« PreviousContinue »
“Be welcome, my English cousin," and then dropped her eyes again to the lizard.
She knew all about me from Carlos. The man of whom I had seen only the top of his head, turned his chair suddenly and glinted at me with little blue eyes. He was rather small and round, with very firm flesh, and very white, plump hands. He was dressed in the black clothes of a Spanish judge. On his round face there was always a smile like that which hangs around the jaws of a pike only more humorous. He bowed a little exaggeratedly to me and said:
“Ah, ye are that famous Mr. Kemp."
I said that I imagined him the more famous Señor Juez O'Brien.
“It's little use saying ye arren't famous,” he said. His voice had the faint, infinitely sweet twang of certain Irishry; a thing as delicate and intangible as the scent of lime flowers. “Our noble friend”—he indicated Carlos with a little flutter of one white hand—“has told me what make of a dare-devil gallant ye are; breaking the skulls of half the Bow Street runners for the sake of a friend in distress. Well, I honour ye for it; I've done as much myself.” He added, “In the old days," and sighed.
“You mean in the '98,” I said, a little insolently.
O'Brien's eyes twinkled. He had, as a matter of fact, nearly lost his neck in the Irish fiasco, either in Clonmel or Sligo, bolting violently from the English dragoons, in the mist, to a French man-of-war's boats in the bay. To him, even though he was now a judge in Cuba, it was an episode of heroism of youth-of romance, in fact. So that, probably, he did not resent my mention of it. I certainly wanted to resent something that was slighting in his voice, and patronizing in his manner.
The old Don slumbered placidly, his face turned up to the distant begrimed ceiling.
“Now, I'll make you a fair offer,” O'Brien said suddenly, after an intent study of the insolent glance that I gave him. I disliked him because I knew nothing about the sort of man he was. He was, as a matter of fact, more alien to me than Carlos. And he gave me the impression that, if perhaps he were not absolutely the better man, he could still make a fool of me, or at least make me look like a fool.
"I'm told you are a Separationist,” he said. “Well, it's like me. I am an Irishman; there has been a price on my head in another island. And there are warrants out against you here for assaulting the admiral. We can work together, and there's nothing low in what I have in mind for you.”
He had heard frequently from Carlos that I was a desperate and aristocratically lawless young man, who had lived in a district entirely given up to desperate and murderous smugglers. But this was the first I had heard definitely of warrants against me in Jamaica. That, no doubt, he had heard from Ramon, who knew everything. In all this little sardonic Irishman said to me, it seemed the only thing worth attention. It stuck in my mind while, in persuasive tones, and with airy fluency, he discoursed of the profits that could be made, nowadays, in arming privateers under the Mexican flag. He told me I needn't be surprised at their being fitted out in a Spanish colony. “There's more than one aspect to disloyalty like this,” said he dispassionately, but with a quick wink contrasting with his tone.
Spain resented our recognition of their rebellious colonies. And with the same cool persuasiveness, relieved by humorous smiles, he explained that the Joyal Spaniards of the Ever Faithful Island thought there was no sin in doing harm to the English, even under the Mexican flag, whose legal existence they did not recognize.
"Mind ye, it's an organized thing, I have something to say in it. It hurts Mr. Canning's Government at home, the curse of Cromwell on him and them. They will be dropping some of their own colonies directly. And as you are a Separationist, small blame to you, and I am an Irishman, we shan't cry our eyes out over it. Come, Mr. Kemp, 'tis all for the good of the Cause. . . . And there's nothing low. You are a gentleman, and I wouldn't propose anything that was. The very best people in Havana are interested in the matter. Our schooners lie in Rio Medio, but I can't be there all the time myself.”
Surprise deprived me of speech. I glanced at Carlos. He was watching us inscrutably. The young girl touched the lizard gently, but it was too frightened to move. O'Brien, with shrewd glances, rocked his chair. . . . What did I want? he inquired. To see life? What he proposed was the life for a fine young fellow like me. Moreover, I was half Scotch. Had I forgotten the wrongs of my own country? Had I forgotten the '45?
“You'll have heard tell of a Scotch Chief Justice whose son spent in Amsterdam the money his father earned on the justice seat in Edinb'ro'-money paid for rum and run silks . . .”
Of course I had heard of it; everybody had; but it had been some years before.
“We're backwards hereabouts,” O'Brien jeered. “But over there they winked and chuckled at the judge, and they do the same in Havana at us.”
Suddenly from behind us the voice of the young girl said, “Of what do you discourse, my English cousin."
O'Brien interposed deferentially. “Señorita, I ask him to come to Rio,” he said.
She turned her large dark eyes scrutinizingly upon me, then dropped them again. She was arranging some melon seeds in a rayed circle round the lizard that looked motionlessly at her.
“Do not speak very loudly, lest you awaken my father,” she warned us.
The old Don's face was still turned to the ceiling. Carlos, standing behind his chair, opened his mouth a little in a half smile. I was really angry with O'Brien by that time, with his air of omniscience, superiority, and self-content, as if he were talking to a child or someone very credulous and weak-minded.
“What right have you to speak for me, Señor Juez?” I said in the best Spanish I could.
The young girl looked at me once more, and then again looked down.
“Oh, I can speak for you,” he answered in English, “because I know. Your position's this." He sat down in his rocking chair, crossed his legs, and looked at me as if he expected me to show signs of astonishment at his knowing so much. “You're in a hole. You must leave this island of Jamaica-surely it's as distressful as my own dear land—and you can't go home, because the runners would be after you. You're 'wanted' here as well as there, and you've nowhere to
I looked at him, quite startled by this view of my case. He extended one plump hand towards me, and still further lowered his voice.
“Now, I offer you a good berth, a snug berth. And 'tis a pretty spot.” He got a sort of languorous honey into his voice, and drawled out, “The-the Señorita's.” He took an air of businesslike candour. “You can help
us, and we you; we could do without you better than you without us. Our undertaking—there's big names in it, just as in the Free Trading you know so well, don't be saying you don't-is worked from Havana. What we need is a man we can trust. We had one-Nichols. You remember the mate of the ship you came over in. , He was Nicola el Demonio; he won't be any longer-1 can't tell you why, it's too long a story.”
I did remember very vividly that cadaverous Nova Scotian mate of the Thames, who had warned me with truculent menaces against showing my face in Rio Medio. I remembered his sallow, shiny cheeks, and the exaggerated gestures of his claw-like hands.
O'Brien smiled. “Nichols is alive right enough, but no more good than if he were dead. And that's the truth. He pretends his nerve's gone; he was a devil among tailors for a time, but he's taken to crying now. It was when your blundering old admiral's boats had to be beaten off that his zeal cooled. He thinks the British Government will rise in its strength.” There was a bitter contempt in his voice, but he regained his calm business tone. “It will do nothing of the sort. I've given them those seven poor devils that had to die to-day without absolution. So Nichols is done for, as far as we are concerned. I've got him put away to keep him from blabbing. You can have his place and better than his place. He was only a sailor, which you are not. However, you know enough of ships, and what we want is a man with courage, of course, but also a man we can trust. Any of the Creoles would bolt into the bush the moment they'd five dollars in hand. We'll pay you well; a large share of all you
I laughed outright. “You're quite mistaken in your man,” I said. “You are, really."