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D’arfet’s Vengeance
by [?]

“Yes,” said I, as he broke off, his eyes still searching mine, “there was a tale concerning the island.”

“Brought to you by a Spanish pilot, who had picked it up on the Barbary coast?”

“You have heard correctly,” said I. “The pilot’s name was Morales.”

“Well, it is to hear that tale that I have travelled across the world to visit you.”

“Ah, but forgive me, Sir!” I poured out another glassful of wine, drew up my chair, rested both elbows on the table, and looked at him over my folded hands. “You must first satisfy me what reason you have for asking.”

“My name is Thomas d’Arfet,” he said.

“I do not forget it: but maybe I should rather have said–What aim you have in asking. I ought first to know that, methinks.”

In his impatience he would have leapt from his chair had his old limbs allowed. Pressing the table with white finger-tips, he sputtered some angry words of English, and then fell back on the interpreter Martin, who from first to last wore a countenance fixed like a mask.

“Mother of Heaven, Sir! You see me here, a man of eighty, broken of wind and limb, palsied, with one foot in the grave: you know what it costs to fit out and victual a ship for a voyage: you know as well as any man, and far better than I, the perils of these infernal seas. I brave those perils, undergo those charges, drag my old limbs these thousands of miles from the vault where they are due to rest–and you ask me if I have any reason for coming!”

“Not at all,” I answered. “I perceive rather that you must have an extraordinarily strong reason–a reason or a purpose clean beyond my power of guessing. And that is just why I wish to hear it.”

“Men of my age–” he began, but I stopped Martin’s translation midway.

“Men of your age, Sir, do not threaten the peace of such islands as these. Men of your age do not commonly nurse dangerous schemes. All that I can well believe. Men of your age, as you say, do not chase a wild goose so far from their chimney-side. But men of your age are also wise enough to know that governors of colonies–ay,” for my words were being interpreted to him a dozen at a time and I saw the sneer grow on his face, “even of so poor a colony as this–do not give up even a small secret to the very first questioner.”

“But the secret is one no longer. Even in England I had word of it.”

“And your presence here,” said I, “is proof enough that you learned less than you wanted.”

He drew his brows together over his narrow eyes. I think what first set me against the man was the look of those eyes, at once malevolent and petty. You may see the like in any man completely ungenerous. Also the bald skin upon his skull was drawn extremely tight, while the flesh dropped in folds about his neck and under his lean chaps, and the longer I pondered this the more distasteful I found him.

“You forget, Sir,” said he–and while Martin translated he still seemed to chew the words–“the story is not known to you only. I can yet seek out the pilot himself.”

“Morales? He is dead these three years.”

“Your friends, then, upon the greater island. Failing them, I can yet put back to Lagos and appeal to the Infante himself–for doubtless he knows. Time is nothing to me now.” He sat his chin obstinately, and then, not without nobility, pushed his glass from him and stood up. “Sir,” said he, “I began by asking if you were a happy man. I am a most unhappy one, and (I will confess) the unhappier since you have made it clear that you cannot or will not understand me. In my youth a great wrong was done me. You know my name, and you guess what that wrong was: but you ask yourself, ‘Is it possible this old man remembers, after sixty years?’ Sir, it is possible, nay, certain; because I have never for an hour forgotten. You tell yourself, ‘It cannot be this only: there must be something behind.’ There is nothing behind; nothing. I am the Thomas d’Arfet whose wife betrayed him just sixty years ago; that, and no more. I come on no State errand, I! I have no son, no daughter; I never, to my knowledge, possessed a friend. I trusted a woman, and she poisoned the world for me. I acknowledge in return a duty to no man but myself; I have voyaged thus far out of that duty. You, Sir, have thought it fitter to baffle than to aid me–well and good. But by the Christ above us I will follow that duty out; and, at the worst, death, when it comes, shall find me pursuing it!”