« PreviousContinue »
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 as a-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 sugartubs 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 thatthat 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.”
“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
“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 sca, over there, after we left your sister. You remember how I coughed on board that miserable ship."
I did remember it very well.
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 honor to pretend to my cousin's hand."
I felt singularly angry. “Well, he's not a Spaniard,” I said. Carlos answered mockingly, “Oh, for Spaniard, no.
He is a descendant of the Irish kings.'
“He's an adventurer," I said. “You ought to be on your guard. You don't know these bog-trotting fortune-hunters. They're the laughter of Europe, kings and all."
Carlos smiled again. “He's a very dangerous man for all that,” he said. “I should not advise anyone to come to Rio Medio, my uncle's town, without making a friend of the Señor O'Brien."
He went once more to the inner door, and, after a moment's whispering with someone within, returned to me.
“My uncle still sleeps," he said. “I must keep you a little longer. Ah, yes, the Señor O'Brien. He shall marry my cousin, I think, when I am dead.”
“You don't know these fellows," I said.
“Oh, I know them very well,” Carlos smiled," there are many of them at Havana. They came there after what they call the '98, when there was great rebellion in Ireland, and many good Catholics were killed and ruined.”
"Then he's a rebel, and ought to be hung," I said.
Carlos laughed as of old. “It may be, but, my good Juan, we Christians do not see eye to eye with you. This man rebelled against your government, but, also, he suffered for the true faith. He is a good Catholic; he has suffered for it; and, in the Ever Faithful Island, that is a passport. He has climbed very high; he is a judge of the Marine Court at Havana. That is why he is here to-day, attending my uncle in this affair of delivering up the pirates. My uncle loves him very much. O'Brien was at first my uncle's clerk, and my uncle made him a juez, and he is also the intendant of my uncle's estates, and he has a great influence in my uncle's town of Rio Medio. I tell you, if you come to visit us, it will be as well to be on good terms with the Señor Juez O'Brien. My uncle is a very old man, and if I die before him, this O'Brien, I think, will end by marrying my cousin, because my poor uncle is
very much in his hands. There are other pretenders, but they have little chance, because it is so very dangerous to come to my uncle's town of Rio Medio, on account of this man's intrigues, and of his power with the populace."
I looked at Carlos intently. The name of the town had seemed to be familiar to me. Now I suddenly remembered that it was where Nicolas el Demonio, the pirate who was so famous as to be almost mythical, had beaten off Admiral Rowley's boats.
“Come, you had better see this Irish hidalgo who wants to do us so much honor,"-he gave an inscrutable glance at me,"but do not talk loudly till my uncle wakes."
He threw the door open. I followed him into the room, where the vision of the ancient Don and the charming apparition of the young girl had retreated only a few moments before.