Page images
PDF
EPUB

surveyed me now with a twinkle in his eyes, his yellow jaws as shiny-shaven as of old; his arms as much like a semaphore. He said mockingly: So

you went there, after all?" But the Cuban was pressing us towards his banquet; there was gaspacho in silver plates, and a man in livery holding something in a napkin. It worried me. We surveyed each other in silence. I wondered what Nichols knew; what it would be safe to tell him; how much he could help me? One or other of these men undoubtedly might. The Cuban was an imbecile; but he might have some influence—and if he really were going out on the morrow, and really did go to the Captain-General, he certainly could further his own revenge on O'Brien by helping me. . . But as for Nichols. ...

Salazar began to tell a long, exaggerated story about his cook, whom he had imported from Paris.

“ Think," he said; “I bring the fool two thousand miles—and then—not even able to begin on a land-crab. A fool!"

The Nova Scotian cast an uninterested side glance at him, and said in English, which Salazar did not understand:

So you went there, after all? And now he's got you." I did not answer him. "I know all about yeh," he added.

" It's more than I do about yeh," I said.

He rose and suddenly jerked the door open, peered on each side of the corridor, and then sat down again.

" I'm not afraid to tell," he said defiantly. "I'm not afraid of anything. I'm safe."

The Cuban said to me in Spanish: "This senor is my friend. Everyone who hates that devil is my friend."

I'm safe," Nichols repeated. I know too much about our friend the raparee." He lowered his voice. They say you're to be given up for piracy, eh?" His eyes had an extraordinary anxious leer. "You are now, eh? For how much? Can't you tell a man? We're in the same boat! I kin help yeh!"

Salazar accidentally knocked a silver goblet off the table and, at the sound, Nichols sprang half off his chair. He glared in a wild scare, around him. then grasped at a flagon of aguardiente and drank

“ I'm not afraid of any damn thing," he said. "I've got a hold on that man. He dursen't give me up. I kin see! He's going to give you up and say you're responsible for it all."

"I don't know what he's going to do," I answered.

"Will you not, senor," Salazar said suddenly, "relate, if you can without distress, the heroic death of that venerated man?"

I glanced involuntarily at Nichols. "The distress," I said, “ would be very great.

I was Don Balthasar's kinsman. The Senor O'Brien had a great fear of my influence in the Casa. It was in trying to take me away that Don Balthasar, who defended me, was slain by the Lugarenos of O'Brien."

Salazar said, "Aha! Aha! We are kindred spirits. Hated and loved by the same souls. This fiend, senor. And then. ..

"I escaped by sea—in an open boat, in the confusion. When I reached Havana, the Juez had me arrested."

Salazar raised both hands; his gestures, made for large, grave men, were comic in him.

They reduced Spanish manners to absurdity. He said:

That man dies. That man dies. To-morrow I go to the Captain-General. He shall hear this story of yours, senor. He shall know of these machinations which bring honest men to this place. We are a band of brothers. . That's what I say." Nichols leered at me.

"We're all in the same boat."

I expect he noticed that I wasn't moved by his declaration. He said, still in English: Let us be open.

Let's have a council of war. This Juez hates me because I wouldn't fire on my own countrymen." He glanced furtively at me. "I wouldn't," he asserted; "he wanted me to fire into their boats; but I wouldn't. Don't you believe the tales they tell about me! They tell worse about you. Who says I would fire on my countrymen? Where's the man who says it?" He had been drinking more brandy and glared ferociously at me. "None of your tricks, my hearty," he said. "None of your getting out and spreading tales. O'Brien's my friend; he'll never give me up. He dursen't. I know too much. You're a pirate! No doubt it was you who fired into them boats. By God, I'll be witness against you if they give me up. I'll show you up.'

All the while the little Cuban talked swiftly and with a saturnine enthusiasm. He passed the wine rapidly.

"My own countrymen!" Nichols shouted. "Never! I shot a Yankee lieutenant—Allen he was—with my own hand. That's another thing. I'm not a man to trifle with. No, sir, Don't you try it. ... Why, I've papers that would hang O'Brien. I sent them home to Halifax. I know a trick worth his. By God, let him try it! Let him only try it. He dursen't give me up.

The man in livery came in to snuff the candles. Nichols sprang from his seat in a panic and drew his knife with frantic haste. He continued, glaring at me from the wall, the knife in his hand:

"Don't you dream of tricks. I've cut more throats than you've kissed gals in your little life."

Salazar himself drew an immense pointed knife with a shagreen hilt. He kissed it rapturously.

Aha! ... Aha!" he said, bear this kiss into his ribs a" the back. His eyes glistened with this mania." I swear it; when I next see this dog; this friend of the priests." He threw the knife on the table. "Look," he said, "was ever steel truer or more thirsty ?"

"Don't you make no mistake," Nichols continued to me. "Don't you think to presume. O'Brien's my friend. I'm here snug and out of the way of the old fool of an admiral. That's why he's kept waiting off the Morro. When he goes, I walk out free. Don't you try to frighten me. I'm not a man to be frightened."

Salazar bubbled: Ah, but now the wine flows and is red. We are a band of brothers, each loving the other. Brothers, let us drink."

The air of close confinement, the blaze, the feel of the jail, pressed upon me, and I felt sore, suddenly, at having eaten and drunk with those two. The idea of Seraphina, asleep perhaps, crying perhaps, something pure and distant and very blissful, came in upon me irresistibly.

The little Cuban said, "We have had a very delightful conversation. It is very plain this O'Brien must die."

I rose to my feet. "Gentlemen," I said in Spanish, "I am very weary; I will go and sleep in the corridor."

The Cuban sprang towards me with an immense anxiety of hospitableness. I was to sleep on his couch, the couch of cloth of gold. It was impossible, it was insulting, that I should think of sleeping in the corridor. He thrust me gently down upon it, making with his plump hands the motions of smoothing it to receive me. I laid down and turned my face to the wall.

It wasn't possible to sleep, even though the little Cuban, with a tender solicitude, went round the walls blowing out the candles. He might be useful to me, might really explain matters to the Captain-General, or might even, as a last resource, take a letter from me to the British Consul. But I should have to be alone with him. Nichols was an abominable scoundrel; bloodthirsty to the defenseless; a liar; craven before the ghost of a threat. No doubt O'Brien did not want to give him up. Perhaps he had papers. And no doubt, once he could find a trace of Seraphina's whereabouts, O'Brien would give me up. All I could do was to hope for a gain of time. And yet, if I gained time, it could only mean that I should in the end be given up to the admiral.

And Seraphina's whereabouts. It came over me lamentably that I myself did not know. The Lion might have sailed. It was possible. She might be at sea. Then, perhaps, my only chance of ever seeing her again lay in my being given up to the admiral, to stand in England a trial, perhaps for piracy, perhaps for treason. I might meet her only in England, after many years of imprisonment. It wasn't possible. I would not believe in the possibility. How I loved her! How wildly, how irrationally—this woman of another race, of another world, bound to me by sufferings together, by joys together. Irrationally! Looking at the matter now, the reason is plain enough. Before then I had not lived. I had only waited—for her and for what she stood for. It was in my blood, in my race, in my tradition, in my training. We, all of us for generations, had made for efficiency, for drill, for restraint. Our Romance was just this very Spanish contrast, this obliquity of vision, this slight tilt of the convex mirror that shaped the same world so differently to onlookers at different points of its circle.

I could feel a little of it even then, when there was only the merest chance of my going back to England and getting back towards our old position on the rim of the mirror. The deviousness, the wayward passion, even the sempiternal abuses of the land were already beginning to take the aspect of something like quaint impotence. It was charm that, now I was on the road away, was becoming apparent. The inconveniences of life, the physical discomforts, the smells of streets, the heat, dropped into the background. I felt that I did not want to go away, irrevocably from a land sanctioned by her presence, her young life. I turned uneasily to the other side. At the heavy black table, in the light of a single candle, the Cuban and the Nova-Scotian were discussing, their heads close together.

"I tell you no," Nichols was saying in a fluent, abominable, literal translation into Spanish. Take the knife so. thumb upwards. Stab down in the soft between the neck and the shoulder-blade. You get right into the lungs with the point, I've tried it: ten times. Never stick the back. The chances are he moves, and you hit a bone. There are no bones there. It's the way they kill pigs in New Jersey."

The Cuban bent his brows as if he were reflecting over a chess board. Ma ... he pondered. His knife was lying on the table. He unsheathed it, then got up, and moved behind the seated Nova Scotian.

"You say ... there?" he asked, pressing his little finger at the base of Nichols' skinny column of a neck. And then ... He measured the length of the knife on Nichols's back twice with elaborate care, breathing through his nostrils. Then he said with a convinced, musing air, " It is true. It would go down into the lungs."

And there are arteries and things," Nichols said. "Yes, yes," the Cuban answered, sheathing the knife and thrusting it into his belt.

"With a knife that length it's perfect." Nichols waved his shadowy hand towards Salazar's scarf. Salazar moved off a little.

"I see the advantages," he said. "No crying out, because of the blood in the lungs. I thank you, Senor Escoces."

Nichols rose, lurching to his full height, and looked in my direction. I closed my eyes. I did not wish him to talk to me. i heard là say.

« PreviousContinue »