“Even I, whose duty it is to speak to you, shall have to perform penance for doing so,” said the doorkeeper, in her soft voice through the bars.
“Then do an extra penance, my sister,” returned Sarrion, “and answer another question. Tell me if the Sor Teresa is within?”
“The Sor Teresa is at Pampeluna, and the Mother Superior is here in the school herself. The Sor Teresa is only Sister Superior, you must know, and is therefore subordinate to the Mother Superior.”
Sarrion was a pleasant-spoken man, and a man of the world. He knew that if a woman has something to tell of another she is not to be frightened into silence by the whole Court of Cardinals and eke, the Pope of Rome himself. So he drew his horse nearer to the forbidding wooden gate, and did not ride away from it until he had gained some scraps of information and saddled the lay sister with a burden of penances to last all through the Retreat.
He learnt that his sister had been sent to Pampeluna, where the Sisters of the True Faith conducted another school, much patronised by the poor nobility of that priest-ridden city. He was made to understand, moreover, that Juanita de Mogente had been given special opportunities for prayer and meditation owing to an unchristian spirit of resentment and revenge, which she had displayed on learning the Will of Heaven in regard to her abandoned, and it was to be feared, heretic father.
“Which means, my sister?”
“That neither you nor any other in the world may see or speak to her—but I must close the grille.”
And the little shutter was sharply shut in Sarrion’s face.
This was the beginning of a quest which, for a fortnight, continued entirely fruitless. Evasio Mon it appeared was on a pilgrimage. Sor Teresa had gone to Pampeluna. The inexorable gate of the convent school remained shut to all comers.
Sarrion went to Pampeluna to see his sister, but came back without having attained his object. Marcos took up the trail with a patient thoroughness learnt at the best school—the school of Nature. He was without haste, and expressed neither hope nor discouragement. But he realised more and more clearly that Juanita was in genuine danger. By one or two moves in this subtle warfare, Sarrion had forced his adversary to unmask his defenses. Some of the obstructions behind which Juanita was now concealed could scarcely have originated in chance.
Marcos had, in the course of his long antagonism against wolf or bear or boar in the Central Pyrenees, more than once experienced that sharp shock of astonishment and fear to which the big-game hunter can scarcely remain indifferent when he finds himself opposed by an unmistakable sign of an intelligence equal to his own or an instinct superior to it, subtly meeting his subtle attack. This he experienced now, and knew that he himself was being watched and his every action forestalled. The effect was to make him the more dogged, the more cunning in his quest. Because he knew that Juanita’s cause was in competent hands, or for some other reason, Sarrion withdrew from taking such an active part as heretofore.