“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 Dona 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 her shame.
But Felipe, though a fool, had a fine sense of irony. And so for three weeks Dona 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 dishonouring fiction.
“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, Senorita,” 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 writhing.