It makes my heart bleed now, after all these years, to think how the fellow deceived my dear patron, and how the Royal Christopher went sailing the seas with that secret in her womb, and that we all walked those decks night after night and day after day, and never suspected the treason that lay beneath our feet.
But we never did suspect it, and when the time came for us to leave the ship in a hurry we had little thought in our minds of taking agricultural implements or household gear or articles of barter with us. So they lay there snugly in the hold, and Jensen with them, and Jensen was busy and happy in his wicked way in getting at them, and in laughing as he did so over our folly in being deceived by him.
It seems that after the departure of Lancelot and our little party certain of the sailors, as agreed upon beforehand, made their way back to the ship, and in the dead of night transported the greater quantity of the weapons and ammunition. They put the skiffs together, too, and lowered them over the side. The camp had gone to rest when Jensen, shrieking like a fiend, leaped from his concealment among the trees and gave the signal for attack. The butchery was brief. The few men who were armed found that their weapons had been rendered useless, but even if their murderers had not taken that precaution their victims could have made no sort of a stand. They were taken by surprise. The horrible cries that the pirates made as they rushed from their ambush helped to dishearten the colonists, for they took those noises for the war-cries of savages, and they yielded to the panic. A very few escaped from the slaughter, and hid themselves in the woods in the centre of the island. The manner of their escape I have already related. It seemed from what the parson now told us that Jensen made little effort to pursue them, feeling confident that they must perish miserably from hunger and thirst, if not from wild beasts, in the jungle.
The first use Jensen made of his triumph was to bring over to the island from the wreck everything that he believed to be needful for the comfort and adornment of his person and the persons of his following. All the arms and ammunition that his malign thoughtfulness had provided, all the fine clothes that he had hidden away, all the store of wines and strong waters that still remained upon the ship were carefully disembarked and brought to Early Island. He dressed himself and his followers up in the smart clothes that we had seen, called himself king of the island, made his companions take a solemn oath of allegiance to him and sign it with their blood, and then they all gave themselves up to an orgie.
For, bad as all this was to tell and to listen to, there was still worse to be told and heard. To treachery and bloodshed were added treachery and lust. The cup of Jensen's iniquity was more than full. It ran over and was spilt upon the ground, crying out to Heaven for vengeance.
There were, as you know, women among our colonists—not many, but still some, the wives of some of the settlers, the daughters and sisters of others. None of these were hurt when Jensen and his fellow-fiends made their attack—none of them, unhappily for themselves, were killed. My cheeks blazed with shame and wrath as I listened to what the parson had to say, and if Jensen had been before me I would have been rejoiced to pistol him with my own hand.
The women were parcelled out among the men as the best part of their booty. There was not a wickeder place on God's earth at that hour than the island, and its sins, as I thought, should be blotted out by a thunderbolt from Heaven.
Yet there is something still worse to come, as I take it. In all this infamy Jensen reserved for himself the privilege of a deeper degree of infamy. For he told Hatchett, it seems, that he must give up Barbara, and when Hatchett laughed in his face Jensen shot him dead where he stood and took her by force. Such was the terror the man inspired that no one of all his fellows presumed to avenge Hatchett, or even to protest against the manner of his death. As for the woman, as for Barbara, she was a strong woman, and she loved Hatchett with all her heart, and she fought, I believe, hard. But if she was strong, Jensen was stronger, and merciless. He had everything his own way at the island; he had his arts of taming people, and the parson told me that he had tamed Barbara.
I have had to set these wrongs down here for the sake of truth, and to justify our final deeds against Jensen and his gang. I have set them down as barely and as briefly as possible, for there are some things so terrible that they scarcely bear the telling. I cannot be more particular; the whole bad business was hideous in the extreme, with all the hideousness that could come from a mind like Jensen's—a mind begotten of the Bottomless Pit.
But in all my sorrow I was grateful to Heaven that Marjorie had not been left upon that other island. Better for her to die here by the hand of the man who loved her than to have been on that island at the mercy of such men. Thank God, thank God, thank God! I said to myself again and again. I could say nothing more, I could think nothing more, only thank God, thank God!
WE DEFY JENSEN
That unhappy Barbara! Her sin had found her out indeed. She was a wicked woman, for she had been part and parcel in the treason, she had been hand and glove with the traitors. But she did not mean such wickedness to the women-folk, and she did what she had done for her husband's sake, thinking that he would be a pirate king and she his consort. This was what she meant when she had called herself a queen. With such falsehoods had Jensen stuffed the ears of the man and his wife, snaring them to their fate. As I had loved her once, so I pitied her now. She had shared in a great crime, but it would be hard to shape a greater penalty for her sin.
By the time that the parson had finished his story we who were listening to him felt dismal, and we looked at each other grimly.
'What is the first thing to be done?' Lancelot said softly, more to himself than as really asking any advice upon the matter from us.
'Fire a volley upon those devils when they draw near, and so rid the earth of them,' I suggested.
Lancelot shook his head.
'They are under the protection of a flag of truce——' he began, when I interrupted him hotly.
'What right,' I raged at him, 'what right have such devils to the consideration of honourable warfare and of honourable men?'
'None whatever; but that does not change us from being honourable men and from carrying on our contest according to the rules of honourable warfare. They are devils, ruffians, what you will, but we—we are gentlemen, and we have passed our word. We cannot go back from that.'
I know very well that I blushed a fiery red, from rage against our enemy and shame at Lancelot's reproof. But I said nothing, and Mr. Ebrow spoke.
'Mr. Amber,' he said, clasping Lancelot's hand as he spoke, 'you are in the right, in the very right, as a Christian soldier and a Christian gentleman. Their hour will come without our anticipating it.' And then he wrung my hand warmly, in token that he understood my feelings too, and did not overmuch blame me.
'One thing at least is certain,' said Lancelot. 'You must not return to the mercies of those villains.'
Mr. Ebrow drew himself stiffly up. He was wet and weary, and the ugly cut on his forehead did not add to the charm of his rugged face, but just at that moment he seemed handsome.
'Mr. Amber,' he said, 'I passed my word to those men that I would return after I had given you their message, and I will keep my word.'
'But,' said Lancelot, 'they will kill you!'
'It is possible,' said the man of God calmly. 'It is very probable. But I have in my mind the conduct of the Roman Regulus. Should I, who am a minister of Christ, be less nice in my honour than a Pagan?'
'Nay, but if we were to restrain you by force?' asked Lancelot.
'Mr. Amber,' Ebrow answered, 'it was your duty just now to administer a reproof to your friend; I hope you will not force me to reprove you in your turn. I have given my word, and there is an end of it; and if you were to hold me by the strong hand I should think you more worthy to consort with those pirates than with me.'
It was now Lancelot's turn to blush. Then he gripped Mr. Ebrow's hand.
'I beg your pardon,' he said, and there were tears in his eyes as he spoke. 'You have taught me a noble lesson.'
Mr. Ebrow seemed as if he would be going, but I stayed him.
'Reverend sir,' said I, 'may I make so bold as to ask what is this message that you have to deliver to us?'
For, as a matter of fact, we had so plied him with questions, and he had been so busy in answering us, that he had not as yet delivered to us the pirates' message, of which he was the spokesman.
There came a spot of colour on his grey jaws as I spoke.
'True. I fear I make but a poor intermediary,' he said. 'The pirates propose, in the first place, that you make common cause with them, and recognise the authority of Cornelys Jensen as your captain, in the which case Cornelys Jensen guarantees you your share of the spoiling of the Royal Christopher, and in future a fitting proportion of whatever profits may come from their enterprises.'
'I suppose you do not expect us to consider that proposition?' said Lancelot.
Mr. Ebrow almost smiled.
'No, indeed,' he said, 'and I do but discharge my promise in repeating it to you. I must tell you too that he added that he was wishful to make your sister his wife.'
There came into Lancelot's eyes the ugliest look I ever saw there, and for myself I know not how I looked, I know only how I felt, and I will not put my feelings into words. I suppose Mr. Ebrow understood us and our silence, for he went on with his embassy. 'In the second place, then, they call upon you to swear that you will take no part against them, and will, on the contrary, do your endeavour to protect them in case they should be attacked by other forces.'
'That also needs no consideration,' said Lancelot.
Mr. Ebrow nodded.
'Of course not, of course not. Then, in the third place, they call upon you to throw down your weapons and to surrender yourselves to them as prisoners of war, in which case they pledge themselves to respect your lives and preserve you all as hostages for their own safety.'
'And if we refuse even this offer,' Lancelot asked, 'what is to happen then?'
'In that case,' said Mr. Ebrow, 'they declare war against you; they will give you no quarter——'
'Let them wait till they are asked!' I broke in; but Lancelot rested his hand restrainingly upon my arm.
'As for the matter of quarter,' he said, 'it may prove in the end more our business to give it than to seek for it. Quarter we may indeed give in this sense, that even those villains shall not be killed in cold blood if they are willing to surrender. But every man that we take prisoner shall most assuredly be tried for his life for piracy and murder upon the high seas. Will you be so good as to tell those men from me that if they at once surrender the person of Cornelys Jensen and their own weapons they shall be treated humanely, kept in decent confinement, and shall have the benefit of their conduct when the time for trial comes? But this offer will not hold good after to-day, and if they attempt again to approach the island they shall be fired upon.'
'Well and good, sir,' said Mr. Ebrow. 'Have you anything more to say, for my masters did but give me a quarter of an hour, and I feel sure that my time must be expired by now?'
'Only this,' answered Lancelot, 'that if they want to fly their black flag over this island they must come and take it from us.'
I never saw Lancelot look more gallant, with courage and hope in his mien, and the soft wind fretting his hair. But the brightness faded away from his face a moment after as he added:
'It grieves me to heart, sir, that you have to return to those ruffians.'
Mr. Ebrow extended his hand to Lancelot with a wintry smile.
'It is my duty. I do but follow my Master's orders, to do all in His Name and for His glory.'
He wrung Lancelot's hand and mine, and the hand of every man in our troop. He gave us his blessing, and then, turning, walked with erect head to the sea.
As soon as the pirates saw him coming they rowed their boat a little nearer in, when they rested on their oars, while we stood to our guns and the parson waded steadily out into the deeper water.
When he reached their boat they dragged him on board roughly, and we could see from their gestures and his that he was telling them the result of the interview with us.
The telling did not seem to give any great satisfaction to the villains, and least of all to Jensen, for he struck the parson a heavy blow in the face with his clenched hand that felled him, tumbling down among the rowers. Then Jensen turned and shook his fist in our direction, and shouted out something that we could not hear because of the distance and the slight wind.
It seemed to me as if for a moment Jensen had a mind to order his boats to advance and try to effect a landing, and I wished this in my heart, for I was eager to come to blows with the villains, and confident that we should prove a match for them.
But it would seem as if discretion were to prevail with them, in which, indeed, they were wise, for to attempt to land even a more numerous force in the face of our well-armed men would have been rash and a rough business. We saw the boats sweep round and row rapidly away, and we watched those scarlet coats dwindle into red spots in the distance.
THE ATTACK AT LAST
In what I am going to tell there will be little of Marjorie for a while, for sorely against her will we refused to rank her as a fighting man and made her keep within shelter, though busy in many ways making ready for the inevitable attack.
Nothing happened on the next day or the next to disturb our quiet and the beauty of the weather. For all that was evident to the contrary we might very well have been the sole inhabitants of that archipelago, the sole children of those seas, with Marjorie for our queen.
We did not hope, however, nor indeed did we wish, that we had heard the last of our enemies. There was a moment even when Lancelot considered the feasibility of our making an attack upon Early Island in the hope of rescuing some of the captives. But the plan was only suggested to be dismissed. For every argument which told against their attempting to make an attack upon us told with ten times greater force against our making an attack upon them. They outnumbered us; they were perhaps better armed. The odds were too heavily against us. But our hearts burnt within us at the thought of the captives.
We had evidently come in for one of those spells of fine weather which in those regions so often follow upon such a storm as had proved the undoing of the Royal Christopher. If the conditions had been different our lives would have been sufficiently enviable. Fair Island deserves its name; we had summer, food and water; so far as material comfort went, all was well with us.
But mere material comfort could not cheer us much. We were in peril ourselves; we were yet more concerned for the peril of Captain Amber, of whose fortunes and whose whereabouts we knew absolutely nothing. If he failed to meet a ship he was to return to Early Island. What might not be his fate? To diminish in some degree the chance of this catastrophe, we resolved to erect some signal on the highest point of Fair Island, in the hope that it would have the result of attracting his attention and leading him to suppose that the whole of the ship's company were settled down there.
There was no difficulty in the making of such a signal. We had a flag with us in the boat, and all that it was necessary to do was to fix it to the summit of one of the tall trees that crowned the hill which sprang from the centre of Fair Island. In a few hours the flag was flying gallantly enough from its primitive flag-staff, a sufficiently conspicuous object even with a gentle breeze to serve, as we hoped, our turn.
In the two days that followed upon the visit of the pirates we were busy victualling the stockade and supplying it with water, looking to our arms and ammunition, and, which was of first importance, in building a strong fence, loopholed like the stockade. This fence or wall led down to where our boat lay, and enabled us to protect it from any attempt of the pirates to carry it off or to destroy it. In work of this kind the eight-and-forty hours passed away as swiftly as if they had been but so many minutes.
On the afternoon of the third day all our preparations were completed, and I was convinced that within that stockade our scanty force could keep the pirates at bay for a month of Sundays, so long as they did not succeed in getting sufficiently close to employ fire as a means of forcing an entrance. But though I felt cheered I noticed that there was no corresponding cheerfulness in Lancelot's face. He never looked despondent, but he looked dissatisfied.
I drew him aside and asked what troubled him.
'The moon troubles me,' he answered.
'The moon!' I said in astonishment.
'Yes,' he answered, 'the moon—or rather, the absence of the moon. Last night was the moon's last night, and to-night we shall be in darkness after sunset. It is under cover of that darkness that, some time or another, to-night or another night, sooner or later, the pirates will make an attempt to land. For you may be sure that they have not forgotten us, and that they would be glad enough to pull down yonder flag.'
I felt in my heart that what Lancelot said was true enough, but I tried to put a bold face upon it.
'After all,' I said, 'the darkness will be as bad for them as it is for us.'
'No,' Lancelot said; 'they can steer well enough by the stars. If I thought that they could get round to the back of the island and fall upon us that way, I should feel that we were in a very bad case indeed. But of that I have no fear. There is no place for landing in that part, and if there were they would find it hard enough to force their way through the woods. No, no; they will come as they came before.'
I asked him what he thought was the best thing to do. He replied that the only thing was to keep a very sharp look-out, and to fight hard if it came to fighting, a pithy sentence, which seemed to me to sum up the whole art of war—at least, so far as we were concerned who dwelt on Fair Island. To make assurance doubly sure, however, Lancelot did during the day place a man by the flag-staff, from which point, as the hill ran up into a high peak, he would be able to sweep the sea in all directions. With regard to the night, Lancelot showed me how fortunate it was that he had brought the fireworks with us, as, at a pinch, in the darkness, we could get a gleam of light for a minute by firing them.
I was getting so unstrung by all these alarms and watchings that I began to wish that the pirates would come once for all that we might have done with them. For I had confidence in our side and the certainty of its winning which was scarcely logical, maybe, but which, after all, I think is a great deal better than feeling suspicious of the strength of one's own side or speculative as to the merits of one's own cause.
How often afterward, in other places and amid perils as great, or indeed ten times greater, have I remembered that night with all its agony of expectation!
The main part of our little garrison was ensconced in the stockade and sleeping, or seeking to sleep, for every man of us knew well enough that he needed to have all his energies when the struggle came, and that the more rest he got beforehand the better the fighting trim he would be in afterward.
We had sentinels posted at different points along that portion of the coast where landing was possible, and though we had been grateful to it before for being such an easy place to land upon, we could almost have wished in our hearts now that it had been less easy of access.
In front of the stockade, but some considerable distance from it, and on the sloping land that was nigh to the beach, we had thrown up a kind of intrenchment, behind which we could kneel and fire, and under whose cover we hoped to be able to make a good account of assailants. I was on guard here at night, and I paced up and down in front of it thinking of all the chances that had happened since I sailed in the Royal Christopher; and I pleased myself by recalling every word that Marjorie had said to me, or in thinking of all the words that I should like to say to her.
Suddenly my thoughts were brought from heaven to earth by a sound as of a splash in the water. It might have been but a sweep of a sea-bird's wing as it stooped and wheeled in its flight over the sea, but it set my pulses tingling and all my senses straining to hear more and to see something.
The sea that lay so little away from me was all swallowed up in darkness. I could see nothing to cause me alarm. The quiet of the night seemed to breathe a deep peace that invited only to thoughts of sleep. But I was as wide awake as a startled hare, and I listened with all my ears and peered into the blackness. Was it my heated fancy, I asked myself, or did I indeed hear faint sounds coming to me from where the sea lay?
I whistled softly a note something like our English starling's—a signal that had been agreed upon between Lancelot and me. In a very few seconds he was at my side.
As I told him of my suspicions Lancelot peered into the darkness, listening very carefully, and now both he and I felt certain that we could hear sounds, indistinct but regular, coming from the sea.
'They are doing what I thought they would,' Lancelot whispered to me. Lancelot's voice had this rare quality, that when he whispered every syllable was as clear as if he were crying from the housetops. 'They have chosen this dark night to attack us, and they are rowing with muffled oars. We must do our best to give them a wild welcome. It is well we have those fireworks; they will serve our turn now.'
He slipped away from my side and was swallowed up in the darkness. But he soon came back to my side.
'All is ready,' he said.
He had been from man to man, and now every one was at his post. The bulk of our little body crouched down behind the breastwork while four men were stationed by the open gates of the stockade to allow us to make our retreat there. Those who were behind the breastwork knew that when Lancelot gave the word they were to fire in the direction of the sea. Lancelot had his lights ready, and we waited anxiously for the flare.
The seconds seemed to lengthen out into centuries as we lay there, listening to those sounds growing louder, though even at their loudest they might very well have escaped notice if one were not watching for them. At last they came to an end altogether, and we could just catch a sound as of a succession of soft splashes in the water.
Lancelot whispered close to my ear: 'They are getting out in the shallow water to draw their boats in. We shall have a look at them in an instant.'
While I held my breath I was conscious that Lancelot was busy with his flint and steel. His was a sure hand and a firm stroke. I could hear the click as he struck stone and metal together; there was a gleam of fire as the fuse caught, and then in another instant one of his fireworks rose in a blaze of brightness. It only lasted for the space of a couple of seconds, but in that space of time it showed us all that we had to see and much more than we wished to see.
As our meteor soared in the air the space in front of us was lit with a light as clear as the light of dawn, though in colour it was more like that of the moon—at least, as I have seen her rays represented often enough since in stage plays. Before us the sea rippled gently against the sand, and in the shallows we saw the pirates as clearly as we had seen them on the day when they first came to the island.
There were now three boatloads of them, and the boats were more fully manned than before. Many of the men were still in the boats, but the greater part were in the water, barelegged, and were stealthily urging the boats ashore. They were doing the work quietly, and made little noise. It was the strangest sight I had ever seen, this sight of those men in their scarlet coats, that looked so glaring in that blue light, with their gleaming weapons, all moving towards us with murder in their minds.
In their amazement at the flame the pirates paused for an instant, and in that instant Lancelot gave the order we itched for.
Then the silence was shattered by the discharge of our pieces in a steady volley. All the island rang with the report, and at that very instant the rocket on its home curve faded and went out with a kind of wink, and darkness swallowed us all up again.
But what darkness! The darkness had been still; now it was full of noises. The echo of the report of our volley rang about us; from the woods came clamour, the screaming and chattering of wakened birds, and we could even hear the brushing of their wings as they flew from tree to tree in their terror. But in front of us the sounds were the most terrible of all; the splashing of bodies falling into the water, the shrieks of wounded men, the howls and curses of the astonished and infuriated enemy. We could not tell what hurt we had done, but it must have been grave, for we had fired at close range, and we were all good marksmen.
But we could not hope that we had crippled our invaders, or done much toward equalising our forces. For, as it had seemed in that moment of illumination, we were outnumbered by well-nigh two to one.
There was no need to fire another light; it was impossible that we could hope to hold our own in the open, and our enemies would be upon us before we had time to reload, so there was nothing for it but to retreat to the stockade with all speed.
Lancelot gave the order, and in another instant we were racing for the stockade, bending low as we ran, for the pirates had begun to fire in our direction. But their firing was wild, and it hit none of us; and it stopped as suddenly as it began, for they soon perceived that it was idle waste of powder and ball in shooting into the darkness.
Luckily for us, we knew every inch of our territory by heart, and could make our way well enough to the stockade in the gloom, while we could hear the pirates behind splashing and stumbling as they landed.
But as they were taken aback by the suddenness of our assault and its result, they were not eager to advance into the night, and, as I guessed, waited awhile after landing from their boats.
As for us, we did not pause until we had passed, every one of us, between the gates of our stockade, and heard them close behind us, and the bar fall into its place. The first thing I saw in the dim light was the face of Marjorie, fair in its pale patience. She had a pistol in her hand, and I knew why she held it.
OUR FLAG COMES DOWN
We lay still inside our fortalice for awhile, listening, as well as the throbbing of our pulses would allow, to try and hear what our invaders were doing.
We could hear the sound of their voices down on the beach, and the splashing they made in the water as they dragged their dead or wounded comrades out of the water and hauled their boats close up to the shore. But beyond this we heard nothing, though the air was so still, now that the screaming of the birds had died away, that we felt sure that we must hear the sound of any advance in force.
Lancelot whispered to me that it was possible that they might put off their assault until daybreak. They were in this predicament, that if they lit any of the lights which we made no doubt they carried, in order to ascertain the plight that they were in, they would make themselves the targets for our muskets. But the one thing certain was that, under the control of a man like Jensen, they would most certainly not rest till they tried to get the better of us.
That Jensen himself was not among the disabled we felt confident, for Lancelot, who had a fine ear, averred that he could distinguish the sound of Jensen's voice down on the beach, which afterward proved to be so, for Jensen, unable to distinguish in the darkness the amount of injury that his army had sustained, was calling over from memory the name of each man of his gang. Every pirate who answered to his name stated the nature of his wounds, if he had any. Those who made no answer Jensen counted for lost, and of these latter there were no less than three.
There was something terrible in the sense of a darkness that was swarming with enemies. We were not wholly in obscurity inside our enclosure, for we had a couple of the boat's lanterns, which shed enough light to enable us to see each other, and to look to our weapons, without allowing any appreciable light to escape between the timbers of our fortification. Soon all our muskets were loaded again. Lancelot appointed one of the men who came to us on the raft, and who was still too weak for active service, as a loader of guns, that in case of attack we could keep up a steady firing. Happily for us, our supply of ammunition was tolerably large.
For some time, however, we were left in peace. The blackness upon which the pirates had counted as an advantage had proved their bane. So there was nothing for them to do but to wait with what patience they could for the dawn.
The dawn did come at last, and I never watched its coming with more anxiety. Often and often in those days when I believed myself to be fathom-deep in love I used to lie awake on my bed and watch the dawn filling the sky, and find in its sadness a kind of solace for mine own. For a sick spirit there is always something sad about the breaking of the day. Perhaps, if I had been like those who know the knack of verses, I should have worked off my ill-humours in rhyme, and slept better in consequence, and greeted the dawn with joy. Wonder rather than joy was in my mind on this morning as the sky took colour and the woods stirred with the chatter of the birds. For the pirates had disappeared! Their boats lay against the beach, but there was, as it seemed to us at first, no visible sign of their masters.
We soon discovered their whereabouts, however. They had groped, under cover of night, to the woods, and we soon had tokens of their presence. For by-and-by we could hear them moving in the wood, and could catch the gleam of their scarlet coats and the shine upon their weapons.
In the wood they were certainly safe from us, if also we were, though in less measure, safe from them. As I have said, the wooded hill ran at a sharp incline at some distance from the place where we had set up our stockade, so we were not commanded from above, and, no matter how high the pirates climbed, they could not do us a mischief in that way by firing down on to us.
They did climb high, but with another purpose, for presently we saw, with rage in our eyes and hearts, one bit of business they were bent on. Our flag fluttered down like a wounded bird, and it made me mad to think that it was being hauled down by those rascals, and that we had no art to prevent them.
Could we do nothing? I asked Lancelot impatiently. Could we not make a sortie and destroy the boats that lay down there all undefended? But Lancelot shook his head. The way to the sea was doubtless covered by our enemies in the wood. We should only volunteer for targets if we attempted to stir outside our stockade. There was nothing for it but to wait.
I think that it must have enraged the pirates to find us so well protected that there was no means of taking us unawares or of creeping in upon us from the rear. With the daylight they essayed to hurt us by firing from the hill; but from the lie of the ground their shots did us no harm, either passing over our heads or striking the wall of our stronghold and knocking off a shower of splinters, but doing no further damage. We, on the contrary, were able to retaliate, firing through our loopholes up the slope at the red jackets in the woods, and with this much effect, that soon the scarlet rascals ceased to show themselves, and kept well under cover. We felt very snug where we were, and fit to stand a siege for just so long as our victuals and water held out. Then, if the pirates remained upon the island, famine would compel us to a sortie in the hope of clearing them from the woods, an adventure in which our chances of success seemed to kick the balance.
But it did not come to that. About an hour before noon those of us who were at the loopholes saw the shine of a scarlet coat among the trees on the nearest slope, but before there was time to aim a musket something white fluttered above it. It was, as it proved, but a handkerchief tied to a ramrod, but it was a flag of truce for all that, and a flag of truce is respected by gentlemen of honour, whoever carries it.
When the white flag had fluttered long enough for him who held it to make sure that it must have been seen by us, the bearer came out from the cover of the wood and walked boldly down the slope. For all the distance the sharp-sighted among us knew him at once for Cornelys Jensen, and it came into my mind that perhaps Lancelot might refuse to accept him as an emissary. Lancelot, however, said nothing, but stood quietly waiting while the man came nearer. But when he came within pitch of voice Lancelot called out to him to come to a halt.
Jensen stopped at once and waited till Lancelot again called out to him to ask what he wanted. Jensen replied that he came under the protection of a flag of truce; that he wished to come to terms with Captain Amber—for so he called him—if it were by any means possible; that he was alone and unarmed, and trusted himself to our honour. Thereupon Lancelot called back to him to come nearer, and he would hear what he had to say. We had driven some great nails that we had with us into one of the posts of our wall to serve as a kind of ladder, and by these nails Lancelot lifted himself to the top of the palisade, and sat there waiting for Jensen's approach. I begged him not to expose himself, but he answered that there was no danger, so long as Jensen remained within short range of half a dozen of our guns, that the fellows in the woods would make himself a target. And so he sat there as coolly as if he were in an ingle, whistling 'Tyburn Tree' softly to himself as Jensen drew near.
A PIECE OF DIPLOMACY
When Jensen was within a few feet of the stockade he halted, and saluted Lancelot with a formal gravity that seemed grotesque under the circumstances. I will do the rascal this justice, that he looked well enough in his splendid coat, though his carriage was too fantastical—more of the stage player than the soldier. Lancelot, looking down at the fellow without returning his salutation, asked him what he wanted.
'Come, Captain Amber,' said Jensen boldly, 'you know what I want very well. I want to come to terms. Surely two men of the world like us ought to be able to make terms, Captain Amber.'
'I do not carry the title of Captain,' Lancelot answered, 'and I have no more in common with you than mere life. My only terms are the unconditional surrender of yourself and your accomplices. In their case some allowance may be made. In yours—none!'
Jensen shrugged his shoulders and smiled with affability at Lancelot's menaces.
'The young cock cackles louder than the old cock ever crowed,' he said; but he said it more good-humouredly than sneeringly, and it was evident that he was more than willing to propitiate Lancelot. 'We ought to make terms, for we are both at a loose end here, and might at least agree not to annoy each other. For you see, Lieutenant—if you will take that title—that as you judge you shall be judged. If you have no terms for us we will have no terms for you.'
It was a proof of his own vanity that he thus thrust a title upon Lancelot, thinking to please him, for when Lancelot, calling him by his surname, told him again that he had no terms to make with him, he drew himself up with an offended air and said:
'I call myself Captain Jensen, if you please.'
'It does not please me,' Lancelot retorted, 'to call you anything but a pirate and a rogue. Go back to your brother rogues at once!'
To my surprise, Jensen kept his temper, and seemed only hurt instead of angry at Lancelot's attack.
'Hot words,' he said quietly, 'hot words. Upon my honour, you do me wrong, Lieutenant Amber, for I persist in respecting the courtesies of war. I wish with all my heart that we could agree, but if we cannot we cannot, and there's an end of it. But there is another matter I wish to speak about.' He paused, as if waiting for permission, and when Lancelot bade him be brief, he went on: 'We have one among us who is more inclined to your party than to mine. I mean your reverend friend Parson Ebrow.'
For my part I was glad to hear that the poor man was still alive, for I feared that the pirates had killed him after their first attempt. But I saw Lancelot's face flush with anger, and his voice shook as he called out that if any harm came to Mr. Ebrow he would hold every man of the gang responsible for his life.
'Harm has come to him already,' Jensen answered; 'but not from us, but from you, his friends. He was hurt in the boats last night by your fire.'
At this Lancelot gave a groan, and we all felt sick and sorry, while Jensen, who knew that we could hear, though he could only see Lancelot, smiled compassionately.
'Do not be alarmed,' he said. 'The godly man is not mortally wounded. Only his face, which was always far from comely, has not been bettered by a shot that travelled across the side of the left cheek from jaw to ear. Now, another man in my place, Lieutenant, knowing the store you set by the parson, might very well use him to drive a bargain with you. He is no friend of ours, and the use upon him of a little torture might induce you to think better of the terms you deny.'
Lancelot grew pale, and he made as if he would speak, but Jensen delayed him with a wave of the arm.
'Pray let me conclude, Lieutenant Amber,' he went on. 'Another man, having such a hostage, might use him pretty roughly. But I am not of that kidney. I want to fight fair. The reverend gentleman is no use to me. We want no chaplain. He is a friend of yours, and if we win the day some of you will be glad of his ghostly offices. But he is in our way, and I cannot answer for the temper of my people if he exhorts us any more. So I shall be heartily obliged if you will take him off our hands and relieve me of the responsibility of his presence.'
I had listened to this, as you may believe, in some amazement, and Lancelot seemed no less surprised. 'What do you mean?' he asked; and Jensen answered him:
'I mean what I say. You can have your parson. Two of my men, with this flag, will bring him down, for the poor gentleman is too feeble to walk alone from loss of blood, and leave him in your charge. After that we will send no more messages, but fight it out as well as we can till one or other wins the day.'
He took off his hat as he spoke and made Lancelot a bow; and this time Lancelot returned his salutation.
'I can only thank you for your offer,' Lancelot said, 'and accept it gladly. If I cannot change my terms, at least be assured that this charity shall be remembered to your credit.'
'I ask no more,' Jensen replied; 'and you shall have your man within the half-hour.'
With that he clapped his hat proudly upon his head again, and turning on his heel marched away in a swaggering fashion, while Lancelot slipped down again into the shelter of the house. In a few minutes Jensen's red coat had disappeared among the trees, and then we all turned and stared at each other.
'The devil is not so black as he is painted, after all,' Lancelot said to me, 'if there is a leaven of good in Cornelys Jensen. But I shall be heartily glad to have Mr. Ebrow among us, for if the worst come it will be better to perish with us than to lie at their mercy.'
I did not altogether relish Lancelot's talk about our perishing, for I had got it into my head that we were more than a match for the pirates, with all their threats and all their truculence, and my friend's readiness to face the possibility of being victims instead of victors dashed my spirits. But I thought of Marjorie, and felt that we must win or—and then my thoughts grew faint and failed me, but not my promise and my resolve.
We had not waited very long after Jensen's departure when we saw signs of the fulfilment of his promise. Three men came out of the wood where he had entered, two in scarlet and one in black. We could see that the two men in scarlet were supporting the man in black, who seemed to be almost unable to move, and as the three drew nearer we could see, at first with a spy-glass and soon without, that he in the middle had his face all bound about with bloody cloths. At this sight all our hearts grew hot with anger and pity, and there was not one of us that did not long to be the first to reach out a helping hand to the parson. We could see, as the group came nearer, that Jensen's men were not handling their captive very tenderly. Though his limbs seemed so weak that his feet trailed on the ground, they made shift to drag him along at a walk that was almost a trot, as if their only thought was to be rid as soon as possible of their burden, whose moanings we could now plainly hear as he was jerked forward by his escort. It seemed such a shocking thing that a man so good and of so good a calling should be thus maltreated that, to speak for myself, it called for all my sense of the obligations of a white flag to stay me from sending a bullet in the direction of his cowardly companions. I could see that Lancelot was as much angered as I, by the pallor of his face and the way in which he clenched his hands.
However, in a few seconds more the pirates had hauled their helpless prisoner to within a few feet of our fortress. Then, to the increase of our indignation, they flung him forward with brutal oaths, so that he fell grovelling on his injured face just in front of our doorway, and while he lay prone one of the ruffians dealt him a kick which made him groan like a dog. After they had done this the two red-jackets drew back a few paces and waited, according to the agreement, laughing the while at the plight of the clergyman.
In a moment, obedient to a word from Lancelot, a dozen hands lifted the beam and swung the door back. Lancelot sprang forward, followed hard by me, to succour our unhappy friend; and between us we lifted him from the ground, though with some effort, for he seemed quite helpless and senseless with his ill-treatment and the fall, and unable to give us the least aid in supporting him. Jensen's two brutes jeered at us for our pains, bidding us mind our sermon-grinder and the like, with many expletives that I shall not set down. Indeed, their speech and behaviour so discredited their mission that it would have jeopardised their safety, for all their flag of truce, with a commander of less punctiliousness than Lancelot. But he, without paying heed to their mutterings, propped the prisoner up stoutly, and carried him, huddled and trailing, toward the stockade. As we moved him he moaned feebly, and kept up this moaning as we carried him inside the stockade and drew him toward the most sheltered corner to lay him down.
My heart bled for the parson in his weakness, with his head all swathed in bloody bandages, and I shuddered to think what his face would be like when we took off those coverings. I turned to pile some coats together for him to rest upon, but I was still looking at him as he hung helpless against Lancelot, when, in a breath, before my astounded eyes, the limp form stiffened, and Mr. Ebrow, stiff and strong, flung himself upon Marjorie and caught her in his arms. Quickly though the act was done, I still had time to think that Mr. Ebrow's calamities had turned his brain, and to feel vexation at the increase to our difficulties with a mad-man in our midst. In the next instant I saw that Mr. Ebrow was squatting on the ground behind Marjorie, sheltered by her body, which he held pinioned to his with his left arm, while his right hand held a pistol close to her forehead. Then a voice that was not the voice of Mr. Ebrow called out that Marjorie was his prisoner, and that if any man moved to rescue her he would blow the girl's brains out. And the voice that made these threats was the voice of Cornelys Jensen!
I cannot tell you how astounded we were at this sudden turn in our fortunes. Our garrison, taken by surprise, had left their posts every man, and stood together at one end of our parallelogram. Lancelot stood still and white as a statue. I leant against the wall and gasped for breath like a man struck silly. Marjorie lay perfectly still in the grasp of her enemy, and Jensen's eyes between the bandages seemed to survey the whole scene with a savage sense of mastery. He was so well protected where he crouched by Marjorie's body that no one dared to fire, or, indeed, for the moment, to do anything but stare in stupefaction. The stroke was so sudden, the change so unexpected, the dash so bold, that we were at a disadvantage, and for a space no one moved.
In a loud voice Jensen called upon every man to throw down his weapons, swearing furiously that if they did not do so he would kill Marjorie. Marjorie, on her part, though she could not free herself from Jensen's hold—for Jensen had the clasp and the hold of a bear—cried out to them bravely to do their duty, and defend the place, and pay no heed to her. But the men were not of that temper; they were at a loss; they feared Jensen, and this display of his daring unnerved them. They stood idly in a mass, while I, from where I stood, could see through the open door, to which no one else paid any heed, Jensen's men coming out of the wood, with only a few hundred yards of level ground between them and us. I was cumbered, as I told you, with some sea-coats, that I had caught up to make a couch for Mr. Ebrow, and as I held them to me with my left arm, they almost covered me from neck to knee. Now, in my pocket I carried the little pistol that Lancelot had given me, and in my first moment of surprise my right hand had involuntarily sought it out. Now, I was not much of a shot, and yet in a moment I made my mind up what I would do. I would, under cover of the coats, which I clutched to me, fire my piece through my pocket at Jensen, trusting to God to straighten the aim and guide the bullet. In that moment I took all the chances. If I hit Jensen, who was somewhat exposed to me where I stood, all would be well. If I missed him and he at once killed Marjorie, or if, missing him, I myself wounded or killed Marjorie, I knew that at least I should be doing as Marjorie would have me do, and in either of these cases we could despatch Jensen and have up our barricade again before help would come to him. All this takes time to tell, but took no time in the thinking, and my finger was upon the trigger when, in the providence of God, something happened which altered every purpose—Jensen's and the others', and mine. There came a great crash through the air loud as immediate thunder, with a noise that seemed to shake heaven above and earth below us. Every one of us in that narrow place knew it for the roar of a ship's gun.
THE SEA GIVES UP ITS QUICK
The clatter of that reverberation altered in a trice the whole conditions of our game. Jensen, in his surprise, looked up for a moment, and in that moment I had flung myself upon him, and his pistol, going off, spent its bullet harmlessly in the skies. In another second he had knocked me to the ground with a force that nearly stunned me; but before he could use another weapon twenty hands were upon him, and twenty weapons would have ended him but for Lancelot's command to take him alive. In a trice we had flung our door in its place and swung the beam across, and there we were, none the worse for our adventure, with the chief of our enemies fast prisoner in our hands. Already the pirates were scouring back into the woods, and though certain of our men had the presence of mind to empty their muskets after them, and bring down the two rogues who had carried the sham Ebrow to us, most of us were occupied in peering through the loopholes on the other side of the fortress at a blessed sight. Not half a mile away rode the ship that had fired the shot; the smoke of the discharge was still in the air about her. She was a frigate, and she flew the Dutch flag.
You may imagine with what a rapture we saw that frigate and that flag. It could only mean succour, and we were sick at heart to think that we had no flag with us to fly in answer. But we waited and watched with beating hearts behind our walls, and presently we could see that a boat was lowered and that men came over the side and filled it, and then it began to make for Fair Island as fast as stroke of oar could carry it. With a cry of joy Lancelot thrust his spy-glass into my hand, crying out to me that Captain Amber was on board the boat. And so indeed he was, for I had no sooner clapped the glass to my eye than there I saw him, sitting in the stern in his brave blue coat, and at the sight of him my heart gave a great leap for joy. We opened our seaward gate at once, and in a moment Marjorie and Lancelot and I were racing to the strand, followed by half a dozen others, leaving the stockade well guarded, and orders to shoot Jensen on the first sign of any return of the pirates from the woods. Though, indeed, we felt pretty sure that they would make no further attempt against us, having lost their leader, and being now menaced by this new and unexpected peril.
As the boat drew nearer shore Lancelot tied a handkerchief to the point of his cutlass and waved it in the air, and at sight of it the figure in blue in the stern raised his hat, and the men rowing, seeing him do this, raised a lusty cheer, and pulled with a warmer will than ever, so that in a few more minutes their keel grated on the sand.
Captain Amber leaped out of the boat like a boy, splashing through the water to join us, while the Dutch seamen hauled the boat up and stared at us stolidly. Captain Amber clasped Marjorie's hand and murmured to himself 'Thank God!' while tears stood in his china-blue eyes, and were answered, for the first time that I ever saw them there, by tears in Marjorie's. Next he embraced Lancelot, and then he turned to me and wrung my hand with the same heartiness as on that first day in Sendennis, and it seemed to me for the moment as if that strand and island and all those leagues of land and water had ceased to be, and I were back again in the windy High Street, with my mother's shop-bell tinkling.
Only for a moment, however. There was no time for day-dreams. Hurriedly we told Captain Amber all that we had to tell. Much of the ugly story we found that he knew, and how he knew you shall learn later. Our immediate duty was to secure the pirates who were still at large on the island, and this proved an easy business. For the Dutch commander, who claimed the authority of his nation for all that region, sent one of his men with a flag of truce, accompanied by one of us for interpreter, to let them know that if they did not surrender unconditionally he would first bombard the wood in which they sheltered, and then land a party of men, who would cut down any survivors without mercy. As there was no help for it, the pirates did surrender. They came out of the woods, a sorry gang, and laid down their arms, and with the help of the Dutchmen, who lent us irons, we soon had the whole band manacled and helpless.
So there was an end of this most nefarious mutiny. With Cornelys Jensen fast in fetters the heart of the business would have been broken even without help from the sea. There was no man of all the others who was at all his peer, either for villainy or for enterprise and daring. Even if there had been, the pirates would have had no great chance, while, as it was, their case had no hope in it, and they succumbed to their fate in a kind of sullen apathy. Honest men had triumphed over rogues once more in the swing of the world's story, as I am heartily glad to believe that in the long run they always have done and always will do, until the day when rogues and righteous meet for the last time.
We soon heard of all that had happened to Captain Marmaduke after he left the Royal Christopher—or rather, after he had been forced to put forth from Early Island. It had been Captain Marmaduke's intention to make for Batavia, in the certainty of finding ships and succour there. By the good fortune of the fair weather, his course, if slow by reason of the little wind, was untroubled; and by happy chance, ere he had come to the end, he sighted the Dutch frigate, and spoke her. The Dutch captain consented to carry Captain Amber back to the wreck. On their arrival at Early Island they found the place in the possession of a few half-drunken mutineers, who were soon overpowered, and they learnt the tale of Jensen's treachery from the lips of the captive women. It was then that they sailed for Fair Island, with the women and prisoners on board, and arrived just in time to serve us the best turn in the world.
There was nothing for us now to do but to ship off our prisoners to Batavia in the frigate, where they would be dealt with by Dutch justice, and be hanged with all decorum, in accordance with the laws of civilised States. We were to go with the frigate ourselves, for at Batavia it was our Captain's resolve to buy him a new ship and so turn home to his own people and his own country, and try his hand no more at colonies, which was indeed the wisest thing he could do. Let me say here that to our great satisfaction we found Mr. Ebrow in the woods, tied nearly naked to a tree, alive and well, if very weak; but without a complaint on his lips or in his heart.
I was one of the earliest to go aboard the frigate, and the first sight I saw on her decks was a group of women huddled together in all the seeming of despair. These were the victims of the pirates' lust, and as they sat together they would wail now and then in a way that was pitiful to hear. But there was one woman who sat a little apart from the others and held her head high, and this woman was Barbara Hatchett. I scarce knew if I should approach her or no, but when she saw me, which was the moment I came aboard, she made me a sign with her head, and I at once went up to her. All the warm colour had gone out of her dark face, and the fire had faded from her dark eyes, but she was still very beautiful in her misery, and she carried herself grandly, like a ruined queen. As I looked at her my mind went back to that first day I ever saw her and was bewitched by her, and then to that other day when I found her in the sea-fellow's arms and thought the way of the world was ended. And for the sake of my old love and my old sorrow my heart was racked for her, and I could have cried as I had cried that day upon the downs. But there were no tears in the woman's eyes, and as I came she stood up and held out her hand to me with an air of pride; and I am glad to think that I had the grace to kiss it and to kneel as I kissed it.
'Well, Ralph,' she said, 'this is a queer meeting for old friends and old flames. We did not think of this in the days when we watched the sea and waited for my ship.'
I could say nothing, but she went on, and her voice was quite steady:
'This is a grand ship, but it is not my ship. My ship came in and my ship went out, and the devil took it and my heart's desire and me.'
She was silent for a moment, and then she asked me what the boats were bringing from the island. I told her that they were conveying the prisoners aboard to be carried to trial at Batavia. She heard me with a changeless face, as she looked across the sea where the ship's boats were making their way to the ship, and after awhile she asked me if I thought that we were bound to forgive our enemies and those who had used us evilly.
I was at a loss what to answer, but I stammered out somewhat to the effect that such was our Christian duty. The words stuck a little in my throat, for I did not feel in a forgiving mood at that moment.
'So Mr. Ebrow tells us,' she went on softly. Mr. Ebrow had been sent on board at once, and had immediately devoted himself, sick and weak though he was, to ministrations among the unhappy women. 'So Mr. Ebrow says, and he is a good man, and ought to know best. Shall I forgive, Ralph, shall I forgive?'
There was to me something infinitely touching in the way in which she spoke to me, as if she felt she had a claim upon me—the claim that a sister might have upon a brother.
I told her that Mr. Ebrow, being a man of God, was a better guide and counsellor than I, but that forgiveness was a noble charity. Indeed, I was at a loss what to say, with my heart so wrung.
'Well, well,' she said, 'let us forgive and forget,' and—for there was no restraint upon the movements of the woman—she moved toward the side, where they were lifting the manacled prisoners on board. Jensen was in the first batch, but not the first to be brought on board, and he carried himself sullenly, with his eyes cast down, and seemed to notice nothing as he was brought up on the deck. The prisoners were so securely bound that no especial guard was placed over them during the process of taking them from the boats, and so, before I was aware of it, Barbara had slipped by me and between the Dutch sailors, and was by Jensen's side. For the moment I thought that she had come to carry out her promise of forgiveness; but Jensen lifted his face, and I saw it, and saw that it was writhed with a great horror and a great fear. And then I saw her lift her hand, and saw a knife in her hand, and the next moment she had driven it once and twice into his breast by the heart, and Jensen dropped like a log, and his blood ran over the deck. Then she turned to me, and her face was as red as fire, and she cried out, 'Forgive and forget!' and so drove the knife into her own body and fell in her turn. It was all done so swiftly that there was no time for anyone to lift a hand to interfere, and when we came to lift them up they were both dead. This was the end of that beautiful woman, and this the end of Cornelys Jensen. He should have lived to be hanged; it was too good a death for him to die by her hand; but I can understand how it seemed to her hot blood and her wronged womanhood that she could only wash out her shame by shedding her wronger's blood. May Heaven have mercy upon her!
THE LAST OF THE SHIP
It was many a weary month before we saw Sendennis again, but we did see it again. For Captain Marmaduke was so dashed by the untoward results of his benevolence and the failure of his scheme that he saw nothing better to do than to turn homeward, after mending his fortunes by the sale of the greater part of his Dutch plantations. A portion, however, he set apart and made over as a settlement for the remnant of the colonists, who, having got so far, had no mind to turn back, and as an asylum for the wretched women. With the aid of the Dutchmen we got the Royal Christopher off her reef and made shift to tow her into harbourage at Batavia, and there Captain Amber sold her and bought another vessel, wherein we made the best of our way back to England, with no further adventures to speak of. At Sendennis I had the joy to find my mother alive and well, and the wonder to find that my birth-place seemed to have grown smaller in my absence, but was otherwise unchanged.
And at Sendennis the best thing happened to me that can happen to any man in the world. For one morning, soon after our home-coming, I prayed Marjorie to walk with me a little ways, and she consented, and we went together outside the town and into the free sweet country. We fared till we came to that place where Lancelot once had found me, drowned in folly, and there I showed Marjorie the picture that Lancelot had given me, the picture of her younger self. And somehow as she took it from my hands and looked at it there came a little tremor to her lips and my soul found words for me to speak. I told her again that I loved her, that I should love her to the end of my days. I do not remember all I said; I dare say my words would show blunderingly enough on plain paper, but she listened to them quietly, looking at the sea with steady eyes. When I had done she stood still for a little, and then answered, and I remember every word she said.
'We are young, you and I, but I do not believe we are changeable. I feel very sure that you have spoken the truth to me; be very sure that I am speaking the truth to you. I love you!'
And so for the first time our lips met and the glory came into my life. I sailed the seas and made my fortune and married my heart's desire, and we roved the world together year after year, and always the glory staying with me in all its morning brightness.
All my life long I have hated parting from friends, parting from familiar faces and familiar places. Yet by the course which it has pleased Providence to give to my life it has been my lot to have many partings, both with well-loved men and women and with well-loved lands and dwellings. It is the plague of the wandering life, pleasant as it is in so many things, that it does of necessity mean the clasping of so many hands in parting, that it does of necessity mean the saying of so many farewells. Yet, after all, parting is the penalty of man for his transgression, and the most stay-at-home, lie-by-the-fire fellow has his share with the rest. Thus the philosopher by temperament, like my Lord Chesterfield, takes his friendships and even his loves upon an easy covenant, and the religious accept in resignation, and the rest shift as best they can. And so I hold out my hand and wish you good luck and God-speed!