A profound stillness reigned in the Casa Gould. The master of the house, walking along the corredor, opened the door of his room, and saw his wif_itting in a big armchair—his own smoking armchair—thoughtful, contemplatin_er little shoes. And she did not raise her eyes when he walked in.
"Tired?" asked Charles Gould.
"A little," said Mrs. Gould. Still without looking up, she added with feeling,
"There is an awful sense of unreality about all this."
Charles Gould, before the long table strewn with papers, on which lay _unting crop and a pair of spurs, stood looking at his wife: "The heat an_ust must have been awful this afternoon by the waterside," he murmured, sympathetically. "The glare on the water must have been simply terrible."
"One could close one's eyes to the glare," said Mrs. Gould. "But, my dea_harley, it is impossible for me to close my eyes to our position; to thi_wful … "
She raised her eyes and looked at her husband's face, from which all sign o_ympathy or any other feeling had disappeared. "Why don't you tell m_omething?" she almost wailed.
"I thought you had understood me perfectly from the first," Charles Goul_aid, slowly. "I thought we had said all there was to say a long time ago.
There is nothing to say now. There were things to be done. We have done them; we have gone on doing them. There is no going back now. I don't suppose that, even from the first, there was really any possible way back. And, what's more, we can't even afford to stand still."
"Ah, if one only knew how far you mean to go," said his wife inwardl_rembling, but in an almost playful tone.
"Any distance, any length, of course," was the answer, in a matter-of-fac_one, which caused Mrs. Gould to make another effort to repress a shudder.
She stood up, smiling graciously, and her little figure seemed to b_iminished still more by the heavy mass of her hair and the long train of he_own.
"But always to success," she said, persuasively.
Charles Gould, enveloping her in the steely blue glance of his attentive eyes, answered without hesitation—
"Oh, there is no alternative."
He put an immense assurance into his tone. As to the words, this was all tha_is conscience would allow him to say.
Mrs. Gould's smile remained a shade too long upon her lips. She murmured—
"I will leave you; I've a slight headache. The heat, the dust, were indeed—_uppose you are going back to the mine before the morning?"
"At midnight," said Charles Gould. "We are bringing down the silver to-morrow.
Then I shall take three whole days off in town with you."
"Ah, you are going to meet the escort. I shall be on the balcony at fiv_'clock to see you pass. Till then, good-bye."
Charles Gould walked rapidly round the table, and, seizing her hands, ben_own, pressing them both to his lips. Before he straightened himself up agai_o his full height she had disengaged one to smooth his cheek with a ligh_ouch, as if he were a little boy.
"Try to get some rest for a couple of hours," she murmured, with a glance at _ammock stretched in a distant part of the room. Her long train swished softl_fter her on the red tiles. At the door she looked back.
Two big lamps with unpolished glass globes bathed in a soft and abundant ligh_he four white walls of the room, with a glass case of arms, the brass hilt o_enry Gould's cavalry sabre on its square of velvet, and the water-colou_ketch of the San Tome gorge. And Mrs. Gould, gazing at the last in its blac_ooden frame, sighed out—
"Ah, if we had left it alone, Charley!"
"No," Charles Gould said, moodily; "it was impossible to leave it alone."
"Perhaps it was impossible," Mrs. Gould admitted, slowly. Her lips quivered _ittle, but she smiled with an air of dainty bravado. "We have disturbed _ood many snakes in that Paradise, Charley, haven't we?"
"Yes, I remember," said Charles Gould, "it was Don Pepe who called the gorg_he Paradise of snakes. No doubt we have disturbed a great many. But remember, my dear, that it is not now as it was when you made that sketch." He waved hi_and towards the small water-colour hanging alone upon the great bare wall.
"It is no longer a Paradise of snakes. We have brought mankind into it, and w_annot turn our backs upon them to go and begin a new life elsewhere."
He confronted his wife with a firm, concentrated gaze, which Mrs. Goul_eturned with a brave assumption of fearlessness before she went out, closin_he door gently after her.
In contrast with the white glaring room the dimly lit corredor had a restfu_ysteriousness of a forest glade, suggested by the stems and the leaves of th_lants ranged along the balustrade of the open side. In the streaks of ligh_alling through the open doors of the reception-rooms, the blossoms, white an_ed and pale lilac, came out vivid with the brilliance of flowers in a strea_f sunshine; and Mrs. Gould, passing on, had the vividness of a figure seen i_he clear patches of sun that chequer the gloom of open glades in the woods.
The stones in the rings upon her hand pressed to her forehead glittered in th_amplight abreast of the door of the sala.
"Who's there?" she asked, in a startled voice. "Is that you, Basilio?" Sh_ooked in, and saw Martin Decoud walking about, with an air of having los_omething, amongst the chairs and tables.
"Antonia has forgotten her fan in here," said Decoud, with a strange air o_istraction; "so I entered to see."
But, even as he said this, he had obviously given up his search, and walke_traight towards Mrs. Gould, who looked at him with doubtful surprise.
"Senora," he began, in a low voice.
"What is it, Don Martin?" asked Mrs. Gould. And then she added, with a sligh_augh, "I am so nervous to-day," as if to explain the eagerness of th_uestion.
"Nothing immediately dangerous," said Decoud, who now could not conceal hi_gitation. "Pray don't distress yourself. No, really, you must not distres_ourself."
Mrs. Gould, with her candid eyes very wide open, her lips composed into _mile, was steadying herself with a little bejewelled hand against the side o_he door.
"Perhaps you don't know how alarming you are, appearing like thi_nexpectedly—"
"I! Alarming!" he protested, sincerely vexed and surprised. "I assure you tha_ am not in the least alarmed myself. A fan is lost; well, it will be foun_gain. But I don't think it is here. It is a fan I am looking for. I canno_nderstand how Antonia could—Well! Have you found it, amigo?"
"No, senor," said behind Mrs. Gould the soft voice of Basilio, the hea_ervant of the Casa. "I don't think the senorita could have left it in thi_ouse at all."
"Go and look for it in the patio again. Go now, my friend; look for it on th_teps, under the gate; examine every flagstone; search for it till I come dow_gain… . That fellow"—he addressed himself in English to Mrs. Gould—"is alway_tealing up behind one's back on his bare feet. I set him to look for that fa_irectly I came in to justify my reappearance, my sudden return."
He paused and Mrs. Gould said, amiably, "You are always welcome." She pause_or a second, too. "But I am waiting to learn the cause of your return."
Decoud affected suddenly the utmost nonchalance.
"I can't bear to be spied upon. Oh, the cause? Yes, there is a cause; there i_omething else that is lost besides Antonia's favourite fan. As I was walkin_ome after seeing Don Jose and Antonia to their house, the Capataz d_argadores, riding down the street, spoke to me."
"Has anything happened to the Violas?" inquired Mrs. Gould.
"The Violas? You mean the old Garibaldino who keeps the hotel where th_ngineers live? Nothing happened there. The Capataz said nothing of them; h_nly told me that the telegraphist of the Cable Company was walking on th_laza, bareheaded, looking out for me. There is news from the interior, Mrs.
Gould. I should rather say rumours of news."
"Good news?" said Mrs. Gould in a low voice.
"Worthless, I should think. But if I must define them, I would say bad. The_re to the effect that a two days' battle had been fought near Sta. Marta, an_hat the Ribierists are defeated. It must have happened a few days ago—perhap_ week. The rumour has just reached Cayta, and the man in charge of the cabl_tation there has telegraphed the news to his colleague here. We might just a_ell have kept Barrios in Sulaco."
"What's to be done now?" murmured Mrs. Gould.
"Nothing. He's at sea with the troops. He will get to Cayta in a couple o_ays' time and learn the news there. What he will do then, who can say? Hol_ayta? Offer his submission to Montero? Disband his army—this last mos_ikely, and go himself in one of the O.S.N. Company's steamers, north o_outh—to Valparaiso or to San Francisco, no matter where. Our Barrios has _reat practice in exiles and repatriations, which mark the points in th_olitical game."
Decoud, exchanging a steady stare with Mrs. Gould, added, tentatively, as i_ere, "And yet, if we had could have been done."
"Montero victorious, completely victorious!" Mrs. Gould breathed out in a ton_f unbelief.
"A canard, probably. That sort of bird is hatched in great numbers in suc_imes as these. And even if it were true? Well, let us put things at thei_orst, let us say it is true."
"Then everything is lost," said Mrs. Gould, with the calmness of despair.
Suddenly she seemed to divine, she seemed to see Decoud's tremendou_xcitement under its cloak of studied carelessness. It was, indeed, becomin_isible in his audacious and watchful stare, in the curve, half-reckless, half-contemptuous, of his lips. And a French phrase came upon them as if, fo_his Costaguanero of the Boulevard, that had been the only forcible language—
"Non, Madame. Rien n'est perdu."
It electrified Mrs. Gould out of her benumbed attitude, and she said, vivaciously—
"What would you think of doing?"
But already there was something of mockery in Decoud's suppressed excitement.
"What would you expect a true Costaguanero to do? Another revolution, o_ourse. On my word of honour, Mrs. Gould, I believe I am a true hijo del pays, a true son of the country, whatever Father Corbelan may say. And I'm not s_uch of an unbeliever as not to have faith in my own ideas, in my ow_emedies, in my own desires."
"Yes," said Mrs. Gould, doubtfully.
"You don't seem convinced," Decoud went on again in French. "Say, then, in m_assions."
Mrs. Gould received this addition unflinchingly. To understand it thoroughl_he did not require to hear his muttered assurance—
"There is nothing I would not do for the sake of Antonia. There is nothing _m not prepared to undertake. There is no risk I am not ready to run."
Decoud seemed to find a fresh audacity in this voicing of his thoughts. "Yo_ould not believe me if I were to say that it is the love of the countr_hich—"
She made a sort of discouraged protest with her arm, as if to express that sh_ad given up expecting that motive from any one.
"A Sulaco revolution," Decoud pursued in a forcible undertone. "The Grea_ause may be served here, on the very spot of its inception, in the place o_ts birth, Mrs. Gould."
Frowning, and biting her lower lip thoughtfully, she made a step away from th_oor.
"You are not going to speak to your husband?" Decoud arrested her anxiously.
"But you will need his help?"
"No doubt," Decoud admitted without hesitation. "Everything turns upon the Sa_ome mine, but I would rather he didn't know anything as yet of my—my hopes."
A puzzled look came upon Mrs. Gould's face, and Decoud, approaching, explaine_onfidentially—
"Don't you see, he's such an idealist."
Mrs. Gould flushed pink, and her eyes grew darker at the same time.
"Charley an idealist!" she said, as if to herself, wonderingly. "What on eart_o you mean?"
"Yes," conceded Decoud, "it's a wonderful thing to say with the sight of th_an Tome mine, the greatest fact in the whole of South America, perhaps, before our very eyes. But look even at that, he has idealized this fact to _oint—" He paused. "Mrs. Gould, are you aware to what point he has idealize_he existence, the worth, the meaning of the San Tome mine? Are you aware o_t?"
He must have known what he was talking about.
The effect he expected was produced. Mrs. Gould, ready to take fire, gave i_p suddenly with a low little sound that resembled a moan.
"What do you know?" she asked in a feeble voice.
"Nothing," answered Decoud, firmly. "But, then, don't you see, he's a_nglishman?"
"Well, what of that?" asked Mrs. Gould.
"Simply that he cannot act or exist without idealizing every simple feeling, desire, or achievement. He could not believe his own motives if he did no_ake them first a part of some fairy tale. The earth is not quite good enoug_or him, I fear. Do you excuse my frankness? Besides, whether you excuse it o_ot, it is part of the truth of things which hurts the—what do you cal_hem?—the Anglo-Saxon's susceptibilities, and at the present moment I don'_eel as if I could treat seriously either his conception of things or—if yo_llow me to say so—or yet yours."
Mrs. Gould gave no sign of being offended. "I suppose Antonia understands yo_horoughly?"
"Understands? Well, yes. But I am not sure that she approves. That, however, makes no difference. I am honest enough to tell you that, Mrs. Gould."
"Your idea, of course, is separation," she said.
"Separation, of course," declared Martin. "Yes; separation of the whol_ccidental Province from the rest of the unquiet body. But my true idea, th_nly one I care for, is not to be separated from Antonia."
"And that is all?" asked Mrs. Gould, without severity.
"Absolutely. I am not deceiving myself about my motives. She won't leav_ulaco for my sake, therefore Sulaco must leave the rest of the Republic t_ts fate. Nothing could be clearer than that. I like a clearly define_ituation. I cannot part with Antonia, therefore the one and indivisibl_epublic of Costaguana must be made to part with its western province.
Fortunately it happens to be also a sound policy. The richest, the mos_ertile part of this land may be saved from anarchy. Personally, I car_ittle, very little; but it's a fact that the establishment of Montero i_ower would mean death to me. In all the proclamations of general pardon whic_ have seen, my name, with a few others, is specially excepted. The brother_ate me, as you know very well, Mrs. Gould; and behold, here is the rumour o_hem having won a battle. You say that supposing it is true, I have plenty o_ime to run away."
The slight, protesting murmur on the part of Mrs. Gould made him pause for _oment, while he looked at her with a sombre and resolute glance.
"Ah, but I would, Mrs. Gould. I would run away if it served that which a_resent is my only desire. I am courageous enough to say that, and to do it, too. But women, even our women, are idealists. It is Antonia that won't ru_way. A novel sort of vanity."
"You call it vanity," said Mrs. Gould, in a shocked voice.
"Say pride, then, which. Father Corbelan would tell you, is a mortal sin. Bu_ am not proud. I am simply too much in love to run away. At the same time _ant to live. There is no love for a dead man. Therefore it is necessary tha_ulaco should not recognize the victorious Montero."
"And you think my husband will give you his support?"
"I think he can be drawn into it, like all idealists, when he once sees _entimental basis for his action. But I wouldn't talk to him. Mere clear fact_on't appeal to his sentiment. It is much better for him to convince himsel_n his own way. And, frankly, I could not, perhaps, just now pay sufficien_espect to either his motives or even, perhaps, to yours, Mrs. Gould."
It was evident that Mrs. Gould was very determined not to be offended. Sh_miled vaguely, while she seemed to think the matter over. As far as she coul_udge from the girl's half-confidences, Antonia understood that young man.
Obviously there was promise of safety in his plan, or rather in his idea.
Moreover, right or wrong, the idea could do no harm. And it was quit_ossible, also, that the rumour was false.
"You have some sort of a plan," she said.
"Simplicity itself. Barrios has started, let him go on then; he will hol_ayta, which is the door of the sea route to Sulaco. They cannot send _ufficient force over the mountains. No; not even to cope with the band o_ernandez. Meantime we shall organize our resistance here. And for that, thi_ery Hernandez will be useful. He has defeated troops as a bandit; he will n_oubt accomplish the same thing if he is made a colonel or even a general. Yo_now the country well enough not to be shocked by what I say, Mrs. Gould. _ave heard you assert that this poor bandit was the living, breathing exampl_f cruelty, injustice, stupidity, and oppression, that ruin men's souls a_ell as their fortunes in this country. Well, there would be some poetica_etribution in that man arising to crush the evils which had driven an hones_anchero into a life of crime. A fine idea of retribution in that, isn'_here?"
Decoud had dropped easily into English, which he spoke with precision, ver_orrectly, but with too many z sounds.
"Think also of your hospitals, of your schools, of your ailing mothers an_eeble old men, of all that population which you and your husband have brough_nto the rocky gorge of San Tome. Are you not responsible to your conscienc_or all these people? Is it not worth while to make another effort, which i_ot at all so desperate as it looks, rather than—"
Decoud finished his thought with an upward toss of the arm, suggestin_nnihilation; and Mrs. Gould turned away her head with a look of horror.
"Why don't you say all this to my husband?" she asked, without looking a_ecoud, who stood watching the effect of his words.
"Ah! But Don Carlos is so English," he began. Mrs. Gould interrupted—
"Leave that alone, Don Martin. He's as much a Costaguanero—No! He's more of _ostaguanero than yourself."
"Sentimentalist, sentimentalist," Decoud almost cooed, in a tone of gentle an_oothing deference. "Sentimentalist, after the amazing manner of your people.
I have been watching El Rey de Sulaco since I came here on a fool's errand, and perhaps impelled by some treason of fate lurking behind the unaccountabl_urns of a man's life. But I don't matter, I am not a sentimentalist, I canno_ndow my personal desires with a shining robe of silk and jewels. Life is no_or me a moral romance derived from the tradition of a pretty fairy tale. No, Mrs. Gould; I am practical. I am not afraid of my motives. But, pardon me, _ave been rather carried away. What I wish to say is that I have bee_bserving. I won't tell you what I have discovered—"
"No. That is unnecessary," whispered Mrs. Gould, once more averting her head.
"It is. Except one little fact, that your husband does not like me. It's _mall matter, which, in the circumstances, seems to acquire a perfectl_idiculous importance. Ridiculous and immense; for, clearly, money is require_or my plan," he reflected; then added, meaningly, "and we have tw_entimentalists to deal with."
"I don't know that I understand you, Don Martin," said Mrs. Gould, coldly, preserving the low key of their conversation. "But, speaking as if I did, wh_s the other?"
"The great Holroyd in San Francisco, of course," Decoud whispered, lightly. "_hink you understand me very well. Women are idealists; but then they are s_erspicacious."
But whatever was the reason of that remark, disparaging and complimentary a_he same time, Mrs. Gould seemed not to pay attention to it. The name o_olroyd had given a new tone to her anxiety.
"The silver escort is coming down to the harbour tomorrow; a whole six months'
working, Don Martin!" she cried in dismay.
"Let it come down, then," breathed out Decoud, earnestly, almost into her ear.
"But if the rumour should get about, and especially if it turned out true, troubles might break out in the town," objected Mrs. Gould.
Decoud admitted that it was possible. He knew well the town children of th_ulaco Campo: sullen, thievish, vindictive, and bloodthirsty, whatever grea_ualities their brothers of the plain might have had. But then there was tha_ther sentimentalist, who attached a strangely idealistic meaning to concret_acts. This stream of silver must be kept flowing north to return in the for_f financial backing from the great house of Holroyd. Up at the mountain i_he strong room of the mine the silver bars were worth less for his purpos_han so much lead, from which at least bullets may be run. Let it come down t_he harbour, ready for shipment.
The next north-going steamer would carry it off for the very salvation of th_an Tome mine, which had produced so much treasure. And, moreover, the rumou_as probably false, he remarked, with much conviction in his hurried tone.
"Besides, senora," concluded Decoud, "we may suppress it for many days. I hav_een talking with the telegraphist in the middle of the Plaza Mayor; thus I a_ertain that we could not have been overheard. There was not even a bird i_he air near us. And also let me tell you something more. I have been makin_riends with this man called Nostromo, the Capataz. We had a conversation thi_ery evening, I walking by the side of his horse as he rode slowly out of th_own just now. He promised me that if a riot took place for any reason—eve_or the most political of reasons, you understand—his Cargadores, an importan_art of the populace, you will admit, should be found on the side of th_uropeans."
"He has promised you that?" Mrs. Gould inquired, with interest. "What made hi_ake that promise to you?"
"Upon my word, I don't know," declared Decoud, in a slightly surprised tone.
"He certainly promised me that, but now you ask me why, I could not tell yo_is reasons. He talked with his usual carelessness, which, if he had bee_nything else but a common sailor, I would call a pose or an affectation."
Decoud, interrupting himself, looked at Mrs. Gould curiously.
"Upon the whole," he continued, "I suppose he expects something to hi_dvantage from it. You mustn't forget that he does not exercise hi_xtraordinary power over the lower classes without a certain amount o_ersonal risk and without a great profusion in spending his money. One mus_ay in some way or other for such a solid thing as individual prestige. H_old me after we made friends at a dance, in a Posada kept by a Mexican jus_utside the walls, that he had come here to make his fortune. I suppose h_ooks upon his prestige as a sort of investment."
"Perhaps he prizes it for its own sake," Mrs. Gould said in a tone as if sh_ere repelling an undeserved aspersion. "Viola, the Garibaldino, with whom h_as lived for some years, calls him the Incorruptible."
"Ah! he belongs to the group of your proteges out there towards the harbour, Mrs. Gould. Muy bien. And Captain Mitchell calls him wonderful. I have hear_o end of tales of his strength, his audacity, his fidelity. No end of fin_hings. H'm! incorruptible! It is indeed a name of honour for the Capataz o_he Cargadores of Sulaco. Incorruptible! Fine, but vague. However, I suppos_e's sensible, too. And I talked to him upon that sane and practica_ssumption."
"I prefer to think him disinterested, and therefore trustworthy," Mrs. Goul_aid, with the nearest approach to curtness it was in her nature to assume.
"Well, if so, then the silver will be still more safe. Let it come down, senora. Let it come down, so that it may go north and return to us in th_hape of credit."
Mrs. Gould glanced along the corredor towards the door of her husband's room.
Decoud, watching her as if she had his fate in her hands, detected an almos_mperceptible nod of assent. He bowed with a smile, and, putting his hand int_he breast pocket of his coat, pulled out a fan of light feathers set upo_ainted leaves of sandal-wood. "I had it in my pocket," he murmured, triumphantly, "for a plausible pretext." He bowed again. "Good-night, senora."
Mrs. Gould continued along the corredor away from her husband's room. The fat_f the San Tome mine was lying heavy upon her heart. It was a long time no_ince she had begun to fear it. It had been an idea. She had watched it wit_isgivings turning into a fetish, and now the fetish had grown into _onstrous and crushing weight. It was as if the inspiration of their earl_ears had left her heart to turn into a wall of silver-bricks, erected by th_ilent work of evil spirits, between her and her husband. He seemed to dwel_lone within a circumvallation of precious metal, leaving her outside with he_chool, her hospital, the sick mothers and the feeble old men, mer_nsignificant vestiges of the initial inspiration. "Those poor people!" sh_urmured to herself.
Below she heard the voice of Martin Decoud in the patio speaking loudly:
"I have found Dona Antonia's fan, Basilio. Look, here it is!"