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“ Castro! Castro! Castro!" he shouted twenty times, till he set the whole ravine in an uproar. He waited, and when the clamor had quieted down amongst the bushes below, called out softly, "Do you hear me, Castro, my victim? Thou art my victim, Castro."
Castro had crept into the passage after me. He pushed his head beyond my shoulder.
"I defy thee, Manuel," he screamed.
"Bravo, Castro," Manuel shouted from above. "I love thee because thou art my victim. I shall sing a song for thee. Come up. Hey! Castro! Castro! Come up. ... No? Then the dead to their grave, and the living to their feast."
Sometimes a little earth, detached from the layer of soil covering the rock, would fall streaming from above. The men told off to guard the cornice walked to and fro near the edge, and the confused murmur of voices hung subdued in the air of the cleft, like a modulated tremor. Castro, moaning gently, stumbled back into the cave.
Seraphina had remained sitting on the stone seat. The twi: light rested on her knees, on her face, on the heap of cold ashes at her feet. But Castro, who had stood stock-still, with a hand to his forehead, turned to me excitedly:
"The peons, por Dios!" Had I ever thought of the peons belonging to the estancia?
Well, that was a hope. I did not know exactly how matters stood between them and the Lugarenos. There was no love lost. A fight was likely; but, even if no actual collision took place, they would be sure to visit the camp above in no very friendly spirit; a chance might offer to make our position known to these men, who had no reason to hate either me or Castro—and would not be afraid of thwarting the miserable band of ghouls sitting above our grave. How our presence could be made known I was not sure. Perhaps simply by shouting with all our might from the mouth of the cave. We could offer rewards—say who we were, summon them for the service of their own senorita, But, probably, they had never heard of her. No matter. The news would soon reach the hacienda, and Enrico had two hundred slaves at his
ny sting awayeitude of a
back. One of us must always remain at the mouth of the cave listening to what went on above. There would be the trampling of horses' hoofs—quarreling, no doubt—anyway, much talknew voices—something to inform us. Only, how soon would they come? They were not likely to be riding where there were no cattle. Had Castro seen any signs of a herd on the uplands near by ?
His face fell. He had not. There were many savannas within the belt of forests, and the herds might be miles away, stampeded inland by the storm. Sitting down suddenly, as if overcome, he averted his eyes and began to scratch the rock between his legs with the point of his blade.
We were all silent. How long could we wait? How long could people live? ... I looked at Seraphina. How long could she live? ... The thought seared my heart like a hot iron I wrung my hands stealthily.
"Ha! my blade!” muttered Castro. "My sting. ... Old scorpion! They did not take my sting away. ... Only—bah!"
He, a man, had not risen to the fortitude of a venomous creature. He was defeated. He groaned profoundly. Life was too much. It clung to one. A scorpion—an insect—within a ring of flames, would lift its sting and stab venom into its own head. And he—Castro—a man—a man, por Dios—had less firmness than a creeping thing. Why—why, did he not stab this dishonored old heart?
"Senorita," he cried agonizingly, “I swear I did shout to them to fire—so—into my breast—and then. ..."
Seraphina leaned over him pityingly.
"Enough, Castro. One lives because of hope. And grieve not. Thy death would have done no good."
Her face had a splendid pallor, the radiant whiteness and majesty of marble; it had never before appeared to me more beautiful: and her hair unrolling its dark undulations, as if tinged deep with the funereal gloom of the background, covered her magnificently right down to her elbows. Her eyes were incredibly profound. Her person had taken on an indefinable beauty, a new beauty, that, like the comeliness that comes from joy, love, or success, seemed to rise from the depths of her being, as if an
unsuspected and somber quality of her soul had responded to the horror of our situation. The fierce trials had gradually developed her, as burning sunshine opens the bud of a flower; and I beheld her now in the plenitude of her nature. From time to time Castro Would raise up to her his blinking old eyes, full of timidity and distress.
He had not been young enough to throw himself over—he had worn the chain for too many years, had lived well and softly too long, was too old a slave. And yet—if he had had the courage of the act! Who knows? I rejected the thought far from me. It returned, and I caught myself looking at him with irritated eyes. But this first day passed not intolerably. We ignored our sufferings. Indeed, I felt none for my part. We had kept our thoughts bound to the slow blank minutes. And if we exchanged a few words now and then, it was to speak of patience, of resolution to endure and to hope.
At night, from the hot ravine full of shadows, came the cool fretting of the stream. The big blaze they kept up above crackled distinctly, throwing a fiery, restless stain on the face of the rock in front of the cave, high up under the darkness and the stars of the sky—and a pair of feet would appear stamping, the shadow of a pair of ankles and feet, fantastic, sustaining no gigantic body, but enormous, tramping slowly, resembling two coffins leaping to a slow measure. I see them in my dreams now, sometimes. They disappeared.
Manuel would sing; far in the night the monotonous staccato of the guitar went on, accompanying plaintive murmurs, outbursts of anger and cries of pain, the tremulous moans of sorrow. My nerves vibrated, I broke my nails on the rock, and seemed to hear once more the parody of all the transports and of every anguish, even to death—a tragic and ignoble rendering of life. He was a true artist, powerful and scorned, admired with derision, obeyed with jeers. It was a song of mourning; he sat on the brink with his feet dangling over the precipice that sent him back his inspired tones with a confused noise of sobs and desolation. .. His idol had been snatched from the humility of his adoring silence, like a falling star from the sight of the worm that crawls. ... He stormed on the strings; and his voice emerged like the crying of a castaway in the tumult of the gale. He apostrophized his instrument. ... Woe! Woe! No more songs. He would break it. Its work was done. He would dash it against the rock. ... His palm slapped the hollow wood furiously. ... So that it should lie shattered and mute like his own heart!
A frenzied explosion of yells, jests, and applause covered the finale.
A complete silence would follow, as if in the acclamations they had exhausted at once every bestial sound. Somebody would cough pitifully for a long time—and when he had done spluttering and cursing, the world outside appeared lost in an even more profound stillness. The red stain of the fire wavered across to play under the dark brow of the rock. The irritated murmur of the torrent, tearing along below, returned timidly at first, expanded, filled the ravine, ran through my ears in an angry babble. The deadened footfalls on the brink sometimes dislodged a pebble: it would start with a feeble rattle and be heard no more.
In the daytime, too, there were silences up there, perfect, profound. No prowl of feet disturbed them; the sun blazed between the rocks, and even the hum of insects could be heard. It seemed impossible not to believe that they had all died by a miracle, or else had been driven away by a silent panic. But two or more were always on the watch, directly above, with their heads over the edge; and suddenly they would begin to talk together in drowsy tones. It was as if some barbarous somnambulists had mumbled in the daytime the bizarre atrocity of their thoughts.
They discussed Williams' flask, which had been picked up. Was the cup made of silver, they wondered. Manuel had appropriated it for his own use, it seems. Well—he was the capataz. The Inglez, should he appear by an impossible chance, was to be shot down at once; but Castro must be allowed to give himself up. And they would snigger ferociously. Sometimes quarrels arose, very noisy, a great hubbub of bickerings touching their jealousies, their fears, their unspeakable hopes of murder and rapine. They did not feel very safe where they were. Some would maintain that Castro could not have saved himself, alone. The Inglez was there, and even the senorita herself. ... Manuel scouted the idea with contempt. He advanced the violence of the storm, the fury of the waves, the broken mast, the position of the boat. How could they expect a woman! ... No. It was as his song had it. And he defended his point of view angrily, as though he could not bear being robbed of that source of poetical inspiration. He emitted profound sighs and superb declamations.
Castro and I listened to them at the mouth of the cave. Our tongues were dry and swollen in our mouths, there was the pressure of an iron clutch on our windpipes, fire in our throats, and the pangs of hunger that tore at us like iron pincers. But we could hear that the bandits above were anxious to be gone; they had but very few charges for their guns, and it was apparent that they were afraid of a collision with the peons of the hacienda. Glaring at each other with bloodshot, uncertain eyes, Castro and I imagined longingly a vision of men in ponchos spurring madly out of the woods, bent low, and swinging riatas over the necks of their horses—with the thunder of the galloping hoofs in the cave. Seraphina had withdrawn further into the darkness. And, with a shrinking fear, I would join her, to eat my heart out by the side of her tense and mute contemplation.
Sometimes Manuel would begin again, “ Castro! Castro! Castro!” till he seemed to stagger the rocks and disturb the placid sunshine with an immense wave of sound. He called upon his victim to drink once more before he died. Long shrieks of derision rent the air, as if torn out of his breast by far greater torments than any his fancy delighted to invent. There was something terrible and weird in the abundance of words screeched continuously, without end, as if in desperation. No wonder Castro fled from the passage. And Seraphina and I, within, would be startled out of our half-delirious state by the sudden appearance of that old man, disordered, sordid, with a white beard sprouting, who wandered, weeping aloud in the twilight.
More than once I would stagger off far away into the depths of the cavern in an access of rage, Aing myself on the floor, bite my arms, beat my head on the rock. I would give myself up. She must be saved from this tortured death. She had said she would throw herself over if I left her. But would she have the strength? It was impossible to know. For days it seemed she had been lying perfectly still, on her side, one hand under her wan