Now that I knew his real sentiments towards me, it was very difficult t_reserve my composure and indifference in the presence of Captain Manue_unez. As I sat at table with him, or talked with him on deck or in his cabin,
I had hard work to keep from telling him my real thoughts of his wicke_ature. Nay, sometimes I was sore put to it to keep my hands from his throat.
Nothing would have pleased me better than to find either him or my cousi_asper in some lonely spot where no odds could have favored them or me. The_y wrongs should have received full vengeance, and none would have blamed m_or meting it out to these two villains. Judge how hard it was for me to hav_o associate, week after week, with one of the men who had so deeply wronge_e, and, moreover, to have to preserve towards him a certain degree o_ordiality. Try as I would, however, I could not give Nunez as much in the wa_f politeness as Nunez gave me. My manners were surly at the best, and I ha_uch ado to preserve them at all.
Getting in the way of fair winds, we sighted the Bahamas, and passed th_orth-west coast of Cuba somewhere about the beginning of September. We wer_hen some five hundred miles from Vera Cruz, but it was not until Christma_eek that we bore down upon the Mexican coast. It was, I think, on Christma_orning that I first saw the shores of that beautiful land, whose natura_oveliness served but to make more evident the horrible cruelties of the me_ho had seized and possessed it. Fair and wonderful it was as the mists lifte_nder the sun’s warmth to see the giant peak of Orizaba lifting its head,
snow-white and awful, into the clear air, while full seventeen thousand fee_elow it the land lay dim and indistinct, nothing more than a bank of gra_loud.
“You would think a country with such a mountain as that would be a place o_uch delight, master, would you not?” said Pharaoh Nanjulian, pointing to th_reat white peak. “It looks fair and innocent enough, but it is a very devil’_and, this Mexico, since the Spaniards overran it; and yonder peak is a_mblem of nothing in it, except it be the innocence of those who are murdere_n God’s name.”
“What mountain is that?” I inquired.
“Orizaba, master. It lies some sixty miles beyond Vera Cruz, and is of _eight scarcely credible to us Englishmen. God be thanked that there is s_ittle wind to-day! With a fair breeze we should have been in port er_ightfall. As it is, we must take our chance to-night, master, or fall int_he hands of the Inquisition.”
“I am ready for aught,” said I. “But have you thought of a plan?”
“Aye, trust me for that. Marry! I have thought of naught else since we cam_hrough the Bahamas. Certainly our chances are exceedingly small, for we mus_eeds land in a country that is infested with our enemies, but we will do ou_est.”
“Tell me your plan, Pharaoh.”
“’Tis simplicity itself, master. To-night it is my watch. When the captain i_sleep in his cabin, do you come on deck and go aft. You will find a boa_longside, and into it you must contrive to get as you best can. Hide yoursel_here so that no one can see you from the deck. When the watch is changed,
instead of going forward I shall make for the boat. No one will see me, _romise you. When I am with you we shall cut the boat adrift and let th_essel outsail us. Then we must make for the coast in the direction of Tuxtla.
We shall know which way to steer because of the volcano. But after that—why, _now not what we shall do.”
“Have you no plan?”
“Marry, I have ideas. We might go across country to Acapulco, hoping to fin_here an English ship; but ’tis a long and weary way, and what with Indian_nd wild beasts I fear we should never get there. Howbeit let us tackle on_anger at a time.”
Being then called to dinner I went below, and was perforce once more oblige_o sit at meat with my jailer, who, now that his charge of me was coming to a_nd, was more polite than ever, and treated me with exceeding great courtesy.
“You have been on deck, Master Salkeld,” said he, “and have doubtles_erceived that we are in sight of land.”
“I have seen the great mountain, Senor,” I answered.
“True, the land is yet little more than a line. If the wind had been fair w_hould have dropped anchor ere midnight. Your voyage has been a long one, bu_ trust you have not been inconvenienced.”
“Only as a man may be by the loss of his liberty, Senor.”
“You will soon be free,” he answered, giving me one of his strange, mockin_miles. “And I trust that when we part it will be with a full recognition o_our side of the way in which I have carried out our bargain.”
“As I do not remember our bargain, Senor, I am afraid that is hardl_ossible,” I made answer.
“Chut! your memory is certainly at fault. However, the facts will probabl_ccur to you—later.”
“Part of the bargain, if I remember your first mention of it, Senor, was tha_ou should carry me to the West Indies.”
“You are right in that,” said he.
“Are we approaching the West Indies?”
“The West Indies is a wide term, Master Salkeld. We are certainly no_pproaching the West India islands. We are, in fact, off the coast of Mexico,
and the mountain you see in the distance is the famed peak of Orizaba. To-
morrow morning we shall drop anchor in the port of Vera Cruz.”
“And what shall I do there, Senor?”
He smiled at the question—a mysterious smile, which had a grim meaning behin_t.
“Who knows, Senor? There are many occupations for a young and activ_entleman.”
Now, for the life of me I could not help asking him a very pertinent questio_efore I left the cabin to return on deck.
“Senor,” I said, “seeing that we are to part so soon you will perhaps no_bject to giving me some information. How much did my cousin, Master Jaspe_tapleton, pay you for your share in this matter?”
He gave me a curious glance out of his eye corners.
“The amount of your passage-money, Master Salkeld, was two hundred Englis_uineas. I hope you consider the poor accommodation which I have been able t_ive you in accordance with that sum.”
“I have no fault to find with the accommodation, Senor,” I replied. “So far a_he bodily comfort of your prisoner was concerned you have proved yourself _ood jailer.”
“Let us hope you will never find a worse, Master Salkeld,” he answered, wit_nother mocking smile. “But, indeed, you wrong me in speaking of me as _ailer. Say rather a kind and considerate host.”
I repressed the words which lay on the tip of my tongue ready to fling at him,
and went on deck. The wind was still against us, and the ship made littl_rogress, for which both Pharaoh and I were devoutly thankful, neither of u_eing minded to make Vera Cruz ere night fell. Certainly there was little t_hoose between the two courses open to us. If we were handed over to th_nquisitors by Nunez, we should certainly be burned at the stake, or, at an_ate, racked, tortured, and turned over to a slave-master. If we reached shor_e should have to undergo many privations and face all manner of perils, wit_very probability of ultimately falling into the hands of the Spaniards onc_ore. Indeed, so certain did it seem that we should eventually meet our fat_t the stake, or the rack, that more than once I doubted whether it was wort_ur while to attempt an escape.
But life is sweet, however dark its prospects may be, and a true man wil_lways fight for it, though the odds against him are great. And, moreover,
when a man knows what manner of death it is that awaits him, he will make th_ost desperate efforts to escape it, if it be such a death as that intende_or us by the Spaniards. Now, although I had lived in such an out-of-the-wa_art of England, I had heard many a fearful story of the wrongs and crueltie_racticed by the Inquisitors in Mexico. Tales came across the wide ocean o_ackings and tormentings and burnings, of men given over to slavery, wearin_heir San-benitos for many a weary year, and perhaps dying of torture in th_nd. We would do something to escape a fate like that, God helping us!
Late that night Captain Nunez stood by my side on deck. The wind now blew fro_he north-west, and the ship was making headway towards land. To the south-
east, through the darkness, glimmered the volcanic fire of Tuxtla, but th_iant peak of Orizaba had disappeared.
“To-morrow at sunrise, Master Salkeld, we shall be in the port of Vera Cruz,”
said Nunez. “I have some friends there to whom I will give you a_ntroduction. Till then, Senor, sleep well.”
He smiled at me in the dim lantern light and went below. I remained pacing th_eck for another hour. Once or twice I looked over the side and saw the boa_winging below our stern. Now, the poop of the Spanish ship was of a more tha_sual height, and I foresaw that I should have some difficulty in getting int_he boat, and run a fair chance of drowning. Better drown, I thought, tha_urn; and so, after a time, the deck being quiet, I climbed over the side an_anaged to drop into the boat, where I made haste to hide myself as I bes_ould.
It was some two hours after that when Pharaoh Nanjulian joined me, an_mmediately cut us adrift.
The ship seemed to glide away from us into the darkness.