Page images
PDF
EPUB

away a few steps, then, charging back at once, gripped me round the body, and tried to lift me off my feet. We fell together into a warm puddle.

I had no idea spilt blood kept its warmth so much. And the quantity of it was appalling; the deck seemed to swim with gore, and we simply weltered in it. We rolled rapidly along the reeking scuppers, amongst the feet of a lot of men who were hopping about us in the greatest excitement, the hearty thuds of blows, aimed with all sorts of weapons, just missing my head. The pistol was kicked out of my hand.

The horror of my position was very great. Must I kill the man? must I die myself in this miserable and senseless manner? I tried to shout, " Drag this maniac off me."

He was pinning my arms to my body. I saw the furious faces bending over me, the many hands murderously uplifted. They, of course, couldn't tell that I wasn't one of the men who had boarded them, and my life had never been in such jeopardy. I felt all the fury of rage and mortification. Was I to die like this, villainously trodden underfoot, on the threshold of safety, of liberty, of love? And, in those moments of violent struggle I saw, as one sees in moments of wisdom and meditation, my soul—all life, lying under the shadow of a perfidious destiny. And Seraphina was there in the boat, waiting for me. The sea! The boat! They were in another land, and I, I should no more . . . never any more. ... A sharp voice called, " Back there, men. Steady. Take him alive." They dragged me up.

I needn't relate by what steps, from being terribly handled as a captive, I was promoted to having my arms shaken off in the character of a savior. But I got any amount of praise at last, though I was terribly out of breath—at the very last gasp, as you might say. A man, smooth-faced, well-knit, very elated and buoyant, began talking to me endlessly. He was mighty happy, and anyhow he could talk to me, because I was past doing anything but taking a moment's rest. He said I had come in the nick time, and was quite the best of fellows.

"If you had a fancy to be called the Archbishop of Canterbury, we'd 'your Grace ' you. I am the mate, Sebright. The captain's gone in to show himself to the missus; she wouldn't like to have him too much chipped. . . . Wonderful is the love of woman. She sat up a bit later to-night with her fancy-sewing to see what might turn up. I told her at tea-time she had better go in early and shut her stateroom door, because if any of the Dagos chanced to come aboard, I couldn't be responsible for the language of my crowd. We are supposed to keep clear of profanity this trip, she being a niece of Mr. Perkins of Bristol, our owner, and a Methodist. But, hang it all, there's reason in all things. You can't have a ship like a chapel—though she would. Oh, bless you, she would, even when we're beating off these picaroons."

I was sitting on the afterhatch, and leaning my head on my arms.

"Feel bad? Do you? Handled you like a bag of shakings. Well, the boys got their monkey up, hammering the Dagos. Here you, Mike, go look along the deck, for a double-barreled pistol. Move yourself a bit. Feel along under the spars."

There was something authoritative and knowing in his personality; boyishly elated and full of business.

"We must put the ship to rights. You don't think they'd come back for another taste? The blessed old deck's afloat. That's my little dodge, boiling water for these Dagos, if they come. So I got the cook to fire up, and we put the suction-hose of the fire pump into the boiler, and we filled the coppers and the kettles. Not a bad notion, eh? But ten times as much wouldn't have been enough, and the hose burst at the third stroke, so that only one boat got anything to speak of. But Lord, she dropped out of the ruck as if she'd been swept with langridge. Squealed like a litter of pigs, didn't they?"

What I had taken for blood had been the water from the burst hose. I must say I was relieved. My new friend bubbled any amount of joyous information into me before I quite got my wind back. He rubbed his hands and clapped me on the shoulder. But his heart was kind, and he became concerned at my collapsed state. "I say, you don't think my chaps broke some of your ribs, do you? Let me feel."

And then I managed to tell him something of Seraphina that he would listen to.

"What, what? " he said. "Oh, heavens and earth! there's your girl. Of course. . . . Hey, bo'sun, rig a whip and chair on the yardarm to take a lady on board. Bear a hand. A lady! yes, a lady. Confound it, don't lose your wits, man. Look over the starboard rail, and you will see a lady alongside with a Dago in a small boat. Let the Dago come on board, too; the gentleman here says he's a good sort. Now, do you understand?"

He talked to me a good deal more; told me that they had made a prisoner—" a tall, comical chap; wears his hair like an old aunt of mine, a bunch of curls flapping on each side of his face "—and then said that he must go and report to Captain Williams, who had gone into his wife's stateroom. The name struck me. I said:

"Is this ship the Lion?"

"Aye, aye. That's her. She is," several seamen answered together, casting curious glances from their work.

"Tell your captain my name is Kemp," I shouted after Sebright with what strength of lung I had.

What luck! Williams was the jolly little ship's captain I was to have dined with on the day of execution on Kingston Point— the day I had been kidnaped. It seemed ages ago. I wanted to get to the side to look after Seraphina, but I simply couldn't remember how to stand. I sat on the hatch, looking at the seamen.

They were clearing the ropes, collecting the lamps, picking up knives, handspikes, crowbars, swabbing the decks with squashy flaps. A bare-footed, barearmed fellow, holding a bundle of brasshiked cutlasses under his arm, had lost himself in the contemplation of my person.

"Where are you bound to? " I inquired at large, and everybody showed a friendly alacrity in answer.

"Havana.0 "Havana, sir." "Havana's our next port. Aye, Havana."

The deck rang with modulations of the name.

I heard a loud, "Alas," sighed out behind me. A distracted, stricken voice repeated twice in Spanish, "Oh, my greatness; oh, my greatness." Then, shiveringly, in a tone of profound selfcommunion, " I have a greatly parched throat," it said. Harshly jovial voices answered:

"Stow your lingo and come before the captain. Step along."

A prisoner, conducted aft, stalked reluctantly into the light between two short, bustling sailors. Disheveled black hair like a damaged peruke, mournful, yellow face, enormous stag's eyes straining down on me. I recognized Manuel-del-Popolo. At the same moment he sprang back, shrieking, " This is a miracle of the devil—of the devil."

The sailors fell to tugging at his arms savagely, asking, " What's come to you?" and, after a short struggle that shook his tatters and his raven locks tempestuously like a gust of wind, he submitted to be walked up; repeating:

"Is it you, senor? Is it you? Is it you?"

One of his shoulders was bare from neck to elbow; at every step one of his knees and part of a lean thigh protruded their nakedness through a large rent; a strip of grimy, blood-stained linen, torn right down to the waist, dangled solemnly in front of his legs. There was a horrible raw patch amongst the roots of his hair just above his temple; there was blood in his nostrils, the stamp of excessive anguish on his features, a sort of guarded despair in his eye. His voice sank while he said again, twice:

"Is it you? Is it you?" And then, for the last time, " Is it you? " he repeated in a whisper.

The seamen formed a wide ring, and, looking at me, he talked to himself confidentially.

"Escaped—the Inglez! Then thou art doomed, Domingo. Domingo, thou art doomed. Dom . . . Senor!"

The change of tone, his effort to extend his hands towards me, surprised us all. I looked away.

"Hold hard! Hold him, mate!"

"Senor, condescend to behold my downfall. I am led here to the slaughter, senor! To the slaughter, senor! Pity! Grace! Mercy! And only a short while ago—behold. Slaughter . . . I ... Manuel. Senor, I am universally admired—with a parched throat, senor. I could compose a song that would make a priest weep. ... A greatly parched throat, senor," he added piteously.

I could not help turning my head. I had not been used half as hard as he. It was enough to look at him to believe in the dryness of his throat. Under the matted mass of his hair, he was grinning in amiable agony, and his globular eyes yearned upon me with a motionless and glassy luster.

"You have not forgotten me, senor? Forget Manuel! Impossible! Manuel, senor. For the love of God. Manuel. Manuel-del-Popolo. I did sing, deign to remember. I offered you my fidelity, senor. As you are a caballero, I charge you to remember. Save me, senor. Speak to those men. . . . For the sake of your honor, senor."

His voice was extraordinarily harsh—not his own. Apparently, he believed that he was going to be cut to pieces there and then by the sailors. He seemed to read it in their faces, shuddering and shrinking whenever he raised his eyes. But all these faces gaped with good-natured wonder, except the faces of his two guardians, and these expressed a state of conscientious worry. They were ridiculously anxious to suppress his sudden contortions, as one would some gross indecency. In the scuffle they hissed and swore under their breath. They were scandalized and made unhappy by his behavior.

"Are you ready down there? " roared the bo'sun in the waist.

"Olla raight! Olla raight! Waita a leetle," I heard Castro's voice coming, as if from under the ship. I said coldly a few words about the certain punishment awaiting a pirate in Havana, and got on to my feet stiffly. But Manuel was too terrified to understand what I meant. He attempted to snatch at me with his imprisoned hands, and got for his pains a severe jerking, which made his head roll about his shoulders weirdly.

"Pity, senor!" he screamed. And then, with low fervor, "Don't go away. Listen! I am profound. Perhaps the senor did not know that? Mercy! I am a man of intrigue. A politico. You have escaped, and I rejoice at it." . . . He bared his fangs, and frothed like a mad dog. ..." Senor, I am made happy because of the love I bore you from the first—and Domingo, who let you slip out of the Casa, is doomed. He is doomed. Thou art doomed, Domingo! But the excessive affection for your noble person inspires my intellect with a salutary combination. Wait, senor! A moment! An instant! . . . A combination! . . ."

He gasped as though his heart had burst. The seamen, openmouthed, were slowly narrowing their circle.

« PreviousContinue »