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Separationists worked together to bother the admiral and raise discontent. Living in the center of Separationist discontent with the Macdonalds, I knew it was not true. But nothing was too bad to say against the planters who clamored for union with the United States.
O'Brien leaned forward. His voice had a note of disdain, and then took one of deeper earnestness; it sank into his chest. He extended his hand; his eyebrows twitched. He looked—he was— a conspirator.
"I tell you I do it for the sake of Ireland," he said passionately. "Every ship we take, every clamor they raise here, is a stroke and is disgrace for them over there that have murdered us and ruined my own dear land." His face worked convulsively; I was in presence of one of the primeval passions. But he grew calm immediately after. "You want Separation for reasons of your own. I don't ask what they are. No doubt you and your crony Macdonald and the rest of them will feather your own nests; I don't ask. But help me to be a thorn in their sides—just a little—just a little longer. What do I put in your way? Just what you want. Have your Jamaica joined to the United States. You'll be able to come back with your pockets full, and I'll be joyful—for the sake of my own dear land."
I said suddenly and recklessly—if I had to face one race-passion, he had to look at another; we were cat and dog—Celt and Saxon, as it was in the beginning:
"I am not a traitor to my country."
Then I realized with sudden concern that I had probably awakened the old Don. He stirred uneasily in his chair, and lifted one hand.
"The moment I go out from here I'll denounce you," I said very low; "I swear I will. You're here; you can't get away; you'll swing."
O'Brien started. His eyes blazed at me. Then he frowned, "I've been misled," he muttered, with a dark glance at Carlos. And recovering his jocular serenity, "Ye mean it?" he asked; "it's not British heroics?"
The old Don stirred again and sighed.
The young girl glided swiftly to his side. "Senor O'Brien," she said, " you haveso irritated my English cousin that he has awakened my father."
O'Brien grinned gently. "'Tis ever the way," he said sardonically. "The English fools do the harm and the Irish fool gets the kicking." He rose to his feet, quite collected, a spick-and-span little man. "I suppose I've said too much. Well, well! You are going to denounce the senior judge of the Marine Court of Havana as a pirate. I wonder who will believe you!" He went behind the old Don's chair with the gliding motion of a Spanish lawyer, and slipped down the open trap-hatch near the window.
It was the disappearance of a shadow. I heard some guttural mutterings come up through the hatch, a rustling, then silence. If he was afraid of me at all he carried it off very well. I apologized to the young girl for having awakened her father. Her color was very high, and her eyes sparkled. If she had not been so very beautiful I should have gone away at once. She said angrily:
"He is odious to me, the Senor Juez. Too long my father has suffered his insolence." She was very small, but she had an extraordinary dignity of command. "I could see, senor, that he was annoying you. Why should you consider such a creature?" Her head drooped. "But my father is very old."
I turned upon Carlos, who stood all black in the light of the window.
"Why did you make me meet him? He may be a judge of your Marine Court, but he's nothing but a scoundrelly bogtrotter."
Carlos said a little haughtily, "You must not denounce him. You should not leave this place if I feared you would try thus to bring dishonor on this gray head, and involve this young girl in a public scandal." His manner became soft. "For the honor of the house you shall say nothing. And you shall come with us. I need you."
I was full of mistrust now. If he did countenance this unlawful enterprise, whose headquarters were in Rio Medio, he was not the man for me. Though it was big enough to be made, by the papers at home, of political importance, it was, after all, neither more nor less than piracy. The idea of my turning a sort of Irish traitor was so extravagantly outrageous that now I could smile at the imbecility of that fellow O'Brien. As to turning into a sea-thief for lucre—my blood boiled.
No. There was something else there. Something deep; something dangerous; some intrigue, that I could not conceive even the first notion of. But that Carlos wanted anxiously to make use of me for some purpose was clear. I was mystified to the point of forgetting how heavily I was compromised even in Jamaica, though it was worth remembering, because at that time an indictment for rebellion—under the Black Act—was no joking matter. I might be sent home under arrest; and even then, there was my affair with the runners.
"It is coming to pay a visit," he was saying persuasively, " while your affair here blows over, my Juan—and—and—making my last hours easy, perhaps."
I looked at him; he was worn to a shadow—a shadow with dark wistful eyes. "I don't understand you," I faltered.
The old man stirred, opened his lids, and put a gold vinaigrette to his nostrils.
"Of course I shall not denounce O'Brien," I said. "I, too, respect the honor of your house."
"You are even better than I thought you. And if I entreat you, for the love of your mother—of your sister? Juan, it is not for myself, it is"
The young girl was pouring some drops from a green phial into a silver goblet; she passed close to us, and handed it to her father, who had leant a little forward in his chair. Every movement of hers affected me with an intimate joy; it was as if I had been waiting to see just that carriage of the neck, just that proud glance from the eyes, just that droop of eyelashes upon the cheeks, for years and years.
"No, I shall hold my tongue, and that's enough," I said.
At that moment the old Don sat up and cleared his throat. Carlos sprang towards him with an infinite grace of tender obsequiousness. He mentioned my name and the relationship, then rehearsed the innumerable titles of his uncle, ending " and patron of the Bishopric of Pinar del Rio."
I stood stiffly in front of the old man. He bowed his head at intervals, holding the silver cup carefully whilst his chair rocked a little. When Carlos' mellow voice had finished the rehearsing of the sonorous styles, I mumbled something about "transcendent honor."
He stopped me with a little, deferentially peremptory gesture of one hand, and began to speak, smiling with a contraction of the lips and a trembling of the head. His voice was very low, and quavered slightly, but every syllable was enunciated with the same beauty of clearness that there was in his features, in his hands, in his ancient gestures.
"The honor is to me," he said, " and the pleasure. I behold my kinsman, who, with great heroism, I am told, rescued my dearly loved nephew from great dangers; it is an honor to me to be able to give him thanks. My beloved and lamented sister contracted a union with an English hidalgo, through whose house your own very honorable family is allied to my own; it is a pleasure to me to meet after many years with one who has seen the places where her later life was passed."
He paused, and breathed with some difficulty, as if the speech had exhausted him. Afterwards he began to ask me questions about Rooksby's aunt—the lamented sister of his speech. He had loved her greatly, he said. I knew next to nothing about her, and his fine smile and courtly, aged, deferential manners made me very nervous. I felt as if I had been taken to pay a ceremonial visit to a supreme pontiff in his dotage. He spoke about Horton Priory with some animation for a little while, and then faltered, and forgot what he was speaking of. Suddenly he said:
"But where is O'Brien? Did he write to the Governor here? I should like you to know the Senor O'Brien. He is a spiritual man."
I forbore to say that I had already seen O'Brien, and the old man sank into complete silence. It was beginning to grow dark, and the noise of suppressed voices came from the open trap-door. Nobody said anything.
I felt a sort of uneasiness; I could by no means understand the connection between the old Don and what had gone before, and I did not, in a purely conventional sense, know how long I ought to stop. The sky through the barred windows had grown pallid.
The old Don said suddenly, "You must visit my poor town of Rio Medio," but he gave no specific invitation and said nothing more.
Afterwards he asked, rather querulously, "But where is O'Brien? He must write those letters for me."
The young girl said, " He has preceded us to the ship; he will write there."
She had gone back to her seat. Don Balthasar shrugged his shoulders to his ears, and moved his hands from his knees.
"Without doubt, he knows best," he said; "but he should ask me."
It grew darker still; the old Don seemed to have fallen asleep again. Save for the gleam of the silver buckle of his hat, he had disappeared into the gloom of the place. I remembered my engagement to dine with Williams on board the Lion, and I rose to my feet. There did not seem to be any chance of my talking to the young girl. She was once more leaning nonchalantly over the lizard, and her hair drooped right across her face like clusters of grapes. There was a gleam on a little piece of white forehead, and all around and about her there were shadows deepening. Carlos came concernedly towards me as I looked at the door.
"But you must not go yet," he said a little suavely; " I have many things to say. Tell me"
His manner heightened my uneasiness to a fear. The expression of his eyes changed, and they became fixed over my shoulder, while on his lips the words " You must come, you must come," trembled, hardly audible. I could only shake my head. At once he stepped back as if resigning. He was giving me up—and it occurred to me that if the danger of his seduction was over, there remained the danger of arrest just outside the door.
Someone behind me said peremptorily, "It is time," and there was a flickering diminution of the light. I had a faint instantaneous view of the old Don dozing, with his head back—of the tall windows, cut up into squares by the black bars. Something hairily coarse ran harshly down my face; I grew blind; my mouth, my eyes, my nostrils were filled with dust; my breath shut in upon me became a flood of warm air. I had no time to resist. I kicked my legs convulsively; my elbows were drawn tight against my sides. Someone grunted under my weight; then I was carried—down