« PreviousContinue »
beam, growing taut as the cart jolted away. He shouted:
“Adiós, viejo, para siempre adi
My whole body seemed to go dead all over. I happened to look downwards at my hands; they were extraordinarily white, with the veins standing out all over them. They felt as if they had been sodden in water, and it was quite a long time before they recovered their natural colour. The rest of the men were hung after that, the cart jolting a little way backwards and forwards and growing less crowded after every journey. One man, who was very large framed and stout, had to go through it twice because the rope broke. He made a good deal of fuss. My head ached, and after the involuntary straining and craning to miss no details was over, I felt sick and dazed. The people talked a great deal as they streamed back, loosening over the broader stretch of pebbles; they seemed to wish to remind each other of details. I have an idea that one or two, in the sheer largeness of heart that seizes one after occasions of popular emotions, asked me in exulting voices if I had seen the nigger's tongue sticking out.
Others thought that there wasn't very much to be exultant over. We had not really captured the pirates; they had been handed over to the admiral by the Havana authorities--as an international courtesy I suppose, or else because they were pirates of no account and short in funds, or because the admiral had been making a fuss in front of the Morro. It was even asserted by the anti-admiral faction that the seven weren't pirates at all, but merely Cuban mauvais sujets, hawkers of derogatory coplas, and known freethinkers.
In any case, excited people cheered the High Sheriff
and the returning infantry, because it was pleasant to hang any kind of Spaniard. I got nearly knocked down by the kettle-drummers, who came through the scattering crowd at a swinging quick-step. As I cannoned off the drums, a hand caught at my arm, and someone else began to speak to me. It was old Ramon, who was telling me that he had a special kind of Manchester goods at his store. He explained that they had arrived very lately, and that he had come from Spanish Town solely on their account. One made the eighth of a penny a yard more on them than on any other kind. If I would deign to have some of it offered to my inspection, he had his little curricle just off the road. He was drawing me gently towards it all the time, and I had not any idea of resisting. He had been behind in the crowd, he said, beside the carriage of the commissioner and the judge of the Marine Court sent by the Havana authorities to deliver the pirates.
It was after that, that in Ramon's dusky store, I had my first sight of Seraphina and of her father, and then came my meeting with Carlos. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him come out with extended hand. It was an extraordinary sensation, that of talking to Carlos again. He seemed to have worn badly. His face had lost its moist bloom, its hardly distinguishable subcutaneous flush. It had grown very, very pale. Dark blue circles took away from the blackness and sparkle of his eyes. And he coughed, and coughed.
He put his arm affectionately round my shoulders and said, “How splendid to see you again, my Juan.” His eyes had affection in them, there was no doubt about that, but I felt vaguely suspicious of him. I remembered how we had parted on board the Thames. “We can talk here,” he added; "it is very pleasant. You shall see my uncle, that great man, the star of Cuban
law, and my cousin Seraphina, your kinsfolk. They love you; I have spoken well of you.” He smiled gayly, and went on, “This is not a place befitting his greatness, nor my cousin's, nor, indeed, my own.” He smiled again. “But I shall be very soon dead, and to me it matters little.” He frowned a little, and then laughed. “But you should have seen the faces of your officers when my uncle refused to go to their governor's palace; there was to have been a fiesta, a ‘reception’; is it not the word? It will cause a great scandal.”
He smiled with a good deal of fine malice, and looked as if he expected me to be pleased. I said that I did not quite understand what had offended his uncle.
“Oh, it was because there was no priest,” Carlos answered, “when those poor devils were hung. · They were canaille. Yes; but one gives that much even to such. And my uncle was there in his official capacity
a plenipotentiary. He was very much distressed: we were all. You heard, my uncle himself had advised their being surrendered to your English. And when there was no priest he repented very bitterly. Why, after all, it was an infamy.
He paused again, and leant back against the counter. When his eyes were upon the ground and his face not animated by talking, there became lamentably insistent his pallor, the deep shadows under his eyes, and infinite sadness in the droop of his features, as if he were preoccupied by an all-pervading and hopeless grief. When he looked at me, he smiled, however.
“Well, at worst it is over, and my uncle is here in this dirty place instead of at your palace. We sail back to Cuba this very evening.” He looked round him at Ramon's calicos and sugar tubs in the dim light, as if he accepted almost incredulously the fact that they could be in such a place, and the manner of his voice indicated
that he thought our governor's palace would have been hardly less barbarous. “But I am sorry," he said suddenly, “because I wanted you—you and all your countrymen-to make a good impression on him. You must do it yourself alone. And you will. You are not like these others. You are our kinsman, and I have praised you very much. You saved my life.”
I began to say that I had done nothing at all, but he waved his hand with a little smile.
“You are very brave,” he said, as if to silence me. “I am not ungrateful."
He began again to ask for news from home from my home. · I told him that Veronica had a baby, and he sighed.
“She married the excellent Rooksby?” he asked. “Ah, what a waste.” He relapsed into silence again. “There was no woman in your land like her. She might have
And to marry that—that excellent personage, my good cousin. It is a tragedy."
“It was a very good match," I answered,
He sighed again. “My uncle is asleep in there, now,' he said, after a pause, pointing at the inner door. . “We must not wake him; he is a very old man. You do not mind talking to me? You will wait to see them? Doña Seraphina is here, too." i “You have not married your cousin?” I asked.
I wanted very much to see the young girl who had looked at me for a moment, and I certainly should have been distressed if Carlos had said she was married.
He answered, “What would you have?" and shrugged his shoulders gently. A smile came into his face. “She is very willful. I did not please her, I do not know why. Perhaps she has seen too many men like me.
He told me that, when he reached Cuba, after parting with me on the Thames, his uncle, “in spite of certain
influences,” had received him quite naturally as his heir, and the future head of the family. But Seraphina, whom by the laws of convenience he ought to have married, had quite calmly refused him.
“I did not impress her; she is romantic. She wanted a very bold man, a Cid, something that it is not easy to have.”
He paused again, and looked at me with some sort of challenge in his eyes.
“She could have met no one better than you,” I said.
He waved his hand a little. “Oh, for that,” he said deprecatingly. “Besides, I am dying. I have never been well since I went into your cold sea, over there, after we left your sister. You remember how I coughed on board that miserable ship.”
I did remember it very well.
He went to the inner door, looked in, and then came back to me.
“Seraphina needs a guide a controller-someone very strong and gentle, and kind and brave. My uncle will never ask her to marry against her wish; he is too old and has too little will. And for any man who would marry her except one—there would be great dangers, for her and for him. It would need a cool man, and a brave man, and a good one, too, to hazard, perhaps even life, for her sake. She will be very rich. All our lands, all our towns, all our gold.” There was a suggestion of fabulousness in his dreamy voice. “They shall never be mine,” he added. “Vaya.”
He looked at me with his piercing eyes set to an expression that might have been gentle mockery. At any rate, it also contained intense scrutiny, and, perhaps, a little of appeal. I sighed myself.
“There is a man called O'Brien in there," he said, "He does us the honour to pretend to my cousin's hand.”