"I'll settle with him!" he cried. Suddenly stooping to pick up stones in the darkness, he began to throw them at Febrer, each time receding a few steps as if to defend himself against a new aggression. The stones, flung by his forceless arms, fell into the shadows or rebounded against the porch.
The Minstrel's friends surrounded him and led him away. His cries could be heard in the distance, shouting defiance, swearing vengeance. He would kill the stranger! He alone would put an end to the Majorcan!
Jaime stood motionless among his enemies, with one hand in his belt. He was overcome with shame at having lost his temper, and having struck the poor consumptive. To stifle his remorse he muttered arrogant threats. He only wished it had been another man who had done the singing. His eyes sought the Ironworker, as if defying him; but the dreaded man-slayer had disappeared.
Half an hour afterward, when the tumult had subsided and Febrer returned to his tower, he stopped on the way several times, revolver in hand, as if expecting someone.
LOVE AND PISTOLS
The next morning just after sunrise the Little Chaplain ran in search of Don Jaime, revealing in his manner as he entered the tower, the importance of the news which he was bearing.
In Can Mallorqui they had all passed a bad night. Margalida wept; her mother lamented the occurrence; what would the people of the district think of them when they heard that men had come to blows in her house as in a tavern? What would the girls say about her daughter? But Margalida gave little heed to the opinion of her friends. Something else seemed to worry her, something of which she said nothing, but which caused her to shed copious tears. Senor Pep, after closing the door on the suitors, had paced up and down the kitchen for an hour muttering to himself and clenching his fists. "That Don Jaime! Why should he persist in trying to obtain the impossible? Obstinate, like all his kindred!"
The Little Chaplain had not slept either. In the mind of the young savage, astute and sagacious, a suspicion tad gradually assumed the reality of fact.
On entering the tower he immediately communicated his thoughts to Don Jaime. Whom did he imagine had conceived the offensive song? The Minstrel? No, senor; it was the Ironworker! The Minstrel had made the rhymes, but the theme originated with the malicious man-slayer. He it was who had conceived the idea of insulting Don Jaime in the presence of all the suitors, relying on the certainty that he would not let the affront pass unheeded. Now the boy understood the reason for the interview between the two suitors which he had surprised in the mountain.
Febrer received this news, to which the Little Chaplain attached great importance, with a gesture of indifference. What of that? He had already punished the insolent Minstrel, and as for the man-slayer, he had sneaked off when he had challenged him at the door of the farmhouse. He was a coward.
Pepet shook his head incredulously.
"Be careful, Don Jaime! You do not know the ways of the braves around here, the cunning they employ to avoid being caught when wreaking vengeance. You must be on your guard now more than ever. You know what the jail-bird is, and he doesn't want to get sent back to prison. What he has just done is a trick which other man-slayers have played before."
Jaime lost patience at the boy's mysterious air and confused words.
"Why don't you speak out? Come!"
At last the Little Chaplain gave voice to his suspicions. Now the Ironworker could attempt anything he liked against Don Jaime; he could lie in ambush for him among the tamarisks at the foot of the tower and shoot him as he passed. Suspicion would at once be directed against the Minstrel, in view of the quarrel at the farmhouse and his threats of vengeance. With this, and with the man-slayer establishing an alibi by taking a short cut to some distant place where he could be seen by many persons, it would be easy for him to avenge himself with impunity.
"Ah!" exclaimed Febrer seriously, as if suddenly realizing the importance of these words.
The boy, delighting in his superior knowledge, continued giving advice. Don Jaime must be more careful; he must lock the door of his tower and pay no attention to calls from outside after dark. Surely the man-slayer would try to induce him to come out by challenging cries, with howls of defiance.
"If you hear any cries of challenge during the night, Don Jaime, you must keep still. I know their ways," continued the Little Chaplain with the importance of a hardened man-slayer. "They hide in the bushes, with weapon aimed, and if their man comes out, they fire without ever showing themselves. You must stay in after dark."
This advice was for the night. By day the senor could go abroad without fear.
"Here am I to accompany you wherever you wish."
The boy straightened himself with an aggressive air, moving one hand to his belt to convince himself that his knife had not disappeared, but he was immediately undeceived by Febrer's mocking expression of gratitude.
"Laugh, Don Jaime; make fun of me if you will; but I can be of some use to you. See how I warn you of danger! You must be on your guard. The Ironworker planned that singing with evil intent."
He glanced about like a chieftain preparing for a long siege. His eyes encountered the gun hanging on the wall among the decorations of shells. Very good; both barrels must be loaded with ball, and on top of this a good handful of lead slugs or coarse bird-shot. It would be no more than prudent. Thus his glorious grandfather had done. Seeing Jaime's revolver lying on the table, he frowned.
"Very bad! Small arms should be worn on one's person at all hours. I sleep with my knife on my breast. What if an enemy should rush in suddenly without giving a man time to look for his weapon?"
The tower, which, in former centuries, had been the scene of executions and battles between pirates, a stone vault suggestive of tragedies, the walls covered by gleaming whitewash, then claimed the boy's attention.
He cautiously made his way to the door as if an enemy were lying in wait for him at the foot of the stairway, and concealing his body behind the thick wall, he advanced, nothing but an eye and part of his forehead being visible. Then he shook his head with despair. If one looked out at night, even with these precautions, the enemy, lying in ambush below, could see him, could aim at him with the greatest facility, resting his arms on a branch or on a stone with no fear of missing him. It would be even worse to step outside the door and venture to go down. No matter how dark the night, the enemy could point his gun at a cluster of leaves, at a star on the horizon, at anything standing out conspicuously in the dusk near the stairway, and when a dark form should pass before it, momentarily obscuring the object sighted at—bang! It was sure game! He had heard grave men tell of having spent whole months crouching behind a hillock or a tree trunk, the butt-end of a musket close to the cheek and the eyes fixed on the end of the barrel, from sunset till daybreak, lying in wait for some old-time enemy.
No, the Little Chaplain did not like this door with its stairway in the open. He must find another exit, and he inspected the window, opened it, and looked out. With simian agility, laughing with joy at his discovery, he sprang over the embrasure and disappeared, seeking with feet and hands the irregularities of the rubble-work, the deep, stair-like sockets left by the stones when they had fallen loose from the mortar. Febrer looked out and saw him picking up his hat and waving it with a triumphant expression. Then the boy ran around the base of the tower, and soon his steps resounded, trotting noisily up the wooden stairs.
"That's easy enough!" he shouted, as he entered the room, red with excitement over his discovery. "That's a stairway fit for a gentleman!"
Realizing the importance of his discovery, he assumed a grand air of mystery. This must be kept between them—not a word to anyone. It was a precious means of exit, the secret of which must be jealously guarded.
The Little Chaplain envied Don Jaime. How he longed to have an enemy himself to come and call a challenge to him in the tower during the night! While the Ironworker lay howling in ambush, his eyes glued upon the stairway, he would descend by means of the window, at the rear of the tower, and, creeping cautiously around, he would hunt the hunter. What a stroke! He laughed with savage glee, as if on his dark red lips trembled the ferocity of his glorious ancestors who considered the hunting of man the most noble of exercises.
Febrer seemed to be infected by the boy's exhilaration. He would try going down by the window route himself! He flung his legs over the sill, and carefully, clumsily, began feeling with his toes for the irregularities in the wall until he found the holes which served as steps. He slowly made his way down, loose stones slipping beneath his feet, until he reached the ground, giving a sigh of satisfaction. Very good! The descent was easy; after a few more trials he would be able to get down as nimbly as the Little Chaplain. Pepet, who had followed him agilely, almost hanging over his head, smiled, like a master pleased at the lesson, and repeated his advice. Don Jaime must not forget! When he heard the challenge he must climb out of the window and down the wall, getting around behind his adversary.
At noon when Febrer was left alone he felt himself possessed of a warlike ferocity, of an aggressiveness which caused him to look long at the wall on which hung his gun.
At the foot of the promontory, from the shore where Tio Ventolera's boat was beached, rose the voice of the old fisherman singing mass. Febrer looked out the door, carrying both hands to his mouth in the form of a trumpet.
Tio Ventolera, with the help of a boy, was shoving his boat into the water. The furled sail trembled aloft on the mast. Jaime did not accept the invitation. "Many thanks, Tio Ventolera!" The old fisherman insisted in his puny voice, which, wafted in on the wind, sounded like the plaintive crying of a child. The afternoon was fine; the wind had changed; they would catch fish in abundance near the Vedra. Febrer shrugged his shoulders. No, no, many thanks; he was busy.
He had scarcely ceased speaking when the Little Chaplain presented himself at the tower for the second time, carrying the dinner. The boy seemed gloomy and sad. His father, choleric over the scene of the previous night, had chosen him as the victim on whom to vent his displeasure. An injustice, Don Jaime! Pep had been striding up and down the kitchen, while the women, with tearful eyes and cringing air, shrank away from his gaze. Everything that had happened he attributed to the weakness of his character, to his good nature, but he intended to apply a remedy at once. The courting was to be suspended; he would no longer receive suitors nor visits. And as for the Little Chaplain—this bad son, disobedient and rebellious, he was to blame for everything!
Pep did not know for a certainty how the presence of his son had brought on the scandal of the night before, but he remembered his resistance against becoming a priest, his running away from the Seminary, and the recollection of these annoyances inflamed his anger and caused it to be concentrated on the boy. Monday next he was going to take him back to the seminary. If he tried to resist, and if he should run away again, it would be better for him to embark as a cabin boy and forget that he had a father, for in case he returned home Pep would break his two legs with the iron bar which fastened the door. To let off steam, to get his hand in, and to give a sample of his future temper, he gave him a few blows and kicks, getting even in this way for the wrath he had felt when he saw the boy appear as a fugitive from Iviza.
The Little Chaplain, submissive and shrinking through habit, took refuge in a corner behind the defense of skirts and petticoats which his weeping mother opposed to Pep's fury; but now, up in the tower, recalling the event with glaring eyes, livid cheeks and clenched fists, he gnashed his teeth.
What injustice! Should a man stand being beaten like that, for no reason whatever except that his father might work off his ill humor! The idea of his having to take a beating, he who carried a knife in his belt, and was not afraid of anyone on the island. Paternity and filial respect seemed to the Little Chaplain at the moment the inventions of cowards, created only to crush and mortify brave-hearted men. Added to the blows, humiliating to his dignity as a man of mettle, the thought of being shut up in the Seminary, dressed in a black cassock, like a woman in petticoats, with shaven head, losing forever those curls which peeped arrogantly beneath his hat brim; having a tonsure which would make the girls laugh, and—farewell to dancing and courting! Farewell to the knife!
Soon Jaime would see him no more. Within a week the trip to Iviza was to be taken. Others would bring his dinner up to the tower. Febrer saw a ray of hope. Perhaps then Margalida would come as in former days! The Little Chaplain, in spite of his grief, smiled maliciously. No, not Margalida; anyone but her. Pep was in no mood to consent to that. When the poor mother, to plead her son's cause, had timidly suggested that the boy was needed in the house to wait on the senor, Pep burst forth into fresh raving. He would carry Don Jaime's meals up to the tower every day himself, or else his wife should do so, and if need be they would get a girl to act as servant for the senor since he was determined to live near them.
The Little Chaplain said no more, but Febrer guessed the words which the good peasant had doubtless hurled against him, forgetting all respect in his anger, enraged over the trouble brought upon the family by his presence.
The boy returned to the ranchhouse with his basket, muttering revenge, swearing that he would not return to the Seminary, although he knew no means of avoiding it. His resistance took the turn of knightly valor. Abandon his friend Don Jaime now that he was surrounded by dangers! Go and shut himself up in that house of gloom, among black-skirted gentlemen who spoke a strange language, now that out in the open, in the light of the sun, or in the mystery of night, men were going to kill one another! Should such extraordinary events occur, and he not witness them!
When Febrer was left alone he took down his gun, and stood near the door for a long time examining it absent-mindedly. His thoughts were far away, much farther than the ends of the barrels, which seemed to point toward the mountain. That miserable Ironworker! That insufferable bully! Something had stirred within him, an irresistible antipathy, the first time he had seen him. Nobody in the island aroused his ire as did that gloomy jail-bird.
The cold steel weapon in his hand brought him back to reality. He resolved to go into the mountains hunting. But what should he hunt? He extracted two cartridges from the barrels, cartridges loaded with small shot, suitable for the birds which crossed the island returning from Africa. He introduced two other cartridges into the double barrel and filled his pockets with more, which he took from a pouch. They were loaded with buckshot. He was going hunting for big game!
Slinging his gun over his shoulder, he walked with arrogant step down the stairway of the tower building, as if his resolution filled him with satisfaction.
As he passed Can Mallorqui the dog leaped out to meet him, barking joyously. No one peeped out of the door, as in the past. Surely he had been seen, but no one came out of the kitchen to greet him. The dog followed for some time, but turned back when he saw him take the road to the mountain.
Febrer strode hurriedly between the stone walls which retained the sloping terraces, following the walks paved with blue pebbles, converted by the winter rains into high-banked ravines. Then he passed beyond the lands furrowed by the plow. The compact soil was covered with wild and spiny vegetation. Fruit trees, the tall almonds and the spreading fig trees, were succeeded by junipers and pines, twisted by the winds blowing from the sea. As Febrer stopped for a moment and looked behind, he saw at his feet the buildings of Can Mallorqui, like white dice shaken from the great rocks by the sea. The Pirate's Tower stood like a fortress on its hill. His ascent had been swift, almost at full speed, as if he feared to arrive too late at some meeting-place with which he was unfamiliar. He continued on his way. Two wild doves rose from the shrubbery with the feathery swish of an opening fan, but the hunter seemed not to see them. Stooping black figures in the bushes caused him to lift his right hand to the stock of his gun to sling it from his shoulder. They were charcoal burners piling wood. As Febrer passed near them they stared at him with fixed eyes, in which he thought he noticed something extraordinary, a mixture of astonishment and curiosity.
The grimy men replied, but they followed him a long time with their eyes, which shone with a transparency of water in their soot-blackened faces. Evidently the lonely mountain dwellers had heard of the events of the evening before at Can Mallorqui and were surprised at seeing the senor of the tower alone, as if defying his enemies and believing himself invulnerable.
Now he no longer met people along his path. Suddenly, above the murmur of dry leaves caressed by the wind, he heard the faint ring of beaten iron. A slender column of smoke was rising from among the verdure. It was the blacksmith's forge.
Jaime, with his gun half supported on his shoulder, as if the weapon were about to slip off, stepped into a clearing, which formed a broad square in front of the smithy. It was a miserable little adobe hut of a single story, blackened by smoke and covered by a hip roof, which, in places, sunk in as if about to collapse. Beneath a shed gleamed the flaming eye of a forge and near it stood the Ironworker beside the anvil, beating with his hammer on a bar of red-hot iron, which looked like the barrel of a carbine.
Febrer was not displeased with his theatrical entrance into the open square. The man-slayer raised his eyes on hearing the sound of steps in the interval between two blows. He stood motionless, with raised hammer as he recognized the senor of the tower, but his cold eyes conveyed no impression.
Jaime passed by the forge, staring at the Ironworker, giving a look of challenge which the other seemed not to understand. Not a word, not a greeting! The senor walked on, but once outside the square he stopped near one of the first trees and sat down on a projecting root, holding the gun between his knees.
The pride of virile arrogance invaded the soul of Febrer. He was rejoiced at his own assurance. That bully could easily see that he had come to seek him in the solitude of the mountain, at his own house; he must be convinced that he was not afraid of him.
To better demonstrate his serenity, he drew his tobacco box from his belt and began to roll a cigarette.
The hammer had begun to ring upon the metal again. From his seat on the tree trunk Jaime saw the Ironworker, his back turned with careless confidence, as if ignorant of his presence and intent on nothing but his work. This calmness disconcerted Febrer somewhat. Vive Dios! Had the man not guessed his intention?
The Ironworker's coolness was exasperating, but at the same time his calmly turning his back, confident that the senor of the tower was incapable of taking advantage of this situation to fire a treacherous shot, inspired a vague gratitude.
The hammer ceased ringing. When Febrer looked again in the direction of the shed he did not see the Ironworker. This caused him to pick up his gun, fingering the trigger. Undoubtedly he was coming with a weapon, annoyed by this provocation of one who came to seek him in his own house. Perhaps he was going to shoot out of one of the miserable windows which gave light to the blackened dwelling. He must be prepared against stratagem, and he arose, trying to conceal his body behind a tree trunk, leaving nothing but an eye visible.
Someone was stirring inside the hut; something black cautiously peeped out. The enemy was coming forth. Attention! He grasped his gun, intending to fire as soon as the muzzle of the hostile weapon should appear, but he stood motionless and confused on seeing that it was a black skirt, terminated by naked feet in worn and tattered sandals, and above it a withered bust, bent and bony, a head coppery and wrinkled, with but one eye, and thin gray hair, which allowed the gloss of baldness to shine between its locks.
Febrer recognized the old woman. She was the Ironworker's aunt, the one-eyed woman of whom the Little Chaplain had told him, the sole companion of the Ironworker in his wild solitude. The woman stood near the forge, her arms akimbo, thrusting forward her abdomen, bulky with petticoats, focusing her single eye, inflamed by anger, on the intruder who came to provoke a good man in the midst of his work. She stared at Jaime with the fiery aggressiveness of the woman who, secure in the respect produced by sex, is more audacious and impetuous than a man. She muttered threats and insults which the senor could not hear, furious that anyone would venture to oppose her nephew, the beloved whelp on whom, in her sterility, she had lavished all the ardor of frustrated motherhood.
Jaime suddenly realized the odiousness of his behavior in coming to antagonize another in his own house in broad daylight. The old woman was right in insulting him. It was not the Ironworker who was the bully; it was himself, the senor of the tower, the descendant of so many illustrious dons, he, so proud of his origin.
Shame intimidated him, overcoming him with stupid confusion. He did not know how to get away, nor which way to escape. At last he flung his gun across his shoulder, and, gazing aloft, as if pursuing a bird which sprang from branch to branch, wandered among the trees and through thickets, avoiding the forge.
He walked down toward the valley, escaping from the forest to which a homicidal impulse had drawn him, ashamed of his former purpose. Again he passed the grimy men making charcoal.
They replied to his greeting, but in their eyes which shone peculiarly white in their blackened faces, Febrer felt something like hostile mockery of objectionable strangeness, as if he were of a different race and had committed an unheard of deed which forever placed him beyond friendly contact with the islanders.
Pines and junipers were left behind on the skirt of the mountain. Now he walked between terraces of ploughed ground. In some fields he saw peasants at work; on a sloping bank he met several girls stooping over the ground gathering herbs; coming along a path he met three old men traveling slowly beside their burros.
Febrer, with the humility of one who feels repentant for an evil deed, greeted them pleasantly.
The peasants who were working in the field responded to him with a low grunt; the girls turned away their faces with a gesture of annoyance so as not to see him; the three old men replied to his greeting gloomily, looking at him with searching eyes, as if they found something extraordinary about him.
Under a fig tree, a black umbrella of interlaced boughs, he saw a number of peasants listening intently to someone in the center of the group. As Febrer approached there was a movement among them. A man arose with angry impulse, but the others held him back, grasping his arms and trying to restrain him. Jaime recognized him by the white kerchief under his hat. It was the Minstrel. The robust peasants easily overpowered the sickly boy, but, although he could not get away, he vented his fury by shaking his fist in the direction of the roadway, while threats and insults gurgled from his mouth. No doubt he had been telling his friends of the events of the night before when Febrer appeared. The Minstrel shouted and threatened. He swore that he would kill the stranger; he promised to come to the Pirate's Tower some night and set it on fire and rend its owner into shreds.
Bah! Jaime shrugged his shoulders with a scornful gesture and continued on his way, but he felt depressed and almost desperate on account of the atmosphere of repulsion and hostility, growing steadily more apparent round about him. What had he done? Where had he thrust himself? Was it possible that he had fallen so low as to fight with these islanders, he, a foreigner, and, moreover, a Majorcan?
In his gloomy mood he thought that the entire island, together with all things inanimate, had joined in this mortal protest. When he passed houses they seemed to become depopulated, their inhabitants concealing themselves in order not to greet him; the dogs rushed into the road, barking furiously, as if they had never seen him before.
The mountains seemed more austere and frowning on their bare, rocky crests; the forest more dark, more black; the trees of the valleys more barren and shriveled; the stones in the road rolled beneath his feet as if fleeing from his touch; the sky contained something repellant; even the air of the island would finally shrink away from his nostrils. In his desperation Febrer realized that he stood alone. Everyone was against him. Only Pep and his family were left to him, and even they would finally draw away under the necessity of living at peace with their neighbors.
The foreigner did not intend to rebel against his fate. He was repentant, ashamed of his aggressiveness of the night before and of his recent excursion to the mountain. For him there was no room on the island. He was a foreigner, a stranger, who, by his presence, disturbed the traditional life of these people. Pep had taken him in with the respect of an old time retainer, and he paid for his hospitality by disturbing his house and the peace of his family. The people had received him with a somewhat glacial courtesy, but tranquil and immutable, as if he were a foreign gran senor, and he responded to this respect by striking the most unfortunate one among them, the one who, on account of his illness, was looked upon with a certain paternal benevolence by all the peasants in the district. Very well, scion of the Febrers! For some time he had wandered about like a mad man, talking nothing but nonsense. All this for what reason? On account of the absurd love for a girl who might be his daughter; for an almost senile caprice, for he, despite his relative youth, felt old and forlorn in the presence of Margalida and the rustic girls who fluttered about her. Ah, this atmosphere! This accursed atmosphere!
In his days of prosperity, when he still dwelt in the palace in Palma, had Margalida been one of his mother's servants, no doubt he would have felt for her only the appetite inspired by the freshness of her youth, experiencing nothing which resembled love. Other women dominated him then with the seduction of their artifices and refinements, but here, in his loneliness, seeing Margalida surrounded by the brown and rural prettiness of her companions, beautiful as one of those white goddesses which inspire religious veneration among peoples of coppery skin, he felt the dementia of desire, and all his acts were absurd, as if he had completely lost his reason.
He must leave; there was no place on the island for him. Perhaps his pessimism deceived him in rating so high the importance of the affection which had drawn him to Margalida. Then again perhaps it was not desire, but love, the first real love of his life; he was almost sure of it, but even if it were, he must forget and go. He must go at once!
Why should he remain here? What hope held him? Margalida, as if overcome by surprise on learning of his love, avoided him, concealed herself, and did nothing but weep, yet tears were not an answer. Her father, influenced by a lingering sentiment of traditional veneration, tolerated in silence this caprice of the gran senor, but at any moment he might openly rebel against the man who had so disarranged his life. The island, which had accepted him courteously, seemed to rise up now against the foreigner who had come from afar to disturb their patriarchal isolation, their narrow existence, the pride of a people apart, with the same fierceness with which it had risen in former centuries against the Norman, the Arab, or the Berber, when disembarking on their shores.
It was impossible to resist; he would go. His eyes lovingly beheld the enormous belt of sea lying between two hills, as if it were a blue curtain concealing a rent in the earth. This strip of sea was the saving path, the hope, the unknown, which opens to us its arms of mystery in the most difficult moments of existence. Perhaps he would return to Majorca, to lead the life of a respectable beggar beside the friends who still remembered him; perhaps he would pass on to the Peninsula and go to Madrid in search of employment; perhaps he would take passage for America. Anything was preferable to staying here. He was not afraid; he was not intimidated by the hostility of the island and its inhabitants; his keenest feeling was remorse, shame over the trouble he had caused.
Instinctively his feet led him toward the sea, which was now his love and his hope. He avoided passing Can Mallorqui, and on reaching the shore he walked along the beach where the last palpitation of the waves was lost like a slender leaf of crystal among the tiny pebbles mixed with potsherds.
At the foot of the promontory of the tower he climbed up the loose rocks and seated himself on the wave-worn and almost detached cliff. There he had sat lost in thought one stormy night, the same on which he had presented himself as suitor at the house of Margalida.
The afternoon was calm. The sea had an extraordinary and deep transparency. The sandy bottoms were reflected like milky spots; the submarine reefs and their dark vegetation seemed to tremble with the movement of mysterious life. The white clouds floating on the horizon traced great shadows as they passed before the sun. One portion of the blue expanse was a glossy black, while beyond the floating mantle the luminous waters seemed to be seething with golden bubbles. Now and again the sun, concealed behind these curtains, flung beneath its border a visible strip of light, like a lantern ray, a long triangle of hoary splendor, resembling a Holland landscape.
Nothing in this appearance of the sea reminded Febrer of that stormy night, and yet, from the association which forgotten ideas form in our minds with old places when we return to them, he began to think the same thoughts, only that now, in place of progressing, they passed in an inverse direction with a confusion of defeat.
He laughed bitterly at his optimism then, at the confidence which had caused him to scorn all his ideas of the past. The dead command; their power and authority are indisputable. How had it been possible for him, impelled by the enthusiasm of love, to repudiate this tremendous and discouraging truth? Clearly do the dark tyrants of our lives make themselves felt with all the overwhelming weight of their power. What had he done that this corner of the earth, his ultimate refuge, should look upon him as an alien? The innumerable generations of men whose dust and whose souls were mingled with the soil of their native isle had left as a heritage to the present the hatred of the stranger, the fear and the repulsion of the foreigner with whom they had lived at war. He who came from other lands was received with a repellant isolation, decreed by those who no longer exist.
When, scorning his old-time prejudices, he had thought to join his life with that of a native woman, the woman had shrunk away, mysterious, frightened at the idea, while her father, in the name of servile respect, opposed such an unheard of union. Febrer's idea was that of a mad man; the mingling of the rooster and the gull, the vagary of the extravagant friar which so amused the peasants. Thus had men willed in former times when they founded society and divided it into classes, and thus it must ever be. It is useless to rebel against the established order. The life of man is short, and it is not enough to contend with hundreds of thousands of lives before it and which spy upon it unseen, crushing it between material fabrications which are tokens of their passage over the earth, weighting it down with their thoughts, which fill the atmosphere, and are taken advantage of by all those who are born without will power to invent something new.
The dead command, and it is useless for the living to refuse obedience. All rebellions to escape this servitude, to break the chain of centuries, all are lies! Febrer recalled the sacred wheel of the Hindoos, the Buddhist symbol which he had seen in Paris once when he attended an oriental religious ceremony in a museum. The wheel is the symbol of our lives. We think we advance because we move; we think we progress because we go forward, but when the wheel makes the complete turn we find ourselves in the same place. The life of humanity, history, are but an interminable "recommencement of things." Peoples are born, they grow, they progress; the cabin is converted into a castle and afterward into a mart; enormous cities of millions of men are formed; then catastrophes come, the wars for bread which people lack, the protests of the dispossessed, the great massacres; then the cities are depopulated and are laid waste. Weeds invade the proud monuments; the metropoli gradually sink into the earth and sleep beneath hills for centuries and centuries. The untamed forest covers the capital of remote epochs; the savage hunter stalks over ground where in other times conquering chieftains were received with the pomp of demigods; sheep graze and the shepherd blows his reed above ruins which were tribunes of dead laws; men group together again, and the cabin rises, the village, the castle, the mart, the great city, and the round is repeated over and over, with a difference of hundreds of centuries, as identical gestures, ideas, conceptions, are repeated in man succeeding man throughout the course of time. The wheel! The eternal recommencement of things! And all the creatures of the human flock though changing the sheep-fold, never change shepherds; the shepherds are ever the same, the dead, the first to think, whose primordial thought was like the handful of snow which rolls and rolls down the hill-slopes, growing larger, bearing along everything which clings to it in its descent!
Men, proud of their material progress, of the mechanical toys invented for their well-being, imagine themselves free, superior to the past, emancipated from original servitude, yet all that they say has been said hundreds of centuries before in different words; their passions are the same; their thoughts, which they consider original, are scintillations and reflections of other remote thoughts; and all acts which were held to be good or bad are considered as such because they have been thus classified by the dead, the tyrannical dead, those whom man would have to kill again if he desired to be really free!
Who would be courageous enough, to accomplish this great liberating act? What paladin would there be with sufficient strength to kill the monster which weighs upon humanity, as the enormous and overwhelming dragons of legend guarded useless treasures beneath their mighty forms?
Febrer remained motionless on the rock for a long time, his elbows on his knees and his forehead in his hands, lost in thought, his eyes appearing hypnotized by the gentle rise and fall of the fluctuating waters.
When he aroused himself from this meditation the afternoon was waning. He would fulfill his destiny! He could live only on the heights, although it might be as a proud mendicant. All descending paths he found barred. Farewell to happiness which might be found by retrocession to a natural and primitive life! Since the dead did not wish him to be a man, he would be a parasite.
His eyes, wandering over the horizon, became fixed on the white clouds massed above the rim of the sea. When he was a little lad and Mammy Antonia used to accompany him in his walks along the beach at Soller, they had often amused themselves by indulging their imagination in giving form and name to the clouds which met or scattered in an incessant variety of shapes, seeing in them now a black monster with flaming jaws, now a virgin surrounded by blue rays.
A group of clouds, dense and snowy as white fleece, attracted his attention. This luminous whiteness resembled the polished bones of a cranium. Loose tufts of dark vapor floated in the mist. Febrer's imagination pictured in it two frightful, black holes; a dark triangle like that which the wasted nose leaves in the skull of the dead; and below it an immense gash, tragic, identical with the mute grin of a mouth devoid of lips and teeth.
It was Death, the great mistress, empress of the world, displaying herself to him in broad daylight in her white and dazzling majesty, defying the splendor of the sun, the blue of the sky, the luminous green of the sea. The reflection of the sinking orb imparted a spark of malignant life to the bony countenance of wafer-like pallor, to the gloom of her dark eye-sockets, to her terrifying grin. Yes, it was she! The mist clinging to the surface of the sea was as plaits and folds of a garment which concealed her enormous frame; and other clouds which floated higher formed the ample sleeve from which escaped vapors more subtle and vague, making a bony arm terminating in an index finger, dry and crooked, like that of a bird of prey, pointing out far, far away, a mysterious destiny.
The vision disappeared with the rapid movement of the clouds, obliterating the hideous figure, assuming other capricious forms, but as it vanished from his sight Febrer did not awake from his hallucination.
He accepted the command without rebellion; he would go! The dead command, and he was their helpless slave! The late afternoon light brought out objects in strange relief. Strong shadows seemed to palpitate with life, imparting animation and giving animal shapes to the rocks along the coast. In the distance a promontory resembled a lion crouching above the waves, glaring at Jaime with silent hostility. The rocks on a level with the water raised and lowered their black heads, crowned with green hair, like giant amphibia of a monstrous humanity. In the direction of Formentera he saw an immense dragon which slowly advanced across the horizon, with a long tail of clouds, to treacherously swallow the dying sun.
When the red sphere, fleeing from this danger, sank into the waters, enlarged by a spasm of terror, the depressing gray of twilight aroused Febrer from his hallucination.
He arose, picked up his gun, and started for the tower. He was mentally arranging the programme of his departure. He would not say a word to anyone. He would wait until some mail steamer from Majorca should touch at the port of Iviza, and only at the last moment would he tell Pep of his resolution.
The certainty of soon forsaking this retreat caused him to look with interest around the tower by the glow of a candle he had lighted. His shadow, gigantically enlarged, and vacillating in the flickering light, moved about on the white walls, eclipsing objects which decorated them, or glinting from the pearly shells or from the gleaming metal of the gun on its rack.
A familiar grating sound attracted the attention of Febrer, who looked down the stairway. A man, wrapped in a mantle, stood on the lower steps. It was Pep.
"Your supper," he said shortly, handing him a basket.
Jaime took it. He saw that the peasant did not wish to talk, and he, for his part, felt a certain fear of breaking the silence.
Pep started on his return journey after this brief salutation, like a respectful but angry servant who only allows himself the indispensable words with his master.
Jaime set the basket upon the table and closed the door. He had no appetite; he would eat his supper later. He caught up a rustic pipe, carved by a peasant from a branch of cherry, filled it with tobacco and began to smoke, following with distracted eyes the winding spirals, whose subtle blue assumed a rainbow transparency before the candle.
Then he took a book and tried to fix his mind upon it, but he could not concentrate his attention.
Outside this husk of stone night reigned, a night dark and filled with mystery. This solemn silence, which fell from on high, and in which the slightest sounds seemed to acquire terrifying proportions, as if the murmur were listening to its own self, appeared to filter through the very walls.
Febrer thought he heard the circulation of his blood in this profound calm; from time to time he caught the scream of a gull, or the momentary swaying of the tamarisks in a gust of wind, a rustling like that of theatrical mobs concealed behind the wings. From the ceiling resounded at intervals the monotonous cric-cric of a wood-borer gnawing the beams with incessant toil which passed unheeded during the day. The sea filled the darkness with a gentle moan whose undulations broke on all the projections and windings of the coast.
Suddenly, Febrer, who sat silently listening with a quiet resembling that of timid children who are afraid to turn over in bed in order not to augment the mystery which surrounds them, stirred in his chair. Something extraordinary rent the air, dominating with its stridor the confused sounds of night. It was a cry, a howl, a whinny, one of those hostile, mocking voices with which vengeful youths call one another in the shadows.
Jaime felt an impulse to arise, to run to the door, but something held him motionless. The traditional cry of challenge had sounded some distance away. They must be young bloods of the district who had chosen the vicinity of the Pirate's Tower to meet, weapon in hand. That was not intended for him; in the morning the event would be explained.
He opened his book again, intending to amuse himself by reading, but after a few lines he sprang from his chair, flinging the volume and his pipe upon the table.
A-u-u-u-u! The whinny of challenge, the hostile and mocking cry, had resounded again, almost at the foot of the stairway, prolonged by the strong draft of a pair of bellows-like lungs. At the same instant the harsh noise of opening wings whistled in the dark; the marine birds, aroused from sleep, flew out from among the rocks to seek a new shelter.
This call was meant for him! Someone had come to challenge him at his very door! He glanced at his gun; with his right hand he felt the steel of the revolver in his belt, warmed by contact with his body; he took two steps toward the door, but he stopped and shrugged his shoulders with a smile of resignation. He was no native of the island; he did not understand this language of yells, and he considered himself superior to such provocations.
He returned to his chair and picked up his book, making an effort to smile.
"Yell, my good fellow, shriek, howl! My sympathy is with you, you may catch cold in the night air while I am here in my house taking things easy!"
This mocking complacency, however, was only on the surface. The howl rent the air again, not at the foot of the stairway now, but farther off, perhaps among the tamarisks which grew around the tower. The challenger seemed to have settled down to wait for Febrer to come out.
Who could it be? Perhaps the miserable Ironworker—the man-slayer, whom he had been seeking that afternoon; perhaps the Minstrel, who had publicly sworn to kill him immediately. Night and cunning, which equalize the forces of enemies, might have given courage to the sick boy to appear against him. It was also possible that there might be two or more lying in wait for him.
Another howl sounded, but Jaime shrugged his shoulders again. His unknown challenger might howl as long as he wished.
Reading was now out of the question! It was useless to pretend tranquillity!
The challenges were repeated fiercely now, like the crowing of an infuriated rooster. Jaime imagined the neck of the man, swollen, reddened, the tendons vibrating with anger. The guttural cry gradually acquired the inflection and the significance of language. It was ironic, mocking, insulting; it taunted the foreigner for his prudence; it seemed to call him a coward.
He tried not to hear. A mist formed before his eyes; it seemed as if the candle had gone out; in the intervals of silence the blood hummed in his ears. He remembered that Can Mallorqui was not far away, and that perhaps Margalida stood trembling at her little window, listening to the cries near the tower, wherein was a timid man, hearing them also, but with barred door, as if he were deaf.
No; it was enough! This time he flung his book definitively upon the table, and then, as by instinct, scarcely knowing what he did, he blew out the candle. He took a few steps, with hands outstretched, completely forgetting the plans of attack he had hastily conceived a few moments before. Anger transformed his ideas. In this sudden blindness of spirit he had but one thought, like a final splutter from a vanishing light. Now he touched the gun with palpitating hands, but he did not pick it up. He must have a less embarrassing weapon; perhaps he would need to go down and make his way through the bushes.
He tugged at his belt, and his revolver slipped out of its hiding place with the ease of a warm and silky animal. He groped in the dark toward the door and cautiously opened it, barely wide enough to get his head through, the heavy hinges creaking faintly.
Emerging suddenly from the darkness of his room to the diffused clarity of the sidereal light, he saw the clump of bushes near the tower, and farther on, the dim white farmhouse, and opposite stood the black hump of the mountains piercing the sky, in which flickered the stars. This vision lasted but an instant; he could see no more. Suddenly two tiny flashes, two serpents; of fire leaped from the bushes, one after the other, cutting luminous streaks through the dark, followed by two almost simultaneous reports.
Jaime perceived an acrid odor of burnt powder. At the same time he felt just above his scalp a numbing, violent shock, something abnormal, which seemed to touch him, and yet not touch him, the sensation of a blow from a stone. Something dropped upon his face like a light, impalpable shower. Blood? Earth?
The surprise lasted only an instant. Someone behind the bushes close to the stairway had fired at him. The enemy was there—there! In the darkness he saw the point from which the flashes had emerged, and, reaching his right arm outside the door, he fired, one, two, five times; all the cartridges contained in the cylinder.
He fired almost blindly, uncertain of his aim in the dark, and trembling with anger. A faint sound of crashing branches, an almost imperceptible undulation in the bushes, filled him with savage joy. He had hit the enemy undoubtedly, and he raised his hand to his head to convince himself that he was not wounded.
As he passed his fingers over his face something small and granulated fell from his cheeks. It was not blood; it was sand, dust, and mortar. He felt along the wall just above his head and discovered two small, funnel-like holes, still warm. The two balls had grazed his scalp, and had lodged in the wall, an almost imperceptible distance above his head.
Febrer was rejoiced at his good luck. He, safe, unharmed; but his enemy, how about him? Where was he at that moment? Ought he to go down and search among the tamarisks for him, to taunt him in his agony? Suddenly the shout was repeated, the savage howl, far, very far away, somewhere near the farmhouse; a howl triumphant, mocking, which Jaime interpreted as an announcement of an early return.
The dog of Can Mallorqui, aroused by the gunshots, was barking dismally. Other dogs in the distance answered. The howling of the man moved farther away, with incessant repetitions, steadily growing more remote, more faint, merging into the mysterious night.
THE CHALLENGE IN THE NIGHT
No sooner had day dawned than the Little Chaplain appeared at the tower.
He had heard everything. His father, who was a heavy sleeper, had perhaps not yet been informed of the event. The dog might bark, and a fierce battle might rage near the farmhouse, but good old Pep, when he went to bed, tired out with his day's work, became as insensible as a dead man. The other members of the family had spent a night of anguish. His mother, after several attempts to arouse her husband, with no better success than to draw forth incoherent mumbling, followed by yet louder snoring, had spent the night praying for the soul of the senor of the tower, believing him dead. Margalida, who slept near her brother, had called him in a stifled and agonized voice when the first shots rang out: "Do you hear, Pepet?"
The poor girl had arisen and lighted the candle, by the dim radiance of which the boy had seen her pale face and terrified eyes. Forgetting everything, she had flung her arms about, lifting her hands to her head. "They have killed Don Jaime! My heart tells me that they have!" She trembled at the echo of the fresh shots. "A regular rosary of reports," according to the Little Chaplain, had answered the first discharges.
"That was you, wasn't it, Don Jaime?" continued the boy. "I recognized your pistol at once, and so I said to Margalida. I remember that afternoon you shot off your revolver on the beach. I have a good ear for such things."
Then he told of his sister's despair; how she had gathered her clothing, intending to dress so that she might rush to the tower. Pepet would accompany her. Then, suddenly becoming timid, she refused to go. She did nothing but weep, and she would not allow the boy to make his escape by climbing over the barnyard fence.
They had heard the howling near the farmhouse, some time after the shooting, and, as he spoke of this war-cry, the boy smiled mischievously. Then Margalida, suddenly tranquilized by her brother's words, had become silent, but during the whole night the Little Chaplain heard sighs of anguish and a gentle whispering as of a low voice murmuring words and words with tireless monotony. She was praying.
Then, when daylight came, everyone arose except his father, who continued his placid sleep. As the women timidly peeped out from the porch, full of gloomy thoughts, they expected to behold a terrifying picture—the tower in ruins, and the Majorcan's corpse lying above the wreck. But the Little Chaplain had laughed on seeing the door open, and near it, as on other mornings, Don Jaime, with naked chest, splashing in a tank which he himself brought from the beach filled with sea water.
He had not been mistaken when he laughed at the women's terror. No one living could kill his Don Jaime—that was what he said, and he knew something of men.
Then, after Jaime's brief account of the events of the night before, screwing up his eyes with the expression of a very wise person, Pepet examined the two holes made in the wall by the bullets.
"And your head was here, where mine is? Futro!"
His eyes reflected admiration, devout idolatry, for this wonderful man, whose life had just been saved by a veritable miracle.
Trusting in his knowledge of the people of the country, Febrer questioned the boy about the supposed aggressor, and the Little Chaplain smiled with an air of importance. He had heard the war-cry. It was the Minstrel's manner of howling; many might have imagined it was he. He howled that way at the serenades, at the afternoon dances, and on coming away from a wooing.
"But it was not he, Don Jaime; I am sure! If anyone should ask the Minstrel he would be free to say 'Yes,' just to give himself importance. But it was the other, the Ironworker; I recognized his voice, and so did Margalida!"
In continuation, with a grave expression, as if he wished to test the Majorcan's mettle, he spoke of the silly fear of the women, who declared that the Civil Guard of San Jose must be notified.
"You won't do that, will you, Don Jaime? That would be foolish. The police are only needed by cowards."
The deprecatory smile, and the shrug of the shoulders with which Febrer answered him, reassured the boy.
"I was certain of that; it's not the custom on the island—but, as you are a foreigner—you are right; every man should defend himself; that's what he's a man for; and in case of need, he counts on his friends."
As he said this, he strutted about, as if to call attention to the powerful aid on which Don Jaime might count in moments of danger.
The Little Chaplain wished to work this situation to his own advantage, and he advised the senor that it would be a good idea to have him come and live in the tower. If Don Jaime were to ask Senor Pep, it would be impossible for his father to refuse. It would be well for Don Jaime to have him near; then there would be two for the defense; and, to strengthen his petition, he recalled his father's anger and the certainty that he intended to take him to Iviza at the beginning of next week, to shut him up in the Seminary. What would the senor do when he found himself deprived of his best friend?
In his desire to demonstrate the value of his presence, he censured Febrer's forgetfulness of the night before. Who would think of opening the door and looking out when someone was there with weapon prepared, challenging him? It was a miracle that he had not been killed. What about the lesson he had given him? Did he not remember his advice about climbing down from the window, at the back of the tower, to surprise the enemy?
"That is true," said Jaime, really ashamed at his forgetfulness.
The Little Chaplain, who was proudly enjoying the effect of this advice, started with surprise as he looked through the doorway.
Pep was slowly climbing the hill, his arms clasped behind his back, seemingly in deep meditation. The boy became alarmed at the sight of him. Undoubtedly he was very cross over the latest news; it would not be well for them to meet just now, and repeating once again the advisability of Febrer's having him as a companion, he flung his legs out of the window, turning upon his belly, resting a second on the sill, and disappeared down the side of the wall.
The peasant entered the tower and spoke without emotion of the happenings of the night before, as if this were a normal event which but slightly altered the monotony of country life. The women had told him—he was such a heavy sleeper——. So it had not amounted to anything?
He listened, with lowered eyes, twiddling his thumbs, to the brief tale. Then he went to the door to examine the two bullet holes.
"A miracle, Don Jaime, a genuine miracle."
He returned to his chair, remaining motionless a long time, as if it cost him a great effort to make his dull mind operate.
"The devil has broken loose, senor. It was sure to happen; I told you so. When a man makes up his mind to have the impossible, everything goes wrong, and there's an end to peace."
Then, raising his head, he fixed his cold, scrutinizing eyes on Don Jaime. They would have to notify the alcalde; they must tell the whole business to the Civil Guard.
Febrer made a negative gesture. No, this was an affair between men, which he would handle himself.
Pep sat with his eyes fixed enigmatically on the senor, as if struggling with opposing ideas.
"You are right," said the phlegmatic peasant.
Foreigners usually had other notions, but he was glad that the senor said the same as would his poor father (may he rest in peace!). Everyone on the island thought the same; the old way was the best way.
Then Pep, without consulting the senor, exposed his plan for helping in the defense. It was a duty of friendship. He had his gun at home. He had not used it for some time, but when he was young, during the lifetime of his famous father (may he rest in peace!) he had been a fair shot. He would come and spend the nights in the tower, to keep Don Jaime company, so that he should not be taken unaware.
Neither was the peasant surprised at the firm negative of the senor, who seemed to be offended by the proposition. He was a man, not a boy, needing companionship. Let everyone sleep in his own house, and let happen what fate decreed!
Pep assented also with nods of his head to these words. The same would his father have said, and like him all good people who followed ancient customs. Febrer seemed a true son of the island. Then, softened by the admiration this courage of Don Jaime's inspired in him, he proposed another arrangement. Since the senor did not wish company in his tower, he might come down to Can Mallorqui to sleep. They could fix him up a bed somewhere.
Febrer felt tempted by the opportunity to see Margalida, but the tone of weakness in which the father gave the invitation, and the anxious glance with which he awaited a reply, caused him to refuse.
"No, thank you very much, Pep. I will stay here in the tower. They might think I had moved down to your house because I was afraid."
The peasant nodded assent. He understood. He would do the same in a like situation. But Pep would try to sleep less at night, and if he heard shouts or shots near the tower he would come out with his old fire-lock.
As if this self-imposed obligation of sleeping on guard, ready to expose his skin in defense of his old-time patron broke the calm in which he had maintained himself until then, the peasant raised his eyes and clasped his hands.
"Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!
"The devil is let loose!" he repeated, "there will be no more peace; and all for not believing what I told you, for going against the current of old customs, which have been established by wiser people than those of the present day. And what is all this leading to?"
Febrer tried to reassure the peasant, and a thought escaped him which he had intended to keep concealed. Pep might rejoice. He was going to leave forever, not wishing to disturb the peace of himself and family.
Ah! was the senor really going away? The peasant's joy was so keen, and his surprise so lively that Jaime hesitated. He seemed to see in the peasant's little eyes a certain malice. Did the islander imagine that his sudden determination was caused by fear of his enemies?
"I am going," he said, looking at Pep with hostility, "but I am not sure when. Later—when it suits my convenience. I can't leave here until the man who is looking for me finds me."
Pep made a gesture of resignation; his gladness vanished, but he was about to assent to these words also, adding that thus would his father have done, and thus he himself thought best.
When the peasant arose to take his leave, Febrer, who was standing near the door, saw the Little Chaplain by the farmhouse, and this recalled the boy's desire to his mind. If the request would not put Pep out, he might let the youngster keep him company in the tower.
But the father received this suggestion with displeasure.
No, Don Jaime! If he needed company, here he was himself, a man! The boy must study. The devil was let loose, and it was high time to impose his authority so that order should be maintained in the family. Next week he intended taking him back to the Seminary. That was final.
On being left alone Febrer went down to the beach. Uncle Ventolera was caulking the seams of his beached boat with tow and pitch. Lying in it as if it were an enormous coffin, with his weak eyes he sought out the leaks, and on finding one he would begin singing his Latin jargon in a loud voice.
Feeling the boat move and seeing the senor leaning over the edge, the old man smiled with amusement, and ended his canticles.
"Holloa, Don Jaime!"
Uncle Ventolera was informed of everything. The women of Can Mallorqui had told him the news, and by this time it had circulated all over the district, but only from ear to ear, as these things must be spoken in order to keep them from the police who muddle everything. So someone had come after him the night before, challenging him to step outside the tower? He, he, he! The same thing had happened to him in times gone by, when, between voyages, he was making love to the girl he married. A certain comrade who had become a rival had howled at him; but he had gotten the girl, because he was the more clever; to sum it all up, he had given his friend a stab in the breast, which held him for a long time between life and death. Then he had lived on his guard whenever he was in port, to avoid the vengeance of his enemy; but the years pass, old grudges are forgotten, and finally the two comrades took up the smuggling trade together, sailing from Algiers to Iviza, or along the Spanish main.
Uncle Ventolera laughed with a childish giggle, enjoying these recollections of his youth, recalling the memory of shooting scrapes, stabbing affrays, and provocations in the night. Alas! No one challenged him any more! This was only for young bloods. His accent betrayed melancholy at being no longer mixed up in these affairs of love and war, which he judged indispensable to a happy existence.
Febrer left the old man singing mass as he went on with his task of repairing the boat. In the tower he found the basket containing his supper upon the table. The Little Chaplain had left it without waiting, obeying, no doubt, some urgent call of the ill-humored father. After eating, Jaime went out again to examine the two holes which the projectiles had made in the wall. Now that the excitement of the danger was over, and he coldly appreciated the gravity of the situation, he felt a vengeful anger, more intense than that which had impelled him to rush to the door the night before. Had his enemy aimed a few millimeters lower, he would have rolled into obscurity, at the foot of the steps, like a hunted beast. Cristo! And could a man of his class die thus, the victim of treachery, ambushed by one of these rustics!
His anger assumed a vengeful impulse; he felt the necessity of taking the offensive, of making his appearance, serene and threatening, in the presence of the men among whom were numbered some of his adversaries.
He took down his gun, examined the action, slung it over his shoulder and descended from the tower, taking the same road as on the previous afternoon. As he passed Can Mallorqui the barking of the dog brought Margalida and her mother to the door. The men were in a distant field which Pep was cultivating. The mother, tearful, and with her words broken by sobs, could only grasp the senor's hands.
"Don Jaime! Don Jaime!"
He must be very careful, he must stay close in his tower, and be constantly on guard against his enemies. Margalida, silent, her eyes extraordinarily wide open, gazed at Febrer, revealing admiration and anxiety. She did not know what to say; her simple soul seemed to shrink humbly within itself, finding no words to express her thoughts.
Jaime continued on his way. Several times he turned and saw Margalida standing on the porch, looking after him anxiously. The senor was going hunting, as he had done before, but, ay! he was taking the mountain trail; he was going to the pine forest where stood the forge.
During his walk Febrer thought over plans of attack. He was determined to try conclusions at once. The moment that the man-slayer should appear at the door of his house, he would let him have the two shots from his gun. He, Jaime Febrer, carried on his business in the light of day, and he would be more fortunate; his balls would not lodge in the wall!
When he arrived at the forge he found it closed. Nobody at home! The Ironworker had disappeared; neither was the old woman there to receive him with the hostile glare of her single eye.
He seated himself at the foot of the tree as before, his gun ready, sheltered behind the trunk, in case this apparent desertion of the premises was only a trick. A long time passed. The wild doves, emboldened by the stillness of the surrounding forge, fluttered about in the little clearing unheeding the motionless hunter. A cat crept cautiously over the rickety roof, and crouched like a tiger, trying to capture the restless sparrows.
Delay and inaction calmed Febrer. What was he doing here, far from home, in the heart of the forest, twilight about to fall, lying in wait for an enemy of whose active hostility he had only vague suspicions? Perhaps the Ironworker had locked himself in his house on seeing him approach, so that further waiting would be useless. It might be that he and the old woman had gone on some long excursion and might not return until night. He must go!
Gun in hand, ready to attack in case he should meet the enemy, he began his return to the valley.
Once more he passed the fields and again he met the peasants and the girls, who looked at him with eager curiosity, barely replying to his greeting. Again, in the same place as before, he met the Minstrel with his bandaged head, surrounded by friends to whom he was talking with violent gesticulations. When he recognized the senor of the tower, before his comrades could prevent him, he bent down to the hardened furrows of the earth and picked up two stones and flung them at him. These missiles, thrown by a forceless arm, did not make half their intended journey. Then, exasperated by the contemptuous serenity of Febrer, who continued on his way, the boy broke into threats. He would kill the Majorcan; he declared it at the top of his voice! Let them all hear that he had sworn to destroy this man!
Jaime smiled gloomily. No; the angry lamb was not the one who had come to the Pirate's Tower to kill him. His outrageous boasting was enough to prove that.
The senor spent a peaceful evening. After supper, when Margalida's brother had said good night, depressed by the certainty that his father would never desist from his determination of taking him back to the Seminary, Jaime closed the door, piling the table and chairs against it. He did not intend to be surprised while he was asleep. He blew out the light and sat smoking in the dark, amusing himself by watching the tiny brand on the end of his cigar widen and shrink as he drew upon it. His gun was near him and his revolver was in his belt ready for use at the slightest sound at the door. His ear was habituated to the murmurs of the night and to the surging of the sea, but he sought beyond them for some sound, some evidence that in this lonely retreat there were other human beings than himself.
Finally he looked at the face of his watch by the light of his cigar. Ten o'clock! Far away he heard barking, and Jaime thought he recognized the dog of Can Mallorqui. Perhaps it indicated the passing of someone on his way to the tower. Now the enemy might be near. It was not unlikely that he was dragging himself cautiously outside the path among the tamarisks.
He arose, reaching for his gun, feeling in his belt for his revolver. As soon as he should hear a cry of challenge, or a voice near the door, he would climb out of the window, make his way cautiously around the tower, and get behind the enemy.
More time passed. Still nothing! Febrer wished to look at his watch, but his hands would not obey his will. The ruddy point no longer glowed on the end of his cigar. His head had at last fallen back upon the pillow; his eyes closed; he heard cries of challenge, shots, curses, but it was in his dreams, as if in another world, where insults and attacks do not arouse one's sensibilities. Then—nothing! A dense shadow, a night of profound sleep. He was awakened by a ray of sunshine which filtered through a crack in the window and shone upon his eyes. The morning light again brought into relief the whiteness of the walls which during the night seemed to sweat the shadows and barbaric mysteries of former centuries.
Jaime arose in good spirits, and as he removed the barricade of furniture which obstructed the doorway, he laughed, somewhat ashamed of his precautions, considering them almost a sign of cowardice. The women of Can Mallorqui had worked upon his nerves with their fears. Who would be likely to seek him in his tower, knowing that he was on the alert and would meet a trespasser with shots! The Ironworker's absence when Jaime had presented himself at the forge, and the calm of the night before, gave food for thought. Was the man-slayer wounded? Had some of Jaime's balls reached their mark?
He spent the morning on the sea. Tio Ventolera took him to the Vedra, praising the lightness and other merits of his boat. He repaired it year after year, not a splinter of its original construction being left in it. They fished in the shelter of the rocks until mid-afternoon. On their way back Febrer saw the Little Chaplain running along the beach waving something white.
Before landing, while the prow of the boat was scraping along the gravel, the boy called to him with the impatience of one who has great news:
"A letter, Don Jaime!"
A letter! Actually, in that remote corner of the world, the most extraordinary event that could disturb the everyday life was the arrival of a letter. Febrer turned it over in his hands, examining it as something strange and rare. He looked at the seal, then at the address on the envelope.... He recognized it—it aroused in his memory the same impression as a familiar face with which we cannot associate a name. From whom was it?
Meanwhile the Little Chaplain gave detailed explanations of the great event. The letter had been brought by the foot postman in the middle of the morning. It had come by the mail steamer from Palma, arriving in Iviza the night before. If he wished to answer it he must do so without loss of time. The boat would return to Majorca the following day.
On his way to the tower Jaime broke the seal and looked for the signature. Almost at the same moment his recollection grew clear and a name surged to his mind—Pablo Valls! Captain Pablo had written to him after a year of silence, and his letter was long, several sheets of commercial paper covered with close writing!
At the first few lines the Majorcan smiled. The captain himself seemed there in those written words, with his vigorous and exuberant personality, turbulent, kindly, and aggressive. Febrer almost saw in the page before him his enormous, heavy nose, his gray whiskers, his eyes the color of oil speckled with flecks of tobacco color, his dented, chambergo hat thrust on the back of his head.
The letter began, "Dear, shameless, fellow;" and the opening paragraphs continued in the same style.
"Something worth while," he murmured, smiling. "I must read this leisurely."
He put it in his pocket with the eagerness of one who sharpens a pleasure by deferring it. Jaime climbed to the tower, after taking leave of the boy.
He seated himself near the window, his chair tilted back against the table, and began to read. An explosion of mock fury, of affectionate insults, of indignation over events Jaime had actually forgotten, filled the first pages. Pablo Valls overflowed with amusing incoherency, like a charlatan condemned for a long time to silence who suffers the torture of his repressed verbosity. He flung into Febrer's face his origin and his pride, which had impelled him to run away without telling his friends good-bye. "In the last analysis you are descended from a race of inquisitors." His ancestors had burned the ancestors of Valls; let him not forget that! But the good must distinguish themselves from the bad in some way, and so he, the reprobate, the Chueta, the heretic hated by everybody, had responded to this lack of friendship by busying himself with Jaime's affairs. Very likely he had already heard about this through his friend Toni Clapes, whose business was thriving, as usual, although he had suffered some set-backs of late. Two of his vessels carrying cargoes of tobacco had been captured.
"But—to the gist of the matter! You know that I'm a practical man, a regular Englishman, an enemy to the wasting of time."
And the practical man, the "Englishman," in order to waste no words, covered two pages more with the explosions of his indignation at everything around him; at his racial brothers, timid and humble, who covered the hand of the enemy with kisses; at the descendants of the old-time persecutors; at the ferocious Padre Garau, of whom not even dust remained; against the whole island, the famous Roqueta, to which his people were held in subjection through love for its soil, a love returned with ostracism and insults.
"But let us not waste words; order, method, and clarity! Above all let us write practically. Lack of practical character is our ruination."
Finally he came to the Popess Juana, that imposing senora, whom Pablo Valls had only seen at a distance, as he seemed to her the personification of all the revolutionary impieties and of all the sins of his race. "There is no hope for you in that direction." Febrer's aunt remembered him only to lament his bad end and to praise the justice of the Lord, who punishes those who travel crooked paths, and depart from sacred family traditions. Sometimes the good lady thought him in Iviza; again she declared she knew for a certainty that her nephew had been seen in America, engaged in the meanest employments. "Anyway, whelp of an inquisitor, your pious aunt will not remember you, and you need not expect the slightest assistance from her." It was now being whispered about the city that, definitely renouncing the pomps of this world and perhaps even the pontifical Golden Rose, which never arrived, she was about to turn over all her property to the priests of her court, going to shut herself up in a convent, with all the advantages of a privileged lady. The Popess was going away forever; it was impossible to expect anything from her. "And here is where I come in, young Garau: I, the reprobate, the Chueta, the long-tailed, who desire to be reverenced and adored by you as if you were Providence himself."
Finally the practical man, the enemy of useless words, fulfilled his promise, and the style of the letter became concise, with a commercial dryness. First a long statement of the properties still possessed by Jaime at the time of his leaving Majorca, burdened with all manner of incumbrances and mortgages; then a list of his creditors, which was longer than that of his properties, followed by lists of interest due and other obligations, an entangled skein in which Febrer's mind became wholly confused, but through which Valls made direct headway, with the confidence of those of his race for disentangling jumbled business affairs.
Captain Pablo had allowed half a year to pass without writing to his friend, but he had occupied himself daily over his affairs. He had haggled with the most ferocious usurers of the island, insulting some, outwitting others in finesse, resorting to persuasion or to bravado, advancing money to satisfy the more urgent creditors, who threatened attachment. In conclusion, he had left his friend's fortune free and sound, but it emerged from the terrible battle shrunken and comparatively insignificant. There only remained to Febrer some thousands of duros; perhaps it would not amount to fifteen thousand, but this was better than to live in his former position as a gran senor without anything to eat, and subjected to the persecution of his creditors. "It is time that you come home! What are you doing there? Are you going to spend the rest of your life like a Robinson Crusoe, in that pirate's tower?" He could live modestly; living is cheap in Majorca. Besides, he could solicit an office from the Government. With his name and pedigree it would not be difficult to accomplish that. He might devote himself to commerce under the direction and advice of a man like himself. If he wished to travel it would not be difficult for Valls to secure him a position in Algiers, in England, or in America. The captain had friends everywhere. "Come back soon, young Garau, dear old inquisitor. I have no more to say."
Febrer spent the rest of the afternoon reading the letter or strolling about the environs of the tower, deeply stirred by this news. Recollections of his past existence, dimmed by his rural and solitary life, stood out now with the same vividness as if they were the events of yesterday. The cafes on the Borne, his friends in the Casino! How strange to return there, passing at a bound into city life after his half savage seclusion in the tower! He would go at once! His mind was made up! He would start the next morning, taking advantage of the return trip of the same steamer which had brought the letter.
The memory of Margalida rose in his mind as if to detain him on the island. She appeared in his imagination with her white face, her adorable figure, her timid and lowered eyes, which seemed to conceal the dark ardor of her pupils as if it were a sin. Should he leave her? Never see her again? Then she would become the wife of one of those rough peasants who would make no better use of her beauty than to waste it in daily tasks in the field, gradually converting her into a farm animal, black, calloused, and wrinkled!
A pessimistic thought soon aroused him from this cruel doubt. Margalida did not love him; she could not love him. Disconcerting silence and mysterious tears were the only response he had succeeded in eliciting by his declarations of love. Why should he persist in trying to conquer that which seemed to everybody to be impossible? Why continue the senseless struggle against the whole island for a woman he was not as yet sure loved him?
The joy of the recent news turned Febrer into a skeptic. "Nobody dies of love." Yet it would cost him a great effort to abandon this country on the morrow; he would experience profound sorrow when the African whiteness of Can Mallorqui should fade from his view, but, once he had shaken himself free of the atmosphere of the island, no longer living among rustics, and had gone back to his old life, perhaps Margalida would linger only as a vague memory, and he would be the first to laugh at this passion for a peasant girl, the daughter of a former retainer of his family.
He hesitated no longer. He would spend the night in the solitude of his tower, like a primitive man, one of those who live lying in ambush against danger, ready to kill. Tomorrow night he would be seated at a table in a cafe beneath the light of an electric chandelier, seeing carriages beside the pavements, and gazing at women more beautiful than Margalida strolling along the Paseo del Borne. Back to Majorca, then! He would not live in a palace; the Febrer mansion he would lose forever, according to the arrangement made by his friend Valls; but he would not fail to have a neat little house in the ward of Terreno or somewhere near the sea, and in it the motherly care of Mammy Antonia. No sorrow, no shame would await him there. He would even be rid of the presence of Don Benito Valls and his daughter, from whom he had so discourteously fled, without a word of excuse. The rich Chueta, according to his brother's letter, now lived in Barcelona for the sake of his health, so he said; but undoubtedly, as Captain Pablo believed, this journey was taken for the purpose of finding a son-in-law unhampered by the prejudices which persecuted those of his race on the Island.
As night closed in the Little Chaplain came with his basket of supper. While Febrer was greedily eating, with the appetite aroused by his gladsome news, the boy's eager eyes roved about the room to see if he could discover the letter which had so piqued his curiosity. Nothing was in sight. The senor's good spirits finally enlivened him also, and he laughed without knowing why, feeling obliged to be in a good humor since Don Jaime was so.
Febrer joked him about his approaching return to the Seminary. He was thinking of making him a present, an extraordinary gift, he could never guess what; compared to it the knife would be worthless. As he said this his eyes traveled toward the gun hanging on the wall.
When the boy took his leave Febrer closed the door and diverted himself by taking an inventory and making a distribution of the objects which filled his dwelling. Within an old crudely carved wooden chest, laid away between fragrant herbs, was the clothing carefully folded by Margalida in which he had come to Majorca. He would put them on in the morning. He thought with a kind of terror of the torture of the boots and the torment of the stiff collar after his long season of rustic freedom, but he intended to leave the island as he had come to it. Everything else he would present to Pep, except the gun, which would go to his son; he smiled as he thought of the expression of the young seminarist when he should receive this gift, which came rather late. By the time he could go hunting with it he would be a priest of one of the island districts.
He drew Valls' letter from his pocket again, taking pleasure in reading it over and over, as if each time he found fresh items of interest. While reading these paragraphs, which were already familiar, his mind was dwelling on the good news. His loyal friend Pablo! How timely was his advice! It called him from Iviza at the most opportune instant, when he was in open war with all these rude people, who were eager for the death of the stranger. The captain was right. What was he doing there, like a new Robinson Crusoe, and one who could not even enjoy the peace of solitude? Valls, opportune, as ever, delivered him from his danger.
His life of a few hours before, when he had not yet received the letter, seemed to him absurd and ridiculous. He was a new man now. He smiled with shame and pity for that mad man who, the day before, with his gun across his shoulder, had journeyed up the mountain to seek a former prisoner, challenging him to a barbarous duel in the solitude of the forest, as if all the life of the planet were concentrated on this little island and one must kill in order to live! As if there were no life nor civilization beyond the sheet of blue which surrounded this bit of land, with its primitive-souled inhabitants clinging to the customs of former centuries! What folly! This was to be the last night of his savage existence. On the morrow everything which had occurred would be but an interesting recollection, with tales of which he could entertain his friends on the Borne.
Febrer suddenly cut the trend of these thoughts, raising his eyes from the paper. As his gaze encountered half the room in shadow and the other half in a ruddy glow, which made objects flicker and tremble, he seemed to return from the long journey on which his imagination had drawn him. He was still living in the Pirate's Tower; he was still in the midst of darkness, of solitude peopled with whispers of Nature, in the interior of a cube of stone, the walls of which seemed to sweat dark mystery.
He had heard something outside; a cry, a howl, different from that of the other night, more stifled, more indistinct. Jaime received the impression that the cry came from very near, that perhaps it was uttered by someone hidden in the clusters of tamarisks.
He concentrated his attention and the howl came again. It was the same wild yell he had heard the other night, but low, repressed, hoarse, as if he who uttered it feared that the cry would scatter too much, and had placed his hands around his mouth in order to send it directly by means of this natural trumpet.
His first surprise subsided, he laughed softly, shrugging his shoulders. He did not intend to stir. What did primitive customs matter to him now, these peasant challenges? "Howl, my good man; yell until you're tired! I'm deaf!"
To divert his mind he returned to the reading of his letter, enjoying with particular zest the long list of creditors, many of whose names evoked choleric visions or grotesque recollections.
The howl continued at long intervals, and each time that the hoarse stridency pierced the silence Febrer thrilled with impatience and choler. Must he spend the whole night without sleep on account of this serenade of threats?
It occurred to him that perhaps the enemy concealed in the bushes saw his light through the cracks of the door and that this caused him to persist in his provocations. He blew out the candle and laid down on the bed, experiencing a sensation of comfort at being in the dark, with his back sunk into the soft, yielding mattress. That barbarian might howl for hours, or until he lost his voice. He did not intend to stir. What did the insults matter to him now? And he laughed with a joy of physical comfort, lying in his soft couch, while the other was making himself hoarse out there in the bushes, with his weapon ready and his eye alert. What a disappointment for the enemy!
Febrer was almost lulled to sleep by these cries of challenge. He had barricaded the door as he had done the night before. As long as the shouts continued he knew that he was in no danger. Suddenly, by a supreme effort, he sat up, flinging off a stupor which preceded sleep. He no longer heard howls. It was the mystery of silence which had awakened him, a silence more threatening and disquieting than the hostile shouts.
By listening intently he thought he could perceive a movement, a faint creaking of wood, something like the insignificant weight of a cat creeping from step to step, climbing up the stairway to the tower, with long intervals of waiting.
Jaime felt for his revolver, and he sat holding it with a tight clutch. The weapon seemed to tremble between his fingers. He began to feel the anger of the strong man who realizes the presence of an enemy at his door.
The cautious ascent ceased, perhaps half way up the stairs, and after a long silence, Febrer heard a low voice, a voice meant for him alone. It was the voice of the Ironworker. It invited him to step outside, it called him coward, uniting to this insult outrageous indignities against the detested isle of Majorca where Jaime was born.
Jaime sprang from his couch with a sudden impulse, the springs creaking loudly beneath him. As he arose to his feet in the dark, with his revolver in his hand, he began, to feel nothing but scorn for his challenger. Why heed him? It were better to go back to bed. There was a long pause, as if the enemy, when he heard the creaking springs, stood waiting for the inhabitant of the tower to come out. Time passed, and the hoarse and insulting voice once more pierced the calm of night. It called him coward again; it invited the Majorcan to come out. "Come out, you son of a——"
At this insult Febrer trembled, and thrust his revolver back into his belt. His mother, his poor mother, pale and sick, and as sweet as a saint, whose memory was evoked by the greatest of infamies in the mouth of that criminal!
He started instinctively toward the door, colliding after a few steps with the barricade of tables and chairs. No; not the door. A rectangle of blue and hazy light was framed by the dark wall. Jaime had opened the window. The starry light faintly illuminated the contraction of his countenance, a cold grin, desperate, cruel, which gave him resemblance to the knight commander Don Priamo and other navigators of war and destruction whose dust-covered portraits were hanging in the great house in Majorca.
He seated himself on the window, threw his legs over the sill, and cautiously began to descend, feeling with his toes for the hollows in the wall.
As his feet touched earth he drew his revolver from his belt, and bending low, one hand on the ground, he crept around the base of the tower. His feet became entangled in the roots of the tamarisks which the wind had bared, and which sunk in the earth like a tangled skein of black serpents. Each time that he was stopped by a mesh of roots, each time that a stone rolled down or made a sound, he stopped, holding his breath. He was trembling, not with fear, but with the eagerness of the hunter who fears he may arrive too late. He longed to fall upon the enemy, to lay hands upon him while he stood near the door muttering his deadly insults!
Dragging himself along the ground, he came to where he could see the lower end of the stairway, then the upper steps, and finally the door, which stood out white in the light of the stars. Nobody! The enemy had fled.
In his surprise he stood erect, intently watching the black and undulating spot of bushes which extended around the foot of the stairway. Suddenly a red serpent, a streak of flame, followed by a tiny cloud and a thunder clap, leapt from out the tamarisks. Jaime thought he had been struck in the breast by a stone, a hot pebble, perhaps flung into the air by the concussion from the detonation.
"It's nothing!" he thought.
But at the same instant he found himself lying on the ground flat on his back.
He turned instinctively, lying with his breast on the earth, resting on one hand, extending the other which grasped the revolver. He felt strong; he repeated to himself that it was nothing; but suddenly his body almost refused to obey his will. He seemed to be glued to the ground. He saw the bushes move, as if stirred by some dark animal, cautious and malignant. There was the enemy! It thrust out first its head, then its trunk, and finally its legs from the crackling bushes.