« PreviousContinue »
regular crashing under the feet of a smuggling band was the last shore sound of my country I had heard. For Carlos it was the concrete image of stability, with the romantic feeling of its peace and of Veronica's beauty; the unchangeable land where he had loved. To O'Brien's hate it loomed up immense and odious, like the form of the colossal enemy. Father Antonio, in the naive benevolence of his heart, prayed each night for its conversion, as if it were a loved sinner. He believed this event to be not very far off accomplishment, and told me once, with an amazing simplicity of certitude, that "there will be a great joy amongst the host of heaven on that day." It is marvelous how that distant land, from which I had escaped as if from a prison to go in search of romance, appeared romantic and perfect in these days—all things to all men! With Seraphina I talked of it and its denizens as of a fabulous country. I wonder what idea she had formed of my father, of my mother, my sister—"Senora Dona Veronica Rooksby," she called her—of the landscape, of the life, of the sky. Her eyes turned to me seriously. Once, stooping, she plucked an orange marigold for her hair; and at last we came to talk of our farm as of the only perfect refuge for her.
NE evening Carlos, after a silence of distress, had said,
There's nothing else for it. When the crisis comes, you
must carry her off from this unhappiness and misery that hangs over her head. You must take her out of Cuba; there is no safety for her here."
This took my breath away. But where are we to go, Carlos? ” I asked, bending over him.
"To—to England," he whispered.
He was utterly worn out that evening by all the perplexities of his death-bed. He made a great effort, and murmured a few words more about the Spanish ambassador in London being a near relation of the Riegos; then he gave it up and lay still under my amazed eyes. The nun was approaching, alarmed, from the shadows. Father Antonio, gazing sadly upon his beloved penitent, signed me to withdraw.
Castro had not gone away yet; he greeted me in low tones outside the big door.
Senor," he went on, I make my report usually to his Senoria Don Carlos; only I have not been admitted to-day into his rooms at all. But what I have to say is for your ear, also. There has arrived a friar from a Havana convent amongst the Lugareños of the bay. I have known him come like this before."
I remembered that in the morning, while dressing, I had glanced out of the narrow outside window of my room, and had seen a brown, mounted figure passing on the sands. Its sandaled feet dangled against the flanks of a powerful mule.
Castro shook his head. “ Malediction on his green eyes! He baptizes the offspring of this vermin sometimes, and sits for hours in the shade before the door of Domingo's posada telling his beads as piously as a devil that had turned monk for the greater undoing of us Christians. These women crowd there to kiss his oily paw. What else they— Basta! Only I wanted to tell you, senor,
that this evening (I just come from taking a pasear that way) there is much talk in the villages of an evil-intentioned heretic that has introduced himself into this our town; of an Inglez hungry for men to hang—of you, in short."
The moon, far advanced in its first quarter, threw an ashen, bluish light upon one-half of the courtyard; and the straight shadow upon the other seemed to lie at the foot of the columns, black as a broad stroke of Indian ink.
And what do you think of it, Castro?" I asked. "I think that Domingo has his orders. Manuel has made a song already. And do you know its burden, senor? Killing is its burden. I would the devil had all the Improvisadores. They gape round him while he twangs and screeches, the wind-bag! And he knows what words to sing to them, too. He has talent. Maladetta!” Well, and what do
advise? “I advise the senor to keep, now, within the Casa. No songs can give that vermin the audacity to seek the senor here. The gate remains barred; the firearms are always loaded; and Cesar is a sagacious African. But methinks this moon would fall out of the heaven first before they would dare. Keep to the Casa, I say —I, Tomas Castro."
He flung the corner of his cloak over his left shoulder, and preceded me to the door of my room; then, after a “God guard you, senor," continued along the colonnade. Before I had shut my door it occurred to me that he was going on towards the part of the gallery on which Seraphina's apartments opened. Why? What could he want there?
I am not so much ashamed of my sudden suspicion of him—one did not know whom to trust—but I am a little ashamed to confess that, kicking off my shoes, I crept out instantly to spy upon him.
This part of the house was dark in the inky flood of shadow; and before I had come to a recess in the wall, I heard the discreet scratching of a finger-nail on a door. A streak of light darted and disappeared, like a signal for the murmurs of two voices.
I recognized the woman's at once. It belonged to one of Seraphina's maids, a pretty little quadroon—a favorite of hers—caller La Chica. She had slipped out, and her twitter-like whispering reached me in the still solemnity of the quadrangle. She addressed Castro as " His Worship" at every second word, for the saturnine little
man, in his unbrushed cloak and battered hat, was immensely respected by the household. Had he not been sent to Europe to fetch Don Carlos? He was in the confidence of the masterstheir humble friend. The little tire-woman twittered of her mistress. The senorita had been most anxious all day—ever since she had heard the friar had come. Castro muttered:
"Tell the Excellency that her orders have been obeyed. The English caballero has been warned. I have been sleepless in my watchfulness over the guest of the house, as the senorita has desired—for the honor of the Riegos. Let her set her mind at ease."
The girl then whispered to him with great animation. Did not his worship think that it was the senorita's heart which was not at ease ?
Then the quadrangle became dumb in its immobility, half sheen, half night, with its arcades, the soothing plash of water, with its expiring lights, in a suggestion of Castilian severity, enveloped by the exotic softness of the air.
"What folly!" uttered Castro's somber voice. "You women do not mind how many corpses come into your imaginings of love. The mere whisper of such a thing
— She murmured swiftly. He interrupted her.
"Thy eyes, La Chica—thy eyes see only the silliness of thine own heart. Think of thine own lovers, nina. For Dios!”—he changed to a tone of severe appreciation—"thy foolish face looks well by moonlight."
I believe he was chucking her gravely under the chin. I heard her soft, gratified cooing in answer to the compliment; the streak of light flashed on the polished shaft of a pillar; and Castro went on, going round to the staircase, evidently so as not to pass again before my open door.
I forgot to shut it. I did not stop until I was in the middle of my room; and then I stood still for a long time in a self-forgetful ecstasy, while the many wax candles of the high candelabrum burned without a ficker in a rich cluster of flames, as if lighted to throw the splendor of a celebration upon the pageant of my thoughts.
For the honor of the Riegos!
I came to myself. Well, it was sweet to be the object of her anxiety and care, even on these terms—on any terms. And I felt a sort of profound, inexpressible, grateful emotion, as though no one, never, on no day, on no occasion, had taken thought of me before.
I should not be able to sleep. I went to the window, and leaned my forehead on the iron bar. There was no glass; the heavy shutter was thrown open; and, under the faint crescent of the moon I saw a small part of the beach, very white, the long streak of light lying mistily on the bay, and two black shapes, cloaked, moving and stopping all of a piece like pillars, their immensely long shadows running away from their feet, with the points of the hats touching the wall of the Casa Riego. Another, a shorter, thicker shape, appeared, walking with dignity. It was Castro. The other two had a movement of recoil, then took off their hats.
“ Buenas noches, caballeros," his voice said, with grim politeness. You are out late."
"So is your worship. Vaya, senor, con Dios. We are taking the air."
They walked away, while Castro remained looking after them. But I, from my elevation, noticed that they had suddenly crouched behind some scrubby bushes growing on the edge of the sand. Then Castro, too, passed out of my sight in the opposite direction, muttering angrily.
I forgot them all. Everything on earth was still, and I seemed to be looking through a casement out of an enchanted castle standing in the dreamland of romance.
I breathed out the name of Seraphina into the moonlight in an increasing transport.
"Seraphina! Seraphina! Seraphina!"
"Seraphina!" I cried aloud, and stopped, astounded at myself. And the moonlight of romance seemed to whisper spitefully from below:
"Death to the traitor! Vengeance for our brothers dead on the English gallows!”