In accordance with Hornigold's advice, after deliberation between Morgan and the leaders, the Mary Rose had first run up to La Vaca Island, south of Hispaniola, and the number of original marauders had been increased by fifty volunteers, all those, indeed, who could be reached, from the small pirates who made that delectable spot their rendezvous. In addition to those, the crew had also been reenforced largely from those of the unpaid and discontented seamen and soldiers of the frigate who had happened to be under hatches the night of the capture. Presented with the choice of instant death or adherence to the band, most of them had accepted the latter alternative, although, to their great credit be it said, not until one or two of the loyal veterans, who had hotly refused to have anything to do with their ruffianly captors, had been forced to walk the plank as an example to the rest should they prove recalcitrant. Partly through terror, partly through discontent, partly on account of promises of the great reward awaiting them, speciously urged by Morgan himself, for he could talk as well as he could fight, and, most of all, because even at that date it was considered a meritorious act to attack a Spaniard or a Papist under any circumstances or conditions, especially by persons as ignorant as the class in question, some seventy cast in their lot with the rest.
Among the two hundred and twenty members of the heterogeneous crew so constituted, were to be found natives of almost every race under the sun, even including one or two Spanish renegados, and it would be safe to say that the lowest and meanest representatives of the several races were assembled on that very ship. The officers and men who had been recruited from Isla La Vaca, as well as the older original members of the crew of the Mary Rose, together with a select few of the remainder, were men of approved courage. The officers, indeed, bore reputations for hardihood and daring not to be surpassed. Most of the rest, however, were arrant cowards. As a body the band could not compare, except in leadership, with the former bands of buccaneers who had made themselves and their names a terror to Latin civilization in the New World.
Morgan himself, however, almost made up for all deficiencies. Age had not quenched his ardor, diminished his courage, or deprived him of that magnetic quality which had made him an unquestioned leader of men. His eye was as keen, his hand as steady, his soul as reckless, and his skill as high as when he had led the greatest buccaneer fleet that had ever assembled, on the famous Panama expedition. Everybody on the ship hated him except young Teach and the faithful Black Dog; the old buccaneers because he had betrayed them, the soldiers and sailors of the crew because he had captured their ship and forced them to become his allies, the mean and lowly body of rascals because he kept them ruthlessly under hand. But they all feared him as much as they hated him and they admired him as much as they feared him.
So far as he was concerned discipline was absolute. He still seemed to fancy himself the Vice-Governor and the representative of that King against whom he had taken up arms. He demanded to be treated accordingly. No admiral of the fleet was ever served more promptly and respectfully than he. Even his nearest associates were treated with a certain haughtiness, which they bitterly resented and which they would have called in question had the situation been other than it was. Truth to tell, influenced by Hornigold, they had embarked upon a mad enterprise, and they needed Morgan to bring it to a successful conclusion. Without him the slender coherence which already existed would fail, and anarchy would be the state upon the ship. There would be nothing left to them but to scatter if they could make an unheeded landing at some convenient place, or be captured, if they could not, with a certainty of being hung forthwith. So long as they remained together, it was certain that Morgan would lead them on some successful enterprise and they might get some reward for their risks and crimes. In his safety lay their safety.
The buccaneer was entirely aware of this, and therefore counted freely upon the backing of the veterans among the officers and crew. He would take care of the rest.
The ship, however, was a floating colony of suspicion, treachery, and hatred. Morgan himself never appeared without being loaded with weapons, not for bravado but for use should occasion rise, and his back was always protected by the silent and gigantic maroon, whom the sailors, catching the title from those who had known him of old, referred to with malignant hatred as "Black Dog." That was a name, indeed, which the taciturn half-breed rather rejoiced in than resented. Morgan had been able to awaken love in no hearts except those of young Teach, whose feeling was admiration rather than affection, and this half-breed maroon. Whether it was from his black African mother or from his fierce red Carib father he inherited the quality of devotion was not apparent. Devoted he had been and devoted he remained.
Close association in the narrow confines of the ship with the man who had, as he believed, wronged him, had but intensified Hornigold's hatred. The One-Eyed found it difficult to dissemble, and took refuge in a reticence which was foreign to his original frank and open character. Morgan half suspected the state of affairs in his old boatswain's moiled and evil soul, and he watched him on account of it more closely than the others, but with no great disquiet in his heart. Truth to tell, the old pirate was never so happy as in the midst of dangers, imminent and threatening, which would have broken the spirit of a less resolute man. There was one among the officers he was sure of and upon whom he could depend in an emergency, and that was young Teach. He had flattered him by unusual marks of kindness, and alone among the officers this fellow did not seem to cherish the rancor and suspicion of the others. He was too young to have experienced a betrayal as had the rest; this was his first venture in actual piracy and he found it marvelously pleasant.
The officers, too, were all suspicious of one another. As each one nursed his own private designs he suspected the others of doing likewise—and with reason. But there was as yet little outward friction among them. Raveneau, for instance, was most scrupulously polite to the captain and his associates. Velsers was too stupid in his cups—and he was generally in them—to do more than growl, and the Brazilian had all the capacities of his race for subtle concealment.
Although the necessary orders for working the ship were obeyed and Morgan personally imposed implicit obedience and respect for his commands, no duties other than those required were performed by the men. During the day when not at work or at drill, they drank, smoked, gambled, and fought at pleasure, although, as the captain mercilessly exercised them during long hours at the great guns and with small arms, they did not have any too much leisure for play. During the night they kept watch and watch, of course, but in it all they took no care of the ship, and filth and dirt abounded. If they had anticipated a long cruise things would necessarily have been different, but as they had gone far to the southward now, and might make a landfall at any moment there was no necessity for bothering about mere cleanliness, which, as it is supposed to be next to godliness, was naturally far removed from this band of cut-throats. Morgan had not communicated his ultimate purposes to his men as yet, but as he was the only navigator on the ship he was, perforce, allowed to have his own way.
Breakfast had been served—a meagre breakfast it was, too, for all hands were on short allowance of everything but spirits, on account of the unprovided state of the ship. Fortunately for their contentment, there was plenty of rum on board. The men were congregated forward on the forecastle or in the waist, wrangling and arguing as usual. The officers gathered on the quarter-deck, and Morgan paced the high raised poop alone, overlooking them, when the lookout suddenly reported three sail in sight. The half-drunken sailor who had been sent aloft at daybreak had kept negligent watch, for almost as soon as he had made his report the ships were observed from the deck of the frigate.
The Mary Rose had the wind on her quarter, her best point of sailing, and she was covered with canvas from her trucks to her decks, from her spritsail yard to her huge mizzen crossjack, a lateen sail. The wind was light, but she was making rapid progress toward the approaching strangers, who, with their larboard tacks aboard, were beating up toward the English.
Attended by the maroon, Morgan, pistol in hand, went forward to the forecastle, kicking his way clear through the sullen, black-browed mass of sailors. He ran a short distance up the weather fore-shrouds and took a long look at the strangers. They all flew the yellow flag of Spain. One was a huge galleon, the other two smaller ships, though larger in each instance than the Mary Rose, and all heavily armed.
One of the plate ships from Porto Bello was due in this latitude about this time, and Morgan instantly surmised that the galleon was she, and that the two others were Spanish frigates to give her safe convoy across the ocean. Spain was at peace with all the world at that time, and the two frigates would have been ample to ward off the attack of any of the small piratical craft which had succeeded the buccaneer ships of the Caribbean. The Spaniards had no idea that such a vulture as Morgan was afloat; therefore, although they had sighted the Mary Rose long before she had seen them because they kept better watch, they came on fearlessly and without hesitation. It was evident to the experienced officers among them that the vessel was an English frigate, and as England was a country with which there was profound peace at the time they apprehended nothing.
The position of the approaching ships with reference to one another was somewhat peculiar. The first and smallest frigate was perhaps half a mile ahead of her consorts, who were sailing side by side, a cable's length apart. Morgan at once determined to attack them. He knew that he possessed the handiest ship, and he believed that he had discovered a way to master the other three. The two frigates were the most dangerous antagonists. If he could dispose of them the galleon would be at his mercy. He did not hesitate to encounter such odds, and even in the minds of the craven part of the crew one English ship was thought to be good for any three Spaniards that ever floated.
The interest of the crew had been excited by the approaching strangers, which were rapidly drawing nearer. They ceased their arguments and strife, therefore, and crowded forward, looking alternately from the foreign ships to their own leader, lightly poised on the sheer-poles scanning the enemy. There were plenty of men of sufficient experience among them to pronounce them Spanish ships immediately, and they therefore anticipated that work lay before them that morning. Presently Morgan sprang down upon the forecastle and faced his men.
"Lads," he said, "those are Spanish ships."
"Ay, ay, sir," came from one another as he paused a moment to let the significance of his announcement sink in.
"And," he continued, raising his voice so that it was audible throughout the ship, "the great one will be one of the plate ships homeward bound—but she'll never get there—from Porto Bello!"
A perfect yell of delight drowned his further remarks. The men shrieked and shouted and hurrahed at the joyous announcement, as if all they had to do was to go aboard and take the ships. When the hullabaloo had subsided, Morgan continued:
"I'm glad to see you take it so bravely, for while there is treasure enough under her hatches to make us all rich, yet we'll not get it without a fight, for yonder are two heavily armed frigates. We'll have to dispose of them before we get at the galleon. But, hearts of oak, I never saw the buccaneer who wasn't worth three or a dozen of the Dons, and with a stout ship like this one under my feet and a band of brave hearts like you I wouldn't hesitate to tackle the whole Spanish navy. It means a little fighting, but think of the prize!" he cried, playing skilfully upon the cupidity of his men. "Some of us will lose the number of our messes, perhaps, before nightfall; but," he continued, making a most singular and effective appeal, "there will be more to divide for each man that is left alive. Are you with me?"
"To the death!" cried young Teach, who had come forward and mingled with the crowd, lifting a naked cutlass as he spoke. His cry was taken up and repeated, first by one and then another until the whole body was yelling frantically to be given a chance to fight the Spanish ships.
"That's well," said Morgan grimly. "Master Teach, here, will command forward on the fo'c'sl. Raveneau and Velsers shall attend to the batteries in the waist. I appoint you, Hornigold, to look after the movements of the ship. See that the best hands are at the wheel and have sail trimmers ready. My Portuguese friend, you may look to the after guns. Now to your stations. Cast loose and provide! Man the larboard battery! See every thing is ready, but hold your fire and keep silence under pain of death! Yon frigate over there, we'll strike first. She'll be unprepared and unsuspecting. One good blow ought to dispose of her."
As he spoke, the men hurried to their stations. There was no lack of skill on the frigate, and now was seen the value of Morgan's constant drilling. The cannon of the ship were cast loose and loaded, loggerheads and matches lighted, small arms distributed and primed, pikes were served out, cutlasses loosened in their sheaths, and such as had armor, still worn in greater or less degree even in that day, donned it, and the ship was full of busy preparation.
"We've no flag flying, sir," said Hornigold as the men settled down to their stations, grim and ready.
"Ay," said Morgan, "show the English flag. We'll make as much trouble for his gracious majesty, King James, as possible."
In a short time the glorious colors of England, which had never waved over so despicable a crew before, rippled out in the freshening breeze. As they were rapidly approaching the Spanish ship now, Morgan descended from the poop-deck to make a personal inspection of his frigate before beginning action. He found everything to his taste, and passed along the lines of silent men congregated around the guns with words of stern appreciation.
The crews of the guns had been constituted with great care. The gun captains in each instance were tried and proved seamen, men as fearless as they were capable. The weaker and the more wretched portion of the band had been so placed that opportunity for showing cowardice would be greatly circumscribed, and the stern command of the captain that the officers and petty officers should instantly shoot any man who flinched from duty was not without effect. He did not hesitate to remind the men, either, that they fought with halters around their necks. As even the craven becomes dangerous when pushed to the wall, he felt they would give a good account of themselves.
"Hornigold," said Morgan, as he stepped up on the quarter-deck again, "I want the frigate to pass as close to windward of that Spanish ship as you can bring her without touching. Let her not suspect our desire, but whirl into her as we get abreast. Don't fall foul of her as you value your life!"
"Ay, ay, sir," answered that veteran, squinting forward along the jib-boom with his one eye as if measuring the distance, "I'll bring her close enough for you to leap aboard and yet never touch a rope yarn on her."
He spoke with the consciousness and pride of his skill.
"Now, lads," cried Morgan, "have everything ready, and when I give the word pour it in on yonder ship. I want to settle her with one broadside. It'll be touch and go, for we've got to dispose of her in an instant. Stand by for the word! Now, lie down, all, behind the bulwarks and rails. Let us make no show of force as we come up. We must not arouse suspicion."
The two ships, the Mary Rose going free, the Spanish frigate close hauled on the port tack, were now within hailing distance. As they approached each other the buccaneer could see that the other ship was crowded with men. Among her people the flash of sunlight upon iron helms denoted that she carried a company of soldiers. The Spaniards were entirely unsuspecting. The men had not gone to their quarters, the guns were still secured; in short, save for the military trappings of the soldiers on board and the tompioned muzzles of her cannon, she was in appearance as peaceful a vessel as sailed the seas.
The two ships were near enough now to make conversation possible, and the Mary Rose was hailed by a tall, richly dressed officer in glistening breastplate and polished steel cap, standing on the forecastle of the other ship.
"What ship is that?" he cried in broken English.
"This is the frigate Mary Rose." The usual answer to such a hail would have been: "This is His Britannic Majesty's frigate Mary Rose," but the Spaniards suspected nothing as Morgan continued, "carrying Sir Henry Morgan, sometime Vice-Governor of the Island of Jamaica."
"I have the honor to wish the Vice-Governor a very good morning," answered the Spaniard, courteously waving his hand in salutation.
"Now, Hornigold, now!" said Morgan in a fierce whisper.
The old boatswain sprang himself to the wheel. With his powerful hands he revolved it quickly until it was hard up. The frigate answered it instantly. She swung away toward the Spaniard to leeward of her with a suddenness that surprised even her steersman.
"And I salute the Vice-Governor," continued the Spanish captain, just as the English ship swept down upon him; and then he cried in sudden alarm and excitement:
"Have a care, senor! What mean you? You will be aboard of us! Hard up with the helm!"
As soon as the Mary Rose had begun to fall off, ay, even before her motion had been perceptible, Hornigold had reversed the helm.
"Flow the head sheets there," he cried, shoving the wheel over spoke by spoke with all the force of his arms. "Flatten in aft a little, here! Steady! Very well dyce. We're right abreast now, Captain," he said.
Almost as quickly as she had fallen off the nimble frigate, beautifully handled, came to the wind again. She was now almost in touch with the other ship. Hornigold's seamanship and skill had been magnificent. He had done all that was asked of him and all that he had promised.
"Ay, ay," answered Morgan in triumphant commendation. "Handsomely done. I could leap aboard!"
The Spanish ship was filled with confusion. The captain, with his face black with rage, stood on the forecastle shaking his fist.
"This is outrageous, sir!" he shouted. "You have nearly run us down! What do you want?"
"I want to return your salute," answered Morgan suavely. "Up, lads!" he cried. As the men sprang to their feet, he roared out fiercely: "Stand by! Fire! Pour it into them!"
The Mary Rose was almost in contact with the Spanish ship, when a perfect tornado of fire burst from her side. Every gun in her broadside, and she was a forty-eight gun frigate, was discharged point-blank at the astonished enemy. Not waiting to reload the guns, the crew seized the small arms ready charged to hand, and as they slowly swept by poured a withering fire upon the Spaniard's crowded decks. Out of the flame and smoke the Mary Rose burst upon the astounded eyes of the officers and men of the two remaining ships. The first frigate was a wreck on the water. Some of the pirate guns had been depressed, great holes had been opened by the shot, the masts had been carried away, and the devoted ship was sinking, her decks covered with dead and dying.
"We wish you the compliments of the morning, senor," roared Morgan, facing aft toward the battered and ruined frigate. "How like you our salute?"
But the captain of the Spanish vessel lay dead upon his bloody deck, and if any answered the jeering taunt it was drowned by the laughter and cheering of the English crew. They had eliminated the first ship from the game. They had diminished their enemies by a third, and full of confidence they swept down upon the other two.
IN WHICH IS RELATED THE STRANGE EXPEDIENT OF THE CAPTAIN AND HOW THEY TOOK THE GREAT GALLEON
Although they could not comprehend the reason for the vicious attack upon their consort by a ship of a supposedly friendly power, it was evident to the Spaniards in the two remaining ships that the English frigate was approaching them with the most sinister and malevolent purpose. One glance at the sinking remains of their ruined and battered consort established that fact in the most obtuse mind. Consequently the exultant men on the Mary Rose could hear the shrill notes of the trumpeters on the two other ships calling their men to arms.
With a confidence born of success, however, Morgan resolutely bore down upon the enemy. Even the dastards in his crew had been excited by the ease and success of the first treacherous blow and plucked up courage, believing that their captain's invincible skill, address, and seamanship would carry them safely through the next encounter.
The Spanish had little warning after all, for the breeze was rapidly freshening, and in what seemed an incredibly short time the English frigate was close at hand. Though they worked with a desperate energy they had not entirely completed those preparations required by the shock of battle. As usual, Morgan was determined to lose no time. If he could have thrown his vessel upon them out of the fire and smoke of the first broadside he would have gained the victory with scarcely less difficulty than he had seized the first advantage, but that was not to be, and it was with considerable anxiety that he surveyed the crowded decks of the two remaining ships.
He had no fear of the armament of either one, but if those Spanish soldiers ever got a footing upon his own deck it was probable they could not be dislodged without a tremendous sacrifice of life; and as he gazed over his motley crew he even questioned their ability to contend successfully with such a mass of veterans. He had hoped that the remaining frigate would detach herself from the galleon, in which event the superior handiness and mobility of his own ship, to say nothing of his probable advantage in the way in which his batteries would be fought, would enable him to dispose of her without too much difficulty. Then he could with ease place the huge and unwieldy galleon at his mercy. But the two Spanish ships stuck close together, too close indeed, Morgan thought, for their own safety. They were both on the wind with their larboard tacks aboard, the frigate slightly ahead of and to windward of the galleon, on the side, that is, whence the Mary Rose was approaching. So far as he could divine it, the Spanish plan, if they had formulated any in their hurry, appeared to be for the frigate to engage the Mary Rose, and while she had the latter ship under her battery, the galleon would tack across the English vessel's bows, or stern as might be, rake her, get her between the two ships, run her aboard, and thus effect her ruin. The plan was simple, practicable, and promised easy success, provided the Englishman did what was expected of him.
Morgan was not to be caught napping that way. As he rushed down upon them there came into his head one of the most daring ideas that has ever flashed across a seaman's brain. Hastily summoning Braziliano he bade him take a dozen of his men, descend to the after magazine, procure two or three barrels of powder from the gunner, and stow them in the cabin under the poop-deck. He charged him to do it as quietly as possible and take only men for the purpose upon whom he could depend. While this was being done young Teach was also summoned from the forecastle, his place being taken by old Velsers, whose division in the battery was placed under the command of Raveneau. There was a whispered colloquy between the chieftain and his young subordinate, after which the latter nodded his head, ran below, and concealed himself in one of the staterooms under the quarter-deck. In a little space the Portuguese reappeared with his men and announced that they had completed their task; whereupon they were directed to return to their stations.
Meanwhile the crew had been recharging the battery and reloading the small arms. Morgan addressed to them a few words of hearty approval of their previous actions and predicted an easy victory over the two ships. The Spanish captain naturally supposed—and indeed the courses upon which the three ships were sailing if persisted in would have brought about the result—that the Mary Rose would pass along his larboard side, and the two vessels would engage in the formal manner of the period, yard-arm to yard-arm, until the galleon could get into action and so settle it in the purposed way. He intended, of course, if it could be brought about, to throw the masses of soldiers he was transporting home upon the English decks, and carry the frigate by boarding.
Again Morgan put Hornigold in charge of the manoeuvering of the ship, and again that old worthy chose to handle the spokes himself. There was a brief conversation between them, and then the English captain ran forward on the forecastle. The ships were very near now. In a moment or two they would pass each other in parallel courses, though in opposite direction, and their broadsides would bear; but when the Mary Rose was about a cable's length from the Spanish frigate something happened.
The astonished Don heard a sharp command ring out from the approaching English ship, after which she made a wide sweep and came driving straight at him at a furious speed. The English captain intended to run him down! Here was to be no passage along his broadside. The other was upon him! The cutwater of the onrushing ship loomed up before him tremendously. Instantly all was confusion on the Spanish ship! The steersman lost his head, and without orders put his helm up sharply; some one cut the sheet of the after-sail on the huge lateen yard, and the frigate went whirling around on her heel like a top, in a violent and fatal, as well as vain, effort to get out of the road.
It was a most foolish manoeuvre, for close at hand on the lee side of her the galleon came lumbering along. Her captain, too, had seen the peril, and had elected to meet it by tacking under his consort's stern. But he was too near, and the other ship fell off and was swept to leeward too rapidly. His own ship, cumbersome and unwieldy, as they always were, was slow in answering the helm. The frigate and galleon came together with a terrific crash. The shock carried away the foretopmast of the frigate, which fell across the head yards of the galleon. The two ships were instantly locked together. They swung drifting and helpless in the tossing waters.
Morgan had counted upon this very catastrophe. A twist of the helm, a touch of the braces, and the prow of the Mary Rose swung to windward. As her batteries bore she hurled their messengers of death into the crowded masses on the Spanish ships. Although dismayed by the collision, the gunners on the frigate made a spirited reply with a discharge which at such close range did much execution.
Unfortunately for her, the Mary Rose had rushed so close to the two entangled ships that it was impossible for her to escape hitting them. The English captain would have given anything if he could have gone free of the mass, for he could have passed under the stern of the two helpless ships, raked them, and probably would have had them at his mercy; but his dash at them had been an earnest one, and in order to carry out his plan successfully he had been forced to throw his ship right upon them. Therefore, though the helm was shifted and the braces hauled in an effort to get clear, and though the ship under Morgan's conning and Hornigold's steering was handled as few ships have ever been handled, and though it was one of the speediest and most weatherly of vessels, they could not entirely swing her clear. The stern of the frigate crashed against the stern of the nearest Spanish ship drifting frantically to leeward.
The Spanish captain, mortified and humiliated beyond expression by the mishap, instantly realized that this contact presented them with a possibility of retrieving themselves. Before the ships could be separated, grappling irons were thrown, and in a second the three were locked in a close embrace. Morgan had anticipated this situation also, although he had hoped to avoid it, and had prepared for it. As the two ships became fast the high poop and rail of the Spaniard were black with iron-capped men. They swarmed over on the lower poop and quarter-deck of the Mary Rose in a dense mass. Fortunately, the small arms on both sides had been discharged a moment before and there had been no time to reload. The remainder of the engagement to all intents and purposes would be fought with the cold steel.
Morgan had gained an advantage in throwing the two ships into collision, but he appeared to have lost it again because he had been unable to clear the wrecks himself. The advantage was now with the Spaniards, whose force outnumbered his own two or three to one. Surprising as it was to the old buccaneers and the bolder spirits among his crew, whose blood was up sufficiently to enable them to long for the onset, Morgan had run to the waist of the ship when he saw the inevitable collision and had called all hands from the poop and quarter. The Mary Rose was provided with an elevated quarter-deck and above that a high poop. Massing his men in the gangways just forward of the mainmast and on the forecastle itself, with the hardiest spirits in the front line and Morgan himself in advance of all sword in hand, the two parties contemplated each other for a little space before joining in the onset.
The poop and quarter-deck were crowded so thick with Spanish soldiers and sailors that room could scarcely be found for the increasing procession, for, anxious to be in at the death, the men of the galleon clinging to the frigate ran across and joined their comrades. Here were trained and veteran soldiers in overwhelming numbers, with the advantage of position in that they fought from above down, to oppose which Morgan had his motley crew behind him.
"Yield, you dastardly villain!" shouted the captain of the Spanish frigate, who was in the fore of his men.
"Shall I have good quarter?" cried Morgan.
A low growl ran through the ranks of the buccaneers at this question. Yet the rapscallions among the crew back of him instantly took up the cry.
"Quarter! Quarter! We surrender! We strike! For heaven's sake——"
"Silence!" roared Morgan—an order which was enforced by the officers and veterans by fierce blows with pistol butts, hilts of swords, and even naked fists. "I would hear the answer of the Spanish captain."
"We give no quarter to pirates and murderers," the other shouted.
"That's what I thought," said Morgan triumphantly, and as he spoke he drew from his pocket a silver whistle like a boatswain's call. He blew it shrilly before the wondering men.
At that instant Teach, followed by the few men who had remained below in the powder division, came running up to Morgan from the hatchway between the two forces.
"Is't done?" cried the captain.
"Ay, sir. In another——"
"Forward, gentlemen!" shouted the Spanish captain, dropping from the quarter-deck to the main-deck. "God and St. Jago! Have at them!"
Before he had taken two steps the terrific roar of a deafening explosion came to the startled buccaneers out of the blast of flame and smoke, in the midst of which could be heard shrieks and groans of the most terrible anguish. Teach had connected the powder with the fuse, and when he had heard the sound of Morgan's whistle, the agreed signal, he had ignited it and blown up the stern of the frigate.
The Spaniards were hurled in every direction. So powerful was the concussion that the front ranks of the buccaneers were also thrown down by it. Morgan happened to fall by the side of the Spanish captain, and the latter, though badly wounded, with determined and heroic valor raised himself on his arm and strove to kill the buccaneer. But the faithful Carib, who had reserved one charged pistol by his master's command for such an emergency, shot him dead.
Morgan struggled to his feet and looked at the scene. Some of his men did not rise with the others, for they had been killed by the falling splinters and bits of iron. The whole stern of the Mary Rose was gone. There wasn't a Spaniard left before them. A few figures shrieking vainly for help, clutching at floating pieces of timber, might be seen struggling in the sea. The Spanish frigate had a great hole in the port side of her after-works. She was on fire. The three ships were rocking as if in a hurricane.
Panic filled the minds of the greater part of the buccaneers at this tremendous catastrophe. Had Morgan to save himself ruined his own ship? They were appalled by the terrific expedient of their captain. Wild cries and imprecations burst forth.
"The ship is sinking!"
"We are lost!"
"Silence!" shouted Morgan, again and again. "The ship is sinking, but our ship is there. Let those who love life follow me."
He sprang at the burning rail of the Spanish frigate. Black Dog was at his heels, Ben Hornigold followed hard upon, Teach was on the other side. From the waist Raveneau and the Brazilian strove to inspire the men. Old Velsers from the forecastle drove them forward as quickly as he could. Presently they recovered their courage in some measure, for the fighting force of the enemy had disappeared. They had lost a ship, but there were two other ships before them. They swarmed over the rail with cheers and cries. There was little or no resistance. The men of the frigate were stunned into helplessness by the explosion, although the captain of the galleon rallied a few men and fought until they were all cut down, and the two ships were taken by storm.
They had scarcely gained the deck of the galleon before the remains of the Mary Rose sank beneath the sea, the wounded upon the decks vainly crying for succor.
By this time the weather side of the remaining Spanish ship was a mass of flame and there was imminent danger that the fire would be communicated to the galleon. Giving his men time for nothing, Morgan set to work furiously to extricate himself. Axes and hatchets were plied and all the skill and seamanship of the conquerors brought into play. Finally they succeeded in getting clear and working away from the burning frigate. Morgan at once put the galleon before the wind, and when he had drawn away a short distance, hove to the ship to take account of the damage before determining his future course.
Far back on the ocean and low in the water drifted the sinking remains of the first Spanish frigate. Near at hand was the hulk of the second ship, now a blazing furnace. The first was filled with living men, many of them desperately wounded. No attention was paid to them by the buccaneers. They cried for mercy unheeded. Anyway their suspense would soon be over. Indeed, the first ship sank and the second blew up with a fearful explosion a short time after they got away. A brief inspection showed that the galleon had suffered little or no damage that could not be repaired easily at sea. Taking account of his men, Morgan found that about twenty were missing. Taking no care for them nor for the two ships he had fought so splendidly, pirate though he was, he clapped sail on the galleon and bore away to the southward.
WHEREIN BARTHOLOMEW SAWKINS MUTINIED AGAINST HIS CAPTAIN AND WHAT BEFEL HIM ON THAT ACCOUNT
The Almirante Recalde, for such was the name of the galleon, was easily and speedily repaired by the skilled seamen of the Mary Rose under such leadership and direction as the experience of Morgan and the officers afforded. By the beginning of the first dog-watch even a critical inspection would scarcely have shown that she had been in action. With the wise forethought of a seaman, Morgan had subordinated every other duty to the task of making the vessel fit for any danger of the sea, and he had deferred any careful examination of her cargo until everything had been put shipshape again; although by his hurried questioning of the surviving officers he had learned that the Almirante Recalde was indeed loaded with treasure of Peru, which had been received by her via the Isthmus of Panama for transportation to Spain. On board her were several priests returning to Spain headed by one Fra Antonio de Las Casas, together with a band of nuns under the direction of an aged abbess, Sister Maria Christina.
In the indiscriminate fury of the assault one or two of the priests had been killed, but so soon as the ship had been fully taken possession of the lives of the surviving clerics and the lives of the good sisters had been spared by Morgan's express command. These unfortunate women had been forced into the great cabin, where they were guarded by men in whom confidence could be placed. The priests were allowed to minister to their dying compatriots so long as they kept out of the way of the sailors. No feeling of pity or compassion induced Morgan to withhold the women from his crew. He was a man of prudent foresight and he preserved them for a purpose, a purpose in which the priests were included.
In the hold of the ship nearly one hundred and fifty wretched prisoners were discovered. They were the crew of the buccaneer ship Daring, which had been commanded by a famous adventurer named Ringrose, who had been captured by a Spanish squadron after a desperate defense off the port of Callao, Peru. They were being transported to Spain, where they had expected summary punishment for their iniquities. No attention whatever had been paid to their protests that they were Englishmen, and indeed the statement was hardly true for at least half of them belonged to other nations. In the long passage from Callao to the Isthmus and thence through the Caribbean they had been kept rigorously under hatches. Close confinement for many days and enforced subsistence upon a scanty and inadequate diet had caused many to die and impaired the health of the survivors. When the hatch covers were opened, the chains unshackled and the miserable wretches brought on deck, their condition moved even some of the buccaneers to pity. The galleon was generously provided for her long cruise across the ocean, and the released prisoners, by Morgan's orders, were liberally treated. No work was required of them; they were allowed to wander about the decks at pleasure, refreshed by the open air, the first good meal they had enjoyed in several months, and by a generous allowance of spirits. As soon as they learned the object of the cruise, without exception they indicated their desire to place themselves under the command of Morgan. Ringrose, their captain, had been killed, and they were without a leader, which was fortunate in that it avoided the complications of divided command. Fortunate, that is, for Ringrose, for Morgan would have brooked no rival on such an expedition.
As soon as it could be done, a more careful inspection and calculation satisfied the buccaneer of the immense value of his prize. The lading of the galleon, consisting principally of silver bullion, was probably worth not far from a million Spanish dollars—pieces of eight! This divided among the one hundred and eighty survivors of the original crew meant affluence for even the meanest cabin boy. It was wealth such as they had not even dreamed of. It was a prize the value of which had scarcely ever been paralleled.
They were assembled forward of the quarter-deck when the announcement was made. When they understood the news the men became drunk with joy. It would seem as if they had been suddenly stricken mad. Some of them stared in paralyzed silence, others broke into frantic cheers and yells, some reeled and shuddered like drunken men. The one person who preserved his imperturbable calmness was Morgan himself. The gratitude of these men toward him was overwhelming. Even those who had good cause to hate him forgot for the time being their animosity—all except Hornigold, whose hatred was beyond all price. Under his leadership they had achieved such a triumph as had scarcely ever befallen them in the palmiest days of their career, and with little or no loss they had been put in possession of a prodigious treasure. They crowded about him presently with enthusiastic cheers of affection and extravagant vows of loving service. All, that is, except Hornigold, whose sense of injury, whose thirst for vengeance, was so deep that all the treasure of Potosi itself would not have abated one jot or one tittle of it.
The general joy, however, was not shared by the rescued buccaneers. Although they had but a few hours before despaired of life in the loathsome depths of the vile hold, and they had been properly grateful for the sudden and unexpected release which had given them their liberty and saved them from the gibbet, yet it was not in any human man, especially a buccaneer, to view with equanimity the distribution—or the proposed distribution—of so vast a treasure and feel that he could not share in it. The fresh air and the food and drink had already done much for those hardy ruffians. They were beginning to regain, if not all their strength, at least some of their courage and assurance. They congregated in little groups here and there among Morgan's original men and stared with lowering brows and flushed faces at the frantic revel in which they could not participate. Not even the cask of rum which Morgan ordered broached to celebrate the capture, and of which all hands partook with indiscriminate voracity, could bring joy to their hearts. After matters had quieted down somewhat—and during this time the galleon had been mainly left to navigate herself—Morgan deemed it a suitable occasion to announce his ultimate designs to the men.
"Gentlemen, shipmates, and bold hearts all," he cried, waving his hand for silence, "we have captured the richest prize probably that floats on the ocean. There are pieces of eight and silver bullion enough beneath the hatches, as I have told you, to make us rich for life, to say nothing of the gold, jewels, spices, and whatnot, besides——"
He was interrupted by another yell of appreciation.
"But, men," he continued, "I hardly know what to do with it."
"Give it to us," roared a voice, which was greeted with uproarious laughter, "we'll make away with it."
Morgan marked down with his eye the man who had spoken and went on.
"The ports of His Majesty, the King of England, will be closed to us so soon as our capture of the Mary Rose is noted. England is at peace with the world. There is not a French or Spanish port that would give us a haven. If we appeared anywhere in European waters with this galleon we would be taken and hanged. Now, what's to be done?"
"Run the ship ashore on the New England coast," cried the man who had spoken before. "Divide the treasure. Burn the ship and scatter. Let every man look to his own share and his own neck."
"A plan, a plan!"
"Ay, that'll be the way of it!"
"Sawkins is right!"
"To the New England shore! Ben Hornigold will pilot the ship!" burst in confused clamor from the crew to whom the plan appealed.
"By heaven, no!" shouted Morgan. "That's well enough for you, not for me. I'm a marked man. You can disappear. I should be taken, and Hornigold and Raveneau and the rest. It won't do. We must stay by the ship."
"And what then?"
"Keep to the original plan. We'll sail this ship down to the Spanish Main and capture a town, divide our treasure, make our way overland to the Pacific, where we'll find another ship, and then away to the South Seas! Great as is our booty, there is still more to be had there for the taking. We'll be free to go where we please with the whole South American coast at hand. There are islands, tropic islands, there, where it's always summer. They are ours for the choosing. We can establish ourselves there. We'll found a community, with every man a law for himself. We'll——"
But the recital of this Utopian dream was rudely interrupted.
"Nay, Master," cried Sawkins, who had done most of the talking from among the crew, "we go no farther."
He was confident that he had the backing of the men, and in that confidence grew bold with reckless temerity. Flushed by the victory of the morning, the rum he had imbibed, intoxicated by the thought of the treasure which was to be shared, the man went on impudently:
"No, Sir Harry Morgan, we've decided to follow our latest plan. We'll work this ship up to the New England coast and wreck her there. There are plenty of spots where she can be cast away safely and none to know it. We'll obey you there and no further. We've got enough treasure under hatches to satisfy any reasonable man. We're not afeared o' the King if you are."
"You fool!" thundered Morgan. "You will be hanged as soon as your part in the adventure is known."
"And who is to make it known, pray? As you said, we are poor ignorant men. It's nothing to us if you are marked, and you, and you," he continued, stepping forward and pointing successively at Morgan and the little band of officers who surrounded him. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, we'd have you understand, and we're content with what we've got. We don't take no stock in them islands of yours. We can get all the women we want, and of our own kind without crossing the Isthmus. We don't want no further cruisin'. There's no need for us to land on the Spanish Main. We've made up our minds to 'bout ship and bear away to the northward. Am I right, mates?"
"Ay, ay, right you are!" roared the men surging aft.
"You mutinous hound!" yelled Morgan, leaning forward in a perfect fury of rage, and his passion was something appalling to look upon.
Hornigold clutched at the helm, which had been deserted by the seamen detailed to it during the course of the hot debate. The old man cast one long, anxious glance to windward where a black squall was apparently brewing. But he said nothing. The argument was between Morgan and his crew, there was no need for him to interfere. Teach, Raveneau, Velsers, and the officers drew their pistols and bared their swords, but most of the crew were also armed, and if it came to a trial of strength the cabin gang was so overwhelmingly outnumbered that it would have been futile to inaugurate a contest.
Morgan, however, was frantic with rage. To be braved by a member of his crew, to have his plans balked by any man, and to be openly insulted in this manner! He did not hesitate a second. He rushed at Master Bartholomew Sawkins, and, brave man as that sailor was, he fairly quailed before the terrific incarnation of passionate fury his captain presented. The rest of the crew gave back before the furious onset of Sir Henry.
"You dog!" he screamed, and before the other realized his intention he struck him a fearful blow in the face with his naked fist. Always a man of unusual strength, his rage had bestowed upon him a Herculean force. He seized the dazed man by the throat and waist belt ere he fell to the deck from the force of the blow, and lifting him up literally pitched him overboard. Before the crew had recovered from their astonishment and terror at this bold action, the buccaneer officers closed behind their captain, each covering the front ranks of the men with a pistol. At the same instant the other men, Ringrose's crew, came shoving through the crowd, snatching such arms as they could in the passage, although most of them had to be satisfied with belaying pins.
"We're with you, Captain Morgan," cried one of their number. "We've had no treasure, and it seems we're not to have a share in this either. We've been in the South Seas," continued the speaker, a man named L'Ollonois, noted for his cruelty, rapacity, and success, "and the captain speaks truly. There are all that can delight brave men and a race of cowards to defend them. What's this treasure? It is great, but there are other things we want—wine and women!"
The man who had been thrown overboard had shrieked for help as he fell. The splash he had made as he struck the water had been followed by another. A Spanish priest standing by the rail had seized a grating and thrown it to the man. Morgan took in the situation in a glance.
"Who threw that grating?" he cried.
"I, senor," composedly answered the priest, who understood English.
Morgan instantly snatched a pistol from de Lussan's hand and shot the man dead.
"I allow no one," he shouted, "to interfere between me and the discipline of my men! You speak well, L'Ollonois. And for you, hounds!" he roared, clubbing the smoking pistol and stepping toward the huddled, frightened men, "get back to your duties unless you wish instant death! Scuttle me, if I don't blow up the galleon unless you immediately obey! Bear a hand there! If you hesitate—Fire on them!" he cried to his officers, but the men in the front did not linger. They broke away from his presence so vehemently that they fell over one another in the gangways.
"Don't fire!" they cried in terror. "We'll go back to duty."
Morgan was completely master of the situation.
"I am to be obeyed," he cried, "implicitly, without question, without hesitation!"
"We will, we will!"
"That's well. Heave that carrion overboard," kicking the body of the priest. "Now we'll go back and pick up Sawkins," he continued. "Ready about, station for stays!"
"Look you, Captain Morgan," cried Hornigold, pointing to leeward. "The squall! 'Twill be soon on us. We'd best reduce sail and run for it."
"Nay," said Morgan, "I'll allow not even a storm to interfere with my plans. Flow the head sheets there! Hard down with the helm! Aft, here some of you, and man the quarter boat. I said I'd pick him up, and picked up he shall be, in spite of hell!"
The ship, like all Spanish ships, was unhandy and a poor sailor. Morgan, however, got all out of her that mortal man could get. With nice seamanship he threw her up into the wind, hove her to, and dropped a boat overboard. Teach had volunteered for the perilous command of her and the best men on the ship were at the oars. Sawkins had managed to catch the grating and was clinging feebly when the boat swept down upon him. They dragged him aboard and then turned to the ship. The sinister squall was rushing down upon them from the black horizon with terrific velocity. The men bent their backs and strained at the oars as never before. It did not seem possible that they could beat the wind. The men on the ship beseeched Morgan to fill away and abandon their comrades.
"No!" he cried. "I sent them there and I'll wait for them if I sink the ship!"
Urged by young Teach to exertion superhuman, the boat actually shot under the quarter of the galleon before the squall broke. The tackles were hooked on and she was run up to the davits with all her crew aboard.
"Up with the helm!" cried Morgan the instant the boat was alongside. "Swing the mainyard and get the canvas off her. Aloft, topmen, settle away the halliards! Clew down! Lively, now!"
And as the ship slowly paid off and gathered away the white squall broke upon them. The sea was a-smother with mist and rain. The wind whipped through the shrouds and rigging, but everything held. Taking a great bone in her teeth the old Almirante Recalde heeled far over to leeward and ripped through the water to the southward at such a pace as she had never made before. On the quarter-deck a drenched, shivering, and sobbing figure knelt at Morgan's feet and kissed his hand.
"Wilt obey me in the future?" cried the captain to the repentant man.
"'Fore God, I will, sir," answered Sawkins.
"That's well," said the old buccaneer. "Take him forward, men, and let him have all the rum he wants to take off the chill of his wetting."
"You stood by me that time, Sir Henry," cried young Teach, who had been told of Morgan's refusal to fill away, "and, by heaven, I'll stand by you in your need!"
"Good. I'll remember that," answered Morgan, glad to have made at least one friend among all he commanded.
"What's our course now, captain?" asked Hornigold as soon as the incident was over.
"Sou'west by west-half-west," answered Morgan, who had taken an observation that noon, glancing in the binnacle as he spoke.
"And that will fetch us where?" asked the old man, who was charged with the duty of the practical sailing of the ship.
"To La Guayra and Venezuela."
"Oho!" said the old boatswain, "St. Jago de Leon, Caracas, t'other side of the mountains will be our prize?"
"Ay," answered Morgan. "'Tis a rich place and has been unpillaged for a hundred years."
He turned on his heel and walked away. He vouchsafed no further information and there was no way for Master Ben Hornigold to learn that the object that drew Morgan to La Guayra and St. Jago was not plunder but the Pearl of Caracas.
HOW THEY STROVE TO CLUB-HAUL THE GALLEON AND FAILED TO SAVE HER ON THE COAST OF CARACAS
Two days later they made a landfall off the terrific coast of Caracas, where the tree-clad mountains soar into the clouds abruptly from the level of the sea, where the surf beats without intermission even in the most peaceful weather upon the narrow strip of white sand which separates the blue waters of the Caribbean from the massive cliffs that tower above them.
In the intervening time the South Sea buccaneers had picked up wonderfully. These men, allured by the hope of further plunder under a captain who had been so signally successful in the past and in the present, constituted a most formidable auxiliary to Morgan's original crew. Indeed, with the exception of the old hands they were the best of the lot. L'Ollonois had been admitted among the officers on a suitable footing, and there was little or no friction among the crews. They were getting hammered into shape, too, under Morgan's hard drilling, and it was a vastly more dangerous body of men than the drunken gang who had sailed away from Jamaica. Though not the equal of the former buccaneering bands who had performed in their nefarious careers unheard of prodigies of valor and courage, they were still not to be despised. Had it been known on the Spanish Main that such a body was afloat there would have been a thrill of terror throughout the South American continent, for there were many who could remember with the vividness of eye-witnesses and participants the career of crime and horror which the old buccaneers had inaugurated.
Like a politic captain, Morgan had done his best to get the men whom he had subdued by his intrepid courage and consummate address into good humor. Rum and spirits were served liberally, work was light, in fact none except the necessary seaman's duties were required of the men, although an hour or two every day was employed in hard drill with swords, small arms, and great guns. In martial exercises the veterans were perfect, and they assiduously endeavored to impart their knowledge to the rest.
It was Morgan's plan to run boldly into La Guayra under the Spanish flag. No one could possibly take the Almirante Recalde for anything but a Spanish ship. There was no reason for suspecting the presence of an enemy, for Spain had none in these seas. If there were other ships in the roadstead, for the harbor of La Guayra was really nothing more than an open road, the buccaneer could easily dispose of them in their unprepared condition. Indeed, Morgan rather hoped that there might be others, for, after he captured them, he would have a greater force of guns to train upon the forts of the town, which he expected to take without much difficulty, and then be governed in his manoeuvres toward Caracas by circumstances as they arose.
Two days after the capture of the galleon, then, with the wind fresh from the northeast, on a gray, threatening, stormy morning, she was running to the westward along the shore. A few hours at their present speed would bring them opposite La Guayra, whose location at the foot of the mighty La Silla of Caracas was even then discernible. Morgan could see that there were two or three other vessels opposite the town straining at their anchors in the heavy sea. Every preparation for action had been made in good time and the guns had been loaded. The sea lashings had been cast off, although the gun-tackles were carefully secured, for the wind was blowing fresher and the sea running heavier every hour.
The men were armed to the teeth. There happened to be a goodly supply of arms on the Spanish ship in addition to those the buccaneers had brought with them, which were all distributed. Many a steel cap destined for some proud Spanish hidalgo's head now covered the cranium of some rude ruffian whom the former would have despised as beneath his feet.
Everything was propitious for their enterprise but the weather. The veterans who were familiar with local conditions in the Caribbean studied the northeastern skies with gloomy dissatisfaction. The wind was blowing dead inshore, and as the struck bells denoted the passing hours, with each half-hourly period it grew appreciably stronger. If it continued to blow, or if, as it was almost certain, the strength of the wind increased, it would be impossible without jeopardizing the ship to come to anchor in the exposed roadstead. They would have to run for it. Nay, more, they would have to beat out to sea against it, for the coast-line beyond La Guayra turned rapidly to the northward.
Morgan was a bold and skilful mariner, and he held his course parallel to the land much longer than was prudent. He was loath, indeed, to abandon even temporarily a design upon which he had determined, and as he had rapidly run down his southing in this brief cruise his determination had been quickened by the thought of his growing nearness to the Pearl of Caracas, until for the moment love—or what he called love—had almost made him forget the treasure in the ship beneath his feet. For the Pearl of Caracas was a woman.
Mercedes de Lara, daughter of the Viceroy of Venezuela, on her way home from Spain where she had been at school, to join her father, the Count Alvaro de Lara in the Vice-regal Palace at St. Jago de Leon, sometimes called the City of Caracas, in the fair valley on the farther side of those towering tree-clad mountains—the Cordilleras of the shore—had touched at Jamaica. There she had been received with due honor, as became the daughter of so prominent a personage, by the Vice-Governor and his wretched wife. Morgan's heart had been inflamed by the dark, passionate beauty of the Spanish maiden. It was only by a severe restraint enjoined upon himself by his position that he had refrained from abusing the hospitality he extended, by seizing her in the old buccaneer fashion. The impression she had made upon him had been lasting, and when he found himself alone, an outlaw, all his dreams of the future centered about his woman.
He would carry out the plans which he had outlined to his men, but the Pearl of Caracas, for so Donna Mercedes was called, must accompany him to the South Seas to be the Island Queen of that Buccaneer Empire of which he was to be the founder. That Donna Mercedes might object to this proposition; that she might love another man, might even be married by this time, counted for nothing in Morgan's plans. He had taken what he wanted by dint of his iron will and the strength of his right arm in the past and he should continue the process in the future. If the hand of man could not turn him, certainly the appeal of woman would avail nothing.
Consequently he was most reluctant that morning, for his passion had increased with each o'er-run league of sea, to bear away from La Guayra, which was the port of entry for Caracas; but even his ardent spirit was at last convinced of the necessity. It was blowing a gale now and they were so near the shore, although some distance to the eastward of the town, that they could see the surf breaking with tremendous force upon the strip of sand. The officers and older men had observed the course of the ship with growing concern, but no one had ventured to remonstrate with Morgan until old Ben Hornigold as a privileged character finally summoned his courage and approached him.
"Mark yon shore, Captain Morgan," he said, and when he made up his mind he spoke boldly. "The wind freshens. We're frightfully near. Should it come on to blow we could not save the ship. You know how unseamanly these Spanish hulks are."
"Right you are, Hornigold," answered Morgan, yet frowning heavily. "Curse this wind! We must claw off, I suppose."
"Ay, and at once," cried Hornigold. "See, the wind shifts already! It blows straight from the north now."
"Hands by the braces there!" shouted Morgan, following with apprehension the outstretched finger of the old boatswain. "Ease down the helm. Brace up. Lively, lads!"
In a few moments the great ship, her yards braced sharply up, was headed out to seaward on the starboard tack. The wind was now blowing a whole gale and the masts of the ship were bending like whips.
"We'll have to get sail off her, I'm thinking, Hornigold," said Morgan.
"Ay, ay, sir, and quick!"
"Aloft!" yelled Morgan, "and take in the to'gallant s'l's. Close reef the tops'l's and double reef the courses then."
The shaking shrouds were soon covered with masses of men, and as the ship was exceedingly well handled the canvas was promptly snugged down by the eager crew. Hornigold with young Teach to assist him went to the helm. Morgan gave his personal attention to the manoeuvering of the ship, and the other officers stationed themselves where they could best promote and direct the efforts of the seamen.
Thus during the long morning they endeavored to claw off the lee shore. Morgan luffed the ship through the heavy squalls which rose to the violence of a hurricane, with consummate skill. Absolutely fearless, a master of his profession, he did all with that ship that mortal man could have done, yet their situation became more and more precarious. They had long since passed La Guayra. They had had a fleeting glimpse of the shipping in the harbor driving helplessly on shore as they dashed by under the gray clouds which had overspread the sea. That town was now hidden from them by a bend of the coast, and they found themselves in a curious bight of land, extending far into the ocean in front of them. The mountains here did not so nearly approach the water-line, and from the look of the place there appeared to be a shoal projecting some distance into the ocean from the point ahead. Some of the buccaneers who knew these waters confirmed the indications by asserting the existence of the shoal.
In spite of all that Morgan could do it was quite evident that they could not weather the shoal on their present tack. There was not sea-room to wear and bear up on the other tack. The vessel, in fact, like all ships in those days and especially Spanish galleons, had a tendency to go to leeward like a barrel, and only Morgan's resourceful seamanship had saved them from the fatal embraces of the shore long since. The canvas she was carrying was more than she could legitimately bear in such a hurricane. If there had been sea-room Morgan would have stripped her to bare poles long since, but under the circumstances it was necessary for him to retain full control and direction of the ship; so, although he reduced sail to the lowest point, he still spread a little canvas.
The men were filled with apprehension, not only for their lives but, such was their covetousness, for the treasure they had captured, for they stood about a hundred chances to one of losing the ship. Each squall that swept down upon them was harder than the one before. Each time the vessel almost went over on her beam ends, for Morgan would not luff until the last moment, since each time that he did so and lost way temporarily he found himself driven bodily nearer the land. The men would have mutinied had it not been patent to the most stupid mind that their only salvation lay in Morgan. Never had that despicable villain appeared to better advantage than when he stood on the weather quarter overlooking the ship, his long gray hair blown out in the wind, fighting against a foe whose strength was not to be measured by the mind of man, for his life and his ship.
Hornigold and Teach, grasping the wheel assisted by two of the ablest seamen, were steering the ship with exquisite precision. Sweat poured from their brows at the violence of the labor required to control the massive helm. The men lay to windward on the deck, or grouped in clusters around the masts, or hung to the life lines which had been passed in every direction. At Morgan's side stood Velsers and Raveneau, prime seamen both.
"What think ye, gentlemen?" asked Morgan, at last pointing to the point looming fearfully close ahead of them. "Can we weather it?"
"Never!" answered de Lussan, shaking his head. "Well, it has been a short cruise and a merry one. Pity to lose our freightage and lives."
"And you, Velsers?"
"No," said the German, "it can't be done. Why did we ever come to this cursed coast?"
"Avast that!" cried Morgan, thinking quickly. "Gentlemen, we'll club-haul the ship."
"The water's too deep, my captain, to give holding ground to the anchor," urged Raveneau shrugging his shoulders.
"It shoals yonder, I think," answered Morgan. "We'll hold on until the last minute and then try."
"'Tis wasted labor," growled Velsers.
"And certain death to hold on," added the Frenchman.
"Have you anything else to propose, sirs?" asked Morgan sharply. "We can't tack ship against this wind and sea. There's no room to wear. What's to do?"
The men made no answer.
"Forward there!" cried the old buccaneer, and it was astonishing the force and power with which he made himself heard in spite of the roar of the wind and the smash of the sea. "Get the lee anchor off the bows there! L'Ollonois?"
"Run a hawser from the anchor in aft here on the quarter. We'll club-haul the ship. See the cable clear for running."
"Very good, sir," cried the Frenchman, summoning the hardiest hands and the most skilful to carry out his commander's orders.
"Ready it is, sir," answered Hornigold, tightening his grasp on the spokes and nodding his head to his superior.
"To the braces, lads! Obey orders sharply. It's our last chance."
The water was roaring and smashing against the shore not a cable's length away. Usually in those latitudes it deepened tremendously a short distance from the low water mark, and there was a grave question whether or not the anchor, with the scope they could give it, would reach bottom. At any rate it must be tried, and tried now. Morgan had held on as long as he dared. Another minute and they would strike.
"Down helm!" he shouted. "Flow the head sheets! Round in on the fore braces, there! Show that canvas aft!"
The lateen sail on the crossjack yard had been furled, and Morgan, to force her head around, directed the after guard to spring into the mizzen-rigging with a bit of tarpaulin and by exposing it and their bodies to the wind to act as a sail in assisting her to head away from the shore.
"Helm-a-lee! Hard-a-lee!" cried Hornigold, who with his men was grasping the spokes like a giant.
Slowly the old galleon swung up into the wind, the waves beating upon her bows with a noise like crashes of thunder. A moment she hung. She could go no farther.
"She's in irons! Swing that yard!" roared Morgan. "Cut and veer away forward!"
There was a splash as the anchor dropped overboard.
"Hands on that hawser!" he shouted. "Everybody walk away with it!"
The whole crew apparently piled on to the anchor hawser in the hope of pulling the ship's stern around so that the wind would take her on the other bow. She was still hanging in the wind and driving straight on shore.
"Haul away, for God's sake!" cried Morgan; but the hawser came in board through their hands with a readiness and ease that showed the anchor had not taken the ground. The drag of the cable to the anchor, however, and the still unspent impetus of the first swing, turned the galleon's stern slightly to windward. Her head began slowly to fall off.
"She stays! She makes it!" cried the captain. "Meet her with the helm! Let go and haul! Cut away the hawser!"
It had been a tremendous feat of seamanship and bade fair to be successful. It was yet touch and go, however, and the breakers were perilously near. They were writhing around her forefoot now, yet the wind was at last coming in over the other bow.
"We're safe!" cried Morgan. "Flatten in forward! Haul aft the sheets and braces!"
At that instant there was a terrific crash heard above the roar of the tempest. The foretopmast of the Almirante Recalde carried sharply off at the hounds. Relieved of the pressure, she shot up into the wind once more and drove straight into the seething seas. They were lost with their treasure, their hopes, and their crimes! At the mercy of wind and wave!
The men were as quick to see the danger as was Morgan. They came rushing aft baring their weapons, pouring curses and imprecations upon him. He stood with folded arms, a scornful smile on his old face, looking upon them, Carib watching and ready by his side. In another second, with a concussion which threw them all to the deck, the doomed ship struck heavily upon the sands.
WHICH TREATS OF THE TANGLED LOVE AFFAIRS OF THE PEARL OF CARACAS
DISCLOSES THE HOPELESS PASSION BETWEEN DONNA MERCEDES DE LARA AND CAPTAIN DOMINIQUE ALVARADO, THE COMMANDANTE OF LA GUAYRA
Captain Dominique Alvarado stood alone on the plaza of the ancient castle which for over a century had been the home of the governors of La Guayra. He was gazing listlessly down over the parapet which bordered the bare sheer precipice towering above the seaport town. There was nothing in his eyes, but a great deal in his heavy heart.
Captain Alvarado, who filled the honorable station of commandante of the port, was a soldier of proven courage. The protege and favorite officer of his serene highness the Count Alvaro de Lara, Grandee of Spain and Viceroy of Venezuela, he had been honored with great responsibilities, which he had discharged to the satisfaction of his master. From a military point of view the office of Governor of La Guayra, which he then filled, was of sufficient importance to entitle him to high position and much consideration in the vice-regal court of Caracas.
Of unknown parentage, Alvarado had been received into the family of the viceroy when an infant. He had been carefully reared, almost as he had been de Lara's son, and had been given abundant opportunity to distinguish himself. In the course of his short life he had managed to amass a modest fortune by honorable means. He was young and handsome; he had been instructed, for the viceroy had early shown partiality for him, in the best schools in the New World. His education had been ripened and polished by a sojourn of several years in Europe, not only at the court of Madrid but also at that of Versailles, where the Count de Lara had been sent as ambassador to the Grand Monarch during a period in which, for the sake of supervising the education of his only daughter, he had temporarily absented himself from his beloved Venezuela. That an unknown man should have been given such opportunities, should have been treated with so much consideration, was sufficient commentary on the unprecedented kindness of heart of the old Hidalgo who represented the failing power of His Most Catholic Majesty of Spain, Carlos II., the Bewitched, in the new world. Whatever his origin, therefore, he had been brought up as a Spanish soldier and gentleman, and the old count was openly proud of him.
With assured station, ample means, increasing reputation; with youth, health, and personal good looks, the young Governor should have been a happy man. But it was easy to see from the heavy frown upon his sunny face—for he was that rare thing in Spain, a blue-eyed blond who at first sight might have been mistaken for an Englishman—that his soul was filled with melancholy. And well it might be, for Alvarado was the victim of a hopeless passion for Mercedes de Lara, the Viceroy's daughter, known from one end of the Caribbean to the other, from her beauty and her father's station, as the Pearl of Caracas.
Nor was his present sadness due to unrequited passion, for he was confident that the adoration of his heart was met with an adequate response from its object. Indeed, it was no secret to him that Mercedes loved him with a devotion which matched his own. It was not that; but her father had announced his intention to betroth the girl to Don Felipe de Tobar y Bobadilla, a young gentleman of ancient lineage and vast wealth, who had been born in America and was the reputed head in the Western Hemisphere of the famous family whose name he bore.
The consent of Donna Mercedes to the betrothal had not been asked. That was a detail which was not considered necessary by parents in the year of grace 1685, and especially by Spanish parents. That she should object to the engagement, or refuse to carry out her father's plan never crossed the Viceroy's imagination. That she might love another, was an idea to which he never gave a thought. It was the business of a well-brought-up Spanish maiden to be a passive instrument in the carrying out of her father's views, especially in things matrimonial, in which, indeed, love found little room for entrance. But Donna Mercedes loved Captain Alvarado and she cared nothing for Don Felipe. Not that Don Felipe was disagreeable to her, or to any one. He was a Spanish gentleman in every sense of the word, handsome, distinguished, proud, and gallant—but she did not, could not, love him. To complicate matters still further de Tobar was Captain Alvarado's cherished companion and most intimate friend.
The progress of the love affair between Alvarado and Donna Mercedes had been subjective rather than objective. They had enjoyed some unusual opportunities for meeting on account of the station the former filled in the Viceroy's household and the place he held in his heart, yet the opportunities for extended freedom of intercourse between young men and women of the gentler class in those days, and especially among Spaniards of high rank, were extremely limited. The old count took care to see that his daughter was carefully watched and shielded; not because he suspected her of anything, for he did not, but because it was a habit of his people and his ancestry. The busy life that he led, the many employments which were thrust upon him, his military duties, had kept the days of the young soldier very full, and under the most favorable circumstances he would have had little time for love making. Fortunately much time is not required to develop a love affair, especially in New Spain and near to the equator.
But though they had enjoyed brief opportunity for personal intercourse, the very impossibilities of free communication, the difficulties of meeting, had but added fuel and fire to their affection. Love had flamed into these two hearts with all the intensity of their tropic blood and tropic land. Alvarado's passion could feed for days and grow large upon the remembrance of the fragrance of her hand when he kissed it last in formal salutation. Mercedes' soul could enfold itself in the recollection of the too ardent pressure of his lips, the burning yet respectful glance he had shot at her, by others unperceived, when he said farewell. The memory of each sigh the tropic breeze had wafted to her ears as he walked in attendance upon her at some formal function of the court was as much to her as the flower which she had artfully dropped at his feet and which had withered over his heart ever since, was to him.
The difficulties in the way of the exchange of those sweet nothings that lovers love to dwell upon and the impossibility of any hoped for end to their love making intensified their passion. Little or nothing had been spoken between them, but each knew the other loved. For the first moment the knowledge of that glorious fact had sufficed them—but afterwards they wanted more. Having tasted, they would fain quaff deeply. But they could see no way by which to manage the realization of their dreams.
The situation was complicated in every possible way for Alvarado. Had he been a man of family like his friend, de Tobar, he would have gone boldly to the Viceroy and asked for the hand of his daughter, in which case he thought he would have met with no refusal; but, being ignorant of his birth, having not even a legal right to the name he bore, he knew that the proud old Hidalgo would rather see his daughter dead than wedded to him. Of all the ancient splendors of the Spanish people there was left them but one thing of which they could be proud—their ancient name. De Lara, who belonged to one of the noblest and most distinguished families of the Iberian Peninsula, would never consent to degrade his line by allying his only daughter to a nobody, however worthy in other respects the suitor might prove to be.
Again, had Mercedes' father been any other than the life-long patron and friend to whom he literally owed everything that he possessed, such was the impetuosity of Alvarado's disposition that, at every hazard, he would have taken the girl by stealth or force from her father's protection, made her his wife, and sought an asylum in England or France, or wherever he could. So desperate was his state of mind, so overwhelming his love that he would have shrunk from nothing to win her. Yet just because the Viceroy had been a father to him, just because he had loved him, had been unexampled in his kindness and consideration to him, just because he reposed such absolutely unlimited confidence in him, the young man felt bound in honor by fetters that he could not break.
And there was his friendship for de Tobar. There were many young gallants about the vice-regal court who, jealous of Alvarado's favor and envious of his merits, had not scrupled in the face of his unknown origin to sneer, to mock, or to slight—so far as it was safe to do either of these things to so brave and able a soldier. Amid these gilded youths de Tobar with noble magnanimity and affection had proved himself Alvarado's staunchest friend. A romantic attachment had sprung up between the two young men, and the first confidant of de Tobar's love affairs had been Alvarado himself. To betray his friend was almost as bad as to betray his patron. It was not to be thought of.
Yet how could he, a man in whose blood—though it may have been ignoble for aught he knew—ran all the passions of his race with the fervor and fire of the best, a man who loved, as he did, the ground upon which the Senorita de Lara walked, stand by tamely and see her given to another, no matter who he might be? He would have given the fortune which he had amassed by honorable toil, the fame he had acquired by brilliant exploits, the power he enjoyed through the position he had achieved, the weight which he bore in the councils of New Spain, every prospect that life held dear to him to solve the dilemma and win the woman he loved for his wife.
He passed hours in weary isolation on the plaza of the great castle overlooking the stretched-out town upon the narrow strand with the ceaseless waves beating ever upon the shore from the heavenly turquoise blue of the Caribbean wavering far into the distant horizon before him. He spent days and nights, thinking, dreaming, agonizing, while he wrestled vainly with the problem. Sometimes he strove to call to his mind those stern resolutions of duty which he had laid before himself at the beginning of his career, and to which he had steadfastly adhered in the pursuit of his fortunes; and he swore that he would be true to his ideals, that the trust reposed in him by the Viceroy should not be betrayed, that the friendship in which he was held by de Tobar should never be broken, that he would tear out of his heart the image of the woman he loved. And then, again, he knew that so long as that heart kept up its beating she would be there, and to rob him of her image meant to take away his life. If there had been a war, if some opportunity had been vouchsafed him to pour out, in battle against the enemy, some of the ardor that consumed him, the situation would have been ameliorated; but the times were those of profound peace. There was nothing to occupy his mind except the routine duties of the garrison.
Spain, under the last poor, crazed, bewitched, degenerate descendant of the once formidable Hapsburgs, had reached the lowest depths of ignominy and decay. Alone, almost, under her flag Venezuela was well governed—from the Spanish standpoint, that is; from the native American point of view the rule of even the gentlest of Spaniards had made a hell on earth of the fairest countries of the new continent. Of all the cities and garrisons which were under the sway of the Viceroy de Lara, La Guayra was the best appointed and cared for. But it did not require a great deal of the time or attention from so skilled a commander as Alvarado to keep things in proper shape. Time, therefore, hung heavily on his hands. There were few women of rank in the town, which was simply the port of entry for St. Jago de Leon across the mountains which rose in tree-clad slopes diversified by bold precipices for ten thousand feet back of the palace, and from the commoner sort of women the young captain held himself proudly aloof, while his love safeguarded him from the allurement of the evil and the shameless who flaunted their iniquity in every seaport on the Caribbean.
On the other side of the mountain range after a descent of several thousand feet to a beautiful verdant valley whose altitude tempered the tropic heat of the low latitude into a salubrious and delightful climate, lay the palace of the Viceroy and the city which surrounded it, St. Jago, or Santiago de Leon, commonly called the City of Caracas.
Many a day had Alvarado turned backward from the white-walled, red-roofed town spread out at his feet, baking under the palms, seething in the fierce heat, as if striving to pierce with his gaze the great cordilleras, on the farther side of which in the cool white palace beneath the gigantic ceibas the queen of his heart made her home. He pictured her at all hours of the day; he dwelt upon her image, going over again in his mind each detail of her face and figure. The perfume of her hand was still fragrant upon his lips; the sound of her voice, the soft musical voice of Andalusia, still vibrated in his ear; her burning glance pierced him even in his dreams like a sword.
He was mad, mad with love for her, crazed with hopeless passion. There seemed to be no way out of his misery but for him to pass his own sword through his heart, or to throw himself from the precipice, or to plunge into the hot, cruel blue of the enveloping Caribbean—the color of the sea changed in his eye with his temper, like a woman's mood. Yet he was young, he hoped in spite of himself. He prayed—for he was not old enough to have lost faith—and he planned. Besides, he was too brave a soldier to kill himself, and she was not yet married. She was not formally betrothed, even; although it was well known that her father looked favorably upon de Tobar's suit, no formal announcement had been made of it as yet. So in spite of his judgment he dreamed—the thoughts of youth and love are long, long thoughts, indeed.
That morning the young captain, engrossed in his emotions, was not aware of the approach of a messenger, until the clank of the man's sword upon the stone flags of the plaza caused him to lift his head. He was a soldier, an officer of the bodyguard of the Viceroy, and he bore in his hand a letter sealed with the de Lara coat of arms. The messenger saluted and handed the packet to the captain.
"Yesterday evening, His Excellency, the Viceroy, charged me to deliver this letter to you to-day."
"Fadrique," called Alvarado, to a servitor, "a flagon of wine for the cavalier. By your leave, sir," he continued with formal politeness, opening the packet and reading the message:
"TO THE CAPTAIN ALVARADO, COMMANDANTE OF LA GUAYRA.
As one faithful to the fortunes of our family we would crave your honorable presence at our palace in Santiago to-morrow evening. In view of your service and devotion, we have done you the honor to appoint you as one of the witnesses to the formal betrothal of our daughter, Donna Mercedes, to your friend, Don Felipe de Tobar. After that, as we have received appeals for help from the Orinoco country, we propose to lead His Most Catholic Majesty's Imperial troops thither in person to overawe the natives; and, reposing full trust in your fidelity and honor, we deign to commit the Donna Mercedes to your safe keeping in our city of La Guayra, until we return. Therefore make your preparations accordingly.
Given under our hand and seal,
DE LARA, Viceroy."
It had come! The old man, as a last token of his respect, had nominated him as a witness to the contract which robbed him forever of hope and happiness. The young man went white before the keen eye of the messenger, who, in common with other officers of the Viceroy's court, suspected what was, indeed, concealed from no one save the father and lover. The world swam before his vision. The blue sea seemed to rise up and meet the green hills until he could not distinguish the one from the other. His heart almost stopped its beating, yet summoning his resolution he recovered himself by an effort that left him trembling, the sweat beading his forehead.
"Are you in a state for a return journey at once, senor?" he asked of the young officer.
"At your service, captain."
"That's well. Say to His Excellency, the Viceroy, that I thank him for the honor he does me. I shall wait upon him to-morrow and obey his commands."
HOW DONNA MERCEDES TEMPTED HER LOVER AND HOW HE STROVE VALIANTLY TO RESIST HER APPEALS
Alvarado was alone in the cabinet of the Viceroy, to which his rank and the favor in which His Excellency held him gave him access at all times.
He had ridden all day over the rough road that winds over the mountains from La Guayra to Caracas. The storm which had rushed down the mountain-side all afternoon matched the tumult in his soul, and the sheets of rain blown upon him by the fierce wind had not cooled the fever of his agitation. The unusual tempest was one of the most terrific that had swept over the coast in years. He had marked as he rode a huge ship far to seaward, staggering along under shortened canvas and laboring tremendously in the heavy seas. But his thoughts were so centered upon the situation in which he found himself that he had not particularly noticed the vessel, although passing ships were infrequent sights off the port of La Guayra. Pale, haggard, and distraught from his mental struggle he had crossed the pass at the summit of the mountain and descended into the fertile valley now adrip with rain and looking almost cold under the gray sky, and had presented himself at the palace of the Viceroy.
He had changed his apparel after his reception and his old sergeant had polished his breastplate until it fairly blazed with light, for though the occasion was one of peace he had felt that he could better sustain his part in the military uniform in which he had won his only title to consideration. He schooled himself to go through that part with the resolution of a Spanish gentleman. Although there was no evidence of gentle blood save such as was presented by his actions, he had always cherished the hope that could the secret of his birth be revealed he would not be found unfit for the honors that he had won and the ambitions that he cherished. Consequently his appearance in the brilliantly lighted hall of the palace among the gay courtiers resplendent in magnificent attire, blazing with jewels, threw a somber note over the proceedings.
It was as a soldier he had won fame and the consideration of the Viceroy; in no other capacity, so far as any man knew, had he the right to enter that assemblage of the rich and well born. It was as a soldier he would perform that hardest of all duties which had ever been laid upon him by his friend and patron, the Governor.
Pale, stern, composed, he stood an iron figure of repression. So severe was the constraint that he put upon himself that he had given no sign of his emotion, even at the near approach of Donna Mercedes, and the hand which signed his name beneath her father's as the principal witness was as steady as if it held merely the sword in some deadly combat. He endured passively the affectionate greetings of the happy de Tobar, who was intoxicated at the assurance afforded by the betrothal of the coming realization of all his hopes. He sustained with firmness the confidence of the Viceroy and the admissions de Lara made to him in private, of his pleasure in the suitable and fortunate marriage which was there arranged. He even bore without breaking one long, piteous appeal which had been shot at him from the black eyes of the unhappy Mercedes.
To her he seemed preternaturally cold and indifferent. He was so strong, so brave, so successful. She had counted upon some interposition from him, but the snow-capped Andes were no colder than he appeared, their granite sides no more rigid and unsympathetic. It was with a feeling almost of anger and resentment at last that she had signed the betrothal contract.
But the restraint on the man was more than he could bear. The cumulative force of the reproach of the woman he loved, the confidence of the Viceroy, the rapturous happiness of his best friend, was not to be endured longer. Pleading indisposition, he early begged leave to withdraw from the festivities which succeeded the completion of the betrothal ceremony and the retirement of the ladies. At the suggestion of the Viceroy, who said he desired to consult with him later in the evening, he went into the deserted cabinet of the latter.
The palace was built in the form of a quadrangle around an open patio. A balcony ran along the second story passing the Viceroy's cabinet, beyond which was his bedroom and beyond that the apartments of his daughter. The rain had ceased and the storm had spent itself. It was a calm and beautiful night, the moon shining with tropic splendor through the open window dispensed with the necessity of lights. There was no one in the cabinet when he entered, and he felt at last able to give way to his emotion; Mercedes though she was not married was now lost to him beyond recourse. After the women withdrew from the hall with Donna Mercedes there was no restraint put upon the young nobles, and from the other side of the patio came the sound of uproarious revelry and feasting—his friends and comrades with generous cheer felicitating the happy bridegroom that was to be. Alvarado was alone, undisturbed, forgotten, and likely to remain so. He put his head upon his hands and groaned in anguish.
"Why should it not have been I?" he murmured. "Is he stronger, braver, a better soldier? Does he love her more? O Mother of God! Riches? Can I not acquire them? Fame? Have I not a large measure? Birth? Ah, that is it! My father! my mother! If I could only know! How she looked at me! What piteous appeal in her eyes! What reproach when I stood passive cased in iron, with a breaking heart. O my God! My God! Mercedes! Mercedes!"
In his anguish he called the name aloud. So absorbed and preoccupied in his grief had he been that he was not aware of a figure softly moving along the balcony in the shadow. He did not hear a footfall coming through the open window that gave into the room. He did not realize that he had an auditor to his words, a witness to his grief, until a touch soft as a snowflake fell upon his fair head and a voice for which he languished whispered in his ear:
"You called me; I am come."
"Senorita Mercedes!" he cried, lifting his head and gazing upon her in startled surprise. "How came you here?" he added brusquely, catching her hands with a fierce grasp in the intensity of his emotion as he spoke.
"Is this my greeting?" she answered, surprised in turn that he had not instantly swept her to his heart.
She strove to draw herself away, and when he perceived her intent he opened his hands and allowed her arms to fall by her side.
"I have been mistaken," she went on piteously, "I am not wanted."
She turned away and stood full in the silver bar of the moonlight streaming through the casement. Her white face shone in the light against the dark background of the huge empty room—that face with its aureole of soft dark hair, the face of a saint, pale yet not passionless, of the heaven heavenly, yet with just enough of earthly feeling in her eyes to attest that she was a very woman after all.
"Go not," he cried, catching her again and drawing her back.
Gone were his resolutions, shattered was his determination, broken was his resistance. She was here before him, at all hazards he would detain her. They were alone together, almost for the first time in their lives. It was night, the balmy wind blew softly, the moonlight enveloped them. Such an opportunity would never come again. It was madness. It was fatal. No matter. She should not go now.
"I heard you," she murmured, swaying toward him. "I heard—you seemed to be—suffering. I do not know why—something drew me on. You whispered—you were speaking—I—listened. I came nearer. Was your heart breaking, too? Despise me!"
She put her face in her hands. It was a confession she made. A wave of shame swept over her.
"Despise you? Ah, God help me, I love you!"
And this time he gathered her in his arms, and drew her back into the deeper shadow.
"And you were so cold," she whispered. "I looked at you. I begged you with all my soul before I signed. You did nothing, nothing! O Mother of God, is there no help?"
"Dost love me?"
"With all my soul," she answered.
"Lowly—perhaps ignobly born——"
"Nay, love, these are mere words to me. Rich or poor, high or low, noble or ignoble, thou only hast my heart. It beats and throbs only for thee. I have thought upon thee, dreamed upon thee, loved thee. I can not marry Don Felipe. I, too, have the pride of the de Lara's. My father shall find it. I signed that contract under duress. You would do nothing. Oh, Alvarado, Alvarado, wilt thou stand by and let me be taken into the arms of another? But no, I shall die before that happens."
"Donna Mercedes," cried the unhappy young man, "I love thee, I adore thee, I worship thee with all my heart and soul! Were it not a coward's act I would have plunged my dagger into my breast ere I witnessed that betrothal to-night."
"Thou shouldst first have sheathed it in mine," she whispered. "But could'st find no better use for thy weapon than that?"
"Would you have me kill Don Felipe?"
"No, no, but defend me with it. There are hidden recesses in the mountains. Your soldiers worship you. Take me away, away into the undiscovered countries to the southward. A continent is before you. We will find a new Mexico, carve out a new Peru with your sword, though I want nothing but to be with you, alone with you, my soldier, my lover, my king!"
"But your plighted word?"
"'Tis nothing. My heart was plighted to you. That is enough. Let us go, we may never have the chance again," she urged, clinging to him.
A fearful struggle was going on in Alvarado's breast. What she proposed was the very thing he would have attempted were the circumstances other than they were. But his patron, his friend, his military duty, his honor as a soldier—the sweat beaded his forehead again. He had made up his mind at the betrothal to give her up. He had abandoned hope; he had put aside possibilities, for he could see none. But here she was in his arms, a living, breathing, vital, passionate figure, her heart beating against his own, pleading with him to take her away. Here was love with all its witchery, with all its magic, with all its power, attacking the defenses of his heart; and the woman whom he adored as his very life, with all the passion in his being, was urging, imploring, begging him to take her away. He was weakening, wavering, and the woman who watched him realized it and added fuel to the flame.
"The love I bear your father!" he gasped.
"Should it bind where mine breaks? I am his daughter."
"And Don Felipe is my personal friend."
"And my betrothed, but I hesitate not."
"My oath as a soldier——"
"And mine as a woman."
"Oh, Alvarado, you love me not!" she cried. "These are the strongest. I have dreamed a dream. Lend me your dagger. There shall be no awakening. Without you I can not bear——"
As she spoke she plucked the dagger from the belt of the young soldier, lifted the point gleaming in the moonlight and raised it to her heart. He caught it instantly.
"No, no!" he cried. "Give back the weapon."
The poniard fell from her hand.
"Thou hast taken me, I thank thee," she murmured, thinking the battle won as he swept her once more in his arms. This time he bent his head to her upturned face and pressed kiss after kiss upon the trembling lips. It was the first time, and they abandoned themselves to their transports with all the fire of their long restrained passion.
"And is this the honor of Captain Alvarado?" cried a stern voice as the Viceroy entered the room. "My officer in whom I trusted? Death and fury! Donna Mercedes, what do you here?"