The Dynamiter

Page 73

A superstitious reverence plainly encircled the stranger; I could read it in their changed demeanour, and in the paleness that prevailed upon the natural colour of their faces; and their fear perhaps reacted on myself. I looked again at Madam Mendizabal. She stood perfectly composed, watching my face through her glasses with a smile of scorn; and at the sight of her assured superiority to all my threats, a cry broke from my lips, a cry of rage, fear, and despair, and I fled from the verandah and the house.

I ran I knew not where, but it was towards the beach. As I went, my head whirled; so strange, so sudden, were these events and insults. Who was she? what, in Heaven's name, the power she wielded over my obedient negroes? Why had she addressed me as a slave? why spoken of my father's sale? To all these tumultuary questions I could find no answer; and in the turmoil of my mind, nothing was plain except the hateful leering image of the woman.

I was still running, mad with fear and anger, when I saw my father coming to meet me from the landing-place; and with a cry that I thought would have killed me, leaped into his arms and broke into a passion of sobs and tears upon his bosom. He made me sit down below a tall palmetto that grew not far off; comforted me, but with some abstraction in his voice; and as soon as I regained the least command upon my feelings, asked me, not without harshness, what this grief betokened. I was surprised by his tone into a still greater measure of composure; and in firm tones, though still interrupted by sobs, I told him there was a stranger in the island, at which I thought he started and turned pale; that the servants would not obey me; that the stranger's name was Madam Mendizabal, and, at that, he seemed to me both troubled and relieved; that she had insulted me, treated me as a slave (and here my father's brow began to darken), threatened to buy me at a sale, and questioned my own servants before my face; and that, at last, finding myself quite helpless and exposed to these intolerable liberties, I had fled from the house in terror, indignation, and amazement.

'Teresa,' said my father, with singular gravity of voice, 'I must make to-day a call upon your courage; much must be told you, there is much that you must do to help me; and my daughter must prove herself a woman by her spirit. As for this Mendizabal, what shall I say? or how am I to tell you what she is? Twenty years ago, she was the loveliest of slaves; to-day she is what you see her-- prematurely old, disgraced by the practice of every vice and every nefarious industry, but free, rich, married, they say, to some reputable man, whom may Heaven assist! and exercising among her ancient mates, the slaves of Cuba, an influence as unbounded as its reason is mysterious. Horrible rites, it is supposed, cement her empire: the rites of Hoodoo. Be that as it may, I would have you dismiss the thought of this incomparable witch; it is not from her that danger threatens us; and into her hands, I make bold to promise, you shall never fall.'

'Father!' I cried. 'Fall? Was there any truth, then, in her words? Am I--O father, tell me plain; I can bear anything but this suspense.'

'I will tell you,' he replied, with merciful bluntness. 'Your mother was a slave; it was my design, so soon as I had saved a competence, to sail to the free land of Britain, where the law would suffer me to marry her: a design too long procrastinated; for death, at the last moment, intervened. You will now understand the heaviness with which your mother's memory hangs about my neck.'

I cried out aloud, in pity for my parents; and in seeking to console the survivor, I forgot myself.

'It matters not,' resumed my father. 'What I have left undone can never be repaired, and I must bear the penalty of my remorse. But, Teresa, with so cutting a reminder of the evils of delay, I set myself at once to do what was still possible: to liberate yourself.'

I began to break forth in thanks, but he checked me with a sombre roughness.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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