There was no road to Leganés, just a narrow, muddy path marked by occasional imprints of naked feet and strewn with stones—irregular, ragged, and discolored like the teeth in an old man’s mouth. The village itself, perched on a cluster of hillocks, was brooding wearily in the early afternoon sun.
When Charles Prévost saw it through the window of his carriage, he shook his large, gray head. They might have chosen a better place, he thought. But then that man Massy had been a viol player, a musician, and there was no way of understanding such people. He could have settled down in Valladolid or even in Madrid itself, though of course life there would have cost more; moreover, in the cities there was a far greater danger of meeting people who might ask questions, or worse still, get a glimpse of the—the secret. And that. . . .
A sharp knock interrupted his chain of thought—something had hit the carriage.
Charles Prévost heaved his large, fleshy body nearer the window and peered out. And then he gasped. There was an arrow sticking in the leather curtain. An arrow!
Glancing about he saw at some distance a turbaned head—and another and a third. Moors. . . .
For one wild moment Charles Prévost felt himself whirled back in time to the siege of Tunis, trumpets blaring, banners streaming in the wind and the Emperor himself roaring commands as only he could.
But then he saw that the faces under the turbans were boys’ faces and very frightened ones at that. Boys playing Moors and shooting at his carriage! His face flushed and he pulled at the silk cord the other end of which was tied to the coachman’s little finger. The carriage came to a stop.
“Just you wait”, said Charles Prévost grimly. He began to fumble at the door.
“Don’t do that”, a young, clear voice said sharply. “Please!”
The heavy man turned around. A boy was looking into the carriage from the other side, a boy perhaps seven or eight years old, fair-haired, with a pale, eager face. He was dressed in rags.
“What do you mean?” Prévost stared at him, goggle-eyed.
“You were going to interfere, weren’t you?” The boy sounded impatient. “They didn’t shoot at you—your carriage just ran into their line of fire.”
“Vaya. . .”, Prévost began to splutter. “Go away! I never. . .”
“It was bad shooting”, admitted the boy hastily. “But if you’ll stay in your carriage, I’ll avenge you.”
Prévost’s eyes narrowed. Blue eyes. Blue eyes and blond hair.
“Who are you?” he asked hoarsely.
“I am the ‘Christian’ leader”, the boy said gravely. “And this is my chance to win the battle. Stay in your carriage, please! You’ll see, I’ll win it.” He turned away and let the flap drop behind him.
Prévost blew up his cheeks. Mechanically he drew out a large silk handkerchief and dabbed his forehead. Then he lifted the flap. The “Moors” were still there—in fact there were more of them now, six, seven, a whole dozen, boys between seven and twelve, beturbaned and armed with wooden swords, slingshots, and bows and arrows.
Still more were coming up and all of them were gaping at the carriage. Maybe it was the first they had ever seen. The countryside was poor here. A man was considered well-off if he had a donkey, and rich if he owned a mule. A carriage with two outriders, a liveried coachman, and groom was doubtless a sensation and of far greater interest to them than their game.
Prévost began to tell them what he thought of a flock of snotty-nosed urchins trying to impede his progress by shooting at his carriage, and they listened, wide-eyed and respectfully.
From somewhere a clear, sharp voice yelled: “Santiago!” and they looked up, startled, and tried to get into some kind of formation.
It was too late. A compact little troop of boys attacked them from the rear and almost as soon as they had come to grips with them a second batch came straight at them from behind the coach, led by the fair-haired boy. The “Moors” broke and ran, hotly pursued by the “Christians”.
Charles Prévost began to chuckle. Then he pulled twice at the silk cord and the carriage rumbled on toward Leganés. After a few minutes the first houses stared at it with the eyes of all their inmates. Doors began to fill. Dogs barked madly at the horses.
When Prévost saw an old priest passing, he leaned out of the window and took off his hat. “Good morning, Reverend Father”, he said courteously. “Will you tell me where I can find the house of Señor and Señora Massy?”
The priest was at least eighty years old, and his cassock not very much younger. He looked like a scarecrow, but he bowed like a grandee.