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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter12)

2006-08-28 23:06

  Chapter XII. Of Battle, Murder and Resolution Day, His Point of View

  And now, nothing heeding my defenceless situation and the further horrors that might be mine aboard this accursed pirate ship, I nevertheless knew great content for that, with every plunge and roll of the vessel, I was so much the nearer Nombre de Dios town where lay prisoned my enemy, Richard Brandon; thus I made of my sinful lust for vengeance a comfort to my present miseries, and plotting my enemy's destruction, found therein much solace and consolation.

  I had crept into a sheltered corner and here, my knees drawn up, my back against one of the weather guns, presently fell a-dozing. I was roused by a kick to find the ship rolling prodigiously, the air full of spray and a piping wind, and Captain Belvedere scowling down on me, supporting himself by grasping a backstay in one hand and flourishing a case-bottle in the other.

  "Ha, 's fish, d'ye live yet?" roared he in drunken frenzy. "Ha'n't Black Pompey done your business? Why, then——here's for ye!" And uttering a great oath, he whirled up the bottle to smite; but, rolling in beneath his arm, I staggered him with a blow of my fettered hands, then (or ever I might avoid him) he had crushed me beneath his foot: and then Joanna stood fronting him. Pallid, bare-headed, wild of eye, she glared on him and before this look he cowered and shrank away.

  "Drunken sot!" cried she. "Begone lest I send ye aloft to join yon carrion!" And she pointed where Job's stiff body plunged and swung and twisted at the reeling yard-arm.

  "Nay, Jo, I——I meant him no harm!" he muttered, and turning obedient to her gesture, slunk away.

  "Ah, Martino," said Joanna, stooping above me, "'twould seem I must be for ever saving your life to you, yes. Are you not grateful, no?"

  "Aye, I am grateful!" quoth I, remembering my enemy.

  "Then prove me it!"

  "As how?"

  "Speak me gently, look kindly on me, for I am sick, Martino, and shall be worse. I never can abide a rolling ship——'tis this cursed woman's body o' mine. So to-day am I all woman and yearn for tenderness——and we shall have more bad weather by the look o' things! Have you enough knowledge to handle this ship in a storm?"

  "Not I!"

  "'Tis pity," she sighed, "'tis pity! I would hang Belvedere and make you captain in his room——he wearies me, and would kill me were he man enough——ah, Mother of Heaven, what a sea!" she cried, clinging to me as a great wave broke forward, filling the air with hissing spray. "Aid me aft, Martino!"

  Hereupon, seeing her so haggard and faint, and the decks deserted save for the watch, I did as she bade me as well as I might by reason of my fetters and the uneasy motion of the ship, and at last (and no small labour) I brought her into the great cabin or roundhouse under the poop. And now she would have me bide and talk with her awhile, but this I would by no means do.

  "And why not, Martino?" she questioned in soft, wheedling fashion. "Am I so hateful to you yet? Wherefore go?"

  "Because I had rather lie in my fetters out yonder at the mercy o' wind and wave!" said I.

  Now at this she fell to sudden weeping and, as suddenly, to reviling me with bitter curses.

  "Go then!" cried she, striking me in her fury. "Keep your chains——aye, I will give ye to the mercy of this rabble crew …… leave me!" The which I did forthwith and, finding me a sheltered corner, cast myself down there and fell to hearkening to the rush of the wind and to watching the awful might of the racing, foam-capped billows. And, beholding these manifestations of God's majesty and infinite power, of what must I be thinking but my own small desires and unworthy schemes of vengeance! And bethinking me of Don Federigo (and him governor of Nombre de Dios) I began planning how I might use him to my purpose. My mind full of this, I presently espied the mate, Resolution Day, his laced hat and noble periwig replaced by a close-fitting seaman's bonnet, making his way across the heaving deck as only a seaman might (and despite his limp) and as he drew nearer I hailed and beckoned him.

  "Aha, and are ye there, camarado!" said he. "'Tis well, for I am a-seeking ye."

  "Tell me, Resolution, when shall we sight Nombre de Dios?"

  "Why look now, if this wind holdeth fair, we should fetch up wi' it in some five days or thereabouts."

  "Don Federigo is governor of the town, I think?"

  "Verily and so he is. And what then?"

  "Where lieth he now?"

  "Safe, friend, and secure. You may lay to that, brother!"

  "Could you but get me speech with him——"

  "Not by no manner o' means whatsoever, amigo! And the reason why? It being agin her orders."

  "Is he well?"

  "Well-ish, brother——fairly bobbish, all things considered, mate——though not such a hell-fire, roaring lad o' mettle as yourself, comrade. David slew Goliath o' Gath wi' a pebble and you broke Black Pompey's back wi' your naked hands! Here's a thing as liketh me mighty well! Wherefore I grieve to find ye such an everlasting fool, brother."

  "How so, Resolution?"

  "When eyes look sweetness——why scowl? When lips woo kisses——wherefore take a blow instead? When comfort and all manner o' delights be offered——why choose misery forrard and the bloody rogues o' her fo'castle? For 'tis there as you be going, mate——aye, verily!" Here he set a silver whistle to his mouth and blew a shrill blast at which signal came two fellows who, at his command, dragged me to my feet and so away forward.

  Thus true to her word, Joanna banished me from the gilded luxury of cabin and roundhouse and gave me up to the rogues forward, a wild and lawless company of divers races and conditions so that they seemed the very scum of the world, and yet here, in this reeking forecastle, each and every of them my master.

  Nor can any words of mine justly paint the wild riot and brutal licence of this crowded 'tween-deck, foul with the reek of tobacco and a thousand worse savours, its tiers on tiers of dark and noisome berths where men snored or thrust forth shaggy heads to rave at and curse each other; its blotched and narrow table amidships, its rows of battered sea chests, its loathsome floor; a place of never-ceasing stir and tumult, dim-lighted by sputtering lamps.

  My advent was hailed by an exultant roar and they were all about me, an evil company in their rage and draggled finery; here were faces scarred by battles and brutalised by their own misdeeds, this unlovely company now thrust upon me with pointing fingers, nudging elbows, scowls and mocking laughter.

  "What now——is he to us, then?" cried one. "Hath Jo sent us her plaything?"

  "Aye, lads, and verily!" answered Resolution. "Here's him as she calleth Martin O; here's him as out-fought Pompey——"

  "Aye, aye——remember Pompey!" cried a bedizened rogue pushing towards me, hand on knife.

  "Why, truly, Thomas Ford, remember Pompey, but forget not Job as died so sudden——in the midst o' life he were in death, were Job! So hands off your knife, Thomas Ford; Captain Jo sendeth Martin for your sport and what not, d'ye see, but when he dieth 'tis herself will do the killing!"

  Left alone and helpless in my fetters, I stood with bowed head, nothing heeding them for all their baiting of me, whereupon the man Ford, catching up a pipkin that chanced handy, cast upon me some vileness or other the which was the signal for others to do likewise so that I was soon miserably wet from head to foot and this I endured without complaint. But now they betook them to tormenting me with all manner of missiles, joying to see me blench and stagger until, stung to a frenzy of rage and being within reach of the man Ford (my chiefest tormentor) I sprang upon him and fell to belabouring him heartily with the chain that swung betwixt my wrists, but an unseen foot tripped me heavily and ere I could struggle free they were upon me. But now as they kicked and trampled and buffeted me, I once again called upon God with a loud voice, and this was the manner of my supplication:

  "Oh, God of Justice, for the pains I now endure, give to me vengeance——vengeance, Oh, God, upon mine enemy!"

  And hearing this passionate outcry, my tormentors presently drew away from me, staring on me where I lay and muttering together like men greatly amazed, and left me in peace awhile.

  Very much might I tell of all I underwent at this time, of the shameful indignities, tricks and deviltries of which I was victim, so that there were times when I cursed my Maker and all in this world save only my miserable self——I, that by reason of my hate and vengeful pursuit of my enemy, had surely brought all these evils on my own head. Yet every shame I endured, every pain I suffered did but nerve me anew to this long-sought vengeance on him that (in my blind folly) I cursed as the author of these my sufferings.

  But indeed little gust have I to write of these things; moreover I began to fear that my narrative grow to inordinate length, so will I incontinent pass on to that time when came the quartermaster Diccon with Resolution Day to deliver me from my hateful prison.

  And joy unspeakable was it to breathe the sweet, clean air, to hear the piping song of the wind and the hiss of the tumbling billows, to feel the lift and roll of the great ship as she ploughed her course through seas blue as any sapphire; though indeed small leisure had I for the glory of it all, as they hurried me aft.

  "What now?" I enquired hopelessly. "What new deviltries have ye in store?"

  "'Tis Jo!" answered Diccon. "'Tis Joanna, my bully!" and here he leered and nodded; "Joanna is sick and groweth womanish——"

  "And look'ee now, friend," quoth Resolution, clapping me on the back, "you'll mind 'twas old Resolution as was your stay and comfort by means of a knife i' the matter o' the heathen Pompey, comrade? You'll not forget old Resolution, shipmate?"

  "And me," quoth Diccon, patting my other shoulder. "I stood your friend so much as I might——aye, did I!"

  Thus talked they, first in one ear then in the other, picturing to my imagination favours done me, real or imagined, until, to hear them, they might have been my guardian angels; while I went between them silent and mighty sullen, casting about in my mind as to what all this should portend.

  So they brought me aft to that gilded cabin the which gave upon the stern-gallery; and here, outstretched on downy cushions and covered by a rich embroidery, lay Joanna.

  Perceiving me, she raised herself languidly and motioned the others to be gone, whereupon they went out, closing the door; whereupon she spake, quick and passionate:

  "I have sent for you because I am weak with my sickness, Martino, faint and very solitary!"

  "And must I weep therefore?" said I, and glancing from her haggard face I beheld a small, ivory-hilted dagger on the table at her elbow.

  "Ah, mercy of God——how the ship rolls!" she moaned feebly and then burst forth into cursings and passionate revilings of ship and wind and sea until these futile ravings were hushed for lack of breath; anon she fell to sighing and with many wistful looks, but finding me all unheeding, fell foul of me therefore:

  "Ha, scowl, beast——scowl——this becomes thy surly visage. I shall not know thee else! Didst ever smile in all thy sullen days or speak me gentle word or kindly? Never to me, oh, never to me! Will ye not spare a look? Will ye not speak——have ye no word to my comfort?"

  "Why seek such of me?" I demanded bitterly. "I have endured much of shame and evil at your will——"

  "Ah, fool," sighed she, "had you but sent to me——one word——and I had freed you ere this! And I have delivered you at last because I am sick and weak——a woman and lonely——"

  "Why, there be rogues for you a-plenty hereabouts shall fit ye better than I——"

  "Oh, 'tis a foul tongue yours, Martino!"

  "Why, then, give me a boat, cast me adrift and be done with me."

  "Ah, no, I would not you should die yet——"

  "Mayhap you will torture me a little more first."

  "'Tis for you to choose! Oh, Martino," she cried; "will you not be my friend, rather?"

  "Never in this world!"

  At this, and all at once, she was weeping.

  "Ah, but you are cruel!" she sobbed, looking up at me through her tears. "Have you no pity for one hath never known aught of true love or gentleness? Wilt not forget past scores and strive to love me——some little——Martino?"

  Now hearkening to her piteous accents, beholding her thus transfigured, her tear-wet eyes, the pitiful tremor of her vivid lips and all the pleading humility of her, I was beyond all thought amazed.

  "Surely," said I, "surely you are the strangest woman God ever made——"

  "Why then," said she, smiling through her tears, "since God made me, then surely——ah, surely is there something in me worthy your love?"

  "Love?" quoth I, frowning and clenching my shackled hands. "'Tis an emptiness——I am done with the folly henceforth——"

  "Ah——ah …… and what of your Joan——your Damaris?" she questioned eagerly. "Do you not love her——no?"

  "No!" said I fiercely. "My life holdeth but one purpose——"

  "What purpose, Martino, what?"

  "Vengeance!"

  "On whom?"

  "'Tis no matter!" said I, and question me how she might I would say no more, whereupon she importuned me with more talk of love and the like folly until, finding me heedless alike of her tears and pleadings, she turned on me in sudden fury, vowing she would have me dragged back to the hell of the forecastle there and then.

  "I'll shame your cursed pride," cried she. "You shall be rove to a gun and flayed with whips——"

  But here, reaching forward or ever she might stay me, I caught up the ivory-hilted dagger:

  "Ah!" said she softly, staring where it glittered in my shackled hand. "Would you kill me! Come then, death have I never feared——strike, Martino mio!" and she proffered her white bosom to the blow; but I laughed in fierce derision.

  "Silly wench," said I, "this steel is not for you! Call in your rogues and watch me blood a few——"

  "Ah, damned coward," she cried, "ye dare not slay me lest Belvedere torment ye to death——'tis your own vile carcase you do think of!"

  At this I did but laugh anew, whereat, falling to pallid fury, she sprang upon me, smiting with passionate, small fists, besetting me so close that I cowered and shrank back lest she impale herself on the dagger I grasped. But presently being wearied she turned away, then staggered as the ship rolled to a great sea, and would have fallen but for me. Suddenly, as she leaned upon me thus, her dark head pillowed on my breast, she reached up and clasped her hands about my neck and with head yet hid against me burst into a storm of fierce sobbing. Staring down at this bowed head, feeling the pleading passion of these vital, soft-clasping hands and shaken by her heart-bursting sobs, I grew swiftly abashed and discomfited and let the dagger fall and lie unheeded.

  "Ah, Martino," said she at last, her voice muffled in my breast. "Surely nought is there in all this wretched world so desolate as a loveless woman! Can you not——pity me——a little, yes?"

  "Aye, I do pity you!" quoth I, on impulse.

  "And pity is kin to love, Martino! And I can be patient, patient, yes!"

  "'Twere vain!" said I. At this she loosed me and uttering a desolate cry, cast herself face down upon her couch.

  "Be yourself," said I, spurning the dagger into a corner; "rather would I have your scorn and hate than tears——"

  "You have," said she, never stirring. "I do scorn you greatly, hate you mightily, despise you infinitely——yet is my love greater than all——"

  Suddenly she started to an elbow, dashing away her tears, fierce-eyed, grim-lipped, all womanly tenderness gone, as from the deck above rose the hoarse roar of a speaking trumpet and the running of feet; and now was loud rapping on the door that, opening, disclosed Diccon, the quartermaster.

  "By your leave, Captain Jo," cried he, "but your luck's wi' us——aye, is it! A fine large ship a-plying to wind'ard of us——"

  In a moment Joanna was on her feet and casting a boat-cloak about herself hasted out of the cabin, bidding Diccon bring me along.

  The wind had fallen light though the seas yet ran high; and now being come to the lofty poop, I might behold our crowded decks where was mighty bustle and to-do, casting loose the guns, getting up shot and powder, a-setting out of half-pikes, swords, pistols and the like with a prodigious coming and going; a heaving and yo-ho-ing with shouts and boisterous laughter, whiles ever and anon grimy hands pointed and all heads were turned in the one direction where, far away across the foam-flecked billows, was a speck that I knew for a vessel.

  And beholding these pirate rogues, how joyously they laboured, with what lusty cheers they greeted Joanna and clambered aloft upon swaying yards to get more sail on the ship obedient to her shrill commands, I knew a great pity for this ship we were pursuing and a passionate desire that she might yet escape us. I was yet straining my eyes towards the chase and grieving for the poor souls aboard her, when, at word from Joanna, I was seized and fast bound to a ringbolt.

  Scarce was this done than Joanna uttered a groan and, clapping her hand to her head, called out for Resolution, and with his assistance got her down to the quarter-deck.

  By afternoon the sea was well-nigh calm and the chase so close that we might behold her plainly enough and the people on her decks. Her topmasts were gone, doubtless in the great storm, and indeed a poor, battered thing she looked as she rolled to the long, oily swell. All at once, out from her main broke the golden banner of Spain, whereupon rose fierce outcries from our rogues; then above the clamour rose the voice of Diccon:

  "Shout, lads——shout for Roger, give tongue to Jolly Roger!" and looking where he pointed with glittering cutlass, I beheld that hideous flag that is hated by all honest mariners.

  And now began a fight that yet indeed was no fight, for seeing we had the range of them whereas their shot fell pitifully short, Belvedere kept away and presently let fly at them with every heavy gun that bore, and, as the smoke thinned, I saw her foremast totter and fall, and her high, weather-beaten side sorely splintered by our shot. Having emptied her great guns to larboard the Happy Despatch went about and thundered death and destruction against them with her starboard broadside and they powerless to annoy us any way in return. And thus did we batter them with our great pieces, keeping ever out of their reach, so that none of all their missiles came aboard us, until they, poor souls, seeing their case altogether hopeless, were fain to cry us quarter. Hereupon, we stood towards them, and as we approached I could behold the havoc our great shot had wrought aboard them.

  The enemy having yielded to our mercy and struck their flag, we ceased our fire, and thinking the worst, over and done, I watched where Belvedere conned the ship with voice and gesture and the crew, mighty quick and dexterous in obedience, proved themselves prime sailor-men, despite their loose and riotous ways, so that, coming down upon the enemy, we presently fell aboard of them by the fore-chains; whereupon up scrambled old Resolution, sword in hand, first of any man (despite his lameness) and with a cry of "Boarders away!" sprang down upon the Spaniard's blood-spattered deck and his powder-blackened rogues leaping and hallooing on his heels.

  And now from these poor, deluded souls who had cast themselves upon our mercy rose sudden awful shrieks and cries hateful to be heard as they fled hither and thither about their littered decks before the pitiless steel that hacked and thrust and smote. Shivering and sweating, I must needs watch this thing done until, grown faint and sick, I bowed my face that I might see no more. Gradually these distressful sounds grew weaker and weaker, and dying away at last, were lost in the fierce laughter and jubilant shouting of their murderers, where they fell to the work of pillage.

  But hearing sudden roar of alarm, I looked up to see the Spanish ship was going down rapidly by the head, whereupon was wild uproar and panic, some of our rogues cutting away at the grapples even before their comrades had scrambled back to safety; so was strife amongst them and confusion worse confounded. The last man was barely aboard than our yards were braced round and we stood away clear of this sinking ship. Now presently uproar broke out anew and looking whence it proceeded, I beheld four Spaniards (who it seemed had leapt aboard us unnoticed in the press), and these miserable wretches methought would be torn in pieces. But thither swaggered Belvedere, flourishing his pistols and ordering his rogues back, and falls to questioning these prisoners and though I could not hear, I saw how they cast themselves upon their knees, with hands upraised to heaven, supplicating his mercy. He stood with arms folded, nodding his head now and then as he listened, so that I began to have some hopes that he would spare them; but all at once he gestured with his arms, whereon was a great gust of laughter and cheering, and divers men began rigging a wide plank out-board from the gangway amidships, whiles others hasted to pinion these still supplicating wretches. This done, they seized upon one, and hoisting him up on the plank with his face to the sea, betook them to pricking him with sword and pike, thus goading him to walk to his death. So this miserable, doomed man crept out along the plank, whimpering pleas for mercy to the murderers behind him and prayers for mercy to the God above him, until he was come to the plank's end and cowered there, raising and lowering his bound hands in his agony while he gazed down into the merciless sea that was to engulf him. All at once he stood erect, his fettered hands upraised to heaven, and then with a piteous, wailing cry he plunged down to his death and vanished 'mid the surge; once he came up, struggling and gasping, ere he was swept away in the race of the tide.

  Now hereupon I cast myself on my knees and hiding my face in my fettered hands, fell to a passion of prayer for the soul of this unknown man. And as I prayed, I heard yet other lamentable outcries, followed in due season by the hollow plunge of falling bodies; and so perished these four miserable captives.

  I was yet upon my knees when I felt a hand upon my shoulder and the touch (for a wonder) was kindly, and raising my head I found Resolution Day looking down on me with his solitary, bright eye and his grim lips up-curling to friendly smile.

  "So perish all Papishers, Romanists, Inquisitioners, and especially Spanishers, friend!"

  "'Twas cruel and bloody murder!" quoth I, scowling up at him.

  "Why, perceive me now, amigo, let us reason together, camarado——thus now it all dependeth upon the point o' view; these were Papishers and evil men, regarding which Davy sayeth i' the Psalms, 'I will root 'em out,' says he; why, root it is! says I——and look'ee, brother, I have done a lot o' rooting hitherto and shall do more yet, as I pray. As to the fight now, mate, as to the fight, 'twas noble fight——pretty work, and the ship well handled, as you must allow, camarado!"

  "Call it rather brutal butchery!" said I fiercely.

  "Aye, there it is again," quoth he; "it all lieth in the point o' view! Now in my view was my brother screaming amid crackling flames and a fair young woman in her living tomb, who screamed for mercy and found none. 'Tis all in the point o' view!" he repeated, smiling down at a great gout of blood that blotched the skirt of his laced coat.

  "And I say 'tis foul murder in the sight of God and man!" I cried.

  "Ha, will ye squeak, rat!" quoth Belvedere, towering over me, where I crouched upon my knees. "'S fish, will ye yap, then, puppy-dog?"

  "Aye——and bite!" quoth I, aiming a futile blow at him with my shackled fists. "Give me one hand free and I'd choke the beastly soul out o' ye and heave your foul carcase to the fishes——"

  Now at this he swore a great oath and whipped pistol from belt, but as he did so Resolution stepped betwixt us.

  "Put up, Belvedere, put up!" said he in soothing tone. "No shooting, stabbing nor maiming till she gives the word, Captain——"

  "Curse her for a——" Resolution's long arm shot out and his knotted fingers plunged and buried themselves in Belvedere's bull-throat, choking the word on his lips.

  "Belay, Captain! Avast, Belvedere! I am one as knew her when she was innocent child, so easy all's the word, Belvedere." Having said which, Resolution relaxed his grip and Belvedere staggered back, gasping, and with murder glaring in his eyes. But the left hand of Resolution Day was hidden in his great side pocket whose suspicious bulge betrayed the weapon there, perceiving which Belvedere, speaking no word, turned and swaggered away.

  Now seating himself upon the gun beside me, Resolution drew forth from that same pocket his small Bible that fell open on his knee at an oft-studied chapter.

  "Now regarding the point o' view, friend," quoth he, "touching upon the death o' the evil-doers, of the blood of a righteous man's enemies——hearken now to the words o' Davy."

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