We had left London on a tempestuous mid-October Saturday morning, and Sunday night found us walking on the Rambla at Barcelona, a purple velvet star-spangled sky overhead, and crowds of gay promenaders all about us.
When the Boy and I had planned our journey to the Balearic Isles (the Man never plans), our imaginings always began as we embarked at Barcelona harbour on the Majorcan steamer that was to carry us to the islands of our desire. So when we had strolled to where the Rambla ends amid the palm-trees of the port, it seemed like the materializing of a dream to see the steamer Balear lying there, right under the great column of Columbus, with her bow pointing seawards, as though waiting for us to step on board.
When at sunset next day the hotel omnibus deposited us at the port, the Balear appeared to be the centre of attraction. It still lacked half an hour of sailing time, yet her decks, which were ablaze with electric light, were covered with people. Ingress was a matter of so much difficulty that our inexperience of the ways of Spanish ports anticipated an uncomfortably crowded passage.
There was scarcely room on board to move, yet up the species of hen-ladder that acted as gangway people were still streaming—ladies in mantillas, ladies with fans, ladies with babies, and men of every age, the men all smoking cigarettes.
Fortunately a recognized etiquette made those whose visits to the ship were of a purely complimentary nature confine themselves to the deck. When we descended to inspect our sleeping accommodation it was to find an individual cabin reserved for each of us; and to learn that, in spite of the mob on board, there were but four other saloon passengers. These, as we afterwards discovered, were a French honeymoon couple and a young Majorcan lady who was accompanied by her dueña.
Rain had been predicted, and was eagerly looked for, as none had fallen for many weeks. Yet it was a perfect evening. There was hardly a ripple on the water, and the air was soft and balmy. Behind the brilliant city with its myriads of lights rose the dark Catalonian mountains. Clustered near us in the harbour the crews of the fishing boats made wonderfully picturesque groups as they supped by the light of hanging lamps. And over all, high above the tall palms of the Paseo de Colon, the statue of Columbus pointed ever westwards.
Looking at the sparkling scene, it was difficult to credit that Barcelona, with its surface aspect of light-hearted gaiety, was under martial law, even though we had seen that alert-eyed armed soldiers guarded every street and alley, and knew that but a day or two earlier bombs had exploded with deadly effect where the crowds were now promenading. It was hard, too, to believe that at that moment the interest of all Europe was centred upon that sombre fortress to the south-west of the town, within whose walls, only five days earlier, Ferrer had, rightly or wrongly, met the death of a traitor.
The warning siren sounded. The visitors reluctantly scuttled down the ridiculous hen-ladder. The moorings were cast away, the screw revolved, and we were off—bound for the Fortunate Isles.
Out of many wondrous nights passed on strange waters I remember none more beautiful. We were almost alone on deck. So far as solitude went the Balear might have been chartered for our exclusive use. The second-cabin passengers had all disappeared forward. The French bride and bridegroom had found a secluded nook in which to coo; and the vigilant dueña had led her charge into retirement.
We three sat late into the night watching the lights of the beautiful city of unrest fade away into the distance, while over the sinister fortress of Montjuich the golden sickle of the new moon hung like a note of interrogation.
The Spanish coast had vanished. The ship's bow was pointing towards Africa, and wild-fire was flashing about the horizon when at last