“They are honest enough, though their appearance may be disquieting.”
“Oh! I am not afraid of them,” answered Juanita, with a shrewd and mystic smile. “It is Cousin Peligros who fears them. She scolded me for speaking to one of them on the verandah. It undermines the pedestal upon which a lady should always stand. Am I on a pedestal, Marcos?”
She looked back at him over her shoulder, through the fold of her mantilla. It was an opportunity, perhaps, which a skillful lover would have seized. Marcos was silent for a moment. Then he spoke in a repressed voice.
“If they come again,” he said, “I should like to see them.”
But Juanita had already put into the apothecary’s lips a command that no visitors should be admitted.
She kept this up for some days, but was at length forced to give way. Marcos was so obviously on the high road to recovery. There was no suggestion of an after-effect of the slight concussion of the brain which had rendered him insensible.
It was Short Knife who first gained admittance to the sick-room. He was quite a simple person, smelling of sheep, and endowed with a tact which is as common among the peasantry as amid the great. There was no sign of embarrassment in his manner, and he omitted to remove his beret from his close-cropped head until he saw Juanita whom he saluted curtly, replacing his cap with a calm unconsciousness before he nodded to Marcos.
“It was you I heard singing the Basque songs as I climbed the hill,” he said, addressing Juanita first with the instinct of a gentleman. “You speak Basque?”
“I understand it, at all events, though I cannot speak it as well as Marcos.”
“Oh, he!” said the man, glancing towards the bed. “He is one of us—one of us. Do you know the song that the women of the valley sing to their babies? I cannot sing to you for I have no voice except for the goats. They are not particular, the goats—they like music. They stand round me and listen. But if you are passing in the mountain my wife will sing it to you—she knows it well. We have many round the table—God be thanked. It makes them sleep when they are contrary. It tells how easy it is to kill a Frenchman.”
Then, having observed the conventionalities, he turned eagerly to Marcos.
Juanita listened to them for a short time while they spoke together in the Basque tongue. Then she went to the balcony and stood there, leaning her arms on the iron rail, looking out over the valley with thoughtful eyes. She had seen clearly a hundred devices to relieve her of her watch at the bedside. Marcos made excuses for her to absent herself. He found occupations for her elsewhere. With his returning strength came anxiety that she should lead her own life—apart from him.
“You need not try to get rid of me,” she said to him one day. “And I do not want to go for a walk with Cousin Peligros. She thinks only of her shoes and her clothes while she walks. I would go for a walk with Perro if I went with any one. He has a better understanding of what God made the world for than Cousin Peligros. But I am not going to walk with any one, thank you.”