Mon never knew when the spirit would move him to make this pleasant journey, but his preparations for it must have been made in advance, and his departure by an early train the day after meeting his old friend the Count de Sarrion was probably sudden to every one except himself.
He left the train at Lerida, going on foot from the station to the town, but he did not seek an hotel. He had a friend, it appeared, whose house was open to him, in the Spanish way, who lived near the church in the long, narrow street which forms nearly the whole town of Lerida. In Navarre and Aragon the train service is not quite up to modern requirements. There is usually one passenger train in either direction during the day, though between the larger cities this service has of late years been doubled. It was afternoon, and the hour of the siesta, when Evasio Mon walked through the narrow streets of this ancient city.
Although the sun was hot, and all nature lay gasping beneath it, the streets were unusually busy, and in the shades of the arcades at the corner of the market-place, at the corner of the bridge, and by the bank of the river, where the low wall is rubbed smooth by the trousers of the indolent, men stood in groups and talked in a low voice. It is not too much to state that the only serene face in the streets was that of Evasio Mon, who went on his way with the absorbed smile which is usually taken in England to indicate the Christian virtues, and is associated as often as not with Dissent.
The men of Lerida—a simpler, more agricultural race than the Navarrese—were disturbed; and, indeed, these were stirring times in Spain. These men knew what might come at any moment, for they had been born in stirring times and their fathers before them. Stirring times had reigned in this country for a hundred years. Ferdinand VII—the beloved, the dupe of Napoleon the Great, the god of all Spain from Irun to San Roque, and one of the thorough-paced scoundrels whom God has permitted to sit on a throne—had bequeathed to his country a legacy of strife, which was now bearing fruit.
For not only Aragon, but all Spain was at this time in the most unfortunate position in which a nation or a man—and, above all, a woman—can find herself—she did not know what she wanted.
On one side was Catalonia, republican, fiery, democratic, and independent; on the other, Navarre, more priest-ridden than Rome herself, with every man a Carlist and every woman that which her confessor told her to be. In the south, Andalusia only asked to be left alone to go her own sunny, indifferent way to the limbo of the great nations. Which way should Aragon turn? In truth, the men of Aragon knew not themselves.
Stirring times indeed; for the news had just penetrated to far remote Lerida that the two greatest nations of Europe were at each other’s throats. It was a long cry from Ems to Lerida, and the talkers on the shady side of the market-place knew little of what was passing on the banks of the Rhine.