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The Voice In The Inn






Category: IN THE PACIFIC

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

"No trifling, senor. Speak up plainly and say what you heard." The
prosecuting attorney gave a nervous twitch at his pointed beard,
a habit peculiar to him, and leaned a little toward the witness. The
elder judge blinked drowsily, straightened in his chair, then turned
and looked at the crucifix on the wall, for when the sun touched the
bloody figure on the cross it was time for lunch. It was still in
shadow. He sighed. His associates of the tribunal were duly attent.

"I'm afraid you will not believe me," objected the witness.

"Never mind your fears. Come, now: You were passing the deserted inn
on the Minas road, you say, when you heard a voice. The voice of one
of the brigands?"

"I hardly think so, senor."

"How? You charge this defendant here ----"

"With attempted robbery. Yes, senor attorney. But it was not his
voice that spoke. I think worse mischief has been done near the inn."

"Worse mischief?"

"Truly. For when this thief heard the words he let his pistol fall
and dropped the bridle of my mule. By the moon I could see his face
glisten with sweat, and it looked white."

"He was afraid, eh? He was a coward? This poor cheat of a creature
could not even be a brigand?"

"Afraid! Any one would be. As for myself, I gave my mule a cut and he
was off at a lope, with this fellow coming after as fast as his legs
could carry him, until he ran plump into the arms of the civil guard."

"Yes, yes. You have told all that. But this voice. You heard it
plainly?"

"Why, yes, although it sounded as if it came from a distance, or from
under a building, or--or--out of a tomb. I couldn't--I couldn't help
thinking it sounded like a man beneath a floor."

The attorney twisted his beard again impatiently, coughed, then tightly
folded his arms. He was silent for a little. Then, as if surprising
himself out of a revery, he commanded, "Well, well. Go on."

"This voice, senor," resumed the witness, leaning forward and speaking
mysteriously, "it was so hollow and low, and spoke the words so long,
like a creature dying and in pain, and it gave me a chill."

"Are you never to tell us what it said?"

"It moaned, 'For the sake of the Virgin, of Her Blessed Son, of the
Holy Saint Peter, of the Good God, pray for me. Pray for a sinner. Beg
the good fathers at Nuevitas to say a mass for the soul of Enrique
Carillo.' Then there was a sort of groan----"

"My God!" It was the prosecutor who had gasped the words.

"Yes, just like that. Ah! Pardon, senor. I did not see. You are ill."

For the lawyer's face had become of a deathly pallor, his head had
sunk forward, his lips trembled, his hands shook as they clutched
the edge of the table behind him. The idlers in the back of the room
were awake in a moment. The sun touched the figure of Christ, splashed
with blood in the fashion of the official crucifix, and it seemed to
look down on the scene below as in torture. The prisoner's counsel
sprang forward, placed a chair for his opponent and helped him to be
seated. An officer brought a glass of water, which the lawyer drank
eagerly, then sat as in a daze for an instant, shuddered, passed his
hands over his face, and said, "I ask the indulgence of the court. I
have lost my sleep for the last few nights. I--I----"

The senior judge had half-risen, his wig awry, his hands gripping
the arms of the chair. "Clear the court! It is the fever!" he cried.

There was a stampede of the unoccupied in the back of the room. The
others in the court reached for their hats and drew away, leaving the
prosecutor alone. He smiled faintly. "No, your Honor," he said. "It
is over now. It was a touch of faintness; nothing more."

"With the consent of counsel I will adjourn the case."

The face of the prosecutor hardened; he set his jaw doggedly, he
regained his feet with a sort of spring. The judges slipped back
deeper into their seats; the elder wiped his brow and puffed.

"We will go on," said the attorney, in a calmer voice. "The testimony
is practically exhausted. I have to confess that I have been somewhat
disappointed in the witnesses, but I submit the case on the evidence
without argument."

It was plain that the people's representative was not at his best
that morning. The trial was hurried on, the lawyer for the defence
insisting principally that, as the complainant had fled from the
scene of the attempted robbery without looking back, he could not
possibly swear that the man in the prisoner's dock was the one who
had held his bridle. Was it not at least probable that the accused
had told the truth when he said he had been roused by the outcry of
the man on mule-back and had run down the road to see what the matter
was? Moreover, as no loss had been suffered, was it not a slender
ground for prosecution? The old judge looked back at the crucifix. The
illumination was passing. The knees were already in shadow. He was
an hour late for his lunch. He whispered with the other judges for
a moment, then smote the desk before him. "No evidence. The prisoner
is discharged. Adjourn the court," he exclaimed. And for once in the
history of Puerto Principe the law had been prompt. The accused, who
had been stolid and dull throughout the trial, now smiled cunningly to
himself, and saying no word to any one, but with a sidelong look at the
lawyers, left the building without loss of time, and after investing
a few coppers in bad brandy at the least inviting groggery in town,
disappeared down the road leading toward Minas. There were several
anxious inquiries at the house of Prosecutor Ramirez that evening,
but he was in his usual health. There was no occasion for alarm as
to the fever.

Two nights after this a couple of planters were stopped near the old
inn by a man of rough appearance, whose face was masked, and were
forced at the pistol's point to give up their watches and money. A
few nights later a man left town with money to discharge a bill. He
never reached his destination. In each case the criminals left no
trace. The environs of Puerto Principe were growing in ill-repute.

The prosecutor was leaving home on an evening when rain seemed
threatening. This was probably his reason for wearing a cloak,--a
protection seldom needed, except at night and in bad weather. It
was against his usual habit that he had drawn his cloak high about
his shoulders, so that his face was half-concealed, and this made it
the more difficult for one who was following to know if he were, or
were not, the man he sought. Convinced, after a little, that he was,
he hurried forward and placed his hand on his arm. The lawyer started
and uttered an exclamation. "Are you not Don Pablo Ramirez?" asked
the unknown.

The prosecutor looked long and searchingly at the frank-faced stranger,
then answered, shortly, "I am he."

"I thought so. Allow me: I am Captain Alfonso Garcia Estufa, of
the Engineer Corps. I come from Havana with authority from the
governor-general to confer with you about the brigands in this
province."

"Ah, indeed! You are welcome, senor captain. I was about to make a
business call on a tenant in this street. May I ask if you will make my
house your own till I return? I shall be absent but a few moments. I
will go back with you and open the door. Enter, if you please. The
sherry is on the sideboard. Cigars you will find on the table. Call my
servant, if you require anything." Then, hurrying out once more, the
lawyer almost ran upon his errand. In a quarter of an hour he returned
and the two began their discussion over a decanter of choice Madeira.

"It still seems to me," said the young officer, after the talk had
been going on for some minutes, "that the bold policy is the better,
though we may need secrecy in certain cases, for these devils of
brigands smell powder a mile away. On my life, they do. I've dealt
with them in Pinar del Rio, and they tell me they are more slippery
and far-seeing, or far-smelling, in this province. They must have
confederates here in town."

"Confederates? Preposterous, senor! Why do you think that?"

"Oh, I've been investigating a little. Either the brigands here
are clever, or some man who is more clever has them in hand, and
knows enough not to mix with them,--some man who can persuade them,
or terrorize them, or shield them. Have you no conceit as to who in
this city is fitted for a chieftainship like that?"

"I? None."

"I had hoped you knew your fellow-citizens well enough to advise me
whom to watch. No? Then, at least, tell me where it would be best to
place my men."

"The trails toward Sibanicu."

"Trails? Sibanicu? Why, there's no travel in that quarter. The
robberies have happened between here and Minas."

"Exactly. So many have happened that the brigands must abandon it
henceforth. They know they are watched, and I'll warrant your coming
here, and the object of it, are already common talk among them."

"Humph!"

"People who are bound for the coast are beginning to go around already,
so as to avoid the Minas road. If our scamps are as clever as you
think, they will not be long in following."

"There is something in that, and I thank you for the hint. We will
meet again shortly. Meanwhile, pray study the situation."

"You are not going?"

"I cannot stop with you, senor, greatly as I should be pleased to do
so, for I have agreed to meet my lieutenants at the other end of the
town. Good-night."

"Good-night, then, if you will not stay. Tell me early what success
you have in the chase of our good citizens of Puerto Principe."

The captain left the house with a light and jaunty step, yet he looked
about him thoughtfully. He had not gone far when the night stillness
was broken by the crack of a fire-arm not ten paces away. A bullet cut
his hat. He turned quickly. Nobody was in sight. The air was thick
with mist, and nobody was stirring. "Scoundrel!" cried the officer,
shaking his fist at the darkness. "You shall pay dear for that--you
and your people. Do you hear?"

There was no answer. He walked on at a faster pace.

Before the sun was up next morning the captain and his men had
withdrawn from Puerto Principe. Few in the town knew that he had been
there. None knew whither he had gone.

It was nine o'clock on the night following the interview. A fitful
wind stirred the trees that densely shadowed the Minas road. From
a chink in the walls of a dilapidated house that stood back from
the highway a light shone faintly, but except for the sough of the
leaves and the whirring and lisping that betoken the wakefulness of
insect life there was no sound. None? What was that? Down the road,
from Nuevitas way, came a blowing and stamping of horses laboring
through mud. The crack of light still shone, and nothing moved along
the wayside. As the horses came nearer a lantern could be seen hanging
from the sheep-neck of the older one, and two voices could be heard in
talk,--such village gossip as farmers might exchange when the way was
tiresome. The horses plodded on till they were abreast of the house,
when there was a whistle; the crack of light widened, suddenly there
was a rush of feet, a torch was brandished, and brown hands fell upon
the bridles.

One of the riders cried out, flung up his arms, and begged for
mercy. They might take his master's money, if they would, but for
the sake of St. Isaac, St. Matthew, and St. John, let them spare
his life. The other horseman, tall, spare, wrapped in a cloak,
swung down from his saddle in a business-like way, addressed a
remark in a low tone to the brigands, took the lantern from the
neck of his neighbor's nag,--it was a fine, mettled black he rode
himself,--turned up the flap of his hat a little, only a little,
not enough to reveal his face, and proceeded to rifle the pockets
and saddle-bags of his amazed companion. The lantern and the torch
shone on six or eight as hang-dog faces as would be met in a day's
journey, and among them was one closely resembling the prisoner who
had been discharged on a trial two or three weeks before for lack of
evidence. The victim of this robbery having given up all he seemed
to possess was told to ride straight into town without word or halt,
else he would be shot, and a fierce stroke being given with the whip,
his horse was off at such a gallop that he had much ado to keep his
seat. The thieves heaped the saddle-bags and parcels into the middle
of the road and bent near, while the man in the cloak opened them and
examined their contents in the flickering light. A gust of wind made
the torch flare and put the lantern out. The cloaked man muttered an
oath, and had partly risen to his feet, when there came a sound that
caused him to stagger and hold his hands to his head as if in mortal
terror. It was a wailing voice, and it pleaded, "For the sake of the
Virgin, of Her Blessed Son, of the Holy Saint Peter, of the Good God,
pray for me. Pray for a sinner. Beg the good fathers at Nuevitas to
say a mass for the soul of Enrique Carillo."

The cloaked man groaned. The others crouched, shuddering, and their
eyes in the red torch-flame were the eyes of goblins. In another
moment a shock ran through the group, for another voice, clear and
stern, commanded, "As you value your lives, don't stir. Men, do not
fire unless I tell you."

A light flashed up, then another, and the bandits discovered themselves
in the centre of a ring formed by twenty men, with the young captain
in command. Resistance would have been foolish, flight impossible; yet,
as the captain stepped toward the brigand leader, the man in the cloak
attempted the foolish and impossible; he fired his pistol full at the
captain's head, flung the weapon after the bullet, missing his aim each
time, then started to run, upsetting one of the soldiers as he did so.

"Fire!" cried the captain.

Two musket-shots came upon the word. The tall man tumbled headlong. "It
is one the less to hang," exclaimed the officer, as he snatched a torch
from the hand of one of his men. He bent over the prostrate form:
the robber had been killed instantly. He withdrew the cloak from
the face and looked long without speaking. Finally he said, "I was
a better ghost than I supposed. These brigands will have to elect a
new leader, and Puerto Principe must have a new prosecuting attorney."

In the deserted inn, under the kitchen floor, were found the remains
of Enrique Carillo and several other victims of the robbers. And
it is said that on All Souls' eve their ghosts block the road and
beg all who pass to pray for them and to pay for a few masses. Most
importunate of all is the ghost of Pablo Ramirez.





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Previous: The Chase Of Taito Perico



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