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But now, and all at once, from the wild company rose a sudden hoarse murmur that swelled again to that fierce, exultant uproar as down towards us paced Don Federigo.

“Aha, ’tis the Marquis!” they cried. “‘Tis the bloody Marquis! Shoot the dog! Nay, hang him up! Aye, by his thumbs. Nay, burn him–to the fire wi’ the bloody rogue!”

Unheeding their vengeful outcry he advanced upon the men (and these ravening for his blood), viewing their lowering faces and brandished steel with his calm, dispassionate gaze and very proud and upright for all his bodily weakness; pausing beside me, he threw up his hand with haughty gesture and before the command of this ragged arm they abated their clamour somewhat.

“Of a surety,” said he in his precise English, “it is the Capitan Belvedere. You captured my daughter–my son–in the _Margarita_ carrack three years agone. ‘Tis said he died at your hands, Señor Capitan–“

“Not mine, Don, not mine,” answered this Belvedere, smiling sleepily. “We gave him to Black Pompey to carbonado.” I felt Don Federigo’s hand against me as if suddenly faint, but his wide-eyed gaze never left the Captain’s handsome face, who, aware of this look, shifted his own gaze, cocked his hat and swaggered. “Stare your fill, now,” quoth he with an oath, “’tis little enough you’ll be seeing presently. Aye, you’ll be blind enough soon–“

“Blind is it, Cap’n–ha, good!” cried a squat, ill-looking fellow, whipping out a long knife. “Hung my comrade Jem, a did, so here’s a knife shall blind him when ye will, Cap’n, by hookey!” And now he and his fellows began to crowd upon us with evil looks; but they halted suddenly, fumbling with their weapons and eyeing Joanna uncertainly where she stood, hand on hip, viewing them with her fleering smile.

“Die he shall, yes!” said she at last. “Die he must, but in proper fashion and time, not by such vermin as you–so put up that knife! You hear me, yes?”

“Hanged my comrade Jem, a did, along o’ many others o’ the Fellowship!” growled the squat man, flourishing his knife, “Moreover the Cap’n says ‘blind’ says he, so blind it is, says I, and this the knife to–” The growling voice was drowned in the roar of a pistol and, dropping his knife, the fellow screamed and caught at his hurt.

“And there’s for you, yes!” said Joanna, smiling into the man’s agonised face, “Be thankful I spared your worthless life. Crawl into the boat, worm, and wait till I’m minded to patch up your hurt–Go!”

For a moment was silence, then came a great gust of laughter, and men clapped and pummelled each other.

“La Culebra!” they roared. “‘Tis our Jo, ’tis Fighting Jo, sure and sartain; ’tis our luck, the luck o’ the Brotherhood–ha, Joanna!”

But, tossing aside the smoking pistol, Joanna scowled from them to their captain.

“Hola, Belvedere,” said she. “Your dogs do grow out of hand; ’tis well I’m back again. Now for these my prisoners, seize ’em up, bind ’em fast and heave ’em aboard ship.”

“Aye, but,” said Belvedere, fingering his beard, “why aboard, Jo, when we may do their business here and prettily. Yon’s a tree shall make notable good gallows or–look now, here’s right plenty o’ kindling, and driftwood shall burn ’em merrily and ’twill better please the lads–“

“But then I do pleasure myself, yes. So aboard ship they go!”

“Why, look now, Jo,” said Belvedere, biting at his thumb, “’tis ever my rule to keep no prisoners–“

“Save women, Cap’n!” cried a voice, drowned in sudden evil laughter.

“So, as I say, Joanna, these prisoners cannot go aboard my ship.”

“Your ship?” said she, mighty scornful. “Ah, ah, but ’twas I made you captain of your ship and ’tis I can unmake you–“

“Why look ye, Jo,” said Belvedere, gnawing at his thumb more savagely and glancing towards his chafing company, “the good lads be growing impatient, being all heartily for ending these prisoners according to custom–“

“Aye, aye, Cap’n!” cried divers of the men, beginning to crowd upon us again. “To the fire with ’em! Nay, send aboard for Black Pompey! Aye, Pompey’s the lad to set ’em dancing Indian fashion–“

“You hear, Jo, you hear?” cried Belvedere. “The lads are for ending of ’em sportive fashion–especially the Don; he must die slow and quaint for sake ‘o the good lads as do hang a-rotting on his cursed gibbets e’en now–quaint and slow; the lads think so and so think I–“

“But you were ever a dull fool, my pretty man, yes!” said Joanna, showing her teeth. “And as for these rogues, they do laugh at you–see!” But as Belvedere turned to scowl upon and curse his ribalds, Joanna deftly whisked the pistols from his belt and every face was smitten to sudden anxious gravity as she faced them.

“I am Joanna!” quoth she, her red lips curving to the smile I ever found so hateful. “Oh, Madre de Dios, where now are your tongues? And never a smile among ye! Is there a man here that will not obey Joanna–no? Joanna that could kill any of ye single-handed as she killed Cestiforo!” At this was an uneasy stir and muttering among them, and Belvedere’s sleepy eyes widened suddenly. “Apes!” cried she, beslavering them with all manner of abuse, French, Spanish and English. “Monkeys, cease your chattering and list to Joanna. And mark–my prisoners go aboard this very hour, yes. And to-day we sail for Nombre de Dios. Being before the town we send in a boat under flag of truce to say we hold captive their governor, Don Federigo de Cosalva y Maldonada, demanding for him a sufficient ransom. The money paid, then will we fire a broadside into the city and the folk shall see their proud Governor swung aloft to dangle and kick at our mainyard; so do we achieve vengeance and money both–“

From every throat burst a yell of wild acclaim, shout on shout: “Hey, lads, for Cap’n Jo! ‘Tis she hath the wise head, mates! Money and vengeance, says Jo! Shout, lads, for Fighting Jo–shout!”

“And what o’ your big rogue, Jo?” demanded Belvedere, scowling on me.

“He?” said Joanna, curling her lip at me. “Oh, la-la, he shall be our slave–’til he weary me. So–bring: them along!”

But now (and all too late) perceiving death to be the nobler part, even as Don Federigo had said, I determined to end matters then and there; thus, turning from Joanna’s baleful smile, I leapt suddenly upon the nearest of the pirates and felling him with a buffet, came to grips with another; this man I swung full-armed, hurling him among his fellows, and all before a shot might be fired. But as I stood fronting them, awaiting the stab or bullet should end me, I heard Joanna’s voice shrill and imperious:

“Hold, lads! You are twelve and he but one and unarmed. So down with your weapons–down, I say! You shall take me this man with your naked hands–ha, fists–yes! Smite then–bruise him, fists shall never kill him! To it, with your hands then; the first man that draweth weapon I shoot! To it, lads, sa-ha–at him then, good bullies!”

For a moment they hesitated but seeing Joanna, her cheeks aglow, her pistols grasped in ready hands, they laughed and cursed and, loosing off such things as incommoded them, prepared to come at me. Then, perceiving she had fathomed my design and that here was small chance of finding sudden quietus, I folded my arms, minded to let them use me as they would. But this fine resolution was brought to none account by a small piece of driftwood that one of these fellows hove at me, thereby setting my mouth a-bleeding. Stung by the blow and forgetting all but my anger, I leapt and smote with my fist, and then he and his fellows were upon me. But they being so many their very numbers hampered them, so that as they leapt upon me many a man was staggered by kick or buffet aimed at me; moreover these passed their days cooped up on shipboard whiles I was a man hardened by constant exercise. Scarce conscious of the hurts I took as we reeled to and fro, locked in furious grapple, I fought them very joyously, making right good play with my fists; but ever as I smote one down, another leapt to smite, so that presently my breath began to labour. How long I endured, I know not. Only I remember marvelling to find myself so strong and the keen joy of it was succeeded by sudden weariness, a growing sickness: I remember a sound of groaning breaths all about me, of thudding blows, hoarse shouts, these, waxing ever fainter, until smiting with failing arms and ever-waning strength, they dragged me down at last and I lay vanquished and unresisting. As I sprawled there, drawing my breath in painful gasps, the hands that smote, the merciless feet that kicked and trampled me were suddenly stilled and staring up with dimming eyes I saw Joanna looking down on me.

“Oh, Martino,” said she in my ear, “Oh, fool Englishman, could you but love as you do fight–“

But groaning, I turned my face to the trampled sand and knew no more.

CHAPTER X

HOW I CAME ABOARD THE _HAPPY DESPATCH_ AND OF MY SUFFERINGS THERE

I awoke gasping to the shock of cold water and was dimly aware of divers people crowding about me.

“‘Tis a fine, bull-bodied boy, Job, all brawn and beef–witness your eye, Lord love me!” exclaimed a jovial voice, “Aha, Job, a lusty lad–heave t’other bucket over him!” There came another torrent of water, whereupon I strove to sit up, but finding this vain by reason of strict bonds, I cursed them all and sundry instead.

“A sturdy soul, Job, and of a comfortable conversation!” quoth the voice. “Moreover a man o’ mark, as witnesseth your peeper.”

“Rot him!” growled the man Job, a beastly-seeming fellow, very slovenly and foul of person, who glared down at me out of one eye, the other being so bruised and swollen as to serve him no whit.

“He should be overside wi’ his guts full o’ shot for this same heye of mine if ’twas my say–“

“But then it ain’t your say, Job, nor yet Belvedere’s–’tis hern, Job–hern–Cap’n Jo’s. ‘He’s to be took care of,’ says she, ‘treated kind and gentle,’ says she. And, mark me, here’s Belvedere’s nose out o’ joint, d’ye see? And, talkin’ o’ noses, there’s your eye, Job; sink me but he wiped your eye for you, my–“

“Plague and perish him!” snarled Job, kicking me viciously. “Burn him, ’tis keelhaul ‘im I would first and then give ‘im to Pompey to carve up what remained–“

“Pompey?” exclaimed this fellow Diccon, a merry-seeming fellow but with a truculent eye. “Look ‘ee, Job, here’s a match for Pompey at last, as I do think, man to man, bare fists or knives, a match and I’ll lay to’t.”

“Pshaw!” growled Job. “Pompey could eat ‘im–bones and all, curse ‘im! Pompey would break ‘is back as ‘e did the big Spaniard’s last week.”

“Nay, Job, this fellow should make better fight for’t than did the Spanisher. Look ‘ee now, match ’em, and I’ll lay all my share o’ the voyage on this fellow, come now!”

“A match? Why so I would, but what o’ Belvedere?”

“He sulketh, Job, and yonder he cometh, a-sucking of his thumb and all along o’ this fellow and our Jo. Joanna’s cocked her eye on this fellow and Belvedere’s cake’s dough–see him yonder!”

Now following the speaker’s look, I perceived Captain Belvedere descending the quarter-ladder, his handsome face very evil and scowling; spying me where I lay, he came striding up and folding his arms, stood looking over me silently awhile.

“Lord love me!” he exclaimed at last in huge disgust and spat upon me. “Aft with him–to the coach–“

“Coach, Cap’n?” questioned Job, staring. “And why theer?”

“Because I say so!” roared Belvedere.

“And because,” quoth Diccon, his eye more truculent than ever, “because women will be women, eh, Captain?” At this Belvedere’s face grew suffused, his eyes glared and he turned on the speaker with clenched fist; then laughing grimly, he spurned me savagely with his foot.

“Joanna hath her whimsies, and here’s one of ’em!” quoth he and spat on me again, whereat I raged and strove, despite my bonds, to come at him.

“I were a-saying to Job,” quoth the man Diccon, thrusting me roughly beyond reach of Belvedere’s heavy foot, “that here was a fellow to match Pompey at last.”

“Tush!” said Belvedere, with an oath. “Pompey would quarter him wi’ naked hands.”

“I was a-saying to Job I would wager my share in the voyage on this fellow, Belvedere!”

“Aye, Cap’n,” growled Job, “’tis well enough keeping the Don to hang afore Nombre but why must this dog live aft and cosseted? He should walk overboard wi’ slit weasand, or better–he’s meat for Pompey, and wherefore no? I asks why, Cap’n?”

“Aye–why!” cried Belvedere, gnashing his teeth. “Ask her–go ask Joanna, the curst jade.”

“She be only a woman, when all’s said, Cap’n–“

“Nay, Job,” quoth Belvedere, shaking his head. “She’s Joanna and behind her do lie Tressady and Sol and Rory and Abnegation Mings–and all the Fellowship. So if she says he lives, lives it is, to lie soft and feed dainty, curse him. Let me die if I don’t wish I’d left her on the island to end him her own way–wi’ steel or kindness–“

“Kindness!” said Diccon, with an ugly leer. “Why, there it is, Cap’n; she’s off wi’ the old and on wi’ the new, like–“

“Not yet, by God!” snarled Belvedere ‘twixt shut teeth and scowling down on me while his hand clawed at the pistol in his belt; then his gaze wandered from me towards the poop and back again. “Curse him!” said he, stamping in his impotent fury. “I’d give a handful o’ gold pieces to see him dead and be damned!” And here he fell a-biting savagely at his thumb again.

“Why, then, here’s a lad to earn ’em,” quoth Job, “an’ that’s me. I’ve a score agin him for this lick o’ the eye he give me ashore–nigh blinded me, ‘e did, burn an’ blast his bones!”

“Aye, but what o’ Joanna, what o’ that she-snake, ha?”

“‘Tis no matter for her. I’ve a plan.”

“What is’t, Job lad? Speak fair and the money’s good as yourn–“

“Aye, but it ain’t mine yet, Cap’n, so mum it but I’ve a plan.”

“Belay, Job!” exclaimed Diccon. “Easy all. Yonder she cometh.”

Sure enough, I saw Joanna descend the ladder from the poop and come mincing across the deck towards us.

“Hola, Belvedere, mon Capitan!” said she, glancing about her quick-eyed. “You keep your ship very foul, yes. Dirt to dirt!–ah? But I am aboard and this shall be amended–look to it. And your mizzen yard is sprung; down with it and sway up another–“

“Aye, aye, Jo,” said Belvedere, nodding. “It shall be done–“

“_Mañana_!” quoth she, frowning. “This doth not suit when I am aboard, no! The new yard must be rigged now, at once, for we sail with the flood–_voilà_!”

“Sail, Jo?” said Belvedere, staring. “Can’t be, Jo!”

“And wherefore?”

“Why–we be short o’ water, for one thing.”

“Ah–bah, we shall take all we want from other ships!”

“And the lads be set, heart and soul, on a few days ashore.”

“But then–I am set, my heart, my soul, on heaving anchor so soon as the tide serves. We will sail with the flood. Now see the new yard set up and have this slave Martin o’ mine to my cabin.” So saying, she turned on her heel and minced away, while Belvedere stood looking after her and biting at his thumb, Job scowled and Diccon smiled.

“So–ho!” quoth he. “Captain Jo says we sail, and sail it is, hey?”

“Blind you!” cried Belvedere, turning on him in a fury. “Go forward and turn out two o’ the lads to draw this carcass aft!” Here bestowing a final kick on me, he swaggered away.

“Sail wi’ the flood, is it?” growled Job. “And us wi’ scarce any water and half on us rotten wi’ scurvy or calenture, an’ no luck this cruise, neither! ‘Sail wi’ the flood,’ says she–‘be damned,’ says I. By hookey, but I marvel she lives; I wonder no one don’t snuff her out for good an’ all–aye, burn me but I do!”

“Because you’re a fool, Job, and don’t know her like we do. She’s ‘La Culebra,’ and why? Because she’s quick as any snake and as deadly. Besides, she’s our luck and luck she’ll bring us; she always do. Whatever ship she’s aboard of has all the luck, wind, weather, and–what’s better, rich prizes, Job. I know it and the lads forrad know it, and Belvedere he knows it and is mighty feared of her and small blame either–aye, and mayhap you’ll be afeard of her when you know her better. ‘She’s only a woman,’ says you. ‘True,’ says I. But in all this here world there ain’t her match, woman or man, and you can lay to that, my lad.”

Now the ropes that secured me being very tight, began to cause me no little pain, insomuch that I besought the man Diccon to loose me a little, whereupon he made as to comply, but Job, who it seemed was quartermaster, and new in the office, would have none of it but cursed me vehemently instead, and hailing two men had me forthwith dragged aft to a small cabin under the poop and there (having abused and cuffed me to his heart’s content) left me.

And in right woful plight was I, with clothes nigh torn off and myself direly bruised from head to foot, and what with this and the cramping strictness of my bonds I could come by no easement, turn and twist me how I might. After some while, as I lay thus miserable and pain in every joint of me, the door opened, closed and Joanna stood above me.

“Ah, ah–you are very foul o’ blood!” said she in bitter mockery. “‘Twas thus you spake me once, Martino, you’ll mind! ‘Very foul o’ blood,’ said you, and I famishing with hunger! Art hungry, Martino?” she questioned, bending over me; but meeting her look, I scowled and held my peace. “Ha, won’t ye talk? Is the sullen fit on you?” said she, scowling also. “Then shall you hear me! And first, know this: you are mine henceforth, aye–mine!” So saying, she seated herself on the cushioned locker whereby I lay and, setting her foot upon my breast and elbow on knee, leaned above me, dimpled chin on fist, staring down on me with her sombre gaze. “You are mine,” said she again, “to use as I will, to exalt or cast down. I can bestow on ye life or very evil death. By my will ye are alive; when I will you must surely die. Your wants, your every need must you look to me for–so am I your goddess and ruler of your destiny, yes! Ah, had you been more of man and less of fish, I had made you captain of this ship, and loved you, Martino, loved you–!”

“Aye,” cried I bitterly, “until you wearied of me as you have wearied of this rogue Belvedere, it seems–aye, and God knoweth how many more–“

“Oh, la-la, fool–these I never loved–“

“Why, then,” said I, “the more your shame!”

As I uttered the words, she leaned down and smote me lightly upon my swollen lips and so left me. But presently back she came and with her three of the crew, bearing chains, etc., which fellows at her command (albeit they were something gone in liquor) forthwith clapped me up in these fetters and thereafter cut away the irksome cords that bound me. Whiles this was a-doing, she (quick to mark their condition) lashed them with her tongue, giving them “loathly sots,” “drunken swine,” “scum o’ the world” and the like epithets, all of the which they took in mighty humble fashion, knuckling their foreheads, ducking their heads with never a word and mighty glad to stumble away and be gone at flick of her contemptuous finger.

“So here’s you, Martino,” said she, when we were alone, “here’s you in chains that might have been free, and here’s myself very determined you shall learn somewhat of shame and be slave at command of such beasts as yonder. D’ye hear, fool, d’ye hear?” But I heeding her none at all, she kicked me viciously so that I flinched (despite myself) for I was very sore; whereat she gave a little laugh:

“Ah, ah!” said she, nodding. “If I did not love you, now would I watch you die! But the time is not yet–no. When that hour is then, if I am not your death, you shall be mine–death for one or other or both, for I–“

She sprang to her feet as from the deck above came the uproar of sudden brawl with drunken outcry.

“Ah, Madre de Dios!” said she, stamping in her anger. “Oh, these bestial things called men!” which said, she whipped a pistol from her belt, cocked it and was gone with a quick, light patter of feet. Suddenly I heard the growing tumult overhead split and smitten to silence by a pistol-shot, followed by a wailing cry that was drowned in the tramp of feet away forward.

As for me, my poor body, freed of its bonds, found great easement thereby (and despite my irons) so that I presently laid myself down on one of these cushioned lockers (and indeed, though small, this cabin was rarely luxurious and fine) but scarce had I stretched my aching limbs than the door opened and a man entered.

And surely never in all this world was stranger creature to be seen. Gaunt and very lean was he of person and very well bedight from heel to head, but the face that peered out ‘twixt the curls of his great periwig lacked for an eye and was seamed and seared with scars in horrid fashion; moreover the figure beneath his rich, wide-skirted coat seemed warped and twisted beyond nature; yet as he stood viewing me with his solitary eye (this grey and very quick and bright) there was that in his appearance that somehow took my fancy.

“What, messmate,” quoth he, in full, hearty voice, advancing with a shambling limp, “here cometh one to lay alongside you awhile, old Resolution Day, friend, mate o’ this here noble ship _Happy Despatch_, comrade, and that same myself, look’ee!”

But having no mind to truck with him or any of this evil company, I bid him leave me be and cursed him roundly for the pirate-rogue he was.

“Pirate,” said he, no whit abashed at my outburst. “Why, pirate it is. But look’ee, there never was pirate the like o’ me for holiness–‘specially o’ Sundays! Lord love you, there’s never a parson or divine, high church or low, a patch on me for real holiness–‘specially o’ Sundays. So do I pray when cometh my time to die, be it in bed or boots, by sickness, bullet or noose, it may chance of a Sunday. And then again, why not a pirate? What o’ yourself, friend? There’s a regular fire-and-blood, skull-and-bones look about ye as liketh me very well. And there be many worse things than a mere pirate, brother. And what? You’ll go for to ask. Answer I–Spanishers, Papishers, the Pope o’ Rome and his bloody Inquisition, of which last I have lasting experience, _camarado_–aye, I have I!”

“Ah?” said I, sitting up. “You have suffered the torture?”

“Comrade, look at me! The fire, the pulley, the rack, the wheel, the water–there’s no devilment they ha’n’t tried on this poor carcase o’ mine and all by reason of a Spanish nun as bore away with my brother!”

“Your brother?”

“Aye, but ’twas me she loved, for I was younger then and something kinder to the eye. So him they burned, her they buried alive and me they tormented into the wrack ye see. But I escaped wi’ my life, the Lord delivered me out o’ their bloody hands, which was an ill thing for them, d’ye see, for though I lack my starboard blinker and am somewhat crank i’ my spars alow and aloft, I can yet ply whinger and pull trigger rare and apt enough for the rooting out of evil. And where a fairer field for the aforesaid rooting out o’ Papishers, Portingales, and the like evil men than this good ship, the _Happy Despatch?_ Aha, messmate, there’s many such as I’ve despatched hot-foot to their master Sathanas, ‘twixt then and now. And so ’tis I’m a pirate and so being so do I sing along o’ David: ‘Blessed be the Lord my strength that teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.’ A rare gift o’ words had Davy and for curses none may compare.” Hereupon, seating himself on the locker over against me, he thrust a hand into his great side pocket and brought thence a hank of small-cord, a silver-mounted pistol and lastly a small, much battered volume.

“Look’ee, comrade,” said he, tapping the worn covers with bony finger, “the Bible is a mighty fine book to fight by; to stir up a man for battle, murder or sudden death it hath no equal and for keeping his hate agin his enemies ever a-burning, there is no book written or ever will be–“

“You talk blasphemy!” quoth I.

“Avast, avast!” cried he. “Here’s no blasphemy, thought or word. I love this little Bible o’ mine; His meat and drink to me, the friend o’ my solitude, my solace in pain, my joy for ever and alway. Some men, being crossed in fortune, hopes, ambition or love, take ’em to drink and the like vanities. I, that suffered all this, took to the Bible and found all my needs betwixt the covers o’ this little book. For where shall a wronged man find such a comfortable assurance as this? Hark ye what saith our Psalmist!” Turning over a page or so and lifting one knotted fist aloft, Resolution Day read this:

“‘I shall bathe my footsteps in the blood of mine enemies and the tongues of the dogs shall be red with the same!’ The which,” said he, rolling his bright eye at me, “the which is a sweet, pretty fancy for the solace of one hath endured as much as I. Aye, a noble book is Psalms. I know it by heart. List ye to this, now! ‘The wicked shall perish and the enemies of the Lord be as the fat of rams, as smoke shall they consume away.’ Brother, I’ve watched ’em so consume many’s the time and been the better for’t. Hark’ee again: ‘They shall be as chaff before the wind. As a snail that melteth they shall every one pass away. Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!’ saith Davy, aye and belike did it too, and so have I ere now with a pistol butt. I mind once when we stormed Santa Catalina and the women and children a-screaming in the church which chanced to be afire, I took out my Bible here and read these comfortable words: ‘The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance, he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked so that a man shall say: Verily there is a reward for the righteous.’ Aha, brother, for filling a man wi’ a gust of hate and battle, there’s nought like the Bible. And when a curse is wanted, give me David. Davy was a man of his hands, moreover, and so are you, friend. I watched ye fight on the sand-spit yonder; twelve to one is long enough odds for any man, and yet here’s five o’ the twelve wi’ bones broke and never a one but wi’ some mark o’ your handiwork to show, which is vastly well, comrade. Joanna’s choice is mine, messmate–“

“How d’ye mean?” I demanded, scowling, whereupon he beamed on me friendly-wise and blinked his solitary eye.

“There is no man aboard this ship,” quoth he, nodding again, “no, not one as could keep twelve in play so long, friend, saving only Black Pompey–“

“I’ve heard his name already,” said I, “what like is he and who?”

“A poor heathen, comrade, a blackamoor, friend, a child of Beelzebub abounding in blood, brother–being torturer, executioner and cook and notable in each several office. A man small of soul yet great of body, being nought but a poor, black heathen, as I say. And ashore yonder you shall hear our Christian messmates a-quarrelling over their rum as is the way o’ your Christians hereabouts–hark to ’em!”

The _Happy Despatch_ lay anchored hard by the reef and rode so near the island that, glancing from one of her stern-gallery windows I might behold Deliverance Beach shining under the moon and a great fire blazing, round which danced divers of the crew, filling the night with lewd, unholy riot of drunken singing and shouts that grew ever more fierce and threatening. I was gazing upon this scene and Resolution Day beside me, when the door was flung open and Job the quartermaster appeared.

“Cap’n Jo wants ye ashore wi’ her!” said he, beckoning to Resolution, who nodded and thrusting Bible into pocket, took thence the silver-mounted pistol, examined flint and priming and thrusting it into his belt, followed Job out of the cabin, locking the door upon me. Thereafter I was presently aware of a boat putting off from the ship and craning my neck, saw it was rowed by Resolution with Joanna in the stern sheets, a naked sword across her knees; and my gaze held by the glimmer of this steel, I watched them row into the lagoon and so to that spit of sand opposite Skeleton Cove. I saw the hateful glitter of this deadly steel as Joanna leapt lightly ashore, followed more slowly by Resolution. But suddenly divers of the rogues about the fire, beholding Joanna as she advanced against them thus, sword in hand, cried out a warning to their fellows, who, ceasing from their strife, immediately betook them to their heels, fleeing before her like so many mischievous lads; marvelling, I watched until she had pursued them out of my view.

Hereupon I took to an examination of my fetters, link by link, but finding them mighty secure, laid me down as comfortably as they would allow and fell to pondering my desperate situation, and seeing no way out herefrom (and study how I might) I began to despond; but presently, bethinking me of Don Federigo and judging his case more hopeless than mine (if this could well be), and further, remembering how, but for me, he would by death have delivered himself, I (that had not prayed this many a long month) now petitioned the God to whom nothing is impossible that He would save alive this noble gentleman of Spain, and thus, in his sorrows, forgot mine own awhile.

All at once I started up, full of sudden great and joyful content in all that was, or might be, beholding in my fetters the very Providence of God (as it were) and in my captivity His answer to my so oft-repeated prayer; for now I remembered that with the flood this ship was to sail for Nombre de Dios, where, safe-dungeoned and secure against my coming lay my hated foe and deadly enemy, Richard Brandon. And now, in my vain and self-deluding pride (my heart firm-set on this miserable man, his undoing and destruction) I cast me down on my knees and babbled forth my passionate gratitude to Him that is from everlasting to everlasting the God of Mercy, Love and Forgiveness.

CHAPTER XI

HOW I FOUGHT IN THE DARK WITH ONE POMPEY, A GREAT BLACKAMOOR

I was yet upon my knees when came Job the quartermaster with two men who, at his command, dragged me to my feet and out upon deck; cursing my hampering fetters, they tumbled me down the quarter-ladder and so down into the waist of the ship.

Now as I went I kept my eyes upraised to the serene majesty of the heavens; the moon rode high amid a glory of stars, and as I looked it seemed I had never seen them so bright and wonderful, never felt the air so good and sweet upon my lips.

Being come to the fore-hatchway I checked there, despite my captors’ buffets and curses, to cast a final, long look up, above and round about me, for I had a sudden uneasy feeling, a dreadful suspicion that once I descended into the gloom below I never should come forth alive. So I stared eagerly upon these ever-restless waters, so bright beneath the moon, upon the white sands of Deliverance Beach, on lofty palmetto and bush-girt cliff and then, shivering despite all my resolution, I suffered them to drag me down into that place of shadows.

I remember a sharp, acrid smell, the reek of bilge and thick, mephitic air as I stumbled on betwixt my captors through this foul-breathing dimness until a door creaked, yawning suddenly upon a denser blackness, into which I was thrust so suddenly that I fell, clashing my fetters, and lying thus, heard the door slammed and bolted.

So here lay I in sweating, breathless expectation of I knew not what, my ears on the stretch, my manacled hands tight-clenched and every nerve a-tingle with this dreadful uncertainty. For a great while it seemed I lay thus, my ears full of strange noises, faint sighings, unchancy rustlings and a thousand sly, unaccountable sounds that at first caused me direful apprehensions but which, as I grew more calm, I knew for no more than the flow of the tide and the working of the vessel’s timbers as she strained at her anchors. All at once I sat up, crouching in the dark, as from somewhere about me, soft yet plain to hear, came a sound that told me some one was stealthily drawing the bolts of the door. Rising to my feet I stood, shackled fists clenched, ready to leap and smite so soon as chance should offer. Then came a hissing whisper:

“Easy all, brother! Soft it is, comrade! ‘Tis me, messmate, old Resolution, friend, come to loose thy bilboes, for fair is fair. Ha, ’tis plaguey dark, the pit o’ Acheron ain’t blacker, where d’ye lay–speak soft for there’s ears a-hearkening very nigh us.”

In the dark a hand touched me and then I felt the muzzle of a pistol at my throat.

“No tricks, lad–no running for’t if I loose ye–you’ll bide here–come life, come death? Is’t agreed?”

“It is!” I whispered. Whereupon and with no more ado, he freed me from my gyves, making scarcely any sound, despite the dark.

“I’ll take these wi’ me, friend and–my finger’s on trigger.”

“Resolution, how am I to die?”

“Black Pompey!” came the hissing whisper.

“Hath Joanna ordered this?”

“Never think it, mate–she’s ashore and I swam aboard, having my suspicions.”

“Resolution, a dying man thanks you heartily, purely never, after all, was there pirate the like o’ you for holiness. Could I but find some weapon to my defence now–a knife, say.” In the dark came a griping hand that found mine and was gone again, but in my grasp was a stout, broad-bladed knife.

“‘Let the heathen rage,’ saith Holy Writ, so rage it is, says I, only smite first, brother and smite–hard. And ‘ware the starboard scuttle!” Hereafter was the rustle of his stealthy departure, the soft noise of bolts, and silence.

And now in this pitchy gloom, wondering what and where this scuttle might be, I crouched, a very wild and desperate creature, peering into the gloom and starting at every sound; thus presently I heard the scrape of a viol somewhere beyond the bulkheads that shut me in and therewith a voice that sang, the words very clear and distinct:

“Oh, Moll she lives in Deptford town, In Deptford town lives she;
Let maid be white or black or brown. Still Moll’s the lass for me;
Sweet Moll as lives in Deptford town, Yo-ho, shipmates, for Deptford town,
Tis there as I would be.”

Mingled with this singing I thought to hear the heavy thud of an unshod foot on the planking above my head, and setting my teeth I gripped my knife in sweating palm.

But now (and to my despair) came the singing again to drown all else, hearken how I would:

“Come whistle, messmates all.
For a breeze, for a breeze
Come pipe up, messmates all,
For a breeze.
When to Deptford town we’ve rolled Wi’ our pockets full o’ gold;
Then our lasses we will hold
On our knees, on our knees.”

Somewhere in the dark was the sudden, thin complaint of a rusty and unwilling bolt, though if this were to my right or left, above or below me, I could not discover and my passionate listening was once more vain by reason of this accursed rant:

“Who will not drink a glass,
Let him drown, let him drown;
Who will not drink a glass,
Let him drown.
Who will not drink a glass
For to toast a pretty lass,
Is no more than fool and ass;
So let him drown, let him drown!”

A sudden glow upon the gloom overhead, a thin line of light that widened suddenly to a square of blinding radiance and down through the trap came a lanthorn grasped in a hugeous, black fist and, beyond this, an arm, a mighty shoulder, two rows of flashing teeth, two eyes that glared here and there, rolling in horrid fashion; thus much I made out as I sprang and, grappling this arm, smote upwards with my knife. The lanthorn fell, clattering, and was extinguished, but beyond the writhing, shapeless thing that blocked the scuttle, I might, ever and anon, behold a star twinkling down upon me where I wrestled with this mighty arm that whirled me from my feet, and swung me, staggering, to and fro as I strove to get home with my knife at the vast bulk that loomed above me. Once and twice I stabbed vainly, but my third stroke seemed more successful, for the animal-like howl he uttered nigh deafened me; then (whether by my efforts or his own, I know not) down he came upon me headlong, dashing the good knife from my grasp and whirling me half-stunned against the bulkhead, and as I leaned there, sick and faint, a hand clapped-to the scuttle. And now in this dreadful dark I heard a deep and gusty breathing, like that of some monstrous beast, heard this breathing checked while he listened for me a stealthy rustling as he felt here and there to discover my whereabouts. But I stood utterly still, breathless and sweating, with a horror of death at this great blackamoor’s hands, since, what with the palsy of fear by reason of the loss of my knife, I did not doubt but that this monster would soon make an end of me and in horrid fashion.

Presently I heard him move again and (judging by the sound) creeping on hands and knees, therefore as he approached I edged myself silently along the bulkhead and thus (as I do think) we made the complete circuit of the place; once it seemed he came upon the lanthorn and dashing it fiercely aside, paused awhile to listen again, and my heart pounding within me so that I sweated afresh lest he catch the sound of it. And sometimes I would hear the soft, slurring whisper his fingers made against deck or bulkhead where he groped for me, and once a snorting gasp and the crunch of his murderous knife-point biting into wood and thereafter a hoarse and outlandish muttering. And ever as I crept thus, moving but when he moved, I felt before me with my foot, praying that I might discover my knife and, this in hand, face him and end matters one way or another and be done with the horror. And whiles we crawled thus round and round within this narrow space, ever and anon above the stealthy rustle of his movements, above his stertorous breathing and evil muttering, above the wild throbbing of my heart rose the wail of the fiddle and the singing:

“Who will not kiss a maid,
Let him hang, let him hang;
Who fears to kiss a maid,
Let him hang.
Who will not kiss a maid
Who of woman is afraid,
Is no better than a shade;
So let him hang, let him hang!”

until this foolish, ranting ditty seemed to mock me, my breath came and went to it, my heart beat to it; yet even so, I was praying passionately and this my prayer, viz: That whoso was waiting above us for my death-cry should not again lift the scuttle lest I be discovered to this man-thing that crept and crept upon me in the dark. Even as I prayed thus, the scuttle was raised and, blinded by the sudden glare of a lanthorn, I heard Job’s hoarse voice:

“Below there! Pompey, ahoy! Ha’n’t ye done yet an’ be curst?”

And suddenly I found in this thing I had so much dreaded the one chance to my preservation, for I espied the great blackamoor huddled on his knees, shading his eyes with both hands from the dazzling light and, lying on the deck before him a long knife.

“Oh, marse mate,” he cried, “me done fin’ no curs’ man here’bouts–“

Then I leaped and kicking the knife out of reach, had him in my grip, my right hand fast about his throat. I remember his roar, the crash of the trap as it closed, and after this a grim and desperate scuffling in the dark; now he had me down, rolling and struggling and now we were up, locked breast to breast, swaying and staggering, stumbling and slipping, crashing into bulkheads, panting and groaning; and ever he beat and buffeted me with mighty fists, but my head bowed low betwixt my arms, took small hurt, while ever my two hands squeezed and wrenched and twisted at his great, fleshy throat. I remember an awful gasping that changed to a strangling whistle, choked to a feeble, hissing whine; his great body grew all suddenly lax, swaying weakly in my grasp, and then, as I momentarily eased my grip, with a sudden, mighty effort he broke free. I heard a crash of splintering wood, felt a rush of sweet, pure air, saw him reel out through the shattered door and sink upon his knees; but as I sprang towards him he was up and fleeing along the deck amidships, screaming as he ran.

All about me was a babel of shouts and cries, a rush and trampling of feet, but I sped all unheeding, my gaze ever upon the loathed, fleeing shape of this vile blackamoor. I was hard on his heels as he scrambled up the quarter-ladder and within a yard of him as he gained the deck, while behind us in the waist were men who ran pell-mell, filling the night with raving clamour and drunken halloo. Now as I reached the quarter-deck, some one of these hurled after me a belaying pin and this, catching me on the thigh, staggered me so that I should have fallen but for the rail; so there clung I in a smother of sweat and blood while great moon and glittering stars span dizzily; but crouched before me on his hams, almost within arm’s reach, was this accursed negro who gaped upon me with grinning teeth and rolled starting eyeballs, his breath coming in great, hoarse gasps. And I knew great joy to see him in no better case than I, his clothes hanging in blood-stained tatters so that I might see all the monstrous bulk of him. Now, as he caught his breath and glared upon me, I suffered my aching body to droop lower and lower over the rail like one nigh to swooning, yet very watchful of his every move. Suddenly as we faced each other thus, from the deck below rose a chorus of confused cries:

“At him, Pompey! Now’s ye time, boy! Lay ‘im aboard, lad, ‘e be a-swounding! Ha–out wi’ his liver, Pompey–at him, he’s yourn!”

Heartened by these shouts and moreover seeing how feebly I clutched at the quarter-rail, the great negro uttered a shrill cry of triumph and leapt at me; but as he came I sprang to meet his rush and stooping swiftly, caught him below the knees and in that same moment, straining every nerve, every muscle and sinew to the uttermost, I rose up and hove him whirling over my shoulder.

I heard a scream, a scurry of feet, and then the thudding crash of his fall on the deck below and coming to the rail I leaned down and saw him lie, his mighty limbs hideously twisted and all about him men who peered and whispered. But suddenly they found their voices to rage against me, shaking their fists and brandishing their steel; a pistol flashed and roared and the bullet hummed by my ear, but standing above them I laughed as a madman might, jibing at them and daring them to come on how they would, since indeed death had no terrors for me now. And doubtless steel or shot would have ended me there and then but for the man Diccon who quelled their clamour and held them from me by voice and fist:

“Arrest, ye fools–stand by!” he roared. “Yon man be the property o’ Captain Jo–’tis Joanna’s man and whoso harms him swings–“

“Aye, but he’ve murdered Pompey, ain’t ‘e?” demanded Job.

“Aye, aye–an’ so ‘e have, for sure!” cried a voice.

“Well an’ good–murder’s an ‘anging matter, ain’t it?”

“An’ so it be, Job–up wi’ him–hang him–hang him!”

“Well an’ good!” cried Job again. “‘Ang ‘im we will, lads, all on us, every man’s fist to the rope–she can’t hang us all, d’ye see. You, Diccon, where be Belvedere; he shall be in it–“

“Safe fuddled wi’ rum, surely. Lord, Job, you do be takin’ uncommon risks for a hatful o’ guineas–“

So they took me and, all unresisting, I was dragged amidships beneath the main yard where a noose was for my destruction; and though hanging had seemed a clean death by contrast with that I had so lately escaped at the obscene hands of this loathly blackamoor, yet none the less a sick trembling took me as I felt the rope about my neck, insomuch that I sank to my knees and closed my eyes.

Kneeling thus and nigh to fainting, I heard a sudden, quick patter of light-running feet, a gasping sigh and, glancing up, beheld Job before me, also upon his knees and staring down with wide and awful eyes at an ever-spreading stain that fouled the bosom of his shirt; and as he knelt thus, I saw above his stooping head the blue glitter of a long blade that lightly tapped his brawny neck.

“The noose–here, Diccon, here, yes!”

As one in a dream I felt the rope lifted from me and saw it set about the neck of Job.

“So! Ready there? Now–heave all!”

I heard the creak of the block, the quick tramp of feet, a strangling cry, and Job the quartermaster was snatched aloft to kick and writhe and dangle against the moon.

“Diccon, we have lost our quartermaster and we sail on the flood; you are quartermaster henceforth, yes. Ha–look–see, my Englishman is sick! Dowse a bucket o’ water over him, then let him be ironed and take him forward to the fo’castle; he shall serve you all for sport–but no killing, mind.” Thus lay I to be kicked and buffeted and half-drowned; yet when they had shackled me, cometh the man Diccon to clap me heartily on the shoulder and after him Resolution to nod at me and blink with his single, twinkling eye:

“Oh, friend,” quoth he, “Oh, brother, saw ye ever the like of our Captain Jo? Had Davy been here to-day he might perchance ha’ wrote a psalm to her.”

That morning with the flood tide we hove anchor and the _Happy Despatch_ stood out to sea and, as she heeled to the freshening wind, Job’s stiffening body lurched and swayed and twisted from the main yard. And thus it was I saw the last of my island.

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.”

CHAPTER XIII

HOW WE FOUGHT AN ENGLISH SHIP

For the days immediately following I saw nothing of Joanna but learned from Resolution and Diccon that her sickness had increased upon her.

“‘Tis her soul, I doubt!” quoth Diccon, shaking his head. “‘Tis too great for her body–’tis giant soul and her but a woman–so doth strong soul overcome weak body, and small wonder, say I?”

“Nay, Diccon,” said Resolution, his bright eye sweeping the hazy distance, “’tis but that she refuseth her vittles, and since ‘man cannot live by bread alone’ neither may woman, and ’tis more than bread she needeth and so she rageth and thus, like unto Peter’s wife’s mother, lieth sick of a fever.” Here for a brief moment his bright eye rested on me and he scowled as he turned to limp the narrow deck.

Much might I narrate of the divers hazards of battle and storm that befell us at this time, and more of the goodly ships pillaged and scuttled and their miserable crews with them, by Belvedere and his bloody rogues; of prayers for mercy mocked at, of the agonised screams of dying men, of flame and destruction and death in many hideous shapes. All of the which nameless evils I must perforce behold since this Belvedere that shrank at Joanna’s mere look, freed of her presence, took joyous advantage to torment me with the sight of such horrors, such devil’s work as shrieked to heaven for vengeance; insomuch that Diccon and divers others could ill-stomach it at last and even grim Resolution would have no more.

Now although Belvedere and his rogues had taken great store of treasure with small hurt to themselves, yet must they growl and curse their fortune, since in none of the captured vessels had they taken any women, and never was the cry of “Sail, ho!” than all men grew eager for chase and attack; and thus this accursed ship _Happy Despatch_ stood on, day after day.

Much will I leave untold by reason of the horror of it, and moreover my space is short for all I have set myself to narrate, viz: how and in what manner I came at last to my vengeance and what profit I had therein. So will I pass on to that day when, being in the latitude of the great and fair island of Hispaniola, we descried a ship bearing westerly.

Hereupon (since greed is never satisfied) all men were vociferous for chase and attack, and Belvedere agreeing, we hauled our wind accordingly and stood after her with every sail we could carry.

The _Happy Despatch_ was a great ship of some forty guns besides such smaller pieces as minions, patereros and the like; she was moreover a notable good sailer and as the hours passed it was manifest we were fast overhauling our quarry. And very pitiful was it to see her crowding sail away from us, to behold her (as it were) straining every nerve to escape the horrors in store. Twice she altered her course and twice we did the like, fetching ever nearer until it seemed she was doomed to share the bloody fate of so many others. By noon we were so close that she was plain to see, a middling-size ship, her paint blistered, her gilding tarnished as by a long voyage, and though very taut and trim as to spars and rigging, a heavy-sailing ship and sluggish. A poor thing indeed to cope with such powerful vessel as this _Happy Despatch_, for as we closed in I could count no more than six guns in the whole length of her. As to crew she might have been deserted for all I saw of them, save one man who paced her lofty poop, a smallish man in great wig and befeathered hat and in his fist a sword prodigiously long in the blade, which sword he flourished whereat (as it were a signal) out from her mizzen wafted the banner of Portugal, and immediately she opened fire on us from her stern-chase guns. But their shooting was so indifferent and artillery so pitiful that their shot fell far short of us. Thus my heart grieved mightily for her as with our guns run out and crew roaring and eager we bore down to her destruction.

Now all at once, as I watched this unhappy ship, I caught my breath and sank weakly to my knees as, despite the distance and plain to see, upon her high poop came a woman, hooded and cloaked, who stood gazing earnestly towards us. Other eyes had noticed her also, for up from our crowded decks rose a hum, an evil murmur that swelled to a cry fierce, inarticulate, bestial, whiles all eyes glared upon that slender, shapely form; presently amid this ravening clamour I distinguished words:

“Oh, a woman! Aha–women! Hold your fire, lads–no shooting; we want ’em all alive! Easy all, bullies–nary a gun, mates–we’ll lay ’em ‘longside and board–Aye, aye–board it is!”

Now being on my knees, I began to whisper in passionate prayer until, roused by a shambling step, I glanced up to find Resolution Day beside me.

“What, d’ye pray, brother? ‘Tis excellent well!” Said he, setting a musquetoon ready to hand and glancing at the primings of his pistols. “Pray unceasing, friend, plague the Throne wi’ petitions, comrade, and a word or so on behalf of old Resolution ere the battle joins, for there’s–“

“I pray God utterly destroy this accursed ship and all aboard her!” I cried.

“And do ye so?” said he, setting the pistols in his belt. “Why, then, ’tis as well you’re safe i’ your bilboes, _amigo_, and as to your blasphemous praying, I will offset it wi’ prayerful counterblast–Ha, by my deathless soul–what’s doing yonder?” he cried, and leant to peer across at the chase, and well he might. For suddenly (and marvellous to behold) this ship that had sailed so heavily seemed to throw off her sluggishness and, taking on new life, to bound forward; her decks, hitherto deserted, grew alive with men who leapt to loose and haul at brace and rope and, coming about, she stood towards us and right athwart our course. So sudden had been this manoeuvre and so wholly unexpected that all men it seemed could but stare in stupefied amaze.

“Ha!” cried Resolution, smiting fist on the rail before him. “Tricked, by hookey! She’s been towing a sea anchor! Below there!” he hailed. “Belvedere, ahoy–go about, or she’ll rake us–“

And now came Belvedere’s voice in fierce and shrill alarm:

“Down wi’ your helm–down! Let go weather braces, jump, ye dogs, jump!”

I heard the answering tramp of feet, the rattle and creak of the yards as they swung and a great flapping of canvas as the _Happy Despatch_ came up into the wind; but watching where our adversary bore down upon us, I beheld her six guns suddenly multiplied and (or ever we might bring our broadside to bear) from these gaping muzzles leapt smoke and roaring flame, and we were smitten with a hurricane of shot that swept us from stem to stern.

Dazed, deafened, half-stunned, I crouched in the shelter of the mizzen mast, aware of shrieks and cries and the crash of falling spars, nor moved I for a space; lifting my head at last, I beheld on the littered decks below huddled figures that lay strangely twisted, that writhed or crawled. Then came the hoarse roar of a speaking trumpet and I saw Resolution, his face a smother of blood, where he leaned hard by across the quarter-rail.

“Stand to’t, my bullies!” he roared, and his voice had never sounded so jovial. “Clear the guns, baw-cocky boys; ’tis our turn next–but stand by till she comes about–“

From the companion below came one running, eyes wild, mouth agape, and I recognised the man Ford who had been my chief persecutor in the forecastle.

“What now, lad–what now?” demanded Resolution, mopping at his bloody face.

“Death!” gasped Ford. “There be dead men a-lay-ing forward–dead, look’ee–“

“Likely enough, John Ford, and there’ll be dead men a-laying aft if ye’re not back to your gun and lively, d’ye see?” But the fellow, gasping again, fell to his knees, whereupon Resolution smote him over the head with his speaking trumpet and tumbled him down the ladder.

“Look’ee here,” quoth he, scowling on me, “this all cometh along o’ your ill-praying us, for prayer is potent, as I know, which was not brotherly in you, Martin O, not brotherly nor yet friendly!” So saying, he squatted on the gun beside me and sought to staunch the splinter-gash in his brow; but seeing how ill he set about it, I proffered to do it for him (and despite my shackles), whereupon he gave me the scarf and knelt that I might come at his hurt the better; and being thus on his knees, he began to pray in a loud, strong voice:

“Lord God o’ battles, close up Thine ear, hearken to and regard not the unseemly praying of this mail Martin that hath not the just point o’ view, seeing through a glass darkly. Yonder lieth the enemy, Lord, Thine and mine, wherefore let ’em be rooted out and utterly destroyed; for if these be Portingales and Papishers–if–ha–if–?” Resolution ceased his prayer and glancing up, pointed with stabbing finger: “Yon ship’s no more Portingale than I am–look, friend, look!”

Now glancing whither he would have me, I saw two things: first, that the _Happy Despatch_ had turned tail and second that our pursuers bore at her main the English flag; beholding which, a great joy welled up within me so that I had much ado to keep from shouting outright.

“English!” quoth Resolution. “And a fighting ship–so fight we must, unless we win clear!”

“Ha, will ye run then?” cried I in bitter scorn.

“With might and main, friend. We are a pirate, d’ye see, w’ all to lose and nought to gain, and then ’tis but a fool as fighteth out o’ season!”

Even as he spoke the English ship yawed and let fly at us with her fore-chase and mingled with their roar was the sharp crack of parting timbers and down came our main-topmast.

“Why, so be it!” quoth Resolution, scowling up at the flapping ruin where it hung. “Very well, ’tis a smooth sea and a fighting wind, so shall you ha’ your bellyful o’ battle now, friend, for yonder cometh Joanna at last!”

And great wonder was it to behold how the mere sight of her heartened our sullen rogues, to hear with what howls of joy they welcomed her as she paced daintily across the littered deck with her quick glance now aloft, now upon our determined foe.

“Ha, ’tis so–’tis our Jo–our luck! Shout for Cap’n Jo and the luck o’ the Brotherhood!”

And now at her rapid commands from chaos came order, the decks were cleared, and, despite wrecked topmast, round swung the _Happy Despatch_ until her broadside bore upon the English ship. Even then Joanna waited, every eye fixed on her where she lolled, hand on hip, watching the approach of our adversary. Suddenly she gestured with her arm and immediately the whole fabric of the ship leapt and quivered to the deafening roar of her guns; then, as the smoke cleared, I saw the enemy’s foreyard was gone and her sides streaked and splintered by our shot, and from our decks rose shouts of fierce exultation, drowned in the answering thunder of their starboard broadside, the hiss of their shot all round about us, the crackle of riven woodwork, the vicious whirr of flying splinters, wails and screams and wild cheering.

And thus began a battle surely as desperate as ever was fought and which indeed no poor words of mine may justly describe. The enemy lay to windward and little enough could I see by reason of the dense smoke that enveloped us, a stifling, sulphurous cloud that drifted aboard us ever more thick as the fight waxed, a choking mist full of blurred shapes, dim forms that flitted by and vanished spectre-like, a rolling mystery whence came all manner of cries, piercing screams and shrill wailings dreadful to hear, while the deck beneath me, the air about me reeled and quivered to the never-ceasing thunder of artillery. But ever and anon, through some rent in this smoky curtain, I might catch a glimpse of the English ship, her shot-scarred side and rent sails, or the grim havoc of our own decks. And amidst it all, and hard beside me where I crouched in the shelter of the mizzenmast, I beheld Resolution Day limping to and fro, jovial of voice, cheering his sweating, powder-grimed gun-crews with word and hand. Suddenly I was aware of Joanna beside me, gay and debonnaire but ghastly pale.

“Hola, Martino!” cried she. “D’ye live yet? ‘Tis well. If we die to-day we die together, and where a properer death or one more fitting for such as you and I, for am I killed first, Resolution shall send you after me to bear me company, yes.”

So saying, she smiled and nodded and turned to summon Resolution, who came in limping haste.

“What, are ye hurt, Jo?” cried he, peering. “Ha, Joanna lass, are ye hit indeed?”

“A little, yes!” said she, and staggering against the mast leaned there as if faint, yet casting a swift, furtive glance over her shoulder. “But death cometh behind me, Resolution, and my pistol’s gone and yours both empty–“

Now glancing whither she looked, I saw Captain Belvedere come bounding up the ladder, cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other.

“Are ye there, Jo, are ye there?” he cried and stood to scowl on her.

“Resolution,” said she, drooping against the mast, “fight me the ship–“

“And what o’ me?” snarled Belvedere.

“You?” cried she. “Ah–bah!” and turning, she spat at him and, screaming, fell headlong as his pistol flashed. But over her prostrate form leapt Resolution and there, while the battle roared about them, I watched as, with steel that crashed unheard in that raging uproar, they smote and parried and thrust until an eddying smoke-cloud blotted them from my view. Now fain would I have come at Joanna where she lay, yet might not for my bonds, although she was so near; suddenly as I watched her (and struggling thus vainly to reach her) I saw she was watching me.

“And would you aid your poor Joanna, yes?” she questioned faintly.

“‘Twas so my thought–“

“Because I am dying, Martino? Doth this grieve you?”

“You are over-young to die!”

“And my life hath been very hard and cruel! Would you kiss a dying woman an’ she might creep to your arms, Martino?”

Slowly and painfully she dragged herself within my reach and, beholding the twisted agony of her look, reading the piteous supplication in her eyes, I stooped to kiss the pale brow she lifted to my lips and–felt two arms about me vigorous and strong and under mine the quivering passion of her mouth; then she had loosed me and was before me on her knees, flushed and tremulous as any simple maid.

I was yet gazing on her in dumb and stark amaze, when from somewhere hard by a man cried out in wild and awful fashion, and as this agonised screaming swelled upon the air, Joanna rose up to her feet and stood transfigured, her eyes fierce and wild, her clenched teeth agleam ‘twixt curling lips; and presently through the swirling smoke limped Resolution Day, a dreadful, bedabbled figure, who, beholding Joanna on her feet, flourished a dripping blade and panted exultant.

“He is dead?” she questioned.

“Verily and thoroughly!” said Resolution, wringing blood from his beruffled shirt sleeve. “And a moist end he made on’t. But thee, Joanna, I grieved thee surely dead–“

“Nay, I screamed and dropped in time, but–hark, the Englishman’s fire is ceasing and see, Resolution–look yonder!” and she pointed where our antagonist, sore battered in hull and spars, was staggering out of the fight.

And now in place of roaring battle was sudden hush, yet a quietude this, troubled by thin cryings, waitings and the like distressful sounds; and the smoke lifting showed something of the havoc about us, viz: our riven bulwarks, the tangled confusion of shattered spars, ropes and fallen gear, the still and awful shapes that cumbered the spattered decks, more especially about the smoking guns where leaned their wearied crews, a blood-stained, powder-grimed company, cheering fitfully as they watched the English ship creeping away from us.

To us presently cometh Diccon, his blackened face streaked with sweat, hoarse-voiced but hearty:

“Aha, Captain Jo–your luck’s wi’ us as ever! Yon curst craft hath her bellyful at last, aye, has she!”

“I doubt!” quoth Resolution, shaking his head, whiles Joanna, leaning against the mast, pointed feebly and I noticed her sleeve was soaked with blood and her speech dull and indistinct:

“Resolution is i’ the–right–see!”

And sure enough the English ship, having fetched ahead of us and beyond range of our broadside guns, had hauled her wind and now lay to, her people mighty busy making good their damage alow and aloft, stopping shot-holes, knotting and splicing their gear, etc. Hereupon Diccon falls to a passion of vain oaths, Resolution to quoting Psalms and Joanna, sighing, slips suddenly to the deck and lies a-swoon. In a moment Resolution was on his knees beside her.

“Water, Diccon, water!” said he. “The lads must never see her thus!” So Diccon fetched the water and between them they contrived to get Joanna to her feet, and standing thus supported by their arms, she must needs use her first breath to curse her weak woman’s body:

“And our mainmast is shot through at the cap–we must wear ship or ’twill go! Veer, Resolution, wear ship and man the larboard guns … they are cool … I must go tend my hurt–a curst on’t! Wear ship and fight, Resolution, fight–to the last!”

So saying, she put by their hold and (albeit she stumbled for very weakness) nevertheless contrived to descend the quarter-ladder and wave cheery greeting to the roar of acclaim that welcomed her.

“And there’s for ye!” quoth Resolution. “Never was such hugeous great spirit in man’s body or woman’s body afore, neither in this world or any other–no, not even Davy at Adullam, by hookey! Down to your guns, Diccon lad, and cheerily, for it looks as we shall have some pretty fighting, after all!”

But at the hoarse roar of Resolution’s speaking trumpet was stir and clamorous outcry from the battle-wearied crew who came aft in a body.

“Oho, Belvedere!” they shouted, “Us ha’ fought as long as men may, and now what?”

“Fight again, bullies, and cheerily!” roared Resolution. At this the uproar grew; pistols and muskets were brandished.

“We ha’ fought enough! ‘Tis time to square away and run for’t–aye, aye–what saith Belvedere, Belvedere be our Cap’n–we want Belvedere!”

“Why then, take him, Bullies, take him and willing!” cried Resolution; then stooping (and with incredible strength) up to the quarter-railing he hoisted that awful, mutilated thing that had once been Captain Belvedere and hove it over to thud down among them on the deck below. “Eye him over, lads!” quoth Resolution. “View him well, bawcock boys! I made sure work, d’ye see, though scarce so complete as the heathen Pompey might ha’ done, but ’tis a very thoroughly dead rogue, you’ll allow. And I killed him because he would ha’ murdered our Joanna, our luck–and because he was for yielding us up, you and me, to yon ship that is death for us–for look’ee, there is never a ship on the Main will grant quarter or show mercy for we; ’tis noose and tar and gibbet for every one on us, d’ye see? So fight, bully boys, fight for a chance o’ life and happy days–here stand I to fight wi’ you and Diccon ‘twixt decks and Captain Jo everywhere. We beat off you Englishman once and so we will again. So fight it is, comrades all, and a cheer for Captain Jo–ha, Joanna!”

Cheer they did and (like the desperate rogues they were) back they went, some to their reeking guns, others to splice running and standing rigging, to secure our tottering mainmast and to clear the littered decks; overboard alike went broken gear and dead comrade. Then, with every man at his quarters, with port fires burning, drums beating, black flag flaunting aloft, round swung the _Happy Despatch_ to face once more her indomitable foe (since she might not fly) and to fight for her very life.

So once again was smoke and flame and roaring battle; broadside for broadside we fought them until night fell, a night of horror lit by the quivering red glare of the guns, the vivid flash of pistol and musket and the pale flicker of the battle lanthorns. And presently the moon was casting her placid beam upon this hell of destruction and death, whereas I lay, famished with hunger and thirst, staring up at her pale serenity with weary, swooning eyes, scarce heeding the raving tumult about me.

I remember a sudden, rending crash, a stunning shock and all things were blotted out awhile.

CHAPTER XIV

TELLETH HOW THE FIGHT ENDED

When sight returned to me at last, I was yet staring up at the moon, but now she had climbed the zenith and looked down on me through a dense maze, a thicket of close-twining branches (as it were) whose density troubled me mightily. But in a little I saw that these twining branches were verily a mass of ropes and cordage, a twisted tangle that hung above me yet crushed me not by reason of a squat column that rose nearby, and staring on this column I presently knew it for the shattered stump of the mizzenmast. For a great while I lay staring on this (being yet much dazed) and thus gradually became aware that the guns had fallen silent; instead of their thunderous roar was a faint clamour, hoarse, inarticulate, and very far away. I was yet wondering dreamily and pondering this when I made the further discovery that by some miraculous chance the chain which had joined my fettered wrists was broken in sunder and I was free. Nevertheless I lay awhile blinking drowsily up at the moon until at last, impelled by my raging thirst, I got to my knees (though with strange reluctance) and strove to win clear from the tangle of ropes that encompassed me; in the which labour I came upon the body of a dead man and beyond this, yet another. Howbeit I was out of this maze at last and rising to my feet, found the deck to heave oddly ‘neath my tread, and so (like one walking in a dream) came stumbling to the quarter-ladder and paused there awhile to lean against the splintered rail and to clasp my aching head, for I was still greatly bemused and my body mighty stiff and painful.

Looking up after some while I saw the _Happy Despatch_ lay a helpless wreck, her main and mizzenmasts shot away and her shattered hull fast locked in close conflict with her indomitable foe. The English ship had run us aboard at the fore-chains and as the two vessels, fast grappled together, swung to the gentle swell, the moon glinted on the play of vicious steel where the fight raged upon our forecastle. Mightily heartened by this, I strove to shake off this strange lethargy that enthralled me and looked about for some weapon, but finding none, got me down the ladder (and marvellous clumsy about it) and reaching; the deck stumbled more than once over stiffening forms that sprawled across my way. Here and there a battle lanthorn yet glimmered, casting its uncertain beam on writhen legs, on wide-tossed arms and shapes that seemed to stir in the gloom; and beholding so many dead, I marvelled to find myself thus unharmed, though, as I traversed this littered deck, its ghastliness dim-lit by these flickering lanthorns and the moon’s unearthly radiance, it seemed more than ever that I walked within a dream, whiles the battle clamoured ever more loud. Once I paused to twist a boarding-axe from stiffening fingers, and, being come into the waist of the ship, found myself beside the main hatchway and leaned there to stare up at the reeling fray on the forecastle where pike darted, axe whirled, sword smote and the battle roared amain in angry summons. But as I turned obedient to get me into this desperate fray, I heard a low and feverish muttering and following this evil sound came upon one who lay amid the wreckage of a gun, and bending above the man knew him for Diccon the quartermaster.

“How now, Diccon?” I questioned, and wondered to hear my voice so strange and muffled.

“Dying!” said he. “Dying–aye, am I! And wi’ two thousand doubloons hid away as I shall ne’er ha’ the spending on–oh, for a mouthful o’ water–two thousand–a pike-thrust i’ the midriff is an–ill thing yet–’tis better than–noose and tar and gibbet–yet ’tis hard to die wi’ two thousand doubloons unspent–oh, lad, I parch–I burn already–water–a mouthful for a dying man–“

So came I to the water-butt that stood abaft the hatchway, and filling a pannikin that chanced there with some of the little water that remained, hastened back to Diccon, but ere I could reach him he struggled to his knees and flinging arms aloft uttered a great cry and sank upon his face. Then, finding him verily dead, I drank the water myself and, though lukewarm and none too sweet, felt myself much refreshed and strengthened thereby and the numbness of mind and body abated somewhat.

And yet, as I knelt thus, chancing to lift my eyes from the dead man before me, it seemed that verily I must be dreaming after all, for there, all daintily bedight in purple gown, I beheld a fine lady tripping lightly among these mangled dead; crouched in the shadow of the bulwark I watched this approaching figure; then I saw it was Joanna, saw the moon glint evilly on the pistol she bore ere she vanished down the hatchway. And now, reading her fell purpose, I rose to my feet and stole after her down into the ‘tween-decks.

An evil place this, crowded with forms that moaned and writhed fitfully in the light of the lanthorns that burned dimly here and there, a place foul with blood and reeking with the fumes of burnt powder, but I heeded only the graceful shape that flitted on before; once she paused to reach down a lanthorn and to open the slide, and when she went on again, flames smouldered behind her and as often as she stayed to set these fires a-going, I stayed to extinguish them as well as I might ere I hasted after her. At last she paused to unlock a door and presently her voice reached me, high and imperious as ever:

“Greeting, Don Federigo! The ship’s afire and ’tis an ill thing to burn, so do I bring you kinder death!”

Creeping to the door of this lock-up, I saw she had set down the lanthorn and stood above the poor fettered captive, the pistol in her hand.

“The Señorita is infinitely generous,” said Don Federigo in his courtly fashion; then, or ever she might level the weapon, I had seized and wrested it from her grasp. Crying out in passionate fury, she turned and leapt at me.

“Off, murderess!” I cried, and whirling her from me, heard her fall and lie moaning. “Come, sir,” said I, aiding the Don to his feet, “let us be gone!” But what with weakness and his fetters Don Federigo could scarce stand, so I stooped and taking him across my shoulder, bore him from the place. But as I went an acrid smoke met me and with here and there a glimmer of flame, so that it seemed Joanna had fired the ship, my efforts notwithstanding. So reeled I, panting, to the upper air and, loosing Don Federigo, sank to the deck and stared dreamily at a dim moon.

And now I was aware of a voice in my ear, yet nothing heeded until, shaken by an importunate hand, I roused and sat up, marvelling to find myself so weak.

“Loose me, Señor Martino, loose off my bonds; the fire grows apace and I must go seek the Señorita–burning is an evil death as she said. Loose off my bonds–the Señorita must not burn–“

“No, she must not–burn!” said I dully, and struggling to my feet I saw a thin column of smoke that curled up the hatchway. Gasping and choking, I fought my way down where flames crackled and smoke grew ever denser. Suddenly amid this swirling vapour I heard a glad cry:

“Ah, _Martino mio_–you could not leave me then to die alone!” And I saw Joanna, with arms stretched out to me, swaying against the angry glow behind her. So I caught her up in my embrace and slipping, stumbling, blind and half-choked, struggled up and up until at last I reeled out upon deck, and with Joanna thus clasped upon my breast, stood staring with dazed and unbelieving eyes at the vision that had risen up to confront me. For there before me, hedged about by wild figures and brandished steel, with slender hands tight-clasped together, with vivid lips apart and eyes wide, I thought to behold at last my beloved Damaris, my Joan, my dear, dear lady; but knowing this false, I laughed and shook my head.

“Deluding vision,” said I, “blest sight long-hoped and prayed for–why plague me now?”

I was on my knees, staring up at this beloved shape through blinding tears and babbling I know not what. And then arms were about me, tender yet strong and compelling, a soft cheek was pressed to mine and in my ear Joan’s voice:

“Oh, my beloved–fret not thyself–here is no vision, my Martin–“

“Joan!” I panted. “Oh, Damaris–beloved!” And shaking off these fettering arms, I rose to my feet. “Joan, is it thou thyself in very truth, or do I see thee in heaven–“

And now it seemed I was sinking within an engulfing darkness and nought to see save only the pale oval of this so loved, oft-visioned face that held for me the beauty of all beauteous things. At last her voice reached me, soft and low, yet full of that sweet, vital ring that was beyond all forgetting.

“Martin–Oh, Martin!”

Out towards me in the growing dark I saw her hands reach down to me: and then these eager, welcoming hands were seized and Joanna was between us on her knees.

“Spare him–Oh, lady, in mercy spare my beloved–kill me an you will, but spare this man of mine–these arms have cradled him ere now, this bosom been his pillow–“

“Joan!” I muttered, “Oh, Damaris, beloved–“

But seeing the stricken agony of her look and how she shrank from my touch, I uttered a great cry and turning, sped blindly away and stumbling, fell and was engulfed in choking blackness.

CHAPTER XV

HOW I FELL IN WITH MY FRIEND, CAPTAIN SIR ADAM PENFEATHER

It was the pommel of the long rapier dangling from the chair-back that first drew and held my eye, for this pommel was extremely bright and polished and gleamed on me like a very keen and watchful eye as I watched, though conscious also of the luxury of panelled walls, of rich floor coverings and tapestried hangings, and the man who sat writing so studiously at the carven table. And presently, roused by the scratch of his industrious quill, I fell to watching him, his bowed head, the curve of his back as he stooped. A small, lean man but very magnificent, for his coat of rich purple velvet sat on him with scarce a wrinkle, his great peruke fell in such ample profusion of curls that I could see nought but the tip of his nose as he bent to his writing, and I wondered idly at his so great industry. Now presently he paused to read over what he had written and doing so, began to push and pull at his cumbrous wig and finally, lifting it off, laid it on the table. Thus I saw the man was white-haired and that his ears were mighty strange, being cut and trimmed to points like a dog’s ears; and beholding the jut of brow and nose and resolute chin, I fell to sudden trembling, and striving to lift myself on the bed, wondered to find this such a business.

“Adam!” said I, my voice strangely thin and far away, “Adam Penfeather!”

In one movement, as it seemed to me, he was out of the chair and leaning above me. “Why, Martin,” said he. “Why, comrade! Lord love you, Martin, are ye awake at last? Here you’ve lain these twelve hours like a dead man and small wonder, what with your wound–“

“So you have come–at last, Adam?”

“And in good time, shipmate!”

“Where am I?”