Page images
PDF
EPUB

“You saw the prisoner?" “ Yes, three times.”

I drew an immense breath; I thought for a moment that they had delivered themselves into my hands. The thing must prove of itself that I had been in Jamaica, not in Rio Medio, through those two years. My heart began to thump like a great solemn drum, like Paul's bell when the king died-solemn, insistent, dominating everything. The little man was giving an account of the “ 'bawminable" state of confusion into which the island's trade was thrown by the misdeeds of a pirate called Nikola el Demonio.

“I assure you, my luds,” he squeaked, turning suddenly to the judges, the island was wrought up into a pitch of ... ah ... almost disloyalty. The ... ah . . . planters were clamoring for ... ah . . . separation. And, to be sure, I trust you'll hang the prisoner, for if you don't ..

Lord Stowell shivered, and said suddenly with haste, “Mr. Oldham, address yourself to Sir Robert."

I was almost happy; the cloven hoof had peeped so damningly out. The little man bowed briskly to the old judge, asked for a chair, sat himself down, and arranged his coat-tails.

“As I was saying,” he prattled on, “ the trouble and the worry that this man caused to His Grace, myself, and Admiral Rowley were inconceivable. You have no idea, you .. ah... can't conceive. And no wonder, for, as it turned out, the island was simply honeycombed by his spies and agents. You have no idea; people who seemed most respectable, people we ourselves had dealings with ..

He rattled on at immense length, the barrister taking huge pinches of yellow snuff, and smiling genially with the air of a horse-trainer watching a pony go faultlessy through difficult tricks. Every now and then he flicked his whip.

“Mr. Oldham, you saw the prisoner three times. If it does not overtax your memory pray tell us.” And the little creature pranced off in a new direction.

“Tax my memory! Gad, I like that. You remember a man who has had your blood as near as could be, don't you?"

I had been looking at him eagerly, but my interest faded away

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

now. It was going to be the old confusing of my identity with Nikola's. And yet I seemed to know the little beggar's falsetto; it was a voice one does not forget.

Remember!” he squeaked. Gad, gentlemen of the jury, he came as near as possible. You have no idea what a ferocious devil it is."

I was wondering why on earth Nichols should have wanted to kill such a little thing. Because it was obvious that it must have been Nichols.

As near as possible murdered myself and Admiral Rowley and a Mr. Topnambo, a most enlightened and loyal ah

inhabitant of the island, on the steps of a public inn." I had it then. It was the little man David Macdonald had rolled down the steps with, that night at the Ferry Inn on the Spanish Town road.

“He was lying in wait for us with a gang of assassins. I was stabbed on the upper lip. I lost so much blood . . . had to be invalided cannot think of horrible episode without shuddering."

He had seen me then, and when Ramon ("a Spaniard who was afterwards proved to be a spy of El Demonio's of the prisoner's. He was hung since ") had driven me from the place of execution after the hanging of the seven pirates; and he had come into Ramon's store at the moment when Carlos (“ a piratical devil if ever there was one," the little man protested) had drawn me into the back room, where Don Balthasar and O'Brien and Seraphina sat waiting. The men who were employed to watch Ramon's had never seen me leave again, and afterwards a secret tunnel was discovered leading down to the quay.

“This, apparently, was the way by which the prisoner used to arrive and quit the island secretly,” he finished his evidence in chief, and the beetle-browed, portly barrister sat down. I was not so stupid but what I could see a little, even then, how the most innocent events of my past were going to rise up and crush me; but I was certain I could twist him into admitting the goodness of my tale which hadn't yet been told. He knew I had been in Jamaica, and, put what construction he liked on it, he would have to admit it. I called out:

“Thank God, my turn's come at last!'

The faces of the Attorney-General, the King's Advocate, Sir Robert Gifford, Mr. Lawes, Mr. Jervis, of all the seven counsel that were arrayed to crush me, lengthened into simultaneous grins, varying at the jury box. But I didn't care; I grinned, too. I was going to show them.

It was as if I flew at the throat of that little man. It seemed to me that I must be able to crush a creature whose malice was as obvious and as nugatory as the green and red rings that he exhibited in his hair every few minutes. He wanted to show the jury that he had rings; that he was a mincing swell; that I hadn't and that I was a bloody pirate. I said:

“You know that during the whole two years Nichols was at Rio I was an improver at Horton Pen with the Macdonalds, the agents of my brother-in-law, Sir Ralph Rooksby. You must know these things. You were one of the Duke of Manchester's spies.We used to call the Duke's privy council that.

I certainly know nothing of the sort,” he said, folding his hands along the edge of the witness-box, as if he had just thought of exhibiting his rings in that manner. He was abominably cool. I said:

“You must have heard of me. The Topnambos knew me.”

"The Topnambos used to talk of a blackguard with a name like Kemp who kept himself mighty out of the way in the Vale."

“You knew I was on the island," I pinned him down.

“You used to come to the island,” he corrected. “ I've just. explained how. But you were not there much, or we should have been able to lay hands on you. We wanted to. There was a warrant out after you tried to murder us. But you had been smuggled away by Ramon.”

I tried again:
“You have heard of my brother-in-law, Sir Ralph Rooksby?
I wanted to show that, if I hadn't rings, I had relations.

Nevah heard of the man in my life,” he said.
“ He was the largest land proprietor on the island," I said.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“Dessay,” he said; “I knew forty of the largest. Mostly sharpers in the boosing-kens.” He yawned.

I said viciously:

* It was your place to know the island. You knew Horton Pen—the Macdonalds?

The face of jolly old Mrs. Mac. came to my mind—the impeccable, Scotch, sober respectability.

‘Oh, I knew the Macdonalds,” he said—“ of them. The uncle was a damn rebellious, canting, planting Scotchman. Horton Pen was the center of the Separation Movement. We could have hung him if we'd wanted to. The nephew was the writer of an odious blackmailing print. He calumniated all the decent, loyal inhabitants. He was an agent of you pirates, too. We arrested him-got his papers; know all about your relations with him.”

I said, That's all nonsense. Let us hear "—the AttorneyGeneral had always said that—"what you know of myself.”

“What I know of you," he sniffed, “if it's a pleasuah, was something like this. You came to the island in a mysterious way, gave out that you were an earl's son, and tried to get into the very excellent society of ... ah . . . people like my friends, the Topnambos. But they would not have you, and after that you kept yourself mighty close; no one ever saw you but once or twice, and then it was riding about at night with that humpbacked scoundrel of a blackmailer. You, in fact, weren't on the island at all, except when you came to spy for the pirates. You used to have long confabulations with that scoundrel Ramon, who kept you posted about the shipping. As for the blackmailer with the humpback, David Macdonald, you kept him, you . . . ah . . . subsidized his filthy print to foment mutiny and murder among the black fellows, and preach separation. You wanted to tie our hands, and prevent our

ah prosecuting the preventive measures against you. When you found that it was no good you tried to murder the admiral and myself, and that very excellent man Topnambo, coming from a ball. After that you were seen encouraging seven of your ah pirate fellows whom we were hanging, and you drove off in haste with your agent, Ramon, before we could lay hands on you, and vanished from the island."

[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]

Upon my

I didn't lose my grip; I went at him again, blindly, as if I were boxing with my eyes full of blood, but my teeth set tight. I said:

"You used to buy things yourself of old Ramon; bought them for the admiral to load his frigates with; things he sold at Key West.”

' That was one of the lies your scoundrel David Macdonald circulated against us."

“You bought things . .. even whilst you were having his store watched.”

soul!” he said. “You used to buy things.. I pinned him. He looked suddenly at the King's Advocate, then dropped his eyes.

“Nevah bought a thing in my life," he said.

I knew the man had; Ramon had told me of his buying for the admiral more than three hundred barrels of damaged coffee for thirty pounds. I was in a mad temper. I smashed my hand upon the spikes of the rail in front of me, and although I saw hands move impulsively towards me all over the court, I did not know that my arm was impaled and the blood running down.

“Perjurer," I shouted; "Ramon himself told me.
* Ah, you were mighty thick with Ramon . .," he said.

I let him stand down. I was done. Someone below said harshly, “That closes our case, m’luds,” and the court rustled all

Old Lord Stowell in front of me shivered a little, looked at the window, and then said:

Prisoner at the bar, our procedure has it that if you wish to say anything, you may now address the jury. Afterwards, if you had a counsel, he could call and examine your witnesses, if you have any."

It was growing very dark in the court. I began to tell my story; it was so plain, so evident, it shimmered there before me

.. and yet I knew it was so useless. I remembered that in my cell I had reasoned out that I must be very constrained; very lucid about the opening. “On such and such a day I landed at Kingston, to become an improver on the estate of my brother-in-law. He is Sir Ralph Rooksby of Horton Priory in Kent.", I did keep cool; I was lucid; I spoke

over.

1

« PreviousContinue »