She was Seraphina's old nurse. She was scolding volubly, and suddenly she shrieked, as though she had been stabbed. Then all was still for a long time. Sitting high on the back of my patient mount, with my fingers twisted in the mane, I saw in a throng of woolly heads and bright garments Seraphina's pale face. An increasing murmur of sobs and endearing names mounted up to me. Her hair hung down, her eyes seemed immense; these people were carrying her off—and a man with a careworn, bilious face and a straight, gray beard, neatly clipped on the edges, stood at the head of my horse, blinking with astonishment.
The fat woman reappeared, rolling painfully along the veranda.
"Enrico! It is her lover! Oh! my treasure, my lamb, my precious child. Do you hear, Enrico? Her lover! Oh! the poor darling of my heart."
She appeared to be giggling and weeping at the same time. The sky above the yard brightened all at once, as if the sun had emerged with a leap from the distant waters of the Atlantic. She waved her short arms at me over the railing, then plunged her dark fingers in the shock of iron-gray hair gathered on the top of her head. She turned away abruptly, a yellow head-kerchief dodged in her way, a slap resounded, a cry of pain, and a negro girl bolted into the court, nursing her cheek in the palms of her hands. Doors slammed; other negro girls ran out of the veranda dismayed, and took cover in various directions.
I swayed to and fro in the saddle, but faithful to the plan of our escape, I tried to make clear my desire that these peons should be sworn to secrecy immediately. Meantime, somebody was trying to disengage my feet from the stirrups.
"Certainly. It is as your worship wishes."
The careworn man at the head of my horse was utterly in the dark.
"Attention!" he shouted. "Catch hold, hombres. Carry the caballero."
What caballero? A rosy flush tinged a boundless expanse above my face, and then came a sudden contraction of space and dusk. There were big earthen' ware jars ranged in a row on the floor, and the two vaqueros stood bareheaded, stretching their arms over me towards a black crucifix on a wall, taking their oaths, while I rested on my back. A white beard hovered about my face, a voice said, "It is done," then called anxiously twice, "Senor! Senor!" and when I had escaped from the dream of a cavern, I found myself with my head pillowed on a fat woman's breast, and drinking chicken broth out of a basin held to my lips. Her large cheeks quivered, she had black twinkling eyes and slight moustaches at the corners of her lips. But where was her white beard? And why did she talk of an angel, as if she were Manuel?
"Seraphina!" I cried, but Castro's cloak swooped on my head like a sable wing. It was death. I struggled. Then I died. It was delicious to die. I followed the floating shape of my love beyond the worlds of the universe. We soared together above pain, strife, cruelty, and pity. We had left death behind us and everything of life but our love, which threw a radiant halo around two flames which were ourselves—and immortality inclosed us in a great and soothing darkness.
Nothing stirred in it. We drifted no longer. We hung in it quite still—and the empty husk of my body watched our two flames side by side, mingling their light in an infinite loneliness. There were two candles burning low on a little black table near my head. Enrico, with his white beard and zealous eyes, was bending over my couch, while a chair, on high runners, rocked empty behind him. I stared.
"Senor, the night is far advanced," he said soothingly, "and Dolores, my wife, watches over Dona Seraphina's slumbers, on the other side of this wall."
I had been dead to the world for nearly twenty hours, and the awakening resembled a new birth, for I felt as weak and helpless as an infant.
It is extraordinary how quickly we regained so much of our strength; but I suppose people recover sooner from the effects of privation than from the weakness of disease. Keeping pace with the return of our bodily vigour, the anxieties of mind returned, augmented tenfold by all the weight of our sinister experience. And yet, what worse could happen to us in the future? What other terror could it hold? We had come back from the very confines of destruction. But Seraphina, reclining back in an armchair, very still, with her eyes fixed on the high white wall facing the veranda across the court, would murmur the word "Separation!"
The possibility of our lives being forced apart was terrible to her affection, and intolerable to her pride. She had made her choice, and the feeling she had surrendered herself to so openly must have had a supreme potency. She had disregarded for it all the traditions of silence and reserve. She had looked at me fondly through the very tears of her grief; she had followed me—leaving her dead unburied and her prayers unsaid. What more could she have done to proclaim her love to the world? Could she, after that, allow anything short of death to thwart her fidelity? Never! And if she were to discover that I could, after all, find it in my heart to support an existence in which she had no share, then, indeed, it would be more than enough to make her die of shame.
"Ah, dearest!" I said, "you shall never die of shame."
We were different, but we had read each other's natures by a fierce light. I understood the point of honour in her constancy, and she never doubted the scruples of my true devotion, which had brought so many dangers on her head. We were flying not to save our lives, but to preserve inviolate our truth to each other and to ourselves. And if our sentiments appear exaggerated, violent, and overstrained, I must point back to their origin. Our love had not grown like a delicate flower, cherished in tempered sunshine. It had never known the atmosphere of tenderness; our souls had not been awakened to each other by a gentle whisper, but as if by the blast of a trumpet. It had called us to a life whose enemy was not death, but separation.
The enemy sat at the gate of our shelter, as death sits at the gate of life. These high walls could not protect us, nor the tearful mumble of the old woman's prayers, nor yet the careworn fidelity of Enrico. The couple hung about us, quivering with emotion. They peeped round the corners of the veranda, and only rarely ventured to come out openly. The silent Galician stroked his clipped beard; the obese woman kept on crossing herself with loud, resigned sighs. She would waddle up, wiping her eyes, to stroke Seraphina's head and murmur endearing names. They waited on us hand and foot, and would stand close together, ready for the slightest sign, in a rapt contemplation. Now and then she would nudge her husband's ribs with her thick elbow and murmur, "Her lover."
She was happy when Seraphina let her sit at her feet, and hold her hand. She would pat it with gentle taps, squatting shapelessly on a low stool.
"Why go so far from thy old nurse, darling of my heart? Ah! love is love, and we have only one life to live, but this England is very far—very far away."
She nodded her big iron-gray head slowly; and to our longing England appeared very distant, too, a fortunate isle across the seas, an abode of peace, a sanctuary of love.
There was no plan open to us but the one laid down by Sebright. The secrecy of our sojourn at the hacienda had, in a measure, failed, though there was no reason to suppose the two peons had broken their oath. Our arrival at dawn had been unobserved, as far as we knew, and the domestic slaves, mostly girls, had been kept from all communication with the field hands outside. All these square leagues of the estate were very much out of the world, and this isolation had not been broken upon by any of O'Brien's agents coming out to spy. It seemed to be the only part of Seraphina's great possessions that remained absolutely her own.
Not a whisper of any sort of news reached us in our hiding-place till the fourth evening, when one of the vaqueros reported to Enrico that, riding on the inland boundary, he had fallen in with a company of infantry encamped on the edge of a little wood. Troops were being moved upon Rio Medio. He brought a note from the officer in command of that party. It contained nothing but a requisition for twenty head of cattle. The same night we left the hacienda.
It was a starry darkness. Behind us the soft wailing of the old woman at the gate died out:
"So far! So very far!"
We left the long street of the slave village on the left, and walked down the gentle slope of the open glade towards the little river. Seraphina's hair was concealed in the crown of a wide sombrero and, wrapped up in a serape, she looked so much like a cloaked vaquero that one missed the jingle of spurs out of her walk. Enrico had fitted me out in his own clothes from top to toe. He carried a lanthorn, and we followed the circle of light that swayed and trembled upon the short grass. There was no one else with us, the crew of the drogher being already on board to await our coming.
Her mast appeared above the roof of some low sheds grouped about a short wooden jetty. Enrico raised the lamp high to light us, as we stepped on board.
Not a word was spoken; the five negroes of the crew (Enrico answered for their fidelity) moved about noiselessly, almost invisible. Blocks rattled feebly aloft.
"Enrico," said Seraphina, "do not forget to put a stone cross over poor Castro's grave."
"No, Senorita. May you know years of felicity. We would all have laid down our lives for you. Remember that, and do not forget the living. Your childhood has been the consolation of the poor woman there for the loss of our little one, your foster brother, who died. We have given to you much of our affection for him who was denied to our old age."
He stepped back from the rail. "Go with God," he said.
The faint air filled the sail, and the outlines of wharf and roof fell back into the sombre background of the land, but the lanthorn in Enrico's hand glimmered motionless at the end of the jetty, till a bend of the stream hid it from our sight.
We glided smoothly between the banks. Now and then a stretch of osiers and cane brakes rustled alongside in the darkness. All was strange; the contours of the land melted before our advance. The earth was made of shifting shadows, and only the stars remained in unchanged groups of glitter on the black sky. We floated across the land-locked basin, and under the low headland we had steered for from the sea in the storm. All this, seen only once under streams of lightning, was unrecognizable to us, and seemed plunged in deep slumber. But the fresh feel of the sea air, and the freedom of earth and sky wedded on the sea horizon, returned to us like old friends, the companions of that time when we communed in words and silences on board the Lion, that fragment of England found in a mist, boarded in battle, with its absurd and warmhearted protection. On our other hand, the rampart of white dunes intruded the line of a ghostly shore between the depth of the sea and the profundity of the sky; and when the faint breeze failed for a moment, the negro crew troubled the silence with the heavy splashes of their sweeps falling in slow and solemn cadence. The rudder creaked gently; the black in command was old and of spare build, resembling Cesar, the major-domo, without the splendour of maroon velvet and gold lace. He was a very good sailor, I believe, taciturn and intelligent. He had seen the Lion frequently on his trips to Havana, and would recognize her, he assured me, amongst a whole host of shipping. When I had explained what was expected of him, according to Sebright's programme, a bizarre grimace of a smile disturbed the bony, mournful cast of his African face.
"Fall on board by accident, Senor. Si! Now, by St. Jago of Compostella, the patron cf our hacienda, you shall see this old Pedro—who has been set to sail the craft ever since she was built—as overcome by an accident as a little rascal of a boy that has stolen a boat."
After this wordy declaration he never spoke to us again. He gave his short orders in low undertones, and the others, four stalwart blacks, in the prime of life, executed them in silence. Another night brought the unchanging stars to look at us in their multitudes, till the dawn put them out just as we opened the entrance of the harbour. The daylight discovered the arid colouring of the coast, a castle on a sandy hill, and a few small boats with ragged sails making for the land. A brigantine, that seemed to have carried the breeze with her right in, threw up the Stars and Stripes radiantly to the rising sun, before rounding the point. The sound of bells came out to sea, and met us while we crept slowly on, abreast of the battery at the water's edge.
"A feast-day in the city," said the old negro at the helm. "And here is an English ship of war."
The sun-rays struck from afar full at her belted side; the water was like glass along the shore. She swam into the very shade of the hill, before she wore round, with great deliberation, in an ample sweep of her headgear through a complete half-circle. She came to the wind on the other tack under her short canvas; her lower deck ports were closed, the hammock cloths like a ridge of unmelted snow lying along her rail.
It was evident she was kept standing off and on outside the harbour, as an armed man may pace to and fro before a gate. With the hum of six hundred wakeful lives in her flanks, the tap-tapping of a drum, and the shrill modulations of the boatswain's calls piping some order along her decks, she floated majestically across our path. But the only living being we saw was the red-coated marine on sentry by the lifebuoys, looking down at us over the taffrail. We passed so close to her that I could distinguish the whites of his eyes, and the tompions in the muzzles of her stern-chasers protruding out of the ports belonging to the admiral's quarters.
I knew her. She was Rowley's flagship. She had thrown the shadow of her sails upon the end of my first sea journey. She was the man-of-war going out for a cruise on that day when Carlos, Tomas, and myself arrived in Jamaica in the old Thames. And there she was meeting me again, after two years, before Havana—the might of the fortunate isle to which we turned our eyes, part and parcel of my inheritance, formidable with the courage of my countrymen, humming with my native speech—and as foreign to my purposes as if I had forfeited forever my birthright in her protection. I had drifted into a sort of outlaw. You may not break the king's peace and be made welcome on board a king's ship. You may not hope to make use of a king's ship for the purposes of an elopement. There was no room on board that seventy-four for our romance.
As it was, I very nearly hailed her. What would become of us if the Lion had already left Havana? I thought. But no. To hail her meant separation—the only forbidden thing to those who, in the strength of youth and love, are permitted to defy the world together.
I did not hail; and the marine dwindled to a red speck upon the noble hull forging away from us on the offshore tack. The brazen clangour of bells seemed to struggle with the sharp puff of the breeze that sent us in.
The shipping in harbour was covered with bunting in honour of the feast-day; for the same reason, there was not a sign of the usual crowd of small boats that give animation to the waters of a port; the middle of the harbour was strangely empty. A solitary bumboat canoe, with a yellow bunch of bananas in the bow, and an old negro woman dipping a languid paddle at the stern, were all that met my eye. Presently, however, a six-oared custom-house galley darted out from the tier of ships, pulling for the American brigantine. I noticed in her, beside the ordinary port officials, several soldiers, and a person astonishingly like the alguazil of the illustrations to Spanish romances. One of the uniformed sitters waved his hand at us, recognizing an estate drogher, and shouted some directions, of which we only caught the words:
Our steersman took off his old hat humbly, to hail back, "Muy bien, Senor."
I breathed freely, for they gave us no more of their attention. Soldiers, alguazil, and custom-house officers were swarming aboard the American, as if bent on ransacking her from stem to stern in the shortest possible time, so as not to be late for the procession.
The absence of movement in the harbour, the festive and idle appearance of the ships, with the flutter of innumerable flags on the forest of masts, and the great uproar of church bells in the air, made an impressive greeting for our eyes and ears. And the deserted aspect of the harbour front of the city was very striking, too. The feast had swept the quays of people so completely that the tiny pair of sentries at the foot of a tall yellow building caught the eye from afar. Sera-phina crouched on a coil of rope under the bulwark; old Pedro, at the tiller, peered about from under his hand, and I, trying to expose myself to view as little as possible, helped him to look for the Lion. There she is. Yes! No! There she was. A crushing load fell off my chest. We had made her out together, old Pedro and I.
And then the last part of Sebright's plan had to be carried out at once. The foresheet of the drogher appeared to part, our mainsail shook, and before I could gasp twice, we had drifted stern foremost into the Lion's mizzen chains with a crash that brought a genuine expression of concern to the old negro's face. He had managed the whole thing with a most convincing skill, and without even once glancing at the ship. We had done our part, but the people of the Lion seemed to fail in theirs unaccountably. Of all the faces that crowded her rail at the shock, not one appeared with a glimmer of intelligence. All the cargo ports were down. Their surprise and their swearing appeared to me alarmingly unaffected; with a most imbecile alacrity they exerted themselves, with small spars and boathooks, to push the drogher off. Nobody seemed to recognize me; Seraphina might have been a peon sitting on deck, cloaked from neck to heels and under a sombrero. I dared not shout to them in English, for fear of being heard on board the other ships around. At last Sebright himself appeared on the poop.
He gave one look over the side.
"What the devil..." he began. Was he blind, too?
Suddenly I saw him throw up his arms above his head. He vanished. A port came open with a jerk at the last moment. I lifted Seraphina up: two hands caught hold of her, and, in my great hurry to scramble up after her, I barked my shins cruelly. The port fell; the drogher went on bumping alongside, completely disregarded. Seraphina dropped the cloak at her feet and flung off her hat.
"Good-morning, amigos," she said gravely.
A hissed "Damn you fools—keep quiet!" from Sebright, stifled the cheer in all those bronzed throats. Only a thin little poor "hooray" quavered along the deck. The timid steward had not been able to overcome his enthusiasm. He slapped his head in despair, and rushed away to bury himself in his pantry.
"Turned up, by heavens!... Go in.... Good God!... Bucketfuls of tears...." stammered Sebright, pushing us into the cuddy. "Go in! Go in at once!"
Mrs. Williams rose from behind the table wide-eyed, clasping her hands, and stumbled twice as she ran to us.
"What have you done to that child, Mr. Kemp!" she cried insanely at me. "Oh, my dear, my dear! You look like your own ghost."
Sebright, burning with impatience, pulled me away. The cabin door fell upon the two women, locked in a hug, and, stepping into his stateroom, we could do nothing at first but slap each other on the back and ejaculate the most unmeaning exclamations, like a couple of jocular idiots. But when, in the expansion of my heart, I tried to banter him about not keeping his word to look out for us, he bent double in trying to restrain his hilarity, slapped his thighs, and grew red in the face.
The excellent joke was that, for the past six days, we had been supposed to be dead—drowned; at least Dona Seraphina had been provided with that sort of death in her own name; I was drowned, too, but in the disguise of a piratical young English nobleman.
"There's nothing too bad for them to believe of us," he commented, and guffawed in his joy at seeing me unscathed. "Dead! Drowned! Ha! Ha! Good, wasn't it?"
Mrs. Williams—he said—had been weeping her eyes out over our desolate end; and even the skipper had sulked with his food for a day or two.
"Ha! Ha! Drowned! Excellent!" He shook me by the shoulders, looking me straight in the eyes—and the bizarre, nervous hilarity of my reception, so unlike his scornful attitude, proved that he, too, had believed the rumour. Indeed, nothing could have been more natural, considering my inexperience in handling boats and the fury of the norther. It had sent the Lion staggering into Havana in less than twenty hours after we had parted from her on the coast.
Suddenly a change came over him. He pushed me on to the settee.
"Speak! Talk! What has happened? Where have you been all this time? Man, you look ten years older."
"Ten years. Is that all?" I said.
And after he had heard the whole story of our passages he appeared greatly sobered.
"Wonderful! Wonderful!" he muttered, lost in deep thought, till I reminded him it was his turn, now, to speak.
"You are the talk of the town," he said, recovering his elasticity of spirit as he went on. The death of Don Balthasar had been the first great sensation of Havana, but it seemed that O'Brien had kept that news to himself, till he heard by an overland messenger that Sera-phina and I had escaped from Casa Riego.
Then he gave it to the world; he let it be inferred that he had the news of both events together. The story, as sworn to by various suborned rascals, and put out by his creatures, ran that an English desperado, arriving in Rio Medio with some Mexicans in a schooner, had incited the rabble of the place to attack the Casa Riego. Don Balthasar had been shot while defending his house at the head of his negroes; and Don Bal-thasar's daughter had been carried off by the English pirate.
The amazement and sensation were extreme. Several of the first families went into mourning. A service for the repose of Don Balthasar's soul was sung in the Cathedral. Captain Williams went there out of curiosity, and returned full of the magnificence of the sight; nave draped in black, an enormous catafalque, with silver angels, more than life-size, kneeling at the four corners with joined hands, an amazing multitude of lights. A demonstration of unbounded grief from the Judge of the Marine Court had startled the distinguished congregation. In his place amongst the body of higher magistrature, Don Patricio O'Brien burst into an uncontrollable paroxysm of sobs, and had to be assisted out of the church.
It was almost incredible, but I could well believe it. With the thunderous strains of Dies Irae rolling over his bowed head, amongst all these symbols and trappings of woe, he must have seen, in the black anguish of his baffled passion, the true image of death itself, and tasted all the profound deception of life. Who could tell how much secret rage, jealousy, regret, and despair had gone to that outburst of grief, whose truth had fluttered a distinguished company of mourners, and had nearly interrupted their official supplications for the repose of that old man, who had been dead to the world for so many years? I believe that, on that very day, just as he was going to the service, O'Brien had received the news of our supposed death by drowning. The music, the voices, the lights of the grave, the pomp of mourning, awe, and supplication crying for mercy upon the dead, had been too much for him. He had presumed too much upon his fortitude. He wept aloud for his love lost, for his vengeance defeated, for the dreams gone out of his life, for the inaccessible consummation of his desire.
"And, you know, with all these affairs, he feels himself wobbling in his socket," Sebright began again, after musing for a while. Indeed, the last events in Rio Medio were endangering his position. He could no more present his reports upon the state of the province with incidental reflections upon the bad faith of the English Government (who encouraged the rebels against the Catholic king), the arrogance of the English admiral, and concluding with the loyalty and honesty of the Rio Medio population, "who themselves suffered many acts of molestation from the Mexican pirates." The most famous of these papers, printed at that time in the official Gazette, had recommended that the loyal town should be given a battery of thirty-six pounders for purposes of self-defence. They had been given them just in time to be turned on Rowley's boats; it is known with what deadly effect. O'Brien's report after that event had made it clear that that virtuous population of the bay, exasperated by the intrusions of the Mexicanos upon their peaceful state, and abhorring in their souls the rebellion trying to lift its envenomed head, etc., etc.,... heroically manned the battery to defend their town from the boats which they took to be these very pirates the British admiral was in search of. He pleaded for them the uncertain light of the early morning, the ardour of citizens, valorous, but naturally inexperienced in matters of war, and the impossibility to suppose that the admiral of a friendly power would dispatch an armed force to land on these shores. I have read these things with my own eyes; there were old files of the Gazette on board, and Sebright, who had been reading up his O'Brien, pointed them out to me with his finger, muttering:
"Here—look there. Pretty, ain't it?"
But that was all over. The bubble had burst. It was reported in town that the private audience the Juez had lately from the Captain-General was of a most stormy description. They say old Marshal What-d'ye-call-'um ended by flinging his last report in his face, and asking him how dared he work his lawyer's tricks upon an old soldier. Good old fighting cock. But stupid. All these old soldiers were stupid, Sebright declared. Old admirals, too. However, the land troops had arrived in Rio Medio by this time; the Tornado frigate, too, no doubt, having sailed four days ago, with orders to burn the villages to the ground; and the good Lugarenos must be catching colds trying to hide from the carabineers in the deep, damp woods.
Our admiral was awaiting the issue of that expedition. Returning home under a cloud, Rowley wanted to take with him the assurance of the pirate nest being destroyed at last, as a sort of diplomatic feather in his cap.
"He may think," Sebright commented, "that it's his sailorly bluff that has done it, but, as far as I can see, nobody but you yourself, Kemp, had anything to do with bringing it about. Funny, is it not? Old Rowley keeps his ship dodging outside because it's cooler at sea than stewing in this harbour, but he sends in a boat for news every morning. What he is most anxious for is to get the notorious Nichols into his hands; take him home for a hanging. It seems clear to me that they are humbugging him ashore. Nichols! Where's Nichols? There are people here who say that Nichols has had free board and lodging in Havana jail for the last six months. Others swear that it is Nichols who has killed the old gentleman, run off with Dona Seraphina, and got drowned. Nichols! Who's Nichols? On that showing you are Nichols. Anybody may be Nichols. Who has ever seen him outside Rio Medio? I used to believe in him at one time, but, upon my word I begin to doubt whether there ever was such a man."
"But the man existed, at any rate," I said. "I knew him—I've talked with him. He came out second mate in the same ship with me—in the old Thames. Ramon took charge of him in Kingston, and that's the last positive thing I can swear to, of him. But that he was in Rio Medio for two years, and vanished from there almost directly after that unlucky boat affair, I am absolutely certain."
"Well, I suppose O'Brien knows where to lay his hand on him. But no matter where the fellow is, in jail or out of it, the admiral will never get hold of him. If they had him they could not think of giving him up. He knows too much of the game; and remember that O'Brien, if he wobbles in the socket, is by no means down yet. A man like that doesn't get knocked over like a ninepin. You may be sure he has twenty skeletons put away in good places, that he will haul out one by one, rather than let himself be squashed. He's not going to give in. A few days ago, a priest—your priest, you know—turned up here on foot from Rio Medio, and went about wringing his hands, declaring that he knew all the truth, and meant to make a noise about it, too. O'Brien made short work of him, though; got the archbishop to send him into retreat, as they call it, to a Franciscan convent a hundred miles from here. These things are whispered about all along the gutters of this place."
I imagined the poor Father Antonio, with his simple resignation, mourning for us in his forced retreat, brokenhearted, and murmuring, "Inscrutable, inscrutable." I should have liked to see the old man.
"I tell you the town is fairly buzzing with the atrocities of this business," Sebright went on. "It's the thing for fashionable people to go and see what I may call the relics of the crime. They are on show in the waiting-hall of the Palace of Justice. Why, I went there myself. You go through a swing door into a big place that, for cheerfulness, is no better than a monster coal cellar, and there you behold, laid out on a little black table, Mrs. Williams' woollen shawl, your Senorita's tortoise-shell comb, that had got entangled in it somehow, and my old cap that I lent you—you remember. I assure you, it gave me the horrors to see the confounded things spread out there in that dim religious light. Dash me, if I didn't go queer all over. And all the time swell carriages stopping before the portico, dressed-up women walking up in pairs and threes, sighing before the missus' shawl, turning up their eyes, 'Ah! Pobrecita! Pobrecita! But what a strange wrap for her to have. It is very coarse. Perished in the flower of her youth. Incredible! Oh, the savage, cruel Englishman.' The funniest thing in the world."
But if this was so, Manuel's Lugarenos were now in Havana. Sebright pointed out that, as things stood, it was the safest place for them, under the wing of their patron. Sebright had recognized the schooner at once. She came in very early one morning, and hauled herself unostentatiously out of sight amongst a ruck of small craft moored in the lower part of the harbour. He took the first opportunity to ask one of the guards on the quay what was that pretty vessel over there, just to hear what the man would say. He was assured that she was a Porto Rico trader of no consequence, well known in the port.
"Never mind the scoundrels; they can do nothing more to you."
Sebright dismissed the Lugarenos out of my life. The unfavourable circumstance for us was that the captain had gone ashore. The ship was ready for sea; absolutely cleared; papers on board; could go in an hour if it came to that; but, at any rate, next morning at daylight, before O'Brien could get wind of the Riego drogher arriving. Every movement in port was reported to the Juez; but this was a feast, and he would not hear of it probably till next day. Even fiestas had their uses sometimes. In his anxiety to discover Seraphina, O'Brien had played such pranks amongst the foreign shipping (after the Lion had been drawn blank) that the whole consular body had addressed a joint protest to the Governor, and the Juez had been told to moderate his efforts. No ship was to be visited more than once. Still I had seen, myself, soldiers going in a boat to board the American brigantine: a garlic-eating crew, poisoning the cabins with their breath, and poking their noses everywhere. Of course, since our supposed drowning, there had been a lull; but the least thing might start him off again. He was reputed to be almost out of his mind with sorrow, arising from his great attachment for the family. He walked about as if distracted, suffered from insomnia, and had not been fit to preside in his court for over a week, now.
"But don't you expect Williams back on board directly?"
He shook his head.
"No. Not even to-night. He told the missus he was going to spend the day out of town with his consignee, but he tipped me the wink. This evening he will send a note that the consignee detains him for the night, because the letters are not ready, and I'll have to go to her and lie, the best I am able, that it's quite the usual thing. Damn!"
I was appalled. This was too bad. And, as I raged against the dissolute habits of the man, Sebright entreated me to moderate my voice so as not to be heard in the cabin. Did I expect the man to change his skin? He had been doing the gay bachelor about here all his life; had never suspected he was doing anything particularly scandalous either.
"He married the old girl out of chivalry,—the romantic fat beggar,—and never realized what it meant till she came out with him," Sebright went on whispering to me. "He loves and honours her more than you may think. That is so, for all your shrugs, Mr. Kemp. It is not so easy to break the old connection as you imagine. Why, the other evening, two of his dissolute habits (as you call them) came off, with mantillas over their heads, in a boat, in company with a male scallawag of sorts, pinching a mandolin, and serenaded the ship for him. We were all in the cabin after supper, and poor Mrs. Williams, with her eyes still red from weeping over you people, says to us, 'How sweet and melancholy that sounds,' says she. You should have seen the skipper rolling his eyes at me. The perspiration of fright was simply pouring down his face. I rushed on deck, and it took me all my Spanish to stop them from coming aboard. I had to swear by all the saints, and the honour of a caballero, that there was a wife. They went away laughing at last. They did not want to make trouble. They simply had not believed the tale before. Thought it was some dodge of his. I could hear their peals of laughter all the way up the harbour. These are the difficulties we have. The old girl must be protected from that sort of eye-opener, if I've to forswear my soul. I've been keeping guard over her ever since we arrived here—besides looking out for you people, as long as there was any hope."
I was greatly cast down. Perhaps Williams was justified in making concessions to the associates of his former jolly existence to save some outrage to the feelings of his consort. I did not want to criticise his motives—but what about getting him back on board at once?
Sebright was biting his lip. The necessity was pressing, he admitted.
He had an idea where to find him. But for himself he could not go—that was evident. Neither would I wish him to leave the ship, even for a moment, now Seraphina was on board. An unexpected visit from some zealous police understrapper, a momentary want of presence of mind on the part of the timid steward; there was enough to bring about our undoing. Moreover, as he had said, he must remain on guard over the missus. But whom to send? There was not a single boatman about. The harbour was a desert of water and dressed ships; but even the crews of most of them were ashore—"on a regular spree of praying," as he expressed it vexedly. As to our own crew, not one of them knew anything more of Spanish than a few terms of abuse, perhaps. Their hearts were in the right place, but as to their wits, he wouldn't trust a single one of them by himself—no, not an inch away from the ship. How could he send one of them ashore with the wineshops yawning wide on all sides, and not enough lingo to ask for the way. Sure to get drunk, to get lost, to get into trouble in some way, and in the end get picked up by the police. The slightest hitch of that sort would call attention upon the ship—and with O'Brien to draw inferences.... He rubbed his head.
"I suppose I'll have to go," he grunted. "But I am known; I may be followed. They may wonder why I rush to fetch my skipper. And yet I feel this is the time. The very time. Between now and four o'clock to-morrow morning we have an almost absolute certitude of getting away with you two. This is our chance and your chance."
He was lost in perplexity. Then, as if inspired, I cried:
"I will go!"
"The devil!" he said, amazed. "Would you?"
I rushed at him with arguments. No one would know me. My clothes were all right and clean enough for a feast-day. I could slip through the crowds un-perceived. The principal thing was to get Seraphina out of O'Brien's reach. At the worst, I could always find means to get away from Cuba by myself. There was Mrs. Williams to look after her, and if I missed Williams by some mischance, and failed to make my way back to the ship in time, I charged them solemnly not to wait, but sail away at the earliest possible moment.
I said much more than this. I was eloquent. I became as if suddenly intoxicated by the nearness of freedom and safety. The thought of being at sea with her in a few hours away from all trouble of mind or heart, made my head swim. It seemed to me I should go mad if I was not allowed to go. My limbs tingled with eagerness. I stuttered with excitement.
"Well—after all!" Sebright mumbled.
"I must go in and tell her," I said.
"No. Don't do that," said that wise young man. "Have you made up your mind?"
"Yes, I have," I answered. "But she's reasonable."
"Still," he argued, "the old girl is sure to say that nothing of the kind is necessary. The captain told her that he was coming back for tea. What could we say to that? We can't explain the true state of the case, and if you persist in going, it will look like pig-headed folly on your part."
He threw his writing-desk open for me.
"Write to her. Write down your arguments—what you have been telling me. It's a fact that the door stands open for a few hours. As to the rest," he pursued, with a weary sigh, "I'll do the lying to pass it off with Mrs. Williams."
Thus it came about that, with only two flimsy bulkheads between us, I wrote my first letter to Seraphina, while Sebright went on deck to make arrangements to send me ashore. He was some time away; long enough for me to pour out on paper the exultation of my thought, the confidence of my hope, my desire to have her safe at last with me upon the blue sea. One must seize a propitious moment lest it should slip away and never return, I wrote. I begged her to believe I was acting for the best, and only from my great love, that could not support the thought of her being so near O'Brien, the arch-enemy of our union. There was no separation on the sea.
Sebright came in brusquely.
The American brigantine was berthed by then, close astern of the Lion, and Sebright had the idea of asking her mate to let his boat (it was in the water) put ashore a visitor he had on board. His own were hoisted, he explained, and there were no boatmen plying for hire.
His request was granted. I was pulled ashore by two American sailors, who never said a word to each other, and evidently took me for a Spaniard.
It was an excellent idea. By borrowing the Yankee's boat, the track of my connection with the Lion was covered. The silent seamen landed me, as asked by Sebright, near the battery on the sand, quite clear of the city.
I thanked them in Spanish, and, traversing a piece of open ground, made a wide circle to enter the town from the land side, to still further cover my tracks. I passed through a sort of squalid suburb of huts, hovels, and negro shanties. I met very few people, and these mostly old women, looking after the swarms of children of all colours and sizes, playing in the dust. Many curs sunned themselves among heaps of rubbish, and took not the trouble to growl at me. Then I came out upon a highroad, and turned my face towards the city lying under a crude sunshine, and in a ring of metallic vibrations.
Better houses with plastered fronts washed yellow or blue, and even pinky red, alternated with tumble-down wooden structures. A crenellated squat gateway faced me with a carved shield of stone above the open gloom. A young smooth-faced mulatto, in some sort of dirty uniform, but wearing new straw slippers with blue silk rosettes over his naked feet, lounged cross-legged at the door of a kind of guardroom. He held a big cigar tilted up between his teeth, and ogled me, like a woman, out of the corners of his languishing eyes. He said not a word.
Fortunately my face had tanned to a dark hue. Enrico's clothes would not attract attention to me, of course. The light colour of my hair was concealed by the handkerchief bound under my hat; my footsteps echoed loudly under the vault, and I penetrated into the heart of the city.
And directly, it seemed to me, I had stepped back three hundred years. I had never seen anything so old; this was the abandoned inheritance of an adventurous race, that seemed to have thrown all its might, all its vigour, and all its enthusiasm into one supreme effort of valour and greed. I had read the history of the Spanish Conquest; and, looking at these great walls of stone, I felt my heart moved by the same wonder, and by the same sadness. With what a fury of heroism and faith had this whole people flung itself upon the opulent mystery of the New World. Never had a nation clasped closer to its heart its dream of greatness, of glory, and of romance. There had been a moment in its destiny, when it could believe that Heaven itself smiled upon its massacres. I walked slowly, awed by the solitude. They had conquered and were no more, and these wrought stones remained to testify gloomily to the death of their success. Heavy houses, immense walls, pointed arches of the doorways, cages of iron bars projecting balcony wise around each square window. And not a soul in sight, not a head looking out from these dwellings, these houses of men, these ancient abodes of hate, of base rivalries, of avarice, of ambitions—these old nests of love, these witnesses of a great romance now past and gone below the horizon. They seemed to return mournfully my wondering glances; they seemed to look at me and say, "What do you here? We have seen other men, heard other footsteps!" The peace of the cloister brooded over these aged blocks of masonry, stained with the green trails of mosses, infiltrated with shadows.
At times the belfry of a church would volley a tremendous crash of bronze into the narrow streets; and between whiles I could hear the faint echoes of far-off chanting, the brassy distant gasps of trombones. A woman in black whisked round a corner, hurrying towards the route of the procession. I took the same direction. From a wine-shop, yawning like a dirty cavern in the basement of a palatial old building, issued suddenly a brawny ruffian in rags, wiping his thick beard with the back of a hairy paw. He lurched a little, and began to walk before me hastily. I noticed the glitter of a gold earring in the lobe of his huge ear. His cloak was frayed at the bottom into a perfect fringe and, as he flung it about, he showed a good deal of naked skin under it. His calves were bandaged crosswise; his peaked hat seemed to have been trodden upon in filth before he had put it on his head. Suddenly I stopped short. A Lugareno!
We were then in the empty part of a narrow street, whose lower end was packed, close with a crowd viewing the procession which was filing slowly past, along the wide thoroughfare. It was too late for me to go back. Moreover, the ruffian paid no attention to me. It was best to go on. The people, packed between the houses with their backs to us, blocked our way. I had to wait.
He took his position near me in the rear of the last rank of the crowd. He must have been inclined to repentance in his cups, because he began to mumble and beat his breast. Other people in the crowd were also beating their breasts. In front of me I had the facade of a building which, according to the little plan of my route Sebright drew for me, was the Palace of Justice. It had a peristyle of ugly columns at the top of a flight of steps. A cordon of infantry kept the roadway clear. The singing went on without interruption; and I saw tall saints of wood, gilt and painted red and blue, pass, borne shoulder-high, swaying and pitching above the heads of the crowd like the masts of boats in a seaway. Crucifixes were carried, flashing in the sun; an enormous Madonna, which must have weighed half a ton, tottered across my line of sight, dressed up in gold brocade and with a wreath of paper roses on her head. A military band sent a hurricane blast of brasses as it went by. Then all was still at once, except the silvery tinkling of hand-bells. The people before me fell on their knees together and left me standing up alone.
As a matter of fact I had been caught gaping at the ceremony quite new to me, and had not expected a move of that sort. The ruffian kneeling within a foot of me thumped and bellowed in an ecstasy of piety. As to me, I own I stood there looking with impatience at a passing canopy that seemed all gold, with three priests in gorgeous capes walking slowly under it, and I absolutely forgot to take off my hat. The bearded ruffian looked up from the midst of his penitential exercises, and before I realized I was outraging his or anybody else's feelings, leaped up with a yell, "Thou sacrilegious infidel," and sent my hat flying off my head.
Just then the band crashed again, the bells pealed out, and no one heard his shout. With one blow of my fist I sent him staggering backwards. The procession had passed; people were rising from their knees and pouring out of the narrow street. Swearing, he fumbled under his cloak; I watched him narrowly; but in a moment he sprang away and lost himself amongst the moving crowd. I picked up my hat.
For a time I stood very uneasy, and then retreated under a doorway. Nothing happened, and I was anxious to get on. It was possible to cross the wide street now. That Lugareno did not know me. He was a Lugareno, though. No doubt about it. I would make a dash now; but first I stole a hasty glance at the plan of my route which I kept in the hollow of my palm.
"Senor," said a voice. I lifted my head.
An elderly man in black, with a white moustache and imperial, stood before me. The ruffian was stalking up to his side, and four soldiers with an officer were coming behind. I took in the whole disaster at a glance.
"The Senor is no doubt a foreigner—perhaps an Englishman," said the official in black. He had a lace collar, a chain on his neck, velvet breeches, a well-turned leg in black stockings. His voice was soft.
I was so disconcerted that I nodded at him.
"The Senor is young and inconsiderate. Religious feelings ought to be respected." The official in black was addressing me in sad and measured tones. "This good Catholic," he continued, eying the bearded ruffian dubiously, "has made a formal statement to me of your impious demonstration."
What a fatal accident, I thought, appalled; but I tried to explain the matter. I expressed regret. The other gazed at me benevolently.
"Nevertheless, Senor, pray follow me. Even for your own safety. You must give some account of yourself."
This I was firmly resolved not to give. But the Lugareno had been going through a pantomime of scrutinizing my person. He crouched up, stepped back, then to one side.
"This worthy man," began the official in black, "complains of your violence, too...."
"This worthy man," I shouted stupidly, "is a pirate. He is a Rio Medio Lugareno. He is a criminal."
The official seemed astounded, and I saw my idiotic mistake at once—too late!
"Strange," he murmured, and, at the same time, the ruffianly wretch began to shout:
"It is he! The traitor! The heretic! I recognize him!"
"Peace, peace!" said the man in black.
"I demand to be taken before the Juez Don Patricio for a deposition," shrieked the Lugareno. A crowd was beginning to collect.
The official and the officer exchanged consulting glances. At a word from the latter, the soldiers closed upon me.
I felt utterly overcome, as if the earth had crumbled under my feet, and the heavens had been rent in twain.
I walked between my captors across the street amongst hooting knots of people, and up the steps of the portico, as if in a frightful dream.
In the gloomy, chilly hall they made me wait. A soldier stood on each side of me, and there, absolutely before my eyes on a little table, reposed Mrs. Williams' shawl and Sebright's cap. This was the very hall of the Palace of Justice of which Sebright had spoken. It was more than ever like an absurd dream, now. But I had the leisure to collect my wits. I could not claim the Consul's protection simply because I should have to give him a truthful account of myself, and that would mean giving up Seraphina. The Consul could not protect her. But the Lion would sail on the morrow. Sebright would understand it if Williams did not. I trusted Sebright's sagacity. Yes, she would sail tomorrow evening. A day and a half. If I could only keep the knowledge of Seraphina from O'Brien till then—she was safe, and I should be safe, too, for my lips would be unsealed. I could claim the protection of my Consul and proclaim the villainy of the Juez.
"Go in there now, Senor, to be confronted with your accuser," said the official in black, appearing before me. He pointed at a small door to the left. My heart was beating steadily. I felt a sort of intrepid resignation.
PART FIFTH — THE LOT OF MAN
"Why have I been brought here, your worships?" I asked, with a great deal of firmness.
There were two figures in black, the one beside, the other behind a large black table. I was placed in front of them, between two soldiers, in the centre of a large, gaunt room, with bare, dirty walls, and the arms of Spain above the judge's seat.
"You are before the Juez de la Primiera Instancia," said the man in black beside the table. He wore a large and shadowy tricorn. "Be silent, and respect the procedure."
It was, without doubt, excellent advice. He whispered some words in the ear of the Judge of the First Instance. It was plain enough to me that the judge was a quite inferior official, who merely decided whether there were any case against the accused; he had, even to his clerk, an air of timidity, of doubt.
I said, "But I insist on knowing...."
The clerk said, "In good time...." And then, in the same tone of disinterested official routine, he spoke to the Lugareno, who, from beside the door, rolled very frightened eyes from the judges and the clerk to myself and the soldiers—"Advance."
The judge, in a hurried, perfunctory voice, put questions to the Lugareno; the clerk scratched with a large quill on a sheet of paper.
"Where do you come from?"
"The town of Rio Medio, Excellency."
"Of what occupation?"
"Excellency—a few goats...."
"Why are you here?"
"My daughter, Excellency, married Pepe of the posada in the Calle...."
The judge said, "Yes, yes," with an unsanguine impatience. The Lugareno's dirty hands jumped nervously on the large rim of his limp hat.
"You lodge a complaint against the senor there."
The clerk pointed the end of his quill towards me.
"I? God forbid, Excellency," the Lugareno bleated. "The Alguazil of the Criminal Court instructed me to be watchful.
"You lodge an information, then?" the juez said.
"Maybe it is an information, Excellency," the Lugareno answered, "as regards the senor there."
The Alguazil of the Criminal Court had told him, and many other men of Rio Medio, to be on the watch for me, "undoubtedly touching what had happened, as all the world knew, in Rio Medio."
He looked me full in the face with stupid insolence, and said:
"At first I much doubted, for all the world said this man was dead—though others said worse things. Perhaps, who knows?"
He had seen me, he said, many times in Rio Medio, outside the Casa; on the balcony of the Casa, too. And he was sure that I was a heretic and an evil person.
It suddenly struck me that this man—I was undoubtedly familiar with his face—must be the lieutenant of Manuel-del-Popolo, his boon companion. Without doubt, he had seen me on the balcony of the Casa.
He had gained a lot of assurance from the conciliatory manner of the Juez, and said suddenly, in a tentative way:
"An evil person; a heretic? Who knows? Perhaps it was he who incited some people there to murder his senoria, the illustrious Don."
I said almost contemptuously, "Surely the charge against me is most absurd? Everyone knows who I am."
The old judge made a gentle, tired motion with his hand.
"Senor," he said, "there is no charge against you—except that no one knows who you are. You were in a place where very lamentable and inexplicable things happened; you are now in Havana: you have no passport. I beg of you to remain calm. These things are all in order."
I hadn't any doubt that, as far as he knew, he was speaking the truth. He was a man, very evidently, of a weary and naive simplicity. Perhaps it was really true—that I should only have to explain; perhaps it was all over.
O'Brien came into the room with the casual step of an official from an office entering another's room.
It was as if seeing me were a thing that he very much disliked—that he came because he wanted to satisfy himself of my existence, of my identity, and my being alone. The slow stare that he gave me did not mitigate the leisureliness of his entry. He walked behind the table; the judge rose with immense deference; with his eternal smile, and no word spoken, he motioned the judge to resume the examination; he stood looking at the clerk's notes meditatively, the smile still round lips that had a nervous tremble, and eyes that had dark marks beneath them. He seemed as if he were still smiling just after having been violently shaken.
The judge went on examining the Lugareno.
"Do you know whence the senor came?"
"Excellency, Excellency...." The man stuttered, his eyes on O'Brien's face.
"Nor how long he was in the town of Rio Medio?" the judge went on.
O'Brien suddenly drooped towards his ear. "All those things are known, senor, my colleague," he said, and began to whisper.
The old judge showed signs of very naive astonishment and joy.
"Is it possible?" he exclaimed. "This man? He is very young to have committed such crimes."
The clerk hurriedly left the room. He returned with many papers. O'Brien, leaning over the judge's shoulder, emphasized words with one finger. What new villainies could O'Brien be meditating? It wasn't possibly the Lugareno's suggestion that I had lured men to murder Don Balthasar? Was it merely that I had infringed some law in carrying off Seraphina?
The old judge said, "How lucky, Don Patricio! We may now satisfy the English admiral. What good fortune!"
He suddenly sat straight in his chair; O'Brien behind him scrutinized my face—to see how I should bear what was coming.
"What is your name?" the judge asked peremptorily.
I said, "Juan—John Kemp. I am of noble English family; I am well enough known. Ask the Senor O'Brien."
On O'Brien's shaken face the smile hardened.
"I heard that in Rio Medio the senor was called... was called..." He paused and appealed to the Lugareno.
"What was he called—the capataz the man who led the picaroons?"
The Lugareno stammered, "Nikola... Nikola el Escoces, Senor Don Patricio."
"You hear?" O'Brien asked the judge. "This villager identifies the man."
"Undoubtedly—undoubtedly," the Juez said. "We need no more evidence.... You, Senor, have seen this villain in Rio Medio, this villager identifies him by name."
I said, "This is absurd. A hundred witnesses can say that I am John Kemp...."
"That may be true," the Juez said dryly, and then to his clerk:
"Write here, 'John Kemp, of noble British family, called, on the scene of his crimes, Nikola el Escoces, otherwise El Demonio.'"
I shrugged my shoulders. I did not, at the moment, realize to what this all tended.
The judge said to the clerk, "Read the Act of Accusation. Read here...." He was pointing to a paragraph of the papers the clerk had brought in. They were the Act of Accusation, prepared long before, against the man Nichols.
This particular villainy suddenly became grotesquely and portentously plain. The clerk read an appalling catalogue of sordid crimes, working into each other like kneaded dough—the testimony of witnesses who had signed the record. Nikola had looted fourteen ships, and had apparently murdered twenty-two people with his own hand—two of them women—and there was the affair of Rowley's boats. "The pinnace," the clerk read, "of the British came within ten yards. The said Nikola then exclaimed, 'Curse the bloodthirsty hounds,' and fired the grapeshot into the boat. Seven were killed by that discharge. This I saw with my own eyes.... Signed, Isidoro Alemanno." And another swore, "The said Nikola was below, but he came running up, and with one blow of his knife severed the throat of the man who was kneeling on the deck...."
There was no doubt that Nikola had committed these crimes; that the witnesses had sworn to them and signed the deposition.... The old judge had evidently never seen him, and now O'Brien and the Lugareno had sworn that I was Nikola el Escoces, alias El Demonio.
My first impulse was to shout with rage; but I checked it because I knew I should be silenced. I said:
"I am not Nikola el Escoces. That I can easily prove."
The Judge of the First Instance shrugged his shoulders and looked, with implicit trust, up into O'Brien's face.
"That man," I pointed at the Lugareno, "is a pirate. And, what is more, he is in the pay of the Senor Juez O'Brien. He was the lieutenant of a man called Manuel-del-Popolo, who commanded the Lugarenos after Nikola left Rio Medio."
"You know very much about the pirates," the Juez said, with the sardonic air of a very stupid man. "Without doubt you were intimate with them. I sign now your order for committal to the carcel of the Marine Court."
I said, "But I tell you I am not Nikola...."
The Juez said impassively, "You pass out of my hands into those of the Marine Court. I am satisfied that you are a person deserving of a trial. That is the limit of my responsibility."
I shouted then, "But I tell you this O'Brien is my personal enemy."
The old man smiled acidly.
"The senor need fear nothing of our courts. He will be handed over to his own countrymen. Without doubt of them he will obtain justice." He signed to the Lugareno to go, and rose, gathering up his papers; he bowed to O'Brien. "I leave the criminal at the disposal of your worship," he said, and went out with his clerk.
O'Brien sent out the two soldiers after him, and stood there alone. He had never been so near his death. But for sheer curiosity, for my sheer desire to know what he could say, I would have smashed in his brains with the clerk's stool. I was going to do it; I made one step towards the stool. Then I saw that he was crying.
"The curse—the curse of Cromwell on you," he sobbed suddenly. "You send me back to hell again." He writhed his whole body. "Sorrow!" he said, "I know it. But what's this? What's this?"
The many reasons he had for sorrow flashed on me like a procession of sombre images.
"Dead and done with a man can bear," he muttered. "But this—Not to know—perhaps alive—perhaps hidden—She may be dead...." With a change like a flash he was commanding me.
"Tell me how you escaped."
I had a vague inspiration of the truth.
"You aren't fit for a decent man's speaking to," I said.
"You let her drown."
It gave me suddenly the measure of his ignorance; he did not know anything—nothing. His hell was uncertainty. Well, let him stay there.
"Where is she?" he said. "Where is she?"
"Where she's no need to fear you," I answered.
He had a sudden convulsive gesture, as if searching for a weapon.
"If you'll tell me she's alive..." he began.
"Oh, I'm not dead," I answered.
"Never a drowned puppy was more," he said, with a flash of vivacity. "You hang here—for murder—or in England for piracy."
"Then I've little to want to live for," I sneered at him.
"You let her drown," he said. "You took her from that house, a young girl, in a little boat. And you can hold up your head."
"I was trying to save her from you," I answered.
"By God," he said. "These English—I've seen them, spit the child on the mother's breast. I've seen them set fire to the thatch of the widow and childless. But this.... But this.... I can save you, I tell you."
"You can't make me go through worse than I've borne," I answered. Sorrow and all he might wish on my head, my life was too precious to him till I spoke. I wasn't going to speak.
"I'll search every ship in the harbour," he said passionately.
"Do," I said. "Bring your Lugarenos to the task."
Upon the whole, I wasn't much afraid. Unless he got definite evidence he couldn't—in the face of the consul's protests, and the presence of the admiral—touch the Lion again. He fixed his eyes intently upon me.
"You came in the American brigantine," he said. "It's known you landed in her boat."
I didn't answer him; it was plain enough that the drogher's arrival had either not been reported to him, or it had been searched in vain.
"In her boat," he repeated. "I tell you I know she is not dead; even you, an Englishman, must have a different face if she were."
"I don't at least ask you for life," I said, "to enjoy with her."
"She's alive," he said. "Alive! As for where, it matters little. I'll search every inch of the island, every road, every hacienda. You don't realize my power."
"Then search the bottom of the sea," I shouted.
"Let's look at the matter in the right light."
He had mastered his grief, his incertitude. He was himself again, and the smile had returned—as if at the moment he forced his features to their natural lines.
"Send one of your friars to heaven—you'll never go there yourself to meet her."
"If you will tell me she's alive, I'll save you."
I made a mute, obstinate gesture.
"If she's alive, and you don't tell me, I can't but find her. And I'll make you know the agonies of suspense—a long way from here."
I was silent.
"If she's dead, and you'll tell me, I'll save you some trouble. If she's dead and you don't, you'll have your own remorse and the rest, too."
I said, "You're too Irish mysterious for me to understand. But you've a choice of four evils for me—choose yourself."
He continued with a quivering, taut good-humour: "Prove to me she's dead, and I'll let you die sharply and mercifully."
"You won't believe!" I said; but he took no notice.
"I tell you plainly," he smiled. "If we find... if we find her dear body—and I can't help; but I've men on the watch all along the shores—I'll give you up to your admiral for a pirate. You'll have a long slow agony of a trial; I know what English justice is. And a disgraceful felon's death."
I was thinking that, in any case, a day or so might be gained, the Lion would be gone; they could not touch her while the flagship remained outside. I certainly didn't want to be given up to the admiral; I might explain the mistaken identity. But there was the charge of treason in Jamaica. I said:
"I only ask to be given up; but you daren't do it for your own credit. I can show you up."
He said, "Make no mistake! If he gets you, he'll hang you. He's going home in disgrace. Your whole blundering Government will work to hang you."
"They know pretty well," I answered, "that there are queer doings in Havana. I promise you, I'll clear things up. I know too much...."
He said, with a sudden, intense note of passion, "Only tell me where her grave is, I'll let you go free. You couldn't, you dare not, dastard that you are, go away from where she died—without... without making sure."
"Then search all the new graves in the island," I said, "I'll tell you nothing.... Nothing!"
He came at me again and again, but I never spoke after that. He made all the issues clearer and clearer—his own side involuntarily and all the griefs I had to expect. As for him, he dared not kill me—and he dared not give me up to the admiral. In his suspense, since, for him, I was the only person in the world who knew Seraphina's fate, he dared not let me out of his grip. And all the while he had me he must keep the admiral there, waiting for the surrender either of myself or of some other poor devil whom he might palm off as Nikola el Escoces. While the admiral was there the Lion was pretty safe from molestation, and she would sail pretty soon.
At the same time, except for the momentary sheer joy of tormenting a man whom I couldn't help regarding as a devil, I had more than enough to fear. I had suffered too much; I wanted rest, woman's love, slackening off. And here was another endless coil—endless. If it didn't end in a knife in the back, he might keep me for ages in Havana; or he might get me sent to England, where it would take months, an endless time, to prove merely that I wasn't Nikola el Escoces. I should prove it; but, in the meantime, what would become of Sera-phina? Would she follow me to England? Would she even know that I had gone there? Or would she think me dead and die herself? O'Brien knew nothing; his spies might report a hundred uncertainties. He was standing rigidly still now, as if afraid to move for fear of breaking down. He said suddenly:
"You came in some ship; you can't deceive me, I shall have them all searched again."
I said desperately, "Search and be damned—whatever ships you like."
"You cold, pitiless, English scoundrel," he shrieked suddenly. The breaking down of his restraint had let him go right into madness. "You have murdered her. You cared nothing; you came from nowhere. A beggarly fool, too stupid to be even an adventurer. A miserable blunderer, coming in blind; coming out blind; and leaving ruin and worse than hell. What good have you done yourself? What could you? What did you see? What did you hope?... Sorrow? Ruin? Death? I am acquainted with them. It is in the blood; 'tis in the tone; in the entrails of us, in our mother's milk. Your accursed land has brought always that on our own dear and sorrowful country.... You waste, you ruin, you spoil. What for?... Tell me what for? Tell me? Tell me? What did you gain? What will you ever gain? An unending curse!... But, ah, ye've no souls."
He called very loudly, as if with a passionate relief, his voice giving life to an unsuspected, misgiving echo:
"Guards! Soldiers!... You shall be shot, now!"
He was going to cut the knot that way. Two soldiers pushed the door noisily open, their muskets advanced. He took no notice of them; and they retained an attitude of military stupidity, their eyes upon him. He whispered:
"No, no! Not yet!"
Then he looked at me searchingly, as if he still hoped to get some certainty from my face, some inkling, perhaps some inspiration of what would persuade me to speak. Then he shook his wrists violently, as if in fear of himself.
"Take him away," he said. "Away! Out of reach of my hands. Out of reach of my hands."
I was trembling a good deal; when the soldiers entered I thought I had got to my last minute. But, as it was, he had not learnt a thing from me. Not a thing. And I did not see where else he could go for information.
The entrance to the common prison of Havana was a sort of lofty tunnel, finished by great, iron-rusted, wooden gates. A civil guard was exhibiting the judge's warrant for my committal to a white-haired man, with a red face and blue eyes, that seemed to look through tumbled bushes of silver eyebrows—the alcayde of the prison. He bowed, and rattled two farcically large keys. A practicable postern was ajar on the yellow wood of the studded gates. It was as if it afforded a glimpse of the other side of the world. The venerable turnkey, a gnome in a steeple-crowned hat, protruded a blood-red hand backwards in the direction of the postern.
"Senor Caballero," he croaked, "I pray you to consider this house your own. My servants are yours."
Within was a gravel yard, shut in by portentous lead-white house-sides with black window holes. Under each row of windows was a vast vaulted tunnel, caged with iron bars, for all the world like beasts' dens. It being day, the beasts were out and lounging about the patio. They had an effect of infinite tranquillity, as if they were ladies and gentlemen parading in a Sunday avenue. Perhaps twenty of them, in snowy white shirts and black velvet knee-breeches, strutted like pigeons in a knot, some with one woman on the arm, some with two. Bundles of variegated rags lay against the walls, as if they were sweepings. Well, they were the sweepings of Havana jail. The men in white and black were the great thieves... and there were children, too—the place was the city orphanage. For the fifth part of a second my advent made no difference. Then, at the far end, one of the men in black and white separated himself, and came swiftly to me across the sunny patio. The others followed slowly, with pea-fowl steps, their women hanging to them and whispering. The bundles of rags rose up towards me; others slunk furtively out of the barred dens. The man who was approaching had the head of a Julius Caesar of fifty, for all the world as if he had stolen a bust and endowed it with yellow skin and stubby gray and silver hair. He saluted me with intense gravity and an imperial glance of yellow eyes along a hooked nose. His linen was the most spotless broidered and embossed stuff; irom the crimson scarf round his waist protruded the shagreen and silver handle of a long dagger. He said:
"Senor, I have the honour to salute you. I am Crisostomo Garcia. I ask the courtesy of your trousers."
I did not answer him. I did not see what he wanted with my trousers, which weren't anyway as valuable as his own. The others were closing in on me like a solid wall. I leant back against the gate; I was not frightened, but I was mightily excited. The man like Caesar looked fiercely at me, swayed a long way back on his haunches, and imperiously motioned the crowd to recede.
"Senor Inglesito," he said, "the gift I have the honour to ask of you is the price of my protection. Without it these, my brothers, will tear you limb from limb, there will nothing of you remain."
His brothers set up a stealthy, sinister growl, that went round among the heads like the mutter of an obscene echo among the mountain-tops. I wondered whether this, perhaps, was the man who, O'Brien said, would put a knife in my back. I hadn't any knife; I might knock the fellow's teeth down his throat, though.
The alcayde thrust his immense hat, blood-red face, and long, ragged, silver locks out of the little door. His features were convulsed with indignation. He had been whispering with the Civil Guard.
"Are you mad, gentlemen?" he said. "Do you wish to visit hell before your times? Do you know who the senor is? Did you ever hear of Carlos el Demonio? This is the Inglesito of Rio Medio!"
It was plain that my deeds, such as they were, reported by O'Brien spies, by the Lugarenos, by all sorts of credulous gossipers, had got me the devil of a reputation in the patio of the jail. Men detached themselves from the crowd, and went running about to announce my arrival. The alcayde drew his long body into the patio, and turned to lock the little door with an immense key. In the crowd all sorts of little movements happened. Women crossed themselves, and furtively thrust pairs of crooked, skinny, brown, black-nailed fingers in my direction. The man like Caesar said:
"I ask your pardon, Senor Caballero. I did not know. How could I tell? You are free of all the patios in this land."
The tall alcayde finished grinding the immense key in the lock, and touched me on the arm.
"If the senor will follow me," he said. "I will do the honours of this humble mansion, and indicate a choice of rooms where he may be free from the visits of these gentry."
We went up steps, and through long, shadowy corridors, with here and there a dark, lounging figure, like a stag seen in the dim aisles of a wood. The alcayde threw open a door.
The room was like a blazing oblong-box, filled with light, but without window or chimney. Two men were fencing in the illumination of some twenty candles stuck all round the mildewed white walls on lumps of clay. There was a blaze of silver things, like an altar of a wealthy church, from a black, carved table in the far corner. The two men, in shirts and breeches, revolved round each other, their rapiers clinking, their left arms scarved, holding buttoned daggers. The alcayde proclaimed:
"Don Vincente Salazar, I have the honour to announce an English senor."
The man with his face to me tossed his rapier impatiently into a corner. He was a plump, dark Cuban, with a brooding truculence. The other faced round quickly. His cheeks shone in the candle-light like polished yellow leather, his eyes were narrow slits, his face lugubrious. He scrutinized me intently, then drawled:
"My! You?... Hang me if I didn't think it would be you!"
He had the air of surveying a monstrosity, and pulled the neck of his dirty print shirt open, panting. He slouched out into the corridor, and began whispering eagerly to the alcayde. The little Cuban glowered at me; I said I had the honour to salute him.
He muttered something contemptuous between his teeth. Well, if he didn't want to talk to me, I didn't want to talk to him. It had struck me that the tall, sallow man was undoubtedly the second mate of the Thames. Nicholas, the real Nikola el Escoces! The Cuban grumbled suddenly:
"You, Senor, are without doubt one of the spies of that friend of the priests, that O'Brien. Tell him to beware—that I bid him beware. I, Don Vincente Salazar de Valdepefias y Forli y..."
I remembered the name; he was once the suitor of Seraphina—the man O'Brien had put out of the way. He continued with a grotesque frown of portentous significance:
"To-morrow I leave this place. And your compatriot is very much afraid, Senor. Let him fear! Let him fear! But a thousand spies should not save him."
The tall alcayde came hurriedly back and stood bowing between us. He apologized abjectly to the Cuban for intruding me upon him. But the room was the best in the place at the disposal of the prisoners of the Juez O'Brien. And I was a noted caballero. Heaven knows what I had not done in Rio Medio. Burnt, slain, ravished.... The Senor Juez was understood to be much incensed against me. The gloomy Cuban at once rushed upon me, as if he would have taken me into his arms.
"The Inglesito of Rio Medio!" he said. "Ha, ha! Much have I heard of you. Much of the senor's valiance! Many tales! That foul eater of the carrion of the priests wishes your life! Ah, but let him beware! I shall save you, Senor—I, Don Vincente Salazar."
He presented me with the room—a remarkably bare place but for his properties: silver branch candlesticks, a silver chafing-dish as large as a basin. They might have been chased by Cellini—one used to find things like that in Cuba in those days, and Salazar was the person to have them. Afterwards, at the time of the first insurrection, his eight-mule harness was sold for four thousand pounds in Paris—by reason of the gold and pearls upon it. The atmosphere, he explained, was fetid, but his man was coming to burn sandal-wood and beat the air with fans.
"And to-morrow!" he said, his eyes rolling. Suddenly he stopped. "Senor," he said, "is it true that my venerated friend, my more than father, has been murdered—at the instigation of that fiend? Is it true that the senorita has disappeared? These tales are told."
I said it was very true.
"They shall be avenged," he declared, "to-morrow! I shall seek out the senorita. I shall find her. I shall find her! For me she was destined by my venerable friend."
He snatched a black velvet jacket from the table and put it on.
"Afterwards, Senor, you shall relate. Have no fear. I shall save you. I shall save all men oppressed by this scourge of the land. For the moment afford me the opportunity to meditate." He crossed his arms, and dropped his round head. "Alas, yes!" he meditated.
Suddenly he waved towards the door. "Senor," he said swiftly, "I must have air; I stifle. Come with me to the corridor...."
He went towards the window giving on to the patio; he stood in the shadow, his arms folded, his head hanging dejectedly. At the moment it grew suddenly dark, as if a veil had been thrown over a lamp. The sun had set outside the walls. A drum began to beat. Down below in the obscurity the crowd separated into three strings and moved slowly towards the barren tunnels. Under our feet the white shirts disappeared; the ragged crowd gravitated to the left; the small children strung into the square cage-door. The drum beat again and the crowd hurried. Then there was a clang of closing grilles and lights began to show behind the bars from deep recesses. In a little time there was a repulsive hash of heads and limbs to be seen under the arches vanishing a long way within, and a little light washed across the gravel of the patio from within.
"Senor," the Cuban said suddenly, "I will pronounce his panegyric. He was a man of a great gentleness, of an inevitable nobility, of an invariable courtesy. Where, in this degenerate age, shall we find the like!" He stopped to breathe a sound of intense exasperation.
"When I think of these Irish,..." he said. "Of that O'Brien...." A servant was arranging the shining room that we had left. Salazar interrupted himself to give some orders about a banquet, then returned to me. "I tell you I am here for introducing my knife to the spine of some sort of Madrid embustero, a man who was insolent to my amiga Clara. Do you believe that for that this O'Brien, by the influence of the priests whose soles he licks with his tongue, has had me inclosed for many months? Because he feared me! Aha! I was about to expose him to the noble don who is now dead! I was about to wed the Senorita who has disappeared. But to-morrow... I shall expose his intrigue to the Captain-General. You, Senor, shall be my witness! I extend my protection to you...." He crossed his arms and spoke with much deliberation. "Senor, this Irishman incommodes me, Don Vincente Salazar de Valdepenas y Forli...." He nodded his head expressively. "Senor, we offered these Irish the shelter of our robe for that your Government was making martyrs of them who were good Christians, and it behoves us to act in despite of your Government, who are heretics and not to be tolerated upon God's Christian earth. But, Senor, if they incommoded your Government as they do us, I do not wonder that there was a desire to remove them. Senor, the life of that man is not worth the price of eight mules, which is the price I have paid for my release. I might walk free at this moment, but it is not fitting that I should slink away under cover of darkness. I shall go out in the daylight with my carriage. And I will have an offering to show my friends who, like me, are incommoded by this...." The man was a monomaniac; but it struck me that, if I had been O'Brien, I should have felt uncomfortable.
In the dark of the corridor a long shape appeared, lounging. The Cuban beside me started hospitably forward.
"Vamos," he said briskly; "to the banquet...." He waved his hand towards the shining door and stood aside. We entered.
The other man was undoubtedly the Nova Scotian mate of the Thames, the man who had dissuaded me from following Carlos on the day we sailed into Kingston Harbour. He was chewing a toothpick, and at the ruminant motion of his knife-jaws I seemed to see him, sitting naked to the waist in his bunk, instead of upright there in red trousers and a blue shirt—an immense lank-length of each. I pieced his history together in a sort of flash. He was the true Nikola el Escoces; his name was Nichols, and he came from Nova Scotia. He had been the chief of O'Brien's Lugarenos. He surveyed me now with a twinkle in his eyes, his yellow jaws as shiny-shaven as of old; his arms as much like a semaphore. He said mockingly:
"So you went there, after all?"
But the Cuban was pressing us towards his banquet; there was gaspacho in silver plates, and a man in livery holding something in a napkin. It worried me. We surveyed each other in silence. I wondered what Nichols knew; what it would be safe to tell him; how much he could help me? One or other of these men undoubtedly might. The Cuban was an imbecile; but he might have some influence—and if he really were going out on the morrow, and really did go to the Captain-General, he certainly could further his own revenge on O'Brien by helping me.... But as for Nichols....
Salazar began to tell a long, exaggerated story about his cook, whom he had imported from Paris.
"Think," he said; "I bring the fool two thousand miles—and then—not even able to begin on a land-crab. A fool!"
The Nova Scotian cast an uninterested side glance at him, and said in English, which Salazar did not understand:
"So you went there, after all? And now he's got you." I did not answer him. "I know all about you," he added.
"It's more than I do about you," I said.
He rose and suddenly jerked the door open, peered on each side of the corridor, and then sat down again.
"I'm not afraid to tell," he said defiantly. "I'm not afraid of anything. I'm safe."
The Cuban said to me in Spanish: "This senor is my friend. Everyone who hates that devil is my friend."
"I'm safe," Nichols repeated. "I know too much about our friend the raparee." He lowered his voice. "They say you're to be given up for piracy, eh?" His eyes had an extraordinarily anxious leer. "You are now, eh? For how much? Can't you tell a man? We're in the same boat! I kin help you!"
Salazar accidentally knocked a silver goblet off the table and, at the sound, Nichols sprang half off his chair. He glared in a wild stare around him then grasped at a flagon of aguardiente and drank.
"I'm not afraid of any damn thing" he said. "I've got a hold on that man. He dursen't give me up. I kin see! He's going to give you up and say you're responsible for it all."
"I don't know what he's going to do," I answered.
"Will you not, Senor," Salazar said suddenly, "relate, if you can without distress, the heroic death of that venerated man?"
I glanced involuntarily at Nichols. "The distress," I said, "would be very great. I was Don Balthasar's kinsman. The Senor O'Brien had a great fear of my influence in the Casa. It was in trying to take me away that Don Balthasar, who defended me, was slain by the Lugarenos of O'Brien."
Salazar said, "Aha! Aha! We are kindred spirits. Hated and loved by the same souls. This fiend, Senor. And then...."
"I escaped by sea—in an open boat, in the confusion. When I reached Havana, the Juez had me arrested."
Salazar raised both hands; his gestures, made for large, grave men, were comic in him. They reduced Spanish manners to absurdity. He said:
"That man dies. That man dies. To-morrow I go to the Captain-General. He shall hear this story of yours, Senor. He shall know of these machinations which bring honest men to this place. We are a band of brothers...."
"That's what I say." Nichols leered at me. "We're all in the same boat."
I expect he noticed that I wasn't moved by his declaration. He said, still in English:
"Let us be open. Let's have a council of war. This O'Brien hates me because I wouldn't fire on my own countrymen." He glanced furtively at me. "I wouldn't," he asserted; "he wanted me to fire into their boats; but I wouldn't. Don't you believe the tales they tell about me! They tell worse about you. Who says I would fire on my countrymen? Where's the man who says it?" He had been drinking more brandy and glared ferociously at me. "None of your tricks, my hearty," he said. "None of your getting out and spreading tales. O'Brien's my friend; he'll never give me up. He dursen't. I know too much. You're a pirate! No doubt it was you who fired into them boats. By God I'll be witness against you if they give me up. I'll show you up."
All the while the little Cuban talked swiftly and with a saturnine enthusiasm. He passed the wine rapidly.
"My own countrymen!" Nichols shouted. "Never! I shot a Yankee lieutenant—Allen he was—with my own hand. That's another thing. I'm not a man to trifle with. No, sir. Don't you try it.... Why, I've papers that would hang O'Brien. I sent them home to Halifax. I know a trick worth his. By God, let him try it! Let him only try it. He dursen't give me up...."
The man in livery came in to snuff the candles. Nichols sprang from his seat in a panic and drew his knife with frantic haste. He continued, glaring at me from the wall, the knife in his hand:
"Don't you dream of tricks. I've cut more throats than you've kissed gals in your little life."
Salazar himself drew an immense pointed knife with a shagreen hilt. He kissed it rapturously.
"Aha!... Aha!" he said, "bear this kiss into his ribs at the back." His eyes glistened with this mania. "I swear it; when I next see this dog; this friend of the priests." He threw the knife on the table. "Look," he said, "was ever steel truer or more thirsty?"
"Don't you make no mistake," Nichols continued to me. "Don't you think to presume. O'Brien's my friend. I'm here snug and out of the way of the old fool of an admiral. That's why he's kept waiting off the Morro. When he goes, I walk out free. Don't you try to frighten me. I'm not a man to be frightened."
Salazar bubbled: "Ah, but now the wine flows and is red. We are a band of brothers, each loving the other. Brothers, let us drink."
The air of close confinement, the blaze, the feel of the jail, pressed upon me, and I felt sore, suddenly, at having eaten and drunk with those two. The idea of Seraphina, asleep perhaps, crying perhaps, something pure and distant and very blissful, came in upon me irresistibly.