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I looked at the glowing horn of a lanthorn. It was O'Brien who held it. He stood over me, very sombre.
“Tell me where she is,” he said, the moment my eyes opened.
I said, “She's ... she's I don't know.”
It appalls me even now to think how narrow was my escape. It was only because I had gone to sleep in the thought that I did not know, that I answered that I did not know. Ah—he was a cunning devil! To suddenly wake one; to get one's thoughts before one had had time to think! I lay looking at him, shivering. I couldn't even see much of his face.
“Where is she?” he said again. “Where? Dead? Dead? God have mercy on your soul if the child is dead!”
I was still trembling. If I had told him!—I could hardly believe I had not. He continued bending over me with an attitude that hideously mocked solicitude.
“Where is she?” he asked again.
"Ransack the island,” I said. He glared at me, lifting the lamp. "The whole earth, if you like.”
He ground his teeth, bending very low over me; then stood up, raising his head into the shadow above the lamp.
“What do I care for all the admirals?” he was speaking to himself. “No ship shall leave Havana till. . . ." He groaned. I heard him slap his forehead, and say distractedly, “But perhaps she is not in a ship.”
There was a silence in which I heard him breathe heavily, and then he amazed me by saying:
There wasn't a sound. The face of Salazar appeared behind him, and an uplifted hand grasping a knife. O'Brien saw the horror in my eyes. I gasped to him: “Look. ..." and before he could move the knife went softly home between neck and shoulder. Salazar glided to the door and turned to wave his hand at me. O'Brien's lips were pressed tightly together, the handle of the knife was against his ear, the lanthorn hung at the end of his rigid arm for a moment. As he lowered it, the blood spurted from his shoulder as if from a burst stand-pipe, only black and warm. It fell over my face, over my hands, everywhere. For a minute of eternity his agonized eyes searched my features, as if to discern whether I had connived, whether I condoned.
I had started up, my face coming right against his. I felt an immense horror. What did it mean? What had he done? He had been such a power for so long, so inevitably, over my whole life that I could not even begin to understand that this was not some new subtle villainy of his. He shook his head slowly, his ear disturbing the knife.
Then he turned jerkily on his heel, the lanthorn swinging round and leaving me in his shadow. There were ten paces to reach the door. It was like the finish of a race whether he would cover the remaining seven after the first three steps. The dangling lanthorn shed small patches of light through the holes in the metal top, like sunlight through leaves, upon the gloom of the remote ceiling. At the fifth step he pressed his hand spasmodically to his mouth; at the sixth he wavered to one side. I made a sudden motion as if to save him from falling. He was dying! He was dying! I hardly realized what it meant. This immense weight was being removed from me. I had
no need to fear him
any more. I couldn't under
This. . . .
He sank, knelt down, placing the lanthorn on the floor. He covered his face with his hands and began to cough incessantly, like a man dying of consumption. The glowing top of the lanthorn hissed and sputtered out in little sharp blows, like hammer strokes . . . Carlos had coughed like that. Carlos was dead. Now O'Brien! He was going. I should escape. It was all Jover. Was it all over? He bowed stiffly forward, Mplacing his hands on the stones, then lay over on his
side with his face to the light, his eyes glaring at it. I sat motionless, watching him. The lanthorn lit the carved leg of the black table and a dusty circle of the flags. The spurts of blood from his shoulder grew less long in answer to the pulsing of his heart; his fists unclenched, he drew his legs up to his body, then sank down. His eyes looked suddenly at mine and, as the features slowly relaxed, the smile seemed to come back, enigmatic, round his mouth.
He was dead; he was gone; I was free! He would never know where she was; never! He had gone, with the question on his lips; with the agony of uncertainty in his eyes. From the door came an immense, grotesque, and horrible chuckle.
“Aha! Aha! I have saved you, Señor, I have protected you. We are as brothers.”
Against the tenuous blue light of the dawn Salazar was gesticulating in the doorway. I felt a sudden repulsion; a feeling of intense disgust. O'Brien lying there, I almost wished alive again—I wanted to have him again, rather than that I should have been relieved of him by that atrocious murder. I sat looking at both of them.
Saved! By that lunatic? I suddenly appreciated the agony of mind that alone could have brought O'Brien, the cautious, the all-seeing, into this place to ask me a question that for him was answered now. Answered for him more than for me.
Where was Seraphina? Where? How should I come to her? O'Brien was dead. And I. . Could I walk out of this place and go to her? O'Brien was dead. But I . . .
I suddenly realized that now I was the pirate Nikola el Escoces—that now he was no more there, nothing could save me from being handed over to the admiral. Nothing.
Salazar outside the door began to call boastfully towards the sound of approaching footsteps.
“Aha! Aha! Come all of you! See what I have done! Come, Señor Alcayde! Come, brave soldiers. .”
In that way died this man whose passion had for so long hung over my life like a shadow. Looking at the matter now, I am, perhaps, glad that he fell neither by my hand nor in my quarrel. I assuredly had injured him the first; I had come upon his ground; I had thwarted him; I had been a heavy weight at a time when his fortunes had been failing. Failing they undoubtedly were. He had run his course too far.
And, if his death removed him out of my path, the legacy of his intrigue caused me suffering enough. Had he lived, there is no knowing what he might have done. He was bound to deliver someone to the British -either myself or Nichols. Perhaps, at the last moment, he would have kept me in Havana. There is no saying.
Undoubtedly he had not wished to deliver Nichols; either because he really knew too much or because he had scruples. Nichols had certainly been faithful to him. And, with his fine irony, it was delightful to him to think that I should die a felon's death in England. For those reasons he had identified me with Nikola el Escoces, intending to give up whichever suited him at the last moment.
Now that was settled for him and for me. The delivery was to take place at dawn, and O'Brien not to be found, the old Judge of the First Instance had been sent to identify the prisoner. He selected me, whom, of course, he recognized. There was no question of Nichols, who had been imprisoned on a charge of theft trumped up by O'Brien.
Salazar, whether he would have gone to the CaptainGeneral or not, was now entirely useless. He was retained to answer the charge of murder. And to any protestations I could make, the old Juez was entirely deaf.
“The señor must make representations to his own authorities,” he said. “I have warrant for what I have done."
It was impossible to expose O'Brien to him. The soldiers of the escort, in the dawn before the prison gates, simply laughed at me.
They marched me down through the gray mists, to the water's edge. Two soldiers held my arms; O'Brien's blood was drying on my face and on my clothes. I was, even to myself, a miserable object. Among the negresses on the slimy boat-steps a thick, short man was asking questions. He opened amazed eyes at the sight of me. It was Williams—the Lion was not yet gone then. If he spoke to me, or gave token of connection with Seraphina, the Spaniards would understand. They would take her from him