The Laird's Luck
by Arthur Quiller-Couch
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Hullo! What's amiss?" sang out Cap'n Dick, as the Unity fetched within hail.

"Aw, nothin', nothin'. 'Tho' troubles assail an' dangers'—Stiddy there, you old angletwitch!—She's a bit too fond o' smelling the wind, that's all."

As a matter of fact she'd taken more water than Jacka cared to think about, now that the danger was over.

"But what brings 'ee here? An' what cheer wi' you?" he asked.

This was Cap'n Dick's chance. "I've had a run between two French frigates," he boasted, "in broad day, an' given the slip to both!"

"Dear, now!" said Cap'n Jacka. "So have I—in broad day, too. They must ha' been the very same. What did 'ee take out of 'em?"

"Take! They were two war frigates, I tell 'ee!"

"Iss, iss; don't lose your temper. All I managed to take was this young French orcifer here; but I thought, maybe, that you—having a handier craft—"

Jacka chuckled a bit; but he wasn't one to keep a joke going for spite.

"Look-y-here, Cap'n," he said; "I'll hear your tale when we get into dock, and you shall hear mine. What I want 'ee to do just now is to take this here lugger again and sail along in to Plymouth with her as your prize. I wants, if possible, to spare the feelin's of this young gentleman, an' make it look that he was brought in by force. For so he was, though not in the common way. An' I likes the fellow, too, though he do kick terrible hard."

* * * * *

They do say that two days later, when Cap'n Jacka walked up to his own door, he carried the cinder-sifter under his arm; and that, before ever he kissed his wife, he stepped fore and hitched it on a nail right in the middle of the wall over the chimney-piece, between John Wesley and the weather-glass.


We were four in the patio. And the patio was magnificent, with a terrace of marble running round its four sides, and in the middle a fountain splashing in a marble basin. I will not swear to the marble; for I was a boy of ten at the time, and that is a long while ago. But I describe as I recollect. It was a magnificent patio, at all events, and the house was a palace. And who the owner might be, Felipe perhaps knew. But he was not one to tell, and the rest of us neither knew nor cared.

The two women lay stretched on the terrace, with their heads close together and resting against the house wall. And I sat beside them gnawing a bone. The sun shone over the low eastern wall upon the fountain and upon Felipe perched upon the rim of the basin, with his lame leg stuck out straight and his mouth working as he fastened a nail in the end of his beggar's crutch.

I cannot tell you the hour exactly, but it was early morning, and the date the twenty-fourth of February, 1671. I learnt this later. We in the patio did not bother ourselves about the date, for the world had come to an end, and we were the last four left in it. For three weeks we had been playing hide-and-seek with the death that had caught and swallowed everyone else; and for the moment it was quite enough for the women to sleep, for me to gnaw my bone in the shade, and for Felipe to fasten the loose nail in his crutch. Many windows opened on the patio. Through the nearest, by turning my head a little, I could see into a noble room lined with pictures and heaped with furniture and torn hangings. All of it was ours, or might be, for the trouble of stepping inside and taking possession. But the bone (I had killed a dog for it) was a juicy one, and I felt no inclination to stir. There was the risk, too, of infection—of the plague.

"Hullo!" cried Felipe, slipping on his shoe, with the heel of which he had been hammering. "You awake?"

I put Felipe last of us in order, for he was an old fool. Yet I must say that we owed our lives to him. Why he took so much trouble and spent so much ingenuity in saving them is not to be guessed: for the whole city of Panama comprehended no two lives more worthless than old Dona Teresa's (as we called her) and mine: and as for the Carmelite, Sister Marta, who had joined our adventures two days before, she, poor soul, would have thanked him for putting a knife into her and ending her shame.

But Felipe, though a fool, had a fine sense of irony. And so for three weeks Dona Teresa and I—and for forty-eight hours Sister Marta too—had been lurking and doubling, squatting in cellars crawling on roofs, breaking cover at night to snatch our food, all under Felipe's generalship. And he had carried us through. Perhaps he had a soft corner in his heart for old Teresa. He and she were just of an age, the two most careless-hearted outcasts in Panama; and knew each other's peccadilloes to a hair. I went with Teresa. Heaven knows in what gutter she had first picked me up, but for professional ends I was her starving grandchild, and now reaped the advantages of that dishonouring fiction.

"How can a gentleman sleep for your thrice-accursed hammering?" was my answer to Felipe Fill-the-Bag.

"The city is very still this morning," he observed, sniffing the air, which was laden still with the scent of burnt cedar-wood. "The English dogs will have turned their backs on us for good. I heard their bugles at daybreak; since then, nothing."

"These are fair quarters, for a change."

He grinned. "They seem to suit the lady, your grandmother. She has not groaned for three hours. I infer that her illustrious sciatica is no longer troubling her."

Our chatter awoke the Carmelite. She opened her eyes, unclasped her hand, which had been locked round one of the old hag's, and sat up blinking, with a smile which died away very pitiably.

"Good morning, Senorita," said I.

She bent over Teresa, but suddenly drew back with a little "Ah!" and stared, holding her breath.

"What is the matter?"

She was on her knees, now; and putting out a hand, touched Teresa's skinny neck with the tips of two fingers.

"What is the matter?" echoed Felipe, coming forward from the fountain.

"She is dead!" said I, dropping the hand which I had lifted.

"Jesu—" began the Carmelite, and stopped: and we stared at one another, all three.

With her eyes wide and fastened on mine, Sister Marta felt for the crucifix and rope of beads which usually hung from her waist. It was gone: but her hands fumbled for quite a minute before the loss came home to her brain. And then she removed her face from us and bent her forehead to the pavement. She made no sound, but I saw her feet writhing.

"Come, come," said Felipe, and found no more to say.

I can guess now a little of what was passing through her unhappy mind. Women are women and understand one another. And Teresa, unclean and abandoned old hulk though she was, had stood by this girl when she came to us flying out of the wrack like a lost ship. "Dear, dear, dear"—I remembered scraps of her talk—"the good Lord is debonair, and knows all about these things. He isn't like a man, as you might say": and again, "Why bless you, He's not going to condemn you for a matter that I could explain in five minutes. 'If it comes to that,' I should say—and I've often noticed that a real gentleman likes you all the better for speaking up—'If it comes to that, Lord, why did You put such bloody-minded pirates into the world?' Now to my thinking"—and I remember her rolling a leaf of tobacco as she said it—"it's a great improvement to the mind to have been through the battle, whether you have won or lost; and that's why, when on earth, He chose the likes of us for company."

This philosophy was not the sort to convince a religious girl: but I believe it comforted her. Women are women, as I said; and when the ship goes down a rotten plank is better than none. So the Carmelite had dropped asleep last night with her hand locked round Teresa's: and so it happened to Teresa this morning to be lamented, and sincerely lamented, by one of the devout. It was almost an edifying end; and the prospect of it, a few days ago, would have tickled her hugely.

"But what did she die of?" I asked Felipe, when we had in delicacy withdrawn to the fountain, leaving the Carmelite alone with her grief.

He opened his mouth and pointed a finger at it.

"But only last evening I offered to share my bone with her: and she told me to keep it for myself."

"Your Excellency does not reason so well as usual," said Felipe, without a smile on his face. "The illustrious defunct had a great affection for her grandchild, which caused her to overlook the ambiguity of the relationship—and other things."

"But do you mean to say—"

"She was a personage of great force of character, and of some virtues which escaped recognition, being unusual. I pray," said he, lifting the rim of his rusty hat, "that her soul may find the last peace! I had the honour to follow her career almost from the beginning. I remember her even as a damsel of a very rare beauty: but even then as I say, her virtues were unusual, and less easily detected than her failings. I, for example, who supposed myself to know her thoroughly, missed reckoning upon her courage, or I had spent last night in seeking food. I am a fool and a pig."

"And consequently, while we slept—"

"Excuse me, I have not slept."

"You have been keeping watch?"

"Not for the buccaneers, my Lord. They left before daybreak. But the dogs of the city are starving, even as we: and like us they have taken to hunting in company. Now this is a handsome courtyard, but the gate does not happen to be too secure."

I shivered. Felipe watched me with an amiable grin.

"But let us not," he continued, "speak contemptuously of our inheritance. It is, after all, a very fair kingdom for three. Captain Morgan and his men are accomplished scoundrels, but careless: they have not that eye for trifles which is acquired in our noble profession, and they have no instinct at all for hiding-places. I assure you this city yet contains palaces to live in, linen and silver plate to keep us comfortable. Food is scarce, I grant, but we shall have wines of the very first quality. We shall live royally. But, alas! Heaven has exacted more than its tithe of my enjoyment. I had looked forward to seeing Teresa in a palace of her own. What a queen she would have made, to be sure!"

"Are we three the only souls in Panama?"

Felipe rubbed his chin. "I think there is one other. But he is a philosopher, and despises purple and linen. We who value them, within reason, could desire no better subject." He arose and treated me to a regal bow. "Shall we inspect our legacy, my brother, and make arrangements for the coronation?"

"We might pick up something to eat on the way," said I.

Felipe hobbled over to the terrace. "Poor old ——," he muttered, touching the corpse with his staff, and dwelling on the vile word with pondering affection. "Senorita," said he aloud, "much grief is not good on an empty stomach. If Juan here will lift her feet—"

We carried Dona Teresa into the large cool room, and laid her on a couch. Felipe tore down the silken hangings from one of the windows and spread them over her to her chin, which he tied up with the yellow kerchief which had been her only headgear for years. The Carmelite meanwhile detached two heavy silver sconces from a great candelabrum and set them by her feet. But we could find no tinder-box to light the candles—big enough for an altar.

"She will do handsomely until evening," said Felipe, and added under his breath, "but we must contrive to fasten the gate of the patio."

"I will watch by her," said Sister Marta.

Felipe glanced at us and shook his head. I knew he was thinking of the dogs. "That would not do at all, Senorita. 'For the living, the living,' as they say. If we live, we will return this evening and attend to her; but while my poor head remains clear (and Heaven knows how long that will be) there is more important work to be done."

"To bury the dead—"

"It is one of the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy, Senorita, and it won Raphael to the house of Tobit. But in this instance Raphael shuts himself up and we must go to him. While Teresa lived, all was well: but now, with two lives depending on my wits, and my wits not to be depended on for an hour, it does not suit with my conscience to lose time in finding you another protector."

"But they—they have gone?"

"The Lutheran dogs have gone, and have taken the city's victuals with them."

"I do not want to live, my friend."

"Granted: but I do not think that Juanito, here, is quite of your mind."

She considered for a moment. "I will go with you," she said: and we quitted the patio together.

The gate opened upon a narrow alley, encumbered now with charred beams and heaps of refuse from a burnt house across the way. The fury of the pirates had been extravagant, but careless (as Felipe had said). In their lust of robbing, firing, murdering, they had followed no system; and so it happened that a few houses, even wealthy ones, stood intact, like islands, in the general ruin. For the most part, to be sure, there were houses which hid their comfort behind mean walls. But once or twice we were fairly staggered by the blind rage which had passed over a mansion crowded with valuables and wrecked a dozen poor habitations all around it. The mischief was that from such houses Felipe, our forager, brought reports of wealth to make the mouth water, but nothing to stay the stomach. The meat in the larders was putrid; the bread hard as a stone. We were thankful at last for a few oranges, on which we snatched a breakfast in an angle of ruined wall on the north side of the Cathedral, pricking up our ears at the baying of the dogs as they hunted their food somewhere in the northern suburbs.

I confess that the empty houses gave me the creeps, staring down at me with their open windows while I sucked my orange. In the rooms behind those windows lay dead bodies, no doubt: some mutilated, some swollen with the plague (for during a fortnight now the plague had been busy); all lying quiet up there, with the sun staring in on them. Each window had a meaning in its eye, and was trying to convey it. "If you could only look through me," one said. "The house is empty—come upstairs and see." For me that was an uncomfortable meal. Felipe, too, had lost some of his spirits. The fact is, we had been forced to step aside to pass more than one body stretched at length or huddled in the roadway, and—well, I have told you about the dogs.

Between the Cathedral and the quays scarcely a house remained: for the whole of this side of the city had been built of wood. But beyond this smoking waste we came to the great stone warehouses by the waterside, and the barracks where the Genoese traders lodged their slaves. The shells of these buildings stood, but every one had been gutted and the roofs of all but two or three had collapsed. We picked our way circumspectly now, for here had been the buccaneers' headquarters. But the quays were as desolate as the city. Empty, too, were the long stables where the horses and mules had used to be kept for conveying the royal plate from ocean to ocean. Two or three poor beasts lay in their stalls—slaughtered as unfit for service; the rest, no doubt, were carrying Morgan's loot on the road to Chagres.

Here, beside the stables, Felipe took a sudden turn to the right and struck down a lane which seemed to wind back towards the city between long lines of warehouses. I believe that, had we gone forward another hundred yards, to the quay's edge, we should have seen or heard enough to send us along that lane at the double. As it was, we heard nothing, and saw only the blue bay, the islands shining green under the thin line of smoke blown on the land breeze—no living creature between us and them but a few sea-birds. After we had struck into the lane I turned for another look, and am sure that this was all.

Felipe led the way down the lane for a couple of gunshots; the Carmelite following like a ghost in her white robes, and I close at her heels. He halted before a low door on the left; a door of the most ordinary appearance. It opened by a common latch upon a cobbled passage running between two warehouses, and so narrow that the walls almost met high over our heads. At the end of this passage—which was perhaps forty feet long—we came to a second door, with a grille, and, hanging beside it, an iron bell-handle, at which Felipe tugged.

The sound of the bell gave me a start, for it seemed to come from just beneath my feet. Felipe grinned.

"Brother Bartolome works like a mole. But good wine needs no bush, my Juanito, as you shall presently own. He takes his own time, though," Felipe grumbled, after a minute. "It cannot be that—"

He was about to tug again when somebody pushed back the little shutter behind the grille, and a pair of eyes (we could see nothing of the face) gazed out upon us.

"There is no longer need for caution, reverend father," said Felipe, addressing the grille. "The Lutheran dogs have left the city, and we have come to taste your cordial and consult with you on a matter of business."

We heard a bolt slid, and the door opened upon a pale emaciated face and two eyes which clearly found the very moderate daylight too much for them. Brother Bartolome blinked without ceasing, while he shielded with one hand the thin flame of an earthenware lamp.

"Are you come all on one business?" he asked, his gaze passing from one to another, and resting at length on the Carmelite.

"When the forest takes fire, all beasts are cousins," said Felipe sententiously. Without another question the friar turned and led the way, down a flight of stairs which plunged (for all I could tell) into the bowels of earth. His lamp flickered on bare walls upon which the spiders scurried. I counted twenty steps, and still all below us was dark as a pit; ten more, and I was pulled up with that peculiar and highly disagreeable jar which everyone remembers who has put forward a foot expecting a step, and found himself suddenly on the level. The passage ran straight ahead into darkness: but the friar pushed open a low door in the left-hand wall, and, stepping aside, ushered us into a room, or paved cell, lit by a small lamp depending by a chain from the vaulted roof.

Shelves lined the cell from floor to roof; chests, benches, and work-tables occupied two-thirds of the floor-space: and all were crowded with books, bottles, retorts, phials, and the apparatus of a laboratory. "Crowded," however, is not the word; for at a second glance I recognised the beautiful order that reigned. The deal work-benches had been scoured white as paper; every glass, every metal pan and basin sparkled and shone in the double light of the lamp and of a faint beam of day conducted down from the upper world by a kind of funnel and through a grated window facing the door.

In this queer double light Brother Bartolome faced us, after extinguishing the small lamp in his hand.

"You say the pirates have left?"

Felipe nodded. "At daybreak. We in this room are all who remain in Panama."

"The citizens will be returning, doubtless, in a day or two. I have no food for you, if that is what you seek. I finished my last crust yesterday."

"That is a pity. But we must forage. Meanwhile, reverend father, a touch of your cordial—"

Brother Bartolome reached down a bottle from a shelf. It was heavily sealed and decorated with a large green label bearing a scarlet cross. Bottles similarly sealed and labelled lined this shelf and a dozen others. He broke the seal, drew the cork, and fetched three glasses, each of which he held carefully up to the lamplight. Satisfied of their cleanliness, he held the first out to the Carmelite. She shook her head.

"It is against the vow."

He grunted and poured out a glassful apiece for Felipe and me. The first sip brought tears into my eyes: and then suddenly I was filled with sunshine—golden sunshine—and could feel it running from limb to limb through every vein in my small body.

Felipe chuckled. "See the lad looking down at his stomach! Button your jacket, Juanito; the noonday's shining through! Another sip, to the reverend father's health! His brothers run away—the Abbot himself runs: but Brother Bartolome stays. For he labours for the good of man, and that gives a clear conscience. Behold how just, after all, are the dispositions of Heaven: how blind are the wicked! For three weeks those bloody-minded dogs have been grinning and running about the city: and here under their feet, as in a mine, have lain the two most precious jewels of all—a clear conscience and a liquor which, upon my faith, holy father, cannot be believed in under a second glass."

Brother Bartolome was refilling the glass, when the Carmelite touched his arm.

"You have been here—all the while?"

"Has it been so long? I have been at work, you see."

"For the good of man," interrupted Felipe. "Time slips away when one works for the good of man."

"And all the while you were distilling this?"

"This—and other things."

"Other things to drink?"

"My daughter, had they caught me, they might have tortured me. I might have held my tongue: but, again, I might not. Under torture one never knows what will happen. But the secret of the liquor had to die with me—that is in the vow. So to be on the safe side I made—other things."

"Father, give me to drink of those other things."

She spoke scarcely above her breath: but her fingers were gripping his arm. He looked straight into her eyes.

"My poor child!" was all he said, very low and slow.

"I can touch no other sacrament," she pleaded. "Father, have mercy and give me that one!" She watched his eyes eagerly as they flinched from hers in pity and dwelt for a moment on a tall chest behind her shoulder, against the wall to the right of the door. She glanced round, stepped to the chest, and laid a hand on the lid. "Is it here?" she asked.

But he was beside her on the instant; and stooping, locked down the lid, and drew out the key abruptly.

"Is it here?" she repeated.

"My child, that is an ice-chest. In the liquor, for perfection, the water used has first to be frozen. That chest contains ice, and nothing else."

"Nothing else?" she persisted.

But here Felipe broke in. "The Senorita is off her hinges, father. Much fasting has made her light-headed. And that brings me to my business. You know my head, too, is not strong: good enough for a furlong or two, but not for the mile course. Now if you will shelter these two innocents whilst I forage we shall make a famous household. You have rooms here in plenty; the best-hidden in Panama. But none of us can live without food, and with these two to look after I am hampered. There are the dogs, too. But Felipe knows a trick or two more than the dogs, and if he do not fill your larder by sunset, may his left leg be withered like his right!"

Brother Bartolome considered. "Here are the keys," said he. "Choose your lodgings and take the boy along with you, for I think the sister here wishes to talk with me alone."

Felipe took the keys and handed me the small lamp, which I held aloft as he limped after me along the dark corridor, tapping its flagged pavement with the nail of his crutch. We passed an iron-studded door which led, he told me, to the crypt of the chapel; and soon after mounted a flight of steps and found ourselves before the great folding doors of the ante-chapel itself, and looked in. Here was daylight again: actual sunlight, falling through six windows high up in the southern wall and resting in bright patches on the stall canopies within. We looked on these bright patches through the interspaces of a great carved screen: but when I would have pressed into the chapel for a better view, Felipe took me by the collar.

"Business first," said he, and pointed up the staircase, which mounted steeply again after its break by the chapel doors. Up we went, and were saluted again by the smell of burnt cedar-wood wafted through lancet windows, barred but unglazed, in the outer wall. The inner wall was blank, of course, being the northern side-wall of the chapel: but we passed one doorway in it with which I was to make better acquaintance. And, about twenty steps higher, we reached a long level corridor and the cells where the brothers slept.

Felipe opened them one by one and asked me to take my choice. All were empty and bare, and seemed to me pretty much alike.

"We have slept in worse, but that is not the point. Be pleased to remember, Juanito, that we are kings now: and as kings we are bound to find the reverend fathers' notions of bedding inadequate. Suppose you collect us half-a-dozen of these mattresses apiece, while I go on and explore."

I chose three cells for Sister Marta, Felipe, and myself, and set about dragging beds and furniture from the others to make us really comfortable. I dare say I spent twenty minutes over this, and, when all was done, perched myself on a stool before the little window of my own bed-room, for a look across the city. It was a very little window indeed, and all I saw was a green patch beyond the northern suburbs, where the rich merchants' gardens lay spread like offerings before a broken-down shrine. Those trees no doubt hid trampled lawns and ruined verandahs: but at such a distance no scar could be seen. The suburbs looked just as they had always looked in early spring.

I was staring out of window, so, and just beginning to wonder why Felipe did not return as he had promised, when there came ringing up the staircase two sharp cries, followed by a long, shrill, blood-freezing scream.

My first thought (I cannot tell you why) was that Felipe must have tumbled downstairs: and without any second thought I had jumped off my chair and was flying down to his help, three stairs at a bound, when another scream and a roar of laughter fetched me up short. The laugh was not Felipe's; nor could I believe it Brother Bartolome's. In fact it was the laugh of no one man, but of several. The truth leapt on me with a knife, as you might say. The buccaneers had returned.

I told you, a while back, of a small doorway in the inner wall of the staircase. It was just opposite this door that I found myself cowering, trying to close my ears against the abhorrent screams which filled the stairway and the empty corridor above with their echoes. To crawl out of sight—had you lived through those three weeks in Panama you would understand why this was the only thought in my head, and why my knees shook so that I actually crawled on them to the little door, and finding that it opened easily, crept inside and shut it before looking about me.

But even in the act of shutting it I grew aware that the screams and laughter were louder than ever. And a glance around told me that I was not in a room at all, but in the chapel, or rather in a gallery overlooking it, and faced with an open balustrade.

As I crouched there on my knees, they could not see me, nor could I see them; but their laughter and their infernal jabber—for these buccaneers were the sweepings of half-a-dozen nations—came to my ears as distinct as though I stood among them. And under the grip of terror I crawled to the front of the gallery and peered down between its twisted balusters.

I told you, to start with, that Felipe was a crazy old fool: and I dare say you have gathered by this time what shape his craziness took. He had a mania for imagining himself a great man. For days together he might be as sane as you or I; and then, all of a sudden—a chance word would set him off—he had mounted his horse and put on all the airs of the King of Spain, or his Holiness the Pope, or any grandissimo you pleased, from the Governor of Panama upwards. I had known that morning, when he began to prate about our being kings, that the crust of his common-sense was wearing thin. I suppose that after leaving me he must have come across the coffers in which the Abbot kept his robes of state, and that the sight of them started his folly with a twist; for he lay below me on the marble floor of the chapel, arrayed like a prince of the Church. The mitre had rolled from his head; but the folds of a magnificent purple cope, embroidered with golden lilies and lined with white silk, flowed from his twisted shoulders over the black and white chequers of the pavement. And he must have dressed himself with care, too: for beneath the torn hem of the alb his feet and ankles stirred feebly, and caught my eye: and they were clad in silken stockings. He was screaming no longer. Only a moan came at intervals as he lay there, with closed eyes, in the centre of that ring of devils: and on the outer edge of the ring, guarded, stood Brother Bartolome and the Carmelite. Had we forgotten or been too careless to close the door after us when Brother Bartolome let us in? I tried to remember, but could not be sure.

The most of the buccaneers—there were eight of them—spoke no Spanish: but there was one, a cross-eyed fellow, who acted as interpreter. And he knelt and held up a bundle of keys which Felipe wore slung from a girdle round his waist.

"Once more, Master Abbot—will you show us your treasures, or will you not?"

Felipe moaned.

"I tell you," Brother Bartolome spoke up, very short and distinct, "there are no treasures. And if there were, that poor wretch could not show them. He is no Abbot, but a beggar who has lived on charity these twenty years to my knowledge."

"That tongue of yours, friar, needs looking to. I promise you to cut it out and examine it when I have done with your reverend father here. As for the wench at your side—"

"You may do as your cruelty prompts you, Brother Bartolome interrupted. But that man is no Abbot."

"He may be Saint Peter himself, and these the keys of Heaven and Hell. But I and my camarados are going to find out what they open, as sure as my name is Evan Evans." And he knotted a cord round Felipe's forehead and began to twist. The Carmelite put her hands over her eyes and would have fallen: but one of her guards held her up, while another slipped both arms round her neck from behind and held her eyelids wide open with finger and thumb. I believe—I hope—that Felipe was past feeling by this time, as he certainly was past speech. He did not scream again, and it was only for a little while that he moaned. But even when the poor fool's head dropped on his shoulder, and the life went out of him, they did not finish with the corpse until, in their blasphemous sport, they had hoisted it over the altar and strapped it there with its arms outstretched and legs dangling.

"Now I think it is your turn," said the scoundrel Evans, turning to Brother Bartolome with a grin.

"I regret that we cannot give you long, for we returned from Tavoga this morning to find Captain Morgan already on the road. It will save time if you tell us at once what these keys open."

"Certainly I will tell you," said the friar, and stretched out a hand for the bunch. "This key for instance, is useless: it opens the door of the wicket by which you entered. This opens the chest which, as a rule, contains the holy vessels; but it too, is useless, since the chest is empty of all but the silver chalices and a couple of patens. Will you send one of your men to prove that I speak truth? This, again, is the key of my own cell—"

"Where your reverence entertains the pretty nuns who come for absolution."

"After that," said Brother Bartolome, pointing a finger towards the altar and the poor shape dangling, "you might disdain small brutalities."

The scoundrel leaned his back against a carved bench-end and nodded his head slowly. "Master friar, you shall have a hard death."

"Possibly. This, as I was saying, is the key of my cell, where I decoct the liquor for which this house is famous. Of our present stock the bulk lies in the cellars, to which this"—and he held up yet another key—"will admit you. Yes, that is it," as one of the pirates produced a bottle and held it under his nose.

"Eh? Let me see it." The brute Evans snatched the bottle. "Is this the stuff?" he demanded, holding it up to the sunlight which streamed down red on his hand from the robe of a martyr in one of the painted windows above. He pulled out his heavy knife, and with the back of it knocked off the bottle-neck.

"I will trouble you to swear to the taste," said he.

"I taste it only when our customers complain. They have not complained now for two-and-twenty years."

"Nevertheless you will taste it."

"You compel me?"

"Certainly I compel you. I am not going to be poisoned if I can help it. Drink, I tell you!"

Brother Bartolome shrugged his shoulders. "It is against the vow ... but, under compulsion ... and truly I make it even better than I used," he wound up, smacking his thin lips as he handed back the bottle.

The buccaneer took it, watching his face closely. "Here's death to the Pope!" said he, and tasted it, then took a gulp. "The devil, but it is hot!" he exclaimed, the tears springing into his eyes.

"Certainly, if you drink it in that fashion. But why not try it with ice?"


"You will find a chestful in my cell. Here is the key; which, by the way, has no business with this bunch. Felipe, yonder, who was always light-fingered, must have stolen it from my work-bench."

"Hand it over. One must go to the priests to learn good living. Here, Jacques le Bec!" He rattled off an order to a long-nosed fellow at his elbow, who saluted and left the chapel, taking the key.

"We shall need a cup to mix it in," said Brother Bartolome quietly.

One of the pirates thrust the silver chalices into his hands: for the bottle had been passed from one man to another, and they were thirsty for more. Brother Bartolome took it, and looked at the Carmelite. For the moment nobody spoke: and a queer feeling came over me in my hiding. This quiet group of persons in the quiet chapel—it seemed to me impossible they could mean harm to one another, that in a minute or two the devil would be loose among them. There was no menace in the posture of any one of them, and in Brother Bartolome's there was certainly no hint of fear. His back was towards me, but the Carmelite stood facing my gallery, and I looked straight into her eyes as they rested on the cups, and in them I read anxiety indeed, but not fear. It was something quite different from fear.

The noise of Jacques le Bec's footstep in the ante-chapel broke this odd spell of silence. The man Evans uncrossed his legs and took a pace to meet him. "Here, hand me a couple of bottles. How much will the cups hold?"

"A bottle and a half, or thereabouts: that is, if you allow for the ice."

Jacques carried the bottles in a satchel, and a block of ice in a wrapper under his left arm. He handed over the satchel, set down the ice on the pavement and began to unwrap it. At a word from Evans he fell to breaking it up with the pommel of his sword.

"We must give it a minute or two to melt," Evans added. And again a silence fell, in which I could hear the lumps of ice tinkling as they knocked against the silver rims of the chalices.

"The ice is melted. Is it your pleasure that I first taste this also?" Brother Bartolome spoke very gravely and deliberately.

"I believe," sneered Evans, "that on these occasions the religious are the first to partake."

The friar lifted one of the chalices and drank. He held it to his lips with a hand that did not shake at all; and, having tasted, passed it on to Evans without a word or a glance. His eyes were on the Carmelite, who had taken half a step forward with palms held sidewise to receive the chalice he still held in his right hand. He guided it to her lips, and his left hand blessed her while she drank. Almost before she had done, the Frenchman, Jacques le Bec, snatched it.

The Carmelite stood, swaying. Brother Bartolome watched the cups as they went full circle.

Jacques le Bec, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, spoke a word or two rapidly in French.

Brother Bartolome turned to Evans. "Yes, I go with you. For you, my child!"—He felt for his crucifix and held it over the Carmelite, who had dropped on her knees before him. At the same time, with his left hand, he pointed towards the altar. "For these, the mockery of the Crucified One which themselves have prepared!"

I saw Evans pull out his knife and leap. I saw him like a man shot, drop his arm and spin right-about as two screams rang out from the gallery over his head. It must have been I who screamed: and to me, now, that is the inexplicable part of it. I cannot remember uttering the screams: yet I can see Evans as he turned at the sound of them.

Yet it was I who screamed, and who ran for the door and, still screaming, dashed out upon the staircase. Up the stairs I ran: along the corridor: and up a second staircase.

The sunshine broke around me. I was on the leads of the roof, and Panama lay spread at my feet like a trodden garden. I listened: no footsteps were following. Far away from the westward came the notes of a bugle—faint, yet clear. In the northern suburbs the dogs were baying. I listened again. I crept to the parapet of the roof and saw the stained eastern window of the chapel a few yards below me, saw its painted saints and martyrs, outlined in lead, dull against the noonday glow. And from within came no sound at all.


The Story is Told by Dom Bartholomew Perestrello, Governor of the Island of Porto Santo.

It was on the fifteenth day of August, 1428, and about six o'clock in the morning, that while taking the air on the seaward side of my house at Porto Santo, as my custom was after breaking fast, I caught sight of a pinnace about two leagues distant, and making for the island.

I dare say it is commonly known how I came to the governance of Porto Santo, to hold it and pass it on to my son Bartholomew; how I sailed to it in the year 1420 in company with the two honourable captains John Gonsalvez Zarco and Tristram Vaz; and what the compact was which we made between us, whereby on reaching Porto Santo these two left me behind and passed on to discover the greater island of Madeira. And many can tell with greater or less certainty of our old pilot, the Spaniard Morales, and how he learned of such an island in his captivity on the Barbary coast. Of all this you shall hear, and perhaps more accurately, when I come to my meeting with the Englishman. But I shall tell first of the island itself, and what were my hopes of it on the morning when I sighted his pinnace.

In the first warmth of discovering them we never doubted that these were the Purple Islands of King Juba, the very Garden of the Hesperides, found anew by us after so many hundreds of years; or that we had aught to do but sit still in our governments and grow rich while we feasted. But that was in the year 1420, and the eight years between had made us more than eight years sadder. In the other island the great yield of timber had quickly come to an end: for Count Zarco, returning thither with wife and children in the month of May, 1421, and purposing to build a city, had set fire to the woods behind the fennel-fields on the south coast, with intent to clear a way up to the hills in the centre: and this fire quickly took such hold on the mass of forest that not ten times the inhabitants could have mastered it. And so the whole island burned for seven years, at times with a heat which drove the settlers to their boats. For seven years as surely as night fell could we in Porto Santo count on the glare of it across the sea to the south-west, and for seven years the caravels of our prince and master, Dom Henry, sighted the flame of it on their way southward to Cape Bojador.

In all this while Count Zarco never lost heart; but, when the timber began to fail, planted his sugar-canes on the scarcely cooled ashes, and his young plants of the Malmsey vine—the one sent from Sicily, the other from Candia, and both by the care of Dom Henry. While he lives it will never be possible to defeat my friend and old comrade: and he and I have both lived to see his island made threefold richer by that visitation which in all men's belief had clean destroyed it.

This planting of vines and sugar-canes began in 1425, the same year in which the Infante gave me colonists for Porto Santo. But if I had little of Count Zarco's merit, it is certain I had none of his luck: for on my small island nothing would thrive but dragon-trees; and we had cut these in our haste before learning how to propagate them, so that we had at the same moment overfilled the market with their gum, or "dragon's blood," and left but a few for a time of better prices. And, what was far worse, at the suggestion surely of Satan I had turned three tame rabbits loose upon the island; and from the one doe were bred in two or three years so many thousands of these pestilent creatures that when in 1425 we came to plant the vines and canes, not one green shoot in a million escaped. Thus it happened that by 1428 my kingdom had become but a barren rock, dependent for its revenues upon the moss called the orchilla weed of which the darker and better kind could be gathered only by painful journeys inland.

You may see, therefore, that I had little to comfort me as I paced before my house that morning. I was Governor of an impoverished rock on which I had wasted the toil and thought of eight good years of my prime: my title was hereditary, but I had in those days no son to inherit it. And when I considered the fortune I had exchanged for this, and my pleasant days in Dom Henry's service at Sagres, I accused myself for the most miserable among men.

Now, at the north-western angle of my house, and a little below the terrace where I walked, there grew a plantation of dragon-trees, one of the few left upon the island. Each time this sentry-walk of mine brought me back to the angle I would halt before turning and eye the trees, sourly pondering on our incredible folly. For, on my first coming they had grown everywhere, and some with trunks great enough to make a boat for half a dozen men: but we had cut them down for all kinds of uses, whenever a man had wanted wood for a shield or a bushel for his corn, and now they scarce grew fruit enough to fatten the hogs. It was standing there and eyeing my dragon-trees that over the tops of them I caught sight of the pinnace plying towards the island. I remember clearly what manner of day it was; clear and fresh, the sea scarce heaving, but ruffled under a southerly breeze. The small vessel, though well enough handled, made a sorry leeway by reason of her over-tall sides, and lost so much time at every board through the labour of lowering and rehoisting her great lateen yard that I judged it would take her three good hours before she came to anchor in the port below.

I could not find that she had any hostile appearance, yet—as my duty was—sent down word to the guard to challenge her business before admitting her; and a little before nine o'clock I put on my coat and walked down to the haven to look after this with my own eyes. I arrived almost at the moment when she entered and her crew, with sail partly lowered, rounded her very cleverly up in the wind.

The guard-boat put off at once and boarded her; and by-and-by came back with word that the pinnace was English (which by this time I had guessed), by name the George of Bristol, and owned by an Englishman of quality, who, by reason of his extreme age, desired of my courtesy that I would come on board and confer with him. This at first I was unwilling to risk: but seeing her moored well under the five guns of our fort, and her men so far advanced with the furling of her big sail that no sudden stroke of treachery could be attempted except to her destruction, I sent word to the gunners to keep a brisk look-out, and stepping into the boat was pulled alongside.

At the head of the ladder there met me an aged gentleman, lean and bald and wrinkled, with narrow eyes and a skin like clear vellum. For all the heat of the day he wore a furred cloak which reached to his knees; also a thin gold chain around his neck: and this scrag neck and the bald head above it stood out from his fur collar as if they had been a vulture's. By his dress and the embroidered bag at his girdle, and the clasps of his furred shoes, I made no doubt he was a rich man; and he leaned on an ebony staff or wand capped with a pretty device of ivory and gold.

He stood thus, greeting me with as many bobs of the head as a bird makes when pecking an apple; and at first he poured out a string of salutations (I suppose) in English, a language with which I have no familiarity. This he perceived after a moment, and seemed not a little vexed; but covering himself and turning his back shuffled off to a door under the poop.

"Martin!" he called in a high broken voice. "Martin!"

A little man of my own country, very yellow and foxy, came running out, and the pair talked together for a moment before advancing towards me.

"Your Excellency," the interpreter began, "this is a gentleman of England who desires that you will dine with him to-day. His name is Master Thomas d'Arfet, and he has some questions to put to you, of your country, in private."

"D'Arfet?" I mused: and as my brows went up at the name I caught the old gentleman watching me with an eye which was sharp enough within its dulled rim. "Will you answer that I am at his service, but on the one condition that he comes ashore and dines with me."

When this was reported at first Master d'Arfet would have none of it, but rapped his staff on the desk and raised a score of objections in his scolding voice. Since I could understand none of them, I added very firmly that it was my rule; that he could be carried up to my house on a litter without an ache of his bones; and, in short, that I must either have his promise or leave the ship.

He would have persisted, I doubt not; but it is ill disputing through an interpreter, and he ended by giving way with a very poor grace. So ashore we rowed him with the man Martin, and two of my guard conveyed him up the hill in a litter, on which he sat for all the world like a peevish cross'd child. In my great airy dining-room he seemed to cool down and pick up his better humour by degrees. He spoke but little during the meal, and that little was mainly addressed to Martin, who stood behind his chair: but I saw his eyes travelling around the panelled walls and studying the portraits, the furniture, the neat table, the many comforts which it clearly astonished him to find on this forsaken island. Also he as clearly approved of the food and of my wine of Malmsey. Now and then he would steal a look at my wife Beatrix, or at one or the other of my three daughters, and again gaze out at the sea beyond the open window, as though trying to piece it all together into one picture.

But it was not until the womenfolk had risen and retired that he unlocked his thoughts to me. And I hold even now that his first question was a curious one.

"Dom Bartholomew Perestrello, are you a happy man?"

Had it come from his own lips it might have found me better prepared: but popped at me through the mouth of an interpreter, a servant who (for all his face told) might have been handing it on a dish, his question threw me out of my bearings.

"Well, Sir," I found myself answering, "I hope you see that I have much to thank God for." And while this was being reported to him I recalled with a twinge my dejected thoughts of the morning. "I have made many mistakes," I began again.

But without seeming to hear, Master d'Arfet began to dictate to Martin, who, after a polite pause to give me time to finish if I cared to, translated in his turn.

"I have told you my name. It is Thomas d'Arfet, and I come from Bristol. You have heard my name before?"

I nodded, keeping my eyes on his.

"I also have heard of you, and of the two captains in whose company you discovered these islands."

I nodded again. "Their names," said I, "are John Gonsalvez Zarco and Tristram Vaz. You may visit them, if you please, on the greater island, which they govern between them."

He bent his head. "The fame of your discovery, Sir, reached England some years ago. I heard at the time, and paid it just so much heed as one does pay to the like news—just so much and no more. The manner of your discovery of the greater island came to my ears less than a twelvemonth ago, and then but in rumours and broken hints. Yet here am I, close on my eightieth year, voyaging more than half across the world to put those broken hints together and resolve my doubts. Tell me"—he leaned forward over the table, peering eagerly into my eyes—"there was a tale concerning the island—concerning a former discovery—"

"Yes," said I, as he broke off, his eyes still searching mine, "there was a tale concerning the island."

"Brought to you by a Spanish pilot, who had picked it up on the Barbary coast?"

"You have heard correctly," said I. "The pilot's name was Morales."

"Well, it is to hear that tale that I have travelled across the world to visit you."

"Ah, but forgive me, Sir!" I poured out another glassful of wine, drew up my chair, rested both elbows on the table, and looked at him over my folded hands. "You must first satisfy me what reason you have for asking."

"My name is Thomas d'Arfet," he said.

"I do not forget it: but maybe I should rather have said—What aim you have in asking. I ought first to know that, methinks."

In his impatience he would have leapt from his chair had his old limbs allowed. Pressing the table with white finger-tips, he sputtered some angry words of English, and then fell back on the interpreter Martin, who from first to last wore a countenance fixed like a mask.

"Mother of Heaven, Sir! You see me here, a man of eighty, broken of wind and limb, palsied, with one foot in the grave: you know what it costs to fit out and victual a ship for a voyage: you know as well as any man, and far better than I, the perils of these infernal seas. I brave those perils, undergo those charges, drag my old limbs these thousands of miles from the vault where they are due to rest—and you ask me if I have any reason for coming!"

"Not at all," I answered. "I perceive rather that you must have an extraordinarily strong reason—a reason or a purpose clean beyond my power of guessing. And that is just why I wish to hear it."

"Men of my age—" he began, but I stopped Martin's translation midway.

"Men of your age, Sir, do not threaten the peace of such islands as these. Men of your age do not commonly nurse dangerous schemes. All that I can well believe. Men of your age, as you say, do not chase a wild goose so far from their chimney-side. But men of your age are also wise enough to know that governors of colonies—ay," for my words were being interpreted to him a dozen at a time and I saw the sneer grow on his face, "even of so poor a colony as this—do not give up even a small secret to the very first questioner."

"But the secret is one no longer. Even in England I had word of it."

"And your presence here," said I, "is proof enough that you learned less than you wanted."

He drew his brows together over his narrow eyes. I think what first set me against the man was the look of those eyes, at once malevolent and petty. You may see the like in any man completely ungenerous. Also the bald skin upon his skull was drawn extremely tight, while the flesh dropped in folds about his neck and under his lean chaps, and the longer I pondered this the more distasteful I found him.

"You forget, Sir," said he—and while Martin translated he still seemed to chew the words—"the story is not known to you only. I can yet seek out the pilot himself."

"Morales? He is dead these three years."

"Your friends, then, upon the greater island. Failing them, I can yet put back to Lagos and appeal to the Infante himself—for doubtless he knows. Time is nothing to me now." He sat his chin obstinately, and then, not without nobility, pushed his glass from him and stood up. "Sir," said he, "I began by asking if you were a happy man. I am a most unhappy one, and (I will confess) the unhappier since you have made it clear that you cannot or will not understand me. In my youth a great wrong was done me. You know my name, and you guess what that wrong was: but you ask yourself, 'Is it possible this old man remembers, after sixty years?' Sir, it is possible, nay, certain; because I have never for an hour forgotten. You tell yourself, 'It cannot be this only: there must be something behind.' There is nothing behind; nothing. I am the Thomas d'Arfet whose wife betrayed him just sixty years ago; that, and no more. I come on no State errand, I! I have no son, no daughter; I never, to my knowledge, possessed a friend. I trusted a woman, and she poisoned the world for me. I acknowledge in return a duty to no man but myself; I have voyaged thus far out of that duty. You, Sir, have thought it fitter to baffle than to aid me—well and good. But by the Christ above us I will follow that duty out; and, at the worst, death, when it comes, shall find me pursuing it!"

He spoke this with a passion of voice which I admired before his man began to interpret: and even when I heard it repeated in level Portuguese, and had time to digest it and extract its monstrous selfishness, I could look at him with compassion, almost with respect. His cheeks had lost their flush almost as rapidly as they had taken it on, and he stood awkwardly pulling at his long bony fingers until the joints cracked.

"Be seated, Sir," said I. "It is clear to me that I must be a far happier man than I considered myself only this morning, since I find nothing in myself which, under any usage of God, could drive me on such a pursuit as yours would seem to be. I may perhaps, without hypocrisy, thank God that I cannot understand you. But this, at any rate, is clear—that you seek only a private satisfaction: and although I cannot tell you the story here and now, something I will promise. As soon as you please I will sail with you to the greater island, and we will call together on Count Zarco. In his keeping lies one of the two copies of Morales' story as we took it down from his lips at Sagres, or, rather, compiled it after much questioning. It shall be for the Count to produce or withhold it, as he may decide. He is a just man, and neither one way nor the other will I attempt to sway him."

Master d'Arfet considered for a while. Then said he, "I thank you: but will you sail with me in my pinnace or in your own?"

"In my own," said I, "as I suspect you will choose to go in yours. I promise we shall outsail you; but I promise also to await your arriving, and give the Count his free choice. If you knew him," I added, "you would know such a promise to be superfluous."


My own pinnace arrived in sight of Funchal two mornings later, and a little after sunrise. We had outsailed the Englishman, as I promised, and lay off-and-on for more than two hours before he came up with us. I knew that Count Zarco would be sitting at this time in the sunshine before his house and above the fennel plain, hearing complaints and administering justice: I knew, moreover, that he would recognise my pinnace at once: and from time to time I laughed to myself to think how this behaviour of ours must be puzzling my old friend.

Therefore I was not surprised to find him already arrived at the quay when we landed; with a groom at a little distance holding his magnificent black stallion. For I must tell you that my friend was ever, and is to this day, a big man in all his ways—big of stature, big of voice, big of heart, and big to lordliness in his notions of becoming display. None but Zarco would have chosen for his title, "Count of the Chamber of the Wolves," deriving it from a cave where his men had started a herd of sea-calves on his first landing and taking seizin of the island. And the black stallion he rode when another would have been content with a mule; and the spray of fennel in his hat; and the ribbon, without which he never appeared among his dependents; were all a part of his large nature, which was guileless and simple withal as any child's.

Now, for all my dislike, I had found the old Englishman a person of some dignity and command: but it was wonderful how, in Zarco's presence, he shrank to a withered creature, a mere applejack without juice or savour. The man (I could see) was eager to get to business at once, and could well have done without the ceremony of which Zarco would not omit the smallest trifle. After the first salutations came the formal escort to the Governor's house; and after that a meal which lasted us two hours; and then the Count must have us visit his new sugar-mills and inspect the Candia vines freshly pegged out, and discuss them. On all manner of trifles he would invite Master d'Arfet's opinion: but to show any curiosity or to allow his guests to satisfy any, did not belong to his part of host—a part he played with a thoroughness which diverted me while it drove the Englishman well-nigh mad.

But late in the afternoon, and after we had worked our way through a second prodigious meal, I had compassion on the poor man, and taking (as we say) the bull by both horns, announced the business which had brought us. At once Zarco became grave.

"My dear Bartholomew," said he, "you did right, of course, to bring Master d'Arfet to me. But why did you show any hesitation?" Before I could answer he went on: "Clearly, as the lady's husband, he has a right to know what he seeks. She left him: but her act cannot annul any rights of his which the Holy Church gave him, and of which, until he dies, only the Holy Church can deprive him. He shall see Morales' statement as we took it down in writing: but he should have the story from the beginning: and since it is a long one, will you begin and tell so much as you know?"

"If it please you," said I, and this being conveyed to Master d'Arfet, while Zarco sent a servant with his keys for the roll of parchment, we drew up our chairs to the table, and I began.

"It was in September, 1419," said I, "when the two captains, John Gonsalvez Zarco and Tristram Vaz, returned to Lagos from their first adventure in these seas. I was an equerry of our master, the Infante Henry, at that time, and busy with him in rebuilding and enlarging the old arsenal on the neck of Cape Sagres; whence, by his wisdom, so many expeditions have been sent forth since to magnify God and increase the knowledge of mankind.

"We had built already the chapel and the library, with its map-room, and the Prince and I were busy there together on the plans for his observatory in the late afternoon when the caravels were sighted: and the news being brought, his Highness left me at work while he rode down to the port to receive his captains. I was still working by lamplight in the map-room when he returned, bringing them and a third man, the old Spaniard Morales.

"Seating himself at the table, he bade me leave my plans, draw my chair over, and take notes in writing of the captains' report. Zarco told the story—he being first in command, and Tristram Vaz a silent man, then and always: and save for a question here and there, the Prince listened without comment, deferring to examine it until the whole had been related.

"Now, in one way, the expedition had failed, for the caravels had been sent to explore the African coast beyond Cape Bojador, and as far south as might be; whereas they had scarcely put to sea before a tempest drove them to the westward, and far from any coast at all. Indeed, they had no hope left, nor any expectation but to founder, when they sighted the island; and so came by God's blessing to the harbour which, in their joy, they named Porto Santo. There, finding their caravels strained beyond their means to repair for a long voyage, and deeming that this discovery well outweighed their first purpose, they stayed but a sufficient time to explore the island, and so put back for Lagos. But their good fortune was not yet at an end: for off the Barbary coasts they fell in with and captured a Spaniard containing much merchandise and two score of poor souls ransomed out of captivity with the Barbary corsairs. 'And among them,' said my friend Gonsalvez, 'your Highness will find this one old man, if I mistake not, to be worth the charges of two such expeditions as ours.'

"Upon this we all turned our eyes upon the Spaniard, who had been shrinking back as if to avoid the lamplight. He must have been a tall, up-standing man in his prime; but now, as Tristram Vaz drew him forward, his knees bowed as if he cringed for some punishment. 'Twas a shock, this fawning carriage of a figure so venerable: but when Tristram Vaz drew off the decent doublet he wore and displayed his back, we wondered no longer. Zarco pushed him into a chair and held a lamp while the Prince examined the man's right foot, where an ankle-ring had bitten it so that to his death (although it scarcely hindered his walking) the very bone showed itself naked between the healed edges of the wound.

"Moreover, when Zarco persuaded him to talk in Spanish it was some while before we could understand more than a word or two here and there. The man had spent close upon thirty years in captivity, and his native speech had all but dried up within him. Also he had no longer any thought of difference between his own country and another: it was enough to be among Christians again: nor could we for awhile disengage that which was of moment from the rambling nonsense with which he wrapped it about. He, poor man! was concerned chiefly with his own sufferings, while we were listening for our advantage: yet as Christians we forbore while he muttered on, and when a word or two fell from him which might be of service, we recalled him to them (I believe) as gently as we could.

"Well, the chaff being sifted away, the grain came to this: His name was Morales, his birthplace Cadiz, his calling that of pilot: he had fallen (as I have said) into the hands of the Moors about thirty years before: and at Azamor, or a little inland, he had made acquaintance with a fellow-prisoner, an Englishman, by name Roger Prince, or Prance. This man had spent the best part of his life in captivity, and at one time had changed his faith to get better usage: but his first master dying at a great age, he passed to another, who cruelly ill-treated him, and under whose abominable punishments he quickly sank. He lay, indeed, at the point of death when Morales happened upon him. Upon some small act of kindness such as one slave may do for another, the two had made friends: and thus Morales came to hear the poor Englishman's story."

Here I broke off and nodded to the Count, who called for a lamp. And so for a few minutes we all sat without speech in the twilight, the room silent save for the cracking of Master d'Arfet's knuckles. When at length the lamp arrived, Zarco trimmed it carefully, unfolded his parchment, spread it on the table, and began to read very deliberately in his rolling voice, pausing and looking up between the sentences while the man Martin translated—

"This is the statement made to me by Roger Prance, the Englishman, Anno MCCCCIX., at various times in the month before he died.

"He said: My name is Roger Prance. I come from St. Lawrence on the River Jo,[A] in England. From a boy I followed the sea in the ships of Master Canynge,[B] of Bristol, sailing always from that port with cargoes of wool, and mostly to the Baltic, where we filled with stock-fish: but once we went south to your own city of Cadiz, and returned with wines and a little spice purchased of a Levantine merchant in the port. My last three voyages were taken in the Mary Radclyf or Redcliffe. One afternoon" [the year he could not remember, but it may have been 1373 or 1374] "I was idle on the Quay near Vyell's tower, when there comes to me Gervase Hankock, master, and draws me aside, and says he: 'The vessel will be ready sooner than you think,' and named the time—to wit, by the night next following. Now I, knowing that she had yet not any cargo on board, thought him out of his mind: but said he, 'It is a secret business, and double pay for you if you are ready and hold your tongue between this and then.'

[Footnote A: Wick St. Lawrence on the Yeo, in Somerset.]

[Footnote B: Grandfather of the famous merchant, William Canynge.]

"So at the time he named I was ready with the most of our old crew, and all wondering; with the ship but half ballasted as she came from the Baltic and her rigging not seen to, but moored down between the marshes at the opening of the River Avon.

"At ten o'clock then comes a whistle from the shore, and anon in a shore-boat our master with a young man and woman well wrapped, and presently cuts the light hawser we rode by; and so we dropped down upon the tide and were out to sea by morning.

"All this time we knew nothing of our two passengers; nor until we were past the Land's End did they come on deck. But when they did, it was hand in hand and as lovers; the man a mere youngster, straight, and gentle in feature and dress, but she the loveliest lady your eyes ever looked upon. One of our company, Will Tamblyn, knew her at once—as who would not that had once seen her?—and he cried out with an oath that she was Mistress d'Arfet, but newly married to a rich man a little to the north of Bristol. Afterwards, when Master Gervase found that we knew so much, he made no difficulty to tell us more; as that the name of her lover was Robert Machin or Macham, a youth of good family, and that she it was who had hired the ship, being an heiress in her own right.

"We held southward after clearing the land; with intent, as I suppose, to make one of the Breton ports. But about six leagues from the French coast a tempest overtook us from the north-east and drove us beyond Channel, and lasted with fury for twelve days, all of which time we ran before it, until on the fourteenth day we sighted land where never we looked to find any, and came to a large island, thickly wooded, with high mountains in the midst of it.

"Coasting this island we soon arrived off a pretty deep bay, lined with cedar-trees: and here Master Machin had the boat lowered and bore his mistress to land: for the voyage had crazed her, and plainly her time for this world was not long. Six of us went with them in the boat, the rest staying by the ship, which was anchored not a mile from shore. There we made for the poor lady a couch of cedar-boughs with a spare sail for awning, and her lover sat beside her for two nights and a day, holding of her hand and talking with her, and wiping her lips or holding the cup to them when she moaned in her thirst. But at dawn of the second day she died.

"Then we, who slept on the beach at a little distance, being waked by his terrible cry, looked up and supposed he had called out for the loss of the ship. Because the traitors on board of her, considering how that they had the lady's wealth, had weighed or slipped anchor in the night (for certainly there was not wind enough to drag by), and now the ship was nowhere in sight. But when we came to Master Machin he took no account of our news: only he sat like a statue and stared at the sea, and then at his dead lady, and 'Well,' he said; 'is she gone?' We knew not whether he meant the lady or the ship: nor would he taste any food though we offered it, but turned his face away.

"So that evening we buried the body, and five days later we buried Master Machin beside her, with a wooden cross at their heads. Then, not willing to perish on the island, we caught and killed four of the sheep which ran wild thereon, and having stored the boat with their flesh (and it was bitter to taste), and launched it, steered, as well as we could contrive, due east. And so on the eleventh day we were cast on the coast near to Mogador: but two had died on the way. Here (for we were starving and could offer no fight) some Moors took us, and carrying us into the town, sold us into that slavery in which I have passed all my miserable life since. What became of the Mary Radclyf I have never heard: nor of the three who came ashore with me have I had tidings since the day we were sold."

Here Zarco came to the end of his reading: and facing again on Master d'Arfet (who sat pulling his fingers while his mouth worked as if he chewed something) I took up the tale.

"All this, Sir, by little and little the pilot Morales told us, there in the Prince's map-room: and you may be sure we kept it to ourselves. But the next spring our royal master must fit out two caravels to colonise Porto Santo; with corn and honey on board, and sugar-canes and vines and (that ever I should say it!) rabbits. Gonsalvez was leader, of course, with Tristram Vaz: and to my great joy the Prince appointed me third in command.

"We sailed from Lagos in June and reached Porto Santo without mishap. Here Gonsalvez found all well with the colonists he had left behind on his former visit. But of one thing they were as eager to tell as of their prosperity: and we had not arrived many hours before they led us to the top of the island and pointed to a dark line of cloud (as it seemed) lying low in the south-west. They had kept watch on this (they said) day by day, until they had made certain it could not be a cloud, for it never altered its shape. While we gazed at it I heard the pilot's voice say suddenly at my shoulder, 'That will be the island, Captain—the Englishman's island!' and I turned and saw that he was trembling. But Gonsalvez, who had been musing, looked up at him sharply. 'All my life' said he, 'I have been sailing the seas, yet never saw landfall like yonder. That which we look upon is cloud and not land.' 'But who,' I asked, 'ever saw a fixed cloud?' 'Marry, I for one,' he answered, 'and every seaman who has sailed beside Sicily! But say nothing to the men; for if they believe a volcano lies yonder we shall hardly get them to cross.' 'Yet,' said Morales, 'by your leave, Captain, that is no volcano, but such a cloud as might well rest over the thick moist woodlands of which the Englishman told me.' 'Well, that we shall discover by God's grace,' Gonsalvez made answer. 'You will cross thither?' I asked. 'Why to be sure,' said he cheerfully, with a look at Tristram Vaz; and Tristram Vaz nodded, saying nothing.

"Yet he had no easy business with his sailors, who had quickly made up their own minds about this cloud and that it hung over a pit of fire. One or two had heard tell of Cipango, and allowed this might be that lost wandering land. 'But how can we tell what perils await us there?' 'Marry, by going and finding out,' growled Tristram Vaz, and this was all the opinion he uttered. As for Morales, they would have it he was a Castilian, a foreigner, and only too eager to injure us Portuguese.

"But Gonsalvez had enough courage for all: and on the ninth morning he and Tristram set sail, with their crews as near mutiny as might be. Me they left to rule Porto Santo. 'And if we never come back,' said Gonsalvez, 'you will tell the Prince that something lies yonder which we would have found, but our men murdered us on the way—'"

"My dear brother Bartholomew," Gonsalvez broke in, "you are wearying Master d'Arfet, who has no wish to hear about me." And taking up the tale he went on: "We sailed, Sir, after six hours into as thick a fog as I have met even on these seas, and anon into a noise of breakers which seemed to be all about us. So I prayed to the Mother of Heaven and kept the lead busy, and always found deep water: and more by God's guidance than our management we missed the Desertas, where a tall bare rock sprang out of the fog so close on our larboard quarter that the men cried out it was a giant in black armour rising out of the waves. So we left it and the noises behind, and by-and-by I shifted the helm and steered towards the east of the bank, which seemed to me not so thick thereabouts: and so the fog rolled up and we saw red cliffs and a low black cape, which I named the Cape of St. Lawrence. And beyond this, where all appeared to be marshland, we came to a forest shore with trees growing to the water's edge and filling the chasms between the cliffs. We were now creeping along the south of the island, and in clearer weather, but saw no good landing until Morales shouted aft to me that we were opening the Gulf of Cedars. Now I, perceiving some recess in the cliffs which seemed likely to give a fair landing, let him have his way: for albeit we could never win it out of him in words, I knew that the Englishman must have given him some particular description of the place, from the confidence he had always used in speaking of it. So now we had cast anchor, and were well on our way shoreward in the boat before I could be certain what manner of trees clothed this Gulf: but Morales never showed doubt or hesitancy; and being landed, led us straight up the beach and above the tide-mark to the foot of a low cliff, where was a small pebbled mound and a plain cross of wood. And kneeling beside them I prayed for the souls' rest of that lamentable pair, and so took seizin of the island in the names of our King John, Prince Henry, and the Order of Christ. That, Sir, is the story, and I will not weary you by telling how we embarked again and came to this plain which lies at our feet. So much as I believe will concern you you have heard: and the grave you shall look upon to-morrow."

Master d'Arfet had left off cracking his joints, and for a while after the end of the story sat drumming with his finger-tips on the table. At length he looked up, and says he—

"I may suppose, Count Zarco, that as governor of this island you have power to allot and sell estates upon it on behalf of the King of Portugal?"

"Why, yes," answered Gonsalvez; "any new settler in Funchal must make his purchase through me: the northern province of Machico I leave to Tristram Vaz."

"I speak of your southern province, and indeed of its foreshore, the possession of which I suppose to be claimed by the crown of Portugal."

"That is so."

"To be precise I speak of this Gulf of Cedars, as you call it. You will understand that I have not seen it: I count on your promise to take me thither to-morrow. But it may save time, and I shall take it as a favour if—without binding yourself or me to any immediate bargain—you can give me some notion of the price you would want for it. But perhaps"—here he lifted his eyes from the table and glanced at Gonsalvez cunningly—"you have already conveyed that parcel of land, and I must deal with another."

Now Gonsalvez had opened his mouth to say something, but here compressed his lips for a moment before answering.

"No: it is still in my power to allot."

"In England just now," went on Master d'Arfet "we should call ten shillings an acre good rent for unstocked land. We take it at sixpence per annum rent and twenty years' purchase. I am speaking of reasonably fertile land, and hardly need to point out that in offering any such price for mere barren foreshore I invite you to believe me half-witted. But, as we say at home, he who keeps a fancy must pay a tax for it: and a man of my age with no heir of his body can afford to spend as he pleases."

Gonsalvez stared at him, and from him to me, with a puzzled frown.

"Bartholomew," said he, "I cannot understand this gentleman. What can he want to purchase in the Gulf of Cedars but his wife's grave? And yet of such a bargain how can he speak as he has spoken?"

I shook my head. "It must be that he is a merchant, and is too old to speak but as a haggler. Yet I am sure his mind works deeper than this haggling." I paused, with my eyes upon Master d'Arfet's hands, which were hooked now like claws over the table which his fingers still pressed: and this gesture of his put a sudden abominable thought in my mind. "Yes, he wishes to buy his wife's grave. Ask him—" I cried, and with that I broke off.

But Gonsalvez nodded. "I know," said he softly, and turned to the Englishman. "Your desire Sir, is to buy the grave I spoke of?"

Master d'Arfet nodded.

"With what purpose? Come, Sir, your one chance is to be plain with us. It may be the difference in our race hinders my understanding you: it may be I am a simple captain and unused to the ways and language of the market. In any case put aside the question of price, for were that all between us I would say to you as Ephron the Hittite said to Abraham. 'Hear me, my lord,' I would say, 'what is four hundred shekels of silver betwixt me and thee? Bury therefore thy dead.' But between you and me is more than this: something I cannot fathom. Yet I must know it before consenting. I demand, therefore, what is your purpose?"

Master d'Arfet met him straightly enough with those narrow eyes of his, and said he, "My purpose, Count, is as simple as you describe your mind to be. Honest seaman, I desire that grave only that I may be buried in it."

"Then my thought did you wrong, Master d'Arfet, and I crave your pardon. The grave is yours without price. You shall rest in the end beside the man and woman who wronged you, and at the Last Day, when you rise together, may God forgive you as you forgave them!"

The Englishman did not answer for near a minute. His fingers had begun to drum on the table again and his eyes were bent upon them. At length he raised his head, and this time to speak slowly and with effort—

"In my country, Count, a bargain is a bargain. When I seek a parcel of ground, my purpose with it is my affair only: my neighbour fixes his price, and if it suit me I buy, and there's an end. Now I have passed my days in buying and selling and you count me a huckster. Yet we merchants have our rules of honour as well as you nobles: and if in England I bargain as I have described, it is because between me and the other man the rules are understood. But I perceive that between you and me the bargain must be different, since you sell on condition of knowing my purpose, and would not sell if my purpose offended you. Therefore to leave you in error concerning my purpose would be cheating: and, Sir, I have never cheated in my life. At the risk then, or the certainty, of losing my dearest wish I must tell you this—I do not forgive my wife Anne or Robert Machin: and though I would be buried in their grave, it shall not be beside them."

"How then?" cried Gonsalvez and I in one voice.

"I would be buried, Sirs, not beside but between them. Ah? Your eyes were moist, I make no doubt, when you first listened to the pretty affecting tale of their love and misfortune? Not yet has it struck either of you to what a hell they left me. And I have been living in it ever since! Think! I loved that woman. She wronged me hatefully, meanly: yet she and he died together, feeling no remorse. It is I who keep the knowledge of their vileness which shall push them asunder as I stretch myself at length in my cool dead ease, content, with my long purpose achieved, with the vengeance prepared, and nothing to do but wait securely for the Day of Judgment. Pardon me, Sirs, that I say 'this shall be,' whereas I read in your faces that you refuse me. I have cheered an unhappy life by this one promise, which at the end I have thrown away upon a little scruple." He passed a hand over his eyes and stood up. "It is curious," he said, and stood musing. "It is curious," he repeated, and turning to Gonsalvez said in a voice empty of passion, "You refuse me, I understand?"

"Yes," Gonsalvez answered. "I salute you for an honest gentleman; but I may not grant your wish."

"It is curious," Master d'Arfet repeated once more, and looked at us queerly, as if seeking to excuse his weakness in our judgment. "So small a difficulty!"

Gonsalvez bowed. "You have taught us this, Sir, that the world speaks at random, but in the end a man's honour rests in no hands but his own."

Master d'Arfet waited while Martin translated; then he put out a hand for his staff, found it, turned on his heel and tottered from the room, the interpreter following with a face which had altered nothing during our whole discourse.

* * * * *

Master d'Arfet sailed at daybreak, having declined Gonsalvez' offer to show him the grave. My old friend insisted that I must stay a week with him, and from the terrace before his house we watched the English pinnace till she rounded the point to eastward and disappeared.

"After all," said I, "we treated him hardly."

But Gonsalvez said: "A husk of a man! All the blood in him sour! And yet," he mused, "the husk kept him noble after a sort."

And he led me away to the warm slopes to see how his young vines were doing.


A Story of 1644

I pray God to deal gently with my sister Margery Lantine; that the blood of her twin-brother Mark, though it cry out, may not prevail against her on the Day of Judgment.

We three were all the children of Ephraim Lantine, a widower, who owned and farmed (as I do to-day) the little estate of Lawhibbet on the right shore of the Fowey River, above the ford which crosses to St. Veep. The whole of our ground slopes towards the river; as also does the neighbour estate of Lantine, sometime in our family's possession, but now and for three generations past yielding us only its name. Three miles below us the river opens into Fowey Harbour, with Fowey town beside it and facing across upon the village of Polruan, and a fort on either shore to guard the entrance. Three miles above us lies Lostwithiel, a neat borough, by the bridge of which the tidal water ceases. But the traffic between these two towns passes behind us and out of sight, by the high-road which after climbing out of Lostwithiel runs along a narrow neck of land dividing our valley from Tywardreath Bay. This ridge comes to its highest and narrowest just over the chimneys of Lawhibbet, and there the old Britons once planted an earthwork overlooking the bay on one hand and the river-passage on the other. Castle Dore is its name; a close of short smooth turf set within two circular ramparts and two fosses choked with brambles. Thither we children climbed, whether to be alone with our games—for I do not suppose my father entered the earthwork twice in a year, and no tillage ever disturbed it, though we possessed a drawerful of coins ploughed up from time to time in the field outside—or to watch the sails in the bay and the pack-horses jingling along the ridge, which contracted until it came abreast of us and at once began to widen towards Fowey and the coast; so that it came natural to feign ourselves robbers sitting there in our fastness and waiting to dash out upon the rich convoys as they passed under our noses.

I talk as if we three had played this game with one mind. But indeed I was six years younger than the others, and barely nine years old when my brother Mark tired of it and left me, who hitherto had been his obedient scout, to play at the game alone. For Margery turned to follow Mark in this as in everything, although with her it had been more earnest play. For him the fun began and ended with the ambush, the supposed raid and its swashing deeds of valour; for her all these were but incident to a scheme, long brooded on, by which we were to amass plunder sufficient to buy back the family estate of Lantine with all the consequence due to an ancient name in which the rest of us forgot to feel any pride. But this was my sister Margery's way; to whom, as honour was her passion, so the very shadows of old repute, dead loyalties, perished greatness, were idols to be worshipped. By a ballad, a story of former daring or devotion, a word even, I have seen her whole frame shaken and her eyes brimmed with bright tears; nay, I have seen tears drop on her clasped hands, in our pew in St. Sampson's Church, with no more cause than old Parson Kendall's stuttering through the prayer for the King's Majesty—and this long before the late trouble had come to distract our country. She walked our fields beside us, but in company with those who walked them no longer; when she looked towards Lantine 'twas with an angry affection. In the household she filled her dead mother's place, and so wisely that we all relied on her without thinking to wonder or admire; yet had we stayed to think, we had confessed to ourselves that the love in which her care for us was comprehended reached above any love we could repay or even understand—that she walked a path apart from us, obedient to a call we could not hear.

In her was born the spirit which sends men to die for a cause; but since God had fashioned her a girl and condemned her to housework, she took (as it were) her own hope in her hands and laid it all upon her twin brother. They should have been one, not twain. He had the frame to do, and for him she nourished the spirit to impel. With her own high thoughts she clothed him her hero, and made him mine also. And Mark took our homage enough, without doubting he deserved it. He was in truth a fine fellow, tall, upright, and handsome, with the delicate Lantine hands and a face in which you saw his father's features refined and freshly coloured to the model of the Lantine portraits which hung in the best sitting-room to remind us of our lost glories. For me, I take after my mother, who was a farmer's daughter of no lineage.

I remember well the Christmas Eve of 1643, when the call came for Mark; a night very clear and crisp, with the stars making a brave show against the broad moon, and a touch of frost against which we wrapped ourselves warmly before the household sallied down to the great Parc an Wollas orchard above the ford, to bless the apple-trees. My father led the way as usual with his fowling-piece under his arm, Mark following with another; after them staggered Lizzie Pascoe, the serving maid, with the great bowl of lamb's wool; Margery followed, I at her side, and the men after us with their wives, each carrying a cake or a roasted apple on a string. We halted as usual by the bent tree in the centre of the orchard, and there, having hung our offerings on the bough, formed a circle, took hands and chanted, while Lizzie splashed cider against the trunk—

"Here's to thee, old apple-tree Whence to bud and whence to blow, And whence to bear us apples enow— Hats full, packs full, Great bushel sacks full, And every one a pocket full— With hurrah! and fire off the gun!"

I remember the moment's wait on the flint-lock and the flame and roar of my father's piece, shattering echoes across the dark water and far up the creek where the herons roosted. And out of the echoes a voice answered—a man's voice hailing across the ford.

Mark took a torch, and, running down to the water's edge, waved it to guide the stranger over. By-and-by we caught sight of him, a tall trooper on horseback with the moonlight and torchlight flaming together on his steel morion and gorget. He picked his way carefully to shore and up the bank and reined up his dripping horse in the midst of us with a laugh.

"Hats full, pockets full, eh? Good-evenin', naybours, and a merry Christmas, and I'm sure I wish you may get it. Which of 'ee may happen to be Master Ephr'm Lantine?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse