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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter4)

2006-08-28 23:04

  Chapter IV. How I Laboured to My Salvation

  I found myself still somewhat qualmish next morning but, none the less, got me to labour on the boat and, her damage being now made good on her larboard side, so far as her timbering went, I proceeded to make her seams as water-tight as I could. This I did by means of the fibre of those great nuts that grew plenteously here and there on the island, mixed with the gum of a certain tree in place of pitch, ramming my gummed fibre into every joint and crevice of the boat's structure so that what with this and the swelling of her timbers when launched I doubted not she would prove sufficiently staunch and seaworthy. She was a stout-built craft some sixteen feet in length; and indeed a poor enough thing she might have seemed to any but myself, her weather-beaten timbers shrunken and warped by the sun's immoderate heats, but to me she had become as it were a sign and symbol of freedom. She lay upon her starboard beam half full of sand, and it now became my object to turn her that I might come at this under side, wherefore I fell to work with mattock and spade to free her of the sand wherein (as I say) she lay half-buried. This done I hove and strained until the sweat poured from me yet found it impossible to move her, strive how I would. Hereupon, and after some painful thought, I took to digging away the sand, undermining her thus until she lay so nicely balanced it needed but a push and the cumbrous structure, rolling gently over, lay in the necessary posture, viz: with her starboard beam accessible from gunwale to keel. And mightily heartened was I thus to discover her damage hereabouts so much less than I had dared hope.

  So I got me to work with saw, hammer and rivets and wrought so diligently (staying but to snatch a mouthful of food) that as the sun westered, my boat was well-nigh finished. Straightening my aching back I stood to examine my handiwork and though of necessity somewhat rough yet was it strong and secure; and altogether a very excellent piece of work I thought it, and mightily yearned I for that hour when I should feel this little vessel, that had been nought but a shattered ruin, once more riding the seas in triumph.

  But now and all at once, my soaring hopes were dashed, for though the boat might be seaworthy, here she lay, high and dry, a good twelve yards from the tide.

  Now seeing I might not bring my boat to the sea, I began to scheme how best I should bring the sea to her. I was yet pondering this matter, chin in hand, when a shadow fell athwart me and starting, I glanced up to find this woman beside me, who, heeding me no whit, walks about and about the boat, viewing my work narrowly.

  "If you can launch her she should sail well enough, going large and none so ill on a bowline, by her looks. 'Tis true scat-boat——yes. Are you a sailor——can ye navigate, ha?"

  "Not I."

  "'Tis very well, for I am, indeed, and can set ye course by dead reckoning an need be. Your work is likely enough, though had you butted your timbers it had been better——so and so!" And in this I saw she was right enough, and my work seemed more clumsy now than I had thought.

  "I'm no shipwright," said I.

  "And here's sure proof of it!" quoth she.

  "Mayhap 'twill serve once her timbers be swelled."

  "Aye, she may float, Martino, so long as the sea prove kind and the wind gentle; aye, she should carry us both over to the Main handsomely, yes——"

  "Never!" quoth I, mighty determined.

  "How then——will ye deny me yet, fool? Wherefore would ye leave me here, curst Englishman?"

  "Lest you goad me into slaying you for the evil thing you are."

  "What evil have I wrought you?"

  "You would have poisoned me but yesterday——"

  "Yet to-day are you strong and hearty, fool."

  And indeed, now I came to think of it, I felt myself as hale and well as ever in all my life. "Tush——a fico!" says she with an evil gesture. "'Twas but an Indian herb, fool, and good 'gainst colic and calenture. Now wherefore will ye be quit o' me?"

  "Because I had rather die solitary than live in your fellowship——"

  "Dolt! Clod! Worm!" cried she 'twixt gnashing teeth, and then all in a moment she was gazing down at me soft and gentle-eyed, red lips up-curving and smooth cheek dimpling to a smile:

  "Ah, Martin," sighs she languorously, "see how you do vex me! And I am foolish to suffer such as you to anger me, but needs must I vex you a little in quittance, yes."

  At this I did but shrug my shoulders and turned to study again the problem——how to set about launching my boat.

  "Art a something skilful carpenter, eh, Martino," said she in a while; "'twas you made the table and chairs and beds in the caves up yonder, eh, Martino?"

  "Aye."

  "And these the tools you made 'em with, eh, Martino?" and she pointed where they lay beside the boat.

  "Nay," quoth I, speaking on impulse, being yet busied with my problem, "I had nought but my hatchet then and chisels of iron."

  "Your hatchet——this?" she questioned, taking it up.

  "Aye!" I nodded. "The hatchet was the first tool I found after we were cast destitute on this island."

  "Ah——ah——then she was with you when you found it——the woman that wore this gown before me, eh, Martino?"

  "Aye——and what then?"

  "This!" cried she and wheeling the hatchet strong-armed, she sent it spinning far out to sea or ever I might stay her.

  Now, beholding the last of this good hatchet that had oft known my dear lady's touch, that had beside, been, as it were, a weapon to our defence and a means to our comfort, seeing myself (as I say) now bereft of it thus wantonly, I sprang to my feet, uttering a cry of mingled grief and rage. But she, skipping nimbly out of reach, caught up one of my pistols where she had hid it behind a rock and stood regarding me with her hateful smile.

  "Ah, ah!" says she, mocking, "do I then vex you a little, amigo mio? So is it very well. Ha, scowl, fool Martino, scowl and grind your teeth; 'tis joy to me and shall never bring back your little axe."

  At this, seeing grief and anger alike unavailing, I sat me down by the boat and sinking my head in my hands, strove to settle my mind to this problem of launching; but this I might by no means do, since here was this devilish creature perched upon an adjacent rock to plague me still.

  "How now, Martino?" she questioned. "What troubleth your sluggish brain now?" And then, as she had read my very thought: "Is't your boat——to bring her afloat? Ah——bah! 'tis simple matter! Here she lies and yonder the sea! Well, dig you a pit about the boat as deep as may be, bank the sand about your pit as high as may be. Then cut you a channel to high-water mark and beyond, so with the first tide, wind-driven, the sea shall fill your channel, pour into your pit, brimming it full and your banks being higher than your boat she shall swim and be drawn seaward on the backwash. So, here's the way on't. And so must you sweat and dig and labour, and I joy to watch——Ah, yes, for you shall sweat, dig and labour in vain, except you swear me I shall sail with you." So saying, she drops me a mocking courtsey and away she goes.

  She gone and night being at hand, I set aside two or three stout spars should serve me as masts, yards, etc., together with rope and cordage for tackle and therewith two pair of oars; which done, I got me to my cave and, having supped, to bed.

  Early next morning I set myself to draw a circle about my boat and mark out a channel thence to the sea (even as she had suggested) since I could hit upon no better way. This done, I fell to with spade and mattock but found this a matter of great labour since the sand, being very dry and loose hereabouts, was constantly shifting and running back upon me.

  And presently, as I strove thus painfully, cometh my tormentor to plague me anew (albeit the morning was so young) she very gay and debonnaire in her 'broidered gown.

  "Ha!" said she, seating herself hard by. "The sun is new-risen, yet you do sweat wofully, the which I do joy to see. So-ho, then, labour and sweat, my pretty man: it shall be all vain, aha——vain and to no purpose."

  But finding I heeded her no more than buzzing fly, she changed her tune, viewing me tender-eyed and sighing soft:

  "Am I not better as a woman, eh, Martino?" asked she, spreading out her petticoats. "Aye, to be sure your eyes do tell me so, scowl and mutter as you will. See now, Martino, I have lived here three days and in all this woful weary time hast never asked my name, which is strange, unless dost know it already, for 'tis famous hereabouts and all along the Main; indeed 'tis none so wonderful you should know it——"

  "I don't!" said I. "Nor wish to!"

  "Then I will tell you——'tis Joan!" Hereupon I dropped my spade and she, seeing how I stared upon her, burst into a peal of laughter. "Ah, ah!" cried she. "Here is pretty, soft name and should fit me as well as another. Why must you stare so fool-like; here is no witchcraft, for in the caves yonder 'Joan' meeteth me at every turn; 'tis carven on walls, on chairs, on table, together with 'Damaris' and many woful, lovesick mottoes beside."

  Now I, knowing this for truth, turned my back and ground my teeth in impotent anger, whiles this woman mocked me with her laughter.

  "Damaris——Joan!" said she. "At first methought these two women, but now do I know Joan is Damaris and Damaris Joan and you a poor, lovelorn fool. But as for me——I am Joanna——"

  Now at this I turned and looked at her.

  "Joanna?" said I, wondering.

  "Ah, you have heard it——this name, before——yes?"

  "Aye, in a song."

  "Oh, verily!" said she and forthwith began singing in her deep, rich voice:

  "There's a fine Spanish dame And Joanna's her name Shall follow wherever you go——"

  "Aha, and mark this, Martino:

  "Till your black heart shall feel Your own cursed steel Black Bartlemy——Bartlemy, ho!"

  "But this was my mother——"

  "Ha——she that stabbed and killed the pirate Bartlemy ere he slew her? But she was a Spanish lady."

  "Nay, she was English, and lieth buried hereabouts, 'tis said; howbeit, she died here whiles I was with the Indians. They found me, very small and helpless, in the ruins of a burned town and took me away into the mountains and, being Indians, used me kindly and well. Then came white men, twenty and two, and, being Christians, slew the Indians and used me evilly and were cruel, save only one; twenty and two they were and all dead long ago, each and every, save only one. Aha, Martino, for the evil men have made me endure, I have ever been excellent well avenged! For I am Joanna that some call 'Culebra' and some 'Gadfly' and some 'Fighting Jo.' And indeed there be few men can match me at swordplay and as for musket and pistol——watch now, Martino, the macaw yonder!" She pointed to a bird that stood preening itself on a rock at no little distance and, catching up the pistol, levelled and fired; and in place of the bird was nought but a splash of blood and a few poor, gaudy feathers stirring lazily in the gentle wind.

  "See," cried she, with a little, soft laugh, "am I not a goodly camarado for any brave fellow, yes?"

  "Truly," said I, turning away, "I think your breeches do become you best——"

  "Liar!" she cried. "You know I am handsomer thus! Your eyes ha' told me so already. And look ye, I can be as soft and tender, as meek and helpless as any puling woman of 'em all, when I will. And if I hate fiercely, so is my love——ha, d'ye blench, fool, d'ye shrink; you thing shaped like a man, must ye cringe at the word 'love'?"

  "Aye!" said I, over my shoulder. "On your lips 'tis desecration!"

  "Desecration——desecration?" quoth she, staring on me great-eyed and biting at her scarlet nether lip. "Ha, dare ye say it, dog?" And crying thus, she hurled the pistol at me with aim so true that I staggered and came nigh falling. Stung by the blow I turned on her in a fury, but she leapt to her feet and showed me my own knife glittering in her fist.

  "Ah, bah——back to your labour, slave!" she mocked.

  "Have done, woman!" I cried. "Have done, or by the living God, you will goad me into slaying you yet——"

  "Tush!" said she, "I am used to outfacing men, but you——ha, you should be fed on pap and suckets, you that are no man! 'Tis small wonder you lost your Joan——Damaris; 'tis no wonder she fled away and left you——"

  Now at this (and nothing heeding her knife) I sprang at her and she, letting fall the knife, leapt towards me; and then I had her, felt her all soft and palpitant in my furious grip, heard a quivering sigh, saw her head sway back across my arm and she drooping in my embrace, helpless and a-swoon. And holding her thus 'prisoned and crushed against me, I could not but be conscious of all the tender, languorous beauty of her ere I hasted to lay her upon the sand. My arms were yet about her (and I upon my knees) when her bosom heaved to sudden, tremulous sigh and opening her eyes, she smiled up at me.

  "Ah, Martino," sighed she softly, "do not these petticoats become me vastly well, yes?" And reaching up, she set her arms about me. "Am I not better than dream-woman, I that men have died for——I, Joanna?"

  Now hereupon I shivered and loosing her hold rose to my feet and stood with head averted that I might not behold her. Presently she arose also and coming where lay the knife, took it up and stood turning it this way and that.

  "Martin," said she in her soft, dreamy speech, "you are mightily strong and——mightily gentle, and I do think we shall make a man of you yet!"

  So saying, she turned and went away, the knife glittering in her hand. As for me I cast myself down and with no thought or will to labour now, for it seemed that my strength was gone from me.

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