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praise in mocking, mellifluous accents the energy of his denunciations. I tried to pull him away from there, but he turned upon me fiercely; and from prudence—for all hope was not dead in me yet—I left him alone.
That night I heard him make an extraordinary sound of chewing; at the same time he was sobbing and cursing stealthily. He had found something to eat, then! I could not believe my ears, but I began to creep towards the sound, and suddenly there was a short, mad scuffle in the darkness, during which I nearly spitted myself on his blade. At last, trembling in every limb, with my blood beating furiously in my ears, I scrambled to my feet, holding a small piece of meat in my hands. Instantly, without hesitating, without thinking, I plunged my teeth into it only to fling it far away from me with a frantic execration. This was the first sound uttered since we had grappled. Lying prone near me, Castro, with a rattle in his throat, tried to laugh.
This was a supreme touch of Manuel's art; they were pressed for time, and he had hit upon that deep and politic invention to hasten the surrender of his beloved victim. I nearly cried with the fiery pain on my cracked lips. That piece of half-putrid flesh was salt—horribly salt—salt like salt itself. Whenever they heard him rave and mutter at the mouth of the cave, they would throw down these prepared scraps. It was as if I had put a live coal into my mouth.
"Ha!" he croaked feebly. "Have you thrown it away? I, too; the first piece. No matter. I can no more swallow anything, now."
His voice was like the rustling of parchment at my feet.
"Do not look for it, Don Juan. The sinners in hell. . . . Ha! Fiend. I could not resist."
I sank down by his side. He seemed to be writhing on the floor muttering, "Thirst—thirst—thirst." His blade clicked on the rock; then all was still. Was he dead? Suddenly he began with an amazingly animated utterance.
"Senor! For this they had to kill cattle."
This thought had kept him up. Probably, they had been firing shots. But there was a way of hamstringing a stalked cow silently; and the plains were vast, the grass on them was long; the carcasses would lie hidden out of sight; the herds were rounded up only twice every year. His despairing voice died out in a mournful fall, and again he was as still as death.
"No! I can bear this no longer," he uttered with force. He refused to bear it. He suffered too much. There was no hope. He would overwhelm them with maledictions, and then leap down from the ledge. "Adios, senor."
I stretched out my arm and caught him by the leg. It seemed to me I could not part with him. It would have been disloyal, an admission that all was over, the beginning of the end. We were exhausting ourselves by this sort of imbecile wrestling. Meantime, I kept on entreating him to be a man; and at last I managed to clamber upon his chest. "A man!" he sighed. I released him. For a space, unheard in the darkness, he seemed to be collecting all his remaining strength.
"Oh, those strange Inglez! Why should I not leap? and whom do you love best or hate more, me or the senorita? Be thou a man, also, and pray God to give thee reason to understand men for once in thy life. Ha 1 Enamored woman — he is a fool! But I, Castro. . . ."
His whispering became appallingly unintelligible, then ceased, passing into a moan. My will to restrain him abandoned me. He had brought this on us. And if he really wished to give up the struggle. . . .
"Senor," he mumbled brokenly, "a thousand thanks. Br-r-r! Oh, the ugly water—water—water—water—salt water—salt! You saved me. Why? Let God be the Judge. I would have preferred a malignant demon for a friend. I forgive you. Adios! And—her excellency—poor Castro. . . . Ha! Thou old scorpion, encircled by fire—by fire and thirst. No. No scorpion, alas! Only a man—not like you—therefore—a Mass—or two—' perhaps. . . ."
The freshness of the night penetrated through the arch, as far as the faint twilight of the day. I heard his tearful muttering creep away from my side. "Thirst—thirst—thirst." I did not stir; and an incredulity, a weariness, the sense of our common fate, mingled with an unconfessed desire—the desire of seeing what would come of it—a desire that stirred my blood like a glimmer of hope, and prevented me from making a movement or uttering a whisper. If his sufferings were so great, who was I to ... Mine, too. I almost envied him. He was free.
As if an inward obscurity had parted in two I looked to the very bottom of my thoughts. And his action appeared like a sacrifice. It could liberate us two from this cave before it was too late. He, he alone, was the prey they had trapped. They would be satisfied, probably. Nay! There could be no doubt. Directly he was dead they would depart. Ah! he wanted to leap. He must not be allowed. Now that I had understood perfectly what this meant, I had to prevent him. There was no choice. I must stop him at any cost.
The awakening of my conscience sent me to my feet; but before I had stumbled halfway through the passage I heard his shout in the open air, " Behold me!"
A man outside cried excitedly, " He is out!"
An exulting tumult fell into the arch, the clash of twenty voices yelling in different keys, "He is out—the traitor! He is out!" I was too late, but I made three more hesitating steps and stood blinded. The flaming branches they were holding over the precipice showered a multitude of sparks, that fell disappearing continuously in the lurid light, shutting out the night from the mouth of the cave. And in this light Castro could be seen kneelUig on the other side of the sill.
With his fingers clutching the edge of the slab, he hung outwards, his head falling back, his spine arched tensely, like a bow; and the red sparks coming from above with the dancing whirl of snowflakes, vanished in the air before they could settle on his face,
They answered with a deep, confused growl, jostling and crowa--ng on the edge to look down into his eyes. Meantime I stared at the convulsive heaving of his breast, at his upturned rain, his swelling throat. He defied Manuel. He would leap. Befioldl he was going to leap—to his own death—in his own Time. He challenged them to come down on the ledge; and the blade of the named arm waved to and fro stiffly, point up, like a red-hot weapon in the light. He devoted them to pestilence, to English to the infernal powers: while all the time the commenting murmurs passed over his head, as though he had extorted their sinister appreciation.
"Canalla! dogs, thieves, prey of death, vermin of hell—I spit on you—like this!"
He had not the force, nor the saliva, and remained straining mutely upwards while they laughed at him all together, with something somber, and as if doomed in their derision. ..." He will jump! No, he will not!" "Yes! Leap, Castro! Spit, Castro!" "He will run back into the cave! Maladetta!" . . . Manuel's voiced cooed lovingly on the brink:
"Come to us and drink, Castro."
I waited for his leap with doubt, with disbelief, in the helpless agitation of the weak. Gradually he seemed to relax all over.
"Drink deep; drink, and drink, and drink, Castro. Water. Clear water, cool water. Taste, Castro!"
He called on him in tones that were almost tender in their urgency, to come and drink before he died. His voice seemed to cast a spell, like an incantation, upon the tubby little figure, with something yearning in the upward turn of the listening face.
-' Drink!" Manuel repeated the word several times; then, suddenly he called, "Taste, Castro, taste," and a descending brightness, as of a crystal rod hurled from above, shivered to nothing on the upturned face. The light disappearing from before the cave seemed scared away by the inhuman discord of his shriek; and I flung myself forward to lick the splash of moisture on the sill. I did not think of Castro, I had forgotten him. I raged at the deception of my thirst, exploring with my tongue the rough surface of the stone till I tasted my own blood. Only then, raising my head to gasp, and clench my fists with a baffled and exasperated desire, I noticed how profound was the silence, in which the words, "Take away his sting," seemed to pronounce themselves over the ravine in the impersonal austerity of the rock, with the tone of a tremendous decree.
HE had surrendered to his thirst. What weakness! He had not thrown himself over, then. What folly! One splash of water on his face had been enough. He was contemptible; and lying collapsed, in a sort of tormented apathy, at the mouth of the cave, I despised and envied his good fortune. It could not save him from death, but at least he drank. I understood this when I heard his voice, a voice altogether altered—a firm, greedy voice saying, "More," breathlessly. And then he drank again. He was drinking. He was drinking up there in the light of the fire, in a circle of mortal enemies, under Manuel's gloating eyes. Drinking! O happiness! O delight! What a miserable wretch! I clawed the stone convulsively; I think I would have rushed out for my share if I had not heard Manuel's cruel and caressing voice:
"How now? You do not want to throw yourself over, my Castro?"
"I have drunk," he said gloomily.
I think they must have given him something to eat then. In my mind there are many blanks in the vision of that scene, a vision built upon a few words reaching me, suddenly, with great intervals of silence between, as though I had been coming to myself out of a dead faint now and then. A ferocious hum of many voices would rise sometimes impatiently, the scrambling of feet near the edge; or, in a sinister and expectant stillness, Manuel the artist would be speaking to his "beloved victim Castro" in a gentle and insinuating voice that seemed to tremble slightly with eagerness. Had he eaten and drunk enough? They had kept their promises, he said. They would keep them all. The water had been cool—and presently he, Manuel-del-Popolo, would accompany with his guitar and his voice the last moments of his victim. Bursts of laughter punctuated his banter. Ah! that Manuel, that Manuel! Some actually swore in admiration. But