Page images
PDF
EPUB

either. Suppose I provoked him enough to fire his pistol at me. He had been fingering the butt, absently, as we talked. He might have missed me, and then. ... Or he might have shot me dead. But surely there was some justice in Cuba. It was clear enough that he did not wish to kill me himself. Well, this was a desperate strait; to force him to do something he did not wish to do, even at the cost of my own life, was the only step left open to me to thwart his purpose; the only thing I could do just then for the furtherance of my mission to save Seraphina from his intrigues. I was oppressed by the misery of it all. As to killing him as he stood—if I could do it by being very quick with the old rapier -my bringing up, my ideas, my very being, recoiled from it. I had never taken a life. I was very young. I was not used to scenes of violence; and to begin like this in cold blood! Not only my conscience, but my very courage faltered. Truth to tell, I was afraid; not for myself—I had the courage to die; but I was afraid of the act. It was the unknown for me—for my nerve-for my conscience. And then the Spanish gallows! That, too, revolted me. To kill him, and then kill myself. ... No, I must live. “Two lives, one death,” she had said. ... For a second or two my brain reeled with horror; I was certainly losing my selfpossession. His voice broke upon that nightmare.

"It may be your lot, yet," it said.

I burst into a nervous laugh. For a moment I could not stop myself.

“I won't murder you," I cried.
To this he said astonishingly, “Will you go to Mexico ?

It sounded like a joke. He was very serious. I shall send one of the schooners there on a little affair of mine. I can make use of you. I give you this chance."

It was as though he had thrown a bucketful of water over me. I had an inward shiver, and became quite cool. It was his turn now to let himself go.

It was a matter of delivering certain papers to the Spanish Commandant in Timaulipas. There would be some employment found for me with the Royal troops. I was a relation of the Riegos. And there came upon his voice a strange ardor; a swiftness into his utterance. He walked away from the table; came back, and

gazed into my face in a marked, expectant manner. He was not prompted by any love for me, he said, and had an uncertain laugh.

My wits had returned to me wholly; and as he repeated “No love for you—no love for you," I had the intuition that what influenced him was his love for Seraphina. I saw it. I read it in the workings of his face. His eyes retained his good-humored twinkle. He did not attach any importance to a boy and girl affair; not at all-pah! The lady, naturally young, warmhearted, full of kindness. I mustn't think. Ha, ha! A man of his age, of course, understood. ... No importance at all.

He walked away from the table trying to snap his fingers, and, suddenly, he reeled; he reeled, as though he had been overcome by the poison of his jealousy--as though a thought had stabbed him to the heart. There was an instant when the sight of that man moved me more than anything I had seen of passionate suffering before (and that was nothing), or since. He longed to kill me -I felt it in the very air of the room; and he loved her too much to dare. He laughed at me across the table. I had ridiculously misunderstood a very proper and natural kindness of a girl with not much worldly experience. He had known her from the earliest childhood.

“Take my word for it," he stammered.

It seemed to me that there were tears in his eyes. A stiff smile was parting his lips. He took up the pistol, and evidently not knowing anything about it, looked with an air of curiosity into the barrel.

It was time to think of making my career. That's what I ought to be thinking of at my age. “At your age—at your age,” he repeated aimlessly. I was an Englishman. He hated me and it was easy to believe this, though he neither glared nor grimaced. He smiled. He smiled continuously and rather pitifully. But his devotion to a-a-person who. ... His devotion was great enough to overcome even that, even that. Did I understand? I owed it to the lady's regard, which, for the rest, I had misunderstood-stupidly misunderstood.

"Well, at your age it's excusable!” he mumbled. “A career that ..."

"I see," I said slowly. Young as I was, it was impossible to

mistake his motives. Only a man of mature years, and really possessed by a great passion—by a passion that had grown slowly, till it was exactly as big as his soul-could have acted like this with that profound simplicity, with such resignation, with such horrible moderation. But I wanted to find out more. And when would you want me to go?” I asked, with a dissimulation of which I would not have suspected myself capable a moment before. I was maturing in the fire of love, of danger; in the lurid light of life piercing through my youthful innocence.

Ah," he said, banging the pistol onto the table hurriedly. “At once. To-night. Now."

“Without seeing anybody?"
“Without seeing . . . Oh, of course. In your own interest.”

He was very quiet now. “I thought you looked intelligent enough,” he said, appearing suddenly very tired. “I am glad you see your position. You shall go far in the Royal service, on the faith of Pat O'Brien, English as you are. I will make it my own business for the sake of—the Riego family. There is only one little condition."

He pulled out of his pocket a piece of paper, a pen, a traveling inkstand. He looked the lawyer to the life; the Spanish family lawyer grafted on an Irish attorney.

You can't see anybody. But you ought to write. Doña Seraphina naturally would be interested. A cousin and ... I shall explain to Don Balthasar, of course.... I will dictate: 'Out of regard for your future, and the desire for active life, of your own will, you accept eagerly Señor O'Brien's proposition. She'll understand.”

“Oh, yes, she'll understand,” I said.

“Yes. And that you will write of your safe arrival in Timaulipas. You must promise to write. Your word ..."

“By heavens, Señor O'Brien!" I burst out with inexpressible scorn, “I thought you meant your villains to cut my throat on the passage. I should have deserved no better fate.”

He started. I shook with rage. A change had come upon both of us as sudden as if we had been awakened by a violent noise. For a time we did not speak a word. One look at me was enough for him. He passed his hand over his forehead.

[ocr errors]

“What devil's in you, boy?” he said. “I seem to make nothing but mistakes."

He went to the loophole window, and, advancing his head, cried out:

“ The schooner does not sail to-night."

He had some of his cut-throats posted under the window. I could not make out the reply he got; but after a while he said distinctly, so as to be heard below:

"I give up that spy to you." Then he came back, put the pistol in his pocket, and said to me, “ Fool! I'll make you long for death

yet."

“You've given yourself away pretty well,” I said. “Some day I shall unmask you. It will be my revenge on you for daring to propose to me ..

“What?" he interrupted, over his shoulder. “You? Not you—and I'll tell you why. It's because dead men tell no tales."

He passed through the door—a back view of a dapper Spanish lawyer, all in black, in a lofty frame. The calm, strolling footsteps went away along the gallery. He turned the corner. The tapping of his heels echoed in the patio, into whose blackness filtered the first suggestion of the dawn.

CHAPTER V

[ocr errors]

REMEMBER walking about the room, and thinking to myself, “This is bad, this is very bad; what shall I do now?"

A sort of mad meditation that in this meaningless way became so tense as to positively frighten me. Then it occurred to me that I could do nothing whatever at present, and I was soothed by this sense of powerlessness, which, one would think, ought to have driven me to distraction. I went to sleep ultimately, just as a man sentenced to death goes to sleep, lulled in a sort of ghastly way by the finality of his doom. Even when I awoke it kept me steady, in a way. I washed, dressed, walked, ate, said “Goodmorning, Cesar," to the old major-domo I met in the gallery; exchanged grins with the negro boys under the gateway, and watched the mules being ridden out barebacked by other nearly naked negro boys into the sea, with great splashing of water and a noise of voices. A small knot of men, unmistakably Lugareños, stood on the beach, also, watching the mules, and exchanging loud jocular shouts with the blacks. Rio Medio, the dead, forsaken, and desecrated city, was lying, as bare as a skeleton, on the sands. They were yellow; the bay was very blue, the wooded hills very green.

After the mules had been ridden uproariously back to the stables, wet and capering, and shaking their long ears, all the life of the land seemed to take refuge in this vivid coloring. As I looked at it from the outer balcony above the great gate, the small group of Lugareños turned about to look at the Casa Riego. They recognized me, no doubt, and one of them flourished, threateningly, an arm from under his cloak. I retreated indoors.

This was the only menacing sign, absolutely the only one sign that marked this day. It was a day of pause. Seraphina did not leave her apartments; Don Balthasar did not show himself; Father Antonio, hurrying towards the sick room, greeted me with only a wave of the hand. I was not admitted to see Carlos; the

« PreviousContinue »