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Chapter 10

He had surrendered to his thirst. What weakness! He had not thrown
himself over, then. What folly! One splash of water on his face had been
enough. He was contemptible; and lying collapsed, in a sort of tormented
apathy, at the mouth of the cave, I despised and envied his good
fortune. It could not save him from death, but at least he drank. I
understood this when I heard his voice, a voice altogether altered--a
firm, greedy voice saying, "More," breathlessly. And then he drank
again. He was drinking. He was drinking up there in the light of the
fire, in a circle of mortal enemies, under Manuel's gloating eyes.
Drinking! O happiness! O delight! What a miserable wretch! I clawed the
stone convulsively; I think I would have rushed out for my share if I
had not heard Manuel's cruel and caressing voice:

"How now? You do not want to throw yourself over, my Castro?"

"I have drunk," he said gloomily.

I think they must have given him something to eat then. In my mind there
are many blanks in the vision of that scene, a vision built upon a few
words reaching me, suddenly, with great intervals of silence between, as
though I had been coming to myself out of a dead faint now and then.
A ferocious hum of many voices would rise sometimes impatiently, the
scrambling of feet near the edge; or, in a sinister and expectant
stillness, Manuel the artist would be speaking to his "beloved victim
Castro" in a gentle and insinuating voice that seemed to tremble
slightly with eagerness. Had he eaten and drunk enough? They had kept
their promises, he said. They would keep them all. The water had been
cool--and presently he, Manuel-del-Popolo, would accompany with his
guitar and his voice the last moments of his victim. Bursts of laughter
punctuated his banter. Ah! that Manuel, that Manuel! Some actually swore
in admiration. But was Castro really at his ease? Was it not good to eat
and drink? Had he quite returned to life? But, _Caramba, amigos_, what
neglect! The _caballero_ who has honoured us must smoke. They shouted
in high glee: "Yes. Smoke, Castro. Let him smoke." I suppose he did; and
Manuel expounded to him how pleasant life was in which one could eat,
and drink, and smoke. His words tortured me. Castro remained mute--from
disdain, from despair, perhaps. Afterwards they carried him along clear
of the cornice, and I understood they formed a half-circle round him,
drawing their knives. Manuel, screeching in a high falsetto, ordered the
bonds of his feet to be cut. I advanced my head out as far as I dared;
their voices reached me deadened; I could only see the profound shadow
of the ravine, a patch of dark clear sky opulent with stars, and the
play of the firelight on the opposite side. The shadow of a pair of
monumental feet, and the lower edge of a cloak, spread amply like a
skirt, stood out in it, intensely black and motionless, right in front
of the cave. Now and then, elbowed in the surge round Castro, the guitar
emitted a deep and hollow resonance. He was tumultuously ordered to
stand up and, I imagine, he was being pricked with the points of
their knives till he did get on his feet. "Jump!" they roared all
together--and Manuel began to finger the strings, lifting up his voice
between the gusts of savage hilarity, mingled with cries of death. He
exhorted his followers to close on the traitor inch by inch, presenting
their knives.

"He runs here and there, the blood trickling from his limbs--but in
vain, this is the appointed time for the leap...."

It was an improvisation; they stamped their feet to the slow measure;
they shouted in chorus the one word "Leap!" raising a ferocious roar;
and between whiles the song of voice and strings came to me from a
distance, softened and lingering in a voluptuous and pitiless cadence
that wrung my heart, and seemed to eat up the remnants of my strength.
But what could I have done, even if I had had the strength of a giant,
and a most fearless resolution? I should have been shot dead before I
had crawled halfway up the ledge. A piercing shriek covered the guitar,
the song, and the wild merriment.

Then everything seemed to stop--even my own painful breathing. Again
Castro shrieked like a madman:

"Seņorita--your gold. Seņorita! Hear me! Help!"

Then all was still.

"Hear the dead calling to the dead," sneered Manuel.

An awestruck sort of hum proceeded from the Spaniards. Was the senorita
alive? In the cave? Or where?

"Her nod would have saved thee, Castro," said Manuel slowly. I got up. I
heard Castro stammer wildly:

"She shall fill both your hands with gold. Do you hear, hombres? I,
Castro, tell you--each man--both hands------"

He had done it. The last hope was gone now. And all that there remained
for me to do was to leap over or give myself up, and end this horrible
business.

"She was a creature born to command the moon and the stars," Manuel
mused aloud in a vibrating tone, and suddenly smote the strings with
emphatic violence. She could even stay his vengeance. But was it
possible! No, no. It could not be--and yet....

"Thou art alive yet, Castro," he cried. "Thou hast eaten and drunk; life
is good--is it not, old man?--and the leap is high."

He thundered "Silence!" to still the excited murmurs of his band. If she
lived Castro should live, too--he, Manuel, said so; but he threatened
him with horrible tortures, with two days of slow dying, if he dared to
deceive. Let him, then, speak the truth quickly.

"Speak, 'viejo'. Where is she?"

And at the opening, fifty yards away, I was tempted to call out, as
though I had loved Castro well enough to save him from the shame and
remorse of a plain betrayal. That the moment of it had come I could have
no doubt. And it was I myself, perhaps, who could not face the certitude
of his downfall. If my throat had not been so compressed, so dry with
thirst and choked with emotion, I believe I should have cried out and
brought them away from that miserable man with a rush. Since we were
lost, he at least should be saved from this. I suffered from his
spasmodic, agonized laugh away there, with twenty knives aimed at his
breast and the eighty-foot drop of the precipice at his back. Why did he
hesitate?

I was to learn, then, that the ultimate value of life to all of us is
based on the means of self-deception. Morally he had his back against
the wall, he could not hope to deceive himself; and after Manuel had
cried again at him, "Where are they?" in a really terrible tone, I heard
his answer:

"At the bottom of the sea."

He had his own courage after all--if only the courage not to believe in
Manuel's promises. And he must have been weary of his life--weary enough
not to pay that price. And yet he had gone to the very verge,
calling upon Seraphina as if she could hear him. Madness of fear, no
doubt--succeeded by an awakening, a heroic reaction. And yet sometimes
it seems to me as if the whole scene, with his wild cries for help, had
been the outcome of a supreme exercise of cunning. For, indeed, he could
not have invented anything better to bring the conviction of our death
to the most sceptical of those ruffians. All I heard after his words had
been a great shout, followed by a sudden and unbroken silence. It seemed
to last a very long time. He had thrown himself over! It is like the
blank space of a swoon to me, and yet it must have been real enough,
because, huddled up just inside the sill, with my head reposing wearily
on the stone, I watched three moving flames of lighted branches carried
by men follow each other closely in a swaying descent along the path on
the other side of the ravine. They passed on downwards, flickering out
of view. Then, after a time, a voice below, to the left of the cave,
ascended with a hooting and mournful effect from the depths.

"Manuel! Manuel! We have found him!... _Es muerte!_"

And from above Manuel's shout rolled, augmented, between the rocks.

"_Bueno!_ Turn his face up--for the birds!"

They continued calling to each other for a good while. The men below
declared their intention of going on to the sea shore; and Manuel
shouted to them not to forget to send him up a good rope early in the
morning. Apparently, the schooner had been refloated some time before;
many of the _Lugareņos_ were to sleep on board. They purposed to set
sail early next day.

This revived me, and I spent the night between Seraphina's couch and the
mouth of the cave, keeping tight hold of my reason that seemed to lose
itself in this hope, in this darkness, in this torment. I touched her
cheek, it was hot--while her forehead felt to my fingers as cold as
ice. I had no more voice, but I tried to force out some harsh whispers
through my throat. They sounded horrible to my own ears, and she
endeavoured to soothe me by murmuring my name feebly. I believe she
thought me delirious. I tried to pray for my strength to last till I
could carry her out of that cave to the side of the brook--then let
death come. "Live, live," I whispered into her ear, and would hear a
sigh so faint, so feeble, that it swayed all my soul with pity and fear,
"Yes, Juan."... And I would go away to watch for the dawn from the mouth
of the cave, and curse the stars that would not fade.

Manuel's voice always steadied me. A languor had come over them above,
as if their passion had been exhausted; as if their hearts had been
saddened by an unbridled debauch. There was, however, their everlasting
quarrelling. Several of them, I understood, left the camp for the
schooner, but avoiding the road by the ravine as if Castro's dead body
down there had made it impassable. And the talk went on late into the
night. There was some superstitious fear attached to the cave--a legend
of men who had gone in and had never come back any more. All they knew
of it was the region of twilight; formerly, when they used the shelter
of the cavern, no one, it seems, ever ventured outside the circle of
the fire. Manuel disdained their fears. Had he not been such a profound
politico, a man of stratagems, there would have been a necessity to go
down and see.... They all protested.

Who was going down? Not they.... Their craven cowardice was amazing.

He begged them to keep themselves quiet. They had him for _Capataz_
now. A man of intelligence. Had he not enticed Castro out? He had never
believed there was any one else in there. He sighed. Otherwise Castro
would have tried to save his life by confessing. There had been nothing
to confess. But he had the means of making sure. A voice suggested that
the _Inglez_ might have withdrawn himself into the depths. These English
were not afraid of demons, being devils themselves; and this one was
fiendishly reckless. But Manuel observed, contemptuously, that a man
trapped like this would remain near the opening. Hope would keep him
there till he died--unless he rushed out like Castro-Manuel laughed,
but in a mournful tone: and, listening to the craven talk of their
doubts and fears, it seemed to me that if I could appear at one bound
amongst them, they would scatter like chaff before my glance It seemed
intolerable to wait; more than human strength could bear. Would the day
never come? A drowsiness stole upon their voices.

Manuel kept watch. He fed the fire, and his incomplete shadow, projected
across the chasm, would pass and return, obscuring the glow that fell on
the rock. His footsteps seemed to measure the interminable duration of
the night. Sometimes he would stop short and talk to himself in low,
exalted mutters. A big bright star rested on the brow of the rock
opposite, shining straight into my eyes. It sank, as if it had plunged
into the stone. At last. Another came to look into the cavern. I watched
the gradual coming of a gray sheen from the side of Seraphina's couch.
This was the day, the last day of pain, or else of life. Its ghostly
edge invaded slowly the darkness of the cave towards its appointed
limit, creeping slowly, as colourless as spilt water on the floor. I
pressed my lips silently upon her cheek. Her eyes were open. It seemed
to me she had a smile fainter than her sighs. She was very brave, but
her smile did not go beyond her lips. Not a feature of her face moved.
I could have opened my veins for her without hesitation, if it had not
been a forbidden sacrifice.

Would they go? I asked myself. Through Castro's heroism or through his
weakness, perhaps through both the heroism and the weakness of that man,
they must be satisfied. They must be. I could not doubt it; I could not
believe it. Everything seemed improbable; everything seemed possible. If
they descended I would, I thought, have the strength to carry her off,
away into the darkness. If there was any truth in what I had overheard
them saying, that the depths of the cavern concealed an abyss, we would
cast ourselves into it.

The feeble, consenting pressure of her hand horrified me. They would
not come down. They were afraid of that place, I whispered to her--and
I thought to myself that such cowardice was incredible. Our fate was
sealed. And yet from what I had heard....

We watched the daylight growing in the opening; at any moment it might
have been obscured by their figures. The tormenting incertitudes of that
hour were cruel enough to overcome, almost, the sensations of thirst,
of hunger, to engender a restlessness that had the effect of renewed
vigour. They were like a nightmare; but that nightmare seemed to clear
my mind of its feverish hallucinations. I was more collected, then, than
I had been for the last forty-eight hours of our imprisonment. But I
could not remain there, waiting. It was absolutely necessary that I
should watch at the entrance for the moment of their departure.

The morning was serenely cool and, in its stillness, their talk filled
with clear-cut words the calm air of the ravine. A party--I could not
tell how many--had already come up from the schooner in a great state
of excitement. They feared that their presence had, in some way, become
known to the peons of the _hacienda_. There was much abuse of a man
called Carneiro, who, the day before, had fired an incautious shot at
a fat cow on one of the inland _savannas_. They cursed him. Last
night, before the moon rose, those on board the schooner had heard the
whinnying of a horse. Somebody had ridden down to the water's edge in
the darkness and, after waiting a while, had galloped back the way he
came. The prints of hoofs on the beach showed that.

They feared these horsemen greatly. A vengeance was owing for the man
Manuel had killed; and I could guess they talked with their faces over
their shoulders. "And what about finding out whether the _Inglez_ was
there, dead or alive?" asked some.

I was sure, now, that they would not come down in a body. It would
expose them to the danger of being caught in the cavern by the peons.
There was no time for a thorough search, they argued.

For the first time that morning I heard Manuel's voice, "Stand aside."

He came down to the very brink.

"If the _Inglez_ is down there, and if he is alive, he is listening to
us now."

He was as certain as though he had been able to see me. He added:

"But there's no one."

"Go and look, Manuel," they cried.

He said something in a tone of contempt. The Voices above my head sank
into busy murmurs.

"Give me the rope here," he said aloud.

I had a feeling of some inconceivable danger nearing me; and in my state
of weakness I began to tremble, backing away from the orifice. I had no
strength in my limbs. I had no weapons. How could I fight? I would
use my teeth. With a light knocking against the rock above the arch,
Williams' flask, tied by its green cord to the end of a thick rope,
descended slowly, and hung motionless before the entrance.

It had been freshly filled with water; it was dripping wet outside, and
the silver top, struck by the sunbeams, dazzled my eyes.

This was the danger--this bait. And it seems to me that if I had had
the slightest inkling of what was coming, I should have rushed at it
instantly. But it took me some time to understand--to take in the idea
that this was water, there, within reach of my hand. With a great effort
I resisted the madness that incited me to hurl myself upon the flask. I
hung back with all my power. A convulsive spasm contracted my throat. I
turned about and fled out of the passage.

I ran to Seraphina. "Put out your hand to me," I panted in the darkness.
"I need your help."

I felt it resting lightly on my bowed head. She did not even ask me what
I meant; as if the greatness of her soul was omniscient. There was, in
that silence, a supreme unselfishness, the unquestioning devotion of a
woman.

"Patience, patience," I kept on muttering. I was losing confidence in
myself. If only I had been free to dash my head against the rock. I had
the courage for that, yet. But this was a situation from which there was
no issue in death.

"We are saved," I murmured distractedly.

"Patience," she breathed out. Her hand slipped languidly off my head.

And I began to creep away from her side. I am here to tell the truth. I
began to creep away towards the flask. I did not confess this to myself;
but I know now. There was a devilish power in it. I have learned
the nature of feelings in a man whom Satan beguiles into selling his
soul--the horror of an irresistible and fatal longing for a supreme
felicity. And in a drink of water for me, then, there was a greater
promise than in universal knowledge, in unbounded power, in unlimited
wealth, in imperishable youth. What could have been these seductions to
a drink? No soul had thirsted after things unlawful as my parched throat
thirsted for water. No devil had ever tempted a man with such a bribe of
perdition.

I suffered from the lucidity of my feelings. I saw, with indignation, my
own wretched self being angled for like a fish. And with all that, in
my forlorn state, I remained prudent. I did not rush out blindly. No. I
approached the inner end of the passage, as though I had been stalking
a wild creature, slowly, from the side. I crept along the wall of
the cavern, and protruded my head far enough to look at the fiendish
temptation.

There it was, a small dark object suspended in the light, with the
yellow rock across the ravine for a background. The silver top shivered
the sunbeams brilliantly. I had half hopes they had taken it away by
this time. When I drew my head back I lost sight of it, but all my being
went out to it with an almost pitiful longing. I remembered Castro for
the first time in many hours. Was I nothing better than Castro? He had
been angled for with salted meat. I shuddered. A darkness fell into
the passage. I put down my uplifted foot without advancing. The
unexpectedness of that shadow saved me, I believe. Manuel had descended
the cornice.

He was alone. Standing before the outer opening, he darkened the
passage, through which his talk to the people above came loudly into
my ears. They could see now if he were not a worthy _Capataz_. If the
_Inglez_ was in there he was a corpse. And yet, of these living hearts
above, of these _valientes_ of Rio Medio, there was not one who would go
alone to look upon a dead body. He had contrived an infallible test, and
yet they would not believe him. Well, his valiance should prove it; his
valiance, afraid neither of light nor of darkness.

I could not hear the answers he got from up there; but the vague sounds
that reached me carried the usual commingling of derision and applause,
the resentment of their jeers at the admiration he knew how to extort by
the display of his talents.

They must kill the cattle, these _caballeros_. He scolded ironically. Of
course. They must feed on meat like lions; but their souls were like the
souls of hens born on dunghills. And behold! there was he, Manuel, not
afraid of shadows.

He was coming in, there could be no doubt. Out there in the full light,
he could not possibly have detected that rapid appearance of my head
darted forward and withdrawn at once; but I had a view of his arm
putting aside the swinging flask, of his leg raised to step over the
high sill. I saw him, and I ran noiselessly away from the opening.

I had the time to charge Seraphina not to move, on our lives--on the
wretched remnant of our lives--when his black shape stood in the frame
of the opening, edged with a thread of light following the contour of
his hat, of his shoulders, of his whole body down to his feet--whence a
long shadow fell upon the pool of twilight on the floor.

What had made him come down? Vanity? The exacting demands of his
leadership? Fear of O'Brien? The _Juez_ would expect to hear something
definite, and his band pretended not to believe in the stratagem of the
bottle. I think that, for his part, from his knowledge of human nature,
he never doubted its efficacy. He could not guess how very little, only,
he was wrong. How very little! And yet he seemed rooted in incertitude
on the threshold. His head turned from side to side. I could not make
out his face as he stood, but the slightest of his movements did not
escape me. He stepped aside, letting in all the fullness of the light.

Would he have the courage to explore at least the immediate
neighbourhood of the opening? Who could tell his complex motives? Who
could tell his purpose or his fears? He had killed a man in there once.
But, then, he had not been alone. If he were only showing off before
his unruly band, he need not stir a step further. He did not advance.
He leaned his shoulders against the rock just clear of the opening. One
half of him was lighted plainly; his long profile, part of his raven
locks, one listless hand, his crossed legs, the buckle of one shoe.

"Nobody," he pronounced slowly, in a dead whisper.

While I looked at him, the profound _politico_, the artist, the
everlastingly questioned _Capataz_, the man of talent and ability, he
thought himself alone, and allowed his head to drop on his breast, as if
saddened by the vanity of human ambition. Then, lifting it with a jerk,
he listened with one ear turned to the passage; afterwards he peered
into the cavern. Two long strides, over the cold heap of ashes, brought
him to the stone seat.

It was very plain to me from his starting movements and attitudes, that
he shared his uneasy attention between the inside and the outside of the
cave. He sat down, but seemed ready to jump up; and I saw him turn his
eyes upwards to the dark vault, as if on the alert for a noise from
above. I am inclined to think he was expecting to hear the galloping
hoofs of the peons' horses every moment. I think he did. The words "I
am safer here than they above," were perfectly audible to me in the
mumbling he kept up nervously. He wished to hear the sound of his own
voice, as a timid person whistles and talks on a lonely road at
night. Only the year before he had killed a man in that cavern, under
circumstances that were, I believe, revolting even to the honour of
these bandits. He sat there between the shadow of his murder and the
reality of the vengeance. I asked myself what could be the outcome of a
struggle with him. He was armed; he was not weakened by hunger; but he
stood between us and the water. My thirst would give me strength; the
desire to end Seraphina's sufferings would make me invincible. On the
other hand, it was dangerous to interfere. I could not tell whether they
would not try to find out what became of him. It was safest to let him
go. It was extremely improbable that they would sail without him.

I am not conscious of having stirred a limb; neither had Seraphina
moved, I am ready to swear; but plainly something, some sort of sound,
startled him. He bounded out of his seated immobility, and in one leap
had his shoulders against the rock standing at bay before the darkness,
with his knife in his hand. I wonder he did not surprise me into an
exclamation. I was as startled as himself. His teeth and the whites of
his eyes gleamed straight at me from afar; he hissed with fear; for an
instant I was firmly convinced he had seen me. All this took place so
quickly that I had no time to make one movement towards receiving his
attack, when I saw him make a great sign of the cross in the air with
the point of his dagger.

He sheathed it slowly, and sidled along the few feet to the entrance,
his shoulders rubbing the wall. He blocked out the light, and in a
moment had backed out of sight.

Before he got to the further end I was already, at the inner, creeping
after him. I had started at once, as if his disappearance had removed a
spell, as though he had drawn me after him by an invisible bond. Raising
myself on my forearms I saw him, from his knees up, standing outside the
sill, with his back to the precipice and his face turned up.

"There is nobody in there," he shouted.

I sank down and wriggled forward on my stomach, raising myself on my
elbows, now and then, to look. Manuel was looking upwards conversing
with the people above, and holding Williams' flask in both his hands. He
never once glanced into the passage; he seemed to be trying to undo the
cord knotted to the end of the thick rope, which hung in a long bight
before him. The flask captured my eyes, my thought, my energy. I would
tear it away from him directly. There was in me, then, neither fear nor
intelligence; only the desire of possessing myself of the thing; but an
instinctive caution prevented my rushing out violently. I proceeded with
an animal-like stealthiness, with which cool reason had nothing to do.

He had some difficulty with the knot, and evidently did not wish to cut
the green silk cord. How well I remember his fumbling fingers. He sat
down sideways on the sill, with his legs outside, of course, his face
and hands turned to the light, very absorbed in his endeavour. They
shouted to him from above.

"I come at once," he cried to them, without lifting his head.

I had crept up almost near enough to grab the flask. It never occurred
to me that by flinging myself on him, I could have pushed him off
the sill. My only idea was to get hold. He did not exist for me. The
leather-covered bottle was the only real thing in the world. I was
completely insane. I heard a faint detonation, and Manuel got up quickly
from the sill. The flask was out of my reach.

There were more popping sounds of shots fired, away on the plain. The
peons were attacking an outpost of the _Lugareņos_. A deep voice cried,
"They are driving them in." Then several together yelled:

"Come away, Manuel. Come away. _Por Dios...._"

Stretched at full length in the passage, and sustaining myself on my
trembling arms, I gazed up at him. He stood very rigid, holding the
flask in both hands. Several muskets were discharged together just
above, and in the noise of the reports I remember a voice crying
urgently over the edge, "Manuel! Manuel!" The shadow of irresolution
passed over his features. He hesitated whether to run up the ledge or
bolt into the cave. He shouted something. He was not answered, but the
yelling and the firing ceased suddenly, as if the _Lugareņos_ had given
up and taken to their heels. I became aware of a sort of increasing
throbbing sound that seemed to come from behind me, out of the cave;
then, as Manuel lifted his foot hastily to step over the sill, I jumped
up deliriously, and with outstretched hands lurched forward at the flask
in his fingers.

I believe I laughed at him in an imbecile manner.

Somebody laughed; and I remember the superior smile on his face passing
into a ghastly grin, that disappeared slowly, while his astonished eyes,
glaring at that gaunt and dishevelled apparition rising before him in
the dusk of the passage, seemed to grow to an enormous size. He drew
back his foot, as though it had been burnt; and in a panic-stricken
impulse, he flung the flask straight into my face, and staggered away
from the sill.

I made a catch at it with a scream of triumph, whose unearthly sound
brought me back to my senses.

"In the name of God, retire," he cried, as though I had been an
apparition from another world.

What took place afterwards happened with an inconceivable rapidity, in
less time than it takes to draw breath. He never recognized me. I saw
his glare of incredulous awe change, suddenly, to horror and despair. He
had felt himself losing his balance.

He had stepped too far back. He tried to recover himself, but it was too
late. He hung for a moment in his backward fall; his arms beat the air,
his body curled upon itself with an awful striving. All at once he
went limp all over, and, with the sunlight full upon his upturned face,
vanished downwards from my sight.

But at the last moment he managed to clutch the bight of the hanging
rope. The end of it must have been lying quite loose on the ground
above, for I saw its whole length go whizzing after him, in the
twinkling of an eye. I pressed the flask fiercely to my breast, raging
with the thought that he could yet tear it out of my hands; but by the
time the strain came, his falling body had acquired such a velocity that
I didn't feel the slightest jerk when the green cord snapped--no more
than if it had been the thread of a cobweb.

I confess that tears, tears of gratitude, were running down my face. My
limbs trembled. But I was sane enough not to think of myself any more.

"Drink! Drink," I stammered, raising Seraphina's head on my shoulder,
while the galloping horses of the peons in hot pursuit passed with a
thundering rumble above us. Then all was still.

Our getting out of the cave was a matter of unremitting toil, through
what might have been a year of time; the recollection is of an arduous
undertaking, accomplished without the usual incentives of men's
activity. Necessity, alone, remained; the iron necessity without the
glamour of freedom of choice, of pride.

Our unsteady feet crushed, at last, the black embers of the fires
scattered by the hoofs of horses; and the plain appeared immense to our
weakness, swept of shadows by the high sun, lonely and desolate as
the sea. We looked at the litter of the _Lugareņos' _camp, rags on the
trodden grass, a couple of abandoned blankets, a musket thrown away in
the panic, a dirty red sash lying on a heap of sticks, a wooden
bucket from the schooner, smashed water-gourds. One of them remained
miraculously poised on its round bottom and full to the brim, while
everything else seemed to have been overturned, torn, scattered
haphazard by a furious gust of wind. A scaffolding of poles, for drying
strips of meat, had been knocked over; I found nothing there except bits
of hairy hide; but lumps of scorched flesh adhered to the white bones
scattered amongst the ashes of the camp--and I thanked God for them.

We averted our eyes from our faces in very love, and we did not speak
from pity for each other. There was no joy in our escape, no relief,
no sense of freedom. The _Lugareņos_ and the peons, the pursued and the
pursuers, had disappeared from the upland without leaving as much as a
corpse in view. There were no moving things on the earth, no bird
soared in the pellucid air, not even a moving cloud on the sky. The
sun declined, and the rolling expanse of the plain frightened us, as if
space had been something alive and hostile.

We walked away from that spot, as if our feet had been shod in lead; and
we hugged the edge of the cruel ravine, as one keeps by the side of
a friend. We must have been grotesque, pathetic, and lonely; like two
people newly arisen from a tomb, shrinking before the strangeness of
the half-forgotten face of the world. And at the head of the ravine we
stopped.

The sensation of light, vastness, and solitude, rolled upon our souls
emerging from the darkness, overwhelmingly, like a wave of the sea. We
might have been an only couple sent back from the underworld to begin
another cycle of pain on a depopulated earth. It had not for us even the
fitful caress of a breeze; and the only sound of greeting was the angry
babble of the brook dashing down the stony slope at our feet.

We knelt over it to drink deeply and bathe our faces. Then looking about
helplessly, I discovered afar the belt of the sea inclosed between the
undulating lines of the dunes and the straight edge of the horizon. I
pointed my arm at the white sails of the schooner creeping from under
the land, and Seraphina, resting her head on my shoulder, shuddered.

"Let us go away from here."

Our necessity pointed down the slope. We could not think of another way,
and the extent of the plain with its boundary of forests filled us with
the dread of things unknown. But, by getting down to the inlet of the
sea, and following the bank of the little river, we were sure to reach
the _hacienda_, if only a hope could buoy our sinking hearts long
enough.

From our first step downwards the hard, rattling noise of the stones
accompanied our descent, growing in volume, bewildering our minds. We
had missed the indistinct beginning of the trail on the side of the
ravine, and had to follow the course of the stream. A growth of wiry
bushes sprang thickly between the large fragments of fallen rocks. On
our right the shadows were beginning to steal into the chasm. Towering
on our left the great stratified wall caught at the top of the glow of
the low sun in a rich, tawny tint, right under the dark blue strip of
sky, that seemed to reflect the gloom of the ravine, the sepulchral arid
gloom of deep shadows and gray rocks, through which the shallow torrent
dashed violently with glassy gleams between the sombre masses of
vegetation.

We pushed on through the bunches of tough twigs; the massive boulders
closed the view on every side; and Seraphina followed me with her hands
on my shoulders. This was the best way in which I could help her descent
till the declivity became less steep; and then I went ahead, forcing a
path for her. Often we had to walk into the bed of the stream. It was
icy cold. Some strange beast, perhaps a bird, invisible somewhere,
emitted from time to time a faint and lamentable shriek. It was a wild
scene, and the orifice of the cave appeared as an inaccessible black
hole some ninety feet above our heads.

Then, as I stepped round a large fragment of rock, my eyes fell on
Manuel's body.

Seraphina was behind me. With a wave of my hand I arrested her. It had
not occurred to me before that, following the bottom of the ravine, we
must come upon the two bodies. Castro's was lower down, of course. I
would have spared her the sight, but there was no retracing our steps.
We had no strength and no time. Manuel was lying on his back with his
hands under him, and his feet nearly in the brook.

The lower portion of the rope made a heap of cordage on the ground near
him, but a great length of it hung perpendicularly above his head. The
loose end he had snatched over the edge of his fall had whipped itself
tight round the stem of a dwarf tree growing in a crevice high up the
rock; and as he fell below, the jerk must have checked his descent, and
had prevented him from alighting on his head. There was not a sign of
blood anywhere upon him or on the stones. His eyes were shut. He might
have lain down to sleep there, in our way; only from the slightly
unnatural twist in the position of his arms and legs, I saw, at a
glance, that all his limbs were broken.

On the other side of the boulder Seraphina called to me, and I could not
answer her, so great was the shock I received in seeing the flutter of
his slowly opening eyelids.

He still lived, then! He looked at me! It was an awful discovery to
make, and the contrast of his anxious and feverish stare with the
collapsed posture of his body was full of intolerable suggestions of
fate blundering unlawfully, of death itself being conquered by pain. I
looked away only to perceive something pitiless, belittling, and cruel
in the precipitous immobility of the sheer walls, in the dark funereal
green of the foliage, in the falling shadows, in the remoteness of the
sky.

The unconsciousness of matter hinted at a weird and mysterious
antagonism. All the inanimate things seemed to have conspired to throw
in our way this man just enough alive to feel pain. The faint and
lamentable sounds we had heard must have come from him. He was looking
at me. It was impossible to say whether he saw anything at all. He
barred our road with his remnant of life; but, when suddenly he spoke,
my heart stood still for a moment in my motionless body.

"You, too!" he droned awfully. "Behold! I have been precipitated, alive,
into this hell by another ghost. Nothing else could have overcome the
greatness of my spirit."

His red shirt was torn open at the throat. His bared breast began to
heave. He cried out with pain. Ready to fly from him myself, I shouted
to Seraphina to keep away.

But it was too late. Imagining I had seen some new danger in our path,
she had advanced to stand by my side.

"He is dying," I muttered in distraction. "We can do nothing."

But could we pass him by before he died? "This is terrible," said
Seraphina.

My real hope had been that, after driving the _Lugareņos_ away, the
peons would off-saddle near the little river to rest themselves and
their horses. This is why I had almost pitilessly hurried Seraphina,
after we had left the cave, down the steep but short descent of the
ravine. I had kept to myself my despairing conviction that we could
never reach the _hacienda_ unaided, even if we had known the way. I
had pretended confidence in ourselves, but all my trust was in the
assistance I expected to get from these men. I understood so well the
slenderness of that hope that I had not dared to mention it to her and
to propose she should wait for me on the upland, while I went down
by myself on that quest. I could not bear the fear of returning
unsuccessful only to find her dead. That is, if I had the strength to
return after such a disappointment.

And the idea of her, waiting for me in vain, then wandering off, perhaps
to fall under a bush and die alone, was too appalling to contemplate.
That we must keep together, at all costs, was like a point of honour,
like an article of faith with us--confirmed by what we had gone through
already. It was like a law of existence, like a creed, like a defence
which, once broken, would let despair upon our heads. I am sure she
would not have consented to even a temporary separation. She had a sort
of superstitious feeling that, should we be forced apart, even to
the manifest saving of our lives, we would lay ourselves open to some
calamity worse than mere death could be.

I loved her enough to share that feeling, but with the addition of a
man's half-unconscious selfishness. I needed her indomitable frailness
to prop my grosser strength. I needed that something not wholly of this
world, which women's more exalted nature infuses into their passions,
into their sorrows, into their joys; as if their adventurous souls had
the power to range beyond the orbit of the earth for the gathering of
their love, their hate--and their charity.

"He calls for death," she said, shrinking with horror and pity before
the mutters of the miserable man at our feet. Every moment of daylight
was of the utmost importance, if we were to save our freedom, our
happiness, our very lives; and we remained rooted to the spot. For it
seemed as though, at last, he had attained the end of his enterprise. He
had captured us, as if by a very cruel stratagem.

A drowsiness would come at times over those big open eyes, like a film
through which a blazing glance would break out now and then. He had
recognized us perfectly; but, for the most part, we seemed to him to be
the haunting ghosts of his inferno.

"You came from heaven," he raved feebly, rolling his straining eyes
towards Seraphina. His internal injuries must have been frightful.
Perhaps he dared not shift his head--the only movement that was in his
power. "I reached up to the very angels in the inspiration of my song,"
he droned, "and would be called a demon on earth. _Manuel el Demonio_.
And now precipitated alive.... Nothing less. There is a greatness in me.
Let some dew fall upon my lips."

He moaned from the very bottom of his heart. His teeth chattered.

"The blessed may not know anything of the cold and thirst of this place.
A drop of dew--as on earth you used to throw alms to the poor from your
coach--for the love of God."

She sank on the stones nearer to him than I would willingly have done,
brave as a woman, only, can be before the atrocious depths of human
misery. I leaned my shoulders against the boulder and crossed my arms on
my breast, as if giving up an unequal struggle. Her hair was loose, her
dress stained with ashes, torn by brambles; the darkness of the cavern
seemed to linger in her hollow cheeks, in her sunken temples.

"He is thirsty," she murmured to me.

"Yes," I said.

She tore off a strip of her dress, dipped it in the running water at her
side, and approached it, all dripping, to his lips which closed upon
it with avidity. The walls of the rock looked on implacably, but the
rushing stream seemed to hurry away, as if from an accursed spot.

"Dew from heaven," he sighed out.

"You are on earth, Manuel," she said. "You are given time to repent.
This is earth."

"Impossible," he muttered with difficulty.

He had forced his human fellowship upon us, this man whose ambition it
had been to be called demon on the earth. He held us by the humanity of
his broken frame, by his human glance, by his human voice. I wonder if,
had I been alone, I would have passed on as reason dictated, or have had
the courage of pity and finished him off, as he demanded. Whenever he
became aware of our presence, he addressed me as "Thou, English ghost,"
and directed me, in a commanding voice, to take a stone and crush his
head, before I went back to my own torments. I withdrew, at last,
where he could not see me; but Seraphina never flinched in her task of
moistening his lips with the strip of cloth she dipped in the brook,
time after time, with a sublime perseverance of compassion.

It made me silent. Could I have stood there and recited the sinister
detail of that man's crimes, in the hope that she would recoil from him
to pursue the road of safety? It was not his evil, but his suffering
that confronted us now. The sense of our kinship emerged out of it like
a fresh horror after we had escaped the sea, the tempest; after we had
resisted untold fatigues, hunger, thirst, despair. We were vanquished by
what was in us, not in him. I could say nothing. The light ebbed out of
the ravine. The sky, like a thin blue veil stretched between the earth
and the spaces of the universe, filtered the gloom of the darkness
beyond.

I thought of the invisible sun ready to set into the sea, of the peons
riding away, and of our helpless, hopeless state.

"For the love of God," he mumbled.

"Yes, for the love of God," I heard her expressionless voice repeat. And
then there was only the greedy sound of his lips sucking at the cloth,
and the impatient ripple of the stream.

"Come, death," he sighed.

Yes, come, I thought, to release him and to set us free. All my prayer,
now, was that we should be granted the strength to struggle from under
the malignant frown of these crags, to close our eyes forever in the
open.

And the truth is that, had we gone on, we should have found no one by
the sea. The routed _Lugareņos_ had been able to embark under cover of a
fusillade from those on board the schooner. All that would have met our
despair, at the end of our toilsome march, would have been three dead
pirates lying on the sand. The main body of the peons had gone, already,
up the valley of the river with their few wounded. There would have been
nothing for us to do but to stumble on and on upon their track, till we
lay down never to rise again. They did not draw rein once, between the
sea and the _hacienda_, sixteen miles away.

About the time when we began our descent into the ravine, two of the
peons, detached from the main body for the purpose of observing the
schooner from the upland, had topped the edge of the plain. We had then
penetrated into Manuel's inferno, too deep to be seen by them. These
men spent some time lying on the grass, and watching over the dunes the
course of the schooner on the open sea. Their horses were grazing near
them. The wind was light; they waited to see the vessel far enough down
the coast to make any intention of return improbable.

It was Manuel who saved our lives, defeating his own aim to the bitter
end. Had not his vanity, policy, or the necessity of his artistic soul,
induced him to enter the cave; had not his cowardice prevented him
joining the _Lugareņos_ above, at the moment of the attack; had he not
recoiled violently in a superstitious fear before my apparition at the
mouth of the cave--we should have been released from our entombment,
only to look once more at the sun. He paid the price of our ransom, to
the uttermost farthing, in his lingering death. Had he killed himself on
the spot, he would have taken our only slender chance with him into
that nether world where he imagined himself to have been "precipitated
alive." Finding him dead, we should have gone on. Less than ten minutes,
no more than another ten paces beyond the spot, we should have been
hidden from sight in the thickets of denser growth in the lower part
of the ravine. I doubt whether we should have been able to get through;
but, even so, we should have been going away from the only help within
our reach. We should have been lost.

The two _vaqueros_, after seeing the schooner hull down under the low,
fiery sun of the west, mounted and rode home over the plain, making for
the head of the ravine, as their way lay. And, as they cantered along
the side opposite to the cave, one of them caught sight of the length of
rope dangling down the precipice. They pulled up at once.

The first I knew of their nearness was the snorting of a horse forced
towards the edge of the chasm. I saw the animal's forelegs planted
tensely on the very brink, and the body of the rider leaning over his
neck to look down. And, when I wished to shout, I found I could not
produce the slightest sound.

The man, rising in his stirrups, the reins in one hand and turning up
the brim of his sombrero with the other, peered down at us over the
pricked ears of his horse. I pointed over my head at the mouth of
the cave, then down at Seraphina, lifting my hands to show that I was
unarmed. I opened my lips wide. Surprise, agitation, weakness, had
robbed me of every vestige of my voice. I beckoned downwards with a
desperate energy, Horse and rider remained perfectly still, like an
equestrian statue set up on the edge of a precipice. Sera-phina had
never raised her head.

The man's intent scrutiny could not have mistaken me for a _Lugareno_.
I think he gazed so long because he was amazed to discover down there a
woman on her knees, stooping over a prostrate body, and a bareheaded man
in a ragged white shirt and black breeches, reeling between the bushes
and gesticulating violently, like an excited mute. But how a rope came
to hang down from a tree, growing in a position so inaccessible
that only a bird could have attached it there struck him as the most
mysterious thing of all. He pointed his finger at it interrogatively,
and I answered this inquiring sign by indicating the stony slope of the
ravine. It seemed as if he could not speak for wonder. After a while
he sat back in his saddle, gave me an encouraging wave of the hand, and
wheeled his horse away from the brink.

It was as if we had been casting a spell of extinction on each other's
voices. No sooner had he disappeared than I found mine. I do not suppose
it was very loud but, at my aimless screech, Seraphina looked upwards
on every side, saw no one anywhere, and remained on her knees with her
eyes, full of apprehension, fixed upon me.

"No! I am not mad, dearest," I said. "There was a man. He has seen us."

"Oh, Juan!" she faltered out, "pray with me that God may have mercy on
this poor wretch and let him die."

I said nothing. My thin, quavering scream after the peon had awakened
Manuel from his delirious dream of an inferno. The voice that issued
from his shattered body was awfully measured, hollow, and profound.

"You live!" he uttered slowly, turning his eyes full upon my face, and,
as if perceiving for the first time in me the appearance of a living
man. "Ha! You English walk the earth unscathed."

A feeling of pity came to me--a pity distinct from the harrowing
sensations of his miserable end. He had been evil in the obscurity of
his life, as there are plants growing harmful and deadly in the shade,
drawing poison from the dank soil on which they flourish. He was as
unconscious of his evil as they--but he had a man's right to my pity.

"I am b--roken," he stammered out.

Seraphina kept on moistening his lips.

"Repent, Manuel," she entreated fervently. "We have forgiven thee the
evil done to us. Repent of thy crimes--poor man."

"Your voice, Seņorita. What? You! You yourself bringing this blessing
to my lips! In your childhood I cried '_viva_' many times before your
coach. And now you deign--in your voice--with your hand. Ha! I could
improvise--The star stoops to the crushed worm...."

A rising clatter of rolling stones mingled from afar with the broken
moanings of his voice. Looking over my shoulder, I saw one peon
beginning the descent of the slope, and, higher up, motionless between
the heads of two horses, the head of another man--with the purple tint
of an enlarged sky beyond, reflecting the glow of an invisible sun
setting into the sea.

Manuel cried out piercingly, and we shuddered. Seraphina shrank close to
my side, hiding her head on my breast. The peon staggered awkwardly
down the slope, descending sideways in small steps, embarrassed by
the enormous rowels of his spurs. He had a striped _serape_ over his
shoulder, and grasped a broad-bladed _machete_ in his right hand. His
stumbling, cautious feet sent into the ravine a crashing sound, as
though we were to be buried under a stream of stones.

"_Vuestra Seņoria_" gasped Manuel. "I shall be silent. Pity me! Do
not--do not withdraw your hand from my extreme pain."

I felt she had to summon all her courage to look at him again. She
disengaged herself, resolutely, from my enfolding arms.

"No, no; unfortunate man," she said, in a benumbed voice. "Think of thy
end."

"A crushed worm, senorita," he mumbled.

The peon, having reached the bottom of the slope, became lost to view
amongst the bushes and the great fragments of rocks below. Every sound
in the ravine was hushed; and the darkening sky seemed to cast the
shadow of an everlasting night into the eyes of the dying man.

Then the peon came out, pushing through, in a great swish of parted
bushes. His spurs jingled at every step, his footfalls crunched heavily
on the pebbles. He stopped, as if transfixed, muttering his astonishment
to himself, but asking no questions. He was a young man with a thin
black moustache twisted gallantly to two little points. He looked up at
the sheer wall of the precipice; he looked down at the group we formed
at his feet. Suddenly, as if returning from an abyss of pain, Manuel
declared distinctly:

"I feel in me a greatness, an inspiration...."

These were his last words. The heavy dark lashes descended slowly upon
the faint gleam of the eyeballs, like a lowered curtain. The deep folds
of the ravine gathered the falling dusk into great pools of absolute
blackness, at the foot of the crags.

Rising high above our littleness, that watched, fascinated, the struggle
of lights and shadows over the soul entangled in the wreck of a man's
body, the rocks had a monumental indifference. And between their great,
stony faces, turning pale in the gloom, with the amazed peon as
if standing guard, _machete_ in hand, Manuel's greatness and his
inspiration passed away without as much as an exhaled sigh. I did not
even know that he had ceased to breathe, till Seraphina rose from her
knees with a low cry, and flung far away from her, nervously, the strip
of cloth upon which his parted lips had refused to close.

My arms were ready to receive her. "Ah! At last!" she cried. There was
something resentful and fierce in that cry, as though the pity of her
woman's heart had been put to too cruel a test.

I, too, had been humane to that man. I had had his life on the end of
my pistol, and had spared him from an impulse that had done nothing but
withhold from him the mercy of a speedy death. This had been my pity.

But it was Seraphina's cry--this "At last," showing the stress and pain
of the ordeal--that shook my faith in my conduct. It had brought upon
our heads a retribution of mental and bodily anguish, like a criminal
weakness. I was young, and my belief in the justice of life had received
a shock. If it were impossible to foretell the consequences of our acts,
if there were no safety in the motives within ourselves, what remained
for our guidance?

And the inscrutable immobility of towering forms, steeped in the shadows
of the chasm, appeared pregnant with a dreadful wisdom. It seemed to me
that I would never have the courage to lift my hand, open my lips,
make a step, obey a thought. A long sun-ray shot to the zenith from the
beclouded west, crossing obliquely in a faint red bar the purple band of
sky above the ravine.

The young _vaquero_ had taken off his hat before the might of death, and
made a perfunctory sign of the cross. He looked up and down the lofty
wall, as if it could give him the word of that riddle. Twice his spurs
clashed softly, and, with one hand grasping the rope, he stooped low in
the twilight over the body.

"We looked for this _Lugareņo_," he said, replacing his hat on his head
carelessly. "He was a mad singer, and I saw him once kill one of us very
swiftly. They used to call him in jest, _El Demonio_. Ah! But you...
But you...."

His wonder overcame him. His bewildered eyes glimmered, staring at us in
the deepening dusk.

"Speak, _hombre_," he cried. "Who are you and who is she? Whence came
you? Where are you going with this woman?..."

Joseph Conrad

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