Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter XX. I Go to Seek My Vengeance
Next day, just as the sun rose, I buried Resolution 'twixt Joanna and the sea, yet over him I raised no mound, since I judged he would have it so. Thereafter I ate and drank and stored the boat with such things as I needed for my voyage and particularly with good supply of fruits. And now, though the wind and tide both served me, I yet lingered, for it seemed that the spirit of Joanna still tarried hereabouts. Moved by sudden desire, I began searching among the tumbled boulders that lay here and there and presently finding one to my purpose, urged it down the sloping beach and with infinite pains and labour contrived at last to set it up at the head of Joanna's resting-place. Then, taking hammer and chisel, I fell to work upon it, heedless of sun-glare, of thirst, fatigue or the lapse of time, staying not till my work was complete, and this no more than two words cut deep within the enduring stone; these:
And now at last, the tide being on the turn, I unmoored the boat, and thrusting her off, clambered aboard and betook me to the oars, and ever as I rowed I kept my gaze upon that small, solitary heap of sand until it grew all blurred upon my sight. Having presently made sufficient headway, I unshipped oars and hoisting my sail, stood out into the immeasurable deep but with my eyes straining towards that stretch of golden sand where lay all that was mortal of Joanna.
And with my gaze thus fixed, I must needs wonder what was become of the fiery, passionate spirit of her, that tameless soul that was one with the winds and stars and ocean, even as Resolution had said. And thus I presently fell a-praying and my cheek wet with tears that I thought no shame. When I looked up, I saw that the narrow strip of beach was no longer in sight; Joanna had verily gone out of my life and was but a memory.
All afternoon I held on before a fair wind so that as the sun sank I saw the three islands no more than a faint speck on the horizon; wherefore, knowing I should see them no more in this life, I uncovered my head, and thus it was indeed I saw Joanna's resting-place for the last time.
And now as the sun slipped westward and vanished in glory, even now as night fell, I had a strange feeling that her spirit was all about me, tender and strong and protecting, and herein, as the darkness gathered, I found great comfort and was much strengthened in the desperate venture I was about.
Having close-reefed my sail and lashed the tiller, I rolled myself in a boat-cloak and, nothing fearing, presently fell asleep and dreamed Joanna sat above me at the helm, stooping to cover me from the weather as she had done once before.
Waking next morning to a glory of sun, I ate and drank (albeit sparingly) and fell to studying Adam's chart, whereby I saw I must steer due southwesterly and that by his calculation I should reach the mainland in some five or six days. Suffice it that instead of five days it was not until the tenth day (my water being nigh exhausted and I mightily downcast that I had sailed out of my proper course) that I discovered to my inexpressible joy a faint, blue haze bearing westerly that I knew must be the Main. And now the wind fell so that it was not until the following morning that I steered into a little, green bay where trees grew to the very water's edge and so dense that, unstepping my mast, I began paddling along this green barrier, looking for some likely opening, and thus presently came on a narrow cleft 'mid the green where ran a small creek roofed in with branches, vines and twining boughs, into which I urged my boat forthwith (and no little to-do) and passed immediately from the hot glare of sun into the cool shade of trees and tangled thickets. Having forced myself a passage so far as I might by reason of these leafy tangles, my next thought was to select such things as I should need and this took me some time, I deeming so many things essential since I knew not how far I might have to tramp through an unknown country, nor in what direction Nombre de Dios lay. But in the end I narrowed down my necessities to the following, viz:
A compass A perspective-glass A sword Two pistols A gun with powder-horn and shot for same A light hatchet A tinder-box and store of buccaned meat.
And now, having belted on sword and pistols and wrapping the other things in one of the boat-cloaks, I strapped the unwieldy bundle to my shoulders and taking up the gun, scrambled ashore, and having found my bearing, set off due southwesterly.
Hour after hour I struggled on, often having to hew myself a passage with my axe, until towards evening I came out upon a broad ride or thoroughfare amid the green, the which greatly heartened me, since here was evidence of man's handiwork and must soon or late bring me to some town or village; forthwith, my weariness forgotten, I set off along this track, my face set ever westwards; but presently my vaunting hopes were dashed to find the track could be very little used nowadays, since here and there great trees had fallen and lay athwart my going, and presently the way itself narrowed to a mere path and this crossed here and there by hanging vines which was sure proof that few, if any, had passed this way these many months, mayhap years. Hereupon I stopped to lean despondent on my gun and looked about me; and with dejection of mind came weariness of body and seeing night was at hand, I determined to go no farther and turned in among the trees, minded to sleep here, though the place was wild and forbidding enough.
I had just loosed off my heavy pack when the pervading stillness was broken by a wailing cry, so sudden, so shrill and evil to hear that my flesh crept and I huddled against a tree, peering into the deepening shadows that had begun to hem me in. At first I judged this some wild beast and reached for my musket; then, as the sound rose again, I knew this for human cry, for I heard these words:
"Mercy, senors, mercy for the love o' God!"
Hereupon I began to run towards whence came this dismal outcry and presently espied the glow of a fire, and creeping thither discovered four men grouped about a fifth and him fast bound to a tree, and this poor wretch they were torturing with a ramrod heated in the fire; even as I watched he writhed and screamed for the intolerable pain of it. Staying for no more, I burst upon them and levelling my piece at the chief tormentor, pulled the trigger, whereupon was no more than a flash of the flint; it seemed that in my hurry to begone I had forgotten to load it. Howbeit, loaded or not, it served me well enough, for, swinging it by the barrel, I was upon them or ever they were aware and smote down two of the rogues, whereupon their comrades betook them to their heels with the utmost precipitation. I therefore proceeded to cut the sufferer loose who, sinking to the earth, lay there, muttering and groaning.
"Are ye much hurt?" I questioned, stooping above him: whereupon he spat forth a string of curses by which I judged him English and very far from dying as I had feared. I now found myself master of four very good guns, a sword, a steel headpiece, two cloaks and other furniture, with food a-plenty and three flasks of wine. I was yet examining these and watching against the return of their late owners when, hearing a sound, I saw the late poor captive bending above the two men I had felled.
"Are they dead?" I questioned.
"Nay, not yet, master; give 'em six minutes or say ten and they'll be as dead as the pig you ate of last--"
"How so?" I demanded, staring at the wild, ragged figure of the speaker.
"By means o' this, master!" said he, and stooping towards the fire showed me a middling-sized black thorn upon his open palm. "Not much to look at, master--no, but 'tis death sure and sarten, howsomever. I've many more besides; I make 'em into darts and shoot 'em through a blowpipe--a trick I larned o' the Indians. Aye, I spits 'em through a pipe--which is better than your guns--no noise, no smoke, and sure death wherever it sticketh."
"Are you an Englishman?"
"I am that! Born within sound o' Bow Bells; 'tis all o' twenty years since I heard 'em but they ring in my dreams sometimes. I shipped on a venture to the Main twenty years ago and fought and rioted as a man may and by ill-luck fell into the hands o' the bloody Spaniards along o' six other good lads--all dead long since, master. Then the Inquisition got me and was going to burn me but not liking the thought on't, I turned Roman. Then they made me a slave, but I got away at last. Aha, all Spanishers are devils for cruelty, but their Churchmen are worst and of all their Churchmen the coldest, softest, bloodiest is Alexo Valdez, Chief Inquisitor of Nombre de Dios yonder--"
"Ha, you know Nombre de Dios?"
"I ha' lived and suffered there, master, and 'tis there I be a-going for to make an end o' Bloody Valdez, if God be kind."
"Then," said I, "we will travel so far together--"
"And what doth an Englishman the like o' you want with the accursed place; the Inquisition is strong there--"
"'Tis a matter of life and death," said I.
"Death!" said he, "Death--they should all be dead and rotting, if I had my way." So saying, this strange man, whose face I had scarce seen, laid him down beyond the fire and composed himself to slumber.
"How then," I demanded, "will ye sleep here in the wild and no watch?"
"I will that!" said he. "I know the wilderness and I have endured much o' hardship o' late and as to watching, there's small need. The rogues you fell upon, being Spaniards, will doubtless be running yet and nigh unto Nombre, by now."
"How far is it hence?"
"Twelve leagues by road, but less the ways I travel."
"Good!" said I.
"Though 'tis hard going."
"Why, then, sleep, for we march at dawn. And my name is John."
"And mine Martin."
"Why, then, Martin, good night."
"Good night, John."
Howbeit though (and despite his hurts) my companion presently slept and snored lustily, and though I kept myself awake and my weapons to hand, yet I fell a-nodding and at last, overcome with weariness, sank to sleep likewise.
I waked to find the sun up and the man John shaking me, a wild, unlovely, shaggy fellow, very furtive of eye and gesture, who cringed and cowered away as I started up.
"Lord, man," quoth I, "I am no enemy!"
"I know it!" said he, shaking tousled head. "But 'tis become nat'ral to me to slink and crawl and blench like any lashed cur, all along o' these accursed Spaniards; I've had more kicks and blows than I've lived days," he growled, munching away at the viands he had set forth.
"Have ye suffered so much then?"
"Suffered!" cried he with a snarl. "I've done little else. Aha, when I think o' what I've endured, I do love my little blowpipe--"
"Blowpipe?" I questioned.
"Aye--this!" And speaking, from somewhere among the pitiful rags that covered his lank carcase he drew forth a small wooden pipe scarce two foot long and having a bulbous mouthpiece at one end. "The Indians use 'em longer than this--aye, six foot I've seen 'em, but then, Lord! they'll blow ye a dart from eighty to a hundred paces sometimes, whereas I never risk shot farther away than ten or twenty at most; the nearer the surer, aha!" Hereupon he nodded, white teeth agleam through tangled beard, and with a swift, stealthy gesture hid the deadly tube in his rags again.
"What of the two Spaniards I struck down last night?" I questioned, looking vainly for them.
"In the bushes yonder," said he and with jerk of thumb. "I hid 'em, master, they being a little unsightly--black and swol--as is the natur' o' this poison!" Hereupon I rose and going whither he pointed, parted the undergrowth and saw this was indeed so, insomuch that my stomach turned and I had no more desire for food.
"You murdered those men!"
"Aye, that I did, master, an you call it murder. Howbeit, there's more shall go the same road yet, notably Alexo Valdez, a curse on him!"
"And you are an Englishman?"
"I was, but since then I've been slave to be whipped, dog to be kicked, Lutheran dog to be spat upon, and lastly Indian--"
"And what now?"
"A poor soul to be tormented, shot, hanged, or burned as they will, once I'm taken."
"And yet you will adventure yourself to Nombre de Dios?"
"Why, Alexo Valdez is lately come there and Alexo Valdez burned my friend Dick Burbage, as was 'prentice wi' me at Johnson's, the cutler's, in Friday Street nigh St. Paul's, twenty odd years agone."
And in a while, being ready to start, I proffered this wild fellow one of the Spaniard's guns, but he would have none of it, nor sword, nor even cloak to cover his rags, so in the end we left all things behind, and there they be yet, for aught I know.
Now as we journeyed on together, in answer to my questioning I learned from this man John something of the illimitable pride and power of the Church of Rome; more especially he told me of the Spanish Inquisition, its cold mercilessness and passionless ferocity, its unsleeping watchfulness, its undying animosity, its constant menace and the hopelessness of escape therefrom. He gave me particulars of burnings and rackings, he described to me the torments of the water, the wheel and the fire until my soul sickened. He told me how it menaced alike the untrained savage, the peasant in his hut and the noble in his hall. I heard of parents who, by reason of this corroding fear, had denounced their children to the torment and children their parents.
"Aye, and there was a Donna Bianca Vallambrosa, a fine woman, I mind, was suspected of Lutheranism--so they racked her and she in torment confessed whatsoever they would and accused her sister Donna Luisa likewise. So they burned 'em both and made 'em pay for stake and chain and faggots too, afore they died."
Many other horrors he recounted, but ever and always he came back to the name of Alexo Valdez to vomit curses upon until at last I questioned him as to what manner of man this was to behold.
"Master," said John, turning to regard me, every hair upon his sunburned face seeming to bristle, "think o' the most sinful stench ever offended you, the most loathly corruption you ever saw and there's his soul; think o' the devil wi' eyes like dim glass, flesh like dough and a sweet, soft voice, and you have Alexo Valdez inside and out, and may every curse ever cursed light on and blast him, says I!"
"Are there many English prisoners in the Inquisition at Nombre?"
"Why, I know of but one--though like enough there's more--they are so cursed secret, master."
"Did ye ever hear of an English gentleman lost or taken hereabouts some six years since and named Sir Richard Brandon?"
"Nay, I was slaving down Panama way six years ago. Is it him you come a-seeking of, master?"
"Aye," I nodded. "A very masterful man, hale and florid and of a full habit."
"Nay, the only Englishman ever I see in Nombre was old and bent wi' white hair, and went wi' a limp, so it can't be him."
"No!" said I, frowning. "No!" After this, small chance had we for talk by reason of the difficulty of our going, yet remembering all he had told, I had enough to think on, God knows.
We had now reached a broken, mountainous country very trying and perilous, what with torrents that foamed athwart our way, jagged boulders, shifting stones and the like, yet John strode on untiring; but as for me, what with all this, the heat of sun and the burden I carried, my breath began to labour painfully. The first thing I tossed away was my gun that fell, ringing and clattering, down the precipitous rocks below, and the next was my pack and thereafter my hatchet and pistols, so that by the time we reached the top of the ascent all I had to encumber me was my sword, and this I kept, since it was light and seemingly a good blade.
"Master," said John, with a flourish of his ragged arm, "here's freedom--here's God. A land o' milk and honey given over to devils--curse all Spanishers, say I!"
Now looking around me I stood mute in wonder, for from this height I might behold a vast stretch of country, towering mountains, deep, shady valleys, impenetrable woods, rushing rivers, wide-stretching plains and far beyond a vague haze that I knew was the sea.
"And yonder, master," said John, pointing with his blowpipe, "yonder lieth Nombre, though ye can't see it, the which we shall reach ere nightfall, wherefore it behoveth me to look to my artillery."
So saying, he squatted down upon his hams and from his rags produced a small gourd carefully wrapped about with leaves; unwinding these, I saw the gourd to contain a sticky, blackish substance.
"Aha!" said John, viewing this with gloating eyes. "Snake poison is mother's milk to this, master. Here's enough good stuff to make pocky corpses o' every cursed Spanisher in Nombre ere sunset. Here's that might end the sufferings o' the poor Indians, the hangings, burnings and mutilations. I've seen an Indian cut up alive to feed to the dogs afore now--but here's a cure for croolty, master!"
While speaking, he had laid on the ground before him some dozen or so little darts no longer than my finger, each armed with a needle-like point and feathered with a wad of silky fibres; the point of each of these darts he dipped into the poison one after the other and laid them in the sun to dry, which done he wrapped up the little gourd mighty carefully and thrust it back among his rags. And in a while, the poison on the darts or arrows being dried to his satisfaction, he took forth a small leathern quiver of native make and setting the missiles therein, shut down the lid securely and sprang to his feet.
"Here's sure death and sarten for some o' the dogs, master," quoth he, "and now if there truly be a God aloft there, all I ask is one chance at Alexo Valdez as burns women and maids, as tortures the innocent, as killed my friend and druv me into the wild--one chance, master, and I'm done!"
Thus he spake with eyes uplift and one hairy hand upraised to the serene heavens, then with a nod to me set off along the hazardous track before us.
Of this, the last stage of our journeying, I will make no mention save that footsore, bruised and weary I sank amid a place of trees and gloomy thickets as the sun went down and night came.
"Straight afore you about half a mile lieth Nombre, master!" said John in my ear. "Hearken! You may hear the dogs like bees in a hive and be cursed to 'em!"
And sure enough I heard an indistinct murmur of sound that was made up of many; and presently came others more distinct; the faint baying of a hound, the distant roll of a drum, the soft, sweet tolling of a bell.
"So here y'are, master, and good luck t'ye!" said John and with scarce a rustle, swift and stealthy as an Indian, he was gone and I alone in the gloom. Hereupon I debated with myself whether I should get me into the city straight away or wait till the morrow, the which question was resolved by my falling into a sweet and dreamless slumber.