Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter XXX. We Resume Our Journey
I waked in a place of trees, very still and quiet save for the crackle of the fire that blazed near by. Close beside me lay my musket; pendant from a branch within reach dangled my sword. Hereupon, finding myself thus solitary, I began to call on Sir Richard and wondered to hear my voice so weak; yet I persisted in my shouting and after some while heard a joyous bark, and to me bounded Pluto to rub himself against me and butt at me with his great head. While I was caressing this good friend, cometh Sir Richard himself and in his hand a goodly fish much like to a trout.
"Lord, Martin!" said he, sitting beside me, "'tis well art thyself again, lad. Last evening you must set out, and night upon us, must stride away like a madman and leave me alone; but for this good dog I should ha' lost you quite. See now, lad, what I have caught for our breakfast. I was a notable good angler in the old days and have not lost my cunning, it seems."
Now as he showed me his fish and set about gutting and preparing it, I could not but mark his drawn and haggard look, despite his brave bearing, and my heart smote me.
"Sir, you are sick!" quoth I.
"Nay, Martin, I am well enough and able to go on as soon as you will. But for the present, rest awhile, lest the fever take you again, this cloak 'neath your head--so!"
"What o'clock is it?"
"Scarce noon and the sun very hot."
"How came I here in the shade?"
"I dragged you, Martin. Now sleep, lad, and I'll to my cooking."
At this I protested I had no mind for sleep, yet presently slumbered amain, only to dream vilely of fire and of Adam and his fellows in desperate battle, and above the din of fight heard my lady calling on my name as one in mortal extremity and waking in sweating panic, my throbbing head full of this evil vision, was for setting out instantly to her succour. But at Sir Richard's desire I stayed to gulp down such food as he had prepared, telling him meanwhile of my vision and something comforted by his assurance that dreams went by contrary. Howbeit, the meal done, we set out once more, bearing due northeast by the compass Sir Richard had brought from the Maya city. So we journeyed through this tangled wilderness, my' head full of strange and evil fancies, cursing the wound that sapped my strength so that I must stumble for very weakness, yet dreaming ever of my lady's danger, struggling up and on until I sank to lie and curse or weep because of my helplessness.
Very evil times were these, wherein I moved in a vague world, sometimes aware of Sir Richard's patient, plodding form, of the dog trotting before, of misty mountains, of rushing streams that must be crossed, of glaring heats and grateful shadow; sometimes I lay dazzled by a blazing sun, sometimes it was the fire and Sir Richard's travel-worn figure beyond, sometimes the calm serenity of stars, but ever and always in my mind was a growing fear, a soul-blasting dread lest our journey be vain, lest the peril that me thought threatened Joan be before us and we find her dead. And this cruel thought was like a whip that lashed me to a frenzy, so that despite wound and weakness I would drive my fainting body on, pursuing the phantom of her I sought and oft calling miserably upon her name like the madman I was; all of the which I learned after from Sir Richard. For, of an early morning I waked to find myself alone, but a fire of sticks burned brightly and against an adjacent rock stood our two muskets, orderly and to hand.
Now as I gazed about, I was aware of frequent sighings hard by and going thitherward, beheld Sir Richard upon his knees, absorbed in a passion of prayer, his furrowed cheeks wet with tears. But beyond this I was struck with the change in him, his haggard face burned nigh black with fierce suns, his garments rent and tattered, his poor body more bent and shrunken than I had thought. Before him sat Pluto, wagging his tail responsive to every passionate gesture of those reverently clasped hands, but who, espying me, uttered his deep bark and came leaping to welcome me; whereupon, seeing I was discovered, I went to Sir Richard and, his prayer ended, lifted him in my arms.
"Ah, Martin, dear lad," said he, embracing me likewise, "surely God hath answered my prayer. You are yourself again." And now, he sitting beside the fire whiles I prepared such food as we had, he told me how for five days I had been as one distraught, wandering haphazard and running like any madman, calling upon my lady's name, and that he should have lost me but for the dog.
"Alas, dear sir," quoth I, abashed by this recital, "I fear in my fool's madness I have worn you out and nigh beyond endurance."
"Nay, Martin," said he, "it doth but teach me what I knew, that lusty youth and feeble age are ill travelling companions, for needs must you go, your soul ever ahead of you, yet schooling your pace to mine, and for this I do love you so that I would I were dead and you free to speed on your strength--"
"Never say so, dear father," quoth I, folding my arm about his drooping form, "my strength shall be yours henceforth."
And presently he grew eager to be gone, but seeing me unwilling, grew the more insistent to travel so far as we might before the scorching heats should overtake us. So we started, I carrying his musket beside my own and despite his remonstrances.
An evil country this, destitute of trees and all vegetation save small bushes few and prickly cactus a-many, a desolation of grim and jagged rocks and barren, sandy wastes full of sun-glare and intolerable heat. And now, our water being gone, we began to be plagued with thirst and a great host of flies so bold as to settle on our mouths, nostrils and eyes, so that we must be for ever slapping and brushing them away. Night found us faint and spent and ravenous for water and none to be found, and to add further to our agonies, these accursed flies were all about us still, singing and humming, and whose bite set up a tickling itch, so that what with these and our thirst we got little or no rest.
"Martin," said Sir Richard, hearing me groan, "we should be scarce four days from the sea by my reckoning--"
"Aye," said I, staring up at the glory of stars, "but how if we come on no water? Our journey shall end the sooner, methinks."
"True, Martin," said he, "but we are sure to find water soon or late--"
"God send it be soon!" I groaned. Here he sets himself to comfort Pluto who lay betwixt us, panting miserably, with lolling tongue or snapping fiercely at these pestilent flies.
And thus we lay agonising until the moon rose and then, by common consent, we stumbled on, seeking our great desire. And now as I went, my mouth parched, my tongue thickening to the roof of my mouth, I must needs think of plashing brooks, of bubbling rills, of sweet and pellucid streams, so that my torment was redoubled, yet we dared not stop, even when day came.
Then forth of a pitiless heaven blazed a cruel sun to scorch us, thereby adding to this agony of thirst that parched us where we crawled with fainting steps, our sunken eyes seeking vainly for the kindly shade of some tree in this arid desolation. And always was my mind obsessed by that dream of gurgling brooks and bubbling rills; and now I would imagine I was drinking long, cool draughts, and thrusting leathern tongue 'twixt cracking lips, groaned in sharper agony. So crept we on, mile after mile, hoping the next would show us some blessed glimpse of water, and always disappointed until at last it seemed that here was our miserable end.
"Martin," gasped Sir Richard, sinking in my failing clasp, his words scarce articulate, "I can go no farther--leave me, sweet son--'tis better I die here--go you on--"
"No!" groaned I, and seeing Sir Richard nigh to swooning, I took him in my arms. Reeling and staggering I bore him on, my gaze upon a few scattered rocks ahead of us where we might at least find shade from this murderous sun. Thus I struggled on until my strength failed and I sank to this burning sand where it seemed we were doomed to perish after all, here in this pitiless wild where even the dog had deserted us. And seeing Death so near, I clasped Sir Richard ever closer and strove to tell him something of my love for him, whereupon he raised one feeble hand to touch my drooping head.
Now as I babbled thus, I heard a lazy flap of wings and lifting weary eyes, beheld divers of these great birds that, settling about, hopped languidly towards us and so stood to watch us, raffling their feathers and croaking hoarsely. So I watched them, and well-knowing what they portended, drew forth a pistol and, cocking it, had it ready to hand. But as I did so they broke into shrill clamour and, rising on heavy wings, soared away as came Pluto to leap about us, uttering joyous barks and butting at us with his head. And then I saw him all wet, nay, as I gazed on him, disbelieving my eyes, he shook himself, sprinkling us with blessed water. Somehow I was upon my feet and, taking Sir Richard's swooning body across my shoulder, I stumbled on towards that place of rocks, Pluto running on before and turning ever and anon to bark, as bidding me hasten. So at last, panting and all foredone, came I among these rocks and saw them open to a narrow cleft that gave upon a gorge a-bloom with flowers, a very paradise; and here, close to hand, a little pool fed by a rill or spring that bubbled up amid these mossy rocks.
So took I this life-giving water in my two hands and dashed it in Sir Richard's face, and he, opening his eyes, uttered a hoarse cry of rapture. And so we drank, kneeling side by side. Yet our throats and tongues so swollen we could scarce swallow at the first, and yet these scant drops a very ecstasy. But when I would have drunk my fill, Sir Richard stayed me lest I do myself an injury and I, minding how poor souls had killed themselves thus, drank but moderately as he bade me, yet together we plunged our heads and arms into this watery delight, praising God and laughing for pure joy and thankfulness. Then, the rage of our thirst something appeased, we lay down within this shadow side by side and presently fell into a most blessed slumber.
I waked suddenly to a piteous whining and, starting up, beheld Pluto crawling towards me, his flank transfixed with an Indian arrow. Up I sprang to wake Sir Richard and peer down into the shadowy gorge below, but saw no more than flowering thickets and bush-girt rock. But as I gazed thus, musket in hand, Sir Richard gave fire and while the report yet rang and echoed, I saw an Indian spring up from amid these bushes and go rolling down into the thickets below.
"One, Martin!" quoth Sir Richard and, giving me his piece to reload, turned to minister to Pluto's hurt. Where he lay whining and whimpering. Suddenly an arrow struck the rock hard beside me and then came a whizzing shower, whereupon we took such shelter as offered and whence we might retort upon them with our shot. And after some while, as we lay thus, staring down into the gorge, came the report of a musket and a bullet whipped betwixt us.
"Lord, Martin!" quoth Sir Richard cheerily, his eyes kindling. "It was vastly unwise to fall asleep by this well in so thirsty a country; 'tis a known place and much frequented, doubtless. Wisdom doth urge a retreat so soon as you have filled our water bottles; meantime I will do all I may to dissuade our assailants from approaching too near."
So saying, he levelled his piece and, dwelling on his aim, fired, whiles I, screened from bullets and arrows alike, filled our flasks and doing so, espied a small cave, excellent suited to our defence and where two determined men might hold in check a whole army.
Hereupon I summoned Sir Richard who, seeing this cave commanded the gorge and might only be carried in front, approved it heartily, so thither we repaired, taking Pluto with us and him very woful. And lying thus in our little fort we laid out our armament, that is, our two muskets and four pistols, and took stock of our ammunition, I somewhat dashed to find we had but thirty charges betwixt us, the pistols included. Sir Richard, on the other hand, seemed but the more resolute and cheery therefor.
"For look now, Martin," said he, cocking his musket and levelling it betwixt the boulders we had piled to our better defence, "here we have fifteen lives, or say twenty, though you are better with sword than musket I take it; should these not suffice, then we have two excellent swords and lastly our legs, indifferent bad as regards mine own, but in a little 'twill be black dark, the moon doth not rise till near dawn. So here are we snug for the moment and very able to our defence these many hours, God be thanked!" And thus he of his own indomitable spirit cheered me. Suddenly he pulled trigger and as the smoke cleared I saw his bullet had sped true, for amid certain rocks below us a man rose up, clad in Spanish half-armour, and sinking forward, lay there motionless, plain to our view.
"Two!" quoth Sir Richard, and fell to reloading his piece, wadding the charge with strips from his ragged garments.
The fall of this Spaniard caused no little stir among our unseen assailants, for the air rang with fierce outcries and the shrill battle hootings of the Indians, and a shower of arrows rattled among the rocks about us and thereafter a volley of shot, and no scathe to us.
"War is a hateful thing!" quoth Sir Richard suddenly. "See yon Spaniard I shot, God forgive me--hark how he groaneth, poor soul!" And he showed me the Spaniard, who writhed ever and anon where he lay across the rock and wailed feebly for water. "Methinks 'twere merciful to end his sufferings, Martin!"
"Mayhap, sir, though we have few enough charges to spare!"
"Thus speaketh cold prudence and common sense, Martin, and yet--"
But here the matter was put beyond dispute for, even as Sir Richard levelled his musket, the wounded Spaniard slipped and rolled behind the rock and lay quite hid save for a hand and arm that twitched feebly ever and anon.
"And he was crying for water!" sighed Sir Richard, "Thirst is an agony, as we do know. Hark, he crieth yet! Twere act commendable to give drink to a dying man, enemy though he be."
"Most true, sir, but--nay, what would you?" I said, grasping his arm as he made to rise.
"Endeavour as much good as I may in the little of life left to me, Martin. The poor soul lieth none so far and--"
"Sir--sir!" quoth I, tightening my hold. "You would be shot ere you had gone a yard--are ye mad indeed or--do you seek death?" Now at this he was silent, and I felt him trembling.
"This is as God willeth, Martin!" said he at last. "Howbeit I must go; prithee loose me, dear lad!"
"Nay!" cried I harshly. "If you will have our enemy drink, I shall bear it myself--"
"No, no!" cried he, grappling me in turn as I rose. "What I may do you cannot--be reasonable, Martin--you bulk so much greater than I, they cannot fail of such a mark--"
Now as we argued the matter thus, each mighty determined, Pluto set up a joyous barking and, rising on three legs, stood with ears cocked and tail wagging, the which put me in no small perplexity until, all at once, certain bushes that grew hard by swayed gently and forth of the leaves stepped an Indian clad for battle, like a great chief or cacique (as 'tis called) for on arm and breast and forehead gold glittered, and immediately we knew him for Atlamatzin.
"Greeting to ye, father and brother!" said he, saluting us in his grave and stately fashion. "Atlamatzin and his people are full of gratitude to ye and because ye are great and notable warriors, scornful of the white man's God, Atlamatzin and his warriors have followed to do ye homage and bring ye safe to your journey's end, and finding ye, lo! we find also our enemies, whose eyes seeing nought but ye two, behold nought of the death that creepeth about them; so now, when the shadow shall kiss the small rock yonder, do you make your thunder and in that moment shall Atlamatzin smite them to their destruction and, if the gods spare him, shall surely find ye again that are his father and brother!"
Something thus spake he below his breath in his halting Spanish, very grave and placid, then saluting us, was gone swift and silent as he came.
"An inch!" quoth Sir Richard, pointing to the creeping shadow and so we watched this fateful shade until it was come upon the rock, whereupon I let off my piece and Sir Richard a moment after, and like an echo to these shots rose sudden dreadful clamour, shouts, the rapid discharge of firearms; but wilder, fiercer, and louder than all the shrill and awful Indian battle cry. And now, on bush-girt slopes to right and left was bitter strife, a close-locked fray that burst suddenly asunder and swirled down till pursued and pursuer were lost amid that tangle of blooming thickets where it seemed the battle clamoured awhile, then roared away as the enemy broke and fled before the sudden furious onset of Atlamatzin's warriors.
As for us, we lay within our refuge, nor stirred until this din of conflict was but a vague murmur, for though we might see divers of the fallen where they lay, these neither stirred nor made any outcry since it seemed their business was done effectually.
"And now, Martin," said Sir Richard, rising, "'tis time we got hence lest any of our assailants come a-seeking us."
So being out of the cave, I set myself to see that we had all our gear to hand, to empty and refill my flask with this good water and the like until, missing Sir Richard, I turned to behold him already hard upon that rock where lay the wounded Spaniard, Pluto limping at his heels. Being come to the rock, Sir Richard unslung his water bottle and stopped, was blotted out in sudden smoke-cloud, and, even as the report reached me, I began to run, raving like any madman; and thus, panting out prayers and curses, I came where stood Sir Richard leaning against this rock, one hand clasped to his side, and the fingers of this hand horribly red. And now I was aware of a shrill screaming that, ending suddenly, gave place to dreadful snarling and worrying sound, but heedless of aught but Sir Richard's wound, I ran to bear him in my arms as he fell.
"Oh, Martin," said he faintly, looking up at me with his old brave smile, "'tis come at last--my journeying is done--"
Scarce knowing what I did, I gathered him to my bosom and bore him back to the cave; and now, when I would have staunched his hurt, he shook feeble head.
"Let be, dear lad," said he, "nought shall avail--not all your care and love--for here is friend Death at last come to lift me up to a merciful God!"
None the less I did all that I might for his hurt save to probe for the pistol ball that was gone too deep. And presently, as I knelt beside him in a very agony of helplessness, cometh Pluto, fouled with blood other than his own, and limping hither, cast himself down, his great paw across Sir Richard's legs, licking at those weary feet that should tramp beside us no farther. And thus night found us.
"Martin," said Sir Richard suddenly, his voice strong, "bear me out where I may behold the stars, for I--ever loved them and the wonder of them--even in my--unregenerate days." So I bore him without, and indeed the heavens were a glory.
"Dear lad," said he, clasping my hand, "grieve not that I die, for Death is my friend--hath marched beside me these many weary miles, yet spared me long enough to know and love you ever better for the man you are.--Now as to Joan, my daughter, I--grieve not to see her--but--God's will be done, lad, Amen. And because I knew I must die here in Darien, I writ her a letter--'tis here in my bosom--give it her, saying I--ever loved her greatly more than I let her guess and that--by my sufferings I was a something better man, being--humbler, gentler, and of--a contrite heart. And now, Martin--thou that didst forgive and love thine enemy, saving him at thine own peril and using him as thy dear friend--my time is come--I go into the infinite--Death's hand is on me but--a kindly hand--lifting me--to my God--my love shall go with ye--all the way--you and her--alway. Into Thy hands, O Lord!"
And thus died my enemy, like the brave and noble gentleman he was, his head pillowed upon my bosom, his great soul steadfast and unfearing to the last.
And I, a lost and desolate wretch, wept at my bitter loss and cried out against the God who had snatched from me this the only man I had ever truly loved and honoured. And bethinking me of his patient endurance, I thought I might have been kinder and more loving in many ways and to my grief was added bitter self-reproaches.
At last, the day appearing, I arose and, taking up my dead, bore him down to the gorge and presently came upon a quiet spot unsullied by the foulness of battle; and here, amid the glory of these blooming thickets, I laid him to his last rest, whiles Pluto watched me, whining ever and anon. And when I had made an end, I fell on my knees and would have prayed, yet could not.
So back went I at last, slow-footed, to the cave and thus came on Sir Richard's letter, it sealed and superscribed thus:
Unto my loved daughter, Joan Brandon,
And beholding this beloved name, a great heart-sickness came on me with a vision of a joy I scarce dared think on that had been mine but for my blind selfishness and stubborn will; and with this was a knowledge of all the wasted years and a loss unutterable. And thus my grief took me again, so that this letter was wetted with tears of bitter remorse.
At last I arose (the letter in my bosom) and girding my weapons about me (choosing that musket had been Sir Richard's) stood ready to begone. But now, missing the dog, I called to him, and though he howled in answer, he came not, wherefore following his outcries, they brought me to Sir Richard's grave and Pluto crouched thereby, whimpering. At my command he limped towards me a little way, then crawled back again, and this he did as often as I called, wherefore at last I turned away and, setting forth in my loneliness, left these two together.