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my arms for a long time. I did not think of anything at all; I was too utterly done up with my struggles, and there was nothing to be thought about. I had grown to accept the meanness of things as if I had aged a great deal. I had seen men scratch each other's faces over coat buttons, old shoes-over Mercer's trousers. My own future did not interest me at this stage. I sat up and looked round me.
I was in a small, bare cabin, roughly wainscotted and exceedingly filthy. There were the grease-marks from the backs of heads all along a bulkhead above a wooden bench; the rough table, on which my arms rested, was covered with layers of tallow spots. Bright light shone through a porthole. Two or three ill-assorted muskets slanted about round the foot of the mast—a long old piece, of the time of Pizarro, all red velvet and silver chasing, on a swivelled stand, three English fowlingpieces, and a coachman's blunderbuss. A man was rising from a mattress stretched on the floor; he placed a mandolin, decorated with red favours, on the greasy table. He was shockingly thin, and so tall that his head disturbed the candle-soot on the ceiling. He said: "Ah, I was waiting for the cavalier to awake.”
He stalked round the end of the table, slid between it and the side, and grasped my arm with wrapt earnestness as he settled himself slowly beside me. red shirt that had become rather black where his long brown ringlets fell on his shoulders; it had tarnished gilt buttons ciphered “G. R.,” stolen, I suppose, from some English ship.
“I beg the Señor Caballero to listen to what I have to record,” he said, with intense gravity. “I cannot bear this much longer-no, I cannot bear my sufferings much longer."
His face was of a large, classical type; a close-featured,
He wore a
rather long face, with an immense nose that from the front resembled the section of a bell; eyebrows like horseshoes, and very large-pupilled eyes that had the purplish-brown lustre of a horse's. His air was mournful in the extreme, and he began to speak resonantly as if his chest were a sounding-board. He used immensely long sentences, of which I only understood one-half.
“What, then, is the difference between me, Manueldel Popolo Isturiz, and this Tomas Castro? The Señor Caballero can tell at once. Look at me. the finer man. I would have you ask the ladies of Rio Medio, and leave the verdict to them. This Castro is an Andalou-a foreigner. And we, the braves of Rio Medio, will suffer no foreigner to make headway with our ladies. Yet this Andalusian is preferred because he is a humble friend of the great Don, and because he is for a few days given the command. I ask you, Señor, what is the radical difference between me, the sailing captain of this vessel, and him, the fighting captain for a few days. Is it not I that am, as it were, the brains of it, and he only its knife? I ask the Señor Caballero."
I didn't in the least know what to answer. eyes wistfully explored my face. I expect I looked bewildered.
“I lay my case at your feet,” he continued. “You are to be our chief leader, and, on account of your illustrious birth and renowned intelligence, will occupy a superior position in the council of the notables. Is it not so? Has not the Señor Juez O'Brien so ordained? You will give ear to me, you will alleviate my indignant sufferings?” He implored me with his eyes for a long time.
Manuel-del-Popolo, as he called himself, pushed the hair back from his forehead. I had noticed that the
love-locks were plaited with black braid, and that he wore large dirty silk ruffles.
“The caballero," he continued, marking his words with a long, white finger a-tap on the table, “will represent my views to the notables. My position at present, as I have had the honour to observe, is become unbearable. Consider, too, how your worship and I would work together. What lightness for you and me. You will find this Castro unbearably gross. But I-I assure you I am a man of taste-an improvisador-an artist. My songs are celebrated. And yet! .
He folded his arms again, and waited; then he said, employing his most impressive voice:
“I have influence with the men of Rio. I could raise a riot. We Cubans are a jealous people; we do not love that foreigners should take our best from us. We do not love it; we will not suffer it. Let this Castro bethink himself and go in peace, leaving us our ladies. As the proverb says, 'It is well to build a bridge for a departing enemy.
He began to peer at me more wistfully, and his eyes grew more luminous than ever. This man, in spite of his grotesqueness, was quite in earnest, there was no doubting that.
“I have a gentle spirit,” he began again, “a gentle spirit. I am submissive to the legitimate authorities. What the Señor Juez O'Brien asks me to do, I do. I would put a knife into any one who inconvenienced the Señor Juez O'Brien, who is a good Catholic; we would all do that, as is right and fitting. But this Castro-this Andalou, who is nearly as bad as a heretic! When my day comes, I will have his arms flayed and the soles of his feet, and I will rub red pepper into them; and all the men of Rio who do not love foreigners will applaud. And I will stick little thorns under his tongue, and I will
cut off his eyelids with little scissors, and set him facing the sun. Caballero, you would love me; I have a gentle spirit. I am a pleasant companion.” He rose and squeezed round the table. “Listen”—his eyes lit up with rapture"you shall hear me. It is divine-ah, it is very pleasant, you will say.'
He seized his mandolin, slung it round his neck, and leant against the bulkhead. The bright light from the port-hole gilded the outlines of his body, as he swayed about and moved his long fingers across the strings; they tinkled metallically. He sang in a nasal voice:
“Listen!' the young girls say as they hasten to the barred window. 'Listen! Ah, surely that is the guitar of Man-u-el-del-Popolo, As he glides along the wall in the twilight.””
It was a very long song. He gesticulated freely with his hand in between the scratching of the strings, which seemed to be a matter of luck. His eyes gazed distantly at the wall above my head. The performance bewildered and impressed me; I wondered if this was what they had carried me off for. It was like being mad. He made a decrescendo tinkling, and his lofty features lapsed into their normal mournfulness.
At that moment Castro put his face round the door, then entered altogether. He sighed in a satisfied manner, and had an air of having finished a laborious undertaking.
“We have arranged the confusion up above,” he said to Manuel-del-Popolo; "you may go and see to the sailing.
Hurry; it is growing late.” Manuel blazed silently, and stalked out of the door as if he had an electric cloud round his head. Tomas Castro turned towards me.
"You are better?” he asked benevolently. “You
exerted yourself too much. But still, if you liked He picked up the mandolin, and began negligently scratching the strings. I noticed an alteration in him; he had grown softer in the flesh in the past years; there were little threads of gray in the knotted curls of his beard. It was as if he had lived well, on the whole. He bent his head over the strings, plucked one, tightened a peg, plucked it again, then set the instrument on the table, and dropped on to the mattress.
'Will you have some rum?” he said. “You have grown broad and strong, like a bull.
You made those men fly, sacré nom d'une pipe.
One would have thought you were in earnest. Ah, well!” He stretched himself at length on the mattress, and closed his eyes.
I looked at him to discover traces of irony. There weren't any. He was talking quietly; he even reproved me for having carried the pretence of resistance beyond a joke.
“You fought too much; you struck many men-and hard. You will have made enemies. The picaros of this dirty little town are as conceited as pigs. You must take care, or you will have a knife in your
back." He lay with his hands crossed on his stomach, which was round like a pudding. After a time he opened his eyes, and looked at the dancing white reflection of the water on the grimy ceiling.
“To think of seeing you again, after all these years,” he said. “I did not believe my ears when Don Carlos asked me to fetch you like this. Who would have believed it? But, as they say,” he added philosophically, "The water flows to the sea, and the little stones find their places."” He paused to listen to the sounds that came from above. “That Manuel is a fool,” he said without rancour; "he is mad with jealousy because