« PreviousContinue »
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 guerrilero 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 Señor Ramon; I have letters to him, and he shall find me a conveyance to Rio Medio, my uncle's town. He is an afiliado.”
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:
“Señor, 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.
“If the English caballero committed indiscretions, or quarreled --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
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 preoccupied 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 Señor Ramon, the merchant, even as I have. Vaya; more I cannot
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. 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
“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.
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