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Castro; quicker!” They followed him, holding their sides. Those ahead had already spread themselves out over the plain, yelling to each other, and were converging upon him. That was the time to stop, and with one blow fall dead at their feet. He doubled round in front of Manuel, who stood waving his arms and screeching orders, and ran back towards the ravine. The plain rang with furious shouts. They rushed at him from every side. He would throw himself over. It was a race for the precipice. He won it.
I suppose he found it not so easy to die, to part with the warmth of sunshine, the taste of food; to break that material servitude to life, contemptible as a vice, that binds us about like a chain on the limbs of hopeless slaves. He showered blows upon his chest, sitting before us, he battered with his fist at the side of his head till I caught his arm. We could always sell our lives dearly, I said. He would have to defend the entrance with me. We two could hold it till it was blocked with their corpses.
He jumped up with a derisive shriek; a cloud of ashes flew from under his stumble, and he vanished in the darkness with mad gesticulations.
“Their corpses—their corpses—their ... Ha! ha! ha!”
The snarling sound died away; and I understood, then, what meant this illusion of ghostly murmurs that once or twice had seemed to tremble in the narrow region of gray light around the arch. The sunshine of the earth, and the voices of men, expired on the threshold of the eternal obscurity and stillness in which we were imprisoned, as if in a grave with inAexorable death standing between us and the free spaces of the world.
For it meant that. Imprisoned! Castro's derisive shriek meant that. And I had known it before. He emerged back out of the black depths, with livid, swollen features, and foam about his mouth, to splutter:
“Their corpses, you say. . . . Ha! Our corpses,” and retreated again, where I could only hear incoherent mutters.
Seraphina clutched my arm. “Juan-together—no separation.”
I had known it, even as I spoke of selling our lives dearly. They could only be surrendered. Surrendered miserably to these wretches, or to the everlasting darkness in which Castro muttered his despair. I needed not to hear this ominous and sinister soundnor yet Seraphina's cry. She understood, too. They would never come down unless to look upon us when we were dead. I need not have gone to the entrance of the cave to understand all the horror of our fate. The Lugareños had already lighted a fire. Very near the brink, too.
It was burning some thirty feet above my head; and the sheer wall on the other side caught up and sent across into my face the crackling of dry branches, the loud excited talking, the arguments, the oaths, the laughter; now and then a very shriek of joy. Manuel was giving orders. Some advanced the opinion that the cursed Inglez, the spy who came from Jamaica to see whom he could get for a hanging without a priest, was down there, too. So that was it! O'Brien knew
how to stir their hate. I should get a short shrift. “He was a fiend, the Inglez: look how many of us he has killed!” they cried; and Manuel would have loved to cut my flesh, in small pieces, off my bones only, alas! I was now beyond his vengeance, he feared. However, somebody was left.
He must have thrown himself flat, with his head over the brink, for his yell of “Castro!” exploded, and rolled heavily between the rocks.
“Castro! Castro! Castro!” he shouted twenty times, till he set the whole ravine in an uproar. He waited, and when the clamour had quieted down amongst the bushes below, called out softly, “Do you hear me, Castro, my victim? Thou art my victim, Castro.”
Castro had crept into the passage after me. He pushed his head beyond my shoulder.
“I defy thee, Manuel,” he screamed.
“Bravo, Castro," Manuel shouted from above. “I love thee because thou art my victim. I shall sing a song for thee. Come up. Hey! Castro! Castro! Come up. . . . No? Then the dead to their grave, and the living to their feast.”
Sometimes a little earth, detached from the layer of soil covering the rock, would fall streaming from above. The men told off to guard the cornice walked to and fro near the edge, and the confused murmur of voices hung subdued in the air of the cleft, like a modulated tremor. Castro, moaning gently, stumbled back into the cave.
Seraphina had remained sitting on the stone seat. The twilight rested on her knees, on her face, on the heap of cold ashes at her feet. But Castro, who had stood stock-still, with a hand to his forehead, turned to me excitedly:
“The peons, por Dios !” Had I ever thought of the peons belonging to the estancia ?
Well, that was a hope. I did not know exactly how matters stood between them and the Lugareños. There was no love lost. A fight was likely; but, even if no actual collision took place, they would be sure to visit the camp above in no very friendly spirit; a chance might offer to make our position known to these men, who had no reason to hate either me or Castroand would not be afraid of thwarting the miserable band of ghouls sitting above our grave. How our presence could be made known I was not sure. Perhaps simply by shouting with all our might from the mouth of the cave. We could offer rewards—say who we were, summon them for the service of their own señorita. But, probably, they had never heard of her. No matter. The news would soon reach the hacienda, and Enrico had two hundred slaves at his back. One of us must always remain at the mouth of the cave listening to what went on above. There would be the trampling of horses' hoofs-quarrelling, no doubtanyway, much talk-new voices—something to inform us. Only, how soon would they come? They were not likely to be riding where there were no cattle. Had Castro seen any signs of a herd on the uplands near by?
His face fell. He had not. There were many savannas within the belt of forests, and the herds might be miles away, stampeded inland by the storm. Sitting down suddenly, as if overcome, he averted his eyes and began to scratch the rock between his legs with the point of his blade.
We were all silent. How long could we wait? How long could people live? ... I looked at Sera
seared my heart like a hot iron. I wrung my hands stealthily.
“Ha! my blade!” muttered Castro. “My sting. ... Old scorpion! They did not take my sting away. ... Only-bah!” V He, a man, had not risen to the fortitude of a venomous creature. He was defeated. He groaned profoundly. Life was too much. It clung to one. A scorpion-an insect—within a ring of flames, would lift its sting and stab venom into its own head. And heCastro—a man—a man, por Dios-had less firmness than a creeping thing. Why—why, did he not stab this dishonoured old heart?
“Señorita,” he cried agonizingly, “I swear I did shout to them to fires0—into my breast—and then ..."
Seraphina leaned over him pityingly.
“Enough, Castro. One lives because of hope. And grieve not. Thy death would have done no good."
Her face had a splendid pallor, the radiant whiteness and majesty of marble; it had never before appeared to me more beautiful: and her hair unrolling its dark undulations, as if tinged deep with the funereal gloom of the background, covered her magnificently right down to her elbows. Her eyes were incredibly profound. Her person had taken on an indefinable beauty, a new beauty, that, like the comeliness that comes from joy, love, or success, seemed to rise from the depths of her being, as if an unsuspected and sombre quality of her soul had responded to the horror of our situation. The fierce trials had gradually developed her, as burning sunshine opens the bud of a flower; and I beheld her now in the plenitude of her nature. From time to time Castro would raise up to her his blinking old eyes, full of timidity and distress.
He had not been young enough to throw himself