Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter III. How I Heard a Song that I Knew
I was early at work next morning, since now my mind was firm-set on quitting the island at all hazards, thereby winning free of this woman once and for all. To this end I laboured heartily, sparing myself no pains and heedless of sweat and sun-glare, very joyous to see my work go forward apace; and ere the sun was very high my boat lay stripped of all the splintered timbers on the larboard side. My next care was to choose me such planks from my store of driftwood as by reason of shape and thickness should be best adapted to my purpose. And great plenty of wrought wood had I and of all sorts, it having long been my wont to collect the best of such as drove ashore and store it within those caves that opened on Deliverance Beach. Thus, after no great search, I had discovered all such planking as I needed and forthwith began to convey it down to the boat.
In the which labour the woman met me (I staggering under a load of my planks) and strutted along beside me, vastly supercilious and sneering.
"Hold!" cried she. "He sweateth, he panteth purple o' the gills! And wherefore, to what end?"
"To win free of two things do weary me."
"Ah--ah? And these?"
"This island and yourself."
"So! Do I then weary you, good Master Innocence?"
"Ah--bah! 'Tis because you be fool and no man!"
"Mayhap," said I, taking up my hammer, "howbeit I do know this island for a prison and you for an evil thing--"
"Ah!" sighed she softly. "I have had men hanged for saying less!"
"So would I be quit of you as soon as may be," said I, fitting my first timber in place whiles she watched me, mighty disdainful.
"So you would mend the boat, amigo mio, and sail away from the island and me--yes?"
"God knoweth it!"
"Mayhap He doth, but what o' me? Think ye I shall suffer you to leave me here alone and destitute, fool?"
"The which is to be seen!" said I; and having measured my plank and sawed it to proper length I began to rivet it to the frame, making such din with my hammer that she, unable to make herself heard, presently strode away in a fury, to my great content.
But, in a little back she cometh, and on her hip that bejewelled Spanish rapier that had once been part of Black Bartlemy's treasure (as hath been told) and which (having my own stout cut-and-thrust) I had not troubled to bring away from the cave.
Whipping out the long blade then, she makes with it various passes in the air, very supple and dexterous, and would have me fight with her then and there.
"So-ho, fool!" cried she, brandishing her weapon. "You have a sword, I mind--go fetch it and I will teach ye punto riverso, the stoccato, the imbrocato, and let you some o' your sluggish, English blood. Go fetch the sword, I bid ye."
But I nothing heeding, she forthwith pricked me into the arm, whereon I caught up a sizable timber to my defence but found it avail me no whit against her skill and nimbleness, for thrice her blade leapt and thrice I flinched to the sharp bite of her steel, until, goaded thus and what with her devilish mockery and my own helplessness, I fell to raging anger and hauled my timber full at her, the which, chancing to catch her upon an elbow, she let fall her sword and, clasping her hurt, fell suddenly a-weeping. Yet, even so, betwixt her sobs and moans she cursed and reviled me shamefully and so at last took herself off, sobbing wofully.
This put me to no little perturbation and distress lest I had harmed her more than I had meant, insomuch that I was greatly minded to follow her and see if this were so indeed. But in the end I went back to my boat and laboured amain, for it seemed to me the sooner I was quit of her fellowship the better, lest she goad me into maiming or slaying her outright.
Thus worked I (and despite the noon's heat) until the sun began to decline and I was parched with thirst. But now, as I fitted the last of my timbers into place, the board slipped my nerveless grasp and, despite the heat, a sudden chill swept over me as borne upon the stilly air came a voice, soft and rich and sweet, uplifted in song and the words these:
"There be two at the fore At the main hang three more Dead men that swing all in a row Here's fine, dainty meat For the fishes to eat, Black Bartlemy--Bartlemy, ho!"
Awhile I leaned there against the boat, remembering how and with whom I had last heard this song, then wheeling about I caught my breath and stared as one that sees at last a long-desired, oft-prayed-for vision: for there, pacing demurely along the beach towards me, her body's shapely loveliness offset by embroidered gown, her dark and glossy ringlets caught up by jewelled comb, I thought to behold again the beloved shape of her I had lost well-nigh three weary years agone.
"Damaris!" I whispered, "Oh, loved woman of my dreams!" And I took a long stride towards her, then stopped and bowed my head, suddenly faint and heartsick, for now I saw here was no more than this woman who had fled me a while ago with curses on her tongue. Here she stood all wistful-eyed and tricked out in one of those fine gowns from Black Bartlemy's secret store the which had once been my dear lady's delight.
Now in her hands she bore a pipkin brimful of goat's milk.
"I prithee, sir," said she softly, "tell now--shall there be room for me in your boat?"
"Never in this world!"
"You were wiser to seek my love than my hate--"
"I seek neither!"
"Being a fool, yes. But the sun is hot and you will be a thirsty fool--"
"Where learned you that evil song?"
"In Tortuga when I was a child. But come, drink, amigo mio, drink an you will--"
"Whence had you that gown?"
"Ah--ah, you love me better thus, yes? Why, 'tis a pretty gown truly, though out o' the fashion. But, will you not drink?"
Now, as I have told, I was parched with thirst and the spring some way off, so taking the pipkin I drained it at a draught and muttering my thanks, handed it back to her. Then I got me to my labour again, yet very conscious of her as she sat to watch, so that more than once I missed my stroke and my fingers seemed strangely awkward. And after she had sat thus silent a great while, she spoke:
"You be mighty diligent, and to no purpose."
"How mean you?"
"I mean this boat of yours shall never sail except I sail in her."
"Which is yet to prove!" said I, feeling the air exceeding close and stifling.
"Regard now, Master Innocence," said she, holding up one hand and ticking off these several items on her fingers as she spoke: "You have crossed me once. You have beat me once. You have refused me honourable fight. You have hurt me with vile club. And now you would leave me here alone to perish--"
"All true save the last," quoth I, finding my breath with strange difficulty, "for though alone you need not perish, for I will show you where--where you--shall find abundance--of food--and--" But here I stopped and gasped as an intolerable pain shot through me.
"Ah--ah!" said she, leaning forward to stare at me keen-eyed. "And doth it begin to work--yes? Doth it begin so soon?"
"Woman," I cried, as my pains increased, "what mean you now? Why d'ye stare on me so? God help me, what have you done--"
"The milk, fool!" said she, smiling.
"Ha--what devil's brew--poison--"
"I warned you but, being fool, you nothing heeded--no!"
Now hereupon I went aside and, dreading to die thus miserably, thrust a finger down my throat and was direly sick; thereafter, not abiding the sun's intolerable heat, I crawled into the shade of a rock and lay there as it were in a black mist and myself all clammy with a horrible, cold sweat. And presently in my anguish, feeling a hand shake me, I lifted swooning eyes to find this woman bending above me.
"How now," said she, "wilt crave mercy of me and live?"
"Devil!" I gasped. "Let me die and be done with you!"
At this she laughed and stooped low and lower until her hair came upon my face and I might look into the glowing deeps of her eyes; and then her arms were about me, very strong and compelling.
"Look--look into my eyes, deep--deep!" she commanded. "Now--ha--speak me your name!"
"Martin," I gasped in my agony.
"Mar--tin," said she slowly. "I will call you Martino. Look now, Martino, have you not seen me long--long ere this?"
"No!" I groaned. "God forbid!"
"And yet we have met, Martino, in this world or another, or mayhap in the world of dreams. But we have met--somewhere, at some time, and in that time I grasped you thus in my arms and stared down thus into your eyes and in that hour I, having killed you, watched you die, and fain would have won you back to life and me, for you were a man,--ah, yes, a man in those dim days. But now--ah, bah! You are but poor fool cozened into swallowing a harmless drug; to-morrow you shall be your sluggish self. Now sleep, but know this--I may slay you whenso I will! Ah, ah--'tis better to win my love than my hate." So she loosed me and stood a while looking down on me, then motioned with imperious hand: "Sleep, fool--sleep!" she commanded and frowning, turned away. And as she went I heard her singing of that vile song again ere I sank into unconsciousness:
"There are two at the fore. At the main hang three more Dead men that swing all of a row--"