Chapter XXXIV. Of Love

My first care was to see how we stood in regard to stores, more especially powder and shot great and small, the which I found sufficient and to spare, as also divers weapons, as muskets, pistols, hangers, etc. The more I thought, the more I was determined to put the ship into as good a posture of defence as might be, since I judged it likely the Spaniards might pay us a visit soon or late, or mayhap some chance band of hostile Indians. To this end and with great exertion, by means of lever and tackle, I hauled inboard her four great stern-chase guns, at the which labour my lady chancing to find me, falls to work beside me right merrily.

"Why, Martin," said she, when the four pieces stood ready to hand, "I have seen five men strain hard to move one of these; indeed you must be marvellous strong."

At this I grew so foolishly pleased that I fell to charging these pieces amain, lest she should see aught of this.

"Strong, great men be usually the gentlest," said she.

"And generally thick-skulled and dull-witted!" quoth I.

"Are you so dull-witted, my Martin?"

"Ah, Damaris, my sweet Joan, when I think on all the wasted tears--"

"Not wasted, Martin, no, not one, since each hath but helped to make the man I do so love."

"That you should so love me is the abiding wonder. I am no man o' the world and with no fine-gentlemanly graces, alas! I am a simple fellow and nought to show for his years of life--"

"Wherefore so humble, poor man? You that were so proud and savage in England and must burst open gates and beat my servants and fright me in my chamber--"

"Aye, I was brute indeed!" said I, sitting down and clean forgetting my guns in sudden dejection.

"And so gloomy with me on the island at the first and then something harsh, and then very wild and masterful; do you remember you would kiss me and I would not--and struggled--so desperately--and vainly--and was compelled?"

"Oh, vile!" said I. "You so lonely and helpless, and I would have forced you to my base will."

"And did not, Martin! Because yours was a noble love. So is the memory of our dear island unutterably sweet."

"Indeed and is this so?" quoth I, lifting my head.

"Beyond all expression!" said she a little breathlessly and her eyes very bright. "Ah, did you not know--whatever you did, 'twas you--that I loved. And, dear Martin, at your fiercest, you were ever--so innocent!"

"Innocent!" quoth I, wondering. And now her clear gaze wavered, her cheek flushed, and all in a moment she was beside me on her knees, her face hid against me and speaking quick and low and passionate.

"I am a very woman--and had loved for all my life--and there were times--on the island when--I, too--oh, dear Martin, oft in the night the sound of your steps going to and fro without our cave--those restless feet--seemed to tread upon my heart! I loved these fierce, strong arms, even whilst I struggled in their hold! A man of the world would have known--taken advantage. But you never guessed because you regarded ever the highest in me. So would I have you do still--honouring me with your patience--a little longer--until Adam be come again, or until we be sure he hath perished and England beyond our reach. Thus, dear, I have confessed my very secret soul to thee and lie here in thy merciful care even more than I did on our island, since I do love thee--greatly better! Therefore, be not so--infinite humble!"

Here for a while I was silent, being greatly moved and finding no word to say. At last, clasping her tender loveliness to me, and stooping to kiss this so loved head:

"Dear, my lady," said I, "thou art to me the sweetest, holiest thing in all the world, and so shalt thou ever be."

Some time after, having put all things in excellent posture to our defence, viz: our four great pieces full-charged astern, with four lighter guns and divers pateraros ranged to sweep the quarter-deck, forecastle and all approaches thereto, I felt my previous charge more secure and myself (seconded by her brave spirit) able to withstand well-nigh any chance attack, so long as our powder and shot held.

This done, I brought hammer, nails, etc., from the carpenter's stores and set myself to mend such shot-holes, cracks, and rents in the panelling and the like as I judged would incommode us in wind or rain, and while I did this (and whistling cheerily) needs must I stay ever and anon to watch my sweet soul busy at her cookery (and mighty savoury dishes) and she pause to look on me, until we must needs run to kiss each other and so to our several labours again.

For now indeed came I to know a happiness so calm and deep, so much greater than I had ventured to hope that often I would be seized of panic dread lest aught came to snatch it from me. Thus lived we, joying in each hour, busied with such daily duties as came to hand, yet I for one finding these labours sweet by reason of her that shared them; yet ever our love grew and we ever more happy in each other's companionship.

And here I, that by mine own folly of stubborn pride had known so little of content and the deep and restful joy of it; here, I say, greatly tempted am I to dwell and enlarge upon these swift-flying, halcyon days whose memory Time cannot wither; I would paint you her changing moods, her sweet gravity, her tender seriousness, her pretty rogueries, her demureness, her thousand winsome tricks of gesture and expression, the vital ring of her sweet voice, her long-lashed eyes, the dimple in her chin, and all the constant charm and wonder of her. But what pen could do the sweet soul justice, what word describe her innumerable graces? Surely not mine, so would it be but vain labour and mayhap, to you who take up this book, great weariness to read.

So I will pass to a certain night, the moon flooding her radiance all about me and the world very hushed and still with nought to hear save the murmurous ripple and soft lapping of the incoming tide, and I upon my bed (very wakeful) and full of speculation and the problem I pondered this: Adam (and he so precise and exact in all things) had named to my lady a day for his return, which day was already long past, therefore it was but natural to suppose his desperate venture against this great fortified city a failure, his hardy fellows scattered, and his brave self either slain or a prisoner. What then of our situation, my dear lady's and mine, left thus solitary in a hostile country and little or no chance of ever reaching England, but doomed rather to seek some solitude where we might live secure from hostile Indians or the implacable persecution of the Spaniards. Thus we must live alone with Nature henceforth, she and I and God. And this thought filled me alternately with intoxicating joy for my own sake, since all I sought of life was this loved woman, and despair for her sake, since secretly she must crave all those refinements of life and civilisation as had become of none account to myself. And if Adam were slain indeed and England thus beyond our reach, how long must we wait to be sure of this?

Here I started to hear my lady calling me softly:

"Art awake, dear Martin?"

"Yes, my Joan!"

"I dreamed myself alone again. Oh, 'tis good to hear your voice! Are you sleepy?"

"No whit."

"Then let us talk awhile as we used sometimes on our loved island."

"Loved you it--so greatly, Joan?"

"Beyond any place in the world, Martin."

"Why, then--" said I and stopped, lest my voice should betray the sudden joy that filled me.

"Go on, Martin."

"'Twas nought."

"Aye, but it was! You said 'Why, then.' Prithee, dear sir, continue."

Myself (sitting up and blinking at the moon): Why, then, if you--we--are--if we should be so unfortunate as to be left solitary in these cruel wilds and no hope of winning back to England, should you grieve therefor?

She (after a moment): Should you, Martin?

Myself (mighty fervently): Aye, indeed!

She (quickly): Why, Martin--pray why?

Myself (clenching my fists): For that we should be miserable outcasts cut off from all the best of life.

She: The best? As what, Martin?

Myself: Civilisation and all its refinements, all neighbourliness, the comforts of friendship, all security, all laws, and instead of these--dangers, hardship, and solitude.

She (softly): Aye, this methinks should break our hearts. Indeed, Martin, you do fright me.

Myself (bitterly): Why, 'tis a something desolate possibility!

She (dolefully): And alas, Adam cometh not!

Myself: Alas, no!

She: And is long overdue.

Myself: He marched on a perilous venture; aye, mighty hazardous and desperate.

She: Indeed, dear Martin, so desperate that I do almost pity the folk of Carthagena.

Myself (wondering): Then you do think he will succeed--will come sailing back one day?

She: Yes, Martin, if he hath to sail the ship back alone.

Myself: And wherefore believe this?

She: I know not, except that he is Adam and none like to him.

Myself: Yet is he only mortal, to be captured or slain one way or another. How if he cometh never back?

She: Why then, Martin--needs must I forego all thought of England, of home, of the comfortable joys of civilisation, of all laws, and instead of all these cleave to you--my beloved!

Myself: Damaris!

She: Oh, Martin, dear, foolish blunderer to dream you could fright me with tales of hardship, or dangers, or solitude when you were by, to think I must break my heart for home and England when you are both to me. England or home without you were a desert; with you the desert shall be my England, my home all my days, if God so will it.

Myself: Oh, loved woman, my brave, sweet Joan! And the laws--what of the laws?

She: God shall be our law, shall give us some sign.

Myself: Joan--come to me!

She (faintly): No! Ah, no!

Myself: Come!

She: Very well, Martin.

In a little I heard her light step, slow and something hesitant, and then she stood before me in her loveliness, wrapped about in my travel-stained boat-cloak; so came she to sink beside me on her knees.

"I am here, Martin," said she, "since I am yours and because I know my will, thine also. For sure am I that Adam will yet come and with him cometh law and England and all else; shall we not rest then for God's sign, be it soon or a little late, and I honour thee the more hereafter. If this indeed be foolish scruple to your mind, dear Martin, I am here; but if for this you shall one day reverence your wife the more--beloved, let me go!"

"Indeed--indeed, sign or no sign, thus do I love thee!" said I, and loosed her. And now, as she rose from my reluctant arms, even then, soft and faint with distance but plain and unmistakable came the boom of a gun.