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THE LOT OF MAN
HY have I been brought here, your worships ?” I asked, with a great deal of firmness.
There were two figures in black, the one beside, the other behind a large black table. I was placed in front of them, between two soldiers, in the center of a large, gaunt room, with bare, dirty walls, and the arms of Spain above the judge's seat.
“You are before the Juez de la Primiera Instancia,” said the man in black beside the table. He wore a large and shadowy tricorn. “Be silent, and respect the procedure."
It was, without doubt, excellent advice. He whispered some words in the ear of the Judge of the First Instance. It was plain enough to me that the judge was a quite inferior official, who merely decided whether there were any case against the accused; he had, even to his clerk, an air of timidity, of doubt.
I said, “ But I insist on knowing.
The clerk said, “In good time. And then, in the same tone of disinterested official routine, he spoke to the Lugareño, who, from beside the door, rolled very frightened eyes from the judges and the clerk to myself and the soldiers—“Advance.”
The judge, in a hurried, perfunctory voice, put questions to the Lugareño; the clerk scratched with a large quill on a sheet of paper.
“Where do you come from?
Of what occupation ?
“My daughter, excellency, married Pepe of the posada in the Calle.
The judge said, “Yes, yes," with an unsanguine impatience. The Lugareño's dirty hands jumped nervously on the large rim of his limp hat.
“You lodge a complaint against the señor there." The clerk pointed the end of his quill towards me.
“I? God forbid, excellency,” the Lugareño bleated. Alguazil of the Criminal Court instructed me to be watchful. “You lodge an information, then?" the Juez said.
Maybe it is an information, excellency," the Lugareño answered, “as regards the señor there."
The Alguazil of the Criminal Court had told him, and many other men of Rio Medio, to be on the watch for me, “undoubtedly touching what had happened, as all the world knew, in Rio Medio.” He looked me full in the face with stupid insolence, and said:
At first I much doubted, for all the world said this man was dead—though others said worse things. Perhaps, who knows? ”
He had seen me, he said, many times in Rio Medio, outside the Casa; on the balcony of the Casa, too. And he was sure that I was a heretic and an evil person.
It suddenly struck me that this man–I was undoubtedly familiar with his face--must be the lieutenant of Manuel-delPopolo, his boon companion. Without doubt, he had seen me on the balcony of the Casa.
He had gained a lot of assurance from the conciliatory manner of the Juez, and said suddenly, in a tentative way:
“ An evil person; a heretic? Who knows? Perhaps it was he who incited some people there to murder his señoria, the illustrious Don.”
I said almost contemptuously, “Surely the charge against me is most absurd ? Everyone knows who I am.”
The old judge made a gentle, tired motion with his hand.
“Señor," he said, “there is no charge against you—except that no one knows who you are. You were in a place where very lamentable and inexplicable things happened; you are now in
Havana: you have no passport. I beg of you to remain calm. These things are all in order."
I hadn't any doubt that, as far as he knew, he was speaking the truth. He was a man, very evidently, of a weary and naïve simplicity. Perhaps it was really true that I should only have to explain; perhaps it was all over.
O'Brien came into the room with the casual step of an official from an office entering another's room.
It was as if seeing me were a thing that he very much disliked at that he came because he wanted to satisfy himself of my existence, of my identity, and my being alone. The slow stare that he gave me did not mitigate the leisureliness of his entry. He walked behind the table; the judge rose with immense deference; with his eternal smile, and no word spoken, he motioned the judge to resume the examination; he stood looking at the clerk's notes meditatively, the smile still round lips that had a nervous tremble, and eyes that had dark marks beneath them. He seemed as if he were still smiling just after having been violently shaken.
The judge went on examining the Lugareño.
." The man stuttered, his eyes on O'Brien's face.
“Nor how long he was in the town of Rio Medio? " the judge went on.
O'Brien suddenly drooped towards his ear. "All those things are known, señor, my colleague,” he said, and began to whisper.
The old judge showed signs of very naïve astonishment and joy.
"Is it possible?" he exclaimed. “This man? young to have committed such crimes.” The clerk hurriedly left the room.
He returned with many papers. O'Brien, leaning over the judge's shoulder, emphasized words with one finger. What new villainies could O'Brien be meditating? It wasn't possibly the Lugareño's suggestion that I had lured men to murder Don Balthasar? Was it merely that I had infringed some law in carrying off Seraphina?
The old judge said, “How lucky, Don Patricio! We may now satisfy the English admiral. What good fortune!”
He suddenly sat straight in his chair; O'Brien behind him
He is very
scrutinizing my face—to see how I should bear what was coming.
“What is your name?" the judge asked peremptorily.
I said, “ Juan-John Kemp. I am of noble English family; I am well enough known. Ask the Señor O'Brien." On O'Brien's shaken face the smile hardened.
I heard that in Rio Medio the señor was called .. called. He paused and appealed to the Lugareño.
What was he called—the capataz, the man who led the picaroons?
The Lugareño stammered, “Nikola . . . Nikola el Escoces, Señor Don Patricio.”
"You hear?” O'Brien asked the judge. “This villager identifies the man."
Undoubtedly—undoubtedly," the Juez said. “We need no more evidence. You, señor, have seen this villain in Rio Medio, this villager identifies him by name.”
I said, “This is absurd. A hundred witnesses can say that I am John Kemp. ..."
“That may be true," the Juez said dryly, and then to his clerk:
“Write here, John Kemp, of noble British family, called, on the scene of his crimes, Nikola el Escoces, otherwise El Demonio.'
I shrugged my shoulders. I did not, at the moment, realize to what this all tended.
. The judge said to the clerk, "Read the Act of Accusation. Read here. .. He was pointing to a paragraph of the papers the clerk had brought in. They were the Act of Accusation, prepared long before, against the man Nichols.
This particular villainy suddenly became grotesquely and portentously plain. The clerk read an appalling catalogue of sordid crimes, working into each other like kneaded dough-the testimony of witnesses who had signed the record. Nikola had looted fourteen ships, and had apparently murdered twenty-two people with his own hand-two of them women-and there was the affair of Rowley's boats. “The pinnace," the clerk read, of the British came within ten yards. The said Nikola then ex