By Joseph Conrad
COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
ELSIE AND JESSIE
"C'est toi qui dors dans Vombre, O sacre Souvenir." If we could have remembrance now And see, as in the days to come We shall, what's venturous in these hours: The swift, intangible romance of fields at home, The gleams of sun, the showers, Our workaday contentments, or our powers To fare still forward through the uncharted haze Of present days. . . . For, looking back when years shall flow Upon this olden day that's now, We'll see, romantic in dimm'd hours, These memories of ours.
PART FIRST The Quarry and the Beach
PART SECOND The Girl with the Lizard
PART THIRD Casa Riego
PART FOURTH Blade and Guitar
PART FIFTH The Lot of Man
PART FIRST — THE QUARRY AND THE BEACH
To yesterday and to to-day I say my polite "vaya usted con Dios." What are these days to me? But that far-off day of my romance, when from between the blue and white bales in Don Ramon's darkened storeroom, at Kingston, I saw the door open before the figure of an old man with the tired, long, white face, that day I am not likely to forget. I remember the chilly smell of the typical West Indian store, the indescribable smell of damp gloom, of locos, of pimento, of olive oil, of new sugar, of new rum; the glassy double sheen of Ramon's great spectacles, the piercing eyes in the mahogany face, while the tap, tap, tap of a cane on the flags went on behind the inner door; the click of the latch; the stream of light. The door, petulantly thrust inwards, struck against some barrels. I remember the rattling of the bolts on that door, and the tall figure that appeared there, snuffbox in hand. In that land of white clothes, that precise, ancient, Castilian in black was something to remember. The black cane that had made the tap, tap, tap dangled by a silken cord from the hand whose delicate blue-veined, wrinkled wrist ran back into a foam of lawn ruffles. The other hand paused in the act of conveying a pinch of snuff to the nostrils of the hooked nose that had, on the skin stretched tight over the bridge, the polish of old ivory; the elbow pressing the black cocked-hat against the side; the legs, one bent, the other bowing a little back—this was the attitude of Seraphina's father.
Having imperiously thrust the door of the inner room open, he remained immovable, with no intention of entering, and called in a harsh, aged voice: "Senor Ramon! Senor Ramon!" and then twice: "Sera-phina—Seraphina!" turning his head back.
Then for the first time I saw Seraphina, looking over her father's shoulder. I remember her face on that day; her eyes were gray—the gray of black, not of blue. For a moment they looked me straight in the face, reflectively, unconcerned, and then travelled to the spectacles of old Ramon.
This glance—remember I was young on that day—had been enough to set me wondering what they were thinking of me; what they could have seen of me.
"But there he is—your Senor Ramon," she said to her father, as if she were chiding him for a petulance in calling; "your sight is not very good, my poor little father—there he is, your Ramon."
The warm reflection of the light behind her, gilding the curve of her face from ear to chin, lost itself in the shadows of black lace falling from dark hair that was not quite black. She spoke as if the words clung to her lips; as if she had to put them forth delicately for fear of damaging the frail things. She raised her long hand to a white flower that clung above her ear like the pen of a clerk, and disappeared. Ramon hurried with a stiffness of immense respect towards the ancient grandee. The door swung to.
I remained alone. The blue bales and the white, and the great red oil jars loomed in the dim light filtering through the jalousies out of the blinding sunlight of Jamaica. A moment after, the door opened once more and a young man came out to me; tall, slim, with very bright, very large black eyes aglow in an absolute pallor of face. That was Carlos Riego.
Well, that is my yesterday of romance, for the many things that have passed between those times and now have become dim or have gone out of my mind. And my day before yesterday was the day on which I, at twenty-two, stood looking at myself in the tall glass, the day on which I left my home in Kent and went, as chance willed it, out to sea with Carlos Riego.
That day my cousin Rooksby had become engaged to my sister Veronica, and I had a fit of jealous misery. I was rawboned, with fair hair, I had a good skin, tanned by the weather, good teeth, and brown eyes. I had not had a very happy life, and I had lived shut in on myself, thinking of the wide world beyond my reach, that seemed to hold out infinite possibilities of romance, of adventure, of love, perhaps, and stores of gold. In the family my mother counted; my father did not. She was the daughter of a Scottish earl who had ruined himself again and again. He had been an inventor, a projector, and my mother had been a poor beauty, brought up on the farm we still lived on—the last rag of land that had remained to her father. Then she had married a good man in his way; a good enough catch; moderately well off, very amiable, easily influenced, a dilettante, and a bit of a dreamer, too. He had taken her into the swim of the Regency, and his purse had not held out. So my mother, asserting herself, had insisted upon a return to our farm, which had been her dowry. The alternative would have been a shabby, ignominious life at Calais, in the shadow of Brummel and such.
My father used to sit all day by the fire, inscribing "ideas" every now and then in a pocket-book. I think he was writing an epic poem, and I think he was happy in an ineffectual way. He had thin red hair, untidy for want of a valet, a shining, delicate, hooked nose, narrow-lidded blue eyes, and a face with the colour and texture of a white-heart cherry. He used to spend his days in a hooded chair. My mother managed everything, leading an out-of-door life which gave her face the colour of a wrinkled pippin. It was the face of a Roman mother, tight-lipped, brown-eyed, and fierce. You may understand the kind of woman she was from the hands she employed on the farm. They were smugglers and night-malefactors to a man—and she liked that. The decent, slow-witted, gently devious type of rustic could not live under her. The neighbours round declared that the Lady Mary Kemp's farm was a hotbed of disorder. I expect it was, too; three of our men were hung up at Canterbury on one day—for horse-stealing and arson.... Anyhow, that was my mother. As for me, I was under her, and, since I had my aspirations, I had a rather bitter childhood. And I had others to contrast myself with. First there was Rooksby: a pleasant, well-spoken, amiable young squire of the immediate neighbourhood; young Sir Ralph, a man popular with all sorts, and in love with my sister Veronica from early days. Veronica was very beautiful, and very gentle, and very kind; tall, slim, with sloping white shoulders and long white arms, hair the colour of amber, and startled blue eyes—a good mate for Rooksby. Rooksby had foreign relations, too. The uncle from whom he inherited the Priory had married a Riego, a Castilian, during the Peninsular war. He had been a prisoner at the time—he had died in Spain, I think. When Ralph made the grand tour, he had made the acquaintance of his Spanish relations; he used to talk about them, the Riegos, and Veronica used to talk of what he said of them until they came to stand for Romance, the romance of the outer world, to me. One day, a little before Ralph and Veronica became engaged, these Spaniards descended out of the blue. It was Romance suddenly dangled right before my eyes. It was Romance; you have no idea what it meant to me to talk to Carlos Riego.
Rooksby was kind enough. He had me over to the Priory, where I made the acquaintance of the two maiden ladies, his second cousins, who kept house for him. Yes, Ralph was kind; but I rather hated him for it, and was a little glad when he, too, had to suffer some of the pangs of jealousy—jealousy of Carlos Riego.
Carlos was dark, and of a grace to set Ralph as much in the shade as Ralph himself set me; and Carlos had seen a deal more of the world than Ralph. He had a foreign sense of humour that made him forever ready to sacrifice his personal dignity. It made Veronica laugh, and even drew a grim smile from my mother; but it gave Ralph bad moments. How he came into these parts was a little of a mystery. When Ralph was displeased with this Spanish connection he used to swear that Carlos had cut a throat or taken a purse. At other times he used to say that it was a political matter. In fine, Carlos had the hospitality of the Priory, and the title of Count when he chose to use it. He brought with him a short, pursy, bearded companion, half friend, half servant, who said he had served in Napoleon's Spanish contingent, and had a way of striking his breast with a wooden hand (his arm had suffered in a cavalry charge), and exclaiming, "I, Tomas Castro! . . ." He was an Andalusian.
For myself, the first shock of his strangeness over-come, I adored Carlos, and Veronica liked him, and laughed at him, till one day he said good-by and rode off along the London road, followed by his Tomas Castro. I had an intense longing to go with him out into the great world that brooded all round our foothills.
You are to remember that I knew nothing whatever of that great world. I had never been further away from our farm than just to Canterbury school, to Hythe market, to Romney market. Our farm nestled down under the steep, brown downs, just beside the Roman road to Canterbury; Stone Street—the Street—we called it. Ralph's land was just on the other side of the Street, and the shepherds on the downs used to see of nights a dead-and-gone Rooksby, Sir Peter that was, ride upon it past the quarry with his head under his arm. I don't think I believed in him, but I believed in the smugglers who shared the highway with that horrible ghost. It is impossible for any one nowadays-to conceive the effect these smugglers had upon life thereabouts and then. They were the power to which everything else deferred. They used to overrun the country in great bands, and brooked no interference with their business. Not long before they had defeated regular troops in a pitched battle on the Marsh, and on the very day I went away I remember we couldn't do our carting because the smugglers had given us notice they would need our horses in the evening. They were a power in the land where there was violence enough without them, God knows! Our position on that Street put us in the midst of it all. At dusk we shut our doors, pulled down our blinds, sat round the fire, and knew pretty well what was going on outside. There would be long whistles in the dark, and when we found men lurking in our barns we feigned not to see them—it was safer so. The smugglers—the Free Traders, they called themselves—were as well organized for helping malefactors out of the country as for running goods in; so it came about that we used to have comers and forgers, murderers and French spies—all sorts of malefactors—hiding in our straw throughout the day, wait-for the whistle to blow from the Street at dusk. I, born with my century, was familiar with these things; but my mother forbade my meddling with them. I expect she knew enough herself—all the resident gentry did. But Ralph—though he was to some extent of the new school, and used to boast that, if applied to, he "would grant a warrant against any Free Trader"—never did, as a matter of fact, or not for many years.
Carlos, then, Rooksby's Spanish kinsman, had come and gone, and I envied him his going, with his air of mystery, to some far-off lawless adventures—perhaps over there in Spain, where there were war and rebellion. Shortly afterwards Rooksby proposed for the hand of Veronica and was accepted—by my mother. Veronica went about looking happy. That upset me, too. It seemed unjust that she should go out into the great world—to Bath, to Brighton, should see the Prince Regent and the great fights on Hounslow Heath—whilst I was to remain forever a farmer's boy. That afternoon I was upstairs, looking at the reflection of myself in the tall glass, wondering miserably why I seemed to be such an oaf.
The voice of Rooksby hailed me suddenly from downstairs. "Hey, John—John Kemp; come down, I say!"
I started away from the glass as if I had been taken in an act of folly. Rooksby was flicking his leg with his switch in the doorway, at the bottom of the narrow flight of stairs.
He wanted to talk to me, he said, and I followed him out through the yard on to the soft road that climbs the hill to westward. The evening was falling slowly and mournfully; it was dark already in the folds of the sombre downs.
We passed the corner of the orchard. "I know what you've got to tell me," I said. "You're going to marry Veronica. Well, you've no need of my blessing. Some people have all the luck. Here am I . . . look at me!"
Ralph walked with his head bent down.
"Confound it," I said, "I shall run away to sea! I tell you, I'm rotting, rotting! There! I say, Ralph, give me Carlos' direction...." I caught hold of his arm. "I'll go after him. He'd show me a little life. He said he would."
Ralph remained lost in a kind of gloomy abstraction, while I went on worrying him for Carlos' address.
"Carlos is the only soul I know outside five miles from here. Besides, he's friends in the Indies. That's where I want to go, and he could give me a cast. You remember what Tomas Castro said. . . ."
Rooksby came to a sudden halt, and began furiously to switch his corded legs.
"Curse Carlos, and his Castro, too. They'll have me in jail betwixt them. They're both in my red barn, if you want their direction. . . ."
He hurried on suddenly up the hill, leaving me gazing upwards at him. When I caught him up he was swearing—as one did in those days—and stamping his foot in the middle of the road.
"I tell you," he said violently, "it's the most accursed business! That Castro, with his Cuba, is nothing but a blasted buccaneer... and Carlos is no better. They go to Liverpool for a passage to Jamaica, and see what comes of it!"
It seems that on Liverpool docks, in the owl-light, they fell in with an elderly hunks just returned from West Indies, who asks the time at the door of a shipping agent. Castro pulls out a watch, and the old fellow jumps on it, vows it's his own, taken from him years before by some picaroons on his outward voyage. Out from the agent's comes another, and swears that Castro is one of the self-same crew. He himself purported to be the master of the very ship. Afterwards—in the solitary dusk among the ropes and bales—there had evidently been some play with knives, and it ended with a flight to London, and then down to Rooksby's red barn, with the runners in full cry after them.
"Think of it," Rooksby said, "and me a justice, and... oh, it drives me wild, this hole-and-corner work! There's a filthy muddle with the Free Traders—a whistle to blow after dark at the quarry. To-night of all nights, and me a justice... and as good as a married man!"
I looked at him wonderingly in the dusk; his high coat collar almost hid his face, and his hat was pressed down over his eyes. The thing seemed incredible to me. Here was an adventure, and I was shocked to see that Rooksby was in a pitiable state about it.
"But, Ralph," I said, "I would help Carlos."
"Oh, you," he said fretfully. "You want to run your head into a noose; that's what it comes to. Why, I may have to flee the country. There's the red-breasts poking their noses into every cottage on the Ashford road." He strode on again. A wisp of mist came stealing down the hill. "I can't give my cousin up. He could be smuggled out, right enough. But then I should have to get across salt water, too, for at least a year. Why——"
He seemed ready to tear his hair, and then I put in my say. He needed a little persuasion, though, in spite of Veronica.
I should have to meet Carlos Riego and Castro in a little fir-wood above the quarry, in half an hour's time. All I had to do was to whistle three bars of "Lillibulero," as a signal. A connection had been already arranged with the Free Traders on the road beside the quarry, and they were coming down that night, as we knew well enough, both of us. They were coming in force from Canterbury way down to the Marsh. It had cost Ralph a pretty penny; but, once in the hands of the smugglers, his cousin and Castro would be safe enough from the runners; it would have needed a troop of horse to take them. The difficulty was that of late the smugglers themselves had become demoralized. There were ugly rumours of it; and there was a danger that Castro and Carlos, if not looked after, might end their days in some marsh-dyke. It was desirable that someone well known in our parts should see them to the seashore. A boat, there, was to take them out into the bay, where an outward-bound West Indiaman would pick them up. But for Ralph's fear for his neck, which had increased in value since its devotion to Veronica, he would have squired his cousin. As it was, he fluttered round the idea of letting me take his place. Finally he settled it; and I embarked on a long adventure.
Between moonrise and sunset I was stumbling through the bracken of the little copse that was like a tuft of hair on the brow of the great white quarry. It was quite dark, in among the trees. I made the circuit of the copse, whistling softly my three bars of "Lillibulero." Then I plunged into it. The bracken underfoot rustled and rustled. I came to a halt. A little bar of light lay on the horizon in front of me, almost colourless. It was crossed again and again by the small fir-trunks that were little more than wands. A woodpigeon rose with a sudden crash of sound, flapping away against the branches. My pulse was dancing with delight—my heart, too. It was like a game of hide-and-seek, and yet it was life at last. Everything grew silent again and I began to think I had missed my time. Down below in the plain, a great way off, a dog was barking continuously. I moved forward a few paces and whistled. The glow of adventure began to die away. There was nothing at all—a little mystery of light on the tree-trunks.
I moved forward again, getting back towards the road. Against the glimmer of dead light I thought I caught the outlines of a man's hat down among the tossing lines of the bracken. I whispered loudly:
There was a moment of hoarse whispering; a sudden gruff sound. A shaft of blazing yellow light darted from the level of the ground into my dazed eyes. A man sprang at me and thrust something cold and knobby into my neckcloth. The light continued to blaze into my eyes; it moved upwards and shone on a red waistcoat dashed with gilt buttons. I was being arrested.... "In the King's name...." It was a most sudden catastrophe. A hand was clutching my windpipe.
"Don't you so much as squeak, Mr. Castro," a voice whispered in my ear.
The lanthorn light suddenly died out, and I heard whispers.
"Get him out on to the road.... I'll tackle the other . . . Darbies. . . . Mind his knife."
I was like a confounded rabbit in their hands. One of them had his fist on my collar and jerked me out upon the hard road. We rolled down the embankment, but he was on the top. It seemed an abominable episode, a piece of bad faith on the part of fate. I ought to have been exempt from these sordid haps, but the man's hot leathery hand on my throat was like a foretaste of the other collar. And I was horribly afraid—horribly—of the sort of mysterious potency of the laws that these men represented, and I could think of nothing to do.
We stood in a little slanting cutting in the shadow. A watery light before the moon's rising slanted downwards from the hilltop along the opposite bank. We stood in utter silence.
"If you stir a hair," my captor said coolly, "I'll squeeze the blood out of your throat, like a rotten orange."
He had the calmness of one dealing with an everyday incident; yet the incident was—it should have been—tremendous. We stood waiting silently for an eternity, as one waits for a hare to break covert before the beaters. From down the long hill came a small sound of horses' hoofs—a sound like the beating of the heart, intermittent—a muffled thud on turf, and a faint clink of iron. It seemed to die away unheard by the runner beside me. Presently there was a crackling of the short pine branches, a rustle, and a hoarse whisper said from above:
"Other's cleared, Thorns. Got that one safe?"
The man from above dropped down into the road, a clumsy, cloaked figure. He turned his lanthorn upon me, in a painful yellow glare.
"What! 'Tis the young 'un," he grunted, after a moment. "Read the warrant, Thorns."
My captor began to fumble in his pocket, pulled out a paper, and bent down into the light. Suddenly he paused and looked up at me.
"This ain't——— Mr. Lilly white, I don't believe this ain't a Jack Spaniard."
The clinks of bits and stirrup-irons came down in a waft again.
"That be hanged for a tale, Thorns," the man with the lanthorn said sharply. "If this here ain't Riego—or the other—I'll . . ."
I began to come out of my stupor.
"My name's John Kemp," I said.
The other grunted. "Hurry up, Thorns."
"But, Mr. Lillywhite," Thorns reasoned, "he don't speak like a Dago. Split me if he do! And we ain't in a friendly country either, you know that. We can't afford to rile the gentry!"
I plucked up courage.
"You'll get your heads broke," I said, "if you wait much longer. Hark to that!"
The approaching horses had turned off the turf on to the hard road; the steps of first one and then another sounded out down the silent hill. I knew it was the Free Traders from that; for except between banks they kept to the soft roadsides as if it were an article of faith. The noise of hoofs became that of an army.
The runners began to consult. The shadow called Thorns was for bolting across country; but Lilly white was not built for speed. Besides he did not know the lie of the land, and believed the Free Traders were mere bogeys.
"They'll never touch us," Lillywhite grumbled. "We've a warrant... King's name...." He was flashing his lanthorn aimlessly up the hill.
"Besides," he began again, "we've got this gallus bird. If he's not a Spaniard, he knows all about them. I heard him. Kemp he may be, but he spoke Spanish up there... and we've got something for our trouble. He'll swing, I'll lay you a———"
From far above us came a shout, then a confused noise of voices. The moon began to get up; above the cutting the clouds had a fringe of sudden silver. A horseman, cloaked and muffled to the ears, trotted warily towards us.
"What's up?" he hailed from a matter of ten yards. "What are you showing that glim for? Anything wrong below?"
The runners kept silence; we heard the click of a pistol lock.
"In the King's name," Lillywhite shouted, "get off that nag and lend a hand! We've a prisoner."
The horseman gave an incredulous whistle, and then began to shout, his voice winding mournfully uphill, "Hallo! Hallo—o—o." An echo stole back, "Hallo! Hallo—o—o"; then a number of voices. The horse stood, drooping its head, and the man turned in his saddle. "Runners," he shouted, "Bow Street runners! Come along, come along, boys! We'll roast 'em.... Runners! Runners!"
The sound of heavy horses at a jolting trot came to our ears.
"We're in for it," Lillywhite grunted. "D———n this county of Kent."
Thorns never loosed his hold of my collar. At the steep of the hill the men and horses came into sight against the white sky, a confused crowd of ominous things.
"Turn that lanthorn off'n me," the horseman said. "Don't you see you frighten my horse? Now, boys, get round them. . . ."
The great horses formed an irregular half-circle round us; men descended clumsily, like sacks of corn. The lanthorn was seized and flashed upon us; there was a confused hubbub. I caught my own name.
"Yes, I'm Kemp... John Kemp," I called. "I'm true blue."
"Blue be hanged!" a voice shouted back. "What be you a-doing with runners?"
The riot went on—forty or fifty voices. The runners were seized; several hands caught at me. It was impossible to make myself heard; a fist struck me on the cheek.
"Gibbet 'em," somebody shrieked; "they hung my nephew! Gibbet 'em all the three. Young Kemp's mother's a bad 'un. An informer he is. Up with 'em!"
I was pulled down on my knees, then thrust forward, and then left to myself while they rushed to bonnet Lillywhite. I stumbled against a great, quiet farm horse.
A continuous scuffling went on; an imperious voice cried: "Hold your tongues, you fools! Hold your tongues!..." Someone else called: "Hear to Jack Rangsley. Hear to him!"
There was a silence. I saw a hand light a torch at the lanthorn, and the crowd of faces, the muddle of limbs, the horses' heads, and the quiet trees above, flickered into sight.
"Don't let them hang me, Jack Rangsley," I sobbed. "You know I'm no spy. Don't let 'em hang me, Jack."
He rode his horse up to me, and caught me by the collar.
"Hold your tongue," he said roughly. He began to make a set speech, anathematizing runners. He moved to tie our feet, and hang us by our finger-nails over the quarry edge.
A hubbub of assent and dissent went up; then the crowd became unanimous. Rangsley slipped from his horse.
"Blindfold 'em, lads," he cried, and turned me sharply round.
"Don't struggle," he whispered in my ear; his silk handkerchief came cool across my eyelids. I felt hands fumbling with a knot at the back of my head. "You're all right," he said again. The hubbub of voices ceased suddenly. "Now, lads, bring 'em along."
A voice I knew said their watchword, "Snuff and enough," loudly, and then, "What's agate?"
Someone else answered, "It's Rooksby, it's Sir Ralph."
The voice interrupted sharply, "No names, now. I don't want hanging." The hand left my arm; there was a pause in the motion of the procession. I caught a moment's sound of whispering. Then a new voice cried, "Strip the runners to the shirt. Strip 'em. That's it." I heard some groans and a cry, "You won't murder us." Then a nasal drawl, "We will sure—ly." Someone else, Rangsley, I think, called, "Bring 'em along—this way now."
After a period of turmoil we seemed to come out of the crowd upon a very rough, descending path; Rangsley had called out, "Now, then, the rest of you be off; we've got enough here"; and the hoofs of heavy horses sounded again. Then we came to a halt, and Rangsley called sharply irom close to me:
"Now, you runners—and you, John Kemp—here you be on the brink of eternity, above the old quarry. There's a sheer drop of a hundred feet. We'll tie your legs and hang you by your fingers. If you hang long enough, you'll have time to say your prayers. Look alive, lads!"
The voice of one of the runners began to shout, "You'll swing for this—you———"
As for me I was in a dream. "Jack," I said, "Jack, you won't——"
"Oh, that's all right," the voice said in a whisper. "Mum, now! It's all right."
It withdrew itself a little from my ear and called, "'Now then, ready with them. When I say three...."
I heard groans and curses, and began to shout for help. My voice came back in an echo, despairingly. Suddenly I was dragged backward, and the bandage pulled from my eyes,
"Come along," Rangsley said, leading me gently enough to the road, which was five steps behind. "It's all a joke," he snarled. "A pretty bad one for those catchpolls. Hear 'em groan. The drop's not two feet."
We made a few paces down the road; the pitiful voices of the runners crying for help came plainly to my ears.
"You—they—aren't murdering them?" I asked.
"No, no," he answered. "Can't afford to. Wish we could; but they'd make it too hot for us."
We began to descend the hill. From the quarry a voice shrieked:
"Help—help—for the love of God—I can't. . . ."
There was a grunt and the sound of a fall; then a precisely similar sequence of sounds.
"That'll teach 'em," Rangsley said ferociously. "Come along—they've only rolled down a bank. They weren't over the quarry. It's all right. I swear it is."
And, as a matter of fact, that was the smugglers' ferocious idea of humour. They would hang any undesirable man, like these runners, whom it would make too great a stir to murder outright, over the edge of a low bank, and swear to him that he was clawing the brink of Shakespeare's Cliff or any other hundred-foot drop. The wretched creatures suffered all the tortures of death before they let go, and, as a rule, they never returned to our parts.
The spirit of the age has changed; everything has changed so utterly that one can hardly believe in the existence of one's earlier self. But I can still remember how, at that moment, I made the acquaintance of my heart—a thing that bounded and leapt within my chest, a little sickeningly. The other details I forget.
Jack Rangsley was a tall, big-boned, thin man, with something sinister in the lines of his horseman's cloak, and something reckless in the way he set his spurred heel on the ground. He was the son of an old Marsh squire. Old Rangsley had been head of the last of the Owlers—the aristocracy of export smugglers—and Jack had sunk a little in becoming the head of the Old Bourne Tap importers. But he was hard enough, tyrannical enough, and had nerve enough to keep Free-trading alive in our parts until long after it had become an anachronism. He ended his days on the gallows, of course, but that was long afterwards.
"I'd give a dollar to know what's going on in those runners' heads," Rangsley said, pointing back with his crop. He laughed gayly. The great white face of the quarry rose up pale in the moonlight; the dusky red fires of the limekilns glowed at the base, sending up a blood-red dust of sullen smoke. "I'll swear they think they've dropped straight into hell.
"You'll have to cut the country, John," he added suddenly, "they'll have got your name uncommon pat. I did my best for you." He had had me tied up like that before the runners' eyes in order to take their suspicions off me. He had made a pretence to murder me with the same idea. But he didn't believe they were taken in. "There'll be warrants out before morning, if they ain't too shaken. But what were you doing in the business? The two Spaniards were lying in the fern looking on when you come blundering your clumsy nose in. If it hadn't been for Rooksby you might have——— Hullo, there!" he broke off.
An answer came from the black shadow of a clump of roadside elms. I made out the forms of three or four horses standing with their heads together.
"Come along," Rangsley said; "up with you. We'll talk as we go."
Someone helped me into a saddle; my legs trembled in the stirrups as if I had ridden a thousand miles on end already. I imagine I must have fallen into a stupor; for I have only a vague impression of somebody's exculpating himself to me. As a matter of fact, Ralph, after having egged me on, in the intention of staying at home, had had qualms of conscience, and had come to the quarry. It was he who had cried the watchword, "Snuff and enough," and who had held the whispered consultation. Carlos and Castro had waited in their hiding-place, having been spectators of the arrival of the runners and of my capture. I gathered this long afterwards. At that moment I was conscious only of the motion of the horse beneath me, of intense weariness, and of the voice of Ralph, who was lamenting his own cowardice.
"If it had come at any other time!" he kept on repeating. "But now, with Veronica to think of!——— You take me, Johnny, don't you?"
My companions rode silently. After we had passed the houses of a little village a heavy mist fell upon us, white, damp, and clogging. Ralph reined his horse beside mine.
"I'm sorry," he began again, "I'm miserably sorry I got you into this scrape. I swear I wouldn't have had it happen, not for a thousand pounds—not for ten."
"It doesn't matter," I said cheerfully.
"Ah, but," Rooksby said, "you'll have to leave the country for a time. Until I can arrange. I will. You can trust me."
"Oh, he'll have to leave the country, for sure," Rangsley said jovially, "if he wants to live it down. There's five-and-forty warrants out against me—but they dursent serve 'em. But he's not me."
"It's a miserable business," Ralph said. He had an air of the profoundest dejection. In the misty light he looked like a man mortally wounded, riding from a battle-field.
"Let him come with us," the musical voice of Carlos came through the mist in front of us. "He shall see the world a little."
"For God's sake hold your tongue!" Ralph answered him. "There's mischief enough. He shall go to France."
"Oh, let the young blade rip about the world for a year or two, squire," Rangsley's voice said from behind us.
In the end Ralph let me go with Carlos—actually across the sea, and to the West Indies. I begged and implored him; it seemed that now there was a chance for me to find my world of romance. And Ralph, who, though one of the most law-respecting of men, was not for the moment one of the most valorous, was wild to wash his hands of the whole business. He did his best for me; he borrowed a goodly number of guineas from Rangsley, who travelled with a bag of them at his saddle-bow, ready to pay his men their seven shillings a head for the run.
Ralph remembered, too—or I remembered for him—that he had estates and an agent in Jamaica, and he turned into the big inn at the junction of the London road to write a letter to his agent bidding him house me and employ me as an improver. For fear of compromising him we waited in the shadow of trees a furlong or two down the road. He came at a trot, gave me the letter, drew me aside, and began upbraiding himself again. The others rode onwards.
"Oh, it's all right," I said. "It's fine—it's fine. I'd have given fifty guineas for this chance this morning—and, Ralph, I say, you may tell Veronica why I'm going, but keep a shut mouth to my mother. Let her think I've run away—eh? Don't spoil your chance."
He was in such a state of repentance and flutter that he could not let me take a decent farewell. The sound of the others' horses had long died away down the hill when he began to tell me what he ought to have done.
"I knew it at once after I'd let you go. I ought to have kept you out of it. You came near being murdered. And to think of it—you, her brother—to be———"
"Oh, it's all right," I said gayly, "it's all right. You've to stand by Veronica. I've no one to my back. Good-night, good-by."
I pulled my horse's head round and galloped down the hill. The main body had halted before setting out over the shingle to the shore. Rangsley was waiting to conduct us into the town, where we should find a man to take us three fugitives out to the expected ship. We rode clattering aggressively through the silence of the long, narrow main street. Every now and then Carlos Riego coughed lamentably, but Tomas Castro rode in gloomy silence. There was a light here and there in a window, but not a soul stirring abroad. On the blind of an inn the shadow of a bearded man held the shadow of a rummer to its mouth.
"That'll be my uncle," Rangsley said. "He'll be the man to do your errand." He called to one of the men behind. "Here, Joe Pilcher, do you go into the White Hart and drag my Uncle Tom out. Bring 'un up to me—to the nest."
Three doors further on we came to a halt, and got down from our horses.
Rangsley knocked on a shutter-panel, two hard knocks with the crop and three with the naked fist. Then a lock clicked, heavy bars rumbled, and a chain rattled. Rangsley pushed me through the doorway. A side door opened, and I saw into a lighted room filled with wreaths of smoke. A paunchy man in a bob wig, with a blue coat and Windsor buttons, holding a churchwarden pipe in his right hand and a pewter quart in his left, came towards us.
"Hullo, captain," he said, "you'll be too late with the lights, won't you?" He had a deprecatory air.
"Your watch is fast, Mr. Mayor," Rangsley answered surlily; "the tide won't serve for half an hour yet."
"Cht, cht," the other wheezed. "No offence. We respect you. But still, when one has a stake, one likes to know."
"My stake's all I have, and my neck," Rangsley said impatiently; "what's yours? A matter of fifty pun ten?... Why don't you make them bring they lanthorns?"
A couple of dark lanthorns were passed to Rangsley, who half-uncovered one, and lit the way up steep wooden stairs. We climbed up to a tiny cock-loft, of which the side towards the sea was all glazed.
"Now you sit there, on the floor," Rangsley commanded; "can't leave you below; the runners will be coming to the mayor for new warrants to-morrow, and he'd not like to have spent the night in your company."
He threw a casement open. The moon was hidden from us by clouds, but, a long way off, over the distant sea, there was an irregular patch of silver light, against which the chimneys of the opposite houses were silhouetted. The church clock began muffledly to chime the quarters behind us; then the hour struck—ten strokes.
Rangsley set one of his lanthorns on the window and twisted the top. He sent beams of yellow light shooting out to seawards. His hands quivered, and he was mumbling to himself under the influence of ungovernable excitement. His stakes were very large, and all depended on the flicker of those lanthorns out towards the men on the luggers that were hidden in the black expanse of the sea. Then he waited, and against the light of the window I could see him mopping his forehead with the sleeve of his coat; my heart began to beat softly and insistently—out of sympathy.
Suddenly, from the deep shadow of the cloud above the sea, a yellow light flashed silently cut—very small, very distant, very short-lived. Rangsley heaved a deep sigh and slapped me heavily on the shoulder.
"All serene, my buck," he said; "now let's see after you. I've half an hour. What's the ship?"
I was at a loss, but Carlos said out of the darkness, "The ship the Thames. My friend Senor Ortiz, of the Minories, said you would know."
"Oh, I know, I know," Rangsley said softly; and, indeed, he did know all that was to be known about smuggling out of the southern counties of people who could no longer inhabit them. The trade was a survival of the days of Jacobite plots. "And it's a hanging job, too. But it's no affair of mine." He stopped and reflected for an instant.
I could feel Carlos' eyes upon us, looking out of the thick darkness. A slight rustling came from the corner that hid Castro.
"She passes down channel to-night, then?" Rangsley said. "With this wind you'll want to be well out in the Bay at a quarter after eleven."
An abnormal scuffling, intermingled with snatches of jovial remonstrance, made itself heard from the bottom of the ladder. A voice called up through the hatch, "Here's your uncle, Squahre Jack," and a husky murmur corroborated.
"Be you drunk again, you old sinner?" Rangsley asked. "Listen to me.... Here's three men to be set aboard the Thames at a quarter after eleven."
A grunt came in reply.
Rangsley repeated slowly.
The grunt answered again.
"Here's three men to be set aboard the Thames at a quarter after eleven. . . ." Rangsley said again.
"Here's... a-cop... three men to be set aboard Thames at quarter after eleven," a voice hiccoughed back to us.
"Well, see you do it," Rangsley said. "He's as drunk as a king," he commented to us; "but when you've said a thing three times, he remembers—hark to him."
The drunken voice from below kept up a constant babble of, "Three men to be set aboard Thames... three men to be set . . ."
"He'll not stop saying that till he has you safe aboard," Rangsley said. He showed a glimmer of light down the ladder—Carlos and Castro descended. I caught sight below me of the silver head and the deep red ears of the drunken uncle of Rangsley. He had been one of the most redoubtable of the family, a man of immense strength and cunning, but a confirmed habit of consuming a pint and a half of gin a night had made him disinclined for the more arduous tasks of the trade. He limited his energies to working the underground passage, to the success of which his fox-like cunning, and intimate knowledge of the passing shipping, were indispensable. I was preparing to follow the others down the ladder when Rangsley touched my arm.
"I don't like your company," he said close behind my ear. "I know who they are. There were bills out for them this morning. I'd blow them, and take the reward, but for you and Squahre Rooksby. They're handy with their knives, too, I fancy. You mind me, and look to yourself with them. There's something unnatural."
His words had a certain effect upon me, and his manner perhaps more. A thing that was "unnatural" to Jack Rangsley—the man of darkness, who lived forever as if in the shadow of the gallows—was a thing to be avoided. He was for me nearly as romantic a figure as Carlos himself, but for his forbidding darkness, and he was a person of immense power. The silent flittings of lights that I had just seen, the answering signals from the luggers far out to sea, the enforced sleep of the towns and countryside whilst his plans were working out at night, had impressed me with a sense of awe. And his words sank into my spirit, and made me afraid for my future.
We followed the others downwards into a ground-floor room that was fitted up as a barber's shop. A rushlight was burning on a table. Rangsley took hold of a piece of wainscotting, part of the frame of a panel; he pulled it towards him, and, at the same moment, a glazed show-case full of razors and brushes swung noiselessly forward with an effect of the supernatural. A small opening, just big enough to take a man's body, revealed itself. We passed through it and up a sort of tunnel. The door at the other end, which was formed of panels, had a manger and straw crib attached to it on the outside, and let us into a horse's stall. We found ourselves in the stable of the inn.
"We don't use this passage for ourselves," Rangsley said. "Only the most looked up to need to—the justices and such like. But gallus birds like you and your company, it's best for us not to be seen in company with. Follow my uncle now. Good-night."
We went into the yard, under the pillars of the town hall, across the silent street, through a narrow passage, and down to the sea. Old Rangsley reeled ahead of us swiftly, muttering, "Three men to be set aboard the Thames... quarter past eleven. Three men to be set aboard..." and in a few minutes we stood upon the shingle beside the idle sea, that was nearly at the full.
It was, I suppose, what I demanded of Fate—to be gently wafted into the position of a hero of romance, without rough hands at my throat. It is what we all ask, I suppose; and we get it sometimes in ten-minute snatches. I didn't know where I was going. It was enough for me to sail in and out of the patches of shadow that fell from the moon right above our heads.
We embarked, and, as we drew further out, the land turned to a shadow, spotted here and there with little lights. Behind us a cock crowed. The shingle crashed at intervals beneath the feet of a large body of men. I remembered the smugglers; but it was as if I had remembered them only to forget them forever. Old Rangsley, who steered with the sheet in his hand, kept up an unintelligible babble. Carlos and Castro talked under their breaths. Along the gunwale there was a constant ripple and gurgle. Suddenly old Rangsley began to sing; his voice was hoarse and drunken.
"When Harol' war in va—a—ded, An' fallin', lost his crownd, An' Normun Willium wa—a—ded."
The water murmured without a pause, as if it had a million tiny facts to communicate in very little time. And then old Rangsley hove to, to wait for the ship, and sat half asleep, lurching over the tiller. He was a very, unreliable scoundrel. The boat leaked like a sieve. The wind freshened, and we three began to ask ourselves how it was going to end. There were no lights upon the sea.
At last, well out, a blue gleam caught our eyes; but by this time old Rangsley was helpless, and it fell to me to manage the boat. Carlos was of no use—he knew it, and, without saying a word, busied himself in bailing the water out. But Castro, I was surprised to notice, knew more than I did about a boat, and, maimed as he was, made himself useful.
"To me it looks as if we should drown," Carlos said at one point, very quietly. "I am sorry for you, Juan."
"And for yourself, too," I answered, feeling very hopeless, and with a dogged grimness.
"Just now, my young cousin, I feel as if I should not mind dying under the water," he remarked with a sigh, but without ceasing to bail for a moment.
"Ah, you are sorry to be leaving home, and your friends, and Spain, and your fine adventures," I answered.
The blue flare showed a very little nearer. There was nothing to be done but talk and wait.
"No; England," he answered in a tone full of meaning—"things in England—people there. One person at least."
To me his words and his smile seemed to imply a bitter irony; but they were said very earnestly.
Castro had hauled the helpless form of old Rangsley forward. I caught him muttering savagely:
"I could kill that old man!"
He did not want to be drowned; neither assuredly did I. But it was not fear so much as a feeling of dreariness and disappointment that had come over me, the sudden feeling that I was going not to adventure, but to death; that here was not romance, but an end—a disenchanted surprise that it should soon be all over.
We kept a grim silence. Further out in the bay, we were caught in a heavy squall. Sitting by the tiller, I got as much out of her as I knew how. We would go as far as we could before the run was over. Carlos bailed unceasingly, and without a word of complaint, sticking to his self-appointed task as if in very truth he were careless of life. A feeling came over me that this, indeed, was the elevated and the romantic. Perhaps he was tired of his life; perhaps he really regretted what he left behind him in England, or somewhere else—some association, some woman. But he, at least, if we went down together, would go gallantly, and without complaint, at the end of a life with associations, movements, having lived and regretted. I should disappear in-gloriously on the very threshold.
Castro, standing up unsteadily, growled, "We may do it yet! See, senor!"
The blue gleam was much larger—it flared smokily up towards the sky. I made out ghastly parallelograms of a ship's sails high above us, and at last many faces peering unseeingly over the rail in our direction. We all shouted together.
I may say that it was thanks to me that we reached the ship. Our boat went down under us whilst I was tying a rope under Carlos' arms. He was standing up with the baler still in his hand. On board, the women passengers were screaming, and as I clung desperately to the rope that was thrown me, it struck me oddly that I had never before heard so many women's voices at the same time. Afterwards, when I stood on the deck, they began laughing at old Rangsley, who held forth in a thunderous voice, punctuated by hiccoughs:
"They carried I aboard—a cop—theer lugger and sinks I in the cold, co—old sea."
It mortified me excessively that I should be tacked to his tail and exhibited to a number of people, and I had a sudden conviction of my small importance. I had expected something altogether different—an audience sympathetically interested in my desire for a passage to the West Indies; instead of which people laughed while I spoke in panting jerks, and the water dripped out of my clothes. After I had made it clear that I wanted to go with Carlos, and could pay for my passage, I was handed down into the steerage, where a tallow candle burnt in a thick, blue atmosphere. I was stripped and filled with some fiery liquid, and fell asleep. Old Rangsley was sent ashore with the pilot.
It was a new and strange life to me, opening there suddenly enough. The Thames was one of the usual West Indiamen; but to me even the very ropes and spars, the sea, and the unbroken dome of the sky, had a rich strangeness. Time passed lazily and gliding. I made more fully the acquaintance of my companions, but seemed to know them no better. I lived with Carlos in the cabin—Castro in the half-deck; but we were all three pretty constantly together, and they being the only Spaniards on board, we were more or less isolated from the other passengers.
Looking at my companions at times, I had vague misgivings. It was as if these two had fascinated me to the verge of some danger. Sometimes Castro, looking up, uttered vague ejaculations. Carlos pushed his hat back and sighed. They had preoccupations, cares, interests in which they let me have no part.
Castro struck me as absolutely ruffianly. His head was knotted in a red, white-spotted handkerchief; his grizzled beard was tangled; he wore a black and rusty cloak, ragged at the edges, and his feet were often bare; at his side would lie his wooden right hand. As a rule, the place of his forearm was taken by a long, thin, steel blade, that he was forever sharpening.
Carlos talked with me, telling me about his former life and his adventures. The other passengers he discountenanced by a certain coldness of manner that made me ashamed of talking to them. I respected him so; he was so wonderful to me then. Castro I detested; but I accepted their relationship without in the least understanding how Carlos, with his fine grain, his high soul—I gave him credit for a high soul—could put up with the squalid ferocity with which I credited Castro. It seemed to hang in the air round the grotesque ragged-ness of the saturnine brown man.
Carlos had made Spain too hot to hold him in those tortuous intrigues of the Army of the Faith and Bourbon troops and Italian legions. From what I could understand, he must have played fast and loose in an insolent manner. And there was some woman offended. There was a gayness and gallantry in that part of it. He had known the very spirit of romance, and now he was sailing gallantly out to take up his inheritance from an uncle who was a great noble, owning the greater part of one of the Intendencias of Cuba.
"He is a very old man, I hear," Carlos said—"a little doting, and having need of me."
There were all the elements of romance about Carlos' story—except the actual discomforts of the ship in which we were sailing. He himself had never been in Cuba or seen his uncle; but he had, as I have indicated, ruined himself in one way or another in Spain, and it had come as a God-send to him when his uncle had sent Tomas Castro to bring him to Cuba, to the town of Rio Medio.
"The town belongs to my uncle. He is very rich; a Grand d'Espagne . . . everything; but he is now very old, and has left Havana to die in his palace in his own town. He has an only daughter, a Dona Seraphina, and I suppose that if I find favour in his eyes I shall marry her, and inherit my uncle's great riches; I am the only one that is left of the family to inherit." He waved his hand and smiled a little. "Vaya; a little of that great wealth would be welcome. If I had had a few pence more there would have been none of this worry, and I should not have been on this dirty ship in these rags." He looked down good-humouredly at his clothes.
"But," I said, "how do you come to be in a scrape at all?"
He laughed a little proudly.
"In a scrape?" he said. "I... I am in none. It is Tomas Castro there." He laughed affectionately. "He is as faithful as he is ugly," he said; "but I fear he has been a villain, too.... What do I know? Over there in my uncle's town, there are some villains—you know what I mean, one must not speak too loudly on this ship. There is a man called O'Brien, who mismanages my uncle's affairs. What do I know? The good Tomas has been in some villainy that is no affair of mine. He is a good friend and a faithful dependent of my family's. He certainly had that man's watch—the man we met by evil chance at Liverpool, a man who came from Jamaica. He had bought it—of a bad man, perhaps, I do not ask. It was Castro your police wished to take. But I, bon Dieu, do you think I would take watches?"
I certainly did not think he had taken a watch; but I did not relinquish the idea that he, in a glamorous, romantic way, had been a pirate. Rooksby had certainly hinted as much in his irritation.
He lost none of his romantic charm in my eyes. The fact that he was sailing in uncomfortable circumstances detracted little; nor did his clothes, which, at the worst, were better than any I had ever had. And he wore them with an air and a grace. He had probably been in worse circumstances when campaigning with the Army of the Faith in Spain. And there was certainly the uncle with the romantic title and the great inheritance, and the cousin—the Miss Seraphina, whom he would probably marry. I imagined him an aristocratic scapegrace, a corsair—it was the Byronic period then—sailing out to marry a sort of shimmering princess with hair like Veronica's, bright golden, and a face like that of a certain keeper's daughter. Carlos, however, knew nothing about his cousin; he cared little more, as far as I could tell. "What can she be to me since I have seen your...?" he said once, and then stopped, looking at me with a certain tender irony. He insisted, though, that his aged uncle was in need of him. As for Castro—he and his rags came out of a life of sturt and strife, and I hoped he might die by treachery. He had undoubtedly been sent by the uncle across the seas to find Carlos and bring him out of Europe; there was-something romantic in that mission. He was now a dependent of the Riego family, but there were unfathomable depths in that tubby little man's past. That he had gone to Russia at the tail of the Grande Armee, one could not help believing. He had been most likely in the grand army of sutlers and camp-followers. He could talk convincingly of the cold, and of the snows and his escape. And from his allusions one could get glimpses of what he had been before and afterwards—apparently everything that was questionable in a secularly disturbed Europe; no doubt somewhat of a bandit; a guerrillero in the sixes and sevens; with the Army of the Faith near the French border, later on.
There had been room and to spare for that sort of pike, in the muddy waters, during the first years of the century. But the waters were clearing, and now the good Castro had been dodging the gallows in the Antilles or in Mexico. In his heroic moods he would swear that his arm had been cut off at Somo Sierra; swear it with a great deal of asseveration, making one see the Polish lancers charging the gunners, being cut down, and his own sword arm falling suddenly.
Carlos, however, used to declare with affectionate cynicism that the arm had been broken by the cudgel of a Polish peasant while Castro was trying to filch a pig from a stable.... "I cut his throat out, though," Castro would grumble darkly; "so, like that, and it matters very little—it is even an improvement. See, I put on my blade. See, I transfix you that fly there.... See how astonished he was. He did never expect that." He had actually impaled a crawling cockroach. He spent his days cooking extraordinary messes, crouching for hours over a little charcoal brazier that he lit surreptitiously in the back of his bunk, making substitutes for eternal gaspachos.
All these things, if they deepened the romance of Carlos' career, enhanced, also, the mystery. I asked him one day, "But why do you go to Jamaica at all if you are bound for Cuba?"
He looked at me, smiling a little mournfully.
"Ah, Juan mio," he said, "Spain is not like your England, unchanging and stable. The party who reign to-day do not love me, and they are masters in Cuba as in Spain. But in his province my uncle rules alone. There I shall be safe." He was condescending to roll some cigarettes for Tomas, whose wooden hand incommoded him, and he tossed a fragment of tobacco to the wind with a laugh. "In Jamaica there is a merchant, a Senor Ramon; I have letters to him, and he shall find me a conveyance to Rio Medio, my uncle's town. He is an quliado."
He laughed again. "It is not easy to enter that place, Juanino."
There was certainly some mystery about that town of his uncle's. One night I overheard him say to Castro:
"Tell me, O my Tomas, would it be safe to take this caballero, my cousin, to Rio Medio?"
Castro paused, and then murmured gruffly:
"Senor, unless that Irishman is consulted beforehand, or the English lord would undertake to join with the picaroons, it is very assuredly not safe."
Carlos made a little exclamation of mild astonishment.
"Pero? Is it so bad as that in my uncle's own town?"
Tomas muttered something that I did not catch, and then:
"If the English caballero committed indiscretions, or quarrelled—and all these people quarrel, why, God knows—that Irish devil could hang many persons, even myself, or take vengeance on your worship."
Carlos was silent as if in a reverie. At last he said:
"But if affairs are like this, it would be well to have one more with us. The caballero, my cousin, is very strong and of great courage."
Castro grunted, "Oh, of a courage! But as the proverb says, 'If you set an Englishman by a hornets' nest they shall not remain long within.":
After that I avoided any allusion to Cuba, because the thing, think as I would about it, would not grow clear. It was plain that something illegal was going on there, or how could "that Irish devil," whoever he was, have power to hang Tomas and be revenged on Carlos? It did not affect my love for Carlos, though, in the weariness of this mystery, the passage seemed to drag a little. And it was obvious enough that Carlos was unwilling or unable to tell anything about what pre-, occupied him.
I had noticed an intimacy spring up between the ship's second mate and Tomas, who was, it seemed to me, forever engaged in long confabulations in the man's cabin, and, as much to make talk as for any other reason, I asked Carlos if he had noticed his dependent's familiarity. It was noticeable because Castro held aloof from every other soul on board. Carlos answered me with one of his nervous and angry smiles.
"Ah, Juan mine, do not ask too many questions! I wish you could come with me all the way, but I cannot tell you all I know. I do not even myself know all. It seems that the man is going to leave the ship in Jamaica, and has letters for that Senor Ramon, the merchant, even as I have. Vaya; more I cannot tell you."
This struck me as curious, and a little of the whole mystery seemed from that time to attach to the second mate, who before had been no more to me than a long, sallow Nova Scotian, with a disagreeable intonation and rather offensive manners. I began to watch him, desultorily, and was rather startled by something more than a suspicion that he himself was watching me. On one occasion in particular I seemed to observe this. The second mate was lankily stalking the deck, his hands in his pockets. As he paused in his walk to spit into the sea beside me, Carlos said:
"And you, my Juan, what will you do in this Jamaica?"
The sense that we were approaching land was already all over the ship. The second mate leered at me enigmatically, and moved slowly away. I said that I was going to the Horton Estates, Rooksby's, to learn planting under a Mr. Macdonald, the agent. Carlos shrugged his shoulders. I suppose I had spoken with some animation.
"Ah," he said, with his air of great wisdom and varied experience, of disillusionment, "it will be much the same as it has been at your home—after the first days. Hard work and a great sameness." He began to cough violently.
I said bitterly enough, "Yes. It will be always the same with me. I shall never see life. You've seen all that there is to see, so I suppose you do not mind settling down with an old uncle in a palace."
He answered suddenly, with a certain darkness of manner, "That is as God wills. Who knows? Perhaps life, even in my uncle's palace, will not be so safe."
The second mate was bearing down on us again.
I said jocularly, "Why, when I get very tired of life at Horton Pen, I shall come to see you in your uncle's town."
Carlos had another of his fits of coughing.
"After all, we are kinsmen. I dare say you would give me a bed," I went on.
The second mate was quite close to us then.
Carlos looked at me with an expression of affection that a little shamed my lightness of tone:
"I love you much more than a kinsman, Juan," he said. "I wish you could come with me. I try to arrange it. Later, perhaps, I may be dead. I am very ill."
He was undoubtedly ill. Campaigning in Spain, exposure in England in a rainy time, and then the ducking when we came on board, had done him no good. He looked moodily at the sea.
"I wish you could come. I will try———"
The mate had paused, and was listening quite unaffectedly, behind Carlos' back.
A moment after Carlos half turned and regarded him with a haughty stare.
He whistled and walked away.
Carlos muttered something that I did not catch about "spies of that pestilent Irishman." Then:
"I will not selfishly take you into any more dangers," he said. "But life on a sugar plantation is not fit for you."
I felt glad and flattered that a personage so romantic should deem me a fit companion for himself. He went forward as if with some purpose.
Some days afterwards the second mate sent for me to his cabin. He had been on the sick list, and he was lying in his bunk, stripped to the waist, one arm and one leg touching the floor. He raised himself slowly when I came in, and spat. He had in a pronounced degree the Nova Scotian peculiarities and accent, and after he had shaved, his face shone like polished leather.
"Hallo!" he said. "See heeyur, young Kemp, does your neck just itch to be stretched?"
I looked at him with mouth and eyes agape.
He spat again, and waved a claw towards the forward bulkhead.
"They'll do it for yeh," he said. "You're such a green goose, it makes me sick a bit. You hevn't reckoned out the chances, not quite. It's a kind of dead reckoning yeh hevn't had call to make. Eh?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, bewildered.
He looked at me, grinning, half naked, with amused contempt, for quite a long time, and at last offered sardonically to open my eyes for me.
I said nothing.
"Do you know what will happen to you," he asked, "ef yeh don't get quit of that Carlos of yours?"
I was surprised into muttering that I didn't know.
"I can tell yeh," he continued. "Yeh will get hanged."
By that time I was too amazed to get angry. I simply suspected the Blue Nose of being drunk. But he glared at me so soberly that next moment I felt frightened.
"Hanged by the neck," he repeated; and then added, "Young fellow, you scoot. Take a fool's advice, and scoot. That Castro is a blame fool, anyhow. Yeh want men for that job. Men, I tell you." He slapped his bony breast.
I had no idea that he could look so ferocious. His eyes fascinated me, and he opened his cavernous mouth as if to swallow me. His lantern jaws snapped without a sound. He seemed to change his mind.
"I am done with yeh," he said, with a sort of sinister restraint. He rose to his feet, and, turning his back to me, began to shave, squinting into a broken looking-glass.
I had not the slightest inkling of his meaning. I only knew that going out of his berth was like escaping from the dark lair of a beast into a sunlit world. There is no denying that his words, and still more his manner, had awakened in me a sense of insecurity that had no precise object, for it was manifestly absurd and impossible to suspect my friend Carlos. Moreover, hanging was a danger so recondite, and an eventuality so extravagant, as to make the whole thing ridiculous. And yet I remembered how unhappy I felt, how inexplicably unhappy. Presently the reason was made clear. I was homesick. I gave no further thought to the second mate. I looked at the harbour we were entering, and thought of the home I had left so eagerly. After all, I was no more than a boy, and even younger in mind than in body.
Queer-looking boats crawled between the shores like tiny water beetles. One headed out towards us, then another. I did not want them to reach us. It was as if I did not wish my solitude to be disturbed, and I was not pleased with the idea of going ashore. A great ship, floating high on the water, black and girt with the two broad yellow streaks of her double tier of guns, glided out slowly from beyond a cluster of shipping in the bay. She passed without a hail, going out under her topsails with a flag at the fore. Her lofty spars overtopped our masts immensely, and I saw the men in her rigging looking down on our decks. The only sounds that came out of her were the piping of boatswain's calls and the tramping of feet. Imagining her to be going home, I felt a great desire to be on board. Ultimately, as it turned out, I went home in that very ship, but then it was too late. I was another man by that time, with much queer knowledge and other desires. Whilst I was looking and longing I heard Carlos' voice behind me asking one of our sailors what ship it was.
"Don't you know a flagship when you see it?" a voice grumbled surlily. "Admiral Rowley's," it continued. Then it rumbled out some remarks about "pirates, vermin, coast of Cuba."
Carlos came to the side, and looked after the man-of-war in the distance.
"You could help us," I heard him mutter.
There was a lad called Barnes, a steerage passenger of about my own age, a raw, red-headed Northumbrian yokel, going out as a recruit to one of the West Indian regiments. He was a serious, strenuous youth, and I had talked a little with him at odd moments. In my great loneliness I went to say good-by to him after I had definitely parted with Carlos.
I had been in our cabin. A great bustle of shore-going, of leave-taking had sprung up all over the ship. Carlos and Castro had entered with a tall, immobile, gold-spectacled Spaniard, dressed all in white, and with a certain air of noticing and attentive deference, bowing a little as he entered the cabin in earnest conference with Tomas Castro. Carlos had preceded them with a certain nonchalance, and the Spaniard—it was the Senor Ramon, the merchant I had heard of—regarded him as if with interested curiosity. With Tomas he seemed already familiar. He stood in the doorway, against the strong light, bowing a little.
With a certain courtesy, touched with indifference, Carlos made him acquainted with me. Ramon turned his searching, quietly analytic gaze upon me.
"But is the caballero going over, too?" he asked.
Carlos said, "No. I think not, now."
And at that moment the second mate, shouldering his way through a white-clothed crowd of shore people, made up behind Senor Ramon. He held a letter in his hand.
"I am going over," he said, in his high nasal voice, and with a certain ferocity.
Ramon looked round apprehensively.
Carlos said, "The senor, my cousin, wishes for a Mr. Macdonald. You know him, senor?"
Ramon made a dry gesture of perfect acquaintance. "I think I have seen him just now," he said. "I will make inquiries."
All three of them had followed him, and became lost in the crowd. It was then, not knowing whether I should ever see Carlos again, and with a desperate, unhappy feeling of loneliness, that I had sought out Barnes in the dim immensity of the steerage.
In the square of wan light that came down the scuttle he was cording his hair-trunk—unemotional and very matter-of-fact. He began to talk in an everyday voice about his plans. An uncle was going to meet him, and to house him for a day or two before he went to the barracks.
"Mebbe we'll meet again," he said. "I'll be here many years, I think."
He shouldered his trunk and climbed unromantically up the ladder. He said he would look for Macdonald for me.
It was absurd to suppose that the strange ravings of the second mate had had an effect on me. "Hanged! Pirates!" Was Carlos really a pirate, or Castro, his humble friend? It was vile of me to suspect Carlos. A couple of men, meeting by the scuttle, began to talk loudly, every word coming plainly to my ears in the stillness of my misery, and the large deserted steerage. One of them, new from home, was asking questions. Another answered:
"Oh, I lost half a seroon the last voyage—the old thing."
"Haven't they routed out the scoundrels yet?" the other asked.
The first man lowered his voice. I caught only that "the admiral was an old fool—no good for this job. He's found out the name of the place the pirates come from—Rio Medio. That's the place, only he can't get in at it with his three-deckers. You saw his flagship?"
Rio Medio was the name of the town to which Carlos was going—which his uncle owned. They moved away from above.
What was I to believe? What could this mean? But the second mate's, "Scoot, young man," seemed to come to my ears like the blast of a trumpet. I became suddenly intensely anxious to find Macdonald—to see no more of Carlos.
From above came suddenly a gruff voice in Spanish. "Senor, it would be a great folly."
Tomas Castro was descending the ladder gingerly. He was coming to fetch his bundle. I went hastily into the distance of the vast, dim cavern of spare room that served for the steerage.
"I want him very much," Carlos said. "I like him. He would be of help to us."
"It's as your worship wills," Castro said gruffly. They were both at the bottom of the ladder. "But an Englishman there would work great mischief. And this youth——"
"I will take him, Tomas," Carlos said, laying a hand on his arm.
"Those others will think he is a spy. I know them," Castro muttered. "They will hang him, or work some devil's mischief. You do not know that Irish judge—the canaille, the friend of priests."
"He is very brave. He will not fear," Carlos said.
I came suddenly forward. "I will not go with you," I said, before I had reached them even.
Castro started back as if he had been stung, and caught at the wooden hand that sheathed his steel blade.
"Ah, it is you, Senor," he said, with an air of relief and dislike. Carlos, softly and very affectionately, began inviting me to go to his uncle's town. His uncle, he was sure, would welcome me. Jamaica and a planter's life were not fit for me.
I had not then spoken very loudly, or had not made my meaning very clear. I felt a great desire to find Macdonald, and a simple life that I could understand.
"I am not going with you," I said, very loudly this time.
He stopped at once. Through the scuttle of the half-deck we heard a hubbub of voices, of people exchanging greetings, of Christian names called out joyously. A tumultuous shuffling of feet went on continuously over our heads. The ship was crowded with people from the shore. Perhaps Macdonald was amongst them, even looking for me.
"Ah, amigo mio, but you must now," said Carlos gently—"you must———" And, looking me straight in the face with a still, penetrating glance of his big, romantic eyes, "It is a good life," he whispered seductively, "and I like you, John Kemp. You are young-very young yet. But I love you very much for your own sake, and for the sake of one I shall never see again."
He fascinated me. He was all eyes in the dusk, standing in a languid pose just clear of the shaft of light that fell through the scuttle in a square patch.
I lowered my voice, too. "What life?" I asked.
"Life in my uncle's palace," he said, so sweetly and persuasively that the suggestiveness of it caused a thrill in me.
His uncle could nominate me to posts of honour fit for a caballero.
I seemed to wake up. "Your uncle the pirate!" I cried, and was amazed at my own words.
Tomas Castro sprang up, and placed his rough, hot hand over my lips.
"Be quiet, John Kemp, you fool!" he hissed with sudden energy.
He had spruced himself, but I seemed to see the rags still nutter about him. He had combed out his beard, but I could not forget the knots that had been in it.
"I told your worship how foolish and wrong-headed these English are," he said sardonically to Carlos. And then to me, "If the senor speaks loudly again, I shall kill him."
He was evidently very frightened of something.
Carlos, silent as an apparition at the foot of the ladder, put a finger to his lips and glanced upwards.
Castro writhed his whole body, and I stepped backwards. "I know what Rio Medio is," I said, not very loudly. "It is a nest of pirates."
Castro crept towards me again on the points of his toes. "Senor Don Juan Kemp, child of the devil," he hissed, looking very much frightened, "you must die!"
I smiled. He was trembling all over. I could hear the talking and laughing that went on under the break of the poop. Two women were kissing, with little cries, near the hatchway. I could hear them distinctly.
Tomas Castro dropped his ragged cloak with a grandiose gesture.
"By my hand!" he added with difficulty.
He was really very much alarmed. Carlos was gazing up the hatch. I was ready to laugh at the idea of dying by Tomas Castro's hand while, within five feet of me, people were laughing and kissing. I should have laughed had I not suddenly felt his hand on my throat. I kicked his shins hard, and fell backwards over a chest. He went back a step or two, flourished his arm, beat his chest, and turned furiously upon Carlos.
"He will get us murdered," he said. "Do you think we are safe here? If these people here heard that name they wouldn't wait to ask who your worship is. They would tear us to pieces in an instant. I tell you—moi, Tomas Castro—he will ruin us, this white fool———-"
Carlos began to cough, shaken speechless as if by an invisible devil. Castro's eyes ran furtively all round him, then he looked at me. He made an extraordinary swift motion with his right hand, and I saw that he was facing me with a long steel blade displayed. Carlos continued to cough. The thing seemed odd, laughable still. Castro began to parade round me: it was as if he were a cock performing its saltatory rites before attacking. There was the same tenseness of muscle. He stepped with extraordinary care on the points of his toes, and came to a stop about four feet from me. I began to wonder what Rooksby would have thought of this sort of thing, to wonder why Castro himself found it necessary to crouch for such a long time. Up above, the hum of many people, still laughing, still talking, faded a little out of mind. I understood, horribly, how possible it would be to die within those few feet of them. Castro's eyes were dusky yellow, the pupils a great deal inflated, the lines of his mouth very hard and drawn immensely tight. It seemed extraordinary that he should put so much emotion into such a very easy killing. I had my back against the bulkhead, it felt very hard against my shoulder-blades. I had no dread, only a sort of shrinking from the actual contact of the point, as one shrinks from being tickled. I opened my mouth. I was going to shriek a last, despairing call, to the light and laughter of meetings above when Carlos, still shaken, with one white hand pressed very hard upon his chest, started forward and gripped his hand round Castro's steel. He began to whisper in the other's hairy ear. I caught:
"You are a fool. He will not make us to be molested, he is my kinsman."
Castro made a reluctant gesture towards Barnes' chest that lay between us.
"We could cram him into that," he said.
"Oh, bloodthirsty fool," Carlos answered, recovering his breath; "is it always necessary to wash your hands in blood? Are we not in enough danger? Up—up! Go see if the boat is yet there. We must go quickly; up—up———-" He waved his hand towards the scuttle.
"But still," Castro said. He was reluctantly fitting his wooden hand upon the blue steel. He sent a baleful yellow glare into my eyes, and stooped to pick up his ragged cloak.
"Up—mount!" Carlos commanded.
Castro muttered, "Vamos," and began clumsily to climb the ladder, like a bale of rags being hauled from above. Carlos placed his foot on the steps, preparing to follow him. He turned his head round towards me, his hand extended, a smile upon his lips.
"Juan," he said, "let us not quarrel. You are very young; you cannot understand these things; you cannot weigh them; you have a foolish idea in your head. I wished you to come with us because I love you, Juan. Do you think I wish you evil? You are true and brave, and our families are united." He sighed suddenly.
"I do not want to quarrel!" I said. "I don't."
I did not want to quarrel; I wanted more to cry. I was very lonely, and he was going away. Romance was going out of my life.
He added musically, "You even do not understand. There is someone else who speaks for you to me, always—someone else. But one day you will. I shall come back for you—one day." He looked at me and smiled. It stirred unknown depths of emotion in me. I would have gone with him, then, had he asked me. "One day," he repeated, with an extraordinary cadence of tone.
His hand was grasping mine; it thrilled me like a woman's; he stood shaking it very gently.
"One day," he said, "I shall repay what I owe you. I wished you with me, because I go into some danger. I wanted you. Good-by. Hasta mas ver."
He leaned over and kissed me lightly on the cheek, then climbed away. I felt that the light of Romance was going out of my life. As we reached the top of the ladder, somebody began to call harshly, startlingly. I heard my own name and the words, "mahn ye were speerin' after."
The light was obscured, the voice began clamouring insistently.
"John Kemp, Johnnie Kemp, noo. Here's the mahn ye were speerin' after. Here's Macdonald."
It was the voice of Barnes, and the voice of the every day. I discovered that I had been tremendously upset. The pulses in my temples were throbbing, and I wanted to shut my eyes—to sleep! I was tired; Romance had departed. Barnes and the Macdonald he had found for me represented all the laborious insects of the world; all the ants who are forever hauling immensely heavy and immenlsely unimportant burdens up weary hillocks, down steep places, getting nowhere and doing nothing.
Nevertheless I hurried up, stumbling at the hatchway against a man who was looking down. He said nothing at all, and I was dazed by the light. Barnes remarked hurriedly, "This 'll be your Mr. Macdonald"; and, turning his back on me, forgot my existence. I felt more alone than ever. The man in front of me held his head low, as if he wished to butt me.
I began breathlessly to tell him I had a letter from "my—my—Rooksby—brother-in-law—Ralph Rooks-by"—I was panting as if I had run a long way. He said nothing at all. I fumbled for the letter in an inner pocket of my waistcoat, and felt very shy. Macdonald maintained a portentous silence; his enormous body was enveloped rather than clothed in a great volume of ill-fitting white stuff; he held in his hand a great umbrella with a vivid green lining. His face was very pale, and had the leaden transparency of a boiled artichoke; it was fringed by a red beard streaked with gray, as brown flood-water is with foam. I noticed at last that the reason for his presenting his forehead to me was an incredible squint—a squint that gave the idea that he was performing some tortuous and defiant feat with the muscles of his neck.
He maintained an air of distrustful inscrutability. The hand which took my letter was very large, very white, and looked as if it would feel horribly flabby. With the other he put on his nose a pair of enormous mother-of-pearl-framed spectacles—things exactly like those of a cobra's—and began to read. He had said precisely nothing at all. It was for him and what he represented that I had thrown over Carlos and what he represented. I felt that I deserved to be received with acclamation. I was not. He read the letter very deliberately, swaying, umbrella and all, with the slow movement of a dozing elephant. Once he crossed his eyes at me, meditatively, above the mother-of-pearl rims. He was so slow, so deliberate, that I own I began to wonder whether Carlos and Castro were still on board. It seemed to be at least half an hour before Macdonald cleared his throat, with a sound resembling the coughing of a defective pump, and a mere trickle of a voice asked:
"Hwhat evidence have ye of identitee?"
I hadn't any at all, and began to finger my buttonholes as shamefaced as a pauper before a Board. The certitude dawned upon me suddenly that Carlos, even if he would consent to swear to me, would prejudice my chances.
I cannot help thinking that I came very near to being cast adrift upon the streets of Kingston. To my asseverations Macdonald returned nothing but a series of minute "humphs." I don't know what overcame his scruples; he had shown no signs of yielding, but suddenly turning on his heel made a motion with one of his flabby white hands. I understood it to mean that I was to follow him aft.
The decks were covered with a jabbering turmoil of negroes with muscular arms and brawny shoulders. All their shining black faces seem to be momentarily gashed open to show rows of white teeth, and were spotted with inlaid eyeballs. The sounds coming from them were a bewildering noise. They were hauling baggage about aimlessly. A large soft bundle of bedding nearly took me off my legs. There wasn't room for emotion. Macdonald laid about him with the handle of the umbrella a few inches from the deck; but the passage that he made for himself closed behind him.
Suddenly, in the pushing and hurrying, I came upon a little clear space beside a pile of boxes. Stooping over them was the angular figure of Nichols, the second mate. He looked up at me, screwing his yellow eyes together.
"Going ashore," he asked, "'long of that Puffing Billy?"
"What business is it of yours'" I mumbled sulkily.
Sudden and intense threatening came into his yellow eyes:
"Don't you ever come to you know where," he said; "I don't want no spies on what I do. There's a man there'll crack your little backbone if he catches you. Don't yeh come now. Never."
PART SECOND — THE GIRL WITH THE LIZARD
"Rio Medio?" Senor Ramon said to me nearly two years afterwards. "The caballero is pleased to give me credit for a very great knowledge. What should I know of that town? There are doubtless good men there and very wicked, as in other towns. Who knows? Your worship must ask the boats' crews that the admiral has sent to burn the town. They will be back very soon now."
He looked at me, inscrutably and attentively, through his gold spectacles.
It was on the arcade before his store in Spanish Town. Long sunblinds flapped slightly. Before the next door a large sign proclaimed "Office of the Buchatoro Journal" It was, as I have said, after two years—years which, as Carlos had predicted, I had found to be of hard work, and long, hot sameness. I had come down from Horton Pen to Spanish Town, expecting a letter from Veronica, and, the stage not being in, had dropped in to chat with Ramon over a consignment of Yankee notions, which he was prepared to sell at an extravagantly cheap price. It was just at the time when Admiral Rowley was understood to be going to make an energetic attempt upon the pirates who still infested the Gulf of Mexico and nearly ruined the Jamaica trade of those days. Naturally enough, we had talked of the mysterious town in which the pirates were supposed to have their headquarters.
"I know no more than others," Ramon said, "save, senor, that I lose much more because my dealings are much greater. But I do not even know whether those who take my goods are pirates, as you English say, or Mexican privateers, as the Havana authorities say. I do not very much care. Basta, what I know is that every week some ship with a letter of marque steals one of my consignments, and I lose many hundreds of dollars."