I saw the Senorita look at him with a light in her eyes like that of a beautiful trapped animal. She was trying to appear calm, but from the way in which she laced and interlaced her fingers, I could see the strain under which she was labouring.
"If there is likely to be anything disagreeable," said Fernandez, "I should be glad if you would get it over at once. Nothing is to be gained by delaying matters."
"As I said just now, I must have time to think it over," the other replied. "Upon one thing, however, you can make up your mind, you will never see Equinata again."
"At the present moment it certainly does not seem very probable that I shall," Fernandez answered, still with the same good-humour. "And now with regard to another matter! What are your intentions concerning this lady?"
He made a movement with his hands towards the Senorita as he spoke.
"She shall, of course, be treated with all due consideration and respect," Silvestre returned. "Let that content you!"
He turned to Manuel, who was standing at the window, and bade him call the guards into the room. The latter accordingly made his way into the verandah, and shouted something in a dialect with which I was not familiar. In response to his summons, four gigantic negroes, armed with rifles (they had evidently been waiting somewhere in the immediate vicinity) stalked into the room. Without waiting for instructions, they took their places on either side of Fernandez. My first fear was that they were going to dispatch the ex-President there and then. Silvestre must have realized what was pa.s.sing in my mind, for he laughed and said:
"You need have no fear, my friend. I am not going to do him any violence. Let him be conveyed to the hut," he continued to Manuel, "and be sure that the door is locked when you come away. Place a sentry over him, and bring me the key. Allow me to wish you good-evening, Don Fernandez, and may pleasant dreams attend your slumbers."
The Senorita had risen, and had taken a step towards Silvestre. She tried to speak, but failed in the attempt. At last she sank back in her chair with an ashen face, and then Fernandez was led away.
"Trevelyan, my dear fellow, may I ask you to be so good as to go to that door and clap your hands twice," said Silvestre, when the other had disappeared.
I did so, and after a few moments had elapsed an elderly negress, whose curly hair was almost snow-white, put in an appearance. In all my experience of the African race I had never seen so hideous a creature.
"Palmyre," Silvestre began, "take this lady to a room and prepare it for her." Then to the Senorita he continued: "If there is anything I can do to promote your comfort, pray command me. I deeply regret that my health is not sufficiently good to permit of my attending to matters myself. Doubtless you will be gracious enough to take the will for the deed."
She did not answer, but followed Palmyre from the room. When they had disappeared Silvestre turned to me.
"You have managed the affair most excellently, friend Helmsworth," he said. "I congratulate you heartily. Now tell me exactly what happened.
Remember I have no knowledge of your doings since we bade each other good-bye in London."
I thereupon set to work and gave him a description of my adventures.
"You certainly had a narrow escape of it in the cartel," he remarked when I had finished. "Had Hermanos not rescued you so opportunely, Fernandez would have shot you without remorse. I wish, however, that you had not been compelled to bring the Senorita with you. But perhaps it was for the best. If you had left her behind, she would have made mischief. You must have had a queer voyage with those two. I wonder what your sweetheart in England would have said, could she have looked in upon you?"
"We will leave her out of the question, if you don't mind," I said quietly.
There was a time when I had liked and even admired the man, but two or three things I had heard during my stay in Equinata, and the fiendish pleasure he had just taken in gibing at his fallen enemy, had produced in me a feeling that was very near akin to loathing.
"Don Guzman," I began, more seriously than I had yet spoken, "I trust you will bear in mind the promise you gave me in England!"
"And what promise was that?" he asked suspiciously.
"You gave me your most positive a.s.surance that no violence of any sort should be used towards the man who is now in your power!"
"And I am not aware that I have said that any violence would be used,"
he answered angrily. "What makes you think that I want to harm him?
Didn't I tell you that my only desire is to keep him out of harm's way until I have once more grasped the reins of government in Equinata?
Your part of the business is finished, and to-morrow I will pay you the reward I promised you. Hand me up that quinine, there's a good fellow. I've suffered agonies from this cursed fever for the last three days. It's just my luck to be struck down just at the moment when it is necessary for me to be most active!"
I helped him to a dose of the medicine.
"Where will you live during the time you are here?" he asked at last.
"Ash.o.r.e or on board the yacht?"
"I should prefer the yacht if----"
"If you thought you could depend on my not knocking those miserable beggars on the head in the meantime, I suppose? Come, come," he continued with a laugh, "if you go on like this, I shall begin to think that the ex-President's niece has proved herself more dangerous than I at first imagined."
Then, doubtless seeing from my face that he was venturing on dangerous ground, he made haste to appease me.
"Don't take offence at a harmless jest, my dear fellow," he said. "You know very well I don't mean it."
Then, vowing that he was too ill to talk any more just then, he bade me good-bye, promising to see me on the morrow, if I would come up.
Before I went, however, I had a proposition to make to him. I did not like to leave the Senorita in his hands, so I begged that he would allow her to return to the yacht, giving as an excuse the plea that she would enjoy greater comfort there.
"There is not the least necessity," he replied. "She will be very well taken care of here. Just for the present I prefer to have the lady under my own eye. Sailors are impressionable beings, and there is no telling what ideas she might put into their heads. Remember me to Ferguson and the others, and be sure to be up here by eleven in the morning. Good-night!"
I thereupon left him and returned by the path to the beach below. The n.i.g.g.e.rs who had brought us ash.o.r.e had departed, so taking my boat-call from my pocket I blew a shrill blast upon it. They must have heard me on the yacht, for a boat was immediately lowered and sent off to fetch me. Arriving on board I went in search of Ferguson, to whom I stated that I did not at all like the look of things ash.o.r.e. I communicated to him my fear that Silvestre, in spite of the a.s.surance he had given me to the contrary, contemplated doing some mischief to Fernandez.
"I should not be at all surprised if he did," my companion replied.
"The two men have a lot to settle between them, and Silvestre is not the sort of man to forget or to forgive an injury."
"But he gave me his word of honour, when I undertook the task of getting the President out of the country, that he only meant to keep him locked up until all chance of his upsetting matters in Equinata was past and done with."
"They say that promises, like pie-crust," Ferguson returned, "are made to be broken. I wonder what Silvestre's promises are like? Heigho! I shall be thankful when I have done with the whole concern."
"And when do you think that will be?"
"When I have landed Don Guzman on the mainland," he replied. "Then I have to take this vessel back to a certain northern port, and to hand her over to a man who is to meet her there. After that, old England, and, if Allah wills, a life of an entirely different description."
Next morning I returned to the house on the hill, to find Silvestre's health much improved, and his prisoners, as he found early occasion to inform me, still alive.
"The lady," he said, "treated me to a pretty specimen of her temper last night. She wouldn't leave her room, and declined to eat her food.
Realizing that it was not the least use arguing with her, I left her to her own devices. Her condition, I understand, has somewhat improved this morning."
Presently he produced from his pocket a bundle of bank-notes, which he handed to me.
"Here is the payment I promised you for your work in Bank of England notes," he said. "Just run your eye over them, will you, and see that the amount is right?"
A few moments' investigation convinced me that the notes in question amounted to the value of five thousand pounds. As I dropped the bundle into the inside pocket of my coat, I reflected that it would be a big sum to carry about with me continually. As I had no safer place, however, I had to put up with it.
"And now there's a question I want to put to you," I said. "My work is at an end, so when will it be possible for me to leave for England?"
"You can go when you like," he answered. "You will find that I am prepared to stick to my side of the contract as faithfully as you have done to yours. Shall we say the day after to-morrow? If that will suit you, the yacht can take you across to Cuba, drop you on the coast after dark, and you can then find your way to Santiago, or elsewhere, as you please."
"The day after to-morrow will suit me admirably," I replied. "As you may suppose, I am all anxiety to get home. And when do _you_ propose sailing for Equinata?"
"When the yacht returns," he answered. "I desire to get to business as soon as possible."
"And do you still think that you will be successful in your enterprise?"
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