The Isle of Pirate's Doom/And Last

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The Isle of Pirate's Doom by Robert Ervin Howard
And Last

Someone was laving my brow and at last I opened my eyes.

"Steve, oh, Steve, are you dead?" someone was saying; the voice was gentle and there was a hint of tears.

"Not yet," said I, striving to sit up, but a small hand forced me gently down.

"Steve," said Helen, and I felt a strange delight in hearing her call me by my first name, "I have bandaged you as well as might be with such material as I had-stuff torn from my shirt. We should get out of this low dank place to a fresher part of the island. Do you think you can travel?"

"I'll try," I said, though my heart sank at the thought of the swamp.

"I have found a road," she informed me. "When I went to look for clean water I found a small spring and also stumbled upon what was once a fine road, built with great blocks of stone set deep in mire. The mud overlaps it now some few inches and rushes grow thereon, but it's passable so let us be gone."

She helped me to my feet and, with one arm about me, guided my uncertain steps. In this manner, we crossed the ancient causeway and I found time to marvel again at the nature of that race who had built so strongly and had so terribly protected their secrets.

The journey through the swamp seemed without end, and again through the thick jungle, but at last my eyes, swimming with torment and dizziness, saw the ocean glimmering through the trees. Soon we were able to sink down beside the longboat on the beach, exhausted. Yet Helen would not rest as I urged her to, but took a case of bandages and ointment from the boat and dressed my wounds. With a keen dagger she found and cut out the bullet in my arm, and I thought I would die thereat, and then made shift at setting the broken bone. I wondered at her dexterity, but she told me that from early childhood she had aided in dressing hurts and setting broken limbs-that Roger O'Farrel tended thus to all his wounded himself, having attended a medical university in his youth, and he imparted all his knowledge to her.

Still she admitted that the setting of my arm was a sad job, with the scant material she had, and she feared it would give me trouble. But while she was talking, I sank back and became unconscious, for I had lost an incredible amount of blood, and it was early dawn of the next day before I came to my full senses.

Helen, while I lay senseless, had made me a bed of soft leaves, spreading over me her fine coat, which I fear was none too fine now, what with the blood and stains on it. And when I came to myself, she sat beside me, her eyes wide and sleepless, her face drawn and haggard in the early grey of dawn.

"Steve, are you going to live?" asked she, and I made shift to laugh.

"You have scant opinion of my powers if you think a pistol ball and a musket stock can kill me," I answered. "How feel you, Helen?"

"Tired . . . a bit." She smiled. "But remarkably meditative. I have seen men die in many ways, but never a sight to equal that in the temple. Their death shrieks will haunt me to my death. How do you think their end was brought about?"

"All seems mazed and vague now," said I, "but methinks I remember seeing many twisted and broken metal rods among the ruins. From the way the platform and stair shattered, I believe that the whole structure was hollow, like the altar, and the column also. A crafty system of levers must have run through them up to the roof, where the great stone was held in place by bolts or the like. I believe that the gem in the altar was fastened to a lever which, working up through the column, released that stone."

She shuddered.

"Like enough. And the treasure..."

"There never was any. Or if there was, the Caribs flung it into the sea and, knowing some curse lay over the temple, pretended that they had hidden it therein, hoping the Spaniards would come to harm while searching for it. Certainly that thing was not the work of the Caribs, and I doubt if they knew just what sort of fate lay in wait there. But, certes, any man could look on that accursed shrine and instinctively feel that doom overshadowed the place."

"Another dream turned to smoke," sighed she. "La, la, and me a-wishing for rubies and sapphires as large as my fist!"

She was gazing out to sea as she spoke, where the waves were beginning to redden in the glowing light. Now she sprang erect!

"A sail!"

"The Black Raider returning!" I exclaimed.

"No! Even at this distance, I can tell the cut of a man-o'-war! She is making for this island."

"For fresh water, no doubt," said I.

Helen stood twisting her slim fingers uncertainly.

"My fate lies with you. If you tell them I am Helen Tavrel, I will hang between high tide and low, on Execution Dock!"

"Helen," said I, reaching up and taking her small hand and pulling her down beside me, "my opinion of you has changed since first I saw you. I still maintain the Red Trade is no course for a woman to follow, but I realize what circumstances forced you into it. No woman, whatever her manner of life, could be kinder, braver, and more unselfish than you have been. To the men of yonder craft you shall be Helen Harmer, my sister, who sailed with me."

"Two men have I feared," said she with lowered eyes; "John Gower, because he was a beast; Roger O'Farrel, because he was so fine and noble. One man I have respected-O'Farrel. Now I find a second man to respect without fearing. You are a bold, honest youth, Steve, and-"

"And what?"

"Nothing," and she seemed confused.

"Helen," said I, drawing her gently closer to me, "you and I have gone through too much blood and fire together for anything to come between us. Your beauty fascinated me when first I saw you; later I came to understand the sterling worth of the soul which lay beneath your reckless mask. Each soul has its true mate, little comrade, and though I fought the feeling and strove to put it from me, fondness was born in my bosom for you and it has grown steadily. I care not what you may have been, and I am but a sailor, now without a ship, but let me tell yonder seamen when they land that you are, not my sister, but my wife-to-be

A moment she leaned toward me, then she drew away and her eyes danced with the old jaunty fire.

"La, sir, are you offering to marry me? 'Tis very kind of you indeed, but--"

"Helen, don't mock me!"

"Truth, Steve, I am not," said she, softening. "But I had never thought of any such a thing before. La, I must be growing up with a vengeance! Fie, sir, I am too young to marry yet, and I have not yet seen all of the world I wish to. Remember I am still Helen Tavrel."

"I care not; marry me and I will take you from this life."

"Not so fast," said she, tracing patterns in the sand with her finger. "I must have time to think this thing over. Moreover, I will take no step without Roger O'Farrel's consent. I am only a young girl after all, Steve, and I tell you truth, I have never thought of marrying or even having a lover.

"Ah, me, these men, how they press a poor maid!" laughed she.

"Helen!" I exclaimed, vexed yet amused. "Have you no care for me at all?"

"Why, as to that," she avoided my gaze, "I really feel a fondness for you such as I have never felt for any other man, not even Roger O'Farrel. But I must mull over this and discover if it be true love!"

Thereat she laughed merrily aloud, and I cursed despairingly.

"Fie, such language before your lady love!" she said. "Now hear me, Steve, we must seek Roger O'Farrel, wherever he may be, for I am like a daughter to him, and if he likes you, why, who knows! But you must not speak of marrying until I am older and have had many more adventures. Now we shall be true comrades as we have been hitherto."

"And a comrade must allow an honest kiss," said I, glancing seaward where the ship came sweeping grandly.

And with a light laugh she lifted her lips to mine.