Wolves of the Sea by Randall Parrish
Chapter VI. Fairfax Speaks with Me
Sanchez drew a chair into the slight shade cast by the mainsail, and induced his reluctant companion to sit down. He remained bending over her, with his back turned toward us chattering away, although she only answered in monosyllables, seldom glancing up into his face. With hands gripping the spokes of the wheel, and my attention concentrated on the course ahead, I could yet notice how closely Fairfax was observing the two, with no pleasant expression in his eyes, and, forgetful that I was merely a servant, I ventured a question.
"You have known Senor Sanchez for some time, sir?"
He started in surprise, yet answered as though the unexpected query had been merely an echo of his own thoughts.
"No," he admitted frankly. "Indeed I hardly know how it happened that I invited him to join our party. It seemed natural enough then, but lately I confess to having taken a dislike to the fellow, and have begun to imagine that he even pushed his way on me. But," he stopped, suddenly realizing what he was saying, "why do you ask?"
I was not wholly prepared to say, yet as instantly comprehended the prompt necessity of advancing some reasonable explanation. There came to me swiftly, from the sharpness of his question, the paralyzing knowledge that I was a servant addressing my master.
"Of course it is no business of mine," I confessed, rather lamely, "who your guests are. I'm sorry I spoke."
"It is altogether too late to say that," he insisted. "Some thought prompted the inquiry. Go on. See here, Carlyle, you are no nigger or white thief. I know the difference, and recognize that you are gentleman born. Because I've bought your services for a term of years, is no reason why you cannot talk to me like a man. Do you know anything about this Spaniard?"
"Not very much, sir. He has seen fit to threaten me, on account of some row he has had with a brother of mine in England."
"In England! The Duke of Bucclough?"
"Yes. I haven't the slightest knowledge of what it was all about, but evidently our Spanish friend got the worst of it. He planned to buy me in at the sale; but, fortunately for me, you gained possession ahead of him."
"Do you mean to say that he told you all this?"
"It came out in a moment of anger."
Fairfax looked at me incredulously.
"See here, Carlyle," he exclaimed bluntly, "I am not questioning your word, but it is a bit difficult for me to understand why a guest of mine should indulge in angry controversy with a government prisoner, sent overseas for sale as an indentured servant. There must have been some unusual cause. Haven't I a right to know what that cause was, without using my authority to compel an answer?"
I hesitated, but only for a moment. He undoubtedly was entitled to know, and besides there was nothing involved I needed to conceal.
"It is my impression, sir, that Mistress Dorothy was the unconscious cause. She chanced to discover me alone on deck the night before we landed, and hastened to tell me of your purchase. It was merely an act of kindness, as we had never spoken together before. We were still talking across the rope, when Sanchez came out of the cabin, and joined us. I imagine he may not have liked the interest both you and the young lady had shown in me since we came aboard. Anyway when he found us there, he was not in good humor. Mistress Dorothy resented his language, treated him coldly, and finally departed, leaving him decidedly angry. He merely vented his spite on me."
"But he said nothing about himself--his motives?"
"Not a word, sir; yet it is plain to be seen that he is deeply interested in your niece."
Fairfax frowned, ignoring the remark.
"But do you know the man--who he is?"
I shook my head, the memory of Haley flashing into my mind, but as instantly dismissed as worthless. Fairfax would only laugh at such a vague suspicion. Yet why should the planter ask me such a question? Could it be that the Spaniard was equally unknown to himself?
"But if he has quarreled with your brother," he insisted, unsatisfied "you perhaps know something?"
"I have not seen my brother in years. I doubt if I would know him if we met face to face. As to this man, my knowledge of him is only what little I have seen and heard on board the Romping Betsy," I answered soberly. "I confess a prejudice; that I am unable to judge him fairly. In the first place I do not like his race, nor his kind; but I did suppose, of course, that, as he was your guest, you considered him a man worthy your hospitality."
Fairfax's face reddened, and he must have felt the sting of these words, uttered as they were by the lips of his bondman. I thought he would turn abruptly away, leaving them unanswered, but he was too much of a gentleman.
"Carlyle," he said brusquely, "you have touched the exact point--I do not know. I thought I did, of course, but what has occurred on the voyage over has led me to doubt. I met Sanchez at the Colonial Club in London. He was introduced to me by Lord Sandhurst as a wealthy young Spaniard, traveling for pleasure. It was understood that he brought letters of introduction to a number of high personages. He knew London well, enjoyed a wide circle of acquaintances, and we became rather intimate. I found him companionable and deeply interested in America, which he said he had never visited. Finally I invited him to accompany me as a guest on my return."
"No, not at once; he doubted if he could break off certain business engagements in England. Then, at a reception, he chanced to meet my niece, and, a little later, decided to undertake the voyage. I am inclined to believe she was the determining factor."
"Very likely," I admitted, deciding now to learn all possible details. "However, that is not to be wondered at. Mistress Dorothy is an exceedingly attractive young woman."
The look he gave me was far from pleasant.
"But she is not a girl for any swash-buckling Spaniard to carry off as prize," he burst out hotly. "God's mercy! Her father would never forgive me if that happened."
"Never fear," I said dryly, "it is not going to happen."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I have seen them together, and am not entirely blind, Watch them now--she scarcely responds to his words."
His eyes rested for a moment on the two, but he only shook his head moodily.
"No one knows what is in the heart of a woman, Carlyle. Sanchez is fairly young, handsome in a way, and adventurous. Just the sort to attract a young girl, and he possesses an easy tongue. More than that, I have lost faith in him. He is not a gentleman."
"You surely must have reason for those words, sir," I exclaimed in surprise. "He has revealed to you his true nature during the voyage?"
"Unconsciously--yes. We have had no exchange of words, no controversy. He is even unaware that I have observed these things. Some were of very small moment, perhaps unworthy of being repeated, although they served to increase my doubt as to the man's character. But two instances remain indelibly stamped on my mind. The first occurred when we were only three days at sea. It was at night, and the two of us chanced to be alone, on deck. I was reclining in the shadow of the flag locker, in no mood for conversation, and he was unaware of my presence as he tramped nervously back and forth. Suddenly he stopped, and reached over into the quarter-boat, and when he stood up again he had the Captain's pet cat in his hands. Before I dreamed of such a thing he had hurled that helpless creature into the water astern."
"Good God! an act of wanton cruelty."
"The deliberate deed of a fiend; of one who seeks pleasure in suffering."
"And the other incident? Was that of the same nature?"
"It was not an incident, but a revelation. The fellow is not only, beneath his pretense of gentleness, a fiend at heart, but he is also a consummate liar. He led me to believe in London--indeed he told me so directly--that he was totally unacquainted with America. It is not true. He knows this entire coast even better than I do. He forgot himself twice in conversation with me, and he was incautious enough to speak freely with Captain Harnes. The Captain told me later."
"This begins to sound serious, sir," I said, as he ceased speaking. "Do you suspect him of any particular purpose in this deceit?"
"Not at present; I can only wait, and learn. As a Spanish naval officer he may have obtained some knowledge of this coast--but why he should have deliberately denied the possession of such information is unexplainable at present. I shall watch him closely, and have told you these facts merely to put you on guard. I know you to be a gentleman, Carlyle, even though you are temporarily a servant, and I feel convinced I can trust in your discretion."
"You certainly can, sir. I appreciate your confidence in me." "Then keep your eyes and ears open; that's all. Dorothy is calling, and yonder comes Sam."
We had yet a full hour of daylight, during which little occurred of special interest. Sam took the wheel, while I ate supper, sitting with Carr on the deck behind the galley. Fairfax and his guests, were served at a table within the small cabin, and we had a glimpse of them, and their surroundings, the table prettily decorated with snowy linen, and burnished silver, while John, in a white jacket, waited upon them obsequiously, lingering behind his master's chair. The Lieutenant seemed in excellent humor, laughing often, and talking incessantly, although it occurred to me the man received scant encouragement from the others. After taking back to the galley my emptied pewter dish, and not being recalled aft to the wheel, I was glad to hang idly over the rail, watching the shore line slip past, and permit my thoughts to drift back to my conversation with Fairfax. Carr soon joined me, rather anxious to continue our talk, and ask questions, but not finding me particularly responsive, finally departed forward, leaving me alone.
The sun by this time was rapidly sinking below the fringe of tall trees on the main-land, but the fresh breeze held favorably, and the little Adele was making most excellent progress, the water being much smoother since we had rounded the point. We were already beyond view of the anchored bark. All about was a scene of loneliness, whether the searching eyes sought the near-by shore, apparently a stretch of uninhabited wilderness, densely forested, or the broad extent of the Bay, across which no white gleam of sail was visible. All alike was deserted, and becoming gloomy in the closing down of night. Dorothy remained hidden in the cabin, until about the time of our approach to the rude landing at Travers' plantation. Whether this isolation arose from an effort to make herself more presentable, or a desire to avoid further contact with the Spaniard, was a question. When she finally emerged at Roger Fairfax's call, and crossed the deck to where the men were, there was no alteration in her dress, but by that time I was busily engaged with Carr in reefing the mainsail, and she passed me by without so much as a glance of recognition. Meanwhile Fairfax and Sanchez paced restlessly back and forth, conversing earnestly as they smoked, only occasionally pausing to contemplate the shore past which we were gliding in silence, the only sound the ripple of water at our stem.
Where I leaned alone against the rail, my eyes followed the Spaniard in doubt and questioning, nor could I entirely banish from mind Haley's description of that buccaneer, bearing a similar name, under whom he had been compelled to serve through scenes of crime. Yet, in spite of my unconscious desire to connect these two together, I found it simply impossible to associate this rather soft-spoken, effeminate dandy with that bloody villain, many of whose deeds were so familiar to me. The distinction was too apparent. Beyond all doubt this fellow concealed beneath his smiles a nature entirely different from the one he now so carefully exhibited. He could hate fiercely, and nourish revenge, and he was capable of mean, cowardly cruelty. His threat toward me, as well as that strange incident Fairfax had observed on the deck of the Romping Betsy, evidenced all this clearly, yet such things rather proved the man a revengeful coward instead of a desperate adventurer. Black Sanchez, according to all accounts, was a devil incarnate, and no such popinjay as this maker of love, could ever be changed into a terror of the sea. He was not of that stern stuff. That it was perfectly easy for him to lie--even natural--was no surprise to me. This seemed to accord with his other characteristics; nor was it altogether strange that he should be fairly familiar with these waters. If, as he claimed, he had once been connected with the Spanish navy, which quite likely was true, even if he had never visited this coast in person, he might have had access to their charts and maps. It was well known that early Spanish navigators had explored every inch of this coast line, and that their tracings, hastily as they had been made, were the most correct in existence. His memory of these might yet retain sufficient details through which he could pretend to a knowledge much greater than he really possessed.
No, I would dismiss that thought permanently from my mind, as being quite impossible. I felt that I had learned to judge men; that my long years at sea, both before the mast, and in supreme command, had developed this faculty so as to be depended upon. I believed that I knew the class to which Lieutenant Sanchez belonged--he was a low-born coward, dangerous only through treachery, wearing a mask of bravado, capable enough of any crime or cruelty, but devoid of boldness in plan or execution; a fellow I would kick with pleasure, but against whom I should never expect to be obliged to draw a sword. He was a snake, who could never be made into a lion--a character to despise, not fear. And so I dismissed him, feeling no longer any serious sense of danger in his presence, yet fully determined to watch closely his future movements in accordance with my promise.
It was already quite dusk when we finally drew in beside Travers' wharf, and made fast. Our approach had been noted, and Travers himself--a white-haired, white-bearded man, yet still hearty and vigorous, attired in white duck--was on the end of the dock to greet us, together with numerous servants of every shade of color, who immediately busied themselves toting luggage up the steep path leading toward the house, dimly visible in the distance, standing conspicuous amid a grove of trees on the summit, of the bank. The others followed, four fellows lugging with difficulty an iron-bound chest, the two older men engaged in earnest conversation, thus leaving Sanchez apparently well satisfied with the opportunity alone to assist the girl. Except to render the sloop completely secure for the night, there remained little work for us to perform on board. Sam found an ample supply of tobacco and pipes, and the four of us passed the early evening undisturbed smoking and talking together. The fellows were not uninteresting as I came to know them better, and Carr, who I learned had been transported three years before for robbery, having at one time been a soldier, was prolific of reminiscences, which he related with true Irish wit. Sam contented himself with asking me numerous questions relative to the Duke of Monmouth, whose effort to attain the throne interested him greatly, and I very gladly gave him all the information I possessed. So the time passed quickly, and it must have been nearly midnight before we brought out blankets from the forecastle, and lay down in any spot we chose on deck.
It was a fair, calm night, but moonless, with but little wind stirring, and a slight haze in the air, obscuring the vision. The windows of the great house above, which earlier in the evening had blazed with lights, were now darkened, and the distant sounds of voices and laughter had entirely ceased. The only noise discernible as I lay quiet was the soft lapping of waves against the side of the sloop or about the piling supporting the wharf to which we were moored. The others must have fallen asleep immediately, but my own mind remained far too active to enable me to lose consciousness. At last, despairing of slumber, and perchance urged by some indistinct premonition of danger, I sat up once more and gazed about. The three men were lying not far apart, close in to the galley wall, merely dark, shapeless shadows, barely to be distinguished in the gloom. With no longer any fear of disturbing them, I arose to my feet, and stepping carefully past their recumbent forms, moved silently aft toward the more open space near the wheel. I had been standing there hardly a minute, staring blankly out into the misty dimness of the Bay, when my startled eyes caught glimpse of a speck of white emerging from the black shadows--the spectral glimmer of a small sail. I was scarcely convinced I had seen it, yet as swiftly crouched lower, hiding myself behind the protection of the rail, instantly alert to learn the meaning of this strange apparition. An instant told me this was no deceit. The strange craft swept past, so far out that those on board no doubt believed themselves beyond sight from the shore, heading apparently for a point of land, which I vaguely remembered as jutting out to the northward. Even my eyes, accustomed to the darkness, and strained to the utmost, could detect scarcely more than the faintest shadow gliding silently by, yet sufficient to recognize the outlines of a small keel boat, propelled by a single lug sail, and even imagined I could discern the stooped figure of a man at the helm.