Chapter X. How I Came Aboard the Happy Despatch and of My Sufferings There

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

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

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

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

"He should be overside wi' his guts full o' shot for this same heye of mine if 'twas my say--"

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

"Plague and perish him!" snarled Job, kicking me viciously. "Burn him, 'tis keelhaul 'im I would first and then give 'im to Pompey to carve up what remained--"

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

"Pshaw!" growled Job. "Pompey could eat 'im--bones and all, curse 'im! Pompey would break 'is back as 'e did the big Spaniard's last week."

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

"A match? Why so I would, but what o' Belvedere?"

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

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

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

"Coach, Cap'n?" questioned Job, staring. "And why theer?"

"Because I say so!" roared Belvedere.

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

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

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

"Tush!" said Belvedere, with an oath. "Pompey would quarter him wi' naked hands."

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

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

"Aye--why!" cried Belvedere, gnashing his teeth. "Ask her--go ask Joanna, the curst jade."

"She be only a woman, when all's said, Cap'n--"

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

"Kindness!" said Diccon, with an ugly leer. "Why, there it is, Cap'n; she's off wi' the old and on wi' the new, like--"

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

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

"Aye, but what o' Joanna, what o' that she-snake, ha?"

"'Tis no matter for her. I've a plan."

"What is't, Job lad? Speak fair and the money's good as yourn--"

"Aye, but it ain't mine yet, Cap'n, so mum it but I've a plan."

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

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

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

"Aye, aye, Jo," said Belvedere, nodding. "It shall be done--"

"Manana!" quoth she, frowning. "This doth not suit when I am aboard, no! The new yard must be rigged now, at once, for we sail with the flood--voila!"

"Sail, Jo?" said Belvedere, staring. "Can't be, Jo!"

"And wherefore?"

"Why--we be short o' water, for one thing."

"Ah--bah, we shall take all we want from other ships!"

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

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

"So--ho!" quoth he. "Captain Jo says we sail, and sail it is, hey?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, la-la, fool--these I never loved--"

"Why, then," said I, "the more your shame!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Your brother?"

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

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

"You talk blasphemy!" quoth I.

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

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

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

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

"I've heard his name already," said I, "what like is he and who?"

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

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

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

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

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