« PreviousContinue »
a little while, and then faltered, and forgot what he was speaking of. Suddenly he said:
“But where is O'Brien? Did he write to the Governor here? I should like you to know the Señor O'Brien. He is a spiritual man.
I forbore to say that I had already seen O'Brien, and the old man sank into complete silence. It was beginning to grow dark, and the noise of suppressed voices came from the open trap-door. Nobody said anything.
I felt a sort of uneasiness; I could by no means understand the connection between the old Don and what had gone before, and I did not, in a purely conventional sense, know how long I ought to stop. The sky through the barred windows had grown pallid.
The old Don said suddenly, “You must visit my poor town of Rio Medio,” but he gave no specific invitation and said nothing more.
Afterwards he asked, rather querulously, “But where is O'Brien? He must write those letters for me.'
The young girl said, “He has preceded us to the ship; he will write there."
She had gone back to her seat. Don Balthasar shrugged his shoulders to his ears, and moved his hands from his knees.
“Without doubt, he knows best,” he said, “but he should ask me.”
It grew darker still; the old Don seemed to have fallen asleep again. Save for the gleam of the silver buckle of his hat, he had disappeared into the gloom of the place. I remembered my engagement to dine with Williams on board the Lion, and I rose to my feet. There did not seem to be any chance of my talking to the young girl. She was once more leaning nonchalantly over the lizard, and her hair drooped right across her face like clusters of grapes. There was a gleam on a little piece of white forehead, and all around and about her there were shadows deepening. Carlos came concernedly towards me as I looked at the door.
“But you must not go yet,” he said a little suavely; “I have many things to say. Tell me
His manner heightened my uneasiness to a fear. The expression of his eyes changed, and they became fixed over my shoulder, while on his lips the words “You must come, you must come,” trembled, hardly audible. I could only shake my head. At once he stepped back as if resigning. He was giving me up-and it occurred to me that if the danger of his seduction was over, there remained the danger of arrest just outside the door.
Some one behind me said peremptorily, “It is time,” and there was a flickering diminution of the light. I had a faint instantaneous view of the old Don dozing, with his head back of the tall windows, cut up into squares by the black bars. Something hairily coarse ran harshly down my face; I grew blind; my mouth, my eyes, my nostrils were filled with dust; my breath shut in upon me became a flood of warm air. I had no time to resist. I kicked my legs convulsively; my elbows were drawn tight against my sides. Someone grunted under my weight; then I was carried-down, along, up, down again; my feet were knocking along a wall, and the top of my head rubbed occasionally against what must have been the roof of a low stone passage, issuing
from under the back room of Ramon's store. Finally, ! I was dropped upon something that felt like a heap of
wood-shavings. My surprise, rage, and horror had been so great that, after the first stifled cry, I had made no sound. I heard the footsteps of several men going away.
I REMAINED lying there, bound hand and foot, for a long time; for quite long enough to allow me to collect my senses and see that I had been a fool to threaten O'Brien. I had been nobly indignant, and behold! I had a sack thrown over my head for my pains, and was put away safely somewhere or other. It seemed to be a cellar.
I was in search of romance, and here were all the elements; Spaniards, a conspirator, and a kidnapping; but I couldn't feel a fool and romantic as well. True romance, I suppose, needs a whirl of emotions to extinguish all the senses except that of sight, which it dims. Except for sight, which I hadn't at all, I had the use of them all, and all reported unpleasant things.
I ached and smarted with my head in a sack, with my mouth full of flour that had gone mouldy and offended my nostrils; I had a sense of ignominy, and I was extremely angry; I could see that the old Don was in his dotage—but Carlos I was bitter against.
I was not really afraid; I could not suppose that the Riegos would allow me to be murdered or seriously maltreated. But I was incensed against Fate or Chance or whatever it is on account of the ignominious details, the coarse sack, the mouldy flour, the stones of the tunnel that had barked my shins, the tightness of the ropes that bound my ankles together, and seemed to cut into my wrists behind my back.
I waited, and my fury grew in a dead silence. How would it end—with what outrage? I would show my contempt and preserve my dignity by submitting without a struggle I despised this odious plot. At last there were voices, footsteps; I found it very hard to carry out my resolution and refrain from stifled cries and kicks. I was lifted up and carried, like a corpse, with many stumbles, by men who sometimes growled as they hastened along. From time to time somebody murmured, “Take care.” Then I was deposited into a boat. The world seemed to be swaying, splashing, jarring and it became obvious to me that I was being taken to some ship. The Spanish ship, of course. Suddenly I broke into cold perspiration at the thought that, after all, their purpose might be to drop me quickly overboard. “Carlos!” I cried. I felt the point of a knife on my breast. "Silence, Señor!” said a gruff voice.
This fear vanished when we caine alongside a ship evidently already under way; but I was handled so roughly and clumsily that I was thoroughly exhausted and out of breath, by the time I was got on board. All was still around me; I was left alone on a settee in the main cabin, as I imagined. For a long time I made no movement; then a door opened and shut. There was a murmured conversation between two voices. This went on in animated whispers for a time. At last I felt as if someone were trying, rather ineffectually, to remove the sack itself. Finally, that actually did rub its way over my head, and something soft and silken began to wipe my eyes with a surprising care, and even tender
“This was stupidly done,” came a discontented remark; "you do not handle a caballero like this.”
“And how else was it to be done, to that kind of caballero ?" was the curt retort.
By that time I had blinked my eyes into a condition for remaining open for minute stretches. Two men
were bending over me Carlos and O'Brien himself. The latter said:
“Believe me, your mistake made this necessary. This young gentleman was about to become singularly inconvenient, and he is in no way harmed."
He spoke in a velvety voice, and walked away gently through the darkness. Carlos followed with the lanthorn dangling at arm's length; strangely enough he had not even looked at me. I suppose he was ashamed, and I was too proud to speak to him, with my hands and feet tied fast. The door closed, and I remained sittirg in the darkness. Long small windows grew into light at one end of the place, curved into an outline that suggested a deep recess. The figure of a crowned woman, that moved rigidly up and down, was silhouetted over my body. Groaning creaks of wood and the faint swish of water made themselves heard continuously.
I turned my head to a click, I saw a door open a little way, and the small blue flame of a taper floated into the
Then the door closed with a definite sound of shutting in. The light shone redly through protecting fingers, and upwards on to a small face. It came to a halt, and I made out the figure of a girl leaning across a table and looking upwards. There was a click of glass, and then a great blaze of light created a host of shining things; a glitter of gilded carvings, red velvet couches, a shining table, a low ceiling, painted white, on carved rafters. A large silver lamp she had lighted kept on swinging to the gentle motion of the ship.
She stood just in front of me; the girl that I had seen through the door; the girl I had seen play with the melon seeds. She was breathing fast-it agitated me to be alone with her—and she had a little shining dagger in her hand.