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place of their labour ; though my short-sightedness would not let me distinguish. what they were about, whether mending fortifications, dykes, banks, parapets, or what not: and I durst not use my glass, lest I should be suspected as a spy. We only strolled about in their vicinity, as if merely visiting and viewing the sea.
The weather-it was now August-was so intensely hot, the place was so completely without shade, and their work was so violent, that they changed hands every two hours, and those who were sent off to recruit were allowed to cast themselves upon the burnt and straw-like grass, to await their alternate summonsi This they did in small groups, but without venturing to solace their rest by any species of social intercourse. They were as taciturn with one another as with their keepers and taskmasters. One among
them there was who wore an air of supe: riority, grave and composed, yet decided, to which they all appeared to bow down with willing subserviency, though the distinction was only demonstrated by an air of profound respect whenever they approached or passed him, for discourse held they none. One morn. ing, when I observed him seated at a greater distance than usual from his overseers, during his hour of rer lease, I turned suddenly from my walk as if with a view to bend my way homewards, but contrived, while talking with Alexander and looking another way, to slant my steps close to where he sat surrounded by his mute adherents, and to drop a handful of small coin nearly under the elbow upon which, wearily, he was reclining. We proceeded with alertness, and talking together aloud; but Alexander perceived this apparent chief evidently moved by what I had done, though forbear
ing to touch the little offering, which, however, his companions immediately secured.
After this I never met him that he did not make me a slight but expressive bow. This encouraged me to repeat the poor little tribute of compassion, which I soon found he distributed, as far as it would go to the whole set, by the kindly looks with which every one thenceforward greeted me upon every meeting. Yet he whom we supposed to be some chief, and who palpably discovered it was himself I meant to distinguish, never touched the money, nor examined what was taken up by the others, who, on their part, nevertheless seemed but to take charge of it in trust.
We were now such good friends, that this became more than ever my favourite walk; and these poor unhappy captives never saw me without brightening up into a vivacity of pleasure that was to me a real exhilaration.
We had been at Dunkirk above five weeks, when one evening, having a letter of consequence to send to Paris, I begged Alexander to carry it to the Post himself, and to deposit me upon the quay, and there to join me. As the weather was very fine I stood near the sea, wistfully regarding the element on which depended all my present hopes and views. But presently my meditations were interrupted, and my thoughts diverted from mere self by the sudden entrance, in a large body, of my friends the Spanish prisoners, who all bore down to the very place where I was stationed, evidently recognising me, and eagerly showing that it was not without extreme satisfaction. I saw their approach, in return, with lively pleasure, for, the quay being, I suppose, a place of certain security, they were unencum
bered by their usual turnkeys, the gens d'armes, and this freedom, joined to their surprise at my sight, put them also off their guard, and they flocked round though not near me, and hailed me with smiles, bows, and hands put upon their breasts. I now took courage to speak to them, partly in French, partly in English, for I found they understood a little of both those languages. I inquired whence they came, and whether they knew General Wellington. They smiled and nodded at his name, and expressed infinite delight in finding I was English; but though they all, by their head movements, entered into discourse, my friend the chief was the only one who attempted to answer me.
When I first went to France, being continually embarrassed for terms, I used constantly to apply to M. d'Arblay for aid, till Madame de Tessé charged him to be quiet, saying that my looks filled up
my words left short, “ de sorte que,” she added, "nous la devinons ;” this was the case between my Spaniards and myself, and we deviné-d one another so much to our mutual satisfaction, that while this was the converse the most to my taste of any I had had at Dunkirk, it was also, probably, most to theirs of any that had fallen to their lot since they had been torn from their native country.
While this was going on I was privately drawing from my purse all that it contained of small money to distribute to my new friends; but at this same moment a sudden change in the countenance of the chief from looks of grateful feeling to an expression of austerity, checked my purpose, and, sorry and alarmed lest he had taken offence, I hastily drew my empty hand from my reticule. I then saw that
the change of expression was not simply to austerity from pleasure, but to consternation from serenity; and I perceived that it was not to me the altered visage was directed; the eye pointed beyond me, and over my head; startled, I turned round, and what, then, was my own consternation when I beheld an officer of the police, in full gold trappings, furiously darting forward from a small house at the entrance upon the quay, which I afterwards learned was his official dwelling. When he came within two yards of us he stood still, mute and erect; but with an air of menace, his eyes scowling first upon the chief, then upon me, then upon the whole group, and then upon me again, with looks that seemed diving into some conspiracy.
My alarm was extreme; my imprudence in conversing with these unhappy captives struck me at once with foreboding terror of ill consequences. I had, however, sufficient presence of mind to meet the eyes of my antagonist with a look that showed surprise rather than apprehension at his wrath.
This was not without some effect. Accustomed, probably, to scrutinize and to penetrate into secret plots, he might be an adept in distinguishing the fear of ill-treatment from the fear of detection. The latter I certainly could not manifest, as my compassion had shown no outward mark beyond a little charity; but the former I tried, vainiy, perhaps, to subdue ; for I well knew that pity towards a Spaniard would be deemed suspicious, at least, if not culpable.
We were all silent, and all motionless; but when the man, having fixed upon me his eyes with intention to petrify me, saw that I fixed him in return with an open though probably not very composed face, he
spoke, and with a voice of thunder, vociferating reproach, accusation, and condemnation all in one. His words I could not distinguish; they were so confused and rapid from rage.
This violence, though it secretly affrighted me, I tried to meet with simple astonishment, making no sort of answer or interruption to his invectives. When he observed my steadiness, and that he excited none - of the humiliation of discovered guilt, he stopped short and, after a pause, gruffly said, "Qui êtes-vous ?" Je me nomme d'Arblay.” *** Etes-vous mariée ?” 6 Oui.” « Où est votre mari ?” "A Paris.” “Qui est-il ?" “Il travaille aux Bureaux de l'Intérieur." "Pourquoi le quittez-vous ?”
I was here sensibly embarrassed. I durst not avow I was going to England; I could not assert I was really going to America. I hesitated; and the sight of his eyes brightening up with the hope of mischief, abated my firmness; and, while he seemed to be staring me through, I gave an account, very imperfect, indeed, and far from clear, though true, that I came to Dunkirk to embark on board the Mary Ann’ vessel.
Ah ha!” exclaimed he, “ Vous êtes Anglaise ?" Then, tossing back his head with an air of triumphant victory, “Suivez-moi!” he added, and walked away, fast and fierce, but looking back every minute to see that I followed.