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“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,
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 flinch ; and, with a very dry mouth, I uttered defiantly:
Such talk means nothing."
Bravely said. But this is not talk. You've gone too fast. I am giving you a chance to turn back."
"Not an inch," I said fiercely. "Neither in thought, in deed; not even in semblance." He seemed as though he wanted to swallow a bone in his throat. Believe
me, there is more in life than you think. There is at your age, more than ... he had a strange contortion of the body, as though in a sudden access of internal pain; that humorous smile, that abode in the form of his lips, changed into a ghastly, forced grin
than one love in a life—more than one woman.
I believe he tried to leer at me, because his voice was absolutely: dying in his throat. My indignation was boundless. I cried out with the fire of deathless conviction.
“ It is not true. You know it is not true."
He was speechless for a time; then, shaking and stammering with that inward rage that seemed to heave like molten lava in his breast, without ever coming to the surface of his face:
"What! Is it I, then, who have to go back? For--for you a boy—come from devil knows where—an English, beggarly. For a girl's whim. . .
.. I—a man." He calmed down. "No; you are mad. You are dreaming. You don't know. You can't—you! You don't know what a man is; you with your calf-love a day old. How dare you look at me who have breathed for years in the very air? You fool--you little, wretched fool! For years sleeping, and waking, and working.
"And intriguing," I broke in, "and plotting, and deceivingfor years."
This calmed him altogether. "I am a man; you are but a boy; or else I would not have to tell you that your love "—he choked at the word “is to mine like—like
His eyes fell on a cut-glass water-ewer, and, with a convulsive sweep of his arm, he sent it flying far away from the table. It fell heavily, shattering itself with the unringing thud of a piece of ice.
He remained for some time with his eyes fixed on the table, and when he looked up at me it was with a sort of amused incredulity,
His tone was not resentful. He spoke in a business-like manner, a little contemptuously. I had only Don Carlos to thank for the position in which I found myself. What the "poor devil over there" expected from me, he, O'Brien, would not inquire. It was a ridiculous boy and girl affair. If those two—meaning Carlos and Seraphina—had not been so mighty clever, I should have been safe now in Jamaica jail, on a charge of treasonable practices. He seemed to find the idea funny. Well, anyhow, he had meant no worse by me than my own dear countrymen. When he, O'Brien, had found how absurdly he had been hoodwinked by Don Carlos —the poor devil—and misled by Ramon—he would make him smart for it, yet—all he had intended to do was to lodge me in Havana jail. On his word of honor.
"Me in jail!” I cried angrily. You—you would dare! On what charge? You could not. . .
“ You don't know what Pat O'Brien can do in Cuba." The little country solicitor came out in a flash from under the Spanish lawyer. Then he frowned slightly at me. "You being an Englishman, I would have had you taken up on a charge of stealing."
Blood rushed to my face. I lost control over myself. "Mr. O'Brien," I said, “I dare say you could have trumped up anything against me. You are a very great scoundrel."
"Why? Because I don't lie about my motives, as you all do? I would wish you to know that I would scorn to lie either to myself or to you."
I touched the haft of the sword on the table. It was lying with the point his way.
"I had been thinking," said I, in great heat, to propose to you that we should fight it out between us two, man to man,
rebel and traitor as you have been."
The devil you have!” he muttered.
But really you are too much of a Picaroon. I think the gallows should be your end."
I gave reins to my exasperation, because I felt myself hopelessly in his power. What he was driving at, I could not tell. I had an intolerable sense of being as much at his mercy as though I had been lying bound hand and foot on the floor. It gave me pleasure to tell him what I thought. And, perhaps, I was not quite candid, either. Suppose I provoked him enough to fire his pistol at me. He had been fingering the butt, absently, as we talked. He might have missed me, and then. ... Or he might have shot me dead. But surely there was some justice in Cuba. It was clear enough that he did not wish to kill me himself. Well, this was a desperate strait; to force him to do something he did not wish to do, even at the cost of my own life, was the only step left open to me to thwart his purpose; the only thing I could do just then for the furtherance of my mission to save Seraphina from his intrigues. I was oppressed by the misery of it all. As to killing him as he stood—if I could do it by being very quick with the old rapier —my bringing up, my ideas, my very being, recoiled from it. I had never taken a life. I was very young. I was not used to scenes of violence; and to begin like this in cold blood! Not only my conscience, but my very courage faltered. Truth to tell, I was afraid; not for myself—I had the courage to die; but I was afraid of the act. It was the unknown for me- —for my nerve—for my conscience. And then the Spanish gallows! That, too, revolted me. To kill him, and then kill myself. . No, I must live. "Two lives, one death," she had said. For a second or two my brain reeled with horror; I was certainly losing my selfpossession. His voice broke upon that nightmare.
"It may be your lot, yet," it said.
I burst into a nervous laugh. For a moment I could not stop myself.
"I won't murder you," I cried.
It sounded like a joke. He was very serious. "I shall send one of the schooners there on a little affair of mine. I can make use of you. I give you this chance."
It was as though he had thrown a bucketful of water over me. I had an inward shiver, and became quite cool. It was his turn now to let himself go.
It was a matter of delivering certain papers to the Spanish Commandant in Timaulipas. There would be some employment found for me with the Royal troops. I was a relation of the Riegos. And there came upon his voice a strange ardor; a swiftness into his utterance. He walked away from the table; came back, and
He was not prompted by any love for me, he said, and had an uncertain laugh.
My wits had returned to me wholly; and as he repeated “No love for you—no love for you," I had the intuition that what influenced him was his love for Seraphina. I saw it. I read it in the workings of his face. His eyes retained his good-humored twinkle. He did not attach any importance to a boy and girl affair; not at all—pah! The lady, naturally young, warmhearted, full of kindness. I mustn't think. Ha, ha! A man of his age, of course, understood. .. No importance at all.
He walked away from the table trying to snap his fingers, and, suddenly, he reeled; he reeled, as though he had been overcome by the poison of his jealousy—as though a thought had stabbed him to the heart. There was an instant when the sight of that man moved me more than anything I had seen of passionate suffering before (and that was nothing), or since. He longed to kill me —I felt it in the very air of the room; and he loved her too much to dare. He laughed at me across the table. I had ridiculously misunderstood a very proper and natural kindness of a girl with not much worldly experience. He had known her from the earliest childhood.
"Take my word for it," he stammered.
It seemed to me that there were tears in his eyes. A stiff smile was parting his lips. He took up the pistol, and evidently not knowing anything about it, looked with an air of curiosity into the barrel.
It was time to think of making my career. That's what I ought to be thinking of at my age. At your age—at your age," he repeated aimlessly. I was an Englishman. He hated me—and it was easy to believe this, though he neither glared nor grimaced. He smiled. He smiled continuously and rather pitifully. But his devotion to a—a—person who. ... His devotion was great enough to overcome even that, even that. Did I understand ? I owed it to the lady's regard, which, for the rest, I had misunderstoodstupidly misunderstood.
"Well, at your age it's excusable!" he mumbled. "A career that ..
"I see," I said slowly. Young as I was, it was impossible to