Wolves of the Sea by Randall Parrish
Chapter III. Dorothy Fairfax
We were not far from two hundred miles east of the Capes, or at least so one of the mates told me, gruffly answering a question, and it was already growing twilight, the sun having disappeared a half hour before. There was but little air stirring, barely enough to keep the sails taut, while the swell of the sea was sufficient to be uncomfortable, making walking on the deck a task. We were wallowing along amid a waste of waters, the white-crested waves extending in every direction to the far horizons, which were already purpling with the approach of night. I had been closely confined to my bunk for two days with illness, but now, somewhat stronger, had been ordered on deck by the surgeon. The last batch of prisoners, after their short hour of recreation, had been returned to the quarters below, but I was permitted to remain alone undisturbed. I sat there quietly, perched on a coil of rope, with head just high enough to permit an unobstructed view over the side.
The deck aft was almost deserted, the passengers being at supper in the cabin. I could glimpse them through the unshaded windows, seated about a long table, while occasionally the sound of their voices reached me through the open companion-way. The mate was alone on the poop, tramping steadily back and forth, his glance wandering from the sea alongside to the flapping canvas above, but remained silent, as the brig was on her course. Once he clambered down the side ladder, and walked forward, shouting out some order to a group of sailors under the lee of the forecastle. It was on his return that I ventured to question him, and was gruffly answered. Something I said however, gave him knowledge that I was a seaman, and he paused a moment more civilly before resuming his watch, even pointing out what resembled the gleam of a distant sail far away on our starboard quarter. This was such a dim speck against the darkening horizon that I stood up to see better, shadowing my eyes, and forgetful of all else in aroused interest. Undoubtedly it was a sail, although appearing no larger than a gull's wing, and my imagination took me in spirit across the leagues of water. I was still standing there absorbed, unaware even that the mate had departed, when a voice, soft-spoken and feminine, broke the silence.
"May I speak with you?"
I turned instantly, so thoroughly surprised, my voice faltered as I gazed into the upturned face of the questioner. She stood directly beside me, with only the rope barrier stretched between us, her head uncovered, the contour of her face softened by the twilight. Instantly my cap was off, and I was bowing courteously.
"Most certainly," with a quick side glance toward the guard, "but I am a prisoner."
"Of course I know that," in smiling confidence. "Only you see I am rather a privileged character on board. No one expects me to obey rules. Still that does not apply to you, does it?" hesitating slightly. "Perhaps you may be punished if you talk with me--is that what you meant?"
"I am more than willing to assume the risk. Punishment is no new experience to me; besides just now I am on sick leave, and privileged. That accounts for my being still on deck."
"And I chanced to find you here alone. You have been ill?"
"Not seriously, but confined to the berth for a couple of days. And now the doctor prescribes fresh air. This meeting with you, I imagine, may prove even of greater benefit than that."
"With me? Oh, you mean as a relief from loneliness."
"Partly--yes. The voyage has certainly proven lonely enough. I have made few friends forward, and am even bold enough to say that I have longed for a word with you ever since I first saw you aboard."
"Why especially with me?"
"Rather a hard question to answer at the very beginning," I smiled back at her. "Yet not so difficult as the one I shall ask you. Except for a fat matron, and a colored maid, you chance to be the only woman on board. Can you consider it unnatural that I should feel an interest? On the other hand I am only one of fifty prisoners, scarcely cleaner or more reputable looking than any of my mates. Yet surely you have not sought speech with these others?"
"Then why especially with me?" Even in the growing dusk I could mark a red flush mount into the clear cheeks at this insistent question, and for an instant her eyes wavered. But she possessed the courage of pride, and her hesitancy was short.
"You imagine I cannot answer; indeed that I have no worthy reason," she exclaimed. "Oh, but I have; I know who you are; my uncle pointed you out to me."
"Your uncle--the planter in the gray coat?"
"Yes; I am traveling home with him to Maryland. I am Dorothy Fairfax."
"But even with that explanation I scarcely understand," I insisted rather stubbornly. "You say he pointed me out to you. Really I was not aware that I was a distinguished character of any kind. How did he happen to know me?"
"Because he was present at your trial before Lord Jeffries. He merely chanced to be there when you were first brought up, but became interested in the case, and so returned to hear you sentenced. You are Geoffry Carlyle, in command of the ship that brought Monmouth to England. I heard it all."
"All? What else, pray?"
Her eyes opened widely in sudden surprise and she clasped and unclasped her hands nervously.
"Do you really not know? Have you never been told what happened?"
"Only that I was roughly forbidden to speak, called every foul name the learned Judge could think of, and then sentenced to twenty years penal servitude beyond seas," I answered soberly. "Following that I was dragged from the dock, and flung into a cell. Was there anything else?"
"Why you should have known. Lord Jeffries sentenced you to death; the decree was signed, to be executed immediately. Then influence was brought to bear--some nobleman in Northumberland made direct appeal to the King. That was what angered Jeffries so."
"An appeal! For me? Good God! not Bucclough--was it he, the Duke?"
"Yes; it was whispered about that the King was in his debt--some word of honor, and dare not refuse. The word of mercy came just in time, ordering Jeffries to commute your sentence. At first he swore he'd hang you, King or no King, but his nerve failed. My uncle said he roared like a bull. This Bucclough; is he not your friend?"
I hesitated for an instant of indecision, looking into her face, but the truth would not be denied.
"Scarcely that," I said soberly. "Nor can I solve entirely his purpose. He is my brother, and I am the next in line. We are not even on speaking terms; yet he is childless, and may feel some measure of dislike to have the family end in a hangman's knot. I can think of no other reason for his interference. I knew nothing of his action."
"I am glad it became my privilege to tell you. Besides, Captain Carlyle," simply, "it may also help you to understand my interest. If you are of the Carlyles of Bucclough, how happened it that you went to sea?"
"Largely necessity, and to some extent no doubt sheer love of adventure. I was a younger son, with very little income. There were then two lives between me and the estate, and the old Duke, my father, treated me like a servant. I always loved the sea, and at fourteen--to get me out of his sight, I think largely--was apprenticed to the navy, but lost my grade in the service by a mere boyish prank. His influence then would have saved me, but he refused to even read my letter of explanation. I dare not return home in such disgrace, and consequently drifted into the merchant service. It is a story quickly told."
"Yet not so quickly lived."
"No, it meant many hard years, on all the oceans of the world. This is the first message reaching me from the old home."
"I have seen that home," she said quietly, "and shall never forget the impression it made on me. A beautiful place. I was there on a coaching party, the first summer I was in England. I was a mere girl then, and everything seemed wonderful. I have been away from Maryland now for three years."
"Of course; nothing else would satisfy father. Maryland is only a Colony, you know."
"Yes, I understand. A great many over there send back their sons and daughters to be educated. Your home is at Saint Mary's?"
"Lower down the Potomac. Have you ever been there?"
"Twice; once as mate, and the last time as master of a ship. My latest voyage in these waters was made nearly two years ago."
She was silent for several moments, her face turned away from me, her eyes gazing out across the waste of waters which were already growing dark. Her clear-cut profile against the yellow light of the cabin windows appeared most attractive.
"It is not so strange then, is it, that I should have felt interested in you?" she asked suddenly, as though justifying herself. "When Uncle Roger first told me who you were, and then explained what had occurred at your trial, naturally you became to me something entirely different from the others."
"Certainly I am not inclined to condemn."
"I never once thought of speaking to you--truly I did not," she went on simply. "But when I saw you sitting here all alone, the impulse came suddenly to tell you how sorry I was. You see," and she paused doubtfully, "girls brought up in the Colonies, as I have been, are--are not quite so careful about whom they talk with as in England--you know what I mean; we always have indentured servants, and become accustomed to them. It--it is quite different out there."
I laughed, thinking only to relieve her embarrassment.
"Believe me, Miss Dorothy, there is no thought in my mind that you have done wrong," I insisted swiftly. "That would be very ungrateful, for you have brought me new heart and hope."
"Then I am not sorry. Were you actually with Monmouth?"
"In sympathy, yes; but I had no hand in the actual fighting. I was not even ashore until it was all over with. Still I shall pay my share of the bill."
"And you know what that means, do you not? What will happen when we reach Virginia?"
"Perfectly; I have no illusions. I have seen just such ships as this come in. We are to be advertised, and sold to the highest bidder. A week from now I shall probably be out in the tobacco fields, under the whip of an overseer, who will call me Jeff. All I can hope for is a kind-hearted master, and an early opportunity to escape."
"Oh, no!" and in her eagerness her hands actually clasped mine, where they clung to the rope between us. "It is not going to be quite so bad as that. That is what I wanted to tell you. That is what gave me boldness to come across here to you tonight. It has all been arranged."
"Yes--everything. You are not going to be sold on the block with those others. Uncle Roger has already contracted with the Captain for your services. You are going north with us to Maryland."
I stared through the dusk into her animated face, scarcely comprehending.
"Do you not understand, yet?" she asked. "The Captain of this brig is the agent; he represents the government, and is obliged to find places for the prisoners."
"Yes; I know that. We are billed like so much livestock; he must account for every head."
"Well, Uncle Roger went to him yesterday, and made a bid for you. Finally they came to terms. That is one reason why you are left alone here on deck tonight. The officers are no longer responsible for you--you are already indentured."
I drew a deep breath, and in the sudden impulse of relief which swept over me, my own fingers closed tightly about her hands.
"You tell me I am to accompany your party up the Chesapeake?"
"I owe this to you; I am sure I must owe this to you--tell me?"
Her eyes drooped, and in the dim light I could mark the heaving of her bosom, as she caught her breath.
"Only--only the suggestion," she managed to say in a whisper. "He--he was glad of that. You see I--I knew he needed someone to take charge of his sloop, and--and so I brought you to his mind. We--we both thought you would be just the one, and--and he went right away to see the Captain. So please don't thank me."
"I shall never cease to thank you," I returned warmly, conscious suddenly that I was holding her hands, and as instantly releasing them. "Why, do you begin to understand what this actually means to me? It means the retention of manhood, of self-respect. It will save me the degradation which I dreaded most of all--the toiling in the fields beside negro slaves, and the sting of the lash. Ay, it means even more--"
I hesitated, instantly realizing that I must not utter those impetuous words leaping to my lips.
"More!" she exclaimed. "What more?"
"This," I went on, my thought shifting into a new channel. "A longer servitude. Up to this moment my one dream has been to escape, but I must give that up now. You have placed me under obligations to serve."
"You mean you feel personally bound?" "Yes; not quite so much to your uncle, perhaps, as to yourself. But between us this has become a debt of honor."
"But wait," she said earnestly "for I had even thought of that. I was sure you would feel that way--any gentleman would. Still there is a way out. You were sentenced as an indentured servant."
"I suppose so."
"It is true; you were so entered on the books of this ship. Uncle Roger had to be sure of all this before he paid his money, and I saw the entry myself. It read: 'Geoffry Carlyle, Master Mariner, indentured to the Colonies for the term of twenty years, unless sooner released; crime high treason.' Surely you must know the meaning of those words?"
"Servitude for twenty years."
"'Unless sooner released.'"
"That means pardoned; there is no hope of that."
"Perhaps not, but that is not all it means. Any indentured man, under our Maryland laws, can buy his freedom, after serving a certain proportion of his sentence. I think it is true in any of the Colonies. Did you not know that?"
I did know it, yet somehow had never connected the fact before directly with my own case. I had been sentenced to twenty years--twenty years of a living death--and that alone remained impressed on my mind. I could still see Black Jeffries sitting on the bench, glaring down at me in unconcealed anger, his eyes blazing with the fury of impotent hate, as he roared, that, by decree of the King, my sentence to be hung was commuted to twenty years of penal servitude beyond seas. It had never even seemed an act of mercy to me. But now it did, as the full truth suddenly came home, that I could buy my freedom. God! what a relief; I stood up straight once more in the stature of a man. I hardly know what wild words I might have spoken had the opportunity been mine; but at that instant the figure of a man crossed the deck toward us, emerging from the open cabin door. Against the gleam of yellow light I recognized the trim form advancing, and as instantly stepped back into shadow. My quick movement caused her to turn, and face him.
"What!" he exclaimed, and evidently surprised at his discovery. "It is indeed Mistress Dorothy--out here alone? 'Twas my thought you were safely in your cabin long since. But--prithee--I mistake; you are not alone."
He paused, slightly irresolute, staring forward beyond her at my dimmer outline, quite uncertain who I might be, yet already suspicious.
"I was preparing to go in," she answered, ignoring his latter words. "The night already looks stormy."
"But your friend?"
The tone in which he spoke was insistent, almost insolent in its demand, and she hesitated no longer in meeting the challenge.
"Your pardon, I am sure--Lieutenant Sanchez, this gentleman is Captain Geoffry Carlyle."
He stood there stiff and straight against the background of light, one hand in affected carelessness caressing the end of a waxed moustache. His face was in shadow, yet I was quite aware of the flash of his eyes.
"Ah, indeed--some passenger I have not chanced to observe before?"
"A prisoner," she returned distinctly. "You may perhaps remember my uncle pointed him out to us when he first came aboard."
"And you have been out here alone, talking with the fellow?"
"Why, the man is a felon, convicted of crime, sentenced to deportation."
"It is not necessary that we discuss this, sir," she interposed, rather proudly, "as my personal conduct is not a matter for your criticism. I shall retire now. No; thank you, you need not come."
He stopped still, staring blankly after her as she vanished; then wheeled about to vent his anger on me.
"Carlyle, hey!" he exclaimed sneeringly. "A familiar sound that name in my ears. One of the brood out of Bucclough?"
"A cadet of that line," I managed to admit, wonderingly. "You know of them?"
"Quite as much as I care to," his tone ugly and insulting. Then an idea suddenly occurred to his mind. "Saint Guise, but that would even up the score nicely. You are, as I understand it, sent to Virginia for sale?"
"For how long a term?"
"The sentence was twenty years."
"Hela! and you go to the highest bidder. I'll do it, fellow! To actually own a Carlyle of Bucclough will be a sweet revenge."
"You mean," I asked, dimly grasping his purpose, "that you propose buying me when we reach shore?"
"Why not? A most excellent plan; and I owe it all to a brat I met in London. Egad! it will be some joke to tell when next I visit England. 'Twill count for more than were I to tweak the Duke's nose."
I stopped his laughter, smiling myself grimly in the darkness.
"A very noble plan for revenge," I admitted, enjoying the swift check-mating of his game. "And one which I am not likely to forget. Unfortunately you come too late. It happens, Senor, that I am already safely indentured to Roger Fairfax."
"To Fairfax? She told you that?"
"Who told me can make no difference. At least I am out of your hands."
I turned away, but he called angrily after me:
"Do not feel so sure of that, Carlyle! I am in the game yet."
I made no answer, already despising the fellow so thoroughly as to ignore his threat. He still stood there, a mere shadow, as I disappeared down the ladder, and I could imagine the expression on his face.