« PreviousContinue »
severed line. I sent my fourth shot after them and got in exchange a scream and a howl of “Mercy! mercy! we surrender!” She swung clear of the quarter, all hushed, and faded into the mist and moonlight, with the head and arms of a motionless man hanging grotesquely over the bows.
Leaving Seraphina with Castro, and sticking the remaining pair of pistols in my belt, I swarmed up the rope. The moon, the lights of several lanthorns, the glare from the open doors, mingled violently in the steamy fog between the high bulwarks of the ship. But the character of the contest was changing, even as I paused on the rail to get my bearings. The fellow who had leapt on board to escape my shot had bolted across the deck to his friends on the other side, yelling:
“Fly, fly! The heretics are coming, shooting from the sea. All is lost. Fly, oh fly!”
He had jumped straight overboard, but the infection of his panic was already visible. The cries of “Muerte, muerte! Death, death!” had ceased, and the Englishmen were cheering ferociously. In a moment, under my eyes, the seamen, who had been holding their own with difficulty in a shower of defensive blows, began to dart forward, striking out with their fists, catching with their hands. I jumped upon the main hatch, and found myself in the skirt of the final rush.
A tall Lugareño had possessed himself of one of the ship's capstan bars, and, less craven than the others, was flourishing it on high, aiming at the head of a sailor engaged in throttling a negro whom he held at the full length of his immense arms. I fired, and the Lugareño tumbled down with all the appearance of having knocked himself over with the bar he had that moment uplifted. It rested across his neck as he lay stretched at my feet.
I was not able to effect anything more after this, because the sailor, after rushing his limp antagonist overboard with terrific force, turned raging for more, caught sight of me--an evident stranger—and flew at my throat. He was English, but as he squeezed my windpipe so hard that I couldn't utter a word I brought the butt of my pistol upon his thick skull without the slightest compunction, for, indeed, I had to deal with a powerful man, well able to strangle me with his bare hands, and very determined to achieve the feat. He grunted under the blow, reeled away a few steps, then, charging back at once, gripped me round the body, and tried to lift me off my feet. We fell together into a warm puddle.
I had no idea spilt blood kept its warmth so much. And the quantity of it was appalling; the deck seemed to swim with gore, and we simply weltered in it. We
feet of a lot of men who were hopping about us in the greatest excitement, the hearty thuds of blows, aimed with all sorts of weapons, just missing my head. The pistol was kicked out of my hand.
The horror of my position was very great. Must I kill the man? must I die myself in this miserable and senseless manner? I tried to shout, “Drag this maniac off me.”
He was pinning my arms to my body. I saw the furious faces bending over me, the many hands murderously uplifted. They, of course, couldn't tell that I wasn't one of the men who had boarded them, and my life had never been in such jeopardy. I felt all the fury of rage and mortification. Was I to die like this, villainously trodden underfoot, on the threshold of safety, of liberty, of love? And, in those moments of vioient struggle I saw, as one sees in moments of wisdom and
meditation, my soul-all life, lying under the shadow of a perfidious destiny. And Seraphina was there in the boat, waiting for me. The sea! The boat! They were in another land, and I, I should no more. . . . never any more. ..A sharp voice called, “Back there, men. Steady. Take him alive.” They dragged me up.
I needn't relate by what steps, from being terribly handled as a captive, I was promoted to having my arms shaken off in the character of a saviour. But I got any amount of praise at last, though I was terribly out of breath—at the very last gasp, as you might say. A man, smooth-faced, well-knit, very elated and buoyant, began talking to me endlessly. He was mighty happy, and anyhow he could talk to me, because I was past doing anything but taking a moment's rest. He said I had come in the nick of time, and was quite the best of fellows. i “If you had a fancy to be called the Archbishop of Canterbury, we'd 'your Grace' you. I am the mate, Sebright. The captain's gone in to show himself to the missus; she wouldn't like to have him too much chipped.... Wonderful is the love of woman. She sat up a bit later to-night with her fancy-sewing to see what might turn up. I told her at tea-time she had better go in early and shut her stateroom door, because if any of the Dagos chanced to come aboard, I couldn't be responsible for the language of my crowd. We are supposed to keep clear of profanity this trip, she being a niece of Mr. Perkins of Bristol, our owner, and a Methodist. But, hang it all, there's reason in all things. You can't have a ship like a chapel—though she would. Oh, bless you, she would, even when we're beating off these picaroons.”
I was sitting on the afterhatch, and leaning my head on my arms.
“Feel bad? Do you? Handled you like a bag of shavings. Well, the boys got their monkey up, hammering the Dagos. Here you, Mike, go look along the deck, for a double-barrelled pistol. Move yourself a bit. Feel along under the spars.”
There was something authoritative and knowing in his personality; boyishly elated and full of business.
“We must put the ship to rights. You don't think they'd come back for another taste? The blessed old deck's afloat. That's my little dodge, boiling water for these Dagos, if they come. So I got the cook to fire up, and we put the suction-hose of the fire pump into the boiler, and we filled the coppers and the kettles. Not a bad notion, eh? But ten times as much wouldn't have been enough, and the hose burst at the third stroke, so that only one boat got anything to speak of. But Lord, she dropped out of the ruck as if she'd been swept with langridge. Squealed like a litter of pigs, didn't they?”
What I had taken for blood had been the water from the burst hose. I must say I was relieved. My new friend babbled any amount of joyous information into me before I quite got my wind back. He rubbed his hands and clapped me on the shoulder. But his heart was kind, and he became concerned at my collapsed state.
The would listen to.. Oh, heavensley, bo'sun,
ribs, do you? Let me feel.”
And then I managed to tell him something of Seraphina that he would listen to.
“What, what?” he said. “Oh, heavens and earth! there's your girl. Of course...Hey, bo’sun, rig a whip and chair on the yardarm to take a lady on
board. Bear a hand. A lady! yes, a lady. Confound it, don't lose your wits, man. Look over the starboard rail, and you will see a lady alongside with a Dago in a small boat. Let the Dago come on board, too; the gentleman here says he's a good sort. Now, do you understand?”
He talked to me a good deal more; told me that they had made a prisoner-"a tall, comical chap; wears his hair like an old aunt of mine, a bunch of curls flapping on each side of his face”—and then said that he must go and report to Captain Williams, who had gone into his wife's stateroom. The name struck me. I said:
"Is this ship the Lion?”
“Aye, aye. That's her. She is,” several seamen answered together, casting curious glances from their work.
“Tell your captain my name is Kemp,” I shouted after Sebright with what strength of lung I had.
What luck! Williams was the jolly little ship's captain I was to have dined with on the day of execution on Kingston Point—the day I had been kidnapped. It seemed ages ago. I wanted to get to the side to look after Seraphina, but I simply couldn't remember how to stand. I sat on the hatch, looking at the seamen.
They were clearing the ropes, collecting the lamps, picking up knives, handspikes, crowbars, swabbing the decks with squashy flaps. A bare-footed, bare-armed fellow, holding a bundle of brass-hilted cutlasses under his arm, had lost himself in the contemplation of my person.
“Where are you bound to?” I inquired at large, and everybody showed a friendly alacrity in answer.
“Havana.” “Havana, sir.” “Havana's our next port. Aye, Havana."
The deck rang with modulations of the name.