« PreviousContinue »
much greater. But I do not even know whether who take my goods are pirates, as you English sa Mexican privateers, as the Havana authorities sa do not very much care. Basta, what I know is every week some ship with a letter of marques one of my consignments, and I lose many hund of dollars.”
Ramon was, indeed, one of the most freque merchants in Jamaica; he had stores in both King and Spanish Town; his cargoes came from all the : All the planters and all the official class in the island dealings with him.
“It was most natural that the hidalgo, your respei cousin, should consult me if he wished to go to any ti in Cuba. Whom else should he go to? You your. señor, or the excellent Mr. Topnambo, if you des to know what ships in a month's time are likely to Vsailing for Havana, for New Orleans, or any Gulf p
you would ask me. What more natural? It is business, my trade, to know these things. In that v I make my bread. But as for Rio Medio, I do i know the place.” He had a touch of irony in his co posed voice. “But it is very certain,” he went , “that if your Government had not recognized the b ligerent rights of the rebellious colony of Mexico, the would be now no letters of marque, no accursed Mexic privateers, and I and everyone else in the island shou not now be losing thousands of dollars every year.”
That was the eternal grievance of every Spania in the island-and of not a few of the English ai Scotch planters. Spain was still in the throes of losii the Mexican colonies when Great Britain had acknow edged the existence of a state of war and a Mexica Government. Mexican letters of marque had imm diately filled the Gulf. No kind of shipping was sal from them, and Spain was quite honestly powerless to prevent their swarming on the coast of Cuba—the Ever Faithful Island, itself.
“What can Spain do,” said Ramon bitterly, “when even your Admiral Rowley, with his great ships, cannot rid the sea of them?” He lowered his voice. “I tell you, young señor, that England will lose this Island of Jamaica over this business. You yourself are a Separationist, are you not? . . . No? You live with Separationists. How could I tell? Many people say you are.”
His words gave me a distinctly disagreeable sensation. I hadn't any idea of being a Separationist; I was loyal enough. But I understood suddenly, and for the first time, how very much like one I might look.
“I myself am nothing,” Ramon went on impassively; “I am content that the island should remain English. It will never again be Spanish, nor do I wish that it should. But our little, waspish friend there”-he lifted one thin, brown hand to the sign of the Buckatoro Journal—“his paper is doing much mischief. I think the admiral or the governor will commit him to jail. He is going to run away and take his paper to Kingston; I myself have bought his office furniture.” .
I looked at him and wondered, for all his impassivity, what he knew-what, in the depths of his inscrutable Spanish brain, his dark eyes concealed.
He bowed to me a little. “There will come a very great trouble,” he said.
Jamaica was in those days—and remained for many years after-in the throes of a question. The question was, of course, that of the abolition of slavery. The planters as a rule were immensely rich and overbearing. They said, “If the Home Government tries to abolish our slavery system, we will abolish the Home Government, and go to the United States for protection.” was treason, of course; but there was so much of it the governor, the Duke of Manchester, had to clo: ears and pretend not to hear. The planters hat other grievance—the pirates in the Gulf of Me There was one in particular, a certain El Demon Diableto, who practically sealed the Florida pas it was hardly possible to get a cargo underwritten the planters' pockets felt it a good deal. Practi El Demonio had, during the last two years, gut ship once a week, as if he wanted to help the King Separationist papers. The planters said, “If the I Government wishes to meddle with our internal af our slaves, let it first clear our seas. . . . Let it hai Demonio. . . .”
The Government had sent out one of Nelson? captains, Admiral Rowley, a good fighting man; when it came to clearing the Gulf of Mexico, he about as useless as a prize-fighter trying to clear a s of rats. I don't suppose El Demonio really did i than a tithe of the mischief attributed to him, bi the peculiar circumstances he found himself elev to the rank of an important factor in colonial pol: The Ministerialist papers used to kill him on month; the Separationists made him capture on old Rowley's sloops five times a year. They both of course. But obviously Rowley and his frig weren't much use against a pirate whom they could catch at sea, and who lived at the bottom of a bo necked creek with tooth rocks all over the entran that was the sort of place Rio Medio was reporte be....
I didn't much care about either party—I was li ing out for romance—but I inclined a little to Separationists, because Macdonald, with whom I li for two years at Horton Pen, was himself a Sepwm tionist, in a cool Scotch sort of way. He was an Argyleshire man, who had come out to the island as a lad in 1786, and had worked his way up to the position of agent to the Rooksby estate at Horton Pen. He had a little estate of his own, too, at the mouth of the River Minho, where he grew rice very profitably. He had been the first man to plant it on the island.
Horton Pen nestled down at the foot of the tall white scars that end the Vale of St. Thomas and are not much unlike Dover Cliffs, hanging over a sea of squares of the green cane, alternating with masses of pimento foliage. Macdonald's wife was an immensely stout, ravenhaired, sloe-eyed, talkative body, the most motherly woman I have ever known-I suppose because she was childless.
What was anomalous in my position had passed away with the next outward mail. Veronica wrote to me; Ralph to his attorney and the Macdonalds. But by that time Mrs. Mac. had darned my socks ten times.
The surrounding gentry, the large resident landowners, of whom there remained a sprinkling in the Vale, were at first inclined to make much of me. There was Mrs. Topnambo, a withered, very dried-up personage, who affected pink trimmings; she gave the ton to the countryside as far as ton could be given to a society that rioted with hospitality. She made efforts to draw me out of the Macdonald environment, to make me differentiate myself, because I was the grand son of an earl. But the Topnambos were the great Loyalists of the place, and the Macdonalds the principal Separationists, and I stuck to the Maedonalds. I was searching for romance, you see, and could find none in Mrs. Topnambo's white figure, with its dryish, gray skin, and pink patches round the neck, that lay forever in dark or darkened rooms, and talked querulously of “Your uncle, the earl,” whom I had never seen. I didn't get on with the men any better. They were either very dried up and querulous, too, or else very liquorish or boisterous in an incomprehensible way. Their evenings seemed to be a constant succession of shouts of laughter, merging into undignified staggers of white trousers through blue nights-round the corners of ragged huts. I never understood the hidden sources of their humour, and I had not money enough to mix well with their lavishness. I was too proud to be indebted to them, too. They didn't even acknowledge me on the road at last; they called me poor-spirited, a thin-blooded nobleman's cubra Separationist traitor—and left me to superintend niggers and save money. Mrs. Mac., good Separationist though she was, as became the wife of her husband, had the word “home” forever on her lips. She had once visited the Rooksbys at Horton; she had treasured up a host of tiny things, parts of my forgotten boyhood, and she talked of them and talked of them until that past seemed a wholly desirable time, and the present a dull thing.
Journeying in search of romance and that, after all, is our business in this world—is much like trying to catch the horizon. It lies a little distance before us, and a little distance behind-about as far as the eye can carry. One discovers that one has passed through it just as one passed what is to-day our horizon. One looks back and says, “Why, there it is.” One looks forward and says the same. It lies either in the old days when we used to, or in the new days when we shall. I look back upon those days of mine, and little things remain, come back to me, assume an atmosphere, take