« PreviousContinue »
She cut the rope round my ankles, and motioned me imperiously to turn round.
“Your hands—your hands!”
I turned my back awkwardly to her, and felt the grip of small, cool, very firm fingers upon my wrists. My arms fell apart, numb and perfectly useless; I was half aware of pain in them, but it passed unnoticed among a cloud of other emotions. I didn't feel my finger-tips because I had the agitation, the flutter, the tantalization of looking at her.
I was all the while conscious of the-say, the irregularity of my position, but I felt very little fear. There were the old Don, an ineffectual, silver-haired old gentleman, who obviously was not a pirate; the sleek O'Brien, and Carlos, who seemed to cough on the edge of a grave and this young girl. There was not any future that I could conceive, and the past seemed to be cut off from me by a narrow, very dark tunnel through which I could see nothing at all.
The young girl was, for the moment, what counted most on the whole, the only thing the eye could rest on. She affected me as an apparition familiar, yet absolutely new in her charm. I had seen her gray eyes; I had seen her red lips; her dark hair, her lithe gestures; the carriage of her head; her throat, her hands. I knew her; I seemed to have known her for years. A rush of strange, sweet feeling made me dumb. She was looking at me, her lips set, her eyes wide and still; and suddenly she said:
“Ask nothing. The land is not far yet. You can escape, Carlos thought.
But no! You would only perish for nothing. Go with God.” She pointed imperiously towards the square stern-ports of the cabin.
Following the direction of her hand, my eyes fell upon the image of a Madonna; rather large perhaps a
third life-size; with a gilt crown, a pink serious face bent a little forward over a pink naked child that perched on her left arm and raised one hand. It stood on a bracket, against the rudder casing, with fat cherubs' heads carved on the supports. The young girl crossed herself with a swift motion of the hand. The stern-ports, glazed in small panes, were black, and gleaming in a white frame-work.
“Go-go-go with God,” the girl whispered urgently. “There is a boat
I made a motion to rise; I wanted to go. The idea of having my liberty, of its being again a possibility, made her seem of less importance; other things began to have their share. But I could not stand, though the blood was returning, warm and tingling, in my legs and hands. She looked at me with a sharp frown puckering her brows a little; beat a hasty tattoo with one of her feet, and cast a startled glance towards the forward door that led on deck. Then she walked to the other side of the table, and sat looking at me in the glow of the lamp.
“Your life hangs on a thread," she murmured.
I answered, “You have given it to me. Shall I never -?” I was acutely conscious of the imperfection of my language.
She looked at me sharply; then lowered her lids. Afterwards she raised them again. “Think of yourself. Every moment is
“I will be as quick as I can,” I said.
I was chafing my ankles and looking up at her. I wanted, very badly, to thank her for taking an interest in me, only I found it very difficult to speak to her. Suddenly she sprang to her feet:
“That_man thinks he can destroy_you. I hate him I detest him! You have seen how he treats my father."
It struck me, like a blow, that she was merely avengJing O'Brien's insolence to her father. I had been kidnapped against Don Balthasar Riego's will. It gave me very well the measure of the old man's powerlessness in face of his intendant—who was obviously confident of afterwards soothing the resentment.
I was glad I had not thanked her for taking an interest in me. I was distressed, too, because once more I had missed Romance by an inch.
Someone kicked at the locked door. A voice cried I could not help thinking-warningly, “Seraphina, Seraphina,” and another voice said with excessive softness, “Señorita ! Voyons ! quelle folie.”
She sprang at me. Her hand hurt my wrist as she dragged me aft. I scrambled clumsily into the recess of the counter, and put my head out. The night air was very chilly and full of brine; a little boat towing by a. long painter was sheering about in the phosphorescent wake of the ship. The sea itself was pallid in the light. of the moon, invisible to me. A little astern of us, on our port quarter, a vessel under a press of canvas seemed to stand still; looming up like an immense pale ghost. She might have been coming up with us, or else we had just passed her-I couldn't tell. I had no time to find out, and I didn't care. The great thing was to get hold of the painter. The whispers of the girl urged me, but the thing was not easy; the rope, fastened higher up, streamed away out of reach of my hand. At last, by watching the moment when it slacked, and throwing myself half out of the stern window, I managed to hook it with my finger-tips. Next moment it was nearly jerked away from me, but I didn't lose it, and the boat taking a run just then under the counter, I got a good hold. The sound of another kick at the door made me swing myself out, head first, without reflection. I got
soused to the waist before I had reached the bows of the boat. With a frantic effort I clambered up and rolled in. When I got on my legs, the jerky motion of tossing had ceased, the boat was floating still, and the light of the stern windows was far away already. The girl had managed to cut the painter.
The other vessel was heading straight for me, rather high on the water, broad-beamed, squat, and making her way quietly, like a shadow. The land might have been four or five miles away—I had no means of knowing exactly. It looked like a high black cloud, and purple-gray mists here and there among the peaks hung like scarves.
I got an oar over the stern to scull, but I was not fit for much exertion. I stared at the ship I had left. Her stern windows glimmered with a slight up-anddown motion; her sails seemed to fall into black confusion against the blaze of the moon; faint cries came to me out of her, and by the alteration of her shape I understood that she was being brought to, preparatory to lowering a boat. She might have been half a mile distant when the gleam of her stern windows swung slowly round and went out. I had no mind to be recaptured, and began to scull frantically towards the other vessel. By that time she was quite near—near enough for me to hear the lazy sound of the water at her bows, and the occasional flutter of a sail. The land breeze was dying away, and in the wake of the moon I perceived the boat of my pursuers coming over, black and distinct; but the other vessel was nearly upon me. I sheered under her starboard bow and yelled, “Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!”
There was a lot of noise on board, and no one seemed to hear my shouts. Several voices yelled. “That cursed Spanish ship ahead is heaving-to athwart ow
hawse.” The crew and the officers seemed all to be forward shouting abuse at the “lubberly Dago," and it looked as though I were abandoned to my fate. The ship forged ahead in the light air; I failed in my grab at her fore chains, and my boat slipped astern, bumping against the side. I missed the main chain, too, and yelled all the time with desperation, “For God's sake! Ship ahoy! For God's sake throw me a rope, somebody, before it's too late!”
I was giving up all hope when a heavy coil-of a brace, I suppose-fell upon my head, nearly knocking me over. Half stunned as I was, desperation lent me strength to scramble up her side hand over hand, while the boat floated away from under my feet. I was done up when I got on the poop. A yell came from forward, “Hard aport.'
Then the same voice addressed itself to abusing the Spanish ship very close to us now. “What do you mean by coming-to right across my bows like this?” it yelled in a fury. I stood still in the shadows on the
poop. drawing slowly past the stern of the Spaniard, and O'Brien's voice answered in English:
“We are picking up a boat of ours that's gone adrift with a man.
Have you seen anything of her?" “No-confound you and your boat.”
Of course those forward knew nothing of my being on board.
The man who had thrown me the rope passenger, a certain Major Cowper, going home with his wife and child—had walked away proudly, without deigning as much as to look at me twice, as if to see a man clamber on board a ship ten miles from the land was the most usual occurrence. He was, I found afterwards, an absurd, pompous person, as stiff as a ramrod, and so full of his own importance that he imagined he had almost demeaned himself by his condescension in