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Chapter 4

I remained lying there, bound hand and foot, for a long time; for quite
long enough to allow me to collect my senses and see that I had been a
fool to threaten O'Brien. I had been nobly indignant, and behold! I
had a sack thrown over my head for my pains, and was put away safely
somewhere or other. It seemed to be a cellar.

I was in search of romance, and here were all the elements; Spaniards,
a conspirator, and a kidnapping; but I couldn't feel a fool and
romantic as well. True romance, I suppose, needs a whirl of emotions to
extinguish all the senses except that of sight, which it dims. Except
for sight, which I hadn't at all, I had the use of them all, and all
reported unpleasant things.

I ached and smarted with my head in a sack, with my mouth full of
flour that had gone mouldy and offended my nostrils; I had a sense of
ignominy, and I was extremely angry; I could see that the old Don was in
his dotage--but Carlos I was bitter against.

I was not really afraid; I could not suppose that the Riegos would allow
me to be murdered or seriously maltreated. But I was incensed against
Fate or Chance or whatever it is--on account of the ignominious details,
the coarse sack, the mouldy flour, the stones of the tunnel that
had barked my shins, the tightness of the ropes that bound my ankles
together, and seemed to cut into my wrists behind my back.

I waited, and my fury grew in a dead silence. How would it end--with
what outrage? I would show my contempt and preserve my dignity by
submitting without a struggle--I despised this odious plot. At last
there were voices, footsteps; I found it very hard to carry out my
resolution and refrain from stifled cries and kicks. I was lifted up and
carried, like a corpse, with many stumbles, by men who sometimes growled
as they hastened along. From time to time somebody murmured, "Take
care." Then I was deposited into a boat. The world seemed to be swaying,
splashing, jarring--and it became obvious to me that I was being taken
to some ship. The Spanish ship, of course. Suddenly I broke into cold
perspiration at the thought that, after all, their purpose might be
to drop me quickly overboard. "Carlos!" I cried. I felt the point of a
knife on my breast. "Silence, Seņor!" said a gruff voice.

This fear vanished when we came alongside a ship evidently already under
way; but I was handled so roughly and clumsily that I was thoroughly
exhausted and out of breath, by the time I was got on board. All was
still around me; I was left alone on a settee in the main cabin, as I
imagined. For a long time I made no movement; then a door opened and
shut. There was a murmured conversation between two voices. This went
on in animated whispers for a time. At last I felt as if someone were
trying, rather ineffectually, to remove the sack itself. Finally, that
actually did rub its way over my head, and something soft and silken
began to wipe my eyes with a surprising care, and even tenderness. "This
was stupidly done," came a discontented remark; "you do not handle a
_caballero_ like this."

"And how else was it to be done, to that kind of _caballero?_" was the
curt retort.

By that time I had blinked my eyes into a condition for remaining open
for minute stretches. Two men were bending over me--Carlos and O'Brien
himself. The latter said:

"Believe me, your mistake made this necessary. This young gentleman was
about to become singularly inconvenient, and he is in no way harmed."

He spoke in a velvety voice, and walked away gently through the
darkness. Carlos followed with the lanthorn dangling at arm's length;
strangely enough he had not even looked at me. I suppose he was ashamed,
and I was too proud to speak to him, with my hands and feet tied fast.
The door closed, and I remained sitting in the darkness. Long small
windows grew into light at one end of the place, curved into an outline
that suggested a deep recess. The figure of a crowned woman, that moved
rigidly up and down, was silhouetted over my body. Groaning creaks of
wood and the faint swish of water made themselves heard continuously.

I turned my head to a click, I saw a door open a little way, and the
small blue flame of a taper floated into the room. Then the door closed
with a definite sound of shutting in. The light shone redly through
protecting fingers, and upwards on to a small face. It came to a halt,
and I made out the figure of a girl leaning across a table and looking
upwards. There was a click of glass, and then a great blaze of light
created a host of shining things; a glitter of gilded carvings, red
velvet couches, a shining table, a low ceiling, painted white, on carved
rafters. A large silver lamp she had lighted kept on swinging to the
gentle motion of the ship.

She stood just in front of me; the girl that I had seen through the
door; the girl I had seen play with the melon seeds. She was breathing
fast--it agitated me to be alone with her--and she had a little shining
dagger in her hand.

She cut the rope round my ankles, and motioned me imperiously to turn
round. "Your hands--your hands!"

I turned my back awkwardly to her, and felt the grip of small, cool,
very firm fingers upon my wrists. My arms fell apart, numb and perfectly
useless; I was half aware of pain in them, but it passed unnoticed among
a cloud of other emotions. I didn't feel my finger-tips because I had
the agitation, the flutter, the tantalization of looking at her.

I was all the while conscious of the--say, the irregularity of my
position, but I felt very little fear. There were the old Don, an
ineffectual, silver-haired old gentleman, who obviously was not a
pirate; the sleek O'Brien, and Carlos, who seemed to cough on the edge
of a grave--and this young girl. There was not any future that I could
conceive, and the past seemed to be cut off from me by a narrow, very
dark tunnel through which I could see nothing at all.

The young girl was, for the moment, what counted most on the whole,
the only thing the eye could rest on. She affected me as an apparition
familiar, yet absolutely new in her charm. I had seen her gray eyes; I
had seen her red lips; her dark hair, her lithe gestures; the carriage
of her head; her throat, her hands. I knew her; I seemed to have known
her for years. A rush of strange, sweet feeling made me dumb. She was
looking at me, her lips set, her eyes wide and still; and suddenly she
said:

"Ask nothing. The land is not far yet. You can escape, Carlos
thought.... But no! You would only perish for nothing. Go with God." She
pointed imperiously towards the square stern-ports of the cabin.

Following the direction of her hand, my eyes fell upon the image of a
Madonna; rather large--perhaps a third life-size; with a gilt crown,
a pink serious face bent a little forward over a pink naked child that
perched on her left arm and raised one hand. It stood on a bracket,
against the rudder casing, with fat cherubs' heads carved on the
supports. The young girl crossed herself with a swift motion of the
hand. The stern-ports, glazed in small panes, were black, and gleaming
in a white frame-work.

"Go--go--go with God," the girl whispered urgently. "There is a
boat-------"

I made a motion to rise; I wanted to go. The idea of having my liberty,
of its being again a possibility, made her seem of less importance;
other things began to have their share. But I could not stand, though
the blood was returning, warm and tingling, in my legs and hands. She
looked at me with a sharp frown puckering her brows a little; beat a
hasty tattoo with one of her feet, and cast a startled glance towards
the forward door that led on deck. Then she walked to the other side of
the table, and sat looking at me in the glow of the lamp.

"Your life hangs on a thread," she murmured.

I answered, "You have given it to me. Shall I never-------?" I was
acutely conscious of the imperfection of my language.

She looked at me sharply; then lowered her lids. Afterwards she raised
them again. "Think of yourself. Every moment is-------"

"I will be as quick as I can," I said.

I was chafing my ankles and looking up at her. I wanted, very badly, to
thank her for taking an interest in me, only I found it very difficult
to speak to her. Suddenly she sprang to her feet:

"That man thinks he can destroy you. I hate him--I detest him! You have
seen how he treats my father."

It struck me, like a blow, that she was merely avenging O'Brien's
insolence to her father. I had been kidnapped against Don Balthasar
Riego's will. It gave me very well the measure of the old man's
powerlessness in face of his intendant--who was obviously confident of
afterwards soothing the resentment.

I was glad I had not thanked her for taking an interest in me. I was
distressed, too, because once more I had missed Romance by an inch.

Someone kicked at the locked door. A voice cried--I could not help
thinking--warningly, "Seraphina, Seraphina," and another voice said with
excessive softness, "_Senorita! Voyons! quelle folie_."

She sprang at me. Her hand hurt my wrist as she dragged me aft. I
scrambled clumsily into the recess of the counter, and put my head out.
The night air was very chilly and full of brine; a little boat towing
by a long painter was sheering about in the phosphorescent wake of the
ship. The sea itself was pallid in the light of the moon, invisible to
me. A little astern of us, on our port quarter, a vessel under a press
of canvas seemed to stand still; looming up like an immense pale ghost.
She might have been coming up with us, or else we had just passed her--I
couldn't tell. I had no time to find out, and I didn't care. The great
thing was to get hold of the painter. The whispers of the girl urged me,
but the thing was not easy; the rope, fastened higher up, streamed
away out of reach of my hand. At last, by watching the moment when it
slacked, and throwing myself half out of the stern window, I managed to
hook it with my finger-tips. Next moment it was nearly jerked away from
me, but I didn't lose it, and the boat taking a run just then under the
counter, I got a good hold. The sound of another kick at the door made
me swing myself out, head first, without reflection. I got soused to the
waist before I had reached the bows of the boat. With a frantic effort
I clambered up and rolled in. When I got on my legs, the jerky motion
of tossing had ceased, the boat was floating still, and the light of
the stern windows was far away already. The girl had managed to cut the
painter.

The other vessel was heading straight for me, rather high on the water,
broad-beamed, squat, and making her way quietly, like a shadow. The
land might have been four or five miles away--I had no means of knowing
exactly. It looked like a high black cloud, and purple-gray mists here
and there among the peaks hung like scarves.

I got an oar over the stern to scull, but I was not fit for much
exertion. I stared at the ship I had left. Her stern windows glimmered
with a slight up-and-down motion; her sails seemed to fall into black
confusion against the blaze of the moon; faint cries came to me out of
her, and by the alteration of her shape I understood that she was being
brought to, preparatory to lowering a boat. She might have been half a
mile distant when the gleam of her stern windows swung slowly round and
went out. I had no mind to be recaptured, and began to scull frantically
towards the other vessel. By that time she was quite near--near
enough for me to hear the lazy sound of the water at her bows, and the
occasional flutter of a sail. The land breeze was dying away, and in the
wake of the moon I perceived the boat of my pursuers coming over, black
and distinct; but the other vessel was nearly upon me. I sheered under
her starboard bow and yelled, "Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!"

There was a lot of noise on board, and no one seemed to hear my shouts.
Several voices yelled. "That cursed Spanish ship ahead is heaving-to
athwart our hawse." The crew and the officers seemed all to be forward
shouting abuse at the "lubberly Dago," and it looked as though I were
abandoned to my fate. The ship forged ahead in the light air; I failed
in my grab at her fore chains, and my boat slipped astern, bumping
against the side. I missed the main chain, too, and yelled all the time
with desperation, "For God's sake! Ship ahoy! For God's sake throw me a
rope, some-, body, before it's too late!"

I was giving up all hope when a heavy coil--of a brace, I suppose--fell
upon my head, nearly knocking me over. Half stunned as I was,
desperation lent me strength to scramble up her side hand over hand,
while the boat floated away from under my feet. I was done up when I got
on the poop. A yell came from forward, "Hard aport." Then the same voice
addressed itself to abusing the Spanish ship very close to us now. "What
do you mean by coming-to right across my bows like this?" it yelled in a
fury.

I stood still in the shadows on the poop. We were drawing slowly past
the stern of the Spaniard, and O'Brien's voice answered in English:

"We are picking up a boat of ours that's gone adrift with a man. Have
you seen anything of her?" "No--confound you and your boat." Of course
those forward knew nothing of my being on board. The man who had thrown
me the rope--a passenger, a certain Major Cowper, going home with his
wife and child--had walked away proudly, without deigning as much as to
look at me twice, as if to see a man clamber on board a ship ten miles
from the land was the most usual occurrence. He was, I found afterwards,
an absurd, pompous person, as stiff as a ramrod, and so full of his
own importance that he imagined he had almost demeaned himself by his
condescension in throwing down the rope in answer to my despairing
cries. On the other hand, the helmsman, the only other person aft, was
so astounded as to become quite speechless. I could see, in the light of
the binnacle thrown upon his face, his staring eyes and his open mouth.

The voice forward had subsided by then, and as the stern of the Spanish
ship came abreast of the poop, I stepped out of the shadow of the sails,
and going close to the rail I said, not very loud--there was no need to
shout--but very distinctly:

"I am out of your clutches, Mr. O'Brien, after all. I promise you that
you shall hear of me yet."

Meanwhile, another man had come up from forward on the poop, growling
like a bear, a short, rotund little man, the captain of the ship. The
Spanish vessel was dropping astern, silent, with her sails all black,
hiding the low moon. Suddenly a hurried hail came out of her.

"What ship is this?"

"What's that to you, blank your eyes? The _Breeze_, if you want to know.
What are you going to do about it?" the little skipper shouted fiercely.
In the light wind the ships were separating slowly.

"Where are you bound to?" hailed O'Brien's voice again.

The little skipper laughed with exasperation. "Dash your blanked
impudence. To Havana, and be hanged to you. Anything more you want to
know? And my name's Lumsden, and I am sixty years old, and if I had you
here, I would put a head on you for getting in my way, you------"

He stopped, out of breath. Then, addressing himself to his passenger:

"That's the Spanish chartered ship that brought these sanguinary
pirates that were hanged this morning, major. She's taking the Spanish
commissioner back. I suppose they had no man-of-war handy for the
service in Cuba. Did you ever------"

He had caught sight of me for the first time, and positively jumped a
foot high with astonishment.

"Who on earth's that there?"

His astonishment was comprehensible. The major, Without deigning to
enlighten him, walked proudly away. He was too dignified a person to
explain.

It was left to me. Frequenting, as I had been doing, Ramon's store,
which was a great gossiping centre of the maritime world in Kingston, I
knew the faces and the names of most of the merchant captains who used
to gather there to drink and swap yarns. I was not myself quite unknown
to little Lumsden. I told him all my story, and all the time he kept
on scratching his bald head, full of incredulous perplexity. Old Seņor
Ramon! Such a respectable man. And I had been kidnapped? From his store!

"If I didn't see you here in my cuddy before my eyes, I wouldn't believe
a word you say," he declared absurdly.

But he was ready enough to take me to Havana. However, he insisted upon
calling down his mate, a gingery fellow, short, too, but wizened, and as
stupid as himself.

"Here's that Kemp, you know. The young fellow that Macdonald of the
Horton Pen picked up somewhere two years ago. The Spaniards in that
ship kidnapped him--so he says. He says they are pirates. But that's a
government chartered ship, and all the pirates that have ever been in
her were hanged this morning in Kingston. But here he is, anyhow. And
he says that at home he had throttled a Bow Street runner before he went
off with the smugglers. Did you ever hear the likes of it, Mercer? I
shouldn't think he was telling us a parcel of lies; hey, Mercer?"

And the two grotesque little chaps stood nodding their heads at me
sagaciously.

"He's a desperate character, then," said Mercer at last, cautiously.
"This morning, the very last thing I heard ashore, as I went to fetch
the fresh beef off, is that he had been assaulting a justice of the
peace on the highroad, and had been trying to knock down the admiral,
who was coming down to town in a chaise with Mr. Topnambo. There's a
warrant out against him under the Black Act, sir."

Then he brightened up considerably. "So he must have been kidnapped or
something after all, sir, or he would be in chokey now."

It was true, after all. Romance reserved me for another fate, for
another sort of captivity, for more than one sort. And my imagination
had been captured, enslaved already by the image of that young girl who
had called me her English cousin, the girl with the lizard, the girl
with the dagger! And with every word she uttered romance itself, if I
had only known it, the romance of persecuted lovers, spoke to me through
her lips.

That night the Spanish ship had the advantage of us in a freshening
wind, and overtook the _Breeze_. Before morning dawned she passed us,
and before the close of the next day she was gone out of sight ahead,
steering, apparently, the same course with ourselves.

Her superior sailing had an enormous influence upon my fortunes; and I
was more adrift in the world than ever before, more in the dark as to
what awaited me than when I was lugged along with my head in a sack.
I gave her but little thought. A sort of numbness had come over me. I
could think of the girl who had cut me free, and for all my resentment
at the indignity of my treatment, I had hardly a thought to spare for
the man who had me bound. I was pleased to remember that she hated him;
that she had said so herself. For the rest, I had a vague notion of
going to the English Consul in Havana. After all, I was not a complete
nobody. I was John Kemp, a gentleman, well connected; I could prove
it. The Bow Street runner had not been dead as I had thought. The
last letter from Veronica informed me that the man had given up
thief-catching, and was keeping, now, a little inn in the neighbourhood.
Ralph, my brother-in-law, had helped him to it, no doubt. I could come
home safely now.

And I had discovered I was no longer anxious to return home.

Joseph Conrad

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