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alone. He had never been so near his death. But for sheer curiosity, for my sheer desire to know what he could say, I would have smashed in his brains with the clerk's stool. I was going to do it; I made one step towards the stool. Then I saw that he was crying.
“The curse—the curse of Cromwell on you,” he sobbed suddenly. “You send me back to hell again.” He writhed his whole body. “Sorrow!” he said, “I know it. But what's this? What's this?”
The many reasons he had for sorrow Alashed on me like a procession of somber images.
“Dead and done with a man can bear,” he muttered. “But this—Not to know—perhaps alive-perhaps hidden—She may be dead. ..." With a change like a flash he was commanding
" Tell me how you escaped.”
It gave me suddenly the measure of his ignorance; he did not know anything—nothing. His hell was uncertainty. Well, let him stay there.
“Where is she?” he said. “Where is she?”
He had a sudden convulsive gesture, as if searching for a weapon.
“If you'll tell me she's alive . .," he began. “Oh, I'm not dead,” I answered.
“Never a drowned puppy was more," he said, with a flash, of vivacity. “You hang here—for murder-or in England for piracy.”
“ Then I've little to want to live for," I sneered at him.
“You let her drown," he said. “You took her from that house, a young girl, in a little boat. And you can hold up your head.”
“I was trying to save her from you," I answered.
"By God,” he said. “These English–I've seen them, spit the child on the mother's breast. I've seen them set fire to the thatch
of the widow and childless. But this. . . . But this. . .. I can save you, I tell you."
“You can't make me go through worse than I've borne," I answered. Sorrow and all he might wish on my head, my life was too precious to him till I spoke. I wasn't going to speak.
"I'll search every ship in the harbor," he said passionately. “Do,” I said. “Bring your Lugareños to the task.”
Upon the whole, I wasn't much afraid. Unless he got definite evidence he couldn't-in the face of the consul's protests, and the presence of the admiral-touch the Lion again. He fixed his eyes intently upon me.
“You came in the American brigantine,” he said. “It's known you landed in her boat."
I didn't answer him; it was plain enough that the drogher's arrival had either not been reported to him, or it had been searched in vain.
"In her boat,” he repeated. “I tell you I know she is not dead; even you, an Englishman, must have a different face if she were."
“I don't at least ask you for life," I said, “to enjoy with her.”
“She's alive,” he said. “Alive! As for where, it matters little. I'll search every inch of the island, every road, every hacienda. You don't realize my power.” · "Then search the bottom of the sea," I shouted. - " Let's look at the matter in the right light.”
He had mastered his grief, his incertitude. He was himself again, and the smile had returned, as if at the moment he forced his features to their natural lines.
“Send one of your friars to heaven-you'll never go there yourself to meet her.”
"If you will tell me she's alive, I'll save you." I made a mute, obstinate gesture.
"If she's alive, and you don't tell me, I can't but find her. And I'll make you know the agonies of suspense-a long way from here."
I was silent. “If she's dead, and you'll tell me, I'll save you some trouble. If she's dead and you don't, you'll have your own remorse and the rest, too."
I said, “You're too Irish mysterious for me to understand. But you've a choice of four evils for me-choose yourself.".
He continued with a quivering, taut good-humor. “ Prove to me she's dead, and I'll let you die sharply and mercifully.”
“You won't believe!” I said; but he took no notice.
“I tell you plainly,” he smiled. “If we find ... if we find her dear body—and I can't help but, I've men on the watch all along the shores—I'll give you up to your admiral for a pirate. You'll have a long slow agony of a trial; I know what English justice is. And a disgraceful felon's death.”
I was thinking that, in any case, a day or so might be gained, the Lion would be gone; they could not touch her while the flagship remained outside. I certainly didn't want to be given up to the admiral ; I might explain the mistaken identity. But there was the charge of treason in Jamaica. I said:
“I only ask to be given up; but you daren't do it for your own credit. I can show you up.”
He said, “Make no mistake! If he gets you, he'll hang you. He's going home in disgrace. Your whole blundering Government will work to hang you."
"They know pretty well," I answered, “ that there are queer doings in Havana. I promise you I'll clear things up. I know too much. ..."
He said, with a sudden, intense note of passion, “Only tell me where her grave is, I'll let you go free. You couldn't, you dare not, dastard that you are, go away from where she died—without ... without making sure."
“Then search all the new graves in the island," I said, “ I'll tell you nothing. ... Nothing!”
He came at me again and again, but I never spoke after that. He made all the issues clearer and clearer-his own side involuntarily and all the griefs I had to expect. As for him, he dare not kill me—and he dare not give me up to the admiral. In his suspense, since, for him, I was the only person in the world who knew Seraphina's fate, he dare not let me out of his grip. And all the while he had me he must keep the admiral there, waiting
for the surrender either of myself or of some other poor devil whom he might palm off as Nikola el Escoces. While the admiral was there the Lion was pretty safe from molestation, and she would sail pretty soon.
At the same time, except for the momentary sheer joy of tormenting a man whom I couldn't help regarding as a devil, I had more than enough to fear. I had suffered too much; I wanted rest, woman's love, slackening off. And here was another endless coil-endless. If it didn't end in a knife in the back, he might keep me for ages in Havana; or he might get me sent to England, where it would take months, an endless time, to prove merely that I wasn't Nikola el Escoces. I should prove it; but, in the meantime, what would become of Seraphina? Would she follow me to England ? Would she even know that I had gone there? Or would she think me dead and die herself? O'Brien knew nothing; his spies might report a hundred uncertainties. He was standing rigidly still now, as if afraid to move for fear of breaking down. He said suddenly:
“You came in some ship; you can't deceive me, I shall have them all searched again.”
I said desperately, “Search and be damned—whatever ships you like." .
"You cold, pitiless, English scoundrel,” he shrieked suddenly. The breaking down of his restraint had let him go right into madness. “You have murdered her. You cared nothing; you came from nowhere. A beggarly fool, too stupid to be ever an adventurer. A miserable blunderer, coming in blind; coming out blind; and leaving ruin and worse than hell. What good have you done yourself? What could you? What did you see? What did you hope? . . . Sorrow? Ruin? Death? I am acquainted with them. It is in the blood; 'tis in the tone; in the entrails of us, in our mother's milk. Your accursed land has brought always that on our own dear and sorrowful country. ... You waste, you ruin, you spoil. What for? ... Tell me what for? Tell me? Tell me? What did you gain? What will you ever gain? An unending curse! . . . But, ah, ye’ve no souls.”
He called very loudly, as if with a passionate relief, his voice giving life to an unsuspected, misgiving echo:
“Guards! Soldiers! . .. You shall be shot, now!”
He was going to cut the knot that way. Two soldiers pushed the door noisily open, their muskets advanced. He took no notice of them; and they retained an attitude of military stupidity, their eyes upon him. He whispered:
"No, no! Not yet!”
Then he looked at me searchingly, as if he still hoped to get some certainty from my face, some inkling, perhaps some inspiration of what would persuade me to speak. Then he shook his wrists violently, as if in fear of himself.
“Take him away,” he said. “Away! Out of reach of my hands. Out of reach of my hands."
I was trembling a good deal; when the soldiers entered I thought I had got to my last minute. But, as it was, he had not learnt a thing of me. Not a thing. And I did not see where else he could go for information.