MARTIN CONISBY'S VENGEANCE
BY JEFFERY FARNOL
TO MY DEAR AUNTS
MISS JEFFERY "AUNTIE KIZ"
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK
I HOW MY SOLITUDE CAME TO AN END
II MY TROUBLES BEGIN
III HOW I HEARD A SONG THAT I KNEW
IV HOW I LABOURED TO MY SALVATION
V TELLETH HOW ALL MY TRAVAIL CAME TO NOUGHT
VI HOW I SUCCOURED ONE DON FEDERIGO, A GENTLEMAN OF SPAIN
VII I AM DETERMINED ON MY VENGEANCE, AND MY REASONS THEREFOR
VIII HOW THE DAYS OF MY WATCHING WERE ACCOMPLISHED
IX WE FALL AMONG PIRATES
X HOW I CAME ABOARD THE HAPPY DESPATCH AND OF MY SUFFERINGS THERE
XI HOW I FOUGHT IN THE DARK WITH ONE POMPEY, A GREAT BLACKAMOOR
XII OF BATTLE, MURDER AND RESOLUTION DAY, HIS POINT OF VIEW
XIII HOW WE FOUGHT AN ENGLISH SHIP
XIV TELLETH HOW THE FIGHT ENDED
XV HOW I FELL IN WITH MY FRIEND, CAPTAIN SIR ADAM PENFEATHER
XVI HOW I HAD WORD WITH MY LADY, JOAN BRANDON
XVII TELLETH THE OUTCOME OF MY PRIDEFUL FOLLY
XVIII OF ROGER TRESSADY AND HOW THE SILVER WOMAN CLAIMED HER OWN AT LAST
XIX HOW JOANNA CHANGED HER MIND
XX I GO TO SEEK MY VENGEANCE
XXI HOW I CAME TO NOMBRE DE DIOS
XXII HOW AT LAST I FOUND MY ENEMY, RICHARD BRANDON
XXIII HOW I FOUND MY SOUL
XXIV OF OUR ADVENTURE AT SEA
XXV WE ARE DRIVEN ASHORE
XXVI OUR DESPERATE SITUATION
XXVII WE COMMENCE OUR JOURNEY
XXVIII WE FALL IN WITH ONE ATLAMATZIN, AN INDIAN CHIEF
XXIX TELLETH SOMEWHAT OF A STRANGE CITY
XXX WE RESUME OUR JOURNEY
XXXI I MEET A MADMAN
XXXII HOW I FOUND MY BELOVED AT LAST
XXXIII OF DREAMS
XXXIV OF LOVE
XXXV OF THE COMING OF ADAM AND OF OUR GREAT JOY THEREIN
MARTIN CONISBY'S VENGEANCE
HOW MY SOLITUDE CAME TO AN END
"Justice, O God, upon mine enemy. For the pain I suffer, may I see him suffer; for the anguish that is mine, so may I watch his agony! Thou art a just God, so, God of Justice, give to me vengeance!"
And having spoken this, which had been my prayer for three weary years, I composed myself to slumber. But even so, I started up broad awake and my every nerve a-tingle, only to see the moonlight flooding my solitude and nought to hear save the rustle of the soft night wind beyond the open door of the cave that was my habitation and the far-off, never-ceasing murmur that was the voice of those great waters that hemmed me in,—a desolate ocean where no ships ever sailed, a trackless waste that stretched away to the infinite blue.
Crouched upon my bed I fell vaguely a-wondering what should have roused me, hearkening to the distant roar of the surf that seemed to me now plaintive and despairing, now full of an ominous menace that banished gentle sleep.
Thereupon I must needs bethink me how often I had waked thus during my long and weary sojourn on this lonely island; how many times I had leapt from slumber, fancying I heard a sound of oars or voices hailing cheerily beyond the reef, or again (and this most often and bitterest phantasy of all) a voice, soft and low yet with a wondrous sweet and vital ring, the which as I knew must needs sound within my dreams henceforth,—a voice out of the past that called upon my name:
And this a voice that came to me in the blazing heat of tropic day, in the cool of eve, in the calm serenity of night, a voice calling, calling infinite pitiful and sweet, yet mocking me with my loneliness.
"Martin, dear love! Oh, Martin!"
"Joan!" I whispered and reached out yearning arms to the empty air. "Damaris—beloved!"
Beyond the open door I heard the sighing of the wind and the roar of the surf, soft with distance, infinite plaintive and despairing. Then, because sleep was not for me, I arose and came groping within my inner cave where stood a coffer and, lifting the lid, drew forth that I sought and went and sat me on my bed where the moon made a glory. And sitting there, I unfolded this my treasure that was no more than a woman's gown and fell to smoothing its folds with reverent hand; very tattered it was and worn by much hard usage, its bravery all tarnished and faded, yet for me it seemed yet to compass something of the vivid grace and beauty of that loved and vanished presence.
Almost three years of solitude, of deluding hopes and black despair, almost three years, forgotten alike of God and man. So that I had surely run mad but for the labour of my days and the secret hope I cherished even yet that some day (soon or late) I should see again that loved form, hear again the sweet, vital ring of that voice whereof I had dreamed so long.
Almost three years, forgotten alike of God and man. And so albeit I prayed no more (since I had proved prayers vain) hope yet lived within me and every day, night and morn, I would climb that high hill the which I had named the Hill of Blessed Hope, to strain my eyes across the desolation of waters for some sign which should tell me my time of waiting was accomplished.
Now as I sat thus, lost in bitter thought, I rose to my feet, letting fall the gown to lie all neglected, for borne to me on the gentle wind came a sound there was no mistaking, the sharp report of a musket.
For a moment I stood utterly still while the shot yet rang and re-echoed in my ears and felt all at once such an ecstasy of joy that I came nigh swooning and needs must prop myself against the rocky wall; then, the faintness passing, I came hasting and breathless where I might look seaward and beheld this:
Hard beyond the reef (her yards braced slovenly aback) a ship. Betwixt this vessel and the reef a boat rowed furiously, and upon the reef itself a man fled shorewards marvellous fleet and nimble. Presently from his pursuers in the boat came a red flash and the report of a musquetoon followed by divers others, whereat the poor fugitive sped but the faster and came running to that strip of white beach that beareth the name Deliverance. There he faltered, pausing a moment to glance wildly this way and that, then (as Fortune willed) turned and sped my way. Then I, standing forth where he might behold me in the moon's radiance, hailed and beckoned him, at the which he checked again, then (as reassured by my looks and gesture) came leaping up that path which led from the beach. Thus as he drew nearer I saw he was very young, indeed a mere stripling. From him I glanced towards his pursuers (they being already upon the reef) and counted nine of them running hitherward and the moon aglint on the weapons they bore. Thereupon I hasted to my cave and brought thence my six muskets, the which I laid ready to hand.
And presently comes this poor fugitive, all panting and distressed with his exertions, and who (clambering over that rampire I had builded long ago to my defence) fell at my feet and lay there speechless, drawing his breath in great, sobbing gasps. But his pursuers had seen and came on amain with mighty halloo, and though (judging by what I could see of them at the distance) they were a wild, unlovely company, yet to me, so long bereft of all human fellowship, their hoarse shouts and cries were infinitely welcome and I determined to make them the means of my release, more especially as it seemed by their speech that some of them were Englishmen. To this end I waited until they were close, then, taking up my nearest piece, I levelled wide of them and fired. Startled by the sudden roar they incontinent scattered, betaking them to such cover as they might. Then I (yet kneeling behind my rampire) hailed them in mighty kindly fashion.
"Halt, friends!" cries I. "Here is harm for no man that meaneth none. Nay, rather do I give ye joyous welcome in especial such of you as be English, for I am an Englishman and very solitary."
But now (and even as I spake them thus gently) I espied the fugitive on his knees, saw him whip up one of my muskets (all in a moment) and fire or ever I might stay him. The shot was answered by a cry and out from the underbrush a man reeled, clasping his hurt and so fell and lay a-groaning. At this his comrades let fly their shot in answer and made off forthwith. Deserted thus, the wounded man scrambled to hands and knees and began to creep painfully after his fellows, beseeching their aid and cursing them by turns. Hearing a shrill laugh, I turned to see the fugitive reach for and level another of my weapons at this wounded wretch, but, leaping on him as he gave fire, I knocked up the muzzle of the piece so that the bullet soared harmlessly into the air. Uttering a strange, passionate cry, the fugitive sprang back and snatching out an evil-looking knife, made at me, and all so incredibly quick that it was all I could do to parry the blow; then, or ever he might strike again, I caught that murderous arm, and, for all his slenderness and seeming youth, a mighty desperate tussle we made of it ere I contrived to twist the weapon from his grasp and fling him panting to the sward, where I pinned him beneath my foot. Then as I reached for the knife where it had fallen, he cried out to me in his shrill, strangely clear voice, and with sudden, fierce hands wrenched apart the laces and fine linens at his breast:
"Stay!" cried he. "Don't kill me—you cannot!"
Now looking down on him where he lay gasping and writhing beneath my foot, I started back all in a moment, back until I was stayed by the rampire, for I saw that here was no man but a young and comely woman.
MY TROUBLES BEGIN
Whiles I yet stood, knife in hand, staring at her and mute for wonder, she pulled off the close-fitting seaman's bonnet she wore and scowling up at me shook down the abundant tresses of her hair.
"Beast!" said she. "Oh, beast—you hurt me!"
"Who are you?" I questioned.
"One that doth hate you!" Here she took a silver comb from her pocket and fell to smoothing her hair; and as she sat thus cross-legged upon the grass, I saw that the snowy linen at throat and bosom was spotted with great gouts of blood.
"Are ye wounded?" quoth I, pointing to these ugly stains.
"Bah! 'Tis none of mine, fool! 'Tis the blood of Cestiforo!"
"Who is he?"
"The captain of yon ship."
"How cometh his blood on you?"
"'Twas when I killed him."
"Aye—he wearied me. So do all my lovers, soon or late."
Now as I looked on this woman, the strange, sullen beauty of her (despite her masculine apparel) as she sat thus combing her long hair and foul with a dead man's blood, I bethought me of the wild tales I had heard of female daemons, succubi and the like, so that I felt my flesh chill and therewith a great disgust and loathing of her, insomuch that, not abiding the sight of her, I turned away and thus beheld a thing the which filled me with sudden, great dismay: for there, her sails spread to the fitful wind, I saw the ship standing out to sea, bearing with her all my hopes of escape from this hated island. Thus stood I, watching deliverance fade on my sight, until the ship was no more than a speck upon the moon-bright waters and all other thoughts 'whelmed and lost in raging despair. And now I was roused by a question sudden and imperious:
"Who are you?"
"'Tis no matter."
"How came you here?"
"'Tis no matter for that, either."
"Are you alone?"
"Then wherefore trouble to shave your beard?"
"'Tis a whim."
"Are you alone?"
"And I would you were again."
"So do I."
"You are Englishman—yes?"
"My mother was English—a poor thing that spent her days weeping and died of her tears when I was small—ah, very small, on this island."
"Here?" quoth I, staring.
"Twenty and one years agone!" said she, combing away at her glossy hair. "My mother was English like you, but my father was a noble gentleman of Spain and Governor of Santa Catalina, Don Esteban da Silva y Montreale, and killed by Tressady—Black Tressady—"
"What, Roger Tressady—o' the Hook?"
"True, Senor Englishman," said she softly and glancing up at me through her hair; "he hath a hook very sharp and bright, in place of his left hand. You know him? He is your friend—yes?"
"I know him for a cursed pirate and murderer!"
"Moi aussi, mon ami!" said she, fixing me with her great eyes. "I am pirate, yes—and have used dagger and pistol ere to-day and shall again."
"And wear a woman's shape!"
"Ha—yes, yes!" cried she, gnashing her teeth. "And there's my curse—I am woman and therefore do hate all women. But my soul is a man's so do I use all men to my purpose, snare them by my woman's arts and make of 'em my slaves. See you; there is none of all my lovers but doth obey me, and so do I rule, with ships and men at my command and fearing no man—"
"And yet," said I, interrupting, "you came fleeing hither to save your life from yonder rabblement."
"Tush—these were mostly drunken rogues that knew me not, 'listed but late from a prize we took and burned. I shall watch them die yet! Soon shall come Belvedere in the Happy Despatch to my relief, or Rodriquez of the Vengeance or Rory or Sol—one or other or all shall come a-seeking me, soon or late. Meantime, I bide here and 'tis well you stayed me from killing you, for though I love not Englishmen, I love solitude less, so are you safe from me so long as we be solitary. Ah—you smile because you are fool and know me not yet! Ah, ah—mayhap you shall grow wiser anon. But now," said she, rising and putting away her comb, "bring me where I may eat, for I am famished with hunger."
"Also you are very foul of blood!" said I.
"Yes," says she soft-voiced, and glancing from me to her stained finery and back again. "Yes. And is this so great a matter?"
"To-night you murdered a man!"
"I killed him—yes. Cestiforo—he was drunk. And was this so great a matter?"
"And you—a woman!" said I, marvelling.
"Aye, to my sorrow!" said she, gnashing white teeth, "Yet am I strong as a man and bolder than most."
"God preserve me from such!" quoth I fervently.
"You—you?" cried she. "What thing are you that seeming man must blench at a little blood? Are you yourself so innocent, you that know Tressady o' the Hook?"
"Howbeit I am no murderer, woman."
"Ah—bah!" cried she, with flick of scornful fingers. "Enough of words, Master Innocent. Bring me where I may eat and bed me till morning."
Thereupon (and mighty unwilling) I brought her into the cave and lighting two candles of my own contriving, I set before her such viands as I had, together with bread I had newly baked, and with no word of thanks this strange, fierce creature fell to eating with a voracity methought very disgusting.
Now the more I saw of her the more grew my disgust and the end of it was I determined to put the whole length of the island betwixt us and that at once. To this end I began collecting such articles as I should want, as my light hatchet, sword, pistols, etc. I was buckling on my belt when her voice arrested me, albeit she spoke me very sweetly and soft:
"You go now to your woman—your light of love—yes?"
"There is no woman but yourself," said I, frowning.
"Liar! Then what of this?" and she pointed slender finger; then I saw that tattered garment lying where I had dropped it and this woman spurning it with her foot. So I stooped forthwith, and snatching it from her desecrating touch, folded it across my arm, whereat she fell to sudden laughter very ill to bear.
"Ah—ah!" said she, softer than before and most hatefully a-smiling, "'tis for her sake your chin goeth bare and smooth—yes? She is over-nice in the matter of—"
"I tell you she is gone!" said I in fury.
"Gone—gone, is she? And you alone here, longing but for her return, through weeks and months and years waiting for her to come back to you; is not this the truth of it, yes?" Now I, knowing this for very truth, could but scowl, finding no word to say, whiles this creature nodded and flashed white teeth in her hateful smile. "You loved this woman," said she, "do love her; dead or living, rotting bones or another's delight, you do love her yet, poor, miserable fool!"
All unheeding, I folded the garment with reverent hands while she taunted me thus, until, seeing me nothing moved, she fell to rank vileness, bespattering that pure memory with tongue so shamelessly foul that I (losing all patience) turned on her at last; but in this moment she was on her feet and snatching my sword made therewith a furious pass at me, the which I contrived to parry and, catching the blade in this beloved garment, I wrenched the weapon from her. Then, pinning her in fierce grip and despite her furious struggles and writhing, I belaboured her soundly with the flat of the blade, she meanwhile swearing and cursing at me in Spanish and English as vilely as ever I had done in all my days, until her voice broke and she choked upon a great sob. Thereupon I flung her across my bed and taking such things as I needed, strode out of the cave and so left her.
But scarce was I without the cave than she came following after me; and truly never was greater change, for in place of snarling daemon here was tender maid all tearful sighs, gentle-eyed and with clasped hands reached out to me in supplication and (despite her male attire) all woman.
Perceiving the which, I turned my back upon her and hasted away all the faster.
So here was I, that had grieved in my solitude and yearned amain for human fellowship, heartily wishing myself alone again and full of a new apprehension, viz: That my island being so small I might chance to find the avoidance of this evil creature a matter of some difficulty, even though I abandoned my caves and furniture to her use and sought me another habitation.
Now as I went I fell to uneasy speculation regarding this woman, her fierce, wild beauty, her shameless tongue, her proud and passionate temper, her reckless furies; and bethinking me of all the manifest evil of her, I felt again that chill of the flesh, that indefinable disgust, insomuch that (the moon being bright and full) I must glance back, more than once, half-dreading to see her creeping on my heels.
Having traversed Deliverance Sands I came into that cleft or defile, 'twixt bush-girt, steepy cliffs, called Skeleton Cove, where I had builded me a forge with bellows of goatskin. Here, too, I had set up an anvil (the which had come ashore in a wreck, together with divers other tools) and a bench for my carpentry. The roof of this smithy backed upon a cavern wherein I stored my tools, timber and various odds and ends.
This place, then, I determined should be my habitation henceforth, there being a little rill of sweet water adjacent and the cave itself dry and roomy and so shut in by precipitous cliffs that any who might come to my disturbance must come only in the one direction.
And now, as I judged, there being yet some hours to sunrise, I made myself as comfortable as might be and having laid by sword and belt and set my pistols within easy reach, I laid down and composed myself to slumber. But this I could by no means compass, being fretted of distressful thought and made vain and bitter repining for this ship that had come and sailed, leaving me a captive still, prisoned on this hateful island with this wild creature that methought more daemon than woman. And seeing myself thus mocked of Fortune (in my blind folly) I fell to reviling the God that made me. Howbeit sleep overtook me at last, but an evil slumber haunted by visions of this woman, her beauty fouled and bloody, who sought out my destruction where I lay powerless to resist her will. Low she bent above me, her dusky hair a cloud that choked me, and through this cloud the glitter of her eyes, red lips that curled back from snapping teeth, fingers clawed to rend and tear; then as I gazed, in horror, these eyes grew soft and languorous, these vivid lips trembled to wistful smile, these cruel hands clasped, soft-clinging, and drew me near and ever nearer towards that smiling, tender mouth, until I waked in a panic to behold the dawn and against the sun's growing splendour the woman standing and holding my pistols levelled at me as I lay.
Now I do think there is no hale man, howsoever desperate and careless of life, but who, faced with sudden, violent death, will not of instinct blench and find himself mighty unready to take the leap into that dark unknown whose dread doth fright us one and all; howbeit thus was it with me, for now as I stared from the pistol muzzle to the merciless eyes behind them, I, that had hitherto esteemed death no hardship, lay there in dumb and sweating panic, and, knowing myself afraid, scorned and hated myself therefor.
"Ah—ah!" said she softly but with flash of white teeth. "Will ye cower then, you beater of women? Down to your knees—down and sue pardon of me!" But now, stung by her words and the quaking of my coward flesh, I found voice.
"Shoot, wanton!" said I. "Shoot, lest I beat you again for the vile, shameless thing you are." At this she flinched and her fierce eyes wavered; then she laughed loud and shrill:
"Will ye die then? Yes? Will ye die?"
"Aye," I nodded, "So I may be quit of you."
"Hath dying then no fears for you—no?"
"'Tis overpast!" quoth I.
"Liar!" said she. "Wipe the craven sweat from you! You beat me, and for this you should die, but though you fear death you shall live to fear me more—aye, you shall live awhile—take your life!"
So saying, she tossed the pistols down beside me and laughed.
"When I wish to kill and be done with you, my steel shall take you in your sleep, or you shall die by poison; there be many roots and berries hereabout, Indian poisons I wot of. So your life is mine to take whensoever I will."
"How if I kill you first?"
"Ah, bah!" said she, snapping her fingers. "Try an you will—but I know men and you are not the killing sort. I've faced death too oft to fear it, or the likes of you. There lie your pistols, fool; take 'em and shoot me if you will!"
Thereupon I stooped and catching up the pistols tossed them behind me.
"And now," said I, rising, "leave me—begone lest I thrash you again for the evil child you are."
"Child?" says she, staring as one vastly amazed, "child—and to me, fool, to me? All along the Main my name is known and feared."
"So now will I whip you," quoth I, "had others done as much ere this, you had been a little less evil, perchance." And I reached down a coil of small cord where it hung with divers other odds and ends. For a moment she watched me, scowling and fierce-eyed, then as I approached her with the cords in my hands, she turned on her heel with a swirl of her embroidered coat-skirts and strode away, mighty proud and disdainful.
When she was clean gone I gathered me brush and driftwood, and striking flint and steel soon had a fire going and set about cooking certain strips of dried goat's flesh for my breakfast. Whiles this was a-doing I was startled by a sudden clatter upon the cliff above and down comes a great boulder, narrowly missing me but scattering my breakfast and the embers of my fire broadcast. I was yet surveying the ruin (dolefully enough, for I was mighty hungry) when hearing a shrill laugh I glanced up to find her peering down at me from above. Meeting my frowning look she laughed again, and snapping her fingers at me, vanished 'mid the bushes.
Spoiled thus of my breakfast I was necessitated to stay my hunger with such viands as I had by me. Now as I sat eating thus and in very ill humour, my wandering gaze lighted by chance on the shattered remains of a boat that lay high and dry where the last great storm had cast it. At one time I had hoped that I might make this a means to escape from the island and had laboured to repair and make it seaworthy but, finding this beyond my skill, had abandoned the attempt; for indeed (as I say) it was wofully bilged and broken. Moreover, at the back of my mind had always lurked a vague hope that some day, soon or late, she that was ever in my dreams, she that had been my love, my Damaris, might yet in her sweet mercy come a-seeking me. Wherefore, as I have before told, it had become my daily custom, morn and eve, to climb that high land that I called the Hill of Blessed Hope, that I might watch for my lady's coming.
But to-day, since Fate had set me in company with this evil creature, instead of my noble lady, I came to a sudden and fixed resolution, viz: That I would waste not another hour in vain dreams and idle expectations but would use all my wit and every endeavour to get quit of the island so soon as might be. Filled with this determination I rose and, coming to the boat, began to examine it.
And I saw this: it was very stout-built but its planks wofully shrunk with the sun, and though much stove forward, more especially to larboard, yet its main timbers looked sound enough. Then, too, it lay none so far from high-water mark and despite its size and bulk I thought that by digging a channel I might bring water sufficient to float it, could I but make good the breakage and caulk the gaping seams.
The longer I looked the more hopeful I grew and the end of it was I hasted to bring such tools as I needed and forthwith set to work. All the morning, and despite the sun, I laboured upon this wrecked boat, stripping off her cracked and splintered timbers and mightily pleased to find her framework so much less damaged than I had dared hope, insomuch that I presently fell a-whistling; but coming on three ribs badly sprung I became immediately dejected. Howbeit I had all the wood I could wish as planks, bulkheads and the like, all driven ashore from wrecked vessels, with bolts and nuts a-plenty; thus as I worked I presently fell a-whistling again.
Suddenly, I was aware of the woman watching me, and glancing at her as she leaned cross-legged against an adjacent boulder, she seemed no woman but a pert and handsome lad rather. Her thick hair, very dark and glossy, fell in curls to her shoulders like a modish wig, her coat was of fine blue velvet adorned with silver lace, her cravat and ruffles looked new-washed like her silk stockings, and on her slender feet were a pair of dainty, buckled shoes; all this I noticed as she lolled, watching me with her sombre gaze.
"What would you with the wreck, fool?" she demanded, whereupon I immediately betook me to my whistling.
"You do grow merry!" said she, frowning, whiles I whistled the louder. And when she would have spoken further, I fell to hammering lustily, drowning her voice thereby.
"Will you not speak with me then—no?" she questioned, when at last I paused. But I heeding her no whit, she began swearing at me and I to hammering again.
"Curst fool!" cried she at last, "I spit on you!" The which she did and so swaggered away and I whistling merrier than ever.
HOW I HEARD A SONG THAT I KNEW
I was early at work next morning, since now my mind was firm-set on quitting the island at all hazards, thereby winning free of this woman once and for all. To this end I laboured heartily, sparing myself no pains and heedless of sweat and sun-glare, very joyous to see my work go forward apace; and ere the sun was very high my boat lay stripped of all the splintered timbers on the larboard side. My next care was to choose me such planks from my store of driftwood as by reason of shape and thickness should be best adapted to my purpose. And great plenty of wrought wood had I and of all sorts, it having long been my wont to collect the best of such as drove ashore and store it within those caves that opened on Deliverance Beach. Thus, after no great search, I had discovered all such planking as I needed and forthwith began to convey it down to the boat.
In the which labour the woman met me (I staggering under a load of my planks) and strutted along beside me, vastly supercilious and sneering.
"Hold!" cried she. "He sweateth, he panteth purple o' the gills! And wherefore, to what end?"
"To win free of two things do weary me."
"Ah—ah? And these?"
"This island and yourself."
"So! Do I then weary you, good Master Innocence?"
"Ah—bah! 'Tis because you be fool and no man!"
"Mayhap," said I, taking up my hammer, "howbeit I do know this island for a prison and you for an evil thing—"
"Ah!" sighed she softly. "I have had men hanged for saying less!"
"So would I be quit of you as soon as may be," said I, fitting my first timber in place whiles she watched me, mighty disdainful.
"So you would mend the boat, amigo mio, and sail away from the island and me—yes?"
"God knoweth it!"
"Mayhap He doth, but what o' me? Think ye I shall suffer you to leave me here alone and destitute, fool?"
"The which is to be seen!" said I; and having measured my plank and sawed it to proper length I began to rivet it to the frame, making such din with my hammer that she, unable to make herself heard, presently strode away in a fury, to my great content.
But, in a little back she cometh, and on her hip that bejewelled Spanish rapier that had once been part of Black Bartlemy's treasure (as hath been told) and which (having my own stout cut-and-thrust) I had not troubled to bring away from the cave.
Whipping out the long blade then, she makes with it various passes in the air, very supple and dexterous, and would have me fight with her then and there.
"So-ho, fool!" cried she, brandishing her weapon. "You have a sword, I mind—go fetch it and I will teach ye punto riverso, the stoccato, the imbrocato, and let you some o' your sluggish, English blood. Go fetch the sword, I bid ye."
But I nothing heeding, she forthwith pricked me into the arm, whereon I caught up a sizable timber to my defence but found it avail me no whit against her skill and nimbleness, for thrice her blade leapt and thrice I flinched to the sharp bite of her steel, until, goaded thus and what with her devilish mockery and my own helplessness, I fell to raging anger and hauled my timber full at her, the which, chancing to catch her upon an elbow, she let fall her sword and, clasping her hurt, fell suddenly a-weeping. Yet, even so, betwixt her sobs and moans she cursed and reviled me shamefully and so at last took herself off, sobbing wofully.
This put me to no little perturbation and distress lest I had harmed her more than I had meant, insomuch that I was greatly minded to follow her and see if this were so indeed. But in the end I went back to my boat and laboured amain, for it seemed to me the sooner I was quit of her fellowship the better, lest she goad me into maiming or slaying her outright.
Thus worked I (and despite the noon's heat) until the sun began to decline and I was parched with thirst. But now, as I fitted the last of my timbers into place, the board slipped my nerveless grasp and, despite the heat, a sudden chill swept over me as borne upon the stilly air came a voice, soft and rich and sweet, uplifted in song and the words these:
"There be two at the fore At the main hang three more Dead men that swing all in a row Here's fine, dainty meat For the fishes to eat, Black Bartlemy—Bartlemy, ho!"
Awhile I leaned there against the boat, remembering how and with whom I had last heard this song, then wheeling about I caught my breath and stared as one that sees at last a long-desired, oft-prayed-for vision: for there, pacing demurely along the beach towards me, her body's shapely loveliness offset by embroidered gown, her dark and glossy ringlets caught up by jewelled comb, I thought to behold again the beloved shape of her I had lost well-nigh three weary years agone.
"Damaris!" I whispered, "Oh, loved woman of my dreams!" And I took a long stride towards her, then stopped and bowed my head, suddenly faint and heartsick, for now I saw here was no more than this woman who had fled me a while ago with curses on her tongue. Here she stood all wistful-eyed and tricked out in one of those fine gowns from Black Bartlemy's secret store the which had once been my dear lady's delight.
Now in her hands she bore a pipkin brimful of goat's milk.
"I prithee, sir," said she softly, "tell now—shall there be room for me in your boat?"
"Never in this world!"
"You were wiser to seek my love than my hate—"
"I seek neither!"
"Being a fool, yes. But the sun is hot and you will be a thirsty fool—"
"Where learned you that evil song?"
"In Tortuga when I was a child. But come, drink, amigo mio, drink an you will—"
"Whence had you that gown?"
"Ah—ah, you love me better thus, yes? Why, 'tis a pretty gown truly, though out o' the fashion. But, will you not drink?"
Now, as I have told, I was parched with thirst and the spring some way off, so taking the pipkin I drained it at a draught and muttering my thanks, handed it back to her. Then I got me to my labour again, yet very conscious of her as she sat to watch, so that more than once I missed my stroke and my fingers seemed strangely awkward. And after she had sat thus silent a great while, she spoke:
"You be mighty diligent, and to no purpose."
"How mean you?"
"I mean this boat of yours shall never sail except I sail in her."
"Which is yet to prove!" said I, feeling the air exceeding close and stifling.
"Regard now, Master Innocence," said she, holding up one hand and ticking off these several items on her fingers as she spoke: "You have crossed me once. You have beat me once. You have refused me honourable fight. You have hurt me with vile club. And now you would leave me here alone to perish—"
"All true save the last," quoth I, finding my breath with strange difficulty, "for though alone you need not perish, for I will show you where—where you—shall find abundance—of food—and—" But here I stopped and gasped as an intolerable pain shot through me.
"Ah—ah!" said she, leaning forward to stare at me keen-eyed. "And doth it begin to work—yes? Doth it begin so soon?"
"Woman," I cried, as my pains increased, "what mean you now? Why d'ye stare on me so? God help me, what have you done—"
"The milk, fool!" said she, smiling.
"Ha—what devil's brew—poison—"
"I warned you but, being fool, you nothing heeded—no!"
Now hereupon I went aside and, dreading to die thus miserably, thrust a finger down my throat and was direly sick; thereafter, not abiding the sun's intolerable heat, I crawled into the shade of a rock and lay there as it were in a black mist and myself all clammy with a horrible, cold sweat. And presently in my anguish, feeling a hand shake me, I lifted swooning eyes to find this woman bending above me.
"How now," said she, "wilt crave mercy of me and live?"
"Devil!" I gasped. "Let me die and be done with you!"
At this she laughed and stooped low and lower until her hair came upon my face and I might look into the glowing deeps of her eyes; and then her arms were about me, very strong and compelling.
"Look—look into my eyes, deep—deep!" she commanded. "Now—ha—speak me your name!"
"Martin," I gasped in my agony.
"Mar—tin," said she slowly. "I will call you Martino. Look now, Martino, have you not seen me long—long ere this?"
"No!" I groaned. "God forbid!"
"And yet we have met, Martino, in this world or another, or mayhap in the world of dreams. But we have met—somewhere, at some time, and in that time I grasped you thus in my arms and stared down thus into your eyes and in that hour I, having killed you, watched you die, and fain would have won you back to life and me, for you were a man,—ah, yes, a man in those dim days. But now—ah, bah! You are but poor fool cozened into swallowing a harmless drug; to-morrow you shall be your sluggish self. Now sleep, but know this—I may slay you whenso I will! Ah, ah—'tis better to win my love than my hate." So she loosed me and stood a while looking down on me, then motioned with imperious hand: "Sleep, fool—sleep!" she commanded and frowning, turned away. And as she went I heard her singing of that vile song again ere I sank into unconsciousness:
"There are two at the fore. At the main hang three more Dead men that swing all of a row—"
HOW I LABOURED TO MY SALVATION
I found myself still somewhat qualmish next morning but, none the less, got me to labour on the boat and, her damage being now made good on her larboard side, so far as her timbering went, I proceeded to make her seams as water-tight as I could. This I did by means of the fibre of those great nuts that grew plenteously here and there on the island, mixed with the gum of a certain tree in place of pitch, ramming my gummed fibre into every joint and crevice of the boat's structure so that what with this and the swelling of her timbers when launched I doubted not she would prove sufficiently staunch and seaworthy. She was a stout-built craft some sixteen feet in length; and indeed a poor enough thing she might have seemed to any but myself, her weather-beaten timbers shrunken and warped by the sun's immoderate heats, but to me she had become as it were a sign and symbol of freedom. She lay upon her starboard beam half full of sand, and it now became my object to turn her that I might come at this under side, wherefore I fell to work with mattock and spade to free her of the sand wherein (as I say) she lay half-buried. This done I hove and strained until the sweat poured from me yet found it impossible to move her, strive how I would. Hereupon, and after some painful thought, I took to digging away the sand, undermining her thus until she lay so nicely balanced it needed but a push and the cumbrous structure, rolling gently over, lay in the necessary posture, viz: with her starboard beam accessible from gunwale to keel. And mightily heartened was I thus to discover her damage hereabouts so much less than I had dared hope.
So I got me to work with saw, hammer and rivets and wrought so diligently (staying but to snatch a mouthful of food) that as the sun westered, my boat was well-nigh finished. Straightening my aching back I stood to examine my handiwork and though of necessity somewhat rough yet was it strong and secure; and altogether a very excellent piece of work I thought it, and mightily yearned I for that hour when I should feel this little vessel, that had been nought but a shattered ruin, once more riding the seas in triumph.
But now and all at once, my soaring hopes were dashed, for though the boat might be seaworthy, here she lay, high and dry, a good twelve yards from the tide.
Now seeing I might not bring my boat to the sea, I began to scheme how best I should bring the sea to her. I was yet pondering this matter, chin in hand, when a shadow fell athwart me and starting, I glanced up to find this woman beside me, who, heeding me no whit, walks about and about the boat, viewing my work narrowly.
"If you can launch her she should sail well enough, going large and none so ill on a bowline, by her looks. 'Tis true scat-boat—yes. Are you a sailor—can ye navigate, ha?"
"'Tis very well, for I am, indeed, and can set ye course by dead reckoning an need be. Your work is likely enough, though had you butted your timbers it had been better—so and so!" And in this I saw she was right enough, and my work seemed more clumsy now than I had thought.
"I'm no shipwright," said I.
"And here's sure proof of it!" quoth she.
"Mayhap 'twill serve once her timbers be swelled."
"Aye, she may float, Martino, so long as the sea prove kind and the wind gentle; aye, she should carry us both over to the Main handsomely, yes—"
"Never!" quoth I, mighty determined.
"How then—will ye deny me yet, fool? Wherefore would ye leave me here, curst Englishman?"
"Lest you goad me into slaying you for the evil thing you are."
"What evil have I wrought you?"
"You would have poisoned me but yesterday—"
"Yet to-day are you strong and hearty, fool."
And indeed, now I came to think of it, I felt myself as hale and well as ever in all my life. "Tush—a fico!" says she with an evil gesture. "'Twas but an Indian herb, fool, and good 'gainst colic and calenture. Now wherefore will ye be quit o' me?"
"Because I had rather die solitary than live in your fellowship—"
"Dolt! Clod! Worm!" cried she 'twixt gnashing teeth, and then all in a moment she was gazing down at me soft and gentle-eyed, red lips up-curving and smooth cheek dimpling to a smile:
"Ah, Martin," sighs she languorously, "see how you do vex me! And I am foolish to suffer such as you to anger me, but needs must I vex you a little in quittance, yes."
At this I did but shrug my shoulders and turned to study again the problem—how to set about launching my boat.
"Art a something skilful carpenter, eh, Martino," said she in a while; "'twas you made the table and chairs and beds in the caves up yonder, eh, Martino?"
"And these the tools you made 'em with, eh, Martino?" and she pointed where they lay beside the boat.
"Nay," quoth I, speaking on impulse, being yet busied with my problem, "I had nought but my hatchet then and chisels of iron."
"Your hatchet—this?" she questioned, taking it up.
"Aye!" I nodded. "The hatchet was the first tool I found after we were cast destitute on this island."
"Ah—ah—then she was with you when you found it—the woman that wore this gown before me, eh, Martino?"
"Aye—and what then?"
"This!" cried she and wheeling the hatchet strong-armed, she sent it spinning far out to sea or ever I might stay her.
Now, beholding the last of this good hatchet that had oft known my dear lady's touch, that had beside, been, as it were, a weapon to our defence and a means to our comfort, seeing myself (as I say) now bereft of it thus wantonly, I sprang to my feet, uttering a cry of mingled grief and rage. But she, skipping nimbly out of reach, caught up one of my pistols where she had hid it behind a rock and stood regarding me with her hateful smile.
"Ah, ah!" says she, mocking, "do I then vex you a little, amigo mio? So is it very well. Ha, scowl, fool Martino, scowl and grind your teeth; 'tis joy to me and shall never bring back your little axe."
At this, seeing grief and anger alike unavailing, I sat me down by the boat and sinking my head in my hands, strove to settle my mind to this problem of launching; but this I might by no means do, since here was this devilish creature perched upon an adjacent rock to plague me still.
"How now, Martino?" she questioned. "What troubleth your sluggish brain now?" And then, as she had read my very thought: "Is't your boat—to bring her afloat? Ah—bah! 'tis simple matter! Here she lies and yonder the sea! Well, dig you a pit about the boat as deep as may be, bank the sand about your pit as high as may be. Then cut you a channel to high-water mark and beyond, so with the first tide, wind-driven, the sea shall fill your channel, pour into your pit, brimming it full and your banks being higher than your boat she shall swim and be drawn seaward on the backwash. So, here's the way on't. And so must you sweat and dig and labour, and I joy to watch—Ah, yes, for you shall sweat, dig and labour in vain, except you swear me I shall sail with you." So saying, she drops me a mocking courtsey and away she goes.
She gone and night being at hand, I set aside two or three stout spars should serve me as masts, yards, etc., together with rope and cordage for tackle and therewith two pair of oars; which done, I got me to my cave and, having supped, to bed.
Early next morning I set myself to draw a circle about my boat and mark out a channel thence to the sea (even as she had suggested) since I could hit upon no better way. This done, I fell to with spade and mattock but found this a matter of great labour since the sand, being very dry and loose hereabouts, was constantly shifting and running back upon me.
And presently, as I strove thus painfully, cometh my tormentor to plague me anew (albeit the morning was so young) she very gay and debonnaire in her 'broidered gown.
"Ha!" said she, seating herself hard by. "The sun is new-risen, yet you do sweat wofully, the which I do joy to see. So-ho, then, labour and sweat, my pretty man: it shall be all vain, aha—vain and to no purpose."
But finding I heeded her no more than buzzing fly, she changed her tune, viewing me tender-eyed and sighing soft:
"Am I not better as a woman, eh, Martino?" asked she, spreading out her petticoats. "Aye, to be sure your eyes do tell me so, scowl and mutter as you will. See now, Martino, I have lived here three days and in all this woful weary time hast never asked my name, which is strange, unless dost know it already, for 'tis famous hereabouts and all along the Main; indeed 'tis none so wonderful you should know it—"
"I don't!" said I. "Nor wish to!"
"Then I will tell you—'tis Joan!" Hereupon I dropped my spade and she, seeing how I stared upon her, burst into a peal of laughter. "Ah, ah!" cried she. "Here is pretty, soft name and should fit me as well as another. Why must you stare so fool-like; here is no witchcraft, for in the caves yonder 'Joan' meeteth me at every turn; 'tis carven on walls, on chairs, on table, together with 'Damaris' and many woful, lovesick mottoes beside."
Now I, knowing this for truth, turned my back and ground my teeth in impotent anger, whiles this woman mocked me with her laughter.
"Damaris—Joan!" said she. "At first methought these two women, but now do I know Joan is Damaris and Damaris Joan and you a poor, lovelorn fool. But as for me—I am Joanna—"
Now at this I turned and looked at her.
"Joanna?" said I, wondering.
"Ah, you have heard it—this name, before—yes?"
"Aye, in a song."
"Oh, verily!" said she and forthwith began singing in her deep, rich voice:
"There's a fine Spanish dame And Joanna's her name Shall follow wherever you go—"
"Aha, and mark this, Martino:
"Till your black heart shall feel Your own cursed steel Black Bartlemy—Bartlemy, ho!"
"But this was my mother—"
"Ha—she that stabbed and killed the pirate Bartlemy ere he slew her? But she was a Spanish lady."
"Nay, she was English, and lieth buried hereabouts, 'tis said; howbeit, she died here whiles I was with the Indians. They found me, very small and helpless, in the ruins of a burned town and took me away into the mountains and, being Indians, used me kindly and well. Then came white men, twenty and two, and, being Christians, slew the Indians and used me evilly and were cruel, save only one; twenty and two they were and all dead long ago, each and every, save only one. Aha, Martino, for the evil men have made me endure, I have ever been excellent well avenged! For I am Joanna that some call 'Culebra' and some 'Gadfly' and some 'Fighting Jo.' And indeed there be few men can match me at swordplay and as for musket and pistol—watch now, Martino, the macaw yonder!" She pointed to a bird that stood preening itself on a rock at no little distance and, catching up the pistol, levelled and fired; and in place of the bird was nought but a splash of blood and a few poor, gaudy feathers stirring lazily in the gentle wind.
"See," cried she, with a little, soft laugh, "am I not a goodly camarado for any brave fellow, yes?"
"Truly," said I, turning away, "I think your breeches do become you best—"
"Liar!" she cried. "You know I am handsomer thus! Your eyes ha' told me so already. And look ye, I can be as soft and tender, as meek and helpless as any puling woman of 'em all, when I will. And if I hate fiercely, so is my love—ha, d'ye blench, fool, d'ye shrink; you thing shaped like a man, must ye cringe at the word 'love'?"
"Aye!" said I, over my shoulder. "On your lips 'tis desecration!"
"Desecration—desecration?" quoth she, staring on me great-eyed and biting at her scarlet nether lip. "Ha, dare ye say it, dog?" And crying thus, she hurled the pistol at me with aim so true that I staggered and came nigh falling. Stung by the blow I turned on her in a fury, but she leapt to her feet and showed me my own knife glittering in her fist.
"Ah, bah—back to your labour, slave!" she mocked.
"Have done, woman!" I cried. "Have done, or by the living God, you will goad me into slaying you yet—"
"Tush!" said she, "I am used to outfacing men, but you—ha, you should be fed on pap and suckets, you that are no man! 'Tis small wonder you lost your Joan—Damaris; 'tis no wonder she fled away and left you—"
Now at this (and nothing heeding her knife) I sprang at her and she, letting fall the knife, leapt towards me; and then I had her, felt her all soft and palpitant in my furious grip, heard a quivering sigh, saw her head sway back across my arm and she drooping in my embrace, helpless and a-swoon. And holding her thus 'prisoned and crushed against me, I could not but be conscious of all the tender, languorous beauty of her ere I hasted to lay her upon the sand. My arms were yet about her (and I upon my knees) when her bosom heaved to sudden, tremulous sigh and opening her eyes, she smiled up at me.
"Ah, Martino," sighed she softly, "do not these petticoats become me vastly well, yes?" And reaching up, she set her arms about me. "Am I not better than dream-woman, I that men have died for—I, Joanna?"
Now hereupon I shivered and loosing her hold rose to my feet and stood with head averted that I might not behold her. Presently she arose also and coming where lay the knife, took it up and stood turning it this way and that.
"Martin," said she in her soft, dreamy speech, "you are mightily strong and—mightily gentle, and I do think we shall make a man of you yet!"
So saying, she turned and went away, the knife glittering in her hand. As for me I cast myself down and with no thought or will to labour now, for it seemed that my strength was gone from me.
TELLETH HOW ALL MY TRAVAIL CAME TO NOUGHT
That night, the moon being at the full and I very wakeful, I lay harassed of a thousand fretting thoughts, and each and every of this woman Joanna; and turning on my sleepless couch I cursed that hour the which had set her in my company.
Yet, even so, I must needs bethink me of all the supple warmth of her as she lay in my arms, of the velvety touch of her cheek that had by chance brushed my hand. Hereupon I would strive to turn my thoughts upon the labours of to-morrow only to find myself recalling the sound of her voice, now deep and soft and infinite sweet, now harsh and shrill and hatefully shrewish; or her golden-brown eyes, thick-lashed and marvellous quick in their changes from sleepy languor to flaming malevolence.
Thus lay I, haunted of her memory and all the sudden, bewildering changes of her moods until at last I started up, and coming to the entrance of my cave, saw her standing without and the moon bright on her face.
"Art wakeful too, Martino?" asked she softly. "'Tis the moon belike, or the heat of the night." Here she came a slow pace nearer; and her eyes were sweet and languorous and on her vivid mouth a smile infinite alluring. Slowly she drew near, thralling me as it were with the wonder of her look that I had neither power nor will to move or speak. Confident of herself and assured in her beauty she reached out her hands to me, her long lashes swept down, veiling her eyes; but, even then, I had seen their flash of triumph, and in that moment, bursting the spell that bound me, I turned from her.
"Go—leave me!" said I, finding my voice at last. "Here is no place for you!" And I stood thereafter with head averted, dreading her sighs and tears; instead (and to my unutterable relief) she brake out into a storm of sea-oaths, beslavering me with vile abuse and bitter curses. Now, hearkening to this lewd tirade, I marvelled I should ever have feared and trembled because of the womanhood of creature so coarse and unsexed. Thus she continued alternately mocking at and reviling me until she must needs pause for lack of breath; then I turned to look at her and stood amazed to behold that passionate head bowed upon her hands.
"Aye, I weep," she sobbed. "I weep because I am woman, after all, but in my heart I hate you and with my soul I despise you, for you are but a mock man,—the blood in your veins skim milk! Ah, by God, there is more of vigorous life in my little finger than in all your great, heavy, clod-like carcase. Oh, shame!" Here she lifted her head to scowl on me and I, not enduring her look, glanced otherwhere. "Ha—rot me!" cried she, wagging scornful finger. "Rot me but you are afraid of me—afraid, yes!"
"True!" said I. "So will I win free of you so soon as I may—"
"Free of me?" cried she, and throwing herself on the sands, sat crouched there, her head upon her knees and sobbing miserably. "So you will abandon me then?" said she at last.
"Even though I—vow myself your slave?"
"I want no slave."
"Even though I beseech you on my knees?"
"'Twere vain, I sail hence alone."
"You were wiser to seek my love than my hate."
"But I was ever a fool."
"Aye, verily!" she cried passionately. "So do you yearn ever for your light-o'-love, for your vanished Joan—your Damaris that left you—"
"Now I pray you go!" said I.
"I wonder," sighed she, never stirring, "I wonder why I do not kill you? I hate you—despise you and yet—"
Slowly she got to her feet and moved away with dragging step but paused anon and spake again with head a-droop:
"Living or dead, you shall not leave the island except I go with you!" Then she went her way and something in her attitude methought infinitely desolate.
Left alone, I stood awhile in gloomy thought, but rousing presently, I betook me into my cave, and lying down, fell at last to uneasy slumber. But waking suddenly, I started up on elbow full of an indefinable fear, and glancing without the cave, I saw a strange thing, for sand and rock and bush-girt cliff had on an unfamiliar aspect, the which I was wholly unable to account for; rocks and trees and flowering vines shone throbbing upon my vision with a palpitant glow that came and went, the like of which I had never seen before.
Then, all at once, I was up and running along Skeleton Cove, filled with a dreadful apprehension, and coming out upon Deliverance Beach, stood quaking like one smitten with a palsy; for there, lapped about in writhing flame and crackling sparks, was all that remained of my boat, and crouched upon the sands, watching me by the light of this fire, was she who called herself Joanna.
And now, perceiving all the wanton cruelty of this thing, a cold and merciless rage took me and staring on this woman as she stared on me, I began to creep towards her.
"I warned you, fool, I warned you!" cried she, never moving. "'Tis a brave fire I've made and burns well. And now you shall kill me an you will—but your boat is lost to you for ever, and so is—your Damaris!"
Now at sound of this loved name I stopped and stood a great while staring at the fire, then suddenly I cast myself on my knees, and lifting up my eyes to the stars already paling to dawn, I prayed God to keep me from the sin of murder.
When at last I rose to my feet, Joanna was gone.
The sun was high-risen when I came again, slow and heavy-footed, to behold what the fire had left of my boat; a heap of ashes, a few fragments of charred timber. And this the sorry end of all my fond hopes, my vain schemes, my sweat and labour.
And as I gazed, in place of my raging fury of last night was a hopeless despondency and a great bitterness against that perverse fate that seemed to mock my every endeavour.
As I stood thus deject and bitterly cast down, I heard the step of this woman Joanna and presently she cometh beside me.
"You will be hating me for this, hating me—yes?" she questioned; then, finding me all regardless of her, she plucked me by the sleeve. "Ah—and will you not speak to me?" cried she. Turning from her, I began to pace aimlessly along beside the lagoon but she, overtaking, halted suddenly in my path. "Your boat would have leaked and swamped with you, Martino!" said she, but heeding her no whit I turned and plodded back again, and she ever beside me. "I tell you the cursed thing would ha' gone to pieces at the first gust of wind!" she cried. But I paced on with neither word nor look until, finding me thus blind and deaf to her, she cursed me bitterly and so left me alone and I, following a haphazard course, presently found myself in a grove of palmetto trees and sat me down in this pleasant shade where I might behold the sea, that boundless, that impassable barrier. But in a while, espying the woman coming thitherwards, I rose and tramped on again with no thought but to save myself from her companionship.
All the morning then I rambled aimlessly to and fro, keeping ever amid the woods and thickets, staying my hunger with such fruit as I fell in with, as grapes and plantains; or sitting listlessly, my hands idle before me, I stared out across these empty, sun-smitten waters, until, dazzled by their glare, I would rise and wander on again, my mind ever and always troubled of a great perplexity, namely: How might I (having regard to the devilish nature of this woman Joanna) keep myself from slaying her in some fit of madness, thereby staining my soul with her murder.
So came I at last to my habitation in Skeleton Cove and chancing to espy my great powderhorn where it hung, I reached it down and going without the cave, scattered its contents broadcast, this being all the powder I had brought hither.
It being now late noon and very hot, I cast myself down in the shade of a rock, and lying there, I presently came to the following resolution, viz: To shun the woman Joanna's company henceforth as well as I might; moreover (and let her haunt me how she would) to heed her neither by word or look, bearing all her scorns and revilings patiently, making no answer, and enduring all her tyranny to the uttermost. All of which fine conceits were but the most arrant folly and quickly brought to nothing, as you shall hear. For even now as I sat with these high-flown notions buzzing in my head, I started to her sudden call:
Glancing up, I beheld her poised upon the rocks above me and a noose of small cord in her hand. As I watched, she began to whirl this around her head, fast and faster, then, uttering a shrill, strange cry, she let fly the noose the which, leaping through the air, took me suddenly about the throat and she, pulling on it, had me half-strangled all in a moment. Then as, choking, I loosed this devilish noose from me (and or ever I could rise) she came running and casting herself down before me, clasped my feet and laid her head upon them.
"Martino!" she cried, "Oh man, beat me an you will, trample on me, kill me; only heed me—heed me a little!"
Now seeing her thus miserably abject and humbled, I grew abashed also and fain would have loosed me from her clasp but she held me only the faster; and thus, my hand coming upon her head, she caught that hand and kissed it passionately, wetting it with her tears.
"Oh, Martino," said she, wofully a-sobbing, "I do know at last wherefore—I may not kill you. 'Tis because I love you. I was fool not to guess it ere this, but—I have never loved man ere now. Aye, I love you—I, Joanna, that never loved before, do love you, Martino—"
"What of your many lovers?"
"I loved no one of them all. 'Tis you ha' learned me—"
"Nay, this is no love—"
"Aye, but it is—in very truth. Think you I do not know it? I cannot sleep, I cannot eat—except you love me I must die, yes. Ah, Martino, be merciful!" she pleaded. "For thee I will be all woman henceforth, soft and tender and very gentle—thine always! Oh, be merciful—"
"No," I cried, "not this! Be rather your other self, curse me, revile me, fetch the sword and fight with me—"
"Fight thee—ah, no, no! The time for this is passed away. And if I did grieve thee 'twas but that I might cherish and comfort thee—for thou art mine and I thine henceforth—to death and beyond! Look, Martino! See how I do love thee!"
And now her arms were about me, soft and strong, and beholding all the pleading beauty of her, the tender allure of her eyes, the quiver of her scarlet mouth and all her compelling loveliness, I stooped to her embrace; but even so, chancing to lift my gaze seaward, I broke the clasp of these twining arms and rose suddenly to my feet. For there, her rag of sail spread to the light-breathing air, was a boat standing in for the island.
HOW I SUCCOURED ONE DON FEDERIGO, A GENTLEMAN OF SPAIN
I was out upon the reef, waving my arms like any madman and shouting to the vague figure huddled in the stern sheets. As the boat drew nearer, I discovered this figure to be a man in Spanish half-armour, and the head of this man was bowed meekly upon steel-clad breast like one overcome with great weariness. But presently as I watched he looked up, like one awaking from sleep, and gestured feebly with his arm, whiles I, beholding here the means to my deliverance, babbled prayers of thankfulness to God.
After some while, the boat being within hail, I began to call out to this solitary voyager (for companion had he none, it seemed) how he must steer to avoid the rocks and shoals. At last, the boat being come near enough and the sea very smooth, I waded out and, watching my chance, clambered aboard over the bows and came, all dripping, eager to welcome this heavensent stranger and thus beheld the boat very foul of blood and him pale and hollow-cheeked, his eyes dim and sunken; moreover his rich armour was battered and dinted, whiles about one leg was knotted a bloody scarf.
"Senor," said I, in my best Spanish, "a lonely man, giveth you right hearty greeting!"
"I thank you, sir," he answered and in very excellent English, "though I do much fear you shall abide solitary, for as I do think I am a-dying. Could you—bring me—water—"
The words ended in a sigh and his head drooped so that I feared he was already gone. But, finding he yet breathed, I made haste to lower the sail and, shipping oars, paddled towards that opening in the reef that gave upon the lagoon. Being opposite this narrow channel I felt the boat caught by some tide and current and swept forward ever more rapidly, insomuch that I unshipped the oars and hasting into the bow, caught up a stout spar wherewith to fend us off from the rocks. Yet more than once, despite all my exertions, we came near striking ere, having passed through this perilous gut, we floated into the placid waters of the lagoon beyond.
Very soon I had beached the boat as securely as I might on that spit of sand opposite Skeleton Cove, and finding the Spaniard yet a-swoon I lifted him, albeit with much ado, and setting him across my shoulder, bore him thus into the cool shade of the cave. There I laid him down beside the little rill to bathe his head and wrists with the sweet water and moisten his parched lips. At this he revived somewhat and, lifting his head, eagerly drank so much as I would allow, his sunken eyes uplift to mine in an ecstasy.
"Young sir," said he in stronger voice, "for your kind charity and this good water may the Saints requite thee. 'Tis three nights and two days since I drank—"
A shadow fell betwixt us and looking up I beheld Joanna. Now in one hand she grasped the Spaniard's sword she had stolen out of his boat and her other hand was hid behind her, wherefore I watched her narrowly, as she stood gazing down at this wounded man; and at first she scowled at him, but slowly her look changed and I saw her vivid lips curl in her baleful smile.
"Oh," said she very softly, "Oh, marvel of marvels! Oh, wonder of wonders, even and in very truth it is Don Federigo de Rosalva y Maldonada, wafted hither by wind and tide to Joanna and judgment. Oh, most wonderful!"
Now hereupon this poor wounded wretch lifted himself to peer up into her smiling face with hanging jaw, like one amazed beyond all speech, whiles she, slim and shapely in her 'broidered gown, nodded her handsome head. "Verily," quoth she, "'tis the hanging, bloody governor of Nombre de Dios come to Justice! I pray you, Senor, how many of our company ha' you strung aloft since last we met?"
Here, though with much painful ado, the Don got to his feet and made her a prodigious fine bow.
"The Senorita Joanna honours me by her notice," said he. "I should have doubtless known her at once but for her change of habit. And I am happy to inform the Senorita I have been so fortunate as to take and hang no less than five and twenty of her pirate fellowship since last I had the gratification of meeting her."
"Ha, you lie!" cried she passionately. "You lie!"
"They swing in their chains along the mole outside Nombre de Dios to witness for my truth, Senorita. And now," said he, propping himself against the rock behind him, "it is my turn to die, as I think? Well, strike, lady—here, above my gorget—"
"Die then!" cried she and whipped a pistol from behind her, but as she levelled I struck up the weapon and it exploded harmless in the air. Uttering a scream of bitter rage, she thrust with the sword, but I put up the stroke (thereby taking a gash in the arm) and gripping the rapier by the guards I twisted it from her hold. And now she turned on me in a very frenzy:
"Kill me then!" she panted, striving to impale herself on the sword in my hand. "If this man is to come betwixt us now, kill me in mercy and free me from this hateful woman's flesh—" But here, spying my arm bloody, she forgot her anger all in a moment. "Are ye hurt?" said she. "Are ye hurt and all to save this miserable fool!" And suddenly (or ever I might prevent) she caught my arm, kissing the wound, heedless of the blood that bedabbled her cheek in horrid fashion.
"Oh, Martino," said she, leaning 'gainst a rock when at last I broke from her, "you are mine now and always, as you were in other times long since forgot. In those days your blood was on my lips, I mind, and your kisses also ere you died.. Mine you are to death, aye, and through death to life again—mine. And to-day is to-day and death not for you or me—yet awhile!"
When she was gone I turned to find this wounded man upon his knees, his head bowed above a little gold crucifix between his hands.
"Sir, what would you?" I questioned, struck by his expression, when at last he looked up.
"I make my peace with God, Senor, since I am soon to die—"
"Nay, sir, I do trust your hardships are ended—"
"Shall be, Senor, to-day, to-morrow, the day after?" said he, smiling faintly and shrugging his shoulders. "A sudden shot, steel i' the back—'tis better than death by famine in an open boat. You, Senor, have saved me alive yet a little, doubtless for your own ends, but my death walketh yonder as I know, death in form shapely and fair-seeming, yet sure and unpitying, none the less."
"Ha, d'ye mean yon woman?" I questioned.
"The Senorita Joanna—verily, Senor."
"Never think it!" quoth I. "'Tis wild, fierce creature, yet is she but a woman and young—"
Now hereupon this wounded man lifted weary head to stare on me, his eyes very bright and keen.
"Senor," says he, "either you do mock me, or you nothing know this woman. But I do know her well and too well. Senor, I have warred with and been prisoner to you English, I have fought Indians, I have campaigned again buccaneers and pirates these many years, but never have I encountered foe so desperate, so bold and cunning as this Senorita Joanna. She is the very soul of evil; the goddess of every pirate rogue in the Indies; 'tis she is their genius, their inspiration, her word their law. 'Tis she is ever foremost in their most desperate ploys, first in attack, last in retreat, fearless always—I have known her turn rout into victory. But two short months ago she vowed my destruction, and I with my thousands at command besides divers ships well armed and manned; to-day I am a woful fugitive, broken in fortune, fleeing for my life, and, Senor, Fate has brought me, through shipwreck and famine all these weary miles, into the grasp of her slender, cruel hands. Thus and thus do I know myself for dead man and shall die, howsoever I must, as becometh me."
His keen eyes lost their fire, his head drooped, and looking down on him as he lay huddled against the rock, I did not doubt but that much of this was no more than the raving of his disordered fancy.
So I set my arm about this poor gentleman and brought him into my habitation, where I loosed off his chafing armour and set myself to feed and cherish him, bathing the hurt in his leg, the which I found very angry and inflamed. This done I bade him be of good comfort and yield himself to slumber. But this he could no way accomplish, being restless and fevered and his mind harping continually on the strange fate had set him thus in Joanna's power and the sure belief that he must die, soon or late, at her hands.
"For look now, Senor," said he, "and observe my strange destiny. Scarce two months since I set out in a well-found galleon, I and three hundred chosen men, to hunt down and destroy this very woman—her and her evil company. One of their ships we fell in with, which ship, after long and sharp debate, we sunk. But it coming on to blow and our own vessels being much shattered by their shot, we sprung a leak, the which gaining on us, we were forced to take to our boats; but the wind increased and we were soon scattered. On the third day, having endured divers perils, we made the land, I with Pedro Valdez my chief captain and ten others and, being short of water, they went ashore one and all, leaving me wounded in the boat. And I lying there was suddenly aware of great uproar within the thickets ashore, and thereafter the screams and cries of my companions as they died. Then cometh Pedro Valdez running, crying out the Indians were on us, that all was lost and himself sore wounded. Nevertheless he contrived to thrust off the boat and I to aid him aboard. That night, he died and the wind drove me whither it would; wherefore, having committed Pedro Valdez his body to the deep, I resigned myself to the will of God. And God hath brought me hither, Senor, and set me in the power of the Senorita Joanna that is my bitter foe; so am I like to die sudden and soon. But, Senor, for your kindness to me, pray receive a broken man's gratitude and dying blessing. Sir, I am ever a Maldonada of Castile and we do never forget!" There he reached out to grasp my hand. "Thus, Senor, should this be my last night of life, the which is very like, know that my gratitude is of the nature that dieth not."
"Sir," said I, his hand in mine and the night deepening about us, "I am a very solitary man and you came into my life like a very angel of God (an there be such) when I stood in direst need, for I was sick of my loneliness and in my hunger for companionship very nigh to great and shameful folly. Mayhap, whiles you grow back to strength and health, I will tell you my story, but this night you shall sleep safe—so rest you secure."
I AM DETERMINED ON MY VENGEANCE, AND MY REASONS THEREFOR
I found this Spanish gentleman very patient in his sickness and ever of a grave and chivalrous courtesy, insomuch that as our fellowship lengthened so grew my regard for him. He was, beside, a man of deep learning and excellent judgment and his conversation and conduct a growing delight to me.
And indeed to such poor wretch as I that had been forced by my bitter wrongs to company with all manner of rogues and fellows of the baser sort, this Don Federigo (and all unknowing) served but to show me how very far I had sunk from what I might have been. And knowing myself thus degenerate I grieved mightily therefore and determined henceforth to meet Fortune's buffets more as became my condition, with a steadfast and patient serenity, even as this gentleman of Spain.
It was at this time he recounted, in his courtly English, something of the woes he and his had suffered these many years at the hands of these roving adventurers, these buccaneers and pirates whose names were a terror all along the Main. He told of the horrid cruelties of Lollonois, of the bloody Montbars called the "Exterminator," of the cold, merciless ferocity of Black Bartlemy and of such lesser rouges as Morgan, Tressady, Belvedere and others of whom I had never heard.
"There was my son, young sir," said he in his calm, dispassionate voice, "scarce eighteen turned, and my daughter—both taken by this pirate Belvedere when he captured the Margarita carrack scarce three years since. My son they tortured to death because he was my son, and my daughter, my sweet Dolores—well, she is dead also, I pray the Mother of Mercies. Truly I have suffered very much, yet there be others, alas! I might tell you of our goodly towns burned or held to extortionate ransom, of our women ravished, our children butchered, our men tormented, our defenceless merchant ships destroyed and their crews with them, but my list is long, young sir, and would outlast your kind patience."
"And what o' vengeance?" I demanded, marvelling at the calm serenity of his look.
"Vengeance, young sir? Nay, surely, 'tis an empty thing. For may vengeance bring back the beloved dead? Can it rebuild our desolate towns, or cure any of a broken heart?"
"Yet you hang these same rogues?"
"Truly, Senor, as speedily as may be, as I would crush a snake. Yet who would seek vengeance on a worm?"
"Yet do I seek vengeance!" cried I, upstarting to my feet. "Vengeance for my wasted years, vengeance on him hath been the ruin of my house, on him that, forcing me to endure anguish of mind and shame of body, hath made of me the poor, outcast wretch I am. Ha—'tis vengeance I do live for!"
"Then do you live to a vain end, young sir! For vengeance is an emptiness and he that seeketh it wasteth himself."
"Now tell me, Don Federigo," I questioned, "seek you not the life of this Belvedere that slew your son?"
"'Tis my prayer to see him die, Senor, yet do I live to other, and I pray to nobler purpose—"
"Why, then," quoth I fiercely, "so is it my prayer to watch my enemy die and I do live to none other purpose—"
"Spoke like true, bully lad, Martino!" cried a voice, and glancing about, I espied Joanna leaning in the opening to the cave. She was clad in her male attire as I had seen her first, save that by her side she bore the bejewelled Spanish rapier. Thus lolled she, smiling on me half-contemptuous, hand poised lightly on the hilt of her sword, all graceful insolence.
"Eye for eye, Martino," said she, nodding. "Tooth for tooth, blood for blood: 'tis a good law and just, yes! How say you, Senor Don Federigo; you agree—no?"
With an effort Don Federigo got to his feet and, folding his cloak about his spare form, made her a prodigious deep obeisance.
"'Tis a law ancient of days, Senorita," said he.
"And your health improves, Senor, I hope—yes?"
"The Senorita is vastly gracious! Thanks to Don Martino I mend apace. Oh, yes, and shall soon be strong enough to die decorously, I trust, and in such fashion as the Senorita shall choose."
"Aha, Senor," said she, with flash of white teeth, "'tis an everlasting joy to me that I also am of noble Spanish blood. Some day when justice hath been done, and you are no more, I will have a stone raised up to mark where lie the bones of a great Spanish gentleman. As for thee, my poor Martino, that babblest o' vengeance, 'tis not for thee nor ever can be—thou that art only English, cold—cold—a very clod! Oh, verily there is more life, more fire and passion in a small, dead fish than in all thy great, slow body! And now, pray charge me my pistols; you have all the powder here." I shook my head. "Fool," said she, "I mean not to shoot you, and as for Don Federigo, since death is but his due, a bullet were kinder—so charge now these my pistols."
"I have no powder," said I.
"I cast it into the sea lest I be tempted to shoot you."
Now at this she must needs burst out a-laughing.
"Oh, Englishman!" cried she. "Oh, sluggard soul—how like, how very like thee, Martino!" Then, laughing yet, she turned and left me to stare after her in frowning wonderment.
This night after supper, sitting in the light of the fire and finding the Don very wakeful, I was moved (at his solicitation) to tell him my history; the which I will here recapitulate as briefly as I may.
"I was born, sir, in Kent in England exactly thirty years ago, and being the last of my family 'tis very sure that family shall become a name soon to be forgotten—"
"But you, Senor, so young—"
"But ancient in suffering, sir."
"Oh, young sir, but what of love; 'tis a magic—"
"A dream!" quoth I. "A dream sweet beyond words! But I am done with idle dreaming, henceforth. I come then of one of two families long at feud, a bloody strife that had endured for generations and which ended in my father being falsely accused by his more powerful enemy and thrown into prison where he speedily perished. Then I, scarce more than lad, was trepanned aboard ship, carried across seas and sold a slave into the plantations. And, mark me, sir, all this the doing of our hereditary enemy who, thus triumphant, dreamed he had ended the feud once and for all. Sir, I need not weary you with my sufferings as a planter's slave, to labour always 'neath the lash, to live or die as my master willed. Suffice it I broke free at last and, though well-nigh famished, made my way to the coast. But here my travail ended in despair, for I was recaptured and being known for runaway slave, was chained to an oar aboard the great Esmeralda galleas where such poor rogues had their miserable lives whipped out of them. And here my sufferings (since it seemed I could not die) grew well-nigh beyond me to endure. But from this hell of shame and anguish I cried unceasing upon God for justice and vengeance on mine enemy that had plunged me from life and all that maketh it worthy into this living death. And God answered me in this, for upon a day the Esmeralda was shattered and sunk by an English ship and I, delivered after five bitter years of agony, came back to my native land. But friends had I none, nor home, since the house wherein I was born and all else had been seized by my enemy and he a power at Court. Him sought I therefore to his destruction, since (as it seemed to me) God had brought me out of my tribulation to be His instrument of long-delayed vengeance. So, friendless and destitute, came I at last to that house had been ours for generations and there learned that my hopes and labour were vain indeed, since this man I was come to destroy had himself been captured and cast a prisoner in that very place whence I had so lately escaped!"
Here the memory of this disappointment waxing in me anew, I must needs pause in my narration, whereupon my companion spake in his soft, dispassionate voice:
"Thus surely God hath answered your many prayers, young sir!"
"And how so?" cried I. "Of what avail that this man lie pent in dungeon or sweating in chains and I not there to see his agony? I must behold him suffer as I suffered, hear his groans, see his tears—I that do grieve a father untimely dead, I that have endured at this man's will a thousand shames and torment beyond telling! Thus, sir," I continued, "learning that his daughter was fitting out a ship to his relief I (by aid of the master of the ship) did steal myself aboard and sailed back again, back to discover this my enemy. But on the voyage mutiny broke out, headed by that evil rogue, Tressady. Then was I tricked and cast adrift in an open boat by Adam Penfeather, the master—"
"Penfeather, young sir, Adam Penfeather! Truly there was one I do mind greatly famous once among the buccaneers of Tortuga."
"This man, then, this Penfeather casts me adrift (having struck me unconscious first) that I might secure to him certain treasure that lay hid on this island, a vast treasure of jewels called 'Black Bartlemy's treasure.'"
"I have heard mention of it, Senor."
"Here then steered I, perforce, and, storm-tossed, was cast here, I and—my comrade—"
"Indeed, sir. For with me in the boat was a woman and she the daughter of my enemy. And here, being destitute of all things, we laboured together to our common need and surely, aye, surely, never had man braver comrade or sweeter companion. She taught me many things and amongst them how to love her, and loving, to honour and respect her for her pure and noble womanhood. Upon a time, to save herself from certain evil men driven hither by tempest she leapt into a lake that lieth in the midst of this island, being carried some distance by a current, came in this marvellous fashion on the secret of Black Bartlemy's hidden treasure. But I, thinking her surely dead, fought these rogues, slaying one and driving his fellow back to sea and, being wounded, fell sick, dreaming my dear lady beside me again, hale and full of life; and waking at last from my fears, found this the very truth. In the following days I forgot all my prayers and the great oath of vengeance I had sworn, by reason of my love for this my sweet comrade. But then came the pirate Tressady and his fellows seeking the treasure, and after him, Penfeather, which last, being a very desperate, cunning man, took Tressady by a wile and would have hanged him with his comrade Mings, but for my lady. These rogues turned I adrift in one of the boats to live or die as God should appoint. And now (my vengeance all forgot) there grew in me a passionate hope to have found me peace at last and happiness in my dear lady's love, and wedded to her, sail back to England and home. But such great happiness was not for me, it seemed. I was falsely accused of murder and (unable to prove my innocence) I chose rather to abide here solitary than endure her doubting of; me, or bring shame or sorrow on one so greatly loved. Thus, sir, here have I existed a solitary man ever since."
"And the Senorita Joanna, young sir?"
When I had told him of her coming and the strange manner of it, Don Federigo lay silent a good while, gazing into the fire.
"And your enemy, Senor?" he questioned at last. "Where lieth he now to your knowledge?"
"At Nombre de Dios, in the dungeons of the Inquisition, 'tis said."
"The Inquisition!" quoth Don Federigo in a whisper, and crossed himself. "Sir," said he, and with a strange look. "Oh, young sir, if this be so indeed, rest you content, for God hath surely avenged you—aye, to the very uttermost!"
HOW THE DAYS OF MY WATCHING WERE ACCOMPLISHED
Our fresh meat being nearly all gone, I set out next morning with my bow and arrows (in the management of which I had made myself extreme dexterous); I set out, I say, minded to shoot me a young goat or, failing this, one of those great birds whose flesh I had found ere now to be very tender and delicate eating.
Hardly had I waved adieu to the Don (him sitting in the shade propped in one of my great elbow chairs) than I started a goat and immediately gave chase, not troubling to use my bow, for what with my open-air life and constant exercise I had become so long-winded and fleet of foot that I would frequently run these wild creatures down.
Away sped the goat and I after it, along perilous tracks and leaping from rock to rock, joying in the chase, since of late I had been abroad very little by reason of Don Federigo's sickness; on I ran after my quarry, the animal making ever for higher ground and more difficult ways until we were come to a rocky height whence I might behold a wide expanse of ocean.
Now, as had become my wont, I cast a look around about this vast horizon and stopped all at once, clean forgetting my goat and all else in the world excepting that which had caught my lonely glance, that for which I had looked and waited and prayed for so long. For there, dim-seen 'twixt the immensity of sea and sky, was a speck I knew for the topsails of a ship. Long stood I staring as one entranced, my hands tight clasped, and all a-sweat with fear lest this glimmering speck should fade and vanish utterly away. At last, dreading this be but my fancy or a trick of the light, I summoned enough resolution to close my eyes and, bowing my head between my hands, remained thus as long as I might endure. Then, opening my eyes, I uttered a cry of joy to see this speck loom more distinct and plainer than before. Thereupon I turned and began to hasten back with some wild notion of putting off in Don Federigo's boat (the which lay securely afloat in the lagoon) and of standing away for this ship lest peradventure she miss the island. Full of this dreadful possibility I took to running like any madman, staying for nothing, leaping, scrambling, slipping and stumbling down sheer declivities, breasting precipitous cliffs until I reached and began to descend Skeleton Cove.
I was half-way down the cliff when I heard the clash of steel, and presently coming where I might look down into the cove I saw this: with his back to a rock and a smear of blood on his cheek stood Don Federigo, armed with my cut-and-thrust, defending himself against Joanna; and as I watched the flash of their whirling, clashing blades, it did not take me long to see that the Don was no match for her devilish skill and cunning, and beholding her swift play of foot and wrist, her lightning volts and passes, I read death in every supple line of her. Even as I hasted towards them, I saw the dart of her long blade, followed by a vivid, ever-widening stain on the shoulder of the Don's tattered shirt.
"Ha-ha!" cried she and with a gasconading flourish of her blade. "There's for Pierre Valdaigne you hanged six months agone! There's for Jeremy Price! And this for Tonio Moretti! And now for John Davis, sa-ha!" With every name she uttered, her cruel steel, flashing within his weakening guard, bit into him, arm or leg, and I saw she meant to cut him to pieces. The sword was beaten from his failing grasp and her point menaced his throat, his breast, his eyes, whiles he, leaning feebly against the rock, fronted her unflinching and waited death calm and undismayed. But, staying for no more, I leapt down into the cove and fell, rolling upon the soft sand, whereupon she flashed a look at me over her shoulder and in that moment Don Federigo had grappled her sword-arm; then came I running and she, letting fall her sword, laughed to see me catch it up.
"Ha, my brave English clod," cried she. "There be two swords and two men against one defenceless woman! Come, end me, Martino, end me and be done—or will you suffer the Don to show you, yes?" And folding her arms she faced me mighty high and scornful. But now, whiles I stared at her insolent beauty and no word ready, Don Federigo made her one of his grand bows and staggered into the cave, spattering blood as he went.
And in a little (staying only to take up the other sword) I followed him, leaving her to stand and mock me with her laughter. Reaching the Don I found him a-swoon and straightway set myself to bare his wounds and staunch their bleeding as well as I might, in the doing of which I must needs marvel anew at Joanna's devilish skill, since each and every of these hurts came near no vital spot and were of little account in themselves, so that a man might be stabbed thus very many times ere death ended his torment.
After awhile, recovering himself somewhat, Don Federigo must needs strive to speak me his gratitude, but I cut him short to tell of the ship I had seen.
"I pray what manner of ship?"
"Nay, she is yet too far to determine," said I, glancing eagerly seawards. "But since ship she is, what matter for aught beside?"
"True, Senor Martino! I am selfish."
"Unless she be ship of Spain, here is no friend to me. But you will be yearning for sight of this vessel whiles I keep you. Go, young sir, go forth—make you a fire, a smoke plain to be seen and may this ship bring you to freedom and a surcease of all your tribulations!"
"A smoke!" cried I, leaping up. "Ha, yes—yes!" And off went I, running; but reaching Deliverance I saw there was no need for signal of mine, since on the cliff above a fire burned already, sending up huge columns of thick smoke very plain to be seen from afar, and beside this fire Joanna staring seaward beneath her hand. And looking whither she looked, I saw the ship so much nearer that I might distinguish her lower courses. Thus I stood, watching the vessel grow upon my sight, very slowly and by degrees, until it was evident she had seen the smoke and was standing in for the island. Once assured of this, I was seized of a passion of joy; and bethinking me of all she might mean to me and of the possibility that one might be aboard her whose sweet eyes even now gazed from her decks upon this lonely island, my heart leapt whiles ship and sea swam on my sight and I grew blinded by stinging tears. And now I paced to and fro upon the sand in a fever of longing and with my hungry gaze turned ever in the one direction.
As the time dragged by, my impatience grew almost beyond enduring; but on came the ship, slow but sure, nearer and nearer until I could discern shroud and spar and rope, the guns that yawned from her high, weather-beaten side, the people who crowded her decks. She seemed a great ship, heavily armed and manned, and high upon her towering poop lolled one in a vivid scarlet jacket.
I was gazing upon her in an ecstacy, straining my eyes for the flutter of a petticoat upon her lofty quarter-deck, when I heard Don Federigo hail me faintly, and glancing about, espied him leaning against an adjacent rock.
"Alas, Senor," says he, "I know yon ship by her looks—aye, and so doth the Senorita—see yonder!" Now glancing whither he pointed, I beheld Joanna pacing daintily along the reef, pausing ever and anon to signal with her arm; then, as the ship went about to bear up towards the reef, from her crowded decks rose a great shouting and halloo, a hoarse clamour drowned all at once in the roar of great guns, and up to the main fluttered a black ancient; and beholding this accursed flag, its grisly skull and bones, I cast me down on the sands, my high hopes and fond expectations 'whelmed in a great despair.
But as I lay thus was a gentle touch on my bowed head and in my ear Don Federigo's voice:
"Alas, good my friend, and doth Hope die for you likewise? Then do I grieve indeed. But despair not, for in the cave yonder be two swords; go fetch them, I pray, for I am over-weak."
"Of what avail," cried I bitterly, looking up into the pale serenity of his face, "of what avail two swords 'gainst a ship's company?"
"We can die, Senor!" said he, with his gentle smile. "To die on our own steel, by our own hands—here—is clean death and honourable."
"True!" said I.
"Then I pray go fetch the swords, my friend; 'tis time methinks—look!" Glancing towards the ship, I saw she was already come to an anchor and a boatful of men pulling briskly for the reef where stood Joanna, and as they rowed they cheered her amain: