The ground was soft and mossy and the roar of the river covered the tread of the careful horse. In a few minutes they reached the water’s edge, and after a moment’s hesitation the Moor stepped boldly in. On the other bank Marcos whispered to Juanita to drop to the ground.
“The cottage is here,” he said. “I shall leave the horse in their shed.”
He descended from the saddle and they stood for a moment side by side.
“Let us wait a few moments, the moon is rising,” said Marcos. “Perhaps the Carlists have been here.”
As he spoke the sky grew lighter. In a minute or two a waning moon looked out over the sharp outline of hill and flooded the valley with a reddish light.
“It is all right,” he said; nothing is disturbed here. They are asleep in the cottage; the noise of the river must have drowned the firing. They are friends of mine; they will give us some food for to-morrow morning and another dress for you. You cannot go in that.”
“Oh!” laughed Juanita, “I have taken the veil. It is done now and cannot be undone.”
She raised her hands to the wings of her spreading cap as if to defend it against all comers. And Marcos, turning, suddenly threw his uninjured arm round her, imprisoning her struggling arms. He held her thus a prisoner while with his injured hand he found the strings of the cap. In a moment the starched linen fluttered out, fell into the river, and was carried swirling away.
Juanita was still laughing, but Marcos did not answer to her gaiety. She recollected at that instant having once threatened to dress as a nun in order to alarm Marcos, and Sarrion’s grave remark that it would of a certainty frighten him.
They were silent for a moment. Then Juanita spoke with a sort of forced lightness.
“You may have only one arm,” she said, “but it is an astonishingly strong one!”
And she looked at him surreptitiously beneath her lashes as she stood with her hands on her hair.
In the clouds Marcos tied his horse to a tree and led the way towards the cottage. It seemed to be innocent of bars and bolts. The ford, known to so few, and the evil name of the Wolf, served instead. The door opened at a push, and Marcos went in. A wood-fire smouldered on an open hearth, while the acrid smoke half-filled the room, blackened by the fumes of peat and charcoal.
Marcos stood on the threshold and called the owner by name. There was a shuffling sound in an inner room and the scraping of a match. A minute later a door was opened and an old woman stood in the aperture, fully dressed and carrying a lamp above her head.
“Ah!” she said. “It is you. I thought it was the voice of a friend. And you have your pretty wife there. What are you doing abroad at this hour ... the Carlists?”
“Yes,” answered Marcos, rather quickly, “the Carlists. We cannot pass by the road, so have sent the carriage back and are going across the mountains.”