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- No Defense, Volume 3. - 2/23 -
a rogue of parts, as he proved; and I lent an ear.
Now, what think you was his story? Well, but this--that off the coast of Haiti, there was a ship which had been sunk with every man on board, and with the ship was treasure without counting-jewels belonging once to a Spaniard of high place, who was taking them to Paris. His box had been kept in the captain's cabin, and it could be found, no doubt, and brought to the surface. Even if that were not possible, there was plenty of gold on the ship, and every piece of it was good money. There had been searching for the ship, but none had found it; but he, Cassandro Biatt, had sure knowledge, got from an obi-man, of the place where it lay. It would not be an expensive business, but, cheap as it was, he had no means of raising cash for the purpose; while I could, no doubt, raise the needed money if I set about it. That was how he put it to me. Would I do it? It was not with me a case of "no shots left in the locker, no copper to tinkle on a tombstone." I was not down to my last macaroni, or quarter-dollar; but I drank some sangaree and set about to do it. I got my courage from a look towards Rodney's statue in its temple--Rodney did a great work for Jamaica against Admiral de Grasse.
Why should I tell Biatt the truth about myself? He knew it. Cassandro was an accomplished liar, and a man of merit of his kind. This obi-man's story I have never believed; yet how Biatt came to know where that treasure-ship was I do not know now.
Yes, out we went through the harbour of Kingston, beyond the splendid defences of Port Royal and the men-of-war there, past the Palisadoes and Rock Fort, and away to the place of treasure-trove. We found it--that lost galleon; and we found the treasure-box of the captain's cabin. We found gold too; but the treasure-box was the chief thing; and we made it ours after many a hard day. Three months it was from the day Biatt first spoke to me to the day when, with an expert diver, we brought the box to the surface and opened it.
How I induced one of the big men of Jamaica to be banker and skipper for us need not be told; but he is one of whom men have dark sayings--chiefly, I take it, because he does bold, incomprehensible things. That business paid him well, for when the rent of the ship was met, and the few men on it paid--slaves they were chiefly--he pocketed ten thousand pounds, while Biatt and I each pouched forty thousand, and Michael two thousand. Aye, to be sure, Michael was in it! He is in all I do, and is as good as men of ten times his birth and history. Michael will be a rich man one day. In two years his two thousand have grown to four, and he misses no chance.
But those days when Biatt and I went treasure-ship hunting were not without their trials. If we had failed, then no more could this land have been home or resting-place for us. We should only have been sojourners with no name, in debt, in disgrace, a pair of braggart adventurers, who had worked a master-man of the island for a ship, and money and men, and had lost all except the ship! Though to be sure, the money was not a big thing--a, few hundred pounds; but the ship was no flea-bite. It was a biggish thing, for it could be rented to carry sugar--it was, in truth, a sugar-ship of four hundred tons--but it never carried so big a cargo of sugar as it did on the day when that treasure-box was brought to the surface of the sea.
I'm bound to say this--one of the straightest men I ever met, liar withal, was Cassandro Biatt. He took his jewels and vanished up the seas in a flourish. He would not even have another try at the gold in the bowels of the ship.
"I've got plenty to fill my paunch, and I'll go while I've enough. It's the men not going in time that get left in the end"--that's what he said.
And he was right; for other men went after the gold and got some of it, and were caught by French and South American pirates and lost all they had gained. Still another group went and brought away ten thousand pounds, and lost it in fighting with Spanish buccaneers. So Biatt was right, and went away content, while I stayed here-- because I must--and bought the land and house where I have my great sugar-plantation. It is an enterprise of volume, and all would be well if I were normal in mind and body; but I am not. I have a past that stinks to heaven, as Shakespeare says, and I am an outlaw of the one land which has all my soul and name and heritage. Yes, that is what they have done to me--made a convict, an outlaw of me. I may live--but not in the British Isles; and if any man kills me, he is not liable to the law.
Men do not treat me badly here, for I have property and money, and this is a land where these two things mean more than anywhere else, even more than in a republic like that where you live. Here men live according to the law of the knife, fork, and bottle, yet nowhere in the world is there deeper national morality or wider faith or endurance. It is a land where the sea is master, where naval might is the chief factor, and weighs down all else.
Here the navies of the great powers meet and settle their disputes, and every being in the island knows that life is only worth what a hundred-ton brig-of-war permits. I have seen here in Jamaica the off-scourings of the French and Spanish fleets on parole; have seen them entering King's House like loyal citizens; have even known of French prisoners being used as guards at the entrance of King's House, and I have informed the chief justice of dismal facts which ought to have moved him. But what can you expect of a chief justice who need not be a lawyer, as this one is not, and has other means of earning income which, though not disloyal, are lowering to the status of a chief justice? And not the chief justice alone. I have seen French officers entertained at Government House who were guilty of shocking inhumanities and cruelties. The governor, Lord Mallow, is much to blame. On him lies the responsibility; to him must go the discredit. For myself, I feel his enmity on every hand. I suffer from his suggestions; I am the victim of his dark moods.
If I want a concession from a local council, his hand is at work against me; if I see him in the street, I get a courtesy tossed, as you would toss a bone to a dog. If I appear at the king's ball, which is open to all on the island who are respectable, I am treated with such disdain by the viceroy of the king that all the island is agog. I went one day to the king's ball the same as the rest of the world, and I went purposely in dress contrary to the regulations. Here was the announcement of the affair in the Royal Gazette, which was reproduced in the Chronicle, the one important newspaper in the island:
KING'S HOUSE, October 27th, 1797.
There will be a Ball given by His Honour the Lieutenant- Governor, on Tuesday evening, the 6th day of December next, in honour of
HIS MAJESTY'S BIRTHDAY.
To prevent confusion, Ladies and Gentlemen are requested to order their carriages to come by the Old Court House, and go off by the Long Room.
N.B.--No gentlemen can possibly be admitted in boots, or otherwise improperly dressed.
Well, in a spirit of mutiny--in which I am, in a sense, an expert-- I went in boots and otherwise "improperly dressed," for I wore my hair in a queue, like a peasant. What is more, I danced with a negress in the great quadrille, and thereby offended the governor and his lady aunt, who presides at his palace. It matters naught to me. On my own estate it was popular enough, and that meant more to me than this goodwill of Lord Mallow.
He does not spare me in his recitals to his friends, who carry his speech abroad. His rancour against me is the greater, I know, because of the wealth I got in the treasure-ship, to prevent which he tried to prohibit my leaving the island, through the withholding of a leave-ticket to me. His argument to the local authorities was that I had no rights, that I am a murderer and a mutineer, and confined to the island, though not on parole. He almost succeeded; but the man to whom I went, the big rich man intervened, successfully--how I know not--and I was let go with my permit- ticket.
What big things hang on small issues! If my Lord Mallow had prevented me leaving the island, I shouldn't now own a great plantation and three hundred negroes. I shouldn't be able to pay my creditors in good gold Portuguese half-johannes and Spanish doubloons, and be free of Spanish silver, and give no heed to the bitt, which, as you perhaps know, is equal to fivepence in British money, such as you and I used to spend when you were Queen of Ireland and I was your slave.
Then I worshipped you as few women have been worshipped in all the days of the world--oh, cursed spite of life and time that I should have been jailed for killing your bad father! Aye, he was a bad man, and he is better in his grave than out of it, but it puts a gulf between you and me which nothing will ever bridge--unless it should some day be known I did not kill him, and then, no doubt, it will be too late.
On my soul, I don't believe I put my sword into him; but if I did, he well deserved it, for he was worse than faithless to your mother, he was faithless to his country--he was a traitor! I did not tell that story of his treachery in court--I did not tell it because of you. You did not deserve such infamy, and the truth came not out at the trial. I, in my view, dared not, lest it might injure you, and you had suffered enough--nay, more than enough--through him.
I wonder how you are, and if you have changed--I mean in appearance. I am sure you are not married; I should have felt it in my bones, if you were. No, no, my sweet lass, you are not married. But think--it is more than seven long years since we met on the hills above Playmore, and you put your hand in mine and said we should be friends for all time. It is near three years since a letter came to me from you, and in the time I have made progress.
I did not go to the United States, as you asked me to do. Is it not plain I could not? My only course was to avoid you. You see, your mother knows the truth--knows that I was jailed for killing your father and her divorced husband. Therefore, the only way to do was as I did. I could not go where you were. There should be hid from you the fact that Erris Boyne was a traitor. This is your right, in my mind. Looking back, I feel sure I could have escaped jail if I had told what I knew of Erris Boyne; and perhaps it would have been better, for I should, no doubt, have been acquitted. Yet I could
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