be amused, and luckily there was much to amuse her. Much, on the other hand, she could seriously admire, and her high opinion of Portugal was itself amusing after the fault she had found with another country; she even made comparisons between the two, which gave considerable pleasure when translated by Erskine. Cintra pleased her most, however. She delighted in the hotel, where there were no English tongues but their own; she even pretended to enjoy the dinner. So Erskine felt proud of his choice of quarters; only he missed his English paper, and had to go to the English hotel and purchase unnecessary refreshment on the chance of a glimpse of one. Your man-Briton abroad is miserable without that. It is a male weakness entirely. Holland took with him on that pilgrimage no sympathy from the ladies, who only derided him when he came back confessing that he had thrown his money away, as some other fellow was staying at the English inn and reading the paper in his room.
“But I’m very sorry there’s another Englishman in the place,” announced Christina; “though I suppose one ought to be thankful he didn’t choose our hotel. It is something like being abroad, staying here; one more Englishman would have spoilt the fun.”
“When you see the steeds I’ve ordered for the morning,” said Erskine, with a laugh, “you’ll feel more abroad than ever.”
And they did, indeed, when the morning came; for their steeds were three small asses in charge of a dark-eyed child who was whacking them for his amusement while he smoked a cigarette. A small but picturesque crowd had collected in the street to see the start, and were greatly entertained by the spectacle of the Senhor Inglez (a giant among them) astride a donkey little taller than a big dog. Interest was also shown in the camera legs, which Erskine carried like a lance in rest, while the camera itself was nursed by Christina, who had spoilt a power of plates in Lisbon without becoming discouraged. The small boy threw away his cigarette, and having asked Erskine for another, which was sternly denied him, smote each donkey in turn and set the cavalcade in motion.
They passed the palace in the little market place, and were unable to admire it; they passed the loathly prison, which is the worst feature of Cintra, and were duly abused by the prisoners at the barred windows; they were glad to reach the outskirts of the town, and to begin their ascent of the rock up which their eyes had already climbed. They were to devote the day to the ruined Moorish fort they had seen against the sky, and to the Palace of Pena, which stands on a peak hidden from the town; and Erskine, who was confident that they were all going to enjoy themselves very particularly, declared that the day was only worthy of the cause. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the weather was just warm enough for the work in hand. As the donkeys wended their way up the steep roads, Mr. Holland was advised to get off and carry his carrier; but he knew the Cintra donkey of old, and sat ignobly still. He also knew the Cintra donkey boy, and aired his Portuguese upon the attendant imp, who passed on the way, and greeted with jeers, a professional friend waiting with only one donkey in front of a pretty house overlooking the road.
“Ah,” said Erskine, “that’s the English hotel; and no doubt that moke is for the opposition Senhor Inglez — whose name is Jackson.”
“Then pray let us push on,” cried Christina anxiously. “Do you suppose he is coming our way, Erskine?”
“Most probably, to begin with; but he may turn off for Monserrat or the cork convent.”
“Let us hope so. If he should pass us, Erskine, just talk Portuguese to us as loud as ever you can!”
“Far better to hurry up and not be overtaken,” added Ruth, who was thinking of her appearance, with which she was far from satisfied.
Accordingly the imp (with whose good looks Christina had already expressed herself as enamored) was employed for some moments at his favorite occupation. But for the pursuing Englishman, however, Tiny, instead of leading the way upward, would have dismounted more than once to set up her camera; for low parapets were continually on their left, high walls on their right; and wherever there was a gap in the fir trees growing below the parapets, a fresh view was presented of the town below. First it was a bird’s-eye view of the palace, seen to better advantage through the trees of the Rua de Duque Saldanha than before, from the street; then a fair impression of the town as a whole, with its gay gardens and cheap looking stuccoed houses; and then successive editions of Cintra, each one smaller than the last, and each with a wider tract of undulating brown land beyond, and a broader band of ocean at the horizon. Then they plunged into mountain gorges; there were no more distant views, but mighty walls on either side, and reddening foliage interlacing overhead, as though woven upon the strip of pure blue sky. And the atmosphere was clear as distilled water in a crystal vessel; but in the shade the air had a sweet keenness, an inspiriting pungency, under whose influence the enthusiast of the party grew inevitably eloquent in the praises of Portugal.
“I can’t tell you how I like it!” she said to Erskine, with a color on her cheeks and a light in her eyes which alone seemed worth the voyage. “I call it a real good country, which has never had justice done to it. If I could write I would boom it. Of course I haven’t seen Italy or Switzerland, nor yet France, but I have seen England. If I were condemned to live in Europe at all, I’d rather live at this end of it than at yours, Erskine. Look at the climate — it’s as good as our Australian climate, and very like it — and this is all but November. You have no such air in England, even in summer, but when you think of what we left behind us the other day, it’s ditch water unto wine compared with this. Ah, what a day it is, and what a place, and how fresh and queer and unEnglish the whole thing is!”
“I am perhaps spoiling it for you,” suggested Erskine apologetically, “by being not unEnglish myself?”
“No, Erskine, it’s only me you’re spoiling,” returned the girl unexpectedly, and with a grateful smile for Ruth as well. “But I don’t know another Briton — home or colonial — who wouldn’t rather spoil the day and the place for me.”
“That’s a pity, because I happen to smell the blood of an Englishman at this moment — at least I hear his donkey.”
They stopped to listen, and following hoofs were plainly audible.
“Then he hasn’t turned off for the other places!” exclaimed Ruth, smoothing her skirt.
Erskine shrugged his shoulders like a native of the country. “No, he is evidently bound for our port; and as the chances are that he is under sixteen stone, he’s sure to overtake us. It is I that am keeping you all back.”
“We won’t look round,” exclaimed Tiny decisively; “and you shall shout at us in Portuguese as he comes up, and we’ll say ‘Sim, Senhor!’”
So they kept their eyes most rigorously in front of them; and such was the authority of Tiny that Erskine was in the midst of an absurd speech in Portuguese when they were overtaken. That harangue was interrupted by the voice of the interloping Englishman; and was never resumed, as the voice was Lord Manister’s.
The meeting was plainly an embarrassing one for all concerned, but it had at least the appearance of a very singular coincidence; and nothing will go further in conversation than the slightest or most commonplace coincidence. You must be very nervous indeed if you are incapable of expressing your surprise, of which much may be made, while the little bit of personal history to follow need not entail a severe intellectual effort. Lord Manister accounted very simply, if a little eagerly, for his presence in Portugal; he went on to explain that he had heard much of Cintra, but not, as he was glad to find, one word too much. Personally, he was delighted and charmed. Was not Mrs. Holland charmed and delighted? It was at Ruth’s side that Lord Manister rode forward, falling into the position very naturally indeed.
Quite as naturally the other two dropped behind. “So now I suppose your day will be spoilt, Tiny,” murmured Erskine, with a wry smile.
“The day is doomed — unless he has the good taste to see he isn’t wanted.”
“Well, I wouldn’t let him see that, even if he does bore you,” said Erskine, who had his doubts on this point. “I don’t think he’s looking very well,” he added meditatively.
As for Christina, she was staring fixedly at Lord Manister’s back; for once, however, his excellent attire earned no gibe from her; and while she was still seeking for some more convincing mode of parading her immutable indifference toward that young man, a turn in the road brought them suddenly before the gates of Pena. The four closed up and rode through the gates abreast; and, presently dismounting, they left their small steeds to the sticks of the Cintra donkey boys, and walked together up the broad, sloping path.
“By the way,” remarked Holland, “I was told there was only one other Englishman in Cintra at the moment — a man of the name of Jackson; have you arrived this morning?”
“I am afraid — I’m Jackson!” confessed Manister, with a blush and a noisy laugh.
“Oh, I see,” said Mr. Holland, laughing also; and he saw a good deal.
“Of course you have to do that sometimes; I can quite understand it,” Ruth said in a sympathetic voice. “Still I think we must call you Mr. Jackson!” she added slyly.
Christina said nothing at all. Her extreme silence and self-possession hardly tended to promote the common comfort; her only comment on Lord Manister’s alias was a somewhat scornful smile. As they all pressed upward by well-kept paths, in the shadow of tall fir trees, she kept assiduously by Erskine’s side. The ascent, however, was steep enough to touch the breath, and conversation was for some minutes neither a pleasure nor a necessity. Then, above the firs, the palace of Pena reared hoary head and granite shoulders; for, like the ruined fort visible from the town below, the palace is built upon the summit of a rock. Still a steeper climb, and the party stood looking down upon the fir trees which had just shadowed them, with their backs to the palace walls, that seem, and often are, a part of the rugged peak itself. For this is a palace not only founded on a rock, and on the rock’s topmost crag, but the foundation has itself supplied so many features ready-made that nature and the Moors may be said to have collaborated in its making. Three of the party, having taken breath, played catch with this idea; but Christina barely listened. Her attitude was regrettable, but not unnatural. In the last place on earth where she would have expected to meet anyone she knew, she had met the last person whom she expected to meet anywhere. She remembered telling him of her mooted trip to Portugal with the Hollands, she remembered also his telling her to be sure to go to Cintra; her recollection of the conversation in question, and of Lady Almeric’s conservatory, where it had taken place, was sufficiently clear, now that she thought of it; but certainly she had never thought of it since. Had he? She might have mentioned the time when the trip was likely to take place; she was not so sure of this, but it seemed likely; and in that case, was a certain explanation of his sojourn in Portugal, other than the explanation he had been so careful to give, either preposterous in itself or the mere suggestion of her own vanity?
These questions were now worrying Christina as she had seldom been worried before, even about Lord Manister, who had been much in her thoughts for many weeks past. Yet Manister was not the only person on her mind at the moment. Just before leaving London she had experienced the fulfillment of a prophecy, by receiving from Countess Dromard a stare as stony as the pavement they met on, which was near enough to Piccadilly to inspire a superstitious respect for sibylline Mrs. Willoughby. In the disagreeable moment following Tiny’s thoughts had flown straight to that lady — indeed her only remark at the time had been “Good old Mrs. Willoughby!” to which Ruth (who suffered at Tiny’s side, and for her part turned positively faint with mortification) had been in no condition to reply. Little as she showed it, however, Christina had felt the affront far more keenly than Ruth — chiefly because she took it all to herself, and was unable to think it utterly undeserved. In any event she felt it now. It was but the other day that the countess had cut her. The wound was still tender; the sight of Lord Manister scrubbed it cruelly. And long afterward the scar had its own little place among the forces driving Christina in a certain direction, whether she went on feeling it or not.
Hardly less preoccupied than herself was the man whose side Christina would not leave. Wherefore, though the place was old ground to him, as a guide he was instructive rather than amusing. He spoke the requisite Portuguese to the janitors, whose stock facts he also translated into intelligible English; he led the way up the winding staircase of the round tower, and from the giddy gallery at the top he did not omit to point out Torres Vedras and such like landmarks; descending, he had stock facts of his own connected with chapel and sacristy, but he failed to make them interesting. A paid guide could not have been more perfunctory in method, though it is certain that the most entertaining showmanship would have failed to entertain Erskine’s hearers, each one of whom was more or less nervous and ill at ease. He himself was thinking only of Christina, who would not leave his side. He saw her watching Lord Manister; though she would hardly speak to him, he saw pity in her glance. He heard Lord Manister talking volubly to Ruth; he did not know about what, and he wondered if Manister knew, himself. Erskine did not understand. The girl seemed to care, and if she did — if this thing was to be-he would never say another word against it. If she cared there would not be another word to say, save in joyous and loving congratulation. That was the whole question: whether she cared. For the first time Erskine was not sure; it was a toss-up in his mind whether Tiny was sure herself. Certainly there seemed to be hope for the man who was being watched yet avoided; however, Erskine was resolved to give him the very first opportunity of learning his fate.
Accordingly he reminded Tiny that he had been carrying the camera ever since they had dismounted: and was his arm to ache for nothing? The suggestion of the square tower, with the steps below, as an admirable target, also came from Erskine. Lord Manister helped to take the photograph. That, again, was Erskine’s doing; and he even did more. When they all turned their backs on Pena, and their faces to the ruin on the opposite peak, it was her husband who rode ahead with Ruth. His reward was the smile of an angel over a lost soul saved. He returned the smile cynically. But round the first corner he belabored his ass with the camera legs, and shot ahead, Ruth gladly following.
In the hollow between the peaks the bridle path passes an ancient and picturesque mosque, with a lime tree growing in the center; from this the ruin derives a roof in summer, a carpet in winter, and had now a little of each.
“What a romantic place!” said Ruth, peeping in. Her husband had waited for her to do so.
“Then let us leave it to more romantic people,” he answered, dropping the tripod in the doorway. “They may like to have a photograph of it — for every reason! You and I had better climb up to the fort and chuck stones into Cintra till they come.”
This looked quite possible when at last they sat perched upon the antique battlements; they seemed so to overhang the little town. Erskine lit a Portuguese cigarette, which the wind finished for him in a minute. Ruth kept a hand upon her hat. Then she spoke out, with the wind whistling between their faces.
“Erskine, I know what you think — that this isn’t an accident!”
“Of course it isn’t.”
“And I dare say you think I have had something to do with it?”
“Have you, I wonder? You may easily have said that we thought of coming here — quite innocently, you know.”
“Then I never said so at all. I thought — you know what I thought would have happened last August. Erskine, I have had absolutely nothing to do with it this time!”
“My dear, you needn’t say that. I know neither you nor Tiny have had anything to do with it — so far as you are aware; but Tiny must have told him we were coming here, and this is his roundabout dodge of seeing her again. Certainly that looks as if he were in earnest.”
“I always said he was.”
“And as for Tiny, I don’t pretend to make her out. You see, they do not come. I shouldn’t be surprised at anything.”
“No more should I; but I should be thankful. Even when I hid things from you, Erskine, I never pretended I shouldn’t be thankful if this happened, did I? Oh, and you’ll be thankful, too, when you see them happy — as we are happy!”
Holland sat for some minutes with bent head, picking lichen from granite.
“My dear girl,” he said at length, and tenderly, “don’t let us talk any more about it. I dare say I have taken a rotten view of it all along. I only thought — that he didn’t deserve her, and that neither of them could care enough. It seems I was more or less wrong; but there is nothing further to be said until we know.”
He leant over the battlements, gazing down into the toy town below. Ruth brooked his silence for a time. Then he heard her saying:
“They are a very long while. He’s certainly helping her to take a photograph.”
“I hope he’ll get a negative,” said Erskine, with a laugh.
They came at last.
“How long have you been there, Erskine?” shouted Tiny from below. She held one end of the tripod, by which Manister was tugging her uphill.
“About ten minutes.”
“Not as much, Erskine,” said Ruth.
“We have been photographing that charming mosque,” Manister said, as he set down the camera and wiped his forehead; “you meant us to, didn’t you, Holland?”
“Of course I did.”
“And have you got a negative?” asked poor Ruth.
“A month to make up her mind!” cried Erskine Holland, on hearing at second hand what had actually happened in the mosque. “No wonder he wouldn’t stay and dine, and no wonder he is going back to Lisbon tomorrow. By Jove! he must be fond of her to stand it at all. To go and wait a month!”
“He offered to wait six,” said Ruth.
“Then he’s a fool,” said Erskine quietly. “Tell me, Ruth, is it a thing one may speak about? One would like, of course, to say something pleasant. After all, it’s very like an engagement, and I could at least tell her that I like him. I did like him today. Under the circumstances he behaved capitally; only I do think him a fool not to have insisted on her deciding one way or the other.”
“I don’t think I’d mention the matter unless she does,” Ruth said doubtfully. “She told me to tell you she would rather not speak of it at present. You see she has thought of you already! She says you will find her the same as ever if only you will try to look as though you didn’t know anything about it. She declares that she means to make the most of her time for the next month wherever she may be, and she hopes you have ordered the donkeys for tomorrow. Still she is troubled, and if she thought you didn’t disapprove — if she thought you approved — I can see that it would make a difference to her. She thinks so much of your opinion — only she doesn’t want to speak to you herself about this until it is a settled thing. But if you would send her your blessing, dear, I know she would appreciate that.”
“Then take it to her by all means,” said Erskine, heartily enough. “Tell her I think she is very wise to have left it open — you needn’t say what I think of Manister for letting her do so. But you may say, if she likes to hear it, that I think him a jolly good fellow, who will make her very happy if she can really feel she cares for him. Tell her it all hangs on that. That’s what we have to impress upon her, and you’re the proper person to do so. I only felt one ought to say something pleasant. Wait a moment — tell her I’ll do my best to give her a good time until December if none of us are ever to have one again!”
Tiny was sitting at the dressing table in her room, slowly and deliberately burning a photograph in the flame of a candle. The photograph was on a yellow mount which Ruth remembered, and as she drew near Tiny turned it face downward to the flame, which smacked still more of a former occasion.
“Tiny!” cried Ruth in alarm, laying her hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “What on earth are you burning, dear?”
“My boats,” replied Christina grimly; and turning the photograph over, the face of Jack Swift was still uncharred.
“So you’ve carried his photograph with you all this time?”
“He is as good a friend as I shall ever have.”
“Then why burn him if he is only a friend?”
“Perhaps he would like to be more; and perhaps there was once a moment when he might have been. But now I shall duly marry Lord Manister — if he has patience.”
“Then why keep poor Lord Manister in suspense, Tiny, dearest?”
“Because I’m not in love with him; and I question whether he’s as much in love with me as he imagines — I told him so.”
“As it is, you may find it difficult to draw back.”
“Exactly; so I am burning my boats. Jack, my dear, that’s the last of you!”
Her voice satisfied Ruth, who, however, could see no more of her face than the curve of her cheek, and beyond it the blackened film curling from the burning cardboard.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09