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“But I didn't begin, Mrs. Williams. It's you who are raising all this trouble for nothing; because, as a matter of fact, they did not come alone. They had a man with them. An elderly, most respectable man. There he stands yonder, with a feather in his hat. Hey! You! Señor caballero, hidalgo, Pedro–MiguelJosé—what's your particular saint? Step this way a bit...”
Manuel managed to jerk a half-choked “Excellency," and Castro, muffled up to the eyes, began to walk slowly aft, pausing after each solemn stride. The dark woman in the doorway was as effectual as an angel with a flaming sword. She paralyzed me completely.
Sebright dropped his voice a little. “I don't see that's much worse than going off at six o'clock in the morning to get married on the quiet; all alone with a man in a hackney coach-you know you did—and being given away by a perfect stranger.”
“Mr. Sebright! Be quiet! How dare you? . . . Owen!”
Williams made a vague, growling noise, but Sebright, after muttering hurriedly, “It's all right, sir," proceeded with the utmost coolness:
“Why, all Bristol knows it! There are those who said that you got out of the scullery window into the back street. I am only telling you . ."
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself to believe such tales," she cried in great agitation. “I walked out at the gate!”
“Yes. And the gardener's wife said you must have sneaked the key off the nail by the side of the cradle coming to the lodge the evening before, to see her poor, ailing baby. You ought to know what love brings the best of us to. And your uncle isn't a bloody-handed pirate either. He's only a good-hearted, hard-swearing old heathen. And you, too, are good-hearted. Come, Mrs. Williams. I know you're just longing to tuck this young lady up in bed-poor thing. Think what she has gone through! You ought to be fussing with sherry and biscuits and what not-making that good-for-nothing steward fly round. The beggar is hiding in the lazarette, I bet. Now then-allow me.”
I got hold of the matter there again. I said-because I felt that the matter only needed making clear:
“This young lady is the daughter of a great Spanish noble. Her father was killed by these pirates. I am myself of noble family, and I am her appointed guardian, and am trying to save her from a very horrible fate.”
She looked at me apprehensively.
“You would be committing a wicked act to try to interfere with this,” I said.
I suppose I carried conviction.
“I must believe what you say,” she said. She added suddenly, with a sort of tremulous, warm feeling, g.There, there. I don't mean to be unkind. I knew nothing, and a married woman can't be too careful. For all I could have told, you might have been ama libertine; one of the poor lost souls that Satan . . "
Manuel, as if struggling with the waves, managed to free his lips.
“Excellency, help!” he spluttered, like a drowning man.
“I will give the young lady every care,” Mrs. Williams said, “until light shall be vouchsafed.”
She shut the door.
“You will go too far, Sebright,” Williams remon. strated; "and I'll have to give you the sack.”
“It's all right, captain. I can turn her round my little finger," said the young man cheerily. “Somebody
has to do it if you won't-or can't. What shall we do with that yelping Dago? He's a distressful beast to have about the decks.”
“Put him in the coal-hole, I suppose, as far as Havana. I won't rest till I see him on his way to the gallows. The Captain-General shall be made sick of this business, or my name isn't Williams. I'll make a breeze over it at home. You shall help in that, Kemp. You ain't afraid of big-wigs. Not you. You ain't afraiet of anything. . . ."
"He's a devil of a fellow, and a dead shot,” threw in Sebright. “And jolly lucky for us, too, sir. It's simply marvellous that you should turn up like this, Mr. Kemp. We hadn't a grain of powder that wasn't caked solid in the canisters. Nothing'll take it out of my head that somebody had got at the magazine while we lay in Kingston...”
It did not occur to Williams to ask whether I was wounded, or tired, or hungry. And yet all through the West Indies the dinners you got on board the Lion were famous in shipping circles. But festive men of his stamp are often like that. They do it more for the glory and romance of the hospitality, and he could not, perhaps, under the circumstances, expect me to intone "for he is a jolly good fellow" over the wine. He was by no means a bad or unfeeling man; only he was not hungry himself, and another's mere necessity of that sort failed to excite his imagination. I know he was no worse than other men, and I have reason to remember him with gratitude; but, at the time, I was surprised and indignant at the extraordinary way he took my presence for granted, as if I had come off casually in a shore boat to idle away an hour or two on board. Since his wife appeared satisfied, he did not seem to desire any explanation. I felt as if I had for
him no independent existence. When I had ceased to be a source of domestic difficulty, I became a precious sort of convenience, a most welcome person (“an English gentleman to back me up,” he repeated several times), who would help him to make “these old women at the Admiralty sit up!” A burning shame, this! It had gone on long enough, God knows, but if they were to tackle an old trader, like the Lion, now, it was time the whole country should hear of it. His owner, J. Perkins, his wife's uncle, wasn't the man to go to sleep over the job. Parliament should hear of it. Most fortunate I was there to be produced-eye-witness-nobleman's son. He knew I could speak up in a good cause.
“And by the way, Kemp,” he said, with sudden annoyance, recollecting himself, as it were, "you never turned up for that dinner—sent no word, nor anything. . . .”
Williams had been talking to me, but it was with Sebright that I felt myself growing intimate. The young mate of the Lion stood by, very quiet, listening with a capable_smile. Now he said, in a tone of dry comment:
“Jolly sight more useful turning up here."
“I was kidnapped away from Ramon's back shop, if that's a sufficient apology. It's rather a long story.”
“Well, you can't tell it on deck, that's very clear,” Sebright had to shout to me. “Not while this infernal noise what the deuce's up? It sounds more like a dog-fight than anything else.”
As we ran towards the main hatch I recognized the aptness of the comparison. It was that sort of vicious, snarling, yelping clamour which arises all at once and suddenly dies.
“Castro! Thou Castro!”
“Thou! Englishman's dog!” “Ha! Porco.”
The voices ceased. Castro ran tiptoeing lightly, mantled in ample folds. He assumed his hat with a brave tap, crouched swiftly inside his cloak. It touched the deck all round in a black cone surmounted by a peering, quivering head. Quick as thought he hopped and sank low again. Everybody watched with wonder this play, as of some large and diabolic toy. For my part, knowing the deadly purpose of these preliminaries, I was struck with horror. Had he chosen to run on him at once, nothing could have saved Manuel. The poor wretch, vigorously held in front of Castro, was far too terrified to make a sound. With an immovable sailor on each side, he scuffled violently, and cowered by starts as if tied up between two stone posts. His dumb, rapid panting was in our ears. I shouted:
“Stop, Castro! Stop! . . . Stop him, some of you! He means to kill the fellow!”.
Nobody heeded my shouting. Castro flung his cloak on the deck, jumped on it, kicked it aside, all in the same moment as it seemed, dodged to the right, to the left, drew himself up, and stepped high, paunchy in his tight smalls and short jacket, making all the time a low, sibilant sound, which was perfectly blood-curdling.
"He has a blade on his forearm!” I yelled. “He's armed, I tell you!”
No one could comprehend my distress. A sailor, raising a lamp, had a broad smile. Somebody laughed outright. Castro planted himself before Manuel, nodded menacingly, and stooped ready for a spring. I was too late in my grab at his collar, but Manuel's guardians, acting with precision, put out one arm each to meet his rush, and he came flying backwards upon me, as though he had rebounded from a wall.