« PreviousContinue »
yet I was extremely loath to give her up. It was impossible to give her up. But what were we to do? What to say? How to act?
“Castro, this is horrible,” I said blankly. That he was beginning to chafe, to fret, and shuffle his feet only added to my dismay. He might begin at any moment to swear in Spanish, and that was sure to bring a shower of lead, blind, fired blindly. “We have nothing to expect from the people of that ship. We cannot even get on board.”
“Not without Manuel's help, it seems," he said bitterly. “Strange, is it not, Señor? Your countrymen—your excellent and virtuous countrymen. Generous and courageous and perspicacious.”
Seraphina said suddenly, “They have reason. It is well for them to be suspicious of us in this place.” She had a tone of calm reproof, and of faith.
“They shall be of more use when they are dead," Castro muttered. “The señor's other dead countrymen served us well.”
“I shall give you great, very great sums of money," Seraphina suddenly cried towards the ship. “I am the Señorita Seraphina Riego.”
“There is a woman—that's a woman's voice, I'll swear," I heard them exclaim on board, and I cried again:
“Yes, yes. There is a woman."
"I dare say. But where do you come in? You are a distressed Englishman, aren't you?” a voice came back.
“You shall let us come up on your ship,” Seraphina said. “I shall come myself, alone Seraphina Riego.”
“Eh, what?” the voice asked.
I felt a little wind on the back of my head. There was desperate hurry.
istinct, as if mof wind. Alreance of getting
“We are escaping to get married,” I called out. They were beginning to shout orders on the ship.
“Oh, you've come to the wrong shop. A church is what you want for that trouble,” the voice called back brutally, through the other cries of orders to square the yards.
I shouted again, but my voice must have been drowned in the creaking of blocks and yards. They were alert enough for every chance of getting awayfor every flaw of wind. Already the ship was less distinct, as if my eyes had grown dim. By the time a voice on board her cried, “Belay,” faintly, she had gone from my sight. Then the puff of wind passed away, too, and left us more alone than ever, with only the small disk of the moon poised vertically above the mists.
“Listen,” said Tomas Castro, after what seemed an eternity of crestfallen silence.
He need not have spoken; there could be no doubt that Manuel had lost himself, and my belief is that the ship had sailed right into the midst of the flotilla. There was an unmistakable character of surprise in the distant tumult that arose suddenly, and as suddenly ceased for a space of a breath or two.
“Now, Castro," I shouted. “Ha! bueno!”
We gave way with a vigour that seemed to lift the dinghy out of the water. The uproar gathered volume and fierceness.
From the first it was a hand-to-hand contest, engaged in suddenly, as if the assailants had at once managed to board in a body, and, as it were, in one unanimous spring. No shots had been fired. Too far to hear the blows, and seeing nothing as yet of the ship, we seemed to be hastening towards a deadly struggle of voices, of shadows with leathern throats; every cry heard in battle was there—rage, encouragement, fury, hate, and pain. And those of pain were amazingly distinct. They were yells; they were howls. And suddenly, as we approached the ship, but before we could make out any sign of her, we came upon a boat. We had to swerve to clear her. She seemed to have dropped out of the fight in utter disarray; she lay with no oars out, and full of men who writhed and tumbled over each other, shrieking as if they had been flayed. Above the writhing figures in the middle of the boat, a tall man, upright in the stern-sheets, raved awful imprecations and shook his fists above his head.
The blunt dinghy foamed past that vision within an oar's length, no more, making straight for the clamour of the fight. The last puff of wind must have thinned the fog in the ship’s track; for, standing up, face forward to pull stroke, I saw her come out, stern-on to us, from truck to water-line, mistily tall and motionless, but resounding with the most fierce and desperate noises. A cluster of empty boats clung low to her port side, raft-like and vague on the water.
We heard now, mingled with the fury and hate of shouts reverberating from the placid sails, mighty thuds and crashes, as though it had been a combat with clubs and battle-axes.
Evidently, in the surprise and haste of the unexpected coming together, they had been obliged to board all on the same side. As I headed for the other a big boat, full of men, with many oars, shot across our bows, and vanished round the ship's counter in the
port side, were going to be taken in the rear. We
“Death, death,” rang over our heads. A voice on the
poop said furiously in English, “Stand fast, men." Next moment, we, too, rounded the quarter only twenty feet behind the big boat, but with a slightly wider sweep.
I said, "Have the pistols ready, Seraphina.” And she answered quite steadily:
“They are ready, Juan.”
I could not have believed that any handiwork of man afloat could have got so much way through the water. To this very day I am not rid of the absurd impression that, at that particular moment, the dinghy was travelling with us as fast as a cannon-ball. No sooner round than we were upon them. We were upon them so fast that I had barely the time to fling away my oar, and close my grip on the butt of the pistols Seraphina pressed into my hand from behind. Castro, too, had dropped his oar, and, turning as swift as a cat, crouched in the bows. I saw his good arm darting out towards their boat.
They had cast a grapnel cleverly, and, swung abreast of the main chains, were grimly busied in boarding the undefended side in silence. One had already his leg over the ship's rail, and below him three more were clambering resolutely, one above the other. The rest of them, standing up in a body with their faces to the ship, were so oblivious of everything in their purpose, that they staggered all together to the shock of the dinghy, heavily, as if the earth had reeled under them.
Castro knew what he was doing. I saw his only hand hop along the gunwale, dragging our cockle-shell forward very swiftly. The tottering Spaniards turned their heads, and for a moment we looked at each other in silence.
I was too excited to shout; the surprise seemed to have deprived them of their senses, and they all had
the same grin of teeth closed upon the naked blades of their knives, the same stupid stare fastened upon my eyes. I pulled the trigger in the nearest face, and the terrific din of the fight going on above us was overpowered by the report of the pistol, as if by a clap of thunder. The man's gaping mouth dropped the knife, and he stood stiffly long enough for the thought, “I've missed him," to flash through my mind before he tumbled clean out of the boat without touching anything, like a wooden dummy tipped by the heels. His headlong fall sent the water flying high over the stern of the dinghy. With the second barrel I took a long shot at the man sitting amazed, astride of the rail above. I saw him double up suddenly, and fall inboard sideways, but the fellow following him made a convulsive effort, and leapt out of sight on to the deck of the ship. I dropped the discharged weapon, and fired the first barrel of the other at the upper of the two men clinging halfway up the ship's side. To that one shot they both vanished as if by enchantment, the fellow I had hit knocking off his friend below. The crash of their fall was followed by a great yell.
These had been all nearly point-blank shots, and, anyhow, I had had a good deal of pistol practice. Macdonald had a little gallery at Horton Pen. The Lugareños, huddled together in the boat, were only able to moan with terror. They made soft, pitiful, complaining noises. Two or three took headers overboard, like so many frogs, and then one began to squeak exactly like a rat.
By that time, Castro, with his fixed blade, had cut their grapnel rope close to the ring. As the ship kept forging ahead all the time, the boat of the pirate bumped away lightly from between the vessel and our dinghy, and we remained alongside, holding to the end of the