Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter XVI. How I Had Word with My Lady, Joan Brandon
"A marvel, Sir Adam (perceive me), a wonder! The constitution of a horse, an ox, nay an elephant, the which monstrous beast (you'll allow me!) hath a pachydermatous hide tolerably impervious to spears, axes, darts, javelins and the like puny offences, and a constitution whereby he liveth (you'll observe) whole centuries. Indeed, Sir Adam, 'tis a cure marvellous, being one I ha' wrought on my patient in spite of said patient. For look now (and heed me) here we have soul, mind and will, or what you will, pulling one way, and body hauling t'other, and body hath it, physics versus metaphysics--a pretty and notable case--"
"Why, he hath a notable hard head, Master Penruddock--"
"Head, Sir Adam, head--were his head as adamantine, as millstone or hard as one o' your cannon balls that shall not save him, if mind and body agreeably seek and desire death, and mind (pray understand, sir) is the more potent factor, thus (saving and excepting the abnormal vigour of his body) by all the rules of chirurgical science he should ha' died three days agone--when the seizure took him."
"Would to heaven I had!" said I, opening my eyes to scowl up at the little man who beamed down on me through monstrous horn-rimmed spectacles.
"Aha, and there we have it confessed, Sir Adam!" said he. "Yet we shall have him on his legs again in a day or so, thanks to my art--"
"And his lady's nursing!"
"What, hath she been with me in my sickness, Adam?" I questioned when the doctor had departed.
"Night and day, Martin, as sweet and patient with you as any angel in heaven, and you cursing and reviling her the while in your ravings--"
"Oh, God forgive me! Where is she now, Adam?"
"With my Lady Joan--"
"How?" I cried. "Was this Joanna nursed me?"
"Why, truly, Martin. Could she have better employ?" But hereupon I fell to such fury that Adam turned to stare at me, pen in hand.
"Lord love you, Martin," said he, pinching his chin, "I begin to think that skull o' yours is none so hard, after all--"
"And you," quoth I bitterly. "Your wits are none so keen as I had judged 'em. You are grown a very credulous fool, it seems!"
"Ha--'tis very well, shipmate!"
"For here you have Joanna--this evil creature stained by God knoweth how many shameful crimes--you have her beneath your hand and let her come and go as she lists, to work such new harms as her cunning may suggest--either you disbelieve my statements, or you've run mad, unless--"
"Unless what, Martin?"
"Unless she's bewitched you as she hath full many a man ere now."
Adam blenched and (for the first time in my remembrance) his keen eyes quailed before mine, and over his bronzed face, from aggressive chin to prominent brow, crept a slow and painful red.
"Martin," said he, his eyes steady again, "I will confess to you that is my blood-brother and comrade sworn, I have--thought better of--of her than any proud lady or duchess of 'em all--"
"Despite the foul and shameful lie you heard her utter?"
"Despite everything, Martin."
"Then God help you, Adam!"
"Amen," said he.
"You are surely crazed--"
"Why, very well, Martin, though you know me for a timid man--"
"Tush!" quoth I, turning my back on him.
"And a cautious, more especially in regard to women, having known but few and understanding none. Thus, Martin, though I seem crazed and foolish, 'tis very well, so long as I have eyes to see and ears to hear, and now I'll away and use 'em awhile. And here," said he, rising as a knock sounded on the door, "should be an old friend o' yours that got himself something scorched on your account." And opening the door he disclosed a squat, broad-shouldered fellow of a sober habit, his head swathed in a bandage, but the eyes of him very round and bright and his wide mouth up-curving in a smile.
"Godby!" said I, and reached but my hand to him.
"Why, Mart'n!" cried he. "Oh, pal--here's j'y, choke me wi' a rammer else! Lord, Mart'n--three years--how time doth gallop! And you no whit changed, save for your beard! But here's me wi' a fine stocked farm t'other side Lamberhurst--and, what's more, a wife in't as be sister to Cecily as you'll mind at the 'Hoppole'--and, what's more, a blessed infant, pal, as I've named Tom arter myself, by reason that my name is God-be-here, and Mart'n arter you, by reason you are my pal and brought me all the good fortun' as I ever had. Aha, 'twas a mortal good hour for me when we first struck hands, Mart'n."
"And you're more than quits, Godby, by saving me from the fire--"
"Why, pal, you fell all of a swound, d'ye see, and there's my Lady Brandon and t'other 'un a-running to fetch ye, flames or no--so what could I do--"
"My lady Joan?"
"Aye and t'other 'un--the Spanish dame as you come up a-cuddling of, Mart'n--and a notable fine piece she be, as I'm a gunner--"
"Is my lady on deck?"
"Which on 'em, pal?"
"Joan, man--my Lady Brandon!"
"Aye, and mighty downcast by her look. 'Godby,' says she to me a while back, 'if I find not my father now, I do think my poor heart will break!' And the sweet sad eyes of her, pal--"
"I'll get up!" said I, tossing off the bed clothes.
"Lord, Mart'n, what'll Cap'n Adam say--"
"'Tis no matter!"
"Are ye strong enough, pal?"
"To be sure!" said I, and getting upon my feet, reeled for very weakness and should have fallen but that Godby propped me with his shoulder; supported thus and despite Godby's remonstrances, I staggered to and fro and gradually found my strength return in some small measure, whereupon I began to dress myself forthwith.
"Whither are we sailing, Godby?"
"To the nearest secure anchorage, Mart'n, for what wi' storm and battle we are so battered and sprung, alow and aloft--and small wonder, here's four ships we've destroyed since we left Old England, battle, murder and sudden death, pal!"
So with Godby's help I got me out upon the broad quarter-deck and saw the Deliverance for a fine, roomy ship, very clean and trim, her decks new-scoured, her brass-work gleaming in the sun; though here and there the carpenters were still repairing such damage as she had taken in the fight.
"A noble ship, pal," says Godby, as I sat me down on one of the guns, "and looks vasty different to what she did three days since, her foreyard and main-to'-gallant mast shot away and her starboard bulwarks shattered fore and aft and three shot-holes under water as can't be come at till we careen."
"'Twas hot fight--I marvel your damage was no greater," says I, glancing hither and thither for sight of my lady, and my heart throbbing with expectation.
"Nay, Mart'n, 'twas guile, 'twas craft, 'twas seamanship. Lord love your eyes, pal, Cap'n Adam seized him the vantage point by means of a fore-course towing under water, and kept it. For look'ee, 'tis slip our floating anchor, up wi' our helm and down on 'em 'thwart-hawse and let fly our larboard broadside, veer and pound 'em wi' our starboard guns, keeping the weather gauge, d'ye see, pal, till their fire slackens and them blind wi' our smoke and theirs. Then to close wi' 'em till our gun muzzles are nigh touching and whiles we pound 'em below, 'tis grappling irons and boarders away! Aha, a wonderful man is Cap'n Adam--oh, 'tis beautiful sight to watch him take ship into action; 'tis sight to warm a man's in'nards and make archangels sing for j'y, pal. Aye, deafen, blind and choke me but a man o' men is Cap'n Adam Penfeather!"
"He is come to great repute, I hear!" said I, my hungry gaze wandering.
"Verily he hath, Mart'n; the King do honour him vastly especially since he pinked a strutting, quarrelsome gentleman through the sword-arm in St. James's Park, and him a nearl, pal!"
"At last!" says I.
"Anan, pal?" he questioned, but looking where I looked. "Aye," he nodded, "'tis my Lady Brandon, and mighty despondent by her looks as I told ye, Mart'n." All unconscious of me she crossed the deck slow-footed and coming to the lee bulwark, paused there, her lovely head down-bent upon her hands.
Now watching her as she stood thus, my eager gaze dwelling on every line of the beloved shape, I was filled with such overmastering emotion, an ecstasy so keen, that I fell a-trembling and my eyes filled with sudden, blinding tears; and bowing my face on my hand, I sat thus a while until I had composed myself. Then I arose and made my way towards her on stumbling feet.
Suddenly she turned and espying me, started and fell a-trembling, even as I.
"Martin," said she below her breath. "Oh, Martin!"
"Damaris!" I muttered. "Beloved--!"
Now at this she gave a little gasp and turned to gaze away across the placid waters, and I saw her slender hands clasp and wring each other.
"Have you no word of greeting for me?"
"I rejoice to--to see you well again, Martin!"
"Have you no word of--love for me, after all these years, Damaris?" At this she shrank away and, leaning 'gainst the bulwark, shook her head, and again I saw that hopeless gesture of her quivering hands.
"Is your love for me dead, then?" I questioned, coming a pace nearer.
"Ah, never that, Martin!" she whispered. "Only I have--buried it deep--within my heart--where it shall lie for ever hid for thy sake and her sake and--and that--which is to be--this poor Joanna hath told me--"
Now hereupon I laughed and caught her hands and kissed them and they, the pretty things, trembling 'neath my kisses.
"God love thee for sweet and noble woman, my Damaris," said I, sinking to my knees before her, "and now, thus kneeling in the sight of God and thee, hear me swear that hateful thing of which you speak never was and never shall be!" Here I clasped my arms about her, felt her yield and sway to my embrace, saw a dawning glory in her eyes.
"Martin," said she, quick-breathing, "if this be so indeed--"
"Indeed and indeed, Joanna spake a shameful lie--a woman prone to every evil, being a murderess and--"
"A murderess, Martin?"
"Aye, by her own confession, and I do know her for a pirate beside, more desperate and resolute than any, known to every rogue along the Main as Captain Jo."
Now here my lady stirred in my embrace and looked down on me with troubled gaze.
"And yet, dear Martin, you lived with her on--on our island?"
"Aye, I did--to my torment, and prayed God I might not slay her." And here in breathless fashion I told my lady of Joanna's coming and of the ills that followed; but seeing the growing trouble in her look, my arms fell from her and great bitterness filled me. "Ah, God in heaven, Damaris!" I cried, "never say you doubt my word--"
I rose to my feet to behold Joanna within a yard of us. For a long and breathless moment she looked from me to other of us and then, shuddering, hid her face in her two hands.
"Dear my lady," said she at last, "if by reason of his wound my loved Martin hath grown strange to me and all his love for me forgot--if indeed you do love him--to you that have been more than sister and gentle friend to miserable Joanna, to you I do yield my love henceforth, nor will I repine, since my love for thee shall teach me how to bear my shame, yes--"
"Ha, damned liar!" I cried, and turned on Joanna with clenched fists; and then my lady's restraining arms were about me and I sank half-swooning against the ship's side.
"Dear Martin," said she, viewing me tearful-eyed, "you are not yourself--"
"No!" cried I, burying my throbbing head betwixt my arms. "I am Fortune's Fool--the world is upside down--God help me, I shall run mad in very truth. Oh, damned Fortune--curst Fate!" and I brake out into futile raving awhile. When at last I raised my head it was to behold my lady clasping this vile creature in her arms and cherishing her with tender words and caresses, the which sight wrought me to a very frenzy of cold and bitter rage. Said I:
"My Lady Brandon, God knoweth I have greatly loved you, wherein I have wasted myself on a vain thing as is to me right manifest. So now, since you have buried your love, mine do I tear from me and cast utterly away; henceforth I am no more than an instrument of vengeance--"
"Martin!" cried she. "Oh, dear Martin, for the love of God--"
But (Oh, vain folly! Oh, detestable pride!) I heeded not this merciful appeal nor the crying of my own heart, but turning my back upon my noble lady, stumbled away and with never another word or look. And thus I (that was born to be my own undoer) once more barred myself out from all that life offered me of happiness, since pride is ever purblind.
Presently, espying Godby where divers of his fellows rove new tackle to a gun, I enquired for Adam.
"I' the gun room, Mart'n--nay, I'll stand along wi' you."
So he brought me down to the gun room where sat Adam, elbows on table, chin on hand, peering up at one who stood before him in fetters, a haggard, warworn figure.
"What--Resolution?" said I.
"That same, friend, brought somewhat low, comrade, yet soon, it seems, to be exalted--on a gallows, d'ye see, yet constant in prayer, steadfast in faith and nowise repining--for where would be the use? And moreover, the way o' the Lord is my way--Amen, brother, and Amen."
"Adam," said I, turning where he yet gazed up at Resolution's scarred and bandaged face, "I would fain have you show mercy to this man. But for Resolution here I had died hideously at the hands of a vile blackamoor."
"Mercy?" said Adam, scowling up at Resolution.
"His life, Adam."
"'Tis forfeit! Here standeth a notable pirate and one of authority among the rogues, so must he surely die along with Captain Jo--" I saw Resolution's shackled hands clench suddenly, then he laughed, harsh and strident.
"To hang Captain Jo you must needs catch him first!"
"Why then who--who and what is Joanna?" I demanded.
"Why, your light-o'-love, for sure, friend, as we found along o' you on a lonely island, amigo."
"Resolution, you lie--"
"On a lonely island, camarado," says he again.
"Wait!" I muttered, clasping my aching head. "Wait! Joanna is the daughter of the murdered Governor of Santa Catalina who was left behind in the burning town and rescued by Indians, who, being Indians, were kind to her. But these Indians were killed by white men who took her, and, being white men, they used her ill all save one who was to her father and mother, sister and brother and his name Resolution. So she grew up a pirate among pirates, dressed, spoke and acted as they and rose to be great among them by reason of her quick wit and resolute spirit, and because of her quickness and subtle wit is called 'La Culebra' and for her desperate courage is hailed as 'Captain Jo.'"
Resolution fell back a step, staring on me amazed, and I saw his shackled fists were quivering. Then suddenly Adam rose and leaned forward across the table.
"Resolution Day," said he, "have you a memory for faces?"
I saw Resolution's solitary eye widen and dilate as it took in the man before him, the spare form, the keen, aquiline face with its black brows, white hair and mutilated ears.
"Captain--Adam Penfeather--o' the Brotherhood!"
"Ha!" quoth Adam, nodding grimly. "I see you know me! So, Resolution Day, I warn you to prepare to make your final exodus with Captain Jo--at sunset!"
Resolution's scarred head sank, his maimed body seemed to shrink and there broke from him a groan:
"To hang--to die--she's so young--so young--all I ever had to love! Oh, Lord God o' battles--"
"Godby, summon the guard and see him safely bestowed--in the lock-up aft, and bring the key to my cabin." So at Godby's word, in came two armed fellows and marched out Resolution Day, his head still bowed and his fetters jangling dismally.
"You'll never hang her, Adam!" said I, when we were alone. "You cannot, man--you shall not!"
"Lord, Martin," said he, sitting on his great peruke and looking askance at me, "Lord, what a marvellous thick skull is thine!"
"Mayhap!" quoth I, "but you know my story for true at last--you know Joanna for Captain Jo."
Now here he answered never a word but falls to pacing back and forth, his hands clasped behind him; whereupon I seated myself at the table and leaned my aching head betwixt my hands.
"Adam," said I at last, "how far are we, do you reckon, from Nombre de Dios?"
"Some hundred and fifty miles, maybe a little less."
"Why, then, give me a boat."
"A boat?" said he, pausing in his walk to stare on me.
"Aye, a boat," I nodded. "You cast me adrift once, you'll mind--well--do so again!"
"And what o' my Lady Joan? Ha--will ye tell me you've quarrelled already in true lover-like fashion--is this it?"
"'Tis no matter," quoth I, "only I do not stay on this ship another hour."
"Lord!" said he, "Lord love me, Martin! Here you've scarce found her and now eager to lose her again--heaven save me from love and lovers--"
"Give me a boat."
"A boat?" said he, pinching his chin. "A boat, is it? Why, very well, Martin--a boat! Ha, here me-thinks is the very hand o' Providence, and who am I to gainsay it? You shall have the longboat, Martin, well stored and armed; 'tis a goodly boat that I am loth to part with--but seeing 'tis you, comrade, why very well. Only you must bide till it be dark for reasons obvious--"
"So be it!" I nodded. "And if you could give me a chart and set me a course how to steer for Nombre de Dios, I should be grateful, Adam."
"Why, so I will, Martin. A course to Nombre--aye, verily! 'Tis said one Sir Richard Brandon lieth 'prisoned there. Ha--having quarrelled with daughter you speed away to sire--"
"And what then?" said I, scowling.
"Nought, Martin, nought in the world, only if in this world is a fool--art surely he, comrade. Nay, never rage against your true friend, comrade; give me your arm, let me aid you up to my cabin, for your legs are yet overly weak, I doubt."