I Live Again
Squire Rattray, as I say, was seated at the head of his table, where the broken meats still lay as he and I had left them; his fingers, I remember, were playing with a crust, and his eyes fixed upon a distant door, as he leant back in his chair. Behind him hovered the nigger of the Lady Jermyn, whom I had been the slower to recognize, had not her skipper sat facing me on the squire's right. Yes, there was Captain Harris in the flesh, eating heartily between great gulps of wine, instead of feeding the fishes as all the world supposed. And nearer still, nearer me than any, with his back to my window but his chair slued round a little, so that he also could see that door, and I his profile, sat Joaquin Santos with his cigarette!
None spoke; all seemed waiting; and all were silent but the captain, whose vulgar champing reached me through the crazy lattice, as I stood spellbound and petrified without.
They say that a drowning man lives his life again before the last; but my own fight with the sea provided me with no such moments of vivid and rapid retrospect as those during which I stood breathless outside the lighted windows of Kirby Hall. I landed again. I was dogged day and night. I set it down to nerves and notoriety; but took refuge in a private hotel. One followed me, engaged the next room, set a watch on all my movements; another came in by the window to murder me in my bed; no party to that, the first one nevertheless turned the outrage to account, wormed himself into my friendship on the strength of it, and lured me hither, an easy prey. And here was the gang of them, to meet me! No wonder Rattray had not let me see him off at the station; no wonder I had not been followed that night. Every link I saw in its right light instantly. Only the motive remained obscure. Suspicious circumstances swarmed upon my slow perception: how innocent I had been! Less innocent, however, than wilfully and wholly reckless: what had it mattered with whom I made friends? What had anything mattered to me? What did anything matter -
I thought my heart had snapped!
Why were they watching that door, Joaquin Santos and the young squire? Whom did they await? I knew! Oh, I knew! My heart leaped, my blood danced, my eyes lay in wait with theirs. Everything began to matter once more. It was as though the machinery of my soul, long stopped, had suddenly been set in motion; it was as though I was born again.
How long we seemed to wait I need not say. It cannot have been many moments in reality, for Santos was blowing his rings of smoke in the direction of the door, and the first that I noticed were but dissolving when it opened - and the best was true! One instant I saw her very clearly, in the light of a candle which she carried in its silver stick; then a mist blinded me, and I fell on my knees in the rank bed into which I had stepped, to give such thanks to the Almighty as this heart has never felt before or since. And I remained kneeling; for now my face was on a level with the sill; and when my eyes could see again, there stood my darling before them in the room.
Like a queen she stood, in the very travelling cloak in which I had seen her last; it was tattered now, but she held it close about her as though a shrewd wind bit her to the core. Her sweet face was all peeked and pale in the candle-light: she who had been a child was come to womanhood in a few weeks. But a new spirit flashed in her dear eyes, a new strength hardened her young lips. She stood as an angel brought to book by devils; and so noble was her calm defiance, so serene her scorn, that, as I watched and listened; all present fear for her passed out of my heart.
The first sound was the hasty rising of young Rattray; he was at Eva's side next instant, essaying to lead her to his chair, with a flush which deepened as she repulsed him coldly.
"You have sent for me, and I have come," said she. "But I prefer not to sit down in your presence; and what you have to say, you will be good enough to say as quickly as possible, that I may go again before I am - stifled!"
It was her one hot word; aimed at them all, it seemed to me to fall like a lash on Rattray's cheek, bringing the blood to it like lightning. But it was Santos who snatched the cigarette from his mouth, and opened upon the defenceless girl in a torrent of Portuguese, yellow with rage, and a very windmill of lean arms and brown hands in the terrifying rapidity of his gesticulations. They did not terrify Eva Denison. When Rattray took a step towards the speaker, with flashing eyes, it was some word from Eva that checked him; when Santos was done, it was to Rattray that she turned with her answer.
"He calls me a liar for telling you that Mr. Cole knew all," said she, thrilling me with my own name. "Don't you say anything," she added, as the young man turned on Santos with a scowl; you are one as wicked as the other, but there was a time when I thought differently of you: his character I have always known. Of the two evils, I prefer to speak to you."
Rattray bowed, humbly enough, I thought; but my darling's nostrils only curled the more.
"He calls me a liar," she continued; "so may you all. Since you have found it out, I admit it freely and without shame; one must be false in the hands of false fiends like all of you. Weakness is nothing to you; helplessness is nothing; you must be met with your own weapons, and so I lied in my sore extremity to gain the one miserable advantage within my reach. He says you found me out by making friends with Mr. Cole. He says that Mr. Cole has been dining with you in this very room, this very night. You still tell the truth sometimes; has that man - that demon - told it for once?"
"It is perfectly true," said Rattray in a low voice.
"And poor Mr. Cole told you that he knew nothing of your villany?"
"I found out that he knew absolutely nothing - after first thinking otherwise."
"Suppose he had known? What would you have done?"
Rattray said nothing. Santos shrugged as he lit a fresh cigarette. The captain went on with his supper.
"Ashamed to say!" cried Eva Denison. "So you have some shame left still! Well, I will tell you. You would have murdered him, as you murdered all the rest; you would have killed him in cold blood, as I wish and pray that you would kill me!"
The young fellow faced her, white to the lips. "You have no right to say that, Miss Denison!" he cried. "I may be bad, but, as I am ready to answer for my sins, the crime of murder is not among them.
Well, it is still some satisfaction to remember that my love never punished me with such a look as was the young squire's reward for this protestation. The curl of the pink nostrils, the parting of the proud lips, the gleam of the sound white teeth, before a word was spoken, were more than I, for one, could have borne. For I did not see the grief underlying the scorn, but actually found it in my heart to pity this poor devil of a Rattray: so humbly fell those fine eyes of his, so like a dog did he stand, waiting to be whipped.
"Yes; you are very innocent!" she began at last, so softly that I could scarcely hear. "You have not committed murder, so you say; let it stand to your credit by all means. You have no blood upon your hands; you say so; that is enough. No! you are comparatively innocent, I admit. All you have done is to make murder easy for others; to get others to do the dirty work, and then shelter them and share the gain; all you need have on your conscience is every ife that was lost with the Lady Jermyn, and every soul that lost itself in losing them. You call that innocence? Then give me honest guilt! Give me the man who set fire to the ship, and who sits there eating his supper; he is more of a man than you. Give me the wretch who has beaten men to death before my eyes; there's something great about a monster like that, there's something to loathe. His assistant is only little - mean - despicable!" Loud and hurried in its wrath, low and deliberate in its contempt, all this was uttered with a furious and abnormal eloquence, which would have struck me, loving her, to the ground. On Rattray it had a different effect. His head lifted as she heaped abuse upon it, until he met her flashing eye with that of a man very thankful to take his deserts and something more; and to mine he was least despicable when that last word left her lips. When he saw that it was her last, he took her candle (she had put it down on the ancient settle against the door), and presented it to her with another bow. And so without a word he led her to the door, opened it, and bowed yet lower as she swept out, but still without a tinge of mockery in the obeisance.
He was closing the door after her when Joaquin Santos reached it.
"Diablo!" cried he. "Why let her go? We have not done with her."
"That doesn't matter; she is done with us," was the stern reply.
"It does matter," retorted Santos; "what is more, she is my step-daughter, and back she shall come!"
"She is also my visitor, and I'm damned if you're going to make her!"
An instant Santos stood, his back to me, his fingers working, his neck brown with blood; then his coat went into creases across the shoulders, and he was shrugging still as he turned away.
"Your veesitor!" said he. "Your veesitor! Your veesitor!"
Harris laughed outright as he raised his glass; the hot young squire had him by the collar, and the wine was spilling on the cloth, as I rose very cautiously and crept back to the path.
"When rogues fall out!" I was thinking to myself. "I shall save her yet - I shall save my darling!"
Already I was accustomed to the thought that she still lived, and to the big heart she had set beating in my feeble frame; already the continued existence of these villains, with the first dim inkling of their villainy, was ceasing to be a novelty in a brain now quickened and prehensile beyond belief. And yet - but a few minutes had I knelt at the window - but a few more was it since Rattray and I had shaken hands!
Not his visitor; his prisoner, without a doubt; but alive! alive! and, neither guest nor prisoner for many hours more. 0 my love!
0 my heart's delight! Now I knew why I was spared; to save her; to snatch her from these rascals; to cherish and protect her evermore!
All the past shone clear behind me; the dark was lightness and the crooked straight. All the future lay clear ahead it presented no difficulties yet; a mad, ecstatic confidence was mine for the wildest, happiest moments of my life.
I stood upright in the darkness. I saw her light!
It was ascending the tower at the building's end; now in this window it glimmered, now in the one above. At last it was steady, high up near the stars, and I stole below.
There was no answer. Low as it was, my voice was alarming; it cooled and cautioned me. I sought little stones. I crept back to throw them. Ah God! her form eclipsed that lighted slit in the gray stone tower. I heard her weeping high above me at her window.
There was a pause, and then a little cry of gladness.
"Is it Mr. Cole?" came in an eager whisper through her tears.
"Yes! yes! I was outside the window. I heard everything."
"They will hear you!" she cried softly, in a steadier voice.
"No-listen!" They were quarrelling. Rattray's voice was loud and angry. "They cannot hear," I continued, in more cautious tones; "they think I'm in bed and asleep half-a-mile away. Oh, thank God! I'll get you away from them; trust me, my love, my darling!"
In my madness I knew not what I said; it was my wild heart speaking. Some moments passed before she replied.
"Will you promise to do nothing I ask you not to do?"
"My life might answer for it -"
"I promise - I promise."
"Then wait - hide - watch my light. When you see it back in the window, watch with all your eyes! I am going to write and then throw it out. Not another syllable!"
She was gone; there was a long yellow slit in the masonry once more; her light burnt faint and far within.
I retreated among some bushes and kept watch.
The moon was skimming beneath the surface of a sea of clouds: now the black billows had silver crests: now an incandescent buoy bobbed among them. 0 for enough light, and no more!
In the hall the high voices were more subdued. I heard the captain's tipsy laugh. My eyes fastened themselves upon that faint and lofty light, and on my heels I crouched among the bushes.
The flame moved, flickered, and shone small but brilliant on the very sill. I ran forward on tip-toe. A white flake fluttered to my feet. I secured it and waited for one word; none came; but the window was softly shut.
I stood in doubt, the treacherous moonlight all over me now, and once more the window opened.
And again it was shut; next moment I was stealing close by the spot where I had knelt. I saw within once more.
Harris nodded in his chair. The nigger had disappeared. Rattray was lighting a candle, and the Portuguese holding out his hand for the match.
"Did you lock the gate, senhor?" asked Santos.
"No; but I will now."
As I opened it I heard a door open within. I could hardly let the latch down again for the sudden trembling of my fingers. The key turned behind me ere I had twenty yards' start.
Thank God there was light enough now! I followed the beck. I found my way. I stood in the open valley, between the oak-plantation and my desolate cottage, and I kissed my tiny, twisted note again and again in a paroxysm of passion and of insensate joy. Then I unfolded it and held it to my eyes in the keen October moonshine.Next