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"Thank God, my turn's come at last!"
The faces of the Attorney-General, the King's Advocate, Sir Robert Gifford, Mr. Lawes, Mr. Jervis, of all the seven counsel that were arrayed to crush me, lengthened into simultaneous grins, varying at the jury box. But I didn't care; I grinned, too. I was going to show them.
It was as if I flew at the throat of that little man. It seemed to me that I must be able to crush a creature whose malice was as obvious and as nugatory as the green and red rings that he exhibited in his hair every few minutes. He wanted to show the jury that he had rings; that he was a mincing swell; that I hadn't and that I was a bloody pirate. I said:
"You know that during the whole two years Nichols was at Rio I was an improver at Horton Pen with the Macdonalds, the agents of my brother-in-law, Sir Ralph Rooksby. You must know these things. You were one of the Duke of Manchester's spies."
We used to call the Duke's privy council that.
"I certainly know nothing of the sort," he said, folding his hands along the edge of the witness-box, as if he had just thought of exhibiting his rings in that manner. He was abominably cool. I said:
"You must have heard of me. The Topnambos knew me."
"The Topnambos used to talk of a blackguard with a name like Kemp who kept himself mighty out of the way in the Vale."
"You knew I was on the island," I pinned him down.
"You used to come to the island," he corrected. "I've just explained how. But you were not there much, or we should have been able to lay hands on you. We wanted to. There was a warrant out after you tried to murder us. But you had been smuggled away by Ramon."
I tried again:
"You have heard of my brother-in-law, Sir Ralph Rooksby?"
I wanted to show that, if I hadn't rings, I had relations.
"Nevah heard of the man in my life," he said.
"He was the largest land proprietor on the island," I said.
"Dessay," he said; "I knew forty of the largest. Mostly sharpers in the boosing-kens." He yawned.
I said viciously:
"It was your place to know the island. You knew Horton Pen—the Macdonalds?"
The face of jolly old Mrs. Mac. came to my mind—the impeccable, Scotch, sober respectability.
"Oh, I knew the Macdonalds," he said—" of them. The uncle was a damn rebellious, canting, planting Scotchman. Horton Pen was the center of the Separation Movement. We could have hung him if we'd wanted to. The nephew was the writer of an odious blackmailing print. He calumniated all the decent, loyal inhabitants. He was an agent of you pirates, too. We arrested him—got his papers; know all about your relations with him."
I said, "That's all nonsense. Let us hear "—the AttorneyGeneral had always said that—" what you know of myself."
"What I know of you," he sniffed, "if it's a pleasuah, was something like this. You came to the island in a mysterious way, gave out that you were an earl's son, and tried to get into the very excellent society of ... ah ... people like my friends, the Topnambos. But they would not have you, and after that you kept yourself mighty close; no one ever saw you but once or twice, and then it was riding about at night with that humpbacked scoundrel of a blackmailer. You, in fact, weren't on the island at all, except when you came to spy for the pirates. You used to have long confabulations with that scoundrel Ramon, who kept you posted about the shipping. As for the blackmailer with the humpback, David Macdonald, you kept him, you ... ah ... subsidized his filthy print to foment mutiny and murder among the black fellows, and preach separation. You wanted to tie our hands, and prevent our ... ah ... prosecuting the preventive measures against you. When you found that it was no good you tried to murder the admiral and myself, and that very excellent man Topnambo, coming from a ball. After that you were seen encouraging seven of your ... ah ... pirate fellows whom we were hanging, and you drove off in haste with your agent, Ramon, before we could lay hands on you, and vanished from the island."
I didn't lose my grip; I went at him again, blindly, as if I were boxing with my eyes full of blood, but my teeth set tight. I said:
"You used to buy things yourself of old Ramon; bought them for the admiral to load his frigates with; things he sold at Key West."
"That was one of the lies your scoundrel David Macdonald circulated against us."
"You bought things . . . even whilst you were having his store watched."
"Upon my soul!" he said.
"You used to buy things ..." I pinned him. He looked suddenly at the King's Advocate, then dropped his eyes.
"Nevah bought a thing in my life," he said.
I knew the man had; Ramon had told me of his buying for the admiral more than three hundred barrels of damaged coffee for thirty pounds. I was in a mad temper. I smashed my hand upon the spikes of the rail in front of me, and although I saw hands move impulsively towards me all over the court, I did not know that my arm was impaled and the blood running down.
"Perjurer," I shouted, "Ramon himself told me."
"Ah, you were mighty thick with Ramon . . ." he said.
I let him stand down. I was done. Someone below said harshly, "That closes our case, m'luds," and the court rustled all over. Old Lord Stowell in front of me shivered a little, looked at the window, and then said:
"Prisoner at the bar, our procedure has it that if you wish to say anything, you may now address the jury. Afterwards, if you had a counsel, he could call and examine your witnesses, if you have any."
It was growing very dark in the court. I began to tell my story; it was so plain, so evident, it shimmered there before me .... and yet I knew it was so useless.
I remembered that in my cell I had reasoned out that I must be very constrained; very lucid about the opening. "On such and such a day I landed at Kingston, to become an improver on the estate of my brother-in-law. He is Sir Ralph Rooksby of Horton Priory in Kent." I did keep cool; I was lucid; I spoke like that. I had my eyes fixed on the face of the young girl upon the bench. I remember it so well. Her eyes were fixed, fascinated, upon my hand. I tried to move it, and found that it was stuck upon the spike on which I had jammed it. I moved it carelessly away, and only felt a little pain, as if from a pin-prick; but the blood was dripping on to the floor, pat, pat. Later on, a man lit the candles on the judge's desk, and the court looked different. There were deep shadows everywhere; and the illuminated face of Lord Stowell looked grimmer, less kind, more ancient, more impossible to bring a ray of sympathy to. Down below, the barristers of the prosecution leaned back with their arms all folded, and the air of men resting in an interval of cutting down a large tree. The barristers who were merely listeners looked at me from time to time. I heard one say, "That man ought to have his hand bound up." I was telling the story of my life, that was all I could do.
"As for Ramon, how could I know he was in the pay of the pirates, even if he were. I swear I did not know. Everyone on the island had dealings with him, the admiral himself. That is not calumny. On my honor, the admiral did have dealings. Some of you have had dealings with forgers, but that does not make you forgers."
I warmed to it; I found words. I was telling the story for that young girl. Suddenly I saw the white face of my father peep at me between the head of an old man with an enormous nose, and a stout lady in a brown cloak that had a number of little watchmen's capes. He smiled suddenly, and nodded again and again, opened his eyes, shut them; furtively waved a hand. It distracted me, threw me off my balance, my coolness was gone. It was as if something had snapped. After that I remember very little; I think I may have quoted the " Prisoner of Chillon," because he put it into my head.
I seemed to be back again in Cuba. Down below me the barristers were talking. The King's Advocate pulled out a pucecolored bandanna, and waved it abroad preparatorily to blowing his nose. A cloud of the perfume of a West Indian bean went up from it, sweet and warm. I had smelt it last at Rio, the sensation was so strong that I could not tell where I was. The candles made a yellow glow on the judge's desk; but it seemed to be the blaze of light in the cell where Nichols and the Cuban had fenced. I thought I was back in Cuba again. The people in the court disappeared in the deepening shadows. At times I could not speak. Then I would begin again.
If there were to be any possibility of saving my life, I had to tell what I had been through—and to tell it vividly—I had to narrate the story of my life; and my whole life came into my mind. It was Seraphina who was the essence of my life; who spoke with the voice of all Cuba, of all Spain, of all Romance. I began to talk about old Don Balthasar Riego. I began to talk about Manuel-del-Popolo, of his red shirt, his black eyes, his mandolin; I saw again the light of his fires flicker on the other side of the ravine in front of the cave.
And I rammed all that into my story, the story I was telling to that young girl. I knew very well that I was carrying my audience with me; I knew how to do it, I had it in the blood. The old pale, faded, narrow-lidded father who was blinking and nodding at me, had been one of the best raconteurs that ever was. I knew how. In the black shadows of the wall of the court I could feel the eyes upon me; I could see the parted lips of the young girl as she leaned further towards me. I knew it because, when one of the barristers below raised his voice, someone hissed "S—sh" from the shadows. And suddenly it came into my head, that even if I did save my life by talking about these things, it would be absolutely useless. I could never go back again; never be the boy again; never hear the true voice of the Ever Faithful Island. What did it matter even if I escaped; even if I could go back? The sea would be there, the sky, the silent dim hills, the listless surge; but I should never be there, I should be altered for good and all. I should never see the breathless dawn in the pondwater of Havana harbor, never be there with Seraphina close beside me in the little drogher. All that remained was to see this fight through, and then have done with fighting. I remember the intense bitterness of that feeling and the oddity of it all; of the one " I " that felt like that, of the other that was raving in front of a lot of open-eyed idiots, three old judges, and a young girl. And, in a queer way, the thoughts of the one " I " floated