Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter XVIII. Of Roger Tressady and How the Silver Woman Claimed Her Own at Last
Starting from sleep, instead of gloomy heaven and a desolation of tempestuous waters, I saw this:
The sun, newly up, shed his waxing glory on troubled waters deeply blue and fringed with foam where the waves broke upon a narrow strip of golden sand backed by trees and dense-growing green boskages infinite pleasant to the sight; and beyond these greeny tangles rose a hill of no great altitude, deep-bowered in trees and brush and flowering vines. And viewing all this peaceful loveliness with sleep-filled eyes, I thought it at first no more than idle dream; but presently, knowing it for reality, I felt my hard nature touched and thrilled (as it were) with a great rush of tenderness, for what with this glory of sun and the thousand sweet and spicy odours that wafted to us from this fair island, I sudden felt as if, borne on this well-remembered fragrance, came the sweet and gentle soul of my lady Joan, a haunting presence, sad and very plaintive, for it seemed she knew at last that nought henceforth might stay me from my vengeance. And in my ears seemed the whisper of her desolate cry:
"Martin--Oh, blind and more than blind! Alas, dear Martin!"
Now at this, despite the joy of sun and the gladness of birds that shrilled 'mid the mazy thickets above, a great sadness took me and I bowed my head in gloomy thought.
Starting at this hoarse summons, I turned to behold Resolution crouched at the tiller, his great boat-cloak white with brine, his solitary eye scowling from me to the shore and back again.
"Ha, d'ye stir at last, sluggard? Here's Joanna been direly sick--speak low, she sleeps at last, poor lass--and me stiff o' my wounds, clemmed wi' hunger and parched wi' thirst, you a-snoring and a sea worse than Jonah's afore they hove him to the whale--"
"Why not wake me, then?" I demanded, creeping aft and beholding Joanna where she lay slumbering, pale and worn beneath weather-stained cloak. "Why not rouse me, Resolution?"
"Because she forbade me and her word is my law, d'ye see? Reach me a sup o' rum from the locker yonder."
"You have brought us safe through the tempest, then," said I, doing as he bade me.
"Aye, Joanna and I, and despite her qualms and sickness, poor lass, and you a-snoring!" Here, having drained the pannikin of rum, his eye lost something of its ferocity and he nodded. "Twice we came nigh swamping i' the dark but the Lord interposed to save His own yet a little, and you a-snoring, but here was Joanna's hand on the tiller and mine on the sail and plaguing the Almighty wi' prayers of a righteous, meek, long-suffering and God-fearing man and behold, comrade, here we are, safe in the lee of Mizzen Island, and yonder is creek very apt to our purpose. So stand by to let go the halyard and ship oars when I give word, amigo."
"She seems very worn with her sickness, Resolution!" said I, stooping to observe Joanna where she slumbered like one utterly exhausted.
"She is, friend!" he nodded. "She never could abide rough seas from a child, d'ye see, brother, and her wound troubleth her yet--but never a word o' complaint, comrade--aha, a great soul, a mighty spirit is hers, for all her woman's slenderness, Martin! Now, let fly your halyard, douse your sail--so! Now ship oars and pull, camarado, pull!"
Very soon, myself at the oars and Resolution steering, we crept in betwixt bush-girt rocks to a shelving, sandy beach. Hereupon, Resolution stooped to lift Joanna but finding his wounds irk him, beckoned to me:
"Come, friend," said he. "You are lusty and strong, I do know--bear her ashore and tenderly, brother, tenderly!"
So I stooped and raising Joanna in my arms, climbed out of the boat (though with no little to-do) and bore her ashore towards the pleasant shade of flowering trees adjacent to the sea. Now presently she stirred in my embrace, and looking down at her, I saw her regarding me, great-eyed.
"Here do I rest for the second time, Martino," she murmured. "I wonder--when the third shall be?"
"God knoweth!" said I; and being come to the trees, I laid her there as comfortably as I might and went to aid Resolution to secure the boat.
Having landed such things as we required and lighted a fire, while Resolution busied himself preparing a meal, I began to look about me and found this island marvellous fertile, for here on all sides flowers bloomed, together with divers fruits, as lemons, plantains, limes, grapes, a very wonder to behold. Now I chanced to reach a certain eminent place whence I might behold the general trend of the island; and now I saw that this was the smallest of three islands and remembered how Resolution had named them to me as Fore, Main and Mizzen islands. I was yet staring at these islands, each with its fringe of white surf to windward where the seas yet broke in foam, when my wandering gaze chanced to light on that which filled me with sudden and strange foreboding, for, plain to my view despite the distance, I saw the royal yards and topgallant masts of a great ship (so far as I could judge) betwixt Fore and Mainmast islands, and I very full of question as to what manner of ship this should be.
In my wanderings I chanced upon a little glen where bubbled a limpid stream amid a very paradise of fruits and flowers; here I sat me down well out of the sun's heat, and having drunk my fill of the sweet water, fell to munching grapes that grew to hand in great, purple clusters. And now, my bodily needs satisfied and I stretched at mine ease within this greeny bower where birds whistled and piped joyously amid flowery thickets and the little brook leapt and sang as (one and all) vaunting the wondrous mercy of God, I, lying thus (as I say) surrounded by His goodly handiworks (and yet blind to their message of mercy) must needs set my wits to work and cast about in my mind how I might the soonest win free of this goodly place and set about the accomplishment of my vengeance. Once or twice I thought to hear Resolution hallooing and calling my name but, being drowsy, paid no heed and thus, what with the peace and comfort of my surroundings, I presently fell asleep.
But in my slumbers I had an evil dream, for I thought to hear a voice, hoarse yet tuneful, upraised in song, and voice, like the song, was one heard long ago, the which in my dreaming troubled me mightily, insomuch that I started up broad awake and infinitely glad to know this no more than idle fancy. Sitting up and looking about me, I saw the sun low and nigh to setting, and great was my wonder that I should have slept so long, yet I found myself vastly invigorated thereby and mightily hungered, therefore I arose, minded to seek my companions.
But scarce was I gone a yard than I stopped all at once, as from somewhere in the gathering shadows about me, plain to be heard, came the sound of a voice hoarse but tuneful, upraised in song, and these the words:
"Some by the knife did part wi' life And some the bullet took O. But three times three died plaguily A-wriggling on a hook O. A hook both long and sharp and strong They died by gash o' hook O."
For a long time (as it seemed) I stood motionless with the words of this hateful chanty yet ringing in my brain, until the sun flamed seawards, vanished, and it was night. And here amid the gloom sat I, chin on knees, my mind busied upon a thousand memories conjured up by this evil song. At last, being come to a determination, I arose and, stumbling in the dark, made the best of my way towards that narrow, shelving beach where we had made our landing. In a little, through a tangle of leafy thickets, I espied the glow of a fire and heard a sound of voices; and going thitherwards, paused amid the leaves and hid thus, saw this fire was built at the mouth of a small cave where sat Joanna with Resolution at her elbow, while opposite them were five wild-looking rogues with muskets in their hands grouped about a tall, great fellow of a masterful, hectoring air, who stood staring down on Joanna, his right hand upon the silver-hafted dagger in his girdle and tapping at his square chin with the bright steel hook he bore in place of his left hand. And as he stood thus, feet wide apart, tapping at his chin with his glittering hook and looking down on Joanna, she, leaning back against the side of the cave, stared up at him eye to eye.
"So-ho!" quoth he at last. "So you are Captain Jo, eh--Captain Jo of the Brotherhood?"
"And you," said she gently, "you are he that killed my father!"
Now here ensued a silence wherein none moved, it seemed, only I saw Resolution's bony hand creep and bury itself in his capacious side pocket. Then, putting by the screening branches, I stepped forth into the firelight.
"What, Tressady," said I, "d'ye cheat the gallows yet?"
Almost as I spoke I saw the flash and glitter of his whirling hook as he turned, pinning me with it through the breast of my doublet (but with so just a nicety that the keen point never so much as touched my skin) and holding me at arm's length upon this hateful thing, he viewed me over, his pale eyes bright beneath their jut of shaggy brow. But knowing the man and feeling Joanna's gaze upon me, I folded my arms and scowled back at him.
"Who be you, bully, who and what?" he demanded, his fingers gripping at the dagger in his girdle whose silver hilt was wrought to the shape of a naked woman. "Speak, my hearty, discourse, or kiss this Silver Woman o' mine!"
"I am he that cut you down when you were choking your rogue's life out in Adam Penfeather's noose--along of Abnegation Mings yonder--"
As I spoke I saw Mings thrust away the pistol he had drawn and lean towards me, peering.
"Sink me!" cried he. "It's him, Roger; 'tis Martin sure as saved of us from Penfeather, curse him, on Bartlemy's Island three years agone--it's him, Roger, it's him!"
"Bleed me!" said Tressady, nodding. "But you're i' th' right on't, Abny. You ha' th' right on't, lad. 'Tis Marty, sure enough, Marty as was bonnet to me aboard the Faithfull Friend and since he stood friend to us in regard to Adam Penfeather (with a' curse!) it's us shall stand friends t' him. Here's luck and a fair wind t' ye, Marty!" So saying, he loosed me from his hook, and, clapping me on the shoulder, brought me to the circle about the fire.
"Oh, sink me!" cried Mings, flourishing a case-bottle under my nose. "Burn me, if this aren't pure joy! I know a man as don't forget past benefits and that's Abnegation! Sit down, Martin, and let us eat and, which is better, drink together!"
"Why, so we will, Abny, so we will," said Tressady, seating himself within reach of Joanna. "'Twas pure luck us falling in wi' two old messmates like Marty and Resolution and us in need of a few hell-fire, roaring boys! 'Tis like a happy family, rot me, all love and good-fellowship and be damned! Come, we'll eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow--we sail, all on us, aboard my ship Vengeance, as lieth 'twixt Fore and Main islands yonder, ready to slip her moorings!"
"Avast, friend!" said Resolution, blinking his solitary eye at Tressady. "The captain o' the Coast Brotherhood is Joanna here--Captain Jo, by the Brotherhood so ordained; 'tis Captain Jo commands here--"
"Say ye so, Resolution, say ye so, lad?" quoth Tressady, tapping at chin with glittering hook. "Now mark me--and keep both hands afore ye--so, my bully--hark'ee now--there's none commands where I am save Roger Tressady!" said he, looking round upon us and with a flourish of his hook. "Now if so be any man thinks different, let that man speak out!"
"And what o' Captain Jo?" demanded Resolution.
"That!" cried Tressady, snapping finger and thumb. "Captain Jo is not, henceforth--sit still, lad--so! Now lift his barkers, Abny--in his pockets. Still and patient, lad, still and patient!" So Resolution perforce suffered himself to be disarmed, while Joanna, pale and languid in the firelight, watched all with eyes that gleamed beneath drooping lashes.
"So now," quoth Tressady, "since I command here, none denying--"
"And what o' Captain Jo?" demanded Resolution.
"Why, I'll tell ye, bully, look'ee now! A man's a man and a woman's a woman, but from report here's one as playeth t'other and which, turn about. But 'tis as woman I judge her best, and as woman she sails along o' me, lad, along o' me!" So saying, he nodded and taking out a case-bottle, wrenched at the cork with his teeth.
"And how say you, Joanna?" questioned Abnegation.
"Tush!" said she, with a trill of laughter. "Here is one that talketh very loud and fool-like and flourisheth iron claw to no purpose, since I heed one no more than t'other--"
"Here's death!" cried he fiercely, stabbing the air with his hook. "Death, wench!"
"Tush!" said she again, "I fear death no more than I fear you, and as for your claw--go scratch where you will!"
Goaded to sudden fury, he raised his hook and would have smitten the slender foot of her that chanced within his reach, but I caught his arm and wrenched him round to face me.
"Hold off, Tressady!" said I. "Here's a man to fight an you're so minded. But as for Joanna, she's sick of her wounds and Resolution's little better; but give me a knife and I'm your man!" And I sprang to my feet. Here for a moment Joanna's eyes met mine full of that melting tenderness I had seen and wondered at before; then she laughed and turned to Tressady:
"Sick or no, I am Joanna and better than any man o' you all, yes. Here shall be no need for fight, for look now, Tressady, though you are fool, you are one I have yearned to meet--so here's to our better acquaintance." And speaking, she leaned forward, twitched the bottle from his hand, nodded and clapped it to her mouth all in a moment.
As for Tressady, he gaped, scowled, fumbled with the dagger in his girdle, loosed it, slapped his thigh and burst into a roar of laughter.
"Oh, burn me, here's a soul!" he cried. "'Tis a wench o' spirit, all hell-fire spirit and deviltry, rot me! Go to't, lass, drink hearty--here's you and me agin world and damn all, says I. Let me perish!" quoth he, when he had drunk the toast and viewing Joanna with something of respect. "Here's never a man, woman or child dared so much wi' Jolly Roger all his days--oh, sink me! Why ha' we never met afore--you and me might rule the Main--"
"I do!" said she.
"And how came ye here--in an open boat?"
"By reason of Adam Penfeather!"
"What, Adam again, curse him!"
"He sank the Happy Despatch!"
"Burn me! And there's a stout ship lost to us."
"But then--we stayed to fight, yes!"
"What then?" said Tressady, clenching his fist. "Will ye say I ran away--we beat him off!"
"Howbeit Adam sank and took us, and swears to hang you soon or late--unless you chance to die soon!"
"Blind him for a dog--a dog and murderous rogue as shall bite on this hook o' mine yet! A small, thieving rogue is Penfeather--"
"And the likest man to make an end o' the Brotherhood that ever sailed!" nodded Joanna.
"Where lays his course?"
"And what o' Belvedere?"
"Dead and damned for rogue and coward!"
"Why, then, drink, my bullies," cried Tressady, with a great oath. "Drink battle, murder, shipwreck and hell-fire to Adam Penfeather, with a curse! Here's us safe and snug in a good stout ship yonder, here's us all love and good-fellowship, merry as grigs, happy as piping birds, here's luck and long life to each and all on us."
"Long life!" said Joanna, frowning. "'Tis folly--I weary of it already!"
So we ate and drank and sprawled about the fire until the moon rose, and looking up at her as she sailed serene, I shivered, for to-night it seemed that in her pallid beam was something ominous and foreboding, and casting my eyes round about on motionless tree and shadowy thicket I felt my flesh stir again.
Now ever as the time passed, Tressady drew nearer and nearer to Joanna, until they were sitting cheek by jowl, he speaking quick and low, his pale eyes ever upon her, she all careless languor, though once I saw her take hold upon his gleaming hook and once she pointed to the dagger in his girdle and laughed; whereupon he drew it forth (that evil thing) and holding it up in her view fell suddenly a-singing:
"Oh, I've sought women everywhere North, South and East and West; And some were dark and some were fair But here's what I love best! Blow high, blow low, in weal or woe My Silver Woman's best."
Thus sang Tressady, looking from the languorous woman at his side to the languorous woman graven on the dagger-hilt and so thrust it back into his girdle.
And in a while Joanna rose, drawing the heavy boat-cloak about her shapeliness:
"There is a small bower I wot of down in the shadows yonder shall be my chamber to-night," said she, staring up at the moon. "And so good night! I'm a-weary!" Then she turned, but doing so her foot touched Resolution's leg where he sat, whereat he did strange thing, for at this soft touch he started, glanced up at her, his eye very wide and bright, and I saw his two powerful hands become two quivering fists, yet when he spoke his voice was calm and even.
"Good night, Joanna--fair dreams attend thee." Then Joanna, eluding Tressady's clutching hand, went her way, singing to herself very sweet and low.
Hereupon Tressady grew very boisterous and merry and perceiving Mings and his fellows inclined for slumber, roared them to wakefulness, bidding them drink with him and damning them for sleepy dogs. Yet in a while he fell silent also and presently takes out his dagger and begins fondling it. Then all at once he was on his feet, the dagger glittering evilly in his hand the while he glared from me to Resolution and back again.
"Good night, my bullies!" said he. "Good night--and let him follow that dare!" And with a sound 'twixt a growl and a laugh, he turned and strode away, singing as he went. Now hereupon, nothing doubting his intent, I sprang to my feet and made to follow, but felt myself caught in an iron grip and stared down into the grim face of Resolution.
"Easy, friend--sit down, comrade--here beside me, brother."
"Aye, truly, you were wiser, Martin!" said Mings, winking and tapping the pistol in his belt.
Now Resolution sat in the mouth of the small cave I have mentioned and I noticed he had slipped his right hand behind him and sat thus, very still, his gaze on the dying fire like one hearkening very eagerly for distant sounds, wherefore I did the like and thus, from somewhere amid the shadowy thickets, I heard Tressady sing again that evil song of his:
"Two by the knife did lose their life And three the bullet took O. But three times three died plaguily A-wriggling--"
The singing ended suddenly and indescribably in a sound that was neither cry nor groan nor choke, yet something of each and very ghastly to be heard.
"What was yon!" cried Mings, starting and blinking sleep from his eyes to peer towards those gloomy thickets.
"What should it be but Captain Jo!" said Resolution; and now I saw his right hand, hid no longer, grasped a pistol levelled across his knees. "Sit still, all on ye," he commanded. "Let a man move a leg and that man's dead! Mark now what saith Davy. 'He hath graven and digged a pit and is fallen himself into the destruction he made for others. For his travail shall come upon his own head and his wickedness fall on his own pate.'"
"Nay, look'ee," says Mings, wiping sweat from him, "nay, but I heard somewhat--aye, I did, an unchancy sound--"
"Peace, Abnegation, peace!" quoth Resolution. "Mew not and hark to the words o' Davy: 'The Lord is known to execute judgment, the ungodly is trapped in the work of his own hands'--"
"Nay, but," says Mings, pointing. "See--who comes yonder?"
And now we saw Joanna, a dark figure against the splendour of the moon, walking daintily, as was her wont, and as she came she falls a-singing that same evil song I had heard long ago:
"There's a fine Spanish dame And Joanna's her name Shall follow wherever ye go Till your black heart shall feel Your own cursed steel--"
She stopped suddenly and stood in the light of the fire, looking from one to the other of us with that smile I ever found so hateful.
"I am Joanna," said she softly and nodding at Mings; "I am your Captain Jo and command here. Get you and your fellows aboard and wait my bidding."
"Aye, aye!" said Mings in strangled voice, his eyes fixed and glaring. "But what o' Cap'n Tressady? Where's my comrade, Roger?"
From behind her back Joanna drew forth a slender hand, awfully bedabbled and let fall a reeking thing at Abnegation's feet and I saw this for Tressady's silver-hilted dagger.
"Black Tressady is dead!" said she. "I have just killed him!"
"Dead!" gasped Mings, shrinking. "Roger dead! My comrade--murdered--I--" Uttering a wild, passionate cry he whipped forth his pistol, but in that moment Resolution fired, and rising to his feet, Abnegation Mings groaned and pitched upon his face and lay mute and still.
"Glory to God!" said Resolution, catching up the dead man's weapon and facing the others. "Come, my lads," quoth he; "if Tressady be as dead as Mings, he can't walk, wherefore he must be carried. And wherefore carried, you'll ask? Says I, you shall take 'em along wi' you. You shall bring 'em aboard ship, you shall tell your mates as Captain Jo sends these dead men aboard to show 'em she's alive. So come and bring away Tressady first--march it is for Roger, and lively, lads!"
Now when they were gone, Joanna came beside me where I sat and stood a while, looking down on me in silence.
"He forced me to it!" said she at last. "Oh, Martino, there--was none other way. And he killed my father."
But I not answering, she presently sighed and went away, leaving me staring where Mings lay huddled beyond the dying fire. And presently my gaze chanced to light on Tressady's dagger of the Silver Woman where it lay, stained by his life's blood, and leaping to my feet, I caught it up and sent the evil thing whirling and glittering far out to sea.