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efforts of the breeze. It was a true night fog of the tropics, that, born after sunset, tries to creep back into the warm bosom of the sea before sunrise. Once in Rio Medio, taking a walk in the early morning along the sand dunes, I had stood watching below me the heads of some people, fishing from a boat, emerge strangely in the dawn out of such a fog. It concealed their very shoulders more completely than water could have done. I trusted it would not come so soon to our heads, emerging, though it seemed to me that already, by merely clambering on Castro's shoulders, I could attain to clear moonlight; see the highlands of the coast, the masts of the English ship. She could not be very far off if only one could tell the direction. But an unsteady little dingey was not the platform for acrobatic exercises, and Castro not exactly the man.
The slightest noise would have betrayed us, and moreover, the thing was no good, for even supposing I had got a hurried sight of the ship's spars, I should have to get down into the fog to pull, and there would be nothing visible to keep us from going astray, unless at every dozen strokes I clambered on Castro's shoulders again to rectify the direction-an obviously impracticable and absurd proceeding.
“She is the proud daughter of old Castile, Old, Old,"
Manuel sang confidentially with a subdued and gallant lilt
Obviously impracticable. But I had another idea. Tinkle tinkle pinnnng. . . Brrroum. Brrrroum.
he sang. Ah, if one could have added another four feet to one's stature. Four or five feet only. There seemed to be nothing but a thin veil between me and the moon. No more than a thin haze. But at the level of my eyes everything was hidden. From behind the white veil came the crying of the strings, a screeching, lugubrious and fierce in its artificial transport, as if it were mocking my sad and ardent conviction of unworthiness, the crowning torment, and the inward pride of pure love. In the breathless pauses I could hear the hollow bumping of gunwales knocking against each other; faint splashings of oars; the distant hail of some laggards groping their way on the shrouded sea.
The note of cruel passion that runs in the blood held these cutthroats profoundly silent in their boats, as at home I could imagine a party of smugglers (they would not stick at a murder or two, either) listening, with pensive faces, to a sentimental ditty of some
sweet Nancy,” howled dismally within the walls of a wayside taproom in the smoke of pipes. I seemed to understand profoundly the difference of races that brings with it the feeling of romance or awakens hate. My gorge rose at Manuel's song. I hated his lamentations. " Alas, alas; in vain, in vain." He strummed with vertiginous speed, with fury, and the distracted clamor of his voice, wrestling madly with the ringing madness of the strings, ended in a piercing and supreme shriek.
“ Finished. It is finished.” A low and applauding murmur flowed to my ears, the austere acclamations of connoisseurs. “Viva, viva, Manuele!”-a squeak of fervid admiration. Ah, our Manuelito." But a gruff voice discoursed jovially, “Care not, Manuel. What of Paquita with the broken tooth? Is she not left to thee? And, por Dios, hombres, in the dark all women are alike.”
"I will cram thy unclean mouth with live coals," Manuel drawled spitefully.
They roared with laughter at this sally. I depicted to myself their shapes, their fierce gesticulations, their earrings, bound heads, rags, and weapons, the vile scowls on their swarthy, grimacing faces. My anxiety beheld them as plainly as anything seen with the eyes of the body. And, with my sharpened hearing catching every word with preternatural distinctness, I felt as if, the ring of Gyges on my finger, I had sat invisible at the council of my enemies.
It was noisy, animated, with an issue of supreme interest for us, The ship, seen at midday standing inshore with a light wind, had not approached the bay near enough to be conveniently attacked till just after dusk. They had waited for her all the afternoon, sleeping and gambling on the spit of sand. But something heavy in her appearance had excited their craven suspicions, and checked their ardor. She appeared to them dangerous. What if she were an English man-of-waf disguised? Some even pretended to recognize in her positively one of the lighter frigates of Rowley's squadron. Night had fallen whilst they squabbled, and their flotilla hung under the land, the men in a conflict of rapacity and fear, arguing among themselves as to the ship's character, but all unanimously goading Manuel-since he would call himself their only Capataz—to go boldly and find out.
It seems he had just been doing this with the help of a few choicer spirits, and under cover of the fog. They had managed to steal near enough to hear Englishmen conversing on board, orders given, and the yo-hoing of invisible sailors trimming the yards of the ship to the fitful airs. This last, of course, was decisive. Such sounds are not heard on a man-of-war. She was a merchant ship: she would be an easy prey. And Manuel, in a state of exaltation at his venturesome bravery, had pulled back inshore, to rally all the boats round his own, and lead them to certain plunder. They would soon find out, he declaimed, what it was to have at their head their own valiant Manuel, instead of that vagabond, that stranger, that Andalusian starveling; that traitor, that infidel, that Castro. Hidden away, he seemed to spout all this for our ears alone, as though he could see us in our boat. .. Patience; patience! Some day he would cut off that interloper's eyelids, and lay him on his back under a nice clear sun.
Castro made a brusque movement; a little shudder of disgust escaped Seraphina.
Meantime, Manuel declared, by his audacity, that ship was as good as theirs already. “Viva el Capataz!" they cheered.
The cloud-like vapors resting on the sea muffled the short roar; we heard grim laughter, excited cries. He began to make a set speech, and his voice, haranguing with vehement inflections in the shining whiteness of a cloud, had an amazing and uncorporeal character; the quality of abstract surprise; of phenomenal emotion shouted into empty space. And for me it had, also, the fascination of a revealed depth.
It was like the oration of an ambitious leader in a farce; he held his hearers with his eloquence, as much as he had done with the song of his grotesque and desecrating love. He vaunted his sagacity and his valor, and overwhelmed with invective all sorts of names
my own and Castro's among them. He revealed the unholy ideals of all that band of scoundrels ideals that he said should find fruition under his captaincy. He boasted of secret conferences with O'Brien. There were murmurs of satisiaction.
I don't wonder at Seraphina's shudder of horror, of disgust, of dismay, and indignation. Robbed of the inexpugnable shelter of the Casa Riego, she, too, was made to look into the depths; upon the animalism, the lusts, and the reveries of that sordid, verminhaunted crowd. I felt for her a profound and shamed sorrow. It was like a profaning touch on the sacredness of her mourning for the dead, and on her clear and passionate vision of life.
Hombres de Rio Medio! Amigos! Valientes! Manuel was beginning his peroration. He would lead them, now, against the English ship. The terrified heretics would surrender. There was always gold in English ships. He stopped his speech, and then called loudly, “Let the boats keep touch with each other, and not stray in that fog."
“The dog," grunted Castro. We heard a resolute bustle of preparation; oars were being shipped.
Make ready, Tomas," I whispered. "Ready for what?" he grumbled. “Where shall your worship run from these swine?”
We must follow them," I answered.
The madness of the señor's countrymen descends upon him," he whispered with sardonic politeness. “Wherefore follow? ”
“To find the English ship," I answered swiftly.
This, from the moment we had heard Manuel's guitar, had been my idea. Since the fog that concealed us from their sight made us, too, hopelessly blind, those wretches must guide us themselves out of their own clutches, as it were. I don't put this forward as an inspired conception. It was a most risky and almost hopeless expedient; but the position was so critical that there was no other alternative to sitting still and waiting with folded hands for discovery. Castro seemed more inclined for the latter.
Fortunately, the bandits wasted some time in blasphemous bickerings as to the order of the boats in the procession of attack. urged my views upon Castro in hurried whispers. His assent was of importance, since he could use an oar very well, and, if left to myself, I could not hope to scull fast enough to keep within hearing of the flotilla.
“Of what use to us would be a ship in Manuel's power?” he argued morosely. On the other hand, if we waited near her till she had been plundered and released, neither the fog nor the night would last forever.
“My countrymen shall beat them off," I affirmed confidently. At any rate, let us be on the spot. We may take a hand. And remember, Tomas, they are not led by you, this time."
" True," he said, mollified. “But one thing more deserves the consideration of your worship. . . If we follow this plan, we take the señorita among flying bullets. And lead, alas! unlike steel, is blind, or that illustrious man would not now be dead. If we wait here, the señorita, at least, shall take no harm from these ruffians, as I have said.”
“Are you afraid of the bullets ? " I asked Seraphina. Before she had answered, stro hissed at me:
Oh, you unspeakable English. Would you sacrifice the daugh. ter, too, only because she is brave?”
His sinister allusion made my blood boil with rage, and suddenly run cold in my veins. Swathed in the brilliant cloud, we heard the sounds of quarreling and scrambling die away; cries of
Ready! ready!” an unexpected and brutal laugh. Seraphina leaned forward.
'Tomas, I wish this thing. I command it," she whispered imperiously. “We shall help these English on the ship. We must; I command it. For these are now my people.”
I heard him mutter to himself, “ Ah, dear shade of my Carlos. Her people. Where are now mine?” But he shipped his oar, and sat waiting.
In the moment before the picaroons actually started, I became the
prey of the most intense anxiety. I knew we were to seaward of the cluster. But of our position relatively to the boats, and to the English ship they would make for, I was profoundly ignorant. The dingey might be lying right in the way. Before I could master the sort of disorder I was thrown into by that thoughtwhich, strange to say, had not occurred to me till then with a shrill whistle Manuel led off.