Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER THREE

ONE evening Carlos, after a silence of distress, had said, “There's nothing else for it. When the crisis comes, you must carry her off from this unhappiness and misery that hangs over her head. You must take her out of Cuba; there is no safety for her here."

This took my breath away. “But where are we to go, Carlos?” I asked, bending over him.

“To-to England,” he whispered.

He was utterly worn out that evening by all the perplexities of his death-bed. He made a great effort and murmured a few words more about the Spanish ambassador in London being a near relation of the Riegos; then he gave it up and lay still under my amazed eyes. The nun was approaching, alarmed, from the shadows. Father Antonio, gazing sadly upon his beloved penitent, signed me to withdraw.

Castro had not gone away yet; he greeted me in low tones outside the big door.

“Señor,” he went on, “I make my report usually to his Señoria Don Carlos; only I have not been admitted to-day into his rooms at all. But what I have to say is for your ear, also. There has arrived a friar from a Havana convent amongst the Lugareños of the bay. I have known him come like this before.”

I remembered that in the morning, while dressing, I had glanced out of the narrow outside window of my room, and had seen a brown, mounted figure passing on the sands. Its sandalled feet dangled against the flanks of a powerful mule.

Castro shook his head. “Malediction on his green eyes! He baptizes the offspring of this vermin sometimes, and sits for hours in the shade before the door of Domingo's posada telling his beads as piously as a devil that had turned monk for the greater undoing of us Christians. These women crowd there to kiss his oily paw. What else they— Basta! Only I wanted to tell you, Señor, that this evening (I just come from taking a pasear that way) there is much talk in the villages of an evil-intentioned heretic that has introduced himself into this our town; of an Inglez hungry for men to hang of you, in short.”

The moon, far advanced in its first quarter, threw an ashen, bluish light upon one-half of the courtyard; and the straight shadow upon the other seemed to lie at the foot of the columns, black as a broad stroke of Indian ink.

“And what do you think of it, Castro?” I asked.

"I think that Domingo has his orders. Manuel has made a song already. And do you know its burden, Señor? Killing is its burden. I would the devil had all these Improvisadores. They gape round him while he twangs and screeches, the wind-bag! And he knows what words to sing to them, too. He has talent. Maladetta!

“Well, and what do you advise?”

“I advise the señor to keep, now, within the Casa. No songs can give that vermin the audacity to seek the señor here. The gate remains barred; the firearms are always loaded; and Cesar is a sagacious African. But methinks this moon would fall out of the heaven first before they would dare... Keep to the Casa, I say—I, Tomas Castro.”

He flung the corner of his cloak over his left shoulder, and preceded me to the door of my room; then, after a

“God guard you, Señor,” continued along the colonnade. Before I had shut my door it occurred to me that he was going on towards the part of the gallery on which Seraphina's apartments opened. Why? What could he want there?

I am not so much ashamed of my sudden suspicion of him—one did not know whom to trust—but I am al little ashamed to confess that, kicking off my shoes, I crept out instantly to spy upon him.

This part of the house was dark in the inky flood of shadow; and before I had come to a recess in the wall, I heard the discreet scratching of a finger-nail on a door. A streak of light darted and disappeared, like a signal for the murmurs of two voices.

I recognized the woman's at once. It belonged to one of Seraphina's maids, a pretty little quadroon—a favourite of hers-called La Chica. She had slipped out, and her twitter-like whispering reached me in the still solemnity of the quadrangle. She addressed Castro as “His Worship’ at every second word, for the saturnine little man, in his unbrushed cloak and battered hat, was immensely respected by the household. Had he not been sent to Europe to fetch Don Carlos? He was in the confidence of the masters—their humble friend. The little tire-woman twittered of her mistress. The señorita had been most anxious all day~ ever since she had heard the friar had come. Castro muttered:

“Tell the Excellency that her orders have been obeyed. The English caballero has been warned. I have been sleepless in my watchfulness over the guest of the house, as the señorita has desired—for the honour of the Riegos. Let her set her mind at ease.”

The girl then whispered to him with great animation. Did not his worship think that it was the señorita's heart which was not at ease?

Then the quadrangle became dumb in its immobility, half sheen, half night, with its arcades, the soothing plash of water, with its expiring lights, in a suggestion of Castilian severity, enveloped by the exotic softness of the air.

“What folly!" uttered Castro's sombre voice. “You women do not mind how many corpses come into your imaginings of love. The mere whisper of such a thing "

She murmured swiftly. He interrupted her.

“Thine eyes, La Chica-thine eyes see only the silliness of thine own heart. Think of thine own lovers, niña. Por Dios !he changed to a tone of severe appreciation-“thy foolish face looks well by moonlight.”

I believe he was chucking her gravely under the chin. I heard her soft, gratified cooing in answer to the compliment; the streak of light flashed on the polished shaft of a pillar; and Castro went on, going round to the staircase, evidently so as not to pass again before my open door.

I forgot to shut it. I did not stop until I was in the middle of my room; and then I stood still for a long time in a self-forgetful ecstasy, while the many wax candles of the high candelabrum burned without a flicker in a rich cluster of flames, as if lighted to throw the splendour of a celebration upon the pageant of my thoughts.

For the honour of the Riegos!

I came to myself. Well, it was sweet to be the object of her anxiety and care, even on these terms-on any terms. And I felt a sort of profound, inexpressible, grateful emotion, as though no one, never, on no day, on no occasion, had taken thought of me before.

I should not be able to sleep. I went to the window, and leaned my forehead on the iron bar. There was no

« PreviousContinue »