« PreviousContinue »
esque aspect of her figure took on something of a transcendental grace; the unusual upward shadows invested her beauty with a new mystery of fascination. A minute passed. I could hear her rapid breathing above, and I stood up before her, holding both her hands.
"How very few days have we been together," she whispered. " Juan, I am ashamed."
"I did not count the days. I have known you always. I have dreamed of you since I can remember—for days, for months, a year, all my life."
The crash of a heavy door flung to, exploded, filling the galleries all round the patio with the sonorous reminder of our peril.
"Ah! We had forgotten."
I heard her voice, and felt her form in my arms. Her lips at my ear pronounced :
"Remember, Juan. Two lives, but one death only."
And she was gone so quickly that it was as though she had passed through the wood of the massive panels.
The Chica crouched on her knees. The lights on the floor burned before her empty stare, and with her bare shoulders the tone of old ivory emerging from the white linen, with the wisps of raven hair hanging down her cheeks, the abandonment of her whole person embodied every outward mark and line of desolation.
"What do you fear from him?" I asked.
She looked up; moved nearer to me on her knees. "I have a lover outside."
She seized her hair wildly, drew it across her face, tried to stuff handfuls of it into her mouth, as if to stop herself from shrieking.
"He shook his finger at me," she moaned.
Her terror, as incomprehensible as the emotion of an animal, was gaining upon me. I said sternly:
"What can he do, then?" "I don't know."
She did not know. She was like me. She feared for her love. Like myself! Was there anything in the way of our undoing which it was not in his power to achieve?
“ Try to be faithful to your mistress," I said, "and all may be well yet."
She made no answer, but staggered to her feet, and went away blindly through the door, which opened just wide enough to let her through. There were clouds on the sky. The patio, in its blackness, was like the rectangular mouth of a bottomless pit. I picked up the candlesticks, and lighted myself to my room, walking upon air, upon tempestuous air, in a feeling of insecurity and exultation.
The lights of my candelabrum had gone out. I stood the two candlesticks on a table, and the shadows of the room, uplifted above the two flames as high as the ceiling, filled the corners heavily like gathered draperies, descended to the foot of the four walls in the shape of a military tent, in which warlike objects vaguely gleamed: a trophy of ancient arequebuses and conquering swords, arranged with the bows, the spears, the stick and stone weapons of an extinct race, a war collar of shells or pebbles, a round wicker-work shield in a halo of arrows, with a matchlock piece on each side of the sort that had to be served by two men.
I had left the door of my room open on purpose, so that he should know I was back there, and ready for him. I took down a long straight blade, like a rapier, with a basket hilt. It was a cumbrous weapon, and with a blunt edge; still, it had a point, and I was ready to thrust and parry against the world. I called upon my foes. No enemy appeared, and by the light of two candles, with a sword in my hand, I lost myself in the foreshadowings of the future.
It was positive and uncertain. I wandered in it like a soul outside the gates of paradise, with an anticipation of bliss, and the pain of my exclusion. There was only one man in the way. I was certain he had been watching us across the blackness of the patio. He must have seen the dimly-lit dumbshow of our parting at Seraphina's door. I hoped he had understood, and that my shadow, bearing the two lights, had struck him as triumphant and undismayed, walking upon air. I strained my ears. I had heard. ...
Somebody was coming towards me along the silent galleries. It was he: I knew it. He was coming nearer and nearer. In the profound, tomb-like stillness of the great house, I had heard the sound of his footsteps on the tesselated pavement from afar. Now he had turned the corner, and the calm, strolling pace of his approach was enough to strike awe into an adversary's heart, It never hesitated, not once; never hurried; never slower till they stopped. He stood in the doorway.
I suppose, in that big room, by the light of two candles, I must have presented an impressive picture of a menacing youth all in black, with a tense face, and holding a naked, long rapier in his hand. At any rate, he stood still, eying me from the doorway, the picture of a dapper Spanish lawyer in a lofty frame; all in black, also, with a fair head and a well-turned leg advanced in a black silk stocking. He had taken off his riding boots. For the rest, I had never seen him dressed otherwise. There was no weapon in his hand, or at his side.
I lowered the point, and, seeing he remained on the doorstep, as if not willing to trust himself within, I said disdainfully:
"You don't suppose I would murder a defenseless man."
"Am I defenseless?" He had a slight lift of the eyebrows. "That is news, indeed. It is you who are supposing. I have been a very certain man for this many a year."
"How can you know how an English gentleman would feel and act? I am neither a murderer nor yet an intriguer."
He walked right in rapidly, and, getting round to the other side of the table, drew a small pistol out of his breeches pocket.
"You see—I am not trusting too much to your English generosity."
He laid the pistol negligently on the table. I had turned about on my heels. As we stood, by lunging between the two candlesticks, I should have been able to run him through the body before he could cry out.
I laid the sword on the table.
"You are wrong in your surmise. I would have nothing to do with a rebel, even in my thoughts and suppositions. I think that the Intendente of Don Balthasar Riego would look twice before murdering in a bedroom the guest of the house a relation, a friend of the family."
“That's sensible," he said, with that unalterable air of good nature, which sometimes was like the most cruel mockery of humor. "And do you think that even a relation of the Riegos would escape the scaffold for killing Don Patricio O'Brien, one of the Royal Judges of the Marine Court, member of the Council, Procurator to the Chapter. .. .
Intendente of the Casa," I threw in. "That's my gratitude," he said gravely. "So you see...." "Supreme chief of thieves and picaroons," I suggested again. He answered this by a gesture of disdainful superiority.
"I wonder if you—if any of you English—would have the courage to risk your all—ambition, pride, position, wealth, peace of mind, your dearest hope, your self-respect—like this. For an idea."
His tone, that revealed something exalted and sad behind everything that was sordid and base in the acts of that man's villainous tools, struck me with astonishment. I beheld, as an inseparable whole, the contemptible result, the childishness of his imagination, the danger of his recklessness, and something like loftiness in his pitiful illusion.
"Nothing's too hot, too dirty, too heavy. Any way to get at you English; any means. To strike! That's the thing. I would die happy if I knew I had helped to detach from you one island one little island of all the earth you have filched away, stolen, taken by force, got by lying. ... Don't taunt me with your taunts of thieves. What weapons better worthy of you could I use? Oh, I am modest. I am modest. This is a little thing, this Jamaica. What do I care for the Separationist blatherskite more than for the loyal fools? You are all English to me. If I had my way, your Empire would die of pin-pricks all over its big-overgrown body. Let only one bit drop off. If robbing your ships may help it, then, as you see me standing here, I am ready to go myself in a leaky boat. I tell you Jamaica's gone. And that may be the beginning of the end."
He lifted his arm not at me, but at England, if I may judge from his burning stare. It was not to me he was speaking. There we were, Irish and English, face to face, as it had been ever since we had met in the narrow way of the world that had never been big enough for the tribes, the nations, the races of man.
“Now, Mr. O'Brien, I don't know what you may do to me, but I won't listen to any of this," I said, very red in the face.
"Who wants you to listen?" he muttered absently, and went away from the table to look out of the loophole, leaving me there with the sword and the pistol.
Whatever he might have said of the scaffold, this was very imprudent of him. It was characteristic of the man—of that impulsiveness which existed in him side by side with his sagacity, with his coolness in intrigue, with his unmerciful and revengeful temper. By my own feelings I understood what an imprudence it was. But he was turning his back on me, and how could I? ... His imprudence was so complete that it made for security. He did not, I am sure, remember my existence. I would just as soon have jumped with a dagger upon a man in the dark.
He was really stirred to his depths—to the depths of his hate, and of his love—by seeing me, an insignificant youth (I was no more), surge up suddenly in his path. He turned where he stood at last, and contemplated me with a sort of thoughtful surprise, as though he had tried to account to himself for my existence.
"No," he said, to himself really, "I wonder when I look at you. How did you manage to get that pretty reputation over there? Ramon's a fool. He shall know it to his cost. But the ! craftiness of that Carlos! Or is it only my confounded willingness to believe?"
He was putting his finger nearly on the very spot. I said nothing.
"Why," he exclaimed, "when it's all boiled down, you are only an English beggar boy."
“ I've come to a man's estate since we had met last," I said meaningly.
He seemed to meditate over this. His face never changed, except, perhaps, to an even more amused benignity of expression.
"You have lived very fast by that account," he remarked artlessly. "Is it possible, now? Well, life, as you know, can't last forever; and, indeed, taking a better look at you in this poor light, you do seem to be very near death."
I did not Ainch; and, with a very dry mouth, I uttered defiantly: "Such talk means nothing."