JACINTA BROWN It was about seven o'clock in the evening when sobrecargo Austin boarded the little mail-boat Estremedura as she lay rolling at anchor on the long, moon-lit heave that worked into the roadstead of Santa Cruz, Palma. Sobrecargo means much the same thing as purser, and Austin was an Englishman, though the Estremedura was to all intents and purposes a Spanish steamer. She traded round the islands of the Canary archipelago with mules and camels, tomatoes, bananas, onions, and seasick English tourists, as fortune favoured her. Now, as the heavily sealed document Austin carried in his pocket declared, she was to sail for Las Palmas, Grand Canary, with the Cuban mail, by the gracious permission of the young King of Spain. He had trouble on getting on board of her, for there were a good many bullocks swimming about her side waiting until the red-capped crew should heave them on board beneath the derrick-boom by means of a rope twisted round their horns. It probably hurt the bullocks, and now and then one succumbed to a broken neck during the operation; but the Castilian, who can face his losses placidly, is not, as a rule, particularly merciful to his beast. There were also stray sheep, goats, and donkeys, as well as olive-[Pg 2]faced peasants with blankets strapped about their shoulders, wandering about the after portion of the main deck, which was supposed to be reserved for the second-class passengers, when Austin stopped a moment by the covered hatch. A big electric light hung from the spar-deck beams above his head, and he looked about him with a little ironical smile. He was a young man of average stature, and there was nothing especially distinguished in his appearance, though he had good grey eyes, and a pleasant bronzed face. He was somewhat lightly made, though he looked wiry, and held himself well, and there was a certain languidness in his smile which seemed to suggest that he was not addicted to troubling greatly about anything. Because the Scotchman who ran the Estremedura's engines had sold his white uniform jacket with the resplendent buttons a day or two before, he was just then attired somewhat incongruously in a white cap with the very large and imposing badge of the Spanish mail service clasped into the front of it, a brown alpaca jacket, white duck trousers, and pipe-clayed shoes. The latter two items were, however, by no means immaculate, since he had, as a special favour to the mate, brought off certain sheep and goats in his despatch-boat, as well as a camel tied astern of it. Spaniards and Englishmen do not invariably agree, but they lived like brothers on board the Estremedura, which, however, had its disadvantages. Austin objected in particular to the community of property.