Martin Conisby's Vengeance by Jeffrey Farnol
Chapter VII. I Am Determined on My Vengeance, and My Reasons Therefor
I found this Spanish gentleman very patient in his sickness and ever of a grave and chivalrous courtesy, insomuch that as our fellowship lengthened so grew my regard for him. He was, beside, a man of deep learning and excellent judgment and his conversation and conduct a growing delight to me.
And indeed to such poor wretch as I that had been forced by my bitter wrongs to company with all manner of rogues and fellows of the baser sort, this Don Federigo (and all unknowing) served but to show me how very far I had sunk from what I might have been. And knowing myself thus degenerate I grieved mightily therefore and determined henceforth to meet Fortune's buffets more as became my condition, with a steadfast and patient serenity, even as this gentleman of Spain.
It was at this time he recounted, in his courtly English, something of the woes he and his had suffered these many years at the hands of these roving adventurers, these buccaneers and pirates whose names were a terror all along the Main. He told of the horrid cruelties of Lollonois, of the bloody Montbars called the "Exterminator," of the cold, merciless ferocity of Black Bartlemy and of such lesser rouges as Morgan, Tressady, Belvedere and others of whom I had never heard.
"There was my son, young sir," said he in his calm, dispassionate voice, "scarce eighteen turned, and my daughter--both taken by this pirate Belvedere when he captured the Margarita carrack scarce three years since. My son they tortured to death because he was my son, and my daughter, my sweet Dolores--well, she is dead also, I pray the Mother of Mercies. Truly I have suffered very much, yet there be others, alas! I might tell you of our goodly towns burned or held to extortionate ransom, of our women ravished, our children butchered, our men tormented, our defenceless merchant ships destroyed and their crews with them, but my list is long, young sir, and would outlast your kind patience."
"And what o' vengeance?" I demanded, marvelling at the calm serenity of his look.
"Vengeance, young sir? Nay, surely, 'tis an empty thing. For may vengeance bring back the beloved dead? Can it rebuild our desolate towns, or cure any of a broken heart?"
"Yet you hang these same rogues?"
"Truly, Senor, as speedily as may be, as I would crush a snake. Yet who would seek vengeance on a worm?"
"Yet do I seek vengeance!" cried I, upstarting to my feet. "Vengeance for my wasted years, vengeance on him hath been the ruin of my house, on him that, forcing me to endure anguish of mind and shame of body, hath made of me the poor, outcast wretch I am. Ha--'tis vengeance I do live for!"
"Then do you live to a vain end, young sir! For vengeance is an emptiness and he that seeketh it wasteth himself."
"Now tell me, Don Federigo," I questioned, "seek you not the life of this Belvedere that slew your son?"
"'Tis my prayer to see him die, Senor, yet do I live to other, and I pray to nobler purpose--"
"Why, then," quoth I fiercely, "so is it my prayer to watch my enemy die and I do live to none other purpose--"
"Spoke like true, bully lad, Martino!" cried a voice, and glancing about, I espied Joanna leaning in the opening to the cave. She was clad in her male attire as I had seen her first, save that by her side she bore the bejewelled Spanish rapier. Thus lolled she, smiling on me half-contemptuous, hand poised lightly on the hilt of her sword, all graceful insolence.
"Eye for eye, Martino," said she, nodding. "Tooth for tooth, blood for blood: 'tis a good law and just, yes! How say you, Senor Don Federigo; you agree--no?"
With an effort Don Federigo got to his feet and, folding his cloak about his spare form, made her a prodigious deep obeisance.
"'Tis a law ancient of days, Senorita," said he.
"And your health improves, Senor, I hope--yes?"
"The Senorita is vastly gracious! Thanks to Don Martino I mend apace. Oh, yes, and shall soon be strong enough to die decorously, I trust, and in such fashion as the Senorita shall choose."
"Aha, Senor," said she, with flash of white teeth, "'tis an everlasting joy to me that I also am of noble Spanish blood. Some day when justice hath been done, and you are no more, I will have a stone raised up to mark where lie the bones of a great Spanish gentleman. As for thee, my poor Martino, that babblest o' vengeance, 'tis not for thee nor ever can be--thou that art only English, cold--cold--a very clod! Oh, verily there is more life, more fire and passion in a small, dead fish than in all thy great, slow body! And now, pray charge me my pistols; you have all the powder here." I shook my head. "Fool," said she, "I mean not to shoot you, and as for Don Federigo, since death is but his due, a bullet were kinder--so charge now these my pistols."
"I have no powder," said I.
"I cast it into the sea lest I be tempted to shoot you."
Now at this she must needs burst out a-laughing.
"Oh, Englishman!" cried she. "Oh, sluggard soul--how like, how very like thee, Martino!" Then, laughing yet, she turned and left me to stare after her in frowning wonderment.
This night after supper, sitting in the light of the fire and finding the Don very wakeful, I was moved (at his solicitation) to tell him my history; the which I will here recapitulate as briefly as I may.
"I was born, sir, in Kent in England exactly thirty years ago, and being the last of my family 'tis very sure that family shall become a name soon to be forgotten--"
"But you, Senor, so young--"
"But ancient in suffering, sir."
"Oh, young sir, but what of love; 'tis a magic--"
"A dream!" quoth I. "A dream sweet beyond words! But I am done with idle dreaming, henceforth. I come then of one of two families long at feud, a bloody strife that had endured for generations and which ended in my father being falsely accused by his more powerful enemy and thrown into prison where he speedily perished. Then I, scarce more than lad, was trepanned aboard ship, carried across seas and sold a slave into the plantations. And, mark me, sir, all this the doing of our hereditary enemy who, thus triumphant, dreamed he had ended the feud once and for all. Sir, I need not weary you with my sufferings as a planter's slave, to labour always 'neath the lash, to live or die as my master willed. Suffice it I broke free at last and, though well-nigh famished, made my way to the coast. But here my travail ended in despair, for I was recaptured and being known for runaway slave, was chained to an oar aboard the great Esmeralda galleas where such poor rogues had their miserable lives whipped out of them. And here my sufferings (since it seemed I could not die) grew well-nigh beyond me to endure. But from this hell of shame and anguish I cried unceasing upon God for justice and vengeance on mine enemy that had plunged me from life and all that maketh it worthy into this living death. And God answered me in this, for upon a day the Esmeralda was shattered and sunk by an English ship and I, delivered after five bitter years of agony, came back to my native land. But friends had I none, nor home, since the house wherein I was born and all else had been seized by my enemy and he a power at Court. Him sought I therefore to his destruction, since (as it seemed to me) God had brought me out of my tribulation to be His instrument of long-delayed vengeance. So, friendless and destitute, came I at last to that house had been ours for generations and there learned that my hopes and labour were vain indeed, since this man I was come to destroy had himself been captured and cast a prisoner in that very place whence I had so lately escaped!"
Here the memory of this disappointment waxing in me anew, I must needs pause in my narration, whereupon my companion spake in his soft, dispassionate voice:
"Thus surely God hath answered your many prayers, young sir!"
"And how so?" cried I. "Of what avail that this man lie pent in dungeon or sweating in chains and I not there to see his agony? I must behold him suffer as I suffered, hear his groans, see his tears--I that do grieve a father untimely dead, I that have endured at this man's will a thousand shames and torment beyond telling! Thus, sir," I continued, "learning that his daughter was fitting out a ship to his relief I (by aid of the master of the ship) did steal myself aboard and sailed back again, back to discover this my enemy. But on the voyage mutiny broke out, headed by that evil rogue, Tressady. Then was I tricked and cast adrift in an open boat by Adam Penfeather, the master--"
"Penfeather, young sir, Adam Penfeather! Truly there was one I do mind greatly famous once among the buccaneers of Tortuga."
"This man, then, this Penfeather casts me adrift (having struck me unconscious first) that I might secure to him certain treasure that lay hid on this island, a vast treasure of jewels called 'Black Bartlemy's treasure.'"
"I have heard mention of it, Senor."
"Here then steered I, perforce, and, storm-tossed, was cast here, I and--my comrade--"
"Indeed, sir. For with me in the boat was a woman and she the daughter of my enemy. And here, being destitute of all things, we laboured together to our common need and surely, aye, surely, never had man braver comrade or sweeter companion. She taught me many things and amongst them how to love her, and loving, to honour and respect her for her pure and noble womanhood. Upon a time, to save herself from certain evil men driven hither by tempest she leapt into a lake that lieth in the midst of this island, being carried some distance by a current, came in this marvellous fashion on the secret of Black Bartlemy's hidden treasure. But I, thinking her surely dead, fought these rogues, slaying one and driving his fellow back to sea and, being wounded, fell sick, dreaming my dear lady beside me again, hale and full of life; and waking at last from my fears, found this the very truth. In the following days I forgot all my prayers and the great oath of vengeance I had sworn, by reason of my love for this my sweet comrade. But then came the pirate Tressady and his fellows seeking the treasure, and after him, Penfeather, which last, being a very desperate, cunning man, took Tressady by a wile and would have hanged him with his comrade Mings, but for my lady. These rogues turned I adrift in one of the boats to live or die as God should appoint. And now (my vengeance all forgot) there grew in me a passionate hope to have found me peace at last and happiness in my dear lady's love, and wedded to her, sail back to England and home. But such great happiness was not for me, it seemed. I was falsely accused of murder and (unable to prove my innocence) I chose rather to abide here solitary than endure her doubting of; me, or bring shame or sorrow on one so greatly loved. Thus, sir, here have I existed a solitary man ever since."
"And the Senorita Joanna, young sir?"
When I had told him of her coming and the strange manner of it, Don Federigo lay silent a good while, gazing into the fire.
"And your enemy, Senor?" he questioned at last. "Where lieth he now to your knowledge?"
"At Nombre de Dios, in the dungeons of the Inquisition, 'tis said."
"The Inquisition!" quoth Don Federigo in a whisper, and crossed himself. "Sir," said he, and with a strange look. "Oh, young sir, if this be so indeed, rest you content, for God hath surely avenged you--aye, to the very uttermost!"