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the great Don, and because he is for a few days given the command. I ask you, señor, what is the radical difference between me, the sailing captain of this vessel, and him, the fighting captain for a few days. Is it not I that am, as it were, the brains of it, and he only its knife? I ask the Señor Caballero.”
I didn't in the least know what to answer. His great eyes wistfully explored my face. I expect I looked bewildered.
“I lay my case at your feet,” he continued. “You are to be our chief leader, and, on account of your illustrious birth and renowned intelligence, will occupy a superior position in the council of the notables. Is it not so ? Has not the Señor Juez O'Brien so ordained? You will give ear to me, you will alleviate my indignant sufferings?” He implored me with his eyes for a long time.
Manuel-del-Popolo, as he called himself, pushed the hair back from his forehead. I had noticed that the love-locks were plaited with black braid, and that he wore large dirty silk ruffles.
“The caballero," he continued, marking his words with a long, white finger atap on the table, “will represent my views to the notables. My position at present, as I have had the honor to observe, is become unbearable. Consider, too, how your worship and I would work together. What lightness for you and me. You will find this Castro unbearably gross. But I-I assure you I am a man of taste an improvisador—an artist. My songs are celebrated. And yet! ..."
He folded his arms again, and waited; then he said, employing his most impressive voice:
“I have influence with the men of Rio. I could raise a riot. We Cubans are a jealous people; we do not love that foreigners should take our best from us. We do not love it; we will not suffer it. Let this Castro bethink himself and go in peace, leaving us and our ladies. As the proverb says, 'It is well to build a bridge for a departing enemy.'”
He began to peer at me more wistfully, and his eyes grew more luminous than ever. This man, in spite of his grotesqueness, was quite in earnest, there was no doubting that.
“I have a gentle spirit,” he began again, “a gentle spirit. I am submissive to the legitimate authorities. What the Señor Juez
O'Brien asks me to do, I do. I would put a knife into anyone who inconvenienced the Señor Juez O'Brien, who is a good Catholic; we would all do that, as is right and fitting. But this Castro this Andalou, who is nearly as bad as a heretic! When my day comes, I will have his arms flayed and the soles of his feet, and I
love foreigners will applaud. And I will stick little thorns under his tongue, and I will cut off his eyelids with little scissors, and set him facing the sun. Caballero, you would love me; I have a gentle spirit. I am a pleasant companion.” He rose and squeezed round the table. “Listen ”—his eyes lit up with rapture—“you shall hear me. It is divine-ah, it is very pleasant, you will say.”
He seized his mandolin, slung it round his neck, and leant against the bulkhead. The bright light from the port-hole gilded the outlines of his body, as he swayed about and moved his long fingers across the strings; they tinkled metallically. He sang in a nasal voice:
• Listen!' the young girls say as they hasten to the barred window, • Listen! Ah, surely that is the guitar of Man-u-el-del-Popolo, As he glides along the wall in the twilight.””
It was a very long song. He gesticulated freely with his hand in between the scratching of the strings, which seemed to be a matter of luck. His eyes gazed distantly at the wall above my head. The performance bewildered and impressed me; I wondered if this was what they had carried me off for. It was like being mad. He made a decresendo tinkling, and his lofty features lapsed into their normal mournfulness.
At that moment Castro put his face round the door, then entered altogether. He sighed in a satisfied manner, and had an air of having finished a laborious undertaking.
“We have arranged the confusion up above,” he said to Manueldel Popolo; "you may go and see to the sailing. ... Hurry; it is growing late."
Manuel blazed silently, and stalked out of the door as if he had an electric cloud round his head. Tomas Castro turned towards me.
. “You are better?” he asked benevolently. “You exerted yourself too much. ... But still, if you liked— ” He picked up the mandolin, and began negligently scratching the strings. I noticed an alteration in him; he had grown softer in the flesh in the past years; there were little threads of gray in the knotted curls of his beard. It was as if he had lived well, on the whole. He bent his head over the strings, plucked one, tightened a peg, plucked it again, then set the instrument on the table, and dropped onto the mattress. “Will you have some rum?” he said. “You have grown broad and strong, like a bull. ... You made those men fly, sacré nom d'une pipe. ... One would have thought you were in earnest. ... Ah, well!” He stretched himself at length on the mattress, and closed his eyes.
I looked at him to discover traces of irony. There weren't any. He was talking quietly; he even reproved me for having carried the pretense of resistance beyond a joke.
“You fought too much; you struck many men—and hard. You will have made enemies. The picaros of this dirty little town are as conceited as pigs. You must take care, or you will have a knife in your back.”
He lay with his hands crossed on his stomach, which was round like a pudding. After a time he opened his eyes, and looked at the dancing white reflection of the water on the grimy ceiling.
“To think of seeing you again, after all these years,” he said. “I did not believe my ears when Don Carlos asked me to fetch you like this. Who would have believed it? But, as they say," he added philosophically, “ “ The water flows to the sea, and the little stones find their places.'” He paused to listen to the sounds that came from above. “That Manuel is a fool,” he said without rancor; “he is mad with jealousy because for this day I have command here. But, all the same, they are dangerous pigs, these slaves of the Señor O'Brien. I wish the town were rid of them. One day there will be a riot-a function with their jealousies and madness.”
I sat and said nothing, and things fitted themselves together, little patches of information going in here and there like the pieces of a puzzle map. O'Brien had gone on to Havana in the ship from which I had escaped, to render an account of the pirates that had
been hung at Kingston; the Riegos had been landed in boats at Rio Medio, of course.
“That poor Don Carlos ! ” Castro moaned lamentably. “They had the barbarity to take him out in the night, in that raw fog. He coughed and coughed; it made me faint to hear him. He could not even speak to me—his Tomas; it was pitiful. He could not speak when we got to the Casa.”
I could not really understand why I had been a second time kidnaped. Castro said that O'Brien had not been unwilling that I should reach Havana. It was Carlos that had ordered Tomas to take me out of the Breeze. He had come down in the raw morning, before the schooner had put out from behind the point, to impress very elaborate directions upon Tomas Castro; indeed, it was whilst talking to Tomas that he had burst a blood vessel.
“He said to me: ‘Have a care now. Listen. He is my dear friend, that Señor Juan. I love him as if he were my only brother. Be very careful, Tomas Castro. Make it appear that he comes to us much against his will. Let him be dragged on board by many men. You are to understand, Tomas, that he is a youth of noble family, and that you are to be as careful of compromising him as you are of the honor of Our Lady.'”.
Tomas Castro looked across at me. “You will be able to report well of me," he said; “I did my best. If you are compromised, it was you who did it by talking to me as if you knew me.”
I remembered, then, that Tomas certainly had resented my seeming to recognize him before Cowper and Lumsden. He closed his eyes again. After a time he added:
“Vaya! After all, it is foolishness to fear being compromised. You would never believe that his Excellency Don Balthasar had led a riotous life-to look at him with his silver head. It is said he had three friars killed once in Seville, a very, very long time ago. It was dangerous in those days to come against our Mother, the Church.” He paused, and undid his shirt, laying bare an incredibly hairy chest; then slowly kicked off his shoes. “One stifles here,” he said. “Ah! in the old days "
Suddenly he turned to me and said, with an air of indescribable interest, as if he were gloating over an obscene idea:
"So they would hang a gentleman like you, if they caught you? What savages you English people are !-what savages! Like cannibals! You did well to make that comedy of resisting. Quel