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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter17)

2006-08-28 23:07

  Chapter XVII. Telleth the Outcome of My Prideful Folly

  The moon had not yet risen when, in despite of Adam's warnings and remonstrances, I set the great boat-cloak about me and stepped forth into the stern-gallery of the ship, whence I might look down and behold the dark loom of the longboat, a gliding, glimmering shadow upon the white spume of the wake.

  Now if there be any who, reading this my narrative, shall cry out against me for perverse fool (as I surely was) to all such I would but say that though indeed a man wild and headstrong by nature and given to passionate impulse, yet I was not wholly myself at this time by reason of my wound, so that the unlovely and gloomy spirit of selfishness that possessed me now had full sway to rule me how it listed; and I would have this plead such excuse as might be for this my so desperate and unreasonable determination, the which was to plunge me into further evils and miseries, as you shall hear.

  "So you are determined on't, Martin?" said Adam, standing beside me where I prepared to descend the short rope ladder.

  "I am!"

  "Lord, Martin, there is so much to love in you 'tis pity you are so much of fool——"

  "You said as much before——"

  "Aye, so I did, comrade, so I did. But look'ee, 'tis a smooth sea, a fair wind——aha, it needeth no pistol butt to persuade you to it this time; you go of your own will and most express desire, comrade."

  "I do, Adam."

  "And who knoweth," said he, his gaze uplift to the Southern Cross that glimmered very bright and splendid above us, "who can say what lieth in wait for you, comrade,——hardship and suffering beyond doubt and——peradventure, death. But by hardship and suffering man learneth the wisdom of mercy, or should do, and by death he is but translated to a greater living——so I do hope. And thus, howsoever it be, all's well, Martin, all's well."

  "Adam," said I, "give me your hand. You have called me 'fool' and fool am I, mayhap, yet in my folly, wisdom have I enough for this——to know you for my good friend and true comrade now and always!"

  "Hark'ee then," said he, grasping my hand and leaning to my ear in the gloom, "give up this desperate quest, stand by me, and I can promise ye that which is better than empty vengeance——wealth, Martin, rank, aye, and what is best of all, a noble woman's love——"

  "Enough!" cried I, "I am no weathercock and my mind is set——"

  "Why, very well, but so is mine, shipmate, and set upon two things——one to fulfil my duty to the King in the matter of exterminating these pirates and the like rogues, and t'other to redeem my promise to our lady Joan in the matter of her father——your enemy."

  "How, are you for Nombre de Dios likewise, Adam?"

  "Just as soon as I have this ship in staunch fighting trim, for, unless you and your vengeance are afore me, I will have Sir Richard Brandon out o' the Inquisition's bloody clutches either by battle or stratagem——aye, though it cost me all I possess, and God knoweth I am a vastly wealthy man, Martin."

  "Why then, we are like to meet at Nombre de Dios?" said I.

  "Mayhap, Martin, who can say? Meantime, here is the chart and your sailing directions with some few words for you to ponder at leisure, and so fortune attend you and farewell, comrade."

  "One thing, Adam," said I, grasping the ladder of ropes, "you will save alive the man Resolution Day——for my sake——"

  "Aha," quoth Adam, clapping me on the shoulder, "and there spake the man that is my friend! Never doubt it, comrade——he shall live. And look'ee, Martin, if I have been forced to play prank on ye now and then, think as kindly of me as ye can."

  Hereupon, and with Adam's assistance, having hauled in the longboat until she was well under the gallery, I presently got me a-down the swaying rope ladder and safe aboard of her (though with no little to-do) and at my shout Adam cast off the towline, and I was adrift.

  For some while I sat huddled in the bows, watching the lofty stern with its rows of lighted windows and three great lanthorns above topped by the loom of towering sails, until sails and ship merged into the night, and nought was to see save the yellow gleam of her lights that grew ever more dim, leaving me solitary upon that vast expanse of ocean that heaved all about me,——a dark and bodeful mystery.

  At last, finding the wind, though very light, yet might serve me very well, I turned with intent to step the mast. And now I saw the sail was ill-stowed, the canvas lying all abroad and as I rose I beheld this canvas stirred as by a greater wind; then as I stared me this, it lifted, and from beneath it crept a shape that rose up very lithe and graceful and stood with hands reached out towards me, and then as I staggered back came a cry:

  "Quick, Resolution——seize him!"

  Two powerful arms clasped and dragged me down, and lying thus, dazed by the fall, I stared up to see bending above me the hated face of Joanna.

  I waked to a blaze of sun, a young sun whose level beams made the bellying sail above me a thing of glory where it swung against an azure heaven, flecked with clouds pink and gold and flaming red; and stark against this splendour was the grim figure of Resolution Day, a bloody clout twisted about his head, where he sat, one sinewy hand upon the tiller, the other upon the worn Bible open upon his knees, his lips moving as he read, while hard beside me on the floor of the boat lay Joanna, fast asleep. At sight of her I started and shrank from her nearness, whereupon Resolution, lifting his head and closing the Bible on his finger, glared down on me with his solitary eye.

  "Martin," said he below his breath, and tapping the brass butt of a pistol that protruded from the pocket of his coat, "there be times when I could joyfully make an end o' you——for her sake——her that do love you to her grief and sorrow, since her love is your hate——though what she can see in ye passes me! Howbeit, love you she doth, poor soul, and if so be you ha' no love for her, I would ha' you be a little kinder, Martin; 'twould comfort her and harm you no whit. Look at her now, so fair, so young, so tender——"

  "Nay, here lies Captain Jo!" said I, scowling.

  "Speak lower, man," he whispered fiercely. "I ha' given her a sleeping potion out o' the medicine chest Captain Penfeather provided for her; she is not yet cured of her wound, d'ye see, and I would not have her waked yet, so speak lower lest I quiet ye wi' a rap o' the tiller. Let her sleep,——'tis life to her. Saw ye ever a lovelier, sweeter soul?"

  Now viewing her as she lay outstretched, the wild, passionate soul of her away on the wings of sleep, beholding the dark curtain of her lashes upon the pallor of her cheek, the wistful droop of her vivid lips and all the mute appeal of her tender womanhood, I could not but marvel within myself.

  "And yet," said I at last, speaking my thoughts aloud, "I have seen her foully dabbled with a dead man's blood!"

  "And why for not? Jehovah doth not always strike vile rogues dead, wherefore He hath given some women strength to do it for Him. And who are you to judge her; she was innocent once——a pearl before swine and if they——spattered her wi' their mud, they never trampled her i' their mire! She hath been at no man's bidding, and fearing no man, hath ruled all men, outdoing 'em word and deed——aha, two rogues have I seen her slay in duello. Howbeit, she is as God made her, and 'tis God only shall judge His own handiwork; she is one wi' the stars, the winds that go about the earth, blowing how they list, and these great waters that slumber or rage in dreadful tempest——she and they and we are all of God. So treat her a little kind, Martin, love or no——'tis little enough o' kindness she has known all her days; use her a little kinder, for 'tis in my mind you'll not regret it in after days! And talking o' tempest, I like not the look o' the sky——take you the tiller whiles I shorten sail and heed not to disturb Joanna."

  "And so," said I, when he had shortened sail and was seated beside me again, "so Captain Penfeather gave you medicine for her?"

  "Aye, did he!"

  "And knew you were hid in the boat?"

  "'Twas himself set us there."

  Now at this I fell to profound thought, and bethinking me of the letter and chart he had given me, I took it out of my pocket and breaking the seals, read as here followeth:

  Dear Friend, Comrade and Brother,

  Item: Thou art a fool! Yet is there (as it doth seem) an especial Providence for such fools, in particular fools of thy sort. Thus do I bid thee farewell in the sure hope that (saving for shipwreck, fire, battle, pestilence and the like evils) I shall find thee again and perchance something wiser, since Folly plus Hardship shall mayhap work a miracle of Wisdom.

  Herewith I have drawn you a chart, the parallels duly marked and course likewise, whereby you shall come (Providence aiding) unto Nombre de Dios. And so to your vengeance, Martin, and when found much good may it do thee is the prayer of

  Thy patient, hopeful, faithful friend,

  ADAM.

  NOTA BENE: Should we fail to meet at Nombre de Dios I give you for rendezvous the place which I have clearly marked on the chart (aforementioned) with a X.

  "Look'ee, friend," said Resolution, when I had made an end of reading. "You plead and spoke for my life of Captain Penfeather and he regarded your will, wherefore am I alive, wherefore are we quits in the matter o' the heathen Pompey and I your friend henceforth 'gainst all the world, saving only and excepting Joanna."

  "Where do we make for, Resolution?"

  "To a little island well beknown to the Fraternity, comrade——that is three islands close-set and called Foremast, Main and Mizzen islands, amigo, where we are apt to meet friends, as I say, and sure to find good store of food and the like, brother. Though to be sure this boat is right well equipped, both for victuals and weapons."

  "And when are we like to reach these islands?"

  "We should raise 'em to-morrow about dawn, friend, if this wind hold."

  "And what is to become of me, Resolution?"

  "'Tis for Joanna to say, camarado"

  Now hereupon, stretched out in such shadow as our scant sail afforded (the sun being very hot) I began to reflect upon this ill-chance Fate, in the person of Adam, had played me (cast again thus helpless at the mercy of Joanna) and instead of wasting myself in futile rages against Adam (and him so far out of my reach) I began instead to cast about in my mind how soonest I might escape from this hateful situation; to the which end I determined to follow Resolution's advice is so far as I might, viz: to preserve towards Joanna as kindly a seeming as might be, and here, chancing to look where she lay, I saw her awake and watching me.

  "D'ye grieve for your Joan——Damaris——yes?" she demanded suddenly.

  "Nay——of what avail?"

  "Then I do——from my heart, Martino, from my heart! For she had faith in me, she was kind to me, oh, kind and very gentle! She is as I——might have been, perchance, had life but proved a little kinder."

  After this she lay silent a great while and I thought her asleep until she questioned me again suddenly.

  "She is a great lady in England——yes?"

  "She is."

  "And yourself?"

  "An outcast."

  "And you——loved each other——long since?"

  "Long since."

  "But I have you at the last!" cried Joanna, exultant. "And nought shall part us now save death and that but for a little while! Dost curse thyself, Martino——dost curse thyself for saving me from the fire? But for this I had been dead and thou safe with thy loved Joan——dost curse thyself?"

  "Nay, of what avail?"

  Now, at this, she falls to sudden rage and revilings, naming me "stock-fish," "clod," "worm," and the like and I (nothing heeding her), turning to behold the gathering clouds to windward, met the glare of Resolution's fierce eye.

  "Tell me," cried Joanna, reaching out to nip my leg 'twixt petulant fingers, "why must you brave the fire to save me you do so hate——tell me?"

  "Yonder, as I judge, is much wind, Resolution!" said I, nodding towards a threatening cloud bank. Hereupon she struck at me with passionate fist and thereafter turns from me with a great sob, whereat Resolution growled and tapped his pistol butt.

  "You were fool to save me!" cried she. "For I, being dead, might now be in happy circumstance and you with your Joan! You were a fool——"

  "Howbeit you have your life," said I.

  "Life?" quoth she. "What is life to me but a pain, a grief I shall not fear to lose. Life hath ever brought me so much of evil, so little good, I were well rid of it that I might live again, to find perchance those joys but dim remembered that once were mine in better life than this. And now, if there be aught of food and drink aboard, Resolution, let us eat; then get you to sleep——you will be weary, yes."

  And surely never was stranger meal than this, Joanna and Resolution, the compass betwixt them, discussing winds, tides and weather, parallels of latitude and longitude, the best course to steer, etc., and I watching the ever-rising billows and hearkening to the piping of the wind.

  Evening found us running through a troubled sea beneath an angry sky and the wind so loud I might hear nothing of my companions where they crouched together in the stern sheets. But suddenly Joanna beckoned me with imperious gesture:

  "Look, Martino!" cried she, with hand outflung towards the billows that foamed all about us. "Yonder is a death kinder than death by the fire and yet I do fear this more than the fire by reason of this my hateful woman's body. Now may you triumph over my weakness an you will, yet none can scorn it more than I——"

  "God forbid!" said I and would have steadied her against the lurching of the boat, but Resolution, scowling at my effort, clasped her within his arm, shielding her as well as he might against the lashing spray, bidding me let be.

  Thereafter and despite her sickness, she must needs stoop to cover me with the boat-cloak where I lay, and looking up at Resolution I saw his bronzed face glinted with moisture that was not of the sea.

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