« PreviousContinue »
each end. There was a blazing sun, and the crowd pushed and shouted and craned its thousands of heads every time one heard the cry of “Here they come,” for an hour or so. There was a very limpid sky, a very limpid sea, a scattering of shipping gliding up and down, and the very silent hills a long way away. There was a large flavour of Spaniards among the crowd. I got into the middle of a knot of them, jammed against the wheels of one of the carriages, standing, hands down, on tiptoe, staring at the long scaffold. There were a great many false alarms, sudden outcries, hushing again rather slowly. In between I could hear someone behind me talk Spanish to the occupants of the carriage. I thought the voice was Ramon's, but I could not turn, and the people in the carriage answered in French, 1 thought. A man was shouting “Cool Drinks” on the other side of them.
Finally, there was a roar, an irresistible swaying, a rattle of musket ramrods, a rhythm of marching feet, and the grating of heavy iron-bound wheels. Seven men appeared in sight above the heads, clinging to each other for support, and being drawn slowly along. The little worsted balls on the infantry shakos bobbed all round their feet. They were a sorry-looking group, those pirates; very wild-eyed, very ragged, dust-stained, weather-beaten, begrimed till they had the colour of unpolished mahogany. Clinging still to each other as they stood beneath the dangling ropes of the long beam, they had the appearance of a group of statuary to forlorn misery. Festoons of chains completed the “composition.”
One was a very old man with long yellow-white hair, one a negro whose skin had no lustre at all. The rest were very dark-skinned, peak-bearded, and had long hair falling round their necks. A soldier with a hammer and a small anvil climbed into the cart, and bent down out of sight. There was a ring of iron on iron, and the man next the very old man raised his arms and began to speak very slowly, very distinctly, and very mournfully. It was quite easy to understand him; he declared his perfect innocence. No one listened to him; his name was Pedro Nones. He ceased speaking, and someone on a horse, the High Sheriff, I think, galloped impatiently past the cart and shouted. Two men got into the cart, one pulled the rope, the other caught the pirate by the elbows. He jerked himself loose, and began to cry out; he seemed to be lost in amazement, and shrieked:
“Adonde está el padre? ... Adonde está el padre?”
No one answered; there wasn't a priest of any denomination; I don't know whether the omission was purposed. The man's face grew convulsed with agony, his eyeballs stared out very white and vivid, as he struggled with the two men. He began to curse us epileptically for compassing his damnation. A hoarse patter of Spanish imprecations came from the crowd immediately round me. The man with the voice like Ramon's groaned in a lamentable way; someone else said, “What infamy. . . what infamy!”
An aged voice said tremulously in the carriage, “This shall be a matter of official remonstrance.” Another said, “Ah, these English heretics!”
There was a forward rush of the crowd, which carried me away. Someone in front began to shout orders, and the crowd swayed back again. The infantry muskets rattled. The commotion lasted some time. When it ceased, I saw that the man about to die had been kissing the very old man; tears were streaming down the gray, parchment-coloured cheeks. Pedro Nones had the rope round his neck; it curved upwards loosely towards the
beam, growing taut as the cart jolted away. He shouted:
“Adiós, viejo, para siempre adi "
My whole body seemed to go dead all over. I happened to look downwards at my hands; they were extraordinarily white, with the veins standing out all over them. They felt as if they had been sodden in water, and it was quite a long time before they re
covered their natural colour. The rest of the men were la hung after that, the cart jolting a little way backwards
and forwards and growing less crowded after every journey. One man, who was very large framed and stout, had to go through it twice because the rope broke. He made a good deal of fuss. My head ached, and after the involuntary straining and craning to miss no details was over, I felt sick and dazed. The people talked a great deal as they streamed back, loosening over the broader stretch of pebbles; they seemed to wish to remind each other of details. I have an idea ihat one or two, in the sheer largeness of heart that seizes one after occasions of popular emotions, asked me in exulting voices if I had seen the nigger's tongue sticking out.
Others thought that there wasn't very much to be exultant over. We had not really captured the pirates; they had been handed over to the admiral by the Havana authorities--as an international courtesy I suppose, or else because they were pirates of no account and short in funds, or because the admiral had been making a fuss in front of the Morro. It was even asserted by the anti-admiral faction that the seven weren't pirates at all, but merely Cuban mauvais sujets, hawkers of derogatory coplas, and known freethinkers.
In any case, excited people cheered the High Sheriff and the returning infantry, because it was pleasant to hang any kind of Spaniard. I got nearly knocked down by the kettle-drummers, who came through the scattering crowd at a swinging quick-step. As I cannoned off the drums, a hand caught at my arm, and someone else began to speak to me. It was old Ramon, who was telling me that he had a special kind of Manchester goods at his store. He explained that they had arrived very lately, and that he had come from Spanish Town solely on their account. One made the eighth of a penny a yard more on them than on any other kind. If I would deign to have some of it offered to my inspection, he had his little curricle just off the road. He was drawing me gently towards it all the time, and I had not any idea of resisting. He had been behind in the crowd, he said, beside the carriage of the commissioner and the judge of the Marine Court sent by the Havana authorities to deliver the pirates.
It was after that, that in Ramon's dusky store, I had iny first sight of Seraphina and of her father, and then came my meeting with Carlos. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him come out with extended hand. It was an extraordinary sensation, that of talking to Carlos again. He seemed to have worn badly. His face had lost its moist bloom, its hardly distinguishable subcutaneous flush. It had grown very, very pale. Dark blue circles took away from the blackness and sparkle of his eyes. And he coughed, and coughed.
He put his arm affectionately round my shoulders and said, “How splendid to see you again, my Juan.” His eyes had affection in them, there was no doubt about that, but I felt vaguely suspicious of him. I remembered how we had parted on board the Thames. “We can talk here," he added; "it is very pleasant. You shall see my uncle, that great man, the star of Cuban
law, and my cousin Seraphina, your kinsfolk. They love you; I have spoken well of you.” He smiled gayly, and went on, “This is not a place befitting his greatness, nor my cousin's, nor, indeed, my own." He smiled again. “But I shall be very soon dead, and to me it matters little.” He frowned a little, and then laughed. “But you should have seen the faces of your officers when my uncle refused to go to their governor's palace; there was to have been a fiesta, a ‘reception’; is it not the word? It will cause a great scandal.”
He smiled with a good deal of fine malice, and looked as if he expected me to be pleased. I said that I did not quite understand what had offended his uncle.
“Oh, it was because there was no priest," Carlos answered, “when those poor devils were hung. They were canaille. Yes; but one gives that much even to such. And my uncle was there in his official capacity as a—a plenipotentiary. He was very much distressed: we were all. You heard, my uncle himself had advised their being surrendered to your English. And when there was no priest he repented very bitterly. Why, after alí, it was an infamy.”
He paused again, and leant back against the counter. When his eyes were upon the ground and his face not animated by talking, there became lamentably insistent his pallor, the deep shadows under his eyes, and infinite sadness in the droop of his features, as if he were preoccupied by an all-pervading and hopeless grief. When he looked at me, he smiled, however.
“Well, at worst it is over, and my uncle is here in this dirty place instead of at your palace. We sail back to Cuba this very evening.” He looked round him at Ramon's calicos and sugar tubs in the dim light, as if he accepted almost incredulously the fact that they could be in such a place, and the manner of his voice indicated