The Voice In The Inn





"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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