Manuel's escape was the last event of that memorable night. Nothing more
happened, and nothing more could be done; but there remained much talk
and wonderment to get through. I did all the talking, of course, under
the cuddy lamps. Williams, red and stout, sat staring at me across the
table. His round eyes were perfectly motionless with astonishment--the
story of what had happened in the Casa Riego was not what he had
expected of the small, badly reputed Cuban town.
Sebright, who had all the duties of the soiled ship and chipped men
to attend to, came in from the deck several times, and would stand
listening for minutes with his fingers playing thoughtfully about his
slight moustache. The dawn was not very far when he led me into his
own cabin. I was half dead with fatigue, and troubled by an inward
"Turn in into my berth," said Sebright.
I protested with a stiff tongue, but he gave me a friendly push, and
I tumbled like a log on to the bedclothes. As soon as my head felt the
pillow the fresh colouring of his face appeared blurred, and an arm,
mistily large, was extended to put out the light of the lamp screwed to
"I suppose you know there are warrants out in Jamaica against you--for
that row with the admiral," he said.
An irresistible and unexpected drowsiness had relaxed all my limbs.
"Hang Jamaica!" I said, with difficult animation. "We are going home."
"Hang Jamaica!" he agreed. Then, in the dark, as if coming after me
across the obscure threshold of sleep, his voice meditated, "I am sorry,
though, we are bound for Havana. Pity. Great pity! Has it occurred to
you, Mr. Kemp, that..."
It is very possible that he did not finish his sentence; no more
penetrated, at least, into my drowsy ear. I awoke slowly from a
trance-like sleep, with a confused notion of having to pick up the
thread of a dropped hint. I went up on deck.
The sun shone, a faint breeze blew, the sea sparkled freshly, and the
wet decks glistened. I stood still, touched by the new glory of light
falling on me; it was a new world--new and familiar, yet disturbingly
beautiful. I seemed to discover all sorts of secret charms that I had
never seen in things I had seen a hundred times. The watch on deck
were busy with brooms and buckets; a sailor, coiling a rope over a
pin, paused in his work to point over the port-quarter, with a massive
fore-arm like a billet of red mahogany.
I looked about, rubbing my eyes. The "Lion", close hauled, was heading
straight away from the coast, which stood out, not very far yet,
outlined heavily and flooded with light. Astern, and to leeward of us,
against a headland of black and indigo, a dazzling white speck resembled
a snowflake fallen upon the blue of the sea.
"That's a schooner," said the seaman.
They were the first words I heard that morning, and their friendly
hoarseness brushed away whatever of doubt might seem to mar the
inexplicability of my new glow of my happiness. It was because we were
safe--she and I--and because my undisturbed love let my heart open to
the beauty of the young day and the joyousness of a splendid sea. I took
deep breaths, and my eyes went all over the ship, embracing, like an
affectionate contact, her elongated shape, the flashing brasses,
the tall masts, the gentle curves of her sails soothed into perfect
stillness by the wind. I felt that she was a shrine, for was not
Seraphina sleeping in her, as safe as a child in its cradle? And
presently the beauty, the serenity, the purity, and the splendour of the
world would be reflected in her clear eyes, and made over to me by her
There are times when an austere and just Providence, in its march
along the inscrutable way, brings our hearts to the test of their own
unreason. Which of us has not been tried by irrational awe, fear, pride,
abasement, exultation? And such moments remain marked by indelible
physical impressions, standing out of the ghostly level of memory
like rocks out of the sea, like towers on a plain. I had many of these
unforgettable emotions--the profound horror of Don Balthasar's death;
the first floating of the boat, like the opening of wings in space; the
first fluttering of the flames in the fog--many others afterwards, more
cruel, more terrible, with a terror worse than death, in which the very
suffering was lost; and also this--this moment of elation in the clear
morning, as if the universe had shed its glory upon my feelings as the
sunshine glorifies the sea. I laughed in very lightness of heart, in a
profound sense of success; I laughed, irresponsible and oblivious, as
one laughs in the thrilling delight of a dream.
"Do I look so confoundedly silly?" asked Sebright, speaking as though
he had a heavy cold. "I am stupid--tired. I've been on my feet this
twenty-four hours--about the liveliest in my life, too. You haven't
slept very long either--none of us have. I'm sure I hope your young lady
He put his hands in his pockets. He might have been very tired, but
I had never seen a boy fresh out of bed with a rosier face. The black
pin-points of his pupils seemed to bore through distance, exploring the
horizon beyond my shoulder. The man called Mike, the one I had had the
tussle with overnight, came up behind the indefatigable mate, and shyly
offered me my pistol. His head was bound over the top, and under the
chin, as if for toothache, and his bronzed, rough-hewn face looked out
astonishingly through the snowy whiteness of the linen. Only a few hours
before, we had been doing our best to kill each other. In my cordial
glow, I bantered him light-heartedly about his ferocity and his
He stood before me, patiently rubbing the brown instep of one thick foot
with the horny sole of the other.
"You paid me off for that bit, sir," he said bashfully. "It was in the
way of duty."
"I'm uncommon glad you didn't squeeze the ghost out of me," I said; "a
morning like this is enough to make you glad you can breathe."
To this day I remember the beauty of that rugged, grizzled, hairy
seaman's eyelashes. They were long and thick, shadowing the eyes softly
like the lashes of a young girl.
"I'm sure, sir, we wish you luck--to you and the young lady--all of us,"
he said shamefacedly; and his bass, half-concealed mutter was quite as
sweet to my ears as a celestial melody; it was, after all, the sanction
of simple earnestness to my desires and hopes--a witness that he and his
like were on my side in the world of romance.
"Well, go forward now, Mike," Sebright said, as I took the pistol.
"It's a blessing to talk to one's own people," I said, expansively, to
him. "He's a fine fellow." I stuck the pistol in my belt. "I trust I
shall never need to use barrel or butt again, as long as I live."
"A very sensible wish," Sebright answered, with a sort of reserve of
meaning in his tone; "especially as on board here we couldn't find you a
single pinch of powder for a priming. Do you notice the consort we have
"What do I want with powder?" I asked. "Do you mean that?" I pointed
to the white sail of the schooner. Sebright, looking hard at me, nodded
"We sighted her as soon as day broke. D'you know what she means?"
I said I supposed she was a coaster.
"It means, most likely, that the fellow with the curls that made me
think of my maiden aunt, has managed to keep his horse-face above
water." He meant Manuel-del-Popolo. "What mischief he may do yet before
he runs his head into a noose, it's hard to say. The old Spaniard you
brought with you thinks he has already been busy--for no good, you may
"You mean that's one of the Rio schooners?" I asked quickly.
That, with all its consequent troubles forme, was what he did mean. He
said I might take his word for it that, with the winds we had had, no
craft working along the coast could be just there now unless she came
out of Rio Medio. There was a calm almost up to sunrise, and it looked
as if they had towed her out with boats before daylight.... "Seems a
rather unlikely bit of exertion for the lazy brutes; but if they are as
much afraid of that confounded Irishman as you say they are, that would
account for their energy."
They would steal and do murder simply for the love of God, but it would
take the fear of a devil to make them do a bit of honest work--and
pulling an oar _was_ honest work, no matter why it was done. This was
the combined wisdom of Sebright and of Tomas Castro, with whom he had
been in consultation. As to the fear of the devil, O'Brien was very much
like a devil, an efficient substitute. And there was certainly somebody
or something to make them bestir themselves like this....
Before my mind arose a scene: Manuel, the night before, pulled out of
the water into a boat--raging, half-drowned, eloquent, inspired. The
contemptible beast _was_ inspired, as a politician is, a demagogue.
He could sway his fellows, as I had heard enough to know. And I felt
a slight chill on the warmth of my hope, because that bright sail,
brilliantly and furtively dodging along in our wake, must be the product
of Manuel's inspiration, urged to perseverance by the fear of O'Brien.
The mate continued, staring knowingly at it:
"You know I am putting two and two together, like the old maids that
come to see my aunt when they want to take away a woman's character.
The Dagos are out and no mistake. The question is, Why? You must know
whether those schooners can sail anything; but don't forget the old
_Lion_ is pretty smart. Is it likely they'll attempt the ship again?"
I negatived that at once. I explained to Sebright that the store of
ammunition in Rio Medio would not run to it; that the _Lugareņos_ were
cowardly, divided by faction, incapable, by themselves, of combining
for any length of time, and still less of following a plan requiring
perseverance and hardihood.
"They can't mean anything in the nature of open attack," I affirmed.
"They may have attempted something of the sort in Nichols' time, but it
isn't in their nature."
Sebright said that was practically Castro's opinion, too--except that
Castro had emphasized his remarks by spitting all the time, "like an old
tomcat. He seems a very spiteful man, with no great love for you, Mr.
Kemp. Do you think it safe to have him about you? What are all these
grievances of his?"
Castro seemed to have spouted his bile like a volcano, and had rather
confused Sebright. He had said much about being a friend of the Spanish
lord--Carlos; and that now he had no place on earth to hide his head.
"As far as I could make out, he's wanted in England," said Sebright,
"for some matter of a stolen watch, years ago in Liverpool, I think. And
your cousin, the grandee, was mixed up in that, too. That sounds funny;
you didn't tell us about that. Damme if he didn't seem to imply that
you, too... But you have never been in Liverpool. Of course not...."
But that had not been precisely Castro's point. He had affirmed he had
enemies in Spain; he shuddered at the idea of going to France, and now
my English fancifulness had made it impossible for him to live in Rio
Medio, where he had had the care of a good _pad-rona_.
"I suppose he means a landlady," Sebright chuckled. "Old but good, he
says. He expected to die there in peace, a good Christian. And what's
that about the priests getting hold of his very last bit of silver? I
must say that sounded truest of all his rigmarole. For the salvation of
his soul, I suppose?"
"No, my cousin's soul," I said gloomily.
"Humbugs. I only understood one word in three."
Just then Tomas himself stalked into sight among the men forward. Coming
round the corner of the deck-house, he stopped at the galley door like
a crow outside a hut, waiting. We watched him getting a light for his
cigarette at the galley door with much dignified pantomime. The negro
cook of the _Lion_, holding out to him in the doorway a live coal in
a pair of tongs, turned his Ethiopian face and white ivories towards
a group of sailors lost in the contemplation of the proceedings.' And,
when Castro had passed them, spurting jets of smoke, they swung about
to look after his short figure, upon whose draped blackness the sunlight
brought out reddish streaks as if bucketfuls of rusty water had been
thrown over him from hat to toe. The end of his broken plume hung
"Look how the fellow struts! Night and thunder! Hey, Don Tenebroso!
Would your worship hasten hither...." Sebright hailed jocularly.
Castro, without altering his pace, came up to us.
"What do you think of her now?" asked Sebright, pointing to the strange
sail. "She's grown a bit plainer, now she is out of the glare."
Castro, wrapping his chin, stood still, face to the sea. After a long
"Malediction," he pronounced slowly, and without moving his head shot a
sidelong glance at me.
"It's clear enough how _he_ feels about our friends over there.
Malediction. Just so. Very proper. But it seems as though he had a bone
to pick with all the world," drawled Sebright, a little sleepily.
Then, resuming his briskness, he bantered, "So you don't want to go to
England, Mr. Castro? No friends there? _Sus. per col._, and that sort of
Castro, contemptuous, staring straight away, nodded impatiently.
"But this gentleman you are so devoted to is going to England--to his
Castro's arms shook under the mantle falling all round him straight from
the neck. His whole body seemed convulsed. From his puckered dark lips
issued a fiendish and derisive squeal.
"Let his friends beware, then. _Por Dios!_ Let them beware. Let them
pray and fast, and beg the intercession of the saints. Ha! ha! ha!..."
Nothing could have been more unlike his saturnine self-centred
truculence of restraint. He impressed me; and even Sebright's steady,
cool eyes grew perceptibly larger before this sarcastic fury. Castro
choked; the rusty, black folds encircling him shook and heaved.
Unexpectedly he thrust out in front of the cloak one yellow, dirty
little hand, side by side with the bright end of his fixed blade.
"What do I hear? To England! Going to England! Ha! Then let him hasten
there straight! Let him go straight there, I say--I, Tomas Castro!"
He lowered his tone to impress us more, and the point of the knife, as
it were an emphatic forefinger, tapped the open palm forcibly. Did we
think that a man was not already riding along the coast to Havana on
a fast mule?--the very best mule from the stables of Don Balthasar
himself--that murdered saint. The Captain-General had no such mules.
His late excellency owned a sugar estate halfway between Rio Medio and
Havana, and a relay of riding mules was kept there for quickness when
His Excellency of holy memory found occasion to write his commands to
the capital. The news of our escape would reach the _Juez_ next day at
the latest. Manuel would take care of that--unless he were drowned. But
he could swim like a fish. Malediction!
"I cried out to you to kill!" he addressed me directly; "with all my
soul I cried. And why? Because he had seen you and the senorita, too,
alas! He should have been made dumb--made dumb with your pistol, Seņor,
since those two stupid English mariners were too much for an old man
like me. Manuel should have been made dumb--dumb forever, I say. What
mattered he--that gutter-born offspring of an evil _Gitana_, whom I have
seen, Seņor! I, myself, have seen her in the days of my adversity in
Madrid, Seņor--a red flower behind the ear, clad in rags that did not
cover all her naked skin, looking on while they fought for her with
knives in a wine-shop full of beggars and thieves. Si, senor. That's his
mother. _Improvisador--politico--capataz_. Ha.... Dirt!"
He made a gesture of immense contempt.
"What mattered he? The coach would have returned from the cathedral, and
the Casa Riego could have been held for days--and who could have known
you were not inside. I had conversed earnestly with Cesar the
major-domo--an African, it is true, but a man of much character and
excellent sagacity. Ah, Manuel! Manuel! If I------But the devil himself
fathers the children of such mothers. I am no longer in possession of my
first vigour, and you, Seņor, have all the folly of your nation...."
He bared his grizzled head to me loftily.
"... And the courage! Doubtless, that is certain. It is well. You may
want it all before long, Seņor... And the courage!"
The broken plume swept the deck. For a time he blinked his creased,
brown eyelids in the sun, then pulled his hat low down over his brows,
and, wrapping himself up closely, turned away from me to look at the
sail to leeward.
"What an old, old, wrinkled, little, puffy beggar he is!" observed
Sebright, in an undertone...
"Well, and what is your worship's opinion as to the purpose of that
Castro shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows?"... He released the gathered
folds of his cloak, and moved off without a look at either of us.
"There he struts, with his wings drooping like a turkey-cock gone into
deep mourning," said Sebright. "Who knows? Ah, well, there's no hurry to
know for a day or two. I don't think that craft could overhaul the Lion,
if they tried ever so. They may manage to keep us in sight perhaps."
He yawned, and left me standing motionless, thinking of Seraphina. I
longed to see her--to make sure, as if my belief in the possession of
her had been inexplicably weakened. I was going to look at the door of
her cabin. But when I got as far as the companion I had to stand aside
for Mrs. Williams, who was coming up the winding stairs.
From above I saw the gray woollen shawl thrown over her narrow
shoulders. Her parting made a broad line on her brown head. She mounted
busily, holding up a little the front of her black, plain skirt. Her
glance met mine with a pale, searching candour from below.
Overnight she had heard all my story. She had come out to the saloon
whilst I had been giving it to Williams, and after saying reassuringly,
"The young lady, I am thankful, is asleep," she had sat with her eyes
fixed upon my lips. I had been aware of her anxious face, and of
the slight, nervous movements of her hands at certain portions of my
narrative under the blazing lamps. We met now, for the first time, in
Hastily, as if barring my road to Seraphina's cabin, "Miss Riego, I
would have you know," she said, "is in good bodily health. I have this
moment looked upon her again. The poor, superstitious young lady is on
her knees, crossing herself."
Mrs. Williams shuddered slightly. It was plain that the sight of that
popish practice had given her a shock--almost a scare, as if she had
seen a secret and nefarious rite. I explained that Seraphina, being a
Catholic, worshipped as her lights enjoined, as we did after ours. Mrs.
Williams only sighed at this, and, making an effort, proposed that I
should walk with her a little. We began to pace the poop, she gliding
with short steps at my side, and drawing close the skimpy shawl about
her. The smooth bands of her hair put a shadow into the slight hollows
of her temples. No nun, in the chilly meekness of the habit, had ever
given me such a strong impression of poverty and renunciation.
But there was in that faded woman a warmth of sentiment. She flushed
delicately whenever caught (and one could not help catching her
continually) following her husband with eyes that had an expression of
maternal uneasiness and the captivated attention of a bride. And after
she had got over the idea that I, as a member of the male British
aristocracy, was dissolute--it was an article of faith with her--that
warmth of sentiment would bring a faint, sympathetic rosiness to her
She said suddenly and trembling, "Oh, young sir, reflect upon these
things before it is too late. You young men, in your luxurious, worldly,
I shall never forget that first talk with her on the poop--her hurried,
nervous voice (for she was a timid woman, speaking from a sense of
duty), and the extravagant forms her ignorance took. With the emotions
of the past night still throbbing in my brain and heart, with the sight
of the sea and the coast, with the Rio Medio schooner hanging on our
quarter, I listened to her, and had a hard task to believe my ears.
She was so convinced that I was "dissolute," because of my class--as an
It is difficult to imagine how she arrived at the conviction; it must
have been from pulpit denunciations of the small Bethel on the outskirt
of Bristol. Her uncle, J. Perkins, was a great ruffian, certainly,
and Williams was dissolute enough, if one wished to call his festive
imbecilities by a hard name. But these two could, by no means, be said
to belong to the upper classes. And these two, apart from her favourite
preacher, were the only two men of whom she could be said to have more
than a visual knowledge.
She had spent her best years in domestic slavery to her bachelor uncle,
an old shipowner of savage selfishness; she had been the deplorable
mistress of his big, half-furnished house, standing in a damp garden
full of trees. The outrageous Perkins had been a sailor in his
time--mate of a privateer in the great French war, afterwards master
of a slaver, developing at last into the owner of a small fleet of West
Indiamen. Williams was his favourite captain, whom he would bring home
in the evening to drink rum and water, and smoke churchwarden pipes with
him. The niece had to sit up, too, at these dismal revels. Old Perkins
would keep her out of bed to mix the grogs, till he was ready to climb
the bare stone staircase, echoing from top to bottom with his stumbles.
However, it seems he dozed a good deal in snatches during the
evening, and this, I suppose, gave their opportunity to the pale,
spiritual-looking spinster with the patient eyes, and to the thick,
staring Williams, florid with good living, and utterly unused to the
company of women of that sort. But in what way these two unsimilar
beings had looked upon each other, what she saw in him, what he imagined
her to be like, why, how, wherefore, an understanding arose between
them, remains inexplicable. It was her romance--and it is even possible
that he was moved by an unselfish sentiment. Sebright accounted for the
matter by saying that, as to the woman, it was no wonder. Anything to
get away from a bullying old ruffian, that would use bad language in
cold blood just to horrify her--and then burst into a laugh and jeer;
but as to Captain Williams (Sebright had been with him from a boy), he
ought to have known he was quite incapable of keeping straight after all
these free-and-easy years.
He used to talk a lot, about that time, of good women, of settling down
to a respectable home, of leading a better life; but, of course,
he couldn't. Simply couldn't, what with old friends in Kingston and
Havana--and his habits formed--and his weakness for women who, as
Sebright put it, could not be called good. Certainly there did not seem
to have been any sordid calculation in the marriage. Williams fully
expected to lose his command; but, as it turned out, the old beast,
Perkins, was quite daunted by the loss of his niece. He found them out
in their lodgings, came to them crying--absolutely whimpering about his
white hairs, talking touchingly of his will, and promising amendment. In
the end it was arranged that Williams should keep his command; and Mrs.
Williams went back to her uncle. That was the best of it. Actually went
back to look after that lonely old rip, out of pure pity and goodness of
heart. Of course old Perkins was afraid to treat her as badly as before,
and everything was going on fairly well, till some kind friend sent
her an anonymous letter about Williams' goings on in Jamaica. Sebright
strongly suspected the master of another regular trading ship, with whom
Williams had a difference in Kingston the voyage before last--Sebright
said--about a small matter, with long hair--not worth talking about. She
said nothing at first, and nearly worried herself into a brain-fever.
Then she confessed she had a letter--didn't believe it--but wanted a
change, and would like to come for one voyage. Nothing could be said to
The worst was, the captain was so knocked over at the idea of his little
sins coming to light, that he--Sebright--had the greatest difficulty in
preventing him from giving himself away.
"If I hadn't been really fond of her," Sebright concluded, "I would have
let everything go by the board. It's too difficult. And mind, the whole
of Kingston was on the broad grin all the time we were there--but it's
no joke. She's a good woman, and she's jealous. She wants to keep her
own. Never had much of her own in this world, poor thing. She can't help
herself any more than the skipper can. Luckily, she knows no more of
life than a baby. But it's a most cruel set out."
Sebright had exposed the domestic situation on board the _Lion_ with a
force of insight and sympathy hardly to be expected from his years. No
doubt his attachment to the disparate couple counted for not a little.
He seemed to feel for them both a sort of exasperated affection; but
I have no doubt that in his way he was a remarkable young man with
his contrasted bringing up first at the hands of an old maiden lady;
afterwards on board ship with Williams, to whom he was indentured at the
age of fifteen, when as he casually mentioned--"a scoundrelly attorney
in Exeter had run off with most of the old girl's money." Indeed,
looking back, they all appear to me uncommon; even to the round-eyed
Williams, cowed simply out of respect and regard for his wife, and as
if dazed with fright at the conventional catastrophe of being found out
before he could get her safely back to Bristol. As to Mrs. Williams,
I must confess that the poor woman's ridiculous and genuine misery,
inducing her to undertake the voyage, presented itself to me simply as a
blessing, there on the poop. She had been practically good to Seraphina,
and her talking to me mattered very little, set against that.... And
It was like listening to an earnest, impassioned, tremulous
impertinence. She seemed to start from the assumption that I was
capable of every villainy, and devoid of honour and conscience; only
one perceived that she used the words from the force of unworldly
conviction, and without any real knowledge of their meaning, as a
precocious child uses terms borrowed from its pastors and masters.
I was greatly disconcerted at first, but I was never angry. What of it,
if, with a sort of sweet absurdity, she talked in great agitation of
the depravity of hearts, of the sin of light-mindedness, of the
self-deception which leads men astray--a confused but purposeful jumble,
in which occasional allusions to the errors of Rome, and to the want of
seriousness in the upper classes, put in a last touch of extravagance?
What of it? The time was coming when I should remember the frail,
homely, as if starved, woman, and thank heaven for her generous heart,
which was gained for us from that moment. Far from being offended, I
was drawn to her. There is a beauty in the absolute conscience of the
simple; and besides, her distrust was for me, alone. I saw that she
erected* herself not into a judge, but into a guardian, against the
dangers of our youth and our romance. She was disturbed by its origin.
There was so much of the unusual, of the unheard of in its beginning,
that she was afraid of the end. I was so inexperienced, she said, and
so was the young lady--poor motherless thing--wilful, no doubt--so
very taking--like a little child, rather. Had I comprehended all my
responsibility? (And here one of the hurried side-allusions to the
errors of Rome came in with a reminder, touching the charge of another
immortal soul beside my own.) Had I reflected?...
It seems to me that this moment was the last of my boyishness. It was as
if the contact with her earnestness had matured me with a power greater
than the power of dangers, of fear, of tragic events. She wanted to know
insistently whether I were sure of myself, whether I had examined my
feelings, and had measured my strength, and had asked for guidance.
I had done nothing of this. Not till brought face to face with her
unanswerable simplicity did I descend within myself. It seemed I had
descended so deeply that, for a time, I lost the sound of her voice. And
again I heard her.
"There's time yet," she was saying. "Think, young sir (she had addressed
me throughout as 'young sir.') My husband and I have been talking it
over most anxiously. Think well before you commit the young lady
for life. You are both so young. It looks as if we had been sent
What was she driving at? Did she doubt my love? It was rather horrible;
but it was too startling and too extravagant to be met with anger. We
looked at each other, and I discovered that she had been, in reality,
tremendously excited by this adventure. This was the secret of her
audacity. And I was also possessed by excitement. We stood there like
two persons meeting in a great wind. Without moving her hands, she
clasped and unclasped her fingers, looking up at me with soliciting
eyes; and her lips, firmly closed, twitched.
"I am looking for the means of explaining to you how much I love her," I
burst out. "And if I found a way, you could not understand. What do you
know?--what can you know?..."
I said this not in scorn, but in sheer helplessness. I was at a loss
before the august magnitude of my feeling, which I saw confronting me
like an enormous presence arising from that blue sea. It was no longer
a boy-and-girl affair; no longer an adventure; it was an immense and
serious happiness, to be paid for by an infinity of sacrifice.
"I am a woman," she said, with a fluttering dignity. "And it is because
I know how women suffer from what men say...."
Her face flushed. It flushed to the very bands of her hair. She was
rosy all over the eyes and forehead. Rosy and ascetic, with something
outraged and inexpressibly sweet in her expression. My great emotion was
between us like a mist, through which I beheld strange appearances. It
was as if an immaterial spirit had blushed before me. And suddenly I saw
tears--tears that glittered exceedingly, falling hard and round, like
pellets of glass, out of her faded eyes.
"Mrs. Williams," I cried, "you can't know how I love her. No one in the
world can know. When I think of her--and I think of her always--it seems
to me that one life is not enough to show my devotion. I love her like
something unchangeable and unique--altogether out of the world; because
I see the world through her. I would still love her if she had made me
miserable and unhappy."
She exclaimed a low "Ah!" and turned her head away for a moment.
"But one cannot express these things," I continued. "There are no words.
Words are not meant for that. I love her so that, were I to die this
moment, I verily believe my soul, refusing to leave this earth, would
remain hovering near her...."
She interrupted me with a sort of indulgent horror. "Sh! sh!" I mustn't
talk like that. I really must not--and inconsequently she declared she
was quite willing to believe me. Her husband and herself had not slept a
wink for thinking of us. The notion of the fat, sleepy Williams, sitting
up all night to consider, owlishly, the durability of my love, cooled
my excitement. She thought they had been providentially thrown into our
way to give us an opportunity of reconsidering our decision. There were
still so many difficulties in the way.
I did not see any; her utter incomprehension began to weary me, while
she still twined her fingers, wiped her eyes by stealth, as it were, and
talked unflinchingly. She could not have made herself clearly understood
by Seraphina. Moreover, women were so helpless--so very helpless in
such matters. That is why she was speaking to me. She did not doubt my
sincerity at the present time--but there was, humanly speaking, a long
life before us--and what of afterwards? Was I sure of myself--later
on--when all was well?
I cut her short. Seizing both her hands:
"I accept the omen, Mrs. Williams!" I cried. "That's it! When all
is well! And all must be well in a very short time, with you and your
husband's help, which shall not fail me, I know. I feel as if the worst
of our troubles were over already...."
But at that moment I saw Seraphina coming out on deck. She emerged from
the companion, bare-headed, and looked about at her new surroundings
with that air of imperious and childlike beauty which made her charm.
The wind stirred slightly her delicate hair, and I looked at her; I
looked at her stilled, as one watches the dawn or listens to a sweet
strain of music caught from afar. Suddenly dropping Mrs. Williams' hand,
I ran to her....
When I turned round, Williams had joined his wife, and she had slipped
her arm under his. Her hand, thin and white, looked like the hand of an
invalid on the brawny forearm of that man bursting with health and good
condition. By the side of his lustiness, she was almost ethereal--and
yet I seemed to see in them something they had in common--something
subtle, like the expression of eyes. It _was_ the expression of their
eyes. They looked at us with commiseration; one of them sweetly, the
other with his owlish fixity. As we two, Seraphina and I, approached
them together, I heard Williams' thick, sleepy voice asking, "And so
he says he won't?" To which his wife, raising her tone with a shade of
indignation, answered, "Of course not." No, I was not mistaken. In their
dissimilar persons, eyes, faces, there was expressed a common trouble,
doubt, and commiseration. This expression seemed to go out to meet us
sadly, like a bearer of ill-news. And, as if at the sight of a
downcast messenger, I experienced the clear presentiment of some fatal
It was conveyed to me late in the afternoon of that 'same day out of
Williams' own thick lips, that seemed as heavy and inert as his voice.
"As far as we can see," he said, "you can't stay in the ship, Kemp. It
would do no one any good--not the slightest good. Ask Sebright here."
It was a sort of council of war, to which we had been summoned in the
saloon. Mrs. Williams had some sewing in her lap. She listened, her
hands motionless, her eyes full of desolation. Seraphina's attitude,
leaning her cheek on her hand, reminded me of the time when I had seen
her absorbed in watching the green-and-gold lizard in the back room of
Ramon's store, with her hair falling about her face like a veil. Castro
was not called in till later on. But Sebright was there, leaning his
back negligently against the bulkhead behind Williams, and looking down
on us seated on both sides of the long table. And there was present,
too, in all our minds, the image of the Rio Medio schooner, hull down on
our quarter. In all the trials of sailing, we had not been able to shake
her off that day.
"I don't want to hide from you, Mr. Kemp," Sebright began, "that it was
I who pointed out to the captain that you would be only getting the ship
in trouble for nothing. She's an old trader and favourite with shippers;
and if we once get to loggerheads with the powers, there's an end of her
trading. As to missing Havana this trip, even if you, Mr. Kemp, could
give a pot of money, the captain could never show his nose in there
again after breaking his charter-party to help steal a young lady. And
it isn't as if she were nobody. She's the richest heiress in the island.
The biggest people in Spain would have their say in this matter. I
suppose they could put the captain in prison or something. Anyway,
good-by to the Havana business for good. Why, old Perkins would have
a fit. He got over one runaway match.... All right, Mrs. Williams, not
another word.... What I meant to say is that this is nothing else but
a love story, and to knock on the head a valuable old-established
connection for it..Don't bite your lip, Mr. Kemp. I mean no disrespect
to your feelings. Perkins would start up to break things--let alone his
heart. I am sure the captain and Mrs. Williams think so, too."
The festive and subdued captain of the _Lion_ was staring straight
before him, as if stuffed. Mrs. Williams moved her fingers, compressed
her lips, and looked helplessly at all of us in turn. "Besides altering
his will," Sebright breathed confidentially at the back of my head. I
perceived that this old Perkins, whom I had never seen, and was never
to see in the body, whose body no one was ever to see any more (he died
suddenly on the echoing staircase, with a flat candlestick in his hand;
was already dead at the time, so that Mrs. Williams was actually sitting
in the cabin of her very own ship)--I perceived that old Perkins
was present at this discussion with all the power of a malignant,
bad-tempered spirit. Those two were afraid of him. They had defied him
once, it is true--but even that had been done out of fear, as it were.
Dismayed, I spoke quickly to Seraphina. With her head resting on her
hand, and her eyes following the aimless tracings of her finger on the
table, she said:
"It shall be as God wills it, Juan."
"For Heaven's sake, don't!" said Sebright, coughing behind me. He
understood Spanish fairly well. "What I've said is perfectly true.
Nevertheless the captain was ready to risk it."
"Yes," ejaculated Williams profoundly, out of almost still lips, and
otherwise so motionless all over that the deep sound seemed to have been
produced by some person under the table. Mrs. Williams' fingers were
clasped on her lap, and her eyes seemed to beg for belief all round our
"But the point is that it would have been no earthly good for you two,"
continued Sebright. "That's the point I made. If O'Brien knows anything,
he knows you are on board this ship. He reckons on it as a dead
certainty. Now, it is very evident that we could refuse to give _you_
up, Mr. Kemp, and that the admiral (if the flagship's off Havana, as I
think she must be by now) would have to back us up. How you would get on
afterwards with old Groggy Rowley, I don't know. It isn't likely he
has forgotten you tried to wipe the floor with him, if I am to take the
captain's yarn as correct."
"A regular hero," Williams testified suddenly, in his concealed,
from-under-the-table tone. "He's not afraid of any of them;
not he. Ha! ha! Old Topnambo must have...." He glanced at
his wife, and bit his tongue--perhaps at the recollection
of his unsafe conjugal position--ending in disjointed words,
"In his chaise--warrant--separationist--rebel," and all this without
moving a limb or a muscle of his face, till, with a low, throaty
chuckle, he fluttered a stony sort of wink to my address.
Sebright had paused only long enough for this ebullition to be over.
The cool logic of his surmise appalled me. He didn't see why O'Brien or
anybody in Havana should want to interfere with me personally. But if
I wanted to keep my young lady, it was obvious she must not arrive in
Havana on board a ship where they would be sure to look for her the very
first thing. It was even worse than it looked, he declared. His firm
conviction was that if the _Lion_ did not turn up in Havana pretty soon,
there would be a Spanish man-of-war sent out to look for her--or else
Mr. O'Brien was not the man we took him for. There was lying in harbour
a corvette called the _Tornado_, a very likely looking craft. I didn't
expect them to fight a corvette. No doubt there would be a fuss made
about stopping a British ship on the high seas; but that would be a cold
comfort after the lady had been taken away from me. She was a person of
so much importance that even our own admiral could be induced--say, by
the Captain-General's remonstrances--to sanction such an action. There
was no saying what Rowley would do if they only promised to present him
with half a dozen pirates to take home for a hanging. Why! that was the
very identical thing the flagship was kept dodging off Havana for! And
O'Brien knew where to lay his hands on a gross of such birds, for that
"No," concluded Sebright, overwhelming me from behind, as I sat
looking, not at the uncertainties of the future, but at the paralyzing
hopelessness of the bare to-morrow. "The _Lion_ is no place for you,
whether she goes into Havana or not. Moreover, into Havana she must go
now. There's no help for it. It's the deuce of a situation."
"Very well," I gasped. I tried to be resolute. I felt, suddenly, as
if all the air in the cabin had gone up the open skylight. I couldn't
remain below another moment; and, muttering something about coming back
directly, I jumped up and ran out without looking at any one lest I
should give myself away. I ran out on deck for air, but the great blue
emptiness of the open staggered me like a blow over the heart. I walked
slowly to the side, and, planting both my elbows on the rail, stared
abroad defiantly and without a single clear thought in my head. I had a
vague feeling that the descent of the sun towards the waters, going on
before my eyes with changes of light and cloud, was like some gorgeous
and empty ceremonial of immersion belonging to a vast barren faith
remote from consolation and hope. And I noticed, also, small things
without importance--the hirsute aspect of a sailor; the end of a rope
trailing overboard; and Castro, so different from everybody else on
board that his appearance seemed to create a profound solitude round
him, lounging before the cabin door as if engaged in a deep conspiracy
all by himself. I heard voices talking loudly behind me, too.
I noted them distinctly, but with perfect indifference. A long time
after, with the same indifference, I looked over my shoulder. Castro had
vanished from the quarter-deck. And I turned my face to the sea again as
a man, feeling himself beaten in a fight with death, might turn his face
to the wall.
I had fought a harder battle with a more cruel foe than death, with
the doubt of myself; an endless contest, in which there is no peace of
victory or of defeat. The open sea was like a blank and unscalable wall
imprisoning the eternal question of conduct. Right or wrong? Generosity
or folly? Conscience or only weak fear before remorse? The magnificent
ritual of sunset went on palpitating with an inaudible rhythm, with slow
and unerring observance, went on to the end, leaving its funeral fires
on the sky and a great shadow upon the sea. Twice I had honourably
stayed my hand. Twice... to this end.
In a moment, I went through all the agonies of suicide, which left me
alive, alas, to burn with the shame of the treasonable thought, and
terrified by the revolt of my soul refusing to leave the world in which
a young girl lived! The vast twilight seemed to take the impress of her
image like wax. What did Seraphina think of me? I knew nothing of her
but her features, and it was enough. Strange, this power of a woman's
face upon a man's heart--this mastery, potent as witchcraft and
mysterious like a miracle. I should have to go and tell her. I did
not suppose she could have understood all of Sebright's argumentation.
Therefore, it was for me to explain to what a pretty pass I had brought
I was so greatly disinclined to stir that I let Sebright's voice go on
calling my name half a dozen times from the cabin door. At last I faced
"Mr. Kemp! I say, Kemp! Aren't you coming in yet?"
"To say good-by," I said, approaching him.
It had fallen dark already.
"Good-by? No. The carpenter must have a day at least."
Carpenter! What had a carpenter to do in this? However, nothing
mattered--as though I had managed to spoil the whole scheme of creation.
"You didn't think of making a start to-night, did you?" Sebright
wondered. "Where would be the sense of it?"
"Sense," I answered contemptuously. "There is no sense in anything.
There is necessity. Necessity."
He remained silent for a time, peering at me.
"Necessity, to be sure," he said slowly. "And I don't see why you should
be angry at it."
I was thinking that it was easy enough for him to keep cool--the
necessity being mine. He continued to philosophize with what seemed to
me a shocking freedom of mind.
"Must try to put some sense into it. That's what we are here for, I
guess. Anyhow, there's some room for sense in arranging the way a thing
is to be done, be it as hard as it may. And I don't see any sense,
either, in exposing a woman to more hardship than is absolutely
necessary. We have talked it out now, and I can do no more. Do go inside
for a bit. Mrs. Williams is worrying the Seņorita, rather, I'm afraid."
I paused a moment to try and regain the command of my faculties. But it
was as if a bombshell had exploded inside my skull, scattering all
my wits to the four winds of heaven. Only the conviction of failure
remained, attended by a profound distress.
I fancy, though, I presented a fairly bold front. The lamp was lit, and
small changes had occurred during my absence. Williams had turned his
bulk sideways to the table. Mrs. Williams had risen from her place,
and was now sitting upright close to Seraphina, holding one little
hand inclosed caressingly between her frail palms, as if she had there
something alive that needed cherishing. And in that position she looked
up at me with a strange air of worn-out youth, cast by a rosy flush
over her forehead and face. Seraphina still leaned her head on her
other hand, and I noted, through the soft shadow of falling hair, the
heightened colour on her cheek and the augmented brilliance of her eye.
"'How I wish she had been an English girl," Mrs. Williams sighed
regretfully, and leaned forward to look into Seraphina's half-averted
"My dear, did you quite, quite understand what I have been saying to
"_Si Seņora_," said Seraphina. None of us moved. Then, after a time,
turning to me with sudden animation, "This woman asked me if I believed
in your love," she cried. "She is old. Oh, Juan, can the years change
the heart? your heart?" Her voice dropped. "How am I to know that?" she
went on piteously. "I am young--and we may not live so long. I believe
The corners of her delicate lips drooped; but she mastered her desire
to cry, and steadied her voice which, always rich and full of womanly
charm, took on, when she was deeply moved, an imposing gravity of
"But I am a Spaniard, and I believe in my lover's honour; in your--your
English honour, Juan."
With the dignity of a supreme confidence she extended her hand. It was
one of the culminating moments of our love. For love is like a journey
in mountainous country, up through the clouds, and down into the shadows
to an unknown destination. It was a moment rapt and full of feeling, in
which we seemed to dwell together high up and alone--till she withdrew
her hand from my lips, and I found myself back in the cabin, as if
precipitated from a lofty place.
Nobody was looking at us. Mrs. Williams sat with downcast eyelids, with
her hands reposing on her lap: her husband gazed discreetly at a gold
moulding on the deck-beam; and the upward cast of his eyes invested
his red face with an air of singularly imbecile ecstasy. And there was
Castro, too, whom I had not seen till then, though I must have brushed
against him on entering. He had stood by the door a mute, and, as it
were, a voluntarily unmasked conspirator with the black round of the
hat lying in front of his feet. He, alone, looked at us. He looked from
Seraphina to me--from me to Seraphina. He looked unutterable things,
rolling his crow-footed eyes in pious horror and glowering in turns.
When Seraphina addressed him, he hastened to incline his head with his
usual deference for the daughter of the Riegos.
She said, "There are things that concern this _caballero_, and that you
can never understand. Your fidelity is proved. It has sunk deep here....
It shall give you a contented old age--on the word of Seraphina Riego."
He looked down at his feet with gloomy submission.
"There is a proverb about an enamoured woman," he muttered to himself,
loud enough for me to overhear. Then, stooping deliberately to pick up
his hat, he flourished it with a great sweep lower than his knees. His
dumpy black back flitted out of the cabin; and almost directly we heard
the sharp click of his flint and blade outside the door.
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