Which indeed was not true, for I never met a seaman yet who was not superstitious; but I was wrathful, and I knew not what to say.
'Very well,' he said, 'very well. But you are welcome to it if you wish.'
Then he went out of the cabin without another word and drew the door behind him. I sat still for some seconds listening to the sound of his departing footstep.
Now I was bitterly vexed with myself. I had done a vain thing. I had put Jensen upon his guard by showing him that I knew something at least of his purposes, and I had put it into his power to offer a very ready explanation of suspicious circumstances. Indeed, how was I to know that what he said was not true? There was nothing whatever on the face of it unlikely, and if he told such a story to Captain Marmaduke, why, it was ten chances to one that Captain Marmaduke would implicitly believe in him. For there was no doubt about it, Captain Marmaduke had a great regard for Cornelys Jensen.
There was nothing for it but to tell Lancelot of what Jensen had said, and I did this with all dispatch. My statement had at least the effect of convincing Lancelot that I had in very fact seen what I had described to him about the flag. But I could see that Jensen's explanation had its effect upon him very much as I felt sure that it would have its effect upon Captain Marmaduke. Lancelot had nothing like the same regard for Jensen that his uncle had, but I knew that he did follow his uncle's lead in trusting him.
'You see, Ralph,' he said to me, 'this is a very likely story. Jensen is an old sailor. My uncle has told me a thousand times that he has served against pirates in his youth. What more natural than that he should preserve such a trophy of his prowess as the captured flag of some such villain as that same Captain Anthony, of whom I have often heard? But we will be watchful none the less, and well on our guard.'
I could see that Lancelot did not share my fears as regarded Jensen, although he was troubled by the mutinous carriage of certain of the crew. I know that I was very apprehensive and unhappy, and that it seemed to me as if that night would never end.
When the day did break at last it brought no great degree of comfort with it. We were surrounded by a yellow, yeasty sea, and the air was so thick that the islands on which our lives depended seemed but shapeless shadows in the distance. Still the wind had abated somewhat, but the swell was very strong, and we were without any means of attempting to leave the vessel.
When it was quite morning, and the sky cleared a little, we saw the skiff, with the Captain on board, beating about on the water and trying to make for us. But in this he was not able to succeed, for the waves were running so high that it would have been quite impossible either to bring the skiff alongside or to get on board our vessel if he had done so. We could see the Captain standing up in the bows of the boat and signalling to us, and it made our hearts sick to be able to see him and to be unable to know what he wanted or what we ought to do.
At this moment one of the men—he was the ship's carpenter, and a decent, honest sort of fellow—said that he was a very good swimmer, and that he thought he could reach the skiff in that way. He was so very confident of his own powers that though we were somewhat unwilling to let him risk his life, he did in the end prevail upon Lancelot to let him make the attempt.
The man stripped and was into the sea in a moment, fighting bravely with the billows that buffeted him. It was a good sight to see him slowly forging his way through that yellow, clapping water; it is always a good sight to see a strong man or a brave man doing a daring thing for the sake of other people. We watched his body as he swam; he was but a common man, but his skin seemed as white as a woman's in that foul spume, and his black hair, which he wore long, streamed in a rail upon the water as a woman's might. But I do not think the woman ever lived who could swim as that man swam.
We watched him grow smaller and smaller, and most of us prayed for him silently as he fought his way through the waters. At last we saw that he had reached the skiff, and we could see that he was being pulled over the side. Then there came a long interval—oh, how long it seemed to us, as we watched the leaping waves and the distant skiff that leaped upon them, and wondered if the man's strength would carry him back again to us! By-and-by—it was not really such a very long time, but it seemed like centuries—Lancelot, who was looking through his spy-glass, said that the man was going over the skiff's side again. Then we all held our breaths and waited.
So it was; the fellow was swimming steadily back to us. It was plain enough to see that he was sorely fatigued, and that he was husbanding his strength, but every stroke that he gave was a steady stroke and a true stroke, and every stroke brought him a bit nearer to where we lay. And at last his black head was looking up at us beneath our hull, and in another second he had caught a rope and was on the deck again, dripping like a dog, and hard pushed for lack of breath.
Lancelot gave him a measure of rum with his own hands, and by-and-by his wind came back to him, and he found his voice to speak as he struggled into his clothes.
What he had to tell was not very cheering. He had given Captain Amber a faithful picture of our perils and our privations, and Captain Amber had made answer that he was sorry for us with all his heart, and only wished that he was in the danger with us. Which we knew very well to be true, though, indeed, the good gentleman was in scarcely less danger himself.
His orders to us were that we should with all speed construct rafts by tying together the planks of which we had abundance, and that we should embark upon these rafts and so try to make the shallop and the skiff, which would bear us in safety to the islands.
It was not tempting to make rafts and trust them and ourselves upon them to the sea that was churning and creaming beneath us, but it seemed to be well-nigh the only thing to do, and it was the Captain's orders, and we prepared to set to work and execute his commands. But we had scarce begun to tie a couple of planks together before it was plain that our labour would be in vain. For even while the man had been telling his tale the weather had grown much rougher, and we could see that the skiff was unable to remain longer near to us, but had to turn back for her own safety to the islands. I felt very sure that Captain Amber must be in anguish, having thus to leave us, his dear Lancelot and some seventy of his sailors and followers, on board a vessel that might cease to be a vessel at any moment.
Now we were in very desperate straits indeed, and some of us seemed tempted to give ourselves over to despair. If it had not been for the steadiness of those that were under Lancelot, I feel sure that the most part of the sailors would have paid no further heed to Jensen's counsels, but would have incontinently drunk themselves into stupor or madness, and so perished miserably.
But our men, if they were resigned to their fate, were resolved to meet it like Christians and stout fellows, and as we were the well-armed party the others had, sullenly enough, to fall in with our wishes. And Lancelot's wishes were that all hands should employ themselves still in the making of those rafts, so that if the weather did mend we should be able to take advantage of the improvement ere it shifted again. Though the water was beating up in great waves all about us, we were so tightly fixed upon our bank that we were well-nigh immovable, and it was possible for us to work pretty patiently and persistently through all the dirty weather. But though we worked hard and well, it took up the fag-end of that day and the whole of the next to get our two rafts ready for the sea, which was by that time more ready for them, as the storm had again abated.
WE LOSE CORNELYS JENSEN
It was on the night when we had well-nigh finished our two rafts that a very unexpected thing happened—a thing which I took at the time to be a piece of good fortune, but which, as it happened, proved to be a misfortune for some of us. The unexpected event was, namely, that we lost Cornelys Jensen; and this was the way in which the thing came about.
The nights during that spell of foul weather were very dark and moonless, not because there was no moon, though she was now waning into her last quarter, but because of the quantity of clouds that muffled up the face of the heavens and hid the moon and the stars from us. But we made shift as well as we could, working hard all the time that the daylight lasted, and giving up the night to the rest we were all in such sore need of. Of course, the usual discipline of the ship was preserved, the usual watches set, and all observed exactly as if Captain Amber himself had been aboard, for, though the Royal Christopher was sadly shaken, she was still uninjured as to her inward parts, and we were all able to sleep under cover and out of the way of wind or weather.
On the night before the weather mended, although it was not my watch and I was below in my cabin, I found that I could not sleep. The air was close and oppressive, full of a heat that heralded, though I did not know it, the coming of a spell of fine weather. I was feverish and distressed of body, and tossed for long enough in my hammock, trying very hard to get to sleep; but, though I was tired as a dog, the grace of sleep would not come to me. At last, in very desperation, I resolved to continue the struggle no longer. If I could not sleep I could not, and there was an end of it. I would go on deck and get there a little air to cool my hot body.
So up on deck I went and looked about me. All was quiet, all was dark. Here and there a ship's lanthorn made a star in the gloom; the ship seemed like a black rock rising out of blackness. I could hear the tread of the watch; I could hear the noisy lapping of the water. There was no wind, there was no moon; the air seemed to be thick and choking. I felt scarcely more refreshed than I had been in my cabin, but as I had come up I thought that I might as well stay up for a bit and have the benefit of whatever air there was. So I made my way cautiously in the darkness to the side of the vessel, and, leaning upon the bulwark, looked out over the sea, and fell to thinking of Marjorie and of my love for her and all its hopelessness.
Presently I heard voices. Those who spoke drew nearer and nearer to me, and I soon recognised the speakers as Lancelot and Cornelys Jensen. At the spot where I was standing a great pile of boxes and water barrels had been raised for transfer to the rafts, and I, being on the one side of this pile, was invisible to them as they approached, and would have been passed unnoticed had the night been brighter than it was. I could almost hear what they were saying; I am certain that I heard Jensen utter my name.
I came out of the shadow, or rather out of my corner—for it was all shadow alike—and called out Lancelot's name. Lancelot called back to me, and then I heard Jensen wish him good-night and turn and tramp heavily down the stairs that led below. He seemed to tramp very heavily, heavier than was his wont, for he was a light, alert man, even when his biggest sea-boots were on him, as I make no doubt they now were. Lancelot joined me, and I drew him with me into the place where I had been standing, after first casting a glance around the deck to see that no one was within hearing. All seemed deserted, save for the distant walk of the watch. We leaned over the bulwark together and began to talk.
I asked him what Jensen had been saying to him. He told me that Cornelys had come to him and expressed great surprise and anger at the doubts which he believed, from my manner and from some words that I had uttered, I entertained of him. It seemed that he had said again to Lancelot what he had said to me about the flag; that he insisted that there was no mystery at all about the matter, but that he was proud of its possession and superstitious as to its luck, and that he never was willingly parted from it. At the same time he offered to give it Lancelot, as he had already offered to give it me, if Lancelot was minded or wishful to take possession of it; an offer which Lancelot had refused.
I could see from Lancelot's manner that he was largely convinced of the integrity of Jensen, and I must confess that Jensen's conduct had given him grounds for confidence, and that I had very little in the way of reasonable argument to shake that confidence. Still, I made bold to be somewhat importunate with Lancelot. When he spoke of his uncle's trust in Jensen's integrity, when he urged the value of Jensen's services to us on the voyage, and the way in which he had kept the sailors under control at the first symptom of mutiny, I had, it must be confessed, little to say in reply that could seriously damage Jensen's character. But I was so thoroughly convinced of the man's treachery that I argued hotly, and it may be that as I grew hot I raised my voice a trifle, which is a way of mine; and, indeed, my voice is never a good whispering voice. I entreated Lancelot, at all events, to have a very watchful eye upon Jensen, and I urged that on the first symptom of anything in the least like double-dealing he should place Jensen under arrest.
Lancelot listened to me very patiently. He was impressed by my earnestness, and at last promised that he would scrutinise Jensen's actions very narrowly, and that if he saw anything that was at all suspicious in his demeanour he would immediately take steps to render him harmless. At this I pressed Lancelot's hand warmly, and was about to leave him and go below when I fancied that I heard steps stealing away from us very softly, from the other side of the pile of barrels and boxes by which we stood. I whipped out of my corner and round the pile in an instant, but there was no one there, and I could neither see nor hear anything suspicious. Lancelot declared that I was as suspicious as an old maid of her neighbour's hens. I echoed his laughter as well as I could, but I went below again with a heavy heart, for I was oppressed with a sense of danger which I dreaded the more because it seemed to lurk in darkness. I had laid me down again with no very great hope of sleep, but I had no sooner laid my head upon its pillow than I fell into a most uneasy slumber, in which all my apprehensions and all our perils seemed to be multiplied and magnified a hundredfold. A nightmare terror brooded upon my breast. Suddenly I imagined, in the swift changes of my dream, that we were sinking, and that the vessel was going to pieces with great crashes. I awoke with a start, to find that the noises of my dream were being continued into my waking life. The deck above was noisy with trampling feet and confused cries. For a moment I sat up, dizzy with surprise, and unable to realise whether I was awake or asleep. Then I pulled my wits together, and was on deck in a trice.
I caught hold of a sailor who was hurrying rapidly by, and asked him what was the matter. He answered me that there was a man overboard, and that they were doing all they could to save him by casting over the side spars and timbers that would float, in the hope that he might be able to catch one of them. The deck was all confusion, men running hither and thither, and some hanging over the bulwarks and peering into the darkness, in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of their drowning comrade. We had not a boat to lower, save only the little dinghy, which would not have lived a minute in such a sea.
When I found somebody who could tell me what had happened this was what I learnt. A man had fallen overboard; the watch had heard the splash as the body fell into the water, and a wild cry that followed upon the splash; a sailor had shouted out his warning of 'Man overboard!' and the cry had roused the whole ship. Up to this point nobody seemed to have any idea who the missing man was, but when Lancelot, who was immediately on deck, though he had but just gone to lie down, had commanded silence, and the men were gathered about him on the deck, the sailor who had first made the alarm was found and questioned. This sailor said that he saw a man standing at the vessel's side at a place where, when the mast fell, the bulwark had been torn away and had left a gaping wound in the ship's railings; that as he, surprised at seeing a man there, came nearer to try and ascertain what he was doing, the man staggered, flung up his arms—here the man who was narrating these things to us flung up his hands in imitation—and then went over the side with a great splash and a great cry. He believed that the man was none other than Cornelys Jensen.
When Lancelot and I heard the name of Cornelys Jensen upon the man's lips we looked involuntarily at each other, and I make certain that we both grew pale. That the man of whom we had been talking not an hour before in such different terms should have thus suddenly been taken out of our lives came like a shock to us both. Further investigation confirmed the accuracy of the man's statement. The roll was called over, and every man answered to his name except Cornelys Jensen. His cabin was at once searched, but he was not in it, and it was evident that he had made no attempt to sleep there that night, for his hammock was undisturbed. On the table lay a folded sheet of paper, which Lancelot took up and opened. It contained only these words: 'Your doubts have driven me to despair.' These words had apparently been followed by some other words, the beginning of a fresh sentence, but, whatever they were, they were so scrawled over with the pen that their meaning was as effectually blotted out as if they had never been written.
Of course, all efforts to rescue the unhappy man were unavailing. There was really nothing that we could do save to cast pieces of spar and plank overboard in the faint hope that some one of them might come in the drowning man's way and enable him to keep afloat till daylight, if by any chance his purpose of self-slaughter—for so it seemed to me—had changed with his souse into the water. The night was pitchy black, and the waves were running a tremendous pace, so that there really seemed to be little likelihood of the strongest swimmer keeping himself long afloat; but we did our best and hoped our hardest, even those of us who, like myself, disliked and distrusted Cornelys Jensen profoundly.
Though Lancelot said little to Marjorie beyond the bare news of what had happened I could see that he took the disappearance of Jensen and that little scrawl we found in his cabin badly to heart. He was convinced at once that Jensen had committed suicide, driven thereto by the suspicions that we had formed of him; and, indeed, though I tried to console Lancelot as well as I could, it did look very like it, and I must confess that I felt a little guilty. For though I still thought that the grounds upon which I had formed my suspicions of the man were reasonable grounds, and justified all my apprehensions, still I could not resist an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps, after all, I might have misjudged the man, and that in any case I was the instrument—the unwitting instrument, but still the instrument none the less—of sending a fellow-creature before his Maker with the stigma of self-slaughter upon his soul. So certainly Lancelot and I passed a very unhappy night, what there was left of it; and when the dawn came we scanned the sea anxiously in the faint hope that we might see something of the missing man. But, though the sea was far quieter than it had been for many hours, there was no trace of any floating body upon it, and it became only too clear to our minds that, for some cause or other, Cornelys Jensen had indeed killed himself. I could only imagine that the man was really crazed, although we did not dream of such a thing, and that the perils and privations through which we had passed, and against which he seemed to bear such a bold front, had in fact completed the unhinging of his wits, and that my accusations, acting upon a weakened mind, had driven him in his frenzy to destroy himself. To be quite candid, though I was sufficiently sorry for the man, I was still dogged enough in my own opinion of his character as to think that, if it was the will of Providence that he should so perish, at all events the Royal Christopher was no loser by his loss.
WE GET TO THE ISLAND
Even if we had lost a better man than Jensen it would have been our duty none the less to work hard the next day to get our rafts ready and fit for sea. Very few men are indispensable to their fellows, and certainly, as far as making the rafts was concerned, it would have been far more serious if Abraham Janes, the carpenter, had taken it into his head to throw himself overboard than that Cornelys Jensen had taken it into his head to do so. Yet, in a manner, too, we missed Cornelys Jensen. He was an able man, full of all kinds of knowledge, and he had a domineering way with the seamen which they seemed to recognise and to obey unflinchingly. These fellows, for the most part, took the tidings of his death very indifferently. Some of them seemed to miss him as a trained dog might miss his master. Some, again, seemed scarcely to miss him at all. One or two, and especially the fellow who saw the death and the manner of it, seemed to take the matter very greatly to heart, and to go about with a sad brow and a sullen eye in consequence.
As for Lancelot and myself, I must say that we soon grew to accept his loss with composure. There was so much to do that there would have been little time for a greater grief than either of us could honestly wear. The weather was mending hourly, and the rafts were making rapid progress. By the end of that day they were finished and ready for the sea.
By this time, so strange are the chops and changes of the weather in that part of the world, the sea and sky were as gentle as on a summer's day. I have heard the phrase 'as smooth as a mill-pond' applied to salt water many a thousand times, but never, indeed, with so much truth as if it had been applied to the ocean that day. It lay all around us, one tranquillity of blue, and above it the heavens were domed with an azure fretted here and there with fleeces of clouds, even as the water was fretted here and there with laces of foam. In the clear air we could see the islands ahead of us sharply dark against the sky, and as we watched them our longing to be at them, to tread dry land again, was so great as to be almost unbearable. Those who have lived on shore all their lives can form little or no idea of the way in which the thoughts of a man who is tasting the terrors of shipwreck for the first time turn to a visible land, and how they burn within him for longing to walk upon turf or highway once again in his jeopardised life.
Now, the rafts that we had constructed were by no means ill-fashioned. That ship's carpenter, Abraham Janes, was a man of great parts in his trade. I never in my life saw a handier man at his tools or a defter at devices of all kinds. The poor old Royal Christopher had timber enough and to spare for the planks that were to make our rafts, and we had a great plenty of idle rope aboard in the rigging wherewith our fallen mast was entangled. So there was no lack of material, and when our men saw that there was really and truly a prospect of escape there was no lack of willing hands to work. So by the end of the time I have already specified we had two large and serviceable rafts ready to try their fortunes upon the ocean that was now so tempting in its calm.
It was a matter of some little surprise to us who were on board the ship that with the calm weather Captain Amber made no further attempt to come out to us. But there was no sign of a sail upon the water, although we watched it eagerly through the spy-glass; and we were sorely puzzled to imagine what could have happened to our leader, for that he could be forgetful of or indifferent to our danger it was impossible to believe.
The rafts being now ready and the weather so propitious, nothing was left for us but to commit them, with ourselves and all our belongings, to the water, in the hope of making the shore with them. They were each of them capable of holding our whole number and a quantity of such stores as were left on board. These latter, therefore, divided into two equal parts, we proceeded to put upon the rafts as quickly as we could, together with as many barrels of water as we had. Each of the rafts carried a stout mast and sail, and in the absence of any wind could be propelled slowly over such a smooth water as that which now lay around us by means of oars. The stores and water barrels we adjusted in such a way as to preserve as nicely as might be the balance of the rafts.
We effected the transfer of our stores and provisions with very little difficulty, and embarked all our party, also without any difficulty whatever. In obedience to Lancelot's resolution, which he had privately communicated to me beforehand, we divided our forces into two parties. That is to say, half of the sailors were set on each raft, and with each raft half of our armed men; for though we had little or no apprehension now that there would be any trouble with the sailors, we still deemed it best to let them see very plainly that we were and meant to be the masters. I went on the one raft, Lancelot—and of course Marjorie with him—upon the other, and when all was ready we pushed away from the Royal Christopher and trusted ourselves and our fortunes to our new equipages.
There was happily little danger, even little difficulty, about the enterprise. The rafts were well made; they rode on the waters like corks. What little wind there was blew towards the islands, and the sea was as placid as a lake, so that the men could use their big oars easily enough. It was indeed slow work to paddle these great rafts along, but it was quite unadventurous, so that I have little or nothing to record of note concerning our journey. Little by little the Royal Christopher grew smaller and smaller behind us, with her great mast sticking out so sadly over her side; little by little the island loomed larger and larger on our view. At last, after a couple of hours that were the most pleasurable we had passed for many days, we came close to the island, and could see that the colonists were all crowded together upon the beach, waiting to receive us.
The island was very large, rocky, and thickly wooded, and the coast was rocky too, and the water very shoaly, which made me understand how difficult landing must have been in the stormy weather. But now, with the sea so fair and the weather so fine, we had little or no difficulty in getting ashore, and with the eager assistance of the colonists were soon able to effect the landing of all our stores and belongings.
Our first great surprise on our arrival was to see no sight of Captain Amber amongst those who were gathered upon the beach to receive us. But his absence was soon explained in reply to our anxious inquiries. It seemed that a great spirit of discontent prevailed among the colonists upon that island, and that they upbraided Captain Amber very bitterly for being the cause of their misfortunes: as is the way with weak-spirited creatures, who have not the heart to bear a common misfortune courageously. To make a long story short, they insisted that he must needs endeavour to find some means of rescue for them by getting into the sea track and persuading some ship to come to their aid and take them from the island; which certainly was a disconsolate place enough, especially for people who were always ready to make a poor mouth over everything that did not please them. As the sailors who were with Captain Amber sided with the colonists in this matter, he had no choice but to consent; and as his vessel was fairly sea-worthy, he and his people had departed, in the hope of meeting some ship to bring all succour. Captain Marmaduke was, it seems, most loath to depart while we were in such a plight on board of the Royal Christopher; but there was no help for it, for his men were almost in open mutiny, and would have carried him on board would he or no. So he had sailed away and the colonists were all hopeful, in their silly, simple way, that he would soon return in a great ship and carry them to a land as lovely as a dream, where all their wishes would be fulfilled for the asking, and where each man would have his bellyful of good things without the working for it. For that was, it seems, the notion most of these fellows had in their heads of poor Captain Amber's Utopia.
I had begun to perceive by this time that a very large number of those that had come out with Captain Amber aboard of the Royal Christopher were but weak-spirited creatures, and such as might be called fair-weather friends. So long as all was going well and there was a prospect before them of a prosperous future and everything they wanted, they were supple enough and loud to laud the good gentleman who was conveying them to comfort. But with the break in our luck their praises and their patience went in a whiff, and they showed themselves to be such a parcel of wrong-headed, grumbling, disheartened and dispiriting knaves as ever helped to shake a good man's courage. They were as ready to imprecate Captain Amber now as they had been to load him with praises before, and in this they were supported by all the worser sort—and these were the greater part—among the sailors that had stayed with the colonists. But with Lancelot's arrival upon the island he soon put a stop to all loudly expressed grumbling—or at least to all grumbling that was loudly expressed in his hearing. There were some good fellows amongst the colonists, and the old soldiers were staunch and sturdy fellows, who adored Captain Amber, and Lancelot after him. So, as we had these with us, we made the grumblers keep civil tongues in their heads, aye and work too to the bettering of our conditions. The first party had made themselves some huts and now we made more for ourselves who were new-comers, with tents of a kind out of sail-cloth that we had brought from the ship, and for Lancelot a large double hut covered with some of this same cloth for him and Marjorie to dwell in. And, Lord! what a joy it was to see how Marjorie bestirred herself making herself as good a lieutenant to Lancelot as Captain's heart could desire. But we were all so busy that in those hours on that island I seldom had speech with her, for my care was chiefly with those discontented and weaklings who were so eager to complain and make mischief.
It seemed to me then that the best man of all that pack was the woman Barbara Hatchett. For while the colonists were making poor mouths over their plight and piping as querulously as sparrows after rain, and while the sailors were for the most part sour and sullen, Barbara took her lot with cheerfulness, and had smiles and smooth words for everybody and everything. She had even smiles and smooth words with me, who had exchanged no speech with her beyond forced greeting for this many a day. For she came up to me laughing once, at a time when I stood alone and was, indeed, thinking of Marjorie who was busy in her hut at some task that Lancelot had set her. Barbara began to banter with me in a way that seemed strange with her, saying that I was fickle like all my sex, that I was sighing for fair hair now, who had doted on black locks a few years ago, and much more idle talk to the same want of purpose. At last she asked me bluntly if I had loved her once, and when I answered yes, she asked me if I loved her still, now that she was a married woman; and without giving me time to answer she said that she had a kindness for me, and would do me a good turn yet for the sake of old days when she came to be queen.
I was vexed with her for the vanity and importunity of her mirth, and to stop her words I asked her bluntly if she had ever seen a black flag. But my question had no effect to disconcert her gaiety.
'You mean the black flag of poor Jensen?' she said; and when I nodded she began to pity Jensen for his belief in his trophy, which, after all, had brought him no more luck than a sea grave; and then she went on with shrillish laughter to tell me that she had begged it of him to give her to make into a petticoat, 'For it would have made a bonny petticoat, would it not?' she said suddenly, coming to a sharp end and looking me earnestly in the face.
I was at a loss what to say, being so flustered by her carriage and her words, which seemed to make it plain to me that I had sorely misjudged the dead man. But I said nothing, and moved a little way from her; and she, seeing my disinclination, laughed again, and then 'God blessed' me with a vehemence and earnestness that, as I thought, meant me more harm than good. But after that she turned and went back to the rest of the women, and I could see her going from one to the other, soothing and comforting them, and showing them how to make the best of their bitter commons on the island. And as I watched her I wondered; but I had little time for watching or for wondering.
For the nonce I will make bold to leave Captain Marmaduke sailing the seas and to occupy myself solely with the fate of those who were encamped on the island, and chiefly of Marjorie and Lancelot and thereby myself who had the good fortune to be with them to the end of the enterprise. And, oh, as I think of Marjorie in those days it is ever with fresh wonder and delight and infinite gratitude to Heaven for the privilege to have seen her. She seemed just a boy with boys, she with Lancelot and me, and she wore her boyish weed with a simple straightforward ease that made it somehow seem the most right and natural thing in the world. But that was ever her way; whatever she did seemed fit and good, and that not merely to my eyes who loved her, but, as I think, to most. And she was very helpful in mind and body, always eager to bear her share in any work that was toward, and in council advising wisely without assertion. It might seem at first blush a handicap for adventurers to have a girl on their hands, but we did not find it so, only always, save for the peril in which the maid was, a gain and blessing. And so to our fortunes. You must know that from the further coast of our island—the further from our wreck, I mean—we could discern the outlines of other islands, the nearest of which appeared to be within but a few hours' sail. It was plain, therefore, that we were, very fortunately for us, cast away in the neighbourhood of a considerable archipelago, and that we had every reason on the whole to rejoice at our condition instead of bewailing it.
Now, though the island we were on was in many ways fair and commodious, we were not without confidence that another island, which lay a little further off, as it might be a couple of hours' sail, would serve us even in better stead, and at least we resolved to explore it. So Lancelot and Marjorie and I, with some thirty of our own men, resolved to cross over in the shallop boat which had conveyed the first party to the island while the weather was still fair, taking with us a great plenty of arms and implements, canvas and abundance of provisions, as well as a quantity of lights and fireworks, which we had saved from the ship, and which Lancelot thought might be useful for many purposes. It was agreed between us and the colonists that if we found the new island better than the old we were to make great bonfires, the smoke of which could not fail to be seen from the first island, or Early Island, as we came to call it. This they should take as a signal to come with all speed to the new camping-ground.
You must not think it strange that we set out upon this expedition thoughtlessly and leaving the other folk unprotected. For, in the first place, there were a goodly number of the colonists—as many in number as the sailors; and, in the second place, the sailors were not so well-armed as many of the colonists were, having nothing but their knives and a few axes. Furthermore, as Cornelys Jensen was not among them, and as it seemed most unlikely that the purpose, if purpose he had, would hold with his fellows now that there was, as it were, no ship to seize, we felt that there could be no danger to our companions in leaving them while we went on our voyage of exploration. So you will please to bear in mind how matters now stood. There was Captain Marmaduke in the skiff, who had sailed away from us to seek succour for us all. There was on the island with which we had first made acquaintance the majority of our colonists—men, women and children, together with the greater part of the sailors—under the authority of Hatchett. There were, further, Lancelot and Marjorie and myself and our thirty men, who had gone off in the shallop to explore the adjacent islands in the hope of finding a better resting-place for our whole party. As for Cornelys Jensen, I took him to be at the bottom of the sea.
We had arranged that during our absence the administration of the colony should be vested in a council, of whom the Reverend Mr. Ebrow was one and Hatchett another, for, as the leading man among sailors, he could not be overlooked, and I mistrusted him no more now that Jensen was gone. Certain of the soldierly men and two or three of the most cool-headed amongst the colonists made up the total of this council, whose only task would be to apportion the fair share of labour to each man in making the island as habitable a place as might be till our return. For, after all, it was by no means certain that we should have better luck with the near island, and in any case it was well to be prepared for all emergencies.
It was late on the second day of our arrival at the island that Lancelot and Marjorie and I with our companions set off on our expedition. We followed the coast-line of our island a long while, keeping a sufficiently wide berth for fear of the shoals. When we had half circumnavigated it there lay ahead of us the island for which we were making. It lay a good way off, and, as the day was very fine and still, it seemed nearer to us than it proved to be. As far as we could judge at that distance, it seemed to be a very much larger island than the one which we had just left; and so indeed it proved to be.
The shallop was a serviceable vessel, and ran bravely before the wind on the calm sea. Had the wind been fully in our favour we should have made the island for which we were steering within the hour; but it blew slightly across our course, compelling us to tack and change our course often, so that it was a good two hours before we were close to our goal. When we came close enough we saw that the island seemed in all respects to be a more delectable spot than that island on which chance had first cast us. There was a fine natural bay, with a strand of a fine, white, and sparkling sand such as recalled to me the aspect of many of the little bays and creeks in the coast beyond Sendennis, and in the recollection brought the tears into my mouth, not into my eyes. From this strand we could see that the land ran up in a gentle elevation that was very thickly wooded. Beyond this again rose in undulating succession several high hills, that might almost be regarded as little mountains, and these also seemed to be densely clothed with trees. Marjorie declared that the place looked in its soft greenness and the clean whiteness of its shore a kind of Earthly Paradise, and indeed our hearts went out to it. I found afterwards, from conversation with my companions, that every man of us felt convinced on our first close sight of Fair Island, as we afterwards called it, that we should find there abundance of water and all things that we needed which could reasonably be hoped for.
We came, after a little coasting, to a small and sheltered creek, into which it was quite easy to carry our vessel. The creek ran some little way inland, with deep water for some distance, so here we beached the shallop and got off and looked about us.
Although by this time the day was grown somewhat old, we were determined to do at least a measure of exploring then and there, and ascertain some, at least, of the resources of our new territory. There was, of course, the possibility that we might meet with wild animals or with still wilder savages, but we did not feel very much alarm about either possibility. For we were a fairly large party; we were all well-armed, and well capable of using our weapons. Each of us carried pistols and a hanger, Marjorie with the rest, she being as skilful in their use as any lad of her age might be. For my own part I always wore in my coat pocket a little pistol Lancelot had given me, that looked like a toy, but was a marvel of mechanism and precision. Weaponed as we were, we had come, moreover, into that kind of confidence which comes to those who have just passed unscathed through grave peril, a confidence which is, as it were, a second wind of courage.
It would not do, of course, to leave our boat unprotected, so it was necessary to tell off by lot a certain number of our men to stay with it and guard it. All the men were so eager for exploration that those upon whom the lots fell to remain behind with the shallop made rather wry faces; but Lancelot cheered them by telling them that theirs was a position to the full as honourable as that of explorers, and that in any case those who looked after the boat one day should be relieved and go with the exploring party on the next day, turn and turn about.
This satisfied them, and they settled down to their duty in content. It was agreed upon that in case of any danger or any attack, whether by savages or by wild beasts—for in those parts of the world there might well be monstrous and warlike creatures—they were to make an alarm by blowing upon a horn which we had with us, and by firing a shot. It was to be their task while we were away to prepare a fire for our evening meal. We had our supply of provisions and of water with us, but those of us who were to explore had very good hopes that we should bring back to the skiff not merely the good news that we had found water, but also something in the way of food for our supper. Lancelot, for one, expressed his confidence that there must be game of various kinds in so thickly a wooded place, and when Lancelot expressed an opinion I and the others with me always listened to it like Gospel.
Luckily for us, we soon found one and then another spring of fresh water. But it took us a matter of three days to explore that island thoroughly, for it was very hilly, and in many parts the woods were well-nigh impenetrable in spite of our axes. Most of the trees and shrubs had at this time either blossoms or berries on them, red, white, and yellow, that filled the air with sweet and pungent odours. It was a large island, and on the other side of the ridge of hills which rose up so sharply from the place where we first landed the land stretched almost level for a considerable distance before it dropped again in low cliffs to the sea. Part of this plain was grass-grown land, not unlike English down land, but in other parts the grass grew in great tufts as big as a bush, intermixed with much heath, such as we have on our commons in England; part of it was thickly grown with all manner of bright flowers and creeping plants, that knotted themselves together in such an entanglement that it was very hard to cut a path. We had need to go carefully here, for suspicion of snakes. We found no sign of savage wild beasts, though of harmless ones there were plenty, some of which made very good meat. As for savages, we saw none; and as far as we could make out we were the only human beings upon the island. Yet Lancelot, who was wonderfully quick at noting things, thought that he detected signs here and there which went to show that we were not the first men who had ever explored it. There were few land fowls—only eagles of the larger sort, but five or six sorts of small birds. There were waterfowl in abundance of many varieties, with shellfish to our hands, and good fish for the fishing, so between the sea and the land we were in no fear of want of victual, which cheered us very greatly.
We had rigged up some rough tents with our canvas, one apart for Marjorie and one for me and Lancelot, and half a dozen for our men, and altogether our condition had fair show of comfort, and to me indeed seemed full of felicity.
Until we had thoroughly explored the island we did not deem it wise to make our promised communication with the former island. But as soon as we had pretty well seen all that there was to be seen, we thought that, the time still being fair, we could scarcely do better than get our fellow-adventurers over. Our men were therefore set to work collecting as large a quantity of fuel as might be, and in clearing a path to the summit of the nearest hill, from which we might set off our bonfire to the best advantage.
Our men were all dispersed about the island busy at this business, and Marjorie was in her tent, taking at her brother's entreaty the rest she would never have allowed herself. It was a very hot day, and Lancelot and I, who had been collecting firewood on the near slope of the hill, but a few yards from the creek where our craft was beached, were lying down for a brief rest under a tree and talking together of old times. The sight of a small gaudy parrot, of which there was an abundance in the island, had sent our memories back to that parlour of Mr. Davies's where we had first met, and where there were parrots on the wall, and so we chatted very pleasantly.
By-and-by our talk flagged a little, for we grew drowsy with the heat, and our eyes closed and we fell into dozes, from which we would lazily wake up to enjoy the warm air and the bright sunlight and the vivid colours of everything about us, sea and sky and trees and flowers and grasses.
I remember very well musing as I lay there upon the strangeness of disposition which leads men to pine out their lives in the mean air of smoky cities, with all their hardship and their unloveliness, when the world has so many brave places only waiting for bold spirits to come and dwell therein. Boylike, I had forgotten all the perils which I had undergone before ever I came to Fair Island. I was only conscious of the delicious appearance of the place, of our good fortune in finding so fair a haven; and if only Captain Marmaduke and my mother had been with us I think I could have been very well content to pass the remainder of my days upon that island, which seemed to me to the full as enchanted as any I had read of in the Arabian tales.
I had dropped into a kind of sleep, in which I dreamt that I was Sindbad the Sailor, when I was awakened by a light step and the sound of a soft voice. I looked up and saw that Marjorie was bending over Lancelot, who was sitting up by me. She held him by the arm and pointed out across the sea.
'Don't you see something out there?' she asked, speaking quite low, as she always did when excited by anything.
Lancelot and I followed the direction of her gaze and her outstretched finger, and discerned very far away upon the sea a small black object. It lay between us and the island we had left, but somewhat to the right of it.
'What is it?' I asked.
'That's just what I want to know,' said Marjorie. 'How if it should be savages?'
The very thought was disquieting. We had grown so secure that we had almost forgotten the possibility of such dangers; but now, at Marjorie's words, the possibilities came clearly back to me. Captain Marmaduke had told us many a time stories about savages and their war canoes and their barbarous weapons, and it was very likely indeed that what we saw was a boat filled with such creatures creeping across the sea to attack us.
It moved very slowly across the smooth waters, and there was a strong bright sun, which played upon the surface of the water very dazzlingly, which added to our difficulty in understanding the floating object. But as it came slowly nearer we saw that it must be some kind of vessel, for we distinguished what was clearly a mast with a sail, though, as there was very little wind that morning, the sail hung idly by the mast. A little later we were able to be sure that what we saw was a kind of raft, with, as I have said, a mast and sail, but that its propulsion came from some human beings who were aboard it, and who were causing its slow progress with oars. By this time I had got out a spy-glass from our tent; and then Lancelot gave a cry of amazement, for he recognised in the new-comers certain of those colonists our companions whom we had left behind on the hither island. There were five of them on board, all of whom Lancelot named to us, and as he named them, Marjorie and I, looking through the glass in turns, were able to recognise them too. By-and-by they saw us too, for one of them stood up on the raft, and stripping off his shirt waved it feebly in the air as a signal to us, a signal which we immediately answered by waving our kerchiefs. It takes a long time to tell, but the thing itself took longer to happen, for it must have been fully an hour after we first noted the raft before it came close to the shore of our island.
As soon as it was within a couple of boats' lengths Lancelot and I, in our impatience and our anxiety to aid, ran into the water, which was shallow there, for the beach sloped gently, and was not waist high when we reached the voyagers, so that we had no fear of sharks. The new-comers were huddled together on as rudely fashioned a raft as it had ever been my lot to see, and had it not been for the astonishing tranquillity of the sea it is hard to believe that they could have made a hundred yards without coming to pieces. They all leaped into the water now, and between us we ran the crazy raft on to the beach, Lancelot and I doing the most part of the work, for the poor wretches that had been on board of her seemed to be sorely exhausted and scarcely able to speak as they splashed and staggered through the shallow water to the shore, where Marjorie was waiting anxiously for us.
They did speak, however, when once they were safely on dry land and had taken each a sip from our water-bottles, for all their throats were parched and swollen with thirst. It was a terrible tale which they had to tell, and it made us shiver and grow sick while they told it. I will tell it again now, not, indeed, in their words, which were wild, rambling, and disconnected, but in my own words, making as plain a tale of it as I can, for indeed it needs no skill to exaggerate the horror of it.
THE STORY FROM THE SEA
In few words, it came to this. The sailors on the island had proved themselves to be as bloody villains as had ever fed the gallows. They had taken the unhappy colonists by surprise and had massacred them, all but the women and the children. As for the women—poor things!—it would have been better for them if they had been killed with the others, but their lives were spared for greater sorrows. Those who told us that tale were all that were left, they said, of the unhappy company. They had escaped by mere chance to the woods, and had fashioned with their axes the rough raft and oars which had conducted them at last to us and to temporary safety.
This was their first raw story. Horrid as it was it took a stronger horror when one of the men shouted a curse at Cornelys Jensen.
'Cornelys Jensen!' I cried. 'Cornelys Jensen—Cornelys Jensen is dead, and the seas have swallowed him.'
The man who had uttered his name gave a great groan.
'Would to Heaven they had,' he said. 'But Heaven has not been so merciful. That tiger still lives and lusts for blood.'
Marjorie and Lancelot and I glanced at each other in amazement, and the same thought crossed all our minds—that fear and grief had crazed the unhappy man who was speaking to us. But he, reading something of our thoughts in our eyes, turned to his fellows for confirmation, and confirmation they readily gave. Cornelys Jensen was alive. Cornelys Jensen was on the island. Cornelys Jensen was the instigator of the massacre, the bloodiest actor in the bloody work.
Here was indeed amazing tidings, and we cried to know more, but the men had no more to tell. They had no knowledge of how Cornelys Jensen made his appearance upon the island; all they knew was that he did appear, and that his appearance was the signal for a display of weapons on the part of the sailors on his side and the massacre of all the unhappy wretches who were not inclined to his piratical purposes. The colonists seemed to have made no sort of stand for their lives. Indeed, it would appear that they were taken quite unawares, and that the most were struck down before they had time to act in their own defence. As for the miserable wretches who told us this tale, they had fled to the woods when the wicked business began, and the murderers either lost count of them or imagined that they must perish miserably of famine in the forest. Indeed, they must have so perished if it had not occurred to one of them, who had his wits a little more about him than the others, to suggest the manufacture of a raft, whereby they might make the attempt to reach the island, where, as they guessed, we, with our well-armed fellows, were safely settled. 'For,' as the man argued, 'we risk death either way. If we stop here we must either perish among these trees for lack of sustenance or must creep back to the piratical camp with little other hope than a stroke from a hanger, or tempt the seas in the hope of friends and safety.' So they fashioned a raft as well as they could out of a number of fallen trees, which they fastened together with natural ropes made of the long creeping plants that abounded, and that were as tough and as endurable as ever was rope that was weaved out of honest hemp. They found enough timber for their craft among the fallen tree trunks, and they had the less difficulty in their work that one of their number was Janes, who had his saw in his belt at the moment of their flight to the woods.
Long before they finished telling their tale our men, who were scattered abroad in the woods, came tumbling down to us at the sound of the horn, that Lancelot wound to summon them, and gathered in horror around their unhappy comrades. As for me, I was so amazed at the news that Cornelys Jensen was alive that I stood for awhile like one stunned, and could say nothing, but only stare at those pale faces and wonder dumbly. When after awhile the power of speech did return to me I strove with many questions to find out how Jensen was thus restored to life and to evil deeds, but as to that they none of them knew anything. If the marvel of Jensen's reappearance was the greatest marvel, marvel only second to it was how the sailors who obeyed him came to have weapons for their business. As to that, again, the fugitives could give no help. The sailors had arms, every man of them, muskets and pistols and cutlasses, and had used them with deadly effect. It was all a mystery that made our senses sick to think upon.
Of one thing the fugitives were very positive—that Jensen and his murderers would very soon make a descent upon our island, in the hope of surprising us unawares and killing us. For now they were very numerous, and at least as well-armed as we were, and would make very formidable enemies. The only wonder was that they had not already attempted it, but the men believed that the villains were so engrossed in a swinish orgie after their triumph as to be heedless of time or prudence. So here were we—but thirty-two men in all, not counting these fugitives—and with one woman, though so brave an one—in urgent peril. It was fortunate for us all that in Lancelot's youth there was an alliance of courage with skill which would have done credit to a general of fifty. I was not much in those days in the way of giving advice, but I was strong and active, and ready to obey Lancelot in all things, which was what was most wanted of me in that juncture. We had every reason to be confident in the fidelity and courage of the men who were with us, and our confidence was not misplaced.
The first thing to be done was to settle the fugitives in the utmost comfort we could afford them. We put them to rest in one of our tents we had built, and gave to each of them a taste of strong waters, after which we urged them to sleep if they could, adding, to encourage them in that effort, that the sooner their bodies were refreshed by rest and food the better they would be able to bear their part in resisting the common enemy. This argument had great weight with the men, who were very willing to be of help, but too hopelessly worn out just then to be of the smallest aid to us or the smallest obstacle to our enemies. Indeed, the poor fellows were so broken with fear and suffering that I think they would have slept if they had heard that Cornelys Jensen, with all his pack, had landed upon the island. As it was, in a very few minutes all of them were lying in a row and sleeping soundly. I could almost have wept as I looked upon them lying there so quiet and so miserable, and thought of all the high hopes with which they had entered upon the adventure that had proved so disastrous for them and so fatal for so many of their companions.
Having thus disposed of them, our next course was to take such steps as we could towards strengthening our position. To begin with, we hauled our boat further up the creek than she now was, for it would be a terrible misfortune to us if anything were to happen to her, seeing that on her depended any chance we had of leaving the island if we were so far pushed as to have to make the attempt. Our position was not an easy one to attack as it stood, coming, as the attack must, from the island we had left, for of an attack in our rear we had no danger. Even if Cornelys Jensen were able to get to the back of our island, it would take him an intolerable time to make his way through the well-nigh impenetrable woods that lay between us. On our front we felt confident that the attack would come, and we felt further confident that, even if it was made with the full force of ruffians that Jensen had at his command, we ought to be able to repulse it, and to prevent the scoundrels from effecting a landing. For though the news that they were thoroughly equipped with the weapons and munitions of war was wofully disheartening news, still, as we were well-armed ourselves, it did not altogether discourage us. They might be very well two to one, but two to one is no such great odds when the larger party has to effect a landing upon an open place held by resolute men and well weaponed.
It was, in Lancelot's judgment, our first duty to erect a sort of fort or stockade upon the beach, wherein we could take shelter if we were really hard pressed, and wherein we could store for greater safety our stores and ammunition from our skiff. We had set up several huts along the shore of the creek for habitation and for storage of our goods. But they would have offered no protection in case of an attack, being but mere shells hurriedly put together, and intended merely as temporary shelters from possible foul weather. Lancelot's scheme was to enclose all these buildings in a strong wall, and to connect that fort by another wall with the spot at which our skiff was beached.
There was no great difficulty in the construction of such a stockade in itself. Timber enough and to spare was to be had for the chopping, and we had thirty odd pairs of arms and sufficient axes to make that a matter of no difficulty. Nor was there any difficulty as regards the building of such a fort, for Lancelot's knowledge of military matters made him quite capable of planning it out according to the most approved methods of fortification.
We set to work upon the stockade at once, and soon were chopping away for dear life, even Marjorie wielding a light axe, and wielding it well. Many hands, it is said, make light work, and there were enough of us to make the business move pretty quickly. Choosing trees with trunks of a middling thickness, we soon had a great quantity cut down and made of the length that was needed. These we proceeded to set up in the places that Lancelot had marked out, but first we dug deep trenches in the ground so as to ensure their being firmly established, Marjorie taking her share of the spade work with a will. We had not done very much before Abraham Janes, the carpenter, came out of the hut and joined us. He declared that he was now well refreshed, and that he wished to bear his part in the labour; and indeed we were very glad to let him do so, because he was an exceedingly skilful workman, and very ready with the use of saw and hatchet.
THE BUSINESS BEGINS
With toil we set up the front of our stockade and a portion of the sides of the parallelogram. It was all loopholed for our musketry, and was firm and strong, being carefully stiffened behind by cross beams and shored up with buttresses of big logs in a manner that, if not thoroughly workmanlike, was at least satisfactory from the point of strength, which was just then our main consideration. Our palisade was about double the height of a man, and in the centres, both front and back, there was a gate, that was held in its place when shut by heavy bars of wood which fitted into holes cut to receive them.
Ere set of sun we had our outworks completed, and found ourselves the possessors of a very creditable stockade, which under ordinary conditions ought, if properly manned and well supplied with ammunition, to resist the attack of a very much greater number than the defending party. It was still in our mind to run out a palisade that should connect our stronghold with the place where the skiff lay, but it was too late, and we were now too exhausted to think of that, for we had worked at our task ever since we had got the alarm, and it was really impossible for us to do more in that work.
But before we rested we conveyed from our boat all our stores and all our arms and ammunition—of which latter, indeed, we had no great quantity, a matter which we had not heeded before, but which now gave us great trouble. We brought in abundance of water, and we had ample provisions, which the island itself had in chief part offered to us, so that we could hold our own very well for a time in case it came to a siege. Our hope, however, was that we might be able to prevent the pirates from effecting a landing at all.
When we went to seek rest for the night we took care to set good guard and to keep strict watch, for a night attack was possible, if it was not very likely.
Though we were all very tired, both bodily and mentally, by reason of the labour of our hands and the strain upon our minds, I do not think that any of us found sleep very easy to come at first. I only know that I lay on my back and stared up at the stars—for the night was too hot to sleep under cover—for long enough. At last I fell asleep, and through sleep into a fitful feverish dream, which chopped and changed from one place and subject to another; but at last it settled down into one decided dream—and that was a good dream, for it was a dream of Marjorie. It seemed that I was walking with her along the downs beyond Sendennis, not far from that place where Lancelot found me blubbering in years gone by, and that I was telling her that I loved her, and that she let me hold her hand while I told her, which showed that she was not averse to my tale, and that when I had done she turned and looked me full in the face, and there was love—love for me—in her eyes.
Then I awoke suddenly and found it was full day, and that Marjorie was bending over me. For the moment I did not recollect where I was, and stared in surprise at the great wooden paling by which we were surrounded. Then recollection of the whole situation came back to me in a flash, and I leapt to my feet.
All around me the men were making preparations for the morning meal, or were engaged in looking to their weapons, testing the sharpness of a cutlass or seeing to the priming of a matchlock. The big door of the stronghold was open, and through it I could see the white beach and the sea-edge, where Lancelot stood scanning the horizon with the spy-glass. The sun was very bright, and I could hear the parrots screaming away in the woods behind us.
'Come outside, Ralph,' said Marjorie. 'I want to speak with you.'
We went out together through the gate into the open, and walked slowly a little way in the direction of the sea. Both of us looked, naturally enough, to that island where our enemies lay. Presently we halted and stood in silence a few minutes, and then Marjorie spoke.
'Ralph,' she said quietly, 'you are my friend, I believe.'
I had it in my heart to cry wild words to her; to tell her again that I loved her then and for ever, but though the words tingled on my lips they never took life and sound. For Marjorie was looking at me so steadfastly and sadly with a strange gravity in the angel-blue of her eyes that I could not speak what she might not wish to hear. So I simply nodded my head and held out my hand and caught hers and clasped it close.
'Ralph,' she said again. 'We fight for the right, but right is not always might, and our enemies may overpower us. If they do—' here I thought she paled a little, but her voice was as firm as ever—'if they do, I want you to promise me one promise.'
I suppose the look in my face assured her that there was nothing she could ask of me that I would not obey, for she went on without waiting for me to speak:
'I have the right to ask you because of some words you once said to me, words which I remember. If the worst comes you must kill me. Hush'—for I gave a groan as she spoke.
'That must be. I have heard enough to know that I must not live if our enemies triumph. If I were alone I should kill myself; if you were not here I should have to ask Lancelot, but you are here and I would rather it happened by your hand.'
It was strange to stand on that quiet shore by that quiet sea and look into that beautiful face and listen to that beautiful voice and hear it utter such words. But my heart thrilled with a wild pride at her prayer.
'I will do your bidding,' I said, and she answered 'I thank you.' We might have been talking of nothing in particular so even were our voices and so simple was our speech. I pressed her hand and let it go. Then, swiftly, she came a little nearer and took my face in her dear hands and kissed me on the forehead, and there are no words in the world sweet enough or sacred enough to interpret my thoughts in that moment. Then she moved away and made to go towards Lancelot, but even as she did so I saw him turn and run towards us along the beach. As soon as he joined us he bade Marjorie go to our hut and blow the horn to bring our people together. After that she was to wait in her own shelter till he came for her. She obeyed him unquestioningly, as she always did in those days of danger, and for a moment Lancelot and I were alone.
'Here they come,' he said very tranquilly. 'See for yourself.' And he handed the spy-glass to me.
As I put it to my eye he added: 'I can't understand where they get their rig from.'
Neither could I. As I looked through the glass I could see that two boats were coming slowly towards us, and that each boat was full of men. It was surprising enough to see them coming in boats, but it was not that which had chiefly surprised either Lancelot or me. Our wonder was caused by the fact that all the men in the boats were clad in scarlet coats, scarlet coats that looked very bright and clean and new.
'Can these be our men at all?' I asked of Lancelot in amazement. I could not for the life of me conceive what other men they could be, but the sight of all those scarlet coats filled me with astonishment.
Lancelot took the spy-glass from me again without replying, and looked long and patiently at the approaching boats.
'Yes,' he said at last, 'they are our men sure enough, for I see the face of Jensen among them. But how on earth has he contrived to deck out all his gang of rascals in the likeness of soldiers?' He paused for a moment; then added thoughtfully: ''Tis our Providence that the Royal Christopher lost her cannon. Yonder stronghold would be no better than so much pasteboard against a couple of the ship's guns.'
We had no time for further converse. The sound of the horn had rallied our party, and soon the whole of our men were gathered about us, staring over the sea at those two moving blots of scarlet. I cast an anxious glance at the face of each man of our little party, and when I had finished I did not feel anxious any more. I could see by the face of every man that he meant to fight and to fight his best.
Lancelot lost no time in getting the men into order and in arranging exactly what was to be done. It was curious, perhaps, although I did not think it curious then, that these men should have accepted so unquestioningly Lancelot's command over them. But they were old soldiers, who had promised to obey Captain Amber, and he had himself devolved his command upon Lancelot. And so, until Lancelot went stark staring mad, which he was not in the least likely to do, they were perfectly prepared to obey him.
I should not be adhering to the spirit of truthfulness which I have observed in setting down these my early experiences if I did not confess that I faced the fact of coming conflict with very mingled emotions. This was the very first time that I had ever seen human beings about to close in bloody strife. Here I found myself standing up with arms in my hands, ready to take away the life of a fellow-creature—to take away the lives of several fellow-creatures, if needs must. Moreover, I knew very well that there were plenty of chances of my getting knocked on the head in this my first scrimmage, and I trembled a little inwardly—though not, as I believe, outwardly—at the thought of my promise to Marjorie. And yet even with that thought a new courage came into my heart. For I immediately resolved that, come what might, I would endeavour to carry myself in such a manner as Marjorie would have me carry myself, namely, as an honest man should, fighting to the best of his ability for what he believed to be the right cause, and not making too much of a fuss about it. And that resolve nerved me better than a dram of spirits would have done, and I set aside the flask from which I had been on the point to help myself.
I do not know if Lancelot felt like that in any degree, and I never presumed to question him on the point afterwards, as there are some topics upon which gentlemen cannot approach each other, however great the degree of intimacy may be between them. But he certainly carried himself as composedly as if we were standing in a ball-room before the dancing began. It is true that he had been brought up to understand the military life and the use of arms, and he had seen a battle fought in the Low Countries, and had fought a duel himself in France with some uncivil fellow. He never looked handsomer, brighter, more gallant than then, and his faded sea-clothes became him as well as the richest gala suit or finest uniform that courtier or soldier ever wore. He had an exquisite neatness of his person ever, and had contrived every day upon that island to shave himself, so that while most of his fellows bore bristling beards, and my own chin was as raspy as a hedgehog, he might have presented himself at the Court of St. James's, so spruce was his appearance.
When all was ready Lancelot drew up his men very soldierly and made them a little speech. He bade them bear in mind that the men who were about to attack us were not merely our own enemies, but the King's; and not merely the King's enemies, but Heaven's, because, being pirates, they sinned against the laws of Heaven as well as the laws of earth. He bade them be sure that they need look for no mercy from such fellows, and that therefore it behoved every man of them to fight his best, both for his own sake and for the sake of his companions; but also he conjured them, if the victory went with them, not to forget that even those pirates were made in God's image, albeit vilely perverted, and that it was our duty as Christians and as soldiers to show them more mercy than they would deal out to us. He ended by reminding them that they were Englishmen, and that a portion of England's honour and glory depended upon the way in which they carried themselves that day. To all of which they listened attentively, every man standing steady as if on parade.
When Lancelot had quite finished he pulled off his hat and swung it in the air, calling upon them to huzza for the King.
Then there went up from our band such a cheer as did my heart good. The island rang for the first time in its life to the huzzaing with which those stout fellows greeted the name of the King. Again and yet again their voices shook the silence with that manly music, and I, while I shouted as loud as the rest of them, glowed with pride to think that courage and loyalty were the same all the world over. Nothing has ever made me prouder than the courage of that knot of men about to engage in a doubtful conflict in a nameless place with a gang of devils, and gallantly cheering for their King before beginning it.
Those men in scarlet must have heard that cheer and been not a little amazed by it. I dare say that by this time Cornelys Jensen had seen us through his spy-glass. If so, how he must have cursed at our readiness and at the sight of our stockade!
It was decided by Lancelot that the first thing to do was to prevent the pirates from landing. If they succeeded by untoward chance in effecting a landing, then all of us who were lucky enough to be left alive were to retreat with all speed to the stronghold and fasten ourselves in there. To this end the gate was left open, and in the charge of two men, whose duty it would be to swing it to and bolt it the moment the last of our men had got inside. A few men were left inside the stockade, including the fugitives, to whom we had given arms. The main body of our men were drawn up along the beach, with their muskets ready. Between these and the stockade a few men were thrown out to cover our retreat, if retreat there had to be.
It was anxious work to watch the advance of those two boats with their scarlet crews over that tranquil tropic sea. The water was smooth, as it had been now for days, and their coming was steady and measured. As had been the case ever since we made Fair Island, there was almost no wind, so that their sails were of little service, but their rowing was excellent, as the rowing of good seamen always is. And, villains though they were, those underlings of Jensen's were admirable sailors.
When they were quite near we could recognise the faces of the fellows in the two boats. Cornelys Jensen was in the first boat, and he was dressed out as sumptuously as any general of our army on a field day. For though every man jack of them in the two boats was blazing in scarlet, and though that scarlet cloth was additionally splendid with gold lace, the cloth and the cut of Jensen's coat were finer and better than those of the others, and it was adorned and laced with far greater profusion. With his dark face and evil expression he looked, to my mind, in all his finery more like my lady's monkey in holiday array than man, pirate, or devil, although he was indeed all three.
Every man in those two boats was decked out in scarlet cloth and gold lace—except one. Every man in those two boats was heavily armed with muskets, pistols and cutlasses—except one. The exception was a man who sat by the side of Jensen. He was clad in black, and his face was very pale, and there was an ugly gash of a raw wound across his forehead. I could see that his hands were tied behind him, and in the wantonness of power Jensen had laid his own bare hanger across the prisoner's knees. I knew the captive at once. He was the Reverend Mr. Ebrow, who had so strengthened us by his exhortation during our peril on board the Royal Christopher.
When Lancelot saw whom they had with them and the way that those villains treated their captive I noted that his face paled, and that there came a look into his eyes which I had not often seen there, but which meant no good for Jensen and his scum if Lancelot got the top of them. For Lancelot was a staunch Churchman and a respecter of ministers of God's Word, and as loyal to his religion as he was to his King.
There was one face which I missed out of those boatloads of blackguards, a face which I had very confidently expected to find most prominent amongst them. When I missed it in the first boat I made sure that I should find it in the second, and probably in the place of command; but it was not there either, very much to my surprise. At that crisis in our affairs, at that instant of peril to my life, I was for the moment most perturbed, or at least most puzzled by the fact that I could not find this familiar face among the collection of scarlet-coated scoundrels who were creeping in upon us.
The face that I was looking for was a face that would have gone well enough too with a scarlet coat, for it was a scarlet face in itself. I looked for that red-haired face which I had seen for the first time leering at me over Barbara's shoulders on the last day that ever I set foot within the Skull and Spectacles. I was looking for the face of Jensen's partner in treason—Hatchett.
By this time our enemies had come to within perhaps ten boats' lengths of Fair Island. All this time they had kept silence, and all this while we had kept silence also. But now, as if Lancelot had made up his mind exactly at what point he would take it upon him to act, we assumed the defensive. For Lancelot gave the command to make ready and to present our pieces, and his words came from his lips as clearly and as composedly as if he were only directing some drilling on an English green. In a moment all our muskets were at the shoulder, while Lancelot called out to the pirates that if they rowed another inch nearer he would give the order to fire. Our men were steady men, and, though I am sure that more than one of them was longing to empty his piece into the boats, all remained as motionless as if on parade.
The pirate boats came to a dead stop, and I could see that all the men who were not busy with the oars were gripping their guns. But Jensen kept them down with a gesture. Then, as the boats were steady, he rose to his feet and waved a white handkerchief in sign that he wished for parley. It was part of the foppishness of the fellow that the handkerchief was edged with lace, like a woman's or a grandee's.
Lancelot called out to him to know what he wanted. Jensen shouted back that he wished to parley with us. Lancelot promptly made answer that he needed no parley, that he knew him and his crew for traitors, murderers, and pirates, with whom he would have no dealings save by arms.
At those bold words of his we could see that the fellows in the scarlet coats were furious, and we could guess from their gestures that many of them were urging Jensen to attack us at once, thinking, no doubt, that they might return our fire and, being able to effect a landing before we could reload, might cut us to pieces.
But, whatever their purposes were, Jensen restrained them, and it was a marvel to see the ease with which he ruled those savages. He again addressed himself to Lancelot, warning him that it would be for his peace and the peace of those who were with him to come to some understanding with the invaders. And at last, having spoken some time without shaking Lancelot's resolve, Jensen asked if he would at least receive an envoy upon the island.
Lancelot was about to refuse again when something crossed his mind, and he shouted back to Jensen to know whom he would send. Jensen, who had probably divined his thoughts, clapped his hand upon the shoulder of that prisoner of his who sat by his side all in black, and called out to Lancelot that he proposed to send the parson as his envoy. To this Lancelot agreed, but I saw that he looked anxious, for it crossed his mind, as he afterwards told me, that this proposition might merely serve as an excuse for the pirate boats to come close, and so give them a better chance of attacking us. However, the pirates made no such attempt. It may be that Jensen, who was quick of wit, guessed Lancelot's thought. The boats remained where they were. We saw the reverend gentleman stand up. One of Jensen's fellows untied his hands, and then without more ado Jensen caught the poor man up by his waistband and straightway flung him into the sea.
A cry of anger broke from Lancelot's lips when he saw this, for he feared that the man might drown. But he was a fair swimmer, and the distance was not so great, so within a few seconds of his plunge he found his depth and came wading towards us with the water up to his middle, looking as wretched as a wet rat, while all the rogues in the boats laughed loud and long at the figure he cut.
Lancelot rushed forward into the water to give him his hand, and so drew the poor fellow on to the dry land and amongst us again.
The first thing he did was to assure us—which was indeed hardly necessary, considering his cloth and his character—that he was in no wise leagued with the pirates, but simply and solely a prisoner at their mercy, whose life they had preserved that he might be of use to them as a hostage.
Lancelot called out to the pirate boats to withdraw further back, which they did after he had passed his word that he would confer with them again in a quarter of an hour, after he had heard what their envoy had to say. When they had withdrawn out of gunshot, their scarlet suits glowing like two patches of blood on the water, then Lancelot, still bidding our line to be on guard against any surprise, withdrew with me and the clergyman and two or three of our friends a little way up the beach. And there we called upon Mr. Ebrow to tell us all that he had to tell.
AN ILL TALE
It was an ill tale which he had to tell, and he told it awkwardly, for he was not a little confused and put about, both by his wound and by his treatment at the hands of those people. We gave him somewhat to eat and drink, and he munched and sipped between sentences, for he had not fared well with the pirates. We would have given him a change of raiment, too, after his ducking, but this he refused stiffly, saying that he was well enough as he was, and that a wetting would not hurt him. And he was indeed a strong, tough man.
Much of what he had to tell us we knew, of course, already—of the appearance of Jensen on the island, of the attack upon the colonists and the massacre of the most part of them. He himself had got his cut over the head in the fight, a cut that knocked him senseless, so that by the time he came to again the business was over and the pirates were masters of the island.
But he was able to tell us the thing we most wanted to know, the thing which the fugitives could give us no inkling of, and that was how it came to pass that Jensen, whom we all deemed dead and drowned, should have come so calamitously to life again.
It was, it seemed, in this wise. Jensen, who united a madman's cunning to a bad man's daring, saw that my suspicions of him might prove fatal to his plans. Those plans had indeed been, as I had guessed, to seize the Royal Christopher and make a pirate ship of her, with himself for her captain; and to that end he had manned the ship with men upon whom he could rely, many of whom had been pirates before, all of whom were willing to go to any lengths for the sake of plunder and pleasure. But so long as our party were suspicious of him, and had arms in readiness to shoot him and his down at the first show of treachery, it was plain to a simpler man that his precious scheme stood every chance of coming to smoke.
He guessed, therefore, that if we could be led to believe that he was dead and done with our suspicions would be lulled, and he would be left with a fair field to carry out his plan. To that end he devised a scheme to befool us, and, having primed his party as to his purpose, he carried it out with all success.
It was no man's body that went overboard on that night, but merely a mighty beam of wood that one of Jensen's confederates cast over the vessel's side just before he raised the cry of 'Man overboard!' Jensen himself was snugly concealed in the innermost parts of the ship, where he lay close, laughing in his sleeve at us and our credulity. After we left he came out of his hole and made his way to Early Island, as agreed upon with his companions, who, on his arrival, butchered the most of the colonists.
One mystery was disposed of. So was the other mystery—how Jensen and his men came to be so well-armed and so gaily attired. When our expedition was preparing, Captain Marmaduke commissioned Jensen to buy a store of all manner of agricultural and household implements and utensils for the use of the young colony. Now, as such gear was not likely to be of service to Jensen in his piracies, he was at pains to serve his own ends while he pretended to obey the Captain's commands.
He had therefore made up and committed to the hold a quantity of cases which professed to contain what the Captain had commanded. But never a spade or pick, never a roasting-jack or flat-iron, never a string of beads or a mirror for barter with natives was to be found in all those boxes. If our colony had ever by any chance arrived at their goal they would have found themselves in sore straits for the means of tilling the earth and of cooking their food.
The boxes contained instead a great quantity of arms, such as muskets and pistols and cutlasses, together with abundance of ammunition in the shape of powder, bullets and shot. Others of those boxes contained goodlier gear, for Jensen was a vain rogue as well as a clever rogue, and dearly loved brave colours about him and to make a gaudy show. I believe that it was a passion for power and the pomp that accompanies power more than anything else which drove him to be a pirate, and that if he could have been, say, a great Minister of State, who is, after all, often only another kind of pirate, he might have carried himself very well and been looked upon by the world at large as a very decent, public-spirited sort of fellow. I have known men in high office with just such passion for display and dominion as Jensen, and I do not think that there is much to choose between him and them in that regard.
So sundry of those lying boxes were loaded with gay clothing, such as those scarlet coats with which we had now made acquaintance, and which were fashioned on the pattern of those of the bodyguard of His Majesty, only much more flauntingly tricked out with gold lace and gilded buttons. It added a shade of darkness to the treachery of this scoundrel that he should thus presume to parade himself in a parody of such a uniform.
But besides all this there was yet another secret which those same false coffers concealed. He had dealings with shipbuilders at Haarlem, who were noted for their ingenuity and address, and this firm had built for him two large skiffs, which were made in such a fashion that the major part of them could be taken to pieces and the whole packed away in a small space with safety and convenience for his purpose. These vessels were as easily put together as taken to pieces, and were as serviceable a kind of boat as ever vessel carried. And so there was the rascal well prepared to make sure of our ship.