Wolves of the Sea by Randall Parrish
Chapter XXXII. The Last of the Namur
Even from where we were, looking across that stretch of water, yet obscured by floating patches of mist, the vessel was plainly a total wreck, rapidly pounding to death on a sharp ledge of rock. Both masts were down, and, lifted as the bow was, it was easy to perceive the deck was in splinters, where falling spars and topmasts had crashed their way through. She must have struck the ledge at good speed, and with all sail set, for the canvas was overside, with much of the top-hamper, a horrible mess, tossed about in the breakers, broken ends of spars viciously pounding against the ship's side. The bows had caught, seemingly jammed in between rocks, the stern sunk deep, with cabin port holes barely above reach of the waves. It seemed probable that any minute the whole helpless mass might slide backward into the water, and be swept away. Not a living thing appeared on board, and, as the fog slowly drifted away, my eyes could discern no sign of any boat, no evidence of the crew, along the wide sweep of water. Little, by little, as the vista widened, and we still remained, watching the miserable wreck as though fascinated, we were able to distinguish the dark line of coast to the westward, and to determine that the unfortunate Namur had struck at the extremity of a headland, whose rocky front had pushed its way far out to sea. A voice not far distant aroused me.
"What was it you said Jack 'bout treasure on the old hooker? Hell, if it's there, why not get it afore it's too late?"
"It's thar, all right, Ole," and I knew the speaker to be Haines. "Ain't it, Mr. Carlyle?"
"Yes, lads, there must be money on board, unless those fellows took it with them in the boats. I know of fifty thousand pounds stolen in Virginia, and no doubt there is more than that."
"Perhaps they took the swag along with 'em, sir."
"That wouldn't be the way I'd figure it," broke in Watkins. "That nigger says the boat what attacked us was the last one ter git away, an' thar wa'n't no chest in her." If Manuel didn't stay aboard long 'nough ter git his fingers outer thet gold, none ov the others did. They wus so damned anxious to save their lives, they never thought ov nuthin' else, sir."
"But maybe they'll think about that later, an' cum back," insisted Haines, pressing forward. "Ain't that right, sir?"
"Right enough; only they will not have much time to think it over, from the look of things out there," I answered. "The bark is liable to slide off that rock any minute, and go down like a stone. What do you say, bullies? Here is a risky job, but a pocket full of gold pieces, if we can get aboard and safely off again, Who'll go across with me?"
There was a babel of voices, the men crowding about me, all else forgotten as the lust of greed gripped their imaginations.
"Stand back, lads! I cannot use all of you. Four will be enough. I choose Haines, Harwood, Ole Hallin and Pierre. Lower that starboard quarter-boat you four, and see to the plugs and oars. No Watkins, I want you to remain in charge here. There is plenty to do; get those bodies overboard first, and clean up this litter; then shake out the reef in the foresail, and stand by--there is wind coming from that cloud yonder, and no time to waste. You'll not lose anything of what we bring back; it'll be share and share alike, so fall too, hearties."
"Shall we lower away, sir?"
"Ay, if all is fast I'll be with you in a minute; get aboard, Ole, and ward her off with a boat hook; easy now, till she takes water."
I paused an instant to speak to Dorothy, seated on the flag locker, explaining to her swiftly my object in exploring the wreck, and pledging myself not to be reckless in attempting to board. I read fear in her eyes, yet she said nothing to dissuade me, and our hands clasped, as I led her to the side, where she could look down at the cockleshell tossing below.
"It will mean much if we can recover this pirate hoard," I whispered, "freedom, and a full pardon, I hope."
"Yes, I know, Geoffry; but do not venture too much. You are more to me than all the gold in the world."
"I shall not forget, sweetheart. The sky and sea are almost clear now, and you can watch us from here. In a short time we shall be safely back again."
I slipped down a rope, and dropped into the boat, taking my place with a steering oar at the stern, and we shot away through the green water. The men yet lined the rail watching us enviously, although Watkins' voice began roaring out orders. Dorothy wraved her hand, which I acknowledged by lifting my cap. The schooner, with her sharp cutwater and graceful proportions made so fair a sea picture, outlined against the blue haze, I found it difficult to remove my gaze, but finally my thought concentrated on the work ahead, and I turned to urge the oarsmen to a quicker stroke.
The distance was greater than I had supposed it to be from the deck of the Santa Marie, nor did the dark cloud slowly poking up above the sea to the southeast ease my anxiety to get this task over with, before a storm broke. The Namur proved to be a more complete wreck than our distant view had revealed, and lying in a more precarious position. While the sea was not high, or dangerous, beyond the headland, the charging billows there broke in foam and were already playing havoc with the stranded vessel, smashing great spars, entangled amid canvas and cordage, about so as to render our approach extremely perilous. We were some time seeking a place where we might make fast, but finally nosed our way in behind the shelter of a huge boom, held steady by a splinter of rock, until Harwood got the hank of his boat hook in the after-chains, and hung on. It was no pleasant job getting aboard, but ordering Haines to accompany me, and the others to lie by in the lee of the boom, I made use of a dangling backstay, and thus hauled myself up to a reasonably secure footing. The fellow joined me breathless, and together we perched on the rail to gain view of the deck.
It was a distressing, hopeless sight, the vessel rising before us like the roof of a house, the deck planks stove in, a horrible jumble of running rigging, booms and spars, blocking the way forward. Aft it was clearer, the top-hamper of the after mast having fallen overboard, smashing a small boat as it fell, but leaving the deck space free. There were three bodies tangled in the wreckage within our sight, crushed out of all human resemblance, and the face of a negro, caught beneath the ruins of the galley, seemed to grin back at me in death. Every timber groaned as the waves struck, and rocked the sodden mass, and I had no doubt but that the vessel had already broken in two. I heard Haines utter an oath.
"By God, sir, did you ever see the like! She can't hang on here."
"Not, long surely," I admitted. "A bit more sea, and she breaks into kindling wood. If there is any salvage aboard, my man, it will be done in the next twenty minutes."
"There is no hope o' gittin' forrard, sir--look at that damn litter, an'--an' them dead men."
"It isn't forward we need to go, Haines; it's aft into the cabin, and that seems a clear enough passage--only the water down there may be too deep. Let's make a try of it."
He was evidently reluctant, but sailor enough to follow as I lowered myself to the deck, clinging hard to keep my footing on the wet incline. A light spar had lodged here, and by making this a species of bridge, we crept as far as the companion, the door of which was open, and gained view of the scene below. The light was sufficient to reveal most of the interior. From the confusion, and dampness the entire cabin had evidently been deluged with water, but this had largely drained away, leaving a mass of wreckage behind, and a foot or two still slushing about the doors of the after staterooms. It was a dismal hole in the dim light, more like a cave than the former habitation of men, but presented no obstacle to our entrance, and I led the way down the stairs, gripping the rail to keep from falling. Haines swore as he followed, and his continual growling got upon my nerves.
"Stop that infernal noise!" I ordered, shortly, looking him savagely in the face. "I've had enough of it. You were wild to come on this job; now do your work like a man. Try that room door over there; slide down, you fool, the water isn't deep. Wait a minute; now give me a hand."
"Is the gold in here, sir?" he asked with interest.
"More than likely; this was the Captain's room. See if it was left locked."
The door gave, but it required our combined efforts to press it open against the volume of water, slushing about within. While the stern port was yet slightly above the sea level, the crest of breaking waves obscured the glass, leaving the interior darker than the outer cabin. For a moment my eyes could scarcely recognize the various objects, as I clung to the frame of the door, and stared blindly about in the gloom. Then slowly they assumed shape and substance. Screwed to the deck the furniture retained its place, but everything else was jammed in a mass of wreckage, or else floating about in a foot of water, deepening toward the stern. There were two chests in the room, one of which I instantly recognized as that of Roger Fairfax. The sight of this made me oblivious to all else, urged on as I was, by a desire to escape from the doomed wreck as soon as possible.
"There's the chest we want Haines," I cried, pointing it out. "Have the lads back the boat up to this port; then come down, and help me handle it."
He did not answer, or move; and I whirled about angrily.
"What is the matter with you? Did you hear what I said?"
"Yes, sir," his voice trembling, "but--but isn't that a man over there--in the bunk? Good God, sir; look at him!"
The white, ghastly face stared at us, looking like nothing human in that awful twilight. I actually thought it a ghost, until with desperate effort, the man lifted himself, clinging with gaunt fingers to the edge of the bunk. Then I knew.
"Sanchez! You! those damn cowards left you here to die!"
"No one came for me," he answered, choking so the words were scarcely intelligible. "Is that what has happened; the bark is wrecked; the crew gone?"
"Yes, they took to the boats--Manuel with them."
"Manuel!" his enunciation clearer from passion, "the sneaking cur. But I cannot see your face; who are you, and what brought you here?"
"I'll tell you frankly, Captain Sanchez," and I stepped closer. "We risked coming aboard to save that chest--Roger Fairfax's chest--before it went down. This vessel has its back broken, and may slide off into deep water at any minute. We must get you out of here first."
"Get me out!" he laughed hideously. "You pretend to place my safety ahead of that treasure. To hell with your help. I want none of it. I am a dead man now, and the easiest way to end all, will be to go down with the ship--'twill be a fit coffin for Black Sanchez. By God! I know you now--Geoffry Carlyle?"
"Yes, but an enemy no longer."
"That is for me to say. I hate your race, your breed, your cursed English strain. The very sound of your name drives me mad. I accept no rescue from you! Damn you, take your gold and go."
"But why?" I insisted, shocked at the man's violence. "I have done you no ill. Is it because I interfered between you and Dorothy Fairfax?"
He laughed again, the sound so insane Haines gripped my sleeve in terror.
"That chit! bah, what do I care for her but as a plaything. No, my hate runs deeper than that. How came you here--in the boat stolen from the Namur?"
"No Captain Sanchez. The day after we left the ship, we boarded a schooner found adrift, the crew stricken with cholera, with not a man left alive on deck, or below. She lies yonder now."
"A schooner! What name?"
"The Santa Marie--a slaver."
"Merciful God!" and his eyes fairly blazed into mine, as he suddenly forced his body upward in the bunk. "The Santa Marie adrift! the crew dead from cholera? And the Captain--Paradilla, Francis Paradilla----what of him?"
"He lay alone on a divan in the cabin--dead also."
He tried to speak, but failed, his fingers clawing at his throat. When he finally gained utterance once more, it was but a whisper.
"Tell me," he begged, "there was no woman with him?"
I stared back into the wild insanity of his eyes, trying to test my words, suddenly aware that we were upon the edge of tragedy, perhaps uncovering the hidden secret of this man's life.
"There was no woman," I said gravely, "on deck or in the cabin."
"What mean you by saying that? There was one on board! Don't lie to me! In an hour I am dead--but first tell me the truth. Does the woman live?"
"No, she died before. We found her body in a chest, preserved by some devilish Indian art, richly dressed, and decked with jewels."
"I judged her so, but with dark hair and eyes. You knew her?"
"In the name of all the fiends, yes. And I know her end. He killed her--Paradilla killed her--because she was as false to him as she had been to me. Hell! but it is strange you should be the one to find her--to bring me this tale, Geoffry Carlyle!"
"Why? What is it to me?"
"Because she is of your line--do you know her now?" "No; nor believe it true."
"Then I will make you; 'tis naught to me anymore; for I am dead within the hour. You go back to England, and tell him; tell the Duke of Bucclough how his precious sister died."
"His sister! Good God, you cannot mean that woman was Lady Sara Carlyle?"
"Who should know better than I?" sneeringly. "Once I was called in England, Sir John Collinswood."
He sank back, exhausted, struggling for breath, but with eyes glowing hatred. I knew it all now, the dimly remembered story coming vividly back to memory. Here then was the ending of the one black stain on the family honor of our race. On this strange coast, three thousand miles from its beginning, the final curtain was being rung down, the drama finished. The story had come to me in whispers from others, never even spoken about by those of our race--a wild, headstrong girl, a secret marriage, a duel in the park, her brother desperately wounded, and then the disappearance of the pair. Ten days later it was known that Sir John Collinswood had defaulted in a large sum--but, from that hour, England knew him no more. As though the sea had swallowed them both, man and woman disappeared, leaving no trace behind.
The face I gazed dumbly into was drawn, and white with pain, yet the thin lips grinned back at me in savage derision.
"You remember, I see," he snarled. "Then to hell with you out of here, Geoffry Carlyle. Leave me to die in peace. The gold is there; take it, and my curse upon it. Hurry now--do you hear the bark grate on the rocks; it's near the end."