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all of us," he said shamefacedly; and his bass, half-concealed mutter was quite as sweet to my ears as a celestial melody; it was, after all, the sanction of simple earnestness to my desires and hopes— a witness that he and his like were on my side in the world of Romance.
"Well, go forward now, Mike," Sebright said, as I took the pistol.
"It's a blessing to talk to one's own people," I said, expansively, to him. "He's a fine fellow." I stuck the pistol in my belt. "I trust I shall never need to use barrel or butt again, as long as I live."
"A very sensible wish," Sebright answered, with a sort of reserve of meaning in his tone; "especially as on board here we couldn't find you a single pinch of powder for a priming. Do you notice the consort we have this morning?"
"What do I want with powder?" I asked. "Do you mean that?" I pointed to the white sail of the schooner. Sebright, looking hard at me, nodded several times.
"We sighted her as soon as day broke. D'you know what she means?"
I said I supposed she was a coaster.
"It means, most likely, that the fellow with the curls that made me think of my maiden aunt, has managed to keep his horse-face above water." He meant Manuel-del-Popolo. "What mischief he may do yet before he runs his head into a noose, it's hard to say. The old Spaniard you brought with you thinks he has already been busy—for no good, you may be sure."
"You mean that's one of the Rio schooners?" I asked quickly.
That, with all its consequent troubles for me, was what he did mean. He said I might take his word for it that, with the winds we had had, no craft working along the coast could be just there now unless she came out of Rio Medio. There was a calm almost up to sunrise, and it looked as if they had towed her out with boats before daylight. ..." Seems a rather unlikely bit of exertion for the lazy brutes; but if they are as much afraid of that confounded Irishman as you say they are, that would account for their energy."
They would steal and do murder simply for the love of God, but it would take the fear of a devil to make them do a bit of honest work—and pulling an oar was honest work, no matter why it was done. This was the combined wisdom of Sebright and of Tomas Castro, with whom he had been in consultation. As to the fear of the devil, O'Brien was very much like a devil, an efficient substitute. And there was certainly somebody or something to make them bestir themselves like this. . . .
Before my mind arose a scene: Manuel, the night before, pulled out of the water into a boat—raging, half-drowned, eloquent, inspired. The contemptible beast was inspired, as a politician is, a demagogue. He could sway his fellows, as I had heard enough to know. And I felt a slight chill on the warmth of my hope, because that bright sail, brilliantly and furtively dodging along in our wake, must be the product of Manuel's inspiration, urged to perseverance by the fear of O'Brien. The mate continued, staring knowingly at it:
"You know I am putting two and two together, like the old maids that come to see my aunt when they want to take away a woman's character. The Dagos are out, and no mistake. The question is, Why? You must know whether those schooners can sail anything; but don't forget the old Lion is pretty smart. Is it likely they'll attempt the ship again?"
I negatived that at once. I explained to Sebright that the store of ammunition in Rio Medio would not run to it; that the Lugarenos were cowardly, divided by faction, incapable, by themselves, of combining for any length of time, and still less of following a plan requiring perseverance and hardihood.
"They can't mean anything in the nature of open attack," I affirmed. "They may have attempted something of the sort in Nichols' time, but it isn't in their nature."
Sebright said that was practically Castro's opinion, too—except that Castro had emphasized his remarks by spitting all the time, "like an old tomcat. He seems a very spiteful man, with no great love for you, Mr. Kemp. Do you think it safe to have him about you? What are all these grievances of his?"
Castro seemed to have spouted his bile like a volcano, and had rather confused Sebright. He had said much about being a friend of the Spanish lord—Carlos; and that now he had no place on earth to hide his head.
"As far as I could make out, he's wanted in England," said Sebright, " for some matter of a stolen watch, years ago in Liverpool, I think. And your cousin, the grandee, was mixed up in that, too. That sounds funny; you didn't tell us about that. Damme if he didn't seem to imply that you, too. . . . But you have never been in Liverpool. Of course not. . . ."
But that had not been precisely Castro's point. He had affirmed he had enemies in Spain; he shuddered at the idea of going to France, and now my English fancifulness had made it impossible for him to live in Rio Medio, where he had had the care of a good padrona.
"I suppose he means a landlady," Sebright chuckled. "Old but good, he says. He expected to die there in peace, a good Christian. And what's that about the priests getting hold of his very last bit of silver? I must say that sounded truest of all his rigmarole. For the salvation of his soul, I suppose?"
"No, my cousin's soul," I said gloomily.
"Humbugs. I only understood one word in three."
Just then Tomas himself stalked into sight among the men forward. Coming round the corner of the deck-house, he stopped at the galley door like a crow outside a hut, waiting. We watched him getting a light for his cigarette at the galley door with much dignified pantomime. The negro cook of the Lion, holding out to him in the doorway a live coal in a pair of tongs, turned his Ethiopian face and white ivories towards a group of sailors lost in the contemplation of the proceedings. And, when Castro had passed them, spurting jets of smoke, they swung about to look after his short figure, upon whose draped blackness the sunlight brought out reddish streaks as if bucketfuls of rusty water had been thrown over him from hat to toe. The end of his broken plume hung forward aggressively.
"Look how the fellow struts! Night and thunder! Hey, Don Tenebroso! Would your worship hasten thither. . . ." Sebright hailed jocularly.
Castro, without altering his pace, came up to us.
"What do you think of her now?" asked Sebright, pointing ti the strange sail. "She's grown a bit plainer, now she is out of the glare."
Castro, wrapping his chin, stood still, face to the sea. After a long while:
"Malediction," he pronounced slowly, and without moving his head shot a sidelong glance at me.
"It's clear enough how he feels about our friends over there. Malediction. Just so. Very proper. But it seems as though he had a bone to pick with all the world," drawled Sebright, a little sleepily. Then, resuming his briskness, he bantered, " So you don't want to go to England, Mr. Castro? No friends there? Sus. per col., and that sort of thing?"
Castro, contemptuous, staring straight away, nodded impatiently.
"But this gentleman you are so devoted to is going to England —to his friends."
Castro's arms shook under the mantle falling all round him straight from the neck. His whole body seemed convulsed. From his puckered dark lips issued a fiendish and derisive squeal.
"Let his friends beware, then. For Dios! Let them beware. Let them pray and fast, and beg the intercession of the saints. Hal ha! ha! ..."
Nothing could have been more unlike his saturnine self-centered truculence of restraint. He impressed me; and even Sebright's steady, cool eyes grew perceptibly larger before this sarcastic fury. Castro choked; the rusty, black folds encircling him shook and heaved. Unexpectedly he thrust out in front of the cloak one yellow, dirty little hand, side by side with the bright end of his fixed blade.
"What do I hear? To England! Going to England! Ha! Then let him hasten there straight! Let him go straight there, I say—I, Tomas Castro!"
He lowered his tone to impress us more, and the point of the knife, as it were an emphatic forefinger, tapped the open palm forcibly. Did we think that a man was not already riding along the coast to Havana on a fast mule?—the very best mule from the stables of Don Balthasar himself—that murdered saint. The Captain-General had no such mules. His late excellency owned a sugar estate halfway between Rio Medio and Havana, and a relay of riding mules was kept there for quickness when his excellency of holy memory found occasion to write his commands to the capital. The news of our escape would reach the Juez next day at the latest. Manuel would take care of that—unless he were drowned. But he could swim like a fish. Malediction!
"I cried out to you to kill! " he addressed me directly; "with all my soul I cried. And why? Because he had seen you and the senorita, too, alas! He should have been made dumb—made dumb with your pistol, senor, since those two stupid English mariners were too much for an old man like me. Manuel should have been made dumb—dumb forever, I say. What mattered he—that gutter-born offspring of an evil Gitana, whom I have seen, senor! I, myself, have seen her in the days of my adversity in Madrid, senor—a red flower behind the ear, clad in rags that did not cover all her naked skin, looking on while they fought for her with knives in a wine-shop full of beggars and thieves. Si, senor. That's his mother. Improvisador—politico—capataz. Ha. . . . Dirt!"
He made a gesture of immense contempt.
"What mattered he? The coach would have returned from the cathedral, and the Casa Riego could have been held for days —and who could have known you were not inside. I had conversed earnestly with Cesar the major-domo—an African, it is true, but a man of much character and excellent sagacity. Ah,
Manuel! Manuel! If I But the devil himself fathers the
children of such mothers. I am no longer in possession of my first vigor, and you, senor, have all the folly of your nation . . ."
He bared his grizzled head to me loftily.
". . . And the courage! Doubtless, that is certain. It is well. You may want it all before long, senor . . . And the courageI "
The broken plume swept the deck. For a time he blinked his creased, brown eyelids in the sun, then pulled his hat low down over his brows, and, wrapping himself up closely, turned away from me to look at the sail to leeward.
"What an old, old, wrinkled, little, puffy beggar he is!" ob