Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter XXXII. How I Found My Beloved at Last
Left alone, I broke my fast with such food as I had, meanwhile meditating upon the visions of last night, debating within myself if this were indeed a marvel conjured up of Atlamatzin his black magic, or no more than a dream of my own tortured mind, to the which I found no answer, ponder the matter how I might.
None the less I found myself much easier, the haunting fear clean lifted from me; nay, in my heart sang Hope, blithe as any bird, for the which comfort I did not fail humbly to thank God.
I now consulted my compass and decided to bear up more northerly lest I strike too far east and thus overshoot that bay Adam had marked on his chart. So having collected my gear, I took my musket in the crook of my arm and set out accordingly.
Before me was a wild, rolling country that rose, level on level, very thick of brush and thickets so tangled that I must oft win me a path by dint of mine axe. Yet I struggled on as speedily as I might (maugre this arduous labour and the sun's heat) for more than once amid the thousand heavy scents of flower and herb and tree, I thought to catch the sweet, keen tang of the sea.
All this day I strode resolutely forward, scarce pausing to eat or drink, nor will I say more of this day's journey except that the sun was setting as I reached the top of a wooded eminence and, halting suddenly, fell upon my knees and within me such a joy as I had seen the gates of paradise opening to receive me; for there, all glorious with the blaze of sunset, lay the ocean at last. And beholding thus my long and weary journey so nearly ended, and bethinking me how many times God had preserved me and brought me safe through so many dire perils of this most evil country, I bowed my head and strove to tell Him my heart's gratitude. My prayer ended (and most inadequate!) I began to run, my weariness all forgot, the breath of the sea sweet in my nostrils, nor stayed until I might look down on the foaming breakers far below and hear their distant roar.
Long stood I, like one entranced, for from this height I could make out the blue shapes of several islands and beyond these a faint blur upon the horizon, the which added greatly to my comfort and delight, since this I knew must be the opposite shore of Terra Firma or the Main, and this great body of water the Gulf of Darien itself. And so came night.
All next day I followed the coast, keeping the sea upon my left, looking for some such landlocked harbourage with its cliff shaped like a lion's head as Adam had described, yet though I was at great pains (and no small risk to my neck) to peer down into every bay I came upon, nowhere did I discover any such bay or cliff as bore out his description; thus night found me eager to push on, yet something despondent and very weary. So I lighted my fire and ate my supper, harassed by a growing dread lest I was come too far to the east, after all.
And presently up came the moon in glory; indeed, never do I remember seeing it so vivid bright, its radiance flashing back from the waters far below and showing tree and bush and precipitous cliff, very sharp and clear. Upon my left, as I sat, the jagged coast line curved away out to sea, forming thus the lofty headland I had traversed scarce an hour since, that rose sheer from the moon-dappled waters, a huge, shapeless bluff. Now after some while I arose, and seeing the moon so glorious, shouldered my gun, minded to seek a little further before I slept. I had gone thus but a few yards, my gaze now on the difficult path before me, now upon the sea, when, chancing to look towards the bluff I have mentioned, I stopped to stare amazed, for in this little distance, this formless headland, seen from this angle, had suddenly taken a new shape and there before me, plain and manifest, was the rough semblance of a lion's head; and I knew that betwixt it and the high cliff whereon I stood must be Adam's excellent secure haven. This sudden discovery filled me with such an ecstacy that I fell a-trembling, howbeit I began to quest here and there for some place where I might get me down whence I might behold this bay and see if Adam's ship lay therein. And in a little, finding such a place, I began to descend and found it so easy and secure it seemed like some natural stair, and I did not doubt that Adam and his fellows had belike used it as such ere now.
At last I came where I could look down into a narrow bay shut in by these high, bush-girt cliffs and floored with gleaming, silver sand, whose waters, calm and untroubled, mirrored the serene moon, and close under the dense shadows of these cliffs I made out the loom of a great ship. Hereupon I looked no more, but gave all my attention to hands and feet, and so, slipping and stumbling in my eagerness, got me down at last and began running across these silvery sands. But as I approached the ship where she lay now plain in my view, I saw her topmasts were gone, and beholding the ruin of her gear and rigging, I grew cold with sudden dread and came running.
She lay upon an even keel, her forefoot deep-buried in the shifting sand that had silted about her with the tide, and beholding her paint and gilding blackened and scorched by fire, her timbers rent and scarred by shot, I knew this fire-blackened, shattered wreck would never sail again. And now as I viewed this dismal ruin, I prayed this might be some strange ship rather than that I had come so far a-seeking and, so praying, waded out beneath her lofty stern (the tide being low) and, gazing up, read as much of her name as the searing fire had left: viz:
D E L.... A N C E
And hereupon, knowing her indeed for Adam's ship, I took to wandering round about her, gazing idly up at this pitiful ruin, until there rushed upon me the realisation of what all this meant. Adam was dead or prisoner, and my dear lady lost to me after all; my coming was too late.
And now a great sickness took me, my strength deserted me and, groaning, I sank upon the sand and lying thus, yearned amain for death. Then I heard a sound, and lifting heavy head, beheld one who stood upon the bulwark above me, holding on by a backstay with one hand and pistol levelled down at me in the other. And beholding this slender, youthful figure thus outlined against the moon, the velvet coat brave with silver lace, the ruffles at throat and wrist, the silken stockings and buckled shoes, I knew myself surely mad, for this I saw was Joanna--alive and breathing.
"Shoot!" I cried, "Death has reft from me all I loved--shoot!"
"Martin!" cried she, and down came the pistol well-nigh upon me where I lay. "Oh, dear, kind God, 'tis Martin!"
"Joan?" said I, wondering, "Damaris--beloved!"
I was on my feet and, heaving myself up by means of the tangle of gear that hung from the ship's lofty side I sprang upon the deck and fell on my knees to clasp this lovely, trembling youth in my hungry arms, my head bowed against this tender woman's body, lest she see how I wept out of pure joy and thankfulness. But now she raised my head, and thus I saw her weeping also, felt her tears upon my face; and now she was laughing albeit she wept still, her two hands clasping me to her.
"Such a great--fierce--wild man!" she sobbed; and then: "My man!" and stooping, she kissed me on the lips. But as for me, I could but gaze up at her in rapture and never a word to say. Then she was on her knees before me and thus we knelt in each other's fast clasping arms. "Oh, Martin!" said she. "Oh, loved Martin--God hath answered my ceaseless prayers!"
And now when she would have voiced to Him her gratitude, I must needs crush her upon my heart to look down into this flushed and tear-wet face that held for me the beauty of all the world and to kiss away her prayers and breath together, yet even so did she return my kisses.
At last we arose but had gone scarce a step when we were in each other's arms again, to stand thus fast clasped together, for I almost dreaded she might vanish again and feared to let her go.
"We have been parted so cruelly--so often!" said I.
"But never again, my Martin!"
"No, by God!" quoth I fervently. "Not even death--"
"Not even death!" said she.
And thus we remained a great while, wandering to and fro upon the weather-beaten deck, very silent for the most part, being content with each other's nearness and, for myself, merely to behold her loveliness was joy unutterable.
She brought me into Adam's great cabin under the poop, lighted by a great swinging silver lamp, its stern windows carefully shaded, lest any see this betraying beam; and standing amid all the luxury of tapestried hangings and soft carpets, I felt myself mighty strange and out of place; and presently, catching sight of myself in one of the mirrors, I stood all abashed to behold the unlovely object I was in my rough and weather-stained garments, my face burned nigh black by the sun and all set about in a tangle of wild hair and ragged beard.
"Is it so great wonder I should not know you at first, dear Martin, and you so wild and fierce-seeming?"
"Indeed I am an ill spectacle," quoth I; at this, beholding me thus rueful, she fell to kissing me, whereat I did but miscall myself the more, telling her 'twas great marvel she should love one so ill-matched with her; for, said I, "here are you beautiful beyond all women, and here stand I, of manners most uncouth, harsh-featured, slow of tongue, dull-witted, and one you have seldom seen but in sorry rags!"
"Oh, my dearest heart," said she, nestling but closer in my embrace, "here is long catalogue and 'tis for each and every I do love you infinitely more than you do guess, and for this beside--because you are Martin Conisby that I have loved, do love, and shall love always and ever!"
"And there's the marvel!" quoth I, kissing her bowed head.
"And you do think me--very beautiful, Martin?"
"Aye, I do."
"Even clad--in these--these things?" she questioned, not looking at me.
"I had not meant you to see me thus, Martin, but it was my custom to watch for your coming, and 'twas hard to climb the cliff in petticoats, and besides, since I have been alone, there was so much to do--and it didn't matter."
"Aye, but how came you alone, what of Adam and the rest?"
"Nay, 'tis long story."
"But why are you thus solitary, you that do so fear solitude, as I remember."
"When Adam marched away, I stayed to wait for you, Martin."
"Were you not afraid?"
"Often," said she, clasping me tighter, "but you are come at last, so are my fears all past and done. And, more than the loneliness I feared lest you should come and find this poor ship all deserted, and lose hope and faith in God's mercy."
"Oh, my brave, sweet soul!" said I, falling on my knees to kiss her hands. "Oh, God love you for this--had I found you not, I should have dreamed you dead and died myself, cursing God."
"Ah hush," said she, closing my lips with her sweet fingers. "Rather will we bless Him all our days for giving us such a love!"
And now having no will or thought to sleep, she sets about preparing supper, while I with scissors, razors, etc. (that she had brought at my earnest entreaty), began to rid my face of its shaggy hair, and busied with my razor, must needs turn ever and anon for blessed sight of her where she flitted lightly to and fro, she bidding me take heed lest I cut myself. Cut myself I did forthwith, and she, beholding the blood, must come running to staunch it and it no more than a merest nick. And now, seeing her thus tender of me who had endured so many hurts and none to grieve or soothe, I came very near weeping for pure joy.
And now as she bustled to and fro, she fell silent and oft I caught her viewing me wistfully, and once or twice she made as to speak yet did not, and I, guessing what she would say, would have told her, yet could think of no gentle way of breaking the matter, ponder how I might, and in the end blurted out the bald truth, very sudden and fool-like, as you shall hear. For, at last, supper being over (and we having eaten very little and no eyes for our food or aught in the world save each other) my lady questioned me at last.
"Dear Martin, what of my father?"
"Why, first," said I, avoiding her eyes, "he is dead!"
"Yes!" said she faintly, "this I guessed."
"He died nobly like the brave gentleman he was. I buried him in the wilderness, where flowers bloomed, three days march back."
"In the wilderness?" says she a little breathlessly. "But he was in prison!"
"Aye, 'twas there I found him. But we escaped by the unselfish bravery and kindness of Don Federigo. So together we set out to find you."
"Yes, and he very cheery, despite his sufferings."
"He--he halted somewhat in his walk--"
"Nay, he was strong, as I remember--ah, you mean they--had tortured him--"
"Aye," said I, dreading to see her grief. "Yet despite their devilish cruelties, he rose triumphant above agony of body, thereby winning to a great and noble manhood, wherefore I loved and honoured him beyond all men--"
"He was--your enemy--"
"He was my friend, that comforted me when I was greatly afraid; he was my companion amid the perils of our cruel journey, calm and undismayed, uncomplaining, brave, and unselfish to his last breath, so needs must I cherish his memory."
"Martin!" Lifting my head I saw she was looking at me, her vivid lips quivering, her eyes all radiant despite their tears, and then, or ever I might prevent, she was kneeling to me, had caught my hand and kissed it passionately.
"Oh, man that I love--you that learned to--love your enemy!"
"Nay, my Damaris, 'twas he that taught me how to love him, 'twas himself slew my hatred!"
And now, drawing her to my heart, I told her much of Sir Richard's indomitable spirit and bravery, how in my blind haste I would march him until he sank swooning by the way, of our fightings and sufferings and he ever serene and undismayed. I told of how we had talked of her beside our camp fires and how, dying, he had bid me tell her he had ever loved her better than he had let her guess, and bethinking me of his letter at last, I gave it to her. But instead of reading it, she put this letter in her pocket.
"Come," said she, "'tis near the dawn, and you weary with your journey, 'tis time you were abed." And when I vowed I was not sleepy, she took my hand (as I had been a child) and bringing me into that had been Adam's cabin, showed me his bed all prepared. "It hath waited for these many weeks, dear Martin!" said she, smoothing the pillows with gentle hand.
"But we have so much to tell each other--"
Hereupon she slipped past me to the door and stood there to shake admonishing finger:
"Sleep!" said she, nodding her lovely head mighty determined, "and scowl not, naughty child, I shall be near you--to--to mother you--nay, come and see for yourself." So saying, she took my hand again and brought me into the next cabin, a fragrant nest, dainty-sweet as herself, save that in the panelling above her bed she had driven two nails where hung a brace of pistols. Seeing my gaze on these, she shivered suddenly and nestled into my arm.
"Oh, Martin," said she, her face hid against me, "one night I seemed to hear a foot that crept on the deck above, and I thought I should have died with fear. So I kept these ever after, one for--them, and the other for myself."
"And all this you endured for my sake!" quoth I.
"And God hath sent you safe to me, dear Martin, to take care of me, so am I safe with nought to fright or harm me henceforth."
"Nothing under heaven," quoth I. Very gingerly she took down the pistols and gave them to me and, bringing me to the door, kissed me.
"Good night, dear heart!" said she softly. "God send you sweet dreams!"
Thus came I back to my cabin and laying by the pistols, got me to bed, and mighty luxurious, what with these sheets and pillows, and yet, or ever I had fully appreciated the unwonted comfort, I was asleep.
I waked to the sudden clasp of her soft arms and a tear-wet cheek against mine, and opening my eyes, saw her kneeling by my bed in the grey dawn.
"Oh, loved Martin," said she, "I love you more than I guessed because you are greater than I dreamed--my father's letter hath told me so much of you--your goodness to your enemy--how you wiped away his tears, ministered to his hurts, carried him in your arms. I have read it but now and--'tis tale so noble--so wonderful, that needs must I come to tell you I do love you so much--so much. And now--"
"You are mine!" said I, gathering her in my arms. "Mine for alway."
"Yes, dear Martin! But because I am yours so utterly, you will be gentle with me--patient a little and forbearing to a--very foolish maid--"
For answer I loosed her, whereupon she caught my hand to press it to her tender cheek, her quivering lips.
"Oh, Martin!" she whispered. "For this needs must I worship thee!" And so was gone.