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Chapter 1


"Why have I been brought here, your worships?" I asked, with a great
deal of firmness.

There were two figures in black, the one beside, the other behind a
large black table. I was placed in front of them, between two soldiers,
in the centre of a large, gaunt room, with bare, dirty walls, and the
arms of Spain above the judge's seat.

"You are before the _Juez de la Primiera Instancia_," said the man in
black beside the table. He wore a large and shadowy tricorn. "Be silent,
and respect the procedure."

It was, without doubt, excellent advice. He whispered some words in the
ear of the Judge of the First Instance. It was plain enough to me that
the judge was a quite inferior official, who merely decided whether
there were any case against the accused; he had, even to his clerk, an
air of timidity, of doubt.

I said, "But I insist on knowing...."

The clerk said, "In good time...." And then, in the same tone of
disinterested official routine, he spoke to the _Lugareņo_, who, from
beside the door, rolled very frightened eyes from the judges and the
clerk to myself and the soldiers--"Advance."

The judge, in a hurried, perfunctory voice, put questions to the
_Lugareņo_; the clerk scratched with a large quill on a sheet of paper.

"Where do you come from?"

"The town of Rio Medio, Excellency."

"Of what occupation?"

"Excellency--a few goats...."

"Why are you here?"

"My daughter, Excellency, married Pepe of the posada in the Calle...."

The judge said, "Yes, yes," with an unsanguine impatience. The
_Lugareņo's_ dirty hands jumped nervously on the large rim of his limp
hat.

"You lodge a complaint against the senor there."

The clerk pointed the end of his quill towards me.

"I? God forbid, Excellency," the _Lugareņo_ bleated. "The _Alguazil_ of
the Criminal Court instructed me to be watchful.

"You lodge an information, then?" the _juez_ said.

"Maybe it is an information, Excellency," the _Lugareņo_ answered, "as
regards the senor there."

The _Alguazil_ of the Criminal Court had told him, and many other men
of Rio Medio, to be on the watch for me, "undoubtedly touching what had
happened, as all the world knew, in Rio Medio."

He looked me full in the face with stupid insolence, and said:

"At first I much doubted, for all the world said this man was
dead--though others said worse things. Perhaps, who knows?"

He had seen me, he said, many times in Rio Medio, outside the Casa; on
the balcony of the Casa, too. And he was sure that I was a heretic and
an evil person.

It suddenly struck me that this man--I was undoubtedly familiar with his
face--must be the lieutenant of Manuel-del-Popolo, his boon companion.
Without doubt, he had seen me on the balcony of the Casa.

He had gained a lot of assurance from the conciliatory manner of the
_Juez_, and said suddenly, in a tentative way:

"An evil person; a heretic? Who knows? Perhaps it was he who incited
some people there to murder his seņoria, the illustrious Don."

I said almost contemptuously, "Surely the charge against me is most
absurd? Everyone knows who I am."

The old judge made a gentle, tired motion with his hand.

"Seņor," he said, "there is no charge against you--except that no
one knows who you are. You were in a place where very lamentable
and inexplicable things happened; you are now in Havana: you have no
passport. I beg of you to remain calm. These things are all in order."

I hadn't any doubt that, as far as he knew, he was speaking the truth.
He was a man, very evidently, of a weary and naīve simplicity. Perhaps
it was really true--that I should only have to explain; perhaps it was
all over.

O'Brien came into the room with the casual step of an official from an
office entering another's room.

It was as if seeing me were a thing that he very much disliked--that
he came because he wanted to satisfy himself of my existence, of my
identity, and my being alone. The slow stare that he gave me did not
mitigate the leisureliness of his entry. He walked behind the table; the
judge rose with immense deference; with his eternal smile, and no
word spoken, he motioned the judge to resume the examination; he stood
looking at the clerk's notes meditatively, the smile still round lips
that had a nervous tremble, and eyes that had dark marks beneath them.
He seemed as if he were still smiling just after having been violently
shaken.

The judge went on examining the _Lugareņo_.

"Do you know whence the seņor came?"

"Excellency, Excellency...." The man stuttered, his eyes on O'Brien's
face.

"Nor how long he was in the town of Rio Medio?" the judge went on.

O'Brien suddenly drooped towards his ear. "All those things are known,
senor, my colleague," he said, and began to whisper.

The old judge showed signs of very naīve astonishment and joy.

"Is it possible?" he exclaimed. "This man? He is very young to have
committed such crimes."

The clerk hurriedly left the room. He returned with many papers.
O'Brien, leaning over the judge's shoulder, emphasized words with one
finger. What new villainies could O'Brien be meditating? It wasn't
possibly the _Lugareņo's_ suggestion that I had lured men to murder Don
Balthasar? Was it merely that I had infringed some law in carrying off
Seraphina?

The old judge said, "How lucky, Don Patricio! We may now satisfy the
English admiral. What good fortune!"

He suddenly sat straight in his chair; O'Brien behind him scrutinized my
face--to see how I should bear what was coming.

"What is your name?" the judge asked peremptorily.

I said, "Juan--John Kemp. I am of noble English family; I am well enough
known. Ask the Seņor O'Brien."

On O'Brien's shaken face the smile hardened.

"I heard that in Rio Medio the senor was called... was called..." He
paused and appealed to the _Lugareņo_.

"What was he called--the _capataz_ the man who led the picaroons?"

The _Lugareņo_ stammered, "Nikola... Nikola el Escoces, Seņor Don
Patricio."

"You hear?" O'Brien asked the judge. "This villager identifies the man."

"Undoubtedly--undoubtedly," the _Juez_ said. "We need no more
evidence.... You, Seņor, have seen this villain in Rio Medio, this
villager identifies him by name."

I said, "This is absurd. A hundred witnesses can say that I am John
Kemp...."

"That may be true," the _Juez_ said dryly, and then to his clerk:

"Write here, 'John Kemp, of noble British family, called, on the scene
of his crimes, Nikola el Escoces, otherwise El Demonio.'"

I shrugged my shoulders. I did not, at the moment, realize to what this
all tended.

The judge said to the clerk, "Read the Act of Accusation. Read here...."
He was pointing to a paragraph of the papers the clerk had brought in.
They were the Act of Accusation, prepared long before, against the man
Nichols.

This particular villainy suddenly became grotesquely and portentously
plain. The clerk read an appalling catalogue of sordid crimes, working
into each other like kneaded dough--the testimony of witnesses who had
signed the record. Nikola had looted fourteen ships, and had apparently
murdered twenty-two people with his own hand--two of them women--and
there was the affair of Rowley's boats. "The pinnace," the clerk read,
"of the British came within ten yards. The said Nikola then exclaimed,
'Curse the bloodthirsty hounds,' and fired the grapeshot into the boat.
Seven were killed by that discharge. This I saw with my own eyes....
Signed, Isidoro Alemanno." And another swore, "The said Nikola was
below, but he came running up, and with one blow of his knife severed
the throat of the man who was kneeling on the deck...."

There was no doubt that Nikola had committed these crimes; that the
witnesses had sworn to them and signed the deposition.... The old judge
had evidently never seen him, and now O'Brien and the _Lugareņo_ had
sworn that I was Nikola el Escoces, alias El Demonio.

My first impulse was to shout with rage; but I checked it because I knew
I should be silenced. I said:

"I am not Nikola el Escoces. That I can easily prove."

The Judge of the First Instance shrugged his shoulders and looked, with
implicit trust, up into O'Brien's face.

"That man," I pointed at the _Lugareņo_, "is a pirate. And, what is
more, he is in the pay of the Seņor Juez O'Brien. He was the lieutenant
of a man called Manuel-del-Popolo, who commanded the _Lugareņos_ after
Nikola left Rio Medio."

"You know very much about the pirates," the _Juez_ said, with the
sardonic air of a very stupid man. "Without doubt you were intimate with
them. I sign now your order for committal to the _carcel_ of the Marine
Court."

I said, "But I tell you I am not Nikola...."

The _Juez_ said impassively, "You pass out of my hands into those of the
Marine Court. I am satisfied that you are a person deserving of a trial.
That is the limit of my responsibility."

I shouted then, "But I tell you this O'Brien is my personal enemy."

The old man smiled acidly.

"The seņor need fear nothing of our courts. He will be handed over to
his own countrymen. Without doubt of them he will obtain justice." He
signed to the _Lugareņo_ to go, and rose, gathering up his papers;
he bowed to O'Brien. "I leave the criminal at the disposal of your
worship," he said, and went out with his clerk.

O'Brien sent out the two soldiers after him, and stood there alone. He
had never been so near his death. But for sheer curiosity, for my sheer
desire to know what he _could_ say, I would have smashed in his brains
with the clerk's stool. I was going to do it; I made one step towards
the stool. Then I saw that he was crying.

"The curse--the curse of Cromwell on you," he sobbed suddenly. "You send
me back to hell again." He writhed his whole body. "Sorrow!" he said, "I
know it. But what's this? What's _this?_"

The many reasons he had for sorrow flashed on me like a procession of
sombre images.

"Dead and done with a man can bear," he muttered. "But this--Not to
know--perhaps alive--perhaps hidden--She may be dead...." With a change
like a flash he was commanding me.

"Tell me how you escaped."

I had a vague inspiration of the truth.

"You aren't fit for a decent man's speaking to," I said.

"You let her drown."

It gave me suddenly the measure of his ignorance; he did not know
anything--nothing. His hell was uncertainty. Well, let him stay there.

"Where is she?" he said. "Where is she?"

"Where she's no need to fear you," I answered.

He had a sudden convulsive gesture, as if searching for a weapon.

"If you'll tell me she's alive..." he began.

"Oh, I'm not dead," I answered.

"Never a drowned puppy was more," he said, with a flash of vivacity.
"You hang here--for murder--or in England for piracy."

"Then I've little to want to live for," I sneered at him.

"You let her drown," he said. "You took her from that house, a young
girl, in a little boat. And you can hold up your head."

"I was trying to save her from you," I answered.

"By God," he said. "These English--I've seen them, spit the child on the
mother's breast. I've seen them set fire to the thatch of the widow and
childless. But this.... But this.... I can save you, I tell you."

"You can't make me go through worse than I've borne," I answered. Sorrow
and all he might wish on my head, my life was too precious to him till I
spoke. I wasn't going to speak.

"I'll search every ship in the harbour," he said passionately.

"Do," I said. "Bring your _Lugareņos_ to the task."

Upon the whole, I wasn't much afraid. Unless he got definite evidence he
couldn't--in the face of the consul's protests, and the presence of the
admiral--touch the _Lion_ again. He fixed his eyes intently upon me.

"You came in the American brigantine," he said. "It's known you landed
in her boat."

I didn't answer him; it was plain enough that the _drogher's_ arrival
had either not been reported to him, or it had been searched in vain.

"In her boat," he repeated. "I tell you I know she is not dead; even
you, an Englishman, must have a different face if she were."

"I don't at least ask you for life," I said, "to enjoy with her."

"She's alive," he said. "Alive! As for where, it matters little. I'll
search every inch of the island, every road, every _hacienda_. You don't
realize my power."

"Then search the bottom of the sea," I shouted.

"Let's look at the matter in the right light."

He had mastered his grief, his incertitude. He was himself again, and
the smile had returned--as if at the moment he forced his features to
their natural lines.

"Send one of your friars to heaven--you'll never go there yourself to
meet her."

"If you will tell me she's alive, I'll save you."

I made a mute, obstinate gesture.

"If she's alive, and you don't tell me, I can't but find her. And I'll
make you know the agonies of suspense--a long way from here."

I was silent.

"If she's dead, and you'll tell me, I'll save you some trouble. If she's
dead and you don't, you'll have your own remorse and the rest, too."

I said, "You're too Irish mysterious for me to understand. But you've a
choice of four evils for me--choose yourself."

He continued with a quivering, taut good-humour: "Prove to me she's
dead, and I'll let you die sharply and mercifully."

"You won't believe!" I said; but he took no notice.

"I tell you plainly," he smiled. "If we find... if we find her dear
body--and I can't help; but I've men on the watch all along the
shores--I'll give you up to your admiral for a pirate. You'll have
a long slow agony of a trial; I know what English justice is. And a
disgraceful felon's death."

I was thinking that, in any case, a day or so might be gained, the
_Lion_ would be gone; they could not touch her while the flagship
remained outside. I certainly didn't want to be given up to the admiral;
I might explain the mistaken identity. But there was the charge of
treason in Jamaica. I said:

"I only ask to be given up; but you daren't do it for your own credit. I
can show you up."

He said, "Make no mistake! If he gets you, he'll hang you. He's going
home in disgrace. Your whole blundering Government will work to hang
you."

"They know pretty well," I answered, "that there are queer doings in
Havana. I promise you, I'll clear things up. I know too much...."

He said, with a sudden, intense note of passion, "Only tell me where her
grave is, I'll let you go free. You couldn't, you dare not, dastard that
you are, go away from where she died--without... without making sure."

"Then search all the new graves in the island," I said, "I'll tell you
nothing.... Nothing!"

He came at me again and again, but I never spoke after that. He made all
the issues clearer and clearer--his own side involuntarily and all the
griefs I had to expect. As for him, he dared not kill me--and he dared
not give me up to the admiral. In his suspense, since, for him, I was
the only person in the world who knew Seraphina's fate, he dared not let
me out of his grip. And all the while he had me he must keep the admiral
there, waiting for the surrender either of myself or of some other poor
devil whom he might palm off as Nikola el Escoces. While the admiral was
there the _Lion_ was pretty safe from molestation, and she would sail
pretty soon.

At the same time, except for the momentary sheer joy of tormenting a
man whom I couldn't help regarding as a devil, I had more than enough to
fear. I had suffered too much; I wanted rest, woman's love, slackening
off. And here was another endless coil--endless. If it didn't end in a
knife in the back, he might keep me for ages in Havana; or he might
get me sent to England, where it would take months, an endless time, to
prove merely that I wasn't Nikola el Escoces. I should prove it; but,
in the meantime, what would become of Sera-phina? Would she follow me to
England? Would she even know that I had gone there? Or would she think
me dead and die herself? O'Brien knew nothing; his spies might report a
hundred uncertainties. He was standing rigidly still now, as if afraid
to move for fear of breaking down. He said suddenly:

"You came in some ship; you can't deceive me, I shall have them all
searched again."

I said desperately, "Search and be damned--whatever ships you like."

"You cold, pitiless, English scoundrel," he shrieked suddenly. The
breaking down of his restraint had let him go right into madness. "You
have murdered her. You cared nothing; you came from nowhere. A beggarly
fool, too stupid to be even an adventurer. A miserable blunderer, coming
in blind; coming out blind; and leaving ruin and worse than hell. What
good have you done yourself? What could you? What did you see? What did
you hope?... Sorrow? Ruin? Death? I am acquainted with them. It is in
the blood; 'tis in the tone; in the entrails of us, in our mother's
milk. Your accursed land has brought always that on our own dear and
sorrowful country.... You waste, you ruin, you spoil. What for?... Tell
me what for? Tell me? Tell me? What did you gain? What will you ever
gain? An unending curse!... But, ah, ye've no souls."

He called very loudly, as if with a passionate relief, his voice giving
life to an unsuspected, misgiving echo:

"Guards! Soldiers!... You shall be shot, now!"

He was going to cut the knot that way. Two soldiers pushed the door
noisily open, their muskets advanced. He took no notice of them; and
they retained an attitude of military stupidity, their eyes upon him. He
whispered:

"No, no! Not yet!"

Then he looked at me searchingly, as if he still hoped to get some
certainty from my face, some inkling, perhaps some inspiration of what
would persuade me to speak. Then he shook his wrists violently, as if in
fear of himself.

"Take him away," he said. "Away! Out of reach of my hands. Out of reach
of my hands."

I was trembling a good deal; when the soldiers entered I thought I had
got to my last minute. But, as it was, he had not learnt a thing
from me. Not a thing. And I did not see where else he could go for
information.

Joseph Conrad

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