The Isle of Pirate's Doom/The First Day
The long low craft which rode off-shore had an unsavory look, and lying close in my covert, I was glad that I had not hailed her. Caution had prompted me to conceal myself and observe her crew before making my presence known, and now I thanked my guardian spirit; for these were troublous times and strange craft haunted the Caribees.
True, the scene was fair and peaceful enough. I crouched among green and fragrant bushes on the crest of a slope which ran down before me to the broad beach. Tall trees rose about me, their ranks sweeping away on either hand. Below on the shore, green waves broke on the white sand and overhead the blue sky hung like a dream. But as a viper in a verdant garden lay that sullen black ship, anchored just outside the shallow water.
She had an unkempt look, a slouchy, devil-may-care rigging which speaks not of an honest crew or a careful master. Anon rough voices floated across the intervening space of water and beach, and once I saw a great hulking fellow slouching along the rail lift something to his lips and then hurl it overboard.
Now the crew was lowering a longboat, heavily loaded with men, and as they laid hand to oar and drew away from the ship, their coarse shouts and the replies of those who remained on deck came to me though the words were vague and indistinct.
Crouching lower, I yearned for a telescope that I might learn the name of the ship, and presently the longboat swept in close to the beach. There were eight men in her: seven great rough fellows and the other a slim foppishly-clad varlet wearing a cocked hat who did no rowing. Now as they approached, I perceived that there was an argument among them. Seven of them roared and bellowed at the dandy, who, if he answered at all, spoke in a tone so low that I could not hear.
The boat shot through the light surf, and as she beached, a huge hairy rogue in the bow heaved up and plunged at the fop, who sprang up to meet him. I saw steel flash and heard the larger man bellow. Instantly, the other leapt nimbly out, splashed through the wet sand and legged it inland as fast as he might, while the other rogues streamed out in pursuit, yelling and brandishing weapons. He who had begun the brawl halted a moment to make the longboat fast, then took up the chase, cursing at the top of his bull's voice, the blood trickling down his face.
The dandy in the cocked hat led by several paces as they reached the first fringe of trees. Abruptly, he vanished into the foliage while the rest raced after him, and for a while, I could hear the alarums and bellowings of the chase, till the sounds faded in the distance.
Now I looked again at the ship. Her sails were filling and I could see men in the rigging. As I watched, the anchor came aboard and she stood off-and from her peak broke out the Jolly Roger. Truth, 'twas no more than I had expected.
Cautiously, I worked my way further back among the bushes on hands and knees and then stood up. A gloominess of spirit fell upon me, for when the sails had first come in sight, I had looked for rescue. But instead of proving a blessing, the ship had disgorged eight ruffians on the island for me to cope with.
Puzzled, I showly picked a way between the trees. Doubtless these buccaneers had been marooned by their comrades, a common affair with the bloody Brothers of the Main.
Nor did I know what I might do, since I was unarmed and these rogues would certainly regard me as an enemy, as in truth I was to all their ilk. My gorge rose against running and hiding from them, but I saw naught else to do. Nay, 'twould be rare fortune were I able to escape them at all.
Meditating thus, I had travelled inland a considerable distance yet had heard naught of the pirates, when I came to a small glade. 'Tall trees, crowned with lustrous green vines and gemmed with small exotic-hued birds flitting through their branches, rose about me. The musk of tropic growths filled the air and the stench of blood as well. A man lay dead in the glade.
Flat on his back he lay, his seaman's shirt drenched with the gore which had ebbed from the wound below his heart. He was one of the Brethren of the Red Account, no doubt of that. He'd never shoes to his feet, but a great ruby glimmered on his finger, and a costly silk sash girdled the waist of his tarry pantaloons. Through this sash were thrust a pair of flintlock pistols and a cutlass lay near his hand.
Here were weapons, at least. So I drew the pistols from his sash, noting they were charged, and having thrust them in my waistband, I took his cutlass, too. He would never need weapons again and I had good thought that I might very soon.
Then as I turned from despoiling the dead, a soft mocking laugh brought me round like a shot. The dandy of the longboat stood before me. Faith, he was smaller than I had thought, though supple and lithe. Boots of fine Spanish leather he wore on his trim legs, and above them tight britches of doeskin. A fine crimson sash with tassels and rings to the ends was round his slim waist, and from it jutted the silver butts of two pistols. A blue coat with flaring tails and gold buttons gaped open to disclose the frilled and laced shirt beneath. Again, I noted that the cocked hat still rode the owner's brow at a jaunty angle, golden hair showing underneath.
"Satan's throne!" said the wearer of this finery. "There is a great ruby ring you've overlooked!"
Now I looked for the first time at the face. It was a delicate oval with red lips that curled in mockery, large grey eyes that danced, and only then did I realize that I was looking at a woman and not a man. One hand rested saucily on her hip, the other held a long ornately-hilted rapier-and with a twitch of repulsion I saw a trace of blood on the blade.
"Speak, man!" cried she impatiently. "Are you not ashamed to be caught at your work?"
Now I doubt that I was a sight to inspire respect, what with my bare feet and my single garment, sailor's pantaloons, and they stained and discolored with salt water. But at her mocking tone, my anger stirred.
"At least," said I, finding my voice, "if I must answer for robbing a corpse, someone else must answer for making it."
"Ha, I struck a spark then?" she laughed in a hard way. "Satan's Fiends, if I'm to answer for all the corpses I've made, 'twill be a wearisome reckoning."
My gorge rose at that.
"One lives and one learns," said I. "I had not thought to meet a woman who rejoiced in cold-blooded murder."
"Cold-blooded, say you!" she fired up then, "Am I then to stand and be butchered like a sheep?"
"Had you chosen the proper life for a woman you had had no necessity either to slay or be slain," said I, carried away by my revulsion. And I then regretted what I had said for it was beginning to dawn on me who this girl must be.
"So, so, self-righteous," sneered she, her eyes beginning to flash dangerously, "so you think I'm a rogue! And what might you be, may I ask; what do you on this out-of-the-way island and why do you come-a-stealing through the jungle to take the belongings of dead men?"
"My name is Stephen Harmer, mate of The Blue Countess, Virginia trader. Seven days ago she burned to the waterline from a fire that broke out in her hold and all her crew perished save myself. I floated on a hatch, and eventually raised this island where I have been ever since."
The girl eyed me half-thoughtfully, half-mockingly, while I told my tale, as if expecting me to lie.
"As for taking weapons," I added, "it's but bitter mead to bide without arms among such rogues."
"Name them none of mine," she answered shortly, then even more abruptly: "Do you know who I am'?"
"There could be only one name you could wear-what with your foppery and cold-blooded manner."
"I bow to your intuition," she said sardonically, "for it does not come to my mind that we have ever met."
"No man can sail the Seven Seas without hearing Helen Tavrel's name, and, to the best of my knowledge, she is the only woman pirate now roving the Caribees."
"So, you have heard the sailors' talk? And what do they say of me, then?"
"That you are as bold and heartless a creature as ever walked a quarter-deck or traded petticoats for breeches," I answered frankly.
Her eyes sparkled dangerously and she cut viciously at a flower with her sword point.
"And is that all they say?"
"They say that though you follow a vile and bloody trade, no man can say truthfully that he ever so much as kissed your lips."
This seemed to please her for she smiled.
"And do you believe that, sir?"
"Aye," I answered boldly, "though may I roast in Hades if ever I saw a pair more kissable."
For truth to tell, the rare beauty of the girl was going to my head, I who had looked on no woman for months. My heart softened toward her, then the sight of the dead man at my feet sobered me. But before I could say more, she turned her head aside as if listening.
"Come!" she exclaimed. "I think I hear Gower and his fools returning! If there is any place on this cursed island where one may hide a space, lead me there, for they will kill us both if they find us!"
Certes I could not leave her to be slaughtered, so I motioned her to follow me and made off through the trees and bushes. I struck for the southern end of the island, going swiftly but warily, the girl following as light-footed as an Indian brave. The bright-hued butterflies flitted about us and high in the interwoven branches of the thick trees sang birds of vivid plumage. But a tension was in the air as if, with the coming of the pirates, a mist of death hung over the whole island.
The underbrush thinned as we progressed and the land sloped upward, finally breaking into a number of ravines and cliffs. Among these we made our way and much I marveled at the activity of the girl, who sprang about and climbed with the ease of a cat, and even outdid me who had passed most of my life in ship's rigging.
At last we came to a low cliff which faced the south. At its foot ran a small stream of clear water, bordered by white sand and shadowed by waving fronds and tall vegetation which grew to the edge of the sand. Beyond, across this narrow rankly-grown expanse there rose other higher cliffs, fronting north and completing a natural gorge.
"We must go down this," I said, indicating the cliff on which we stood. "Let me aid you-"
But she, with a scornful toss of her head, had already let herself over the cliff's edge and was making her way down, clinging foot and hand to the long heavy vines which grew across the face of it. I started to follow, then hesitated as a movement among the fronds by the stream caught my eye. I spoke a quick word of warning-the girl looked up to catch what I had said-and then a withered vine gave way and she clutched wildly and fell sprawling. She did not fall far and the sand in which she lighted was soft, but on the instant, before she could regain her feet, the vegetation parted and a tall pirate leaped upon her.
I glimpsed in a single fleeting instant the handkerchief knotted about his skull, the snarling bearded face, the cutlass swung high in a brawny hand. No time for her to draw sword or pistol-he loomed over her like the shadow of death and the cutlass swept downward-but even as it did I drew pistol and fired blindly and without aim. He swerved sidewise, the cutlass veering wildly, and pitched face down in the sand without a sound. And so close had been her escape that the sweep of his blade had knocked the cocked hat from the girl's locks.
I fairly flung myself down the cliff and stood over the body of the buccaneer. The deed had been done involuntarily, without conscious thought, but I did not regret it. Whether the girl deserved saving from death- -a fact which I doubted-I considered it a worthy deed to rid the seas of at least one of those wolves which scoured it.
Helen was dusting her garments and cursing softly to herself because her hat was awry.
"Come," said I, somewhat vexed, "you are lucky to have escaped with a skull uncloven. Let us begone ere his comrades come up at the sound of the shot."
"That was a goodly feat," said she, preparing to follow me. "Fair through the temples you drilled him-- I doubt me if I could have done better."
"It was pure luck that guided the ball," I answered angrily, for of all faults I detest in women, heartlessness is the greatest. "I had no time to take aim-and had I had such time, I might not have fired."
This silenced her and she said no more until we reached the opposite cliffs. There at the foot stretched a long expanse of solid stone and I bade her walk upon it. So we went along the line of the cliff and presently came to a small waterfall where a stream tumbled over the cliffs edge to join the one in the gorge.
"There's a cave behind that fall," said I, speaking above the chatter of the water. "I discovered it by accident one day. Follow me."
So saying, I waded into the pool which whirled and eddied at the cliff's foot, and ducking my head, plunged through the falling sheet of water with the girl close behind. We found ourselves in a small dark cavern which ran back until it vanished in the blackness, and in front the light ebbed in faintly through the silver screen of the falling water. This was the hiding place I had been making for when I met the girl.
f led the way back into the cavern until the sound of the falling stream died to a murmur and the girl's face glimmered like a rare white flower in the thick darkness.
"Damme," she said, beating the water from her coat with the cocked hat, "you lead me in some cursed inconvenient places, Mr. Harmer; first, I fall in the sand and soil my garments, and now they are wet. Will not Gower and his gang follow the sound of the pistol shot and find us, tracking our footprints where we bent down the bushes crossing from cliff to cliff?"
"No doubt they will come," I answered, "but they will be able to track us only to the cliff where we walked a good way on stone which shows no footprint. They will not know whether we went up or down or whither. There's not one chance in a hundred of them ever discovering this cavern. At any rate, it's the safest place on the island for us."
"Do you still wish you had let Dick Comrel kill me?" she asked.
"He was a bloody pirate, whatever his name might be," I replied. "No, you're too comely for such a death, no matter what your crimes."
"Your compliments take the sting from your accusations, but your accusations rob your compliments of their sweetness. Do you really hate me?"
"No, not you, but the red trade you follow. Were you in some other walk of life it's joyed I'd be to look on you."
"Zounds," said she, "but you are a strange fellow. One moment you talk like a courtier and the next like a chaplain. What really are your feelings that you speak so inconsistently?"
"I am fascinated and repelled," I replied, for the dim white oval of her face floated before me and her nearness made my senses reel. "As a woman, you attract me, but, as a pirate, you rouse a loathing in me. God's truth, but you are a very monster, like that Lilith of old, with the face of a beautiful maiden and the body of a serpent."
Her soft laugh lilted silvery and mocking in the shadows.
"So, so, broad-brim. You saved my life, though methinks you grudge the act, and I will not run you through the body as I might have done otherwise. For such words as you have just said I like not. Are you wondering how I came to be here with you?"
"They of the Red Brotherhood are like hungry wolves and range everywhere," I answered. "I've yet to sight an island of the Main unpolluted by their cursed feet. So it's no wonder to me to find them here, or to find them marooning each other."
"Marooned? John Gower marooned from his own ship? Scarcely, friend. The craft from which I landed is The Black Raider, on The Account as you know. She sails to intercept a Spanish merchantman and returns in two weeks."
She frowned. "Black be the memory of the day I shipped on her! For a more rascally cowardly crew I have never met. But Roger O'Farrel, my captain aforetime, is without ship at present and I threw in my lot with Gower-the swine! Yesterday he forced me to accompany him ashore, and on the way I gave my opinion of him and his dastardly henchmen. At that they were little pleased and bellowed like bulls, but dared not start fighting in the boat, lest we all fall among the sharks.
"So the moment she beached, I slashed Gower's ape-face with my rapier and out-footed the rest and hid myself. But it was my bad fortune to come upon one alone. He rushed at me and swung with his blade, but I parried it and spitted him with a near riposte just under the heart. Then you came along, Righteousness, and the rest you know. They must have scattered all over the isle, as testifieth Comrel.
"Perhaps I should tell you why John Gower came ashore with seven men. Have you ever heard of the treasure of Mogar?"
"I thought not. Legend has it that when the Spaniards first sailed the Main, they found an island whereon was a decaying empire. The natives lived in mud and wooden huts on the beach, but they had a great temple of stone, a remnant of some forgotten, older race, in which there was a vast treasure of precious stones. The Dons destroyed these natives, but not before they had concealed their hoard so thoroughly that not even a Spanish nose could smell it out, and those the Dons tortured died unspeaking.
"So the Spaniards sailed away empty-handed, leaving all traces of the Mogar kingdom utterly effaced, save the temple which they could not destroy.
"The island was off the beaten track of ships, and, as time went by, the tale was mostly forgotten, living only as a sailor's yarn. Such men as took the tale seriously and went to the island were unable to find the temple.
"Yet on this voyage, there shipped with John Gower a man who swore that he had set foot on the island and had looked on the temple. He said he had landed there with the French buccaneer de Romber and that they found the temple, just as it was described in the legend.
"But before they could search for the treasure, a man-o-war hove in sight and they were forced to run. Nor ran far ere they fell afoul of a frigate who blew them out of the water. Of the boat's crew who were with de Romber when he found the temple, only this man who shipped with Gower remained alive.
"Naturally he refused to tell the location of it or to draw a map, but offered to lead Gower there in return for a goodly share of the gems. So upon sighting the island, Gower bade his mate, Frank Marker, sail to take a merchantman we had word of some days agone, and Gower himself came ashore-"
"What! Do you mean--"
"Aye! On this very island rose and flourished and died the lost kingdom of Mogar, and somewhere among the trees and vines hereon lies the forgotten temple with the ransom of a dozen emperors!"
"The dream of a drunken sailor," I said uncertainly. "And why tell me this?"
"Why not?" said she, reasonably enough. "We are in the same boat and I owe you a debt of gratitude. W e might even find the treasure ourselves, who knows? The man who sailed with de Romber will never lead John Gower to the temple, unless ghosts walk, for he was Dick Comrel, the man you killed!"
"Listen!" A faint sound had come to me through the dim gurgle of the falls.
Dropping on my belly I wriggled cautiously toward the water-veiled entrance and peered through the shimmering screen. I could make out dimly the forms of five men standing close to the pool. The taller one was waving his arms savagely and his rough voice came to me faintly and as if far away.
I drew back, even though knowing he could not see through the falls, and as I did I felt silky curls brush against my shoulder, and the girl, who had crawled after me, put her lips close to me to whisper, under the noise of the water.
"He with the cut face and the fierce eyes is Captain Gower; the lank dark one is the Frenchman, La Costa; he with the beard is Tom Bellefonte; and the other two are Will Harbor and Mike Donler."
Long ago, I had heard all those names and knew that I was looking on as red-handed and black-hearted a group as ever walked deck or beach. After many gestures and talk which I could not make out, they turned and went along the cliff, vanishing from view.
When we could talk in ordinary tones, the girl said:
"Damme, but Gower is in a rare rage! He will have to find the temple by himself now, since your pistol ball scattered Dick Comrel's brains. The swine! He'd be better putting the width of the Seven Seas between himself and me! Roger O'Farrel will pay him out for the way he has treated me, I wager you, even if I fail in my vengeance."
"Vengeance for what?" I asked curiously.
"For disrespect. He sought to treat me as a woman, not as a buccaneer comrade. When I threatened to run him through, he cursed me and swore he would tame me some day- and made me come ashore with him."
A silence followed, then suddenly she said:
"Zounds! Are we to stay pent up here forever? I'm growing hungry!"
"Bide you here," said I, "and I will go forth and fetch some fruit which grows wild here-"
"Good enough," she replied, "but I crave more than fruit. By Zeus! There is bread and salt pork and dried beef in the longboat and I have a mind to sally forth and-"
Now I, who had tasted no Christian food in more than a week, felt my mouth water at the mention of bread and beef, but I said:
"Are you insane? Of what good is a hiding place if it is not used? You would surely fall into the hands of those rogues."
"No, now is the best time for such an attempt," said she, rising. "Hinder me not-my mind is made up. You saw that the five were together-so there is no one at the boat. The other two are dead."
"Unless the whole gang of them returned to the beach," said I.
"Not likely. They are still searching for me, or else have taken up the hunt for the temple. No, I tell you, now is the best time."
"Then I go with you, if you are so determined," I replied, and together we dropped from the ledge in front of the cavern, splashed through the falls and waded out of the pool.
I peered about, half-expecting an attack, but no man was in sight. All was silent save for the occasional raucous plaint of some jungle bird. I looked to my weapons. One of the dead buccaneer's pistols was empty, of course, and the priming of the other was wet.
"The locks of mine are wrapped in silk," said Helen, noticing my activities. "Here, draw the useless charge and reload them."
And she handed me a waterproof horn flask with compartments for powder and ball. So I did as she said, drying the weapons with leaves.
"I am probably the finest pistol shot in the world," said the girl modestly, "but the blade is my darling."
She drew her rapier and slashed and thrust the empty air.
"You sailors seldom appreciate the true value of the straight steel," said she. "Look at you with that clumsy cutlass. I could run you through while you were heaving it up for a slash. So!"
Her point suddenly leaped out and a lock of my hair floated to the earth.
"Have a care with that skewer," said I, annoyed and somewhat uneasy. "Save your tierces and thrusts for your enemies. As for a cutlass, it is a downright weapon for an honest man who knows naught of your fine French tricks."
"Roger O'Farrel knows the worth of the rapier," said she. "'Twould do your heart good to see it sing in his hand, and how that he spits those who oppose him."
"Let us be going," I answered shortly, for her hardness rasped again on me, and it somehow irked me to hear her sing the praises of the pirate O'Farrel.
So we went silently up through the gorges and ravines, mounting the north cliffs at another place, and so proceeded through the thick trees until we came to the crest of the slope that led down to the beach. Peering from ambush, we saw the longboat lying alone and unguarded.
No sound broke the utter stillness as we went warily down the incline. The sun hung over the western waters tike a shield of blood, and the very birds in the trees seemed to have fallen silent. The breeze had gone and no leaf rustled on any branch.
We came to the longboat and, working swiftly, broke open the kegs and made a bundle of bread and beef. My fingers trembled with haste and nervousness, for I felt we were riding the crest of a precipice-I was sure that the pirates would return to their boat before nightfall, and the sun was about to go down.
Even as this thought came to me, I heard a shout and a shot, and a bullet hummed by my cheek. Mike Donler and Will Harbor were running down the beach toward us, cursing and bellowing horrible threats. They had come upon us from among the lofty rocks further down the shore, and now were on us before we had time to draw a breath.
Donler rushed in on me, wild eyes aflame, belt buckle, finger rings and cutlass blade all afire in the gleam of the sunset. His broad breast showed hairy through his open shirt, and I levelled my pistol and shot him through the chest, so that he staggered and roared like a wounded buffalo. Yet such was his terrible vitality that he came reeling on in spite of this mortal hurt to slash at me with his cutlass. I parried the blow, splitting his skull to the brows with my own blade, and he fell dead at my feet, his brains running out on the sand.
Then I turned to the girl, whom I feared to be hard pressed, and looked just in time to see her disarm Harbor with a dextrous wrench of her wrist, and run him through the heart so that her point came out under his shoulder.
For a fleeting instant he stood erect, mouth gaping stupidly, as if upheld by the blade. Blood gushed from that open mouth and, as she withdrew her sword with a marvelous show of wrist strength, he toppled forward, dead before he touched earth.
Helen turned to me with a light laugh.
"At least Mr. Harmer," quoth she, "my `skewer' does a cleaner and neater job than does your cleaver. Bones and blades! I had no idea there was so much brain to Mike Donler."
"Have done," said I sombrely, repelled by her words and manner. "This is a butcher's business and one I like not. Let us begone; if Gower and the other two are not behind these, they will come shortly."
"Then take up the pack of food, imbecile," said she sharply. "Have we come this far and killed two men for nothing?"
I obeyed without speaking, though truth to tell, I had little appetite left, for my soul was not with such work as I had just done. As the ocean drank the westering sun and the swift southern twilight fell, we made our way back toward the cavern under the falls. When we had topped the slope and lost sight of the sea except such as glimmered between the trees in the distance, we heard a faint shout, and knew that Gower and the remainder of his men had returned.
"No danger now until morning," said my companion. "Since we know that the rogues are on the beach, there is no chance of coming upon them unexpectedly in the wood. They will scarcely venture into this unknown wilderness at night."
After we had gone a little further, we halted, set us down and supped on the bread and beef, washing it down with draughts from a clear cold stream. And I marveled at how daintily and with what excellent manners this pirate girl ate.
When she had finished and washed her hands in the stream, she tossed her golden curls and said:
"By Zeus, this hath been a profitable day's work for two hunted fugitives! Of the seven buccaneers which came ashore early this morn, but three remain alive! What say you-shall we flee them no more, but come upon them and trust to our battle fortune? Three against two are not such great odds."
"What do you say?" I asked her bluntly.
"I say nay," she replied frankly. "Were it any man but John Gower I might say differently. But this Gower is more than a man-he is as crafty and ferocious as any wild beast, and there is that about him which turns my blood to ice. He is one of the two men I have ever feared."
"Who was the other?"
Now she had a way of pronouncing that rogue's name as if he were a saint or a king, and for some reason this rasped on my nerves greatly. So I said nothing.
"Were Roger O'Farrel here," she prattled on, "we should have naught to fear, for no man on all the Seven Seas is his equal and even John Gower would shun the issue with him. He is the greatest navigator that ever lived and the finest swordsman. He has the manners of a cavalier, which in truth he is."
"Who is this Roger O'Farrel?" I asked brutally. "Your lover?"
At that, quick as a flash, she struck me across the face with her open hand so that I saw stars. We were on our feet, and I saw her face crimson in the light of the moon which had come up over the black trees.
"Damn you!" she cried. "O'Farrel would cut your heart out for that, were he here! From your own lips I had it that no man could call me his!"
"So they say, indeed," said I bitterly, for my cheek was stinging, and my mind was in such a chaotic state as is difficult to describe.
"They say, eh? And what think you?" there was danger in her tone.
"I think," said I recklessly, "that no woman can be a plunderer and a murderess, and also virtuous."
It was a cruel and needless thing to say. I saw her face go white, I heard the quick intake of her breath and the next instant her rapier point was against my breast, just under the heart.
"I have killed men for less," I heard her say in a ghostly, far away whisper.
I looked down at the thin silver line of death that lay between us and my blood froze, but I answered:
"Killing me would scarcely change my opinion."
An instant she stared at me, then to my utter bewilderment, she dropped her blade, flung herself down on the earth and burst into a torrent of sobs. Much ashamed of myself, I stood over her, uncertain, wishing to comfort her, yet afraid the little spitfire would stab me if I touched her. Presently I was aware of words mingling with her tears.
"After all I have done to keep clean," she sobbed. "This is too much! I know I am a monster in the sight of men; there is blood on my hands. I've looted and cursed and killed and diced and drunk, till my very heart is calloused. My only consolation, the one thing to keep me from feeling utterly damned, is the fact that I have remained as virtuous as any girl. And now men believe me otherwise. I wish I. . .I. . . were dead!"
So did I for the instant, until I was swept by an unutterable shame. Certainly the words I had used to her were not the act of a man. And now I was stunned at the removal of her mask of hard recklessness and the revelation of a surprisingly sensitive soul. Her voice had the throb of sincerity, and, truth to tell, I had never really doubted her.
Now I dropped to my knees beside the weeping girl and, raising her, made to wipe her eyes.
"Keep your hands off me!" she ordered promptly, jerking away. "I will have naught to do with you, who believe me a bad woman."
"I don't believe it," I answered. "I most humbly crave pardon. It was a foul and unmanly thing for me to say. I have never doubted your honesty, and I said that which I did only because you had angered me."
She seemed somewhat appeased.
"As for Roger O'Farrel," said she, "he is twice as old as either of us. He took me off a sinking ship when I was a baby and raised me like his own daughter. And if I took to the life of a rover, it is not his fault, who would have established me like a fine lady ashore had I wished. But the love of adventure is in my blood and though Fate made a woman of me, I have lived a man's life.
"If I am hard and cold and heartless, what else might you expect of a maid who grew up among daily scenes of blood and violence, whose earliest remembrances are of sinking ships, crashing cannon and the shrieks of the dying? I know the rotten worth of my companions-sots, murderers, thieves, gallows birds-all save Captain Roger O'Farrel.
"Men say he is cruel and it may be so. But to me he has always been kind and gentle. And moreover he is a fine upstanding man, of high aristocratic blood with the courage of a lion!"
I said nothing against the buccaneer, whom I knew to be the disinherited black sheep of a powerful Irish family, but I experienced a strange sensation of pleasure to learn from her lips just what their relationship was to each other.
A scene long forgotten suddenly flashed in my mind: a boatload of people sighted off the Tortugas and taken aboard-the words of one of the women, "And it's Helen Tavrel we have to thank, God bless her! For she made bloody Hilton put all we a-boat with food and water, when the fiend would ha' burned us all with our ship. Woman pirate she may be, but a kind heart she hath for all that='
After all, the girl was a credit to her sex, considering her raising and surroundings, thought I, and felt strangely cheerful.
"You'll try to forget my words," said I. "Now let us be getting toward our hiding place, for it is like we will have need of it tomorrow."
I helped her to her feet and gave her rapier into her hand. She followed me then without a word and no conversation passed between us until we reached the pool beside the cliff. Here we halted for a moment.
Truth, it was a weird and fantastic sight. The cliffs rose stark and black on either side, and between them whispered and rustled the thick shadows of the fronds. The stream sliding over the cliff before us glimmered like molten silver in the moonlight, and the pool into which it slipped shimmered with long bright ripples. The moon rode over all like a broad buckler of white gold.
"Sleep in the cavern," I commanded. "I will make me a bed among these bushes which grow close by."
"Will you be safe thus?" she asked.
"Aye; no man is like to come before morning, and there are no dangerous beasts on the island, save reptiles which lurk among the swamps on the other side of it."
Without a word, she waded into the pool and vanished in the silver mist of the fall. I parted the bushes near at hand and composed myself for slumber. The last thing I remembered, as I fell asleep, was an unruly mass of golden curls, below which danced a pair of brooding grey eyes.