« PreviousContinue »
very old, and has left Havana to die in his palace in his own town. He has an only daughter, a Doña Seraphina, and I suppose that if I find favour in his
eyes I shall marry her, and inherit my uncle's great riches; I am the only one that is left of the family to inherit." He waved his hand and smiled a little. “Vaya; a little of that great wealth would be welcome. If I had had a few pence more there would have been none of this worry, and I should not have been on this dirty ship in these rags.” He looked down good-humouredly at his clothes.
“But,” I said, “how do you come to be in a scrape at all?"
He laughed a little proudly. "In a scrape?” he said. “I
I am in none. It is Tomas Castro there.” He laughed affectionately. “He is as faithful as he is ugly,” he said; “but I fear he has been a villain, too.
What do I know? Over there in my uncle's town, there are some villainsyou know what I mean, one must not speak too loudly on this ship. There is a man called O'Brien, who mismanages my uncle's affairs. What do I know? The good Tomas has been in some villainy that is no affair of mine. He is a good friend and a faithful dependent of my family's. He certainly had that man's watch—the man we met by evil chance at Liverpool, a man who came from Jamaica. He had bought it—of a bad man, perhaps, I do not ask. It was Castro your police wished to take. But I, bon Dieu, do you think I would take watches?”
I certainly did not think he had taken a watch; but I did not relinquish the idea that he, in a glamorous, romantic way, had been a pirate. Rooksby had certainly hinted as much in his irritation.
He lost none of his romantic charm in my eyes. The
fact that he was sailing in uncomfortable circumstancı detracted little; nor did his clothes, which, at the wors were better than any I had ever had.
And he woi them with an air and a grace. He had probably bee in worse circumstances when campaigning with th Army of the Faith in Spain. And there was certain] the uncle with the romantic title and the great inheri ance, and the cousin—the Miss Seraphina, whom } would probably marry. I imagined him an aristocrat scapegrace, a corsair—it was the Byronic period thensailing out to marry a sort of shimmering princess wit hair like Veronica's, bright golden, and a face like th: of a certain keeper's daughter. Carlos, however, kne nothing about his cousin; he cared little more, as far could tell. “What can she be to me since I have see
?" he said once, and then stoppe looking at me with a certain tender irony. He insister though, that his aged uncle was in need of him. As fa Castro-he and his rags came out of a life of sturt an strife, and I hoped he might die by treachery. He ha undoubtedly been sent by the uncle across the seas 1 find Carlos and bring him out of Europe; there wi something romantic in that mission. He was now dependent of the Riego family, but there were unfathon able depths in that tubby little man's past. That ! had gone to Russia at the tail of the Grande Armée, or could not help believing. He had been most likely the grand army of sutlers and camp-followers. E could talk convincingly of the cold, and of the snows ar his escape. And from his allusions one could g glimpses of what he had been before and afterwardsapparently everything that was questionable in secularly disturbed Europe; no doubt somewhat of bandit; a guerrillero in the sixes and sevens; with tl Army of the Faith near the French border, later o
There had been room and to spare for that sort of pike, in the muddy waters, during the first years of the century. But the waters were clearing, and now the good Castro had been dodging the gallows in the Antilles or in Mexico. In his heroic moods he would swear that his arm had been cut off at Somo Sierra; swear it with a great deal of asseveration, making one see the Polish lancers charging the gunners, being cut down, and his own sword arm falling suddenly.
Carlos, however, used to declare with affectionate cynicism that the arm had been broken by the cudgel of a Polish peasant while Castro was trying to filch a pig from a stable.
“I cut his throat out, though,' Castro would grumble darkly; “so, like that, and it matters very litile it is even an improvement. See, I put on my blade. See, I transfix you that fly there. . See how astonished he was. He did never expect that.' He had actually impaled a crawling cockroach. He spent his days cooking extraordinary messes, crouching for hours over a little charcoal brazier that he lit surreptitiously in the back of his bunk, making substitutes for eternal gaspachos.
All these things, if they deepened the romance of Carlos' career, enhanced, also, the mystery. I asked him one day, “But why do you go to Jamaica at all if you are bound for Cuba?”
He looked at me, smiling a little mournfully.
“Ah, Juan mio,” he said, “Spain is not like your England, unchanging and stable. The party who reign to-day do not love me, and they are masters in Cuba as in Spain. But in his province my uncle rules alone. There I shall be safe." He was condescending to roll some cigarettes for Tomas, whose wooden hand incommoded him, and he tossed a fragment of tobacco to the wind with a laugh. “In Jamaica there is a merchant, a Señor Ramon; I have letters to him, and he shall fi me a conveyance to Rio Medio, my uncle's town. is an afiliado.”
He laughed again. “It is not easy to enter ti place, Juanino.”
There was certainly some mystery about that to of his uncle's. One night I overheard him say Castro:
“Tell me, O my Tomas, would it be safe to take t caballero, my cousin, to Rio Medio?"
Castro paused, and then murmured gruffly:
“Señor, unless that Irishman is consulted beforehai or the English lord would undertake to join with 1 picaroons, it is very assuredly not safe.
Carlos made a little exclamation of mild astoni: ment.
“Pero? Is it so bad as that in my uncle's o town?"
Tomas muttered something that I did not catch, a then:
“If the English caballero committed indiscretions, quarrelled—and all these people quarrel, why, G knows—that Irish devil could hang many persons, ev myself, or take vengeance on your worship.
Carlos was silent as if in a reverie. At last he said
“But if affairs are like this, it would be well to ha one more with us. The caballero, my cousin, is ve strong and of great courage.”
Castro grunted, “Oh, of a courage! But as t proverb says, “If you set an Englishman by a horne nest they shall not remain long within.""
After that I avoided any allusion to Cuba, becau the thing, think as I would about it, would not gro clear. It was plain that something illegal was going Vthere, or how could "that Irish devil, whoever he wa
have power to hang Tomas and be revenged on Carlos? It did not affect my love for Carlos, though, in the weariness of this mystery, the passage seemed to drag a little. And it was obvious enough that Carlos was unwilling or unable to tell anything about what preoccupied him.
I had noticed an intimacy spring up between the ship's second mate and Tomas, who was, it seemed to me, forever engaged in long confabulations in the man's cabin, and, as much to make talk as for any other reason, I asked Carlos if he had noticed his dependent's familiarity. It was noticeable because Castro held aloof from every other soul on board. Carlos answered me with one of his nervous and angry smiles.
“Ah, Juan mine, do not ask too many questions! I wish you could come with me all the way, but I cannot tell you all I know. I do not even myself know all. It seems that the man is going to leave the ship in Jamaica, and has letters for that Señor Ramon, the merchant, even as I have. Vaya; more I cannot tell you.
” This struck me as curious, and a little of the whole mystery seemed from that time to attach to the second mate, who before had been no more to me than a long, sallow Nova Scotian, with a disagreeable intonation and rather offensive manners. I began to watch him, desultorily, and was rather startled by something more than a suspicion that he himself was watching me. On one occasion in particular I seemed to observe this. The second mate was lankily stalking the deck, his hands in his pockets. As he paused in his walk to spit into the sea beside me, Carlos said:
“And you, my Juan, what will you do in this Jamaica?”
The sense that we were approaching land was already all over the ship. The second mate leered at me