Page images

the bishop's coach, like a torrent breaking round a boulder. The
great heavy machine rocked, mules plunged, torches swayed.
The archway had been cleared. Outside, the slaves were form-
ing in the open space before the Casa, while Cesar, with a few
others, labored to swing the heavy gates to. Hats, torn cloaks,
knives strewed the flagstones, and the dim light of the lamps,
fastened high up on the walls, fell on the faces of three men
stretched out on their backs. Another, lying huddled up in a heap,
got up suddenly and rushed out.
The thought of Seraphina clinging to the lifeless body of her
father upstairs came to me; it came over me in horror, and I let
the musket fall out of my hand. A silence like the silence of
despair reigned in the house. She would hate me now. I felt
as if I could walk out and give myself up, had it not been for the
sight of O'Brien.
He was leaning his shoulders against the wall in the posture
of a man suddenly overcome by a deadly disease. No one was
looking at us. It came to me that he could not have many illusions
left to him now. He looked up wearily, saw me, and, waking
up at once, thrust his hands into the pockets of his breeches. I
thought of his pistol. No wild hope of love would prevent him,
now, from killing me outright. The fatal shot that had put an
end to Don Balthasar's life must have brought to him an awaken-
ing worse than death. I made one stride, caught him by both arms
swiftly, and pinned him to the wall with all my strength. We
struggled in silence.
I found him much more vigorous than I had expected; but, at
the same time, I felt at once that I was more than a match for
him. We did not say a word. We made no noise. But, in our
struggle, we got away from the wall into the middle of the gate-
way. I dared not let go of his arms to take him by the throat. He
only tried to jerk and wrench himself away. Had he succeeded,
it would have been death for me. We never moved our feet from
the spot fairly in the middle of the archway, but nearer to the
gate than to the patio. The slaves, formed outside, guarded the
bishop's coach, and I do not know that there was anybody else
actually with us under the vault of the entrance. We glared into
each other's faces, and the world seemed very still around us. I

[ocr errors]

felt in me a passion—not of hate, but of determination to be done with him; and from his face it was possible to guess his suffering, his despair, or his rage. In the midst of our straining I heard a sibilant sound. I detached my eyes from his; his struggles redoubled, and, behind him, stealing in towards us from the court, black on the strip of crimson cloth, I saw Tomas Castro. He flung his cloak back. The light of the lanthorn under the keystone of the arch glimmered feebly on the blade of his maimed arm. He made a discreet and bloodcurdling gesture to me with the other. How could I hold a man so that he should be stabbed from behind in my arms? Castro was running up swiftly, his cloak opening like a pair of sable wings. Collecting all my strength, I forced O'Brien round, and we swung about in a flash. Now he had his back to the gate. My effort seemed to have uprooted him. I felt him give way all over. As soon as our position had changed, Castro checked himself, and stepped aside into the shadow of the guardroom doorway. I don't think O'Brien had been aware of what had been going on. His strength was overborne by mine. I drove him backwards. His eyes blinked wildly. He bared his teeth. He resisted, as though I had been forcing him over the brink of perdition. His feet clung to the flagstones. I shook him till his head rolled. “Viper brood!” he spluttered. “Out you go!” I hissed. I had found nothing heroic, nothing romantic to say—nothing that would express my desperate resolve to rid the world of his presence. All I could do was to fling him out. The Casa Riego was all my world—a world full of great pain, great mourning, and love. I saw him pitch headlong under the wheels of the bishop's enormous carriage. The black coachman who had sat aloft, unmoved through all the tumult, in his white stockings and three-cornered hat, glanced down from his high box. And the two parts of the gate came together with a clang of ironwork and a heavy crash that seemed as loud as thunder under that vault.


OT even in memory am I willing to live over again those three days when Father Antonio, the old major-domo, and myself would meet each other in the galleries, in the patio, in the empty rooms, moving in the stillness of the house with heavy hearts and desolate eyes, which seemed to demand, “What is there to do?” Of course, precautions were taken against the Lugareños. They were besieging the Casa from afar. They had established a sort of camp at the end of the street, and they prowled about amongst the old, barricaded houses in their pointed hats, in their rags and finery; women, with food, passed constantly between the villages and the panic-stricken town; there were groups on the beach; and one of the schooners had been towed down the bay, and was lying, now, moored stem and stern opposite the great gate. They did nothing whatever active against us. They lay around and watched, as if in pursuance of a plan traced by a superior authority. They were watching for me. But when, by some mischance, they burnt the roof off the outbuildings that were at some distance from the Casa, their chiefs sent up a deputation of three, with apologies. Those men came unarmed, and, as it were, under Castro's protection, and absolutely whimpered with regrets before Father Antonio. “Would his reverence kindly intercede with the most noble señorita: . . .” “Silence! Dare not pronounce her name!” thundered the good priest, snatching away his hand, which they attempted to grab and kiss. I, in the background, noted their black looks at me, even as they cringed. The man who had fired the shot, they said, had expired of his wounds ofter great torments. Their other dead had been thrust out of the gate before. A long fellow, with slanting eyebrows and a scar on his cheek, called El Rechado, tried to inform Cesar, confidentially, that Manuel, his friend, had been opposed to any encroachment of the Casa's offices, only: “That Domingo— ” As soon as we discovered what was their object (their apparent object, at any rate), they were pushed out of the gate unceremoniously,–still protesting their love and respect, by the Riego negroes. Castro followed them out again, after exchanging a meaning look with Father Antonio. To live in the two camps, as it were, was a triumph of Castro's diplomacy, of his saturnine mysteriousness. He kept us in touch with the outer world, coming in under all sorts of pretenses, mostly with messages from the bishop, or escorting the priests that came in relays to pray by the bodies of the two last Riegos lying in state, side by side, rigid in black velvet and white lace ruffles, on the great bed dragged out into the middle of the room. Two enormous wax torches in iron stands flamed and guttered at the door; a black cloth draped the emblazoned shields; and the wind from the sea, blowing through the open casement, inclined all together the flames of a hundred candles, pale in the sunlight, extremely ardent in the night. The murmur of prayers for these souls went on incessantly; I have it in my ears now. There would be always some figure of the household kneeling in prayer at the door; or the old major-domo would come in to stand at the foot, motionless for a time; or, through the open door, I would see the cassock of Father Antonio, flung on his knees, with his forehead resting on the edge of the bed, his hands clasped above his tonsure. Apart from what was necessary for defense, all the life of the house seemed stopped. Not a woman appeared; all the doors were closed; and the numbing desolation of a great bereavement was symbolized by Don Balthasar's chair in the patio, which had remained lying overturned in full view of every part of the house, till I could bear the sight no longer, and asked Cesar to have it put away. “Si, señor," he said deferentially, and a few tears ran suddenly down his withered cheeks. The English flowers had been trampled down; an unclean hat floated on the basin, now here, now there, frightening the goldfish from one side to the other. And Seraphina. It seems not fitting that I should write of her in these days. I hardly dared let my thoughts approach her, but

I had to think of her all the time. Her sorrow was the very soul
of the house.
Shortly after I had thrown O'Brien out the bishop had left, and

then I learned from Father Antonio that she had been carried away

to her own apartments in a fainting condition. The excellent
man was almost incoherent with distress and trouble of mind, and
walked up and down, his big head drooping on his capacious chest,
the joints of his entwined fingers cracking. I had met him in the
gallery, as I was making my way back to Carlos' room in anxiety
and fear, and we had stepped aside into a large saloon, seldom
used, above the gateway. I shall never forget the restless, swift
pacing of that burly figure, while, feeling utterly crushed, now the
excitement was over, I leaned against a console. Three long
bands of moonlight fell, chilly bluish, into the vast room, with its
French Empire furniture stiffly arranged about the white walls.
“And that man?” he asked me at last.
“I could have killed him with my own hands,” I said. “I was
the stronger. He had his pistols on him, I am certain, only I could
not be a party to an assassination. . . .”
“Oh, my son, it would have been no sin to have exerted the
strength which God had blessed you with,” he interrupted. “We
are allowed to kill venomous snakes, wild beasts; we are given our
strength for that, our intelligence. . . .” And all the time he
walked about, wringing his hands.
“Yes, your reverence,” I said, feeling the most miserable and
helpless of lovers on earth; “but there was no time. If I had not
thrown him out, Castro would have stabbed him in the back in my
very hands. And that would have been ” Words failed me.
I had been obliged not only to desist myself, but to save his
life from Castro. I had been obliged 1 There had been no option.
Murderous enemy as he was, it seemed to me I should never have
slept a wink all the rest of my life.
“Yes, it is just, it is just. What else? Alas!” Father An-
tonio repeated disconnectedly. “Those feelings implanted in your
breast I have served my king, as you know, in my sacred
calling, but in the midst of war, which is the outcome of the wicked-
ness natural to our fallen state. I understand; I understand. It
may be that God, in his mercy, did not wish the death of that

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »