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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter15)

2006-08-28 23:07

  Chapter XV. How I Fell in with My Friend, Captain Sir Adam Penfeather

  It was the pommel of the long rapier dangling from the chair-back that first drew and held my eye, for this pommel was extremely bright and polished and gleamed on me like a very keen and watchful eye as I watched, though conscious also of the luxury of panelled walls, of rich floor coverings and tapestried hangings, and the man who sat writing so studiously at the carven table. And presently, roused by the scratch of his industrious quill, I fell to watching him, his bowed head, the curve of his back as he stooped. A small, lean man but very magnificent, for his coat of rich purple velvet sat on him with scarce a wrinkle, his great peruke fell in such ample profusion of curls that I could see nought but the tip of his nose as he bent to his writing, and I wondered idly at his so great industry. Now presently he paused to read over what he had written and doing so, began to push and pull at his cumbrous wig and finally, lifting it off, laid it on the table. Thus I saw the man was white-haired and that his ears were mighty strange, being cut and trimmed to points like a dog's ears; and beholding the jut of brow and nose and resolute chin, I fell to sudden trembling, and striving to lift myself on the bed, wondered to find this such a business.

  "Adam!" said I, my voice strangely thin and far away, "Adam Penfeather!"

  In one movement, as it seemed to me, he was out of the chair and leaning above me. "Why, Martin," said he. "Why, comrade! Lord love you, Martin, are ye awake at last? Here you've lain these twelve hours like a dead man and small wonder, what with your wound——"

  "So you have come——at last, Adam?"

  "And in good time, shipmate!"

  "Where am I?"

  "Safe aboard my ship, the Deliverance."

  "'Twas you fought the Happy Despatch?"

  "Aye, Martin, and should have very properly destroyed every rogue aboard but for my lady——"

  "My lady?" said I, sitting up. "My lady——Joan?"

  "Aye, verily——"

  "Then 'tis true——all true!" said I, and fell a-trembling. "My lady's here?"

  "She is, Martin, and more's the pity. For look'ee, having boarded yon devil's craft and cut down such as resisted, I was very properly for hanging such as remained, when down on me comes my lady and is for carrying the rogues to trial, the which is but vain labour and loss o' time, since each and all of my twenty and three prisoners is bound to swing soon or late, as I told her, but, 'No matter, Sir Adam,' says she. 'Law is law, Sir Adam,' quo' she. When cometh Godby, running, to say the cursed ship was afire, and coming to the main hatchway, I beheld, half-strangled in the smoke, yourself, shipmate, and a woman in your arms——"

  "Ha——'twas Joanna!" said I, leaping in the bed. "What of her, Adam——what of her, man?"

  "A fine woman, I'll allow, Martin, and by her looks a lady of quality——"

  "Say a demon rather——a very she-devil!"

  "Why, as you will, Martin, as you will!" said he. "Only rest you, lest the fever take you again."

  "How was I wounded, then?"

  "A flying splinter in the head, Martin, so Surgeon Penruddock says. But then you have a marvellous stout skull, as I do know, shipmate."

  "What ha' you done with Joanna——where is she?"

  "Content you, Martin, she is safe enough and well cared for; you shall see her anon," said he, stroking his long chin and viewing me with his quick, keen eyes, "But first you shall eat!" And he rang the small silver bell that stood upon the table, whereon in dame a soft-footed serving-man in handsome livery, who, receiving Adam's commands, presently bowed himself out again.

  Hereupon Adam set on his periwig and fell to pacing slowly to and fro, his feet soundless upon the rich carpet, viewing me now and then like one that ponders some problem. Now, beholding his air of latent power and indomitable mastery, the richness of his habit, the luxury that surrounded him, it seemed in very truth that he was the great gentleman and I the merest poor suppliant for his bounty; whereupon I must needs contrast his case with mine and perceiving myself no better than I had been three weary years since, to wit: the same poor, destitute wretch, I fell into a black and sullen humour:

  "You go vastly fine these days!" quoth I, scowling (like the surly dog I was).

  "Aye, Martin——I am so vastly rich!" he sighed. "I am a baronet, shipmate!" he nodded dolefully. "And what is worse, I own many rich manors and countless broad acres besides divers castles, mansions, houses and the like. Thus all men do protest friendship for me, and at this moment there be many noble ladies do sigh for me or the manors and castles aforesaid. And there was a duchess, Martin, was set upon wedding my riches (and me along of 'em) but I have no leaning to duchesses, though this one was young and comely enough. So went I to the King, who by his grace suffered me to fit out, provision, arm and man this ship at my own expense, Martin, and square away for the Spanish Main to sink, burn and utterly destroy such pirate vessels as I can bring to action. So here am I, shipmate, since I had rather fight rogues when and where I may than marry a duchess once. And here cometh what shall do you a world o' good, Martin——broth with a dash o' rum——which is good for a man, soul and body!" said he, as the serving-fellow appeared, bearing a silver tray whereon stood broth in a silver bowl of most delectable odour. And indeed, very good broth I found it.

  So whiles I ate, Adam, sitting near, told me much of his doings since he left me solitary on Bartlemy's Island, but of my lady Joan Brandon he spoke no word.

  "'Tis but three short years since we parted, shipmate, three short years——"

  "Three long, empty years!" said I bitterly.

  "Aye, truth!" quoth he. "You had a mind to nought but vengeance, which is an empty thing, as belike you'll allow, Martin, you being now three long, empty years the wiser?"

  Here, what with the hot broth and my hotter anger, I came nigh to choking, whereupon he rose and, seeing the bowl empty, took it from me and thereafter set another pillow to my back, the while I reviled him impotently.

  "There, there, Martin!" said he, patting my shoulder as I had been a petulant child. "Never miscall Adam that is your friend, for if you have wasted yourself in a vanity, so have I, for here you see me full of honours, Martin, a justice, a member o' Parliament, a power at Court with great lords eager for my friendship and great ladies eager to wed me. Yet here am I safe at sea and fighting rogues as often as I may, for great riches is a plague that tainteth love and friendship alike——vanitas vanitatum, omnium vanitas!"

  "Yet your three years have been turned to better account than mine!" said I, grown suddenly humble.

  "In the matter of houses and land, Martin?"

  "Aye!" I nodded. "For my three years I've nought to show but scars and rags."

  "Not so, Martin, for your fortune marched with mine. Lord love you, I never bought stick or stone or acre of land but I bought one for you, comrade, share and share, shipmate. So, if I am a man o' great possessions, so are you, Martin; there be lands and houses in old England waiting their master as you sit there." Now at this I lay silent awhile, but at last I reached out a fumbling hand, the which he took and wrung in his vital clasp.

  "God help me, Adam!" said I. "What have these years made of me?"

  "That same scowling, unlovely, honest-hearted self-deluder that is my sworn comrade and blood-brother and that I do love heartily for his own sake and the sake of my lady Joan. For look'ee, she hath oft told me of you and the life you lived together on Bartlemy's Island."

  "And has she so indeed?" quoth I.

  "Aye, verily. Lord, Martin, when she waked from her swoon aboard ship and found I had sailed without you, she was like one distraught and was for having me 'bout ship that she might stay to comfort you in your solitude. And so I did, Martin, but we were beset by storm and tempest and blown far out of our course and further beset by pirates and the like evils, and in the end came hardly to England with our lives. No sooner there than my lady fits out an expedition to your relief and I busied with divers weighty concerns, she sails without me and is wrecked in the Downs, whereby she lost her ship and therewith all she possessed, save only Conisby Shene, the which she holdeth in your name, Martin."

  "Adam," said I, "Oh, Adam, surely this world hath not her like——"

  "Assuredly not!" quoth he. "The which doth put me to great wonder you should come to forget her a while——"

  "Forget her? I?"

  "Aye, Martin——in the matter of the——the lady yonder——Madam Joanna——"

  "Joanna!" I cried, clenching my fists. "That demon!"

  "Ha——demon, is it?" quoth Adam, pinching his chin and eyeing me askance. "Doth your love grow all sudden cold——"

  "Love?" cried I. "Nay——my hate waxeth for thing so evil——she is a very devil——"

  "Nay, Martin, she is a poor Spanish lady, exceeding comely and with a hand, a foot, an eye, a person of birth and breeding, a dainty lady indeed, yet of a marvellous sweet conversation and gentle deportment, and worthy any man's love. I do allow——"

  "Man," cried I, "you do speak arrant folly——she is Joanna!"

  "Why, true, Martin, true!" said Adam soothingly and eyeing me anxious-eyed. "She is the lady Joanna that you preserved from death and worse, it seems——"

  "Says she so, Adam?"

  "Aye! And, by her showing, some small——some few small——kindnesses have passed betwixt you."

  "Kindnesses?" I demanded.

  "Aye, Martin, as is but natural, God knoweth. Kisses, d'ye see, embraces——"

  "She lies!" quoth I, starting up in bed, "she lies!"

  "Why, very well, Martin——"

  "Ha, d'ye doubt my word, Adam?"

  "No, Martin, no——except——when first I clapped eyes on you, she chanced to be lying in your arms, d'ye see?"

  "Tush!" said I. "What o' that? 'Twas after she'd set the ship afire and sought to murder Don Federigo; we left her in the 'tween-decks and I found her nigh stifled by the smoke. Have you got her fast in the bilboes——safe under lock and key?"

  "Lord love you——no. Martin!" said he, viewing me askance as I were raving. "So young, Martin! And a bullet wound i' the arm and mighty brave, despite her tenderness, so says Penruddock our surgeon."

  "Why then, in God's name——where is she?"

  "Where should she be, seeing she was wounded and solitary, but with my lady Joan!"

  "God forbid!" cried I.

  "Why, Martin, 'tis my lady's whim——they walk together, talk, eat, aye, and sleep together, for aught I know——"

  "Adam," said I, grasping him by the arm. "You know Captain Tressady of old, and Mings and Red Rory, Sol Aiken and others of the Coast Brotherhood, but have you ever met the fiercest, bravest, greatest of these rogues; have you ever heard tell of Captain 'Jo'?"

  "Aye, truly, Martin, some young springald that hath risen among 'em since my time, a bloody rogue by account and one I would fain come alongside of——"

  "Captain Jo lies in your power, Adam; Captain Jo is aboard; Captain Jo is Joanna herself! 'Twas Joanna fought the Happy Despatch so desperately!"

  Now hereupon Adam fell back a pace and stood staring down on me and pinching his chin, but with never a word. And seeing him thus incredulous still, I strove to get me out of bed.

  "Easy, Martin!" said he, restraining me. "These be wild and whirling words and something hard to believe——"

  "Why, then, if you doubt me still, summon hither Don Federigo an he be yet alive——"

  "Look now, Martin," said he, seating himself on the bed beside me. "Since we left England I have burned or scuttled four rascally pirate craft and each and every a fighting ship, yet no one of them so mauled and battered us as this Happy Despatch (whereby I have lost fourteen good fellows dead besides thirty wounded) the which as I do know was captained by one calling himself Belvedere——"

  "Tush!" cried I. "He was a man of straw and would have run or struck to you after your first broadside! 'Twas Joanna and Resolution Day fought the ship after Belvedere was dead——"

  "Ah, dead, is he? Why, very good!" said Adam, rising and seating himself at the table. "Here is yet another name for my journal. You saw him dead, Martin?" he questioned, taking up his pen.

  "Most horribly! He was killed by the mate, Resolution Day——"

  "Ha!" says Adam, turning to his writing. "'Tis a name sticks in my memory——a man I took out o' prison and saved from burning along with divers others, when we took Margarita——a tall, one-eyed man and scarred by the torment——?"

  "'Tis the same! But, God forgive you, Adam, why must you be wasting time over your curst journal and idle talk——"

  "I think, Martin! I meditate! For, if this be true indeed, we must go like Agog——delicately——Martin——delicately!"

  "Folly——oh, folly!" cried I. "Joanna may be firing the ship as you sit scribbling there, or contriving some harm to my dear lady——act, man——act!"

  "As how, Martin?" he questioned, carefully sanding what he had writ.

  "Seize her ere she can strike, set her fast under lock and key, have her watched continually——"

  "Hum!" said Adam, pinching his chin and viewing me with his keen gaze. "If she be so dangerous as you say, why not slay her out of hand——"

  "No!" said I. "No!"

  "But she is a pirate, you tell me?"

  "She is! And I do know her for murderess beside!"

  "How came you in her company, Martin?"

  Hereupon in feverish haste I recounted much of what I have already set down concerning this strange, wild creature, to all of which he hearkened mighty attentive, pinching at his chin and a frown on his face.

  "Verily!" said he, when I had done. "Never heard man stranger story!" But seeing how he regarded me in the same dubious manner, I leapt out of bed ere he might prevent and staggered with weakness. "Lord love you, Martin," said he, snatching me in his iron grip, "Lord love you, what would you be at? Here's Surgeon Penruddock and his two mates with their hands full enough, as it is, God knoweth, and you sick o' your wound——" So saying, Adam bundled me back into bed, willy-nilly.

  "Why, then, question Don Federigo, who knoweth her better than I——summon him hither——"

  "Impossible, Martin, he lieth very nigh to death."

  "And what of Joanna? She is as swift as a snake and as deadly——she is a lurking danger——a constant menace, beyond thought subtle and crafty——"

  "Hist!" quoth Adam, catching me by the arm and turning suddenly as came a soft rapping; then the door opened and Joanna herself stood before us, but indeed a Joanna such as I had never seen. Timid, abashed, great-eyed and wistful, she stood looking on me, her slender hands tight-clasped, her tremulous, parted lips more vivid by reason of the pallor of her cheeks, all shy and tender womanhood from the glossy ringlets at her white brow to the dainty shoe that peeped forth of her petticoat; as for me, I sank back among my pillows amazed beyond——all speech by the infinite change in her, for here was a transformation that went beyond mere lace and velvets; the change was in her very self, her look, her voice, her every gesture.

  "Martino mio!" said she at last, and sure this pen of mine may never tell all the languorous caress of these two words; and then, or ever I might speak or stir, she was beside me and had caught my hand to her lips. And then I saw Joan standing in the doorway, the Damaris of my dreams, and though her lips smiled upon us, there was that in her eyes that filled me with bitter shame and an agony beyond the telling.

  "Damaris!" I groaned and freed my hand so suddenly that Joanna stumbled and would have fallen, but for Adam's ready arm. "Damaris!" I cried. "Ah, God,'——look not so! All these weary years I have lived and dreamed but of you——Joan, beloved, 'twas thy sweet memory made my solitude worth the living——without thee I had died——" Choking with my grief, I reached out my hands in passionate supplication to that loved shape that drooped in the doorway, one white hand against the carven panelling; and then Joanna was on her knees, her soft cheek pressed to my quivering fist, wetting it with her tears:

  "Martino!" she sobbed. "Ah, caro mio, art so strange——dost not know thy Joanna——dost not know me, Martino?"

  "Aye, I know you, Captain Jo," I cried. "Well I know you to my cost, as hath many another: I know you for 'La Culebra,' for Joanna that is worshipped, obeyed and followed by every pirate rogue along the Main. Oh, truly I know you to my bitter sorrow——"

  Now at this she gave a little, pitiful, helpless gesture and looked from me to the others, her eyes a-swim with tears.

  "Alas!" she sobbed. "And is he yet so direly sick?" Then, bowing her head to the pillow beside me, "Oh, loved Martino," she sighed, "art so sick not to remember all that is betwixt us, that which doth make thee mine so long as life shall be to me——the wonder I have told to my lady Damaris——"

  Now here I caught her in savage gripe. "What," cried I, shaking her to and fro despite my weakness, "what ha' you told my lady?"

  "Beloved Martino——I confessed our love——alas, was I wrong, Martino——I told her my joyous hope to be the mother of your child ere long——"

  "Oh, shame!" cried I. "Oh, accursed liar!" And I hurled her from me; then, lying gasping amid my tumbled pillows, my aching head between my hands, I saw my beloved lady stoop to lift her, saw that lying head pillowed on Joan's pure bosom and uttering a great cry, I sank to a merciful unconsciousness.

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