The Poisoned Ice, by Arthur Quiller-Couch
Laird's Luck and
Other Fireside Tales
We were four in the patio. And the patio was magnificent, with a
terrace of marble running round its four sides, and in the middle a
fountain splashing in a marble basin. I will not swear to the marble;
for I was a boy of ten at the time, and that is a long while ago.
But I describe as I recollect. It was a magnificent patio, at all
events, and the house was a palace. And who the owner might be, Felipe
perhaps knew. But he was not one to tell, and the rest of us neither
knew nor cared.
The two women lay stretched on the terrace, with their heads close
together and resting against the house wall. And I sat beside them
gnawing a bone. The sun shone over the low eastern wall upon the
fountain and upon Felipe perched upon the rim of the basin, with his
lame leg stuck out straight and his mouth working as he fastened a
nail in the end of his beggar's crutch.
I cannot tell you the hour exactly, but it was early morning, and the
date the twenty-fourth of February, 1671. I learnt this later. We in
the patio did not bother ourselves about the date, for the world had
come to an end, and we were the last four left in it. For three weeks
we had been playing hide-and-seek with the death that had caught and
swallowed everyone else; and for the moment it was quite enough for
the women to sleep, for me to gnaw my bone in the shade, and for
Felipe to fasten the loose nail in his crutch. Many windows opened on
the patio. Through the nearest, by turning my head a little, I could
see into a noble room lined with pictures and heaped with furniture
and torn hangings. All of it was ours, or might be, for the trouble of
stepping inside and taking possession. But the bone (I had killed a
dog for it) was a juicy one, and I felt no inclination to stir. There
was the risk, too, of infection—of the plague.
"Hullo!" cried Felipe, slipping on his shoe, with the heel of which he
had been hammering. "You awake?"
I put Felipe last of us in order, for he was an old fool. Yet I must
say that we owed our lives to him. Why he took so much trouble and
spent so much ingenuity in saving them is not to be guessed: for the
whole city of Panama comprehended no two lives more worthless than old
Doña Teresa's (as we called her) and mine: and as for the Carmelite,
Sister Marta, who had joined our adventures two days before, she, poor
soul, would have thanked him for putting a knife into her and ending
But Felipe, though a fool, had a fine sense of irony. And so for
three weeks Doña Teresa and I—and for forty-eight hours Sister Marta
too—had been lurking and doubling, squatting in cellars crawling on
roofs, breaking cover at night to snatch our food, all under Felipe's
generalship. And he had carried us through. Perhaps he had a soft
corner in his heart for old Teresa. He and she were just of an age,
the two most careless-hearted outcasts in Panama; and knew each
other's peccadilloes to a hair. I went with Teresa. Heaven knows in
what gutter she had first picked me up, but for professional ends I
was her starving grandchild, and now reaped the advantages of that
"How can a gentleman sleep for your thrice-accursed hammering?" was my
answer to Felipe Fill-the-Bag.
"The city is very still this morning," he observed, sniffing the air,
which was laden still with the scent of burnt cedar-wood. "The English
dogs will have turned their backs on us for good. I heard their bugles
at daybreak; since then, nothing."
"These are fair quarters, for a change."
He grinned. "They seem to suit the lady, your grandmother. She has not
groaned for three hours. I infer that her illustrious sciatica is no
longer troubling her."
Our chatter awoke the Carmelite. She opened her eyes, unclasped her
hand, which had been locked round one of the old hag's, and sat up
blinking, with a smile which died away very pitiably.
"Good morning, Señorita," said I.
She bent over Teresa, but suddenly drew back with a little "Ah!" and
stared, holding her breath.
"What is the matter?"
She was on her knees, now; and putting out a hand, touched Teresa's
skinny neck with the tips of two fingers.
"What is the matter?" echoed Felipe, coming forward from the fountain.
"She is dead!" said I, dropping the hand which I had lifted.
"Jesu—" began the Carmelite, and stopped: and we stared at one
another, all three.
With her eyes wide and fastened on mine, Sister Marta felt for the
crucifix and rope of beads which usually hung from her waist. It was
gone: but her hands fumbled for quite a minute before the loss came
home to her brain. And then she removed her face from us and bent
her forehead to the pavement. She made no sound, but I saw her feet
"Come, come," said Felipe, and found no more to say.
I can guess now a little of what was passing through her unhappy mind.
Women are women and understand one another. And Teresa, unclean and
abandoned old hulk though she was, had stood by this girl when she
came to us flying out of the wrack like a lost ship. "Dear, dear,
dear"—I remembered scraps of her talk—"the good Lord is debonair,
and knows all about these things. He isn't like a man, as you might
say": and again, "Why bless you, He's not going to condemn you for a
matter that I could explain in five minutes. 'If it comes to that,' I
should say—and I've often noticed that a real gentleman likes you all
the better for speaking up—'If it comes to that, Lord, why did
You put such bloody-minded pirates into the world?' Now to my
thinking"—and I remember her rolling a leaf of tobacco as she said
it—"it's a great improvement to the mind to have been through the
battle, whether you have won or lost; and that's why, when on earth,
He chose the likes of us for company."
This philosophy was not the sort to convince a religious girl: but I
believe it comforted her. Women are women, as I said; and when the
ship goes down a rotten plank is better than none. So the Carmelite
had dropped asleep last night with her hand locked round Teresa's: and
so it happened to Teresa this morning to be lamented, and sincerely
lamented, by one of the devout. It was almost an edifying end; and the
prospect of it, a few days ago, would have tickled her hugely.
"But what did she die of?" I asked Felipe, when we had in delicacy
withdrawn to the fountain, leaving the Carmelite alone with her grief.
He opened his mouth and pointed a finger at it.
"But only last evening I offered to share my bone with her: and she
told me to keep it for myself."
"Your Excellency does not reason so well as usual," said Felipe,
without a smile on his face. "The illustrious defunct had a great
affection for her grandchild, which caused her to overlook the
ambiguity of the relationship—and other things."
"But do you mean to say—"
"She was a personage of great force of character, and of some virtues
which escaped recognition, being unusual. I pray," said he, lifting
the rim of his rusty hat, "that her soul may find the last peace!
I had the honour to follow her career almost from the beginning. I
remember her even as a damsel of a very rare beauty: but even then as
I say, her virtues were unusual, and less easily detected than her
failings. I, for example, who supposed myself to know her thoroughly,
missed reckoning upon her courage, or I had spent last night in
seeking food. I am a fool and a pig."
"And consequently, while we slept—"
"Excuse me, I have not slept."
"You have been keeping watch?"
"Not for the buccaneers, my Lord. They left before daybreak. But the
dogs of the city are starving, even as we: and like us they have taken
to hunting in company. Now this is a handsome courtyard, but the gate
does not happen to be too secure."
I shivered. Felipe watched me with an amiable grin.
"But let us not," he continued, "speak contemptuously of our
inheritance. It is, after all, a very fair kingdom for three. Captain
Morgan and his men are accomplished scoundrels, but careless:
they have not that eye for trifles which is acquired in our noble
profession, and they have no instinct at all for hiding-places. I
assure you this city yet contains palaces to live in, linen and silver
plate to keep us comfortable. Food is scarce, I grant, but we shall
have wines of the very first quality. We shall live royally. But,
alas! Heaven has exacted more than its tithe of my enjoyment. I had
looked forward to seeing Teresa in a palace of her own. What a queen
she would have made, to be sure!"
"Are we three the only souls in Panama?"
Felipe rubbed his chin. "I think there is one other. But he is a
philosopher, and despises purple and linen. We who value them, within
reason, could desire no better subject." He arose and treated me to
a regal bow. "Shall we inspect our legacy, my brother, and make
arrangements for the coronation?"
"We might pick up something to eat on the way," said I.
Felipe hobbled over to the terrace. "Poor old ——," he muttered,
touching the corpse with his staff, and dwelling on the vile word with
pondering affection. "Señorita," said he aloud, "much grief is not
good on an empty stomach. If Juan here will lift her feet—"
We carried Doña Teresa into the large cool room, and laid her on a
couch. Felipe tore down the silken hangings from one of the windows
and spread them over her to her chin, which he tied up with the yellow
kerchief which had been her only headgear for years. The Carmelite
meanwhile detached two heavy silver sconces from a great candelabrum
and set them by her feet. But we could find no tinder-box to light the
candles—big enough for an altar.
"She will do handsomely until evening," said Felipe, and added under
his breath, "but we must contrive to fasten the gate of the patio."
"I will watch by her," said Sister Marta.
Felipe glanced at us and shook his head. I knew he was thinking of
the dogs. "That would not do at all, Señorita. 'For the living, the
living,' as they say. If we live, we will return this evening and
attend to her; but while my poor head remains clear (and Heaven knows
how long that will be) there is more important work to be done."
"To bury the dead—"
"It is one of the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy, Señorita, and it won
Raphael to the house of Tobit. But in this instance Raphael shuts
himself up and we must go to him. While Teresa lived, all was well:
but now, with two lives depending on my wits, and my wits not to be
depended on for an hour, it does not suit with my conscience to lose
time in finding you another protector."
"But they—they have gone?"
"The Lutheran dogs have gone, and have taken the city's victuals with
"I do not want to live, my friend."
"Granted: but I do not think that Juanito, here, is quite of your
She considered for a moment. "I will go with you," she said: and we
quitted the patio together.
The gate opened upon a narrow alley, encumbered now with charred beams
and heaps of refuse from a burnt house across the way. The fury of the
pirates had been extravagant, but careless (as Felipe had said). In
their lust of robbing, firing, murdering, they had followed no system;
and so it happened that a few houses, even wealthy ones, stood intact,
like islands, in the general ruin. For the most part, to be sure,
there were houses which hid their comfort behind mean walls. But once
or twice we were fairly staggered by the blind rage which had passed
over a mansion crowded with valuables and wrecked a dozen poor
habitations all around it. The mischief was that from such houses
Felipe, our forager, brought reports of wealth to make the mouth
water, but nothing to stay the stomach. The meat in the larders was
putrid; the bread hard as a stone. We were thankful at last for a few
oranges, on which we snatched a breakfast in an angle of ruined wall
on the north side of the Cathedral, pricking up our ears at the baying
of the dogs as they hunted their food somewhere in the northern
I confess that the empty houses gave me the creeps, staring down at me
with their open windows while I sucked my orange. In the rooms behind
those windows lay dead bodies, no doubt: some mutilated, some swollen
with the plague (for during a fortnight now the plague had been busy);
all lying quiet up there, with the sun staring in on them. Each window
had a meaning in its eye, and was trying to convey it. "If you could
only look through me," one said. "The house is empty—come upstairs
and see." For me that was an uncomfortable meal. Felipe, too, had lost
some of his spirits. The fact is, we had been forced to step aside to
pass more than one body stretched at length or huddled in the roadway,
and—well, I have told you about the dogs.
Between the Cathedral and the quays scarcely a house remained: for the
whole of this side of the city had been built of wood. But beyond this
smoking waste we came to the great stone warehouses by the waterside,
and the barracks where the Genoese traders lodged their slaves. The
shells of these buildings stood, but every one had been gutted and
the roofs of all but two or three had collapsed. We picked our way
circumspectly now, for here had been the buccaneers' headquarters.
But the quays were as desolate as the city. Empty, too, were the long
stables where the horses and mules had used to be kept for conveying
the royal plate from ocean to ocean. Two or three poor beasts lay in
their stalls—slaughtered as unfit for service; the rest, no doubt,
were carrying Morgan's loot on the road to Chagres.
Here, beside the stables, Felipe took a sudden turn to the right and
struck down a lane which seemed to wind back towards the city between
long lines of warehouses. I believe that, had we gone forward another
hundred yards, to the quay's edge, we should have seen or heard enough
to send us along that lane at the double. As it was, we heard nothing,
and saw only the blue bay, the islands shining green under the thin
line of smoke blown on the land breeze—no living creature between
us and them but a few sea-birds. After we had struck into the lane I
turned for another look, and am sure that this was all.
Felipe led the way down the lane for a couple of gunshots; the
Carmelite following like a ghost in her white robes, and I close at
her heels. He halted before a low door on the left; a door of the
most ordinary appearance. It opened by a common latch upon a cobbled
passage running between two warehouses, and so narrow that the walls
almost met high over our heads. At the end of this passage—which was
perhaps forty feet long—we came to a second door, with a grille, and,
hanging beside it, an iron bell-handle, at which Felipe tugged.
The sound of the bell gave me a start, for it seemed to come from just
beneath my feet. Felipe grinned.
"Brother Bartolomé works like a mole. But good wine needs no bush, my
Juanito, as you shall presently own. He takes his own time, though,"
Felipe grumbled, after a minute. "It cannot be that—"
He was about to tug again when somebody pushed back the little shutter
behind the grille, and a pair of eyes (we could see nothing of the
face) gazed out upon us.
"There is no longer need for caution, reverend father," said Felipe,
addressing the grille. "The Lutheran dogs have left the city, and we
have come to taste your cordial and consult with you on a matter of
We heard a bolt slid, and the door opened upon a pale emaciated face
and two eyes which clearly found the very moderate daylight too much
for them. Brother Bartolomé blinked without ceasing, while he shielded
with one hand the thin flame of an earthenware lamp.
"Are you come all on one business?" he asked, his gaze passing from
one to another, and resting at length on the Carmelite.
"When the forest takes fire, all beasts are cousins," said Felipe
sententiously. Without another question the friar turned and led the
way, down a flight of stairs which plunged (for all I could tell) into
the bowels of earth. His lamp flickered on bare walls upon which the
spiders scurried. I counted twenty steps, and still all below us was
dark as a pit; ten more, and I was pulled up with that peculiar and
highly disagreeable jar which everyone remembers who has put forward
a foot expecting a step, and found himself suddenly on the level. The
passage ran straight ahead into darkness: but the friar pushed open a
low door in the left-hand wall, and, stepping aside, ushered us into a
room, or paved cell, lit by a small lamp depending by a chain from the
Shelves lined the cell from floor to roof; chests, benches, and
work-tables occupied two-thirds of the floor-space: and all were
crowded with books, bottles, retorts, phials, and the apparatus of
a laboratory. "Crowded," however, is not the word; for at a second
glance I recognised the beautiful order that reigned. The deal
work-benches had been scoured white as paper; every glass, every metal
pan and basin sparkled and shone in the double light of the lamp and
of a faint beam of day conducted down from the upper world by a kind
of funnel and through a grated window facing the door.
In this queer double light Brother Bartolomé faced us, after
extinguishing the small lamp in his hand.
"You say the pirates have left?"
Felipe nodded. "At daybreak. We in this room are all who remain in
"The citizens will be returning, doubtless, in a day or two. I have
no food for you, if that is what you seek. I finished my last crust
"That is a pity. But we must forage. Meanwhile, reverend father, a
touch of your cordial—"
Brother Bartolomé reached down a bottle from a shelf. It was heavily
sealed and decorated with a large green label bearing a scarlet cross.
Bottles similarly sealed and labelled lined this shelf and a dozen
others. He broke the seal, drew the cork, and fetched three glasses,
each of which he held carefully up to the lamplight. Satisfied of
their cleanliness, he held the first out to the Carmelite. She shook
"It is against the vow."
He grunted and poured out a glassful apiece for Felipe and me. The
first sip brought tears into my eyes: and then suddenly I was filled
with sunshine—golden sunshine—and could feel it running from limb to
limb through every vein in my small body.
Felipe chuckled. "See the lad looking down at his stomach! Button your
jacket, Juanito; the noonday's shining through! Another sip, to the
reverend father's health! His brothers run away—the Abbot himself
runs: but Brother Bartolomé stays. For he labours for the good of man,
and that gives a clear conscience. Behold how just, after all, are
the dispositions of Heaven: how blind are the wicked! For three weeks
those bloody-minded dogs have been grinning and running about the
city: and here under their feet, as in a mine, have lain the two most
precious jewels of all—a clear conscience and a liquor which, upon my
faith, holy father, cannot be believed in under a second glass."
Brother Bartolomé was refilling the glass, when the Carmelite touched
"You have been here—all the while?"
"Has it been so long? I have been at work, you see."
"For the good of man," interrupted Felipe. "Time slips away when one
works for the good of man."
"And all the while you were distilling this?"
"This—and other things."
"Other things to drink?"
"My daughter, had they caught me, they might have tortured me. I might
have held my tongue: but, again, I might not. Under torture one never
knows what will happen. But the secret of the liquor had to die with
me—that is in the vow. So to be on the safe side I made—other
"Father, give me to drink of those other things."
She spoke scarcely above her breath: but her fingers were gripping his
arm. He looked straight into her eyes.
"My poor child!" was all he said, very low and slow.
"I can touch no other sacrament," she pleaded. "Father, have mercy and
give me that one!" She watched his eyes eagerly as they flinched
from hers in pity and dwelt for a moment on a tall chest behind her
shoulder, against the wall to the right of the door. She glanced
round, stepped to the chest, and laid a hand on the lid. "Is it here?"
But he was beside her on the instant; and stooping, locked down the
lid, and drew out the key abruptly.
"Is it here?" she repeated.
"My child, that is an ice-chest. In the liquor, for perfection, the
water used has first to be frozen. That chest contains ice, and
"Nothing else?" she persisted.
But here Felipe broke in. "The Señorita is off her hinges, father.
Much fasting has made her light-headed. And that brings me to my
business. You know my head, too, is not strong: good enough for a
furlong or two, but not for the mile course. Now if you will shelter
these two innocents whilst I forage we shall make a famous household.
You have rooms here in plenty; the best-hidden in Panama. But none
of us can live without food, and with these two to look after I am
hampered. There are the dogs, too. But Felipe knows a trick or two
more than the dogs, and if he do not fill your larder by sunset, may
his left leg be withered like his right!"
Brother Bartolomé considered. "Here are the keys," said he. "Choose
your lodgings and take the boy along with you, for I think the sister
here wishes to talk with me alone."
Felipe took the keys and handed me the small lamp, which I held aloft
as he limped after me along the dark corridor, tapping its flagged
pavement with the nail of his crutch. We passed an iron-studded door
which led, he told me, to the crypt of the chapel; and soon after
mounted a flight of steps and found ourselves before the great folding
doors of the ante-chapel itself, and looked in. Here was daylight
again: actual sunlight, falling through six windows high up in the
southern wall and resting in bright patches on the stall canopies
within. We looked on these bright patches through the interspaces of a
great carved screen: but when I would have pressed into the chapel for
a better view, Felipe took me by the collar.
"Business first," said he, and pointed up the staircase, which mounted
steeply again after its break by the chapel doors. Up we went, and
were saluted again by the smell of burnt cedar-wood wafted through
lancet windows, barred but unglazed, in the outer wall. The inner wall
was blank, of course, being the northern side-wall of the chapel:
but we passed one doorway in it with which I was to make better
acquaintance. And, about twenty steps higher, we reached a long level
corridor and the cells where the brothers slept.
Felipe opened them one by one and asked me to take my choice. All were
empty and bare, and seemed to me pretty much alike.
"We have slept in worse, but that is not the point. Be pleased to
remember, Juanito, that we are kings now: and as kings we are bound to
find the reverend fathers' notions of bedding inadequate. Suppose you
collect us half-a-dozen of these mattresses apiece, while I go on and
I chose three cells for Sister Marta, Felipe, and myself, and set
about dragging beds and furniture from the others to make us really
comfortable. I dare say I spent twenty minutes over this, and, when
all was done, perched myself on a stool before the little window of my
own bed-room, for a look across the city. It was a very little window
indeed, and all I saw was a green patch beyond the northern suburbs,
where the rich merchants' gardens lay spread like offerings before a
broken-down shrine. Those trees no doubt hid trampled lawns and ruined
verandahs: but at such a distance no scar could be seen. The suburbs
looked just as they had always looked in early spring.
I was staring out of window, so, and just beginning to wonder why
Felipe did not return as he had promised, when there came ringing
up the staircase two sharp cries, followed by a long, shrill,
My first thought (I cannot tell you why) was that Felipe must have
tumbled downstairs: and without any second thought I had jumped off my
chair and was flying down to his help, three stairs at a bound, when
another scream and a roar of laughter fetched me up short. The laugh
was not Felipe's; nor could I believe it Brother Bartolomé's. In fact
it was the laugh of no one man, but of several. The truth leapt on me
with a knife, as you might say. The buccaneers had returned.
I told you, a while back, of a small doorway in the inner wall of
the staircase. It was just opposite this door that I found myself
cowering, trying to close my ears against the abhorrent screams which
filled the stairway and the empty corridor above with their echoes. To
crawl out of sight—had you lived through those three weeks in Panama
you would understand why this was the only thought in my head, and why
my knees shook so that I actually crawled on them to the little door,
and finding that it opened easily, crept inside and shut it before
looking about me.
But even in the act of shutting it I grew aware that the screams and
laughter were louder than ever. And a glance around told me that I
was not in a room at all, but in the chapel, or rather in a gallery
overlooking it, and faced with an open balustrade.
As I crouched there on my knees, they could not see me, nor could I
see them; but their laughter and their infernal jabber—for these
buccaneers were the sweepings of half-a-dozen nations—came to my ears
as distinct as though I stood among them. And under the grip of terror
I crawled to the front of the gallery and peered down between its
I told you, to start with, that Felipe was a crazy old fool: and I
dare say you have gathered by this time what shape his craziness took.
He had a mania for imagining himself a great man. For days together he
might be as sane as you or I; and then, all of a sudden—a chance word
would set him off—he had mounted his horse and put on all the airs of
the King of Spain, or his Holiness the Pope, or any grandissimo
you pleased, from the Governor of Panama upwards. I had known that
morning, when he began to prate about our being kings, that the crust
of his common-sense was wearing thin. I suppose that after leaving me
he must have come across the coffers in which the Abbot kept his robes
of state, and that the sight of them started his folly with a twist;
for he lay below me on the marble floor of the chapel, arrayed like
a prince of the Church. The mitre had rolled from his head; but the
folds of a magnificent purple cope, embroidered with golden lilies
and lined with white silk, flowed from his twisted shoulders over the
black and white chequers of the pavement. And he must have dressed
himself with care, too: for beneath the torn hem of the alb his feet
and ankles stirred feebly, and caught my eye: and they were clad in
silken stockings. He was screaming no longer. Only a moan came at
intervals as he lay there, with closed eyes, in the centre of that
ring of devils: and on the outer edge of the ring, guarded, stood
Brother Bartolomé and the Carmelite. Had we forgotten or been too
careless to close the door after us when Brother Bartolomé let us in?
I tried to remember, but could not be sure.
The most of the buccaneers—there were eight of them—spoke no
Spanish: but there was one, a cross-eyed fellow, who acted as
interpreter. And he knelt and held up a bundle of keys which Felipe
wore slung from a girdle round his waist.
"Once more, Master Abbot—will you show us your treasures, or will you
"I tell you," Brother Bartolomé spoke up, very short and distinct,
"there are no treasures. And if there were, that poor wretch could not
show them. He is no Abbot, but a beggar who has lived on charity these
twenty years to my knowledge."
"That tongue of yours, friar, needs looking to. I promise you to cut
it out and examine it when I have done with your reverend father here.
As for the wench at your side—"
"You may do as your cruelty prompts you, Brother Bartolomé
interrupted. But that man is no Abbot."
"He may be Saint Peter himself, and these the keys of Heaven and Hell.
But I and my camarados are going to find out what they open, as sure
as my name is Evan Evans." And he knotted a cord round Felipe's
forehead and began to twist. The Carmelite put her hands over her
eyes and would have fallen: but one of her guards held her up, while
another slipped both arms round her neck from behind and held her
eyelids wide open with finger and thumb. I believe—I hope—that
Felipe was past feeling by this time, as he certainly was past speech.
He did not scream again, and it was only for a little while that he
moaned. But even when the poor fool's head dropped on his shoulder,
and the life went out of him, they did not finish with the corpse
until, in their blasphemous sport, they had hoisted it over the altar
and strapped it there with its arms outstretched and legs dangling.
"Now I think it is your turn," said the scoundrel Evans, turning to
Brother Bartolomé with a grin.
"I regret that we cannot give you long, for we returned from Tavoga
this morning to find Captain Morgan already on the road. It will save
time if you tell us at once what these keys open."
"Certainly I will tell you," said the friar, and stretched out a hand
for the bunch. "This key for instance, is useless: it opens the door
of the wicket by which you entered. This opens the chest which, as a
rule, contains the holy vessels; but it too, is useless, since the
chest is empty of all but the silver chalices and a couple of patens.
Will you send one of your men to prove that I speak truth? This,
again, is the key of my own cell—"
"Where your reverence entertains the pretty nuns who come for
"After that," said Brother Bartolomé, pointing a finger towards
the altar and the poor shape dangling, "you might disdain small
The scoundrel leaned his back against a carved bench-end and nodded
his head slowly. "Master friar, you shall have a hard death."
"Possibly. This, as I was saying, is the key of my cell, where I
decoct the liquor for which this house is famous. Of our present stock
the bulk lies in the cellars, to which this"—and he held up yet
another key—"will admit you. Yes, that is it," as one of the pirates
produced a bottle and held it under his nose.
"Eh? Let me see it." The brute Evans snatched the bottle. "Is this the
stuff?" he demanded, holding it up to the sunlight which streamed
down red on his hand from the robe of a martyr in one of the painted
windows above. He pulled out his heavy knife, and with the back of it
knocked off the bottle-neck.
"I will trouble you to swear to the taste," said he.
"I taste it only when our customers complain. They have not complained
now for two-and-twenty years."
"Nevertheless you will taste it."
"You compel me?"
"Certainly I compel you. I am not going to be poisoned if I can help
it. Drink, I tell you!"
Brother Bartolomé shrugged his shoulders. "It is against the vow …
but, under compulsion … and truly I make it even better than I
used," he wound up, smacking his thin lips as he handed back the
The buccaneer took it, watching his face closely. "Here's death to the
Pope!" said he, and tasted it, then took a gulp. "The devil, but it is
hot!" he exclaimed, the tears springing into his eyes.
"Certainly, if you drink it in that fashion. But why not try it with
"You will find a chestful in my cell. Here is the key; which, by the
way, has no business with this bunch. Felipe, yonder, who was always
light-fingered, must have stolen it from my work-bench."
"Hand it over. One must go to the priests to learn good living. Here,
Jacques le Bec!" He rattled off an order to a long-nosed fellow at his
elbow, who saluted and left the chapel, taking the key.
"We shall need a cup to mix it in," said Brother Bartolomé quietly.
One of the pirates thrust the silver chalices into his hands: for the
bottle had been passed from one man to another, and they were thirsty
for more. Brother Bartolomé took it, and looked at the Carmelite.
For the moment nobody spoke: and a queer feeling came over me in my
hiding. This quiet group of persons in the quiet chapel—it seemed to
me impossible they could mean harm to one another, that in a minute or
two the devil would be loose among them. There was no menace in the
posture of any one of them, and in Brother Bartolomé's there was
certainly no hint of fear. His back was towards me, but the Carmelite
stood facing my gallery, and I looked straight into her eyes as they
rested on the cups, and in them I read anxiety indeed, but not fear.
It was something quite different from fear.
The noise of Jacques le Bec's footstep in the ante-chapel broke this
odd spell of silence. The man Evans uncrossed his legs and took a pace
to meet him. "Here, hand me a couple of bottles. How much will the
"A bottle and a half, or thereabouts: that is, if you allow for the
Jacques carried the bottles in a satchel, and a block of ice in a
wrapper under his left arm. He handed over the satchel, set down the
ice on the pavement and began to unwrap it. At a word from Evans he
fell to breaking it up with the pommel of his sword.
"We must give it a minute or two to melt," Evans added. And again a
silence fell, in which I could hear the lumps of ice tinkling as they
knocked against the silver rims of the chalices.
"The ice is melted. Is it your pleasure that I first taste this also?"
Brother Bartolomé spoke very gravely and deliberately.
"I believe," sneered Evans, "that on these occasions the religious are
the first to partake."
The friar lifted one of the chalices and drank. He held it to his lips
with a hand that did not shake at all; and, having tasted, passed
it on to Evans without a word or a glance. His eyes were on the
Carmelite, who had taken half a step forward with palms held sidewise
to receive the chalice he still held in his right hand. He guided it
to her lips, and his left hand blessed her while she drank. Almost
before she had done, the Frenchman, Jacques le Bec, snatched it.
The Carmelite stood, swaying. Brother Bartolomé watched the cups as
they went full circle.
Jacques le Bec, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, spoke a
word or two rapidly in French.
Brother Bartolomé turned to Evans. "Yes, I go with you. For you, my
child!"—He felt for his crucifix and held it over the Carmelite, who
had dropped on her knees before him. At the same time, with his left
hand, he pointed towards the altar. "For these, the mockery of the
Crucified One which themselves have prepared!"
I saw Evans pull out his knife and leap. I saw him like a man shot,
drop his arm and spin right-about as two screams rang out from the
gallery over his head. It must have been I who screamed: and to me,
now, that is the inexplicable part of it. I cannot remember uttering
the screams: yet I can see Evans as he turned at the sound of them.
Yet it was I who screamed, and who ran for the door and, still
screaming, dashed out upon the staircase. Up the stairs I ran: along
the corridor: and up a second staircase.
The sunshine broke around me. I was on the leads of the roof, and
Panama lay spread at my feet like a trodden garden. I listened: no
footsteps were following. Far away from the westward came the notes
of a bugle—faint, yet clear. In the northern suburbs the dogs were
baying. I listened again. I crept to the parapet of the roof and saw
the stained eastern window of the chapel a few yards below me, saw its
painted saints and martyrs, outlined in lead, dull against the noonday
glow. And from within came no sound at all.