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He crouched over my face, and Spaniards stood around, wondering. He begged me to intercede, to save him those papers of the greatest importance.
Castro preserved his attitude of a conspirator. I was touched by the major's distress, and at last I condescended to address Castro on his behalf, though it cost me an effort, for I was angry, indignant, and humiliated.
"Whart—whart? What do I know of his papers? Let him find them." He waved his hand loftily.
The deck was hillocked with heaps of clothing, of bedding, casks of rum, old hats, and tarpaulins. Cowper ran in and out among the plunder, like a pointer in a turnip field. He was groaning.
Beside one of the pumps was a small pile of shiny cases; ship's instruments, a chronometer in its case, a medicine chest.
Cowper tottered at a black dispatch-box. "There, there! " he said; " I tell you I shall starve if I don't have it. Ask him—ask him "He was clutching me like a drowning man.
Castro raised the inevitable arm towards heaven, letting his round black cloak fall into folds like those of an umbrella. Cowper gathered that he might take his japanned dispatch-box; he seized the brass handles and rushed towards the side, but at the last moment he had the good impulse to return to me, holding out his hand, and spluttering distractedly, " God bless you, God bless you." After a time he remembered that I had rescued his wife and child, and he asked God to bless me for that, too. "If it is ever necessary," he said, " on my honor, if you escape, I will come a thousand miles to testify. On my honor—remember." He said he was going to live in Clapham. That is as much as I remember. I was held pinned down to the deck, and he disappeared from my sight. Before the ships had separated, I was carried below in the cabin of the schooner.
They left me alone there, and I sat with my head on my arms for a long time. I did not think of anything at all; I was too utterly done up with my struggles, and there was nothing to be thought about. I had grown to accept the meanness of things as if I had aged a great deal. I had seen men scratch each other's faces over coat buttons, old shoes—over Mercer's trousers. My own future did not interest me at this stage. I sat up and looked round me.
I was in a small, bare cabin, roughly wainscoted and exceedingly filthy. There were the grease-marks from the backs of heads all along a bulkhead above a wooden bench; the rough table, on which my arms rested, was covered with layers of tallow spots. Bright light shone through a porthole. Two or three ill-assorted muskets slanted about round the foot of the mast—a long old piece, of the time of Pizarro, all red velvet and silver chasing, on a swiveled stand, three English fowling-pieces, and a coachman's blunderbuss. A man was rising from a mattress stretched on the floor; he placed a mandolin, decorated with red favors, on the greasy table. He was shockingly thin, and so tall that his head disturbed the candlesoot on the ceiling. He said: "Ah, I was waiting for the cavalier to awake."
He stalked round the end of the table, slid between it and the side, and grasped my arm with wrapt earnestness as he settled himself slowly beside me. He wore a red shirt that had become rather black where his long brown ringlets fell on his shoulders; it had tarnished gilt buttons ciphered "G. R.," stolen, I suppose, from some English ship.
"I beg the Senor Caballero to listen to what I have to record," he said, with intense gravity. "I cannot bear this much longer—. no, I cannot bear my sufferings much longer."
His face was of a large, classical type; a close-featured, rather long face, with an immense nose that from the front resembled the section of a bell; eyebrows like horseshoes, and very large-pupiled eyes that had the purplish-brown luster of a horse's. His air was mournful in the extreme, and he began to speak resonantly as if his chest were a sounding-board. He used immensely long sentences, of which I only understood one-half.
"What, then, is the difference between me, Manuel-del-Popolo Isturiz, and this Tomas Castro? The Senor Caballero can tell at once. Look at me. I am the finer man. I would have you ask the ladies of Rio Medio, and leave the verdict to them. This Castro is an Andalou—a foreigner. And we, the braves of Rio Medio, will suffer no foreigner to make headway with our ladies. Yet this Andalusian is preferred because he is a humble friend of the great Don, and because he is for a few days given the command. I ask you, senor, what is the radical difference between me, the sailing captain of this vessel, and him, the fighting captain for a few days. Is it not I that am, as it were, the brains of it, and he only its knife? I ask the Senor Caballero."
I didn't in the least know what to answer. His great eyes wistfully explored my face. I expect I looked bewildered.
"I lay my case at your feet," he continued. "You are to be our chief leader, and, on account of your illustrious birth and renowned intelligence, will occupy a superior position in the council of the notables. Is it not so? Has not the Senor Juez O'Brien so ordained? You will give ear to me, you will alleviate my indignant sufferings?" He implored me with his eyes for a long time.
Manuel-del-Popolo, as he called himself, pushed the hair back from his forehead. I had noticed that the love-locks were plaited with black braid, and that he wore large dirty silk ruffles.
"The caballero," he continued, marking his words with a long, white finger atap on the table, "will represent my views to the notables. My position at present, as I have had the honor to observe, is become unbearable. Consider, too, how your worship and I would work together. What lightness for you and me. You will find this Castro unbearably gross. But I—I assure you I am a man of taste—an improvisator—an artist. My songs are celebrated. And yet! . . ."
He folded his arms again, and waited; then he said, employing his most impressive voice:
"I have influence with the men of Rio. I could raise a riot. We Cubans are a jealous people; we do not love that foreigners should take our best from us. We do not love it; we will not suffer it. Let this Castro bethink himself and go in peace, leaving us and our ladies. As the proverb says, 'It is well to build a bridge for a departing enemy.'"
He began to peer at me more wistfully, and his eyes grew more luminous than ever. This man, in spite of his grotesqueness, was quite in earnest, there was no doubting that.
"I have a gentle spirit," he began again, " a gentle spirit. I am submissive to the legitimate authorities. What the Senor Juei O'Brien asks me to do, I do. I would put a knife into anyone who inconvenienced the Senor Juez O'Brien, who is a good Catholic; we would all do that, as is right and fitting. But this Castro— this Andalou, who is nearly as bad as a heretic! When my day comes, I will have his arms flayed and the soles of his feet, and I will rub red pepper into them; and all the men of Rio who do not love foreigners will applaud. And I will stick little thorns under his tongue, and I will cut off his eyelids with little scissors, and set him facing the sun. Caballero, you would love me; I have a gentle spirit. I am a pleasant companion." He rose and squeezed round the table. "Listen "—his eyes lit up with rapture—" you shall hear me. It is divine—ah, it is very pleasant, you will say."
He seized his mandolin, slung it round his neck, and leant against the bulkhead. The bright light from the port-hole gilded the outlines of his body, as he swayed about and moved his long fingers across the strings; they tinkled metallically. He sang in a nasal voice:
'' Listen!' the young girls say as they hasten to the barred window. 'Listen! Ah, surely that is the guitar of Man—u—el—del-Popolo, As he glides along the wall in.the twilight.'"
It was a very long song. He gesticulated freely with his hand in between the scratching of the strings, which seemed to be a matter of luck. His eyes gazed distantly at the wall above my head. The performance bewildered and impressed me; I wondered if this was what they had carried me off for. It was like being mad. He made a decresendo tinkling, and his lofty features lapsed into their normal mournfulness.
At that moment Castro put his face round the door, then entered altogether. He sighed in a satisfied manner, and had an air of having finished a laborious undertaking.
"We have arranged the confusion up above," he said to Manueldel-Popolo; " you may go and see to the sailing. . . . Hurry; it is growing late."
Manuel blazed silently, and stalked out of the door as if he had an electric cloud round his head. Tomas Castro turned towards me.
"You are better?" he asked benevolently. "You exerted yourself too much. . . . But still, if you liked "He picked up
the mandolin, and began negligently scratching the strings. I noticed an alteration in him; he had grown softer in the flesh in the past years; there were little threads of gray in the knotted curls of his beard. It was as if he had lived well, on the whole. He bent his head over the strings, plucked one, tightened a peg, plucked it again, then set the instrument on the table, and dropped onto the mattress. "Will you have some rum?" he said. "You have grown broad and strong, like a bull. . . . You made those men fly, sacre nom d'une pipe. . . . One would have thought you were in earnest. . . . Ah, well!" He stretched himself at length on the mattress, and closed his eyes.
I looked at him to discover traces of irony. There weren't any. He was talking quietly; he even reproved me for having carried the pretense of resistance beyond a joke.
"You fought too much; you struck many men—and hard. You will have made enemies. The picaros of this dirty little town are as conceited as pigs. You must take care, or you will have a knife in your back."
He lay with his hands crossed on his stomach, which was round like a pudding. After a time he opened his eyes, and looked at the dancing white reflection of the water on the grimy ceiling.
"To think of seeing you again, after all these years," he said. "I did not believe my ears when Don Carlos asked me to fetch you like this. Who would have believed it? But, as they say," he added philosophically, " ' The water flows to the sea, and the little stones find their places.'" He paused to listen to the sounds that came from above. "That Manuel is a fool," he said without rancor; "he is mad with jealousy because for this day I have command here. But, all the same, they are dangerous pigs, these slaves of the Senor O'Brien. I wish the town were rid of them. One day there will be a riot—a function—with their jealousies and madness."
I sat and said nothing, and things fitted themselves together, little patches of information going in here and there like the pieces of a puzzle map. O'Brien had gone on to Havana in the ship from which I had escaped, to render an account of the pirates that had