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evil man-not yet, perhaps. Let us submit. He may repent.” He snuffled aloud. “I think of that poor child," he said through his handkerchief. Then, pressing my arm with his vigorous fingers, he murmured, “I fear for her reason.'
It may be imagined in what state I spent the rest of that sleepless night. At times, the thought that I was the cause of her bereavement nearly drove me mad.
And there was the danger, too.
But what else could I have done? My whole soul had recoiled from the horrible help Castro was bringing us at the point of his blade. No love could demand from me such a sacrifice.
Next day Father Antonio was calmer. To my trembling inquiries he said something consolatory as to the blessed relief of tears. When not praying fervently in the mortuary chamber, he could be seen pacing the gallery in a severe aloofness of meditation. In the evening he took me by the arm, and, without a word, led me up a narrow and winding staircase. He pushed a small door, and we stepped out on a flat part of the roof, flooded in moonlight.
The points of land dark with the shadows of trees and broken ground clasped the waters of the bay, with a body of shining white mists in the center; and, beyond, the vast level of the open sea, touched with glitter, appeared infinitely somber under the luminous sky.
We stood back from the parapet, and Father Antonio threw out a thick arm at the splendid trail of the moon upon the dark water.
"This is the only way," he said.
He had a warm heart under his black robe, a simple and courageous comprehension of life, this priest who was very much of a man; a certain grandeur of resolution when it was a matter of what he regarded as his principal office.
“This is the way,” he repeated.
Never before had I been struck so much by the gloom, the vastness, the emptiness of the open sea, as on that moonlight night. And Father Antonio's deep voice went on:
“My son, since God has made use of the nobility of your heart to save that sinner from an unshriven death
He paused to mutter, “ Inscrutable! inscrutable!” to himself, sighed, and then:
"Let us rejoice," he continued, with a completely unconcealed resignation, “ that you have been the chosen instrument to afford him an opportunity to repent."
His tone changed suddenly.
“He will never repent,” he said with great force. “He has sold his soul and body to the devil, like these magicians of old of whom we have records."
He clicked his tongue with compunction, and regretted his want of charity. It was proper for me, however, as a man having to deal with a 'yorld of wickedness and error, to act as though I did not believe in his repentance.
The hardness of the human heart is incredible; I have seen the most appalling examples.” And the priest meditated." He is not a common criminal, however," he added profoundly.
It was true. He was a man of illusions, ministering to passions that uplifted him above the fear of consequences. Young as I was, I understood that, too. There was no safety for us in Cuba while he lived. Father Antonio nodded dismally.
" Where to go?” I asked. Where to turn? Whom can we trust? In whom can we repose the slightest confidence? Where can we look for hope?”
Again the padre pointed to the sea. The hopeless aspect of its moonlit and darkling calm struck me so forcibly that I did not even ask how he proposed to get us out there. I only made a gesture of discouragement. Outside the Casa, my life was not worth ten minutes' purchase. And how could I risk her there? How could I propose to her to follow me to an almost certain death? What could be the issue of such an adventure? How could we hope to devise such secret means of getting away as would prevent the Lugareños pursuing us? I should perish, then, and she
Father Antonio seemed to lose his self-control suddenly.
“Yes," he cried. “The sea is a perfidious element, but what is it to the blind malevolence of men ?" He gripped my shoulder.
The risk to her life,” he cried ; “ the risk of drowning, of hunger, of thirst—that is all the sea can do. I do not think of that. I love her too much. She is my very own spiritual child; and I tell you, señor, that the unholy intrigue of that man endangers not
her happiness, not her fortune alone-it endangers her innocent soul itself.”
A profound silence ensued. I remembered that his business was to save souls. This old man loved that young girl whom he had watched growing up, defenseless in her own home; he loved her with a great strength of paternal instinct that no vow of celibacy can extinguish, and with a heroic sense of his priestly duty. And I was not to say him nay. The sea—so be it. It was easier to think of her dead than to think of her immured; it was better that she should be the victim of the sea than of evil men; that she should be lost with me than to me.
Father Antonio, with that naïve sense of the poetry of the sky he possessed, apostrophized the moon, the “gentle orb,” as he called it, which ought to be weary of looking at the miseries of the earth. His immense shadow on the leads seemed to Aing two vast fists over the parapet, as if to strike at the enemies below, and without discussing any specific plan we descended. It was understood that Seraphina and I should try to escape—I won't say by sea, but to the sea. At best, to ask the charitable help of some passing ship, at worst to go out of the world together.
I had her confidence. I will not tell of my interview with her ; but I shall never forget my sensations of awe, as if entering a temple, the melancholy and soothing intimacy of our meeting, the dimly lit loftiness of the room, the vague form of La Chica in the background, and the frail, girlish figure in black with a very pale, delicate face. Father Antonio was the only other person present, and chided her for giving way to grief. “It is like rebellionlike rebellion," he denounced, turning away his head to wipe a tear hastily; and I wondered and thanked God that I should be a comfort to that tender young girl, whose lot on earth had been difficult, whose sorrow was great but could not overwhelm her indomitable spirit, which held a promise of sweetness and love.
Her courage was manifest to me in the gentle and sad tones of her voice. I made her sit in a vast armchair of tapestry, in which she looked lost like a little child, and I took a stool at her feet. This is an unforgetable hour in my life in which not a word of love was spoken, which is not to be written of. The burly shadow of the priest lay motionless from the window right across the room; the flickering flame of a silver lamp made an unsteady white circle of light on the lofty ceiling above her head. A clock was beating gravely somewhere in the distant gloom, like the unperturbed heart of that silence, in which our understanding of each other was growing, even into a strength fit to withstand every tempest.
“ Escape by the sea," I said aloud. “It would be, at least, like two lovers leaping hand in hand off a high rock, and nothing else.”
Father Antonio's bass voice spoke behind us.
“It is better to jeopardize the sinful body that returns to the dust of which it is made than the redeemed soul, whose awful lot is eternity. Reflect."
Seraphina hung her head, but her hand did not tremble in mine.
“My daughter," the old man continued, "you have to confide your fate to a noble youth of elevated sentiments, and of a truly chivalrous heart. . .
“I trust him," said Seraphina.
And, as I heard her say this, it seemed really to me as if, in very truth, my sentiments were noble and my heart chivalrous. Such is the power of a girl's voice. The door closed on us, and I felt very humble.
But in the gallery Father Antonio leaned heavily on my shoulder.
“I shall be a lonely old man," he whispered faintly. “After all these years! Two great nobles; the end of a great house a child I had seen grow up.
But I am less afraid for her now."
I shall not relate all the plans we made and rejected. Everything seemed impossible. We knew from Castro that O'Brien had gone to Havana, either to take the news of Don Balthasar's death himself, or else to prevent the news spreading there too soon. Whatever his motive for leaving Rio Medio, he had left orders that the house should be respected under the most awful penalties, and that it should be watched so that no one left it. The Englishman was to be killed at sight. Not a hair on anybody else's head was to be touched.
To escape seemed impossible; then on the third day the thing came to pass. The way was found. Castro, who served me as if Carlos' soul had passed into my body, but looked at me with a saturnine disdain, had arranged it all with Father Antonio.
It was the day of the burial of Carlos and Don Balthasar. That same day Castro had heard that a ship had been seen becalmed a long way out to sea. It was a great opportunity; and the funeral procession would give the occasion for my escape. There was in Rio Medio, as in all Spanish towns amongst the respectable part of the population, a confraternity for burying the dead, “The Brothers of Pity," who, clothed in black robes and cowls, with only two holes for the eyes, carried the dead to their resting-place, unrecognizable and unrecognized in that pious work. A “ Brother of Pity ” dress would be brought for me into Father Antonio's room. Castro was confident as to his ability of getting a boat. It would be a very small and dangerous one, but what would I have, if I neither killed my enemy, nor let anyone else kill him for me, he commented with somber sarcasm.
A truce of God had been called, and the burial was to take place in the evening, when the mortal remains of the last of the Riegos would be laid in the vault of the cathedral of what had been known as their own province, and had, in fact, been so for a time under a grant from Charles V.
Early in the day I had a short interview with Seraphina. She was resolute. Then, long before dark, I slipped into Father Antonio's room, where I was to stay until the moment to come out and mingle with the throng of other Brothers of Pity. Once with the bodies in the crypt of the cathedral, I was to await Seraphina there, and, together, we should slip through a side door on to the shore. Cesar, to throw any observer off the scent (three Lugareños were to be admitted to see the bodies put in their coffins), posted two of the Riego negroes with loaded muskets on guard before the door of my empty room, as if to protect me.
Then, just as dusk fell, Father Antonio, who had been praying silently in a corner, got up, blew his nose, sighed, and suddenly enfolded me in his powerful arms for an instant.
“I am an old man—a poor priest,” he whispered jerkily into my ear, “and the sea is very perfidious. And yet it favors the sons of your nation. But, remember—the child has no one but you. Spare her.”