Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ while

imbecility of that fellow O'Brien. As to turning into a sea-thief for lucre—my blood boiled.

No. There was something else there. Something deep; something dangerous; some intrigue, that I could not conceive even the first notion of. But that Carlos wanted anxiously to make use of me for some purpose was clear. I was mystified to the point of forgetting how heavily I was compromised even in Jamaica, though it was worth remembering, because at that time an indictment for rebellion—under the Black Act—was no joking matter. I might be sent home under arrest; and even then, there was my affair with the runners.

It is coming to pay a visit,” he was saying persuasively, your affair here blows over, my Juan-and-and-making my last hours easy, perhaps.”

I looked at him; he was worn to a shadow—a shadow with dark wistful eyes. "I don't understand you," I faltered.

The old man stirred, opened his lids, and put a gold vinaigrette to his nostrils.

“Of course I shall not denounce O'Brien,” I said. “I, too, respect the honor of your house."

You are even better than I thought you. And if I entreat you, for the love of your mother-of your sister? Juan, it is not for myself, it is"

The young girl was pouring some drops from a green phial into a silver goblet; she passed close to us, and handed it to her father, who had leant a little forward in his chair. Every movement of hers affected me with an intimate joy; it was as if I had been waiting to see just that carriage of the neck, just that proud glance from the eyes, just that droop of eyelashes upon the cheeks, for years and years.

“No, I shall hold my tongue, and that's enough,” I said.

At that moment the old Don sat up and cleared his throat. Carlos sprang towards him with an infinite grace of tender obsequiousness. He mentioned my name and the relationship, then rehearsed the innumerable titles of his uncle, ending “and patron of the Bishopric of Pinar del Rio."

I stood stiffly in front of the old man. He bowed his head at intervals, holding the silver cup carefully whilst his chair rocked a little. When Carlos' mellow voice had finished the rehearsing of the sonorous styles, I mumbled something about "transcendent honor.”

He stopped me with a little, deferentially peremptory gesture of one hand, and began to speak, smiling with a contraction of the lips and a trembling of the head. His voice was very low, and quavered slightly, but every syllable was enunciated with the same beauty of clearness that there was in his features, in his hands, in his ancient gestures.

“ The honor is to me,” he said, “ and the pleasure. I behold my kinsman, who, with great heroism, I am told, rescued my dearly loved nephew from great dangers; it is an honor to me to be able to give him thanks. My beloved and lamented sister contracted a union with an English hidalgo, through whose house your own very honorable family is allied to my own; it is a pleasure to me to meet after many years with one who has seen the places where her later life was passed."

He paused, and breathed with some difficulty, as if the speech had exhausted him. Afterwards he began to ask me questions about Rooksby's aunt—the lamented sister of his speech. He had loved her greatly, he said. I knew next to nothing about her, and his fine smile and courtly, aged, deferential manners made me very

I felt as if I had been taken to pay a ceremonial visit to a supreme pontiff in his dotage. He spoke about Horton Priory with some animation for a little while, and then faltered, and forgot what he was speaking of. Suddenly he said:

“But where is O'Brien? Did he write to the Governor here? I should like you to know the Señor O'Brien. He is a spiritual man.”

I forbore to say that I had already seen O'Brien, and the old man sank into complete silence. It was beginning to grow dark, and the noise of suppressed voices came from the open trap-door. Nobody said anything.

I felt a sort of uneasiness; I could by no means understand the connection between the old Don and what had gone before, and I did not, in a purely conventional sense, know how long I ought to stop. The sky through the barred windows had grown pallid.

The old Don said suddenly, “ You must visit my poor town of

nervous,

Rio Medio," but he gave no specific invitation and said nothing

more.

Afterwards he asked, rather querulously, “But where is O'Brien? He must write those letters for me.

The young girl said, “He has preceded us to the ship; he will write there.”

She had gone back to her seat. Don Balthasar shrugged his shoulders to his ears, and moved his hands from his knees.

“Without doubt, he knows best,” he said; “but he should ask me.”

It grew darker still; the old Don seemed to have fallen asleep again. Save for the gleam of the silver buckle of his hat, he had disappeared into the gloom of the place. I remembered my engagement to dine with Williams on board the Lion, and I rose to my feet. There did not seem to be any chance of my talking to the young girl. She was once more leaning nonchalantly over the lizard, and her hair drooped right across her face like clusters of grapes. There was a gleam on a little piece of white forehead, and all around and about her there were shadows deepening. Carlos came concernedly towards me as I looked at the door.

“But you must not go yet,” he said a little suavely; "I have many things to say. Tell me

His manner heightened my uneasiness to a fear. The expression of his eyes changed, and they became fixed over my shoulder, while on his lips the words “You must come, you must come,” trembled, hardly audible. I could only shake my head. At once he stepped back as if resigning. He was giving me up—and it occurred to me that if the danger of his seduction was over, there remained the danger of arrest just outside the door.

Someone behind me said peremptorily, “It is time," and there was a flickering diminution of the light. I had a faint instantaneous view of the old Don dozing, with his head back-of the tall windows, cut up into squares by the black bars. Something hairily coarse ran harshly down my face; I grew blind; my mouth, my eyes, my nostrils were filled with dust; my breath shut in upon me became a flood of warm air. I had no time to resist. I kicked my legs convulsively; my elbows were drawn tight against my sides. Someone grur ted under my weight; then I was carried-down along, up, down again; my feet were knocking along a wall, and the top of my head rubbed occasionally against what must have been the roof of a low stone passage, issuing from under the back room of Ramon's store. Finally, I was dropped upon something that felt like a heap of wood-shavings. My surprise, rage, and horror had been so great that, after the first stifled cry, I had made no sound. I heard the footsteps of several men going away:

CHAPTER IV

I

REMAINED lying there, bound hand and foot, for a long time; for quite long enough to allow me to collect my senses

and see that I had been a fool to threaten O'Brien. I had been nobly indignant, and behold! I had a sack thrown over my head for my pains, and was put away safely somewhere or other. It seemed to be a cellar.

I was in search of romance, and here were all the elements; Spaniards, a conspirator, and a kidnaping; but I couldn't feel a fool and romantic as well. True romance, I suppose, needs a whirl of emotions to extinguish all the senses except that of sight, which it dims. Except for sight, which I hadn't at all, I had the use of them all, and all reported unpleasant things.

I ached and smarted with my head in a sack, with my mouth full of flour that had gone moldy and offended my nostrils; I had a sense of ignominy, and I was extremely angry; I could see that the old Don was in his dotage—but Carlos I was bitter against.

I was not really afraid ; I could not suppose that the Riegos would allow me to be murdered or seriously maltreated. But I was incensed against Fate or Chance or whatever it is—on account of the ignominious details, the coarse sack, the moldy flour, the stones of the tunnel that had barked my shins, the tightness of the ropes that bound my ankles together, and seemed to cut into my wrists behind my back.

I waited, and my fury grew in a dead silence. How would it end—with what outrage? I would show my contempt and preserve my dignity by submitting without a struggle-I despised this odious plot. At last there were voices, footsteps; I found it very hard to carry out my resolution and refrain from stifled cries and kicks. I was lifted up and carried, like a corpse, with many stumbles, by men who sometimes growled as they hastened along. From time to time somebody murmured

Take care.

Then I was deposited into a boat. The world seemed to be swaying,

« PreviousContinue »