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Juez; but this was a feast, and he would not hear of it probably till next day. Even fiestas had their uses sometimes. In his anxiety to discover Seraphina, O'Brien had played such pranks amongst the foreign shipping (after the Lion had been drawn blank) that the whole consular body had addressed a joint protest to the Governor, and the Juez had been told to moderate his efforts. No ship was to be visited more than once. Still I had seen, myself, soldiers going in a boat to board the American brigantine: a garlic-eating crew, poisoning the cabins with their breath, and poking their noses everywhere. Of course, since our supposed drowning, there had been a lull; but the least thing might start him off again. He was reputed to be almost out of his mind with sorrow, arising from his great attachment for the family. He walked about as if distracted, suffered from insomnia, and had not been fit to preside in his court for over a week, now.
“But don't you expect Williams back on board directly ?” He shook his head.
“No. Not even to-night. He told the missus he was going to spend the day out of town with his consignee, but he tipped me the wink. This evening he will send a note that the consignee detains him for the night, because the letters are not ready, and I'll have to go to her and lie, the best I am able, that it's quite the usual thing. Damn!”.
I was appalled. This was too bad. And, as I raged against the dissolute habits of the man, Sebright entreated me to moderate my voice so as not to be heard in the cabin. Did I expect the man to change his skin? He had been doing the gay bachelor about here all his life; had never suspected he was doing anything particularly scandalous either.
“He married the old girl out of chivalry,—the romantic fat beggar,—and never realized what it meant till she came out with him,” Sebright went on whispering to me. “He loves and honors her more than you may think. That is so, for all your shrugs, Mr. Kemp. It is not so easy to break the old connection as you imagine. Why, the other evening, two of his dissolute habits (as you call them) came off, with mantillas over their heads, in a boat, in company with a male scallawag of sorts, pinching a mandolin, and serenaded the ship for him. We were all in the cabin after supper, and poor Mrs. Williams, with her eyes still red from weeping over you people, says to us, ‘How sweet and melancholy that sounds,' says she. You should have seen the skipper rolling his eyes at me. The perspiration of fright was simply pouring down his face. I rushed on deck, and it took me all my Spanish to stop them from coming aboard. I had to swear by all the saints, and the honor of a caballero, that there was a wife. They went away laughing at last. They did not want to make trouble. They simply had not believed the tale before. Thought it was some dodge of his. I could hear their peals of laughter all the way up the harbor. These are the difficulties we have. The old girl must be protected from that sort of eye-opener, if I've to forswear my soul. I've been keeping guard over her ever since we arrived here-besides looking out for you people, as long as there was any hope."
I was greatly cast down. Perhaps Williams was justified in making concessions to the associates of his former jolly existence to save some outrage to the feelings of his consort. I did not want to criticise his motives—but what about getting him back on board at once?
Sebright was biting his lip. The necessity was pressing, he admitted.
He had an idea where to find him. But for himself he could not go that was evident. Neither would I wish him to leave the ship, even for a moment, now Seraphina was on board. An unexpected visit from some zealous police understrapper, a momentary want of presence of mind on the part of the timid steward; there was enough to bring about our undoing. Moreover, as he had said, he must remain on guard over the missus. But whom to send? There was not a single boatman about. The harbor was a desert of water and dressed ships; but even the crews of most of them were ashore—“on a regular spree of praying," as he expressed it vexedly. As to our own crew, not one of them knew anything more of Spanish than a few terms of abuse, perhaps. Their hearts were in the right place, but as to their wits, he wouldn't trust a single one of them by himselfno, not an inch away from the ship. How could he send one of them ashore with the wine-shops yawning wide on all sides, and not enough lingo to ask for the way. Sure to get drunk, to get lost, to get into trouble in some way, and in the end get picked up by the police. The slightest hitch of that sort would call attention upon the ship—and with O'Brien to draw inferences. ... He rubbed his head.
“I suppose I'll have to go," he grunted. “But I am known; I may be followed. They may wonder why I rush to fetch my skipper. And yet I feel this is the time. The very time. Between now and four o'clock to-morrow morning we have an almost absolute certitude of getting away with you two. This is our chance and your chance."
He was lost in perplexity. Then, as if inspired, I cried:
I rushed at him with arguments. No one would know me. My clothes were all right and clean enough for a feast-day. I could slip through the crowds unperceived. The principal thing was to get Seraphina out of O'Brien's reach. At the worst, I could always find means to get away from Cuba by myself. There was Mrs. Williams to look after her, and if I missed Williams by some mischance, and failed to make my way back to the ship in time, I charged them solemnly not to wait, but sail away at the earliest possible moment.
I said much more than this. I was eloquent. I became as if suddenly intoxicated by the nearness of freedom and safety. The thought of being at sea with her in a few hours, away from all trouble of mind or heart, made my head swim. It seemed to me I should go mad if I was not allowed to go. My limbs tingled with eagerness. I stuttered with excitement.
“Well—after all!” Sebright mumbled. “I must go in and tell her," I said.
“No. Don't do that,” said that wise young man. “Have you made up your mind ?”
“Still,” he argued, "the old girl is sure to say that nothing of the kind is necessary. The captain told her that he was coming back for tea. What could we say to that? We can't explain the true state of the case, and if you persist in going, it will look like pig-headed folly on your part.”
He threw his writing-desk open for me.
“Write to her. Write down your arguments—what you have been telling me. It's a fact that the door stands open for a few hours. As to the rest,” he pursued, with a weary sigh, “ I'll do the lying to pass it off with Mrs. Williams.”
Thus it came about that, with only two Alimsy bulkheads between us, I wrote my first letter to Seraphina, while Sebright went on deck to make arrangements to send me ashore. He was some time away; long enough for me to pour out on paper the exultation of my thought, the confidence of my hope, my desire to have her safe at last with me upon the blue sea. One must seize a propitious moment lest it should slip away and never return, I wrote. I begged her to believe I was acting for the best, and only from my great love, that could not support the thought of her being so near O'Brien, the arch-enemy of our union. There was no separation on the sea.
Sebright came in brusquely. “Come along."
The American brigantine was berthed by then, close astern of the Lion, and Sebright had the idea of asking her mate to let his boat (it was in the water) put ashore a visitor he had on board. His own were hoisted, he explained, and there were no boatmen plying for hire.
His request was granted. I was pulled ashore by two American sailors, who never said a word to each other, and evidently took me for a Spaniard.
It was an excellent idea. By borrowing the Yankee's boat, the track of my connection with the Lion was covered. The silent seamen landed me, as asked by Seabright, near the battery on the sand, quite clear of the city.
I thanked them in Spanish, and, traversing a piece of open ground, made a wide circle to enter the town from the land side, to still further cover my tracks. I passed through a sort of squalid suburb of huts, hovels, and negro shanties. I met very few people, and these mostly old women, looking after the swarms of children of all colors and sizes, playing in the dust. Many curs sunned
themselves among heaps of rubbish, and took not the trouble to growl at me. Then I came out upon a highroad, and turned my face towards the city lying under a crude sunshine, and in a ring of metallic vibrations.
Better houses with plastered fronts washed yellow or blue, and even pinky red, alternated with tumble-down wooden structures. A crenelated squat gateway faced me with a carved shield of stone above the open gloom. A young smooth-faced mulatto, in some sort of dirty uniform, but wearing new straw slippers with blue silk rosettes over his naked feet, lounged cross-legged at the door of a kind of guardroom. He held a big cigar tilted up between his teeth, and ogled me, like a woman, out of the corners of his languishing eyes. He said not a word.
Fortunately my face had tanned to a dark hue. Enrico's clothes would not attract attention to me, of course. The light color of my hair was concealed by the handkerchief bound under my hat; my footsteps echoed loudly under the vault, and I penetrated into the heart of the city.
And directly, it seemed to me, I had stepped back three hundred years. I had never seen anything so old; this was the abandoned inheritance of an adventurous race, that seemed to have thrown all its might, all its vigor, and all its enthusiasm into one supreme effort of valor and greed. I had read the history of the Spanish Conquest; and, looking at these great walls of stone, I felt my heart moved by the same wonder, and by the same sadness. With what a fury of heroism and faith had this whole people flung itself upon the opulent mystery of the New World. Never had a nation clasped closer to its heart its dream of greatness, of glory, and of Romance. There had been a moment in its destiny, when it could believe that Heaven itself smiled upon its massacres. I walked slowly, awed by the solitude. They had conquered and were no more, and these wrought stones remained to testify gloomily to the death of their success. Heavy houses, immense walls, pointed arches of the doorways, cages of iron bars projecting balconywise around each square window. And not a soul in sight, not a head looking out from these dwellings, these houses of men, these ancient abodes of hate, of base rivalries, of avarice, of ambitions—these old nests of love. these witnesses of a great romance now past and