The road that runs by the bank of the canal was deserted when the Count de Sarrion turned his horse’s head that way from the dusty high road leading southwards out of Saragossa. Sarrion had only been in Saragossa twenty-four hours. His great house on the Paseo del Ebro had not been thrown open for this brief visit, and he had been content to inhabit two rooms at the back of the house. From the balcony of one he had seen the incident related in the last chapter; and as he rode towards the convent school he carried in his hand—not a whip—but the delicately-wrought sword-stick which had fallen from the hand of Francisco de Mogente into the gutter the night before.
In the grassy sedge that bordered the canal the frogs were calling to each other with that conversational note of interrogation in their throats which makes their music one of Nature’s most sociable and companionable sounds. In the fruit-trees on the lower land the nightingales were singing as they only sing in Spain. It was nearly dark, a warm evening of late spring, and there was no wind. Amid the thousand scents of blossom, of opening buds, and a hundred flowering shrubs there arose the subtle, soft odour of sluggish water, stirred by frogs, telling of cool places beneath the trees where the weary and the dusty might lie in oblivion till the morning.
The Count of Sarrion rode with a long stirrup, his spare form, six feet in height, a straight line from heel to shoulder. His seat in the saddle and something in his manner, at once gentle and cold, something mystic that attracted and yet held inexorably at arm’s length, lent at once a deeper meaning to his name, which assuredly had a Moorish ring in it. The little town of Sarrion lies far to the south, on the borders of Valencia, in the heart of the Moorish country. And to look at the face of Ramon de Sarrion and of his son, the still, brown-faced Marcos de Sarrion, was to conjure up some old romance of that sun-scorched height of the Javalambre, where history dates back to centuries before Christ—where assuredly some Moslem maiden in the later time must have forsaken all for love of a wild yet courteous Spanish knight of Sarrion, bequeathing to her sons through all the ages the deep, reflective eyes, the impenetrable dignity, of her race.
Sarrion’s hair was gray. He wore a moustache and imperial in the French fashion, and looked at the world with the fierce eyes and somewhat of the air of an eagle, which resemblance was further accentuated by a finely-cut nose. As an old man he was picturesque. He must have been very handsome in his youth.
It seemed that he was bound for the School of the Sisters of the True Faith, for as he approached its gate, built solidly within the thickness of the high wall, without so much as a crack or crevice through which the curious might peep, he drew rein, and sat motionless on his well-trained horse, listening. The clock at San Fernando immediately vouchsafed the information that it was nine o’clock. There was no one astir, no one on the road before or behind him. Across the narrow canal was a bare field. The convent wall bounded the view on the left hand.