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the truth. I began to creep away towards the flask. I did not confess this to myself; but I know now. There was a devilish power in it. I have learned the nature of feelings in a man whom Satan beguiles into selling his soul—the horror of an irresistible and fatal longing for a supreme felicity. And in a drink of water for me, then, there was a greater promise than in universal knowledge, in unbounded power, in unlimited weath, in imperishable youth. What could have been these seductions to a drink? No soul had thirsted after things unlawful as my parched throat thirsted for water. No devil had ever tempted a man with such a bribe of perdition.
I suffered from the lucidity of my feelings. I saw, with indignation, my own wretched self being angled for like a fish. And with all that, in my forlorn state, I remained prudent. I did not rush out blindly. No. I approached the inner end of the passage, as though I had been stalking a wild creature, slowly, from the side. I crept along the wall of the cavern, and protruded my head far enough to look at the fiendish temptation.
There it was, a small dark object suspended in the light, with the yellow rock across the ravine for a background. The silver top shivered the sunbeams brilliantly. I had half hopes they had taken it away by this time. When I drew my head back I lost sight of it, but all my being went out to it with an almost pitiful longing. I remembered Castro for the first time in many hours. Was I nothing better than Castro? He had been angled for with salted meat. I shuddered.
A darkness fell into the passage. I put down my uplifted foot without advancing. The unexpectedness of that shadow saved me, I believe. Manuel had descended the cornice.
He was alone. Standing before the outer opening, he darkened the passage, through which his talk to the people above came loudly into my ears. They could see, now, if he were not a worthy Capataz. If the Inglez was in there he was a corpse. And yet, of these living hearts above, of these valientes of Rio Medio, there was not one who would go alone to look upon a dead body. He had contrived an infallible test, and yet they would not believe him. Well, his valiance should prove it; his valiance, afraid neither of light nor of darkness.
I could not hear the answers he got from up there; but the vague sounds that reached me carried the usual commingling of derision and applause, the resentment of their jeers at the admiration he knew how to extort by the display of his talents.
They must kill the cattle, these caballeros. He scolded ironically. Of course. They must feed on meat like lions; but their souls were like the souls of hens born on dunghills. And behold! there was he, Manuel, not afraid of shadows.
He was coming in, there could be no doubt. Out there in the full light, he could not possibly have detected that rapid appearance of my head darted forward and withdrawn at once; but I had a view of his arm putting aside the swinging flask, of his leg raised to step over the high sill. I saw him, and I ran noiselessly away from the opening.
I had the time to charge Seraphina not to move, on our lives, on the wretched remnant of our lives—when his black shape stood in the frame of the opening, edged with a thread of light following the contour of his hat, of his shoulders, of his whole body down to his feet—whence a long shadow fell upon the pool of twilight on the floor.
What had made him come down? Vanity? The exacting demands of his leadership? Fear of O'Brien? The Juez would expect to hear something definite, and his band pretended not to believe in the stratagem of the bottle. I think that, for his part, from his knowledge of human nature, he never doubted its efficacy. He could not guess how very little, only, he was wrong. How very little! And yet he seemed rooted in incertitude on the threshold. His head turned from side to side. I could not make out his face as he stood, but the slightest of his movements did not escape me. He stepped aside, letting in all the fullness of the light.
Would he have the courage to explore at least the immediate neighborhood of the opening? Who could tell his complex motives? Who could tell his purpose or his fears? He had killed a man in there once. But, then, he had not been alone. If he were only showing off before his unruly band, he need not stir a step further. He diú not advance. He leaned his shoulders against the rock just clear of the opening. One half of him was lighted plainly; his long profile, part of his raven locks, one listless hand, his crossed legs, the buckle of one shoe.
"Nobody," he pronounced slowly, in a dead whisper.
While I looked at him, the profound politico, the artist, the everlastingly questioned Capataz, the man of talent and ability, he thought himself alone, and allowed his head to drop on his breast, as if saddened by the vanity of human ambition. Then, lifting it with a jerk, he listened with one ear turned to the passage; afterwards he peered into the cavern. Two long strides, over the cold heap of ashes, brought him to the stone seat.
It was very plain to me from his starting movements and attitudes, that he shared his uneasy attention between the inside and the outside of the cave. He sat down, but seemed ready to jump up; and I saw him turn his eyes upwards to the dark vault, as if on the alert for a noise from above. I am inclined to think he was expecting to hear the galloping hoofs of the peons' horses every moment. I think he did. The words “I am safer here than they above," were perfectly audible to me in the mumbling he kept up nervously. He wished to hear the sound of his own voice, as a timid person whistles and talks on a lonely road at night. Only the year before he had killed a man in that cavern, under circumstances that were, I believe, revolting even to the honor of these bandits. He sat there between the shadow of his murder and the reality of the vengeance. I asked myself what could be the outcome of a struggle with him. He was armed; he was not weakened by hunger; but he stood between us and the water. My thirst would give me strength; the desire to end Seraphina's sufferings would make me invincible. On the other hand, it was dangerous to interfere. I could not tell whether they would not try to find out what became of him. It was safest to let him go. It was extremely improbable that they would sail without him.
am not conscious of having stirred a limb; neither had Seraphina moved, I am ready to swear; but plainly something, some sort of sound, startled him. He bounded out of his seated immobility, and in one leap had his shoulders against the rock standing at bay before the darkness, with his knife in his hand. I wonder he did not surprise me into an exclamation. I was as startled as himself. His teeth and the whites of his eyes gleamed straight at me from afar; he hissed with fear; for an instant I was firmly convinced he had seen me. All this took place so quickly that I had no time to make one movement towards receiving his attack, when I saw him make a great sign of the cross in the air with the point of his dagger.
He sheathed it slowly, and sidled along the few feet to the entrance, his shoulders rubbing the wall. He blocked out the light, and in a moment had backed out of sight.
Before he got to the further end I was already, at the inner, creeping after him. I had started at once, as if his disappearance had removed a spell, as though he had drawn me after him by an invisible bond. Raising myself on my forearms I saw him, from his knees up, standing outside the sill, with his back to the precipice and his face turned up.
“There is nobody in there," he shouted.
I sank down and wriggled forward on my stomach, raising myself on my elbows, now and then, to look. Manuel was looking upwards conversing with the people above, and holding Williams' flask in both his hands. He never once glanced into the passage; he seemed to be trying to undo the cord knotted to the end of the thick rope, which hung in a long bight before him. The flask captured my eyes, my thought, my energy. I would tear it away from him directly. There was in me, then, neither fear nor intelligence; only the desire of possessing myself of the thing; but an instinctive caution prevented my rushing out violently. I proceeded with an animal-like stealthiness, with which cool reason had nothing to do.
He had some difficulty with the knot, and evidently did not wish to cut the green silk cord. How well I remember his fumbling fingers. He sat down sideways on the sill, with his legs outside, of course, his face and hands turned to the light, very absorbed in his endeavor. They shouted to him from above.
“I come at once,” he cried to them, without lifting his head.
I had crept up almost near enough to grab the flask. It never occurred to me that by flinging myself on him, I could have pushed him off the sill. My only idea was to get hold. He did not exist