“Nigger woman,” broke out Oliver; “I never used such words; I never even thought them, and you are an impertinent fellow to put them into my mouth. Nigger woman! Good heavens! It’s desecration.”
“Very sorry, Captain, now I come to think of it, I believe you said black woman, speaking in your haste. Yes and I begged you not to brag, seeing that if you did we might live to see you crawling after her, with myself, Samuel Quick bringing up the rear. Well, there it is we are, and the worst of it is that I can’t blame you, being as anticipated in the prophecy—for that’s what it was though I didn’t know it myself at the time—exactly in the same state myself, though, of course, at a distance, bringing up the rear respectfully, as said.”
“You don’t mean that you are in love with the Child of Kings?” said Oliver, staring at the Sergeant’s grim and battered figure.
“Begging your pardon, Captain, that is exactly what I do mean. If a cat may look at a queen, why mayn’t a man love her? Howsoever, my kind of love ain’t likely to interfere with yours. My kind means sentry-go and perhaps a knife in my gizzard; yours—well, we saw what yours means this afternoon, though what it will all lead to we didn’t see. Still, Captain, speaking as one who hasn’t been keen on the sex heretofore, I say—sail in, since it’s worth it, even if you’ve got to sink afterwards, for this lady, although she is half a Jew, and I never could abide Jews, is the sweetest and the loveliest and the best and the bravest little woman that ever walked God’s earth.”
At this point Oliver seized his hand and shook it warmly, and I may mention that I think some report of Quick’s summary of her character must have reached Maqueda’s ears. At any rate, thenceforward until the end she always treated the old fellow with what the French call the “most distinguished consideration.”
But, as I was not in love, no one shook my hand, so, leaving the other two to discuss the virtues and graces of the Child of Kings, I went off to bed filled with the gloomiest forbodings. What a fool I had been not to insist that whatever expert accompanied Higgs should be a married man. And yet, now when I came to think of it, that might not have bettered matters, and perhaps would only have added to the transaction a degree of moral turpitude which at present was lacking, since even married men are sometimes weak.
The truth was that Maqueda’s attractions were extraordinarily great. To her remarkable beauty she added a wonderful charm of manner and force of mind. Also her situation must touch the heart and pity of any man, so helpless was she in the midst of all her hollow grandeur, so lonely amongst a nation of curs whom she strove in vain to save, and should she escape destruction with them, doomed to so sad and repulsive a fate, namely to become the wife of a fat poltroon who was her own uncle. Well, we know to what emotion pity is akin, and the catastrophe had occurred a little sooner than I had expected, that was all.