« PreviousContinue »
hold on that man. He dursen't give me up. I kin see! He's going to give you up and say you're responsible for it all.” “I don't know what he's going to do,” I answered. “Will you not, señor,” Salazar said suddenly, “relate, if yocan without distress, the heroic death of that venerated man *" I glanced involuntarily at Nichols. “The distress,” I said “would be very great. I was Don Balthasar's kinsman. The Señor O'Brien had a great fear of my influence in the Casa. It was in trying to take me away that Don Balthasar, who defended me, was slain by the Lugareios of O'Brien.” Salazar said, “Aha! Aha! We are kindred spirits. Hated and loved by the same souls. This fiend, señor. And then. . . ." “I escaped by sea—in an open boat, in the confusion. When I reached Havana, the Juez had me arrested.” Salazar raised both hands; his gestures, made for large, grave men, were comic in him. They reduced Spanish manners to absurdity. He said: “That man dies. That man dies. To-morrow I go to the Captain-General. He shall hear this story of yours, señor. He shall know of these machinations which bring honest men to this place. We are a band of brothers. . . .” “That's what I say.” Nichols leered at me. “We’re all in the same boat.” I expect he noticed that I wasn't moved by his declaration. He said, still in English: “Let us be open. Let's have a council of war. This Juez hates me because I wouldn't fire on my own countrymen.” He glanced furtively at me. “I wouldn't,” he asserted; “he wanted me to fire into their boats; but I wouldn't. Don't you believe the tales they tell about me! They tell worse about you. Who says I would fire on my countrymen? Where's the man who says it?” He had been drinking more brandy and glared ferociously at me. “None of your tricks, my hearty,” he said. “None of your getting out and spreading tales. O'Brien's my friend; he'll never give me up. He dursen't. I know too much. You're a pirate! No doubt it was you who fired into them boats. By God, I'll be witness against you if they give me up. I'll show you up."
All the while the little Cuban talked swiftly and with a saturnine enthusiasm. He passed the wine rapidly. “My own countrymen!” Nichols shouted. “Never! I shot a Yankee lieutenant—Allen he was—with my own hand. That's another thing. I'm not a man to trifle with. No, sir. Don't you try it. . . . Why, I've papers that would hang O'Brien. I sent them home to Halifax. I know a trick worth his. By God, let him try it! Let him only try it. He dursen't give me up. . . .” The man in livery came in to snuff the candles. Nichols sprang from his seat in a panic and drew his knife with frantic haste. He continued, glaring at me from the wall, the knife in his hand: "Don't you dream of tricks. I've cut more throats than you've kissed gals in your little life.” Salazar himself drew an immense pointed knife with a shagreen hilt. He kissed it rapturously. “Aha! . . . Aha!” he said, “bear this kiss into his ribs at the back. His eyes glistened with this mania. “I swear it; when I next see this dog; this friend of the pricsts.” He threw the knife on the table. “Look,” he said, “was ever steel truer or more thirsty?” “Don't you make no mistake,” Nichols continued to me. “Don't you think to presume. O'Brien's my friend. I'm here snug and out of the way of the old fool of an admiral. That's why he's kept waiting off the Morro. When he goes, I walk out free. Don't you try to frighten me. I'm not a man to be frightened.” Salazar bubbled: “Ah, but now the wine flows and is red. We are a band of brothers, each loving the other. Brothers, let us drink." The air of close confinement, the blaze, the feel of the jail, pressed upon me, and I felt sore, suddenly, at having eaten and drunk with those two. The idea of Seraphina, asleep perhaps, crying perhaps, something pure and distant and very blissful, came in upon me irresistibly. The little Cuban said, “We have had a very delightful conversation. It is very plain this O'Brien must die.” I rose to my feet. “Gentlemen,” I said in Spanish, “I am very weary; I will go and sleep in the corridor.”
The Cuban sprang towards me with an immense anxiety of hospitableness. I was to sleep on his couch, the couch of cloth of gold. It was impossible, it was insulting, that I should think of sleeping in the corridor. He thrust me gently down upon it, making with his plump hands the motions of smoothing it to receive me. I laid down and turned my face to the wall. It wasn't possible to sleep, even though the little Cuban, with a tender solicitude, went round the walls blowing out the candles. He might be useful to me, might really explain matters to the Captain-General, or might even, as a last resource, take a letter from me to the British Consul. But I should have to be alone with him. Nichols was an abominable scoundrel; bloodthirsty to the defenseless; a liar; craven before the ghost of a threat. No doubt O'Brien did not want to give him up. Perhaps he had papers. And no doubt, once he could find a trace of Seraphina's whereabouts, O'Brien would give me up. All I could do was to hope for a gain of time. And yet, if I gained time, it could only mean that I should in the end be given up to the admiral. And Seraphina's whereabouts. It came over me lamentably that I myself did not know. The Lion might have sailed. It was possible. She might be at sea. Then, perhaps, my only chance of ever seeing her again lay in my being given up to the admiral, to stand in England a trial, perhaps for piracy, perhaps for treason. I might meet her only in England, after many years of imprisonment. It wasn't possible. I would not believe in the possibility. How I loved her! How wildly, how irrationally—this woman of another race, of another world, bound to me by sufferings together, by joys together. Irrationally! Looking at the matter now, the reason is plain enough. Before then I had not lived. I had only waited—for her and for what she stood for. It was in my blood, in my race, in my tradition, in my training. We, all of us for generations, had made for efficiency, for drill, for restraint. Our Romance was just this very Spanish contrast, this obliquity of vision, this slight tilt of the convex mirror that shaped the same world so differently to onlookers at different points of its circle. I could feel a little of it even then, when there was only the merest chance of my going back to England and getting back
towards our old position on the rim of the mirror. The deviousness, the wayward passion, even the sempiternal abuses of the land were already beginning to take the aspect of something like quaint impotence. It was charm that, now I was on the road away, was becoming apparent. The inconveniences of life, the physical discomforts, the smells of streets, the heat, dropped into the background. I felt that I did not want to go away, irrevocably from a land sanctioned by her presence, her young life. I turned uneasily to the other side. At the heavy black table, in the light of a single candle, the Cuban and the Nova-Scotian were discussing, their heads close together. “I tell you no,” Nichols was saying in a fluent, abominable, literal translation into Spanish. “Take the knife so. . . thumb upwards. Stab down in the soft between the neck and the shoulder-blade. You get right into the lungs with the point. I've tried it: ten times. Never stick the back. The chances are he moves, and you hit a bone. There are no bones there. It's the way they kill pigs in New Jersey.” The Cuban bent his brows as if he were reflecting over a chessboard. “Ma . . .” he pondered. His knife was lying on the table. He unsheathed it, then got up, and moved behind the seated Nova Scotian. “You say . . . there?" he asked, pressing his little finger at the base of Nichols' skinny column of a neck. “And then . . .” He measured the length of the knife on Nichols's back twice with elaborate care, breathing through his nostrils. Then he said with a convinced, musing air, “It is true. It would go down into the lungs.” “And there are arteries and things,” Nichols said. “Yes, yes,” the Cuban answered, sheathing the knife and thrusting it into his belt. “With a knife that length it's perfect.” Nichols waved his shadowy hand towards Salazar's scarf. Salazar moved off a little. “I see the advantages,” he said. “No crying out, because of the blood in the lungs. I thank you, Señor Escoces.” Nichols rose, lurching to his full height, and looked in my direction. I closed my eyes. I did not wish him to talk to me. I heard him say:
“Well, hasta mas ver. I shall get away from here. Goodnight.” He swayed an immense shadow through the door. Salazar took the candle and followed him into the corridor. Yes, that was it, why she was so great a part, a whole wall, a whole beam of my life's house. I saw her suddenly in the blackness, her full red lips, her quivering nostrils, the curve of her breasts, her lithe movements from the hips, the way she set her feet down, the white flower waxen in the darkness of her hair, and the robin-wing flutter of her lids over her gray eyes when she smiled. I moved convulsively in my intense desire. I would have given my soul, my share of eternity, my honor, only to see that flutter of the lids over the shining gray eyes. I never felt I was beneath the imponderable pressure of a prison's wall till then. She was infinite miles away; I could not even imagine what inanimate things surrounded her. She must be talking to someone else; fluttering her lids like that. I recognized with a physical agony that was more than jealousy how slight was my hold upon her. It was not in her race, in her blood as in mine, to love me and my type. She had lived all her life in the middle of Romance, and the very fire and passion of her South must make me dim prose to her. I remember the flicker of Salazar's returning candle, cast in lines like an advancing scythe across the two walls from the corridor. I slept. I had the feeling of appalled horror suddenly invading my sleep; a vast voice seemed to be exclaiming: “Tell me where she is!” I looked at the glowing horn of a lanthorn. It was O'Brien who held it. He stood over me, very somber. “Tell me where she is,” he said, the moment my eyes opened. I said, “She's . . . she's— I don't know.” It appalls me even now to think how narrow was my escape. It was only because I had gone to sleep in the thought that I did not know, that I answered that I did not know. Ah—he was a cunning devil! To suddenly wake one; to get one's thoughts before one had had time to think! I lay looking at him, shivering. I couldn't even see much of his face.