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“God love thee, lad!” cried he, clasping my hand. “For if ’tis reason raiseth us ‘bove the brutes ’tis unselfishness surely lifts us nigh to God!”

CHAPTER XXVI

OUR DESPERATE SITUATION

“And now,” quoth Sir Richard, “since you are bent on dragging this worn-out carcase along to be your careful burden (for the which may God bless you everlastingly, dear lad!) let us see what equipment Fortune hath left us beside your sword and the water.” Herewith, upon investigation we found our worldly possessions amount to the following:

In Sir Richard’s Pockets:

1 ship’s biscuit (somewhat spoiled by water). A small clasp knife.
A gunflint.

In Mine:

A length of small cord.
Adam’s chart (and very limp).
9 pistol balls.

These various objects we set together before us and I for one mighty disconsolate, for, excepting only the knife, a collection of more useless odds and ends could not be imagined. Sir Richard, on the contrary, having viewed each and every with his shrewd, kindly eyes, seemed in no wise cast down, for, said he.

“We might be richer, but then we might be poorer–for here we have in this biscuit one meal, though scant ’tis true and not over tasty. A sword and knife for weapons and tools, a flint to make us fires, three yards of small cord wherewith to contrive snares for small game, and though we ha’ lost our compass, we have the coast to follow by day and the stars to guide us by night and furthermore–“

“Nine pistol balls!” quoth I gloomily.

“Hum!” said he, stroking his chin and eyeing me askance. “Having neither weapons nor powder to project them–“

“They shall arm me arrows!”

“Aye, but will they serve?” he questioned doubtfully.

“Well enough, supposing we find aught to shoot at–“

“Never fear, in Darien are beasts and fowls a-plenty.”

“Well and good, sir!” said I, gathering up the bullets, and doing so, espied a piece of driftwood carrying many bent and rusty nails, the which (the wood being very dry and rotten) I presently broke out and to my nine bullets I added some dozen nails, pocketing them to the same purpose. And now having collected our possessions (of more value to us than all the treasures of Peru), we set forth upon our long and toilsome journey, our gaze bent ever upon the cliffs that frowned upon our right hand, looking for some place easy of ascent whereby we might come to the highlands above (where we judged it easier travelling) and with Pluto stalking on before like the dignified animal he was, looking back ever and anon as if bidding us to follow.

And as I watched this great beast, the thought occurred to me that here was what should save us from starvation should we come to such extremity; but I spake nothing of this to Sir Richard who had conceived a great affection for the dog from the first. And after some while we came to a place where the cliff had fallen and made a sloping causeway of earth and rocks, topped by shady trees. This we began to mount forthwith and, finding it none so steep, I (lost in my thoughts) climbed apace, forgetful of Sir Richard in my eagerness, until, missing him beside me, I turned to see him on hands and knees, dragging himself painfully after me thus, whereon I hasted back to him full of self-reproaches.

“‘Tis only my legs!” he gasped, lifting agonised face. “My spirit is willing, Martin, but alas, my poor flesh–“

“Nay–’tis I am selfish!” quoth I. “Aye, a selfish man ever, dreaming only of my own woes!” Saying which, I raised him and, setting an arm about his wasted form, aided him as well as I might until, seeing how he failed despite his brave struggles, I made him sit and rest awhile, unheeding his breathless protestations, and thus at last, by easy stages, we came to the top of the ascent amid a grove of very tall trees, in whose pleasant shade we paused awhile, it being now midday and very hot.

Behind us lay the ocean, before us a range of mighty mountains blue with distance that rose, jagged peak on peak, far as eye could see, and betwixt them and us a vast and rolling wilderness, a land of vivid sun and stark shadow, dazzling glare on the uplands, gloom in the valleys and above swamp and thicket and trackless forests a vapour that hung sullen and ominous like the brooding soul of this evil country.

“Fever!” quoth Sir Richard, stabbing at the sluggish mist with bony fingers. “Ague, the flux–death! We must travel ever by the higher levels, Martin–and I a cripple!”

“Why, then,” said I, “you shall have a staff to aid you on one side and my arm on t’other, and shall attempt no great distance until you grow stronger.” So having found and cut a staff to serve him, we set off together upon our long and arduous pilgrimage.

By mid-afternoon we reached a place of rocks whence bubbled a small rill mighty pleasant to behold and vastly refreshing to our parched throats and bodies. Here, though the day was still young and we had come (as I judged) scarce six miles, I proposed to camp for the night, whereon Sir Richard must needs earnestly protest he could go further an I would, but finding me determined, he heaved a prodigious sigh and stretching himself in the cool shadow, lay there silent awhile, yet mighty content, as I could see.

“Martin,” quoth he at last, “by my reckoning we have some hundred and fifty miles to go.”

“But, sir, they will be less to-morrow!” said I, busied with my knife on certain branches I had cut.

“And but half a ship’s biscuit to our sustenance, and that spoiled.”

“Why, then, throw it away; I will get us better fare!” said I, for as we came along I had spied several of those great birds the which I knew to be very excellent eating.

“As how, my son?” he questioned.

“With bow and arrows.” At this he sat up to watch me at work and very eager to aid me therein. “So you shall, sir,” said I, and having tapered my bow-stave sufficiently, I showed him how to trim the shafts as smooth and true as possible with a cleft or notch at one end into which I set one of my rusty nails, binding it there with strips from my tattered shirt; in place of feathers I used a tuft of grass and behold! my arrow was complete, and though a poor thing to look at yet it would answer well enough, as I knew by experience. So we fell to our arrow-making, wherein I found Sir Richard very quick and skilful, as I told him, the which seemed to please him mightily.

“For,” said he miserably, “I feel myself such a burden to thee, Martin, that anything I can do to lighten thy travail be to me great comfort.”

“Sir,” said I, “these many years have I been a solitary man hungering for companionship, and, in place of enemy, God hath given me a friend and one I do love and honour. As to his crippled body, sir, it beareth no scar but is a badge of honour, and if he halt in his gait or fail by the way, this doth but remind me of his dauntless soul that, despite pain and torment, endured.”

So saying, I caught up such arrows as were finished (four in all) and taking my bow, set forth in quest of supper, with Pluto at my heels. Nor had I far to seek, for presently I espied several of these monstrous birds among the trees and, stringing my bow with a length of cord, I crept forward until I was in easy range and, setting arrow to string, let fly. Away sang my shaft, a yard wide of the mark, soaring high into the air and far beyond all hope of recovery.

This put me in a fine rage, for not only had I lost my precious arrow, but the quarry also, for off flapped my bird, uttering a hoarse cackle as in derision of my ill aim. On I went, seeking for something should serve us for supper, yet look where I would, saw nothing, no, not so much as parrot or macaw that might stay us for lack of better fare. On I went, and mightily hungry, wandering haphazard and nothing to reward me until, reaching an opening or glade shut in by dense thickets beyond, I sat me upon a fallen tree and in mighty ill humour, the dog Pluto at my feet. Suddenly I saw him start and prick his ears, and presently, sure enough, heard a distant stir and rustling in the thickets that grew rapidly nearer and louder to trampling rush; and out from the leaves broke some dozen or so young pigs; but espying the dog they swung about in squealing terror and plunged back again. But in that moment I let fly among them and was mighty glad to see one roll over and lie kicking, filling the air with shrill outcry; then Pluto was upon it and had quickly finished the poor beast, aye, and would have devoured it, too, had I not driven him off with my bow-stave.

It was a small pig and something lean, yet never in this world hunter more pleased than I as, shouldering the carcase and with Pluto going before, I made my way back to our halting-place and found Sir Richard had contrived to light a fire and full of wonder to behold my pig.

“Though to be sure,” said he, “I’ve heard there were such in Darien, yet I never saw any, Martin, more especially in these high lands.”

“They were fleeing from some wild beast, as I judge, sir,” quoth I.

“Why, then, ’twere as well to keep our fire going all night!” said he: to the which I agreed and forthwith set about cutting up the pig, first flaying it as well as I might, since I judged the skin should be very serviceable in divers ways. So this night we supped excellent well.

The meal over, Sir Richard cut up what remained of the carcase into strips and set me to gather certain small branches with which he built a sort of grating above some glowing embers and thus dried and smoked the meat after the manner of the buccaneers. “For look now, Martin,” said he, “besides drying the meat, these twigs are aromatic and do lend a most excellent flavour, so that there is no better meat in the world–besides, it will keep.”

Beyond the rocky cleft bright with the light of our fire the vasty wilderness hemmed us in, black and sullen, for the trees being thick hereabouts we could see no glimpse of moon or star. And amid this gloom were things that moved stealthily, shapes that rustled and flitted, and ever and anon would come the howl of some beast, the cry of some bird, hunting or hunted, whereat Pluto, crunching on a bone, would lift his head to growl. So with the fire and the dog’s watchfulness we felt tolerably secure and presently fell asleep.

CHAPTER XXVII

WE COMMENCE OUR JOURNEY

Day after day we held on, suffering much by reason of heat, thirst and fatigue, since, fearing lest we should lose sight of our guide, the sea, and go astray to perish miserably in the wild, we followed ever the trend of this mountainous coast.

By rocky ways we marched, by swamps and mazy thickets, down precipitous slopes, through tangled woods, across wide savannahs, along perilous tracks high above dim forests that stretched away like a leafy ocean, whence we might behold a wide prospect of all those weary miles before us.

And surely nowhere in all this world is to be seen a country more full of marvels and wonders than this land of Darien. For here rise vasty mountains whose jagged summits split the very heaven; here are mighty rivers and roaring cataracts, rolling plains, thirsty deserts and illimitable forests in whose grim shadow lurk all manner of beasts and reptiles strange beyond thought; here lie dense groves and tangled thickets where bloom great flowers of unearthly beauty yet rank of smell and poisonous to the touch; here are birds of every kind and hue and far beyond this poor pen to describe by reason of the beauty and brilliancy of their plumage, some of which would warble so sweet ’twas great joy to hear while the discordant croakings and shrill clamours of others might scarce be endured. Here, too, are trees (like the cocos) so beneficent to yield a man food and drink, aye, and garments to cover him; or others (like the maria and balsam trees) that besides their timber do distil medicinal oils, and yet here also are trees so noxious their mere touch bringeth a painful disease of the skin and to sleep in their shadow breedeth sickness and death; here, too, grow all manner of luscious fruits as the ananas or pineapple, with oranges, grapes, medlars and dates, but here again are other fruits as fair to the eye, yet deadly as fang of snake or sting of _cientopies_. Truly (as I do think), nowhere is there country of such extremes of good and evil as this land of Darien.

Thus day by day we held on and daily learned I much of tree and fruit and flower, of beast, bird and reptile from Sir Richard who, it seemed, was deeply versed in the lore of such, both by reading and experience; but hourly I learned more of this man’s many and noble qualities, as his fortitude, his unflinching courage and the cheerful spirit that could make light of pain and thirst and weariness so that, misjudging his strength, I would sometimes march him well-nigh beyond his endurance, but knew nought of it since he never complained but masked his suffering in brave and smiling words. And there were times when, burning with impatience, I would quicken my pace (God forgive me) until, missing his plodding figure, I would look back to see him stumbling after me afar.

It was upon the fifth day of our journey that, missing him thus, I turned to wait for him to come up and found him nowhere in sight. Hereupon I hasted back the way I had come and after some while beheld him prone in the dust; he lay outstretched upon his face in the hot glare of the sun, the dog Pluto squatting beside him, and as I approached the desolate figure I knew that he was weeping. So came I running to fall beside him on my knees and lifting that abased head, saw indeed the agony of his tears.

“Oh, Martin–forgive me!” he gasped. “I can crawl no faster–better were I dead, dear lad, than hamper you thus–“

“Rather will I perish!” said I, lifting him in my arms to bear him out of the sun and much grieved to find him a burden so light; and now, sitting ‘neath a great tree, I took his head upon my bosom and wiped the tears from his furrowed cheeks and set myself diligently to comfort him, but seeing him so faint and fore-done, I began alternately to berate myself heartily and lament over him so that he must needs presently take to comforting me in turn, vowing himself very well, that it was nought but the heat, that he would be able to go and none the worse in a little, etc. “Besides,” said he, “’tis worth such small discomfort to find you so tender of me, Martin. Yet indeed I am stronger than I seem and shall be ready to go on as soon as you will–“

“Nay, sir,” said I, mighty determined, “here we bide till the sun moderates; ’tis too hot for the dog even,” and I nodded where Pluto lay outstretched and panting, hard by. But now, even as I spoke, the dog lifted his head to snuff the air and, getting up, bolted off among the adjacent undergrowth. I was yet idly wondering at this when suddenly, from somewhere afar in the woods below, came a sound there was no mistaking–the faint, sharp crack of a firearm. In a moment I was on my feet and, with Sir Richard beside me, came where we might look into the green depths below us.

And sure enough, amid this leafy wilderness I saw a glitter that came and went, the which I knew must be armour, and presently made out the forms of men and horses with divers hooded litters and long files of tramping figures.

“Ah!” quoth Sir Richard. “Yon should be the gold-train for Panama or Carthagena, or mayhap Indians being marched to slavery in the mines, poor souls!”

As he spake, came a puff of white smoke plain to see and thereafter divers others, and presently the reports of this firing smote upon our ears in rapid succession.

“What now?” said I, straining my eyes. “Is there a battle toward–“

“Nay, Martin, ’tis more like some poor wretch hath broke his bonds and fled into the woods; if so, God send him safe out of their hands, for I have endured slavery and–” here his voice broke, and casting himself on his knees he clasped his arms about me, and I all amazed to see him so moved.

“Oh, Martin!” he wept, in voice of agony, “oh, dear and gentle lad, ’twas to such slavery, such shame and misery I sent thee once–thou–that I do so love–my son–“

“Sir,” said I, stooping to lift him. “Sir, this is all forgot and out of mind.”

“Yet, dear lad, you do bear the marks yet, scars o’ the whip, marks o’ the shackles. I have seen them when you slept–and never a one but set there by my hand–and now–now you must cherish me if I fail by the way–must bear me in your arms–grieve for my weakness–Oh, dear lad, I would you were a little harsher–less kind.”

Now seeing how it was with him, I sat me down and, folding him within my arm, sought to comfort him in my blundering way, reminding him of all he had endured and that my sufferings could nowise compare with his own and that in many ways I was no whit the worse: “Indeed,” said I, “in many ways I am the better man, for solitude hath but taught me to think beyond myself, though ’tis true I am something slow of speech and rude of manner, and hardship hath but made me stronger of body than most men I have met.”

“Oh, God love you, lad!” cried he of a sudden, ‘twixt laughing and weeping. “You will be calling me your benefactor next!”

“And wherefore not?” quoth I. “For indeed, being made wise by suffering, you have taught me many things and most of all to love you in despite of myself!”

Now at this he looks at me all radiant-eyed, yet when he would have spoken, could not, and so was silence awhile. Now turning to look down into the valley I saw it all deserted and marking how the forest road ran due east, I spoke that which was in my thought.

“Sir, yonder, as I think, must be a highway; at least, where others go, so may we, and ’twill be easier travelling than these rocky highlands; how think you?”

“Why, truly, if road there be, it must bring us again to the sea soon or late; so come, let us go!”

So saying, he got him to his legs, whereupon Pluto leapt and fawned upon him for very joy; and thus finding him something recovered and very earnest to be gone, we set out again (maugre the sun) looking for some place whereby we might get us down into the valley, and after some while came upon a fissure in the cliff face which, though easy going for an able man, was a different matter I thought for my companion; but as I hesitated, the matter was put beyond despite by Sir Richard forthwith cheerily beginning the descent, whereupon I followed him and after me the dog. As we descended, the way grew easier until We reached at last a small plateau pleasantly shaded by palm trees; here (and despite his hardihood), Sir Richard sank down, sweating with the painful effort and gasping for breath, yet needs must he smile up at me triumphant, so that I admired anew the indomitable spirit of him.

“Oh, for a drink!” quoth he, as I set an armful of fern beneath his head.

“Alas!” said I, “’tis far down to the river–“

“Nay–above, lad, look above–yonder is drink for a whole ship’s company!” and he pointed feebly to the foliage of the tree ‘neath which he lay:

“What! Is this a cocos palm?” said I, rejoicing; and forthwith doffing my sword belt, I clambered up this tree hand over fist and had soon plucked and tossed down a sufficiency of great, green nuts about the bigness of my two fists. Now sitting beside him, Sir Richard showed me how I must cut two holes in the green rind and we drank blissfully of this kindly juice that to our parched tongues was very nectar, for verily never in all my days have I tasted drink so delectable and invigorating. As for Pluto, when I offered him of this he merely sniffed and yawned contemptuous. Thus refreshed we went on again, the way growing ever easier until we entered the shade of those vast woods we had seen from above.

But scarce were we here than rose such a chattering, whittling and croaking from the leafy mysteries above and around us, such a screaming and wailing as was most distressful to hear, for all about us was a great multitude of birds; the forest seemed full of them, and very wonderful to see by reason of their plumage, its radiant and divers hues, so that as they flitted to and fro in their glowing splendour they seemed like so many flying jewels, while clustering high in the trees or swinging nimbly among the branches were troops of monkeys that screamed and chattered and grimaced down at us for all the world as they had been very fiends of the pit.

“Heard ye ever such unholy hubbub, Martin?” said Sir Richard, halting to glance about us. “This portendeth a storm, I judge, for these creatures possess gifts denied to us humans. See how they do begin to cower and seek what shelter they may! We were wise to do the like, my son. I marked a cave back yonder; let us go there, for these woods be an evil place at such times.”

So back we went accordingly and saw the sunlight suddenly quenched and the sky lower above us ever darker and more threatening, so that by the time we had reached the little cave in question, it almost seemed night was upon us. And now, crouching in this secure haven, I marvelled at the sudden, unearthly stillness of all things; not a leaf stirred and never a sound to hear, for beast and bird alike had fallen mute.

Then all at once was a blinding glare followed by roaring thunder-clap that echoed and re-echoed from rugged cliff to mountain summit near and far until this was whelmed and lost in the rush of a booming, mighty wind and this howling riot full of whirling leaves and twigs and riven branches. And now came the rain, a hissing downpour that seemed it would drown the world, while ever the lightning flared and crackled and thunder roared ever more loud until I shrank, blinded and half-stunned. After some while, these awful sounds hushing a little, in their stead was the lash and beat of rain, the rush and trickle of water where it gushed and spouted down from the cliff above in foaming cascades until I began to dread lest this deluge overwhelm us and we be drowned miserably in our little cave. But, all at once, sudden as it had come, the storm was passed, rain and wind and thunder ceased, the sombre clouds rolled away and down beamed the sun to show us a new and radiant world of vivid greens spangled as it were with a myriad shimmering gems, a very glory to behold.

“‘Tis a passionate country this, Martin,” as we stepped forth of our refuge, “but its desperate rages be soon over.”

By late afternoon we came out upon a broad green track that split the forest east and west, and where, despite the rain, we might yet discern faint traces here and there of the hoofs and feet had trampled it earlier in the day, so that it seemed we must march behind them. On we went, very grateful for the trees that shaded us and the springy grass underfoot, Sir Richard swinging his staff and striding out right cheerily. Suddenly Pluto, uttering a single joyous bark, sprang off among the brush that grew very thick, and looking thither, we espied a small stream and the day being far spent we decided to pass the night hereabouts, so we turned aside forthwith and having gone but a few yards, found ourselves quite hidden from the highway, so thick grew the trees and so dense and tangled the thickets that shut us in; and here ran this purling brook, making sweet, soft noises in the shallows mighty soothing to be heard. And here I would have stayed but Sir Richard shook wise head and was for pushing farther into the wild. “For,” said he, “there may be other travellers behind us to spy some gleam of our fire and who shall these be but enemies?” So, following the rill that, it seemed, took its rise from the cliffs to our left, we went on until Sir Richard paused in the shade of a great tree that soared high above its fellows and hard beside the stream.

But scarce were we come hither than Pluto uttered a savage growl and turned, snuffing the air, whereupon Sir Richard, grasping the battered collar about his massy throat, bade him sternly to silence.

“What saw I, Martin? Some one comes–let us go see, and softly!”

So, following whither Pluto led, we presently heard voices speaking the Spanish tongue, and one cursed, and one mocked and one sang. Hereupon I drew sword, and moving with infinite caution, we came where, screened ‘mid the leaves, we might behold the highway. And thus we beheld six men approaching and one a horseman; nearer they came until we could see them sweating beneath their armour and the weapons they bore, and driving before them a poor, blood-stained wretch tied to the horseman’s stirrup, yet who, despite wounds and blows, strode with head proudly erect, heeding them no whit. Yet suddenly he stumbled and fell, whereupon the horseman swore again and the captive was kicked to his feet and so was dragged on again, reeling for very weariness; and I saw this poor creature was an Indian.

“Martin,” said Sir Richard, when this sorry cavalcade was gone by, “it would, I think, be action commendable to endeavour rescue of this poor soul.”

“It would, sir!” quoth I. “And a foolhardy.”

“Mayhap,” said he, “yet am I minded to adventure it”

“How, sir–with one sword and a knife?”

“Nay, Martin, by God’s aid, strategy and a dog. Come then, let us follow; they cannot go far, and I heard them talk of camping hereabouts. Softly, lad!”

“But, sir,” said I, amazed at this audacity, “will you outface five lusty men well-armed?”

“And wherefore not, Martin? Is the outfacing of five rogues any greater matter than outfacing this God’s wilderness? Nay, I am not mad,” said he, meeting my glance with a smile, “there were times when I adventured greater odds than this and to worse end, God forgive me! Alas, I have wrought so much of evil in the past I would fain offset it with a little good, so bear with me, dear lad–“

“Yet this man you risk your life for is but a stranger and an Indian at that!”

“And what then, Martin? Cannot an Indian suffer–cannot he die?” Here, finding me silent, he continued. “Moreover, there be very cogent reasons do urge a little risk, for look now, these rogues do go well shod–and see our poor shoes! They bear equipment very necessary to us that have so far to go and their horse should be useful to us. Nor dream I would lightly hazard your life, Martin, for these men have been drinking, will drink more and should therefore sleep sound, and I have a plan whereby Pluto and I–“

“Sir Richard,” said I, “where you go, I go!”

“Why, very well, Martin, ’twere like you–but you shall be subject to my guidance and do nought without my word.”

As he spoke, his eyes quick and alert, his face grimly purposeful, there was about him that indefinable air of authority I had noticed more than once. Thus, with no better weapons than his staff and knife, and my sword, bow and poor arrows, we held on after these five Spanish soldiers, Sir Richard nothing daunted by this disparity of power but rather the more determined and mighty cheerful by his looks, but myself full of doubts and misgiving. Perceiving which, he presently stopped to slap me on the shoulder:

“Martin,” said he, “if things go as I think, we shall this night be very well off for equipment and all without a blow, which is good, and save a life, which is better!”

“Aye, but, sir, how if things go contrary-wise?”

“Why, then, sure a quick death is better than to perish miserably by the way, for we have cruel going before us, thirsty deserts and barren wilds where game is scarce; better steel or bullet than to die raving with thirst or slow starvation–how say ye, lad?”

“Lead on!” quoth I and tightened my belt.

“Ha!” said he, halting suddenly as arose a sudden crack of twigs and underbrush some distance on our front. “They have turned in to the water–let us sit here and watch for their camp fire.” And presently, sure enough, we saw a red glow through the underbrush ahead that grew ever brighter as the shadows deepened; and so came the night.

How long we waited thus, our eyes turned ever towards this red fire-glow, I know not, but at last I felt Sir Richard touch me and heard his voice in my ear:

“Let us advance until we have ’em in better view!” Forthwith we stole forward, Sir Richard’s grasp on Pluto’s collar and hushing him to silence, until we were nigh enough to catch the sound of their voices very loud and distinct. Here we paused again and so passed another period of patient waiting wherein we heard them begin to grow merry, to judge by their laughter and singing, a lewd clamour very strange and out of place in these wild solitudes, under cover of which uproar we crept upon them nearer and nearer until we might see them sprawled about the fire, their muskets piled against a tree, their miserable captive lashed fast to another and drooping in his bonds like one sleeping or a-swoon. So lay we watching and waiting while their carouse waxed to a riot and waned anon to sleepy talk and drowsy murmurs and at last to a lusty snoring. And after some wait, Sir Richard’s hand ever upon Pluto’s collar, we crept forward again until we were drawn close upon that tree where stood the muskets. Then up rose Sir Richard, letting slip the dog and we were upon them, all three of us, our roars and shouts mingled with the fierce raving of the great hound. At the which hellish clamour, these poor rogues waked in sudden panic to behold the dog snapping and snarling about them and ourselves covering them with their own weapons, and never a thought among them but to supplicate our mercy; the which they did forthwith upon their knees and with upraised hands. Hereupon Sir Richard, scowling mighty fierce, bid such of them as loved life to be gone, whereat in the utmost haste and as one man, up started they all five and took themselves off with such impetuous celerity that we stood alone and masters of all their gear in less time than it taketh me to write down.

“Well, Martin,” said Sir Richard, grim-smiling, “’twas none so desperate a business after all! Come now, let us minister to this poor prisoner.”

We found him in sorry plight and having freed him of his bonds I fetched water from the brook near by and together we did what we might to his comfort, all of the which he suffered and never a word: which done, we supped heartily all three on the spoil we had taken. Only once did the Indian speak, and in broken Spanish, to know who we were.

“Content you, we are no Spaniards!” answered Sir Richard, setting a cloak about him as he lay.

“Truly this do I see, my father!” he murmured, and so fell asleep, the which so excellent example I bade Sir Richard follow and this after some demur, he agreed to (though first he must needs help me collect sticks for the fire), then commanding me wake him in two hours without fail, he rolled himself in one of the cloaks and very presently fell soundly asleep like the hardy old campaigner he was.

And now, the fire blazing cheerily, Pluto outstretched beside me, one bright eye opening ever and anon, and a pistol in my belt, I took careful stock of our new-come-by possessions and found them to comprise the following, viz:

3 muskets with powder and shot a-plenty. 2 brace of pistols.
3 swords, with belts, hangers, etc. 3 steel backs and breasts.
4 morions.
1 beaver hat excellent wide in the brim, should do for Sir Richard; he suffering much by the sun despite the hat of leaves I had made him.
1 axe heavy and something blunted. 2 excellent knives,
2 wine skins, both empty.
3 flasks, the same.
Good store of meat with cakes of very excellent bread of cassava. 1 horse with furniture for same,
5 cloaks, something worn.
3 pair of boots, very serviceable. 1 tinder box.
1 coat.

One brass compass in the pocket of same and of more value to us, I thought, than all the rest, the which pleased me mightily; so that for a long time I sat moving it to and fro to watch the swing of the needle and so at last, what with the crackle of the fire and the brooding stillness beyond and around us, I presently fell a-nodding and in a little (faithless sentinel that I was) to heavy slumber.

CHAPTER XXVIII

WE FALL IN WITH ONE ATLAMATZIN, AN INDIAN CHIEF

I waked to a scream, a fierce trampling, an awful snarling, this drowned in the roar of a gun, and started up to see a glitter of darting steel that Sir Richard sought to parry with his smoking weapon. Then I was up, and, sword in hand, leapt towards his assailant, a tall, bearded man whose corselet flashed red in the fire-glow and who turned to meet my onset, shouting fiercely. And so we fell to it point and point; pushing desperately at each other in the half-light and raving pandemonium about us until more by good fortune than skill I ran him in the arm and shoulder, whereupon, gasping out hoarse maledictions, he incontinent made off into the dark. Then turned I to find myself alone; even the Indian had vanished, though from the darkness near at hand was a sound of fierce strife and a ringing shot. Catching up a musket I turned thitherward, but scarce had I gone a step than into the light of the fire limped Sir Richard and Pluto beside him, who licked and licked at his great muzzle as he came.

“Oh, Martin!” gasped Sir Richard, leaning on his musket and bowing his head, “oh, Martin–but for Pluto here–” And now, as he paused, I saw the dog’s fangs and tongue horribly discoloured.

“‘Tis all my fault!” said I bitterly. “I fell asleep at my post!”

“Aye!” he groaned, “whereby are two men dead and one by my hand, God forgive me!”

“Nay, but these were enemies bent on our murder!”

“Had they seen you wakeful and vigilant they had never dared attack us. As it is, I have another life on my conscience and I am an old man and soul-weary of strife and bloodshed, yet this it seems is my destiny!”

So saying he sat him down by the fire exceeding dejected, and when I would have comforted him I found no word. Suddenly I heard Pluto growl in his throat, saw the hair on neck and shoulders bristle, and looking where he looked, cocked my musket and raised it to my shoulder, then lowered it, as, with no sound of footstep, the Indian stepped into the firelight. In one hand he grasped the axe and as he came nearer I saw axe and hand and arm dripped red. At Sir Richard’s word and gesture Pluto cowered down and suffered the Indian to approach, a tall, stately figure, who, coming close beside the fire, held out to us his left hand open and upon the palm three human ears, the which he let fall to stamp upon with his moccasined foot.

“Dead, my brothers!” said he in his broken Spanish and holding up three fingers. “So be all enemies of Atlamatzin and his good friends.” Saying which he stopped to cleanse himself and the axe in the stream and with the same grave serenity he came back to the fire and stretching himself thereby, composed himself to slumber.

But as for Sir Richard and myself no thought had we of sleep but sat there very silent for the most part, staring into the fire until it paled to the day and the woods around us shrilled and echoed to the chatter and cries, the piping and sweet carol of new-waked birds.

Then, having broken our fast, we prepared to set out in the early freshness of the morning, when to us came the Indian Atlamatzin and taking my hand, touched it to his breast and forehead and having done as much by Sir Richard, crossed his arms, and looking from one to other of us, spake in his halting Spanish as much as to say, “My father and brother, whither go ye?” At this Sir Richard, who it seemed knew something of the Indian tongue, gave him to understand we went eastwards towards the Gulf. Whereupon the Indian bowed gravely, answering:

“Ye be lonely, even as I, and thitherward go I many moons to what little of good, war and evil have left to me. Therefore will I company with ye an ye would have me.” To the which we presently agreeing, he forthwith took his share of our burden, and with the axe at his side and our spare musket on his shoulder, went on before, threading his way by brake and thicket with such sureness of direction that we were soon out upon the open thoroughfare.

And now seeing how stoutly Sir Richard stepped out (despite the gear he bore as gun, powder horn, water bottle, etc.) what with the sweet freshness here among the trees and seeing us so well provided against circumstances, I came nigh singing for pure lightness of heart. But scarce had we gone a mile than my gaiety was damped and in this fashion.

“Here is a land of death, Martin–see yonder!” said Sir Richard and pointed to divers great birds that flapped up heavily from the way before us. Coming nearer, I saw others of the breed that quarrelled and fought and screamed and, upon our nearer approach, hopped along in a kind of torpor ere they rose on lazy wings and flew away; and coming nearer yet I saw the wherefore of their gathering and Sir Richard’s words and grew sick within me. It was an Indian woman who lay where she had fallen, a dead babe clasped to dead bosom with one arm, the other shorn off at the elbow.

“A Spanish sword-stroke, Martin!” said Sir Richard, pointing to this. “God pity this poor outraged people!” And with this prayer we left these poor remains, and hasting away, heard again the heavy beat of wings and the carrion cry of these monstrous birds. And now I bethought me that the Indian, striding before us, had never so much as turned and scarce deigned a glance at this pitiful sight, as I noted to Sir Richard.

“And yet, Martin, he brought in three Spanish ears last night! Moreover, he is an Indian and one of the Maya tribe that at one time were a noble people and notable good fighters, but now slaves, alas, all save a sorry few that do live out of the white man’s reach ‘mid the ruin of noble cities high up in the Cordilleras–_sic transit gloria mundi_, alas!”

For three days we tramped this highway in the wake of the Spanish treasure-convoy and came on the remains of many of these miserable slaves who, overcome with fatigue, had fallen in their chains and being cut free, had been left thus to perish miserably.

On this, the fourth day, we turned off from this forest road (the which began to trend southerly); we struck off, I say, following our Indian, into a narrow track bearing east and by north which heartened me much since, according to Adam’s chart, this should bring us directly towards that spot he had marked as our rendezvous. And as we advanced, the country changed, the woods thinned away to a rolling hill-country, and this to rocky ways that grew ever steeper and more difficult, and though we had no lack of water, we suffered much by reason of the heat. And now on our right we beheld great mountains towering high above us, peak on peak, soaring aloft to the cloudless heaven where blazed a pitiless sun. Indeed, so unendurable was this heat that we would lie panting in some shade until the day languished and instead of glaring sun was radiant moon to light us on our pilgrimage. And here we were often beset by dreadful tempests where mighty winds shouted and thunder cracked and roared most awful to be heard among these solitary mountains. So we skirted these great mountains, by frowning precipice and dark defile, past foaming cataracts and waters that roared unseen below us.

And very thankful we were for such a guide as this Indian Atlamatzin who, grave, solemn and seldom-speaking, was never at a loss and very wise as to this wilderness and all things in it,–beast and bird, tree and herb and flower. And stoutly did Sir Richard bear himself during this weary time, plodding on hour after hour until for very shame I would call a halt, and he, albeit ready to swoon for weariness, would find breath to berate me for a laggard and protest himself able to go on, until, taking him in my arms, I would lay him in some sheltered nook and find him sound asleep before ever I could prepare our meal.

Thus held we on until towering mountain and scowling cliff sank behind and we came into a gentle country of placid streams, grassy tracts, with herb and tree and flower a very joy to the eyes.

“Martin,” said Sir Richard, as we sat at breakfast beside a crystal pool, “Martin,” said he, pulling at Pluto’s nearest ear with sunburned fingers, “I do begin to think that all these days I have been harbouring a shadow.”

“How so, sir?”

“It hath seemed to me from the first that I should leave this poor body here in Darien–“

“God forbid!” quoth I fervently.

“‘Twould be but my body, Martin; my soul would go along with you, dear lad; aye, ‘twould be close by to comfort and aid and bring you safe to–her–my sweet Joan–and mayhap–with you twain–to England.”

“Nay, dear sir, I had liefer you bear your body along with it. Thank God, you do grow more hearty every day. And the ague scarce troubles you–“

“Truly, God hath been very kind. I am thrice the man I was, though I limp wofully, which grieves me since it shortens the day’s journey, lad. We have been already these many days and yet, as I compute, we have fully eighty miles yet to go. Alas, dear lad, how my crawling must fret you.”

“Sir Richard,” said I, clapping my hand on his, “no man could have endured more courageously nor with stouter heart than you–no, not even Adam Penfeather himself, so grieve not for your lameness. Adam will wait us, of this I am assured.”

“What manner of man is this Adam of yours, Martin?”

“He is himself, sir, and none other like him: a little, great man, a man of cunning plots and contrivances, very bold and determined and crafty beyond words. He is moreover a notable good seaman and commander, quick of hand and eye. Dangers and difficulty are but a whetstone to set a keener edge to his abilities. He was once a chief of buccaneers and is now a baronet of England and justice of the peace, aye, and I think a member of His Majesty’s Parliament beside.”

“Lord, Martin, you do paint me a very Proteus; fain would I meet such a man.”

“Why, so you shall, sir, and judge for yourself.”

Here Sir Richard sighed and turned to gaze where Atlamatzin was busied upon a small fire he had lighted some distance away. Now, as to this Indian, if I have not been particular in his description hitherto, it is because I know not how to do so, seeing he was (to my mind) rather as one of another world, a sombre figure proud and solitary and mostly beyond my ken, though I came to know him something better towards the end and but for him should have perished miserably. Thus then, I will try to show him to you in as few words as I may.

Neither young nor old, tall and slender yet of incredible strength; his features pleasing and no darker than my own sunburned skin, his voice soft and deep, his bearing proud and stately and of a most grave courtesy. Marvellous quick was he and nimble save for his tongue, he being less given to talk even than I, so that I have known us march by the hour together and never a word betwixt us. Yet was he a notable good friend, true and steadfast and loyal, as you shall hear.

Just now (as I say) he was busy with a fire whereon he cast an armful of wet leaves so that he had presently a thick column of smoke ascending into the stilly air; and now he took him one of the cloaks and covered this smoke, stifling and fanning it aside so that it was no more than a mist, and anon looses it into a column again; and thus he checked or broke his smoky pillar at irregular intervals, so that at last I needs must call to ask him what he did.

“Brother,” answered he in his grave fashion, “I talk with my people. In a little you shall see them answer me. Hereupon Sir Richard told me how in some parts these Indians will converse long distances apart by means of drums, by which they will send you messages quicker than any relay of post horses may go. And presently, sure enough, from a woody upland afar rose an answering smoke that came and went and was answered by our fire, as in question and answer, until at last Atlamatzin, having extinguished his fire, came and sat him down beside us.

“Father and my brother,” said he, folding his arms, “I read a tale of blood, fire and battle at sea and along the coast. White men slaying white men, which is good–so they slay enough!”

“A battle at sea? Do you mean ships?” I questioned uneasily.

“And on land, brother. Spanish soldiers have been espied wounded and yet shouting with singing and laughing. Galleons have sailed from Porto Bello and Carthagena.”

“God send Adam is not beset!” said I.

“Amen!” quoth Sir Richard. “Nay, never despond, Martin, for if he be the man you say he shall not easily be outwitted.”

“Ah, sir, I think on my dear lady.”

“And I also, Martin. But she is in the hands of God Who hath cherished her thus far.”

“Moreover, oh, father and my brother, yonder my people do send you greeting and will entertain you for so long as you will.”

“Wherefore we thank you, Atlamatzin, good friend, you and them, but if fire and battle are abroad we must on so soon as we may.” So saying, Sir Richard got to his feet and we did the like and, taking up our gear, set off with what speed we might.

CHAPTER XXIX

TELLETH SOMEWHAT OF A STRANGE CITY

By midday we were come in sight of this Indian city, a place strange beyond thought, it being builded in vast terraces that rose one upon another up the face of a great cliff, and embattled by divers many towers. And the nearer I came the more grew my wonder by reason of the hugeness of this structure, for these outer defences were builded of wrought stones, but of such monstrous bulk and might as seemed rather the work of sweating Titans than the labour of puny man; as indeed I told Sir Richard.

“Aye, truly, Martin,” said he, “this is the abiding wonder! Here standeth the noble monument of a once great and mighty people.”

In a little Atlamatzin brought us to a stair or causeway that mounted up from terrace to terrace, and behold, this stair was lined with warriors grasping shield and lance, and brave in feathered cloaks and headdresses and betwixt their ordered ranks one advancing,–an old man of a reverend bearing, clad in a black robe and on whose bosom shone and glittered a golden emblem that I took for the sun. Upon the lowest platform he halted and lifted up his hands as in greeting, whereon up went painted shield and glittering spear and from the stalwart warriors rose a lusty shout, a word thrice repeated.

And now, to my wonder, forth stepped Atlamatzin, a proud and stately figure for all his rags, and lifting one hand aloft, spake to them in voice very loud and clear, pointing to us from time to time. When he had gone they shouted amain and, descending from the platform, the priest (as he proved to be) knelt before Atlamatzin to touch his heart and brow. And now came divers Indians bearing litters, the which, at Altlamatzin’s word, Sir Richard and I entered and so, Pluto trotting beside us, were borne up from terrace to terrace unto the town. And I saw this had once been a goodly city though its glory was departed, its noble buildings decayed or ruinated and cheek by jowl with primitive dwellings of clay. And these greater houses were of a noble simplicity, flat-roofed and builded of a red, porous stone, in some cases coated with white cement, whiles here and there, towering high among these, rose huge structures that I took for palaces or temples, yet one and all timeworn and crumbling to decay. Before one of such, standing in a goodly square, we alighted and here found a crowd of people–men, women and children–who stood to behold us; a mild, well-featured people, orderly and of a courteous bearing, yet who stared and pointed, chattering, at sight of the dog. And if this were all of them, a pitiful few I thought them in contrast to this great square whence opened divers wide thoroughfares, and this mighty building that soared above us, its great walls most wonderful to sight by reason of all manner of decorations and carvings wrought into the semblance of writhing serpents cunningly intertwined.

Betwixt a kind of gatehouse to right and left we entered an enclosure where stood the temple itself, reared upon terraces. Here Atlamatzin giving us to know we must leave the dog, Sir Richard tied him up, whereon Pluto, seeing us leave him, howled in remonstrance, but, obedient to Sir Richard’s word, cowered to silence, yet mighty dismal to behold. And now, Atlamatzin and the High Priest leading the way, we to climb numberless steps, and though Richard found this no small labour despite my aid, at last we stood before the massy portal of the temple that seemed to scowl upon us. And from the dim interior rose a sound of voices chanting, drowned all at once in the roll of drums and blare of trumpets and Atlamatzin and the Priest entered, signing on us to follow.

“Have your weapons ready, Martin!” gasped Sir Richard. “For I have heard evil tales of blood and sacrifice in such places as this!”

And thus side by side we stepped into the cool dimness of this strange building. Once my eyes were accustomed to the gloom, I stood amazed by the vast extent of this mighty building and awed by the wonder of it. Midway burned a dim fire whose small flame flickered palely; all round us, huge and mountainous, rose the shapes of strange deities wonderfully wrought; round about the altar fire were grouped many black-robed priests and hard by this fire stood a thing that brought back memory of Adam Penfeather his words–of how he had fought for his life on the death-stone; and now, beholding this grim thing, I shifted round my sword and felt if my pistols were to hand. And now rose Atlamatzin’s voice, rumbling in the dimness high overhead, and coming to us, he took us each by the hand and, leading us forward, spake awhile to the motionless priests, who, when he had done, came about us with hands uplifted in greeting. And now Atlamatzin spake us on this wise:

“Father and my brother, well do I know ye have clean hearts despite your pale skins, so do I make ye welcome and free of this city that once was overruled by my forefathers. And because ye are white men, loving all such foolish things as all white men do love, follow me!”

Saying which, he brought us before one of those great idols that glared down on us. I saw him lift one hand, then started back from the square of darkness that yawned suddenly as to engulf us. Taking a torch, Atlamatzin led us down steps and along a broad passage beneath the temple and so into a vasty chamber where lay that which gave back the light he bore; everywhere about us was the sheen of gold. In ordered piles, in great heaps, in scattered pieces it lay, wrought into a thousand fantastic shapes, as idols, serpents, basins, pots and the like,–a treasure beyond the telling.

“Behold the white man’s God, the cause of my people’s woes, the ruin of our cities, of blood and battle!”

And here he gives us to understand this wealth was ours if we would; all or such of it as we might bear away with us. Whereupon I shook my head and Sir Richard told him that of more use to him than all this treasure would be pen, inkhorn and paper, and a compass. Nothing speaking, Atlamatzin turned, and by a very maze of winding passageways brought us up the steps and so to a great and lofty chamber or hall where lay a vast medley of things: arms and armour, horse furniture and Spanish gear of every sort, and in one corner a small brass cannon, mounted on wheels. Amongst all of which Sir Richard began searching and had his patience rewarded, for presently he came on that he desired; viz: a travelling writing case with pens, paper, and a sealed bottle of ink, though why he should want such was beyond me, as I told him, whereat he did but smile, nothing speaking.

So back we came and unloosed our dog (and he mighty rejoiced to see us) whereafter, by Atlamatzin’s command, we were lodged in a chamber very sumptuous and with servants observant to our every want; for our meals were dishes a-plenty, savoury and excellent well cooked and seasoned, and for our drink was milk, or water cunningly flavoured with fruits, as good as any wine, to my thinking. And cups and platters, nay, the very pots, were all of pure gold.

This night, having bathed me in a small bathhouse adjacent and very luxurious, I get me to bed early (which was no more than a mat) but Sir Richard, seated upon the floor hard by (for of chairs there were none), Sir Richard, I say, must needs fall to with pen and ink, the great hound drowsing beside him, so that, lulled by the soft scratching of his busy quill, I presently slumbered also.

Next morning I awoke late to find Sir Richard squatted where he had sat last night, but this time, instead of writing case, across his knees lay a musket, and he was busied in setting a flint to the lock.

“Why, sir–what now?” I questioned.

“A musket, lad, and fifty-and-five others in the corner yonder and all serviceable, which is well.”

Now as I stared at him, his bowed figure and long white hair, there was about him (despite his benevolent expression) a certain grim, fighting look that set me wondering; moreover, upon the air I heard a stir that seemed all about us, a faint yet ominous clamour.

“Sir,” quoth I, getting to my feet, “what’s to do?”

“Battle, Martin!” said he, testing the musket’s action.

“Ha!” cried I, catching up my sword. “Are we beset?”

“By an army of Spaniards and hostile Indians, Martin. In the night came Atlamatzin to say news had come of Indians from the West, ancient enemies of this people, led on by Spanish soldiers, cavalry and arquebuseros, and bidding us fly and save ourselves before the battle joined. But you were asleep, Martin, and besides, it seemed ill in us, that had eaten their bread, to fly and leave this poor folk to death–and worse–“

“True enough, sir,” said I, buckling my weapons about me, “but do you dream that we, you and I, can hinder such?”

“‘Twere at least commendable in us to so endeavour, Martin. Nor is it thing so impossible, having regard to these fifty-and-five muskets and the brass cannon, seeing there is powder and shot abundant.”

“How then–must we stay and fight?” I demanded. And beholding the grim set of his mouth and chin, at such odds with his white hair and gentle eyes, I knew that it must be so indeed.

“‘Twas so I thought, Martin,” said he a little humbly, and laying his hands upon my shoulders, “but only for myself, dear lad, I fight better than I walk, so will I stay and make this my cumbersome body of some little use, perchance; but as for thee, dear and loved lad, I would have you haste on–“

“Enough, sir,” quoth I, catching his hands in mine, “if you must stay to fight, so do I.”

“Tush, Martin!” said he, mighty earnest. “Be reasonable! Atlamatzin hath vowed, supposing we beat off our assailants, to provide me bearers and a litter, so shall I travel at mine ease and overtake you very soon; wherefore, I bid you go–for her sake!”

But finding me no whit moved by this or any other reason he could invent, he alternate frowned and sighed, and thereafter, slipping his arm in mine, brought me forth to show me such dispositions as he had caused to be made for the defence. Thus came we out upon the highest terrace, Pluto at our heels, and found divers of the Indians labouring amain to fill and set up baskets of loose earth after the manner of fascines, and showed me where he had caused them to plant our cannon where it might sweep that stair I have mentioned, and well screened from the enemy’s observation and sheltered from his fire. And hard beside the gun stood barrels of musket balls, and round-shot piled very orderly, and beyond these, powder a-plenty in covered kegs.

And now he showed me pieces of armour, that is, a vizored headpiece or armet, with cuirass, backplates, pauldrons and vambraces, all very richly gilded, the which it seemed he had chosen for my defence.

“So, then, sir, you knew I should stay?”

“Indeed, Martin,” he confessed, a little discountenanced, “I guessed you might.” But I (misliking to be so confined) would have none of this gilded armour until, seeing his distress, I agreed thereto if he would do the like; so we presently armed each other and I for one mighty hot and uncomfortable.

Posted upon this, the highest terrace, at every vantage point were Indians armed with bows and arrows–men and women, aye and children–and all gazing ever and anon towards that belt of forest to the West where it seemed Atlamatzin, with ten chosen warriors, was gone to watch the approach of the invading host. Presently, from these greeny depths came a distant shot followed by others in rapid succession, and after some while, forth of the woods broke six figures that we knew for Atlamatzin and five of the ten, at sight of whom spear-points glittered and a lusty shout went up.

“See now, Martin,” quoth Sir Richard, speaking quick and incisive, a grim and warlike figure in his armour, for all his stoop and limping gait, “here’s the way on’t: let the Indians shoot their arrows as they may (poor souls!) but we wait until the enemy be a-throng upon the stair yonder, then we open on them with our cannon here,–’tis crammed to the muzzle with musket balls; then whiles you reload, I will to my fifty-and-five muskets yonder and let fly one after t’other, by which time you, having our brass piece ready, will reload so many o’ the muskets as you may and so, God aiding, we will so batter these merciless Dons they shall be glad to give over their bloody attempt and leave these poor folk in peace.”

As he ended, came Atlamatzin, telling us he had fallen suddenly on the enemy’s van and slain divers of them, showing us his axe bloody, and so away to hearten his people.

At last, forth of the forest marched the enemy, rank on rank, a seemingly prodigious company. First rode horsemen a score, and behind these I counted some sixty musketeers and pikemen as many, marching very orderly and flashing back the sun from their armour, while behind these again came plumed Indians beyond count, fierce, wild figures that leapt and shouted high and shrill very dreadful to hear. On they came, leaping and dancing from the forest, until it seemed they would never end, nearer and nearer until we might see their faces and thus behold how these Spaniards talked and laughed with each other as about a matter of little moment. Indeed, it angered me to see with what careless assurance these steel-clad Spaniards advanced against us in their insolent might, and bold in the thought that they had nought to fear save Indian arrows and lances and they secure in their armour. Halting below the first terrace, they forthwith began assault, for whiles divers of the pikemen began to ascend the stairway, followed by their Indian allies, the musketeers let fly up at us with their pieces to cover their comrades’ advance and all contemptuous of the arrows discharged against them. But hard beside the cannon stood Sir Richard, watching keen-eyed, and ever and anon blowing on the slow-match he had made, waiting until the stairway was choked with the glittering helmets and tossing feathers of the assailants.

A deafening roar, a belch of flame and smoke that passing, showed a sight I will not seek to describe; nor did I look twice, but fell to work with sponge and rammer, loading this death-dealing piece as quickly as I might, while louder than the awful wailing that came from that gory shambles rose a wild hubbub from their comrades,–shouts and cries telling their sudden panic and consternation. But as they stood thus in huddled amaze, Sir Richard opened on them with his muskets, firing in rapid succession and with aim so deadly that they forthwith turned and ran for it, nor did they check or turn until they were out of range. Then back limped Sir Richard, his cheek flushed, his eyes bright and fierce in the shade of his helmet, his voice loud and vibrant with the joy of battle, and seeing how far the gun was recoiled, summoned divers of the Indians to urge it back into position; while this was doing, down upon this awful stair leapt Atlamatzin and his fellows and had soon made an end of such wounded as lay there.

“I pray God,” cried Sir Richard, harsh-voiced, as he struck flint and steel to relight his match, “I pray God this may suffice them!”

And beholding the wild disorder of our assailants, I had great hopes this was so indeed, but as I watched, they reformed their ranks and advanced again, but with their Indians in the van, who suddenly found themselves with death before them and behind, for the Spanish musketeers had turned their pieces against them to force them on to the attacks. So, having no choice, these poor wretches came on again, leaping and screaming their battle cries until the stair was a-throng with them; on and up they rushed until Death met them in roaring flame and smoke. But now all about us was the hum of bullets, most of which whined harmlessly overhead, though some few smote the wall behind us. But small chance had I to heed such, being hard-set to prime and load as, time after time, these poor Indians, driven on by their cruel masters, rushed, and time after time were swept away; and thus we fought the gun until the sweat ran from me and I panted and cursed my stifling armour, stripping it from me piece by piece as occasion offered. And thus I took a scathe from bullet or splinter of stone, yet heeded not until I sank down sick and spent and roused to find Pluto licking my face and thereafter to see Sir Richard kneeling over me, his goodly armour dinted and scarred by more than one chance bullet.

“Drink!” he commanded, and set water to my lips, the which mightily refreshed me.

“Sir, what o’ the fight?” I questioned.

“Done, lad, so far as we are concerned,” said he. “Atlamatzin fell upon ’em with all his powers and routed them–hark!”

Sure enough, I heard the battle roar away into the forest and beyond until, little by little, it sank to a murmurous hum and died utterly away. But all about us were other sounds, and getting unsteadily to my legs, I saw the plain ‘twixt town and forest thick-strewn with the fallen.

“So then the town is saved, sir?”

“God be praised, Martin!”

“Why, then, let us on–to meet my dear lady!” But now came an Indian to bathe my hurt, an ugly tear in my upper arm, whereto he set a certain balsam and a dressing of leaves and so bound it up very deftly and to my comfort.

And now was I seized of a fierce desire to be gone; I burned in a fever to tramp those weary miles that lay ‘twixt me and my lady Joan; wherefore, heedless alike of my own weakness, of Sir Richard’s remonstrances and weariness, or aught beside in my own fevered desire, I set out forthwith, seeing, as in a dream, the forms of Indians, men, women and children, who knelt and cried to us as in gratitude or farewell; fast I strode, all unmindful of the old man who plodded so patiently, limping as fast as he might to keep pace with me, heeding but dimly his appeals, his cries, hasting on and on until, stumbling at last, I sank upon my knees and, looking about, found myself alone and night coming down upon me apace. Then was I seized of pity for him and myself and a great yearning for my lady, and sinking upon my face I wept myself to sleep.

CHAPTER XXX

WE RESUME OUR JOURNEY

I waked in a place of trees, very still and quiet save for the crackle of the fire that blazed near by. Close beside me lay my musket; pendant from a branch within reach dangled my sword. Hereupon, finding myself thus solitary, I began to call on Sir Richard and wondered to hear my voice so weak; yet I persisted in my shouting and after some while heard a joyous bark, and to me bounded Pluto to rub himself against me and butt at me with his great head. While I was caressing this good friend, cometh Sir Richard himself and in his hand a goodly fish much like to a trout.

“Lord, Martin!” said he, sitting beside me, “’tis well art thyself again, lad. Last evening you must set out, and night upon us, must stride away like a madman and leave me alone; but for this good dog I should ha’ lost you quite. See now, lad, what I have caught for our breakfast. I was a notable good angler in the old days and have not lost my cunning, it seems.”

Now as he showed me his fish and set about gutting and preparing it, I could not but mark his drawn and haggard look, despite his brave bearing, and my heart smote me.

“Sir, you are sick!” quoth I.

“Nay, Martin, I am well enough and able to go on as soon as you will. But for the present, rest awhile, lest the fever take you again, this cloak ‘neath your head–so!”

“What o’clock is it?”

“Scarce noon and the sun very hot.”

“How came I here in the shade?”

“I dragged you, Martin. Now sleep, lad, and I’ll to my cooking.”

At this I protested I had no mind for sleep, yet presently slumbered amain, only to dream vilely of fire and of Adam and his fellows in desperate battle, and above the din of fight heard my lady calling on my name as one in mortal extremity and waking in sweating panic, my throbbing head full of this evil vision, was for setting out instantly to her succour. But at Sir Richard’s desire I stayed to gulp down such food as he had prepared, telling him meanwhile of my vision and something comforted by his assurance that dreams went by contrary. Howbeit, the meal done, we set out once more, bearing due northeast by the compass Sir Richard had brought from the Maya city. So we journeyed through this tangled wilderness, my’ head full of strange and evil fancies, cursing the wound that sapped my strength so that I must stumble for very weakness, yet dreaming ever of my lady’s danger, struggling up and on until I sank to lie and curse or weep because of my helplessness.

Very evil times were these, wherein I moved in a vague world, sometimes aware of Sir Richard’s patient, plodding form, of the dog trotting before, of misty mountains, of rushing streams that must be crossed, of glaring heats and grateful shadow; sometimes I lay dazzled by a blazing sun, sometimes it was the fire and Sir Richard’s travel-worn figure beyond, sometimes the calm serenity of stars, but ever and always in my mind was a growing fear, a soul-blasting dread lest our journey be vain, lest the peril that me thought threatened Joan be before us and we find her dead. And this cruel thought was like a whip that lashed me to a frenzy, so that despite wound and weakness I would drive my fainting body on, pursuing the phantom of her I sought and oft calling miserably upon her name like the madman I was; all of the which I learned after from Sir Richard. For, of an early morning I waked to find myself alone, but a fire of sticks burned brightly and against an adjacent rock stood our two muskets, orderly and to hand.

Now as I gazed about, I was aware of frequent sighings hard by and going thitherward, beheld Sir Richard upon his knees, absorbed in a passion of prayer, his furrowed cheeks wet with tears. But beyond this I was struck with the change in him, his haggard face burned nigh black with fierce suns, his garments rent and tattered, his poor body more bent and shrunken than I had thought. Before him sat Pluto, wagging his tail responsive to every passionate gesture of those reverently clasped hands, but who, espying me, uttered his deep bark and came leaping to welcome me; whereupon, seeing I was discovered, I went to Sir Richard and, his prayer ended, lifted him in my arms.

“Ah, Martin, dear lad,” said he, embracing me likewise, “surely God hath answered my prayer. You are yourself again.” And now, he sitting beside the fire whiles I prepared such food as we had, he told me how for five days I had been as one distraught, wandering haphazard and running like any madman, calling upon my lady’s name, and that he should have lost me but for the dog.

“Alas, dear sir,” quoth I, abashed by this recital, “I fear in my fool’s madness I have worn you out and nigh beyond endurance.”

“Nay, Martin,” said he, “it doth but teach me what I knew, that lusty youth and feeble age are ill travelling companions, for needs must you go, your soul ever ahead of you, yet schooling your pace to mine, and for this I do love you so that I would I were dead and you free to speed on your strength–“

“Never say so, dear father,” quoth I, folding my arm about his drooping form, “my strength shall be yours henceforth.”

And presently he grew eager to be gone, but seeing me unwilling, grew the more insistent to travel so far as we might before the scorching heats should overtake us. So we started, I carrying his musket beside my own and despite his remonstrances.

An evil country this, destitute of trees and all vegetation save small bushes few and prickly cactus a-many, a desolation of grim and jagged rocks and barren, sandy wastes full of sun-glare and intolerable heat. And now, our water being gone, we began to be plagued with thirst and a great host of flies so bold as to settle on our mouths, nostrils and eyes, so that we must be for ever slapping and brushing them away. Night found us faint and spent and ravenous for water and none to be found, and to add further to our agonies, these accursed flies were all about us still, singing and humming, and whose bite set up a tickling itch, so that what with these and our thirst we got little or no rest.

“Martin,” said Sir Richard, hearing me groan, “we should be scarce four days from the sea by my reckoning–“

“Aye,” said I, staring up at the glory of stars, “but how if we come on no water? Our journey shall end the sooner, methinks.”

“True, Martin,” said he, “but we are sure to find water soon or late–“

“God send it be soon!” I groaned. Here he sets himself to comfort Pluto who lay betwixt us, panting miserably, with lolling tongue or snapping fiercely at these pestilent flies.

And thus we lay agonising until the moon rose and then, by common consent, we stumbled on, seeking our great desire. And now as I went, my mouth parched, my tongue thickening to the roof of my mouth, I must needs think of plashing brooks, of bubbling rills, of sweet and pellucid streams, so that my torment was redoubled, yet we dared not stop, even when day came.

Then forth of a pitiless heaven blazed a cruel sun to scorch us, thereby adding to this agony of thirst that parched us where we crawled with fainting steps, our sunken eyes seeking vainly for the kindly shade of some tree in this arid desolation. And always was my mind obsessed by that dream of gurgling brooks and bubbling rills; and now I would imagine I was drinking long, cool draughts, and thrusting leathern tongue ‘twixt cracking lips, groaned in sharper agony. So crept we on, mile after mile, hoping the next would show us some blessed glimpse of water, and always disappointed until at last it seemed that here was our miserable end.

“Martin,” gasped Sir Richard, sinking in my failing clasp, his words scarce articulate, “I can go no farther–leave me, sweet son–’tis better I die here–go you on–“

“No!” groaned I, and seeing Sir Richard nigh to swooning, I took him in my arms. Reeling and staggering I bore him on, my gaze upon a few scattered rocks ahead of us where we might at least find shade from this murderous sun. Thus I struggled on until my strength failed and I sank to this burning sand where it seemed we were doomed to perish after all, here in this pitiless wild where even the dog had deserted us. And seeing Death so near, I clasped Sir Richard ever closer and strove to tell him something of my love for him, whereupon he raised one feeble hand to touch my drooping head.

Now as I babbled thus, I heard a lazy flap of wings and lifting weary eyes, beheld divers of these great birds that, settling about, hopped languidly towards us and so stood to watch us, raffling their feathers and croaking hoarsely. So I watched them, and well-knowing what they portended, drew forth a pistol and, cocking it, had it ready to hand. But as I did so they broke into shrill clamour and, rising on heavy wings, soared away as came Pluto to leap about us, uttering joyous barks and butting at us with his head. And then I saw him all wet, nay, as I gazed on him, disbelieving my eyes, he shook himself, sprinkling us with blessed water. Somehow I was upon my feet and, taking Sir Richard’s swooning body across my shoulder, I stumbled on towards that place of rocks, Pluto running on before and turning ever and anon to bark, as bidding me hasten. So at last, panting and all foredone, came I among these rocks and saw them open to a narrow cleft that gave upon a gorge a-bloom with flowers, a very paradise; and here, close to hand, a little pool fed by a rill or spring that bubbled up amid these mossy rocks.

So took I this life-giving water in my two hands and dashed it in Sir Richard’s face, and he, opening his eyes, uttered a hoarse cry of rapture. And so we drank, kneeling side by side. Yet our throats and tongues so swollen we could scarce swallow at the first, and yet these scant drops a very ecstasy. But when I would have drunk my fill, Sir Richard stayed me lest I do myself an injury and I, minding how poor souls had killed themselves thus, drank but moderately as he bade me, yet together we plunged our heads and arms into this watery delight, praising God and laughing for pure joy and thankfulness. Then, the rage of our thirst something appeased, we lay down within this shadow side by side and presently fell into a most blessed slumber.

I waked suddenly to a piteous whining and, starting up, beheld Pluto crawling towards me, his flank transfixed with an Indian arrow. Up I sprang to wake Sir Richard and peer down into the shadowy gorge below, but saw no more than flowering thickets and bush-girt rock. But as I gazed thus, musket in hand, Sir Richard gave fire and while the report yet rang and echoed, I saw an Indian spring up from amid these bushes and go rolling down into the thickets below.

“One, Martin!” quoth Sir Richard and, giving me his piece to reload, turned to minister to Pluto’s hurt. Where he lay whining and whimpering. Suddenly an arrow struck the rock hard beside me and then came a whizzing shower, whereupon we took such shelter as offered and whence we might retort upon them with our shot. And after some while, as we lay thus, staring down into the gorge, came the report of a musket and a bullet whipped betwixt us.

“Lord, Martin!” quoth Sir Richard cheerily, his eyes kindling. “It was vastly unwise to fall asleep by this well in so thirsty a country; ’tis a known place and much frequented, doubtless. Wisdom doth urge a retreat so soon as you have filled our water bottles; meantime I will do all I may to dissuade our assailants from approaching too near.”

So saying, he levelled his piece and, dwelling on his aim, fired, whiles I, screened from bullets and arrows alike, filled our flasks and doing so, espied a small cave, excellent suited to our defence and where two determined men might hold in check a whole army.

Hereupon I summoned Sir Richard who, seeing this cave commanded the gorge and might only be carried in front, approved it heartily, so thither we repaired, taking Pluto with us and him very woful. And lying thus in our little fort we laid out our armament, that is, our two muskets and four pistols, and took stock of our ammunition, I somewhat dashed to find we had but thirty charges betwixt us, the pistols included. Sir Richard, on the other hand, seemed but the more resolute and cheery therefor.

“For look now, Martin,” said he, cocking his musket and levelling it betwixt the boulders we had piled to our better defence, “here we have fifteen lives, or say twenty, though you are better with sword than musket I take it; should these not suffice, then we have two excellent swords and lastly our legs, indifferent bad as regards mine own, but in a little ’twill be black dark, the moon doth not rise till near dawn. So here are we snug for the moment and very able to our defence these many hours, God be thanked!” And thus he of his own indomitable spirit cheered me. Suddenly he pulled trigger and as the smoke cleared I saw his bullet had sped true, for amid certain rocks below us a man rose up, clad in Spanish half-armour, and sinking forward, lay there motionless, plain to our view.

“Two!” quoth Sir Richard, and fell to reloading his piece, wadding the charge with strips from his ragged garments.

The fall of this Spaniard caused no little stir among our unseen assailants, for the air rang with fierce outcries and the shrill battle hootings of the Indians, and a shower of arrows rattled among the rocks about us and thereafter a volley of shot, and no scathe to us.

“War is a hateful thing!” quoth Sir Richard suddenly. “See yon Spaniard I shot, God forgive me–hark how he groaneth, poor soul!” And he showed me the Spaniard, who writhed ever and anon where he lay across the rock and wailed feebly for water. “Methinks ’twere merciful to end his sufferings, Martin!”

“Mayhap, sir, though we have few enough charges to spare!”

“Thus speaketh cold prudence and common sense, Martin, and yet–“

But here the matter was put beyond dispute for, even as Sir Richard levelled his musket, the wounded Spaniard slipped and rolled behind the rock and lay quite hid save for a hand and arm that twitched feebly ever and anon.

“And he was crying for water!” sighed Sir Richard, “Thirst is an agony, as we do know. Hark, he crieth yet! Twere act commendable to give drink to a dying man, enemy though he be.”

“Most true, sir, but–nay, what would you?” I said, grasping his arm as he made to rise.

“Endeavour as much good as I may in the little of life left to me, Martin. The poor soul lieth none so far and–“

“Sir–sir!” quoth I, tightening my hold. “You would be shot ere you had gone a yard–are ye mad indeed or–do you seek death?” Now at this he was silent, and I felt him trembling.

“This is as God willeth, Martin!” said he at last. “Howbeit I must go; prithee loose me, dear lad!”

“Nay!” cried I harshly. “If you will have our enemy drink, I shall bear it myself–“

“No, no!” cried he, grappling me in turn as I rose. “What I may do you cannot–be reasonable, Martin–you bulk so much greater than I, they cannot fail of such a mark–“

Now as we argued the matter thus, each mighty determined, Pluto set up a joyous barking and, rising on three legs, stood with ears cocked and tail wagging, the which put me in no small perplexity until, all at once, certain bushes that grew hard by swayed gently and forth of the leaves stepped an Indian clad for battle, like a great chief or cacique (as ’tis called) for on arm and breast and forehead gold glittered, and immediately we knew him for Atlamatzin.

“Greeting to ye, father and brother!” said he, saluting us in his grave and stately fashion. “Atlamatzin and his people are full of gratitude to ye and because ye are great and notable warriors, scornful of the white man’s God, Atlamatzin and his warriors have followed to do ye homage and bring ye safe to your journey’s end, and finding ye, lo! we find also our enemies, whose eyes seeing nought but ye two, behold nought of the death that creepeth about them; so now, when the shadow shall kiss the small rock yonder, do you make your thunder and in that moment shall Atlamatzin smite them to their destruction and, if the gods spare him, shall surely find ye again that are his father and brother!”

Something thus spake he below his breath in his halting Spanish, very grave and placid, then saluting us, was gone swift and silent as he came.

“An inch!” quoth Sir Richard, pointing to the creeping shadow and so we watched this fateful shade until it was come upon the rock, whereupon I let off my piece and Sir Richard a moment after, and like an echo to these shots rose sudden dreadful clamour, shouts, the rapid discharge of firearms; but wilder, fiercer, and louder than all the shrill and awful Indian battle cry. And now, on bush-girt slopes to right and left was bitter strife, a close-locked fray that burst suddenly asunder and swirled down till pursued and pursuer were lost amid that tangle of blooming thickets where it seemed the battle clamoured awhile, then roared away as the enemy broke and fled before the sudden furious onset of Atlamatzin’s warriors.

As for us, we lay within our refuge, nor stirred until this din of conflict was but a vague murmur, for though we might see divers of the fallen where they lay, these neither stirred nor made any outcry since it seemed their business was done effectually.

“And now, Martin,” said Sir Richard, rising, “’tis time we got hence lest any of our assailants come a-seeking us.”

So being out of the cave, I set myself to see that we had all our gear to hand, to empty and refill my flask with this good water and the like until, missing Sir Richard, I turned to behold him already hard upon that rock where lay the wounded Spaniard, Pluto limping at his heels. Being come to the rock, Sir Richard unslung his water bottle and stopped, was blotted out in sudden smoke-cloud, and, even as the report reached me, I began to run, raving like any madman; and thus, panting out prayers and curses, I came where stood Sir Richard leaning against this rock, one hand clasped to his side, and the fingers of this hand horribly red. And now I was aware of a shrill screaming that, ending suddenly, gave place to dreadful snarling and worrying sound, but heedless of aught but Sir Richard’s wound, I ran to bear him in my arms as he fell.

“Oh, Martin,” said he faintly, looking up at me with his old brave smile, “’tis come at last–my journeying is done–“

Scarce knowing what I did, I gathered him to my bosom and bore him back to the cave; and now, when I would have staunched his hurt, he shook feeble head.

“Let be, dear lad,” said he, “nought shall avail–not all your care and love–for here is friend Death at last come to lift me up to a merciful God!”

None the less I did all that I might for his hurt save to probe for the pistol ball that was gone too deep. And presently, as I knelt beside him in a very agony of helplessness, cometh Pluto, fouled with blood other than his own, and limping hither, cast himself down, his great paw across Sir Richard’s legs, licking at those weary feet that should tramp beside us no farther. And thus night found us.

“Martin,” said Sir Richard suddenly, his voice strong, “bear me out where I may behold the stars, for I–ever loved them and the wonder of them–even in my–unregenerate days.” So I bore him without, and indeed the heavens were a glory.

“Dear lad,” said he, clasping my hand, “grieve not that I die, for Death is my friend–hath marched beside me these many weary miles, yet spared me long enough to know and love you ever better for the man you are.–Now as to Joan, my daughter, I–grieve not to see her–but–God’s will be done, lad, Amen. And because I knew I must die here in Darien, I writ her a letter–’tis here in my bosom–give it her, saying I–ever loved her greatly more than I let her guess and that–by my sufferings I was a something better man, being–humbler, gentler, and of–a contrite heart. And now, Martin–thou that didst forgive and love thine enemy, saving him at thine own peril and using him as thy dear friend–my time is come–I go into the infinite–Death’s hand is on me but–a kindly hand–lifting me–to my God–my love shall go with ye–all the way–you and her–alway. Into Thy hands, O Lord!”

And thus died my enemy, like the brave and noble gentleman he was, his head pillowed upon my bosom, his great soul steadfast and unfearing to the last.

And I, a lost and desolate wretch, wept at my bitter loss and cried out against the God who had snatched from me this the only man I had ever truly loved and honoured. And bethinking me of his patient endurance, I thought I might have been kinder and more loving in many ways and to my grief was added bitter self-reproaches.

At last, the day appearing, I arose and, taking up my dead, bore him down to the gorge and presently came upon a quiet spot unsullied by the foulness of battle; and here, amid the glory of these blooming thickets, I laid him to his last rest, whiles Pluto watched me, whining ever and anon. And when I had made an end, I fell on my knees and would have prayed, yet could not.

So back went I at last, slow-footed, to the cave and thus came on Sir Richard’s letter, it sealed and superscribed thus:

Unto my loved daughter, Joan Brandon,

And beholding this beloved name, a great heart-sickness came on me with a vision of a joy I scarce dared think on that had been mine but for my blind selfishness and stubborn will; and with this was a knowledge of all the wasted years and a loss unutterable. And thus my grief took me again, so that this letter was wetted with tears of bitter remorse.

At last I arose (the letter in my bosom) and girding my weapons about me (choosing that musket had been Sir Richard’s) stood ready to begone. But now, missing the dog, I called to him, and though he howled in answer, he came not, wherefore following his outcries, they brought me to Sir Richard’s grave and Pluto crouched thereby, whimpering. At my command he limped towards me a little way, then crawled back again, and this he did as often as I called, wherefore at last I turned away and, setting forth in my loneliness, left these two together.

CHAPTER XXXI

I MEET A MADMAN

Having taken my bearings, I set off at speed nor did I stay for rest or refreshment until I had traversed many miles and the sun’s heat was grown nigh intolerable. So I halted in such shade as the place offered and having eaten and drunk, I presently fell asleep and awoke to find the day far spent and to look around for Sir Richard as had become my wont. And finding him not, in rushed memory to smite me anew with his death, so that I must needs fall to thinking of his lonely grave so far behind me in these wilds; wherefore in my sorrow I bitterly cursed this land of cruel heat, of quenchless thirst and trackless, weary ways, and falling on my knees, I prayed as I had never prayed, humbly and with no thought of self, save that God would guide me henceforth and make me more worthy the great health and strength wherewith He had blessed me, and, if it so pleased Him, bring me safe at last to my dear lady’s love. Thus after some while I arose and went my solitary way, and it seemed that I was in some ways a different and a better man, by reason of Sir Richard his death and my grief therefor.

And as the darkness of night deepened about me and I striding on, guided by the dim-seen needle of my compass, often I would fancy Sir Richard’s loved form beside me or the sound of his limping step in my ear, so that in the solitude of this vasty wilderness I was not solitary, since verily his love seemed all about me yet, even as he had promised.

All this night I travelled apace nor stayed until I fell for very weariness and lying there, ate such food as I had, not troubling to light a fire, and fell asleep. Now as I lay, it seemed that Sir Richard stood above me, his arm reached out as to fend from me some evil thing, yet when he spoke, voice and words were those of Joanna:

“Hola, Martino fool, and must I be for ever saving your life?”

And now I saw it was Joanna indeed who stood there, clad in her male attire, hand on hip, all glowing, insolent beauty; but as I stared she changed, and I saw her as I had beheld her last, her gown and white bosom all dabbled with her blood, but on her lips was smile ineffably tender and in her eyes the radiance of a joy great beyond all telling.

“Lover Martino,” said she, bending above me, “I went for you to death, unfearing, for only the dead do know the perfect love, since death is more than life, so is my love around you for ever–wake, beloved!”

Herewith she bent and touched me and, waking, I saw this that touched me was no more than the leafy end of a branch ‘neath which I chanced to lie,–but pendant from this swaying branch I espied a monstrous shape that writhed toward me in the dimness; beholding which awful, silent thing I leapt up, crying out for very horror and staying but to snatch my gun, sped from this evil place, nigh sick with dread and loathing.

The moon was up, dappling these gloomy shades with her pure light and as I sped, staring fearfully about me, I espied divers of these great serpents twisted among the boughs overhead, and monstrous bat-like shapes that flitted hither and thither so that I ran in sweating panic until the leafage, above and around me, thinning out, showed me the full splendour of this tropic moon and a single great tree that soared mightily aloft to thrust out spreading branches high in air. Now as I approached this, I checked suddenly and, cocking my musket, called out in fierce challenge, for round the bole of this tree peeped the pallid oval of a face; thrice I summoned, and getting no answer, levelled and fired point-blank, the report of my piece waking a thousand echoes and therewith a chattering and screeching from the strange beasts that stirred in the denser woods about me; and there (maugre my shot), there, I say, was the face peering at me evilly as before. But now something in its stark and utter stillness clutched me with new dread as, slinging my musket and drawing pistol, I crept towards this pallid, motionless thing and saw it for a face indeed, with mouth foolishly agape, and presently beheld this for a man fast-bound to the tree and miserably dead by torture. And coming near this awful, writhen form, I apprehended something about it vaguely familiar, and suddenly (being come close) saw this poor body was clad as an English sailor; perceiving which, I shivered in sudden dread and made haste to recharge my musket, spilling some of my precious powder in my hurry, and so hasting from this awful thing with this new dread gnawing at my heart.

Presently before me rose steepy crags very wild and desolate, but nowhere a tree to daunt me. Here I halted and my first thought to light a fire, since the gloomy thickets adjacent and the sombre forests beyond were full of unchancy noises, stealthy rustlings, shrill cries and challengings very dismal to hear. But in a while, my fire burning brightly, sword loose in scabbard, musket across my knee and my back ‘gainst the rock, I fell to pondering my dream and the wonder of it, of Joanna and her many noble qualities, of her strange, tempestuous nature; and lifting my gaze to the wonder of stars, it seemed indeed that she, though dead, yet lived and must do so for ever, even as these quenchless lights of heaven; and thus I revolved the mystery of life and death until sleep stole upon me.

I waked suddenly to snatch up my musket and peer at the dim figure sitting motionless beyond the dying fire, then, as a long arm rose in salutation, lowered my weapon, mighty relieved to recognise the Indian, Atlamatzin.

“Greeting, my brother,” quoth he; “all yesterday I followed on thy track, but my brother is swift and Atlamatzin weary of battle.”

“And what of the battle?”

“Death, my brother: as leaves of the forest lie the Maya warriors, but of our enemies none return. So am I solitary, my work done, and solitary go I to Pachacamac that lieth beside the Great Sea. But there is an empty place betwixt us, brother–what of the old cacique so cunning in battle–what of my father?”

Here, as well as I might, I told him of Sir Richard’s cruel murder; at this he was silent a great while, staring sombrely into the fire. Suddenly he started and pointed upward at a great, flitting shape that hovered above us and sprang to his feet as one sore affrighted, whereupon I told him this was but a bat (though of monstrous size) and could nothing harm us.

“Nay, brother, here is Zotzilaha Chimalman that reigneth in the House of Bats, for though Atlamatzin was born without fear, yet doth he respect the gods, in especial Zotzilaha Chimalman!”

Now hereupon, seeing the dawn was at hand, I rose, nor waited a second bidding for, gods or no, this seemed to me a place abounding in terrors and strange evils, and I mighty glad of this Indian’s fellowship. So up I rose, tightening my girdle, but scarce had I shouldered my musket than I stood motionless, my heart a-leaping, staring towards a certain part of the surrounding woods whence had sounded a sudden cry. And hearkening to this, back rushed that sick dread I had known already, for this was a human cry, very desolate and wistful, and the words English:

“Jeremy, ahoy–oho, Jeremy!”

Breaking the spell that numbed me, I made all haste to discover the wherefore of these dolorous sounds and plunged into the noxious gloom of the woods, Atlamatzin hard on my heels; and ever as we went, guided by these hoarse shouts, the dawn lightened about us.

Thus presently I espied a forlorn figure afar off, crouched beneath a tree, a strange, wild figure that tossed a knife from hand to hand and laughed and chattered ‘twixt his shouting.

“Ahoy, Jerry, I’m all adrift–where be you? I’m out o’ my soundings, lad–’tis me–’tis Dick–your old messmate as drank many a pint wi’ you alongside Deptford Pool–Ahoy, Jeremy!”

Now espying us where we stood, he scrambled to his feet, peering at us, through his tangled hair: then, dropping his knife, comes running, his arms outstretched, then checks as suddenly and stares me over with a cunning leer.

“Avast, Dick!” said he, smiting himself on ragged breast. “This bean’t poor Jerry–poor Jerry ain’t half his size–a little man be Jeremy, not so big as Sir Adam–“

“Who!” cried I and, dropping my gun, I caught him by his ragged sleeve, whereupon he grinned foolishly, then as suddenly scowled and wrenched free. “Speak, man!” said I in passionate pleading. “Is it Sir Adam Penfeather you mean–Captain Penfeather?”

“Maybe I do an’ maybe I don’t, so all’s one!” said he. “Howsomever, ’tis Jerry I’m arter–my mate Jeremy as went adrift from me–my mate Jerry as could sing so true, but I was the lad to dance!” And here he must needs fall a-dancing in his rags, singing hoarsely:

“Heave-ho, lads, and here’s my ditty! Saw ye e’er in town or city
A lass to kiss so sweet an’ pretty As Bess o’ Bednall Green.

“Heave-ho, lads, she’s one to please ye Bess will kiss an’ Bess will–“

“Oho, Jerry–Jeremy–ahoy–haul your wind, lad; bear up, Jerry, an’ let Dick come ‘longside ye, lad–!” and here the poor wretch, from singing and dancing, falls to doleful wailing with gush of tears and bitter sobs.

“Tell me,” said I as gently as I might and laying a hand on his hairy shoulder, “who are you–the name of your ship–who was your captain?”

But all I got was a scowl, a sudden buffet of his fist, and away he sped, raising again his hoarse and plaintive cry:

“Ahoy, Jerry–Jeremy, ho!”

And thus, my mind in a ferment, I must needs watch him go, torn at by briars, tripped by unseen obstacles, running and leaping like the poor, mad thing he was.

Long I stood thus in painful perplexity, when I heard a sudden dreadful screaming at no great distance:

“Oh, Jerry–Oh, Jerry, lad–what ha’ they done to thee–Oh, Christ Jesus!”

Then came a ringing shot, and guessing what this was I turned away, “Atlamatzin,” said I, taking up my musket, “you spake truth–verily this place is accursed–come, let us begone!”

For long hours I strode on, scarce heeding my silent companion or aught else, my mind pondering the mention this poor, mad wretch had made of “Sir Adam,” and ever my trouble grew, for if he and the dead man Jeremy were indeed of Adam’s company (the which I suspected) how should they come thus lost in the wild, except Adam had met with some disaster, and were this truly so indeed, then what of my dear and gentle lady? And now I must needs picture to myself Adam slain, his men scattered and, for Joan, such horrors that it was great wonder I did not run mad like this poor, lost mariner. Tormented thus of my doubts and most horrid speculations, I went at furious speed, yet ever my fears grew the more passionate until it grew beyond enduring and I sighed and groaned, insomuch that my Indian comrade stood off, eyeing me askance where I had cast myself miserably beside the way.

“My brother is haunted by the evil spirits sent abroad for his destruction by Chimalman, so shall he presently run mad and become sacred to Zotzilaha Chimalman and suddenly die, except he obey me. For I, Atlamatzin, that am without fear and wise in the magic of my people, shall drive hence these devils an ye will.”

“Do aught you will,” groaned I, “if you can but rid me of evil fancies and imaginings.”

Forthwith he kindled a fire and I, watching dull and abstracted, being full of my trouble, was aware of him cracking and bruising certain herbs or leaves he had plucked, mingling these with brownish powder from the deerskin pouch he bore at his girdle, which mixture he cast upon the fire, whence came a smoke very sweet and pungent that he fanned towards me.

“Behold my smoke, brother!” saith he, his voice suddenly loud and commanding, “smell of it and watch how it doth thicken and close about thee!” And verily as I looked, I saw nought but a column of whirling smoke that grew ever more dense and in it, this loud compelling voice.

“Hearken, my brother, to the voices of thy good angels; behold and see truth afar–” The loud voice died away and in its place came another, and I knew that Joanna spoke to me out of this whirling smoke cloud.

“Oh, Martino, hast thou so little faith to think my blood spilt in vain? Did I not give thee unto her that waiteth, living but for thee, yes? Look and behold!”

I saw a gleam of metal amid the green and four ship’s culverins or demi-cannon mounted on rough, wheeled carriages and hauled at by wild-looking men, who toiled and sweated amain, for the way was difficult and their ordnance heavy; and amongst these men one very quick and active, very masterful of look and imperious of gesture, a small man in battered harness, and knowing him for Adam, I would have hailed him, but even then he was gone and nought to see but this writhing smoke cloud.

I beheld a great, orbed moon, very bright and clear, and slumbering in this calm radiance a goodly city with a harbour where rode many ships great and small, and beside this harbour, defending these ships and the city itself, a notable strong castle or fort, high-walled and embattled, with great ordnance mounted both landward and towards the sea. And nigh upon this fort I beheld the stealthy forms of men, toilworn and ragged, whose battered, rusty armour glinted ever and anon as they crept in two companies advancing to right and left. Behind these, masked in the brush on the edge of the forest, four demi-cannon with gunners to serve them, foremost of whom was a short, squat fellow who crept from gun to gun, and him I knew for Godby. And presently from these four guns leapt smoke and flame to batter and burst asunder the postern gate of the fort, and through this ruin I saw Adam leap, sword in hand, his desperate company hard on his heels.

I saw a great galleon spread her sails against the moon, and the red glare of her broadside flame against the town as, squaring her yards, she bore away for the open sea.

I saw the deck of a ship, deserted save for one desolate figure that stood gazing ever in the one direction; and as I watched, eager-eyed, this lonely figure knelt suddenly and reached towards me yearning arms, and I saw this was my beloved Joan. Now would I have leapt to those empty arms, but the smoke blinded me again, and in this smoke I heard the voice of Joanna.

“Oh, Martino, thou that love doth make coward, be comforted and of good courage, for: thy happiness is hers–and mine, yes!”

So I presently waked and, staring about me, started up amazed to see it was dawn and the sun rising already, and beyond the fire the sombre form of Atlamatzin.

“Are the evil spirits fled from my brother?” he questioned.

“Indeed,” said I, “I have dreamed wonderfully and to my great comfort.”

“Great is the magic of Atlamatzin!” quoth he. “‘Tis secret that shall die with him and that soon, for now must he begone to achieve his destiny. As for thee–yonder, a day’s journey, lieth the Great Water. May Kukulcan have thee in his care, he that is Father of Life–fare ye well.”

But at this, seeing him on his feet, I rose also, to grasp his hand, asking whither he went. For answer he pointed to the trackless wild and then raised his finger to the sun that was flooding the world with his splendour.

“Brother,” said Atlamatzin, pointing to this glory, “I go back whence I came, back to Kukulcan that some so call Quetzalcoati, back to the Father of Life!”

So saying, he lifted hand aloft in salutation and turning, strode away due east, so that his form was swallowed up (as it were) in this radiant glory.

CHAPTER XXXII

HOW I FOUND MY BELOVED AT LAST

Left alone, I broke my fast with such food as I had, meanwhile meditating upon the visions of last night, debating within myself if this were indeed a marvel conjured up of Atlamatzin his black magic, or no more than a dream of my own tortured mind, to the which I found no answer, ponder the matter how I might.

None the less I found myself much easier, the haunting fear clean lifted from me; nay, in my heart sang Hope, blithe as any bird, for the which comfort I did not fail humbly to thank God.

I now consulted my compass and decided to bear up more northerly lest I strike too far east and thus overshoot that bay Adam had marked on his chart. So having collected my gear, I took my musket in the crook of my arm and set out accordingly.

Before me was a wild, rolling country that rose, level on level, very thick of brush and thickets so tangled that I must oft win me a path by dint of mine axe. Yet I struggled on as speedily as I might (maugre this arduous labour and the sun’s heat) for more than once amid the thousand heavy scents of flower and herb and tree, I thought to catch the sweet, keen tang of the sea.

All this day I strode resolutely forward, scarce pausing to eat or drink, nor will I say more of this day’s journey except that the sun was setting as I reached the top of a wooded eminence and, halting suddenly, fell upon my knees and within me such a joy as I had seen the gates of paradise opening to receive me; for there, all glorious with the blaze of sunset, lay the ocean at last. And beholding thus my long and weary journey so nearly ended, and bethinking me how many times God had preserved me and brought me safe through so many dire perils of this most evil country, I bowed my head and strove to tell Him my heart’s gratitude. My prayer ended (and most inadequate!) I began to run, my weariness all forgot, the breath of the sea sweet in my nostrils, nor stayed until I might look down on the foaming breakers far below and hear their distant roar.

Long stood I, like one entranced, for from this height I could make out the blue shapes of several islands and beyond these a faint blur upon the horizon, the which added greatly to my comfort and delight, since this I knew must be the opposite shore of Terra Firma or the Main, and this great body of water the Gulf of Darien itself. And so came night.

All next day I followed the coast, keeping the sea upon my left, looking for some such landlocked harbourage with its cliff shaped like a lion’s head as Adam had described, yet though I was at great pains (and no small risk to my neck) to peer down into every bay I came upon, nowhere did I discover any such bay or cliff as bore out his description; thus night found me eager to push on, yet something despondent and very weary. So I lighted my fire and ate my supper, harassed by a growing dread lest I was come too far to the east, after all.

And presently up came the moon in glory; indeed, never do I remember seeing it so vivid bright, its radiance flashing back from the waters far below and showing tree and bush and precipitous cliff, very sharp and clear. Upon my left, as I sat, the jagged coast line curved away out to sea, forming thus the lofty headland I had traversed scarce an hour since, that rose sheer from the moon-dappled waters, a huge, shapeless bluff. Now after some while I arose, and seeing the moon so glorious, shouldered my gun, minded to seek a little further before I slept. I had gone thus but a few yards, my gaze now on the difficult path before me, now upon the sea, when, chancing to look towards the bluff I have mentioned, I stopped to stare amazed, for in this little distance, this formless headland, seen from this angle, had suddenly taken a new shape and there before me, plain and manifest, was the rough semblance of a lion’s head; and I knew that betwixt it and the high cliff whereon I stood must be Adam’s excellent secure haven. This sudden discovery filled me with such an ecstacy that I fell a-trembling, howbeit I began to quest here and there for some place where I might get me down whence I might behold this bay and see if Adam’s ship lay therein. And in a little, finding such a place, I began to descend and found it so easy and secure it seemed like some natural stair, and I did not doubt that Adam and his fellows had belike used it as such ere now.

At last I came where I could look down into a narrow bay shut in by these high, bush-girt cliffs and floored with gleaming, silver sand, whose waters, calm and untroubled, mirrored the serene moon, and close under the dense shadows of these cliffs I made out the loom of a great ship. Hereupon I looked no more, but gave all my attention to hands and feet, and so, slipping and stumbling in my eagerness, got me down at last and began running across these silvery sands. But as I approached the ship where she lay now plain in my view, I saw her topmasts were gone, and beholding the ruin of her gear and rigging, I grew cold with sudden dread and came running.

She lay upon an even keel, her forefoot deep-buried in the shifting sand that had silted about her with the tide, and beholding her paint and gilding blackened and scorched by fire, her timbers rent and scarred by shot, I knew this fire-blackened, shattered wreck would never sail again. And now as I viewed this dismal ruin, I prayed this might be some strange ship rather than that I had come so far a-seeking and, so praying, waded out beneath her lofty stern (the tide being low) and, gazing up, read as much of her name as the searing fire had left: viz:

D E L…. A N C E

And hereupon, knowing her indeed for Adam’s ship, I took to wandering round about her, gazing idly up at this pitiful ruin, until there rushed upon me the realisation of what all this meant. Adam was dead or prisoner, and my dear lady lost to me after all; my coming was too late.

And now a great sickness took me, my strength deserted me and, groaning, I sank upon the sand and lying thus, yearned amain for death. Then I heard a sound, and lifting heavy head, beheld one who stood upon the bulwark above me, holding on by a backstay with one hand and pistol levelled down at me in the other. And beholding this slender, youthful figure thus outlined against the moon, the velvet coat brave with silver lace, the ruffles at throat and wrist, the silken stockings and buckled shoes, I knew myself surely mad, for this I saw was Joanna–alive and breathing.

“Shoot!” I cried, “Death has reft from me all I loved–shoot!”