Harold Bindloss.

For Jacinta



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CHAPTER I
JACINTA BROWN

It was about seven o'clock in the evening when sobrecargo Austin boarded the little mail-boat Estremedura as she lay rolling at anchor on the long, moon-lit heave that worked into the roadstead of Santa Cruz, Palma. Sobrecargo means much the same thing as purser, and Austin was an Englishman, though the Estremedura was to all intents and purposes a Spanish steamer. She traded round the islands of the Canary archipelago with mules and camels, tomatoes, bananas, onions, and seasick English tourists, as fortune favoured her. Now, as the heavily sealed document Austin carried in his pocket declared, she was to sail for Las Palmas, Grand Canary, with the Cuban mail, by the gracious permission of the young King of Spain.

He had trouble on getting on board of her, for there were a good many bullocks swimming about her side waiting until the red-capped crew should heave them on board beneath the derrick-boom by means of a rope twisted round their horns. It probably hurt the bullocks, and now and then one succumbed to a broken neck during the operation; but the Castilian, who can face his losses placidly, is not, as a rule, particularly merciful to his beast. There were also stray sheep, goats, and donkeys, as well as olive-faced peasants with blankets strapped about their shoulders, wandering about the after portion of the main deck, which was supposed to be reserved for the second-class passengers, when Austin stopped a moment by the covered hatch. A big electric light hung from the spar-deck beams above his head, and he looked about him with a little ironical smile.

He was a young man of average stature, and there was nothing especially distinguished in his appearance, though he had good grey eyes, and a pleasant bronzed face. He was somewhat lightly made, though he looked wiry, and held himself well, and there was a certain languidness in his smile which seemed to suggest that he was not addicted to troubling greatly about anything. Because the Scotchman who ran the Estremedura's engines had sold his white uniform jacket with the resplendent buttons a day or two before, he was just then attired somewhat incongruously in a white cap with the very large and imposing badge of the Spanish mail service clasped into the front of it, a brown alpaca jacket, white duck trousers, and pipe-clayed shoes. The latter two items were, however, by no means immaculate, since he had, as a special favour to the mate, brought off certain sheep and goats in his despatch-boat, as well as a camel tied astern of it. Spaniards and Englishmen do not invariably agree, but they lived like brothers on board the Estremedura, which, however, had its disadvantages. Austin objected in particular to the community of property.

That evening the steamer hummed with life, and the clatter of polyglot tongues. Parsee dealers in silver-thread embroideries, German commercial travellers, Madeiran Portuguese, Canario hillmen, and Peninsular Spaniards, moved amidst the straying livestock, while a little group of Anglo-Saxons naturally sat apart upon the hatch.

There were, as is usual when Englishmen foregather in a country where wine is cheap, empty bottles scattered about. The engineer from the sister ship and an athletic tourist, stripped, at least as far as was permissible, were wrestling in Cumberland fashion on the hatch, with much delicate man?uvring of their feet and futile clutches at each other's waists. Macallister, who, when he felt inclined, superintended the Estremedura's machinery, alternately encouraged them sardonically and solaced himself with one of the bottles. He was a big, gaunt man, and just then extremely dirty, and when he saw Austin he looked up with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"I have been waiting for ye anxiously," he said. "Ye may now have the pleasure of lending me five dollars."

"I'm afraid not!" said Austin decisively. "For one thing, I haven't got them. I very seldom have – as you ought to know."

Macallister made a little gesture of resignation. "Well," he said, "ye have always your clothes, and if ye had known us better ye would not have brought so many of them on board the Estremedura. I'm half expecting yon Jackson o' Las Palmas, who gave us two dollars for the last white suit, to come round for some more o' them when we get in."

Austin tried the door of his room close by, and was consoled to find it locked, as he had left it.

"They cost me five, and I naturally never saw a peseta of the money. I suppose you kept the Correo buttons?"

"I did not," said Macallister, unabashed. "Ye may observe Miguel, the quartermaster, walking round in them. It was no a bad bargain – a basket o' big grapes an' a watermelon."

Austin bore it patiently. There was, in fact, nothing to be gained by protesting, and he knew that it was useless to expostulate with Macallister when he spoke his own tongue, which was not an invariable custom with him. Then the engineer turned and glanced at the wrestlers, who were still stamping up and down the hatch with feet spread well apart, compassionately.

"They've been at it the whole o' a half hour, an' no a fall to cheer a body yet. One would think it was dancing they were," he said. "It wasn't to see that I wasted a tumblerful o' anisow on them."

Now, anisado is a preparation of spirit and extract of anise seed, which is esteemed in that country, and Austin looked hard at his comrade, because he had a jar of it, intended for a Spanish friend, in his room. He was a trifle uneasy, since a lock is not an insuperable obstacle to an engineer. The latter, however, changed the subject.

"It's a kind o' pity about your clothes," he said. "Miss Jacinta Brown is going across with us to-night, an' she was enquiring kindly after ye."

Austin had a good deal of composure, and he often needed it, but the shrewd Scottish eyes saw the momentary pleasure in his face. Then, because he did not appreciate Macallister's badinage on that subject, he went into his room and bolted the door behind him before he switched on the light and examined the anisado jar. It seemed quite full when he shook it, and the seal was intact, but on looking closer he saw that the impression on the latter was not what it had been when he left it. He was aware that a certain proportion of sea-water may be added to rum without the average consumer noticing any great difference, but he had suspicions that a blend of brine and anise was not likely to be appreciated by its recipient, and he was for a moment or two consumed with righteous indignation. This, however, passed, for he realised that his expostulations would be heard with laughter. It was all a part of the happy-go-lucky life he led, and nobody concerns himself unduly about anything under the flag of Spain. The Castilian, as a rule, bears his troubles patiently, which is, perhaps, just as well, since he rarely sees them coming or makes any attempt to get out of the way of them.

Austin accordingly busied himself with his papers, and it was an hour later when he went on deck. The Estremedura had gone to sea by then, and the lights of the little Spanish town blinked above the broad fringe of surf astern. High above her the great black cordillera cut hard and sharp against the luminous blueness of the night, and the long heave of the Atlantic flashed, white-topped, beneath the moon ahead. She swung over it with slanted spars and swaying funnel, while the keen trade-breeze sang in her rigging, and now and then a flying-fish ricocheted, gleaming, from sea-top to sea-top beneath her side. She was very well kept above decks, a trim, yacht-like vessel, and for a while Austin leaned over her quarter-rails, smoking a cigarette, and wondering when Miss Jacinta Brown would come up on deck. There was a very deaf Englishman, who insisted on conversing with him in stentorian tones in the saloon, and he had no desire for his company. In the meanwhile, it was pleasant to lounge there and watch the moonlight gleam upon the tumbling seas.

There were, he admitted, a good many compensations in the life he led. The warmth and colour of the South appealed to him, and, though they are not particularly numerous, there are men like him who retain a somewhat chastened affection for the sea they earn their bread upon. It is true that he earned very little more than that on board the Estremedura, and he had once had his aspirations like other men, as well as a prospect of realising them; but when financial disaster overtook the family firm nobody seemed anxious to secure the services of a young man without specialised training, who had artistic and somewhat expensive tastes, which was, perhaps, not altogether astonishing. That was how Austin eventually came on board the Estremedura, and stayed there, though there were odd hours when he took himself to task for doing so. Still, he did not exactly know where he could go if he left her, and the indifference of the Latins was already infecting him. Men in Spain believe that the future is quite able to take care of itself.

By and by, however, a slim, white-clad figure appeared in the entrance to the saloon companion, and he moved in that direction with evident alacrity. As one result of being the Estremedura's sobrecargo, he was acquainted with everybody of importance in the archipelago, and among them all there was nobody who figured more prominently than Miss Jacinta Brown. She was English on both sides, though she had lived in those islands most of her twenty-five years, and understood the Spaniards, probably better than they understood themselves, for they are rather an impulsive than an introspective people. She also understood her countrymen, and ruled over them, as well as Spanish artillery officers and Commandantes. It was not very evident how she did it, for there were a good many Spanish women, at least, almost as pretty, and of much better birth than she, and she apparently received no great assistance from her father, for Pancho Brown was a merchant of an unusually solid and unimaginative description. The wives of the English visitors, however, did not, as a rule, like Jacinta. They said she was forward, and it was a pity she had no mother; but when any of them received an invitation from her it was immediately proclaimed all over the hotel.

She smiled at Austin graciously, and allowed him to place her a deck chair beneath a big lifeboat, where it was out of the wind, after which he procured himself another, and sat down and looked at her. Jacinta did not seem to mind it, and most men would probably have found it difficult to keep their eyes off her. She was little, shapely, and very dainty, though she could, as Austin knew, on occasion be essentially dignified. She had brown hair and eyes, with a little scintillating gleam in them, and her face was slightly tinted with the warm Andalusian olive, though there was only English blood in her. She was dressed in white, as usual, with a simplicity that suggested perfect taste, while, as he watched her, Austin wondered again exactly where her compelling attractiveness lay. He had met women with more delicate complexions, finer features, softer voices, and more imposing carriage; that is, women who possessed one or two of these advantages, but he had not as yet met any one to be compared to Jacinta, as he expressed it, in the aggregate. Then it seemed that she read his thoughts, which was, as he had noticed, a habit of hers.

"Yes, the dress is a new one. I am rather pleased with it, too," she said.

Austin laughed. "If I hadn't had the pleasure of making your acquaintance some time ago, you would have astonished me. As it is – "

"Never mind," said Jacinta. "After all, there is no great credit in telling people of your kind what they are thinking, though I can't help it now and then. You were wondering what anybody saw in me."

Now Austin was too wise to fancy for a moment that Jacinta was fishing for compliments. She knew her own value too well to appreciate them unless they were particularly artistic, and he surmised that she had merely desired to amuse herself by his embarrassment.

"If I was, it was very unwise of me," he said. "You are Jacinta – and one has to be content with that. You can't be analysed."

"And you?"

"I am the Estremedura's sobrecargo, which is, perhaps, a significant admission."

Jacinta nodded comprehension. "I think it is," she said. "Still, since you considered yourself warranted in approving of my dress, what are you doing in that jacket on a mail run?"

"As usual, there is a reason. When I was across at Arucas my comrades laid hands upon my garments, and disposed of them at a bargain. They had naturally squandered the money by the time I came back. I am now longing for a few words with the man who, I understand, is coming down to purchase some more at an equally alarming sacrifice."

Jacinta laughed, but she also looked at him with a little gleam in her eyes. "Don't you think it's rather a pity you – are – the Estremedura's sobrecargo?"

"Well," said Austin, reflectively, "I won't pretend to misunderstand you, but the trouble is that I don't quite see what else I could be. I cannot dig, and I'm not sure that it would be very pleasant to go round borrowing odd dollars from my friends, even if they were disposed to lend them to me, which is scarcely probable. Most of them would, naturally, tell me to look at them, and see what I might have been if I'd had their diligence and probity. Besides, I have time to paint little pictures which rash tourists buy occasionally, and the life one leads here has its compensations."

The Estremedura's whistle hooted just then, and as Jacinta looked round a lordly four-masted ship, carrying everything to her royals, swept up out of the night. She was driving down the trade-breeze a good twelve knots an hour, and the foam flew up in cascades as her bows went down, swirled in a broad, snowy smother along the slender streak of rushing hull. Above it four tapered spires of sailcloth swung back against the moonlight at every stately roll, and she showed as an exquisite cameo cut in ebony on a ground of silver and blue. Still, it was not the colour that formed the strength of that picture, but the suggestion of effort and irresistible force that was stamped on it. She drove by majestically, showing a breadth of wet plates that flashed in a leeward roll, and Jacinta's eyes rested on the bent figure high on the lifted poop grappling with her wheel.

"Ah!" she said. "I suppose it's sometimes brutal, but that is man's work, isn't it?"

Austin laughed again, though there was a faint warmth in his cheek. "Of course, I see the inference," he said. "Still, it really isn't necessary for everybody to hold a big vessel's wheel, and I would a good deal sooner you said something nice to me. Nobody likes to be told the truth about themselves, you know, and I understand now why folks threw big stones at the goat-skinned prophets long ago."

"Well," said Jacinta, "we will talk of somebody else. I wonder if you know that Jefferson has been left a fortune, or, at least, part of one?"

"I didn't. Still, I'm glad to hear it. I like the man. In fact, he's the straightest one I've come across in his occupation, which, by the way, is, perhaps, somewhat of an admission, considering that he's an American."

"I like most Americans. For one thing, they're usually in earnest."

"And you like Spaniards, who certainly aren't."

"We will waive the question. It's rather a coincidence that Jefferson should have fallen in love about the same time."

"Do I know the lady, who is, presumably, in earnest, too? I don't like women who have a purpose openly, though that does not apply to you. You have usually a good many, but nobody knows anything about them until you have accomplished them."

Jacinta ignored the compliment. "I don't think you know her, but she is a friend of mine. I went to school with her for two years in England."

"Then, of course, she's nice."

"That," said Jacinta, "is naturally a matter of opinion. She is, however, not in the least like me."

"In that case it's difficult to see how she can be nice at all."

Jacinta smiled somewhat sardonically. "Well," she said, "Muriel is bigger than I am, and more solid – in every way – as well as quiet and precise. Being the daughter of the clergyman of a forlorn little place in England, she has, of course, had advantages which have been denied to me. There are people who have to undertake their own training, or do without any, you know. She very seldom says anything she does not mean, and always knows exactly what she is going to do."

"I'm not sure that sounds particularly attractive."

Jacinta lifted her head and looked at him. "Still, she is worth – oh, ever so much more – than a good many such frivolous people as you or I. You will see her yourself to-morrow. She is coming across with us to Las Palmas, and, of course, if you would like to please me – "

"That goes without saying. To-morrow we will endeavour to turn this ship upside down. It usually has to be done when we have the honour of carrying a lady from any part of provincial England."

"I really don't want very much," and Jacinta smiled, at him. "Just the big forward room for her, and the seat next me at the top of your table. The nicest things have a way of getting there. Then she is fond of fruit – and if you could get any of the very big Moscatel, and some of that membrillo jelly. A few bunches of roses would look nice at our end of the table, too."

"Well," said Austin, with a little whimsical gesture of resignation, "there is, as you know, a Spanish Commandante and his wife in that forward room, but I suppose we shall have to turn them out. The other things will naturally follow, but I'm afraid Major-domo Antonio will call us dreadful names to-morrow."

Jacinta rose. "You are as nice as I expected you would be," she said. "Now it is getting chilly, and I have a letter to write."

She smiled at him and went forward, walking, though she was English, with a curious buoyant gracefulness as Spanish women do, while Austin sat still and considered the position. He was quite aware that he would have trouble with the Spanish Commandante as well as his Major-domo on the morrow, but that was, after all, of no great importance. When Jacinta wanted anything she usually obtained it, and it was not a little to be counted among her friends, since she frequently contrived to do a good deal for them. There were men as well as women in those islands who owed more than they were aware of to Jacinta Brown.

Austin sighed as he remembered it, for he was a penniless sobrecargo, and she, in those islands, at least, a lady of station. It must be sufficient for him to do what little he could to please her, and he had, in fact, once or twice done a good deal. He took life easily, but there was in him a vein of chivalry, which for the most part, however, found somewhat whimsical expression. Then he recollected that he had still certain documents to attend to, and going down again locked himself into his room.

CHAPTER II
AN OVERHEATED JOURNAL

The Estremedura lay rolling gently off the quaint old Spanish city of Santa Cruz, Teneriffe, most of the following day. It was, indeed, late in the afternoon when she went to sea, and while the jumble of white walls and red-tiled roofs faded astern Austin sat in a deck-chair under a lifeboat, while Jacinta, Mrs. Hatherly, and Miss Muriel Gascoyne, to whom he had been duly presented, occupied a seat close by. He was not particularly charmed with the latter's company, and decided that she was certainly as unlike Jacinta as she very well could be.

Miss Gascoyne was a clear-complexioned, blue-eyed young Englishwoman, solidly put together, and endued with a certain attractiveness; but she was quiet, and had a disconcerting way of looking at him in a fashion which vaguely suggested disapproval. There was also what he felt to be a slightly irritating air of authority about her, which seemed to suggest that she recognised the responsibility of her station, as one who was looked up to in a remote corner of rural England. Mrs. Hatherly, her aunt, was a little, withered old lady, with ruddy cheeks and the stamp of vigorous health upon her, though she had apparently been ordered south for the winter. She became visibly interested when Jacinta contrived to mention that Austin was in charge of the Estremedura's medicine chest.

"It really isn't my fault, and I don't do more harm with it than I can help," he said.

"Then you have a knowledge of medicine?" asked the red-cheeked lady.

"No," said Austin, "not in the least. I had to get a sixpenny book from England to tell me the difference between a scruple and a drachm, and I'm not sure about some of the measures yet. You see, I entered the profession quite by accident. The manual in the drug chest was, naturally, in English, as it was sent on board a Spanish ship, and the skipper, who couldn't read it, passed it on to me. My first case was a great success, unfortunately. We were loading pine, and one of the men contrived to get a splinter into the inner side of his eyelid. I suppose it was a weakness, but I really couldn't watch him going about in agony."



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