The torch came down, Milo smashed in the head of the keg, revealing the terrible contents, and as if in grim jest he snatched up a sprinkling of the powder and flicked some grains into the flare of the torch. If there had been any doubt as to the deadly earnestness of Dolores, there could be none now, for sparks crackled and spit in fearful nearness to that open keg. Men stampeded for the stairs, hurling each other down in their frenzy; but Yellow Rufe and Sancho lingered. Theirs had been the gravest fault; if they fled, it must be only to do penance some other day; if they forced Dolores's hand, at least she and that scornful giant must die the death also. They stood their ground, staring defiantly into her expressionless face.
Dolores spoke no word more. Milo stood like a bronze figure of Doom at her side, his noble face expressionless as hers. Between them stood that keg of terrible possibilities. The girl lowered the torch until the flame all but licked the wood of the keg; a dropping piece of charred wood fell audibly against the side. Sancho's breath caught painfully; Yellow Rufe's bloodshot eyes wavered. Still they held on.
"Milo, I give thee freedom!" said Dolores in a low, distinct voice that carried to their ears like the sound of a silver bell. "Farewell, faithful friend!"
The torch swept around, fanning to a blaze in the eddying air, then darted toward the keg. And with a yell that echoed on deck and far out over the sea, Yellow Rufe and Sancho turned and fled, fighting with each other, as had their less bold fellows, for the precious air of safety.
Dolores laughed contemptuously, flung the torch aside and bade Milo trample it out, then she, too, ascended to the deck to view her victory. The sea was dotted with swimming men, the beach was full of running men, terrified men made the cliff resound with their cries. Then, sure that the schooner was free of foes, Dolores looked toward the sloop, now within hail of the schooner and coming fast with sail and sweeps, while her crew stared over the low bulwarks in puzzlement as to the reason for the hasty exodus from the strange craft.
"Here, Milo, is fresh fare of trouble. Hast brought my own flag?"
"Here, Sultana," replied Milo, taking a carefully folded silken banner from a pocket in his leathern tunic.
"Hoist it, then, at the main! Perhaps Hanglip and Caliban, Stumpy and the rest of my brave jackals, will forego their expected meal at sight of it. And send forth a shout for slaves; this vessel must be cleansed and her people's wounds attended to."
Up at the schooner's lofty main-truck the Sultana's private flag fluttered out; the mark and sign of Dolores's ownership. And while three anxious yachtsmen on the cliff-top waited for her return, a hundred and twenty hungry and thirsty baffled ruffians on the sloop cursed her vehemently in their hoarse, dry throats.
DOLORES DELIVERS JUDGMENT.
On the level sward before the village the three yachtsmen paced back and forth in an ecstasy of apprehension. Pascherette had left them, after playing them like fish with her own charms and a hinted promise of Dolores's favors as bait; and the moment they were alone Venner shook off the spell in a resurging determination to attend to the safety of his vessel in person.
"Follow me, Pearse; come Tomlin!" he said. "We are three mad fools to stand here while these pirates loot and wreck the Feu Follette!"
Tomlin shuddered as he started to follow. Pearse kept silence, but did not hesitate. But they had not stepped ten paces before they realized fully the completeness of their helplessness, for Venner, first to attempt the path down, was brought to a halt by a musket leveled at his breast, the musketeer showing only his head and shoulders above the cliff edge. And as Tomlin and Pearse came up, they, too, were abruptly halted in like manner; and a grinning Carib motioned each back with an unspoken command which was none the less inexorable.
They returned to their first positions, and resumed their nervous walk, condemning themselves as utter idiots for venturing unarmed into such a nest of vipers at the urge of curiosity, novelty, feminine attraction, greed—whatever their motives had been. And here Dolores came upon them, while all about them swarmed the disgruntled pirates from the sloop, and those of the mutineers whose abject fears warned them to take whatever punishment their queen chose to mete out rather than to escape only to be brought back to endure penalties immeasurably more terrible.
Yellow Rufe and Sancho were not minded to stay, however; they had vanished; and Dolores's keen eyes noted this the moment she surveyed the scene. She walked swiftly to the door of the council hall, turned to face the mob, and lifted an arm for attention. Then fell a hush full of anxiety or terror, according to the degree of culpability in the consciousness of her audience.
"Summon every creature in the village," she cried, "and let no man or woman dare to leave this place until ye hear my thoughts concerning this day's work!"
Men scattered eagerly through the huts, calling by name all who were not present in the crowd, and presently more of the community came out, their faces mostly reflecting the terror that was in their souls; for none might ever foretell the moods of their queen. Inscrutable as night, her eyes were like pools of violet shadow wherein lurked promise or threat of unimaginable things; every line of her face and form was a line of a riddle that could prove in the solution either magnificent generosity, fearless justice, or implacable vengeance: like the lightning, Dolores struck where she willed, and in what fashion she chose; it was useless to attempt avoidance.
Venner and his friends looked on curiously, a feeling akin to awe pervading them at the increasing evidence before their eyes of the power wielded by this splendid fury, they had yet to know. When all were present, except those whose activities on the schooner had already procured them a passport to another world, Dolores swept the crowd with a penetrating glance and called for Milo, who appeared from the rear of the council hall laden with chains and bilboes which he cast down at her feet. Then the angry impatience of the disappointed sloop's crew proved too intense, and Caliban bounded to the front, squealing shrilly:
"The fiend may take you with your irons! Shall we, men who followed Red Jabez through a sea of blood, cower to a woman of such soft mettle? Dolores, queen or woman or wench, it is for you, not us, to explain. Lads—" he shrieked, flashing about and haranguing his companions—"back me in this. We will know why the sloop lacked powder; why to-day's work has brought no reward!"
The deformed little demon stepped back to the crowd, and paced to and fro with feverish gestures, scowling blackly at every turn that brought him face to face with Dolores. The packed mob milled and murmured, some afraid, many of Caliban's mind yet not daring to openly support him. Venner and his friends sensed the thrill of it, for their brief experience of the pirate queen left them in slight doubt as to the outcome of Caliban's speech. Dolores herself stood motionless for a full minute after the hunchback ceased his defiance, and under her lowered, heavily lashed eyelids the dark eyes seemed to slumber; only in her lips was any trace of the alertness that governed her brain, and those scarlet petals, which seemed to have been plucked from a love flower in the garden of passion, slowly, almost imperceptibly parted, until the dazzling teeth gleamed through in a smile that none might yet determine whether soft or terrible. And as the seconds heaped suspense upon suspense, the overbold Caliban was seized with a choking fear that he was to pay the price. Then Dolores spoke, slowly, quietly, almost soothingly; and those of her hardened ruffians who thought they knew her best hung on her words in shivery uncertainty.
"For those bold words, Caliban, my father had stripped thy poisonous skin from thy putrid flesh. Yesterday thy queen might not have proved more merciful. Yet do I know how thy disappointment chafes thy brave soul, and because of that thy rash speech goes unpunished." The hush intensified, for the leniency of Dolores was little less to be feared than her fury. A smile of ineffable radiance broke over her beautiful face, and she extended her right hand and said, still in the same slow, even voice: "Come, Caliban. Thou art worthy of my mercy. Kneel, that I may know thy heart is right."
Now the suspense reached its climax. Somewhere behind those softly spoken words surely lurked some awful, cunningly cloaked threat. Caliban went white, ghastly; his brave tongue stuck to his palate, and the thin lips slavered with growing panic.
The girl's command was uttered no louder, her expression was unchanged; in her glorious eyes gleamed no trace of anything other than benign forgiveness; she remained motionless as before, with her rounded arm and shapely hand extended in a manner that revealed their every perfection.
Again the words fell from her smiling lips, and now the quivering hunchback obeyed, drawn irresistibly by her magnetism, sick with dread of the stroke he in common with all his mates expected to fall.
"Kneel! See, I give thee my hand to kiss," Dolores said, and smiled upon the cowering wretch with a tender brilliance that sent a tremendous flutter through the hearts of the three yachtsmen.
Caliban knelt and took the proffered hand, then at her word he stood before her, scarcely certain yet that his head was solidly established on his shoulders. She motioned him to stand on one side of her, then, aglow with warm color, she addressed the puzzled throng:
"My bold sea tigers, the ship that escaped thy sloop is but one ship. The seas are full of such. Yet, until to-day, how many have ye been forced to let go because of thy poor equipment in craft? Thy sloop, how small, how old—yet what rich prey escaped thy guns since the Red Chief's swift brig laid her bones here? None! Yet ye complain because I prevented thee destroying the beautiful schooner the gods have this day sent to us!"
Now the purport of her speech struck home; the seemingly soft-brained weakness that had forbidden the rape and pillage of the schooner stood in part explained. And as the light filtered through thick skulls and shone upon all but atrophied brains, a deep muttering swelled into the embryo of a throaty cheer that needed but one look of encouragement from Dolores to spring into noisy life. As for Venner, his expression was reflected in Tomlin, and both in Pearse; and awakening or resurrected, fear was the keynote of all.
"The vampire means to suck us dry after all!" whispered Venner hoarsely. His friends could only squeeze his arm in mute sympathy. They harbored no doubts at all.
Dolores went on:
"With such a vessel as this"—pointing to the schooner—"that Indiaman to-day had never shown heels. And more, how think ye my store is replenished? Dost think I tap the rock for wine? Does Milo crush the granite and bring forth meat for thy hungry bellies? Are my treasures kept at high tide by snatching the colors from the sunset? Fools!" she cried, and for a moment passion conquered her calm. "In that schooner are wines that will make thy hot blood living flame; meats that will put teeth into the throats of the toothless; treasures fit for thy queen's treasury. And more to thy hand, my brave jackals, those pretty pieces of ordnance, which the sun even now paints with liquid gold, will outrange the guns of a king's ship." Pausing, she bent upon the murmuring crew a look of blazing majesty; then concluded with a vibrant demand: "Now dost know why thy queen withheld thy senseless hands from witless destruction?"
Her question was scarcely heard before the answer came. From a hundred rusty throats pealed a huzzah that rolled out over the sea and sent the sea-birds squawking with fright to more peaceful surroundings.
"Dolores! Dolores! That's a queen for the tribe of Jolly Roger!" howled Hanglip, and tumult rang again.
The girl raised her hand, and silence fell once more.
"Hear my judgment upon such of ye as are not of thy mind," she cried, and now the smile had gone; her eyes flashed and the words fell red-hot from her scornful lips.
"I demand no tales from thy mouths. Hiding among these woods Yellow Rufe and Sancho, he of the one eye and the mutilated hand, think to ward off my vengeance. By meridian to-morrow I command those traitors to be brought to me. Fail in this, and ye shall see that Dolores can be terrible, too."
The crowd took this as a dismissal, and broke into parties to scour the woods. Only slaves and women remained, and Pascherette ran to her mistress's side and whispered, with a sidelong look of coquettish allurement at Venner and his friends.
"Something about to happen!" Venner whispered, hoping that it might prove something in recompense for his day of stress. Dolores cast a look of cool indifference toward them and told Milo:
"Put these strangers in separate chambers, Milo. Iron them securely and look to it well. Thou art answerable for them."
No more. She took Pascherette and departed.
THE SULTANA DECIDES SEVERAL THINGS.
There was a moment of cruel amazement for Venner and the others when Dolores had gone; then Milo, approaching with his irons and chains, awoke the captives to resistance.
"No chains for me, by God!" shouted Venner, crouching to ward off the giant's approach. "Tomlin, Pearse, break for the schooner! I'll hold this savage. We shall perhaps fail; but by the powers of justice we'll go down fighting on our own ship!"
He sprang at Milo as he spoke, and his friends hesitated. Milo, without haste, without change of countenance, dropped his irons and reached Venner with great deliberate strides. And in that momentary hesitation Tomlin and Pearse were lost with their host; for the giant stretched out one tremendous arm, seized Venner by the slack breast of his shirt, and lifted him from the ground, flailing with both hands like some puny child in the grip of his nurse.
Milo spoke no word. He gave no more attention to Venner's futile blows than to the whispering of the sands of the shore. But bearing ever toward the other two men, now seemingly paralyzed out of all volition by the awful exhibition of strength, he reached out with his free hand and added Tomlin to his capture as he had taken Venner.
Pearse might even now have made his bid for liberty; but he was no coward to desert his companions. He uttered a choking cry of mingled fear and defiance, and rushed in between his friends to swing a heavy blow with his fist fair upon the giant's unprotected temple. Now Milo gave sign of interest. He laughed: a deep, rumbling, pleasant laugh of appreciation for the courage that prompted the blow; but he never blinked at the impact, nor did he attempt to avoid another blow that came swiftly. Simply putting forth a greater effort of muscle he swung his two captives apart, held them at arm's length while the sinews of his mighty chest and beamlike arms writhed and rippled like snakes, and rushed upon Pearse with the terrible resistlessness of an avalanche. A shower of blows pounded his face and breast as he closed, then he laughed again; this time triumphantly; for Pearse was enfolded between Venner and Tomlin in a hug that spelled suffocation did he persist in his struggles.
The swift conquest had taken but minutes; none but a few women of the camp had seen it; and they, well used to such scenes, simply chattered and smiled pityingly, not with pity for the men, but for the futility of their resistance. Milo, scarcely breathing above normal, called loudly: "Pascherette!" and gave his prisoners another quieting squeeze.
Pascherette was with her mistress. She did not answer, and Milo called again: "Pascherette!"
The other women drew near, and on many a wickedly fair face shone a light of hope that its wearer might serve in Pascherette's place, no matter what the errand; for it was not the petite golden octoroon alone who had sighed for love of the giant.
"Pascherette is with the Sultana, Milo. Let me answer for her," spoke out a dark beauty whose sparkling eyes held the craft and wisdom of a harpy.
"I—" and "I—" came other voices, and the women gathered around. "What do you need, good Milo?"
"Open three chambers behind the council hall. In each must be a fettering ring. Make speed. Go!"
The women ran, and Milo made his capture more complete. Flinging the three men down, breathless and numbed from his grasp, he swiftly clapped leg-irons on them one after the other, then stood up, holding the long chains together in one huge fist until the women cried out that the chambers were ready.
The bruised and subdued yachtsmen were placed in their separate cells, fettered to great iron rings, and left to cogitate over their probable fate. They were not even permitted the solace of intercourse; but as each grew more accustomed to the gloom inside, he discerned that it was no part of the plan to permit him to hunger or thirst, for a subtle gleam of ruby light shot into each small room from an unseen source, intensifying gradually and touched with its infernal radiance a small tabouret on which stood a silver flagon and a dish of the same metal containing meat.
Milo went to the great chamber in the Cave of Terrible Things when the doors had closed on his prisoners, and presented himself to Dolores. He found Pascherette prostrate on the floor before the queen, whimpering and sobbing with terror. Over her Dolores stood like Wrath in person, her beautiful face distorted with passion, fire blazing in her eyes, her breast heaving tumultuously. In her hand she held a cat-o'-nine-tails—a dainty, vicious, splendid instrument of terror—formed of plaited human hair of as many shades as thongs, studded with nuggets of gold instead of lead—and none the less terrible for that—set in a cunningly carved handle of ivory. And as Milo entered, she held the whip aloft in a quivering hand, and cried to Pascherette:
"Speak, or I flay thee, traitor! What wert telling the villain, Sancho?"
Pascherette whined and cringed; she could not, or would not speak. The whip quivered, was about to fall on those dainty bare shoulders, when Milo, uttering a choking cry, flung himself forward and took the blow on his face. Dolores started back, a thing of fury, as Milo cast himself at her feet, his head on the ground, and said with submission:
"Spare the child, Sultana. Let my back bear her penance. She is faithful to thee."
Dolores halted an instant between redoubled rage and mercy; then she flung down the whip with a hard laugh, seated herself in the great chair, and bade Milo and the girl rise and come to her.
"Milo, thou'rt a fool!" she said. "Were thy brain as great as thy great heart the world might well be thine. I tell thee, child or no child, that chit is woman enough to have bound thee her slave. She is woman enough, too, to hold secret converse with my foes. Do thou speak to her now and learn for me what traffic she had with Sancho the morning after I took her as my handmaid. I give thee scant time; if I learn it not swiftly neither thou nor she shall leave this chamber alive!"
With her giant beside her, Pascherette's fears subsided in part. She peered up at him shyly and stepped closer to him, as if to seek actual shelter from the storm that threatened her; but her frightened, dependent demeanor was scarcely in accord with the new light that glinted in her sharp eyes when she dropped them from his face again. There was cunning and craft in them; the brazen assurance of a thief whose conviction is prevented by a lucky mishap.
She spoke rapidly, for his ears only, and her face drooped in an access of confusion that, beautifully simulated, satisfied Milo and sent a warm thrill into his honest breast.
"Pascherette says she only gave Sancho his answer," Milo told Dolores. "He had demanded her for his mate."
"A pretty tale!" cried Dolores impatiently. "If that be all, why so fearful of telling me, girl? Why did Sancho, who well knows the price, join Rufe against me?"
"I was afraid," murmured Pascherette with a pretty shiver. She summoned a rosy blush to her piquant face and added in a still lower whisper: "Thy anger terrified me, Sultana. My tongue was tied. And Sancho did what he did in rage, in jealousy against Milo."
The giant drew himself more erect, and his face became transfigured. If in his great heart there remained any room after his devotion to his mistress, cunning little Pascherette occupied it all when she uttered the half-admission that Milo was her man. Dolores regarded the pair silently; her expression changed slowly from irritation to query; from unbelief to amusement, and after a moment's reflection she smiled without softness and said:
"Milo, I would do much for thee. For double dealing I have no mercy. If thy love-bird would have me believe, if she is ought to thee, bid her seek Sancho and bring him to me. Let her bring him at her own hands before my hunters run him to earth, and I forgive thee both. She has fooled thee; she can fool Sancho."
Pascherette lighted up with something higher than hope: it was certainty; and while it made Milo happy it did not escape Dolores, whose dark-violet eyes once again became fathomless pools in which none might read her thoughts. She waved them from her presence, and they went out together, leaving her sitting motionless until the hangings fell behind them. Then she sprang up, ran to a great mirror, and stood for many moments regarding her lovely reflection.
"Yes, thou art beautiful!" she apostrophised. "Beautiful as an artist's dream. And for what? To queen it over these beasts! To be called Sultana, and to be in truth a caged eagle. Of them all, who save loyal Milo may I trust? Of them all, where is one whose blood mixed with mine could produce aught but devils! Yet I must slink away in the night like a whipped cur, or leave behind these treasures which alone can secure me station in the outside world." She began to pace the great apartment, oblivious of her surroundings, conscious only of a surging rebellion against even the small necessity of biding her time. The day's happenings on the schooner had shown her clearly the explosive condition of her crew; she had no mistaken ideas that for her to load up the schooner and sail away was simple. Further, she detected in recent events a growing unrest among the band, the cause of which she had but begun to fathom. Even now, through the tapestry sounding-stone, her keenly attuned ears caught a note in the cries of returning woods parties that told her how precarious was her sway over some of the more turbulent spirits.
"Before me they cringe like the dogs they are," she muttered, halting again at the mirror. "Behind my back they snap like wolves. They shall have their lesson quickly—such a one as the boldest of them shall shriek mercy." She gazed intently into the mirror, as if she would read therein an answer to her unspoken longing; then her eyes grew dark and hard; her round, strong chin set stubbornly, and she whispered intensely: "Pah! Cattle! They shall not alter my will to seek my rightful place in the world of the white man! What avails it that in my veins runs my mother's noble blood, the red chief's fiery courage, if this nest of soulless brutes is to witness my life and my end? Among those three white men is one who shall release me. They—ah, they are of a whiter, cleaner mold! Theirs is the blood that matches mine! Let them show me which is the stronger. He shall mate with me, and I will make him a king indeed, even in his own land."
Dolores stepped back panting. Then she controlled herself and began to put on garment after garment, jewel after jewel, all of superlative magnificence. Every moment she glided to the great mirror; as often she tore off a garment or a jewel, flung it down impatiently, and seized others from her boundless store. At last she stood clad like a fabled daughter of old Bagdad; a robe of shimmering silk reached her ankles, outlining every grace of her splendid figure; upon her head she had set a tiara, priceless with gems whose fire dazzled even their wearer; on arms and fingers, ankles and toes, lustrous rings and bracelets made flashing lightning with her every movement; at her girdled waist was a dagger whose sheath could have ransomed a prince.
She stood like a statue, except for the rise and fall of her breast; her eyes glittered at her gorgeous reflection in the mirror. Then suddenly her expression changed, her lips parted in scorn, and with a savage, tigerish gesture, she tore off her splendors. She stood once more in her simple tunic of knee-length, sleeveless, beauty-revealing; and picking up her dagger with the gold cord she knotted it about her waist and again regarded herself closely.
And where before she had looked upon a gorgeous woman, royally clad, weighted with gems formed by man's art, now she gazed into the limpid, fathomless eyes of a living goddess—royally clad in her own peerless loveliness, crowned with a wealth of lustrous hair in which the gleams of gold outshone the tiara she had discarded. And her face lighted; a delicate flush overspread her cheeks; the full, luscious red lips parted in a veritable Cupid's bow; and she laughed a rippling, heart-warming laugh that brought the small, even teeth glistening into view.
Dolores was satisfied at last. Without further hesitation she hurried along to the rear of the chamber and emerged into the Grove of Mysteries by way of a door known only to herself and Milo. From there she made her way silently and darkly toward the council hall.
A REED SHAKEN BY THE WINDS OF PASSION.
Rupert Venner sat on the floor of his prison, tugging at his chains with an absent, aimless, all but perpetual motion; for he had long since convinced himself that his fetters could not be broken or loosed. The ruby light that had shown him the food and wine placed for him had faded away to the faintest red glow which scarcely sufficed to reach the tabouret. That mattered little; Venner had eaten when he was hungry, drunk when dry, and knew the position of the flagon and dish to the ultimate inch. He was not caring about the light. His mind was filled to the exclusion of all else with his plight and the predicament of his schooner.
"Confound me for a fool!" he mused aloud, gritting his teeth savagely. "Led by the nose by a saucy little chit who knows how to display her charms as well as her pearls!"
He pondered over his situation with growing irritation; for he knew only too well that his release could never be obtained by bribery; his keen sense of values told him that neither in the yacht or at home could he match the treasures he had already seen on the persons of Dolores, and Pascherette, and the other women of the camp. Yet he tried to console himself that after all these things might be displayed for his impression; might in fact be the entire store of the pirate queen, displayed for one gaudy, overpowering effect.
"That's it!" he cried, striking fist to palm. "Just a theatrical trick. That little jade, Pascherette, will sell her dark little soul for diamonds or pearls, I'll wager, and she shall sell me liberty. Then I'll see the queen creature, gaining entry by the same medium, and we shall see if cultivated wits are not a match for this wild beauty."
With something very like a smile of resignation Venner stretched himself on the floor and composed himself to rest. He was quite certain that Pascherette could be reached through his jailer, whoever that might be—Milo or somebody else—and the entire plan seemed to him beautifully simple and infallible. He dozed, awoke, dozed again, and the ruby light seemed to intensify each time his eyes opened. Gradually the shaft of light grew so strong that, focused on his closed eyes, it forced him to full wakefulness; and now he stared hard at it, blinking, hypnotized by the trembling radiance that seemed to shoot out from the main shaft until a great moving circle of light appeared before him. And out from the midst of the light stepped Dolores, bewitching, irresistible, smiling down upon him with a tenderness that filled him with awe.
Amazed, dazzled, the man sat up, quivering with a sensation that rippled at his hair-roots and sent the blood singing to finger and toe-tips. And Dolores, with one forefinger at her scarlet lips to enjoin silence, glided toward him with her inimitable grace, and knelt before him shaking her head and starting him on the way to intoxication with the touch of her wonderful hair.
"My friend, I grieve that thou art here," she said, and her glowing eyes thrilled him afresh. "Wilt thou believe that it is necessary for a while?"
"Necessary?" repeated Venner, dazedly. He strove hard to burst into angry protest, but his tongue refused to utter the harsh words in the face of such a creature of beauty. "I don't understand why it is necessary at all, lady. It is no choice of mine, or my friends, that our schooner is aground and we are your prisoners!"
"Ah, my friend, thou shalt understand," she answered, and laid a hand on his shoulder, making his senses swim with the fragrance of her breath. "But this is for thy ears alone. Thou wilt respect my confidence?" Venner nodded, wondering if, after all, the adventure might not turn out well. With Dolores so close to him that he could hear her tunic rustling to her deep, even breathing, that her loosened hair continually brushed his face, he would have nodded assent had she offered him a piece of charcoal for his immortal soul. "Then listen, man of my own people. A longing gnaws at my heart—this heart that beats under thy hand"—she took his hand with a swift movement and pressed it to her breast—"a longing to go far from this place and these brutish people, to thy land and the land to which I belong.
"And now must I say why thy ship is here? It is because I have chosen thee, my friend, to free me from this detestable bondage." She paused for a breath, leaning closer to him, then asked with a sudden grip of his hand at her breast: "Wilt take me out into thy world?"
Venner shifted uneasily beneath her blazing eyes. His soul was in torment with the touch of her; yet somewhere back of his trained brain lingered a spark of wit not yet extinguished along with his other wits by her spell. He lowered his gaze and said:
"Was there need to murder my crew, wreck my vessel, and fling me and my friends into these cells? Could not you, who are queen here, board my schooner yourself and ask a passage?"
"The murder of thy crew was not of my seeking. And thinkest thou I would go from here leaving behind my treasures? Or dost fancy my rascals would permit me to carry them away? No, friend, it is not so simple. The man who aids me to attain my desire must be strong and wise and true. He shall mate with me, and my treasures shall be his. That is why I have chosen thee."
"That requires thought, lady," returned Venner, half-heartedly. "I would assist you in getting free from this, since you wish it; but as for mating or marriage, why, there is a woman at home waiting for me."
"Woman!" Dolores cried with scorn. "Woman! I am Dolores!" She swayed toward him, her arms went about his neck, and slowly, slowly her glorious eyes fastened on his, her moist, warm lips sought his in a kiss that dragged at his soul's foundations.
"Canst refuse me?" she laughed softly, drawing back her head and peering at him from under lowered lids. "See, I trust thee utterly!" Snatching her dagger from the sheath she placed it in his right hand; then, with a key from her girdle, she unfastened his chains and swayed back, still kneeling. She clutched the single shoulder-strap of her tunic, tore it from her bosom, and flung both arms wide apart. "See!" she whispered, and Rupert Venner flung away the dagger, stumbled to his feet, and swept her into his crushing embrace while she abandoned herself to him with a long, quivering sigh.
"By the gods!" he swore hoarsely, "show me what I have to do. Wonderful, wonderful Dolores!"
"Patience," she smiled, resting her head on his breast. "First tell me thy name. What shall thy Dolores call thee?"
"I am Rupert. Call me slave!"
"Rupert. It is a name to love. Slave? Nay, it is I who shall be slave to thee. But patience again, Rupert. When we two go from here, there can be no other to share our secret; none save the slaves that I shall place in thy ship to replace thy dead crew. Thy friends may not go. They must not live to see thee go!"
Venner shivered, and drew back, holding her at arms' length and staring at her in horror.
"What are you saying, Dolores?" he gasped. "My friends are to die?"
"Yes, and by thy hand, my Rupert. For how else may I know thou are worthy to be mate to a queen?"
"Now, by Heaven! Witch, siren, whatever you are, my madness has passed!" he cried. "Not for the key to a paradise peopled with such as you would I do this!" He stepped aside, picked up her dagger, and glared at her with steely eyes.
Dolores laughed at him: a low, throaty little laugh that went clear to his brain and set it on fire again. Yet, nerving himself against her, he stood erect, dagger in hand, and met the blaze of her dusky eyes bravely. He shivered violently when her rich voice thrilled his tingling ears.
"Hah, my Rupert, thou'rt not yet tamed. Let me show thee thy master!"
With the words she reached him with her subtle, tigerish glide, swiftly, startlingly, and with the dart of a cobra her hand gripped his which held the dagger. Her warm body again pressed closely to him, her red lips, parted still, almost touched his cheek; her hair smothered him with its fragrance; and while his senses swam her supple muscles tensed to living steel wire, her grip tightened and twisted at his wrist, and the dagger was wrenched from his fingers. Then leaping back, laughing mockingly now, Dolores slipped the dagger into the sheath, snatched up the chains from the floor, and flew upon him with a deadly pounce that bore him back to the wall.
Aroused from his numbness, Rupert Venner fought back furiously, humiliated, and ashamed. Whether he would or not, he forgot all his chivalry, and strove to meet this appalling woman with strength against strength; but in Dolores he met a thing of wire and whipcord where moments before had been a creature of warm softnesses; a being of feline agility, and devilish skill that reflected the devilish skill of her teacher, Milo. The chain-links tinkled and clashed against their swaying bodies, but she never let them fall; they hung from her girdle; her hands were free; and she had both his wrists in a grip that outrivaled the irons. Laughing, ever laughing, her hot breath playing over his face, she placed one foot behind one of his, surged toward him heavily, and, when his arms would have involuntarily gone out to preserve his footing, she subtly twisted them back and up from the elbows, until she rested against his chest with her bare arms tightly about his body.
Now her head, with the gold circlet about the brows, pressed hard against his chin. Her hair was in his mouth, tendrils of it stung his eyes, but the gold band numbed his flesh and bruised the bone. Upward, ever upward, she forced his chin until his neck was cracking with the strain and he choked for breath. Then she suddenly relaxed. Her arms left him, her wickedly lovely face once more smiled into his starting eyes, and she took the chain from her girdle with leisurely swiftness, falling to her knees at his feet.
"There, my friend, thou art back in thy place!" she said, snapping on his ankle irons. "Spend the night in thought, good Rupert. To-morrow I shall come to thee again for thy decision. Now, pleasant dreams, my—lover!" she whispered, suddenly slipping her arms about his neck again and pulling his head hard against her panting breast. She softly kissed his hair, then pressed back his head and kissed his lips long and passionately.
"Good night, beloved!" she said, and passed out of the room, leaving behind the echoes of a rippling little laugh that set Venner's blood to leaping.
PASCHERETTE UNVEILS HER PURPOSE.
Milo and Pascherette stood outside the rock portals of the great chamber after their dismissal by Dolores, and the giant's face wore a look of perplexity which was not reflected in the little octoroon. If her task was difficult, Pascherette seemed not in the least disturbed; rather in her sharp eyes lurked something of bravado at having escaped her mistress's anger so easily. And this expression perplexed Milo.
"Art sure of thyself, Pascherette?" asked the giant, ill at ease for his little companion.
"Why not?" she laughed, peering up at his troubled face impudently. "Thinkest thou Pascherette is a fool?"
"No, thou art not a fool," replied Milo slowly. He laid a heavy hand on her shoulder, turned her around to face the faint light remaining, and gazed hard into her bright eyes. "Thou art not a fool, little one. But Sancho—is it so simple to find him?"
"Big, childish Milo!" she cried with a laugh that had no joy in it. "Dost think I feared that verdict of Dolores? No. I fear her whip only. My flesh creeps even now at thought of my poor shoulders hadst thou not appeared in time. Sancho? Pah! I can find him easily enough."
"Then, child, was there nothing in thy traffic with him save what I heard from thy lips?"
Pascherette looked down, tapping the sand with her tiny foot, and her breast fluttered in agitation. Then she slipped her hand into his, looked up shyly yet ardently into his eyes, and replied swift and low:
"Milo, my love for thee must be my defense. I did have traffic with Sancho, to the end that we—thee and me—might use him to our advantage. Wait!" she cried, when he would have spoken, "hear me. Canst not see Dolores's cunning intention? She goes from here, carrying her treasure; what will she do with thee, once safely away? Will she carry thee always with her, to be marked because of thy great stature? No, Milo, thy life will pay for her desertion of her people, and she will laugh at thy passing. And why should it be? Here, thou and I can rule these cattle as she never could. With Sancho's deserters, and Rufe's followers, I can give thee a band that will force the treasure from her greedy grasp, and make of her what she has made of thee and me—a slave!"
"Girl!" Milo's deep voice vibrated with passionate horror. "Cease thy treason, or I crush thy wicked heart in these two hands. Dolores is mistress of my soul—my body is but the slave of that."
"Pish!" retorted Pascherette, contemptuously. "She has thee dazzled, Milo. Say, dost thou not love me?" she demanded, standing tiptoe and thrusting her piquant little face under his gaze. "Look in my eyes, and then tell me another woman owns thy soul!"
"Yes, I love thee," replied Milo, with simple earnestness. "I love thee; yet will I kill thee ere Dolores suffers ill through thy scheming. Have done with this talk. I hate thee for it!"
"Love—and hate!" she laughed metallically. "Loving me, still thou hast room to love another better. Hate and love! Thou great fool, it cannot be!"
"Pascherette, I love thee. Thou'rt entangled in my heart-strings. When I hate thee, it is because of that love, which will not brook treason in thee. Again, I love thee, golden girl; but, forget it not, I worship Dolores as I worship my gods!"
"Then wilt thou not seek her power for thyself?" whispered the girl subduedly, awed for the moment by his tremendous and solemn earnestness.
"Little one, bring Sancho as she bade thee. He has merited punishment. Yet tell him the Sultana will be just. His punishment will but fit the fault. Afterward we two will talk together, and I shall teach thee loyalty. Go now, bring thy man to the council hall. I shall await thee. Stay, I shall come with thee, for the woods are dark, and a storm threatens."
"I go alone, Milo. He will fly from thee. Have no fear for me; the woods are safe, and the storm is in thy great head only."
The girl turned, kissed her hand airily, and ran into the gloom of the forest. And as she went she laughed again harshly and muttered: "The great clod! His worship overtops his love. But I shall make love overtop worship yet, my giant! Such a man—a slave? Not for a thousand Doloreses! Wait, Milo; wait, my mistress!"
The evening breeze had strengthened as darkness fell, and its breath was hot and sultry. As Pascherette plunged deeper into the woods, the heavy boom of the seas along shore died away and gave place to the softer, more vibrant hum and murmur of the great trees. The track, little more than a line of flattened underbrush, vanished before she had gone fifty yards; but the little octoroon was no stranger to nocturnal rambles, her keen eyes, and, keener still, her sense of direction, led her unerringly through the shades toward the rearward spur of the granite cliff. Creepers and hanging mosses brushed her face and limbs; alone she might have ignored them; but there was a quality in the sighing and rustling about her that seemed to give voices to the ghostly fingers that touched her, and to support her courage as well as to warn Sancho of her coming, she thrilled forth a merry little snatch of song:
"Ho! for the Jolly Roger lads; Ho! for the decks red-streaming. A pirate's lass is a well-lov'd lass, And there's gold through the red a gleaming!
"Ho! for a cask in the fire's red glow; Ho! for the heaps of plunder. There are showers of pearls for the pirates' girls— The rain from the corsair's thunder!"
At the end of her song Pascherette halted, listened, then called softly:
"Sancho! Thy Pascherette calls!"
Silence prevailed for several moments, and she called again, fearing that her voice had gone astray amid the increasing confusion of the trees. Then came a lull in the wind, the lull that always punctuated the gathering of such tropical storms as now threatened; and in the hush she heard voices—uncertain, disputing. Then Sancho growled, close to her ear:
"Art alone, jade?"
"Oh, Sancho!" she cried, darting into the gloom to the sound of his voice and flinging her arms about him. "I have feared for thee, my Sancho. Now I fear no more, for all is well."
"Well?" the pirate growled suspiciously. "Hast left thy hot-blood mistress, then?"
"No, Sancho. It is better for thee even than that. I have made thy peace with Dolores. She has forgiven thee, and wishes to tell thee so."
A fervid curse burst from some one yet invisible, and Sancho leaned back to catch some whispered words. Then he, too, ripped out an oath, and gripped Pascherette tightly by the arm.
"This is a trick, little devil! Don't you value that pretty little head more than to trifle with me?"
"I trifle with thee? Thou art mad, Sancho!" she cried. "Did I lie when I said I loved thee, then?"
"The fiend knows! I know 'tis plaguey risky for thee if thou didst!"
"Unbeliever!" whispered Pascherette with thrilling emphasis. "Shall I tell thee again, in language even thy stubborn soul must believe?"
The girl suddenly glided inside his arms, flung up her hands, each clutching a mass of her glossy, scented hair, and enmeshed his disfigured face. Then, straining upward from her small height, her rosy, false lips sought his and fastened there while he staggered as if drunk.
"There, heart o' mine!" she panted. "Dost believe now? Or must I tell thee again that with such love as mine proud Dolores cannot hurt thee. Come! Such a chance will never come thy way again. Man! 'Tis her confidence Dolores offers thee. Shall it go begging because of thy madness?"
"Pascherette!" returned Sancho hoarsely. "I will go with thee. But, girl, thy heart's blood pours at first sign of treachery! Mark that well. And tell me now, does Yellow Rufe share in this mercy?"
"No, Sancho. It cannot be. Dolores has sworn to hunt him down; the woods are full of men even now, seeking him and thee. Only by going with me wilt thou escape them and have advantage from my pleading with the queen." She drew his head down to her ear, and whispered rapidly. Doubt, then admiration, crept into Sancho's voice as he said: "Dost think it can be done? Can he gain the sloop unseen?"
"I will make it easy, Sancho. Bid Rufe have no fear. The storm will be upon us within an hour. It is dark; there is wind aplenty. With six men he may win clear; and listen: If he is stout of heart, what is to stop him taking tribute from the stranger's white vessel?"
"Lack o' powder, girl," returned Sancho angrily. "Thy mistress keeps us short of powder, as well thou dost know, lest we become too strong for her. Who of us has ever seen the store? Not I, by Satan! Canst thou get powder and shot for Rufe?"
"Simpleton! Can he not get with steel all he wants from the schooner?"
"By the heart of Portuguez, he can!" cried another voice, and Yellow Rufe strode through the bushes.
"Rufe!" exclaimed the girl, feigning astonishment. Her ears were too keen not to have caught Rufe's voice in the whispering that had gone on.
"Yes, Rufe, and obliged to thee, Pascherette. Dost say thou wilt help me win away?"
"Gladly, Rufe, for I like well men of your mettle. Follow close behind Sancho and me. Count ten score after we go in to Dolores with Milo, then for an hour thou'lt have the sea to thyself. Luck go with thee, Rufe; thou'lt think of little Pascherette sometimes, I'll warrant."
A rumble of thunder rolled up from the sea, and lightning played in the tree-tops. Pascherette turned back toward the camp, and giving no heed to Sancho save to listen for his footsteps, she ran through the darkness sure-footed, sure-eyed as a cat. Rain began to fall, and the heavy foliage thrummed with the growing downpour which yet did not penetrate to the earth. As they neared the shore, the forest resounded with the solemn boom and crash of long-sweeping seas outside the bar; the wind screamed among the huts; all the women and those men who had returned from their portion of the search were snugly under cover. The place seemed deserted.
"Farewell, Rufe," Pascherette whispered at last, when the great black mass of the council hall loomed against the sky in a lightning flash. "Count ten score. Thy safety is in my hands."
Then she took Sancho by the hand, and led him through the plashing rain to the rear of the hall and called softly: "Milo!"
"Here. Hast found him?"
"Take us to the Sultana quickly, Milo. I have told Sancho to trust in the justice of Dolores."
"He may well do that," returned Milo. "The great Sultana is ever just."
"Yes, have no fear, good Sancho. I am Justice itself!" rejoined the mellow voice of Dolores in person, who had a few moments before left Rupert Venner. "Milo, I am minded to give Sancho proof of my mercy, since he already believes in my justice. Open the great chamber. Sancho, canst guess the honor I propose to do thee?"
"No, lady," replied Sancho, an awful dryness gripping his throat.
"Hast ever hungered for sight of the great chamber?" She paused smiling at the uneasy pirate, who could not answer. "Of course thou hast," she replied for him. "Which of my rogues has not? I am minded to show thee this mark of my love, since thy conscience permitted thee to return here. Hast any fear of the saying the Red Chief uttered? That none might enter the great chamber and live?"
Sancho suddenly sprang to life. His face was distorted; when the lightning flashed it revealed him a ghastly picture of apprehension.
"I will not go there! I have no wish to see what my eyes are forbidden to see. I never sought to enter, Sultana. It was the others!"
"Yes, Sancho, the others. That is why I select thee for the honor, because thou wert patient. Come. I promise thee thy life is safe."
Dolores passed on toward the great stone, where Milo stood guard over the opened portals. Sancho, trembling violently, was drawn irresistibly after her, partly fascinated by her calm strength, partly influenced by the soft fingers and whispered prattle of Pascherette, who strove to set him aflame with mention of some of the wonders he was to see.
He paused at the rock door, glancing around with a vague premonition of evil; but now it was Dolores's hand that took his; Dolores's rich voice that lured him on; and he stepped after her, smothering a sob of resurging terror as the great stone fell into its place behind.
SANCHO SETTLES HIS ACCOUNT.
In the rock passage the hush was complete. For the space of ten long breaths Sancho stood quivering under the weird spell of the infernal red radiance from the hidden lights, while almost invisible ahead of him Dolores bent to listen to a last moment's communication from Pascherette. With Milo behind him, and the great unknown ahead, the pirate's usual fierce courage oozed out through his boots. Yet he was hypnotized by the vague glitter that shone at the end of the tunnel—the glitter, though he knew it not yet, of the great sliding door to the inner mystery.
Suddenly the mighty rock reverberated and shook to a Titanic volley of thunder, and Sancho shrieked with nervous terror. His shriek was echoed by a rippling laugh from Dolores, and she came back swiftly toward him, pushing Pascherette before her. She handed the little octoroon on to Milo, and said, with a kindly pat on the girl's head: "Open, Milo, and let thy sweetheart complete her good works. Now I shall have none but faithful friends about me. Pascherette, thou'rt more than forgiven: thou'rt my good friend. I shall reward thee fittingly when"—she smiled dazzlingly at Sancho—"I have rewarded Sancho."
The rock door rolled aside, and Pascherette passed out into the storm. Sancho's nerves gave way utterly now, and he rushed toward the opening, screaming: "Let me out! I want air! I want none of the great chamber! Let me pass!"
Milo again let fall the rock, pressed a huge hand on Sancho's breast, and pushed him back, saying: "Peace, fool! Go with thy mistress. Thine eye will never again witness the like. Go, I tell thee. Dost fear the Sultana's justice?"
"Come, Sancho. Thou'lt be a marked man among thy fellows when I have shown thee what they yearn to see."
Dolores again took his hand, bent her glorious eyes full upon him, and Sancho followed her like a sheep, straight to the great door under the jeweled yellow lantern, where he stood, stupefied with awe at the barbaric splendors revealed.
His lips went dry, and he licked them feverishly; his single eye blazed with avarice; the two fingers and mutilated thumb of his right hand worked convulsively, as if he would tear the gems and plate from the door. And Dolores watched him from under lowered lids, her rich red lips curled scornfully, one hand half raised to warn Milo to open the great door slowly.
"Well, Sancho, art better prepared for the greater treasures yet to be seen?" smiled Dolores. The pirate's blazing eye seemed to dart flames as the door slowly rose to Milo's touch.
"Sultana!" he gasped, and his speech would do no more for him.
"Enter, friend. This is thy great hour!"
The queen pushed him gently inside, following herself, and Milo let fall the door again, standing mute and motionless on the inside while his mistress led the pirate to the center of the great chamber and waited until his dazzled eye adjusted itself to the subtle lighting effects.
Pascherette's last whispered communication to Dolores had told her of Yellow Rufe's intentions; and while Sancho stood in amaze, she bent her ear to catch the expected sound of voices through the sounding-stone behind the tapestry. For there the little octoroon was to play a part for Sancho's especial benefit. The thunder had become all but incessant; with every crash the great chamber rumbled and echoed eerily; yet between the crashes, brief as the periods were, human voices could be heard.
"Art ready to see my treasures, Sancho?"
Dolores waved a gleaming arm around the place, indicating with one wide gesture the glories of the walls and roof. But the pirate's senses responded more readily to the tangible riches represented by gold and gems, tall flagons, and jewel-incrusted lamps, littered diamonds and rubies that strewed the big table.
"Hah!" cried Dolores, with a low, throaty laugh. "Ah! my friend, I know thy mind. Milo!"
Milo advanced with a deep obeisance.
"Milo, open the great chests for Sancho. Let him plunge his arms to the elbows in red gold. Then I shall show him that which lies nearest to his deserts."
The pirate watched with lips no longer dry, but dripping with the saliva of greed, while Milo flung open chest after chest, full to overflowing with minted gold of many nations; looted jewels of royal and noble houses, sacred vessels and glittering orders, weapons whose hilts and scabbards, if ever made for use, could only have been used to bewilder the eye and senses.
Again the thunder pealed; and in the tremendous hush succeeding, the voices outside penetrated the sounding-stone in more than a whisper. Sancho jerked up his head and fear once more shone in his single eye.
"Come, good Sancho," purred Dolores, running her soft hand down his bare forearm. "Art frightened by petty noises, then? Plunge thy hands deep, man! All thou canst grasp is thine for so long as thy eye can enjoy or thy hands fondle."
Now Sancho's sordid soul surrendered. His greed conquered fear, and he delved deep into a coffer, chattering the while with frenzy. And now when the thunder rolled, his ears heard it not. He drew forth his hands, and a glittering mass of wealth fell about his feet. He glared up at Dolores, laughing ghoulishly.
"That is well, Sancho," Dolores said, and took his hand. "Now I will show thee the rest; and I know thou'lt never tell of it. I trust thee. Come. Put thy ear to this tapestry, and tell me what thou canst hear."
Sancho laid his ear to the cloth, and his eye gleamed brightly. Milo stepped silently behind him.
"I hear Hanglip!" he gasped. "Is he, too, here?"
"He is outside the cliff. But whom else canst hear?"
"I hear Caliban—Spotted Dog—Stumpy—I hear a score as if they stood by my side! And Pascherette! By the fiend! She has played Rufe a trick! And me—" He sprang from the wall like a tiger, snatching at his weaponless belt with slavering fury, to be gathered at once into the remorseless hug of Milo. And he glared full into the mocking face of Dolores—soft and generous no more, but the embodiment of awful vengeance.
For many seconds she stood regarding him contemptuously, until he subsided helplessly in Milo's grasp; then, motioning the giant to follow, she passed along and stopped before a life-size painting of "The Sleeping Venus" in a massive, gilded frame. With one hand raised high at the side, she turned a pulley-catch, and the great picture slowly fell forward from the top until it rested slopingly on the floor, forming an inclined entrance to a gloomy passage, dimly touched by a dark-red glow.
This was the secret outlet to the great chamber by which Milo had access to the altar in the grove at such times as his aid was needed to support Dolores in some exhibition of black magic. She stepped swiftly along the passage, giving no further heed to the panic-stricken pirate until Milo had carried and dragged him to where she awaited him. This was still another dark excavation, running deeper yet into the bowels of the cliff; and the devilish red glare was here intensified until surrounding objects were vividly revealed.
"Now hear the doom of a traitor!" cried Dolores, with haughty mien. "What! Not a traitor?" she mocked at the pirate's frantic howl of denial. "Then Dolores has erred, perhaps. There is a test, good Sancho. Let me see if I am wrong!"
She signed to Milo, and the giant swung Sancho around until he faced the deepest recess of the cave. There, swathed in mummy clothes, preserved by the chemical miracle of the stratum of red earth that formed the core of the rock, the body of Red Jabez stood erect against the wall, bathed in the red glow, diamonds glittering where the dead eyes had been. And on the rock ledge at his feet stood a tall flagon of gold, in which Dolores had brewed an awful potion for this event. Beside this ledge stood a low brazier full of glowing charcoal; on a tabouret near by lay several terrible implements the use of which needed no explanation.
"Look upon the face of the Red Chief, and drink this draft—'tis his blood!" she cried, seizing the flagon and thrusting it into Sancho's hands. "Then, if thy heart held no treachery toward me, thy life and limbs are safe. But have a care! A lie in thy heart will surely undo thee. Drink!"
A splitting thunder-crash filled the place with uproar; a gust of the tempest from the outer entrance sent the wind swirling in. It was as if the breath of the storm snatched Sancho's senses back from the terror-land they had fled to; he ceased his howling, glared defiantly up at the dead chief, and cried in desperation: "Give me the drink! I fear neither gods nor devils; why should I fear you, dead man?"
"Wait!" Dolores laid a hand on his arm, and stayed the flagon at his lips. "Wait, till I tell thee more. Then, if thou art guiltless, and go from here with the treasure I gave thee, thou'lt know thy friends and thy foes.
"Didst think Yellow Rufe was free? Thou fool! Thy wits are powerless before a woman's. Did my pretty Pascherette tell him he might go free, taking my sloop, escaping my vengeance, as thou didst think to? Didst hear those voices? Then I tell thee, Sancho, that ten-score count, that Rufe doubtless made in fear and trembling, but sufficed to raise his hopes. For ere he had gained the sloop and started her anchor, Pascherette had done her work. The stranger's schooner is full of my men, waiting for Rufe to come for his booty. Let him take alarm, then how far may he win? Thou'lt never know, false Sancho, for I have no doubt of thy treachery. Now drink, if thou darest!"
"Then, by the fiend, I dare!" shouted the pirate. Something in the tang of the gale sweeping in from the unseen entrance reassured him of the existence of the outer world; persuaded him that by taking a desperate chance he might yet throw dust in the eyes of this terrible woman and go hence with the secret of the great chamber. "I dare, Dolores! Blood, d' ye say? What fitter drink for a pirate?"
He lifted the flagon, took a deep draft in great gulps, so that his determination might carry him; then his eye sparkled, he took the flagon from his lips, and grinned at Milo. "By the great Red Chief!" he cried. "This is justice indeed! I drink to ye, Sultana, and to Milo, ye big jester!" and finished the drink with a greedy swallow.
Then the flagon clattered to the ground, Sancho's face went livid, and his mouth opened wide and loosely, as his body and limbs were seized with subtle pains. His brain, too, felt an awful numbness creeping upon it; for the draft had done its work. The rarest of wine from her store, Dolores had mingled with it a devilish powder that first sapped the strength, then attacked the brain, and eventually snapped the cord of intelligence, leaving the victim a driveling imbecile. But that point had not yet been reached. It would come perhaps in one hour, two, three, perhaps six—but inevitably it must come. For the present the pirate was simply in the grip of the unknown, yet having full power to realize, but not resist, the tangible terrors at hand.
"Milo, hasten the rest. I shall await thee at the gate. Put forth this traitor by the Grove outlet, and see to it that he takes with him neither power to see beauty, to utter treason, or to ever feel again the scalding touch of coveted gold. Make speed, I command thee, for I hear my stout trusty ones clamoring for the chase!"
Dolores disappeared through the secret outlet, sprang down behind the altar, and ran through the Grove. Beside the cliff were huddled Hanglip and Stumpy, Caliban, and Spotted Dog, drenched with the teeming rain, restless with impatience, peering ever to seaward in the lightning flashes that continually illumined the scene.
Among them Dolores appeared, suddenly, mysteriously, as coming from the skies, and after a choke of amazement Stumpy flung a hand seaward, and shouted above the turmoil of wind and rain:
"Queen o' Night, thou'lt need thy magic now! See, there flies the villain!"
Dolores looked, and smiled disdainfully. The torrential rain beat upon her bare head and shoulders, causing her to glisten and shine like a golden goddess; but she heeded it not at all; her eyes sought out what Stumpy had indicated. And there, in the next lightning-flash, flying seaward, was the sloop. Rufe had taken alarm, and had foregone his plan of looting the schooner.
"Let him go; he'll fly not far," she said calmly. "Come with me to the great rock, my bold fellows; daylight shall show thee Rufe where I would have him—paying the price, as Sancho has paid!"
She glided around the rock, followed by her silent faithfuls, while from the Grove rang a shriek of mortal agony that sent fierce hearts aquiver with terror.
DOLORES FLOATS THE FEU FOLLETTE.
"Hell's breath!" screamed Caliban, as the cry rang out. "Have ye devils in the Grove, mistress?" Hanglip and Spotted Dog, too, cringed back in fright. Stumpy concealed his uneasiness, yet his eyes searched Dolores's face questingly. None truly believed in the queen's magic powers; yet none was bold enough to openly avow his unbelief; and the added grimness of the storm, assisted by the unearthliness of that howl of anguish, brought the four godless pirates to the verge of superstitious terror.
"Yes, I keep my devils there," replied Dolores; "and that is the traitor Sancho answering to them for his perfidy. So watch, and obey me, lest thy cries, too, go up from my altar!"
She stood apart at the great stone, listening, and presently Milo rolled up the rock barrier, and appeared in the gloom, calm and cool as if he had no association with devils, imaginary or otherwise. A livid lightning-flash played on his features, and the pirates drew back, muttering at his black eyes which glowed with red points like rubies in the heart of twin coals.
"Milo, there flies Rufe," said Dolores, flinging an arm seaward. Beyond the false point, in the midst of black seas dappled with rushing white-horses, under a lowering black sky that seemed to lean down to the verge of the ocean itself, Rufe's sloop was pictured in the next flash of electric radiance a thing of desolation and panic. Fully a mile away, the craft vanished in the pervading blackness between every flash. "I need thy condor's vision now as never before. Take the swift, small sailboat, and flares; follow the sloop as long as thy eyes can pick her out; we shall follow thy flares in the schooner until we overtake thee. Haste now; Rufe has grace enough!"
Milo stayed only to get his flare-powder and tinder-box, then disappeared down the cliff.
Dolores despatched her four attendants to the schooner, prepared to follow, then, with an afterthought, halted two of them.
"Here, Hanglip, Spotted Dog, wait!" She swiftly entered the council hall, went to the three small chambers, and released her captives from the ring-bolts. Driving them before her, bewildered by the sudden emergence from tranquillity to the turmoil of the storm, she gave the two pirates each a chain, held the other herself, and led the way down to the stranded schooner. Her motive was not only uncertainty about the people left at the camp, who might prove susceptible to bribery if not pity; she also felt a sort of whimsical desire to impress these strangers with the utter inevitability of her power.
The Feu Follette lay on the edge of the bar, as she had lain since stranding, except that with tide after tide her keel had worn itself a place in the sand, and she was less closely held than before. Of her rightful crew but five survived the fight; one was the sailing-master, Peters, and all were imprisoned under jailers in the forecastle. On the schooner's sloping decks, when Dolores and her party climbed aboard, were a score of nondescript pirates, besides the crew's custodians, at a loss to account for the escape of the sloop, and worked up to a pitch of nervousness where they were only fit for sudden, strenuous action with a merciless taskmaster. And such they speedily had.
Dolores ordered her three captives to be taken to the great cabin, and their chains were fastened to the ornately paneled mainmast which ran down through both decks and formed the support of a gorgeously furnished sideboard. Then the companionway was locked on them, and the girl sprang to tremendous life.
"Aloft with thee, Stumpy!" she cried, selecting him because after Milo his eyes were keenest of them all. "Keep thy eyes open for Milo's flares, and mark well the direction. Hanglip, thou surly dog! Take ten men and lay me out a good anchor astern, with a stout hawser. Be brisk! Come aboard in ten minutes, or thy back shall smart."
Sancho's boat had remained at the port quarter, and into this Hanglip drove his crew while Spotted Dog with the rest of the men got ready an anchor to lower to them.
"Caliban, cast off the gaskets from fore and main!" cried Dolores next. "Where are thy rascals? Plague take thee, hunchback! Couldst not say there were not men enough? Below with ye, and bring up the schooner's people. Have sail on this vessel before that anchor takes hold, or I'll flay thy hump!"
Cursing venomously, the deformed little demon sprang into the forecastle and drove up Peters and his four men with kicks and blows. They, too, were bewildered by the tremendous uproar of sea and wind, and went like sheep to the fore and main masts at Caliban's bidding.
"Ready for the anchor—lower away!" roared Hanglip in the boat, where already was piled coil on coil a great hemp hawser.
"Handsomely, ye dogs, handsomely!" shrieked Spotted Dog in turn. The anchor sank into the boat to the screeching of tackles and the groaning of boat-timbers, and was carried out astern.
"Carry the end aft!" Dolores commanded; the hawser was taken along and the end passed around the quarter-deck capstan. "Up with those sails!" cried the girl now, and Caliban's gang sweated at the halyards, while slackened sheets permitted the booms to swing and present the luffs to the screaming gale, bearing no resistance. While the boat pulled away into the darkness astern, carrying the anchor to the full scope of the cable, Dolores kept her eyes ever aloft, and over the sea, and upon every detail of the work. Her eyes fell upon Peters, standing in sullen mood at the belaying-pin which held a turn of the main-throat halyards. And as the croaking cry of Caliban ordered "Belay!" she called Peters to her.
"Thou'rt sailing-master, hey?"
"Art still, if thy heart is as stubborn as thy face!" cried Dolores, laughing at his scowl. "Canst sail thy ship now?"
"I can sail any ship that floats, but neither I nor your sharks can sail this schooner now," he replied surlily. "Your false marks did their work well."
"Then thou'd rather pull a rope than hold a wheel, hey? 'Tis but a wooden sailor, after all. I hoped such a ship would boast a seaman as master. I'll show thee seamanship, sheep-heart!"
Out of the darkness astern came a roar:
"Anchor's down! Heave away!"
And from the darkness aloft Stumpy bawled:
"There she flares! Mother o' me!" The prayer, curse, whatever the last words might be, were called forth by a paralyzing flash of lightning that shone over the raging sea like a gigantic calcium-light. The schooner's deck resounded with superstitious howls, which rose to awed cries from the weakest as from trucks and gaff-ends glowed and flickered the blue brush of St. Elmo's fire.
"Heave away, heave away!" Dolores's voice rang out on the hubbub, forcing obedience even in face of terror. The capstan went round to the urge of a dozen pair of fear-stimulated arms; and fathom by fathom the great cable came in dripping and glistening; fathom after fathom was heaped on the deck, and still the schooner remained fast. And ever from aloft came Stumpy's hail, reporting Milo's flare fast fading in the distance.
"You can't do it! I knew it!" shouted Peters defiantly.
"Peace, sheep!" answered Dolores, slapping him upon the mouth. She stood at the wheel, and no part of the vessel's situation escaped her. She had yet a trump to play: a hazardous one, truly, but the big one. The big fore and main sails swung and crashed idly at their sheets, filling the air with the thunder of their flinging blocks. At each boom a seaman stood, and each held the double block of a boom-tackle, waiting the word that now came.
"Clap on those boom-tackles!" Dolores commanded, and four men flew to each as it was hooked to the rigging. "Haul away! Boom the sails square out!" The great sails filled with a crash as the gale took them on the fore side, flinging them violently aback.
"You'll pluck the spars out of her!" screamed Peters, in a frenzy now as his cherished masts whipped and cracked to the tremendous backward strain. Dolores ignored the crazed man, but a scornful smile wreathed about her lips, and her dark eyes gleamed. "Out with them!" she cried. "More hands there! And heave, ho, heave away on the capstan! Burst thy arms, bullies! Here comes Hanglip and his bold lads to help ye! Round with her! Out with them! Heave, good bullies!"
The girl stood by the wheel, a splendid figure of matchless energy and courage. Aloft the topmasts bent like whips; Stumpy's voice came down in ever-increasing fear as his perch grew shakier; the great expanse of canvas, which should have been treble-reefed even in a floating ship going forward, tore at boom-tackles and earrings, tacks, and mast-hoops, shaking the vessel to the keel and filling her with cataclysmic thunder.
"By the bones of Red Jabez, she comes!" roared Spotted Dog, peering over the side. "Heave, lads, and never doubt the girl again! Fiends o' Topheth! See her slide!"
The schooner shuddered from forefoot to sternpost; the big hawser slipped in through the lead with gathering speed; the groaning masts imparted an impulse to her that drove her astern like an arrow, and now, triumphantly, Dolores cried:
"An ax! Quickly—cut the hawser! Caliban, get a jib loosed! Hanglip, open the companionway, and bring up my prisoners. I would have them enjoy the sail."
A curling sea poured over the taffrail, sweeping Dolores from her feet; she met it with a ringing laugh, gripping the wheel as her safeguard, and the moment the ax severed the hawser she gave the vessel a sheer with the helm, and again her orders rang out:
"Let go both boom-tackles! Hoist away the jib! Haul the jib-sheet to starboard, and stand by fore and main sheets!"
Out of the darkness ahead came the fluttering of canvas, and soon Caliban's hoarse croak rang aft: "Hoist away th' jib!" The great booms swung amidships again when the tackles were cast off, and now the headsail flew up the stay, the restrained sheet to starboard causing the canvas to fill aback as had the greater sails before. The pressure was ahead and to one side; the schooner's head began to fall off, then faster as she gained momentum, and the fore and main sails again began to thunder at their blocks.
"Let draw the jib! Bring in the fore sheet; bear a hand aft here, main sheet, lads, smartly!" cried Dolores, twirling the wheel to meet the vessel's swift leeward leap. And as the liberated Feu Follette heeled dizzily to the gale, under full spread of sail, and her owner and his guests appeared into the storm, Stumpy's cry rang out:
"There's the flare—and she's burnin' steady!"
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. Don't forget this magazine is issued weekly, and that you will get the continuation of this story without waiting a month.
The Pirate Woman
by Captain Dingle
Author of "The Coolie Ship," "Steward of the Westward," etc.
This story began in the All-Story Weekly for November 2.
YELLOW RUFE'S FINISH.
"How bears the flare?" Dolores demanded, steadying the helm.
"Three points on lee-bow!" came from aloft.
"Sing out when we point for it!" Dolores gave the wheel a few spokes, and at her command the main-sheet was rendered until the schooner fell off from the wind, and Stumpy hailed: "Steady! She heads fair for it!"
"Does it still burn?"
"Aye, blazing bright! And low down, too, for the seas hide it every moment!"
"Keep thy eyes skinned, and seek for the sloop, too."
The schooner came to a more even keel as she squared away from the gale, and the splendid speed of the craft sent a thrill through Dolores, as through the less impressionable pirate of the gang. Fast as Rufe's sloop was, this dainty plaything of wealth and leisure sped over the snarling seas at a gait that promised to overhaul the smaller vessel two fathoms to one.
Even Rupert Venner and his friends, shivering with the wet and sudden change from the cabin to the deck though they were, found much to soothe them in the glorious sweep and swing of the Feu Follette; much to admire and envy in the perfect poise and sang froid of the magnificent creature at the wheel.
Dolores stood on feet as steady as the great, deep eyes that were fixed on the compass-card before her. Her heavy, lustrous hair streamed about her from under the golden circlet; in each lightning flash she stood out, a thing of wild, awful beauty; the rain glistened on her bare shoulders and arms, rendering her golden skin a gleaming, fairylike armor. And the blustering wind caught her wet tunic and wrapped it about her closely and tightly, revealing every grace and glory of her perfect body.
"Saints! Was there ever such a creature?" said Tomlin hoarsely.
Pearse's face was set and grim; he made no rejoinder. Venner, too, kept silent; but his eyes held venom as he glared at the speaker. Dolores suddenly raised her eyes from the binnacle, looked toward them as they crouched shivering in the lee of the deck-house-companion, and she, warm and glowing in a flimsy, wet garment, laughed mockingly, and called to them.
"I am forgetting what is due to my guests. Do ye feel cold? Will ye go below?"
And they, shivering and uneasy as they were, were content to shiver if only they might not lose sight of her. Their reply was unintelligible; neither would look at the others; yet their mumbled response was understood, and the girl laughed again, loud, ringing, and full of allure.
"Such courage comes only of true sea stock, my friends! I shall not forget this fortitude when I have done with the schooner."
"Flare close aboard!" roared Stumpy; then: "Seize my soul if I see the boat, though, mistress. Satan! Now the flare's gone out!"
"Whereaway?" cried Dolores shrilly. Big Milo was out there in the blackness.
"Right under the bows!" bellowed the lookout. "Luff, or bear away; ye'll run him down!"
And from the raging seas off the lee-bow came the deep, calm voice of Milo, unperturbed as if on dry land, though no boat was to be seen in the murk. "Hold the course, Sultana, I am here!"
And on the heels of the words came a flash from the skies, blazing full upon the dripping figure of the giant as he reached a great arm up, gripped the lee-rail, and swung himself on board with the unconscious ease of a perfect athlete.
"Thy boat, Milo?" inquired Dolores.
"Sailed under, Sultana. I have held the flare aloft in my hand while swimming until a moment ago, when the powder burned out."
"The sloop is close by. Thou art sailing fair at his stern if thy course was not changed to avoid me. His topmast is gone; he sails slowly."
Then without more ado the splendid human animal clutched a backstay and swarmed aloft with the agility of an ape, showing not a whit of strain after his battle with the roaring seas. He reached Stumpy, sent that numbed mariner down, and searched the waters with his keen vision, waiting for another lightning flash. And when it came, fainter now as the thunderstorm receded, his resonant voice boomed down:
"Broad abeam the sloop lies! She runs before the wind!"
"Slack away the main-sheet!" cried Dolores, heaving the helm up. "Hail every minute, Milo!"
"Shall I send him a shot immediately, lady?" roared Hanglip, at the schooner's foremost gun.
"Hold with thy shots, villain! Does Rufe deserve no sport? Stand by with the grappling-hooks. I'll run him down!"
"The sloop is dead ahead!" hailed Milo, though none on deck could detect anything of her in the blackness. Dolores listened intently; then twirled the wheel, and cried: "I hear her! Ready the grapnels?"
"Then watch—and heave!" she commanded; and with the suddenness of light the schooner swept around in a swift arc, the black shape of the flying sloop stood out against the angry sea crests, and the two vessels came together with a crash of timbers and a rattling of gear.
A distant rumbling of thunder succeeded a faint flash, and wind and rain came down with increased fury as if to balance the defection of the electric element. The darkness of Erebus fell upon the surging vessels, and men groped at the rails in a blind effort to make out a footing for boarding the sloop.
"Follow me; I want Yellow Rufe alive!" cried Dolores, leaving the wheel and springing to the bulwarks. Instinctively Peters stepped to the wheel, and as he passed his employer he leaned to whisper in his ear:
"Let them once leave these decks, sir, and we'll up hellum and away!"
Venner's eyes glittered at the prospect; but he could not see the faces of his friends; he could only hear Pearse's low tones beside him, and the mumbled words indicated no great agreement in the scheme. Uncertain, his mind confused between desire to escape and desire to see more of Dolores and her hidden cave of wonders, Rupert Venner hesitated in his decision; and in the next moment it was out of his power to decide. For Rufe, in desperation now, met the boarders at the rail, backed by his half-dozen crazed adherents, and murderous steel glittered dully against the inky sky.
"Beat down his cringing curs, but leave me Rufe!" cried Dolores, opposing her own dagger to the sweep of the pirate's cutlas. And as the schooner's crew roared at Hanglip's heels, storming over to the pitching sloop's decks to pursue mercilessly the panic-stricken runaways, the girl pitted agility and splendid knife-craft against the terror-driven strength and wolfish fury of the trapped traitor.
"Hah! Thy black heart fails thee!" taunted Dolores, leaping down from the rail to the schooner's streaming deck and thus avoiding a whistling stroke of Rufe's cutlas. The pirate fell forward with the impetus of his blow, and stumbled in a heap at the girl's nimble feet. "Up, man!" she cried, leaping back to permit him to rise. "What, art afraid of a woman? Here, then, I prick thee! Now wilt fight?" She darted her dagger swiftly downward, and the partially healed cross on Rufe's cheek blazed red again.
"Woman or devil, I'll see thy heart for that!" swore the pirate, and rose with a bound and hurled himself at the girl. She stepped aside agilely and laughed mockingly at him, while as he again stumbled with the swing of his avoided blow she darted close, and her knife ripped his sword-arm from wrist to elbow.
Mouthing crazily with fury, Rufe leaped backward until his shoulders struck the rigging, and, seizing his cutlas in his left hand, he poised it by the blade for a deadly javelin cast.
Now upon the scene flared a great blaze, and Stumpy's scowling face appeared at the back of it. He, with readier wit than his fellows, had sought out a tar-pot and lamp; and at the moment his mistress stood defenseless before the impeding steel, the club-footed pirate poured lamp-oil into the tar, and cast the flaring wick on top of all.
A circle of light spread from wheel to foremast, with Yellow Rufe at the main rigging in the center of it. The light dazzled him for a second, and his throw was stayed. The three yachtsmen, huddled in their chains aft, stared in helpless amazement at the tableau; for such it became, when the fight stopped for a breath and every man's passion-filled face was lighted by the red glare.
"Shoot him down!" shouted Pearse in horror.
And Venner and Tomlin strove for words without success. Venner was dumb and sick in face of Dolores's peril. Yellow Rufe uttered a grim, Satanic growl of laughter, and drew back his arm for the cast. His plight was utterly desperate; he knew death waited for him with clutching talons, and with his last breath he would reap toll that should make his name a thing to recall with dread afterward.
"This for thy witch's heart!" he howled, and his arm quivered. Then out of the shadows aloft, above the smoky flare, came down the tremendous shape of Milo, forgotten in his post at the masthead, but never taking his eyes from his Sultana.
Like a gorilla he slipped down the backstay with one hand; with the other hand he reached downward with a swift, sure clutch, and as Rufe's wrist flexed to cast his javelin Milo's hand gripped him by the neck from behind and swung him bodily off his feet, while the wide-flung cutlas flashed through the air and plunged with a hiss over the side.
"I thank thee again, Milo," said Dolores, slipping her dagger into the sheath and looking on at Rufe's struggles with the unconcern of one far apart from the actual conflict. "I wished to take him alive; yet had almost been forced to cut too deeply. Bring the villain to me. And, Caliban, get more flares, lanterns, lights, and make us a theater of justice here."
She stepped aft, saw Peters at the wheel, and smiled as she realized how her boarding of the sloop might have resulted.
"Hah, but it would have availed thee nothing!" she smiled at Venner. "I read thy heart as I read the stars, friend. Watch how completely Yellow Rufe pays his debt to me. He has fled me through forest and mountain; through a sea of howling storm; yet he pays. And thus all men pay who think to flout Dolores. Keep thy eyes wide, friends, and watch."
Yellow Rufe was brought before her, and his swarthy face was pallid in the red light. There was something of the splendid beast about this fellow, too; a quality that showed even when he faced certain death and no merciful one. He had run, and when overtaken he had fought; and now he must pay.
"Hanglip, to the wheel here!" Dolores commanded. "Six of you bring back the sloop. The rest attend me! Bring the schooner to her course, northwest, Hanglip; and, Spotted Dog, rig me a whip at the foregaff-end. Yellow Rufe, pray or curse while ye may. Thy course is run. There is nothing left to say. Ten minutes remain to thee."
The doomed pirate stood in silence while the preparations were being made; but when Spotted Dog brought down the end of the rope he had rove through the block at the end of the gaff, and stood grinning anticipatively before Dolores, Rufe's tongue came loose, and he burst into a torrent of futile, raving blasphemy.
"Take the rope end forward, and pass it around the bows, so that the rope passes beneath the keel," Dolores ordered, and every eager villain in the band knew now what fate awaited Rufe. The schooner, not being square-rigged, was badly fitted for the operation of keel-hauling; but Dolores's inventive brain had devised a refinement of even that refinement of torture. She waited for the rope end, and when Spotted Dog brought it aft, on the weather side, passing clear from the gaff to leeward, under the keel and up to windward, she stood aside so that the yachtsmen could witness all.
"Tie his hands, Milo!" she said. It was carried out, in spite of Rufe's fierce fight against it. "Now place the noose about his throat tightly." That, too, was done, and now the rope led from Rufe's neck, over the weather rail, under the schooner, and up to the gaff. Three men stood by the hauling part of the rope, and at a gesture from the girl six others joined them. On every face was a little doubt, for none saw exactly what was coming, least of all Rufe.
"Now release him!" said Dolores quietly, and Rufe was left standing alone, his hands tied, but his feet unfettered. He glared around as if he saw a slim chance yet for life; the hope died the next moment, for Dolores signed to the men at the rope, they began hauling, and the terror leaped into Rufe's eyes afresh.
For a moment Venner and his friends saw what they imagined to be a piece of grim jesting; but they, as well as Rufe, speedily saw there was no jest in this. For as the rope tightened, and other roaring ruffians ran joyously to take a pull at it, Rufe was drawn irresistibly toward the weather rail with a choking drag on his throat. He seized the rail, and strained with his every sinew to fight that deadly peril; the rope only tightened more; it was either go or strangle for him; fight as he might, he was forced to climb on the rail, to aid in his own funeral.
The yachtsmen turned dizzy with the awfulness of the man's end; but they could not take their fascinated eyes from the scene. They saw Rufe topple over the rail with a choking curse, and saw the rope pull him under the vessel; they saw the rope quiver to the pirates' lusty pull as the victim was battered against the keel. And they saw the terrible figure leap from the sea to leeward and fly to the gaff-end as the men ran away with the rope to a roaring chorus. But they saw no more. Their eyes refused to look at a repetition of that horror. And Dolores, watching them keenly, came to them, after giving final orders regarding Yellow Rufe's body, took their chains in her hand, and said:
"When again the thought comes to leave me, gentlemen, think well upon what I have showed thee. Now come below. I owe thee some refreshment after a night of storm. 'Twill be approaching dawn ere the schooner can beat back to my haven. Come. I will serve thee with supper."
THE FIRES OF THE FLESH.
In the schooner's saloon the atmosphere was peaceful by contrast with the hurly-burly outside; yet even here the steep slant of the deck, the shrill, protesting squeal of working frames and beams, the sullen thud and swish of racing seas along the vessel's skin, kept the storm ever in mind: the dizzy plunge of the bows into great gray seas, with its accompanying rise of the stern and the hollow jar and thump of the rudder-post in its port, kept the interior humming with sound as from a distant organ.
Again chained to the mainmast, the three yachtsmen stood gloomily regarding Dolores, whose capable, battle-wise fingers now performed a task more in keeping with her sex and charm. Under the great swing-lamp in the skylight she leaned over the table, mixing wine in low, stout cups, spreading a silver salver with food from the pantry. And a thrilling picture she made in the soft glow of the lamp. The beautiful face was warm with color; the scarlet lips were slightly opened in a brilliant smile; intent upon her task, she swayed with superb grace to the tremendous lurches of the driving schooner, ignoring all outside affairs.
Her preparations completed, she placed tray and cups at the end of the table nearest the mainmast, turned around the deep armchair which had been the owner's own, and sat down, offering a cup and the tray with a little laugh of satisfaction.
"Come, friend Rupert," she said, thrilling Venner again with her vibrant voice, "thou shalt be first. Eat—and drink. See, for thee I do this." She raised the cup to her lips, and kissed the brim, fixing her fathomless eyes full on Venner as she did so.
He struggled with his feelings for a moment, and hated himself heartily for even debating his attitude. But he fell, as he had done before, dazzled by her witchery. His eyes blazed, his blood leaped, and he took the cup with a mumbled attempt at thanks. Dolores smiled at his confusion, and in that smile was the allure of a Circe.
Venner's expression became less tense as he noted the faces of his fellows; for in their eyes he read jealousy, rank and stark, and it warmed him to the marrow. In the next instant his warmth rose to fever heat, and malice twisted his features; Dolores had taken another cup, and now she offered it to Pearse, with a smile yet more gracious than before.
"My silent friend, here's to thee, too," she murmured. His cup she kissed twice, and presented it carefully so that the place she kissed was against his lips. "Drink. I have sweetened it."
As Venner's brows darkened, so did John Pearse conquer his first flush of self-contempt and put on a smile that irradiated his usually serious face. And Tomlin brightened, too, waiting in what patience he could muster for his turn, which must come next. To him Dolores turned, cup in hand, and rising at the same time gave him his wine with a brief: "Here, drink, too. I must leave thee a while."
She forced the cup into Tomlin's trembling fingers, gave him never a glance, but went out of the saloon on her errand.
When he realized she was gone, Craik Tomlin dashed down the wine like a petulant boy, and cursed deeply and fiercely. And not until then did Venner and Pearse awake to the true artistry of the woman; for here, instead of making of Tomlin a raging foe, willing to plot with all the power of his alert brain for their ultimate release, she had aroused a demon of black jealousy in him which promised to set all three by the ears.
Restricted as their movements were, they were forced to nurse whatever feelings Dolores had implanted in them in full sight of each other. And Tomlin left no doubt as to his feelings. At the farthest scope of his chain he flung himself down on the slanting floor and crouched there with dull-glowing eyes bent loweringly upon his friends. Venner laughed awkwardly, and glanced at Pearse; the laugh died away and left a silence between them that was vividly accentuated by the manifold voices of the laboring vessel. For in the swift meeting of eyes, John Pearse and Venner, host and guest, friends to that moment, saw in each other an established rival, a potential foe. Involuntarily they drew apart; and when Dolores returned from the deck she found them spread out like star rays, having nothing in common except a common center.
She gave no sign that she noticed them; but her heavy, fringed lids drooped over eyes brimming with gratification. As she stepped from the stairs the schooner swung upright, the deck overhead thundered to the slamming of booms as she came about, and then the cabin sloped the other way, rolling the scattered wine-cups noisily across the floor. Neither man looked up; but Tomlin's cup rolled so that it struck his foot, and he gave voice to a deep oath, terrible in its uncalled-for savagery. Then Dolores gave them outward notice for the first time.
With a low, pleasant laugh, she stepped quickly to Tomlin's side, laid a hand on his sullen head, and forced him to look up at her.
"I owe thee something, friend," she smiled, and Tomlin flushed hotly under her close regard. "I treated thee badly in my haste. Come"—she went to the sideboard, filled another cup with wine, and came back, kneeling before Tomlin in the attitude of a slave while her big eyes blazed full into his.
"Drink, for I like thee best," she whispered, sipping the wine and putting the brim, warm from her lips, to his.
And Tomlin drank deeply, greedily, trembling under her close proximity. He felt her hand take his chain, heard the tinkle of links, and knew, without seeing, that she had unlocked his fetters and he was free.
"Now sit here with me, and thou shalt tell me about thy world, my friend, the world thou shalt take me to."
Her soft, thrilling voice set Tomlin's blood leaping; and as she spoke she led him to Venner's great chair and sat him down in it. Then, facing at the length of the table her other two captives, she stood behind the big chair, her arms on the top, leaning low to Tomlin's ear, her lips almost brushing his cheek.
And she whispered to him musically, seductively; her jeweled fingers played with his hair; the soft, warm skin of her arms slid over his neck and face; when, in a frenzy, he reached impulsively for her hand and gripped it, she laughed yet more deliciously and permitted him to hold it.
"Why must you seek another world, Dolores?" Tomlin said hoarsely. "Here you are queen. Out in the greater world you can be no more. Stay, and let me stay with you."
"And would my paltry possessions pay thee for renouncing thy people, thy home?" she asked.
"Home? People? God! I renounce Heaven itself if you say yes!"
"We shall see, my friend," Dolores sighed, and Tomlin felt her tremble slightly. "My chief desire is to leave behind me this life of herder to human beasts. To go into the world whence comes such as thee, Tomlin; to live among the people who can make such as these"—she indicated the rich furnishing of the saloon, the sideboard silver and plate, the stained glass of the skylight.
"All these things I have, and more—nay, but thy treasures are nothing compared with what I shall show thee in the great chamber—yet must I keep them hidden because of the beasts that call me Sultana! Where they came from, these treasures, must be men like thee, Tomlin, women like the painted women of my gallery, people with the art to make these things instead of the brute power to steal them. And there I will go, and thou art to be my guide."