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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter19)

2006-08-28 23:07

  Chapter XIX. How Joanna Changed Her Mind

  "So there's an end o' Tressady and Mings and their fellows, comrade!" said Resolution, staring away into distant haze where showed the topsails of the Vengeance already hull down. "And God's will be done, says I, though here be we as must go solitary awhile and Joanna sick to death, comrade."

  "Resolution," said I, staring up at his grim figure, "she schemed to lure Tressady to his death?"

  "Aye, she did, brother. What other way was there? She hath wit womanish and nimble——"

  "She smote him in the shadows——"

  "Most true, friend! She hath a man's will and determination!"

  "He had no chance——"

  "Never a whit, Martin! She is swift as God's lightning and as infallible. Roger Tressady was an evil man and the evil within him she used to destroy him and all very right and proper! And now she lieth sick in the cave yonder and calls for you, brother."

  So I arose and coming within the cave found Joanna outstretched upon a rough bed contrived of fern and the boat-cloaks.

  "Alas, Martino, I cannot sleep," said she. "I am haunted by the man Tressady, which is surely very strange——oh, very strange. For he was evil like all other men save you and Resolution——and Adam Penfeather. Can you not say somewhat to my comfort? Did he not merit death?"

  "Aye, most truly. Had you not killed him——I would."

  "For my sake, Martino?"

  "Aye," said I, "for yours."

  "Why, then 'tis strange I should grieve thus——I have killed men ere this, as you do know, nor troubled; belike 'tis my sickness——or the memory of my lady Joan——Damaris, her gentleness. Howbeit I am sorry and sad and greatly afraid."

  "Nay," said I. "What should fright you that do fear nothing?"

  "Myself, Martino——I have been——minded to kill you——more than once!"

  "Yet do I live."

  "And yet do I fear!" said she, with a great sigh.

  "And your wound pains you belike?"

  "A little, Martino."

  "Show me!"

  Mutely she suffered me to uncover her arm and unwind the bandages and I saw the tender flesh was very angry and inflamed, whereupon I summoned Resolution from his cooking, who at my desire brought the chest of medicines with water, etc., and set myself to soothe and cherish this painful wound as gently as I might, and though she often blenched for the pain of it she uttered no complaint.

  "Do I hurt you overmuch?" I questioned.

  "Nay," said she, catching her breath for pain of it, "I am none so tender. D'ye mind how I burned the boat you had so laboured at?"

  "Aye, I do!"

  "And how I gave you an evil draught that was agony?"

  "Aye, I do so!"

  "And how I plagued you——"

  "Nay, why remember all this, Joanna?"

  "It helpeth me to endure this pain!"

  When I had anointed and bound up her wound she must needs praise my skill and vow she was herself again and would be up and about, whereat Resolution reached down to aid her to rise, but this I would by no means suffer, telling her that she must rest and sleep the fever from her blood. At this she scowled, then all of a sudden laughed.

  "Why, then, you shall stay and talk with me!"

  "Rather shall Resolution mix you a sleeping draught."

  "Verily, brother, two have I mixed, but she'll not take 'em!"

  "Why, then, being two to one, we must force her to drink," said I.

  "Force her to drink, comrade? Force Joannas——God's light——!"

  "Mix the potion, man, or teach me!" So in the end Resolution did as I bade; then kneeling beside Joanna, I raised her upon my arm and set the pannikin to her lips, whereupon, though she frowned, she presently drank it off meekly enough, to Resolution's no small wonder and her own, it seemed.

  "I grow marvellous obedient!" said she. "And 'tis hateful stuff!"

  "Now sleep," quoth I. "'Tis life to you——"

  "Wouldst have me live, to plague you again, mayhap?" she questioned.

  "This is as God wills!"

  "Nay, this is as you will, Martino. Wouldst have me live, indeed?"

  Now seeing how she hung upon my answer, beholding the wistful pleading of her look, I nodded.

  "Aye, I would indeed!" said I.

  "Why, then I will, Martino, I will!" And smiling, she composed herself to slumber and smiling, she presently fell asleep, whereupon Resolution crept stealthily out of the little cave and I after him. Being outside, he turned and suddenly caught and wrung my hand.

  "Friend," said he, his grim features relaxing to unwonted smile. "Brother, you are a man——the only man could ha' done it. I thought Death had her sure last night, she all of a fever and crying out for Death to take her."

  "She'll do better out in the air!" said I, glancing about.

  "The air, comrade?"

  "Aye, I must contrive her a shelter of sorts to her comfort where she may sleep. 'Neath yonder tree should serve——"

  "She'll live, Martino, she'll live and all by reason o' her love for you——the promise you made her——"

  "I made no promise, man!"

  "Why, 'twas good as promise, comrade."

  "How so?"

  "'Wouldst ha' me live,' says she, 'to plague you again,' says she. 'Aye, that would I indeed,' says you! And what's that but a promise, Martin?"

  "God forgive you!" quoth I. "'Twas no promise I intended, as you very well know."

  "Why, as to that, comrade, how if Joanna think as I think?"

  "'Twill be vain folly!" quoth I in petulant anger and strode away, leaving him to scowl after me, chin in hand.

  Howbeit (and despite my anger) I presently took such tools as we had and set about making a small hut or rather bower, where an invalid might find such privacy as she wished and yet have benefit of the pure, sweet air rather than lie mewed in the stifling heat of the little cave. And presently, as I laboured, to me cometh Resolution full of praise for my handiwork and with proffer of aid. At this I turned to him face to face.

  "Did I make Joanna any promise, aye or no?" I demanded.

  "Aye, brother. You vowed Joanna must live to plague you, forsooth, how and when and where she would, comrade. In the which assured hope she lieth even now, sleeping herself to health and strength and all to pleasure you, Martin. And sure, oh, sure you are never one so vile to deceive the poor, sweet soul?"

  Now perceiving all his specious sophistry and wilful misunderstanding of the matter, I came nigh choking with anger.

  "Liar!" quoth I. "Liar!"

  "Peace, brother, peace!" said he. "From any other man this were a fighting word, but as it is, let us reason together, brother! The Lord hath——"

  "Enough!" cried I.

  "Friend, the Lord hath set——"

  "Leave Him out!" quoth I.

  "What, Martin——will ye blaspheme now? Oh, shame on ye! 'The mouth o' the blasphemer is as an open sepulchre!' But as I say, the Lord hath set you here i' this flowery garden like Adam and her like Eve——"

  "And yourself like the serpent!" said I.

  "Ha' done, Martin, ha' done! 'The Lord shall root out deceitful lips and the tongue that speaks proud things!' mark that!"

  "And mark you this, Resolution, an you fill Joanna's head with aught of such folly, whatsoever sorrow or evil befalls her is upon your head."

  "Why, observe, friend and brother, for any man shall cause Joanna such, I have this, d'ye see!" And he showed me the butt of the pistol in his pocket; whereat I cursed him for meddlesome fool and turning my back went on with my labour, though my pleasure in it was gone. Howbeit I wrought this, rather than sit with idle hands, wasting myself in profitless repining. And presently, being intent on the business, I forgot all else and seeing this little bower was turning out much better than I had hoped, I fell a-whistling, until, hearing a step, I turned to find Joanna leaning upon Resolution's arm and in her eyes such a look of yearning tenderness as filled me with a mighty disquiet.

  "And have you——made this for——me, Martino?" she questioned, a little breathlessly.

  "Aye," I nodded, "because I do hate idleness——"

  "Hark to him!" said Resolution. "And him picturing to me how snug you would lie here——"

  "As to that, Resolution," said I, scowling, "you can lie anywhere."

  "Why, true," said he, ignoring my meaning. "Since Jo sleeps here, I shall sleep 'neath the tree hard by, leaving you the cave yonder, friend."

  That night Joanna lay in the bower and from this time she mended apace, but as for me, with every hour my impatience to be gone grew upon me beyond all measure, and as the time passed I waxed surly and morose, insomuch that upon a day as I sat frowning at the sea, Joanna stole upon me and stooping, kissed my hand or ever I might stay her.

  "Do I offend?" she questioned with a strange, new humility. "Ah, prithee, why art grown so strange to me?"

  "I am as I always was!"

  "Nay, in my sickness thou wert kind and gentle——"

  "So should I have been to any other!"

  "You builded me my little house?"

  "I had naught else to do."

  "Martino," said she, sinking on her knees beside me. "Oh, caro mio, if——if you could kiss me in my sickness when I knew naught of it——wherefore not now when I am all awake and full of life——"

  "I never did!" said I, speaking on rageful impulse "If Resolution told you this, he lies!" At this she shrank as I had struck her.

  "And did you not——kiss me in my sickness——once, no?"

  "Never once!"

  Here, bowing her head upon her hands, she rested silent awhile.

  "Nay, Joanna, wherefore seek the impossible. In these latter days I have learned to——to respect you——"

  "Respect!" cried she, clenching her fists, "Rather give me hate; 'twere easier endured——"

  "Why, then, this island is a rendezvous for the Brotherhood, soon will you have friends and comrades; give me then the boat and let me go——"

  "To seek her? Nay, that you shall never do. I will kill you first, yes——for the cold, passionless thing you are!" So she left me and knowing that she wept, I felt greatly heartsick and ashamed.

  Now the little cave wherein I slept gave upon that stretch of sandy beach where lay the boat and this night the weather being very hot and no wind stirring, I came without the cave and sat to watch the play of moonlight on the placid waters and hearken to their cool plash and ripple. Long time I sat thus, my mind full of foreboding, mightily cast down and hot with anger against Resolution, whose subtle lies had set Joanna on this vain folly of love, teaching her hopes for that which might never be; and guessing some of her pain therefor, I grieved for her and felt myself humbled that I (though all unwitting) should cause her this sorrow.

  Sitting thus, full of heavy thoughts, my gaze by chance lighted upon the boat and, obeying sudden impulse, I arose and coming hither, fell to sudden temptation, for here she lay afloat; once aboard it needed but to slip her moorings and all these my present troubles would be resolved. And yet (thinks I) by so doing I should leave two people on this solitary island cut off from their kind. And yet again they run no chance of hardship or starvation, God knows, and this being a known meeting-place for their fellows, they shall not lack for company very long.

  I was yet debating this in my mind when, roused by a sound behind me, I turned to find Resolution scowling on me and pistol in hand.

  "Ha!" said he 'twixt shut teeth, "I ha' been expecting this and watched according. So you'll steal the boat, will ye——leave us marooned here, will ye?"

  "I haven't decided yet!" quoth I.

  "And what's to let me from shooting ye?"

  "Nought in the world," said I, watching for a chance to close with him, "only bear witness I have not touched rope or timber yet——"

  "'Tis a rule o' the Coast to shoot or hang the like o' you!" quoth he, and I heard the sharp click of the pistol as he cocked it and then with a flutter of petticoats Joanna burst upon us.

  "Resolution, what is't?" she questioned breathlessly, looking from one to other of us.

  "He was for stealing the boat, Jo!"

  "Is this true?" she demanded, her face set and very pale. But here, seeing speech was vain, I shook my head and turning my back on them came into my cave and cast myself down on my rough bed. Lying thus I heard the murmur of their talk a great while, yet I nothing heeded until Joanna spoke close without the cave.

  "Bide you there, Resolution!" Then the moonlight was dimmed and I saw her form outlined in the mouth of the cave.

  "What would you, Joanna?" said I, starting up.

  "Talk with you a small while," said she and came where we might behold each other. "Nay, do not fear. I will come no nearer, only I would speak to you now as I would speak if I lay a-dying, I would have you answer as you would if——if Death stood ready to strike these our bodies and bear our souls out to the infinite and a better life."

  "Speak!" said I, wondering to see her shaken as by an ague-fit.

  "You do not——love me, then? No?"

  "No."

  "You——never could love me, mind and heart and body? No?"

  "No."

  "You could not endure me beside you, to——to live——with me near you?"

  "'Twould mean only pain, Joanna."

  "Then go!" cried she. "I am not so base-souled to weep and wheedle, to scheme and pray for thing that can never be truly mine, or to keep you here in hated bondage——go! The boat lieth yonder; take her and what you will——only——get you gone!"

  Now at this I rose and would have taken her hands but she snatched them behind her, and now I wondered at her deathly pallor,——her very lips were pale and set.

  "Joanna," I stammered, "do you mean——am I——"

  "Go!"

  "Nay, first hear me say that wheresoever I go needs must I——"

  "Respect me!" cried she with a strange, wild laugh. "Oh, begone!"

  "Joanna," said I, "for any harsh word I have spoke you in the past, for any pain you have suffered because of me, I do most surely grieve and would most humbly crave your forgiveness and for this generous act I——I——"

  "Respect me?" said she in a small voice. "Ah, cannot you see——how you——hurt me?" And now all suddenly I did strange thing for, scarce knowing what I did, I caught her in my arms and kissed her hair, her eyes, her cold lips and then, half ashamed, turned to leave her.

  "Stay!" said she, but I never heeded. "Martino!" she called, but I never paused; and then, being come to the mouth of the cave, I heard the quick, light sound of her feet behind me and as I stepped into the moonlight felt two arms that swung me aside, saw Joanna leap before me as the night-silence was split by a ringing, deafening roar; and then I had her in my arms and she, smiling up at me with blood upon her lips, hid her face in my breast. "Here in thine arms do I lie for the third time——and last, Martino!" she sighed, and so Resolution found us.

  "What!" he gasped. "Oh, God! What——?"

  "Some one has shot Joanna!"

  "Aye, Martin, 'twas I!" and I saw the pistol yet smoking in his hand——"I shot her thinking 'twas you——Oh, God!"

  "Nay, Resolution," said Joanna, opening her eyes. "You did very right——'twas only that I——being a woman——changed my mind——at the last. 'Twas I bid him——kill you, Martino——if you came forth, but I——I dreamed you——you would not leave me. Nay, let be, Resolution, I'm a-dying——yes!"

  "Ah, forbid it, God——Oh, God of Mercies, spare her!" he cried, his hands and eyes uplift to the radiant, starry heavens.

  "Nay, grieve not, Resolution——dear friend!" she murmured painfully. "For oh, 'tis——a good thing to die——by your hand and with——such reason! Martino, when——you shall wed your Joan——Damaris, say I——gave you to her with——my life because I loved you——better than life——and Death had——no fears. I go back to life——a better life——where I shall find you one day, Martino, and learn what——happiness is like——mayhap. Resolution," she whispered, "when I——am dead, do not let me lie a poor, pale thing to grieve over——bury me——bury me so soon as I——am dead. Dig me a grave——above the tide! Promise this!"

  "I promise!"

  "Now kiss me——you were ever true and kind——kiss me? And you, Martino, wilt kiss me——not in gratitude——this last time?" And so I kissed her and thereafter she lay silent awhile, looking up at me great-eyed.

  "Somewhere," she whispered, "some day——we shall——meet again, beloved——but now is——farewell. Oh, 'tis coming——'tis coming, Martino!" And then in stronger voice, "Oh, Death!" she cried. "Oh, welcome Death——I do not fear thee! Lift me, Martino——lift me——let me die——upon my feet!"

  Very tenderly we lifted her betwixt us and then suddenly with a soft, murmurous cry, she lifted her arms to the glory of the wide firmament above us and with shuddering sigh let them slowly fall, and with this sigh the strange, wild soul of her sped away back to the Infinite whence it had come.

  And now Resolution, on his knees beside this slender form that lay so mute and still, broke out into great and awful sobs that were an agony to hear.

  "Dead!" he gasped. "Oh, God——dead! And by my hand! I that loved her all her days——that would ha' died for her——Oh, smite me, merciful God——cast forth Thy lightnings——shoot forth Thine arrows and consume me an Thou be merciful indeed." All at once he arose and hasting away on stumbling feet, presently came back again, bearing spade and mattock.

  "Come, friend," said he in strange, piping tones. "Come now, let us dig grave and bury her, according to my promise. Come, brother!" Now looking on him as he stood all bowed and shaking, I saw that he was suddenly become an old man; his twisted frame seemed shrunken, while spade and mattock shook and rattled in his palsied hands. "Come, lad, come!" cried he querulously. "Why d'ye gape——bring along the body; 'tis nought else! Ah, God, how still now, she that was so full o' life! Bring her along to high water-mark and tenderly, friend, ah, tenderly, up wi' her to your heart!" So I did as he bade and followed Resolution's bowed and limping form till he paused well above where any sea might break and hard beside a great rock.

  "She'll lie snug here, friend," quoth he, "snug against howling wind and raging tempest!" So together we dug the grave deep within that shelving, golden sand, and laying her tenderly therein, knelt together while the moon sank and shadows lengthened; and when Resolution had recited the prayers for the dead, he broke into a passion of prayer for himself, which done we rose and plied spade and mattock in silence; nor would Resolution pause or stay until we had raised mound sufficiently high to please him. When at last all was completed to his satisfaction, he dropped his spade and wiping sweat from him seated himself beside the grave, patting the mound very tenderly with his open palm.

  "The moon is wondrous bright, friend," said he, staring up at it, "but so have I seen it many a night; but mark this, never in all our days shall we see again the like o' her that sleeps, Martino, that sleeps——below here!" And here he falls to soft mutterings and to patting that small mound of sand again.

  "Come!" said I at last, touching his bowed shoulder. "Come!"

  "Where away, camarado?" he questioned, looking up at me vacantly. "Nay, I'm best here——mayhap she'll be lonesome-like at first, so I'll bide here, lad, I'll bide here a while. Go your ways, brother, and leave old Resolution to pray a little, aye——and, mayhap weep a little, if God be kind."

  So in the end I turned, miserably enough, and left him crouched there, his head bowed upon his breast. And in my mind was horror and grief and something beside these that filled me with a great wonder. Reaching the cave, I saw the sand there all trampled and stained with the blood she had shed to save mine own, and hard beside these, the print of her slender foot. And gazing thus, I was of a sudden blinded by scorching tears, and sinking upon my knees I wept as never before in all my days. And then sprang suddenly to my feet as, loud upon the air, rang out a shot that seemed to echo and re-echo in my brain ere, turning, I began to run back whence I had come.

  And so I found Resolution face down across the mound that marked Joanna's grave, his arms clasped about it and on his dead face the marks of many tears.

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