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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter31)

2006-08-28 23:10

  Chapter XXXI. I Meet a Madman

  Having taken my bearings, I set off at speed nor did I stay for rest or refreshment until I had traversed many miles and the sun's heat was grown nigh intolerable. So I halted in such shade as the place offered and having eaten and drunk, I presently fell asleep and awoke to find the day far spent and to look around for Sir Richard as had become my wont. And finding him not, in rushed memory to smite me anew with his death, so that I must needs fall to thinking of his lonely grave so far behind me in these wilds; wherefore in my sorrow I bitterly cursed this land of cruel heat, of quenchless thirst and trackless, weary ways, and falling on my knees, I prayed as I had never prayed, humbly and with no thought of self, save that God would guide me henceforth and make me more worthy the great health and strength wherewith He had blessed me, and, if it so pleased Him, bring me safe at last to my dear lady's love. Thus after some while I arose and went my solitary way, and it seemed that I was in some ways a different and a better man, by reason of Sir Richard his death and my grief therefor.

  And as the darkness of night deepened about me and I striding on, guided by the dim-seen needle of my compass, often I would fancy Sir Richard's loved form beside me or the sound of his limping step in my ear, so that in the solitude of this vasty wilderness I was not solitary, since verily his love seemed all about me yet, even as he had promised.

  All this night I travelled apace nor stayed until I fell for very weariness and lying there, ate such food as I had, not troubling to light a fire, and fell asleep. Now as I lay, it seemed that Sir Richard stood above me, his arm reached out as to fend from me some evil thing, yet when he spoke, voice and words were those of Joanna:

  "Hola, Martino fool, and must I be for ever saving your life?"

  And now I saw it was Joanna indeed who stood there, clad in her male attire, hand on hip, all glowing, insolent beauty; but as I stared she changed, and I saw her as I had beheld her last, her gown and white bosom all dabbled with her blood, but on her lips was smile ineffably tender and in her eyes the radiance of a joy great beyond all telling.

  "Lover Martino," said she, bending above me, "I went for you to death, unfearing, for only the dead do know the perfect love, since death is more than life, so is my love around you for ever——wake, beloved!"

  Herewith she bent and touched me and, waking, I saw this that touched me was no more than the leafy end of a branch 'neath which I chanced to lie,——but pendant from this swaying branch I espied a monstrous shape that writhed toward me in the dimness; beholding which awful, silent thing I leapt up, crying out for very horror and staying but to snatch my gun, sped from this evil place, nigh sick with dread and loathing.

  The moon was up, dappling these gloomy shades with her pure light and as I sped, staring fearfully about me, I espied divers of these great serpents twisted among the boughs overhead, and monstrous bat-like shapes that flitted hither and thither so that I ran in sweating panic until the leafage, above and around me, thinning out, showed me the full splendour of this tropic moon and a single great tree that soared mightily aloft to thrust out spreading branches high in air. Now as I approached this, I checked suddenly and, cocking my musket, called out in fierce challenge, for round the bole of this tree peeped the pallid oval of a face; thrice I summoned, and getting no answer, levelled and fired point-blank, the report of my piece waking a thousand echoes and therewith a chattering and screeching from the strange beasts that stirred in the denser woods about me; and there (maugre my shot), there, I say, was the face peering at me evilly as before. But now something in its stark and utter stillness clutched me with new dread as, slinging my musket and drawing pistol, I crept towards this pallid, motionless thing and saw it for a face indeed, with mouth foolishly agape, and presently beheld this for a man fast-bound to the tree and miserably dead by torture. And coming near this awful, writhen form, I apprehended something about it vaguely familiar, and suddenly (being come close) saw this poor body was clad as an English sailor; perceiving which, I shivered in sudden dread and made haste to recharge my musket, spilling some of my precious powder in my hurry, and so hasting from this awful thing with this new dread gnawing at my heart.

  Presently before me rose steepy crags very wild and desolate, but nowhere a tree to daunt me. Here I halted and my first thought to light a fire, since the gloomy thickets adjacent and the sombre forests beyond were full of unchancy noises, stealthy rustlings, shrill cries and challengings very dismal to hear. But in a while, my fire burning brightly, sword loose in scabbard, musket across my knee and my back 'gainst the rock, I fell to pondering my dream and the wonder of it, of Joanna and her many noble qualities, of her strange, tempestuous nature; and lifting my gaze to the wonder of stars, it seemed indeed that she, though dead, yet lived and must do so for ever, even as these quenchless lights of heaven; and thus I revolved the mystery of life and death until sleep stole upon me.

  I waked suddenly to snatch up my musket and peer at the dim figure sitting motionless beyond the dying fire, then, as a long arm rose in salutation, lowered my weapon, mighty relieved to recognise the Indian, Atlamatzin.

  "Greeting, my brother," quoth he; "all yesterday I followed on thy track, but my brother is swift and Atlamatzin weary of battle."

  "And what of the battle?"

  "Death, my brother: as leaves of the forest lie the Maya warriors, but of our enemies none return. So am I solitary, my work done, and solitary go I to Pachacamac that lieth beside the Great Sea. But there is an empty place betwixt us, brother——what of the old cacique so cunning in battle——what of my father?"

  Here, as well as I might, I told him of Sir Richard's cruel murder; at this he was silent a great while, staring sombrely into the fire. Suddenly he started and pointed upward at a great, flitting shape that hovered above us and sprang to his feet as one sore affrighted, whereupon I told him this was but a bat (though of monstrous size) and could nothing harm us.

  "Nay, brother, here is Zotzilaha Chimalman that reigneth in the House of Bats, for though Atlamatzin was born without fear, yet doth he respect the gods, in especial Zotzilaha Chimalman!"

  Now hereupon, seeing the dawn was at hand, I rose, nor waited a second bidding for, gods or no, this seemed to me a place abounding in terrors and strange evils, and I mighty glad of this Indian's fellowship. So up I rose, tightening my girdle, but scarce had I shouldered my musket than I stood motionless, my heart a-leaping, staring towards a certain part of the surrounding woods whence had sounded a sudden cry. And hearkening to this, back rushed that sick dread I had known already, for this was a human cry, very desolate and wistful, and the words English:

  "Jeremy, ahoy——oho, Jeremy!"

  Breaking the spell that numbed me, I made all haste to discover the wherefore of these dolorous sounds and plunged into the noxious gloom of the woods, Atlamatzin hard on my heels; and ever as we went, guided by these hoarse shouts, the dawn lightened about us.

  Thus presently I espied a forlorn figure afar off, crouched beneath a tree, a strange, wild figure that tossed a knife from hand to hand and laughed and chattered 'twixt his shouting.

  "Ahoy, Jerry, I'm all adrift——where be you? I'm out o' my soundings, lad——'tis me——'tis Dick——your old messmate as drank many a pint wi' you alongside Deptford Pool——Ahoy, Jeremy!"

  Now espying us where we stood, he scrambled to his feet, peering at us, through his tangled hair: then, dropping his knife, comes running, his arms outstretched, then checks as suddenly and stares me over with a cunning leer.

  "Avast, Dick!" said he, smiting himself on ragged breast. "This bean't poor Jerry——poor Jerry ain't half his size——a little man be Jeremy, not so big as Sir Adam——"

  "Who!" cried I and, dropping my gun, I caught him by his ragged sleeve, whereupon he grinned foolishly, then as suddenly scowled and wrenched free. "Speak, man!" said I in passionate pleading. "Is it Sir Adam Penfeather you mean——Captain Penfeather?"

  "Maybe I do an' maybe I don't, so all's one!" said he. "Howsomever, 'tis Jerry I'm arter——my mate Jeremy as went adrift from me——my mate Jerry as could sing so true, but I was the lad to dance!" And here he must needs fall a-dancing in his rags, singing hoarsely:

  "Heave-ho, lads, and here's my ditty!

  Saw ye e'er in town or city A lass to kiss so sweet an' pretty As Bess o' Bednall Green.

  "Heave-ho, lads, she's one to please ye Bess will kiss an' Bess will——"

  "Oho, Jerry——Jeremy——ahoy——haul your wind, lad; bear up, Jerry, an' let Dick come 'longside ye, lad——!" and here the poor wretch, from singing and dancing, falls to doleful wailing with gush of tears and bitter sobs.

  "Tell me," said I as gently as I might and laying a hand on his hairy shoulder, "who are you——the name of your ship——who was your captain?"

  But all I got was a scowl, a sudden buffet of his fist, and away he sped, raising again his hoarse and plaintive cry:

  "Ahoy, Jerry——Jeremy, ho!"

  And thus, my mind in a ferment, I must needs watch him go, torn at by briars, tripped by unseen obstacles, running and leaping like the poor, mad thing he was.

  Long I stood thus in painful perplexity, when I heard a sudden dreadful screaming at no great distance:

  "Oh, Jerry——Oh, Jerry, lad——what ha' they done to thee——Oh, Christ Jesus!"

  Then came a ringing shot, and guessing what this was I turned away, "Atlamatzin," said I, taking up my musket, "you spake truth——verily this place is accursed——come, let us begone!"

  For long hours I strode on, scarce heeding my silent companion or aught else, my mind pondering the mention this poor, mad wretch had made of "Sir Adam," and ever my trouble grew, for if he and the dead man Jeremy were indeed of Adam's company (the which I suspected) how should they come thus lost in the wild, except Adam had met with some disaster, and were this truly so indeed, then what of my dear and gentle lady? And now I must needs picture to myself Adam slain, his men scattered and, for Joan, such horrors that it was great wonder I did not run mad like this poor, lost mariner. Tormented thus of my doubts and most horrid speculations, I went at furious speed, yet ever my fears grew the more passionate until it grew beyond enduring and I sighed and groaned, insomuch that my Indian comrade stood off, eyeing me askance where I had cast myself miserably beside the way.

  "My brother is haunted by the evil spirits sent abroad for his destruction by Chimalman, so shall he presently run mad and become sacred to Zotzilaha Chimalman and suddenly die, except he obey me. For I, Atlamatzin, that am without fear and wise in the magic of my people, shall drive hence these devils an ye will."

  "Do aught you will," groaned I, "if you can but rid me of evil fancies and imaginings."

  Forthwith he kindled a fire and I, watching dull and abstracted, being full of my trouble, was aware of him cracking and bruising certain herbs or leaves he had plucked, mingling these with brownish powder from the deerskin pouch he bore at his girdle, which mixture he cast upon the fire, whence came a smoke very sweet and pungent that he fanned towards me.

  "Behold my smoke, brother!" saith he, his voice suddenly loud and commanding, "smell of it and watch how it doth thicken and close about thee!" And verily as I looked, I saw nought but a column of whirling smoke that grew ever more dense and in it, this loud compelling voice.

  "Hearken, my brother, to the voices of thy good angels; behold and see truth afar——" The loud voice died away and in its place came another, and I knew that Joanna spoke to me out of this whirling smoke cloud.

  "Oh, Martino, hast thou so little faith to think my blood spilt in vain? Did I not give thee unto her that waiteth, living but for thee, yes? Look and behold!"

  I saw a gleam of metal amid the green and four ship's culverins or demi-cannon mounted on rough, wheeled carriages and hauled at by wild-looking men, who toiled and sweated amain, for the way was difficult and their ordnance heavy; and amongst these men one very quick and active, very masterful of look and imperious of gesture, a small man in battered harness, and knowing him for Adam, I would have hailed him, but even then he was gone and nought to see but this writhing smoke cloud.

  I beheld a great, orbed moon, very bright and clear, and slumbering in this calm radiance a goodly city with a harbour where rode many ships great and small, and beside this harbour, defending these ships and the city itself, a notable strong castle or fort, high-walled and embattled, with great ordnance mounted both landward and towards the sea. And nigh upon this fort I beheld the stealthy forms of men, toilworn and ragged, whose battered, rusty armour glinted ever and anon as they crept in two companies advancing to right and left. Behind these, masked in the brush on the edge of the forest, four demi-cannon with gunners to serve them, foremost of whom was a short, squat fellow who crept from gun to gun, and him I knew for Godby. And presently from these four guns leapt smoke and flame to batter and burst asunder the postern gate of the fort, and through this ruin I saw Adam leap, sword in hand, his desperate company hard on his heels.

  I saw a great galleon spread her sails against the moon, and the red glare of her broadside flame against the town as, squaring her yards, she bore away for the open sea.

  I saw the deck of a ship, deserted save for one desolate figure that stood gazing ever in the one direction; and as I watched, eager-eyed, this lonely figure knelt suddenly and reached towards me yearning arms, and I saw this was my beloved Joan. Now would I have leapt to those empty arms, but the smoke blinded me again, and in this smoke I heard the voice of Joanna.

  "Oh, Martino, thou that love doth make coward, be comforted and of good courage, for: thy happiness is hers——and mine, yes!"

  So I presently waked and, staring about me, started up amazed to see it was dawn and the sun rising already, and beyond the fire the sombre form of Atlamatzin.

  "Are the evil spirits fled from my brother?" he questioned.

  "Indeed," said I, "I have dreamed wonderfully and to my great comfort."

  "Great is the magic of Atlamatzin!" quoth he. "'Tis secret that shall die with him and that soon, for now must he begone to achieve his destiny. As for thee——yonder, a day's journey, lieth the Great Water. May Kukulcan have thee in his care, he that is Father of Life——fare ye well."

  But at this, seeing him on his feet, I rose also, to grasp his hand, asking whither he went. For answer he pointed to the trackless wild and then raised his finger to the sun that was flooding the world with his splendour.

  "Brother," said Atlamatzin, pointing to this glory, "I go back whence I came, back to Kukulcan that some so call Quetzalcoati, back to the Father of Life!"

  So saying, he lifted hand aloft in salutation and turning, strode away due east, so that his form was swallowed up (as it were) in this radiant glory.

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