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key. In the crowd all sorts of little movements happened. Women crossed themselves, and furtively thrust pairs of crooked, skinny, brown, black-nailed fingers in my direction. The man like Cæsar
“I ask your pardon, Señor Caballero. I did not know. How could I tell? You are free of all the patios in this land.”
The tall alcayde finished grinding the immense key in the lock, and touched me on the arm.
'If the señor will follow me,” he said. “I will do the honors of this humble mansion, and indicate a choice of rooms where he may be free from the visits of these gentry."
We went up steps, and through long, shadowy corridors, with here and there a dark, lounging figure, like a stag seen in the dim aisles of a wood. The alcayde threw open a door.
The room was like a blazing oblong box, filled with light, but without window or chimney. Two men were fencing in the illumination of some twenty candles stuck all round the mildewed white walls on lumps of clay. There was a blaze of silver things, like an altar of a wealthy church, from a black, carved table in the far corner. The two men, in shirts and breeches, revolved round each other, their rapiers clinking, their left arms scarved, holding buttoned daggers. The alcayde proclaimed:
Don Vincente Salazar, I have the honor to announce an English señor."
The man with his face to me tossed his rapier impatiently into a corner. He was a plump, dark Cuban, with a brooding truculence. The other faced round quickly. His cheeks shone in the candle-light like polished yellow leather, his eyes were narrow slits, his face lugubrious. He scrutinized me intently, then drawled :
“My! You? . Hang me if I didn't think it would be you!"
He had the air of surveying a monstrosity, and pulled the neck of his dirty print shirt open, panting. He slouched out into the corridor, and began whispering eagerly to the alcayde. The little Cuban glowered at me; I said I had the honor to salute him.
He muttered something contemptuous between his teeth. Well,
if he didn't want to talk to me, I didn't want to talk to him. It had struck me that the tall, sallow man was undoubtedly the second mate of the Thames. Nichols, the real Nikola el Escoces ! The Cuban grumbled suddenly:
“You, señor, are without doubt one of the spies of that friend of the priests, that O'Brien. Tell him to beware—that I bid him beware. I, Don Vincente Salazar de Valdepeñas y Forli y..."
I remembered the name; he was once the suitor of Seraphina —the man O'Brien had put out of the way. He continued with a grotesque frown of portentous significance:
“To-morrow I leave this place. And your compatriot is very much afraid, señor. Let him fear! Let him fear! thousand spies should not save him.”
The tall alcayde came hurriedly back and stood bowing between us. He apologized abjectly to the Cuban for introducing me upon him. But the room was the best in the place at the disposal of the prisoners of the Juez O'Brien. And I was a noted caballero. Heaven knows what I had not done in Rio Medio. Burnt, slain, ravished... The Señor Juez was understood to be much incensed against me. The gloomy Cuban at once rushed upon me, as if he would have taken me into his arms.
“The Inglesito of Rio Medio!” he said. “Ha, ha! Much have I heard of you. Much of the señor's valiance! Many tales ! That foul eater of the carrion of the priests wishes your life! Ah, but let him beware! I shall save you, señor-I, Don Vincente Salazar.”
He presented me with the room-a remarkably bare place but for his properties: silver branch candlesticks, a silver chafing-dish as large as a basin. They might have been chased by Cellini-one used to find things like that in Cuba in those days, and Salazar was the person to have them. Afterwards, at the time of the first insurrection, his eight-mule harness was sold for four thousand pounds in Paris-by reason of the gold and pearls upon it. The atmosphere, he explained, was fetid, but his man was coming to burn sandal-wood and beat the air with fans.
“And to-morrow!” he said, his eyes rolling. Suddenly he stopped. “Señor,” he said, “is it true that my venerated friend, my more than father, has been murdered-at the instigation of that fiend? Is it true that the señorita has disappeared? These tales are told.”
I said it was very true.
“They shall be avenged,” he declared, "to-morrow! I shall seek out the señorita. I shall find her. I shall find her! For me she was destined by my venerable friend.”
He snatched a black velvet jacket from the table and put it on.
'Afterwards, señor, you shall relate. Have no fear. I shall save you.
I shall save all men oppressed by this scourge of the land. For the moment afford me the opportunity to meditate.” He crossed his arms, and dropped his round head. Alas, yes!' he meditated.
Suddenly he waved towards the door. “Señor,” he said swiftly, “I must have air; I stifle. Come with me to the corridor. .
He went towards the window giving on to the patio; he stood in the shadow, his arms folded, his head hanging dejectedly. At the moment it grew suddenly dark, as if a veil had been thrown over a lamp. The sun had set outside the walls. A drum began to beat. Down below in the obscurity the crowd separated into three strings and moved slowly towards the barren tunnels. Under our feet the white shirts disappeared; the ragged crowd gravitated to the left; the small children strung into the square cage-door. The drum beat again and the crowd hurried. Then there was a clang of closing grilles and lights began to show behind the bars from deep recesses. In a little time there was a repulsive hash of heads and limbs to be seen under the arches vanishing a long way within, and a little light washed across the gravel of the patio from within.
Señor," the Cuban said suddenly, “I will pronounce his panegyric. He was a man of a great gentleness, of an inevitable nobility, of an invariable courtesy. Where, in this degenerate age, shall we find the like!” He stopped to breathe a sound of intense exasperation.
“When I think of these Irish, ...," he said. “Of that O'Brien.
A servant was arranging the shining room that we had left. Salazar interrupted himself to give some orders about a banquet, then returned to me. “I tell you I am here for introducing my knife to the spine of some sort of Madrid embus
tero, a man who was insolent to my amiga Clara. Do you believe that for that this O'Brien, by the influence of the priests whose soles he licks with his tongue, has had me inclosed for many months ?
Because he feared me! Aha! I was about to expose him to the noble don who is now dead! I was about to wed the señorita who has disappeared. But to-morrow
I shall expose his intrigue to the Captain-General. You, señor, shall be my witness! I extend my protection to you.
He crossed his arms and spoke with much deliberation. "Señor, this Irishman incommodes me, Don Vincente Salazar de Valdepeñas
He nodded his head expressively. “Señor, we offered these Irish the shelter of our robe for that your Government was making martyrs of them who were good Christians, and it behooves us to act in despite of your Government, who are heretics and not to be tolerated upon God's Christian earth. But, Señor, if they incommoded your Government as they do us, I do not wonder that there was a desire to remove them. Señor, the life of that man is not worth the price of eight mules, which is the price I have paid for my release. I might walk free at this moment, but it is not fitting that I should slink away under cover of darkness. I shall go out in the daylight with my carriage. And I will have an offering to show my friends who, like me, are incommoded by this. The man was a monomaniac; but it struck me that, if I had been O'Brien, I should have felt uncomfortable.
In the dark of the corridor a long shape appeared, lounging. The Cuban beside me started hospitably forward.
“Vamos," he said briskly; "to the banquet. . . He waved his hand towards the shining door and stood aside. We entered.
The other man was undoubtedly the Nova Scotian mate of the Thames, the man who had dissuaded me from following Carlos on the day we sailed into Kingston Harbor. He was chewing a toothpick, and at the ruminant motion of his knife-jaws I seemed to see him, sitting naked to the waist in his bunk, instead of upright there in red trousers and a blue shirt—an immense lank-length of each. I pieced his history together in a sort of flash. He was the true Nikola el Escoces; his name was Nichols, and he came from Nova Scotia. He had been the chief of O'Brien's Lugareños. He
surveyed me now with a twinkle in his eyes, his yellow jaws as shiny-shaven as of old; his arms as much like a semaphore. He said mockingly:
“So you went there, after all?”
But the Cuban was pressing us towards his banquet; there was gaspacho in silver plates, and a man in livery holding something in a napkin. It worried me. We surveyed each other in silence. I wondered what Nichols knew; what it would be safe to tell him; how much he could help me? One or other of these men undoubtedly might. The Cuban was an imbecile; but he might have some influence and if he really were going out on the morrow, and really did go to the Captain-General, he certainly could further his own revenge on O'Brien by helping me. But as for Nichols. ..
Salazar began to tell a long, exaggerated story about his cook, whom he had imported from Paris.
“Think,” he said; “I bring the fool two thousand miles and then—not even able to begin on a land-crab. A fool!”
The Nova Scotian cast an uninterested side glance at him, and said in English, which Salazar did not understand:
“So you went there, after all ? And now he's got you." I did not answer him. “I know all about yeh,” he added.
“It's more than I do about yeh,” I said.
He rose and suddenly jerked the door open, peered on each side of the corridor, and then sat down again.
" I'm not afraid to tell," he said defiantly. “I'm not afraid of anything. I'm safe."
The Cuban said to me in Spanish: “This señor is my friend. Everyone who hates that devil is my friend."
“I'm safe," Nichols repeated. “I know too much about our friend the raparee." He lowered his voice. "They say you're to be given up for piracy, eh?” His eyes had an extraordinary anxious leer. “You are now, eh? For how much? Can't you tell a man? We're in the same boat! I kin help yeh!”
Salazar accidentally knocked a silver goblet off the table and, at the sound, Nichols sprang half off his chair. He glared in a wild scare around him, then grasped at a flagon of aguardiente and drank.