SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 1918
The Pirate Woman
by Captain Dingle
Author of "The Coolie Ship," "Steward of the Westward," etc.
[Transcriber's Note: This novel was originally serialized in four installments in All-Story Weekly magazine from November 2, 1918, to November 23, 1918. The original breaks in the serial have been retained, but summaries of previous events preceding the second and third installments have been moved to the end of this e-book. The Table of Contents which follows this note was created for this electronic edition.]
Table of Contents
November 2, 1918
I. THE CAVE OF TERRIBLE THINGS. 193 II. DOLORES RECEIVES HER DIADEM. 196 III. THE GROVE OF MYSTERY. 200 IV. THE PIRATES' BARBECUE. 203 V. MILO SIGHTS A SAIL. 206 VI. THE PARTY FROM THE YACHT. 209
November 9, 1918
VII. THE ATTACK ON THE FEU FOLLETTE. 466 VIII. DOLORES DELIVERS JUDGMENT. 469 IX. THE SULTANA DECIDES SEVERAL THINGS. 472 X. A REED SHAKEN BY THE WINDS OF PASSION. 475 XI. PASCHERETTE UNVEILS HER PURPOSE. 477 XII. SANCHO SETTLES HIS ACCOUNT. 480 XIII. DOLORES FLOATS THE FEU FOLLETTE. 488
November 16, 1918
XIV. YELLOW RUFE'S FINISH. 697 XV. THE FIRES OF THE FLESH. 701 XVI. PEARSE ENTERS THE CAVE OF ALADDIN. 704 XVII. THE TREASURE TEST. 707 XVIII. PASCHERETTE DEALS AGAIN. 711 XIX. WHILE VICTORY HANGS IN THE BALANCE. 715
November 23, 1918
XX. DOLORES DEMANDS A DECISION. 147 XXI. THE SLUMBERING SAVAGE. 150 XXII. THE FLIGHT OF THE FEU FOLLETTE. 153 XXIII. STUMPY FIRES THE MAGAZINE. 155 XXIV. MILO CROSSES THE BAR. 157 XXV. THE TOLL OF THE GODS. 159
The Pirate Woman
by Captain Dingle
Author of "The Coolie Ship," "Steward of the Westward," etc.
THE CAVE OF TERRIBLE THINGS.
A great unrest brooded over mountain and forest; the blue Caribbean lay hushed and glaring, as if held in leash by a power greater than that which ordered its daily ebb and flow.
Men moved or stood beneath the trees on the cliffside in attitudes of supreme awe or growing uneasiness, according to their kind: for among them were numbered Spaniard and Briton, creole and mulatto, Carib and octoroon, with coal-black negroes enough to outnumber all the rest—and it was upon these last that profound awe sat oppressively.
Apart, followed by a hundred furtive eyes, Dolores, daughter of Red Jabez, ranged back and forth before the mighty rock portals of the Cave of Terrible Things, like some magnificent tigress hedged with foes. Beyond those portals Red Jabez, Sultan of pirates, arbiter of life and death over the motley community, lay at grips with the grim specter to whom he had consigned scores far more readily than he now yielded up his own red-stained soul. Red Jabez was dying a death as hard as his lurid life had been.
Beyond those rock portals none save Jabez and Milo, the herculean Abyssinian slave, had ever passed. Dolores, next in line, was in ignorance as deep as her meanest slave, concerning what lay beyond the great mass of rock which formed the door, and which Milo alone could move. She knew, as did every one, that the great chamber of Red Jabez held some vast mystery; she suspected, as did the rest, that it concealed wealth beyond dreams; deep down in her soul she hoped that inviolate chamber held for her the means of emancipation; but of this hope, none knew save herself. For Queen of Night though the white men called her, Sultana though she was named with fear and submission by the blacks, though her power was second only to that of Red Jabez, and barely less than his, a canker gnawed at the heart of Dolores, the canker of a suspicion that her power was but a paltry power, her freedom but a caged freedom.
Somewhere beyond the great ocean that stretched away before her eyes lay a world she knew nothing of; yet since her earliest childhood her keen mind had told her that the silk with which she was clothed, the jewels that encrusted her dagger-hilt, the ships whose pillage had yielded up these things, must come from lands far distant, more desirable than the maroon country of Jamaica. More, her ears attuned to the whisper or roar of the sea, the sigh or shriek of the winds, carried to her the mutterings of men long held in leash, who now saw in their chieftain's death the realization of their own wild dreams of riches and release. All these things told her that the great, strange world beyond the sea-line was something for her to strive for; not for the rabble who called her queen.
She paced back and forth, a splendidly lithe, glowing creature of beauty and passion, every movement a grace, each grace such as befitted a royal woman conscious of mental and physical perfection. Her hair surrounded her face and shoulders in a lustrous, rippling cloud, through which peeped a bare arm and breast stolen from the goddess of beauty; her tunic of quilted Chinese silk hung from one shoulder by a strap fashioned from the ribbon of the Star of Persia, and fastened by the star; her strong, slender waist was girdled with a heavy gold cord that supported a long, thin dagger, no toy, in a jeweled sheath; the hem of her single garment rang with gold sequins to the movement of her smoothly muscular knees; her high-arched feet were protected from thorns and shells by sandals of red leather.
As the moments passed, and no sign came from within the cave, Dolores restrained her impatience with increasing difficulty. The men scattered around were not of such stuff; they felt the impending crisis settle heavily upon them, and white and black alike drew together for the comfort of close touch. From time to time a hardier spirit uttered his thoughts aloud, yet always with a glance of uncertainty toward Dolores. They had reason to glance that way; for every man had tasted of the queen's justice, which rarely erred on the side of mildness; many of them had experienced her terrible competence to carry out a sentence in person. Of them all, not one but knew that in Dolores he owned as queen a woman who need yield nothing of prowess to any man: her knife was as swift, her round wrist as strong, her blazing violet-black eyes as sure as any among them. Not a man could ever forget the offending slave whom she had thrashed with her own hands, disdaining assistance, until the wretch tore loose and fled screaming to the cliff to pitch headlong into the shark-infested sea; nor could they forget her unhesitating dive and terrific struggle to recover him and her completion of the interrupted punishment when she had brought him back.
Yet the stress proved too great, even in face of these memories, and a tall, powerful Spaniard, heavily earringed, handsome, with a swart, brutal beauty, delivered a scorching oath to the heavy air and exclaimed fiercely:
"A curse on this babe's play! Must men stand here like whipped curs until a slave commands us enter? Come! Who'll follow me past that door? I'll know what lies behind this mummery if I choke it from old Jabez's withered neck as he dies."
The man stepped forward two paces, glaring defiantly at Dolores, waiting for men to follow. An uneasy shuffling of feet was his only answer for a moment; then his eyes shifted with cooling ardor at sight of Dolores. For a breath after he had ceased speaking, the girl stood like a splendid statue, except for the glitter of her eyes and a slight quivering of her limbs; it was as if she awaited some response; then her face relaxed into a contemptuous smile, and her crimson lips parted to reveal her even, gleaming teeth. She laughed, a rippling little laugh like the tinkle of steel links, and with a single gliding movement that permitted no avoidance she swept to within two feet of the now frightened ruffian.
"Yes? Yellow Rufe would choke words from a dying man!" she cried. "Nothing that lives and can stand on two feet is in danger from such as he. Peace, slavish dog!" she panted, flinging out a gleaming hand and seizing him by one earring. "Thus I mark curs that seek their food among the dead!" With the words Dolores's right hand flashed upward, knife-armed, and across Rufe's cheek glared a crimson cross; into his eyes leaped the fear of death.
"Now go!" she said imperiously, pushing him away. "Let no man forget that while the life is in Red Jabez he holds thy lives in pawn. When his spirit goes, ye shall reckon with me!"
Rufe staggered away, half incredulous that his punishment had fallen short of death. His companions led him apart with many a backward glance of apprehension at the authoress of his discomfiture, and a deep, sullen muttering rippled through the crowd. Dolores resumed her solitary pacing without another thought for the hardy rascal she had so swiftly and effectively softened. Her eyes were ever bent toward the great rock; her thoughts were centered on a vague, mysterious instinct which whispered to her that with her first admission into that frowning cavern the mantle of fierce old Red Jabez would fall upon her, and with it would come power that a Czar might envy! A Czar's power, indeed, but with all of a Czar's cares and more; for Czar never ruled over subjects like these.
A sudden hush fell upon the place; the mutterings ceased as if tongues were stricken stiff. Rufe, with his head now enwrapped in crossed bandages, stared toward the great rock with a wavering expression in his smoldering eyes, an expression that hovered between reluctant submission, reawakened cupidity, and dawning hope. Dolores stood motionless, imperious in every line and feature, her heavy eyelashes veiling the eagerness in her eyes, her red lips curved in royal indifference.
The great rock was turning.
Slowly, yet with the flawless regularity of a millwheel, the mass of stone was rolled upward and to one side; it rested at last on a ledge, balanced perfectly, ready to fall again at the touch of a finger; and in the aperture appeared the human agent of its opening.
Milo, the giant Abyssinian, guardian of the rock, custodian of the Cave of Terrible Things, bone of contention for the jealous and terror of the strongest, filled the entrance with his colossal frame and looked out with a calm dignity that made the whites cringe with hatred. Slowly, with stately grace, the giant advanced until he stood before Dolores, and in his coal-black eyes shone the light of limitless devotion. He knelt, kissed the sequins on her tunic's hem, then, with both hands pressed to his forehead, he bowed his face to the earth at her feet.
"Rise, Milo," said Dolores, gently, and her breath caught painfully as she spoke. She knew what the slave came for; every man in that community of pirates, wreckers, escaped slaves, and convicts knew as well as she. All had awaited this moment, knowing when it came that the mystery of the cave would be a mystery no longer to at least one of them: all knew that the summons meant the passing of the old pirate who had brought them together, ruled them with blood and iron, and forced from them a homage none of them would render to his Maker.
"My Sultana, it is time," said Milo, rising and waiting. He needed to say no more.
"Lead me to my father, then," replied the girl, and stepped after the giant with sure step and resolute face, giving no heed to the renewed shuffling and congregating of her people, nor to Rufe, who again stood out before the rest and addressed them in fierce tones.
Dolores entered the great hewn-rock doorway and in spite of her stout heart and steel will she thrilled in every fiber. At the end of the frowning passage, whose ruby lamps but accentuated the gloom and imparted to it an infernal glow, lay the great chamber that only the chief might enter. What would she find there? Her father, yes, and dying! Otherwise this summons had never come. The death must be upon him now; the fierce old sea-king had held his throne-room inviolate through many bouts with the grim Reaper, knowing his own strength to conquer. But now he had called, and Dolores sought the unknown with a curiosity that beat down fear.
Behind her a heavy thud echoed along the rocky walls, and the outer light was cut off by the falling of the great stone. In a moment Milo stood beside her and, taking her hand in his, led her along the utterly invisible floor until she stood before a massive door. Her feet sank into the pile of heavy carpets; her nostrils quivered to the delicate odors of burning spices; at the top of the door a great jeweled lantern cast a rich, yellow light down the panels, and the girl gasped involuntarily at the sight revealed to her. Each panel was formed of scales that overlapped like a serpent's; the scales were roughly hammered gold and silver, richly chased, and studded thickly with gems—without any conjecture she knew them to be precious vessels that should have graced an altar, split, perhaps with a bloody cutlass, and beaten out into irregular plates to gratify some grim humor of the terrible old corsair in the long ago. Neither hinges, handle, lock, nor latch appeared on the surface; apparently the door was solidly embedded in the mighty rock itself. The giant laid a hand on the side of the door-frame, and Dolores waited with impatience for admission. For all her schooled self-control her eyes glinted with astonishment when Milo stood aside and bowed low, saying:
"Enter, my princess!"
Without a sound the massive door had vanished, sliding up and out of sight in the dark recess of the roof, leaving smooth, steel-lined slots at sides and bottom that reflected the polish of scrupulous care. Dolores stifled her surprise, and moved toward the heavy velvet hangings which still barred her way. These, too, were swept aside with no visible effort, and the girl stood on the threshold of the chamber of mystery.
DOLORES RECEIVES HER DIADEM.
In a great canopied bed, taken from some rich looted Indiaman, Red Jabez lay motionless as an effigy in stone. His tall, powerful body was sharply outlined in coverings of silk and rare lace; the arms and crest of a ducal house were worked into the pillows that supported his massive head. His drawn, haggard face was surrounded and all but covered with a great mane of vivid red hair; his silken shirt, wide open at the neck, revealed a massive chest, whose tide of respiration had all but ceased to run. Only his eyes, fierce yet, held token of lingering life; it was as if the vital spark was concentrated into one final blaze of tremendous brilliancy.
The fierce eyes moved swiftly at Dolores's entrance, and one might have said a film of tenderness swept for an instant over the hard glint in them. It was gone as swiftly as it came, and the stare settled unwaveringly upon the stupefied girl. For stupefaction had gripped Dolores in that first entry into the great chamber. Her wildest dreams, and they had been at times fantastic, had never showed her anything measurably approaching the scene that smote her eyes now. For the moment death, Red Jabez, her destiny, everything melted into the visionary beyond and left her capable of no volition.
The great bed stood in the center of a vast cavern; sides, roof, floor, every inch of the rock itself bore proof of the handiwork of hundreds of cunning craftsmen; but the furnishings filled Dolores's eyes to the exclusion of all else. Divans and chairs, cabinets and tables carried the mind far away to the realm of emperors and kings; vases from China and Greece stood on stands of boule-work; a tall ebony-and-ivory clock-case, in which ticked sonorously a masterpiece of Peter Hele, stood between two gorgeous pieces of Gobelin tapestry. And around her and above, Dolores's amazed eyes lighted upon gems of the painter's art such as few collections might boast. The entire ceiling was covered with a colossal "Battle of the Amazons," by Rubens, each figure thrown out in startling distinctness, full of voluptuous life and action; the walls were mantled by vast golden frames holding the best of Titian, Correggio and Giorgione, Raphael and Ribera. And jewels flashed everywhere; cunningly placed lamps, themselves encrusted with the reddest of rubies, the subtlest of green emeralds, flooded walls and furnishings with a soft yet searching light which seemed to be carefully calculated to accentuate those things whose beauty demanded light, yet to leave the eye unwearied.
"The hour has struck, my Sultana," said Milo anxiously, and Dolores shook off the spell and approached the great bed. Red Jabez closed his eyes as she leaned over him, and his lips now alone gave evidence of life. The girl, reared among the wildest of desolate isolation, knowing no softening ties of family, her impulses and emotions those of a beautiful animal, and increasingly so because of her station among the rabble that called the dying man chief, stared down at her terrible parent without a trace of visible regret: rather in her eyes shone the triumph of a victor about to enter upon a conquered kingdom. But the red pirate was speaking, and she bent her ear to catch his words. It required no physician's knowledge to perceive in his damp face all the signs of imminent dissolution.
"Dolores, my traverse is run," whispered Jabez. The effort all but stole his breath. He paused; then summoning all the tremendous will that had dominated his frame when surging with strength, he told what he had to say in short sentences, nursing the flickering spark to force his speech. "Never leave here, girl. Let no man go, either. The world has forgotten me and all of us; but memory is tenacious—it will revive at a hint; every throat that pulses with hot life here—yes, my daughter, even your fair throat—was measured years ago—a rope awaits every one. But here—"
"Yes, father?" Dolores shivered in the pause; the silence chilled her. The giant Abyssinian stood at the head of the bed, and now moistened the dying lips with wine. Red Jabez strained convulsively, snatching at his throat, and resumed with weaker voice.
"Here I have been king; here you are queen; all these things you see, and many more, are yours; life and death are in your hands to give or withhold. Keep the steel hand, though you wear the glove, Dolores. You have learned power; with the greater power you take from this chamber, and with Milo, let nothing, no man, stir your fears. Keep this chamber as I have kept it; it is your strength; when danger threatens to beat you down, here you will find—"
The fluttering whisper ceased. The old pirate lay rigid. Dolores, having heard so much, yet so little, hovered over the bed in an ecstasy of unsatisfied hunger for more; Milo stood by, a magnificent statue in living bronze, his eyes set in a steady blaze on the face of his master. Once more the blue lips moved. Dolores darted down with eager ear, her hands clasped as if in supplication.
"Milo—tell," came the whisper, and with it went up the soul of Red Jabez to face a tribunal more dread than any earthly judge his body had eluded. And the tall clock ticked his knell.
Dolores flung herself down on the bed, patting the dead face with nervous fingers; but she was dry-eyed, no filial despair raised tumult in her breast, her pleading was for the impossible—for the dead lips to speak—and when she was refused her plea, she sprang from the couch in a paroxysm of royal fury:
"Now, by the powers of evil, he shall lie uncoffined until those secretive lips read me the riddle they have half told!" she cried, pacing between bed and wall with uplifted arms and hard, glittering eyes. She suddenly paused in her wild walk, turned swiftly, and reached the bedside with the same subtle, gliding sweep that had carried her before Yellow Rufe; it was a characteristic movement with her—a compound of the gliding dart of the tiger-shark and the silent-footed pounce of its jungle brother. Milo roused from his dejection and sprang from his knees with amazing promptitude, but he had yet to round the bed-foot when the splendid fury stood panting over the corpse.
"Speak!" she cried, shaking the coverlet savagely. Milo, with horror in his shining face, gently removed her hand, then stood before her with bowed head, his cavernous chest heaving wildly.
"Fool! Leave me!" she snapped, and struck the slave with all her savage force on the cheek. Milo's face turned gray for a flashing instant, then the doglike devotion that filled his heart shone through his eyes, and he knelt at the furious girl's feet, his head to the ground. In a moment he stood up and, laying a hand reverently upon Dolores's shaking shoulders, he gazed deep into her eyes. She shivered again at the uncanny hint of volcanic might effused by the giant—volcanic, yet quiescent for the moment. His lips opened to speak; and she sprang to the reaction. Now a fresh fury seized her at the slave's temerity; she flung off his hand, and snatched forth her dagger.
"Strike, Sultana," said Milo simply. He drew aside the strap of his leathern tunic, baring his heart. "Strike, but first suffer thy slave to release thee from this tomb."
"Release? Tomb? What talk is this?" gasped Dolores, her dagger held poised aloft, her lips quivering.
"A tomb it is if thy servant falls, Sultana. None save I can open the great door. Close it? Yes, any might close it. Come, I will lead thee out of this awful presence; then at the gate thou shalt send Milo to his master who loved him."
Slowly Dolores slipped her dagger into the sheath, and her face was bowed in confusion. All her life, the giant slave had tended her, guarded her steps and her sleep, taught her the exercises that had made her feared by all the turbulent crew outside; and she was now permitted the saving grace of remembrance. She gave him her hand, and allowed him to place it upon his head, always his favorite means of expression when she followed an outburst of rage with contrition; and in softer tone she begged for an answer to the riddle that had been left with her.
"Come, Sultana," Milo said, once more laying a hand on her shoulder, this time without resentment from her. "Thy father, the Red Chief, left much to be told; I will tell thee all, but not now. Patience, princess," he pleaded, catching the warning glint in her eyes, "dost thou hear nothing? Listen attentively—no, not in here, outside—bend thy ear to this tapestry; 'tis before a cunning sounding stone through which voices may well be heard on the cliffside. Listen."
Dolores listened with bad grace, for she regarded this as a subterfuge of the giant's, and resentment was very ready to rise in her again. But in a moment her indifference vanished; she grew alert; her body tensed, and her limbs quivered; the glitter of a queen in righteous anger lighted her eyes, and she raised an unnecessary hand to impress silence upon the slave.
"Hast hear this before now?" she demanded in a vibrant whisper.
"Since thou entered, Sultana. It could be nothing but rebellion; yet was I loath to burden my chief with this trouble in his hour of passage. But I know now that it has risen to heights which demand swift action; therefore I have made thee aware of it."
"'Tis that villain Rufe again!" muttered Dolores, still pressing her ear against the tapestry. The murmur of a hundred voices came clearly to her, and above all sounded the high-raised shout of one who harangued the rest. At periods the murmuring became a howl, and the triumphant note in it left scant room for doubt as to the nature of the address. The girl, faced with the responsibility of decided action, no longer able to depend on the wisdom and terrible power of Red Jabez, stepped from the wall with panting heart and parted lips, but with no trace of fear. Uncertainty moved her; uncertainty as to the resources of the great chamber, whose mysteries had scarcely begun to unfold for her ere the curtain was dropped again. Her stout spirit decided for her.
"Come, lead me out, Milo," she ordered, drawing herself royally erect and slipping her dagger around nearer her hand. "We must cool that rabble before the fire spreads further. Take a weapon, open the door, and follow me."
"It is the decision of a fit daughter of my chief," replied Milo, his great frame expanding to the bounding energy that surged through him. Unknown to her, his eyes had never left Dolores while she was making her decision; now joy and ardor suffused and transfigured him. Slave he was, yet it was he who looked the royal part in that instant.
"Wait but a breath," he said, and reached in two gigantic strides a massive oaken chest heavily fastened with wrought iron. Lifting the lid with reverence, he took out a plain gold circlet and returned to Dolores.
"Thy father bade me make this and keep it until thou wast my Sultana, indeed," he said. He raised the heavy, dull-gold band, and placed it upon Dolores's brow with the courtly homage of a born noble. It fitted to perfection—as indeed it should, since the loving fingers that had fashioned it had crept around the girl's sleeping head many times to that end—and feminine vanity would not permit Dolores to ignore the fit. She stepped over to a long gilt-framed mirror, and her beautiful face grew dark and her violet eyes dusky at the glorious reflection that gazed out at her.
"It is well, Milo; I thank thee," she smiled. "Now to scatter the rats that gnaw at my walls. Lead out quickly."
Milo entered the passage, raising the plated door and letting it fall after them. He disdained to carry a weapon; but Dolores was content, for she had witnessed what those huge hands could do. As they approached the great stone at the entrance, the sounds outside rang through the corridor, and the sharp reverberations that accompanied them at intervals told of an assault on the rock itself with pikes, crowbars, or other smaller rocks. Milo stooped to the sill of the rock, and placed his hands beneath it.
"Stand away," he whispered, and strained his arms. "Let thy servant go out and silence this clamor—"
"Open quickly!" she interrupted him, imperiously. "It is not for the slave to precede the sovereign. Peace, and open."
Her hand was on her dagger, her head was raised proudly; every inch and line of her figure irradiated splendid strength and surety; Milo heaved at the rock, and smiled blissfully. This was indeed how he had dreamed of his Sultana when she should come into her own.
He heaved steadily, and the great rock rose from one side, rolling up and up until it balanced on the ledge; but Milo knew there was some agency at work that hindered the raising of it; never before had it been a task to bring sweat to his brow, and now he dripped from every pore. The rock refused to balance without his hand upon it, and he dared not take his shoulder away to look over the top lest it fall and crush him. He cast an appealing look toward Dolores, who was impatiently waiting for him to stand clear, and she stepped past him to the outside. She was greeted with a roar of derision that echoed far down to the sea.
"Peace, dogs of the devil!" she cried with one hand upraised. A roaring guffaw answered her. Then a burly ruffian, one-eyed and marked by a great cutlas-scar that ran from his chin across his broken nose and ended somewhere among the roots of his hair, stepped forward with a smirk of confidence, and made a mock curtsy.
"Queen o' the pirates, we salute ye!" he said. Then threw away all pretense, and swore a ripping curse to the destination of his soul. "Come, my girl," he shouted, "the game's played to a finish. Th' old buck is dead, an' we want some o' them pretties he hid away inside. You're a nice gal, I don't deny, and we ain't going to harm ye if ye don't hinder us; but we ain't playin' kings an' queens no more. Come now, let the big feller take us in, and say no more about it, for have our fling, we will."
The mob had edged nearer, until now they surged around the entrance so close to Dolores that she felt the breath of the leaders. She noticed with sharp wonderment that Yellow Rufe was not among the foremost; but she was given no time to surmise, for the mob pressed on until she was forced either to risk an advance or give ground. A little shock rippled through her when she turned swiftly to see how Milo fared, and found him gone. The mob saw it, too, and seethed about her with hungry faces.
"Come on, lads!" they howled. "Milo's gone inside to open up the loot for us." A grimy hand snatched at the girl's tunic, and in a flash the entrance was choked with fiercely striving shapes.
With a gasping cry of fury Dolores struck aside the bold hand, and with a panther-spring she was upon him. One slender, brown hand, strong as a steel claw, gripped his throat; the other hand gripped a glittering dagger that swept like the arrow of fate to his heart and dropped him a log at her feet. Just for a breath the crowd paused in awe; then hoarsely growling they packed forward again, and Dolores found herself fighting desperately against men maddened into steel-armed wolves, thirsty for her blood in payment for that split. She more than held her own by sheer skill and suppleness for a space; but assailed from all sides save the back she speedily felt her limbs growing heavy and awkward, and a cutlas sang above her bent head when her foot had failed, leaving her without guard or avoidance.
Then she knew that she had been permitted to win her spurs. For the threatening cutlas was caught in mid air by a huge bare hand, wrenched from its owner's grasp, and returned point first into the assailant's breast. And Milo's deep voice rang in her ear:
"Step into the passage, Sultana, and swiftly. Have a care for the body on the floor, but tarry not. To pause is to die!"
She felt herself drawn inside, the battle seemed to leave her isolated, the passage was as still as a cloister after the turmoil outside, and she stumbled along in the dim red glow, barely avoiding tripping over a body on the floor which a glance showed her to be a corpse. This was the man who had tried to crush back the rock door on Milo.
Dolores spurned the body with her foot, and abruptly turned back, in a rage to think that she had permitted the giant slave to order her into skulking security. She halted as swiftly as she had turned; for in the aperture at the end of the passage the huge form of Milo stood, both hands raised, and in them a cask was poised. A queer, spluttering sound at first puzzled Dolores; then she made out a short, hanging fuse depending from the cask, and it spluttered as it dwindled, flinging sparks around the giant's bowed head until the point of fire seemed ready to disappear in the bung-hole.
"Treasure for dogs!" roared Milo. "Divide it among thee!" The great rock thudded down as the cask hurtled out into the mob; the next instant the cavern shook and quivered to a terrific explosion; a moment after the earth might have been dead for all sound in the passage; yet another moment and the outer world rang with cries and shrieks, curses and entreaties, and Milo bowed low to his mistress and said:
"Now if my Sultana deems fit, it is time to show this scum of the earth their sovereign."
"Wait, Milo," replied Dolores, shuddering slightly at sight of him. The giant was streaked and splashed with blood; for in those moments when he stood defenseless before casting his infernal machine, a dozen cutlases and knives had sought his life.
"Pardon thy slave," he returned, sensing her meaning. "I will go thus. 'Twere not good that these dogs should know their wounds can hurt. Such scratches are nothing. They are paid for in full."
"It is well. Lead out again, good Milo, and fear not for me. With thou beside me I am armed in proof."
Again they emerged into the air, but now a deathly silence received them. Silence broken only by the rustling of garments, as a withered old crone shambled forward and cast herself at Dolores's feet.
THE GROVE OF MYSTERY.
Dolores stood still, sweeping the scene of destruction with a gaze of flinty penetration. The groveling crone at her feet affected her like something unclean, and she spurned the old woman with her foot, stepping aside with a gesture of disgust. Then she raised her right hand, and cried with bitter scorn:
"Come, my brave jackals! Come to the feast prepared for thee." She lowered her hand and with a contemptuous smile indicated the gruesome results of the explosion of Milo's awful bomb.
On the edge of the forest the hardier rascals had halted; at her word they glared loweringly at her and the impassive giant at her back; from the shadow of the trees yellow and brown and black faces peered in quivering terror; but none responded to her command to approach her. The old woman on the ground alone made audible reply, and her slavish whining enraged Dolores. With a stamp of her sandaled foot she tore from her waist the gold cord, slipped off the dagger sheath, and fell upon the wretched old servitor with a shower of blows.
"Silence, old cat!" she cried, and the blows fell heavily. "Up with thee, and away. Go quickly, and make ready the altar in the Grove of Mystery. Cease thy bleating, old witch, and summon thy shaky wits against the ordeal I shall put thee to. Some one among ye stirred up the rising which resulted as ye now see. That one I shall know before sundown, and he shall bitterly repent him. Away!"
Dolores was astonished at seeing no sign of Rufe, but outwardly she showed none of her astonishment. A more vital consideration was present in the disobedience of the motley crew who as yet made no effort to come to her call. Drawing herself fully erect when the old woman departed, she again stretched out her hand and cried:
"Dogs of Satan! I await your homage. Red Jabez lies dead: yet his spirit lives in me, your queen. By so many breaths that ye flout me, by just so many torments shall I have ye torn. Come, dogs. Kneel!"
A hoarse murmur went up from the forest edge, and first one by one, then in knots of half a score each, the negroes and half-breeds slunk into the open and approached her with eyes full of panic. The whites, not so susceptible to abstract influence, still hesitated, drawing near to each other in growling consultation. Dolores gave them no sign, though she watched them keenly from under her lowered lashes. She gave her attention to the line of abject creatures who filed slowly past her, each one stopping to grovel in the dust at her feet and passing on. These Milo halted near by and herded into a shivering, frightened mob. And Dolores's cool disregard of the whites had its calculated effect. One by one they stepped out into the open as had the colored men; the more timorous, or superstitious, came first, some wearing shamed grins, others palpably impressed by the example of the others and shuffling on their way uncomfortably. Last of all came the bolder spirits, and these wore faces intended to express contempt, or at least sarcastic indifference; but the faces changed invariably on closer approach to the queen. Memory proved a stubborn master; in every man's breast remembrance clamored to them to have a care how they bore themselves before this beautiful fury they called queen.
Still Yellow Rufe came not.
When all had knelt, and all had been herded by the giant Milo in two separate parties, the number was tallied, and of the whites, besides Rufe, seven were missing. One lay inside the passage; of the rest there were remains lying about the rocky wall to the cavern that might be three men or six—human discernment could never decide which.
Dolores faced her mongrel subjects again and her dark eyes blazed with fire, her beautiful face was dark with surging blood, every line of her lithe figure quivered as she spoke:
"I seek the dog who stirred ye up to mutiny!" she cried. "Yellow Rufe, if it be he, is not among ye, nor is he one of these carrion scattered on the ground. If it be some other villain, him I will know before the sun has stretched my shadow to the cliff. Deliver him up to me, and he alone shall repay. Disobey, and every biting dog among ye shall swiftly learn the price of disobedience. I wait."
The sun was fast setting, and already the shadows had grown long. Five minutes at most would see the shadow of Dolores's head at the base of the great rock, and the blacks started whimpering with apprehension. Among the whites a tremendous quiet reigned; but sullen brows here, snarling teeth there, gave hint of their interest in the sun's progress. Still no man spoke. Rather they looked at each other questioningly as the minutes flew, as if the culprit were indeed not among them.
But Dolores was wise beyond her years, wise with a wisdom bred of her volcanic existence in such a station, and she refused to be hoodwinked by the apparent absence of the man she sought. Her shadow touched the rock, and without another second of hesitation she turned toward the forest fringe, walking with majestic carriage and looking neither to right nor left. She simply uttered one short sentence: "To the Grove!"
Every man with dark blood in his veins followed her like a sheep, for terrible things had been witnessed in the Grove of Mysteries: things far beyond the understanding of such men. The sullen whites hung back again, for their colder blood was not impregnated with the fears and superstitions that exerted such tremendous sway over their colored fellows. Still Dolores gave them never a look; she walked on, and the forest closed behind her, as if she believed her footsteps followed by every foot in the unruly crew.
It was Milo who constituted her dependable rearguard. Milo was there, and Milo would see to it that no skulker declined his queen's command. There lay the reason why Dolores so placidly turned her back to men whose dearest ambition would have been realized by the plunge of steel between her shoulders at that moment. Milo walked around to the rear of the hesitant mob, and without a word gripped the hindmost in his two great hands and hurled him bodily over the heads of his mates in the desired direction.
"Swine!" swore a harelipped Mexican, whipping out his cutlas. "I'll see your black heart for that!" and furiously made play to avenge insult to his sorely handled fellow.
The black giant turned as calmly as if his mistress had called him, and seized the fellow's cutlas hand in one huge fist, crushing bone and steel into gory pulp without visible effort. His lips never opened, his tremendous chest was ruffled not one whit; Milo's eyes alone gave warning of what he might do if occasion arose; and fooled by his obvious carelessness, the white men closed around him, knives and cutlases drawn, frantic for his life.
They should have known better. Their lessons had been many and vivid; but not a man of them all was of the caliber to learn from a slave. Milo kept hold of his man's hand, and at the scrape of steel leaving scabbard, he brought up his free hand and grasped the fellow's left wrist. Then, springing aside with the resistless impulse of a charging buffalo, he gained a clear space, and began to swing his victim by the wrists.
One complete circle was made with the human club, then a catlike ruffian watched his chance and darted in with murderous knife at Milo's breast while the dreadful club was at his back. Cool as a mountain spring, the giant immediately let go his man, letting him fly far behind him like a stone from a catapult. In a twinkling of an eye, the great hands that released the one captive closed afresh on the new assailant in front, and now the giant gave no further grace. His fingers tightened on the man's throat and the desperate face went black. Then, keeping the fellow ever before him, he suddenly flung him into the air by the waist, shifting holds with tigerish swiftness, and caught him by the ankles as he came down. He whirled the unfortunate wretch once, and three men went down under the terrible blow; the rest scattered with furious howls, bespattered with the blood of their comrade; but one more sight of the unruffled giant cowed them; none attempted further knife or sword-play. Then Milo smiled scornfully, and uttered: "Go!" and they went to the forest like jackals before the lion. The giant saw them on their way, and tossing his fearful weapon over the cliff, strode after them, an awful embodiment of relentless, all but limitless strength.
The forest lay hushed and dim beyond the fringe; whispering leaves and crackling twigs sounded sharp as a shower of stones in the stillness. Great trees reared their majestic heads to mingle their foliage and shut out the light; every creeping, flying, walking creature seemed awed into a vague murmuring that was deeper than silence. The Grove of Mysteries was a semicircular space of cool, mossy sward, bowered in great trees and tangled vine screens; its background was the bare rock of the cliffside itself—actually, though unknown to the rabble, the outer rocky wall of the great chamber—and against this stood the altar.
The old woman had made use of her skinny limbs to good effect, impelled by a fear that had become terror. The altar was resplendent in silk and velvet, fashioned for an altar very different from this; but in place of the vessels usually associated with so sacred a piece of furniture, the Altar of the Grove was embellished with a mosaic of skulls and bones surrounding a complete skeleton which held its head in one grisly hand.
In the hollow eye-sockets glowed a weird fire that darted forth at irregular intervals like glances of demoniacal hate; at the altar foot a great censer erupted a dense cloud of pungent smoke that rendered the altar and those about it still more vague and ghostly. And the glade was full of cowering, slavering blacks and half-breeds, whose superstitious terrors reached high tide with each succeeding swirl of smoke or outflash of eye-socket fires.
Dolores went directly to the old woman, who stood in cringing subservience with a plain white garment in her hands. This she placed on the girl's shoulders, fastening it at the bosom with a small skull of jade stone whose grinning teeth were pearls, and whose eye-sockets were empty with an awful blackness. The gold circlet was discarded, and in its place Dolores placed on her head a turban formed from a stuffed coiled snake, whose neck and head darted hither and thither on cunning springs with her every motion and gesture.
To this awesome place came the herd that Milo drove before him; and not a man among the hardened crew was hardy enough to carry his bravado into the Grove. Blacks and whites alike, no matter what their inmost thoughts might be, yielded to the spell of the place the moment their feet trod the sward and the congregation settled into the places allotted to them.
Dolores glided out in front of the altar, and eyes glittered, dusky throats went constricted and dry with terror when she stirred up the brazier and was hidden for a moment in the rising volume of blue smoke in which flashes of devilish light played incessantly. Milo stepped up behind and above the altar, and as the smoke reeked about him vanished seemingly into the face of the cliff. There, in an unsuspected outlet to the great chamber, was the key to much of the magic with which Dolores kept her turbulent crew on the borderline of fear. She flashed a glance holding much of anxiety after her giant servitor, and busied herself about the altar to gain time.
She had received from his hands as he stepped up the effigy of a man in black wax, and now she advanced with hand upraised for silence. It was unnecessary: the silence of the dead prevailed in the Grove. With the image held aloft Dolores was a magnet that drew all eyes inevitably. Six inches tall, the image was a cleverly modeled composite of every type in the motley band; and every man realized this. Placing the effigy on the altar, Dolores seized from the brazier a glowing coal with her bare hands and placed it behind the figure. Then she flung both hands high and her vibrant voice pealed through the Grove.
"Regard all men the voice of the gods! By this sacred fire shall this image be melted; and when it is gone, out of its many likenesses shall remain the shape of him who stirred ye to mutiny against me. That shape I shall show ye by the power of my will. Lest ye disbelieve that I have this power, behold! Look for proof in the smoke behind me!"
As she spoke she stirred the incense to a dense cloud of smoke, and her blazing eyes, turned from her people, peered through the reek for a reassuring sign from the rock, for what she now demanded of Milo called for superhuman swiftness and surety. As the seconds sped, she kept the smoke swirling thickly, and her voice rang out in a weird incantation that kept the spectators trembling with the growing suspense.
Then a triumphant note entered her speech; the smoke rose thicker for an instant, then dissolved; and as it vanished, high on the rocky cliff, framed, as it seemed, in the solid rock itself, stood the grim, cold figure of the dead Red Jabez.
In this, her grave extremity, Milo the strong, Milo the slave, more than all, Milo the faithful, had not failed her.
THE PIRATES' BARBECUE.
A moment of ghastly hush prevailed, then the Grove shook from sward to tree-tops—pandemonium broke loose and all were in turmoil.
No need now to wait for the verdict of the wax image; no further shifting of brazen glances, or winking of knowing eyes. Shrill voices of terrified blacks, hoarse bellowings of the hardiest rascals who had ever kissed a dripping cutlas, the throaty roar of men who had played willing lieutenants to the ringleader: all pealed up to high heaven for the culprit to come forth and taste of the queen's justice rather than wait for her vengeance.
"Rufe! Yellow Rufe!" they howled. They howled it until the forest echoed with the word.
"Peace, Devilspawn!" cried Dolores, covering the crowd with an all-embracing smile of utter scorn. "Think ye I need to hear the name? Go, all of ye! Fill your swinish skins with liquor, and trouble me no more this day. When I will that Yellow Rufe appear, here he shall be drawn, whether he will or not. And in your carousal let this thought be with ye: Ye are dogs and slaves of dogs; by my will ye live, at my word ye die. The Red Chief is dead; I am your law, your queen, owner of your bodies and souls! Let any of ye seek to imitate Yellow Rufe, and Milo shall pick your limbs apart as if ye were flies. Go now; there is rum broached, and wine; make a barbecue, and fill yourselves to bursting like the vultures ye are!"
"Hello, lads, that's your sort!" roared a purple-faced ruffian with a hang-lip. "A right proper gal is that. Give her a huzza and crack yer pipes, lads!"
"Bravo, Hanglip!" bellowed another of the same kidney. Spotted Dog had lost part of an ear, and the same knife had seamed his flabby jowl into the likeness of a bloodhound's cheek; his deeply-pitted visage completed the ensemble, and no other name would have fitted him as well. "Bravo, old cutthroat! Let her play queens an' fairies, if she wants to. Here's for th' jolly grog, lads. Hey, Stumpy, start a cheer for th' pretty wench!"
So had the spell of the Grove left them immediately they smelled the fleshpots. But Dolores still held the altar; and Stumpy, having a keener memory perhaps than most of his fellows, took the warning that flashed from her angry eyes. He shivered slightly as his gaze met hers, then, hopping forward on his one good leg and club-foot, he swung a knotty fist against Spotted Dog's creased jowl and growled:
"A turn wi' that poison tongue, Spotted Dog. All hands, too, hear me talkin'. Here's a royal feast spread for us, an' th' spreader's queen o' th' pirates! Don't ever ferget that, lads. I ain't hankerin' fer what Rufe'll get. Away wi' you, now, an' I'll slit th' winepipe o' th' dog as says disrespect to th' queen."
And so the rascals trooped down to their hut-village. Noisily, profanely, full of horseplay and ear-burning jests; but never a voice spoke any word that failed in its homage when Dolores was the theme.
Snugly settled around the great rock door, the pirates' village looked out from a broad level platform over the darkening evening sea. In the center, its rear abutting on the rock itself, stood the great council hall and the dwelling of Dolores. In front of this black slaves busily heaped a great bonfire; torches were thrust into iron rings on doorpost and tree-trunk; noisy ruffians tramped into a cool cave in the rock and trundled forth casks and horn cups; while Sancho, the Spaniard, bent over a whetstone, giving his knife a final edge against the arrival of the meat.
A venomous devil was this Sancho, and his contorted face, with the missing eye covered by a black patch, worked demoniacally in the gathering darkness with each leaping flame of the ignited torches. The hand that clutched the knife was a thing of horror; two fingers and half the thumb remained from some drunken brawl to serve the Spaniard in future play for work or debauch; and the man, crouching low over his stone, made a picture of incarnate hate that had no humor in it.
"Where's th' flesh?" screamed Sancho, looking up, his mutilated thumb running creepily along the knife-edge.
"Whet your tusks, lads, here's the blessed manna!" squealed Caliban, a hunchbacked terror, who kept his maimed carcass secure by virtue of his viperish temper, coupled with an uncanny skill of the cutlas. "Milo's our man! Huzza for Milo!"
Out from the trees stalked the giant Abyssinian, and the shadows and torchlight distorted him to grotesque proportions. He walked as if his weight was nothing; yet on his great shoulders he bore a half-grown ox, its feet hobbled, its tongue hanging from its panting mouth. Straight to the fire he stepped and cast his burden down, turning again without a word and going back to the rock portals.
"Meat for men!" screamed Sancho, crouching again, knife in hand.
"For men!" echoed Caliban ferociously, and whipped his cutlas out. "Stand clear!" he howled, and Sancho dodged aside. The little terror's blade sang through the air with a wicked whistle; it curved high over Sancho, then flashed down and plunged through the throat of the ox, pinning the beast to the earth. And when he recovered his breath the Spaniard swooped upon the prize, and his knife completed what the dwarf had well begun.
Then began an orgy that must render description bald and colorless. Casks were broached by knocking out the heads; long horns of cattle were filled to slopping over with rare wine or powerful rum; and then up leaped Hanglip on to an unbroached cask, cup in hand, and bellowed a toast that set the trees, the sea, the skies clamoring with rasping applause.
"The next vessel as heaves in sight, lads! May her sails be silk, her masts be gold, and her great cabin full o' rum, with a pretty wench sittin' atop o' every keg!"
From the fire came the odor of roasting meat, and the black night came down outside, making of the small circle where the pirates sprawled a blotch of infernal light, peopled with infernal shapes. But a sprinkling of faces a shade less evil leavened the mass; for to the feast came trooping the women of the camp: of a kidney with the men—yet women, with women's beguilements and softnesses.
Dolores sat alone in the great chamber, careless of the noise outside, her beautiful face dark with somber passion. Beside her chair Milo had placed her treasure chests; hers now, through the death of the terrible old corsair who had amassed them. Idly she had heaped the table with a glittering collection of gems that an empress might well have found interest in; but Dolores frowned as at so much dross, for her thoughts were far away. The filmiest of lace and silken shawls, jeweled slippers, gossamer-gold head dresses, pearls and rubies from India and Persia—all lay in confusion at her hand, and aroused no spark of joy in her breast. From time to time her brooding eyes flashed and fastened upon a priceless Rembrandt "Laughing Cavalier" on the wall opposite; they flashed again when her gaze shifted to a colossal Rubens "Rape of the Sabines"; her face lighted for an instant when her fingers in groping closed upon a cobwebby golden net, scintillating with cunningly wrought jeweled insects caught in the meshes, which had once graced the all-powerful head of Pompadour.
"Where such things are, are better!" she whispered vehemently, clenching her strong, slender hands fiercely. "Where such are fashioned and worn there are people worthy my power. My people! Pah!" she burst out passionately. "My people? Dogs! Cattle! Brutes without souls! There—" she flung a hand impetuously toward the "Laughing Cavalier"—"there is the pirate who should call me queen! There"—with a gesture toward Rubens's great canvas—"are men that I would command. Here, I must stay, why? Because a dead man willed it so. May I wither eternally if I make not my own laws. Milo!"
She clapped her hands, and in a moment the giant was before her, reverent awe in every line of his huge body.
"Are my beasts well fed?"
"They eat like crocodiles, guzzle like swine, Sultana."
"See that the liquor flows freely, Milo. And a word in thy ear. We shall go from here as quickly as the fates will send a ship. Let no sail pass henceforth."
"Lady, that may not be—"
"Silence! Give me no may not! When I, Dolores, will to go, who shall stay me?"
"Death lies beyond the horizon for thee as for all of us, Sultana. Pirate the Red Chief was last of the band; every man who calls thee queen is under sentence of death; the pillage of a hundred ships lies here. Here is safety. The Red Chief's law—"
"Peace! I am the law! Seek me that ship—and quickly. Shall I live among such carrion, when the world is peopled with such as those?" she cried with a sweeping gesture toward a life-size "Three Graces," by Correggio, epitomizing feminine grace indeed.
"Thou art fairer, Sultana," replied the giant simply; and the girl flushed warmly for all her moody dissatisfaction. She smiled kindly upon the slave, and said more softly: "Thy devotion pleases me, Milo. Yet is my will unchanged. Seek me that ship. I will go from here. Stay, if thou wilt, or art afraid."
"Lady," returned the giant, "when the Red Chief, thy father, took me from the slave ship he gave me liberty—liberty to serve him. He has gone; my care is now the queen, his daughter. Going or staying, Milo remains thy bodyguard. Pardon if I offended thee; thy father desired what I have told thee. But the ship. This evening, at sundown, a sail leaped in sight beyond the Tongue."
"This evening! And ye said no word of it?" cried Dolores, blazing with fresh anger. She leaned forward in her chair as if crouching for a spring.
"It passed as swiftly as it appeared, Sultana. No other eye save mine saw it; the men know nothing—"
"It is well, Milo. I had forgotten thy eyes were twice as keen as any other man's. Keep that condor's vision of thine bent to seaward, and tell no man of what comes into view. Bring me the news; I shall know how to keep my rascals in hand. Now go and send to me a woman to serve me: a young woman, nimble and deft; give the old woman to the cooks for scullery drudge."
"A woman here, Sultana?"
"Here! What bee buzzes in thy great head now?" The giant again looked grave; the girl's impatience surged anew.
"Sultana, don't forget that, save thee and me, servant of the great chamber, none may enter here and go alive?"
"Now by the fiend, enough!" blazed the girl. "Again, I am the law! Wilt have it imprinted on thy great body with my whip?"
Milo made a low obeisance, departed without further speech, and in a few moments ushered in from the bacchanalian revels a maid for his mistress.
"Pascherette will serve thee well, Sultana," he said, leading the girl forward. He saw approval in Dolores's face and departed, his luminous black eyes unwontedly soft and limpid.
MILO SIGHTS A SAIL.
Day broke through a silver haze, and as the blue sea unrolled to view, far down to the southeast, flashed a pearly sliver of sail lazily drawing in to the coast. It was the merest streak of white against the sky, and none but Milo's sharp eyes could have seen it. Even at that distance, and indistinct though it was in the mist, the giant detected the three masts crossed with yards that proclaimed the vessel a full-rigged ship. He gazed long and earnestly, to assure himself of the ship's progress, then hurried along the mountain toward the village.
He strode with the free stride of a perfect creature, swinging from the hip and covering the ground at a common man's running pace. His vast chest heaved and fell easily and rhythmically, the golden-hued skin rippling and flashing in the rising sunlight; every line of limbs and torso was the outward and visible sign of abounding health; the straight black hair falling to his shoulders framed a keen, powerful face of Semitic mold, in which the high brow and calm, fearless eyes belonged rather to one of the blood-royal than to a slave. And rightly, too, for Milo, the giant, was of princely line in his own land, and his present servitude was an accident that had yet failed to rob him of his birthright of dignity.
He came abreast of and above the haven where lay the stout sloop and boats of the community, and the sounds of noisy industry about the craft brought a frown and a sneer to his face. It reminded him too vividly of his actual station, and violently dragged him back from the realm of visions he had allowed himself to indulge in. The pirates were busily overhauling their gear, filling water casks, calking dried-out seams, and sluicing opening decks with copious streams of water, just as they were used to do in the palmy days when Red Jabez kept them gorged with pillage.
Milo hurried faster, for he feared they too had sighted his ship, and sprang down to the shore to accost surly Caliban.
"Here, Milo old buck, stick yer beak into this, lad!" screamed Caliban, thrusting forward a brimming horn of wine. The giant declined impatiently, waving a hand toward the activity afoot.
"What, won't drink luck, hey?" cried the dwarf, emptying the horn himself. "Ain't got the news yet, hey?"
"News? What news can such as thee have that I am not told?" demanded Milo contemptuously. Caliban scowled viciously at his tone, but the giant's hands were strong, and the little ruffian loved his warped life. He flung down his horn and retorted: "We're to windward o' ye this time, Milo me lad. Th' queen bade us be ready for a lamb headed this way, an', sure enough, there comes a craft now, a'most in sight from here. Small fish, true, but sweet after so long a spell o' famine."
Milo knew that the ship he had seen could not possibly have been detected from the village. It must be yet another craft, and, without a word, he bounded back up the cliff and scanned the waters closer inshore. There, sure enough, lay a beautiful white schooner, her paint dazzling to the eye, her decks flashing with metal, her canvas faultless in fit and set and whiteness. She was still five miles distant and slowly edging along the coast, as if indifferent to her tardy progress. The giant noted her exact position, then presented himself to Dolores.
The girl was luxuriously submitting to the skilful attentions of Pascherette; her wealth of lustrous hair enveloped her like a veil, rendering almost superfluous the filmy silken robe she had donned. But at sight of Milo all her feline contentment fled, and she thrust the maid from her and stood up to receive his report.
"A ship?" she flashed.
"Two, Sultana. The men make ready now."
"The men? Dolt! Did I not tell thee to keep such news for me?"
"They saw the small vessel while I was beyond the Tongue. They have not seen the ship I saw, nor have I told them. It is a great ship, lady; theirs is but a small, poor thing."
"I will see it." Dolores suddenly remembered the maid, whose presence she had ignored. Pascherette stood apart, a small, fairylike French octoroon, dainty as a golden thistledown; her full red lips were parted in eager inquisitiveness, and her slim, small body leaned forward, as if to catch every word; but at sight of her Dolores burst into knowing merriment, for the girl's eyes told her story. They were fastened in intense, burning adoration, not on the mistress but on Milo, the giant slave.
"La-la, chit!" Dolores cried; "keep thy black eyes from my property." But more weighty matters than a maid's fluttering bosom demanded her attention, and she commanded sharply: "Milo, summon the men to the council hall at once. Let none be absent. Go swiftly!" Milo went, and Dolores flashed around on Pascherette again: "And thou, hussy, take this clinging frippery from me and give me my tunic. And, mark me, girl, thy eyes and ears belong to me. Thy tongue, too. Let that tongue utter one word of what those eyes see, those ears hear, and it shall be plucked from thy pretty mouth with hot pincers. Remember!"
Dolores put on her tunic and swept out to steal a long look at the white schooner before entering the hall.
Into the council hall the pirates came trooping, tarry, wet, soiled with the estuary mud as they were, and stood in a milling mob awaiting speech from Dolores, who entered from the rear and scanned their faces closely. Shuffling feet and whistling breath would not be stilled, even in her presence, for their appetites were already whetted for a victim, and the fumes of the previous night's debauch lingered. They glared at the girl and cursed impatiently.
"Hear!" commanded Dolores with an imperious gesture, and every sound was muffled, not stilled. "Hear, my brave jackals! For long ye have hungered for employment fit for the royal corsairs ye are. Now the meal is to hand." The hall reverberated with the clamor that went up. Cutlases scraped from their scabbards and swished aloft; bold Spotted Dog snatched out his great horse-pistol and blazed into the floor, filling the place with acrid smoke and noise. Dolores's eyes flashed angrily; she governed her fury, and went on when the uproar subsided: "Your boats are ready?"
"Ready and rotting wi' idleness!" roared Hanglip.
"And ye purpose wasting powder and shot on some paltry craft of the islands! Wait, my brave lads, I have better game at hand!"
Now the crowd was hushed in earnest, for none of them saw more than a frolic coming from such a small craft as the schooner. The girl went on to tell them of the big ship that Milo had seen, and she painted it a rich West Indiaman, loaded to the hatches with rum and powder, gold and jewels, delicate meats and—with emphasis which she carefully cloaked yet made vivid—dainty ladies, no doubt.
"Take ye the sloop, then," she commanded, "and bring me no tale of failure. Ten miles southwest from the bluff she lies becalmed. Let no man return without tribute for me. Go now!"
With a whoop the evil ruffians tumbled out, hurling themselves pell-mell down to the shore, and splashing out to the boats. Their sloop, a long, beamy Cayman-built craft, of eighty tons and twelve murderous guns that were cast for a king's ship, could be handled by four men or a hundred. She carried fifty men now, and she sped out of the estuary before the faint breeze with a velocity that spelled certain doom for any square-rigged ship she ever lifted over the horizon.
Dolores watched them go with inscrutable face; then commanded Milo to attend her in the great chamber. Pascherette, not yet over her fright, hovered tremblingly near, and her mistress dismissed her with a pacifying pat on the head, flinging, at the same time, a string of pearls around her neck that brought mingled gratitude, greed, and conceit into her sparkling eyes.
"How stands the schooner now?" Dolores asked when the girl had gone.
"She drifts slowly, Sultana. There is little wind. Yet she ever comes nearer."
"Milo, that is my ship!" breathed Dolores fervidly. "I have jewels and silken trash, the richest in my store, which my father told me were taken from such a vessel. A yacht, he called that craft. 'Tis sailed for pleasure; trade never soils the holds of such craft; men who sail such a vessel as that which now hovers near us are of the kind from which comes such as that!" Once more she indicated the "Laughing Cavalier," and now her form and face were filled with surging ambition strengthened with ardent hope.
"How goes our sloop?" she asked abruptly.
"Swiftly, but with the dying breath of the wind. By noon she will be swinging idly, Sultana."
"Who of the boldest rascals remain with us?"
"The noisiest dogs have gone. Sancho remains, for Stumpy cracked his head last night in a brawl. The others here are but cattle!" The giant uttered the words with bitter scorn.
"Then, at noon, Milo, we move to secure my ship!" Dolores cried with gleaming eyes. "Set slaves to move out the false Point and anchor it a cable-length off the true. I will have a plan then to lure the schooner on. We must not let her escape, Milo!"
"Pardon, lady, I know a way!"
"I will swim to the schooner and command them to thy presence."
Dolores smiled whimsically, for she was too wise to be ignorant of the fact that such men as were in that schooner must first be caught before they might be commanded. Yet the giant's plan suggested another to her.
"Hear my plan," she said. "That chit—Pascherette—she's a dainty minx! Does she swim?"
"Like a conger, Sultana!" Milo's face lighted warmly, and Dolores shrewdly guessed then that the petite octoroon's regard for the giant was not altogether unrequited.
"Then carry her abreast of the vessel, quickly, and bid her swim out to it. Let her use some of the cunning that is in her pretty little head, and make them wonder what else our island has to offer in dainties. Then, ere evening, I shall have work for thee that shall complete what Pascherette begins. Command the minx to bring forth all her fascinations and allurements. Nay, friend, have no fear for thy sweetheart. I warrant thee she can care for herself, if she will. Go! It is my command!"
Milo departed, and Dolores went out to the Grove, climbed nimbly to the cliff-top, and sat down to watch. She had a clear view of the schooner now winging lazily along three miles away and a mile off shore; the shore, from the point where her rascals were even now towing out a great mass of interlaced trees and foliage planted upon stout logs to form a false point, right along to abreast of the schooner, lay immediately beneath her eye; the blue sea glittered and flashed under the hot sun, unruffled by wind, and only bursting into a long line of creamy foam, where it licked the golden sands. The tall palms nodded languorously, their deep green heads faintly chafing like sleeping crickets; the tinkle of the sands came up to her ears like tiny bells.
Dolores followed with her eyes two swiftly moving figures on the shore path, hidden from the ocean by a mass of verdure, and she smiled cryptically. The giant Milo strode on his way like the embodiment of force; at his side tripped Pascherette, her glossy black crown barely reaching above his waist, her tiny hand hidden completely in his great fist. And she kept her bright eyes raised to his great height all the while, satisfied that her little feet should trip, perhaps, if only her eyes tripped not from his face.
Presently they stopped, and Dolores stood up alertly. There was but a moment's delay, while Pascherette bound her hair more securely; then, with a flirting hand-wave, the little octoroon darted from Milo, wriggled through the bushes, and ran lightly down to the sea. In another moment her small, black head was moving rapidly toward the schooner, her golden skin flashing warmly in the sun as her arms swept over and over in an adept stroke that carried her forward with the speed of a fish.
THE PARTY FROM THE YACHT.
The schooner yacht Feu Follette swam sluggishly along shore, her lofty canvas flapping in the faint air. On her spotless quarter-deck, Rupert Venner, wealthy idler and owner of the vessel, lounged in a deck-chair a picture of the utter finality of boredom. His guests, Craik Tomlin and John Pearse, made perfunctory pretense of admiring the lovely coast scenery along the port hand; but their air was that of men surfeited with sights, tired of the languorous calm, blase of life.
The schooner's appointments typified money in abundance. From forecastle capstan to binnacle she glowed and glittered with massive brass and ornate gilding; along the waist six burnished-bronze cannon stood on heavily carved carriages, lashings and breechings as white as a shark's tooth; over the quarter-deck double awnings gave ample clearance to the swing of the main boom—the outer of dazzling white canvas, the inner of richest, striped silk-and-cotton mixture. The open doors of the deckhouse companion revealed an interior of ivory paneling touched with gold, and hung with heavy velvet punkahs. The walls were embellished with exactly the right number of art gems to establish the artistic perception of the owner and to whet the expectation for more yet unseen. But, with all this, the Feu Follette housed a discontented master and discontented guests.
"Oh, for a breeze!" grumbled Pearse, breaking in on the frowning silence. "How much longer are we to drift around these stagnant seas, Venner?"
"The very next slant of wind shall wing us homeward," replied Venner dreamily. "I, too, am sick of the cruise and its deadly monotony."
Again silence, marred only by creak of gear and flap of idle sails. The schooner barely moved now, though the western sky held promise of a breeze later on. Then came a cry from one of the negro crew forward, and its tenor stirred the party into mild interest.
"De debbil, ef 'tain't one o' dem marmaids! Oh, Caesar!"
A ripple of panting laughter alongside brought Venner and his guests to the rail in haste, and gone to the windless heavens was their ennui. A gleaming, gold-tinted creature, a miniature model of Aphrodite surely, arose from the blue sea and climbed nimbly into the main channels and thence to the deck, where little pools of water dripped from the radiant figure. She shook her small head saucily, and heavy masses of raven-wing hair tumbled about her, provokingly cloaking the charms so boldly outlined by her single saturated tunic of fine silk.
"Who in paradise may you be?" ejaculated Venner, while his friends stared with unconscious rudeness.
"I? I am Pascherette!" laughed the small vision, and her black eyes sparkled impudently.
"Pascherette!" echoed Tomlin, bewildered. "Does Jamaica hold such beauties?" He awkwardly brought forward a deck-chair, while Pearse stood by in speechless amazement. Venner, as better became the host, ordered a steward to bring a wrap for the astounding visitor, but the girl laughed provokingly and declined both.
"It is not for such as I, fine gentlemen," she said, and her sharp eyes were roving busily about the schooner, appraising values like a veritable pirate. "Keep thy courtesies for better than I."
"Better than you, girl?" Venner's tone was incredulous. He was taking mental stock of the priceless pearls about Pascherette's dainty throat. "To be found here?"
"If not here, where shall ye find such a one as my mistress?" Pascherette retorted saucily.
"Without doubt. I am but a slave, my lady is the queen, Dolores."
"A queen—a white woman?" stammered Venner.
"Oh, Venner, let us look into this!" exclaimed Pearse with unconcealed curiosity.
"Just what we have prayed for!" Tomlin supplemented eagerly. "Anchor, Venner, like a good fellow. A jaunt ashore will brace us all up."
"Nonsense!" objected the owner, albeit with a good trace of inquisitiveness himself. "The breeze will come by evening; and who knows what this coast harbors? A bad name sticks to this shore."
Pascherette had wandered forward, and between sly glances aft and keen scrutiny shoreward, she flung seductive smiles broadcast at the grinning crew, prattling prettily to officer and man alike, as if she were indeed a stranger to the ways of shipboard. While she made her rounds the party aft entered into a warm dispute; their curiosity was whetted, but not sufficiently in Venner's case, to whom the safety of the yacht was paramount just then. They wrangled for half an hour, and the schooner drifted on until she was within a mile or so of the outflung false Point. Then they were again startled out of their self-possession—this time by a cry from the girl who leaned over the bulwarks a picture of ardent admiration for something in the water.
Double awnings and snowy hammock-cloths restricted the view shoreward from the quarter-deck chairs, and surprise as deep as that which greeted the girl surged through the disputing three at a great splashing over the side, accompanied by the boom of a voice that must come from a powerful, free-breathing chest.
"Room for Milo, servant of Dolores!" the hail rang out, and by the same means as Pascherette had used, up climbed Milo, to stand motionless before the white men, an astounding and awe-inspiring shape.
"Another slave of the mysterious queen?" demanded Venner, when recovered from his astonishment. "It gets interesting, gentlemen. And what is your errand, Goliath?" he inquired of Milo.
"I know no Goliath. I am Milo. I come to summon ye to the presence of my queen," returned the giant with as much unconcern as if he were inviting the pirates to a barbecue.
A titter of amusement passed over the three yachtsmen. It was tinged with resentment, though, and only curiosity, aroused by shock upon shock, prevented an angry rejoinder to Milo's speech that could only have ended one way: in physical damage to three idle gentlemen of wealth and pleasure.
"A summons, hey?" scoffed Tomlin. "Your queen values her rank, I think." A dangerous gleam crept into Milo's eyes, and Pearse detected it in time. "Venner," he said quietly, "you cannot let this adventure pass. Here's every element of sport held up to us. Let us obey this command, and get at least a thrill out of this humdrum cruise."
Venner was thinking of many things, and his mind needed little making up. He had never lost sight of those pearls of Pascherette's; his eye could not be deceived; they were priceless. And Pearse had not failed to notice the green jade skull-charm that depended from Milo's columnar neck, a jade skull with pearls for teeth like the altar brooch of Dolores. And Tomlin, for all his expressed scorn, was tingling with ardent desire for such piquant beauty and vivacity as Pascherette's. If such a creature were the slave, then what could the mistress be? He assumed a more complaisant attitude, and added his vote: "A good way of passing away this odious calm spell, Venner. Let us go."
"Where is this great queen, my Colossus?" Venner asked.
"I will lead thee to her presence," replied Milo. "Thy boat will take us there in a few moments. Further on, beyond that point, the ship may lie safely in the haven."
Venner called his sailing master, and together they examined the chart. It showed a sand-bar stretching off the point, a deep-water channel, narrow but accessible, close to.
"You can work into that anchorage?" asked Venner.
"Yes, sir, if the air don't die away altogether. It seems good ground by the chart."
"Then carry the schooner in and bring up. Call away my cutter, and"—in an undertone—"keep a good watch, Peters, this is an evil coast."
* * * * *
The shrill pipes reverberated under the awnings, and sailors, neat and trim in white uniforms that contrasted beautifully with their dark skins, ran to man the graceful white cutter. Pascherette sat in the stern-sheets, cuddled up like a pretty kitten on a crimson silk cushion, and Milo stood erect, as firm as if on solid ground, between passengers and rowers as the boat sped shoreward. As the two craft separated the schooner stood out in veritable beauty, an exquisite thing of gold and ivory, pearl and rose. Venner's eyes lighted with pride at sight of her. Even a long, eventless cruise had not killed the artist in him. He touched Milo softly on the thigh and said with a smile:
"Has your queen anything like that, my friend?"
Milo cast a disdainful glance at the yacht, abruptly turned away again, and replied shortly: "That is nothing."
"Nothing!" said Venner. "Then where have you seen daintier work of men's hands and brains?"
"Thou shall see. Thy ship is a petty thing."
"Now, by Heaven, Venner, he has you there!" laughed Tomlin, never ceasing for a moment from ogling Pascherette, who purred with contentment and smiled slyly at the frown that came to Milo's face.
"Oh, yes, a poor thing!" laughed Pascherette, hugging her knees and rippling over with amusement. "My mistress is a great queen. These"—touching her pearls—"thy rigging could be formed of such, if my queen willed."
"And in the house of such a great queen, my girl, are doubtless other things of beauty and worth?" put in Venner with growing sarcasm.
"As witness this pretty wench!" smiled Tomlin, striving to fix the girl's capricious attention, which persisted in flying ever to Milo.
"Patience," returned Milo. "Do ye know of anything of untold worth—my queen has that which will buy it? Have ye seen a thing of peerless beauty—in my queen's house are many of its peers! Patience!"
No word more would the giant utter. Like a bronze statue he stood erect, guiding the cutter to a small landing with a silent gesture. And as the boat swept alongside and the yachtsmen began to experience the thrill of near expectancy, Pearse caught sight of a knot of men loitering on the nearby slopes, and their appearance startled him.
"Good Lord, look at those piratical ruffians!" he cried.
His companions started, and doubt came into their faces. Then Pascherette arose from her seat and pressed near to Tomlin, with an insinuating, caressing movement; and that ardent gentleman exclaimed impatiently: "Oh, never mind their looks! Come on Venner! This is what I've dreamed of all my life! Come on!"
Milo touched Pearse's arm, said briefly, "Come!" and that reluctant visitor stepped ashore; while Venner, after a little twinge of misgiving, succumbed to his curiosity regarding the hidden glories of this strange realm, and followed the great black readily enough.
Up the cliff they followed Milo, Pascherette running ahead and looking backward ever and again with a seductive gesture of invitation; and in good time they stood before the council hall, the loitering pirates staring at them wonderingly, and from them to the graceful white schooner just then entering the narrow channel.
"Enter!" said Milo, and stood aside at the open door.
The interior was dark and awfully still, and the three white men paused on the threshold doubtfully, regarding each other with half-ashamed faces.
"Enter!" reiterated Milo, and curiosity got the better of them, for a swirl of fragrance eddied out to them, and one by one, until the hall was dotted with them, ruby and amber lights twinkled before them, seeming to beckon them on to something mysterious in the shadows beyond the soft lights.
"Neck or nothing!" muttered Venner, leading the way. His friends followed in silence. Then the doors closed behind them; but fear, doubt, unbelief, all went to the winds at the spectacle that slowly unfolded itself before their gaze.
"Cleopatra reincarnated, by God!" gasped Venner. His friends could find no words to express their sensations in that moment.
Dolores glided out from the heavy hangings behind her chair of state, and stood, a vision of majestic loveliness, on the dais. Clad in her short tunic, her hair bound to her brow by the gold circlet that Milo had made, she had calculated effects with the art of a Circe. Her rounded arms and bare shoulders, faultless throat and swelling bosom, radiant enough in their own fair perfection, she had embellished with such jewels as subtly served to accentuate even that perfection. Upon one polished forearm a bracelet was pressed, a gaud formed from one immense emerald cut in a fashion that forced one to doubt the existence of such a cutter in mortal form. About her neck a rope of exquisitely matched black pearls supported a single uncut emerald which might have been born in the same matrix with that on her arm. Her red leather sandals were fastened, and her ankles crisscrossed, with such bands of glittering fire as a goddess might have stolen from the belt of Orion.
These things were revealed gradually by cunningly manipulated light effects until Dolores blazed out entire before her stupefied guests. They, seeking for relief from the spell, sought in her face some answer to the riddle; but her expression was that of a being apart: tantalizingly, inscrutably indifferent to their presence. Then Milo advanced, prostrated himself before her, and reported his errand done. "Rise, Milo, and I thank thee," she said, and her soft, yet vibrant, voice sent a thrill through her waiting guests. Dolores waved a hand toward the door. "Send Sancho in to me at once, Milo, and do ye watch for the return of my wolves."
The giant went out; yet the calm face of Dolores gave no relief to the three yachtsmen; uneasiness began to sit heavily upon them, and it was not lessened by the entry of Sancho, for such an awful impersonation of evil in one man they had never seen before.
"Sancho," Dolores commanded him, "it is my will that the vessel now entering my haven be cared for as mine. See to it!"
"The lads are hungry, lady; it is long since they tasted such—" Sancho snarled his protest with wickedly curling lips that revealed ragged yellow fangs. Dolores stared him down with blazing eyes, held his gaze for a breath and uttered: "Go! See to it! Thy life is the bond!" and Sancho slunk out like a whipped cur.
There was an uncanny hint of dynamic force in the girl's swift assumption of authority, and Tomlin found his throat very dry despite the fact that he was drinking greedily of her beauty. Venner stole a look at Pearse, and saw in that gentleman a reflection of his own rising uneasiness. And then, at that instant of shivery doubt, Dolores smiled at them; and in that same instant three men, with immortal souls, forgot everything of the world and affairs in the mad intoxication of her charm.
"Welcome, sirs," she smiled, and stepped down to offer each a hand in turn—not in handshake, but with an air that said plainly homage was due to her; and whether he would or not, each of her guests raised the hand to his lips with reverence.
"What is your pleasure, lady?" asked Venner quietly. He was resolved to show his friends the way into this magnificent creature's intimate confidence; and the resolution promised interesting developments, for each of his friends nursed a similar one. There was, even now, less of comradeship in the looks with which the friends regarded each other. If Dolores detected this, she made no sign. She gave a hand to Venner, led him to the door, and smiled invitation to the others. They followed hungrily.
"I will give thee food and wine," she said; "then I have much to say to thee. I have commanded that thy ship and thy men be cared for; to-night ye are my guests. Come! But first give me thy swords. Thou'rt with friends." They complied dumbly, dazed by her radiant charm.
They stepped outside into the glaring sunlight; a light breeze was now singing in the tall palms and making silvery music of the wavelets along the shore; far away to the southwest a sliver of sail was in sight, and to a practised eye could be made out as the pirate sloop returning. Dolores glanced swiftly around, seeking some evidence that her commands to Sancho were being obeyed; but she saw no man—no figure save the ancient crone she had discarded and sent to the drudgery of the kitchen. With a keen sidelong glance she saw that the schooner was heavily grounded on the Point; a second glance told her that her guests were thinking little of the schooner, for their eyes never left her face. But notice was forced upon them, and the reason for the camp's desertion impressed upon her, by the weird, drawn-out scream of jubilation that issued from the old woman's withered throat an instant before her old eyes gave her sight of her mistress and froze the cry at her lips.
"Ha, ha, ha!" she shrieked, waving skinny arms. "That's the way Red Jabez taught his lambs! Flesh your blade, my bully Rufe, and bring me some of the meat!"
Abruptly Dolores's guests swung around to follow the direction of the old woman's arm, and the girl darted a look of fury at the scene. Out from the point poured Yellow Rufe and a horde of strange mulattos and blacks, and shots crackled from the schooner's rails. On the little bay two boats filled with Sancho and his men pulled frantically toward the fight, and the haven rang with howls of gleeful anticipation. Venner uttered a smoking oath, and clutched Tomlin and Pearse by the arms.
"Come fellows!" he cried. "This is treachery!"
"Treachery? Ye wrong me, sirs!" Dolores's soft voice halted them. They stared at her, and she gave them back look for look until she saw the blood surge back to their faces and their eyes lose their hardness. Then she laughed, low and sweet, and waved them back.
"Wait. I shall preserve thy ship, and give thee back an eye for an eye if thy men are harmed. Trust me, will ye not?" She paused a moment to thrill them with her eyes; they stayed. They she sped down the cliff like a deer.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. Don't forget this magazine is issued weekly, and that you will get the continuation of this story without waiting a month.
The Pirate Woman
by Captain Dingle
Author of "The Coolie Ship," "Steward of the Westward," etc.
This story began in the All-Story Weekly for November 2.
THE ATTACK ON THE FEU FOLLETTE.
By means of the floating blind the Point had been carried out across the narrow channel until its edge rested on the bar; and the schooner lay with a heavy list broadside on to the hard sand. Yellow Rufe and his followers, runaways from the pirates' camp, maroons banished from their homes for crimes against their fellows, rebellious slaves, and what not, splashed through the shallow water and stormed the Feu Follette by way of the jib-boom and head-rigging, while Sancho urged his boats on toward the vessel's quarters.
Dolores, uncertain yet as to Sancho's motives, but in no uncertainty as to Rufe's, paused but to look around for Milo as she leaped down the cliff. The giant was even then engaged in thwarting an inclination on the part of the yachtsmen to follow Dolores, for, her spell gone for the moment, Venner felt all an owner's solicitude for his property. But Milo had been well schooled; he knew how to play upon little weaknesses; Pascherette had told him, if he had not seen for himself, how amorousness and cupidity formed the key-note of character in the visitors; and now he used the knowledge to the fullest extent. The little octoroon appeared as Dolores watched; she had hastily attired herself in dry clothes, a single garment more filmy and daring than that she had worn to swim aboard the schooner, and from her mistress's store had borrowed jewels that transformed her into a beautiful little golden butterfly.
Dolores saw all this in a flash; she saw Pascherette take capable charge of the three men, led them away from the cliff, and then Milo advanced to the steep path. Turning swiftly to resume her career, Dolores uttered a shrill, piercing cry that the giant understood perfectly, and she plunged into the sea as he bounded down the slope to her support.
The schooner's crew were already hard pressed; but they fought like men, led courageously by Peters, the sailing master. As Dolores cleft the sparkling water, speeding out to them like a gorgeous sprite of the waves, men tugged at gun-tackles to swing a piece around to rake their own decks, for Yellow Rufe and his ruffians had swept the forecastle clear of defenders. And Dolores reached the vessel, climbed over the low-listing rail nimbly as a jungle cat, at the instant when Sancho's boats hooked on to the main-chains and took the crew in the rear.
The pirate queen stood for a single long breath to grasp the scene in its entirety. Panting slightly from her exertions, her blazing eyes and heaving breast rendered her a figure of bewildering and awful loveliness; and the Feu Follette's men paused in the fight out of sheer amazement.
Sancho's gaze fell on her the moment his evil head topped the rail, and into his eyes crept an expression of detected insubordination. He sought Yellow Rufe, but Dolores had seen all she needed to apprise her that this was a concerted attempt to flout her authority. Then Rufe's hoarse roar went up, and the tide of struggling men surged anew, and Sancho, plucking up heart, rejoined with a scream.
"Into the sea with the dogs!" he cried. "'Tis such a craft as Jabez would love to see ye carry."
The fight rolled aft, and Dolores was left standing alone by the midship shot-rack. She singled out a few of her men by name, and commanded them to rally to her side; then, seizing a cutlas from the deck, she glided tigerishly to the main companionway, down which the pirates were now driving the beaten crew, and the men she had picked out were shorn of all indecision as Milo leaped on board with a bull-throated shout and gained her side.
"Sancho! Rufe! Have done with this play!" she cried, placing herself in front of the blood-hungry horde. "Dogs, fall back! Have ye no memory that ye forget how Dolores strikes?"
Milo had picked up a handspike, and with it across his breast he bore back the scowling rascals, smiling the while himself with quiet contempt. But one, hardier than the rest, ran to the skylight, dashed in the glass with his boot, and cried with outflung arm:
"A plague upon her and her strokes. See yonder, lads—her cunning trick—our sloop comes back empty-handed, as she well knew it would—and here lies to your hands work that the Red Chief had reveled in. Down with her and the big bull! Below is loot fit for bold fellows."
Without moving from where he stood, Milo pivoted around, the heavy handspike—six feet of true ash—rigid as a bar of iron, took the overbold pirate at the base of the skull and spilled his brains into the breach he had made. Growling with fury, a man from Sancho's crew sprang to avenge the stroke with steel, and his blade creased down Milo's sturdy ribs before the giant had recovered from his own swing. And with the hissing slit of ripping skin Milo's debt was paid for him. Dolores, agile as a panther, reached the pirate with her cutlas pointed, and the steel hilt rang against his breast-bone.
But in the momentary pause in her vigilance, a score of Rufe's ruffians burst past her and poured below into the saloon, where renewed sounds of combat told of the ferreting out of the beaten crew.
"Milo, follow me!" cried Dolores, springing down the stairs herself, careless whether her wavering half-dozen followed or stayed. Her whole soul was sickened with the fear that this vessel, the long-wished-for means of her release from what had become a hateful bondage, was in danger of destruction at the red hands of Rufe's undisciplined dogs. And swiftly approaching on the freshening evening breeze her sloop grew momentarily clearer to the eye; it was easy to fancy she could hear the howls of disappointed rage pealing up from her deck; it needed no second sight to determine the side those humiliated pirates would take, when they hove alongside another prey which promised at least a taste of coveted loot.
In the brief time since the pirates' entry the schooner's saloon had become a place of desolation. All the magnificence of unrestricted cost was there; and all the beauty of artistic selection; and over all was the mark of the beast—blood and torn hangings, corpses and splintered panels, chaos and sulfur smoke as the pillage started. Dolores sought out through the smoke a breathing man in the uniform of the yacht, and swiftly placed her lips to his ear, her mind made up to a terrible expedient to save this vessel for herself.
"Tell me quickly—where is the magazine?"
The man opened his agonized eyes, saw that splendid blazing face close to his own, and shook his head loyally. He would give his master's enemies no assistance.
"Speak, fool!" she hissed, shaking him. They were alone by the great table-leg on the red-stained carpet. "I would defeat these sharks! Where is the powder?"
The man looked into her eyes again, and she smiled at him. It was enough. He weakly pointed to a stout door on the starboard side, forward of the sailing master's stateroom door, beyond which the sound of axes already resounded. The owner's and guests' quarters were filled to overflowing with ravenous wolves tearing and ripping in a frenzy of pillage. At the after-end of the saloon a pirate stood over a great cask, issuing jugs of liquor to such of his fellows as found time amid the riot to drink. Milo gripped his handspike, waiting for a command that should send him like awful Fate into the thick of the murderous mob.
"Milo! Bring me a powder-keg from that magazine!" Dolores said, still crouching low and hidden beneath the smoke-pall. The giant entered the room, shattering the lock with a lunge of his shoulder, and returned bearing an unopened keg of cannon powder.
"Place it upon the table." Then the girl rose to her feet with eyes glittering coldly and lips pressed to a tight line. "Find me a lighted brand—swiftly!" she said, and when the giant snatched up a splinter of dry wood, lighting it at the steward's brazier in the little pantry off the saloon, she swept majestically aft to suddenly confront the roaring ruffian at the wine cask.
"Milo, hurl this liquor cask away!"
Milo picked up the heavy barrel as a man might pick up a cushion, heaved it above his head, and flung it like a cannon-shot at the door, behind which rang the greatest noise, while the pirate, whose care the wine had been, gaped like a stranded fish.
"Now this dog!"
The man followed his cask before his mouth closed from his astonishment; but as he flew his leathern lungs performed their office and warned the pillagers of peril. Out from cabins and storerooms poured the rascals, gorged with fine wines and delicate foods seized in their pillaging; steamy with blood not yet dried on their bestial faces. And when the great saloon was full, Dolores raised her torch above her head and blazed out at them:
"In five short breaths this vessel carries all thy black souls to hell! Skulking rats, swim while the breath is in you!"